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Posts from April 2012

Numbers 3: Infinity: Rachel Ward

Book: Numbers 3: Infinity
Author: Rachel Ward
Pages: 256
Age Range: 14 and up

4193pQ-2LvL._SL500_AA300_Infinity is the conclusion to Rachel Ward's Numbers trilogy, and I think that it's the best of the series. The first book, Numbers (reviewed here), featured Jem, a teenage girl living in present-day London, cursed with a psychic gift. Whenever Jem looked someone in the eye, she saw that person's "number", the day that he or she was going to die. I found the premise, and the adventure that resulted when people learned about her gift, fascinating. Numbers was a book that I thought about long after finishing it. [If you find the idea intriguing, I recommend that you stop reading here. This review may contain spoilers for the first two books.]

The second and third books of the trilogy, The Chaos and Infinity, feature Jem's son, Adam, who inherited her gift. In The Chaos, Adam's life intersects with that of Sarah, a girl with gifts (and problems) of her own.  

Infinity picks up two years later, after a massive earthquake has devastated England, leading to a time of chaos and deprivation. Adam, Sarah, and Sarah's daughter Mia are scraping by, camping in the woods with Sarah's two younger brothers. They move frequently, in part because Adam fears that the remnants of the government might still be looking for him. This fear proves correct, as a man named Saul arrives asking Adam to come with him, to use his gift to help the re-emerging government. Saul isn't above using Sarah and Mia to get Adam to do what he wants. Perilous times follow, for Adam, Sarah, Mia, and Sarah and Adam's unborn child.

Both The Chaos and Infinity alternate chapters between Adam and Sarah's viewpoints. I found The Chaos compelling, plotwise, but I found Adam's voice (he's meant to be poor and not very well educated) occasionally jarring. Infinity worked much better for me in that regard. I'm not sure if this is because Ward toned down the slang/poor grammar, or whether the fast pace of Infinity distracted me from noticing. I suspect a bit of both. Certainly it would be reasonable that two years spent with the much more posh Sarah would have smoothed Adam's rough edges a bit. (And it's not the I mind reading the viewpoint of someone from a poor, urban background - the particular voice just didn't scan right for me in The Chaos.)

In any event, Infinity is a real page-turner. Mysterious psychic gifts, underground government bunkers, a truly creepy bad guy, and babies (born and unborn) in peril. There are also intriguing relationship dynamics between Adam and Sarah concerning young Mia's apparent ability to extend her life indefinitely by taking other people's numbers. I read Infinity in a single sitting, scarcely able to put it down to go refill my water glass. I found Infinity particularly suspenseful because Rachel Ward had shown in the first two books her willingness to kill off important characters. I really wondered how she would end the book, right up to the last page. I can't often say that.

Here are a few quotes, to give you a feel for Infinity (and interestingly, after what I said about Adam's voice, all of the passages that I highlighted as I was reading Infinity are from his perspective):

"I was only on the telly once, but it was the last TV most people saw. There are no TVs or computers in England now, no screens or phones. The networks and transmitters got put back after the quake, at the beginning of the Chaos." (Page 6)

"I'm seventeen, with a girlfriend and three children to look after, a baby on the way, and no home and no food, and it's never gonna get better. All I know is it's gonna end one day because I see the end everywhere, in everyone, and I wish I didn't. And even that isn't certain because it could all change. It could all be over tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. Do you think I want this?" (Page 15)

""We all carry burdens," he says. "My theory is that we're given what we can cope with, some of us more than others."

His eyes are bright, almost like there's a fire inside him. I've got no choice but to look at him, listen to him. His number dazzles me, skewering me again with its pain. Why does this death hurt so  much more than other people's?" (Page 95)

Infinity, the conclusion to the Numbers series, has a fascinating premise, strong characters, and edge-of-your-seat plotting. It is not to be missed by fans of science fiction, paranormal, and post-apocalyptic YA, or by anyone who enjoys a good story. But do start with Numbers and The Chaos first. I highly recommend the Numbers series.

Publisher: The Chicken House (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Into Everything Baby Stages Books

Books: Do Touch! Don't Touch! and Uh-Oh! Oh No!
Author: Ann Hodgman
Illustrator: Lucy Barnard
Pages: 18 pages each (padded board book format)
Age Range: 2-3

Tiger Tales Press sent me this pair of padded board books about babies/toddlers who are "into everything". I immediately passed them on to Baby Bookworm, who just turned two. She loves them so much that I simply had to share them here on my blog.

2e307de5267d0a6748803fa18f1d85e1Uh-Oh! Oh No! features a somewhat hapless father who hands his high chair-bound toddler a sippy cup that isn't closed properly, and then leaves the room. Uh-oh! Oh no! The milk spills all over the cat. Who in turn knocks over the knitting basket. Which knocks a chair into the table. And so on, until there is a very large mess. Daddy cleans up the mess, of course, but (not being the fastest learner in the world), he then hands the toddler an open bowl of applesauce. Uh-oh! The book ends on another "Uh-oh!" high note, as far as toddlers are concerned.

This is a book that's easy to be a bit snarky about, as a parent. Why does daddy leave a big pitcher of orange juice on the tablecloth, when there's a dog nearby who can easily pull the tablecloth off the table? When daddy ends up covered in milk and cereal, well, he brought it upon himself, didn't he? He'll learn.

But that's not really the point. The point is that to toddlers (mine, at least, but I would strongly imagine others, too) this book is flat-out hilarious. Baby Bookworm loves to chime in with the "Uh-oh! Oh no!" refrain. She asks for the book by name, repeatedly, and she now says "Uh-oh! Oh no!" whenever something falls on the floor. Uh-Oh! Oh No! echoes her real-world experiences, with just enough exaggeration to be funny. Ann Hodgman's text is quite minimal, but Lucy Barnard's soft-toned illustrations have enough detail to add talking points. ("Look! The kitty is drinking the juice on the table.")

52d29446333fddaf98097c1745e417a1Do Touch! Don't Touch! is similar in tone and illustration style (featuring the same toddler from the first book). Each page spread shows something that children should touch (like a kitty) or should not touch (like the stove). At the end are a couple of page spreads showing multiple "Don't touch!" or "Do touch!" items. This book is quite similar in content to Leslie Patricelli's No No Yes Yes, though the entries aren't paired in Do Touch! Don't Touch!, and there's a more straight-up (vs. cartoon/humorous) take on things.

As a reviewer, I found myself bothered by the lack of parallelism in the text in Do Touch! Don't Touch! The first couple of entries have a sentence (like "The yarn is fluffy") followed by "Do touch" or "Don't touch". Then the book shifts to a format like "Don't touch the plug. Too sparky!". Then it goes back to the first format "The syrup is sticky! Don't touch." Perhaps I am nit-picking, but (having read this book many times over the past several days), I think that a consistent format would have been better.

As a parent, I question the very idea behind this type of book (that goes for No No Yes Yes, too). Do such books just put ideas into kids' heads? Would it have occurred to my child to play with plugs in the first place? But, again, my child LOVES this book. She asks for it again and again. She seems to be processing the information. If I skip listing one of the "Don't Touch" items on the last page, she stops me to point it out. She touches the picture of the plug, and pretends to get a shock. She makes her doll touch the picture of the hot stove, and then gives her a kiss. So, I have to concede that Do Touch! Don't Touch! is filling some sort of "learning about the world" need. With just a touch of humor thrown in.

Do Touch! Don't Touch! and Uh-Oh! Oh No! are sturdy, padded board books, a bit larger than typical board books (though not as big as the lap editions). They are chock full of toddler appeal. They invite the reader to touch the pages (though they aren't touch and feel books). They are about things the toddler can relate to and giggle about, with punchy, repeatable text. They do lack that particular quality that makes an adult willing and happy to read the book over and over again (Barnyard Dance, anyone?). But toddlers don't care about that, do they? If you are looking for a book sure to please your favorite two-year old, either of these titles is well worth a look.

Publisher: Tiger Tales Books (@tigertalesbooks)
Publication Date: March 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Eye of the Storm: Kate Messner

Book: Eye of the Storm
Author: Kate Messner (blog)
Pages: 304
Age Range: 10 and up

EyeofStorm1-198x300Kate Messner's Eye of the Storm is set in a near-term (~2050) future America in which frequent, dangerous storms have changed the way people live. Children don't play outside; they play in indoor playgrounds located deep underground. Everyone has safe rooms in their homes, and there are safety lots located every 15 miles along the major highways. Farming is a dying occupation (because the storms keep destroying things). Most people eat artificially created fruits and vegetables ("DNA-ture").

The man behind much of this new technology is Stephen Meggs, brilliant, wealthy, and powerful. But to 12-year-old Jaden, he's just the Dad she hasn't seen in four years. When Jaden is sent to spend the summer with her father in Placid Meadows, a special community guaranteed to be safe from storms, she looks forward to meeting her new stepmother and baby half-sister. She's also excited to be attending the prestigious Eye on Tomorrow science camp that her father's company runs. But what she doesn't expect is to uncover life-changing secrets about her father, or to find herself in a race for her very life.

The storm-plagued world that Kate Messner builds in Eye of the Storm is disturbingly plausible. Thinking about this book will make a little chill climb up your spine as you read about the latest band of tornados to hit the mid-west. The adults in the book can remember what it was like when a moderate storm was national news, but the kids have always lived within reach of storm cellars. The other changes in technology seem relatively minor. People drive hydrogen-powered vehicles instead of using gas, printed books are a rarity, and computers are a bit more advanced than they are today. But most of the societal changes in are due to the weather. People spend a lot of time at home.

Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for the worldview (and Jaden's voice):

(Referring to the safe lots along the highways) They're like the Revolutionary War-era taverns I learned about in my online history course, spaced fifteen miles apart because that's how far a traveler could ride in a day. Here was are 275 years later, driving hydrogen vehicles instead of horses, and we're back to needing shelter every fifteen miles." (Page 2)

"Riding a bicycle was something I thought was gone forever. Something future kids would hear about in stories from the old times, before the earth's average temperature grew so warm, before the atmosphere became so unstable, so friendly to huge storms. I thought bikes were gone, like hikes in the woods and picnics that aren't in the backyard. Somehow, Dad's company has found a way to give those things back to people." (Page 23)

Jaden is a plausible character. Resentful of her distant father, even as she strives for his attention. Struggling with doing what's right, when there's personal risk involved (but of course coming through in the end). Afraid when it makes sense to be afraid. And smart, smart, smart. Nice to read about a girl who is not ashamed of being bright, and maintains only a touch of cynicism.

The thing that I liked best about Eye of the Storm, though, was the focus on science. More specifically, the focus on kids working on, and valuing, science. In a world in which the future of society depends upon figuring out a way to stop the storms (and ways to protect people from them), kids who are good at science are the ones who are cool. I like that Jaden and her friends enjoy solving technical problems, and developing and testing hypotheses.

The final section of Eye of the Storm is quite intense (one can picture the movie), as Jaden and her friends outrace the storm of a lifetime. I read that part quite quickly, turning the pages eagerly to find out what happened next. I think that kids in late elementary school and middle school, boys and girls, will find Eye of the Storm compelling.

As an adult reader, I did sense the faintest whiff of agendas on the part of the author (environmentalism, pro-science/education). But Messner maintains a very light hand (the second quote above is about as overt as this gets). And, as I said, I'm happy to see a book for kids in which pure science plays a central role. Truth be told, Eye of the Storm's storm-tossed world feels eerily prescient. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, libraries should definitely scoop this one up. I would expect Eye of the Storm to fly off the shelves.

Publisher: Walker Children's Books (@bwkids)
Publication Date: February 28, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

I'm a Book Person. Are You?

RIF_Primary_VerticalSo, have you seen RIF's new Book People Unite Public Service Announcement / video? Really, if you love books, you simply MUST watch it.  Madeline is sitting on a bus next to Greg Heffley. The three little pigs are jamming to a song that starts "imagine if every child had a book to read". Humpty Dumpty and Curious George are there, too. The three little pigs are parachuting from a plane. And lots more. There's a catchy, inspirational song about book people uniting, one that you can share with your kids. It's fabulous. The punchline is "Read to a child today, and spark a lifetime of ambition." 

Then there's the pledge. If you go to the website, you'll be asked to take the pledge:

If you're a Book Person, tell the world. Books open new worlds and unlock new doors. Take the Book People Unite pledge and declare your belief in the transformative power of books, especially for young minds. Encourage your friends to join the movement too by sharing online and you'll get a download of the full Book People Unite track. We'll also follow up with news on the Book People Unite movement.

Hundreds and hundreds of people have taken the pledge, from @LevarBurton to @MrsPStorytime to @NeilHimself. I've been following the #BookPeopleUnite Twitter feed for a couple of days now, and it's an inspiring celebration of books and literacy. Authors, librarians, bloggers, publishers, literacy organizations, and people of all ages and backgrounds are stepping up to declare themselves "Book People."

I'm a book person. Are you? If you are, and you haven't seen the Book People Unite video yet, or signed the pledge, what are you waiting for? Join Madeline, Greg Heffley, Little Red Riding Hood, Babar, and many other friends from the literary world. Declare yourself a book person. It will brighten your day. Then go and read to child, and be grateful for your access to books.

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: Mid-April

JkrROUNDUPThe mid-April edition of the Children’s Literacy and Reading News Roundup, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Family Bookshelf, and Rasco from RIF, is now available at The Family Bookshelf. Host Terry Doherty says: "We are delighted to celebrate reading ideas and highlight literacy-related events on the horizon. We also have some news about literacy and reading programs and research, and a couple of suggestions for growing bookworms. Thanks for tuning in!"

One of the posts that Terry highlighted is one that I loved, too. I've mentioned before how much I love the Nerdy Book Club, a group blog founded by Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, and Cindy Minnich. The Nerdy Book Club features a host of dedicated, book-obsessed contributors. I especially enjoyed a post this week by Sara Ralph on the Top Ten Ways to Raise A Nerdy Book Club Member. Really, if you care about children's books and literacy, and you only have time to read one blog, the Nerdy Book Club would be an excellent choice.

I also especially liked the picture that Terry included (a suggestion from Carol) of a tub made of books. Do click through to see! Terry has bunches of other interesting literacy-related events and tips, too.

And here are a couple of additional tidbits from me:

  • Today marks the launch of the third annual Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Ballou Sr. High School in Washington, DC. The goal of this project is to improve the selection of books available to Ballou's underserved students. Colleen Mondor has all of the details about this great, great cause at Chasing Ray. Participation is very easy. Just cllick through to the school's wish list at Powell's books, and send along a few books. This is a quick and easy way to make a difference.
  • Jenny Schwartzberg sent me a link today to a story from the Jakarta Globe about an Indonesian mom who started her own foundation, "Taman Bacaan Anak Lebah (Bee Children Reading Garden) in 2009. The foundation offers underprivileged children in eastern Indonesia reading material to help instill the habit and joy of reading at an early age... In addition to books, TBAL also supplies the schools with stationery, bookshelves and teaching materials." Very nice!

That's all I have for you today. Carol Rasco will be back at the end of the month with the next children's literacy and reading news roundup. And, of course, we’ll be sharing literacy links on Twitter in the meantime @RascofromRIF, @readingtub, and @JensBookPage. Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy!

Robot Zombie Frankenstein: Annette Simon

Book: Robot Zombie Frankenstein!
Author: Annette Simon
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-8

RZF1-smRobot Zombie Frankenstein! is a fun new picture book by Annette Simon (see also my review of Mocking Birdies). It's about zombies, robots, and ... cherry pie. It's also about friendship, one-upmanship, and shapes. Two robots (each composed of a series of shapes) are hanging out, when one of them decides to transform himself into Robot ZOMBIE! Not the be outdone, the other robot becomes Robot zombie Frankenstein! Then the first robot becomes Robot zombie Frankenstein PIRATE! And so on. Things progress to a ridiculous level, until the introduction of a cherry pie changes the game.

Robot Zombie Frankenstein! reminded me a bit of Shark vs. Train (which I adore but somehow never reviewed) in the playful competition between the two characters. You can actually see the robots becoming aware of the ridiculousness of the later permutations. Kids are sure to laugh.

Although there isn't much text to the book (basically the current Robot zombie etc. description, and some short asides by the characters), Simon uses a variety of visual elements to bring kids into the story. The illustrations are digitally created, and she uses the relative size of the robots (and text), as well as lines delineating motion, to add excitement. The robots are brightly colored and composed of a variety of shapes, all with smooth textures. When the pie is introduced as a high-resolution photograph, the contrast is strong and surprising (and likely to leave the reader craving cherry pie for dessert).

Robot Zombie Frankenstein! is that relatively rare book in which the endpapers add something to the story. The front endpapers show a series of colored shapes, each labeled as "semicircle", "rectangle", "lines", etc. The back endpapers show the same shapes, but now labeled as "robot foot", "robot torso", "Frankenstein scar", etc. One kind of wants to make a copy of the whole thing, cut out the shapes, and let the young reader have at assembling the robots. I can imagine a cut-out robot shape kit to accompany the book, actually.

So we have a picture book that introduces a bunch of interesting character types (most of which, like pirates, are inherently cool), sends a tiny message about cooperating vs. competing, and shows kids (painlessly) how shapes can be assembled into pictures. All of this is combined into a bright, dynamic package, with strong visuals and a dash of advanced vocabulary ("scallywag").

I think that Robot Zombie Frankenstein! would make an excellent storytime readaloud. I look forward to introducing it to Baby Bookworm when she is a tiny bit older (I think that Frankenstein and zombies are a bit too abstract for her for right now). Recommended for readers 3 and up.

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

How Many Jelly Beans?: Andrea Menotti

Book: How Many Jelly Beans?: A Giant Book of Giant Numbers
Author: Andrea Menotti
Illustrator: Yancey Labat
Pages: 28
Age Range: 2-6

51CvX8wJjSL._SL500_AA300_I'm not much of a reviewer of "concept books". But I have to say that I really enjoyed How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti. It's a big, bold number book, with a delightful surprise at the end. How Many Jelly Beans? is over-sized at close to 11" by 17". The early pages feature two kids, Emma and Aiden, who are each given the choice to select a number of jelly beans. Emma starts out wanting ten, and ten colored jelly beans are shown in the palm of her hand. But then Aiden asks for twenty, and the competition is on. Each kid asks for an increasingly larger number, with that number illustrated each time, right up until the two kids collectively agree that the proper number of jelly beans is ... a million. A 10-sheet fold-out section, covered with tiny jelly beans (they look like colored dots) is the result.

The first time I read this book, I responded like a little kid myself. "Oh my gosh, that's what a million tiny jelly beans looks like. They are actually showing me a million of something. So very cool!" Baby Bookworm (age 2) LOVED it. She likes the "dots", as she thinks of the jelly beans, and the way that the book folds out, so that you can (carefully) sit on the resulting multi-page mat. She later saw the book in my "to be reviewed" stack, and demanded it immediately ("Dots! Dots!"). That's her highest recommendation.

Yancey Labat's cartoon-like illustrations of Emma and Aiden, and Emma's dog, are fun throughout. The kids are shown in black and white, with their dialog in bubbles, surrounded by plenty of white space. Most of the book's color comes from the jelly beans, which gets smaller in size and larger in quantity as the book progresses. The jelly beans are sometimes shown in the form of numbers (that is, the number 1000 made up of, presumably, 1000 jelly beans, for example), and sometimes in other shapes.

Menotti and Labat also illustrate the concept of division, as when Emma points out that to eat 1000 jelly beans in a year, Aiden would only have to eat two or three per day. This is shown via a set of calendar pages, with two or three jelly beans in each box. Simple but brilliant.

If you are looking for a book for preschoolers that conveys the concept of large numbers, How Many Jelly Beans? is an excellent choice. It's bright and creative, and the foldout section is a wonderful surprise. Libraries will need to be cautious with this one, of course, due to both the unusual size of the book and the risks of tearing of the pullout section. But for use at home or at a preschool, How Many Jelly Beans? is sure to please. With it's large size, it would make a nice birthday gift, too. 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids)
Publication Date: February 29, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: April 9

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 1519 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have six book reviews (one picture book, three middle grade/middle school, and two young adult titles) and one children's literacy roundup (with the full details available at Rasco from RIF).

Dear-logoI also wanted to point out that this Thursday, April 12, is Drop Everything and Read Day. National D.E.A.R. Day is a special reading celebration to remind and encourage families to make reading together on a daily basis a family priority. D.E.A.R. Day spokesperson Ramona Quimby says: "April 12th will be a busy day for me since that is also Beverly Cleary’s birthday, but I always can find time to read. I am going to tell everyone in my family to Drop Everything and Read on April 12th. We can do it right at home or to make the day more special, maybe go to the library or a bookstore." How about you all? Are you going to drop everything and read this Thursday? Do it for Ramona, and for Beverly Cleary. Do it for your kids. Do it for yourself. 

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I read 1 middle grade, 3 young adult and 4 adult novels. I'm including some notes on the books in this post, as I'm still finding writing new reviews to be a bit beyond me (pneumonia recovery is a slow process). Hopefully I'll be back up to normal speed by the next newsletter.

  • Roald Dahl: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Puffin. Completed March 24, 2012. A wonderful re-read, on MP3 from Audible. This is one of my favorite all-time books, and I'm glad that I listened to it again.
  • Y.S. Lee: The Agency 2: The Body at the Tower. Candlewick. Completed March 25, 2012. Library copy on Kindle.
  • Y.S. Lee: The Agency 3: The Traitor in the Tunnel. Candlewick. Completed April 1, 2012. Purchase on Kindle. I quite enjoyed this series/trilogy, about a reformed young female thief who becomes a spy in Victorian London. I highly recommend the Agency books to anyone who enjoys mysteries or historical novels, particularly those featuring strong female characters.
  • Rachel Ward: Numbers 2: The Chaos. Chicken House. Completed April 8, 2012. Library copy, second book of trilogy. I had loved the first book, Numbers. This one I found compelling, in terms of plot, but the voices of the characters (or one of them, anyway) didn't quite work for me. Still, I'm consumed by the story, and look forward to reading the third book shortly. 
  • Elizabeth George: This Body of Death. Harper. Completed March 20, 2012. Library copy. This was my first return to the Lynley/Havers series after the "what was she thinking" What Came Before He Shot Her? I think that George has become a little too inclined to use her books as a platform to shed a light on social injustices (vs. focusing on the story). But I still enjoyed returning to this fictional universe.
  • Anne Holt: 1222: A Hanne Wilhelmsen novel. Scribner. Completed March 23, 2012. Library copy. This is the first US translation of Holt's work, which is popular in Norway. I enjoyed it, and look forward to reading other books. Hanne Wilhelmsen is a delightfully grouchy protagonist.
  • Victoria Thompson: Murder on Sisters' Row. Berkley. Completed March 24, 2012. Library copy. The latest in Thompson's Gaslight series, which I always enjoy.
  • Orson Scott Card: Shadows in Flight. Tor. Completed March 29, 2012, on MP3 from Audible. This one I found a bit disappointing. I'd seen complaints about it being too short, but I personally found that it dragged on. This is a new spin-off series from the Ender's Game universe, featuring Bean's not quite human children. Which should have been interesting, but alas, wasn't.

ImagesI also, of course, continue to read picture books and board books aloud to Baby Bookworm. We're currently just under 1000 books read aloud for 2012. Current favorites include Julius's Candy Corn by Kevin Henkes, Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems, and Jamberry by Bruce Degan.

I'm currently listening to Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. I'm reading Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

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

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Pregnant Pause: Han Nolan

Book: Pregnant Pause
Author: Han Nolan
Pages: 352
Age Range: 14 and up

ImagesPregnant Pause is a realistic and surprisingly entertaining look at teen pregnancy by National Book Award Winner Han Nolan. Pregnant sixteen-year-old Eleanor Crowe decides, largely to spite her missionary parents, to marry her baby's father, Lam. Lam's parents, though not at all happy about the situation, give Elly and Lam a cabin, and work, at their summer camp for overweight kids. As the summer progresses, Elly starts (slowly, realistically) to grow up. But a crisis at the camp on the baby's delivery date could change everything.

I could not put this book down. Elly is a great character. She's flawed, ever so flawed. But she has this wonderful, honest voice, and it's a true pleasure watching her start to figure things out. Here are a couple of examples of Elly's voice:

"At first, they expected me to go with them. Just give birth, hand my baby over to my sister, and go back to Kenya with them and forget about everything else. They assumed I'd go back there, when I've got my whole life here in Maine. They act like I got pregnant on purpose just so I could stay here. Well, if I had thought of it I might have done that, but it didn't occur to me." (Chapter One)

I love the honesty of that passage. "If I had thought of it I might have".

"I'm thinking I'm going to put out a teen pregnancy magazine. Why not? And it will be real. Real people on the covers, and stories about how real people are dealing with being pregnant, and working and going to school, and parents and friends who are no longer there for you because you just don't fit in anymore, or they're too busy--and so are you, but in a different way--and how it feels to be left out of everything. Yeah, I really ought to start that one up." (Chapter Two)

"I look at the girl, who's smiling now. She really is pretty. She's the kind of girl that looks like she's just made for being fat, like she was probably born that way. I mean, does everybody in the world have to skinny? Aren't we all shapes and sizes, and isn't one size fat? I know, sacrilege, right? People say, "But what about their health?" and blah, blah, blah, but my great-great-grandmother Nora is huge, and she's ninety-nine years old and healthy as a horse, so there." (Chapter Four)

I also quite enjoyed the rural Maine camp setting in Pregnant Pause. The camp felt real, from the inconvenience of the latrines (imagine trudging through the woods every time you need to relieve yourself, at 9 months pregnant), to the up-and-down nature of the "fat camp" food, to the activity cabins. Nolan doesn't beat the reader over the head with "this is set in Maine", but I think that she gets the details right.

I also liked the way the other characters in the book unfold. No one is all good or all bad, even when the inexperienced Elly expects them to be. I saw some of the book's developments coming (in a shaking my head, "oh, Elly" sort of way), while other took me by surprise.

Nolan's treatment of teen pregnancy is realistic, both in Elly's symptoms and discomforts, and in the decisions she has to make. The author strikes a nice balance in getting these things across without making the book depressing, or at all messagey. This comes back, again, to Elly's first person voice. She doesn't feel sorry for herself (for the most part), and she doesn't want the reader to feel sorry for her either. She's dealing with the consequences of her actions, and figuring out what to do next, all the while trying to help the kids in her care at the camp. She's certainly done foolish things in the past, and she does stupid things along the way, too. (No doctor visits until ridiculously close to the end of pregnancy, for example.) But she's still a breath of fresh air, and a much better person than she realizes. 

Pregnant Pause is much more than an issue book about teen pregnancy. The camp setting is actually pretty boy-friendly, as is Elly's voice, though I'm not sure how one could describe this book to make teen boys willing to pick it up. I think that any reader, teen or adult, would enjoy spending some time with Elly, and could learn a lot from her (a lot more than, "isn't not a great idea to get pregnant when you're only sixteen"). This is a book that I could see re-reading. Highly recommended for teens and adults.

Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books (@hmhbooks)
Publication Date: September 20, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Breaking Stalin's Nose: Eugene Yelchin

Book: Breaking Stalin's Nose
Author: Eugene Yelchin
Pages: 160
Age Range: 9-12

ImagesBreaking Stalin's Nose is a brief, heavily illustrated middle grade novel about life in Moscow during Joseph Stalin's dictatorship in the 1950s. Author Eugene Yelchin grew up in the 1960's Soviet Union, unaware of but influenced by the terrible events of Stalin's reign. Breaking Stalin's Nose is (as an afterword explains) his attempt to "expose and confront" the fear that was the legacy of Stalin on the Russian people.

Breaking Stalin's Nose is told from the first-person viewpoint of young Sasha Zaichik, who lives in a communal apartment with his father, a state police officer, and 46 other "hardworking, honest Soviet citizens." Sasha idolizes Stalin, and wants nothing more than to join the Young Soviet Pioneers. However, on the eve of Sasha's triumph, his father is arrested. Over the next 24-hours, Sasha learns unsettling things about his family and his country, and also learns that his life will never be the same.

The most powerful thing about Breaking Stalin's Nose is Sasha's utter naïveté. Readers will immediately understand things that pass Sasha right by, such as the betrayal of the neighbor who informed against his father to get a better room in the apartment. And, like me, they'll feel sorry for this poor, deluded boy, who genuinely believes that if only Stalin himself understood what was happening to Sasha's father, he would intervene.

There's a surreal quality to Breaking Stalin's Nose, one that increases steadily throughout the book. Sasha's teacher is almost cartoonish in her propaganda-spouting and blatant manipulations of the students. Sasha himself sees a couple of strange visions (one involving a talking, smoking, Stalin's nose). After that, a scene in a closet with a State Security lieutenant is cloaked in a mist of unreality. At one point, I wondered: "is this all going to turn out to be a dream?" But I think it's just Yelchin's way of conveying Sasha's struggle to cope with the crumbling of the reality that Sasha has believed in his whole life. It's also a way to make the bleakness of Sasha's situation bearable.

Yelchin does a nice job of describing setting and events in detail without slowing down the pacing of the book. Like this:

"Everyone in the kitchen stops talking when my dad comes in. They look like they are afraid, but I know they are just respectful. Dad swoops me off the radiator and carries me through the kitchen, nodding at everybody. His overcoat is coarse and smells of snow." (Chapter IV)

He slips in quite a bit of information about what life was like under Stalin's regime (and likely under any totalitarian regime), without being heavy-handed. This works because he shows things from Sasha's viewpoint only, and Sasha barely even sees them. Like this:

"I take small bites of the carrot to make it last; the carrot is delicious. When hunger gnaws inside my belly, I tell myself that a future Pioneer has to repress cravings for such unimportant matters as food. Communism is just over the horizon; soon there will be plenty of food for everyone. But still, it's good to have something tasty to eat now and then. I wonder what it's like in the capitalist countries. I wouldn't be surprised if children there had never tasted a carrot." (Chapter III)

Yelchin is an artist, and Breaking Stalin's Nose is heavily illustrated with black and white pictures (not in the vein of Brian Selznick's books, but more so than the occasional illustrations seen in most middle grade novels). The illustrations augment the story, adding atmosphere to Sasha's apartment, and giving a face to the various authority figures. The images occasionally add humor (Stalin's boot-wearing nose is quite memorable), but more often pathos. The end of the book, which finds Sasha standing in a long line in the cold, with the line wending its way across several pages, is particularly strong.

Breaking Stalin's Nose is a quick read that leaves a lasting impact. Although it's about a dark time in Russia's history, the book contains just enough lightness to keep modern-day kids reading. Breaking Stalin's Nose also contains enough depth to really make kids think. Highly recommended. Breaking Stalin's Nose was one of the Horn Book's Best Books for 2011 and was a 2012 Newbery Honor book

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co. (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: September 27, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: March in Review

JkrROUNDUPThe End of March Children’s Literacy and Reading News Roundup, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Family Bookshelf and Rasco from RIF, is now available at Rasco from RIF. Carol has the scoop on all of the major happenings in the children's lit world, from the tremendous success of The Hunger Games movie (which I hope to see soon) to the many events in honor of National Poetry Month. Gregory K's 30 Poets/30 Days celebration is always a highlight. Carol also reminds us that "Voting for  the Children’s Book Council’s 5th Annual Children’s Choice Book Awards is open! Winners will be announced during Children’s Book Week May 13-17!"

This month's roundup also features a variety of news about literacy and reading programs and research, and suggestions for growing bookworms. I especially enjoyed this:

"Words, words, words: A recent post in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found at Momania: A Blog for Busy Moms asked this question in its title:  Did your child have 1000 hours of one-on-one reading by first grade? The internet started spinning! In addition to the critical and important information provided in this article based on Marilyn Adams’ work as quoted by the San Mateo Library, I recommend to you MEANINGFUL DIFFERENCES IN THE EVERYDAY EXPERIENCES OF YOUNG AMERICAN CHILDREN by Betty Hart and Todd Risley.  Children indeed need those words, words, words!"

It's so important that children are read to in the home, early and often. I'm not too worried about Baby Bookworm getting her 1000 hours -- we read to her from morning till night. In fact, she sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night asking for "book" (though that's one time that we don't grant her request). We're already closing in on 1000 books read aloud to her this year (including re-reads of the same book at different times, not including multiple reads in the same session). So, I'm not so concerned about her getting her reading time in. But I do worry about the kids who don't have any books in their homes (which is one of the many reasons why I support RIF).

Here are a couple of extra links that I would like to share with you:

  • There's a nice, short, straightforward piece by Carrie Higgins with 5 Tips for Reaching Reluctant Readers at Main Line Parent. I found this link in the March Carnival of Children's Literature at Just Children's Books. 
  • I quite enjoyed Teri Lesesne's piece at The Stenhouse Blog on reigniting the passion for reading. Although aimed more at teachers than at bloggers, I found the tips (and the non-judgmental stance of the article) useful and refreshing. I found this piece via @ChoiceLiteracy.
  • I don't have a link, but I wish to extend my congratulations to the Johnson County Library in Shawnee Mission, Kansas for winning a visit from National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Walter Dean Myers! I found this news via the @CBCBook newsletter.

And that's all the literacy and reading news that I have for today. Terry Doherty will be back with the mid-month round. Meanwhile, please do click through to Rasco from RIF for more children's literacy and reading news. Thanks for reading!

The Twins' Blanket: Hyewon Yum

Book: The Twins' Blanket
Author: Hyewon Yum
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

51LiASjim8L._SL500_AA300_The Twins' Blanket, by Hyewon Yum, is about identical twins starting to have a tiny bit of separation from one another, but still remaining close. The five-year-old "look-alike twins" alternate the narration, explaining how they share everything, and have shared the same blanket since they were born. Now that they are getting too big to share the blanket, squabbles start to arise. Mommy says that they need separate twin beds now anyway, and proposes to make them each a blanket, from fabric that the girls select themselves. Both end up happy with their unique blankets, but not so sure about having to sleep in separate beds.

Yum captures the mix of closeness and bickering that one often sees in twins. The older sister (by three minutes) is a little bossy, both girls always want to go first, etc. Their different choices of fabric symbolize their individuality, even though they are also two parts of a whole.

The text is minimal, and reads like it's being narrated by a pair of five year olds. Like this:

"I am mad at my little sister!"

"Mad at me? I am mad, too. You're so greedy."

and this:

"Before she starts to sew, Mommy lets us wash the fabric in the backyard."

"The water tickles us. We laugh and laugh. It's so much fun!"

I think that there are pros and cons to using the girls as narrators. Young readers will be able to relate to the text, for sure. But this choice takes away the opportunity to include the richer vocabulary that one often finds in picture books. The Twins' Blanket would almost work as an early reader, as opposed to a picture book for read-aloud.

Although published by a US publisher (FSG), the author's South Korean background comes through in The Twins' Blanket, particularly in the illustrations. The twins, and their mother, look Korean. The silk-screened fabric that the twins choose for their and the watercolor endpapers both have an Asian feel. This gives the book a wonderful multi-cultural aspect, though without making it at all inaccessible to US-born readers.

The twins' original, striped blanket is bold and colorful, as are their rosy cheeks, in contrast to the extensive white background that Yum uses throughout the book. She also includes flashes of humor, like a pair of paintings of the girls, each scowling toward the edge of the picture frame (and hence the other twin), arms crossed in annoyance.

The Twins' Blanket is sure to resonate with young twins everywhere. Narrated as it is from a five-year-old perspective, it's probably more a fit for kids to read on their own than for read-aloud. The South Korean flavor to the book also makes it stand out a bit (and makes it a good choice for libraries, I would think). Recommended.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers (@FSG_Books)
Publication Date: August 16, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Anamaria Anderson

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).