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Posts from January 2006

Quotes from Robert Munsch About Family Literacy

Canada is gearing up for Family Literacy Day (January 27th), and beloved children's author Robert Munsch will be visiting with the Lee family of Calgary to do some storytelling. Mr. Munsch is the honorary chairman of Family Literacy Day, and, as you would expect, is a big proponent of raising children who love books. In an article in today's Toronto Star he is quoted on family literacy:

"Encouraging literacy for kids is all about promoting reading in a family setting, says Munsch.

"If the parents don't read, if there are no books in the house, kids don't read," he says. "In a busy world, kids' literacy is under siege. It takes time to read with a kid. A good adult can decode a story in a way that keeps the kid happy.

"Turn off the TV for an hour a night," he advises. "Read in front of your kids. Have books in the house.""

Everything he said sounds great to me! I suggest that everyone with kids, whether in Canada or not, should take these words to heart, and celebrate Family Literacy Day. You can also visit Robert Munsch's website. Happy Reading -- Jen

Leave Me Alone I'm Reading: More About Mysteries

Earlier this month I wrote a short article as I was starting to read Maureen Corrigan's Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading : Finding and Losing Myself in Books. Ms. Corrigan is a book critic for NPR's Fresh Air, and is a lifelong "obsessive reader". I finished the book on my way home to San Jose from Boston (the one bright spot of a long and delay-filled trip). Some chapters resonated more with me than others, but overall I enjoyed the book a lot, and found it very well-written. Here are a few specific thoughts.

My favorite chapter of the book is Chapter 2, in which Ms. Corrigan describes her discovery of the hard-boiled detective novel. When she started reading detective novels, she was particularly pleased to see women emerge as brave and resourceful and taking action. She also liked reading detective novels because they were about work, with capable and self-directed people who solve actual problems. She writes: "Hard-boiled detective fiction, more than almost every other kind of novel that's followed Robinson Crusoe in the Anglo-American tradition, attempts to return us to Defoe's enclosed circle of normalcy where our greatest pleasure, as readers, arises out of watching a pro at work" (emphasis mine).

I'm not sure that I would go back and read Robinson Crusoe again, but I do think that there's is something to this notion of enjoying mysteries because they are about a pro at work, doing something important. My favorite mysteries are about private investigators and police detectives, both of whom certainly qualify as pros. I've never much warmed to the hapless variant of mysteries, in which amateurs stumble upon a solution. Perhaps this is why.

One other concept that I liked out of Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading is the idea that "you find the books you need when you need them -- even if they're not the books you start out thinking you need." I have certainly found this to be true, although I think that it stems partially from the fact that if you are really looking to find something, you can find it in many places. For instance, I got a lot recently out of reading Never Eat Alone : And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, and I think that everyone should read it. But I also think that I read it at a time when I was especially receptive to what it had to say (see my review of Never Eat Alone). But perhaps that's exactly Ms. Corrigan's point. In her case, finding the right books at the right time led her to "a career in which I could make a living talking about all kinds of books to a wide range of people." In my own case, the books that I'm reading right now are leading me to refine my own mission, to make the world a better place by helping children to grow up with the opportunity to love books. Happy Reading -- Jen

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© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Recommendation: The Akhenaten Adventure

While I don't intend to review on this site every book that I read, I consider P. B. Kerr's The Akhenaten Adventure to be well worth your attention. It's the first book in the new Children of the Lamp series, about 12-year-old twins John and Philippa, who discover themselves to be descended from a long line of djinn. A djinn, as the book says, "is the proper name for describing what is vulgarly known as a genie." John and Philippa travel to London to learn about being djinn from their Uncle Nimrod. With Nimrod, the twins embark on a series of adventures in Cairo and London and up to the North Pole. This book was strongly recommended to me by an 11-year-old friend in Austin, TX.

While The Akhenaten Adventure is filled with action, it also includes considerable humor (a one-armed chauffeur named Groanin who complains all of the time, a pink Ferrari with Range Rover wheels, and dogs who can change the TV channel to CNN). Adults will especially enjoy the character of Uncle Nimrod, a snobbish British djinn who makes no secret of his distate for babies, and utters dry witticisms at regular intervals. For instance, in comparing English vs. American breakfasts he says "The bacon must taste like meat instead of strips of dried skin removed from the feet of an overworked rickshaw driver."

Uncle Nimrod is also a proponent of books, though this is a relatively minor theme. He won't tell the twins anything about being djinn until they have finished reading "Tales from a Thousand and One Nights." He advises them to read because "education is something you'd best give yourself", and later says "You can never read too many books." Of course I agree with him.

The Akhenaten Adventure also includes a veritable treasure trove of extra material at the end, including an author biography and interview, recipes and exercises for would-be djinn, and historical information about ancient Egypt. I learned from the author biography that Mr. Kerr was spurred to write this, his first children's series, by his son's reluctance to read books. "In order to entice William away from his video games, Mr. Kerr decided to write a story specifically for his children." I think that this book has to potential to lure many other children away from television and video games, too.

Mr. Kerr is also a prolific writer of thrillers under the name Philip Kerr. Asked about the switch from writing thrillers to writing children's fantasy, Mr. Kerr said: "Well, it's a bit of a thriller, as far as I'm concerned. I think thrillers are really just children's books for adults anyway." I found this last idea, that thrillers are just children's books for adults, personally satisfying. The books that I most like to read are children's books and adult mysteries and thrillers. It's nice to know that I'm not alone in seeing a link between them. And so I recommend The Akhenaten Adventure to you. Happy Reading -- Jen

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© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Another List of Favorite Children's Books

I ran across an article by Suzanne Perez Tobias in today's Wichita Eagle online that visitors to this site might find of interest. Ms. Tobias recently wrote a column listing some of her children's favorite books. Her readers responded with recommendations, and also with requests for more recommendations. Or, as Ms. Tobias put it, "Parents, grandparents and caregivers of all types said they love hearing about great books for kids. Without exception, they asked us to keep the titles coming." Today's entry is her second follow-up column, with more to follow, listing reader recommendations for children's books.

It seems that the readers of the Wichita Eagle have much in common with the readers of this website. If you look at the list at the Wichita Eagle site, you'll find quite a few books in common with the list on my Kids Recommended page. And you'll find some others, too, so it's worth your while to check them both out. Happy Reading -- Jen   

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Banning Children from the Library?

I read on the Chicken Spaghetti website about an article on Tasha Saecker's Kid Lit website. Tasha writes about a public library in Ohio that has recently banned unchaperoned children under 14 from using the library in the afternoons. Tasha asks: "What message are we as libraries sending these future taxpayers and what message are we giving to the parents of the teens? Doesn't seem like a very positive one."

I completely agree (as does Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti)! I understand that libraries have conflicting patron needs, and that unaccompanied young teens can be difficult to handle. But if you have kids who want to be at the library, shouldn't you let them? Don't we want these kids to grow up reading books, and respecting libraries? The percentage of kids who read for pleasure drops off sometime around age 12 or 13 (per Paul Kropp in Raising a Reader; Make Your Child a Reader for Life). And no wonder, if libraries are going to kick these kids out. Do you readers have any thoughts on this? -- Jen

Literacy News of the Day

Two literacy news articles to mention to you today:

  • The volunteering agency Project Scotland asked gap year students (those who have finished their studies, but not decided on a career) to consider spending their time visiting schools to promote literacy. The emphasis of the program is on "sparking an enthusiasm to read which will benefit pupils throughout their lives." You can find the full article in the Herald Online.
  • As described in a recent press release, Sears Portrait Studios has donated 100,000 new children's books to schools and libraries in the Gulf States affected by recent hurricanes. This donation was part of the "Book Relief" program created by the First Book literacy organization.

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Is Text Messaging Making Kids Illiterate?

I read an interesting article by Steve Friess at USA Today online about spelling and grammar problems that some kids are having due to spending so much time writing in instant messaging shorthand. The article asks whether or not the many shortcuts used in instant messaging are leading kids to start writing like that all the time (e.g. "2 b R not 2 b"), and gives several examples. The article leaves open for discussion whether kids are really "destroying their ability to write properly", or whether they can manage writing in two different languages. I read about the USA Today article in the WXPnews e-zine, which has a nice summary of this question in the current issue.

What I think is that kids who read a lot of books, whether or not they spend time instant messaging, will have an advantage. Book-reading kids will, hopefully, continue to see proper spelling and grammar in the books that they read. This will help them to develop an unconscious recognition of the right way to write. I know that for me, someone who read constantly as a child, spelling and grammar tend to flow pretty naturally. Writing always comes more easily to those who read. Writing standard English, rather than IM shorthand, is bound to come more naturally to the kids who read books than to the kids who don't. I'll talk about other reasons why you should want your kids to love books in future articles. Thanks for reading! -- Jen

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A Book Recommendation for Adoptive Parents

Today I heard from Michele in Phoenix, who recommended a book so strongly that I wanted to share it with you. The book is LifeBooks : Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child, by Beth O'Malley. It's about how to create a special kind of scrapbook that's called a lifebook, for your adoptive child. The reviews on Amazon are all raves, too, and suggest that this book is head and shoulders above others on the same topic. So, if you are planning to adopt, you should consider this book. Hope this is helpful! -- Jen

Recent Children's Book Recommendations from Friends

Several of my friends and family members have taken the time to send me book recommendations. Here is a compilation of some recent suggestions. You can find more on my book list website.

Picture Books

Independent Readers

Young Adult

My thanks to these friends and family members who took the time to make suggestions for this website! Happy Reading! -- Jen

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© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Recent Children's Book Recommendations from the Web

Here is a recap of book recommendations that I've read lately around the web that have inspired me to add books to my Kids Recommended list.

  • CAROLYN CRIMI and JOHN MANDERS (illustrator). Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies (ages 4-8). I added this after reading a review on the Kid Lit blog, maintained by Tasha Saecker, the director of the Caestecker Public Library in Green Lake, WI. The book is about a pirate bunny who is a bookworm, and eventually saves the day through his book knowledge.
  • ANNA DALE: Dawn Undercover (ages 9-12). I read a great review of it at Kelly Herold's Big A little a blog. It's about an ordinary 11-year-old whose very invisibility causes her to be recruited as a sply.
  • BRUCE MCMILLAN: The Problem With Chickens (New York Times Best Illustrated Books (Awards)) (ages 4-8). This book is on the NY Times and Publishers Weekly top 10 lists for best children's books of 2005, and was also recommended by Parents Magazine. It's about two old women in Iceland who get chickens to lay eggs, but have a problem when the chickens stop laying eggs. The artwork is by an artist from Iceland. I read about it in a children's book newsletter put out by Publisher's Weekley.
  • SEBASTIAN MESCHENMOSER: Learning to Fly (baby/preschool). This book is not yet published, but I read a review of it at the Big A little a blog. It's about a penguin trying to learn to fly, and was translated from German.
  • MICHAELA MUNTEAN: Do Not Open This Book. This book recently received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly. It's apparently a funny book with reverse psychology (why are you reading this, I told you not to open it) that will be good for read-aloud.
  • LEMONY SNICKET: The End of the Series of Unfortunate Events. On Friday, January 13th Harper Collins announced that the next Friday the 13th (in October) will bring about publication of hte final book in this unfortunate series. I read the announcement at the Book Moot website. Despite the prophecies of doom, I know that kids will be happy about the book's publication.
  • DUGALD STEER, ANNE YVONNE GILBERT, and HELEN WARD: Pirateology (Ologies). I read on the Wands and Worlds blog that this book has been slated for publication on July 11th (at least according to Amazon). I know several kids who will be eagerly awaiting the book's release.

I hope that you find these recommendations useful. Thanks for reading! -- Jen

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© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Recommendation: The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life

I just finished reading The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, by Steve Leveen. It is indeed a little guide - I read it in about 2 1/2 hours, while taking extensive notes. But I think it's very high yield, and I recommend it to you if you would like to read more, or would like to get more out of what you do read. I think that it's worth the cover price for the quotes about books alone. For example:

  • "Never force yourself to read a book that you do not enjoy. There are so many good books in the world that it is foolish to waste time on one that not give you pleasure". -- Atwood H. Townsend.
  • "A library is a fueling station for your mind." -- Steve Leveen
  • "I think it's an essential need of the human being to hear another human being tell them a makes us feel there's somebody else here with us." -- George Guidall

Mr. Leveen is a strong believer in keeping lists of books that you have read (your Bookography), want to read (your List of Candidates) and own but haven't yet read (your Library of Candidates). I found this concept highly validating, as I have for the past couple of years maintained my lists of Read and Liked, Want to Read, and Have But Haven't Read (see my Book List website). I break mine down further by children's books vs. adult books. It's the same idea, though Steve Leveen has cooler names for his lists than I do. This book encouraged me to be even more detailed with my own lists, and also gave me some ideas for new lists. I'm currently brainstorming on "books that I expect to re-read regularly for the rest of my life." I'll keep you posted.

The The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life also includes discussion about how to process and remember more of what you read, the benefits of audiobooks, the pros and cons of bookclubs, and whether or not it's a good idea to write notes directly in the book that you're reading. All of these discussions come back again and again to two themes that are clearly important to the author. First, be active about what you choose to read, rather than haphazard, making the best choices that you can. Second, accept the fact that the list of best books to read for you will be unique, tied in to your own interests and experiences and attributes.

I personally would have liked to see the book talk more about raising children who love books, rather than focusing purely on adults, but I know that I'm just bringing my own biases to the table. I still enjoyed the book a lot, intend to implement some ideas from it myself, and recommend it to you.

This book was a Christmas gift to me from my Mom, which seems fitting, since she started me on my book loving life. Thanks Mom! -- Jen

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Rosetta Project: Children's Books Online

My friend Scott just sent me this link (, to the Rosetta project's Children's Books Online page. The site contains a library of illustrated antique children's books, classified by age. You can view all of the books online (as jpegs, separate files for each page, with arrows to scroll through the book). To download the books, you pay a non-refundable download fee, which seems to vary according to the length of the book (I did a quick spot-check and found prices ranging from $5 to $15). It's a fascinating site, promising, as Scott said, "hours of fun." Enjoy! -- Jen

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