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Posts from March 2007

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos: R. L. LaFevers

Who could resist Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, by R. L. LaFevers? The book is dedicated to "clever girls everywhere who get tired of feeling like no one's listening". Set in the early 1900's, it's the story of young Theodosia Throckmorton, who more or less lives in London's Museum of Legends and Antiquities. Her mother is an archaeologist, frequently away excavating tombs in Egypt. Her father is museum-obsessed, and frequently works through the night. Theodosia, who has managed through her parents' inattention to dodge both boarding school and governesses, has her own little room at the museum, where she sleeps in a sarcophagus. This alone would be interesting, but it gets better.

Theodosia, who is "cleverer than most", has a rare natural gift for sensing ancient curses, and removing them. When her mother brings home a very important, and seriously cursed artifact, the Heart of Egypt, Theodosia finds herself at the heart of a conspiracy. She has to recover the artifact, after it's stolen by evil-doers, and go to great lengths to un-do the damage wrought by the Heart of Egypt. She wrestles with a secret brotherhood, German troublemakers, an appealing young pickpocket, and her pesky younger brother, Henry. Not to mention stowing away on a ship, facing scorpions, and removing a curse from her black cat. Through it all, Theodosia remains strong and smart, considerably more on top of things than her relatively hapless parents and snooty grandmother. She's definitely a cool girl of children's literature.

Theodosia has an appealingly snarky voice (the story is told in the first person). She reminds me a bit of Betsy Bird, actually, in her tone. Here are a couple of examples:

"I weighed my options: being followed through the streets of London by a menacing stranger or catching a lift with Grandmother Throckmorton. It shouldn't have been such a difficult choice, but then, you don't know my grandmother." (page60)

"We bade Henry goodbye at Charing Cross Station and waited on the platform until his train pulled away. I realized I was going to miss the little beast. Either that or I had a bit of coal dust stuck in my eye." (page 248)

Another thing I like about this book is that LaFevers isn't afraid to use advanced vocabulary. Theodosia is supposed to be extra-clever, after all. For example:

"Henry sniggered and I gave him my best quelling look." (page 195)

Sniggered and quelling in the same sentence. Who wouldn't love that? The writing style is overall quite straightforward, but sentences like this one lift it above the common.

The book also conveys a sense of reverence for ancient artifacts and places. For example:

"I cannot begin to tell you the thrill of finally seeing the necropolis up close, not to mention the tombs of the pharaohs. I have heard about them all my life, dealt daily with their historic finds, and spent hours trying to cipher out their meaning. And now, to finally experience one in its entirety, as it was originally built and conceived, not in crumbled bits and pieces ... it was as if I stood at the pearly gates of heaven itself." (page 304)

Kids who enjoy hearing about mummies, ancient tombs, pyramids, and Egyptian curses will find this book utterly compelling. Fans of historical novels, especially British historical novels, will appreciate the attention to period detail. And conspiracy buffs will enjoy figuring out, along with Theodosia, who to trust, and who not to trust. In short, this book is a welcome addition to the canon of middle grade mystery and suspense novels. I look forward to the future adventures that are sure to follow.

Book: Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
Author: R. L. LaFevers (see also her blog)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (see also Theodosia Throckmorton's website and blog)
Original Publication Date: April 2007 (but it's available from Amazon now)
Pages: 368
Age Range: 9-12
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: bookshelves of doom, lindajsingleton

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


The 13th Carnival of Children's Literature: Upcoming

With thanks to Carnival founder Melissa Wiley, I'll be hosting the 13th Carnival of Children's Literature here on April 21st. No special theme, though of course you know that I love to hear about anything that helps children to love books. But really, the idea is to submit your best children's literature-related post from late March and early April. To learn more about Carnivals, check out this description by Susan from Chicken Spaghetti.

You can submit your post at the carnival site, or you can email me directly. Submissions are due by the end of the day on April 19th. I'm sure that we'll have another excellent turn-out. Please help me to spread the word. Thanks so much!


Margo Rabb Blog Tour: Day #3

Margo_photo_2 I'm pleased to be the third stop for Margo Rabb's blog tour, in promotion of her fabulous new young adult novel, Cures for Heartbreak. I learned about Margo, and the blog tour, from Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray, and I'm so glad that I was able to participate. It's been wonderful getting to know Margo a little bit, and I hope that we'll have a chance to chat in person one of these days.   

Here's an excerpt from my very positive review of the book: "Cures for Heartbreak is about how 15-year-old Mia Pearlman copes with her mother's sudden death from melanoma, and her father's subsequent hospitalization for heart problems. Which might make you think that it's a sad or depressing book. But it isn't. Cures for Heartbreak is funny and compelling, with a heady mix of the philosophical and the absurd." And then I went on and on in praise of the book. It was a book that made me think, and continues to make me think. About loss and grief, but also about living life to the fullest.

I also recommend that you check out Kelly Herold's review at Big A little a and Colleen's reaction to the book at Chasing Ray. I completely agree with Colleen's statement that "I can not stress enough how her new book will appeal to both teen and adult readers and I strongly recommend adults to seek it out." If you'd like a chance to review the book yourself, Margo's publisher is giving away a book a day during the tour. Just email contest@margorabb.com. One winner will chosen at random each day.

And now, on to the interview. 

Q: I noticed that you aren't afraid to use colons and semi-colons in your writing.Is this something that you picked up in college? Are you a real stickler for grammar?

A: I've always had a thing for semi-colons and colons—I love varying the structure, pace, and rhythm of a sentence until it feels exactly right. I'm a painstaking reviser—barely any sentence present in the first draft remains in the final draft.  (Oh—and I seem to like dashes lately too.)

I'm not a huge stickler for grammar, but my mother was a copy editor, so the importance of grammar and spelling was instilled in my sister and me from an early age. She kept a postcard of a cartoon picturing vigilante proofreaders correcting "Kwik Mart" and "While U Wait" signs with spray paint, which always seemed hysterically funny to me—so maybe I am a stickler after all.

Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer? Have you always wanted to write specifically for and about teens?

A: I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, and I've always loved young adult novels. I'm drawn to teenage narrators since those years still feel so fresh in my mind. As a teen you have so many of the problems an adult has, but no experience or knowledge of how to cope with them. When I was writing CURES, however, I didn't actually think of it as a young adult novel. I thought it was an adult book until the day it sold to a young adult publisher. Even though it featured a teen narrator, I thought the structure of the book (a novel in stories) and the retrospective tone made it adult. I'm convinced that for many novels, the designation of adult vs. young adult is the publisher's decision. The same is true for short stories—the chapter "Seduce Me" in CURES appeared both in Seventeen and the literary magazine Shenandoah, which has an adult readership.

Q: Are you as much of a junk-food addict as Mia? What's your favorite form of chocolate?

A: Well, as I was typing this I just finished off a Kit Kat. (And I wouldn't mind washing it down with a Yoo-hoo if I had one on hand.)  My favorite chocolates of all time are made by a shop called MarieBelle in New York City—each one looks like a miniature work of art.

Q: I loved Mia's day playing hooky with Kelsey. It reminded me of sitting on the grass one day outside my high school with a friend, eating vast quantities of M&Ms, and talking about everything and nothing. Did you have a friend like Kelsey in high school?

A: Kelsey is based on my friend Julien, who has been one of my closest friends since our freshman year of high school. Even though it's been over fifteen years since high school, when we spend the day shopping together it feels like we're still sixteen.

Q: I'm in awe of your bravery in putting your own grief up for public viewing through this book. I think that the afterword contributes a lot to the emotional punch of the book. Was it hard for you to actually add that afterword to the book, given the way it kind of removes the veil of fictionalization?

A: My editors suggested that I write the afterword—they thought it might add a lot to the book. I'm glad I wrote it. The funny thing is that while I'm writing, I usually convince myself that no one else will ever read what I'm working on—I think that lets me be more honest and unself-conscious. It's only during final drafts that I think of others reading it and having it on public view—a thought which makes me revise everything even more heavily. The one drawback of writing something that has any base in reality is that people will assume everything is true. The character of Fanny Gluckman is completely invented (as are many other characters in the book), but a friend once said, "You're so lucky that you have that good friend of your mother's around!" Indeed.

Q: Have you given any thought to starting a blog yourself?

A: I have a few blog entries on my newly created myspace page. I'd love to have a real blog, and maybe I will at some point, but at the moment I have so little time to write that I'm afraid a blog would take away from writing fiction.  Also, with my revision habits it would probably take me six months to finish one blog post.

Q: What book on your "to read" stack are you most eager to get to?

A: I can't wait to read Alice Munro's The View from Castle Rock. I'm also looking forward to Daria Snadowsky's Anatomy of A Boyfriend—I was a huge fan of Forever by Judy Blume (Ralph, of course, is permanently imprinted in my brain) and I hear that this is sort of an updated version. 

Q: Are you working on another novel? Is there anything that you can tell us about it?

A: I'm working on a new novel that's about halfway finished. It's a bit more lighthearted than Cures for Heartbreak, and there's a lot of food and New York City in it. At least that's what it is now—after five thousand more drafts, who knows what it will be?

Be sure to check out Margo's website and visit her on myspace at http://www.myspace.com/margorabb. The full itinerary for her blog tour follows:


The Boyfriend List: E. Lockhart

This weekend I listened to E. Lockhart's The Boyfriend List (15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver) on MP3. The Boyfriend List is the story of several months in the life of high school sophomore Ruby Oliver. They are angst-filled months, featuring a harsh dumping of Ruby by her first-ever boyfriend, and subsequent social mis-steps on her part that caused her to:

  1. Lose her close friends;
  2. Become a social leper;
  3. Be widely considered a slut in her small pond of a Seattle prep school; and
  4. Start having panic attacks

The panic attacks result in Ruby (aka "Roo") being sent to see a shrink, Dr. Z. The story is told in bits and pieces, moving backwards and forwards in time, as Ruby examines what happened, and why. The Boyfriend List of the title (also used for chapter titles), refers to a list that Dr. Z. asks Roo to prepare of all of the boys that she's ever had any kind of romantic interaction with (dates, crushes, gifts left in lockers, etc.). Of course the mere existence of the list leads to problems, too, but you'll have to read the book for the details.

The audio version works quite well for this story. The text was apparently edited slightly, because Ruby occasionally will refer to "this story that you're listening to", instead of what I presume is "this story that you're reading" in the printed version. It feels like a long phone conversation with a new best friend, in which she tells a story filled with classic high-school drama. The narrator (Mandy Siegfried) sounds youthful, without being annoyingly girlish.

Ruby is a fully 3-dimensional character. She loves her slightly eccentric parents. She is, without much comment, a vegetarian. She buys clothes from vintage shops. She's insecure, and she makes foolish mistakes. She moons around after boys, on the slightest provocation, but is happiest hanging out with her girlfriends. She talks too much when she's nervous. She likes narrow-ruled notebooks. She feels real.

And the story feels real, too. I was humiliated for Ruby at her low points, and wondered how she could face school in the morning. But I also nodded my head, and laughed with her at some of her insights. There's a description in which she likens kissing a boy she doesn't find attractive (as part of a spin-the-bottle/7-minutes-in-heaven game) to going to the dentist. It's hilarious. There are many references to body parts and sex, though nothing too advanced actually happens with Ruby. She's refreshingly open and curious, with an entertaining voice.

Of all the books I've read, this one most made me reminisce about my own junior high and high school experiences. It's not that my experiences were the same as Ruby's, but E. Lockhart has so exactly captured what it's like to be a girl of that age—uncertain about what boys are thinking, having disagreements with friends over trust, and thinking about relative levels of popularity. The details are dead on. I particularly worried over Ruby's friend Meghan, a sophomore girl with a senior boyfriend and few friends in her own class. I wanted to reach into the book and warn her about the difficulties facing her during junior year, after her boyfriend graduates. (I haven't read the sequel yet, so don't tell me.)

One other nice thing about the book is that talking with Dr. Z. does help Roo to identify some negative behavior patterns in herself, and to start taking tiny steps towards resolution. There's no big drama over this—just small, incremental insights and improvements. The book touches on issues related to self-esteem, body image, forgiveness, and treating friends with respect, but it touches on them very lightly.

In summary, The Boyfriend List is an entertaining read, with strong characterization (at least of Ruby, the others are necessarily more remote to the reader). I think that many teen girls will find Ruby's experiences believable and, perhaps, reassuring (if Ruby could survive her humiliations, surely readers can endure the emotional traumas that high school dishes out on a regular basis). I think that adult readers who were once teenage girls will enjoy it, too, as a bit of a trip down memory lane (though with modern details). I highly recommend The Boyfriend List, and I can't wait to get my hands on the sequel, The Boy Book.

Book: The Boyfriend List (15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver)
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Original Publication Date: March 2005
Pages: 240 (though I listened on MP3)
Age Range: 14 and up
Source of Book: Audible.com
Other Blog Reviews: MotherReader, Trashionista, Sara's Hold Shelf, Adellis, Tea Cozy (one of Liz's best books of 2005), Bookshelves of Doom

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


Children's Literacy Round-Up: March 20

Here's the scoop on recent children's literacy-related news:

  • According to an article in the Lansing State Journal (Michigan), Dolly Parton's Imagination Library program is now being rolled out in The Ionia County Intermediate School District (ICISD). Program organizers are seeking donations, and will begin distributing books to all children in the district (up to age 5) once the donations reach approximately $25,000. The article references Steven Bialostok's book Raising Readers on why this program is important: "the single most important factor influencing children's literacy (speaking, reading, and writing) is the amount of time they are read to."
  • A very brief news release says that: "The United Nations is establishing thousands of literacy centres across Afghanistan. They are part of the United Nations Children's Fund plan to support education in rural areas. According to UN data, 90 per cent of rural women and 65 per cent of rural men are illiterate. Girls were banned from going to school by the Taliban which was in power between 1996 and 2001. After the collapse of Taliban regime they have returned to classes, although efforts to get children back in school have been troubled by militant attacks, including the murder of teachers." A slightly longer article is available at MaximsNews.
  • An article in the Fay Observer (Fayetteville, NC) discusses local efforts to close the achievement gap between black and white students, with emphasis on the need for early intervention to get kids reading. "Recognizing the importance of early intervention, the Cumberland County school system began a literacy program in 2004, getting a jump on the statewide initiative. Cumberland now has literacy coaches in its 54 elementary schools. The schools spend 90 minutes each day with children on specialized reading instruction. The literacy program appears to be paying off. When it began, 72.5 percent of the county’s black third-graders passed the reading part of end-of-grade tests. Last year, 77.2 percent of black third-graders passed — an increase of nearly 5 percent. The scores of white students also increased but by a smaller margin." See the article for further details.
  • Children's author and literacy advocate spoke recently at an event in Illinois, sponsored by the Fox Valley Reading Council, Lake Area Reading Council and Judson College. According to an article in the Courier News, "Fox uses her platform to encourage parents to read to their children voraciously beginning at birth to meet the recommended 1,000 stories in the first five years of life. She even encouraged parents to read to children within the first couple hours of birth. Fox recommends reading three stories a day, which would equal 1,000 stories in 11 months. She believes reading is essential for those in every walk of life." She cited research to back up her point - see the full article for details. 
  • A news release described author Suzanne Bloom's upcoming speaking engagement in Pennsylvania, in which she also was expected to speak on the importance of early literacy. The release also recapped other aspects of Pennsylvania's One Book, Every Young Child early literacy program.

Violence, Tragic Heroes, and Geography: An Assortment

OK, it's not Sunday anymore, but here are a few things that caught my eye on this sunny Monday afternoon:

I'm still basking in the glow of my 7-Imp interview. People posted such nice comments! Definitely a nice way to start the week.


Further Fame...

Today I have been privileged to be interviewed by Jules and Eisha (well, mainly Jules in this case, because Eisha is out of town) at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast. It's an honor just to be in the company of the previous interviewees, ranging from Kelly Herold to Roger Sutton to M. T. Anderson. And Jules said the nicest things, pretty much managing to dig up every interesting thing I've ever done with or related to the blog, it seems. I'm blushing a bit, but I can promise a few things you probably never knew about me, if you care to head over and check it out. Thanks so much, Jules!!


The 12th Carnival of Children's Literature

The 12th Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at Midwestern Lodestar. The depth and breath of submissions, and the creative way that ZG has put them together, is truly amazing! I love how the number of submissions just keeps climbing, as our community keeps growing. You simply must check it out! There are excellent pictures that maintain the carnival theme.

Incidentally, I'll be hosting the 13th carnival of children's literature next month. The carnival will be on April 21st, and I'll be accepting submission until a few days before that. You can make your submissions at the Carnival site, or you can email me. I'll remind you later, but I'll be looking for your most entertaining or informative post from late March and early April (one submission per person). Best start thinking now!

Happy reading!


Sunday Afternoon Visits: March 18

Another week, another business trip, another weekend of trying in vain to get caught up on the Kidlitosphere. But I'm happy to report that this coming week I don't have any business trips. It's very exciting for me. And it's good timing, because I have some exciting stuff going on with the blog this week. I have Margo Rabb visiting on Wednesday as part of her book tour (she'll be at Chasing Ray tomorrow), and I'm scheduled to have an interview myself at 7-Imp. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, here are some tidbits for your reading pleasure:

  • I liked this quiz posted at The Shady Glade (originally from Shannon Hale's newsletter): Are You a Bibliophile? It has questions like: Do you ask strangers, "What's that you're reading?". I scored 12 (after some slight re-interpretation of the questions), which means: "You love books, but fortunately for you, there is a good chance you will remain sane. Your bibliophilia is borderline, but not yet at the pathological stage."
  • Ms. Mac has started a new feature at Check It Out, a weekly recap of what the kids at her elementary school are reading. I hope that she keeps it up - it's quite entertaining.
  • And on the subject of what kids are reading, Tricia has a post over at The Miss Rumphius Effect about kids' favorite reads. She basically dissects a list put together by the Center for Teaching and Learning, a K-8, non-profit, demonstration school in Edgecomb, Maine. Specifically, she looks at the differences in the books recommended by boys vs. girls. Interesting stuff!
  • There's a passionate discussion going on in the comments of a Guardian post by Meg Rosoff about negative book reviews. Meg says: "I only review books I really like. It's cowardly, I know, but I figure it's not my job to make people unhappy. I'll leave that to the professionals." Commenters question this, saying that her duty is to the readers who read the reviews, but she defends her point. As "a novelist who occasionally reviews? If I get a chance to review a book I really like (which is a fairly rare occurrence) then it's worth the days out of my "proper job" to write a review. After all, who doesn't want to spread the word about a terrific book, especially if it's a book other people have overlooked." Thanks to Kelly at Big A little a for the link.
  • Betsy also tackles the topic of writing negative book reviews, specifically when you are likely to meet the author. See also Wendy's comments at Blog from the Windowsill, and the Read Roger post that sparked much of the discussion on the other blogs.
  • Laurie Halse Anderson emailed me about a couple of book signings that she's doing in my area of Northern California. She'll be at the venerable Kepler's Books in Menlo Park and at Books Inc. in San Francisco, both on Saturday, March 31st. You can find the details here. I'm planning to attend the Kepler's signing.
  • The new issue of The Big Fresh, the Choice Literacy newsletter, features a listing of and discussion about Daniel Pennac's 10 rights for readers. I've seen these before, but they resonate so strongly with me that I was happy to see them again. Editor Brenda Power asks questions like "Is there a certain age when the right to read "anything" should kick in?"
  • There's an open discussion going on at the YA Authors Cafe about "What genre or subject matter seems to be neglected in today's contemporary teen lit?" I learned about this from Liz B. at Tea Cozy, and I agree with Liz's suggestion that more straightforward genre books would be welcome. I also think that we could use more books written from the perspective of minority characters (ethnic, sexual, cultural and other minorities). Not books ABOUT being a minority, just books about mystery or romance or coming of age, in which the character happens to not be straight, white, and American. That's my two cents on that topic.
  • There's a debate going on at Educating Alice and A Fuse #8 Production about whether or not the Kidlitosphere is exclusionary. Monica Edinger started the discussion by asking people to at least see that there is inclusion and exclusion going on. Most of the comments that I've read have been in defense of the Kidlitosphere as being a welcoming sort of place, where people don't deliberately exclude others. But of course we make value judgments about who we're going to write about all the time. I have certain types of things that I like to feature in these Sunday visits posts, and often I do find them at the same sub-set of blogs. But I try very hard to at least skim through all 148 blogs that I have in my Google Reader, plus the 25 or so that I have bookmarked for regular visits, before I wrap up each post. Some weeks I simply don't have the time (as will probably be the case today), and I do end up relying more on my "favorites". But I try to keep up with as many people as I can, because I think that we all have interesting things to contribute to this dialog about books and reading. See also MotherReader's post on the subject of blog cliques.
  • I also noticed that Susan at Chicken Spaghetti is taking action re: the exclusionary aspects of the Kidlitosphere by explaining what things are: notably the carnival of children's literature and Poetry Friday
  • I learned from Big A little a that the 2007 Astrid Lindgren award was just announced. This year's winner is Banco del Libro, an organization that disseminates books and promotes reading for kids in Venezuela. As Kelly notes, this award is a particularly big deal because of the money involved, about $700,000 in prize money.
  • For an interesting off-topic post, check out Becky's article about hot to trot tots and their pole-dancing mamas (about the sexualization of young girls, in terms of clothing, etc.), with several informed references.
  • Little Willow has a new booklist, this one for tweens.

And that's all I have time for today. I'll try to get back with more updates in the next couple of days. Happy reading!


The Zoo: Suzy Lee

Suzy Lee's The Zoo is a picture book in which the words only tell a small part of the story. A young girl visits the zoo, apparently in Korea, with her parents. The text, a few words per page, gives a simple recounting of events. "We visited the aviary, and then the gorillas", etc. But behind the scenes, two parallel adventures occur.

The initial scenes are very detailed, and drawn mostly in shades of gray. The only comes from a peacock, wandering loose about the zoo. The animal cages seem oddly deserted, with the inhabitants not to be found. And then the little girl wanders off, following the peacock into a world of color.

Alternating pages show the increasingly frantic parents, still in gray, looking for their missing daughter. Meanwhile, the daughter plays with the animals, loose in some sort of idyllic forest scene. The scenes with the girl and the animals are clearly not real, but reflect every child's wish-fulfillment. Getting sprayed by an elephant. Sliding down the neck of a giraffe, into the waiting arms of a gorilla. Soaring with the birds. Smiling, playful animals everywhere you look. In the end, the relieved parents find the girl, fast asleep on a bench, dreaming about the animals.

Both sets of illustrations reward close study. The "real world" scenes are pencil sketches in muted colors, with, in a few cases, cut-out paper dolls apparently overlaid on the page. They are filled with realistic details, like the face mask worn by the balloon seller on the first page, and the spilled trash here and there on the ground inside the zoo. The people represent a wide spectrum of humanity, from snooty woman with backpack, to fighting young boys, to coy teenage girls, to parents with cameras, teacher with students, and smiling, pig-nosed sisters. Only our young heroine displays a splash of color in her cheeks.

The animal scenes, by contrast, are awash with color, deceptively crude colored pencil sketches of smiling animals. The trees in the background sometimes look like origami, made from brightly colored paper. The grass and sky bear the marks of heavy scribbling, to fill in the background. There's no strict adherence to the "right colors" either. The elephants are shaded with purple and green. The trees have orange, pink and purple branches. The bear is brown, overlaid with a touch of blue. The colored pages look, in short, like something that a kid (albeit a very talented kid) would draw.

The parallel tales are linked. As the parents run past the empty aviary, their daughter is flying through the sky with the birds. The animals are missing from all of the realistic scenes, as though, just perhaps, they might really be off visiting the girl's imagination.

This is a book for any child who loves animals, and thinks that zoos are paradise. It's also a book for any parent who has temporarily misplaced a child - the parents' fear is palpable (and, happily, relieved by the end of the story). All in all, it's an unexpected and rewarding adventure.

Book: The Zoo
Author: Suzy Lee
Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
Original Publication Date: March 2007
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher.
Other Blog Reviews: The Thinking Mother, Book Buds, Fuse #8, and For Immediate Release Reviews

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


Children's Literacy Round-Up: March 13

Here's the children's literacy news that caught my eye this week. There was a lot to choose from, with World Book Day and all.

  • Via Kids Lit, the 2006 James Patterson PageTurner Awards were announced. Thirty-nine winners will receive cash prizes totaling $500,000. From the press release: "From the Washington Center for the Book in Seattle, who started the breakthrough – and now widespread – "One Book" program, to the nonprofit organization 826 National, which works tirelessly to encourage creativity in children of all ages by providing enthralling reading and writing experiences, this year's winners come from 34 cities in 23 states, and their amazing efforts reach as far as troops stationed in the Middle East and underprivileged children in Botswana, Africa."
  • As has already been widely reported, March 2nd was Dr. Seuss's birthday, and the day declared Read Across America Day. Here is one article about celebrations in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Here's a quote about the celebrations: "The intended message of the day was that reading is fun and kids who read, and who are read to, do better in school." Sounds good to me! And here's another article about celebrations the Montgomery County Public School system.
  • And here's an article at Halifax Today (UK) about how local students celebrated World Book Day. At Riverside School, Hebden Bridge, children are dressing up as characters from books and comic books, and there's a book fair. "Head teacher Janet Widdas said the children and staff have enjoyed the special week. It has been fantastic and it is great to see the children so enthusiastic about reading.""
  • The Zaneville (Ohio) Time-Recorder published a nice article recently about how kids benefit when their parents introduce them to books. According to the article, "Reading Is Fundamental uses U.S. Census Bureau research that reveals about 50 percent of children ages 1 to 5 were read to seven or more times in the previous week. For children in families living below the poverty line, that number drops to 41 percent." The author, Meghane E. Moravcik of the Arizona Republic urges parents to try for more reading aloud.
  • There's an article in the Press Enterprise, with pictures, about a 17-year-old from Corona High School in Riverside, CA who reads books to kids at a local homeless shelter. "Anna (Dewey)'s weekly visits are part of Building a Bridge to a Better World Through Books, a literacy program she created at the shelter about a year ago."
  • For another literacy program, see this article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, about the Pittsburgh area For the Love of Books program. "For the Love of Books is a program through the Mon Valley Education Consortium that allows classrooms from low-income school districts to participate in a field trip to a local Borders store. During their visit, students meet a local children's author or illustrator who reads their book and talks about what it means to be a writer. Students are also given a tour of the book store and are assisted with picking out their own book to take home with them as part of the field trip."
  • The Chronicle-Herald of Halifax, Nova Scotia has an article about how growing up with poverty and low literacy skills puts people at higher risk of health problems as adults. Dr. John Frank, scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research population and public health branch, is extensively quoted.
  • The Jefferson County Public Library (in Colorado) just announced a new children's literacy program, named after a long-time county librarian Bill Knott. "Colorado's children are scoring way below basic reading levels, particularly those with limited resources. Knott's Kids is designed to create excitement for reading and learning," said Knott (in the article). "From my experience, it is this excitement that will push children to want to find out more."
  • A press release in the Logan, Utah Herald-Journal announced that "Utah State University early childhood education professor Ray Reutzel has received the school’s 2007 D. Wynne Thorne Research Award for his work on children’s literacy.... Reutzel’s research focuses on evidence-based reading and writing instruction and teacher knowledge assessment. To date, he has generated $2 million in external grant support for literacy assessment and instruction research. In addition, he recently developed and implemented approaches to improve reading instruction, particularly in rural and under-served schools in Utah."

And there you have it. A range of stories centered on literacy and encouraging kids to love books. Happy reading to all!


The Edge of the Forest, March Edition

An all-new issue of the online journal The Edge of the Forest is now available. I've barely had time to scratch the surface, but I suspect that this is the best issue yet. Pam Coughlan's article Be a B-List Blogger is must reading for everyone who blogs about children's books (and you know of course that I'm not just saying that because mine is one of several blogs mentioned in the article - thanks Pam!). Written with Pam's trademark wit ("If your goal is to make the bloggers’ A-list, I have only two suggestions for you: Don’t write about children’s literature, and invent a time machine and go back to 2003 and start your blog then."), the article touches on several important points about making yourself, and your blog, part of the community, and keeping people coming back to your blog to visit. I'm all revved up to go and make improvements to my own blog, after reading the article, and you will be too. Go now, read it!

There is also: an excellent feature by Kelly Herold about readergirlz, a new community group that is already near and dear to my heart; an interview by Liz Burns with one of my favorite authors, Kirby Larson of Hattie Big Sky fame; and an unexpected article by Adrienne Furness about sock monkeys. Plus the usual great stuff, blogging writer (an interview by interviewer extraordinaire Allie with the author of another of my favorite books, Shug) in the backpack, kid picks, and lots and lots of reviews. I could spend hours. But I'm headed off to volunteer at the library, another worthy use of time, so I'll leave you for now, and suggest that you head on over to check it out.