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Posts from August 2009

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: August 18

Jpg_book007Tonight 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. It is sent out once every two weeks (if you are getting daily Feedblitz updates, you might prefer to sign up for the Growing Bookworms newsletter instead, and only receive one email every two weeks). There are currently 875 subscribers to the newsletter. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue, I have six book reviews, for books at various age levels. I also have two posts with Kidlitosphere news, two children's literacy round-ups (one here and one at The Reading Tub), and a post the recent struggles of a determined reading teacher. Not included in the newsletter, I have two posts at Booklights: one about the joy of revisiting books that are old friends, and the other announcing a recent interview of the Booklights team by Terry Doherty at the Reading Tub.

Reading Update: In the past two weeks, I read:

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

Children's Literacy Round-Up and Booklights Post: August 17

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. You'll find in particular some back-to-school resources, a host of event news, and a study that "concludes that there is a direct correlation between a dad’s involvement with his children and school success." Lots of articles worth a look!

Booklights I also have a new post up this morning at Booklights. Inspired by my recent re-read of Return to Gone-Away, and by a wonderful post of Susan's about the joy of reading a great book for the first time, I spent some time thinking about books as old friends. Here's a snippet:

"The re-reading experience, for me, is all about revisiting beloved characters and settings. It's about visiting old friends. It's about a personal connection between me and the particular book. I don't want the opportunity to read these particular books again as if it was the first time (as Susan discussed). Part of what makes these particular books special for me is the incremental appreciation I've built up over dozens of readings."

I hope you'll find time to check out this week's children's literacy roundup and/or my tribute to books as old friends. Wishing you all a great start to the week!

The Fate of Reading and Reading Teachers

I was greatly saddened by a post that I read last night by discouraged reading teacher Sandra Stiles at Musings of a Book Addict. Sandra's school district is requiring her to follow a particular, proscribed curriculum, which she's sure will teach the kids (many of whom have no books at home) to hate reading. A particularly heinous part of the program is that kids who finish their workbooks early are only allowed to read books from a program-selected list of 8 titles. Any "pleasure reading" is expected to take place at home (hardly a realistic thing to expect from kids who never see pleasure reading in school). Sandra (who read some 70 kids' books this summer, in large part so that she could make recommendations to her students) is taking a stand. She says:

"So the 1200+ books that I have purchased and placed on my shelf are for naught. Oh did I mention they will be doing fidelity checks to make sure we are following the program to the T? How degrading. Do I disobey and work the program only a portion and try to teach them about good books? I will tell you this. I decided to become a teacher to teach students. Not to teach them to hate reading. I will do as usual.Against the district I will modify my program and teach them about good books and put good books in their hands and if they keep those books then I will go out and buy more. Until they fire me I refuse to fail my students."

Sandra's is not an upbeat post, but it is one that I think people should be aware of. We can't fight these sorts of practices if we don't know about them. You can also read reactions to Sandra's post from Karen at Literate Lives, Sarah Mulhern at The Reading Zone, and Donalyn Miller at The Book Whisperer. Sarah's Reading Zone post is particularly detailed, and has generated several comments in response from teachers. Also worth a read is a followup post in which Sandra thanks others for their support, but also laments the reading teachers that she encounters who don't read. 

And don't even get me started on the money being spent on these canned "literacy" programs and on testing, instead of on books. As Sarah said:

"... the millions of dollars spent annually on reading programs should be funneled to school and classroom libraries. We should be booking author visits, connecting students with real live writers and creators. We should be buying novels, graphic novels, realistic fiction, non-fiction, every genre of books for our schools. We should be exposing students to real text with real stories."

Schools should be growing readers. Some are, of course, and that's a wonderful thing. But Sandra's situation is a travesty. I am grateful for this virtual community, which allows people from around the world to feel Sandra's pain, and be outraged by it.

Return to Gone-Away: Elizabeth Enright

Book: Return to Gone-Away
Author: Elizabeth Enright
Pages: 224
Age Range: 8-12 

21WXW4GJCQL._SL500_AA140_ Regular readers of this blog know that Elizabeth Enright is one of my favorite authors. My favorite of her novels, one of my all-time favorite books, is Return to Gone-Away. Return to Gone-Away is the sequel to Gone-Away Lake. The first book is nice, too. But the second one is magical. Charlotte mentioned Return to Gone-Away in a recent post as her "favorite summer holiday book", and inspired me to re-read it.

Return to Gone-Away is one of the ultimate "big, interesting, mysterious house" books of children's literature. As the story begins, 11 1/2 year-old Portia Blake and 7-year-old Foster learn that their parents have purchased Villa Caprice as a summer home. This Victorian mansion lies deep in the woods, close to Gone-Away Lake (a crumbling one-time resort near the home of Portia and Foster's cousin Julian). The house was once the summer showplace of the pretentious Mrs. Brace-Gideon, but has been boarded up for more than 50 years. The Blakes, with help from Julian's family and the two elderly residents of Gone-Away Lake (and a host of hired workers), spend the summer making the house habitable. In the process, they make lots of wonderful discoveries (from antique furniture to a shell collection to a dumbwaiter). Portia, Foster, and Julian also spend considerable time running around the woods with their friends, swimming in a quarry, and playing in the abandoned houses of Gone-Away Lake. I tell you, this book is a pitch-perfect portrait of a small-town, East Coast, 1950's summer.

As with Enright's other books, Return to Gone-Away is largely episodic. Days are spent doing this or that. Small adventures occur. While everything is framed around the Blake family's summer-long reclamation of Villa Caprice, there are plenty of tangents. Reading the book is, in fact, rather like spending a summer's day out of doors, reacting to whatever comes up. But it works, because Enright is skilled at creating characters who feel like real kids, and creating settings and incidents that kids will find interesting. Villa Caprice is fabulous. The run-down houses in Gone-Away are charming. Portia, Julian, and Foster are practically 3-dimensional (helped along by Beth and Joe Krush's timeless illustrations). And while their parents aren't conveyed in much detail, the two elderly residents of Gone-Away, Aunt Minnehaha and Uncle Pin, are wonderfully quirky. My favorite character is Foster. He likes to keep lots of interesting things in his pockets. He's noticed that feeling happy often makes him hungry. He feels betrayed by his intact front teeth (when his best friend's have fallen out). It is quite clear that Elizabeth Enright had real experience with young boys (she had three sons).

I'm not really objective, since I love this book so much. But I think that it holds up quite well for being 50+ years old. Swimming in a quarry is still cool. Spending the night in a creaky, abandoned house near a swamp is still scary. Younger brothers are still pests. It's all timeless. (Though with a few older expressions thrown in, like "Heavens!" and "Thank fortune!") There is, perhaps, a tiny bit more wish-fulfillment than you find in a children's book today (the family finds sufficient antiques in the house to pay for the needed repair, Uncle Pin remembers the old swimming hole on the hottest day of the year, etc.). But perhaps not. If you know any kids who like the Penderwicks books, you should absolutely try them on Return to Gone-Away (after reading Gone-Away Lake first, of course).

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

"He led the way. Portia skipped behind him along the narrow well-known path, and Julian, clanking faintly, brought up the rear. To the right lay the broad swamp, shorn by winter of its reeds; to the left stood the old houses in their neglected yards. They were a tatterdemalion lot, with shutters hanging from hinges, front steps skewed crooked, porches sagging: the Delaney house, the Vogelhart house, the Tuckertown house (where the children had a clubroom in the attic), and all the others, including the one that had ceased even to be a house. The Castle Castle, named for the family who had built it, had collapsed years before in a bad storm and lay now in a great heap of rubble, all scrawled over with a withered vine." (Chapter 2)

"The first one up, next morning, was Foster Blake. He had slept industriously for eleven hours and woke up all of a piece without any lingering or yawning." (Chapter 3)

"The fork-tailed birds, azure-blue in the sunlight, swooped and curved in and out of the tottering cupola that crowned the decaying mansion. They used the air as fishes use a river; they seemed to swing and spin effortlessly on invisible currents." (Chapter 8)

"When Foster started calling Julian at the top of his lungs, she hardly heard him, and when Julian told her he was going downstairs, she did not hear him, either. Sometimes a story can open a world for you: you step into it and forget the real one that you live in. Evidently this was such a story." (Chapter 9)

If that last quote doesn't make you want to read Return to Gone-Away, then I can't help you. This, as I said, is one of my favorite books of all-time. I can't recommend it highly enough. The Gone-Away books would make an excellent family read-aloud series, too, with interest for older and younger kids. If you've never read them, you are in for a treat.

Publisher: Sandpiper
Publication Date: Originally, 1961. Most recent edition, 2000.
Source of Book: Personal copy (bought my current copy at the New England Mobile Bookfair ~ 1995, but first read a library copy in elementary school)

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

Wednesday Afternoon Visits: August 12: From Green Gables to SE Asia, with Adirondack Chairs in between

This week's posts around the Kidlitosphere have been filled with reminders about why I love this community so much. I'll probably be back with more over the weekend, but wanted to share these links with you all now.

Mitali Perkins shares photos from her recent visit to Prince Edward Island, home of Green Gables. She says: "As an oft-displaced child, I borrowed roots from my favorite authors. L.M. Montgomery's novels made Prince Edward Island one of my many homes."

Speaking of lovely places to spend a summer day, check out this post at Cynthia Lord's blog. Her husband John is the  most amazing photographer. I always enjoy his photos, but this one, of two Adirondack chairs facing sunset over a lake ... truly gorgeous. Click through. However your day is going, it will make you feel better. [And to my friend summering in Truro, this one made me think of you.]

If those first two links didn't offer enough travel for you, Colleen Mondor's One Shot Southeast Asia round-up post is now available at Chasing Ray. There are tons of great entries, too many for me to mention here. But I did especially like seeing Liz B feature PaperTigers at Tea Cozy.  

At Wild Rose Reader, Elaine Magliaro announces the August Small Graces auction from Grace Lin. Elaine says: "All the proceeds from the Small Graces auctions will benefit The Foundation for Children's Books, a small non-profit organization in Boston that is making a big difference in the lives of young readers by bringing children's book authors and illustrators into under-served schools in the Greater Boston area for visits and residencies." This month's painting is beautiful and sunny.

Jennie has a new project at Biblio File, a Reading Challenges Clearinghouse. She says: "This blog will post (and link) to all the reading challenges out there for all types of book blogs. The long ones, the short ones, the serious, and the silly." So, if you are hosting or participating in a reading challenge, do let Jennie know. (I personally have enough trouble keeping up with my reading, without adding challenges to the mix, but I know that a lot of people love them).

Angiegirl at Angieville writes about stubborn girls (in literature) and why she likes them. She highlights three of her favorites, and concludes: "In the end, I guess I'm just a ridiculously firm believer in the kind of heroines Robin McKinley (an excellently stubborn girl herself) refers to as "girls who do things.""

Newlogorg200 Someone else who I suspect appreciates stubborn girls (in life and literature) is Tanita Davis (have you read Mare's War?). Tanita has a wonderful guest post at the Readergirlz blog about mothers and daughters. She shares some family memories, and photos, too. Go, read. It's lovely.

Tanita also shares, at Finding Wonderland, an announcement about a call for young adult writing submissions for e-Publishing company Verb Noire. They're looking for: "original works of genre fiction (science fiction/fantasy/mystery/romance) that feature a person of color and/or LGBT as the central character."

Kidlitosphere_button And finally, another must-read post from Pam Coughlan at MotherReader. Pam summarizes her position of several topics currently in discussion around the Kidlitosphere, from review copy envy to the idea of making money from blogs. Not surprisingly, I thought that she was dead on. There's some good discussion in the comments, too. Pam suggests (not for the first time) that we as a community: "spend some time educating ourselves about the issues, discussing the possible implications, and drafting our personal policies." She asks: "What does it mean to you to Blog with Integrity?"

See what I mean? This is such a great community. Hope you found some food for thought, or just some news to make you smile.

Tending to Grace: Kimberly Newton Fusco

Book: Tending to Grace
Author: Kimberly Newton Fusco
Pages: 192
Age Range: 12 and up 

Tending to GraceTending to Grace, by Kimberly Newton Fusco, ended up on my list of "books that I want to read" some time back. I don't remember who mentioned it, or what they said. But I finally picked it up from the library this week. And I'm glad that I did. Tending to Grace is a lyrical little novel about the slow blossoming of an emotionally damaged girl.

Fifteen-year-old New Yorker Cornelia has such a problem with stuttering that she scarcely ever speaks. Even though she's a bookworm, her silence lands her in remedial classes. Her silence also leaves her isolated from her peers. Which is ok with Cornelia, because her priority is caring for her vulnerable, damaged mother, Lenore. Cornelia's isolation becomes literal, however, when Lenore drops her off at the rural home of Great-Aunt Agatha, and heads off to Vegas with a boyfriend. Agatha lives in a falling-down house with cracks in the walls, and no indoor plumbing. Having lived alone for many years, she's far from inclined to be maternal to Cornelia, nor does she need Cornelia to care for her. Eventually, however, aunt and niece find common ground, and a measure of healing.

Tending to Grace is a very quiet book. There aren't many characters or settings. Most of the book takes place on Agatha's homestead. The chapters are short - some just a paragraph long. The story is necessarily told in the first person. Since Cornelia hardly ever says anything, the only way for the reader to get to know her at all is to read her thoughts as the narrator. Although Tending to Grace isn't a verse novel, it has the feel of one, with spare, graceful writing. Here is the first sentence:

"We drove out Route 6 on a silent day at the end of May, my mother, the boyfriend, and I." (Page 1)

Doesn't that read like poetry? How about this:

"I am a shadow. I burrow deeper within myself and pray that if the other kids don't see me, they won't talk to me. I pretend I am the desk, the book, the floor, and we all expect less of me each day." (Page 5)

I like "we all expect less of me". The whole book is like that, with a lot left unsaid in the white spaces, and Cornelia's off-kilter viewpoint crystal clear. Agatha is a delightful character, too. Not at all nurturing (of people, anyway), she marches to the beat of her own drummer.

Although Tending to Grace was published as young adult fiction, to me it reads more like a tween, or even middle grade, book. I was surprised when I learned that Cornelia was fifteen - she feels much younger. Lenore's mental issues (bipolar disorder?) are alluded to, but they are only seen from Cornelia's forgiving, protective, viewpoint, so they don't feel threatening. I suppose that the coming of age aspects make this work as a young adult book.

This is the story of a girl who, in the real world, would slip through the cracks. No father, neglectful mother, apparent learning disability, remedial classes... But in Tending to Grace, Cornelia gets an unexpected second chance. She has no huge epiphanies, no dramatic crises. But she lands in the right place, and gradually finds herself.

Tending to Grace is a well-written novel, one that you can read in a single sitting but that packs an emotional punch. Fusco won the Schneider Family Book Award for the middle school age range for this book in 2006 (the same category in which Cynthia Lord won for RULES in 2007). Tending to Grace also reminded me a bit of Susan Taylor Brown's Hugging the Rock and Andrea Beaty's Cicada Summer. This title was published in 2004, and is well worth a second look.

Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 2004
Source of Book: Library copy
Other Blog Reviews: Seabrook Library, Not Acting My Age

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

Dead Girl Dancing and Dead Girl in Love: Linda Joy Singleton

Books: Dead Girl Dancing and Dead Girl in Love (books 2 and 3 of the Dead Girl trilogy) 
Author: Linda Joy Singleton
Pages: 264, 288
Age Range: 12 and up

Dead Girl DancingLast summer I read and enjoyed Linda Joy Singleton's Dead Girl Walking. I always intended to read the second book in the Dead Girl trilogy, but never quite got around to it. When the publisher sent me book 3 this week, I decided that the books would make perfect back-to-back reading for a hot summer weekend. And I was correct.

The Dead Girl trilogy features Amber, a directionally challenged high school girl who, after a car accident, almost goes "into the light". Except that she makes a wrong turn somewhere. Amber's soul ends up temporarily in another girl's body, while her own body lies in a coma. She learns that her (deceased) Grandma Greta is the coordinator of a program that sends spirits temporarily into people's bodies, while the parties in question are off somewhere mentally healing.

At the end of Book 1, Amber agrees to continue working, if needed, as a "Temp Lifer. Book 2, Dead Girl Dancing, begins with Amber's body still in a coma, and her soul occupying the body of her brand-new boyfriend's sister. Sharayah, four years older than Eli and Amber, is a college student in San Jose. She's become estranged from her family in recent months, and is clearly troubled (drinking and having one-night stands). Amber wakens in Sharayah's body to a hangover, $1200 in cash, and imminent plans to travel to Venice Beach for spring break. 

This time around, Amber's occupation of another body isn't accidental. She learns that there are strict rules governing Temp-Lifers. She even gets a magical user's manual, through which she and her grandmother can communicate. Although she's told that all she has to do is go along with whatever Sharayah's plans were, basically acting as a placeholder, Amber can't resist trying to help Sharayah. But first she has to figure out what trauma caused Sharayah to pull away from her family and old friends and change from being a perfect student to a partying wild child. The situation is further complicated when Amber encounters a "Dark Lifer" (a soul without a body, one who preys on people as way of prolonging a half-life). A Dark Lifer who just might deflect Amber's attention from her potential soulmate, Eli...

Dead Girl in LoveBook 3, Dead Girl in Love, begins immediately following Book 2. Amber has returned briefly to her own body and left the hospital. She agrees to take on one more assignment, because she can't resist the opportunity to help her best friend, Alyce. Grammy Greta, meanwhile, agrees to occupy Amber's body while she's "away". [Why, if Temp-Lifers are really just supposed to be place-holders, Grammy Greta couldn't just take over for Alyce isn't really made clear - but of course then there wouldn't have been much of a story.] Amber learns that Alyce, who she thought she knew completely, has been harboring dark secrets. She also, by being inside the body of her best friend, learns some surprising things about herself.

Amber is a likeable character. She's obsessed with reading self-help books. She refers to them with an endearing (but not annoying) frequency. She loves to eat, and loves her less than skinny body. She's a bit self-absorbed sometimes, but she'll do anything for her friends. She adores her triplet baby sisters, and loves the idea of being in love with Eli. She feels real. I also liked Grammy Greta, and Amber's geeky friend Dustin. Alyce is a bit of a tougher nut to crack (and she's essentially absent during the third book, despite much of it being about her). But she's still a reasonably sympathetic character.

The fact that Singleton has published more than 20 books to date definitely comes across in the Dead Girl books. Not so much in the presence of lyrical passages, but in the absence of any clunky phrases or descriptions. These books slide down easily, like the chocolates that Amber likes so much. Amber's teen voice feels authentic, too. Here are some examples:

"Transforming from a high schooler to a college girl didn't sound bad in theory; being mature and of legal age for a few days could be a cool experience. But being my boyfriend's sister was sooo going to ruin my love life." (Page 2, Dead Girl Dancing)

"I hated waiting. I mean, really hated waiting. To conquer this embarrassing character flaw I'd read a self-help book called Paving the Road to Success through Patience. But there were footnotes and the advice was so boring that I ended up skimming through the chapters, learning only that I really sucked at being patient." (Page 12, Dead Girl Dancing)

 "No denying it any longer--what I felt for Eli was like a giant blanket holding me warm and tight." (Page 50, Dead Girl in Love)

"Walking among rows of flowers, shrubs, and trees with a dead guy who spouted poetry and stole bodies was weird, but finding out that he wanted me to save his soul was weird squared to infinity." (Page 88, Dead Girl in Love)

Oh, I cringed sometimes, seeing Amber do things that I knew were mistakes. But I liked her, and wanted her to succeed. And I thought that Singleton tied together all of the loose threads deftly. I think that teen fans of paranormal fiction will really enjoy these books. The intriguing premise of being in one's own best friend's body, combined with the Freaky Friday aspects of having one's grandmother in one's own body, make Dead Girl in Love my favorite of the trilogy. But I liked all three books, and recommend them.   

Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: 2009
Source of Book: Bought Dead Girl Dancing, received Dead Girl in Love from the publisher (finished copy, original trade paperback)
Other Blog Reviews: Sharon Loves Books and Cats, The Book Reader, Charlotte's Library

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

Children's Literacy Round-Up: August 10

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 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. We do seem to be hitting the dog-days of summer, however, and this week's round-up is a bit lighter than usual.


Fb_wb_bea_160x350-137x300 First Book just started accepting votes for their annual "What Book Got You Hooked?" contest. Readers can visit the website "to share the memory of the first book that got you hooked on reading and then vote for the state to receive 50,000 brand new books for children in need." My entry was Little House in the Big Woods, because this is the first series that I remember selecting on my own, and eagerly going from book to book.

Literacy and Reading News reported that August 1st was "the first day of a community-based book drive at more than 1,000 Borders(R) and Waldenbooks(R) stores throughout the nation. Borders and Waldenbooks' staff will encourage customers to purchase new children's books through the first week of September. All books will be directly donated to a local charity chosen by each store."

Terry found a short Winnipeg Free Press article about "Winnipeg Goldeyes players and city libraries ... (teaming up) to promote children’s literacy and the library’s TD Summer Reading Club." You all know that we love programs that tie athletics and reading together.

The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance recently announced a new joint project with the Library of Congress, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka, and several other authors. The project is a "rollicking story adventure game to discover The Exquisite Corpse!!!! ...The Exquisite Corpse Adventure will continue over the course of one year with each new episode and illustration appearing on the Library of Congress's new website every two weeks!" The idea is to inspire kids to read this story, and then seek out other great books.

Raising Readers

At Literacy Launchpad, Amy shares some thoughts for parents on helping children to select books at the library. In addition to posing some strategy questions, she offers "ideas for helping your child learn to find the books at the library that they really want to read". For example: "Find a book your child really likes? Encourage them to find other books by the same author. How cool would it be for your preschooler to already have a favorite author!"

Continuing a RecorderOnline series on helping school-age kids to enjoy reading, Davalynn Spencer writes: "how do we get a reluctant reader to read without knowing he’s actually reading? Give him a job that requires information gathering. And start in the kitchen."

Terry also found a nice post at Jamaican Mommies about preparing children for a successful life. She especially liked this part: "ensure that literacy as a hobby is well established long before your child [starts taking standardized tests in 4th grade]." [Emphasis ours]

In this week's The Big Fresh, the Choice Literacy newsletter, Brenda Power links to an article by Shari Frost about using chapter books for read-aloud in early elementary school classrooms. Shari says: "I learned from many years of teaching first grade that something magical takes place when a class shares the experience of journeying through a chapter book together." She shares her experience in teaching this to a group of urban teachers, and recommends specific titles.

At The Book Chook, Susan Stephenson shares several videos of parents reading to children. Her answer to the question "when should we start reading to kids?" is pretty much "as early as possible."

Booklights At Booklights, Pam Coughlan (MotherReader) shares three simple reading games for busy parents.

The Children's Book Review shares an article from RIF about how appreciating art can promote literacy. It says: "The next time you take children on an Artistic Adventure, try “reading” the works of art together. You’ll help children develop reading-related skills as they learn about the artist and the people, places, and time period depicted in the artwork."

Literacy & Reading Programs & Research

Traci Gardener from the NCTE Inbox Blog suggests that teachers use Laurie Halse Anderson's Write Fifteen Minutes A Day project (WFMAD) as a model for building community in the classroom. Traci says: "In the classroom, this kind of project can forge great connections among students. Just follow Anderson's example, and provide a prompt, advice, and encouragement. Anderson even says that the prompts can be reproduced for classroom use!"

The Spartanburg, SC online news site reported, in an article by Lee G. Healy, that local schools kept their libraries open during the summer, to encourage summer reading. Healy reports that "the program has been at no cost to the district, as schools were open to administrators and teachers anyway, and the libraries were staffed purely with volunteer teachers and community members. At Inman Elementary, early childhood education students from the University of South Carolina Upstate were a big part of the volunteer base." We love this!

Lee from Fantasy Book Review reports: "The Scottish Book Trust is to appoint a Virtual Writer in Residence who will use the internet to get adolescents hooked on reading and writing.The successful candidate will be named next month and the Trust has advertised for a dynamic teen fiction writer with a passion for inspiring young people and innovative ideas about how to do this... The virtual writer will make monthly contributions to the SBT blog and take part in live webchats with budding writers. They will also judge a national short story competition and lead events and workshops at schools.". Thanks to Charlotte from Charlotte's Library for sending us this link.

Crunch, the Minnesota Timberwolves mascot, is promoting literacy - with a retired ambulance. Reading to the Rescue is an effort by the Hennepin County Medical Center to raise literacy awareness to remind people how important reading is to a child's healthy development. If you donate a dollar, you can sign the ambulance which will be dedicated as Crunch's Den during the Timberwolves' first home game this fall.

I found a rather powerful opinion piece by John Daum in the Chattanoogan about the costs of illiteracy. Daum says: "The metric some states employ to estimate the future criminals they are going to have to incarcerate is the literacy rates of their elementary school students. Reading scores slipping? Well, we need to build more prisons. Don’t believe that books can save your child’s life? Read on…" He then shares some statistics about social ills that accompany illiteracy (though he doesn't provide sources for his data, so I can't verify the details).

21st Century Literacies

21stCenturyLiteracies At Literacy, families and learning, Trevor Cairney discusses National Institute of Health research on the impact of new media on young children. He says: "While there are many wonderful benefits of new media, the upshot of the above studies is that too much exposure to 'new' media appears to be harmful." Here's a central part to the article: "experts suggest that language rich environments with lots of interaction with adult caregivers, stimulating opportunities for play and other forms of stimulation to learn, enhance brain development. However, they conclude that in contrast, those that encourage passivity and limit social interaction, creative play and problem solving "...may have deleterious and irrevocable consequences"."

At A Year of Reading, new school librarian (and long-time literacy champion) Franki Sibberson shares a variety of links to articles that stretch her vision for her school library. She's using the articles to help her think through how to create "a space that has something for everyone. A space where students, teachers, parents and community members love to hang out." I think that she's going to be successful.

Grants and Donations

Librarian by Day highlights a donation opportunity, explaining that: the "Louisville Free Public Library was hit by a flash flood caused by a storm that dropped 7 inches of rain in 75 minutes. Damages are estimated at $5 million, their servers, bookmobiles, offices, processing room and more were covered by 6 feet of water." 

The First Book Blog reports: "This summer, Joey McIntyre, a member of New Kids on the Block, teamed up with First Book to provide new books to children in need at every stop of NKOTB’s North American tour... At the tour’s conclusion, more than 25,000 books and nearly $30,000 were donated!"

New Resources

Learn-gasm lists 100 Best Blogs for Librarians of the Future. Link via @librariansview.

From Meg Ivey and her Literacy Voices Roundup 7 August: CAST UDL Book Builder is a site designed for visitors “to create, read, and share engaging digital books that build reading skills for students. Your universally designed books will engage and support diverse learners according to their individual needs, interests, and skills.” Thanks to iLearn Technology for the link.
Terry_readingtubfinal_1 And that's all for today. Terry will be back with next week's round-up at The Reading Tub. Happy reading!

Unite or Die: Jacqueline Jules & Jef Czekaj

Nonfictionmonday Book: Unite or Die
Author: Jacqueline Jules
Illustrator: Jef Czekaj
Pages: 48
Age Range: 6-9 

Unite or DieUnite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation reminds me a bit of Schoolhouse Rock. It takes important historical information about the United States, and conveys it in a fun, fresh format. Unite or Die grew out of a skit that the author, Jacqueline Jules, wrote for her students to celebrate Constitution Day (September 17th) in 2005. The story is told as a play, with elementary school students dressed up as the thirteen states, acting out the events of the forming of the constitution in 1787. The cast is a multicultural bunch, demonstrating an array of skin tones and ethnicities. I celebrate this - I think makes the book  welcoming to a wide range of students. 

Jules' method of using a play to tell the story works well, and keeps the historical material from ever feeling dry. Jef Czekaj's cartoon-like illustrations add quiet humor to every page. For example, Rhode Island didn't send a delegate to the convention in 1787. The picture shows the boy dressed as Rhode Island looking the very picture of belligerence. The girl playing New Jersey, for some reason, has a plant on her head. It's all fun. I also think that the graphic novel feel of the illustrations will make the book intriguing to kids.

And yet, Jules manages to get a tremendous amount of information across about how the states found a way to work together, and how democracy works in action. She conveys the necessity of the states working together, and the challenges that the delegates faced, always using the "kids as states" to keep things relatively light-hearted. The book is never preachy. An afterword and series of notes fill in some of the details, and a bibliography is provided for those looking to delve further into the creation of the constitution.

So, it turns out that a bunch of squabbling kids provide a pretty fair representation of the behavior of the new states after the Revolutionary War. And putting kids into a constitutional play offers an excellent way to learn. Unite or Die is a quality title, and receives my highest recommendation. It doesn't sacrifice the reader's enjoyment for education, or vice versa. This is a must-have title for schools and libraries.

Publisher: Charlesbridge
Publication Date: February 1, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the author
Other Blog Reviews: Maw Books, Picture Book of the Day, MotherReader, Abby (the) Librarian

Today's Nonfiction Monday round-up is at MotherReader.

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

Sunday Afternoon Visits: August 9: KidLitCon '09, Liar Cover Revisited, and Books in Space

I've been a bit out of the blogging loop this week, due to the presence of houseguests. But I'm slowly getting myself back to normal, and have some news to share with you from around the Kidlitosphere.

Kidlitosphere_button First and foremost in Kidlitosphere news, Pam Coughlan (MotherReader and Kidlitosphere Central founder) has announced the preliminary agenda for the Third Annual Kidlitosphere Conference (aka KidLitCon). A registration form is now available with full details. If you blog about children's or young adult books, or you're thinking of blogging about children's or young adult books, you should come. If you write or edit children's or young adult books, or you are a teacher, librarian, or literacy advocate, and you are thinking about dipping a toe into the Kidlitosphere, you should come, too. The conference will be held at the Sheraton Crystal City Hotel in Virginia on October 17th. I attended the conference the past two years, and I simply can't recommend it highly enough. It's going to be great!!

LiarThe other big news in the Kidlitosphere this week is that Bloomsbury responded to the huge outcry about the cover of Justine Larbalestier's upcoming young adult novel Liar. The publisher maintains that their original choice to put a white teen on the cover of a book about an African-American teen was "symbolic" (reflecting the character's nature as a liar), rather than a response to perceptions about the market for book covers showing people of color. Regardless, they have decided to change the cover to one more representative of the book, and I think that's great news (in no small part because people will no longer have to conflicted over whether to buy the book or not). I also find the whole thing to be an excellent demonstration of the power of the literary blogosphere. The new cover was first reported in Publisher's Weekly's Children's Bookshelf, and has since been commented upon pretty much everywhere. (See Justine's response here).

Also, if you're thinking of starting a blog (and especially if you are thinking of ways to make money from book blogging), I recommend checking out Liz B's recent piece at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy about the business of publishing and blogs. Specifically, Liz discusses the question of whether or not bloggers could accept advertising from authors or publishers without the integrity (and/or perceived integrity) of their reviews being compromised. Liz's own view on this is pretty clear: "I do not believe that basically becoming an employee/independent contractor of a publisher/publicist (let's be realistic, authors don't have that kind of money) would ultimately allow for a website/blog, in its entirely, to remain objective, critical, and uninfluenced by the publisher." I agree with her.   

Speaking of Liz, kudos to her for having a recent School Library Journal cover story with Carlie Webber, as announced here. It's called When Harry Met Bella: Fanfiction is all the rage. But is it plagiarism? Or the perfect thing to encourage young writers?

In excellent kidlit news, Camille reports at BookMoot that the young adult novel Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel, is currently in orbit around the International Space Station. According to a press release: "astronaut Robert Thirsk, currently aboard the International Space Station with fellow Canadian Julie Payette, has brought with him two books by Canadian authors – Airborn by Kenneth Oppel and Deux pas vers les étoiles by Jean-Rock Gaudreault." Having been saying for years that I think that adults should read children's books, I am thrilled by this high-profile example.

Last week's Poetry Friday roundup was at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Tomorrow's Nonfiction Monday roundup will be at MotherReader (updated to add direct link to the post here).

Also this week, Colleen Mondor is hosting a One-Shot blogging event in celebration of Southeast Asia. She says: "the basic rules are simple - you post at your site on a book either set in SE Asia or written by a SE Asian author and send me the url. I'll post a master list with links and quotes here on Wednesday."

I don't normally highlight blog birthdays in these roundup posts (because I read so many blogs - there are blog anniversaries happening all the time). But I did want to extend special congratulations to Tasha Saecker, who has now been blogging at Kids Lit for SIX YEARS. As Pam said in the comments, that's like being 40 in blog years. Tasha has demonstrated style, integrity, and a passion for children's literature all along the way. If you're thinking of starting a children's book blog, I encourage you to make a study of Kids Lit - Tasha will steer you right. Happy Birthday to Kids Lit.

I'll be back tomorrow with this week's Literacy and Reading News roundup. I'll also have a new post up tomorrow at Booklights.

Booklights Interview/Profile at the Reading Tub

Booklights Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub (and my partner for the weekly children's literacy round-ups) was kind enough to do a profile and round-table interview with the Booklights team. She says:

What do you get when you combine the integrity of PBS Parents, three power-house book bloggers (who also happen to be moms, librarians, and literacy specialists), and a college professor? An incredible blog, energized by a team of women who are passionate about inspiring a love of reading in children and their caregivers.

There are references to "luminaries" (I don't think that I've ever been called a luminary before), favorite picture books, ways of reaching out to a broader audience, and ... telepathy. Those of you who know Susan, Pam, Gina, and myself, guess which of us said:

"I don’t know about the others, but I’ve been working on a whole telepathy thing on the side. It’s been pretty disappointing so far." 

Click through to see if you're correct.

Terry_readingtubfinal_1 I'm obviously biased, but I think that Terry did an amazing job coming up with questions, and assembling the responses, to give readers a genuine picture of Booklights. I hope that you'll check it out!

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.: Kate Messner

Book: The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.
Author: Kate Messner (blog)
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12 

Gianna ZThe Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. is a middle grade novel by Kate Messner, who has also published two historical novels for kids, Spitfire and Champlain and the Silent One. I haven't met Kate, but I do read her blog and follow her Twitter updates. I especially liked a recent post of hers written in defense of summer reading. I requested the book, in part, because I've liked what she has to say on the blog, and I was interested to see what she had to say in a children's book.

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. is about a particularly tumultuous week in the life of Vermont middle schooler Gianna Zales. Gianna is on the hook to finish a science project involving the collection and classification of 25 leaves. If she doesn't turn in the project on time, she won't be allowed to participate in the upcoming sectionals with the track team. Unfortunately, completing projects on time is not Gianna's strength. She'd rather be running, sketching, dreaming, or baking cookies with her grandmother, Nonna.

Adding to Gianna's stress is the fact that Nonna, who lives with Gianna's family, is showing signs of forgetfulness and disorientation. Gianna is also faced with a burgeoning awkwardness with her long-time friend, Zig, who seems to be looking at her a bit differently all of a sudden, a "mean girl" rival at school, and a new friend who has problems of her own. Being teased about the fact that her family runs a funeral parlor is just icing on the cake.

The leaf motif resonates throughout the book. In addition to collecting leaves, Gianna and Zig classify people based on what kind of tree best represents them. Gianna also runs across and discusses various poems by Robert Frost, particularly "Birches". And, because she's an artist, she draws leaves, and really sees their colors. This lends a lyrical tone to the book.  

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical about this book, mid-way through. There's a lot going on, in a relatively slim package. And I wondered if the whole Robert Frost thing was more something that adults would appreciate than something that would be compelling for kids. There's a scene mid-way through the book in which Gianna hears a teacher read Birches aloud. Gianna muses on parallels between a line in the poem about "get(ting) away from earth awhile" with Nonna's moments of blankness. I thought: is this realistic? But then ... I remembered all of the poems that I wrote when I was in middle school, poems that reflected my own quest to better understand the world. And I thought: OK, maybe so.

By the end of the book, though, I was completely won over. I liked the way the many threads of the story came together, and the balance between happy and realistic endings. I appreciated the warmth of the final scenes, and the way that Gianna solved her problems. Most of all, Gianna felt real to me. She's far from perfect, but her imperfections are genuine. There's a scene in which she falls out of a classroom window, reaching for a leaf. When her teacher lectures her she thinks "It's hard to argue after you fall out a window, no matter how low it is to the ground." It made me laugh. I also adored Zig. He's a bit of a geek, one of those boys more likely to be appreciated as an adult. But he's 100% reliable. I would absolutely read another book about Gianna and Zig, if one were forthcoming someday.

The setting was well-done, too, I could practically see and smell this small town in Vermont in the fall, and the farmer's market that the family visits over the border in Canada. For example:

"So many colors get thrown together here, like they're all shouting to be heard at once. Orange pumpkins next to bright pink mums with dark green leaves. Yellow gourds piled high next to crates of polished red apples. I'm clicking away when Ian pulls on my sleeve." (Chapter 2 - the farmer's market)

"Today's workout is a trail run on the winding path through the wood behind school, so I warm up with a lap on the track. Then I take off into the trees at full speed, breathing in a big gulps of autumn. Fallen leaves have their own unique smell, an awesome earthy smell you don't get when you're running on pavement. Your feet have to be crunching the leaves into the dirt, over the rocks, and then you can smell it all around you." (Chapter 14)

I also thought that the author did a good job conveying that feeling of change - of moving on to middle school, and having different classes, and just starting to think about boys, and feeling better about yourself when you wear certain clothes. For instance:

"I've made a little mound of crumbly dry moss hair on the rock. Zig puts his hand over mine and frowns. "Stop picking at that," he says. "It's protected."

"The moss is an endangered species or something?" I laugh. The laugh comes out funny, though. My hand is all tingly, where his warm hand covers it. Maybe my hands are just cold. Before I can figure it out, his hand is gone. I guess he was only worried about the moss." (Chapter 3)

I think that The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. will work well for fifth or sixth grade girls, especially those of an artistic or outdoorsy disposition. I could see it as a classroom read-aloud, too. There's plenty to discuss, and Zig is a strong enough character to pull in the boys. And, of course, many kids are struggling with the focus problems in school, and problems with the health of grandparents at home. There are no easy answers in this book, but there is determination. The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. is a book that I'll remember for a long time.  I recommend it.

Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Source of Book: Advanced Review Copy from the publisher. Quotes should be checked against the final printed book.
Blog Reviews: Welcome to my Tweendom, proseandkahn
Author Interviews: Write for a Reader, BlogCritics, Journey of an Inquiring Mind

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