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Posts from July 2006

Yellow Star: Jennifer Roy

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy is a middle grade novel about what happened to the Jews imprisoned in the Lodz, Poland ghetto during World War II. Which I know makes it sound depressing. And it's quite sad, certainly. It brought tears to my eyes more than once, especially near the end. But Yellow Star is filled with love, bravery, hope, and compassion, too. Ultimately, it's inspirational. The book is based on a true story.

Yellow Star is told from the perspective of Syvia Perlmutter, who was, with her family, locked into the Lodz ghetto when she was 4 1/2 years old. As described in the foreword to the book, 270,000 people were forced into this ghetto during the course of the war. More than five years later, Syvia walked out of the ghetto alive. She was one of only 800 people left. Only twelve of the survivors were children. That's right. Twelve.

More than fifty years later, Syvia (now called Sylvia) told her story to her niece, Jennifer Roy, who found that the best way to tell the story was to tell it in Syvia's own voice. The story is classified as fiction, because of course no one can be sure of every detail, but the book rings true throughout. Because this is Syvia's story, and we know from the introduction that Syvia survives to adulthood, this story isn't as scary as it might be otherwise. I think that's a good thing, because it's quite scary enough. I kept shaking my head throughout the book, reminding myself that this was real, not some movie version of a story.

The book is told in very short sentences, like a young child's memories. This format (it's a free verse novel) makes it easily accessible to kids. There is plenty of white space in the text, and the poems/sections are quite short.

What stands the most in this book, to me, is the strength of love that Syvia's parents had for her. They did whatever it took to protect her and keep her safe under impossible circumstances. Her father, especially, showed himself to be a brave leader, who also helped others outside of the family. As for Syvia, she mostly accepts what's happening to her as inevitable, and tells us about facts. But sometimes she wonders about the bigger picture. For example:

"I am certainly no one special or important.
Just one plain brown-haired, skinny girl.
But I am alive and still here.
Am I lucky?
Surely not as lucky as children
who are not Jews.
But every day I get to be with
my parents and sister,
and in the ghetto that is
more than luck.
It is a miracle."

Syvia goes through terrible things. She loses friends and relatives, and her precious doll. She has to hide from the Nazis, who are removing all of the children. Her family doesn't have enough food, or heat. The Nazis shoot people on the street, and send people off in freight cars. At one point, she resorts to naming and playing with dust bunnies, and calling them her toys. But Syvia maintains her spirit, and the love for her family. She survives, in part through her own actions, and in part through the combined efforts of the adults around her. And that's inspirational.

I highly, highly recommend this book. Yellow Star recounts an important chapter in World War II, from the perspective of an actual child who survived. Hearing about the Lodz ghetto from Syvia, who only gradually comes to understand what's going on herself, should keep the story from being overwhelming for most kids. The strong parental love displayed in the book should also act as a counterweight to balance the more negative elements. This is a book that I'll want to read again, and want kids I care about to read, too.

Book: Yellow Star
Author: Jennifer Roy
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children's Books
Original Publication Date: 2006
Pages: 227
Age Range: 10 and up

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

Children's Literacy Round-Up: July 30

I'm afraid that I won't be able to do Sunday visits this week, because of more travel. However, here are some literacy related articles from the news this week that caught my eye. Happy reading!

  • A New Jersey Herald article by Jessica Seda describes a "communitywide read-a-thon in Byram ... aimed at putting books in the hands of children and creating a lifelong love of reading." There are some great activities planned.
  • The Plattsburgh, NY Press Republication had a July 22nd feature article about local resident Alice Sample. Mrs. Sample was recently awarded a New York State Association Champion for Children Member of the Year Award for her extraordinary literacy volunteerism. She particularly works to encourage parents to read to their children, as a means of raising children who enjoy books and reading, and do better in school.
  • According to an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, the newly crowned Miss Kentucky, Rachelle Phillips is a serious literacy advocate. "She will ... continue her work as a literacy advocate, said Jamie Breeding, executive director of the Miss Kentucky organization. Phillips takes her literacy platform very seriously, as she had to repeat second grade because of a reading problem, she said. Now, as a spokeswoman for the "Reading is Fundamental" program, she encourages people to volunteer as tutors or take their children to reading centers."
  • The San Jose Mercury News (California) had a recent article (reprinted here on the Contra Costa Times website) about a local Mountain View program that helps teach high school kids how to read. The program, called Just Read, pairs students one-on-one with tutors, and starts at ground zero with reading. One of the goals of the program is to keep problem kids out of the juvenile justice system, and get them reading, and into college, instead.
  • And, in another San Jose Mercury News story, Read This! writer Jody Goldberg (a local high school senior) introduces the Literature League. The Literature League is a program by which older teens form reading groups and book clubs with fourth and fifth graders. Books are provided to all participants through fundraising, because "it's hard to love reading when you can't afford books." The program has also evolved into a bit of a mentorship program, although it started out being mostly about the books. The program was started by Anne Chernis, a senior at Los Gatos High School and Katherine DePangher, a freshman at the University of California-Los Angeles.
  • This article in the July 27th Independent discusses how to improve literacy and other academic performance for boys. For example, "Boys' literacy has been developed through daily quiet reading, increasing the number of boy-friendly library books and library lessons."

BlogHer Conference Report

I'm on my way out the door for a flight, and I simply don't have time for a full BlogHer conference report. But it was a lot of fun. It was well-organized, with interesting sessions, and tons and tons of time for informal network and more structured conversations between participants. I made many great women, and I look forward to following up with them, and visiting their blogs.

What really struck me about this conference, coming from a semiconductor industry background was the difference in the feel of the conference, and how people related to one another relative to tech conferences. First of all, of course, the gender breakdown was reversed. Usually I'm one of a handful of women. Here there were a handful of men. Then there was the energy level at the conference. People were very friendly and outgoing, and really looking to connect with one another. I think that some of this was a gender thing, and that some of it was a blogger thing. I mean, people who choose to blog, and care about it enough to go to a conference about it, are by definition people who are trying to put themselves out there, and connect with other people. I had been a bit intimidated to go to this conference, where I didn't know anyone, but it really turned out to be fine. I met a lot of great people. it would have been nice if there were more bloggers from the kidlitosphere there, of course, but you can't have everything.

In terms of content, I personally got the most out of today's opening session, in which various attendees talked about how blogging has changed their worlds, and in some cases the world as a whole. The women who started a Katrina relief agency overnight were particularly inspirational. I also enjoyed the "Is the Next Martha Stewart a Blogger?" session (about using blogs to help with commercial ventures, with an emphasis on craft blogs), and the "From Here to Autonomy session" (about making a living from blogging).

After I get back from my trip, I'll have more time to visit the new blogs that I learned about this weekend. I'll definitely keep you posted.

Travels and Greetings

I'm going to be traveling again for the next week, so my blog posts will probably be sparse, but I have left a couple of reviews set up to post for you during the week. And I'll check in when I can. I'll also be attending the BlogHer conference tomorrow, but I'll probably be delayed in posting about that, too.

What I can report to you now is that I had lunch with Kelly Herold from Big A little a in San Jose today. It was so nice to meet her in person, and talk with her about books and blogging and careers. I think that she's going to post a picture of us on her blog sometime soon. Thanks, Kelly!

Oh, and one final thought for your reading pleasure. Check out the Saturday link festival at Semicolon. Sherry has set up a cute little form by which you can submit your best book review of the week for inclusion. It's well worth checking out. 

Have a great week everyone, and I'll check back in with you just as soon as I can.

My Last Post on the WSJ Article

For those of you who have been following the controversy of the Wall Street Journal opinion piece that denounced summer reading lists, here's a brief update. It turns out that the piece was written by an intern with a personal agenda, and that the Professor quoted was mis-represented. You can read more at Paul Acampora's Live Journal site. Thanks to Leila at bookshelves of doom and Liz from A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy for the link.

Liz also has a very thoughtful write-up on her site about how to get kids to want to read the classics. Be sure to read the comments! Camille continued the topic over at Book Moot, too. Finally, Gail Gauthier has some comments on the original WSJ article, though it sounds like she finds the whole controversy tiresome. 

175 Cool Boys from Children's Literature

The Jen Robinson's Book Page list of Cool Boys from Children's Literature is, thanks to the many comments and suggestions, now 175 strong. I'm publishing the current list here, because it's much easier to read that way than when it's broken into separate posts. However, I hesitate to call the list complete, because I suspect that other suggestions may continue to trickle in. Who knows? Maybe the Cool Boys will even catch up with the Cool Girls over time. But for now, I hope that you're able to enjoy the adventures of the many brave, smart, intrepid, and funny boys on this list.

Many, many thanks to everyone who contributed to the list, and especially to those who took the trouble to write about it. Be sure to also check out the list of Cool Teachers being maintained at A Year of Reading. Happy reading!

  1. Aaron from The Fallen quartet by Thomas E. Sniegoski
  2. Alec Ramsay from The Black Stallion (and sequels) by Walter Farley
  3. Alex Rider from the series (starting with Stormbreaker) by Anthony Horowitz
  4. Alfred Kropp from The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Rick Yancey.
  5. Almanzo from Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  6. Andrew (Ender) Wiggin from Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  7. Andy from Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty
  8. Andy from the Andy Russell series (e.g. The Many Troubles of Andy Russell) by David A. Adler
  9. Art from The Invisible Detective series (Double Life, Shadow Beast, etc.) by Justin Richards.
  10. Artemis from Artemis Fowl from the series by Eoin Colfer.
  11. Arthur Duncan from the Maida books (Maida's Little Shop, etc.) by Inez Haynes Irwin.
  12. Arthur in The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White
  13. Arthur P. from the Keys of the Kingdom series (starting with Mister Monday) by Garth Nix
  14. Atreyu from The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.
  15. Barnaby from Anatopsis by Chris Abouzeid
  16. Bastian Balthazar Bux from The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.
  17. Bean from Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.
  18. Ben from Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
  19. Benny and Henry from The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  20. Billy from Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  21. Billy from the Billy And Blaze series by C.W. Anderson
  22. Bobby Pendragon from the Pendragon series (starting with The Merchant of Death) by D. J. MacHale.
  23. Boris, er, Morris (from Freaky Friday and A Billion for Boris by Mary Rodgers)
  24. Boy 412 from Magyk by Angie Sage
  25. Bran from The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
  26. Brian from Hatchet, Brian's Winter, etc. by Gary Paulsen
  27. Bud Caldwell from Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis.
  28. Charles Wallace Murray from A Wrinkle in Time (and sequels) by Madeleine L'Engle.
  29. Charlie Ashanti from Lionboy and sequels by Zizou Corder.
  30. Charlie Bone from the Children of the Red King Series (starting with Midnight for Charlie Bone) by Jenny Nimmo
  31. Charlie Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
  32. Cody from the series (e.g. Hey, New Kid!) by Betsy Duffey
  33. Curdie from The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
  34. Danny from Danny, the Champion of the World (Puffin Novels) by Roald Dahl
  35. Danny from Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard
  36. David from The Boy Who Lost His Facee by Louis Sachar
  37. David from Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  38. David/The Boy/The Invisible Boy from The Gawgon and the Boy by Lloyd Alexander
  39. Dickon from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  40. Dink from A to Z Mysteries series (e.g. The Bald Bandit) by Ron Roy
  41. Doon Harrow from The City of Ember and The People of Sparks by Jeanne Duprau
  42. Edek B. & Jan from Escape from Warsaw (Original title: The Silver Sword) by Ian Serraillier
  43. Edmund Pevensie (only in Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) by C. S. Lewis
  44. Edward Cullen from Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.
  45. Emil from Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kaestner
  46. Encyclopedia from Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol.
  47. Eragon from the Eragon trilogy from the Inheritance Trilogy by Christopher Paolini.
  48. Eric and Neal from the Secrets of Droon series by Tony Abbott
  49. Eugenides from The Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner
  50. Felix Piloto from Free Baseball by Sue Corbett.
  51. Finn from Flight of the Doves by Walter Macken.
  52. Finn from The Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson.
  53. Fletcher Moon from Half-Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer.
  54. Florin from Mimus by Lilli Thal
  55. Frank and Joe Hardy from the Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon.
  56. Fritz, Franz, Jack, and Ernest, the brothers from The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
  57. Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
  58. Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  59. Gregor from the Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles) books by Suzanne Collins.
  60. Hans Brinker from Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge
  61. Harold from Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.
  62. Haroun from Haroun and the Sea of Storiesby Salman Rushdie
  63. Harry Potter from the series by J. K. Rowling.
  64. Harvey from Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
  65. Henry from Henry Huggins from the series by Beverly Cleary.
  66. Henry from The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  67. Henry from Henry and Mudge series (starting with Henry And Mudge First Book) by Cynthia Rylant
  68. Homer Price from Homer Price, Centerburg Tales: More Adventures of Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
  69. Hubie from The Teacher from the Black Lagoon and sequels by Mike Thaler and Jared Lee (illustrator)
  70. Huck Finn from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
  71. Indigo Casson from Saffy's Angel (and sequels) by Hilary McKay's.
  72. Jack from the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne
  73. Jack from the Prowlers quartet by Christopher Golden
  74. Jack Henry from the Jack stories (e.g. Jack's Black Book) by Jack Gantos.
  75. Jacob Two-Two, from Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang and others by Mordecai Richler
  76. James Bond from Silverfin by Charles Higson.
  77. James from James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  78. Jamie from From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.
  79. Jason from Rules by Cynthia Lord
  80. Jeffrey from the The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
  81. Jeffrey Lionel "Maniac" Magee from Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.
  82. Jella from The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
  83. Jemmy and Prince Brat (Horace) from The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
  84. Jess Aarons from Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.
  85. Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
  86. Joe from Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight
  87. Joey Pigza from Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key and others by Jack Gantos
  88. John and Roger from Swallows and Amazons and the sequels
  89. John Gaunt from The Akhenaten Adventure (Children of the Lamp series) by P. B. Kerr.
  90. Johnny from Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes.
  91. Jon from The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key
  92. Jonah Wish from Thieves Like Us by Stephen Cole.
  93. Jonas from The Giver by Lois Lowry.
  94. Jonathan inThe Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh
  95. Juan de Pareja from I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Burton De Tevio
  96. Julian Jarman from Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
  97. Ken from My Friend Flicka and Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O'Hara
  98. Kit from the Young Wizards series (starting with So You Want to Be a Wizard ) by Diane Duane.
  99. Klaus Baudelaire from the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket
  100. Larry from The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashjian
  101. Laurie from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  102. Lewis Barnavelt from The House with a Clock in Its Walls (and sequels) by John Bellairs
  103. Lief from the Deltora Quest series (starting with The Forests of Silence) by Emily Rodda
  104. Luke from the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  105. Mario from The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
  106. Mark Severson from Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Alden R. Carter
  107. Matt and Attean from The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
  108. Matt Cruse from Airborn and Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel.
  109. Matthew Martin from the series (starting with Everyone Else's Parents said Yes) by Paula Danziger
  110. Max from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
  111. Merlin from the Young Merlin Trilogy (starting with Passager) by Jane Yolen
  112. Merry Brandybuck The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
  113. Milo from The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. (Not so much at the beginninng of the book, but he improves.)
  114. Mowgli from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  115. Nate from the Nate the Great series by Marjorie Sharmat
  116. Nathaniel Bowditch from Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
  117. Nathaniel from The Bartimaeus Trilogy (starting with The Amulet of Samarkand) by Jonathan Stroud.
  118. Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling
  119. Nicholas from Master Skylark by Jonn Bennett
  120. Nick from Frindle by Andrew Clements.
  121. Nick from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  122. Nicky from The Raft by Jim LaMarche
  123. Noah Gershom from The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsberg
  124. Oliver from Oliver's Must-Do List by Susan Taylor Brown
  125. Oliver from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  126. Oliver from Pond Scum by Alan Silberberg
  127. Oliver Melendy from The Saturdays and sequels by Elizabeth Enright.
  128. Omri and Little Bear from The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
  129. Pagan Kidrouk from Pagan series (starting with Pagan's Crusade) by Catherine Jinks
  130. Parker from The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
  131. Pepito (aka the Bad Hat) from the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans
  132. Percy Jackson from The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan.
  133. Peter from Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (also cool as portrayed by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson in Peter and the Starcatchers).
  134. Peter Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
  135. Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny from The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter
  136. Pinocchio Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.
  137. Pip from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  138. Pippin Took The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
  139. Ponyboy from The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
  140. Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream as portrayed in the Sisters Grimm series (starting with The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives - Book #1) by Michael Buckley
  141. Ralph from The Mouse and the Motorcycle and sequels by Beverly Cleary.
  142. Ralph from the autobiographical Little Britches series (starting with Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers) by Ralph Moody
  143. Robbie from Leaving Protection by Will Hobbs
  144. Robbie Hewitt from Preacher's Boy by Katherine Patterson
  145. Robin from The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
  146. Robin Hood from The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green or The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
  147. Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling.
  148. Rowan from the Rowan of Rin series by Emily Rodda
  149. Rudy from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  150. Rush Melendy from The Saturdays and sequels by Elizabeth Enright
  151. Sam Beaver from The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
  152. Sam Gamgee The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
  153. Scipio from The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke.
  154. Simon & Jared Grace from The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
  155. Smith from Smith by Leon Garfield
  156. Snipp, Snapp and Snurr, the three Swedish brothers from the books (e.g. Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Buttered Bread) by Maj Lindman
  157. Stanley Yelnats from Holes by Louis Sachar.
  158. Stuart from Stuart Little by E. B. White.
  159. Taran from The Prydain Chronicles (starting with The Book of Three) by Lloyd Alexander
  160. Tien Pao from The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong
  161. Tom Brown from Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes
  162. Tom Canty and Edward Tudor, from The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
  163. Tom D. Fitzgerald (The Great Brain) from the series by John D. Fitzgerald.
  164. Tom Sawyer from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.
  165. Tony Malone from Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key.
  166. Travis from Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
  167. Turner Buckminster from Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt.
  168. Vince from Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman
  169. Will Parker from The Tripods series by John Christopher.
  170. Will Parry from the His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman.
  171. Will Stanton from The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper.
  172. William from The Castle in the Attic and The Battle for the Castle by Elizabeth Winthrop
  173. Zack from The Zack Files (starting with My Great-grandpa's in the Litter Box) by Dan Greenburg and Jack E. Davis
  174. Zane from Pretties and Specials by Scott Westerfeld
  175. Zed Malakov from The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson

Contributors and Commenters So Far:

People Who Have Linked to the Cool Boys Lists So Far:

Note: This list is copyright (c) 2006 by Jennifer Robinson. All rights reserved.

Poetry Friday: Knights and Ladies

This week, for your reading pleasure, a poem from When We Were Very Young, by A. A. Milne.

Knights and Ladies
There is in my old picture-book
A page at which I like to look,
Where knights and squires come riding down
The cobbles of some steep old town,
And ladies from beneath the eaves
Flutter their bravest handkerchiefs,
Or, smiling proudly, toss down gages....
But that was in the Middle Ages.
It wouldn't happen now; but still,
Whenever I look up the hill
Where, dark against the green and blue,
The firs come marching, two by two,
I wonder if perhaps I might
See suddenly a shining knight
Winding his way from blue to green --
Exactly as it would have been
Those many, many years ago....

Perhaps I might. You never know.


Doesn't that last line capture the very essence of children's literature? You never know what might happen. I don't think that I'll be able to manage links to other Poetry Friday entries this week, due to various factors. I refer you instead of Liz B. at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy. Have a great weekend!

More Responses to the WSJ Piece

Yesterday I wrote about Shannon Hale's response to a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece that trashed current summer reading lists as compared to "the classics". Not surprisingly, people around the kidlitosphere, especially the librarians among us, have some things to say about that. Here are some well-thought-out responses to the article:

  • Liz B. at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy includes her criteria for creating summer reading lists. She in particular points out that books that are already popular don't need to be on reading lists, because kids will find them anyway.
  • A Fuse #8 Production urges you to read the WSJ article only "Should you wish to feel the delightful taste of bile rising to the back of your throat."
  • Leila at bookshelves of doom says: "The WSJ is dead to me." Personally, I never liked it much anyway, and I agree with Leila.
  • Chasing Ray asks: "When did reading become another assignment?", and urges people to give kids a break in terms of summer reading, and let them read what they enjoy.
  • TadMack at Finding Wonderland and MotherReader both defend the reading material on the back of cereal boxes. TadMack sounds off in particular about the classics ("the so-called 'canon' is made up of a.) old b.) Caucasian and c.) male writers and characters, to a large degree"). MotherReader asks how classics handle multiculturalism, and also makes the point that her library system picks NEW books for summer reading programs on purpose.
  • There are also 26 comments now on Shannon Hale's original post. What's nice about reading the comments there is that they include input from actual young adult readers (or so it appears). Imagine if the person who wrote the original WSJ piece had asked a few kids what they thought...
  • UPDATED to add: Michele at Scholar's Blog takes the positive road, and posts two poems about the joys of reading and books (for Poetry Friday). She also links to a third. I think that they're alll excellent, and a perfect way to start the day.

If you're at all interested in children's books, summer reading lists, or the question of modern children's literature vs. classics, then you really should take a few minutes to read the above posts. These are thoughtful comments from people who work with children and children's books every day. They clearly have a much more balanced perspective on the issue than that of the writer from the Wall Street Journal (who didn't even take the time to read the "non-classic" books in question). Thanks for listening!

Shannon Hale vs. the WSJ on Classic Books

You can find an excellent rant (actually several, if you read the prolific comments) on Shannon Hale's blog today, in response to a remarkably snooty and condescending opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ piece takes to task the "uninspired choices" on library summer reading lists (i.e. current fiction). The writer suggests a return to the classics, saying that (by offering lighter summer reading choices) "we're raising a generation of cereal-box readers." The piece basically disparages anything written in the past 100 years.

I'm personally of the opinion that there are some great classic books, and it's wonderful when kids find them and enjoy them. BUT the more important thing is that kids find books that they enjoy, and read those. Especially during the summer. The worst thing that can happen is for kids to be so turned off by the classics that they decide they hate reading.

I also think that there are a lot of perspectives that you find in children's books today that you couldn't find in the classics (multi-cultural viewpoints, children of alcoholics, protagonists with mental illness, etc.). This means that often individual kids will get more inspiration from some newer book than they ever would from "The Wind in the Willows" or "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

Shannon says most of this and more, much more eloquently than I. Check out her remarks here.

Inexcusable: Chris Lynch

This book is fascinating and disturbing. I couldn't put it down. Inexcusable, by Chris Lynch, is told from the perspective of Keir Sarafian, a high school senior, football kicker, and self-proclaimed "good guy". The very first scene depicts Keir in a bedroom having an intense confrontation with Gigi Boudakian, the girl that he claims to love. Gigi rails against him for what he's just done to her. "I said no" she insists. Keir argues with her, and with himself, because the picture in front of him simply can't be right. He is baffled. He can't possibly have just done this to someone he loves.

The rest of the book consists of a series of flashbacks of Keir's senior year, as he looks at himself, his family, and at recent events in his life. These scenes are interspersed with scenes from the confrontation with Gigi, and the reader only gradually learns what has led up to the conflict in the bedroom.

At first glance, Keir seems like a nice guy. He's popular, with plenty of friends. He's very close to his father and his two older sisters (his mother died when he was young). He has an engaging, self-deprecating voice. However, it becomes clear quite early in the book that there is a disconnect between Keir's view of himself and who he really is.

For example, Keir tackles an opposing player in a football game, permanently injuring the other boy, and costing the boy a chance at a football career. Instead of feeling remorse or empathy, Keir mostly worries about himself, and whether or not other people will perceive him as a monster. He blames the coach who put him in, and even blames the other kid for not getting up when he should have. Other incidents follow, and the pattern of lack of remorse or responsibility, and of blaming other people, strengthens.

Here's an example of Keir's denial and rationalization (not in reference to Gigi, but to another incident): "You can look at a thing and at the time it will look funny, if conditions are right. In the mean light of day an event from the night before might look plain nasty, but that does not automatically render it nasty, in its context. Even if I might partway agree with you about the nastiness in the light, that still doesn't mean that at its original time the thing itself couldn't have been a very different, better thing."

The reader also gradually comes to see that Keir's close family may not be completely healthy. Keir spends most of his evenings at home with his father, playing Risk and drinking beer. He talks with his college sisters on the phone every day. He worries deeply about going away to college himself and leaving his father home alone. He doesn't seem to have any close friends, although he has many acquaintances. Gigi, who he claims to love, plays no part whatsoever in most of the backstory, although they are supposedly longtime friends.

There's a moment where Keir is at a party that speaks to his isolation. He thinks: "I wanted other people. Not any other people but my people. I don't know where or how I had lost my ability to really enjoy hanging around with the general population, but I had well and truly lost it. It was like I couldn't bear to be very long with people other than the people I loved, and the people I loved were a very compact list and all the rest just made me tense and awkward and angry after the first twenty minutes."

Inexcusable was a National Book Award Finalist. Inexcusable is a frightening tale of how someone can appear fine on the surface, but be damaged inside, and how a series of poor choices and chance occurrences can lead to disaster. It's about the truths and lies that we tell ourselves and each other, and the price of emotional isolation from one's peers. Inexcusable is a powerful novel, told from a very risky perspective. I consider this book to be a must read for young adults of both genders. I highly recommend it for adults, too.

Book: Inexcusable
Author: Chris Lynch
Publisher: Atheneum
Original Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 176
Age Range: 14 and up

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

American Idol

This is not children's book related, but my friend Miles Crakow was profiled today on one of the American Idol blogs. No, he's not a contestant. But he is the Supervising Producer of the American Idol website. It's a great website, and the profile is pretty entertaining, too. Miles was one of the people who inspired me to start this blog, and he has been ever-supportive of it. Read more about Miles here. You can also visit Miles' blog here.

BlogHer Conference This Weekend

Later this week I'll be attending my first BlogHer conference in San Jose. If any of you are planning to attend, let me know. It would be great to meet in person! I'll be attending the cocktail party on Friday, and the sessions on Saturday. BlogHer's mission is to create opportunities for women bloggers to pursue exposure, education, and community. The conference will be held at the Hyatt in San Jose.

I hope to see you there!