Monday, September 28, 2015

Cybils Nominations Open October 1st

Nominations open Thursday! 

Rules are roughly as follows (the official version is here): 
  • Anybody (real people only!) can nominate a book.
  • You may nominate one book per category.
  • If you have more than one book you’d like to nominate, enlist a friend or co-worker to help you out. (Real human friends only - no imaginary friends or pets or anything like that.)
  • Nominated books must’ve been published in the US or Canada between Oct. 15, 2014 and October 15, 2015. 
  • Additional information can be found here
The categories (paraphrased from the original linked sources) are:
  • Easy Reader/Short Chapter Books
    The Easy Reader / Early Chapter Book category covers the whole spectrum of titles for early elementary kids who are learning to read, from the very basic books for emergent readers to longer, illustrated titles for kids who are not quite ready for novels. We’re looking for leveled readers with controlled vocabularies are designed for kids to use to practice their reading, such as “Step into Reading” or “I Can Read” books. They are typically 32-64 pages in length and usually have large type, simple sentence structure, and colorful illustrations on every page. With beginning chapter books use large print, short chapters, and simple plots, and they rely heavily on dialogue. Only those books designed for beginning readers belong in this category. Chapter books are a bit longer (up to 160 pages or so), and  have fewer illustrations - just a few black and white line drawings sprinkled throughout the text.

  • Graphics Books using serial artwork to tell the tale, graphic novels cover it all—everything from wordless picture books appealing to the very young to intense, issue-based young adult novels. We give an award for both the younger graphics and for the young adult graphics… tell us who your favorites are!
  • Fiction Picture Books introduce young readers to their worlds, present and past; take us on fantastic  journeys, real and imagined; guide us in the world’s “best practices” – from the Magic Word to cultural traditions; and inspire us to do great things. Inside a Fiction Picture Book you are as likely to discover something that makes a toddler giggle for days on end as you are to share a story that reduces a third grader to tears. They are looking for books that “excel in story, illustration, kid appeal, and literary value. The technical eligibility requirements for the Fiction Picture Books category that the book must be available in print – no eBooks, iBooks, or board books; written for a young audience (generally 2 to 9); fall within the accepted page count of 32 to 48 pages.

  • Elementary/Middle Grade Non-fiction Kids are curious about the world around them and nonfiction is the perfect way to introduce them to that amazing world. History? Biography? Art? Science? Math? Animals? Sports? It’s all here and more besides! We’re looking for titles that are suitable for reading aloud or independently, including picture books and early chapters (nonfiction easy readers go to the easy reader category). We love text and illustrations or photographs that will wow kids and adults alike and topics so fascinating that kids will want to go digging for more, more, more nonfiction! Nonfiction Elementary/Middle Grade includes titles with factual content and informational titles, or books intended to teach. Roughly 50% or more of the book should be narrative nonfiction (as opposed to experiments or activities) and books should be directed generally at ages 3-12. We are currently accepting nominations only in print (no ebooks) for this category.

  • Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Wonderfully inventive and full of unforgettable people and places–Along with the expected spells and space rockets and aliens, this is the category for books with talking animals, time-travel, ghosts, and paranormal abilities, and all the other books that might not have obvious magic on every page, and which are set here on Earth, but which push past the boundaries of daily life into what is almost certainly impossible…(sometimes it’s hard to know if something is magical enough to count, but we do our best to be consistent). This category is for both Elementary and Middle Grade books; that is, books written for eight- to twelve-year-olds (with a bit of wiggle room at each end).

  • Middle Grade Fiction Middle grade fiction encompasses a wide range of stories that do not have magical elements and are geared toward the 8 to 12 year old age group. These stories could be mysteries, histories, humor, sports, adventure and other tales set in the real world. Middle Grade readers’ tastes and reading abilities can vary widely, and getting them a book that appeals to them is crucial. Books containing mature content in regards to violence, sex or language are more appropriate for the Young Adult Fiction category. The Cybils hopes to find realistic fiction books that are well-written and thought provoking but also make Middle Grade readers want to keep turning the pages. 

  • Book Apps allow readers to interact with the story in a variety of ways: by reading the text on the page, swiping, tapping, recording, listening to narration and sound effects, viewing animation and videos, and much more. In the most effective book apps, the interactive features enhance the story without distracting readers or disrupting the flow of the narrative.Book Apps nominations may be fiction or nonfiction and may appeal to any age from preschool to young adult. All nominations must be available for iPad and available in the iTunes App Store. Books available in iBooks are not considered Book Apps.

  • Poetry is an ever flowing river of words.  From words that rhyme, words that shape emotions on all different topics to poetic forms, thePoetry category is home to an uber stew of entries. These books willappeal to the very young, middle grade and/or young adults.
    Plus this year Poetry includes nominations of novels in verse.  
    What belongs in Poetry? Consider nominating anthologies and poetry collections written by various authors or a single author. They include illustrations or not. If the poems that resonate to readers of all ages and it’s a collection or anthology of poems,
    Poetry is the category.

  • Young Adult Fiction The world as it was and is. Not as it could, or would, or should be. In YA Fiction we are looking for realistic fiction, be it contemporary or historical, funny or mysterious, romantic or adventurous. We want the real world of the past and present with all of its flaws and pain and humor and beauty. We want books published for young adults ages 12-18 that are not only well-written, but which will expose the world and open a window to self-discovery. Books that respect their audience; books that teens will press into their friends’ hands with fervor in their eyes and say, “You HAVE to read this.” We are looking for the handful that can call themselves the greatest teen novels of 2015.

  • Young Adult Speculative Fiction Speculative Fiction takes us to realms of the imagination: places and times and realities where the rules of life may be different than our own and where the impossible and improbable become real. But good science fiction and fantasy does more than that: it asks, “What if?” It makes us think. It holds up a mirror to our own society and lets us see ourselves in a different light. Magic, aliens, ghosts, alternate universes, time travel, space travel, high fantasy, dystopian, post-apocalyptic futures, horror, and sentient animals are just some of the many topics that belong here. Speculative fiction novels with graphics in addition to text belong here, but if the book is primarily told through serial artwork, it belongs in the Graphic Novels category. The age range for this category is approximately 12-18, although there is some overlap with the Elementary/Middle-grade Speculative Fiction category that will be decided on a case by case basis. New Adult (NA) titles are not eligible, as those are primarily intended for an adult audience. This category accepts books published in either print or ebook formats.

  • Young Adult Non-fiction A great nonfiction book can sweep readers away to far off lands, different time periods and have you walk the shoes of someone else’s life as easily as fiction–only for in our case, these people, lands and events really took place. Young adult nonfiction readers will not and should not shy away from controversial topics, they rely on accurate and up-to-date information to help them form opinions on what matters most to them. While some topics are not easily discussed, we need these resources so they have a safe place to turn to for the information they seek. Narrative nonfiction reads so much like a story that you have to stop and consider whatever or not you are truly reading a story because it blends information in such a way that it reads like a story. It will include informational graphics, pop out boxes, an index and other informational clues where appropriate to add valuable information. While how-to nonfiction and textbooks are fantastic in some cases, for CYBILS purposes, that is not what we are looking for so please do not nominate them. If you have read or written an engaging narrative nonfiction book for those in seventh through twelfth grades, we would love for you to nominate them for Young Adult Nonfiction!
Once you have narrowed your choices down to one book in each category (eek that's hard!) here is the link to the Cybils nomination form (it goes live at 12:00am PST on October 1, 2015). If you have questions about what qualifies or which category would be best there are links on the Cybils website to the chair of each category.

Nominations close October 15th!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I am a Cybils Judge again!

Hurray!  I can now announce that I have once again been chosen to be a Round 1 Elementary/Middle Grade Non-Fiction Judge! This is such a great honor.  I had a blast last time, reading over 100 books and struggling with ways of articulating why I thought some were standouts in a field of very strong contenders. There are such wonderful non-fiction books being written. Yay! 

Nominations for all Cybils categories open October 1st and close on the 15th. The guidelines are here.
Submissions from publishers and authors will be accepted October 16-26 and information for that is at the publisher section.

The mission of these awards is as follows ... "The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.

So if you have read a great picture book, early reader, chapter book, middle grade or young adult novel, graphic novel, poetry or nonfiction book this past year please nominate them!

The Elementary/Middle Grade Non-Fiction Chair is Jennifer Wharton Jean Little Library

The First Round Judges are:

The Second Round Judges are:

So Cool! 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens

Murder is Bad Manners 
by Robin Stevens
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
US Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Format: hardback
Pages: 320
Genre: Children's Mystery
Age Range: 10 and up
Source: purchased book

From the author's website:

When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency at Deepdean School for Girls, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there’s more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?

(Yes I redacted the name - you can figure it out early on in the story so it isn't a critical spoiler but seriously, who gives away the name of the murder victim in the book blurb??  Bad form! If you absolutely must know, highlight the box to see the text.)

I heard about this book ages ago and had been really looking forward to it. I saw several gushing early reviews and it sounded like just my kind of thing. Now that I finally have gotten my hands on the book - well, um, I am not as excited about it honestly. I do like the set up, the mystery turned out to work for me and I really, really like the book's narrator - Hazel Wong. Other things though I was less enthused about.

Hazel is from Hong Kong, so seeing an English boarding school through her eyes is a rewarding experience. Her father, a lover of all things British, sent his daughter to a country that she is finding rather cold - weather wise and also in terms of her reception by the students and staff at the school. This aspect of the book was excellent.

On the other hand, Daisy Wells is presented as a perfect blonde, peaches and cream skinned aristocratic English girl. She is also bossy, self-centered, impulsive and rather cruel. Apparently some people find this contrast makes the two girls a great team. My take was rather different and I was somewhat uncomfortable with the dynamic. Is a person really your friend if they only like you when you are passive and comply with their demands ?  There was eventually some give in the relationship but I found the power dynamic and how the book dealt with it quite discomforting.

I also understand given the time period, but utterly hate, the idea that the characters feel compelled to pretend to lack intelligence in order to make friends and be popular. The book treats this as perfectly obvious and the right/normal thing to do. Yuck. 

Hazel and Daisy are pretty well developed characters, regardless of how I personally responded to them, so that is a plus. The rest of the cast I felt was less interesting and more of series of rather blurry stereotypes. The sense of place was strong, however, and I appreciated that.

As I mentioned, the mystery was pretty well done with some nicely laid out clues. I did see where it was going, but I have read lots of mysteries so that isn't surprising. The best part about the mystery is that the author managed to pull the resolution together in a nice, plausible manner. I was really, really worried that I was about to see a Scooby-Doo style ending - "I would have gotten away with it too if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!" - that would have totally destroyed the credibility the book had built up.  The author skirted close to this but managed to pull off an ending that was satisfying for child readers without blowing the suspension of disbelief of older readers.

Soooo - I am interested enough to read the next book at some point, just too see if there is some growth in Daisy, but not enough to go out of my way to find it. The down side is that I am not interested in having my kids read the book really. We are already having discussions of what a real friend is and how giving a person presents to make them your friend means that they really are not being a friend to you. (Sorry - that came out rocky but I hope that you understand what I mean.) The book presents Hazel and Daisy's friendship as appropriate, whereas I see exactly the sort of dynamics that I want my children to learn to avoid in some of their budding relationships. Perhaps when they are older the book will be fruitful for discussion, but right now they are too unsure of themselves and this is not a helpful model.

Murder is Bad Manners was first published in the UK as Murder Most Unladylike. There are two more UK titles: Arsenic for Tea and First Class Murder.

Pluto is so cooool!

If you haven't looked at the images being sent back from New Horizons, you should. Pluto is way cooler then anyone imagined.

This is a NASA image from the lower-left edge of Pluto’s 'Heart' more technically called the Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region). The peaks are estimated to be approximately one-half to one mile (1–1.5km) in height, or about the same scale as the Appalachian Mountains.

Sputnik Planum is believed to be relatively young in geological terms, less than 100 million years old or so, while the darker region is most likely billions of years old.  

The image was acquired by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) and sent back to Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible. The names of features on Pluto have all been given on an informal basis by the New Horizons team.

And wow - look at this ...

This is a mosaic of high-resolution images of Pluto, sent back from the New Horizons spacecraft from Sept. 5 to 7, 2015. The the smooth, bright region across the center of the image is an icy plain that has been informally-named  Sputnik Planum
"The smallest visible features are 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) in size, and the mosaic covers a region roughly 1,000 miles (1600 kilometers) wide. The image was taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers)."
Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Thursday, September 10, 2015

My Office and a Galileo Thermometer

Well, I have officially survived my first week and a half of being department chair. I figured that I should take a picture of my office before things explode and you can't see the desk anymore.

If you have an eye for detail you will note that I have a Galileo thermometer (the kind made of a sealed glass cylinder filled with a clear liquid and containing several glass balls filled with liquids of varying density) sitting on my desk.

Actually - here is a bigger picture.

The clear liquid in the cylinder in which the bulbs are submerged is usually not water but an organic compound (such as ethanol) the density of which varies with temperature more than water's does (though water does get used in some models).

Each of the sealed glass floats contains either alcohol or water dyed with food coloring  and is of a slightly different density (controlled by controlling the weight of the hang tags actually). For most liquids as temperature increases, the density decreases, thus as the temperature in the room changes, the individual floats will rise or fall in proportion to their respective densities relative to the liquid in the cylinder. 

To read this Galileo thermometer, look at the distribution of the bulbs in the cylinder. If there are some bulbs floating near the top, some clustered at the bottom, and one bulb floating alone in a gap in the middle - the hang tag on that lone bulb tell you the approximate temperature. If there are no bulbs in the gap then average the temperature values of the bulb above and the bulb below the gap to find the approximate temperature. Or with some models you simply look at the tag hanging off of the lowest floating bulb to determine the approximate temperature.

Either way - you will note that all of the bulbs have sunk to the bottom of the cylinder. This means that the room is over 80°. This is actually the first day that the top bulb shows any signs of trying to float. Most of the week and all of last week the bulbs were buried at the bottom of the cylinder. It has been hot in here.

So - that is the downside of having the fancy office with the windows in a place where the A/C is broken. OTOH - I think my plants might like it here.

Friday, September 4, 2015

A peak into The Pyramids of London

Gosh, it has been ages since I have done one of these. I am having a hard time remembering how to do this. For Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Rose City Reader, here is the beginning of The Pyramids of London by Andrea K Höst ...

Sunlight picked out motes of dust, and burnished mellow wood to match Arianne Seaforth's hair as she strolled through the Southern Nomarch's library. Heavy bookcases jutted from the inner wall, stopping short of the many-paned windows, and Rian walked along a corridor formed by the gap, watching a drama of wind. 

A rope had snapped. The First Minister's airship canted to one side, and then the ballonet bounced, threatening to smash the gondola onto Sheerside House's sweeping back lawn. 
For The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice here is a bit from page 31, since it isn't too spoilery and I haven't gotten much further ...

The vampire she had met bore no resemblance to the Heriath of legend, but Lord Msrah seemed quited certain. 

"I ... am surprised to be alive," Rian managed. 

Obviously I haven't finished the book yet, but it has been pretty interesting so far.  It is a very strange mashup of things - vampires, weather control, airships ... not sure what I think.

Here is the blurb from Amazon if you are interested:
In a world where lightning sustained the Roman Empire, and Egypt's vampiric god-kings spread their influence through medicine and good weather, tiny Prytennia's fortunes are rising with the ships that have made her undisputed ruler of the air.

But the peace of recent decades is under threat. Rome's automaton-driven wealth is waning along with the New Republic's supply of power crystals, while Sweden uses fear of Rome to add to her Protectorates. And Prytennia is under attack from the wind itself. Relentless daily blasts destroy crops, buildings, and lives, and neither the weather vampires nor Prytennia's Trifold Goddess have been able to find a way to stop them.

With events so grand scouring the horizon, the deaths of Eiliff and Aedric Tenning raise little interest. The official verdict is accident: two careless automaton makers, killed by their own construct.

The Tenning children and Aedric's sister, Arianne, know this cannot be true. Nothing will stop their search for what really happened.

Not even if, to follow the first clue, Aunt Arianne must sell herself to a vampire. 

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The United States of America According to Geologists

Okay - this cracked me so I had to share. Via Earth Magazine ...

I have to confess though - I am an outlier. I am a geologist but I don't like beer. Shush!  Don't tell the AGU.

When the GSA met in Utah for the first time since 1975, I found it pretty funny to watch the herds of geologists wandering around the streets of Salt Lake trying to find a bar (they were "private clubs" and you had to be a member to be allowed in to drink - alcohol laws were very weird then). Things loosened up considerably by the 2005 meeting, though the liquor laws are still pretty odd there.

Go see the rest of the world at

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Little Robot Ben Hatke

Little Robot 
Ben Hatke 

Published by: First Second
Copyright/Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Format: hardback
Pages: 144

Genre: Children's Fantasy Age Range: 6 - 9
Source: purchased book

From the cover:
Life outside the robot factory is confusing. 
Little Robot has a lot to learn ...
And that's what friends are for. 
But with danger on the way, will friendship be enough to save them? 

Ever since my children and I found the Zita the Space Girl books, Ben Hatke had been on my auto-buy list, so it was a lovely surprise to find a new book by him in the mailbox this morning. As soon as I open the box my son grabbed the book, but before he got a chance to read it my daughter grabbed it and read the whole thing before camp. It was kind of fun listening to her giggle and gasp as she read. She was pretty much totally focused on the story.

I wasn't able to get my hands on the book until just now. Ben Hatke has a lovely, distinctive style of artwork - it somehow manages to be simple with bright appealing colors while at the same time incorporating a wealth of tiny details that convey nuance and depth.

where you can see a chunk of the book

In Little Robot, a young girl (too young to go to school) tumbles out of her trailer home and spends her days exploring. One morning she finds a tool belt and then a robot in a box. She activates the robot and they become friends. Eventually however the robot wants to find others of its own kind, threatening their friendship.

The text is sparse - pretty much all very short pieces of dialogue or sound effects. The story, however, is pretty deep and possibly a bit disturbing for young children since it is about loneliness and being different as well as friendship. It has the same edgy/gritty feeling that the Zita books do. I can see why my daughter was totally absorbed (through it turns out she was mostly worried about the cat). This is the sort of book you have discussions with your children about because there is so much going on.

I love that the little girl is a strong character and great with tools (though as a parent I am totally freaked out at the idea of a little girl wandering around a junkyard alone and barefoot). The little robot has a distinct personality, as does the "bad robot" (as dubbed by my daughter). The story is definitely moving but it is a little hard to discuss in detail because I don't want to give the story away.

As I mentioned, the book inspires conversation.  My daughter spoke about it at length this morning. She wanted to know what the robots were for, since there isn't any context here. She even went back and re-examined the truck to see if she could figure it out. There are lots of off-skew pieces of information (like that fence) that make you really wonder about what is going on in the wider world - some nifty bits of worldbuilding for a 144 page book with very little text.

Several other questions might also come up - like why is this girl alone? And is the ending a happy one?

Sorry if this review is a bit disjointed. I am still thinking about the story and my reactions to it. I know that my daughter liked it quite a bit. I do too, but unfortunately I also have an adult perspective too which make me uneasy about parts of the story - which is probably a good thing. Some seriously unexpected depth here.

We have re-read the Zita books multiple times and I have the feeling that this book will also have repeat visits. If you liked Hatke's previous work, you are going to want to pick this book up too. Recommended.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Still Alive and bonus Moose

Stress levels IRL got super high a while back and posting on the blog is one of the things that fell by the wayside. Plus, I made the mistake of getting involved with the Hugo Awards, which burned me out really, really fast (I am one of the new voters who decided that No Award was vastly preferable to presenting awards to highly substandard work.)

However, now that I have had a break and a road trip out west, I am going to try to get back on track with posting again.

I spent a chunk of August hanging out with the moose in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming, where there was no such thing as cell service and WiFi was harder to find then a moose.

Yes - that is a mother with her calf. I was behind a stand and out of sight so that I wasn't disturbing them. Moose are actually quite dangerous and will charge if they feel threatened.

The other tiny bit of news is that I have been promoted to department chair (eek!) which is going to impact my activity as well. But - since this is supposed to be stress relief for me, I am still going to try to post something once or twice a week.

Happy Moose Day, I mean Tuesday!