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Posts from July 2006

A Few More Cool Boys

My thanks to all you who have contributed to the list of Cool Boys of Children's Literature. The previous lists are here and here. I've had a few more suggestions (listed below), but I have to say that the Cool Boys are lagging behind the 200 Cool Girls of Children's Literature a bit. The list is now at 159. I'm going to publish the complete list on Friday. So, consider this the last call for suggestions for now. The boys on the list should be brave, smart, independent and funny (and fictional, usually). Thanks again to everyone who has contributed so far!

  1. Andy from Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty
  2. Andy from the Andy Russell series (e.g. The Many Troubles of Andy Russell) by David A. Adler
  3. Brian from Hatchet, Brian's Winter, etc. by Gary Paulsen
  4. Cody from the series (e.g. Hey, New Kid!) by Betsy Duffey
  5. Curdie from The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
  6. David from Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  7. Dink from A to Z Mysteries series (e.g. The Bald Bandit) by Ron Roy
  8. Eric and Neal from the Secrets of Droon series by Tony Abbott
  9. Fritz, Franz, Jack, and Ernest, the brothers from The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
  10. Haroun from Haroun and the Sea of Storiesby Salman Rushdie
  11. Henry from The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  12. Henry from Henry and Mudge series (starting with Henry And Mudge First Book) by Cynthia Rylant
  13. Jack from the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne
  14. Jacob Two-Two from Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang and others by Mordecai Richler
  15. Jella from The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
  16. Juan de Pareja from I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Burton De Tevio
  17. Julian from Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
  18. Larry from The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashjian
  19. Lewis Barnavelt from The House with a Clock in Its Walls (and sequels) by John Bellairs
  20. Lief from the Deltora Quest series (starting with The Forests of Silence) by Emily Rodda
  21. Luke from the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  22. Matt and Attean from The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
  23. Merlin from the Young Merlin Trilogy (starting with Passager) by Jane Yolen
  24. Nate from the Nate the Great series by Marjorie Sharmat
  25. Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny from The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter
  26. Robbie from Leaving Protection by Will Hobbs
  27. Rowan from the Rowan of Rin series by Emily Rodda
  28. Rudy from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  29. Snipp, Snapp and Snurr, the three Swedish brothers from the books (e.g. Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Buttered Bread) by Maj Lindman
  30. Tom Brown from Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes
  31. Tom Canty and Edward Tudor, from The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
  32. Vince from Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman
  33. Zack from The Zack Files (starting with My Great-grandpa's in the Litter Box) by Dan Greenburg and Jack E. Davis

Contributors and Commenters So Far:

People Who Have Linked to the Cool Boys Lists

If I missed you, please let me know. And if you have any other cool boys to suggest for the list, let me know that, too. Thanks!

Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature

So, have you been over to Big A little a today to check out the Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature? For those of you who are new to this whole thing, a carnival is a collection of links on a related topic, carefully assembled and remarked upon by the host. In this instance, the talented Kelly Herold brings us a three witches theme (with apologies to William Shakespeare).

There's lots of great stuff to be found! New bloggers, highlights from the work of old acquaintances, and general mirth and magic. Head on over and check it out.

The sixth carnival will be held at the Castle of the Immaculate. You can find prior editions here, here, here, and here. If you'd like to host a future carnival, the person to contact is Melissa Wiley at Here in the Bonny Glen. Happy reading!   

Cool Teachers from Children's Lit

OK, this one isn't my list. But I did want to bring it to your attention. Mary Lee and Franki are two teachers who have a blog called A Year of Reading. Over the course of this year, they hope to read the book that ends up winning the Newbery. Not to pick it, just to have read it.

Over the weekend, partly inspired by the Cool Girls and Cool Boys of Children's Literature, Mary Lee and Franki started a list of Cool Teachers of Children's Literature. They hope to get the list up to 100 "thoughtful teachers who understand kids and learning and are active, intelligent people who love their work." I know that there are many such teachers in real life - let's help Franki and Mary Lee to find them in literature. If you have suggestions, you can add them as comments to the original post on A Year of Reading (don't put them here, because it's not my list).

Maybe someone should also start a list of cool librarians of children's literature... Just a thought, for all you librarians out there.

The Dark Hills Divide: Patrick Carman

This week I read the first book in Patrick Carman's The Land of Elyon series, The Dark Hills Divide. This is a middle grade fantasy series that I would personally put at the easier end of the reading spectrum for that age group. It's the story of 12-year-old Alexa Daley, daughter of the mayor of the town of Lathbury, in the land of Elyon. Alexa and her father go, as usual, to spend the summer in the capital city of Bridewell, joining the other leaders of the kingdom, Warvold and Ganesh, and other Bridewell residents. Bridewell, like the other towns in the kingdom, is surrounded by high walls. Even the roads between the towns are surrounded by the same walls, so that none can leave the kingdom, and no dangers can enter within. The walls are both literal and figurative, sheltering but also stifling.

Warvold, the elderly local hero who championed the building of the walls in the first place has a key that allows him outside of the walls. Shortly after her arrival in Bridewell, Warvold takes Alexa for a short walk in the wood beyond. He imparts some words of wisdom to her ("If you make something your life's work, make sure it's something you can feel good about when you're an old relic like me."), as well as a cryptic poem, and then he dies. Warvold's death sets in a motion a series of political events for the kingdom, and a related series of personal adventures for Alexa.

Alexa is an excellent heroine. She's brave, curious, and just a touch disobedient. And she loves books. Her favorite place in a Bridewell is a marvelous old library, filled with crooked rows of shelves, mysterious old books, and cozy, dust-filled corners for reading, not to mention a kindred spirit of a librarian named Grayson. Alexa's adventures include a difficult journey, secret tunnels, talking animals, the deciphering of hidden clues, and the challenge of not knowing who to trust. The other characters in the book are mostly likable, especially the small man Yipes and the easily excitable squirrel Murphy. Even the vile Pervis, captain of the guards, has his appealing qualities. 

Overall, I think that this book will appeal to younger fans of fantasy novels. The plot has plenty of twists and turns, and the atmosphere varies from brooding menace to magical possibility. The symbolism of the walls, and the questions raised about safety vs. freedom, add substance to the  book. I don't think that the series will appeal quite as much to adult readers of children's books. The talking animals are a bit precious. I also personally found the fact that Alexa is the only child in the book a bit off-putting, for some reason (though only children might relate to Alexa's life among adults). But I think that for kids looking to escape to a fantasy world, but not quite ready for lengthier novels like Inkheart and Eragon will find much to like. 

The books in this series started out as bedtime stories that the author told to his two daughters (perhaps explaining the presence of the strong female lead character). Asked about his knowledge of children's books, Patrick Carman responded "... I did a lot of research, and I just like those stories anyway. I just like youth fiction myself. I read it just because I like to read it. You know, they just tend to be good, fun stories." A man after my own heart!

Book: The Dark Hills Divide: The Land of Elyon, Book 1
Author: Patrick Carman
Publisher: Scholastic
Original Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 251
Age Range: 8-12

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

Sunday Afternoon Visits: July 23rd

It was a fairly quiet week in the kidlitosphere, with quite a few people on vacation, and the heat wave that seems to be everywhere keeping people from their computers. I do, however, have a few tidbits for you.

  • If you haven't checked it out yet, I highly recommend visiting the new Children's Book Reviews site that Kelly Herold set up last week. The idea is to organize children's and young adult book reviews by category, with links to each original review on the contributor's own website. There are already links to approximately 75 middle grade fiction reviews, plus many in other categories. You can find a list of reviewers who have agreed to participate in this effort at Big A little a. Kudos to Kelly for taking on this excellent project!
  • Continuing a discussion that I mentioned last week, about the difference between one's online persona and one's real persona (initiated by Jennifer at Snapshot), Jen Rouse discusses the use of one's real identity on a blog, vs. using cute fake names. Jen also has a horrifying picture on her site, from the new Pottery Barn catalog. I can't bear to describe it. You'll have to click through to see.
  • Miss Snark has published (with some help from Publisher's Weekly) a list of upcoming book festivals for the fall. Hat tip to A Fuse #8 Production for the link.
  • Maryrose Wood quoted from my review of the delightful Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love on her blog. It's so nice to be in the Kittens' good graces! 
  • Rick Riordan has announced the title of his third Percy Jackson and the Olympians book. Rick also includes several hints about the story. Fans should definitely head on over to check out this post. Thanks to Camille at Book Moot for the link.
  • And speaking of authors, Gail Gauthier takes on the question of whether or not young adult novels should include messages of hope and redemption. In response to a New York Times Book review by Polly Shulman, Gail says "when I read Shulman's review, I couldn't apply it to anything I'd learned about providing redemption and hope for the young. All I could do was think, "How condescending."" You go Gail! I've always hated books that try to convey some overt message to kids. I think that children's books should be about the story. The inclusion of positive values like bravery and loyalty is absolutely great, as long as they're part of the story. I don't personally think that books should have some sort of carefully contrived message regarding future expected behavior. I can't wait for my expected copy of Happy Kid!
  • Shannon Hale has posted the first chapter of her upcoming book, River Secrets. However, she warns of spoilers, for those who haven't read The Goose Girl or Enna Burning. I have Goose Girl high up on my to be read list, so I'll have to wait a bit.
  • PJ Librarian at The Magic of Books laments the impact of her reading habit on the behavior her now book-obsessed (and book-eating) 17-month-old. It's fun stuff!
  • Buried in the Slush Pile asks readers to contribute tales of bad school visits. So far the winner is Alan Silberberg (author of Pond Scum), forced to discuss body odor with 11-year-olds.
  • And last, but definitely not least, the Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at Big A little a. Be sure to check it out! I've only just caught a glimpse, but it looks like a lot of fun.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: July 21st

Here are the community literacy news stories that caught my eye this week:

  • In a particularly tragic story, an elementary school librarian from Seattle, Mary Cooper, and her daughter, Susanna Cooper Stodden, were murdered while hking together on the Pinnacle Lake Trail. Students from the elementary school constructed a memorial for Mary, and her family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Seattle Public Library Foundation for Children's Literacy Programs. How can things like this happen?
  • On a brighter note, the Morgan County Citizen has an article about the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy. Robin Ferst was inspired to start the foundation after reading about Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. "In the six years that the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy has been in existence, Robin Ferst has sent 352,000 books to 19,000 children all over Georgia." My favorite part of the article is about how Robin will go to great lengths to sign people up for the program: "I've been known to stick [forms] in baby carriages at Friday night football games," she said. That's determination to help kids have access to books!
  • And in Charlotte, NC, kids who are at risk of failing in school are attending literacy camps this summer. You can read about it in an article by David Perlmutt from the July 15th Charlotte Observer. The article cites several kids who have learned to love reading through the program.
  • A retired couple, Harry and Lela Schlitz, have been touring southern CA with their retired sled dogs, "to encourage children to read and teach them the importance of teamwork". You can read about them in a July 15th Ventura County Star article by Simona Gallegos.

Poetry Friday: The Story of the Treasure Seekers

Today's poetry Friday entry comes courtesy of "a lady in spectacles in the corner" of a train in Chapter 4 of Edith Nesbit's The Story of the Treasure Seekers. This poem was written for a boy, and seemed fitting in light of my current focus on the list of cool boys of children's literature.

"Oh when I wake up in my bed
And see the sun all fat and red,
I'm glad to have another day
For all my different kinds of play.

There are so many things to do --
The things that make a man of you,
If grown-ups did not get so vexed
And wonder what you will do next.

I often wonder whether they
Ever made up our kinds of play --
If they were always good as gold
And only did what they were told.

They like you best to play with tops
And toys in boxes, bought in shops;
They do not even know the names
Of really interesting games.

They will not let you play with fire
Or trip your sister up with wire,
They grudge the tea-tray for a drum,
Or booby-traps when callers come.

They don't like fishing, and it's true
You sometimes soak a suit or two:
They look on fireworks, though they're dry,
With quite a disapproving eye.

They do not understand the way
To get the most out of your day:
They do not know how hunger feels
Nor what you need between your meals.

And when you're sent to bed at night
They're happy, but they're not polite,
For through the door you hear them say:
'He's done his mischief for the day!'"

UPDATE: Here are some other Poetry Friday entries for this week. There are a bunch of new to me entrants this time, several of whom I found through A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy (thanks, Liz!).

That's all for now! Let me know if I missed you, and have a great weekend.

66 More Cool Boys of Children's Literature

Thanks to a variety of contributors (listed below) the list of cool boys of children's literature is now up to 126. Lagging behind the cool girls list a bit, but it's still early. I welcome your feedback. Many thanks to those who have contributed so far, and to those who have linked to the list! Here are the new additions to the list:

  1. Aaron from The Fallen quartet by Thomas E. Sniegoski
  2. Alec Ramsay from The Black Stallion (and sequels) by Walter Farley
  3. Alex Rider from the series (starting with Stormbreaker) by Anthony Horowitz
  4. Almanzo from Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  5. Andrew (Ender) Wiggin from Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  6. Arthur in The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White
  7. Arthur P. from the Keys of the Kingdom series (starting with Mister Monday) by Garth Nix
  8. Ben from Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
  9. Benny and Henry from The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  10. Billy from Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  11. Boris, er, Morris from Freaky Friday and A Billion for Boris by Mary Rodgers
  12. Boy 412 from Magyk by Angie Sage
  13. Bran from The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
  14. John and Roger from Swallows and Amazons and the sequels by Arthur Ransome
  15. Danny from Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard
  16. Danny from Danny, the Champion of the World (Puffin Novels) by Roald Dahl
  17. David from The Boy Who Lost His Facee by Louis Sachar
  18. Dickon from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  19. Edek B. & Jan from Escape from Warsaw (Original title: The Silver Sword) by Ian Serraillier
  20. Edmund Pevensie (only in Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) by C. S. Lewis
  21. Eugenides from The Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner
  22. Florin from Mimus by Lilli Thal
  23. Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
  24. Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  25. Harvey from Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
  26. Homer Price from Homer Price, Centerburg Tales: More Adventures of Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
  27. Indigo Casson from Saffy's Angel (and sequels) by Hilary McKay
  28. Jack from the Prowlers quartet by Christopher Golden
  29. James from James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  30. Jeffrey from the The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
  31. Jemmy and Prince Brat (Horace) from The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
  32. Joe from Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight
  33. Jon from The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key
  34. Jonathan inThe Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh
  35. Ken from My Friend Flicka and Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O'Hara
  36. Laurie from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  37. Mario from The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
  38. Mark Severson from Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Alden R. Carter
  39. Matthew Martin from the series (starting with Everyone Else's Parents said Yes) by Paula Danziger
  40. Merry Brandybuck The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
  41. Mowgli from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  42. Nathaniel Bowditch from Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
  43. Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling
  44. Nicholas from Master Skylark by Jonn Bennett
  45. Nick from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  46. Oliver from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  47. Oliver from Pond Scum by Alan Silberberg
  48. Omri and Little Bear from The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
  49. Pagan Kidrouk from Pagan series (starting with Pagan's Crusade) by Catherine Jinks
  50. Parker from The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
  51. Pepito (aka the Bad Hat) from the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans
  52. Peter Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
  53. Pip from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  54. Pippin Took The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
  55. Ponyboy from The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
  56. Ralph from the autobiographical Little Britches series (starting with Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers) by Ralph Moody
  57. Robbie Hewitt from Preacher's Boy by Katherine Patterson
  58. Robin from The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
  59. Robin Hood from The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green or The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
  60. Sam Gamgee The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
  61. Simon & Jared Grace from The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
  62. Smith by Leon Garfield
  63. Taran from The Prydain Chronicles (starting with The Book of Three) by Lloyd Alexander
  64. Tien Pao from The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong
  65. Travis from Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
  66. William from The Castle in the Attic and The Battle for the Castle by Elizabeth Winthrop

Contributors and Commenters So Far:

People Who Linked to the Original Cool Boys List

Rash: Pete Hautman

Rash by Pete Hautman is a wry look at a possible 2070s United States, now called the USSA (United Safer States of America? United Socialist States of America?). In this dystopian society, Americans (as well as people in most other countries) have traded freedom and independence for safety. It's no longer legal to play football, or to run without wearing extensive padding a helmet. Alcohol, cigarettes, temper tantrums, hunting, large dogs - all illegal. Three quarters of people over the age of ten are on the drug Levulor, which slows their reflexes, and helps them to keep their tempers in check.

Levulor apparently doesn't work all that well, though, because twenty-four percent of adults are in prison. The government uses prison labor to do the jobs that other people don't want to do, like cleaning septic systems, working on roads, and making frozen food products. People are carted off for all sorts of minor infractions (including "self-mutilation", which can include weighing too much), because their labor is needed in the work camps.

Rash is the story of sixteen-year-old Bo, who lives with his ineffectual mother and his nostalgic Gramps, while his father and older brother are off in prison. Sandbagged by a rival, Bo is unfairly blamed for a mysterious rash that spreads through his school. Pushed to the breaking point, he lashes out against his rival, and is sentenced to three years of labor in a prison camp up in the (former) Canadian tundra. The workers in this camp spend 18 hours a day, seven days a week, making pizzas. The camp actually reminded me a lot of the youth offender camp in Holes, but set in a much colder climate.

Taken out of the protective cushion of society, Bo encounters things he's never seen before. Deliberate violence and cruelty. Football. Polar bears. And, surprisingly, the feeling of being part of a team. Meanwhile, an artificial intelligence agent that Bo created before he left evolves into a sentient being called Bork. Bork starts communicating with Bo, and works to rescue him from a land of endless pizza and football.

I liked double-entendre of "rash" in the book. Bo is wrongly accused of creating a rash. His real crime is his own rash behavior, in a society where being rash is just about the worst thing a person can be. I also enjoyed the character of Gramps, constantly reminiscing about his youth (when people could actually own guns, and buy beer in restaurants, and wear sneakers). Bork is also a lot of fun - Hautman does a nice job of capturing his gradual shift from computer to independent thinker, and his development of a sense of humor.

Overall, I found Rash to be a fast read, one that grabbed my attention from the first page, and didn't let go until I finished. Of course, I am partial to dystopian novels. In addition to reminding me of Holes, Rash evoked a more benign 1984. What's disturbing about this book is that our society is right now on a slippery slope, trading off freedom for safety. We face these questions every day. Hautman takes a look at how sterile and monotonous our society could become, if this balance slips too far. He does this while simultaneously giving us a fast-moving plot with teen-friendly trappings (hand-held computers, artificial intelligence, pizza, football, and teen male posturing). All in all, I found it to be a masterful accomplishment from this National Book Award winning author (for Godless).

Book: Rash
Author: Pete Hautman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Original Publication Date: 2006
Pages: 249
Age Range: 14 and up

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

The Invisible Detective: Shadow Beast: Justin Richards

Shadow Beast is the second book in Justin Richards' Invisible Detective series (I reviewed the first book here). These are quick mysteries featuring the alternating viewpoints of Arthur Drake, living in modern-day London, and Art, living in 1930's London. Most of the story concerns Art, head of a group of young detectives called the Cannoniers who, together, comprise the mysterious Invisible Detective. They're much like Sherlock Holmes' Baker Street Irregulars, only without Holmes to guide them. They do have Art's Dad, a Scotland Yard detective, and another older mentor, Charlie, to help them out from time to time. And people believe that they work for Brandon Lake, the non-existent Invisible Detective.

In this installment, Art and the other Cannoniers (Meg, Jonny, and Flinch) are asked by a stranger, Mr. Fredericks, to help search for his missing cat, Tiger. It quickly becomes clear that Mr. Fredericks is hiding something, especially after Tiger turns up torn apart. Rumors start to surface regarding other dead cats, and sightings of a mysterious, rat-like beast in the sewer drains. Meanwhile, in the modern world, Arthur and his grandfather are also on the trail of a mysterious beast, one that has resurfaced in London. Both stories feature plenty of creepy Gothic horror scenes, with rats that over-run a house, a disappearing grandfather, and mysterious creatures roaming about in slimy sewers. A good half of the story takes place below ground. Of course there are opportunities for bravery and cleverness on the part of Arthur and the Cannoniers, too.

I didn't find this book quite so compelling as the first book in the series, because some of the mystery has gone out of the alternating viewpoints. In the first book the relationship between Arthur and Art is unclear (are they the same person, traveling through time? They have the same handwriting, and live in the same house, and both have cops for fathers). In the second book, we know that Art is Arthur's grandfather and namesake. However, there are still interesting time slips, in which Art sees images of things from Arthur's world, and vice versa. Unraveling these mysteries will keep me coming back for more.

This is a very quick read, and the alternating viewpoints should keep reluctant readers turning the pages. I think that these books will especially appeal to fans of John Bellairs books (The House with a Clock in its Walls, etc.), as well as to kids who have outgrown the Goosebumps books. The kids in both storylines are plucky and appealing, with the homeless girl Flinch a particularly sympathetic character. I recommend this series for middle grade fans of mystery or creepy suspense. 

Book: Invisible Detective: Shadow Beast
Author: Justin Richards
Publisher: C. P. Putnam's Sons
Original Publication Date: 2003
Pages: 172
Age Range: 9-12

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

New Index of Children's Book Reviews

Kid lit maven Kelly Herold (creator of the Big A little a blog, and editor of the online children's literature journal The Edge of the Forest) has started a new collaborative website for organizing and categorizing the many book reviews published in the Kidlitosphere. It's still a work in progress, but I think that it's a great idea, and I've indexed all of my blog reviews there (in addition to the index on my GrowingBookworms site, which I'll also be maintaining).

If you are someone who publishes children's book reviews on your site, I encourage you to participate. You can find out more information here. And if you don't write reviews of your own, but are interested in reading about excellent children's books, the Children's Book Reviews website should be a great resource. I've already found some reviews of Kelly's that I missed, for books that I'm very interested to read. Kudos to Kelly for thinking of this, and for taking action to set up the site!   

Happy reading to all!

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

A Room on Lorelei Street: Mary E. Pearson

Mary E. Pearson's A Room on Lorelei Street is gripping and well-written, a bleak story with streaks of hope. A Room on Lorelei Street is the story of Zoe, a 17-year-old girl burdened by a difficult family. Her father is dead, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, and her mother pretty much lives inside the bottle. Her beloved younger brother has been sent away to live with a more stable aunt and uncle, who have no room for Zoe, while Zoe is left to care for her irresponsible and needy mother.

One day Zoe sees a sign advertising a room for rent in a gracious home on Lorelei Street. She is unable to resist the lure of getting away from her mother, and of being in a place that's all her own, clean and quiet and safe. She rents the room (more of a studio apartment) from the quirky but kind Opal, and finds it everything she has dreamed of. However the ties of family and guilt are not so easy to break, and Zoe struggles with continuing demands from her family. She also struggles financially, not really able to afford living on her own while working part time while attending high school. But she's not willing to go back, either.

This book made me think about all of the things that I took for granted growing up: clean clothes, abundant food, parents to attend any plays or recitals that I was in, siblings who lived in the same house. Zoe is painfully in need of someone to care about her, to put her needs first, to be what family is supposed to be. When Opal attends one of her tennis matches and cheers for her, it brings tears to Zoe's eyes. She considers it the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for her. How sad is that? How many kids are there who have no one to care about them?

The ways in which Zoe acts out are not surprising, given her background, and are treated matter-of-factly by the author. The looming menace of what she will or won't do to earn money to afford her Lorelei Street haven is more disturbing. Toward the end of the book, things get increasingly difficult for Zoe, and the fragile ties tethering her to the community snap one by one. What keeps Zoe going are a few precious memories of her father's belief in her potential, and her own unquenchable sense of possibility.

Zoe is a strong character, a teenage girl facing situations far beyond her years. Her landlady, Opal, is delightful, glowing with enthusiasm, despite the hardships in her life. The small, depressed town of Ruby, Texas is almost a character in the book, too. Ruby is beaten down and insular, without much economic potential, but the stars still shine overhead. And there are still beautiful rooms on Lorelei Street.

This is a book that will make you think. About the connections between people. About what kids need from their parents. About what makes some people keep going, while others give up. About where responsibilities to family end, and responsibility to self beings. Mary Pearson's writing is spare and  elegant, with just enough detail to make the scenes pictured painfully clear. I think that it will particularly resonate with teenagers, male or female, struggling to find their place in the world.

A Room on Lorelei Street won the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Golden Kite Award for fiction published in 2005. This is the only major children's book award given by the writer's peers.

Book: A Room on Lorelei Street
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Original Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 266
Age Range: 14 and up

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