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Posts from October 2009

Friday Afternoon Visits: Halloween Eve News from the Kidlitosphere

Kidlitosphere_button There's been nonstop action around the Kidlitosphere this week. Here are a few highlights.

Halloween-themed posts abound this week. I, of course, liked this one from Joyce Grant at Getting Kids Reading: Hallowe'en Literacy: Some ideas for working literacy into your Hallowe'en festivities. Like "Do a Hallowe'en recipe together. A perfect combination of math, reading and - yum!" Also, via a link from Katie B's First Book's Odds and Bookends column, bookish Halloween costume ideas from Laura Nathan. And Roberta Gibson at Wrapped in Foil is mulling giving out books for Halloween, inspired by a Books for Treats promotion in the comic strip Luann. And Pam Coughlan profiles three books about monsters at Booklights.

I found an interesting article about adults reading young adult fiction via @DonalynBooks and @TheReadingZone on Twitter. The article by Erin Keane says "Young adult fiction's appeal has grown way beyond the school library. What was once considered entertainment for kids has become big business for adults, who are increasingly turning to the children's section for their own reading pleasure, according to publishing experts."

As for what teens themselves enjoy reading, Publisher's Weekly recently published the results of a survey about teens' reading habits. See Carol Fitzgerald's article for details. Roger Sutton comments at Read Roger that "The most interesting statistic of this teen reading survey concerns who responded to it: "while we purposely marketed the survey to attract male readers, females are the vast majority (96%) of responders.""

In other news about teen readers, Becky Levine shares a lovely story about boys excited for a book signing by Eoin Colfer. She says: "I hear SO much about boys not liking books, about losing boys from reading as they get into their teens. I watch my son and, too often, see him as the exception–myself as the lucky parent who gets to keep sharing this with her son. Last night, I realized he’s not the exception and neither am I. Write for the boys, folks. They’re here, and they’re starving for more books to read, more books that show them why they want to write, too."

My blog was included in recent lists of 101 Book Blogs You Need to Read and 100 Best Book Blogs for Kids, Tweens, and Teens by Online Universities. I especially liked the second list, because lots of my blogging friends are on it, too. Both lists are diverse, classified, and annotated. Although, as you know, I'm not a huge fan of "bests" in reference to blogs, I am happy to be in such good company.

Speaking of bests, Susan Thomsen has started her annual list of lists of best children's books of 2009 at Chicken Spaghetti. She explains: "Last year I started compiling all the year-end "best of" lists in newspapers, magazines, and other sources. I added in many of the various children's literature prizes throughout the year, too. (You can peruse "The Best of the Best: Kids' Books '08" right here.) A person who chooses titles from these lists will read—and give and recommend to children—many good books."

Still speaking of bests, Amazon is counting down their 100 best books of the year at Omnivoracious. You can find books 20 to 11 here, with links to the previous lists. I've been particularly happy to see The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (#83), Shiver (#62), Catching Fire (#42), The Last Olympian (#29), and When You Reach Me (#21). That's some representation for children's and young adult literature in the overall list. I mean, I'd like to see more, but I agree with the titles that they did include.

Cybils2009-150px If you're going to be around New York City next Saturday, November 7th, there's an excellent Cybils-themed Literary Cafe being hosted by Betsy Bird at the new Children's Center at 42nd St. You can find details in this post/news release at A Fuse #8 Production. Panelists will include Pam Coughlan, Elizabeth Burns, Susan Thomsen, and Anne Boles Levy. I'll tell you - this is one of those rare occasions when I wish I still lived in the Northeast.

Speaking of Betsy Bird and of Amazon, Betsy provoked quite a controversy recently when she asked some pointed questions about Amazon's Vine reviewer program. She said things like "the Vine reviewers are sometimes not the best representative readers for books that are a little different" and "The difference being that you can rely on a professional reviewer to give insightful commentary and acknowledge a book's intended audience, and you can determine whether or not a blog reviewer is the kind of person you want looking over your product. And you don't even have to pay us. The Vine folks, by contrast, are not professional reviewers and yet they enjoy a newfound #1 status of sorts." The comments about "professional reviewers" vs. not seem to have caused the most sting for people. Me, I tried the Vine program very briefly, and didn't like it. I didn't like the idea of having to review books I was lukewarm about in order to receive more books (though I can see that requiring a certain number of reviews is necessary for this type of program). But I think that Betsy raises some issues worth thinking about. See also Kate Messner's take.

Colleen Mondor took on this Vine controversy at Chasing Ray, tied it in with two other recent conflicts, and noted one alarming overall issue that connects the three. She says: "I wanted to point this all out to emphasize the many small ways in which book choice is constantly under attack. It's not just banning that is a problem, in some ways that is the least of our problems because at least it is obvious. We know who to fight and when. The removal of choice in places big and small is insidious however and it's easy to lose sight of but we need to be thinking about it and doing what we can to combat it all the time." The comments there, though not as extensive as the ones at Betsy's, are similarly mixed.

Liz B points out at Tea Cozy one more must-read article about the FTC Guidelines for Bloggers. Olgy Gary typed up a detailed transcript of Mary Engle's session at KidLitCon, and then sent it to Mary for editing/approval. The result is an sanctioned transcript of the discussion - well worth your time. You can find it at Olgy's Children Come First website. Olgy, a first-time attendee to KidLitCon, is clearly going to be an asset to the Kidlitosphere. Also at Tea Cozy, Liz highlights Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, Cynsations, in the latest of her Kidlitosphere profile features.

I'd like to offer a fond blogging farewell to Eisha from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. after co-founding 7-Imp with Jules (who will still be blogging there), Eisha has decided to move on to pursue other interests. I'm glad that she's found other things to interest her, but she'll certainly be missed in the Kidlitosphere. See also Tanita Davis' farewell to Eisha at Finding Wonderland.

Quick hits:

And that's all for today. I'll be catching up on some literacy news this weekend for Monday's roundup. Wishing you all a festive and freakish Halloween.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: October 27

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 948 subscribers to the newsletter. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue, I have three book reviews and one announcement about a book previously reviewed that is now available. I also have a children's literacy round-up (details available at The Reading Tub) and two posts with Kidlitosphere news. Not included in the newsletter, I have:

Reading Update: In the past two weeks, I read one young adult title and five adult titles (mysteries and thrillers). The mini-break from KidLit was partly because I needed a bit of break from writing reviews, and partly because I was traveling, and chose longer books. I expect to get back to my regular reading habits soon.

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

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Children's Literacy Round-Up: October 26: The Reading Tub and Booklights

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 content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; and grants, sponsorships & donations. There's plenty of news to share, especially since we didn't have a round-up last weekend (Terry and I were both busy attending KidLitCon).

I must admit that this item especially caught my eye: "Twitter co-Founder Biz Stone recently announced that Twitter has partnered with Room to Read in an effort to promote literacy and reading. Essentially, this is a wine auction, where for every case of wine sold, @roomtoread will “be able to supply about 60 local language children’s books to educate the 300 million kids around the world who can’t read.” To learn more, read the announcement on the Sox First blog." I love it when my somewhat limited interests intersect, and when people use creative programs to support literacy.

Jpg_book008Also not to be missed this week is a priceless photo of "Puppy Longstocking". You'll have to click through to The Reading Tub to see. Terry also shares the lovely banner that Wrapped in Foil made for this week's Nonfiction Monday round-up.

Booklights I have some additional links about encouraging young readers at Booklights today. For example, Donalyn Miller has a great post about encouraging boy readers, complete with recommended books. I hope that you'll check those out, too. Thanks for reading!

Sunday Afternoon Visits: October 25: Post-KidLitCon Catch-Up Edition

It took a bit of doing, after traveling for five days last week, but I am finally caught up again with the blogs in my reader. Here are some highlights.

KidLitCon-badgePam is rounding up KidLitCon writeups at MotherReader. If you have a post about the conference that's not included, leave the link in the comments at MotherReader, and Pam or Bill will get it added to the list. I've been hearing feedback on my conference post that people who didn't attend are finding the various writeups useful, which is good to hear.

Cybils2009-150px Cybils nominations are now closed, and nominating committee panelists are reading and reviewing away. Approximately 950 titles were nominated across the nine categories. Sheila Ruth is contacting publishers about review copies, and shares details at the Cybils blog.

Tuesday was the National Day of Writing. I was digging out of email after last weekend's trip, and pretty much missed the festivities. But I did manage to submit an entry to Mary Lee and Franki's Gallery of Writing: A Lifetime of Reading. You can even see me on a short video that Mary Lee made about the gallery at A Year of Reading (at least, I think you can - I never have the nerve to actually watch myself on video). I especially loved Melissa's submission, childhood and a love of reading, which you can find at Book Nut. Melissa describes how she rediscovered the power of children's literature as an adult, and never looked back. Of course I agree with her completely that "some of the best stories out there are being written for children and young adults".

Deweys-readathonbutton This weekend many book bloggers are participating in Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon. Here's a brief description from the Readathon website: "For 24 hours, we read books, post to our blogs about our reading, and visit other readers’ blogs. We also participate in mini-challenges throughout the day. It happens twice a year, in April and in October." There are about 140 bloggers participating (some from the Kidlitosphere, others from the broader book blogging community).

Crocus The blog Saffron Tree is hosting a "book festival called CROCUS, for a week, starting yesterday, Oct 23rd, 2009. The theme is "Around the world in 7 days" and true to this, there will be an avalanche of reviews of wonderful books focusing on folktales, immigrant tales, modern tales, a crossword contest, and some interesting author interviews. This is all in the spirit of the blog to promote reading to children, and more so, of culturally diverse books." (Text from an email that I received about the event.)

Quick hits:

That's all for today. Wishing you all a peaceful weekend.

KidLitCon 2009: Recap and Pictures!

KidLitCon-badge What always happens to me when I travel is that I return to find myself hopelessly behind. And much as I love my blog, I generally find it necessary to catch up first with my paying job, and then with my personal life (little things, like making sure there's food in the house). Thus I find myself, five days after KidLitCon 2009, finally sitting down to write about it. And I feel like I'm very late to the game.

Google Blog Search shows 65 posts referencing "kidlitcon" since Saturday. I am trying to read them all. Liz B has been recapping individual sessions at Tea Cozy. Pam Coughlan has a three part post at MotherReader chock full of links and details. Pam also has a placeholder post in which others have been leaving links to their writeups in the comments. Greg Pincus has posted the transcript of the Twitter hashtag #kidlitcon at The Happy Accident. And so on. What could I possibly have to say that hasn't already been said? Well, I'm not sure, but I did take some notes, and I do have a few pictures. (Click each photo for a larger version.)

CIMG0031 Here is Pam with Michelle from GalleySmith. Pam kicked off the conference by talking about The Blog Within, in which she encouraged each of us to think about why we're blogging, what we have to share that's unique, and how we're going to revisit and strengthen our missions. Then Pam and Michelle talked together about Best Practices, Ideas, and Tips for Building a Better Blog. Here are a few tidbits that I gleaned from their session:

  • Don't read and discuss books that you aren't interested in just to build audience.
  • Ask questions in your posts, to get people to engage in conversation with you.
  • Remember that everything you write is out there. Keep in mind that what you say will be available forever.
  • Always link when you mention someone, and be sure to use Anchor Linking instead of regular links. Anchor Linking, as Michelle described in a recent GalleySmith post called Anchors Aweigh, is when you take care to place your link on the most descriptive part of the sentence. So, if I'm going to say "I learned more at this GalleySmith post", I'll make the linked text be "GalleySmith post" instead of "this". I'm generally pretty good about linking, but I learned from Michelle that a bit more care in which text I highlight with the link will help other people's search engine rankings. Good to know!
  • Taking a bit of extra time to include a description of your post, as well as keywords, is a way to help your own search engine rankings (for those interested in such things).
  • Everything in your online persona should be consistent, in terms of visuals, name, etc. This is part of branding yourself.
  • Make sure that your most important content is "above the fold" on your blog, not buried deep down in your sidebar. This especially includes contact information.
  • Be part of the community beyond your own blog (this was a key theme throughout the entire conference).

The next session was a split session. I attended the panel for reviewers, by Melissa from Book Nut, Jennie from Biblio File, Tricia from The Miss Rumphius Effect and Mary Lee from A Year of Reading. I did not, alas, take a picture of the panelists. And I didn't take a ton of notes, because I already know about Poetry Friday and Nonfiction Monday and the like. But here are a few tidbits:

  • Melissa recommends participating in weekly memes like the Weekly Geeks, Library Loot, etc, to build bridges to the larger book blogging community.
  • Jennie talked about what to do if you want to become a book reviewer for professional journals.
  • Tricia mentioned the tip of including the words "book review" in the title of book review posts, so that if you auto-publish your link to Twitter, people looking for book reviews can find it.
  • Someone suggested that it's easier for people to read blog posts onscreen if they use shorter paragraphs.
  • I also talked, from the audience, about the Children's Book Review wiki that Kelly Herold set up. For those unfamiliar with the wiki, this is a place where blog reviewers of children's and young adult books can link to their reviews. You have to be approved as an editor to add your reviews. Just follow the link to "create an account" on PBWorks. There is also a KidLit Interview wiki that Andrea Ross set up.
  • Someone in the audience asked reviewers to try to give an idea at the start of a review about whether or not the book is good. Kind of an early "thumbs up" or "thumbs down". This turned into a bit of a discussion about including ratings on book reviews. The latter seems to be something that many people are moving away from.
  • There was also a recommendation to include full posts in your blog's feed (or at least a significant section of the post), instead of just including a blurb about the post. I second this recommendation heartily. There are very few blogs for which I'll read a sentence in the reader, and routinely click through to read the full post.

CIMG0033 The last session before lunch was a discussion between our own Pam Coughlan and Mary Engle, Associate Director for Advertising Practices from the FTC. Kudos to Pam for asking the FTC to send someone to address our issues with the new blog endorsement guidelines. I took very detailed notes here, but Michelle from GalleySmith and Liz B from Tea Cozy both beat me to thorough writeups. So I'll just refer you to their posts, and tell you what I've decided to do, in light of Ms. Engle's talk.

  • I'm going to continue accepting review copies from authors and publishers, and continue to disclose the source of each book reviewed. Technically, since I am an "independent reviewer" rather than an endorser of a product, this isn't necessary. However, I think that this is the right thing to do for my audience.
  • One thing I am going to keep an eye on, in holding on to my "independent reviewer" status is reviewing books from a variety of sources (library, bookstore, etc.) and a variety of publishers.
  • I'm going to start including a disclosure on every blog post in which I link to Amazon's affiliate program (as Liz has also done). Ms. Engle made the valid point that not all readers who click through from my blog and make a purchase at Amazon will realize, from the structure of the link itself, that I get a small commission from Amazon. I agree that it's the right thing for readers to understand that.
  • The FTC will be publishing responses to Frequently Asked Questions soon (target is within the next couple of weeks). In the meantime, if you have questions, you can send them to [email protected]. Note that they will not respond directly to individual emails. However, if they see a question popping up repeatedly, the response is likely to make it into the FAQ.

CIMG0036 After lunch, and the informal Meet the Authors session (Pam Bachorz is an even bigger Red Sox fan than I am, if you can believe that), I attended Greg Pincus' session on Social Media. Greg talked about using social media tools to build community, and about the great things that can happen as a result of having a strong, connected community. I especially liked his four-part action plan, PFFT!

  • Prepare: Ask why you're blogging, and what you're seeking to accomplish. Know your goals, and track them.
  • Find Your Home: Your blog is your home. Invite people there by commenting. If you aren't inviting people in, there's not much point to having a blog at all.
  • Filter: Use tools like blog readers and Google alerts and Twitter platforms to save time, and filter the traffic of most interest to you. Find broader communities that will also be interested in what you're doing.
  • Travel: Engage and connect and be visible. You are what you say and do.

Greg concluded with some general tips. I'm not using quotes, because I didn't copy them down word for word, but these are all his beliefs (beliefs that he supports through his own online activities every day). Social media is a system of trust and reputation. Linking is important - it builds shared trust. Groups have more power than the individual. Reputation is critical. Add value wherever you can. I think that this session inspired most of the audience.

CIMG0037 Next was the panel Authors, Bloggers, Publishers (and ARCs), featuring Liz B. from Tea Cozy, Laura Lutz from Pinot and Prose (and HarperCollins), Sheila Ruth from Wands and Worlds (and Imaginator Press), Paula Chase-Hyman from The Brown Bookshelf. I must admit that I didn't take a lot of notes during this session, because I was gearing up for my own panel (immediately following). But here are a few tidbits:

  • Sheila emphasized maintaining professionalism in your blogging.
  • You have to actively be a member of a community to know things (like which bloggers review which types of books).
  • There was a recommendation for bloggers to start more two-way conversations with publishers about the books that they like to receive (and don't like to receive).
  • The biggest theme that came through from this panel was how many different hats many of us wear (blogger, publisher, author, writer, reviewer, librarian, etc.), and how connected we all are.

CIMG0045 The final formal session of the day was the panel that I organized, on Coming Together, Giving Back, and Building Community and Literacy. I don't have a picture of our panel (though I've included a photo of me and Terry), and I was too focused to take notes, but I am grateful to Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub, Ernestine Walls Benedict from RIF (representing Rasco from RIF) and Gina Montefusco from PBS (representing Booklights) for talking about community and literacy with me.

My thinking with this session was that ultimately, most of us in the Kidlitosphere are here because we want to connect kids with books. The panel was about ways that people have been banding together to accomplish more tangible things in this area than any of us can accomplish alone (Cybils, Guys Lit Wire, Readergirlz, Share A Story-Shape a Future, etc). Ernestine and Gina were able to give us perspective from their online and offline experiences with RIF and PBS. One specific thing that we talked about was summed up well by Terry in her recap post: "ways we need to move beyond computers and blogs to reach the 25 million US kids who don’t have access to books beyond school. As you may have heard, Laurel Snyder proposed a “crazy spectacle” where in all 50 states, people fill 20 malls, and read with kids all at the same time. We all loved the idea, and as Ernestine says, "You need to imagine it, then claim it." We are claiming it! So stay tuned for more information."

KitLitCon2009Group After a much needed break (at least for me), we regrouped for a cocktail hour, dinner, and charity raffle. To the left is a picture of the whole group (you'll need to click to enlarge it to see anything). I won a prize in the raffle, one that MotherReader's younger daughter suggested that I try out for, so I was happy about that.

CIMG0048 We also took a group photo of the Booklights team: (clockwise from upper left) me, Terry Doherty, Susan Kusel, Gina Montefusco, Ann Nealy, and Pam Coughlan. You'd be surprised at how difficult it was to pull all six of us away from our various conversations. The only team member missing from the photo is Susan Thomsen from Chicken Spaghetti. We missed her!

CIMG0047 And although I wasn't great about getting photos with people, I did manage to get one with Maureen from Confessions of a Bibliovore (who I ran into everywhere all weekend, including on the first leg of the flight home). I think that Maureen has been at just about every KidLit-related conference that I've attended. I hope I never have to go to one without her.

CIMG0050 I also got to chat a bit after dinner with Karen and Bill from Literate Lives. As with many people, I could have talked with them all day (had time permitted). Next year, I'm going to be better about taking a photo with everyone I talk to. OK, that's impossible. But I'm going to try. I wish I had photos with long-time blog friends, met for the first time, like Abby (the) Librarian, Charlotte from Charlotte's Library, Sheila Ruth from the Cybils, Anamaria from Books Together, Melissa from Book Nut, Jama Rattigan, Sarah Rettger from Archimedes Forgets, Jennie from BiblioFile, Wendy from Six Boxes of BooksSue Corbett, and Laurel Snyder. Maybe next year, guys. It was great to see people again who I had met at previous conferences, and to meet new people for the first time. My universal regret is that I couldn't talk with each person for longer. Even though I was drained by the end, I wished that the whole thing had been longer, and allowed more time.   

JenandPamExhausted This last photo captures how I think Pam and I both felt by the end of the conference: happy, but utterly exhausted. Still, it was well worth the trip. I look forward to next year! Many thanks to Pam for arranging such a wonderful event.

The Time Quake: Linda Buckley-Archer

Book: The Time Quake (Gideon Trilogy, Book 3)
Author: Linda Buckley-Archer
Pages: 464
Age Range: 9-12 

Timequake The Time Quake is the conclusion to Linda Buckley-Archer's brilliant Gideon Trilogy (after Gideon the Cutpurse, aka the The Time Travelers, and The Time Thief). The Gideon Trilogy (apparently also called The Time Quake Trilogy and The Enlightenment of Peter Schock) features two modern-day British children named Kate Dyer and Peter Schock. While playing near an anti-gravity machine in Kate's father's lab, Peter and Kate are accidentally sent back to the 18th century. There, they meet up with a former thief named Gideon Seymour, who tries to protect them, and a rogue called The Tar Man, who tries to use the children for his own ends.

Note: This review may contain spoilers for Book 1 and Book 2. If you haven't read any of the Gideon books, and you like time travel stories, then I recommend that you stop here, and find yourself a copy of Book 1.

As The Time Quake begins, Kate and Peter have briefly returned home to their own time, only to be kidnapped by the Tar Man and returned to 1763. The two existing copies of the time machine have also been stolen by the Tar Man, so that no one from the present can rescue the children. Lord Luxon, the Tar Man's former employer, has stolen one of the time machines, and is using it to pop back and forth between modern-day New York City and 18th century London. Lord Luxon's callous disregard for the time continuum has resulted in the creation of a series of parallel worlds. The presence of these worlds is causing dangerous instabilities, including time quakes. Even worse, Lord Luxon is out to change history, and keep the US from gaining independence from Britain. Meanwhile, Peter and Kate, with Gideon and some other friends, are on a quest to find the Tar Man and the remaining time machine. Soon, however, they realize that returning to their own century won't be enough. They have to find a way to stop Lord Luxon, stop the Tar Man, and somehow heal time.

If it sounds a bit complex, well, it is. This series contains quite a few interconnected threads, as well as a host of characters, both in the 21st and 18th centuries. Time travel itself, of course, often provokes head-scratching, and Linda Buckley-Archer's version is no exception.  But I think that this series is very well-done. The mechanics of and paradoxes from time travel are discussed in enough detail to engage the reader, without ever getting bogged down in technicalities. The characters are well-rounded (particularly Gideon and the Tar Man, who both have unexpected sides to their characters, and Kate's sensitive younger brother Sam), and the pacing is suspenseful.

The 18th century sections are filled with interesting historical facts, large and small, delivered with sufficient humor and showing (rather than telling) to keep the books from ever feeling didactic. In The Time Quake, for example, the reader learns about the importance of George Washington's Christmas Eve crossing of the Delaware. This is conveyed not in some dry, history book fashion, but from Lord Luxon's perspective, when he actually goes there (as, in Book 2, the children witnessed aspects of the French Revolution). The Time Quake also delves into alternative history territory, in a light-handed, speculative manner. Lord Luxon's interactions with a 21st century historian are entertaining, as are Peter's occasional comments on an 18th century life without modern conveniences. For example:

"A middle-aged tourist, his sagging belly bulging over the waist of his shorts, stopped to stare for a moment at this vision in cream linen. Lord Luxon eyed him with distaste... It was disappointing, he reflected, that twenty-first-century man's sense of fashion had not kept pace with the truly staggering progress he had observed in every other walk of life." (Page 4)

Peter walked over to look at the boats while Gideon, Sir Richard and the Parson pored over the fortune-teller's map trying to work out the whereabouts of the Tar Man's lodgings. He looked down at the river flowing quickly past him. Sometimes this century really got to him. Mostly he avoiding thinking in that way because it was pointless, but everything was so primitive. Everything took so long. How difficult could it be to find the Tar Man, for crying out loud? For a boy born into an age when information travels at the speed of light, it was cruelly hard to accept that in this century news could only travel as fast as the fleetest horse." (Page 126)

Buckley-Archer's writing is perfect for the story. She offers occasional descriptive passages, mixed tongue-in-cheek witticisms, and cliff-hanger chapter endings. I think that the balance works well. For example, here's the start of a chapter: "It was less than forty-eight hours after the bonfire on the Dyers' farm, and a policeman, an Enlightenment philosopher and a henchman's apprentice had an appointment to keep in Manhattan."

The author uses long chapter sub-titles, as was, I think, common in the late 18th century. (These titles are rendered in old-fashioned font, too). She also demonstrates an old-fashioned vocabulary and dialect in the 18th century sections, just enough for the reader to get a flavor for the time frame ("Mistress Kate", etc.), but not enough to make the book difficult to read.

The Time Quake is a satisfying conclusion to the Gideon Trilogy. It has everything you can ask for in middle grade fiction: a unique and fully realized setting; a compelling and thought-provoking premise; complex characters; skillful plotting; and a writing style that enhances the story. Plus, of course, there's time travel. This is an intelligent, interesting book, perfect for capturing the attention of young readers. The Time Quake is highly recommended for readers nine and up (though you MUST read the previous two books first, for it to make any sense at all).

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Source of Book: I received a review copy of the UK edition from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: None that I've seen. Here is my review of Book 2 in the Gideon Trilogy: The Time Thief

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Books Now Available: Front and Center

Front and CenterBack in June, I reviewed the third book in Catherine Gilbert Murdock's series about D.J. Schwenk,  Front and Center. I said:

Front and Center is a perfect coming of age story and a completely satisfying conclusion to the three-book series. It's a book that you'll finish with a deep sigh and a few tears, and then immediately want to get a copy of for the 12-to-15-year-old girls in your life.

I am thrilled to report that Front and Center is scheduled for publication today. Fans of the series will not want to miss it. And if you're not already a fan of the series, do give it a try. These are among my very favorite young adult fiction titles. Start with Dairy Queen.

The Maze Runner: James Dashner

Book: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner (blog)
Pages: 384
Age Range: 13 and up 

MAZE_cover Background: Kiera Parrott at Library Voice made me want to read this book when she said: "I heard this book described as “Lord of the Flies meets The Hunger Games.” Sweet Jimminy! That pretty much bumped the ARC right on up to the top of my to-be-read pile. After plowing through the 374 page sci-fi/adventure/thriller in less than two days, I was not disappointed." The Maze Runner has been on my radar since then, and when Random House sent me a copy, I moved it to the top of my to be read stack, too. Like Kiera, I read the book quickly, agreed with the Hunger Games meets Lord of the Flies characterization, and was satisfied with the result. As this is a book that's all about suspense, the less you know about it, the better. Feel free to skip the review altogether, though I do have a few things to say.

Review: James Dashner's The Maze Runner is the first book of a planned dystopian sci-fi trilogy. It's a fast-paced page-turner of a book, one that will leave the reader wanting more. It's not a book that I left littered with post-it flags marking lyrical passages. It's much more about action than characters. But it is a book that I read in one compulsive sitting, and for which I expect to pick up the next book as soon as it becomes available.

The Maze Runner begins with a teenage boy, Thomas, making an interminable ascent in a lightless, clanking elevator. Thomas has no memory of who he is (besides his name), or how he came to be in the metal box. He can't remember anything about his life (although he understands generalities, like what an elevator is, and how to eat a hamburger). Thomas' ride ends with his arrival in The Glade, a large clearing bordered by perilously high walls on all four sides. The Glade sits in the middle of a dangerous labyrinth, and is populated by a motley collection of teenage boys. Supplies arrive at regular intervals, but the boys in the Glade have no other outside contact. Thomas struggles to understand where he is, and why, and what his role is in unlocking the secret of the Maze.

Here's an early passage, to give you a feel for the book:

"Someone lowered a rope from above, the end of it tied into a big loop. Thomas hesitated, then stepped into it with his right foot and clutched the rope as he was yanked toward the sky. Hands reached down, lots of hands, grabbing him by his clothes, pulling him up. The world seemed to spin, a swirling mist of faces and color and light. A storm of emotions wrenched his gut, twisted and pulled; he wanted to scream, cry, throw up. The chorus of voices had grown silent, but someone spoke as they yanked him over the sharp edge of the dark box. And Thomas knew he'd never forget the words." (Page 3-4) 

The Maze Runner takes a bit of getting used to. The boys in the Glade use a lot of peculiar slang. And, just as Thomas doesn't understand anything about where he is, neither does the reader. But if you stick with it, I think you'll find yourself drawn in quite quickly. Dashner is a master of cliff-hangers and building suspense. The Glade and the Maze are delightfully creepy. The social dynamics between the boys are compelling. And yes, The Maze Runner is reminiscent of The Hunger Games (though the characterization isn't nearly as strong), The Lord of the Flies, and (I think) David Ward's Grasslands Trilogy. I think that The Maze Runner will please teenage fans of dystopian fiction, science fiction, and/or adventure novels. Although it is obviously boy-friendly, I think that girls who enjoy reading thrillers will like it, too. Recommended for teens and adults. Personally, I'm curious about what's going to happen in the next book.

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: My Friend Amy, Through A Glass, Darkly, Library Voice

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Wednesday Afternoon Visits: October 14: National Book Awards Shortlist Edition

First up, congratulations to the Kidlitosphere's own Laini Taylor, shortlisted for the 2009 National Book Award for Young People's Literature (for Lips Touch, which was already on my "must read soon" stack). I have raved about Laini's other two books, Blackbringer and Silksinger, and heard great things about Lips Touch, too. Laini is a fabulous writer, and this is much deserved. Not to mention that Laini was a Cybils panelist last year, and co-organizer of the second Kidlitosphere Conference in Portland (with Jone MacCulloch). And she's growing a young bookworm, even as we speak. Oh, I am just so happy for Laini!! {Edited to add: here's Laini's response.} Congratulations to the other nominees, too. Especially Deborah Heiligman (author of Charles and Emma), who I haven't met, but who is my Facebook friend. See the full young people's list at the Cybils blog.

Cybils2009-150px Cybils nominations close at midnight tomorrow night (10/15). You can access the nomination form, and lists of all of the nominated titles in each category, here. So, if you have a title that you LOVE, that you think is well-written and kid-friendly, the kind of book that you want to shout from the rooftops about, and it hasn't been nominated yet, don't miss your chance to see it considered for the Cybils. You can also read a bio/manifesto for Cybils co-founder Anne Boles Levy here.

KidLitCon-badge KidLitCon is also fast approaching. Sara Lewis Holmes and her blogging author co-panelists are looking for your input. Sara asks: "What would you like to know about blogging as an author? Do you have questions about how we decide what to blog about/how we got started/why we continue/what benefits we see/what the pitfalls are?  Or any other question?" See also Pam's most recent post, encouraging locals who haven't signed up yet to give the conference a look.

Susanna Reich wrote to me from I.N.K., saying: "Twenty-two award-winning authors who've been blogging at INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids, have created a searchable  database, INK Think Tank: Nonfiction In Your Classroom,, at Visitors will be able to search by keyword, subject, author, title, grade level, and most significantly, by national curriculum standards. Our goal is to get trade books into the classroom, and initial response from teachers and librarians has been enthusiastic."

Becky Levine has an inspirational post about re-opening doors that you might have closed earlier in your life. She says: "I’m finding a big plus to being a person “of a certain age.” And that is that I believe in more possibilities than I did when I was younger... Possibilities. What doors have you closed and either forgotten about or too stubbornly ignored? Is it time, perhaps, to go oil the lock and hunt out the key?"

I ran across two additional responses to the FTC Guidelines for Bloggers:

Quick hits:

  • Kate Coombs shares five great out of print read-alouds at Book Aunt.
  • At Tea Cozy, Liz B shares information about the ALA's Great Stories Club: "The Great Stories Club reaches underserved, troubled teen populations through books that are relevant to their lives. Libraries located within or working in partnership with facilities serving troubled teens (including juvenile justice facilities, alternative high schools, drug rehabilitation centers and nonprofits serving teen parents) are eligible to apply."
  • Liz is also continuing her series of informational posts. This week she talks about children's and young adult literature listservs.
  • Pam Coughlan has a repeat of an excellent article that she wrote about being a mother and a reader (they don't call her MotherReader for nothing).
  • The Shrinking Violets have an interview with Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power (which I reviewed here). This is an interview that particularly resonated with me (as did the book).
  • Terry Doherty has a great post at Booklights about Easy Readers (starting with The Cat in the Hat, of course, and including the Geisel and Cybils awards). This week's Show and Tale at Booklights is Eloise.
  • Angie from Angieville has good news for fans of Dennis Lehane's Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro mystery series (like me).
  • Don't forget that next week is Teen Read Week. See more details about the Readergirlz plans at Miss Erin.
  • A new issue of Notes from the Horn Book is now available, featuring an interview with Kristin Cashore.
  • The authors at The Spectacle are discussing Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire (with spoilers).
  • Monica Edinger links to a New Yorker article by Daniel Zalewski about how strongly kids seem to be in charge in today's picture books. He criticizes a number of modern books for their portrayal of browbeaten parents and rampaging kids (citing Kevin Henkes as an exception).
  • See more news at Terry's Tuesday Blurbs post at the Reading Tub. She is highly recommending " the pictures from the Read for the Record event at Nationals Park", and I agree with her.

That's all I have for news for this week. I'll be taking a few days off from the blog to attend KidLitCon. Ironic, I know, that I won't be blogging because of a blogging conference. But there you have it. I have left a review or two queued up for delayed posting. Wishing you all a lovely weekend!

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission (with no additional cost to you).

Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie: Maggie Stiefvater

Book: Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie (sequel to Lament)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater (blog)
Pages: 360
Age Range: 13 and up 

41PONA+RbIL._SL500_AA240_ Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie is the much-anticipated (and equally compelling) sequel to Maggie Stiefvater's Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception. Lament introduced Deirdre Monaghan, a human girl revealed to have the power to draw the faerie to her. Deirdre is loved, in unrequited fashion, by her long-time best friend, James Morgan. In my review of Lament, I said: "Despite the first-person narration, I actually had a harder time getting a fix on Deirdre herself than on some of the other characters." Therefore, I was perfectly happy to learn that Deirdre is not the viewpoint character for Ballad. Instead, Ballad is told in alternating chapters narrated by James and by an outcast faerie called Nuala. We see only hints of Dee's viewpoint, in text messages that she writes (but doesn't actually send) to James. This works well, because James is a highly sympathetic narrator, and Nuala, while not initially sympathetic, is complex and intriguing.

As Ballad begins, James and Deirdre are both attending a private boarding school for talented musicians. James, a piper, is in fact so talented that the school doesn't quite know what to do with him. It is his talent for music that draws Nuala to him. James and Deirdre are not at the school for very long before strange things start happening, and the faerie start to gather round. That's all I'm going to say about the plot, because Ballad is a book that should be experienced, rather than described.

I love James' voice. He is cocky, sarcastic, and philosophical. Despite his feelings for Deirdre, and the power that she has to hurt him, he never feels like a victim. Stiefvater walks a tricky line between conveying James' love for Dee (not to mention his affinity towards the faerie), and making him still feel like a teenage boy. I think that she succeeds. I flagged passages from James throughout the book. Here are a few:

"The brochures whispered tales of us emerging from high school as multitalented superteens sporting academic skills, who would slay Ivy League applications with a single thrust of our extracurriculars." (Page 4)

"Even if I hadn't been somewhat preoccupied by the iciness trickling along my skin, I wouldn't have listened. People talk to much, and generally if you listen to the first thing they say and the last, the middle will take care of itself." (Page 7)

"The girl--if that was even what she was--flicked her incandescent blue eyes, made even more brilliant by the dusky shadows beneath them, toward my face, looking intensely bored. "I've been waiting for you forever."

When she spoke, the smell of her breath clouded around me, all drowsy nodding wildflowers and recent rain and distant wood smoke. Danger prickled softly around the region of my belly button. I hazarded a question. "'Forever' as in several hundred years, or forever as in since my lesson began?"" (Page 27)

"I had a love-hate relationship with the dorms. They were independence: the freedom to leave your crap on the floor and eat Oreoes for breakfast three days in a row (which isn't a good idea--you always end up with black chunks in your teeth during your first few classes). They were also camaraderie: seventy-five guys thrown into one building together meant you couldn't throw a rock without hitting a musician with balls.

But they were also brutal, claustrophobic, exhausting." (Page 66)

I could listen to James talk all day. Nuala's voice is quite different. She's angry and defensive, scarred from bitter experiences. I never had trouble keeping straight which of the two was narrating (often a problem in a book with alternating viewpoints), though I find in looking back that nearly all of the passages that I flagged belonged to James. Except this:

"And just like that, I had been announced. As insidious as the fast, primitive beat, the words were passed from dancer to dancer, and I felt eyes on me as I moved through the crowd. I was not just any solitary fey, I was the leanan sidhe. Lowest of the low. Nearly human.

"I didn't know dancing was one of your talents," called a faerie as she whirled by me. She and her friends were no taller than my hip, and their laughter stung like bees. I watched them spin for a moment, their feet falling unerringly with the driving drumbeat, until I saw her tail peek from under her gauzy green dress.

My smile was a snarl. "I didn't realize talking was one of your talents. I didn't think monkeys could speak."" (Page 42)

Reading Ballad is like being somehow in the middle of a complex dance between two talented, occasionally unpredictable partners. The plot starts off slowly, and then builds to a rapid crescendo. Stiefvater's writing is lyrical and compelling throughout. Ballad has a dark, atmospheric feel - as though it's rainy or misty throughout the book. It's the perfect story to curl up with on a chilly fall afternoon. Fans of Lament will, I think, like Ballad even better.

For those new to the series, I would recommend reading Lament before reading Ballad - while the stories are quite distinct, Ballad would probably be confusing without Lament's world-building. (Not to mention that Ballad's mere set-up is a spoiler for the ending of Lament). They are fairly advanced reads, in terms of dramatic structure, complexity of the characters' motives, and use of symbolism. I would definitely classify them more for high school than middle school. But for strong readers who are fans of paranormal, romantic fiction, Lament and Ballad are must-read books. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: October 1, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Charlotte's Library, In Bed with Books, The Crooked Shelf

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: October 13

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 936 subscribers to the newsletter. 

Newsletter Update: It's been a busy couple of blogging weeks for me. In this issue, I have four book reviews and two posts about books previously reviewed that are now available. I also have two children's literacy round-ups (one here and one at The Reading Tub) and a link to the September Carnival of Children's Literature. Not included in the newsletter, I have:

Reading Update: In the past two weeks, I read one easy reader, four middle grade titles, and one young adult title.

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

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Children's Literacy Round-Up: October 12

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 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.

Terry_readingtubfinal_1I especially liked this quote from Bill Cosby (in a School Library Journal article by Lauren Barack): "I said that there’s a building, usually one in particular and it sits downtown somewhere, and it’s called the public library. And when you go in there, this place can be as exciting as any football stadium, basketball stadium, hockey arena, baseball stadium. Packed to the gills". I was also happy to learn from the NCFL that National Family Literacy Day is November 1st. But really - you should click through to the full round-up, if you have the time. Terry has links from the Choice Literacy Newsletter, Parade Magazine, and everywhere in between.

I also have a new post available at Booklights today, with resources collected for a panel session at next weekend's Kidlitosphere Conference (Coming Together, Reaching Out, Giving Back: Building Community, Literacy and the Reading Message).

As Terry and I will both be attending KidLitCon next weekend, we'll be taking a week off from the literacy round-up, but will be back with more literacy and reading news for you on the 26th. We're also sure to be sharing tidbits in the meantime in our Between the Roundups widget and on Twitter.