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October 2007

Posts from September 2007

Sunday Afternoon Visits: September 30

There's a lot of excitement brewing around the Kidlitosphere in October. The Cybils start accepting nominations starting TOMORROW. Readergirlz are hosting 31 authors, one per day, as part of the YA-focused 31 Flavorites event. Banned Book Week started yesterday and goes until October 6th. The First Annual Kidlitosphere Conference, brainchild of Robin Brande, is taking place in Chicago next Saturday. I'll be there, and hosting a panel on Promoting the Kidlitosphere. Jules and Eisha are guest blogging at ForeWord Magazine's Shelf Space starting a week from tomorrow. They also have the Robert's Snow event starting on October 15th, with a fabulous schedule. Teen Read Week is coming up October 14th to 20th. (See also TadMack's play by play of the exciting October kidlitosphere events at Finding Wonderland.)

There's a lot going on, but I do have some other posts of interest for you, as the clock ticks down to the Cybils and 31 Flavorite events:

  • Interested in learning more about Banned Book Week, and the 10 Most Challenged Books of 2006? Anne-Marie Nichols has the scoop at A Readable Feast
  • Via Jackie at Interactive Reader, the film rights to Meg Cabot's YA novel The Mediator have been optioned by "the producer of The Spiderwick Chronicles and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events." Now that's a movie (or movies? It's unclear) that I'm looking forward to.
  • Cheryl Rainfield tagged me for a cool meme about the love of books this week. I'm not sure I'll find time to do it, given everything else that's going on, but I did want to point you to her answers. We share a common affection for The Forgotten Door, by Alexander Key, which is one of my all-time favorite re-reads. Cheryl also pulls together a collection of links to children's book review and discussion podcasts.
  • Gail Gauthier introduced me to a neat site called KidderLit. The idea is that the people who run the site put up the first line from a children's book every day. You can visit the blog, or sign up to receive the lines by email. Then you click through to Amazon to see what book it is. As Gail says: "KidderLit is probably going to attract a lot of adult kidlit book geeks... But I think it's also an opportunity to make the literary world a little more attractive to kids. You're combining books with e-mail." I think it's going to be fun.
  • Via Tea Cozy, Sam Riddleburger has put up a Kidlit Blogger Word Find. Lots of familiar names to be found.
  • Ms. Yingling Reads calls on parents to "Let Them Read Captain Underpants", in a defense of letting kids read books that they're interested in. She laments that "we lose kids as readers in middle school. We make it not fun to read." She concludes: "So, parents out there, take a deep breath. Let them read Captain Underpants. They are challenged enough at school. Let them enjoy their reading!"
  • Becky introduces the concept of ReBooks, or Reading DNA. ReBooks are "books that have such a powerful impact that it's not enough to remember them -- you have to reread them." I like this concept, which is similar to a concept introduced by Steve Leveen called "personal classic books." I wrote about my personal classic books here. Becky has a cool animated graphic of hers.
  • Esme Raji Codell has written a powerful thank you for and explanation of her Chicago Reading Room, which closed last winter, but is opening soon in a new guise. You have to scroll down a bit in the post to find it, but it's worth finding. The original bookroom was "a private, non-circulating library and literary salon geared toward parents and elementary school teachers, dedicated to the principles found" in Esme's fun and important book, How to Get Your Child to Love Reading.
  • Congratulations to Els Kushner from Book, Book Book for getting a paid weekly blogging gig at's website for parents! She'll be blogging as Librarian Mom. I wish her much success!
  • Did you hear that a "New biography claims the beloved children's author [Enid Blyton] hid a secret code in her work to make cruel jokes at the expense of her first husband"? Guardian link via bookshelves of doom.
  • MotherReader has published the Megalist of Best Books of 2007 (so far), as well as links to all of the contributing blog posts. This list is an amazing resource for anyone looking for new titles, handily classified by age range and category.
  • Via my friend from Austin, has an article about Why Women Read More than Men. According to the article, "Theories attempting to explain the "fiction gap" abound. Cognitive psychologists have found that women are more empathetic than men, and possess a greater emotional range—traits that make fiction more appealing to them."
  • Read All About It! has an article about the Donkey Mobile Libraries in Zimbabwe. They say: "The Donkey Mobile Libraries were developed to provide library extension and outreach services to remote communities in the Nkayi District in north-western Zimbabwe. It is estimated that the literacy rate in this district is around 86% and this is largely attributed to the established and emerging library services."
  • Inspired by a book that she's reading with her 12-year-old daughter, Laura Salas asks if other parents have encountered awkwardness in reading aloud scenes that include mature topics. This is a question I haven't heard asked before, but I think it's great that she's still reading aloud with her 12-year-old. What a wonderful opportunity for discussion, in addition to placing importance on reading, and spending quality time together. 
  • Charlotte offers pointers for shopping at library book sales at Charlotte's Library.
  • Ananka's Diary has a photo of the cutest two-headed turtle you ever saw.
  • Finding Wonderland is having a contest through October 11th. The gist is this: "Have you ever wished you could spout some clever one-liner in response to people asking you where you get your ideas? Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to think of your own snappy answer to that question." The prizes are one of a kind, too.
  • If you're in Massachusetts, you have a couple of opportunities this month to view the snowflakes from the Robert's Snow fund-raising effort. Details are at the Jimmy Fund site.
  • And finally, I'd like to bring to your attention the new online children's bookstore, Through the Magic Door. According to a message that the founder send me: "Through the Magic Door is a children’s book e-commerce site from which most books in print can be purchased... The overall objective of TTMD is to foster a life-long love of reading in children and to kindle or reignite that love among parents. The focus of the site is five-fold: 1) Help busy parents find the right books (given their children’s interests) quickly through a sophisticated database; 2) Focus on the back-list of books, great books of proven worth that don’t receive a lot of marketing attention; 3) Bring awareness to international children’s authors who write great books but aren’t all that well known in the US; 4) Serve as a repository for web based resources that might be of assistance to parents and educators (such as links to awards, journals, author and illustrator sites, literacy programs, etc.), and 5) Create a community of people enthused and inspired by children’s books." I hope that it's a huge success. They also offer gift packages, where you can books sent regularly to kids over various time intervals - excellent gift ideas for grandparents and the like.

And in non-Kidlitosphere events:

  • The Red Sox go into the playoffs as the top-seeded AL East Champs, for the first time in a very long time.
  • It's my brother's birthday, my sister's birthday, two of my nieces' birthdays, and my parents' anniversary this month.

It's going to be a tough month to focus on work. See you all (well, some of you anyway), at the Kidlitosphere conference next weekend!

Readergirlz 31 Flavorites: Week 1

31flavoritesposterfinalsmalljpegTomorrow is the start of the readergirlz 31 Flavorites Event, a special event co-sponsored by YALSA, and taking place every day during the month of October. The readergirlz divas will be hosting 31 authors in 31 days. Every evening will feature a live chat with a different young adult author, with all chats to be held at 5:00 pm PST/ 8:00 pm EST.

Here's the schedule for Week 1:

October 1st: Meg Cabot
October 2nd: Tiffany Trent
October 3rd: Brent Hartinger
October 4th: Lorie Ann Grover
October 5th: K.L. Going
October 6th: Nikki Grimes

All chats will take place at the readergirlz forum. See also Little Willow's interview with the readergirlz divas about the 31 Flavorites event. You can also download copies of this 31 Flavorites posts in Large PDF, small PDF, and JPG format, and download and print the 31 Flavorites bookmark.

PostergirlzI'm posting about this event on behalf of the readergirlz postergirlz, the official advisory council for readergirlz. Via Little Willow's blog:

"Readergirlz is a literacy project founded by four female authors - Justina Chen Headley, Lorie Ann Grover, Dia Calhoun and Janet Lee Carey - in an effort to encourage teenagers to read and discuss quality books featuring gusty girls, and to get active in their communities. For more information, please visit"

September 2007 Reading List

September was a pretty good month for reading for me, and also a good month for writing reviews (though I'm still behind on a few middle grade titles). Of course, this month's 22 titles is not as impressive as it might seem on the surface, because many of the books were picture books. Not that I don't love picture books, but they don't require quite the same time commitment for reading, do they?

Children's and Young Adult Books

  1. Stephenie Meyer: Eclipse. Little, Brown. Completed September 5, 2007. My review.
  2. Tim Egan: Dodsworth in New York. Houghton Mifflin. Completed September 11, 2007. My review.
  3. Justine Smith (ill. Jan Lewis): How To Be A Spy In 7 Days Or Less. Kingfisher. Completed September 11, 2007. My review.
  4. Trenton Lee Stewart (ill. Carson Ellis): The Mysterious Benedict Society. Little, Brown. Completed September 11, 2007. My review.
  5. Colin Thompson (ill. Amy Lissiat): The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley. Completed September 15, 2007.
  6. Josh Schneider: You'll Be Sorry. Clarion. Completed September 15, 2007. My review.
  7. Jane Yolen (ill. Mark Teague): How Do Dinosaurs Go To School?. Blue Sky Press. Completed September 15, 2007. My review.
  8. Lynn Plourde (ill. Mitch Vance): A Mountain of Mittens. Charlesbridge. Completed September 15, 2007. My review.
  9. Eve Bunting (ill. Judy Love): The Baby Shower. Charlesbridge. Completed September 15, 2007. My review.
  10. Pooja Makhijani (ill. Elena Gomez): Mama's Saris. Little, Brown. Completed September 15, 2007. My review.
  11. Elizabeth Ficocelli (ill. Glin Dibley): Kid Tea. Marshall Cavendish. Completed September 16, 2007. My review.
  12. Eric A. Kimmel (ill. Stephen Gilpin): The Three Cabritos. Marshall Cavendish. Completed September 16, 2007. My review.
  13. Jacqueline Davies (ill. Lee White): The House Takes a Vacation. Marshall Cavendish. Completed September 16, 2007. My review.
  14. Patricia Hubbell (ill. Viviana Garofoli): Firefighters! Speeding! Spraying! Saving! (Things that Go). Marshall Cavendish. Completed September 16, 2007.
  15. Tim Myers (ill. Robert McGuire): The Furry-Legged Teapot. Marshall Cavendish. Completed September 16, 2007.
  16. Derek Landy: Skulduggery Pleasant. HarperCollins. Completed September 17, 2007.
  17. Rick Yancey: Alfred Kropp: The Seal of Solomon. Bloosmbury. Completed September 17, 2007. My review.
  18. Wendy Lichtman: Do the Math: Secrets, Lies and Algebra. HarperTeen. Completed September 17, 2007.
  19. Robin Brande: Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature. Knopf. Completed September 19, 2007. My review.
  20. Justina Chen Headley: Girl Overboard. Little, Brown Young Readers. Completed September 26, 2007.

Adult Fiction

  1. Benjamin Black (aka John Banville): Christine Falls. Henry Holt. Completed September 6, 2007, on MP3. Well-written, very detailed characterization, but a bit slow-paced for listening on audio. I think I would have preferred it in print.
  2. Jodi Picoult: Nineteen Minutes. Atria. Completed September 22, 2007. My review.

Cybils Press Release


Cybils2007whiteCHICAGO – Will Harry Potter triumph among critical bloggers? Will novels banned in some school districts find favor online?

With 90 volunteers poised to sift through hundreds of new books, the second annual Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards launches on Oct. 1 at Known as the Cybils, it's the only literary contest that combines both the spontaneity of the Web with the thoughtful debate of a book club.

The public's invited to nominate books in eight categories, from picture books up to young adult fiction, so long as the book was first published in 2007 in English (bilingual books are okay too). Once nominations close on Nov. 21, the books go through two rounds of judging, first to select the finalists and then the winners, to be announced on Valentine's Day 2008.

Judges come from the burgeoning ranks of book bloggers in the cozy corner of the Internet called the kidlitosphere. They represent parents, homeschoolers, authors, illustrators, librarians and even teens.

The contest began last year after blogger Kelly Herold expressed dismay that while some literary awards were too snooty – rewarding books kids would seldom read – others were too populist and didn't acknowledge the breadth and depth of what's being published today. 

"It didn't have to be brussel sprouts versus gummy bears," said Anne Boles Levy, who started Cybils with Herold. "There are books that fill both needs, to be fun and profound."

Last year's awards prompted more than 480 nominations, and this year's contest will likely dwarf that. As with last year's awards, visitors to the Cybils blog can leave their nominations as comments. There is no nomination form, only the blog, to keep in the spirit of the blogosphere that started it all.

See you Oct. 1!

For further info:
Anne Boles Levy

The Mysterious Benedict Society: Trenton Lee Stewart

Book: The Mysterious Benedict Society
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Illustrator: Carson Ellis (blog)
Pages: 485
Age Range: 9-12

I started reading Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society one afternoon, when I had to kill some time in the bookstore (I know, it was rough). And darned if I didn't have to buy the book in hardcover, because I had to know what happened next. The Mysterious Benedict Society begins when eleven-year-old orphan Reynie Muldoon responds to a newspaper ad that asks: "ARE YOU A GIFTED CHILD LOOKING FOR SPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES?" The ad leads Reynie to a series of examinations, to which he applies intelligence, ingenuity, and ethics.

Following the exams, Reynie finds himself part of an elite team of children. Children whose mission is nothing less than to save the world. With only a smattering of adult guidance, the children go undercover at a mysterious school, where they find horrors almost beyond comprehension. But they also learn to be resourceful, and to be loyal to one another. They become a sort of surrogate family, and learn that the unique strengths that they each bring to the problem are all necessary for its solution. Here's a quotation about that (thoughts from Reynie about another one of the children on the team):

"Sometimes Constance drives me crazy, but now I can't imagine being here without her. I can't say for sure, because I have no experience, but -- well, is this what family is like? The feeling that everyone's connected, that with one piece missing the whole thing's broken? (Of Families Lost and Found)

The Mysterious Benedict Society is an adventure novel with an old-fashioned feel (clear from the very picture of a mysterious house on the cover). There are Morse code messages, creepy laboratories, and secret tunnels. The school is even set on an island. But it's also a highly entertaining book, aimed squarely at the middle grade set, too, with humor at various levels (from irony to slapstick). Trenton Lee Stewart is very very funny. I flagged some dozen passages, and had a difficult time pruning it down to my favorite four.

Team member Kate, challenging the cliche "know it like the back of your hand":

"I've always thought that was a funny expression," Kate said. "Because how well do people know the backs of their hands? Honestly, can anyone here tell me exactly what the back of your hand looks like?" (The Sender and the Messages)

Kate again, poking fun at her team in witty fashion:

"Aren't we a depressing bunch?" said Kate. "If we continue like this, we'll have to start calling it remorse code." (Codes and Histories)

A leader at the school, informing the children about the somewhat irrational rules:

"You can wear whatever you want, just as long as you have on trousers, shoes, and a shirt. You can bathe as often as you like or not at all, provided you're clean every day in class. You can eat whatever and whenever you want, so long as it's during meal hours in the cafeteria. You're allowed to keep the lights on in your rooms as late as you wish until ten o'clock each night." (Traps and Nonsense)

Reynie, coping with unhelpful advice from another student administrator:

"Whatever you do, do not admit to Mr. Curtain that you cheated. If you did cheat, I mean. I'm not saying you should lie. That's even worse. Don't admit to cheating and don't lie."
"You're saying my best course of action right now is not to have cheated in the past."
"Exactly," S.Q. said.
"That's helpful." (Punishments and Promotions)

The four children are clearly drawn, and each arouses the reader's sympathy in a different way. The character of Constance, the smallest and crankiest of the children, is a delight, even as she's clearly annoying to the others. I also loved the brilliant but shy and insecure Sticky (he has a sticky memory). Kate is the epitome of bravery and resourcefulness. And Reynie is everyone's conscience, doing the right thing, and thinking clearly, until the end.

The Mysterious Benedict Society includes small illustrations at the start of each chapter. Carson Ellis's pen-and-ink drawings support, in tone, the old-fashioned feel of the book. But they also add to the book's humor, and capture the distinct personalities of the children.

I would have adored this book when I was 10 or 11. The Mysterious Benedict Society is a sure winner for middle grade readers, boy and girls, especially if they like puzzles, or reading about mystery and adventure. I think it could also be a fun read for their parents, too. Recommended for anyone, ages nine and up.

Publisher: Little, Brown (see also the book website)
Publication Date: March 2007
Source of Book: Bought it from Amazon
Other Blog Reviews: Deliciously Clean Reads, Wands and Worlds (Sheila gets to everything before me lately), A Patchwork of Books, Provo City Library, BlogCritics, Outside of a Cat, AmoxCalli, Chasing Ray, Forest Park Public Library
Author Interviews: Kidsreads

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

Carnival of Children's Literature: Reading Railroad

I'm happy to announce that this month's Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at Charlotte's Library. And it is SO much fun! Charlotte's theme is "Take a Ride on the Reading Railroad." She tells this whole story, with links of course, about a book-lover's dream of a railroad, complete with on-board bookstore, a newspaper of book-related news, and, when you leave, a free box to carry all of your new books. Plus there's a special treat at the end. So I say, waste no more time here. All aboard for the Reading Railroad!

And if you arrived here from the Reading Railroad, then welcome. You'll find plenty of books here, too.

The 2007 Cybils MG/YA Nonfiction Committee

Cybils2007whiteI'm happy to announce the members of the 2007 Cybils MG/YA Nonfiction Committee:

Category Organizer: Me

Nominating Panel:

Judging Panel:

I'll also be participating as a judge for the Young Adult Fiction category, unable to completely let go of the category after having so much fun with it last year. This year's Young Adult Fiction organizer will be the highly capable Jackie, from Interactive Reader.

The judging and nominating committees are all now filled (see the complete lists on the Cybils blog), but you can still participate by nominating your favorite titles from 2007. We will begin accepting nominations in all categories (Graphic Novels, Fantasy/SF, Nonfiction MG/YA, Nonfiction Picture Books, Young Adult Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction, Fiction Picture Books, and Poetry) on October 1st. There will be a special post on the Cybils blog for each category, and you will be able to nominate titles by commenting on the relevant post. The nomination process is very democratic. One nomination per person per category. More details to follow!

Children's Literacy Round-Up: September 24

It was a relatively light week in children's literacy and reading related news, but here are a few articles for you:

  • At, Amy Nachtrab, the local Imagination Library coordinator, shares six skills needed to help young children get ready to read. The first is: "Interest in and enjoyment of books, called print motivation." The article contains lots of other detail.
  • Via ABC Online (Australia), "The New South Wales Government has launched a program to help Aboriginal parents teach their children literacy skills. The Early Words program aims to get the whole family to read, sing and talk to children, using kits that include fact sheets, DVDs and a library bag."
  • According to the Mississippi Press, "The Pascagoula Public Library will be participating in a nationally recognized literacy program for preschool children. It introduces children to the Emmy Award-winning PBS KIDS TV series, "Between the Lions," in print format."
  • Incline Village, Nevada (a town that Mheir and I visit frequently, thanks to the generosity of friends who have a house there), is celebrating The Big Read with several upcoming events, including a Reading Relay. Read more in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza.
  • In Cullman County, Alabama, the Rainbow Reading Council is setting up booths to read to kids at local fairs. According to the Cullman Times, "Each night, a different school is participating in the endeavor. Some schools have made the stories more special by having a volunteer dress up as a character from the story."
  • It's also San Joaquin County (California) Reads Week. The Stockton Record has a feature article about a local literacy and book fair held this weekend in Stockton. According to the article, "In a 2006 survey of literacy in the 70 largest U.S. cities, Stockton ranked in 70th place - last - for the second year in a row. The study, called America's Most Literate Cities, was conducted by researchers at Central Connecticut State University. The study's authors sought to determine whether people read by measuring newspaper circulation, library resources, educational attainment and other variables. Stockton's last-place finish prompted a city effort to encourage residents to read - the hopefully named Stockton Reads! 2007 Summer Reading Challenge." I hope it's a hit!

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

Gossip Girl

Forgot to mention that I watched the Gossip Girl pilot on CW the other day, and I quite liked it. I haven't read the books, but I do have a weakness for this sort of teen beautiful people soap opera (dating back to Beverly Hills 90210, and continuing forward to the first two seasons of The O.C.). I suppose that this is consistent with the books that I like to read, so it's not inexplicable.

Anyway, Gossip Girl is about ultra-privileged prep school teens living in New York City. The apparent lead character in the ensemble, Blake Lively plays Serena van der Woodsen as likeable and genuinely nice. You know, nice for a spoiled rich kid with a bit of a drinking problem who has committed, shall we say, an indiscretion with her best friend's boyfriend. Yet Lively manages to make her appealing, and even vulnerable. Less privileged siblings Dan and Jenny Humphrey, and their has-been rock star father, are also engaging. I think that Gossip Girl has potential. News stories that I've seen about this predict that the show will be a HUGE hit with the teen audience. I think it will, and I think that I'll watch it.

But I still miss Roswell

Alfred Kropp: The Seal of Solomon: Rick Yancey

Book: Alfred Kropp: The Seal of Solomon
Author: Rick Yancey
Pages: 329
Age Range: 13 and up

Last year I enjoyed Rick Yancey's young adult title The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp. Last week I finally had a chance to read the sequel: Alfred Kropp: The Seal of Solomon. The Seal of Solomon did not disappoint. The story begins about six months after the conclusion of the first book. Fifteen-year-old Alfred is living a disappointingly ordinary life, following his prior adventures (which included death and rebirth, while working with a secret agency called OIPEP). He laments in the first chapter of Book 2:

"I really thought my life would be different after my death. After all, I had saved the planet from total annihilation, and not a lot of people can say that--well, I can't think of a single living person who can. I'm not saying I deserved a ticker tape parade or a medal from the president or anything like that. I'm just saying I honestly thought my life might be a little different.

I was wrong."

Instead of living as a hero or a special agent, Alfred is living in a questionable foster home, doubted by a psychologist and picked on mercilessly at school. Fortunately for the reader, this state of affairs doesn't last long. First off, Alfred learns through a "bald baby-faced" lawyer that he has inherited his father's estate of nearly a billion dollars (read the first book to see why this news is so unexpected). His greedy foster parents immediately petition to adopt him, and Alfred makes plans to run away. But before he can run away, he's "extracted" from the foster home by his old nemesis, OIPEP agent Mike Arnold. Before you can say "double-cross", Alfred is off on a globe-trotting quest to save the world.

Although this is a spy/adventure sort of book, with guns, fast cars, top-secret security protocols and helicopter chases, the fantasy elements also loom large. The loss of the once-hidden "seal of Solomon" allows the release of demons into the world, complete with horrifying physical and mental ailments for those who run across them, and epic "end of the world" threats. The story is fast-paced, with the suspense and adventure gradually building to a powerful climax. It's a classic "boy book", one that will keep reluctant readers rapidly turning the pages (though I think that girls will enjoy it, too - there are a couple of strong women in OIPEP).

Two things lift this book above the ordinary. First is the fact that the Seal of Solomon isn't something that Rick Yancey made up. There's a long-time legend concerning this artifact, dating back to the Arabian Nights. Also, and more important for the reader, there's Alfred himself. Alfred is not your conventional hero. He's big-headed, clumsy, and not particularly quick-thinking. He doesn't think particularly highly of himself, and his self-deprecating manner is quite endearing. He worries about things, and feels stupid sometimes, just like any high school kid. He has a deep vulnerability around the loss of his parents and uncle. Here are a couple of examples that show Alfred's personality:

"I tried to think of something  to say to Ashley, but I couldn't think of anything to say that didn't sound boring or stupid. Of course, I usually didn't let these considerations bother me, otherwise I'd never say anything." (Chapter 15)

"The roads in Marsa Alam were not up to American standards, and I was concentrating on keeping my tongue in the center of my mouth so I didn't bite it off as we jounced along." (Chapter 15)

I mean, how many books and movies do you see with car chases, and how often does the person worry about biting their tongue in the middle of a rough drive? The book is filled with this sort of humor.

"A hyena ordered some Bedouins to shoot me?"
"It's a bit more complicated than that."
"How could it be more complicated than that?"
Abigail coughed. (Chapter 27)


"Alfred," Merryweather said. "OIPEP is the only organization of its kind in the world, with practically unlimited resources and an intelligence network that spans every country on the planet. We shall do what any powerful, multinational bureaucracy would do in such a crisis: we shall hold a meeting!" (Chapter 27)

Funny stuff. Another thing that I liked about this book, in addition to my general enjoyment of spending time with Alfred, was a new character, Op Nine. Op Nine comes on the scene a big, ugly agent with no apparent sense of humor, unwilling to even tell Alfred his real name. But Op Nine reveals hidden depths over time. He makes an excellent foil for Alfred.

One caveat to my general recommendation is that this book is darker than the previous book, with deaths and betrayals and frightening demons. I think it will be a big hit with teens, but parents of younger kids might want to give it a quick read first. Overall, I think that The Seal of Solomon is a worthy successor to The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp. I believe, and hope, that there will be a third book to follow. I think that Alfred is a hero for every kid, one with humor and flaws, as well as persistence and dedication to doing the right thing. And he has great toys (the fastest car in the world makes a cameo appearance, for instance).

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Publication Date: May 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher.
Other Blog Reviews: HipWriterMama, Wands and Worlds, A Catholic Mom's Guide to Books

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

Sunday Afternoon Visits: September 23

I spent much of the weekend consumed by Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes, and getting x-rays of my inexplicably (but undeniably) injured knee, leaving little time for blog visits. Fortunately, I flagged lots of interesting things throughout the week. Here are some highlights:

That should keep you busy for a while. I hope to continue with more middle grade and YA book reviews this week.

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature: Robin Brande

Book: Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature
Author: Robin Brande
Pages: 272
Age Range: 10-14

Robin Brande's Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature is the story of Mena, who starts her first day of high school in the face of outright hatred from her former friends. Her parents are furious with her, and she's been kicked out of her church. She hints at why on the first page:

"When you're single-handedly responsible for getting your church, your pastor, and every one of your former friends and their parents sued for millions of dollars, you expect to make some enemies. Fine."

A compelling start. Only gradually is Mena's exact action revealed, but it's clear early on that her former church friends are not treating Mena with much Christian charity. Soon, in addition to tormenting Mena, the group find a new target for their displeasure. Award-winning science teacher Ms. Shepherd is planning to teach a unit on evolution. This sparks protests and controversy, and a request to also teach "intelligent design", despite the legally mandated separation of church and state.

Fortunately Mena and Ms. Shepherd both find allies in the Connor family. Freshman Casey becomes Mena's lab partner, and awakens her interest in biology in more ways than one. Casey's older sister Kayla is a budding activist and journalist, who expands Mena's perspective. Mena's friendship with the Connors is a bit tricky, however, because her very strict parents would never allow her to go home to study with a boy after school. She's certainly not allowed to date, or even watch movies like The Lord of the Rings (or anything to do with magic). And so, despite being a "good girl", Mena lies to her parents. The lure of spending time with the Connors (especially Casey) is just too strong. She even becomes a guest columnist on Kayla's website, under the pen name The Bible Grrrl (there's now a real-world website for The Bible Grrrl).

The central element that makes this book, with it's church-going villains and questions about evolution, work is the fact that through it all, Mena maintains her belief in God. She struggles to reconcile her religious beliefs with her understanding of evolution. She likes church, and doesn't like being banished, but knows in her heart that she did the right thing (in the event that led to her banishment). She sees the people from her church doing things that are clearly wrong, under the banner of religion, but she doesn't blame the religion itself.

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature reminded me a bit of the very funny movie Saved! (starring Jena Malone), especially the behavior of the Christian teens. I would imagine that religious fundamentalists wouldn't care for the book, because they are portrayed in a fairly negative manner (especially the pompous minister). But this isn't an anti-religion book, either, because Mena's goal is to show that believing in God and believing in evolution are not mutually incompatible. She uses her Bible Grrrl platform to address modern-day issues through Biblical examples. I would say that this is a book for everyone in the middle, for people who question and seek enlightenment. It's for people who believe in science, but perhaps also like the idea of believing in something more divine. Because Mena's behavior is (despite a few lies to her parents) pretty straight-laced, I think that kids as young as 9 or 10 could safely read this book, but that it will appeal more to middle schoolers and high school kids. It would make a great discussion book for parents to read along with their children.

But beyond all of that, Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature is a fun, engaging read that I think kids will enjoy. My favorite character is Kayla. She's larger than life, a real force of nature. One of the quotes that I flagged was this:

"I widened my eyes at Casey and shook my head, but it was too late. His giant sister rounded on me.

And she smiled--I swear--this big, friendly smile like the one their mother had given me earlier. And it's like her whole personality changed right before my eyes. If I hadn't been so afraid of her, I would have loved that smile. Instead it was like staring into the teeth of a shark." (Chapter Nineteen)

I can so picture it! I love Mena, too, but in a different way. She frustrated me sometimes, because she didn't react the way that I would have. She's very much dominated by her parents, especially early in the book, and I simply couldn't relate. But of course that's what makes the book a success - Mena reacts in ways that are consistent with her upbringing and her growing maturity. The science teacher, Ms. Shepherd, is also a great character. She's strong yet quirky, and completely committed to making kids understand the joys of science. I like the way that Ms. Shepherd helps Mena, but also holds her to certain standards, and has no patience for the lies that Mena is telling her parents. Here's my favorite Ms. Shepherd quote:

"Ms. Shepherd couldn't take it anymore. "That's enough," she snapped. "Last time I checked, I was the one being underpaid to do this job. Visiting hours are over. It's time to get back to work. Open your books to page ninety-five. Ms. Bailey, you will read." (Chapter Twenty-One)

I love "I was the one being underpaid to do this job." Sharp and accurate. That's Ms. Shepherd. Ms. Shepherd has a website, too. This is a very modern story. Speaking of which, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should close this review by acknowledging that Robin Brande is a blog friend of mine. I participate in events on her website, like her Tuesday Book Club and Friday Nice Things Lists (in which people focus on the nice things that they've done for themselves over the week). I'll be participating in the Kidlitosphere Conference that she's organizing. But, never once has Robin asked me to read, let alone review, her book. What drew me to read it is that that I started hearing positive feedback several months ago, and it sounded like a book that I would enjoy. So I requested it from my library (where I was apparently the very first person to check it out). And once I started reading, I pretty much forgot that Robin wrote it, and just concentrated on the book. I predict great success for Evolution, and I'm sure that it won't be Robin's last. I, for one, look forward very much to what she comes up with next.

Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: August 2007
Source of Book: Santa Clara City Library
Other Blog Reviews: Tea Cozy, Not Acting My Age, Through a Glass, Darkly, Literary Dump, Lesa's Book Critiques, Teen Book Review, Hello Ma'am, Oops... Wrong Cookie, Reading Rants! (and others)
Author Interviews: squeetus, Teen Book Review, Publisher's Weekly, and last, but definitely not least, Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast

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