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Posts from January 2008

Children's Literacy Round-Up: Gregory Maguire, King and King, and Kids Building Libraries

Here a few children's literacy and reading tidbits that have crossed my desk recently:

  • School Library Journal just published an article by Joan Oleck about a fourteen-year-old boy who has spent the past four years working towards getting a public library for his 2,500 person New Hampshire town. R. J. Bolian has been working hard to solicit books and raise funds, and the town library is now becoming a reality. It's encouraging to read about a teenage boy who says: "Right now my hobby is working on this library!". See also Lois Lowry's blog post about R. J.'s library quest.
  • Elementary students in Bridgewater, MA are also seeking donations to fund their local library, according to a Bridgewater Independent article by Lauren DeFilippo.
  • In an article for the Age, Farrah Tomazin quotes Melbourne University professor Barry McGaw, "the man spearheading the Federal Government's first national school curriculum" as saying that "Australia has fallen behind in reading because there is too much focus on lifting the results of struggling students, rather than also making our top students perform even better". Professor McGaw believes that attention should be focused on kids at both ends of the spectrum, the struggling students and the students with high-level reading skills. This view, alas, appears somewhat controversial. Thanks to Reading Today Daily for the link to this article.
  • Also via Reading Today Daily, the Oregonian has an article by Betsy Hammond about "why our kids' love for reading fades." The article proposes that "Eighth grade has become a common tipping point, when book-loving children morph into book-spurning teens. Rising homework loads, increased independence from parents and the lure of cell phones, TV, e-mail and the Internet help explain why." Hammond posits that while trained school librarians, with "an insider's knowledge of young adult books", are able to lure kids from TV to books, decreased local budgets for librarians may lead to setbacks.
  • Readergirlz_2Speaking of keeping teens engaged in books, author and Readergirlz Diva Mitali Perkins is seeking young adult novels "with viral potential ... by authors who aren't white, or teen novels featuring female main characters who aren't of European descent." She wants "titles that may be off the radar but glitter with the possibility of word-of-mouth magic."
  • According to an article by Akilah Bishop in the Barbados Advocate, the Child Care Board and the National Library in Barbados have joined forces to launch a Leap Into Reading program, focused on encouraging a love of reading in preschoolers. The article says that "the programme aims at improving literacy skills, providing interactive real experiences and laying a sound foundation for reading. Furthermore, the programme seeks to educate parents of their formative role in the literacy development of their children."
  • According to a recent press release, "Chicago Tribune Charities, a McCormick Tribune Foundation Fund, announced that 55 programs committed to strengthening literacy in the Chicagoland area will receive grants totaling $945,000. Chicago Tribune readers' gifts through the newspaper's annual Holiday Giving campaign are a key source of funding for these grants." $155,000 will go to nonprofits focused specifically on children's literacy.
  • The North Brunswick Sentinel has a feature story by Jennifer Amato about a couple who started a literacy website for parents. The site is called Ethan's Bookshelf. According to the news article, the site "features reviews that Jennifer, a former Cherry Hill resident, wrote about books she has read and loved. She discusses, from a parent's perspective, why the child would enjoy the book, what issues are covered, how to prepare for certain questions that may arise from the topics and what skills will be developed. She is open to suggestions from other parents about books their children read."
  • The Minneapolis City Pages recently published an interview with author Gregory Maguire. My favorite part was this exchange:
    "CP: How then, do would you suggest parents and teachers get children to read with all the distractions they face? How can a book compare to a friendly green ogre?
    GM: It used to be that all you had to do was lock a child in a room for 18 hours with nothing but a book, no food, no water, no light. That would usually work. But the government doesn't smile on that anymore that the department of social services would come and put you in prison, so you can't do that. I think that what you really need to do is have your own personal domestic Oprah's Book Club. You have to in some way prove to children who are reluctant readers that reading is a communal activity too. Whether it be by reading the first chapter of a story out loud then having the kids go off and read the second chapter then coming back to read the third chapter out loud. There are lots of different ways you can invent to make it a collaborative effort and a source of joy and communion."
  • King and KingVia the ACLU website, "A Massachusetts federal appeals court today ruled that an elementary school can continue to use children's books that encourage tolerance for gay people. The ACLU cheers the decision, which rejected the claims of parents who said exposing their children to such books violated their ability to direct the religious training of their children." I'm glad to hear about this outcome. I've followed the case a bit, because it originated in my hometown of Lexington, Mass. The books in question were "Molly's Family," "King and King," and "Who's In A Family?".

I don't expect to publish a Children's Literacy Round-Up this weekend, but I'll try to get you some literacy news later in the week. Happy reading to all!

Readergirlz: February Issue

ReadergirlzThe Feburary/Valentine's Month issue of Readergirlz is now available. This month's featured title is Bronx Masquerade, by award-winner Nikki Grimes. The Readergirlz issue featues a while you read playlist, a poetry slam community challenge, a YALSA songwriting contest, Postergirlz recommended reads, an author chat, and book discussion questions. This month's live chat with Nikki Grimes will be held on Tuesday, February 19th, at 9:00 PM EST.

Next month, Readergirlz will be featuring Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen. Stay tuned!

January 2008 Reading List

This is a list of all of the books that I read in January, broken up into Picture Books, Middle Grade Books, Young Adult Books, and Adult Books (well, book, in this case). I went on quite a picture book binge, and am just slightly below target for my goal of reading 200 titles that aren't picture books this year.

Picture Books

  1. Alice B. McGinty (ill. Nancy Speir): Eliza's Kindergarten Surprise. Marshall Cavendish. Completed January 12, 2008. My review.
  2. Charles Santore: The Silk Princess. Random House. Completed January 20, 2008. My review.
  3. Karen Katz: Princess Baby. Schwartz & Wade. Completed January 20, 2008. My review.
  4. Timothy Knapman (ill. Gwen Millward): Guess What I Found in Dragon Wood?. Bloomsbury. Completed January 23, 2008.
  5. Kate Bernheimer (ill. Nicoletta Ceccoli): The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum. Schwartz & Wade. Completed January 24, 2008.
  6. Michael Sandler: Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox. Bearport Publishing. Completed January 24, 2008. My review.
  7. Michael Sandler: Pararescuemen. Bearport Publishing. Completed January 24, 2008. (A picture book, but more suitable for older kids)
  8. Meish Goldish: Smelly Stink Bugs. Bearport Publishing. Completed January 24, 2008.
  9. Jon Scieszka (ill. David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon): Smash! Crash! (Trucktown): Simon & Schuster. Completed January 25, 2008. My review.
  10. Barbara Park (ill Viviana Garofoli): Ma! There's Nothing to Do Here! A Word from Your Baby-in-Waiting. Random House. Completed January 26, 2008.
  11. Andrea Beaty (ill. Pascal Lemaitre): Doctor Ted. Margaret K. McElderry. Completed January 30, 2008.
  12. Jack Lechner (ill. Bob Staake): Mary Had a Little Lamp. Bloomsbury. Completed January 30, 2008.
  13. Sallie Wolf (ill. Andy Robert Davies): Truck Stuck. Charlesbridge. Completed January 30, 2008.
  14. Dianna Hutts Aston (ill. Frank W. Dormer): Not So Tall for Six. Charlesbridge. Completed January 30, 2008.
  15. Jay Lynch and Frank Cammuso: Otto's Orange Day. Toon Books. Completed January 31, 2008. This is a graphic novel for younger kids, not technically a picture book, but aimed at the same audience.

Middle Grade Books

  1. P.J. Haarsma: The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1. Candlewick. Completed January 10, 2008.
  2. John Christopher: The Prince in Waiting. Macmillan. Completed January 10, 2008. My review.
  3. Michelle Edwards: Pa Lia's First Day: A Jackson Friends Book. Harcourt. Completed January 12, 2008. My review.
  4. Alexander McCall Smith (ill. Laura Rankin): The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean. Bloomsbury USA. Completed January 13, 2008. My review.
  5. Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm: Babymouse: Puppy Love. Random House. Completed January 20, 2008. My review.
  6. John Christopher: Beyond the Burning Lands. Simon Pulse. Completed January 25, 2008.
  7. John Christopher: Sword of the Spirits. Simon Pulse. Completed January 25, 2008.
  8. P. G. Kain: The Social Experiments of Dorie Dilts: The School for Cool. Aladdin. Completed January 28, 2008.
  9. N. D. Wilson: Leepike Ridge. Random House. Completed January 30, 2008. My review.

Young Adult Books

  1. Ellen Emerson White: Long May She Reign. Feiwel & Friends. Completed January 1, 2008. My review.
  2. Julie Bertagna: Exodus. Walker Books for Young Readers. Completed January 4, 2008. My review.
  3. Carrie Jones: Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend. Flux. Completed January 13, 2008.
  4. Nancy Crocker: Billie Standish Was Here. Simon & Schuster. Completed January 14, 2008.
  5. Sherman Alexie: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Little, Brown Young Readers. Completed January 15, 2008.
  6. Laura Resau: Red Glass. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Completed January 19, 2008.

Adult Fiction

  1. Laura Lippman: What the Dead Know. William Morrow. Completed January 23, 2008.

Leepike Ridge: N. D. Wilson

Book: Leepike Ridge
Author: N. D. Wilson
Pages: 240
Age Range: 9-12

Leepike RidgeBackground: Leepike Ridge was selected for the Cybils shortlist for Middle Grade Fiction this year. The blurb on the Cybils site, written by Kate Messner, started with: "Leepike Ridge is a book for every kid (and every grown kid) who played in refrigerator boxes, caught critters in the woods, and floated down creeks on homemade rafts." This intrigued me (I remember well the box from our full-size freezer), not to mention catching the eye of the man of my house, a former fort-builder and intrepid neighborhood explorer. So I sought out a copy from the ever-generous Random House. I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.

Review: Leepike Ridge, written by N. D. Wilson, is a solidly written middle grade adventure story, filled with engaging details for readers of all ages. The writing is slightly tongue-in-cheek, and draws the reader in from the very first lines:

"In the history of the world there have been lots of onces and lots of times, and every time has had a once upon it. Most people will tell you that the once upon a time happened in a land far, far away, but it really depends on where you are." (Page 1)

So begins the story of a boy named Tom, who sets out, in a fit of rebellion against a potential step-father, on a home-made raft down a small river. The river draws Tom beneath a ridge of rock, and he finds himself trapped in a series of caves below a mountain. While adventures ensue for Tom within the caves, his mother, Elizabeth, faces down villains at home.

The beauty of this book is that although the adventures are a bit over the top, they never stray quite into the land of fantasy. This is Indiana Jones for 11-year-olds, with trappings ranging from dead bodies to juice boxes. N. D. Wilson, a father of four, knows what kids, and the kid inside all of us, will find exciting. Young Tom is a realistic hero - sometimes resolute, and sometimes afraid, but always, eventually, moving forward. Elizabeth, too, despite moments of despair, is a fighter. There's also a grouchy neighbor named Nestor who is an unexpected delight.

I think that Wilson strikes an excellent balance between keeping the plot moving forward, and giving the reader enough description to clearly imagine the characters and setting. It's obvious that he reveres the best aspects of a rural childhood - the joy of exploration and the appreciation of nature. Here are a few of my favorite examples of Wilson's writing:

"Tom had traveled around the sun eleven times when the delivery truck brought his mother's newest fridge, but a number doesn't really describe his age. His father had been gone for three years, and that made him feel older. He was the sort of boy who had many friends when he was at school, but what they knew about him was limited to his freckles, brown hair, long arms, and the clenched determination that settled onto his face when he was angry or competing." (Page 3)

"Occasionally he could see his house, perched on top of the rock, and occasionally the whole world would disappear and he would be left with nothing but the trunk and branches of a willow and a nest full of noisy birds hanging out over the slow water." (Page 6)

"After a few mouthfuls of moon-flavored air, even the stubbornly drowsy can find themselves wide-eyed. Tom was hardly drowsy, and he took more than a few mouthfuls. By the time he had reached the base of the rock, his senses were heightened nearly to the point of bursting." (Page 17)

After that, I stopped flagging passages, because I was so caught up in the story. I highly recommend this book for middle grade readers and up, for anyone who enjoys a bit of adventure. Leepike Ridge has a classic adventure story feel to it. In fact, I wonder if Tom's name in Leepike Ridge is an homage to another Tom who also was trapped in a series of caves... In any event, I strongly encourage teachers and librarians to try this one out on young readers. I think it's going to be a hit.

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Lines ... in pleasant places, Kate Messner, The Book Club Shelf, Shelf Elf, Semicolon, Abby (the) Librarian, Emily Reads, Becky's Book Reviews, A Fuse #8 Production, Fairrosa's Reading Journal, Becky Levine (and doubtless others)
Author Interviews: Novel Journey

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

Interesting Things on a Wednesday Evening

Since, as I've already said, I'll be preoccupied on Sunday watching the Patriots in the Superbowl, I thought I would share some news today. And there is plenty of it!

  • AeFirst and foremost (to me), is that Becky from Farm School has warmed my heart by awarding my blog an "E for Excellent" rating. What amazes me is that she has the strength to do anything, let alone spreading good cheer, when it's nearly -50 degrees where she lives (by either scale). How is that even possible? And yet, she found the energy to brighten my day.
  • Next up, please go and read Donalyn Miller's latest Book Whisperer column: Have You Praised a Reader Today? Donalyn recounts several incidents in which other people have been critical of seeing kids reading books outside of class (on field trips, on the playground, in the cafeteria, etc.). Her concern is with the message that this sends - that reading is something that one is only supposed to do at a desk. She concludes: "So, have you praised a reader today? One outside of a classroom? They are out there-- I promise. Scope out those buses, lunchrooms, and lines; find yourself a reader, and praise them loud and clear. You might be doing more for that child, and everyone within earshot, than anything else you planned to do today." So how about you? Have you praised a reader today? See also the Reading Zone's response to this post, a rousing defense of reading in the classroom and the fact that it isn't a waste of time.
  • Not content with only encouraging readers, author Cynthia Lord encourages young writers, too. She shares part of a letter sent to her by a boy named Brandon, suggesting possible plotlines for a RULES sequel, and proposes that "imagining book characters beyond their pages" is a first step to becoming a writer.
  • Via Confessions of a Bibliovore, I learned that Anne Shirley turns 100 this year. Well, not really, but the 100th anniversary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables is on June 13th.
  • And in other birthday news, I learned from Jason's blog at Escape Adulthood that Monday was the 50th anniversary of the Lego. Jason has an excellent picture of a Lego birthday cake constructed by Lego artist Sean Kenney.
  • I've heard a lot of good things about Shannon Hale and Libba Bray's joint book tour, but my favorite post about it is by Miss Erin, who got to meet her hero. Her joy is infectious, and a pleasure to see.
  • Book lists abound: Jama Rattigan highlights soup picture books; Wild Rose Reader and the Kiddosphere both suggest books for Black History Month; and Librarian Mom Els Kushner features books in which "the big city" plays an important part. Also, in her first podcast, Tricia discusses counting books at Open Wide, Look Inside.
  • The NCTE recently announced the Orbis Pictus Awards for excellence in children's nonfiction books. Susan Thomsen has a nice recap at Chicken Spaghetti.
  • Over at the PaperTigers blog, Janet writes about the importance of books at bedtime for kids. She notes that "babies whose parents read to them rapidly associate books with love and closeness. They become bibliophiles long before they can walk, with favorite books firmly established by the time they celebrate their first birthdays." She also asks for comments and suggestions by readers for Marjorie Coughlan's "books at bedtime" efforts.
  • Boys Blogging Books shares 12-year-old David's Top Five Books of 2007. I think he made some great choices. His comments provide a window into what types of books please a 12-year-old boy, and why.
  • At Educating Alice, Monica Edinger defends the rights of a reader to read the end first, if he or she wants to. She concludes: "please, don’t think I’m being bad, rude, unethical, or something else when I chose in my private act of reading to not read a book the way you did... The democracy of reading rules!" Now, I personally never read the end first - I hate spoilers. But I defend each person's write to read books in exactly the manner that please him.
  • 7-Imp interviews Letters from Rapunzel author Sara Lewis Holmes. Her baby picture is adorable, and it's great to learn a little more about her.

And that's it for tonight. Happy reading to all! And Go Pats!

The NYPL Central Children's Room

A number of bloggers have written today expressing concern for the fate of the Central Children's Room Collection in the Donnell Library Branch of the New York Public Library. Along with many wonderful books, this collection is the home of the original Winnie the Pooh (the bear, not just the book) and of Mary Poppins' umbrella. I've never been there, but by all accounts the Central Children's Room is a magical place, and a tremendous resource for residents of New York City.

The problem is that the Donnell Branch is being sold to a hotel. While the library will retain a small amount of space in the hotel that is to be constructed, the fate of the Central Children's Room Collection remains unspecified. Librarian Betsy Bird, who works at the Donnell Library and blogs at A Fuse #8 Production is seeking people's stories about their love of the Central Children's Collection. She wants to hear from people who "remember how important it has been in their lives". Other bloggers addressing this topic include Liz B. at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, Terry D. at The Reading Tub Blog, Megan G. at Read, Read, Read, and Cheryl Rainfield. Updated to add a heartfelt plea for the Children's Collection by author Robin Brande.

Cheryl pretty much summed up my thoughts, when she said:

"In a time when we need more literacy programs, not less, when we really need to help kids learn to read, the Central Children’s Room is a necessity. I truly hope, for that reason, that the Central Children’s Room will find a new space, a new home, that is just as good as its previous one was."

We can hope, anyway.

Encouraging Reading through Comic Books

Ghost CirclesIn response to my recent post about tips for encouraging young readers, Thomas Hanson of sent me links to three recent posts about using comic books as a tool for teaching reading:

  • Innovative Teaching - Comic Books in the Classroom: This post, the first published of the three, references the recent NY Times article on this topic. The specific attributes of comics that make it easier for kids to learn reading and writing are discussed, with the general idea being that "if they help young readers become more fluent readers" then they are worth a look. The article concludes with a discussion of the difference between comic books and graphic novels.
  • Innovative Teaching - Chris Wilson Discusses the Comic Book Movement: In this post, interviews Chris Wilson, author and editor of the site “The Graphic Classroom”. This post had me at the following opening statements: "Mr. Wilson ... feels that comics do a great deal more than help keep students invested in learning. In fact, Wilson’s number one goal is to develop of a love for reading in all his students - for him, the comic genre is one method to develop that love." I like Chris Wilson already! The interview is detailed and well-researched, and well worth your time.
  • The Twelve Best Comic Books for the Classroom: This post provides a list of five titles for elementary school readers and seven for middle school and high school readers. The list includes titles specifically selected to increase "administrative buy-in" at the schools, mainly traditional tales set to graphic format (which "set the stage for reading the real text later in school") and stories that "truly teach students about the world around them." The list includes the "Bone" series, by Jeff Smith, which was mentioned in my recent article.

I've bookmarked - I think that Tom Hanson is someone worth listening to. I hope that you enjoy the above articles.

Beyond the Burning Lands: John Christopher

Book: Beyond the Burning Lands
Author: John Christopher (pseudonym of author Sam Youd)
Pages: 216
Age Range: 9-12

Beyond the Burning LandsBeyond the Burning Lands is the second book in John Christopher's Sword of the Spirits trilogy, after The Prince in Waiting (reviewed here). Often, the second book is a trilogy is a bit weak - without the newness of the first book, and without the dramatic climax of the third. No so here, however. I think that Beyond the Burning Lands is the strongest book in this strong series.

This installment picks up where the first book left off. Teenage Luke is marking time in the Sanctuary of the Seers, in danger after his half-brother Peter was named Prince of Winchester. Good news arrives, however. Peter wants to make a fresh start, and has invited Luke to return, promising his safety. Things go reasonably well for Luke in Winchester, as his brother's presumptive heir, until a tragedy strikes. In the aftermath, Luke is allowed to accompany an Expedition that sets out to explore beyond "the burning lands" (volcanic mountains, just now starting to calm after many years of activity).

The country on the other side (inhabited by the "Wilsh") has been completely separate from the England of Luke's city, and has developed very different customs. It takes some time for Luke to fit in, but an act of heroism secures his position. His return to Winchester, however, is filled with peril. All in all, this book is quite exciting, especially the ending. My heart was in my mouth (even though I knew it was book 2 of 3, and likely to turn out ok).

Beyond the Burning Lands has an epic feel to it, despite not being very long. There's a dangerous journey, a strange land with strange customs, a battle with a monster, and a romance. Characters display loyalty and bravery, though some commit betrayals. Hans the Dwarf, a servant to Luke, is a loyal friend, in the tradition of Samwise Gamgee of The Lord of the Rings series. Peter the Prince is a delightfully complex character, influenced by his love of a woman. Many of the supporting characters are strong, too, especially the two rivals to Luke and Peter in Winchester and Luke's two best friends. I found the presence of the gelatinous monster a bit jarring, in a story that otherwise featured the possible, but perhaps the monster stemmed from some genetic mutation, too.

John Christopher, though Luke, shows kids that many issues aren't black and white. For instance, the two societies, the English and the Wilsh, treat the polymufs (people born with genetic abnormalities in the aftermath of radiation) differently. Both Luke and the Wilsh King, Cymru, think the other somewhat uncivilized in their choices, but Luke comes to see value in the approaches of both sides. Luke also learns that the strict gender roles of his own country, and the automatic subservience of woman, are not universal. The role of Christians also plays a part, their nonviolence in a violent world dooming them to live upon the fringes of English society. In this installment, however, Luke encounters more than one Christian who he can respect.

I think that the strongest aspect of this series is the way, despite giving us Luke's first person perspective, Christopher is able to show us Luke's flaws and misconceptions. Luke remains a sympathetic character, one who cares about honor and promises, even as he is intolerant in regards to the polymufs, Christians, and women, because he simply doesn't know any better, and bears no malice. Here's an example:

"And also, I guessed, since he had done that which was pleasing to his wife's strange Christian conscience. Nor had I any doubt that the main urging for my recall had come from her. Her influence over him was plainly great and this was something to be remembered. I could not see why it should be so -- why a man should let any woman dominate his mind -- but the fact that one did not understand a thing was no reason for not weighing its effects." (Page 24)

I also enjoyed the continued references to artifacts from our own fallen society. At one point, Luke and his friend come across an old, decaying painting by a man named Rembrandt, and Luke marvels at the painter's talent. They also find "small cylinders of a fragile white material packed with dried grass. Or so it seemed, but the smell was not a grass smell; it had a peculiar aromatic richness." I'm not sure that cigarettes would be included in a book like this written today, but they made sense when this one was written in the 1970's. Similarly, I'm not sure today's readers will understand about the knobs labeled "BRIGHTNESS" and "CONTRAST" on a mysterious machine with a screen. But surely their parents can explain.

Christopher never talks down to his readers. He uses words like "immured" and "floundered" in passing. He doesn't explain the motives behind every action - he leaves readers to figure things out. And he doesn't shy away from dark passages, like:

"The hills rose about the town and above the hills the sky was red, a heavy crimson from which now and then spouted gouts of orange flame. Seeing this, I realized that darkness which they never truly knew, could be a comforting and friendly thing. They lived their lives under this ominous light and it was small wonder they were soured by it. And there were ugly sounds as well -- distant foreboding rumblings as the earth growled in pain." (Page 65)

I would be interested to see what young fans of today's modern children's epics, like the Inheritance series, would make of the Sword of the Spirits books. Despite their relatively slim length, these are more difficult reads than many of their longer successors. I sometimes found myself re-reading passages, to better understand, and I am a very experienced reader of post-apocalyptic fiction. Morally ambiguous, tautly written, and laced with violence and cruelty -- I can see why these books are out of print. But I think that it's a shame. Books like these are what turn kids into critical thinkers. And to that in the midst of edge of your seat adventure -- that is a real achievement.

Publisher: Macmillan
Publication Date: 1971
Source of Book: Santa Clara City Library
Other Blog Reviews: The Bookian. Sam Riddleburger did a John Christopher week in November, and discussed the Sword of the Spirits series in this post
Author Interviews: Sam Riddleburger also interviewed Sam Youd (Christopher's real name) during John Christopher Week.

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 29, 2008

Jpg_book007Tonight I will be sending out the new issue of my Growing Bookworms weekly email newsletter. If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here. The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's books and raising readers, all in a convenient email format. There are currently 184 subscribers.

This week's issue contains reviews of four books (one fiction picture book, one nonfiction picture book, and two young adult titles), my children's literacy and reading news round-up, and a Kidlitosphere round-up with links to useful posts from the week. I also have a recap of a recent reading my new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka, complete with photos. I had no other blog posts this week - everything that I wrote is included in the newsletter.

The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains a subset of content already included on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, for readers who may not choose 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, or at all, 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 for growing bookworms!

Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox: Michael Sandler

Book: Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox
Author: Michael Sandler
Pages: 24
Age Range: 7-12
Category: Nonfiction (this post is included in the Nonfiction Monday roundup at Picture Book of the Day)

Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red SoxBackground: I don't review much nonfiction on this blog. This is because I'm a story person - I live and breathe stories, the longer and more complex the better. However, what I've come to realize is that if the true goal of my blog is to help people to grow bookworms, then I need to highlight more nonfiction titles. Because many readers, especially boys, prefer nonfiction. So I was feeling fairly receptive when someone from Bearport Publishing approached me about receiving review titles. Especially when she said that the books were "written and designed for reluctant readers in grades K-8". I checked out Bearport's website and their books did look engaging. And then I saw that their new series, World Series Superstars, features a book about Manny Ramirez from the Boston Red Sox. And I was sold.

NonfictionmondayI was inspired to save this post and publish it on a Monday, as part of the new Nonfiction Mondays championed by Anastasia Suen. You'll be able to find a roundup of nonfiction reviews every Monday at her blog, Picture Book of the Day. I'll be back next week with another Bearport title.

Review: Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox, by Michael Sandler, is a nonfiction picture book aimed at elementary school kids. The book begins with a key moment in the career of slugger Manny Ramirez, as he faces the Cardinals in game three of the 2004 World Series. The author quotes Manny saying: "When I'm going things right, I have no fear". The story then moves back to Manny's childhood, his days playing high school baseball, and his early days playing in the major leagues, before arriving at Fenway Park. Some context is given for the 2004 playoffs and the Red Sox - Yankees rivalry, before the book concludes in triumph and a victory parade.

As a fan, I enjoyed seeing the historical details in this book, like a photo of high-school-aged Manny sliding into second base, though the later facts were well-known to me. I think it's wonderful that the book shows kids how hard Manny worked to make it to his level of success. I also enjoyed the well-chosen pictures, and the brief mentions of some of the other key players from the 2004 team (though the absence of Jason Varitek's name is a sad omission).

As a fan, I would have liked to see more detail in the book, especially for the author to have conveyed to the kids what an epic event that 2004 victory was for all of New England. Then again, I'm not sure if anyone could get that across in a few short pages. Sandler definitely hits on the highlights. I think that kids, whether Red Sox fans or not, will enjoy this title.

Content aside, Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox is a beautiful production. Chock-full of vivid photos, it features several easy-to-read paragraphs on each page spread, as well as information nuggets displayed in text boxes adjacent to the photos. The baseball theme is carried throughout, in even the smallest of details. The text boxes have a scoreboard-like border, and patterned grass in the background. The page numbers are set inside baseballs. Some of the pictures have frames, and are set at unusual angles, like baseball cards dropped on the page. It's a very inviting publication.

One thing that I really liked about this book is that at the end there is a glossary, a bibliography, and an index. The words included in the glossary are bolded in the main text, and include both difficult words and baseball-specific jargon. Pronunciation guides are included. The bibliography and index are short, but they are a wonderful introduction for kids to what it means for something to be nonfiction. When we write nonfiction, we reference where our facts came from. We give people sources of further information. We index what we're doing, so that readers can look up particular facts quickly. Even in this, a book in which the facts are fairly well-known, the author both sets a good example for and shows respect for his audience, by taking the attribution and indexing seriously.

Recommended for early elementary school-age fans of sports, especially baseball, and for Red Sox fans of all ages. This book would make an excellent library purchase.

Publisher: Bearport Publishing
Publication Date: January 2008
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher

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

Children's Literacy Round-Up: Family Literacy Day, Oral Storytelling, and Peter Pan

There are some excellent children's literacy and reading-related stories from around the wires this week. It's a veritable embarrassment of riches, in no small part due to the many article around this weekend's Family Literacy Day in Canada.

  • The New York Daily news has a guest column by Jon Scieszka about how to "turn the page on kids' book boredom." He starts out by saying "I think we can change the world by reaching the reluctant reader. This is the kid who might be a reader, who could be a reader, but just isn't that interested. There are millions of these kids. And we need to reach them. Because the dismal end result of not reading, as the National Endowment for the Arts' new reading study bluntly puts it, is "poorer academic and social outcomes . . . adversely affecting this country's culture, economy and civic life."" He also includes "some tips I've learned from 20 years of teaching, writing and listening to kids who weren't too crazy about reading". This is great article, by our new and well-chosen National Ambassador for Children's Literature
  • The Oregonian has an article by Angella Foret Diehl about parent Brian Martin's idea for increasing interest in reading through "Lunchbox Stories". According to the article, "Martin's love of reading, a summer road trip and a long-forgotten memory inspired the Intel business manager to create a unique reading experience for children and their parents. The result, "Lunchbox Stories," are sets of 5-inch-by-5-inch cards featuring a short chapter on each card. Parents can slip them into their kids' lunchboxes or use them for bedtime reading. The stories are designed for readers ages 7 to 12." You can find more information at the Lunchbox Stories website. Thanks to Cheryl Rainfield for the link.
  • The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance blog this week published an excerpt from Ursula Le Guin's new Harper's article: "Staying Awake. Notes on the Alleged Decline of Reading". After a brief introduction to recent reports, Le Guin says: "Self-satisfaction with the inability to remain conscious when faced with printed matter seems questionable. But I also want to question the assumption—whether gloomy or faintly gloating—that books are on the way out. I think they’re here to stay. It’s just that not all that many people ever did read them. Why should we think everybody ought to now?". You have to be a subscriber to read the full article online, but it might be worth looking for at your local library.
  • Walter Minkel links to several early literacy resources from The Monkey Speaks. His links include articles from the Knoxville Sentinel (with reading tips), (with the suggestion to follow along with your finger while reading aloud to kids) and the National Institute of Early Education Research. They all look like great resources, and I recommend that you visit Walter's post for the links.
  • The Calgary Herald has an article by Rachel Naud about Family Literacy Day activities in Canada. Thanks to a post at the Family Literacy discussion list of the National Institute for Literacy for the link. The article includes the history of ABC Family Literacy Day, which I hadn't known before (interest was sparked from a made-for-TV movie called Penny's Odyssey, in 1999). The article discusses the importance of adult literacy in driving children's literacy, likening literacy efforts to "being on an airplane and the oxygen masks drop down. They always say put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting the child." The article also notes: "Dariel Bateman, executive director of Calgary Reads, a literacy development program, says children need a foundation of three factors to become great readers. They need to see adults read at home, they need to be read to on a daily basis for enjoyment and they need to be involved in conversations." The need for conversations is particularly addressed.
  • For a more detailed treatment of the importance of adult literacy in assisting children's literacy, see this PDF article, presented at the National Center for Family Literacy Annual Conference by Tom Sticht.
  • For more on Canada's ABC Family Literacy Day, see this article in the Brantford Expositor, with a quiz to test your knowledge on children's literacy facts. There's also a "Literacy Fun Checklist", and a schedule of local events. I also read articles in Kingston This Week, the London Free Press, the Daily Observer (about how a players from the hockey club helped a school celebrate) and CBC Canada (which quotes author Robert Munsch as saying that "Children "catch" a love of reading from their parents and elders"). There are many other articles around the Canadian press, also, too many to list here.
  • I also enjoyed this profile by Ellwood Shreve in the Chatham Daily News (Canada) of a local school trustee, David Goldsmith, who volunteers at local schools because he is so passionate about encouraging a love of reading in kids. Sounds like a kindred spirit to me. Goldsmith has also personally worked to create and distribute hundreds of posters "around the community to promote the importance of early reading."
  • The Sheboygan Press (WI) has a nice feature story by Doug Carroll about how a local teacher's love of reading won her a state award. Teacher Doreen VandeWater says "I used to read to them (her children) every day... Parents need to read to kids every single day and instill in them a love of reading. If you can do that, they will be readers forever." She was "recognized recently by OfficeMax as part of a campaign to salute teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty."
  • According to an article submitted to the Reno Gazette, "University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) has released two publications that provide free information on children's literacy and language development. The publications are especially useful to parents and early childhood educators, and can be accessed online at" The article says that "Both parents and educators can find tips on how to improve their children's literacy and language skills. For example, children do better when parents plan time to read and allow their children to look at books or read on their own. Children do better when teachers plan regular time to read during the day and have a quiet place in the classroom for reading." It looks like an interesting study.
  • In Jamaica, parents are being urged: "don't worry about GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test), shift the focus. Worry about your child being literate and numerate." According to a recent news release, children won't be allowed to sit for the GSAT unless they are "certified as literate and numerate, said Minister of Education, Andrew Holness." See a related editorial in the Jamaica Gleaner.
  • A Hawaiian literacy program has a primary goal of getting parents involved in their children's learning, according to a Molokai Dispatch article by Jennifer Smith. The article mentions that "In tune with the Hawaiian history and culture, parent Hanohano Naehu brought up the strong oral tradition that exists in many Molokai homes. In an evening focused on books, he asked the presenter if telling stories could be just as effective as reading them." The answer was a strong yes. I think this is an interesting point, one I haven't seen made all that often. If you get your child hooked on stories, even if the stories are oral, instead of written down in a boo, you teach your child that stories matter. Eventually, the child will find books, for more stories.
  • has an article by Katie Collins about the third anniversary of the Knox County (TN) Imagination Library program, which delivers books to kids in their homes once a month until they turn five. A local library is also holding workshops for parents of preschoolers "offering guidance for how best to engage children and get them interested in reading in their earliest years. "What we do a really good job of right now is getting books in the hands of kids," library spokeswoman Mary Pom Claiborne said. "The next step really is to help parents understand the best ways to use those books to read to the kids and do some educational activities around that."" Sounds smart to me! A new Imagination Library program is also being launched in Peterborough County (Canada), according to Kawartha Media Group.
  • According to an article by Dorothy Shinn in the Akron Beacon Journal, "The Akron museum, the Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet and This City Reads! are collaborating to create imaginative interdisciplinary educational programs for Akron-area children and the community at large focusing on British author J.M. Barrie's classic tale. By spotlighting Peter Pan, the three groups hope to promote literacy, as well as the performing and visual arts, tying in a variety of programs and events taking place throughout the school year." Sounds like fun, doesn't it?
  • According to the Herald Times Reporter, the Milwaukee Bucks are sponsoring a Reading Challenge this year. Kids in the third to tenth grades earn points for number of pages read, and those who reach enough points "receive a voucher for a free ticket to their choice of two Bucks games at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee."
  • The Muskogee Phoenix has an article by Liz Hanley about how to encourage reluctant boy readers. The top recommendation are to give them choices in what they read, and for men to not be afraid to share what they're reading with the boys in their lives. Several recommended books for parents are also included.

And that is quite enough news for one week. I hope that each of you can find something of interest.

Sunday Afternoon Visits: Carnivals, Contests, and Time Travel

There continues to be more going on in the Kidlitosphere every day than anyone could possibly keep up with. But here are a few things that particularly caught my eye this week:

  • Carnival creator Melissa Wiley has set up a beautiful information page for the Carnival of Children's Literature, with links to all of the past carnivals, FAQs, and the call for submissions for the next carnival. For those unfamiliar with carnivals, she explains: "A carnival is a collection of blog posts about a specific topic. Most carnivals are monthly or weekly events. Bloggers submit their posts for consideration, and the carnival host compiles the submissions into one big post full of links for easy reading." Although anyone can participate, and I always try to, I think that carnivals are an especially great way for new bloggers to participate in the community, and draw some traffic to their blogs.
  • Camille has a helpful post with tips for authors about making school visits over at BookMoot. She notes that "School visits are NOT for the faint of heart", and makes tangible and witty suggestions, like "You have to develop a spine of steel and sang-froid."
  • Wizards Wireless has a thoughtful post about the importance of context in assessing books, using the "basic journalism questions of who, what, where, why, when and how." She makes some excellent points, such as how your impressions of a book may be different if you "read it on your lunch break and compressed it into fifteen minute time slots" vs. reading it all at once. I think this is fascinating. We tend to write our reviews as though they are fixed - this is my opinion of this book. But I know that I react differently to audio books than to printed books, and differently to books that I read when I'm sick vs. books that I read when I'm well. And so on. How about you?
  • 2k8logoThe Class of 2k8, an organization for authors with debut middle grade and young adult titles in 2008, is hosting the first of four quarterly contests. Their post about it explains: "This quarter we've gone with a virtual scavenger hunt. Simply find the answers to the ten questions below and email your correct answers to [email protected]. Once we've checked your answers we'll notify you that you've been entered into a drawing. Our grand prize this quarter - three books from our fabulous authors!" Click here for the questions.
  • Over at 7-Imp, Jules has another installment of her latest feature: 7 Picture Book Tips for Impossibly Busy Parents. This series is proving to be a great resource for parents looking for picture book ideas. I must admit that the only one I've read from this week's list is The Silk Princess, but I'm intrigued by some of the other titles. And, for a different take on picture books, MotherReader is reinstating her own prize, the Weird-A** Picture Book Award. She says "The WAPBAs are given to the books that make you go “Huhhh?” Awards are given for story, illustration, and cover art. The highest award goes to the picture book achieving outstanding weirdness in both illustration and text." She is accepting nominations now.
  • Over at Misrule, Judith Ridge has taken up the cause proclaimed by Agnes Nieuwenhuizen in an Age article called "How to Help Our Young Enjoy Reading". Judith says: "Agnes has alerted me to a school library's advocacy site, The Hub, which is picking up on Agnes's "cause". I'm going to check it out, talk to Agnes, and have a think about how we can make this a focused, national campaign. I realise I am now fortunately in a position to have a real voice in this campaign. So, as of now, I'd like to hear from Misrule readers ideas as to how they think such a campaign can work." I wrote about the original opinion piece in a previous Children's Literacy Round-Up, and thought that Agnes made some great points. I'm glad to see this cause taking root at Misrule, and will be following closely.
  • Sara Lewis Holmes and Liz Garton Scanlon have concluded their week of co-blogging about The Exercise of Writing (and how regular exercise helps with writing). In this post, Sara rounds up links to other posts and comments on this topic from around the Kidlitosphere.
  • Farm School, a blog hosted by Becky, Cybils MG/YA nonfiction nominating committee member extraordinaire and all-around excellent blog friend, has moved to a new location. Check it out - the template and layout are gorgeous.
  • Over at Finding Wonderland, TadMack shares news about a writing contest for children hosted by the UK's Writer's Magazine, a poetry contest that has kids as judges, and a contest for children's stories set in Wales. TadMack has the links and details.
  • Roarlarge Emse Raji Codell was kind enough to mention my blog in a recent post about the Shameless Lions Award (she want over her list of five - mine was kind of snuck in as a mention). I'm very grateful and honored, because I'm so impressed by the work that Esme does to get kids excited about reading. If you haven't visited her blog, PlanetEsme, I highly recommend it. The wonderful Shelf Elf actually granted me this award back in December (Kelly Herold and I are leading parallel lives once again). I was very appreciative at the time, but it was during my holiday travel, and although I mentioned the award, I never did do my job and pass on the award to five other blogs. The truth is that all of the blogs that I feature in my weekly Sunday Visits posts should have this award for "people who have blogs we love, can't live without, where we think the writing is good and powerful." I couldn't possibly pick five. So, if I've ever linked to you in one of my "visits" posts, consider yourself granted "A Roar for Powereful Words" award. And feel free to pass it along.
  • Congratulations to Mitali Perkins on this week's launch of her second First Daughter book: White House Rules. I wish that I could attend her book launch party at Wellesley Booksmith next week. Maybe for the next one...
  • On the Through the Magic Door blog, Thing-Finder, Charles Bayless has a fantastic post comparing and contrasting recent lists of favorite children's books by the New York Times in the US and the Daily Telegraph in the UK. It's interesting seeing which titles and authors overlap across the pond, and which ones don't. Charles, President of TTMD, clearly knows children's books. If you're not familiar with TTMD, it's an online independent children's bookstore that "exists to foster a life-long love of reading in children and to kindle or reignite that love among parents". It's well worth checking out.
  • Also worth checking out, Minerva66 shares a categorized list of time travel books at Book Advice. I enjoy reading time travel books from time to time, and am looking forward to reading my recently acquired advance copy of The Time Thief, second book in Linda Buckley Archer's Gideon series (thanks, LW!).

And that's all for this week. I will likely not have a post next Sunday, because, you know, the Patriots are in the Superbowl!. But I'll try to get you some links sometime over the weekend. Happy Sunday and Happy Reading!

This post is (c) 2008 by Jennifer Robinson. All rights reserved.