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Posts from May 2009

New Booklights Post about Rick Riordan Signing

JenwithRickRiordan I have a new post up this morning at Booklights in which I describe this weekend's author event by Rick Riordan at Kepler's Books. The photo to the left is actually from last year's event at Hicklebee's. That event was a bit less hectic (though it seemed plenty busy at the time), and I was able to get a photo. This year, with this being the final book of the Percy Jackson series, and the Lightning Thief movie in progress, well, let's just say that I couldn't get another picture with Rick. I do have a few pictures of the event, though, if you'd like to click through to see.

Booklights I also have have brand new information (in the Booklights post) about a completely different series that Rick is launching next spring... I'll have a review of The Last Olympian here soon - I read it in one sitting yesterday.


Children's Literacy Round-Up: May 11

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 and I (mostly Terry, I must admit) have collected plenty of content for you about literacy & reading-related events; raising readers; literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; grants, sponsorships & donations; and other new resources.

One thing that I love about these round-ups is that we seem to find new kindred spirit children's literacy evangelists every week. For example:

"The confession of a literacy evangelist: “I admit it. I am obsessed with getting kids to read, and not just read, but I want them hooked on reading like a junkie in an alley.” It may SOUND like you, but those are Kristine’s words (Best Book I Have Not Read)."

Also, one bit of news came in too late to be included in the orignal roundup. Via the Just One More Book!! newsletter:

Just One More Book!! is helping kick off Children's Book Week with a video that offers advice to aspiring readers from some of your favourite authors and illustrators. 

Mark put a twist on the age-old question about advice to aspiring writers and collected insight from Jeanne Birdsall, Diane de Groat, Tony DiTerlizzi, Jane Dyer, Paul Jacobs, Norton Juster, Jarrett Krosoczka, Jeff Mack, David Mazor, David Milgrim, Barry Moser, Lesléa Newman, Shelley Rotner, Ruth Sanderson, Heidi Stemple, Mo Willems and Jane Yolen.  

Also included is a short interview with David Mazor, Founder and Executive Director of Reader to Reader -- a non-profit organization that distributes books to schools and libraries in need.  During the Children's Illustration Show, Reader to Reader honoured author Norton Juster for his generosity and commitment to promoting literacy.

I haven't had a chance to listen yet, but doesn't that sound AMAZING? This is part 20 in Andrea and Mark's Rock Stars of Reading series, which has been a tremendous gift to children's literature fans everywhere.

You can find los of additional literacy and reading related news in the full round-up at Scrub-a-Dub-Tub. Happy reading!


Heart of a Shepherd: Rosanne Parry

Book: Heart of a Shepherd
Author: Rosanne Parry (also a member of the Class of 2k9)
Pages: 176
Age Range: 9-12 

Heart of a Shepherd12-year-old "Brother" lives on a cattle ranch in rural Oregon with his father and grandparents (his mother having run off to Europe when he was five). He is the youngest of five boys, and the only one still living at home full-time. When his military reservist father is called up for a tour in Iraq, Brother takes it upon himself to keep the ranch running smoothly. Rosanne Parry's Heart of a Shepherd is the story of Brother's coming of age in trying times. It's a beautiful, moving story. I cried more than once, especially at the end. 

Heart of a Shepherd is full of positive messages -- about doing your duty, about looking out for people who depend on you, and about being true to your beliefs -- but never feels preachy. I think it works because the characters are strong. You don't get the sense that the author is suggesting a particular way or behavior, but rather that the characters live and breathe by their own individual moral codes. Their choices reflect their beliefs. This is particularly true of Brother, his father, and his grandfather. 

I liked Brother a lot. He's a ranch kid, sure, but he just might be too tender-hearted for the business. He's imaginative (he assigns chess pieces individual personalities) and kind to animals, but he's not above throwing something at a girl to get her attention, or starting a fight with his brothers. Here are a couple of examples of Brother's voice:

"Now, to my mind, pawns are a shifty-looking bunch, plus they clutter up the board, so I try to clear most of them off right away, his and mine. I like my knights to have plenty of room to ride." (The Chess Men)

"After the opening blessing, Mrs. Hobbs launches into the Gloria a full two octaves above human range. Somewhere there are dogs getting spiritual edification from this. The rest of us are just bumbling along in search of a key." (Serving the Altar)

"If you are looking for loud lamenting, a Basque family's the way to go." (Coming Home)

The ranch setting gives Heart of a Shepherd the feel of a historical novel, to me anyway, even though it's set in modern times. I found references to sending email and ordering cow vaccines online faintly incongruous (though of course the war in Iraq is taking place now). Heart of a Shepherd is a window into a lifestyle that I'm not sure many people know about (having to go away to boarding school for high school, because there is no high school where you live, for example). I think it would pair well with Fran Cannon Slayton's When the Whistle Blows or Kirby Larson's Hattie Big Sky.

Sometimes you read a book, and, regardless of other attributes, you notice that the prose is beautiful. With Heart of a Shepherd, it's not so much that the prose is beautiful (though there are lovely passages), as that the ideas are beautiful. It's the kind of book that you want to share with others. Although this isn't a long book, I think it will be a crossover title that will please adult readers. But not to worry -- there's plenty or danger and heroism to engage middle grade readers, too.

Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: January 27, 2009
Source of Book: Advance Review Copy from the author (at the Kidlitosphere conference in Portland, OR in October of 2008). Quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final printed book.
Other Blog Reviews: Mrs. V's Reviews, Shelf Elf
Author Interviews: Cynsations

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


Thursday Afternoon Visits: May 7

A few interesting things have crossed my reader this week from around the Kidlitosphere.

Babe RuthFirst up, I won a prize at Get in the Game--Read. I hardly ever enter contests for books because, you know, I feel guilty enough about the books that I already have that I'm not reading. But this one, I couldn't resist. Lori Calabrese was giving away a signed copy of David A. Kelly's Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse. Here's a snippet from the product description: "Then, in 2004, along came a scruffy, scrappy Red Sox team. Could they break Babe Ruth’s curse and win it all?" What can I say? I'm a woman of limited interests. (If it wasn't for books, chocolate, the Pride and Prejudice miniseries, and the Red Sox, I'd be hard pressed to ever come up with Facebook status updates.)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney was named to the Time 100 this year. Travis has the details at 100 Scope Notes. I love seeing a children's book author recognized for his positive impact on kids. Also available at 100 Scope Notes this week, photographic proof of Where the Sidewalk Ends. I knew it had to be somewhere.

2009-CBW-Poster Children's Book Week will be observed May 11-17. Elaine Magliaro has tons of great links at Wild Rose Reader. Elaine also has a comprehensive round-up of National Poetry Month links from around the Kidlitosphere. I don't know where she finds the time, I really don't!

For anyone looking for summer reading recommendations for kids, do check out Claire's summer reading list at The Horn Book website. There are some great titles, all nicely organized by age range. Link via Read Roger.

I learned via Omnivoracious that one of my favorite 2009 titles is already on the way to becoming a movie. "Film rights have for Carrie Ryan's YA novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth have been snapped up by Seven Star Pictures. Publishers Weekly is reporting that "the project [is] for an-as-yet-unnamed A-list starlet."" Now that has the potential to be a great movie!

Catching FireAnd speaking of my favorite dystopian YA novels, kudos to Lois Lowry for selecting  Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games as the winner of SLJ's Battle of the (Kids') Books. For responses, see Liz B.'s take at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy or Maureen Kearney's at Confessions of a Bibliovore. Color me envious of all those attending BEA, who may be able too score advance copies of the Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire. (I'm also envying Sarah Miller, who seems to have herself a copy of Kristin Cashore's Graceling prequel, Fire. One would think that I didn't have hundreds of other books to choose from already. And don't you think that Carrie Ryan's next book should be called Unconsecrated Fire?).

Speaking of Kristin Cashore, she has an interesting post about intertextuality (when later books are influenced by earlier books, and then re-readings of the earlier books are influenced by your experience reading the later books).

Colleen Mondor comments on a trend that she's noticed, of having 12-year-old protagonists in books published for adults. She says: "I"m not saying that adults can't enjoy a book with a child protagonist - we all know and love Tom Sawyer and Scout and all those other classics that have stood the test of time and that's great. But this whole teen trend thing that seemed such a big deal with Special Topics in Calamity Physics is starting to look like vamp novels look in YA. In other words these preternaturally smart children are starting to crop up everywhere and I wish I knew why."

And last but not least, don't miss MotherReader's latest post at Booklights, about her favorite funny chapter books.


Congratulations Readergirlz!

Newlogorg200Please join me in congratulating Readergirlz! They just won an Innovations in Reading prize from the National Book Foundation. The readergirlz divas, postergirlz, and supporters work tirelessly to connect with teen girls through books. It's wonderful to see their efforts recognized. They're in great company, too. Here's the press release.

National Book Foundation Announces Winners of its First Innovations in Reading Prize: Winners Include a Teacher, a Best-selling Author's Website, a Reading Program in a Correctional Facility, a Public Library System, and an Online Community for Teens

New York, NY, May 5, 2009 - The Board of the National Book Foundation has awarded its first Innovations in Reading Prizes to one individual and four organizations who are demonstrating passion, creativity, dedication, and leadership in the service of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading. The winners include: a teacher; an online resource created by best-selling author James Patterson and literary consultant Judy Freeman that helps identify books for kids; a program that allows inmates to read to their children via CDs that are mailed home bi-monthly; an online book community for teens girls that uses social networking; and a Dewey-less public library. The winners hail from Elroy Arizona, Gilbert, Arizona; Santa Fe, New Mexico; New York, NY; and Tacoma, Washington. Each winner will receive $2,500.00 and a framed certificate.

Leslie Shipman, Director of Programs for the National Book Foundation states, “The Innovations in Reading Prize is the National Book Foundation’s program to discover, promote, and, we hope, help replicate the innovative efforts of individuals and organizations who are sharing their passion for books and reading at the grassroots level, both in their communities and online. The enthusiasm and creativity shown by these five is remarkable. We hope other organizations across the country will be able to take these ideas and put them into practice in their own communities.” Innovations in Reading is supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

The Winners are:

Robert Wilder: Robert Wilder is both an elementary and high-school teacher in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the only individual to receive the prize. His creativity, commitment, and passion for sharing his love of books with his students are exceptional. He is a powerful example of the impact a single, devoted teacher can have on the lives of his students. “Books are my gesture toward a better life for anyone willing to turn some pages,” Bob says. “Like many teachers and writers, I find myriad ways to get good books into other people's hands, whether it's a kindergartner struggling over his first sentence, a high-school student trying to find her voice in the wilderness of adolescence, or an intellectually starved friend at a dinner party.”

James Patterson’s ReadKiddoRead: ReadKiddoRead.com is a hassle-free online resource that helps parents, teachers, adults, and librarians identify books that kids will love. When Patterson found out that his son Jack did not share his passion for books, He took it upon himself to fix the situation by choosing books he knew his son would love. He even started writing books for kids to get Jack interested. The author's motivation led him to create ReadKiddoRead.com. “There are millions of kids who have never read a book they’ve liked. There are also thousands of children’s books out there. This site lists the ones they won’t be able to resist,” Patterson says. Children’s literature consultant Judy Freeman also works on the site, writing a bulk of the reviews. Even though the original target audience was to be grownups, kids are using the site as well. “We’re ecstatic over winning this recognition,” says Patterson. “The site is working. And with the National Book Foundation on our side, I hope many more adults will be inspired to take their kids’ reading habits into their own hands.”

Fathers Bridging the Miles: Fathers Bridging the Miles is a program of Read to Me International, a Hawaii-based non-profit devoted to children's literacy. The program provides children of incarcerated fathers in the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, with a unique and meaningful way to develop a love of reading by recording inmates reading children’s books onto CDs. The recorded reading and a copy of the book are mailed to their children bimonthly. This program works on many levels. Incarcerated men maintain a strong bond with their children through books, as well as improve their reading skills. Their children are able to hear their fathers read stories to them, despite the miles between them. According to Pat Mizuno, the Program Director, “It is amazing to see the relationships between fathers and their children bloom over books and reading. The children enjoy getting the books in the mail and love listening to their fathers’ voices. We know our program is having an impact when we meet former program participants after being paroled and they are still reading to their children!”

Maricopa County Library District: Maricopa County Library District of Gilbert, Arizona, dropped the Dewey system two years ago to make their library more user-friendly. Based on customers' surveys, Maricopa decided that organizing the library into “neighborhoods,” the way bookstores are organized, was a better way to meet customers’ needs, and as a result, circulation has doubled. Maricopa has received national attention as well, from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and NPR, that has opened a serious discussion about how libraries can best serve the needs of the reading public. “The library is customer centric,” states Harry R. Courtright, the Director. “The Innovation in Reading Prize for the Dewey-less approach to organizing libraries may inspire other libraries to also try new ways to get people to read.”

readergirlz: readergirlz is an online book community for teen girls that is designed to make reading hip, compelling, and fun, as well as to promote teen literacy and leadership. Their mission is to get teens to read, reflect, and reach out. Using social networking sites, YouTube, and other online resources, teens are able to chat with their favorite Young Adult authors. readegirlz is led by five Young Adult authors: Dia Calhoun, Holly Cupala, Lorie Ann Grover, Justina Chen Headley, and Melissa Walker. When told that readergirlz was one of five winners, Dia Calhoun, author and co-founder, stated, “With this amazing and generous Innovations in Reading Prize, readergirlz can continue to find new ways to connect teens with the best authors in young adult literature, making reading hip and appealing using the latest technology.”

# # #

The Mission of the National Book Foundation is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of good writing in America.

About the National Book Awards
The nation’s most prestigious literary prize, the National Book Awards has a stellar record of identifying and rewarding quality writing. In 1950, William Carlos Williams was the first winner in Poetry, the following year William Faulkner was honored, and so on through the years. Many previous Winners of a National Book Award are now firmly established in the canon of American literature. On November 18th, the National Book Awards will be presented in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature.

See more on the Readergirlz blog post announcing the award.


MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge!

48hbc Popping in to make sure that you all know about MotherReader's upcoming 48 Hour Book Challenge. Amazingly enough, this is the fourth annual challenge. I participated in number 1 and number 3, and have cleared my schedule for number 4, the weekend of June 5-7.

The 48 Hour Book Challenge is a lot of fun. The basic idea is that you pick a 48-hour time period over the weekend, and try to spend as much time reading as possible during that period. You blog about the books that you've read (though the blogging can be brief). There are prizes for most time spent, most books read, etc. But for me, the valauble thing about the challenge is that it gives me permission to prioritize reading over everything else for 2 days. I've definitely been feeling lately like other commitments (including other blogging commitments) are keeping me from reading as much as I would like. So I'm really looking forward to the weekend of June 5-7.

You can find more details at MotherReader. You can comment there to announce your intention of particpating, too. I highly recommend it!


Unwind: Neal Shusterman

Book: Unwind
Author: Neal Shusterman
Pages: 352
Age Range: 13 and up 

UnwindBackground: I've been wanting to read Unwind ever since both Sherry Early and Abby (the) Librarian recommended it for my list of futuristic, speculative, science fiction or dystopian fiction titles aimed at young adults. I finally got my act together to request it from the library last week. And I read it in one sitting.

Review: Neal Shusterman's Unwind is a thought-provoking dystopian science fiction story for young adults. The premise is that after a second civil war in the United States over abortion rights, the Heartland War, a settlement has been reached. Under the settlement, abortion is completely illegal. However, parents have the option to have children between the ages of thirteen and eighteen "unwound". Unwinding involves breaking up the teen for parts, and donating virtually all of their organs to other people. The justification for unwinding is that if all of the parts are transferred to other human beings, then the teen isn't dead - just unwound into a new and different existence. The unwinding process is ritualized and mythologized to make it more acceptable to people (reminding me a bit of The Handmaid's Tale). But at its core, the process is about money -- body parts being a valuable commodity.

Unwind is told from the shifting perspectives of three teens, all slated to be unwound. Connor is a bit of troublemaker, and his parents decide that it's easier to get rid of him. Risa is an orphan living in a state home, put up for unwinding because of budget cuts. Lev, in contrast, grew up in a loving home, but is being unwound as part of his parents' religion (under which one of every ten children is a "tithe" to society). Through a series of circumstances (and Connor's bold action), the three teens find themselves on the run together, dodging the Juvey-cops, looking for a safe haven from a society that wants them unwound.

Unwind is a book that will make readers think. About when life begins and ends, what gives a life meaning, and the consequences to society of cheapening life. Shusterman doesn't come down on any one side - this no moral spoon-feeding - but he does use the premise of the novel to explore these questions in detail. Having a variety of viewpoint characters helps, too, since the characters have different answers to the questions. All of this questioning takes place in a fast-paced, suspenseful package that will keep readers turning the pages.

Reading the book, I wasn't sure what to think of some of the characters, or who to trust. Even the primary characters, the two boys anyway, are complex. Connor is the hero, a reluctant leader who loses his temper easily, and sometimes makes decisions rashly. He probably has ADHD. Lev, raised to know all his life that he's expected to be unwound, is fanatical, bitter, angry, and yet surprisingly loyal. Risa is a bit more idealized. She is the book's moral center, and the one who sees power dynamics the most clearly. There's also an intriguing character named CyFi introduced later in the book, but to discuss him at all would be a spoiler. Here again, the shifting viewpoints help, giving the reader different perspectives on the characters.

Here are a few quotes, to give you more of a feel for the book:

"Connor wonders how he can call the place he lives home, when he's about to be evicted--not just from the place he sleeps, but from the hearts of those who are supposed to love him." (Page 5)

"Deeper in the woods a girl sits up against a tree, holding her arm, grimacing in pain. He doesn't have time for this, but "Protect and Serve" is more than just a motto to him. He sometimes wishes he didn't have such moral integrity." (Page 39. This passage is noteworthy because the 'he" in question is a Juvey-cop, someone who chases down runaway teens, and delivers them for unwinding. I liked the understated irony.)

"These two Unwinds are out of control. He no longer fears that they'll kill him, but that doesn't make them any less dangerous. They need to be protected from themselves. They need ... they need ... they need to be unwound. Yes. That's the best solution for these two. They're of no use to anyone in their current state, least of all themselves. It would probably be a relief for them, for now they're all broken up on the inside. Better to be broken up on the outside instead. That way their divided spirits could rest, knowing that their living flesh was spread around the world, saving lives, making other people whole. Just as his own spirit would soon rest." (Page 68, Lev)

So what we have here is a book in my favorite sub-genre, dystopian young adult fiction, one that kept me guessing all the way to the end, and then had me thinking about the issues the next day. That makes Unwind a winner in my book. I'd give this one to fans of The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson, The Declaration and The Resistance by Gemma Malley, and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. It's also a book that fans of Margaret Peterson Haddix's Shadow Children series will enjoy when they get older, though I wouldn't offer it to middle grade readers (there's an unwind sequence that is particularly disturbing). Recommended, for teens and adults.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: November 2007 (paperback due out June 2, 2009)
Source of Book: Library copy
Other Blog Reviews: Among many others: Library Ninja, the Book Nest, 3 Evil Cousins, Reading and Breathing, and Abby (the) Librarian. Abby also linked to "reviews at Ms. Yingling Reads, Becky's Book Reviews, Oops...Wrong Cookie, and Buried in the Slush Pile."
Author Interviews: How to Furnish a Room

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


Welcome, PBS Fans from Facebook and Twitter

Booklights This week, the new PBS Parents blog that I'm working on with Pam Coughlan, Susan Kusel, and Gina Montefusco officially launched. Today, PBS linked to Booklights from their Facebook page. So far, 400+ fans of PBS have given the thumbs up to the new blog, with 50+ people taking time to comment at Facebook or at Booklights. Gina also launched Booklights on Twitter, where we have a few followers already. Me, I'm just thrilled to see this tremendous positive response from so many parents, fans of PBS, and fans of children's books.

I noticed in the Facebook comments that there was a particularly positive response to my inclusion of  Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief in my top 10 middle grade books on Booklights. All I can say is, people really really love the Percy Jackson books. So, fans of Rick Riordan who have landed here via Booklights, I have two tidbits for you:

1. Here's the link to my interview with Rick Riordan from November of 2007. A snippet from Rick that I think PBS readers will appreciate is: "when I'm writing for kids, I get the sense that I am making a real impact on their lives. I love it when the Percy Jackson series turns kids into readers. The teacher in me just thinks that's the greatest reward possible."

Olympian 2. The fifth and final Percy Jackson book, The Last Olympian, is out TODAY. I don't have a copy yet - I'm waiting to buy one (or two, probably) when I attend a local signing this weekend. But I have already run across a review of the new book at Ms. Yingling Reads.

Many thanks to all of you who have shown such strong early support for Booklights! (And especially to all of my blog friends who have taken the time to mention Booklights.) Susan will have a post up tomorrow at Booklights about some of her favorite books to read aloud.


Children's Literacy Round-Up: May 4

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 here. 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; 21st century literacies; and other new resources. We hope that you'll find some nice food for thought!

Events

The Aurora Examiner (Colorado) has an article by Christin Fynewever about an upcoming celebration of literacy, in support of the Ethiopia Reads program. We've mentioned Ethiopia Reads before. This program, founded by Johannes Gebregeorgis, uses donkeys to deliver books as a mobile library in Ethiopia. The event will take place at the Aurora Library on May 9th, and will feature donkeys. Terry found this article at the Tadias magazine website ("the leading lifestyle and business publication devoted exclusively to the Ethiopian-American community in the United States").

Via Patricia Newman's Book Notes blog, we learned about Kids Otter Read Day: "A day to celebrate children's literacy! More than 50 authors and illustrators will visit 12 spectacular independent children's book stores in the San Francisco Bay area on the maiden voyage of this event. Author appearances will take place from 1:00 to 3:00 pm on Saturday, May 16, 2009."

Logo_bos_small Last week, Terry mentioned the Youk's Kids Reading Group (founded by Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis). My fellow Red Sox fan Kathy from Library Stew  followed up on this post and identified another Red Sox-related reading program. Kathy says: "if you live in Massachusetts your kids can get into summer reading by participating in the Mass. Teachers Association's Red Sox Reading Game. The spokesperson for this program is none other than Sox catcher, Jason Varitek... The program is run through Massachusetts schools, and the cool thing is, winners can take their teacher to a Red Sox game - my aunt went with one of her students last year and she said it was a BLAST!". Like I didn't love these guys already!

Foundation_logo Speaking of sports and reading, one of our new favorite blogs is Get In the Game--Read!, a blog linking sports and children's literacy, founded by Lori Calabrese. This week, Lori wrote about a pro football draft day party to benefit children's literacy. She says: "Former Tennessee Titan Steve McNair and The Steve McNair Foundation hosted a Draft Day Party last Saturday at the Crow's Nest in Nashville, TN to benefit local children's literacy organizations Book’em and Books from Birth of Middle Tennessee."

In addition to enjoying it when sports figures promote literacy, I also like to see other community figures of authority taking time to encourage kids to read. So I naturally enough gravitated to this Ledger-Enquirer article by Annie Addington about a police officer participating in Heroes Read Day at the Columbus Public Library. "Saturday’s event, which coincides with a national Free Comic Book Day, is targeted toward boys in fourth through sixth grades – although everyone is welcome. The carnival-style event will feature stations where children learn to draw comic book-style characters; listen to books about firefighters, policemen and other real-world heroes; and visit with Columbus area heroes — including soldiers, police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel — as they show off their vehicles and discuss how they use reading in their careers and personal lives. Children will also receive a free comic book and lunch.

One of our favorite literacy advocates, Jim Trelease, has recently partnered with the Springfield (MA) school board to urge parents to read with their kids and to be part of a city-wide initiative to ensure children have the skills they need to be proficient readers by age 9. Terry found this one via @everybodywins. See also my notes from a talk that Jim Trelease did here in California a couple of years ago - the subject material is timeless.

Booklights Over at Booklights (the new PBS Parents blog that I'm working on with Pam Coughlan, Susan Kusel, and Gina Montefusco) on Thursday, I posted about a couple of picture book-related contests. I also just learned about a contest being hosted by Beth Kephart for young poets. Beth explains: "I am (and I say this without excess) astonished, daily, by the poems that so many of you are writing and posting. I would like, then, to announce a contest, the winner of which will receive a signed copy of the UNDERCOVER paperback. I'd like those of you who might be interested to send to me, in the comments section of this post, a link to your best blogged poem." You can find more details here.  

Raising Readers

ShareAStoryLogo2 I do NOT know where she finds the time, but Terry has added tons of new resources to the Share a Story - Shape a Future blog this week. She's pulled together references from the entire 2009 literacy blog tour, across many blogs. She's organized them and put them into a series of posts. So we have links to Books and Booklists for Adults and Preschoolers, Picture Books and Easy Readers, Middle Grade and Young Adult Books, and All Audiences. The last post also links to read-alike lists mentioned during the tour (though she notes that there are many others out there). These lists are wonderful resources, well worth a look. (Image credit to Susan Stephenson.)

We found several nice articles this week why it's important to raise readers in the first place. First up, Trevor Cairney concludes his series at Literacy, families and learning about the power of literature, discussing the ways that literature can transform people . He concludes: "Literature has great power to teach, enrich and transform us. We must value literature and storytelling. In this age of mass and instant communication, where writing and reading more than 160 characters is a challenge for some, we must protect literature and share it with our children and with all future generations of children." But do read the whole series.

I also loved a recent post Eva Mitnick at the ALSC blog about how the books read during childhood can change people's lives. Eva asks: "If my passionate childhood reading shaped my very being and the way I still approach both books and the world, then what is it like to be a child who doesn’t read - and how does not reading affect the adult this child will become?" I know for me, the books that I read absolutely shaped who I am - I think this is part of why I care so MUCH that kids have the opportunity to grow up loving books. I'm grateful to Eva for articulating this so well.

At the NCTE Inbox blog, Traci Gardner proposes: "rather than telling people the benefits of literature, let's ask them to tell us. Let's ask them to share what they've gained from reading literature. We can take advantage of the popularity of short surveys, quizzes, and lists on sites like Facebook and MySpace by creating our own five questions that demonstrate why people read literature." She includes her suggested questions, and her own responses.

Still looking at the benefits of literacy, Terry and I were both unable to resist this post at Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (I.N.K.). It's a guest post from Linda Salzman's 12-year-old son about where reading has led him (hint: from books about siege weaponry to detailed plans for a working catapult). We love kids who talk about books!

Moving on to taking action to raise readers, the Times Online has a nice article by Sarah Ebner with 8 tips to to help your child to read & to support them if you're worried about their progress. The tips are from Cathy Beck, infant teacher and mother of three. I especially liked: "7. Read to your child. Buy books. Join the library. Let your child associate books with bedtime and cuddles. Make sure that your childminder or nursery takes books seriously." and "8. And of course make reading fun." Terry found this article via Twitter from Everybody Wins and Book Dads.

I also liked this short post at 5 Minutes for Books about how to raise a reader, written by Mary Ostyn, mother of 10. Mary includes practical tips like: "Let your kid read under the covers with a flashlight late at night. Pretend not to notice." and "Let your kid read wherever she wants (yes, sometimes even while playing right field at a baseball game.)"

Tasha Saecker
from Kids Lit links to a recent Telegraph article by Elizabeth Grice about "what schools need to do to inspire a love of reading in children." While agreeing on the importance of the role of teachers, Tasha asks: "But don’t we also need to tell parents that it is their job to raise readers? And how about librarians? Isn’t it our job too to try to entice, entertain and encourage young readers? I don’t think it’s a simple answer of if only teachers would do more. I think it is a complicated formula of parents, teachers, librarians and great books that make the difference." I do think that all of these people can play a positive role in the quest for inspiring a love of reading in kids.

Dawn Morris at Moms Inspire Learning writes passionately about why children aren't reading, and what we can do about it. She cites some recurring problems that she's observed in her children's classrooms, and turns to recent books like Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer and Kelly Gallagher's Readicide for further ammunition. (Dawn also mentions Terry, Susan Stephenson and me, I must confess - but the title of her post would have caught my eye in any case). She has a nice discussion going in the comments. It's well worth checking out, and an interesting counterpoint to the previous article.

Speaking of Kelly Gallagher, Sarah Mulhern from the Reading Zone talks about discussing current events in the classroom. She links to a post at the Stenhouse blog on making reading relevant to real life for students. The Stenhouse post says that "Kelly (Gallahger)’s Article of the Week activity puts students in touch with real world writings from news stories, essays, editorials, blogs, and speeches. Reading and interacting with these articles each week ensures that students graduate with a better chance of comprehending the world around them."

Literacy & Reading Programs & Research

According to a recent press release: "Two children's authors discovered through contests sponsored by General Mills' Cheerios are being published in hardcover by Simon & Schuster Books. The writers are the first two winners of a new author contest launched as an extension of Cheerios' seven-year-old "Spoonfuls of Stories" literacy program."

School Library Journal highlights a recent report from America’s Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization that hopes to help at-risk students. According to the article, "Nineteen of the nation’s largest cities—including Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Omaha—have seen a decline in their high school graduation rate over the last decade. At the same time, only a little more than half (53 percent) of teens in the largest cities graduate from high school on time... There is some good news, however. The top three cities that saw the greatest improvement in graduation rates are Philadelphia, PA (23 percentage points); Tucson, AZ (23 percentage points); and Kansas City, MO (20 percentage points)." (Terry found this via @sljournal on Twitter)

At the NCFL's Literacy Now blog, Sharon Darling addresses in detail a recent challenge to Education Secretary Arne Duncan to "look beyond the K-12 classrooms to early childhood education as well as adult education - in essence to family literacy." Sharon adds: "We are eager to help find solutions to the challenges of bolstering family literacy at the local, state and federal level through research, pilot programs and testimony before legislative bodies. But we need appointed and elected leaders to elevate the cause - for the sake of all education."

Hypnosis for Adult Learning and Literacy is an interesting article on the Education Week website. According to the article, "Hypnotherapy and specialist hypnosis accelerated learning techniques can give adults with poor literacy the skills and confidence they need to turn their life, and their children’s life, around. Hypnosis can place the mind into a state whereby it is receptive to learning and increasing confidence. Hypnotherapy can install a new subconscious level of belief in learning by removing barriers that have previously been blocking the way. Hypnotic accelerated learning can also increase the speed at which adults can learn and ensure the skills and knowledge are understood and retained.

The UK Department for Children, Schools and Families issued this press release that outlines the findings of Education expert Sir Jim Rose and "the most fundamental review of the primary curriculum in a decade." In the same release, the Department also offered these survey results: "97 percent of parents think that reading and writing are the most important skills for their children to learn at primary. The majority of parents (55 percent) also want their children to learn life skills such as communication, teamwork and creative thinking."

Cari from Book Scoops knows what literacy program she wants to participate in when she retires. She says: "I want to get a dog and participate in the Read Education Assistance Program or R.E.A.D." R.E.A.D. is a program that uses therapy dogs to work with kids and reading (the idea is that the kids are comfortable reading aloud to the dogs, and get practice that way). Cari says: "Therapy animals help people in numerous ways including reducing blood pressure, anxiety and depression and anger. Reading out loud can be really intimidating to children and just from reading some of the stories on the Intermountain Therapy Animals I am convinced that reading to dogs (or other animals) would be good for many reluctant and skilled readers.

21st Century Literacies

Bookshare Literacy and Reading News has an article by Brian Scott about a program that will make more books available to people with print disabilities. "Bookshare and Hachette Book Group (HBG) have entered into a partnership to provide digital books for Bookshare's accessible online library for people with print disabilities. This partnership has two components that break new ground in the publishing industry. First, Hachette has agreed to donate digital files for all 1,700 currently digitized frontlist and backlist titles. Secondly, Hachette will refer all customer service requests for accessible books to Bookshare for fulfillment."

New Resources

Parents and Kids Reading Together is the new bog by Cathy Puett Miller, the Literacy Ambassador. You may remember our interview with Cathy during Share a Story-Shape a Future. Cathy is a literacy consultant and educator, with an emphasis on pre-emergent literacy. We especially liked this article about enjoying reading together without letting it become a chore. Cathy warns: "If you press your child to read too soon, he/she is likely to lose any temporary benefit gained by the time 3rd grade is reached. If, instead, the child is given the opportunity to start reading at his or her "optimal time", it is likely that child will excel." [Full disclosure: Cathy is on the Board of Directors of the Reading Tub.]

Thanks for reading! And if you're looking for more directly book-related fare, I have a post going up today at Booklights about some of my favorite children's books.


Dreamdark: Silksinger: Laini Taylor

Book: Dreamdark, Book 2: Silksinger
Author: Laini Taylor (blog)
Pages: 464
Age Range: 10 and up 

SilksingerBackground: In the interest of full disclosure, I bring yet another review in which I know and like the author. I met Laini Taylor briefly at the first Kidlitosphere conference in Chicago. I reviewed her first Dreamdark novel shortly thereafter (and I loved it!).

Laini&jen Then Laini was one of the organizers (with Jone MacCulloch) of the second Kidlitosphere conference in Portland. And not only did I work with Laini on scheduling a Cybils session at the conference, but I held a blogger/author discussion session with her (in which we discussed things like etiquette for requesting reviews, etc). Plus I spent some lovely time chatting with her at the Readergirlz party that night. So, ok, Laini is a friend. Take that under advisement as you read my review. But recall that when I reviewed Blackbringer (the first Dreamdark book), I scarcely knew Laini at all, and it was one of my favorite reads of 2007. On to the book!

Review: Silksinger is the second book in Laini Taylor's Dreamdark series, following Blackbringer. Silksinger picks up shortly after the first book left off, with faerie Magpie Windwitch, newly minted Djiin champion, on a quest with her crew to find the other long-hidden fire elementals. They need the elementals to save the world from falling into chaos. The reader soon learns that one of these lost elementals, the Azazel, is under the protection of a new character, a fragile young faerie named Whisper Silksinger. Another new character, a faerie named Hirik, is on a quest of his own. Hirik seeks to find the Azazel, and become its champion. The stories of Magpie, Whisper, and Hirik are told in alternating, and eventually intersecting, chapters.

Taylor weaves together the various strands of plot brilliantly, using the viewpoint shifts to create additional tension. I read quickly, because I was concerned about what would happen to characters I cared about from their first appearances. I was tense, worried, and not knowing what was going to happen (and I'm a tough person to surprise, in general). At more than one point, I was devastated by things that happened to the characters. Yet I also stopped often to flag passages that were beautifully written, or that gave particular insight into the characters. Here are a couple of examples:

"What would she do? She couldn't go home--the devils had found them there. Where could she go? She knew nothing of the world beyond her island. She couldn't fly, and she was no warrior--she had no weapon, and she wasn't even brave... Whisper knelt on the beach, pale and trembling, shoulders torn and bleeding. She hugged the warm kettle close, but it did no good. She was alone now, and she was as cold as a pit of ash after a fire has burned out." (Page 9, ARC).

"This was Hirik's first journey as a mercenary, and his first time away from his own forest. Zingaro had taken him onto his crew just a week ago at the remote outpost of Fishsplash, but only after raking him up and down with a critical eye. He'd declared him "a scrunty job of runtmeat," though he was tall for his age, and "about as fearsome as a biddy with a butter knife," though he wielded a scimitar far finer than any of the other murks' weapons. And it was true Hirik was only a lad without real battle experience, but after plenty of grunting and grousing, Zingaro agreed to give him a trial." (Page 65, ARC)

"Upcliff, the palaces of the noble clans clung to sheer vertical rock face one above another, like stacks of iced cakes. Below, the rest of the city cascaded down a sweep of stair-step tiers, making a pleasing pattern of rooftops and pavilions edged by wild orchid forests, with silver threads of waterfalls stitching them all together." (Page 212, ARC)

Without giving too much away, I thought that the special talents possessed by both Hirik and Whisper were engaging and inventive. Their vulnerabilities and their strengths loom large - making them immediately memorable. All of the characters in the book are fully rounded, and the interactions between them feel realistic. Magpie and her companion, Talon, dance around having a relationship, with Talon finding himself fiercely jealous of a faerie who pops up from Magpie's past. There's a nice, tween feel to their relationship - a boy and a girl who like each other, but are too young to admit it, and torment each other instead. I also loved Magpie's relationship with her crow "brothers", teasing and affectionate and as real as any family relationship between people. But with more entertaining dialog. For example:

""Slave?" hooted Calypso. "Slaves work, ye mad miscreant, so clamp yer moanhole. All ye do is point that twitchy finger of yers, eat all our food, and fart up yer caravan!"

Magpie pressed her lips together to keep from laughing." (Page 23, ARC)

The mix of informal, colorful dialog ("ye mad miscreant") and lyrical description ("silver threads of waterfalls") gives Silksinger's prose a distinct texture. Silksinger also features gorgeous occasional illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo (Laini's husband). (The illustrations aren't all included in the ARC, and I'll want to take a look at the finished copy to see more.) Jim brings the characters to life, through delicately shaded black and white images. I especially enjoyed a picture of Slomby (a pathetic yet sympathetic creature who also has occasional viewpoint chapters).

Fans of the first Dreamdark book, Blackbringer, will not be disappointed by Silksinger. In truth, I was a bit worried when I first learned that much of Book 2 would feature different characters, because I enjoyed Magpie so much. I should have trusted Laini. Whisper and Hirik are both delightful, and their differences from Magpie and Talon make Silksinger an even better, more nuanced, book than the first.

While fans of the first book certainly won't want to miss Silksinger, I would also recommend the Dreamdark books to people who aren't ordinarily fans of fantasy. Silksinger is beautifully written, suspenseful, heartbreaking, ingenious, and funny. In short, this book has it all. On closing the book, I felt utterly satisfied, like someone who had just finished an excellent meal. Silksinger has my highest recommendation.

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: September 17, 2009
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher. Note that quotes are from the ARC, and may not reflect the final, printed book.
Other Blog Reviews: PRES Library. See also my review of Dreakdark, Book 1: Blackbringer, which links to many other reviews of that title. You really should start with the first book anyway, if you haven't read it. Updated to add: Betsy Bird has a lovely review of Silksinger at A Fuse #8 Production, with links to lots of other reviews and interviews.  
Author Interviews: Everead, Miss Erin, Squeetus (Shannon Hale)

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


Friday Afternoon Visits: May 1

Kidlitosphere_button It's been another hectic week around the Kidlitosphere. The number of starred items in my Google Reader keeps growing by leaps and bounds. Here are a few highlights (with more literacy and reading focused news to come on Monday):

The Edgar Award winners (from the Mystery Writers of America) were announced this week, as reported by Omnivoracious. They include: Best Young Adult Mystery: Paper Towns by John Green, and Best Juvenile Mystery: The Postcard by Tony Abbott.  

Jacba_bookseal-150x150 In other award news, the 2009 Jane Addams Children's Book Awards were announced. I found the news at PaperTigers. From the press release: "Books commended by the Award address themes or topics that engage children in thinking about peace, justice, world community, and/or equality of the sexes and all races. The books also must meet conventional standards of literary and artistic excellence. Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai... is the winner in the “Books for Younger Children” category. The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom... is the winner in the “Books for Older Children” category."

The five British Children's Laureates recently each selected their seven favorite children's booksTasha Saecker has the lists at Kids Lit, saying "Great reads are timeless as this list shows. Just reading the list brings back flashes of memories. Lovely." I agree. I especially liked Jacqueline Wilson's list, with favorites like Little Women, A Little Princess, The Railway Children, and Ballet Shoes

Newlogorg200 The Readergirlz will be focusing on Red Glass by Laura Resau this month. Little Willow has all the details at Bildungsroman. Red Glass was also a Cybils short list title for young adult fiction in 2007. 

Iblogo Mary Hershey and Robin LaFevers have launched their third annual National Independent Booksellers Appreciation Month at Shrinking Violet Promotions. They've also just started a Shrinking Violet's Yahoo Group, "the brainstorming, buddying-up, and support arm of the Shrinking Violet Promotions blog. It's a place where introverted authors can discuss (and commiserate with!) the ins and outs of marketing and promoting their books." 

May is also National Asian Pacific American Heritage month. Tanita Davis is participating at Finding Wonderland, responding to an interactive poll with questions like "Favorite Asian, South Asian or Asian American writers and their works".

School Library Journal's Battle of the (Kids) Books continued this week, with the semifinal winners identified. Melissa has a nice little recap at Book Nut. Like Melissa, what I'm curious about is: "will final judge Lois Lowry go for a huge, sprawling work of genius or a hip, intense dystopian novel? " Me, I'm a huge fan of The Hunger Games (which won the Cybils award this year for YA fantasy/science fiction), so I know what I'm pulling for... 

The Last OlympianI'm guessing that a potential Cybils and SLJBoB candidate for next year will be the final book in the Percy Jackson series, The Last Olympian. Rick Riordan links to a feature article about Percy Jackson in the Wall Street Journal. Pretty impressive for a kid with ADHD who keeps getting kicked out of schools. Seriously, though, Mheir and I are planning to attend Rick's upcoming signing at Kepler's in Menlo Park, and will hope to see some of you there. 

The online auction to benefit fellow kidlit blogger Bridget Zinn (who is battling cancer) has begun. Matt Holm has the full details of the call for action. The auction site is here (a blog, appropriately enough), and there are lots of great items up for bid already. Please do consider participating - you can get great, one-of-a-kind items, and help one of our own at the same time. I've already put in a bid for an item that I want... But more items will be added in the next few days.

The Book Chook has a fun post about places that people read. She notes: "I love that reading is so portable. ... When I go on holiday, my packing order is books: first; clothes: if I remember. That portability has enabled me to read in planes, trains and automobiles, on the Great Wall of China, and once while resisting anaesthetic before an operation." I commented there and shared some of the notable places that I enjoyed reading as a child. Click through to see.

I also enjoyed this post at Ink Splot 26, about the five best sidekicks from books. Some of my favorite characters are the sidekicks, especially Bean from Ender's Game and Sam from The Lord of the Rings.  

NationalPoetryMonthLogo In round-up news, Elaine Magliaro rounds up week 4 of National Poetry Month in the Kidlitosphere at Wild Rose Reader. See also individual NPM round-ups at Susan Taylor Brown's blog, Gotta Book (Gregory K's blog), and Kelly Fineman's blog. Also Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile rounds up a host of children's books about animals, with links to full reviews.

NORTHlogo[1] And finally, congratulations to Miss Erin, winner of Justina Chen Headley's North of Beautiful Find Beauty Challenge. (My review of North of Beautiful is here.)

Wishing you all a peaceful and book-filled weekend.


Books Read in April

This is a list of the books that I read in April, broken up into Picture Books, Middle Grade Books, Young Adult Books, and Adult Fiction. Not a ton of books read, but I liked pretty much everything, so that makes it a good month. I have reviews pending for Dreamdark: Silksinger and Unwind. I have some vacation time planned for May, so hopefully I'll get a bit more reading done then.

Picture Books

  1. Peter H. Reynolds: The North Star. fableVision Press. Completed April 16, 2009.

Middle Grade Books

  1. Mary Downing Hahn: Closed for the Season. Clarion. Completed April 9, 2009 (due out June 2009). My review.
  2. Watt Key: Alabama Moon. Square Fish. Completed April 9, 2009. ALABAMA MOON won the 2007 E.B. White Read-Aloud Award. My review.

Young Adult Books

  1. Janni Lee Simner: Bones of Faerie. Random House. Completed April 9, 2009.
  2. Gail Giles: What Happened to Cass McBride. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Completed April 12, 2009 (on MP3).
  3. Justina Chen Headley: North of Beautiful. Little, Brown Young Readers. Completed April 14, 2009. My review.
  4. Kenneth Oppel: Starclimber. HarperCollins. Completed April 18, 2009. My review.
  5. Laini Taylor: Dreamdark: Silksinger. Putnam. Completed April 25, 2009. Published September 2009.
  6. Neal Shusterman: Unwind. Simon & Schuster. Completed April 26, 2009.

Adult Fiction

  1. Louise Penny: The Cruelest Month. Minotaur. Completed April 7, 2009.
  2. Harlan Coben: Hold Tight. Signet. Completed April 9, 2009.

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