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September 2008

Posts from August 2008

Friday Afternoon Visits: Labor Day Weekend Edition

I was away for much of this past week, attending to a (now under control) parental health crisis. This weekend I have guests coming in from out of town, and I doubt I'll get much blogging in. But I managed to scrape up a bit of time to share some links with you this afternoon. There has been, and will be, a lot going on in the Kidlitosphere.

  • First up, the official call has been made for 2008 Cybils judges. If you actively blog about children's and/or young adult books and you're interested in participating, check out the detailed requirements and responsibilities on the new and improved Cybils blog. This year there will be a new category, Easy Readers, headed by the terrifically qualified Anastasia Suen. More details, and a call for judges, can be found here. I'm hoping to be involved in the easy reader category this year, too. I think that finding quality books for the very earliest readers is an important task (as does Gail Gauthier).
  • September 15-19 is Book Blogger Appreciation Week, hosted at the blog My Friend Amy. Amy says: "Acknowledging the hard work of book bloggers and their growing impact on book marketing and their essential contribution to book buzz in general, I am excited to announce the first Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Think of it as a retreat for book bloggers and a chance for us to totally nerd out over books together. And of course, shower each other with love and appreciation." The categories are listed here, and do include Best Kidlit Blog and Best Young Adult Lit Blog, among many others. Nominations are made by email, and you can nominate up to two blogs per category. You do not need to have a blog to nominate, and although there's a concept of registering, I don't think that you have to register to be included in the nomination process. Anyway, there has been lots of buzz about this, so if you are interested, check out the nomination post.
  • Linda Salzman reminds I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) readers that there is only one week left to enter the I.N.K. "Spectacular Fifteen Book Blast Give-away." The contest is open to "teachers, librarians, homeschoolers, writers, or anyone else from across the country who is promoting nonfiction."
  • Over at Books Together, Anamaria shares news about the new Ballet Shoes movie (based on the Noel Streatfeild book). I thought that Ballet Shoes was magical when I was a kid. Though I enjoyed several of the other books, Ballet Shoes was always special. I look forward to seeing the movie, which co-stars Emma Watson
  • At BookMoot, Camille shares some thoughts for school librarians as the school year begins. She shares some aspirations, and says: "I salute the librarians who work so hard to teach important research skills, stoke young people's imaginations and instill a love of books and reading in their students. Your joy and passion for your job is contagious." I will never forget my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Betty Tuttle, who made a difference in my life, and in my reading. Here's to all of the other Mrs. Tuttles out there. You do make a difference.
  • Also in back-to-school land, Elaine Magliaro shares links to back to school picture books and poetry at Wild Rose Reader. And at The Miss Rumphius Effect, Tricia has some suggestions for teachers to improve communication with both parents and students.
  • In a post called Girl Books, Boy Books, Justine Larbalestier writes about the tendency that many women have to read mostly books by women, and men to read books by men. She concludes: "Women are far more mixed in their reading. Even me. I read way more books by women than by men, but I've still read a tonne of boy books. Some of there are even quite good. I’d even recommend them to my little sister. Maybe . . . What about youse lot? Do you notice a tendency one way or the other in your own reading? Do you have idea why? Or do you just read the books that look cool." As is often the case with Justine's posts, this one has sparked quite a bit of discussion.
  • On the ALSC Blog, Kiera Parrott shares suggestions for conducting storytimes for autistic children. After giving several concrete suggestions, she notes: "Without a doubt, storytimes with autistic students have been some of the most rewarding programs in my career so far.  The kids are smart, surprising, and each time I see them, I learn something new."
  • At Librarilly Blonde (which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite blogs), Carlie Webber shares thoughts about methods of teaching young adult literature which rely on analysis, and take away the joy of reading. Carlie was inspired by a Washington Post article by Nancy Schnog about teaching YA literature. Among other things, Schnog says: "As much as I hate to admit it, all too often it's English teachers like me -- as able and well-intentioned as we may be -- who close down teen interest in reading." What a sad commentary that is. But there's clearly some truth to it. Schnog also says, late in the article (after presenting evidence to support her thesis): "The lesson couldn't be clearer. Until we do a better job of introducing contemporary culture into our reading lists, matching books to readers and getting our students to buy in to the whole process, literature teachers will continue to fuel the reading crisis." And there you have it, folks. Be sure to read Carlie's thoughts, too, as well as those of Terry from the Reading Tub, Colleen Mondor from Chasing Ray, Tricia from the Miss Rumphius Effect, and Libby from Lessons from the Tortoise.
  • And on the subject of people trying to make books interesting and relevant for young adults, Laurie Halse Anderson has extended the deadline for her book trailer contest (for Speak or Twisted). The contest is only available to "people who will be 21 years old or younger on October 31, 2008." And I especially love rule #6: "Contest is open to anyone on the Planet Earth. Teens working aboard the space station are welcome too. Entries from other planets and galaxies will be considered, as long as they can be watched on Earth-created technologies." If you know any creative teens, I would definitely recommend sending them in Laurie's direction.
  • School Library Journal has a nice article by Michael Sullivan about boys and reading. He starts out with "If we want to transform boys into lifelong readers, we need to discover what makes them tick. Equally important, we need to have a better grasp of the kind of reading that attracts them." He concludes (after a number of concrete suggestions and examples): "Although boys often do not become successful readers, the cost is too high to allow this trend to continue. It's time to give boys more options, to respect their preferences. Boys can become readers: I've seen it with my own eyes."
  • At Five Minutes for Books, Lauren writes about reading for story ("Not for the character development and interaction. Not because of the descriptive, emotive powers of the writer. Not because of deep, literary meaning hidden beneath layers of metaphor... (but) because you want to know what happens next"). Personally, I've always been all about story. I'll appreciate a book more if it's well-written, of course, with complex characters, fully realized setting, and lyrical writing. But if it doesn't have that "what happens next" sense of story (whether the book is fiction or non), I won't read it at all. Of course this isn't true for everyone, but it does seem to be true for most of Lauren's commenters.
  • This week's Poetry Friday round-up is at Charlotte's Library.
  • At Bookshelves of Doom, Leila shares her off the cuff list of 20 essential picks for YA. She has some of my favorites on her list (though others are not - clearly this is a very personal thing). But if you're looking for some good suggestions from someone who really appreciates young adult fiction, you should definitely check out Leila's list (though she added in the comments below "please do note that that list was totally off the top of my head! There wasn't a whole lot of thought involved -- I was just musing about what I might put on a list like that..."). There are other suggestions in the comments, too.
  • At Library Stew, Kathy has a post for parents on how to find a good book. Among other down-to-earth advice, she says: "Students are more likely to enjoy reading when they are reading about something that interests them.The best thing in choosing books for you students is to have them be part of the process, take them to the bookstore or library and have them tell you what they are interested in reading." 
  • Rick Riordan is going to be on the Today Show on September 8th, talking about the launch of the 39 Clues series. I've set this to record on my DVR (not even for Rick will I get up at 7:00 to watch television, on what will already be tape-delay here in California). But I am interested to watch the segment. 
  • At Tea Cozy, Liz B. brings her customary insight to a Washington Post article by Bob Thompson (and a snarky Booksl** comment) about the business side of graphic novels. Liz says that the Post article is a must-read because "It talks about things like distribution and how comic book sales are different from book sales. Unless you're content to not publish your work, or have a trust fund or well-off spouse, or don't care about things like insurance and paying rent, it is important to remember that publishing (including comic books and graphic novels) is a business." I also liked the way that she pointed out that although the idea that graphic novels are big isn't exactly news to the KidLit blogger community, it IS news to many members of the Washington Post's audience.

And that is quite enough for one day. Wishing you all a lovely Labor Day Weekend.

Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck!: Kyle Mewburn

Book: Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck!
Author: Kyle Mewburn
Illustrators: Ali Teo & John O'Reilly
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 to 8

Kiss Kiss Yuck YuckKiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck! by Kyle Mewburn (illustrated by Ali Teo and John O'Reilly) is fabulous. It's about a young boy, Andy, who hates it when his flamboyant Auntie Elsie gives him sloppy kisses on both cheeks. He hides each week when his aunt is coming over, but she always tricks him into coming out of his hiding place. Each time, he's smothered in unwelcome hugs and kisses. Until, that is, the week that Auntie Elsie doesn't show up (because she fell off a camel in Australia and broke her leg). Although the ending that follows is predictable (at least to the adult audience), it is also heart-felt, and sure to win over pre-school readers. The wacky illustrations (the aunt wears purple glasses shaped like a butterfly, for example) keep the book from being overly sappy.

Auntie Elsie is a delightfully exaggerated character, with thick red lipstick, bright floral clothing, sequined shoes, and a huge, tireless smile. She looks the way a five-year-old might perceive an overwhelming and unconventional adult, noticing that lipstick and clothing. She is brave in all areas, and not to be denied. Andy is visually exaggerated, too, with a round head, short spiky hair, enormous eyes, and a frequent scowl, but his behavior feels real. He hides in what he thinks are sneaky places, but he pokes his head out when there's the promise of something interesting.

One little thing that I liked about this book, among many others, is the unremarked, but visually obvious, difference in skin color between the Andy and Auntie Elsie. Andy is, perhaps, a mixed race child, with skin several tones darker than Elsie's pink and white complexion. This difference has no bearing whatsoever on the relationship between Andy and Elsie, and I think this could be validating for children who live in families that have differences in appearance between family members.

Another nice touch is the way, each time she calls to Andy, Auntie Elsie uses a slight different pet name for him (Andy Apple Sauce, Andy Apple Crumble, Andy Angel Cake, etc.). This variation nicely offsets the repetition of "Kiss! Kiss! on the left cheek. Kiss! Kiss! on the right cheek. Yuck! Yuck!"

Teo and O'Reilly's illustrations are unusual and captivating. The illustrations were created using pencil and collage, and then treated digitally. This allows details like beads of sweat that appear in 3-D on Andy's forehead, and the occasional blurring of foreground and background. On one page, slightly blurred background images of Andy look like they are behind a thin screen relative to the foreground images of Andy, as he darts about trying to dodge kisses, with blurring indicating movement. It's difficult to describe, but visually appealing, something that wouldn't have been possible without digital editing.

This is a book that is going right into my gift-giving rotation. It's a brand new favorites. Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck! is a visual and auditory delight, and will make an excellent read-aloud for the four to eight year old set. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (US publication, the book was originally published in New Zealand)
Publication Date: September 1
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: A Year of Reading, Abby (the) Librarian, Young Adult (and Kids) Book Central

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

Madam President: Lane Smith

Book: Madam President
Author: Lane Smith
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-8

Madam PresidentLane Smith's Madam President is the story of a young girl named Katy who fancies herself the President of the United States. She goes through her elementary school day emulating the President, giving executive orders, participating in photo ops, kissing babies, negotiating treaties, and, of course, delivering vetoes. She is clearly Presidency-obsessed, as she strides through life, leaving a trail of small US flags and slightly bemused observers, behind. There's not much of a story, this is a day-in-the-life book, but the humor and detail make it a gratifying read.

The illustrations are detailed, created in a unique combination of digital manipulation and pencil drawing, possibly with some collage. Katy's suit is a child's version of an adult woman's pantsuit. It is perfect for her role. Her expressions range from aloof to sentimental to sad, but always with a sense of self-importance lurking in the background, in a brilliant parody of the expressions of real-world politicians. One of my favorite pages is the one in which "a president must choose a capable cabinet." Katy's cabinet members include the "Secretary of Naps", "Secretary of the Interior" (pictured with one of those figurines showing the skeleton and internal body parts), and the "Secretary of Pizza", among other entertaining choices. There's also a fun page consisting of nine little sketches of Katy issuing Vetoes, including one "V-toe!". She also vetoes the Little House on the Prairie musical, which I thought was pretty funny. On another page, Katy is protected in the schoolyard by her Secret Service Agent cat, while a huge variety of kids fill the background. One boy is literally doubled over by the weight of his backpack, while another child looks from behind like Mickey Mouse (a nod to the publisher).

Madam President is a book to reward repeated readings, as new details will become apparent each time the reader visits the book. It is bound to be a hit, especially during this election year. The humor, and the strength of characterization of Katy, keep the story from being at all didactic, despite the information imparted about what Presidents do all day. Madam President offers a unique contribution to the picture book universe. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Hyperion
Publication Date: July 29, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: BestBooksIHaveNotRead, Literate Lives, Pink Me, Young Readers, 100 Scope Notes

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

Books Now Available: The Diamond of Darkhold

The Diamond of DarkholdBack in July I reviewed an advance copy of The Diamond of Darkhold, the concluding volume of Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember series. Here is how I started the review:

Ahhhh. This is my sigh of utter satisfaction on finishing the fourth and final book in the City of Ember series, The Diamond of Darkhold. Jeanne DuPrau, thank you! Thank you for giving us another interesting story, and one that so pleasingly completes the series.

Fans of the series will not need to hear more. The Diamond of Darkhold is scheduled for publication today. Don't even think about missing it!

Two Bobbies: Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery

NonfictionmondayBook: Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival
Author: Kirby Larson (blog) and Mary Nethery
Illustrator: Jean Cassels
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 to 8

Two BobbiesTwo Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival (written by Kirby Larson and Nethery, illustrated by Jean Cassels) is the story of a dog named Bobbie and a cat named Bob Cat, so named because neither has a tail. Bobbie and Bob Cat survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They spent the next four months wandering the hard streets of post-flood New Orleans, together and inseparable, until a construction worker named Rich noticed them, and noticed their devotion to one another. With help from Rich and the Best Friends Animal Society, a secret about Bob Cat was discovered and Bobbie and Bob Cat found a happy home.

The writing in Two Bobbies is straightforward, and will be easy for kids to follow. The authors lend an understated poetry to Bobbie and Bob Cat's plight, with sentences like "Together, in the silent heat, they waited for help to come." And "After the waters receded, they traveled the buckled streets, with no place to call home." They do a nice job of filling in the presumed details of Bobbie and Bob Cat's story, and of telling the truth about Hurricane Katrina, without letting the misery, or any message beyond the power of friendship, overwhelm the story. I think it helps that authors Kirby Larson (of Hattie Big Sky fame) and Mary Nethery are real-life best friends. Their reverence for friendship comes through in the text.

Jean Cassels's watercolor (gouache) illustrations are phenomenal. Every page is a work of art, with detailed brushstrokes to lend texture, and evocative color palettes to lend mood. Some of the illustrations are bleak, but things cheer up by the end of the book. Cassels includes sufficient detail to make it clear that she has really seen post-Katrina New Orleans (the jacket copy said that lives there), down to the paint markings on the cleared houses and the debris on the streets. After looking at these illustrations, I feel like I have a better sense of what New Orleans was like in those months after Katrina than I ever did from looking at news coverage. And Bobbie's protectiveness of Bob Cat is revealed on every page.

My favorite illustration is one of Bobbie and Bob Cat nestling together, in close-up view, near the end of the book. Their fur is practically three-dimensional, and their expressions radiate contentment. It's worth the price of the book for the picture alone (and, if it makes a difference to you, a portion of the proceeds from Two Bobbies will be donated by the authors to Best Friends Animal Society).

Unless you have a heart of stone, this book will bring tears to your eyes. I'm not an animal person, and I was still rooting for Bobbie and Bob Cat all the way. The fact that Bobbie and Bob Cat's story is true makes it that much more poignant. For the tender heart of a young dog or cat lover, I think that Two Bobbies will be irresistible. This book was just released in early August. Don't miss your chance to pick up a copy. It's a very special book.

Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 5, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Kiss the Book
Author Interviews: Kirby on Tales from the Rushmore Kid

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: Postponed

Jpg_book007I just wanted to let those who might be interested know that I'll be making an unexpected trip out of town this week. I will have limited Internet access, and so I won't be publishing the Growing Bookworms Newsletter on Tuesday. I hope to be back to publish next week, and I have left some picture book reviews to post on time delay in the meantime.

Thanks for your patience!

Children's Literacy Round-Up: Bonus Edition

I know that I just published a children's literacy round-up on Monday, but it looks like I'm going to have to take an unexpected trip over the next few days, and I wanted to leave you with some extra children's literacy and reading news from around the wires. The LA Times piece about Jon Scieszka will, I think, be of particular interest.

  • John Micklos at the International Reading Association blog linked to a report by Julie O'Neill about a seven-year-old girl who, for her birthday, launched a campaign to collect donated books for a Cincinnati-area Children's Hospital. Kids sure can be amazing.
  • Tricia from The Miss Rumphius Effect links to an NPR story about the new lineup of PBS literacy shows. Tricia finds it of particular interest that an expert quoted in the NPR story (Susan Neuman) thinks that the new shows sometimes "don't have the charm and the interaction and the excitement that some of the other programs have." I'll be staying tuned to see what kind of response the new shows get, but I hope that they'll be a hit with kids.
  • The St. Petersburg Times has a guest column by George Bastable (who I have quoted before) about the importance of matching the right books to individual readers. A middle school teacher, he explains: "My classroom has 11 bookcases. This, with our school library, helps me put the right book in the right hand. A sports book in the jock's hand, a sci-fi book for another, an S.E. Hinton book for the reluctant reader. The week that "angst" is one of our vocabulary words, I slip Catcher in the Rye into the hands of the one student who is ready." It's good to hear, in print, from a teacher like this, someone who is actively trying to get middle school students interested in books.
  • I learned from a Guardian article by Sean Dodson that author David Eggers has started a literacy drop-in center with a pirate theme in San Francisco. Dodson says "Eggers is ... co-founder of 826 Valencia, an after-school drop-in centre for children who struggle with literacy. You could call 826 Valencia itself a heart-warming school of staggering genius, as it has provided a model for re-engaging with disadvantaged communities that is every bit as imaginative as one of Eggers's books... The success of 826 Valencia has led to the replication of similar centres across the states", and is now spreading to the UK.
  • I enjoyed this Dodge City Daily Globe article (Kansas) by Cherise Forno about literacy classes for preschoolers in which "the puppet Bookworm Bob helps children learn that reading is fun, and it's cool to be a bookworm... During his classroom visit, Bob helped children learn several book rules so they would know how to take care of their books and put them away in a safe place. Children also began learning about authors, illustrators and libraries." Of course I have a fondness for programs that help grow bookworms, but this one sounds particularly nice.
  • The LA Times recently featured a talk between columnist Sonja Bolle and National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka. The column looks like it's scheduled for the Sunday paper, but it's online today. It's a fun, detailed article, starting with "As national ambassador for young people's literature, a position instituted jointly this year by the Library of Congress Center for the Book and the Children's Book Council, he (Scieszka) considers it his job to bring craziness to his domain, to shake things up a bit. "Crazy" is one of his favorite words, and it means something good, something unleashed: unfettered and uncontrollable creativity." Scieszka also criticizes No Child Left Behind and the current political administration, and reveals his personal interest in getting on the cover of a Cheerios box. Seriously, this is a comprehensive, must-read article.
  • According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a study was recently published on "The Impact of Literacy Enhancement on Asthma-Related Outcomes Among Underserved Children" by Lawrence Robinson et. al. in the Journal of the National Medical Association. "The children (in the study) received two hours of literacy training and 30 minutes of asthma education on Saturdays for at least six months. All of the children displayed significant improvement in reading and self-efficacy, which researchers said was directly related to a decrease in hospitalizations and emergency department visits. The study concludes that improved "literacy is a sustainable factor that will not only improve asthma outcomes but will enhance the potential for educational success" among minority youth with low literacy skills." Interesting. This isn't the first study to connect literacy and health levels, but it's the first I've seen to officially target asthma. There's a link at the Kaiser page to the PDF of the full report.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to post much for the next few days, but I wish you a peaceful weekend.

White Sands, Red Menace: Ellen Klages

Book: White Sands, Red Menace
Author: Ellen Klages
Pages: 352
Age Range: 10 and up

White Sands, Red MenaceWhite Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages is the sequel to the 2007 Scott O'Dell Award winner The Green Glass Sea. The first book was set in the Los Alamos compound during World War II, featuring the children of the scientists working on the atomic bomb. In this sequel, set during 1946 and 1947, Dewey Kerrigan and the Gordon family are living in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Phil Gordon is working on rocket research at the nearby White Sands Proving Grounds, while his wife Terry stays home and tries, through letters and fliers, to limit the use of the atomic bomb by government. Terry is horrified by the human cost of the work that she and her husband and Dewey's father did during the war, and wants to revert control of the bombs to scientists. She also clearly has a difficult time adjusting to life as a housewife (due to the limited options in Alamogordo), after the camaraderie of being on the scientific research team during the war.

White Sands, Red Menace finds Suze Gordon befriending a local girl named Ynez Esquero. Ynez teaches Suze how to make tamales and speak Spanish, even as Suze starts manifesting her mother's views against injustice. Dewey struggles with being a budding scientist in a school system that forbids girls to take shop, but she befriends the son of an appliance repairman, and studies Popular Mechanics. Suze and Dewey work together to construct an engineering and artistic marvel in their attic. They also fight over Dewey's place in the Gordon family, and worry about the growing rift between the Gordon parents. There is a quite a bit of conflict, although the plot is more episodic than linear.

White Sands, Red Menace is a window into a time period that one doesn't hear much about. Certain supplies are still scarce because of the war, everything "atomic" is exciting, the space program is just beginning to capture the public's interest, black kids go to their own school, and televisions are just starting to be available (though reception hasn't reached New Mexico yet). I personally found the historical detail a tad overdone at times, as when Terry Gordon pooh poohs the idea of microwave ovens. However, I do think that Klages captures the mood of the time, the tensions with German scientists, the excitement around the idea of progress, and the push for stability and keeping people (women, immigrants, and anyone not white) in their place. These are touched on more lightly, and are, I think, the stronger for that restraint. Klages is also not afraid to show a pregnant woman who drinks and smokes, as was typical at the time, although this portrayal is bound to offend modern sensibilities.

But ultimately, what makes the book work, and what will keep young modern-day readers turning the pages, is that Dewey and Suze are engaging, multi-faceted characters, with unique strengths, and clear vulnerabilities. The perspective shifts between the two girls are handled seamlessly, and allow the reader to see each girl more clearly than would be possible with a single viewpoint. We see them each from inside and out.

Klages' writing is also beautiful, descriptive without being dense, and sometimes conveying irony in a deadpan manner. For example:

"Life was pretty swell. She was thirteen -- and a half -- just an ordinary teenage girl sitting in an ordinary American drugstore. She smiled as she sipped her chocolate malt, then opened Fundamentals of Mechanical Physics and began to read."  (Page 24, ARC)

Sometimes the book tugs at the reader's heartstrings, but again, Klages maintains a light hand. For example:

"Dewey felt like she had almost walked off the end of a plank, almost fallen, like in a Laurel and Hardy movie. But she had survived, because another plank, the Gordons, had swung by just in the nick of time, and become her family." (Page 7, ARC)

And sometimes the writing is just beautiful:

"Her father turned left on the highway, one hand on the wheel, one hand holding his cone. After they passed the city limits, they were the only car on the road. They sky was a hundred shades of blue, studded with clouds that hung miles above the desert floor, their tops glowing a warm, luminous peach, like whipped cream lit from within." (Page 73, ARC)

This last passage is, of course, from the viewpoint of the artistic Suze.

White Sands, Red Menace doesn't have quite the same hook as The Green Glass Sea, in terms of setting. It's a bit quieter of a book than the first, more focused on family dynamics. But the writing itself is, if anything, stronger. For fans of the first book, the chance to find out what happened next to Suze and Dewey and Terry will be irresistible. As will, for historical fiction fans of all ages, the chance to read about 1946 New Mexico and the White Sands Proving Grounds. Don't miss it!

Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: October 2, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be compared with the final, finished title.
Other Blog Reviews: Oops...Wrong Cookie, Bookshelves of Doom
Author Interviews: Mrs. Magoo Reads, The Fix

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

Thursday Afternoon Visits: August 21

I find myself with a bit of time to spare this afternoon, and a few links saved up, so I thought that I would share:

  • Regular readers know that I love Kim and Jason's Escape Adulthood website. This week, I especially appreciated a post by Kim about finding reasons to celebrate,and then celebrating them. The post starts with a couple of sad stories about loss, but Kim takes the positive view, saying "Human nature tricks us into believing that we’ll all die from old age, but it’s simply not true. Don’t wait until a tragedy happens to realize that your life is meant to be lived to the fullest today. Don’t wait until your anniversary to surprise your spouse with a night out on the town. Don’t wait until your birthday to allow yourself the permission to pick up that ice cream cake from Dairy Queen. (Yum!) Don’t wait until circumstances are perfect before you plan that spontaneous camping trip. Celebrate today!" I'm not always good about this, but Kim and Jason provide regular and excellent reminders, which I really appreciate. What have you celebrated lately?
  • Betsy Bird shares ten children's novels that would make good movies at A Fuse #8 Production. She offers an exceptionally wide range of titles, all described with Betsy's trademark voice. Here's an example, on Kiki Strike: "So let us consider making a movie for tween girls, starring tween girls, and doesn't involve them wearing short skirts, shall we?  Or indulging in bad movie banter.  I know, I know.  I'm probably asking too much with that latter requirement.  Fine, if you make the film you can fill it to the brim with banter. Just show girls doing something other than teaming up with boys in an action movie and I'll never complain again."
  • I don't generally highlight author interviews from other blogs, because I tend to focus more on the books than on the authors. But Jules and Eisha have posted a truly impressive interview with Jane Yolen over at 7-Imp, which I would like to bring to your attention. There is discussion, there are dozens of links to more information, there are interesting tidbits about the author, and there are fabulous pictures. This is the kind of interview that becomes a resource for the author herself, because Jules and Eisha have collected so much information into one place. Do check it out. 
  • Reading MagicAt PaperTigers, Janet shares some examples from the new edition of Mem Fox's book, Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. Janet says: "After reading her essays about the true magic that comes from reading aloud, I don’t think this lady is exaggerating. If reading aloud to children can turn them into smart, inquisitive, creative people, then reading aloud may well hold the key to solving all of the world’s woes." I just might have to pick up with new edition.
  • For all you book reviewers out there, Steph at Reviewer X has a question: "which of the reviewers are also writers? There’s some stereotype that says all reviewers (or book bloggers, or something like that) are aspiring authors. Accurate?" A brief perusal of the comments reveals that, as with many stereotypes, there's some truth, but by no means universal adherence.
  • Colleen Mondor writes about the value of the color gray at Chasing Ray. The discussion is in the context of Colleen's review of two YA titles set in alternate futures: Cory Doctorow's Little Brother and Nick Mamatas's Under My Roof. Colleen notes that Under My Roof "is a book where the good and bad guys are never clearly defined" (in contrast to the more clear-cut Little Brother) and says that "Reading these two books had made me realize just how uncomfortable the shade of gray can be for most people."
  • At BookKids, the BookPeople children's book blog (from the famous Austin bookstore), Madeline discusses modern mysteries aimed at kids. She says: "I have to admit that I think there is a lack of really great new kid mystery series. There are some good stand alone books like Elise Broach’s Shakespeare’s Secret, but not the kind of series where you just want to read nine or ten of the books in a row. In fact, I could only think of three current mystery series at all. However, I fortunately like all three series, and I can heartily recommend them as great chapter books for kids and teens." Click through to see what she recommends, and other discussion in the comments.
  • Via School Library Journal, as "part of the 10th anniversary celebration of the U.S. release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Scholastic, the U.S. publisher of the wildly popular Harry Potter series, is inviting fans of all ages to its New York City headquarters to take part in “Harry Potter Cover to Cover Day,” an all-day muggle read-a-thon."
  • A Guardian piece by Louise Tucker on boys and reading has sparked discussion between Tricia from The Miss Rumphius Effect (here and here) and Libby from Lessons from the Tortoise (here). Tricia asks (in direct response to the article): "Why are we so blessed concerned with the "right" books instead of the process of immersing kids in books that they will love? Shouldn't the goal be developing readers?" It's all interesting stuff - well worth checking out.
  • Last, but not least, I've seen this in several places, but Jackie has the full details at Interactive Reader. Readergirlz have launched rgz TV on YouTube. Here's a snippet from the press release: "rgz tv is broadcasting interviews with Rachel Cohn, Jay Asher, Sonya Sones and Paula Yoo. The uploaded videos have been shot and edited by the readergirlz founders and members of the postergirlz." Pretty cool!

And that's all for today. Hope you find some tidbits of interest.

My Favorite Book

ListeningvalleyI really couldn't say what my favorite children's book is - there are so many that I love. Even a top 10 list would be somewhat fluid, depending upon my mood.

I can tell you, however, what my favorite book of all is Listening Valley, by D. E. Stevenson (see Wikipedia page). It's kind of an obscure choice, but I love it just the same. Dorothy Emily Stevenson (whose father, according to Wikipedia, was cousin to Robert Louis Stevenson) was a prolific writer of romantic novels, from the 1930s through the 1960s. Her books are mainly centered around several fictional towns in Scotland, and (like in Madeleine L'Engle's books), major characters from one book frequently appear as minor characters in others. I love this, because the reader has a chance to find out what happened to those characters afterward, after the "happily ever after".

I learned about Stevenson's books from my mother, and my father's mother. They both enjoyed these relatively light, family-oriented stories, many of which were still being published in the US in the 1970s. For me, Stevenson's books are the ultimate comfort reading. I own copies of perhaps half of her books, and always check for others when I'm in used bookstores (yes, I could order them online, but I enjoy the chase). Many of the books take place during World War II. While Stevenson doesn't shrink from describing the horrors of the blitz and the hardships of the English and Scottish citizens during the war, she maintains a sense of the heroism of the soldiers and the citizens, and the way that their stubborn spirit will not let them lose the war.

I love all of Stevenson's books, with the possible exception of her Mrs. Tim series (which was loosely autobiographical). They are humorous and touching and entertaining, filled with a wide range of strong characters. I actually think that Stevenson's writing influenced my own moral compass. Though with a light hand, she demonstrates a clear sense of right (fighting for your country, making do with a smile in the presence of hardship, being loyal) and wrong (being selfish, neglecting your children, lying), and in the context of character and story.

But my favorite of all of Stevenson's books is Listening Valley, the story of Antonia Melville's coming of age during World War II. The story begins with Tonia's childhood in Edinburgh. She's an odd, dreamy child, with hands that don't seem to work properly, and she spends most of her time in the shadow of her beloved, dynamic older sister, Louise. Their parents are comfortably situated, but demonstrate hardly any interest in Tonia and Lou (if only one of them had been a boy!). They do have a loving Nannie, but Nannie is sent into retirement when the girls reach their late teens. Not long after that, Tonia is abandoned by Lou, who elopes with pretty much the only boy she's ever met (a boy whose mother is not "respectable" - hence the need for an elopement). Tonia is left alone and unloved, with few connections to the world outside of her parents' house, immersed in books, until she is rescued by an older man. Various events follow, during the war, and eventually Tonia ends up living by herself in the small Scottish town of Ryddelton. There, she finds her true home.

I was in need of a bit of comfort yesterday, and I re-read Listening Valley (for probably the dozenth time). I tried to analyze why I love it so much. As with all favorite things, part of the love comes from familiarity. I especially enjoy the part of the book in which Tonia arrives in Ryddelton, a town she has never visited before, where she is welcomed with open arms because her family was from there. Every time I read the book, I feel like I'm coming home to Ryddelton, too. There's clearly a part of me that would like to live in a small town, where I know all of the neighbors, and where people help each other. I also love that this book (as do some of Stevenson's others) starts out as a children's book - with the story told from the perspective of two young girls. Here's the opening passage:

"Most people, looking back at their childhood, see it as a misty country half-forgotten or only to be remembered through an evocative sound or scent, but some episodes of those short years remain clear and brightly coloured like a landscape seen through the wrong end of a telescope. It was thus that Louise Melville was always to remember the house with the high wall and the adventure connected with it. Antonia was to remember it, too, but not so vividly, for really and truly it was Lou's adventure. Lou was the adventurous one." (Page 1)

I think that the other part of my particular bonding with Listening Valley is that I can identify with Tonia. I was a child who hid out in books, too. It's clear, on reading the book now, that Tonia is an introvert. Here is Tonia's response to an argument with her parents:

She ought to have become used to rows by this time, she ought to have learnt that they never led to anything but were just sound and fury, and blew over like thunder-clouds leaving a clear sky, but Tonia was too sensitive, she felt the blows upon her own person--felt them far more keenly than the antagonists." (Page 73)

Recently someone was giving me a hard time, though fully believing that he was being funny, I'm sure. I had a headache at the time, and I said later that the person "might as well have been hitting me", likening the words to physical blows. Did I get that image from Listening Valley, which I had last read several years ago, or do Tonia and I just have that in common? 

That's not to say that Tonia isn't brave and smart in her own way. She grows up a lot through the course of the book, and she does learn to stand up to the people in her life who try to bully her. Look at me, trying to defend Tonia, trying to make sure that my readers don't think ill of her. I think that Stevenson's gift is that she creates characters who feel real, and who the reader cares about. Tonia is like someone I know. I want to spend time with her and protect her. The actual events of the book are largely immaterial.

Two other passages particularly resonated with me, on this this reading. The first is from Tonia's great-aunt's diary, describing a conversation between the aunt, who never married, and her oldest friend. Both lived their entire lives in the same small town, and had loves that were lost.

"Some people might think our lives dull and uneventful but it does not seem so to us. We talked of this and agreed this it is not travel and adventure that make a full life. There are adventures of the spirit and one can travel in books and interest oneself in people and affairs. One need never be dull as long as one has friends to help, gardens to enjoy and books in the long winter evenings." (Page 241)

If she lived today, that aunt would be a blogger, I think. And finally, this musing by Tonia about someone she loves struck a chord:

"Such a trifle to remember, but it was trifles like this that made up your life, and if there was somebody who could share them with you, understandingly, it made your life a paradise." (Page 244)

That's certainly true for me, and I am fortunate to have that person who shares my trifles, with understanding and interest, as I share his.

I'm not sure whether this retrospective - I can't quite call it a review - will inspire anyone else to want to read Listening Valley. It's clear from the quotes above that Stevenson had a bit of a tendency towards run-on sentences, and that many modern readers will find the books overly sentimental. But personally, I'm happier, having taken some time out to visit Listening Valley today. Thanks for listening.

Other reviews: Angiegirl at Angieville first read this book as an adult, and offers a perhaps more objective (but still positive) opinion.

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: August 19

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 350 subscribers.

This week I have three book reviews (all aimed at young adults), a Kidlitosphere round-up with links to useful posts from the past week, a Children's Literacy Round-Up, and an edition of my reviews that made me want to read the book feature. I have no other posts this week besides the ones included in the newsletter.

Hope that you're all enjoying the last few weeks of summer, and reading whatever it is that gives you joy. I'm currently finishing up an adult novel: Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher mystery: Nothing to Lose. I've just started listening to the latest title in Rick Riordan's Tres Navarre series (also for adults): Rebel Island. Next up will be the advance copy of White Sands, Red Menace, the sequel to The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages. What are you reading?

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms!

Reviews That Made Me Want the Book: August 19

Welcome to the latest installment of my reviews that made me want to read the book feature, in which I highlight that well-written reviews that draw my attention towards intriguing books.

The Other SisterTadMack reviewed The Other Sister, by S. T. Underdahl, at Readers' Rants. The book is about a girl who, as a teenager, learns that she has an older sister who was put up for adoption when their parents were very young. TadMack says: "S.T. Underdahl records the realistic and turbulent changes of a family stretching to include one more. It's her own story, in more ways than one." Something about the premise, and the fact that TadMack liked it, caught my eye.

M is for MischiefI'm intrigued by the picture book M is for Mischief, written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Nancy Arruda reviewed it Bees Knees Reads, calling it: "a hilarious read-aloud written in rhyme with a ton of alliteration and word play." She concludes "I like to keep this book handy when I need a pick-me-up good belly laugh. This one is really worth giving to your friend with a Nagging Nora, a Zany Zelda, a Mischievous Martin or .. " Not that any of the children I know are mischievous, of course, but I think it would be a good one to have around.

Totally Made-up Civil War DiaryThe BooksForKidsBlog's recent review of The Totally Made-up Civil War Diary of Amanda MacLeish by Claudia Mills also caught my eye. It's a dual storyline about a modern-day girl named Amanda whose family is breaking up and a Civil War era farm girl named Polly. GTC says "Claudia Mills carries off a real tour-de-force. Skillfully balancing the dual story lines of Amanda and Polly within the framework of a fifth grade class working toward a performance at the end of its Civil War unit, Claudia Mills reveals Amanda's growing understanding of the meaning of her family's split as much through her journal writing in Polly's voice as through her own experiences."

Kidliterate reviewed an upcoming title (no cover illustration is available yet): Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury. "Scott O’Dell award-winning author Graham Salisbury turns his hand to elementary level humor and absolutely succeeds. This is the first book in a series about a 4th grader named Calvin who lives in Hawaii with his mother and younger sister (his father, an island one hit wonder, now lives in Vegas where he makes his living as a lounge singer)." It sounds fun to me!

Dog GoneKaren from Literate Lives reviewed Dog Gone by Cynthia Chapman Willis. She got my attention when she said: "I realized the book it most reminds me of is Me and the Pumpkin Queen, another book I love. Both of these books deal with a mom who dies, and how the child (in both of these cases, a daughter) learns to grieve and deal with the loss". I loved Me and the Pumpkin Queen, too, and I'm prepared to give this one a look.

Sherlock FilesAlso at Literate Lives, Bill reviewed the first book in Tracy Barrett's new Sherlock Files series: The 100 Year-Old Secret. Here it's mostly the premise that gets me: "The story is based on two main characters, Xena and Xander Holmes, a sister and brother who are distant grandchildren of the famous detective." But Bill plans to add it to his library, and I think that it sounds like a solid mystery.

RumorsI've seen references to the Luxe series before, but Jennifer Schultz from the Kiddosphere is the first person to inspire me to want to read these books (The Luxe and Rumors by Anna Godbersen). She says "So....I'm a little crazy about The Luxe series. Picture The Gossip Girls set in late 1890s Manhattan, and you have a pretty good idea of what it's all about." Now, I enjoy the Gossip Girl TV show, and I also tend to like turn of the century society novels. Which makes me suspect that I might like these, at least in certain moods. I think this enough that I'll be interested to give the first book a look when it comes out in paperback next month.

The Postcard Colleen Mondor's latest YA column is now available at Chasing Ray (after originally appearing at Bookslut). She features several interesting titles, but the one that particularly caught my attention was The Postcard, by Tony Abbott. I've seen this book around, but Colleen's conclusion made the difference for me: "The Postcard is a book I have not heard nearly enough about. It is a classic mystery but has a decidedly modern style. I also give Abbott a lot of credit for getting Florida so right; I know my Sunshine State and clearly so does this author."

Small-minded GiantsThe Book Witch got me interested in Oisin McGann's Small-minded Giants by comparing it to Julie Bertagna's Exodus (reviewed here). The book is about a futuristic city called Ash Harbor. The Book Witch says: "This is a well written thriller, combined with a good look at what may be in store for the world if we don’t do something soon. Living in Ash Harbour is not something to aspire to, except that the alternative - of being left on the outside - isn’t very attractive either." But she really had me at "(Ash Harbor is) slightly reminiscent of Julie Bertagna’s Glasgow, except this is in the South Pacific, and it’s very, very cold." Sadly, this book isn't published in the US, but it looks like there are some used copies available.

And that's it for books for this edition. I am also intrigued by an ergonomic backup that Cheryl Rainfield recommended recently. I have no need of another backpack right now, especially after buying the KidLit Conference messenger bag last week, but I'm saving the link.