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Posts from March 2010

Press Release: Curious George Exhibit at the Jewish Museum

George I don't often post press releases, but this one caught my eye:

Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey Opens at the Jewish Museum on Sunday, March 14th

Dramatic Story of Escape and Survival Revealed through Nearly 80 Original Drawings

New York, NY – The Jewish Museum will present a new exhibition, Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey, from March 14 through August 1, 2010.  Curious George, the impish monkey protagonist of many adventures, may never have seen the light of day were it not for the determination and courage of his creators: illustrator H. A. Rey (1898 – 1977) and his wife, author and artist Margret Rey (1906 – 1996).  They were both born in Hamburg, Germany, to Jewish families and lived together in Paris from 1936 to 1940.  Hours before the Nazis marched into the city in June 1940, the Reys fled on bicycles carrying drawings for their children’s stories including one about a mischievous monkey, then named Fifi.  Not only did they save their animal characters, but the Reys themselves were saved by their illustrations when authorities found them in their belongings.  This may explain why saving the day after a narrow escape became the premise of most of their Curious George stories. 

The exhibition at The Jewish Museum will offer visitors a rare opportunity to view nearly eighty original drawings and vibrant watercolors of Curious George and other characters. Many of these works have never been on display before.  Preparatory dummy books, vintage photographs, and documentation related to the Reys’ escape from Nazi Europe, such as H. A. Rey’s journals detailing the couple’s perilous journey to freedom, are also included.  One of the exhibition galleries will be transformed into a reading room for visitors of all ages inspired by the beloved monkey’s escapades in Curious George Flies a Kite.

In addition, the exhibition features an interactive timeline, accessed via a touch-screen computer, about the Reys’ life in France from the late 1930s through their fateful escape in the summer of 1940.  Visitors will be able to view additional pages of H. A. Rey’s journal detailing the couple’s journey to safety, images of illustrations by H. A. Rey and photographs taken by Margret Rey in France, documentary photography related to early World War II in France, and historic video, as well as listen to an interview with the couple. This program will be also available at thejewishmuseum.org.

The Jewish Museum is located at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, Manhattan. More details are available on the museum's website.


Into the Wild Nerd Yonder: Julie Halpern: YA Fiction Review

Book: Into the Wild Nerd Yonder
Author: Julie Halpern (blog)
Pages: 256
Age Range: 13 and up 

Nerdyonder After seeing positive reviews of this book all over the place, I was intrigued enough to seek it out from the library. Julie Halpern's Into the Wild Nerd Yonder is a young adult novel about a girl from the social midlands who finds herself drawn to the nerd side. It's a nice contrast to the many, many books about teenage girls trying to climb UP the social ladder.

Jessie has always followed the lead of her two best friends, diva Bizza and beautiful Char. When Bizza's inconsideration finally goes too far, Jessie starts to seek out new friends, and ends up, after having plausible second thoughts, finding them in places she wouldn't have expected.

Jessie is adorable. She sees herself as ordinary, but she has a certain quirky charm. She does well in school, and is quietly proud of her A's. She's constantly listening to audiobooks. (She good taste, too - Life As We Knew It and Elsewhere are both discussed in detail.) She sews herself skirts to wear to school every day, in prints ranging from pencils to Sesame Street characters to holiday themes. She looks up to her older brother, Barrett. She kind of wishes she could go back in time to middle school, when friendships were easier to manage, while at the same time nurturing a crush on Barrett's bad-boy friend Van. While I doubt there will be a lot of readers who are exactly like Jessie, I think that many readers will be able to relate to certain things about her. Here are a couple of examples:

"It's funny how some of Barrett's friends think I'm his punky kid sister, when really I'm just some mathlete who'd rather be sewing Thanksgiving skirts in her bedroom while listening to an audiobook." (Page 6)

"...it's always easy for me to wake up on the first day of school. The excitement of new classes, seeing people who I like an everyday way but not an outside-of-school way, and organizing my locker always springs me to life. Not to mention the joy of finally getting to legitimately use all of the school supplies that I've been hoarding for weeks." (Page 12)

I'll admit it. I LOVED stationery stores when I was a teen. My Dad owned a hardware store, and I used to think how much nicer it would have been if he had a stationery store instead. 

But it was this passage that really stayed with me:

"...and where does that put me on the social food chain? I have never been anywhere on it, technically. Like, if the school had to be divided into groups based on social status, it would be so easy to say to most people, "You go over there to jocks, and you go over to the dorks, and you go over to the emo kids, and the punks, and the stoners." And after all that sorting through the giant school strainer, I would be left hanging out by myself still in the strainer because I wouldn't have anywhere to go." (Page 130)

I mean, how many kids are there out there who feel like they'd be stuck in the strainer? A lot, I bet. It's nice to see a book written for them.

I did wonder a little bit about the target age range for this novel. On the one hand, Jessie has a certain innocence. I could see eleven and twelve year olds who aren't quite ready to grow up enjoying Jessie. On the other hand, there are some pretty frank discussions about Bizza's sexual exploits and their consequences, which tip the scale into making this feel like a high school book. Just consider that a head's up.

I think that Into the Wild Nerd Yonder would be a great book for mothers and daughters to read together (or both read separately and then discuss together). There are a lot of positive themes (about being independent, finding friends who value you for yourself, and not letting boys take advantage of you), conveyed in ways that never feel message-y.

All in all, I enjoyed Into the Wild Nerd Yonder. I recommend it for high school readers (girls more so than boys, I'd say, especially given the pink cover with the dress on it), and for adults who struggled with where they belonged in high school (would that be nearly everyone?). Into the Wild Nerd Yonder was a Cybils shortlist title for Young Adult Fiction (and would, I think, pair well with fellow shortlist title How to Say Goodbye in Robot). Recommended.

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: September 29, 2009
Source of Book: Library copy
Other Blog Reviews: Tuning into YA Books, MotherReader (by TeenReader), Persnickety Snark, Becky's Book Reviews, Librarilly Blonde, Shelf Elf (and doubtless others).

© 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).


Pink Me Up: Charise Mericle Harper: Picture Book Review

Book: Pink Me Up
Author: Charise Mericle Harper
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8 

Pink Pink Me Up by Charise Mericle Harper (author of When Randolph Turned Rotten and Just Grace) is about a young bunny excited to go with her mother to the "3rd Annual Pink Girls Pink-nic", a celebration of femininity and pinkness. Imagine the young one's dismay when her mother comes down with pink spots, and is unable to attend. When Daddy offers to step in, the young heroine, Violet, is quite skeptical ("Daddy! You're a boy!"). But Harper demonstrates the lengths that some daddies will go to, to keep their little girls from being disappointed.

The results are heart-warming, but too funny to be cloying. Seriously - just wait until you see the perfectly pink version of Daddy, and the pink versions of their daddies that the other girls imagine, too. It's fun stuff, sure to please any little girl going through her pink phase.

Violet bears a slight resemblance to Babymouse, particularly when she's imagining possible substitute Pink-nic chaperones ("A fairy princess?"). I like her mixture of melodrama (crying on the floor), matter-of-factness ("Pinky (the cat) is the only other girl in our house. Pinky will not get dressed up. I have tried that before."), and creativity.

Harper's acrylic illustrations are spare in terms of details, but laced with pink decorations and dress-up textures. Many of the illustrations feature Violet's carrot-shaped doll, which I found an entertaining touch. The section in which Daddy is "pinked up" are like a how-to manual, with simple panels reminiscent of paper dolls. I think that the graphic arts feel of the illustrations (as compared to, say, swirly, sparkly, paintings) helps keep Pink Me Up safely on the entertaining side, and away from the sentimental.

I enjoyed Pink Me Up, and I think that girls just starting elementary school will, too. Recommended for "pink" fans of all ages, and the Daddies who love them.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 23, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 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: March 16

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 1046 subscribers.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have five book reviews (two picture books, two books for upper middle grade/middle school readers, and one book for young adults), one post with Kidlitosphere news, and one post with an important piece of personal news.

I also have a post about Day 5 of the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour (a cross-blog celebration of books and literacy), which replaced the children's literacy roundups these past couple of weeks. I had other Share a Story posts during the week (Day 1, Day 1 Part 2, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4), but haven't included those in the newsletter. You can find instead a concise wrap-up of the posts from Share a Story that I found most relevant for parents at Booklights. Also at Booklights, I shared Tip #9 in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series, this one about keeping books handy throughout your home.  

Reading Update: I read a host of picture books during the past couple of weeks, as well as three middle grade, two young adult, and two adult titles. It feels good to have my reading and reviewing grooves back, after an off month in February. Here's the list: 

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).


Monday Afternoon Visits: March 15: Kidlitosphere News and Views

It's been a while since I had time to do a Kidlitosphere news roundup. I don't have a ton of time this afternoon, but I wanted to at least share a few things.

Booklights Terry and I were both pretty caught up in the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour last week, and so we have no children's literacy round-up for you all this week. I did do a post at Booklights today highlighting some of the links from each day of Share a Story that I thought would be of particular interest to parents. I'm also happy to report here that I won a giveaway - a set of four books from Sleeping Bear Press will be donated to the Santa Clara City Library (where I'm on the Foundation Board). This came about because I was a finalist in the RIF Multicultural Books giveaway. Many thanks to everyone who participated in Share a Story 2010!

Speaking of Booklights, Susan Kusel was kind enough to share some board book suggestions for me at Booklights last week. I've added many of them to my wish list for the baby.

Betsy Bird is up to number 21 in the Fuse #8 Top 100 Children's Books poll. She's going to share out the top 20 books one by one, so we all have a while to wait to see who the winner is. But I think it's safe to say that they'll all be wonderful books from here on out.

Mitali Perkins has a lovely post profiling 5 outstanding literacy warriors who are on Twitter. All five are organizations that I'm already following and retweeting on a regular basis, but I'm thrilled to see Mitali spreading the word and drawing more people's attention to these excellent programs. Mitali also has a slightly longer list of literacy champions that you can follow - I just double-checked, and found a few new people to follow. Mitali also shared a useful list of a dozen YA novels with Asian guy protagonists last week.

The SLJ Battle of the (Kids) Books started this week. You can read Liz B's thoughts on Round One, Match one at Tea Cozy, or view the full schedule here. SLJBoB is "a competition between 16 of the very best books for young people published in 2009, judged by some of the biggest names in children's books."

Shannon Hale has had a couple of interesting posts recently about the shortage of female characters in movies these days (especially animated movies), and what, if anything, concerned parties can do about this. She says: "what changes things is money. Even more specifically: the Opening Weekend. That's all that really matters. If women and girls flood movie theaters the opening weekend in support of movies that are led by or even have a realistic ratio of female characters, those accountants will notice and things will change."

Speaking of female protagonists, Doret has put together a "list of titles with strong and smart female protagonists" at TheHappyNappyBookseller. As she notes, the list is by no means complete, but it's an excellent place for anyone to start looking for strong female characters in books.

Meanwhile, David Elzey is still working on helping people to build better boy books at Fomograms, writing last week about nonlinearity in books for boys.

Quick hits:

Hope you found some links of interest!


The Hiccupotamus: Aaron Zenz: Picture Book Review

Book: The Hiccupotamus
Author: Aaron Zenz
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-8 

HiccupThe Hiccupotamus, by Aaron Zenz, is a book that I was interested in merely from reading the title. What can I say? There's something irresistible about a hiccuping hippopotamus. Especially when he and his surroundings are portrayed in lavender-tinged pastels.

The Hiccupotamus is the sad tale of a hippo cursed with incessant hiccups. Whenever he tries to do anything, his hiccups get in the way. His fellow animals try various folk remedies to cure him. Nothing works. Until... You'll have to pick up the book to find out.

The Hiccupotamus is written in a style that some adult readers will love, though others may find annoying, with nonsense words created to make the rhyming work. I think that it will have kids of a certain age in stitches, and that's the important thing. Here are a couple of examples:

"There was a hippopotamus
Who hiccupped quite-a-lotamus
And every time he got'emus...

... He'd fall upon his bottomus."

and

"She chased him toward a centipede
Pouring new cementipede.

He hic'ed by accidentipede...

... And tripped the elephantipede."

See what I mean? The style takes a bit of getting used to, but it does cry out to be read aloud. There's also a fun collection of "Cast Bios" at the end of the book, more likely to please slightly older readers. For example:

"Many considered it a risk casting an unknown in the significant elephant role. But it would appear that pachyderm Katie McMurphy has a promising career ahead of her. Following a serious allergic reaction, however, she is currently turning down all parts that involve the use of frosting."

Zenz's colored pencil illustrations use soothing, glowing colors (yellows and purples and greens) appropriate for bedtime reading. The hippo and the other animals are cartoon-like, in a good way. They are entertaining, expressive, and all-in-all adorable. My favorite is a picture of the hippo looking sheepish (after the second quotation above), while the centipede looks weary and the elephant looks baleful. Zenz has a real knack for conveying emotions through the animals' facial expressions.

My conclusion: The Hiccupotamus is a keeper! HIghly recommended for one-on-one or group readaloud.

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish
Publication Date: September 20, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 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).


Reading for the Next Generation: Share a Story Literacy Blog Tour

It_takes_a_village_2 Welcome to day five of the 2010 Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour. This year's theme is It Takes a Village to Raise a Reader. It's been an amazing week, with posts from around the literacy blogosphere about The Many Faces of Reading, Creative Literacy, Nonfiction, and Reading through the Ages. Many thanks to Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub for dreaming up this whole literacy blog tour idea in the first place, and to all of the participants who have made this year's celebration so fun and dynamic. [Image to the left created by Susan Stephenson at ToonDoo.com.]

I'm hosting today's topic: Reading for the Next Generation. I sought posts from a dozen of my favorite bloggers, all of whom write regularly about raising readers. These are people I look to for advice and inspiration as I work on my own posts, and to whom I'll be looking in the future for guidance in connecting my own daughter with books and reaing.

These contributors will be talking about the disconnects that can arise between parents or teachers and kids, on the way to growing young bookworms. They'll be tackling practical issues like what to do when your reading interests are different from your child's, or your neighbors are pressuring you to create a "reading superstar", or your kids are too restless to sit still for read-aloud.

Our collective goal is not to tell anyone what they "should" do. Rather, we want to provide some concrete help for parents and teachers who want to encourage young readers, but are struggling with particular issues. We hope that some of you will participate by commenting on the posts below, or by responding on your own blogs to today's questions from the Share a Story blog.

Here are links to todays posts on Reading for the Next Generation, shared across a smorgasbord of fabulous blogs:

Addressing some fundamental questions:

  • Dawn Morris shares "Am I a failure if I don't read with my kids?" at Moms Inspire Learning. Dawn says: "Parents are juggling so much these days, and they may not have the time, the patience, or the desire to read with their children. How can they prevent themselves from dropping the ball of literacy? Let me count the ways..."
  • Mary Ann Scheuer shares "How do I help my child learn to love reading if I am not a great reader myself?" at Great Kid Books. Mary Ann says: "If you want your child to enjoy reading, start by making reading time and story telling pleasurable. Think back to your own childhood. What memories bring warmth and a feeling of connectedness?"
  • Amy Watson will be sharing "Help! My Reading Interests are Different from my Child's" at Literacy Launchpad. [Updated: this post was withdrawn from the schedule. But we're sure that Amy will talk about this topic one day.]

Managing expectations and reading levels:

Keeping things fun and fresh:

  • Esme Raji Codell shares "After the Love Has Gone: Read-Aloud for the Young and the Restless" at Planet Esme. Esme says: "I am ... riffing about that unthinkable time when your child doesn't want you to read aloud any more. Maybe they are busy "tweenagers." Maybe they think read-aloud is for babies. Maybe they want to do it themselves. Maybe there is a divergence of interests. Sniff-sniff! What to do? Here are some strategies to bring even the biggest or busiest kid back to the book."
  • Pam Coughlan shares "Reading is Boring (Sometimes)" at Mother Reader. Pam says: "So, reading to your kids. It can be a wonderful experience, a chance to slow down in the busy day and share something together. I dare say that often you will find it a nice thing to do. My point isn't to tell you that reading to your kids is boring, but instead to give you permission to sometimes feel like reading to your kids is boring. Because when we as mothers set ourselves up to a certain expectation to how something Should Be, we can fail to work with How It Is. "
  • Sarah shares "Let the Sillies Out: Reading to Babies and Young Children" at In Need of Chocolate. Sarah says: "when it comes time to read to your child, grandchild, niece, nephew, or young friend, most adults feel ridiculous roaring like a giant or mooing like a cow.  How do we get over our embarrassment at making barnyard noises or pantomiming an elephant sneezing? I have some suggestions that may help you make small changes in how you read and lead you to eventually roar and yelp and baa and crawl around like the silliest of adults."
  • Joyce Grant shares "Getting Your Video-Kid Reading" at Getting Kids Reading. Joyce says: "Your child loves video games but isn't a big reader? No problem. Here are some tips that will get your video-loving kid reading." She follows with seven wide-ranging tips.
  • Caroline Lennox shares "Princess Books? Give Me a Break!" at Learning Parade. Caroline says: "Encouraging my daughter to develop a love of reading has luckily not been too difficult for us; developing her reading interests beyond "Princess Books" has been the hurdle. You know the books we're talking about here - the pink, the frilly, the 'life is sweet' type that sometimes offer a free tiara and the like."

ShareAStoryLogo-color Thanks for checking out Reading for the Next Generation, Day Five of the Share a Story - Shape a Future Literacy Blog Tour. I hope that you've found some food for thought in this posts, and that you'll take a few minutes to check out this week's other fabulous links from the Share a Story main page. It does take a village to raise a reader. We're happy to have you here. [Image to the left created by Elizabeth O. Dulemba.]


Hot Rod Hamster: Cynthia Lord: Picture Book Review

Book: Hot Rod Hamster
Author: Cynthia Lord
Illustrator: Derek Anderson
Pages: 40
Age Range: 2-5

Hamster Hot Rod Hamster, written by Cynthia Lord and illustrated by Derek Anderson, is an excellent choice for preschoolers. It's about a young hamster determined to take part in a car race against a variety of much larger animals. He doesn't care that he's smaller - he just wants to "burn rubber!".

The text is written with a combination of energetic rhyming couplets, punchy dialog, and a repeated question for the reader. While I initially found the mixture a bit difficult to read aloud, I came to realize that the dialog bubbles and questions make the book highly interactive for preschoolers. For example, whenever the hamster has a choice to make, the reader gets to make the choice, too (and before seeing the hamster's selection). For example:

"Smooth wheels, stud wheels, driving through the mud wheels,
Fat wheels, thin wheels, take her for a spin wheels.

Which would you choose?"

The hot rod hamster is a most engaging character. His expressions range from optimistic to determined to and downright joyful. I think that toddler audiences will be able to relate. His enthusiasm comes through in his dialog ("Vroom-vroom" and "Now I'm ready to ROLL!"), helped along by the use of bright colors and large fonts for the most energetic text.

But it's Derek Anderson's illustrations that bring the hamster (and his support team) to life. There's one page where he's getting his car painted, and something is still missing. He leaps into the air shouting "FLAMES!" (in flame-colored text), mouth open wide and eyes squeezed shut. He's positively giddy - his excitement leaps from the page. The acrylic illustrations are brimming forth with bright colors, varied expressions, and amusing details (like the mouse roasting marshmallows of pictures of flames).

In short, Hot Rod Hamster is a delight from start to finish, sure to please preschoolers, and make their parents smile, too. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic 
Publication Date: 40
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 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).


Share a Story - Shape a Future: Day 4: Old Favorites, New Classics

It-takes-a-village-pink Today is Day 4 of the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour. Today's host is Donalyn Miller from The Book Whisperer, talking about balancing old classics and new favorites on the quest to hook today's kids on reading. [Share a Story logo to the left created by Susan Stephenson using ToonDoo.com]. Donalyn says:

"Like the other esteemed bloggers this week, today's contributors represent people who work each day to connect children with great books--teachers, librarians, parents, grandparents, book reviewers, and presenters.

We have been readers since childhood, you see. Someone special shared a story with us once, and shaped our futures as lifelong readers.

Through our posts, we will reminisce about cherished childhood classics and reading experiences, and share newer books that might be classics someday."

Donalyn's contributors ask readers to share favorite childhood books, and favorite first lines from books, as well as suggesting new titles and new methods for reading with today's kids. There's even a post about my favorite sub-genre, Dystopian Science Fiction, from author and teacher Kate Messner. But I hope that you'll clilck through to read all of the posts that Book Whisperer Donalyn has lovingly collected for today.

Back at the Share a Story site, today's writing prompt questions are:

  • Is there a book from your childhood that you didn't like "back then," but that you've since re-read and liked? What was it about the book that you didn't like before?
  • Do you have a favorite chapter book for reading with kids of different ages (e.g., 4, 9, 13)?
  • What book(s) has your child recommended to you that you loved?

I hope that some of you will choose to share your responses to this questions, or the ones from earlier in the week. Me, I'm off to read and comment on today's posts, and put some finishing touches on my introductory post for tomorrow. I'll be hosting Share a Story - Shape a Future: Day 5: Reading for the Next Generation. Happy reading!


Share a Story - Shape a Future: Day 3: Nonfiction Books and Outdoor Reading

ShareAStoryLogo-color Today is Day 3 of the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour. Today's host is Sarah Mulhern from The Reading Zone, talking about using nonfiction to hook readers. [Official Share a Story logo to the left created by Elizabeth O. Dulemba] Sarah says:

"Over the past five years I’ve noticed that my middle schoolers frequently pass over nonfiction books because they tend to see them as “research books” and not something to be read for pleasure.  This year I have made it a goal to include more nonfiction in my classroom and in my booktalks.

It’s working!  I’ve had more students than ever pick up nonfiction books- biographies, memoirs, informational books, literary nonfiction, and everything in between.  Access to nonfiction opens so many doors and today’s posters are here to help us find more doors and windows to open in the house of nonfiction reading with readers of all ages."

Sarah's contributors share a variety of posts about using nonfiction to engage readers of all ages.

Today's writing prompt questions are:

  • Do you have an image (photo, chart, illustration) from a nonfiction book that has stayed with you, even though you don't remember many of the details about what you read?
  • What kind of reading material has inspired your dormant reader to become an avid reader and book seeker?
  • Where is your favorite place to read? Do you share your secret spot with your child?

I'll take a stab at addressing the third question. I don't have one particular favorite reading spot. I'll read anywhere - in bed, on the couch, on a plane, while waiting in the doctor's office. However, I have always loved reading out of doors. When I was a child I liked to read up in a tree in the side yard, and sometimes up on the roof (I had a dormer window - it was pretty easy to get out to the roof, and then move over to a flat part). In college I used to slip away to read on a bridge in a secluded, wooded part of the Duke Gardens. Shortly after college, I spent one magical day, while on vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine, reading on a lounge chair on a little peninsula, surrounded by ocean on three sides (reading Patricia Cornwell novels and drinking wine coolers, it must be confessed). When I was in graduate school, I spent a lot of time reading by the pool in my apartment complex (I have distinct memories of ruining a copy of The Firm, by getting it hopelessly wet). Mheir and I once shared a memorable Disneyworld vacation in which, every other day, he would golf, and I would sit by the pool and read (with park visits on the days in between, of course).

To this day, one of the ways that I look back on whether or not a vacation was successful is whether or not I was able to spend a least a little bit of time reading in a beautiful outdoor location. You can see a photo of my most recent vacation reading spot here (Maui). Technically I was indoors for that one, but I was right next to a huge open window (no screens or anything) to the beach, looking at palm trees, and listening to the ocean.

As to whether I'll share my outdoor reading adventures with my child, when she's old enough, well, I don't kow that I want her to hear about the whole reading on the roof thing. But I certainly like the idea of introducing her to the joy of being outside, in a beautiful location, with a breeze running through her hair, and a great book in her lap. That I'll be more than happy to share.

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


Steel Trapp: The Academy: Ridley Pearson

Book: Steel Trapp: The Academy
Author: Ridley Pearson
Pages: 416
Age Range: 10-14 

Academy Steel Trapp: The Academy is the second book in Ridley Pearson's Steel Trapp series of middle grade / middle school spy novels. HIgh school freshman Steven "Steel" Trapp has a perfect memory (hence his nickname) and a father who is a covert spy. When Steel's father encourages him to enroll at an exclusive, and strangely secretive, Connecticut boarding school, Steel is optimistic about having a fresh start. When he learns that his father has also pulled strings to enable his friend Kaileigh (introduced in the first book, Steel Trapp: The Challenge) to attend, too, Steel starts to feel suspicious. And when Steel and Kaileigh observe students and teachers engaged in clandestine behavior, Steel's curiosity is fully engaged. Being a tenacious kid, he won't rest until he learns the secret of Wynncliff Academy

The Steel Trapp books are aimed squarely at the kids who love Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series (starting with Stormbreaker) and Charlie Higson's Young James Bond books (starting with Silverfin). They are perfect for middle school boys and girls who want to read about kids their own age having adventures as spies. I think (as does Kate Coombs) that the Steel Trapp books are an excellent addition to the genre.

Steel is a likable character. His computer-like memory and athletic skills make him border on being too good to be true. However, his lack of experience when it comes to girls and his knack for gift for evoking jealousy among his peers keep him human. And I personally found the idea of having a photographic memory, one with total recall, fascinating. It's like a superpower, but one that you can imagine someone actually possessing.

Kaileigh is a good character, too. She's smart, with gifts for languages and mimicry that make her a formidable ally. As Steel concludes, she's actually brighter than he is, though without the crutch of perfect memory. Kaileigh and Steel together make a good investigative team, with believable boy-girl relationship issues floating in the background (and at a quite appropriate degree of maturity for middle schoolers).

Pearson's experience in writing adult mysteries, as well as adventure stories for kids, comes through in his clear writing style, and the book's fast-paced plotting. These aren't books for which the reader will be stopping to flag lyrical passages. These are books that the reader will fly through, jumping from cliffhanger to cliffhanger.

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for the book:

"What he'd seen had momentarily paralyzed him: four boys, posed down on one knee, facing four mannequins across the gym. There was a coach standing slightly behind them. All four boys were holding long stainless-steel tubes to their mouths. On the coach's cue, they fired darts at the mannequin targets...

He gasped, drawing attention to himself, but wasn't embarrassed to be seen: he would sign up for Blowguns 101 in a nanosecond." (Page 7)

"He spotted his roommate, Verne, at a nearby table with other African Americans; a number of Asian students were also sitting together. It struck him as odd that when left on their own, students showed no desire to cross the lines that separated them; but he didn't challenge it. He was as guilty as the next guy of not wanting to draw attention to himself. Such attention at this school meant harassment ... days, sometimes weeks of it." (Page 156)

There is a bit of long-term series setup going on in The Academy - I think that the real payoff in global adventures is going to come in later books. But The Academy is still engaging in its own right. We have a boarding school novel, complete with an unusual team sport, academic pressures and hazing by upperclassmen. But there are also secret tunnels connecting the campus buildings, students learning to use blowguns, and hints of covert government operations. Fun stuff all around! Highly recommended for dormant middle school readers, or anyone who can't get enough of kid-driven spy novels.

Publisher: Hyperion
Publication Date: January 18, 2010
Source of Book: Library copy
Other Blog Reviews: Book Aunt (this review made me want to read the book), Eating Y.A. Books, Kiss the Book

© 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).


Share a Story - Shape a Future: Day 2: Creative Literacy

It_takes_a_village_2 Today is Day 2 of the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour. Today's host (and creator of the logo to the left) is Susan Stephenson from The Book Chook, talking about Literacy My Way, Literacy Your Way. Susan explains:

"Even though our theme was It Takes a Village to Raise a Reader, I wanted to make sure we also emphasized non-traditional forms of literacy. You see, I don't just equate literacy with reading. I believe it encompasses a range of activities and skills, all of which contribute to a child becoming literate. I hoped writers would send me articles about ebooks, storytelling, writing, multimedia, music, technology - as well as describe ways to adapt reading for individual children."

Susan's guests talk about everything from storytelling (traditional and multimedia) to reading-related activities (like pictures and puzzles). You can find direct links to all of today's post at The Book Chook or at the main Share a Story site. There's a lot of great stuff, well worth a look!

And here are the writing prompts for Day 2:

  • Does your child enjoy writing? How can we link reading and writing in ways that will motivate kids?
  • What is your favourite book to screen adaptation?
  • Do you or your child have a story that you like to "act out"? What is the story? and who are the role players?

If any of these spark your imagination, you can write a post about them and link it from the Share a Story page. You can also link to older posts, if you have already written something on one of these topics. The writing prompts are a way to include more people in the week-long celebration of reading and literacy that is Share a Story - Shape a Future. I hope that some of you will participate!

Happy reading!