Previous month:
April 2011
Next month:
June 2011

Posts from May 2011

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: May 31

JRBPlogo-smallToday 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 1402 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have seven book review posts (two picture books, two middle grade, and three young adult) and one children's literacy roundup (published in detail at Rasco from RIF). I also have two Booklights reissue posts: the sixth entry in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series; and a post for Memorial Day weekend about the joys of Outdoor Reading. The only post from my blog during the past two weeks not included in the newsletter was a heartening announcement from the Santa Clara City Library.

Blog Update: In addition to posts on my blog, I completed a couple of maintenance tasks this weekend that I've been meaning to do for a while. I updated my list of Recommended Children's Books by Age Range to included the books that I reviewed over the past year or so. I still need to go through and add many of my recommended picture books and board books (based on my experiences with Baby Bookworm), but at least the Elementary School, Middle School, and High School sections area bit  more up-to-date. I also made a number of additions to my list of Futuristic, Speculative, Science Fiction and Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults (including suggestions that I've been saving from several readers). I hope that people find these useful. You can also find my complete list of reviews (by age range) here.

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I finished five books (besides various picture books and board books, see those here and here):

  • Anne Ursu: Breadcrumbs. Walden Pond Press. Completed May 21, 2011. This book is WONDERFUL. I've written the review, but am saving it until closer to the September publication date.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Completed May 22, 2011. Review to come this week.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Completed May 23, 2011. Review to come this week.
  • Elsbeth Edgar: The Visconti House. Candlewick. Completed May 26, 2011. Review to come this week.
  • Lauren Henderson: Kiss of Death (Scarlett Wakefield #4). Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Completed May 19, 2011. My review.

I'm still listening to The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly (when I'm by myself) and The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (when Baby Bookworm is listening with me in the car). I'm reading Flood and Fire by Emily Diamand, the sequel to Raider's Ransom.

48hbc_new I plan to get some reading done this coming weekend, when I attempt to participate in MotherReader's 6th Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge. The #48HBC is an entire weekend dedicated to reading. The idea is to read as much as you can during a 48-hour period, blog about the books, and network/support other participants. More details are here. I've participated in the past, and the 48HBC is tremendously fun. I say that I'm attempting to participate because, well, I have a one-year-old daughter and a spouse who is on call this weekend. But I'm going to do what I can. Perhaps I'll just read aloud to Baby Bookworm while she plays all day Saturday...

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).

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: May 31

JkrROUNDUP The end of May Children’s Literacy and Reading News Roundup, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Family Bookshelf, The Book Chook, and Rasco from RIF, is now available at Rasco from RIF.

Over the month of May, Carol Rasco, Terry Doherty, Susan Stephenson and I have collected content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; and suggestions for growing bookworms.Carol wraps it all up in a fun-filled, event-filled post this morning, highlighting everything from the May Carnival of Children's Literature to Oprah's last show (with congratulations to First Book for receiving a wonderful gift of books).

Sadly, Carol also has a bunch of new links about the ongoing llibrary closures and budget cuts around the United States. At least she's able to close that section on a potentially positive note by looking at A New Kind of Library. She's also got a host of interesting research links, and fun things to look forward to re: summer reading. Do head on over to read the full post!

Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. We'll be back next week with a bit more news (either here or at The Reading Tub). Meanwhile, stay tuned for the June 1st release of Literacy Lava (a free PDF magazine dedicated to children's books and family literacy).

Outdoor Reading: A Booklights Reissue

SNC00048 This is a post that I originally published at Booklights on Memorial Day in 2009. Since then, I've had many changes in my life (had a baby, bought a new house, stopped writing for Booklights). But I've never wavered in my affection for reading out of doors in beautiful locations. In fact, I recently took a two-day reading retreat for myself. I stayed at a hotel in Half Moon Bay, and spent pretty much all of my daylight hours sitting on the balcony reading, looking up at the ocean from time to time (photo to the left).

So I'd like to launch Memorial Day Weekend 2011 with a reissue of the original post.

Outdoor Reading

Happy Memorial Day! In honor of the holiday that marks (in the US, anyway) the start of summer, I'd like to talk about outdoor reading. I was inspired in this by a recent post at Australian blog The Book Chook. Blogger/reading advocate Susan Stephenson (one of the organizers of the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour from earlier this year) shared several of her favorite childhood reading spots (including "halfway up our huge jacaranda tree"). She closed by asked her readers "Where do you read?".

Part of my response (in the comments) was: "when I was a kid I read in the car (for even the shortest of drives), up in a tree in my yard, on the roof of our house (love those dormer windows), and on a raft in the lake (you have to swim with one arm holding the book up, it's a bit awkward, but worth it)." I SO wish I had photos, especially of the skinny little kid swimming out to a raft, holding a book up in the air.

momson.JPGWhat the most memorable of my childhood reading spots have in common, I realize now, is that they are all out of doors. It's been quite a while since I climbed up into a tree to read. But reading out of doors, particularly in some scenic location, remains one of my greatest joys. I'll go a step further, and say that it's how I recharge, how I heal myself, how I do what I love while remaining connected to the world. (Image credit: photo by taliesin, made available for use at MorgueFile.)

One of the best days that I have ever spent was during a vacation to Bar Harbor, Maine not long after college. We stayed at a tiny hotel with individual cabins, right on the ocean. After several days of hiking together, I sent my boyfriend off on his own one day to tackle another mountain. I spent the entire day on a chaise lounge on a little peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by water and trees, reading. Even now, when things are stressful, I travel back in my head to that oasis of a day. It continues to make me happy. And it's perhaps not a coincidence that on the day, quite a few years later, that the same boyfriend asked me to marry him, he left me sitting on a deck facing the Pacific Ocean, reading, while he was off making preparations.

Something about the outdoor reading actually sharpens my memories of my surroundings. I can still remember what beverages I drank that day in Bar Harbor, and what books I was reading. I can feel the wooden raft on Echo Lake, in New Hampshire, and picture the gray water. I can sketch the way the branches came together on the tree in my side yard. I can smell the tar on the roof. And I'm not a person who is generally blessed with a good memory. Reading and spending time out of doors are far from incompatible. And in fact, they can enhance one another.

GirlReading_Carolina_Antunes.jpgSummer is here, and that means that it's time to start talking about summer reading programs for kids. You can find resources about summer reading here at PBS, at Reading Rockets, and all over the Kidlitosphere (I'll follow up with more links in a future post). But to me, summer reading for kids is about much more than lists of recommended books. It's about more than having time to read books outside of school (although that is a wonderful thing). To me, summer reading is about reading out of doors, on a beach, on a raft, on a sun-warmed rock, in a weathered rowboat, or up in a tree. Summer reading is about the smell of sunscreen and salt and chlorine. It's about feeling the sun on your shoulders, and having to angle the book to reduce the glare. It's about shaking the sand out of your book, and having the lower part of the pages get warped from resting on your wet bathing suit. (Image credit: photo by Carool, made available for use at MorgueFile)

IMG_2627.JPGOne of the marvelous things about books (as Susan mentioned in her post) is how portable and sturdy they are. You can take them anywhere. You can read them in bright sunlight. If you're careful, you can even read them in the middle of the lake. Might I suggest, then, as you plan your family's outdoor events for the summer, that you think about bringing along a book or two. Or ten. Wouldn't it be nice, thirty years from now, for your kids to be able to share their memories of the fabulous places that they read books as children? (Image credit: photo by Wallyir, made available at MorgueFile.)

What does summer reading mean to you? Did you ever read outdoors when you were a child? Did you have a favorite spot? Does your child? I would love to hear your feedback! Happy Memorial Day!

This post was originally published at Booklights on May 25, 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.

Abandon: Meg Cabot

Book: Abandon (Abandon Trilogy, Book 1)
Author: Meg Cabot (@MegCabot)
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

9780545284103_xlgAbandon is the first book of a new paranormal trilogy for young adults by Meg Cabot. At fifteen Pierce drowned and was brought back to life. Rather than just seeing a bright light, however, Pierce met a god of the Underworld. Two years later, she is still struggling for normalcy. As Abandon begins, Pierce and her mother move back to her mother's hometown on Isla Huesos, off the coast of south Florida. But in Isla Huesos, Pierce finds herself closer than ever to the lord of the Underworld.

I must admit that Abandon is not my favorite of Cabot's YA novels. I thought that it got off to a slow start, and that the back-and-forth reveal of Pierce's experiences was confusing. (Though an introductory reference to Persephone makes it fairly clear where the book is going to go). The second half of the novel, once all of the background was solidly in place, was much more enjoyable. And Abandon does have that quality that Cabot is especially good at, juxtaposing supernatural elements against a breezy high school backdrop (I love her 1-800-where-r-u series).

Cabot renders the popular kids in Abandon as mean and shallow, and the quirky, unpopular kids as the ones with depth. Here's a tirade from Pierce's cousin, Alex:

"You think by buying me a Gut Buster," Alex said, his anger hurtling down on me like one of John's thunderclaps, "I'm going to go over and sit with those A-Wingers, and we're all going to learn, despite our apparent outward differences like that they all wear designer labels and drive brand-new cars their daddies bought them for their birthdays, and I wear clothes from the Salvation Army and drive a rusted old junk heap, that we have something in common? Like maybe we can all sing and dance, and then we're each going to get parts starring in Isla Huesos High School's musical, like this is some kind of damned Disney movie? Well, I've got news for you, Pierce. That's not going to happen. (Page 166, ARC)

And here is a quote that basically sums up the book:

"What did any of it mean? Where could it go? He was a death deity. I was a senior in high school.
This was never going to work." (Page 262, ARC)

I love the matter-of-fact tone, even as Pierce is talking about a death deity. Abandon ends on a cliff-hanger, and did leave me wanting to read the next book. If nothing else, I want to know the answer to the above question: how can a relationship between a death deity and an ordinary high school senior work out? If you find such a question intriguing, and/or you're a fan of Meg Cabot's YA novels, then Abandon is for you.

Publisher: Point (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: April 26, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes should be checked against the final book.

© 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).

The Book of Tomorrow: Cecelia Ahern

Book: The Book of Tomorrow: A Novel
Author: Cecelia Ahern
Pages: 320
Age Range: 14 and up

Book-of-tomorrow The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern is, I think, a crossover novel. Although published by Harper's adult division, it features a teenage main character, and reads like a young adult novel. (Though with some sexual behavior and profanity - not a book for younger teens).

What drew me to The Book of Tomorrow was the premise. Wealthy, spoiled British teenager Tamara Goodwin finds her life completely changed when her father commits suicide. Left in debt, Tamara and her mother are forced to move to the small country home of Tamara's uncle and aunt. Tamara's mother retreats into herself, her uncle apparently never talks, and her aunt, Rosaleen is clearly keeping secrets. Tamara is struggling with all of this when she discovers a strange, old book. Each day, she finds, in her own handwriting, diary entries about the next day. By following these diary entries, Tamara is able to change some things, and to eventually uncover her family's secrets.

It's a fascinating premise. What if you could get a little window into the events of tomorrow, and what did and didn't work? So that when tomorrow came, you'd be prepared, and could fix the things that didn't work. It's a bit like Groundhog Day, but with more ongoing developments.

Tamara starts out a bit of a spoiled brat. She recognizes this in herself, though, and is working to improve. Because her circumstances are so extreme, I was willing to cut her some slack early on, and I quite liked her by the end of the end of the book.

I thought that Ahern did a good job of dropping clues to the mysteries. The reader can figure out what's going on, but not too soon.The book's setting, a small hamlet next to a crumbling castle, is perfect for the tone of the story. And I quite liked Ahern's writing style. She has a real flair for the descriptive, especially when it comes to people. Here are some examples:

"I loved him, of course, but I know my dad wasn't a good man. He and I rarely spoke and when we did it was to argue over something, or he was giving me money to rid of me. He was prickly, he snapped often, and he had a temper that flared easily. He forced his opinions on others and was rather arrogant. He made people feel uncomfortable, and inferior, and he enjoyed that." (Page 5, ARC)

"Rosaleen has the depth of a shot glass. Everything she talks about is totally irrelevant, unnecessary. The weather. The sad news about a poor person on the other side of the world. Her friend down the road who has broken her arm, or who has a father with two months to live, or ... " (Page 12, ARC)

"He seems like a simple man, only I don't really believe that. Nobody who says as little as he does is as simple as you'd think. It takes a lot not to say a lot, because when you're not talking, you're thinking, and he thinks a lot." (Page 18, ARC)

"Me too!" I knew my excitement was too much Famous Five. "Sorry," I felt my face flush. (Page 163, ARC)

I like that Tamara casually compares herself to children's book characters (there's another reference in which she likens herself to Violet Beauregard from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), even though she's not actually much of a reader. There are also some lovely descriptions of the woods around the abandoned castle.

The Book of Tomorrow has a distinctive (if not always nice) main character, a thought-provoking premise, and fully realized descriptions of secondary characters and setting. It's a book to read in one sitting, if you can, completely losing yourself in Tamara's Book of Tomorrow. Although published for adults, this is a book that should please older teens, especially girls. Recommended.

Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: January 25, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes should be checked against the final book.

© 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).

Santa Clara Teens Take Third Place In "Why I Need My Library" Contest

As a board member for the Foundation and Friends of the wonderful Santa Clara City Library in Santa Clara, CA, I'm thrilled to post this news release:

Three students from Wilcox High School win $1000 for the Santa Clara City Library

May 23, 2011 -- Alvin Ho, Brian Li and Alistair Twombly placed third in the 16-18 year old category of  the American Library Association’s “Why I Need My Library” video contest. This national contest encouraged teens ages 13 to 18 to create original videos on why they think libraries are needed now more than ever. Teens submitted one- to three minute videos on YouTube. The videos could  be live-action, animation, machinima or use a combination of techniques, and teens worked in groups of up to six.

The Santa Clara teens' artistically shot video conveys the library as a haven and escape for teens from everyday stress and pressures. Alvin Ho describes his thoughts about how the idea for the video came about:

When planning this video, my initial plan was to play up the "learning" aspect of the library, as a source of books, magazines, and internet. However, as I sat in the designated teen section, it occurred to me that yes, our library serves that purpose -- but so does every other library in the United States. What sets Santa Clara's library apart is its open environment, from the public displays of art to the sprawling park behind it. In the Teen Section, students sprawled on couches, huddled over computers relax after a long day of work, and its proximity to several high schools make it a hub of activity after school. Then it dawned on me that what truly makes this library special to us is the freedom it affords.

The YouTube link to the video is

Congratulations to the winners. The Santa Clara City Library appreciates the prize money and will use it to continue to make the library a welcoming environment for teens and all its patrons.

So nice when a library gets good news, during these trying times. And when that news comes at the hands of motivated teens, it's even better.

Kiss of Death: Lauren Henderson

Book: Kiss of Death
Author: Lauren Henderson
Pages: 320
Age Range: 13 and up

8887358 Kiss of Death is the fourth and final book in Lauren Henderson's Scarlett Wakefield series (Book 1 is Kiss Me, Kill Me). Although Henderson does a nice job of wrapping up the various mysteries introduced in the other books, I am sorry to see this series end. The Scarlett Wakefield books stand out for me as examples of realistic young adult mysteries. The books may be set against an atmosphere of privilege, but there are no supernatural elements. There are murders, lies, and family secrets.

Scarlett is refreshingly down-to-earth. She has realistic insecurities, but her background as a gymnast has left her strong and physically confident. That's one of the things I like best about these books. Scarlett and her best friend Taylor aren't afraid to climb a mountain, or walk across a ledge to a fire escape. They don't (usually) need boys to rescue them. Their strength doesn't come from anything magical - it comes from hard work. A nice contrast to many of the other books out there.

Kiss of Death finds Scarlett and Taylor on a school trip to Edinburgh. There, they encounter Callum McAndrew, identical twin to Dan McAndrew (who died after kissing Scarlett in the first book). Scarlett met (and kissed) Callum in Book 2, Kisses and Lies). Scarlett is now torn between a flirtation with Callum and her love for her absent boyfriend, Jase (who took off after dark family revelations in Book 3, Kiss in the Dark). But these romantic entanglements are minor problems compared to Scarlett's newest worry -- someone is trying to kill her.

I think that Henderson does a nice job of recapping the relevant events of the previous books without making it feel repetitive for readers. She also leaves plot points not needed for Book 4 unspoken, so that one could go back after this one and read the other books. I would still strongly recommend starting with the first book in the series.

Kiss of Death is a compelling read - I stayed up late to read it two nights in a row (something that I rarely do these days). There is plenty of action and intrigue (Who is the shadowy figure that seems to be following Scarlett? What is Taylor hiding? Who could hate Scarlett enough to kill her?). There is also a nice mix of interpersonal dynamics -- both friendships and romances are explored. Scarlett comes face-to-face with the two best friends who she lost in Book 1 (though her own actions). And she continues her tribulations with mean girls Plum and Nadia and venomous Aunt Gwen.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Kiss of Death:

"It's an old folk song I recognize. But I've never heard it sound like this before. The violin makes it seem like an enchantment, as if the melody is casting a spell to throw a net over your heart and drag you away, as if the fiddler were the Pied Piper of Hamelin." (Page 11)

"One moment I'm stumbling forward, in total shock at having been pushed so savagely; the next, I'm flying through the air headfirst, down a stairwell three stories high, with so much smoke in my lungs that I can't even scream." (Page 47)

"I never wanted to be a princess," Taylor says flatly. "I wanted to be SpongeBob SquarePants." She considers for a moment. "Or Pippi Longstocking," she adds. "She was cool."
"I'm glad you identified with one girl," I say, not entirely sure whether Taylor's joking about SpongeBob. For an American, she has a really dry sense of humor." (Page 63)

"Being in a crowed room, everyone listening to the music, their attention completely focused on the boys onstage, is more of a relief to my sore heart than I could possibly have imagined. I'm in company, but no one's talking to me. No one wants anything from me. I can just be myself, let my thoughts wander, be soothed by the music, happily anonymous." (Page 164)

I found Kiss of Death to be an entertaining and satisfying conclusion to the Scarlett Wakefield series. Recommended for mystery fans of all ages, 13 and up. Also recommended for anyone looking for books with strong female characters. This is a series that all libraries should have in their YA collections.

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 10, 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).

When A Dragon Moves In: Jodi Moore

Book: When A Dragon Moves In
Author: Jodi Moore
Illustrator: Howard McWilliam
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 to 8

Dragon2-249x249 When a Dragon Moves In is another must-read picture book for families preparing for a beach vacation. A young boy is thrilled when he builds a perfect sandcastle, and a dragon moves in. There are lots of advantages to having a dragon around, like protection from bullies, and on-demand marshmallow roasting. However, it turns out that playful dragons have some disadvantages, too. And when your family doesn't actually believe that it's a dragon kicking sand and eating the brownies, well, things can get a little awkward. But it's all good fun!

When a Dragon Moves In can be read on two levels. You can read it as a straight up fantasy about a day at the beach with a dragon, and a very lucky little boy. Or you can read it as a story about the power of imagination. As the boy's family explains away all of the dragon's attributes and actions (""Listen to him roar!", you'll say. "I hear the roar of the ocean," she'll reply"), the more mature reader will, perhaps, think that the dragon is a game that the boy is playing. Or perhaps not ;-)

When a Dragon Moves In is written in the style of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and the like. If this happens, then this will happen. Like this:

"Just about then, your dragon will demand to be fed.
First he'll eat all of the peanut butter sandwiches ...
... even the ones that were supposed to be for your sister.
Then his fiery snout will make the lemonade sizzle.
"Stop blowing bubbles in your drink," your mom will say.
"That wasn't me," you'll answer. "That was the dragon."
And you'll hear a heh-heh-heh from deep inside the sandcastle."

And so on. This style works well with the over-the-top storyline. The dragon's heh-heh-heh made chuckle. And Moore's integration of a dragon into a family's day at the beach is well done. Even without the dragon, it would be a pretty nice outing.

McWilliam's illustrations were drawn in pencil on paper, and then painted with digital acrylic paint. They have a bright quality to them, as though they belong onscreen (not in a bad way - you can just picture this book as a show on television). McWilliam sometimes blurs the backgrounds, to draw attention to the foreground, and this works well. There's a slightly cartoon-like feel to the characters. The dad has an elongated face, and the boy's ears stick out in a charming fashion. The dragon is big and red, but with a goofy grin and non-threatening aspect. My favorite illustration is one where the dad is tickling the boy with a feather (could be a dragon feather, could be a seagull feather...). They both emanate joy.

One little tidbit that I liked. Both the mom and the sister are shown reading while on the beach. The mom, in fact, barely responds to the boy's remarks about the dragon because she's immersed in her book (or sleepy - it's hard to tell).

When a Dragon Moves In is a treasure. Over-the-top fun in eyecatching colors, realistic family togetherness, and a celebration of the power of imagination. Definitely one to add to the summer reading list.

Publisher: Flashlight Press (@FlashlightPress)
Publication Date: May 1, 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).

Pig Kahuna: Jennifer Sattler

Book: Pig Kahuna
Author: Jennifer Sattler
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3 to 8

51ybd7hwM5L._SL500_AA300_I love Jennifer Sattler's Sylvie, so I was happy to give her newest picture book a look. Pig Kahuna is about a pig named Fergus, who spends time on the beach with his baby brother Dink. Fergus and Dink collect objects washed up from the surf, but steer clear of the "lurking, murky ickiness" of the water. Until, that is, a surfboard winds up in their collection. And it turns out that surfboards, while ok for playing games in the sand, really come into their own in the ocean.

I LOVE the illustrations in Pig Kahuna. Fergus is priceless, with his slightly nervous smile, expressive ears, and Hawaiian outfit. Sattler's use of acrylics with colored pencils means that all of the backgrounds are lightly textured, in a way sure to make young kids want to stroke the pages. This works especially well given that there is water and sand on every page. My favorite picture is of the surfboard (named Dave), standing up in the sand with seaweed hair, a rock for an eye, and a shell for a mouth. This strikes just the right note of ridiculous. I also like Fergus' look of triumph when he realizes "I surfed!". I challenge anyone seeing this to not smile. Dink is pretty cute, too, especially when he decides that Dave "should be wild! And free!"

There is a pretty clear message in Pig Kahuna about overcoming fears and trying new things. And regular readers of this blog know that I loathe books that are message-y. But Pig Kahuna isn't a message driven book. It's a character driven book, about two irresistible young pigs, who happen to discover that the ocean, once you get over it being a bit scary, is actually pretty cool.I like Pig Kahuna a lot.

I recommend Pig Kahuna for 3 to 8 year olds, especially for kids who need a bit of extra encouragement before trying new things. It's a perfect read for the start of the summer, or to read before a trip to the ocean (though parents should to be prepared to explain why their four-year-old can't have a surfboard just yet). This would also be a good choice as a follow-up read after watching Lilo and Stitch. Happy summer!

Publisher: Bloomsbury (@BloomsburyPub)
Publication Date: May 24, 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).

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette: Jeanne Birdsall

Book: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette
Author: Jeanne Birdsall
Pages: 304
Age Range: 9-12

Point_mouette_big When the third Penderwicks book arrived on my doorstep, it went immediately to the top of my to be read stack. Which, given the size of the stack (in a virtual sense - there are actually many stacks), is quite impressive. I think that my love of the Penderwicks is an extension of my childhood love for Elizabeth Enright's books about the Melendy and Blake families. The Penderwicks books have the same timeless, slightly idealized, kid-friendly quality. They events that transpire aren't necessarily all realistic, but Birdsall, like Enright, describes a world that any kid (or adult) would love to live in for a time.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette finds the extended Penderwick family on the verge of a temporary separation. Rosalind is off to New Jersey with her best friend, Mr. Penderwick and his new bride (accompanied by their small son) are off to England for their honeymoon, and the reader is off with Skye, Jane, Batty, Hound, Jeffrey, and Aunt Claire to a tiny cabin in Point Mouette, Maine.

I don't want to give anything away about the plot. Suffice it to say that there are mishaps, misunderstandings, and toasted marshmallows. There are new friends, a potential love interest or two, and entrepreneurial and creative undertakings. There is soccer, music, and a Sabrina Starr manuscript. And if there's also a coincidence that's large enough to strain credibility, well, it's worth it to have the book end up in the right place. [I said something similar about the last book, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street.]

What more can I say? I love Skye, Jane, and Batty Penderwick. They are quirky and unique and fun to be around (especially Skye). Jeffrey I like, but find a bit too perfect. He does make a nice foil for the decisively imperfect Skye. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from The Penderwicks at Point Mouette:

"Aunt Claire, too, had let Skye down. "You'll do fine as the OAP," she said. "You'll find it in you," she added, and Skye went off to research multiple personalities, hoping she could find a new person inside who would be good at caring for Batty. When she discovered that extra personalities couldn't be ordered up on demand, she considered locking herself in the basement--or maybe faking a coma--until everyone had gone away to New Jersey, England, and Maine without her." (Page 18)

"Roasting marshmallows over an open fire is an art. The marshmallow should be evenly toasted all around until it's a golden brown. A slight puckering of the skin is all right, and some people like that the best. The inside should be hot all the way through and softened, but not melted into messy gooeyness. Not one of the marshmallows roasted that night came even close." (Page 142)

And is this vintage Enright, or what (and I mean this in the best possible way)?

"Skye and Jane waved frantically, the car came to a stop, and out of its window popped Jeffrey, looking exactly as he should, with his freckles and his hair that had trouble staying down, and just as happy to see them as they were to see him. (Page 39)

Indeed, all of the Penderwicks are looking exactly as they should in this installment. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette is not a book for cynics. The ending is unabashedly sappy (though with just enough humor to keep from being over the top). But fans of the series are going to love it. For those who are not yet fans of the series, I recommend starting at the beginning (though, since these books are more character and episode-driven than plot-driven, it's not 100% essential to read the books in order). And I envy you a bit, having all three Penderwicks books still ahead of you. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette is recommended for modern-day middle grade readers, girls and boys, and for any and all adults nostalgic for the books of their childhood.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 10, 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).

Tips for Growing Bookworms: #6 Read Yourself: A Booklights Reissue

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

Tips for Growing Bookworms: #6 Read Yourself, and Model an Appreciation for Reading

This is Part 6 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information.

Tip #6: Read yourself, and model an appreciation for reading. It's all very well to SAY that books and reading are important. But what kids notice is what you DO. If you turn on the TV during every free moment, and never have time to go to the library or the bookstore, your kids are unlikely to turn to books themselves. Terry just talked about this in her Dear Santa ... post last week. She said: "One of the easiest ways for us to get kids to see reading as just a regular part of their life is to catch us reading."

DadSonReading.jpgThis especially important for male role models, because boys often think of reading as an activity that's primarily for women. Every time a boy sees his dad (or uncle, or grandfather) reading, whether it's a novel, a history book, a business plan, or the sports section, he absorbs a tiny message that reading is something that guys do. Those tiny messages accumulate over a lifetime, and create a strong base for literacy. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

So what do you do if you're not much of a reader yourself, but you want your kids to grow up as bookworms? One answer is: tell them the truth. "I didn't read much as a kid, and now reading is hard for me. Plus I feel like I missed out on a lot of great stuff. I want better for you." That's modeling an appreciation for reading. Cap that off by making sure that your child has plenty of books.

FamilyCooking.jpgAlso, remember that all kinds of reading count as reading, and make sure your kids notice whatever it is you're reading. Point out when you come across something interesting in the morning paper. Talk about how much you love a particular cookbook, or how much you learned from a how-to manual. Listen to audiobooks in the car on long trips, or on your regular commute, and tell your kids about what you're listening to. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Another way of modeling an appreciation for reading is to have lots of printed material in your home, especially books and magazines. This shows that you think that reading is a valued activity. Subscribe to the local paper, instead of just reading the news online. If you're planning a family trip, bring home some guidebooks about your destination. If you're planning a household project, pick up some books or manuals about that. Fill your house with printed material, and take books and magazines with you everywhere you go.

There are always competing demands on our time. Laundry to fold, bills to pay, phone calls to make, shows to watch on the DVR. And, hopefully, books that we want to read. But here's the thing. If we always prioritize the other tasks, and we let the books get dusty on the shelves, how on earth can we expect our children to think that reading is a valuable way to spend their time? Pam has a great anecdote at MotherReader about an incident playing house with her young daughter one day. The daughter, as "the mommy", sat down on the couch with a book, and told "her child" to go play with her sister, and let "the mommy" read for a while. Pam is justly proud of this story.

Here's what I recommend. Over the holiday vacation [or summer vacation], take some time out to read. I mean, how great is it that you can do something to help your kids, and have it be enjoyable for you at the same time? So, curl up in that armchair in front of the fire [or stretch out on a lounge chair in the back yard] with your book, lose yourself in its world, and be a reading role model, all at the same time. Years from now, your children will thank you.

This post was originally published at Booklights on December 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.

Okay for Now: Gary D. Schmidt

Book: Okay for Now
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Pages: 368
Age Range: 10-14

9780547152608 Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now is a very loose sequel to his Newbery Honor-winning novel The Wednesday Wars. It's really more of a spin-off, taking Doug Swieteck, one of the characters from the first book, to a new town and a new set of experiences. I think that Okay for Now is better than The Wednesday Wars. I think that it's fabulous. I think that it's one of the best books that I've read in ages. I can't recommend it highly enough. [And for the record, it's not necessary to have read The Wednesday Wars to read and enjoy Okay for Now.]

Okay for Now is the story of a year in the life of Doug Swieteck, from summer of 1968 to summer of 1969. Doug is the youngest son of a bitter, brutal, complaining man. Doug's oldest brother, Lucas, is in Vietnam. His middle brother, Christopher, is a budding thug. His mother still has a great smile, but she cries a lot, too.

Doug is less than thrilled when his family moves to "stupid Marysville" in upstate New York, to a house that he calls "The Dump". He's not surprised when his 8th grade teachers and the town's head librarian greet him with suspicion. He expects bad things to happen to him, and he's often right. But gradually, oh so gradually, Doug finds his place in Marysville, and in his own family.

Okay for Now is a coming of age story and a window into a pivotal time in US history. But more than that, Okay for Now is a flawless character study. Doug initially repels the reader (as he does the residents of Marysville). He is defensive and bitter. But once you get to know him a bit, you see his other side. Schmidt manages to pull off a consistent viewpoint (Doug never changes from who he is) while making the reader appreciate Doug a little bit more on every page. He is an unforgettable character. Here are a couple of examples, to give you a feel for Doug's voice:

"Okay, So I was going to the library every Saturday. So what? So what? It's not like I was reading books or anything." (Page 71)

"I couldn't keep myself from smiling. I couldn't. Maybe this happens to you every day, but I think it was the first time I could hardly wait to show something that I'd done to someone who would care besides my mother. You know how that feels?" (Page 77)

"In English, Miss Cowper was throwing us into the Introduction to Poetry Unit like it was as all-fired important as the moon shot. You know, there are good reasons to learn how to read. Poetry isn't one of them. I mean, so what if two roads go two ways in a wood? So what? Who cares if it made all that big a difference? What difference? And why should I have to guess what the difference is? Isn't that what he's supposed to say?" (Page 235)

I love this kid! He also has a way of throwing in "I'm not lying" at regular intervals, as he explains things. That, combined with his "You know how that feels?" really gives the story the feel of being told to the reader by a friend. I'm not lying.

The other characters in the novel are also fully realized. There is not a one-dimensional soul in the bunch. Many of the characters reveal surprises, but these are always consistent, or based on information that was initially hidden from the reader. Even a couple of major reversals make sense, because they happen gradually, and for a reason. Schmidt takes his time with his character development, and it works.

There is a fair bit of history packed in to Okay for Now, from major events like the Vietnam War and the mission to land on the Moon to details like the National Physical Fitness standards and the various stats of the Yankees. Schmidt is unable to resist the temptation to tease the reader a bit about the future (the ridiculous notion of tiny computers that people can carry around, the absurdity of an actor ever becoming President). But I'm willing to give him a pass for that, in light of the overall brilliance of the book.

Okay for Now is not an easy read. It takes a little while to get into the story. And then there are quite a few places where the narrator (Doug) refuses to reveal something right away. The reader has to either wait for the reveal or figure things out from what is already known about the characters. I think this is a plus. In figuring things out, in wondering what happened, the reader becomes increasingly invested in the story, and in Doug. Okay for Now is a book to challenge reluctant readers (especially but not exclusively boys). It would also make a fantastic real-aloud, at home or in the classroom, with springboards for discussion everywhere.

Okay for Now is top-notch. I expect to hear more about it come Newbery Award time. It has my highest recommendation for middle schooler readers and up.

Publisher: Clarion (@hmhbooks)
Publication Date: April 5, 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).