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Posts from May 2007

Children's Literacy Round-Up: May 29

Children's literacy and reading related news is a bit light this week, probably because of the Memorial Day holiday in the U.S. However, here are a few articles for your enjoyment:

  • First Lady Laura Bush was awarded the Sandra Day O'Connor award last week for her efforts to improve literacy, as reported by The Arizona Republic. "A former librarian and teacher, Bush has helped more than 600 disadvantaged schools in the U.S. stock their library shelves since her husband's inauguration. An additional 42 Gulf Coast schools have rebuilt library collections destroyed in Hurricane Katrina as a result of her work."
  • The Tuscaloosa Public Library is off to a strong start for their Summer Reading Program. An article in the Tuscaloosa News has all of the details.
  • The Welland Tribune (Ontario) has a nice artcle about the recent Welland/Pelham Family Literacy Event. "This year, the event, organized by the Ontario Early Years Centre, needed two locations to accommodate all the activities it included. It was held Saturday at the Niagara Centre YMCA and Niagara Children's Safety Village."
  • This is slightly off-topic, but according to an AP article in The Arizona Star, "China has launched a crackdown on scary children's stories including the popular Japanese "Death Note" comic book series... "Death Note," (is) a Japanese series of comic books about a notebook that can kill people whose names are written in it. The story "misleads innocent children and distorts their mind and spirit," said Wang Song, an official of the National Anti-piracy and Anti-pornography Working Committee, quoted by the China Daily."

Happy reading to all!

8 Things Meme

Kelly from Big a little a tagged me for the 8 Things Meme. Here are the rules:

Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

  1. Although I love reading children's books and fairly dark mysteries, my favorite all-time authors write "comfort books": D. E. Stevenson, Georgette Heyer, and Jane Austen. These are the books I can read over and over again, even if I already know how the stories will turn out.
  2. I also love the Maida books, by Inez Haynes Irwin, which are very obscure, but which I re-read every few years. I learned to appreciate this children's series because my grandmother also loved them (as an adult).
  3. I'm allergic to nickel, and can pretty much only wear platinum jewelry (or beads, but gold and silver usually have nickel in them). I'm also allergic to sulfites (or at least they make me sneeze), but that doesn't keep me from drinking red wine.
  4. I try to walk every morning, while listening to a book on MP3, though I'm not usually able to keep it up when I'm traveling.
  5. I'm utterly and completely ruled by my Outlook task list. I even use it to remember birthdays.
  6. I studied civil (undergrad) and industrial (grad) engineering in college, though I always read children's books in my spare time.
  7. My favorite foods are chocolate and cheese. I once had to give up chocolate for a month for a special low-iodine diet, and it never got easier to be without it. I'm also partial to pizza, but only very certain types (it's a legacy of having grown up in Boston).
  8. My idea of a great vacation is one in which there's time to sit in some quiet and beautiful place to read for at least a day. I've stored up memories of such places from throughout my life, and I close my eyes to recall them when times are stressful.

Trying not to tag people who have already been tagged by Kelly or Christine (who tagged Kelly) I tag:

  1. Nancy from Journey Woman
  2. Kris from Paradise Found
  3. Wildwood Cottage
  4. Miss Erin
  5. Colleen from Chasing Ray
  6. Robin Brande
  7. TadMack and a.fortis at Finding Wonderland
  8. Mitali Perkins

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

Sunday Afternoon Visits: May 27

Happy Memorial Day weekend, to those of you in the U.S. I'm a bit late with this post because it is a holiday weekend, and we had friends over today. But it is still Sunday here. I haven't been as successful as I would have liked at spending time reading this weekend, but I have gone for some walks, and watched a lot of baseball (how about those Red Sox!). And there's been a lot of good stuff out there in the blogs this week. Here are some can't miss discussions.

  • Shannon Hale writes about the golden mean, "a balance between these two worlds, the literary and the popular, the fine-tuned language and the rip-roaring adventure." I'll tell you, even if I didn't like her books (which I do), I'd be a fan because of the things she writes on her blog. I'm looking forward to reading Austenland.
  • Don't forget that Mother Reader's 48-Hour Book Challenge is two weekends from now. There are lots of great prizes in the works. So, you'd better start piling up your selections now. I have little chance of winning anything myself, because I'm going to be on the East Coast that weekend, attending a memorial service, and seeing some friends and family members. I will certainly read on the flight, and bring my computer so that I can blog while I'm there, but once I arrive I expect time to be pretty scarce... Hopefully by next year my life will be less busy, and I'll be able to truly set aside a weekend for the challenge.
  • HipWriterMama writes about the hold of mesmerizing books, a post inspired by the wonderful Stephenie Meyer books. She also shares a lengthy Poetry Friday post about the difficulties of being a girl in today's world. This one is a must read, and has generated a slew of thoughtful comments.
  • For another post that generated many comments, check out Read Roger's post about didacticism in children's books. He says "the problem I do have with overt didacticism is less with its frequent technical clumsiness, where swatches of sermons or lessons are just slapped into the story, then it is with the way it reminds readers Who Is In Charge." I agree. I hate that feeling of seeing behind the curtain. I also liked Liz's response at Tea Cozy.
  • The Big Read Blog is asking junior high and high school teachers about their students' favorite books. "Not necessarily their favorite assigned books — though if somebody says The Great Gatsby, nobody’s going to try and talk ‘em out of it — but their favorite books, assigned or not, fiction or not, with word balloons or not." They promise to read and blog about frequently mentioned titles.
  • Gregory K. asks GottaBook readers why they continue blogging, in response to the announcement of the end of the Miss Snark blog. Right now I'm so behind on my reading that I consider it a valid question. But I so love all of this discourse about all things children's literature related - I simply must be part of it.
  • In honor of Memorial Day weekend, Chris Barton muses on the relative dearth of books for children that focus on peace and pacifism, instead of on war. He asks readers for suggestions, and has, happily, received a number of responses so far.
  • Via Readergirlz and Little Willow, Samsung is having a writing contest for kids in which the winner can win up to $200,000 in Samsung and Microsoft products for his or her school. You can find more information here.
  • And for another writing contest for kids, Mitali's Fire Escape is looking for "poetry and short stories written by teens between cultures." You have to hurry, though. The deadline for submissions is June 1st, with prizes announced June 30th. You can find details here.
  • David Elzey muses about summer reading (his third post on the subject at the excelsior file), revisiting some genre books from his own teen reading years.
  • And finally, for some writing inspiration, be sure to check out Michele's recent post at Scholar's Blog, in which she asks, tongue in cheek, for her brain back. She asks how it is "that not only did none of my writer acquaintances warn me that writing fiction is as addictive as hard drugs (well so I assume - I've never actually taken hard drugs), but none of them warned me, either, that writing fiction would result in my brain teeming with ever more ideas".

And that's all for today. I'll be traveling for work this coming week, but I'll check in when I can.

Ten Girls and Two Teachers Publish A Book

I thought that readers might be interested in this upcoming title, written by a group of fifth grade girls from East Harlem, and two of their dedicated teachers. It's called DEAL WITH IT! Powerful Words from Smart, Young Women. Here is a press release, written by two of the students. You can find other student-written press releases here.

Everyday Monday-Thursday ten fifth grade girls from different backgrounds came together with teachers from all over New York City from to write what is now DEAL WITH IT! Powerful Words from Smart, Young Women. The Extended Day Girls came to school 40 minutes earlier than their classmates to write many different pieces, such as memoirs, letters to friends, stories about sibling rivalry, and poems to describe where they’re from, to incorporate into DEAL WITH IT!

The Extended Day Girls worked hard on their writing pieces, which is now available for the world to read. None of the girls will get any money off of this endeavor (all money goes to their school’s visiting authors fund). All they want is to see their writing in the world so it can show kids what young girls can accomplish.

The girls have experienced so much not only as fifth graders, but as authors. The Extended Day Girls have grown together as friends and have become a family. Sharing their dreams, goals and stories among 12 of them; they were never scared to tell each other their life stories, which hold true pieces of their hearts.

Come see for yourself by coming to the Bank Street Bookstore located at 610 W. 112th Street in the Morningside Heights Section of Manhattan on Wednesday, June 20 at 5:00 p.m. The Extended Day Girls will be introducing their book by reading selections, holding a Q&A Session, and a book signing.

DEAL WITH IT! Powerful Words from Smart, Young Women is written by The Extended Day Girls with Stacey Shubitz and Christina L. Rodriguez. It will be sold at over 200 online retailers, including,, and

Contact: Samara Serrano and Amanda Sevilla
5th Grade Students, P.S. 171
Tel: 212-860-5801
Fax: 212-860-6079
E-mail: [email protected]

Children's Literacy Round-Up: May 22

Here's the children's literacy and reading news that caught my eye this week:

  • In case you missed it when I mentioned this on Sunday, the second title selected for Al Roker's Book Club for Kids at the Today show is The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan.
  • Reading Rockets Page by Page blog has a nice post by Maria Salvadore about the pleasures of reading aloud.
  • Jumpstart, a national non-profit focused on literacy, just announced their 2007 Read for the Record campaign. According to Literacy News, "(t)he one-day reading event will take place on Thursday, September 20, 2007. The official Campaign book is a limited, custom edition of the Penguin Young Readers Group classic The Story of Ferdinand. People of all ages across America will join Jumpstart's Read for the Record Campaign to address the current early education crisis. Last year, Jumpstart's Read for the Record raised more than $1,000,000 to support the organization's early education work in low-income communities."
  • The Story Coach bus will stay on the streets during summer vacation in Omaha this year. According to a brief news story at, "It's designed to improve literacy by making reading fun for children and teens. Inside, there are colorful murals, hundreds of books, costumes and even props for participants to tell their own stories."
  • A $15,000 grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation will allow the Cumberland, MD YMCA to continue their Families Reading Together program. According to an article in the Cumberland Time, the "Families Reading Together program is designed to promote literacy among the teens and their children. The program is utilized both in the nontraditional classroom at the center and in-home visits."
  • Per a recent press release, "The New York Life Foundation has awarded a two-year $580,000 grant to Save the Children, a leading nonprofit organization helping children and families in need in the United States and in more than 50 countries. The grant will help launch a literacy program at six schools in impoverished communities in the Gulf Coast region."

And that's it for this week. Wishing you all plentiful books as summer reading season approaches.

Hugo & Miles In I've Painted Everything: Scott Magoon

Scott Magoon's first Houghton Mifflin book, Hugo & Miles in I've Painted Everything!, is a real treat. I wanted to read it as soon as I saw the cover in the catalog. Hugo is a blue elephant. The cover photo shows Hugo looking crestfallen, in a paint-spattered smock, standing in front of a picture of an ordinary wall outlet. He looks like someone the reader would want to help. And he does need help. You see, Hugo is in "an elephunk". He's an artist, a painter, living in a small town. One day he realizes that he has (gasp!) run out of ideas. He's painted everything.

Fortunately, Hugo's best friend Miles knows just what to do. Miles whisks Hugo off to Paris, where they explore the whole city, visiting the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, and the gorgeous parks. At the top of the Eiffel Tower, Hugo has an epiphany, one which gets his creative juices flowing again. He realizes that a change in perspective will keep him from ever running out of ideas again. Words to live by for all of us.

The entire story is filled with humor that, while kid friendly, offers an extra nod to adult readers. For instance, when Hugo considers painting in an impressionist style, Miles says that he'll be "Van Hugo." If he paints a large painting, clearly it will be "Hugo-mongous." And so on.

The pencil illustrations (digitally colored) provide many other jokes for readers. The airline that Miles and Hugo fly to Paris is called "Get There Air", while their return flight is on "Been There Air". They hang out at the "Same Day Cafe". A suspicious raccoon character lurks in one of the Museum scenes, having clearly just stolen a painting. In another scene, we see the raccoon escorted by a police officer, though he's never actually mentioned in the text. In the last scene, we see Hugo balanced on his head, painting upside down.

But the humor is only part of what makes this book so wonderful. The other part is the humanity of Hugo and Miles. Hugo's nervousness when he's on the plane, his dejection when he's out of ideas, his wonder in Paris, and his enthusiasm when ideas visit him again will help kids everywhere to relate to him. Miles' joie de vivre shines through, as does his pride in helping his friend, and his pleasure in his eventual success. This may be a trite thing to say about a picture book, but Hugo and Miles are adorable. I know that I want to spend more time with them, and I hope very much that this is the first of a long series of titles. 

Book: Hugo & Miles in I've Painted Everything!
Author: Scott Magoon (side note: Scott is Hot Man of Children's Literature #37, the first to be elected by the voting public, at A Fuse #8 Production)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Original Publication Date: April 2007
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Other blog reviews: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. See also this post by Grace Lin about Scott's book release party for I've Painted Everything!

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

A Sea-Wishing Day: Robert Heidbreder

A Sea-Wishing Day, written by Robert Heidbreder, and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, tells in rhyming verse the story of a boy and his dog glorying in an adventure-filled day at sea. The small, orange-haired narrator and his dog, Skipper start out with a toy boat in a backyard wading pool.Then the boy's imagination runs amok, and he and Skipper set sail. They encounter a sea monster, a deserted island, and a band of pirates, and eventually sail home on the back of a helpful porpoise. The story celebrates imagination and adventure.

The rhyming text is catchy, and should appeal to younger children, making it easy from them to predict the end of the next line. Heidbreder is not afraid to use grown-up words from time to time, too, as in this exchange:

I shimmied the rigging
To the crow's nest.
I skimmed the deep blue
From east to west.

I like the internal parallel of "shimmied" and "skimmed". On an earlier page, he writes: "A ship came billowing by." It's beautiful. At first I thought that some of the rhymes were too simple. But they resonated in my head long after I had closed the book, and I've concluded that the poetry is actually quite powerful. Here's another example:

Up popped a porpoise.
It offered a ride.
We bobbed through the drink
As it swam with the tide.

The colorful gouache illustrations (like watercolor, but with more pigment) spill from each page, as though Denton's enthusiasm can't quite be contained. Gouache is the perfect medium to capture the colors of the ocean. I especially enjoyed the "rogue wave", a gloomy face made from a fall of water. Other pictures share sly little jokes with the discerning reader, too. For example, when boy and dog are escaping from the pirates, the boy thumbs his nose, while the chief pirate looks positively surly. The sea monster's foul smell is also fully demonstrated through the pictures, adding depth to the words. 

Reading A Sea-Wishing Day aloud would be a fine way for any parent and pre-schooler to while away an afternoon hour. This is a book that will improve upon multiple readings, become a long-time favorite.

Book: A Sea-Wishing Day
Author: Robert Heidbreder (Author), Kady MacDonald Denton (Illustrator)
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Original Publication Date: March 2007
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6
Source of Book: Review copy from Raab Associates

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

Sunday Afternoon Visits: May 20

Things have been relatively quiet around the Kidlitosphere this week. The biggest news was the widely reported death of author Lloyd Alexander at 83. There's been an outpouring of people talking about what a huge influence his books were, and how much they still care for the characters (especially Taran). But there have been a few other things going on:

  • Tricia has been reporting the progress of her China trip over at The Miss Rumphius Effect. She is one dedicated blogger. I can barely find time to write when I make trips to Portland and Phoenix.
  • Kristen McLean welcomes her new pixie daughter at Pixie Stix Kids Pix, offering an essential dozen of parenting book mini-reviews. She's an impressively dedicated blogger, too.
  • Kathy offers Summer Reading Part 2 at Library Stew (Part 1 is here). She includes a variety of great links, and also describes her summer reading plans with her own kids. She asks for other people's summer reading ideas, but has received no feedback so far.
  • Liz B. addresses the mandatory nature of summer reading at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, saying "I don't think summer reading should be mandatory. And to the extent that it is, I think it should be individual, non-punishing, and persuasive as to the joys of reading." I agree with her.
  • Lisa Yee was in the online edition of Newsweek last week, in an article about book clubs for kids. She draws some funny parallels between herself and Paris Hilton, also in Newsweek.
  • I don't usually highlight individual meme responses, but this one by Charlotte at Charlotte's Library caught my eye. Charlotte shares my love of D. E. Stevenson novels, and is reading Miss Buncle, one of my most-cherished Stevenson titles. If I had to name a favorite book of all time, and I was truly honest about it (not going with things that I think are impressive, or more "important"), D. E. Stevenson's Listening Valley wins for me. Her books are my ultimate comfort reading.
  • Over at The Longstockings, Kathryne has some strong words about book banning, inspired by the recent Bermudez Triangle controversy. Her advice for parents is very simple: "When your kid comes home with a book you don't recognize, READ IT. Then, when it turns out to be full of ideas you'd rather your kid not absorb, TALK ABOUT IT." So simple, but think of the positive impact of a plan like this. You'd have parents reading the books that their kids read, and talking about the books with the kids, arguing, discussing, sharing, being open. Why wouldn't anyone want that kind of relationship with their kids?
  • Becky writes about The Dangerous Book for Boys at Farm School, and muses on some other potentially "dangerous" books. This is a must-read article for parents of 7-12 year old kids, at least for those who wish their children could have an "unfettered" and old-fashioned childhood experience.
  • In celebration of National Independent Bookseller's Month, Shrinking Violet Promotions is compiling a list of "The Ten Best Reasons to Shop your Independent Bookstores". Head on over and help them out.
  • Per Rick Riordan's blog, the next book selected for Al Roker's Book Club for Kids at the Today Show is The Lightning Thief. What an excellent choice! And how great for the new fans who will discover this title, to find that there are two more published books in the series.
  • Monica Edinger, member of the 2008 Newbery committee, will be using her blog, Educating Alice, to "work out (her) ideas about what a great book really is, more specifically — what a great American children’s book really is." She starts what I'm sure will be a fascinating series with an analysis of Newbery quality animal fantasies.

And that's it for today. The Red Sox are in rain delay in Boston, but it's a beautiful day here in California, so I won't keep myself or anyone else tied to the computer any longer.

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen: Eric Berlin

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen is a book that took me back to my childhood, in the best possible way. Winston Breen is a boy who loves puzzles. Any kind of puzzles. Words, numbers, codes, pictures - it doesn't matter. If he sees a puzzle, he wants to solve it. And he's quite good at solving puzzles, too. Thus it's a perfect fit when a birthday gift that he buys for his younger sister turns out to hold a hidden puzzle. Before they know it, Winston and his sister Katie are on a treasure hunt with a mis-matched group of adult competitors (including the town librarian!).

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen reminded me a bit of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. The characters aren't as complex as those in The Westing Game, but as in that book we have an unlikely group of people, working to solve a puzzle left behind as the inheritance of a wealthy and creative man. The two books also share a certain timeless feel. Yes, a cell phone does play a small part in the mystery faced by Winston, but the clues involved were planted twenty-five years earlier. The quest starts at the town library. Winston and Katie live in a small town where middle school kids ride their bikes around unescorted and hang out at the local pizza joint. I felt like I could have lived in Glenville. There's a handy map of the town in the front of the book, too.

The mystery in The Puzzling World of Winston Breen is satisfying. Mostly it's a straightforward quest, but there are unanswered questions about who has been committing various robberies, and who has been harassing the town librarian. There are false accusations, unexpected threats, and late night adventures. Winston is a three-dimensional (if somewhat geeky) character, with a believable sibling relationship, and just the right dose of insecurities. Here are a few examples that will give you a feel for Eric Berlin's writing, and in particular for the workings of Winston's mind:

Most of Winston's brain was taken up with the idea that he would soon be hunting for hidden treasure. He was barked at by his teachers for not paying attention. His parents had to say things to him two or three or four times before the words penetrated his ears. Watching television, he realized he was halfway through some show or other and had not the slightest idea what was going on. He might as well have been watching a fish tank. Saturday seemed as distant and unreachable as China. (Chapter 7)

Winston and his sister walked for a time in silence, each in an invisible, vibrating pocket of excitement. (Chapter 7)

Winston looked over at her and was surprised by what he saw. Her mouth hung slightly open and her eyes were shiny, staring at an invisible point on the wall. This was someone in the middle of having a Big Idea. Winston thought if you x-rayed her head at just that moment, you would see a number of gears spinning very fast. (Chapter 11)

Eric Berlin is a puzzle author (you can find his crossword puzzles in the New York Times, for example), and his ease with words stands out. What also stands out is the author's genuine love for all things puzzle-related. This book could only have been written by someone who loves puzzles. It is chock-full of puzzles. There are puzzles that are central to the story, of course, but also, sprinkled throughout the book, extra puzzles for the reader to solve, as Winston solves them. Fill-it-ins and word problems and scrambled words and the like. You can fill in the puzzles right there in your book, or (as explained in a handy foreword) you can download printable versions of the puzzles and keep your book pristine. The puzzles range quite a bit in difficulty and in required skill-set, and there should be at least one to appeal to each reader. I know that I would have absolutely adored this book when I was 11 years old, in the midst of my own puzzle phase. Even as an adult reader, I found myself spending a lot more time on this book that I initially anticipated, because I was compelled to stop and work out most of the puzzles.

If the early signs of interest in Winston's puzzle blog (with new puzzles posted at least once a week) are any indication, Winston is due for a long and productive fictional life. I hope so, because I would certainly enjoy hanging out with him again. Sadly, the book is not due out until September. But I'm bringing you the review now, so that you can start to get to know Winston online.

Book: The Puzzling World of Winston Breen
Author: Eric Berlin. See also Winston's website, with book information, a puzzle blog, and downloadable puzzle set from the book.
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Original Publication Date: September 2007
Pages: 224
Age Range: 9-12
Source of Book: Advance Review Copy from the publisher, at the author's request. Eric was on the Middle Grade Fiction judging committee for the Cybils with me.

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