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Posts from February 2009

Wintergirls: Laurie Halse Anderson

Book: Wintergirls
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson (blog)
Pages: 288
Age Range: Young adult 

WintergirlsLaurie Halse Anderson's upcoming young adult novel Wintergirls is sure to draw comparisons to her 1999 novel, Speak. Both books give the reader an inside perspective on a condition that most people aren't comfortable thinking about. In the case of Wintergirls, that condition is anorexia. Wintergirls is the first person story of Lia, a girl who devotes her considerable determination to a single cause - that of being thin.

Through Wintergirls, Anderson shows us both the skewed viewpoint of girls like Lia (who, even as they waste away to skin and bones see themselves as obese), and the deviousness and single-mindedness with which they can pursue their goals. Lia's mother is a doctor, and she still can't make her daughter eat. Lia sees the impact that she's having on her impressionable young stepsister, but she still doesn't eat. As the story begins, Cassie, Lia's one-time best friend and fellow eating disorder sufferer, dies, and even that isn't enough of a wake-up call to change her. 

What's particularly striking about the book, what had me lying awake at night, was the fact that Lia's life is pretty normal. Sure, her parents are divorced, but they both care about her, they live in the same town, they all have plenty of money (though not excessive amounts). Sure, she's under a bit of pressure to do well, and go to college, but she has a huge safety net. And yet... she still falls into the pit of anorexia.

Well, ok, there's one thing about Lia, apart from her anorexia and other self-destructive behaviors, that isn't normal. The ghost of her dead best friend talks to her. The presence of Cassie in Lia's life lends a creepy, haunted quality to the book, making the gorgeous cover a perfect fit.

Anderson's writing style for Wintergirls is unusual, and takes a bit of getting used to. The story is told from Lia's sometimes fragmented viewpoint. There are sentences like "Talk = yell + scold + argue + demand", and sometimes little poems, or even strings or numbers or words. Every food item mentioned has the calorie count included in parentheses, like "... he shoves the pie (545) in my face." Thoughts that she doesn't want to think litter some of the pages, sometimes right-justified, as they sneak in from the edge of the page.

Quite often, Lia will have two sets of thoughts, the first, unfiltered thought shown in strikethrough text, while the other, more acceptable thought, is left in regular text. For example:

"Phone calls were made. My parents forcemarched me into hell on the hill New Seasons..." (Page 9, ARC)

I found myself puzzling over these strikethrough sections, mining them for clues about what was really going on. I had the feeling, even as the book comes across as Lia's fragmented jumble of thoughts, that Laurie Anderson thought very carefully about the placement of every word. She uses unflinching imagery throughout the book, too, lending additional power to Lia's story. For example:

"I reach for the steak knife hiding in the nest of spoons. The black handle is warm. As I pull it free, the blade slices the air, dividing the kitchen into slivers... Here stands a girl clutching a knife. There is grease on the stove, blood in the air, and angry words piled in the corners. We are trained not to see it, not to see any of it." (Page 3, ARC)

"The buzzer sounds. Students float from room to room. The teachers tie us to our chairs and pour worlds into our ears." (Page 17, ARC)

"The girl shivers and crawls under the covers with all her clothes on and falls into an overdue library book, a faerie story with rats and marrow and burning curses. The sentences build a fence around her, a Times Roman 10-point barricade, to keep the thorny voices in her head from getting too close." (Page 33, ARC)

Wintergirls is lyrical and searing, and carefully researched. It's painful to read, but important, too. Wintergirls doesn't give any easy answers for what families can do to help girls caught in the net of anorexia, but it does expose the true depth of the problem. It also reveals some of the secret techniques that anorectic girls use to defeat the wardens around them (parents, nurses, etc). And maybe, just maybe, this will be one of those books that holds a true mirror up to teens who need it, and tells them that they need to get help. In any event, it's a suspenseful story with a complex, wounded protagonist, a realistic setting, and Laurie Anderson's vivid writing. Highly recommended for teens and adults. This is a book that you'll be hearing about for a long time to come.

Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: March 19, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy, sent to me by the ever-so-generous Stacy Dillon
Other Blog Reviews: In Bed with Books, The Last Book I Read, Zee Says, Just Blinded, Book Envy, Sarah Miller, Reading Rants!, Presenting Lenore, The Well-Read Child, and more... See also my reviews of Chains and Speak
Author Interviews: Authors Unleashed

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

After the Moment: Garret Freymann-Weyr

Book: After the Moment
Author: Garret Freymann-Weyr
Pages: 336
Age Range: Young Adult 

After the MomentI read After the Moment by Garret Freymann-Weyr in one sitting. It was a quick read for me because a) I was eager to know what was going to happen and b) Freymann-Weyr's writing style also hooked me. The advanced copy came in a tidy little package, a bit wider than a mass market paperback, just the right size to covet and hold. After the Moment begins with a brief prologue in which Leigh Hunter encounters Maia Morland, the girl he loved and lost in high school. It's clear from the very first page that something terrible happened, something that changed Leigh forever, though only hints are given.

"Their love affair, which he had hoped would follow the happy narrative of a romance, had come to an end in high school. A fairly messy end, Leigh thought. The kind of mess that can only be created by lawyers, parents, and threatened charges of criminal negligence.

Of course he could never forget her, and no doubt dreamed of her, even when awake. He had probably looked for her in every girl he'd tried to love since. But the fact was, even now, with Maia across the room, all Leigh could focus on was an image of her socks. Of blood seeping into her socks, and having that same blood all over his hands." (Page 1, ARC)

Doesn't that make you want to read further? I'm a bit hesitant to say more, because one of the things that I liked about the book was the way that it confounded my expectations. So let's just say that After the Moment is about falling in love, making mistakes, and the way that sometimes, love isn't enough. It's also about families, not necessarily conventional ones, and about trying to do the right thing, even when it's hard.

Leigh is a fabulous character, likeable yet flawed, bright yet realistically clueless, popular but still sensitive. He doesn't seem like someone who would be involved with criminal negligence or blood seeping into socks. In fact, the first thing that we learn about Leigh after the prologue (when the time period of the book goes back to Leigh's junior year in high school), is that he's willing to travel from New York to Washington on no notice to comfort his younger stepsister, after her father dies. Leigh is a kid whose mother worries that he puts other people's needs to much ahead of his own. He's a kid who feels guilty about the soldiers dying in Iraq, and even feels vaguely guilty about his own good fortune. (He reminds me a bit of Ethan Embree's character in Can't Hardly Wait, actually.)

The other characters are well-drawn, too, although we don't get to know with the same immediacy that we do Leigh. His stepsister Millie is delightful, and quirky enough to be plausible in her own right (she reads romance novels, and teaches her dog tricks). Leigh's father is withdrawn to the point that he seems to be somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum (though this isn't spelled out). Maia is complex and damaged, with a variety of serious disorders. The most stable person in her family is in prison. After the Moment explores Leigh's relationships with these other characters. However, I think even more than that, it explores the ways that the characters each influence one another. For example, Leigh is if anything overly empathetic to others, in response to his father's social awkwardness.

Freymann-Weyr's prose is poetic and insightful. For example:

"He sometimes worried that he'd be one of those people who drifts through life, selling advertising space in a trade journal or something equally sad. He saw himself as forever wanting to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up." (Page 21, ARC)

"Her pleasure, her gratitude, and her glimmer of happiness brought to her face, to him, and to the surroundings a light that memory would never diminish." (Page 98, ARC)

The author has a gift for writing about serious issues, without making the book feel heavy. I think that After the Moment would be a good pick for reluctant teen readers, boys or girls. For me, as a woman reading this book, the central tension that kept me turning the pages was wondering how such a clearly "nice" boy was going to mess everything up. I also appreciated the nuanced male teen perspective on love and dating (though I would be interested to hear a teen boy's perspective on Leigh). I have to admit that I'm not sure boys will pick up this book, with it's pastel cover and picture of a girl. And that's too bad, because I think that some of them they would really enjoy it. My recommendation for distributing this book is to get people to read the first page, and see if they can stop reading after that. I know I couldn't.  

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: May 18, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Sarah Miller. See also my review of Garret's Stay with Me. And I do agree with Colleen Mondor that this isn't the best cover choice for the book.
Author Interviews: Bildungsroman, Teen Book Review

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

Getting Good Books into the Hands of Children

Lynn Hazen is hosting the February Carnival of Children's Literature. In suggesting potential topics, Lynn asked: "What do you love about getting good books into the hands of children and youth?" To me, Lynn's question is surprisingly difficult to answer. You might as well ask me: "What do you love about breathing?" or "What do you love about eating food every day?" Answer: "I consider these things essential. What more needs to be said?"

OK, perhaps there's a bit more to be said. I think that once they have basic food and shelter, good books are THE most important thing that we can give to children. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Good books can be teachers, conveying knowledge on an endless variety of topics.
  • Good books can be spaceships, opening portals into countless other worlds.
  • Good books can be time machines, transporting kids to other time periods, past and future.
  • Good books can be kaleidoscopes, helping kids to see things from other perspectives.
  • Good books can be mirrors, helping kids to see themselves, and their motivations, more clearly.

Without books, it would be much more difficult to pass along stories from generation to generation (we could do this orally, but the stories would change with each retelling). Without books, it would be much more difficult to store and share knowledge, and for kids to dive into particular topics on their own. And without ways to pass along our stories and our knowledge to future generations, what would we be?

And, of course, access to good books plays a huge part in motivating kids to spend time reading. When they spend time reading, they become better at reading. Their vocabularies improve, along with their understanding and self-confidence. They are more likely to go to college, and less likely to ever go to jail. They have positive outcomes in the short-term, and continue to reap the rewards of reading across a lifetime.

So, I'd have to say that what I love most about getting good books into the hands of children and youth is the potential to change their lives for the better. I mean, really. What a tremendous gift, to know that by helping kids to gain access to wonderful books, we can help improve their lives forever. Getting to read the books ourselves, too, well, that's an added bonus.

(This post was partially inspired by a recent post at The Book Chook, in which author Susan Stephenson says that reading offers both empowerment and escape. If my words on the importance of books resonated with you at all, do check out Susan's thoughts, too.)

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: February 18th

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 635 subscribers. I believe that the recent uptick in subscribers is due to much-appreciated mentions of my article on encouraging read-aloud in The Big Fresh (the Choice Literacy Newsletter) and the NCTE Inbox blog. Welcome literacy leaders and teachers!

This week I have a post with Kidlitosphere news, a link to this week's Children's Literacy and Reading News round-up at The Reading Tub, and an installment of my recurring Reviews that Made Me Want the Book feature. I also have announcements about the recently announced winners of the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (Cybils) and the cover of the new Percy Jackson book

No reviews this week, I'm afraid, but I will absolutely be getting some written this coming weekend. I have a little break from trips and guests and other commitments, and I should have some clear time for reviewing. This week I read:

  • After the Moment by Garret Freymann-Weyr (author of Stay with Me, which I reviewed here). I found this much more interesting, and much more boy-friendly, than the cover would suggest. I read it in one sitting, and noticed some interesting parallels with Wintergirls (both include teens with anorexia, as well as strong step-sibling bonds). Reviews forthcoming.
  • Runner by Thomas Perry. This is a new installment (after a gap of several years) in Perry's Jane Whitefield series (about a woman of Indian ancestry who helps people to disappear). In Runner, Jane is drawn out of retirement by the plight of a pregnant 20-year-old girl. I found this one enjoyable, with the suspense building through the book. If she wasn't happily married, I think that Jane would be a good match for Lee Child's Jack Reacher. Interestingly, I found a parallel between this book and After the Moment. Both books include a description of someone visiting a prison, with details about the kinds of things that visitors are, and are not, allowed to carry.

Funny how themes echo sometimes in books that you pick up, isn't it? I'm currently reading Zenith, the much-anticipated (by me, anyway) sequel to Julie Bertagna's Exodus (reviewed here). I had to give up on Tunnels, by Brian Williams and Roderick Gordon, after falling asleep over the first couple of chapters for several days in a row. What have you been reading and enjoying? 

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms!

Wednesday Afternoon Visits: February 18

The blogs were relatively quiet over the holiday weekend, and I was in Lake Tahoe with friends myself. But now that I'm catching back up, I have a few things to share with you:

The Last OlympianI know I already shared the recently released cover of the last Percy Jackson book. But I also just ran across this fun interview between Percy and Blackjack the Pegasus (who are both pictured on the cover). It's on Rick Riordan's blog.

Mary Lee has a lovely little post at A Year of Reading about the top five expectations that her students have when they read fiction. For any adult in the business of evaluating fiction for kids, this is a useful post. I, of course, like the emphasis on story. See also this recent post by Donalyn Miller, the Book Whisperer, about students looking for expert opinions about books that they value. She says: "I know from your posts that you are readers, too. Why not join the conversation? Submit a quote about a book or two you would like to recommend. Celebrate your reading expertise and share it with us all!"

Carlie Webber from Librarilly Blonde has a new article in Publisher's Weekly, What they don't know won't hurt them: Persuading adults to read YA literature. Carlie says: "My advice is simple: lie and cheat. To get more adults to read and enjoy YA literature, the lie of omission often works." And she gives some concrete examples of books that will work perfectly well for many adults, if the books aren't pre-judges as "for kids". She also suggests that "Teen books must make an appearance outside the teen section. Staff picks and themed book displays should include teen books." I certainly agree!

MotherReader has started planning for "the Annual KidLitosphere Conference — or if you’d prefer, The Society of Bloggers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature Annual Conference." Nothing firm yet, but the weekend of October 16th in Arlington, VA is starting to look promising. I'm hoping that having the conference in DC, and not in conflict with any other major conferences, will result in the highest attendance yet. Stay tuned for more details!

The London Eye Mystery Bookwitch has a new resource that I think a lot of people are going to find useful: the Aspie Books Page ("any fiction which I feel is the slightest bit Asperger/Autism/ ADHD related can be listed here for reference"). Bookwitch writes from the UK, so it's possible that some books will be unfamiliar to US audiences, but I found several favorites there (including recent Cybils winner for middle grade fiction: The London Eye Mystery, RULES, and the aforementioned Percy Jackson books).

The Book Chook has a new two-part feature: the Read Aloud Roundup (part 1 and part 2) in which she asks "some people who love books to choose their favourite book to read aloud." She also shares "great tips to add extra value". Don't miss this fun new feature, focused on the joys of reading aloud with kids.

Becky Laney from Becky's Book Reviews is doing quite a bit of thinking about the rights and wrongs of copying (after her blog content was shamefully stolen by another site). She discusses links vs. quotes vs. memes, etc., and seeks reader feedback. All I have to say is that I own a software company, and this has made me very very respectful of other people's intellectual property. (I should also mention that some of my "afternoon visits" posts are being reposted on the Kidlitosphere Central news blog, but that's happening with my full knowledge and consent. I'm on the board there. What Becky's talking about is copying without permission. And that's nothing short of theft.)

Speaking of theft, Guys Lit Wire has a post by Kristopher about writing-related scams.

And speaking of the potential co-opting of other people's intellectual property, there's been quite a bit of conflict lately around Facebook's Terms of Service. They seem to have backed down a little bit on some recent changes that they made, in response to a storm of controversy, but I think that people are now being extra-careful about what they put on Facebook.

And that's all for today! Happy reading. -- Jen Robinson

Cover Reveal for the Last Percy Jackson Book

I just got this from Deborah Bass at Disney, and thought that I'd share:

At 12:01 am EST, on Wednesday February 18, 2009, will unveil The Last Olympian cover image. Leading up to the one-day laydown on Tuesday, May 5, 2009, Percy fans who visit the dedicated website ( will be treated to exclusive content that will be posted on a regular basis including: teaser videos, downloadables- chat icons and wallpaper, new never-before-seen character art from the series, discussion board/message post, an all-new quiz, and soon-to-be-announced sweepstakes information!

In addition to the interview with Blackjack the Pegasus on Rick Riordan’s blog (, Rick will be sending out a series of inside details on a weekly basis about The Last Olympian that will only be available on Twitter:

More exciting news to come!

Here’s your exclusive first glimpse at The Last Olympian cover:


Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5: The Last Olympian
By Rick Riordan
Publication date: Tuesday, May 5, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1-4231-0147-5
Ages: 10 and up; $17.99

ABOUT THE BOOK: All year the half-bloods have been preparing for battle against the Titans, knowing the odds of victory are grim. Kronos’s army is stronger than ever, and with every god and half-blood he recruits, the evil Titan’s power only grows. While the Olympians struggle to contain the rampaging monster Typhon, Kronos begins his advance on New York City, where Mount Olympus stands virtually unguarded.  Now it’s up to Percy Jackson and an army of young demigods to stop the Lord of Time.

In this momentous final book in the New York Times best-selling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the long-awaited prophecy surrounding Percy’s sixteenth birthday unfolds. And as the battle for Western civilization rages on the streets of Manhattan, Percy faces a terrifying suspicion that he may be fighting against his own fate.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rick Riordan is the author of the previous books in the New York Times #1 best-selling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series: The Lightning Thief; The Sea of Monsters; The Titan's Curse; and The Battle of the Labyrinth. His previous novels for adults include the hugely popular Tres Navarre series, winner of the top three awards in the mystery genre. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his wife and two sons.

See my interview with Rick here. I'm really looking forward to the book! Anyone else out there excited for this?

Children's Literacy Round-Up: February 16

Terry_readingtubfinal_1 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, is now available at the Reading Tub. This week Terry Doherty has tons of great content for you about literacy & reading-related events; raising readers; literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; and grants, sponsorships & donations. I was especially pleased to see lots of literacy-related events going on around the country. The positive energy around getting kids excited about books keeps getting bigger and bigger. Click through to see.

The Cybils Winners (and a small request for help)

CybilsLogoSmall The winners of the 2009 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards were announced this morning on the Cybils website. Head on over to the Cybils site to see if your favorite is a winner. I'm especially excited about the Easy Reader winner (since I was a judge in that category): I Love My New Toy, an Elephant and Piggie book by Mo Willems; the YA Fantasy winner: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (my review); and the Middle Grade Fiction winner: The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (my review). ETA: And I was in such a rush to get this post up that I somehow missed that the title that I nominated for MG/YA nonfiction won: The Year We Disappeared by Cylin Busby and John Busby (my review). I obviously think well of that, since I nominated it.  

If you are excited about the winners, too, and would like to show a bit of support for the Cybils, please consider clicking through from the links in the announcement post (or my links in this post) to purchase the winners from Amazon. This serves two purposes. First, the Cybils organization gets a small commission, with proceeds going towards buying a nice gift for the winners. Second, if you purchase from Amazon in the next few days, this will help the winners' Amazon rankings to improve. We'll be tracking these ranking numbers, and we would LOVE to be able to tell the publishers and authors that the Cybils award made a tangible difference (as has been the case in previous years). Although we're happy to see the books purchased from other sources, too, of course, we've found that the Amazon rankings offer a relatively easy way for us to quantify our impact.

In the bigger picture, of course, we just want to see these winning books (and really, all of the short list titles) read and appreciated, whether you buy them from an independent bookseller (always a good thing), or from Amazon, or get them from your local library. These are wonderful books, well-written and kid-friendly - the books that our judges think are the best of the best. And with nine categories, there really is something for everyone. So, without further ado, I present: the Cybils winners! Happy Valentine's Day!

Tomorrow (2/14) will be a big day for children's book fans!

Kidsheartauthorlogo It's Kids Heart Authors Day (Mitali Perkins has all of the details here)! Here's a brief excerpt from Mitali's post:

"Over 170 authors and illustrators and more than 40 independent booksellers in Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, and New York are participating in Kids ♥ Authors Day. Bookstores will provide bunches of books, and authors and illustrators will personalize them, talk about why they do what they do, and answer any and all questions about writing and drawing."

CybilsLogoSmall And the winners of the Cybils Awards will be announced (here). Stay tuned! For now, you can see lists of the finalists in all nine categories here. The winners are great, great selections, I promise. More soon...

Reviews that Made Me Want the Book: February 12

Welcome to the latest edition of my recurring reviews that made me want to read the book feature, in which I highlight books (and reviews) that catch my eye. There have been quite a few promising titles reviewed this month.

GenesisI should probably just find a way to automatically transfer all of Presenting Lenore's Waiting on Wednesday posts over to my list. Lenore and I share a significant overlap in our preferences (as most recently evidenced by us sharing the same favorite Lois Duncan novel, Down a Dark Hall). She recently highlighted the upcoming Houghton Mifflin Harcourt title Genesis, by Bernard Beckett. Here's the first part of the publisher's description (emphasis mine): "Set on a remote island in a post-apocalyptic, plague-ridden world, this electrifying novel is destined to become a modern classic." Enough said, really. But Lenore also adds that "Reviewers in New Zealand, where the book was originally released, are in fact calling this a modern YA sci-fi classic and it recently won NZ's highest award for YA fiction, the NZ Post Award."

The Rule of WonAlso from Lenore, a review of The Rule of Won by Stefan Petrucha. She says: "Rule of Won is a gripping, important, and sarcastic novel with a touch of the supernatural." And she stayed up until 3:30 am reading it. Which is pretty well good enough for me.

Sometimes I don't need a review at all - I just need to know that a book is available. This is certainly the case with Fire, by Kristin Cashore, a prequel of sorts to Graceling. I'm quite envious of Patti from Oops ... Wrong Cookie, who managed to get her hands on an advance copy. She clearly liked it, once she had adapted to the fact that the book wasn't going to be about Katsa, anyway. This one won't be available until October. Sigh! No cover image yet.

Three Cups of TeaLauren at 5 Minutes for Books recently reviewed an adult nonfiction title: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Lauren says: "Three Cups of Tea is the story of Greg Mortenson's journey to build the village of Korphe (in Pakistan) a school. While building this school, Greg found a mission for his life. He has now helped to build more than 70 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan; and he has worked to provide scholarships for secondary education, to develop centers for women, and to educate the people about better health practices." Sounds like something I should read, doesn't it?

Three Cups of Tea - Young ReadersThere's also a children's version of the story, reviewed for this week's Nonfiction Monday by Amanda at A Patchwork of Books. The Young Readers Edition of Three Cups of Tea was adapted by Sarah Thompson. Despite a couple of criticisms, Amanda concludes: "overall I can see a lot of kids picking this up and enjoying the learning process of what it took one man to get over 60 schools built."

TribesI noticed a couple of other nonfiction titles this month, too. Nan Hoekstra discussed Seth Godin's Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us at Anokaberry. Here's a bit from the summary blurb: "According to Godin, Tribes are groups of people aligned around an idea, connected to a leader and to each other. Tribes make our world work, and always have. The new opportunity is that it's easier than ever to find, organize, and lead a tribe." It sounds rather timely in light of the whole read-aloud campaign idea, and, as with the book above, like something I should read.

Yankee YearsThe other nonfiction title that caught my eye, surprisingly, was The Yankee Years by Joe Torre. Surprising, because I'm a tremendous Red Sox fan. But Omnivoracious cleverly published a review by Tom Nissley titled: The Yankee-Hater's Guide to the Yankee Years. And Tom convinced me that this is a book I would enjoy.

Prince of Fenway ParkSpeaking of the Red Sox, I couldn't resist when I saw a review of Julianna Baggot's The Prince of Fenway Park at Reading Rumpus. Tasses explains "What I thought was a simple baseball story turned into a ........ FANTASY novel. It seems there are creatures living under Fenway Park. And they are cursed too. And they need Oscar's help because he might just be the one to lift the curse." Can't pass this one up. It's due out next month.

Counter Clockwise Karen and Bill at Literate Lives just celebrated their first blog birthday. This seems strange to me, because I kind of feel like they're been around, recommending kid-friendly books to me forever, but I wish them well. This week, Karen recommended a brand new title called Counter Clockwise, by Jason Cockcroft. Karen says of this middle grade time travel story, "When I finally put this book down, I felt short of breath. The story was mesmerizing, the characters were fascinating (and multi-dimensional, depending in which time continuum they are viewed), and the action was fast-paced. I literally heard myself gasp at least twice." Sounds hard to resist.

1200447764794.jpeg The Book Chook recently reviewed a title that's not actually available in the US, but it does look like a great book for reluctant readers, so I thought that I'd highlight the review. The book is Oddball by Janeen Brian. Susan says: "Published by Walker Books Australia  in 2008, it's part of a series called Lightning Strikes, designed to support and motivate those kids who've somehow missed out on the joy of reading.  The cover is eye-catching, and the format very cleverly designed with lots of white space and larger print. I think boys in particular will love Oddball. "

Beat the ReaperAnother title that caught my eye was one reviewed by Ben at Guys Lit Wire: Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell. This one is an adult title about a New York doctor who used to be a hit man. Ben calls it "a literary drag race featuring mobsters, lost love and assassination by shark. Beat the Reaper is sardonic, clever ... all the way through. This is no Sopranos episode about the conflict between family and the Family, it's straight-ahead acceleration driven by betrayal, revenge, and violence."

The Lab Another intriguing Guys Lit Wire review comes from Trisha. She reviews The Lab by Jack Heath. Here's the start: "Six of Hearts is the best agent in the Deck, a vigilante group trying to reclaim the values of their city prior to its takeover. Six has a 100% success rate on his missions. He doesn't like smalltalk and his every action is based on logic. He is only sixteen years old. But that's not what makes him different." And this is a premise that catches my eye.

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: February 11

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 607 subscribers. 

This week I have a couple of posts with Kidlitosphere news, a Children's Literacy and Reading News round-up, and a follow-up to my recent post about a campaign for encouraging read-aloud. I also have an announcement about a book previously reviewed that's now available (Fade by Lisa McMann).

No reviews this week, I'm afraid, but I have read a couple of MG/YA titles recently that I intend to review (Winnie's War by Jenny Moss and Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson). I'll get to those just as soon as I can find some clear mental space - I find I can't write reviews when life is particularly hectic. But I'll share some mini-reviews here.

I read a couple of adult titles while traveling last week:

  • Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover. This is an excellent, entertaining start to a new Private Investigator series set in Chicago. I rarely flag passages in my adult mystery reading, but this one had me getting out my post-its in chapter 1. I like the narrator's voice. I'll definitely be looking for the next book in the series (Trigger City), when it's out in paperback.
  • Blasphemy by Douglas Preston. I don't quite know what to make of this one. I usually enjoy what I call the pseudo-science thriller sub-genre (Jurassic Park, Neanderthal, etc.), as a break from my other reading. I've read most of Preston's other books. But this one didn't quite work for me. It seemed a little agenda-driven. But I was intrigued enough to finish it.

I also finished two audiobooks (thanks to exercise bike time at the hotel):

  • Rumors by Anna Godbersen. This is the second Luxe book, sort of a 1900-era Gossip Girl series. I with the first book, I thought that this one was very fun, though the ending surprised me. I'm curious to see what happens in Book 3, Envy. I thought that Rumors worked well as an audiobook - kind of a total immersion into the world of fancy dresses and balls - and I'm going to wait for the audio version of Book 3.
  • Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka. Knucklehead is a laugh-out loud funny childhood memoir of Scieszka's life with his five brothers. It's bit more episodic than I usually prefer in books, but enjoyable in this case. I think, though, that this one would be better read in book format, because there are quite a few references to pictures that aren't (obviously) available in the audio format.  

What have you been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms!

Quick Hits: Read-Aloud, Books for Boys, and a Carnival!

I have a few quick news items to share with you this morning.

First up, our own Tanita S. Davis (aka TadMack from Finding Wonderland) is featured today at The Brown Bookshelf. Click through to learn more about Tanita, and her upcoming book. There's even a rare photo. This interview is part of the Brown Bookshelf's fabulous 28 Days Later Campaign.

Speaking of campaigns, there are a few new posts out there related to the Campaign for Read-Aloud:

  • The Book Chook interviews The Magnet Lady (aka Jen W). Jen drives around Ann Arbor, MI with a magnet on her car that says "Please read to your kids everyday". The enthusiasm that both Book Chook and Jen have for reading with kids is inspiring.
  • Reconsidering Read-AloudFranki Sibberson picks up on the reading aloud topic at A Year of Reading, and draws readers' attention to blog partner Mary Lee Hahn's book, Reconsidering Read-Aloud (which I agree is an excellent resource). Franki also argues that rather than urging parents simply to read aloud with their kids, "there are LOTS of ways that parents and teachers can support children in becoming lifelong readers (and that) Being part of your child's reading life is ... the critical part." I agree completely with Franki that read-aloud is only part of the conversation. The real goal is raising kids who enjoy reading, and it makes sense to do whatever it takes to get there. Part of why I like the idea of a campaign for read-aloud is that it's one concrete thing that people can do to move in that direction.
  • This question was also picked up by Millie Davis at the NCTE Inbox Blog. After discussing her own experience with her daughter, Millie says: "So, would I advocate a national campaign to encourage parents to read aloud to their kids, like Jen Robinson has suggested on her blog ? Yes, I think so. Would you?" A number of people discuss this in the comments.

KnuckleheadIn related news, the Providence Journal has an article by Kathleen Odean about National Ambassador Jon Scieszka's recommendations for encouraging kids to read. The article mentions plenty of specific, kid-friendly titles. Those are fun, but I especially enjoyed this part: "Scieszka was an advocate for reading long before becoming Ambassador and will continue as such after his term ends in December. Meanwhile, he’s enjoying the perks of ambassadorship. “Kids give you things,” he reported, “like royal sashes they’ve decorated with puffy gold paint.”" Fun stuff! Link via Matt Holm.

The previous article mentioned Scieszka's Guys Read website. Over at The Miss Rumphius Effect, Tricia is fed up with articles that presume that boys don't like to read (and no, she's not talking about the Providence Journal article). Citing a Guardian article, she says: "There are some interesting thoughts about "reverse engineering" books to resemble the things readers so love about the web. However, must authors always resort to boy-bashing to do it? Can we please give boys and young men just a bit of credit for their reading habits?" Tricia also linked to a fun Christian Science Monitor article about books for "children of all ages." It's also worth clicking through to see Tricia's lovely new blog format.

Adult fans of children's books should also check out the February Small Graces auction. Elaine Magliaro has the details at Wild Rose Reader.

In other news, in case you have somehow managed to miss it, Amazon just announced the release of the second edition of the Kindle eBook reader. I first saw the news on The Longstockings, but found a more detailed write-up at Cheryl Rainfield's. I have to say, as someone who is a huge fan of tradition books, that I am intrigued by this version. It's so thin! If I was traveling more, I would probably look into it.

Kid-Lit72 Last but not least, Lynn Hazen is hosting the February Carnival of Children's Literature, with a theme of "We Love Children's (and YA) Books". She says: "Tell us what you love about reading, reviewing, writing, or illustrating children's (and YA) books. What do you love about getting good books into the hands of children and youth? What do you love (or even what breaks your heart) about the world of children's books?" Submissions are due by February 23rd, at the Carnival site.

Wishing everyone a book-filled Valentine's weekend!