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Posts from December 2009

Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up: December 7

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_1Terry added a special section to this week's round-up, in light of the holiday season: Literacy and Book-centric Holiday Events / Activities. For example, she links to a Choice Literacy piece on gifts fo literacy geeks. I also found it interesting this week that there were two apparently unrelated studies about the literacy benefits of 21st century activities (writing blogs/social networking for kids, and videos / online technology in the classroom).

Booklights I have a new post up at Booklights today. Tip #4 of my Tips for Growing Bookworms series turns out to be quite timely as the holiday shopping season heats up. It's about making sure that kids have books of their own. I've included links to a variety of book-giving suggestions from around the Kidlitosphere. I hope that you'll check it out. I didn't have a chance to do my usual Kidlitosphere Afternoon Visits post this weekend (I focused on writing some reviews instead), but I hope to get to that within the next few days. Happy Monday!

Lips Touch: Three Times: Laini Taylor: Young Adult Fantasy Review

Book: Lips Touch: Three Times
Author: Laini Taylor (blog)
Illustrator: Jim Di Bartolo
Pages: 272
Age Range: 12 and up 

LipsTouch Background: When I reviewed Laini Taylor's Silksinger, I included an extensive disclosure of my background with Laini, so I'll not repeat that here. Suffice it to say that Laini is a friend from past Kidlitosphere conferences. I want her books to do well because I like her as a person. But I love her books and enjoy reading them because she's an amazing writer. An important distinction.

Review: Lips Touch: Three Times is a collection of three short stories (or perhaps novelettes would be more accurate - the longest is about 135 pages). All three are paranormal romances, united by the fact that a kiss plays a major role in each story.

In the first story, Goblin Fruit, a human teen named Kizzy is targeted by, lured by, a goblin. In the second story, Spicy LIttle Curses, a girl is cursed at birth with a voice so beautiful that it will kill anyone who hears it. In the third and longest story, Hatchling, a human girl escapes from imprisonment by demons, only to find, years later, her daughter at risk. Although all of the stories feature supernatural elements, each story is largely about romance and longing and what people will do, and risk, for those they love.

All three stories have an old-fashioned feel. They are dark, like un-Disneyfied fairy tales, populated by goblins and devils, set in exotic locales. There is suspense over the fate of each character, and heartbreak over evils that have already befallen them. These stories will keep teens eagerly turning the pages.

There are also universal elements that will resonate with modern teens. Particularly in the first story, in which Kizzy is targeted by goblins because of her yearning to be pretty. She hates herself, and wishes that she could be part of the mainstream at her school, rather than an outsider from an odd family.

But what makes Lips Touch special is the sheer brilliance of Laini Taylor's prose. All three stories are filled with lyrical, descriptive passages. It's the kind of writing that makes you stop and think "Wow! How does she do that?". She clearly loves words. Here are my favorite examples from each story:

"She opened her eyes. A swan feather drifted past her face, twirled when her breath caught it, sat up, blinked again. The room was asift with swan feathers. They were settling to the floor as if she had just missed the strange storm that had deposited them here." (Page 42, Goblin Fruit)

"Down in Hell, the Englishwoman known in Jaipur as "the old bitch" was taking tea with a demon. She was silver-haired, straight-backed, and thin-lipped, with a stare that could shoot laughter from the air like game birds. She was not at all liked by her countrymen, but even they would have been shocked to see her here." (Page 70, the opening passage to Spicy Little Curses)

"They were both small and beautiful with long, long hair as red as persimmons. They laughed alike and moved alike, and they thought the same thoughts as completely as if a butterfly traveled back and forth between their minds, bearing ideas on its legs like pollen." (Page 146, first page of Hatchling).

I mean, "asift with swan feathers"? Thoughts traveling back and forth like a butterfly? Amazing stuff!

Lips Touch is also a physically gorgeous book. Each story begins with a wordless graphical overview of the tale, with drawings by Jim Di Bartolo (Laini's husband). Jim's drawings are lush, brooding, and darkly beautiful, the perfect complement to Laini's prose. The headers and page numbers on each page are rendered in a burnt orange color, reminiscent of the flames from the eye-catching cover. This is a small thing, but one that speaks to the publisher's investment in the book. (An investment that paid off -- Lips Touch was a short list title for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature (see Laini's recap of the event here).)

Lips Touch is not to be missed by fans of fantasy or romance, teens and adults. It's a book that casts a spell over the reader, drawing him or her into worlds that feel real, yet are light-years away from ordinary. Highly recommended, and an excellent holiday gift for high-school girls.

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: October 1, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Book Nut, Colleen Mondor, and Becky's Book Reviews (see lots of other reviews linked at Becky's). See also Shelf Elf's interview with Laini from the Winter Blog Blast Tour

© 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).

this world we live in: Susan Beth Pfeffer: Young Adult Fiction (Dystopia) Review

Book: this world we live in
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer
Pages: 256
Age Range: 12 and up

Thisworld Background: I have an enormous backlog of books that I want to read. And yet, I don't spend as much time reading as I would like, in part because I spend so much of my non-work time rounding up Kidlitosphere and literacy news, writing posts for Booklights, sharing news on Twitter, etc. Sometimes I think that I'll never find the right balance.

However, every once in a while a book comes into my hands that I simply must read immediately, putting everything else aside. this world we live in, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, is such a book. My copy arrived yesterday afternoon. We had guests, but I still managed to sneak off to read for half an hour, before we had to go out for the evening. Yesterday, I ignored all of the other tasks clamoring for my attention, and sank down into the couch to read the rest cover to cover. I was not disappointed.

Review: Susan Beth Pfeffer's this world we live in is a sequel to both Life As We Knew It and the dead & the gone. The prior two books were set in the same post-apocalyptic world, but in different cities, featuring different characters. (If you haven't read LAWKI and d&d, please do stop reading here and go find them.) this world we live in brings together Miranda and her family from Life As We Knew with Alex and Julia from the dead & the gone.

this world we live in begins a month after the end of LAWKI, and, like the prior book, is told in the form of diary entries from 17-year-old Miranda. Miranda is living with her mother and her two brothers in their home in a small Pennsylvania town. They've survived the first winter after a series of natural disasters rocked the world, blocked out the sun, and left food a rare and precious commodity. Miranda remains a moody teenager, chafing under her crowded living conditions, but trying to be a better person. However, the unknown fate of her father and pregnant stepmother haunts her dreams. I'm not going to talk any further about the details of the plot of this world we live in, because I would hate to spoil the book for anyone. But I will discuss my general reactions to the book.

Like the other two books in this series, this world we live in is a book that made me appreciate the things that I have. Right after finishing the book, I sat down and ate some cut-up fresh fruit and leftover macaroni & cheese. And I thought "oh, how Miranda would go crazy for this." this world we live in is also a book that made me think. I found myself lying in bed last night musing, "OK, but what's going to happen next? What will happen when society completely runs out of food from before the change in the moon? If you can't grow any food, because you have no sunlight, how can humanity continue at all?"

That's what makes this world we live in such a powerful book. The issues are compelling enough to evoke questions, while the characters are real enough to make the story resonate on a personal level. Of course, these attributes make it an excellent book for young  adult readers, too.

Miranda is a particularly strong character. She is far from perfect. She fights with the mother who is basically starving herself to feed her children. She eavesdrops. She craves alone time. She resists her mother's reading assignments. But she also finds moments of joy in her bleak world. She learns that she loves breaking into abandoned homes and searching for useful supplies. She find instants of happiness while splashing through puddles. She is able to laugh at her family's situation (sometimes), and to laugh at herself. For example:

"I knew I wasn't going to win, and sulking and pouting would only make everybody mad at me. Which was a shame, because I used to be really good at sulking and pouting." (Page 22, ARC)

"I thought about how unlikely it was I would ever meet any guy, fall in love, get married, have babies. Especially since I was going to spend the rest of my life in the cellar, where, in the not too distant future, I'd turn into a toadstool. I hoped I'd be the poisonous variety." (Page 44, ARC)

"There is nothing more beautiful than half a roll of toilet paper." (Page 26, ARC)

Imagine a world in which no more toilet paper is being produced? Ugh! Pfeffer really gets down to the details of the slowly eroding civilization. Although less gory than the dead & the gone, I think that this world we live in is in some ways even more bleak. Certainly it is more introspective. This book isn't about the events of the apocalypse. It's about people learning to adapt to their changed reality and finding that spark within them that keep them moving forward, even when it doesn't seem worthwhile. While there are certainly moments of hope and sentimentality, the overall situation in Pfeffer's world is grim. Here is are a couple of passages that really stood out for me:

"After a while you get used to being cold, and hungry, and living in the dark.

But you can't get used to losing people. Or if you can, I don't want to. So many people in the past year, people I've loved, have vanished from my life. Some have died; others have moved on. It almost doesn't matter. Gone is gone." (Page 61, ARC)

"I thought about the earth then, really thought about it, the tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes, all the horrors I haven't witnessed but have changed my life, the lives of everyone I know, all the people I'll never know. I thought about life without the sun, the moon, stars, without flowers and warm days in May. I thought about a year ago and all the good things I'd taken for granted and all the unbearable things that had replaced those simple blessings. And even though I hated the thought of crying in front of Syl, tears streamed down my face." (Page 67, ARC).

Yes, Miranda has grown from the first book. Strictly speaking, it's not necessary to have read Life As We Knew It or the dead & the gone before reading this world we live in (though the mere presence of absence of characters in twwli is, of course, a spoiler for the prior books). Pfeffer refrains, for the most part, from talking about characters who died in the earlier books, even important characters, making this book accessible to new readers of the series. On its own, twwli has a bit of a feel of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (though things aren't as bleak as that). People are trudging along in an altered world, picking among the detritus of the prior civilization to find the things that they need to survive.

A couple of things in this world we live in didn't quite work for me. There's a love story that fell a bit flat for me (though I know that it's plausible that in a world with limited interaction, people will fall in love more quickly). There are more characters to keep track of, in contrast to the intimacy of the first two books, making it harder for any one character (besides Miranda) to have a strong impact. Although Alex appears in the book, and it's great to know what happened to him next, the fact that the book is told from Miranda's viewpoint results in Alex being kept at a distance. I'm not sure how that could have been avoided - the book clearly works best from Miranda's viewpoint - but I did find Alex a bit inaccessible.

But those are all minor points. None of them stopped me from reading the book in one sitting, thinking about it afterwards, and wishing that there would be other books about Miranda's world (though I don't think this is likely). This series has my top recommendation for teens and adults, especially for dystopia fans. Current fans of the series will not want to miss this world we live in, and will not be disappointed. Susan Beth Pfeffer is brilliant.  

Publisher: Harcourt
Publication Date: April 1, 2010
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final book.
Other Blog Reviews: Becky's Book Reviews and Linda's Reading Blog (both with more details about the plot than I shared here)

© 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 Read in November: Middle Grade, YA, and Adult Fiction

This is a list of the books that I read in November, 2009, broken up into Middle Grade Books, Young Adult Books, and Adult Fiction. It was a bit of a slow reading month, for various reasons. But I do hope to catch up on the ones that I haven't reviewed yet soon.

Middle Grade Books

  1. Angie Sage: Queste (Septimus Heap, Book 4). Katherine Tegen Books. Completed November 3, 2009. My review.
  2. Angie Sage: Syren (Septimus Heap, book 5). Katherine Tegan Books. Completed November 6, 2009. My review.
  3. Glenn Dakin: Candle Man, Book One: The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance. EgmontUSA. Completed November 15, 2009.

Young Adult Books

  1. Jordan Sonnenblick: After Ever After. Scholastic. Completed November 1, 2009. My review.
  2. Aprilynne Pike: Wings. HarperTeen. Completed November 10, 2009. My review.
  3. Alexander Gordon Smith: Lockdown: Escape from Furnace. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Completed November 12, 2009. My review.
  4. Laini Taylor: Lips Touch: Three Times. Arthur A. Levine Books. Completed November 25, 2009.

Adult Fiction

  1. Linwood Barclay: Too Close to Home. Bantam. Completed November 17, 2009.
  2. Sean Chercover: Trigger City. Harper. Completed November 22, 2009.

© 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).

Steve Kluger's My Most Excellent Year Wins Walden Award from ALAN

MMEY-PB3-300x452 I was pleased to see the news that one of my favorite titles from last year just won the Amelia Elizabeth Walden book award. Here is some information from the press release (sent to me by Daria Plumb, Chair of the 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee):

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the winner of the inaugural Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction.  Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author, Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit. 

The winner of the 2009 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award is:

My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park, by Steve Kluger (Dial)

2009 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

  • After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam)
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins)
  • Me, The Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins)

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical when I first read about this award. Specifically, the part of the criteria about "demonstrating a positive approach to life". But I think that the committee did a great job picking a book that's not even a tiny bit message-y, while meeting the criteria. The rest of the shortlist is pretty impressive, too (Graceling was another of my favorites published last year).

Anyway, here is my review of My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park (I mean, really, look at that sub-title. How could I have resisted? The author's website lists him as "Author, Red Sox Fan, Uncle".) I hope that this award brings the book additional readers.

Literacy Lava 3 Now Available: PDF Magazine for Parents

LitLava3 I'm happy to report that the third issue of Literacy Lava is now available. Here's the scoop from editor Susan Stephenson:

"Literacy Lava 3 is a free magazine for parents in pdf form. It's now available on my website. This is another great issue, exploding with tips for parents about ways to encourage literacy in family life. Find out what your local library has to offer, read ideas on making books with kids, sneak some learning into shopping, discover games that build literacy skills, develop imagination while playing Grocery Store, make writing part of your family’s life, read why picture books are so good for kids, and find out how literacy helped one child fight night terrors. Don’t forget to check out the Online Extras page, and the Writing Prompt activity page for kids."

It looks like another great issue to me. There are articles by several of my top blog/Twitter literacy news sources. I look forward to taking time to dig into Literacy Lava 3 in more detail later this week.