Noodle sent me this infographic on finding your next children's book. The titles were suggested by the Kidlitosphere's own Betsy Bird, the New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist.
Book: ABC Puzzle and Book Author: Tiger Tales Books Pages: 24 page paperback book, plus 30 piece puzzle Age Range: 3-6
I don't normally review non-book items, but this one snuck it's way in as part of a package from Tiger Tales, and became an immediate hit with Baby Bookworm. It's a little box with a carry handle that contains a 30 piece puzzle and a paperback alphabet book.
The puzzle offers the perfect mix of education and fun. One side has the alphabet (upper and lower case letters, white on black) across the top and bottom. The bulk of the puzzle consists of vivid photographs illustrating each letter, with the word included in small text. The pictures selected are fairly standard (ice cream, xylophone, zebra), but they're also kid-friendly, particularly a huggable-looking teddy bear and set of rubber ducks. Most of the images are overlap across multiple puzzle pieces, so that kids don't need to understand their letters to be able to assemble this side of the puzzle. There's a picture of the full puzzle on the box to help.
The other side of the puzzle just has the alphabet, in order, with one puzzle piece dedicated to each letter (upper and lower case), plus four blank corner pieces. The pieces all have the same matte green background, making it easy to tell which side of each puzzle piece should be facing up at all times.
I expected my daughter (who will be three shortly, and loves puzzles) to favor the side with the photos. And to be sure, the side with the pictures is the only one that she can complete on her own at this point. But to my surprise, she is fascinated by the side with the letters, too. And she's learning. I've been using the book to help. When she wants to know which piece goes in a particular spot, I'll show her the page corresponding to that letter from the book, and let her pick it out. She's already starting to recognize letters that hadn't quite made it onto her radar yet, like V and K.
So yes, the puzzle is the exciting part of this package. But the little book that comes with it is quite handy, too. There's a page for each letter. Readers can see the letter itself, as well as a series of photos of things that start with that letter (including the one from the puzzle). This fits well with my child's current fascination with naming people and things that start with a particular letter. (The letter that her name starts with is her favorite for this activity, of course).
The ABC Puzzle and Book is fun and educational, and comes in a sturdy, bright package. I would recommend it for home or preschool use for kids who enjoy puzzles, and for kids who are starting to learn their letters (bonus when this overlaps, as it does in my house). It would make a nice component to a third birthday gift, too.
Publisher: Tiger Tales Books (@TigerTalesBooks) Publication Date: March 1, 2013 Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).
"Meet the new word-of-mouth publishing powerhouses: mom bloggers who share their online personal journals about motherhood. They post their thoughts and help sell books. And publishers are enthusiastically reaching out to them."
My mention is about 2/3 of the way down (look for a link to "Growing Bookworms"), in the context of most mom bloggers having other day jobs, and also of reaching out to readers via Twitter, etc. Betsy Bird from A Fuse #8 Production is also quoted in the same section of the article, talking about people who consider themselves mom bloggers first vs. people who consider themselves book bloggers first. Since, like Betsy, I started blogging about books long before I became a mom, the latter is where I fall on that classification.
But anyway, the nice thing about the article is that Springen quotes people at various publishers, like Tracy van Straaten from Scholastic, talking about the increasing influence of moms (and dads and aunts and so on) who use blogs to spread the word about books. Here's Springen's conclusion (but do go and read the whole article):
"NPR and New York Times stories will never lose their luster—but they’re no longer the only show in town. For advice, moms turn to their peers. After all, mother knows best."
It's Kids Heart Authors Day (Mitali Perkins has all of the details here)! Here's a brief excerpt from Mitali's post:
"Over 170 authors and illustrators and more than 40 independent booksellers in Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, and New York are participating in Kids ♥ Authors Day. Bookstores will provide bunches of books, and authors and illustrators will personalize them, talk about why they do what they do, and answer any and all questions about writing and drawing."
And the winners of the Cybils Awards will be announced (here). Stay tuned! For now, you can see lists of the finalists in all nine categories here. The winners are great, great selections, I promise. More soon...
The January Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at Lisa Chellman's blog, Under the Covers. It begins, appropriately enough, with a collection of Wintry Reads. But the whole thing is a cozy, timely celebration of children's literature, with tons of great links. Don't miss it!
Today is the third anniversary of the day that I started my blog. I decided to throw a carnival to celebrate. The photo to the left is from morgueFile, by artist Gary Houston. It's called Carnival Birthday Cake, so it seemed fitting to use.
In the theme of anniversary, I asked Carnival participants to share their best or favorite post of the year relating to children's literature. What I've received is an outpouring of links to amazing posts from the past 12 months.
Please note that certain submissions completely unrelated to the carnival theme, or that seemed to be more about promoting a particular, outside agenda than about children's literature, have been excluded. But don't worry. There is still enough reading material here to last the rest of the year. Enjoy!
Encouraging Young Readers
In this section, we start with another morgueFile photo, this one by Virginia Coccaro from Argentina (I really like this site). Isn't that little reader beautiful? We then move on to some lovely articles about raising readers.
Tony Chen presents Literary tykes posted at Savvy Daddy, saying, "Some tips from a dad for dads about making book time more memorable for your kids."
Fin Keegan presents No Second Carnegie posted at Fin Keegan, about "the paucity of books in over 10% of Irish homes" and the importance of reading to children.
My own favorite post of the year also falls into this category. It's the one from January about helping kids learn to enjoy reading. This post contributed directly to my involvement in the upcoming PBS Parents Children's Book Blog, and I think that it's a useful resource in its own right. Like many of the posts mentioned above, this one was the result of a joint effort, with contributions from many other bloggers.
This picture shows a few of my many review books from ALA Anaheim. Here are a few book reviews from other bloggers.
Anastasia Suen presents Nonfiction Monday: Real Life Situations posted at Kid Lit Kit, saying, "I love to find books that can help kids cope with real life - and this first book has fictional middle school situations illustrated in graphic novel style followed by practical advice from an advisor and real teens. Dynamite!"
Susan Thomsen presents Multicultural Fantasy: A List of Books posted at Chicken Spaghetti, saying, "Some of my favorite posts have been those created in collaboration with other children's literature enthusiasts. This one, a list of multicultural fantasy books, was compiled by Craig Svonkin, a literature professor."
There are, of course, a wide range of personal reactions to books, starting with an early Christmas photo of me reacting the way I usually do to books - completely engrossed.
Joan presents Saving Santa posted at Mothers on the Brink, saying, "We love the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. Little did my young children and I know that the fourth book in the series spills the beans on Santa ..."
Jennifer Schultz presents Dogs in Space posted at The Kiddosphere @ Fauquier, saying, "I never expected Laika to affect me as much as it did. Out of all the books I read this year, it was my most (emotionally) surprising read."
Farida Dowler presents Our family's letters from Father Christmas posted at Saints and Spinners, saying, "My favorite book related post of the year wasn't even written by me! This link leads you to the three letters my mother wrote for my brothers and me based on J.R.R. Tolkein's Letters from Father Christmas. That book was an integral part of our family's Christmas stories. I suppose the letters my mom wrote could be filed under "fan fiction.""
There's no post about it, but MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge was certainly a highlight of the year for many people. Some other fun new blog features are highlighted here.
Pam Coughlan presents ABC Storytime posted at MotherReader, saying, "I wanted to highlight my one new feature this year, ABC Storytime, where I share storytime programs based on the letters of the alphabet."
This section begins with a morgueFile photo by Gracey from Ontario, of a child keeping up with current events. The bloggers certainly keep up with current events, and discuss a wide array of topics related to children and books.
Christine Burt from The Book Bench contributes Reading T-shirts, a post about the lack of children's books with information about breast cancer, and the education to be found in reading t-shirts at a race for the cure.
I don't usually announce book releases, unless it's a book that I've previously reviewed. However, I received the following announcement from Random House, and thought that I would share it here. Whatever you think of Christopher Paolini'sEragon and Eldest, the fact that Knopf is issuing 2.5 million copies on the first printing (the largest in Random House Children's Books' history) is truly remarkable. Especially when you consider that the first book was initially self-published. Here's the press release:
KNOPF TO RELEASE 2.5 MILLION COPIES OF BRISINGR, BOOK THREE IN CHRISTOPHER PAOLINI’S INHERITANCE CYCLE, AT 12:01 AM ON SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20TH
New York, NY (September 19, 2008)—In a national laydown at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, September 20th, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, will release BRISINGR, the third book in Christopher Paolini’s phenomenally bestselling Inheritance cycle. The first two novels in the series, Eragon (2003) and Eldest (2005), have sold 15.5 million copies worldwide. With a first printing of 2.5 million copies, BRISINGR is the largest first-print run of any book in Random House Children’s Books’ history and the largest for Random House, Inc., this fall. Inheritance fans young and old will celebrate across the U.S. and Canada this weekend as more than 2,000 book retailers have planned midnight-release events to mark its publication.
24-year-old Christopher Paolini will kick off his 10-city tour tonight in New York City and will spend the next several weeks meeting his North American fans.
“It is an honor to be part of this extraordinary publishing phenomenon, and a pleasure to watch Christopher develop as a writer and a prominent literary figure,” said Chip Gibson, Random House Children’s Books, President and Publisher. “We are thrilled that the day is here to share BRISINGR with readers around the world.”
There are over 50 foreign-language licenses for BRISINGR, which is being simultaneously published by Random House’s sister companies in Canada, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. Verlagsgruppe Random House GmbH will publish the novel in Germany on October 25th. BRISINGR will also be released simultaneously in the U.S. and Canada as an audiobook by Random House’s Listening Library division.
To build early buzz for BRISINGR, Random House developed a team-based immersive online game, Vroengard Academy (www.vroengardacademy.com) (often referred to as an ARE, or Alternate Reality Experience), offering players the opportunity to interact with a brand-new Inheritance cycle storyline by competing in weekly challenges and searching for online and offline exclusive clues. Over 50,000 players in the U.S. have already participated since the game’s launch in June. This marks the first time Random House has created an ARE to market one of its books. The game concludes next week. The grand-prize winner will have the opportunity to meet Christopher Paolini.
Paolini grew up in Paradise Valley, Montana, where he and his younger sister were homeschooled. He began writing Eragon when he was just 15, after graduating from the accredited distance-learning high school the American School. Paolini’s family self-published the novel in 2002, and it was soon discovered by Knopf. The company acquired the series and published Eragon in hardcover in 2003, when Paolini was just nineteen years old. It quickly went from self-publishing obscurity to worldwide publishing phenomenon.
Paolini will write a fourth book to conclude the Inheritance cycle. A publication date has not yet been planned.
Personally, I enjoyed Eragon (though I didn't review it - I read it before I had started my blog), but thought that Eldest dragged a bit. I'm interested to see how this one turns out. And it does please me that Random House's biggest fall release is a children's book.
Just to get the ball rolling for the soapbox discussions, Colleen listed a variety of issues that have percolating. The one that is currently getting under my skin (also discussed briefly in yesterday's Sunday Visits post) concerns the lack of broader knowledge about modern-day children's and young adult literature and the blogs that focus on that literature. This post stems partly from a post that Carlie Webber (Librarilly Blonde) recently linked to on the parenting blog Babble, and partly from my recent experience attending the BlogHer conference in San Francisco.
The blog entry that Carlie cited is Where Oh Where is Superfudge by Rachel Shukert. And the gist of Shukert's post is that "Kids' books aren't what they used to be". She waxes nostalgic for several thirty-year-old books about "average kids with real-world problems" and suggests that "the Young Adult section has become ... downright aristocratic." She seems particularly bothered by the amount of press that Gossip Girl has received in the mainstream media, and the message sent by the Gossip Girl books and other similar titles. She laments the lionization of privilege, and says that "in the New Children's Literature it's the hapless middle-classes — the normal kids — who ruin the fun, through either graceless social-climbing or trenchantly decrying the excess and shallowness that make being wealthy so delicious, so desirable, so sympathetic." Her proposed solution is to "By all means, give them (kids) Gossip Girl, but rescue all those Carter-era stories of latchkey kids and public school and Native American girls abandoned on islands off the coast of California as well. For the littler ones, dust off Free To Be You and Me."
Seriously? The best solution she can come up with to counteract the messages in Gossip Girl is to go back to 30-year-old literature? I have nothing against offering up the occasional classic to today's kids (if they enjoy it), and I am certainly in favor of providing kids with a diversity of literature about people of all races and classes. But ... hello! There are hundreds of current books that fit the latter description in bookstores and libraries today.
Just ask any children's librarian or independent bookseller for suggestions. They will offer you books like the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker (illustrated chapter books aimed at early elementary school kids). Clementine lives in an apartment in Boston, where her father is the building super. She sees her parents worrying about paying the bills. When she wants to buy her mother a present, she has to work and save and borrow to come up with the money. The books aren't about the fact that her family is working class - they are about her, and that happens to be her background. It's just the kind of thing that Rachel Shukert seems to be looking for, and anyone in the Kidlitosphere could have told her about Clementine in a heartbeat. (See also Liz B's post on this subject at Tea Cozy, in which she asks readers to help compile a "List of YA/middle grade books, written in the past few years, that do not have Rich Kids as the main character".)
I don't mean to criticize Rachel Shukert. I think she's trying to do something good. She sees all of the books in the bookstore and on the NY Times bestseller lists that feature unattainable wealth, and she wants something more realistic for kids. The thing that frustrates me - that keeps me up at night -is that people like Shukert are steering their children towards older books (however lovely those books are) because they don't know about what's available today. While at the same time the children's book blogging community is filled with people writing in-depth, thoughtful reviews of current titles, and jumping up and down to help parents find these titles for their kids. There's a disconnect here that simply MUST be addressed.
This past Saturday I attended one day of the BlogHer Conference in San Francisco. It was a lot of fun - you get a great energy going when you have 1000 women in one place who are all passionate about blogging. I met a few nice people, with whom I will be be following up, and some of those people were interested in the idea that I blog about children's books. But I have to admit that overall I felt marginalized at BlogHer. There seemed to be forums for mommy bloggers (by far the biggest sub-group), craft bloggers, personal bloggers (people who share their thoughts and/or details about their lives), and tech bloggers. But I certainly didn't meet any other book review bloggers (children or adult), and I didn't find a whole lot in the sessions that spoke directly to the type of blogging that I do. (Anne-Marie Nichols was there, but by the time I learned of this, it was too late to try to meet her, and too big a conference to find her at random). It was a far, far cry from the Chicago KidLit conference, and even from ALA (although ALA is a much bigger conference). The place I was most comfortable, people-wise, was the PBS table in the exhibit hall.
I'm not blaming the BlogHer organizers for my ... disconnection with the larger conference. I think that they do a great job of organizing. I was probably not there long enough to really get comfortable (I was unable to stay for the evening social event), and I didn't try hard enough to meet people. I also think that if I want the Kidlitosphere to be part of the larger blogging discussion, then perhaps next year I need to get some people together for a panel (or someone does). Because here again, similar to the situation with the Babble post, we have a whole bunch of people who blog, many of whom are passionate about how they are raising their kids, and as far as I can tell, they have only the vaguest notion that children's book blogs exist. And that's a shame. Because we do have some amazing resources here in the Kidlitosphere.
I don't have the answers, in terms of making the Kidlitosphere more broadly known. I think that the general issue is that doing that is going to require time, and many of us are already spending all the time we can on our blogs. We're hardly looking to take time away from the blogs themselves, to reach out to other people, people who don't seem that interested anyway.
I feel like I have this magical room full of free stuff, wonderful stuff that gets automatically replenished every day. And people are walking by outside of my room, people who would love this stuff if they knew about it. But they don't happen to look inside, and I don't have time to stand by the window to ask them to come in.
Time spent reading: 18 hours, 35 minutes (2.13 pages/minute) Time spent reviewing: 5 hours, 20 minutes (29 minutes/book) Total time spent: 23 hours, 55 minutes Total pages read: 2370
Observations: I was very dedicated. I spent as much time as I possibly could on this challenge. I didn't do laundry, unload the dishwasher, or cook at all during the 48 hours. I did sleep, and I did shower, but I ate most of my meals quickly, and Mheir was severely neglected (he rented himself some violent movies, and played golf). Sadly, I had to attend a dinner event on Saturday which, though lovely, cut out my reading time after 5:00 pm that day. I tried to read when I got home, but the combination of an early day and wine at the dinner made this largely unsuccessful. But apart from that, I read and reviewed just about as much as I could. I ended up spending just slightly under 24 out of the 48 hours on the project. Not a bad ratio, if you take sleeping into account.
The thing that kept me from reading more books was that for the life of me, I couldn't give the reviews short shrift. I normally spend about an hour per review, and I did manage to cut that in half, but I just wasn't willing to cut it any further. These were great books! They deserved to be talked about. And it does please me immensely to know that, after the past couple of months of writing fewer reviews than I would like, I was able to publish 11 of them this weekend. They aren't quite as full-fledged as I would normally do, but I feel like they're good enough to give people an impression of each book, and help people decide which ones might be a fit for them.
So how do I feel about the challenge? It was stressful, a bit, concentrating so much on one thing, at the expense of others. (Of course it didn't need to be stressful, but my competitive spirit came to the surface). But it was also exhilarating and validating. Too often, I let all of the other responsibilities in my life push reading and reviewing aside. There are many days in which the only reading I do is in bed, before I fall asleep. And when life is busy, that sometimes amounts to barely a few pages.
This weekend reminded me how much I love to sit down and read a book cover to cover, in one sitting. It reminded me of how much easier it is to write reviews if you write them immediately, while the book is still fresh. It reminded me of how many amazing and different books I have on my shelves, and how important it is for me in terms of my own happiness to make time to read them. Immersing myself in stories is what I love to do. I also love to share those stories, the best of them, with other readers through my blog.
This weekend has convinced me that I need to make reading more of a priority all the time, not just on 48 Hour Book Challenge weekend. I'm thinking of setting aside one day a month to have my own personal 24-hour Book Challenge (because 48 hours in a row is a bit tough on Mheir). I'm not sure if I'll really be able to do it, without the additional motivation of a "contest". But I'm going to try.
Pam, I can't thank you enough for the gift of this weekend! I don't need any prizes (though I wouldn't really refuse one) - my stack of 11 read and reviewed titles feels like quite enough. I'm already looking forward to next year.
I got off to a bit of a later start than I intended, for various reasons, but I'm now officially announcing my launch of MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge. It is 2:00 pm , Pacific Time. I've got my little reading study all set up, with water and tissues and a blanket and pillow, and of course a big stack of books. My current top 11 list of candidate books is:
The weekend is June 6–8, 2008. Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the sixth and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday. So, go from 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday... or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row.
The books should be about fifth-grade level and up. Adult books are fine, especially if any adult book bloggers want to play. If you are generally a picture book blogger, consider this a good time to get caught up on all those wonderful books you’ve been hearing about. No graphic novels. I’m not trying to discriminate, I’m just trying to make sure that the number of books and page counts mean the same thing to everyone.
It’s your call as to how much you want to put into it. If you want to skip sleep and showers to do this, go for it. If you want to be a bit more laid back, fine. But you have to put something into it or it’s not a challenge.
The length of the reviews are not an issue. You can write a sentence, paragraph, or a full-length review. The time spend reviewing counts in your total time.
For promotion/solidarity purposes, let your readers know when you are starting the challenge with a specific entry on that day. Write your final summary on Monday, and for one day, we’ll all be on the same page, so to speak.
Your final summary needs to clearly include the number of books read, the approximate hours you spent reading/reviewing, and any other comments you want to make on the experience. It needs to be posted no later than noon on Monday, June 9th.
For those looking for a bit of enjoyable weekend reading, the May Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at Here in the Bonny Glen. Melissa Wiley is the original creator of the Carnival of Children's Literature, and when she put out a last minute call for submissions this week, people responded promptly and enthusiastically. Melissa has put together an entertaining collection of links about children's literature, with particular emphasis on reviews. Head on over and check it out!
"Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the sixth and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday...But the 48 hours do need to be in a row."
Why would you want to read and blog as much as possible over a designated 48-hour period? Well, for those of us who want to do something like that every weekend, this provides an excuse to do so, and company, so that it's not such a lonely pursuit. Plus there are prizes! But what it really boils down to is this: if you participate in the 48 Hour Book Challenge, you'll be able to prioritize reading and blogging about books over a two-day period. And you'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish if you really set your mind to it. You don't have to get carried away, of course. Showering and sleeping and things are certainly allowed.
I wasn't able to participate last year, but this year I am ready. I haven't been reading nearly as much as usual lately - still catching up after my move, and trips, and guest and all sorts of things. I think that the 48 Hour Book Challenge will be just the thing to get me back on track.
Why did I pick these books? Well, they're already on my shelf, so they are easy to come by. They're all books that I've been wanting to read, and that seem fun (spooky or scary in some cases, but still fun). And they're all medium length, mostly middle grade titles (they're supposed to be for fifth grade and above). If I'm going to spend so much time reading and blogging, I don't want to get too bogged down on any one book (though you can read long books - I think that there will be prizes concerning pages read and time spent, not just books completed). Of course my list is subject to change, should I happen to read some of the books ahead of time, or should something irresistible show up in the mail.
My plan is to set up skeleton blog posts ahead of time for each of the books that I'm thinking of reading, so that I don't have to waste time pulling in the cover shots, etc., during the challenge. (And I don't think this is cheating, since I won't count it as time spent). I'm going to start as early as my work will allow on Friday. My plan is also to convince a certain better half that Saturday, June 7th, would be an excellent day for him to spend golfing. It's also fitting for me to be participating in a reading challenge on June 7th because that was my Grandmother Robinson's birthday, and she loved books, especially children's books. Kind of a nice tribute, really.
Anyway, if you want more information about the 48 Hour Book Challenge, stay tuned to MotherReader.
Sheesh! I go one day without reading any blog posts (because of, you know, that whole work thing, plus taking 3 hours out to go to the event at Hicklebee's). And that's the day that Kelly Herold publishes the new issue of The Edge of the Forest (THE online children's literature journal). Isn't that always the way? But seriously, it looks like another great issue. Here are the highlights (borrowed from Big A little a):
Just a head's up, for those who haven't been paying attention. The fourthPercy Jackson and the Olympians book, The Battle of the Labyrinth, will be released TOMORROW, May 6th. Advance copies were not released of this title, so there's a lot of excitement among readers wondering what to expect. I think that this will be THE summer reading book for the 10 to 14 year old set (and doubtless will appeal to many older readers, too).
Personally, I'm holding out to buy my copy at Hicklebee's on May 15th, when author Rick Riordan will be visiting. I've been very determined in protecting my schedule that day. But it will be hard to wait... I'm dying to know what role Rachel Elizabeth Dare plays. If I still lived in Austin, I'd be camped out at BookPeople.
Meanwhile, here are some links to keep you occupied:
Rick Riordan's blog, Myth & Mystery (see, for example, this post about whether or not the demigods who have different parents are related to each other, and whether it's ok for them to, hypothetically, date).
The April Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at Ellsworth's Journal. Carnivals, for those new to the concept, are collections of user-submitted posted, organized by a rotating volunteer host. This month's ever-so-fun theme is children's literature societies. Check it out here. And see if you can figure out the password...
I received this announcement earlier in the week. Although it's probably old news for most of you at this point, I thought that it was still worth sharing:
Children’s Book Council Launches Second National Initiative this Year to Promote Reading among Children, Announces Finalists for the First Annual Children’s Choice Book Awards
NEW YORK, NY March 24, 2008 – The Children’s Book Council (CBC) in association with the CBC Foundation, launches the Children’s Choice Book Awards program with the announcement of 25 finalists in five categories. The Children’s Choice Book Awards program was created to provide young readers with an opportunity to voice their opinions about the books being written for them and to help develop a reading list that will motivate children to read. Children will be able to cast their vote for their favorite books, author, and illustrator at bookstores, school libraries, and at www.BookWeekOnline.com until Sunday, May 4, 2008.
The Children’s Choice Book Award winners will be announced live at the Children’s Choice Book Award gala on May 13 in New York City as part of Children’s Book Week (May 12-18, 2008), the oldest national literacy event in the United States. This initiative is a new component of Children’s Book Week and follows on the heels of the appointment of the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a national program initiated by the Library of Congress and Children’s Book Council.
“The program will allow children from across the country to discover what other children like to read,” said Robin Adelson, Executive Director at Children’s Book Council. “We believe that by empowering children to express their opinions, it will positively impact their perspective and interest in books and bring a renewed excitement to reading.”
The Children’s Choice Book Award finalists are as follows:
Favorite Book for Grades K-2:
Dino Dinners, by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom (Holiday House)
Five Little Monkeys Go Shopping by Eileen Christelow (Clarion)
Frankie Stein written by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Kevan Atteberry (Marshall Cavendish Corporation)
Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark written by Ken Geist, illustrated by Julia Gorton (Cartwheel Books/Scholastic)
Tucker’s Spooky Halloween by Leslie McGuirk (Candlewick Press)
Favorite Book for Grades 3-4:
Babymouse: Camp Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House Books for Young Readers)
Big Cats by Elaine Landau (Enslow Publishers)
Monday With a Mad Genius written by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca (Random House Books for Young Readers)
The Richest Poor Kid written by Carl Sommer, illustrated by Jorge Martinez (Advance Publishing, Inc.)
Wolves by Duncan Searl (Bearport Publishing)
Favorite Book for Grades 5-6:
Beowulf: Monster Slayer written by Paul D. Storrie, illustrated by Ron Randall (Lerner Publishing Group)
Encyclopedia Horrifica by Joshua Gee (Scholastic Paperbacks)
Ghosts by Stephen Krensky (Lerner Publishing Group)
The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley by Amy Lissiat and Colin Thompson (Kane/Miller Book Publishers)
When the Shadbush Blooms written by Carla Messinger with Susan Katz, illustrated by David Kanietakeron Fadden (Tricycle Press)
2007 Author of the Year
Anthony Horowitz, Snakehead (Alex Rider Adventure) (Philomel/Penguin)
Erin Hunter, Warriors, Powers of Three: The Sight (HarperCollins)
Jeff Kinney, Diary of Wimpy Kid (Abrams)
Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Titan’s Curse (Disney Book Group)
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Scholastic)
2007 Illustrator of the Year
Jan Brett, Three Snow Bears (Putnam/Penguin)
Ian Falconer,Olivia Helps with Christmas (Simon & Schuster)
Robin Preiss Glasser, Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy (HarperCollins)
Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic)
Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity (Disney Book Group)
The finalists were determined from the IRA-CBC Children’s Choices program, a joint project of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the CBC since 1975. Publishers submit hundreds of titles to be evaluated and voted on by 10,000 children. The Author and Illustrator of the Year finalists were selected from a review of bestseller lists by the CBC and CBC Foundation.
Can I cast my vote for Rick Riordan? Surely J. K. Rowling got sufficient kudos in 2007...
Making it in just under the wire, the February edition of The Edge of the Forest was published late last night (thank goodness for Leap Year Day). The Edge of the Forest is an online journal dedicated to children's literature, created and edited by Kelly Herold from Big A little a. Christine Marciniak of The Simple and the Ordinary is the recently appointed Features Editor. Here is the list of this month's highlights, borrowed from Kelly:
Happy Leap Day!The February Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at Anastasia Suen'sPicture Book of the Day blog. In honor of today, February 29th, Anastasia has chosen "Leap into Reading" as her carnival's theme. For those unfamiliar with carnivals, a carnival is a collection of links to posts, all on the same general topic, each post contributed by a different person. People generally contribute their best post from the past month, making carnivals a source of high-quality content and a way to learn about new blogs.
Anastasia proposes that we all "use this extra day to leap into a book". While I certainly agree with that idea, I suggest starting by leaping into reading this carnival. There are simply tons of great posts included.
Have a great day! And if it's your birthday today, I hope it is four times extra special. I send particular birthday greetings to my friend Nick, and warm thoughts to Al's family, spending his day without him for the first time, but celebrating in his honor.
"Simon and Schuster has partnered with General Mills for a 10 million-box, five-brand cereal promotion tied to the Spiderwick Chronicles. Running from January 1 to March 1, the promotion’s timing is tied to the Spiderwick film being released in February. But its focus is entirely on the books. In fact, when the two companies started talking about the partnership, the film was optioned but didn’t have a green light, so it wasn’t a factor in the deal, according to Laura Ferguson, S&S director of premiums, CDP and corporate sales.
Specially marked boxes of Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, Reese’s Puffs, Cookie Crisps and Honey Nut Cheerios will include one of three collectible books based on the second title in the Spiderwick series, The Seeing Stone."
I received the following news release today, and I thought that you all might be interested in the news. I personally think that it's great that we're going to have this position of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in the US, and I look forward to learning who it will be, and what his or her plans are. Maybe someday there'll be a National Virtual Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and I'll be able to apply. Anyway, here's the announcement:
NEW YORK, NY December 13, 2007 – The Children’s Book Council (CBC), in association with the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book, will announce the inaugural National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a children’s laureate for the United States, on January 3, 2008. Appointed for a two-year term, the post was created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to literacy, education, and the development and betterment of children’s lives. The National Ambassador will choose a platform accordingly, also to be revealed on announcement date, and will advocate this policy throughout his/her travels and tenure.
The National Ambassador was chosen by a selection committee based on a number of criteria, including the candidate’s contribution to young people’s literature, known ability to relate to children, dynamic and engaging personality, among other considerations. The five members of the inaugural selection committee include:
Leonard Marcus – preeminent children’s book historian and critic. He has directed parenting magazine’s annual Best Books of the Year Awards since its inception and is a three-time judge of the New York Times Best Illustrated Books of the Year prize. He is a standing member of The Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award committee.
Hazel Rochman - editor at ALA Booklist and now a contributing editor, reviewing books for children and young adults. She has served on numerous book committees, and chaired the National Book Award committee for young people’s literature.
Maria Salvadore - Coordinator of Children’s Service for the DC Public Library until 2000. Her work for numerous local and national organizations includes the Kennedy Center Education Department, Reading Is Fundamental, BPS Ready To Learn Service, WETA’s Reading Rockets, among many others.
Henrietta M. Smith - professor emeritus, School of Library and Information Science, University of South Florida. Service to ALA includes membership on Newbery, Caldecott, Batchelder, Carnegie and Notable Film committees and chair of the Wilder committee.
Jewell Stoddard - co-owner of the Cheshire Cat Book Store in Washington DC—one of the first children’s bookstores in the country. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston-Globe Horn Book Award committees, and chaired the 2002 Award committee for the Washington Post-Children's Book Guild Award for Nonfiction.
Cheerios® is the leading sponsor of the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature initiative. Through its Spoonfuls of Stories® program, Cheerios gets books into children’s hands and encourages families to read together. Over the past 6 years, Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories has distributed more than 30 million books free inside cereal boxes, and donated more than $2.5 million to First Book®, a national children’s literacy organization.
Additional financial support for this program is provided by Penguin Young Readers Group, Scholastic, Inc., HarperCollins Children’s Books, Random House Children’s Books, Holiday House, Charlesbridge, National Geographic Children’s Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Harcourt Children’s Books, Candlewick Press, Marshall Cavendish, and Macmillan Publishers.
About the Children’s Book Council
The Children’s Book Council, established in 1945, is the non-profit trade association of publishers of trade books for children and young adults in the United States. The CBC promotes the use and enjoyment of trade books for young people, most prominently as the official sponsor of Children’s Book Week, the longest running literacy event in the country. The goal of the Children’s Book Council is to make the reading and enjoyment of books for young people an essential part of America’s educational and social goals, as well as to enhance the public perception of the importance of reading by disseminating information about books for young people and about children's book publishing.
About The Center for the Book
The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress was established in 1977 by Public Law 95-129 to use the resources of the Library of Congress to stimulate public interest in books and reading. Its entire program is supported by private funds. To carry out its mission, the center has created two national networks: affiliates in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and national reading promotion partners, mostly non-profit organizations such as the Children’ Book Council, that promote books, reading, literacy, and libraries. The Center for the Book plays a key role in the development of the National Book Festival, held each year on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Reviews in all categories—from Picture book to Young Adult.
I found Little Willow's feature to be particularly comprehensive (she collected input from many authors and bloggers, myself included). I found myself nodding again and again as I read other people's remarks about books that opened their eyes. The 'Tis the Season feature, with various lists of recommended gift books, is also not to be missed. And there's lot's of other great stuff, too. Go and check it out.
The November Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at MotherReader. And it is amazing! MotherReader asked people to send her links to posts containing tips about reading, writing, blogging, etc. She's categorized the resulting entries according to the audience for each tip, and added her own trademark MotherReader wit. The result is a tremendous resource for anyone interested in children's literature, whether from the perspective of blogger/reviewer, writer, parent, teacher, librarian, or reader. Don't miss it! But make sure you have some time available before you click through, because you won't be able to tear yourself away.
Squiggles: A Really Giant Drawing and Painting Book is not the sort of book that I generally review. I'm all about story, and Squiggles is an activity/coloring book. However, Squiggles stands out from the crowd. For one thing, it's much larger than your average coloring book, slightly bigger than a sheet of paper in footprint, and 200 extra-heavy pages thick. The cover shows a series of childlike black-and-white drawings. Inside are 200 pages of picture starters and/or short text prompts to inspire the budding artist. For example:
A girl, taking up the lower half of the page only, with the prompt "Let's draw some hats!"
A boy's head and limbs, with the clothing and torso left unfinished for the child to fill in.
The surface and floor of the ocean, shown in profile, with the prompt: "I'm sure there's some sunken treasure down here. Maybe a sea monster, too."
The partial drawings are all done in medium gray watercolor, with thick lines, and not much detail. Sketches range from broad landscapes to small objects like cups and plates. In all cases, the detail and color are left for the child to fill in. The extra-thick pages are designed to allow paint, as well as crayons and markers.
Gail Gauthier talked about this book, and compared it to the Anti-Coloring Books, which were all the rage a while back. I agree. The difference is that this book is beautiful in its own right, too. I think for kids who want to draw, but need a little push to get started, this will be just the thing. Together with a box of watercolors or crayons, this would make an excellent holiday gift for any art-loving kid.
Kelly Herold has just announced the (slightly belated) October edition of The Edge of the Forest, an online journal about children's literature. This issue is devoted to young adult literature, with tons and tons of YA reviews. Also in this issue (list from Kelly):
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban is a book about taking joy in the special things about yourself and your family, even if they aren't conventionally perfect. Zoe Elias is in fifth grade. She has a workaholic mother (a state Controller) and a father who has difficulty coping with the world outside of his home. Zoe returns to school after the summer and finds that her best friend has abandoned her for someone cooler, and become consumed by lip gloss, CDs, and trendy clothes. What Zoe wants is to grow up to be a famous pianist, and play at Carnegie Hall. She dreams of elegant black concert pianos and hushed silences. Her reality, however, is somewhat different from her expectations (and involves a flamboyant organ).
There is much to like about this book. The writing is deceptively simple, with short paragraphs, and plenty of white space. At one point there is a chapter that only has one six-word sentence on the page. This is not a book that would intimidate an eight year old. And yet, Linda Urban manages to pack multiple levels of meaning into every sentence. She is a master of show, don't tell, and of presenting fully realized, three-dimensional characters. Her word selection is so perfect that the book almost feels like a verse novel (though it clearly isn't). Here is an example:
The senior center had one piano, and it was not grand. It was an almost-upright. It leaned to one side. I guessed it had been donated by a school because there were initials carved into its legs, and if you lifted the yellow scarf off the top, you could read all about a Mrs. Pushkin who smelled like fish. The bench was bowed from years of supporting senior citizen backsides. (Page 10)
I love: "It was an almost-upright". Here is another example that shows the short, poetic paragraphs:
"When the balcony people first get to Carnegie Hall, they can't see the stage. All they see is a huge velvet curtain with gold fringe and tassels. The lights dim. The curtain rises. And there is a glossy black grand piano. Nobody says a word. They don't even breathe. They wait. They wait." (Page 150)
That refrain of "They wait. They wait." is repeated several times throughout the book. I think it speaks to Zoe's deeper longing concerning being a concert pianist, someone to whom people give undivided attention, and for whom people are willing to wait. Zoe's mother is a very busy woman.
One last quote:
"Me and Mom shake our heads (when friends leave to go the restroom). We have really strong bladders. It is one thing we have in common." (Page 185).
I like this quote because the author is doing so much in a small space. "Me and Mom" gives you a fifth grade voice, doesn't it? It's not "Mom and I", it's "Me and Mom." As it should be. And then "it is one thing we have in common." When I first read this I read it in my head as "it is the one thing we have in common." Zoe and her Mom are very different, but Zoe is pretty matter-of-fact about it.
Zoe is also matter-of-fact about her father's shortcomings. Zoe's Dad clearly has some sort of clinical mental condition, by which can't handle driving, or being in a room with a lot of people, or seeing bright lights. He doesn't work - he stays home and does unusual home-based courses like "Make Friends and Profit While Scrapbooking". Zoe's activities are restricted because he can't drive her places. She worries about him sometimes, but she accepts his limitations, without being ashamed of him, or angry with him, because he is who he is. And he has his strengths as a father, too, of course.
This is an excellent book to give to a kids in the third to sixth grades. It's a relatively easy read, but with a lot of hidden depth that I think the kids on the middle school end (and higher) will be more able to appreciate. For example, there is a painful scene in which Zoe attends a party where she brings the wrong gift and wears the wrong clothes. This will resonate with any reader who has ever had such an experience. (And who hasn't?)
Although A Crooked Kind of Perfect touches on like liking between boys and girls, Zoe's experience is at the very earliest stage of that, in which there's no question of much more than a jumpy feeling in your stomach. And although the narrator of the story is a girl, I think that boys will enjoy this book, too. A boy named Wheeler is a major character (though we can't directly know what he's thinking), and issues with quirky parents transcend gender. Plus there are several scenes involving burping, which are sure crowd-pleasers.
I think that this is a book that will receive some serious consideration from the Newbery committee. It's beautifully written, but also quirky and funny and full of heart. I think that kids will enjoy the story, and will laugh out loud at the funny parts (Zoe goofing around with her Dad, and the ironic contrast between her dreams and her reality). I also think that kids who are right at that transitional age between childhood and adolescence will be able to see themselves in Zoe and Wheeler, and will find this validating. I couldn't recommend it more highly.
I came back with lots of great stuff from the First Annual Kidlitosphere Conference, and thought that I would share the list with you all (click to enlarge the photo). I took four books with me, and was able to get them signed:
I won a prize in the raffle - an amazing set of eight books, contributed by Faith Hochhalter, Children’s Book Buyer for Changing Hands Bookstore, on behalf of various publishers. Faith did an amazing job of talking up these books, and I was SO happy when I won one of several sets. Here's what was included:
I also acquired various postcards, bookmarks, and pins. And a fun pack of gumballs from Ruth Spiro. My favorite postcard was from Ellen Klages, because it was signed by Dewey (protagonist of The Green Glass Sea, and a cool girl if there ever was one). I still have to go through my other postcards, and add other titles to my to read list. You know, in case I run out of books.
I started reading Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society one afternoon, when I had to kill some time in the bookstore (I know, it was rough). And darned if I didn't have to buy the book in hardcover, because I had to know what happened next. The Mysterious Benedict Society begins when eleven-year-old orphan Reynie Muldoon responds to a newspaper ad that asks: "ARE YOU A GIFTED CHILD LOOKING FOR SPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES?" The ad leads Reynie to a series of examinations, to which he applies intelligence, ingenuity, and ethics.
Following the exams, Reynie finds himself part of an elite team of children. Children whose mission is nothing less than to save the world. With only a smattering of adult guidance, the children go undercover at a mysterious school, where they find horrors almost beyond comprehension. But they also learn to be resourceful, and to be loyal to one another. They become a sort of surrogate family, and learn that the unique strengths that they each bring to the problem are all necessary for its solution. Here's a quotation about that (thoughts from Reynie about another one of the children on the team):
"Sometimes Constance drives me crazy, but now I can't imagine being here without her. I can't say for sure, because I have no experience, but -- well, is this what family is like? The feeling that everyone's connected, that with one piece missing the whole thing's broken? (Of Families Lost and Found)
The Mysterious Benedict Society is an adventure novel with an old-fashioned feel (clear from the very picture of a mysterious house on the cover). There are Morse code messages, creepy laboratories, and secret tunnels. The school is even set on an island. But it's also a highly entertaining book, aimed squarely at the middle grade set, too, with humor at various levels (from irony to slapstick). Trenton Lee Stewart is very very funny. I flagged some dozen passages, and had a difficult time pruning it down to my favorite four.
Team member Kate, challenging the cliche "know it like the back of your hand":
"I've always thought that was a funny expression," Kate said. "Because how well do people know the backs of their hands? Honestly, can anyone here tell me exactly what the back of your hand looks like?" (The Sender and the Messages)
Kate again, poking fun at her team in witty fashion:
"Aren't we a depressing bunch?" said Kate. "If we continue like this, we'll have to start calling it remorse code." (Codes and Histories)
A leader at the school, informing the children about the somewhat irrational rules:
"You can wear whatever you want, just as long as you have on trousers, shoes, and a shirt. You can bathe as often as you like or not at all, provided you're clean every day in class. You can eat whatever and whenever you want, so long as it's during meal hours in the cafeteria. You're allowed to keep the lights on in your rooms as late as you wish until ten o'clock each night." (Traps and Nonsense)
Reynie, coping with unhelpful advice from another student administrator:
"Whatever you do, do not admit to Mr. Curtain that you cheated. If you did cheat, I mean. I'm not saying you should lie. That's even worse. Don't admit to cheating and don't lie." "You're saying my best course of action right now is not to have cheated in the past." "Exactly," S.Q. said. "That's helpful." (Punishments and Promotions)
The four children are clearly drawn, and each arouses the reader's sympathy in a different way. The character of Constance, the smallest and crankiest of the children, is a delight, even as she's clearly annoying to the others. I also loved the brilliant but shy and insecure Sticky (he has a sticky memory). Kate is the epitome of bravery and resourcefulness. And Reynie is everyone's conscience, doing the right thing, and thinking clearly, until the end.
The Mysterious Benedict Society includes small illustrations at the start of each chapter. Carson Ellis's pen-and-ink drawings support, in tone, the old-fashioned feel of the book. But they also add to the book's humor, and capture the distinct personalities of the children.
I would have adored this book when I was 10 or 11. The Mysterious Benedict Society is a sure winner for middle grade readers, boy and girls, especially if they like puzzles, or reading about mystery and adventure. I think it could also be a fun read for their parents, too. Recommended for anyone, ages nine and up.
I'm happy to announce that this month's Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at Charlotte's Library. And it is SO much fun! Charlotte's theme is "Take a Ride on the Reading Railroad." She tells this whole story, with links of course, about a book-lover's dream of a railroad, complete with on-board bookstore, a newspaper of book-related news, and, when you leave, a free box to carry all of your new books. Plus there's a special treat at the end. So I say, waste no more time here. All aboard for the Reading Railroad!
And if you arrived here from the Reading Railroad, then welcome. You'll find plenty of books here, too.
I adored Tim Egan's picture book The Pink Refrigerator. So much so that it made the short pile of picture books that I keep for myself, instead of giving them away. The Pink Refrigerator ends with Dodsworth hopping on his bike, setting out for adventure. Thus when I read that the sequel, Dodsworth in New York, was coming out, I requested a copy from the publisher immediately.
Unlike The Pink Refrigerator, Dodsworth in New York is a chapter book. However, rest assured that it is a very early chapter book, just the tiniest step up from beloved picture books. Each page has a picture that takes up the bulk of the space, in most cases accompanied by four or five short lines of text. Kid-friendly, accessible text, with a subtle, philosophical underpinning.
On the first page of Dodsworth in New York, our hero, a somewhat frumpy-looking mouse in hat and jacket, prepares to set out on his trip:
"Dodsworth wanted adventure. He wanted to fly in a plane. He wanted to sail on a ship. He wanted to see the world. But first, he wanted breakfast."
Dodsworth stops for breakfast at Hodges' Café, where Hodges' crazy duck throws pancakes at him. This is not enough to destroy Dodsworth's mood, however, and he sets off on the train for New York. To his astonishment, however, he finds that the duck has stowed away in his suitcase. It seems that the duck is also looking for adventure. Dodsworth tries to send the duck home, but the duck runs away into New York City. Dodsworth is briefly tempted to wash his hands of the duck, but knows how worried Hodges will be. So he scours New York in search of the now elusive creature.
And the duck takes Hodges on quite a tour of the city, from Washington Square to the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty and Central Park. To movies and museums and tony shopping districts. Following the duck, Dodsworth sees things that he never would have found on his own. And repeatedly he sees the duck enjoying himself with careless abandon. The duck is not very well-behaved (throwing popcorn in a movie theater, for instance), but sure is good at having fun. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I hope that Dodsworth and duck have many further adventures.
Dodsworth in New York is a manual for letting go and enjoying life, as well as a love letter to New York. But more importantly, it's a delightful early reader, sure to please kids and adults. I think that it takes a gifted writer to convert the short sentences and limited vocabulary of an early reader into something with tone and substance. Egan accomplishes this feat admirably. The personalities of Dodsworth and the duck both come through clearly. And the short sentences function as understatement, allowing the reader to fill in details of mood and subtext. For example (Chapter 3):
"The next morning, the train pulled into New York City. Dodsworth bought a ticket for the duck to go home. He turned to give the duck the ticket. He saw the duck getting onto the subway."
So simple, but we see Dodsworth's plodding, responsible nature juxtaposed against the insouciance of the duck.
The illustrations are ink and watercolor on paper, with muted colors that suit Dodsworth's nature. Occasionally, they add detail to the story. The funniest is when Dodsworth is searching the Museum of Modern Art for the duck. The text just says that he can't find the duck. But the picture shows the duck camouflaged as part of a sculpture. The illustrations also add to our understanding of Dodsworth's personality, sometimes because of his expressions, and sometimes because of his small size compared with the people around him. His determination to find the duck is evident in every line.
I highly, highly recommend Dodsworth in New York for early readers, especially those who already love Dodsworth. And who, having met him, could help loving him? Certainly not me.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Publication Date: September 24, 2007 Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Who can resist a children's book called How To Be A Spy in 7 Days Or Less? This Kingfisher title, written by Justine Smith and illustrated by Jan Lewis, is SO much fun. It looks like a picture book, but, I would say, one for older kids who can read it on their own. There are lots of small pictures, with text in lists. The outer edges of the covers, as well as the end pages, are decorated with a circuit board-like pattern, suggesting modern-day spying techniques. The book comes tied shut, with ties that look like shoelaces, as though to keep the contents inside a secret. In the back of the book is a large envelope, containing:
Cypher wheels (for created coded messages)
See what I mean? So much fun. The text is broken into six one-day lessons, each consisting of two full-page spreads, followed by a single graduation day spread. Each day's lessons are broken up into multiple related sections, each about important activities like disguises, body language, and secret messages. After years of reading spy books, I didn't personally find many new ideas, but I think that kids who are around six or seven years old will be utterly captivated.
There are also lots of activities to keep kids busy - like making a secret sign to identify your spy headquarters, writing secret messages in lemon juice, and cutting holes in a newspaper to use it for surveillance. And of course there's a section on ciphers, complete with sample message to decode.
There are a few humorous nods (and some serious "we want to avoid liability" nods) to parents. Like in the section on tailing people, the book suggests: "Choose your target. Your mom or dad is a good choice--they'll be distracted and busy." Other passages are just plain funny, with a dry humor that made me giggle. For example, in the section on disguises it says: "Remember that your goal is to blend in. A woolen hat and scarf in the summer will just look suspicious." This is accompanied by a picture of a muffled person, sweating, walking along a beach, being pointed at and laughed at.
The illustrations are closely tied in with the text, and add both humor and detail. Most scenes feature Agent 001, code name Ace, a sandy-haired boy who wears a trench coat and sunglasses. Ace is supported by Agent 002, code name Charlie, a black girl in a lab coat, with glasses and striped tights. They also work with Agent 003, code name Mike, a very cute little bug, billed as "a tiny robot spy with attitude." It does stand out to me, as an adult reading the book, that the minority-race girl is in a clearly supporting role, while the white boy has most of the actual adventures. At least with her lab coat and leggings Agent 002 does portray a hip female scientist. And she has cool gadgets to work with. But still... I did notice it.
Quibbles about racial and gender roles aside, I do think that both boys and girls will enjoy reading this book and participating in the activities. There is something eternally intriguing about spies, from Harriet M. Welch to James Bond. How To Be A Spy in 7 Days Or Less covers all of the trapping and cool activities associated with spying, in a handy, user-friendly package. I think that it would make an excellent gift for first and second graders. I have a deserving home in mind for my copy already.
Publisher: Kingfisher Publication Date: September 15, 2007 Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
I don't quite know what to make of Fearless, the first young adult novel by award-winning British author Tim Lott. Lott uses a dystopian setting to explore intriguing ideas about order vs. chaos, individuality, bravery, and justice. Fearless is beautifully written, with spare and moving prose. It was long-listed for the 2007 Guardian prize, and I can see why. And yet ... I'm not sure whether kids will like Fearless or not.
The trouble is that it's part realistic novel and part dystopian fable. The confluence of these two approaches is sometimes disconcerting. On the one hand, we have the main character, Little Fearless, coming up with a clever scheme to escape her draconian school. On the other hand, we have children filling a bottle full of tears, and a chemical analysis performed in which the exact number of tears is counted, which is clearly ludicrous. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Fearless is the story of a girl nicknamed Little Fearless. As a young girl, she is taken away from her home, and the only mother she has ever known, and taken to a prison disguised as the City Community Faith School. Girls believed to be juvenile delinquents or "mindcrips" are imprisoned there, with no contact with the outside world. Their real names are taken from them, and they are known only by letters and numbers (and the nicknames that they give themselves). Their lives are severely narrow and regimented.
Little Fearless, however, is a rebel, refusing to bow to the anonymity and obedience expected of her. She is a constant trial to the head of the school, the Controller, and faces regular punishment. After one confrontation with the Controller, she decides to find a way to let the outside world know what's going on in the school. She's sure that if people understood how poorly the girls were being treated, they would step in right away to enact change. She demonstrates unwavering bravery and strength of character in her quest to do the right thing. Circumstances, however, are not in Little Fearless' favor.
Little Fearless is brave, but as a character she's a bit too good to be true. Despite having been oppressed and under-educated for her whole life, she speaks with an eloquence and evangelism that a child in her situation seems unlikely to have learned. Here's an example:
"Thank you for taking my head out of my clouds of confusion. For now I realize it was the confusion that was hurting me more than anything. But if you think that by using cruel facts as hammers you will break my spirit, you are wasting your time. For my mother's -- my dead mother's --- sake, I will survive and I will be strong. And you will never -- never -- turn me into your creature, Controller, for all your heartlessness." (Chapter 1, The Institute)
Basically, it's a speech disguised as dialog. The Controller does this too:
"The point is, the worst thing in the world is no unfairness. Do you know what it is?"
"Cruelty?" said Little Fearless innocently.
"No," replied the Controller evenly. "It is chaos. And since the war started, we have been constantly under the treat of chaos. Rules may be fair or they may be unfair. Frequently they are unfair. But it doesn't matter. They keep disorder at bay. So we have to believe in them. Or, if we don't believe in them, at least to pretend to believe in them, for the common good." (Chapter 1)
There are a number of things that I liked about Fearless. I quite enjoyed the character of Stench (a girl who works in the school garbage dump). Although of limited intelligence, she persists in seeking her dream of family. I also appreciated the multi-faceted nature of the Controller, and his tension with Little Fearless. Other aspects of the book are thought-provoking. The way that ordinary citizens spend their time glued to vast "vidscreens", essentially brainwashed, contains just enough truth to be disturbing. The way that the Controller punishes the girls by taking away their individuality bears echoes of Naziism. The way that the girls react to their imprisonment and the constructed hierarchy within the school say much about the impact on totalitarian regimes on the spirit of the individual.
Overall, I think that Fearless is a title that will win awards and garner critical acclaim. And it should. It tackles lofty ideas, with graceful prose. However, I remain a bit skeptical of the book's kid appeal. I'll be interested to see how it does in the marketplace.
I've read a number of books lately that I've enjoyed, but I have to say that I LOVED The Social Experiments of Dorie Dilts: Dumped by Popular Demand. This book is adorable. It's sweet and funny and quirky, and I want it to be made into a movie as soon as possible (maybe preferably by Disney Pictures and/or John Hughes). Dorie is a 12-year-old budding scientist who decides, on moving across the country and starting a new school, that she is going to figure out how to be popular. She gets herself a lab notebook, and starts observing the popular kids in their natural element. She is particularly taken with a trio of popular girls who she dubs "The Holly Trinity" (Holly being their leader). After much observation, Dorie learns that the common bond shared by the Holly Trinity is that each of the three was unceremoniously dumped by the same boy, Grant Braddish. Grant is popular in his own right, a jock, attractive but obnoxious. Dorie's path is quite clear. She must get Grant to date her, and then dump her. Then the Holly Trinity will become a quartet, and Dorie will for the first time in her life be popular and accepted. Of course things don't go exactly as planned...
In retrospect, the ending of the story is predictable. But it doesn't feel predictable along the way, because Dorie's first-person voice is so strong, and she doesn't know how things are going to turn out. Sure, the reader might realize a few things more quickly than Dorie does, but that's part of the fun. What I love most is Dorie herself. She's a young scientist who worships Jane Goodall, and has no idea that, say, people won't think that an ecology theme for the school dance would be cool. She is surprised that the popular jock expects her to do all the work for their joint science project. She uses a spreadsheet to collect data about the Holly Trinity, looking for their common elements. Yet she is sometimes insightful, too, and has some hilarious throw-away lines. Like this one:
"I was never a social outcast like the kids that wore black from head to toe and treated their scalps like Easter eggs. You know the kind. They claim to be all anti-everything. (News flash: If you are wearing black because all of your friends are too, it's called conformity, not individuality.)" (Chapter 1)
Another great element of this book is the character of Dorie's best friend, a boy from Texas nicknamed Dixie. And no, this is not one of those stories in which the male and female best friends discover that they are secretly in love, because Dixie is clearly gay. This is never overtly stated, though there are some subtle references (including a priceless reference to Rupert Everett in My Best Friend's Wedding). Dorie notes mid-way through the book:
"My parents have both grown to like Dixie and thankfully both of them have realized Dixie is not my boyfriend. I don't know why, but I just could never think of Dixie that way." (Chapter 20).
The adult reader knows why. The elementary school reader ... I don't know. But Dixie is delightful, dropping frequent movie references, and able to conduct a makeover on demand. He's also not afraid to call Dorie on her behavior, when she gets a bit too caught up in her own experiments. The character of Grant is less solidly drawn, but I do like the way his nature is slowly revealed, with flaws and vulnerabilities. The kid from High School Musical could certainly have played him a few years back.
Dumped by Popular Demand is not serious literature. Parts of the story are a bit over the top (especially when Dorie is trying to get dumped), and the climax is not emotionally wrenching. Still, I loved this book. It's a frothy confection, but one that has nuggets of something solid to it. I especially enjoyed seeing a girl in a middle school novel who is interested in science, and smarter than the boys around her. This is a very clean read, safe for girls eight and up, though best for readers about to start middle school. With it's pink cover, I don't think too many boys would be willing to pick it up. Which is too bad, because I think that everyone should fall for Dorie Dilts. The sequel is due out in February, and I, for one, am looking forward to it.
Publisher: Aladdin (Simon & Schuster) Publication Date: September 25, 2007 Source of Book: ARC from the author. All quotes are from the ARC, and may not exactly reflect the final published book.
I read Zilpha Keatley Snyder's newest book, The Treasures of Weatherby, with interest, curious to see whether it would hold up in comparison to much-loved favorites of mine like The Velvet Room and The Changeling. The Treasures of Weatherby is, according to Snyder's foreword, "the big, old house story to end all big, old house stories." 12-year-old Harleigh Weatherby the Fourth (aka Harleigh Four, aka Hardly) lives with an assortment of relatives in an enormous, fascinating, crumbling, old house. His room is at the top of a high tower, a window-lined octagon with an "ornate tile floor and thick stone walls." Harleigh stands to inherit the house, being the next descendant after his aunt and father. Harleigh is well aware of his own importance. He's also much smaller than most kids his age, because of a health problem, with his quality of life only recently improved by surgery. Harleigh's self-importance and disconnectedness with others are evident in this early passage:
"The usual people were there to notice Harleigh's energetic entrance, and possibly realize how wrong they'd been when they'd suggested that sleeping in a tower could be dangerous to your health. Only three people, actually, because, not being a Weatherby, Matilda the cook didn't count." (Chapter 1)
It's clear that to Harleigh, the only people who "count" are direct descendant Weatherby family members. A variety of indirect descendants do live in the house, off in peripheral wings, but these lesser relations are of minimal interest to Harleigh. Harleigh is insufferable at the start, although the reader does feel for him, because of his health issues, and the way that kids in school, when he went to school, picked on him.
Exploring the tangled and neglected gardens of Weatherby House, which his illness has prevented him cataloging previously, Harleigh finds an abandoned tree-house. There, he meets a mysterious girl named Allegra, who might, just might, be able to fly. Allegra is fascinated by the house, and its inhabitants, and soon inspires Harleigh to a new level of interest, too. Allegra reminded me quite a bit of Ivy from The Changeling, someone who makes life more interesting for a sheltered child, and appears and disappears at will. (And, oh, how I wished that Ivy was a real person when I was young.)
In the remainder of the book Harleigh investigates a mystery concerned with the lost treasure of Weatherby House, tackles a long-overgrown maze, and alternates between curiosity about and frustration with Allegra. In the process of his adventures, he evolves and become a better person. Here's an early passage showing Harleigh's self-absorption:
"The candy was a chocolate bar. Harleigh really liked candy, but he didn't get it very often because Aunt Adelaide thought chocolate was habit-forming. Allegra broke the bar in two and let him pick which piece he wanted. At first that only added to his frustration, because it was broken so evenly it was hard to decide which one was biggest. And after he'd finally chosen, he was sure he'd made a mistake and picked the small one." (Chapter 7)
A bit strong, I think. And his personal growth from that point seemed suspiciously rapid. Despite my small quibble over Harleigh's personal growth, however, I enjoyed this book, and thought that it compared favorably to Snyder's earlier work. The Treasures of Weatherby has all the ingredients that made the original books so appealing: a mysterious old house filled with interesting treasures (the tower and the library being reminiscent of The Velvet Room), a beguiling girl with secrets, and a hint of what may or may not be supernatural (Can Allegra fly? Does she really hear the voices of ghosts in the house?). This dash of the occult reminds me of Snyder's books about the Stanley family, and the more famous The Egypt Game. The house is also very cool, an amalgam of the best features of the Professor's house in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Elizabeth Enright's Four-Story Mistake, and Colin's house in The Secret Garden. (I thought of the latter after reading Darla's comparison of Harleigh with Colin in another review.)
What I can't tell you is whether The Treasures of Weatherby has the same magic to it that I found many years ago in The Changeling,The Velvet Room and The Green Sky trilogy. Part of the magic of those books, for me, was my own mindset when I read them. It's difficult to get that wide-eyed, diving into a set of books feeling back as an adult. I think what I would say is that The Treasures of Weatherby gave me hints of that feeling, but I haven't fallen in love with it the way I did (and remain) with those books. I would be interested to see which of the books a twelve-year-old today, reading them all for the first time, would prefer.
I've been a fan for a while of the early elementary school series: Blast to the Past, by Stacia Deutsch and Rhody Cohon. The books are about a group of third graders who travel back in time to keep history from getting out of balance (an enemy is also traveling back and causing problems). Each title features a different historical figure, from Ben Franklin to Walt Disney. (I reviewed the Ben Franklin installment here.) The books are a nice, fun way for kids to get a dose of history. And who isn't fascinated by time travel?
The publishers of the series have an offer for teachers. They are offering a free teacher's copy of the book Lincoln's Legacy, along with a teacher's guide. They ask that you email requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. I know how people love free books, so I wanted to bring this offer to you attention. The series won the 2007 Teacher's Choice Award by Learning Magazine.
Sorry I've been absent the past fews days. I've been scrambling to re-read the Harry Potter books before Book 7 came out, during what was also a busy work week. I also went into a sort of media blackout state, because I feared anything spoiling the book. I mean, I didn't even want to know if people liked it or disliked it, let alone any details. I wanted to draw my own conclusions.
I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows yesterday, between about 11 am and 8 pm. Now that I'm finished, it's safe for me to return to the Internet. No worries for anyone else, though. I'm not saying anything about the book at all for a while - because I don't want to be spoil it for anyone else. Happy reading!
Gregor and the Code of Claw is the fifth and final book in Suzanne Collins' Underland Chronicles series, and a worthy conclusion. The series is about 12-year-old Gregor, a boy from a struggling New York City family who discovers a hidden world deep below ground. In this world, the Underland, humans coexist with giant, intelligent species of insects and rodents: spiders, cockroaches, ants, fireflies, mice, bats, and rats. Gregor learns in the first book that he his coming has been predicted, and that he has a major role to play in the survival of the below-ground humans. He also, gradually, comes to care deeply for many of the beings that he interacts with in the Underland.
In this final installment, the rats have been attempting a genocide of the mice (conveyed with very clear World War II imagery). In defense of the mice, the humans have declared war on the rats. As the story begins, war looms outside the gates of Regalia, the human city. Another prophecy calls for action by Gregor and his sister. This particular prophecy is more disturbing than usual for Gregor, because it also appears to call for his death, with the line: "When the Warrior has been killed". It's a testament to how far he has progressed throughout the series that dodging the responsibility of this prophecy is not an option for Gregor. Instead, he works to the limits of his ability, to save the people he has come to consider his extended family. Several members of his own family are involved, too, ratcheting up the stakes even further. And an enemy within Regalia makes things even more difficult for Gregor.
As in Book 4 of the series, Gregor and the Code of Claw is a dark story, with war and death and evil. It's a bit of a paradox, actually, because the writing itself is quite accessible, and younger kids should have no problem with physically reading the book. They may, however, have trouble with the dark content, in which war is portrayed in all it's ugliness. It's a perfect read for reluctant middle school readers, who can handle the details and need a strong plot to keep them going. For younger kids, I would recommend that parents read the book, too, to be ready to discuss some of the issues. (As I would also recommend for the later Harry Potter books.). I think that they're important issues, and it's good to see them tackled in a children's book. It just might be a bit mature for, say, an eight-year-old to read alone.
I found Gregor and the Code of Claw to be a highly enjoyable, compelling read. I especially enjoyed the blossoming relationship between Gregor and Regalian Queen-in-Waiting Luxa. I was also pleased to see Gregor's middle sister, Lizzie, play a more overt part in this book than in previous titles, a part that had clearly been waiting for her for the entire series. Gregor's youngest sister, Boots, maintains her charming insouciance, though she has a bit less of a major role in this installment (as you might expect - it's tough to have a three-year-old playing a major part in a war). Ripred, battle-scarred rat who is a mentor to Gregor, evolves as a character, showing surprising tenderness towards Lizzie. The code-cracking part is fun, too. Some notes between Gregor and Luxa are left encoded, for kids to translate themselves. Overall, the book is a roller-coaster of action and suspense, laced throughout with moments of humanity and levity.
Gregor and the Code of Claw is a must-read for fans of the Underland Chronicles. If you haven't read the series, you should start at the beginning, rather than with this book. I highly recommended the series for reluctant readers, especially boys, for kids looking for a slightly easier to read adventure story than the Harry Potter books, and for anyone who is fascinated by insects, mice, bats, or underground cities.
A Seed is Sleepy is the sequel to the acclaimed, Cybils-award-winning An Egg is Quiet. Written by Dianna Hutts Aston, and illustrated by Sylvia Long, this lovingly-illustrated non-fiction picture book is all about seeds. From the mundane (rice and sunflower seeds) to the exotic (black palm and orchid) to the ridiculous (hamburger bean and earpod), Aston and Long bring them to life.
As with the previous book, a frontispiece shows numerous examples of seeds, with the plants they came from rendered at the end of the book. Within the text, we learn that seeds start out sleepy, and are sometimes secretive, fruitful, and/or adventurous, and sometimes even naked(!). In the authors' now trademark style, colorful ink and watercolor illustrations are paired with concise, easy to digest facts. In addition to scientific information about how seeds distribute and nourish themselves, and grow into plants, the book includes interesting, less-known facts. For example:
"The oldest known seed to sprout came from an extinct date palm tree. After it was unearthed from a long-ago king's mountaintop palace in Israel, a scientist planted it. Four weeks later, it sprouted!"
How cool is that? Also:
"A parachute of fine, silky hairs can take a dandelion seed 100 miles from its parent plant."
100 miles! Who knew? I won't forget that one any time soon.
What else can I say, that hasn't already been said about this book? The illustrations are wonderfully detailed, dancing across each page, a riot of colors and textures. The facts are engaging, detailed without being the least bit dull, and easily accessible for elementary school readers. Highly recommended for children and adults.
An Egg is Quiet, written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long, is a non-fiction picture book about eggs of all different types of creatures. I realize that that description alone doesn't make it sound very exciting. But An Egg is Quiet is simply gorgeous. It's also filled with interesting facts, sure to engage budding naturalists. The combination of lovely ink and watercolor illustrations and clear, engaging text won this book the first ever Cybils award for non-fiction picture books last year.
This is a book that could keep elementary school kids entertained for days. The frontispiece, just before the title page, is a two-page spread with pictures of dozens of eggs, each to scale and labeled. A matching end page shows, in a different order, the creatures (birds, insects, fish, iguana, etc.) that the eggs come from, just begging kids to match them together.
Each spread throughout the book details another aspect of eggs. Their varied sizes and colors and types of decorations. Their different textures and means of camouflaging themselves. Their function, and how they protect and nurture. Specific examples of eggs abound, most shown actual size, unless otherwise indicated. The facts sprinkled through the book are kid-friendly, with occasional humor, always tied to concepts that kids can understand easily. For example, from the "an egg is clever" page:
"An egg might be speckled to resemble the rocks around it. Or it might be gray, the color of mud by a lake. An egg does not want to be eaten by a raccoon or a snake or a fox."
Or this, from the "an egg is shapely page":
"Seabird eggs are pointy at one end, so if they're laid on rock ledges, they roll around in safe little circles, not off the cliff."
The page ("an egg is giving") detailing how an egg shelters and feeds "the little creature growing inside it" is fascinating. The book concludes with the hatching of some black-necked stilt nestlings. Young readers are sure to be thrilled. The general tone of the book is matter-of-fact, not overly sentimental, but also filled with wonder.
An Egg is Quiet is certain to be a hit with kids already interested in natural science. You know who I mean - kids who catch tadpoles, and watch ants scurry along on the sidewalk. But the beauty of this book is that it's also likely to engage other kids - the ones who have to be dragged outside kicking and screaming. And it's beautiful, making it an excellent gift book. Buy it for every early elementary school kid you know, that's my advice. And be sure to pair it with the sequel, A Seed is Sleepy, which I'll also be reviewing. I think that the Cybils committee that picked this book made an excellent choice.
Small Sister by Jessica Meserve is a classic tale of a younger sister trying to catch up with her older sister. Small can't jump as high or run as fast as Big. Big gets better presents, too. Eventually, Small is pushed to her limit, and lashes out against her sister, committing a rash act. But this makes her feel worse, instead of better. Things don't improve until Small finds an important task, one which only she can do. This puts the two sisters on a much more equal footing, an example sure to be cherished by younger siblings everywhere.
Small Sister is digitally illustrated, with tremendous detail. Small is particularly vibrant, with her sad eyes and pouty mouth. The outdoor backgrounds are filled with flowers and butterflies and grasses, and give a feeling of expansiveness. The indoor scenes are detailed, too, with patterned tablecloths and wallpaper, and the amount of pink that you would expect in a home with two young girls. There's a bit of a modern-day Little House on the Prairie feel to the setting, with a small house on a hill, surrounded by wildflower-filled fields. The parents are nowhere to be seen.
The author also uses the illustrations to symbolically capture Small's impression of Big. Throughout most of the book we don't see Big in the flesh. Instead, she looms as a menacing shadow over Small. However, when we finally do see Big, after Small's mean act towards her, she's nowhere near as large, or as threatening, as she looked in the shadows. She's just another little girl.
This book is a joy to look at. Even the relatively sparse text is used in a visual manner. On the first page, we learn that "Small had a problem." "Problem" is in larger text, looming. Later, and this is my favorite spread in the book, the guilty-feeling Small "decided to leave." The words "Nobody noticed" curve along the pathway, towards the front gate, trailing the forlorn Small. It's fun and playful, with just the right touch of pathos.
Small Sister would make an excellent gift for any younger sibling striving to catch up with an older one, regardless of gender. And aren't most younger siblings trying to catch up? Nostalgic and outdoor-loving adults will especially enjoy the illustrations. The last page, with the two sisters playing in the trees, made me want to join Small and Big, or at least watch them fondly from the nearby porch.
Publisher: Clarion Books Publication Date: May 2007 Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
I enjoyed the first couple of Beacon Street Girls books that I read, and was pleased when the publisher offered me a copy of the latest Maeve on the Red Carpet. The Beacon Street Girls series is part of a brand designed to empower "tweens", and help them with the transition from "toys and boys." The books feature five middle school age best friends, all from diverse backgrounds, and with distinct interests. They go to school on Beacon Street in Brookline, MA.
The books are (according to the publisher) "shaped by leading experts in adolescent development and current research on how to positively impact girls' self-esteem." Although I'm generally a bit leery of books that try explicitly to get across a particular message, I like the Beacon Street Girls books. The characters are well-drawn and realistic. They make mistakes, and learn from them. They suffer from pesky younger brothers, difficulty with math, and divorcing parents, among other ordinary tribulations. Despite their differences, they are loyal to each other. And their stories are fun!
This installment, part of a series of "adventure" titles that each feature only one of the five Beacon Street Girls, sends Maeve to movie camp. It reminds me a tiny bit of Noel Streatfeild's books (Theater Shoes, Ballet Shoes, etc., though with quite a bit more privilege). Near the start of what promises to be a boring school vacation week, with all of her friends away, Maeve learns that her father has arranged to host a New York Film Academy film camp in the family's theater. A wealthy sponsor has offered to pay for improvements to the theater, and a famous Hollywood director will be leading the camp. Maeve is over the ceiling thrilled, despite that fact that her annoying younger brother, Sam, will also be attending the camp.
When camp begins, Maeve learns a lot, works hard, and is a bit star-struck by the pampered daughter of the wealthy sponsor (who, in an amusing throwaway joke, knows the famous "Venice Doubletree"). The other kids are more down-to-earth, though the Director's son turns out to have real acting experience. Through her interactions with the other campers, and their parents, Maeve learns some hard lessons about trust, friendship, and betrayal. I must admit that I saw the betrayal coming a mile off, and I think that many readers will, too. But the point isn't so much the betrayal itself, but the way that Maeve reacts to it, and eventually bounces back.
I also enjoyed Maeve's relationship with her little brother. He follows her around with a movie camera and drives her crazy, but also stands by her in unexpected ways. Here's one of my favorite exchanges:
"Good," Sam answered. "Because I think you're the best actress in the whole world!"
I looked at Mom, who just shrugged. Sometimes little brothers could surprise you by saying the nicest thing and make you feel totally guilty for ever thinking of them as an annoying pest. Then other times...
"Last one to the theater's a rotten egg! Haha, that's you, Maeve," Sam suddenly cried.
I think that fans of the BSG books will enjoy this installment. It's nice to have a chance to focus on just one of the girls, and get to know Maeve and her family a bit better. And Maeve is fun to spend time with. She's overly dramatic, and annoyingly obsessed with her appearance, but she's not afraid to work hard or to admit her mistakes. And her genuine enthusiasm for movies is irresistible. The details about how a movie is made are interesting, too, and should be a hit with kids who are film junkies. I give Maeve on the Red Carpet four stars!
The Wonderful Thing About Hiccups, a picture book written by Cece Meng and illustrated by Janet Pedersen, is a silly story about libraries, hiccups, and hippos. A boy has to leave the library because he has the hiccups. While hanging upside down from a tree, he encounters a friendly hippo. Adventures ensue, all occurring around (an in one case on top of) the library. Most of the pages are written in the form of "the wonderful thing about" something happening is some unexpected benefit, followed by some side remarks. There are a few pages in which the narrator admits that "there's nothing wonderful about" something else happening, like a hippo getting a with a bellyache from accidentally eating library books. Each wonderful (or not-so-wonderful) thing leads into the next.
The humor is deadpan, and seems likely to appeal to four-year-olds (or at least it appeals to the four-year-old in me). For example:
"The wonderful thing about having a hippo carry your library books is that he can hold them high enough so they will not get wet in the sprinklers. Little sisters, on the other hand, get wet quite easily."
"... holding on to library books while riding a scared, running hippo is hard."
The Wonderful Thing About Hiccups concludes with a tongue-in-cheek, but basically accurate, list of "Library Rules to Remember." Like "When you are done, return them to the library so you can check out more books. Do not return them to the grocery store, pet store, or toy store. Never return them to space aliens." As for the librarian, she starts out looking a bit cranky, but reveals unexpected depths throughout the course of the book.
The bright watercolor illustrations are outlined in pen and crayon, and add considerably to the humor and details of the story. The hippo is downright coquettish, with expressive eyes. The boy is determined when looking for his lost sister, and bashful when he has to explain to the librarian how the sister ended up on the library roof. A pregnant woman walks by the children reading to the hippo in the library. She eyes them askance, while holding a barely visible copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting. Like she's thinking "hmm... this could be more difficult than I expected."
I personally found it a bit difficult at first to get into the "the wonderful thing" about x writing style. It's neither a pure narrative format nor quite poetry. The humor and the illustrations won me over, however. Not to mention the fact that there are library books featured on almost every page. Any book that ends with a bunch of kids sitting around a library, using books to help a hippo with hiccups, is ok by me. And although I haven't tried it out on any actual four-year-olds, I suspect that they'll find it hilarious. Try it out with kids who like silliness, and/or to lure reluctant visitors to the library.
An all-new Carnival of Children's Literature is now available, brought to us by Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading. This one is well-thought out and organized, featuring clever newspaper images to mark each category: publishing news, contest news, great books, awesome authors, summer reading, poetry highlights, games and toys, and book talk (wouldn't that make a great Jeopardy episode?). The usual Kidlitosphere suspects are represented, as well as various new contributors. It's well worth visiting.
Penguins of Doom (From the Desk of Septina Nash), by Greg Fishbone, is a fun romp aimed squarely at middle grade readers. The format and voice of Penguins of Doom are both unique. The story is told entirely in the form of letters, all written and illustrated by a seventh grade girl name Septina Nash. The illustrations, one or more on nearly every page spread, are small, black and white drawings, the kind of thing a 7th grader might draw on a note to someone he or she was trying to impress.
Septina the seventh grader is the seventh child of Sal and Viyayai Nash, the third born out of a set of triplets. She's the outlandish one, with purple hair, and a knack for making unexpected things happen. Her triplet-brother, Quinn, is nice, but fairly geeky (he gets picked on in gym). Their triplet-sister, Sexta, is difficult and disagreeable. Says Septina: "Sexta's mission in life is to ruin everyone else's good time".
As the book begins, Sexta has made her family's life difficult by disappearing, apparently a runaway, but having possibly been abducted. The remainder of the book chronicles, loosely, Septina's attempts to bring her sister home. There are many madcap diversions along the way, including a boy band, an evil nemesis, three communicative penguins, a gigantic pile of empty yogurt containers, a skate-board champion, and a shrink-ray gun. Numbers also play a part, especially sevens and threes.
It took me a little while to get comfortable with this book, because I couldn't tell if the things that Septina was describing in her letters to various people (many of which were letters of excuse) were supposed to be real, or to demonstrate Septina's creative imagination. I think that's part of the joke, though. That some of the things are real, but that Septina's teachers think that she's either delusional or a liar. I think that kids will probably take the whole thing at face value right from the beginning, and have a great time with it.
Septina completely accepts (and sometimes instigates) bizarre things happening to and around her. For example, when asked to set up a parent-teacher conference, she invites her teacher's parents. And they attend. She takes it in stride, and ends up working with the teacher's parents to help find the teacher a husband. Similarly, when some penguins start following her around, she takes them as pets. Because what else would you do?
Septina also has an wonderfully unconscious wit. Here are two examples:
"The school counselor, Mr. Goode, keeps running into us "accidentally" in the halls. He says he wants Quinn and me to know that his door is always open. I don't know why he's chosen to tell us about his maintenance problems, but I'll see what I can do." (Chapter: On a Cold and Dreary Missing Sister Day)
I watched the news on three stations last night, and each forecaster promised six to eight inches of snow by this morning -- more than enough to cancel school. As you know, we only got three inches of snow. If anyone should get a bad grade in math it's a forecaster who thinks that "three" falls between "six" and "eight." (Chapter: On a Day That Should Be a Snow Day)
The illustrations make this book appear, at first, to be for younger readers. But a closer look reveals that these are complex pictures, many including words and/or numbers, that are just the thing to please older elementary school kids. For example, there's a sketch of a guy whose "face looks like somebody's butt." And it does. There's also a diagram of a box trap that Septina's dad sets up for Sexta, baited with fashion magazines.
The sketches are highly entertaining, and give the book a hint of a graphic novel feel. Although the main character is a girl, the sketches and diagrams, not to mention many of the events, feel boy-friendly, too. I think that Penguins of Doom will please boys and girls or all ages, nine and up.
The Fire-Raiser, by Maurice Gee, was originally published in New Zealand in 1986, and has just been reissued in paperback in the U.S. by Houghton Mifflin. It's a suspense story, set during World War I in a small town in New Zealand. A "fire-raiser" has been burning down empty buildings. As the story begins, the arsonist is looking to graduate to burning buildings containing living creatures. Four local children figure out who the criminal is, but have trouble convincing the authorities, and find themselves in danger. A caring teacher, Mr. "Clippy" Hedges, tries to help the kids, especially one boy who is homeless. Clippy is a bit distracted, however, because the woman he loves, a German expatriate who teaches piano, is in danger, too. Anti-German fever runs high in the town, stoked by a bombastic politician, and Frau Stauffel becomes a convenient target.
I had some trouble getting into this book at first, but soon became gripped by the story, especially by the plight of Frau Stauffel. She had so little recourse - a German woman, living in New Zealand, with no family to care for her, as xenophobia ran amok. (Post 9-11 treatment of Muslims shows the timelessness of this storyline.) Fortunately the piano teacher had Mr. Hedges, and the four plucky children, to protect her.
I enjoyed the dynamics of the relationships between the four children, two working class siblings (the baker's children), the pampered but plucky daughter of the mayor, and the Huck Finn-like Phil, eking out a parentless existence. And I agree with the Kirkus Review quoted on the back cover that it "brings an entire community vividly and believably to life". We see the town politics and class struggles, but also the people working together to fight the arsonist's fires and to raise money for the Belgian Relief Fund. The children are in a patriotic play together, forced into it by a bossy teacher of the breed that keeps small towns running. Everyone in town attends, even the arsonist.
My only quibble with the book is that I found that the omniscient narration (from which the reader could also see the arsonist's perspective), kept the children a bit at a distance. At times this felt like a novel written for adults that happened to feature some children, rather than a book written for children. But overall it's a well-written story, and a window into early World War I New Zealand. The madness of the arsonist, the caring by Mr. Hedges for his students and Frau Stauffel, the rivalry of the children, and the violent behavior of the town's young men, are all, for better or worse, timeless. Recommended for middle grade fans of historical fiction and atmospheric mysteries (such as A Drowned Maiden's Hair or the Enola Holmes mysteries), and for adult readers of British mysteries.
Book: The Fire-Raiser Author: Maurice Gee Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (for new paperback re-issue, originally published in New Zealand by Penguin) Publication Date: June 2007 for reissue edition, 1986 for original text Pages: 176 Age Range: 10 and up Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Deep and Dark and Dangerous: A Ghost Story, by Mary Downing Hahn, pulled me in from my first glimpse of the cover, which shows a girl under water, her hair floating around her white face. And it did not disappoint. Deliciously creepy, this book reminded me of the Lois Duncan stories that I loved as an early teen (my favorite, and one I still re-read periodically, is Down A Dark Hall).
13-year-old Ali finds an photograph in one of her mother's old Nancy Drew books. The picture shows Ali's mother, Claire, and her mother's sister, Dulcie, outside of an old family cottage in Maine. A third girl has apparently been torn out of the photograph, leaving only an arm, a shoulder, and some strands of long hair. Her initial, according to the torn back of the photo, is T. When Ali asks her mother about the photo, however, Claire denies any knowledge of a girl whose name starts with T, or any memory of the photo. Claire retreats into her own emotional fragility, and gives Ali no information about the mysterious photo.
Dulcie, however, soon appears on the scene, and invites Ali to spend the summer with her up at the old cottage, babysitting Ali's four-year-old daughter Emma. Ali jumps at the chance to get away from her over-protective mother, and stay with her beloved aunt and cousin. Besides, she's never been to the cottage, her mother having stopped visiting it as a child. Despite Claire's apparently irrational misgivings, Ali, Dulcie, and Emma head to Maine for the summer.
Things start out idyllic, but soon Ali and Emma meet a mysterious little girl, Sissy, out on the shore of the lake. Sissy both fascinates and torments Emma, and creates conflict between Ali and Emma, and, indirectly, between Ali and Dulcie. Sissy hints at a tragedy that occurred in the lake thirty years earlier, the reason that Ali's mother and aunt have never been back to the cottage. A long-ago crime is brought to light. And that's when things start to get deep and dark and dangerous.
This is a highly atmospheric story. Even when describing sunny days at the lake, Hahn never lets the storm clouds get far away. Certain creepy images recur through the story, most notably a bundle of bones below the surface of the lake, appearing in paintings by both Emma and Dulcie. Emma and Ali both have nightmares, and Ali is drenched by more than one storm, literally and metaphorically.
Much of the book is about the relationships between Ali, Emma, and Dulcie, and the wrench that Sissy's presence throws into their peaceful existence. Dulcie, in particular, gradually morphs from cool, beloved aunt to a strained, unjustly snappish creature who reminds Ali of Claire. Hahn's expert hands keep things from ever getting too dark to bear, however. She alternates dangerous escapades with afternoons playing Candyland, and introduces a kindly neighbor to gives Ali some perspective. Hahn's writing is straightforward, creating strong impressions through nouns and verbs, without needing much description. Here's an example:
I was thinking so hard, I almost walked right past Emma. To my surprise, she was standing beside a stranger, a girl who appeared to be nine or ten years old, but small for her age. Her hair was white blond, her eyes were the same gray as the lake, and her skin was a deep tan. Despite the chilly weather, she wore a faded blue bathing suit.
"This is Sissy," Emma said. "I just met her, but she wants to be friends."
Sissy looked at me slantwise, as if she were sizing me up. Would I be good to know? Was I nice? Was I bossy? I gave her the same look. There was something about her I disliked on sight -- a sharpness in her eyes, a mean set to her mouth. She was the type who'd lie and get you in trouble." (Chapter 7)
Re-reading this makes me think: "Ali, you have no idea, in Chapter 7, of the trouble Sissy is going to cause for you." But readers, especially middle schoolers, will enjoy every step of the way. Although most of the characters are female, I think that the story is creepy enough to engage boys as well as girls. Deep and Dark and Dangerous is a quick and compelling read, sure to be a hit with fans of ghost stories.
I thought that readers might be interested in this upcoming title, written by a group of fifth grade girls from East Harlem, and two of their dedicated teachers. It's called DEAL WITH IT! Powerful Words from Smart, Young Women. Here is a press release, written by two of the students. You can find other student-written press releases here.
Everyday Monday-Thursday ten fifth grade girls from different backgrounds came together with teachers from all over New York City from to write what is now DEAL WITH IT! Powerful Words from Smart, Young Women. The Extended Day Girls came to school 40 minutes earlier than their classmates to write many different pieces, such as memoirs, letters to friends, stories about sibling rivalry, and poems to describe where they’re from, to incorporate into DEAL WITH IT!
The Extended Day Girls worked hard on their writing pieces, which is now available for the world to read. None of the girls will get any money off of this endeavor (all money goes to their school’s visiting authors fund). All they want is to see their writing in the world so it can show kids what young girls can accomplish.
The girls have experienced so much not only as fifth graders, but as authors. The Extended Day Girls have grown together as friends and have become a family. Sharing their dreams, goals and stories among 12 of them; they were never scared to tell each other their life stories, which hold true pieces of their hearts.
Come see for yourself by coming to the Bank Street Bookstore located at 610 W. 112th Street in the Morningside Heights Section of Manhattan on Wednesday, June 20 at 5:00 p.m. The Extended Day Girls will be introducing their book by reading selections, holding a Q&A Session, and a book signing.
DEAL WITH IT! Powerful Words from Smart, Young Women is written by The Extended Day Girls with Stacey Shubitz and Christina L. Rodriguez. It will be sold at over 200 online retailers, including Amazon.com, BN.com, and Xlibris.com.
The Puzzling World of Winston Breen is a book that took me back to my childhood, in the best possible way. Winston Breen is a boy who loves puzzles. Any kind of puzzles. Words, numbers, codes, pictures - it doesn't matter. If he sees a puzzle, he wants to solve it. And he's quite good at solving puzzles, too. Thus it's a perfect fit when a birthday gift that he buys for his younger sister turns out to hold a hidden puzzle. Before they know it, Winston and his sister Katie are on a treasure hunt with a mis-matched group of adult competitors (including the town librarian!).
The Puzzling World of Winston Breen reminded me a bit of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. The characters aren't as complex as those in The Westing Game, but as in that book we have an unlikely group of people, working to solve a puzzle left behind as the inheritance of a wealthy and creative man. The two books also share a certain timeless feel. Yes, a cell phone does play a small part in the mystery faced by Winston, but the clues involved were planted twenty-five years earlier. The quest starts at the town library. Winston and Katie live in a small town where middle school kids ride their bikes around unescorted and hang out at the local pizza joint. I felt like I could have lived in Glenville. There's a handy map of the town in the front of the book, too.
The mystery in The Puzzling World of Winston Breen is satisfying. Mostly it's a straightforward quest, but there are unanswered questions about who has been committing various robberies, and who has been harassing the town librarian. There are false accusations, unexpected threats, and late night adventures. Winston is a three-dimensional (if somewhat geeky) character, with a believable sibling relationship, and just the right dose of insecurities. Here are a few examples that will give you a feel for Eric Berlin's writing, and in particular for the workings of Winston's mind:
Most of Winston's brain was taken up with the idea that he would soon be hunting for hidden treasure. He was barked at by his teachers for not paying attention. His parents had to say things to him two or three or four times before the words penetrated his ears. Watching television, he realized he was halfway through some show or other and had not the slightest idea what was going on. He might as well have been watching a fish tank. Saturday seemed as distant and unreachable as China. (Chapter 7)
Winston and his sister walked for a time in silence, each in an invisible, vibrating pocket of excitement. (Chapter 7)
Winston looked over at her and was surprised by what he saw. Her mouth hung slightly open and her eyes were shiny, staring at an invisible point on the wall. This was someone in the middle of having a Big Idea. Winston thought if you x-rayed her head at just that moment, you would see a number of gears spinning very fast. (Chapter 11)
Eric Berlin is a puzzle author (you can find his crossword puzzles in the New York Times, for example), and his ease with words stands out. What also stands out is the author's genuine love for all things puzzle-related. This book could only have been written by someone who loves puzzles. It is chock-full of puzzles. There are puzzles that are central to the story, of course, but also, sprinkled throughout the book, extra puzzles for the reader to solve, as Winston solves them. Fill-it-ins and word problems and scrambled words and the like. You can fill in the puzzles right there in your book, or (as explained in a handy foreword) you can download printable versions of the puzzles and keep your book pristine. The puzzles range quite a bit in difficulty and in required skill-set, and there should be at least one to appeal to each reader. I know that I would have absolutely adored this book when I was 11 years old, in the midst of my own puzzle phase. Even as an adult reader, I found myself spending a lot more time on this book that I initially anticipated, because I was compelled to stop and work out most of the puzzles.
If the early signs of interest in Winston's puzzle blog (with new puzzles posted at least once a week) are any indication, Winston is due for a long and productive fictional life. I hope so, because I would certainly enjoy hanging out with him again. Sadly, the book is not due out until September. But I'm bringing you the review now, so that you can start to get to know Winston online.
Book: The Puzzling World of Winston Breen Author: Eric Berlin. See also Winston's website, with book information, a puzzle blog, and downloadable puzzle set from the book. Publisher: Putnam Juvenile Original Publication Date: September 2007 Pages: 224 Age Range: 9-12 Source of Book: Advance Review Copy from the publisher, at the author's request. Eric was on the Middle Grade Fiction judging committee for the Cybils with me.
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