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Posts from March 2011

Bubble Trouble: Margaret Mahy

Book: Bubble Trouble
Author: Margaret Mahy
Illustrator: Polly Dunbar
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

Cover Margaret Mahy's Bubble Trouble has been on my radar since it won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Best Picture Book in 2010 (and because bubbles are fun!). Therefore, I was thrilled to receive a copy of the new board book edition from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I read it aloud to Baby Bookworm immediately, and enjoyed it immensely.

Bubble Trouble is a rhyming story about a baby who accidentally blows away in a bubble and the mismatched community of people who try to save him. It's a string of tongue twisters, but I personally found it to fall just this side of read-aloud-able (though you might want to practice before reading it at, say, a library storytime). The text in fact begs to be read aloud, using as rapid a reading pace as possible. It's a ridiculous, funny story, but also suspenseful.

I loved Mahy's mix of advanced vocabulary and nonsense words. For example:

"The baby didn't quibble. He began to smile and dribble,
for he liked the wibble-wobble of the bubble in the air."


"In a garden folly, Tybal and his jolly mother, Sybil,
sat and played a game of Scrabble, shouting shrilly as they scored.
But they both began to babble and to scrobble with the Scrabble
as the baby in the bubble bibble-bobbled by the board."

There are tons of great words and phrases, like "cavorting", "grapple", and "nefarious intentions", to go along with the bubble "wibble-wobbling" and "bibble-bobbling" overhead. It's just ... wonderful. And fun to read aloud. I want to read it over and over again.

Polly Dunbar's illustrations are perfect for the book. Scrabble tiles, quilt squares, and apple cores bounce about along the pages, echoing the jubilant movements of the baby's bubble (illustrated by a blue dashed line that runs through every page). There's a nice mix of characters, without there being any overt emphasis on diversity. And the quilt that plays a major part in the story is a gorgeous mix of blues and purples - any child would want it.

Bubble Trouble is a top-notch picture book, perfect for in-home or library read-aloud. Toddlers are sure to appreciate the humor in the story, as well as the rhyming and alliteration that bubble through the text. I haven't seen the regular picture book edition, but the medium-sized, sturdy board book is excellent for lap read-alouds (though a bit thick for chewing).

Bubble Trouble has my highest recommendation among picture books. It's not going on the shelf at all, but straight into the reading nest in the sofa. Don't miss it!

Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication Date: April 6, 2009 (original edition)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher (new board book edition)

© 2011 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 Roundup: March in Review

JkrROUNDUPI'm a bit late in reporting this, but the end of March children’s literacy and reading news roundup (brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub blog, and Rasco from RIF) is now available at Rasco from RIF. Carol Rasco shares some fun literacy news from March, as well as a host of literacy and reading-related events for April, May, and June.

Carol's comments regarding required reading by kids and whether or not their are books that all kids "must" read resonated with me. Like Carol, I agree with Monica Edinger that "anytime I see some sort of urgent recommendation that you MUST or HAVE TO or SHOULD read/view/see/do anything I get grumpy." The trick is to find books that will keep kids interested in reading, and those are going to be different books for different kids. [And for someone who really puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to this philosophy, see Read Aloud Dad's latest post about the Horrible Histories.]

Dress Of course I was also thrilled to see Carol's news about a new Maurice Sendak picture book coming out this fall. And I loved seeing the Little Golden books dress that Carol is coveting for RIF's May gala. If I lived in Boston, perhaps I'd wear it to Reach Out and Read's "Read Romp + Rock" gala on April 8th [more information is available on the event registration website.] 

I'll be back next week with more literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; and suggestions for growing bookworms. Thanks for reading! 

Clackers Series for Babies

Books: Clackers series
Illustrator: Luana Rinaldo 
Pages: 12
Age Range: 1-3

Monkey We're enjoying the Clackers series, illustrated by Luana Rinaldo. We have Crocodile and Monkey (there are several others, too). These are small board books for babies that come with a little handle at the end (the monkey's tail in the picture to the left). Babies can grasp the handle, and then shake the book, and the thick pages clack together and make a noise. Baby Bookworm (at 11 months) picked up on that right away. Also, because the pages are thick (with foam padding between them), she finds it easy to turn the pages, and chew on them.

Crocodile The stories are pretty minimal - there are only a few pages in each book - but they're nice for reading interactively. For example, Crocodile features a baby crocodile looking for her mother. Each page asks something like "Is she under the shiny leaves?" The child can see, peeking through the leaves, something that is clearly not a crocodile, and try to guess what it is.

The illustrations are simple and colorful, with lots of purple and pink and orange. Although a bit cartoon-like, the animals are still clearly baby animals (something in their proportions and expressions). I think that the monkey is especially cute. The books are connected, so that the crocodile is a minor character in the other books (and so on). Though Baby Bookworm will probably outgrow these fairly quickly, she is finding them fun now. I just bought some for a birthday gift for one of her friends. MotherReader likes them, too.

Publisher: Robin Corey books
Publication Date: January 2011
Source of Book: Review copies from Random House

© 2011 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).

Board Books for Bedtime

Here are a few board books that we're enjoying as bedtime reads (in addition to Amy Hest's Kiss Good Night, which I reviewed previously):

SleepmyloveIt's Time to Sleep My Love written by Eric Metaxas and illustrated by Nancy Tillman. Feiwel & Friends. January 2011. Review copy. This board book (a picture book version is also available) features Nancy Tillman's illustrations of a lullaby written by Eric Metaxas. It almost reads more like a love song for adults than a story for children, particularly in the advanced vocabulary (words like "croon" and "utters"). There are passages like:

Your dreams will be arriving soon.
They'll float to you
in sleep's balloon.


The otter utters by the lake,
"It's getting hard to stay awake."

Definitely poetic - if a bit above the heads of the youngest readers. However, the illustrations for It's time to Sleep, My Love are simply gorgeous. Some of them, particularly one of tigers, would make lovely posters for a child's room. The colors are mostly dark, as befits the nighttime setting, but a few pages have lovely deep gold tones.

MaxGoodnight Max by Rosemary Wells. Viking. February 2000. Gift. Goodnight Max is part of Rosemary Wells' Max and Ruby series. It's a simple little book in which Max experiences various distractions that keep him from going to sleep. Big sister Ruby is a calm presence keeping things running smoothly. When Max spills a glass of water, Ruby is there with a towel and clean pajamas, etc. [As the oldest of four children, I personally identify with Ruby, though I have great affection for Max.] Of course Max settles down in the end.

One nice thing about the board book edition is that each page has something to touch, lift, and/or smell. It's not a busy, flap-filled book. Just a little something to engage the young listener on each page, like a window that lifts up, or a curtain that flaps in the nighttime breeze.

The language is perfect for young readers, with short sentences, and lots of easy to understand yet descriptive words. For example:

Max couldn't stand it.
Up went the window.
Out went the clock.
In flew a fly.

Buzz buzz went the fly.
Tickle tickle went the curtain.

Goodnight Max is just plain fun to read aloud, a favorite of both Mommy and Baby Bookworm. We have some other Max and Ruby books on our wish list.

Bookofsleep A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na. Knopf. September 2009. Review copy. We actually have this one in picture book and board book editions, and I'm happy to have both. It starts:

When the sky grows dark
and the moon glows bright,
everyone goes to sleep...

... except for the watchful owl.

Then each page spread shows different ways that animals sleep, some quiet, some standing up, some alone, and some together. The text is quite minimalist, like this:

Some sleep peacefully alone,

(next page)

While others sleep all together,
huddled close at night.

Excellent for a late-night reading, when you don't want to get too bogged down with details or definitions.

Na's illustrations are unconventional and beautiful. The picture book version explains that they "were created by combining handmade painterly textures with digitally generated layers, which were then compiled in Adobe Photoshop." The result is images like that of a sleeping elephant covered in a muted floral pattern, with little line sketches in the background of other elephants.

It's hard to even describe, but eye-catching and distinctive. More noticeable in the full picture book edition than the board book edition - the watchful owl makes an appearance on most of the other page spreads. The picture book is better for really taking in the details of the pictures, but the board book version is perfect for snuggling on the couch, and holding the book with one hand. I think this is going to remain one of our favorites.

Timeforbed Time for Bed written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Jane Dyer. Harcourt. September 1997. Gift. This is another one that we have in both picture book and board book editions, though we are mostly reading the board book edition right now. Time for Bed is written in rhyming couplets that each feature a baby animal going to sleep. Like:

It's time for bed, little fish, little fish,
So hold your breath and make a wish.

I woke up this morning thinking of:

It's time to sleep, little pup, little pup,
If you don't sleep soon the sun will be up.

The text is soothing and repetitive, and offers a window into some of the names that baby animals are called (like foal), though for the sake of the rhyme and rhythm, some animals are just called by their adult name (e.g. cat vs. kitten, deer vs. fawn). Mem Fox has a gift for at writing text that gets into your head and stays there, in a good way (like Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, one of my go-to gift books).

Jane Dyer's illustrations are as cozy and snug as the text, with each little animal lovingly tended by a parent. I especially like the little mouse, pink and sleepy-eyed, snug in a tree-root house.

Kiss And those, with Kiss Good Night, are our current favorite bedtime board books. What are we missing? What are your family's favorites?

© 2011 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).

Five Favorite Fictional Houses from Children's Literature: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on October 19, 2009.

Five Favorite Fictional Houses from Children's Literature

Lots of people responded positively to my recent post about favorite fictional towns from children's literature [here I'm referring to people who responded to the original Booklights post]. A number of people commented and Twittered to share their favorites. Carol Rasco (from RIF) mentioned Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden. And I thought "great suggestion, that's one of my favorite houses from children's literature." And that, naturally enough, led me to thinking about my other favorite fictional houses. In the interest of fairness (or at least of not being overly repetitive), I've excluded any authors who I previous mentioned in my favorite fictional towns or favorite fictional rooms posts. And yes, that excludes Hogwarts, because I've already mentioned Hogsmeade, and Green Gables, because I've already mentioned Avonlea, and the many great houses created by Elizabeth Enright and Zilpha Keatley Snyder. There are still lots of wonderful houses to choose from. In each case, I've decided to let the author describe the house in question. After all, they can do this far better than I could.

Secret Garden.jpg1. Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden (with thanks to Carol Rasco) by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

"Not but that it's a grand big place in a gloomy way, and Mr. Craven's proud of it in his way--and that gloomy enough, too. The house is six hundred years old and it's on the edge of the moor, and there's near a hundred rooms in it, though most of them's shut up and locked. And there's pictures and fine old furniture and things that's been there for ages, and there's a big park round it and gardens and tree with branches trailing to the ground--some of them." (Chapter 2, Mistress Mary Quite Contrary, description by Mrs. Medlock)

2. The Hall family's house in Concord, MA from Jane Langton's The Diamond in the Window (reviewed here).

"All of the other houses on the street were neat square white buildings with dark shutters and simple pitched roofs. Out from among them mushroomed the Halls' house like an exotic tropical plant in a field of New England daisies. It was a great wooden Gothic Byzantine structure, truly in need of painting. Big as it was, it looked airy and light, as though the wind might pick it up and carry it away. Screened porches ballooned and billowed out of it all around, and domes and towers puffer up at the top as though they were filled with air." (Chapter Two, The Hidden Chamber)

Hobbit.jpg3. Bag End, Bilbo's house (later Frodo's house) from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

"It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats -- the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill -- The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it -- and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another." (Chapter 1: An Unexpected Party, The Hobbit)

LionWitchWardrobe.jpg4. The Professor's house from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.

"It was the sort of house that you never seem to come to the end of, and it was full of unexpected places. The first few doors they tried led only into spare bedrooms, as everyone had expected that they would; but soon they came to a very long room full of pictures and there they found a suit of armor; and after that was a room all hung with green, with a harp in one corner; and then came three steps down and five steps up, and then a kind of little upstairs hall and a door that led out onto a balcony, and then a whole series of rooms that led into each other and were lined with books--most of them very old books and some bigger than a Bible in a church." (Chapter One, Lucy Looks Into a Wardrobe)

LittleHouseBigWoods.jpg5. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. (This house is technically not fictional, but since the series is generally shelved as fiction, I'm going to allow it.)

"Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.

The great, dark trees of the Big Woods stood all around the house, and beyond them were other trees and beyond them were more trees. As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them." (Page 1-2)

I think it's telling that all five of the passages quoted above are from the first chapter or two. These houses play a central part in the books in question. In thinking about these houses (and the ones from my other posts), it's clear that my favorite fictional houses fall into two basic categories: big houses with lots of corridors and cupolas and hidden surprises, and homes that evoke a cozy, safe feeling. How about you? What do you look for in a favorite fictional house? Do you crave turrets and long passageways to explore? Or do you care more about finding a cozy nest?

This post was originally published at Booklights on October 19, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: March 22

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 and young adult books and raising readers. There are 1372 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this relatively short issue I have four book reviews (1 picture book and 3 middle grade books) and one post introducing a new board book series. I also have a Booklights reissue post about favorite fictional towns from children's literature.

ShareAStoryLogo-color There are no children's literacy round-ups this time around. Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco, and I took a break from the mid-month round-up because we put so much energy into the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour. Terry recently put together a detailed post with links to the many Share a Story posts celebrating the Gift of Literacy. I can't recommend these posts highly enough - many excellent bloggers and literacy advocates contributed personal stories and inspiration, as well as concrete suggestions, for unwrapping the gift of literacy. I hope you'll check it out!

Not included in the newsletter this week, I shared:

Book Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I finished only two books (besides picture books and board books, see those here. We just passed 400 books read to Baby Bookworm for the year):

I've just started listening to the latest book in Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series, Bury Your Dead. I'm reading D.E. Stevenson's Celia's House aloud to Baby Bookworm (no, it's not a children's book, but she hasn't complained - this is one of my favorite comfort reads).  

How about you? What have you been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms.

© 2011 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).

All the Way to America: Dan Yaccarino

Book: All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
Author/Illustrator: Dan Yaccarino 
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

All-the-way-america-small-cover All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and Little Shovel is the story of Dan Yaccarino's family. He says: "Some parts have been condensed a bit, but it's all true. And all Italian." All the Way to America starts with Yaccarino's great-grandfather, Michele Iaccarino, growing up on a farm in Sorrento, Italy.

"When he was a boy, his father gave him a little shove so he could help tend the zucchini, tomatoes, and strawberries that his family sold in the village."

That little shovel passes from father to son, all the way down to the author's own children. The reader sees the shovel (and Yaccarino's family members) travel to Ellis Island, Little Italy in New York, a family market, the suburbs, an Italian restaurant, a barbershop, and, eventually, an artist's small terrace back in New York City.

All the Way to America is a portrait of an Italian-American immigrant family. The jobs change, from street peddler to, over time, children's author and illustrator. The family's fortunes improve. But the importance of family, and the family spaghetti sauce, remain constant.

The little shovel is a concrete symbol linking the modern-day children all the back to their ancestors in Sorrento. It works as a literary device, and helps the reader to make an emotional connection to the story. I was so happy to see Yaccarino's son playing with that little shovel on the last page that it brought a tiny tear to my eye. Like, this family made it, values intact. And the shovel made it, too.

This book could have self-indulgent - an author sharing his own family history. But it's not. The details make the Yaccarino family real, but the whole tone of the book gives them a universality, too. When I read this book to my half-Armenian Baby Bookworm, it's going to make me want to tell her about her grandparents coming to America from Aleppo. Given that most of us came from somewhere else, if we look back far enough, this book is sure to have broad appeal.

Yaccarino's gouache on watercolor paper illustrations are warm and friendly. There's a family resemblance apparent between the generations, and it's neat to see younger and older versions of some of the family members, as the story progresses. Young Dan is particularly fun to watch - his glasses make him easy to pick out in all of the pictures.

My favorite illustration is of Dan's dad, Mike, using the little shovel to pour rock salt over the sidewalk, looking into the window of his barbershop to smile at his pregnant wife, Elaine. The affection feels real.

Dan Yaccarino also wrote and illustrated The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau, which I reviewed here, and liked very much. But All the Way to America: the Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel, this book I love. It's destined to become a classic. Highly recommended, for kids and their parents.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 8, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 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).

A Million Miles from Boston: Karen Day

Book: A Million Miles from Boston
Author: Karen Day
Pages: 224
Age Range: 9-12

Million I have a weakness for books about girls on the cusp of adolescence, about to start middle school. I loved Jenny Han's Shug, Danette Haworth's Violet Raines Almost Got Hit by Lightning, and Karen Day's No Cream Puffs. When I learned that Day's upcoming novel, A Million Miles from Boston, is aimed at that same age range, I decided to take a look. I liked the title, too!

Apprehensive about the changes that starting middle school will bring, Lucy basks in the comfort of spending the summer at her family's cabin in Maine. At the cabin, everything has been the same for years, and Lucy's memories of her dead mother loom large. Lucy is particularly happy to be leaving behind her nemesis, Ian, and her father's new girlfriend, Julia. She is far from thrilled when Ian turns out to be her new neighbor, and Julia turns out to be a regular visitor. A million miles is apparently not quite far enough away from Boston...

The setting is in A Million Miles from Boston is perfect - you can practically smell the salt, feel the cold of the water, and hear the screen doors creaking. I loved the idea of this little enclave of cabins, with neighbors who have known each other for years, and kids running around playing their own special version of freeze tag. I envied Lucy, having a place like that to spend her summers. Here are a couple of passages, to give you a feel for the setting:

"We moved up the walkway and pushed open the door. The porch was cool and smelled like mildew, but it was the best smell ever. My shoulders relaxed and warmth oozed into my arms. For two months it would be the four of us, doing what we did every summer... Everything was as we had left it: Grandma's framed needlepoints on the walls, Granddad's clock on the mantel, the crocheted afghan on the couch. The torn wallpaper. The driftwood lamp. The room hadn't changed since Dad was a boy." (Page 17, ARC)

"I looked up. Millions of stars were little white pinpricks in the dark sky, as far as I could see. Below me the dock creaked and the water lapped against the shore and the moored boats.
Back in Boston, when I couldn't sleep, I thought about nights like this up here. Quiet. Beautiful. Peaceful. I took a deep breath, the warm salt air filling my lungs." (Page 67, ARC)


Maybe it was because I envied her summer cabin (joke), but I did find myself getting a bit impatient with Lucy as I read this book (true). I kind of wanted to shake her, to have her get over her various fears and insecurities. It was clear from early on what she was going to have come to terms with the need for change, and that she'd have to work things out with some of the other characters. I found myself wanting her to get on with it. Perhaps I'm just not as good at putting myself in the shoes of an 11 year old reader as I once was. I'll be interested to hear feedback from kids about this book.

I did think that Lucy's pain and confusion over her mother's death were very well done. There's a scene in particular in which Lucy talks with a new neighbor, a woman who also lost her mother at a young age, that is pitch perfect. Lucy is dying for this woman to talk with her more, to ask her more about her mother, to understand something that most people can't understand. And this neighbor, who must have lost her mother 25 years earlier, shows her own emotional scars, too. In A Million Miles from Boston, the lost mother is far from the plot device that it is in many books for kids - it's the very heart of the story.

Despite my occasional impatience with Lucy, I did enjoy this book, especially the ending. And I adored the setting. A Million Miles from Boston is a book that I'll remember for a long time. Recommended for girls getting ready to start middle school, anyone coping with the loss of a mother, or anyone who would like to vicariously spend a summer in a small vacation community on the coast of Maine.

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication Date: April 5, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2011 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).

New Golden Baby Board Book Series

Books: Golden Baby series, including Baby's First BookBaby Farm Animals, Home for a Bunny, and The Poky Little Puppy 
Author: Various, including Margaret Wise Brown, Garth Williams and Janette Sebring Lowrey
Pages: 24
Age Range: 0-3

Bunny The Little Golden books were originally published back in the 40's, inexpensive books designed to make picture books available to a broad range of families. They were small and thin, but written by well-known authors and illustrators, like Garth Williams. Many of the stories, like The Poky Little Puppy and Scuffy the Tugboat, have become enduring classics. 

Baby I have a beautiful anthology containing a dozen Little Golden books (a baby gift from Terry Doherty). I've enjoyed reading those, and will enjoy them even more when Baby Bookworm is older. But anthologies aren't very good for sitting on the sofa, reading aloud to a one-year-old.

Poky' So I was quite pleased the other day when a box arrived from Random House that contained several new "Golden Baby" books. These are board book editions of old Golden Book titles, with the original art and fonts, bound into sturdy little board books with lightly padded covers, all shiny and new. The books currently available in the series are: Baby's First BookBaby Farm Animals, Home for a Bunny, and The Poky Little Puppy. I suspect that other books will follow.

The Poky Little Puppy is pretty text-dense for a board book - quite a bit different from most board books written and published today. Even Baby Farm Animals is more detailed than we might expect from a board book about farm animals today. For example:

Baby Donkey loves to eat juicy carrots.
He is sitting down because he is tired.
Somebody is trying to make him stand up and
follow those carrots tied on the end of a stick.
"I know that trick," he says.

But Baby Donkey, lovingly painted by Garth Williams, is adorably fuzzy, as are the other baby animals. And these books in general are a lovely update on these nostalgic classics. The Golden Baby books are books that grandparents can read to today's grandchildren, and talk about how their own grandparents read the same books to them. All without worrying about babies tearing or eating the pages. I'm delighted to see these baby-friendly editions published, and hope that you will be, too.

[Note: I found them a bit difficult to search for, since there are so many versions of these books. Here are direct links to these editions on Amazon: Baby's First BookBaby Farm Animals, Home for a Bunny, and The Poky Little Puppy.] 

Publisher: Golden Books
Publication Date: January 2011
Source of Book: Review copies from Random House

© 2011 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).

Five Favorite Fictional Towns from Children's Literature: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on September 28, 2009.

Five Favorite Fictional Towns from Children's Literature

Charlie.jpgLast fall, inspired by a post at Charlotte's Library, I wrote about my Five Favorite Fictional Rooms from Children's Literature. That post remains one of my favorites, because it makes me happy just thinking about these favorite fictional rooms (like the chocolate room from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

This weekend, I got to thinking about some of favorite fictional towns from children's literature. These are towns described so perfectly on the page that they feel real. Town that stand out in my memory, and that my childhood self would have loved to visit. Some of my favorites are realistic towns. The only magic that you'll find there is the magic of community. Others are clearly fantastic, from a town for wizards to an underground city to a city in the clouds. But they're all special, in one way or another. Here are my personal top five fictional towns from children's literature, with a couple of honorable mentions at the end.

anneshirleyboxedset.jpg#1: Avonlea, Price Edward Island, Canada. Avonlea is home, of course, of Anne Shirley of Green Gables. Avonlea is a fictional community, albeit one closely based on the towns of L. M. Montgomery's childhood (or so Wikipedia says). Avonlea features Green Gables, Mrs. Rachel Lynde's farm, the school where Anne was first pupil then teacher, and Marilla's church. Avonlea really shines in Anne of Avonlea, as you might expect. Remember the village improvement society, and their mishap with the wrong color paint? I think that my fondness for Avonlea is a side effect of my general fondness for Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Diana, and, of course, Gilbert. When I started thinking about favorite towns from literature, Avonlea was the first to come to mind.

#2: Gone-Away from Elizabeth Enright's Gone-Away Lake books. I wrote about the second Gone-Away book, Return to Gone-Away, recently at Booklights, and also reviewed it here. Gone-Away is a former summer community, located on the shores of a lake degenerated into a swamp, populated by two elderly residents. Here is the reader's first glimpse of Gone-Away: "They both climbed up on the little hulk and looked out over the tops of the reeds, a sea of reeds, beyond which, and around, grew the dark woods. But that was not all. Portia and Julian drew in a breath of surprise at exactly the same instant, because at the northeast end of the swamp, between the reeds and the woods, and quite near to them, they saw a row of wrecked old houses. There were perhaps a dozen of them; all large and shabby, though once they must have been quite elaborate, adorned as they were with balconies, turrets, widows' walks, and lacy wooden trimming. But now the balconies were sagging and the turrets tipsy; the shutters were crooked or gone, and large sections of wooden trimming had broken off. There was a tree sticking out of one of the windows, not into it but out of it. And everything was as still as death." (Chapter 2, Gone-Away Lake). Of course the children learn that Gone-Away is far less forbidding than it first appears. Gone-Away epitomizes summer for me. It will always have a special place in my heart.

All Harry Potter books.jpg#3: Hogsmeade from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Hogsmeade is a magic-filled town, located adjacent to Hogwarts. It includes the Three Broomsticks pub, Honeydukes sweetshop, Madam Puddifoot's tearoom, and, of course, the Shrieking Shack. Hogswarts students aren't allowed to visit Hogwarts until their third year, and even then they need permission from a parent or guardian (a sore spot indeed for a boy with toxic guardians). Millions of children around the world would go to the same lengths Harry does, if it meant that they could drink some butterbeer, or pick up magic tricks at Zonko's joke shop. Happily, they'll have a chance to visit a theme park version of Hogsmeade at Universal Studios next spring. I'm sure that's going to be a huge hit. Though me, I always picture Hogsmeade in the snow.

#4: Ember from Jeanne DuPrau's The City of Ember (with an honorable mention for Sparks, location of the second book in the series). Ember is an underground city, built as a last-ditch effort to protect humanity from a nuclear holocaust. The people living in Ember don't know that there ever was an outside world, and are completely dependent on light bulbs. Here's the opening description of Ember: "In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark. The only light came from great flood lamps mounted on the buildings and at the top of poles in the middle of the larger squares. When the lights were on, they cast a yellowish glow over the streets; people walking by threw long shadows that shortened and then stretched out again. When the lights were off, as they were between nine at night and six in the morning, the city was so dark that people might as well have been wearing blindfolds." (Chapter 1, The City of Ember) Who could read that, and not want to know more about Ember?

BelowTheRoot.jpg#5: Green Sky from the Green Sky Trilogy by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Green Sky is a city build high up in the branches of an enormous forest. The people there wear "shubas", which are garments with wide, wing-like panels. The shubas allow them to glide gently downward in Green Sky's heavy atmosphere (they use ladders and stairways to climb back up). Here's a hint of what Green Sky is like: "He stood on the narrow grundbranch, looking down hundreds of feet, through vast open spaces softly lit by filtering rays of greenish light, bordered and intersected by enormous branches, festooned with curtains of graceful Wissenvine. Shaking out the wing panels of his shuba, the long silken robe worn by all except the youngest infants, he launched himself downward into space." (Chapter 1, Below the Root) I've never forgotten Green Sky, first encountered when I was probably 10 years old. I reviewed the Green Sky Trilogy here.

And finally, here are a few honorable mentions: L. Frank Baum's Emerald City, Astrid Lindgren's Noisy Village, and Laini Taylor's Dreamdark. My fondness for these fictional towns is a testament to the power of literature.

How about you? What are your favorite fictional towns from children's literature? (See the comments on the original post for some great responses.)

This post was originally published at Booklights on September 28, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.

Finalists for Children's Choice Book Awards Announced

I think it's interesting to compare the Children's Choice Awards, which are popularity-based, selected by kids, with the Cybils, in which kids can nominate titles, but the shortlists and winners are selected by bloggers. You certainly see more series titles in the Children's Choice Awards, and fewer little-known gems. But there are some great titles here. Press release via Goodman Media:

Children's Book Council Announces Finalists for Children's Choice Book Awards: Let the Voting Begin!

NEW YORK, NY, March 14, 2011 – The Children’s Book Council (CBC) in association with Every Child A Reader, the CBC Foundation, hosts the fourth annual Children’s Choice Book Awards Program with the announcement of 30 finalists in six categories, including Author and Illustrator of the Year. The Children's Choice Book Awards is the only national children's book awards program where winning titles are selected by young readers of all ages. Children and teens are now able to cast their vote for their favorite books, author, and illustrator at bookstores, school libraries, and at until April 29, 2011.

Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year:

Third Grade to Fourth Grade Book of the Year:

Fifth Grade to Sixth Grade Book of the Year:


Teen Choice Book of the Year:

Author of the Year:

  • Cassandra Clare for Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, Book 1) (McElderry/Simon & Schuster)
  • Suzanne Collins for Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) (Scholastic Press)
  • Jeff Kinney for Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth (Amulet/Abrams)
  • Stephenie Meyer for The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner (Megan Tingley/Little, Brown)
  • Rick Riordan for The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, Book 1) (Disney-Hyperion)

Illustrator of the Year:

  • Robin Preiss Glasser for Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique (HarperCollins)
  • Loren Long for Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters (Knopf/Random House)
  • Nancy Tillman for Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan)
  • David Wiesner for Art & Max (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Mo Willems for Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

William S. and the Great Escape: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Book: William S. and the Great Escape
Author: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Pages: 240
Age Range: 9-12

William Background: I don't usually review books that I listen to on audio, because I find it difficult not to be able to flip back through the book, or include quotes. However, Zilpha Keatley Snyder is one of my favorite authors from my childhood, one whose books have held up for me as an adult. (See my reviews of The Velvet Room and The Changeling, The Ghosts of Rathburn Park, The Green Sky Trilogy, and The Treasures of Weatherby.) And I do have a few things that I want to say about this book. So I'll make a brief attempt.

Review: William S. and the Great Escape is set in the late 1930's. Twelve-year-old William Baggett longs to escape his abusive father and older half-siblings. When the situation reaches a breaking point, William and his three younger siblings decide to run away to their aunt's home on the California coast, 100 miles away. Although they get a bit of help from a new friend, they also find their resourcefulness tested along the way.  

[Side note for Snyder fans. As I was listening to the description of the Baggett family, I found myself thinking "Oh, that reminds me of Ivy's family in The Changeling." Only after having that thought did I remember that The Changeling is another Snyder book, one published a generation ago. I liked knowing that even without thinking about who the author was, I recognized the echo of the family.]

William S. and the Great Escape is filled with details about life during the Great Depression, from Roosevelt's welfare program to the types of toys that could be found in wealthier homes. There are also countless references to Shakespeare - William is a huge fan (hence the "S" that he uses for his middle name), and aspiring actor. These references are woven into the story. For example, when the kids have dead time, William acts out plays to entertain his younger siblings.

I wouldn't say that William S. and the Great Escape brings the historical time period to life in the same way that Jenni Holm's Turtle in Paradise does (see my recent review). It's a different sort of book - more focused on the action of the escape than on the setting. It's a novel that happens to be set in a historical period, rather than a "historical novel", if that makes sense. 

Unlike some of Snyder's other novels, this one has no hint of magic (besides the magic that takes place in The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream). I didn't quite fall in love with William S. and the Great Escape the way I did with The Velvet Room (another Depression-era story) or The Changeling. But I enjoyed William S. and the Great Escape all the same.

I liked William, and felt for his struggles. And really, who wouldn't love a kid who, when running away from home, finds it essential to take his 5 pound Complete Works of Shakespeare with him? I found the "kids on the run on their own" plot engaging, and I think that kids will, too. William S. and the Great Escape reminded me a little bit of Flight of the Doves by Walter Macken, another of my childhood favorites.

I found the resolution of William's great escape quite satisfying. I was even a bit teary-eyed, listening as I drove my car, with Baby Bookworm in the back. I understand from the author's website that a sequel is in the works, and I will certainly want to read that, too. William S. and the Great Escape is solid middle grade fiction, and a must-read book for Zilpha Keatley Snyder fans. Recommended.

Publisher: Atheneum
Publication Date: September 15, 2009
Source of Book: Downloaded it from

© 2011 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).