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Posts from December 2009

The Cybils Shortlists Are Coming

Cybils2009-150px I'm pleased to report that this year's Cybils shortlists are going to be, yet again, a wonderful resource for children's and young adult literature fans of all ages. Most of the lists are in, and they'll be made public on Friday morning, New Year's Day, at 6:00 am US Mountain Time. Shortlists of five to seven titles will be available in each of the following sub-categories:

  • Easy Readers
  • Short Chapter Books
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction for Middle Grade Readers
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction for Young Adults
  • Fiction Picture Books
  • Graphic Novels for Middle Grade Readers
  • Graphic Novels for Young Adults
  • Middle Grade Fiction
  • Non-Fiction Picture Books
  • Non-Fiction: Middle Grade & Young Adult
  • Poetry
  • Young Adult Fiction

I promise. These lists are great! So, stay tuned... The lists (with short blurbs for each book) will be published on the Cybils blog. For a bit more about hints and changes for this year, see also this post by Anne Levy.

New Year's Day is always cause for celebration. The fact that the Cybils shortlists are available that day, too, well, it's almost too much celebratory goodness for one day. But not quite!

Happy New Year!!

New Booklights Post Today: Tip #6 for Growing Bookworms: Read Yourself

Booklights I have a new post up today at Booklights, the sixth installment in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series. Here's the gist:

"Read yourself, and model an appreciation for reading. It's all very well to SAY that books and reading are important. But what kids notice is what you DO. If you turn on the TV during every free moment, and never have time to go to the library or the bookstore, your kids are unlikely to turn to books themselves."

I close with a recommendation to set a good example for your kids by curling up with a good book. I mean, how can you go wrong with that?

Happy reading! Terry Doherty and I will be back next Monday with a new installment of the Children's Literacy Roundup.

Wednesday Afternoon Visits: December 23: Kidlitosphere News and Views before Christmas

Things have quieted down on the blogs this week as Christmas approaches. But me, I've finished my shopping and my wrapping. Work has quieted down. And I find myself with a bit of time to catch up on the blog posts from the past few days. Here are some things that caught my eye. Consider this an early Christmas present for those of you still online...

Christmas One of my favorite posts of the season is the Shrinking Violet Promotions Holiday Survival Guide for Introverts. Here's a snippet: "A plea on behalf of all the introverted children out there in the world—for introverted children, having to get up in Santa’s lap and TALK to this perfect stranger, usually IN FRONT OF other perfect strangers can be the 6 year old equivalent of public speaking." Robin and Mary understand, from deep down, what it means to be an introvert. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Margo Rabb has an interesting essay in the New York Times about people who steal books from bookstores. Who would have thought that a certain demographic would consider stealing books cool? And you'll never believe which book is the most frequently stolen. See also Liz B's commentary on the piece at Tea Cozy. Liz talks about how stealing from the library is even worse than stealing from bookstores, because this keeps other people from being able to access books.  

At Book Moot, Camille talks about the advantages of board books, complete with some recommended new titles. She also discusses how essential she considers a bookshelf in every nursery (I certainly agree with that!). On a related theme, Lori Calabrese lists several of her favorite Christmas-themed board books. And, though not board book-focused, see also Esme Raji Codell's Christmas Book Picks.

Colleen Mondor has a lovely post about remembering where we came from at the holidays. Here's a snippet: "when I look at this picture (from 1972) all I know is that in every way that mattered, it was. I have always been, and still remain, the lucky daughter of wonderful parents and the little sister of the best brother in the world." Sniff!

For those feeling a bit grouchier around the holidays, MotherReader has her annual Festivus post, for the airing of grievances. You can click through to see mine. Speaking of MotherReader, she's selling Snowpocalypse shirts in her Cafe Press store, in honor of the recent East Coast storm.

Cybils2009-150px Various people and institutions have been coming up with their "best of" lists for 2009. Sarah Stevenson is going to round some of those up on the Cybils blog soon. But there are a couple that I couldn't resist sharing here.

  • At 100 Scope Notes, Travis offers a toast to 2009 Children's Lit: The Year in Miscellanea. He has topics like "most uncontroversial children's lit controversy" and "YA cover trend that was too popular to mention." Fun stuff!
  • At A Fuse #8 Production, Betsy Bird shares her Best of the Decade: A Look Back at Children's Literature from 2000-2009. She discusses the rise of the children's book "phenomenon", the rise of YA fiction, and the rise of blogging and online media, among other relevant topics. This is a don't miss it post. See also Monica Edinger's response to Betsy's post at Educating Alice. Monica responds to most of Betsy's main points, and adds a few observations of her own about self-publishing, and the evolution of quality nonfiction.

You can also share your "best of" lists in a special January 2nd edition of Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. In this post, Sherry explains how the Review of Books works in general, and invites people to participate in the regular and special editions.

The_Giver_Cover Lois Lowry has been sharing some recent insulting reader feedback on The Giver (here and here). She notes that the vast majority of the emails that she receives aren't like these, but I think it's brave of her to sine a light on these negative ones. I think that these messages say something about the decline of politeness in our culture.

Quick hits:

And that's all I have for you today. I'm off to watch It's a Wonderful Life in front of the fire with Mheir. Wishing all of you who celebrate it a Merry Christmas!!  

Ice: Sarah Beth Durst: YA Fantasy Review

Book: Ice
Author: Sarah Beth Durst (blog)
Pages: 320
Age Range: 13 and up 

IceCover_LoRes200 Sarah Beth Durst's Ice is a modern re-telling of the Scandinavian fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon". Personally, I'm not a big fairy tale reader, and I had never run across this particular story. Thus my interest in the book was based on the fact that the premise sounded intriguing, not because I had any prior familiarity with the storyline.

Ice describes a romance between Cassie, a human girl, and the Polar Bear King. As a young girl, Cassie is told a fantastical story about her family's history, in which Cassie's mother, Gail, is the adopted daughter of the North Wind, and the promised bride of the Polar Bear King. When Gail falls in love with a human man, instead of marrying the polar bear, Gail's angry father sends her "east of the sun and west of the moon". There she is captured by Trolls, and kept from her human family (including her infant daughter, Cassie). Cassie, naturally enough, believes this to be a fanciful family story. Right up until the day that she meets a 12-foot-tall talking Polar Bear named Bear. Bear tells Cassie that she is his promised bride, and asks her to travel with him to his home. What follows is a dizzying adventure set against a backdrop of ice and snow.

The first part of Ice, depicting a young girl and a monster getting to know one another in a magical castle, reminded me quite a bit of Beauty and the Beast. Ice, however features the modern twist that Cassie is a polar researcher, product of a science-based upbringing, who is skeptical of all of the magic that she sees. She's also someone determined to make a difference in her own right, rather than just live under someone else's protection. I enjoyed the world-building in this section, as well as the introduction of the characters, but found myself waiting for something more active to happen.

I shouldn't have worried. In the second part of the book, Cassie sets off on a dangerous quest, risking her life for Bear. This part of the story is filled with suffering and peril, much of it quite creatively rendered. I think some of this might be a bit dark for middle schoolers, but that high school-age readers will find it compelling. Personally, I stayed up late to finish the book, because I simply had to know what would happen next.

Cassie is an intriguing character. She's quite capable (having been raised by her father in an Arctic research station), and rather alarmingly (though perhaps realistically for her situation) selfish. She's a risk-taker, and stubborn to the point of recklessness when she makes up her mind about something. I can't say that I liked her, exactly, but I appreciated her transformation over the course of the book.

Really, though, the star of this book is the starkly beautiful icy setting. Durst seems to genuinely respect, and even revere, the Arctic, in the same way that Cassie does. Here are a couple of examples, to give you a sense of what I mean:

"Cold seared into her, slicing her, and her face mask instantly frosted. She took a deep breath of night air. It felt brittle and sharp in her throat, as if the air were filled with shards of glass. This was exactly what she needed to clear her mind. The piercingly cold air soothed her, as it always did." (Page 25)

"Several long hours later, Cassie heard ice crunch under the bear's paws. Granules crackled in the monumental Arctic silence. She straightened and thumped her muscle-sore thighs. The bear had slowed and was simply walking now, across the shimmering frozen sea. The earth was painted in white and blue streaks of ice, reflecting the sky, and the low, pale sun." (Page 35)

Ice has just enough detail about survival techniques in the Arctic to feel authentic, without bogging the reader down with excessive detail. The setting is so three-dimensional that readers will want to pull another blanket over them while reading.

Fans of fairy tale retellings and supernatural romances won't want to miss Ice. It's an engaging blend of modern science and magical fairy tale, with a memorable setting. Ice is the perfect book to sweep the reader away on a cold winter's night. Recommended for teen and adult readers.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Wondrous Reads, Angieville, Book Aunt, Tina's Book Reviews, Rhiannon Hart, The Book Smugglers, Shelf Elf, Book Nut, and Laini Taylor, among others. See also Sherrie Petersen's post with mini-reviews of three novelizations of the East of the Sun and West of the Moon fairy tale.

© 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: Holiday Edition

Jpg_book007Tonight I will be sending out the new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's books and raising readers. It is sent out once every two weeks (if you are getting daily Feedblitz updates, you might prefer to sign up for the Growing Bookworms newsletter instead, and only receive one email every two weeks). There are currently 986 subscribers.

Newsletter Update: In this relatively short issue I have two book reviews (one middle grade and one young adult), one children's literacy round-up and two posts with Kidlitosphere news. At Booklights, I have a new installment in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series (a recommendation to visit bookstores and libraries) and a post with additional literacy links.

Reading Update: In the past two weeks, I read four middle grade and one young adult titles:
  • Frances Hodgson Burnett (ill. Tasha Tudor): A Little Princess. HarperCollins. Completed December 12, 2009. One of my all-time favorites...
  • Inez Haynes Irwin: Maida's Little Shop. BiblioLife. Completed December 15, 2009. The Maida books are also childhood favorites (the holidays put me in a nostalgic mood). I'm not sure how well these books would hold up for new, modern readers (this one is more than 100 years old), but I love them.
  • Inez Haynes Irwin: Maida's Little House. Kessinger Publishing. Completed December 17, 2009.
  • Emily Diamand: Raider's Ransom. Scholastic. Completed December 21, 2009. My review.
  • John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle: Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances. Speak. Completed December 11, 2009. My review.

I wish you all a peaceful and book-filled holiday. Thanks for reading the newsletter, 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).

Raider's Ransom: Emily Diamand: Middle Grade Fantasy Review

Book: Raider's Ransom
Author: Emily Diamand
Pages: 352
Age Range: 9-12 

Raiders I requested Raider's Ransom from the Scholastic catalog a while back, because the premise caught my eye. Since then, I've seen a host of positive reviews, and I've been eager to read it. I finally got to it this week, and it fully lived up to my expectations.

Raider's Ransom is set more than 200 years in the future, in a world decimated by flooding and other environmental disasters. England has dwindled down to 10 struggling southern colonies, while Greater Scotland holds most of the rest of the land in the former United Kingdom. Families of Raiders have carved out territories in the eastern marshes. Modern technology is pretty much wiped out in the English colonies, though there are rumors that Scotland still has solar power.

Lilly Melkun lives with her grandmother in a small fishing community. Although only 13, Lilly has some degree of importance in her village, because she possesses a sea cat. The cats are rare animals that can help fishermen identify opportunities and perils in the water. They choose their owners, and Cat has chosen Lilly. When a band of raiders visits Lilly's village, however, her life changes forever. She and Cat find themselves on a quest to ransom a kidnapped child.

Meanwhile, a boy named Zeph lives in the raider community of Angel Isling, the only legitimate son of "the Boss" of the family. Zeph has rivalries with his toxic half-brother and his father's Scottish mistress. He wants to prove himself as a warrior and the future of the family. But when his father brings home a vulnerable, kidnapped girl, a girl who reminds him of his lost little sister, Zeph finds himself conflicted.

Both Zeph and Lilly are strong characters. I did find it a bit confusing to have two first-person protagonists, in intermittently alternating chapters, with no indication of the narrator in the chapter titles. As I began each chapter, I had to figure out whether Lilly or Zeph was speaking. Once their paths crossed, this was sometimes tricky. But I did think that seeing the action from both Zeph and Lilly's perspectives added a lot to the story.

I also liked the dynamic between the two children. Diamand doesn't take the easy way out by just making the kids immediately become loyal friends. They lie to each other, misunderstand each other, and even betray each other, because of their prior loyalties. Zeph is especially torn between the messages of his upbringing and what he thinks is right. And, of course, having both a male and a female narrator makes this book likely to be well-received by boys and girls.

The book includes enough dialect to make it feel like a different world, but no so much as to make the book unreadable. For example:

"She's got a smile on her nasty face, probably coz everyone's looking at her. It aint's right: She's only his doxy! A slave, sold down by some Scottish smuggler." (Page 28, Zeph)

"I know what some of that means, cos the vicar's always sermoning about how the sea rose up and swallowed whole towns, and the sun got hotter and frazzled the land, and all the drops died and turned to dust, and that's why we're hungry." (Page 41, Lilly)

My only complaint about the book is that the coincidences are a bit strong. For example, Lilly, who is looking for the kidnapped girl, literally runs into Zeph, whose father kidnapped the girl, as soon as she arrives in London. (And there's another enormous coincidence, regarding a jewel, that I can't explain without giving too much away - perhaps this will be explained better in the sequel).

Raider's Ransom does have one of my favorite aspects of books with post-apocalyptic settings -- little glimpses of the mysterious lost world (which is our world). A man in Lilly's village collects old "com puters", which look like inanimate plastic boxes to Lilly. She doesn't know what to make of a figurine labeled "Santa". The names of the raider families are taken from areas around London (Chelsea, etc.). An important minor character lives in the upper floors of the house that once belong to the British Prime Minister. And so on. Some of the details of the lost London, I think, went over my head, because I don't know London as well as kids who live near there would (Raider's Ransom was first published in the UK). This didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book, but I occasionally felt like there was another layer that I was missing.

Raider's Ransom has an intriguing and atmospheric setting, and a compelling and fast-paced plot. Although the author is an environmental activist (according to the publisher's website), she maintains a light touch with regard to the environmental aspects of the book. For the most part, she keeps the focus on the characters and the action. In truth, I couldn't put this book down. I'll be looking forward to the planned sequel. Highly recommended for fantasy, seaside story, and dystopia fans, middle grade and up.

Publisher: The Chicken House (Scholastic)
Publication Date: December 1, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Shelf Elf, Eva's Book Addiction, Kiss the Book, A Fuse #8 Production, The Book Muncher, What's Carol Reading?, Book Aunt

© 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).

Quick Hits: Booklights, An Upcoming Must-Read Book, and Jon Scieszka

I'd like to share a couple of tidbits with you all this morning:

Booklights First up, I have a new post at Booklights today. It's the fifth entry in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series. This week's tip is about taking children to libraries and bookstores. Timely for the holiday season, but a good practice year-round. I hope that you'll check it out.

Next, many congratulations to Betsy Bird from A Fuse #8 Production, Jules Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and Peter D. Sieruta from Collecting Children's Books on their new book contract. You can find their write-ups here, here, and here. This must-read title, due out from Candlewick in September of 2012, is tentatively titled Wild Things! : The True, Untold Stories Behind the Most Beloved Children’s Books and Their Creators. Very cool!

Third, Meghan Newton from Goodman Media shared a link with me today that I had somehow missed. It's an article by Jon Scieszka from the Huffington Post, musing on the close of his tenure as National Ambassador of Children's Literature. It's classic Scieszka - breezy and fun, but full of concrete tips for helping reluctant readers. This is must-read stuff.


Wishing you all a wonderful week!

Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up: December 14

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 (with particular emphasis on holiday-related events); literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; and grants, sponsorships & donations.


ABTT We recently came across two different contests that we thought might be of interest to roundup readers. First, Asset Based Thinking for Teens and Read Kiddo Read have a contest for teen librarians, with a $2500 grand prize. "Librarians will be recognized and rewarded for creating and conducting outstanding programs to engage teens and ignite the spark that will fuel their passion for reading." You can find more details here. Also, Candlewick Press and School Library Journal have a contest for elementary school teachers. The grand prize is a paid trip to the International Reading Association Conference in April. You can find more details here. Both contests close December 31st. 

Holiday-Related Events and Activities

If you are looking for space on your kids' bookshelves, you might consider donating some of the books your kids have grown out of to children who need books. For instance, here's the announcement for the Kilbourn Public Library News: Literacy Council Book Drive. I'm sure that there is some local program in your area. In my area, the San Jose Mercury News Gift of Reading program is reporting (in a column by Patty Fisher) annual donations at roughly 30% of last year's levels. They've had to extend the deadline, but are worried that this isn't going to be enough. Me, I donated five boxes of books, but I'm wondering if I should round up some more...

Ncblalogo And of course we recommend giving books as gifts. The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance has a nice post with tips for finding the perfect gift book, rounded up from a couple of other articles. I especially liked this suggestion, from librarian Natacha Luzzi : "No one is ever too old for a picture book!!". I also linked to several posts about giving books as gifts in my Friday Visits post here, and in last Monday's post at Booklights.

Braille_Lit_Logo As some of you may recall, Terry and I have mentioned several times the need to support literacy for blind readers. Jenny Schwartzberg brought to our attention an opportunity to support the teaching of Braille, while buying a unique holiday gift. "Your purchase of the U.S. Mint's 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar will advance the National Federation of the Blind's efforts to end the Braille Literacy crisis in America." You can find more details on the National Federation for the Blind website (which says that 90% of blind children are not currently being taught to read). The coins can only be purchased until December 31st.

Literacy & Reading Programs & Research

WBUR recently reported, in All Things Considered by Jon Hamilton, that reading practice can strengthen the pathways in children's brains. More specifically, "Intensive reading programs can produce measurable changes in the structure of a child's brain, according to a study in the journal Neuron. The study found that several different programs improved the integrity of fibers that carry information from one part of the brain to another." Pretty cool, I think. This story was sent to me by friend A. Dohan, who blogs at Outside In.

Also on the science side, ScienceDaily reported back in October that "Chinese-speaking children with dyslexia have a disorder that is distinctly different, and perhaps more complicated and severe, than that of English speakers. Those differences can be seen in the brain and in the performance of Chinese children on visual and oral language tasks". This popped up on Twitter this week, at @analomba.

This one is for my mom, a dedicated quilter. School Library Journal recently ran a feature story by Rocco Staino about former school librarian Muriel Feldshuh, who has spent the past 13 years piecing together literary quilts, to promote children's literacy. A host of talented illustrators have contributed squares, with both illustrations and pro-reading messages. Four quilts will be on tour early next year.

At Paradise Tossed (a blog about poetry AND technology) you'll find an interesting post suggesting that technological literacy is as important as any other skill we teach kids. Terry loved this opening: "Few things are as inspiring as watching a kid soak up information. They can process new ideas and concepts at a staggering velocity ... Despite the positive or negative influence of these large-scale educational efforts, there's a much deeper education going on behind the scenes. Both implicitly and explicitly, kids learn on their own, and they teach each other what they know." A lot to think about.

The Detroit Free Press reports, in a column by Rochelle Riley, that 52% of Detroiters 16 and older are functionally illiterate. Riley says: "Parents who do not or cannot read cannot prepare their children to learn. So they are sending them to school to fail. Those children, many of whom eventually drop out, grow up to become people who have a hard time finding a job, or whose job becomes breaking the law." Tragic, that's what that is. See also a related Free Press editiorial.

This is actually from July, but I just ran across an article from NeuroLogica Blog (thanks to @TaraLazar) debunking marketing claims by the "Your Baby Can Read" program. For example, regarding the claim that "Studies prove that the earlier a child learns to read, the better they perform in school and later in life" they point out that "this might have something to do with smarter kids being able to learn to read earlier. Also, smarter parents, or just parents in a more stable and nurturing environment, may be more likely to read to their children early. What we have is correlational data with lots of variables. None of this necessarily means that forcing kids to learn to read early has any advantage." Interesting stuff!

21st Century Literacies

NCFLlogobig Psych Central News recently profiled, in an article by Rick Nauert, the National Center for Family Literacy's interactive online tool for helping parents "to transform routine daily activities like meal preparation and bath time into rich learning experiences for their children."

I really do think that in the 21st century, the definition of what's considered acceptable reading material for kids has broadened immensely. National Ambassador for Children's Literature Jon Scieszka has a great article in the December 13th LA Times about the state of children's and young adult books in 2009 (found via @MitaliPerkins). He says: "My platform has been to reach reluctant readers. And one of the best ways I found to motivate them is to connect them with reading that interests them, to expand the definition of reading to include humor, science fiction/fantasy, nonfiction, graphic novels, wordless books, audio books and comic books. Librarians and teachers have embraced all of these new kinds of reading." He then gives lots of examples. This is an encouraging post for fans of children's literature and advocates of children's literacy. It's also a great source of ideas for holiday gifts. Don't miss it!

In a related LA Times opinion piece, journalist Susan Carpenter shares her experiences in choosing books for her reluctant reader son. My favorite line: "When it comes to getting a child to read, snobbery gets you nowhere". She also gives examples.

Grants and Donations

Strawberry Lois Lenski, author of Strawberry Girl and many other beloved children's books during the 1920s through 1960s, established the Lois Lenski Covey Foundation to assist organizations in their efforts to provide books to children who might otherwise lack access to children's literature. The Santa Clara City Library Foundation & Friends (for which I'm a board member) was one of three grant recipients in California to receive a grant this year. Funds will be used to purchase children's books for a revolving book bag collection at the Sobrato Transition Housing Shelter and HomeSafe (domestic violence shelter); making sure that even the children living in shelters in Santa Clara will have access to high quality children's literature. Literacy outreach staff currently teach several story times a year at each shelter.

You all know that we love events that pair sports and literacy. And, as a Duke alum, I have a special place in my heart for college basketball. So of course I must bring to your attention this story from the University of Vermont athletics department (via @TheUPSStore_PR). "Thanks to the generosity of the local community, the Vermont men’s basketball team and the local The UPS Stores raised over $500 for the Shoot for Literacy Program during the 2008-2009 season. One-hundred percent of the proceeds donated locally benefited children in both Vermont and New Hampshire."

New Resources

Terry_readingtubfinal_1For still more literacy ideas, Terry has December's round-up of new literacy and reading news resources at the Reading Tub. Do check it out - she's found lots of interesting sites. And for more literacy links, check out yesterday's Weekend Wander round-up at Book Dads.

Terry will likely have a few last-minute links this morning at the Reading Tub. In light of the holidays, this will be our last literacy and reading round-up of the year. However, we'll still be posting links on Twitter and in our Between the Roundups widget as we run across them.

Whatever and however you celebrate this time of year, we wish you all a joyous and book-filled holiday season.

Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances: YA Book Review

Book: Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances
Author: John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
Pages: 368
Age Range: 12 and up 

LetItSnowJust as I was looking for something to read to get me into the holiday spirit, Abby, Becky, and Kerry (see links below) all published reviews of a title from last fall: Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances, by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle. I'm not generally a big short story fan. However, the reviews were positive, and a book about romance around the holidays struck me as just the right thing for my current mood. And I'm glad that I dipped in to Let It Snow. I enjoyed it very much. I was extra-pleased when I started the second story, and realized that the three stories are connected. Much better, I think, than reading three un-connected stories by three different authors.

The stories in Let It Snow take place between the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and the day after Christmas. The first story, Maureen Johnson's Jubilee Express, finds highschooler Jubilee Dougal taking a last-minute train trip through a snowstorm to visit her grandparents. When the storm stalls Jubilee's train in Gracetown, she is lured from the safety of the train by the familiar lights of Waffle House. An adventure ensues - one that sheds a new light on Jubilee's relationship with her perfect boyfriend, Noah.

I enjoyed Maureen Johnson's writing style. Her descriptions rang true for me. For example:

"I thought about calling my grandparents... They would have been happy to talk to me, but I wasn't feeling up to it. My grandparents are great people, but they are easily rattled. Like, if the grocery store sells out of some frozen pizza or soup they advertise in the circular, and they've gone to the store just for that, they'll stand there debating their next move for a half an hour." (Chapter Two, Jubilee Express)

Oh, do I know people like that. I don't want to give anything away, but I have to say that the house where Jubilee ends up spending Christmas felt real to me, too. I also like Jubilee's voice. For instance:

"There is nothing about a bad situation that fourteen hyper cheerleaders can't worsen." (Chapter Four, Jubilee Express)

Doubtless true. When I first read Jubilee Express, I was a bit confused by a couple of characters and situations that Johnson introduced and then left as loose ends. Things made much more sense to me once I realized that these situations would be resolved in the other two stories. I'm tempted now to go back and re-read that one, I must say.

The second story, A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle, is classic John Green, narrated by a smart, wry teenage boy named Tobin, and including a (very brief) road trip through a blizzard (with a quest for a Waffle House full of cheerleaders at the end). It took me a few pages to realize that the narrator was a boy, actually, but I think this is just because of the shift from the first story. Once I settled in with that, I quite enjoyed this story, too. I could see where the romance was going from pretty early on, but it was one of those cases where you're completely happy with where things are going, and want to keep reading just to make sure (like in the second Penderwicks book). Here are a couple of examples of Tobin's voice:

"There was a long moment between when Carla (the car) stopped moving forward and when she began to slide, tires locked, back down the hill. It was a quiet moment, a time of contemplation." (Chapter Four, A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle).

"Lots of guys like the Duke, but she never seemed interested in anybody. She didn't want to talk your ear off about some guy and how cute he was, and how he sometimes paid her attention and sometimes didn't and all that crap. I liked that about her. The Duke was just normal: she liked to joke around and talk about movies, and she didn't mind yelling or getting yelled at. She was much more like a person than other girls were." (Chapter Five, A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle)

I think that A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle would make an excellent movie for teens. I would watch it myself, too. There is a perfect combination of adventure, wit, romance, and absurdity.

The final story in Let It Snow is Lauren Myracle's The Patron Saint of Pigs, featuring Addie, a girl consumed by guilt for having kissed another boy, despite her love for her boyfriend, Jeb. I liked this story because it included appearances by the major players from the prior two stories, giving a glimpse at Jubilee and Tobin's respective happily-ever-afters. It finished off the book well, and left me quite satisfied with my experience.  

However, I must admit that I didn't like Addie as much as I liked Tobin or Jubilee. A self-absorbed, insecure cheater is a bit of a hard sell for me. And self-pity is just not appealing (though Addie grows quite a bit through the course of the story). For example:

"Tegan and Dorrie bade their farewells, and for about two minutes I forgot my heartbreak in the midst of our goodbyes and hugs. But as soon as they were gone, my shoulders slumped. Hi, said my sadness. I'm ba-a-ack. Did you miss me? (Chapter Six, The Patron Saint of Pigs)

I also found this story sprinkled with more name brands and cultural references than the other two (American Idol, iPod playlists, Reese's Big Cup, a character who looks "like a Hollister model", and so on). I'm sure that this writing style works well for teens, but I found it a bit jarring after the other two voices.

But I did like getting Addie's perspective on the characters she knew from The Jubilee Express and A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle. Lauren Myracle did an excellent job of tying things together. For example:

"Tobin wore scruffy sweaters and was friends with the Korean guy who said "asshat," and he and all of his buddies were intimidatingly clever. The kind of clever that made me feel cheerleader-dumb, even though I wasn't a cheerleader, and even though I personally didn't think cheerleaders were dumb. Not all of them, anyway. Chloe-the-Stuart dumper, maybe." (Chapter Eight, The Patron Saint of Pigs)

One other thing that The Patron Saint of Pigs accomplished for me was to make me want to go back and start Let It Snow over again from the beginning. But I think that what I'll do instead is save it to re-read next December. I highly recommend Let It Snow for anyone, teens or adults, looking for romance and/or a dash of holiday spirit.

Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Publication Date: September 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes should be checked against the final printed book.
Other Blog Reviews: Becky's Book Reviews, Shelf Elf, Book NutAbby (the) Librarian, and Reading and Breathing.

© 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).

Friday Visits: December 11: Kidlitosphere News and Views

Given the bustle of the holiday season, I've had trouble keeping up with Kidlitosphere news lately. But here are some highlights from the past couple of weeks (at least those that I think are still timely).

Cybils2009-150px Michelle is running a Cybils Award Challenge at Galleysmith. She says: "The Cybils Award Challenge is where participants are encouraged to read from The Cybils Award nominees for the given year." The challenge runs through the end of 2010, so you have plenty of time to participate.

Speaking of the Cybils, several Cybils bloggers were nominated for this year's EduBlog awards. You can find the list at the Cybils blog. And, of course, it's not too late to use the Cybils nomination lists (and past short lists) to help with your holiday shopping!

Speaking of holidays, in honor of Hanukkah, I'd like to bring to your attention a podcast at The Book of Life, in which Heidi Estrin, Esme Raji Codell, Mark Blevis, and Richard Michelson discuss a variety of topics, including their predicted winners for the 2010 Sydney Taylor Book Award. For my Jewish readers, I wish you all a Happy Hanukkah!

Book lists abound this time of year. I mentioned several in Monday's post at Booklights, but have a few new ones to share here. Lee Wind offers a list of GLBTQ books for middle schoolers. Another list I like a lot is Kate Messner's list of her favorite 2009 titles, broken into creative categories (starting with my favorite, dystopias). Colleen Mondor has an excellent three-part piece with book recommendations for girls from several authors (the regular participants in Colleen's What a Girl Wants series). And, Library Lady from Read it Again, Mom! shares her lists of Best Picture Books of the Decade and Best Chapter Books of the Decade. Finally, for a fun list of movies, Susan Taylor Brown shares over 200 movies about the literary life.

Newlogorg200 This is very late news, but the Readergirlz author of the month is Tamora Pierce. Little Willow has all the details at Bildungsroman.

Liz B. at Tea Cozy was inspired by the recent School Library Journal cover controversy to start a list of "books where an alcoholic (including recovering alcoholic) is portrayed as something other than the evil, abusive person". (Have I shared that? People were offended because the librarians mentioned in Betsy Bird's SLJ article on blogging were shown on the cover having drinks in a bar.). Also from Liz, see the William C. Morris YA Debut Award shortlist.

Speaking of recent controversies, Steph Su has a thoughtful post on the recent situation by which certain young adult titles were removed from a Kentucky classroom in Montgomery County (see details here). What I especially like about Steph's post is that she links to comments from a blogger who she doesn't agree with, so that she can understand both sides of the debate. My personal take is that the county superintendent is using a specious argument about academic rigor to remove books that he finds personally offensive from the classroom. See also commentary on this incident from Laurie Halse Anderson, Colleen Mondor, and Liz Burns.

Quick hits:

And that's all I have for you today. I hope that you find some tidbits worth reading, and that I can do better at keeping up with the Kidlitosphere news in the future. Happy weekend, all!

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: December 8: Literacy News and Reviews

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).

In an interesting, to me anyway, comment on the ways that people like to receive information these days, I've just received my thousandth Twitter follower, after only 6 months, compared with 979 email newsletter subscribers after more than 2 years. Of course I appreciate everyone who takes time out to keep up with what I have to say about books and literacy, in whatever format. Moving on...

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have three book reviews (two for young adults and one for middle grade readers), two children's literacy round-ups (one here and one at The Reading Tub) and one post with Kidlitosphere news. I also have an announcement about a book that I loved from last year that just won an award, and another announcement about a new issue of an electronic literacy magazine.

At Booklights, I have a new installment in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series (complete with links to lists of recommend titles for holiday gift purchase) and a post with additional literacy links. The only post on my blog not included in the newsletter this week is the list of books that I read in November (since I always include my current reading lists in the newsletter anyway).

Reading Update: In the past two weeks, I read one middle grade, two young adult, and two adult titles:
  • Trenton Lee Stewart (ill. Diana Sudyka): The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma. Little, Brown. Completed December 7, 2009. My review.
  • Laini Taylor: Lips Touch: Three Times. Arthur A. Levine Books. Completed November 25, 2009. My review.
  • Susan Beth Pfeffer: this world we live in. Harcourt. Completed December 5, 2009. My review.
  • Stephen White: Dead Time (Dr. Alan Gregory). Signet. Completed December 2, 2009. This is the 16th title in the Alan Gregory series, about a Boulder psychiatrist who becomes involved in various mystery/thriller situations. I think this is a rare series that's been improving with the most recent titles, and I enjoyed this one.
  • Charlaine Harris: Definitely Dead. (Sookie Stackhouse #6). Ace Trade. Completed December 3, 2009 (on MP3). I enjoyed this title less than some of the previous books in the series, because events in the book reference a short story, rather than any of the previous novels. I kept feeling like I had read this book out of order, which I didn't like.

How about you? What are you reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading the newsletter, 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).

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma: Trenton Lee Stewart

Book: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Illustrator: Diana Sudyka
Pages: 400
Age Range: 9-12 

42900695The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma is the third book in Trenton Lee Stewart's series about four gifted children working for the reclusive genius Mr. Benedict. [Although I couldn't find any information to confirm this one way or the other, The Prisoner's Dilemma reads like it will be the last book in the series -- quite a few loose ends are wrapped up.]

The Prisoner's Dilemma finds Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance virtual prisoners in Mr. Benedict's mansion, potential targets for kidnapping by Mr. Benedict's power-mad brother, Mr. Curtain. Despite the best efforts of Mr. Benedict and the various parents and guardians of the children, the four eventually find themselves on their own, on the run. They have to use each of their unique talents to uncover Mr. Curtain's plot, and hopefully save themselves.

I love this series. The characters are all quirky and flawed, and (the good guys, anyway) incredibly loyal. The kids are unabashedly intelligent and resourceful. Their adventures are over-the-top and suspenseful, without (quite) straying into fantasy territory. The books are sprinkled with logical puzzles that readers can solve. In short, these are perfect books for middle grade readers, boys and girls. They are the books that most of us would have loved, and eagerly read, as children, if they had become available. Despite the importance of a few technological innovations, the books have a timeless feel to them, and I think that they'll be read for many years to come.

My favorite character in these books is Constance. Although all of the children play a part in The Prisoner's Dilemma, we learn the most new information about Constance, making this installment quite possibly my favorite of the series. Constance is a four-year-old (in book 3) orphan with staggering mental gifts and a notably irritable temperament. I love that she's grouchy and gets tired during stressful situations, and can read minds. I like the fact that her mental gifts actually make her more irritable, and that using them can make her physically ill. I like the idea that there is a price to pay for such gifts. And Constance makes me laugh.

Of course I appreciate the other kids, too. Reynie is responsible and quick-thinking, and the most sentimental of the children. Kate is strong, agile, and fearless. Sticky is a repository for facts, and a bundle of neuroses. Each child's skills are needed in The Prisoner's Dilemma, as they match wits with a clever enemy.

Stewart's writing is a nice blend of action and character description, with matter-of-fact humor thrown in. Here are a few quotes, to give you a feel:

"Constance scowled. It infuriated her when they tried to protect her. They couldn't help themselves, though, nor were their reasons entirely selfless: Constance was always difficult, but when she grew anxious she was perfectly unbearable." (Page 30)

"At this very moment Sticky was sitting beside him on the step, recounting a study he'd read on the "potentially salubrious effects of daydreams on mental health," and below them Constance was attempting to retie her shoes with her mittens still on, and Kate was there in the yard, spinning with her arms out wide and gazing up at her falcon in the sky.

Reynie took a mental picture, and saved it." (Page 36)

"He would have given a lot to be able to put those questions to Mr. Benedict, but since yesterday afternoon Mr. Benedict has spent every waking moment (and no doubt a few sleeping ones) down among the computers in the basement." (Page 91. It may help with appreciating this quote to know that Mr. Benedict has narcolepsy)

Fans of the series are sure to enjoy The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma. It has an excellent mix of adventurous deeds, mental puzzles, and character development. Highly recommended for middle grade readers.

Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Children's Book Guide, Reading to KnowBecky's Book Reviews (Has anyone else noticed that any book that I set out to review lately, Becky has reviewed it first? Nice to be in good company)

© 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).