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Posts from August 2012

Links I Shared on Twitter This Week: August 31

Here are some highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week.

RT @roomtoread: MA teen skips traditional bat mitzvah gifts, in favor of donations to @RoomtoRead Girls' Education program: http://bit.ly/NEFjRz

The We Believe in Picture Books! campaign launches @candlewick tomorrow (8/31), starting a year of daily videos http://ow.ly/dm77B

FYI: All Disney Learning #apps on sale for $1.99 from 8/29 - 9/12. I just downloaded Pooh's Birthday Surprise for Baby Bookworm

I am inspired by this post @NoVALibraryMom | Creating Reading Spaces At Home | http://ow.ly/dknsC  #literacy #litrdup

I would think so. FTC rules 'Your Baby Can Read' ads deceptive http://ow.ly/djK4O via @MercuryNews

Top 10 Circulated Books of 2012: 5th-6th Grade | @100scopenotes http://ow.ly/diqOV #kidlit

Must-read for reviewers | @catagator on Stacked: Authenticity, Paying for Play & The Core of Libraries http://ow.ly/diqiV

November is Picture Book Month. Check out the website for the 2012 #PictureBookMonth Champions http://ow.ly/diizU  #kidlit

#Kidlit fans, check out the August Carnival of Children's Literature at proseandkahn http://ow.ly/dhWrR  #literacy

More from Gail Gauthier at Original Content about the whole purchasing online reviews thing. Sigh! http://ow.ly/dgPBP

Book Aunt: A Sad Time for Children’s Books (authors/illustrators who passed away in 2012) http://ow.ly/dg7NB  #kidlit

Is There a Best Age to Start School? It all depends http://ow.ly/dg4Ra @TrevorHCairney #literacy #parenting

Introducing Students to the Classroom Library by @donalynbooks @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/dg3pH  #literacy #kidlit

RT @adlit: 6 tips for educational success from Middle School to High School: http://ow.ly/dcZ20 (via @NewsHourAmGrad) #AmGrad #education

Teachers have to reawaken older students' love of #reading @mwtnews http://ow.ly/dbDAp #literacy #litrdup

12 Great Books for Teen and Tween Outside Reading from @StorySnoops http://ow.ly/dbqpC #kidlit. I love outside reading!

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast | Board Books I Like Right Now: Featuring Agnese Baruzzi etc http://ow.ly/dbqE5 #kidlit

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


What Came from the Stars: Gary D. Schmidt

Book: What Came from the Stars
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Pages: 304
Age Range: 10 and up 

Gary D. Schmidt is one of my favorite authors of realistic fiction for kids. I first ran across him when I reviewed Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, and then I completely fell in love with last year's Okay for Now (which I really thought was going to get some sort of Newbery recognition). In What Came from the Stars, Schmidt ventures, successfully, into the realm of fantasy.  

What Came from the Stars is told as two parallel, intersecting stories. We begin with The Last Days of the Valorim on a planet far away from Earth. As their race faces extinction, the last of the Valorim manages to weld all of his society's art into a very special chain. The chain finds its way into the lunchbox of a boy named Tommy Pepper in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Most of the remainder of the book follows Tommy's struggles, with brief sections interspersed that follow the action back on the other planet.

Schmidt clearly spent a lot of time on world-building for What Came from the Stars. Although the Valorim sections are relatively brief, Schmidt developed an extensive vocabulary and worldview for them, complete with unique weapons and special features included in works of art. Some of these things are revealed by Tommy, who picks up an understanding of the other world along with the chain that he wears around his neck.

Schmidt doesn't define the extra-terrestrial words that he uses (until some partial definitions at the very end of the book). The reader is left to figure things out from context. This makes What Came from the Stars a bit of a challenging read, but one that fans of high fantasy will certainly embrace.

I personally found the Valorim sections to be less engaging than Tommy's story, but they do help to provide necessary background, and move Tommy's part of the story along. I liked the way that the Valorim sections were shown in italics, making it easy to determine at a glance which world was being portrayed. Not that this would have been difficult anyway, since the italic sections are written in quite a different style. Like this:

"So the Valorim came to know that their last days were upon them. The Reced was doomed, and the Ethelim they had loved well and guarded long would fall under the sharp trunco of the faceless O'Mondim and the traitors who led them... Not a one of the Valorim did not weep for what would be lost forever." (Page 1)

Tommy's sections, in contrast, are written in a modern-day, sixth grade boy voice. Like this:

"It was Tommy Pepper's twelfth birthday, and for it had unwrapped the dumbest present in the history of the entire universe: an Ace Robotroid Adventure lunch box." (Page 8)

"At the very end of the bench, Jeremy Hereford sat down. He was the smallest kid in the sixth grade. He weighed about what a cantaloupe weighs, Maybe it was the vibration of Jeremy's butt hitting the seat. Or maybe it had something to do with the quick flash of light Tommy saw at the window. But whatever it was, the Ace Robotroid Adventure lunch box tipped enough, just enough, so that it fell down, down, and clattered its tiny clatter on the wood floor." (Page 13-14)

Tommy has quite a few problems, independent of the inter-galactic artifact that landed almost literally in his lap (and the embarrassing lunch box). His mother died 8 months earlier. Now his sister doesn't talk and his father doesn't paint. And all of them are in danger of losing their beachfront home to a rapacious condo developer. His real-world struggles are not just set beside the fantasy elements, but are intermingled. For example, an inhuman enemy uses Tommy's guilt over his mother's death as a weapon against him. All of this works well, because Tommy is a strong, believable character. 

The Plymouth setting is perfect for this wind-swept story, too, and much more fully realized than the planet of the Valorim.

What Came from the Stars reminded me a little bit of Madeleine L'Engle's work, particularly the Wrinkle in Time series. There's a similar interlayering of real-world and other-worldly events, and a similar reaction, in some cases, of the secondary characters to things that they don't understand. And, of course, both L'Engle and Schmidt take a lonely main character, and give him scope to grow, and do the right thing under high stakes. But Schmidt uses more high fantasy elements than L'Engle does (swords and castles and the like). 

I wasn't as moved by What Came from the Stars as I was by Okay for Now (or A Wrinkle in Time, for that matter). Maybe because of the back and forth between the different worlds -- the fact that the book is neither one thing (realistic fiction) nor another (classic fantasy). But I certainly enjoyed it, and expect readers to enjoy it, too. Tommy is a character who is easy to care about, and various aspects of the other world are fascinating (particularly a concept by which paintings move). 

What Came from the Stars is quite boy-friendly, with numerous references to Tom Brady-signed footballs and pickup games in the schoolyard, as well as sword-fights and, well, the chance to save a world. It's more boy-friendly than the cover and the title would indicate, I think. There's also a strong girl character (a classmate who lets Tommy get away with nothing).

What Came from the Stars is another must-purchase title for libraries, and a sure bet for Gary Schmidt's many fans. I think that this could be a nice bridge book, one that entices realistic fiction fans towards fantasy, and fantasy fans towards realistic fiction. Recommended for readers of all ages, 10 and up. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher (an early finished copy)

© 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).


The Prairie Thief: Melissa Wiley

Book: The Prairie Thief
Author: Melissa Wiley (@BonnyGlen)
Pages: 224
Age Range: 8 and up

I was pleased to see The Prairie Thief turn up on my doorstep because author Melissa Wiley is a friend of mine (through blogging), and I was happy to know that she had a new book coming out. But once I started reading The Prairie Thief, I enjoyed it on its own merits, and pretty much forgot who the author was altogether.

The Prairie Thief is a historical middle grade novel with a dash of fantasy thrown in. Louisa Brody lives on a homestead on the Colorado prairie with her father. As the story begins, Louisa's Pa has been arrested for a mysterious theft, and Louisa has been sent to live with the very neighbors who reported him. Neighbor Mrs. Smirch is a dreadful woman who seems to delight in making Louisa miserable. Only the presence of the Smirches' newly arrived niece, Jessamine, offers Louisa any comfort. Until ... well, that's all I'm going to say, because I don't want to spoil the story.

Let me instead say that I found The Prairie Thief utterly satisfying. Even though (after reading many stories in my life) I was pretty sure that things would turn out ok, I couldn't put this book down. I had to know what would happen to Louisa and her Pa, and I didn't see any easy way for Pa's situation to be resolved.

The historical details (as one would expect from the author of Little House spin-off series about Laura Ingalls Wilder's grandmother and great-grandmother) are realistic without being overpowering. The importance of the Brody's cow and chickens is clear. The chores that Louisa and Jessamine are expected to do convey a bit of the difficulty of prairie life, but in a matter-of-fact  manner. This would be a nice companion novel to Caroline Starr Rose's May B. Or, of course, to the Little House books. 

I'm not going to say much about the fantasy elements, but what struck me about this book was how much it reminded me of a story that I wrote as a child, a story that consumed me for years. Melissa's writing is much better than mine was, of course, but I think that The Prairie Thief captures that same childlike sense of possibility. The sense that anything could be happening around a corner, or down a hole, if one just knew where to look. 

Here are a couple of my favorite, non-spoilery quotes:

"Mr. Smirch shrugged. His lips were pressed into a thin line. He had the same grim look on his face Louisa's pa always had when it was time to kill a pig--the look of someone who can't get out of doing a thing he hates to do." (Page 3)

"It was the most pleasant moment Louisa had known since she first set foot in this house, and for just a minute, all the worries and mysteries that had churned incessantly in her mind for a week subsided, and she felt almost peaceful. 

And then Mrs. Smirch pounced." (Page 69)

As you can see from the above, there is some advanced vocabulary in this book ("subsided", "incessantly"). But it still feels to me like a book that relatively new readers will enjoy. Perhaps this is because of Erwin Madrid's illustrations. There are 10 full-page, black and white illustrations spread throughout the book, along with the engaging color cover. Madrid brings Louisa, and the prairie, to life through heavily textured sketches. I think that the cover alone is enough to entice young readers to pick up the book.

The Prairie Thief is a delight from start to finish. Highly recommended for middle grade readers, boys or girls, age eight and up. 

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: August 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).


Rocket Writes a Story: Tad Hills

Book: Rocket Writes a Story
Author: Tad Hills (@TadHills)
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8 

Rocket Writes a Story, by Tad Hills, is the sequel to How Rocket Learned to Read. Like the first book (which I somehow never reviewed), it is adorable. Although an ode to words and stories (reading them and writing them), it never strays from being first of all a story. A simple story, sure, but a satisfying one, too.

Rocket, having learned to read in the first book, is still adding words to his collection. He has a host of little pieces of paper with words on them. He decides that he would like to do something with all of those great words. He decides to write a story. Coming up with material for a story turns out to be more difficult than he had expected. But of course he succeeds in the end. And through his story, he even makes a new friend.

Here's my favorite quote:

"Rocket even liked the way books smelled. When he opened a new book, it smelled like a place he'd never been to, like a friend he'd never met."

I feel that way about books, too. There's also a bit where Rocket is trying to figure out who lives in a nest in a big pine tree, and he receives the word "OWL" as a present. I love the idea that a new word can be a present.

The enthusiastic Rocket and his patient teacher are solid characters, their personalities revealed through their expressions and postures. New character Owl is delightfully uncertain and easy for kids to relate to. 

Hills' illustrations are kid-friendly and engaging. He uses a blue/green/yellow palette that will be familiar to fans of the first book (and the app), a palette that, while celebrating reading, also celebrates the outdoors. The illustrations featuing Rocket's words (each shown on a separate piece of paper, with a little black and white drawing) are likely to inspire kids to create their own special flashcards. 

In short, Rocket Writes a Story is going on our keep shelf, and is a must-purchase for libraries (especially school libraries). The two Rocket books together would make the perfect gift for any just-learning-to-read four to six year old. This one would also make a good gift for any writer seeking inspiration. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: July 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).


Links I Shared on Twitter This Week: August 24

Here are some highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week:

RT @tashrow: Backupify: Yes, you should back up your Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. Here’s how – Slate http://buff.ly/PoYF1n

RT @tashrow: Reading Readiness: Are We Pushing Too Hard? | GeekMom | http://buff.ly/N6pEjv #reading #literacy #litrdup

A Year of Reading: Why you should consider #KidLitCon 2012 in New York City from @MaryLeeHahn + @frankisibberson

Why You Should Apply to be a #Cybils Judge from @thereadingzone http://ow.ly/d9FQx #kidlit #yalit

Great quotes in this post! Jonathan Kozol: Reformer and #Kidlit Fan http://ow.ly/d9FDo via @StaceyLoscalzo

Ms. Yingling Reads (new MG fiction chair): What are the #Cybils, and why do I care? http://ow.ly/d9Fp5 #kidlit #yalit

Flavorwire » Watch Your Favorite TV Characters Talking About Books http://ow.ly/d8uMk via @bkshelvesofdoom

leuths, Spies, and Alibis: Upcoming Fall Mysteries for Kids and Teens http://ow.ly/d8uyt @kidlitmysteries #kidlit

Searching for #Cybils Judges | @MotherReader on why + when (that would be now) you should apply http://ow.ly/d8usw

On the @Cybils blog: Follow Last Year's Cybils Winners on Twitter http://ow.ly/d8tu9  http://ow.ly/d8tvX  #kidlit @yalit

RT @catagator: One of my fave blog posts to date: a book list of YA books set on islands http://bit.ly/PqDBYe

2012 Australian Children's Book Council Awards Review http://ow.ly/d61qT from @TrevorHCairney #kidlit

Omnivoracious: Don’t Poke the Editor: Six Deadly Don’ts (and Dos) for Dealing w/ Editors http://ow.ly/d60MK @amazonBooks

RT @tashrow: Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning In Indie Books – And That’s A Good Thing – Forbes http://buff.ly/PpglY5

Candlewick Affirms Faith in #PictureBooks for 20th Anniversaryhttp://ow.ly/d1GMR #kidlit via @PWKidsBookshelf

The very best teachers love what they teach http://ow.ly/d1ej7 @csmonitorvia NCLE SmartBrief #literacy

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


Monument 14: Emmy Laybourne

Book: Monument 14
Author: Emmy Laybourne (@EmmyLaybourne)
Pages: 304
Age Range: 14 and up

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne is a post-apocalyptic survival story set in near-future Monument, Colorado. On Dean's way to school, a terrific hailstorm proves to be only the first of a string of terrifying events. Dean is rescued, along with five of his high school classmates and a busload of smaller kids, by bus driver Mrs. Wooly. Mrs. Wooly takes the kids (surviving bus and all) into a local Greenway store (like a Target, with a grocery section, and a bit of everything else). Mrs. Wooly goes for help, and doesn't return. Then the store's riot gates go down, leaving the 14 kids on their own, sheltered from the rapidly crumbling world outside. What follows are the kids' responses to the larger world events and their development of a society inside the store.

There are power struggles and personality clashes, alongside the more fundamental struggles to survive. I read this book quickly and compulsively, eager to know what would happen next. Even though pretty much the whole book takes place within the Greenway store, it didn't feel limited to me. (A bit like Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It, which mostly takes place inside Miranda's home). I've always found the "getting back on your feet" aspects of post-apocalyptic novels fascinating -- establishing food, water, and order. And Laybourne's characterization is strong, particularly that of Dean and his younger brother, Alex.

I quite enjoyed Dean's first person voice, a little bit sarcastic, but also insightful, and honest in all of his insecurities. Here are a couple of examples:

"Mrs. Wooly, she was an institution in our town. A grizzles, wiry-haired, ashtray-scented tough-talking institution. Notorious and totally devoted to bus driving, which you can't say about everyone." (Chapter One)

"Behind me, Josie Miller and Trish Greenstein were going over plans for some kind of animal rights demonstration. They were kind of hippie-activists. I wouldn't really know them at all, except once in sixth grade I'd volunteered to go door to door with them campaigning for Cory Booker. We'd had a pretty fun time, actually, but now we didn't even say hi to each other.

I don't know why. HIgh school seemed to do that to people." (Chapter One)

"People called Niko "Brave Hunter Man," a nickname that fit him just right with his perfect posture, his thin, wiry frame, and his whole brown-skin-brown-eyes-brown-hair combo. He carried himself with that kind of stiff pride you get when no one will talk to you." (Chapter One)

The interpersional dynamics among the kids ring true, for the most part. There's a bit more emhasis on sex than I would have personally preferred (and that makes this book more a high school book than a middle school book). But I suppose if you were to put a ground of adolescents together with no adult supervision, well, sexual relationships probably would be a factor.

All in all, though, I thought that the setup of the book (how the apocalypse occurred and why the kids remainded on their own) was plausible and less contrived than many. (The device of a virus that only attacks people above a certain age, for example, has really worn thin with me.) I found the setting fully rendered and relatable, and the plot to be a good mix of excitement and analysis.

But the real strength of Monument 14 lies in Laybourne's gift for making me care about her characters. That's what will have me ready and waiting for the sequel as soon as it's available. Recommended for anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic survival stories, age 14 and up.

I chose this book as part of Dystopian August. For other reviews of post-apocalypse-type stories, check out Dystopian August at Presenting Lenore

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle.

© 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).


False Memory: Dan Krokos

Book: False Memory
Author: Dan Krokos
Pages: 336
Age Range: 14 and up 

False Memory by Dan Krokos is a twist-filled science fiction novel set in near-present day Ohio. A teenage girl finds herself in a Cleveland shopping mall with no memory of her past. She knows only her name, Miranda North, and some basic facts about her environment. And, she soon learns, she knows how to defend herself, to an alarming degree. When threatened, she lets loose a mental energy that terrifies everyone around her, and leaves five people dead.

A boy named Peter rescues Miranda from the mall, telling her that she, like him, is the result of a genetic experiment, created as a scientifically engineered human weapon. Various twists follow as Miranda, Peter, and two friends attempt to escape their captors, and understand why they are the way they are in the first place.

This book is not for the faint of heart, Miranda unintentionally kills five people in the first chapter, and then has to live with that knowledge. Various other people die over the course of the book, all in a violent manner. The mere notion (as Ms. Yingling mentioned in her review) of children created to be weapons is more than a little bit disturbing.

But, if you can get past that, False Memory is an entertaining ride. There are twists on top of twists. There is hand to hand combat, and genetic engineering. There are betrayals and surprises. There are also love interests, and friends close enough to feel like family. The characterization in False Memory felt a bit thin to me, but perhaps a this is a necessary outcome of the theme of the book. These kids barely even know who they are. And if they go too long without a special medication, they lose their memories. And who are any of us without our memories? Pretty much all of the adults are villains.

Krokos's prose is focused on action and technology, without a lot of time spared for description (though some time is spent on Miranda's internal musings). Here's a sample passage, in which Peter tells Miranda about her background:

""You are a high-tech version of crowd control. When you were two, a doctor drew your blood. It revealed an abnormality that allows you to survive the gene therapy needed to become a Rose. That's what we call ourselves, because we don't have a name."

My hands are shaking now. I clasp them together and squeeze, but it does nothing. His words bounce around in my head -- waves powerful enough, crowd control, gene therapy." I should've stayed in the mall and let the police take me. I should be in a jail cell, or better yet a dungeon. A place where I can't hurt anyone ever again. I don't know what I expected to hear, but it wasn't this." (Page 24)

I must admit that I didn't personally love False Memory. This may have been because Miranda's life had almost no intersection with that of ordinary teens. The Roses are raised in bunkers by trainers and such - they have little connection to popular culture, and none at all to other people. This made them difficult to for me to connect to. But I was certainly intrigued enough to finish False Memory, and to read the second half of the book quite quickly. I will keep an eye out for the sequel. And I think that teens will enjoy this series. 

False Memory is a book that will make readers think, mulling over both the mysteries of the kids in the book, and the mystery of identify itself. Recommended for fans of speculative fiction set in the approximately real world, like Mary Person's Jenna Fox Chronicles, and for those who like weapon-filled teen spy novels like Ridley Pearson's Steel Trapp series.

Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
Publication Date: August 14, 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).


Links I Shared on Twitter This Week: August 17

Here are some highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week (and that weren't in the Children's Literacy Roundup post on Wednesday).

Mo Willems' Secrets For Raising a Reader @Scholastic http://ow.ly/d1Hej via @PWKidsBookshelf #literacy @The_Pigeon

Bookstore employee taps into kids' love of reading, starts used book drive http://ow.ly/d1dPW "There's something about taking a book home"

School is back in session! 12 Books that Celebrate Smart Kids from @StorySnoops http://ow.ly/d04cG #kidlit

Great picture of a sign outside a school: "Honk if you or your kids read today." http://ow.ly/d0455 via @StaceyLoscalzo

Jacqueline Wilson has been tapped to do a Sequel to E. Nesbit’s FIVE CHILDREN AND IT | via @medinger http://ow.ly/cYk8h

RT @tashrow: New SF bookstore devoted to rescuing out-of-print sf books and making them into free ebooks – Boing Boing http://buff.ly/MxhVuF

Some helpful ideas: 10 Tips for Traveling With Kids (and Without Adultitis) from @kimandjason http://ow.ly/d03r5

Why Web #Literacy Should Be Part of Every Education | Co.Exist | Cathy Davidson + Mark Surman http://ow.ly/cYiGR

Four Leading Publishers Join Books for Asia to Reach Two Million Children in Need http://ow.ly/cYhXs via Jenny Schwartzberg #literacy

RT @AliceInBakerSt: Really interesting article on "winning back the teenage male in YA books" http://ow.ly/cYhOD #literacy

Very fun! Toddler Drive-In Movie at the #Library http://ow.ly/cYkXf via Tiny Tips for Library Fun

Interesting! Stacked: Guest Post: Two New-to-YA Publishers Worth Knowing http://ow.ly/cYlgs @Gwenda + @TheAmes

RT @AliceInBakerSt: Stories are as important as genes, says a new book: http://lnkd.in/vGvS4i via @BethKephart

Repost by @gregpincus, still worth a look: 6 Social Media Steps to Take after a Conference or Event http://ow.ly/cWJHP

I enjoyed this post by Becky Levine about her reading addiction: http://beckylevine.com/2012/08/09/thankful-thursday-my-reading-addiction/ …

Inspired by @silvermanjacob's article @medinger takes on the question of "niceness" in online reviews http://ow.ly/cWJu2

Don't Stop Reading To Your Kids (as they get older)! says @LiteracyLaunch http://ow.ly/cWIWA #literacy #kidlit

On @NerdyBookClub @the1stdaughter asks: Why Do You Believe In Picture Books? http://ow.ly/cWGF1 @Candlewick #kidlit

Random House announces program to give grants to award-winning teachers http://ow.ly/cWFEQ @RandomHouse

Is Children’s Literature Moving Beyond the Pedagogical? asks @AliceInBakerSt http://ow.ly/cWFde #kidlit

Some great titles on @Oprah's 2012 Kids' Reading List: 8 to 11 Years http://ow.ly/cWpNl . Go @jenniholm, @pacylin #kidlit

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


The Application Form for Cybils 2012 Judges is Now Live!

Cybils2012Hey there, children's and young adult literature bloggers. The time has come to apply to be a judge for the 2012 Cybils Awards. 

You can find the application form here. But first, do take a few moments to read the overview / requirements. I won't sugarcoat it. Being a Cybils judge, particularly for Round 1, is a lot of work, much of which takes place during the already busy December holiday season. But I can also tell you from several years of first-hand experience that it is highly rewarding.

Last year I was a Round 1 judge for the first time, in Fiction Picture Books. There were more than 200 nominations, and even though picture books are short, simply acquiring copies of them all was a real project. Although publishers have been wonderful about providing access to some of the hard to find books, we try to use libraries as much as possible (because there are so many books involved). This meant extensive use of the hold lists in two library systems, and a bit of muscle strain from lugging around loaded bags of books. 

But it was worth it! All year long, I've felt like I really had a handle on the picture books published last year. I know what are great titles to recommend to people for all sorts of occasions. I published dozens of picture book reviews on my blog (though not as many as I would have liked). And I was part of an amazing community of other people doing the same thing. 

Anyway, bloggers, now is the time to apply if you are interested in participating. Being a Cybils judge is a small way to give back to the children's book industry, I think, and to all of the teachers and librarians and parents out there who are on the lookout for good books.

I've said this many times, and I'm sure that I will say it again. I think that the shortlists that the Cybils teams come up with each year in various categories are a tremendously valuable resource. Now is your chance to be part of putting those together. 

(I should also note that a lot of people apply each year, and that you should try not to take it personally if you are not selected. The category organizers strive to find balance on each panel, and sometimes wonderful bloggers have to wait until next year. Keep trying.)

Everything else you need to know, you can find from this post on the Cybils blog. Apply! Enjoy! Participate! Read great books!


Growing Bookworms Newsletter: August 15

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 1651 subscribers (a big jump from last time - welcome to all of my new subscribers!). Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every three weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have five book reviews (one picture book, three middle grade, and one YA), one children's literacy roundup, and two posts wrapping up links that I shared on Twitter. I also published the following posts, which I have not included in the newsletter:

Reading Update: In the past 3+ weeks, I finished four middle grade, four young adult, and three adult titles (one of them more of a short story). It helped that I had a cross-country plane trip with connections (though the presence of my two-year-old certainly cut into my airplane reading time).

  • Maryrose Wood: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book 1: The Mysterious Howling. Balzer + Bray. Middle grade. Completed July 25, 2012, on MP3. My review.
  • Emily Winfield Martin: Oddfellow's Orphanage. Random House. Early middle grade. Completed August 1, 2012. My review.
  • Dan Poblocki: The Ghost of Graylock. Scholastic. Middle grade / middle school. Completed August 3, 2012. My review.
  • Maryrose Wood: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book 2: The Hidden Gallery. Balzer + Bray. Middle grade. Completed August 14, 2012, on MP3. A worthy sequel to Book 1, but not different enough to inspire me to write a second review. I look forward to listening to Book 3 (and beyond). These are excellent audiobooks. 
  • Robin Wasserman: The Book of Blood and Shadow. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Young adult. Completed July 30, 2012. My review.
  • Tim Wynne-Jones: Blink and Caution. Candlewick Press. Young adult. Completed August 6, 2012, on Kindle from library. I enjoyed this one. It's nice to read a dual-narrator book in which the voices are so distinct from one another. 
  • Beth Kephart: Nothing but Ghosts. HarperTeen. Young adult. Completed August 12, 2012, on Kindle from library. In this book, a teenage girl and her father work through some of their grief over the death of the girl's mother by solving a mystery. As a mother of a daughter, I found Nothing but Ghosts quite moving, though the mystery itself was rather tame. Kephart's writing is lyrical and thoughtful. 
  • Emmy Laybourne: Monument 14. Feiwel & Friends. Young adult. Completed August 12, 2012, on Kindle (purchased). I will probably review this one, once I get caught back up from vacation. A fast-paced post-apocalyptic survival story with an intriguing setting and strong characterization, though a bit more of a focus on teenage sexual relationships than I would have personally preferred.
  • Craig Johnson: As the Crow Flies: A Walt Longmire novel. Viking. Adult. Completed July 23, 2012. This is the latest Longmire novel, on par with the high quality of the rest of the series. 
  • Lee Child: Second Son (Kindle Single). Delacorte Press. Adult. Completed August 4, 2012, on Kindle from library. A Kindle short that goes back in time to a pivotal moment in Reacher's adolescence. 
  • Jenn McKinlay: Due or Die: A Library Lovers Mystery. Berkley Prime Crime. Adult. Completed August 12, 2012. The second book in this cozy series about a small town library director who solves crimes. 

I also continued to read picture books and board books aloud to Baby Bookworm. We're currently at 2244 books read aloud for 2012 (including repeats). Current favorites include An Apple Pie for Dinner by Susan VanHecke, Bailey at the Museum by Harry Bliss, Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner, and The Best Nest by P.D. Eastman. Our vacation cut into our reading pace a bit. Not that we weren't reading, but we were reading the same 10 books over and over again, and it didn't seem worth tracking them. How do you bookworm-growing parents manage trips? There's only so much space for books (especially hardcovers), but re-reading the same ones gets rather tiresome... 

I'm currently listening to Murder on Fifth Avenue, a Gaslight Mystery by Victoria Thompson and reading False Memory by Dan Krokos. I'm taking a break from the Kindle this week, but I found it invaluable during my trip. Except for during takeoff and landing on flights, all of my vacation reading was done on the Kindle. This was especially helpful because suitcase space was at a premium. 

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.


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

JkrROUNDUPThe mid-August children's literacy and reading news roundup, brought to you by Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco, and me, is now available at Terry's blog, The Family Bookshelf. Terry has a lot of great links. Some highlights:

And here are a couple of additional tidbits:

  • As previously promised, School Library Journal has made the Fuse #8 Production Top 100 lists of children's fiction and picturebooks available in gorgeous PDF format. Go here and here to request your copies. 
  • I learned from a post by Pernille Ripp at the Nerdy Book Club about the Global Read Aloud project. Participants sign up to read a selected book aloud over a four week period, starting October 1st. This year's choices are “Charlotte’s Web” (for younger readers) and “The One and Only Ivan” (for older middle grade readers). 
  • NPR published the results of their "Top 100 YA novels" poll. It's not really the best novel ever published (and some of them aren't really YA), but rather the novels that voters selected from an NPR-generated list of 235 choices. There are some great books on the list, but also some concerns over a lack of diversity in the selections. 
  • A new study at Oregon State University found that "Young children who are able to pay attention and persist on a task have a 50 percent greater chance of completing college". (via @tashrow)
  • Here are some excellent suggestions from @TrevorHCairney on Getting Young Readers into Chapter Books. Trevor also talks, in another post at Literacy, Families and Learning, about Why Questions are Critical for Children's Learning & Reading.

I've been sharing various other links on Twitter this week @JensBookPage (catching up after a vacation last week). I'll post some of the highligts on Friday. And Carol will be back with more children's literacy and reading news at the end of the month. Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. 


Oddfellow's Orphanage: Emily Winfield Martin

Book: Oddfellow's Orphanage
Author: Emily Winfield Martin (@MsEmilyApple)
Pages: 144
Age Range: 7-10 

Oddfellow's Orphanage is a quick read aimed at younger chapter book readers. While not a traditional fantasy, Emily Winfield Martin incorporates fantastical elements, such as carriages drawn by trained bears, and a boy with the head of a large onion. There are frequent illustrations intermixed with the text (and drawn by the author), which help to bring these elements to life (particularly the portraits of each character). 

Oddfellow's Orphanage begins as young Delia, a newly orphaned albino girl who doesn't speak, arrives at the orphanage. A series of small domestic events follow (such as Delia's recovery of a lost baby bear, and a bout of bad temper on the part of one of the other boys). The orphanage itself is highly idealized (in an entertaining contrast with most books about orphanages). The children are fed delicious food (including pancakes shaped like tiny rabbits) and are cared for by loving adults. Their rooms are given warm personal touches. And if one of the "children" is actually a hedgehog, well, this is taken in stride by everyone. 

The tone of Oddfellow's Orphanage is a mix of over-the-top humor and nostalgia. Like this:

"Felix came to the orphanage after his parents were laid low by a poisoned cake that came as a gift from one of his father's business rivals. He hid in the kitchen cupboard when the ambulance came, and then lived alone (rather well) until neighbors spotted him sneaking home with a sack of groceries. When Oddfellow Bluebeard came to fetch him, the scrawny boy kicked and shouted and then promptly dissolved into a puddle of tears over the headmaster's great shoulder." (Page 40)

While I found "puddle of tears" a bit trite, I liked the mental image of the orphan just quietly living on his own until being discovered.

Oddfellow's Orphanage is not your typical early chapter book. The vocabulary is relatively advanced ("vermilion", "scattered", "rippled", etc.), and pictures have an old-fashioned feel. But there is plenty of age-appropriate wish fulfillment (a midnight adventure, a "grand picnic", a lake monster). The characterization, while not deep, is consistent, and sufficient to enable young readers to keep the various children distinct in their minds. And the illustrations are delightful.

Oddfellow's Orphanage doesn't really have a plot. It's a string of events from when Delia arrives at the orphanage one spring night up to the arrival of another orphan on New Year's Eve. There are a few small conflicts, but these are resolved VERY quickly (as when one child almost runs away with the circus, but realizes on his own that his family is at the orphanage). Most of the scenes depicted are (metaphorically speaking) rose-colored (particularly those surrounding Christmas). Like this:

"As Delia climbed into bed, she saw snow falling outside the window. She felt so cozy tucked in her bedcovers, she imagined she was a tiny girl nestled inside a warm matchbox. Delia heard the nighttime peeps of the finches and heard Ava whisper "Good night" before they all drifted off to sleep thinking of Christmas morning.

Ava dreamed she lived in a giant gingerbread house, and Delia dreamed she was small enough to ride on the back of a finch." (Page 109)

Oddfellow's Orphanage is a gingerbread house of a book, really, filled with quirky sweetness. While I personally prefer books that have more of a plot, and more conflict, I think that younger readers of quiet temperament will enjoy spending some time at Oddfellow's Orphanage

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: January 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).