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Posts from February 2006

Investing in the Libary Children's Section

Thanks to the Read Alert blog (a youth literature blog from the State Library of Victoria in Australia) for linking to a column that I enjoyed from the latest edition of Bookslut. The column, written by James Stegall, urges investment in the children's section of the library. Mr. Stegall, a "single parent on a budget" considers children's library books to be "investments in the future, and vital if we want libraries of the future to be anything more than Internet cafes." He goes into considerable detail about factors that he has noticed in different libraries that "make some better than others." Although many of the things that he describes cost money, he also discusses other things that matter, particularly volunteers. As a library volunteer myself (for the Foundation and Friends of the Santa Clara City Library) I was pleased to see his call for volunteers. And as a supporter of both children's books and libraries, I loved this description:

"A great children's section at the library is a respite for children and parents, a place where kids can feel safe and surrounded by knowledge and wonder."

Who could ask for more than that? If the above description warmed your heart a little, I recommend that you read James Stegall's column. And, of course, visit your library children's section whenver you have the chance. Happy Reading! -- Jen

Booked by Three: Children's Books

Shelly includes a monthly series of Booked by 3 questions on her Book Shelf blog. This month she asked about children's books, and I couldn't resist responding. Here are the questions, and my responses.

Name your 3 favorite children's series: The Maida Books by Inez Haynes Irwin, The Wrinkle in Time Quartet by Madeleine L'Engle, and The Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery.

Name your 3 favorite non-series children's books: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key.

Name 3 favorite children's book characters: Mary Poppins, Max from Where the Wild Things Are, and Pippi Longstocking.

Incidentally, I thought that classic responses were called for here, so I've made my selections from older children's books. You can find some of my other favorites on my personal classics list. So hard to choose from so many great books! But it's still a fun thing to think about. Happy Reading! -- Jen

Book Review: The Kingdom Keepers

Kelly over at Big A little a (one of my favorite book-related sites) has an excellent review today of Ridley Pearson's The Kingdom Keepers, a book that I also enjoyed. The book is about what happens in Disney World after dark, and includes a compelling story filled with Disney villains and high-tech holograms. Like Kelly, I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes Disney details of this book, and the likeability of the main character. But I encourage you to read Kelly's review for more details.

I also liked Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. This book is a prequel to Peter Pan, outlining possibilities for how Peter became the way he is. I know that there has been some controversy in regards to this book, because it's not the official prequel sanctioned by the London hospital that owns the copyright to Peter Pan (click here for a good recap of that situation on the Grumpy Old Bookman blog). But I enjoyed Peter and the Starcatchers.

I also like Ridley Pearson's Lou Boldt / Daphne Matthews mystery series mystery series quite a bit (especially the character of Daphne). But if I had a vote, I would have Mr. Pearson spent his time on sequels to the The Kingdom Keepers, instead of the adult books. Because there are plenty of police procedurals out there, but how many thrillers can you find set behind the scenes in Disney World? Happy Reading! -- Jen

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

30-Year-Old Snowball

In the spirit of keeping young at heart (as promoted by my recent review of Escape Adulthood), I recommend to you a fun column from today's San Jose Mercury News (my local paper). Mike Cassidy writes about Betty Shamus, who keeps a 30-year-old snowball in her San Jose, CA freezer. Betty has been keeping this snowball in her freezer since the last time it snowed enough to accumulate on the Santa Clara Valley floor. In honor of the snowball's 30-year anniversary, Betty's son Jeff recently launched a website:

Now, as someone who grew up in Boston, and has only been living in California for 5 years or so, it's a bit hard for me to really connect with the idea of this snowball. I mean, in Boston, you can always figure that there will be more snow before too long. But for Betty and her family, the snowball is a big deal. According to Mike Cassidy this week was "Snow Ball Sunday -- a party with snowball cookies, snowball balloons, snowball cutouts, a collection of old photos and newspaper clippings and a big sign celebrating the icy icon's longevity." And the snowball seems to have caught on with local news crews and other fans, too.

So, if you're looking for a role model to celebrate the ideas of play and finding joy in small things, read Mike's article about Betty Shamus. Have a great day! -- Jen

Some Recent Reads: Fun Kid's Books for Adults

I had a pretty good week of children's book reading last week. Here is a quick re-cap:

SUZANNE COLLINS: Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1) and Gregor The Overlander And The Prophecy Of Bane (Underland Chronicles). These were recommended to me by Kellye, a visitor to my website. They are about two kids who visit an underground world deep beneath New York City. This world is populated by violet-eyed humans, and giant, talking insects and rodents (cockroaches, bats, rats, and spiders).

To tell you the truth, I had heard about these books before, and the idea of reading about giant insects didn't inspire me. But I have to tell you that these are great books. They're about a mis-matched team of characters of different races going on a quest (shades of the Lord of the Rings, but in a much shorter, easier to digest story). They have to learn to get along, despite vast differences in mind-set and habits, and they face peril and adventure.

The two main characters, the Overlanders (who travel to the Underland) are 11-year-old Gregor and his 2-year-old sister Boots. Personally, I think that the books are worth reading for the character of Boots alone. Everything is an adventure for her, she greets each new person and experience with open arms, and she ends up being sort of a natural ambassador between humans, bats, and insects. She's like the personification of what Jason Kotecki is striving toward with his book Escape Adulthood (which I wrote about on Friday) - all of the good things about a childlike spirit.

The Underland Chronicles are quick, easy reads, with fairly wide spacing of the text. I can see why Kellye recommended them for kids having a bit of trouble moving up to longer books. However, they pack in a surprising amount of adventure, bravery, and betrayal, not to mention character development and the overcoming of prejudices. I recommend them highly.

PETER ABRAHMS: Down the Rabbit Hole : An Echo Falls Mystery (Echo Falls). I listened to this book on MP3 from It's about Ingrid, a curious 13-year-old girl who gets mixed up in the murder investigation of a quirky woman from her small town. The author mostly writes adult mysteries, but has four children, and it seems clear that they've given him perspective into what is and isn't cool in middle school.

What I like about this book is that it's a classic mystery, with a murder and clues and the main character figuring out who the killer is. This book was nominated for the Edgar Award for Young Adults (the book awards for mysteries), and I hope that it wins. I've seen lots of mysteries for younger kids, but not as many straightforward mysteries for the middle school set. This one includes a love interest for Ingrid, complicated by the fact that the boy's father is the police chief. There are also interesting dynamics going on with Ingrid's family in the book. Most of these are left unresolved, which gives me hope that other books in this series will be forthcoming. Overall, this is a great pick for older kids who love mysteries, without any fantasy elements.

MEG CABOT: The Princess Diaries (The Princess Diaries, Vol. 1). Darkest Hour (The Mediator, Book 4). What can I say? I love Meg Cabot's books. I think that she has a tremendous knack for getting inside the head of her characters, so that you feel like you know them. She also makes her characters regular people, even as she puts them in implausible situations (for example, in All-American Girl, the main characters, a teenaged girl, happens to save the President's life, and then starts dating his son). I read The Princess Diaries because I wanted to see how different it was from the movie. It is fairly different (set in New York instead of San Francisco, with a much meaner grandmother than Julie Andrews portrayed), but still fun. Darkest Hour is part of the Mediator series, about a girl who sees dead people, and has to help them resolve their issues, so that they can cross over to the other side (much like the TV series Ghost Whisperer, but with a teen-aged protagonist). Both books satisfied my Meg Cabot fix for the week, though I realize that they wouldn't be the right fare for everyone.

What have you been reading lately? Drop me a line if you'd like to chat. You can also see the lists of all of the books that I've read recently, and want to read, on my book list website. Happy Reading -- Jen

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

Recommendation: Escape Adulthood

You know how sometimes you get to the end of a book, and you close it, and you just want to immediately go back to the beginning and start reading it again? That happened to me this week with the book Escape Adulthood, by Jason Kotecki. I think that it will really resonate with visitors to this site, especially those of you who are here mainly because you think that children's books are cool.

Escape Adulthood is a book about conquering "Adultitis". It's about recapturing that childlike excitement and optimism that all of us used to have. The book consists of 8 primary chapters, each discussing a "secret from childhood for stressed out grown-ups." Like "delight in the little things" and "play "and "maintain perspective". Each chapter ends with 11 concrete tips for getting started. For example:

  • From Chapter 3 (Get Curious) we have tip number 8: "Make it a personal mission to learn something new every day. Read lots of books. It is well known that leaders are readers. That's why mansions always have libraries in them."
  • From Chapter 4 (Live Passionately): "Even if it's just an hour a week, or 15 minutes each day, do whatever you can to try to carve out some extra time for yourself and your favorite hobby."
  • From Chapter 5 (Play): "Next time you go out to eat, order dessert first."

Some of the tips are more original than this, and not all of them will be relevant for every reader, but I'll bet that everyone could benefit from following a few of Jason's suggestions. Even if you don't intend to actually follow the suggestions (you're quite happy with your own level of maturity, thank you very much) the book is still fun to read. I laughed out loud many times while reading it. It's also a short, quick read. You could easily squeeze in a chapter every night before bed. And there are comic strips sprinkled throughout (Jason is a cartoonist, with a strip called Kim and Jason).

I do have one small caveat about my recommendation of this book. Throughout this book, Jason makes regular references to God and faith and the Bible. I didn't find it overwhelming or preachy, but if you are someone who will be bothered by this, then this isn't the book for you. Stop here, and go read Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince instead.

But if you are interested in reading Escape Adulthood, I have a special offer for you. From now until the end of February, you can get free shipping on any order from the Kim & Jason Lemonade Stand (the author's website) as long as your order includes one or more copies of Escape Adulthood. Just enter the code JKRBOOKS when prompted for a discount code during your checkout process.

And I can assure that you'll be happy with the customer service from The Lemonade Stand. When I ordered my book they included all sorts of cool stuff in the package, like postcards and bookmarks and a little packet of lemonade. I also heard personally from both the "Chief Sales Servant" Jenna and from Jason Kotecki himself, thanking me for my order. All in all, I've found their customer service to be far above average.

They have other fun products on their site, too. I like the Kim & Jason Greeting Cards, but there are also framed prints candles, mugs and an Adulthood Stinks T-Shirt. This could also be a good place to get a Valentine's Day gift (like the Love Gift Set). But enough said. If you think that you might be suffering from adultitis, or if you just want a book that advises you to play more, then Escape Adulthood is just the book for you. Have fun! -- Jen

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

Upcoming Carnival of Children's Literature

Melissa Wiley, over at the Here in the Bonny Glen blog (and a fellow Typepad user), is hosting a Carnival of Children's Literature for February 13th. The idea behind blog carnivals is that someone puts together a variety of related blogs on a topic, for the casual observer. This gives readers a quick way to learn about other blogs, without having to visit them all to find interesting content. Melissa is requesting contributions. She says: "Any post related to children's books is a candidate for inclusion: book reviews, interviews, stories about reading to your kids, literary adventures in and out of the classroom, you name it. Authors and illustrators, we'd love to hear from you, too!" Personally, I look forward to seeing what she comes up with on February 13th. Check out her full announcement here, and be sure to visit Here in the Bonny Glen on the 13th. Happy Reading! -- Jen

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

A Children's Book Party Fit for the Queen

Yesterday's online Book Standard published a short article about a children's book party to be held for the Queen of England's 80th birthday this summer. The Queen will mingle with about 1000 children, as well as various children's book characters, authors, and actors. "Paddington Bear, Bob The Builder, Thomas The Tank Engine, Mowgli, Winnie the Pooh, Postman Pat, the BFG and the White Rabbit are amongst the cast lined up. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe and Children's Laureate Jacqueline Wilson will also appear."

All I have to say is, how can I get an invitation to that party? -- Jen

What Helps Children Learn to Read?

Penn State's online magazine, Research Penn State, featured an article today about "What Helps Children Learn to Read?". The article was written by Lisa Duchene, and features Robert Stevens, an associate professor of educational psychology in the Penn State College of Education and Barbara Van Horn, co-director of the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy.

As we've heard from various other sources (especially The Read-Aloud Handbook), Professor Stevens says that "(r)eading to their children is one of the most important things parents can do to help them learn to read—and learn to love reading." He also advises asking questions while reading to children, and playing word and rhyming games.

Ms. Van Horn contributes the suggestion of reading non-fiction as well as fiction. "Stories are great, but reading expository books about, say, dinosaurs or bugs or how to build something is also very important," she says. This coincides with a suggestion made today by Camille from BookMoot, in a comment on this site. Camille recommended the DK Eyewitness book series for younger kids (Ocean, Ancient Rome, Weather, etc.) "because they incorporate multiple reading levels". I had an experience reading those books to a friend's five-year-old son last year, and he was utterly fascinated. So I think that this makes sense, although I was never much of a non-fiction reader myself as a kid.

Back to the article, Professor Stevens adds that "it is clear that even at very young ages children need exposure to expository text because that is the primary type of reading they do from grade six through college and beyond." Of course, we're trying to change this, by helping to raise kids who love to read all sorts of books. But I see his point.

But head on over to Research Penn State to read the entire article. You might also want to visit the Gooding Institute for Research in Family Literacy, where there are various studies ongoing concerning family literacy. It's great to see so much research in this area. Thanks for reading! -- Jen

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

Good Books for Older Kids Who Have Reading Difficulties

Earlier this week, I wrote about Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief. I said that one of the things that I liked about the book was the way Percy's dyslexia, ADHD, and behavioral problems were integrated into the story as differences that make him who he is, rather than as negative attributes. Shortly thereafter Kellye, a reading tutor and Mom, suggested to me a couple of other good series for older kids who are struggling a bit with reading.

Kellye told me that Jenny Nimmo's Charlie Bone books have all been printed with double-spaced text at Ms. Nimmo's request, to make the books easier to read. I had noticed the double spacing, but hadn't realized that this was a deliberate tactic. Kellye said (of the double-spacing) "this proves a real benefit for children who struggle to overcome reading disorders as they are less likely to encounter the problem of the text lines running together." These books are about children who have all descended (over many years) from a magical king, and who consequently have unique and mysterious powers (called endowments). The children fall into two groups (think good vs. evil) struggling against one another. The backdrop is a gloomy boarding school in a town filled with unusual people and happenings. The main character, Charlie, is trying to find the father who disappeared when Charlie was very small. I enjoyed these books a lot, and I agree with Kellye that they would be an excellent fit for kids not quite ready to read The Harry Potter books on their own.

Kellye also recommended The Underland Chronicles series by Suzanne Collins for pre-teens "as the stories are adventurous and fun, the series keeps them coming back for more and the reading level is and book size is not quite as overwhelming to a young reader who is ready to advance on to larger books." I haven't read the Underland Chronicles yet, but I have just checked the first one out of the library. It's about an 11-year-old boy and his 2-year-old sister who fall into fall into an amazing underground world. Here are some links to these series, both of which are in progress.

Charlie Bone / Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo

The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins

If you know of other books that are especially good for older kids who want great stories, but have a bit of trouble with reading large, dense books like Harry Potter 6, let me know. I'll do a follow-up article. To me, it makes sense to remove any hurdles that are standing in the way of kids who do want to read but have difficulty with it. If these books can help, more power to them. Keep The Lightning Thief in mind, too. Thanks for visiting! -- Jen

Transforming Stacks of Pancakes into Stacks of Books

On Feburary 28th IHOP is providing the opportunity to unite two good things: pancakes and books for kids. More specifically, IHOP is offering free short stacks of pancakes nationwide from 7:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. "In exchange for free short stacks of pancakes, we invite guests to make a donation to First Book, a national nonprofit organization that provides free, new books to children from low-income families, or to other local charities," explained Carolyn O'Keefe, chief marketing officer of IHOP Corp. You can view a full press release about this here, or find more information at I also wrote about First Book here.

According to the press release National Pancake Day started in "celebration of Shrove Tuesday, which heralds the beginning of fasting during Lent. Long ago, strict rules prohibited the eating of all dairy products during Lent, so pancakes were made to use up the supply of eggs, milk, butter and other fats...hence the name Pancake Day."

So, on February 28th, eat some pancakes and donate some books to kids. What a great way to start the day! -- Jen