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Posts from September 2006

Poetry Friday: More Roald Dahl

Since I've just finished re-reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I'm compelled to bring you an excerpt for this week's poetry Friday entry. In Chapter 27 (Mike Teavee is Sent by Television), the Oompa-Loompas sound a cautionary note regarding kids watching too much television. They suggest instead, this:

"So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks—
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something good to read.
And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did."

For other Poetry Friday entries, I refer you to Kelly or Liz. I'm still (always and forever, it seems) traveling. Have a great weekend!

How I Ended Up Reading 4 Books at Once

I'm in Minnesota on business this week, and I haven't had much time for blogging. I did manage to read a new book on the way out (The Strictest School in the World by Howard Whitehouse, which I loved, and will review when I get a chance). And somehow, I've ended up reading four other books at once this week. Here's the story:

Before I left home I was about 2/3 of the way through The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga. I'm enjoying that one (it's about to be released), but I didn't want to bring it on my trip because it's hardcover, and I'm pretty far into it, and it seemed an inefficient use of carry-on space.

So the night I got here I started reading Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief, which I had ordered from Amazon because several people have included the third book in the series on their Best of 2006 lists, and I wanted to start at the beginning. I didn't get very far into it, however, because I fell asleep early. Travel always tires me out.

So the next night I went for a walk around the Mall of America before dinner, and was unable to resist a discounted copy of Ned Vizzini's Be More Chill (because I so enjoyed his newer book, It's Kind of a Funny Story). But then I had nothing else to read with me, so I started reading Be More Chill during dinner.

Then I got back to the hotel, and I noticed that the have this nice little library of books in the lobby, which guests are free to borrow. If you return the book to any hotel in the same chain, they make a donation to a literacy group. So how could I pass that up? Besides which, they had several copies of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which I've been meaning to re-read. So I thought, I'll just read this one while I'm here, and then I'll return it to this hotel, and I'm guessing I can still get the donation made to the literacy group. Only I didn't get very far before yet again falling asleep, so I may end up having to take it with me when I leave anyway.

And that's how I ended up, in the past five days, completing one book and starting four others, all of which I like and intend to finish. It's an addiction, there's no question about it. That's not counting the two non-fiction books that I'm part-way through at home, either. Does this sort of thing happen to you?

In other news, it's very fall-like here in Minneapolis this week. Living in California (but having lived in Boston for many years), I find it kind of nice. I'm just glad that I'm here now instead of in, say, February. Also, in case you haven't been here, the Mall of America is ludicrously big, but excellent for getting a bit of exercise from walking laps.

And now I find myself with two hours to kill at the client site, between classes that I'm teaching. At first it seemed like a long time (it's already late in the day, and it would be nice to go back to the hotel and read one of my several books). But then I realized that I have access to a computer with Internet access here, and I can work on my blog. So now the time seems, if anything, too short. Isn't it great to have something on which you love to spend your time?

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

The Edge of the Forest, September Issue

Another thing that I missed this weekend was the publication of the September issue of The Edge of the Forest. The Edge is an online journal about children's literature, edited by the talented Kelly Herold of Big A little a and written by a top-notch team of writers from across the kidlitosphere.

This month's issue features an interview with Rick Riordan (author of the hugely popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series) by Camille Powell from Book Moot; an entertaining article about booktalking to seventh graders by Pam Coughlan / MotherReader; a look at Peter Pan and the book's sequels and prequels by Allie from Bildungsroman; and a spotlight article about fantasy author Catherine Webb by Michele Fry from Scholar's Blog. There's also lots of great stuff in the usual monthly columns: book reviews, recommendations from kids, writer interviews, and best of the blogs.

If you are at all interested in children's literature, I highly recommend that you check out the new issue of The Edge of the Forest. Happy reading!

Banned Book Week

September 23rd to 30th is Banned Book Week. The ALA is conducting a survey of favorite banned / challenged books. If you're interested, head on over and vote for your favorite. They also want to know why you picked that book, and why we should celebrate the freedom to read. I picked Lois Lowry's The Giver, but had several other favorites on the list as well.

As to why we should celebrate the freedom to read, well I think that it's because books expand our minds, and let us visit new places, and see things from other people's perspectives. And because everyone should have the experience of completely falling into a book, so deeply that the world around them disappears. For me, that's what reading is all about.

Thanks to Finding Wonderland and A Fuse #8 Production for this link.

A Carnival, and a Bunch of Sidekicks

Mheir and I have just returned from a relaxing weekend of wine-tasting in Napa and Sonoma, with our ever-entertaining friends from Houston. I'm hoping to catch up with what's going on at some of the other blogs, but there are two things that I want to bring to your attention now:

  • Sheila Ruth has posted the Seventh Carnival of Children's Literature over at Wands and Worlds. She's chosen a lovely harvest theme, and brings us a healthy crop of posts about children's literature. These carnivals are a great chance to revisit favorite posts from other sites, and to learn about new sites, too. I look forward to diving in further!
  • Little Willow over at Bildungsroman has started a new children's literature list (to join the cool girls, cool boys, librarians, cool teachers, wicked women, and great antagonists): Sassy Sidekicks of Children's Literature. The idea is to give some attention to the best friends and siblings and neighbors of the main characters, the ones who support our heroes, and give greater depth to their stories. Head on our to see the list so far (be sure to read the comments) and to suggest your favorite sidekicks. (Incidentally, I do owe you all updated lists of Cool Boys and Cool Girls, to take into account recent suggestions! Hopefully my travel schedule will allow me to do that soon.)

Happy Reading!

Poetry Friday: Shel Silverstein

This week I bring you a poem from Shel Silverstein's Falling Up, a book that my grandmother enjoyed late in her life, and that one one of my nieces likes, too.

"No Grown-Ups

No grown-ups allowed.
We're playin' a game,
And we don't need
"Be carefuls" or "don'ts."
No grown-ups allowed.
We're formin' a club,
And the secret oath
Must not be shown.
No grown-ups allowed.
We're goin' out for pizza——
No, no one but me and my crowd.
So just stay away.
Oh, now it's time to pay?
Grown-ups allowed."

I won't be able to do any sort of round-up this weekend, because I'll have guests in town, and we're going wine-tasting. But I refer you to Liz and Kelly. Have a great weekend!

2006 Picks So Far: The Master List

If you're looking for an idea of what new children's books to read, you simply must head on over to MotherReader's blog. She's just posted a compiled list of everyone's suggestions (17 contributors) for Top Picks of 2006 (so far). The list is broken down by category: high school, middle school, elementary, younger elementary, picture books, and non-fiction. She has included a key, so that you can see who suggested each book. Books that I noticed that had a bunch of votes included The Book Thief, King Dork, and Babymouse: Beach Babe. But there's plenty of variety, too. I know that I won't lack for ideas for what books to read for the rest of the year.

MotherReader's Master List is here. My 2006 list is here. My 2005 list is here. Happy reading to all!

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

How to Be Popular: Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot's How to Be Popular is the story of Steph Landry. Steph is about to start 11th grade. She has been something of an outcast in her small town ever since the legendary red Super Big Gulp incident five years earlier, in which she spilled a big gulp onto the white skirt of popular, and unforgiving, Lauren Moffat. This incident led to the phrase "way to pull a Steph Landry", now ubiquitous in Bloomfield, Indiana as a way of accusing someone of doing something really, really stupid.

Fortunately, Steph has two loyal, if quirky, friends. Becca is a somewhat ditsy former farm-girl who enjoys scrap-booking, and has a history of falling asleep in class. Jason is Steph's long-time best friend and neighbor, who she has recently, and disturbingly, discovered to be attractive. But Steph's unrequited heart belongs to school quarterback and dreamboat Mark Finley. Mark, sadly, is dating Lauren, and apparently doesn't even know that Steph exists.

As the school year begins, Steph has a bold plan for becoming popular. She's discovered an old book on the subject, which she takes as her bible. She changes her hair and makeup, buys new clothes, and even (gasp!) participates in school activities. And she discovers that it is possible to edge her way into the "A Crowd". But will it last? Will her efforts capture Mark's attention? Will she alienate her existing friends? Will she be able to overcome Lauren's enmity?

All of this is set against a backdrop of Steph's family chaos, her four (soon-to-be-five) siblings, her mother's feud with her beloved grandfather, her grandfather's upcoming wedding, and the fear caused by declining revenues at the family bookstore. You have to love a book in which the family owns a bookstore, don't you?

I did find this book predictable, for the most part, but I enjoyed it anyway. I listened to it on MP3, and found myself sneaking listens even when I didn't really have time for it. Steph is a realistically flawed, likable character, as are her friends and family members. Even when you know that Steph is making a mistake, and setting herself up for trouble, you still like her, and can relate to where she's coming from.

I think that the real power of How to Be Popular, as with most of Cabot's other books, is that it's pure fantasy fulfillment. I would guess that most kids who aren't in the in crowd fantasize at least occasionally that if they could just fix their hair, and get better clothes, and get a break somehow, they could crack the code of popularity. I know that I did.

Here's what I think is interesting about this book - it actually comes down on both sides of the popularity question. Steph's popularity plan requires a certain amount of hypocrisy, shallow behavior, and letting down of her friends and family. There are some negative quotations late in the book from famous people about the ephemeral nature of popularity. However, some of the advice from Steph's popularity manual is actually quite useful and lasting. For instance, don't make catty remarks about other people. Be dependable so that your friends can rely on you. Have your own interests, and don't be a afraid to let people see that you enjoy them.

Ultimately, How to Be Popular is about being true to yourself, and what you stand to gain from that in terms of friendship and popularity. No, the details of the story aren't particularly plausible. Would a whole town really continue to torment a girl for a single, minor mistake that happened five years earlier? No. Can one really achieve popularity instantly, by following the right instructions? No. But it's fun anyway. And Steph speaks to that unappreciated teen who lives inside many of us. I think that it will make an excellent teen movie, and will be a sure hit with current and former teenage girls.

Book: How to Be Popular
Author: Meg Cabot
Publisher: HarperTempest
Original Publication Date: 2006
Pages: 304
Age Range: Young Adult
Other Blog Reviews: Once Upon a Bookshelf, Teen Book Review, Hip Librarians Book Blog

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

"Because I Wanted To Read Children's Books"

I enjoyed Tracy Grant's interview with Matthew Skelton, published in Monday's Washington Post. Skelton is the author of the recently published middle grade novel Endymion Spring. I haven't read it yet, but it's about two boys, separated by 500 years, who both love books. It's recommended for fans of Inkheart, and is certainly not one that I'll be able to resist.

My favorite part of the interview was when Tracy Grant asked Matthew Skelton what made him want to write the book. He replied: "I was working on my PhD ... and didn't want to read adult books. I wanted to read children's books." A man after my own heart!

As reported earlier this week by Kelly at Big A little a, the Post also includes an excerpt from Endymion Spring and a Meet the Author feature.

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

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Ahoy, Mateys! Today (September 19th) be International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Mheir has a Disney screensaver that, every 15 minutes, chimes out: "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!" We love pirates in our house. We've bought these books recently:

Happy Pirate Day!

Literacy Day: September 18th

Today has been proclaimed National Literacy Day by President Bush. He called upon people "to observe this day with programs and activities that advance literacy for Americans and all the people of the world ... by donating books to local libraries, volunteering to tutor, supporting international literacy programs, and fostering a learning environment in the home." In honor of Literacy Day, here are a few literacy-related news stories of interest:

  • George Scheber, a former Silicon Valley circuit board designer, has recently purchased the 90-year-old Carnegie Library in Gilman, Illinois. He hopes to turn it into a children's literacy center. "Books hold a special place for Scheber. About 20 years ago, he suffered a head injury in a skiing accident. He had short-term memory trouble. He couldn't always find the words he wanted. He turned to writing children's books to build back his vocabulary. Specifically, books about Earl the Squirrel, an earnest rodent with an enormous front tooth." You can read more in an article by Mike Cassidy from Friday's San Jose Mercury News.
  • Children's author and poet Brod Bagert recently visited Stockton and Lodi, CA to participate in a seminar "to provide tips to Lodi Unified School District teachers on how to teach students to write better." He met with fourth graders, and gave them advice on writing their best, with particular emphasis on reading aloud with plenty of expression. Read more in an article by Keith Reid from Saturday's Stockton Record.
  • According to an article in Saturday's Kansas City infoZine, "(t)he U.S. Senate confirmed a University of Kansas professor's presidential appointment to serve on the Advisory Board of the National Institute for Literacy. Donald D. Deshler was appointed to serve for the remainder of a three-year term expiring Jan. 30, 2008."
  • Central Florida's One Book One Community literacy campaign has selected the book Mr. Popper's Penguins for the 2007 community reading program. "One Book One Community, which is heading into its sixth year, encourages Central Florida children -- and the adults in their lives -- to read the same book." The program is sponsored by the Orlando Sentinel. Read more in this September 17th article by Sara Isaac.
  • You can read a transcript of Laura Bush's remarks at today's White House Conference on Global Literacy here. Speaking of her mother, mother-in-law, and daughter (who were all present) she said "We represent three generations of women who love to read. Reading, in fact, is so important to us -- is such a part of our lives -- that our lives have been built around it. My mother loved to read, and she taught me to love reading. I liked reading so much that I made it into my career by becoming a teacher and a librarian." She then moved on to discuss the global problem of illiteracy. 

Happy Literacy Day!

Sunday Afternoon Visits: September 17, 2006

I spent the weekend down in beautiful Newport Beach, CA (the heart of the O.C., for those of you who follow the television show)). Mheir had a conference, and I tagged along because it was in such a nice place. I read three books from the young adult chick lit genre: Twilight (The Mediator, Book 6) and How to Be Popular by Meg Cabot, and Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman. I also went for a couple of excellent walks around Balboa Island - there's a nice boardwalk that goes all the way around the island. All of that means that I didn't have time to do as much as usual in the way of Sunday blog visits (and that I have several book reviews to write). However, here are a few things that you might find of interest.

  • Liz B. at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy takes up Shannon Hale's discussion of reading the classics, quoting Laurie Halse Anderson's reaction to low reading scores. Liz asks how and when non-fiction/technical reading is even being taught in schools. She notes: "Because while I love literature, and books, and reading fiction for pleasure, I want the people running companies, voting, diagnosing diseases, arguing legal cases, doing my plumbing, etc., to be able to read and understand information."
  • I learned from A Fuse #8 Production that some of Steve Irwin's fans are apparently venting their frustration at his death by killing stingrays. Boy, talk about missing the point of the whole way that Steve lived his life.
  • I enjoyed Camille's post over at Book Moot about her recent gig as a substitute elementary school librarian. She brought back such fond memories of my own elementary school librarian, Mrs. Tuttle.
  • Congratulations to Susan at Chicken Spaghetti who was chosen as Typepad's featured blog earlier this week. Much deserved recognition, for sure.
  • A Borders books promotion at the end of August raised more than $270,000 for First Book (an organization that gives book to kids who need them). Think of how many books for kids that is! Very cool!
  • Nancy's list of great antagonists of children's literature over at Journey Woman is up to 193. Help her to get the list to 200, and you could win a Starbucks gift certificate.
  • Rick Riordan reports that the dates for next summer's Camp Half-Blood in Austin have been announced. Session 1 will be held May 28th to June 1st, and session 2 will be held June 4th to June 8th. Definitely worth checking out! And in case you're new to Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books, Michele has a new review of The Lightning Thief over at Scholar's Blog.