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Posts from July 2007

Sunday Afternoon Visits: July 8

I must admit that recently I've felt more like reading books that reading blogs. It's not that I don't enjoy reading blogs, but I'm trying to re-read the Harry Potter books before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes out (I just finished The Goblet of Fire, Book 4, this week). I'm also caught up in John Marsden's Tomorrow series (about a group of teens who escape capture when their country is taken over by invaders, and try to stay free, and disrupt the occupying forces). And of course I have other books that I'm dying to get to from my "to be reviewed" stack, too many to even list here.

I'm reading the Harry Potter books just because. Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock will understand. I'm reading the Marsden books for the upcoming "One Shot World Tour: Australia", to be brought to you on August 15th by Colleen Mondor and the folks from the Summer Blog Blast Tour. Colleen says: "That day will be devoted to writing about Aussie authors and we do hope other blogs will join in our project. (Adult authors, YA, MG, comics, picture books - whatever - all genres, all formats, all ages welcome.) If you'd like to post on an Australian author on August 15th do let me know a few days before so I can be sure to get a link to your site." I hope that some of you will participate.

But I think that it's mostly a midsummer thing - I just feel like lying on the couch reading books all day. That said, I do have a few other blog links for your perusal.

OK, so that's more than a few links. Happy reading! It's been great catching up with you. Now I'll get back to my reading.

Books Now Available: The Penguins of Doom

Greg Fishbone's first novel, The Penguins of Doom is scheduled for release today. I reviewed it from an ARC on June 10th. Here was the conclusion of my review of this middle grade novel:

The sketches are highly entertaining, and give the book a hint of a graphic novel feel. Although the main character is a girl, the sketches and diagrams, not to mention many of the events, feel boy-friendly, too. I think that Penguins of Doom will please boys and girls or all ages, nine and up.

Incidentally, it's no coincidence that the release date is 7/7/7. Sevens feature prominently in this book about a seventh child.

Updated to add: There has been a slight production delay with the book, and it isn't quite available yet. See Greg Fishbone's post on the subject, with thanks to Sheila from Wands and Worlds.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: July 4

Happy 4th of July, and welcome to this week's round-up of children's literacy related activities. Perhaps because it's a holiday week in the US, all of this week's articles are from other countries.

  • According to an article in the Daily Times (Lahore, Pakistan), the "literacy rate in the country (Pakistan) rose to 54 percent and the gross enrollment rate for primary education improved from 72 percent to 87 percent in 2006." Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz stressed the importance of literacy, and enrolling more children in school, in a speech at Foundation University. "He said illiterate nations could not make progress. He said education enhances human capabilities, creates opportunities for individual progress and social mobility."
  • New Zealand is also working on literacy, as described in a press release at titled "Fostering Love of Books in Early Childhood Key to Creating Literate Society." To encourage reading, "The Duffy Books in Homes Early Childhood Education Programme will see books put into the homes of children from 45 low-decile kindergartens taking part in the pilot programme."
  • Barbados has just established a "national policy on reading called Launching Into Literacy 2007", according to a web post at the Barbados Advocate site.
  • According to an article in BBC News, "A Scots council has claimed it is the first local authority in the world to eradicate illiteracy in its schools." That's a big claim to make, but West Dunbartonshire Council does seem to have made significant strides towards improving literacy over the past five years.

And that's all for this week. Happy summer reading to all!

Two Opportunities for Author Interaction

I thought that the young adult fiction fans among you might be interested in two announcements regarding author visit/chat opportunities. First up, an announcement from BookDivas (edited to remove one paragraph).

"Wouldn't you love to attend an author visit with E. Lockhart? Well, to promote her new book Dramarama, she will be the guest of the Book Divas. 

The leading online book club for young adults and college readers, Book Divas welcomes E. Lockhart to host a virtual author visit July 15th, 2007 until July 22nd, 2007. This will be Lockhart’s second time promoting a upcoming book on the site and this time members of Book Divas will get to chat with her exclusively for an entire week...

Lockhart will login to the message board every day for a week, where she will answer questions, read comments and discuss her newest novel, Dramarama. Members will be allowed to personally speak with Lockhart by signing in and leaving messages for the YA author."

Next, the Readergirlz live chat for the month.

"Join readergirlz for our live chat with Goy Crazy author Melissa Schorr on Thursday, July 26th at 7 p.m. Pacific / 10 p.m. Eastern

Let's talk about The Dramedy of Dating: Come share your most tragic and comic and moments in romance - especially summer romance. Have you ever:

Dated a "bad boy," even though your parents didn’t approve?

Dated someone from a different faith or background?

Successfully turned a boy "friend" into a "boyfriend?"

Melissa has! Come join us and spill your stories!"

The Amazon links are mine in both of the above. Hope that you find this author visit information useful. 

Trigger: Susan Vaught

Book: Trigger
Author: Susan Vaught
Pages: 304
Age Range: 14 and up

Trigger, by Susan Vaught, begins as teenager Jersey Hatch is preparing to leave rehab, a year after, so people tell him, he shot himself in the head. Jersey doesn't remember shooting himself, nor does he remember the year leading up to the shooting, but he knows that he and the people around him have been scarred by it. His father is damaged, though a solid, supportive, presence. Jersey's mother isn't coping as well. His parents' marriage is on shaky ground. Jersey's former friends haven't been to see him, and he knows that his lifelong best friend, Todd, can't stand him anymore.

The only people who treat Jersey with any degree of normalcy are Todd's younger sister, Leza, and Leza and Todd's grandmother, Mama Rush. Mama Rush and Leza both try to help Jersey figure out why he shot himself, a mystery that seems to involve Todd, and/or a former girlfriend. The suspense of Jersey's quest for understanding is mixed with scenes depicting his re-adjustment to home and school.

Jersey is physically and mentally disabled, with limited use of his left arm and leg, patchy short term memory, and difficulty controlling his words. Trigger is told in Jersey's first-person voice (as his thoughts, not as something structured that he's written down). Jersey's thought patterns are scattered, and he frequently obsesses on particular words or ideas. He can't keep from blurting out words that are on his mind, often at inappropriate times. It's a fascinating window into what it might be like for an otherwise intelligent person to learn to live with brain damage, and an utterly unique voice for a novel. Here are a couple of examples:

"Pay the driver. Pay the driver. I could do easy math. I could count change and money and stuff. If I remembered to pay the driver. If I walked off and forgot, he'd call the police and send me to jail. Pay the driver. I clung to my memory book and the bills Mom had given me. The plastic bag with Mama Rush's presents felt heavy on my weak wrist. Don't forget to pay the driver. Jail. Don't forget to keep enough money to get home. Jail. Don't forget to pay the driver." (page 44)

"I put my memory book down on the first step and climbed up as carefully as I could. My headache made the hall seem too long, but I ignored that. That was imagining. Halls didn't get longer and shorter. The noon sunlight came out of rooms in weird ways, making patterns on the floor. I walked across the patterns. The gold in my shoelaces glittered." (page 221)

Author Susan Vaught is a full-time neuropsychologist, and I think that her background brings a particular authenticity to Jersey's problems. Her jacket flap bio says that she "has helped many patients with difficulties like Jersey's. The words and struggles of her adolescent patients often occupy her mind and inspire her creativity."

Although the general topic of Trigger is dark, Jersey's inappropriate phrases add some mild comic relief. A favorite phrase that becomes a bit of a catchword, for instance, is "frog farts". Mama Rush also adds some humor, though she represents wisdom, too. She's a wonderful character, this chain-smoking old black woman on a purple scooter who accepts no nonsense from anyone, and is unphased by Jersey's differences.

Jersey is the ultimate unreliable narrator. By surviving his suicide attempt, he ends up in the unusual position of seeing first-hand the damage that he has wrought. His memory loss, and his quest to understand why he did what he did, work well at keeping his problems at a distance. Jersey doesn't understand any more than anyone else does why he would shoot himself in the head. This bafflement makes the book bearable, even suspenseful, for the reader, in a way that a straightforward account of "here's why I wanted to kill myself" might not. In some ways, Trigger is a hopeful book, too. Despite some major flaws, and some bouts with despair, Jersey wants to fix things. He wants to "glue" his broken mother back together, to make amends to people, and to figure out how to live his life now.

Trigger doesn't feel like a "message" book at all, because Jersey is a such a strong, immediate character. However, there clearly is a message to the book, a message about the damage that a teen can do to other people by committing suicide. The book also gives voice to people who have physical and mental difficulties. This is a compelling book about a serious issue, written in an unforgettable voice. I recommend Trigger for high-school students, boys or girls, though I would hesitate to give it to middle schoolers. The book also contains an end section outlining suicide warning signs, steps to take, and listing resources for help. Additional resources are available from the author's website.

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Publication Date: August 2006
Source of Book: Santa Clara City Library
Other Blog Reviews: HipLibrariansBookBlog, Great Reads from FCL, and Cynthia J. Omololu (in The Edge of the Forest)

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

WCOB #3: The Strictest School in the World

Welcome to month three of the Wicked Cool Overlooked Book initiative, started by Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray. The idea is to focus on an excellent book that doesn't seem to have received sufficient attention. This month Colleen discusses Melanie McGrath's The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic, and Jules and Eisha at 7-Imp highlight two Australian authors.

The book that I would like to draw your attention to this month is: The Strictest School in the World, by Howard Whitehouse. In my original review of this title, I called it:

"a book aimed squarely at the 9-12 set, featuring lovably eccentric characters, larger-than-life bad guys, two independent-minded protagonists, and madcap adventures.

Towards the end of the review I added:

"There is a lot to like about this book. The author's voice is hilarious, with matter-of-fact recounting of tragedies, and sly insertions of humor. The naming of the characters reminds me a bit of Roald Dahl (e.g. Miss Sharpelbow, a terrifying teacher, and Professor Bellbuckle, a mad inventor). The plot, with loyal relatives trying to help a young girl escape from a prison of a school, reminds me of one of the main sub-plots in Eva Ibbotson's The Star of Kazan. However, The Strictest School in the World is more humorous and in tone, with more over-the-top behavior. The humor of the book keeps the Gothic overtones from ever being too much."

All in all, it's well worth reading, but I haven't seen a huge amount of press about it. Fans of A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama and other Gothic titles should definitely check out The Strictest School in the World, as should fans of historical fiction, and anyone looking for a book that's funny, or one that features both a male and a female protagonist. A sequel, The Faceless Fiend: Being the Tale of a Criminal Mastermind, is due out August 1st. If you wait for that one, you'll be sure of back-to-back fun. Check out my original review for more details.

Two More Notes on Jericho

Who knew that my most controversial post would turn out to be one in which I encouraged people to watch a particular television show? Yesterday, I wrote a quick post about CBS's decision to un-cancel Jericho. I've had several responses from passionate Jericho fans. They have inspired me to add clarification on two points.

  1. The network will only be issuing 7 episodes initially, but if there is a positive response to the 7 episodes, they will continue. They will not be wrapping up the story in these episodes, but rather, continuing the story. So, it's not a mini-series, as has been reported, because it won't have a conclusion. But if the response is not what CBS is looking for, I would imagine that they are unlikely to continue the show.
  2. I mentioned yesterday that the cancellation was because the Jericho audience was too small. I read an article in my local newspaper today about this very topic. Charlie McCollum explained that what really happened with Jericho was not that people weren't watching, but that people were watching in ways not captured by the Nielsen ratings. Many people watched Jericho online, and via time-shifting (Tivo, etc.), and this audience is harder for the network to quantify. Once the show was canceled, these people came out of the woodwork, and demanded that the show be continued. And these people were heard, which is a great testament to the power of the Internet and new technologies.

I would still argue that it would be better if the overall audience for Jericho was larger. Then even if some viewers weren't captured, the network and advertisers would still be able to measure a large audience, and everyone would be happy. And that was the point of my first post - to encourage more people to check out what I think is an excellent show.

And now I'm done being off-topic, and will get back to writing about books.

June 2007 Reading List

I'm still on target for reading 200 books this year. As of the end of June, I'm at 111. But you know, no matter how many books I do read, I always want to read more. Anyway, here are the titles that I read in June. Reviews for several of these will be coming soon.

Children's and Young Adult Books

  1. Mary Downing Hahn: Deep and Dark and Dangerous. Clarion Books. Completed June 1, 2007. My review
  2. Judy Gregerson: Bad Girls Club. Blooming Tree Press. Completed June 2, 2007. My review.
  3. Maurice Gee: The Fire-Raiser. Hougton-Mifflin. Completed June 2, 2007. My review.
  4. Greg Fishbone: The Penguins of Doom (From the Desk of Septina Nash). Blooming Tree Press. Completed June 3, 2007. My review.
  5. Catherine Gilbert Murdock: The Off Season. Houghton Mifflin. Completed June 6, 2007. My review.
  6. Ally Carter: I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You (Gallagher Girls). Hyperion. Completed June 7, 2007.
  7. Lisa Yee: Millicent Min, Girl Genius. Scholastic, Inc. Completed June 11, 2007.
  8. Annie Bryant: Maeve on the Red Carpet. Beacon Street Girls. Completed June 11, 2007. My review.
  9. Meg Cabot: Missing You: 1-800-Where-R-You. HarperTeen. Completed June 11, 2007.
  10. Rachel Cohn: Gingerbread. Simon Pulse. Completed June 13, 2007.
  11. J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Scholastic. Completed June 16, 2007.
  12. J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Scholastic. Completed June 19, 2007.
  13. Angie Sage: Flyte. HarperTrophy. Completed June 22, 2007.
  14. Dianna Hutts Aston (Author) and Sylvia Long (Illustrator): A Seed is Sleepy. Chronicle Books. Completed June 24, 2007. My review.
  15. J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3). Scholastic. Completed June 27, 2007.

Adult Fiction

  1. Lee Child: Bad Luck and Trouble. Delacorte Press. Completed June 14, 2007.
  2. Janet Evanovich: Lean Mean Thirteen. St. Martin's Press. Completed June 26, 2007. Very funny. I don't know how she manages to sustain the Morelli-Ranger tension, basically walking a tightrope through the whole book, but it works.

Sunday Afternoon Visits: July 1

I have lots of interesting links for you this week, despite the blog vacations of several Kidlitosphere stalwarts.

  • The RSVP list for the First Annual Kidlitosphere Conference, to be held October 6th in Chicago, is growing by leaps and bounds. Robin Brande started this by talking about a fantasy potluck, and then, when people were enthusiastic, she turned it into a real potluck/party. One more revolution, and she has recast it as a one-day conference for kidlit bloggers and friends, to include round table discussions on various topics. It's been neat to watch this idea grow and evolve. I know that I'm looking forward to the conference and party, a chance to meet friends face to face who I email and comment with every week. I hope that many more of my blogging friends will decide to come. Consider this my invitation to you.
  • Emily Beeson from Whimsy has declared July 16th TELL AN AUTHOR YOU CARE DAY. She has concrete suggestions for how we, as readers, can support authors, and let them know that we appreciate their work. This idea seems to be resonating with people around the Kidlitosphere, as you might expect, since we'd all be lost without books to read.
  • Tricia (The Miss Rumphius Effect) links to a Steve Inskeep NPR interview of Nancy Pearl, in which the two talk about great summer reads for kids. Tricia shares first lines from several of the books discussed. They all look fascinating, in different ways.
  • Over at A Patchwork of Books, Amanda, stuck in an unsatisfying job, asks readers for advice on how she might in some fashion get paid for blogging. I can relate to this desire - it would be wonderful to be able to make a living doing something that I enjoy and would do even without the money. But it's not easy. My Amazon referral commissions are wonderful (with many thanks to anyone who has clicked through!), but they keep me in books - they are a long way from paying the rent. (See also MotherReader's recent comments on being an Amazon Associate.) I also attended a session on this at last year's BlogHer conference, and I do know of a couple of people who have received paying gigs based on their blog performance. But that's pretty rare.
  • The Scholar's Blog Book Discussion group will start a new discussion on July 3rd. The group will be reading Louis Sachar's The Boy Who Lost His Face, one last "realistic" title before delving deep into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for August and September.
  • My friend Cory sent me a link to an interesting article in the LA Times, about how children will tend to believe what they read, even if you give them false information.
  • Meg Rosoff writes about children learning to face fear through books, in a Telegraph (UK) article. She talks about why she writes relatively dark books (Zeitgeist), and notes that "In the end, there's nothing for it but to recommend a complex mix of literature for children, just as one would for adults - one that combines Streatfeild, Joseph Heller and McCarthy. Because facing fear vicariously, through literature, has to be one of the healthiest ways of processing the terror that goes with being human."
  • Leila from Bookshelves of Doom links to another interesting Telegraph article, this one about the parallels and differences between England's two biggest selling children's authors: Enid Blyton and J. K. Rowling. Enid Blyton has sold about 400 million books so far, while Rowling is rapidly catching up with 325 million (not counting book 7 pre-orders). I was a big Enid Blyton fan as a kid, and still enjoy some of the books (though others are a bit too gender-stereotyped for me today). My favorites as an adult are the "Adventure" series, The Valley of Adventure, The Island of Adventure, etc., though as a kid I adored the Famous Five. I've bought a number of Blyton books while on business trips to England.   
  • Vivian is discussing books for boys vs. books for girls over at HipWriterMama, after posting about a great book for girls (The Tail of Emily Windsnap), and a couple of great books for boys (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and How to Eat Fried Worms). She asks some penetrating questions about whether there are more books written today for girls than for boys, and if so, why that is.
  • There's an interesting discussion going on over at Tea Cozy about comments, and the rights of bloggers to delete comments made to their blogs. Liz also links to a useful article about 12 Important US Laws Every Blogger Needs to Know, posted at Aviva Directory. 
  • Themed lists abound this week! The ESSL Children's Literature Blog just posted a list of "fiction and non-fiction resources for further exploration of immigration history, or the experiences of a particular ethnic group", as well as some web links about immigration. And author Justine Larbalestier just posted a list of "Australian gay and lesbian young adult books." (Whoops, there goes my PG rating.) Justine adds "This list is definitely not complete and is not annotated. It's just a start. If you can think of any more titles, please let me know!". For another list worth including, and not only because it has a great name, read Beginning Readers that Don't Make Me Want to Fall Into a Stupor (part 1 and part 2) at What Adrienne Thinks About That. And finally, if you need more lists, check out Melissa Wiley's list of her favorite booklists at The Lilting House.
  • Cynthia Lord's picture with Bill Clinton, and the accompanying story, made me laugh. It's great that she's a writer, because she is so funny. Really, you should read all of her ALA articles - her sense of wonder at being a Newbery Honor winner shines through. Kirby Larson is less prolific about it, but also shares her joy about the Newbery ceremony.
  • Sophia Masson, guest blogger at the Australian publication Good Reading Magazine, has a lovely post about why she writes for children. She says that she writes for kids "because I enjoy it more. Not because it's easier--it's certainly not--but because it's freer in terms of imagination and invention, more fun, more versatile, more elastic. It's the way my imagination works." There's a lot of great discussion in the comments, too. Thanks to Judith from Misrule for the link.

I'm hoping that the coming week will be relatively quiet work-wise, with the U.S. July 4th holiday, and that I'll be able to spend some time reading and reviewing. Happy July 4th to all!

TV Recommendation: Jericho

This is a bit off-topic from children's books, but I'm going to join Liz Burns from Tea Cozy in making a plea for all of you to watch Jericho when it comes back on TV. CBS ran one series of this post-apocalypse drama, about a small Kansas town that survives after a mysterious nuclear attack takes out most of the major cities in the US.

Jericho drew a passionate, but small, following. The following being too small, CBS pulled the plug after season 1. They left the show with a tremendous cliffhanger and many unanswered questions. In response to an outpouring of complaints by fans, CBS has decided to air a mini-season next year, and expand if enough people watch. They'll be re-broadcasting the entire first season starting on July 6th, to give people a chance to get caught up on the show (it's one of those complex dramas that you have to watch from the beginning to appreciate). You can find more details here (thanks to Liz for the link). 

Jericho is a great show. Suspenseful, tackling big-picture and small-picture questions about what people would do in the aftermath of a natural disaster (a bit like Life As We Knew It, but for an adult audience, and focused on a whole town). There is certainly some violence, but family relationships are explored, too. And many of the actors are wonderful, especially Skeet Ulrich as Jake Green, and Lennie James as Robert Hawkins.

So, consider adding Jericho to your watch list for this summer, if you haven't seen it before. And stay tuned for news of the mini-season 2. Thanks!