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Posts from May 2006

Cool Girls from Kid Lit: The Long List

Last week, I started a list of Cool Girls from Kid Lit. Here is what I specified for "cool" criteria: "they should be smart and strong and independent, people who would make good role-models for girls today."

Apparently, a lot of people who blog about children's literature have a special interest in cool girls, because I received by far the most feedback that I've ever had for a post. You can go to the original post and read everyone's comments, but I thought that there would be benefit to a single, organized list of all of the suggestions so far.

I'll follow up later this week with a short list of the most popular entries (Lyra, Laura, and Harriet are in the lead, based on the very unscientific feedback that I've received so far). So, if you haven't cast your vote (by commenting) for your favorites, now is your chance. And if you think that I've missed anyone, do let me know, and I'll update the list.

Many, many thanks to everyone who has contributed to the list so far! You can find the list of contributors at the end of this post. If you click back to the original post comments, you can see who suggested what. Thanks!

  1. Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
  2. Amy from The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes
  3. Anastasia Krupnik from the series by Lois Lowry
  4. Anna from As Simple as Snow by Gregory Galloway
  5. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  6. April and Melanie from The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  7. Arabella from The Windmill Summer by Hila Feil
  8. Babymouse from Babymouse: Queen of the World! (and sequels) by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
  9. Belinda from Little Plum by Ed Young
  10. Boots from the Gregor The Overlander series by Suzanne Collins
  11. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
  12. Cedar B. Hartley from The Slightly True Story Of Cedar B. Hartley by Martine Murray
  13. Christina from the Flambards books by K. M. Peyton
  14. Cimorene from Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
  15. Claudia from From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  16. Corinna Stonewall from The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley
  17. Dicey from Homecoming and Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt
  18. Dido Twite from Black Hearts in Battersea and Nightbirds on Nantucket (among others) by Joan Aiken
  19. Dorothy Gale from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  20. Eilonwy from the Prydain Chronicles (e.g. The Castle of Llyr) by Lloyd Alexander
  21. Elizabeth Ann from Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  22. Ellie from Squashed by Joan Bauer
  23. Eloise from the series by Kay Thompson
  24. Emily from Emily of New Moon (and sequels) by L. M. Mongtomery
  25. Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  26. Frances from A Bargain for Frances (and others) by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban
  27. Franny K. Stein from the series by Jim Benton
  28. Harriet M. Welch from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  29. Harry Crewe from The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  30. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  31. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
  32. Ivy from The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  33. Jane from The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
  34. Jenna Blake from the Body of Evidence series (starting with Body Bags) by Christopher Golden
  35. Jennifer from Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg
  36. Jill Pole from The Silver Chair and The Last Battle (Narnia books) by C. S. Lewis
  37. Jo March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  38. Josie Alibrandi from Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
  39. Judy Moody from the series by Megan McDonald
  40. Julia from Night Daddy by Maria Gripe
  41. Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
  42. Kate from Look Through My Window by Jean Little
  43. Kate from Sensible Kate by Doris Gates
  44. Kit Tyler from The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  45. Laura Ingalls from the Little House books (and she's a real person, too!)
  46. Liesel from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  47. Lilly from Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse and other books by Kevin Henkes
  48. Lirael by Garth Nix
  49. Lucy from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia) by C. S. Lewis
  50. Lyra from the His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman
  51. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
  52. Lola from The House of Stairs by William Sleator
  53. Margaret Thursday from Thursday's Child by Noel Streatfield
  54. Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  55. Martha from The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom
  56. Matilda by Roald Dahl
  57. Meg from A Wrinkle in Time (and sequels) by Madeleine L'Engle
  58. Meg from The President's Daughter (and others) by Ellen Emerson White
  59. Meggie from the Inkheart books by Cornelia Funke
  60. Melinda from Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  61. Menolly from Dragonsong (and others Pern books) by Anne McCaffrey
  62. Mia from The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot
  63. Minnow from The Seventeenth-Street Gang by E. C. Neville
  64. Miss Bianca from The Rescuers books by Margery Sharp
  65. Molly Moon from Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng
  66. Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
  67. Nita from the Young Wizards Series by Diane Duane
  68. Omakayas (or Little Frog) from The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
  69. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
  70. Polly from Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
  71. Pony from Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner
  72. Rachel Pye from Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye by Eleanor Estes
  73. Ramona Quimby from the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary
  74. Randy from the Melendy books (starting with The Saturdays) by Elizabeth Enright
  75. Roberta (Bobbie) from The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
  76. Sabriel by Garth Nix
  77. Sal from Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey
  78. Sara Crewe from A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  79. Sarah from One Morning in Maine by Lucy Frank
  80. Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    1. Simone from A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
    2. Sophie Hatter from Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
    3. Susannah Simon from the Mediator books by Meg Cabot.
    4. Sylvia and Bonnie from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
    5. Tacy from Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
    6. Tish Sterling from The Keeping Days by Norma Johnston
    7. Trixie Belden from the series by Julie Campbell
    8. Trot from The Scarecrow of Oz and other Oz books by L. Frank Baum
    9. Turtle from The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
    10. Vesper Holly from The Illyrian Adventure by Lloyd Alexander
    11. Winnie from Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
    12. Zoe from A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary A. Pearson

    Contributors and Commenters

    Thanks again to everyone who contributed to this list! Isn't it great how many cool girls there are in children's literature?

    Encouraging Kids to Love Books - from Shannon Hale

    Author Shannon Hale published a great list on her website this weekend: 10 Ways Parents (inadvertently) Discourage Their Kids from Being Readers. I think that every should read this list: parents, teachers, librarians, and kids themselves. My favorite item on the list is item #7, parents that don't "read the books their kids are reading." I think that reading the books that your kids read, as much as you can, is a great way to keep them reading. And you get to read great books yourself, too. But you should head on over and read the full list.

    I was especially encouraged by the large number of comments already attached to this post. The thing that seemed to touch a nerve for a lot of people was Shannon's last and strongest point, that parents shouldn't tell kids that a particular book or genre is too young for them. Quite a number of people of various ages wrote in to say that they like to read children's or young adult books, despite being officially too old for them. One sixteen year old wrote in to lament the fact that his teacher pushes him to read adult works, instead of young adult literature, even though he enjoys young adult literature (sigh!). But on a brighter note, a fourteen year old wrote about how she's already thinking about how much she wants her future children to love books, and how important that it to her. It's wonderful stuff to start a new week!

    I learned about this list from Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy. Liz especially likes the list because it doesn't bash television as an easy target for this complex problem. Thanks, Liz!

    I'm really going to have to read Princess Academy now. It was already on my list, but now I'm officially a Shannon Hale fan, so I'll be moving it to the top. Have a great week, all!

    It's Kind of a Funny Story: Ned Vizzini

    It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini is a young adult novel that reads like a memoir, except that it's funnier than most memoirs. It's the story of Craig Gilner, a teen who puts all of his energy into getting into a competitive New York City high school, only to find that the pressure of the school is too much for him. Craig gets severely depressed. He smokes too much pot, and can't get out of bed in the morning. He can't keep any food down, he has insomnia, and he experiences anxiety over keeping up with things at school. Eventually, after a near suicide attempt, Craig checks himself into the hospital, and is admitted to the adult psychiatric ward (the teen ward being shut down for renovations). The rest of the book chronicles his time in the psych ward, the people that he meets, and his own mental progress.

    There are so many things to like about this book. Craig's voice is authentic and compelling. He's clearly in deep mental trouble, and yet is matter-of-fact about it, too. He never loses his sense of humor or his compassion for other people. The other psych ward patients are quirky and well-drawn. Clearly the author has spent some time with mental health patients (this is confirmed in a footnote of the book). Craig's family is less well-drawn, but I like how supportive they are of him.

    Vizzini is dead-on in his portrayal of depression and anxiety. Sometimes he's so dead-on that it almost resonates too close to home. Craig lying in bed, thinking of nothing, because he can't face getting up and dealing with the day-to-day things that he has to deal with, for example. Or Craig worried about getting out of the hospital because of all the email that he'll have piling up. He'll feel compelled to go through it in order, and he thinks: "then as I'm answering them more will come in, and they'll sit on top of the stack and mock me, dare me to answer them before digging down, telling me that I need them, as opposed to the one or two e-mails that are actually about something I care about." I have to admit that I feel that way all the time, like the incessant email monster is out to get me.

    The book gets a number of important points across, without being at all heavy-handed about it. For example:

    • Everyone has problems of one sort or another, but help is available.
    • Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance, and can be treated.
    • The decision NOT to commit suicide is something that you'll be glad about later.
    • You have to find your own way, with the career and talents and friends that are right for you.

    I personally could have done without Craig having not one but two different girls throw themselves at him, in a physical way. But I suspect that the teen make viewpoint on this is pretty accurate. (e.g. "I know that's not a good reason, but I can't help it; if a girl likes me I tend to like her back.")

    Overall, I found the book compelling, funny, matter-of-fact, and realistic. I think that it could help any reader to have more empathy for people with depression or other mental illnesses. And for readers experiencing such problems themselves, It's Kind of a Funny Story could be life-saving, or at least life-changing. And it's highly amusing along the way. I strongly recommend this book.

    You can find Ned Vizzini's website here, and his blog here.

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

    48 Hour Book Challenge from MotherReader

    MotherReader has issued a challenge for kid lit readers and reviewers everywhere. She asks how many books you could read and review in a 48-hour period, over the weekend of June 16th. Visit her original post for the details and to sign up.

    I'm definitely in. I've noticed that my book reading has declined a bit, since I started blogging, because I spend time blogging that I would have previously spent reading. I've also noticed that the best reviews that I write are the ones that I write as soon as I finish the book, without letting a few days go by. So, this is a good excuse to read a lot of books, and review them all right away. Happily for me, Mheir is on call that weekend, so I should have plenty of time for reading, too.

    Could be a tough week for Kelly to do her round-up of kid lit reviews. But I'm sure she's up for that challenge.

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

    Sunday Afternoon Visits

    I've been really enjoying these little "Sunday Afternoon Visits" posts that I've been making over the past couple of weeks. Of course if they were in person, someone might offer me a lemonade or a chocolate chip cookie, but I'll settle for a comment or two. Here are some things that especially caught my eye this week:

    • Kelly (author of the wildly popular Poetry Friday tradition, and editor of the wonderful online journal The Edge of the Forest) has started a new feature at Big A little a: the Tuesday book review roundup. If you check out her entry for this past week, you'll see that she's included links to all of the children's book reviews that she came across in the blogs in the previous week, neatly categorized by age and genre. It's a wonderful resource. I learned of several new blogs, as well as appreciating the convenience of having a record of all of the reviews right there in one place. I also feel motivated to write more book reviews, in the hope of having them included in next week's entry.
    • Liz B. over at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy has an amusing and envy-inducing write-up of her experience at BookExpo America last week. It's envy-inducing because she "picked up over 60 ARCs and books", and was able to get several books signed. Wow! I think I might have to go to BEA next year. It's in New York the first weekend in June. I have a friend in New York who I bet could be induced to come and hang out there with me. Liz also had some nice praise from author Maryrose Wood for her recent review of the recently challenged Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall In Love.
    • And speaking of meeting authors, A Fuse #8 Production has an interesting post (inspired by a discussion on the Critical Mass blog) about how honest book reviewers can be when they know that they might end up meeting an author personally. I have been wondering about this issue a little bit myself. Not that I've met very many authors, but I have had some nice email chats. I've been fortunate so far, in that I've genuinely liked the books that people have sent me. But what if a nice author goes to the trouble of sending me a copy of a book to review, and I don't care for it? My official policy would be to just not review the book in that case. But I suspect it's easier said than done. Fortunately for us all, the children's and young adult publishers seem to me to be doing a great job providing quality reads. So I don't really expect to have much trouble.
    • Michele at the BLTeens Blog (from the Bryant Library in Roslyn, NY) offers a list of what the Bryant Library offers, in comparison to the lure of American Idol (which recently drew some 50 million votes). I think that people from most libraries will be able to relate.
    • Gregory K. at Gotta Book has a highly inspirational post about how he and a team of other parents and volunteers worked together to bring an L.A. elementary school library from zero to 10,000 books in one year. He says: "It's all a testament to a group of bullheaded parents and volunteers who have worked hard, thought outside the box, gotten lucky, and in the process, dare I say it, have shown a school full of kids how important we think books are. In return, we've been rewarded by seeing how much the kids love the library... love picking out their books... and, it seems to me, genuinely love reading." Do go and read the whole story at Gotta Book. I predict that in the long run, this will be a much more meaningful legacy than even the ever-popular fibs that Greg invented. You should read the comments, too. Also, since writing the post, he's had some nice donations from Gotta Book readers.
    • MotherReader has a hilarious post about how she managed to meet Mo Willems. She talked to him about being a Hot Man of Children's Literature, gave him the link to her blog, got his picture, and got a couple of books signed, too. He also mentioned Susan's blog at Chicken Spaghetti, which I thought was cool and much deserved. But go and read the whole post yourself. It's a lot of fun!.
    • The Disco Mermaids have the next clue to their dePaola Code.
    • Michele at Scholar's Blog has started a new companion blog: Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone. The idea is to be able to talk about books in depth, without worrying about spoilers for people who haven't read the book. I think this is great, because I hate spoilers of books I haven't read, but I do respect Michele's in-depth analysis of the genre. This is a welcome compromise.
    • The Library Lady has a Self-Test for Literature Abuse. Apparently this has been around for a while, but it's the first time I've seen it. Supposedly you might have a serious reading problem if you answer yes to more than five of the twenty-nine items. I answered yes to 16. Hmm...
    • And just in case you missed it, I'm collecting nominations for cool girls of children's literature. I've had great suggestions from Wendy from Blog from the Windowsill, Katie from the First Book Blog, and Liz from A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy. I hope that you'll share your thoughts, too!

    Hope that you're all enjoying the holiday weekend. Happy Memorial Day!

    Happy Birthday, Dana

    Just wanted to say Happy Birthday to my brother Dana, currently serving with the National Guard in Kuwait. Dana, we're all proud of you, and we look forward to having you return home for vacation soon. Hope that you have plenty of books over there - I sent you a classic series, which you can re-read if you like, and/or share with your buddies. Have a great day!

    Love, Jen

    Cool Girls from Kid Lit

    There's been a bit of a discussion going on in the comments of my earlier post this week about the "what woman of classic literature are you?" quiz. I was fairly pleased with being pronounced Elizabeth Bennett. Other visitors were happy to be Jane Eyre, but not so happy to end up the doomed Beth from Little Women. Little Willow said "I really wish there were more results with girls that were from classics that weren't necessarily about sweeping romances." Wendy Betts continued along this line with the suggestion "someone needs to write a real *children's literature* version, with all the cool girls."

    Writing a formal quiz is a bit beyond my time and technology constraints. But I thought that it would be nice to start a list of "cool girls from children's literature." I think that they should be smart and strong and independent, people who would make good role-models for girls today. Here's a start (in alphabetical order, rather than any order of relative coolness):

    1. Anne of Green Gables (L. M. Montgomery)
    2. Caddie Woodlawn (Carol Ryrie Brink)
    3. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling)
    4. Lucy from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia) (C. S. Lewis)
    5. Lyra from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy
    6. Matilda (Roald Dahl)
    7. Meg from A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle)
    8. Meggie from Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart books (she can read people into books)
    9. Nancy Drew (Carolyn Keene)
    10. Pippi Longstocking (and do you know what a real-life hero Astrid Lindgren was/is in Sweden?)
    11. Sara Crewe from A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
    12. Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

    I can think of other female characters, of course, but these struck me as ones who are strong and/or brave, and reasonably well-known. Only Hermione, Meggie and Lyra are from very recent books. I'm not sure if Meggie will stand the test of time, but I do like her. I left off Dorothy Gale, as being a bit too dependent, and Mary from The Secret Garden as being too difficult to like. I picked Meg Murray over Vicky Austin because Meg's problems were centered around saving the world, while Vicky's were more about her love life. But I did think that someone from Madeleine L'Engle's books should be included. And I know that Hermione is a bit of a sidekick, in that the books aren't about her the same way that they're about Harry. But she's so great! She simply insisted on being included.

    What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Who am I missing? I'm sure that once I post this, I'll think of others, too. But I think that together we could come up with a top 20 coolest girls from children's literature list, if we set our minds to it.

    James Patterson Interview with First Book

    A visitor to my site, Paul, commented on my recent review of James Patterson's Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment to bring to my attention an interview that the author did recently with First Book. You can find the interview on the First Book blog (which I wrote about last week). 

    Here are a few highlights from the interview:

    • James Patterson called First Book (which is dedicated to giving books to kids) "the best organization in the world." I think that it's a wonderful organization, too.
    • He feels strongly that it's the adult's job to find fun and interesting books, and get those books into kids' hands. He thinks that reading should be an enjoyable activity, not "drudgery", and that's why he wrote Maximum Ride.
    • When asked why Maximum Ride gets kids reading, he cited "story, story, story", and also the short chapters (which I mentioned in my review) and the fast pace. He said that he gets thousands of letters from kids, and that of all of his books, these are the ones that he's most passionate about.
    • He talked about Pride and Prejudice as one of his favorite books(!).
    • He talked a bit about his PageTurner Awards. In 2006 he's giving away $500,000 to "promote the excitement of books and reading". Specifically, he will give cash prizes to "people, companies, schools and other institutions who find original and effective ways to spread the excitement of books and reading." (These quotes are from the PageTurner Award website, not the First Book interview).

    So, I think we can safely say that James Patterson is passionate about getting kids reading, and that he's willing to put his money where his mouth is. Thanks, Paul, for pointing me to this interview! There are, incidentally, interviews with lots of other children's authors (from the recent BookExpo America) on the First Book blog, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite destinations. (For instance, did you know that yesterday was Towel Day, in honor of the late Douglas Adams? It's true.)

    Poetry Friday: Paul Revere's Ride

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    Listen my children and you shall hear
    Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
    On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
    Hardly a man is now alive
    Who remembers that famous day and year.

    He said to his friend, "If the British march
    By land or sea from the town to-night,
    Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
    Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
    One if by land, and two if by sea;
    And I on the opposite shore will be,
    Ready to ride and spread the alarm
    Through every Middlesex village and farm,
    For the country folk to be up and to arm."

    Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
    Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
    Just as the moon rose over the bay,
    Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
    The Somerset, British man-of-war;
    A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
    Across the moon like a prison bar,
    And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
    By its own reflection in the tide.

    Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
    Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
    Till in the silence around him he hears
    The muster of men at the barrack door,
    The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
    And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
    Marching down to their boats on the shore.

    Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
    By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
    To the belfry chamber overhead,
    And startled the pigeons from their perch
    On the sombre rafters, that round him made
    Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
    By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
    To the highest window in the wall,
    Where he paused to listen and look down
    A moment on the roofs of the town
    And the moonlight flowing over all.

    Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
    In their night encampment on the hill,
    Wrapped in silence so deep and still
    That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
    The watchful night-wind, as it went
    Creeping along from tent to tent,
    And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
    A moment only he feels the spell
    Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
    Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
    For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
    On a shadowy something far away,
    Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
    A line of black that bends and floats
    On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

    Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
    Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
    On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
    Now he patted his horse's side,
    Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
    Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
    And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
    But mostly he watched with eager search
    The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
    As it rose above the graves on the hill,
    Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
    And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
    A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
    He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
    But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
    A second lamp in the belfry burns.

    A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
    A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
    And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
    Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
    That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
    The fate of a nation was riding that night;
    And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
    Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
    He has left the village and mounted the steep,
    And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
    Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
    And under the alders that skirt its edge,
    Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
    Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

    It was twelve by the village clock
    When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
    He heard the crowing of the cock,
    And the barking of the farmer's dog,
    And felt the damp of the river fog,
    That rises after the sun goes down.

    It was one by the village clock,
    When he galloped into Lexington.
    He saw the gilded weathercock
    Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
    And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
    Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
    As if they already stood aghast
    At the bloody work they would look upon.

    It was two by the village clock,
    When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
    He heard the bleating of the flock,
    And the twitter of birds among the trees,
    And felt the breath of the morning breeze
    Blowing over the meadow brown.
    And one was safe and asleep in his bed
    Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
    Who that day would be lying dead,
    Pierced by a British musket ball.

    You know the rest. In the books you have read
    How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
    How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
    >From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
    Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
    Then crossing the fields to emerge again
    Under the trees at the turn of the road,
    And only pausing to fire and load.

    So through the night rode Paul Revere;
    And so through the night went his cry of alarm
    To every Middlesex village and farm,---
    A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
    A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
    And a word that shall echo for evermore!
    For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
    Through all our history, to the last,
    In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
    The people will waken and listen to hear
    The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
    And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

    I picked this poem in honor of my childhood, in Lexington, Massachusetts (home of the first battle of the Revolutionary War). I knew the first stanza of this poem by heart, and found the rest on The E-Server Poetry Collection. They have a lot of other great stuff there, too.

    UPDATE: Here are some other Poetry Friday links for today.

    Children's Literacy Round-Up: May 25th

    Here are the community literacy items that brightened my day this week:

    • The May 20th Rochester Democrat & Chronicle gives a thumbs up to "Alex William, 14, a Bay Trail Middle School student who worked with Cobbles Elementary School's 2nd-graders to collect more than 1,400 books for the RTS Books for Buses program, which promotes literacy by putting books on public buses." Isn't it amazing how many methods people think of for promoting literacy?
    • And, in another inventive way of promoting literacy, the Brunswick News (Georgia) has a May 20th story by Carole Hawkins about an illusionist who uses his skills to promote reading. The illusionist, Ken Scott, "found he could weave stories in and out of his magic performance and get children interested in reading some of the books he used." Fascinating!
    • The Penticton Western News has a May 21st story about the benefits to children from interacting with them, instead of letting them watch television. The article references the American Academy of Physicians, as well as a research study carried out by the University of Munich.
    • Ms. Magazine's online newswire describes a recent study by Save The Children. The study report that "(t)he health of children is "inextricably linked" to the health and education of their mothers." In Sweden, the country that scored highest in the report "literacy is almost universal, nearly every birth is attended by a health professional, and only 1 in 333 babies will die before his or her first birthday."
    • I found two fun articles about community book festivals on May 24th. In a Muscatine Journal (Iowa) article, Cynthia Beaudette describes a local elementary school's day-long celebration of reading at Camp-Read-A-Lot. In the Harrisonburg (Virginia) Daily News Record, Tom Mitchell recaps the fourth annual WVPT Kids’ Book Festival. The local public television station "began the festival to inform the public on the importance of getting pre-schoolers to enjoy books early." Doesn't it make you happy just reading about these festivals dedicated to getting kids excited about books?
    • I also enjoyed this article by Howard Yune in the May 24th Marysville-Yuba City Appeal-Democrat. It's about a national program that has been working with a local county library to "bring youngsters and their parents together through books." The program (Prime Time Family Reading Time) is particularly focused on families where the parents have difficulty reading in English. The idea is to help both the kids and the parents to end up as life-long readers.

    Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment: James Patterson

    On my trip to Minneapolis this week, I read James Patterson's Maximum Ride : The Angel Experiment, a young adult novel newly released in paperback. I saw this book reviewed recently at Scholar's Blog, and was intrigued by the premise. The story is about a "family" of six kids, ranging in age from six to 14, who live on their own. What bonds them together is the fact that they were all genetically engineered in a horrific laboratory called "The School." The kids are 98% human, but also have 2% bird DNA. As a result, they have unusual strength and abilities (including flight). They escaped from The School four years earlier, and lived with their rescuer/mentor for two years, until he disappeared. As the story begins, the kids are attacked by creepy, super-strong predators sent by The School, and one of the kid-bird hybrids (Angel) is kidnapped. The other five embark on a cross-country trip to rescue her, and to find out more about themselves.

    The book is filled with danger, battles, evil experiments, betrayal, loyalty, surprises, and a quest to save the world. What keeps it from being a two-dimensional movie of the week is the strong relationship between the six kids, and their own internal vulnerabilities. The character that we get to know best is the Maximum Ride (Max) of the title, who takes her responsibility as the oldest hybrid seriously, and tries to be a mother/leader to the group. Lots of things are left hanging at the end of the book, ready for the sequel (Maximum Ride: School's Out Forever).

    I did notice a couple of coincidences in the book that struck me as ridiculous (a pet peeve of mine). Just as the kids need to change their appearance, they come across a salon advertising free makeovers. There's also a scene in which Max stumbles around lost in the woods, finally finds one lit-up house, and it just happens to be the home of someone she's helped earlier in the day. I don't know why these coincidence bother me so much, when I can accept the whole premise of human/bird hybrids without a problem, but there you have it. I think that the use of coincidence as a plot device, especially when you already have license to bend lots of rules because of the book's overall premise, is lazy.

    Overall, I did enjoy the book, though I wouldn't call it fine literature. It's fast-paced, with short chapters, and plenty of cliff-hangers. I think that it will be a hit with reluctant readers (especially after the inevitable movie comes out) in the early teen age range. I mean, what kid hasn't dreamed of how cool it would be to be able to fly, and to live without parents or school?

    I have to admit for myself that I'm interested to read the sequel. I want to know what happens next to Max and the other kids. And that's saying something, because I have fiercely boycotted Patterson's adult books ever since someone gave me one that featured two serial killer/predators plucking innocent young girls from the Duke University Gardens. I went to school at Duke, and was absolutely horrified at this gratuitous evil in my happy college setting. Yet I was compelled to finish the book, to make sure that things ended up o.k. It still makes me shudder to think of it.

    But that said, if you're looking for a good airplane read, or you know a kid who is fascinated by the idea of genetic engineering and mutants with super-powers (a bit like X-Men, come to think of it), Maximum Ride is worth checking out.

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