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Posts from January 2007

Sunday Afternoon Visits: January 21

Time is short. The Patriot's play at 3:30 (PST), and we are going over to a friend's house to watch. Usually, we watch football at home (thank you, DirecTV), and I can sneak in work on my weekly visits post during the slow parts of the game. But not today - not in the AFC playoffs. Still, here are a few things that I saved up from during the week. Fortunately for my ability to keep up, a lot of people are at the ALA, and aren't posting as much as usual.

  • First of all, I have a question for you. A visitor to my blog was asking me about how to find information on a book that she dimly remembered from her childhood. And I would like to have a more general answer to give to this question. Does anyone have any experience with Book Stumpers? Or, do you have other sites that you can recommend? I've heard mention of such sites, but I wasn't clever enough to write them down, so I'm hoping for your help. Thanks!
  • Over at Chicken Spaghetti, Susan responds to Janine Wood's article "Please, I Want Some Dickens" in the Christian Science Monitor, a woman's plea for her son, and other preteens, to read more Dickens. Susan comments: "I'm going to go out on a limb here, say, about an inch, and suggest this: the subtext of this kind of piece is always "I'm smarter than you are." Which is too bad, because toward the end of the  article, Wood makes some good suggestions for creating more interest in the classics."
  • There is a ton of speculation about the upcoming Newbery announcements. To get yourself in the mood for the award, check out A Year of Reading's Mock Newbery Round-Up post, where Mary Lee and Franki summarize several people's projected picks. You can also find twenty-some people's top picks in the comments of this post at A Fuse #8 Production.
  • Also not to be missed is Franki's article about the Cybils for Choice Literacy. Thanks to LibrariAnne for the link. And speaking of Anne, she has a great post about the recent Best Books for Young Adults meeting, and a discussion about "books published for adults and their place in this list of best books for teens." She also includes comments about some specific books, and has lots of other posts about the conference, too.
  • As a fan of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series (adult historical mysteries), I enjoyed Colleen Mondor's recent article about Paul Nash and Maisie Dobbs. In other news, Colleen also reports: "Fans of Kiki Strike be aware that the latest Bloomsbury catalog included a teaser that a sequel will be listed in the Fall catalog. No word - anywhere - as to what it's about but I'm delighted to see a return to this story." I say, YAY, Kiki Strike! (Which in no way indicates whether or not I'm going to vote for Kiki Strike for the middle grade Cybils award - I like the other books too.)
  • Proud new mom Shannon Hale asks about Seuss for the teenage mind. She's responding to an article about efforts back in the 50's to get authors to write "an alternative reading primer that first graders wouldn't be able to put down." She asks "And what about high school students? Don't they have the right to read books that aren't boring? There's little comparison between the banal Dick and Jane books and the renowned classics that make up a high school English class curriculum. But still, I find a correlation. Dick and Jane were the unquestioned reading material of elementary schools for years until people started to say, hey, wait a minute, why can't we have other choices? Literacy at the high school level is very much threatened. Wouldn't it also make a difference to have stories that capture the older reader's interest?" I think that it's an excellent post, and it has generated her usual dozens of comments in response.
  • HipWriterMama is back with more Strong Girl Role Models, including, coincidentally, Miri from Shannon Hale's Princess Academy. She should have another list out soon, too, because this one is from last Sunday.
  • TadMack has some additional follow-up thoughts on book reviewing and the Cybils. I'm having some trouble with the site's permanent links, but head on over to Finding Wonderland, and scroll down through the last couple of posts. See in particular her comments, and her link to Not Your Mother's Book Club's comments, on the fact that the Young Adult fiction shortlist ended up with four out of five books from the same publisher. TadMack said: "The second painful thing was that shortlist -- and discovering that four of the final five are from one publishing house. We hadn't noticed until we 'heard' that house described as having a stranglehold on the category. Ouch!" Personally, I believe that the fact that four out of five titles were from the same publishing house shows that the team WASN'T taking the publisher into account in selecting the books, because if they had known, they would have been tempted to balance things out a bit. And I don't think that would have been right. They picked the books that they thought were the best. Period.
  • Thanks to the Disco Mermaids for linking to the first issue of the Class of 2k7 eZine. You can find it here. If you subscribe, you could win a selection of Advance Reading Copies of books by Class of 2k7 authors.
  • The Longstockings Question of the Week is "what children's book character would you want as your best friend?" They always have such appealing questions. Not that they asked me, but I would have to say that I'm torn between Pippi and Hermione (both of whom where selected by Longstockings, too). I would not choose Lyra, because look what happened to her first best friend... The Longstockings also gave out their new award, the Flappie Award, to Absolutely Positively Not..., for best jacket flap copy. The book was nominated by Jay from The Disco Mermaids, and is one that I've been wanting to read.
  • Wendy shares some thoughts about writing book reviews at Blog from the Windowsill, here and here. I've never given much thought to the concept of reviewer's block, but I definitely have it from time to time. Right now, for instance, I have a bunch of books that I read around the holidays, and didn't have time to review. It would appear that I have time now, since I'm spending all this time visiting other blogs. And yet... I can't make myself sit down and write the reviews. I think it's because I'm putting some pressure on myself to write "better" reviews, and as a result, I don't write them at all. But I will. Soon. Wendy has helped motivate me.
  • Little Willow has a new list of Books for Sports Fans. They aren't all books about sports (e.g. The Westing Game), but are books with characters that sports fans will identify with. She's also updated her list of Funny Fiction for Kids.
  • If you're not a fan of this book, be sure to check out The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane: Readers Theater at MotherReader. And if you are a fan, well, then you might not think that it's funny. I haven't actually read Edward Tulane, but I think that the Reader's Theater is hilarious.
  • Over at Original Content, Gail Gauthier relates an experience that she and her son had with The Westing Game. While she and her son liked the book, when his class at school read it, the other kids complained that it was too hard. Gail concludes: "I'm always concerned about whether kids like the same books the adult kidlit community does, so I found this incident worrisome. That's all. But it made me think. And still does." I sometimes wonder about this question, too, so I thought it was an interesting post. Though I have no intelligent conclusions to make on the subject.
  • Jennifer discusses three different versions of Mary Poppins (book, movie, and Broadway show) over at Snapshot. Definitely enough to make me want to go back and re-read the books.
  • Eisha and Jules over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast have their first of a planned series of interviews available. This one is with Liz B. from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy. My favorite part (because I feel the same way) is where Liz says: "While I do post mostly about books, my broader interest is in stories. The stories we tell, the stories we believe, the ones we read and the ones we watch. The ones we want to believe in, the ones we’re afraid of, and the stories we tell because we’re afraid and we want comfort. I think stories are important, and whether it’s a picture book or a T.V. show or Gossip Girls, it’s important." Bravo to that! And it's exactly how I justify watching TV and loving books.
  • Kristen has put together a list of "awesome resources for reading and kid lit" over at Pixie Stix Kids Pix. She includes both printed and web resources. It's well worth checking out.
  • I wrote a bunch yesterday about raising readers (in the context of Jim Trelease's visit). But I've also always been interested in young kids who are interested in writing (hello, J. from Lexington and N. from Westwood). So I was particularly interested to read Adrienne's recent post about Raising a Writer. She says "Personally, I can't get enough of watching this barely seven-year-old using writing to express himself, to communicate, to entertain, and for all manner of practical applications." I feel that way about a couple of kids I know, too.

Thank you all for visiting. This is my 500th published post. I look forward to 500 more! Happy reading!

The 10th Carnival of Children's Literature

Just in time for a quiet Saturday afternoon (if any of you are having one of those), Kelly has posted the 10th Carnival of Children's Literature over at Big A little a. The theme is mid-winter, with a collection of posts that Kelly hopes will bring a bit of sunshine into people's day. Categories include introspection, genre and categorization, "best of" lists and awards, regular book reviews, collections of themed book reviews, reading particular authors, aspects of certain books, authors, the creative process, and general fun and escapism. Wouldn't you love a Jeopardy show that featured some of those topics?

Has anyone else noticed how many amazing new blogs there are in the kidlitosphere these days? Well, if you haven't, you should definitely check out the Carnival for links to some "new to you" blogs. As for me, I'm having a bit of trouble keeping up with it all. My Google Reader account almost always taunts me with "100+ new posts", and I don't even include the blogs that I visit most regularly in that list. But it sure is fun trying to keep up! Happy Saturday! You can find links to previous carnivals here.

Jim Trelease Talk: My Notes

As I mentioned on Wednesday, Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, spoke Tuesday night at the Santa Clara City Library. I had the opportunity to help host the event (on behalf of the Foundation and Friends of the Library, with thanks to National Semiconductor for their sponsorship), and to talk with the speaker before the presentation.

Here are my detailed notes from the presentation. You can doubtless find most of this in The Read-Aloud Handbook, but it was nice to hear it as a talk, and learn what the author thinks are the most important highlights (at least for a suburban parent and teacher audience). Of course these notes are further filtered by what I thought was important, and what I wrote down, and what I write here cannot be taken as Jim's official opinions.

  • Literacy score charts by family income level show that kids from lower income families start out at a disadvantage. However, the low income kids who read a lot are able to do some catching up with the more privileged kids over time. The kids who end up doing best in school, in both math and English, are the kids who read the most. This is because of Trelease Fact #1: Reading is an accrued skill, and the more you do, the better you get at it. This is why, as a parent, you want your kids to be readers.
  • Trelease Fact #2: People will only do things over and over again that they enjoy. Jim talked of "building pleasure bridges" between your child and reading, and showed a quote from a 1985 study by literacy experts that concluded that reading aloud is the "single most important activity" that parents can undertake. He also said that if a child has never seen anyone read for fun, the chance of that child reading for fun is "slim to none." By reading aloud to your kids, you give them the pleasure of your attention, and you model for them every day that you think reading is enjoyable and important.
  • Jim talked quite a bit about a study called Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, by Betty Hart and Todd Risley. There is a 300 page report that was published in 1995, but you can also find a nice (free) synopsis here, written by the authors, published in American Educator. The authors (quotes are from the article) spent "2 1/2 years of observing 42 families for an hour each month to learn about what typically went on in homes with 1- and 2-year-old children learning to talk." They extrapolated from the resulting data, and estimated that "in four years ... an average child in a professional family would have accumulated experience with almost 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family would have accumulated experience with 26 million words, and an average child in a welfare family would have accumulated experience with 13 million words." The challenge that the school systems have is in catching up the lower income children on this vast 30 million word deficit.
  • Jim expressed his opinion that it's a much bigger problem than the school systems can or should have to handle, especially given the size of the deficit in words once the kids start school. He also discussed globalization, and the fact that American kids are going to have to compete not just with other American kids but with kids from all over the world. He suggested that we need some sort of national campaign to inform people all over the country of the importance of exposing their kids to more words every day, and encouraging them to enjoy reading. He gave an analogy to the campaign that was used to successfully cut the incidence of smoking in this country by 50% over 40 years, a combination of informing people, scaring people, and insulting people, and thinks that we need to try something similar in American homes re: reading.
  • He acknowledged the fact that it's hard for parents who themselves don't have those words to pass them along to their kids, especially if they can't afford books, or can't read. He made a big plug for visiting your local library, and also suggested books on tape for parents who have trouble reading themselves. But he's not letting these parents off the hook. He stressed that books are a value system, and that you tell kids that reading is important by doing it, no matter who you are. He was very blunt about the fact that we can't spare parents' feelings in this area, because what we really should be worrying about is the success of the children, not the feelings of the parents.
  • He emphasized giving kids books purely for pleasure, especially as kids get older and have more homework. Because kids have to study a lot of books, it's very important to give them "fun stuff" to balance that out.
  • Jim also strongly emphasized the need to keep reading aloud to kids, even after they are already able to read on their own. This continues to tell kids that you think that reading, and the kids themselves, are important. More important to you than watching your favorite TV shows, for example. He recommended reading aloud to pre-teens and teens while they do chores, like the dishes, because it can be difficult to find other read-aloud time with them. He had a picture of himself doing this with his son many years ago, to prove that he speaks from experience.
  • In reading aloud to six and seven year olds, he cautioned parents not to insult their children by reading aloud from simple picture books that the kids could read themselves. Kids have a much higher listening vocabulary than listening vocabulary, and so parents should read them more advanced books. You might have to work up to the more advanced books gradually, as the child's attention level increases, but he thought that four and five year olds could handle, in small doses, chapter books like Stuart Little, The Cricket in Times Square, and Mr. Popper's Penguins. He said that by reading good books aloud to your kids you can "stretch their attention spans without danger of stress fractures."
  • While he strongly supports libraries, Jim recommended buying books for kids, too. He pointed out that books are inexpensive when compared to the cable bill, dinner out, etc. He also pointed out that used books, funnily enough, have the same words in them that the new books do. He said that if you can only afford to buy one book for your child, you should get Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. (I would agree with this, based on my niece's reaction to this book.)
  • He advocated getting kids the three B's: books, book baskets, and a bed lamp. Book baskets are collections of books that you put in places where the child spends time, like the bathroom, near the kitchen table, and in the car. Bed lamps are so that the child can read in bed comfortably, thus again associating books with comfort and pleasure.
  • Jim's final point was about television. He attributes much of the relative decline of boys' school performance since the 1970s on the prevalence of televised sports (ESPN, etc.). While he acknowledged that there are some positive shows on television, overall he thinks that TV "eats time voraciously." If you want your kids to read, you have to control the amount of television that they watch. He showed results from a study that found that kids who don't have TVs in their bedrooms have higher reading and math scores than kids who do. And in a final, interesting suggestion, he said that if you are going to let your kids watch TV, you should turn on the closed captioning. Finnish television for kids is mostly closed captioned (because the shows are imported), and despite not learning to read until the age of seven, Finnish kids have very high reading scores. By turning on the closed captioning, you end up with the equivalent of with much more printed material in the home.
  • Jim concluded with a few book recommendations: Nina Crews' Mother Goose books, which feature children of different races; Pio Peeps, nursery rhymes in Spanish; The Day the Babies Crawled Away, about naughty children; Uncle John's Bathroom Reader for Kids Only, to entertain any 12-year-old boy; My Father's Dragon; the Junie B. Jones books (in spite of people's complaints about her grammar); James and the Giant Peach; and Emily Rodda's Deltora Quest series (perfect for kids who like fantasy, and aren't quite ready for Harry Potter).

I hope that you find some of this to be food for thought. But really, these are just the highlights. If you're interested in this information (and you must be, if you've read this far), I highly recommend that you get yourself a copy of The Read-Aloud Handbook. The sixth edition was just published in July of 2006. And if you ever have a chance to see Jim Trelease in person, seize it. 2007 will be his last year of lecturing full-time before scaling back for retirement. As I said on Wednesday, he is a great speaker: dynamic, passionate about his topic, and witty. And I believe that what he has to say is truly important.

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

Jim Trelease Talk: Quick Highlights

Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, spoke last night at the Santa Clara City Library. I was privileged to help host the event (on behalf of the Foundation and Friends of the Library, and with thanks to National Semiconductor for sponsoring the event), and to talk with the speaker before the presentation. I'm simply drowning in work right now, but I'll be back with a more in-depth review of the talk in a couple of days. I took notes!

For now I just want to say: Wow! Jim is an excellent speaker. He's funny, uses local reference points to engage the audience, and is clearly passionate about his subject: kids and reading. His primary goal, as stated on his website, is to help kids "make books into friends, not enemies." And he has clear evidence that the best way to do this, and the way to in general improve academic performance in our school system, is for parents to spend more time reading aloud with their kids. I'll be back with more details at the end of the week. Stay tuned! 

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

Little Lord Fauntleroy: Frances Hodgson Burnett

Frances Hodgson Burnett's first book for children, Little Lord Fauntleroy, has come up a couple of times recently. It's mentioned, heavily, in the Cybils shortlist title A Drowned Maiden's Hair, and was the subject of a recent discussion on A Fuse #8 Production. I wasn't sure whether I had read it or not, even though A Little Princess and The Secret Garden (in the Tasha Tudor editions, of course) are two of my favorite classics. So I picked up a copy at the library last week. I'm now convinced that I had read it before, sometime in my childhood. With a book this well-known, it's hard to know where one's own experience in reading the book leaves off, and general knowledge takes over.

At first, I thought it was going to be unbearably treacly. For example, at the end of page 1:

Then suddenly his loving little heart told him that he'd better put both arms around her neck and kiss her again and again, and keep his soft cheek close to hers;"

And it's true that there are way too many references to Cedric's long, golden curls, and to how beautiful he is. Not to mention too many expository passages that detail what should already be clear from the action and dialog. And the way he calls his mother Dearest, because that's what his father always called her. But you know, if you can get past all of that, and remind yourself that the book is a product of its time, it's actually a good story. And the general themes of unselfishness, friendship, and trust are timeless.

What Little Lord Fauntleroy is really about is the way that young Cedric, raised with a certain American independence until his seventh year, wins over his crusty old grandfather, the Earl of Dorincourt. This happens after Cedric's father and his father's two older brothers are all killed within a short time of one another, and Cedric becomes the heir.

Cedric is a young philanthropist by nature, as many kids are, and his first thoughts on finding out that he has access to a bit of money are about how he can help his friends: the apple lady, a bootblack, and the maid's sister. He explains his reasons for helping the apple-woman thus:

'Once I fell down and cut my knee, and she gave me an apple for nothing. I've always remembered her for it. You know you always remember people who are kind to you.'

Cedric simply assumes that his grandfather, who he's never met previously, is a good and generous person. For a relative to be otherwise is inconceivable to him. The grandfather is the character who keeps the book from being too sweet. He's mean, selfish, and downright irascible. Even the local minister dreads visiting him. The Earl banishes Cedric's mother to a separate house on his estate, and refuses to even meet her, for her dreadful crime of being American. Even as Cedric starts to win him over, he still refuses to acknowledge Cedric's mother's positive influence.

Here's an example of Cedric's interplay with his grandfather:

'I think that you must be the best person in the world,' he (Cedric) burst forth at last. 'You are always doing good, aren't you?--and thinking about other people. Dearest says that is the best kind of goodness; not to think about yourself, but to think about other people. That is just the way you are, isn't it?'

His lordship was so dumbfounded to find himself presented in such agreeable colours that he did not know exactly what to say. He felt that he needed time for reflection. To see each of his ugly, selfish motives changed into a good and generous one by the simplicity of a child was a singular experience.

There is humor in the book, though it's of the subtle variety. For example, there's a scene in which Cedric has just met his grandfather, and offers to escort the ailing older man in to dinner. This interaction is observed by the footman.

The big footman almost perilled his reputation and his situation by smiling. He was an aristocratic footman who had always lived in the best of noble families, and he had never smiled, indeed he would have felt himself to be a disgraced and vulgar footman if he had allowed himself to be led by any circumstances into such an indiscretion as a smile. But he had a very narrow escape. He only just saved himself by staring straight over the Earl's head at a very ugly picture.

This book made me want to go re-read books by Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, with its subtle humor and similar time period. Today's young boys may not be able to get past Cedric's velvet suit and long hair, but I think that Little Lord Fauntleroy is a heart-warming story that's well worth re-visiting.

Book: Little Lord Fauntleroy
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Publisher: J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd.
Original Publication Date: 1885
Pages: 210
Age Range: 8-12
Source of Book: Santa Clara City Library
Other Blog Mentions: See a recent discussion of the book at A Fuse #8 Production

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

The Edge of the Forest, January Issue

An all-new issue of The Edge of the Forest is now available. I don't know how Kelly does it. She's a co-founder of the Cybils, and she's also hosting the next Carnival of Children's Literature (due out in just a few days). Anyway, there's lots of great stuff in this month's issue of The Edge of the Forest, including a review by Kelly of Cybils middle grade shortlist title A Drowned Maiden's Hair. Tarry no more here - head on over and check it out.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: January 15

Here are some literacy-related stories to warm your heart, or at least pique your interest:

  • According to a January 15th article in the Belfast Telegraph, "parents who stop reading to their children once they start compulsory education at the age of five are jeopardising their chances of success. Research shows that children brought up in a home that continues to regard reading as a source of entertainment are far more likely to achieve higher reading standards in national curriculum tests." This is from an upcoming report by the National Literacy Trust. "The report, part of a nationwide Family Reading Campaign mounted by the National Literacy Trust and the BBC, will also show there has been a decline in enjoyment of reading over the past five years - particularly among boys." Although the data in this report is specific to the UK, I would be surprised if the broad conclusions were not also reflected in the U.S.
  • U.S. First Lady Laura Bush is in Paris attending a conference on literacy. You can read more in this AP article.
  • According to a January 15th press release: "Chicago Tribune Charities, a McCormick Tribune Foundation fund, has announced grants totaling $950,000 to forty-one programs committed to building adult and children's literacy in the Chicago metropolitan area...Twelve children's literacy programs will receive grants totaling $280,000."
  • In an article that is sure to be controversial, the Daily Telegraph reports: "Muslim mothers who do not speak English at home are stunting their children's literacy levels, one of the Government's most influential education advisers said last night. Sir Cyril Taylor, the chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, said that the failure of parents to speak English at home was a key reason why some schools were at the bottom of newly-published-league tables". I found the link to this article here.

Sunday Afternoon Visits: January 14

This weekend I read three of the Cybils shortlist titles in Middle Grade fiction (Heat, Framed, and Weedflower). I still have plenty of other books on my to read stack, starting with a re-read of Kiki Strike, which I read several months ago. I haven't spent a lot of time visiting the other blogs this weekend, because I've been wrapped up in reading. But here are a few things worth noting:

  • In case you missed it, last week was National Delurker Week. I posted about it, and have so far had comments from 13 people. A few are old friends who couldn't resist an invitation to comment (and who can blame them?), and some are newer friends. I was also pleased to hear from several previously unknown lurkers. Blogs that I wasn't previously acquainted with include: Left Coast Mama, The Sixth Essential (which would be books, of course), and Whoopittydoooo. And of course, the first thing I did was check out everyone's blog, and/or email them as appropriate. And just so you know, this is what nearly everyone does who has a blog. So, if you have a new blog, and you want people to notice it, the best thing to do is comment on other people's blogs. Stepping off of soapbox now. Thanks to all of you who visited!
  • And speaking of commenting, Monica Edinger has an interesting post over at Educating Alice about how the commenting that she's seeing on her students' blogs reflects already existing social dynamics. That is, the number of comments that people receive is an indicator of already existing popularity levels. There is, naturally, some discussion in the comments of this post about how we handle this, and feel about this, as adults.
  • TadMack has some additional Cybils Young Adult fiction followup thoughts over at Finding Wonderland, with musings about several of the books that did, and did not, make the shortlist.
  • I learned from LibrariAnne that there's going to be a new book to follow Scott Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy. It will be called, appropriately enough, Extras, and it won't feature Tally Youngblood as the main character. Also via LibrariAnne, the family reading chair (you'll have to click through for pictures). She finds the coolest stuff!
  • Anne-Marie Nichols has a post asking people how they create their personal libraries, over at A Readable Feast. No responses/suggestions so far, so if you have any thoughts about how you build your library, head on over and share them. And really if you don't have thoughts on how to build your personal library, you should head over anyway, because Anne-Marie has some great suggestions.
  • The Kidlitosphere's own Liz Burns, from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy is one of eight candidates for four slots on the 2009 Printz Award Committee. Send her your happy thoughts, and/or votes, as you feel are appropriate!
  • A Fuse #8 Production is happy to break the news about the awarding of the 2007 Sydney Taylor Book Awards, while Roger Sutton announces the Scott O'Dell award winner. Yellow Star, which I loved, was an honor winner for the Sydney Taylor award for older readers. And finally, Michele over at Scholar's Blog brings us some local (to her) news, and announces that Philip Pullman has been awarded The Freedom of Oxford.
  • Speaking of awards, Franki over at A Year of Reading has a great post about her selection criteria for her list of Newbery predictions. If you haven't seen Mary Lee and Franki's list of Newbery predictions, they are well worth checking out. A big part of why they started their blog was because they hoped that they would have read the eventual Newbery winner by the time the award comes out. Aren't you curious to see if they succeed?
  • For the record, even if Pippi Longstocking tells you to, you shouldn't eat mushrooms that you find in the wild. True-life story from author Jennifer J. Stewart via A Fuse #8 Production. There's a current non-fiction-related story from San Jose here.
  • Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has an idea to start the new year. They are interviewing bloggers from around the kidlitosphere, starting with each other. Their questions and responses are a riot, and we all look forward to seeing who they'll feature next. You can also find a series of interviews of Cybils judges taking place over on the Cybils site, starting with Kelly's interview of Gregory K
  • I couldn't say exactly why I dropped out of Poetry Friday (too many balls in the air, I guess), but it continues to grow in popularity every week. Kelly has a round-up of this week's contributions over at Big A little a.
  • Sherry from Semicolon links to a wonderful post over at Coffee, Tea, Books, and Me, about the joys of re-reading books. Brenda says, in defense of her large personal library: "For one thing, my books are my old friends as well as new friends whose acquaintance I have yet to make. My old friends give me warmth and stability in a very chaotic world. The books I haven't read entice me with anticipation." The rest is great too, for those of us who love our books.

Has anyone else noticed that I start these posts saying that I have a few items of interest, and then I go on and on? Sorry about that. It's just that there's so much interesting stuff out there, it's hard to leave things out. Happy reading! And Happy Martin Luther King Day tomorrow! And finally, GO PATRIOTS!!

Grist: Heather Waldorf

Grist by Heather Waldorf was nominated for the Cybils award for Young Adult Fiction, and I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy from Red Deer Press. Sixteen year old Charlie (Charlena, aka Char, aka Charlie-girl) lives with her dad, Mike, and a few scattered memories of the mother who died of cancer when Charlie was four. Charlie has always wanted to be a writer, but as the summer after Junior Year approaches, she's in a major funk. Her dad is dating a woman she can't relate to, and her best friend Sam, who she is secretly in love with, has moved to Australia for a year with his family. Sam has also started mentioning someone named Elizabeth in his emails, and Charlie is determinedly freezing him out. All in all, Charlie's creative juices are flat out dried up, and neither Mike now Charlie's writing teacher can talk her out of it.

What Charlie needs is a change of scenery. When her grandmother invites her to spend the summer up on Lake Ringrose, where her mom grew up, she accepts, and finds her life changed forever. She meets the charismatic and dangerous Kerry, who has troubles of his own. Despite her best efforts, she succumbs to his charm. And that's where things get really complicated, and downright emotionally devastating. But that, Charlie's writing teacher tells her, is all grist for writing stories.

I enjoyed the characterization in Grist. Charlie feels real to me, and I empathize with her pain. I like Kerry a lot, too. He has had some tough breaks, but he's doing the best that he can. And despite hellacious parenting, he knows where he wants to be in the world. Pretty impressive at eighteen. Although absent for much of the text, Charlie's dad, Mike, is also a strong character. He has his flaws, but his love for and support of his daughter are boundless.

As for the plot, I must admit that I saw where things were going fairly early on (though I'm not sure it would have been obvious to a less suspicious mind). And I found some of the passages about Charlie's writer's block a bit tutorial-ish (here are the important things about being a writer, etc.). Despite these points, I read on eagerly, because I cared about what was going to happen to Charlie. And at the end, I wanted more. I wanted to know how Charlie's was going to continue to relate to both Sam and Kerry, and whether a certain parent and child would ever reconcile. I wanted to know how next year's boat race on Lake Ringrose was going to turn out. In short, I didn't want it to end. And that's the best endorsement I can give you.

SIDE NOTE: I do have a question after reading this book. What is it with the "falling in love with the life-long best friend" thing? I've read about this recently in Monsoon Summer (complete with the summer apart, and the important discussions by letter), How to be Popular, Shug, and I know that I'm missing at least one. Is this something that really happens all the time? I was never close friends with any boys when I was little, so I can't speak from any personal experience. I suppose that if one were already close friends with someone of the opposite gender, it would make sense to fall for the person once hormones hit. Don't get me wrong. I think that Heather Waldorf handles this situation beautifully. Charlie's anger and frustration are believable, without being over the top. And it's certainly not the author's fault that several other recent novels, presumably written in parallel, display a similar dynamic. I'm just a tiny bit baffled by this trend, that's all, and I'm choosing to vent about it here.

Book: Grist
Author: Heather Waldorf
Publisher: Red Deer Press
Original Publication Date: September 30, 2006
Pages: 228
Age Range: 14 and up
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Sheryl McFarlane's Book Blog

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

Hypothetical Question

So, you get home after being out for the afternoon, and you have a trunk full of groceries (including perishables). Before you bring them in from the car, you notice that your wonderful postman has left not one but two boxes from Amazon at your doorstep. Do you:

A) Put away the groceries first, so that they don't spoil;

B) Dig through the bags to find the perishable items, put those away, and then leave the rest so that you can open the boxes of books; or

C) Leave all of the groceries until you've checked out the books?

In my case, the answer is C. It's all a matter of having priorities. What would you do?

Between my library visit this afternoon, my two Amazon boxes, and a package today from Chronicle Books, I'm simply drowning in books. Today's new titles include:

As I'm already in the middle of Grist by Heather Waldorf (a review copy received previously from Red Deer Press), and enjoying it, all of the above titles will have to wait. Fortunately, I have a reading weekend coming up. For 2007, I wish you all plenty of books.

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

Quick Hits on a Tuesday Afternoon

Here are a few things that I've run across this week that I simply must share with you all right away:

  • I learned from LibraryAnne about a new board game that's sure to be a hit with book lovers. It's called LieBrary. And although, like Anne, I think that the name could be better, I do like the concept. It's like Balderdash, where you make up definitions for obscure words and people have to guess the right definition. In LieBrary, you are given the name and title of a book, and you make up a convincing first line. You get points if someone votes for your made-up line. The box, needless to say, looks like a book. This is now on my mental "I want" list.
  • I found this post by Kim (of Kim & Jason Lemonade Stand / Escape Adulthood) inspirational. Kim discusses the concept of retirement (in context of Brett Favre), and how unnecessary that can be when you're already doing something that you love. She proposes that people "make that long list of things you want to do when you retire and start doing them…today!" A worthy goal, I think.
  • If you were interested in that discussion of age ranges as they apply to middle school (not middle grade) kids, you may be interested in the Yahoo group (middle_school_lit) that Richie Partingon is putting together. Thanks to Mitali Perkins for the link.
  • OK, this doesn't have to do with books, but I thought it was funny (and true). Check out this list at FeatherBee of signs that you are living in 2007. My favorite is "You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of 3."
  • Also not related to books, for all you sports fans out there here's a post by Julius Lester about "why the emotional lives of so many people, including me, are tied to the fate of our favorite sports team." I liked that his example is the New England Patriots, but his conclusions certainly generalize.
  • There is a hilarious new contest in the works over at Lisa Yee's blog. She challenges you to change the first letter of one word of an existing book title to make it into something new and different. The results are highly entertaining so far, though I haven't had creative energy to think of something myself.
  • HipWriterMama, a new blog that I've recently discovered and quite enjoy, has what I think is a great post about identifying strong role models for girls in literature. Of course I'm a bit biased, because she references my Cool Girls list. But I think that many of you will enjoy her musings about why this is important (she has three young daughters), and why she chose the characters that she did. I know that MotherReader was pleased to see Junie B. Jones on the list. This post is the first of what HipWriterMama promises will be weekly lists (very ambitious!) so check back.
  • Colleen Mondor has a lot of great new review articles up. Liz B. has the summary at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy.
  • There's a new Hot Man of Children's Literature over at A Fuse #8 Production. You'll have to click through to see who he is.   

And, on the Cybils front:

And now, I'm off to the library to volunteer, something I didn't have time for at all in December. Here's to life being a little less busy this year. Happy Tuesday!