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Posts from February 2010

The Hanging Hill: Chris Grabenstein: Middle Grade Fiction Review

Book: The Hanging Hill
Author: Chris Grabenstein
Pages: 336
Age Range: 9 and up

HangingHillThe Hanging Hill is the sequel to Chris Grabenstein's The Crossroads (reviewed here). Although The Hanging Hill is a sequel, following  shortly after the events of The Crossroads, the two books are quite self-contained as stories. It's not strictly necessary to have read the Crossroads to enjoy The Hanging Hill, although reading the books in order does provide a bit of extra background.

Zack Jennings can see and talk with ghosts. The Hanging Hill finds Zack traveling with his stepmother, famous children's author Judy Magruder Jennings, to the Hanging Hill Playhouse in Connecticut. Famous director Reginald Grimes is planning to put on a play based on one of Judy's books. Unfortunately for Zack, Grimes has a bigger and much more sinister plot afoot. A plot that involves releasing demons into the world, and a serious threat to the play's two child stars, Meghan and Derek.

This book has a setting brimming with kid-appeal - summer at the creepy old playhouse, complete with nice and not-so-nice ghosts, old theater props, and a crusty caretaker. There's a delightful cameo by a local librarian, and a small-town flavor to the book. Zack is a likeable hero, brave and resourceful, but carrying his own emotional baggage, too. He's accompanied by his trusty dog, and has a refreshingly close relationship with his stepmother. I also enjoyed the other two kids in the book. Meghan is confident and unspoiled by her own success - a perfect sidekick for Zack. Derek is insecure, allergy-prone, and mother-dominated. But this gives him plenty of room to grow over the course of the book.

The Hanging Hill is a fast-paced read, helped by extremely short chapters, and a high rate of action. The entire story takes place over just a couple of days. I think that it will appeal to reluctant readers, boys and girls. There are some viewpoint shifts, providing additional background about Grimes' plans. These shifts make the first part of the book a little bit choppy, but don't pose a major problem. Some of the content is rather dark (kids being chased by a demon with an axe, plans for child sacrifice, etc.), so I would only recommend this title for kids who enjoy being scared.

Although I liked the setting, I think that what I appreciated most about this book was Grabenstein's voice. While keeping the plot moving (and despite being perhaps a tad too fond of exclamation points), he manages to slip in regular dashes of wry humor. It's not surprising to me that he also writes mysteries for adults. He includes occasional references that will appeal more to the adults reading along than to their kids (although I don't think that there's enough of this to alienate younger readers in any way). Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for Grabenstein's writing:

"Some called being a Ghost Seer a gift. Well, if it was, Zack figured it was like getting a paisley-and-plaid sweater for Christmas when what you really wanted was an iPod. Seven weeks after learning he could see spirits, Zack was already tired of being special.
Being special could wear a guy out." (Page 1-2)

"A blond woman with a drum-tight face stepped out of the limo. She had an orangish, Oompa-Loompa tan." (Page 61)

"Tunisia?" said Grimes. "You people imported scenery we're not even going to use--all the way from Tunisia?"
"Yes," said Hakeen.
"You're insane!"
"Actually, we prefer the term 'devout.'" " (Page 81)

All in all, The Hanging Hill is a fun mystery/thriller/ghost story for middle grade and middle school readers. I'd try it on fans of Mary Downing Hahn's books, for sure, though Grabenstein's tone is a bit more over-the-top. Although my timing isn't the greatest for this review, I think that The Hanging Hill would make an excellent summer read.  

Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: August 11, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: On My Bookshelf...

© 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).

I'm a Featured Sweetheart at the Texas Sweethearts Blog Today

Card_tx_sweet_front_525_300 The Texas Sweethearts is a fairly new group website and blog run by three Austin, Texas authors of books for children and teens:

They all write from the heart, and from the heart of Texas. Their emphasis on "seeing the joy in the face of a child discovering a love of reading" makes it clear that they are kindred spirits of mine.

The Texas Sweethearts have been running a series of interviews with Featured Sweethearts on their blog (and are accepting nominations from readers). They started with fellow Austin author Cynthia Leitich Smith, and have since interviewed librarian Felice Feldman, consultant Cailin O'Connor, writer and literary agent reader Casey McCormick, and author and past ALAN-President David Macinnis Gill.   

Today, I am honored to report that the Texas Sweethearts are featuring/interviewing me. They asked some great questions (thought-provoking questions, too, like "how do you see the future of books for kids and the importance of the Internet in that future?"), and gave me the chance to share a few photos. I hope that you'll check it out! 

I'm extra-pleased to be connected to the Texas Sweethearts, because I spent 3 1/2 enjoyable years living in Austin. I was in grad school for engineering at the time, and had no idea of the thriving and welcoming KidLit community in Austin. But knowing that this community is there now just adds to my already fond feelings about the area. Thanks, Jessica, P. J., and Jo! 

Click here for the interview.

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: Feburary 2

Jpg_book007Happy Groundhog Day! Looks like we're in for six more weeks of winter, which I say is ok - more time to curl up on the couch and read books. Plus, here in California, we can sure use a few more weeks of rain.

Today 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 1009 subscribers.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have two book reviews (one middle grade and one young adult) and an announcement about a book previously reviewed that is now available for purchase. I also have two children's literacy round-ups, an announcement about the new Carnival of Children's Literature, a brief post quoting Katherine Paterson on the future of books, and a discussion of a sad development regarding school librarians in Dearborn, MI (click through to see comments). Posts not included in the newsletter this week include:

Reading Update: I had a bit of a light couple of weeks, in terms of reading.

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).

Books Read in January 2010

This is a list of the books that I read in January, broken up into Picture Books, Middle Grade Books, Young Adult Books, and Adult Fiction. This month was definitely dominated by middle grade fiction, mostly because I read the Cybils shortlist titles for MG Fantasy and Science Fiction. I'll likely read more YA in February. And I still have a goal of catching up on picture books one of these weeks...

Picture Books

  1. Doreen Cronin (ill. Harry Bliss): Diary of a Worm. HarperCollins. Completed January 2, 2010.

Middle Grade Books

  1. Julianna Baggott: The Prince of Fenway Park. HarperCollins. Completed January 8, 2010.
  2. Neil Gaiman (ill. Brett Helquist): Odd and the Frost Giants. HarperCollins. Completed January 9, 2010.
  3. Wendy Mass: 11 Birthdays. Scholastic. Completed January 9, 2010.
  4. Grace Lin: When the Mountain Meets the Moon. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Completed January 11, 2010.
  5. Joni Sensel: The Farwalker's Quest. Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. Completed January 17, 2010.
  6. Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta. Knopf. Completed January 17, 2009. My review.
  7. Joan Aiken (ill. Andi Watson): The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories. Big Mouth House. Completed January 21, 2010.
  8. Madeleine L'Engle: A Wrinkle in Time. Square Fish. Completed January 23, 2010.
  9. Madeleine L'Engle: A Wind in the Door. Square Fish. Completed January 26, 2010.
  10. Rebecca Stead: When You Reach Me. Wendy Lamb Books. Completed January 28, 2010. My review.

Young Adult Books

  1. Rachel Ward: Numbers. The Chicken House. Completed January 1, 2010. My review.
  2. Caroline B. Cooney: They Never Came Back. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Completed January 12, 2010. My review.
  3. Dom Testa: The Comet's Curse: A Galahad Book. Tor Teen. Completed January 18, 2010. My review.

Adult Fiction

  1. Harlan Coben: Long Lost. Dutton. The 9th Myron Bolitar mystery. Completed January 9, 2010.
  2. Charlaine Harris: All Together Dead (Sookie Stackhouse #7). Ace paperback. Completed January 29, 2010.

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Katherine Paterson on the Future of Printed Books

Paterson In an op-ed piece for the New York Daily News, new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Katherine Paterson acknowledges that new technologies such as the iPad pose a threat to traditional book reading. She says:

"Technology does pose a threat to the written word. Tweeting does not allow for intensive reading. Serious newspapers that give readers a full view of current events are, we are told, on their deathbeds. Throughout our culture, slogans seem to be increasingly replacing serious discussion."

However, Ms. Paterson believes that there is cause for optimism. She says:

"I have seven grandchildren, all of whom are well-equipped with electronic gadgets. Yet all of them are readers - because their parents are readers who have read to them, because they have teachers who care about literature and librarians who introduce them to books they will enjoy and be enriched by."

She concludes with the statement that she doesn't think that books will become obsolete. I certainly hope that she's right!

Link via email from Goodman Media.

Books Now Available: After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

51tlf8f+FiL._SL500_AA240_ Back in November, I reviewed the sequel to Jordan Sonnenblick's Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, After Ever After. I said:

"I had high expectations for After Ever After, and it did not disappoint... It is worth the wait, a must-read title for fans of Jordan Sonnenblick's novels. My suggestion, if you can spare the time, is to re-read Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie in January, to be ready for this one when it's available. Though After Ever After is written from an eighth grade boy's perspective, I think that girls will enjoy it, too."

After Ever After is now available. Don't miss it! (But read Drums, Girls first, if you haven't already).

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

Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up: February 1

JkrROUNDUP 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 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.


The third annual Connor's Courageous Kids Book Fair will be held on February 27 - March 2, 2010 at the Bethlehem Church in Randolph, New Jersey. Connor's House donates books and reading materials to children with life-shortening illnesses. From the website: "If you can't come in person you can still participate through the [Scholastic] One For Books program. Every dollar raised through the One For Books program goes directly towards purchasing books for children with life-shortening illnesses. In addition, for every dollar raised through this program Scholastic Books will donate a book to a national children's literacy program." Learn more at Thanks to Danielle at the Adventures of Two Little Monkeys for the details.

Everybody Wins! reports: "Former Atlanta Falcons defensive back “Big Play” Ray Buchanan, will challenge 250 students at Centennial Place Elementary School to improve reading skills at an event on Thursday, Jan., 28, at 1:30 p.m. The event is in conjunction January being National Mentoring Month." You can find more details here.

Speaking of Everybody Wins!, they've submitted an idea to's Ideas for Change in America program. Rich Greif explained to us in email: "The 10 most popular ideas will be presented at an event in Washington, DC to relevant members of the Obama Administration, and will mobilize its community to support a series of grassroots campaigns to turn each idea into reality. We submitted the idea for a national “Read to Kids” campaign that could engage national and local literacy organizations, schools, teachers, parents, authors, publishers and nearly every sector of business and society that understands that our nation's future depends on our children's literacy skills." To vote for the national “Read to Kids” campaign go here.

It's well-known that Terry and I are both suckers for inventive programs to promote literacy. So, clearly, are the folks at PaperTigers. In a recent post, Corinne said: "To celebrate National Storytelling Week in the United Kingdom, The Donkey Sanctuary,  will be opening its doors to local groups and schools for storytelling sessions in the company of the donkeys!" How fun is that!

The Book Chook also has a post in honor of the UK's National Storytelling Week. She says: "I think storytelling is a great way to develop literacy skills, but it's not something we think of immediately when we think of literacy... When kids listen to stories, they are developing their imagination by creating mind pictures of characters, settings and scenes. The repetition of a story strengthens the neural pathways, enabling them to internalise language, and master its nuances. This all has a kind of cumulative effect, so that the more kids listen to stories, the more they want to hear them, and the more they want to tell their own." She concludes with suggestions for ways to celebrate storytelling this week, wherever you live.

According to Rachel Bailey at Paste Magazine, "Twitter has teamed up with non-profit Room to Read to promote education and literacy worldwide. And what better way to do it than by selling wine? For $20 a pop, plus shipping and handling, you can have a bottle of Fledgling Wine 2009 Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from California delivered right to your door."

Literacy Programs & Research

Breaking the ChainRiley Carney has a lovely guest post at The Pirate's Bounty about why she cares about literacy, and what she's doing about it.  Here's a snippet: "I created my nonprofit for literacy, Breaking the Chain, when I was fourteen, after learning that 120 million children around the world do not have access to basic education. Children are particularly vulnerable to poverty and exploitation. Only through education do they have the chance to make their lives better." She goes on to describe several accomplishments of Breaking the Chain, as well as a great new program. It's well worth a look. [Logo from Breaking the Chain website)

Good Magazine recently ran an interesting feature story by Michael Salmonowicz positing that poor literacy is the common root of attendance, behavior, and drop-out rate problems in schools. The author notes: "As I noted in my recent article on school turnaround in the Phi Delta Kappan, our research team at the University of Virginia learned that of the problematic conditions present in 19 struggling Virginia elementary and middle schools, low reading achievement was the only one found in every school." Link via Everybody Wins!

Speaking of problems in schools, we were dismayed to see a School Library Journal article this week about how the Dearborn school system is eliminating the positions of 13 school librarians, leaving parent volunteers to fill in the gaps. Many other people were dismayed, too (you can see many comments here). We'd also recommend that you read Camille's response at The Book Moot. She says (strongly, citing research on this topic) that eliminating school librarians is going to harm test scores in Dearborn. It's real food for thought.

As reported by Tricia from The Miss Rumphius Effect, a recent study found that "First- and second-graders whose teachers were anxious about mathematics were more likely to believe that boys are hard-wired for math and that girls are better at reading... What's more, the girls who bought into that notion scored significantly lower on math tests than their peers who didn't." Sigh!

Teacherninja (aka Jim) has a detailed post about reasons that schools should avoid Accelerated Reader (AR) programs, referencing an article by Mark Pennington. Jim offers a point by point list of "ammunition" for people looking to resist AR programs.

The Palm Springs Desert Sun reports that "A new literacy program at the President Gerald R. Ford Boys & Girls Club of La Quinta hopes to boost the literacy rates in the Coachella Valley one computer game at a time. The Waterford Program began Monday thanks to a donation by the Waterford Institute, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to use technology to supplement student learning."

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a nice feature story by Kalen Ponche about a program by which senior citizens tutor young readers, and show them that reading is enjoyable. "The Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring program pairs adults, typically over age 50, with elementary school students who need extra help."

21st Century Literacies

We ran across a post this week (with thanks to Doret from TheHappyNappyBookseller) in which a librarian speaks out in favor of 21st Century Literacies, while faced with a couple of teachers determined to tie students to print resources. Both teachers are requiring students to cut out print articles from newspapers and magazines, and forbidding them to look at online resources. Edi from Crazy Quilts says: "I want to react in some way to these assignments that ignore the vast resources on the Internet that would not only include a plethera of articles, but would allow students to collect,share, discuss and research these articles in a much more contemporary fashion. RSS feeds could be collected on Newser, PageFlakes or Google Reader. Reader’ comments would expand the original story.  There are so many ways students could be engaged in technologies which are so much more meaningful to them and to the 21st century work space!!"

On a brighter note, Sarah has a positive report about e-Readers in the classroom, at The Reading Zone.  She says: "I had been waiting for an e-reader to pop up in my classroom this year. I was a little worried that if/when it happened, it would cause a disruption. But after students got an explanation, they settled right back into their own books. It was awesome!"

Grants and Donations

At the close of her post about That Magic Age, Rebecca explained that she is working with Women In Need "doing storytelling/ narrative-building in their shelters with children 5-8. If you live in the New York area and would like to get involved please stop by their website. They are a truly wonderful organization doing great things in the city." Do also read Faraway Places, her post at Nurturing Narratives about spending the afternoon reading with the children in the shelter. "When we expose children to books we not only enhance their literacy skills but we also cultivate their own abilities to dream beyond themselves. I was amazed during that class that two picture books [How I Learned Geography and Where the Wild Things Are]  had the power to transport these children outside their circumstances and into another reality, a different way to live."

According to a recent news release from Albany State: "The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently announced that Albany State University is one of 269 community organizations and institutions of higher education nationwide to receive grants to host Big Read celebrations between September, 2009 and June, 2010. The 2009-2010 Big Read grant recipients represent 44 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and these municipalities collectively will receive grants totaling $3,742,765."

Wrapping Up ...

Nonfiction MondayToday's Nonfiction Monday round-up is at Wild About Nature. I also have some additional links for parents about children's literacy and raising readers in my latest Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere post at Booklights. Next week's children's literacy and reading news roundup will be at The Reading Tub. Thanks for your interest in children's literacy!