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Posts from March 2007

Welcome readergirlz!

I've been holding off on mentioning this publicly until they announced it themselves, but I'm now pleased to report that I've been selected as one of the inaugural postergirlz for readergirlz.

Here's what the readergirlz divas wrote in their latest newsletter:

The readergirlz divas couldn't be happier to announce the formation of postergirlz for readergirlz, an advisory council which will generously lend their YA lit expertise to guide our book choices.  This amazing group is made up of some of the biggest names in YA lit blogging as well as avid teen girl readers:

Little Willow, readergirlz webdiva and bookseller who writes the famous Bildungsroman blog

Jen, the multi-talented, left-and-right brained powerhouse behind Jen's Book Page

Jackie, the epitome of an enthusiastic and knowledgeable librarian who writes InteractiveReader

Miss Erin, the youngest Cybils' judge and author of her much-read and much-respected blog

*  Alexia, an avid teen reader, Little Willow protégée (which makes her instantly cool in our book) and brand-new blogger

I'm honored to be in such great company! Not familiar with readergirlz? The best introduction I can give you is Kelly's readergirlz profile in the recent issue of The Edge of the Forest.

Be sure to also check out the latest issue of the readergirlz newsletter. They'll be celebrating National Poetry Month by focusing on a novel in verse, On Pointe, by readergirlz diva Lorie Ann Grover. According to the newsletter, "On Pointe provides an insider's unflinching look at the world of ballet, complete with the eating disorders that run rampant among the professionally thin--all told in powerful verse."

Readergirlz is an amazing enterprise, and I'm honored to be a part of it. I'll be helping to suggest books for coming months. This means that I'll be focusing more than ever on finding and reading young adult books with gutsy girl protagonists.

Laurie Halse Anderson Author Visit

Today I had the opportunity to hear Laurie Halse Anderson (award-winning author of Speak and Twisted) speak at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, CA. And let me tell you, if you ever have the opportunity to hear her, you should seize it. She's an amazing speaker. Passionate about her topic (you can tell that she really cares about teens who are in pain), open and enthusiastic with people asking questions, and offering helpful input for people interested in writing.

Laurie talked about her background, and how that led her, eventually, to write Speak. And she talked about how male audience reactions to Speak led her in turn to write Twisted. This part I found particularly fascinating. When she was touring to talk with school kids about Speak (which is about how a sexual assault, about which she doesn't speak, affects a thirteen year old girl), Laurie found that teen boys would come up to her and be genuinely baffled about why the girl in the book was so upset. She learned to be compassionate about these kids, saying that the problem is that they don't have adults who give them face-to-face time, and tell them about the rules for acceptable behavior.

She spent a lot of time after that learning to understand how boys think, and sharing one dark experiences in Twisted. She offered this nugget of experience: "If you feed boys, they will come back to your house and talk to you." Her aim, as much as possible given that she never was a teenage boy, is to have Twisted be viewed as Speak for boys. I haven't read Twisted yet, so I can't speak to her relative success, but I can't wait to read it.

After she had answered many questions about the books, and her writing process, I asked Laurie what she's working on now (she had mentioned being almost finished revising a new novel). She said that after Twisted she needed something a bit less dark (I'm paraphrasing here), and that her next book will be a work of historical fiction set during the Revolutionary War. Her goal is to write historical fiction about the Revolution that's fun. The working title of the book is Chains, and it should be out next spring.

Jenandlaurie After the talk, Laurie signed books. I gave her one of my Jen Robinson's Book Page bookmarks, and was thrilled when she said "Oh, you're Jen!", and got up and gave me a hug. She said that she likes my blog. How cool is that? She inscribed my book (Twisted) "To Jen, who knows why kids need books. Thank you!" I'm completely star struck. I couldn't talk to her for very long because there was a big line behind me, but I did manage to get a photo. This makes me 2 for 2 for highly gratifying experiences in meeting authors (after meeting Mitali Perkins last month).

So, I reiterate. If you are at all a fan of YA Fiction, and you have the chance to see Laurie talk, you should seize the opportunity. I'll have reviews of Speak (which I read last weekend, and thought was amazing, but need time to digest) and Twisted soon.

Into the Wild: Sarah Beth Durst

Sarah Beth Durst was one of my co-judges on the Cybils middle grade fiction committee, and I was happy to have a chance to read her upcoming upper middle grade novel, Into The Wild. Into The Wild is a quirky, fast-paced story about a modern-day girl named Julie, who just happens to be the daughter of the fairy tale princess Rapunzel (or Zel, as her friends call her). Although Julie isn't magical herself, she lives a life surrounded by fairy tale accoutrements, like magic mirrors and wishing wells.

Under Julie's bed lives a tangle of green vines called "The Wild", kept barely in check, and wanting to be free. The Wild was once much larger, and Rapunzel and her friends were trapped in it, forced to live out their fairy tale stories over and over again. The adventure begins when an errant wish sets The Wild free, and it begins to take over the town. To save the people she loves, Julie must face her fears, and plunge Into The Wild. There she experience a somewhat surrealistic series of events, as the various fairy tales of The Wild ensnare her. Through her experiences, she learns more than she had ever imagined about her parents, and the world that they once lived in. She also learns of her own, unique strengths.

What I like best about the book is the way Julie is a real 12-year-old girl, albeit living in unusual circumstances. She isn't some sort of idealized fairy tale princess. She argues with her mother and her brother (the adopted Puss in Boots), she has problems fitting in at school (who wouldn't, with The Wild eating up all of her shoes?), and she idealizes her absent father (don't most kids who never knew a parent do this?). She makes mistakes, and loses things. But she's also loyal to her family and to her best friend, and she's capable of making huge personal sacrifice for people she loves.

Here's an example of Julie's internal monologue:

"If she explained, would her mother understand? Could she know what it was like not to fit in? Could she understand what it was like not to know who she was or where she belonged? Or even where she came from? Julie knew nothing of her father. She knew nothing of how her mother and her fairy-tale friends had escaped the Wild. How was Julie even here? How had the force of the Wild Wood, a power that had dominated the entire Middle Ages, been reduced to a tangle of vines under her bed?" (Chapter 4)

What makes the book above the common, to me, is the way that the fairy tale events are juxtaposed with mundane, real-world people and situations. The author has clearly done a tremendous amount of research about fairy tales, including both well-known and obscure references on virtually every page. But she doesn't let the fairy tale world take over completely, always tying things back to Julie and her "real" life. Slightly older fans of The Sisters Grimm books are sure to enjoy this alternate take on the intersection between fairy tale characters and the real world. 

Book: Into The Wild
Author: Sarah Beth Durst (website and blog). Sarah was one of my co-judges on the Cybils middle grade fiction committee.
Publisher: Razorbill
Original Publication Date: June 2007
Pages: 272
Age Range: 10-14
Source of Book: Advance proof from the publisher (quotes may not reflect final text of the book)
Other Blog Reviews: A Fuse #8 Production, Miss Erin

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

Meme: Where Do You Do Most of Your Reading?

I'm not someone who is drawn to every meme that goes around. But I couldn't resist this one, which I saw at A Patchwork of Books. The question is:

Where do you do most of your reading? Your favorite spot?

For me, as for Amanda, the place that I do most of my reading isn't necessarily my favorite spot. I do most of my reading on a love seat in my living room. It's just the right length that I can lie down, with a pillow under my head, and prop my feet up on the opposite armrest. I've spend many, many hours reading on this couch. I'd really like a newer, more comfortable couch (this one is a bit stiff), but it works for me in the meantime.

My second most frequent reading spot is in bed. Actually, I read there more frequently than I do on the couch, but for shorter periods, because I tend to fall asleep. I read most nights before going to sleep. I also read frequently on airplanes, but as I'm not much of a fan of travel, this hardly qualifies as a favorite spot. It's more that the reading makes the travel tolerable. Barely.

But my favorite reading spot? On a lounge chair outside of a cottage on a little spit of land sticking out into the Atlantic Ocean in Bar Harbor, Maine. It's been about 12 years since I was last there, but I spend one glorious day sitting in that chair, reading all day long, and listening to the waves (while Mheir went hiking by himself for a day). When I'm seeking peace, I close my eyes, and remember that spot. I have a handful of other "beautiful places where I managed to find time to read" in my memory banks, but that one was the most peaceful.

Where do you like to read?

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

Conclusion of the Margo Rabb Blog Tour

The Margo Rabb Cures for Heartbreak blog tour wrapped up today at Here's the complete list of stops (with links to the interviews):

In case I haven't made myself clear, I really loved Cures for Heartbreak, and highly recommend it. You can read my full review here. The blog tour is an excellent way to learn about the book, and how it came into being. If you're pressed for time, Colleen has a recap of some interview trail highlights over at Chasing Ray. She also suggests that blog tours should be the next big thing.

2007 Red Sox Schedule in Outlook

OK, this isn't book related, but I think that it's cool. I just paid $2 to Calendar Updates to download the 2007 Boston Red Sox schedule into my Outlook. I've used this service before, and found them quite reliable. (And no, I don't have any kind of commission arrangement with them - what percentage would I have to get for your $2 purchase to make that worthwhile?)

Each game shows up as an appointment, color-coded in red so that I can easily see them all. Now, the truth is that because there are so many games, they take up a lot of space, and I might have to delete the "less important" games later. But for now, it's fun to see all of the games on my calendar. We have Directv with the MLB Extra Innings package, so that we get nearly all of the games despite being in San Jose (and it's nice because there are very few late games out here). Monday is Opening Day!

Non-Kid-Lit Blogs

Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading tagged me for the non-Kid-Lit blog meme back on Saturday. I'm still catching up from a long weekend away, but I am finally responding. A meme, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, is a kind of online quiz, where people respond individually to a standard set of questions. This one asks participants to name five blogs not related to children's literature that they visit. It's difficult to choose, but here are five:

  • The Never Eat Alone blog. This blog is an offshoot of the book Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi, which helped inspire me to start my blog. It's not really about never eating alone, but more about increasing connectedness in one's life. Which, of course, is what blogging is all about.
  • The Escape Adulthood and Swingset Reflections blogs by Jason and Kim Kotecki. Kim and Jason are all about encouraging people to find and maintain a childlike sense of joy. They sell lots of fun stuff at their Lemonade Stand, too.
  • The Truth About Writing, by Fred Charles. Fred is a writer of fantasy novels, as yet unpublished, and explores the writing and creative processes on his blog. I like his down-to-earth writing style.
  • Jess's Blog. Jess looks at blogging and other digital communications media from an academic perspective, and is especially interested in the role of women in this new media. Her lab at DeMonfort University is planning a Women, Business & Blogging conference in Leichester, UK in June.
  • Occidental Tourist. The personal blog of a graphic artist currently staying at home to raise her daughter. She writes openly about the challenges of her new life vs. old.

I'm not going to tag anyone else, because this has been around for a while now, and I would imagine that most people have already participated. But if you were somehow missed, consider yourself tagged.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: March 27

Here's my summary of the children's literacy news stories for the week. In case I haven't said this before, I include in these round-ups any articles that I find about efforts to help kids to enjoy reading and love books. What you'll find here are articles about literacy programs, programs that give books to kids who wouldn't have them otherwise, efforts to encourage parents to read aloud to their kids, and school and community programs focused around making reading fun. Enjoy!

  • The Denver Post has a nice article this weekend by Jenny Deam on helping parents to help their kids choose books. The article features quotes by Anita Silvey and other experts, including: "By far the toughest age to buy for is the older elementary and middle school kids" and "Some other tips if the adults are doing the choosing is to know what the child has read last and what his or her friends are reading. Kids have their own unofficial Oprah list."
  • The Walla Walla Union Bulletin features a story by Erica Anderson about the Walla Walla Kids Read program, sponsored by local author Patrick Carman. "The program was offered to all Walla Walla and College Place students in first through sixth grade, to encourage kids to become stronger readers and to introduce them to another level of reading and thinking." Walter Wick, photographer for the I, Spy series, and Rodman Philbrook, author of Freak the Mighty, held multiple sessions with local kids.
  • Author Mitali Perkins suggests that a helpful step in learning a new language is to find a version of a favorite children's book in that language, and read that. She says: "By the end of Babar's story in Thai, my meager store of memorized vocabulary had quadrupled. I was starting to get the language — the way sentences were formed, the rhythm of conversation, the subtleties of Thai humor. Best of all, I was questioning my conviction about being a dunderhead when it came to learning another language as an adult." Worth a try for anyone, I'd say.
  • The First Book blog writes about illiteracy in Washington, DC, saying "The need for First Book is apparent in many places, but often it seems especially obvious to us here in Washington, DC, where the First Book national office is located. DCist posted their thoughts about a study by the State Education Agency that shows that a third of the people in Washington, DC are functionally illiterate." First Book is focusing efforts to get books into kids' hands in DC in particular.
  • The Big Fresh from Choice Literacy lists several web resources for literacy information, reporting the "the top seven web resources beyond the Choice Literacy site our subscribers voted for with their clicks in previous issues."
  • According to a recent press release, Holiday Inn Express is partnering with Reading Is Fundamental to get more books into the hands of kids. "As part of the partnership, RIF will receive a donation equal to 9 percent of the consumed room rate for every guest who initiates a reservation via starting today... In addition, Holiday Inn Express properties across the country are committing to raise at least $1,000 per hotel this year by engaging their staffs and local communities in unique ways such as hosting book reading parties. All hotel funds raised will stay in local communities for the purchase of new books and literacy resources, and will benefit local RIF programs."
  • The Pensacola News Journal has an article by John Parnham about a new community program called ECARE: Every Child a Reader in Escambia (county). "ECARE is a business-led, community-wide "movement" created to eliminate early childhood illiteracy in Escambia County. ECARE wants to give every child a realistic opportunity to learn how to read so they can fully participate in, and benefit from, the education process. Its mission is to create a literate work force which is the foundation for economic growth in our community." The article includes current literacy-performance statistics, and talks about how ECARE aims to help.
  • According to the Brampton News (Ontario, Canada), the Peel School District is hosting a free conference for parents about literacy on March 31st. " The conference, Make a difference in literacy and beyond—practical ways parents can boost learning, provides parents of children at all grade levels with useful tips to help their children be successful." More than 50 workshops are planned, and some 1200 parents are expected to attend.

And that's all for this week. Happy reading!

Spring "Seed" Contest at Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, one of my favorite publishers, has just announced a new contest. They're giving away five prize packages, each consisting of a signed first edition copy of A Seed Is Sleepy, a copy of its companion volume, An Egg Is Quiet, and several packages of seeds. Click here for instructions on how to enter (you just have to send them an email with the correct subject). It's well worth entering—your kids are sure to love the book/seed package combination, just in time for spring. I've heard great things about these books—both are on my "to be reviewed" pile.

The First Ever Litty Awards

Book Chronicle recently announced a new set of awards for literary bloggers. From their announcement:

Today, we are pleased to announce the first ever Litty Awards, the first annual award for litbloggers; bloggers that have worked hard to keep you informed of the latest book news, provide their opinions and insights, and feed your brain with a regular intellectual banquet.

We will present twelve awards, from Best Christian Litblogger to Best Infamous Litblogger over the next six weeks. To do this, we’ve selected thirty five blogs from the whole blogosphere as our nominees to compete for the twelve ‘prestigious’ Litty Awards

I'm pleased to report that the kidlitosphere is represented on the list, which features A Fuse #8 Production, Chicken Spaghetti, Bildungsroman, and ... (drumroll, please!) Jen Robinson's Book Page (though they refer to it as jkrbooks, which is the TypePad site name). All of the categories haven't been announced, but the first award will be given for Best Christian Litblogger. You can see the full list, and vote for your favorite of the Christian Litbloggers on the list, by commenting on the announcement post

Sunday Afternoon Visits: March 25

I've set this post up to appear on Sunday afternoon, because that's what people have become accustomed to, but the truth is that I'm out of town this weekend. So the links that I have for you won't include the very latest news. I'll get you some updates as soon as I can. Still, here is some fun stuff:

  • If you need a laugh, I highly recommend MotherReader's post about her daughters' dinner preparation theory. In essence, the 7 and 10 year-old kids have figured out that what they will be offered for dinner depends on Mom's mood, particularly if she is in a "deep depression." It's a riot. I said something earlier on this blog to the effect that MotherReader could write about paint drying, and it would be funny. Here's proof (no, it's not about paint drying, but please, what to cook for dinner? Close enough).
  • And this week we have lists! Kelly put together a bibliography of bird books over at Big A little a. She's grouped them into picture books, poetry, non-fiction, and middle grade fiction. And if you want a bird-related young adult title, the only thing I can think of is Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment (and sequels).
  • Susan from Chicken Spaghetti put together a list of Top 10 Books of the Week (reading with a second grader), with tiny capsule reviews.
  • Colleen has a list of young adult books that she thinks qualify as science fiction at Chasing Ray. She asks why publishers don't seem to like classifying YA books as SF, and has some interesting discussion in the comments. All I know is that I'm listening to Life As We Knew It right now, and I don't see how anyone could NOT find it compelling.
  • And, on a quest for a list, Kathy at Library Stew is seeking recommendations for "FABULOUS (books for K and 1st graders) about women in history" (in honor of women's history month). If you have any suggestions, I'm sure she'll appreciate them.
  • Fred Charles (who keeps moving his blog around, and who I keep following) has a new blog about The Truth About Writing. He has reissued some of his favorite post about writing, including: What Makes a Book Good?. Excellent stuff!
  • Bookseller Chick ponders What Makes a Good Reading Blog? Mostly she raises questions (does a rating system matter?, for example.), which her commenters have begun to answer. If you have thoughts on what makes a good reader blog ("any blog or website dedicated (for the most part) to the reader's thoughts on books s/he has read."), head on over to leave your feedback.
  • I'm not a big meme person, for some reason. But I did like this one at Becky's Book Reviews (originated by Meme Girls). You use the letters of your name to make a list of book titles. I was going to do it, but I couldn't think of any good titles that started with "J".
  • Ever wonder what non-library jobs are out there for people with library science degrees? Well, Mindy from has one. See her job description here. She pretty much gets to read and recommend books all day, which is very cool!
  • Young Charlotte from Charlotte's Journey Home had cardiac surgery this week. Please join me in sending good wishes to her and to her parents. Charlotte's Mom, Ilene Goldman, is a reviewer for Book Buds.
  • Brooke takes up Liz's question about whether or not there can be tragic heroes in young adult literature at the Brookshelf. She discusses the definition of "tragic hero", and makes the bold statement that "tragic heroes in children's literature can only exist in stories that end badly". I tend to agree with this interpretation. I think that Harry Potter will be a tragic hero if he dies at the end (though I can't say that I'm hoping for that, given the potential devastation of millions of children from around the world).
  • As a nice follow-up to the recent carnival of children's literature, Midwestern Lodestar shares additional commentary regarding the various links. Given the sheer depth of this carnival, the fact that she had time to read and comment upon the posts at all is amazing! I'm a bit nervous about hosting next month's carnival - I know that there will be many, many posts.
  • A bit off-topic, but very cool. I learned from HipWriterMama that Jordan's furniture will rebate the purchase price of any furniture purchased between March 7th and April 16th if the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series. It's almost enough to make me wish I lived in Boston, so that I could purchase the new couch that I sorely need at Jordan's Furniture. Then I'd have two reasons for wanting the Red Sox to win the World Series.
  • Nancy has a new contest over at Journey Woman. We know that she loves words, so it makes total sense that she's proclaiming March 31st, 2007 to be Silly Words Day. She says: "Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find and post your 3 personal favorite silly words in the English language. You have 10 days to come up with your words." You can find the details here. Nancy's already come up with some of my favorites: Bamboozle and Flibbertigibbet.
  • Cynthia Leitich Smith talks with the readergirlz divas at Cynsations. Read the interview to learn more about how readergirlz got started, what the founders hope to accomplish, and what kind of books they all write. The interview concludes with a challenge to "authors of middle grade fiction to create something similar to readergirlz for kids ages 8-12. Give kids a rich author experience! Tie books to community service!"

More soon. Cheers!

So What Is It With Post-Apocalypse Stories?

I'm currently listening to Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I'm finding it completely and utterly compelling. I only listen when I'm out walking, and let's just say that I'm having joint pain, because I'm ramping up my walking schedule so quickly. But it has me wondering: just what is it that's so compelling about post-apocalypse stories? I know I can't resist them. From The Girl Who Owned a City to The Stand to The City of Ember and The People of Sparks to the Fire-Us Trilogy to the new television show Jericho, I must experience them all.

I have a couple of theories. The simplest is that they make us appreciate what we have. Listening to Life As We Knew It literally makes me hungry, as food supplies dwindle for the characters. I'm so grateful to have chocolate to eat, and wine to drink, and a clear sky overhead. And I'm only about a third of the way through the book - I know that things are going to get worse for Miranda and her family.

But I think it's more than just appreciating what we have, because then any story of deprivation would do. I think that post-apocalypse stories appeal specifically because survival is the priority. All of the day to day problems that we face (too many emails, too many business trips, too high of an electric bill, etc.) simply melt away when compared to basic questions about the survival of our species.

I think that spending time in a post-apocalypse story gives us an excuse to step outside of the rat-race, and feel like all of our current problems will go away. Yes, we know intellectually that it would be terrible to have to struggle for food and basic safety, and to know that millions of others had not survived the crisis. But there's a little voice inside that says "having no electricity or cell phone coverage sure would make my life simpler".

Or maybe that's just me. What do you all think? I can't be alone in my post-apocalypse story compulsion, because the books keep getting published. I'd be interested to hear what you think.   

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