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Posts from April 2006

Silverfin: A James Bond Adventure: Charlie Higson

This weekend I read Silverfin - Book #1 : A James Bond Adventure, by Charlie Higson. This book is the start of a new series about James Bond as a teenager. The story begins at Eton in the 1930's, where Bond is starting as a new thirteen-year-old student. He quickly encounters a rival, George Hellebore, an older boy with a wealthy and overbearing father. James participates in a tournament to compete for the Hellebore cup, thus ratcheting up the pressure on his relationship with George Hellebore.

But the real action begins when James travels to a small village in Scotland for the Easter holidays, to stay with his aunt and uncle (the loner James is, not surprisingly, an orphan). On the way north he meets up with Kelly, an older Irish boy who is headed to the same small village to look for a cousin who has disappeared. George Hellebore is also on the train, heading to the same small village, where his father owns a castle. James and Kelly come to suspect that the cousin's disappearance has to do with Lord Hellebore's mysterious castle, located on Loch Silverfin. They investigate, and end up in mortal peril. There's also a beautiful girl on a horse, a fast sports car that James learns to drive, an incompetent Pinkerton's detective, and creepy bio-engineered eels.

Like the movies, this book is a fun romp without much substance. While I was entertained by seeing links between the young James and the spy that he would become, I also thought that these links took away from Silverfin as a story. They were like red herrings that didn't connect to anything in the current story. That said, I think that teenagers who enjoy the James Bond movies will find this book an entertaining, fast-paced ride. Even kids who aren't familiar with the movies will probably enjoy James' self-reliance and bravery, and the creepiness of the Scottish castle with its hidden, evil laboratory. But adult readers of children's books will probably want to hold out for something with more depth.

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

The Railway Children: E. Nesbit

This week I re-read Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children by listening to it on MP3. It's finally stopped raining in northern California (skipping right over spring to summer, pretty much), and yesterday I just kept walking until I finished the book.

The Railway Children was originally published in 1906. It's different from many of Edith Nesbit's books, in that it doesn't feature any magic. The Railway Children is the story of three children, Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis. At the start of the story, the children live with their loving parents in a nice, modern house in London. Their lives change drastically, however, when their Father is called away unexpectedly and mysteriously. Their Mother takes them to live in an older house in the country, with only a single part-time servant, where they quickly realize that they are now poor. Mother spends all her time writing stories and poems, to submit them for publication, instead of playing games with them and teaching them, as she had done previously. The children are left largely to their own devices, with no lessons to distract them.

The house that they live in, Three Chimney's, is located near to a railway line and a small railway station. The railway quickly becomes a source of friends. The Stationmaster and the Porter (most especially the Porter, Perks) become major figures in the children's lives, as does a friendly "Old Gentleman" who waves to them every morning from the 9:15 train.

And the adventures begin. Through bravery and ingenuity (and through the coincidence of always being in the right place at the right time), the children avert not one, not two, but three separate disasters. They also get into trouble through their innocent attempts to help their Mother, and through their own sibling rivalries, and eventually help a Russian stranger newly escaped to England. Through it all, they miss their Father, and wonder what's happened to him, and why their Mother is so sad.

The constant adventures in this book make it a lot of fun. It does feel a little bit dated in places. There's a scene in which the local doctor tells Peter to be kinder to his sisters, for example, because they are "so much softer and weaker" than he is. But overall, I think that Edith Nesbit did a wonderful job of making the girls strong characters, too. The youngest, Phyllis, reminds me a lot of one of my nieces, while the oldest, Bobbie, takes on much responsibility bravely. As for Peter, he misses having another male in the household, and acts out quite a bit in response.

This book has lots of messages about bravery and right and wrong, and what makes up charity vs. friendship. And how to be good without being priggish. Some modern-day children might find it a little bit preachy in this area, though it is generally lightened with humor. But hopefully the adventures, and the realistic imperfections of the children, will win new readers over anyway. I know that I love this book (despite having a slight problem with the number of coincidences) and that the end brings tears to my eyes. If you haven't read it, The Railway Children is well worth checking out.

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

Miscellaneous Items of Interest

I wasn't traveling this week, but I still didn't manage to keep up with what was going on out there in the blogs. Maybe I've become too ambitious, and I try to visit too many blogs. Of course, having a day job that's completely unrelated to children's books doesn't help. Anyway, here are a few things from the blogs that have caught my eye this week:

  • A Fuse #8 Production (which seems to have something interesting to say every single day) has a hilarious response from author Mo Willems to his inclusion in Fuse's "Hot Men of Children's Literature" list. I like his closing "Yours tepidly". You'll have to go read the whole letter yourselves. Kelly at Big A little a called this post "the best thing you (will) read all day."
  • Also on A Fuse #8 Production, you'll find How to Create the Perfect Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. As long as she kept Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka (which she did), I'm all in favor.
  • Kelly at Big A little a links to an article in the Independent, in which Jacqueline Wilson, the U.K. Children's Laureate, urges parents to continue reading to their children until their children are 12 years old. According to the Independent article, by Sarah Cassidy, "Research revealed that fewer than a quarter of children over the age of seven have a regular storytime at home. Only 3 per cent of 12-year-olds are read to, the research, commissioned by Scholastic Book Clubs and Fairs, found." Isn't that sad? You can find the whole article here. I think that if parents can find the time to read more with their children, even after they are old enough to read themselves, everyone will benefit.   
  • And also on the subject of what parents can do to help with their children's literacy, Camille at Book Moot recommends Raising A Child Who Is Ready To Learn (My Shining Star), by Rosemary Wells (who is a strong literacy advocate). Camille says "This little book is going to be my gift to new parents along with Goodnight Moon and a Mother Goose book." Sounds like a great idea to me!
  • Kids Lit reports that Per Nilsson's You & You & You won the L. A. Times Book Prize for young adult fiction. I haven't read it, so I can't comment further.
  • Read Alert has launched a new website "for young people about books."
  • Michele at Scholar's Blog has an interesting post about what makes a book series epic, and whether or not the Harry Potter books qualify for this distinction. Sadly, I think that answer may rest on whether or not Harry lives happily ever after (or lives at all), at the end of book 7. Personally, I'm torn between my love of the characters, and wanting them to be happy, and my sense of drama, and what makes a great story.
  • Cynthia Leitich Smith writes about a new literary prize for children's books: the Lacapa Spirit Prize, in memory of Michael Lacapa. "The Lacapa Spirit Prize will be given annually to the best illustrated children's book that focuses on the spirit of the peoples, culture and natural landscape of the Southwest. Books published in the two years prior to the award are eligible for consideration." You can find more details at Cynsations.
  • I enjoyed this post at Gail Gauthier's blog, Original Content, about a school visit that she made to an elementary school in Massachusetts (perhaps this caught my eye because I went to elementary school in Massachusetts). She was actually brave enough to have lunch in the school cafeteria, and lived to tell about it.
  • Illustrator Don Tate has a funny vertical comic strip on his blog showing what a book signing can be like for the signer. He calls this post "staying humble."
  • The Library Lady has a brief rant about censorship that I agreed with. As she says "You have the personal power to censor what is read and watched in your home", but not in other people's homes. Or at least, that's how it should be!
  • Sherry at Semicolon posted about living in children's books, in response to my suggested topics from a couple of weeks ago (which I had expanded from an original idea on Blog from the Windowsill). Sherry got lots of good feedback to the questions in her comments! I also had just a response on my blog to this question from my wonderful niece.
  • Although it's not a blog, I simply must mention the nice plug that author Chris Abouzeid made for my blog on the Anatopsis website. I reviewed Anatopsis here
  • Finally, I've added a bunch of new blog links. Check out the right-hand sidebar, and scroll down. I have a new category of parenting and homeschool blogs that I visit. And yes, it's a fine line in some cases as to whether a blog is a children's book blog or a homeschool / parenting blog. But I did my best!

That's all for now. I'm off to watch the latest Pride & Prejudice movie, which I have been dying to see. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Kaavya Viswanathan's "Unintentional Copying"

I've been following the discussion about this issue all week. In case you've somehow missed the story, Harvard student and first-time author Kaavya Viswanathan stands accused of plagiarizing more than 40 passages that are "similar or identical in theme and content to parts of two novels by Megan McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings" (this quote is from an April 28th L.A. Time article). She has acknowledged reading Ms. McCafferty's books several times, but says that the copying was "unintentional." After some dithering about it, Little, Brown & Co. finally announced at the end of the week that they would pull Ms. Viswanathan's book from bookstores. I had already pulled the book off of my "to read" list (yes, I had intended to read it, before all of this came up), and added Megan McCafferty's books instead.

Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy has a couple of good quotes from Meg Cabot and Jennifer Weiner about the incident. I've also particularly enjoyed the blunt discussion about this at Bookshelves of Doom, such as "Am I being too harsh? I don't really think so. Plagiarism is gross. As are excuses."

I don't have much to add - people have been talking about this all week. But I do agree with Bookshelves of Doom that one of the most disturbing aspects to the whole story is that Kaavya hasn't really confessed. She's made lame excuses about "unintentionally copying" because she has a photographic memory. She has yet to say "I was under pressure to complete the book, and I couldn't do it, and so I cheated by taking material from Megan McCafferty. I'm sorry. What I did was wrong." And what I wonder is this: does she even think that what she did was wrong? Has she really convinced herself that it was unintentional? Or does she justify her behavior to herself because she needed it, or deserved the opportunity, or some other falsehood?

I've heard talk about cheating at elite universities, and among high school students trying to get into the elite universities. I know that you can buy papers online and all of that. To me, this seems like part of that continuum of behavior. Take what advantages you can, and hope that you don't get caught.

I hope that some good will come out of this whole How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life controversy. I hope that it leads to discussions between parents and their children about why plagiarism and cheating are wrong, and that it makes others think twice before stealing intellectual property from anyone. And I hope that Megan McCafferty's book sales go way up - because she has been the essence of grace throughout the whole incident. That's my two cents.

2006 Edgar Awards

With thanks to M is for Mystery (an excellent bookstore in San Mateo, CA) for the head's up, I bring you the 2006 Edgar Award winners. The 2006 Edgar Allan Poe Awards honor the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television and film published or produced in 2005, as selected by the Mystery Writers of America. I've included several categories below. You can find the complete list here.

Best Young Adult: Last Shot : A Final Four Mystery by John Feinstein (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Also nominated:

Best Juvenile: The Boys of San Joaquin by D. James Smith (Simon & Schuster Children's Books)

Also nominated:

Best Critical / Biographical: Girl Sleuth : Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak (Harcourt)

Best Novel: Citizen Vince by Jess Walter (Regan Books)

Best First Novel by an American Author: Officer Down by Theresa Schwegel (St. Martin's Minotaur)

The Edgar Awards are of particular interest to me because I love mysteries AND children's books. My plan is to read all of the nominated books in the young adult and juvenile categories, at least. And isn't it cool that the biography winner was about Nancy Drew?

The Jane Addams Children's Book Awards for 2006

I would like to share with you today the results of another children's book award. I know that there are many awards given throughout the year, and it's difficult to keep track of them all, but this one is particularly important. The Jane Addams Children's Book Award is given annually to acknowledge books from the previous year that address themes that promote peace, justice, world community, and/or equality of the sexes and all races. Winners of the 2006 Jane Addams Children's Book Awards were announced today.

Here is the Jane Addams Peace Association's press release: "Winners of the 2006 Jane Addams Children's Book Awards were announced today by the Jane Addams Peace Association.

Delivering Justice: W.W. Law and the Fight for Civil Rights, written by Jim Haskins and illustrated by Benny Andrews, and published by Candlewick Press, is the winner in the Books for Younger Children category.  Mr. Law, a mail carrier by trade and a courageous activist by conviction, catalyzed and led his community in the peaceful integration of all public facilities in Savannah, Georgia in the 1940s and well beyond.  Haskins traces Law's impressive progress in succinct chapters, each accompanied by expressive oil-and-collage illustrations by Andrews. 

Let Me Play : The Story of Title IX: The Law That Changed the Future of Girls in America, by Karen Blumenthal and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster is the winner in the Books for Older Children category.  Replete with photos, comic strips, and progress "score cards," the book provides exciting moment-by-moment political coverage of the 1971 bill that ensures equal education for girls.  The book is splendidly executed in design and documentation.

Poems to Dream Together/Poemas Para Sonar Juntos: Poemas Para Sonar Juntos, written by Francisco X. Alarcón, illustrated by Paula Barragán and published by Lee and Low Books, Inc., has been named an honor book in the Books for Younger Children category. In nineteen short and heartfelt poems in Spanish and English, Alarcón encourages and inspires us to dream alone and to work and dream together, as families and communities, in order to make our hopes for a better world come true. The stylized paintings of Paula Barragán colorfully extend and interpret the theme.

Two books have won honors in the Books for Older Children category, each written as a prose poem: The Crazy Man, by Pamela Porter, published by Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, and Sweetgrass Basket, by Marlene Carvell, published by Dutton Children's Books/a Division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

The Crazy Man intertwines the emotional lives of an injured girl, a dazed mother, a runaway father, and a mental patient. Spare free-verse narration of twelve-year-old Emaline tells a story in which everyone is challenged to change in this 1960's Saskatchewan community. Porter touchingly captures both the wide, lonely prairies and the closed minds central to the tension in this book. 

Sweetgrass Basket is told in the alternating voices of two young Mohawk sisters. Each describes leaving her beloved home to be schooled in the notorious Carlisle Indian Industrial School, founded in 1879.  Devoted to each other and their father, but opposite in personality and outlook, the sisters experience their virtual imprisonment differently: Mattie, rashly defiant, and Sarah, fearfully obedient until it's too late to act. 

Since 1953, the Jane Addams Children's Book Award annually acknowledges books published in the U.S. during the previous year. Books chosen effectively address themes or topics that promote peace, justice, world community, and/or equality of the sexes and all races. The books also must meet conventional standards of literary and artistic excellence.

Members of the 2005 Jane Addams Children's Book Awards Committee are Donna Barkman, Chair (Ossining, New York), Eliza T. Dresang (Tallahassee, Florida), Susan C. Griffith (Mt. Pleasant, Michigan), Margaret Jensen (Madison, Wisconsin), Jo Montie (Minneapolis, MN), Suzanne Martell (Harwich, Massachusetts), Sarah Park (Long Beach, California) Deborah Taylor (Baltimore, Maryland), Pat Wiser (Sewanee, Tennessee) and Lorrie Wright (Juneau, Alaska). Regional reading and discussion groups participated with many of the committee members throughout the jury's evaluation and selection process.

The 2006 Jane Addams Children's Book Awards will be presented Friday, October 20th in New York City. Details about the award event and about securing winner and honor book seals are available from the Jane Addams Peace Association. Contact JAPA Executive Director Linda B. Belle, 777 United Nations Plaza, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10017-3521; by phone 212-682-8830; and by e-mail

For additional information about the Jane Addams Children's Book Awards and a complete list of books honored since 1953, see For a March 2005 article about the awards, see

Founded in 1948, JAPA is the educational arm of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). In addition to sponsoring the Jane Addams Children's Book Awards and many other educational projects, JAPA houses the U.N. office of WILPF in New York City and owns the Jane Addams House in Philadelphia where the U.S. section of WILPF is located. Organized on April 28th in 1915, WILPF is celebrating its 91st year. For information, visit"

I received the above announcement from Susan Raab of Raab Associates. Raab Associates is dedicated to marketing children's and parenting books. Another peace-related book that I learned about from Raab Associates was My Childhood Under Fire: A Sarajevo Diary, by Nadja Halilbegovich. You can find my review of My Childhood Under Fire here.

Poetry Friday: Edward Lear

This is a poem that I know by heart. The word play pleases me:

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, by Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!"

Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long have we tarried
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows;
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

This is poetry Friday, as invented by Kelly at Big A little a. Kelly's entry for last week is here. Other contributions last week were made by Chicken Spaghetti, Farm School, A Fuse #8 Production, Little Willow, Gotta Book, and A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy.

The Birchbark House: Louise Erdrich

The Birchbark House (originally published in 1999) is the story of a year in the life of a seven-year-old girl and her Ojibwa family, living on an island in Lake Superior in 1847. The book was written by Louise Erdrich, herself a member of the Turtle Band of Ojibwa (former name: Anishinabe). The Birchbark House takes place during the same time frame as Little House on the Prairie, and the two books share certain similarities. However, The Birchbark House illustrates that time frame from the perspective of the Native Americans, who fear being pushed ever Westward by white people. It includes many Ojibwa words and customs, and Ms. Erdrich does a wonderful job of conveying the sense of harmony that the Ojibwa share with their surroundings.

The Birchbark House is told from the point of view of young Omakayas (Little Frog), so named because her first step was a hop. She lives with her parents (when her father isn't away working as a fur trader), her grandmother, her older sister Angeline, and her two younger brothers, Pinch and Neewo. As the book begins, the family is moving to their summer fishing camp in a birchbark house by the lake. The reader quickly comes to know Omakayas. She is bright and quick. She admires and envies her beautiful older sister, and adores her baby brother Neewo. Pinch, on the other hand, is the bane of her existence, and we see that sibling rivalries easily transcend cultural backgrounds. The characters of Omakayas' entire family are realistically drawn.

At first, this book seems like a pleasant, easy read, with descriptions of berrying and scaring away crows from the corn, and harvesting rice. Soon, however, Erdrich begins to deal with larger issues, related to the encroachment of the white people, the dreaded small-pox, and the possibility of starvation during the harsh winter. I was stunned by how bleak things became, relative to the early joyfulness. But in the end, the book offers hope.

I listened to this book on MP3, and thought that the narration was excellent. The Native American voice of the grandmother, in particular, was quite compelling. And I'll remember the voice of the family's pet crow for quite some time, squawking out "Gego, Pinch".

I think that this would be a perfect companion book for anyone reading the Little House books, showing another side to the story. The Ojibwa words should also lend themselves well to read-aloud for younger kids. The book is targeted to middle grade readers, probably up to about 7th grade. However, because there are sad parts to the book, I would strongly recommend that parents read the book themselves, too. Without being heavy handed about it, The Birchbark House opens the door to discussions about how Native Americans were treated during the 1800s, what constitutes a family, survival, and respect for elders. And it's also fun, too! Really, it's a wonderful book, and I'm glad that I finally got around to listening to it. I highly recommend it.

And, if you happen to be in Minneapolis, Louise Erdrich owns a bookstore there called Birchbark Books. I hope to check it out one day myself.

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

Children's Literacy Round-Up: April 27

Here are a few items regarding community literacy from the wires this week:

  • The April 23rd Royal Gazette (Bermuda) featured an article by Jonathan Kent about the impact of television viewing on literacy levels. Cultural Affairs Minister Dale Butler, a former high school principal, calls upon parents to limit their children's television viewing, so that the children will have improved literacy levels later in life. Although he is speaking to Bermuda parents, I think that his advice applies everywhere.
  • Last month I recommended "books in baskets" for Easter. It seems that Willard Elementary School in Evanston, IL had the idea of books in baskets last year. According to an April 24th article in the Daily Northwestern, the elementary school's “Literacy Baskets” program has so far "supplied 45 families with miniature libraries, with material ranging from coloring books to longer storybooks for older children." The interests of the receiving families are taken into account when the baskets are put together, and the program appears to be a big hit.
  • On another "books in baskets" note, I ran across the BabyBookworms site this week. Founded by two teachers, this company sells book-themed gift baskets for new baby gifts, birthdays, etc. What a great idea!
  • I thought that Laura Bush had some good things to say about the importance of global literacy in her recent speech at the UNESCO Education for All Week Luncheon. You can find the full text of her speech here. Here's a snippet from the speech: "Literacy improves the lives of mothers and children. Literacy boosts economies. And literacy helps people make good, informed decisions about their health."
  • On April 25th, in honor of National Volunteer Week, Reading is Fundamental named five notable literacy advocates for the year. "RIF recognizes Wendy McClure of Camp Hill, Pa.; Marcia Hosfeld of Shreve, Ohio; Keith Baldwin of Hancock, Mich.; Ann Tackett of Aberdeen, Miss.; and Sally Dyches of Moroni, Utah for their accomplishments serving the needs of children and families in their communities."

Summer Reading Lists

Today's San Jose Mercury New carried what I thought was an excellent column by Sarah Pishko (originally written for the Norfolk, Va., Virginian-Pilot). In this column, Ms. Pishko, a parent and bookseller, laments the assignment of difficult summer reading books for middle and high school students. While she is in favor of summer reading programs, she asks if "revising middle and high school summer reading assignments (can) help reduce the declining level of active readership among young people". Her concern is that when students who believe that they don't like to read are handed relatively dry reading assignments, with no teacher supervision, they end up turned off by reading. This seems a shame, given the multitude of wonderful and engaging books out there. Ms. Pishko suggests a few updated choices. Her goal is to remind teachers and administrators to convince kids that reading is fun.

A young friend of mine is going to be attending a "magnet" middle school in the fall. Her school requires kids to read two books, and then answer summer reading questions about the books. The students can choose from a list of more than 20 choices for each grade level. And the list of choices includes many wonderful books, both current and classic (The Giver, The City of Ember, The Golden Compass, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, etc.). You can find a link to the full list here. Because the school took time to put together such an engaging list, I am certain that my friend, and her mother, will read many more than two of the books. Hopefully other kids will, too.

I'm with Sarah Pishko in hoping that kids will find summer reading that "grabs readers and holds their attention until the end." Check out her column for more ideas. And, of course, your local library will likely have summer reading programs, too. I know that the summer reading program at my local library is wildly popular. Happy Spring!

Sports Books for Kids

As pointed out to me by MotherReader, this seems to be some sort of unofficial sports book week. On Monday, Camille at Book Moot reviewed Travel Team, by Mike Lupica. Yesterday I reviewed Free Baseball by Sue Corbett. And today MotherReader has a post in which she reviews several sports-related books. She particularly loves Keeper, by Mal Peet, calling it "the best sports book I have ever read."

Who will take up MotherReader's challenge to write about a favorite sports book tomorrow?

p.s. Also check out MotherReader's post from yesterday about how she vacuumed a bee. She managed to include a book reference despite her trauma over encountering a monster bee in her house. Funny stuff.

Free Baseball: Sue Corbett

Speaking as a fan of baseball, and as a fan of children's books, I absolutely loved Sue Corbett's Free Baseball. This is a middle grade novel, quite short at 152 pages. I read it in one sitting. It's about a Cuban boy named Felix Piloto, who lives with his mother in Florida. Eleven-year-old Felix lives and breathes baseball, playing shortstop for his team. He longs for the day when his baseball player father will be able to leave Cuba to come to the U.S. Felix also wishes that his mother would work shorter hours, and have more time for him.

Felix's life changes when he wins tickets to opening day at the local minor league ballpark. He is humiliated, however, when his mother sends him to the game with a babysitter. Ditching the babysitter after the game, Felix makes his way into the visiting team's locker room, where he is mistaken for the new bat boy. Seizing this opportunity to punish his workaholic mother, while feeling closer to his baseball player father, Felix stows away on the team bus, and makes his way to the team's home ballpark.

Through his willingness to work hard, and aided by his ability to speak Spanish, Felix soon earns the respect of the team members, especially team owner Vic Mench. He makes the acquaintance of Homer, a very special dog/mascot. He gets to talk with real ball players, and even field for them during batting practice. It's all a dream come true! Sue Corbett's love of baseball really shines through here. Even if you don't already love baseball yourself, I think that a read of this book will tempt you out to the ball park this summer.

I have to admit that I saw the ending coming quite a long way off. However, in this case this is not a bad thing. In fact, it is such a satisfying and right ending to the book that I would have been disappointed any other way. Felix is a wonderful, likable character, and Vic feels real, too. I think that Sue Corbett share's a bit of J. K. Rowling's ability for apt naming of characters, by the way, because Vic is a mensch. Felix and his mother's escape from Cuba, and Felix's father's inability to leave Cuba, are handled with a light touch, yet provide a real window into this complex issue.

I can definitely imagine re-reading this book at the start of every baseball season, and I will certainly buy it for kids I know who play or love baseball. Or who I think should play or love baseball. Free Baseball includes glossaries for both baseball terminology and Spanish phrases, which are a nice touch.

You can find more information about the book on Sue Corbett's website. She previously wrote 12 Again, about a 40-year-old woman transformed into a 12-year-old. I look forward to reading that one soon. Happy Reading!

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