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Posts from January 2008

Smash! Crash! (Trucktown): Jon Scieszka

Book: Smash! Crash!
Author: Jon Scieszka (see also the Trucktown blog)
Illustrators: David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon
Pages: 42
Age Range: 3-6

Smash! Crash!Smash! Crash! is the first of a new 50 book extravaganza about "Trucktown" being published by Simon & Schuster. National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka is the author and creator of the series, with titles co-illustrated by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. The series will include picture books, board books, early readers, pop-ups, and a webkinz-like online world. The idea behind the series, an idea central to Scieszka's career, is that books should be about things that kids find fun. And, after attending a reading by the author yesterday at Hicklebee's, I have it on first-hand experience that kids think that Smash! Crash! is fun. (Photo below taken and generously shared by Susan Taylor Brown.)

Jon ScieszkaThe characters in Smash! Crash! are trucks, of various types. The main characters in the story are Jack Truck (a red flatbed) and Dump Truck Dan. They are surrounded by other quirky trucks like Izzy Ice Cream Truck, Tow Truck Ted, and Gabriella Garbage Truck. The kids in the audience for the reading especially liked Monster Truck Max, with his many eyes, and Rescue Rita, a baby ambulance with one tooth.

The story follows Jack and Dan as they make their way around the city, smashing things up whenever they can. Their smashing is loud and vigorous, but usually has surprisingly positive results. For example, they smash a bunch of dump detritus into the shape of a pirate ship and play on it. The two friends spend the book on the run from an unseen, big voice calling "Hey you two. I want you." But in the end, when the voice catches up with them, they find one more opportunity to do what they love -- smash and crash.

The text is sometimes poetic, with refrains like:

Jack and Dan hit the road.
"Uh oh."
"Got to go!"

There's enough repetition to give kids the chance to predict what's going to happen on the next page, with phrases like "Come on and..." at the end of one page, and "Smash! Crash!" on the next. SMASH and CRASH are written in big, bold, dramatic letters, letters that virtually cry out for yelling. This is not a passive book, but rather one that begs for read-aloud and audience participation. It's not a bedtime book, but is an excellent choice for storytime.

The digitally rendered illustrations are colorful, over-the-top, and engaging. Each truck's personality is conveyed through headlight eyes and grillwork mouths and other endearing quirks (the pink garbage trucks carries a teddy bear wherever she goes, though it's not mentioned in the text). I can easily picture these illustrations animated for television (though I'm glad that the books will come first). The pictures are vibrant and lively, with the action visually pulling kids' attention from one page to the next. And in a special visual treat, there is one page that folds out, upwards, to display the tall Wrecking Crane Rosie.

I love the fact that several of the trucks are girl trucks, including the garbage truck, grader, and wrecking crane, trucks that might, stereotypically, have been considered masculine. Grader Kit, for example, has purple tires and long eyelashes and is quite feminine, as trucks go. I think that it goes without saying that a series about trucktown, beginning with a book about smashing things, will appeal to many preschool boys. But I think that this well-executed, brightly colored book will also appeal to girls.

The story and vocabulary in Smash! Crash! may not be complex enough to hold the attention of elementary school kids, unless they can be in a big group, yelling "Smash! Crash!" at will. But I think that this book is destined to please many, many preschoolers. It's going on my mental list of "can't miss picture books to give as gifts." Highly recommended, and a lot of fun.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Books
Publication Date: January 8, 2008
Source of Book: Bought it at a signing at Hicklebee's
Other Blog Reviews: A Year of Reading

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

Jon Scieszka at Hicklebee's

Yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing children's author, Guys Read founder, and National Ambassador for Children's Literature, Jon Scieszka at Hicklebee's Books in San Jose.

Jen and SusanI attended with Susan Taylor Brown (shown to the left), who generously brought her camera and shared photos with me, including all of the photos displayed in this post. I was able to meet Mr. Scieszka, and talk with him briefly, though there was a bit of a line. Here is my picture with the author, taken by a helpful bookstore employee:

Jen and Jon Scieszka read aloud to an audience of 40 people or so, including 15+ kids on the floor at his feet. He explained the origins of his newest book, Smash! Crash! (shown in the photo, and reviewed here), and read aloud from that. He also read aloud from the book that he called his favorite, Cowboy and Octopus. Then he took questions at the end.

Cowboy and OctopusHere is what I have to say: Jon Scieszka is very comfortable with kids, and very good at getting kids excited about books and participating in read-aloud and discussion. He taught school for 10 years, and it shows. And although he's clearly passionate about getting kids reading, he doesn't take himself too seriously. Commenting on the National Ambassador position, he said that he thinks we're at a "crisis point" with kids not being readers. But he also something to the effect that now he has to read aloud in a deeper voice and wear a sash, and that he's working on getting access to Air Force One.

Jon ScieszkaHe showed the kids early sketches for the trucks in Smash! Crash!, and talked about how he "stole" the characters in the book from real kids in a class that he visited. When he read Smash! Crash! aloud, he had the kids yell "Crash!" every time. This was a big hit, needless to say.

When he took questions, most of them were from kids, including things like "where do you get your ideas?" and "when did you start writing?" and "how is a book made?" He told them that he started writing books when he was seven. Can you imagine how much of a difference hearing that could make to a kid, from this successful author? When asked what sorts of books he likes to read, he mentioned Dr. Seuss, Mo Willems, and Cormac McCarthy. He said that he reads "everything", and that people should "let kids read what they enjoy".

It's clear to me that the Library of Congress made an excellent choice in naming Jon Scieszka the first National Ambassador for Children's Literature. I think that he's going to do great things.

My thanks again to Susan for attending with me, and for the pictures. This was a wonderful experience to share, and I'm extra glad to have photos, in addition to my two books, to remember it by.

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

Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall: Wendy Mass

Book: Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall
Author: Wendy Mass
Pages: 256
Age Range: 12 and up

Heaven Looks a Lot Like a MallHeaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall begins when sixteen-year-old Tessa is hit in the head during gym. When she wakes up, she finds herself in what is apparently heaven, though it bears a strong resemblance to her local mall. It's logical for Tessa to find heaven in the mall, because her parents both work there, and the mall has formed the backdrop of her life. Of course there are some differences from how the mall looks on normal days. Through the intervention of a boy with a drill-bit in his head who co-inhabits this virtual mall Tessa relives various experiences from her life so far. What she finds is not always pleasant, but she gains considerable insight into her own behavior.

Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall is a quick read, written in verse. The chapter / poem titles are taken from the names of stores in the mall. The sterile, deserted mall setting is one that I think will entice teen readers. It's unique and familiar, yet thrown askew by Tessa's circumstances. Here's a passage that I flagged about the mall itself:

"The escalator is turned off so I climb up it,
which feels weird, like trying to climb up a frozen waterfall." (Page 2)

As in Sara Zarr's Sweethearts, which I reviewed recently, the main character gives out hints about a traumatic event that she experienced, only revealing late in the book what really happened. This, combined with the question of whether or not Tessa is really dead, lend tension to the story, and will keep readers turning the pages.

Two other things struck me about this book. The first is the author's ability to make Tessa a likable character, despite her undeniable character flaws. Tessa, at least before her accident, is almost completely bereft of a moral compass. She lies, cheats and steals, in mainly small incidents, and certainly doesn't display admirable behavior. And yet, because of the way we're seeing her acquire this knowledge of herself, retrospectively, we can empathize with her. The book jacket likens this story to A Christmas Carol, and I can see the parallel. When Tessa sees, with detachment, what she's done, she's ashamed of her behavior, and the reader can like this more self-aware Tessa. Here's an example:

"I glance once at the door,
then I lift the egg out of his bowl
and switch it with mine.
I have long ago accepted the fact
that I am the kind of person
who does things like this,
so in a very real way,
it doesn't even feel wrong." (Page 94)

How sad is that?

The other thing that I like about this book is the way the Wendy Mass is able to sprinkle in a few universal truths. I think that the verse format is especially suited to this. Here are two examples:

"In a way, this whole dying thing
takes a lot of the pressure off.
It's just too hard trying not to cross
all those fine lines that everyone is aware of,
even though they don't talk about them:

Be honest, but don't hurt anyone's feelings
be independent, but not a loner
be smart, but not a nerd
How the heck is a girl suppose to "be" anything?" (Page 15)


"It's all exactly like I imagined.
And that's the problem.
I feel like I'm going through the motions
of a girl going to the prom." (Page 225)

What teen hasn't sometimes felt like someone going through the motions?

Heaven Looks a Lot Like a Mall left me wanting to connect more with people, and be a better person. It also made me believe that people can improve themselves. That's quite a lot from such a quick, easy to read package. Recommended for reluctant middle school and high school readers, especially those going through any kind of self-assessment phase.

Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: September 2007
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Bookshelves of Doom, Becky's Book Reviews, Reader Views, Ms. Yingling Reads, From A to Z
Author Interviews: Bildungsroman

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

Sweethearts: Sara Zarr

Book: Sweethearts
Author: Sara Zarr
Pages: 224
Age Range: 13 and up

SweetheartsSweethearts, Sara Zarr's second young adult novel after last year's National Book Award finalist Story of a Girl, is about a girl who has a difficult childhood, reinvents herself to become popular and accepted in high school, and then has her past catch up with her. In elementary school, Jennifer Harris was one of the poor kids, the only daughter of an overworked single mother. She was a social outcast, quiet and overweight. She had only one friend, a boy named Cameron Quick. Her friendship with Cameron was intense and mutually dependent, right up until the day that Cameron disappeared. Years later, in a new school, and with a more stable home life, Jennifer has become the svelte and popular Jenna Vaughn. However, she remains very conscious of, and ashamed of, her hidden past.

Written in spare prose, this book explores truths about friendship, loyalty, and self. Several passages about how Jenna is going through the motions, pretending to be what people want, will, I think, resonate with teens. For example:

"By lunch, the work of being the birthday version of Jenna Vaughn started to wear on me. I'd been smiling all morning at the Happy Birthdays and the hugs and compliments while Jennifer Harris dogged me. I kept looking over my shoulder for I don't know what..." (Chapter 2)

"It was a nice scene -- me and my boyfriend studying on a Saturday night. Except that I wasn't really there. Narration ran through my head: There is Jenna Vaughn kissing her boyfriend, there is Jenna Vaughn with her trig book open, there is Jenna Vaughn smiling and playing footsie and acting like she is exactly where she wants to be." (Chapter 12)

I wonder if everyone feels like that sometimes? Sara Zarr clearly understands what it's like to be an outsider, even when that's not how it appears on the surface. She also demonstrates her keen understanding of why someone would take comfort in overeating, and how a person can keep friends, and even a boyfriend, at a distance.

The characterization in this book is top-notch. I especially liked the positive portrayal of Alan, Jenna's stepfather:

"Now, I got up and followed Alan into the kitchen, staying close to the wake of calmness that always surrounded him. He's like a walking security blanket -- quiet voice, softly curling gray hair, unassertive wire-rim glasses. I'm sure his general aura of safety had a lot, or everything, to do with by my mom accepted his proposal after only three dates. (Chapter 3)

There's also a mystery in Sweethearts, about something that happened to Jennifer and Cameron when they were young. The truth is doled out in teaspoonfuls throughout the course of the book, and the suspense will definitely keep readers turning the pages.

Sweethearts features fully rounded characters, an absorbing plot, and taut writing that gets right to the heart of things. It's probably more a book for girls than for boys, however. There's a pink-frosted, heart-shaped cookie on the cover, and I think that Cameron is a character who girls will admire more than boys do. But for fans of realistic, girl-friendly young adult fiction, and especially for teens who enjoyed Story of a Girl, Sweethearts is a must-read title.

Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Publication Date: February 1, 2008 (available now)
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher, from NCTE
Other Blog Reviews: The Well-Read Child, Kate's Book Blog, Charlotte's Library, Booktopia, Bildungsroman
Author Interviews: Mr. Media Interviews, Class of 2k7, Bildungsroman

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 22, 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 173 subscribers.

This week's issue contains reviews of four books (two picture books and two for early elementary school readers), my children's literacy and reading news round-up, and two Kidlitosphere round-ups with links to useful posts from the week. I also have an announcement about the new issue of The Edge of the Forest (an online journal about children's literature), and an announcement about a new book contract obtained by The Book Whisperer, a noted reading advocate. Content from the blog not included in this week's newsletter includes:

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!

Children's Books for Adults, Books for Teen Boys and Girls, and Henry Winkler

I have four quick posts that I simply must bring to your attention today:

  • Linda Urban (author of the delightful A Crooked Kind of Perfect), has a post about Kids Books that Appeal to Grown-Ups. Certainly Linda's book falls into that category, but there are plenty of others. Share your suggestions in the comments over at Linda's. There's quite a discussion going on.
  • Meanwhile, over at Chasing Ray, Colleen Mondor is thinking about books that appeal to teenage boys. More tangibly, with about 20 other bloggers, she's planning to "create a site that is teenage boy friendly and will provide a lot of book reviews on books boys will like." How cool is that? I can't wait to see what they come up with. And if you have any thoughts on an appealing name for such a site, please head on over and share them.
  • Moving over to think of books that appeal to women and girls, Robin Brande's excellent book, Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature, was just chosen for the 2008 list of the Amelia Bloomer Project. Robin's post says: "The Amelia Bloomer Project creates a list of quality fiction and nonfiction titles that affirm positive roles for girls and women." What a perfect fit! I look forward to seeing what else ends up on the list. UPDATED to add: Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins also made the list.
  • I know, I know, I keep talking about Just One More Book! But today they have a podcast that I found especially interesting. Mark talks with actor / producer / author Henry Winkler about his children's books, and his dyslexia. Among other interesting tidbits, Mr. Winkler said that when he speaks to kids, he tells them something like (and I am paraphrasing a bit) "I'm in the bottom 3% academically, and look what I've accomplished. You can do it too." He also discusses how important it is for parents to understand dyslexia and let kids learn the way that they learn best. He even addresses people's impressions of celebrity children's book authors, and makes it quite clear that this is far from just a whim for him. He speaks very highly of his Hank Zipzer books co-author, Lin Oliver, and their plans for continuing the series. This is must-listen stuff, especially for parents of kids with learning differences.

OK, now you can go back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: Efforts by Parents, Doctors, Retired Volunteers, and Improv Comedians

There continues to be plenty of reading and children's literacy news available. I find this encouraging.

  • Walter Minkel writes at The Monkey Speaks about the Pittsburgh-based early literacy organization Beginning with Books. He also links to the organization's latest "Best Books for Babies" list, which he recommends for parents and librarians. Here is the Beginning with Books Mission Statement (from their website): "The mission of Beginning with Books is to increase meaningfully the numbers of children who become capable and enthusiastic lifelong readers. This is accomplished through research-based programs respectfully offering the information, materials, skill development, and encouragement that enable parents and other adults to promote the literacy development of the children in their care."
  • The Friday Flyer (CA) has a list by Wendy Mass of tips to help parents select books for their children. Most of the suggestions are things that we've already discussed recently on this blog, but I did like this one: "For young children, bring them with you to the library or bookstore, and let them sample a few different types of picture books to see what art styles appeal to them the most." She also specifically says that parents should let older children choose books "without judgment on their selections."
  • The Patriot Ledger (MA) has an opinion piece by Dr. Barry Zuckerman, board chair for Reach Out and Read, about the importance of school readiness, and how doctors need to reach out to parents. In light of the recent "Reading Across the Nation Report, Zuckerman notes that "the report demonstrates the need to reach more than 40 percent of parents - especially low-income parents - with books and information about the connection between daily reading and school readiness" and that the report "points to the need to redouble our efforts in Massachusetts to reach even more high-risk families."
  • The York Press (UK) has an article by Jenny Bell about a program by which older people come back into classrooms to help kids with reading. According to the article, "The Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP), which celebrates its 20th anniversary next year, is a national organisation which encourages the growing number of those aged fifty plus to help school communities in their local areas." I love the idea of programs like this - there are many retired people who have some spare time, and who care what happens to kids, and it's wonderful to see them being used as a resource in this way.
  • In a similar vein, the Sunshine Coast Daily (Australia) has a feature article about a new statewide reading to children program. "The state government has announced a $2.1 million grant to the Centre for Community Child Health, which, in conjunction with The Smith Family, will co-ordinate a state-wide Reading to Children program. It will involve recruiting volunteer storytellers – especially seniors – to read to children in community venues and libraries. Communities Minister Lindy Nelson-Carr said the initiative would bring children and older people, especially grandparents, together to interact and learn from each other."
  • The Telegraph (UK) has an article by author Michael Morpurgo that "sets out the case for reading pleasure." This article is an introduction to the Telegraph's guide to the best children's books (100 each for early years, middle years, and early teens). Morpurgo discusses the connection between reading and happiness levels, noting that "Finland finds itself at the top of a recent child happiness table as well as child literacy levels." His concern is the alienation of much of our society from "its own stories". He says that "We have to stop proclaiming reading as a ladder to academic success. Treated simply as an educational commodity, some kind of pill to be taken to aid intellectual development, it is all too often counter-productive and ultimately alienating." He proposes that the solution lies in parents and teachers passing on a passion for stories. This is must-read stuff. There's also a longer version available from here.
  • The Courier News (IL) has an article by Charity Bonner about "the first ever Laughter for Literacy Night fundraiser" for the local Literacy Connection organization. Funds raised through the improv comedy show "will be used to support programs such as Family Literacy, Summer Youth Tutoring, Workplace Literacy and various English as a second language programs." I like this fresh approach to literacy fundraising, one that keeps things fun.
  • And, in another unusual literacy fundraiser, "ten students at universities across Canada will pitch tents and move into university libraries to raise money for literacy. They aim to bring in $20,000 in donations coast to coast to construct five school libraries in Nepal, with donations being made through the internationally renowned charity, Room to Read." Read more in this article.
  • Just One More Book! interviews Margaret Eaton, President of the ABC Canada Literacy Foundation about the upcoming Family Literacy Day. This is the tenth anniversary of Canada's Family Literacy Day, which promotes the idea of families reading together, and puts a spotlight on reading-related activities. Margaret discusses the importance of reading aloud to kids, starting as soon as they're old enough to focus on a book, and discusses various literacy-building activities for older children (playing board games, even playing Internet games). Mark and Margaret also discuss possible campaigns for fighting illiteracy, and the idea that showing literacy success stories is the way to get people's attention. But I'm leaving out a lot - please click through to listen over at JOMB! And I'm sure to have more on Canada Family Literacy Day activities in next week's round-up.

That's all for this week. Happy reading! And happy Martin Luther King Day!

January Edition of The Edge of the Forest

The January edition of The Edge of the Forest, an online journal dedicated to children's literature, is now available. In this issue (highlights taken from Kelly's post):

What lovely reading to have for a rainy holiday.

The Silk Princess: Charles Santore

Book: The Silk Princess
Author: Charles Santore
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4 to 8

The Silk PrincessThe Silk Princess, written and illustrated by Charles Santore, is a picture book for older children, with multiple paragraphs of text on every page, a relatively advanced vocabulary, and gorgeous, painted illustrations. The Silk Princess is Santore's interpretation of an ancient legend, which he describes in an afterword.

Princess Hsi-Ling Chi is scarcely noticed by her Emperor father, who only has eyes for his sons (probably a realistic detail for a story set in 2700 BC). One day, however, while in the palace gardens, the princess's observant eyes notice a cream-colored cocoon falling into her mother's tea. A string of delicate, shimmering thread unwinds in the hot liquid. The princess ties the thread around her waist, leaving the other end in her mother's hand, and sets out to see how long it is. Her journey takes her outside of the palace for the first time, up a mountain and over a bridge, and into the home of a mysterious old man who teaches her the secrets of harvesting and weaving silk. Through her knowledge of silk, a new luxury fabric, the young princess finds a way to be seen.

Younger readers will take the princess's journey at face value, while older readers will likely come to see it as a dream, though perhaps one that contains a message from the gods. When she returns, having been away overnight, the little princess finds her mother sitting under the same tree, unruffled, still holding the thread, talking about her afternoon nap. On the flip side, however, the princess has gained knowledge about silk that she couldn't have known on her own. This ambiguity offers fuel for discussion.

Several other details in the book offer potential discussion topics and/or educational tidbits about ancient China. When the princess leaves the palace, she is thrilled to be outside for the first time in her life, noting:

"I'm outside of the royal palace! Even Mother has never been this far!"

When she crosses a bridge, she drops one of her wooden shoes. Maidservants linger in the background near her mother, and the actual work of making the silk is, of course, passed off to the royal weavers. These are tiny glimpses into the pampered, yet circumscribed, world of Chinese royal women.

Santore's lovely, detailed illustrations bear out the dream-like quality of the princess's adventure. The old man, in particular, is shown in muted colors, like a shadow. Each page spread is a painting of ancient China such as one might see in a gallery. Santore uses brighter colors sparingly, mostly to highlight the princess herself against the more muted background. The paintings are lovingly detailed. Close inspection reveals the texture of a tree trunk, tufted blades of grass, and the pattern of an urn. The picture of a dragon is particularly imposing.

The book's language is poetic, simply crying out to be read aloud. Here are some small examples:

"The Great Emperor, descended from the sons of heaven, was a grand figure. Regal in his bearing, he reigned in splendor."


"Hsi-Ling Chi, anxious to begin the game, kissed her mother goodbye, bowed, and started on her way. Attached to the thread, the little princess glided away from her mother, like a kite on a gentle breeze.

She walked past rock formations representing the Holy Mountains, beside glistening pools, and continued on, looking back from time to time to see her mother getting smaller and smaller in the distance. Princess Hsi-Ling Chi had never been away from her mother before, yet she did not hesitate."

I like the combination of historical authenticity and universal childhood nature seen in Hsi-Ling Chi. She bows to her mother before she walks away. But she's also sad about her father's lack of attention, and curious about the broader world from which she's been isolated.

I would recommend The Silk Princess for family read-aloud for early elementary school children, up to at least third grade. Although it's about a princess, it's not at all a "girly" princess story, and I think that young boys will enjoy it, too. There is, after all, a fearsome dragon. It's a book that a family could read aloud with their 8-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl, and keep everyone, including the parents, happy. I'll be keeping an eye out for Charles Santore's other work.

Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: December 26, 2007
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: The Well-Read Child, Book Buds.

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

Princess Baby: Karen Katz

Book: Princess Baby
Author: Karen Katz
Pages: 32
Age Range: 0-3

Princess BabyPrincess Baby by Karen Katz arrived in a surprisingly large box, because it came to me from Random House with a glittery gold, star-shaped wand. It commanded my attention. (Thought I don't believe that the wand is available with regular purchases.)

Princess Baby is a simple story, suitable for very young children, about a little girl who is tired of all of the inaccurate pet names that people call her (gumdrop and sweetie pie and the like). No, this little girl, who delights in wearing a crown, a cape, and sparkly shoes, and showing off her queenly manners, wants to be called by her real name, "Princess Baby".

With only a few words on each page, and very short sentences, Princess Baby's voice sounds like that of a slightly advanced toddler. The page spread with the most words out of the book reads:

"But I am not a buttercup
or a giggly goose.
I am not a cupcake.

Please don't call me Little Lamb,
and never ever
Sweet Gumdrop."

I especially like the short, declarative "I am not a cupcake". I could see that phrase catching on in a family.

Although her sentence structure is simple, the baby's grand manner and use of the word "please" give her a regal air. She also bears the classic toddler's certainly about what she wants, even if she's having trouble conveying that to her parents.

But what really makes this book are Katz's mixed media illustrations. The pictures accompanying the above quote show an unhappy little girl as buttercup, goose, cupcake, lamb, and gumdrop. They are priceless. Most of the pages include a mix of patterns and bright colors, sure to please the eye of preschoolers. The baby's crown and shoes are rendered in textured glitter on the cover, and the pictures inside the book look as though one could feel the rough surface of the glitter (though those are, in fact, smooth, and seem to be photos of glitter). The baby's stuffed animals all wear tiny crowns, less dramatic than her own, and they drink out of spotted teacups on flowered saucers, on a yellow and white polka-dot tablecloth. Visual treats are everywhere.

I recommend Princess Baby for pre-schoolers, especially girls, and anyone who has ever wanted to be a princess.

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (Random House imprint)
Publication Date: January 8, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: In the Pages, The Well-Read Child, Comics in the Classroom.

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

Sunday Afternoon Visits: Percy Jackson, A Carnival, and Developing a Sense of Story

I did kind of a big roundup on Thursday, so I thought that I wouldn't have much more for you today. But there has been a surprising amount going on around the blogs this weekend. No wonder I'm having trouble getting caught up on my reviews. Anyway:

  • The January Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at Wizards Wireless. The theme is book awards. I love the way Susan has made the whole carnival into a book awards ceremony, complete with acceptance speech. I kind of feel like I was able to attend the ALA Awards ceremony now.
  • Speaking of awards, via Educating Alice, the 2007 Cuffies have been announced. I don't comment on every "best of" list that comes around, because there are so many of them. But I like the Cuffies, which are compiled by Publisher's Weekly, based on input from children's booksellers. This year, the middle grade and young adult winners are both on the Cybils YA fiction shortlist (Wednesday Wars and Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, respectively). They also feature awards like Best Book Title, Most Memorable Character in a Lead Role, Best Novel for Young Readers That Adults Would Love If They Knew About It, and Favorite Book to Handsell (A Crooked Kind of Perfect, which I adored). Click through for more, the Cuffies are a lot of fun.
  • And still speaking of awards, congratulations to our own Mary Lee from A Year of Reading. She was selected to serve on the Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts Committee for the Children's Literature Assembly of the NCTE. Franki is very happy for her. It couldn't happen to someone who cares more about children's books.
  • Over at Reading and Breathing (named after this perfect Harper Lee quote: "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing"), middle school librarian Paige Y. has a response to Julie's remarks at Reader's Carousel about the credibility of KidLit bloggers. Paige defends the use of blogs by librarians as a supplement to traditional print reviews, and outlines several favorable attributes of blogs. Her post also was a bit of a wake-up call for me, reminding me of how much I've gained by reading other people's blogs, from book ideas to insights on encouraging readers to knowledge about book banning attempts, and so on. I've learned so much from other bloggers, many of whom are much more educated and experienced than I in this area of children's literature. I am grateful.
  • Terry shares her list of resolutions for 2008 at The Reading Tub blog. She has some tangible goals that together support her overall mantra: "bring reading home to families." The Reading Tub is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting reading and literacy. Naturally, I'm a big fan of what Terry's doing, and I love her resolutions.
  • At GottaBook, Gregory K. asks what we all do with our ever-expanding piles of books. There's a pretty lively discussion going on in the comments. I'm thinking that I need to go through my piles and find good homes for the ones that I'm just not going to get to. I did give many many books away as Christmas presents this year, both to kids I know, and to the Mercury News Gift of Reading program.
  • Fittingly enough, since Kelly and I are both mystery fans, I found the juvenile and young adult shortlist titles for the Edgar Awards at Big A little a. As with the ALA Youth Media Awards, I found that I had read distressingly few of the nominated titles. On the bright side, that means more good mysteries out there to add to my list.
  • Rick Riordan explains why no ARCs will be available for his upcoming Percy Jackson book: Battle of the Labyrinth. He quotes Mo Willems on how "presenting is theater", and makes the same argument for books. He says: "I love having a story full of secrets that will not be revealed until the book is published. I love keeping people in suspense. I am so looking forward to May 6, when Battle of the Labyrinth comes out, because that is my ‘big entrance.’ An ARC would take all the magic out of that." I do think that the lack of ARCs is one reason why this book didn't show up on many of the "what I want to read in 2008" lists that were floating around last week. But I have no doubt whatsoever that the many, many kids who are fans of the series will be waiting eagerly for the book on May 6th. And they will find magic. A sneak preview of the book is available, too. You can now watch a video of Rick reading a short selection from Chapter 1.
  • There's more on the PaperTigers new book group. I quite enjoyed this post, about how "bright adults frequently read books written for children". Speaking of some classic children's books, Janet says: "The element that these books all share are the magic created by a writer who placed highly original characters in a world that was constructed by considering the story, not the age of its readers, nor any underlying didacticism." I love that, especially the bit about "nor any underlying didacticism." But go read the whole post - it is a love letter to children's books and reading.
  • Wendy chimes in with excitement (and considerable detail) on the re-issuing of the Melendy Family books at Blog from the Windowsill. I think she hits it right on the nose with this statement: "I think what makes the Melendys seem like the quintessential literary family is that the books strike a perfect balance between realism and idyll."
  • And this news just in from HipWriterMama: the 2008 commencement speaker at Harvard will be ... drumroll, please! ... J. K. Rowling. How cool is that? I love it.
  • Two of my favorite blogging authors, Liz Garton Scanlon (aka Liz in Ink) and Sara Lewis Holmes (aka Read, Write, Believe), will be co-blogging this week about "the physicality of writing". Details are here and here. Hmmm... maybe they'll inspire me to some more physical exercise.
  • This is a small post, but I thought that it was insightful. At Books Together, Anamaria talks about how "One of the benefits of reading aloud to your kids that's sometimes overlooked is that it develops their sense of story." She gives a real-world example of her young son's ability to see from Chapter 2 where The Invention of Hugo Cabaret is headed. I know that I have a well-developed (some who have the misfortune of watching movies and television shows with me would say over-developed) sense of story, and that it comes from reading so many books. I didn't realize it could kick in so young, though.

And last, but definitely not least, how 'bout those Patriots!!

The Book Whisperer Gets a Book Contract

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a huge fan of Donalyn Miller's Teacher Magazine blog, The Book Whisperer. Donalyn's bio says that she has a gift: "She can turn even the most reluctant (or in her words "dormant") readers into students who can't put their books down." Clearly, I think that's a valuable and important gift, and one to be nurtured. I often end up mentioning her posts, because they are well-written, and they are about helping teachers to help raise readers.

This morning Donalyn commented on last week's Children's Literacy Round-Up to say:

"Thanks for regularly mentioning my blog, The Book Whisperer, on your site. You are helping teachers and their students by providing a forum for discussion about books and reading.

May I release it here first? I just signed a contract to write a book based on the opinions I express in my blog and articles. Forget whispering, I guess I will be shouting my beliefs about reading and children from now on!"

This is cool for a number of reasons. But the main thing is that her book is going to be must-read stuff, a book that I really think will help teachers to help kids learn to love books. A book that will make a difference in the world. I feel comfortable, based on reading many of Donalyn's articles, in recommending this book to all and sundry, sight unseen. (Though of course I do look forward to seeing it.) If you have any doubt, head on over to The Book Whisperer now, and read her two most recent posts, about how One Size Does Not Fit All (part II) in selecting books for classroom reading.

And the fact that Donalyn Miller thinks that my blog is helping teachers, well, that's a lovely bonus, and was a wonderful thing to see first thing this morning.