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Posts from January 2010

Saturday Afternoon Visits: January 30: Kidlitosphere News and Views

There's been lots going on around the Kidlitosphere this week. Here are some highlights:

Liz B has an interesting post at Tea Cozy about the ways that blogging shifts the way the blogger reads. I've certainly noticed this in my own reading. Much as I enjoy most of the books that I review, I find I need to mix in ever-increasing numbers of books that I read purely for my own satisfaction (with not thoughts of writing a review). Otherwise, reading, which has always been my solace, and necessary for my mental health, starts to feel like work.

BkBrownBear Did you hear about how the Texas Education Board accidentally banned popular children's author Bill Martin, Jr. (author of the much-beloved Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?). It seems that the board confused Mr. Martin with a different Bill Martin, who wrote a book on Marxism. Elaine Magliaro has the details and links at Wild Rose Reader. Ridiculous! Almost as ridiculous as the school system in CA that banned the Merriam-Webster dictionary in certain classrooms. I can't even bring myself to comment on that one, but Leila has the details at Bookshelves of Doom.

Sadly, Brown Bear, Brown Bear is currently missing from Amazon's website (except for purchases from third-party sellers), because Amazon is in the midst of a battle of wills with publisher Macmillan, and has pulled all of Macmillan's titles. Here is the NY Times article about the situation. I learned about this from Charlotte's Library.

Farwalker Regular readers may be aware that dystopias and post-apocalyptic stories are one of my favorite genres of recreational reading. Joni Sensel (author of Cybils finalist The Farwalker's Quest) has an interesting post up at The Spectacle about pinning down the definition of a dystopia. I think she makes some good points - it's easy to use "dystopia" as shorthand for a wide range of stories (and I'm sure that I've done that), but something can certainly be post-apocalyptic or speculative without being dystopian. That's why the full title of my booklist in this area (which needs to be updated) is Futuristic, Speculative, Science Fiction and Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults. See also Tanita Davis' thoughts on, and recent list of, young adult science fiction.

However you want to classify them, I find dystopian and related novels fascinating. So does Lenore at Presenting Lenore. So much so that she'll be dedicating all of February to discussing them. She says: "I have lots of fun planned including reviews, interviews, guest posts and of course prizes! If you like speculative fiction, then Presenting Lenore is the place to be in February." I will surely be staying tuned.

Last week I mentioned Kelly's celebration of unsung young adult books at YAnnabe. She ended up having 73 bloggers participate. She also took the time to compile some statistics on the recommended titles, coming up with lists like the "top 10 unsung YA heroes". This whole thing is truly a labor of love of the genre. YA fans will find this post a wonderful resource. Now if only I had time to read all of the books...

Speaking of YA heroes, Justine Larbalestier shares her thoughts on Amazon's list of most influential young adult authors of the decade. Although she calls it an excellent list overall (and I agree), she suggests a couple of omissions, questions a couple of additions, and invites discussion.

As reported by Betsy Bird at FuseNews, the Cuffies have been announced. PW hosts these entertaining awards, based on input from booksellers from around the country. They include your typical "favorite picture book" etc., but also categories like "book you couldn't shut up about", "most overdone subject" and "happiest to see back in print" (Blueberries for Sal, of course).

28DaysLater2010 The Brown Bookshelf's 28 Days Later, 2010 kicks off Monday, February 1st. This annual celebration of African-American children's book authors and illustrators is not to be missed. Don Tate says: "my work here at the Brown Bookshelf, specifically the 28 Days Later campaign, always inspires me. Whenever I find myself getting down, when I start to feel that the cards are stacked against me — and believe me, they are — I look at all the faces on the posters from past and current campaigns, and I feel hopeful." 

The Sydney Taylor Award blog tour also starts Monday. You can find the full details at the Association of Jewish Libraries blog. The tour "will be celebrating and showcasing its 2010 gold and silver medalists and special Notable Book for All Ages." More than a dozen blogs will be participating.

Middle school librarian Ms. Yingling has been working hard at finding books for boys. In this post she shares several recommendations of funny books for boys. Then in this post she shares a bit of a rant about the need for more boy-friendly books for her library. There are some great comments on that post, with suggestions. Then, apparently deciding to take action, she launched a "super-secret evil plan" to put "girl books" into the hands of boys. It was apparently quite a success, too. All I can say is, if you care about getting middle school kids interested in books, you really should be reading Ms. Yingling's blog.

The latest controversial topic making waves in the Kidlitosphere concerns book piracy. Cheryl Rainfield linked to an article at The Millions in which an anonymous e-Book pirater discussed his motivations. Then Laurie Halse Anderson took on the topic, and sparked a host of responses and rationalizations from people. Her first post is excellent, and her second, in which she debunks the arguments of the book thieves, is even better. Sara Zarr responded, putting it simply: "Piracy is stealing, and stealing is wrong". Mary Pearson added her thoughts, discussing how reading pirated books is also bad for the reader. These are all must-read posts for anyone who cares about books and reading. Personally, my views on this are influenced in part by the fact that I own a software company, and sell a product, the result of much hard work, that could be copied electronically. I think that anyone who tried to steal my product would be just as guilty of outright theft as the people who steal the work of hard-working authors like Cheryl, Laurie, Sara, and Mary. Like Sara said: stealing is wrong.

If you're looking for new blogs to follow, and an incidental example about strengthening social networks, check out Gregory K's 1000th post at Gotta Book. Speaking to his blog's audience, Greg says: "A lot of you know each other, but it's always seemed unfair that so many of you DON'T know each other. So I want to turn over the comments of this post to introductions. I want you all to say hello, link to your blog or website, and, if you want, give a one sentence "blurb" about you/your blog/whatever." There are currently 83 comments and counting. Me, I wish Greg 1000 more posts, and thousands more followers.

Quick hits:

And now, my reader is clear, and I'm off to dinner. Hope you find some material of interest for your weekend web reading.

When You Reach Me: Rebecca Stead: Middle Grade Fiction Review

Book: When You Reach Me
Author: Rebecca Stead
Pages: 208 
Age Range: 10-14 

Whenyoureachme Background: It's a bit unnecessary to review the book that won the Newbery Award last week, isn't it? I mean, we all know that it's well-written, right? Most libraries, and many individuals, are going to buy it, no matter what I say about it. And yet, I feel compelled to say a few words.

Review: Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me is a book for middle grade and middle school readers. It's a book that defies further categorization by genre. It's a mix of realistic fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, and mystery. Although it has a female protagonist, it's quite boy-friendly, too. But none of those categorization questions matter in the slightest. Because, simply put, When You Reach Me is a wonderful read, well-written, intriguing, and insightful.

Set in 1978-1979, When You Reach Me has a bit of an old-fashioned feel, reminiscent of books that I read in elementary school. But Stead manages, I think, to strike a good balance with the historical references. She uses enough to give a flavor for the time period (latch-key kids and Afterschool Specials), but not so much as to alienate new readers, or to feel contrived. And it's clear that Stead's choice of time frame wasn't lazy (as I've occasionally encountered, when an author finds it easier to describe the setting of his or her own childhood, rather than learning details about today's kids). I read in an interview that Stead chose this time period because she wanted to give her young protagonist a greater degree of freedom than most kids have today. This seems quite reasonable to me.

When You Reach Me is about Miranda, a sixth grader who lives in a New York City apartment with her single mother. Miranda receives a series of mysterious notes, notes that appear to foretell the future and that ask for her help. Miranda's quest to solve the mystery of the notes is set against her struggles with a rival at school, her sadness over her friend Sal's withdrawal from her, her interactions with a new friend, and with two boys, and her mother's preparation to be on The $20,000 Pyramid.

Miranda is a great character. She's selfish sometimes, but grows throughout the book. She knows when she's not doing the right thing. She's close to her mother, and doesn't miss the father she never knew. She likes to read, but she has one book (A Wrinkle in Time) that she reads over and over again. She's intelligent, but knows that she's not one of the smart kids in her class. She's eminently relatable for kids. The other characters in the book are quite three-dimensional, too, from Miranda's mother, who is unhappy in her work, to Miranda's rival, Julia, who is more vulnerable than she first appears.

I think that When You Reach Me also strikes a nice balance between action and introspection. The plot keeps readers guessing, and eagerly turning the pages for more clues, while certain passages will make them stop and think. Like these:

"Mom says that each of us has a veil between ourselves and the rest of the world, like a bride wears on her wedding day, except this kind of veil is invisible. We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging down over our faces. The world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way.

But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there's a wind blowing it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down again." (Page 71)

"Sometimes you never feel meaner than the moment you stop being mean. It's like how turning on a light makes you realize how dark the room had gotten. And the way you usually act, the things you would normally have done, are like ghosts that everyone can see but pretends not to." (Page 144)

What I like about these passages, especially the second one, is that they're insightful, but still written as a kid would write them. I think that this writing style is deceptively simple, and is a big part of what makes this book accessible to kids. Miranda is a real 12-year old. She just happens to be one who thinks about how time travel works, and is floored when she confronts racism in someone she thought she liked. (Miranda is white, but Julia is described as having light brown skin and dark brown eyes, one of ten kids in Miranda's second-grade class expected to use brown construction paper for self-portraits).

In short, I give two thumbs up to the selection from this year's Newbery committee. When You Reach Me has it all. I'm glad to know that it's destined to be widely read. I do echo Susan Kusel's recommendation to me, that enjoyment of When You Reach Me will be enhanced for new readers by reading (or re-reading) A Wrinkle in Time first. Don't miss this one.

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication Date: July 14, 2009
Source of Book: Bought it
Other Blog Reviews: Too many to list. The first one that I recall was from Betsy at A Fuse #8 Production.

© 2010 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).

New Carnival of Children's Literature is Up!

The January 2010 Carnival of Children's Literature is now available at Jenny's Wonderland of Books. Jenny Schwartzberg has a host of links, lovingly organized, annotated and illustrated, on topics from book reviews, interviews, poems, and author visits to reading and literacy. Fans of children's literature should certainly stop by. It's a great way to start a winter weekend.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of the Carnival of Children's Literature using the carnival submission form.The February carnival will be at: Whispers of Dawn. Past posts and future hosts can be found on the blog carnival index page.

Little, Brown Replaces Benedict Covers and Dearborn Schools Replace Librarians

Two quick tidbits from School Library Journal's Extra Helping today. First, from Rocco Staino (and quoting a number of bloggers):

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is changing the covers on Trenton Lee Stewart’s "Mysterious Benedict Society" series, following complaints that the character Sticky Washington, described as having light brown skin, appears on all three covers as white.


And, from Lauren Barack:

Students in Dearborn, MI, may be seeing their parents in the school library more often than the librarian. It’s a scenario set to happen in Dearborn Public Schools as budget cuts take effect next month and 13 media specialists lose their positions (one through retirement), leaving just eight librarians to run the 32 K–12 school libraries, says David Mustonen, communications coordinator for Dearborn Public Schools.


I'm all for parents volunteering in school libraries. But replacing qualified librarians with parent volunteers is a disservice to students. At least replacing the Mysterious Benedict Society covers is a positive thing... 

Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up: January 25

Literacy Reading News RoundupThis 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 Jen Robinson's Book Page. 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.


Some teachers in Australia have threatened to boycott school literacy and numeracy tests, if the Federal government doesn't take action to prevent the test results from being used to publicly rank schools. More details are available in this Newcastle Herald article by Alison Branley.

According to NovaNewsNow, "The Community Policing Office of the Queens County RCMP Detachment is proud to announce that they are hosting the annual WOW Reading Challenge for Literacy charity hockey game between the RCMP All-Star Bisons hockey team and the Bridgewater Nauss Tim-Br Mart Lumberjacks Junior “A” Hockey Club". We love creative literacy fundraisers like this one, especially when they tie in with sports.

Be Big in your Community ContestIn her latest Muse Briefs post at Rasco from RIF, Carol Rasco says: "Start getting ready now for Clifford’s 2010 BE BIG In Your Community Contest sponsored by Scholastic and partners;  grand prize is a $25,000 community grant and there are additional prizes!  The contest begins February 1, but you can read the rules now and start your planning"

Literacy Programs & Research

In The Huffington Post, Susan Ohanian airs concerns from reading advocate Stephen Krashen about new literacy-related legislation pending in congress. The article says that the new legislation puts "an emphasis on the "direct instruction" of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text structure" and that "Not only is this approach to children's literacy development not supported by scientific research, it runs contrary to good practice."  I especially liked this bit: "If Congress really wanted to help schools develop strong readers, they'd provide funds to strengthen the libraries instead of money for buying skill drill worksheets and standardized tests." Indeed!

At Literacy, families, and learning, Trevor Cairney has an interesting post about literature as "relational glue". He says: "Reading involves social relationships among people - teachers and students, groups of students, parents and children, and between an author and his or her readers. The stories that books communicate teach us new things about our world and language and help to build common ground between people." He goes on to list some concrete suggestions to follow "for reading and writing to assume this important place in the lives of families and classrooms". recently published a feature about helping kids with their reading comprehension. ""You know the constant, 'I want to challenge my child'", says Jill Isbell Rhodes, a Reading Recovery teacher with the Long Beach Unified School District. "'I want to motivate them through challenging material'. But often, for the children that are starting to struggle with literacy that challenge becomes an obstacle."... "To sit down and enjoy a book because it's easy, that's the best thing a parent can help a child do - is find books that are easy," says Rhodes."

In the process of discovering an article about increasing children's literacy skills with talking books (links to PDF) Terry discovered, with the goal of "[making] knowledge accessible to people living in extreme poverty. Our tool towards the goal is the Talking Book. The article, which describes a project in West Ghana, and the website fascinating, enlightening, heartbreaking, yet incredibly encouraging.

A new study published  in the January 2010 issue of Health & Place finds children who live in neighborhoods with higher rates of poverty show reduced scores on standardized tests seven years later - regardless of the child's place of residence in Grade 7. University of British Columbia researcher Jennifer Lloyd (UBC's Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) program) led the study. It is the first of its kind to compare the relative effects of neighborhood poverty at early childhood and early adolescence.  (via

Kaiser Family FoundationPW Children's Bookshelf reports, in an article by John A. Sellers, that a "report on media usage released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found some relatively good news for book publishers, amid findings that generally determined that eight- to 18-year-olds are consuming more digital media than ever. According to the report, called Generation M, total media usage by that age group rose to seven hours and 38 minutes per day in 2009, up from six hours and 21 minutes in the 2004 study." Link via Katie B's Odds and Bookends column at First Book.

The Governor of Indiana recently announced a plan to end social promotion for third graders. However, the state's Legislative Services Agency has said that the plan will cost up to $49 million, and must be tabled because of budget concerns. You can find more details in this Chicago Tribune article by Deanna Martin.

Sadie Jo Smokey reports in the Arizona Republic about a new literacy program centered on children living in apartment communities in central and north Phoenix. The program encourages adults to engage young children in reading.

In the Charleston Gazette, Davin White describes a new literacy program started by a former West Virginia University student. "Jason Parsons wants to make a difference in the Southern West Virginia region where he grew up. He hopes the effort he and other young adults make to improve child literacy pays off, and their example encourages others to give back to West Virginia." Parsons has started a program that encourages high school kids to donate their old children's books, which are in turn redistributed to "elementary schools, public libraries, after-school programs and directly to families".

21st Century Literacies

Here's one to follow ... in Education is Priceless, Anna Batchelder pulls together links about NalandaU (Chennai, India), "a free online university that aggregates video and course content from universities such as MIT, Stanford, Yale, Berkeley and the Indian Institute of Technology." Fascinating stuff.

The Socially Networked ClassroomAt A Year of Reading, Franki Sibberson reviews a new book: The Socially Networked Classroom by William Kist. She explains that Kist: "is realistic in his understanding of the challenges we face as teachers trying to implement social networking. So, he takes time to share ideas no matter what kinds of blocks and constraints you have in your school/district. He gets to the bigger picture of 21st Century skills so that there is an in for everyone."

On a related topic, we found some literacy on Ms. Heshka's Grade I H Class blog. Ms. Heshka, a first grade teacher, uses the blog to convey class events, but in a recent post, she also "sent home" some tips for reading with developing readers! "The home reading program we started is going VERY well! Thank you soooo much for doing the nightly reading. I can not believe how much their reading has improved since September. Way to go grade ones!!!"

Via Critique de Mr. Chomp Chomp we learned of a BBC News story about how texting helps children to be better spellers. Sean Coughlan reports that "Children who regularly use the abbreviated language of text messages are actually improving their ability to spell correctly, research suggests... These latest findings of an ongoing study at the University of Coventry contradict any expectation that prolonged exposure to texting will erode a child's ability to spell."

At Literacy Toolbox, Dawn Little shares mini-reviews of literacy-related games for the iPhone that her children enjoy.

Although their existence obviously began earlier, the acceptance of comic books and graphic novels as "real reading" seems to us to be a 21st Century phenomenon. The Culpeper, VA Star-Exponent has a nice little column by Laini Bostian defending the presence of comic books in libraries.

Grants and Donations

Schools and nonprofit organizations across the country received more than 109,000 free children’s books through the Verizon Foundation’s recent Season’s Readings campaign. Season’s Readings began in 2001 as a Verizon employees’ campaign to advance the cause of children’s literacy. Since then, more than 2 million children’s books have been donated to children across the country. (via, a Verizon Wireless press release site)

Via email news release, we learned that the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation is once again inviting public schools and libraries to submit proposals for mini-grants.  "The deadline for submission of proposals for the $500 Minigrant award is September 15, 2010.  Proposals are read directly after the September deadline and announcements will be mailed out in mid November.  Applications are available exclusively online at the Foundation’s website".

According to, "A program that promotes literacy is back up and running in Thomasville. It teaches children to enjoy reading by providing them with free books, but it was suspended because the demand was greater than the supply of books. Twenty thousand dollars. That's how much the Archbold Hospital Auxiliary donated to Thomasville's Literacy Committee to continue the Ferst Foundation Project. The Foundation supplies every Thomasville child under the age of five with a free book each month, delivered right to their doorstep."

According to CNN Money, "RCN Corporation, a leading provider of all-digital television, high capacity data and voice services, has partnered with Tuck's R.U.S.H. for Literacy campaign to donate more than 1,000 new books to a local school. RCN will use their Smart Cars and vans to deliver the books to Brooklyn Collegiate."

Another news release reports that Barnes & Noble "announced today that it collected and donated more than 1.1 million books for children in need all over the country during its 2009 Holiday Book Drive, thanks to the generous support of customers and its enthusiastic booksellers. In addition, Barnes & Noble donated another 150,000 books to students in the New Orleans School District through Reader to Reader, Inc., a non-profit organization that distributes books to schools and libraries in need, and 50,000 to Toys for Tots".

Better World Books reports that "The winner of the first Readers’ Choice Literacy Grant is an innovative  program that uses therapy dogs to help improve kids reading, the Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA) R.E.A.D. program."

Wrapping Up ...

Nonfictionmonday Terry may have some last-minute literacy and reading links at The Reading Tub. At Booklights today, I have the seventh installment in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series. This one is about pointing out when you're learning useful information by reading (recipes, maps, instruction manuals, etc.). Today's Nonfiction Monday round-up is at Playing by the Book. Thanks for your interest in children's literacy!

Friday Afternoon Visits: January 22: Kidlitosphere News and Views

The Kidlitosphere has been largely dominated by news about the ALA awards and a couple of book cover controversies this week. Still, I did manage to find a few other links, too. Hope that you find some tidbits of interest.

After a brief absence, the monthly Carnival of Children's Literature is back. Anastasia Suen has taken over organizing the carnivals from founder Melissa Wiley. The Carnival is a monthly celebration of children's literature. A different person hosts each month. Participants submit either their best post from the current month, or (in some cases) posts according to a particular theme. For January, Jenny Schwartzberg will be hosting the carnival. The theme is Winter Wonderland (fitting, since the carnival will be held at Jenny's Wonderland of Books). Submissions are due by midnight January 29th, at the Carnival submission page. I'll let you know when the Carnival is available for viewing.

51Q+0MmPZfL._SL500_AA240_ I mentioned briefly in my last roundup that a new tempest had blown up around the Kidlitosphere. I wasn't even sure how to write about it, because I was running across posts everywhere. Fortunately, MotherReader is on the job. She has a summary of the most important links regarding the issue with the cover of Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, another Bloomsbury title featuring a protagonist of color, and a whitewashed cover.

In related news, and I'm blatantly lifting this blurb from Betsy Bird's latest FuseNews, "Little, Brown & Co? You got some 'splaining to do. Both 100 Scope Notes and bookshelves of doom bring up a bit of whitewashing that I was assured at the time was a one time printing mischief on the first cover . . . unaware that it happened again on the second. And the third. You know what I'm talking about, Mysterious Benedict Society."

Yalsanew2 YALSA has come up with their Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and Best Books for Young Adult lists. These lists are amazing resources (the links go to more detailed posts at Kids Lit). Speaking of recommendations for young adult literature, at YAnnabe, Kelly is collecting recommendations from different blogs for unsung young adult novels. She has links to 47 lists from across the blogosphere so far. She invites people to post their own lists through Sunday. And at Interactive Reader, Postergirl Jackie Parker shares her 2009 Top 10 (or so) for Readergirlz.

Also via Kids Lit, the 2010 Edgar Nominees were awarded this week by the Mystery Writers of America (for kids, young adults, and adults). There were quite a few strong nominations for children and young adults this year - I agree with Betsy Bird's assessment that 2009 was an excellent year for mysteries.

At The Reading Tub, Terry Doherty has a heart-felt plea for authors and publishers to make sure that early readers are actually welcoming to new readers. She illustrates visually how hard it is to read text that's too small, and doesn't have illustrations, and suggests that "Although the content of easy readers spans myriad subjects and might even have chapters, there are definite differences between an easy reader and a book for independent readers, even newly minted ones. The two easiest criteria to remember are big margins and illustrations."

Cybils2009-150px At the Cybils website, a lovely printable flyer about the contest, complete with the 2009 finalists, is now available. Also, thanks to Danielle Dreger-Babbitt for writing a lovely introduction to the Cybils for the Seattle Book Examiner.

Quick hits:

  • I was sad to hear about the sudden death of author Robert Parker this week. Though better known for his adult mysteries (most notably the extensive and entertaining Spenser series), Parker did publish a few books for kids, too. Omnivoracious has the details.
  • Kim has a nice post about life balance, using a grocery shopping analogy, at Escape Adulthood.
  • Poetry Friday is at Liz in Ink today, a delightful meal-by-meal collection of blog visits. This week's Nonfiction Monday roundup was at Wendie's Wanderings.
  • Marge Loch-Wouters has a mini-rant at Tiny Tips for Library Fun that resonated with me. She laments the "pervasive "You're-Not-the-Boss-of-Me" attitude" that she sees in library patrons, by which people are completely unwilling to accept any limitations on their behavior. I think, sadly, that this behavior is everywhere these days.
  • For more Kidlitosphere news, check out Abby (the) Librarian's latest Around the Interwebs: Shiny awards edition.

Wishing you all a relaxing and book-filled weekend!

The Comet's Curse: Dom Testa: Young Adult Fiction Review

Book: The Comet's Curse: A Galahad Book
Author: Dom Testa
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up 

Cometscurse Background: It's fairly common for me to run across a review that makes me want to read the book someday. What's less common is when a review makes me immediately click through to order the title, so that I can read it as soon as possible. Paige Y's review of The Comet's Curse: A Galahad Book had the latter effect. It's not so much that it was a rave review (though she calls it "a truly enjoyable read for me"), but that the premise struck me. The Comet's Curse reminds me of one of the first science fiction series to capture my imagination: Ben Bova's Exiles Trilogy. And I had to read it.

Review: The Comet's Curse, by Dom Testa, takes place in the not-too-distant future. When the comet Bhaktul passes close to earth, it leaves a terrible disease in its wake. A disease that begins slowly killing everyone over the age of 18. When a cure seems impossible, a far-thinking scientist, Dr. Zimmer, proposes an outrageous plan. He convinces various governments to work together to build a space ship, a ship to be populated entirely by 251 teenagers. These teens will travel through space for five years, and hopefully colonize an Earth-like planet in another solar system, thus preserving humanity.

The Comet's Curse, the first in a projected six-book series, charts the first stage in the teens' journey. The story begins with the Galahad's launch. Flashback chapters detail the background of Bhaktul, the development of the Galahad project, and the selection of the 251 teens. The present-day chapters, on the ship, are told from the shifting perspectives of a few of the teens, and from the perspective of the ship's intelligent computer controller, Roc. The flashbacks are mainly from the perspective of Dr. Zimmer, but also include various other adults, including the parents of some of the teens.

This structure makes the book feel more like an old-style science fiction novel (like the Exiles Trilogy) than modern young adult fiction. There's a lot of retrospective explanation, which slows the pace of the book a bit. And the shifting, frequently adult perspectives make it somewhat difficult for the reader to connect with the teen protagonists. However, the book still worked for me, perhaps because I found the premise so intriguing (or perhaps because the story had a nostalgic appeal). In any event, I would expect these issues of narration and backstory to be less of a factor in future books of the series, once the teens are fully off on their journey.

The primary teen protagonist, ship's captain Triana Martell from Colorado, though likeable, is self-contained to the point being aloof. The other members of the ship's governing Council are a multicultural lot (Chinese, black/British, Mexican, and Swedish), to the extent of feeling a tad contrived. I also noticed that although all of the teens have been selected on the basis of their physical and mental prowess and self-confidence, they seem to all be strikingly attractive, too. Kind of like the new 90210, except more diverse and set in space, complete with a love triangle or two. None of this makes the book any less readable - but these things did stand out for me.

I actually thought that the computer had the most engaging personality. (Reminiscent of Ender's A.I. friend Jane, in the Speaker for the Dead series by Orson Scott Card.) Here's my favorite passage (from Roc's perspective):

"Gap knew that I had seen the movies, so of course he had to be Joe Comedian one day and call me R2D2. What a shame the heat didn't work very well in his room the next couple of days. I don't know how that could've happened." (Page 89 - I like a computer with a sense of humor)

One issue that was not addressed in The Comet's Curse that I would have liked to see was the question of potential babies. Galahad is equipped for the 251 teens (all around 15-16 years old), and there are actually (due to technical problems) only 240 seats on the small "lifeboats" designed to transport them to their eventual destination. It seems to me that in five years, there would be a pretty good chance of some children being born on that spaceship. And it seems that this would be a good thing, if these kids are going to be all that's left of the human race. But this possibility is never mentioned, despite frequent references to which fellow members of the crew the protagonists "like". I found this glossing over of even the possibility of sex unrealistic in a young adult novel. 

Still, there are larger issues tackled in The Comet's Curse (as Paige mentioned in her review). There's the general question of whether it was right for scientists to devote scarce resources to saving 251 teens, instead of working on a cure for the billions of others people on earth. As a reader, I wondered whether there wouldn't have been some other way to keep humanity going - could people reproduce earlier in life? Was anyone immune to the disease? These are the kind of questions that make "end of the world" novels so endlessly compelling.

And make no mistake. I did find The Comet's Curse compelling. I'm eager to read the other books in the series (it appears that books 2 and 3 were previously self-published, but aren't yet available from new publisher Tor). Here's the opening passage of the book, to give you a sense of Testa's writing:

"There are few sights more beautiful. For all of the spectacular sunsets along a beach, or vivid rainbows arcing over a mist-covered forest, or high mountain pastures exploding with wildflowers, nothing could compare to this. This embraced every breathtaking scene. Mother Earth, in all of her supreme glory, spinning in a showcase of wonder. No picture, no television image, no movie scene could ever do her justice. From 200 miles up it's spellbinding, hypnotic.

Which made saying good-bye even more difficult." (Page 13, Chapter 1)

If the idea of 251 teens setting out on their own on a spaceship the size of a shopping mall captures your imagination, then this is the book for you. Worth a look for science fiction and dystopia fans, teens and adults.

Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: January 20, 2009
Source of Book: Bought it
Other Blog Reviews: Reading and Breathing (this is the review that made me want to read the book), Kiss the Book, LibraryRocks, and BlogCritics. There's also a bit of a rant about this book (it's not a standard review) at The Friday Challenge

© 2010 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: January 19: Literacy News and Reviews

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. There are currently 1000 subscribers.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have three book reviews (one middle grade and two young adult), two children's literacy round-ups (one here and one at The Reading Tub), and two posts with Kidlitosphere news. I also have posts about the ALA Youth Media Awards (Newbery, etc.). All of the posts from my own blog these past two weeks are included in the newsletter. At Booklights, I have a selection of links for parents related to raising readers, and a post about the 2009 Cybils shortlists.

Reading Update: I've had a pretty good reading year so far. In the past two weeks, I five middle grade novels (all from the Cybils shortlist for middle grade fantasy and science fiction, one middle grade graphic novel, two young adult novels, and one adult mystery. Note that because I am a second round judge for the Cybils, I have not posted reviews of the Cybils titles (the first five books listed below). But they are certainly all worth picking up.
  • Julianna Baggott: The Prince of Fenway Park. HarperCollins. Completed January 8, 2010.
  • Neil Gaiman (ill. Brett Helquist): Odd and the Frost Giants. HarperCollins. Completed January 9, 2010.
  • Wendy Mass: 11 Birthdays. Scholastic. Completed January 9, 2010.
  • Grace Lin: When the Mountain Meets the Moon. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Completed January 11, 2010.
  • Joni Sensel: The Farwalker's Quest. Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. Completed January 17, 2010.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta. Knopf. Completed January 17, 2009. My review.
  • Caroline B. Cooney: They Never Came Back. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Completed January 12, 2010. My review.
  • Dom Testa: The Comet's Curse: A Galahad Book. Tor Teen. Completed January 18, 2010. (Review to come)
  • Harlan Coben: Long Lost. Dutton. The 9th Myron Bolitar mystery. Completed January 9, 2010. This book marks Coben's return to the Bolitar series after several years of publishing stand-alone thrillers. I found this one to be something of a cross between the style of the previous Bolitar novels and the thrillers. I read this one in one sitting - it's quite well-written and suspenseful (if occasionally a bit more violent than I would prefer).

How about you. What have you been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms.

© 2010 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).

2010 ALA Youth Media Award Winners

As has already doubtless been widely reported around the Kidlitosphere (and Twitter, and Facebook, and everywhere else that children's book people gather), the ALA Youth Media Awards, including the Newbery and Caldecott Awards, were announced today. I'm impressed and pleased A) by how many friends from the Kidlitosphere received the nod and B) by how well the people around me did in their award predictions this year. You can find the full details about all of the the award winners at the ALA website. But here are a few highlights.

Newbery Award Winner

Book-whenyoureachme When You Reach Me, written by Rebecca Stead and published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House

Newbery Honors

Caldecott Award Winner

2009_thelion The Lion & the Mouse, illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney, published by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers (this is a Cybils shortlist title in Fiction Picture Books)

Caldecott Honors

  • All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, written by Liz Garton Scanlon and published by Beach Lane Books (I have not had a chance to read and review this properly, but Liz is a friend from the Kidlitosphere, and I've given away several copies as gifts on the strength of other people's reviews.) (This is also a Cybils shortlist title in Fiction Picture Books)
  • Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Joyce Sidman, and published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Printz Award Winner

Goingbovine Going Bovine, by Libba Bray, published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House (this is on my shelf, and high up on my to be read list)

Printz Honors

You can find details on all of the others (Sibert, Geisel, Coretta Scott King, Schneider Family Book Award, etc.) at the ALA website.

Special kudos to two other Kidlitosphere friends:

Mareswar Mare's War won the Coretta Scott King Honor for author Tanita Davis. I loved Mare's War, and reviewed it here. And of course I'm super-happy for Tanita, one of my very first Kidlitosphere friends.

Dayglo The Day-Glo Brothers won a Sibert Informational Book Honor for author Chris Barton and illustrator Tony Persani. The Day-Glo Brothers is another book that I've heard great things about, and given as a gift, but neglected to sit down and review properly. But I'm happy for Chris, former Cybils organizer and long-time Kidlitosphere member. The Day-Glo Brothers is also a Cybils shortlist title for Nonfiction Picture Books.

All in all, a quite satisfying Youth Media Awards day. I'm especially enjoying seeing all the joyful congratulations for winners I know on their Facebook pages. That makes it all real. Congratulations to all of the 2010 winners!

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundups at Reading Tub and Booklights: January 18

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 begins with a mini-roundup of Kidlitosphere posts relevant to the situation in Haiti. I especially liked this one: "At the Reading Zone, Sarah Mulhern offers some suggestions on how to use life’s events and classroom tools to create teachable moments. “We need to grab teachable moments and broaden our students’s world views. We need to teach them to be global citizens.”"

There's also an interesting 21st Century Literacies article "about Deanna Isley, a third-grade teacher at Burnley-Moran Elementary. Isley secured a $5,221 grant from the city to purchase 19 Kindles and $300 in books. She uses the Kindles as a tool to complement her other work with the students."

Booklights Just in case the regular literacy roundup doesn't have enough news for you, I have some additional links related to raising readers in my Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere post at Booklights this morning. For example:

At Kidliterate, Melissa urges parents not to rush into reading the Harry Potter books to their young children. She says: "If you are reading HP to your kids before you have read them the RAMONA books, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, the FUDGE books, most of Cynthia Rylant, A CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE, STUART LITTLE, and most of Roald Dahl, just to name a fraction of the available books, then your kids are not ready for HP. Shorter books do not equal bad. It is okay to finish a read-aloud quickly. It is okay to tell your child that they are not old enough for HP yet." She also offers a great list of read-alouds that are appropriate for six to eight year olds. I agree with Melissa completely, and I know that Pam does, too.

Perhaps some of you will find time, in the midst of all the excitement about the ALA Youth Media Awards, to peruse some links about children's literacy. Happy reading!

Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta: Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Middle Grade Graphic Novel

Book: Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Pages: 96
Age Range: 8-12 

LunchladyLunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is the third book in Jarrett J. Krosoczka's series of "Lunch Lady" graphic novels for middle grade readers. I reviewed the first two books back in September, and found this one quite similar (as early elementary school kids are likely to want from their series reading). In this installment, school lunch lady and secret crime fighter Lunch Lady notices odd behavior by a visiting children's book author, Mr. Scribson. This behavior may or may not be tied to the mysterious disappearance of the school gym teacher, Coach Birkby. Meanwhile, the three students in the Breakfast Bunch track down Mr. Scribson's home, in an attempt to right a wrong done by Scribson to long-time fan Terrence. Danger ensues.

Scribson is an entertaining character, a hilariously atypical children's book author. He doesn't eat cafeteria food (only gourmet for him), doesn't allow photos during his visit, and says things like "Now, children, I am an author--one who writes books. Some say that I am the greatest author all time." He also lives in a huge, gated mansion, attended by servants. [I'm sure that many of the children's book authors reading this will find Scribson's financial success familiar -- grin. You'll also suspect that he's up to no good when the gym teacher says "I have a few ideas for some books" and Scribson says "I'd love to hear about them."]

Like the previous books, Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is filled with clever, kitchen-themed gadgets designed by Lunch Lady's sidekick, Betty. I especially liked the Hamburger Headphones and the Mustard Grappling Hook. Of course the Mole Communicator remains a hit, too. Lunch Lady still sprinkles her speech with food-themed exclamations, like "Good Gravy!" and "Great Brussels sprouts!". And the three children remain brave and resourceful (young boys will especially appreciate their technique for saving the day in the Author Visit Vendetta).  

Some of the humor in Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta, as is fitting for a graphic novel, lies in the pictures, rather than the words. For example, a glimpse into Couch Birkby's living room reveals a rack of basketballs. Krosoczka's illustrations are active and engaging, with people's expressions particularly well-rendered.

In short, Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta is an excellent addition to the Lunch Lady series, sure to please young graphic novel fans. As I said in my review of the previous books in the series, I highly recommend the Lunch Lady books for Babymouse fans (especially boys, since the Lunch Lady books are, well, less pink). This book in particular is also sure to entertain children's book authors of all ages, and would make a nice gift for them, too.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 22, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: None that I found. But did you hear that Lunch Lady is going to be made into a movie?

© 2010 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: January 13: Kidlitosphere News and Views

There is a lot going on around the Kidlitosphere this week. Here are a few highlights:

AlienMotherReader reports that this is National Delurking Week (the graphic is one that she downloaded from Paper Napkin in 2007). The idea is to encourage people to take a few extra minutes to leave a comment on blogs that they visit regularly (instead of just lurking silently in the background). Fits in well with the 2010 Comment Challenge, doesn't it? (I'm continuing to enjoy the Comment Challenge, by the way. I find that once I start leaving comments as I go through my reader, it's impossible to stop at just five. And I love receiving comments on my reviews. Kind of motivates me to publish some more.)

In the End-o-the-Week Kid-Lit Roundup, Paul from Omnivoracious links to an interesting Economist article about the global economic impact of the Harry Potter series. Most of the article is about the market side of things. But I liked this part: "even at their clumsiest the books are well-plotted and full of invention. They also avoid the temptation to sneak ideology into children’s heads by wrapping it in fantasy. C.S. Lewis’s children’s books, to which Ms Rowling’s are often compared, are spoiled by creeping piety. Philip Pullman’s suffer from strident anticlericalism. Although the Harry Potter series endorses traits such as bravery and loyalty, it is intended above all to entertain. It has, hundreds of millions of times."

ShareAStoryLogo2 Terry Doherty is looking for suggestions and ideas for the upcoming 2010 Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour (March 8-13). I'm hosting Friday, Reading for the Next Generation. Terry explains: "Jen has invited guests to answer some of the things parents wrestle with, like being the opposite reading personality of their child, or feeling pressured to create a reading superstar, among others." I this description inspires you to want to write something, please do drop me a line. [Logo by Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook.]

James Kennedy emailed me about a gallery show that he's organizing in Chicago for fan art for his novel The Order of Odd-Fish. You can find the call for submissions here. He says: "It'll be not only an art show, but also a costumed dance party and theatrical hoo-hah. I'm working with the Chicago theater group Collaboraction to decorate their cavernous space to portray scenes from the book (the fantastical tropical metropolis of Eldritch City, the digestive system of the All-Devouring Mother goddess, the Dome of Doom where knights fight duels on flying armored ostriches, etc.)." Doesn't sound like quite my sort of thing, but it definitely seemed like something that readers would be interested in.

CSK_Logo Another email request came to me this week from Nick Glass of Nick wanted me to mention "the Coretta Scott King Book Award Online Curriculum Resource Center—a free, multimedia, online database for educators and families featuring more than 250 original recordings with award-winning authors and illustrators and hundreds of lesson plans." He says "It is a great reading resource as teachers, librarians, and families plan for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month. The resource center includes more than nine hours of originally produced audio with Coretta Scott King Book Award (CSK) authors and illustrators talking about their books in two- to three-minute clips." And speaking of Black History Month, at Wild Rose Reader Elaine Magliaro shares her list of resources for Black History Month.

I-can-read-meme At the Reading Tub, Terry just announced the January I Can Read Carnival. She explains: "The first carnival (or MEME if you prefer) for celebrating Easy Readers and Short Chapter books is here at the Reading Tub. I am really excited about the chance to regularly collect books that will engage and excite new and developing readers. I Can Read! is a three-day, mid-month carnival whose host rotates each month. To see the list of hosts, check out the list on the right sidebar... If you have a post that reviews an easy reader or short chapter book or offers ideas for helping new readers, we’d love for you to participate in the carnival. Your post can be up to one year old, so posts back to January 2009 can be included in this inaugural event." 

Congratulations to Mitali Perkins and Melissa Wiley, each asked to write the foreword of a reissue of a favorite childhood book (both books part of the Betsy-Tacy series). Melissa says: "Can you hear me smile? I am so honored. I’m pretty much over the moon!" I especially identified with Mitali's response: "Anyone have a time machine? I want to find nine-year-old Mitali scouring the NYPL shelves for anything Maud Hart Lovelace and tell her the news." That's how I've felt (on a smaller scale) with merely emailing with favorite authors from my childhood. My heartfelt congratulations to nine-year-old Melissa and Mitali, and their successors.

BookBlogCon-2010-smaller At Galleysmith, Michelle has the scoop about an upcoming conference for book bloggers. This is not to be confused with KidLitCon (now in planning for the 4th annual conference), but is a broader conference for all sorts of book bloggers. Michelle says: "the first annual Book Blogger Convention is open for business! Being held on Friday, May 28th, 2010 participants are welcome to join us in New York City for a great day of food, fun and education."

At Presenting Lenore, Lenore recently announced: "I would like to continue supporting international book bloggers and have decided to start the International Book Blogger Mentor Program. Any book blogger who blogs in English about books and lives outside the US and Canada can apply. Each month I will pick one blogger to send 2-3 of my most recent review copies to. Upon request, I will also look over the reviews you write for the books and suggest improvements. Once you post your first review, I will feature you and your blog on Presenting Lenore." Nice display of community spirit, I think.

And in another display of community spirit, Sherry Early shares 12 Tips for New Bloggers at Semicolon. Seems to me that Sherry's tips will be useful to all bloggers, not just new ones. For example: "Title your book reviews with the title of the book and the author. This tip may seem self-evident, but it’s tempting to try to come up with catchy titles for books reviews. However, when someone searches for a review of X book on Google, they won’t be as likely to hit your blog if you called your review “A Look at the Newest Great American Novel” instead of X book by Z author." It's all good stuff!

At Chasing Ray, Colleen Mondor questions a Heavy Medal blog discussion by Jonathan Hunt about Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, a discussion criticizing Stead's decision to include a non-white character without identifying the specifics of the character's racial background. Colleen says: "What bothers me about this is the double standard at play here. A Caucasian character can be described as white with no one blinking an eye but Julia must be more than her skin color because it is not specific enough."

Quick hits:

Hope that gives you some food for thought. Happy reading!