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Posts from September 2009

Operation Yes: Sara Lewis Holmes

Book: Operation Yes
Author: Sara Lewis Holmes (author blogOperation Yes blog)
Pages: 256
Age Range: 9-12 

51aqC3dph3L._SL500_AA240_ Background: Sara Lewis Holmes is one of my blog friends. I met her at the first Kidlitosphere Conference. I reviewed her previous book, Letters from Rapunzel. I follow her blog. When I saw her newest book in the Scholastic catalog, I requested it because I had enjoyed her first book, and because I wanted to see what she had come up with this time. I'll confess that knowing Sara did affect my perception of the book. I know that she has personal experience living in a military family, and I think that this comes across in the book. But I'm pretty sure that I would have liked it anyway.

Review: Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes is a middle grade novel set on a (fictional) North Carolina air force base. The primary viewpoint alternates between Bo, the son of the base commander, and Bo's cousin Gari, sent to live with her uncle while her mother is deployed to Iraq. Bo is a boy who has trouble behaving, struggling especially with the pressure of being the commander's son. Gari is prickly and defensive, worried to distraction about the only parent she's ever known. The two cousins find a haven in their sixth grade classroom (room 208), however, and an inspiration in their teacher, Miss Loupe. Eventually, they learn to question themselves, and find ways to take positive action in the world.

Miss Loupe is a treasure, a young, energetic teacher who uses unconventional methods to engage her students. She is particularly fond of improv, using improv's classic "Yes, and..." structure to teach everything from fractions to friendship. She also motivates the students by talking openly about her brother Mark, working in a combat unit in Afghanistan. She is real and vulnerable.

Operation Yes is filled with other three-dimensional characters, too. The kids are all delightfully imperfect, especially Bo. In truth, I didn't care much for Gari, but I liked Bo more than enough to make up for that. While the kids take center stage, they are surrounded by caring adults, each with their own strengths and frailties. In addition to Miss Loupe, the librarian, the lunch lady, the principal, the commander, and another teacher all stand out. I think that's nice to see. These are the people who populate the worlds of elementary school kids every day. It's nice to see them get their due in Operation Yes

Another thing that I like about Operation Yes is that, even as it has an ultimately patriotic theme, Holmes doesn't sugarcoat things. Yes, it's hard being in a military family, having parents stationed away, and having to move around all the time. Yes, kids do worry about their parents getting hurt, and they don't always behave well as a result. Yes, sometimes soldiers do get injured or even killed. These are realities, and they are treated as such (though in an appropriate manner for the audience). 

The writing style in Operation Yes might take a bit of getting used to for some. There are quite a few shifts in point of view. But I think that this adds a lot to the depth of the story. One notable example is Chapter 20. The perspective moves from person to person, a paragraph or two for each, and then back again, building tension all the while, right up to the powerful last paragraph. It's a cinematic approach, fitting for a book in which drama plays a major role.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

"In the middle of the evaluation, the principal, Mrs. Heard, came into Room 208. She was encased in an olive-green suit, which Trey instantly began to draw, adding tank treads and a firing turret." (Page 21)

"Bo left Room 208, but he felt the possibilities bouncing around his brain, like golf balls launched off chunks of concrete." (Page 36)

"Could Tandi carry that off without her? She doubted it. Tandi thought you told people what to do, like vote for you, and they did it. But it was harder than that. You had to see something in your head before you could make it happen. It didn't even matter if what you saw or what you made didn't last, like the glowy lights or the paper stars; it was how people thought about it, and you, afterward that counted." (Page 54, Gari, thinking about her best friend's campaign for class president)

"But the point is that nothing is ordinary if you examine it closely. And the things that make someone imperfect are also the things that make them who they are. Thats' one thing I learned at drama school: how to use small things to make an audience see me in a new way." (Miss Loupe, Page 60)

Operation Yes has heart and humor. As Sarah pointed out at The Reading Zone, it is that rare book that will appeal equally to middle grade boys and girls. I think it would make an excellent classroom read-aloud. (There's even a food fight scene - sure to be a crowd-pleaser). Operation Yes is a book that informs, inspires, and entertains, in equal measure. Recommended!

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: The Old Coot, Lesa's Book Critiques, The Reading Zone, Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup, Shelf Elf. And, from Everyday Learning, some perspective on the author's background as it ties to the books.

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


Children's Literacy Round-Up: September 21

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; literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; and grants, sponsorships & donations.

Events

Ncblalogo The National Book Festival is next Saturday (September 26th). Book Dads reported, in their Weekend Wander column, "In conjunction with the National Book Festival’s event, Reading Rockets is sponsoring a Prompt Response Writing Challenge inspired by The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. The writing challenge gives students in grades K–12 an opportunity each month of this school year to respond to writing prompts by the 18 authors and illustrators involved in The Exquisite Corpse Adventure."

Speaking of the National Book Festival, in this post, The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance introduced a new website. To make the most of this story adventure, the NCBLA and the Butler Children's Literature Center at Dominican University have joined forces to create a companion website with activities for homes, classrooms, and libraries; art appreciation information; educational support materials; and annotated lists of suggested books to read aloud or independently! Be sure to check out http://www.thencbla.org/ beginning September 26 to explore these additional resources.

We're pleased to report that RIF reached their goal of 3 million minutes spent reading aloud, during the Read for Change challenge. You can find more details at Rasco from RIF. Carol Rasco says: "THANK YOU for helping us reach and surpass the goal of logging 3,059,440 minutes of reading with children at home and in our communities. This success has helped raise awareness about the impact of children’s literacy on the long-term economic health of the country."

Read_across_jamaica_logoJenny Schwartzberg from Jenny's Wonderland of Books pointed us to a series of quarterly book drives by the Read Across Jamaica Foundation. The mission of the Read Across Jamaica Foundation is "to introduce creative and interactive methods of reading that encourage children to enjoy literature and aids the less fortunate in changing future disparaging lifestyles affected by illiteracy."

Literacy Launchpad shares a video about Jumpstart's upcoming Read for the Record event (to be held October 8th). Amy reports: "Their goal is to reach 1,000,000 children this year with the magic of reading! You can be a part of reaching that 1,000,000 by going to their website and pledging to read to the children in your life."

Literacy & Reading Programs & Research

Scholastic Book Clubs' ClassroomsCare Program recently announced a new reading challenge, with new Ambassadors for Reading Eli and Peyton Manning. "ClassroomsCare is an annual challenge to the one million classrooms that use Scholastic Book Clubs. Participating classes read 100 books, triggering a donation of books from Scholastic Book Clubs to ClassroomsCare’s charity partners. The books are then donated throughout the year to kids in preschool to middle school who in many cases would not otherwise have books of their own. Classrooms keep track of books read on posters and online, and then tell Scholastic when they’ve finished. Any books kids read in the classroom, with their parents or on their own count toward the goal. Teachers also can use lesson plans and activities available at http://classroomscare.scholastic.com to incorporate this program into their curriculum." (Via press release from Susan Raab of Raab Associates).

In other NFL-related news, teams across the league will continue the tradition of ‘NFL Community Tuesdays,’ where players spend their only day off getting active in their communities. From school visits to fitness activities, food drives to literacy events, players, coaches, and executives will spend their Tuesdays throughout the season helping those in need, and thanking fans for their support. Here are a few of the literacy-related activities NFL players will be engaged in this fall ...

* Chicago Bears players will visit a school within the Chicago Public School System. Some will join middle school students in writing letters to members of the military.

* Jacob Tamme and Blue (Indianapolis Colts Mascot) will host a Family Reading Night at a local inner-city community center, together with Baker & Daniels law firm. The event will feature a free book giveaway and healthy snacks for local kids.

* NY Giant Justin Tuck will launch the second year of his RUSH for Literacy program, spending time with local children at the Scholastic Auditorium in Manhattan, encouraging them to read and giving them a free book each.

* The entire incoming Pittsburgh Public Schools class of 2013 is invited to Heinz Field for a kickoff event that welcomes them to high school. Coach Mike Tomlin, Charlie Batch and Max Starks will address the students.

* Washington Redskins players will take part in the Redskins Read program, the literacy initiative of the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation. Three hundred students from DC, Virginia, and Maryland will visit the Redskins locker room at FedExField to listen to players read and receive free books.

Terry and I both LOVE all of these programs connecting football and literacy.

A new report from the Washington-based Center on Education Policy tracks the progress of four states taking part in the Differentiated Accountability Pilot Program, a federal project launched in 2008. The program's goal is to vary the intensity and type of intervention they use with struggling schools under NCLB and focus their resources on those with the greatest needs. We like the idea of allowing states to use broader criteria than just Annual Yearly Progress. Read more in this week's Education Week Online.

Another study came out this week, reported at Science Daily. "Using information from the longitudinal study of early care and youth development, researchers found that children who spent more time in high-quality child care in the first five years of their lives had better math and reading scores in middle childhood. Researchers also found that low-income children who attended high-quality child care programs before the age of five performed similarly to their affluent peers." Link via Meg Ivey's September 18th Literacy Voices Roundup.

Access to summer learning also seems to be a factor in academic achievement. Carol Rasco reported in her Muse Briefs this weekend at Rasco from RIF that, via the National Summer Learning Association, "“Two-thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years.” Carol has links to more information.

Bilingual Readers has a post about how imagination and language development go hand in hand. Here's a snippet: "According to the latest research (and just plain old common sense), playing pretend is actually fundamental to a young child’s language development and early literacy skills. Children use language to construct their imaginary worlds, much like they do when telling a story. Children experiment with vocabulary and sentence structures as they expand their imagination, weaving words together in such a way that language and imagination are completely inseparable." (via @KarenNemethEdM)

Stacey M. Childress has an interesting OpEd about how a Maryland School System's decision to move beyond conventional wisdom has yielded great results in minimizing the learning gap. She presents the six strategies Montgomery County used in reducing the achievement gap from 35 points to just single digits.

According to a recent press release (which we found via @everybodywins), "Ninety-five percent of Americans consider early childhood literacy an important problem, but they do not know that reading to children between the ages of 3-5 has long-term consequences for a child’s academic achievement and life-long success, according to a new survey released today. The poll shows that seventy-three percent of Americans wrongly believe that if children enter kindergarten unprepared, they will catch up in elementary school. Jumpstart, a leading non-profit focused on early literacy intervention, and the Pearson Foundation commissioned the “Pearson Foundation Early Childhood Literacy” poll, conducted by Candice Bennett and Associates."

Speaking of reading to children, The Book Witch reports on "Alan Gibbons most recent newsletter for The Campaign for the Book which deals with all the teachers who don’t read... He lists the results of a survey: "Teachers “never read a whole book”. One in eight teachers has never read a book to their class, research has revealed. Almost 600,000 children could be missing out on great stories and failing to develop a love of reading because of the use of book “extracts” in the classroom, it suggests."" Book Witch has a bunch of detail about the study - it's a post well worth reading, for teachers and others. Teacher Monica Edinger also reports on this survey.

At Literacy Learning, Tim Shanahan offers a practical definition of reading comprehension, as well as some ideas about teaching children to comprehend stories. He includes links to two Powerpoint presentations, including one called 10 things every teacher should know about reading comprehension (2). He offers some pointed questions to help you determine what is (or isn't) a comprehension problem, and reinforces the idea that the goal is to engage the reader, not teach him or her to take a test!

21st Century Literacies

21stCenturyLiteracies Which is the better learning tool: the keyboard or the pen? According to a recent University of Washington study, it's the pen. Dennis G. Jerz  links to the UW Press Release announcing the study's findings at Jerz's Literacy Weblog. In a nutshell, the study concludes that "Second, fourth and sixth grade children with and without handwriting disabilities were able to write more and faster when using a pen than a keyboard to compose essays." One commenter talked about how the spellchecker can be an obstacle.

Terry mentioned last week the private school library that announced that they are getting rid of all of their books. This weekend, author Mary Pearson discusses this decision in a guest post at Tor.com. She makes some excellent points, such as: "A traditional book offers no distractions. No pop-ups, no games, no bells, no whistles. Just you, the book, and your thoughts. Time to sit, reflect, ponder, and make connections. How often when looking at a computer screen can you do that without the temptation to fill it with one of those bells and whistles? With a book the only bells and whistles are your thoughts. That is no small thing."

In similar vein, Publisher's Weekly's Children's Bookshelf recently published an article by Diane Roback about children's publishing in the digital age. Roback share's findings from a recent panel discussion on this subject, with particular attention paid to the topic of eBooks. There's quite a bit of food for thought in the discussion. See also an outspoken followup post at Critique de Mr. Chompchomp categorizing smart vs. dumb ideas around eBooks for kids. I have to say that the notion of adding animation and video to eBooks horrifies me, too.

Grants and Donations

We mentioned last week that the Philadelphia Free Library system was in danger of being closed. Many people raised their voices in outrage over this, and it seems to have worked. Betsy Bird reported in Saturday's Fuse News: "For those of you concerned about the state of the Philadelphia library system, news has come according to Mitali Perkins (rapidly becoming my primary source of news). Said she, "The Free Library just tweeted this: Good news: the PA Senate has passed the bill that will allow the Free Library to remain open! Thanks to all who spoke up on our behalf!""

Ilovemylibrarian_cmyk_nologos Speaking of libraries, School Library Journal announced, in an article by Rocco Staino, that nominations are open for the I Love My Librarian award. Staino says: "The New York Times, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the American Library Association (ALA) are encouraging the nominations of public, school, college, and academic librarians for the I Love My Librarian! Award. The public can nominate a librarian online until October 9, and each will be judged by a selection committee based on their quality of service to library users, demonstrated knowledge of the library and its resources, and a commitment to helping library users." See also an interesting post by Abby (the) Librarian about the need for librarians, particularly children's libraries, to collect data, and advocate for what they do.

Alma_logo_engIn other award news, we learned from Tasha Saecker at Kids Lit and from Aline at PaperTigers that the nominees for the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award have been announced. I'm with Tasha in wondering "how they manage to make a selection with so many amazing and diverse authors nominated." From the ALMA website: "The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award rewards the best in contemporary children's and young adult literature from all over the world. This makes the list of nominees a good starting place if you want an overview of what's going on in children's literature today."

Booklights And, while it's not exactly award news, I have a new post up today at Booklights about The E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards.

Terry_readingtubfinal_1That's all I have for you today, but I'm sure that Terry will have a few extra links later today at The Reading Tub. You may have noticed that Terry's been running a series of posts with titles like "links for 2009-09-19", which consist of un-blurbed literacy and reading-related links. These posts are part of a work in process, as we try to find a good way to share links with people between round-ups, thus giving you fresher news, and making these roundups a bit less overwhelming. We're not quite there yet (I, in particular, am having trouble finding time to share links in yet another venue), but we're working on it. In the meantime, if you scroll down through recent posts at The Reading Tub, you'll find additional literacy links.

Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy.


Popularity in Blogging and Book Awards

I've just finished my latest Kidlitosphere roundup, but I decided to pull out one item into its own post, because I have a few things that I'd like to say.

Not to be missed (and soon to have many comments, if I'm not mistaken) is a new post by Colleen Mondor from Chasing Ray about popularity contests and their echoes back to high school. Colleen says: "Informed choice is important. But in most popularity contests that is not what happens... Popularity contests are about having your friends win and you like your friends, you think they are good people, you want them to be winners. You vote for your friends no matter what."

I've been giving "best of" and "favorites" lists a bit of thought this week, in light of Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Even before I didn't win in my nominated category (KidLit, and yes, of course that's probably influenced my thinking a bit, but I don't think very much), I expressed my reluctance to list "my favorite blogs that weren't shortlisted for BBAW" (as I discussed here). I've always been unwilling to list my favorite five blogs for this or that blog award meme. And I think that Colleen hit upon the reason for my discomfort in these areas. I don't want to judge and pick favorites between my friends. I want to have left popularity quests behind in high school (though I enjoy reading about such things, from time to time, for the safe distance of adulthood).

I don't want to declare people as in or out because I like them or don't like them. I don't want to tell you "these are my 10 favorite blogs", and then not be able to include an 11th that's just as important to me. I don't want to pick between #3 and #13 in the first place, because my mind doesn't work that way. I don't think it worked that way for me even when I was in high school. (Though I may have blocked a lot out.)

What I want to do with my Kidlitosphere Roundup posts (Sunday Afternoon Visits, etc.) is point out some of the many bloggers around the Kidlitosphere who are writing interesting things. I'm not going to say "You should read Colleen's blog. She's my favorite in sub-category XYZ". I'm going to say "Colleen wrote a post about this, which I thought was really interesting. If you think that topic sounds interesting, you should click through." And then if you like it, and you want to add Colleen to your reader, you should go for it. I want to focus on the good things about people's blogs, with as little divisiveness as possible.

Even when I review books, I don't rate them on a scale of 1 to 5, or whatever. I like to talk about each book, what I liked about it, what I thought could have been done better, how it compares to the author's other books, etc. I have a personal set of six things that I look for when I'm evaluating each book, and I'll usually discuss how the book works in those areas. But I won't give the book a grade or a star ranking. I understand that this makes it a bit more difficult for readers. You can't skim to the bottom of my review to see if I gave the book an A before you read the review. You have to take the things that I say about the book as your guide, and decide if something in there sparks you, personally, to want to read the book. But I think in the long run that relatively detailed thoughts about a range of books are more useful than a list that just says "I like these five titles."

Mind you, I'm not saying that there isn't a place for book award processes, like the Cybils. If you have a set of criteria, and panelists who are selected to avoid any bias (as we do with the Cybils), I think that's a completely different thing from a popularity contest, or one person's arbitrary ranking. Let me elaborate.

Cybils2009-150px The Cybils Awards were started as an attempt to find a balance between literary awards based primarily on quality of writing, which don't directly take kid-friendliness into account, and popularity/vote-based awards, which don't directly take quality of writing into account. I think that the Cybils team (and yes, I have been on the organizing committee since the first year) has found a pretty nice balance.

Anyone can nominate titles (one title per person per category). Then two sets of judging take place. In the first round, nominating panels for each of nine categories winnow the list of nominated titles from many (sometimes more than 100) down to five to seven shortlist titles. Then a separate panel for each category chooses a winner from the shortlists. More than 100 panelists are involved each year, in addition to a few other organizers like myself.

Panelists are selected from volunteers who actively blog about children's and young adult literature (you can read the call for volunteers here). Most volunteers indicate a first and second choice by category, and indicate whether they prefer first round or second round judging. While the process of assigning judges to panels happens behind closed doors (it's quite a logistical challenge, taking 100 people, each with multiple preferences, and grouping them into some 18 panels), the lists of the panelists in each category are public. (This year's lists of panelists will be available soon).

This year, I'm not organizing a category, though I have in the past. I have, however, been following the discussions by which people are being assigned to panels. I can tell you that the category organizers (you can read about them on the Cybils blog) are working hard to ensure that everyone named to a panel has a clear and current understanding of literature within that genre (graphic novels, poetry, etc.). They're also working to ensure that the panels are as balanced as possible (newer people vs. old hands, male vs. female perspectives, etc.). They're ensuring that no conflicts of interest crop up. We wouldn't, for example, put an author on a panel where that person has an eligible title. Tanita Davis won't be judging in Young Adult Fiction. Sara Lewis Holmes won't be judging in Middle Grade Fiction. And so on. In one case, we had an author's spouse work with us to ensure that he wouldn't be in a position of judging his wife's book. You get the idea. Occasionally, category organizers will approach someone who hasn't volunteered and invite them to join a panel. Usually this happens in the interest of getting more specialized expertise for a particular category, such as Graphic Novels, or in the interest of making a particular panel more balanced. Really, it's all about making the panels balanced, experienced, and as objective as possible. 

Anyone who wants to understand the people judging in a particular category can go and read the panelists' blogs (again, the lists of panelists will be available soon). The criteria used for judging the books will also be made public, as will the full lists of nominated titles. Anne Levy and Kelly Herold, who founded the Cybils, have been very careful all along the way to make the process as transparent as possible. It's because of that transparency, and the carefully derived mix of popular nominations with formal judging, that the process works so well. (Though we have, of course, worked out a few kinks along the way.)

My personal feeling is that the most valuable thing for non-participants that comes out of the Cybils process each year is not the list of winners. It's the set of five to seven short list titles in each of nine categories. There are many new books published for children and young adults every year. Having a set of experts, people who live and breathe children's literature year-round, weed through hundreds of nominated titles, to identify the ones that best meet the award's criteria (of being well-written AND kid-friendly), well, that's a real gift. But I don't really care which books WIN. (Which is why I'm not a judge this year, either - I'm just evangelizing for the Cybils in general.)

And so, in the coming weeks and months, you'll see me link to many blogs. But you won't see me participate in any memes where I have to list my favorite bloggers. You'll see me talk about and promote the Cybils. But you won't see me add star ratings to my reviews. You'll see me nominate titles for the 2009 Cybils. But you won't see me casting votes in anything that seems like a popularity-based book contest. I'm following Colleen's example, and leaving those behind me. Most of this is the way that I've always been operating. But I feel like my viewpoint on all this has crystallized a bit. I appreciate having had the chance this week to think about it all. And I hope that you'll all stay tuned for Cybils nominations on October 1st.

Thanks for listening! I'll be interested in reading your feedback, here and/or at Chasing Ray.


Sunday Afternoon Visits: Pirates, Book Reviewing, and Blog Angst Flu

Last week kind of got away from me, blog-wise. Which is a shame, because there's been a lot of great stuff going on in the Kidlitosphere. This is my attempt to catch you all up.

Via lots of people, yesterday was Talk Like a Pirate Day. Me, I've been wanting to watch the Pirates of the Caribbean movies all weekend. Or at least Goonies... I recommend, for those of you interested in a different perspective on pirates, a reading of The Dust of 100 Dogs, by A. S. King.

Cybils2009-150pxLiz Burns has a post about the Cybils up today at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy. She discusses the origins of the Cybils, as well as the transparency of the Cybils award process. If you've seen the term "Cybils Awards" floating around, and you're not sure what that means, do check out Liz's post. And if you're already a fan of the Cybils, I'm happy to report that you can now buy Cybils-themed items (mugs, etc.) at CafePress. I just got two gorgeous Cybils mugs in the mail this week. See also the introduction post for Liz Jones, this year's Graphic Novel Category Organizer. And did you hear that the Cybils Award now has a Wikipedia page?

Despite general excitement about the Cybils, another round of Blog Angst Flu (loosely defined as a periodic phase of questioning the purpose of and time required by a blog) is going around. Andrea and Mark from Just One More Book!! and Lenore from Presenting Lenore have both written recently about their struggles. Outside of the Kidlitosphere, Megan from Velveteen Mind has a post about the phenomenon in general (thanks to Liz B. from Tea Cozy for the link), reporting on blog closures after big conferences. Blog Angst Flu is surprisingly contagious (considering how rarely we're all in the same room). What I find helps fight it off is focusing on my larger goals for the blog (to help people who are growing bookworms, in whatever small ways I can). My stack of unread review titles taunts me sometimes, but I try to think of every review that I DO have time for as a little candle that I'm lighting in the darkness. It works for me, anyway.

Speaking of reviews, in this weekend's Around the Interwebs post, Abby (the) Librarian pointed me to an excellent post by author Jackson Pearce about the different types of reviews. Pearce offers an ode to bloggers who write "thoughtful, meaningful reviews" (she calls us rock stars!). She also discusses the problems with reviews that offer just a ranking, with no explanation, and other equally unsatisfactory types of reviews. Everyone who blogs about books should read and think about this post.

Speaking of authors and bloggers, Colleen Mondor has a post at Chasing Ray directed at authors with suggestions for ways to interact with the literary blogosphere. She's not talking about authors like Jackson Pearce, of course, but to those who send blog reviewers mass, impersonal emails about participating in blog tours, and the like. The conversation in the comments is well worth reading, for authors and bloggers. Colleen also has another new post, one that I'm going to talk about at length separately.

Getting back to review books, Greg Pincus has been collecting photos of people's to be read stacks (or, in some cases, bookshelves and closets). He's posted a compilation of photos at The Happy Accident. Some of these have to be seen to be believed. I didn't get around to sending mine in (I have a six-shelf bookcase, double-stacked, plus a growing pile of picture books on a nearby table), but seeing everyone else's made me feel a bit better about my own.

Another post with great pictures is from What Adrienne Thinks About That. Librarian Adrienne shares photos of her library's welcoming new Tween Center. I LOVED her opening paragraph: "Lately, I’ve been thinking that my philosophy of librarianship could best be summed up, “Embrace your inner nerd.” I want every child who walks in the doors to find something of interest in the Children’s Room, but, what’s more, I want children to know that this is the place where we love books and thinking and art and creativity and logic and problem-solving. This is the place where you can go to figure out the world or get a little respite when figuring out the world is wearing you out."

KidLitCon-badge One conference that I vow will NOT lead to anyone feeling discouraged about their blogging is the Third Annual Kidlitosphere Conference (now affectionately known as KidLitCon09). Pam has come up with a handy conference badge, which I'm proud to display. I'll be working on my panel session this week, about "Coming Together and Reaching Out: Building Community, Literacy and the Reading Message".

Booklights The PBS Parents Booklights blog is pleased to welcome two new guest contributors. Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub and Susan Thomsen from Chicken Spaghetti will be alternating weekly guest posts for a bit, while Susan Kusel takes a temporary break from posting. You can read Susan and Terry's welcome posts here and here. Pam, Gina, Ann, and I are thrilled to have them both on the team! Of course the real question is, will Susan be able to get Elmo's autograph?

Mitali Perkins has an interesting theory, after much discussion on her blog, about whether kids look for themselves in what they read, or not. She says: "Elementary-aged kids and upper high-schoolers are more open to fiction with protagonists who are markedly different than they are when it comes to race, class, or nationality. During early adolescence, fifth through ninth grade, most young readers buzz about and share books featuring protagonists they hope to resemble. Also, if everybody's reading it, or watching it, or playing it, odds are they'll want to, also." Sounds reasonable to me. Read more at Mitali's Fire Escape.

Quick Hits:

  • Color Online shares a recommended reading list for Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 - October 15). There are some additional suggestions in the comments, too.
  • Bill from Literate Lives has a fun post (with pictures) about how NOT to treat a library book.
  • Sherrie from Write About Now has a lovely little post about her second grade daughter looking around the house for "secret portals", after reading The Doll People. This is what it's all about, people! Kids finding magic in what they read.
  • This weekend's Poetry Friday roundup was at Becky's Book Reviews.
  • Jill T. from The Well-Read Child recently put out a call for guest hosts for her weekly "what my children are reading" roundups. Quite a few people have already volunteered, but there are still slots available. I think that including other hosts is a great idea to strengthen this event.
  • Congratulations to the Kidlitosphere's own Monica Edinger from Educating Alice, who just sold her book Africa Is My Home (a book 10 years in the making) to Candlewick Press. Details here.
  • Inspired by a recent experience with having an author visit canceled because of censorship, Author Ellen Hopkins offers a stirring defense of the First Amendment (and a criticism of banning books). She says things like this: "NO ONE PERSON should be able to tell other people what their children can or can't read... Why not instead, parents, read the books with your kids, open the lines of communication, and TALK TO THEM!"
  • Middle school librarian Ms. Yingling (a frequent source of book suggestions for me) asks a philosophical question about what books she should be providing for middle school readers. In a depressing kind of reverse censorship, she gets pressured to push middle school kids to read YA, in many cases reading above their interest levels. See also Robin La Fevers' thoughts about older middle grade fiction.
  • Kelly from YAnnabe has a post about how to ban books the right way. OK, that's a provocative title. What she really talks about is banning oneself from buying more books, before they take over one's life. It's pretty entertaining.
  • At The Spectacle, Parker Peevyhouse asks whether authors should try to create more female secondary characters.
  • Charlotte from Charlotte's Library made me laugh out loud with this post.
  • Another fun post comes from Bri Meets Books, about "Top Five Kidlit Characters Who Were Infinitely Cooler Than Me When I Was Younger". She mentions one of my favorite characters, Sara Crewe from A Little Princes. Bri also had a nice post about last weekend's Roald Dahl Day.
  • Becky from Becky's Book Reviews recently read Tarzan for the first time. Check out her fun interview about the book, here.
  • The deadline to submit articles for TBR Tallboy (which Tanita Davis says is "a hip, low-tech, chapbook style fiction 'zine, successful after only one issue, filled with stories from atrociously talented writers, if I do say so myself") is September 30th.
  • Maureen from Confessions of a Bibliovore reports that the next big thing in young adult fiction is going to be angels. I say, sure, why not?
  • Did you hear about the Harry Potter Theme Park being built in Orlando? I heard about it from Educating Alice.

Five hours after starting this post (I kid you not, though I've also been working in parallel on tomorrow's Children's Literacy Roundup and watching the Red Sox), I am thrilled to report that all that's left starred in my Google Reader are an assortment of book reviews. (I'm saving those for the next "Reviews that Made Me Want the Book" column, of course.) Maybe you guys could all take next week off from writing interesting things, as a little favor to me? Kidding ... kidding! Thanks for tuning in!


Books Now Available: Silksinger

SilksingerBack in early May, I was fortunate enough to be able to read and review the second book in Laini Taylor's Dreamdark series, Silksinger. In my review, I said:

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

Silksinger is scheduled for publication today. I recommend it for readers 10 and up, adults included (though I strongly suggest reading the first book, Blackbringer, first).


Wednesday Afternoon Visits: September 16

This is one of those weeks in which it's nearly impossible to keep up with all of the interesting things going on around the Kidlitosphere. I'll be back with more over the weekend. But here are a few things that I wanted to share with you now.

BBAW_Celebrate_BooksMany children's and young adult book bloggers are participating in Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Yesterday a host of book blogs participated in randomly assigned interview swaps. The results are, I think, quite successful. It's nice to read about why people blog, how they blog, etc. (as a chance from the more customary author interviews.) You can find links to all of the interviews here, and links some of the participating children's and young adult at MotherReader. Today's theme is a Reading Habits Meme, which I'm going to try to get to later in the day. The winners in the various blog award categories have also been trickling in. There was much rejoicing in KidLitLand yesterday for Lee Wind, who won for Best GLBT Review blog. Kudos also to BBAW creator Amy, who won for Best Community Builder, and Natasha Maw, who won for Best Challenge Host and Best KidLit Blog.

A while back I posted about a reading teacher, Sandra Stiles, who was frustrated by being asked to follow a very structured reading program in her classroom (with students expected to choose between a proscribed set of 8 books). Today that link was included in an Examiner.com article by Cheryl Vanatti (aka Tasses from Reading Rumpus!) about why the recent New York Times article about reading workshops (and ensuing dust-up) missed the point. Cheryl says: "The real reason the New York Times article is important was lost in the scuffle. As standardized testing and accountability are the current driving forces in education, teachers like Sandra Stiles, who are forced to choose from eight district-approved titles, have lost the ability to do what is best for their students. Now, that’s an article we all should be reading." I agree! But do read Cheryl's whole article.

Cybils2009-Web-Small Nominations for the 2009 Cybils open October 1st. The Cybils organizers are working behind the scenes to put together judging panels in various categories, and get the new nominating form (created by Sheila Ruth) ready. In the meantime, you can learn more about the Cybils organizers at the Cybils blog (with two profiles posted so far, mine included). You can also show your support for the Cybils, if you are so inclined, by downloading and posting the snazzy new Cybils logo (created by Sarah Stevenson. You can find downloadable logos (aka bling for your blog) here. We hope that you'll all start thinking about your favorite books published since last year's contest and now, and be ready for nominations to open October 1st. 

Kidlitosphere_button Time is running out to register for the Third Annual Kidlitosphere Conference (aka KidLitCon '09). The deadline has, however, been extended into next week, so there's still time to register, and get the truly excellent hotel rate. The conference will be held October 17th in Arlington, VA. Here's a quick blurb about the conference from organizer Pam Coughlan (who has the extremely tough job of asking people to travel for a conference in a down economy):

For authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers in the area of children's and Young Adult literature, the October 17th Kidlitosphere Conference in Arlington, VA offers an incredible opportunity to learn more about online reviewers, blog book tours, blog writing, and social media. Participants will also talk to forty book reviewing bloggers one-on-one about their books in a Meet the Author session. The dinner gives everyone has a chance to socialize, talk, network, and collaborate. And all for a low $100 registration fee that includes breakfast and dinner.

Featured sessions for authors/illustrators include:

* It’s Not All About Your Book: Writing Ideas for Author Blogs
* Social Networking for Fun (and Profit?).
* Building a Better Online Presence

And several more sessions in the 8:00-5:00 p.m day. Attending authors will have the opportunity to set up a table and show their books to bloggers. This is a great opportunity to connect with the blogging community and promote fall titles.

It's not too late to participate!! I hope to see you all there. Everyone is welcome.

Online College recently posted a list of 100 Best Blogs for Book Reviews. Of course "best" is a highly subjective thing, but I think that the list is a nice resource for people looking to dip a toe into the book blogosphere. The list includes categories from general fiction reviews to mysteries to graphic novels and comic books to children's and young adult literature (where I was happy to be listed among several friends). The authors of the list took the time to include short blurbs about each blog. One thing that I thought was interesting (in light of some discussions that we've had in the Kidlitosphere) is that they specifically mention that several of the blogs "include sources of the books". I've always thought that listing the sources of the books enhances a blog's credibility - this list seems to support that. But I'd say, if you're looking for new review blogs in a particular genre, this list could be a good place to start.

And finally, speaking of sources for books, Colleen Mondor has a thought-provoking post at Chasing Ray asking publishers: "are you looking for publicity or critical reviewing from the lit blogosphere?" Here's a quote from Colleen: "I get a book, I read the book, fit it into a column's theme down the line, review the heck out of it ... and generally put some serious time into doing a good job of lit crit. Then I look online and see someone else who pasted the same book's catalog copy into a post, wrote three sentences about how much they LOVE it (for no reason I or anyone else can discern) and announce a giveaway of one or three or five copies of the book. Which means the publisher has happily sent them not only the exact same book but multiple copies of it and only wanted this nice little PR post in return. So why do I even spend more than five minutes at a single review EVER?" There is an excellent discussion going on in the comments. You can find my thoughts on this there.

And that's it for today. I have other starred items in my reader, and hope to get another post out soon. Happy reading!


Growing Bookworms Newsletter: September 15

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. 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 906 subscribers to the newsletter. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue, I have six book reviews, two for middle grade readers and four for young adults. I also have two posts with Kidlitosphere news, one children's literacy round-ups (with the details published at The Reading Tub), and a post about the shortlists for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Not included in the newsletter, I have:

Reading Update: In the past two weeks, I read two middle grade and three adult titles. I had a cross-country trip over Labor Day weekend, so I read a bit higher ratio of adult titles than usual. I didn't review any of these titles, but I've included brief comments here.

  • Peggy Gifford (ill. Valorie Fisher): Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Practicing the Piano: But She Does Love Being in Recitals. Schwartz and Wade. Completed September 1, 2009. I enjoyed this book reasonably well, but didn't have anything to add in a review beyond what I said about the last book. I just don't love Moxy the way that I love Clementine and Piper Reed.
  • Margaret Peterson Haddix: Sent (Missing #2). Simon & Schuster. Completed September 14, 2009. I was a bit mixed on the first Missing book, Found, but wanted to give this series another try, because I've liked so many of Haddix's previous books. Sadly, the Missing series just isn't working for me, though most people seem to love it.
  • Stieg Larsson: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Vintage. Completed September 4, 2009. I found this adult thriller, the first of a series of three, to be well-writtten and compelling, with multi-layered characterization. I'm looking forward to reading the next book: The Girl Who Played with Fire.
  • F. Paul Wilson: Harbingers: A Repairman Jack novel. Tor Books. Completed September 9, 2009. This is kind of an odd series, a blend of "strong loner guy thriller" and supernatural saga, but I like it. This was a better-than-average installment to the series, in which some longer-term patterns finally become clear.
  • Charlaine Harris: Dead to the World (Sookie Stackhouse #4). Ace Trade. Completed September 13, 2009 (on MP3). I'm still loving this Southern Vampire series on audio. Fans of the Stephanie Plum series should definitely check this one out.

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


BBAW: Favorite Book Blogs

BBAW_Celebrate_Books I love that Book Blogger Appreciation Week is a celebration of book bloggers. And I've been enjoying many people's posts on today's topic: "thanking and spotlighting your favorite blogs that didn’t make the shortlists". And yet ... I've always found it painfully difficult to come up with a list of my "favorite blogs." Fortunately, as is often the way with blogs, one of my blogging friends has paved the way, by managing to articulate what I was vaguely thinking about this. 

At A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy, Liz Burns said:

"A favorite can depend on many things. Who are my favorite bloggers? Those I link to. Those I comment at. Those I follow. Those I email and tweet with. The ones I read and don't comment at, but my reading shows in your statistics. Basically, it's those I read.

Those I read. And who do I read? Those I know. Have I shared my blogosphere as cafeteria analysis? Different bloggers eat at different tables in the caf. It's not about cliques; just about who you know and have fun with and talk with. But it's important to remember that there are many tables in the lunchroom and many lunchtimes, and maybe even the caf is open for breakfast and dinner so there are those times and tables, also." (She continues the analogy - click through to see)

Colleen Mondor said, in related vein:

"Awards come and go but faithful readers, we're the real achievement. I know I have a few and I appreciate you all, each and everyone. That's who I'd like to give an award to - the ones who have been with me all along and keep coming back to support my writing. I appreciate my readers, and I hope all of you do too."

Charlotte from Charlotte's Library talked about bloggers that she has "emailed with to continue conversations that started on line". [Full disclosure, I am happy to be one of those bloggers for Charlotte.] She also mentioned "bloggers whose taste in books marches hand in hand with ones own", and I know we can all relate to that.

Liz, Colleen, and Charlotte all hit on common themes about "favorite bloggers." They are the bloggers we read faithfully, and interact with, and, over time, become real friends with. My favorite book blogs are the ones that I link to regularly in my afternoon visits posts and literacy round-ups. They are the blogs that prompt me to click through from my reader, so that I can comment. They are the blogs whose reviews inspire me to want to read the books. They are blogs of people I have worked with on the Cybils and Booklights and Kidlitosphere Central, trading many, many emails back and forth. They are the people I already know when I meet them face-to-face for the first time at Kidlitosphere conferences.  

I love Liz's cafeteria table analogy, too. I was always a bit of a floater - I didn't have a regular cafeteria table in high school. I liked having a few places I could go, in different moods. I liked having backup. It seems, in thinking about this question, that I'm still like this today. Within the Kidlitosphere I have my Cybils peeps, my literacy / Booklights / Share a Story - Shape a Future peeps, my book recommendation kindred spirit peeps, and my fellow Red Sox fan book blogger peeps.

These are overlapping, ill-defined groups, of course. But they're all people I'm happy to hear from when they post, or email, or Twitter. They're people I look forward to meeting face-to-face, if I haven't already. They're people who inspire that moment of connection when they write exactly what I was trying to say, or have the same reaction I did to a book. They're my colleagues, in this book blogging world. And they are my friends.

But I'm not going to name them here (because I'd be bound to miss someone important, and then I'd feel terrible). You all know who you are, don't you?


Children's Literacy Roundup: September 14

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; literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; and grants, sponsorships & donations.

Although the literacy front has been relatively quiet these past couple of weeks, we still have plenty of event news, from the National Book Festival to International Literacy Day to a Give a Book, Get Baseball Tickets promotion by the Pawtucket Red Sox (you had to know that I wouldn't leave that one out!). We've also identified some good news (online mad libs!) and bad news (a library without books) on the 21st century literacies front. But Terry has the whole scoop at The Reading Tub.

Booklights In case that's not enough literacy news for you, I also have an installment of my occasional Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere feature available today at Booklights. There's no overlap with the literacy roundup at Terry's - we've started pulling most of the "raising reader" news (especially any tips for parents) and saving it for Booklights instead. Today, I have links about everything from getting boys into reading through nonfiction to taking care not to pop "the reading bubble" for your kids. I hope you'll check it out.

Nonfictionmonday Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at the Wild About Nature blog.

Wishing you all a book-filled week!


Book Blogger Appreciation Week Approaches

BBAW_Celebrate_Books Abby (the) Librarian said this perfectly on her blog this morning. So I'm blatantly copying from her:

"September 14-18, 2009 is Book Blogger Appreciation Week! Bloggers will be posting on different themes each day, so check those out and participate if you're into it. I think this week can also be a time when we really show our support for one another. It's the community that makes book blogging so much fun, so have you told a blogger you love him/her this week? If not, this just might be the week to do it. ;) "

Stay tuned!


Friday Afternoon Visits: September 11

September 11th will never again be just another day. One can't even think about the date without remembering the events that occurred 8 years ago. My heart goes out to the friends and family members who are still grieving. The people lost on 9/11/01 will never be forgotten.

But I think that remembering terrible things only makes it that much important to take positive actions when we can. In doing so, even when the actions are small, we send out a tiny light into the darkness. And so, this Friday, September 11th, I bring you the news from the largely joyful place that is the Kidlitosphere. First, some September 11th-related remembrances and reviews:

RIFF_logo At Rasco from RIF, Carol Rasco shares RIF's plans for the first official September 11 Day of Service and Remembrance. She says: "The tragic events of September 11, 2001 unified us as a nation. The memory of that day continues to inspire us to serve our neighbors, our communities, and our country. We are pleased to join this national effort and thank the President for making this call to service." 

14_cows At The Reading Tub, Terry Doherty shares her personal response to the book 14 Cows for America, saying: "Although September 11, 2001 is the backdrop for the story, Deedy is offering us a timeless, universal story of empathy, compassion, and shared dreams of hope. Sharing this book with a child will open their minds to other cultures, traditions, and belief systems."

Levithan_love And at Finding Wonderland, Tanita Davis intermingles her memories of 9/11 with a review of David Levithan's Love is the Higher Law. She says: "David Levithan is a New Yorker whose own impressions of that bewildering, horrifying, terrifying day are reflected in these pages. Few readers, teens and adults alike, will be able to experience this novel without remembering their own story -- where they were that day, what they did." Jackie Parker reviews the book, too, at InteractiveReader. She says: "I read it because it was David Levithan writing about 9/11. I know that Levithan is a New Yorker. And I trusted him as an author to deal with this subject with barefaced honesty, never pandering, never with any sense of self-importance or false heroism, or anything else that sullies that day." 

At The Simple and the Ordinary, Christine M. shares her fragmented but crystal clear 9/11 memories. Sarah shares hers at The Reading Zone, and Susan hers at Chicken Spaghetti.  Me, I was in Austin, Texas on a business trip, and I heard about the events in New York on the car radio, on my way to work. During the course of that half hour drive, the first tower fell. And things were different. We all remember.

But, now, because life does go on, I'll go on to the regular blogosphere news:

Book-blogger-appreciation-week Sherry Early has been running a great feature at Semicolon. She's going through the shortlists for Book Blogger Appreciation Week, checking out each blog, writing a short blurb about the blog, and identifying her pick in each category. For example, here's her assessment of the Best Thriller/Mystery/Suspense Blog category. I've flagged several of her posts to go back to, as I seek out new blogs to follow myself. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that Sherry has some nice things to say about my own blog, shortlisted in the Best KidLit Blog category. But I would think it was a neat feature in any case, I'm sure.) See also a thoughtful post at Chasing Ray, in which Colleen Mondor shares her opinion about shortlisting blogs, in general. Incidentally, voting for BBAW closes at midnight Saturday night. I hope that if you have opinions about any of the categories, you'll take a few minutes to vote. And stay tuned for lots more BBAW activity next week.  

Cybils2009-Web-Small Thanks to the talented and hard-working Sarah Stevenson, new Cybils Bling is now available for purchase at Cafe Press. All of the new merchandise (t-shirt, mugs, buttons, tote bag, etc.) features the snazzy new Cybils 2009 logo. You can find details at the Cybils blog. Personally, I have my eye on a new mug, to go with my assorted Kidlitosphere Conference mugs from years past.

Booklights Pam and Susan have both hit it out of the park at Booklights this week, in my opinion. On Wednesday, Susan wrote about the ups and downs of reading aloud. She offers practical advice for parents who might be disappointed by their young kids' unwillingness to sit still for read-aloud. Her conclusion: "Go easy on yourself and your children when it comes to reading aloud. And enjoy the wonderful moments when they happen." Then yesterday, Pam used her Thursday Three feature to offer reading help for "the three people involved in your child's reading development - the teacher, the child, and yourself." I especially liked her strong suggestion that parents try to avoid The Reading Game (parental competition over kids' reading levels and books). Both of these posts have the same general message for parents: raising readers works best if you keep it fun, and keep from being too hard on yourself or the kids. And that, my friends, is why I'm so happy to be working with Pam and Susan (and Gina, who guides us all, and Ann, who reinforces what we're doing) at Booklights.

Terry Doherty wrote a guest article for this month's Children's Book Insider (subscription required) that some of you may find of interest. It's about generating cyberbuzz (or, how to get your book reviewed online). Terry offers tips based on her experience in moderating book review requests at The Reading Tub. She also makes an interesting distinction between "stories written for kids, titles adults like for their kids; and books meant for adults." There's also a followup interview between Terry and CBI's Laura Backes here. Terry also has a guest piece in the Examiner, as part of Jennifer Finke's series on Toys with Imagination. Terry talks about engaging toddlers and kids with interactive books (no batteries required!).

Nathan Bransford, the literary agent, started an interesting discussion on his blog this week about whether or not children's books should be "content-rated" like movies and video games. As I write there are some 250+ comments - clearly this is a topic that people feel strongly about. I found this post via Dawn Morris from Moms Inspire Learning (who found it via Jon Bard from Children's Book Insider). Dawn says (on her own blog): "I wish the YA section of the library could be split in two, with books that address serious issues being put into a separate section for high school students. Why can't there be a "safe" section just for children between the ages of 10 and 14? Parents can't always read every book, after all." Me, I think it's a complicated question, because content ratings for books are such a subjective and variable thing. What's "safe" for one kid might seem edgy for the next. It's not easy. On a related note, Robin LaFevers writes about "some of the delineations in writing YA versus MG versus adult books".

Another controversy has spun up around the lit blogosphere this week. The latest Notes from the Horn Book (a monthly email newsletter from Horn Book Magazine) included an interview with author Richard Peck. Mr. Peck apparently criticized teachers for reading books aloud. The interview has evoked some dissenting opinions from teachers, of course, particularly from Sarah at The Reading Zone and Monica Edinger at Educating Alice. See also Horn Book editor Roger Sutton's take at Read Roger (he says "I think Peck was complaining about classrooms where kids' only exposure to trade books was hearing them read aloud"). But still... it's always something! 

Gail Gauthier linked to an interesting piece in the Denver Post by David Milofsky. The author posits that, as Google and Yahoo start paying publishers to link to news stories, the same might be expected of literary bloggers. A number of prominent bloggers are quoted in the article. I would tend to agree with Gail that if your blog doesn't make money, fair use would probably apply in linking to a news story. Personally, it's not like my blog is a big profit center for me. If I had to pay to link to news stories, well, I just wouldn't link to news stories. Or I'd find some other way to do it, anyway. But it's something to watch.

Quick Hits:

  • This week's Poetry Friday roundup is at Wild Rose Reader. The last Nonfiction Monday roundup was at The Miss Rumphius Effect.
  • Greg Pincus has an inspirational post about community and the power of #kidlitchat (a weekly Twitter chat about children's books and publishing). I'll tell you, he made me want to participate, and I'm so not a "chat" person (the introvert in me can't cope with the swirl of conversation, even when it's online).
  • At Angieville, Angie has a fun post about the appeal of "bad boys" in literature, inspired by a post from Adele at Persnickety Snark. Reading both posts, it's clear to me that in literature and TV, I'm generally in favor of Bad Boys, too (I pick Pacey over Dawson any day, and I am Team Gale all the way).
  • At Bookshelves of Doom, Leila is in a bit of a reading slump, and looking for "something that I'll be able to fall into, that has writing that at the very least won't make me roll my eyes, that has characters I can believe in, a story that I haven't read a million times before (unless the writing and the characters make it work), something that I'll remember for more than an hour after reading." Lots of promising suggestions in the comments.
  • At Parents and Kids Reading Together, Cathy Puett Miller says that "picture books are for everyone".
  • Cheryl Rainfield has pictures of a house and furniture made out of books (well, not really, but they're made to look like they're made out of books, which works, too). Very fun!
  • At the Miss Rumphius Effect, Tricia links to a Fledgling post by Zetta Elliott about authors of color. Tricia says: "In addition to being a mighty strong argument for the recognition of works by authors of color, she includes links to some astounding and disheartening statistics." See also Roger Sutton's response.
  • Speaking of the need for diversity in publishing, Susan has a great quote at Chicken Spaghetti from Amy Bowllan's School Library Journal blog, in a recent column about writers against racism: "Literature helps us understand who we are and to find our place in the world." 
  • Responding to the recent trend of adding horror elements to classic romances (e.g. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Becky from Becky's Book Reviews suggests adding romance to some of the classic horror stories (e.g. a love interest for Frankenstein). I like it!
  • At A Year of Reading, Mary Lee and Franki are commemorating the start of the new school year with a series of posts celebrating teachers. I especially liked Day 4, in which Franki reminds people about Mary Lee and Franki's list of Cool Teachers in Children's Literature.
  • Liz Burns from Tea Cozy is one of the winners of the Color Me Brown challenge at Color Online. She links to other winners here
  • Susan Beth Pfeffer unveils the cover of the third Life As We Knew It book, The World We Live In. This is one book for which I don't need to see any reviews. I already want it.  
  • Colleen Mondor wrote a short history of Guys Lit Wire for Crossed Genres magazine.
  • Mary Pearson guest blogged at Tor the other day about everyone's obsession with the future (and specifically talked about how thinking about the future led her to the ideas in The Adoration of Jenna Fox). She also has a smart post at Tor about what YA lit is and isn't (I found that one via Liz B.).
  • Sarah Stevenson chimed in on MotherReader's Kidlitosphere Conference meme at Finding Wonderland. Updated to add that Betsy Bird chimed in from Fuse #8, too (and she hardly ever does memes). And Colleen makes a particularly strong case for writers to attend, at Chasing Ray. Oh, I wish that EVERYONE could come this year. At least Liz B. will be there again this year (here's her meme).
  • And if this isn't enough news for you, Abby (the) Librarian has some other links today.

Wishing you all a weekend of peace. Me, I just got some good news from my brother, which definitely makes the day a lot brighter.


How To Say Goodbye In Robot: Natalie Standiford

Book: How To Say Goodbye in Robot
Author: Natalie Standiford
Pages: 288
Age Range: 13 and up 

Natalies-330-Howtosaygoodbye How To Say Goodbye in Robot is a quirky young adult novel about a friendship between two loners. I requested it from the publisher on the basis of the title (how could I not?). Then Melissa from Kidliterate made me want to read it by a) comparing it to a John Hughes movie and b) pointing out that despite the pink cover, it's "not really a romance". How To Say Goodbye in Robot is about Bea, newly arrived senior at a very small Baltimore school, and her all-consuming friendship with class outcast Jonah (aka "Ghost Boy").

Bea is a self-declared "Robot Girl", keeping her emotions firmly in check. Her stance is in direct proportion to her mother's over-wrought and unconventional behavior, and her parents' marital problems. She meets Jonah because their last names place them next to one another in assembly. He doesn't even speak to her at first, and he's not at all attractive. But she finds his antisocial behavior oddly refreshing, particularly compared with the catty girls and self-centered boys that she otherwise encounters at the school. When the two discover a shared interest in listening to late-night talk shows (and Jonah brings the local version to Bea's attention), they gradually become friends.

Jonah and Bea's relationship is not an ordinary friendship, and it's certainly not a romance. Bea's fascination with Jonah (who has a dark secret) keeps her from becoming friends with the other kids in school - keeps her from even noticing a perfectly nice boy who likes her. Jonah pulls her in, and pushes her away, consumed by his own demons. While Bea is not an unreliable narrator, per se, their relationship, because of Jonah's inherent instability, is suspect.

Jonah is not a likeable character, though he is intriguing. Bea has an engaging voice, laced through with self-deprecating black humor. I think that it's refreshing to read a book in which the main characters aren't necessarily attractive, and are decidedly unpopular. The radio program, populated by a host of oddball regulars, is an interesting device, too. There are dialog-heavy call-in sections that may appeal to reluctant readers (though I personally found some of the discussions a bit too surreal for my taste).

As Melissa noted, it's a bit of a shame that book has a pink cover (even though it's a beautiful cover), because it's not really a pink book. It's kind of a dark, sarcastic book, though with flashes of brilliance. I would pair it more with The Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl than with The Boyfriend List. I do agree that it would make a good John Hughes-ish movie, with the right casting. Here are a few quotes, to give you a feel for Natalie Standiford's writing:

"The sobs returned then, the kind that shake your whole body. She melted onto the kitchen floor in a puddle of tears and lilac cologne." (Chapter 1) ("She" is Bea's mother)

"Experience told me that not that many guys were into flat-chested sticks with big round lollipop heads and stringy hair, unless by some miracle that was the regional definition of cute. If so, I hadn't come across that particular region. Mom kept telling me I had to grow into my face, but I knew a euphemism when I heard one." (Chapter 2)

"At eight, I fixed myself a plate of stuffing, mashed potatoes, and creamed spinach and went into the living room to watch It's a Wonderful Life. I could watch that movie a million times. I could watch it every day for the rest of my life and never get sick of it.

People think It's a Wonderful Life is a sappy movie, but they're wrong. It's sad. George Bailey is no saint. He's angry. He hates his family. He wants to travel the world and have adventures, but his family keeps stopping him." (Chapter 14)

"I hate February. It's the bleakest month of the year, and that February was even bleaker than usual. It slowed half a foot, then freezing-rained for a week until the whole world seemed carved out of metal-gray slush." (Chapter 16)

That last quote is exactly how I felt about winter (in Boston) when I was in high-school. We maybe had less rain and more snow, but my feeling of bleakness was the same.

How To Say Goodbye in Robot is funny, atmospheric, and disturbing. Because it's about friendship rather than romance, and because the characters are so unconventional, I don't think that it's going to appeal to everyone. However, I think that for a particular audience, this book will resonate strongly. Recommended for high school libraries, and for anyone looking for something a little different.

Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: October 1, 2009
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final book
Other Blog Reviews: Reading Rants!, Kidliterate

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