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Posts from November 2009

Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up: November 30

Jpg_book008 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 here. This week Terry Doherty and I have collected plenty of content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; and grants, sponsorships & donations. There's no 21st Century Literacy news this week, for some reason. I think that the holidays have people in back to basics mode, focusing on book drives and book-related gifts. Still, there are a host of fun stories to share.


Santa As in previous years, the Canada Post is accepting letters to Santa Claus, in order to help promote literacy. "More than 11,000 current or retired Canada Post employees (known affectionately as postal elves) volunteer their time to help Santa respond to truckloads of letters in the language in which they are received--27 languages last year, including Braille. In 2008, Canada Post elves replied to more than 1.4 million letters and 63,000 emails." More details are available in this news release. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt]

Ncblalogo Episode 5 of the NCBLA's Exquisite Corpse Adventure (a project to promote the joy of reading, courtesy of the Center for the Book and the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance) is now available. This episode was written by Gregory Maguire and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. Monica Edinger has an excerpt at Educating Alice.

Terry_readingtubfinal_1 Terry is starting a new monthly meme at The Reading Tub, rounding up reviews of early readers and chapter books. Terry's ultimate goal, of course, is to "encourage kids working to become successful readers". She says: "In the middle of each month, we’ll collect reviews of easy readers and/or short chapter books. Didn’t read one last month? Not a problem, your review can be from the previous year. So in January 2010, feel free to pull a post going back to January 2009!" She's taken the time to outline the characteristics of easy readers and short chapter books (also a Cybils category for the past two years), too.

ShareAStoryLogo2 And because she is tireless when it comes to promoting literacy, Terry is thinking ahead to the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour for March of 2010 (March 8-12). The theme for 2010 will be It Takes a Village to Raise a Reader. I'll be hosting Friday, with a theme of Reading for the Next Generation: "This is the day for talking about how to approach reading when your interests and your child's don't match. It may be that you don't like to read but your child does, how to raise the reader you're not, and dealing with the "pressure" of feeling forced to read." But check out the full post, including ways that you can participate, at Share a Story. [Logo created by Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook]

The National Council of Teachers of English recently held their annual convention. There were many posts about the conference spread about various blogs. One particular post that I wanted to share was from Donalyn Miller at The Book Whisperer, recapping Sarah Mulhern's session about the benefits of reading aloud. There's a nice list of the benefits of classroom read-aloud, as well as a list of websites that Sarah uses to help her to select books for read-aloud (and to which Donalyn has helpfully added links). Clearly, Sarah and Donalyn are kindred spirits when it comes to kids and reading (and kindred spirits of mine, too, though I'm not a teacher). 

Funnybusiness1-660x933 Wired Magazine's GeekDad interviews Leonard Marcus about his new book, Funny Business: Interviews with Writers of Comedy, and why funny books work so well for kids. Here's a snippet: "They want to read funny books more than any other kind — especially kids who don’t think of themselves as readers... It would be interesting if someone just did a “funny shelf.” It would be the most popular shelf in the library."

Literacy & Reading Programs & Research

The Teach Effectively! blog discusses an upcoming American Educational Research Journal article about the different types of early reading instruction needed by children depending on their competency level when entering kindergarten. "
Susan Sonnenschein and colleagues reported that kindergartners who enter school with relatively higher competence in literacy benefit more from instruction that emphasizes extracting meaning from what they read but their counterparts who enter kindergarten with lower literacy competence benefit more from instruction that emphasizes decoding. As children progress through the elementary grades, however, the effects of different instructional emphases lessen."

Education Week shares an opinion piece by Dane L. Peters (subscription required to read the full article) about the benefits of letting students choose what they are interested in reading. I certainly agree with the author's conclusion: "Let young people decide what they should read based on where they are in their intellectual development and maturity. It’s the best way to keep them reading." I found this link via tweet from @DonalynBooks (who got it from @englishcomp).

The Rutland Herald recently published a feature story by Christina Kumka about a Rutland school's Annual Literacy Night, as well as their Everybody Wins!-sponsored mentoring program. What I especially liked about the article were some statistics about the mentoring program: "A survey of more than half of the mentors involved in the program last year showed that nearly all the students said their reading mentors helped them read better. Of the parents that responded to the survey, 71 percent said their child's vocabulary skills improved or improved greatly. And of the teachers who responded, 90 percent said because of their mentoring relationship, their students felt that more adults cared about them." Nice!

BBC News reports, in an article by Sean Coughlan, "School improvement in England is being held back by a "stubborn core of inadequate teaching", says the annual report of education watchdog Ofsted." The BBC article cites some questions about the report, and about Ofsted, from various government representatives, however, so the results appear a bit in dispute.

Grants and Donations

FB_logo According to a recent press release, "Holiday shoppers will have the opportunity to give the gift of reading through the Verizon Foundation's annual Season's Readings campaign. The public is invited to take part in the campaign, from Nov. 25 through Dec. 31, by logging on to and making a donation to First Book, a nonprofit organization that provides new books to children in need by distributing the books through local schools, libraries and other nonprofit children's organizations throughout the country. A contribution of just $2 buys a new book. For every donation to First Book through the Web site, Random House Children's Books will make a matching donation of new, free books to First Book (up to 300,000 books)."

Here's a neat little fundraising idea for a literacy program. "Katie Doyle Myers and her 4-year-old son, Finn, love to read together. So when her son asked her what it would be like to read 100 books in a day, she decided to turn that idea into a way to raise money for a Boulder nonprofit called Reading Village. Reading Village promotes literacy in Guatemala... She`s planning to read 100 books, heavy on the super-hero stories, to Finn on Saturday at various locations around Louisville." I love it! You can find more details in this Daily Camera article by Amy Bounds.

Then there's this Sydney Morning Herald story by Debra Jopson about a city school whose children donated more than 2000 books to a tiny school in a poor Aboriginal community. "The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, which organises Share-A-Book, took 8000 books from Sydney and Melbourne to Tennant Creek, ... where about 120 people live in a cluster of houses, the must-haves of city children's lives are absent. There is no mobile phone connection, no home internet, no TV, no library and certainly no book shop. School is a single classroom where all ages learn together." The article quotes children from both ends of the exchange.

Lots of organizations and communities are holding holiday book drives (which is great). There are too many stories for us to link to them all. But I did think that the one from the Statesman Journal and the Marion County (Oregon) Children and Families Commission was particularly compelling. A variety of groups are working together to try to collect 12,000 books in 12 days. The article says things like "Reading is the fundamental skill that opens doors to success in school and in society. Kids who spend their idle time reading for pleasure, as well as reading for learning, are less likely to fall into negative behaviors and to become an economic drain on society" and "Books are as important for nourishment of a child's mind as food is to a child's body." Nice to see a community banding together over these ideas. (Another heart-felt article about the same book drive is here).

Bgca_posplace_logo The Observer (Dunkirk, NY) reports that "With generous support from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, BGCA (Boys & Girls Clubs of America) has teamed up with Developmental Studies Center to implement AfterSchool KidzLit, a proven reading enrichment program for young people in grades K-8. Boys & Girls Club of Northern Chautauqua County is one of 18 organizations across the country selected to benefit from essential after-school educational assistance that emphasizes literacy. Each Club is receiving a $5,000 program implementation grant and an AfterSchool KidzLit kit, including grade- and age-appropriate books and leader's guides."

Booklights That's all I have for you here this week. I also have links to a few articles specifically geared towards parents at Booklights, in my Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere column. I suspect that Terry will also have some last-minute literacy links at The Reading Tub, too. Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Saturday Afternoon Visits: From Holiday Gift Ideas to Musings on Series and Picture Books

I hope that you all had a lovely Thanksgiving. The Kidlitosphere has been relatively quiet of late, but I do have a few links to share with you all this weekend.

Abby (the) Librarian has launched her annual Twelve Days of Giving series, where she "post(s) for twelve days and recommend books for your holiday giving!". She started on Friday with suggestions for buying books and making the world a better place, and added suggestions for a two-year old today.

Booklights See also a fun post from Terry Doherty at Booklights with "ideas for ways to give the gift of reading that don't require batteries, computers, flashcards, or workbooks." I especially liked the section on ways to "promote your little detective". Also at Booklights, Pam Coughlan discusses ways to give a book (a continuing theme that's she's presented at MotherReader over the past few years). In the Booklights post, she shares some common themes, such as giving the book along with a handmade gift certificate for a movie date for a rental or a theater release." 

Liz Burns shares a post about giving books for the holidays at Tea Cozy. The post is a republication of something she wrote for Foreword Magazine a couple of years ago, but it remains timely today. Rather than a list of book suggestions, Liz includes tips for both giving and receiving books (like "Be Obvious About What You Want"). This is a post that many of us will want to quietly share with our friends and relatives.

Cybils2009-150px Speaking of giving books, Anne Levy has gritted her teeth and written her annual Cybils fundraising post. She shares ways that you can, in conjunction with your holiday shopping, send a bit of financial cheer in the direction of the Cybils organization. I also talked about this idea a bit in my post about choosing Cybils books for holiday gifts.

Leila from Bookshelves of Doom is accepting orders for TBR Tallboy #2, a short story magazine featuring stories by a variety of talented writers (including Tanita Davis and Sarah Stevenson from Finding Wonderland). I'm kind of curious about the story on "a pizza delivery guy who has an experience straight out of a pulp-horror magazine".

Speaking of talented writers, Colleen Mondor has an introspective piece at Chasing Ray about how she does (and does not) talk about being a writer when she's at holiday parties. Here's a snippet: "They just shake their heads when you say you are a writer and they laugh a little bit inside. And they look down on you as foolish or flighty or deluded. That doesn't happen though when you say you own airplanes; in fact when you say that they don't have any damn thing to say back at all."

At Maw Books, Natasha has an interesting guest post from author Bonny Becker. Bonny says: "Bad things happen. As a child, I found it scary, intriguing—and encouraging—when bad things happened in books... Now, as a grown-up writer of picture books, I wonder if we’ve gone too far in stripping “bad things” from our mainstream picture books?" She gives some great examples.

At Confessions of a Bibliovore, Maureen muses on series books, and the way that some series ("especially the ones that get up to about four or five books with no end in sight") lose their pull after a few books, while others don't. She asks: "At what point does a series lose the pull, that Oooh, What's S/He Going to Do Now and become More of the Same? What has an author done that has pulled it out for you?". I shared what I think in the comments at Maureen's.

Quick hits:

That's all for today. I'll be back Monday with this week's Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up (prepared with Terry Doherty) and a new post at Booklights. Hope you're all enjoying a restful weekend!

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: Thanksgiving Edition

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. It is sent out once every two weeks (if you are getting daily Feedblitz updates, you might prefer to sign up for the Growing Bookworms newsletter instead, and only receive one email every two weeks). There are currently 973 subscribers to the newsletter. 

Newsletter Update: I have a bit of a light issue for you this week, due to limited blogging time recently. I do have two book reviews, two children's literacy round-ups (details for both at The Reading Tub) and one post with Kidlitosphere news. I also have a post encouraging people to buy Cybils books for the holidays. At Booklights, I have two new installments in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series: Read the Books Your Children Read and Choose Books that Your Children Enjoy.

Reading Update: In the past two weeks, I read one middle grade, two young adult, and two adult titles:
  • Glenn Dakin: Candle Man, Book One: The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance. EgmontUSA. Completed November 15, 2009. Review to come.
  • Aprilynne Pike: Wings. HarperTeen. Completed November 10, 2009. My review.
  • Alexander Gordon Smith: Lockdown: Escape from Furnace. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Completed November 12, 2009. My review.
  • Linwood Barclay: Too Close to Home. Bantam. Completed November 17, 2009. Standalone thriller - sure to please fans of Harlan Coben's standalone novels. I saw the ending coming a ways off, but I enjoyed the ride along the way. Barclay has a nice flair for description.
  • Sean Chercover: Trigger City. Harper. Completed November 22, 2009. Second in a series about Chicago-based private eye Ray Dudgeon. Gritty, authentic, and compelling. I'll look forward to more from this series.

I hope that those of you from the US have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, and that everyone has a safe and peaceful weekend. Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms!

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Choose Cybils Books for the Holidays

Cybils2009-150pxAre you ready to start thinking about holiday shopping?  Are you looking for the perfect gift for your children or grandchildren? Well, might I suggest that the Cybils nomination lists are an excellent source of book recommendations for kids of all ages? We have more than 900 nominated titles from 2009 in categories ranging from picture books to nonfiction to graphic novels. You can view all of the nominated titles, by category, on the Cybils blog.

You can also view a rotating list of Cybils nominees in the gorgeous and handy Cybils 2009 widget, developed by Tracy Grand from JacketFlap. You can view the widget in my right-hand sidebar (scroll down a bit - you'll see the Cybils logo). If you click through from the widget and purchase any of the titles from Amazon, a small commission will go to the Cybils organization. Money raised by these Amazon commissions is used by the Cybils organizers to buy prizes for the winners (last year we bought lovely engraved pens). You can also click a link to purchase from your local bookstore, if you prefer that.

You're also welcome and encouraged to install the Cybils widget on your own blog - you can customize it to choose particular categories, and you can add your own Amazon ID if you prefer (I've left mine using the Cybils Amazon ID, as a small way of showing support for the Cybils - but that is completely up to you). Many thanks to Tracy Grand for putting this widget together.

If you'd prefer shorter, more targeted book lists to choose from, you can find printable versions of the short lists and winners from the 2007 and 2008 Cybils in the upper right-hand corner of the Cybils blog. Many of these titles are, by now, available in paperback. You can print out the lists, and take them to your local bookstore.

I've always felt that one of the biggest benefits that comes out of the Cybils process is these categorized lists of nominees and finalists. I hope that if any of you are planning to buy children's or young adult books for the holidays, you'll take advantage of this resource. And if you're looking for reasons in general to buy books for the holidays, you might check out the Buy Books for the Holidays website (not Cybils affiliated, though there is certainly overlap between Cybils panelists and Buy Books for the Holidays advocates).

Wishing you all a lovely and safe Thanksgiving weekend, and a wonderful start to the 2009 holiday season!

Wings: Aprilynne Pike: Young Adult Fantasy Review

Book: Wings
Author: Aprilynne Pike
Pages: 304
Age Range: 13 and up 

Wings_cover_sidebar I had heard good things about Aprilynne Pike's Wings, first book in a projected four-title series (and already optioned by Disney for a movie starring Miley Cyrus). Wings is the story of a teenage girl named Laurel who is starting school for the first time, after 10 years of homeschooling. Laurel has a bit of trouble adjusting to school - people question her oddly restricted diet, and she finds it nearly impossible to stay indoors all day. Then, just as school is starting to get easier, Laurel discovers an odd bump between her shoulder blades (you may be able to guess from the title what happens next). After that, attempting to fit in becomes much more difficult.

The opening of this book drew me in. I was curious about Laurel, and how she would manage in high school. Here are the first couple of paragraphs:

"Laurel's shoes flipped a cheerful rhythm that defied her dark mood. As she walked through the halls of Del Norte High, people watched her pass with curious eyes.

There's nothing worse than being exactly where you don't want to be. Homeschooling had worked just fine for Laurel over the last ten years; she didn't see any reason for that to change. But her parents were determined to do everything right for their only child. When she was five, that had meant being homeschooled in a tiny town. Apparently, now that she was fifteen, it meant public high school in a slightly less tiny town.

After double-checking her schedule, Laurel found the biology lab and hurried to claim a seat by the windows. If she had to be indoors, she wanted to at least see outside." (Page 1, ARC)

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about Wings, overall. Laurel is a likeable character, and I did find it intriguing watching her discover the truth about her origins. Wings features hidden worlds, suspense and treachery, as well as family loyalty and close parent-child relationships. I think that many Twilight fans will enjoy Wings

However, I personally found the dialog to be a bit stilted, and some of the descriptive passages felt cliched. I won't give examples, since I'm reviewing from the advance copy, and these things may be changed. But Wings definitely felt like a debut novel to me. Also, Pike sets up a love triangle between Laurel, a human boy from school named David, and a mythical character named Tamani. Now, I'm a sucker for a good love triangle. But for me, this particular triangle fell flat. I didn't see why Laurel would be interested in either character, or why David, in particular, was so drawn to Laurel in the first place.  

However, Wings fits in well with the current trend of stories about supernatural beings becoming involved with humans and doing their time in high school. It's nice to have the supernatural being be the girl in this story (after various examples of ordinary teenage girl falling for the attractive vampire or werewolf or fairy). If the 118 customer reviews on Amazon are any indicator, the idea of a seemingly ordinary high school girl suddenly sprouting wings is appealing to many readers. I can see the movie working. Wings has an intriguing premise, and an engaging main character. With the right male leads, the movie is sure to be a hit. I'll be interested to hear what people think of the later books in the series.

Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: May 5, 2009
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final printed book.
Other Blog Reviews: Not Acting My Age, Finding Wonderland, Twisted Quill. Wings is a 2009 nominee for the Cybils in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Lockdown: Escape from Furnace: Alexander Gordon Smith: Young Adult Review

Book: Lockdown: Escape from Furnace
Author: Alexander Gordon Smith (blog)
Pages: 288
Age Range: 13 and up 

9780374324919 Alexander Gordon Smith's Lockdown: Escape from Furnace is set in a dystopian near future in which society has lost patience with teen criminals, meting out life in prison without parole for major offenses. Young (male) offenders are sent to Furnace Penitentiary, a horrific underground prison. From there, they never see the light of day again. Lockdown is the first-person account of Alex Sawyer, new Furnace prisoner, baffled at the terrible turn his life has taken, and looking for a way out.

Lockdown is part dystopian thriller and part horror story - the guardians of Furnace include freakish mutated dogs, which chase after and kill any prisoners who don't get to their cells quickly enough. The men guarding the prison have inhuman attributes, particularly the warden. Furnace has a brooding, supernatural feel, although this is set against more traditional prison characteristics, like bad food, gangs, and the comfort of routine. Here's a snippet from Alex's first view of Furnace:

"The elevator had taken us to the very depths of the prison -- a stretch of bare stone that was easily the size of a soccer field -- and above us as far as we could see lay its tortured, twisted interior. Furnace certainly deserved its name. The walls were made from the very rock of the earth, their surfaces rough and red, and the half-light of the room made them flicker as if they were on fire." (Page 52, ARC)

Smith employs a fast-paced, dramatic style that makes the pages fly by. The tension rarely lets up. I think that teenage boys will find Lockdown compelling, and will identify with Alex, a reluctant hero. All of Alex's emotions - fear, regret, determination - are immediately accessible on the page. The first page, after a breathless prologue set in Furnace, hooked me right into Alex's story:

"I can tell you the exact moment that my life went to hell.

I was twelve, two years ago now, and there was trouble at school. No surprise there, I came from a rough part of town and everybody wanted to be a gangster. Each lunchtime the playing field became a battleground for the various groups of friends. Most of the war was fought with words -- we'd call each other names, we'd tell one gang to move out of our area (we had control of the jungle gym, and we weren't going to give it up). I didn't realize until much later how like a prison school can be." (Page 7, ARC)

I don't know about you, but I wanted to know more. I ended up reading the rest of the book in one quick sitting. I didn't flag very many passages, because I was reading in "what happens next?" mode. However, when I flipped back through the book, I found the writing to be descriptive and, sometimes, moving, as well as compelling. I also found the premise of the book, about teen criminals essentially thrown away to a hellish prison, timely, in light of current Supreme Court deliberations regarding life sentences for juvenile offenders.

Lockdown is probably not for everyone. It's quite grim, and occasionally grotesque. But there are flashes of humanity and humor sprinkled through the book that keep it readable. I think that it would make a great next choice for fans of The Maze Runner, The Grassland Trilogy (reviewed here and here), or Lord of the Flies. As for me, I'm looking forward to future books (Lockdown: Escape from Furnace is the first of a planned trilogy). Recommended for dystopia, thriller, and horror fans, or anyone looking for a fast-paced, spine-chilling ride.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: October 27, 2009
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be compared against the final printed book.
Other Blog Reviews: TheHappyNappyBookseller, Squeaky Books, In Bed with Books, The Book Smugglers

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up: November 23

Jpg_book008 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 found the literacy and reading news a bit light, but we still have some tidbits for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; and grants, sponsorships & donations.

Terry_readingtubfinal_1I especially liked the story, suggested by Jenny Schwartzberg, about a program from Argentina called the Storytelling Grandmother's Programme, through which volunteers read to children from underprivileged neighborhoods. I agree with Jenny that programs like this are a great idea.  

ReachOutAndRead Also, I just received word this morning from Matt Ferraguto of Reach Out and Read that:

"Reach Out and Read, the evidence-based early literacy initiative that helps doctors and nurses prepare young children to succeed in school, unveiled its brand-new national website. The new website boasts new literacy materials, new research data on early literacy and reading aloud, and many new ways to get involved. In addition, the website features a new portal specifically designed for parents and educators, containing dozens of book lists for children of all ages, organized by special occasions (first day of school, going to the dentist, getting a new baby brother, etc.) and times of the year (Thanksgiving, Independence Day, and Chanukah). The portal for parents and educators also provides detailed information on the importance of reading aloud, doctor-recommended reading tips, and developmental milestones of early literacy in three languages."

I checked out the new site, and I think that it's a great resource, with reading tips, literacy milestone information, and book recommendations for kids and parents. It's well worth a look.

Booklights I also have a new post up today at Booklights, the third in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series. This week's tip is about choosing books that your children enjoy. I did receive quite a few encouraging responses to last week's tip, about reading the books that your children read (with special thanks to Dawn for writing about the series at Moms Inspire Learning). 

I'll be back next Monday (after leaving the heavy lifting to Terry for way too long) with another children's literacy and reading news roundup here, and some links dedicated to raising readers at Booklights. Wishing you all a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Sunday Visits: November 22: Kidlitosphere News and Views

Happy Sunday, all! Sorry I've been so absent from the blog lately. I've had a tough time recovering from my recent travels, and I've been a bit under the weather to boot. This weekend, I did finally manage to make it through all of the blog posts in my reader (though some amount of skimming was required). Here are a few (mostly from this past week - everything older than that started to feel like old news):

There are too many wonderful interviews from this week's Winter Blog Blast Tour for me to highlight them all. But I did especially enjoy Shelf Elf's interview of Laini Taylor, as well as 7-Imps' interview of Laini's husband, Jim Di Bartolo. Their daughter Clementine Pie is adorable. You can find the complete set of links to the WBBT interviews at Chasing Ray (home of WBBT organizer Colleen Mondor). See also Liz B's background piece on the WBBT at Tea Cozy. I also enjoyed Mary Ann Scheuer's interview with Annie Barrows, which included tidbits about Annie's reading with her own kids.

Speaking of Laini and Jim, they did not, alas, win the National Book Award for Young People's Literature (for which Lips Touch was shortlisted). Kudos to the winner, Phillip Hoose, for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, a true-life account of the 15-year-old African-American girl who refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in March 1955.

Cybils2009-150pxThe Cybils nominating committee panelists are reading away. And Cybils tech guru Sheila Ruth reports at Wands and Worlds that "Tracy Grand of Jacketflap has once again created this terrific Cybils nominee widget. It rotates through the Cybils nominees and displays a different one each time the page is loaded. You can get the widget for your own blog here." See also Sheila's post at the Cybils blog about publisher love for the Cybils, and our thanks to the many publishers and authors providing review copies for the Cybils process. Sheila has been doing an amazing job as this year's Publisher Liaison.

Betsy Bird also links to various write-ups about the recent Children's Literary Cafe at the New York Public Library (focused on the Cybils).

Posts about holiday gift-giving are already proliferating. I especially liked this Semicolon post with book ideas for eight and twelve-year-old girls, and this post at The Miss Rumphius Effect with gifts for readers and writers. Elaine Magliaro also has a fabulous list of Thanksgiving-related resources at Wild Rose Reader.

Kidlitosphere_button Pam shares the results of the KidLitCon09 charity raffle at MotherReader. She says: "With more than five hundred dollars raised with the charity raffle at KidlitCon, we gave two projects at Donors Choose a huge boost. Now with additional contributors, both DC school literacy projects have been fully funded!" She shares teachers' notes from both programs.

I've seen a couple of responses to Betsy Bird's article about Amazon's Vine program. Maureen has some excellent thoughts at Confessions of a Bibliovore on what it means to review in a professional manner, whether on a blog or not. Roger Sutton from Read Roger, on the other hand, just thinks that blog reviews are too long.

Kate Coombs has a very detailed post at Book Aunt about books that are currently popular with kids. After discussing many of the usual suspects, she says: "I'll conclude my report on the coolest of the cool. It's kind of like watching the popular kids at school. Sometimes you wonder why they're popular when they seem so ordinary, or even, in some cases, so unappealing. On the other hand, there are times it makes sense. Some of the popular kids are truly extraordinary, and their singular status seems completely deserved."

Quick hits:

That's all for today. It's nice to be feeling a bit more caught up on my reader, I'll tell you that. More soon...

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up: November 16

Jpg_book008 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. I've been traveling for most of the past week, but Terry Doherty has stepped up to the plate, and has tons of news about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; and grants, sponsorships & donations. 

Terry_readingtubfinal_1Sorry that my blog and Twitter account and Facebook page have been so sparse for the past few days. I find when I'm traveling I can barely even keeep up with email. But I should be back up to speed by the end of this week. Meanwhile, please check out the new literacy news from Terry. I'm looking forward to digging in and reading the whole thing when I have a bit more time.

Booklights I do have a new post up today at Booklights, the second post in my new series on Tips for Growing Bookworms. This week's tip is about reading the books that your children read. This is a tip that I learned from the first-hand experiences of friends, and have also found to work well with my young friends and nieces. Of course I know that many of my blog readers are avid fans of children's literature anyway, so this will be something that you're already doing. But I hope that you enjoy the post anyway.  

Or, if you're more interested in author interviews, the Winter Blog Blast Tour starts today. Colleen Mondor has the full WBBT schedule at Chasing Ray. The WBBT is a coordinated series of interviews, across a group of children's and young adult book blogs. Unlike a typical "blog tour", in which one author visits a series of blogs, the WBBT participants work with a carefully selected range of authors, to provide a diverse reading experience with something for everyone.

Happy reading!

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: November 9

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. It is sent out once every two weeks (if you are getting daily Feedblitz updates, you might prefer to sign up for the Growing Bookworms newsletter instead, and only receive one email every two weeks). There are currently 961 subscribers to the newsletter. (I know that it's just a number, but I'm really hoping to get to 1000 by the end of the year.)

Newsletter Update: In this issue, I have three book reviews, two children's literacy round-ups (one here and one at The Reading Tub) and three posts with Kidlitosphere news. I also have a post about a nice list of children's literature blogs from School Library Journal. Not included in the newsletter, I have:

Reading Update: In the past two weeks, I read two middle grade and two young adult titles:
  • Angie Sage: Queste (Septimus Heap, Book 4). Katherine Tegen Books. Completed November 3, 2009. My review.
  • Angie Sage: Syren (Septimus Heap, book 5). Katherine Tegan Books. Completed November 6, 2009. My review.
  • Diana Peterfreund: Rampant. HarperTeen. Completed October 29, 2009. My review.
  • Jordan Sonnenblick: After Ever After. Scholastic. Completed November 1, 2009. My review.

I have a trip for work coming up later this week which means that A) I'll probably get some reading done on airplanes; but B) posting on the blog will be sparse for the next few days. Hopefully I'll be able to get back up to speed on reviews after that. I have a huge stack of picture books awaiting my attention.

How about you? What have you been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms!

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Queste and Syren (Septimus Heap 4 and 5): Angie Sage: Middle Grade Book Review

Book: Queste (Septimus Heap, Book 4) and Syren (Book 5)
Author: Angie Sage
Illustrator: Mark Zug
Pages: 624,
Age Range: 9-12

I recently read the fourth and fifth books in Angie Sage's Septimus Heap series. I never reviewed books 1 through 3, although I enjoyed them, because I listened to them on audio (and I find I need to be able to flip back through flagged passages to write a proper review). The Septimus Heap books are a solid middle grade fantasy series, well-suited to kids who like the early Harry Potter books or Sarah Prineas' Magic Thief series. They are light and fun, filled with lush descriptions and humorous moments. While the characterization isn't as deep as, say, that of the Harry Potter books, Sage has a knack for capturing bad guys and characters of decidedly mixed motives.

The Septimus Heap books are set in a wholly fictional country with castles and wizards and ghosts and a series of ice tunnels that run below ground. Book 1, Magyk, introduces the Heap family, their adopted daughter, Jenna, and the seventh son, Septimus, who was spirited away at birth, and is believed by the family to be dead. Parallel story lines follow Jenna, an orphan called Boy 412, and a young apprentice to a dark wizard. There are assassination attempts, secret identities, diabolical villains, and, of course, magical spells and potions. Other books in the series flesh out various characters and add elements such as time travel, dragons, and alchemy. While major elements are resolved in each book, other threads are left open, to be continued from story to story.

9780060882075 Book 4, Queste, begins as Septimus, Jenna, and Septimus' friend Beetle set out to rescue Septimus' brother Nicko and his friend Snorri, who were lost in the past after an incident with a time-travel mirror. A time-traveling alchemist is able to give them a clue as to Nicko and Snorri's whereabouts, but a dangerous quest is required.

I found Queste to be a bit darker than the earlier books in the series. There's a long, bleak trek through a winter wood, for example. And Septimus' fate lies under a cloud for much of the book. However, there are also lighter elements, such as Beetle's growing crush on Jenna, and another character's addiction to licorice. Here are a couple of passages that I flagged as representative of the feel of the book:

"He stopped and took a last look at the broad sweep of the Castle below him before he descended once more into his bright basement. It was breathtakingly beautiful. The moon was riding high in the sky, casting its cool, white light across the rooftops and sending long shadows down the streets far below. A myriad of pinpoint candlelights glittered across the vast expanse of the Castle, in a way that Ephaniah had never seen before." (Page 318, paperback edition)

"Septimus sat next to Beetle and looked through his Physik tin with anticipation. At last he was getting a chance to try out the Physik he had learned on a real patient. Beside him his unwitting patience dozed peacefully on the floor of the tree house, pale but breathing steadily." (Page 488, paperback)

9780060882105 Book 5, Syren, picks up the very day after the end of Queste. While returning from their previous quest, Septimus, Jenna, and Beetle find themselves stranded on a mysterious island, an island inhabited by a Syren. They eventually cross paths with Septimus' old friend Wolf Boy, traveling unexpectedly with Lucy Gringe (girlfriend to Septimus' bad apple of an older brother), and have to fight off multiple terrifying enemies.

I liked Syren better than Queste - there's a bit  more character development, and I preferred the island setting to the forest of the previous book. It's a nice combination of idyllic and menacing. I enjoyed Jenna's relationship with her usually absent father ("Jenna fought back the urge to kick him" - Chapter 17), as well as the baby steps taken by prior bad guy Simon towards rehabilitation. Here are a couple of quotes that caught my eye:

"It was a bright, blustery spring day in the Marram Marshes. The wind had blow away the early-morning mist and was sending small white clouds scudding high across the sky. The air was chilly; it smelled of sea salt, mud and burned cabbage soup." (Chapter 2) (Can't you just feel this scene?)

"Spit Fyre had flown a very agitated Marcia Overstrand all the way to the House of Foryx without a single mistake. Given the fact that Marcia had got the basic dragon-direction instructions completely backward, this was quite an achievement. Marcia naturally believed it was her innate dragon-riding skills that had gotten them safely there, but in fact it was down to Spit Fyre's innate ExtraOrdinary Wizard-ignoring skills." (Chapter 13)

In general, the adults in this series are presented with a sort of benign, affectionate ridicule, while the kids, though flawed, too, are the real forces to be reckoned with. This is as it should be for this type of book, I think. Sage's writing style is a nice combination of light-hearted humor and multi-sensory description.

Both books featured a wrap-up chapter at the end, with sections giving some additional background, and filling in details of what happened to particular characters. I found these sections anti-climactic and distracting (and I don't recall whether or not the first three books did this, too), though some useful information was conveyed. There's also a tendency for the plotting in the Septimus Heap books to rely on coincidence (Oh look, there's Wolf Boy, turning up on the deserted island that we're stranded on. How fun!). But those are minor points. I still think that the Septimus Heap books are fun, kid-friendly stories that will please middle grade fantasy fans. Recommended.

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: March 31, 2008 and September 9, 2009
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: The Bookette, Melissa, Bookworm Blogger

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up: November 9

Jpg_book008 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; literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; and grants, sponsorships & donations.

Terry_readingtubfinal_1Terry's added a special section to the roundups, which we'll have for the rest of the year: Literacy & Book-centric Holiday Events and Activities. I'm guessing that this section will expand as we move forward. Especially interesting in this week's 21st Century Literacies section is a new service that Terry found called the Storybook Research Project. Terry says:

"Well, Nokia just blew my idea for making a personal digital recording reading a book out of the water. It seems that they have partnered with the Sesame Street Workshop to “create an interactive reading experience that can involve grandparents and grandchildren no matter how far apart they may find themselves. The Storybook research project melds the tactile and visual pleasures of reading a real book with video conferencing technology which allows distant relatives to take an active part in a child’s literacy development.”"

Booklights I have some additional links for parents focused on raising readers at Booklights today, in my Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere column. Next week, I'll have Item #2 in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series (Tip #1, about reading aloud, is here).

I'll be traveling later this week, so Terry is going to host next week's children's literacy and reading news roundup at Scrub-a-Dub-Tub. How I ever kept up these roundups before I started partnering with her, I do not know. Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms!