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Posts from August 2010

Mockingjay: Suzanne Collins

Book: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Pages: 400
Age Range: 13 and up

Mockingjay Mockingjay is, of course, the long-awaited conclusion to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy (see my reviews of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire). This series has reached that point of media saturation where it becomes cool for reviewers to dismiss or criticize it (Twilight, anyone?). The movie rights have been acquired by Lionsgate. Mockingjay had something like a 1.2 million copy initial print run. The series has helped launch a tremendous wave of dystopian young adult literature. So ... it's hard to be objective about the book. But I'll share a few thoughts (and no spoilers).

Mockingjay is very dark. This is to be expected. The first Hunger Games book, after all, introduces a society that hosts an annual contest in which 24 teens fight to the death, until only one victor is standing. In Catching Fire, victor Katniss finds herself returned to the Hunger Games arena, even as she also becomes a pawn in a much larger game, a rebellion against the abusive capitol.

Mockingjay picks up shortly after the end of Catching Fire, with Katniss physically and emotionally damaged by the traumas that she's endured. While she's been reunited with her childhood friend Gale, her Hunger Games partner Peeta has been captured by the government. Katniss has become a symbol of the resistance (she is the Mockingjay of the title). However, she's too worn down to be much help, at first, and finds herself suspicious of the motives of some of the rebels, too. Katniss's personal struggle to understand her place, and her feelings for Gale and Peeta, plays out against the larger backdrop of the war between the Capitol and the rebels.

This is a book that portrays war in all of its ugliness. Collins touched on similar themes in her earlier Underland Chronicles series (last book reviewed here, with links to earlier reviews), but that book was aimed at a younger audience. Mockingjay depicts scenes of shocking violence, and acts of nearly unimaginable cruelty. This is not a book for those with weak stomachs. But it is compelling. And it casts a sharp, but utter non-preachy, light on the atrocities of war.

I found Katniss's physical and emotional weakness in parts of the book a bit trying at first, but I've concluded that it was brave of Collins to show all of Katniss's damage. She's far, far from a perfect heroine, and she knows it.

Personally, I was satisfied with the ending, and with the resolution of the Gale/Peeta/Katniss triangle (and that's all I'll say about that right now). I haven't read many other reviews, so I have no idea whether or not this is a general viewpoint. But I'll certainly continue to recommend this series to people. I think that Suzanne Collins has some very dark views on war and technology. But she's created a fascinating world in Panem, and a memorable, ultimately sympathetic character in warrior Katniss. Quite an achievement, I think.

Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: August 24, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

Blog Interview and Cybils Announcement

I have two pieces of news to share today.

First up, Aaron Mead, who blogs at Children's Books and Reviews, recently featured me in his ongoing series of children's book blogger interviews. You can find the interview here. While Aaron asked a number of interesting questions, my favorite was: "If you were standing on a soapbox full of children’s books, what advice would you give your audience?" You'll have to click throuugh to read my answer (though regular readers won't find it a surprise, and Reach Out and Read was kind enough to tweet the soundbyte). Aaron also interviewed Marya Jansen-Gruber last month, and has more interviews to come.

Cybils2010small Second, and much more important to the Kidlitosphere at large, the Cybils (children's and young adult bloggers' literary awards) just issued the 2010 call for judges. For all you children's and young adult book bloggers who have seen the amazing Cybils shortlists and winners, and envied the bloggers who select them, this is your chance to get involved. It's a lot of work, but participation is a tremendous opportunity to participate in the Kidlitosphere, and read and recommend excellent books. I'll be continuing my somewhat nebulous position as Literacy Evangelist for the Cybils (something along the lines of a cheerleader and promoter). I'll start that by saying: isn't the new logo, designed and updated by Sarah Stevenson, beautiful? You can download it here in various sizes. To participate as a judge, please follow the instructions here.

And that's two posts in one day, which makes me very happy. Wishing you all a wonderful week!

Press Release: School Readiness Initiative Hands Out Millionth Book

Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Patrick Corvington Hands Out the One Millionth Book in Reach Out and Read “Summer of a Million Books” Campaign

Reachoutandreadbwlogo (New Orleans, LA) August 27, 2010 – The nationwide school readiness initiative Reach Out and Read kicked off the summer by announcing its goal of distributing one million books to children nationwide before Labor Day.  Today, more than one week before the deadline, the Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Patrick Corvington joined Reach Out and Read CEO Earl Martin Phalen to hand out the one millionth book, “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” to a child at the Tulane Pediatric Clinic at the Covenant House, a homeless shelter in New Orleans, LA. 

Reach Out and Read developed the Summer of a Million Books in conjunction with the United We Serve: Let’s Read. Let’s Move. initiative, which aims to promote community service and combat illiteracy and childhood obesity.  Reach Out and Read is a national partner of Let’s Read. Let’s Move., an Administration-wide effort led by First Lady Michelle Obama, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and five federal agencies. 

“United We Serve and Reach Out and Read provide a powerful example of using service as a solution to address childhood illiteracy,” said Corporation CEO Patrick Corvington.  “The Summer of a Million Books campaign is proof positive of the problems we can tackle when we come together and focus efforts toward real, measurable results.”

“This is an incredible achievement for Reach Out and Read’s 30,000 doctors, nurses, and volunteers nationwide,” said Earl Martin Phalen, Chief Executive Officer of Reach Out and Read.  “Together, they have helped to put one million more children on the path to school success by providing parents with the guidance and the tools they need.  We stand united in the dream that one day, every child in America will benefit from the Reach Out and Read program.”

Reach Out and Read targets children who are at greatest risk for school failure and illiteracy, and provides them with high quality children’s books and their parents with reading tips and guidance on the importance of reading aloud.  Fourteen research studies confirm that Reach Out and Read works – families served by the program read together more often, and their children enter kindergarten better prepared to succeed, with larger vocabularies, stronger language skills, and a six-month developmental age over their peers.

The key to Reach Out and Read’s success is the messenger: pediatricians and family physicians.  Participating doctors and nurse practitioners incorporate the Reach Out and Read model into every regular checkup for children between 6 months of age and the time they enter kindergarten.  Because 96% of U.S. children see their doctor at least once a year and because of the trust that parents have in their child’s doctor, the pediatric checkup is the ideal opportunity to promote early literacy and school readiness.  Last year, Reach Out and Read’s 26,500 participating medical providers served 3.9 million children and families at 4,500 hospitals, clinics, and pediatric practices nationwide.

At the event, Phalen also announced that Scholastic Book Clubs would donate an additional 500,000 children’s books to Reach Out and Read through the ClassroomsCare program, in honor of the Summer of a Million Books campaign.  ClassroomsCare is a philanthropy-based literacy program that teaches schoolchildren the joy of reading and giving.

“We are absolutely overwhelmed by the generosity of Scholastic Inc. CEO Dick Robinson, Scholastic Books Clubs, and the hundreds of thousands of children nationwide who participate in ClassroomsCare,” said Phalen.  “These students are helping to ensure that every child in America grows up with books and parents who understand the transformational power of reading aloud.”

Phalen added that there’s still time for all Americans to join the “Summer of a Million Books” campaign and help ensure that every child arrives at kindergarten ready to read and prepared to excel.

KidLitCon 2010 - Time to Register

Stonearch I shared the news a while back that the fourth annual conference of children's and young adult book bloggers had been announced. I'm following up now to let you all know that it's time to register for KidLitCon 2010. KidLitCon will be held on October 23rd at Open Book in Minneapolis. The registration fee is a quite reasonable $45. The conference rate for the designated hotel is $109/night, and includes shuttle service to and from the conference. You can find more details here. This year's conference is being organized by "three kidlit editors (Andrew Karre--Carolrhoda, Ben Barnhart--Milkweed, Brian Farrey--Flux)".

I've said this many times, and I'll say it again now. If you blog about children's or young adult books, or you write children's or young adult books, you really should think about attending KidLitCon. It's a relatively small conference (past conferences have had ~100 participants), which makes it easy to get to know people. It's a welcoming environment for introverts. The discussion schedule for this year hasn't been announced, but I'm sure that you'll find focused sessions on topics related to blogging and children's literature. 

For me, the reason to attend isn't the sessions per se (though I'm sure that I'll glean some useful ideas to recharge my blog). And it isn't the free books and goodies (though there are bound to be a few). I'm going to KidLitCon because I don't want to miss this annual opportunity to spend time with my blogging friends in person. The best thing about being part of the Kidlitosphere, to me, is being part of the amazing community of people who care about kids and reading. KidLitCon offers the chance to hang out with some of those people, in a relaxed, conversation-friendly environment.

That's right. Even though my blog has been largely on hiatus these past few months; even though I'll have a six-month old ex-preemie baby at home, and I'll be leaving her for the first time (with her wonderful Daddy); and even though it's going to be pricy to fly to Minneapolis from California in October - I'm going to KidLitCon. Who's with me?

Updated to add: see other reasons to attend from Liz Burns at Tea Cozy.

Baby Bookworm Reading Update for August

I can't believe it's been so long since I last posted. In addition to caring for Baby Bookworm, we moved in late July, and I'm working, and things have been pretty crazy. Anyway, BB is now 4 1/2 months old (2 months "corrected age"), and doing well. She weighed a little over 11 pounds at her last doctor's appointment, and is sleeping in her own crib (though still with considerable monitoring from Mom and Dad). She stayed in her crib for 8 hours in a row one night, but promptly backslid. Still, we're hopeful that one day Mheir and I will be able to get more than 5 hours of sleep a night.

AnimalfacesBaby Bookworm's favorite books, far and away, are from the Begin Smart series. She's enjoyed Begin Smart Baby Faces for quite some time (thanks, California Kims!) - she seems to be trying to talk to her friends in the pictures. She recently received Begin Smart Animal Faces as a gift (thanks, Ken and Heather!), and she LOVES that one. She seems to especially like the monkey - he always makes her laugh. There's a little animal/rattle attached to the top of the book, and it's the first toy she's actively reached for.

Needless to say (to those who know me), this success prompted me to go online and order more books from the series. I'll report back. I think that the animal faces are stylized enough that she can see them well. And they're apparently humorous to her. I have to say these Begin Smart people know what they're doing. I never thought that I'd so happily spend time reading and re-reading a book with no story at all, for the sheer joy of seeing BB laugh and try to talk.

Humpty I'm also enjoying a book that my friend Kathy M. sent us: Humpty Who?: Crib Sheets for the Nursery for Clueless Moms and Dads, by Jennifer Griffin (book with CD from Workman). It's a little book containing the text of 80 nursery rhymes and songs for kids, along with (in many cases) derivations and suggestions for performing the piece. There's also a CD with sing-along version of 35 of the rhymes. I'm finding it valuable because I have all these scraps of songs in my head, and I want to know the rest. And Griffin did a great job, because everything I've wondered about so far I've been able to find in the book.

Otherwise, we're reading various board books and picture books as the mood strikes. I'm still reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to BB, and enjoying that (I sometimes catch Mheir listening in the background, too - we both love the story). I think that the first Penderwicks book may be up next, but we still have a ways to go, so I'm not sure.

As for myself, I generally only have a few minutes to read at night before crashing into sleep, but I just finished Lauren Henderson's second Scarlett Wakefield book, Kisses and Lies. Not sure when I'll get to a full review, so I'll say for now that I enjoyed finding the conclusion to the murder mystery left at the end of book 1 (reviewed here). I like Scarlett a lot. She's a gymnast, and uses her physical abilities to get herself out of a few tight spots, which I find refreshing in a non-fantasy YA novel. And I liked the feel of Kisses and Lies, much of which takes place at a spooky castle in Scotland. It's like an updated version of an old Phyllis Whitney YA novel (and I mean that in the best possible way). I'm going to read book 3, Kiss in the Dark, next.

I've also been listening to a variety of books on audio, at times when I have my hands free. More details in the next update. I believe that my window of quiet is drawing to a close...

Hope that all of you are well, and that I can get back to more regular posting soon.