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Posts from February 2008

February Carnival of Children's Literature

Happy Leap Day! The February Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at Anastasia Suen's Picture Book of the Day blog. In honor of today, February 29th, Anastasia has chosen "Leap into Reading" as her carnival's theme. For those unfamiliar with carnivals, a carnival is a collection of links to posts, all on the same general topic, each post contributed by a different person. People generally contribute their best post from the past month, making carnivals a source of high-quality content and a way to learn about new blogs.

Anastasia proposes that we all "use this extra day to leap into a book". While I certainly agree with that idea, I suggest starting by leaping into reading this carnival. There are simply tons of great posts included.

Have a great day! And if it's your birthday today, I hope it is four times extra special. I send particular birthday greetings to my friend Nick, and warm thoughts to Al's family, spending his day without him for the first time, but celebrating in his honor.

Guys Lit Wire: Book Recommendations for Teen Boys

Are you interested in recommending books to teenage boys? If so, Colleen Mondor has the site for you. Colleen, with a team of other bloggers that includes a. fortis from Finding Wonderland and Little Willow from Bildungsroman, among others, will soon be launching a new site: Guys Lit Wire. Isn't that a great name? a. fortis (aka Sarah) came up with it.

Guys Lit Wire will be a blog with a variety of contributors, all posting about recommended books for teenage boys. Here's what Colleen said about it in her recent post:

"We are planning to go live by June 1st and update every Monday - Friday with a different daily poster. We hope to have 21 folks on board dedicated to posting at least once a month. This way we get tons of new content from lots of different points of view, which is what I really wanted. We will likely run multiple daily posts as the site evolves but readers will be able to count for sure on at least one new post every weekday and that is what we will build a lot of the site's readership on.

There will be book recommendations, author interviews, literary commentary, a rant or two (I'm sure) and lots of other good stuff. The goal is to cover a ton of different types of books from across the literary spectrum so we can become a good resource to actual teenagers as well as anyone seeking to find books for teen boys. (And if the girls want to visit we are happy to have them, but boys are our target audience.)"

The site isn't quite available yet, but I've seen a preview. It's gorgeous, and very boy-friendly. The reason I am telling you about it now is that Colleen and the team are looking for a few additional people to contribute to the site. If you are interested in recommending books to teenage boys, and you have the bandwidth to commit to posting at least once a month, just email Colleen (colleenatchasingraydotcom). They are especially interested in getting a few more guys on board, given guys' enhanced perspective on the target audience.

I think that Guys Lit Wire is a great idea, and will fill an important need. It will target an older audience than the fabulous Guys Read site, founded by Jon Scieszka, an audience in which reading for pleasure frequently drops off. I also think that this will be an excellent opportunity for the bloggers involved to make a difference, and to get a bit of positive exposure for their blogs. If this sounds appealing to you, please contact Colleen directly. And even if you aren't interested in participating directly, I hope that you'll help spread the word when the site becomes available. I'll keep you posted. Thanks!

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: February 26, 2008

Jpg_book009This afternoon I will be sending out the new 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 more than 200 subscribers.

This week's issue contains reviews of three books (one fiction picture book and two titles for middle schoolers), a children's literacy and reading news round-up, and two Kidlitosphere round-ups with links to useful posts from the week. I also have the second post of my new recurring feature: Reviews that Made Me Want the Book. Content published on my blog this week that's not included in the newsletter includes:

If you enjoy the Growing Bookworms newsletter, please consider passing it along to any friends or colleagues who you think would be interested. Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms!

Tuesday Afternoon Visits: Helping Readers, and Making People's Day

So I did my weekend "visits" post early last weekend, on Saturday. And wouldn't you know it? People posted tons of not-to-be-missed stuff on Sunday and Monday. So here I am with an extra post for you.

Makemydayawardas2First of all, I'm honored to report that not one but two of my very favorite bloggers each granted me a "Blogs that Make My Day" award. The first was from Jill at The Well-Read Child. The second was from Susan at Wizards Wireless. Both of these are relatively new blogs, which I've discovered over the past few months, but they've each quickly jumped onto my must-read list. Jill shares my passion for helping people to encourage children to love books. She offers reading tips, in-depth reviews, and articles like this one, about recognizing and responding to adult illiteracy. Jill jumped right on board to help with my article about reluctant readers back in January, and her input was much appreciated. Susan focuses on children's books, comic strips, and especially Harry Potter. She includes lots of fun polls on her blog, but she intersperses the fun stuff with thoughtful posts on things like why it's ok not to enjoy a book that everyone else likes. The most recent post of Susan's that I flagged for mention was this one, about the value of singing picture books aloud with kids. I'm sure to be mentioning other posts by Susan and Jill going forward.

Now, I know that I'm supposed to pass along this award. But it's so hard to choose. There are quite a few blogs that make my day. So I'm going to say the same thing that I said in response to the Shameless Lions award - if I link to one of your posts in any of my Sunday Visits posts, and/or if I included your input in that reluctant readers article, then you have a blog that makes my day.

Now, on to other links:

  • The Lamppost Blog, a new blog written by a high school English teacher from Canada, has an article about common strategies for reaching reluctant readers. I will admit to having found this because I was referenced in the article, but I have bookmarked The Lamppost for further reading. I like the name of the blog, and it's definitely one for teachers to check out.
  • Another post in which my reluctant readers article was referenced (it is just all about me today, isn't it?), this one on a blog I've been reading for a while, is this post at Book Advice. Minerva66 asks: Is time an important factor in children's literacy? She proposes that a factor that hasn't received much attention in the decline of reading debate is simply that many kids are so over-scheduled that they lack the time to "relax, think quietly, and create on their own." I think that she makes an excellent point. Have you all run into this issue, in encouraging your kids and your students to read?
  • Speaking of encouraging kids to read, don't miss the latest post by Donalyn Miller at The Book Whisperer. She proposes that "The manner in which schools institutionalize reading takes this love (of books) away from children." She also discusses the correlation between being a reader and being a good test-taker, and the way that teaching towards standardized tests via "drill and kill ... slowly strangles the joy of reading out of students, and narrows their possibilities as readers forever more." Anyone know a way out of this problem, given the emphasis that the system places on standardized tests? It is ironic, if teaching to the tests is killing a love of reading, because kids who love to read do well on standardized tests anyway. 
  • And if you're looking to encourage boys to read, check out this post at The Miss Rumphius Effect, in which Tricia links to a Chronicle of Higher Education article about what boys should read.
  • Over at Kids Lit, Tasha links to a new AP article by Stephanie Reitz about the new trend of taking children's book art more seriously. I especially liked this statement from the article: "More art lovers are recognizing that whimsy and significance aren't mutually exclusive." I would argue that the same could be said for literature, too.
  • At ForeWord Magazine's ShelfSpace blog, Pam Coughlan writes about her magical ability to make books disappear from the children's library shelves. She also offers some suggestions to authors, publishers, and reviewers for making the magic flow even more easily (e.g. "The publisher has a huge impact on the book by creating the cover art.").
  • I learned from Felicity12 at Look Books that a book that I recently enjoyed (STORM: The Infinity Code) already has three sequels in the UK. One would think that these will make their way over here before too long.
  • I've seen several great posts about the recent Dublin Literacy Conference. But I especially enjoyed this post, by Mary Lee from A Year of Reading, about how she learned, during a live presentation, just what a small world it really is. She was showing a live SiteMeter map during her presentation, and was able to identify TadMack dropping by from over in Scotland. Very cool!
  • At the Kiddosphere, Jennifer Schultz suggests several "school stories" for those kids who are not enamored of fantasy.
  • In the context of a post about an upcoming early literacy summit, Walter Minkel posits, at The Monkey Speaks, that the problem with literacy conferences is that much of the content falls on the "ears of the converted". He suggests a broader approach, by which "we, the librarians out on the floor, who are visiting a school on a parents’ night, or speaking to parents at a preschool, need to be talking up books and encouraging parents to visit the library. Never pass up a chance to talk to the parents who haven’t been converted yet to the “gospel” of reading aloud - to do a commercial for reading aloud." I would actually extend Walter's call, and say that any of us, librarians or not, who have the chance should be making commercials for reading aloud.
  • Colleen Mondor has just posted her You Should Read This Awards for 2008: Books Published for Adults that Teens Will Love. I might amend that title to add that these are books published by adults that we adult fans of children's literature are likely to also love. For instance, Ysabel, which is a book that I just mentioned in my "reviews that made me want the book" post, is included, not to mention many other books that I've enjoyed. The list is not limited to recently published titles, and is a great resource for anyone looking for books that will please teens. On a somewhat related note, over at Bookshelves of Doom, Leila is looking for 2007 YA books that "didn't get enough love"
  • Dearfinaltop_1_19_resizethumbnailDo you have a question that you've always wanted to ask Beverly Cleary? If so, check out this post by Rachael Walker, Outreach Consultant for Reading Rockets, at the First Book Blog. "In preparation for the third annual National D.E.A.R. Day—that’s Drop Everything and Read—Reading Rockets is collecting questions for Mrs. Cleary from readers of all ages. She’ll answer the best and most original questions on April 12, National D.E.A.R. Day and her birthday, in a new exclusive audio interview. You have until this Friday, February 29 to send your question". See also this post at Becky's Book Reviews about D.E.A.R. day.
  • The spring issue of the Prairie Wind, the newsletter of the SCBWI-Illinois Chapter, is now available, with lots of great articles.

OK, that was more than a few links. I hope you'll all find something useful.

Not So Tall for Six: Dianna Hutts Aston

Book: Not So Tall for Six
Author: Dianna Hutts Aston
Illustrator: Frank W. Dormer
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

Not So tall for SixNot So Tall for Six was written by 2006 Cybils nonfiction picture book winning author Dianna Hutts Aston, and illustrated by Frank W. Dormer. I was interested in this book, about a very small six-year-old girl, because I'm "not so tall" myself. I must admit that it took me a second read-through to appreciate this quirky picture book, but on that second reading, I was won over.

Kylie Bell "comes from a long line of not-so-tall people." Their family motto is "Brave and smart and big at heart." When confronted at school by a big new bully named Rusty Jacks, Kylie has some negative interactions with him, and even runs away. She manages to play to her own strengths, however. And when the opportunity comes to do the right thing and help Rusty Jacks, Kylie remembers her family motto, and comes through.

The reason this book is a bit tricky at first is that the story is told from a sort of fantasy/surrealistic viewpoint. So, the first time we see Rusty he is "slithering around like a half-starved rattlesnake", and drawn with a human torso and serpent bottom. In another scene he looms over Kylie like a giant. Only in the scene where he needs help is he shown in actual kid size. I suspect that young readers will take in stride this fantasy-tinged Kylie's-eye-view of the situation, but it took me a second pass to get into it.

Closer inspection reveals the cleverness by which Kylie's imaginings tie back the details we know of her home life. For example, the second page of the book includes, as background, a picture of a tiny little woman in a bonnet being menaced by several large men in cowboy hats. Later on, when Kylie is confronted by Rusty, she almost calls Rusty a name, but then "a vision of Great-great grandmother Beulah Bell, who kept hold of her good manners even when the cowpokes didn't, pops into her mind." I like the tying back to that earlier picture. Similarly, one of Kylie's relatives was a snake charmer, and thus it makes sense for her to picture the bully Rusty as a snake.

I also enjoyed the humor of Dormer's pen and ink and watercolor illustrations. A portrait of one not-so-tall relative shows only the top of his head peeking over the bottom of the picture frame. Kylie sits in her father's lap, both of them tiny compared to the high back of the armchair. And to make sure that we get the country and western atmosphere of the book, a pot of cactii sits to the right of armchair, and the colors run to tan, sage, and rust. Kylie herself is rather Pippi-esque, and stands out from the more muted background, with red pigtails streaming out to either side.

The book also features Aston's playful use of language, and a southwestern slant to the text. For example:

"Kylie Bell skedaddles faster than a spooked horse.

At times like this a sneaky thought tip-tippity-two-steps across Kylie Bell's brain. She is so tall the ground rumbles like a mighty oil gusher when she runs. She is so tee-totally-tall, big kids can play hopscotch in her shadow."


"Kylie Bell is afraid. But even though her legs feel like Aunt Cherokee's cactus jelly, she skitter-dee-doos over to Rusty Jacks, looks straight up into his nostrils, and announces, 'Ladybugs do not accept rides from wild boars.'"

Fun stuff. It reminds me of living in Texas. Like Kylie Bell, Not So Tall for Six is itself brave and smart and big at heart. Although the book has solid messages about courage and compassion, they never overwhelm the story. I think that younger kids will miss some of the nuances, but I recommend this book highly for first and second graders, especially those who live in the southwestern states. 

Publisher: Charlesbridge
Publication Date: January 15, 2008 (new edition)
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Other Blog References: See some original artwork by Frank Dormer at 7-Imp, and Frank Dormer featured at What Adrienne Thinks About That as part of the Blogging for a Cure Event

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

Reviews that Made Me Want the Book: Rainy Day Edition

This is the second edition of the new "reviews that make me want to read the book" feature here at Jen Robinson's Book Page. The idea (as introduced here) is to highlight a few recent reviews that have inspired me to want to read the book in question. This will give a bit of much-deserved attention to the authors of these enticing reviews, and will also help me to keep track of these reviews as they pass by my computer. I hope that you find some book ideas here, too.

Monkey with a Tool BeltFirst up is Chris Monroe's Monkey with a Tool Belt (Carolrhoda Books), reviewed by Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production. I actually loved the cover photo, but was also taken by this text from Betsy (who loved the book): "There is nothing quite so comforting as a competent hero. Monroe has created a story that is as kid-friendly as it is partly because you never really worry too badly for Chico. Even when he's in dire straits you're comforted by the very presence of his tool belt." [Updated to add My Review: March 1, 2008]

YsabelNext up is Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay (Roc Trade), reviewed by Emmaco at There's Always Time for a Book. Emmaco says that it "stars 15-year old Ned, who has traveled to Provence with his famous photographer father... Ned's worries are soon superceded by new concerns as the past becomes tangled with the present, placing his family and friends into danger. Kay does a great job at gently introducing the many different historical events that have occurred in the region." As regular readers know, I'm a sucker for time travel books, and I like the sound of the way the time travel is mixed in for this one.

Alcatraz Versus The Evil LibrariansI've seen Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson (Scholastic) around, and thought that the title was appealing. But Esme Raji Codell convinced me to read it with: "This book has laugh-out-loud slapstick, zany characters, and a meticulous plotting that keeps imagination from becoming mayhem; in fact, I have yet to meet a child (or a librarian) who didn't like this book, probably because it sizzles with magic, and gives readers hope that whatever fault you may have can be turned to an advantage."

Brothers, Boyfriends and Other Criminal MindsCynthia Leitich Smith made me want to read Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds by April Lurie (Delacorte). The post isn't a full review, but rather an announcement about a giveaway to receive a signed copy of the book. However, Cynthia's plot summary, about two teenage girls who inadvertently find themselves involved with the mob, caught my attention. Perhaps because we've just started watching Season 6 of the Sopranos at my house.

And that's it for today. Though I do wonder if I would be better off reading some of the books that I have, instead of writing about other books that I want to read. But anyway, hope this is of interest.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: Newspapers, Dyslexia, and Funding for Literacy Programs

Here is some recent children's literacy and reading news.

  • I don't have a link for you, but I did get an email back from Congressman Mike Honda expressing his support for Reading is Fundamental. He said, among other things: "I fully support the goals of the RIF program and will work with my colleagues on the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee to restore this essential program." And he must have been hearing from other people about this, because he had his letter pretty detailed.
  • Tricia links to, and provides excerpts of, several recent news stories about reading at The Miss Rumphius Effect. I especially liked this quote, from an OpEd piece by Timothy Egan: "Reading is something else, an engagement of the imagination with life experience. It’s fad-resistant, precisely because human beings are hard-wired for story, and intrinsically curious. Reading is not about product."
  • Anastasia Suen sent me the link to this Reading Rockets post, which in turn links to a primer on dyslexia, published by the Florida Center for Reading Research. The report talks about identifying students with dyslexia, effective instruction methods, preventing reading difficulties for students with dyslexia, and other topics. 
  • According to a Herald article by Andrew Denholm, a "literacy project which helps secondary school children in one of the most deprived communities in Britain is to be axed." The article continues: "Since 2000, the £80,000-a-year initiative in Glasgow has given intensive support to pupils with a reading age of four or more years under their chronological age. But now that funding, which pays for two dedicated literacy teachers to help some 30 children a year at Drumchapel High School improve their reading skills, is to be cut off." Kind of like cutting off funding for RIF, isn't it?
  • According to the Jamaica Information Service, "The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, ... (recently) launched the 'Reading the Bottomline' project, at the St. Michael's Primary School in Kingston. This initiative seeks to increase the literacy level of students at the primary school level."
  • The Herald Bulletin (IN) has an article by Brandi Watters about a children's literacy program that uses newspapers. The papers are used to "foster logic in sequencing", to illustrate the "six basic principles of news reporting", and to help teach the differences between fact and fiction.

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

Saturday Afternoon Visits: February 23

it's a stormy, windy day here in Northern California. Mheir had to go into work, so I've been spending some time on the computer. Here is some news from around the Kidlitosphere:

  • Jess has a post about the use of digital storytelling for educators, linked from discussion on EduCause Connect. There's a definition of digital storytelling, and a discussion about how Web 2.0 has a "lower barrier to use."
  • Sara Lewis Holmes has a conversation going on at Read Write Believe about "otherness" in children's literature. She asks: "what makes you leap into the story? Do you think: Oh! that character's just like me! I would do that! Or is it the opposite: why on earth would a character think that? Do that? Say that?"
  • Abby (the) Librarian shares several nonfiction picks for middle grade students that she will be booktalking for the upcoming Women's History Month. She asks readers for other suggestions.
  • HipWriterMama describes her recent visit to her daughter's first grade classroom, in which she talked to the kids about the right way to treat books. She incorporated suggestions from several other members of the Kidlitosphere, and the result is both an illustration of the power of this little corner of the Internet, and an inspiration. In fact, Alkelda has dubbed HipWriterMama Super Mama, complete with action figure.
  • The new blog I.N.K. (interesting nonfiction for kids) has been off to a strong start, with posts by a variety of nonfiction authors. I especially enjoyed this post by Anna M. Lewis about fun art appreciation books for kids. I think that parents and teachers will find this an excellent resource.
  • Another relatively new blogger who has jumped in with both feet is Jama at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. This week she shares her thoughts on finding the courage to start a blog, and the joy of finding her voice. This is a must-read post for anyone out there hesitating over dipping a toe into blogging. She also has a fun post about using chocolate instead of therapy.   
  • Over at A Fuse #8 Production, Betsy Bird has been shining a spotlight on "some authors, illustrators, and teachers that are going out of their way to help kids become better readers." Those featured so far include Sue Stauffacher, who has "more than fifteen years experience introducing at-risk kids to the joys of reading", author G. Neri and illustrator Jesse Joshua Watson, and the Kidlitosphere's own Monica Edinger, teacher extraordinaire.
  • Lots of people have written this week in response to a New York Times article (subscription required) about product placement in children's books. I first learned about this at The Longstockings, where there has been considerable discussion on the topic. I've especially enjoyed TadMack's impassioned response at Finding Wonderland (here and here). I agree with her that the whole "product placement in children's books" thing is a travesty.
  • Another New York Times article that's generated a lot of discussion this week is about James Patterson's efforts to drive up sales of his teen books, by asking bookstores to place them near the front of the store. He's also actively working to market the books to adults, especially women. I first saw this discussed at So Tomorrow. I was interested to learn that "the Maximum Ride series is co-written by one (uncredited) Gabrielle Charbonnet, according to the Times." I don't find this surprising, given the prolific pace at which James Patterson books come out. I still like the Maximum Ride books, despite a certain two-dimensionality of the characters, and a certain ego being displayed by Patterson.
  • Speaking of Finding Wonderland, I also enjoyed a. fortis's recent post on Things I Learned from Kids' Books. She says: "As a kid, without those kids' books I wouldn't have learned about dodecahedrons or tesseracts. Those books taught me what a veruca was, and what makes somebody a twit." And if you don't know what books she's referring to, well, clearly there are some children's books that you should be reading or re-reading.
  • Charlotte links to a Guardian article about fictional boarding schools at Charlotte's Library, and asks readers what fictional school they would like to attend. I actually wrote about this topic quite some time back, and listed Hogwarts, Mallory Towers, and the village school in Avonlea. Charlotte disagrees with me about Hogwarts, making the valid point that the moving stairways would be inconvenient. Fun stuff!
  • Inspired by some recent discussion elsewhere, Kelly writes about her Children's Book Reviews wiki at Big A little a. The Wiki is a site where bloggers can index their completed reviews, by age range, author, title, etc. Her post has inspired several people to archive their own reviews at the site, making it an ever more useful resource. Sara also went to the trouble of getting the Wiki added to the Adaptive Blue Smartlinks widgets. If you write children's book reviews on your blog, and would like more people to find them, do read Kelly's post.
  • Sheri from Boys Blogging Books links to a discussion at Through the Tollbooth about boys and books. This post combines discussion from several other posts over the past couple of weeks. There's too much for me to even begin to share with you, but if you're interested in books and books, do click through.

And that's it for today. Happy weekend to all!

STORM: The Infinity Code: E. L. Young

Book: STORM: The Infinity Code
Author: Emma Young
Pages: 336
Age Range: 10 to 14

The Infinity CodeThe first of what promises to be a series, STORM: The Infinity Code by E. L. Young is a story tailor-made for fans of the Alex Rider, Young Bond, Alfred Kropp, and Maximum Ride books (though without the fantasy/science fiction elements of the latter two, and aimed at a slightly younger age range). Our hero is fourteen-year-old Will, a talented inventor, unhappy after the death of his father, and his subsequent abandonment by his mother. Will is surprised when a girl from school named Gaia invites him to be part of a shadowy group of teens, focused on solving big-picture problems in the world. The other participants, besides the multi-lingual and brave Gaia, include Andrew, a wealthy computer whiz lacking in social skills, and (sometimes) Caspian, the genius son of a famous and recently kidnapped astrophysicist. As Andrew explains to Will:

"STORM: Science and Technology to Over-Rule Misery. We might be young, but we are not impotent. We can act. We can change the world. The only real challenge is for us to believe it... My vision is this... That we come together, and we recruit others who have talents, and under the banner of STORM we work to tackle the problems in the world. Why not? We're geniuses. We can take on HIV. We can take on global warming. We have the brains. I have the money. I say: Let's do it!"

Will takes some time to be be convinced of these lofty ambitions, but he is eventually won over by his teammates. After solving a crisis close to home, Will, Gaia, and Andrew find themselves enmeshed in a mystery which requires them to travel by train to Russia on very short notice, and without passports. Once there, they find a crisis that could lead to the end of the world, unless the three teenagers can stop it in time. Clever inventions, quick thinking, brave escapades, and team loyalty all play a part in what follows.

Clearly, one must suspend belief to enjoy a book like this. There are implausible coincidences, and some surprisingly hands-off behavior by the adults. (Will's temporary guardian, for example, takes his impromptu trip to Russia quite in stride.) But for the target audience, I don't think that this suspension of belief will be a problem. And The Infinity Code is a fun, exciting adventure.

Will's inventions are ingenious. The book includes an author's note at the end indicating that the inventions, and the science in the book, are based on "genuine research and inventions." Illustrations of the key gadgets are also included in the end material, and are sure to please scientifically-minded readers. The main characters are all unabashedly bright, but they are quirky and emotionally wounded enough to make them accessible to readers. Gaia presents an excellent model of a strong, brave teenage girl, one who keeps Will on his toes. And I like that the characters are not afraid to use science to further their aims.

I think that The Infinity Code, and the presumed future books in the STORM series, will be a hit with their target audience. And they might even become a guilty pleasure for older readers like myself, too. This book is a welcome addition to the growing canon of middle school-level spy novels.

Publisher: Dial
Publication Date: March 13, 2008
Source of Book: Picked up ARC at NCTE in November
Other Blog Reviews: Bookshelves of Doom

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

The Next Step for RIF: Dear Colleague Letter

In response to the recent Action Alert raised by Reading is Fundamental, more than 30,000 letters have been sent to Congress. RIF's President and CEO, Carol Rasco, has just issued an updated appeal for action towards the next step in RIF's battle. Here is her updated message, with links:

Please ACT NOW and help RIF build support for our funding by sending an e-mail to your members of Congress asking them to sign the RIF Dear Colleague letter.

Since we first shared the disappointing news of President Bush’s proposed elimination of funding for RIF in his fiscal year 2009 budget less than two weeks ago, more than 30,000 messages have been sent to Congress urging legislators to reinstate RIF’s funding.

This initial outpouring of support has prompted RIF’s congressional champions to capitalize on the momentum by circulating in Congress a Dear Colleague letter on behalf of RIF. The Dear Colleague letter asks members of Congress to sign-on in support of RIF’s funding. This is an important next step in the campaign to protect RIF’s FY09 funding.

We are asking Congress to appropriate $26 million to fund RIF’s book distribution program for some 4.6 million underserved children and families in fiscal year 2009. The funding is critical to support our reading motivational programs at nearly 20,000 locations nationwide.

We hope you will share this message with six or more friends who will also contact their members of Congress. Thank you in advance for your support!

Take Action!

Even if you sent letters last week, this is a different letter, towards a more concrete further action. If you support RIF, please consider helping via the Take Action link above.

The Time Thief: Linda Buckley-Archer

Book: The Time Thief (Book Two in the Gideon Trilogy)
Author: Linda Buckley-Archer
Pages: 512
Age Range: 10-14

Time Thief Background: The Time Thief is the second book in Linda Buckley-Archer's Gideon Trilogy. It was originally published in the UK as The Tar Man. The first book in the series, The Time Travelers, was originally published in the UK as Gideon the Cutpurse. I listened to the audio version of Gideon the Cutpurse last year, and although I didn't review it at the time, I thought that it was original and entertaining. When I heard that the second book was available, I had to have it. I do prefer the UK titles - I think that they are more memorable - but regardless of the titles, this is a compelling series for fantasy and science fiction fans of all ages.

Review: The Time Thief begins immediately following the end of the first book (spoilers here if you haven't read the first book. Stop here and go read that, and then come back, that's my advice.) Kate and her father, Dr. Dyer, have returned safely from their trip to 1763, with their time machine. Unfortunately, however, through a last-minute crisis, they've left Kate's friend Peter behind, with Gideon Seymour, in 1763. Instead of bringing back Peter, they've returned accompanied by The Tar Man, a criminal in any age.

The story follows separate threads, as The Tar Man wreaks havoc in modern-day London and Kate, with Peter's father, attempts to rescue Peter. Unfortunately, due to a unanticipated blunder, Kate and Mr. Schock land in 1792, instead of 1763. Peter has grown to adulthood, raised by Gideon, and isn't sure how to react to finding his friend still 12 years old, and his father apparently his own age. Further complications ensue, as Kate, Mr. Schock, and Peter travel across England and revolutionary France in search of a way home. Meanwhile, back in modern times, Kate's father must conceal the truth from the police, and seek out a way to rescue both Peter and his daughter.

This is a fascinating story, but not for the faint of heart. The Tar Man is quite violent. The French Revolution is described with detail and immediacy. And I think that children might find disturbing the fact that Peter, as we find him in this story, never got rescued, and had to grow up in the 18th century. But for those ready to handle these issues, The Time Thief offers a thrilling ride. The plot is absorbing, the characters are three-dimensional (though there are an unusual number of adult protagonists for a children's book), and the time travel aspects intriguing. Buckley-Archer offers just the right amount of historical detail - enough to give the reader a good view of the 18th century, but never so much as to overwhelm the plot.

I did have a quibble with the parts of the story told from the Tar Man's perspective. At least in the advance copy that I read, the Tar Man early in his visit indicated knowledge of the things around him that he shouldn't have understood yet. Yes, it's told in third person, but it's a limited perspective third person, and I found, for example, an early reference to a Mini Cooper jarring. I would have preferred to see this section told entirely from the perspective of a person from the 18th century first seeing modern-day London (as indeed some of it was told, as when "He encountered few of those outlandish carriages that moved without horses".) But this is a minor point that didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. I also quite enjoyed the scenes in which the Tar Man learns how to behave in 21st century England, as when he grudgingly accepts that calling  the waitress a "wench" is not the path to good service.

One of the best things about time travel books is the fish out of water aspect - people from the past not understanding what they are seeing in the present, and people from the present acting oddly when thrust into the past. The nice thing about The Time Thief is that we get to see this disconnect from both perspectives. The people in the past don't understand why Peter is so fastidious about taking care of his teeth, while the people in the present are shocked when the Tar Man brazenly steals a policeman's horse.

One of my favorite scenes is the first one in which we see the grown-up Peter, in 1792:

"Then he picked up The Observer and began to read, puffing at his pipe and taking pleasure in blowing smoke rings toward the ceiling. It was a habit he relished, not least because it reminded him of a particular wizard in a book he had loved as a child, and longed to hold in his hands once more." (Chapter 4)

There's something touching about the picture of this grown man, in a world where the book doesn't yet exist, still thinking longingly of his childhood favorite (which Michele tells me is a reference to Gandalf in The Hobbit). Although we're happy to see that Peter has grown into a successful man, we also feel sorry for the boy who never got to go home.

The other interesting thing about time travel books is the paradoxes and moral questions. Is it right to go into the past and tell people about something that's going to happen? How will it change things in the future if you do that? Does time travel inherently render the universe unstable, by creating different trajectories in the world? The characters in The Time Thief ponder these issues seriously. For example:

"Dr. Piretti did not answer straightaway and then replied: 'If you knew, for sure, that going back in time again would potentially damage the universe in some catastrophic way we can't even envisage, would it be right to risk the safety of the rest of humanity for the sake of one innocent boy?" (Chapter 1)

Of course this issue is viewed differently by Peter's father than by the more dispassionate scientists. Questions like these will have the reader pausing to think, even in the midst of rapidly turning pages to see what happens next. All in all, The Time Thief is a worthy successor to The Time Travelers, one that is sure to please everyone from middle schoolers to adults. I highly recommend it, and look forward to book three of the series.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: December 26, 2007
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Please note that any quotations are from the ARC, and may not reflect the final text of the book.
Other Blog Reviews: Lady Schrapnell, Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone, 8areadingblog

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

Readergirlz: Chat with Nikki Grimes

ReadergirlzThe following announcement was originally posted at Bildungsroman.

The readergirlz forum is open all day, every day. It's easy to strike up a conversation with other readergirlz all over the world. Post about your favorite books and tell us what you think of this month's spotlighted title. Talk it up!

Every month, we host an hour-long chat with the author of the currently spotlighted book.

This Month's Book: Bronx Masquerade
This Month's Guest: Nikki Grimes
Date: TONIGHT, Tuesday, February 19th
Start Time: 6 PM PST / 9 PM EST

Tonight's chat will include a fun poetry slam, sans judges or winners. In other words, we're inviting you to post some of your own poetry in the chat thread in addition to your questions for the author and other comments.

The 10th chatter to post will win a copy of Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes.

The 20th chatter will win My Sisters' Voices: Teenage Girls of Color Speak Out by Iris Jacob.

Dont miss it!