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Posts from July 2007

Blog Vacation

Just wanted to let you all know that I'll be taking a vacation from blogging for the next ten days or so. Although I enjoy all of the blog interaction more than I can possibly express, I've reached a point where I need some time to recharge my batteries. Therefore, I don't expect to be posting, reading blogs, or responding to email. I'll hopefully be doing some reading in that time, however. My goal is to come back rejuvenated, and ready for lots of great reviews and book discussions.

Have a great week!

Friday Afternoon Visits

I've run across a few things of interest this week in the blogs, in addition to the tremendous outpouring of Harry Potter-related posts and reviews.

  • Jenna from the Escape Adulthood team recently named me a "Rockin' Girl Blogger." It was actually my second "Rockin' Girl Blogger" award (the first was from Amanda at A Patchwork of Books), and this fact pleases me tremendously, because it makes me feel like I must be doing something right. Jenna is the "Chief Sales Servant" for Escape Adulthood products, and she is an absolute goddess of customer service and fun.
  • Saffron Tree reviews a variety of magazines for kids, saying "We have always been riveted to books as a nourishing source of learning and fun for children. An equally amazing alternative to books are magazines - a periodic dose of information and amusement."
  • Congratulations to Liz Garton Scanlon on signing a contract for her next picture book. Liz says of writing children's books: "I would say that I’d found my dream job, but that’d mean it felt like a job when really it feels more like a love affair." It's great to see someone doing what they love, and achieving success.
  • And speaking of authors who have achieved success in the world of children's books without letting it go to their heads, Rick Riordan has been posting an original short story about Percy Jackson in installments on his blog. Currently Part 1 and Part 2 are available. What a nice treat for Percy Jackson fans.
  • At the end of one of many reviews and musings on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, MsMac from Check It Out discusses "the impact that this series has had on kids and reading. Kids age eight when first starting to read Harry Potter, are now the same age as Harry. They are on the brink of adulthood.  For many, this is the book that made a significant impact on their reading life. Island of the Blue Dolphins and the Tolkein trilogy did that for me." She asks: "What books impacted you?"
  • In the midst of all of these posts about books and reading, Read Alert has published a set of statistics about the state of reading in the U.S. that, if accurate, are very depressing. Can it really be true that "80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year"? I get kind of down if I haven't bought or read a book in the last few days. I can't even imagine what it would be like to go a year.
  • But back to the upbeat, Ananka's Diary (of Kiki Strike fame) links to several online quizzes that you can use to test your sleuthing skills. Fun stuff!
  • I've been enjoying HipWriterMama's series of inspirational posts on Mondays. This week she encourages people to take themselves seriously, and work towards their dreams. She says: "Take yourself seriously. Treat your dream seriously. And by the way, it is totally okay to allow people to treat you and your work with respect." Makes sense, doesn't it?
  • And I saved the best for last. I learned from Fuse (tireless source of movie news) that DIsney is planning to remake Escape to Witch Mountain. The original 1975 Disney movie is one of my all-time favorites, despite the movie's differences from the wonderful book by Alexander Key. (I own the DVD, thanks to my brother Steve). Alexander Key also wrote one of my favorite comfort reading titles: The Forgotten Door. I'm a bit nervous about the remake, but won't be able to resist watching it. There was actually a made for TV version of Escape to Witch Mountain published sometime in the 90's, but it was completely different from the book and the 1975 movie.

Incidentally, I was traveling this past week, and got a kick out of noticing people at the airport, and on the plane, and in the breakroom of the high-tech company that I was visiting all reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Isn't it amazing to see such wide-spread interest in a children's book? Happy reading!

Books Now Available: Bad Girls Club

Judy Gregerson's teen novel Bad Girls Club, which I reviewed from ARC on June 5th, is scheduled for publication today. I called this book "a dark and disturbing story of the havoc that mental illness can wreak on a family, and the bond that children maintain with abusive parents." I should have added compelling to that sentence - it's a fascinating book. I'll be interested to hear what people think, now that it's published.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: July 23

Here are some recent children's literacy and reading related stories:

  • The Baltimore Sun published an editorial on Sunday about the need to encourage more parents to read to their kids, saying: "Early results from a literacy study show that only 51 percent of Maryland children age 5 and under are read to by their parents every day. Among children in low-income families, the figure drops below 40 percent. That's profoundly sad, not just because so many children are being deprived of the joy that books can bring to their lives, but also because of the potential long-term academic consequences."
  • In another opinion piece, Miranda Devine of the Sydney Morning Herald calls literacy the key to future success for "underprivileged indigenous children" in Australia.
  • Meanwhile, a Jakarta Post feature article by David Jardine reports that "Few Indonesians read purely for pleasure". The article discusses the historical development of literacy (or lack thereof) under Dutch colonial rule, and the improvement since that time in general reading levels, but says that "Reading for itself is simply not a widespread habit. The population is not imbued with the pursuit of reading for the wider range of benefits it bestows." This conclusion appears to be based on the author's own observations (detailed in the article), rather than any scientific studies. He concludes with " a serious look at how a network of local libraries might be funded."
  • On a lighter note, the New Zealand Herald has a feature article by Martha McKenzie-Minfie about the use of beanbag chairs to encourage reading at home. The beanbag idea, part of a reading initiative at the Rongomai School, "sprang from a finding that having a quiet and comfortable space where a parent and child could read was more important than having a good book." It's an interesting notion.
  • I also read at the Mombrarian that Wendy's has started including audiobooks in kids' meals, featuring popular characters like Arthur and Junie B. Jones. How cool is that?
  • The Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, John Peyton, has started a new endowment to fund early literacy programs. According to The Florida Times-Union, the "Jacksonville Early Literacy Endowment has been started with $260,000 in donations. The money came from people who had received refunds from Peyton's campaign fund after he won a second term this year. He requested that people give their returned contributions to the endowment." Now there's a nice legacy to leave behind when he leaves office.
  • Cristina Madrid writes in the Whittier (California) Daily News about donations by the local Friends of the Library to a program that provides books to inmates of the Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall. The motivation for the program is best described in this quote: "If we could get a kid to read instead of doing stupid things like commit crime then we've done our job."

And there are also various stories, pro and con, about whether or not the Harry Potter books will have a lasting impact on reading. Personally, I think that they will, because they've helped inspire, through their success, publication of so many other great books. And because there are undoubtedly kids out there who started reading because of Harry Potter, and have continued ever since. I also liked what Gail Gauthier wrote about this, in the context of making it cool for parents and kids to be reading children's books, instead of skipping right over them to adult books: "Harry Potter has made it okay for kids to read kids' books." Could you ask for a better legacy than that?

Sunday Afternoon Visits: July 22

As I've already mentioned, I stayed away from the Internet during the later part of this week, once that sleazy early review of HP7 came out in the New York Times. And I'm sure that I wasn't alone in neglecting the web in favor of reading this weekend. I can't tell you how nice it felt to just read, read, and read some more, all day yesterday. But now, I'm ready to catch up, and have a few things to share with you.

  • I enjoyed this post by Rick Riordan in which he addresses the question of whether or not Percy Jackson is the next Harry Potter (he says no), and whether the Harry Potter books will have a lasting positive effect on reading habits (he says yes). I'm with him on taking an optimistic view of the latter.
  • The Disco Mermaids have released the first of a planned series of posts in which they talk to actual teens about what readers want and expect from young adult fiction. As you would expect from The Disco Mermaids, the first post is highly entertaining, while making some excellent points. I was a bit surprised to see how completely these four girls, who are clearly readers, dismissed the library, but I loved their comments about books that try to teach a lesson. Definitely some food for thought for your YA writers.
  • For more about writing, check out Judith Ridge's post at The New Misrule Blog, in which she asks readers "how do you define "voice" in narrative fiction?" There are several responses in the comments.
  • Inspired by an interview she saw of Nancy Pearl and Dana Gioia, Robin Brande asks readers whether "we, as adults, should be steering young readers to only the award-winning, widely-acclaimed books, or is it more important (as Mr. Gioia said) that the reader feel passionate about the book he or she chooses?" I fall decisively into the "read what you enjoy" camp, as do the many commenters on the post.
  • It's not up yet, but the next Carnival of Children's Literature will be posted tomorrow at Saints and Spinners. Alkelda's theme is "The Play's the Thing". It's sure to provide lots of excellent reading to start the week. UPDATE 7/23: The carnival is now available. It's well worth checking out.

And that's all for now. I think a lot of people have been away from their blogs this weekend, either to avoid spoilers, or because they are reading, and all is quiet.

It Is Finished

Sorry I've been absent the past fews days. I've been scrambling to re-read the Harry Potter books before Book 7 came out, during what was also a busy work week. I also went into a sort of media blackout state, because I feared anything spoiling the book. I mean, I didn't even want to know if people liked it or disliked it, let alone any details. I wanted to draw my own conclusions.

I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows yesterday, between about 11 am and 8 pm. Now that I'm finished, it's safe for me to return to the Internet. No worries for anyone else, though. I'm not saying anything about the book at all for a while - because I don't want to be spoil it for anyone else. Happy reading!

Quick Hits on a Sunny Afternoon

I didn't include many links in my Sunday Visits post this weekend, because I was tied up with personal things. And now that it's the week, I'm pretty well tied up with work things. I can't tell you how I long for more time to read, and review, and comment! Or at least time to read. Hopefully I'll get my life more under control ... eventually. Meanwhile, I wanted to take a minute to share a few things that I've been saving up:

  • I participated in the first Bookworms Carnival, published yesterday at The Hidden Side of a Leaf. I'm not wild about the auto-content links that are included in the carnival - I find them distracting and not useful. But it is still a nice gathering place for people interested in reading about books.
  • There's also a Picture Book Carnival coming up at Mentor Texts. The deadline is July 31st. Thanks to Susan from Chicken Spaghetti for the link.
  • I found this post at Oz and Ends interesting. It's about the questionable inclusion of The Lightning Thief in a listing of books about and for people with Asperger's Syndrome. While I think that it's great to have people drumming up support for the Percy Jackson series, it's pretty clear that Percy, already living with ADHD and dyslexia, does not have Asperger's also.
  • Laura Salas has a nice post at Wordy Girls about relaxing. I think this one caught my eye because I've been so stressed out lately. Head on over and share with Laura how you escape.
  • Jess shares a list, developed by Mack Collier, of 8 Ways to Grow Your Blog. I think that it's an excellent set of reminders, and that the most critical part is this closing suggestion: "The best way to grow your blog's readership is to shift your focus to satisfying your readers' wants and needs." Common sense, but an excellent reminder.
  • I don't come even close to having time to read all of the Harry Potter articles out there, let alone share them with you, but I did enjoy this post by Colleen Mondor in defense of those of us reading Rowling's books (or whatever other books we choose).

That's all for now. My availability is going to be patchy for the next couple of weeks, but I'll check in as often as I can. Thanks!

Children's Literacy Round-Up: July 17

Here is some recent children's literacy and reading related news:

  • According to BBC News, a champion of phonics and reading was recently knighted. It's great to see literacy advocates recognized! Thanks to RM1 (SS) from The Old Coot for sending the link. 
  • In other news from the UK, according to a controversial study reported in the Times Online (UK), "Children from poor families should be given extra lessons on weekdays and Saturdays to provide them with the levels of support enjoyed by pupils at private school... The report, Tackling Educational Inequality, also calls for all schools to be given the freedom to diverge from the national curriculum, enabling them to concentrate on literacy and numeracy." Seems a bit questionable to me, but I haven't tracked down the report. Commenters on the piece are appalled.
  • UNESCO announced the winners of their 2007 literacy prize, selecting five winners "from China, the United States, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania... The honours are awarded yearly to recognize particularly effective efforts made in the fight against illiteracy, one of UNESCO’s priorities, and raise awareness of the work of thousands worldwide promoting the cause of literacy for all." The US winner was Reach Out and Read.
  • A feature story at Penn State Live champions summer reading, and suggests book titles. It starts: "Summer reading for children should be an added seasonal bonus, not a chore. Books can entertain, enlighten and inspire young people of various ages. Steven Herb, director of The Pennsylvania Center for the Book and head of Penn State's Education and Behavioral Sciences Library, knows there are a lot of good books for young people. He has made some recommendations of award-winning reads to keep kids occupied and engaged during the second half of the summer."
  • has a feature story about books by celebrity sports figures, with emphasis on Alex Rodriguez. Now, I can't say that I'm interested in reading most of these books myself, and I would want to see them very carefully edited. However, I do agree with school librarian Margaret Best, who said "Look, anything that gets kids excited about reading is good (and) ... there's a lot of excitement around athletes." If a young Yankees fan is more excited about reading because A-Rod published a book, that's a lot better than the kid not getting excited about any books at all.

Sunday Afternoon Visits: July 15

I'm just back from spending the weekend hiking in Big Sur (where it is very beautiful). Sadly, I didn't get to read at all - I fell asleep both nights over the same movie (we're still not through it), and we were otherwise on the move the entire time. My chances of finishing re-reading Harry Potter 1-6 before Book 7 comes out are not looking very good. I'm only halfway through Book 5, and have a mountain of work to do this week. But it was a lovely weekend.

I'm going to have to defer sharing links with you for a couple of days, since I'm far behind on my blog visits (and pretty much everything else in my life). I'll just remind you that tomorrow is Tell an Author You Care Day, brainchild of Emily Beeson from Whimsy. Emily says that you can:

"1. Write a letter or email to a favorite author. I think JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer receive plenty of fan letters. Think of an author you love that may need a little boost.

2. Write a positive review on Amazon and, if you want to, link to it in your blog.

3. Buy a book by a favorite author and give it to someone who will enjoy it.

4. Profile an author in your blog. I'm not talking just another review. Tell us a little about the author and mention at least one of his/her books that you love."

I'll be back with more in a day or two. Happy Sunday!

Children's Literacy Round-Up: July 10

Here's this week's children's literacy and reading related news.

  • Reading is Fundamental announced the winners of the 2007 Hispanic Community Reading Challenge. "This year, over 21,000 Hispanic children pledged to participate in ¡Leamos Juntos!: Let's Read Together 2007 Hispanic Community Reading Challenge, sponsored by MetLife Foundation. Eight out of more than 50 Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF), programs were selected as winners of the contest."
  • Papa Murphy's Pizza is partnering with Borders Books to support children's literacy, according to a recent press release. "Together, the two will encourage children in the Puget Sound Region to read by offering free pizzas and a chance to win prizes including the highly anticipated new "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" book or a year of free pizzas from Papa Murphy's." I know that there's some controversy over the use of reward programs to motivate kids, but pizza and books sound like a good partnership to me.
  • The Guardian has an article about an organization for foster parents. The Fostering Network has been holding workshops in Northern Ireland to help foster parents understand how literacy and numeracy are taught today. According to the article, "only 1% of children in care go on to university." That's a shocking statistic, though it's nice to see efforts being made to turn things around.
  • James Earl Jones spoke at the Buffalo Book Fair 2007 about how literacy helped him to conquer a stuttering problem. According to a Buffalo News article, Jones said that “Literacy is about celebrating reading, writing, listening and history”. He also describes his first experience in reading aloud before an audience, in response to a challenge from a teacher.
  • CBC Magazine, of the Children's Book Council, has just published a summer reading extravaganza, classified according to picture books, middle readers, and young adults. It's not just a list - there are brief descriptions of all of the books. Thanks to Elaine Magliaro (Wild Rose Reader) for the link. 

That's all for this week (perhaps a light week because of the July 4th holiday in the US). Happy reading!

Gregor and the Code of Claw: Suzanne Collins

Book: Gregor and the Code of Claw
Author: Suzanne Collins
Pages: 412
Age Range: 9-12

Gregor and the Code of Claw is the fifth and final book in Suzanne Collins' Underland Chronicles series, and a worthy conclusion. The series is about 12-year-old Gregor, a boy from a struggling New York City family who discovers a hidden world deep below ground. In this world, the Underland, humans coexist with giant, intelligent species of insects and rodents: spiders, cockroaches, ants, fireflies, mice, bats, and rats. Gregor learns in the first book that he his coming has been predicted, and that he has a major role to play in the survival of the below-ground humans. He also, gradually, comes to care deeply for many of the beings that he interacts with in the Underland.

In this final installment, the rats have been attempting a genocide of the mice (conveyed with very clear World War II imagery). In defense of the mice, the humans have declared war on the rats. As the story begins, war looms outside the gates of Regalia, the human city. Another prophecy calls for action by Gregor and his sister. This particular prophecy is more disturbing than usual for Gregor, because it also appears to call for his death, with the line: "When the Warrior has been killed". It's a testament to how far he has progressed throughout the series that dodging the responsibility of this prophecy is not an option for Gregor. Instead, he works to the limits of his ability, to save the people he has come to consider his extended family. Several members of his own family are involved, too, ratcheting up the stakes even further. And an enemy within Regalia makes things even more difficult for Gregor.

As in Book 4 of the series, Gregor and the Code of Claw is a dark story, with war and death and evil. It's a bit of a paradox, actually, because the writing itself is quite accessible, and younger kids should have no problem with physically reading the book. They may, however, have trouble with the dark content, in which war is portrayed in all it's ugliness. It's a perfect read for reluctant middle school readers, who can handle the details and need a strong plot to keep them going. For younger kids, I would recommend that parents read the book, too, to be ready to discuss some of the issues. (As I would also recommend for the later Harry Potter books.). I think that they're important issues, and it's good to see them tackled in a children's book. It just might be a bit mature for, say, an eight-year-old to read alone.

I found Gregor and the Code of Claw to be a highly enjoyable, compelling read. I especially enjoyed the blossoming relationship between Gregor and Regalian Queen-in-Waiting Luxa. I was also pleased to see Gregor's middle sister, Lizzie, play a more overt part in this book than in previous titles, a part that had clearly been waiting for her for the entire series. Gregor's youngest sister, Boots, maintains her charming insouciance, though she has a bit less of a major role in this installment (as you might expect - it's tough to have a three-year-old playing a major part in a war). Ripred, battle-scarred rat who is a mentor to Gregor, evolves as a character, showing surprising tenderness towards Lizzie. The code-cracking part is fun, too. Some notes between Gregor and Luxa are left encoded, for kids to translate themselves. Overall, the book is a roller-coaster of action and suspense, laced throughout with moments of humanity and levity.

Gregor and the Code of Claw is a must-read for fans of the Underland Chronicles. If you haven't read the series, you should start at the beginning, rather than with this book. I highly recommended the series for reluctant readers, especially boys, for kids looking for a slightly easier to read adventure story than the Harry Potter books, and for anyone who is fascinated by insects, mice, bats, or underground cities.

Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: April, 2007
Source of Book: Santa Clara City Library
Other Blog Reviews: Eryn,, and 3LivingstonesHomeSchool. See also my reviews of Books 1 and 2, and Book 4

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