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Posts from August 2006

Children's Literacy Round-Up: August 14

Sorry that I've been remiss in reporting the children's literacy-related news lately. I've been having a bit of trouble keeping up. However, here are some tidbits for you:

  • According to an August 11th article in the Australian, "children exposed to live arts performances have better literacy." A research study found that attending live arts performances over a three year period had an impact on childrens' learning and language skills. The article wasn't detailed enough to tell me how they separated out correlation from causation (wouldn't kids who are routinely attending live arts programs be more likely to be read to at home, say?), but it's still an interesting notion.
  • There always seems to be a lot going on, children's literacy-wise, in Canada. A recent Chronicle Herald article announced that $200,000 (Canadian) worth of books were donated to a Pictou County literacy program launched by the police. The idea of the police using literacy programs to help prevent future crimes is not new (I've previously written about the Cops-N-Kids program on this site), but it's one of those ideas that just makes sense. You can read more at the Adopt-A-Library literacy program website (motto: Better to see them in libraries now than in trouble with the law later).
  • According to an August 11th article on stuff.co.nz, "as part of a $2 million Massey University family literacy and learning project, children will visit their fathers in Kaitoke Prison, near Wanganui, to share one-on-one reading time." There is some concern, however, that "unless adequate support systems for the children (are) in place it could be emotionally scarring."
  • I found this article through the Washington Post parenting newsletter. According to a July 25th article in The Book Standard, "consumer trend-tracking company Yankelovich has released a study demonstrating the power J.K. Rowling has on children’s reading habits." Upon being interviewed, many kids (especially boys) said that they did not read for fun before the Harry Potter books came along, but that they do now. They, and their parents, believe that their school performance has improved because of this. Which just goes to show the power of a good book (or series of books)!

Sunday Afternoon Visits: August 13

I've been a bit behind on my blog reading, due mostly to back to back trips. However, I was able to spend some time catching up today. OK, a lot of time, as afternoon visits have gradually morphed into evening visits. Here are a few things that particularly caught my eye:

  • Liz B. at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy has a compiled set of recommendations for getting kids to read the classics. She has some great suggestions!
  • A Fuse #8 Production breaks the news about Meg Cabot going corporate by teaming up with Clinique. Numerous site visitors, including other young adult authors, have voiced their concerns in the comments. The biggest concern seems to be that Meg is crossing a line by endorsing a particular cosmetics line because she has such a huge influence over her fans. I think my primary reaction to the whole thing is disappointment, because I've really liked many of Meg Cabot's books, and it does feel a bit ... off. But I do agree with Leila from bookshelves of doom that Tamora Pierce's response to the issue is very cool.
  • The next Carnival of Children's Literature will be held August 18th at the Castle of the Immaculate. Submissions are due by August 16th, and can be made here, using the handy Blog Carnival submission form.
  • A post on A Year of Reading brought to my attention the fact that TheBookDragon is on a quest to find 100 librarians from children's and young adult literature. The librarians on this list don't have to be "cool". It's ok if they're mean, as long as they're great characters. Don't forget A Year of Reading's list of Cool Teachers from Children's Literature, too. The list is now up to 59.
  • Chris Barton's Blog tipped me off to an interesting new blog called Anneographies. Every day (or just about every day since she's started), children's picture book author Anne Bustard links to a children's book biography about someone born that day. For instance, today is Annie Oakley's birthday. How come I didn't know about all the cool Austin-based children's book authors and illustrators when I was living there? Oh, because I was in engineering grad school then... Thank goodness for the Internet.
  • I don't usually highlight specific book reviews in my Sunday visits, (since there are so many of them), but I did want to point out Colleen Mondor's latest column in Bookslut. She reviews several new books that feature bookish heroines (those who are smart, and love books). I'll certainly be reading several of the books that Colleen highlights. See also her blog post about the article.
  • Gregory K has started an entertaining new list on GottaBook: famous authors and the children's books they'd write. For example, "Freud -- My Potty Book for Boys" and "Clancy -- We Spy". You can find my offerings in the comments.
  • There's an interesting discussion on ReadRoger about a new series of ultra-abridged classics. Or, as Roger calls them, Abridge Too Far.
  • Mitali Perkins publishes some statistics from the Cooperative Children's Book Center about multicultural children's books. The numbers are surprisingly bleak. I'm with Mitali in finding "the low numbers in the Latino column striking, given the changing demographics in the U.S."
  • Melissa at Pop Goes the Library offers a thoughtful response to a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article entitled: Parents Beware: Some Books Are Full of Bilge. The real problem that the Inquirer author (Karen Heller) seems to have run across is that when her daughter reads books that are above her age level, she sometimes finds inappropriate material. What I say is, isn't that why books have age levels? I know that when I review books, I take the content, in addition to the age range, into account when I suggest a reading level. But it's an interesting discussion.

And that's quite enough for now. It's great to be back!


Poetry Friday: Green Eggs and Ham

This week's entry comes courtesy of Dr. Seuss, and of the fascinating Wikipedia entry about the book Green Eggs and Ham. Did you know that in the U.S., green eggs used to be a term for scrambled eggs made with herbs? So Wikipedia says, anyway. Here is an excerpt from the book, taken from their post:

"I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am."

As a relatively picky eater, I always appreciated this book. I'm traveling for a couple of days, but I'll try to come back with some links later in the weekend. Happy Friday!

UPDATE: Here are some links to Poetry Friday entries that I ran across today (Sunday). You can find others listed at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy.


Book Meme

Kelly over at Big A little a borrowed this book meme, and requested that the kidlitosphere respond. Here are my answers:

1. One book that changed your life?

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.

2. One book you have read more than once?

I re-read Pride and Prejudice every couple of years. But I've re-read many, many children's books from my childhood, most recently The Four-Story Mistake, by Elizabeth Enright.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

I'll have to go with Pride and Prejudice here, too.

4. One book that made you laugh?

So many choices... Most recently, Happy Kid! Also RULES by Cynthia Lord.

5. One book that made you cry?

Most recently, Yellow Star, by Jennifer Roy. I also always cry at the end of Anne of Green Gables.

6. One book you wish had been written?

I can't really think of anything here. But I do wish that Harry Potter 7 would be published soon.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Kiss the Girls, by James Patterson. It's a serial killer/predator novel set at Duke, where I did my undergrad degree. While I couldn't help finishing it (because it was compelling), it made my skin crawl. I did really like Patterson's Maximum Ride, however, so I'm not holding it against him.

8. One book you are currently reading?

Happy Kid! by Gail Gauthier. I'm also about to read Wizards at War by Diane Duane.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud.

10. Now tag 5 people.

Oh, I think that everyone has been virtually tagged by Kelly already. But if you do decide to play, drop a note in the comments.

UPDATE: This meme has really taken off among the kidlitosphere. You can find a pretty comprehensive list of posts at Big A little a. A couple that I ran across that I didn't see on Kelly's list can be found at:


Pirates!: Celia Rees

Mheir and I have been going through a bit of a pirate phase, in honor of our recent Caribbean vacation. So I bought him Pirates!, a young adult novel by Celia Rees. Of course, I had to read it, too. Pirates! is the story of Nancy Kington, the impetuous daughter of a wealthy 18th century sugar merchant and slave trader. Nancy grows up in Bristol, England, more or less untamed after the early death of her mother, and in love with her childhood friend William, a sailor. Upon her father's untimely death, however, Nancy's brothers and stepmother conspire to marry her off to a wealthy and sadistic older man. She is sent to the family sugar plantation in Jamaica, where her suitor, Bartholome, plans to seek her hand.

At the family plantation, Nancy is appalled to learn how her family's fortune has been built on the suffering of slaves. She meets and comes to care for two slaves, the housekeeper Phillis and her daughter Minerva. Eventually the situations with Bartholome and with the vicious overseer at her own plantation come to a head. Nancy, Phillis, and Minerva are forced to escape into the wilderness. Still running from Bartholome, Nancy and Minerva become unlikely pirates, and close friends. As pirates, they have many adventures and escapades, while struggling to find their place in the world.

Pirates! is an exciting read, featuring two strong and resourceful heroines, and lots of swashbuckling adventure. It casts a realistically grim light on the slave trade, and might be a bit dark for younger children. But it's an excellent book for young adults. Rees includes plenty of historical detail, but never so much detail as to overwhelm the story. Her characters are realistic, with fears and insecurities, but are also (where applicable) brave and loyal. The book opens up potential discussions about the role of women, the nature of friendship, and the way that people of different races are treated. The paperback edition includes a reading group discussion guide, as well as an interview with Celia Rees and a glossary of pirate terminology. I highly recommend this book for anyone (young adult or adult) looking for history and/or adventure.

Book: Pirates!
Author: Celia Rees
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Original Publication Date: 2003
Pages: 380
Age Range: 12 and up

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


Slowly Getting Back to Normal

I'm back in California, after an exhausting whirlwind tour of the northeastern states (Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, to be exact). I'm catching up with work, and probably won't be back up to full blog speed for a couple of days. But I do have two article links to share with you:

  • Anatopsis author Chris Abouzeid has an excellent fantasy book review column in this Sunday's Boston Globe. Chris discusses what fantasy writers need to do to discover new, fresh material, observing that "a surprising number of young-adult fantasy authors have chosen to put all the medieval baggage in storage and head for the Age of Enlightenment (and beyond)". As one who is a bit burned out on the standard medieval trappings of fantasy novels, I consider this cause for celebration. He proceeds to offer brief reviews of six fantasy (and fantasy-like) young adult novels. So many great books to read! I especially want to read Fly By Night and Monster Blood Tattoo.
  • Mocking Birdies author Annette Simon brought to my attention an article about gender differences in reading, from Saturday's Globe and Mail. The article is mainly focused on adult reading preferences, but does discuss the gender gap in literacy among kids, too. The gist of the article is not new - that women read more than men do, and in particular read more fiction than men do. Several Canadian studies are referenced. The article has received extensive comments, however, suggesting that there is much more to be said on the topic. I particularly appreciated Toronto writer Russell Smith's comments. He's quoted in the article as saying that men he knows don't read fiction, apparently because they perceive it as being about feelings, rather than ideas. He concludes that "To think that no one perceives fiction as being about ideas is depressing." I agree! And I will add that much of the children's and young adult literature I read is about ideas, and story, much more so than "feelings." Perhaps this is support for my personal crusade, that adults should read more children's books... But check out the Globe and Mail article for more discussion. 

I didn't get to read much on my trip (can you believe it?), but I did find some lovely review books waiting for me on my return home. So, you can expect more reviews soon, once I get a bit more caught up. Thanks for visiting! And thanks to Chris and Annette for the links.


Quick Recommendations from Boston

I haven't been posting so much this week because I'm in Boston visiting family and friends. It's been great to see people (despite the ridiculous heat and humidity here), and spend time catching up. I have collected a couple of book recommendations, and I'm sure that I'll have more before I'm through. But here are some quick hits:

  • My six-year-old friend from Newton Lower Falls is really enjoying How To Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell. He can't put it down. What I love is that the author doesn't shrink from including big words (obsequious, for example).
  • I finally read Duck and Goose by Tad Hills, highly recommended on the blog circuit. I pronounce it adorable.
  • Mheir's 15-month-old cousin sat through about 20 readings of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle. Which seems to me to be some combination of remarkable attention span and remarkable book. His older sisters recommended The Junie B. Jones Books by Barbara Park, Alice Hoffman's Aquamarine, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. They, along with their Mom, and various members of their extended family, are all excellent hosts.
  • My wonderful friend Liz gave me lots of other recommendations, too.

But I'm out of time for now. More soon! Hope that you're all having a great week, and (where applicable) holding up ok under the heat.


The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives: Michael Buckley

The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives is the first book in the Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley. I found the book to be a quirky mixture of modern orphan story and whimsical fairytale. The premise is that the orphaned sisters, 12-year-old Sabrina and 7-year-old Daphne, after a variety of heinous foster care experiences (much like in Ruby Holler), are sent to live with a woman who may or may not be their grandmother.

This woman, Mrs. Relda Grimm, lives in a small, isolated town in New York, populated with some unexpected characters and unusual events. There, Sabrina and Daphne learn that their family's business is to keep the peace, and investigate strange or criminal behavior among the Everafters (fairy tale characters, living real lives, trapped in the town of Ferryport). Before they know it, the two girls are caught up in a mystery involving real estate speculation, giants, and a kidnapped grandmother. It's a fun romp, with cameos by famous and not-so-famous fairy tale figures, featuring the creative use of fairy tale objects (Excalibur, the ruby slippers, the magic mirror, etc.).

The Sisters Grimm books are a child-friendly parallel to Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime series. They're light-hearted and fun, and there's pretty much no end to what the author can do with fairy tale figures and magical objects for future books. I personally prefer the intrepid young Daphne to her more highly strung older sister. And my favorite character in the series so far is Puck (yes, that Puck, in permanent early adolescence). The grandma is pretty fun, too. In addition to fairy tale fun, The Sisters Grimm series also highlights family dynamics, loyalty, personal responsibility, and the difficulty of knowing who to trust. I think that kids will enjoy these books. I look forward to the next book in the series. I especially want to see how things evolve between young Puck and the Grimm sisters. Fun stuff!

Book: The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives
Author: Michael Buckley and Peter Ferguson (illustrator)
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Original Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 192
Age Range: 9-12

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