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Posts from July 2009

Friday Visits: July 31: From Blogger Intergrity and Diversity to Librarian-Themed Ice Cream

The Kidlitosphere continues to be full of interesting posts this week, some weighty, some just fun (with most of the lighter stuff towards the end of the post, as seems fitting for a Friday).

BWI_125sq Along with some 500+ others to date, both Tasha from Kids Lit and Amy from My Friend Amy have signed a pledge to blog with integrity. The idea is to "assert that the trust of ... readers and the blogging community is important", and publicly declare a set of standards. Tasha explains: "The integrity badge is a shorthand to openly declare what my blogging ethics are... I see it as a tangible expression of my blogging beliefs. It says what I already do and already believe in. It is not going to change my blogging." Amy says: "Why sign the pledge? Because I believe in proactive measures rather than reactive measures when possible. This issue won't go away and this is a clear and public statement that when I accept review copies, I will let you know and I'll still give you honest feedback." I'm following with interest (though I managed to miss the Twitter discussion).

Kidlitosphere_button And speaking of bloggers and integrity, Pam Coughlan has a post at MotherReader about BlogHer09 vs. KidLitCon (I don't remember who came up with KidLitCon - Laurel Snyder, maybe - but it's sure less of a mouthful than "The Third Annual Kidlitosphere Conference"). Here's a snippet: "What’s going on in the mommy blog community concerns me, not because it’s a direct correlation but because it’s a warning." Bloggers should read the whole post (and think about attending KitLitCon, of course).

Kate Coombs also takes on blogger integrity questions as part of a post at Book Aunt. Though she starts with a light-hearted blogger vs. professional reviewer smackdown, she continues with a balanced look at some of the criticisms being leveled at blog reviewers today.

At the Picnic Basket, Deborah Sloan shares some book reviewing tips from Shelf Awareness' Jennifer Brown. Thanks to Susan Thomsen from Chicken Spaghetti for the link.

Discussion continues in response to the Liar book cover issue (which I talked about last week). There are hundreds of comments and posts out there, far too many to link to. People have, however, moved on this week from venting to suggesting and/or committing to positive courses of action to support diversity in their reading (diversity of race, gender, sexuality, etc.). Here are a few examples:

Kristine from Best Book I Have Not Read has a request for donations to the Make A Wish Foundation, in support of a young friend of hers, fighting cancer, whose wish is to meet author Brian Jacques.

At Just One More Book!, Andrea and Mark interview Horrid Henry author Francesca Simon. In the course of the interview, they talk about "books with universal themes, the penalty of growing old enough to read by yourself and Storybook Dads — breaking the cycle of crime through a literacy and family connection program for convicts in a high-security prison".

Casey from Bookworm 4 Life shares books that she thinks "might be contenders for modern/current teen classics". She has some of my favorites on her list, and I suspect that the ones that I haven't read are all worthy of my attention. Do check it out!

Susan Beth Pfeffer is looking for suggestions for a name for her Life As We Knew It and dead and the gone trilogy. It kind of grew into a trilogy - she thought that LAWKI was a standalone book when she wrote it, so there's no cool, over-arching name. Leave suggestions in the comments here.

At The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller asks readers to share memories of their own reading origin stories. She asks: "How did your reading life begin? How does your reading past impact you now as a teacher or parent? What books stick with you now, years later? Who influenced your reading life?" The results (in the comments) make for a lovely ode to reading.

Dogdays Moving on to the stuff that's pure fun, I'm loving the idea of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid ice cream truck tour to promote literacy and celebrate the title announcement for Book 4. I first heard about this on Omnivoracious, but then saw a detailed schedule in School Library Journal's Extra Helping.

In other ice cream news, Cheryl Rainfield reports that there's a petition for Ben and Jerry's to come up with a library-themed ice cream flavor. Cheryl suggests "Anne of Green Gables ice cream, with raspberry and lime swirls."

There's a meme going around by which people design their own debut young adult novel covers. I don't quite understand it, but quite a few people have participated, and some of the results are quite eye-catching and/or humorous. Travis, who I believe started this whole thing, has a round-up at 100 Scope Notes.

And this just in, via A Fuse #8 Production, Jill Davis snapped a picture of the ultimate expression of summer reading: a girl in a park reading while hula hooping. I love it! Betsy Bird called this "the Holy Grail of summer reading spottage." Jill's got some nice summer book recommendations in the post, too. Betsy also shares a press release about a call for photos of literary tattoos. And that, my friends, is why you should never miss your daily dose of Fuse #8.  

Last but not least, this week's Poetry Friday roundup is available at Poetry for Children. Wishing you all a book-filled, fun-filled weekend.

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

You can also find me on Twitter and at Booklights from PBS Parents.

Stampede! Laura Purdie Salas & Steven Salerno

Book: Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School
Author: Laura Purdie Salas
Illustrator: Steven Salerno
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-9

Stampede!Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School, written by Laura Salas and illustrated by Steven Salerno, is a series of poems that use animal themes to highlight aspects of school. These poems are delightful on several levels. The analogies are fun in and of themselves, and then enhanced by Salas' playful language. For example:

We crowd the empty schoolyard,
a flood of bumblebees.
We buzz and flitter-tumble,
trade gossip on the breeze."

I love the idea of kids as a swarm of bees, and I also love the phrase "flitter-tumble". A bit e.e. cummings-like, wouldn't you say"? One more quote:

When I'm feeling
I get nasty,
I get whiny.

Stay away or
I might stick you.
My sharp words are
quills to prick you."

Insightful, I thought. Words as quills to prick, and thus protect the defensive student. Plus I like the word "porcupine-y". Who doesn't feel porcupine-y, sometimes? Salas captures many other school-house worries, being embarrassed by a rumor, wanting to hide to not be called on in class, or just feeling sleepy. There is a poem here for every kid. The book would make, I think, an excellent classroom read-aloud.

Salerno's digitally enhanced gouache illustrations add to the fun. He's a master of sketching kids who resemble animals, but are still fully recognizable as kids. He also uses colors and shapes to capture the tone of the different poems. The Swarm kids flit visually around the page. However, a poem likening school to being trapped in a maze offers more subdued, linear images. I especially liked the bright yellow background of a poem with kids as ducklings, and the swooping tunnels inhabited by some young "prairie dogs". 

In short, Stampede! is a treat. It's fun to look at, and fun to read aloud, while tackling the universal trials and tribulations of elementary school life. Highly recommended, especially for K-3 kids.   

Publisher: Clarion 
Publication Date: April 6, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Poetry for Children 
Author Interviews: Celebrate Story, Wordswimmer, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

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

Books Now Available: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

ShiverEarlier this month I reviewed Maggie Stiefvater's second novel for young adults: Shiver. Here's an excerpt from my review:

"Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver is, on the surface, a young adult fantasy novel about werewolves. But really, Shiver is a love story about two individuals longing for one another across a nearly impossible chasm... Despite being a "werewolf story", Shiver is much more a novel of atmosphere, characterization, and romance than of action. Like Stiefvater's first YA novel, Lament, Shiver captures love and longing perfectly."

Shiver is scheduled for publication on Saturday, but it seems to already be available for order from Amazon and Powell's. It is not to be missed. A sequel, Linger, is scheduled for publication in fall of 2010.

A Smattering of Picture Books: A Flamingo, Some Gorillas, a Bunny, and GUM

Recently, I read through a whole slew of picture books that had accumulated on my shelves. Here are mini-reviews of four that stood out for me from the pack (some other reviews to follow in the next few days):

SylvieSylvie, written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler (Random House), is one of those picture books that pulls you in because of the engaging cover. In this case, a flirtatious-looking ping flamingo set against a background of pastel oil-painted swirls. Sylvie the flamingo learns one day that she and her family are pink because they eat a diet of little pink shrimp. Naturally enough, she decides to see what happens if she eats, say, grapes, or chocolate, or even a flowered hat. The results are quite eye-catching. Eventually, however, Sylvie decides that it might be better to stick to being herself. Well, mostly, anyway. The text in Sylvie is minimal, one short line per page. It's the illustrations that dominate the book, and make it special. Sylvie demonstrates joie de vive on every page. Her eyes shine, and her long legs dance and stretch and flirt. I think that she's especially pretty with orange and white stripes, but every reader will have his or her favorite colorful version of Sylvie. She is a visual delight.

Gorilla GarageThe cover of Gorilla Garage, written by Mark Shulman and illustrated by Vincent Nguyen (Marshall Cavendish), is also engaging, showing a group of gorilla mechanics in and around a red convertible. This is one where the premise (a gorilla garage!) draws the reader in, and the remainder of the book does not disappoint. A boy and his father go out for a drive. The boy wants to drive, but the father finds this notion ridiculous. Until, that is, they have engine trouble, and end up being helped by the gorilla garage team. A team who, perhaps, doesn't find the notion of the boy driving the car ridiculous at all. Gorilla Garage is filled with fun, whimsical elements (a banana vending machine, and his and her gorilla restroom signs, for example). The text scans well for read-aloud ("We were amazed at our wonderful luck, until a gorilla stepped out of the truck.") Nguyen's illustrations are rendered in pen and ink, with coloring via Photoshop. They are brightly colored and visually appealing, and filled with small, amusing details (a stack of "Monkey" magazines, a banana-shaped road sign, etc.). This is a book that will reward re-reading, on multiple levels.

This Little Bunny Can BakeAnother fun title is This Little Bunny Can Bake, written and illustrated by Janet Stein (Schwartz & Wade). It's about a little bunny who attends a  dessert cooking class, along with a variety of other animals, taught by the pretentious Chef George. The animals respond as you might expect, with Kitty wanting to make cheesecake, and a blindfolded poodle thinking that a loaf of bread smells like a bone. Only the little bunny is conventionally successful, but the others are both creative and true to their natures. I liked Stein's brush and ink illustrations. Most of the book is in shades of gray and white, except for the pink bunny, and the bunny's cake. This makes it always clear to kids who the central character is, while leaving plenty of room for visual humor surrounding the other characters. For example, Cat puts flowers into a mixing bowl, because "A dessert should smell as good as it tastes." And the chef says "The kitchen must be kept neat and orderly...", even as the students create utter chaos. One other nice thing about this book is that the end pages include delicious (and somewhat quirky) recipes, from C.G's Milk Chocolate Truffles to C.G.'s Chocolate Salami. An excellent book to read before starting a family cooking project.

Trouble GumAnother mostly pink and gray book, this one with a few splashes of red, is Trouble Gum, by Matthew Cordell (Feiwel and Friends). One rainy day, Ruben and his little brother Julius (both pigs) are bored. Despite Mom's reservations, Grammy suggests GUM! Although Ruben agrees to be careful, well, things get a bit out of hand. (As Trouble Gum concludes: gum "tended to make a mess".) Trouble Gum effortlessly portrays the older brother/younger brother dynamic. Julius is the ever-present sidekick, with Ruben literally patting him on the head, right up until Julius takes trouble-fraught initiative. Something that I think kids will like (in addition to a wide array of mischief) is the visual variation in this book. Some pages have several sentences of text, some just a few words. Some pages are fairly busy, others nearly blank. On one page, where Ruben is balancing on his head, the text is written sideways. There are also frequent sound effects ("crinkle, wrackle, crackle," etc.) It's all in good fun for the reader. Moms might take issue with the disasters wrought by the little pigs, but kids are sure to enjoy Trouble Gum. I think this one would work best for early elementary school kids. See also Cordell's illustrations in Righty and Lefty: A Tale of Two Feet.


Solving Zoe: Barbara Dee

Book: Solving Zoe
Author: Barbara Dee
Pages: 240
Age Range: 9-12 

Solving ZoeLast night I was looking for a tween book, and I picked up Solving Zoe
by Barbara Dee. Solving Zoe is about a sixth grade girl who is having difficulty adjusting to both the increased academic expectations and the friendship changes that accompany starting middle school. Her problems are compounded when a weird new boy at school, Lucas, takes an interest her, and becomes convinced that Zoe is a code-reading prodigy. All of this is set against a background of a chaotic and highly-achieving family, and a temporary job as a lizard-feeder.

Solving Zoe is a good early tween book, in that it tackles shifting friendships and finding one's own talents, without getting into dating territory. It feels a little bit like a younger version of E. Lockhart's Ruby Oliver series (both are set in small, unconventional private schools, and feature the ostracism that can follow the dissolving of friendships). However, I didn't find the characterization to be nearly as strong as Lockhart's. Zoe is engaging, and Lucas is interesting, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around Zoe's siblings.

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for Dee's writing:

"Zoe smiled. Dara was always saying things like "sigh" and "gasp," as if she were attaching smiley faces, or frownies, to all her sentences. But at least that way you knew what she was feeling, Zoe thought as she took a crunchy bite of sandwich, then a cooling sip of chocolate milk." (Chapter 1)

"On Thursday morning Zoe went to school determined to make up with Dara. Not that they'd had an actual fight, she reminded herself. But they hadn't spoken to each other since yesterday morning at the lockers, and Zoe couldn't bear to let things go on like this. She felt hollow inside, as if she hadn't eaten in twenty-four hours and no amount of chocolate chip ice cream would make her feel like Zoe." (Chapter 14)

The cryptography aspects were what interested me in this book in the first place. When I was about Zoe's age, I went through a bit of a cryptography phase, cracking codes and solving word puzzles. For me, this book hits its stride when Zoe becomes interested in code-breaking. There are a number of examples, when Lucas shares puzzles with Zoe, and there's an appendix at the end with references for kids who want to learn more. These resources are fun, and Zoe is just more interesting when she's passionate about something. [Though, I have to admit that I would perhaps have liked the book better if Zoe had just discovered a passion for something and worked hard, instead of needing to have some sort of special natural code-breaking gift. But that's just me.]

While Solving Zoe didn't completely work for me, I think that my 10-year-old self would have enjoyed it quite a bit. I think that code-loving kids (and lizard-loving kids) in late elementary school, girls and boys, will like it, too. It's also one to give tweens who don't want to read about any "dating stuff", but want to start thinking about middle school.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: April 21, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author. Note that quotes are from the ARC, and should be compared with the final book (which is available).
Other Blog Reviews: Kiss the Book, Brooks Free Library Book of the Day, Teresa Konopka's Book Reviews, A Patchwork of Books

Books Now Available: The Treasure Map of Boys

The Treasure Map of BoysA couple of weeks ago I reviewed E. Lockhart's third book about Ruby Oliver: The Treasure Map of Boys. I said:

I really liked The Treasure Map of Boys. I found it less cringe-inducing than the previous two books (which I note, even though I enjoyed them). It's like Ruby is a kid sister, and I'm happy to see her starting to figure out what she wants out of life. Oh, she still makes some mistakes, and damages both her reputation and her friendships. But she's on a better track. She's growing up, little, realistic bits at a time. There's a great kissing scene, and a great scene in which a friend who is a boy calls upon Ruby to just be his friend. I thought that the book ended at a good place, although I'm happy to know from E. Lockhart's blog that at least one more Ruby Oliver book is in the works.

The Treasure Map of Boys is available today. Don't miss it!

Children's Literacy Round-Up: July 27

Jpg_book008 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; grants, sponsorships & donations; and other new resources. Happy reading!


Ncblalogo The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance blog reports: "The nonprofit organization First Book invites Americans across the nation to celebrate United We Serve's Education Week (this) week by advocating for literacy activities. How can you participate? Read with a child, volunteer at a library, or organize a book drive. Even small gestures can make a difference in the reading life of a child." Education Week starts today (July 27th).

Sara Zarr reported on the 2009 Writing for Charity event in Ogden, Utah. This year the event will be held August 29. From the event description: "The Writing for Charity Event, a workshop for aspiring children’s book writers (age 13 and up only), will provide participants with professional advice and the opportunity to have their work evaluated by one of the event’s participating authors... All proceeds from the event will benefit the non-profit Treehouse Children’s Museum and its award-winning Family Literacy Programs."

The NY Times Caucus Blog reports "Marian Robinson, the mother-in-law of President Obama, was the headliner at a Washington story-time event on Wednesday, reading a book to dozens of schoolchildren and speaking wistfully about watching her granddaughters grow up... The event was organized by Arne Duncan, the education secretary, as part of a summer reading initiative." (The book read was Rainbow Fish...) Link via @CulturattiKids

Via News 8 Austin, we found this announcement: "News 8 and the Round Rock Express are asking fans to help spread the message of reading and literacy to area children. Donate a new or used children’s book to the nonprofit BookSpring at Wednesday night's game and you’ll receive one general admission ticket to the baseball game. Collections will go directly to BookSpring, which gives free books to families in need." (This particular event already happened, but we always like to highlight events when sports fans are asked to encourage literacy.)

We always like creative literacy events. In SF Gate we found this announcement: "The Reading Clinic and My Pony Party are teaming up once again to promote literacy and animal appreciation. In previous years, they have hosted “Read to a Pig” events for children at The Reading Clinic's Bay Area locations. This year they are co-hosting a "Barnyard Book-A-Thon" at Webb Ranch in Menlo Park (CA). Children are encouraged to bring their favorite book to read to a farm animal of their choosing, including pigs, chickens, and ponies." How fun is that?

Raising Readers

RIFF_logo Via a recent news release, we learned that Reading is Fundamental has launched a new program. Read for Change is RIF's contribution to President Obama's call for service as part of United We Serve. With Read for Change, RIF is encouraging adults to read with children. Participants log their time at Read for Change website. At the end of the campaign, RIF will randomly select five participants to receive a children’s multicultural book collection as well as the opportunity to select a school in their community to also receive a book collection.

A Google Alert led us to an article by NMDad about the art of reading aloud to children. This is a comprehensive, nuts-and-bolts piece that not only covers environment and using voices, but also talks about the benefits of that 15-20 minutes a day. "Interactive reading goes beyond reading to your children. It's reading with them. The distinction is important because it engages them in the process and aids their linguistic development and understanding of the subject matter."

T. Wright is an educator with a brand-new blog called Room to Grow: Making Early Childhood Literacy Count! In one of her first posts, T. takes on reading instruction programs for babies, saying "I just think babies have more important stuff to learn. Exposing children to language and literacy in meaningful and relevant ways is what helps children become happy and effective readers; reading skills rarely come in a neatly packaged box tied with a bow." She goes on to suggest "things that parents and early childhood educators can do to promote early literacy skills in young children," things that don't require purchasing an expensive, formal program. She also has a fun post with activities to go along with several humorous picture books.

Terry found an interesting post in the Guardian Book Blog by Kavitha Rao about whether or not some children's classics are now unsuitable for kids.The focus is on some of the more "close minded" characters in the classics. Rao, struggling with this issue, says: "I don't want my daughter feverishly scrutinising books for things to be offended by, and I would never support a ban on any book. I want her to hate the prejudice, not the author." It's a tricky issue. But certainly another argument for parents to read books alongside their children, so that these issues can be discussed openly.

The Choice Literacy weekly newsletter, The Big Fresh, is one of our go-to sources for literacy and reading information. This week, Brenda Power links to two articles from the Choice Literacy archives about classroom read-alouds for the start of the school year. One is by our own Mary Lee Hahn from A Year of Reading, and the other is by Shari Frost. Brenda also links to a practical article on classroom read-alouds by Sarah Mulhern from The Reading Zone. Terry and I, of course, love seeing this emphasis on read-aloud in the classroom.

Literacy & Reading Programs & Research

Via a tweet from @RascofromRIF (who found it via @EduFlack), we found a
Wall Street Journal article by Emily Esfahani Smith about The Great Books Summer Program at Stanford (aka Book Camp). "Each summer, students ages 12 to 17 gather against the idyllic backdrop of either Stanford University or Amherst College. They attend lectures, participate in discussions, eat meals, and live together as a community of precocious ­thinkers... The program started eight years ago with a group of 30 students, many of whom were underprivileged, meeting on weekends."

As part of its Making a Difference series, NBC's Rowena Ellis tells us about the Horizons Summer Enrichment Program, an public-private partnership that works to close the achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students. The program has been around for more than 40 years; and where it once served one community, it now operates in 16 communities, helping 1,600 kids of diverse backgrounds every summer. "Not only have Horizon students avoided the summer brain drain, they have advanced their learning by three to four months in reading and math." Watch the NBC Nightly News video, it only takes three minutes.

Web Watch reports an increase in parents raising funds to help cover school supplies and programs. For example, "In the Tacoma, Wash. school district, parents of kindergarteners at Lowell Elementary raised $16,000 in order to save the jobs of three teacher’s aides." However, some issues of concern have been raised. For instance: "Some observers worry that it can widen the gap between rich and poor school systems, shortchanging schools with primarily low-income families who can’t afford to contribute to the schools."

Meanwhile, Literacy and Reading News reports that Walmart is encouraging parents, teachers and students to write letters documenting their needs for school supplies. "The "Write to Change the Classroom" program will award 20 teachers with $4,000 in classroom school supplies to help make a difference in students' lives and further a cause that began with one courageous letter."

And speaking of classrooms, President Obama just revealed a $4 billion school improvement plans. Reuters reports: "The president wants states to use funds from the competition, dubbed the "Race to the Top," to ease limits on so-called charter schools, link teacher pay to student achievement and move toward common U.S. academic standards."

For a counterpoint on spending in schools, check out Kathy's recent post at Library Stew, in which she laments Georgia's just-announced plans to furlough teachers for three days this year. Kathy says: "I know things are tight all around and I should be counting my lucky stars that I have a job, but I have seen how much money is WASTED in the public schools... and don't even get me started on useless technology that has been put into the schools or how much the school districts/State would save if they eliminated some of the mandatory testing that is in place."

There is, however, great news from India. Terry found an article by Dean Nelson on the Pakistan Defense site that says: "The Indian parliament has passed a bill to provide universal, free and compulsory education for all children aged between six and 14. The law, passed more than 60 years after India won independence, has been hailed by children's rights campaigners and educationalists as a landmark in the country's history."

21st Century Literacies

The Critics Circle, the Arts blog for the St. Petersburg Times, has excerpts from a recent Salon interview with author Dave Eggers. Eggers is also one of the founders of 826 Valencia, a literacy nonprofit. The blog post draws out Eggers' thoughts on the future of newspapers. Given that Eggers is (a) a writer; and (b) working with readers in need, this is an interesting quip: "The vast majority of students we work with read newspapers and books, more so than I did at their age. And I don't see that dropping off. If anything the lack of faith comes from people our age, where we just assume that it's dead or dying. I think we've given up a little too soon."

21stCenturyLiteracies Franki Sibberson has two new posts about 21st Century Literacies. At Choice Literacy, she shares her favorite blog sources for learning about technology in education. She explains: " I feel lucky to have found many people over the past year who share their expertise on personal blogs and websites. I think the biggest gift of this new technology is the way in which it allows people with different expertise to come together and share thinking. I want to share the sites I have learned the most from so that you can begin to build your own network of blogs with a school literacy/technology focus that are worth visiting often". At A Year of Reading, Franki muses on Twitter as a source for learning, complete with a photo mosaic in which careful viewers can identify me, Terry, and many of our blog friends. (Franki's blogging partner, Mary Lee Hahn, however, is more conflicted about Twitter.)

Twitter_logo_header Search Engine Watch just posted an article by Ron Jones about using Twitter as an education tool. For example, "After giving his students a Twitter assignment one semester, (Professor David) Parry was curious to see how his students would react. He was surprised to see how it helped communicate with his students. After using it more and more he found "that it was one of the better things he did with the class." He then posted these tips for using Twitter in academia." We found this link through @linkstoliteracy and @web20classroom. Also found via Twitter (from @web20classroom and @azsgreen), 25 apps and websites for tech-loving teachers. And, via the same sources, English Raven blogger Jason Renshaw posts about Twitter for teachers -- why you should start tweeting.

Grants and Donations

According to the Muskogee Phoenix, "Bank of Oklahoma and the Muskogee Public Library partnered to collect books for underprivileged children throughout Oklahoma during the sixth-annual Caring for Kids Book by Book literacy campaign. In total, the campaign collected 41,084 books this year... This brings the six-year total for the literacy campaign to more than 150,000 books donated to children in need."

Lauren Barack of School Library Journal reports on new grants for libraries focused on family literacy. "“Libraries and literacy have such a natural connection, and we designed the award to help tighten that,” says Emily Kirkpatrick, vice president of the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), which co-launched the grant with online book site, Better World Books."

New Resources

KinderSiteLogo At Literacy Log, Brian Shephard recommends He says: "Kindersite's stated mission is twofold: first, the proprietors want to provide a portal to safe, educational content for children ages 2-8; second, they want to provide data to facilitate research on how children use such online content and how it affects their learning."

Children's EBooks - Australian author Anne Garton created this site as an alternative way to "improve their literacy levels and hopefully develop their own joy of reading in a way that they love...Children’s eBooks are not just for Primary schools. They can be used for students with reading difficulties, especially students who are Special Needs and ESL students." Thanks to Rhonnda's Reflections for the link. - New Jersey Parents Interactive Network for Gifted Education. Although the emphasis of the site is for helping families in New Jersey, parents and educators living elsewhere can find links to news, articles, and studies.

I have a few other raising readers links from the Kidlitosphere available today over at Booklights. And Terry has some additional links to help you celebrate Education Week over at The Reading Tub. I hope that you'll check out those posts, too. Thanks for reading!

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

You can also find me on Twitter and at Booklights from PBS Parents.

Friday Afternoon Visits: July 24 (Controversy Edition)

Here are a few links from around the Kidlitosphere, for your reading pleasure. Today's installment is filled with controversy and thought-provoking discussion (rather surprising for a late-July Friday, but there you have it).

Controversy update #1: Betsy Bird at Fuse #8 has some great links and commentary in response to the recent SLJ article by Diantha McBride that proposed changing some protagonists of children's and young adult titles from girls to boys. I especially liked (and had already flagged myself) J. L. Bell's response at Oz and Ends. He said: "McBride's complaint is based on a false premise: that we're drastically undersupplied with books about boys." But Betsy suggests that there are an awful lot of books out there with pink covers, turning off YA male readers.

July23Liar Controversy update #2: Justine Larbalestier set off a true firestorm with a recent post in which she discussed the white model selected for the cover of her new book, Liar (which features a black teen). I mean, does that look like a girl who "is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short"? Yeah, not so much. Justine said that she believes that this happened because of a pervasive belief in publishing that "black covers don’t sell." Bloomsbury responded at PW, saying that the fact that the narrator of the book is compulsive liar led them to use the cover image to create ambiguity around the character's race. As Colleen Mondor says: "This has to be the lamest and yet most predictable response I have ever come across from a publisher." Lots of other people have had similar responses, Colleen has a compilation of many.

Parallel musings on an interesting topic: the pervasive connectedness that most of us have these days (Facebook, Twitter, email, blogs, etc.), and whether or not that poses a problem:

  • Sara Zarr (author of Story of a Girl and Sweethearts) said: "We tend to see our Internet/technology addiction as a bad habit, I think, something about which we say, “I really should cut down…” Or we joke about it or Tweet about it. But it’s kind of a giant problem. We already know from research that the way our brain pathways work changes depending on what mental habits we’re in. If you’re like me and feel like you’ve developed ADD since web 2.0, you probably have."
  • New Blackberry Pearl owner Kathy from Library Stew said: "Do I REALLY need to be connected 24 hours a day/7 days a week, even while at the beach??.. I have found that I do tend to spend too much time checking Facebook/Twitter/chatting online at night when I used to use that time to read, but then again using my phone to keep up with e-mail and things while sitting at football practice has been a great thing."
  • I've been struggling with this a bit lately, too. For a while I had a Twitter newscrawler that popped up with new tweets whenever I was in Firefox. I had to turn that off - I felt it giving me ADD, just as Sara described. I have a Treo, and I love being able to read and file email and keep up with my Google Reader while I'm out and about. I'll never have dead time while waiting in line somewhere, or sitting through a dull presentation, again. But I'm trying (with little success so far) to spend a bit less time on the computer when I'm at home. I'd like to do better at giving other things my full attention.

Literacy and Reading News reports that 1200 teachers have sent a letter to Scholastic saying "Don’t Use Us to Market Toys, Make-up, and Brands to Children in School". Brian Scott says that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood "sent the letter, signed exclusively by teachers, after a review of Scholastic's 2008 elementary and middle school Book Club flyers found that one-third of the items for sale were either not books, like the M&M Kart Racing Wii videogame, or were books packaged with other products, such as lip gloss and jewelry."

Susan Beth Pfeffer (author of my beloved Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone) shares her response to discovering (via Google alert) an illegal download of one of her titles. While she's not concerned that this will have any drastic affect on her own retirement, she says: "I really don't know how writers starting out now and writers who are just on the verge of starting out are going to survive this kind of theft in years to come... The people who are stealing my works may well just be kids; they don't understand that what they're doing is as morally wrong as stealing my wallet." This worries me, too.

Colleen Mondor has part 4 of her What a Girl Wants series at Chasing Ray, this time asking authors what subject areas in young adult fiction might be more important for teens than for adults. She asks: "just what sort of subjects do teen girls need to address in their reading that they can not simply find in adult titles. In other words, I asked the group why do we need YA titles for girls in particular and what those books could/should include." 

On a lighter note, Sarah Mulhern from The Reading Zone shares her appreciation for pitcher Mark Buehrle's perfect game yesterday for the White Sox (only the 18th in MLB history). She explains that she understood and appreciated the magnitude of Buehrle's achievement because of what she'd learned from reading Alan Gratz's The Brooklyn Nine. She says: "Isn’t that exactly what we want our students to do? Read, build schema, and then go out to read and learn more?" It's a nice real-world illustration of one of the many, many benefits with which reading repays the devoted book-lover. 

Melissa from Book Nut is working on a list of 100 top middle grade titles. Her preliminary list looks pretty good - just reading it stresses me out a bit, because I wish that I had time to go re-read (or read for the first time) many of the books. I should warn Melissa, based on my own experience with the Cool Girls list, that suggestions will keep coming in, and it will be very difficult to get the list back down to 100.

Book-blogger-appreciation-week Pam Coughlan posts at Mother Reader about the upcoming Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and suggests that people "nominate favorite KidLitosphere blogs for awards. Of course, you can nominate other non-KidLit/YA blogs, since there are plenty of categories in which to do so, but my point here is that the KidLitosphere needs to REPRESENT!" I have followed Pam's suggestion (would I argue with a direct request from MotherReader? In caps? I think not!).

Smuggler_YA_final In related news, Angieville reports that the bloggers at The Book Smugglers "have just kicked off their Young Adult Appreciation Month, which runs from July 19 through August 15th... They've even extended an open invitation to anyone interested to send them a link to a post on YA lit or a review you've written of a YA book and they'll post links to them all on August 15th--the last day of the celebrations."

And a few quick hits:

  • Librarian Betsy Bird shares a lovely anecdote about why she has "the best job in the western hemisphere".
  • Greg Pincus has a useful post at The Happy Accident about the 11 types of Twitter followers. I've already found this list helpful, as I manage my Twitter account (assessing "do I need to follow this person back?", etc.)
  • Cheryl Rainfield found a site offering Curious George loungewear for adults.
  • Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub has a couple of questions, for which she's seeking input from librarians. Can anyone help her out?
  • Congratulations to Kristin Cashore. Graceling just won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature. Kristin's response is here.
  • Funny story about a Twilight fan at my favorite non-kidlit blog, Not Always Right. (This was the only blog that I read regularly during a recent vacation - I love it).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: July 22

Jpg_book007Today I will be sending out the new issue of the Growing Bookworms 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 843 subscribers. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue, I have two book reviews, two posts with Kidlitosphere news, two children's literacy round-ups (one here and one at The Reading Tub), and an installment of my recurring Reviews that Made Me Want the Book feature. I also have an announcement about the finalists for a new book award from The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents. Not included in the newsletter, I have: a two-part post about series books featuring strong girl heroines over at Booklights (part 1 and part 2).

Reading Update: In the past two weeks, I took a bit of a blog break, mostly reading books that I didn't feel like I would have to review. I read:

  • Janet Evanovich: Finger Lickin' Fifteen (Stephanie Plum novels). St. Martins Press. Completed July 7, 2009, on MP3. I love listening to these books, I really do. This one is no exception.
  • Laura Lippman: Life Sentences. William Morrow. Completed July 7, 2009. I thought that Lippman had some brilliant insights and interesting characters, but overall I found this standalone novel a bit disappointing. I was frustrated by a significant plot point left dangling, and found the parts of the plot that were resolved a bit anti-climactic. But most people loved it (including Lenore).
  • John Hart: The Last Child. Minotaur Books. Completed July 9, 2009. Quite compelling. I read this in two sittings, and spent time thinking about it afterwards. Standalone thriller/mystery about a 13-year-old boy looking in dark places for his missing twin sister.
  • Craig Johnson: Death Without Company. Penguin. Completed July 13, 2009. Second book of a really smart series about a stubborn and realistically flawed Wyoming sheriff. Excellent characterization and plotting.
  • Craig Johnson: Kindness Goes Unpunished. Penguin. Completed July 21, 2009. Third book of above series - even better than the second.
  • Charlie Higson: Double or Die (The Young James Bond, Book 3). Hyperion Books. Completed July 17, 2009. These books are pure fun, and recommended for early teen readers, especially boys.
  • Pam Bachorz: Candor. Egmont. Completed July 19, 2009. Review to come, closer to publication (very interesting book!).

How about you? What have you been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms!

Children's Literacy Round-Up: July 20

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 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. 

I'm happy to see that as summer progresses, the focus on kids and reading isn't diminishing at all. We find new articles every day (with help from our Kidlitosphere and Twitter friends, of course). I especially liked this tidbit, from a study from 1998 (but doutless still relevant today):

“[An analysis of 86,741 English words shows that] children’s books have 50 percent more rare words in them than do adult prime-time TV and college-graduate conversations."

Terry has lots of other great stuff about sports and reading, reading and play, and lots more. Do check it out!

Booklights And here's the direct link to my new Booklights post, continuing the discussion about series books featuring adventurous girls.

Finally, though not directly literacy- or reading-related, I'd like to share with you the link to MotherReader's fabulous daughter Erin singing a solo for her summer theater program. It's a lovely way to start the day.

Sunday Afternoon Visits: July 19

Here is some news from around the Kidlitosphere this week:

Twitter_logo_header Bonnie Adamson and Greg Pincus have initiated a weekly Twitter chat about children's and young adult literature. Greg reports that the next chat will be held Tuesday night at 6:00 pm PST. The tag for participants is #kidlitchat. I am on Twitter these days (@JensBookPage), but am still working my way up to the "chatting" level of interactivity. But I hear that the first chat, held last week, was quite successful.

Karen from Euro Crime and Teenage Fiction for All Ages links to a pbpulse article about how women of all ages are enjoying urban fantasy novels. It says: "The economy may be deeply troubled, but urban fantasy novels about vampires, werewolves, zombies, supernatural creatures, blood and romance are booming, and women are sinking their teeth into them in ravenous numbers."

There was also a recent Wall Street Journal article that talked about the high quality of literary young adult fiction. Cynthia Crossen recommended YA fiction for older adults, saying: "Good YA is not dumbed-down adult fare; it’s literature that doesn’t waste a breath. It doesn’t linger over grandiloquent descriptions of clouds or fields, and it doesn’t introduce irrelevant minor characters in the hope (too often gratified) that the book will be called Dickensian." Thanks to Laurie Halse Anderson for the link.

And speaking of people reading books originally written for a young audience, Jennie from Biblio File shares her thoughts on reading regardless of level. She said that she tells parents: "Everyone should always be reading something below level, something above level, and something at level. This mixture is what lets us grow as readers." 

Daphne Lee from The Places You Will Go shares tips on reading aloud with kids, including how to choose books, how to tell a story well, and dos and don'ts. I liked: "Don't preach. Try not to use stories to teach children a lesson or make a point unless the message can be arrived at through discussion." See also, via We Be Reading, Neil Gaiman's excellent answer to a parent's question about reading aloud.

Farida Dowler from Saints and Spinners brought to my attention a recent Amazon incident, in which the company remotely deleted from people's Kindles books that they had purchased (due to a copyright issue). In a particularly ironic twist, one of the books in question was Orwell's 1984. Farida draws a parallel with my own experience of lost books (that one due to flooding), noting how upsetting it would be to have a good that you bought vanish before your eyes. This is not making people more likely to buy Kindles, that's for sure.

At The Spectacle, Joni Sensel asks whether people who read a lot could be doing "too much of a good thing", at the expense of their real lives. I'm not sure where I stand on this, but there's some thought-provoking discussion in the comments. I also appreciated the comments on a recent Spectacle post by Parker Peevyhouse responding to a suggestion made by a librarian that authors change their protagnists from girls to boys, to increase readership.

Speaking of thought-provoking posts, Colleen Mondor has a third installment in her What A Girl Wants series, this time various authors discuss issues related to including diversity in books. She asks questions like: "Do you think that writers and publishers address this identity issue strongly enough and in a balanced matter in current teen fiction? Can authors write characters of different race/ethnicity or sexual preference from their own and beyond that, what special responsibility, if any, do authors of teen fiction have to represent as broad a swath of individuals as possible?" See also Lisa Chellman's response to this topic at Under the Covers.

Book-blogger-appreciation-week Amy from My Friend Amy recently announced the second Book Blogger Appreciation Week, complete with its own website. BBAW will be held September 14-18. Amy calls it: "A week where we come together,  celebrate the contribution and hard work of book bloggers in promoting a culture of literacy, connecting readers to books and authors, and recogonizing the best among us with the Second Annual BBAW Awards. There will be special guest posts, daily blogging themes, and giveaways." You can register to participate, and also nominate your favorite blogs for awards in various categories. See also, from Natasha at Maw Books: Ten Reasons Why Book Blogger Appreciation Week is So Cool. I had a fun time participating last year - it was nice connecting with the larger book blogging community (not just children's and young adult books), and I discovered new blogs that I still read every day.

And finally, some quick hits:

And that's all for tonight. Terry Doherty will have a full literacy and reading news round-up at The Reading Tub tomorrow. Over at Booklights, I'll be following up on last week's post about series titles featuring adventurous girls, with a few user-suggested additions.

Amelia Elizabeth Walden Young Adult Book Award Finalists

I posted last week about a new award from The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) for young adult fiction. Here's the description of the award:

"Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author, Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit. 

The 2009 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee was comprised of ten members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities who considered 232 young adult titles over the duration of the process".

I must admit that, although I didn't mention this last week, the part of the criteria about "demonstrating a positive approach to life" did raise a bit of a flag for me. I'm not a fan of overt messages in books, regardless of what the message is. (Roger Sutton also commented on this aspect at ReadRoger, and said that YALSA had actually declined the award because of this requirement). But I wanted to withhold judgement until I saw what books the committee came up with. Plus I love the fact that the second and third criteria are the same ones we use for the Cybils. 

Anyway, the finalists were announced today, and I have to say that it looks like a good list:

Graceling and My Most Excellent Year were two of my favorite 2008 titles, so I'm thrilled to see them on the list. I'm not as big a Graveyard Book fan as some, but I did enjoy it. I haven't read the other two, but have heard good things. So, excellent list, all in all!

For more information on the award, contact Wendy Glenn, 2009 AEW Committee Chair, at [email protected].