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Posts from April 2009

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: April 28

Jpg_book007Tonight I will be sending out the new issue of the Growing Bookworms 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 734 subscribers. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have three book reviews, three posts with Kidlitosphere news, and two children's literacy round-ups (one here in full, the other linked from The Reading Tub. I also have an installment of my recurring Reviews that Made Me Want the Book feature. And last, but definitely not least, I'm happy to have an announcement about a new PBS Parents blog that I'll be contributing to: Booklights. Title-books

Change to Publication Schedule: As I announced in the last issue, I've shifted from publishing this newsletter every week to publishing every other week. So far, I've heard no complaints from people about receiving few emails, and I'm planning to continue this bi-weekly schedule. Thanks for your patience as I work on achieving balance in my life.

Reading Update: In the past two weeks, I read and reviewed:

I also read, enjoyed, and plan to review within the next few days:

I'm currently reading City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (first book in the Mortal Instruments series), and listening to Envy: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen. How about you? What have you been reading and enjoying? 

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms!

Announcing ... Booklights, from PBS Parents

Title-books I am delighted to announce the launch of a new children's book blog from PBS Parents, Booklights. Pam Coughlan (MotherReader), Susan Kusel (Wizards Wireless), and I will be working with Gina Montefusco from PBS, along with various guest contributors, to bring literacy and reading content to the PBS Parents audience. The goal of Booklights, in line with the goals that Susan, Pam, and I have for our personal blogs, is to help people to inspire a love of reading in children.

Currently we're in "soft launch" mode, which means that PBS won't be announcing the blog anywhere until next week. But I wanted you, my loyal blog readers, to be the first to know that the long-discussed "blog for PBS" has finally come to fruition. We have some early introductory posts and lists of favorite picture books now available.

I am thrilled to be working with Gina, Pam, and Susan on this project. I'll be sharing children's literacy and kidlitosphere news at Booklights, along with posts about books and encouraging young readers. But not to worry, I'll still be blogging as usual at Jen Robinson's Book Page. I do hope that you'll take a few minutes to check out the new blog, and that you'll consider adding it to your regular blog reading. We all welcome your feedback and comments!

P.S. A much more entertaining version of this announcement is now available at MotherReader. Or at least it made me laugh. A lot.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: April 27

Terry_readingtubfinal_1 This week’s children’s literacy and reading news round-up, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page and Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub blog, is now available at the Reading Tub. This week Terry Doherty and I have collected plenty of content for you about literacy & reading-related events; raising readers; literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; grants, sponsorships & donations; and other new resources. There's even an item related to the Boston Red Sox. (Did any of you see Jacoby Ellsbury steal home base last night? Amazing!)

Seriously, though, there's a lot of great content this week about literacy and reading. I was especially pleased, in this down economy, to see several items about grans and donations supporting children's literacy. For example (reprinting my favorite item from this week, which Terry found, because I love the logo):

Wingsandhalo-120x120 In South Bend, IN, With Wings and a Halo - R.E.A.C.H. a Child! Indiana has partnered with the Crime Prevention Unit of the South Bend Police Department to distribute new books to children in crisis. R.E.A.C.H. (which stands for Reading Enjoyment Affects Childhood Happiness) is giving 100 backpacks, each filled with 10 to 12 new children’s books to the police department, who will then distribute them in the community. The two organizations will hold a joint press conference tomorrow; in the meantime, you can read the press release here.

But please do click through to see the whole round-up at Terry's. It's a lovely way to start the week. And I'll be back later today with another announcement.

Saturday Afternoon Visits: April 25

Happy Birthday, Mom and Dad! (Yes, my parents have the same birthday - it's pretty cool. And easy to remember.) I know I just did a Kidlitosphere round-up post a few days ago. But, I don't know what to tell you. People keep posting interesting things. Plus, you know, these round-up posts make for a good task while watching baseball (Red Sox - Yankees this weekend!).

Zombie_chicken_award First up, I received another award this week. Angie from Angieville was kind enough to give me a Zombie Chicken Award, in particular recognition of my Reviews that Made Me Want the Book features. Here's the scoop: "The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all..." Hmm.. do I risk the wrath of the Zombie Chickens, or do I stick to my policy of saying that everyone who I mention in my visits posts is a blog that I'm giving recognition? Quite a dilemma. Either way, I'm grateful to Angie - this is a particularly fun award.

Kidlitosphere_button At Lectitans, Kimberly has a helpful post with 5 Ways to Use Kidlitosphere Central. I especially applaud her suggestions to use the resources at Kidlitosphere Central to make friends, and get involved in the community.

I'm thrilled to be in the middle of a few weeks at home between trips. However, Betsy Bird made me a bit sad that I'm not going to BEA this year, when she described at Fuse #8 a Day of Dialog that School Library Journal is putting together. It's "a free, day-long program where librarians, editors, authors, and vendors meet to discuss the changing world of books, reading, and libraries", complete with food from Little Brown, and a panel session moderated by Betsy. Maybe next year...

Caps for SaleSpeaking of Betsy, she's up to #17 in her Top 100 Picture Books announcements (Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina). This list is already filled with amazing, amazing books, and you know that the remaining 16 are all going to be popular favorites. What I'm interested to see is how many of the top 15 are newly published books. Will there be any, or will it be all old favorites? Stay tuned!

Oppositeday Over at Scholastic's Ink Splot 26 blog, Karen W. has come up with a list of clever book titles in honor of "Opposite Day". In my favorite, Because of Winn Dixie becomes In Spite of Safeway. Your suggestions are welcome in the comments.

In other made up book title news, the winner of the Bottom Shelf Books / Saints and Spinners Unnecessary Children's Book Titles that Never Were contest was announced. Congratulations to Book Aunt Kate Coombs for coming up with "Harry and the Can of Purple Spray Paint". Click through for the delightful illustration. 

Speaking of delightful illustrations, Eric Carle was just featured in Newsweek, with an article titled "The Surprising Dark Side of the Very Hungry Caterpillar". Travis has the scoop at 100 Scope Notes.

At Original Content, Gail Gauthier has an interesting post pondering adult characters in children's books. She asks: "Have we always felt that children should be center stage in children's books? Or back in the day when books for children were more instructive were they filled with adult characters for them to model themselves upon?" There's quite a discussion in the comments, including a response by author Tim Byrd, whose work is mentioned in the post.

As reported on many blogs, the shortlists for the Carnegie Award (the oldest children's literature award in Britain) were announced this week. Charlotte has the list at Charlotte's Library, and was the first person I saw to point out the fact that in all seven, the main characters are boys. Alison Flood of the Guardian also called it a "boysy" list. UK-based blogger Bookwitch is happy to have read and liked all seven titles, and approves of the boy-friendly slant, too.

StarclimberMeanwhile, over in Canada, the 2009 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards short lists were announced. You can find the list at Kids Lit. Tasha is always up on the award news. Chester's Back, which I loved, is on the picture book list. Starclimber, which I just reviewed last week, is on the young adult list.  

Two posts caught my eye this week from moms who are clearly doing well with the whole raising readers thing:

  • At Paradise Found, confronted by a son who finished four middle grade novels in one day, Kris Bordessa asks: "Do you ever tell your kids to stop reading? Would you, if they read four books daily? How much is too much?" There are bunches of comments in response to this question.
  • Jennifer from Snapshot shares her progress with daughter Amanda in their Read Together Challenge. She says of the challenge: "I have found the accountability great in encouraging my perseverance. When we finished this book, Amanda said, "We need to get another book we can read together." I was glad that she is enjoying this effort as much as I am." 

And a few other quick hits:

Wednesday Afternoon Visits: April 22

Here are a few doings from around the Kidlitosphere that I think are worth a mention.

PremioDardos First up, many thanks to Sherrie Peterson from Write About Now, who was kind enough to grant my blog a Premio Dardos award, for "transmitting cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values every day." Thanks so much, Sherrie! I'm not actually going to follow the rules of the award by passing it along to 15 people, but Sherrie's kind words did totally make my day.

School Library Journal's Battle of the (Kids') Books has started the second round of competition, with John Green selecting The Hunger Games over We Are the Ship. Yay, Katniss! Liz Burns has been covering SLJBoB thoroughly at Tea Cozy (most recently here), if you'd like more detail.

FCBD_cymk_date Tanita reports at Finding Wonderland that Free Comic Book Day is coming up on May 2nd. "This event celebrates the independent comic book specialty shops, thousands of which exist in North America alone."

I learned from Presenting Lenore that this is Body Image Week. Lenore explains: "So what's it all about? The issue of body image and loving the skin that you're in is something that affects everyone in different ways and in different degrees. And there are a lot of books recently or soon-to-be released that address various aspects of the issue." 

Cheryl Rainfield reports that "Libba Bray, author of The New York Times bestselling Gemma Doyle Trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing), will be hosting a virtual event on, a 3D online virtual world that is free for users, in promotion for the paperback release of THE SWEET FAR THING. Libba will be doing a reading of THE SWEET FAR THING and chatting with other avatars from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday, April 28th."

At the Blue Rose Girls, Grace Lin links to a Shelftalker post by Josie Leavit about proper author etiquette when visiting a bookstores (short version: don't be disingenuous). Even though I'm not an author, I found the post and comments fascinating.

NationalPoetryMonthLogo Elaine Magliaro rounds up week three of National Poetry Month across the Kidlitosphere at Wild Rose Reader. Speaking of poetry, Gregory K finally includes one of his own poems in the midst of 30 Poets/30 Days. It's about a spaghetti farm, and it's very fun!

Blog angst flu (a recurring epidemic during which various bloggers question their reasons for and methods of blogging) continues across the Kidlitosphere, with posts at Confessions of a Bibliovore, Book Nut, The Reading Zone, the YA YA YAs, and Original Content (and various others linked within those posts). I've been suffering a minor case of this myself lately, and I have to say that I'm impressed by Trisha's decision (at The YA YA YAs) that going forward her reading priority will be books that she personally has borrowed from the library or bought. I have recently reactivated my library card, myself, after a bit of an absence.

In a related vein, Teacherninja shares his recommendations for coping with being "hyperconnected". He breaks them down into specific recommendations for people who are overly connected via social networking-related tools, and people who are trepidatious about such enterprises.

The Portland KidLit group is hosting a fundraiser for one of their own, one of our own, Bridget Zinn, who is battling cancer. You can find details at Check It Out. There are going to be a lot of great signed books auctioned off, to help the lovely Bridget. 

Terry has an interesting post at The Reading Tub about balancing letting kids read what interests them and wanting to encourage them to read higher-quality fare. To me, the heart of the post is: "How do you balance feeding a personally-motivated passion for reading with minimizing the impact of people you hope don’t become her “friends”?" As someone who found many of her "friends" in literature, this post really resonated with me.

Kate Coombs has a fun post at Book Aunt about the elements that distinguish British fantasy from American fantasy. She says: "there’s something literary, not to mention clever, about British comedy, and about British fantasy writing. The words that keep coming to mind are wit and whimsy. I realize these tend to be used stereotypically, but then, stereotypes can have their roots in truth. I suppose we can define wit as cleverness and surprising humor." She includes lots of examples.

And that's all for today! Happy reading!

The Book Whisperer: Donalyn Miller

Book: The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child
Author: Donalyn Miller
Pages: 240 
Age Range: Adult (non-fiction) 

Book WhispererI must start off by admitting that I can't be fully objective about this book, because I'm actually mentioned in it (which is very, very cool, isn't it?). One of my blog posts is reprinted, my list of why you should read children's books as an adult. Donalyn was also gracious enough to acknowledge me for linking so regularly to her blog, The Book Whisperer. Thanks for which are completely unnecessary, of course. I link to her posts because nearly all of them are about topics that I want to share with my readers. And they are all well-written and heart-felt. Just like the book. So really, it's not so much that I want to review this book, as it is that I want to ask everyone, especially teachers, to please read it. But I'll do my best to give you a bit more detail.

Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer is a manual for teachers on how to raise kids who enjoy books. Donalyn is a sixth grade language arts and social studies teacher who has had tremendous success in turning even initially resistant children into avid readers. She sets ambitious goals for reading in her classroom, and her methods have paid brilliant dividends. The Book Whisperer is the book that she wished she had to read herself, when she first started teaching, her attempt to share her methods with other teachers, so that they can help grow readers too.

I believe that The Book Whisperer is a must-read title for reading teachers, especially for elementary and middle school-age kids. I also think that anyone who cares about raising readers, whether teacher or not, will enjoy The Book Whisperer.

Donalyn begins the book by describing her own development as a reader, before moving on to her early learning experiences as a teacher. She defines the types of readers that she has observed, using positive, rather than negative terminology. Thus "struggling readers" become "developing readers", and "reluctant readers" become "dormant readers" or "underground readers". Then she explains her current methods, including ways of finding time to prioritize reading in the classroom, and ways of building classroom libraries. She discusses her requirement that each child read 40 books (broken into a series of genres) during the classroom year, both reasons for this and success rates, and her own responsibility as a reading role model. She also discusses her recommended changes to (or elimination of) other common classroom techniques, such as the month-long whole-class dissection of a novel. Some of what she recommends is common-sense, while other sections will be more controversial. But everything that Donalyn says is backed up by a) her actual classroom experience and b) the high test scores recorded by her students.

 The Book Whisperer is extensively referenced and indexed, and contains examples of forms filled out and letters submitted by students. There's also an "Ultimate Library List" appendix, compiled by Donalyn's students, which is worth the price of the book all by itself. There are lovely quotes about the joy of reading at the start of every chapter, and fun asides, like a list of "Unusual Places to Read by Mrs. Miller's Class".

But if you ask me, what makes this book truly special is Donalyn's genuine passion for creating readers -- it comes through on every page. I must have 50 post-it flags on my copy - quotable passage after quotable passage. Here are just a few of the many, many examples that I could have chosen:

"We have worked so hard to develop systems to teach reading, yet I claim that we have no grounds to systematize an act like reading in the first place. The only groups served by current trends to produce endless programs for teaching reading are the publishing and testing companies who make billions of dollars from their programs and tests. It is horrifying that the people who have the corner on getting children to read--children's book authors, parents, and teachers--get the least credit monetarily or otherwise." (Introduction)

"These days I share with my students what no literacy expert could ever teach me. Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Escaping the confines of school, reading helps you pursue your own education. Through characters--the saints and sinners, real or imagined--reading shows you how to be a better human being. Now, I accept that I may never arrive at teaching paradise, but as long as I hold onto my love of books and show my students what it really means to live as a reader, I'll be a lot closer than I once was. Finally, this was my epiphany." (Chapter 1, There and Back Again)

"I believe that dormant readers have a reader inside themselves, somewhere. They simply need the conditions to let that reader loose, the same conditions that developing readers need, hours and hours of time spent reading, the freedom to make their own reading choices, and a classroom environment that values independent reading. Children love stories, the escape of falling into unknown worlds and vicariously experiencing the lives of the characters. Their attachment to story arcs in video games and television programs bears this out. What students lack are experiences that show them that books have the same magic." (Chapter 2, Everybody is a Reader)

"Are we teaching books or teaching readers? I would rather have my students read books of questionable literary value than not read at all. Once students find at least one book they like, and receive approval for reading books of their own choice, it is easier to move them towards books you suggest." (Chapter 4, Reading Freedom)

The Book Whisperer shows, page after page, example after example, that despite all of the things that our educational systems do that kill the joy of reading (see Kelly Gallagher's Readicide for more on that topic), it is possible for teachers to light the spark, and turn kids into readers. Not easy certainly (Donalyn has a particularly supportive principal), but possible. And that is cause for hope. The Book Whisperer's afterword, written by Donalyn's Principal, Ron Myers, is a call to arms for the "reading revolution" of the reading whisper movement.

I'd like to close by quoting teacher Sarah Mulhern's conclusions about this book at The Reading Zone. Sarah said:

"This is a book that MUST be put into the hands of every teacher in the nation. And we NEED to get it to those who make policy in this country- from state senators to President Obama himself. This book must be read, it must be discussed, and many of the ideas absolutely must be implemented if we are going to reverse the sad course our educational system is taking this century." 

I agree! I hope that many of you will read this book, discuss it, and take action. Our children deserve all the help that we can give them in learning to truly connect with books.

Publisher: Jossey-Bass
Publication Date: March 16, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Please not that quotes are from the ARC, and may differ slightly from the final printed book (which I do intend to purchase a copy of).
Other Blog Reviews: Book Chase, Once Upon a Time, The Reading Zone

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

Reviews that Made Me Want the Book: April 21

Welcome to the latest edition of my recurring "reviews that made me want to read the book" feature. This month, a whole slew of titles have caught my eye.

Bubble TroubleLest anyone wonders if including quotes in reviews is helpful, Tasha Saecker made me want to read Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy and Polly Dunbar by including this quote in her review: "Little Mabel blew a bubble, and it caused a lot of trouble… Such a lot of bubble trouble in a bibble-bobble way." Doesn't that sound fun? Perhaps paired with Bubble Homes and Fish Farts.

RoadworksA very different picture book that caught my eye is Roadworks by Sally Sutton, reviewed by Susan Stephenson at The Book Chook. Susan says: "I am predicting obsession status for this great new picture book from Walker Books Australia (2008). Roadworks was written by New Zealand author, Sally Sutton. I don't know her books, but I'll certainly be on the look-out for them. She enters into the mind of a young action fan, and gives him great active verbs and noises". 

I Need My MonsterAmanda from A Patchwork of Books caught my eye with her review of I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll. She begins: "Oh how in love I fell with this charming book. I giggled, I chuckled, I stared in awe at the pictures, and when I closed the last page, I happily started at the beginning again. I think I may have found my favorite so far this year."

Wild ThingsAnother pick from Amanda that sounds intriguing is Wild Things by Clay Carmichael. Amanda says: "Every single one of you should read this book. Really, young or old, I want you to read this and then tell me how far in love with the characters you fell. I was enchanted with the story, loving the characters, and so sad when it ended...yet happy. A beautifully written book, screaming out for readers." 

It's more a discussion (and link to an article from the Guardian Book Blog), but this post at Charlotte's Library made me want to read John Christopher's out-of-print dystopian YA novel The Death of Grass. According to Charlotte, (Guardian writer) "Sam Jordison, who did read it as a child, re-visits it, and finds it much, much scarier now that he's a grown up." This one I went ahead and requested from the library.

Sand Dollar SummerSometimes what draws me to a book is the reviewer's comparison of a new book to a book that I already know and love. Colleen Mondor did this recently, comparing the 2006 title Sand Dollar Summer, by Kimberly K. Jones, to Phyllis Green's Nantucket Summer, one of my adolescent favorites. Colleen said: "Sand Dollar Summer is just one of those beach reads that gives you the true taste of the coast, all the crazy touristy bits of it as well as the night walks near the water, the sand castles and how the salt and sand will invade every aspect of your life there - in both good and bad ways. I suppose you could say the book is dramatic (it certainly has its moments) but for me it was Lise and Free running on the beach or wandering into town to hit the library that brought back the images of Nantucket Summer."

And sometimes (often, I suppose), I'm interested in a book just because it's by an author whose work I have previously enjoyed. Thus when I was pleased to learn recently from Omnivoracious that there's now a title and a publication date (September) for Dan Brown's next book about Robert Langdon. I realize that Brown's books have been ludicrously over-hyped, but I first read and appreciated Angels and Demons before all of that. And I expect that I'll enjoy The Lost Symbol, too.

Jake Ransom Similarly, when I'm looking for a plot driven, action-filled book, I enjoy the adult novels of James Rollins. So I was pleased when I saw Tasses' review at Reading Rumpus of Rollins' first book for kids: Jake Ransom and the Skull's Shadow. She calls it "... jam-packed with Mayan history, dinosaurs, alchemy, Vikings, Roman soldiers… along with Jake Ransom (of course) and his sister Kady ...a high-adventure, fantasy-fused ride with bits of history thrown in for good measure."

HungerAnd of course, the sequel to a book that I liked is usually automatically on my list. One that I'm especially looking forward to is Hunger, the sequel to Gone by Michael Grant. Kristine from Best Book I Have Not Read was lucky enough to get her hands on an advance copy of this May release. Kristine says: " It is a great sequel to Gone, picking up where the first book left off ... The first chapter pulled me in immediately (and made my stomach turn, but I am pretty wimpy) and made me want to read without stop, just as the first book did."

The Farwalker's QuestOf course, other times I'm interested because a book falls into one my favorite niches. Melissa from Book Nut caught my eye recently with her review of The Farwalker's Quest by Joni Sensel. She said: "I didn't expect to be unable to put the book down. I was thoroughly captivated by the world that Sensel built -- part fantasy, part dystopian -- and the story which, although it's a coming-of-age/adventure story, took me to places and in directions that I never quite expected." Really, that's enough for me.

ChameleonStill other times, it's the opposite. The reviewer talks me into a book that might not sound like my sort of thing off the top of my head, through the depth of the reviewer's passion for a title. This is the case with Laura Koenig's review of Chameleon by Charles R. Smith, Jr at Bib-Laura-graphy. Laura begins: "Hey you! Yeah, you sitting there reading this blog. Have you read Chameleon yet? No? Do me a favor - head down to your local indie bookstore or your branch library. Yes, right now. Come back when you’ve got a copy of this book." And then she explains why she thinks that the book is important.

The EverafterAnother premise-driven pick comes to me from my book selection psychic twin Lenore of Presenting Lenore. In a recent Waiting on Wednesday post, Lenore mentioned Amy Huntley's The Everafter, saying: "I am always fascinated by novels set in the afterlife. Though this one looks something straight out of my nightmares." I'm hooked on these books, too.

The Long WaitLenore and I are also fans of time-travel stories (as is Charlotte). Another of Lenore's Waiting on Wednesday titles is upcoming title (September) The Long Wait for Tomorrow. From the Random House catalog description: "Joaquin Dorfman is back with another smart novel that pushes the envelope of literary fiction, examining identity, high school roles, and even the high-blown concept of destiny through a cool science-fiction lens. What if, in a Freaky Friday moment, a wise and humble 40-year-old man woke one morning to find himself transported back in time, into his body more than 20 years before, when he was the popular, entitled, and arrogant quarterback of the school football team? Could the man do anything to stop a tragedy initiated by the cruel actions of the boy, or is fate too strong a force? " 

The Tomorrow CodeThe Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner sounds appealing, too. A. Fortis recently reviewed it at Finding Wonderland, saying "The stakes just keep getting higher in this suspenseful page-turner. Author Brian Falkner has created truly deep, interesting, textured characters that are easy to care about, and I enjoyed reading a contemporary sci-fi novel set in New Zealand, too ... It's got everything—lab experiments gone awry, deadly fog, coded messages, yellow submarines, and a nice twist towards the end. A great one for fans of dystopian novels and suspenseful adventures." How could I resist?

PPZI have to admit that I'm oddly intrigued by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Becky from Becky's Book Reviews explains: "As you can see, this isn't your traditional Pride and Prejudice. And Elizabeth and Jane aren't your traditional heroines. Meet the Bennet family. "The business of Mr. Bennet's life was to keep his daughters alive. The business of Mrs. Bennet's was to get them married." Why is life so dangerous? Zombies, of course!" The cover is dreadful, the premise is ridiculous. And yet... I can imagine reading it one of these days.

I hope that some of these titles will catch your eye, too. Happy reading!

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

Starclimber: Kenneth Oppel

Book: Starclimber
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Pages: 400
Age Range: 12 and up 

StarclimberKenneth Oppel's Starclimber is a worthy sequel to Airborn and Skybreaker, continuing the adventures of young skyship captain-in-training Matt Cruse and his aristocratic (and autocratic) love interest, Kate de Vries. In movie terms (and I think that it would make an excellent movie) Starclimber reads like a cross between Titanic and Apollo 13, with a dash of Top Gun. The Airborn series is set in an alternate universe, with an early 20th century feel, in which airships have developed in place of airplanes. Filled with a gas lighter than air, the airships work pretty much like regular ships, but move through the sky. It seems fitting enough, then, that in the Airborn world, space travel evolves differently than it did in our world (though I won't spoil things by giving you the details). Let it suffice to say that Matt finds himself with the opportunity, if he can make it through a rigorous training process, to be on board the first vessel to enter outer space.

I think that this series is an excellent fit for teenage boys, filled with swashbuckling adventures, strange creatures, and resourceful inventions. Matt is an engaging character, plucky and loyal, but plagued by occasional insecurities. His relationship with Kate faces obstacles, and stays comfortably away from sappiness. Oppel doesn't shy away from revealing Kate's flaws, along with her nobler attributes, and I think that the books are stronger for this. Kate's strong will also makes the series a good one for teenage girls.

In Starclimber, some of the other characters appear one-dimensional at first, but most of these characters reveal hidden depths along the way. Here are a couple of passages, to give you a feel for Oppel's writing and characterization:

"Shepherd was leaning against the balustrade, staring out over the city. He had a thick mustache and high forehead. He turned his cool, appraising eyes on us and gave the smallest of nods. I put him at no more than twenty-five. And already a captain. Confidence wafted off him like heat from a tar roof.

"We're both test pilots," said Bronfman smugly.

 I was impressed, but Bronfman already seemed so impressed with himself I refused to show it." (Page 90)

"Dr. Turgenev limped forward, leaning on his cane. He wasn't old -- no more than forty -- but he gave the impression of being crumpled." (Page 96)

"Kate was speechless, but only for a split second. "Of course I'm determined! Everyone should be determined, or else what's the point of living? When a man's determined it's wonderful, but if it's a woman it's horrid and unattractive." She shook her head bitterly." (Page 117)

Overall, I found Starclimber a well-executed example of the adventure genre, with a unique setting, likeable characters, and the right balance between introspection, humor, and action. Experienced adventure fans (whether from books or movies) will not, perhaps, find it wholly suspenseful, since we have certain expectations regarding how these sorts of stories are supposed to turn out. Nevertheless, Starclimber is a fun ride. Fans of the series will not be disappointed. New readers will want to go back and start with Airborn (which was a Printz honor book), to share in all of Matt and Kate's adventures. Highly recommended

Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: February 24, 2009
Source of Book: Library copy
Other Blog Reviews: GoddessLibrarian, Bi-Laura-graphy, Abby (the) Librarian, Reading Rants!, Teens at Duluth

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

Children's Literacy Round-Up: Patriots' Day Edition

200px-Minuteman-250px Happy Patriots' Day! I know that Patriots' Day isn't a holiday for all of you, but as a native of Lexington, MA (where the first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought), I could never forget it. Anyway, this week’s children’s literacy and reading news round-up, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page and Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub blog, is now available. This week Terry Doherty and I have collected plenty of content for you about literacy & reading-related events; raising readers; literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; grants, sponsorships & donations; and other new resources. Enjoy!


First Book had a variety of events this week. On April 14th, First Book partner BOOK IT!® hosted "America’s Biggest Bedtime Story — an online special event (featuring) actor John Lithgow reading from his children’s book, I Got Two Dogs." More details can be found here. The webcast will remain available for "a limited time". BOOK IT! promised a donation to First Book, with the size depending on the number of people tuning in.

FB_logo Also at First Book, we found this news item: "First Book had the honor of hosting its first ever National Book Bank distribution in Louisville, KY last week - April 6-9. As the recipient of a 50,000 book donation from securing the winning votes from the “What Book Got You Hooked?” campaign, the Bluegrass State welcomed us with open arms and helped get a total of 250,000 books into the hands of children in Kentucky and across the nation."

This one is for big kids who want to write for little kids. Sherry from Semicolon wrote: "The Cheerios New Author Contest encourages aspiring authors to write and submit an original story for a book for children ages 3 to 8. You have to be over 18 to enter, and the deadline is July 15, 2009. I tell my children Maria stories, and I may send one in."

According to the Country Standard Time, "The Book Lady, a half-hour Canadian documentary film about Dolly Parton's campaign for children's literacy, will screen at the 40th Nashville Film Festival now underway. Parton, Miley Cyrus (Dolly's goddaughter), Keith Urban, Canadian singer/songwriters Sarah Harmer and Justin Rutledge and American-born Canadian children's author Robert Munsch are featured in the documentary, which chronicles Parton's Imagination Library."

Raising Readers

JPERClogo Natasha Worswick shares the results of James Patterson's Extreme Reading Challenge, explaining: "The challenge encourages fathers and carers to read with their children and the idea behind the competition was to picture dads and their children sharing a book in an unusual place to demonstrate that reading with your child really can take place anywhere. The winners, James and David Andrews are pictured reading in their freezer!"

Imaginary GardenNatasha also has a beautiful post about Reading Gardens. She says: "It is a lovely idea. Creating an outdoor garden space, somewhere to sit and read a collection of books that are especially appropriate for the garden. Apparently some bookshops are already putting this idea into action and have book boxes outside in their gardens for customers to sit and browse through in the sunshine." She's working on creating a reading garden for her son. (I also suggest reading The Imaginary Garden, by Andrew Larsen.)

As I mentioned last week, Terry has made tremendous strides towards beautifying the Share a Story - Shape a Future website. This week, she's been focused on making the site even more useful. She has a new post compiling reading tips and another with a comprehensive index to Share a Story - Shape a Future 2009. Please do check these posts out - I'm sure that you'll find something of interest.

Award-winning author April Pulley Sayre tells us about her observations of how kids understand and decode nonfiction text during a recent 10-day swing through Lexington, SC elementary schools. She offers specific examples of how teachers and librarians helped kids "develop skills to dig into nonfiction text."

At the Reading Rockets Page by Page blog, Maria Salvadore addresses the question of figuring out what boys like to read. After exploring some resources, she concludes: "Maybe we don't need Disney researchers, just adults who are willing to stretch their ideas of what boys respond to and why they may not respond like girls. Embedded in that should be how adults regard what reading is and what books should look like, along with a close-up understanding of what boys might read, and by extension watch on screens — it just may be more diverse than what we adults realize."

ABC Newspapers has an article by Mandy Moran Froemming about the importance of reading aloud to children. The article includes recommendations from Sue Klund, recent recipient of the Minnesota Reading Association Celebrate Literacy Award. For example, "Eight books a day, she prescribes, even for infants. But those books don’t have to be long or difficult. Klund encourages kids to read easy books.... to build skills and vocabulary."

Melinda Franklin has six easy-to-digest/easy-to-repeat reasons that explain The Importance of Reading to Children (though, as Terry first noted, I wish it was reading "with" children). Like many of us who grew up with books as a daily part of our lives, we sometimes are surprised that all kids don't get to share a book with their family every day. (Terry found this article via Twitter From EverybodyWins)

We found another article about reading with kids at new blog Moms Inspire Learning. Dawn Morris shares her Top 10 Ways to Raise an Avid Reader, Part 1, referencing some of our other favorite blogs, like The Book Chook, Literacy Launchpad, and The Almost Librarian. Dawn says: "The greatest gift any parent can give to their child is time spent reading together. You don't have to officially be a teacher to raise a reader. All you really need is an hour (or at least a half an hour) every day, a library card, and a desire to spend quality time with your child." Can't argue with that!

Literacy & Reading Programs & Research

The April 2009 edition of Phi Delta Kappan, the professional journal for education, contains an article by Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP), "Strengthen What Happens Outside School to Improve What Happens Inside." HFRP's article (also available directly from HFRP, with no login required) is one of seven that appear in the journal under the rubric, "Congress, We've Got Ideas for You!" that offer recommendations for the future federal role in K-12 education. The article offers research-based recommendations for federal education legislation that highlight the importance of out-of-school learning as complementary to school improvement strategies. The recommendations challenge the long-standing assumption underlying federal education legislation -- including the No Child Left Behind Act -- that K-12 schools can operate alone to level the learning field for poor children. [Terry found this one via Twitter from CircleReader - and yes, I'm starting to see a pattern with finding interesting resources that way]

Sue_steph1 At Lectitans, Kimberly shares 7 Resources for Literacy Activists. Terry and I were thrilled to see Share a Story - Shape a Future on the list, and we recommend that you check out Kimberly's other suggestions, too. (Image credit to Susan Stephenson from The Book Chook).

Via the NCTE Inbox newsletter, we found this article by James Vaznis in the Boston Globe, about a program that pairs students with retirees as tutors. The Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School "is among 10 elementary schools and four community centers in Boston that have enlisted 300 retirees to tutor students in reading through the national Experience Corps program. The program, which trains adults 55 years and older to tutor children in reading, was first adopted by a few Boston schools about 10 years ago. Recently, it has seen a resurgence in popularity as the district confronts stagnant reading and English scores for elementary school pupils."

The Beacon News (suburban Chicago area) has an article by Wendy Foster about Aunt Mary's Storybook Project. Mary Walsh visits women in prison and records them reading children's books aloud, to share with their children. "As a former teacher, Walsh said that she was drawn by the program's objective of promoting literacy. As a mother, she added, she cherishes the tradition of parents reading to their children. Aunt Mary's Storybook is a way of parents and children reconnecting with each other in a positive way."

Teacherninja highlights a new National Geographic video about a Columbian schoolteachers who, on weekends, uses a burro to deliver books to students in the country. You can read Teacherninja's earlier post about the Biblioburro here.

21st Century Literacies

In recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week (4 to 8 May), Learning will hold its our annual Open House. Teachers can register to explore the site and use it free of charge all week long. This is their way of saying "thank you" to the world’s teachers and all they do on behalf of our kids.

According to a news release, "kidthing® and Dr. Seuss Enterprises together with the National Education Association are proud to announce that they will be providing classrooms across America with free copies of an animated special edition e-book of Dr. Seuss's The Lorax in celebration of Earth Day. This announcement comes just after having given teachers across America over $175,000 in digital Dr. Seuss books as part of NEA's recent 2009 Read Across America program. The digital version of Dr. Seuss's classic, The Lorax--only available at kidthing--will be made available to teachers through May 15, 2009.

Grants and Donations

According to a recent news release, "City National Bank today announced that it has awarded 33 Reading Is The Way Up(r) grants totaling $16,500 to support literacy-based projects at elementary, middle and high schools in northern and southern Nevada... The $500 grants will help augment or expand literacy projects that were judged to be creative and engaging, and that would have a tangible affect on student achievement. The winning programs are expected to directly improve the literacy of about 2,000 students in Nevada.

An article by Korvell Pyfrom in the Forest Grove News Times reports that "A Forest Grove community-based organization was recently awarded a $17,620 grant to help to improve literacy among low-income immigrant children."

We [heart] New York - With $2.8 Million, the Bronx will (finally) have it's own children's museum. The borough has the most young people (1.4 million residents under 18) and is the only Manhattan borough without it's own children's museum. The proposed/approved Bronx Children's Museum is an interactive facility to educate young people "about the history and diversity of The Bronx, while also engaging and sparking their imaginations and curiosity. The Bronx Children’s Museum will foster a love of learning and help children to develop language and literacy skills." Read more at the Bronx Latino blog.

Doug Beldon
(Pioneer Press) has a detailed article about how the Greater Twin Cities (Minnesota) United Way is moving from a single-school model to a system-wide partnership. The local United Way chapter will invest $5.8 million annually to increase reading proficiency and access to health care among low-income people. With the new investment ($1.3M/year) St. Paul schools plan to expand the Minnesota Reading Corps program.

New Resources

The Corner - is the online book club for the Common Ground Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to empowering youth. The book club is one part of its The "Read For Change" program, which is focused on countering youth illiteracy. From the website: "This interactive platform provides youth across the country with an opportunity to discuss current reading selections, and fosters the development of critical thinking skills."

Latin Baby Book Club - This multi-author blog "provides parents with suggested reading for their families. Our goal is to help our children develop pride for their Latin culture through education and literature. We also strive to support Hispanic authors through interviews and our reviews of bilingual young adult and children's books." Christianne Meneses Jacobs has a concise post that lays out the skills children need to be readers by third grade, with ideas on how to start at home.

Happy reading! We hope that you find some resources of interest this week.

North of Beautiful: Justina Chen Headley

Book: North of Beautiful
Author: Justina Chen Headley (blog)
Pages: 384
Age Range: 13 and up 

North of BeautifulBackground: I worked with Justina Chen Headley when I was a Postergirl for Readergirlz. I've met her and talked with her, and I think highly of her efforts to empower teenage girls through books. As others have discussed (most recently Jackie Parker), it can be difficult to be objective in writing a review of a book when you know and like the author. But, like Jackie, I've decided that I need to make my best effort. Because just as it wouldn't be right to praise a book that I didn't like, because of who the author is, it's also not right to ignore a book that I do like. Sound reasonable? OK, then.

Review: North of Beautiful is Justina Chen Headley's third novel for young adults. It's about a teenage girl trying to find her way. Terra Cooper has a lot going for her. She has a gorgeous body, a cool boyfriend, and a genuine passion for art. She has mentors who support her, and an excellent chance of getting in to her dream college. But Terra has challenges, too. She has a large port wine stain on her face, which she's constantly trying to hide, and an overbearing father, who she's constantly trying to hide from. Her family is fractured, with Terra and her mother under the father's thumb, and her two older brothers staying as far away as they can. Things in Terra's life start to change, however, when she meets an unusual boy named Jacob, and follows up on some new opportunities.

Throughout the book, maps and charts recur as symbols. Terra's father is a mapmaker, Jacob is a geocacher, and Terra uses map-related terminology to depict her own life. For example: 

"Those three hours were near enough for four years of unplanned drop-in visits -- and where Mom went, Dad was sure to hover. I'd remain cooped inside Dad's boundary lines." (Page 39, ARC)

It's fitting, in this map-related context, that the settings in the book create a strong sense of place, both in Terra's hometown in Washington State and during a trip to China. The author clearly knows, first-hand, what she's writing about. She excels at deft, creative descriptions, too. Here are a few examples:

"While I wanted to get lost in the world, I didn't want to be lost at school. I wanted to meet people who would understand how the sight of a tree's jasper green needles against a cloudless sky could make my heart go POW!" (Page 37)

"Mom's hurt swelled in the car, her feelings banged up by my one unguarded comment. Softly, she sniffled. "It's just that it feels like yesterday when you were born. You know, I always wanted a girl."" (Page 58, ARC)

"Even distraught, she was still the portrait of wealth, hair colored preternaturally blond, a red overcoat cinched tightly around her waist, and perched in high black books. You could almost smell eau de Republican wafting from her as she threw her arms around Jacob." (Page 61, ARC)

Although I enjoy reading well-written passages like these, it takes three-dimensional characters to keep me turning the pages. Terra is a fabulous character, flawed and believable. I found myself thinking about her when I wasn't reading the book. Even when I could see that she was making mistakes, I still rooted for her. Terra's mother's vulnerability positively breathes from the page. Jacob's mother's vulnerability is more subtle, but unmistakable. And Jacob, well, he's pretty much irresistible. [Fans of Justina's previous book, Girl Overboard, will be pleased to know that Syrah makes a cameo appearance, too.] In truth, I found some of the character growth throughout the book a tiny bit over the top, but I was willing to suspend belief because I liked the characters so much.

North of Beautiful is about finding your own way, taking action to get what you want, and yes, about internal vs. external beauty. I think that teenage girls will find it inspirational and moving. North of Beautiful may inspire a host of new young geocachers. But I think that, without being in the least bit preachy, it's also likely to inspire readers to feel more self-confident. And that is truly a beautiful thing.

Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Publication Date: February 1, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy. Quotes are from the advance copy, and may differ from the final, printed book.
Other Blog Reviews: S. Krishna's Books, The Compulsive ReaderBookshelves of Doom, Liv's Book Reviews, Mrs. F-B's Book Blog, Presenting LenoreKids Lit, and others  
Author Interviews: Readertotz, HipWriterMama, Teen Book Review, Mitali's Fire Escape, Shelf Elf, Archimedes Forgets, Biblio File

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

Thursday Afternoon Visits: April 16

Here are some posts from around the Kidlitosphere that have caught my eye in the past few days.

Tbd09rt Today is drop day for Readergirlz Operation Teen Book Drop. I'm a bit late, but here's the scoop: "It's time to grab a readergirlz bookplate and take a book somewhere in your town--donate it to a library, a school, or a lonely park bench. Leave it anywhere in honor of Support Teen Literature Day!" You can also find more about Teen Literature Day at ForeWord Magazine's Shelf Space blog, in a detailed post by Carlie Webber.

Winston BreenToday is also the launch of Eric Berlin's Winston Breen puzzle party, in honor of the second book in the series: The Potato Chip Puzzles. In honor of the launch, Eric has created a puzzle-themed blog tour. If you solve all of the puzzles, you can win prizes. You can find the first puzzle, and the full schedule for the tour, at A Patchwork of Books. My review of the first Winston Breen book is here.

Liz Burns repeats a thought-provoking post at Tea Cozy (originally from 2006, but still quite relevant today) about a trend featuring teen interactions with senior citizens in young adult fiction.

Lips TouchLaini Taylor reveals the gorgeous cover of her upcoming book: Lips Touch. She also shares the story about how blogging inspired the book, which might be of particular interest to the writers among you.

Speaking of blogging, Natasha from Maw Books and Amy from My Friend Amy will be speaking on a panel at the upcoming Book Expo America about book blogging. Natasha has asked for feedback from other bloggers on topics that would be useful to discuss.

Also speaking of blogging, Sarah Miller shares some pros and cons of blogging at Reading Writing, Musing. I sense a round of blog focus angst flu going around. But I do think that Sarah nailed both pros and cons - several of hers resonated with me, even though I'm not an author.  

Elaine Magliaro rounds up Week 2 of National Poetry Month in the Kidlitosphere at Wild Rose Reader. And this week's Poetry Friday roundup is at Becky's Book Reviews.

Fans of Sallie Wolf's Truck Stuck (which I reviewed here) will enjoy this real-world story from Unabridged, the Charlesbridge blog.  

And last, but definitely not least, people all over the Kidlitosphere have linked to a recent video of President Obama reading Where the Wild Things Are at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll last weekend. Here's the video, with some context, at 100 Scope Notes.

And that's all for today!

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: April 14

Jpg_book007Today I will be sending out the new issue of the Growing Bookworms 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 717 subscribers. 

Newsletter Update: This week I have three book reviews, a post with Kidlitosphere news, and a link to last week's children's literacy round-up at The Reading Tub. I also have a post about last Sunday's Drop Everything and Read Day.

Change to Publication Schedule: I must admit that I've been struggling a bit lately to maintain enough content to keep this as a weekly newsletter. After much consideration, I've decided to experiment with sending the newsletter out on a bi-weekly basis instead. I may change back, but for right now, I'm looking to take a bit of pressure off of myself. The children's literacy round-ups will still be published weekly, alternating between my blog and Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, but I'm only planning to send the email newsletter out every other week (4/28, 5/12, etc.). Please bear with me as I try to figure out what works for me, and for all of you, in this area. I welcome your feedback!

Reading Update: Last week I was traveling, and I was sick for a couple of days. The upside of this was that I got a bit more reading done than usual. I finished reading The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny and Bones of Faerie, by Janni Lee Simner. I also read Hold Tight, by Harlan Coben (standalone thriller for adults), and finished listening to What Happened to Cass McBride, by Gail Giles (creepy, compelling YA thriller). Finally, I read and reviewed Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn and Alabama Moon by Watt Key. Between those last two and When the Whistle Blows by Fran Slayton, I've been on a bit of a southern, boy-friendly middle grade/middle school kick. Right now I'm reading North of Beautiful, a young adult novel by Justina Chen Headley. What have you been reading and enjoying?

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms!