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Posts from January 2009

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 12

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 536 subscribers. 

This week I have four book reviews (one picture book and three young adult titles). I also have two posts with Kidlitosphere news, an installment of my Reviews that Made Me Want the Book feature, and this week's children's literacy and reading news round-up. The only post not included in the newsletter this week is an announcement about the Sydney Taylor Book Awards.

This week I finished reading Bone by Bone, a new standalone title by Carol O'Connell. O'Connell is gifted in both plotting and chateracterization - I love her books, and this one is no exception. She kept me guessing until the last page, and wondering about the story even after that. I also read The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (review forthcoming), Christine Fletcher's Ten Cents a Dance (review included), and the five shortlist titles in the Cybils Easy Reader category (to be discussed after the winners are announced in February). What are you reading?

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms!

Children's Literacy Round-Up: January 12

Welcome to this week's children's literacy and reading news round-up, brought to you by Jen Robinson's Book Page and Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub blog. In case you missed the announcement, Terry Doherty and I have been each collecting links, and then alternating the preparation of this post. This has helped to keep the round-ups manageable for us, even as the amount of children's literacy and reading news seems to increase every week.

Literacy and Reading Programs and Research

This week's big news, already mentioned by Terry at her lovely new WordPress blog, is that the new National Early Literacy Report has been released. Terry says: "The NELP study is a comprehensive look at understanding early literacy. It weighs in at 260 pages, and is highly technical." She has posted a few findings from the Executive Summary. You can also find posts about this report at NCFL Literacy Now, Education Week, The Christian Science Monitor, and the International Reading Association blog.

The IRA blog also reports, in an update by John Micklos, that "To celebrate its 20th anniversary, this year's African American Read-In has been extended to include the entire month of February." The idea is for "schools, churches, libraries, bookstores, community and professional organizations, and interested citizens to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month by hosting and coordinating Read-Ins in their communities."

Walter Minkel at The Monkey Speaks linked to an article from the London (Ontario) Free Press by Kelly Pedro "about the links between the play of babies and toddlers and pre-literacy skills." Walter says: "Most of us who’ve been involved in pre-literacy skills and young children have known this stuff for a while, but each generation of new parents doesn’t have a clue how literacy happens, needs to learn it, and we librarians need to take a major role in spreading those facts around." He adds at the end (and I wholeheartedly agree with him): "I wish they broadcast stuff like this as part of halftime at the Super Bowl, or in place of commercials during shows like 24. But I don’t think they ever will, so it’s up to folks like us to let adults know how children gain the skills they need to learn to read."

There were two interesting articles on Literacy and Reading News yesterday, both by Brian Scott. The first is about "the pros and cons of new reading devices" in which reading is done on a screen instead of on paper. For example, researcher Anne Mangen says: "Swedish researchers believe we understand more and better when reading on paper than when we read the same text on a screen. We avoid navigating and the small things we don't think about, but which subconsciously takes attention away from the reading." The second article is about a recent study by Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm that "studied adolescent boys and their reading, attitudes, aspirations, and the opportunities available to them to increase literacy."

Enjoyment of Reading

The First Book blog has a guest post by Rachel Walker from Reading Rockets about resolving to have "a regular diet of books and reading for you and the young readers in your life". She discusses portion size, muscle-building, and being a reading role model.

Steph from Reviewer X linked to another article about encouraging families to read, this one by Michelle Kerns from the the Sacramento Books Examiner. It includes "5 local, fun, and easy ways to get your family hitting the books this year."

Shannon Hale has an excellent post about parents who try to encourage their children away from books with pictures to read only books with text. She asks "Why are we so anxious to get our kids off of pictures?" She also adds, in reference to first and second graders, "I see a lot of kids falling out of love with reading at that age. It must be a delicate stage. I wonder if for some of those kids, they just got stressed. Someone was pushing them to read harder books, bigger books, books without pictures, and reading ceased to be a game and instead became a duty with high expectations." I wish every parent could read this post, about helping kids to maintain the joy of reading.

The Berkshire Eagle recently carried a letter from local librarian Amy Consolati Lee about ways to support teenagers so that they will embrace reading. Lee says things like "Computers and DVDs may be the carrot that brings them into the library, but the books will simply gather dust and the personal enrichment and joy that comes from reading a book will never happen if the personal contact is not there. Teens need to see adults they respect reading and talking about books. They need to be introduced to books that talk about things that are important to them." 

Over at The Well-Read Child (one of my favorite blogs for encouraging and celebrating children's reading), Jill has posted a new roundtable discussion topic. Jill says: "Teachers at any grade level, including homeschoolers are invited to participate. What is your favorite book to use in the classroom? The book could be fiction or nonfiction, a chapter book or a novel, a book of poetry or anthology of short stories, a picture book or board book, etc. Please tell me why this is your favorite book and also tell me the age or grade level for which you use it."

I learned from a recent news release that "Cocky, the University of South Carolina mascot, likes to read with his friends. That's the message he and a group of USC classmates gave to kids at J.D. Lever and Byrd elementary school during visits from "Cocky's Reading Express" on Friday. At both schools, the college students read books to the children with much joy and enthusiasm. Cocky then appeared, to the delight of the kids, helping two of his college friends read books." Sounds like a good program to me!

New Web Resources

Lori Calabrese recently discovered "an awesome website that allows young writers to become a published author! You can create books online at, a web site where kids can channel their imagination into stories, and publish them into books for you to share and treasure with friends and family."

The Blue Zoo Young Writers blog is "a fresh place for writing ideas, tips, and more, especially for middle school and young teen writers!" They offer suggestions for where young writers can publish their work, information about contests, and other resources to nurture young writers. We found this site through Literacy and Reading News.

Grants, Sponsorships, and Donations

The upcoming inauguration has sparked two new book programs. First, as reported by The Children's Book Review, Primrose Schools will be donating $200k to Reach Out and Read, followed by an inauguration-focused curriculum. "In celebration they have put together a wonderful video of children's voices talking about what they want for the American children." Also, as reported on Carol Rasco's blog, in celebration of the inauguration, "RIF has partnered with Sallie Mae and Building Hope to provide classic books and books with a presidential theme to D.C. students. These books will go to children in kindergarten through 12th grade at public, private, and charter schools in Washington, D.C." They are accepting donations for the program.

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

Ten Cents a Dance: Christine Fletcher

Book: Ten Cents a Dance
Author: Christine Fletcher (blog)
Pages: 368
Age Range: 13 and up 

Ten Cents A DanceBackground: After I reviewed Christine Fletcher's Tallulah Falls, several people told me that I really should read Ten Cents a Dance, because it's even better. Christine (who I met at the most recent Kidlitosphere Conference) was then kind enough to send me a copy. Then Ten Cents a Dance was shortlisted for the Cybils award in young adult fiction, and I moved it to the top of my list. And I was not disappointed.

Review: Ten Cents a Dance is set in Chicago in the early 1940s. Fifteen-year-old Ruby Jacinski has dropped out of school to support her family by working in a meat-packing plant. Her father is dead, and her mother is crippled by arthritis, leaving Ruby the family's sole breadwinner. She hates and is ashamed of the backbreaking work, and aches from her family's grinding poverty. When gangster wannabee Paulie Suelze suggests that Ruby can make four times as much money working in a dance hall, where lonely men pay ten cents for each dance with a good-looking young woman, Ruby is unable to resist. She lies to her mother, and begins living a double-life as both dutiful daughter and glamorous taxi-dancer. Along the way, Ruby makes mistakes, learns about people, and falls in love with jazz. She also falls for bad boy Paulie, making her life much more complicated.

Ruby's voice is spot-on. Even when she's making what are clearly poor choices, even when she's getting in over her head, her underlying values come through. She's a basically good girl put into a questionable situation, and you can understand how things might go either way for her.

Ten Cents a Dance provides a window into a world that I didn't know existed. The thing that stands out to me the most about this book is Christine Fletcher's flair for description, for making a setting come to life. The reader can see, hear, smell, and taste Ruby's crowded Chicago tenement, the grim meat-packing plant, the tawdry dance hall, and the smoky late-night jazz clubs. Here are a few examples:

"I'd been there only a month and already I felt a hundred years old. Just another packinghouse worker in a bloody, soaking apron; fingernails soft and cracking from the brine; and a smell I couldn't get out of my skin. Eight hours a day in a stinking gray room with a bunch of ladies older than Ma, listening to them complain about their bunions and hammertoes and changes of life." (Page 4)

"I felt like I had eyes all over my skin, taking in everything. The blue tablecloths and battered tin ashtrays. The rippling waves of the men's hair, combed straight back and gleaming. The men in zoot suites--I didn't know the name for them, I asked Manny later--sharkskin gray, kelly green, royal blue, each with broad shoulders and nipped-in waists, coats and silver watch chains hanging almost to their baggy knees.

A trumpet blare caught my ear, a ratta-tat-tat solo so catchy my feet started jitterbugging under the table." (Page 127)

The smells in Chester's house were different. No hot metal of coal stove, no naptha soap. No smoke plumes rising in the air outside, and instead of a dead animal and incinerator reek from the packinghouses, when the wind was right we could smell Oreos baking at the Nabisco factory nearby. No packinghouse whistles, no trains rumbling past at all hours. We couldn't even hear the streetcar. The strangeness made me feel unsettled." (Page 247)

Isn't that simply gorgeous prose? But this book does a lot more than just show readers a setting and a bunch of historical details. Ten Cents a Dance looks at issues like what people who are desperate to survive will and won't do, the capacity for self-delusion, and the way that stereotyped views of other races can evolve once you actually get to know people. There's also quite a bit about what it was like for ordinary citizens during the start of World War II, something I've seen addressed much more frequently in books set in England than in books set in the US.

The characterization in Ten Cents a Dance is also multi-layered and detailed, though I hesitate to go into too much detail for fear of spoilers. I especially loved Chester (though I won't tell you who he is).

I do have to comment specifically on the character of Paulie, however. I can't resist. This paragraph is a little bit of a spoiler, so feel free to skip it if you haven't read the book yet. I imagine that it's quite difficult to write a first-person novel in which the reader can see something that the narrator herself misses. Fletcher certainly pulls this off here, perhaps even a bit too well. I had trouble getting over the fact that Ruby believed in Paulie, when he was so clearly, from the night that they first met, bad news. I just didn't see that he had enough appeal to overcome his flaws. But perhaps that's my adult viewpoint talking. I would be interested to know how teens react to the character. I will say that my negative feelings about Paulie added to the tension of the book ... kind of a waiting for the other shoe to drop sort of thing.

OK, spoilers finished. Ten Cents a Dance has it all. An engaging teen heroine with believable flaws, surrounded by a host of other multi-dimensional characters. A unique historical backdrop. Gorgeous, sensory-input-filled prose. Plenty of conflict. A plot that kept me turning the pages, and for which the eventual ending wasn't clear ahead of time. Highly recommended for teens and adults, especially for fans of historical fiction. I'll be keeping an eye out for Christine Fletcher's books in the future.

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Publication Date: April 1, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the author
Other Blog Reviews: Grow Wings, Review X, Bookshelves of Doom, Becky's Book Reviews, Teen Book Review, Abby (the) Librarian, The YA YA YAs, and many more.
Author Interviews: Worducopia

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

Saturday Afternoon Visits: From Sesame Street to the Sydney Taylor Awards

The Kidlitosphere has been energized by the holidays and the start of a New Year, and there are many items worthy of your attention. Thus, I bring you my Sunday afternoon visits post one day early, before it takes over my blog completely.

Tarie has the preliminary schedule for the Sydney Taylor Award Blog Tour (in which she'll be participating) at Into the Wardrobe. It promises to be an excellent tour.

The new issue of Through the Looking Glass Book Review is now available, thanks to Marya Jansen-Gruber.

The Saturday Review of Books is up at Semicolon, featuring one my favorite quotes (from my favorite book, D. E. Stevenson's Listening Valley).

Congratulations to our own Miss Erin, who will have a six-word memoir included in a published book. Published before she's 18. Pretty impressive stuff!

Congratulations also to Mitali Perkins, who will be writing about children's literature for her local newspaper for the next few months. She shares the first post here, about all of the ways that her town (Newton, MA) champions children's books. I especially enjoyed this article, because some of my favorite people in the world live in Newton. Also, Mitali's new novel, Secret Keeper, is coming out next week. As previously mentioned, I'll be at the book launch party at Not Your Mother's Book Club on January 15th, and hope to see some of you there (Hi, Becky!).

Geek3 A special thank you to Melissa at Book Nut for including my blog as one of her favorites for the latest Weekly Geeks. It's especially nice to be included in this edition, because this is (I believe) the first Weekly Geeks event since Dewey (the founder) passed away last month. I'm in great company on Melissa's list, too.

Thanks also to Lenore from Presenting Lenore, for including my blog in her recent Awards post. She gave me the "Most consistently amazing book reviews award", and while this might be more a reflection on the similarity in our tastes than the true quality of the reviews, I was still quite pleased. The other awards in the post are fun and creative, well worth a look.

Another fun set of awards is Darla D's Golden Hammock Awards at Books & other thoughts, with categories like "best alternate history" and "best boarding school story".

I've seen several mentions of Grace Lin's new Small Graces initiative to help fund author visits to underserved schools. I think that Elaine Magliaro has the most comprehensive scoop at Wild Rose Reader, though you can also find details in the sidebar of the Small Graces blog. Small Graces offers people a chance to support a great cause, and acquire a one-of-a-kind piece of art each month.

Alien MotherReader reports that this is National Delurking Week. I'm catching the announcement a bit late in the game, but I did try to make a few extra comments to say hello. If you're a typically quiet visitor to this blog, and you feel inclined to comment, I'd love to hear from you. You can name a favorite book from your childhood, or something.

Maureen links to and discusses an interesting article at Confessions of a Bibliovore. The article in question is by Michelle Slatalla in the New York Times, and is about how the author wishes she could "read like a girl." After watching her daughters immersed in books, Slatalla says: "I miss the days when I felt that way, curled up in a corner and able to get lost in pretty much any plot. I loved stories indiscriminately, because each revealed the world in a way I had never considered before." Like Maureen, I could quibble over some of the details in the article - I don't think that one must outgrow the ability to suspend disbelief and enjoy books - but I do see what the author is driving at. While I'm overwhelmingly glad to be reviewing books, I do find sometimes that I stop and think about what I'll say about a book, instead of remaining immersed in the story. And I'm nostalgic for the Jen who didn't do that.

Denise Johnson posted an article from The Chronicle Review at The Joy of Children's Literature. The article, by literature professor Andrew Martino, is about wonder rediscovered in children's books. There's a funny bit about the author skulking around the children's section, afraid that people will suspect that he is "a potential threat". Martino speaks about how children's books are "every bit as complicated and thought-provoking as the texts I included on my syllabi", and "he texts I was reading told their stories in an economical and exact style, without the unnecessary burden of digression or overexplication". It's worth a read.

On the topic of people discovering children's literature, the ESSL Children's Literature blog has a fun list of children's books written by authors famous for writing adult fiction

BestBooksIHaveNotRead announced a fun new feature: Mystery Authors. She says: "Starting this upcoming week I am going to begin posting one clue each day (four total) about an upcoming KidLit author who has agreed to a “blog interview”. The clues will start general and get more specific with each day. If you can guess the identity of the author in a posted comment before the day of the “reveal” you will be entered into a drawing to receive a new book by that author."

Speaking of fun, Betsy Bird met some actual Sesame Street performers. She even got to see Oscar, in the ... fur? You can read the whole scoop at Fuse #8. But the highlight for me was: "Oscar is larger in real life than you might expect. He is also incredibly well articulated. His eyebrows move almost fluidly. It's eerie." With pictures. And, if you're looking for book suggestions, look no further than the whole slew of bite-sized book reviews that Betsy recently posted at Fuse #8.

Librarian Nan Hoekstra recently announced the 2009 Anokaberries: "Our selections for the best books of 2008 for middle-grade readers, ages 8 to 14." It looks to me like a solid, diverse list, though I haven't had the opportunity to read all of the titles. A number of the authors included have left lovely comments, too.

CybilsLogoSmall Speaking of author appreciation for awards, do check out my recent post at the Cybils blog, with quotes from various authors about their joy in being Cybils finalists. For me, reactions like this make being involved with the Cybils all the more rewarding. We should have printable versions of the Cybils shortlists available soon.  

Jill has the results of her first Reading Roundtable at The Well-Read Child, with several contributions from readers about their family reading routines. Personally, I like the fact that so many people were interested in sharing. This is a heartening post, for those of us who want to see all children have the chance to grow up as bookworms. 

And that's all for today, if I'm ever to find time to meet my goal of exercising this afternoon. Hope that you're all having a peaceful and book-filled weekend!

Reviews That Made Me Want the Book: Jan. 9

Welcome to the first 2009 edition of my Review that Made Me Want the Book feature.

SnatchedMrs. Kochel at the OMS Book Blog reviewed Snatched, the first book in the Bloodwater Mysteries series by Pete Hautman and Mary Logue. She said of this mystery: "I enjoyed the humorous relationship between them and the clues and strategies they use to solve the mystery. I definitely recommend it to middle schoolers who like mysteries. And if you like it, read Doppelganger and Skullduggery, the two sequels."

Fouling OutMs. Yingling is another of my most trusted review sources. She recently reviewed Fouling Out by Gregory Walters, saying: "Fouling Out is highly readable, fast-paced, and very matter-of-fact about everything-- no hand-wringing in sight. Since it is a paperback, I didn't have to read it, but I got sucked in by the first few pages and had to keep going!" She also said that it's a good realistic problem novel for boys, which sounds like something worth checking out.

Devil's BreathMs. Yingling also convinced me to read a book that I already have on my shelf, David Gilman's The Devil's Breath. She said: "Far and away the best book I read over break is David Gilman's The Devil's Breath. It was absolutely spellbinding, AND is the first in a series-- The Danger Zone."

Winnie's WarSarah Miller knows her historical fiction. She reviewed an upcoming title, Winnie's War by Jenny Moss. "What's better than a story about the 1918 influenza pandemic? A story about the 1918 influenza pandemic with a tie-in to the Galveston hurricane of 1900 to make my little ambulance-chasing heart go pitter-pat." And I have to say that I concur.

StarclimberThe Magic of Ink reports in a Waiting on Wednesday post that Starclimber, the third book in Kenneth Oppel's Airborn series, will be released in February. I reviewed Airborn here, and look forward to this third book.

Dirty LaundryI have to admit that the cover of Daniel Ehrenhaft's Dirty Laundry really doesn't grab me. But The Compulsive Reader said that it's a mystery set in a boarding school, and that "Dirty Laundry is a nicely engaging combination of wit, mystery, and a dash of romance written in the form of alternating narratives ... overall Dirty Laundry is a hilarious and entertaining read reminiscent of the works of John Green and Jaclyn Moriarty's The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, and is easy for the reluctant teen reader to get immersed into." 

SassyFranki reviewed a book at A Year of Reading that I think will make a real contribution: Sassy: Little Sister is Not My Name by Sharon Draper. "I have written before about the lack of books for transitional readers--especially series books-that feature African American characters and continue to be stunned by the statistics on what is being published.  So I was thrilled to see this new series by Draper and I was even more excited when I read this first book."

I look forward to all of these books, and I hope that some of you find food for thought in these reviews.

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

Repossessed: A. M. Jenkins

Book: Repossessed
Author: A. M. Jenkins (blog)
Pages: 224
Age Range: 13 and up 

RepossessedThe premise of Repossessed hooked me right away. Repossessed, by A. M. Jenkins, is about a fallen angel named Kiriel who, after spending thousands of years overseeing sufferers in Hell, decides that he needs a vacation. After some monitoring of individuals, he takes possession of the about-to-be-vacated body of a teenage slacker named Shaun (right before Shaun would have stepped in front of a truck).

Kiriel, experiencing life through a body for the first time, is determined to have as many tactile experiences as he can, before the higher-ups track him down and remove him from Shaun's body. Repossessed is about Kiriel's experience of the human world and the way it changes him, as well as the impact that he has on Shaun's family and friends.

Repossessed was named a Printz Honor Book and an ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults. I found it a very quick read, and I think that it would make an excellent pick for reluctant young adult readers, especially boys. Kiriel's voice is unusual and compelling, a combination of world-weary knowledge and fresh-eyed wonder. Although he has access to lots of information about the people around him, he doesn't know basic things about human interactions. This combination allows him to cut right to the heart of things that others might avoid, while leaving him baffled in some contexts.

The first line of Repossessed pulls you right in:

"First thing I did was, I stole a body. I could have made my own, but I wasn't in an artistic frame of mind." (Page 1)

Other passages reveal Kiriel's viewpoint, clearly quite different from Shaun's, like this one:

"There was a white scar on his forehead that he'd received from falling off a swing when he was a child. I'd never heard him say why he chose to wear his hair on his face, but now I wondered if he was trying to hide the scar.

I rather liked it. How wonderful, to bear evidence of an event that must have been packed with emotion! How satisfying, to always have a physical token of something you'd experienced." (Page 20)


"Shaun, of course, never noticed anything out of the ordinary about Lane. I felt sure that if he'd thought about her at all, he would have been critical of her wide hips, flat chest, and large nose.

Shaun never was the sharpest tool in the shed." (Page 56)

Repossessed does have quite a few sexual references. This is a book about someone experiencing a human body for the first time, a male teenage human body no less. These references frequently add humor to the book. There's also a certain matter-of-factness to Kiriel's viewpoint that almost amounts to innocence. He's not looking to exploit anyone -- he just wants to take advantage of an important human experience. Still, it's not a book for pre-teens.

Repossessed is a book that, while remaining light years away from preachy, encourages readers to appreciate life -- to bask in the tactile experiences around them, and to look more closely at the strengths and unique characteristics of other individuals. To accomplish that at all is quite an achievement. To do it in a witty, accessible YA novel is downright remarkable. Highly recommended for high school readers and up.

Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: May 2007
Source of Book: Bought it with a Christmas gift-card
Other Blog Reviews: Tripping Toward Lucidity, Teen Scene at Cleve J. Fredricksen Library, The Book Muncher, Lady_Schrapnell
Author Interviews: YA Authors Cafe, Cynsations

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

Sydney Taylor Book Award Winners Announced

I just received the following announcement (which I edited slightly to remove detailed book descriptions, and add links for the winners):

2009 Sydney Taylor Book Awards Announced: Association of Jewish Libraries Names Winners

As Good As AnybodyJanuary, 2009 -- For immediate release -- Richard Michelson and Raul Colon, author and illustrator of As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom, Karen Hesse, author of Brooklyn Bridge (reviewed here), and Valerie Zenatti, author of A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, are the 2009 winners of the prestigious Sydney Taylor Book Award.

Brooklyn BridgeThe Sydney Taylor Book Award honors new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience. The award memorializes Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series. The winners will receive their awards at the Association of Jewish Libraries convention in Chicago this July.


A Bottle in the Gaza SeaMichelson and Colon will receive the 2009 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award's Younger Readers Category for As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Hesse will receive the 2009 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award's Older Readers Category for Brooklyn Bridge, published by Feiwel & Friends. Zenatti will receive the 2009 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award's Teen Readers Category for A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, published by Bloomsbury. 

Honor Books

Six Sydney Taylor Honor Books were named for 2009. For Younger Readers, Honor Books are: Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen with illustrations by Shahar Kober (Kar-Ben), Sarah Laughs by Jacqueline Jules with illustrations by Natascia Ugliano (Kar-Ben), A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet by Richard Michelson with illustrations by Ron Mazellan (Sleeping Bear Press) and Naming Liberty by Jane Yolen with paintings by Jim Burke (Philomel Books). Aranka Siegal's Memories of Babi (Farrar Straus and Giroux) was named an Honor Book for Older Readers, and Freefall by Anna Levine (Greenwillow Books) was named an Honor Book in the Teen Reader Category. 
Notable Books

In addition to the medal-winners, the Award Committee designated twenty-two Notable Books of Jewish Content for 2009: six in the Younger Readers Category, ten in the Older Readers Category, and four for Teens. Genesis-the Book with Seventy Faces: A Guide for the Family by Esther Takac with illustrations by Anna Pignataro (Pitspopany Press) and Celebrating with Jewish Crafts by Rebecca Edid Ruzansky with photographs by Roberto Zeballos-Peralta (self-published) impressed the Award Committee with their uniqueness and range. They have been designated Notable Books for all ages. Notable titles, and more information about the Sydney Taylor Book Award, may be found online at
Blog Tour

Interviews with winning authors will be posted on prominent children's literature blogs as part of a Blog Tour beginning on January 18, 2009; details will be posted on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog at  

Double Helix: Nancy Werlin

Book: Double Helix
Author: Nancy Werlin
Pages: 256
Age Range: 14 and up 

Double HelixDouble Helix is a suspenseful novel for young adults, with a cutting-edge, scientific slant. Eli Samuels is a promising student, about to graduate high school in Cambridge, MA. In the presence of his mother's incapacitation from Huntington's Disease, Eli plans to take a year off before starting college. Based on a vague memory that his parents once knew the famous biologist Dr. Quincy Wyatt, Eli applies for a research job at Wyatt Transgenics. To his surprise, he's given a well-paying job working in one of the animal research labs at Wyatt. To his even bigger surprise, Eli finds that his father is downright hostile in regards to Quincy Wyatt. It soon becomes clear to Eli that there's a mystery about his family, one that also involves Dr. Wyatt. Eli works on tracking down the mystery, while also dealing with his complex family dynamics, his relationship with his girlfriend Viv, and the distraction of Dr. Wyatt's beautiful young houseguest.

Nancy Werlin is a gifted writer of eye-opening suspense novels. Her 2006 novel, The Rules of Survival was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Cybils Award. Double Helix is a quick read that touches on interesting questions about genetics and morality. Eli is a likable protagonist. Even when he's making what are clearly mistakes, you still pull for him. Although he's gifted in many ways, his problems and insecurities keep him utterly relatable for teens. Here are a few passages to give you a flavor for Eli:

"Sometimes--no, often--I hated being a teenager. Hated not having the full control I wanted. Even by the time you're eighteen, adults don't take you seriously. Even at eighteen, you're considered a kid." (Page 9)

"And suddenly I felt like an experimental rat in a lab cage, with sharp objects jabbing at me from all sides. It was the emotional analogue to the way I'd felt yesterday, poked and prodded, tissue- and blood-sampled, lung-capacity and hart-rate measured" (Page 38)

"It was a good week, a rare week. I found myself springing from bed each morning like a piece of toast from the toaster, and my legs seemed to have made an independent decision to fun all the way to work." (Page 69)

I don't want to say much more, because I wouldn't want to spoil the mystery. Let me just say that this is a compelling read that explores intriguing scientific and human questions. I think it will go over especially well with reluctant male teen readers, though there are a couple of strong female characters to appeal to girls, too. It would make a good companion novel to The Adoration of Jenna Fox. Because of the ages of the main characters, and the nature of some of the issues, I do think it's more a high school book than a middle school book. I'm adding it to my list of recommended Futuristic, Speculative, Science Fiction and Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults. Recommended. This is a read that I really enjoyed.

Publisher: Puffin Sleuth
Publication Date: May 2005
Source of Book: Signed paperback copy from ALA
Other Blog Reviews: MariReads, The Good, The Bad and the Bookish, BookKids, The Open Critic,
Author Interviews: Librarilly Blonde, Cynsations,

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

Tuesday Afternoon Visits: January 6

A few tidbits for you to brighten the first work-week of the year:

Ccba_logo Tasha Saecker reports at Kids Lit that, in association with the Children's Book Council, is "giving you the opportunity to vote for your five favorite books of 2008! The five books that receive the largest number of votes will then become finalists that will again be voted on. The ultimate winner will be announced in May."  You can vote here. I also very much enjoyed this post at Kids Lit, in which Tasha thanks the publishers for her review titles. Can I just say "Ditto". She says it all.

Betsy Bird reports at Fuse #8 that the Children's Literary Cafe at the New York Public Library is recommencing. Here's her description: "The Children’s Literary Café is a monthly gathering of adults who are fans of children’s literature.  Professionals, librarians, authors, illustrators, publishers, booksellers, teachers, and anyone else interested in the field are welcome to attend our meetings.   The Literary Café provides free Advanced Readers galleys, a rotating series of talks with professionals in the field, and great conversation." It's almost enough to make me wish I lived in NY. Except for that whole big city with snowy weather thing.

Speaking of Betsy Bird, she was recently interviewed over at Just One More Book! (well, she was interviewed by Mark Blevis at the Kidlitosphere conference last fall, but the interview is now available).

TBD2009Little Willow has the early announcement for the second annual Operation Teen Book Drop event, hosted by Readergirlz. She says: "Last year, the first-ever Operation TBD was a huge success. YALSA and readergirlz organized a massive, coordinated release of 10,000 publisher-donated YA books into the top pediatric hospitals across the country and encouraged people to donate books to hospitals, schools, libraries, and gathering spots in their communities."

Over at The Tiger's Bookshelf, Janet posts about the Books for Laos program, "a labor of love that the Cotterills (Jessica and Colin) have been involved in for years, distributing books written in the Laos language to schoolchildren in conjunction with Big Brother Mouse" (an organization that strives to make literacy fun).

Regular readers of this blog may know that I usually stay away from "challenges" (with the recent exception of Pam and Lee's Comment Challenge). I find keeping up with my reviews and regular features, in combination with keeping caught up on my job, quite enough of a challenge. However, I decided to make an exception for HipWriterMama's new 2009 New Year 30 Day Challenge. The idea is to choose a new habit that you'd like to work on for 30 days, publicly proclaim it, and check in at Vivian's every week with a status update. And since I already have a goal of exercising more, I put up a tangible goal related to time spent riding the exercise bike. I'm hoping this helps me to stay motivated (along with watching past seasons of 24 on NetFlix while I bike). Lots of other people have already joined up, and I'm sure it's not to late to join in.

In honor of their three-year blogiversary, Mary Lee and Franki are holding a festival of threes at A Year of Reading. Here's part 1, and part 2. They have great mini-lists here, like their three favorite wordless picture books, and three new favorite versions of old favorites. Do stop by to enjoy the festivities, and wish Franki and Mary Lee many more years of blogging. See also Franki's new article at Choice Literacy on The Year's Best New Read-Alouds (from 2008).

And if you'd like more lists, check out last week's Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. For this year-end edition, Sherry Early offers a "special edition of the Saturday Review of Books especially for booklists. You can link to a list of your favorite books read in 2008, a list of all the books you read in 2008, a list of the books you plan to read in 2009, or any other end of the year or beginning of the year list of books. Whatever your list, it’s time for book lists." This is a great resource. And, of course, don't miss The Best of the Best: Kids' Books '08 from Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti.

Also not to be missed is a 2008 7-Imp Retrospective that Jules put together over the long weekend. Jules adds: "yes, do I hear you saying this is the LONGEST POST IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD? Why, it is at that, but it’s oh-so skim-able — and mostly full of wonderful stuff at which to look. Sit back and enjoy. Pick your favorite interview and read a snippet. Find your favorite illustrator and kick back to soak in their skills. Choose your own adventure." I'm a little afraid to delve into this post, I must admit, for fear I'll never resurface...

Yet another controversy has erupted over the Newbery Award, this one about the question of diversity. I'm not going to get into it, but you can find an excellent analysis by Liz Burns at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy.

Trevor Cairney offers a detailed discussion about how online reading is different from print reading at Literacy, families and learning, addressing a recent research study by Jakob Nielsen. Trevor's take is that "While I'm a great believer in the value of the Internet, the over-use of screen-based 'reading' via the Internet has the potential to change the type of texts that people read." He has lots more to say on this, so do check out the post.

And last, but not least, a thoughtful post by The LiteraBuss on "WHY I Teach Literacy". "I DO NOT teach literacy in order to have my students score better on a test, any test. I teach the way I do because I want my students to develop a love and/or appreciation for reading and writing, and to further their own critical thinking skills. I want my students to enjoy the things they read, and seek out more. I want them to become independent, quick (and slow) minded thinkers". They sound like excellent reasons to me!

That's it for today. I'm off to ride that exercise bike! Happy reading!

Natalie & Naughtily: Vincent X. Kirsch

Book: Natalie & Naughtily
Author: Vincent X. Kirsch (blog)
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

Natalie & NaughtilyVincent Kirsch's Natalie & Naughtily is a sure bet to please fans of the Eloise books, as well as fans of Where's Waldo-type illustrations. Natalie and Naughtily Nopps live "in a house on top of the greatest department store in the world." One that just happens to have their name on it. Natalie and Naughtily both love to play in the nine-story department store, although Naughtily shows a much less conventional approach to fun than that of her more proper twin sister.

One rainy day, Natalie and Naughtily are asked not to play in the store, because it's going to be a very busy day. When they decide not to play, but to "help", chaos ensues. The book follows the two sisters as they try to help on each floor of the department store, only to be encouraged to go someplace else.

The text of Natalie & Naughtily is filled with amusing details. For instance, the elevator operator is named Stepforth, the long-nosed store manager is called Mr. Iceberger, and the snooty designer is called Dandileoni. On each floor, Natalie tries to help in relatively normal fashion, while Naughtily remains quirky, though both girls leave trouble in their wake. For example:

"The store tailor, Ago Forbici, had a crowd of customers waiting for alterations on the eighth floor. Natalie and Naughtily knew just how to help. Natalie measured her customers one at a time. Naughtily measured her customers all at once."


"On the ninth floor, there were lines everywhere. One was full of the customers that Natalie had helped. Another was full of the customers Naughtily had helped."

Kirsch's illustrations, however, are where most of the details come into play. Most of the pages are filled with tiny, detailed images of each floor of the department store. A series of dogs in hats parades from floor to floor. The antiques floor boasts little signs that say things like "Do not ever touch anything." The toy floor features a curving roller coaster, and freakish, bug-eyed dolls, among many, many other images. There's even a bit of a Dr. Seuss feel to the pictures, especially the one in which Naughtily shows off "the do-it-yourself twelve-legged cat-catcher gadget".

Two young boys helped by Natalie and Naughtily also appear, moving through the store from floor to floor, following hand-written guides from the two girls. Young readers will enjoy looking for Rudy and Ridley Toolittle (and for the dogs) on every page. I would recommend this book especially for early elementary school kids, to pore over on their own, or with a parent. It would make an excellent take-along book for long car rides. Although the two main characters are girls, they are mischievous enough, I think, to appeal to boys, too. Natalie & Naughtily the book, and Natalie and Naughtily the sisters, are all great fun. Recommended!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Publication Date: September 16, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Three Silly Chicks, Whimsy

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 5

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 514 subscribers. (Yay! I've been hoping to cross the 500 subscriber mark for a while - many thanks to all you who have recently signed up, and then been patient while I took a break over the holidays). 

This week's newsletter, after a two week absence, is filled with content. I have six book reviews (three picture books, one set of three titles for early elementary school, one book for later elementary school/middle school, and one for high school). I also have a link to this week's Children's Literacy and Reading Round-Up at TubTalk, two posts with Kidlitosphere news, and an announcement about the Cybils shortlists. The only post not included in the newsletter this week is one listing all of my books read in 2008, with links to reviews. That one was just too long to include.

It feels SO good to get back to reading and reviewing books after a hectic December. In addition to the reviews included here, I have reviews forthcoming for Double Helix by Nancy Werlin, Repossessed by A. M. Jenkins, and Natalie & Naughtily by Vincent X. Kirsch. I'm currently reading an adult mystery, Bone by Bone, a new standalone title by Carol O'Connell, the author of one of my favorite series', the Mallory books. I'm also looking forward to the arrival of the Cybils shortlist titles for the Easy Reader category (I'm a judge), and to reading the shortlist titles in the other Cybils categories.

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms! I wish you all a book-filled, joy-filled year.

Children's Literacy and Reading Round-Up: January 5th

Tubtalk After a break for the holidays, Terry Doherty and I are back with our alternating Children's Literacy and Reading Round-Ups. Terry has the first installment of 2009 at TubTalk. As Terry says, "bloggers within the Lit-blogosphere are energized and posting lots of fresh ideas for reading, reviewing, and blogging about books in 2009. In the kidlitosphere (since I follow that most closely), great things come from the conversations on our blogs." She has lots of great links, from reading resolutions to inspirational programs from around the world. If you're looking for encouragement and motivation around raising readers for the new year, this week's round-up is a great place to start.

Do check out Terry's New Year's Resolution post, too. She has some lovely, tangible goals. My favorite is: "Turn 12 struggling readers into inspired readers." I don't have such detailed goals myself this year, because my One Word mantra for the year is BALANCE. I would like to do as much as I can with my blog, without throwing my working life or my personal life out of balance. Dividing the workload of these literacy round-up posts with Terry has definitely been a step in the right direction, and I look forward to continuing with that in 2009.

Here's wishing you all another year of growing bookworms!