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Posts from November 2007

Gravity Buster: Frank Asch

Book: Gravity Buster: Journal #2 of a Cardboard Genius
Author: Frank Asch
Pages: 144
Age Range: 7-10

Gravity BusterGravity Buster: Journal #2 of a Cardboard Genius is the sequel to Frank Asch's Star Jumper, which I enjoyed and reviewed here. Each book is a project journal, with frequent small illustrations documenting young Alex's scientific progress. Alex is a genius inventor operating in stealth mode. He makes things like spaceships out of cardboard boxes and other household items. To the uninitiated, his inventions look like toys. In his journals, Alex reveals the truth.

In this installment, Alex has designed a new and improved "Star Jumper" (spaceship). He's planning to ask a girl from his class, the winner of last year's statewide Science Fair, to be his co-pilot. But first he has to design a Trustometer, to test whether or not she can be trusted to keep his secret. As in the previous book, however, Alex's progress is stymied at every turn by the interference of his younger brother Jonathan, leading to unexpected adventures.

I like the realistic nature of the sibling rivalry in this book. Jonathan is a cross between evil demon and attention-seeking sibling who worships his older brother. I also like the way that Alex doesn't seem to see how much his brother resembles him, though the reader might. (Jonathan's sabotage of Alex's reading tent is pure genius). I also love the pencil sketches, many of which are hilarious. There's one near the end titled "tap dancing sea lampreys" that really stuck with me. There's also a picture of Jonathan with fangs and horns titled "My Rotten Little Brother", and another showing specks of dust in the light of a lamp. Though detailed, the sketches look like things that an older elementary school kid could draw. I think that they'll pull young kids of a scientific bent right in to Alex's adventures.

Alex's voice is slightly annoying, but amusing, too. He's quite arrogant about his own level of genius, and scientific in his tone. Here's an example:

"Anyone else might have considered this outcome a total failure. And in a certain sense it was. But we geniuses are used to failure. As a matter of fact, we absolutely thrive on it. You got failure, bring it on! That's my philosophy. We geniuses love failure because it takes us places ordinary minds don't dare to tread." (Page 79)

And here are his thoughts on cardboard as a building material:

"How could someone build an entire spaceship in just two weeks? Well, the fact that I work mostly in cardboard certainly helps. Cardboard is the least appreciated, most underrated building material ever invented. Not only is cardboard light, strong and easy to work with, it's free. Cardboard is also the perfect way to disguise the greatness of one's true accomplishments." (Page 11)

Alex actually reminds me a bit of Dewey from Ellen Klage's The Green Glass Sea (which I lamentably neglected to review) in his habits, though not his personality. Both children scour garbage for useful bit like broken wires and nuts and bolts, and keep the resulting loot well-organized.

And really, either way you look at it, Alex is a genius. Either you believe that his inventions are real, in which case he's the brightest mind ever, or you have to give him props for having an inventive imagination. Even when things go wrong, they go wrong in such a way that afterward, there's no visible evidence that could be called into question (read about the Quantum Sword, for example, which is conveniently invisible to the naked eye).

Gravity Buster is not for everyone. Some of the vocabulary is fairly advanced, for an illustrated, small format book that looks like it will be easy to read. And Alex's manner may put some people off. But I think for science and invention-loving elementary school kids, especially boys, both books in the series will be a perfect fit. It's not pressing for Star Jumper and Gravity Buster to be read in order - they each have their own, standalone crises. I would try either book on a kid who mostly reads non-fiction about planes and spaceships, and isn't quite ready for full-fledged science fiction. I also think that kids who enjoy drawing, or who have a dry sense of humor, will like Alex's sketches. I know that I do.

Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: February 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from Raab Associates

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

Giving Thanks

Are you in need of some warmth and perspective as Thanksgiving approaches? Head on over to HipWriterMama to read Vivian's post A Thanksgiving Feast of Sorts, and the other posts that she links to. Trust me, it's worth your time, and a fine way to usher in the holiday weekend. I especially enjoyed Christine's post about holiday traditions.

As for me, I'm thankful that the Red Sox were able to sign Mike Lowell for three more years. But, on a more serious note, I'm thankful for Mheir, and for our families (although sad that we won't be able to spend Thanksgiving with them), and for the friends with whom we will be spending the holiday, and for the other friends who we love and don't get to see enough. I'm thankful to have a job that challenges me and pays the bills, and to have this blog to feed my soul. I am happy to have found so many kindred spirits in the Kidlitosphere. And I'm more grateful than I can say to those of you who take the time to read my blog, and especially to those of you who are on the front lines, putting books into the hands of kids.


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

the dead & the gone: Susan Beth Pfeffer

Book: the dead & the gone
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer (blog)
Pages: 320
Age Range: 13 and up

Background: I was utterly and completely drawn in by the audio version of Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It, a post-apocalyptic story about the ensuing natural disasters after a massive meteor moves the moon slightly out of orbit. I lived and breathed the story of Miranda and her family, as they coped with increasing levels of horror and deprivation. I finished the book grateful for the little and not-so-little things in life, like electricity to read by, and chocolate, and sun-warmed skin.

When I heard that Susan Beth Pfeffer was writing a companion book set in New York City during the same crisis, I had to have it. I tried to win an ARC in a drawing on the author's blog, but was unsuccessful. Fortunately, I was able to acquire a copy during last week's NCTE conference. Then I made the mistake of starting the book during a free hour before dinner Saturday night, while still in New York. All evening, while I was out with friends, the book tugged virtually at my sleeve. When I got back to my hotel I sat up until 2:30 in the morning, because I had to finish. I couldn't leave Alex and his sisters hanging. Really, isn't that all you need to know to put it on your "to read" list?

No, you want more? Ok. I know it's early for a review, and I promise to post again closer to the June publication date, but I want to capture my thoughts now, while they're fresh. I promise to refrain from spoilers. If you don't want to hear more about this until next summer, I understand. Just stop reading here.

the dead and the goneReview: Susan Beth Pfeffer's the dead & the gone is the story of seventeen-year-old Alex Morales, younger son of Puerto Rican immigrant parents in New York City. When a meteor hits the moon, and causes chaos on Earth, Alex's Papi is attending a funeral in Puerto Rico. His older brother is in California with the Marines. By the time Alex gets home from work, his mother has been called in to her job at a hospital in Queens. As the days pass, she doesn't come home. Mami, Papi, and Carlos are among the "gone" (people who may or may not be dead, but cannot be reached). Alex is left responsible for his two younger sisters, devout fourteen-year-old Briana and spoiled twelve-year-old Julie.

As resources dwindle, and the city falls on hard times, Alex learns that he'll do anything, even terrible things, to protect and feed his sisters. He does get some help, particularly from the priests at his church and his Catholic school. But mostly, he takes the responsibility on himself. He agonizes over his decisions and the implications of the situation on his religious beliefs. He struggles to balance hope and faith against reality and necessity.

the dead & the gone is as starkly disturbing and compelling as Life As We Knew It (LAWKI). Setting this volume in a big city, in New York of all big cities, means that these characters aren't as shielded from larger events as the family from LAWKI. Alex and his sisters see the death around them - they can't avoid it by holing up in their own home. They have to be out, foraging for food and bartering goods. The dead and the gone addresses, somewhat, what happens to the larger economy when things start to fall apart. Alex is aware of the haves vs. the have nots, even as some social barriers break down. However, as in LAWKI, Pfeffer keeps things down to earth by showing us sibling rivalries, day-to-day deprivations, and touching moments of generosity.

There are some dramatic pluses to this be the second book about this post-apocalyptic world, set in a parallel time frame. Having already read LAWKI, I knew about some of the big picture climactic changes before Alex did. This foreshadowing ratcheted up the tension for me, as I wondered how the characters would cope with things that I knew were coming, and how the fact that they were in a big city would make things worse. As an example, I spent half the book wondering how Alex and his sisters were going to cope in an apartment, without a fireplace, when the weather got really cold. (Don't worry - I'm not telling.)

In one way, I didn't get as invested in the dead & the gone as I did in LAWKI. With LAWKI, I listened on audio, and lived in the book for a week, thinking about it between my walks. With the dead & the gone, I immersed myself all at one, and gulped the book down, reading faster and faster to find out what happened. I think that I'll need to read it again, and/or to listen to the audio when it's available. But I'll tell you this now: the dead & the gone gripped my attention completely, brought tears to my eyes, and made me think about the many things for which I am thankful. The characters, especially Alex and Julie, are three-dimensional, with strengths and flaws, and occasional unreasonable behaviors. In summary, LAWKI fans, this one is worth waiting for. And if you haven't read Life As We Knew It yet, you are in for a treat. But maybe wait until May, when the paperback comes out, so that you can read the books close together.

Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Publication Date: June 2008
Source of Book: ARC from the publisher. Cover image from Amazon, courtesty Harcourt, Inc.
Other Blog Reviews: None that I've seen yet, but here is my review of the companion book, Life As We Knew It. You can also read an excerpt from the dead & the gone at the author's blog (it is not for the faint of heart or stomach). UPDATED to add: the first other review of the dead & the gone that I've seen is at Librarina. She likes it, too.
Author Interviews: The World in a Satin Bag

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

Ten Tips for Growing Bookworms

Jpg_book007MotherReader asked for posts containing tips for her post-Thanksgiving Carnival of Children's Literature. I decided that the thing I would most like to write about (this will not surprise anyone who has been paying attention), is tips for growing bookworms. Here are ten tips that I have gathered from a variety of sources over the past few years. I don't have references for each item, because most are mentioned in many places, but I have included a short bibliography of books about raising readers at the end. I don't promise that this list is comprehensive, but these are certainly good places to start. I welcome your suggestions.

  1. Read aloud to your children from (or even before) birth, and keep reading aloud to them even after they can read on their own. This has been shown to have a huge impact in raising readers, and is the number one thing that parents and other concerned adults should do to help grow bookworms. By reading to kids in a comforting environment, you help them to think of reading as a pleasurable activity. You also increase their vocabularies and attention spans, and show them that books are important. And with all of the many wonderful books out there, this should be enjoyable for you and the kids.
  2. Read the books that your children read, even after you are no longer reading aloud with them (or along with books you're reading together). Talk to them about these books. Let them recommend books to you. By reading the books your children read, you show them that you value them, and the books, and you open up untold avenues for important discussions. I personally think that if more parents and other adults did this, there would be less of a drop-off in reading for pleasure as kids get older (though I have no formal data to back this up). I wrote about this in more detail here.
  3. Choose books that your children enjoy. Find books that satisfy their interests, and let them choose books that please them. This is especially important for women selecting books for boys, who may prefer reading in formats other than traditional fiction. Yes, it can be frustrating to have your child read nothing but comic books. But reading comic books IS reading. I'm not saying don't try to suggest other books for them, too. But keep in mind that the central goal is for kids to find reading a pleasurable activity, one that they wish to continue. Everything else follows from that (all the way to better test scores and dream colleges).
  4. Make sure that your children (and nieces and nephews and grandchildren) have books of their own. You don't have to buy every book, of course, but it's important for kids to have at least a few books that are theirs that they can read and re-read and fall in love with.
  5. Visit libraries and bookstores. Libraries allow you to choose a variety of books, and to try books out before you buy the ones that your child really loves. Libraries have events and read-alouds. Librarians are great at recommending books based on a child's interest. Don't let this free resource go untapped. Bookstores show kids an environment and a culture filled with other people who also love books, and also often have fun events.
  6. Read yourself, and model an appreciation for books. This especially important for male role models, because boys often think of reading as an activity that's primarily for women. It's all very well to SAY that books are important. But what kids notice is what you DO. If you turn on the TV during every free moment, your kids are less likely to turn to books themselves. In general, have lots of printed material in your home, especially books, because this also shows that you think that books are valued.
  7. For younger children, point out when you're learning useful information by reading (including non-traditional reading, like when you read maps). The idea is to gradually (and in non-didactic fashion) show young children the many doors that reading opens.
  8. Limit television watching, especially for children under three. For children under two, television watching can actually impair their brain development. For older children, time spent watching TV is time NOT spent reading books. When they watch stories on TV, everything is spelled out for them. When they read stories in books, they use their imaginations more. Books are also generally better in terms of expanding vocabularies and dealing with thoughtful and complex issues. There are some educational shows that focus on vocabulary and making reading fun, and these have do have value. Needless to say, steering your children towards these shows instead of violent cartoons is something that will help.
  9. Create cozy reading places within your house, and keep books handy in different rooms (including the kitchen and the bathroom). The idea here is to a) make it convenient to read, so that kids will choose books as an option, and b) continue to make reading a pleasurable activity, one that kids will want to repeat often.
  10. At least once in a while, let them stay up late reading under the covers. Pretending you don't know is probably ok in this case, though I'm not generally a big advocate of deception. As kids get older, one of the tricky things is that reading isn't perceived as "cool." If your child wants to read enough to sneak a flashlight into bed - you should consider yourself very lucky. (See Tricia's post about this at The Miss Rumphius Effect).

There are no guarantees, but I think that if you're doing all of these things, you're quite likely to end up growing some healthy bookworms.

A Short Bibliography:

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

Last Chance for Cybils Nominations: MG/YA Nonfiction Nominations So Far

Nominations for the Cybils close at midnight central time TONIGHT. This is your last chance to have your voice heard. You may submit one title in each of the following eight categories. Nominations are for books published for children and young adults in 2007. If you haven't submitted your suggestions yet, tarry no longer:

Choose your category to nominate (links borrowed from Sheila):

And, in case you are curious, here are the middle grade and YA nominated titles so far. Is your favorite missing?

1607: A New Look at Jamestown
written by Karen Lange
National Geographic
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Across the Wide Ocean
written by Karen Romano Young
Harper Collins (Greenwillow)
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

America Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the 60's
written by Laban Hill
Little, Brown
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Another Book About Design: Complicated Doesn't Make It Bad
written by Mark Gonyea
Henry Holt and Co.
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art
written by Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Astrobiology (Cool Science)
written by Fred Bortz
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Black and White Airmen: Their True History
written by John Fleischman
Houghton Mifflin
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Dangerous Book for Boys, The
written by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Dinosaur Eggs Discovered!: Unscrambling the Clues
written by Lowell Dingus (and others)
Twenty-First Century Books
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Face to Face with Grizzlies
written by Joel Satore
National Georgraphic
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

From Slave to Superstar of the Wild West: The Awesome Story of Jim Beckwourth
written by Tom DeMund
Legends of the West Publishing
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Grief Girl
written by Erin Vincent
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Halloween Book of Facts and Fun, The
written by Wendie Old
Albert Whitman
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Jeannette Rankin: Political Pioneer
written by Gretchen Woelfle
Calkins Creek (Boyd Mills
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Let's Clear the Air: 10 Reasons Not to Start Smoking
written by Deanna Staffo
Lobster Press
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Marie Curie: Giants of Science #4
written by Kathleen Krull
Viking Juvenile
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail
written by Danica McKellar
Hudson Street Press
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Morris and Buddy: The Story of the First Seeing Eye Dog
written by Becky Hall
Albert Whitman & Company
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Muckrakers: How Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens Helped Expose Scandal, Inspire Reform, and Invent Investigative Journalism
written by Ann Bausum
National Geographic Children's Books
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

My Feet Aren't Ugly
written by Debra Beck
Beaufort Books
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Ox, House, Stick: The Story of Our Alphabet
written by Don Robb
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Periodic Table: Elements With Style!, The
written by Adrian Dingle
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Pocket Babies and Other Amazing Marsupials
written by Sneed B. Collard
Darby Creek Publishers
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Real Benedict Arnold, The
written by Jim Murphy
Clarion (Houghton Mifflin)
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Secret of Priest's Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story
written by Peter Lane Taylor
Kar-Ben Publishing
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

written by Eve Drobot
Maple Tree Press
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

written by Alexandra Siy
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Robert E. Peary's Daring Daughter, The
written by Katherine Kirkpatrick
Holiday House
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Social Climber's Guide to High School, The
written by Robyn Schneider
Simon Pulse
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Superfood or Superthreat: The Issue of Genetically Engineered Food
written by Kathlyn Gay
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Tasting the Sky: a Palestinian Childhood
written by Ibtisam Barakat
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Titanic: An Interactive History Adventure, The
written by Bob Temple
Capstone Press
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Tracking Trash
written by Loree Griffin Burns
Houghton Mifflin
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Ultimate Interactive Atlas of the World
written by Elaine Jackson (and others)
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, The
written by Peter Sis
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin
written by Larry Dane Brimmer
Calkins Creek (Boyd Mills
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Whale Scientists: Solving the Mystery of Whale Strandings, The
written by Fran Hodgkins
Houghton Mifflin
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

What's Eating You?: Parasites--The Inside Story
written by Nicola Davies
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Who Was First
written by Russell Freedman
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Wildly Romantic: The English Romantic Poets: The Mad, the Bad, and the Dangerous
written by Catherine M. Andronik
Henry Holt
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World, The
written by Marc Aronson
National Geographic
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Beatles, Beatlemania
written by Bob Spitz
Little, Brown Young Readers
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

You Can Write a Story
written by Lisa Bullard
Two-Can Publishing, Inc.
Buy from Amazon | Buy from BookSense (your local independent)

Please note: if you nominated a title and don't see it here, it may have been moved to another category. Alternatively, it may have been declared ineligible due to not being published in 2007 or not being published for children or young adults. Or it could be an error - though we are very careful, there have been many nominations. If I've missed something that you nominated on the Cybils blog that you think should be here, please let me know. But please make any new nominations over on the Cybils blog. Nine hours and counting. Thanks for nominating!

Little Skink's Tail: Janet Halfmann

Book: Little Skink's Tail
Author: Janet Halfmann
Illustrator: Laurie Allen Klein
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 (Picture Book)

Little Skink's TailLittle Skink's Tail, written by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein is an educational picture book from Sylvan Dell Publishing. Although the story of Little Skink and her lost tail is fiction, the book is based on facts about skinks and other animals. Skinks are a type of lizard. According to Wikipedia, "Skinks usually have long, tapering tails that can be shed and regenerated... Some have blue tails."

The Little Skink in our book has a long, blue tail. One morning, while Little Skink is eating breakfast, a crow comes along and grabs her. To protect herself, Little Skink sheds her tail. The tail continues to wiggle, distracting the crow, giving Little Skink time to hide and save herself. On subsequent mornings, missing her tail, Little Skink imagines what it would be like to have the tail of various other animals. The resulting illustrations are quite humorous, especially the lizard with an owl's tail. Fortunately, things turn out exactly right for Little Skink in the end.

While not exactly long on plot, Little Skink's Tail (which I keep wanting to call Little Skink's Tale) is educational and humorous. I think that it will be a hit with animal-loving preschoolers, especially boys looking for facts in an engaging package. The text is both poetic and energetic. Here's an example:

"Wiggle, waggle, wiggle,
went the tail,
wriggling wildly through
the fallen leaves.

The crow forgot all about Little Skink.
It wanted that wiggling, waggling tail!

As the crow bounced
this way and that,
Little Skink slinked under a log.
She was safe."

I personally find "Little Skink slinked" to be very pleasing text. And I can imagine young readers wiggling and wriggling in delight when they read the above passage.

Laurie Allen Klein's illustrations are in textured colored pencil, with a faint cross-hatch pattern. It's somewhat impressionistic - forming shadows from a distance, but visible as texture from close up. From very close up, the pictures look like embroidery. The palette uses mainly greens and browns, reflecting the colors of the forest.

One other nice thing I noticed in the illustrations is that each page spread contains, hidden away somewhere in a corner, a glimpse of the animal whose tail will be featured on the next page. So, for instance, while Little Skink is imagining how she would look with a rabbit's tail, a squirrel looks on from a tree. On the next page, Little Skink imagines herself with a squirrel's tail, and another animal looks on. I think that this is a great feature for reading with preschoolers - giving them a pattern to watch for. I also like how Little Skink's posture changes depending on which tail she's wearing. I think it could be fun for kids to act out the various postures.

At the end of the book are two page spreads of exercises for kids. The publishers suggested xeroxing these pages, and also offer them for download from the Little Skink website (the For Creative Minds PDF). The first page has a footprint map of the forest, asking kids to locate the footprints of different types of animals on a grid of the forest floor. Supplemental questions ask them to count the distance in squares between animals, and practice compass directions. The next page asks kids to match pictures of different animal tails with their descriptions, and includes tidbits about how the various animals use their tails.

All in all, I think this is a great read for kids who like facts, and for kids who love animals (especially lizards). Little Skink is a winner. I support Sylvan Dell and the authors for their efforts to make learning about science and nature educational. I look forward to seeing their future offerings.

Publisher: Sylvan Dell
Publication Date: August 2007
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Laura Williams' Musings, In the Pages, a wrung sponge, BreeniBooks, Book Buds, Fuse #8

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

Give the World, Gift a Book: Downloadable Bookmarks

Buttonr_2Readergirlz Celebrates the Holidays with Best Books for Your BFF

In celebration of the holidays and girlfriends, the critically-acclaimed online book community, readergirlz, has launched a collection of sassy shopping lists of YA literature for teen readers and their best friends.

Seattle, WA - November 23, 2007 - Give your girlfriends the world this holiday season; give them a book chosen especially for them. Readergirlz--the pre-eminent book community for teen girls--has literally bookmarked those exact books to make holiday shopping easy and soulful this year.

Readergirlz has partnered with one of America's leading children's bookstores and its own advisory council of children's lit bloggers, the postergirlz, to create ten sassy shopping lists for avid teen readers:  Best Books for Your BFF. The ten collectible bookmarks feature YA novels both to encourage teens to give books to their best friends this holiday season and to read beyond the bestseller lists.

"Why give a book for a gift?" asks René Kirkpatrick, book buyer for the acclaimed All for Kids Books in Seattle. "Whole worlds are held in a pair of hands: a flat package filled with lives and words, bursting with surprise and ideas. That's why a book will always be the perfect gift. And these readergirlz bookmarks will be immensely helpful for teens who might not know which book to choose."

Each of the bookmarks is designed for a specific personality, making Best Books for Your BFF an easy way for book-loving teens to find the perfect novel for even their most well-read friends on their holiday list. For The Girl Who Saves Her Neck for Edward, Jackie Parker, the prominent blogger of and a member of the postergirlz, selected of A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, and Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause. For The Girl Who Dances in Glass Slippers, readergirlz diva and author Dia Calhoun chose Spindle's End by Robin McKinley, The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, and Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier.

"Every one of the recommenders of Best Books for Your BFF made a concerted effort to craft eclectic lists, featuring some underground and overlooked YA novels alongside classics and non-fiction work. Armed with these lists, not only will teens find that perfect read for their favorite reader, but they'll learn about books they may never have heard about otherwise," says Dia. 

To discover more about this literacy project or to download the readergirlz Best Books for Your BFF bookmarks, please check

About readergirlz: Started by four award-winning YA authors-Dia Calhoun (The Return of Light:  A Christmas Tale), Janet Lee Carey (Dragon's Keep), Lorie Ann Grover (On Pointe) and Justina Chen Headley (Girl Overboard)-readergirlz has quickly become one of the foremost online book communities for teen girls. To promote teen literacy and gutsiness in girls, readergirlz features a different YA novel and corresponding community service project every month as well as spearheads innovative literacy initiatives, such as October's 31 Flavorite Authors for Teens. For more information about readergirlz, please visit and, or contact [email protected]

Justina Chen Headley, readergirlz co-founder and author
[email protected]

Download bookmarks 1 to 5 in PDF (optimized for printing)
Download bookmarks 6 to 10 in PDF (optimized for printing)

Here's what they look like. This is the first set:


And this is the second set:


And here is the bookmark list that I suggested:
For the girl who knows Nancy Drew can take on Sherlock Holmes...

Please do print these out, take them to the bookstore, and buy books for your friends for the holidays!

Fourth Issue of the Growing Bookworms Email Newsletter

Jpg_book007Tonight I will be sending out the fourth issue of my Growing Bookworms weekly email newsletter. If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here (just remember that you have to click the link in the confirmation email from FeedBlitz in order to activate your subscription). The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's books and raising readers. This week's issue contains reviews of four book (two for young adults and two for preschool/early elementary school readers), my weekly round-up of literacy news, a Kidlitosphere round-up with links to useful posts from the week, and a recap of my experiences at last weekend's National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference in New York.

The only post from my blog that's not included in the newsletter this week is an announcement and illustrator list for the first auction of the Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure event. If you are looking for a unique and lovely holiday gift for someone, one of these snowflakes would be an excellent choice. And your money will help the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute via the Jimmy Fund. 

The Growing Bookworms newsletter will continue to contain a subset of content already included on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, for readers who may not have time to visit the blog every day. It is also my hope that parents, authors, teachers, librarians, and other adult fans of children's books, people who may not visit blogs regularly, will learn about and subscribe to the newsletter. If you could pass it along to any friends or colleagues who you think would be interested, I would be very grateful.

Thanks for reading! And a Happy Thanksgiving to all of my US (and ex-pat) readers.

Tuesday Afternoon Visits: Amazon's Kindle Reader, Brendan Fraser, and Boys Blogging Books

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was in New York for the weekend for the NCTE Conference. This left me unable to write my usual Sunday Visits post of happenings from around the Kidlitosphere. Truth be told, I'm still catching up from the trip, and have more than 640 unread blog posts in my Google Reader. However, I have run across a few posts in the past week or so that I would like to bring to your attention. This won't be a comprehensive round-up, but there is some food for thought.

  • Donalyn Miller has a post at The Book Whisperer about her experiences at the NCTE conference. I especially enjoyed the end of the post, where she talks about how important it is for reading teachers to be readers first, saying "Students need more than classroom modeling to become readers, they need life modeling. Some may not get it from home, but they should always get it from us- their reading teachers. For me, a teacher who reads, sharing books with my students is the greatest joy there is." I'm sorry that I didn't get to meet her at the conference.
  • Just in time for holiday travel, Camille has a list of recommended audio books up at Book Moot. She feels the same way I do about Brendan Fraser's narration of Cornelia Funke's books (it's not that he's bad, it's just distracting because his voice is so distinctive). There are lots of other good audiobook suggestions in the comments.
  • My friend Cory was the first to tell me about Amazon's new Kindle ebook reader, which has since generated quite a stir. The New York Times Technology section has a nice article about it. Or, you can read Cheryl Rainfield's list of pros and cons for the new reader. Personally, I think it looks very cool. It's the first time I've been tempted by an ebook reader. But it doesn't look like it would help me to get through my stack of review books, so it's not something I'll be looking into at this time. [However, if you by any chance are thinking of buying one, can I make a humble suggestion? Go through someone's Amazon affiliate site (doesn't have to be mine, could be the Cybils blog, or pretty much anyone who you know uses Amazon links) when you make this purchase. It's something I often forget to do, but is worth remembering in this case.]
  • While we're on the subject of purchasing things, Choice Literacy offers up their Gifts for Literacy Geeks: 2007 Edition (for which they make no commission). There's some fun stuff, including crossword puzzle pajamas.   
  • Jules and Eisha from 7-Imp have an article at the Poetry Foundation website. It's about Lunchbox Poems. They say: "Why not, as Kenn Nesbitt suggests, slip some verses into your children’s lunchboxes to share a giggle or remind them that you’re thinking of them?" They suggest poems for various important days of the school year. Thanks to Anne Boles Levy at Book Buds for the link.
  • And speaking of Book Buds, Anne has another article up at ForeWord Magazine. In this installment, she revisits her Kidlitosphere Conference session on improving the quality of book reviews. This is must-read stuff, though not for the faint of heart (she thinks that we have room for improvement, and is not afraid to say so quite firmly).
  • Via Mitali's Fire Escape, I learned that the Horn Book will be launching a monthly newsletter "for parents, teachers, librarians and anyone else who is interested in the world of children's literature". Mitali has the scoop, and the email address to subscribe. [Funny thing: after reading this post late last night, I dreamed that someone else more famous than me started a Growing Bookworms newsletter, and that I was going to have to change mine to call it something else. I realize now, as I write this up, that this nightmare was probably inspired by the announcement about the "HB Newsletter". Ah, subconscious paranoia!]
  • Lisa Chellman has a new blog called Under the Covers. Among other things, she plans to include an ongoing feature called Books Boys Like. She says: "I hope it will raise awareness of books in different genres, with high boy appeal, for librarians, teachers, and parents who want to help boys find enjoyable reading material. (And yes, I do think many girls would enjoy these books, too!)". Paige Y. is also looking for and talking about books for boys at Reading and Breathing.
  • In a recent post, Lisa Chellman highlighted a new blog called Boys Blogging Books. I think that it's a great idea. So far, reviewers include 14-year-old Kurtis, 11-year-old Michael, and 12-year-old David. They will only post reviews of books that they like, because "Everyone's tastes are different and just because we don't like something doesn't mean someone else might not love it." The actual posts come from Sheri, who appears to also blog at Goading the Pen. The boys interviewed Jay Asher, and are now seeking to do a "reverse interview", by offering to answer questions from authors about what makes them, as adolescent boys, open and enjoy particular books. Very cool!
  • On a related note, The Reading Zone has started a new feature called Hot Books!, about books that are particularly popular with "real live readers". The first installment includes Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I've heard recommended from several sources lately. I'm going to have to check that one out myself.
  • Celebrating six months of blogging, Wizards Wireless offers a detailed post with advice for beginning bloggers. She starts with general topics, and moves on to some specifics about the Kidlitosphere. I think that even experienced bloggers could learn from her thoughtful suggestions.
  • Finally, there's an interesting discussion going on at Nonfiction Matters (Marc Aronson's SLJ blog) about fictionalized nonfiction, and other genre-slipping topics. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Marc's closely related fiction non fiction post for details.

And that's all for today. I'll try to get back to you with more links on Sunday (though with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, I can't promise to ever read those 646 backlogged Google Reader posts). Wishing you all a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

NCTE Conference Notes

Over the weekend, I attended the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention in New York City. It was my first NCTE conference, and I found the 50 simultaneous sessions and huge, book-filled exhibit hall a bit overwhelming (especially on my still-gimpy knee). But I attended some interesting sessions, and was able to spend some quality time with my fellow bloggers and co-panelists, Mary Lee Hahn from A Year of Reading, Liz Burns from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, and Susan Thomsen from Chicken Spaghetti. I was also able to meet Franki Sibberson from A Year of Reading for the first time, albeit briefly, and to chat with Betsy Bird from Fuse #8 before and after her session. And Stacey from Two Writing Teachers came to our session. In the exhibit hall, I was pleased to run across Emily from Emily Reads, as well as various other publisher contacts and authors.

I had books signed by Maryrose Wood, Ellen Emerson White (a serious Red Sox fan if there ever was one) and Sara Pennypacker. I also met Scott Westerfeld, Howard Whitehouse, E. Lockhart, and Tanya Lee Stone, and chatted very briefly with Laurie Halse Anderson (who very generously mentioned my Growing Bookworms newsletter on her blog last week). There were many others who I would have liked to meet, but, well, it was also a vacation trip, and Mheir was with me, and we had other sight-seeing to do, friends to see (hey C), and bagels to eat. (The September 11th Memorial Museum is very powerful).

These are the sessions that I attended (links mine, notes mine, and errors in conveying what I remember clearly mine):

A panel of award-winning authors will discuss how literature for YA readers has evolved from its roots in the 1970s to contemporary novels that tackle issues of sex and sexuality. Chair: Teri Lesesne, Sam Houston State University. Keynote Speakers: Laurie Halse Anderson, Brent Hartinger, E. Lockhart, Laura Ruby, Tanya Lee Stone, Lara Zeises

Notes: When panelists were asked whether they are guided by the story or the message that they are trying to convey, Laurie Halse Anderson said she just tries to tell a great story, and that if it's good, kids will get the message. E. Lockhart said that she looks for meaning, not message, and this idea was echoed by Laura Ruby. Presenters agreed that in handling book challenge battles, it's better to shine a public light on them. Brent Hartinger mentioned that the question of age appropriateness is valid in book challenges, and presents a way to find common ground. Someone (I think it was Teri) observed that kids are quite good at censoring themselves, and aren't usually interested in reading things that they aren't ready for. Brent said that hearing personal stories from kids who read his book is the best part of what he does. He also said that teen literature is universal because everyone who reads the books is a teen or was a teen, and that many adults could benefit from reading more YA literature.

Sponsored by the Standing Committee against Censorship. Three authors of young adult fiction and nonfiction—all of whom have been targets of recent censorship attempts—will discuss their work, the challenges they have faced, and the consequences of these challenges for intellectual freedom. Chair: Teri Lesesne. Presenters: Robie Harris, Carolyn Mackler, Maryrose Wood.

Notes: Robie Harris talked about how it feels to have a book challenged (not exciting, more like a sick feeling in the stomach), and that she wants to support the librarians who have to go through trouble to defend her books, but has to maintain some distance to avoid making things worse. She keeps writing her relatively controversial books because she feels strongly that kids have a right to information about their bodies, and that having this information helps keep kids healthy. She routinely asks herself "Is this in the best interest of the child?", and acts accordingly. She said, and I'm paraphrasing a bit 'if one piece of information gets out there that can help kids, I don't care what adults think.'

Carolyn Mackler talked about her popular side vs. her alone side in high school, and how she turned to books for company. She said that books helped her to survive adolescence intact (I feel that way, too). She read a letter aloud from a girl who was helped by reading one of her (Carolyn's) books, and said that things like that are what makes her feel like what she does as a writer is important. Like Robie, she talked about how horrible having a book challenged feels. She also talked about the importance of being loud about book challenges, saying that for every challenge reported in the news there are four or five that go unreported (this was a quote from somewhere, maybe As If!). She mentioned how when one of Chris Crutcher's books is banned at a school, he'll send multiple copies to the public library in that town.

Maryrose Wood mentioned that she didn't understand at first why the early reviews (of which my review was one) of Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love stressed how "clean" and "innocent" the book was. Until her book was challenged based solely on the title, that is. She told, in detail, the story of her book's challenge in Florida (which actually had a happy ending).

A noted author of science fiction and fantasy will discuss his writing process, and university faculty members who have conducted research on engaging adolescent boys with literature will offer findings and recommendations followed by book talks of literature for adolescent boys. Presenters will respond to questions and encourage open dialogue. Presenters: Pamela A. Nelson, Neal Shusterman, Donna E. Werderich.

Notes: Donna Werderich won me over by starting off talking about how important it is for teachers to engage middle school boys in reading so that they become life-long readers. She mentioned how teachers have to reach beyond their own interests in order to have read the books that boys will like. This is especially important since so many teachers are women, and women tend to be less interested in the things that boys are interested in (non-fiction books about sports figures, for example). She also talked about how teachers should be role models for kids, by talking about reading, about books they like, and even about things that they have trouble with when reading. She suggested asking questions to show interest in / curiosity about what boys value, to show respect for their interests.

Neal Shusterman said that he was the slowest reader in his third grade class, and used to get sent to the library as punishment. Fortunately, he had a caring librarian who taught him to love books by finding books that he would be interested in. His ninth grade teacher inspired him to become a writer, and taught him to deal with rejection by encouraging him to write stories and submit them to contests. He said that boys can't tell you what they want to read, but know it when they see it. They want intensity of experience, things that they haven't seen or felt before, things that keep the intensity meter constantly in the red. He thinks that students like the challenge of identifying symbolism in books, even if they wouldn't read the books if it weren't for the action. He referred to a midlife crisis as a second adolescence, a time when we assess what we're going to do with the rest of our lives. He read from two of his recent books, and pretty well sold me on wanting to read both of them (Everlost and Unwind).

Thousands of picture book titles flood the bookseller market every year, making it difficult for teachers to pick out the best of the best. And music? If you’re willing to look hard, there are amazing albums being released for kids all the time by cool new artists and singers. It can be difficult and time-consuming to sort through it all, so why not let two of the children’s librarians of the New York Public Library’s Central Children’s Room do it for you instead? Warren Truitt, creator of the Kids Music that Rocks blog, and Elizabeth Bird of the blog A Fuse #8 Production will present the coolest CD and picture book hits of 2007.

Notes: Warren really knows his online children's music resources, that's for sure. Betsy ended up talking about books that defy neat classifications, like The Invention of Hugo Cabaret, Ellie McDoodle, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and The Arrival. She sold me on all of them.

Plus, you know, our own session:

Children’s literature blogs are a fabulous digital resource for all who are interested in children’s books. In this session, four bloggers will share how blogs and blogging enhance their work with children and their knowledge of children’s literature. There will be time for questions, and handouts with web links and booklists will be provided. Presenters: Mary Lee Hahn from A Year of Reading, Liz Burns from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, Jen Robinson from Jen Robinson's Book Page, and Susan Thomsen from Chicken Spaghetti.

Notes: Being on Saturday afternoon, we didn't have a huge audience, but we certainly appreciate the people who took the time to attend. After our four talks, we fielded some good questions about the copyright aspects of putting book covers in blog posts, where to find reviews written by kids online (and the associated privacy issues), and other topics. It was a great experience, overall. Many thanks to Mary Lee for putting together the session in the first place, and for dragging along a laptop and projector that we could all use.

Loot: I came back from NCTE with fifteen books, including thirteen ARCs and two that I purchased. Here's the list:

I stayed up until 2:30 am in my hotel room reading one of the books (any guesses?), and read two others on the plane ride back. Reviews will be forthcoming, though probably not until after Thanksgiving.

It was a great experience, all in all, but I'm happy to be back home in San Jose. I hope to do some catching up on the other blogs before Thanksgiving.

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

Children's Literacy Round-Up: NEA Study, Math Skills, and Pirates

Here are some recent children's literacy and reading-related news stories from the press:

  • There are articles everywhere about a study just released by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) on the reading habits of Americans. According to the Hartfort Courant (and other sources), the study says that we are reading less, and reading less well, and that poor reading skills are limiting people's work and life opportunities. For instance, "Americans, especially teenagers and young adults but also college graduates, do little recreational reading. Nearly half of those ages 18 to 24 who were surveyed read no books for pleasure at all. Those ages 15 to 24 who read voluntarily did so for only seven to 10 minutes a day. And among college graduates, reading literature, such as fiction, poetry and plays, dropped by 18 percent from 1982 to 2002." Liz B. has some more detailed thoughts on the report at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy. I think I'm going to have to follow her example, and read the entire report. It's available for download here. But for now, I refer you to the AP press release.
  • On a lighter note, according to a recent press release, "Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC) and TD Bank Financial Group (TDBFG) are celebrating the 30th anniversary of TD Canadian Children's Book Week from November 17-24 with a host of activities planned at schools, libraries and community centres across Canada. As part of TD Canadian Children's Book Week, nearly half a million copies of The Zlooksh by renowned children's author Dominique Demers and illustrated by well-known Quebec illustrator Fanny will soon be in the hands of grade one students courtesy of TD." Thanks to Cheryl Rainfield for the links to this item and the next.
  • The Ocala Star-Banner has a feature article by Lisa C. Gant about Dolly Parton's Imagination Library program (which I have written about in the past). The article says: "Managed nationally by the Dollywood Foundation, the program mails one free book per month to every child under age 5 in households across the country. Although the Imagination Library was first launched in 1996, United Way's Success By 6 did not become its Marion County (Florida) affiliate until this year, after receiving a grant from the organization's Women of Worth initiative."
  • According to a Times Online article, the Conservative government in the UK is proposing nationwide reading tests for all children when they reach six years of age. "The announcement has been criticised by teachers’ leaders for being too demanding. The National Primary Headteachers’ Association criticised the move towards a reading test at the end of Year One. Chris Davis, a spokesman for the group, said: “It flies in the face of international evidence that suggests children do better if they start formal education later on.”" See also the Guardian article about the same proposal.
  • According to a press release, the "Orlando Sentinel recently announced George Selden's The Cricket in Times Square as the 2008 book selection for its seventh annual market-wide reading program One Book One Community(TM)... The six-week program will run April and May 2008 as part of the company's Reading by Nine literacy initiative. One Book One Community encourages Central Florida children - and the adults in their lives - to read the same book. Other events such as read-alouds and a writing contest also will be part of this annual program."
  • Science Daily reports that "Children entering kindergarten with elementary math and reading skills are the most likely to do well in school later, even if they have various social and emotional problems", according to date from six studies of nearly 36,000 preschoolers. The results held for children from affluent and less affluent families, and for boys and girls. The study also found that "the mastery of early math concepts on school entry was the very strongest predictor of future academic success."
  • Teaching Expertise (UK) is starting a series of lesson plans for challenging gifted and talented students within a whole class environment. The first article is called "Pirates ahoy! A literacy lesson plan." The idea is to challenge the G&T kids without making them do twice as much work as the other kids, and while ensuring that they also receive their share of teacher attention (instead of being left alone, while teachers spend more time with the kids who are struggling).
  • The Telegraph (UK) has an article about how children's books in the UK are being purged of risky activities by publishers, because of fears regarding health and safety. Author Lindsey Gardiner "claims publishers banned youngsters from walking alone in one novel and removed sharp objects from another." Another author talks of being pressed to remove a scene involving a Ouija board. The article concludes: "The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators warned against censoring young people's fiction. A spokesman said: "Honest literature opens communication and gives young people the opportunity to test their values and make positive choices for their lives."" This has been a high-profile topic in the UK this week, with articles in various publications about it. I think it has applicability to raising readers, in part because if children's books are to be purged of "dangerous activities", will they become more dull? Will fewer kids want to read them? This, I think, would be a dangerous consequence.

That's all for this week. Not too many articles, but some meaty topics for your perusal. I welcome your feedback. 

The First Robert's Snow Auction Started Today!

Robertssnowimage Auction 1 began accepting bids today (Monday) with a starting bid of $50 for each snowflake. All bids must be placed before the close of Auction 1 on Friday, Nov. 23 at 5:00 pm. Don't forget that 100 percent of the proceeds from this online auction will benefit sarcoma research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and that all but $25 of the winning bid is tax deductible.

Read about all the illustrators who contributed to this auction at the sites linked below. (The order presented is the same as on the auction page.)

Many thanks to Tricia from The Miss Rumphius Effect for preparing and sharing the text and links of this post. See also Jules' joyful post about the start of this week's auction at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.