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Posts from December 2006

Cybils YA Fiction Shortlist is Complete

I'm happy to report that the tireless young adult fiction nominating committee (Sara, TadMack, Jackie, Little Willow, and Mindy) has made their selections, narrowing the list from 79 amazing choices to a top-notch top five. Tune in on New Year's Day at the Cybils website to see the list, along with the lists from the other categories.

As for me, I've had very limited internet access this week, but I have read a couple of books that I'll tell you about when I return. I've also been fortunate to give books as gifts to lots of kids this week, and to see their reactions. Happy Birthday Coco, Christmas for a Kitten, Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, and Crazy Cars were all big hits.

I'll be back after New Year's with more news for you. Happy New Year to all!

Taking Off for a Few Days

I'm getting ready to take a few days off from blogging for Christmas, but wanted to share some tidbits with you before I go.

  • The Cybils nominating committee members are hard at work coming up with their short lists in the various categories. I'm so impressed with the work of the Young Adult Fiction committee members (Sara, TadMack, Jackie, Little Willow, and Mindy), weeding their way through 80 titles, many long and challenging. I can't wait to see their final list!
  • Never one to shirk from asking big questions, MotherReader is inviting discussion about Kirby Larson's book Hattie Big Sky and ... God. I've included my comments over at MotherReader. I did love this book, and think that the discussion about the religious references in the book is interesting, and worth your time.
  • This just in this morning from Michele at Scholar's Blog: the title for the seventh Harry Potter book has been announced. JK Rowling (did you notice that she has the same initials as me?) announced that the book will be called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Kind of makes the publication feel a bit closer, doesn't it, even though there's still no publication date.
  • And, though not directly related to children's literature, TadMack from Finding Wonderland pointed me to an interesting article. A research study has found that people with low self-esteem don't like reading mysteries where the ending is a surprise for them, while high self-esteem individual prefer a surprise ending. I must be pretty vain, because I love it when a book can surprise me.
  • The Ukiah Daily Journal has a nice article about educational gift ideas for kids of all ages. Among other things, they suggest books and magazine subscriptions, bookstore gift certificates, and visits to the local library.
  • The Daytona Beach News-Journal Online has an inspiring article about a local library's reading classes for babies, to promote life-long literacy.
  • Less inspiring is a report by Wendy at Blog from the Windowsill about a school library that doesn't allow kids to check out books above their "official reading level." Franki at A Year of Reading also weighs in on this topic (needless to say, not impressed by the policy).
  • But on a lighter note, Mary Lee from A Year of Reading has started a kidlitosphere trend of Elfing oneself. Perhaps too much eggnog was involved in this decision - I'm not sure.   
  • Gregory K has started a new list over at GottaBook: gifts you'd get your favorite kid lit characters. Like most things on Greg's blog, it's a riot. Head on over and add your ideas. My personal favorite from Greg's list: "Charlie Bucket -- good dental insurance". But there's lots of great stuff in the comments. People are so creative. I'm alas not so creative, but here are my thoughts: for Liesel, a library card; for Percy Jackson, a raincoat; for Duck and Goose, an ultrasound machine.
  • There's an interesting new blog named pixie stix kids pix that's worth checking out. Aside from the excellent name, it has a gorgeous format, lots of new reviews, and an insider perspective that comes from American Booksellers for Children executive director Kristen McLean. Thanks to A Fuse #8 Production for the link.
  • Finally, if you're ready to think ahead a bit, Kelly is taking nominations for the 10th Carnival of Children's Literature over at Big A little a. Nominations are due by January 15th, for posts from December or early January.   

That's all for now! I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas, if you celebrate Christmas, and a peaceful and book-filled weekend if you don't.

December Edge of the Forest

I'm a bit late with this news, but the December issue of The Edge of the Forest is now available. Highlights include:

It's well worth checking out! Kelly is also looking for volunteers to contribute to the January edition of The Edge of the Forest. So if you have something interesting to share, do let her know.

Two Axle Annie Books: Robin Pulver

Axle Annie and Axle Annie and the Speed Grump, both written by Robin Pulver and illustrated by Tedd Arnold, are about a determined school bus driver named Axel Annie. In the first book, we learn that Annie never lets snow stop her from getting kids to school safely. In her town, Burskyville, there are never snow days, because when the superintendent of schools asks Annie if she can make it up the steep Tiger Hill, Annie always says:

"Mr Solomon! Do snowplows plow? Do tow trucks tow? Are school buses yellow? Of course I can make it up Tiger Hill."

And she always does. Her determination is appreciated by the students (this I find a tiny bit implausible, but ok), and by the various motorists who get stranded on Tiger Hill (and are picked up by the school bus). However, her determination is not appreciated by lazy fellow school bus driver Shifty Rhodes, or by new ski resort owner Hale Snow (who wants the kids to have days off from school to ski). These two members of the Grouch and Grump Club hatch a plot to bring down Axle Annie and her school bus full of kids. Axle Annie will need all of her determination, and some help from her friends, in order to triumph.

I have to admit that I found this story slightly disturbing. I mean, is it really a good thing to put kids on a school bus in blizzard conditions, because the bus driver says that she can handle it? But maybe this is just a case of me not being able to take off my adult hat. I'm sure that kids will find it hilarious. There's nice wordplay in the text, too. "Shifty's bus slithered and slid its way to Tiger Hill" and "It just sits on my truck like a bamboozled bump on a blizzard-blasted log." The book will make an excellent read-aloud title.

Tedd Arnold's dynamic cartoon-like illustrations reminded me a bit of Sesame Street, and add much to the humor of the book. There are lots of subtle details to reward careful reading. Annie has bookends that are the front and read end of a school bus. The snow machine is like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Annie heads out to drive the bus during a blizzard wearing snowshoes. This one is sure to be a winner with early elementary school kids.

The sequel, Axle Annie and the Speed Grump, leaves the snowy weather behind, and brings Annie a new challenge. The speed grump Rush Hotfoot is always in a hurry, always trying to get around Annie's bus, and avoid having to wait for it. The kids have fun filling Annie in on the various tasks that Rush undertakes while driving: shaving, talking on his cell phone, brushing his teeth, etc. Annie always has the same reply:

"I've got two hands on the wheel and nerves of steel. I always watch out for that speed grump."

Rush passes them, in his little red sports car, and harasses them when the bus stops to let kids off or pauses before crossing the railroad tracks. Axle Annie actually visits the Grouch and Grump Club, to complain about Rush's behavior, and finds them unsympathetic.

"The other grouches told Axle Annie that she wasn't grumpy enough for them. Being grumpy about Rush Hotfoot didn't count, because Rush Hotfoot would make ANYBODY grumpy! They all drank a gripe-juice toast to him: "Three cheers for Rush! Hiss-Hiss-Boo! The best bus driver in Burskyville got grumpy because of you!"" 

But of course, Rush gets his comeuppance in the end, while Annie shows bravery and compassion. The kids, well, they mostly just have fun with the whole thing. I personally found this one a tiny bit message-y regarding safe driving. However, I know that many young kids love to point out mistakes in their parents' driving, so this is probably not a negative for the intended audience. And from what I've read about the way many parents drive in school zones these days, giving the kids some things to look for is perhaps a good thing. As in the first book, the over-the-top illustrations and playful narrative will have young readers chortling away.   

Books: Axle Annie and Axle Annie and the Speed Grump
Author: Robin Pulver, illustrated by Tedd Arnold
Publisher: Puffin Books (Axle Annie) and Dial Books (Axle Annie and the Speed Grump)
Original Publication Date: 1999 and 2005
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8
Source of Book: Review copy from the author

Beacon Street Girls: Annie Bryant

I had heard vaguely of the Beacon Street Girls books, a series by Annie Bryant aimed at tween girls, with a focus on providing strong positive role models, but had never read one. When the publisher (B*tween Productions, Inc.) offered to send me a couple of books, I was happy to have the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. And I'm pleased to report that the Beacon Street Girls rock!

I read the first book in the series, Worst Enemies/Best Friends, and the sixth, Lake Rescue. In the first book, four very different girls start seventh grade at Abigail Adams Junior High, in Brookline, MA. Charlotte is a dreamer and writer, newly moved to the US, after years of world travel with her author father. She's a bit of a klutz, and knows that it's hard to make friends in a new place. Her teacher groups her with the stylish and aloof Katani, the boy-crazy drama queen Maeve, and the athletic Avery at an assigned lunch table. The girls get off to a rocky start, when Charlotte's clumsiness causes disaster, but eventually they learn to accept one another's good qualities, and become friends. They form a clubhouse in a cool, forbidden tower in Charlotte's Victorian home, and help one another through a series of adventures concerning romance, a mysterious landlady, and a dog that needs a home.

By the sixth book, the original four Beacon Street Girls have been joined by a fifth, Isabel, an artist with financial worries due to her mother's illness. The five friends have varying reactions when they learn that their class is going on a four-day camping trip to Lake Rescue in New Hampshire. Charlotte and Avery, who enjoy the outdoors and hiking, are excited about the trip, while the more clothes-and-comfort conscious Katani and Maeve are skeptical, and Isabel worries about the cost of required clothing. But of course they all go to camp, where they have a series of adventures, and learn some things about themselves.

The primary sub-plot in this book concerns a sixth girl, not part of their group, named Chelsea. Chelsea is significantly overweight, and is a subject of ridicule by some of the other kids in the class (though not the Beacon Street Girls, of course). Through the help of the Beacon Street Girls, and a camp counselor with personal experience in losing weight, Chelsea develops a new, healthier perspective. She also gives a bully a bit of a comeuppance, which is nice to see.

These books are filled with positive messages. Just because someone looks different from you on the outside doesn't mean that you won't have things in common. Lying to your friends or family will likely lead to disaster - it's better to trust them to accept the truth. Be loyal to your friends. Respect yourself. And so on. The Beacon Street Girls actually have a bill of rights that includes things like "We will try to eat healthy and stay active. How can you chase your dream if you can't keep up?" and "We will go for it - how will we know what we can do if we don't try?".

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm not generally a fan of "message books", where the story is packaged around some point that the author is trying to make. But I'm going to make an exception for the Beacon Street Girls, for a couple of reasons. First of all, I applaud the publisher's aspiration of providing books for girls of this age that aren't about sex, and are about healthy friendships, body image, interactions, etc. It's a tough age range in our society, and one that's getting pressured all the time to grow up more quickly. Providing books that these girls can read, that are interesting and fun, and an alternative to more mature-themed titles, is a worthy goal.

The other reason that I'm making an exception of the BSG series is that although the messages are strong, the characters and stories are strong, too. The books use a device of shifting narrator (by chapter, so that it's not too confusing), which keeps things interesting, and gives different readers a chance to identify with one narrator or another. Because the girls are so different, and cover a range of races and ethnicities, most girls should be able to find at least one BGS with which to identify. The books are also sprinkled with lists, school assignments, journal entries, and IM session transcripts, which keep things fun. The characterization is reasonably strong, given the number of characters that we have to keep up with - each girl has specific and consistent traits from book to book. The dialog can often be followed without attribution, because we know which girl would have which reaction. I think that kids will find this comforting.

Several side characters are great, too. Katani's grandmother, the school principal, is gracious and talented, and firm yet empathetic to her charges. Katani's mildly autistic sister Kelly brims forth with genuine goodwill, even though she sometimes crosses the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Nick, the boy that Charlotte likes, is pretty much a perfect middle school girl's dream (nice, interested in what Charlotte has to say, someone who looks out for people in trouble, etc.).

What also helps to keep the books from being preachy is that there are negative characters ("mean girl" type bullies, and thoughtless boys), and that the main characters tease each other, and make mistakes. They also have problems (Charlotte misses her deceased mother, Katani feels compared to her athletic older sisters, Maeve has to care for her pesky younger brother, and deal with her parent's divorce, Avery is adopted, and sometimes sensitive about that), regular problems with which readers will be able to relate. There's a blurb on the back of the first book by a 13 year old named Natalie who says "This book is exactly what my life is like." I know it's a marketing thing to put a quote like that on the book, but I believe that there are many girls who will feel the same way.

Overall, I quite enjoyed these books. I look forward to checking out others from the series. The website is fun, too, with prizes and games and activities. If you have or know a nine to eleven year old girl, I highly recommend giving her the first book in this series for Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, or just because you think that she'll like it. Of course, you may be setting yourself up to have to buy all nine books in the regular series so far, plus the side series of adventure books. But I think it will be well worth it.

Books: Worst Enemies/Best Friends and Lake Rescue
Author: Annie Bryant
Publisher: B*tween Productions, Inc.
Original Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 212 and 226, plus fun tips and facts in the endpages of each
Age Range: 9-13
Source of Books: Review copies from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews and Mentions: A review at To Read or Not to Read, An interview with the BSG's creator at Pop Goes the Library, and a mention at Big A little a, where Kelly's daughter is a fan.

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

Sunday Afternoon Visits: December 17

The next couple of Sundays are Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, and I don't expect to have any time to blog. So this will be my last Sunday visits post of the year. This weekend is pretty crazy, too, actually, but here are a few tidbits for you:

And while I truly wish that I had time for more, I have guests literally at the door, and this will have to be it for a while. Happy reading!

One Year Old!

I started this blog a year ago today, on the urging of two different friends, who each said something along the lines of "Stop complaining about wanting to do something related to books and start a blog." So one weekend, when I had a little time, I just sat down and started. And I'm so glad that I did! I've read tons of great books in the past year (195 in 2006 to date), many of which I would never have found on my own. I've made friends from around the world, all of whom share this passion of mine for children's and young adult literature. I've been fortunate to develop relationships with publishers and publicists, and have received a bounty of review copies. And I've strengthened ties with some of my friends and family members, who read my Feedblitz updates every day, and talk with me about the books that they and their children are reading.

Despite a sad neglect of my blog these past couple of weeks (due to an insane amount of travel and work), over the year I've published 474 posts, or about 1.3 per day on average. I try to post something every day (though it hasn't worked out that way lately). I've published 121 reviews, mostly of middle grade and young adult books. I've participated, at times, in Poetry Friday and The Edge of the Forest (thanks Kelly!), and was a winner for most time spent reading in Mother Reader's 48-Hour Book Challenge (thanks Pam!). Most recently, I've been the administrator for the Young Adult Fiction category for the new Cybils awards (thanks Anne!).

While I've read and reviewed many books, and participated in the doings of the Kidlitosphere (named by Melissa), I've also tried to keep an eye on a subject near and dear to my heart, children's literacy. I try to draw attention to people and programs that help kids to grow up loving books (like First Book and Reach Out and Read, to name two of my favorites). I also try to provide a sense of community for adult readers of children's books.

The biggest success that I've had on this blog, in terms of responses received, has been my lists of Cool Girls and Cool Boys of children's literature. I hope to have time to do more with those lists (including updating them) in the New Year. And I'm happy that those lists have been joined by others lists, of Cool Teachers (at A Year of Reading), Wicked Women (at Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone), and Librarians of Children's Literature (at TheBookDragon). Such fun, we fanatical children's literature fans have!

All in all, it's been a great year! My biggest regret, in terms of the blog, is that I don't have more time to work on it. More time to read and review books. More time to visit, and keep up with, the other blogs in the kidlitosphere. More time to perhaps start a newsletter for adult readers of children's books, something I've been wanting to do since the beginning. And if I really had time, I'd like to volunteer somewhere so that I can read with kids. But for now, I'll settle for finding time to check in with you occasionally through the rest of the holiday season, and expect to be back to full strength early next year.

Thanks so much for reading my blog! I wish you all a festive and book-filled holiday season -- Jen

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

Doreen Cronin Podcast at First Book

Katie B. from First Book (an excellent organization that gives new books to underprivileged children), sent me the following announcement:

"This is a special invitation to download a FREE podcast interview with bestselling children’s book author, Doreen Cronin! Doreen is the author of nine wonderful, bestselling picture books, including Duck for President; Diary of a Worm; Wiggle; and Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, a Caldecott Honor Book.  This interview is made possible by Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories, in celebration of their 5th year of getting award-winning books into kids’ hands. To listen to the interview, please go to the First Book blog

First Book is an award-winning international non-profit organization dedicated to providing new books to the most disadvantaged children in thousands of communities. First Book is reaching out to those who understand the power of great books to help us celebrate authors like Doreen who are making a difference in the lives of children.

We hope that you will listen in to the latest in the First Book podcast series. For more information about First Book, please visit our homepage at and our blog at"

As a fan of Doreen Cronin and of First Book, I suggest that you give this podcast a listen. Because I spend all day on the computer, I especially like Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. Did you know that Doreen was a lawyer when she started writing kid's books? To me, this gives hope for those of us who are love children's books, but do other things full-time, that full-time immersion in thekidlitosphere could come our way.

Happy reading!

Sunday Afternoon Visits: December 10

Hello blog friends! I'm back from a week in Disney World. Though not so restful as vacations go, it was a lot of fun. Mheir scheduled lots of excellent dinners for us, and even some other surprises. As the check-in lady at The Wilderness Lodge said, on reading our schedule, he's definitely a keeper. A highlight of the trip was going on Splash Mountain three times in a row, first thing in the morning, with no waiting. We paid in wet clothes for the rest of the day, but it was worth it. We also went three times in a row on the new Expedition Everest ride in Animal Kingdom, after strong recommendations from our niece.

I haven't had a chance to catch back up with the other blogs yet (work also required a fair bit of catching up, funnily enough). But here are a couple of things that I noticed for one reason or another. I'll try to catch up more tomorrow, before leaving on my next business trip (sigh!).

  • Alan Silberberg has a new Book-Toon available on his blog. He's promoting books as holiday gifts. It's well worth checking out. Note also the subtle Cybils reference near the end.
  • And speaking of ideas for holiday gifts, Ian Ybarra sent me a link to his 10 Great Gifts for Baseball Nuts post. If you're looking for gift ideas for baseball fans, he has some great stuff listed (despite the high density of Yankee's examples, for which I will forgive Ian in the spirit of the holiday season).
  • Mitali Perkins has captured people's imaginations in her post (and follow-up) about blog crushes in the kidlitosphere. There are lots of great blogs highlighted, and it's a fun discussion.
  • Another question going on around the 'sphere concerns the inclusion of bibliographies in fiction books. Monica Edinger started the discussion at Educating Alice, and Liz B. added her own thoughtful comments at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy. Personally, I love having a bibliography in a historical novel, and some indication of what is and isn't based on the truth.
  • And, thanks to Liz B. for this link, Esme Raji Codell muses about the nature of children's and young adult literature, in response to a review of Octavian Nothing. Be sure to read the comments, too.

And oh, how I wish I had time for more right now, but I have to run. Happy Reading!

Christmas for a Kitten: Robin Pulver

Christmas for a Kitten, written by Robin Pulver and illustrated by Layne Johnson, tells the story of a kitten, abandoned in the wintertime. The unnamed kitten is tossed out of a car window, in a sack, in the woods. He doesn't give up. He hides in a hollow log, and uses the lessons his mother has taught him to hunt for food. When his hunting takes him near the brightly lit windows of houses, he is wistful. He's resourceful, but lonely.

One day the kitten sees a family in the woods, cutting down a tree. He sneaks into their open trunk, and slinks in through the open door of their house. There, as a tiny stowaway, he finds food and warmth, but also danger (from a fierce dog). He also engages in the sort of destruction that any kitten will engage in, given access to cookies, milk, and a shiny decorated Christmas tree. It's clear that he won't be able to stay with this family, given the destruction he wreaks, and the already entrenched dog. But in the end, he is saved by a Christmas Eve miracle. 

The old-fashioned watercolor illustrations suit the mood of this nostalgic story. The kitten is clearly based on a real-life model. He looks ready to climb off of the page. I don't actually care much for cats, but he still tugged at my heartstrings. I think that young kids, three and four year olds, will like the story itself, because it's told from the perspective of the kitten. He doesn't know why these people would be chopping down a tree, or what this white liquid in a glass is, or who this guy is who comes down the chimney. Kids who do know what these things mean will feel smart, while maintaining compassion for the little kitten.

I think that this will make a wonderful read-aloud for preschoolers and early elementary school kids as they get ready for Christmas. But parents should be prepared to hear "Can we get a kitten?" before the first read through is even completed.

Book: Christmas for a Kitten
Author: Robin Pulver, illustrated by Layne Johnson
Publisher: Albert Whitman
Original Publication Date: 2003
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-7
Source of Book: Review copy from the author

An Abundance of Katherines: John Green

An Abundance of Katherines is another book that I hesitate to even review, because there have been so many positive reviews written already. Written by recent Printz winner (for Looking for Alaska, which I haven't written) John Green, An Abundance of Katherines has been nominated for the Cybils award for Young Adult Fiction. It's about a boy named Colin who has just graduated from high school, and is experiencing a bit of a mid-life crisis. You see, in his youth, Colin was a prodigy. And now, at 18, he feels washed up, having not lived up to his potential, not become a full-fledged genius. To top that off, he's just been dumped by his 19th Katherine. Colin only dates girls named Katherine, and has had 19 relationships of varying length and depth with Katherines since early elementary school. This most recent one lasted nearly a year, before K-19 broke Colin's heart.

To take Colin's mind off of his problems, his best friend Hassan proposes that the two friends go on a road trip. They make it as far as Gutshot, Tennessee, where, in part due to Colin's celebrity as a prodigy, they are offered a summer job doing video interviews. They become particular friends with Lindsey Lee Wells, daughter of eccentric local factory owner Hollis, and move into the gigantic bright pink Wells home. The rest of the novel recounts Colin's history with the many Katherines, in flashbacks, interspersed with Colin and Hassan's adventures in Gutshot.

This isn't a very plot-driven novel. I found it to be not such a good bedtime reading book, because I would fall asleep. However, I loved the writing. John Green has a gift for the quirky yet memorable turn of phrase. Even using restraint, I ended up with seven passages flagged for possible quotation. For example:

"Colin's mother shook her head rhythmically, like a disapproving metronome." (page 12);

"And so the periodically incontinent prodigy ended up in a small windowless office on the South Side" (page18); and

"Maybe if a guy is actually, literally, on fire, he won't be thinking about hooking up. But that's about it. Whereas girls are very fickle about the business of kissing. Sometimes they want to make out; sometimes they don't. They're an impenetrable fortress of unknowability, really." (page 76)

I especially loved Colin's friend Hassan. He's a chubby Arabic guy, with a sense of humor, and he's quick to point out when Colin is going off on a tangent that's "not interesting." I really think that everyone should have a friend to tell them that. I actually think that Colin is borderline on the Asperger's Syndrome scale. He needs to be taught what other people find interesting. Here is the quotation:

""Not interesting," Hassan said. Hassan's not-interestings had helped Colin figure out what other people did and did not enjoy hearing about. Colin had never gotten that before Hassan, because everyone else either humored or ignored him. Or, in the case of Katherines, humored then ignored. Thanks to Colin's collected list of things that weren't interesting, he could hold a halfway normal conversation." (page 26). There is a footnote containing a partial list of not-interesting things, like mitosis, baroque architecture, and "the significant role that salt has played in human history."

And, for another window into Hassan's sense of humor, this is his explanation for why Hollis offered he and Colin jobs:

""She wants to make me happy. We fatties have a bond, dude. It's like a Secret Society. We've got all kinds of s*** you don't know about. Handshakes, special fat people dances--we got these secret fugging lairs in the center of the earth and we go down there in the middle of the night when all the skinny kids are sleeping and eat cake and friend chicken and s***. Why d'you think Hollis is still sleeping, kafir? Because we were up all night in the secret lair injecting butter frosting into our veins. She's given us jobs because a fatty always trusts another fatty."" (page 72)

I like reading a novel that's not afraid a) to have a character who is smart, and b) to include math. I love that the title on the cover is formatted as a formula. It's also interesting to see Colin, Hassan, and Lindsey evolve over the course of their summer together. I think that even non-prodigies will be able to relate to the unique problems of at least one of the three teenagers, and will perhaps be inspired to change. And if not, they'll still have a good time reading this extremely funny book. 

Book: An Abundance of Katherines
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Original Publication Date: September 21, 2006
Pages: 256
Age Range: Young adult
Source of Book: Santa Clara City Library
Other Blog Reviews: Sara's Hold Shelf, Shaken & Stirred, LibraryAnne, Kids Lit,, Bildungsroman, Big A little a, and bookshelves of doom

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

Dog Den Mystery: Darrel and Sally Odgers

Dog Den Mystery (Jack Russell, Dog Detective) is the first in a new series of early chapter books by Darrel & Sally Odgers. It was originally published by Scholastic Press in Australia in 2005, and was recently republished in America by Kane/Miller. I only noticed one Australian term that may puzzle American kids. There are a couple of references to "biscuits", which in Australia are cookies, not what we think of as biscuits. Otherwise, the text is quite universal.

Jack Russell is, not surprisingly, a Jack Russell terrier. He lives with a man named Sarge, who is a police detective. Apparently, the detecting idea has rubbed off, because Jack sets out to solve a mystery. Jack and Sarge move into a new neighborhood at the start of the book, and Jack is astonished to find that someone is stealing his things (blanket, squeak-toy, etc.). He is able to use his keen sense of smell to track them down, of course, but suspects that his possessions are being used as part of a kidnapping plot.

Jack has some unusual ideas that I think kids will find funny. He makes "nose maps", with which he stores information collected by his nose (e.g. "strange dog sat here"). The nose maps are a hoot. He also has a series of "Jack's Facts", which vary in their accuracy. For example:

"Jack Russells (and other dogs) like to hide underneath blankets.
If we can't see you, you can't see us.
This is a fact."

I found most of the facts entertaining, though I started finding the phrase "This is a fact" annoying fairly quickly. Jack also has his own special vocabulary, with words bolded in the text, and defined at the end of each chapter. For instance: "Terrier-tory: The ground or land claimed by a terrier." That one made me laugh. Jack is a solid character for early grade school kids to enjoy, determined and resourceful, with the interests that one would expect from a small dog.

The black and white illustrations, especially those of the nose maps, are simple and kid-friendly. There are paw-prints sprinkled regularly through the text, and both large and small illustrations. I think that Jack Russell will appeal to kids who love dogs, and kids who love mysteries. The second book in the series, The Phantom Mudder, is now available, with two others expected out in the US in March.

Book: Dog Den Mystery (Jack Russell, Dog Detective)
Author: Darrel & Sally Odgers
Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
Original Publication Date: September 2006
Pages: 76
Age Range: 6-8
Source of Book: Review copy from Kane/Miller
Other Blog Reviews: bookshelves of doom (Leila noted: "The authors are CLEARLY well-acquainted with the mystifying behavior of these Big-Dogs-in-Little-Dog-bodies")

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