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Posts from June 2011

While You Are Sleeping: Durga Bernhard

Book: While You Are Sleeping: A Lift-the-Flap Book of Time Around the World
Author: Durga Bernhard
Pages: 24
Age Range: 4-8

14737 While You Are Sleeping is, as advertised in the subtitle, a lift-the-flap book showing time zones around the world. All of the events of the book take place simultaneously, but at different times because of the time zones. So we begin with:

"While you are reading (a clock shows 10:00 pm, and a little map shows Alaska), on the other side of the world (lift a flap with a picture of a Nigerian village, and a clock underneath the flap shows 9 am above a picture of a Nigerian girl), someone is getting dressed."

The next page shows that while the same Nigerian girl is carrying food through her village at 9 am, a boy in Japan is walking home from school with a friend at 5 pm. And so on. Taking the character from under the flap on the right-hand side of the page, and bringing him or her forward to the left-hand side of the next page, lends continuity to the book, and will keep kids wanting to the turn to the next page.

There's actually a lot more going on in this book than just the idea of time zones. Each page spread includes clocks, maps, and detailed illustrations of different places and people of different nationalities. The primary illustrations on each page are brightly colored and filled with pleasant details, like sheep cavorting in the background. The maps are more muted, there in the background for anyone interested, but not drawing attention away from the main narrative.

Although my 14-month-old daughter loves lifting flaps in books, we're going to have to put this one aside until she's a bit older. The pages, while relatively thick, are not going to stand up to the abuses of a toddler. And the small, detailed illustrations, not to mention the concepts of the book, will of course be over her head. But I think that this would be a great book for a four or five year old who has recently learned to tell time. I think you'd want to have a globe handy as you go through the pages, to also point out the countries there. While You Are Sleeping will especially nice for the many children who have relatives living in other countries. 

While You Are Sleeping is fun, beautiful, and educational. Recommended for the early elementary school set, or for anyone wanting to understand time zones better, and catch glimpses of people from around the world.

Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing (@Charlesbridge)
Publication Date: February 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Tips for Growing Bookworms: #9 Create Cozy Reading Spaces within Your Home: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on March 8, 2010. Now that I have my own growing bookworm, I'm working on the coziness of the reading spaces in my home. But I'm having no problem with keeping books handy. At the moment we have picture books and board books: in a basket in the kitchen; in a play tent in the family room; in the pack-n-play; in the master bedroom closet; in the diaper bag; on the table and the desk in my office; on the nightstand in the guest room; and on bookshelves in the front hall, office, guest room, and baby's room. Of course books end up on the floor in all of these rooms on a daily basis. (See some photos here.)

What this means is that wherever Baby Bookworm happens to be playing around the house, she usually has books within reach. She will frequently pick up a book if she is bored or even in need of comfort. When we've been moving about the house, playing in different rooms, she leaves a trail of open books behind her. I don't have to tell you all that this pleases me, do I?

Tips for Growing Bookworms: #9 Create Cozy Reading Spaces within Your Home, and Keep Books Handy

This is Part 9 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.

litnpugs.JPGTip #9: Create cozy reading spaces within your house, and keep books handy in different places. The idea here is to a) continue to make reading a pleasurable activity, one that kids will want to repeat often, and b) make it convenient to read, so that kids will choose books as an option when they happen to have some free time. [Image credit: MorgueFile, photo by taliesin]

Amy wrote about this idea recently at Literacy Launchpad, when she said: "Have Books Everywhere... and Watch the Magic Happen!". Jim at Teacherninja talked about books as "bait", and said (of keeping books in convenient locations) "If you build it, they will come...". And of course Jim Trelease talked about this in The Read-Aloud Handbook (which I reviewed here).

Think about all of the places that you child could read, if you were to provide the right environment and materials. Here are a few ideas:

  • Leon's Library.jpgSet up a cozy reading corner in your child's bedroom, with a beanbag or a comfortable chair, a good lamp, and access to a bookshelf. [This is a much better use of space than, say, putting a TV in the child's bedroom, that's for sure.] Personally, I find a cozy reading space a temptation in and of itself. I want to spend time there, curled up, lost in a story. [Image from Susan's earlier post, with thanks to Alex Zealand for the picture of her five year old's bedroom and his book collection. ]
  • Make sure your child's bed is reading-friendly - enough light, enough pillows, and a table or shelf nearby on which to store some extra titles. Make sure there's someplace comfortable for Mom or Dad to sit, too, to read aloud.
  • Keep a few children's books handy by your own bed, too, in case of late-night, bad-dream-inspired emergencies.
  • Have baskets of books in the kitchen, the bathroom, the family room, and anyplace else in the house that your child spends time. See Susan's recent post on home libraries for some examples. It doesn't matter how you store the books (baskets, piles, shelves, boxes) - it just matters that they're readily available, and the kids can find them. And of course they can be library books, too - you don't have to buy hundreds of books to do this.
  • Keep books in the car. Teacherninja Jim said: "The back of the driver's side car seats in both of our vehicles are stuffed with magazines and slim books that my daughter likes. There's no DVD player (except on long trips). Guess what she does when she's not bopping to the music?".
  • For older kids, have a bookshelf near the entrance to the garage. Make it easy for your child to pick up a book on the way out to the car. I know for me, some of best childhood reading was done in the car. I'd carefully choose a book, even for the 15 minute car ride to Grandma's house. And longer drives would have been unbearable without books to help me tune out my three younger siblings.

I can see that it would be tempting to keep all of the books in, say, the child's bedroom. Tempting to keep the piles of books out of the way, and thus keep down the clutter. But there are all sorts of moments throughout the day when your child might read, if a book happened to be nearby. And you'll miss those moments if the books are hard to get at. For example, say you receive a phone call on your way out the door, and your child is waiting for you, bored, at the kitchen table. A book could help keep the peace AND squeeze in a little reading time.

Matilda.jpgOne final point is that how you set up your house sends a strong message about how you feel about books, a message that your kids will read loud and clear. If all of the shelf space in your living room is dedicated to DVDs and video games, and books are nowhere to be found, how can you expect your child to choose books? (Matilda Wormwood was a notable exception, dragging her little wagon to the library on her own.) On the other hand, if you've carved out comfortable reading spaces, and you've piled up books in most of the rooms of the house, your child is going to think "hey, reading is what people do." And isn't that what this growing bookworms thing is all about?

Do you have cozy reading spaces set up for your child? Where do you keep your child's books? What am I missing in the above tips?

This post was originally published at Booklights on March 8, 2010. 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: June 28

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 1429 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have five book review posts and one children's literacy roundup (published in detail at The Book Chook). I also have the next two installments in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series (originally published at Booklights). I was also a guest expert at PBS Parents these past two weeks, discussing summer reading. You can find the full posts at the PBS Parents site. The first includes five general Tips for Encouraging Summer Reading. The second is dedicated to Boys and Summer Reading, with boy-specific tips and book recommendations. I hope that you'll check them out. 

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I finished five books, two middle grade, two YA, and one adult mystery (as well as various picture books and board books, see those here and here):

  • Kirby Larson: The Friendship Doll. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Completed June 20, 2011. My review.
  • David A. Kelly (ill. Mark Meyers): The Fenway Foul-Up (Ballpark Mysteries #1). Random House Children's Books. Completed June 22, 2011. Review to come in the next couple of weeks.
  • Mary E. Pearson: The Fox Inheritance (The Jenna Fox Chronicles, Book 2). Henry Holt. Completed June 17, 2011. Review to come, closer to publication. I'll just say now that fans of The Adoration of Jenna Fox will absolutely not want to  miss this one.
  • Charlie Higson: The Enemy. Hyperion. Completed June 23, 2011. My review.
  • Harlan Coben: Live Wire (A Myron Bolitar novel). Completed June 18, on MP3. Not reviewed, but an excellent addition to the Myron Bolitar series, which I enjoy. This book introduced Myron's nephew, Mickey, who will be spun off into his own YA series soon.

I'm still listening to The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (when Baby Bookworm is listening with me in the car). I'm also listening to Dead Reckoning, the latest Sookie Stackhouse mystery by Charlaine Harris. I'm reading Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

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).

Another Guest Expert Spot at PBS Parents: Boys and Summer Reading

PBSParents My second (of 2) posts about summer reading is up at PBS Parents, as part of their Expert Q&A series. The new post is about Boys and Summer Reading. Although I think that all of last week's summer reading tips can be applied equally well to boys and girls, there is evidence that boys lag girls in reading skills. Thus some boy-specific tips and book recommendations seemed in order. Here's a preview:

"Be flexible about what you consider reading. Don't panic if the only reading your son does is the sports section and online news sites. His reading experience doesn't have to be the same as yours. Figure out what kinds of things he does read, and provide more of those."

You can find the rest here. As I've never been a boy, or parented a boy, I would appreciate any additional suggestions and/or book recommendations that readers might have (on the PBS Parents site). Thanks for reading!

The Enemy: Charlie Higson

Book: The Enemy
Author: Charlie Higson
Pages: 448
Age Range: 12 and up

51T5q2YDFhL._SL160_The Enemy is the first book in a new post-apocalyptic trilogy for young adults by Charlie Higson. There are many new books out in this genre, but The Enemy stands out from the pack. It is compelling and nerve-wracking -- I read it in two sittings, and wondered about it in between.

The Enemy is set in a post-worldwide-plague London. The plague has killed off most people over 16, causing the infrastructure to collapse. Any remaining adults are infected by the virus, which leaves them physically and mentally deformed. They are pseudo-zombies, though they haven't actually risen from the dead (and can't infect the children with their disease). The "grown-ups", as the kids call them, have lost their humanity, and treat the children as prey.

Groups of children band together to survive, scavenging for food, and fighting off the grown-ups. One such group lives in a Waitrose supermarket; another in a nearby Morrisons market. Initially rivals, the two groups band together when the grown-ups start to show signs of organization. When a strange kid called Jester shows up, promising food, safety, and clean beds in Buckingham Palace, the Waitrose and Morrisons kids are skeptical. But, after losing several kids to the grown-ups, they agree to give it a try. They set out on a perilous journey across London, in the hope of finding sanctuary.

Higson, author of the well-regarded Young James Bond series (see my review of the first book, Silverfin), has written and produced for television, and it shows (in a good way) in his pacing. The Enemy is an edge-of-your seat thriller, a book that will keep you up late at night, unable to resist one more chapter, and then one more. The chapters are short, and the action shifts between different characters and situations, and you just have to keep reading. But it's an intelligent book, too. While there is a fair bit of violence, there are also more subtle power struggles between the kids, moral dilemmas, and cases where only clever thinking is going to save the day. 

The Enemy is a bit like Michael Grant's Gone series, but without (for the most part) the supernatural elements. There's a wide cast of characters, and kids with different skills play different roles. The kids are far from perfect - some of them, with various motives, make things worse. Post-plague London is also almost a character in the book, vividly realized and dangerous, but with tantalizing remnants of life before. Discussions between some of the kids about things that they miss show that The Enemy is set in the very immediate future, with references to (no longer unusable) iPods, DVDs, etc.

The Enemy is not a book for the faint of heart. There are deaths. Some of the battle scenes and descriptions of the grown-ups are pretty gruesome. London is a grim place. But The Enemy is not quite as bleak as The Hunger Games, or Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy.

Here are a few passages, to give you a feel for the book:

"Arran pushed his hair out of his eyes. His guts hurt. He didn't really feel hungry anymore, just sick and tired. He'd grown to hate these streets. The smell of them, the filth everywhere, the grass and weeds pushing out of every crack, the constant fear chewing away at him." (Page 14)

"They weren't faked. You couldn't fake a Polaroid. It wasn't like the old days when you could use a computer to do anything you liked. There was no Photoshop anymore, not without electricity to power the computers. Photoshop was just one more thing that had seemed really important at the time but was now completely irrelevant. Useless." (Page 74)

"He pedaled harder and soon came to where several roads met near the tube station. He stopped at a traffic island in the middle. In the past there would have been cars and trucks and buses rushing past in all directions, and the sidewalks would have been filled with kids going to the market. Now it wasn't like being in the city at all. The buildings might just as well have been rocks and cliffs. The abandoned, stationary cars were boulders. The road a dried-up riverbed." (Page 145)

I'm quite curious to see where Higson is going to take this series. Book 2, The Dead, is a prequel of sorts, going back a year prior to the events of The Enemy, and featuring a different group of kids. I'm ok with this because, while I very much enjoyed The Enemy, the shifting viewpoints kept me from getting too attached to any one character (well, except for Small Sam). It's more that I want to see what other surprises Higson has up his sleeve, and spend more time understanding his post-apocalyptic world. It seems to me that there could easily be more than three books here.

The Enemy is a must-read for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, and is worth a look for anyone who enjoys a fast-paced adventure (and doesn't mind a bit of gore). It's one that someone from Guys Lit Wire (book recommendations for teenage boys) should take a look at, if they haven't already. The Enemy is going on my keep shelf. Recommended!

Publisher: Hyperion (@HyperionTeens)
Publication Date: May 11, 2010
Source of Book: Bought it, in anticipation of Book 2

© 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).

Dodsworth in Rome: Tim Egan

Book: Dodsworth in Rome
Author: Tim Egan
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4 to 8

9780547390062 I quite like Tim Egan's books about Dodsworth. The series was launched from the picture book The Pink Refrigerator, about how the stodgy Dodsworth learns to live life to the fullest. However, the Dodsworth books really took off as an easy reader series when the character of Duck was added. I've also reviewed Dodsworth in New York and Dodsworth in Paris (there is also Dodsworth in London). But I think that Dodsworth in Rome is my new favorite.

Dodsworth in Rome, as advertised, finds regular guy Dodsworth and his crazy sidekick Duck visiting Rome. They visit the Sistine Chapel, the Trevi Fountain, and a flea market. They ride a scooter, and participate (well, Duck does) in a pizza throwing contest. When they temporarily misplace their money, they sleep on the Spanish Steps.

As you can see, Dodsworth in Rome does provide a window into the major sites of Rome. But what makes this work as an early reader is the humor, a mix of goofball kid-friendly humor and wry adult humor. Here are a few examples:

"Dodsworth smiled and looked at the duck. "Rome!" he said.
"Okay, said the duck."
The duck started walking away.
"Where are you going? asked Dodsworth.
"You said roam," said the duck. "So I'm roaming."

Funny and educational for new readers.

"Dodsworth and the duck ordered gelatos.
Dodsworth got a cone with three scoops: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.
The duck got a cone with seven scoops: hazelnut, spumoni, rum raisin, almond, pistachio, coffee, and butterscotch."

That, in a nutshell, is the duck's personality as compared to Dodsworth's, in terms that will make complete sense for young readers (though they might need a bit of help with words like spumoni).

"They walked to Saint Peter's Square.
There were huge columns all around.
"I feel smaller than usual," said the duck.
"You can say that again," said Dodsworth.
But the duck decided not to.

That made me laugh. And when the duck notices that the Sistine Chapel is lacking any ducks in the painting... Look out! Laugh out loud humor in only six lines of text per page.

Egan's ink and watercolor illustrations enhance the story, and help to provide visual cues for new learners. All of the major sites of Rome are there, set against more prosaic details, like Dodworth's little suitcase, and the detritus of a knocked-over fruit stand. Egan uses a somewhat muted color palette, so that the words retain equal importance to the pictures.

Dodsworth doesn't have a very wide range of expressions, but when he smiles, you want to smile with him. And the duck can convey quite a lot through head tilts.

I will be keeping my Dodsworth and duck books handy for when Baby Bookworm is ready to learn to read, and probably diving into them by myself on occasion in the meantime. The solemn but determined Dodsworth and the madcap duck are always a winning combination, but especially so in the new Dodsworth in Rome. Don't miss it!

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: April 18, 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: #8 Be Selective in Television Watching: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on February 8, 2010, about restricting TV watching for young bookworms.

This tip is one that I've taken to heart as I grow my own bookworm, and one that requires some degree of sacrifice. My husband and I have decided not to let our daughter watch any television until she's two years old. It's not easy. Baby Bookworm is very curious about the TV, so if she's around, we pretty much always have to have the TV off. She occasionally catches sight of a TV when we're at a friend's house or a restaurant, but that's about it.

This has meant that I don't get to watch very many baseball games (I even cancelled my beloved MLB ExtraInnings package), and that my husband and I don't get to watch TV shows together until she's in bed (by which time I'm usually ready for bed, too). Football season is going to be a real challenge. But when I see my daughter at 14 months picking up books on her own and turning the pages, and pointing to pictures in books so that I'll tell her what they are, I do think that it's worth it. (But I also understand why not every family does this -- it's definitely a challenge.)

Tips for Growing Bookworms: #8 Be Selective in Television Watching

This is Part 8 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 #8: Be selective in television watching, and limit total time spent. There has been various studies that suggest that children under the age of two should not be allowed to watch any television. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, recommends that television viewing for children under the age of two should be avoided. The PBS Parents website has an excellent FAQ on TV and kids under age 3), compiled by children's media expert Shelley Pasnik. It includes links to the full AAP policy statement on young children and television.

For older kids, as reported in an article by Annie M. Moss in the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy (Vol. 8, No. 1, 67-102, 2008), an examination of various studies concluded that "(1) moderate amounts of television viewing were found to be beneficial for reading; (2) the content of programs viewed by children matters; (3) programs that aim to promote literacy in young children have been found to positively impact specific early literacy skills; and finally, (4) there are limitations to the existing literature".

The message that I take from this, and other reading that I've done, is that it's a good idea a) to limit the amount of time that kids spend watching television, and b) to be selective about what your kids (especially younger kids) watch.

Limiting Television Time:
Here's one simple fact, in the context of growing bookworms: time spent watching TV is time NOT spent reading books. In general, allowing hours and hours of television watching per day is not going to help you to raise readers. When kids watch stories on TV, everything is spelled out for them. When they read stories in books, they use their imaginations more. They picture the characters. They can imagine that the characters look like them. They become accustomed to filling in some of the details in their own minds. They see the words printed on the page, and learn what they mean.

I also think that books are better in general than television shows in terms of helping kids to expand their vocabularies. Kids who are read to from birth will hear many more different words over the course of their preschool days than kids who spend most of their free time in front of the TV. Especially if those television shows primarily use words like "bam".

WG-LOGO.gifUsing Television Wisely:
Of course television is quite enticing for kids. If you're going to allow your preschoolers to watch television, there are a couple of things that you can do to make TV work in favor of, instead of against, literacy skills. The first is obvious. Pick television shows that are educational and help your child's development, instead of violent or mindless cartoons. There are a number of educational shows that focus on vocabulary, but also strive to make reading fun. I've heard particularly good things about WordGirl and Super WHY!, for example.

rah-cov06.jpgAnother tip is one I learned from Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook (a book that every new parent should have a chance to read). Jim suggests that if you are going to have the television on, you can turn it into a "mechanical reading tutor" by the simple act of turning on the closed captioning. He cites examples of children in Finland who don't start school until age 7, watch a lot of television, and yet have high reading levels, explaining that they typically watch quite a bit of non-Finnish television, and make heavy use of closed captioning. It's like an interactive reading tutor, with the televised characters acting out the words. Closed captioning provides a steady stream of words across the bottom of screen, words that your child will notice and, eventually, decode.

Jim concludes: "It stands to reason that reasonable doses of captioned television can do no harm and most likely help greatly with reading. There is enough research to indicate significant gains in comprehension and vocabulary development (especially among bilingual students) when receiving instruction with educational television that is captioned." You can read more details here.

If you want your kids to love books, you have to give them time to love books. And that means quiet time, when the television isn't blaring in the background. Time to immerse themselves in other worlds, worlds that will build their imaginations. Time to just read.

But variety is important, too. If your kids are going to spend time watching television, the best ways that I know of to make TV work in favor of literacy are to select television shows carefully, and to turn on the closed captioning.

How have you balanced television and books in your house, in your quest to grow bookworms?

This post was originally published at Booklights on February 8, 2010. 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.

The Friendship Doll: Kirby Larson

Book: The Friendship Doll
Author: Kirby Larson
Pages: 208
Age Range: 9-12

Friendship-dollKirby Larson's Hattie Big Sky was one of my favorite reads in 2006. Others agreed. Hattie was awarded a Newbery Honor in 2007. Thus when I heard that the author had published another historical novel, one inspired by a picture that she ran across while researching Hattie, I couldn't resist.

The Friendship Doll was inspired by a real-life gift of 58 dolls sent to the US by Japan as Ambassadors of Friendship in 1927. Kirby Larson imagines the journey of one of the dolls. Miss Kanagawa's creator wishes that she fulfill "a doll's true purpose: to be awakened by the heart of a child" (Page 4). What actually happens is that Miss Kanagawa has her heart awakened and softened via her interactions with four very different girls from 1928 through 1941. Miss Kanagawa, in turn, helps each of the girls at a difficult time in her life.

Short sections of the book are narrated by Miss Kanagawa. The majority of the book is written in the third person, each section told from the viewpoint of one of the girls (plus a couple of other people where needed). There are also invoices, news stories (fictionalized accounts based on actual events) and letters interspersed. These various viewpoints combine to provide a multi-faceted view of the Great Depression.

I must admit that it took me a little while to get into The Friendship Doll, because I didn't much care for the first little girl to interact with Miss Kanagawa (Bunny). But the last two (book-loving Willie Mae in particular) completely pulled me in. They made me smile, but also tugged at my heartstrings. All of the voices in the novel are quite distinct (particularly Miss Kanagawa's).

There's a scene in which Willie Mae thinks of what Sara Crewe from A Little Princess would do to "put some steel in her (own) spine." I can picture future readers of The Friendship Doll thinking of what Lois, Willie Mae, Lucy, or even Bunny might do in a given situation, to guide their own behavior. The Friendship Doll isn't a lesson-y book, but there are unflinching looks at what is and isn't the right thing to do.

It's also a book that may make modern readers a bit more appreciative of their own creature comforts. Larson doesn't shy away from the details and difficulties of life during the Depression. After losing their farm, Lucy and her father drive from Oklahoma to Oregon, looking for work. They get work picking crops where they can, sleep in their car, and "visit the bushes" on the side of the road as needed for calls of nature. When they finally land in a Farm Security Administration camp, Lucy writes to Mrs. Roosevelt to thank her, saying:

"But now there's a shower so I can be clean and there's breakfast for us children for a penny a day. I've had breakfast three times in one week! I'll be so fat soon, I won't fit in my overalls."

Willie Mae, a poor girl from rural Kentucky, is similarly thrilled when she has the temporary opportunity to live and work in the home of a well-off family. Here she is, first seeing her attic room:

"It might not have been fancy to someone like Mrs. Trent, but to Willie Mae, this room was a Cinderella surprise. A tidy bed, covered in a chenille bedspread of blue and pink roses, was tucked snug under the dormer. Willie Mae moved to it, running her fingers over the bumpy chenille. She imagined herself lying there--a whole bed all to herself!--and looking through those sheer white curtains to the sky outside." (Page 106)

She is also quite thrilled when she learns that there is an indoor bathroom that she can use.

Quite a few sad things happen in The Friendship Doll, deaths, lost homes, and being shut up for years in a trunk (this happens to Miss Kanagawa, not any of the girls). But it's not a depressing book. The things that happen are representative of a more difficult time, when medicine wasn't as available as it is today and jobs were  scarce. People don't sit around feeling sorry for themselves (not Larson's characters, anyway, or only temporarily).

Lois, the second girl, breaks her collarbone trying to fly by jumping off the barn roof with an umbrella. She later attends the Chicago World's Fair, and sees marvel upon marvel. Bunny's older sister frets about her coming out party, while Lucy just wants to see the ocean.

This is well-done historical fiction. There are authentic tidbits everywhere, but they are all in service to the story - to showing what life was like for these particular girls, and how the quiet influence of Miss Kanagawa affected them. I should add that although Miss Kanagawa interacts with the girls through a sort of mental connection, she doesn't actually move around, or take any physical action. So, I consider this novel to be historical fiction, and not fantasy (though there's a bit of genre-blurring).

The Friendship Doll has a lot to like: a basis in an obscure but kid-friendly historical event; strong, three-dimensional characters; full realized settings; and enough of a narrative mix to appeal to readers with a range of skill levels. Fans of Hattie Big Sky will especially not want to miss The Friendship Doll (which, though different, has a bit of a similar feel). Highly recommended for middle grade readers, anyone who enjoys historical fiction, and anyone who has ever wondered what a doll might be thinking.

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).

Flood and Fire: Emily Diamand

Book: Flood and Fire (Raider's Ransom #2)
Author: Emily Diamand
Pages: 368
Age Range: 9-12

9780545242684_xlg Flood and Fire is the sequel to Raider's Ransom, which I reviewed here. Both are set in a post-apocalyptic UK now consisting of Greater Scotland and the much smaller Last Ten Counties of England. After a rise in sea-level, London and the surrounding series of marshes is the territory of the Raiders, gangs of pirates organized as Families. Raider's Ransom and Flood and Fire are both told via the alternating first-person viewpoints of Lilly, a runaway from The Last Ten Counties, and Zeph, the son of a Raider family Boss (now dead).

As Flood and Fire begins, Lilly and her protege, Lexy (the once-kidnapped daughter of the Prime Minister) are in the marshes, trying to escape from Raider patrols to get back to England. They are accompanied by PSAI, the only known functioning computer in the world, and Cat, a valuable Sea Cat. Meanwhile, Zeph is in battle with his half-brother, Roba, over leadership of their Family, even as their clan is under siege from other Raiders.

It quickly becomes apparent that the only way that Zeph can save his Family (which is like a village, about 300 people strong) is by betraying Lilly and seizing control of PSAI. This is complicated enough, but things become even more tricky for Lilly and Zeph when it turns out that there is another computer in existence, and this computer wants to take over everything.

Flood and Fire is another fast-paced adventure, filled with chases and battles, and sprinkled with tantalizing glimpses into the world before The Collapse. Diamand's world-building is excellent. Some of the details will likely escape US readers. (For example, there's a remnant of road called the "Emaleven". Readers who haven't been to the UK may not know that the M11 is a major roadway.) However, the overall picture of a technophobic England, regressed to basic survival (and old-style gender roles), in contrast with a somewhat more advanced Scotland, is clear and interesting.

The Raider's Ransom books are a good introduction to post-apocalyptic fare for middle grade graders. There is, however, a fair degree of violence in Flood and Fire, with fighting and blood and some gratuitous killing. They are not for the timid. Kids who are ok with the later Harry Potter books, or Suzanne Collins' Underland Chronicles, should be fine.

What I like most about Flood and Fire is the way that Diamand creates genuine moral conflicts for the characters, particularly Zeph. What would you do if you had choose between the lives of your 300 dependents (including babies) and the lives of your two friends? Although there is plenty of world-building going on here, and several plot twists, the relationships between the characters are what ultimately drive the story.

I also like the dialect that Diamand uses for Zeph and Lilly. They have unique grammar and vocabularies, quite distinct from who people talk today, but not so different that kids won't be able to understand it. Here's Zeph:

"Problem on problem, and every one needing my deciding. I never really got this was what my father did, coz all I saw was what I wanted. Feasts and warriors giving way to him." (Page 44)

And here's Lilly:

"Me and Lexy walk down a golden street, her hand in mine, tight-holding. Our heads are turning this way and that, trying to look at everything at once, and we've both got silly smiles on our faces... I can't hardly believe this place is in the same world as me." (Page 49)

When I read Raider's Ransom, I occasionally had trouble telling whether a chapter was being narrated by Zeph or Lilly (both first-person narrators). Flood and Fire still doesn't indicate this in the chapter headings. But for whatever reason, maybe a better job of projecting each character's voice, I always knew who was talking in this second book.

Zeph, Lilly, Lexy, and PSAI are all strong characters (yes, the computer is a character in his own right). I also rather enjoyed a new character in this book, a Professor of Silicon Antiquities from Trinity College. The conclusion of Flood and Fire is creative, without being overly facile (in terms of wrapping things up neatly). Although the immediate conflicts are resolved, I do hope that Diamand pens a third installment about Lilly and Zeph. Because I, for one, would be happy to visit the world of Greater Scotland and the Last Ten Counties again.

Flood and Fire is recommended for middle grade readers, boys and girls, and anyone else who enjoys post-apocalyptic fiction and/or books about pirates. But do read Raider's Ransom first!

Publisher: The Chicken House (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: June 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).

Seasons: Anne Crausaz

Book: Seasons
Author: Anne Crausaz
Age Range: 3-8

516Tbd4CWXL._SL500_AA300_Seasons is a lovely little picture book by Anne Crausaz, originally published in France, recently released in a US edition by Kane Miller. Seasons is, as one would expect from the title, an introduction to the seasons for kids. Each season gets several page spreads filled with sights, sounds, tastes, scents, and textures.

Seasons reads like an illustrated poem, with very spare text, and highly stylized pictures. For examples, one spread is:

"Fireflies, like flying stars.
Summer has arrived!"

The background is a deep, dusky blue, dotted with pin-prick stars, while mysterious plants  and over-sized fireflies make up the foreground.

Or there's this on another page:

"Sometimes summer is the taste of sand
in your mouth!"

We see a freckle-faced girl against a blue-gray background, with minimal texture. It's not a typical ocean scene (there's no texture to the water at all), but we can see sand falling from the fruit in the girl's hands.

Crausaz does an excellent job of showing the ways that the seasons feel, using warmer palettes for the warmer seasons. She highlights many of things that make each season wonderful, from the crackling sound that leaves make in the fall to the smell of woodsmoke in the winter.

Seasons is a relatively small picture book (8.7" by 7.2"), with no dust jacket. I think this will make it appealing to small hands. It's a quiet book, but one that I found myself wanting to re-read immediately. Recommended for preschoolers, or anyone who has an appreciation for the outdoors. Truly a beautiful little book. Kudos to Kane Miller for bringing it over from France.

Publisher: Kane Miller
Publication Date: March 2011 (first American edition)
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).

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: June 16

JkrROUNDUP The mid-June Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup is now available at The Book Chook. The children's literacy roundups are usually hosted by Jen Robinson's Book Page, The Family Bookshelf (formerly The Reading Tub) and Rasco from RIF. Susan Stephenson has always been a behind-the-scenes contributor to the roundups, and has stepped in this month to host for the first time. Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco, and I appreciate it, and are impressed with the wide range of items that Susan has found to share. 

I especially appreciated:

Please do click through to read the full roundup - you won't be disappointed! One other tidbit crossed my desk today that I'd like to add. From an email that I received: "On Tuesday June 21, Reach Out and Read will kick off its second annual “Summer of a Million Books” campaign! Reach Out and Read has once again set the goal of putting one million brand-new books in the hands of American children this Summer. That means that every day between June 21 and September 8 (International Literacy Day) Reach Out and Read's participating pediatricians will need to distribute 25,600 books to the children we serve. If we succeed, we will provide one million more families with the tools and the guidance they need to prepare their children to succeed in school. We have a few ways that people can get involved which are spelled out on our website." See this press release for more details.

Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. Carol Rasco will be back later this month with more children's literacy and reading news.

Guest Expert Spot at PBS Parents: Tips for Encouraging Summer Reading

PBSParents I'm pleased to report that for the next two weeks I'll be a guest expert at PBS Parents, talking about summer reading. My first post went live yesterday: Tips for Encouraging Summer Reading. I share five tips, such as "Always pack up books whenever you go somewhere, for your kids and for yourself (including audiobooks)". I also recommend a few recent middle grade titles that I think are particularly good for summer reading, and point to a number of additional resources (like the PBS Kids/iVillage Summer Reading Community Challenge). If you have a few moments, I hope that you'll check out the post, and use the comments there to share your tips for encouraging kids to read this summer.

Next week I'll be back at PBS Parents with some specific tips for encouraging boys to read this summer.