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Posts from February 2007

Framed: Frank Cottrell Boyce

Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce is one of the five Cybils shortlist titles for Middle Grade Fiction. And I can see why the nominating committee selected it. It's an action-packed story, populated with quirky characters and incidents, and it is simply hilarious. Although I tried to restrain myself, I still ended up with more than a dozen flagged passages, most of them flagged because they made me laugh.

Framed is set in the gray, quiet, Welsh town of Manod. As the story begins, Snowdonia is slowly sinking into obscurity, as more and more families move away. Our hero, Dylan, is the only boy left in town (except for his one year old brother, who is not much good at soccer). Dylan's family business, the Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel (a garage) is in precarious shape, despite the best efforts of the plucky family. Dylan's dad leaves town, too, to look for work elsewhere. The future looks grim.

Things change, however, when workers from the National Gallery in London establish a clandestine art storage facility at the top of a nearby mountain. To get in and out of the facility, the workers and guards have to drive by the Snowdonia Oasis, thus becoming a source of new business. Soon the intrepid family is supplying Titian Tarts and Picasso Pie to the art-loving men temporarily stationed in their neighborhood. And as they have the opportunity to see some of the artwork, they, and the town of Manod, are gradually transformed.

There are misunderstandings. There are daring capers, and stolen works of art. There are family and neighborhood traumas. But through it all runs the theme of the transformative power of art.

This is a very British book, with some Welsh phrasing and sensibilities. It carries, to me, a hint of Roald Dahl in the exaggeration, and more than a hint of Jasper Fforde in the absurdity. The characters are slightly larger than life. Dylan is a resourceful hero who is genuinely incapable of understanding why any of his neighbors would want to leave their town. He thinks that it's perfect. Lester, the head of the art storage facility, loves art, but wants to see it kept in boxes, and not shared with many other people. Lester is blind to the way that the pictures are changing the ordinary Welsh people, and their town. Dylan's family is an entrepreneurial team, with astonishing resourcefulness and determination.

I personally found the caper and theft portion of the book a bit rushed, and the conclusion anti-climactic. I never did understand what was going on with the dad, and why he left. But I liked the spirit of the family, and the way that the town, and the Snowdonia Oasis, were improved through the residents' efforts. And as I mentioned above, this book is laugh-out-loud funny. Here are a few examples:

Mr. Arthur is the editor of the Manod Month, our local newspaper. It used to be called the Manod Week, but there isn't enough news in Manod to fill a newspaper every week. (pg. 53)

Of course this information is supposed to be top secret. Publishing it in the Manod Month shouldn't compromise that secrecy as no one reads it anyway. (pg. 85)

"Looks like it's Mars bars again," I said. "That is so unhealthy," said Marie. "You can kill yourselves if you like. I'm going to sort out a proper breakfast for myself." She had a Bounty, because they've got real coconut in them, which is very good for you. (pg. 158)

And so on. Throwaway line after throwaway line, most of them quite funny. I think that kids will like this book a lot, boys and girls. They'll laugh, they'll gasp, and most important of all, they'll keep reading until the end.

Book: Framed
Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Publisher: HarperCollins
Original Publication Date: August 2006
Pages: 320
Age Range: 9-12
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher. A Cybils shortlist title for Middle Grade Fiction.
Other Blog Reviews: Semicolon, Children's Literature Book Club, The Edge of the Forest, and Scholar's Blog

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

Heat: Mike Lupica

I was a bit lukewarm about Mike Lupica's previous children's book, Travel Team. I'm happy that Heat was shortlisted for the Cybils in middle grade fiction (the category I was judging in). Because otherwise I might not have read it, and I LOVED LOVED LOVED Heat. It's about a twelve-year-old boy named Michael Arroyo, who is a baseball pitcher. And he's not just any pitcher. He has "the heat" in his arm that makes great pitchers stand out. His team has a chance to make it to the Little League World Series, in large part because of his pitching ability. Making it to the World Series is critically important for Michael, because it will fulfill a dream of his father's, and his own.

But Michael has problems, too. His mother died when he was younger, and his father has been absent for several months. Recently, some of the adults in the community have begun asking Michael and his older brother Carlos difficult questions. Carlos is working multiple jobs to support them, but if word gets out about their father, the brothers fear that they will be separated, and put into the foster care system.

Things get worse when a rival player accuses Michael of being older than his 12 years, and hence ineligible to play Little League. Michael can't prove his age because his birth certificate was lost when he emigrated from Cuba. And without his father to help, he and Carlos don't know where to turn. As the playoffs begin, Michael finds himself on the sidelines.

The story isn't all gloom and doom, of course. Michael has several things going for him. He has his love of baseball, his loyal best friend Manny, and a grandmotherly neighbor who cooks for him. And he meets a girl, a very special girl named Ellie. With help from his friends, Michael is able to confront his demons. The ending is heart-warming, and may require tissues.

I loved the characters in this book, especially Michael, whose loneliness in the absence of his parents is palpable. His usually empty apartment serves as an image of his solitude, when he's not with Manny. Manny is one of my all-time favorite sidekicks (though some have called him too good to be true). He's completely loyal to Michael, a catcher willing to take second place to his pitcher. Manny's optimism provides a nice counterbalance to Michael's angst. Here's an example:

Michael mumbled his reply on purpose.

"I didn't quite catch that," Manny said.

"I said you're right."

Manny Cabrera, light on his feet as always, more graceful than all the people who called him No Neck knew, danced now on the Bronx street corner, Michael's catcher celebrating as if he'd just scored a touchdown.

Here's another example, after Michael has an experience that turns out expectedly well. Michael thinks:

Maybe that was the way you should go through life, if you really thought about it. Maybe if you didn't expect good things to happen to you, well, when something did, it would seem much bigger and better than it actually was.


In Manny's view of the world, there was always another sundae coming along that needed another cherry, just because Manny believed every single day was going to be the best of his whole life.

Michael tried to remember the last time he had felt that way about stuff.

But he couldn't.

Thank goodness he has Manny! I also enjoyed Michael's romance with Ellie in this book. It's a very PG sort of romance, boy likes girl, girl runs away, girl comes back and torments boy a little bit, etc. Misunderstandings ensue. The way that the two circle around one another, approaching and retreating, feels real to me.

This book is also a love letter to baseball. People who aren't baseball fans might find that some of the play by play scenes describing games are too detailed (though they are skimmable). But if you enjoy baseball at all, then Heat is not to be missed. I haven't researched this, but I suspect that the names of many of the characters in this novel are deliberately chosen because they are the names of baseball players.

Heat touches on several themes, without ever feeling heavy-handed about it. Friendship, sportsmanship, loyalty to one's teammates, what it means to be a family, how hard it is for kids who don't have parents in our society, and the immigrant experience. Cops and social workers are portrayed as wanting to genuinely help kids, as are several other adults in the story. The family bonds between Michael and Carlos are strong.

What more can I say, without giving too much of the story away? This is a book with a lot to offer to any reader. Strong characters, humor, and a well-drawn plot. For baseball fans, it's not to be missed. (Although, I personally think that the book could have been improved by talking more about the Red Sox, and less about the Yankees, but I recognize that as a personal bias.) But the main reason to read it is that Heat is a story with heart.

Book: Heat
Author: Mike Lupica
Publisher: Philomel (Penguin)
Original Publication Date: April 2006
Pages: 220
Age Range: 9-12
Source of Book: Purchased it. This is a Cybils short list title for Middle Grade Fiction.
Other Blog Reviews: Semicolon, Big A little a, Rave Reviews Log. See also a post about Mike Lupica at Book Moot.

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

A Cybilized Request

As you no doubt know, if you're been following along at all, the winners of the Cybils will be announced later today have just been announced. There will be winners in eight categories, one with two sub-categories. You can find the most excellent short lists here. And even apart from the short lists, the long lists are filled with great, great titles. Books that are well-written, but also have that "can't put it down factor." You can find all of the long lists here.

It's been quite an accomplishment selecting the winners from the hundreds of nominated titles. The publishers have been wonderful, providing book after book as the nominations poured in. The nominating committee members worked incredibly hard, reading their way through many, many titles, winnowing each category list down to five. The judging committee members had fewer books to read, but had the difficult task of choosing one winner from five wonderful books. Other bloggers and journalists who aren't directly involved have helped by publicizing and supporting the awards. And I, as a member of the Cybils admin committee, am grateful.

But now I have a request. The Cybils are a democratic series of book awards, given out by bloggers, with a focus on well-written books that are exciting and engaging for kids to read. If you think that this is a good idea, and you would like to support the Cybils awards of the future, I ask that you consider, if it's not a financial burden for you, buying one or more of the winning titles this week. Preferably from Amazon or Barnes and Noble online, where your purchase will be rapidly reflected in sales rankings. (Though of course in the slightly longer term, we hope to see all of these books flying off the shelves of independent booksellers, too).

You've probably seen how, when a book wins a Newbery Award or Honor, that it jumps immediately to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. This is unlikely to happen with the Cybils, at least this year. But we would love to be able to demonstrate, in a quantitative, undeniable manner, that the Cybils can make a difference to book sales.

This will help us in getting continued publisher support in future years. It will help us to publicize the award, and increase the number of people who learn about it, and take time to nominate titles. And, it will help us to achieve our primary goal, which is to get wonderful books into the hands of children everywhere. (It will also, if you click through from the Cybils site, or from a blogger's site, probably cause a small commission to be paid either to the Cybils organization or to the blogger in question. That money will only be used for good - mostly for award statues or buying more books. No one is getting rich out of any of this. We do it because we love the books.)

So, if you support the above-described goals at all, please think about buying one of the winning titles this week. You can get a gift for yourself. You can get a gift for a child you know. You can buy all of the titles and donate them to your local library. You can do whatever pleases you. But buy the books. And watch with us as the popularity statistics on Amazon soar! Thanks for your support!

p.s. The idea behind this post stemmed from a brainstorming discussion on the Cybils site, and was particularly inspired by suggestions from Mitali Perkins. Thanks!

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

I have to admit that the premise of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, never grabbed me. I knew that it was a story told in alternating chapters about a high school boy and girl who meet while clubbing in New York, with lots of profanity, and lots of music references. Well, I'm not very into music, I'm not a huge fan of New York, and the alternating boy-girl chapters seemed gimmicky. So I didn't read it, despite the positive reviews.

But then it was shortlisted in the Cybils Young Adult Fiction category. I have a lot of faith in the good taste of the nominating committee (tremendous and thoughtful readers all). So I ordered a copy from Amazon. But I still wasn't that interested, so it sat in my "to read" stack for two months. And then the judging committee, another set of careful readers who know their young adult literature, picked it as the winner. So I said, ok, fine, I'll read the book.

And it's great! Yes, it's set in the late night music/club scene in New York. But that's not what it's about. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is about what it feels like to meet that special someone, and be interested right away, while having doubts, and baggage, and difficulties that get in the way. All compressed into a zany time period of one very long night. It reminded me a little bit of the movie Dazed and Confused, and I can totally see it working as a movie.

Through the alternating chapters, we explore this falling in love from both sides. We see each person's doubts, and how the other is perceiving him or her at the same time. It's a bit confusing sometimes - I had to stop and think "who's talking now?", because both narratives are written in the first person. But mostly it works.

I wouldn't recommend this title for younger kids, or for people who are easily offended by profanity or sex. The "f" word features very prominently, and there are some pretty overt (though not not unduly graphic) sexual references. And yet, if you can get past that, the two main characters are actually quite straight-laced. They don't drink, they don't do drugs, and they both want stable, monogamous relationships. I think that the language is the authors' way of keeping Nick and Norah, especially Nick, from being too good to be true.

There's poetry in some of the text, too. And not just when Nick or Norah is thinking about song lyrics. Here is an early throwaway line describing Nick shifting gears from performer to person taking down band equipment: "I go from chords to cords, amped to amps." And here's Norah, musing on her own upbringing:

My parents have also done me the misfortune of being happily married for a quarter century, which no doubt dooms my own prospects of ever experiencing true love. Gold is not struck twice.

I love that. "Gold is not struck twice." There's also David's description of moving through the crowd at a club, holding Norah's hand:

The crowd is pressing in on us and the bassline is revealing everything and we are two people who are part of a lot more people, and at the same time we're our own part. There isn't loneliness, only this intense twoliness.

I love that, too. "Twoliness." The language aside, what makes this book special is the way that the authors are able to capture those feelings and insecurities that teenagers have when they first fall for each other, especially the feeling of euphoria. I could cite dozens of examples. But I'll limit myself to three:

Nick stands up and offers me his hand. I have no idea what he wants, but what the hell, I take his hand anyway, and he pulls me up on my feet, then presses against me for a slow dance and it's like we're in a dream where he's Christopher Plummer and I'm Julie Andrews and we're dancing on the marble floor of an Austrian terrace garden. (Norah, page 55)

If Caroline was here, she'd give me her Patience, Grasshopper speech. But she's not, and I am left to wonder on my own: How does this work, the getting to know a new guy without revealing too much desperation for his undivided attention? (Norah, page 68)

No--when the rain falls you just let it fall and you grin like a madman and you dance with it, because if you can make yourself happy in the rain then you're doing pretty alright in life. (Nick, page 156)

While most aren't as fully fleshed out as Nick and Norah, several of the other characters are intriguing. Tris, Nick's painfully recent ex-girlfriend, turns out to be more multi-dimensional than she seems at first. Norah's dad is a high-powered record executive, but also reveals himself to be a caring father and loving husband. There's also a cross-dressing Playboy bunny/bouncer and a gay playboy band member who each offer words of wisdom to Nick. One thing that I really like about this book is the way that the sexuality of the gay and cross-dressing characters is treated completely matter-of-factly by both Nick and Norah.

So, here's what I have to say about Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. It doesn't matter if you're not into music, or you aren't interested in the New York club scene. It doesn't matter if you're male or female, gay or straight. If you've ever met someone and been interested in them from the first glance, or if you've ever wondered what it would be like to meet someone and click right away, you should read this book. It's a perfect read for young adults. And for the censors who might fear that the language in the book will be a bad influence on kids, I say, "they have heard these words before." And maybe the straight-laced, non-drinking Nick and Norah, high on meeting each other, will have a positive influence instead.

Book: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
Author: Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. See also the Nick and Norah website.
Publisher: Knopf
Original Publication Date: May 2006
Pages: 192
Age Range: 14 and up
Source of Book: Purchased it. This book is the winner of the Cybils award for Young Adult Fiction.
Other Blog Reviews: Booktopia, Tea Cozy, Merideth's Books, Original Content, Little Willow, bookshelves of doom, LibrariAnne, Kids Lit, ReadyingYA: Readers' Rants, Sara's Hold Shelf

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

A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama: Laura Amy Schlitz

A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama, by Laura Amy Schlitz, just won the first Cybils award for Middle Grade Fiction. As the subtitle suggests, this story is a slightly over-the-top melodrama, set in Victorian times. In the grand tradition of Gothic melodramas, orphan Maud is an unsatisfactory pupil, singled out for persecution, at the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans, wishing that she could be adopted. Her dream comes true when a charismatic elderly woman named Hyacinth Hawthorne chooses her from among the others, and takes her home. Hyacinth and her sister Judith buy Maud beautiful clothes, and even books. They, and their third sister, Victoria, clean her up, and feed her the best meals she's ever had. And they don't beat her, which in Maud's world is pretty impressive.

But, this being a melodrama and all, things aren't entirely what they seem. Maud soon learns that she is expected to be a "secret child", and that no one outside of the household can know of her existence. She learns that the sisters are grooming her to play a part in the seances that they conduct. Over time, she learns who can, and who cannot, be trusted, and she learns to trust her own internal sense of right and wrong.

There's a lot to like about this book. The story is compelling, dark and mysterious, but with flashes of humor. The nature of the characters is revealed through action, rather than through what the author tells us directly. This allows the reader to come gradually to understand the characters, even as Maud does. The Hawthorne sisters' deaf-mute, crippled maid is a unique and fascinating figure. And the charming and compelling Hyacinth is unforgettable.

Maud herself is strong-willed and independent, definitely a candidate for the Cool Girls of Children's Literature. What I like most about her is that she's not perfect. She knowingly lies and disobeys, and ignores people who need her help. But she has her reasons, and she does the right thing in the end. She's also delightfully innocent. Here's an example, in which she sees a boardwalk for the first time:

The signs on the boardwalk vied for Maud's attention. FRANKFURTERS, SALT WATER TAFFY, ICE-CREAM SODAS, PING-PONG. What, Maud wondered, was ping-pong? It sounded delicious.

So cute. As historical fiction, this book offers a window into the spiritualism craze of the early 1900s. The details are consistent with what I've read in other books, and are not dumbed down in any way for the intended child audience. A Drowned Maiden's Hair also includes hints of actual supernatural events, leaving them vague enough that the reader can decide to believe or not believe.

Although this book is a melodrama, and features mainly female characters, I do think that it's a boy-friendly story, too. The brilliant opening scene has Maud "locked in the outhouse, singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at the top of her voice. There is plenty of action, and I think that boys will like the creepy parts, about a little girl who drowned in the ocean, and who may or may not be haunting Maud. One of my fellow Cybils judges (Brooke) suggested that boys could be drawn into this book by having someone read the first few chapters aloud to them.

Laura Amy Schlitz is not afraid to touch on dark and disagreeable topics, in her Gothic story. Beatings and mistreatments and betrayals, and deaths. But she manages this with a light hand. Here's an example, from when Maud's brother visits her at the Hawthorne sisters' home, and is suspicious of their motives.

"There aren't any men around, are there?" inquired Samm'l. "Coming to the house at night, after dark?"

"No," Maud said firmly. "They're old maids. And they're ladies," she added, as if that clinched it. Maud's ideas of social class were as vague as they were snobbish, but she knew that ladies did not do wicked things.

All in all, this is a well-constructed and utterly engaging read, one that meets the Cybils requirements perfectly. I highly recommend that you check it out.   

Book: A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Publisher: Candlewick
Original Publication Date: September 2006
Pages: 400
Age Range: 10-14
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher, for the Cybils. This book was the Cybils winner for Middle Grade Fiction.
Other Blog Reviews: Bookshelves of Doom, In the Pages, Swarm of Beasts

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

Cybils Announcement

It's ready. Early. The Cybils winners are here! Head on over to the Cybils site for the official announcement, with more detail. Here is the text of our press release.

FOR IMMEDATE RELEASE -- Cybils Literary Awards Announced

Bloggers sought a balance between literary quality and "kid appeal" among the 482 titles nominated by the public.

CHICAGO, Illinois—A terrified squirrel, a quiet egg and an infinite playlist were among those earning top honors today in the first-ever awards from kidlit bloggers.

The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards, or Cybils, were won by nine books in eight categories, from picture books to graphic novels and even fantasy and science fiction.

The awards cap five months of activity by roughly 80 volunteers, who plowed through 482 books nominated by the public at the Cybils blog, . The contest grew out of a comment on a blog post last October and rapidly gained traction in the tight-knit community of librarians, teachers, homeschoolers, parents, authors and illustrators, dubbed the "kidlitosphere."

The idea was to find books with literary merit that kids couldn't put down, striking a balance between the highbrow Newberys, for example, and the populist Quill awards.

Any children's or young adult title published in English in 2006 was eligible, and anyone could nominate a book. Nominees then went through two rounds of judging: those surviving the first cut were announced New Year's Day.

Here are the winning books:

Fantasy and Science Fiction:
"Ptolemy's Gate"
Jonathan Stroud
Hyperion: Miramax

Fiction Picture Books:
"Scaredy Squirrel"
by Melanie Watt
Kid's Can Press

Graphic Novels:
Ages 12 and Under:
"Amelia Rules," vol. 3: Superheroes
by Jim Gownley
Renaissance Press

Ages 13 and Up:
"American Born Chinese"
Gene Yang
First Second

Middle Grade Fiction:
"A Drowned Maiden's Hair"
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Candlewick Press

Non-Fiction, Middle Grade and Young Adult:
"Freedom Walkers"
by Russell Freedman
Holiday House

Non-Fiction Picture Books:
"An Egg is Quiet"
written by Dianna Aston; illustrated by Sylvia Long
Chronicle Books

"Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow"
written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin

Young Adult Fiction:
"Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist"
by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Knopf Books for Young Readers

For further details on each winning book, please see the Cybils blog
at There are paragraphs that each judging committee prepared on why each book was selected. It's great stuff!

The MG and YA Fiction Shortlists

While we're waiting for the Cybils winners to be announced, I thought that you might like to revisit the shortlists. I'm presenting the middle grade fiction and young adult fiction lists here, since those are the two categories I was involved in (as administrator for YA, and as a judge for MG). You can find the lists for the other categories here. I've included links to reviews for books that I reviewed before the Cybils process began. I have reviews coming out for most of the other titles after the announcements, and will put in updated links then.

Middle Grade Fiction

Drowned Maiden's Hair, A (my review)
written by Laura Amy Schlitz

written by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Harper Collins

written by Mike Lupica

Kiki Strike (my review)
written by Kirsten Miller

written by Cynthia Kadohata

Young Adult Fiction

Book Thief, The (my review)
written by Markus Zusak
Knopf Books for Young Readers

Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life, A (my review)
written by Dana Reinhardt
Wendy Lamb Books

Hattie Big Sky (my review)
written by Kirby Larson
Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (my review)
written by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Knopf Books for Young Readers

Rules of Survival, The
written by Nancy Werlin

Who will the winners be? You can find out TOMORROW at the Cybils site. Stay tuned...

Children's Literacy Round-Up: February 13

Here are a few recent children's literacy-related stories from the wires.

  • The Savannah Morning News recently ran a profile of new resident Allen Berger, a retired Professor of Reading and Writing from Miami University. When he retired from Miami University, the professor "divided his collection of more than 10,000 books and journals among the university library, Children's Services of Butler County, Ohio, and his favorite literacy education organizations last year and moved to Savannah." Now active as a volunteer in Savannah, Professor Berger "encourages parents to promote literacy in the home by reading in front of their children (because) "(i)t's tremendous when children see an older person enjoying reading"."
  • I've written about such programs before, but the Oshkosh Northwestern (WI) has a nice article about the literacy program at the Oskhosh Correctional Institution. "Breaking Barriers with Books: A Book Sharing Program From Prison, initially funded by a grant from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, has been going strong for 12 years... It's a weekly class for fathers in the prison system to learn about literacy, journal keeping and writing, and ways to share books with their children. The final step of the course is when the fathers are able to read to their visiting children, or videotape their book-reading for their children, if the children are unable to visit." Here's hoping that the program will have a lasting effect.
  • The Daily Herald from Provo, Utah also has an article about a literacy class that encourages parents to read with their kids. Two teachers are holding a weekly evening class for parents. "They will focus each class on different aspects of literacy, including the importance of reading, writing, listening, comprehension and using interactive stories." I particularly appreciated this quote, from teacher Darlynn Menlove: "Sometimes a few of us teachers wish we could teach parents the importance of reading to their children before they ever left the hospital." I hope that their program is a success, too!
  • The University of Nebraska Gateway has a brief article about the spelling bee that a University honor society is hosting "to raise book donations for underprivileged children in the Metro area." Sounds like a good match to me: college kids, a spelling bee, and books for local children.
  • An Illinois State professor, Nancy Tolson, has put together a presentation on inspirational books with black lead characters. "Tolson said she hopes kids of all races find inspiration in those books", according to a recent Waukegan News Sun article.

I hope that some of you will find inspiration from the stories mentioned here, or from the books that your children are reading.

A Book for President's Day

I received the following announcement from Stacia and Rhody, authors of the Blast to the Past series. I thought that it would be fitting to share with you, as you prepare for President's Day Weekend:

Just in time for President's Day, we are thrilled to announce the newest book in our award winning BLAST TO THE PAST chapter book series: GEORGE WASHINGTON'S WAR is now available.

In this latest BLAST TO THE PAST installment, our four time traveling third-graders leap through time to find General Washington. Before they leave their elementary school, the kids learn the historic truth about life at Valley Forge in 1778. It was freezing cold and there wasn't enough food or shelter for the Revolutionary War troops. In this creative mix of history and fiction, when the kids arrive in 1778, they discover that George Washington is on the verge of giving up. He's packed his crates and is going home to his warm, comfy plantation in Virginia.

The children's adventure begins as they try to convince this war hero and future president to persevere.

Tied to curriculum for second to fifth grade, the BLAST TO THE PAST series focuses on teaching about American visionaries while emphasizing the values of effort and perseverance. The series has recently won Learning Magazine's 2007 Teacher's Choice Award.

Learning Magazine introduced the first Teacher's Choice awards program in 1994. The program is now recognized as one of the most prestigious awards in the educational market. Teachers' Choice awards are judged entirely by teachers in the classroom.

The Teacher's Choice Award was given to the entire BLAST TO THE PAST series which began with the story of the Emancipation Proclamation in LINCOLN'S LEGACY. Other books include DISNEY'S DREAM, KING'S COURAGE, and FRANKLIN'S FAME. Additional titles are slated for 2007.

I very much enjoyed Ben Franklin's Fame (my review is here), and gave it as a gift to one of my nieces for this past Christmas. If you have early readers who are keen on history, I highly recommend this series. Happy President's Day!

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

Quick Hits

A few more things for you to ponder, as you wait eagerly for Valentine's Day, and the Cybils award announcements:

  • Franki at A Year of Reading takes up the question raised at The Miss Rumphius Effect, and asks why it is that some older books just don't interest current students. She includes a classroom experience with From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as an example. There's some interesting discussion in the comments. At least, I think it's interesting, because I've had this experience with my nieces, too. I was so excited when they were first old enough to read books I loved, but I found that often these would fall flat. I do better if I'm up on current books to recommend and discuss. You may also want to read Tricia's follow-up to her original post about this.
  • Gail Gauthier links to a wonderful article in the Burlington Free Press about the real-life story behind Katherine Paterson's A Bridge to Terebithia. I knew vaguely that the book was based on a true story, but this article goes into enough detail to make me really understand. Wow! It's also a testament to the impact that the right childhood friend can have on someone's life.
  • Jennifer at Snapshot has initiated the very cool Read to Me 2007 challenge, to encourage parents to set tangible goals for reading more with their kids. What could be better than that? Well, there will also be an Amazon gift certificate awarded as a prize.
  • If you want to see a great story about how writers support one another, check out this post at Cynthia Lord's journal. And while we're talking with writers, you can read Shannon Hale's thoughts on why reading negative reviews of her books isn't helpful for her.
  • I've been avoiding the whole Maureen Dowd column about chick lit debate (this Galley Cat entry, which I learned about from Liz B. at Tea Cozy, sums it up quite well). But I was taken with Bookseller Chick's response to this and some other recent instances of book snobbery. She offers a strong defense of people's right to read whatever they want to, saying "My time, and what I do with it, is my time and until it affects the great and judgmental you in some detrimental way you don’t have a right to infringe upon it." She also adds a solid yet witty defense of genre novels, asking: "If it expands my vocabulary, does it count? If it educates me in pop culture, something that our world trades upon as heavily these days as solid facts, have I wasted brain space or increased my knowledge in other areas more accessible to those around me?" It's great stuff. Well worth reading.

And now I'm reasonably caught up, and off to go finish my last unread title from the MG and YA Fiction shortlists for the Cybils.

Hot off the Presses

This just in from Kelly Herold. The February issue of the online children's literature journal The Edge of the Forest is now available. This issue features tons of great stuff, including:

Head on over and check it out. Use this most excellent publication to fill your spare reading time, while you wait for Wednesday announcements of the Cybils winner. And if you would like to learn more about Cybils co-founder and Edge of the Forest publisher Kelly Herold, check out her interview at 7-Imp.

Oh, and in all of this week's excitement, don't forget to submit your entries to the Carnival of Children's Literature, due by February 15th. You can submit your entry at the blog carnival site, or visit MotherReader's blog and email her from there.

Happy reading!   

A Request for your ARCs

Colleen Mondor has a request over at Chasing Ray. She's encouraging people to donate their ARCs and review copies to a New Orleans group that gives books to prisoners at juvenile detention centers in the area. She includes background about the program and spells out her reasons for thinking that this is something important to do:

"First a little background on why I think you need to donate your ARCs and review copies to kids in jail. First, keep in mind that juveniles are held at detention centers before they are tried - so many of these kids are just waiting for something to happen in their cases. More importantly though, crime in New Orleans is out of control - everybody knows it, we are all talking about it and shaking our heads and precious little is being done to change it."

Concluding with:

"So, this is the part where I tell you that books matter (but you already know that) and ask you please to do something with the many free books you have that might just make the world a better place. I'm not naive - I know that a book can not cure poverty, or broken homes or a crappy education or gang violence. But I'm also not a fool and I do know that without some movement towards positive change, nothing will happen at all. It's easy to shake your head and turn off the news and go back to your middle class lifestyle with all of its clean countertops, minivans and trips to the Gap. This is the harder part, and believe me, I'm no easier to motivate than anyone else, but I feel like with the world going to hell in a handbasket, I have to do something - we all have to do something."

I know that some of you have other worthy causes that you support through your ARCs and review copies. I usually donate books to my local library, or to local community programs that give books to underprivileged kids (like the Mercury News Gift of Reading program). But I'll join Colleen today in asking you to consider donating books to the Books2Prisoners program. Read Colleen's entire post here.

One final thought: if this program really resonates with you, you might consider getting your kids involved in collecting up the books and mailing them off. I've seen several news stories in recent months about kids doing things like this, and I think that there's a dual benefit. Kids have more natural enthusiasm and energy, and if they get excited about helping others, things happen. And encouraging them to want to help others, while they're young, can only help move the world in a positive direction. That's my two cents, as inspired by Colleen. Of course, I don't even have kids, and I could be totallly off base. Consider it a tiny idea for your consideration.