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Posts from August 2009

Favorite Series Titles at Booklights / Lit Round-Up Update

Booklights I have a new post up today at Booklights sharing some of my favorite series, from childhood and today. I hope that some of you will check it out, and share your favorites. In case you missed it, I also shared some of my favorite adult mystery series suggestions over the weekend. Quite a few people have made additional suggestions in the comments - their ideas are well worth a look for mystery fans.

In other news, I'll be posting this week's Children's Literacy Round-Up tomorrow. Terry and I decided to hold the round-up until September 1st, and use the new month to mark some changes that we're making to the round-ups. If you need a quick hit of literacy news today, however, Terry has a few links here. More soon...

Reviews that Made Me Want the Book: August 31

It's been a while since the last edition of my Reviews that Made Me Want the Book feature. Which means that I have tons of reviews to share with you today. It's kind of ironic for me to take the time to list all of these books that I want to read, instead of just sitting down and reading one of them. But I do want to bring a bit of attention to the wonderful reviewers whose words have caught my eye this past month. I hope that some of you will find addition to your "to read" lists, too. Since I have a lot of books to highlight this time, I've grouped them by age range.

Middle Grade

419yJBi90PL._SL500_AA240_ Melissa from Kidliterate reviewed David Whitley's The Midnight Charter this week. This book is actually on my shelves right now, but it came in unrequested, and Melissa is the one who has made me want to give it a look. She says to imagine a "world where everything costs, and I mean everything. It’s the sort of place where you can sell your own child to buy medicine for yourself, or even sell your own emotions for food and lodging." She concludes: "THE MIDNIGHT CHARTER does what all good speculative fiction does: it makes us examine our own world through the lens of another. This is a powerful debut, and one complicated enough to make both young adult and adult readers fall under its spell."

Dying Bill and Karen from Literate Lives know their kid-friendly middle grade fiction. Karen recently reviewed Dying to Meet You: 43 Old Cemetery Road by Kate Klise. Karen says: "The premise of the story is that Seymour (young boy) and Olive (ghost) are living in a large run-down mansion by themselves... After enjoying this book so much, and having a few belly laughs along the way, I am so glad that Dying to Meet You is only the first time we will meet these quirky characters. I think the setting and the characters are ones that my students will want to come back and revisit time and time again as the series continues."

Undrowned This one's not published in the US, so it may be hard to come by (that's what I get for reading UK-based blogs). But The Book Witch recently reviewed The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric, and caught my eye with "for anyone who might feel the need for something Harry Potterish after HP himself; look no further. And if you’re not, I still recommend reading this mermaid war drama set in Venice." It's set in Venice in 1899. She concludes: "Great adventure story! And don’t be put off by the mermaids. Anything less mermaidish I’ve not come across. It’s not cute; it’s exciting and different." 

Notesfrom At The Reading Zone, Sarah Mulhern reviewed Gary Paulsen's latest book Notes from the Dog. I don't recall reading any of Paulsen's books (the outdoor survival stuff isn't really my thing). But Sarah says: "It is a must-read and a much-needed book. Breast cancer is so prevalent these days, yet there is very little of it in middle grade literature. When it is mentioned, it’s all-too-often in a “girl” book. Paulsen takes a decidedly female topic, which affects the entire family, and presents in it a book that will appeal to both genders... But don’t think this is a depressing book because it is about cancer. It’s also a funny book that will have you laughing at loud."

Greencat And sometimes a review makes me want to re-read a whole series of books. Darla from Books & Other Thoughts reminded me about Phyllis Whitney's juvenile mysteries with her recent review of Mystery of the Green Cat (which I don't think I ever read). Remembering this book, Darla says: "I found myself thinking about a mystery I'd read when I was ten or eleven that was set in San Francisco, and how it had such an evocative setting that things seemed familiar to me when I finally got to visit it in person, many years later." And really, any book that evokes a setting that strongly, and is a mystery to boot, is worth reading.

Battle I always enjoy Charlotte's Timeslip Tuesday posts at Charlotte's Library. Last month she caught my attention with a review of The Battle for Duncragglin, by Andrew H. Vanderwal. Charlotte says: "I would have pounced on this as a child--time travel to medieval Scotland!--and, in fact, I was rather eager to read it as an adult... This is the sort of timeslip where the past provides a colorful theatre for action and adventure. It is more a book for the battle-lover, whose heart races when the arrows start to fly, than it is for the romantic daydreamer (ie me), who likes best the timeslip stories that focus on character and intricate world building."

Young Adult

Perfect Liz Burns from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy is one of my most trusted sources of book reviews. She recently reviewed a book that I had had sitting on my nightstand for a couple of months, and inspired me to read it immediately. The book in question is Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, about two teens from very different backgrounds who fall in love. Liz said: "This is an AMAZING romance. And H.O.T. There is heat, it is steamy, it is awesome... And's one of my favorite books of the year." She also noted that she had moved the book up in her own list because she was looking for books about people of color, and one of the teens is Mexican (see Alex, on the cover). This all sounded reasonable to me, and I ended up reading it in one sitting, and enjoying it tremendously. Review to follow, when I get a bit more caught up.

Devils Liz also recently reviewed The Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda. This book, about a modern-day British girl raised to be a Knight Templar, would probably not have caught my eye based on the description and cover alone. But Liz said: "So, in sum, my type of fun reading: strong female character, action, history, supernatural elements, fights, a little romance, angst, unanswered questions, devils, angels, vampires." So OK, it sounds worth a look. 

Asyouwish Similarly, Abby (the) Librarian caught my attention by raving about a book that wouldn't have ordinarily caught my eye. She reviewed As You Wish by Jackson Pearce, about a girl who falls for the genie who is going to disappear as soon as he's granted her three wishes. Abby said: "I was just whisked into the story from the very start. Jackson Pearce's writing is funny and snappy and I just didn't want to put the book down. Pearce creates characters you love to love. Viola's got a problem that most kids have probably dealt with at some point in their lives - something changes and BAM! you have no idea where you fit in with the world."

Leviathan Sometimes a book is on my radar anyway, but I don't officially add it to my list until someone I trust gives it the thumbs up. That's the case with Scott Westerfeld's upcoming title Leviathan. Tasha Saecker reviewed it last month at Kids Lit. She said "Gorgeously imagined and written with a flair for battle and a sense of wonder, this book is a winner.  The pacing is fast, the action whirling, and the history deftly placed so that even teens and youth unaware of World War I’s basic timeline will understand the implications and importance of what they are witnessing in this alternate history."

Girl How could I resist a review that starts: "Been looking for a mystery starring a grade 9 nerdy guy / wannabe P.I. who is pretty clueless with the ladies, loves cooking class and who is crazy enough to start investigating some of the coolest kids in school? Look no further than Susan Juby's Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance and Cookery." Read the rest of the review, from Shelf Elf, at Guys Lit Wire.


Teaglass Another of my most trusted sources for book recommendations is Lenore from Presenting Lenore. Lenore recently highlighted an upcoming adult title that sounds intriguing: The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault. Here's a bit from the publisher's description: "The dusty files of a venerable dictionary publisher . . . a hidden cache of coded clues . . . a story written by a phantom author . . . an unsolved murder in a gritty urban park–all collide memorably in Emily Arsenault’s magnificent debut, at once a teasing literary puzzle, an ingenious suspense novel, and an exploration of definitions: of words, of who we are, and of the stories we choose to define us."

Soulless Sometimes a tagline does the trick, if it comes from the right person. Angie from Angieville recently reviewed Soulless by Gail Carriger. She said that it's "A novel of vampires, werewolves, and parasols." It's a Victorian romance novel set in a world where supernatural beings are "out and about and accepted in society". Angie says: "Fun, fun, fun. That is what this book is. I found myself completely won over by Alexia. And Lord Maccon. They're just so very thrown together and they are just so very much fun to be with. It was nice to read about a relationship full of tension and romance, but without an interfering third party or one party who persists in being intolerably stupid or thick about things."

And that's it for today. But I'm certain that there will be more reviews that make me want to read the book in the near future. Happy reading, all!

The Sweetheart of Prosper County: Jill S. Alexander

Book: The Sweetheart of Prosper County
Author: Jill S. Alexander
Pages: 224
Age Range: 12 and up 

Sweetheart of Prosper CountyThe Sweetheart of Prosper County is a coming of age story by debut author Jill Alexander. Fifteen-year-old Austin Gray finds herself tired of living in the background at her rural East Texas high school. After years of torment from town bully Dean Ottmer, Austin gets it into her head that if she can just be voted "Sweetheart of Prosper County", and ride on the hood of a pickup truck in next year's town parade, her problems will magically be solved. Becoming Sweetheart requires her to join the Future Farmers of America (FFA), and raise a farm animal. She chooses a rooster, who she names Charles Dickens. Supported by her long-time best friend Maribel, Austin makes new friends within the FFA (and with a flamboyant Elvis impersonator). She gradually learns to stand up to her over-protective mother, and to be more satisfied with who she is.

I liked Austin's voice, and the innate wholesomeness of the story. The Sweetheart of Prosper County is a young adult book that includes a minor love interest, but is much more about the main character's relationships with friends and family. It's a YA book that you can safely give to an advanced 11-year-old reader (though the personal growth aspects will resonate more with older kids). I also liked the matter-of-fact way in which Jill Alexander treats the rural Texas lifestyle. Being in the FFA is completely accepted, as is keeping a rooster in a hardware store. I also loved that Austin's widowed mother ran a hardware store (I grew up reading behind the counter in a family hardware store myself). The book doesn't shy away from addressing the cultural differences between families of Mexican descent and not. Austin is jealous of Maribel's quinceanera, but not so jealous of the way that the Latino kids are harassed by redneck racists at school. Maribel, who keeps her head held high in the presence of racism, and concocts Mexican-Texan-Cajun foods, is a wonderful character.

I found the male characters to be less developed. Josh, a boy from the FHA who is interested in Austin, is a bit too good to be true. And Dean the bully is a bit too bad to be true, if you know what I mean. I didn't quite get why he was so merciless to Austin, and I wanted to shake her to make her stop noticing him. Still, I think that Jill Alexander is a debut novelist who bears watching. She demonstrated several nice turns of phrase, passages that inspired flagging. For example:

"I had heard stories for years about the old man living in the woods, fighting roosters for money and selling bootleg whisky. I always imagined his operation to be more like a convenience store on Friday night. But there was none of that. The old gas station had a heavy weight about it. A sinking weight. Maybe it was the rock sides with the fog pressing against them. But between the blue lights and the dark night, I felt like I was being held underwater." (Chapter 3)

"Momma talked a lot about moving on. But I looked around the kitchen. Neither one of us ever sat in Daddy's chair at the table. His tools were still in the garage. Momma's wardrobe was black except for blue jeans. She was a walking bruise. She moved on about all sorts of daily trials, but Daddy's death was different. She loaded that up and carried it with her." (Chapter 10)

Like Austin herself, The Sweetheart of Prosper County is quirky, independent, and sweet-natured. It provides a nice window into small-town Texas life, on top of some suspense about the death of Austin's father. While I don't adore Austin quite the way that I adore DJ Schwenk, I would still give this one to girls who like Dairy Queen. It is due out on Tuesday, just in time for back-to-school reading.

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final book.
Other Blog Reviews: Carrie's YA Bookshelf, Librarilly Blonde, BermudaOnion's Weblog, Pop Culture Junkie, Steph Su Reads, Readspace

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

12 Favorite Mystery Series

419YKCdQ+HL._SL500_AA240_ I'm working on a post for Booklights (inspired by a recent post of Susan's) about my favorite series titles. This made me think about my favorite series titles published for adults, and I decided to publish that list here. What follows are twelve mystery series that have caught, and held, my interest. (Linked series titles go to the first book in each series.) [Update Feb. 25, 2011: Revisiting this list today, I would add Louise Penny's Three Pines series, which I think is getting better and better over time]

These are series that haven't petered out for me - I'm just as interested to read the 10th book in hardcover (if available) as I was to read the second. They are automatic selections for me. Once new installments are available, I purchase them or request them from my library, and read them right away. There are lots of other series that I have enjoyed in the past, and a couple of new ones that I'm working my way through now, but the 12 here all meet my definition of favorite series (for more on that definition, and what makes a series hold up over time, stay tuned for my Booklights post on Monday).

What are your favorite mystery series?

Time Is Running Out for Participating in Two RIF Programs

Babf09_logo Monday, August 31st is the last day to participate in the RIF/Macy's Book a Brighter Future campaign. Here's the scoop from RIF:

"It’s back-to-school time, the perfect time to Book A Brighter Future™ for kids! Now through August 31, you can save on back-to-school shopping at Macy’s and support children’s literacy. As part of RIF and Macy’s Book A Brighter Future campaign, you can give $3 and get a $10 off* coupon for your next in-store purchase of $50 or more. Macy's will donate 100% of every $3 to RIF to provide free books and literacy resources to children who need them most.

For some added excitement, select Macy’s stores nationwide will host fun-filled spelling bees Sunday, August 16 for children ages 8–12. Each semifinalist wins a trip to New York City, hotel accommodations, and the chance to compete in the final spelling bee at Macy's Herald Square. The grand prize winner will receive a $5,000 Kaplan Tutoring Scholarship."

RIF's Read for Change program, part of the United We Serve campaign, runs through September 11th. Here are the details on that:

"As part of United We Serve, President Obama’s national effort to create meaningful change through volunteer service, RIF and the Verizon Foundation’s Thinkinity have launched Read for Change. The campaign challenges all Americans to collectively log 3 million minutes of reading with children by September 11 to raise awareness about the impact of children’s literacy on our nation’s future.

Bring positive change to the young children in your community. Start reading with kids today."

As I write this, Read for Change is closing in on the goal of 3 million minutes spent reading with kids this summer (at 2,783,966). It's not too late to participate, and help RIF reach the 3 million minute goal. And if you're out shopping at Macy's this late-summer weekend, participating in Book a Brighter Future can make a difference.

August Carnival of Children's Literature

The August 2009 Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at In Need of Chocolate. Sarah has chosen a back-to-school theme, with sections for Social Studies, Language Arts, and the all-important Sustained Silent Reading. There are lots of great posts, from history and geography to civics. I think that the back-to-school theme is an excellent choice for showcasing the diversity of the Kidlitosphere. The carnival is well worth checking out. Even if you already follow the blogs of most of the participants, it's still interesting to see which post each person has decided to submit, and to remember "oh yes, that was a good one".

Next month's carnival will be hosted by Susan Taylor Brown at Susan Writes in late September. Submit your entries here.

Friday Afternoon Visits: August 28: Cybils, Blog Comments, and Themes in Literature

Kidlitosphere_button My blogging time has been limited for the past couple of weeks, due to a combination of guests, travel, and Internet access woes. Fortunately, I had a few reviews stored up, which kept the blog from going dark. But I've missed out on a lot of activities going on around the Kidlitosphere. Today, I've managed to catch up on the past couple of weeks of kidlit blog news.

Cybils2009-Web-Small The call for judges for this year's Cybils Award process went out earlier this week. Here's the scoop: "If you:

  • blog about some aspect of children's or teen books on at least a somewhat consistent basis;
  • or contribute regularly to a group blog about same;
  • know a thing or two about what kids/teens are reading these days;
  • are planning to be reading obsessively over the next few months anyway

...we may have a spot for you. You start by emailing us at cybils09 (at) gmail (dot) com. It's a group email so that our organizers can get excited when they see the names coming in from prospective volunteers." (Do click through to read the full announcement first.) I'll be continuing as Literacy Evangelist for this year's Cybils, and I know for certain that a result of the process is going to be fabulous lists of books. I hope that many of your will participate. Also, have you seen our gorgeous new logo? It's the work of the multi-talented Sarah Stevenson (aka aquafortis). I love it!

Two of the savviest bloggers I know, Mark Blevis from Just One More Book!! and Greg Pincus from Gotta Book and The Happy Accident, are teaming up on a new project. According to the Just One More Book!! newsletter, they're going to "deliver a series of free webcasts that will give book publishers, publicists, authors, illustrators and enthusiasts social media savvy for outreach and promotion." You can find more information here. Congratulations to Andrea and Mark of JOMB on their third blogging anniversary, too.

Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading have started a new "lifetime of reading gallery". Here's the scoop: "Members of the Kidlitosphere are invited to submit stories from their reading lives. Your submission can be an anecdote from childhood, a recent experience around books or reading, a memory from school (good or bad), a vignette about learning to read, the impact of a particular book--anything about your life as a reader. We are looking for a variety of short pieces (think blog post length) from anyone in the Kidlitosphere, including bloggers, authors, illustrators, readers of blogs, etc. Our gallery is open to everyone who is a blogger, blog reader, author, illustrator, blog reader, blog commenter, etc." [And while you're thinking about reading memories, Charles from online children's bookstore Through the Magic Door is also looking for submissions in that area.]

Pam Coughlan (MotherReader) is guest blogging at ForeWord Magazine's Shelf Space this month. This week she has a new post "about saving time, money, and energy at your library during this difficult economic climate." Dedicated community builder that she is, Pam also wrote a must-read post at MotherReader recently reminding people not to let an addiction to Twitter keep them from taking time to comment on blog posts. She says: I don’t want to come off as angry or peevish, and I hope that those of you who follow me understand that. I do think commenting is important and is something that we are losing in our community to the detriment of all." And she discusses the benefits to the person commenting, in terms of exposure. There is, appropriately, an interesting discussion in the comments, some of which points out ways that Twitter and blog comments can complement each other. Personally, I like Twitter for broadcasting news tidbits, but I find that I prefer my blog or Facebook for back and forth discussion in the comments. It's easier to see the whole thread. But I've found new friends on Twitter, too. It's an interesting balance. But do check out Pam's post, and the comments. See also a getting started guide for Twitter, prepared by Mitali Perkins.

Speaking of people who inspire lots of comments, My Friend Amy has taken on a couple of interesting topics this week. Yesterday, she asked: "what themes draw you in when reading?" Today, she asks "how important are likeable characters?" Both posts have tons of comments. I was particularly interested in the themes question. Here's an abridged version of my response: "My favorite sub-genre is dystopian fiction. I think as a theme I'm drawn to a larger question of identity (as mentioned be Lenore and Alexa). I'm curious about what happens when the traditional constraints of society are removed. How to individuals rise to the challenge? How does society reform? Which values are internal, and which are imposed by society? I'm also drawn to tween books where the characters are just starting to think about growing up, dating, etc. Perhaps this is identity, as framed by separation from the family (just as the dystopia books are identity as framed by separation from society... interesting parallel)."

And still speaking of people who inspire many comments, Shannon Hale published a new installment in her fabulous "How to be a reader" series last week. This one is about book evaluation vs. self-evaluation. Shannon talks specifically about star ratings on reader reviews, and calls the practice into question, saying (among other excellent points) "In my opinion, there are more interesting questions to ask myself after reading a book than what I would rate it... I wonder if book evaluation is trumping self-evaluation. I wonder if we get so caught up in gushing or bashing, shining up those stars or taking them away, that the reading experience is weighed too heavily on the side of the book itself and not enough on the reader." She also includes a quiz for people who review books. Tanita Davis responds at Finding Wonderland. Liz B responds at Tea Cozy, here and here. Like Liz and Tanita, I don't include ratings in my reviews. It just seems arbitrary. I'd rather talk about the book, and what I liked or didn't like, or what I thought was particularly well done. Most of the time, any review from me is an implied "thumbs up" anyway, because I don't tend to spend my time reviewing books that I don't think are worth my reviewing time. Still, there's a lot of great food for thought in Shannon's post, the comments, and Liz and Tanita's responses.

Quick hits:

  • Also from Liz B, a survey about time spent blogging. For me, today, it's going to be something like 8 hours. But that's not typical. Really.
  • Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at Kate Coombs' blog, Book Aunt.
  • Kirby Larson has been hosting a discussion panel on the topic of gender in reading and writing. Here are Part 1 (about the reading histories of the 10 panelists), Part 2 (about "girl books" vs. "boy books"), and Part 3 (books that appeal regardless of gender). (updated to add Part 4)
  • Elaine Magliaro shares an excellent list of links to back to school booklists and other resources at Wild Rose Reader.
  • At Literate Lives, Karen writes about a first day of school author visit from Margaret Peterson Haddix. How great is that for getting kids excited about being back at school?
  • Franki Sibberson shares her reflections, pros and cons, on reading via Kindle. Overall, she sees the Kindle as her primary reading source for the future.
  • Charlotte from Charlotte's Library (with help from various commenters) muses on fantasy books that include girls who like to read.
  • At Confessions of a Bibliovore, Maureen takes on Susan's recent Booklights question about books that you'd like to read again for the first time. Maureen talks about books that she's re-read, and found more the second (or third or tenth) time.
  • Kelly at YAnnabe shares 7 ways to revive your love of reading. She even suggests having a friend or partner read aloud to you, if you need to bring back the fun of reading.
  • Tif from Tif Talks Books writes about books as bridges, saying "I have discovered that books can truly be a bridge . . . a connection . . . something that can help many of us relate despite our differences." 
  • Abby (the) Librarian has more Kidlitosphere links, if you're still hungry for news. So does MotherReader.
  • Last, but not least, don't forget to register for KidLitCon 2009.

I hope to be back this weekend with an installment of my "reviews that made me want the book" feature. That would let me finish cleaning up my Google Reader in quite a satisfactory fashion. And it's an excellent baseball task. Happy reading, all!

Candor: Pam Bachorz

Book: Candor
Author: Pam Bachorz
Pages: 256
Age Range: 12 and up

CandorCandor, by Pam Bachorz, is an example of my favorite genre, dystopian young adult fiction. It's a book that will make readers think.

As a parent, would you want your teenagers to be perfect? Always doing their homework on time, never talking back, never drinking, not even thinking about having sex. Would you be willing to sacrifice a bit of creativity and personality in favor of obedience? In favor of your children's safety? This is the deal that parents make when they move to Candor, Florida. The kids aren't given a choice. Most of the kids, anyway. Oscar, the son of Candor's founder, is a bit different. Oscar is able to hear, and sometimes resist, the endless stream of subliminal Messages that bombard Candor's citizens, brainwashing them. He's even able to develop his own special, counter-programming Messages, which he uses to help a select few "clients" to escape from Candor.

Oscar hides in plain sight, pretending to be a model citizen, admired by all of his brainwashed peers. But inside, he's a rebel. Oscar's carefully constructed balance is threatened, however, when he falls for a new girl named Nia. Nia is quirky and grouchy, with black fingernails and a passion for art. Oscar really doesn't want to see Nia changed into a Candor Stepford teen. His choices are to help her escape, and thus lose her forever, or keep her close, and risk watching her personality fade away.

Candor is fascinating and chilling. The idea that people could be manipulated by hearing a stream of subliminal messages is just near enough to possible to be frightening. The idea that people could choose such a lifestyle knowingly is horrifying. (The adults are subject to messages, too - they eat well, don't smoke, etc.) Oscar, who isn't even sure whether his thoughts are his own, is a sympathetic and believable protagonist.

Backhorz's writing is lean but descriptive, with lots of short paragraphs. Very reluctant reader-friendly. For example:

"Sure, I have a girlfriend. But she's so buttoned up, I only keep her as part of my disguise." (Chapter 1)

"She's got a smile on her face that I bet tastes like champagne". (Chapter 10)

"Most kids go to the movies. I guess that's like other places. But here, we share a cardboard boat of carrot sticks. Popcorn could kill you: greasy, salty, and let's not think about the choking risk.

Everyone gets their own cartons of milk. It's not sanitary to share drinks. We all know that." (Chapter 13)

Candor is a fast-paced, first-person novel. It's thought-provoking, atmospheric, and more than a bit scary, with flashes of dry humor. It reminds me a bit of S. A. Bodeen's The Compound. Candor did leave me with some questions that I would have liked to see resolved (but that I won't share, for fear of spoilers). Perhaps there will be a sequel one day. But in any event, I enjoyed it. I think that it will be a hit with readers, boys and girls, teens and adults.

Publisher: EgmontUSA
Publication Date: September 22, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final book.
Other Blog Reviews: Sharon Loves Books and Cats, Reading Rocks, and Tea Cozy.

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

You can also find me at or

Children's Literacy Round-Up: August 24

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, in truth) have collected lots of great 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.

Free-ED-150x125 My favorite article this week is one that Terry found about how kids who have imaginary friends have more developed language skills than kids who don’t. Who here had imaginary friends? I sure did. I also liked the literacy billboard to the left, though I haven't seen the real thing yet (it's an hour or so from where I live). But Terry has tons of other interesting news today.

Booklights I also have a few extra links about raising readers over at Booklights today, so you might want to check those out, too.

I'm getting back up to speed after a three-day wine-tasting weekend (rough life, I know), and the Internet problems that I've been having since before I left are not helping. But I hope to get more caught up with the blogs later in the week. Hope you're all enjoying these last days of August.

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!: Jonah Winter & Andre Carrilho

Nonfictionmonday Book: You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Andre Carrilho
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-9

Sandy KoufaxYou Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!, by Jonah Winter and Andre Carrilho, has hands-down the coolest cover of any book I've seen this year. The online picture doesn't do it justice. The physical book has a holographic cover that shows, as you rotate the book, Koufax in action. It's a book that should be displayed face-out in libraries and bookstores, because kids and adults will be unable to resist picking it up. And once they pick it up, many will be drawn in by the story of the legendary Sandy Koufax. The book begins:

"You gotta be kidding! You never heard of Sandy Koufax?! He was only the greatest lefty who ever pitched in the game of baseball."

An accompanying chart shows the stats of the "Best Lefties of All Time". The next couple of pages share more about Koufax's dominance in the 1960's, and then the book steps back in time to describe Koufax's rise to fame. It's quite a story. This skinny Jewish kid from Brooklyn (who faced some discrimination, gently handled in the text). This pitching prodigy, who struggled early on in his career. This hugely dominant pitcher for six years. This guy who retires "at the peak of his game", leaving baffled reporters in his wake. Through it all, Koufax remains a bit of a mystery. But readers will learn enough to be intrigued.

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! is written in the voice of an old-time ballplayer, talking about the good ol' days to his grandkids. Speaking as someone who was there for the whole story. For example:

"One day one of our scouts, Al Campanis, invites Sandy to Ebbets Field--home of our team, the Brooklyn Dodgers--so's he can see the hotshot pitch. After battin' just one time against him, Campanis has seen enough. He says to Sandy, "Kid, how'd you like to play for us? Don't think too hard."

Quick as you can say "Jackie Robinson", this nineteen-year-old squirt was wearin' Dodgers blue and earnin' more dough than some of us old-timers."

I think that this writing style works for the story (though it may take getting used to for some readers). Andre Carrilho's illustrations work, too. He uses old-fashioned, sepia tones, conveying the feel of the time period. He makes Koufax lean and self-contained. Koufax looks intense and focused, but he never really looks happy. You can see, through the pictures alone, why this might be a guy who would give it all up, and retire early. The visuals and the text are well-integrated -- it's a nicely produced title.

In addition to being a tribute to Koufax, this book is also a tribute to old-time baseball. There are pictures of baseball cards on the inside covers, and a glossary of baseball terms and references are provided at the end of the book. More than that, though, is a general tone of respect for baseball that permeates the book. Even though Koufax played his entire career for the Dodgers, baseball fans everywhere are sure to enjoy this book. And hopefully, a few new baseball fans will be created by it, too. This book would make a particularly nice choice for a grandfather reading with his grandson or granddaughter. I recommend You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! for readers young and old.

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Publication Date: February 24, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Planet Esme, readertotz, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, TheHappyNappyBookseller 

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

Three Picture Books that Will Confound Expectations (a mystery, a sick chicken, and an imprudent egg)

Today, for your picture book viewing pleasure, I share mini-reviews of three books that may confound your children's expectations. In any event, they are likely to induce giggles.

Wilson and Miss LovelyJohn Stadler likes to write books that play with kids' expectations. I previously reviewed Big and Little, the ending of which took me by surprise. In Wilson and Miss Lovely: A Back-to-School Mystery (Robin Corey Books), Wilson is so excited by his first week of school, and his admiration for his teacher, Miss Lovely, that he leaps out of bed, and heads to school early, before his family even gets up. To his surprise, no one else is there. But he gamely follows Miss Lovely's routines, reading, doing science, and even having a lonely gym class. Meanwhile, however, a second dimension to Wilson's story is going on behind hidden page flaps. Yes, "not so very far away, something else could seen quite clearly. Closer, closer, and closer it came!" Eventually, the hidden green monster starts creeping further into Wilson's story. Will Wilson find Miss Lovely? Or will he be eaten by the monster? Only brave readers will learn the answer (though their parents might have suspicions along the way). Stadler's comic strip-like illustrations are simple and eye-catching. Wilson, in his yellow raincoat and suspenders, is priceless. Wilson and Miss Lovely is more of an early reader than a picture book, with a simple vocabulary, and short sentences. I think that it will be good for read-aloud, or for new readers to enjoy themselves. It would pair well with Tim Egan's Dodsworth series (The Pink Refrigerator, Dodsworth in New York, and Dodsworth in Paris). A fun choice!

Chicken Soup Chicken Soup, written by Jean Van Leeuwen and illustrated by David Gavril (Abrams Books for Young Readers) is another fun story of confounded expectations, though aimed at slightly younger children. The word is out among the farm animals that "MRS. FARMER HAS TAKEN OUT THE BIG POT!... She's making CHICKEN SOUP!" All of the chickens scatter. The youngest chick has difficulty running, however, because she has a cold in her beak. And she finds it difficult to hide, too, because she keeps on sneezing. Meanwhile, Mr. Farmer keeps getting closer and closer... Not to worry, though. The book has an happy ending. Chicken Soup is a great choice for preschoolers, with fun words like "skedaddled", dramatic sounds like "CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP", and puns like "Better get MOO-VING!" (from a cow). There's also plenty of suspense - I can imagine kids squealing. Gavril's pen, pencil, and water color illustrations are also great for younger kids, with large images of animals, with worried expressions, and traditional farm backgrounds. There's a lovely spread near the end of the book, when Little Chickie lands in a bed of varied flowers. And Chickie herself is adorable. This one would make a great library storytime read-aloud.

Egg DropMini Grey has written a variety of quirky picture books, including the fan-favorite The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon (Betsy from A Fuse #8 Production liked it, anyway). In her new book, Egg Drop (Alfred A. Knopf), Grey tells the story of a little "Egg that wanted to fly." It's a bit of a cautionary tale, because, as it turns out, flying isn't such a great choice for eggs (landing being the problem). But Egg Drop is a lot of fun along the way. The Egg dreams of ways to fly, turning itself into a blimp, growing wings, etc. "But the Egg was young. It didn't much about flying (and it didn't know anything about aerodynamics or Bernoulli's principle)." So, it climbs a big set of stairs (fabulous illustration of the sweaty but determined Egg, some 300 steps up), and steps into space. You'll have to read to see what happens next. What makes this book work is the combination of mournful tone and varied illustration. There are sketches showing how Bernoulli's principle works, set against images of an open-mouthed flying egg. There are collage elements in the illustrations, mixed with sketches. And somehow, it all works. In truth, I think that kids will go either way with this one. Many will love it, even as some might not "get it". But it's well worth a try!

I Just Registered for KidLitCon '09 - What About You?

Kidlitosphere_button I'd already commited to leading a panel discussion [Coming Together, Giving Back: Building Community, Literacy and the Reading Message (KidLitosphere Central/PBS/RIF/Literacy)], and booked my hotel room, so there wasn't really any doubt that I'd be attending. But I've just filled out my official registration form for the Third Annual Kidlitosphere Conference (aka KidLitCon '09). Here's some information about the conference (quoted from the conference website):

The Kidlitosphere Conference is an annual gathering of the Society of Bloggers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The 2009 conference will take place in Washington, DC, on Saturday, October 17th. While sessions are not scheduled for Friday, a Library of Congress visit is currently in the planning stages. An informal outing in DC will be scheduled for Sunday as well.

The sessions go from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and will cover:

  • The Blog Within: An Interview With Your Inner Blogger
  • Building a Better Blog: Best Practices, Ideas, and Tips
  • Split Reviewer/Author Sessions:
    It’s All About the Book: Better Book Reviews
    It’s Not About Your Book: Writing Ideas for Blogging Authors
  • Split Reviewer/Author Sessions:
    Social Networking for Fun (and Profit?)
  • Authors, Publishers, Reviewers (and ARCs): A Panel Conversation
  • Coming Together, Giving Back: Building Community, Literacy and the Reading Message (KidLitosphere Central/PBS/RIF/Literacy)
  • Meet the Authors

A pre-session meet-and-greet breakfast is offered from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. A fun dinner to mix and mingle is scheduled for 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. The registration fee for the conference — including the breakfast and dinner — is $100. The fee for dinner only (for spouses or guests) is $50.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again here now. If you blog about children's or young adult books, or you're even thinking about blogging about children's or young adult books, this conference is well worth your time. It's small and highly interactive, and an excellent way to meet people face to face who you otherwise interact with only online. I hope to see many of you there. It's going to be great!