Previous month:
September 2008
Next month:
November 2008

Posts from October 2008

It IS a Happy Halloween

This morning, before I'd even had a chance to look at the blogs, Jenny from Jenny's Wonderland of Books emailed to me that I was featured today on Literacy Is Priceless: A Blog for Reading Teachers. Anna was kind enough to recommend my blog to her readers, and she even called it "pure inspiration!" That's an extra-lovely thing coming from someone who provides resources to reading teachers. Jenny also shared this Publisher's Weekly link with the Kidlit Yahoo Group, with photos of some beautiful children's literature costumes.

And then this afternoon I was skimming through the blogs, and Laurel Snyder mentioned that she had made a list of her Top 10 Children's Literature Blogs at Since the day was going well and all, I clicked through, and was very pleased to see my blog there, and in truly excellent company.

I also had a lovely shout-out earlier in the week from Cindy Hudson at Mother Daughter Book Club. Cindy especially likes the list of Cool Girls from Children's Literature. (This is me, shushing the little voice inside my head that, in parallel with being happy about this, whispers "You really need to update that list, Jen.")

I'll tell you, people like Anna and Laurel and Cindy and Jenny are what keeps me blogging. Even when my travel schedule gets in the way, and I get stressed out about being behind. Even when I get into a mood where I really just want to read and enjoy the books, not review them. Even when I run out of space on my bookshelves, and have to start those sideways stacks. It's all worthwhile because I get to hang out (mostly virtually, but sometimes in person) with such wonderful people.

Happy Halloween, friends!

Wake and Fade: Lisa McMann

Book: Wake (book 1) and Fade (book 2)
Author: Lisa McMann (blog)
Pages: 224/256
Age Range: 14 and up 

WakeLast night I sat up until 2:00 am reading Wake and Fade, by Lisa McMann. The first book, Wake is about 17-year-old Janie, a girl with problems. Her mother is a hopeless alcoholic. She lives on the wrong side of the tracks, and has to work hard just to feed and clothe herself. Her dreams of college seem remote, no matter how hard she works. And yet. These things pale in comparison to Janie's real problem. For reasons that she doesn't understand, whenever Janie is in the presence of someone else who is dreaming, Janie gets sucked into the dream. She goes into a seizure-like state, and can't pull herself back out until the dream ends. It's been happening since she was eight, and the older she gets, the harder it is to hide. Then things get really weird when she finds someone who might be dangerous, and who is dreaming about her.

Wake is written in an unusual style, third person present tense (though mainly from Janie's viewpoint), with short sentences, and occasional sentence fragments. All of the chapter sections are headed with the date and time, so that the present tense is intelligible. The sections are short, and the book is a very quick read, with plenty of white space. It's like a running commentary by someone seeing herself from a slight distance, speaking with disjointed thoughts. I found this writing style surprisingly engaging. It amplified Janie's situation and personality, while giving the reader enough distance to want to watch over her. Here's an example, after Janie has slipped into a friend's dream during a sleepover:

"Janie goes home, falls into bed, thinking about the strange night. Wondering if this ever happens to anyone else. Knowing, deep down, it probably doesn't.

She falls into a hard sleep until late afternoon. Decides sleepovers are not for her.

They'll never be for her." (Page 20, ARC)

I liked Janie a lot. I respected how hard she worked to pull herself out of her wretched family situation. I wanted to shake her oblivious mother. I sighed with relief when someone helped her. I read at rapid pace, mostly because I wanted to know whether or not Janie was going to be ok.

Although Wake sounds like a light, premise driven book (girl gets sucked into other people's dreams - chaos ensues!), and it is both suspenseful and intriguing, I leaped from the first book to the second because of the characters. Well, mostly because of Janie, but there's a damaged boy who is intriguing, too. Wake read for me like a cross between Meg Cabot's supernatural 1-800-Where-R-You series (teen girl dreams about where missing people are located) and YA problem novels like Nancy Werlin's Rules of Survival (teen boy matures despite super-toxic parent). There are as many small details about Janie's mother's drinking and their grinding poverty as there are about the effects of the dreams. I found the mix compelling.

FadeFade (the second book in the series, due out in February of 2009) is a bit more plot-driven than Wake. Janie works undercover to use her dream-walking skills to help track down a potential pedophile on her school's faculty. She also learns more about her abilities, their consequences, and their impact on the people around her. Even as she's learning to control her dream visits a bit, Janie is also more vulnerable in Fade, physically drained by the dreams. Lisa McMann walks a fine line, I think, in making the reader worry about Janie's physical condition, without making her seem like a helpless victim.

I found Fade to be a creepier, more emotionally difficult book than Wake. I found the whole storyline about a high school teacher preying on female students disturbing (and hopefully unrealistic). But I enjoyed learning, with Janie, more about her talent / curse. The writing style that I talked about earlier (short sentences, fragments, hyper-present tense) is, if anything, more pronounced in this second book, as though the author is hitting her stride with it. For example:

"Janie sprints through the snowy yards from two streets away and slips quietly through the front door of her house.

And then.

Everything goes black.

She grips her head, cursing her mother under her breath as the whirling kaleidoscope of colors builds and throws her off balance." (Page 11, ARC)

Or, on a lighter note:

"She rolls over. Sees the plate of eggs and toast, steam rising. Grins wide as the ocean and lunges for it." (Page 14, ARC)

Fade is a bit more mature than Wake, in terms of sexual content (direct, though not graphic, and doubtless realistic given Janie's wholly unsupervised situation). I think that both Wake and Fade fall towards the upper end of the young adult age range, because of the content and because of the level of maturity of the main characters.

I recommend this series for fans of chilling supernatural stories (teens who read Mary Downing Hahn as kids, and adults who couldn't get enough Lois Duncan as teens). Even those who aren't intrigued by the idea of dream-walking but enjoy tales of kids-from-tough-circumstances-who-make-good may also enjoy Wake and Fade. Personally, I'm already looking forward to the next book (Gone, according to a mention on the author's Amazon blog).

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: March 4, 2008 (Wake), February 10, 2009 (Fade)
Source of Books: Advance review copies from the publisher (quotes are from the advance copies, and may not reflect the final printed books)
Other Blog Reviews: Today, I Read..., Turning the Paige, Glenview Book Blogger
Author Interviews: ReviewerX, Book Junkie

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

Wednesday Afternoon Visits: October 29

I was away this weekend, attending a lovely wedding down in Los Angeles, and I'm still catching back up (I think it's a sign of being over-committed when taking a couple of days away from the computer completely throws things completely out of kilter). But there has been plenty going on around the Kidlitosphere.

Jill posted the October Carnival of Children's Literature at The Well-Read Child, suggesting that readers "grab a cup of hot apple cider, a warm blanket, and join me in a look at some great snuggle-worthy children's literature from around the blogosphere." She has tons of well-organized and interesting posts for your reading pleasure.

Charlotte from Charlotte's Library just announced a lovely tribute that she's organizing in honor of Amanda Snow's son Jacob, who died much, much too young. The talented Katie Davis has designed a downloadable bookplate. If you would like to honor Jacob's life, you can download the bookplate here, print out copies, and put them in books that you donate. Amanda suggests in particular that people donate books to Ronald McDonald House. As Charlotte explains "the children's book blogging community has come together to give books away to places where they will bring happiness to other children and their parents." But anyone is welcome to participate. You can find more details here. I'm planning to take some books up to the Ronald McDonald House in Palo Alto.

Terry Doherty has a comprehensive October 27th reading round-up at the Reading Tub's blog, filled with children's literacy and reading news. I found this tidbit especially interesting: "The National Literacy trust just issued Literacy Changes Lives: An Advocacy Resource, a report about the relationship between a child's literacy ability and their success later in life." I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but Terry promises "Lots of great snippets to reinforce the need to read." I also really liked this: "Randy Astle, who is not associated with PBS Kids, wrote a very detailed post about how PBS Kids is raising readers." It's a great post.

BlogTheVote-SmallLots of bloggers from around the Kidlitosphere are banding together to encourage readers to vote next week. Even the organization is a group effort. Lee Wind and Gregory K both have the scoop. The master list of participants will be maintained by Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray. Sarah Stevenson developed the neat graphic. Personally, I voted late last week (I'm a permanent vote by mail person in California). I don't like to talk politics on my blog, but I will say that I wanted to get my vote in before heading out to the lovely wedding that I mentioned, the wedding of two dear friends who both happen to be male. I would not have missed it for anything.

5 Minutes for Books recently had their Kids' Picks Carnival for October. Seventeen participants chimed in with posts about what books their kids have enjoyed. I love this idea by site editor Jennifer Donovan, and enjoy checking out the posts each month.

In author news, Cynthia Lord shares some tips for librarians about "Including and Serving Patrons with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome at Your Library."  There's also a nice interview with Rick Riordan in Texas Monthly. And via Bookshelves of Doom, I learned that Holly Black has the coolest hidden library ever. Yes, the door is a bookshelf. Someday...

On a non-book-related note, I enjoyed this post by Robin from The Disco Mermaids about finding your special "spot", someplace outdoors where you can go and think and clear your head. I have had spots like that in my life, though I don't have one now that's near to where I live. But what I LOVED about the post are Robin's pictures of her son enjoying nature. There's one of him skipping down a path in the woods that is positively magical. Seriously, if you could use a little pick-me-up, just click through to the post, and scroll down.

And last, but definitely not least, Deanna H, on a new blog called Once Upon A Time, writes about reasons for adults to read children's literature. She dug up quotes from David Almond and Jonathan Stroud about the power of the narrative in children's books - and I do think this is a big part of why I've always enjoyed kids' books so much.

That's all for today - I expect to be back with more news and reviews over the weekend.

Reviews that Made Me Want the Book: October 23

Welcome to the latest edition of my Reviews that Made Me Want to Read the Book feature. This installment is high on direct recommendations from people.

Project 17 Kelsey from Reading Keeps You Sane recently reviewed Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz. She says, after describing the suspenseful story about teens visiting an abandoned asylum, "This is one of the most gratifying endings I have read in a long time. For those of you you are still unsure, think Blair Witch Project meets Breakfast Club.This book is amazing, so amazing I read until I finished it in 2 in a half hours." It sounds delightfully creepy and fun.

Dream FactoryAnother recommendation from Kelsey that caught my eye was for Dream Factory, by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler. It's a romance about two teens who fall in love while working at Disney World, told in alternating chapters by the two authors. Kelsey says "Their combination of writing offers a striking and endearing romance story that is charismatic and unforgettable. This is a book you shouldn't miss out on." Plus the setting sounds fun!

Black JackSimon Brooks emailed me to recommend Black Jack by Leon Garfield. When I checked out the book on Amazon, I found a glowing review by Betsy Bird/ Fuse #8, and that was enough to time me over the edge. Betsy also mentioned the book here.

Mo4everBarbara Shoupis one of several new reviewers at The Well-Read Child (Jill T's blog). Barbara's first review was of M+O 4EVR by Tonya Hegamin. She said: "The truth is, there aren’t enough good books about friendship, and M+O 4EVR’s insightful look at how childhood friendships evolve as young people enter their teen years was more than enough for me." And that, coming from the author of Everything You Want, which I loved, is good enough for me.

Speaking of my review of Everything You Want, in the comments of that post both Alkelda the Gleeful and Wendy B recommended Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. Wendy said "It's probably the most fluid and accessible novel I've read from that time period (it was published in 1912), and it's about a young woman who was plucked from an orphanage and sent to Vassar. It's laugh-out-loud funny." 

EnolaDarla D at Books and Other Thoughts just reviewed the fourth book in the Enola Holmes series, by Nancy Springer. This made me realize that I haven't gotten past book 2 yet. So The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets and The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan are now on my list. Like Darla, "I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment in this captivating mystery series."

April Henry also recommended a book to me: a dystopian title for adults called This Perfect Day by Ira Levin. I don't know much about it, but it's on my list.

Heartshot Lesa's Book Critiques is a new blog that I discovered through the recent Book Blogger Appreciation Week. It's focused on adult mysteries. Lesa recently reviewed the first book in Steve F. Havill's Posadas County Mysteries, Heartshot. Lesa said: "After reading two books in this series, I have to say it's refreshing to read a police procedural in which the department works together, and respects each other... This is a satisfying series for those of us who love interesting, well-developed characters, a large number of books in which to read about those characters, and fascinating plots." So I'm adding it to my list.

And that's it for today. I don't know if I'll be blogging this weekend, but I'll be back with you early in the week.

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: October 21

Jpg_book007Today I will be sending out the new issue of the 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. There are currently 418 subscribers.

This week I have two book reviews (one middle grade and one young adult), two announcements about books previously reviewed that are now available, two Kidlitosphere round-ups with links to useful posts from the past week, a Children's Literacy Round-Up, and an announcement about the Cybils longlists being available. The only posts from my blog not included in the newsletter this week are two announcements about a book give-away that I did recently.

In addition to the books reviewed this week, I've recently finished re-reading The Eight by Katherine Neville and I am working on the sequel, The Fire. I also started Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, but I pre-empted it for Neville's two books (this is not a negative comment on The Graveyard Book, it's just that I've been waiting for The Fire for nearly 10 years now). I have some other commitments coming upover the next few days, and will not be sending out the newsletter next week. But I'll be back on November 4th with an action-packed issue.

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms!

Books Now Available: The Emerald Tablet

The Emerald TabletBack in August I reviewed P. J. Hoover's middle grade science fiction novel The Emerald Tablet. I called it:

"a very appealing mix of adventure, speculative science fiction, and middle school camp drama. I enjoyed it as an adult, but I know that I would have adored it as an 11-year-old... Highly recommended for later elementary and middle school readers, boys and girls, fans of traditional fantasy or not."

The Emerald Tablet is scheduled for publication today, and well worth checking out. Read the full review here.

Quick Hits: Teen Book Picks, Thurber House, and Pumpkins

Quite a few things worth mentioning have come up around the blogs since I prepared my Saturday Evening Visits post the other day.

Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, lists eight "fiction books that include readers and books in their plotlines.. all-time favorite books about books and readers". She asks readers "Do you have any favorite books where readers, writers, librarians, or books take center stage?" She does, of course, mention the Inkheart series. I would add The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield.

Just in time for fall, Sherry from Semicolon shares nearly 100 "pumpkin suggestions for reading, eating , creating, and just goofing around." She has pumpkin-themed activities, books, and foods to choose from.

Alan Silberberg (Pond Scum author, Thurber House Children's Author in Residence, and fellow Red Sox fan), writes that Thurber House is currently accepting applications for the 2009 Author in Residence. Alan says: "Why would you want to apply? Well, unless you don't need 4 weeks of uninterrupted writing time, your own apartment in the historic home of one of America's funniest Writer/Cartoonists, and the opportunity of a lifetime - let me try and help with some possible reasons..."

The Longstockings are having a "knock our socks off contest". They explain: "every month we will ask a short, off-the-wall, book related question. Not trivia questions, but creative ones where you try to make us laugh out loud with your supreme cleverness. And if your answer knocks our socks off, you win!" This month's question is: "What would your very favorite book character dress up as for Halloween?".

Jen Funk Weber just announced: "The Needle and Thread: Stitching for Literacy 2009 Bookmark Challenge is just five months away. My goal for this year is to have at least 1,000 bookmarks stitched, turned in to shops, and donated to libraries and schools." If you're interested, or have ideas to help her promote the event, you can comment at Needle and Thread to let Jen know.

Yalsanew2_2Tasha reports at Kids Lit that the 2008 Teens' Top Ten has been announced by YALSA. It's an interesting mix, from Stephenie Meyer's Eclipse to Jennie Downham's Before I Die.

Jill just issued a reminder that submissions are due for the October Carnival of Children's Literature, to be hosted at The Well-Read Child. She says "please submit it at this site by this Friday, midnight EST."

Gwenda Bond links to a NY Times article about "Columbia's self-appointed people's librarian, Luis Soriano, and his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto". Or, as Gwenda says "Viva la biblioburro!"

Responding to a Chicago Tribune article by Tara Malone about the challenges faced by English teachers, Mitali Perkins asks how teens are getting their story fix, if they are reading fewer books. She suggests "they're filling the universal human hunger for story through films and video games instead of books." Click through to see her other links and ideas on this topic. Mitali also shares an impromptu discussion that she's been having with some other writers about whether or not authors should discuss a character's race.

The Boston Globe reports, in an article by John Laidler, that library use is rising as the economy falters. ""As the economy takes a turn downward, more people are rediscovering their local public libraries and the services and resources they offer," said Kendra Amaral, chief of staff to Amesbury Mayor Thatcher W. Kezer III." Thanks to the International Reading Association blog for the link.

Hope you find something of interest!

The Dust of 100 Dogs: A. S. King

Book: The Dust of 100 Dogs
Author: A. S. King
Pages: 312
Age Range: 14 and up

Dust of 100 DogsBackground: I featured this book in my October 5th Reviews that Made Me Want the Book post after I read the description at Presenting Lenore. Three days later the book showed up on my doorstep. Clearly a book that I was destined to read.

Review: The Dust of 100 Dogs by A. S. King is a fascinating and unusual young adult novel. The book begins with a prologue, in which a woman named Emer removes the right eyeball of a dead Frenchman, laments the death of her true love, and buries a treasure on the beach. Emer is then cursed by another man. Her fate is to live 100 lives as a dog, before being reborn as a human, with her memory intact throughout.

Chapter 1 begins 300 years later, in 1972. After 100 lives as a dog, Emer is reborn as Saffron, the youngest of five children in a down-and-out Pennsylvania family. And she wants her treasure back. We learn about Saffron's life through first-person narration, starting with the problems faced by a child born with a keen understanding of 300 years of world politics. Interspersed with Saffron's modern-day story are brief "Dog Fact" sections, in which Saffron shares some of her lessons learned from 100 dog lifetimes. Beginning in Chapter 4, the book begins flashbacks, in third-person narration, to Emer's story. Slowly, piecing together details from Emer's sections, and Saffron's memories, the reader learns how Emer ended up with a treasure to bury on a Caribbean beach. And we learn how Saffron, 300 years later, is supposed to keep her extensive knowledge of killing under wraps while attending a small-town high school.

All in all, this is not an easy book. I would put it at the upper end of the young adult age range, not so much because of the violence (though these is plenty of that, most of it swashbuckling pirate-type violence), but because it takes a fair bit of concentration to put the pieces together. I think that most younger kids would find the book frustrating. (Leila actually went so far as to ask "Is this really a YA book?", and that's sparked a bit of discussion here and here.) However, I think that older kids, and adults, will find The Dust of 100 Dogs highly compelling. I read it in one day, because I just had to figure out what was going on, and what would happen to both Emer and Saffron.

Some of the questions in the book made me stop and think, too. What would it be like to live as a child, with knowledge that you weren't supposed to have? How frustrating would it be to be the sole hope of your downtrodden family, when that hope conflicted with what you wanted from life? If you were reincarnated, and remembered everything, how would you ever separate your current self from your past selves? Or would you need to?

If those questions sound intriguing to you, then you can stop reading here, and wait for the book to come out. If you want a bit more of a look, here's Saffron on what it was like to grow up with Emer's prior knowledge:

"I don't know if my parents saw it, then, but they certainly noticed later on that I was completely different from other children. When I first began talking, I sometimes spoke of places I'd never been, and they would look at me confused. When I started school, my kindergarten teacher arranged a meeting with them and asked where I'd got so much knowledge of history and language." (Chapter 1)

King's writing is both dramatic and engaging. She shows the reader, in subtle ways, how Saffron and Emer are similar in their thinking, yet not the same. She manages to make Saffron a violent pirate and a modern working class teen at the same time. For example, here is Saffron talking to her mother:

""... You'll understand when you have children."

When she said that, I felt the ball of anger in my belly. First, she had me in college and running a local practice. Now, she had me having babies and obligingly understanding her warped view on life. I was only sixteen years old. Why was she making me imagine slicing her eyes out? Why was she forcing me to take my cutlass to the ligaments at the back of her knees?" (Chapter 8)

King also sprinkles dog-related imagery throughout the text, using this theme to tie together some of the disparate elements of the book. For example:

"For eight years, before she was sent to Paris, Emer lived in the rocky hills of Connacht -- miles from her village -- and never once thought there could be a worse place. But living rough in Paris had turned what she once felt was hell onto its back, wanting its belly scratched." (Chapter 4)

The Dust of 100 Dogs is complex and dark (though with flashes of humor). But it's also unique and rewarding, written with a distinct voice, and featuring two very strong-willed female characters. Try this one out on fans of pirate stories, historical fiction, and even YA problem novels. It is not to be missed.

Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: February 1, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher (quotes are from the advance copy, and may not reflect the final printed book)
Other Blog Reviews: Bookshelves of Doom

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

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris: R. L. LaFevers

Book: Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris (Theodosia's website)
Author: R. L. LaFevers (blog)
Illustrator: Yoko Tanaka
Pages: 400
Age Range: 9-12

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris is the sequel to Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, which I reviewed last year. Like it's predecessor, Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris features a brave, clever eleven-year-old heroine, an intriguing, atmospheric setting, interesting historical and archeological tidbits, and a plot that will keep kids turning the pages. Despite the fact that the title character is a girl, I think that this book will absolutely appeal to middle grade boys, too. (Think reanimated mummies walking the night streets of early 20th Century London, should you have any doubts.)

The story begins with Theodosia attending a reception with her parents, one in which a mummy is to be unwrapped. Theodosia's horror over this desecration pales in comparison to the horror she feels when she realizes that the mummified man is actually someone she knows. Someone from her prior run-in with a shadowy organization called the Serpents of Chaos. Theodosia's life is further complicated by her accidental discovery of a dangerous artifact, one highly desired by the enemy organization. Her efforts to understand and protect the artifact are grossly hindered by her grandmother's attempts to put her under the care of a governess. She also has to help her friend, Will, a reformed pick-pocket, face a danger from his past.

I love Theodosia. She is clearly a product of her unusual upbringing by a museum curator and an ahead-of-her-times woman archaeologist. Theodosia displays an advanced vocabulary and tremendous knowledge regarding ancient Egypt. She occasionally displays Victorian sensibilities (she is tremendously embarrassed when she must use a trip to the powder room as an excuse to get away from a governess), but she is also fiercely independent. In the tradition of many children's books, Theodosia's parents are benignly neglectful, leaving her with plenty of room to save the day herself.

I especially enjoy Theodosia's wryly humorous, determined voice. Here are a couple of examples:

"My cheeks grew hot as I realized I was being scolded in front of a complete stranger.

Especially this prig. He'd scrubbed his face so hard that it shone, and his dark hair was pasted flat on his head. It was a shame he hadn't thought to use the same paste on his ears, as they stuck out rather dreadfully. His mouth was pressed into a thin line. It was probably why he had a small fuzzy caterpillar of a mustache -- so people would be sure to realize he had a mouth. I have observed that people with small, tight mouths are rarely friendly or good tempered." (Page 52)

""I felt Grandmother's steely gaze boring holes clear through my forehead. "Yes, well, I do very much appreciate this chance to see your boat," I said politely." (Page 134)

"I suppose visiting a battleship would be a lovely way to spend an afternoon, if one wasn't distracted by the treat of one's father being hauled off to prison. Or by wondering who on earth the Grim Nipper was. Or by worrying about whether or not one slippery street urchin had managed to get a most urgent message to the head of a secret organization.

Or if one wasn't accompanied by one's grandmother." (Page 141)

I also enjoy Theodosia's prickly relationship with her overbearing Grandmother. It takes talent and ingenuity to convey, using a first-person perspective, the fact that Theodosia's Grandmother is much more proud of her, and concerned for her, than Theodosia realizes. Even though the grandmother is a disagreeable dragon, I felt a sneaking admiration for her by the end of this book.

Theodosia's relationship with her street urchin friend, Will, is also entertaining. The class difference between them is unavoidable (and it would be wholly unrealistic not to convey it), but I think that the author handles it with a light touch. Theodosia bosses Will around, but he is not afraid to push back. Though, being strong-willed, she usually gets her way. For example, "Of course, being a boy, he immediately got all huffy, but I ignored it and stayed firm until he finally relented." (Page 303)

One of my favorite scenes is one in which the two children are bickering. LaFevers manages to sneak in the proper pronunciation of Osiris ("Oh-sigh-ris", according to Theodosia), by having Theodosia exasperatedly correct Will. This is completely plausible.

Robin LaFevers' ability to interweave historical and mythological detail into the fabric of the story reminds me a bit of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books. Both authors keep the story paramount, and the action moving, but find tons of kid-friendly details to convey. For example, in one scene, Theodosia describes, in graphic detail, the process of Egyptian embalming. But she does this not to get the information across to the reader, but to scare off a nervous potential governess. The result is quite entertaining, and doesn't feel at all educational.

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris gets my highest recommendation for middle grade and middle school readers. Try it on fans of the Percy Jackson books, kids who are fascinated by Egypt, and anyone who enjoys mysteries with a strong sense of place. But have them read Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos first - some of the details in this one will make more sense. I know for certain that I would have loved this book as a 10-year-old. I hope that Theodosia has many more adventures.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: November 10, 2008 (but available early)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher (I also got an ARC from Amazon, but I read the finished copy)
Author Interviews: Finding Wonderland

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

The 2008 Cybils Nominations!

CybilslogosmallThe nominations list for the 2008 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (the Cybils) are now available. You can find links here to each of the categories (including two extra lists, because Fantasy & Science Fiction and Graphic Novels are each broken out into Middle Grade and Young Adult).

There are currently 832 titles listed. However, some astute readers have already pointed out a couple of titles that inadvertently ended up in multiple categories, so the number will likely come down a tiny bit. It was quite a deluge of nominations for the category organizers to process in a two week period, and I for one (not being a category organizer this year, but having a window into the process) think that they did an amazing job. They were helped in this endeavor by the fabulous Cybils database that Sheila Ruth developed this year.

As Anne Levy pointed out on the nominations post, the Cybils nominations lists would make an excellent starting point for anyone looking for gift ideas for this holiday season. And, if you should happen to click through from the lists on the Cybils site to make your purchase, a small commission may flow back to the Cybils organization. This money will be used to buy prizes for the winning authors and illustrators. But regardless of that, we do hope that you'll find these lists valuable in identifying potential reads. We'll be back on January 1st with short lists in each of the categories (after what promises to be heroic amounts of reading by some of the committees).

Do stay tuned to the Cybils blog in the coming weeks, too. Our talented Deputy Editor, Sarah Stevenson, will be posting excerpts from book reviews, by Cybils participants, of the nominated titles. We also expect to have some round-table discussions with Cybils panelists, and other content. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to these nominations lists!

-- Jen Robinson, Literacy Evangelist for the 2008 Cybils

Winners: Piper Reed, The Great Gypsy

Piper ReedAnd the winners of last week's book give-away, for five copies of Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy by Kimberly Willis Holt, are:

I'll email you all, but in case you don't get the message, please email me with your mailing address. I will pass it along to the publisher, Henry Holt, so that they can send you the book. Congratulations on winning the book! I hope that you all like it.

Thank you to everyone who submitted responses to my bonus questions. I'm sorry that you all couldn't win. Here are the books that people mentioned as having that classic middle grade fiction feeling (Please note that these are not recomendations from me - several are books that I haven't read - where I've reviewed a title, I linked to my review):

And here are people's favorite Melendy family members:

  • Randy (the most popular choice)
  • Mona
  • Oliver
  • Cuffy

Poor Rush and Father, no one seemed to bond with them. But personally, I loved them all. And Mrs. Oliphant, too.

Thanks for playing!

Children's Literacy Round-Up: October 19

Here is some children's literacy and reading news from around the wires.

According to this Telegraph article by Richard Alleyne, "Browsing the internet is better than reading books for boosting the brain power of middle-aged and older adults, new research has found... Brain scans showed that going online stimulated larger parts of the brain than the relatively passive activity of reading a novel or non-fiction book." Seems to me it depends on the book, and on what you're browsing on the Internet. But I do buy that deciding which link to click for more information is more active than reading a straight through. Thanks to the International Reading Association blog for the link.

And, according to a Sydney Morning Herald article by Julie Robotham (this one also discovered via the IRA blog), "as much as 70 per cent of reading aptitude is inherited. The logical conclusion of that finding, based on research by Professor Brian Byrne from the University of New England, is that specific techniques to teach reading - the subject of an interminable argument between proponents of rival phonics and whole-language approaches - can make only a modest difference to most children." has a short article by Melody Warnic with tips for reading with active babies. For example, "Stack books like blocks, or put them in a wagon to pull into another room. The more your baby interacts with books as playthings, the more she'll enjoy discovering what's inside." Thanks to Cheryl Rainfield for the link.

WBZ (Boston radio) had a brief report this week by Paula Ebben about keeping boys interested in books and reading. "Jeffrey Wilhelm is one of the nation's leading experts on males and literacy. He says often, writing is just plain "vanilla", and that can make it tougher to keep boys as interested in reading as girls... Now publishers like Scholastic are using research as a springboard to create a new generation of books geared toward boys, using blood, guts, gore, even bathroom humor to give boys something they want to read."

According to a Staunton News Leader (Virginia) article by Brad Zinn, a Waynesboro police officer named Mark Kearney has started a literacy program called "Book 'Em". Their slogan is "buy a book and stop a crook." The idea is to create a base for kids and get them reading, and that this will reduce the later chance that the kids will drop out of school and get into trouble. The organization just held their fifth annual Book 'Em event to encourage children to read.

Looks like it was a good week for First Book. According to, "The 2008 Back to School Book Donation will make available more than 300,000 new Random House books, which will be distributed nationally (by First Book) to schools, libraries and literacy organizations serving low-income youth." Another news release reports that "Eight O'Clock® Coffee Co. is teaming up with Candlewick Press to contribute up to 8,000 books to First Book."

In the UK, "Poetry is being "frozen" out of school timetables because of the demands of tests and Government inspections, according to Michael Rosen, the Children's Laureate." Graeme Paton has the details in this Telegraph article. "The comments came as the National Literacy Trust - a charity promoting reading among children - warned many publishers were now failing to produce new poetry books because of a lack of demand from schools."

Finally, if you need more reading news, check out Terry's October 15th Reading Round-Up at the Reading Tub blog. Happy reading!