Previous month:
September 2006
Next month:
November 2006

Posts from October 2006

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator

I've been saving Jennifer Allison's Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator for a couple of months, waiting until I had time to sink into my couch and read it all at once. Yesterday was finally the day. Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator is the first in a projected series about a thirteen-year-old girl with several "careers": writer, psychic investigator, adventurer. Gilda has always been unusual in her interests. Since her father's death two year's earlier, she has particularly bonded with the ideas of writing (having inherited her father's typewriter) and understanding paranormal phenomena.

As the summer begins, in need of adventure, she finagles an invitation to visit her mother's second cousin, Lester Splinter, in San Francisco. There, she uncovers a mystery concerning a haunted tower and the death of Lester's sister Melanie. Gilda also becomes acquainted with her prickly, snobbish cousin Juliet, and helps Juliet to overcome some long-standing fears.

Gilda is a delight: part Harriet the Spy (an acknowledged influence), part Nancy Drew, part Anne Shirley, and part I Love Lucy. She is relentlessly stubborn, has no concept of personal boundaries or what constitutes an inappropriate question, and even when she doesn't know if a particular madcap scheme will work, she moves forward boldly. This is a girl who writes a letter to her mother's second cousin, whom she has never met, a man who her mother barely knows, and invites herself to stay at his house for the summer. The letter she writes is a riot, too, making me giggle. Here is an excerpt:

"At the end of the day, my mother returns home to relieve her talented thirteen-year-old daughter of the duties of feeding and harshly disciplining her "special" son. On most days, my brother entertains himself by flushing the toilet repeatedly, but at other times he requires constant supervision if we are to prevent him from drinking all the household cleansers under the sink." - Chapter 2

Her brother isn't actually "special" - Gilda simply has a habit of turning the mundane events of her life into melodramas. She would consider it more exaggeration for the sake of story than outright lying (though her hard-working brother would likely not agree).

Gilda breathes life into the stuffy Splinter household, and especially livens up her depressed cousin Juliet. Gilda dresses in outlandish costumes, conducts a seance, accuses the staid Mr. Splinter of laundering money for the Mafia, and, of course, solves the mystery concerning Aunt Melanie.

The format of this book is somewhat unusual. Told in the third person, the viewpoint alternates between Gilda and Juliet, with occasional glimpses at the thoughts of Lester and his assistant, Summer. Samples of Gilda's writing are interspersed, however, giving us a partial first-person perspective. All of Gilda's writing is typed on her father's old typewriter, and set off in a special font in the text to enhance this impression. These samples include journal entries, letters, progress reports, and novels. Most of the time this shifting viewpoint works well, but I did find it occasionally heavy-handed (when we get Juliet's opinion of Gilda, for example, some of Gilda's traits seem to be unnecessarily re-described). But I think that the interspersing of Gilda's own writing into the text adds visual interest and authenticity, and will make the book more appealing to reluctant readers.

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator is somewhat ambiguous as to whether or not ghosts exist and communicate with the living. Gilda and Juliet are inclined to believe that they do, and the housekeeper Rosa is certain of it, though Lester Splinter remains unconvinced. Strange events certainly occur, and strongly suggest paranormal phenomena, but alternative explanations exist, too. The skeptical reader will be able to draw his or her own conclusions.

Parts of the story might be a bit too dark for younger kids (Melanie's suicide, Juliet's suicidal musings, Gilda's sadness over her father's death, and a very creepy locked-up tower). Gilda's optimistic attitude does a lot to balance this out, however. All in all, I found Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator just plain fun. Oh, I cringed here and there when Gilda went overboard. But I think that kids will love that about her. And it's wonderful to see a book about a strong-willed girl who doesn't particularly care what other people think about her, and does what she thinks is right. I look forward to reading her next adventure (Gilda Joyce and the Ladies of the Lake).

Book: Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator
Author: Jennifer Allison
Publisher: Dutton Sleuth
Original Publication Date: July, 2005
Pages: 336
Age Range: 10-14
Source of Book: Bought it with my Amazon points
Other Blog Reviews: Outside of a Cat, Booktopia, and Your Friendly Neighborhood Book Reviews. See reviews of the sequel at ReadingYA: Readers' Rants and Chasing Ray.

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

Horn Book Magazine: What Makes a Good Book?

I've been reading the September/October issue of The Horn Book magazine. I've found it to be quite timely, as I think about the new Cybils children's and young adult blogger's literary awards. The idea of this issue (according to Executive Editor Martha V. Parravano) is to "aid Horn Book readers in the never-ending, nebulous, yet necessary search for "good."" I highly recommend that you seek out the entire issue, but in the meantime, here are some highlights:

  • Author Richard Peck (Here Lies the Librarian, The Teacher's Funeral, etc.) writes about what makes a good beginning for a novel. He describes a specific example that he selected after talking with a large group of fifth graders about what might interest their teachers.
  • Deborah Stevenson (library and information science professor and editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books) takes on the broader question of what it means to call a book "good" when we encompass so many personal and external ideals in our decision-making. She says (among many other points) that "just as one learns writing by writing, one must learn reading by reading", and that we judge new books according to their relationship with books that we've already read and liked or disliked. She says "That's why external checklists of literary merit aren't sufficient to enable somebody new on the scene to judge in the same way as an experienced reader; why, ultimately, writing about what makes a good book can't provide a methodology to those who haven't already found many books good". So, all of you reviewers out there, the more you read, the more you'll be qualified to read and evaluate books. And, as most of you are reviewers because you love to read already, this works out well.
  • Arthur A. Levine (editorial director, Arthur A. Levine books) writes about what makes a good translated book. He starts out with a high-level calling: "Our mission is to publish books that we love, books we would pass on to young readers with the enthusiasm that is born of a delightful reading experience; the kind of experience only a truly outstanding writer can provide." He also discusses the fact that the best translated books should gain something "extra" from having been written somewhere other than in the United States. I've noticed this recently in my own adult mystery reading. I love Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series and Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti series because each transports me to a different part of Italy, with details that only someone who has lived extensively in the area can provide.
  • Kate O'Sullivan (Houghton Mifflin editor) writes about editing books to boast about. She says: "Over time, I've found that a good read most often lies at the intersection where place, personality, and events meet." She also discusses the importance of a convincing point of view, emotive honesty, and the particular balance required for picture books.

There is lots of other great stuff in this issue: with articles about what makes a good thriller, holocaust book, second-grade book, poem, fantasy, and ending. All in all, there are many nuggets of advice for the writer or the reviewer. And of course, there are lots of interesting reviews, too. A few books that I wrote down to add to my list were:

Happy reading!

Cybils Press Release

Kidlit awards grow out of bloggers' frustration

CHICAGO, Illinois – Like all revolutions, this one started small, with a single post on a blog devoted to children's literature. The Newbery Medals seemed too elitist and the Quills, well, not enough so.

Was there a middle ground, an annual award that would recognize both a book's merits and popularity?

The answer: invent one! Within hours, this meme had circulated among some of the biggest bloggers in the burgeoning kidlitosphere, the cozy corner of the Web where children's books are given the same regard as their grown-up counterparts.

Within days, the new awards had a name and a website: The Cybils, a loose acronym for Children's and YA Bloggers' Literary Awards, at Nominations quickly opened in eight categories, from picture books up to Young Adult fiction and even graphic novels.

In keeping with the democratic and unpredictable nature of the blogosphere, anybody can nominate a book, so long as it was published in 2006 in English. Yep, anybody: teens can log their choices, authors can nominate themselves, random Googlers can leave word too.

Nominations close Nov. 20. Then comes the literary part. Panels comprised of bloggers with expertise in their category will cull the lists down to five finalists (to be announced Jan. 1). After that, judges step in to pick the winners.

Who are these smarty-pants panelists and judges? Some have impressive bona fides, including, yes, a Newbery judge. Others are your garden-variety librarians, teachers, homeschoolers, authors and illustrators, parents and the kidlit-obsessed.

"Think of it as Wal-Mart meets Nordstrom over kids' books," said Anne Boles Levy, a freelance writer who blogs at Book Buds Kidlit Reviews ( "Bedtime will never be the same."

Media Contacts:
Anne Boles Levy,
Kelly Herold,


So, all of you children's and young adult book readers, head on over to the Cybils site to make your nominations. You don't have to be a blogger to nominate your favorites. Just remember: no more than one nomination per person per category, and please only nominate books published in 2006. Thanks for your support of this exciting new kidlit award!

Sunday Afternoon Visits: October 22

The last couple of weeks have been very hectic work-wise for me, plus any spare time that I have had has been taken up by the Cybils. Thus, I haven't had a lot of time to check out what's been going on at the other blogs. Today, I'm attempting to catch up. Here are some highlights:

  • Via A Fuse #8 Production, you can visit Powell's Bookstore online for a chance to win their 24 new staff picks for kids. Submit your email address before Halloween. I love their fine print on the topic: "We at may not be held liable for any increase of imagination incurred by reading the books featured in our newsletters. Side effects may include dry mouth, improved motor skills, expanded attention span, a sharp increase in reading materials, sudden declines in television watching and video game playing, and absolutely no vomiting or nausea."
  • I first heard about this from Kris at Paradise Found, and also read about it at A Fuse #8 Production. The Class of 2k7 is a "group of first-time children's and YA authors with debut books coming out in 2007". They are helping to promote each other's books through a website, collective blog, and other marketing activities. What's neat about the site, I think, is the tremendous level of energy and excitement that the thirty-seven authors bring to the party. The kidlitosphere's own Jay Asher (from The Disco Mermaids) is a member.
  • In my running around to stay caught up last week, I neglected to mention that the gorgeous new logo for The Cybils (located in the upper right-hand corner of my blog) was designed by Stephanie Ford from The Children's Literature Book Club. Excellent work, Stephanie!
  • Wendy has a couple of additional posts on the negative book review question over at Blog from the Windowsill. First, she laments the fact that one idea from her original post on the topic hasn't received much attention: "the idea that reviewing is (or can be) a form of creative writing in itself." Then she raises some other good questions about specific issues that sometimes face book reviewers. For me, Wendy's comments about writing thoughtful reviews for books that we feel passionately about have made me want to write better reviews (better-written, not necessarily more positive). And isn't aspiring to make one's writing constantly better (whatever the format of the writing) what it's all about?
  • Over at Book Buds, Anne posts the results of her Famous First Words contest, in which she asked readers "to submit either a funny or a poignant quip for when we land on Mars someday." The winners are a humorous poem by retired librarian Elaine M, and a heartfelt plea by Tim, aka The Lapped Catholic.
  • On an even more frivolous note, Becky has a photo of Lego pumpkins over at Farm School. I agree with her that they're pretty cute.
  • I completely missed Teen Read Week last week. Teen Read Week is a national campaign put on annually by the American Library Association to get teens interested in reading. Little Willow has a nice summary of resources over at Bildungsroman. MotherReader covered Teen Read week thoroughly, with reviews of teen books just about every day. Mary Pearson celebrated Teen Read week by interviewing teen authors, and posting their thoughts over the course of the week. Start here. It's inspiring stuff. Mary says: "I love Teen Read Week, not just because it encourages teens to read, but because it reminds old fogeys like me, what a true gift reading is, and maybe when a teen is asking for a lift to the library to check out this "Teen Read Week thing," they might even get their parent to peek inside too. Spread the miracle." I'm sorry I missed Teen Read week, but I suppose that it was fitting enough that I was working on assembling the Young Adult Fiction committees for the Cybils.
  • Gregory K. links to the coolest furniture ever, over at GottaBook. It's irresistible for people who love children's books.
  • Sherry from Semicolon links to this hilarious contest: make campaign literature for your favorite fictional character. I like the Draco Malfoy sign, myself. And wouldn't you rather vote for Encyclopedia Brown than any actual candidate for district attorney? Sherry also has some spoilerish thoughts about last week's Lost episode, if you're into that (which I am).
  • There's been an interesting discussion going on at Blue Rose Girls, A Fuse #8 Production, and The Analytical Knife about the prevalence of relatively youthful editors in the children's publishing industry, and whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Never having worked with an editor, I don't have any comment on it myself, but there are some fascinating sidelights regarding the influence that family choices can have on women's careers. Incidentally, if you like the Blue Rose Girls (a blog that I've only recently discovered), you can enter their contest, and win cupcakes. Details here.
  • Per Rick Riordan's blog, you can now order high-quality prints or posters of the covers to the three Percy Jackson books. Rick also has a great post about the successes that he finds personally satisfying, like "the eight-year-old boy who hated writing, but who liked Percy Jackson so much he labored to produce a handwritten note he could mail to me." Very cool!
  • Patty has a new challenge over at It's All About the Book. She asks: "What is the one book you wish everyone would read? It doesn't have to be your favorite book, but a book that made some sort of impact on you and the way you live your life, or do your work, or treat your kids, etc. And you can modify the request any way you want." Head on over and give her your choices.
  • There's a lovely post over at Tales from the Reading Room about "grippers" (books that grip your interest and don't let go). Says litlove: "I am very fond of the moment when you realize that a book has gripped you and that normal life is out of the question until you have passed the climax of the action. It’s such a secure, self-contained kind of thrill. Ideally, night - or rain - should be falling, the room should be warm, the outside world and its worries should simply dissolve and, before you, a tempestuous drama should be enacted. Bliss." I love those times, too.

And with that, it's time for me to stop perusing the blogs for the day. I can never catch up on everything I missed in the past three weeks anyway. Google Reader says that I still have more than 200 unread items (and that's after moving the really prolific blogs to a different category, and visiting them directly). And so I have marked them all as read, and will try harder to keep up going forward. Happy Sunday to all!

Children's Literacy Round-Up: October 21

I've been a bit tied up with the new Cybils children's book awards this week. However, I spent some time today catching up on the children's literacy related news stories. Here are two highlights:

  • published an October 19th feature article about Oregon's SMART (Start Making A Reader Today) program. "SMART pairs children with volunteers for a one on one weekly reading time, and provides children participating in SMART with two free books per month to take home as their very own... Since 1992 SMART has served 100,000 children and given away 1.4 million books. The Oregon Children's Foundation developed SMART in 1992 as a way to enhance the reading skills, attitudes, and life prospects of children who are at risk of low literacy and its associated negative outcomes and to enable adult volunteers and communities to experience the rewards of enriching young lives." According to the article, a key to the success of the program (they have more than 10,000 active volunteers) is that responsibilities are clearly spelled out, making it easy for volunteers to step in and make a difference. Perhaps if I lived in Oregon...
  • The Wisconsin Bookworms literacy program, in its ninth year, was profiled in the October 21st Portage Daily Register, in an article by Ann Marie Ames. "By providing free books and volunteer adult readers, the program aims to boost literacy in children whose families have limited resources." The article highlights a local chapter that targets kids in the Head Start program.

That's all for today. I'm off to do some actual reading for a change, instead of writing about other people reading. Happy Saturday!

Holbrook: A Lizard's Tale: Bonny Becker

Holbrook: A Lizard's Tale is the story of a young lizard who lives in a small town in the desert, but dreams of bigger things. The other animals in Rattler's Bend work hard, and don't have time for things like art or books. But Holbrook is an artist. We learn this on the very first page.

"Holbrook supposed he was just the tiniest speck standing there (in the desert). But inside he felt something so big, he thought he might burst with it.

The big thing inside made him want to paint. He wasn't sure why. It just seemed there were important things to say and do in the world. Holbrook often wondered if any of the other desert animals felt that way, too. But he didn't suppose so."

The story begins as Holbrook squares his tiny shoulders, and shows his masterpiece, a painting called Starry Sky, to the others in Rattler's Bend. They scoff at his painting because it is filled with "squiggles" instead of recognizable stars. He tries to explain that of course he can paint realistic things if he wants to, but that the squiggles in Starry Sky represent "feelings." But the others just ridicule him.

Holbrook almost gives up. Then the opportunity arises for him to submit Starry Sky to an artist's exhibition and contest in Golden City (which bears a more than passing resemblance to San Francisco). He squares his tiny shoulders again, and sets off for the big city. There he encounters friends and enemies, and trials and tribulations. He demonstrates bravery, loyalty and ingenuity, and above all passion for his art. He meets a beautiful frog ballerina named Margot Frogtayne, a tenor snail named Enrico Escargot, an elegant mink named Count Rainier Rumolde, and a scruffy group of pigeons. He has his moment in the spotlight, followed by imprisonment and virtual slavery. He is even threatened with cannibalism (when animals eat other animals). But through it all, Holbrook maintains his core determination, and his undying belief that true art, whether it be painting or dancing or even cooking, is important.

This book is geared towards 7 to 10 year olds, and is a relatively quick read, with humor that I think will appeal to younger kids. For instance, there's a scene in which Holbrook is at a snooty party, being condescended to by a large lobster:

"He glared at Holbrook over tiny steel spectacles. "He doesn't know of Mademoiselle Frogtayne or Signor Escargot. Really my friend, where have you been? Living under a rock?

Holbrook blushed. Actually, his burrow was under a rock."

It made me laugh. This book is also illustrated, which I think is appropriate for a book about a young artist, and I think that the illustrations will make the book even more accessible to readers. I can't comment on the illustrations, however, because the copy that I reviewed didn't contain the final artwork. But the cover is colorful and appealing, clearly reflecting Holbrook's trepidation as he first enters Golden City.

What I found most impressive about this book is that it deals with relatively mature concepts (the meaning of and need for art, the existence of sweat shops, and the possibility of betrayal, for instance), yet it manages to remain accessible, humorous, and non-threatening for younger readers. Like Holbrook, this book is much bigger than it appears at first glance. This makes Holbrook: A Lizard's Tale a wonderful and unexpected find among books targeted to elementary school kids.

I also love the way that the author drops in veiled references to famous art and artists. Holbrook's Starry Sky is based on Starry Night, of course. And Margot Frogtayne is based on the real ballerina Margot Fonteyn. A key to some of these inspirational sources is included at the end of the book. Other cultural references remain hidden gems for readers to notice on their own.

Book: Holbrook: A Lizard's Tale
Author: Bonny Becker (Interesting tidbit from her website: she met her husband in the vitamin aisle of the grocery store)
Illustrator: Abby Carter (Interesting tidbit: she and her husband founded the Fresh Samantha juice company)
Publisher: Clarion Books
Original Publication Date: November 13, 2006
Pages: 160
Age Range: 7-10
Source of Book: Review copy (uncorrected proof) from Clarion Books. Note that quotations above may be slightly different in the final published book.

PS. I accidentally published this with the wrong date (Nov. 6th), because I was thinking of holding the review until then, then changed my mind. Sorry if this is showing up in JacketFlap or otherwise as new, when it really isn't. The limitations of blogging software...

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

How to Nominate Books for the Cybils

I've been remiss in letting you all know that nomination for the Cybils (The 2006 Children's and YA Bloggers' Literary Awards) are now open. Head on over and vote! Here is a summary of the rules for making nominations:

  1. The book must be published in 2006 in English. Translations and bilingual books are okay too.
  2. Anyone can submit nominations. However, you are limited to ONE BOOK per category.
  3. If a book that you like has already been nominated, you do not have to list it again. This isn't a popularity contest - additional votes will not influence the nominating committees.
  4. Please do NOT make your nominations here. All nominations must be submitted at the Cybils website. The Young Adult Fiction list is here. Make your suggestions in the comments for that post.

One other note: If you are a publisher and you would like to submit review copies of your book to the relevant nominating committee (which is completely optional), please request a list of addresses from the category organizer (e.g. from me for Young Adult Fiction, etc.). Category organizers are listed in the left-hand sidebar on the Cybils website

Thanks for participating everyone!

Young Adult Committee for the Cybils

Here is the list for the Young Adult Fiction committees for The Cybils (The 2006 Children's and YA Bloggers' Literary Awards):

Nominating Committee: These brave souls will narrow down the anticipated many nominations to FIVE.

Judging Committee: These dedicated readers will read the five nominations, and select the winner, over a relatively short time period in January.

If you end up deciding that you would prefer to do something different, or if you somehow ended up on multiple committees through my mixing up your first vs. second choices, just let me know. People are limited to one committee each (at least for now). If you're still looking for a committee, check out the Cybils site for some excellent choices. I'm on the Middle Grade Fiction Judging Committee.

Thanks for everyone who volunteered! This is going to be so much fun!

One other thing: if you tried to volunteer, and I didn't respond to you, and didn't put you on the list, please let me know. I'm getting a suspicion that I may be losing email or comments, and I'm trying to track that down. And if this did happen, you have my deepest of apologies. Technology is wonderful when it works, and start to depend upon it, but when it doesn't, it can really mess things up.

The Cybils: Seeking Volunteers

The Children's Book Blog Awards now have an official name and website: The Cybils (The 2006 Children's and YA Bloggers' Literary Awards), named and championed by Anne Boles Levy. The blog, with rules, is here. Pages will be up soon to let you post your nominations in the various categories (one book per category).

This site is the administrating site for Young Adult Fiction (see the previous post for details). I've been talking with some of the other category administrators, and while there has been a tremendous showing of support from the kidlitosphere for these awards, we still do need more volunteers to round out all of the committees. None of them are full yet (for both judging and nominating, at least), though some are getting close.

If you are interested in being on one of the Young Adult Fiction committees, please comment here. The other categories are: Picture Books, Middle Grade Fiction, Fantasy/Sci Fi, Non Fiction (Picture Book), Non Fiction (MG/YA), Graphic Novels, and Poetry, and you can comment on those sites. Please also include a second choice, and especially let us know if you are equally interested in two categories, because that will help us to make sure that everyone has something that he or she is happy with. (Speaking of saying he or she, I don't believe that there are any men on the YA committee yet, if any of you Hot Men of Children's Literature (who also blog) are interested.)

We hope to get the committees sorted out in the next couple of days, and I'll be letting everyone know individually, as well as posting the lists of each committee. Thanks for your patience! And many thanks to everyone who has volunteered so far. I think it's going to be a lot of fun for all of us, and that we're going to come up with some truly worthwhile books.

The First Annual Children's Book Awards, Blog Edition

I have an exciting message for all of you kid lit bloggers out there!

This month we've seen a spate of book awards, some of which have left us wondering: couldn't we, the intelligent, savvy members of the kidlitosphere do better? Or, at least, differently?

So, we're inaugurating our own book awards, honoring books published in English for children in 2006. The idea is to identify books that are excellent in quality and are also exciting to readers. We want books that you can't put down. Books that you lose yourself in. Books that you love so much that you want to share them with everyone that you know. You, fellow bloggers, can help us to come up with these books, and to come up with winners in each category.

Anne Boles Levy, of Book Buds, will launch a site this week and administer the awards process. To read all about the new Children's Book Awards, head on over to Big A little a, where Kelly Herold will have the full scoop. To suggest a name for the Book Awards, leave a comment with Anne at Book Buds.

This site will be the administrating blog for the Young Adult Fiction category. Do you run a blog about young adult books, are you a young adult author who blogs, or do you run a general book blog? Then volunteer to serve on the YA book nominating committee or on the YA judging committee. Here are the duties of each committee:

Nominating: Nominating committees of five members will narrow the recommendations (everyone with web access can make nominations) down to a shortlist of five books per category.  A list of all recommendations will be received by the nominating committee on November 21, 2006. The shortlists will be announced January 1, 2007. Discussion groups will be set up for each committee to discuss the shortlists.

Judging: Judging committees of five members, different and non-overlapping from those serving on the nominating committees, will decide which title per category will win the Children's Book Award, Blog edition. The winners will be announced January 15, 2007. To serve on this committee, keep in mind you will have to read five books during a very busy time of the year and discuss them with the other members of the committee.

Please comment if you would like to volunteer for the YA fiction nominating committee or the YA fiction judging community. If you prefer, you can email me directly at When leaving your comment, please list a second choice category also just in case we have too many volunteers for Young Adult Fiction. The other categories are: Picture Books, Middle Grade Fiction, Fantasy/Sci Fi, Non Fiction (Picture Book), Non Fiction (MG/YA), Graphic Novels, and Poetry

Personally, I'm most interested in being on the judging committee for either Young Adult Fiction or Middle Grade Fiction, wherever I'm needed most. What's great about the kidlitosphere is that we cover a wide diversity of interests, and I'm sure that we'll get all of the categories covered. Just let me know if you'd like to participate.

Turnabout: Margaret Peterson Haddix

I've been intending to read Margaret Peterson Haddix's Shadow Children series for a while now, so I was intrigued when my friend from Austin put Turnabout into my hands last week. Turnabout falls into the category of speculative fiction, bordering on science fiction. It's the story of two elderly women in the year 2000 who are given an experimental drug that causes them to age backwards. Alternating chapters of the story take place in 2085, as the two are re-entering adolescence, fearful of what will happen as they become children, unable to care for themselves.

This is the second book I've read this year that features reverse-aging, after Gabrielle Zevin's Elsewhere. The two books are quite different in their approaches. Turnabout is relatively scientific, with discussion of telomeres and their impact on aging. Because much of the book takes place in the 2085, Haddix speculates about privacy laws, auto-guided cars, and other futuristic issues. Elsewhere, by contrast, is about reverse aging after death, in a place separate from Earth, and reflects a less scientific approach (see my review here).

Turnabout addresses fascinating philosophical questions. What if when I neared the end of my life I could take some drug that would enable me to age backwards? Would I want to? What if as I aged backwards, I lost my memories of the corresponding years from my original forward life? Would I still want to do it? Would I be willing to give up memories of things that I had experienced? Would I be the same person if I didn't have my memories?

Then there are the pragmatic issues. The two women/girls vow to keep their reverse-aging a secret from the general public. This entails frequent relocation, not being able to contact their relatives, and particular challenges as they hit adolescence (again), such as no longer being old enough to drive. How can you marry someone if you're aging backwards and the other person is aging forwards? How could you possibly have children? What happens when you reach the date of your original birth?

Turnabout is in large part an examination of these issues. However, it also tells the compelling story of Melly and Anny Beth as they race against their own changing bodies to find someone who will care for them as they get younger. The two are reasonably well-drawn characters, with a closer relationship to one another than either has had with anyone else, best friends and de facto sisters. Each has her own unique reasons for wanting to live her second life to the fullest, and her own ghosts from the past to escape.

This is a fun read that will make the reader think a bit about science and aging, and what the future might be like. I look forward to reading Margaret Peterson Haddix's other books.

Book: Turnabout
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Publisher: Aladdin
Original Publication Date: 2000
Pages: 240
Age Range: 10-14
Source of Book: Friends in Austin

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

Sunday Evening Visits: October 15, 2006

I've had a lot going on lately with work, and I haven't been able to keep up with visiting the kidlitosphere nearly as much as I would like. I've recently tried using Google Reader (which is like bloglines). I find that it's nice for keeping up with less frequently updated blogs, but for prolific blogs, it's just demoralizing. I spent four days in Austin, then couldn't get to surfing right away when I returned, and the next thing I knew three of my favorite blogs had 51, 44, and 33 unread posts, respectively (Fuse, Big A little a, and bookshelves of doom). The truth is that I've snuck in visits to all three sites, so there aren't really that many posts that are unread. But still, it's quite daunting. I think what I'm going to end up doing is using Google Reader for the sites that have something like less than 7 posts per week, and using Firefox tabs for the others.

Anyway, I did manage to pick up a few tidbits for you:

  • First off, congratulations to Jay from The Disco Mermaids for landing his first book contract! I especially enjoyed his photos of sharing the news with his family, and with Robin and Eve. What I was also pleased to see was the outpouring of support and good will in the comments on his site and on other sites. It makes a person happy to be part of this children's literature community, seeing how pleased people can be about each other's success.
  • Moving on, Sherry takes up the topic of life lessons learned from children's books over at Semicolon (I wrote about this here). She includes lessons from a number of beloved picture books. Also, if you haven't seen them, check our Semicolon's weekly Saturday Review of Books posts, in which bloggers submit links to their own reviews. There's always something interesting.
  • I was pleased to see this Book Page included on Alice Yucht's list of recommended Kit Lit blogs on the Youth Services Blog List, originally created for the New Jersey State Library's Youth Services Forum. I also learned about some new blogs there. Thanks, Alice!
  • Susan Taylor Brown was interviewed in the most recent issue of Byline Magazine, about writing the verse novel. Unfortunately, I don't believe that the interview is online anywhere. But I enjoyed reading it.
  • Bookseller Chick put up a post on Friday entitled: Where do you read? She describes her favorite reading spot, and asks readers to chime in with their own. It's fun stuff!
  • Stephanie at Children's Literature Book Club takes up the negative book reviews question (which was heavily discussed on this site, as well as several others, earlier in the week). She is in favor of "negative" reviews, as long as they give a clear indication of why the reviewer didn't like the book, and notes that sometimes an allegedly negative review will make her want to read a book, because of her different perspective on the issue.

That's all for now. It's the merest tip of the iceberg in terms of what's been going on in the kidlitosphere. But I hope to catch up more next weekend. Happy reading to all!