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Posts from May 2007

NCTE Conference!

I refer you to breaking news over at A Year of Reading. I'll be presenting a panel with Liz (A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy), Kelly (Big A little a) and Mary Lee (A Year of Reading) called "Welcome to the Kidlitosphere: Reading, Reviewing and Blogging about Children's Literature" at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention in November of 2007. We're going to have SO much fun! I hope that some of you will be attending the conference, and that we can meet in person.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: May 15

Here are the news stories that I noticed this week related to children's literacy, and encouraging the love of books by kids.

  • I'm intrigued by what they're doing at Open Books. Here's the about section from the blog: "Open Books (coming spring 2008) is Chicago's first nonprofit literacy bookstore: a funky, fun, colorful, and eccentric used treasure trove of 50,000+ used books on the first floor, with all proceeds funding literacy programs upstairs." They just celebrated their one-year anniversary, and have written about some milestones reached along the way.
  • Children's author Wendelin Van Draanen and her husband, Mark Parsons have started a new campaign: Exercise the Right to Read. Wendelin writes at the First Book Blog about the statistics that caused her to want to do something, and says: "So out of our mutual love for fitness and literacy, my husband and I have started a “running for reading” campaign to raise funds for school libraries and First Book. Kids all over the country will collect pledges to “run a marathon” (1 mile a day for 26 days) and “read a marathon” (26 minutes a day for 26 days), earning money for books for their library while also helping kids less fortunate than they by donating 10% to First Book. Meanwhile, my husband and I will be collecting pledges (corporate and private) to run the 2007 ING New York City Marathon, with all money going directly to First Book."
  • According to a brief ChronicleHerald announcement, the Nova Scotia government "will provide $240,000 for the promotion of family literacy in Nova Scotia. The money will be spent on programs such as reading circles for parents and children, adult literacy programs with a focus on health and parenting, and workshops to teach parents and caregivers how to support the educational development of their children."
  • This year's Ann Arbor Book Festival will focus on children's literacy, according to a feature article by Leah Dumouchel in the Ann Arbor News. Here's the wonderful start to the article: "It doesn't often happen that an industry bands together to hook its potential users early and firmly - and nobody minds. That's the not-so-hidden agenda of this year's Ann Arbor Book Festival. From the Chenille Sisters' rendition of "I Love it When You Read to Me'' at the kickoff party to the Bookmaking for Families workshop by 826michigan that closes the festival, children's reading and literacy for all ages are in the spotlight this year." There will also be bookstore scavenger hunts.
  • Meanwhile Heritage Elementary School in Denver, CO just celebrated an entire literacy month, according to a story by Carolyn Mustin at "The month-long celebration began with a visit from award-winning children's book author and illustrator, Janet Stevens," and continued with pajama night, a door-decorating contest, and a read-off to wrap things up.

Happy reading to all!

Thinking Bloggers

Fred Quattrone, who writes as Fred Charles, is one of my favorite non-kid-lit bloggers. He's blogged at various locations over the past couple of years, but now seems pretty settled at The Truth About Writing. Fred's a defender of bloggers calling themselves writers, and recently wrote about techniques for promoting your blog. All of this is a long introduction to the fact that Fred was kind enough to nominate me for a Thinking Blogger Award. He said (and I love this!) "If you have a child that loves books, you should check out her site." Thanks, Fred!

Now, the way this game is played, I'm supposed to nominate four blogs that make me think. It's not difficult to think of four, of course, but quite difficult to limit myself to four. It seems like most of the blogs that I visit must have already been nominated at some point. But because I don't have time right now to look each one up, and see if it's already been nominated, I'm just going to pick the first four that come to mind. All of these are blogs that frequently make me pause, in my skimming of blog posts, to ponder something:

  • Chasing Ray: Colleen makes me think about things like how and why I write book reviews, what benefits I derive from being part of the Kidlitosphere, and how to ensure that kids everywhere have access to libraries.
  • bookshelves of doom: Leila has a knack for reviewing books that I never would have run across, and making me feel like I MUST read them. Plus she keeps me informed about book banning / censorship issues.
  • A Year of Reading: Mary Lee and Franki write often about how to use books and read-aloud in the classroom, and how to increase literacy and enjoyment of books for kids. Subjects near and dear to my heart, from two teachers' perspective.
  • Robin Brande: Robin makes me think every week about what nice things I've done for myself (honorable mention to Jules and Eisha at 7-Imp, for also making me thinking about nice things every week). And she starts discussions about important topics like how to tell teen girls that it's ok NOT to go too far at prom.

Oh, there are so many more blogs that make me think. But those should give you a snapshot. For those nominated above, the rules say that if, and only if, you get tagged, you should write a post with links to 4 blogs that make you think (linking back to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme). However, if you've already been tagged for this, then just consider my mention a well-deserved compliment, requiring no further action.

Hot off the Presses

I've been tied up with work today, but have to share with you two can't-miss, hot off the presses items:

  1. An all-new issue of the online children's literature journal The Edge of the Forest is now available. This one is filled to the brim with reviews and author interviews, as well as other great features. See especially Little Willow's article about the recent book banning controversy around The Bermudez Triangle and editor Kelly Herold's interview with JacketFlap founder Tracy Grand.
  2. The amazing Eisha and Jules from 7-Imp have an interview with Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray, in which she discusses, among other things, the upcoming Summer Blog Blast Tour.

Don't miss either one. What a great way to start the week!

Local Author Event for Parents

I received the following notice about an upcoming author event at a library in San Jose. I thought that local parents in the area might be interested in this talk, and wanted to share it with you.

Meet Author Donna Bee-Gates!
@ Almaden Branch Library, San Jose Public Library System
6445 Camden Ave, San Jose, CA
Program Room
Saturday, May 26th 11:00 am

Is today's culture of materialism and instant gratification negatively influencing your children? Find out what you can do to reverse this trend in your own family by fostering self-worth, a concern for others, and a sense of life's purpose in your children. Dr. Donna Bee-Gates is author of I Want it NOW: Navigating Childhood in a Materialistic World.

Sunday Afternoon Visits: May 13

Happy Mother's Day to all! This week I spent two days in Portland, and a third day teaching a class in San Jose. Saturday Mheir and I went wine tasting for the afternoon with the social club from church (I love the Bay Area!). All of which left me with not much time for the blogs this week. But here I am once again, watching the Red Sox on television (delayed via Tivo) and catching up. And there is plenty going on that's worth mentioning to you:

  • This one is a bit off-topic, but caught my eye because of my love for all things related to chocolate. Zee Says writes about a new kind of baking pan designed for people who love edge pieces when they bake brownies. It's kind of a labyrinth of metal. The idea, apparently, is to distribute the heat more evenly. Click through for a picture.
  • HipWriterMama has published what I think is an important list, books about cliques, friendships, and self-esteem for young girls. Vivian writes that "Most children's self esteem is strongly tied to their friendships and how others see them. I believe as parents, if we can help our children through their friendship problems with ease, we can keep our children confident with good self esteem." She offers books and links to help.
  • Our own Pam Coughlan (MotherReader) and Robin Brande worked together last weekend, with Pam's husband Bill Coughlan, on an entry for the 48-hour film project. You can view their film here. I wasn't able to get my computer to display the film properly, for some reason, but it sounds great. A noir story. Very impressive, especially the written-in-three-hours screenplay.
  • Jennifer Schultz has initiated a new feature at The Kiddosphere: Gonna Go Back in Time. She says: "In this feature, I am going to read and discuss past winners (and honor books) of the Horn Book, Batchelder, Bank Street, Margaret Edwards, Jefferson Cup, etc." She'll be starting with the Mildred Batchelder Award and the Aesop Award.
  • Gwenda Bond, who blogs at Shaken & Stirred, put together the cover story of last week's Publisher's Weekly. Go Gwenda! She writes about more serious gay and lesbian fare. She reviews "some of the season’s most notable books tackling the complexities faced by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) community", as published by university presses.
  • The readergirlz MySpace page offers a new feature: Little Willow's Book Bag, a weekly snapshot of which fabulous books Little Willow is reading. You can find this section on the left-hand side of the MySpace page, under Heroes.
  • Franki Sibberson has a neat post up at A Year of Reading about her class's read-aloud experiences with The Invention of Hugo Cabaret. Franki also has an excellent article at Choice Literacy about jump-starting students' summer reading. The article mentions MotherReader's 48-hour book challenge, which is coming up, and includes strategies for inviting and celebrating summer reading. It's must reading for anyone trying to encourage kids to read this summer.
  • Speaking of summer reading, author Rick Riordan recommends books "for kids to read while waiting for the next Percy Jackson" title. This list is up the minute, and includes Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (which I just received in the mail this week).
  • Becky has a thoughtful discussion about book banning over at Becky's Book Reviews. She was inspired to write about this topic by her discovery of a group called PABBIS (Parents Against Bad Books In Schools). Their website lists many potentially "bad" books, and instructions for how to challenge particular books. It's a how-to guide for censorship. Becky moves on to her own views about book banning vs. parental involvement, and argues that "Trying to shelter kids/teens from the 'real' world is more dangerous than allowing them access to it." In a lighter post, Becky also asks readers: what do you look for in a YA romance?
  • Jason Kotecki invites readers to play hooky over at Escape Adulthood, writing about a new campaign at to reverse "the U.S. workweek so that Americans clock in for two good days of work, followed by five well-earned days off." While five day weekends seem a bit unrealistic, I do like the idea of encouraging people to take more time to recharge themselves, and enjoy life. We're tremendously overworked and over-scheduled in the US.
  • And while we're on the subject of enjoying life, do check out Don Tate's happy dance, with which he celebrates news of his recent book acceptance. Congratulations, Don!
  • Justine Larbalestier is also doing a version of the happy dance at her blog (in verbal form), because Magic or Madness (the first book in the trilogy) just won an Andre Norton award. I just picked up the second book in the series a few days ago.  (Via Tea Cozy)
  • The Old Coot wrote to me about a new reading challenge called By the Decade. The idea is to try to read as many books as you can from different, consecutive decades. Personally, I have too many books from this decade on my "to read" stack to try it out, but I think that it's an interesting idea.
  • The Picture of the Day at Publisher's Weekly this weekend features children's author (and fellow Red Sox fan) Alan Silberberg, surrounded by piles of his book. The caption says (links mine): "After seeing a photo of a Reach Out and Read event featured in PW’s Picture of the Day, Hyperion author Alan Silberberg donated 100 copies of his YA book, Pond Scum, to the literacy organization. Alan stopped by the National Center in Boston to sign his books. ROR provides funds for pediatricians to purchase books for underserved children in the United States."
  • And last, but definitely not least, submissions are due by May 17th for the 14th carnival of children's literature. You can find details on submission here. The carnival will be hosted at Chicken Spaghetti.

Happy reading to all!

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to all of you mothers out there, especially to my own Mom, who passed along to me the love of books, and always makes me feel special, and to Mheir's Mom, who has passed along many wonderful meals to us, and who always makes me feel welcome. I would also like to send special Mother's Day wishes out to two friends who are mothers for the first time this year. Happy Mother's Day, Nic! Happy Mother's Day, Carla! Mheir and I hope that you are basking in the glow of this day.

Rick Riordan Event in San Jose: Don't Forget!

Just a quick note to remind you that Rick Riordan will be speaking in San Jose TOMORROW (Saturday) at Borders Books at Santana Row. Here are the details:

Please join us for a "Percy party" with Rick Riordan, celebrating the newest release in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series!

Borders Books
356 Santana Row
San Jose, CA 95128    

WHEN: Saturday, May 12; 2 PM

WHAT: Get your books signed, win T-shirts and other prizes, and enjoy lots of Greek mythology fun!

Call ahead to reserve your copy of Titan's Curse, or for more information: 408-241-9100.

I, sadly, will not be able to make it, due to a prior commitment (though I still have hopes of a last minute change). But I hope that any of you who are here in the Bay Area will seize the chance to attend.

I am, incidentally, listening to The Titan's Curse on MP3. I think that it's as good as The Lightning Thief, and better than The Sea of Monsters. High praise indeed. Happy Reading to all!

Total Constant Order: Crissa-Jean Chappell

As long as I'm writing about books related to mental illness (see my recent review of The Phoenix Dance), in honor of mental health month, it seems like a good time to review Total Constant Order by Crissa-Jean Chappell. Although the book won't be released until late October, it's been getting lots of buzz, and I've seen several other reviews already. Total Constant Order is the story of four months in the life of a girl named Fin who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression.

Ninth grader Fin hears a voice in her head, telling her to do things. Ever since her parents' divorce, the voice has become more insistent. The only thing that tames it is numbers. Fin counts everything, relishing the order that comes from numbers. Eventually, as her ability to cope with everyday life becomes more and more frayed, she ends up seeing a doctor, and being put on Paxil. She also meets a boy, Thayer, who is a bit of kindred spirit, a breaker of rules, sufferer of ADD, and someone who takes seeing a psychiatrist in stride. Total Constant Order is about coming of age, coming to terms with mental disorders, coping with a life-altering medication, and building newer, more adult relationships with parents and step-parents.

Total Constant Order is told in the first person, from Fin's unique, slightly wry voice. Here is an example, one of many, illustrating the workings of her mind.

The space in my head needed filling, so I started cramming it with numbers. Safe, solid numbers, like fives and tens, that stood on their own, no explanation required. Words just cluttered my thoughts. The beach kept time with my inner metronome, a sound that went on and on, whether I was there to hear it or not. (Chapter "Guinea Pig Girl)

I didn't identify with Fin all that well, personally, but my favorite scene in the book is the one in which Fin talks with her mother about her own OCD, and learns that her mother and grandmother each struggled with similar issues. What I like is the way even in an intense conversation, Fin can't resist little sarcastic asides to herself in almost every sentence, like "Even as a baby I was an insomniac" and "For someone obsessed with cleaning, I found it strange that she saved everything."

Although it's a fairly quick read, this isn't a book for young kids. Thayer self-medicates his ADD with recreational drugs, and exhibits other self-destructive behavior. Thayer and Fin both experiment with writing graffiti and cutting class. They aren't bad kids, but their problems, and the medications that they take to cope with their problems, make it difficult for them to sit still and behave in school. I think that teens who have struggled with mental and behavioral issues, especially those who have turned to medications like Paxil and Ritalin, will find this book intriguing. 

Book: Total Constant Order
Author: Crissa-Jean Chappell. See also Crissa's journal.
Publisher: HarperTeen
Original Publication Date: October 23, 2007
Pages: 288
Age Range: 13 and up
Source of Book: ARC from the author.
Other Blog Reviews: Outside of a Cat, Booktopia, Bildungsroman, and Bri Meets Books. See also interviews of Crissa-Jean Chappell at wordswimmer and Bildungsroman.

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

WCOB #1: Behind the Eyes

Colleen Mondor has started a new series at Chasing Ray called Wicked Cool Overlooked Books. The idea is to feature those great books that never quite reached a wider audience. That never got the buzz going. Books that we think deserve more attention. Books that didn't win any big awards. Colleen's first book is Amaryllis by Curtis Crist-Evans. Kelly Herold at Big A little a starts with The Unresolved, by T. K. Welsh, linking to a previously published review. Kelly Fineman starts with Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill. (And I'm sure that there are others, but I haven't had a chance to check around.)

I would like to point you to a book called Behind the Eyes, by Francisco X. Stork. I reviewed Behind the Eyes back in November. It's about a troubled youth from a housing project in El Paso who, despite his best efforts, gets into trouble and ends up in a harsh military school. It's a dark, gritty story, but one that I found compelling. The characters felt real to me. I haven't heard much about this book, perhaps because the protagonist is so far from the mainstream, and I think that it deserves wider attention. Here is the conclusion from my previous review (you can read the full review for more details):

I think that Behind the Eyes will appeal to kids looking for edgier stories, and will especially appeal to kids from Chicano and other immigrant families. There are many Spanish phrases sprinkled throughout the book, with no translation, but they are mostly clear from content, and are essential to the realism of the dialog. If I was a librarian working with kids at risk from gangs, I would definitely hand them this title. And if I was working with any set of kids who could benefit from seeing a different perspective, I'd hand them this title, too.

What excellent books do you think have been overlooked?

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

Proms and Consequences

Robin Brande has a discussion going on at her blog today that I think is important, and only slightly off-topic to children's and young adult books. Robin was impressed by the recent Eclipse Prom organized by Stephenie Meyer because it "was a very safe event for girls ... every girl who wanted to could go to Stephenie’s prom and feel completely accepted and welcome." Robin then talked to a friend, a former high school teacher, who said that "the hardest thing for her to hear from a lot of these girls who’d been invited to the school prom was that there was this expectation that if they said yes to the date, they were also saying yes to sex." Robin shares some well-considered thoughts about this, as do various commenters.

My own contribution to the discussion was that I happened to read about something even more appalling in Dear Abby today. This is what I posted in the comments on Robin's blog:

Apparently (according to one person’s letter to Dear Abby), there’s a new trend in the teen community called “prom babies.” Girls who are accepted to college, but aren’t ready to go, and don’t feel that they can face telling their parents about it, decide to get pregnant on prom night instead. Then they can stay home and have the baby, instead of facing the pressure of college.

I really hope that this is an isolated thing, and not something that's happening on any kind of regular basis. Because the notion of bright girls with their entire future ahead of them choosing to have babies as an escape from the pressures of their lives is heartbreaking.

Anyway, if you have teenage girls, if you know or care about teenage girls, head on over to Robin's to contribute to the discussion.

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

Children's Literacy Round-Up: May 7

There are lots of children's literacy and reading related stories out and about this week, especially from the Canadian press. Here are some highlights:

  • According to a recent press release, the Las Vegas Gladiators (from the Arena Football League) held a children's book drive at their May 6th game, accepting donations of new and gently read books, and offering discounted admission in return. I like it when sports figures promote reading and literacy, because I think they have a particular ability to influence boys with the notion that reading is important.
  • Rhonda Lee has a feature article in the Muskogee Phoenix (Oklahoma) about a special reading program for preschoolers called the “Curious? Read! Curious George Reading Program.” in April organizers "read Curious George books and did activities to help our children on their journey to literacy (the ability to read and write)." The article also discusses a Cherokee man in Oklahoma who created the first written version of the Cherokee language.
  • Jennifer Neville has an excellent editorial in the Pembroke Daily Observer (Ontario, Canada) about the importance of literacy. She repeatedly urges parents to read to their children, saying things like "Reading to them every day for 15 minutes even when they are a year old can promote a love of reading, as well as enhance their cognitive skills."
  • The San Diego Union Tribune has an article by David Hasemyer about the recent Race for Literacy Kids Magic Mile event, in which kids raced to raise money for reading programs throughout the county. My favorite part is a quote by 11-year-old Riley Hanson, who said that he ran because “Everybody should be able to read.”
  • Children were given free books at their local mall as part of Washington County Reading Day, according to an article by Pepper Ballard in the Herald-Mail. "Washington County Free Library librarians and volunteers stocked tables in the center of the mall from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with books to give out to children, who mostly were elementary-school age. More than 1,000 books were handed out, said Kathleen O'Connell, the library's assistant director."
  • The First Book Blog has an article about what one community group did with Borders gift cards received from First Book. "The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) and Head Start program in Tacoma, WA purchased the old favorite Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina, for all of the young students in their program. Not only are the children reading the books and then taking them home, the instructors are introducing creative activities that bring the story’s lessons to life."
  • May 6th to 12th is Reading is Fundamental (RIF) week. In this press release, Rhea Perlman, this year's honorary RIF Week chairwoman, offers her tips for making reading fun. She starts with "Have fun reading. If you enjoy reading, your children will more likely enjoy it too ... like sports or music."
  • The Lindsay Daily Post (Canada) has an article by Catherine Whitnall about this summer's expansion of local literacy camps in the metro Toronto area. "Launched to help increase student literacy rates and improve EQAO results, the program complements other summer programs available."
  • The Prince Edward Island Guardian is hosting a book drive for literacy. According to the article by Katie Smith, the goal is to raise $10,000, and use the money to spread books across the Island. I think that L. M. Montgomery would be pleased.
  • An article in the Willamsport Sun-Gazette (Pennsylvania) by Alissa Eaton describes a new literacy program that appears to be following the example of the Reach Out and Read program. "The Lycoming County Library System is launching a new program, “Read to Your Bunny,” that focuses on getting parents to read more to their children. The program consists of providing waiting rooms of physicians, pediatrics, family practice doctors and obstetricians with children’s books and colorful wall posters."

Have you run across any news stories about programs that promote children's literacy, or encourage kids to love books? I hope so, because this is important stuff. Together, all of these people quietly working away to help kids to love books and reading are making the world a better place.