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Posts from April 2009

Closed for the Season: Mary Downing Hahn

Book: Closed for the Season
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Pages: 192
Age Range: 10-14 

Closed for the SeasonBackground: What right-minded kid (or former kid, for that matter) could resist a mystery centered around an abandoned, kudzu-covered amusement park? Certainly not me. So when Jenny from Clarion offered me an ARC of Mary Downing Hahn's upcoming title Closed for the Season, I jumped at the opportunity. The book went immediately to the top of my reading list.

Review: In Closed for the Season, 13-year-old Logan Forbes moves with his parents from Richmond to the small town of Bealesville, Virginia. There, Logan and his new neighbor, Arthur, investigate the murder of the previous owner of the Forbes' house. Their search ranges from a dusty attic to a tiny library to a cemetery to to the local Wal-Mart to a nearby abandoned amusement park, the Magic Forest. The Magic Forest is a creepy, vine-covered, snake-filled place, littered with hints of a more festive past. It is the perfect setting for a middle grade/middle school mystery. Here's a brief description:

"Arthur led me down an overgrown path, stopping now and then to examine a crumbling building or the remains of a ride. Here and there, storybook figures emerged from the kudzu, lopsided, grotesque, their noses gone, their fingers missing, their skin leprous with moss and mold. The place was a nightmare version of Mother Goose." (Page 52, ARC)

Closed for the Season is a straight-up mystery, without the supernatural trappings found in many of Hahn's other books. Hahn has a real knack, however, for depicting kid-friendly settings and plots, and for quick, insightful descriptions of people and places. For example:

"Arthur signed. "Grandma and I knew something was wrong. It was one of those weird feelings--you know what I mean?"
I nodded. "Like in a movie, when the music gets scary and you can tell something bad is going to happen?"
"Exactly."" (Page 11, ARC)

"Inside (Wal-Mart), the cold air smelled of popcorn, hot dogs, and unidentifiable synthetic substances. A cheap smell, Mom called it. But no matter how the store smelled, it was better than the heat outside." (Page 73, ARC)

"Violet blew her nose again, and I stole a glance at Danny. He sat there eating his cookies as if they were enemies, biting into them fiercely, chewing hard, and swallowing noisily. He didn't look at anyone. And he didn't say a word." (Page 104, ARC)

Don't you love that? Eating cookies as if they were enemies. Hahn also, as in All the Lovely Bad Ones, is not afraid to include imperfect characters. Arthur, in particular, is downright annoying, a geeky kid who has no idea when he's crossing the line of acceptable behavior. Logan, more conventional and more introspective, struggles between his growing loyalty to Arthur and a wish not to brand himself as unpopular in a new place. This combination of realistic interpersonal dynamics with atmospheric, suspenseful mystery is sure to please kids. Especially those kids who aren't athletes, and have been known to spend an afternoon or two in the local library.

Closed for the Season is Mary Downing Hahn's 30th novel in 30 years, and is dedicated to her long-time editor, James Cross Giblin. I think that the abandoned amusement park setting might be intriguing enough to lure in some new readers for her. I hope so, because this one is a keeper. Recommended, especially for middle grade mystery fans. [The mystery itself is probably not complex enough to satisfy adult mystery fans - the culprit doesn't come as a huge surprise. But for adults wanting to recapture that feeling of riding a bike around during the summer, looking for adventure, this one is not to be missed.]

Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication Date: June 15, 2009
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be compared against the final printed book. Cover image courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Other Blog Reviews: None yet, but here are my reviews of Hahn's titles Deep and Dark and Dangerous and All the Lovely Bad Ones.

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

When the Whistle Blows: Fran Cannon Slayton

Book: When the Whistle Blows
Author: Fran Cannon Slayton (blog)
Pages: 160
Age Range: 9-14

When the Whistle BlowsBackground: I met Fran Slayton last summer at an ALA KidLit blogger event hosted by Feiwel & Friends. But it wasn't the fact that I knew and liked Fran that inspired me to accept an advance copy of When the Whistle Blows. No, that was due to the glowing early blurbs that the book received from the likes of Richard Peck, Ellen Hopkins, and Betsy Bird (here). As you might expect, they were right, and I was not disappointed.

Review: Fran Cannon Slayton's When the Whistle Blows is a historical novel set in the 1940's. It's a beautifully written, quiet sort of book, but one that includes enough mad-cap fun to appeal to reluctant / dormant readers. When the Whistle Blows is the story of Jimmy, third son of a railroading family from Rowlesburg, West Virginia. It's about Jimmy's desire to work on the railroad, like his father and his older brothers, despite his father's wishes. In the bigger picture, it's about Jimmy's relationship with his taciturn father, and also about the death of the steam engine. In a series of littler pictures, When the Whistle Blows is about small-town life, from the mischief of young boys on Halloween night to the importance of hunting to the Rowlesburg community.

When the Whistle Blows is written in a structure that I've never seen before. Each first-person chapter takes place on the same day, but from a different year, advancing from 1943 to 1949. This structure makes the chapters feel a bit like interconnected short stories. What's brilliant about it is that it allows the reader to delve deeply into the individual incidents, while also seeing the bigger picture. We see how Jimmy's family evolves through time, and how the role of the steam engine changes in just a few short years.

When the Whistle Blows is an ode to a time and place that has meaning for the author's family. Fran Slayton's prose is lovely, understated, but cutting right to the heart of things that matter. While I've never met an adolescent male from 1940's West Virginia, of course, Jimmy's voice feels spot-on. And it must be a tricky balance, to write with the authentic, first-person voice of a small town boy, and to also make the writing lyrical. Slayton pulls this off handily. Here are a few examples:

"Every single time I jump on a train--my heart thumps even noisier in my ears than the clanking of the old iron horse I'm hopping up onto. I love stream trains. I love living in a town that's chock-full of 'em. I love being on 'em, being anywhere near 'em. They're as much a part of my life around here as the mountains. Or breathing." (Page 1, ARC)

"Our cat, Amos, yawns at me from the porch, his fangs reflecting the half-moon's light. It feels like it's still All Hallows' Eve, but now I'm not so sure. It was when I went to sleep. If you go to sleep and then wake up in the middle of the night, does that make it tomorrow? Or is it still today? I start to ask Mike, but he shushes me, putting his finger up to his lips." (Page 5, ARC)

"My ears suddenly prick up to all the sounds around me: the shifting of weight, the crunching of leaves, but most especially the frosty silence that drapes itself around us all like the white cloth on top of a coffin." (Page 38, ARC)

"Dad says they got all kinds of sense in New york City excepting the common kind." (Page 49, ARC)

When the Whistle Blows is sure to receive acclaim for Slayton's writing. But I think that it also has abundant kid appeal. Librarians, just ask your middle grade boys if they'd like to read a book in which a boy: hides in a graveyard and throw things at cars on Halloween; sneaks out at night to spy on an adult secret society; and faces off a train on a railroad bridge. If these incidents aren't boy-friendly, I don't know what is. When the Whistle Blows has my highest recommendation. I think that we'll be hearing about it more next year, come award time.

Publisher: Philomel
Publication Date: June 11, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final book.
Other Blog Reviews: Granny Sue's News and Reviews, Sarah Miller, Practically Paradise, Lazygal Reads100 Scope Notes, Boys Read (mini-review, with blurbs from others)
Author Interviews: In Bed with Books, YA Book Nerd

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

Alabama Moon: Watt Key

Book: Alabama Moon
Author: Watt Key
Pages: 304
Age Range: 10-14 

Alabama Moon Background: Alabama Moon was published in 2006. I had seen some positive reviews of this book (see links below), and had some interest in it. Then a reader of my blog (Kelly, a teacher librarian) recommended it to me, saying that she thought, based on my reviews, that I would like it. Shortly after that, I was in a bookstore in Lubbock, Texas (business trip), and spotted a copy. I decided to give it a look. And it seems that Kelly is good at reader's advisory. Because I liked Alabama Moon a lot.

Review: Watt Key's Alabama Moon has a compelling premise. For as long as he can remember, 10-year old Moon has lived alone with his father in the forest in the southeastern US, squatting on land owned by a paper company. Moon's father is suspicious of everyone, especially the government, and the two have hardly any contact with the outside world. But all of that changes when Moon's father dies, leaving him alone in the world. The story begins:

"Just before Pap died, he told me that I'd be fine as long as I never depended on anybody by myself. He said I might feel lonely for a while, but that would go away. I was ten years old and he'd taught me everything I needed to know about living in the forest. I could trap my own food and make my own clothes. I could find my way by the stars and make fire in the rain. Pap said he even figured I could whip somebody three times my size. He wasn't worried about me." (Page 1)

Moon's father tells him to set out for Alaska, where he can find other survivalists. But when Moon is discovered, he ends up in the hands of the government. He is chased, locked up, and chased again, fighting against a system that he doesn't understand, to live the life that he's been raised to live. Along the way he meets people who want to hurt him (one toxic sheriff in particular), and people who become his friends. Alabama Moon is a story of survival, but it's also a story about understanding the complex needs of individuals. It's about taking responsibility for yourself, but also about letting other people in.

I think that Alabama Moon is a great title for later elementary school and middle school kids, especially boys. There's quite a bit of action centered around survival (hunting, making fires, finding food, etc.). I'll admit that I personally skimmed over some of this, but I think that 10-year-old boys will be riveted. This content feels completely authentic - you just know that the author has been out there in the woods himself, and isn't writing from pure research. And you get to read about boys living on their own in the woods.

As for me, I found Moon's blunt, back-country voice engaging, and his indomitable spirit irresistible. He's tired and lonely sometimes, yet he never gives up. Here are a couple of examples, to show you Moon's voice:

"I heard the creature scurry off through the leaves. Then I started thinking about the good times I'd had with Pap when we'd swim in the creek and make flutter mills and scratch tic-tac-toe in the dirt. All these memories poured on me like a waterfall until I was shaking and crying. Then I couldn't take it anymore and leaped off the hide pile and ran out into the night." (Page 32)

"Jail was the best place I'd ever been. They had good food and a comfortable bed and a sink with running water and a flush toilet." (Page 49)

"I walked down to the creek with stiff legs and a sore back. I washed the soup can and brought back water for putting out the coals. As the fire hissed and smoked, I sat and listened to the forest and felt proud of all we'd accomplished." (Page 147) 

The end of the book brought tears to my eyes, because I cared so much about Moon. Alabama Moon is a book that will stay with readers for a long time. Highly recommended for middle grade and middle school readers.

Publisher: Square Fish (reprint edition)
Publication Date: September 2008
Source of Book: Bought it
Other Blog Reviews: Mr. K-C's Blog, Above & Beyond, IMCPL Kids Blog, Great Books for Kids and Teens, Abby (the) Librarian, A Fuse #8 Production. Alabama Moon won the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award for Older Readers.

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

Children's Literacy Round-Up: April 13

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. Although Terry called it a slow news week, it seems to me that she's collected plenty of content for you about literacy & reading-related events; raising readers; literacy and reading programs and research; grants, sponsorships & donations; and other new resources.

One article that I just clicked through to read was Laura Walker’s Nine Great Reasons Why Teachers Should Use Twitter. I'm not a teacher, but Terry has been urging me to join the ranks of Twitterers. I've been reluctant, because I feel like I can barely keep up with the blogs that I'm reading, let alone Facebook. Laura makes some good points in Twitter's favor, however, and I of course value Terry's opinion. What do you all think?

Terry also mentioned the start of the SLJ's Battle of the (Kids') Books today. This morning's big news, via Educating Alice, is that judge Jon Scieszka has already knocked out heavy favorite The Graveyard Book in honor of The Trouble Begins at 8. Scieszka says: "The outcome of this match-up might seem like an upset.  But The Trouble Begins at 8 is a clear winner. It is a thoughtful, funny, scholarly piece of writing.  And it just might be the book to rescue one of the funniest American writers ever from the grave of required school reading." In other Battle news, the second Octavian Nothing book advanced, selected by Roger Sutton.

One more piece of book-related news that I'd like to share: Betsy Bird is now into the top 50 in her Top 100 Picture Books results at A Fuse #8 Production. And the first of my nominated titles (I think) is there at #46: good old Scaredy Squirrel. Betsy calls Scaredy Squirrel "the only true 21st century picture book on this list", because the book became in internet phenomenon (with a nice nod to the Cybils, too). I never got a chance to share my full list - I think I'll wait until Betsy's final reveal, and then post my list along with where the books ended up (or not) on the Top 100 list.

Happy reading, all!

Sunday Afternoon Visits: Easter Edition

Kidlitosphere_button So, I thought I'd be back to blogging normally this week, but I was stymied by a combination of business travel and flu. But I did at least get some reading done... And now, on the tail end of Easter Sunday, I'm catching up a bit on the doings of the Kidlitosphere.

Feed First up, Terry Doherty continues her amazing work promoting literacy. Don't miss the gorgeous new redesign of the Share a Story - Shape a Future website. Is that not the cutest RSS feed logo in the world? (Image credit to Share a Story - Shape a Future).

Lenore has what I think will be a useful post for authors at Presenting Lenore, talking about what makes a good pitch when an author is approaching a blogger about a potential review. There's quite a bit of discussion in the comments, too. 

And a post that I think will be of interest to bloggers is this one from Janssen at Everyday Reading, about the difficulty of explaining to people who don't blog the fact that other bloggers can become real-life friends. This has certainly been the case for me (people I know through my blog becoming genuine friends). And if any of you would like to see this in action, I urge you to attend the next Kidlitosphere conference in October, and observe the bonds between people who interact virtually for 364 other days of the year.

Jennie from Biblio File reports that "kidlit is taking over the world." She says: "Of ALL books purchased Jan-Mar of this year, the top 5 sellers? Were kidlit. Twilight took the top 4 spots and Diary of a Wimpy Kid took #5." Apparently (original source: Galley Cat), 16% of all books sold in Q1 were written by Stephenie Meyer.

Meanwhile, over at Wands and Worlds, Sheila Ruth is on a quest for undiscovered gems in a bestseller world. She says: "I want to hear your input about the best undiscovered gems of 2008. Please post in the comments your favorite children's or YA books published in 2008 that were not widely buzzed, reviewed, or awarded. I'll compile all the suggestions into a book list and post it on my blog, with permission for anyone to copy it and post it elsewhere." Do take a few minutes to contribute, if you have a below-the-radar book that you loved last year.

At Kids Lit, Tasha Saecker takes exception to some of exclusions from VOYA's recently released list of best sci fi, fantasy, and horror for teens. Do check out Tasha's list of suggested adds, as well as the original list. And, speaking of a book that did make the list, Jessica Freundel at Kid Lit Kit shares two pieces of news about The Hunger Games. Hint: "Scholastic is giving one lucky fan a chance to sit down with Suzanne (Collins) for a private lunch in NYC".

In other award list news, the short lists for the E. B. White Read-Aloud Awards were announced recently. I saw this news on various blogs, but am linking to the list as posted on nominee Lois Lowry's blog. I was extra pleased to see Bonny Becker's A Visitor for Bear nominated for picture books, and to see The Willoughby's nominated for older readers.

Speaking of reading aloud, Sarah Mulhern has a great post at The Reading Zone about Nuts and Bolts of Reading Aloud. She begins: "Reading aloud to my students daily is one of, if not the most, important aspects of my classroom.  I extoll the virtues of classroom read alouds to anyone and everyone who will listen, yet I realized I never broke down the nuts and bolts of it here on my blog!" And so she does.

I don't normally highlight author interviews, because there are so many, but I was taken with this Q&A between Paul from Omnivoracious and Joshua Mowll, author of the "Guild of Specialists" trilogy. Paul points out that this sounds like an extremely boy-friendly series for middle grade readers. The author responds, however: "The trilogy has some very strong female characters such as Becca and Liberty da Vine, so I’d always hoped both boys and girls would enjoy it. The narrative style moves everything along at speed... and it’s a big, big story after all. It is what it is--a full throttle adventure story. I know it’s exactly the sort of book I would have loved when I was young." I think I'd like to check these books out.

Camille from Book Moot has two pieces of good news for New England children's literature fans. Blueberries for Sal will be available for purchase again soon (original source Wizards Wireless), and the duckling (of Make Way for Ducklings fame) that was stolen from the Public Garden in Boston has been returned to his family. In other good news, I'm sure you'll all be happy to know that Betsy Bird and Winnie-the-Pooh have been reunited at last.

Lori Calabrese has a great post at her new Get in the Game -- Read! blog, about the value of sports and books. She recaps benefits of playing sports, and reading books, and then talks about the ways that sports and reading go together, all with very cute illustrations. This is a blog that I'll be following closely!

Meanwhile, Melissa at Kidliterate makes a plea for more sports books for girls, saying: "Where is the awesome middle-grade girls’ series about friends who play soccer/ice skate/play field hockey/shoot hoops? Where’s the stereotypical girls’ sports series, for that matter? Most days I’d give my left arm for a fair-to-middling book about short girls on a gymnastics team."

NationalPoetryMonthLogo As I mentioned previously, there's a lot going on all across the blogs in honor of National Poetry Month. I haven't been able to keep up with it myself, but Elaine Magliaro is on the job at Wild Rose Reader. This post recaps activities as of a few days ago, and I think that it's safe to say she'll share other links going forward.

And, last but not least, don't forget that School Library Journal's Battle of the (Kids) Books starts tomorrow morning. Match 1 will be The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves vs Ways to Live Forever, judged by Roger Sutton. You can download the full brackets here.

Wishing you all a peaceful week!

Drop Everything and Read Day

Dear-logo Tomorrow is Easter, but it's also Drop Everything and Read Day (held on April 12th, in honor of Beverly Cleary's birthday). D.E.A.R. spokeskid Ramona Quimby says:

"I got it ever since I was eight and we started having D.E.A.R. time at my school. D.E.A.R. is a lot of fun and because I know so much about it, librarians [Association for Library Service to Children], teachers [National Education Association], parents [Parent Teacher Association], journalists [Newspaper Association of America Foundation], some people who make books [HarperCollins Children’s Books], and some people who give books [First Book] have asked me—Ramona Geraldine Quimby—to be in charge of telling everyone about National Drop Everything and Read Day on April 12th."

As for me, I'd like to join Maureen from Kid Tested, Librarian Approved in suggesting that you tuck a book into those Easter baskets, along with the chocolate bunnies. If you need suggestions for Easter-themed books, Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile has a list of 75 children's Easter books. But really, I think that any book will do (any book of interest to the recipient, anyway). And wouldn't tomorrow afternoon be a great time to curl up with a child and read books?

Happy D.E.A.R. day and Happy Easter! 

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: April 7

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 709 subscribers. 

This week I have one book review, a post with Kidlitosphere news, and an enormous children's literacy roundup. I also have the list of books that I read in March, a link to last week's literacy round-up at The Reading Tub, and an announcement about the 2009 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

Last week I finished listening to Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (the sequel to Ender's Game). I'm currently listening to Whatever Happened to Cass McBride by Gail Giles. In the past couple of weeks I read Killer Pizza, by Greg Taylor (review included), When the Whistle Blows by Fran Slayton (review forthcoming - it is wonderful), Twilight (a re-read, inspired by watching the movie), and Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (a fun adult mystery, second in a series). I'm just about finished with The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (another adult mystery, the third in the Three Pines series). I'm also reading Bones of Faerie, by Janni Lee Simner, but I keep having to leave it behind when I go on trips (I hardly ever travel with hardcover books).

Blogging's been a bit sparse for me these past couple of weeks, for various reasons, but I hope to be back up to speed shortly. Thanks for your patience, and for growing bookworms!

Children's Literacy Round-Up: April 6

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 here or at the Reading Tub. This week Terry Doherty and I have collected plenty of content for you about literacy & reading-related events; raising readers; literacy and reading programs and research; grants & donations; and other new resources.


Book WhispererDenise Johnson from The Joy of Children's Literature announced an upcoming chat at Education Week: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, with Donalyn Miller. I'm mentioned Donalyn's book on this topic, The Book Whisperer, and I think that the chat will be both useful and interesting to reading teachers. As Denise said: "not every child has a mother or caretaker who loves to read and knows how to support him or her to blossom as a reader. That's why the job of reading teachers is so important." 

Did you think you were finished with office pools and tournaments? Nope, not yet. School Library Journal has announced its first Battle of the (children's) Books, a tournament that pairs great books from 2008 in a head-to-head competition. The First Round begins Monday, 13 April (a week from today), and there are two matches each day. Brackets are posted for this NCAA-style tournament featuring the best children's books of 2008 competing against one another, and trying to win over judges Lois Lowry, Jon Scieszka, Linda Sue Park, and John Green. You can follow along at Twitter, too:

The theme for Kids @ Your Library this year is “Worlds connect @ Your Library.” This event is part of National Library Week (April 12-18 2009), and it focuses on the many connections library users make at their local libraries.

Although the CPSIA law has been covered extensively already, we thought that this post at The Common Room offered a helpful perspective on the impact of CPSIA on the neediest children. In a nutshell, this homeschooling mother says: "the CPSIA harms the poorest children directly for the sake of pretending to preventing dangers that are more imaginary than real. ... There are NO known cases of children harmed by lead in a book. There are thousands and thousands of case of children harmed by lack of access to books."

Librarychallenge Librarian Ms. Yingling (source of many of my favorite book recommendations), is hosting a Library Design Challenge. She says: "I have become obsessed with optimizing my library and am curious about where others work. I'd like to take a virtual tour of some other school or public libraries and get some ideas for my own!" She asks a series of questions, including "List one BEST feature and one worst feature of your library", and she has a prize to offer... Please do share your knowledge and ideas with her - lots of people could benefit.

We somehow missed celebrating this, but PaperTigers reported that April 2nd was International Children's Book Day. Corinne explains: "Started in 1967, International Children’s Book Day takes place on or around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, April 2nd, and is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books. The event is sponsored by IBBY, The International Board on Books for Young People, a non-profit organization which represents an international network of people from all over the world who are committed to bringing books and children together."

300x250_rwk We mentioned earlier that this was coming, but I wanted to report that RIF has officially launched the 2009 Read with Kids Challenge, which runs from April 1st to June 30th. Carol Rasco explains that RIF and US Airways invite everyone to be part of a national effort to collectively log 5 million minutes spent reading with kids to raise awareness about the importance of reading. There are cool prizes available, too, including a family vacation to Disney World.

RT7 Jennifer Donovan (of Snapshot and 5 Minutes for Books) just launched Read Together 2009. Jennifer explains: "Read Together is a challenge to use reading as a way to connect with your kids. I am inviting each of you to set a specific goal in regards to reading with your child(ren)." And yes, there are prizes. You can find the sign-up post here.

And, rounding out this enormous events section, we direct you to Just One More Book, where Andrea and Mark have launched their Rock Stars of Reading video series. Andrea explains that there is a promotional video about the event. It is "an extract from Part 1 and features some of our car travel as well as photographs and video clips from the entire trip, all cut to the amazing song Animus Girl by savium. Look for the faces of Richard Michelson, Paul O. Zelinsky, Jane Yolen, Jeanne Birdsall, Mo Willems, Jane Dyer, Jarrett Krosoczka, Diane de Groat, Lane Smith, Corinne Dumas, Jeff Mack and MANY MORE!" Exciting stuff!

Raising Readers (and Writers)

The Itty Bitty Bookworm is the place to go if your looking for literature-based preschool curriculum. In April, if you visit the site and subscribe to the newsletter, you will receive their April curriculum absolutely FREE! Thanks to the Bookworm's Booklist for the lead.

Education News Services shares a nice summary of New Jersey Library Association conference programs of interest to educators.

Ketchup on your storytelling ... The Art of Storytelling is an interactive website sponsored by the Delaware Art Museum. If you miss stories with "daintily lifted pantaloons," you will love these short stories (to read or have read to you) that are built around famous pictures. We found this link in Meg Ivey's Literacy Voices Round-up April 3.

We were heartened by this post from Dana Zakrzewski at the ALSC Blog. Dana commented on a news story about how "8 year-old Maria Keller started the Read Indeed campaign to get books into the hands of underprivileged children. Her ultimate goal is to get a million books into kids’ hands by the time she’s 18", saying "Frankly, I’m surprised and impressed that a person this young realizes the importance of Early Literacy and had the vision and drive to initiate such a campaign. It gives me hope for the future of books and reading." We agree!

In homage to the Horn Book article "Unlucky Arithmetic: Thirteen Ways to Raise a Nonreader", by Dean Schneider and Robin Smith, S. Rebecca Leigh shares two new tongue-in-cheek "unlucky arithmetic" lists, about raising non-writers and raising non-artists. We found this link via The Big Fresh from Choice Literacy (a weekly email newsletter, chock-full of literacy-related links).

For a more straightforward approach on tips for young writers, check out this post by Susan Beth Pfeffer. She starts with the basics (read a lot, write a lot, and learn grammar and spelling), and moves on to content. This is a nice, concise article, aimed straight at kids.

At Literacy, families, and learning, Trevor Cairney continues his series on key themes in children's literature, this week discussing the importance of humour. He discusses the different types of humor that children respond to at different ages, and the benefits of humor for literacy. Trevor notes: "Humour has enormous positive benefits for early literacy learning. It helps children to engage with stories and the language that is used to create stories. This in turn helps them to listen to story reading longer, and to want to read books for themselves. This is particularly the case with boys." He gives many examples.

At The Book Chook, Susan Stephenson talks about how to foster early literacy without turning kids off from reading (in response to a reader question about a daughter's resistance to phonics workbooks). Not surprisingly (for anyone who followed the recent Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour), Susan recommends reading aloud with children, starting from infancy. She says: "The great thing about sharing books like this with your kids, is that it teaches them almost unconsciously. They learn to love stories... Read aloud time is an opportunity to have a beloved parent close and all to oneself, while being entertained by the magic of reading." (Do click through for the full quote - Susan, Terry, and I are kindred spirits on this subject.)

BBC News has an article about the Literacy Trust program that uses sports figures to inspire kids to read. I found this part especially interesting: "This year's list of Premier League Reading Stars was published as a study, commissioned by the National Literacy Trust, suggested sports stars were among the most inspirational figures for young people. The research, which questioned 2,176 primary and secondary school pupils aged seven to 15, examined how role models can influence children's reading habits. After family members, sports people were the public figures most likely to inspire reading, the figures suggested."

Literacy & Reading Programs & Research

Terry learned about an interesting article via the Child-Lit Listserve: A Synthesis of Reading Interventions and Effects on Reading Comprehension Outcomes for Older Struggling Readers, by Meaghan S. Edmonds, Sharon Vaughn, Jade Wexler, Colleen Reutebuch, Amory Cable, Kathryn Klingler Tackett, and Jennifer Wick Schnakenberg, from the journal Review of Educational Research. "This article reports a synthesis of intervention studies conducted between 1994 and 2004 with older students (Grades 6–12) with reading difficulties. Interventions addressing decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension were included if they measured the effects on reading comprehension."

Tim Shanahan had an interesting post last week at Literacy Learning about whether the persistence of early reading problems in later life is "research-based fact or urban myth". He finds that "though early reading success or failure translates into later school success or failure is the pattern more than 80% of the time, there are always a few outliers who manage to overcome their initial limitations (again, because they are really smart or live in really smart environments that are arrayed to address the problem). This last point is really important, because it says that redemption is possible."

The Early Ed Watch Blog has a follow-up post about a study that we previously mentioned here, about the benefits of play in elementary school. While agreeing on the need for play time for kindergarteners, Lisa Guernsey suggests that the original report, by Alliance for Childhood, "goes wrong in its reliance on hyperbole. It has chosen to start the sirens based on observations and interviews in just three cities, conducted by researchers who were paid by the Alliance. Until we have a large, national study using independent observers and employing sound, consistent methodologies for collecting information, using words like "crisis" only blurs the picture".

Science Literacy and Reading News shares information about a "new resource for teachers (and the) public on how to recognize science when you see it". Brian Scott explains: "A new University of California, Berkeley, Web site called "Understanding Science" ( paints an entirely new picture of what science is and how science is done, showing it to be a dynamic and creative process rather than the linear – and frequently boring – process depicted in most textbooks."

Education Week reports, in an article by Christina A. Samuels, that "Advocates for early-childhood education are taking President Obama at his word that the billions of dollars for programs like Head Start included in the recent economic-stimulus package are merely a “down payment” on future expansion, (and) are ramping up for expansion after years of being underfunded". Another Education Week article, by Alyson Klein, finds that "policymakers in some states hit hard by the economic downturn, such as Nevada and Tennessee, appear to favor increasing, or maintaining, funding for K-12 schools over higher education."

Grants, Sponsorships & Donations

Meg Ivey brought to our attention this FOX News Memphis story about "a $600,000 grant (that) was awarded to three Memphis City Schools as part of Toyota's and the National Center for Family Literacy nationwide effort to promote literacy."

New Resources

Via Jeannette McLeod on Twitter, Terry uncovered an interesting new resource. is an online site for e-books. You can purchase books, but there are also a few to view or download for free. A highlight is that you can have the book read aloud to you (the words are highlighted as you go along). You can also use the cursor to point to specific words and the narrator will say them aloud.

Jenny Schwartzberg told us about a fascinating article by Doron Halutz at about the response in Israel to the character Pippi Longstocking (or Bilbi Bat-Gerev, as she is known there). Terry and I both grew up as Pippi Longstocking fans (I was Annika in my second grade play, to my more adventurous friend Holly's Pippi), and we both found this article intriguing.

That's all for this week! Happy Reading!

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

Killer Pizza: Greg Taylor

Book: Killer Pizza
Author: Greg Taylor
Pages: 352
Age Range:  10-14

Killer PizzaEvery once in a while you run across a book that seems destined to be a hit based on title and premise alone. Killer Pizza, by Jumanji screenwriter Greg Taylor, is just such a book. When 14-year-old Toby McGill snags a summer job at new local restaurant Killer Pizza, he's thrilled because the job gives him a chance to work towards his secret desire to be a chef. Toby loves the job, especially when he becomes a key part of a team, together with popular but surprisingly nice Annabel, and cool but frustratingly distant Strobe. But when Toby learns that the pizza place is actually a front for an underground monster-hunting organization, he has some serious decisions to make. 

Killer Pizza reminded me a bit of Rick Yancey's Alfred Kropp books, in which an ordinary boy finds himself unwillingly transformed into an action hero, and a bit of Jennifer Barnes' The Squad books, in which an adult organization decides to train a secret group of teen operatives. Except that, you know, there are monsters in Killer Pizza, most notably guttata (sophisticated brethren to gargoyles, bearing attributes of vampires and werewolves).

I think that Killer Pizza will fill an important niche, offering a mix of horror and adventure, aimed solidly at middle school readers. There's plenty of pizza. Toby and Strobe are both crazy about Annabel. Toby is picked on by the local bully. Toby has normal sibling rivalry with his too-perfect younger sister, and battles to get more independence from his parents. And, oh yeah, he has access to high-tech weapons, and he learns to fight monsters.

Taylor's writing is fast-paced and action-focused, with heavy use of italics and exclamation points. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I think that it's likely to work for middle schoolers. Here are a couple of examples:

""Your obvious uneasiness and disbelief is to be expected," Harvey continued. "Allow me to prove to you that I'm not a total, raving loon." Harvey turned to a high, narrow refrigerator located behind him and opened the door. The trio couldn't believe what they saw hanging on a hook in the fridge.

It was a large, grotesque figure that looked like a cross between a human and an animal!

This time the creature was not backlit by a streetlamp or shrouded in darkness. The bright basement light revealed every chilling detail of the thing's features." (Page 47, ARC)

"When Harvey walked into his office he literally got goose bumps from what he saw on one of the monitors. Two hooded people had broken into Killer Pizza!" (Page 221, ARC)

It's no coincidence R. L. Stine (of Goosebumps fame) wrote the blurb for this title. Killer Pizza is a great book for kids who have outgrown early middle grade horror, but still want to read creepy stories, and aren't necessarily ready to move on to Stephen King. I think this is one that middle school librarians will definitely want to stock. I believe that a sequel is in the works, too.

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: May 26, 2009
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: None that I found. But Betsy Bird commented, on seeing the publisher preview for this title: "The gist appears to be pizza delivery = monster slaying.  R.L. Stine wrote the blurb for it, which got me to thinking. Why aren't there more kid horror series and books out there?  Not teen horror series. We're fine with Cirque du Freak, thank you much.  But for kids, when they want something vaguely horrific it's to the Stine or the Alvin Schwartz they go.  Why aren't more people capitalizing on this? I stand confused."

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

Saturday Afternoon Visits: April 4

Kidlitosphere_button Sorry I've been so absent from the blog lately. I had to travel to the east coast for a funeral, a sudden, this was really NOT supposed to happen, funeral, and I've had neither the time nor the heart for keeping up these past couple of weeks. But I do very much appreciate the supportive comments that I've received (and I'm especially grateful to Terry for taking on last weekend's literacy round-up). And now, I am ready to get back to some semblance of normal. Which is a good thing, because there have been crazy amounts of activity in the Kidlitosphere this week. Here are a few highlights:

First up, Pam Coughlan (MotherReader) reports that you can now start making hotel reservations for the Third Annual Kidlitosphere conference. The conference will be held October 16-18, in Washington, CDC. Pam also announced the date for the next 48-Hour Book Challenge (June 5th - 7th). Be sure to get both of those on your calendar.

30poets30days Various initiatives launched April 1st, in honor of National Poetry Month. There's Greg Pincus' 30 Poets / 30 Days at Gotta Book, Tricia Stohr-Hunt's Poetry Makers series at The Miss Rumphius Effect, Jone MacCulloch's Poetry Postcard project at Check It Out, and Elaine Magliaro's various prizes at her new Political Verses blog. See also an interview with Greg about 30 Poets / 30 Days at Just One More Book!

NatPoetryMonth2009 Also, as reported by Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, "at Poetry for Children, Sylvia Vardell will be reviewing a new children’s poetry book every day. And at Pencil Talk — School Poems, author and teacher and blogger Anastasia Suen is inviting K-12 students during the month of April to write their own poems and send them to her. She will post them there at Pencil Talk." Jules also notes that at 7-Imp "celebrations will occur in the form of some interviews/features with poets and poet/illustrators AND artists who have illustrated poetry titles, and I’ve got some new poetry collections and anthologies I’d love to share."

National Poetry Month also inspired an enormous outpouring of posts for last week's Poetry Friday (a year-round event by which KidLit bloggers focus on poetry on Fridays). Amy Planchak Graves has a simply amazing round-up. Also don't miss Lynn Hazen's Imaginary Blog, where Lynn is celebrating "Bad Poetry Friday", with a poem written by Betsy Bird of Fuse #8 when she was 17 years old. Lynn is also the subject of a delightful ForeWord Magazine interview this month.

And speaking of Fuse #8, via Fuse News, I found a link to the International Edible Book Festival announcement, and I could not resist sharing. "This ephemeral global banquet, in which anyone can participate, is shared by all on the internet and allows everyone to preserve and discover unique bookish nourishments. This festival is a celebration of the ingestion of culture and a way to concretely share a book; it is also a deeper reflexion on our attachment to food and our cultural differences." I do find the April 1st date somewhat suspicious... But did I ever mention that Mheir got me a chocolate book last Christmas? Well, it was a book, but when you opened it up there were delicious truffles inside. But close enough to being a chocolate book. He does know me.

Still speaking of Betsy (she is everywhere this week), please join me in congratulating her. Betsy just had two picture books acquired by Greenwillow. The timing seems particularly fortuitous, given that she's just started releasing the results of her fabulous Top 100 Picture Books poll. You can find the results so far here and here. These are must-read posts for picture book fans. More than just listing the titles, Betsy also includes cover images and commentary. I find myself very curious about what books will be showing up on the rest of the list. I did chime in with my picks, but I haven't yet been bold enough (or had time enough) to post my top 10 list here.

I'm also kind of curious to see what books show up on a list that Laurel Snyder has started: 100 Horrible Picture Books. She explains: "For the next week, I ask that you email me... and tell me the name of a picture  book you HATE! And please, if you can, a few words about why you detest it. Here’s the catch: It has to be a book other people love. A classic. A bestseller. A “gem” of some kind." I'm pretty sure that there will be overlap with a book that's already been featured on Betsy's list... you all know which one I'm talking about.

Cbstnw And as long as we're being irreverent, Minh Le from Bottom Shelf Books and Farida Dowler  from Saints and Spinners are running a contest called Unnecessary Children's Book Sequels that Never Were. It's pretty self-explanatory, but you can find the details here.  

Amy has a lovely post at Literacy Launchpad about children's books as family heirlooms. She begins: "What if you had something in your family to pass down through the generations that was truly beautiful, appreciated, practical, valued, and could make your children (or grandchildren) smarter and more successful? I bet you do! Children's books!"

And while we're on the subject of adults who cherish children's books as heirlooms, don't miss Melissa's recent rant at Kidliterate, asking adults to please stop apologizing for reading kids' books. She says: "I don’t care if you don’t have kids. I don’t care if you have kids. It is okay to read books written for children and young adults. It is okay to enjoy them. It is okay for other adults to see you reading them. It is okay to tell other adults to shove it if they mock you for reading books written for children and young adults." Hear, hear! 

IloveyourblogOne thing that brightened my own week was that Natasha Worswick from Children's Books for Grownups (is that a great blog name, or what?) gave me an I (heart) your blog award. I'm not going to directly pass this one along, but of course I love all of the blog that I've mentioned here, and the others that I'll be linking to in Monday's Children's Literacy Round-Up. Thanks for cheering me during a tough week, Tasha!

And finally, some quick tidbits:

  • The Readergirlz featured title for this month is Impulse by Ellen Hopkins.
  • My fellow dystopian fiction fan Adrienne has a fun post about The Top Five Things You Might Want to Read/Watch If You Want to Make THIS the Year You Start Canning.
  • On the subject of dystopias, Gail Gauthier links to a fascinating article by Farah Mendlesohn in the Horn Book Magazine about the state of science fiction for kids. I'm going to echo Gail in saying that Sheila Ruth must read this one.

I can't even tell you how great it feels to be relatively caught up on the doings of the Kidlitosphere. Thanks for being here, guys!

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

Books Read in March

This is a list of all of the books that I read in March broken up into Middle Grade Books, Young Adult Books, Adult Fiction, and Adult Nonfiction.

Middle Grade Books

  1. Leslie Margolis: Boys are Dogs. Bloomsbury. Completed March 11, 2009. My review.
  2. Fran Cannon Slayton: When the Whistle Blows. Philomel. Completed March 31, 2009. Review forthcoming.

Young Adult Books

  1. Carrie Ryan: The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Completed March 3, 2009. My review.
  2. Paul Zindel: The Pigman. HarperTeen. Completed March 14, 2009. My review.
  3. Marley Gibson: Ghost Huntress: The Awakening. Sandpiper. Completed March 20, 2009. My review.
  4. Carol Plum-Ucci: Streams of Babel. Harcourt. Completed March 21, 2009. My review.
  5. Stephenie Meyer: Twilight. Little, Brown. Completed March 28, 2009. (A re-read, inspired by seeing the movie.)
  6. Greg Taylor: Killer Pizza. Feiwel & Friends. Completed March 31, 2009. Review forthcoming.

Adult Fiction

  1. Kyle Mills: Darkness Falls. Vanguard Press. Completed March 10, 2009.
  2. Laura Lippman: Another Thing to Fall. Completed March 23, 2009.
  3. Orson Scott Card: Speaker for the Dead. Tor. Completed March 28, 2009. (On MP3)
  4. Lisa Lutz: Curse of the Spellmans. Simon & Schuster. Completed March 31, 2009.

Adult Nonfiction

  1. Donalyn Miller: The Book Whisperer. Jossey-Bass. Completed March 21, 2009. Review forthcoming, when I get my life back to normal. But for now, let me just say: READ THIS BOOK!

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