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Posts from November 2008

Books Read in November

This is a list of the books that I read in November, broken up into Picture Books, Middle Grade Books, and Young Adult Books. I didn't complete any adult titles this month (though I started and shelved a couple), but I did read a bunch of lovely picture books (reviews still forthcoming of several titles). I'm at 206 books read for the year, but that includes 50 picture books, so it doesn't look like I'll reach my goal of 200 non picture book titles. But I have read some great stuff!

Picture Books

  1. Amy Hest (ill. Amy Bates): The Dog Who Belonged to No One. Abrams Books for Young Readers. Completed November 2, 2008.
  2. Kashmira Sheth (ill. Yoshiko Jaeggi): Monsoon Afternoon. Peachtree Publishers. Completed November 2, 2008.
  3. Tera Johnson (ill. Tania Howells): Berkeley's Barn Owl Dance. Kids Can Press. Completed November 2, 2008.
  4. Brian Lies: Bats at the Library. Houghton Mifflin. Completed November 2, 2008.
  5. Vincent X. Kirsch: Natalie & Naughtily. Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. Completed November 2, 2008.
  6. Deb Lund (ill. Robert Neubecker): Monsters on Machines. Harcourt Children's Books. Completed November 2, 2008.
  7. Marjorie Priceman: How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Completed November 2, 2008. My review.
  8. Bob Staake: The Donut Chef. Golden Books (Random House). Completed November 2, 2008.
  9. Alison Randall (ill. Bill Farnsworth): The Wheat Doll. Peachtree Publishers. Completed November 2, 2008.
  10. Elizabeth Van Steenwyk (ill. Michael Montgomery): First Dog Fala. Peachtree Publishers. Completed November 2, 2008. My review.
  11. Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz (ill. Elena Odriozola): The Story Blanket. Peachtree Publishers. Completed November 2, 2008.
  12. Vivian French (ill. Jackie Morris): Singing to the Sun: A Fairy Tale. Kane/Miller Book Publishers. Completed November 2, 2008.
  13. Helen Lester (ill. Lynn M. Munsinger): Tacky the Penguin. Houghton Mifflin. Completed November 2, 2008. My review.

Middle Grade Books

  1. Lesley M. M. Blume: Tennyson. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Completed November 5, 2008. My review.
  2. Ingrid Law: Savvy. Dial. Completed Novembere 7, 2008. My review.
  3. Ann Clare LeZotte: T4: A Novel. Houghton Mifflin. Completed November 9, 2008. My review.
  4. Elizabeth Enright: Then There Were Five. Henry Holt. Completed November 15, 2008.
  5. Penny Colman: Thanksgiving: The True Story. Henry Holt. Completed November 23, 2008. My review.
  6. Brian Anderson (ill. Doug Holgate): The Adventures of Commander Zack Proton and the Red Giant. Aladdin. Completed November 24, 2008.
  7. Brian Anderson (ill. Doug Holgate): The Adventures of Commander Zack Proton and the Warlords of Nibblecheese. Aladdin. Completed November 25, 2008.
  8. Brian Anderson (ill. Doug Holgate): The Adventures of Commander Zack Proton and the Wrong Planet. Aladdin. Completed November 25, 2008. (I'm planning a review of these three fun titles for early readers.)

Young Adult Books

  1. April Lurie: The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Completed November 6, 2008.
  2. Christine Fletcher: Tallulah Falls. Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. Completed November 12, 2008. My review.
  3. Terry Pratchett: Nation. HarperCollins. Completed November 15, 2008. Loved it but didn't review it because I listened to it on audio.
  4. Anna Godbersen: The Luxe. HarperCollins. Completed November 20, 2008. (Review scheduled for later this week)
  5. E. Lockhart: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Hyperion. Completed November 20, 2008.
  6. Dana Reinhardt: How to Build a House. Wendy Lamb Books. Completed November 21, 2008. (Review scheduled for later this week)
  7. Cecil Castellucci: Beige. Candlewick. Completed November 22, 2008. My review.

A Small Milestone: 5000 Comments

Today I received my 5000th comment since starting the blog. It's a bit of an artificial milestone, since I usually respond to comments by commenting, so a lot of the comments are from me. But I'm still a little awed by it - that's an average of more than 4.5 comments per day over the three years that I've been blogging. I'm sure that the Kidlitosphere Comment Challenge caused me to reach this milestone sooner than I would have otherwise. Thanks, Pam and Lee!

And special thanks to Deanna H, my 5000th commenter. Deanna is a teacher and avid reader of children's books. She blogs at Once Upon A Time... (subtitle: There is nothing juvenile about children's literature), a new blog that I've been enjoying recently. You should definitely check it out. The milestone comment said (in reference to my review of Beige):

"I have seen this book before, but haven't heard anything about it. Now that I have a trusty review to go off of, I'll get to add it to my list. Thanks! P.S. I hope you are feeling much better."

How fitting is that? A comment in which I learn that I've helped someone to decide to read a book, and one that also has a personal note asking how I'm doing (after I took some time off recently for ergonomic reasons). Is the Kidlitosphere the best place in the world, or what? (I mean, if it was a place, of course).

Many, many thanks to everyone who has taken time to comment over the years, and thus made me feel like what I'm doing with this blog makes a difference. I can't imagine that I would have kept it up without you.

Beige: Cecil Castellucci

Book: Beige
Author: Cecil Castellucci (blog)
Pages: 320
Age Range: 13 and up 

BeigeIt's hard to gear oneself up to read a book with a title like Beige. Having read the book, I understand the title, but thank goodness Cecil Castellucci is a draw, because otherwise I think that this title would make it a hard sell. That said, Beige is entertaining and highly quotable, with a completely real setting. I read it in one sitting.

Beige is a coming of age story about fourteen-year-old Katy, who lives an orderly, quiet life with her mother in Montreal. She barely knows her father, an aging punk rocker called The Rat. However, when her mother gets a chance to go to Peru to do archaeological research, Katy is sent to stay with The Rat in Los Angeles.

Katy is soon nicknamed Beige by the daughter of one The Rat's band-mates, because she is so bland. She is a fish out of water in the LA punk music scene. Katy doesn't even like music (to her father's horror). Her resistance to music is, I think, a symbol of her resistance to and fear of life. She pretty much stands around (trying not to come into too close a contact with the scruffy people around her), waiting for her time in LA to be over. But slowly, as her trip lengthens, the people and the music start to find their way into Katy's heart, and she is changed because of it.

Katy/Beige has a distinct personality. She loves books, and she has entire conversations in her own head about what she would say to people, if she only had the nerve. She's almost on the autistic spectrum, in her dislike of noise and clutter. For example, here's her reaction to The Rat's apartment:

"For some people, clutter is OK. They can live amid chaos, but not me. For me, piles of things on top of things scattered on things equals me not being able to think straight. A mess actually hurts me. Physically." (Page 13)

And here is Beige's reaction to the LA punk music scene:

"It's not that funny. Or, maybe the conversation is funny for aging punk rock people, but not for me. It's boring. I can't even follow the conversations they are having around me. I have no in. No common ground. There is no thread for me to hang on to, which makes me zone out." (Page 39)

Hasn't everyone felt like that at a party at some point? One more scene, from the next party.

"She's clapping. I can't believe she actually wants to be here. She wants to mingle with these kinds of adultescents. She wants to be listening to this stuff, this noise. It's not anything I have ever heard on the radio. It's not easy to listen to. It's scary. I like music to be in the background. Not in my face." (Page 50)

I like "adultescents", even if Beige sounds a bit like the Grinch. The Rat, on the other hand, seems to need noise, whether music or conversation, at all times. The two are an unlikely match. And yet, you can see each one's perspective. Lake, the girl who christened Katy as Beige, is also a difficult match with Beige, prickly and demanding and completely absorbed in her band. But their friendship works nevertheless.

Beige is a quick, engaging read that I think teens will appreciate. The punk rock references are fun and authentic. And the feeling of alienation from one's surroundings, well, isn't that a common teen trait? I enjoyed Beige, and I think that teens will, too. 

Publisher: Candlewick
Publication Date: June, 2007
Source of Book: Won it in a contest at ALA in June, 2008
Other Blog Reviews: GoddessLibrarian, Barbara Gordon, Tea Cozy,
Author Interviews: Life, Words, & Rock 'N Roll, Sequential Tart

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

Friday Afternoon Visits: Thankgiving Weekend Edition

Greetings! I hope that you all had a lovely Thanksgiving. I'm dreadfully out of the loop on the doings of the Kidlitosphere, but here are a few things that I came across to share with you:

Lisa Chellman has the Thanksgiving Weekend edition of Poetry Friday, complete with an original Thanksgiving Rondeau.  

Newlogorg200 The Readergirlz Divas are hosting a blog scavenger hunt in honor of Native American Heritage Month. Cynthia Leitich Smith contributed several questions, and HipWriterMama has the details.

Trevor Cairney continues his series on key themes children's literature at Literacy, families, and learning, writing this week about a sense of place. He notes that "in some writing place has a special central role, almost as strong as the very characters that are interwoven in the plot. In some narratives, a sense of place is on centre stage, almost shaping the narrative and its characters." He also gives several examples of books that express, in different ways, a strong sense of place. A sense of place is part of my 6 P's of Book Appreciation.

I'm not sure how I missed this article myself, but Libby from Lessons from the Tortoise linked to, and commented on, a recent School Library Journal blog article about recent young adult books that are good for adults, too. The original article, by Angelina Benedetti, is called 35 Going on 13. I especially liked Benedetti's note that "The books being published for this market (YA) stand toe to toe with this year’s best adult reads—David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle or Marilynne Robinson’s Home being but two. The only difference is that books for teens generally feature teens and themes that resonate with them."

Inspired by her niece, Emily, Sara Lewis Holmes is "starting a library of camp and horse related books for Flying Horse Farms. Flying Horse Farms is a magical, transforming and fun camp for children with serious illnesses and their families." She has suggestions on her blog for people who would like to help.

Anastasia Suen is hosting an early 12 days of Christmas. Starting today, she'll be giving away a book a day for 12 days, on her various blogs. You can find more details here.

Speaking of giving books, Liz B. from Tea Cozy has a specific idea for holiday book-giving. She suggests "Give something not published in 2008. Give something that you loved, loved, loved, yet, somehow, was overlooked; something that did not get on any of the awards lists, but, in your humble opinion, should have been on those lists." She is also looking for suggestions.

And if you're buying books this Thanksgiving weekend, you can print out a voucher at the NCFL Literacy Now blog, with which Barnes and Noble donates a portion of sales this Saturday and Sunday to the NCFL.

And if you're looking for ideas of what books to buy, Doret, TheHappyNappyBookseller, has put together a fabulous, detailed list of African American children's books, including both African-American authors and illustrators, and titles featuring African-American characters. And Mitali Perkins shares several recent YA novels with Muslim characters.

That's all for today. I'll be back on Sunday with the Children's Literacy Round-Up, with literacy and reading-focused news. Wishing everyone a peaceful and book-filled weekend.

How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A: Marjorie Priceman

Book: How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A
Author: Marjorie Priceman 
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8 

How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.AMarjorie Priceman's How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A is a fun romp of a picture book that mixes fact and whimsy in just the right proportions. The premise is that a young girl wants to make a cherry pie. However, when the ingredients and implements required aren't readily available, the narrator takes the girl and her dog on a trip across the country to find the necessary raw materials (mining coal to make steel for the pie pan, picking cotton for the pot holders, etc.). In addition to basic information about where things like cotton and coal come from, and the fact that glass is made of sand, the author slips in other regional tidbits. So you get page spreads like this:

"If the boat docks in Louisiana at lunchtime, eat a bowl of gumbo. Then go to a cotton farm and pick and armful of cotton for your pot holders.

Catch an express bus to New Mexico. If the bus stops at the northwest corner of the state, take the opportunity to be four places at one (the corresponding illustration shows a map of the four states intersecting)."

I enjoyed the lightly humorous tone of the book, especially this passage:

"Make your way to New Hampshire for granite. New Hampshire can usually be found between Maine and Vermont. Granite can usually be found on the sides of steep mountains. Rappel down the side of a mountain and chisel a chunk of granite for your pastry slab."

Don't you love that? New Hampshire can usually be found... And this one:

"Then chill out in Alaska -- just because it's there. After you've seen the scenery, hurry home."

Anyway, you get the idea. The text is entertaining and filled with interesting facts. Priceman's gouache on hot-pressed watercolor paper illustrations add tons of other tidbits. Each page spread is filled with details about the state being visited, from a tiny sketch of the Alamo in Texas and an oil platform out in the Gulf to cacti in Arizona and mansions in Louisiana. Even the colors and textures used on each page reflect the mood of the state in question -- piney, greens for Washington State, flat browns for Texas, and dramatic blues and whites for Alaska. This attention to detail will please adults reading with their kids, and keep the book interesting.

In short, I much enjoyed How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A. It is pure fun. I'm clearly going to have to go back and look for the author's first book of this set: How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. I hope that there are more books forthcoming. Author/illustrator Marjorie Priceman is a two-time Caldecott Honor winner, and it shows. Although this book has a couple of references to the 4th of July, I think that any book about pie is a good fit for Thanksgiving, too. Enjoy!

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 14, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews:, Kid Lit Kit

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

Tallulah Falls: Christine Fletcher

Book: Tallulah Falls
Author: Christine Fletcher (Amazon blog)
Pages: 400
Age Range: 13 and up 

TallulahTallulah Falls is a coming of age novel about a high school girl, nicknamed Tallulah, who runs away from her comfortable Oregon home. She intends to travel to Florida to help her friend Maeve. However, Tallulah is robbed and abandoned by her ex-boyfriend along the way. When the story begins she is broke, on foot, and struggling through a Tennessee rainstorm. She ends up being taken in as a temporary assistant at a veterinary clinic, and given a place to stay. Over the next few weeks, she learns about caring for animals and people, including herself.

Tallulah Falls reminded me a bit of Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts, another story about a teenage girl abandoned by her boyfriend and befriended by the citizens of a small town. Tallulah, however, has a family to go back to, and fully expects her friend Maeve to come to her rescue. The friendship between Tallulah and Maeve is a major part of the story, even when Maeve is offscreen. Tallulah looks up to Maeve, who is older and more self-confident than she is. She makes decisions based on what she thinks that Maeve would admire. And yet, Maeve doesn't return her calls...

The characterization in Tallulah Falls is deep and thoughtful. Several characters appear to Tallulah to be one thing, but gradually reveal themselves to be something else. Christine Fletcher isn't afraid to mix the bad with the good. Tallulah herself is a mix, a troubled teen who doesn't fit in with her own family, but also a loyal friend, someone who goes out of her way to help a wounded dog. The characterization, for me, made the book one that I couldn't put down. The veterinary clinic setting in Tallulah Falls is also detailed and real, bearing the clear mark of the author's real-world experience.

And I just like Christine Fletcher's writing. When she describes things, she uses all five senses. She cuts to the heart of things, and makes you feel like you're there. I could pick passages to quote for you from most any page. But here are a few of my favorites:

"Tallulah bolted. She stopped only when she'd reached the open road, the rain gushing down as though it had missed her, finding new paths down her face and neck and arms. Her legs shook so badly she had to bend over, hands braced on her thighs, to keep from collapsing." (Chapter 1)

"I'm just being honest. That was Terri's motto. But Terri's was the kind of honesty that clobbered you and left you bleeding, wondering what the hell happened." (Chapter 8)

"As soon as Diesel was settled, Tallulah slung her mop over the exam room floor, left to right to left, backing her way across the room. The whiskey smell seemed stronger today. Flashes of warm sheepskin again, the safety of being held. And an unsettled sensation, high in her chest, of excitement and grief mingled. A feeling being out of place." (Chapter 14)

See what I mean about using all of the senses? This doesn't feel like a first novel. I'm looking forward to reading Christine's next book, 10 Cents a Dance (historical fiction). I would recommend Tallulah Falls for teenagers or adults. The interpersonal dynamics feel more like this is a book for girls, but I think that boys interested in veterinary medicine would gobble this one up for its authenticity. I also would recommend this as a next book for fans of Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen books. Christine Fletcher is an author to watch.  

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Publication Date: May 29, 2007
Source of Book: Review copy from the author (who I met at the Kidlitosphere conference this fall)
Other Blog Reviews: Teen Book Review, Bookshelves of Doom,
Author Interviews: Worducopia. There's also a nice conversation with the author included at the end of the paperback edition.

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: Thanksgiving Week Edition

Jpg_book007Tonight 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 469 subscribers.

The newsletter content is a bit light this week, because I've been having some muscle problems, and I'm trying to limit computer time a bit. However, I do have four book reviews (3 middle grade novels, and a nonfiction title about the true story of Thanksgiving), a link to this week's Children's Literacy and Reading Round-Up at TubTalk, and a link to my third guest post at ForeWord Magazine's Shelf Space blog. This week's post is about nurturing a culture of reading in our society. I have no posts from this week not included in the newsletter (besides the one at Shelf Space).

I have several other reviews written and scheduled for publication over the next week or so, including Tallulah Falls by Christine Fletcher, How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A. by Marjorie Priceman, Beige by Cecil Castellucci, The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, and How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt. I hope to get to some other picture book reviews written over the weekend, and also get some more reading done. After I'm done eating turkey and pie, of course.

I'm thankful for my family and friends this year, as always. I'm thankful that I have a stable job, and for the comforts that go along with that. I'm thankful for the writers and publishers who continue to put books in my hands, and for the wonderful people who take time out to read this blog. And I'm thankful that there are so many parents and teachers and librarians out there who are helping kids to grow up with a love of books. I wish you all a joyful Thanksgiving weekend, spent with people you love!

Savvy: Ingrid Law

Book: Savvy
Author: Ingrid Law (blog)
Pages: 352
Age Range: 9-12 

SavvyIngrid Law's Savvy is an immensely fun middle grade novel about a close-knit family whose members each have over-the-top special abilities, from controlling the weather to the ability to have things like pies turn out perfect every time. Each person's ability, called his or her "savvy", makes itself known on the person's thirteenth birthday. As Savvy begins, Mibs Beaumont is approaching her pivotal day, and curious about which gift it will bring. Due to a family tragedy, however, she's not with her parents that day. Instead, she ends up on an unauthorized road trip with two of her brothers, two kids from church, an oversized waitress, and a rumpled bible deliveryman. This unlikely team gels over the course of the trip, learning about each other while eating pie and striving to get back to the Beaumont parents.

Savvy has a great first line:

"When my brother FIsh turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it." (Page 1)

After that we get quirky, multi-dimensional characters, with realistically prickly interactions between them. We get a little brother who hides himself away in tight spaces whenever he can, an introvert to end all introverts. We get a friend who, though without magical powers, has a secret of his own. There's even a love story or two.

Law also sprinkles references to other fantasy stories throughout the text, particularly The Wizard of Oz. The first one I noticed was:

"... I felt selfish and shamed and bad enough to have a house come land PLOP down on me, leaving nothing but my feet sticking out; that's just how wicked I felt." (Chapter 3) 

Later, Mibs refers to a character names Ozzie, who they meet in the town of Emerald, as "The Great and Powerful Ozzie". You get the idea. The fantasy references add an extra layer of fun - a tip of the hat to other stories of fantastical road trips.

But what I like most about Savvy is that it's more character-driven caper novel than fantasy. Sure, Mibs and her family members have special abilities, and those abilities are delightfully quirky (one distant family member can make time jump backwards by 20 minutes when she sneezes). Mibs' ability (which I'm not going to reveal) is like nothing else I've read - I don't know how on earth Ingrid Law came up with it. And yet, I feel like the book would still have been worth reading even without all of that (though something else would have been needed to create conflict from time to time). I'm not saying that it would have been a better book that way. The whole treatment of savvies is entertaining and original, and I wouldn't have missed it. I'm just saying that the characterization, pace, and setting in Savvy transcend the premise. But I do like the suggestion that Law makes in the book (well, Momma suggests this), that lots of ordinary people have their own savvy - something that just comes naturally and easily. (I think that my savvy is knowing how movies are going to end, which is not especially useful.)

I would recommend Savvy for all readers, age 10 or so and up, whether they enjoy traditional fantasy or not. Although the narrator is a girl, I see no reason why boys wouldn't enjoy it, too. According to this interview, Savvy has been optioned for a feature film, and I look forward to that. Savvy is pure fun, and not to be missed. What's your savvy?

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 1, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the advanced copy, and should be checked against the final book.
Other Blog Reviews: The Well-Read Child, Kinnelon Library Teen Blog, Children's Literature Book Club, Cool Kids Read, Eva's Book Addiction, Random World, Sarah Miller, The Children's Book Review, Turning the Paige, Abby (the) Librarian, and so on.
Author Interviews: Little Willow, Fuse #8, Look Books

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

Thanksgiving: The True Story: Penny Colman

Nonfiction.monday Book: Thanksgiving: The True Story
Author: Penny Colman (blog)
Pages: 160 (with 60 b&w images)
Age Range: 10-16 

ThanksgivingIf you are looking to share the real story behind Thanksgiving with your kids, look no further than Penny Colman's new middle grade nonfiction title, Thanksgiving: The True Story. The traditional Thanksgiving story that most of us learned in elementary school has the Pilgrims sitting down to a feast in 1621 with the Indians who helped them to survive their first year in New England, the men wearing black hats, and everyone eating turkey and popcorn, and this pretty much being the start of our national celebration of Thanksgiving every year. Turns out, as with many historical events, that the truth is a bit more complicated.

I learned from Penny Colman's book that while the 1621 feast did exist, it wasn't technically considered a feast of Thanksgiving. It didn't lead in any linear fashion to the Thanksgiving tradition that we celebrate today. Rather, the linking of the story of that feast to our modern Thanksgivings was something that didn't happen until more than 200 years later. And the record doesn't show any wearing of high hats with silver buckles or black clothes at that 1621 feast. Fascinating!

If you read Thanksgiving: The True Story, you'll learn the more complex origins of the holiday that we celebrate this week, including the inspiring story of the woman who lobbied tirelessly to get Thanksgiving declared a national holiday (the truly amazing Sarah Josepha Hale). You'll also find fun tidbits, like the date of the first Thanksgiving Day football game and the history of the first Thanksgiving Day parades. You'll learn when Thanksgiving first became a national holiday, and what that required. 

One thing I especially like about this book is that way that the author injects her own opinions and experiences throughout the book, tying the historical details back to modern-day, real people. Here's an example:

"After all my research into the various claims, I still favored the 1621 event with the English colonists and Wampanoag as the first Thanksgiving, perhaps in part because of my heritage--my father was from New England. But more than that, because the 1621 event was more like the Thanksgiving that we celebrate today. In 1621, the colonists and the Wampanoag came together in a secular gathering. They had a huge feast and played games, including competitive sports.

But as I continued doing more research, I realized that, in fact, none of these claims led directly to the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the United States. That is not to say that they did not leave a mark on our historical memory. They did. However, the early claims are not the direct antecedents of the Thanksgiving that we celebrate today." (Page 23-24)

Thanksgiving: The True Story is upper middle grade / middle school nonfiction at its best. The book's layout is welcoming, with frequent illustrations, short chapter sections, indented quotations, and wide margins. There are more than 60 black and white illustrations, ranging from archival documents from hundreds of years ago to photographs taken recently. The end material includes a chronology of Thanksgiving-related dates, detailed notes and sources for each chapter, and an extensive index. There is an author's note to tell readers where the book came from. The first part of the book covers the origins of Thanksgiving, while the second part is about Thanksgiving traditions, and what the holiday means to people now. The book is solidly researched, including details from historical references to the results of a recent survey. It is well worth your time.

I'm going to close this review by quoting Penny Colman's conclusion to the book:

"All this is part of the true story of Thanksgiving--the origins, the themes, and the questions. It is a much more complicated story than is typically told. But it is a much richer story, a more nuanced an inclusive story, a fitting story for a country that values diversity and openness, a country where we are free to come together any time we please, including on the fourth Thursday of November--Thanksgiving Day." (Page 125)

I highly recommend that you take the time to make your own Thanksgiving more nuanced, by reading Thanksgiving: The True Story. You won't be disappointed. The publisher lists the age range as 10 to 16, but I think that the book will appeal to adults, too.

Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 16, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: The Fayetteville Free Weekly,

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

November 24th Reading Round-Up at TubTalk

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Terry Doherty and I have been collaborating on our weekly children's literacy and reading news round-ups. This week's round-up is at TubTalk (a Reading Tub blog). Terry did her usual thorough job collecting news from a wide variety of sources. I wasn't much help to her on it this week, because I took a few computer-free days, but I'm already starting to collect tidbits for next weekend.

Two things that I especially liked from Terry's roundup were:

  • Donalyn Miller's latest column at The Book Whisperer, about how in recent years, "while raising the academic bar for struggling students, we lowered it for many gifted ones." I completely agree with Donalyn that "While strong national support exists for fostering the talents of gifted math and science students, it seems we need an educational movement that develops the talents of verbally-gifted people."
  • Lindsey Gemme's article for Casa Grande Valley Newspapers, Inc., about "three of 130 imprisoned dads who read to their kids via digitally-recorded CDs. "Fathers Bridging the Miles" is a program sponsored by  Read-to-Me, an international literacy nonprofit based in Hawaii." Terry has a couple of great quotes from the article. The original link came to us from Meg Ivey's Literacy Voices Round-Up at the NCFL Literacy Now blog.

Because of my computer-free days late last week, I'm sure that there is a lot of other news that I've missed. Hopefully I'll find time to get caught up before Thanksgiving. But for now, I happily refer you over to Terry's round-up. Happy Monday!

Tennyson: Lesley M. M. Blume

Book: Tennyson
Author: Lesley M. M. Blume
Pages: 240
Age Range: 9-12 

TennysonTennyson by Lesley M. M. Blume is one of my favorite reads of the year. Tennyson is the haunting story of a young girl living in the south during the Depression. Tennyson and her younger sister Hattie live a wild, unencumbered life in the woods with their parents. Their lives change, however, when their mother disappears. Their father goes on a quest to find her and leaves the girls in the dubious care of their previously unknown Aunt Henrietta.

Aunt Henrietta lives in the family homestead, a crumbling mansion called Aigredoux. Henrietta has southern pride, but no money to back it up. She spends all of her time writing to various members of the government, seeking restitution for the family's losses during the Civil War. Tennyson learns first-hand about her family's Civil War history when she starts having vivid dreams, dreams that are apparently windows into actual past events. Tennyson gradually integrates the events of the past with the marks that they've left on her present-day family, and finds her own place in the story.

Tennyson is a fabulous character. She's intrepid, but seeks her mother's approval. She is so compelled to write that she does it in secret, in the middle of the night, when her aunt forbids it. She has problems in the present, but is haunted by the sins that her family committed in the past. She is extraordinary and memorable. Other characters are multi-dimensional, too, especially Tennyson's ancestor Julia and her slave, Effie. They do terrible things to each other, yet they love their families. Even the mansion, Aigredoux, feels more like a character than a setting. Blume makes the Civil War, the Depression, and the south come alive through these characters.

Blume's writing is lyrical and filled with deft descriptions. Here are just a few of my favorite passages:

"A thick rope, knotted at the bottom, dangled from a rafter above. A different family would have had a dining room table in the middle of that room. But the Fontaine family had a rope swing instead." (Chapter 1)

"Tennyson was quiet. She let Hattie ask all of the questions, as usual. Sadie used to say that Tennyson doled herself out in teaspoons while Hattie heaped herself on like a pile of sugar." (Chapter 1)

"A thousand seconds passed. Tennyson tiptoed up the splintery wooden steps of the grand staircase. There were hardly any marble ones left, and Tennyson could sense somehow that the house was embarrassed." (Chapter 7)

"All of the clocks in the house stopped ticking and the people in the portraits hanging on the walls held their breath. The world came to a standstill as Aunt Henrietta opened her letter from Washington, the answer to five generations of pleading on thousands of sheets of thin blue paper." (Chapter 13)

Don't you just love "the house was embarrassed"? And "the people in the portraits handing walls held their breath"? It's fitting for a book about a gifted young writer to be filled with such lovely passages.

Tennyson is primarily historical fiction, but there are overtones of the supernatural. The mansion seems to actively respond to the presence of Tennyson and Hattie, and Tennyson's dreams of the past border on time travel. Tennyson has a bit of the feeling of Lucy Boston's Children of Green Knowe books, and a bit of Mary Downing Hahn's creepiness. What this means is that the book is likely to work for both fans of fantasy and fans of realistic fiction. Although the main character is a girl, I think that Tennyson is quite boy-friendly (even her name is gender-neutral), with soldiers and slaves and hidden treasure.

In short, Tennyson has everything that I look for in a book: intricately woven plot; intriguing premise; three-dimensional characters; unique, atmospheric setting; and insightful, descriptive writing. Highly recommended for all readers, 9 and up.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 8, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher (quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final book)
Other Blog Reviews: Si, se puede! Yes we can, The Reading ZoneBook Nut, Charlotte's Library, Semicolon, Knights Read Books, Red Hairings Youth Literature Review, Abby (the) Librarian, Sarah Miller
Author Interviews: Bookworm Readers, Slayground, Miss Erin, The Huffington Post, Mrs. Magoo Reads

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

T4: Ann Clare LeZotte

Book: T4: A Novel
Author: Ann Clare LeZotte (Amazon blog)
Pages: 112
Age Range: 9 and up

T4"T4 is a slim verse novel by Ann Clare LeZotte about the trials of a young deaf girl during the Holocaust. LeZotte uses fictional characters to describe an actual Nazi program called T4. Under the T4 program, people with physical or mental disabilities (whether they were Jewish or not) were killed. T4 the novel focuses on 13-year-old Paula Becker, who must leave her home and go into hiding to avoid being euthanized.

T4is about the injustice of a program that discriminated against people, in horrific fashion, because of their differences. This is a theme likely to resonate with anyone who has ever been singled out for being different.

T4 is a quick and lyrical read. I think that it will appeal to reluctant readers - the verse format leaves plenty of white space, easily luring the reader in to read just one more page, and then another. The verse makes the story more powerful, too. Much of the detail is left unsaid, in the white spaces, pushing the reader to engage with the book and fill in the full picture.

Here's an example of Paula's haunting voice:

"Patients in institutions
Were the first to die.

The Nazis knew that many Germans
Would be opposed to Action T4
If they knew the whole truth.
So they had to hide the facts.

They said "specialist children's wards,"
But they meant children-killing centers.
They said "final medical assistance,"
But they meant murder." (Page 23)

The afterword is particularly strong as poetry, and as a statement about the importance of remembering. I read it over and over again.

As with other Holocaust literature told from a child's viewpoint, Paula's youthful perspective, and her gradually dawning understanding, keep the book from being overwhelming for kids. What also keeps T4 from being overwhelming is the focus on one relatively small aspect of the Holocaust. While sometimes blunt about what happened, the book is never graphic about the violence. T4 ends on a note of hope and remembrance. Highly recommended for children and adults. This is one book that I'll be keeping to re-read.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: September 22, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Maw Books, The Well-Read Child, A Patchwork of Books, Kiss the Book, Shelf Elf, What I'm Reading, Becky's Book Reviews
Author Interviews: Deaf Characters in Adolescent Literature

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