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Posts from February 2006

Article about "All-of-a-Kind Family"

Melanie Rehak (author of the recent book Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her) has written a fascinating article about Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-kind Family. The article appears at, a site specializing in Jewish literature, culture and ideas. It starts with Sydney Taylor's childhood with her sisters in a tenement in Manhattan's Lower East Side, and progresses to the adult Ms. Taylor telling childhood stories to her own daughter, and then writing them down in the book that became All-of-a-kind Family. The article moves on to Melanie Rehak's own experience in reading the book, and how it taught her about the Jewish culture, complete with illustrations from the book. But head on over to and check out the article yourself. It's bound to make you want to re-read All-of-a-kind Family. I know I do. -- Jen

A Valentine to Reading

Yesterday I called for sharing love on Valentine's Day by reading with children. It seems that some New Mexico politicians had the same idea. A press release said that "(t)his Valentine's Day, Sen. Pete Domenici, U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson and state Sen. Leonard Tsosie are sharing their love for books and reading with children participating in Save the Children's in-school and after-school literacy programs in New Mexico."

The lawmakers wrote a "Valentine to reading" that will be posted in school classrooms across the state. Senator Domenici wrote on his Valentine, "I love to learn. Reading provides my mind with the exercise it needs to be prepared and efficient. It allows me to gain new perspective as well as learn about things that are out of my everyday life. Reading helps me to harden my knowledge and sparks new ideas. My favorite book is Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola." How cool is that? You can find out more about these "Valentines to reading" in the press release.

So I will reiterate what I said yesterday. This Valentine's Day, give the children in your life the gift of loving to read. You can do this by telling them how much you love to read, and by telling them that you think reading is wonderful and important. And you can read aloud with them, today and every day. This will bring you closer to the children you read with, and will give them a Valentine that will last a lifetime. Happy Valentine's Day! -- Jen

The First Carnival of Children's Literature

If you like children's books, you simply must check out the First Carnival of Children's Literature, hosted and organized by Melissa Wiley at Here in the Bonny Glen. Melissa has assembled a veritable feast of links to articles by parents, authors, reviewers and teenagers, all about children's literature. I think that she did a wonderful job of organizing the content and adding relevant commentary and poems. I think that everyone will find something interesting in Melissa's collection, and I look forward to future carnivals. Visit the First Carnival of Children's Literature here. Enjoy! -- Jen

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

Valentine's Day Literacy Activities

The Louisville Courier-Journal has an article by Sharon Darling, founder and president of the National Center for Family Literacy in Louisville, about how parents should undertake reading and literacy activities as a Valentine for their children. The article includes "some fun Valentine's Day literacy activities to try as well as a book list designed to help parents build memories with children that will encourage a love of reading and learning." It's a short article, but well worth your time. And the underlying concept is well worth repeating.

Show the children in your life that you love them by spending time on Valentine's Day reading to them. And then after Valentine's day, since you still love them, keep on reading to them every day. You and your children will enjoy the quality time spent together, and your children will benefit immeasurably in the future from this positive association with books. Have a Happy Valentine's Day! -- Jen

Recommendation: Shakespeare's Secret

This weekend I read Shakespeare's Secret, by Elise Broach, recommended to me by my friend Alex and her daughter. The book is about a girl named Hero (named after a character in Much Ado About Nothing), who moves to a small town near Washington, DC. There, Hero becomes embroiled in a mystery involving a missing diamond and a potential link between Anne Boleyn and Edward De Vere (thought by many to be the true, secret author of Shakespeare's plays). I enjoyed the historical detail of this book, and also the strong friendship that develops between Hero and the older woman who lives next door, Mrs. Roth.

One thing I struggled with regarding this book was what age range would enjoy it. I borrowed it from the Santa Clara City Library, where it was classified as a young adult book. My first instinct was to disagree with this. Shakespeare's Secret is a relatively quick and easy read. It's also quite light as mysteries go (no murder, no physical danger). However, I can see why librarians would classify it as a young adult book. There are references to illegitimate children, and suggestive comments are written in the boy's bathroom (though the exact nature of the comments is not spelled out). Still, I personally think that the book is most suitable for 9 to 12 year olds who like mysteries, rather than for teenagers. I don't think that it holds up as well as a children's book for adults, unless they happen to be Shakespeare buffs. I saw the "twist" coming well in advance. (Of course, I read a lot!)

Overall, I think that this is a great choice for the early middle school reader who likes mysteries. I don't think that the adolescent interactions ring quite as true as those in two other books that I've read recently: Down the Rabbit Hole : An Echo Falls Mystery and Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief - Book One. However, I did like the voice of Hero very much (moody and pessimistic, but able to get excited over solving a Shakespearean mystery). And it's refreshing to see a story in which the heroine has a stable family behind her (have you noticed how orphan-hood almost seems a requirement in books some days?). And I love books that get kids thinking about other books. So I recommend this one. Happy Reading! -- Jen

New Look for My Blog

I spent time yesterday afternoon tweaking custom themes in Typepad, to come up with a new look for this blog. Given the weather here in San Jose lately, the snowman really had to go. I've replaced him with a bookworm that I found irresistible (I downloaded the bookworm from Graphics Factory). If you have a moment, please tell me what you think! And if you receive blog updates by email, please click through to check out the new look. Thanks!! -- Jen

Bonus Questions on Favorite Children's Book Meme

On February 7th I took up a challenge posted by Shelly about listing favorite children's series, favorite non-series books, and favorite children's characters. You can see my answers to Shelly's three questions here.

Shelly's "booked by three" question has since been re-christened a "meme", and has been making the rounds of children's book blogs. I've seen it on Mental Multivitamin, Once Upon a Story, A Chair, A Fireplace And a Tea Cozy, Big A little a, Chicken Spaghetti, Book Moot, Here in the Bonny Glen, and Scholar's Blog. There are many great books discussed - reflecting on beloved books is obviously an irresistable topic - and I recommend that you check out some of the discussion.

Along the way, Susan at Chicken Spaghetti added three bonus questions, to which I will respond here.

1. Who wrote your least favorite childhood books?

This is tough, because I didn't spend time with books that I didn't like. But I was traumatized by an audio version of The Hobbit, filled with high-pitched singing of poems. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard. I still shudder thinking about it. So I would have to say Tolkien. But I don't really dislike his books as a whole.

2. What was the saddest  moment in  your childhood reading?

While it's hard to top Beth dying in Little Women, I also cried over the news of Sara's father's death in A Little Princess.

3. Which adult book scared the bejeezus out of you?

I'm going to list three here. I was completely creeped out by The Amityville Horror, Sybil, and Flowers In The Attic.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: Feb. 10

This post introduces a new, regular feature of this website, the Children's Literacy Round-Up. Each round-up will highlight several recent news articles about community efforts for children's literacy.

  • The February 7th Burlington Free Press has an opinion piece supportive of the Waterbury, Vermont-based Children's Literacy Foundation (CLiF). The article describes a recent CLiF event designed to bring together Burlington's Somali Bantu community for a day of reading, story-telling and music. The article also strongly encourages the community to support CLiF, arguing that the "price of a few books is money well spent." You can visit the Children's Literacy Foundation website, where they have some statistics on children's literacy, as well as a booklist (in PDF) of over 700 recommended titles for children from birth to age 12.
  • A press release on February 8th announced that First Book just received more than $500,000 from Borders Group and its customers, thanks to a holiday donation drive. First Book is a national nonprofit organization that gives children in need the opportunity to read and own their first new books. I previously wrote about First Book here. Think of how many books they can give to kids with this donation!
  • The February 9th News-Review of Roseburg, Oregon has an article today describing Roseburg's fifth annual Celebration of Reading. This is a two-week long series of events ranging from a reading fair to author readings to plays to what sounds like the most fun to me, the Battle of the Books. The latter is a contest, held in two age ranges, in which contestants will be quizzed on their knowledge of particular books (where the lists of included books were distributed last fall). Winners will get prizes, and the battle is apparently a community hit. It's almost enough to make we wish I lived in Roseburg (except that it's been sunny with highs in the 70s all week here in San Jose). But check out the article. I found the sheer number of events included in the Celebration of Reading inspirational. 

Every week there are many news stories and announcements about community literacy efforts. The above three are stories that particularly caught my eye. I hope that you find them interesting. Thanks for Reading!! -- Jen

Recommendation: Alfred Kropp

Yesterday I finished listening to The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Rick Yancey. I'm not normally a fan of the hapless hero. I prefer my heroes to be smart and brave and action-oriented. And Alfred Kropp is definitely of the hapless breed of heroes. He's big-headed and slow on the uptake, and a self-declared screwup. He fails at playing football, doesn't have any friends, and spends most of his time lying around in his room watching TV. And yet ... he falls into an epic sort of adventure, and through sheer tenacity he manages to save the world. And somehow as I listened to the book he got under my skin, and I found myself caring what happened to him.

I think that this would be an excellent book for early teens who are feeling awkward, or uncertain about their place in the world. For anyone who sometimes feels too big or too slow or too different, but who INSIDE knows that he or she has the potential for greatness.

The book is also a fun read for anyone, full of chases and sword-fights, and bravery and betrayal. Arthurian legend is juxtaposed against modern-day espionage, with all of the associated trappings of both. Picture black helicopters, Ferrari Enzos, and Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycles along with Stonehenge, King Arthur's sword, and bows and arrows, and you begin to get the idea. The character of Bennacio is also highly entertaining, with a wonderfully dry sense of humor, and little patience with young Alfred's mis-steps.

All in all The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp is worth checking out. Happy Reading! -- Jen

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

Genetic Influence on Reading Ability

Thanks to Tasha over at Kids Lit for linking to an interesting article from ABC Science Online. The article is about a study published in the latest issue of The Journal of Research in Reading. The study looked at how genes influence potential reading ability in young children, and concluded that "genetic variability accounted for most of the differences in skills that predicted later reading ability" (vs. reading aloud to kids).

This is actually consistent with something that I read a while back in Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The authors analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Eduction's Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, undertaken in the late 1990s. The ECLS measured the performance of 20,000 students, and supplemented this with detailed family interviews. A regression analysis of this data found that being read to every day at home was, surprisingly, not correlated with doing better on school test scores (although having lots of books in the home was correlated with better test scores). However, there was a strong negative correlation between adoption and school test scores (because of the genetic background of the adoptive children). Read Freakonomics to hear more about the ECLS study and its implications.

I still think that there is plenty of research out there to support the fact that reading aloud to kids will make them more likely to grow up as readers. Check out The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease, for a number of references (the newest edition of the Read-Aloud Handbook will be out in June, and presumably will have updated references). But I think that it's important to keep in mind that genetics play a factor, too, and that learning to read is going to be harder for some kids than for others. These kids will need all the encouragement that we can give them.

The genetic study researchers that I read about today did stress that time spent reading to children at home is important. They also pointed out that their research suggests that children who have difficulty reading are likely to have genetic roadblocks to overcome, and to in particular require extra resources to help them. You can read the News in Science article here. I would be interested to hear what you think. -- Jen

The Potter Index

I heard about a cool site from Book Moot today: The Potter Index. The Potter Index is an online, searchable index of the Harry Potter books (U.S. editions), "created by Harry Potter fans for Harry Potter fans, students and teachers". You can type in any phrase you like, and it will show you where that phrase appears in the first six Harry Potter books (as well as in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages).

For instance, if you type in "windgardium leviosa" (a favorite phrase in my house, though we have yet to get it to actually work) you find three matches, two from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Book 1) and one from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5). It's a lot of fun! Happy Searching! -- Jen

Literacy Advocate Shares His Passion for Kids Reading

The Cochrane Times in Alberta, Canada had an article today about Canadian author and literacy champion David Bouchard. According to the article, Mr. Bouchard is so passionate about getting kids reading that he inspires audiences in both the U.S. and Canda. "Something I have felt for years now is that the one single greatest thing we can offer our kids that we’re not doing is give them the gift of reading," he is quoted as saying.

Mr. Bouchard is a particularly strong advocate of the idea that for kids to grow up loving books, their parents have to also read books (though he assures parents that they don't have to read well - they just have to enjoy reading). He has a couple of books on this topic (For the Love of Reading: Books to Build Lifelong Readers and The Gift of Reading: A Guide for Educators and Parents), which are high up on my "to read" list.

The Cochrane Times article also said that Mr. Bouchard gives out books instead of candy on Halloween. How cool is that? (OK, I would have wanted books AND chocolate as a kid, but if everyone else was giving out candy, I would have found the house giving out books pretty darned cool.) Anyway, check out the full article for other interesting tidbits. You can also visit Mr. Bouchard's very slick website (it's set up a like a book, with pages that you turn by clicking in the lower corner). Happy Reading! -- Jen