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Posts from April 2008

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: April 29

Jpg_book007Tonight I will be sending out the new issue of the 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. There are currently more than 250 subscribers.

This week I have an installment of my "reviews that made me want to read the book" feature, a children's literacy and reading news round-up, a Kidlitosphere round-up with links to useful posts from the week, an anecdote about a recent unexpected chat that I had with an author, an announcement about the April Carnival of Children's Literature, and an announcement about the Jane Addams Children's Book Award winners. Recent posts not included in this newsletter include:

I'm still traveling more or less constantly, and I just haven't been able to get back to reviews yet. But on the most recent trip I read and enjoyed Audrey Wait by Robin Benway. Audrey Wait is about a girl who becomes a celebrity after she dumps her aspiring rockstar boyfriend, and he writes a hit song about it. I've seen other stories along the same vein - what sudden fame does to a person's friendships, etc., but what makes this one work is the pitch perfect teen voice. I can pretty much hear my nieces saying some of the sentences (though hopefully not doing several of the things in the book - it's more a book for high schoolers than middle schoolers). I'm now half-way through the Penderwicks sequel (by Jeanne Birdsall), and all I have to say right now is: no other contemporary author reminds me more of Elizabeth Enright (and that is a huge compliment). More detailed reviews forthcoming, once I get over this bout of travel. Thanks for your patience!

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms!

Jane Addams Children's Book Awards Announced

Congratulations to the Kidlitosphere's own Mitali Perkins (long-time blogger at the Fire Escape, and recently elected Readergirlz Diva). Mitali's book Rickshaw Girl (reviewed here) is a Jane Addams Honor Book for 2008. Way to go, Mitali!

Here's the official press release, with all the winning titles, copied from Mitali's post:


April 28, 2008 — Winners of the 2008 Jane Addams Children's Book Awards were announced today by the Jane Addams Peace Association.

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s Slave Finds Freedom, the winner in the Books for Younger Children Category, is written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully and published by Farrar Strauss Giroux. Mrs. Washington’s declares that young Oney is just like one of the Washington’s own children, but Oney is not fooled. On the night Mrs. Washington tells Oney she will not grant her freedom upon her death, Oney thinks quickly, acts courageously and flees. Expressive watercolors within this well-researched biography portray the bravery of Ona Maria Judge, an African-American woman who claimed, and fought for, the right to have “no mistress but herself.”

We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin by Larry Dane Brimner, published by Calkins Creek, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc., is the winner in the Books for Older Children Category. Working behind the scenes because of his sexual orientation and unpopular political stands, African-American pacifist and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, a trusted adviser to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Succinct prose, powerful quotations and fresh historical photographs place the story of Rustin’s life alongside the story of the March, revealing the breadth and depth of Rustin’s decades of commitment to confronting racism and promoting peace in the United States and in countries around the world.

One book has won honors in the Books for Younger Children Category. One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II, written and illustrated by Lita Judge is published by Hyperion Books for Children. After discovering one thousand yellowed foot tracings in her grandmother’s attic, Lita Judge wrote this tribute to her grandmother who had used these newspaper tracings to find appropriately-sized shoes to send to needy German families in the aftermath of World War II. A combination of paintings, collages of original photographs and reproductions of foot tracings underscore the message of compassion at the heart of this family story.

Three books have won honors in the Books for Older Children category. Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins, with illustrations by Jamie Hogan and published by Charlesbridge, is a contemporary novel set in Bangladesh. In clear prose and detailed black-and-white drawings, ten-year-old Naima excels at painting alpanas, traditional designs created by Bangladeshi women and girls. Her talent, though valued by her family, cannot buy rice or pay back the loan on her father’s rickshaw as a son’s contribution would do. Determined to help financially, Naima disguises herself as a boy and sparks surprising events that reveal an expanding world for herself and women in her community.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., is a sensitively-written historical novel infused with the spirit of youth. Eleven-year-old Elijah bursts with pride at being the first child born free in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just across the border from Detroit. When a scoundrel steals money saved to buy an enslaved family’s freedom, Elijah impulsively pursues the thief into Michigan. The journey brings him face-to-face with the terrors of slavery, pushing him to act courageously and compassionately in the name of freedom.

Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford is published by Wordsong, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc. Deftly-written free verse and expertly-chosen archival photographs lay open the horror of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing by telling the story in the voice of an imagined girl in the “year I turned ten.” Four memorial poems, each a tribute to one of the four girls murdered in the bombing, conclude this slim, powerful volume and carry its emphatic message: No More Birminghams!

Since 1953, the Jane Addams Children's Book Award annually acknowledges books published in the U.S. during the previous year. Books commended by the Award address themes or topics that engage children in thinking about peace, justice, world community, and/or equality of the sexes and all races. The books also must meet conventional standards of literary and artistic excellence.

A national committee chooses winners and honor books for older and younger children. Members of the 2007 Jane Addams Children's Book Awards Committee are Susan C. Griffith, Chair (Mt. Pleasant, Michigan), Barbara Bair (Washington, D. C.), Ann Bower (Harwich, Massachusetts), Sonja Cherry-Paul (Yonkers, New York), Eliza T. Dresang (Tallahassee, Florida), Oralia Garza de Cortes (Pasadena, California), MJ Grande (Juneau, Alaska), Daisy Gutierrez (Houston, Texas), Margaret Jensen (Madison, Wisconsin), Jo Montie (Minneapolis, Minnesota), Sarah Park (Long Beach, California), Pat Wiser (Sewanee,Tennessee) and Junko Yokota (Skokie, Illinois). Regional reading and discussion groups participated with many of the committee members throughout the jury’s evaluation and selection process.

The 2008 Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards will be presented Friday, October 17th in New York City. Details about the award event and about securing winner and honor book seals are available from the Jane Addams Peace Association (JAPA). Contact JAPA Executive Director Linda B. Belle, 777 United Nations Plaza, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10017-3521; by phone 212-682-8830; and by e-mail

For additional information about the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards and a complete list of books honored since 1953, see

Founded in 1948, JAPA is the educational arm of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). In addition to sponsoring the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards and many other educational projects, JAPA houses the U.N. office of WILPF in New York City and owns the Jane Addams House in Philadelphia where the U.S. section of WILPF is located. Organized on April 28th in 1915, WILPF is celebrating its 93rd year. For information, visit

Children's Literacy Round-Up: April 28

Here is some recent children's literacy and reading news from around the wires:

  • Jennifer Schultz wrote a great post last week at the Kiddosphere about National Library Week. She discusses places in the world where books are brought to children on camels, and links to an article about the "various ways books are brought to isolated communities around the world." This definitely gives some perspective on how lucky we are in our library access in the U.S.
  • Via the International Reading Association blog, I found a fun article from the Greenville News by Nathaniel Cary about the Limos for Learning program, a five-year-old reading rewards program by which children are given limo rides and a celebratory lunch to celebrate their achievement of reading goals. "Betsy Ross, president of Limos for Learning, started the program because as a pharmacist, she saw many patients who couldn’t read their own health-care materials. Early intervention was the key, she said."
  • The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has a short article by James Hawver about a recent event by which "members of the Boys & Girls Club of Rochester raided the children's section (of Borders) Sunday afternoon, walking away with $4,000 in free reads. The giveaway was sponsored by First Book, an organization that helps children from low-income families read and own their first new books." The program was clearly a huge success.
  • has an article by Sally Burr about a teacher who received a grant for a project to help fifth grade students become better readers. " When Jefferson teacher Tamara Cassidy attended a reading conference last October and learned of a content-area Reader's Theatre kit, she recognized its potential to improve reading scores and turn kids on to reading. The only obstacle was the $325 price tag. Enter the Arkansas City Public Schools Enhancement Fund with an invitation to teachers to apply for a Great Ideas Grants and the rest is history." This program has also been quite successful in making reading more fun for kids.
  • The Log Cabin Democrat has an article by Monica Hooper about the "Fourth Annual Awards Ceremony for the Conway Bookcase Project", a program that gives preschoolers their own books and oak bookcases. The idea is to start the kids on a lifetime of reading, and give them pride in their ownership of books.
  • This press release about the role of mothers in raising readers caught my eye. "On May 11 -- the day of celebrating the mothers in our lives and all they do for us -- the National Center for Family Literacy is encouraging moms to renew their commitment to making reading a daily habit for the family. “Those fond times spent in a rocking chair reading with your mom are more than memories,” said Sharon Darling, president & founder of the National Center for Family Literacy. “They are critical for children’s future academic success. That’s right, your performance on tests and in school is greatly influenced by your mother’s education level and involvement in your schooling.”" I just hope they do an initiative like this for Father's Day, too.
  • The Arizona Republic has an article by Mark Ryan about the role of television and the Internet in raising literacy levels. The article includes observations like this: "Researchers have noted that there appears to be an overlap between children's pre-reading television viewership and their skill base in reading. For example, when it comes to word knowledge, the kind of programming a preschooler watches can really augment his or her vocabulary." But he does add this: "Remember, parents (and grandparents!) are a child's most important teachers. Use the visual arts via the Internet and TV and ongoing interaction about what you are seeing to promote literacy." Seems to me that more time spent reading books together is still the best thing, but I'm sure there are ways to use television and the Internet to support literacy efforts, too.

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

Sunday Afternoon Visits: April 27

I am woefully behind on my blog reading. We were in Texas and Louisiana for six days, and then Mheir's brother and his family came to visit the day after we returned. We had a wonderful time with them, and I miss them already, but my blog-reading time has definitely fallen by the wayside. And tomorrow I leave on a business trip for a few days, so there's not much change in sight. It's amazing how even when something is truly a priority, you sometimes still can't scrape up the time for it. But I did flag a couple of posts over the past two weeks:

  • Through a comment on my blog, I discovered a fun new blog called Anokaberry. Here's what the website says: "The Anokaberry -- our own version ( a "mock newbery") of the Newbery Award -- is named after Anoka County, Minnesota, the home of this librarian and her blog. The Anokaberry will be awarded annually to deserving new books published in the current year, read and voted on by anyone interested in children's literature who responds with comments to this blog. Your reviews and opinions are welcome! Comments should include title, author, and the name of your local library. The results of our reading and voting will be updated and posted throughout the year. Lists of favorites and recommended reading will be compiled and published throughout the year. Our selections for Anokaberry 2009 (winner and books of distinction) will be announced the first week of January just before the American Library Association announces the 2009 Newbery Award." Fun stuff!
  • I also ran across a nice article by Mary Haga at Reading Rockets about using poetry to teach reading. I think that the article is from 2005, but of course using poetry to encourage reading is timeless.
  • I was tagged recently for two memes. The first was by Patty P. at Capturing Joy, who tagged me for a getting to you know you meme. The second was by the Bookwitch, who tagged me for the Page 123 meme. I haven't had a chance to respond here, but I did give responses in the comments on Patty and Bookwitch's posts, and I'm very appreciative of being thought of.
  • Janssen wrote a lovely post at Everyday Reading in honor of what would have been her youngest brother's eleventh birthday. It's a bit of a tear-jerker, but heart-warming, too, and well worth your time.
  • Franki Sibberson has an article at Choice Literacy about books to get people ready for summer vacation. I know I'm ready for some vacation reading time!
  • Librarian Mom has a post at Scholastic asking why there aren't more superhero books. She says: "The truth is, aside from repackaged picture books based on the standard Marvel characters, there is a real dearth of superhero books out there, especially for younger kids. I'm not sure why this should be; it's a great topic, and what books there are have instant appeal and a pretty much built-in audience. But I've had to disappoint more kids looking for superhero books than I like to think about."
  • As a companion to his recent program at Texas Library Association, Matthew Holm has a post filled with links on Using Graphic Novels in the Younger Grades. You can also download the PowerPoint version of his presentation.
  • Cheryl Rainfield has a handy, link-filled post about finding childhood favorite books. She had the good fortune to re-discover one of her lost favorites, and she links to various sources for hints and clues.

And that's all I had time to get through for this week. Happy reading!

FUSION STORIES: New Novels For Young Readers To Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May 2008)

I've been meaning to post about Fusion Stories for a while now, and this weekend Justina Chen Headley from readergirlz kindly sent me the official press release.

Newton, MA, April 2, 2008 - Ten new contemporary novels by Asian Americans aren't traditional tales set in Asia nor stories about coming to America for the first time. They're written by authors who understand two-time Newbery Honor Book author Lawrence Yep's (Dragonwings and Dragon's Gate) removal of the ethnic qualifier before his vocation. "I think of myself principally as a writer," Yep told the International Reading Association's The Dragon Lode. "I often write about my experiences as a Chinese American, but I've also written about faraway worlds. Writing is a special way of seeing."

Without a doubt, an Asian American vision has moved into the mainstream of the children's literary world. In 1994, only 65 of the 5,500 children's books published featured Asian American authors. Last year, that number doubled. Some of these have become national bestsellers that are guaranteed a place on bookshelves for years to come. Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard) and Cynthia Kadohata (Kira Kira) each won the prestigious Newbery Medal, while Allen Say (Grandfather's Journey) took home a Caldecott Prize. An Na (A Step From Heaven) won the Printz, an award for young adult novels, and Gene Luen Yang garnered a National Book Award for his graphic novel, American Born Chinese.

In 2008, a wave of middle grade novels (ages 7-11) written by Asian Americans is already catching the attention of readers, teachers, librarians, and parents and not just within multicultural circles. Children's literature experts are calling Grace Lin's Year of the Rat (sequel to the popular Year of the Dog) a 'classic in the making' along the lines of Besty-Tacy. Janet Wong's forthcoming novel Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer explores the joys of vacation and friendship, with Jake divulging that he's a "quarpa," or one-quarter Korean. Winner of the Sid Fleischman humor award, author Lisa Yee makes kids (and adults) laugh out loud with bestselling stories like Millicent Min: Girl Genius and her newest title, Good Luck, Ivy. When it comes to books like these, as Newbery winner Linda Sue Park told author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Tantalize) during an on-line chat: "At last it seems we're getting ready to go to stories where a person's ethnicity is a part but not the sum of them."

New releases for teens, too, aren't mainly immigrant stories or traditional tales retold. These YA novels deal with universal themes such as a straight-A teen struggling with a cheating scandal at her school (She's So Money by Cherry Cheva), a promising athlete coping with a snowboarding injury (Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley), and a Pakistani-born blogger whose father is about to become President (First Daughter: White House Rules by Mitali Perkins). An Na's The Fold, a novel about a teen considering plastic surgery to change the shape of her eyelids, speaks to all who long to be beautiful, and art-loving teens far and wide will connect with Joyce Lee Wong's novel-in-verse Seeing Emily. Paula Yoo, a one-time writer for People magazine and television hits like The West Wing, fuses her pop culture savvy and love of music in Good Enough, a novel about a violinist in rebellion. Her brother, David Yoo, connected with hormone-crazed nerds of every race in his funny novelGirls For Breakfast and is offering his fans the forthcoming Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before.

Founder of readergirlz, a literacy initiative for teens, award-winning author Justina Chen Headley notes that these books are relished by readers from many different backgrounds. "There are a ton of interesting cultural trends that make it cool to read about Asian American characters," she says. "Take manga and anime, for instance. Or Gwen Stefani's harujuku girls. Mainstream, popular celebrities from actors to athletes are Asian American, and this is filtering into YA and middle grade novels."

Dr. Sylvia Vardell, Ph.D., a professor at the School of Library and Information Services at Texas Woman's University, isn't surprised either by the growing appetite for books featuring protagonists of every race: "Most kids live with ethnic and cultural diversity everyday. It just makes sense that books for teens would reflect this too."

These stories continue to resonate with Asian American readers as well. Lisa Yee remembers the frustration of not finding many books about American girls like her. "When I grew up, there was no fiction featuring contemporary Asian Americans, unless of course the book was about the struggle of immigrants," she says. Thanks to exciting changes in children's book publishing, it's a different world for today's young readers of every cultural heritage with many choices when it comes to novels.

This year's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month begins May 1, 2008, and ten authors are banding together to offer FUSION STORIES, a menu of delectable next-gen hot-off-the-press novels for middle readers and young adults. FUSION STORIES' critically acclaimed authors so far include Cherry Cheva (Los Angeles, CA), Justina Chen Headley (Seattle, WA), Grace Lin (Boston, MA), An Na (Montpelier, VT), Mitali Perkins (Boston, MA), Janet Wong (Princeton, NJ), Joyce Lee Wong (Los Angeles, CA), Lisa Yee (South Pasadena, CA), David Yoo (Boston, MA), and Paula Yoo (Los Angeles, CA).

FUSION STORIES aims to be a helpful resource for parents, educators, and young readers, so if you know of a novel that (1) is for middle readers or teens, (2) was published in 2007-2008 by a traditional publishing house, (3) features an Asian American protagonist, and (4) is set primarily in contemporary America, please send a .jpg of the cover, a .jpg of the author, one or two reviews, and a brief description of the novel to FUSION STORIES would be delighted to add titles and authors to the site.

A press kit package (available at FUSION STORIES) includes downloads, bios of FUSION STORIES authors, information on their books, and conversations with experts about Asian American literature for young readers. For more information, review copies, or interview requests with any of the authors, please contact

My New Bookshelves Revisited

For anyone interested, here are some photos of my new bookshelves with books in them. (TadMack should ignore this post).

Littleshelf This little shelf has some of Mheir's reference books on top (he is a urologist), but on the two shelves I have my collection of signed books. Click to enlarge the photo.

Bigshelf This is the main event - the big set of shelves. Most of the knick knacks were selected by Mheir. Personally, I'd be content filling every last inch with books. But I think it does look nice. Hardcover children's books start in the upper left corner, then paperback children's books in the second column and across the top. Adult fiction is below that on the right, and non-fiction is sorted by category (travel, business, humor, medical reference, etc.) filling in the rest. Not shown is the gorgeous runner that Mheir's Mom made to go across the top.

Blogshelf This shelf is one of two that's in a different room, a little study / reading room that we set up. This is my working bookshelf - dedicated to my kids' book to be read / to be reviewed pile. Picture books and to be reviewed titles are on the bottom, then ARCs on the next shelf, then two shelves of non-ARC review titles, then a shelf of children's books that I bought and intend to read at some point, then an expansion shelf, and then some books about raising readers and writing at the top. If you zoom way in you can also see my special Babymouse picture. There's also a cute little book-themed bookmark holder (most people would use it as a letter holder) that I'm also using as a bookend.

The other shelf is mostly paperbacks, including my adult TBR shelf, so I've skipped that picture. As you can see, we managed to fill all of the shelves pretty effectively. There's a bit of expansion space for more books - but I'm already wondering how long it will be until we need more shelves... Better start saving up now.

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

The Life of a Children's Book Blogger

I'm popping in for a quick post or two during the 24-hour interval that I have between a six-day trip to Texas and Louisiana (for a wedding, and some visiting) and having guests come to stay. And I wanted to tell you a story that I think is a classic example of how cool it can be to be a children's book blogger.

Mheir and I were in Austin, Texas on Monday. We'd just gone to lunch at my favorite margarita place from grad school, Trudy's (and yes, the margaritas are still good). Then we went with our friends to pick up their daughter from middle school. We were standing outside the school when my always helpful friend, spying an approaching parent, said "Oh, you should meet Brian."

Zack ProtonTurns out that Brian is Brian Anderson, author of the Zack Proton books. Turns out further that Brian reads my blog (and also mentioned Book Moot and Three Silly Chicks). He recently helped suggest books for Matthew, and he mourned a bit for my lost books. He mentioned how envious his other daughter would be of my Hunters of Artemis shirt, and we talked about the coolness of Rick Riordan for a bit.

Jenwithbriananderson1After some chat, I said that I'd like to read his books, which are aimed at reluctant readers / early elementary school kids (which, as you know, is a particular interest of mine). Brian promptly returned to his car, got copies for me, signed them, and posed for a picture (I'm standing on a big rock - he's much taller than me). All while we waited for the kids to come out of the school.

If this is the life of a kidlit blogger, it is pretty cool.

P.S. I read two excellent books on the trip: World War Z by Max Brooks (which I remember Liz from Tea Cozy recommending quite a while back) and The Compound by S. A. Bodeen. Both gripping books that I couldn't stop thinking about. More detail soon.

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

Reviews that Made Me Want the Book: April 16

Welcome to the latest installment of my Reviews that Made Me Want to Read the Book feature. The idea is to help me keep track of books that catch my eye, while also giving much-deserved credit to the bloggers whose reviews have made the books so appealing.

Frankie Landau-BanksE. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks has been on my radar for several months. I loved The Boyfriend List, and I enjoy E. Lockhart's blog. But the review that made me really want to read the book was written by Sarah from The Reading Zone. She called it "a smart, funny, witty novel full of dry humor, wordplay, and characters who refuse to just be". Then there was this: "Don’t be fooled- this isn’t a silly, fluffy love story. Frankie is a smart heroine, one who has quickly risen to the top of my favorite characters list. The best part of all is that Frankie is proud to be smart." I can't resist that!

Teach MeBy contrast, R. A. Nelson's Teach Me wasn't on my radar at all. It's about a relationship between a student and a teacher, and honestly, that isn't something that automatically makes it to the top of my list. But then Eve from The Disco Mermaids said (among other things): "Teach Me is my new go-to book for learning how to write effectively. Talk about power-verbs and avoiding adjectives and adverbs to pump up descriptions! Geez! The man is a genius." And that sounds like something worth reading.

A Difficult BoyThis next one isn't even a review. However, a Class of 2k8 interview with M. P. Barker caught my eye, and piqued my interest in her debut novel: A Difficult Boy. Here's a bit of the background behind the book (from M. P. Barker): "I was cataloguing some documents in the archives and came across a 275-year-old bill that an indentured servant’s master had sent to the boy’s mother, charging her for the cost of finding and bringing back her runaway son. That got me thinking: Why did the boy run away?"

Kiss Me Kill MeLeila's reviews at Bookshelves of Doom often catch my eye. Recently she reviewed Kiss Me Kill Me by Lauren Henderson. She said: "It has elements of a mystery novel ... The flashbacks as well as Scarlett's "I should have known better..." introduction made me think more specifically of the hard boiled detective* sub-genre. It's also, though, a book about the power of cliques and popularity, and about the difficulty of changing schools. I think different elements will stand out for different people: for me, it was a crime novel." As I'm a bit on the lookout for YA crime novels, I'm going to give this one a look.

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: April 16, 2008

Jpg_book007This afternoon I will be sending out the new issue of the 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. There are currently more than 250 subscribers.

This week I have one new book review, of A Visitor for Bear, by Bonny Becker (illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton). I also have an interview with Melanie Watt, author of the Scaredy Squirrel books, a children's literacy and reading news round-up, a Kidlitosphere round-up with links to useful posts from the week, and an announcement about Drop Everything and Read Day (D.E.A.R. day). Recent posts not included in this newsletter include:

I'm going to be traveling and having visitors for the next week or so, and I may not be able to get out an issue next week. But I will be getting back up to full strength, and with more reviews, after that. Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms!

A Visitor for Bear: Bonny Becker

Book: A Visitor for Bear
Author: Bonny Becker
Illustrator: Kady MacDonald Denton
Pages: 56
Age Range: 3-8

A Visitor for BearBackground: Oh my goodness I love A Visitor for Bear! I mean, yes, I expected to like it. I included it in my "reviews that made me want the book" feature last month, after reading about the book at Laura Salas' site, and the author, Bonny Becker, was kind enough to offer me a copy. Bonny and I haven't met, but we've emailed a bit since I reviewed (and highlighted as deserving of more attention) her previous book, Holbrook: A Lizard's Tale. I received A Visitor for Bear from Bonny about a month ago. Since then I've seen tons of positive reviews, though I've been trying hard not to read them in detail, so that I could come at the book objective. I finally found some time to read it yesterday.

Review: A Visitor for Bear is about an antisocial bear befriended against his will by a determined mouse. The book begins:

"No one ever came to Bear's house.
It has always been that way, and Bear
was quite sure he didn't like visitors.
He even had a sign."

Bear's solitary breakfast is interrupted one morning by a tap on the door, and the appearance of a mouse, "small and gray and bright-eyed." Bear sends the mouse packing. But this mouse takes determination to a whole new level. He keeps popping up in Bear's kitchen, as Bear attempts to prepare his meal. He is in the cupboard, and the bread drawer, and the fridge, one after the next. The mouse is unfailingly polite when Bear sends him away, but he also keeps coming back. Eventually, the mouse wears Bear down, and Bear lets him stay. And Bear discovers the joy of having someone to laugh at his jokes, and praise his fire, and just spend time with him. By the end of the book, the two unlikely companions become friends.

Bear's reluctant and gradual thawing should charm even the most jaded of readers. A Visitor for Bear manages to be heart-warming without being even the tiniest bit treacly. I think that there are several keys to this successful balancing act: Bear's grouchiness for the first 2/3 of the book, the lightly humorous voice of the story, and the personality of both characters conveyed in Denton's lovely watercolor and ink illustrations. The mouse is bright-eyed and expressive, and the bear is grouchy, but his eyes are gentle. Bear's home looks warm and comfortable.

Every word in this book is carefully chosen. The text scans well, and there is a sprinkling of advanced vocabulary words, all apt, like "and the mouse whisked out the door" and "Intolerable! Insufferable!". The mouse actually seems faintly British, not least because of his fondness for tea.

At 56 pages, this title is a bit longer than most picture books, but I think that the length is needed to make the story work. Bear's transformation wouldn't be believable if it happened in just a few pages. We need time to appreciate Bear for who he is, and to appreciate the persistence of the mouse (Liz B. called him "a borderline stalker"). And then we need some quiet time with Bear and the mouse sitting together in front of the fire, drinking tea, to accept the substance of their friendship. I would even go so far as to compare the relationship between the mouse and Bear to the relationship between the young Anne Shirley and Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables (see some detailed thoughts about Marilla's transformation at Becky Levine's blog). We have the spunky, smaller, bright-eyed creature getting under the skin and into the heart of the larger, grouchier creature - it's perfect.

All of the above are excellent attributes of this book. But what really made me LOVE the book is the tremendous read-aloud potential. By the second page I was reading aloud to myself in an empty house. The use of repetition, the presence of informal asides, and the varying font sizes to indicate emphasis all contribute to what is nothing less than a compulsion to read this book out loud. I frequently read picture books by myself, but this one ... I really wanted to have a child handy to read it to. I already have a voice going, surprised and laughing at the same time, for the repeated refrain "there was the mouse!". I can't read the book without saying that phrase out loud. This is one that I'll be hanging on to, so that I can read it with any young visitors. And it's going on my list of staples for baby/birthday gifts.

In summary, I absolutely love A Visitor for Bear. I am charmed by the mouse. I empathize with the bear. I'm glad that they became friends. As you might imagine, I was thrilled to see on the illustrator's website that a sequel, A Birthday for Bear, is in the works for 2009. This is a must-buy, perfect for read-aloud at home, in school, or at the library.

Publisher: Candlewick
Publication Date: February 2008
Source of Book: A review copy from the author
Links: Liz B. reviewed this the other day at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy. Liz seems to have a pretty comprehensive set of links to other reviews (8 of them) at the end of her post, so I will save just send you there for further reviews.

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

Children's Literacy Round-Up: April 14

Here is this week's children's literacy news update, a sampling of news stories about children's literacy and reading from around the world.

  • Kelly Herold pointed me to this article by Valerie Strauss in the Chicago Tribune about National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka. It's about the need to make reading fun again. My favorite part was where the author quoted Scieszka at the end of the article: "Reading, he said, is not an elective in life, but a necessity. "Why do we care if people are reading?" he said. "Can't we watch YouTube forever? The answer is no. Because your brain will turn to mush." Don't want anyone's brains turning to mush, do we?
  • Via Susan from Wizards Wireless, I found this article in the Kentucky Post about prison inmates recording children's books on tape for their kids. "The children's book program started at the Daviess County Detention Center nearly four years ago with the development of the GOALS Substance Abuse Program. Director Donna Nolan said every inmate in the program is required to record at least one book prior to graduating, and if they don't have children of their own, the tapes are sent to kids in need." That last part I found a little surprising - I totally get why you'd want to have kids listen to their own parent read stories on tape. But listening to a random inmate that you don't know? But perhaps for at-risk kids, something like that could really help, or perhaps they find extended family members.
  • Speaking of people in prison, Terry T. Jordan writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the link between lack of education and likelihood of incarceration. The article was motivated by these facts: "In the same week this month, a study by a Washington criminal-justice think tank revealed that Philadelphia has the highest rate of incarceration in the country, while another study, by a Maryland-based nonprofit, reported that only half of Philadelphia's students graduate from high school." Jordan, President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, suggests several concrete steps. Link via the International Reading Association blog.
  • The April 16th deadline is rapidly approaching for Canadian fifth and sixth graders to enter the GMAC Great Canadian Writing Contest. "“The GMAC Great Canadian Writing Contest is designed to engage children in writing, while providing a fun and exciting activity that turns winning writers into published authors,” says Thomas E. Dickerson, President of GMAC of Canada." One of the prizes is a visit by author Ken Oppel to the winner's school, library, or family literacy program. You can find details in this article in The Bulletin.
  • Also in Canada, the Miramichi Leader has an article by Edna Williston about a program by which "most, if not all, newborns in New Brunswick received a newborn gift bag filled with books to encourage reading and literacy from an early age." I love these types of programs - I think that they start families off in the right direction.
  • Last week was Reading Week 2008 in Jamaica. The Jamaica Gleaner published several article about children's literacy, including this opinion piece by Tenna A. Mrr about the importance of parents in supporting children's literacy. The author offers some concrete suggestions, including: "Create a word wall - any wall in the house, a door or the refrigerator can be used. Words and more words tells children that words are vital, interesting and worth exploring and knowing." I want one in my house!

That's all for this week. There are still books to unpack. Happy reading!