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Posts from September 2012

Cybils Nominations Open Monday, October 1st

Cybils2012Nominations for the 2012 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (Cybils) open Monday, October 1st, at 12:00 am Pacific Time. You can find the nomination form (designed by our own Sheila Ruthat the Cybils blog

You do not have to be a blogger to nominate titles (though you do have to fill out a very short registration form and verify your email address). Members of the general public can nominate one title each in any or all of the 10 categories (see a roundup of Cybils category descriptions here). Multiple nominations of the same title aren't permitted, and don't help. The handy nomination form will show you if a title has already been nominated, and prompt you to select a different one.

New this year, we are providing publishers, authors, and publicists a separate window to submit their own books after the public nomination period ends. This gives you a chance to see what books have been nominated, and to submit any deserving books that fell through the cracks. See more details in the Cybils FAQs. Publishers and authors can still nominate books that they aren't associated with during the regular nomination period. 

There is a tiny amount of glory associated with being the one to first nominate a title - we do display the nominator's name (a display name that you select) with the title. So, stay up late Sunday night, West Coast friends, or get up early Monday, East Coast friends. (I don't know what to tell the Central and Mountain people.) And have your list of favorite titles ready. 

Nominations will be open through the end of the day on October 15th. But don't wait! Get there early, and show some love for your favorite books. We're looking for titles, in all categories, that are well-written and kid-friendly, released between Oct. 16, 2011 and Oct. 15, 2012 for the children’s or young adult market.

Head on over to the Cybils blog for more information. 

Just Say Boo!: Susan Hood & Jed Henry

Book: Just Say Boo!
Author: Susan Hood
Illustrator: Jed Henry
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3 and up 

Just Say Boo! is a fun, rhyming Halloween book perfect for preschoolers. It follows a family with four children, three of them old enough to trick-or-treat, through Halloween night. Most of the action takes place as the older kids trick-or-treat, but the story ends with the whole family at home, comforting the briefly frightened baby. 

The narrative structure of Just Say Boo! consists of a page with a question, followed by a page with the answer. Hint: the answer is usually "Boo!". Like this:

"If the ghosts in the trees
wibble-wobble your knees,
what do you say?"

(next page) BOO!

If a yip and a yowl
make you shiver and scowl
what do you say?"

You get the idea. I think that someone else must have read this book to my 2 1/2 year old before I did, because the first time I read it to her, she happily chimed in with the "Boo!" each time. Readers also have a chance to chime in with "TRICK-OR-TREAT!" and "Thank you!" later in the book, some good, casual learning for new trick-or-treaters. 

Baby Bookworm also really likes the ending of this book, when the baby cries, and then is reassured by his family, ending the book with a smile. While hardly an edge-of-the-seat plotline, this is the sort of reassurance that toddlers eat up. 

Jed Henry's fall-toned illustrations use dramatic perspectives to add an appropriate note of scariness to Just Say Boo! Although we see the father setting out with the children, many of the trick-or-treat scenes show the three kids alone, being frightened by ghosts or goblins. Then on the pages where they shout "Boo!", they are usually joyful again. This mix of moods is accompanied by subtle shifts in the color palette, and is the perfect mix of boisterous and spooky. As is Just Say Boo! in general. 

At Waking Brain Cells, Tasha said of this book "If you are going to get just one Halloween book this season, this is the one!". I agree. Just Say Boo! is a delightful, age-appropriate introduction to the joys of Halloween night, and a fun in-lap read-aloud. Highly recommended!

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
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: September 28

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

How to teach your child to love reading - Susan Elkin in The Independent via @PWKidsBookshelf #literacy #litrdup

Same book but not: Publishers offer titles in adult, kid versions @latimes via @PWKidsBookshelf

RT @rifweb: Excited about the release of @jk_rowling’s book “The Casual Vacancy”? Check out this review roundup

N.Y. Designer Puts Lending Libraries Into underused Pay Phone Kiosks @NYTimes via @catagator #litrdup

RT @medinger: Why book bloggers are critical to literary criticism via @guardian

Who could resist: 16 Books Celebrating Smart Girls from @StorySnoops #yalit #kidlit

Thoughts on the book: How Children Succeed from "Growing Book by Book"

squeetus: Should writers just shut up? asks @haleshannon

Books for Little Sisters, suggestions from @StaceyLoscalzo  #kidlit

Children's authors who detoured into adult fiction – and then returned to writing books for kids @AshleyFetters via PW

Jumpstart's Read for the Record Gets Senate Stamp of Approval via @PWKidsBookshelf @Jumpstartkids

Must-read post by @donalynbooks @NerdyBookClub: Embarrassed to Read, why we need to model #reading as a positive

Alternatives to Book Reports from The Book Chook #literacy #teaching

Tips on Creating a Love of Books and Learning! | Unpacking the POWER of Picture Books  #literacy

Check out the Roald Dahl Funny Prize – 2012 Shortlist @tashrow at Waking Brain Cells  #kidlit

Check out this adorable mini-library that @momandkiddo found at a local playground

And that's it for this week. Stay tuned @JensBookPage, where I'll be continuing to share literacy and reading links. 

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

Ganesha's Sweet Tooth: Sanjay Patel & Emily Haynes

Book: Ganesha's Sweet Tooth
Authors: Sanjay Patel & Emily Haynes
Illustrator: Sanjay Patel 
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4 and up 

Ganesha's Sweet Tooth is a colorful confection of a picture book, loosely based on the legend of how a god named Ganesha ended up writing the Mahabharata, the epic poem of Hindu literature. Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes explain a bit in an afterword about the legend and the liberties they took to turn it into a picture book. 

The story in the book follows Ganesha, "a Hindu god. He's very important and powerful. And a tad chubby." As a child, Ganesha is obsessed with eating sweets, particularly the traditional Indian dessert laddoo. The elephant-headed Ganesha travels around with his best friend, Mr. Mouse. His greed leads him to break a tusk on a jawbreaker. But he ends up finding a use for his broken tusk, which becomes a kind of magical pen. He uses the pen to take down the Mahabharata, as dictated by an old man named Vyasa. 

It's a bit surrealistic, of course. But Patel and Haynes' delivery of the story is entertaining, and with a decidedly modern flair. 

Here's the passage after Ganesha loses his tusk:

"I look lopsided!" he said. "Everyone will laugh at me."

"No they won't," said Mr. Mouse. "Everyone loses their teeth. And besides, you already have an elephant's head and your friends still love you."

(Questions to ask child during read-aloud: would your friends still love you if you had an elephant head? What if you ate all the candy?)

Ganesha's Sweet Tooth makes use of varying font sizes (and occasionally text color) to emphasize particular points. For instance, when Mr. Mouse warns Ganesha not to eat the jawbreaker, "JAWBREAKER!" is in a huge font. When Ganesha learns that his tusk can be used as a pen he says "I LOVE my tusk!", with "LOVE" portrayed in four colors.

Ganesha's Sweet Tooth has a unique subject (how often does one find picture books, at least in the United States, featuring elephant-headed Hindu gods?). But it is Patel's illustrations that really make the book stand out. Patel is a supervising animator and storyboard artist at Pixar Animation Studio, and his experience with animation shows. Every page is filled with movement of one sort or another. And all of it has a distinctly Indian feel, through Patel's use of colors and patterns (see cover image above). It's an eye-catching and memorable style, one that the author has apparently turned into a brand. I think it's a kid-friendly style, too, though more one for older kids than preschoolers.  

Ganesha's Sweet Tooth is not your typical picture book, and it may not be a book that many kids will pick up on their own. But I think it would be an excellent choice for library or classroom read-aloud, where there's an adult to lead discussion. It's a nice mix of gorgeous illustrations, humor, and multicultural story. Recommended for age 4 and up. 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids)
Publication Date: September 19, 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: September 25

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 1610 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every three weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have seven book reviews (three picture books, one middle grade, and three YA), one children's literacy roundup, and three posts wrapping up links that I shared on Twitter

Cybils2012I had two other posts that I am not sharing in the newsletter this week. The first was an announcement about RIF's new STEAM initiative. The second was an announcement about my selection as a panelist for the 2012 Cybils Awards in Fiction Picture Books. Nominations for the Cybils open Monday, October 1st at the Cybils blog. Anyone can nominate books in the 10 categories (ranging from picture books to young adult), though there are some changes this year regarding author and publisher nominations. Stay tuned at for more details. Currently, a new category is is being introduced on the blog each day.

Reading Update: In the past 3 weeks, I finished one middle grade book, four for young adults, and two for adults. I seem to have been on a YA kick, but am starting to crave some middle grade, so the pendulum is bound to swing back soon.  

  • Charles Gilman: Professor Gargoyle (Lovecraft Middle School, Book 1). Quirk Publishing. Middlge Grade. Completed September 20, 2012. Review to come. 
  • Gwenda Bond: Blackwood. Strange Chemistry. Young Adult. Completed September 11, 2012. My review.
  • Lois Lowry: The Messenger. Laurel-Leaf. Young Adult. Completed September 15, 2012. Not reviewed, but referenced in my review of Son.
  • Lois Lowry: Son. Houghton Mifflin. Young Adult. Completed September 15, 2012. My review.
  • Sarah Rees Brennan: Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy, Book 1). Young Adult. Random House. Completed September 19,2012. My review.
  • Louise Penny: The Beautiful Mystery. Minotaur. Adult. Completed September 8, 2012, on Kindle. An unusual installment in this series, with no visit to the town of Three Pines, and only a couple of regular characters featured. But still interesting, and also heartbreaking.
  • Lisa Lutz: The Trail of the Spellmans. Simon & Schuster. Adult. Completed September 21, 2012, on MP3. The Spellman books are not traditional mysteries (no murders, no single case being followed, etc.), but they are always entertaining. 

I also continued to read picture books and board books aloud to Baby Bookworm. I haven't been able to add new titles to our web-based reading list, due to some technical difficulties that I'm experiencing with my blog host, TypePad. But I am tracking them in a text file for now. We read about 300 books in the past month. 

Current Baby Bookworm favorites include This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, At the Boardwalk by Kelly Fineman & Monica Armino, and I'll Save You Bobo by Eileen & Marc Rosenthal (aka "new one Bobo book"). She also continues to love all things Duck and Goose (series by Tad Hills).  

As for me, I'm reading The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, taking my time because I don't want it to end. I'm listening to A Wanted Man, the latest Jack Reacher novel from Lee Child. So far almost nothing has happened, but it's still gripping. Impressive.

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.

Unspoken: Sarah Rees Brennan

Book: Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy, Book 1)
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Pages: 384
Age Range: 12 and up 

Unspoken in the first book in Sarah Rees Brennan's new Lynburn Legacy series. This book was very highly recommended by Liz Burns at Tea Cozy (among others), which caused me to move it to the top of my list. Fans of paranormal young adult fiction, particularly those who enjoy Gothic overtones, will definitely want to give this one a look. 

17-year-old Kami Glass lives with her parents and two younger brothers in the small English village of Sorry-in-the-Vale. For her entire life, Kami has had an imaginary friend named Jared. Jared basically lives inside of Kami's head, always there for her, her closest friend (one of very few friends, in truth, because her habit of zoning out while talking with Jared inside her head has scared more than a few people off). 

For her whole life, Kami has heard whispers about the Lynburn family, owners of the mansion on the hill above the town. The Lynburns have been gone for 17 years, returning as Unspoken begins. And one of the Lynburns turns out to be named Jared. Strange things begin from there.

One thing that I really liked about Unspoken was the way that the reveal of what the book is about unfolds gradually. Not that it's a slow-paced book, there is plenty of conflict and suspense throughout. But just what is going on with Kami and Jared, with the Lynburns, with the town, that all takes time to develop. You don't start the book thinking "Oh, this is a book about x, y, z." You start the book thinking "This Kami girl has some real challenges." And Unspoken pulls you in from there.

Kami is a great character. She's small and feisty, half-Asian, a born reporter, determined to investigate strange events in her small town. She puts on a strong front, even when she is terrified. Her best friend Angela is tall and gorgeous and downright hostile to almost everyone - also a delight. Her brothers, though relatively minor characters, are solidly three-dimensional. And Jared, despite the fact that some scenes are related from his viewpoint, is an enigma. There's a semblance of a romantic triangle between Kami, Jared, and Jared's cousin Ash. But even the triangle is unconventional. The romantic elements are overshadowed by the paranormal events anyway, and even by the other non-romantic relationships. 

There's a strong Gothic feel to Unspoken. Many scenes take place in the woods, or in a creepy mansion. Yes, there are also home, school and pub scenes, but the author uses most of her descriptive energy on the darker images, black clouds forming across the sky, strange noises in the night, and so on. Like this:

"Kami jumped up from her chair and ran out of her bedroom. She thumped down the narrow creaking stairs and out the back door into the silver-touched square that was garden at night. The dark curve of the woods held the glittering lights of Sorry-in-the-Vale like a handful of stars in a shadowy palm. On the other end of the woods, high above the town, was Aurimere House, its bell tower a skeletal finger pointing at the sky." (Page 5)

Sarah Rees Brennan has a gift for quick, perfect turns of phrase. Like this:

""Come on, Blondie," he said to Ash, who moved forward propelled by the sheer force of his own politeness." (Page 189)

"People went by, some with their heads down, some with their umbrellas pessimistically up despite the fact that there was no rain." (Page 216)

"Mum lifted her head and smiled a smile as bright as winter sunlight, and about as warm." (Page 294)

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea. Unspoken is a must-read title for anyone who likes mysterious, spooky titles, with strong characters, vivid scenes, and surprising, suspenseful plotting. There's really nothing more to ask for, besides the next book in the series. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Random House (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: September 11, 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).

Thanks very much for getting in touch, and for your offer of a review copy of your book. I’m afraid that it doesn’t sound like quite my thing (and I’m currently only able to take on a very small number of new books), so I’m going to have to pass. But I do wish you all the best with it!


Best regards,



Links I Shared on Twitter This Week: September 21

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

Adults Are Devouring Kids' Books for Good Reason says@TheAtlanticWire  via @PWKidsBookshelf

Some additions to the mid-September children's #literacy + reading news roundup from @readingtub  @CHRasco

RT @tashrow: Why reading by third grade is critical, + what can be done to help kids meet that deadline | Deseret News

I'm glad to see this! Appeals Court Confirms Defendant Victory in 'Percy Jackson' Copyright Lawsuit @THREsq via @PWKidsBookshelf

What's Wrong With Reading? Powerful article about reading and peer pressure in black youth culture  @HuffingtonPost

#Literacy advocate urges FL mayors, city officials to encourage reading @pbpost via NCLE SmartBrief

I agree with this @NYTimes op-ed about how Gifted Students Deserve better Public School Opportunities

Print! RT @RIFWEB: Survey: Parents Prefer Reading Print Books to Young Kids Which do you prefer reading w/ your kids?

What do you think about Parents and E-Book Sharing, asks @tashrow  #literacy #ebooks

Very cool! RT @WeGiveBooks: BBC News - The man who turned his home into a public library  #litrdup

At Stacked @catagator responds to Janssen's (great) post about being authentic, re blogging, shows her own authenticity

Hey look! @MitaliPerkins is part of the Boston Public Library's Literary Lights for Children on 9/30

What to Do When Kids Aren’t Allowed to Read Digital Books in school  @ShiftTheDigital

Fun and useful post about: Using Board Games To Teach by@TrevorHCairney

Interesting comment discussion at Finding Wonderland: impact of adults reading #YAlit on library purchasing  @aquafortis

School #libraries are still all about teaching students 'to use information efficiently and ethically'

Maine Family #Literacy Program kicks off third year | via NCLE SmartBrief

Musings from @medinger about Doing it (writing on the blog) for Free | educating alice

Hilarious! RT @tashrow: Overdue Library Book Returned, After 78 Years, During Chicago Library’s Amnesty Period

When a normally coherent @LizB starts with" WOW. WOW. LOVE. LOVE. AWESOME. AMAZING. WAIT, WHAT? WOW" I want to read it:

Charlie Higson: why would kids read books if their parents never do? - Telegraph via NCLE SmartBrief

Plus I shared many, many links regarding the Cybils (@aquafortis and I live-tweeted the 2012 panelist announcements), far too many to share here. To find Cybils news, please either visit the Cybils blog, or just search for Cybils on Twitter.

That's all I have for this week. I'll be back with another update on the blog next week. In the meantime, you can find me sharing literacy and reading news throughout the week @JensBookPage.

Oh, Nuts!: Tammi Sauer and Dan Krall

Book: Oh, Nuts!
Author: Tammi Sauer
Illustrator: Dan Krall
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3 and up

Oh, Nuts! is a highly entertaining new picture book written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Dan Krall. It's the tale of three chipmunks who live at the zoo. Despite their best efforts, Cutesy, Blinky, and Bob can't seem to get any attention from the zoo-goers. Everyone gawks at boring things, like the giraffes flicking bugs with their tails, or the possum playing dead. Even when the determined chipmunks start up a band and play from a rooftop, no one notices them at all. At least not until an idea for stardom comes from an unexpected source. 

Despite the over-the-top antics of the chipmunks, the text in Oh, Nuts! is actually rather understated. Like this:

"They needed a plan.
Cutesy thought as she fluffed her fur.
Blinky thought as he tapped his foot.
And Bob? He pretty much just sat there.
"Ooh! Ooh! I know," said Cutesy. "Let's give ourselves makeovers!""

and this:

"Then a miracle happened.
Bob had an idea.
He sprang to his feet. "I GOT IT!"
And he shared his plan."

Certain words in the text are rendered in larger font ("miracle" and "plan" in the previous example). This provides nice cues for emphasis when reading aloud. 

But it is Dan Krall's digitally created illustrations that add wacky humor (and a tiny smidge of pathos). Cutesty, Blinky, and Bob are caricatures of chipmunks, with enormous eyes and/or cheeks. The people visiting the zoo are comic-like, too, with big heads and over-sized mouths. They remind me a bit of the people in Bob Staake's illustrations, though with far more realistic skin colors. The chipmunks "spiked" up for playing music are hilarious. And when they use lost and found items to dress up as other animals, to the complete disinterest of the crowd, they are forlorn and pathetic. All of the other animals are shown as bored and/or boring, with sleepy eyes (well, except for the pigeons - they are a special case). But Cutesy, Blinky, and Bob are never dull. 

Krall uses bold colors and dramatic backgrounds. On the page in which a miracle occurs, a rainbow stretches over the page, and golden light beams down from above. Idea-generating Bob has a light bulb over his head. Everything about the illustrations is over-the-top and energetic, a perfect contrast to the quieter text.

Oh, Nuts! is sure to please preschoolers, or anyone else who has ever wanted just a bit more attention (hmm... this might actually make a decent middle school read aloud, though I doubt that was the author's intent). I haven't tried it out yet on Baby Bookworm, but I am anticipating that it will become a favorite. Recommended!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's (@BWKids)
Publication Date: September 18, 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).

Blackwood: Gwenda Bond

Book: Blackwood
Author: Gwenda Bond (@Gwenda)
Pages: 416
Age Range: 13 and up 

Gwenda Bond's Blackwood is part mystery, part ghost story, and part romance. The cover (shown to left) captures, I think, the feel of the book, moody and speculative, and a little bit creepy. It's the perfect book to curl up with on a windy fall night. 

Miranda Blackwood has lived her whole life on Roanoke Island. Literally. She's never left the island. Her only outlet lies in her internship at a summer production of The Lost Colony, a dramatization of the disappearance, hundreds of years earlier, of the 114 original colonists of the island. When 114 modern-day citizens of Roanoke Island disappear, Miranda finds herself working with the last person she would have expected, trying to find the truth. 

Miranda is a believable character, a bit beaten down from spending her life as a town freak and caring for her alcoholic father, but determined not be weak or silly. Her reluctant foray into romance feels real, too. Definitely not overdone. Her love interest, Phillips, is resourceful and swoon-worthy. Who could ask for more?

Roanoke Island is as much a character as in Blackwood Miranda and Phillips are, from the standard touristy downtown to the overgrown rural areas. The closed-off setting (only a couple of scenes take place off-island, and those are early in the book) lends the book an immediacy. One feels quickly immersed in the story. And, in fact, I kind of feel now like I've really been there. 

Here are a couple of quotes I especially enjoyed (chosen from early in the book, to avoid spoilers):

"Basketball was the closest thing North Carolina had to a state religion." (Chapter 1)

"Downtown Manteo, the island's main drag, was packed with tourists on a warm summer Wednesday. The town center resembled a perfect model of itself, preserved Victorian houses and Colonial-style storefronts with the Sound's peaceful waters as scenic backdrop. Gelato shops and fancy restaurants were tucked next to pricey B&Bs that offered tickets for fishing expeditions and dolphin spotting." (Chapter 1)

"A sleek-haired blonde reporter launched out of the van toward him, snapping her fingers for the cameraman to follow. She had giant blue eyes like an anime deer's." (Chapter 2)

I found Blackwood's plotting to be suspenseful and intriguing. I thought that the author did a nice job taking the seed of an actual historical disappearance, and spinning out "what if?" questions into the modern day. The scenes in which people disappeared were downright spooky. I did find the pacing of the climax of the book a little drawn-out, but that gave more time to appreciate the atmosphere of the book. 

Blackwood is an excellent choice for anyone looking for paranormal YA, mystery, or just something a little bit different. Unlike a number of other recent YA titles, the romantic elements are fairly low-key. I think this makes Blackwood particularly boy-friendly, and also a good crossover title for adult readers. Recommended for anyone who has ever wondered "what if" (13 and up). 

Full disclosure: I am on an email list with Gwenda Bond. I don't believe that this has impacted my review, though it did contribute to my decision to purchase the book. 

Publisher: Strange Chemistry (@StrangeChem)
Publication Date: September 4, 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).

Son: Lois Lowry

Book: Son
Author: Lois Lowry
Pages: 400
Age Range: 12 and up 

Son is the fourth and final book in Lois Lowry's Giver Quartet. With Son, Lowry ties back in to the prior three books in the loosely connected series, and brings everything to a satisfying conclusion. It's impossible to review Son without discussing the other books. So, if you have somehow missed reading The Giver, please go and read it now. This review will be here when you come back.

I consider The Giver to be essential reading for teens and adults. I won't say that The Giver, winner of the 1994 Newbery medal, launched today's dystopia craze, but it certainly contributed to my early interest in the genre. And it remains one of the most fascinating, well-written portrayals of bleak dystopia one could imagine. 

The next two books in the series, Gathering Blue and Messenger, are both good, but not as groundbreaking as The Giver. They aren't sequels, exactly (particularly not Gathering Blue), but rather books that are set in the same world (though not the same community) as The Giver, with two key intersecting characters. Messenger shows readers what happened next to Jonas and Gabriel, resolving the ambiguous ending of The Giver (for good or ill - many people liked that ending to be ambiguous).

With Son, Lowry goes back to Jonas and Gabe's original community from The Giver, introducing a new character, Claire. Claire is a "Birthmother", a low-status position dedicated to birthing "Product", as the babies are called (prior to being distributed to carefully screened adoptive parents). Something goes wrong during the birth of 14-year-old Claire's first baby, a son, and she is removed from her position, sent to work at the fish hatchery. Through an oversight, however, Claire is not put back on the pills that keep everyone in her community compliant and unfeeling. And Claire discovers within herself a powerful love for her son. Son is about Claire's quest to know (and eventually to find) her son. 

As a mother, I found Claire's situation deeply moving. She loves her child, and doesn't understand why this isn't allowed, and why no one else in the community feels the same way. I doubt that the average teen reader will relate in quite the same way, but honestly, that's ok. It was almost too painful for me. (Has anyone watched Tangled? Spouse and I spent the entire movie going "but her poor parents!?) But unquestionably, Son is a powerful book, as unforgettable in its own way as The Giver. Here's an example:

"She would not let them take that from her, that feeling. If someone in authority noticed the error, if they delivered a supply of pills to her, she thought defiantly, she would pretend. She would cheat. But she would never, under any circumstances, stifle the feelings she had discovered. She would die, Claire realized, before she would give up the love she felt for her son." (Page 116)

I ended up pausing mid-Son to re-read the ending of The Giver, and all of Messenger, and I'm glad that I did. The stories overlap in time, and I found it fascinating to see, in some cases, the same event perceived by different people. Son gives a different view of the community from The Giver. Jonas was set aside by his position as the Receiver. Claire is more ordinary. They experience different things. Here are a couple of glimpses of the community:

"Birthmothers did not leave their quarters during their years of production. Claire had never seen a Vessel until she became one. She had not known, until she had both experienced and observed it, that human females swelled and grew and reproduced. No one had told her what "birth" meant." (Page 28)

""Well, we don't have mammals anymore, because a healthy diet didn't include mammal, and they detracted from the efficiency of the community. But in other areas there are wild creatures of all sorts. And even here, people once had things they called pets."" (Page 55)

A new community, and new characters, are also introduced in Son. Although Lowry wraps up the stories of a number of characters from the series with Son, she still leaves some questions unanswered. How did Jonas and Claire's original community end up so different from the others in their world? (Fascinating to watch Claire go to live elsewhere, and experience animals, and colors, for the first time.) Is their world some sort of post-apocalypse version of ours, or some other planet? How are the people who have "gifts", like Jonas, connected? The book doesn't feel unfinished with these questions left unanswered. They just leave the reader with things on which to ruminate further. And that's a plus. 

Son is the must-read conclusion to Lois Lowry's Giver quartet. I found it to be a stronger book than Gathering Blue or Messenger, a fitting companion to The Giver itself. Claire is a deeply sympathetic character, one who suffers mightily for the love of her child. Despite this adult-relatable theme, there is still plenty of suspense in Son for teens, including a shipwreck, a dangerous journey up a cliff face, and a confrontation with evil itself. I suppose technically one could read Son on its own - enough backstory is provided for it to make sense - but that would be a mistake. Instead, I recommend sitting back down with the prior books in this series first, and then taking your time to savor Son. While I was pleased with the resolution of the story, I'm a bit sad to be closing the book on Jonas and Claire's world. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: October 2, 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 Cybils Panelist for Fiction Picturebooks

Cybils2012I'm delighted to report that I'm going to be a Cybils judge this year for Round 2 in Fiction Picture Books. I'm thrilled to be joining these talented souls in selecting the best of the best in kid-friendly, well-written fiction picture books for 2012 (technically October 16, 2011 through October 15, 2012).

Round 1

Laura Given

Travis Jonker
100 Scope Notes

Julie Jurgens
Hi Miss Julie! 

Rebecca Reid
Rebecca Reads

Jodell Sadler
Picture Book Lunchables 

Danielle Smith
There's a Book 

Aaron Zenz 
Bookie Woogie 

Round 2

Myra Bacsal
Gathering Books

Darshana Khiani
Flowering Minds 

Joanna Marple
Miss Marple's Musings 

Dawn Mooney
5 Minutes for Books 

Jen Robinson
Jen Robinson's Book Page 

I'm a little sad not to be doing Round 1 again, as I did last year, but I just couldn't manage the time commitment this time around. Perhaps next year I'll try for that again. Anyway, I have complete faith in this year's Round 1 team to come up with a list of lovely choices. The hard part will come in deciding between them, of course. But I look forward to the challenge, and to getting to know my fellow panelists. Great books await!

To see the other Cybils panels, which are all being announced today, visit the Cybils blog. You can also follow the Cybils organizers on Twitter via this list, and the Cybils panelis via this list.  

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

JkrROUNDUPWelcome to the mid-September children's literacy and reading news roundup, brought to you by Carol Rasco from Quietly, Terry Doherty from The Family Bookshelf, and me. I have a couple of literacy and reading-related events today, a couple of article about literacy programs and research studies, and a whole host of posts with suggestions / thoughts for growing bookworms. Thanks for stopping by! 

Literacy and Reading-Related Events

RIF_Primary_VerticalIn case you missed the news release that I posted this week, RIF has launched a new initiative to promote science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) via their multicultural book collection program. The news is well worth a look (and features several quotes from our own Carol Rasco). 

ThrilledThe literacy-themed PBS Kids show WordGirl launched a new season this week. WordGirl's word of the month for September is "thrilled". 2 1/2 year old Baby Bookworm is still not watching any television to speak of, but I have started DVRing WordGirl episodes for when the time is right. 

The Library of Congress' 2012 National Book Festival will take place September 22nd and 23rd in Washington, DC. Here is some information that their media people sent to me:

"This year's event features an impressive author lineup and family activities that will delight book fanatics of all ages. Here's a sneak peak at what this year's festival has to offer:

Famous children's authors, readings, and book signings. Take advantage of this rare opportunity to meet and get books signed by your favorite authors. Avi, Michael Grant, Natalie Babbit, Bob Balaban, James Dashner, Peter Brown, Anna Dewdney, Mary Pope Osborn, Jewel, Patricia Polacco, Laura Amy Schlitz, Jerry Spinelli, Philip C. & Erin E. Stead, and David Ezra Stein will all be at the festival!

Family activities. Kids can celebrate Clifford the Big Red Dog at his 50th birthday party, take their photo with PBS Kids characters like Arthur and Curious George, play with Lego Duplo bricks in the Read & Build area, color art on the Wells Fargo Stagecoach, and sing and dance in Target's Family Storytelling Stage Pavilion."

And while not exactly a literacy event, we did want to share the news that Wednesday, September 19th, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. We were reminded of this event by a post at the ESSL Children's Literature Blog, where the librarians suggest a number of resources to use in preparing for this important event. Argh!

Literacy and Reading Programs and Research

Over at A Fuse #8 Production, Betsy Bird recently highlighted a Boston organization that really ought to have been on my radar, The Foundation for Children's Books. Betsy says:

"this organization is particularly keen since they “bring acclaimed children’s book authors and illustrators into underserved K-8 schools in Boston for visits and workshops focused on writing and illustration.”  Folks like Barbara O’Connor, Grace Lin, Mitali Perkins, Bryan Collier, and many many more.  From what I hear, this year they’re hoping to expand their work in six schools, increase the number of donated books they bring to each school, and start a “Books for Breakfast” professional development series in Boston classrooms where they focus on particular “libraries” of new books–for example, “great non-fiction for 4th and 5th graders,” and then donate the books that they highlight to those classrooms."

But do click through to the rest of this week's FuseNews. I especially liked the photos of a railcar converted to a library. 

At Waking Brain Cells, Tasha Saecker shares shares (and comments upon) the results of a recent National Literacy Trust survey of the reading habits of 21,000 UK kids and teens. Tasha notes: "What I find most troubling about the survey results is that one in five children said that they rarely or never read in their own time." She also shares a great quote from the director of the National Literacy Trust: "We need to make reading irresistible. We want to call on families and professionals working with children and young people to make ten minutes in their day for reading." Indeed!

Suggestions for Growing Bookworms

My friend Liz sent me the link to a nice article by Regan McMahon at CommonSense Media about How to Raise a Reader. While not ground-breaking, McMahon's article provides a concise, parent-friendly summary of tips. Like: "Feed the favorite-author addiction: Once your kids finds a writer they love, they may want to read all of his or her books -- a great excuse for a trip to the library or an opportunity for book swapping among friends and classmates."

I found this recent Washington Post article by Nancy Carlsson-Paige thought-provoking. Carlsson-Paige, a guest in Valerie Strauss' column, asks "Is technology sapping children's creativity?". While she notes that there is not yet much research available on the long-term effect of kids' use of devices, there are some things that we do know, and can extrapolate. She discusses the importance of play (real, three-dimensional play), and the impact of screen time on relationships. Without the article being at all didactic, Carlsson-Paige made me want to put my iPhone out of reach a bit more when I'm with Baby Bookworm. (Discovered via a post on the NCBLA blog).

Speaking of the ways that our behavior influences our children, I liked this Telegraph article by Anita Singh about author Charlie Higson's advice to parents. "Charlie Higson, writer of the Young Bond spy series and The Enemy zombie saga, says parents should look at their own reading habits if their offspring rarely pick up a book." I've always been conscious of this, but I do want to be careful to let my daughter see me reading physical books, not just on my Kindle or phone. 

Terry found this one. The lovely blog Growing Book by Book has started a monthly interview series featuring "a variety of people who know a whole lot about literacy." At the end of August, Jodie interviewed Tracy Reynolds, an early childhood educator who is currently working at home, encouraging her four sons to love books. Tracy shares a number of thoughts and suggestions related to promoting literacy in the home, for kids ranging from babies to teens. 

Speaking of literacy in the home, Choice Literacy shared the news in last weekend's newsletter, the Big Fresh, that Read-Aloud Handbook author Jim Trelease has out out some brochures on reading. Nonprofit organizations can request permission to print these out and share them with parents. This issue of the Big Fresh also linked to a nice article by Franki Sibberson about building fluency with books that are fun for kids to read aloud over and over and over again

Finally, at Literacy, families, and learning, Trevor H. Cairney shares Eight Ways Reading Helps Writing. He says: "After 30+ years reading the research of others and doing my own research as well, I can conclude that if a child is read to, and eventually begins to read themselves, that there will be an influence on writing." Then he gets into the specifics. Well worth a read. 

And don't forget to register for KidLitCon if you are planning on going. The deadline to register for the precon (Friday) portion of the event is TODAY. 

That's all that we have for you today. Carol will be back with a September wrap-up at the end of the month. And in the meantime, we'll be sharing reading-related news on Twitter @CHRasco, @TheReadingTub, and @JensBookPage. Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. 

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