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Posts from January 2006

More Comfort Reading: Under-Read Children's Books

A fellow Jen, Jen Rouse, has started a wonderful list of "under-read books" on her site. These are chapter books that she remembers fondly from her childhood. Her list includes such gems as the Emily series by L. M. Montgomery, the Green Knowe series by L. M. Boston, and the Great Brain books. I completely agree with Jen's comments about the books. These books are like old friends to me, too. When I see them in the library or the bookstore, I want to stop and give them a little pat to say hello. The only ones on Jen's list that I haven't read are the Alvin Fernald books -- I'll have to check those out soon.

I should also admit that Jen's post mentions this website, and perhaps it's a bit too much relentless self-promotion for me to link back to it. But I do really think that if you enjoy this site, the books on Jen's list will make you smile. Happy Reading -- Jen

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Read from the Start: The Library Lady

The Library Lady (a children's librarian and mother of two) has just begun a series of articles dedicated to helping parents to boost reading skills in their children. This first entry in the series is about building babies' language skills - why it's important, when and how to start, and what types of books you should read to infants specifically. She particularly recommends books with color photos, saying:

"Babies will respond a great deal more to pictures of familiar objects, particularly when they are full face front types. Side profiles and cluttered pictures are more than their developing eyesight can handle at first. And they will especially love pictures of other babies--especially baby faces."

The article is filled with these sorts of concrete recommendations, as well as book suggestions. If you are interested in teaching children to love books, you should definitely check it out. You might also enjoy The Library Lady's earlier article about remembering picture books from childhood. There's a great discussion in the comments section in which readers reminisce about their own childhood favorites. Happy Reading! -- Jen

Recommendation: The Lightning Thief

This weekend I finally finished reading Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief, the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I would ordinarily have read this book in about two or three days, but I was listening to it on MP3, and happened to start it right before an extended hiatus in my regular walks. Anyway, I LOVED The Lightning Thief, and I was very disappointed that it was snubbed by the Newberry committee last week.

The Lightning Thief is about Percy, a modern-day 12-year-old dyslexic boy who learns that one of his parents is a god (as in the original Greek gods). While this explains a lot of strange things that have happened in Percy's life, it's just the beginning of his adventures. These adventures range from fitting in at camp to learning self-defense (with real swords) to going on an epic quest to - no, I don't want to spoil it for you.

Several things made this book stand out for me. First off was the clarity of Percy's voice. He sounds like a 12-year-old boy. His internal insecurities and mistakes are believable, because they just sound right. Rick Riordan was a middle school teacher for 15 years, and I think that this definitely comes across. The supporting characters are also well-drawn and realistic.

Also, Percy's dyslexia, ADHD, and behavioral problems are integrated into the story as differences that are part of what make him who he is, rather than as negative attributes. I think that this will resonate with everyone - children and adult - because we all have differences. I think that the absentee nature of the Greek god parents will also, sadly, resonate with many readers.

Rick Riordan does a wonderful job of sprinkling the book with interesting mythological information while never "teaching" the reader. I think that this is important, because books that set out to teach, with heavy hand, just aren't fun to read. The Lightning Thief, however, is a lot of fun to read. The plot has twists and turns, drama and sadness and betrayal. I recommend it as a great read for children and adults.

I also recommend Rick Riordan's adult novels, the Tres Navarre series. This series is set in San Antonio. It features a private investigator who gets into some pretty dark and gritty situations, but maintains a sense of humor through it all. You can also check out Rick's blog.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Children's Books as Comfort Reading

Today I ran across a fun post on the Shorty PJs blog. Mary Brennan writes about "comfort reading". Or, as she puts it:

"More specifically, comfort reading in the form of kiddie books that made you feel all flannel-y inside, back when you were only worried about putting your clothes on right-side-out and getting your shoes on the proper foot."

Mary includes a list of ten of her own favorites, and asks readers for suggestions. Be sure to read the comments - there are lots of wonderful old favorites listed there. My favorite from Mary's list is Mary Poppins. My favorite from other people's comments would have to be a toss-up between Pippi Longstocking and Anne of Green Gables (both about red-headed, spunky heroines, now that I think about it).

Mary's article is likely to make you want to cancel all of your plans for the weekend, and curl up on the couch with some favorite children's books. If you like this idea, you might also enjoy my earlier article about Why You Should Read Children's Books as an Adult. Comfort reading should be added to that list as reason # 11. Happy Reading -- Jen

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Starting Kids on the Path to Reading

Today's Whistler Question (from British Columbia, Canada) includes a column by Jomichele Seidl, the children’s and youth services librarian at the Whistler Public Library. The column is about "Starting kids on the reading path". Ms. Seidl discusses why literacy is important, reviews a new literacy program for babies in Canada, and concludes with some concrete tips for keeping kids reading. Her suggestions are very straightforward, such as:

"As much as possible, let children choose whatever is appealing to them. Don’t insist that they choose all of their books at a prescribed reading level, and try to refrain from criticizing their taste in books. Sometimes they just need a nice, comfortable, entertaining book that isn’t so challenging."

The Whistler's formatting of the web article could use a bit of work, but the article is still a nice reminder about the importance of raising kids who love books. You should take a look! -- Jen

Jane Langton's Hall Family Chronicles

My friend Alex emailed me yesterday, and she reminded me about Jane Langton's children's books. These were books that I loved as a kid, and had for some reason forgotten to add to my lists as an adult. The books are set in Concord, MA (near where I grew up), and they offer a nice mix of ordinary children solving mysteries, and mysterious and magical events.

The first book in the series, the Diamond in the Window, is the one that I remember best. It's about two children who discover a mysterious bedroom hidden away in their house, with the two empty beds of their aunt and uncle, who disappeared many years before as children. The modern-day children have to solve the mystery of what happened to the long-ago children, and bring them back if they can, by unraveling a series of clues. I know that I re-read this book in college and found that it held up well.

The family's adventures continue through a series of other books. I intend to go back to re-read them now (though I have to admit that there are a lot of other books on my list, too). Here's the complete list, in order:

  1. The Diamond in the Window
  2. The Swing in the Summerhouse
  3. The Astonishing Stereoscope
  4. The Fledgling
  5. The Fragile Flag
  6. The Time Bike
  7. The Mysterious Circus

The last two are much newer than the others, and I haven't read them at all. These books are targeted towards the 9 to 12 age range, but they do offer plenty of food for adult thought, too (references to transcendentalism, for example). Jane Langton also writes a well-regarded mystery series for adults, the Homer Kelly series, also set in Concord. If you have time to check these books out, I hope that you'll let me know what you think! -- Jen

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© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. 

Escaping Adulthood with Children's Books

For those of you who enjoyed my earlier article about Why You Should Read Children's Books as an Adult, I refer you to Jason Kotecki's Escape Adulthood blog. The Escape Adulthood blog is part of the Kim and Jason collection of sites, which are dedicated to curing "adultitis". Kim and Jason define adultitis as:

"A common condition occurring in people between the ages of 21–121, marked by chronic dullness, mild depression, moderate to extremely high stress levels, a general fear of change, and, in some extreme cases, the inability to smile."

You can take a quiz to find out if you have adultitis. If you do, Kim and Jason have a daily comic strip to help cheer you up, and also a book about finding your childlike spirit. I'll write more about that when I've had a chance to read the book. Meanwhile, I scored 8 points on the quiz, which is "Stage 1 Adultitis". Considering that I'm a passionate fan of children's books and Disney World, the adultitis gene must be pretty aggressive.

Jason was kind enough to mention my article about children's books for adults in a post entitled "Time Travel on a Budget". If you are an adult who likes to read children's books, with or without kids around, you should check out the Escape Adulthood site. Have fun! -- Jen

Newberry and Caldecott Awards Announced

The ALA Newberry and Caldecott medals (along with many other awards) were annnounced earlier today. For a full run-down, see the Kids Lit site (several entries, all dated January 23). But for the briefest of summaries:

I have not read any of these books, but I did already have the Henry and Mudge books on my Kids Recommended page (recommended by my friend Sara). I have been wanting to read The Hello, Goodbye Window for a while now, and have added it, with Criss Cross, to my list. I am disappointed, however, that The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan didn't even get a mention by the Newberry committee. Anyway, check out the full list of awards on the Kids Lit site.

Bookstore Owners Tell Parents to Teach Kids to Love Books

Valerie Lewis and Monica Holmes are the co-owners of Hicklebee's Children's Bookstore in San Jose. There was an article today in the Palm Springs Desert Sun today about a talk that they gave to Palm Springs elementary school parents on "New and Noteworthy Children's Books."

Valerie Lewis said to the parents: "It's not your job to teach your children to read - it's the teacher's... Your job is to teach (children) the joy of books." She and Monica Holmes went on to share concrete recommendations for helping children to learn to love books. They also made several book recommendations. You can find them in the Desert Sun article. I'm sure that you can also go to Hicklebee's and get recommendations in person, too! Happy Book-Buying! -- Jen

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© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Call to Oprah to Champion Children's Books

The Powell's Books blog has a wonderful article calling on Oprah to "leave adult literature to her increasingly snippy, predatory critics and start selecting children's books for her book club." The author, Alexis, is "one of those speciously optimistic advocates of the written word who thinks that if everyone just sat down and read Charlotte's Web there would be world peace." She is concerned, as am I, with how we as a society are going to teach children to be more literate human beings. She suggests that children's literature needs a strong advocate like Oprah, who can get millions of children to "grow up enamored of books, in love with reading". Alexis proceeds to suggest a number of under-read children's books, several of which I fully intend to look into. But don't take my word for it - read Alexis' article.

Be sure to read the comments, too. There is a very interesting ongoing discussion there. After reading the discussion, I'm not sure whether or not having Oprah specifically champion children's books would do the job. But I still think that Alexis makes an excellent point about the need for championship of children's literacy, and the positive outcomes that would come from more children loving books.

The 2005 Cuffies from Publisher's Weekly

My thanks to Kelly at Big A little a for her write-up about the 2005 Publisher's Weekly Cuffies. The Cuffies are a series of awards in which children's booksellers choose their favorites in a variety of traditional and not-so-traditional categories. My personal favorite from the PW article was:

"Our Vote to Win the Newberry: The Penderwicks. Honorable mentions: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan ("Because something fun, fantastic and fabulous should win. Can we please give death, divorce and other social tensions a year off?")"

So true! I've talked to many people who would like the next Newberry winner to just be a really great read, rather than a book about some larger issue. The Lightning Thief (which happens to be what I'm currently listening to on MP3) was also named "Favorite Book to Handsell" because "every customer between nine and 14 can't be wrong". You should swing on over to the Publisher's Weekly site and read the whole list. Have a great day! -- Jen

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

My Personal Classic Books

The book The Little Guide to your Well-Read Life by Steve Leveen (see my article about this book) includes the concept of developing your own personal list of classics. As I see it, you own classics are the books that you expect to re-read at regular intervals for the rest of your life. This list will be unique for every individual. Here is a first pass at my list (as of January 21, 2006):

Adult Books:

  • JANE AUSTEN: Pride and Prejudice. My absolute favorite of the traditional classics. I find new humor in it every time I read it (I've also listened on MP3).
  • CHARLOTTE BRONTE: Jane Eyre. I read this book when I was really too young for it, but bonded with it nevertheless.
  • GEORGETTE HEYER: Frederica and The Grand Sophy, among others. These books are Regency romances written by a master of the genre. They are also wonderful comfort books, in which you can count on things ending happily ever after, once the requisite trials have been overcome. They also have a lot of humor, once you accustom yourself to the brand of humor, similar to Jane Austen.
  • STEPHEN KING: The Stand : Expanded Edition: For the First Time Complete and Uncut. I realize that this isn't what most people would consider a classic, but I love it, and I get the urge to re-read it every 3 or 4 years.
  • CAROL O'CONNELL: Mallory's Oracle (Kathleen Mallory Novels). The first book in the Mallory series. I don't normally re-read mysteries, and so they don't make it onto my classics list. The characterization in this series is so amazing, however, and the plots so complex, that I can read them over and over again. My favorite in the series is Stone Angel
  • AYN RAND: Atlas Shrugged. This book changed the way I look at the world.
  • D. E. STEVENSON: Listening Valley and Celia's House, among others. These are my comfort books, reminding me that stories can have happy endings. They are all set in England and Scotland before, during and after WWII, and are gentle family stories, and romances that end with marriage and children.

Children's Books:

I hope that this list inspires you to think about what comprises your classics list. If you feel like sharing, I would love to hear about it. Happy Reading! -- Jen

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© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.