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Posts from December 2007

Sunday Afternoon Visits: Book Awards, Book Lists, and Bookstores

I'm back at home in California, after 10 days in Boston over Christmas. We had a great visit, and saw many friends and family members, but it's nice to be home. Of course I promptly came down with a wretched cold on the very first day back. It has provided a good excuse for lying on the couch reading, but I'm once again falling behind in my reviews, because I've been too fuzzy-headed to write clearly.

Cybils2007whiteThe Kidlitosphere is nearly silent this weekend, between people taking off for the holidays, and people knee deep in Cybils decision-making (the first of the short lists will be announced on January 1st). But I do have a few tidbits for you.

  • The January Carnival of Children's Literature will be held at Wizards Wireless on January 21st (deadline January 18th). The theme, just in time for the Cybils, is Children's Book Awards. See also two polls in the right-hand sidebar on Wizards Wireless. The first is about favorite Newbery winners, and the second is about "If you could receive one object from the Harry Potter books as a gift, what would it be?" For me that one is easy: I could really use a time turner. Think of all the reading I could do.
  • Wizards Wireless is also looking for guest bloggers to write about independent bookstores and libraries that have great children's sections.
  • Just in time for the Cybils short list, Anne has issued a short list trivia challenge over at Book Buds.
  • Speaking of the Cybils, Sherry has put together a neat list at Semicolon, grouping Cybils nominees by topics and themes. Topics range from "aspiring actor/actress" to "Dad has mental health issues". Curious? Click through to see.
  • Also at Semicolon, the year-end Saturday Review of Books is a special edition devoted to booklists. I included links to my 2007 Reading List (not quite complete), and to the favorites list that Colleen published at Chasing Ray.
  • Maureen Johnson has issued an unusual challenge. She asks readers to start, and continue, a topic about YA books in the Amazon discussion forum. "The winner of this contest will be the person who can start and continue the most active conversation by noon, New Year’s Eve!" I know, I'm not giving you much notice for the contest itself. But it's something worth doing anyway. Thanks to Justine Larbalestier for the link.
  • This week's Poetry Friday recap is at Check It Out.
  • I'm not sure exactly what they have planned, but Mary Lee and Franki have invited us all to a "Four Day Gala Celebrating the 2nd Blog Birthday of A Year of Reading". Congratulations, ladies! I look forward to seeing the festivities.
  • The winter edition of The Prairie Wind, the online newsletter of the SCBWI-Illinois Chapter, is now available. It includes, among other interesting articles, horoscopes for children's book writers and illustrators.

And that's all for today. I wish you all a safe, happy, and book-filled New Year! Oh, and lest I should forget to mention it, how 'bout those New England Patriots?

Children's Literacy Round-Up: New Year's Weekend Edition

I have lots of children's literacy and reading-related stories for you this week, since I missed last week's round-up.

  • Via The Old Coot, this year's Queen's Honors List included "O.B.E. To be Ordinary Officers of the Civil Division of the said Most Excellent Order [of the British Empire]: Eric Gordon Hill, Author and Illustrator of Spot. For services to children's literacy." Isn't that cool? An OBE for services to children's literacy. See this Telegraph article for more details. Author and children's literature advocate Jacqueline Wilson was also honored, becoming an official "dame". See the Times article about her success.
  • Via the International Reading Association blog, the Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY) has an article by George Basler about the local success of the Reading First program, a "$6 billion federal initiative that focuses on improving reading instruction in kindergarten through third grade. Established as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the initiative has the lofty goal of having all children reading at grade level by the end of third grade." According to the article, "In Binghamton, more than 60 percent of first-grade students were at grade level by the end of the year, 20 percent more than at the start".
  • Also via the International Reading Association blog (how did I not know about them before?), Delaware Online has a story by Alison Kepner about the lack of funding in Delaware for gifted children. Ironically, this story cites the negative consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act, saying (about gifted children): "Too many of their abilities, advocates argue, remain untapped by U.S. schools that don't serve them as they focus instead on lifting low-achieving students to meet the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind law." According to the article, "Delaware is one of six states that neither mandates gifted instruction nor provides gifted education funding". And that is part of why so many people homeschool their kids, isn't it? (My own theory, not from the article.)
  • The Seattle Times has an article by Linda Shaw about the Parent-Child Home Program, "created four decades ago by a clinical psychologist who concluded that the best way to reduce the number of high-school dropouts was to start when children are 2 and 3." The program, in which specialists visit people's homes to model literacy, has been shown to be successful on the East Coast, and has recently been initiated in Seattle.
  • Daphne Lee, who blogs at The Places You Will Go, has a lifestyle piece in the Malaysia Star about the importance of letting kids read what they want. She speaks out against the recommended age ranges planned for display on UK children's books, saying: "Sorry, but parents just have to spend half an hour talking to their kids to figure out what they want to read. And if a book has some hard words or complicated sentences, well, that’s what dictionaries and parents are for... Sensible parents will ignore the labels and tell their kids to simply read whatever they please."
  • According to a press release, "Primrose Schools, a leader in early childhood education, recently donated $146,000 to Reach Out and Read... More than 20,000 students from 170 Primrose Schools across the country participated in school- based fundraising events, and together, they raised $146,000."
  • Reach Out and Read also sponsored a recently released survey called Reading Across the Nation. According to an article by Kay McSpadden in the Charlotte Observer, the survey found that "fewer than half of all American children younger than 5 years old are read to daily. This lack of early interaction with language shows up dramatically by the time they begin school. Up to one-third of all children lack the skills they need to be successful, and most of those never reach their potential in school." What is particularly highlighted in the Observer article is the regional disparity in results. "The four states with the highest percentage of children being read to daily were all in the Northeast -- Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. The four states with the lowest percentage of children being exposed to reading every day were in the South -- Alabama, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi."
  • In the Kansas City Star, Sara Shepherd writes about a local public library program called Books To Go that "helps children discover the joy of reading". According to the article, "the library picks up and delivers nearly 17,000 books (to preschools) each month, ensuring children have a rotating supply, for free."
  • The New York Times has an Education section article by Elissa Gootman about educators who are looking to comics to increase reading for pleasure, and hence reading scores. The article says that "The recent interest in comics as a literacy tool comes as graphic novels have cemented their status as sophisticated works of literature, and as teachers nationwide are struggling to boost reading scores. Proponents of comics in the classroom say that they can lure struggling readers who may be intimidated by pages crammed with text. They also say that comics, with their visual cues and panel-by-panel sequencing, are uniquely situated to reinforce key elements of literacy, like story structure and tone." (Free subscription required.)
  • An article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by Michael Machosky cites libraries as pivotal in the city receiving a high literacy ranking (number nine on the America's Most Literate Cities list). The article also includes the criteria for the literate cities survey, and various other statistics about national literacy levels. You can also find the complete list here, at My home city of Boston ranked 10th. Minneapolis is first on the list. Is it just me, or does it seem like cities with long winters tended to rank high on the list?
  • The Omaha World-Herald has an article by Judith Nygren about programs that send books and literacy information home with babies from the hospital. "
    The Omaha library's new baby packet comes with an easy-to-hold board book, a rhyme booklet and a tip sheet for reading aloud. Parents also are invited to register their babies as card-carrying library members. Each baby will receive a second free board book with the library card." The article discusses in particular funding issues faced by such programs.
  • The Central Maine Morning Sentinel has an article by Craig Crosby about a state program called Project Story Boost in which volunteers work with kids to try to create a lifelong love of reading. The idea behind the program is to give kids who may not be read to at home the experience of being read to by a caring adult. The project is spreading slowly within the state, and seems to be making a difference, though no quantitative results are available.
  • In the Orange County Register, Erika M. Torres writes about the United Through Reading program, by which "soldiers on long deployments in Iraq read children's books on video and then send the video along with the book to their children in the U.S. The program was started during the Gulf War in 1990."
  • According to an article by Michael Zeigler in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, children who leave the Children's Center at the Monroe County Family Court (where they spend time while their parents are in court), leave after each visit with a gift of a book. In order to get enough books to give to the kids, the Jury Commissioner has led a drive to encourage jurors to bring in new or gently used books to supply the center. What a way to put something positive into the whole court experience, for kids and for the jurors.

And that seems like enough for one day, though there are probably other interesting stories that have slipped through the cracks. Happy reading!

Catalogue of Death: A Miss Zukas Mystery: Jo Dereske

Book: Catalogue of Death: A Miss Zukas Mystery
Author: Jo Dereske
Pages: 352
Age Range: Adult cozy mystery

Catalogue of DeathI only follow a few cozy mystery series. As a general rule I find cozies a bit light, the plots not quite involved enough. The ones that I do read, I read because there is something particularly engaging about the protagonist. And that's how it is for me with the Miss Zukas series, by Jo Dereske. Helma Zukas is a librarian in a mid-sized town in Washington State. She is a librarian through and through, precise and organized, and using her considerable research skills to solve mysteries. She's surrounded by a slightly wacky cast of characters, including the inept new-age head librarian, and her melodramatic best friend Ruth.

In the tenth Miss Zukas mystery, Catalogue of Death, an elderly benefactor of the library is killed in an explosion. Tasked with convincing the man's heirs to follow through on a bequest to the library, Helma finds herself compelled to find out what really happened. With Ruth at her side, she ferrets out clues to the ingeniously plotted mystery. She also dances around her on-again, off-again relationship with Police Chief Wayne Gallant, and finds herself with a new suitor as well. I found this a satisfying addition to the series, and I look forward to Miss Zukas' next adventure.

I'm not sure if actual librarians will enjoy the Miss Zukas books. Helma is a bit exaggerated. Most of the librarians that I know are much less uptight and rule-bound than she is. But what I love about her is that she is wholly consistent - her every thought and action follow a particular moral code, and Dereske seems to never tire of clearly showing Helma's character to the reader.

When an unexpected snowstorm brings the town to it's knees, Miss Zukas cross-country skis to work, because of course the library is a vital service. She is properly attired for every situation, and knows how to do all of the jobs at the library, not just her own. Her car is immaculately maintained, and she is the one who knows who to call for plumbing or heating emergencies. She could be annoying, but somehow isn't. At least to me. After ten books, I find her consistency and reliability endearing. I recommend this series to fans of cozy mysteries, and to fans of librarians. It's not essential to read the books in order (the relationship between Helma and Wayne moves quite slowly), but if you enjoy one book, you're bound to want to read them all. This one is a particularly nice winter read.

Publisher: Avon/Harper Collins
Publication Date: March 2007
Source of Book: Bought it

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

Favorite Reads from 2007

Colleen Mondor was kind enough to include me in her Recommendations from Many Bookish Folks series this holiday season. I'm in illustrious company, with editors and authors and the like. I'm grateful to Colleen for inspiring me to put together a favorites list, and I've elected to re-publish the list here, with links to reviews of each book.

I've read many wonderful books this year. These are just a few that stand out as personal favorites, books that I want to keep on my shelves. I'm not saying that these are the "best books" of 2007 (some of them are actually from 2006 or 2008). I'm saying that these are some children's and young adult titles that I first read this year that resonated with me personally. There are many others that I loved, too, including some re-reads, but I tried to keep the list to manageable proportions.

Picture Books:

Middle Grade (in age order):

Young Adult:

Thanks again, Colleen! And happy reading to all!

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

The London Eye Mystery: Siobhan Dowd

Book: The London Eye Mystery
Author: Siobhan Dowd (see also the book website)
Pages: 336
Age Range: 8-12

The London Eye Mystery The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd, is a locked room mystery for kids, one with a more intriguing setting than most. Ted and his sister Kat live in London. Given a single free ticket by a stranger, they send their visiting cousin, Salim, for a ride on the London Eye. They watch him get on and follow the progress of the pod that he's riding in, as it makes the standard 30-minute revolution around the Eye. But when the pod comes back to earth, Salim doesn't get off, and is nowhere to be found. Ted and Kat spend the rest of the book trying, despite roadblocks put up by the adults in the story, to figure out what happened. This is a solid premise, one that had me pondering possible solutions throughout the books.

What makes The London Eye Mystery stand out is the perspective of the narrator, Ted. Ted has a "syndrome" (apparently, though not stated, Asperger's), by which his brain "runs on a different operating system from other people's." Not better, not worse, but different. Ted uses the strengths that come from his difference to help him think through the facts surrounding Salim's disappearance. I like the fact that his syndrome is not cosmetic. It's not tacked on to make the character interesting. His particular thought patterns are essential to the evolution of the story and the solution of the mystery.

Ted's voice is consistent throughout, and provides a clear window into what it's like to have his syndrome. For instance, he doesn't understand colloquialisms, and takes everything people say literally, which lends some humor. For example:

"'Well, shake a leg,' Dad said. ('Shake a leg' is Dad's favorite way of saying 'Hurry up', although if you tried to run and shake a leg at the same time, you would fall over.)" (Chapter Seventeen)

I like the deadpan humor in Ted's precise speech. "You would fall over."

Ted sees the people around him with a peculiar combination of clarity and bemusement. His insights come from his observations of their behavior, rather than from any general things impressions that he can pick about appearances. Here are a couple of examples regarding Kat:

"I think people just look like who they are. I suppose I am ugly because nobody has ever said I am handsome. People are always saying how pretty Kat is so I suppose she is. To me, she just looks like Kat." (Chapter Four)

"Predicting what Kat is going to do next makes predicting the weather seem easier than counting to three. Kat is not only more unpredictable than the weather, she is also more unpredictable than a) volcanic eruptions or b) lunatics or c) terrorist attacks." (Chapter Ten)

"Then Kat did something brave. She made a pot of tea, even though her hands were shaking. That's Kat. Horrible about small problems, like missing a bus, or being 10 pence short for the CD she wants, but good about the big problems, like when Mum had a big operation the year before." (Chapter Fifteen)

This book will draw inevitable comparisons to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. The quirks to the two characters' syndromes bear obvious parallels. I think that The London Eye Mystery is the better book of the two because a) it has an actual, tension-building plot; b) the London setting is intriguing, detailed, and integral to the story; and c) it's not all about Ted -- Kat and Salim are both compelling, three-dimensional characters, too.

I recommend The London Eye Mystery for elementary school age mystery buffs, boys and girls, as well as for kids who have any kind of learning difference. The message that Siobhan Dowd conveys, with a very light hand, is that being different isn't necessarily bad. Differences in thinking can even turn into assets, depending upon the circumstances. Being able to get this across while keeping kids engrossed in the mystery took real talent on Dowd's part. It's tragic that she won't be writing any more books (she died in August).

Publisher: David Fickling Books
U.S. Publication Date: February 12, 2008 (already available in the UK)
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes above are from the ARC, and may not reflect the final version.
Author Information: Siobhan Dowd passed away in August. She was only 47 and would, I imagine, have written many other wonderful books.

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

Ziba Came on a Boat: Liz Lofthouse

Book: Ziba Came on a Boat
Author: Liz Lofthouse
Illustrator: Robert Ingpen
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-9

Ziba Came on a BoatZiba Came on a Boat, written by Liz Lofthouse and illustrated by Robert Ingpen, is a very powerful picture book. It's about a young girl who is on a refugee boat, having apparently come from Afghanistan (this is left vague in the book, but is clear from the author bio on the jacket). As the boat drifts along, Ziba's thoughts drift backwards to her previous life, and the events that led Ziba and her mother to their current situation. Originally published in Australia (and recently brought to U.S. audiences by Kane/Miller), Ziba Came on a Boat is representative of actual events. It is a sad story, but ends on a note of hope.

Liz Lofthouse's writing is simple, descriptive, and poetic, and simply begs to be read aloud. Here is the first page:

"Ziba came on a boat. A soggy old fishing boat that creaked and moaned as it rose and fell, rose and fell, across an endless sea..."

Bringing things full circle, the last page reads:

"And the boat rose and fell, rose and fell, across an endless sea..."

In between we have "the gentle sound of sheep grazing on the hillside", "the cool mountain air on her cheeks", "the rich spices of the evening meal", and "the cool, smooth texture of the goat's milk yogurt." Very tactile descriptions. We see Ziba with her father, and then we see, in just a couple of page spreads, anger and gunshots, and Ziba and her mother running away. No details are given about her father or other relatives, but they are not on the boat. The story is told in few words, and the details are left for parents to explain when children are ready to hear them.

Robert Ingpen's illustrations are incredible. Rendered in full-page watercolors, each page looks like something that should be hanging in an art gallery. He uses color to match the tone of each setting, grayer colors for the pages set on the boat, tan for the pages set in and near Ziba's mud-brick home, golds for the warm memory of Ziba's father, and black, with red and orange embers, to convey Ziba and her mother's flight. Two of the pages have Ziba's face in the foreground, with smaller images in the background, representing what she's thinking about. Ziba's eyes in the first of these are haunting. Ingpen uses brush-strokes to suggest movement, especially with the boat on the sea. Most of the pictures fade around their edges, rather than being cut off sharply, just as the details of the story trail off. This is a book I just wanted to keep flipping through over and over again, to look at the pictures.

I really can't say enough in favor of this book. The more you read it, the more you appreciate things like the motif of the boat's movement, repeated through the flashback scenes, and the way that the text and illustrations enhance one another. The illustrations are truly stunning. No, it's not a particularly upbeat book. But Lofthouse's poetic yet straightforward language, combined with Ingpen's haunting illustrations, make this a non-threatening introduction to the difficult concept of refugees. I would recommend it for early elementary school children, though not so much for preschoolers. As for me, this one is going on my "keeping it for myself" shelf, so that I can read it again and again. Kudos to Kane/Miller for finding this book, and bringing it to U.S. audiences.

Publisher: Kane/Miller
Publication Date: September 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: A Readable Feast
Illustrator Interview: The Guardian interviewed Robert Ingpen in 2006.

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

My Life: The Musical: Maryrose Wood

Book: My Life: The Musical
Author: Maryrose Wood
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

My Life the MusicalMy Life: The Musical has its roots in author Maryrose Wood's own teenage experience in the chorus of a Broadway production and subsequent jobs writing, acting in, and directing various plays and musicals. Sixteen-year-old best friends Emily and Philip met and bonded over a shared passion for the (fictional) Broadway musical Aurora. Suburban kids from Long Island, they sneak off to New York every Saturday to see a matinee (jumping through serious hoops to escape parental notice, and using borrowed money). For them, Aurora is a near-religious experience, and they consider their time and money well spent. When the horrific possibility of the show closing arises, various hijinks ensue.

Emily and Philip's obsession with Aurora is set against the backdrop of their own relationship. It's unclear to each of them whether they are just friends, or whether they like each other. Philip is starting to wonder (after much harassment from his older brother about his love of theater) whether he might, possibly, be gay. This question lends a bit of a twist to the "best friends who might become more" storyline.

The viewpoint shifts between Emily and Philip. Philip lives with his mother and older brother, in reduced financial circumstances, and he marvels at Emily's more stable upbringing. Here's an example:

"Last year Philip had been invited to join them (to watch the Tony awards). It had been a marvelous evening, almost too marvelous for Philip to bear. Parents who liked each other! Laughter in the living room! Home-cooked snacks--and the Tony Awards! It was a lot to absorb. (Chapter 3)

Because of the uncertainty in his home life, Philip becomes a numbers guy, keeping track via spreadsheet of all of the performances that he and Emily have attended, including details of each show.

"There were many facts about Aurora, and Philip knew them all, but his personal favorite was the length of each performance. The first act of Aurora ran sixty-six, sixty-seven, or sixty-eight minutes, depending on how much applause there was... The figures never varied, which Philip found extraordinary, since when his mother went to work on Monday and said "See you later," sometimes it meant later for dinner, and other times she didn't come home for two days because of a business trip to Wilmington that she'd forgotten to mark on her calendar." (Chapter 1)

And of course, he worries about his sexuality.

Emily is more secure. She is believably self-absorbed, in the way of many a sixteen year-old girl. While loyal and generous with Philip, she also blithely lies to her parents about Aurora, and borrows money with little thought of paying it back. When the possibility of Aurora closing arises, she is the very picture of melodrama:

"Is this how things ended, she'd wondered at 3:18 a.m., when she finally left her bed and stared out the bedroom window at the street below. With the last time of whatever it was you loved already over, and you didn't know it was the last time, so you didn't pay special attention or say goodbye or anything?

If that was what last times felt like, she realized with horror, anything could be the last time. This could be the last time Emily stood shivering in front of her window, or the last night she spent in her own bed.

Maybe a meteor would strike her house this minute and crush them all to powder, making this the last time she'd be able to think about what last times felt like!" (Chapter 15)

Can't you just see her writing poems about life, death, and identity? Boy, can Maryrose Wood channel the mind of a sixteen-year-old girl.

Emily and Philip aside, at it's core, My Life the Musical is a love letter to the theater. The cover has the book title and author's name in lights. The chapter titles are songs from musicals, complete with references. Philip and Emily muse, individually and together, about the larger-than-life attributes of musicals. Emily's grandmother is also a passionate musical fan. A sub-plot involves a high school production of Fiddler on the Roof. Other characters include dancers, composers, hanger's on, and Aurora's star performer.

I highly recommend this title for theater buffs from middle school and up, especially for fans of musicals. Any "drama club geek from the suburbs" (as the author describes herself) will be completely unable to resist, and will be likely to settle in for multiple readings. Although the main characters are sixteen, I think that the book is quite accessible for middle school kids. Emily and Philip's musings on dating and sexuality are just that, musings, and they actually feel quite a bit younger than their calendar ages in this regard. For those who aren't theater fans, My Life the Musical offers a window into another world, and a chance to see what all the fuss is about. Here's hoping for many encore books from Maryrose Wood.

Publication Date: March 2008
Source of Book: ARC from the publisher at NCTE. Note that all quotes are from the ARC, and may not be reflected in the final book.
Links: See my review of Maryrose Wood's first book, Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love
Author Interviews: The Faerie Drink Review, Sharing the Brain

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: Christmas Edition

Jpg_book007Merry Christmas!! Tonight I will be sending out the ninth issue of my Growing Bookworms weekly email newsletter. If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here. The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's books and raising readers, all in a convenient email format. There are currently 126 subscribers.

This week's issue contains reviews of four books (two picture books, one book for early readers, and one for middle grade readers), and two Kidlitosphere round-ups with links to useful posts from the week. I also have an announcement about the latest Carnival of Children's Literature. Content from the blog not included in this week's newsletter includes:

The Growing Bookworms newsletter will continue to contain a subset of content already included on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, for readers who may not choose to visit the blog every day. It is also my hope that parents, authors, teachers, librarians, and other adult fans of children's books, people who may not visit blogs regularly, or at all, will learn about and subscribe to the newsletter. If you could pass it along to any friends or colleagues who you think would be interested, I would be very grateful.

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. I hope that if you celebrate it, you had a wonderful Christmas. And I hope that either way you've had a peaceful long weekend.

Sunday Afternoon Visits: Christmas Weekend Edition

Turned out I had a small slice of time for blog visits today after all. In truth, things are pretty quiet out in the Kidlitosphere this weekend. Here are just a couple of things that I noticed:

  • Shelf Elf was kind enough to grant me a Roar for Powerful Words award from the Shameless Lions Writing Circle. I am honored, and will be back with a full post about this and who I would like to nominate for the award after the holidays. But meanwhile, it was a very nice thing to have happen this week.
  • Read about poverty and class in YA literature at Tea Cozy, Bildungsroman, and Finding Wonderland. The posts were prompted by this discussion at The YA YAs, which was in turn inspired by a comment from Sherman Alexie at Pop Candy. I agree with Liz's point that "If a child lives in an affluent suburb, books are one way for them to know that other people live different lives." Of course this is true for books about characters of different races, ethnicities, sexual preferences, political views, etc., too. Anyway, if you have YA titles about class to share, head on over to The YA YAs to add to their list.
  • This week's Poetry Friday was hosted at AmoXcalli. Not surprisingly, there are lots of holiday and winter poems floating about.
  • Gail Gauthier expresses her joy about the fact that PBS will begin broadcasting the complete Jane Austen in January. You can find Jane Austen movies and mini-series' on TV every Sunday starting on January 13th. And yes, they will be broadcasting the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice starting on February 10th (that one I recently purchased, so I have less need of it on TV, but I would still bet that if I start watching, I won't be able to turn it off). And of course, I'll be guest blogging for PBS Parents for their Expert Q&A feature in January. Could I have better company at PBS than Jane Austen? I don't think so.
  • I haven't posted about it in a while, but the Saturday Review of Books of still going strong at Semicolon. Every Saturday, participants can link to a book review that they posted during the week. Next week will be a special year-end edition of the Saturday Review of Books, in which participants can link to book lists. Sherry says: "December 29th, will be a special edition of the Saturday Review of Books especially for booklists. You can link to a list of your favorite books read in 2007, a list of all the books you read in 2007, a list of the books you plan to read in 2008, or a list of the books you read for the Saturday Review of Books Reading Challenge. Whatever your list, it’s time for book lists." I will be publishing my list of books read in 2007 at some point, hopefully by the 29th, so that I can include it in the round-up. Or, I can include the list of my favorites that was published this week at Chasing Ray.
  • I was impressed by this tidbit from Wizards Wireless. She said that a 12-year-old boy named Dickie Berkenbush helped author Virginia Lee Burton to think of the ending to Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and Ms. Buxton credited the boy right there in the text (not in an acknowledgment, but there on the page). As Susan said, "in an age where plagiarism is rampant and and children's ideas aren't always taken seriously... I find what Virginia Lee Burton did to be inspiring."
  • First Book (a great organization that gets books into the hands of kids) has been getting lots of attention lately. See this post with links to several recent magazine references and awards.
  • Oz and Ends has a balanced take on Caleb Crain's recent NY Times Twilight of the Book article. See also this post. I must confess to not having read the article yet - I'm just not interested in doom and gloom about reading rates right now.
  • Rick Riordan comments at length in response to the people who ask him what it's like to be "an overnight success." He concludes (and I'm sure many authors will be able to relate): "People ask me what I think about getting so much attention, and how it’s changed my life. It really hasn’t. I’m the same guy who sat in Waldenbooks for two hours (ten years ago, at a signing for Big Red Tequila), giving directions and smiling vacantly at a stream of shoppers who were trying to ignore me. I’m the same guy who stared at countless rooms full of empty chairs in countless bookstores for ten years. I am still amazed every time I get a crowd at an event. I take nothing for granted." It's the people who don't take success for granted that we're most happy for when they do succeed, isn't it?
  • Speaking of success that doesn't really happen overnight, congratulations to the Kidlitosphere's own Andrea Beaty for having her book Iggy Peck, Architect named one of the Time Magazine top 10 best kids' books of 2007! Way to go, Andrea (and Iggy). I must confess to not having had a chance to read Iggy yet, but I have heard great things, and will doubtless buy it for my next gift-giving occasion. See other Iggy kudos here.
  • Inspired by the new Pippi Longstocking translation, Daphne writes about her fondness for the more rebellious girls from children's literature at The Places You Will Go. I have always adored Pippi, though I myself was much more like Annika.

For those of you who celebrate it, I wish you a Merry Christmas. And whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you a weekend of peace and joy.

American Idol Website Relaunch

This is a bit off-topic from children's books, but a good friend of ours works for FOX doing web marketing. He just emailed me about the launch of a redesigned website. The new site is highly community-focused, with polls, and the option to create your own user account for discussion, blogging, commenting, photo sharing, etc. I think that the new site offers a nice, clean look, too. More features will be coming online over the next few weeks, leading up to the launch of the new season on January 15th. But if you're an American Idol fan, there's lots to see now. So do check it out.

OK, back to our regularly scheduled children's book programming now. 

Shells! Shells! Shells! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace

Book: Shells! Shells! Shells!
Author: Nancy Elizabeth Wallace
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

Shells! Shells! Shells!Shells! Shells! Shells!, written and illustrated by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace, is basically a lightly fictionalized information book about shells. Buddy the bear goes with his mother to the beach one spring morning. They spend the day collecting and investigating shells, with frequent food breaks thrown in. Buddy learns various facts about shells, some through observation and some via his mother. He also lightens the book by coming up with his own jokes about shells, like:

"What did the octopus have for breakfast?"


"Toast and butter with shelly!"

Mama laughed.

The jokes are certainly authentic, in that they feel like they were created by a pre-schooler. I suspect that this means that preschoolers will enjoy them, though I haven't yet been able to test this hypothesis.

What makes this book unique, however, is the format of the illustrations. The pictures are photographs of paper cutouts, mixed with real shells. Sand is conveyed using sandpaper, and I find this particularly visually appealing - tactile, but regular. Buddy and Mama are essentially jointed paper dolls - their medium brown fur cut from cardboard (or maybe paper bags), with lightly furred edges. The photographed shells show the imperfections that one would expect from real shells, making it easy for kids to match the shells in the book with shells picked up on their last beach trip. The front end papers show pictures of cold water shells, while the back end papers show warm water shells. I must say, though, that I think it would have added to the book to label the types of shells in those pictures (like in An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy). Still, unlabeled they can be used for self-quizzes on the types of shells, so that's a plus.

There is not much of a story to this book. Buddy and Mama are mainly a vehicle for conveying facts about shells. However, I think that kids who like facts, especially facts about the ocean and sea shells, will enjoy it. The cut out illustrations are fun and eye-catching. I can imagine kids making their own cut-out figures, adding some real-world trinkets, and taking photographs, to make their own books. There is also a nice "do you know" page at the end with a summary of facts about shells, and another page describing how to make an "I Shell Return" bookmark. Overall, I think that this would be a good book to add to anyone's beach bag, or use to spark a day of book-making activities.

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish
Publication Date: March 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Picture Book of the Day

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

Five Little Monkeys Go Shopping: Eileen Christelow

Book: Five Little Monkeys Go Shopping
Author: Eileen Christelow
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

Five Little Monkeys Go Shopping I know that Eileen Christelow has written quite a few books about the Five Little Monkeys. However, it had been a while since I read one when Clarion sent me Five Little Monkeys Go Shopping. Although it's technically about back-to-school shopping, I thought that it was worth mentioning now, since there are plenty of little monkeys out there doing holiday shopping.

In this installment, the five little monkeys go with their long-suffering mother to a big department store to buy school clothes. The monkeys keep wandering off in ones, twos, and threes. Every time their mother goes off to search for the missing, she orders the others to "STAY RIGHT HERE, AND DON'T GO WANDERING OFF". Of course they don't. Eventually, some of their friends start showing up, too. The mother keeps hoping to find herself with five little monkeys, but the saleswoman keeps pointing out that there are four, or seven, or whatever the number. This leads to cute little math problems, while they figure out how many monkeys are missing. Like:

  7 little monkeys
- 3 friends
= 4 of MY little monkeys

This is an excellent way to make math fun for preschoolers. The math is always on the next page after someone arrives or wanders off, so kids can think ahead to what the number is going to be, and then see it confirmed when they turn the page.

I think that preschoolers will enjoy watching the monkeys wander around the store picking up silly hats and sunglasses. They also ride escalators, and try on clothing, and drift in the direction of the toy department. They are in constant motion. Their mother alternates between calm and panic. My favorite illustration is the one that corresponds to the math problem above, which shows the mother with crossed eyes and her hands up to her face in dismay.

All in all, I think this book offers a fun introduction to simple addition and subtraction problems, in an engaging and colorful package. It's worth keeping in mind for the next round of back to school shopping, especially for large families.

Publisher: Clarion
Publication Date: August 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: BooksForKidsBlog

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