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Posts from November 2010

November Carnival of Children's Literature

The November Carnival of Children's Literature is now available. Host Wendy Wax has done a remarkable job, with everything from a custom-designed graphic to poetry to cheerful multicolored fonts to quotes from all of the posts. I don't know where she found the time, but the result is not to be missed. There are tons of book reviews this month, as well as author interviews, posts about how illustrations are made, and even a few writing tips. Fans of children's literature and literacy will not want to miss the November Carnival.

Reading and Grade Levels: Keeping it FUN: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights in June of 2009, a result of posts that I'd seen, and discussion on my own blog and at Booklights. Since I wrote this post, I've become a parent myself. And although I have hopefully nicknamed my daughter Baby Bookworm, I certainly don't intend to ever pressure her to read books at any particular grade level. I do very much hope that she will love books, and I believe that the best way for that to happen is for her to read the books that she loves. Don't you?

Reading and Grade Levels: Keeping it FUN

I posted on my blog on Friday [in June of 2009] about the question of whether or not it's a good idea to encourage kids to read above their grade level. I was inspired by an excellent post on this subject by Dashka Slater at Babble. I discovered very quickly that quite a few people have opinions on this, as you can see in the extensive comments of both of the previous two posts, and the cropping up of other posts like this one at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, this one at Here in the Bonny Glen, and this one at Best Book I Have Not Read. I decided, based on this response, that it was a worthwhile topic to bring up here at Booklights. This is also, I think, a logical follow-up to Pam's post from last week about encouraging summer reading. Pam talked about the importance of bringing home a variety of books from the library. She said: "Don't overrule a book your child picks as being too young for him, but also reserve the right make some selections yourself." Like Pam, I'm not a reading specialist, but I do have something to say about this topic.

RES_AnInterestInArt.jpgAs all of the above discussions make clear, there is, in some circles, a bit of competitive pressure going on regarding kids' reading levels. I've heard about the five year old who likes the unabridged version of the Iliad, and the six-year-old reading at a sixth grade level. Melissa Wiley writes about a woman who discouraged her four-year-old from reading picture books, in favor of "something more challenging". An elementary school librarian commented on my earlier post: "I have some students who are "weightlifting" in second grade, carrying Eragon and Inkspell around rather than reading it." The Babble article says: "I hear parents dropping the names of children's books as if they were designer labels. "Junie B. Jones?" one might say witheringly. "My daughter loved that in preschool, but now she's reading the sixth Harry Potter." [Image credit: photo by ToymanRon, shared at MorgueFile. And no, I don't know exactly what this girl is actually reading.]

I can see how it would be easy to caught up in all of this. The parent who reads aloud to her child from the womb, provides lots of books, and is a role model for the importance of reading might be understandably thrilled when said child becomes an advanced reader. Particularly if teachers are encouraging the child to read ever more "challenging" books, and other parents are all talking about what tremendously advanced material their children are reading. A recent Sydney Morning Herald article says (in the context of homework, but I think there's a clear parallel), "Parents who cannot remember homework when they were in kindergarten now help their five-year-olds with up to 45 minutes a day of sheets filled with literacy and numeracy problems. Even those who doubt the wisdom of homework at such an early age reluctantly go along with it, driven by fear of their child falling behind." I know that the "fear of their child falling behind", in our competitive society, is significant.

BUT, there are problems with the relentless progression towards ever-more-advanced reading material for kids. The short-term problem is that children can miss books that they would enjoy reading. Books about kids their own age, having relatable experiences. Fun books. Books with pictures! Instead, they can end up reading books before they are ready for them, which often leads to not appreciating the books, and never going back. The long-term problem is that if you turn reading into a competition, you run the risk of turning it into a chore. You run the risk of having that bright-eyed five-year-old advanced reader grow, in the blink of an eye, into a fourth-grader who won't read anything beyond what's strictly necessary for homework. And that is a tragedy.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't ever let your kids read books that are above their grade level. If they want to do that, and if you deem that books aren't too mature for them thematically, then by all means let them read ahead. Kids usually have a pretty good notion of what they can manage. If they find a book too difficult, they are likely to get bored with that book, and move on to something else. (As Stacy Dillon commented on my post, "I'm bored" is often code for "I don't understand"). So, I'm not saying that the occasional first grader reading the first Harry Potter book is a problem.

JGS_Reading.jpgWhat I am saying is that it's not a good idea to pressure kids to read above their age level. Reading, especially in the summer, should be fun. It isn't meant to be a race. It's a pastime, a journey, a way to teach kids to love books. You don't instill a life-long love of reading by belittling the eight-year-old who wants to flip through picture books on a rainy afternoon. You don't encourage reading by turning down your nose at Goosebumps or comic books or (for teens) the Twilight books. Just because your seven year old CAN read at a sixth grade level, you don't have to deny her the joy of reading about Clementine, Ramona, Pippi Longstocking or Ivy and Bean. Just as we adults sometimes want to read recreationally, it's ok for kids, too. More than OK, in fact, it's something that can help them to maintain the joy of reading. That's what I think, anyway. And it's what many of the authors of and commenters on the posts above think, too, though I've only been able to capture a small amount of that discussion here. [Image credit: photo by Gracey, shared at MorgueFile]

What do you all think? Have you felt pressure, from teachers or other parents, to keep your children reading above grade level? How do you handle this? Or have you found it to be more of a problem the other way, with your library not letting kids read above grade level?

This post was originally published at Booklights on June 15, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.

Funding for RIF, Reach Out and Read and Other Literacy Nonprofits in Jeopardy

I received word over the weekend that the anti-spending wave that's sweeping the government is poised to decimate some of my favorite organizations, like RIF and Reach Out and Read. While I am a fan of cutting unnecessary "porK' spending, I think that a blind approach like this that lumps established, respected literacy programs like this in with everything else is just plain wrong.

I believe that programs that put books into the hands of children who need them pay for themselves over and over again, at a societal level, by reducing the need for remedial education, cutting school drop-out rates, and, ultimately, by reducing the need for spending on social welfare programs and prisons. Taking funding away from these programs because of other shortcomings in government spending just isn't right. A more nuanced approach is needed here. Or, in colloquial terms, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Here's what RIF and Reach Out and Read have to say about it (including requested actions):

From RIF:

RIFF_logo On November 29, 2010, the U.S. Senate will begin voting on an amendment to ban ALL domestic earmarks in the FY11, FY12, and FY13 budget cycles. Although RIF is an authorized program and is not an earmark, this moratorium would cover all national projects, authorized or unauthorized, and would include Reading Is Fundamental.

If this moratorium takes effect it can be damaging to RIF’s local programs and the 4.4 million children RIF currently serves. Please take a moment and send your senators a message encouraging them to vote “NO” on this earmark moratorium as it is currently defined.

Your action could help save RIF and enable it to continue serving millions of children across the country.

Send your message before Monday, November 29, and forward this email to your friends, family, and colleagues, encouraging them to contact their representatives as well.

As a constituent, your voice is the most important resource we have to make sure senators vote “NO”!

From Reach Out and Read: Reach Out and Read has joined 12 other national education nonprofit programs to fight an amendment that would decimate an entire segment of America’s nonprofit sector and place millions of children and families in jeopardy.

On Monday November 29, the U.S. Senate is set to vote on Amendment 4697, proposed by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)  as a rider to the “FDA Food Safety Modernization Act” (S. 510). If passed, the amendment would ban all congressionally directed spending (earmarks) for the next three years.

While the savings would be trivial ($16 billion – or one-half of one percent of the $3.5 trillion federal budget), the ban would eliminate funding for 13 well-established, effective national programs. In addition to Reach Out and Read, the list of affected programs includes Teach for America, Reading is Fundamental, the Close Up Foundation, the National Writing Project, and VSA.

“The passage of this amendment would be catastrophic for Reach Out and Read and 12 other high quality, evidence-based programs that benefit millions of children and families in our country,” said Reach Out and Read CEO Earl Martin Phalen. “It’s unfathomable that Senators would put politics before helping American families struggling to stay afloat.” 

This year, Reach Out and Read was awarded $6 million in federal funding. With that funding, Reach Out and Read leveraged an additional $21 million in non-federal funding, enabling the organization to serve 4 million children and families through more than 4,600 pediatric practices, hospitals, and health clinics nationwide.

Reach Out and Read is an evidence-based, national nonprofit organization that promotes early literacy and school readiness by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud at regular pediatric checkups. The model includes providing a carefully-selected, new, age-appropriate book for each child to take home from every checkup from 6 months through 5 years.

Along with the free book for every child, doctors and nurses also provide guidance to parents about the importance of reading aloud with their children every day.  More than 27,000 medical providers nationwide currently participate in Reach Out and Read. 

This simple intervention results in children entering kindergarten with larger vocabularies, stronger language skills and a six-month developmental edge, significantly reducing their risks for poverty, illiteracy, and dependency in the future.

As scores of research studies show, “immunizing” children against illiteracy in the critical years before they enter school will result in millions of dollars in future cost savings. Reading difficulty increases the risks of school failure, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and dropping out – all of which are expensive to taxpayers. 

“The best way to protect America’s economic security for the future is to invest in early education, and vote against this shortsighted amendment,” said Phalen. “We hope and believe that in the end, the interests of children and our workforce will prevail.”

Please help to spread the word about this important and time-sensitive issue! Thanks!

10 Favorite Chapter Books: A Booklights Reissue

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I'm republishing some of my Booklights posts. Here's a list of my favorite chapter books, created in May of 2009. As these are mostly childhood favorites, I wouldn't change a thing today.

10 Favorite Chapter Books

JenRobinsonEarlyReader Continuing last week's discussion of favorite books, I would like to share some of my favorite titles for middle grade readers (ages 8 to 12). I've been a reader since a very young age (as is apparent from the photo to the right) It's nearly impossible to narrow down to 10 titles, out of all of the children's books out there. But here are a few of my treasured favorites, books that I've read multiple times. I've limited myself to one title per author, though many of these authors have written other books that I loved, too. Most of these are books that I own in multiple editions, because I can never resist them when I run across them. I have not ranked this list, because that would be truly impossible. It is alphabetical by author.

  • 21WXW4GJCQL._SL500_AA140_.jpgReturn to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright. I love all of Elizabeth Enright's books. Her Melendy family quartet sets the standard, I think, for kid-friendly, accessible stories about families (see my reviews of the first two Melendy family books: The Saturdays and The Four-Story Mistake). But Gone-Away Lake and the sequel, Return to Gone-Away, are magical. They epitomize summer, adventure, and things that kids find cool. They are timeless. I give the edge to Return to Gone-Away, because I love the house that the children move into. But anything by Elizabeth Enright is worth reading.
  • Maida's Little Shop by Inez Haynes Irwin. Maida's Little Shop was originally published in 1910, and was the first of a series of 15 books about the motherless daughter of a magnanimous tycoon, and her close-knit group of friends. I can't really say how these books hold up for new readers, but they were among the first books that I loved and collected. The Maida books also taught me, early, that children's books are not just for children. My grandmother introduced them to me.
  • ForgottenDoor.jpgThe Forgotten Door by Alexander Key. My review. The Forgotten Door is the book that made me fall in love with science fiction. It's about a boy from an advanced world who falls through a long-unused door into our own world, where most people are less than kind. It's a slim novel, but one that makes readers think. Key also wrote Escape to Witch Mountain.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. A Wrinkle in Time is another classic title that taught me the joy of reading science fiction and fantasy novels. The bonus with AWIT, though, is that the main character feels so very real.
  • TheGiver.jpgThe Giver by Lois Lowry. The Giver was probably the book that ignited my passion for dystopian fiction. It is also famous for having an ambiguous ending (though that ending becomes more clear in a later companion story).
  • AnneOfGreenGables.jpgAnne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. I truly believe that Anne Shirley helped to shape the person that I became. There's a reason why people are still reading about her (and even writing prequels) after more than 100 years.
  • Clementine.jpgClementine by Sara Pennypacker (ill. Marla Frazee). My review. Clementine is a modern-day children's book character, one who I feel deserves a place right along with Pippi Longstocking and Ramona. Clementine is 100% real, and hilariously funny. I think that all early elementary school children should have a chance to read about her. I also enjoyed the next two books in the series, The Talented Clementine, and Clementine's Letter.
  • TheLightningThief.jpgThe Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. My review. The Lightning Thief is the first book in Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. These books are modern classics. I think that they will be read for generations. They are well-written, engrossing, funny, and filled with mythological details that never feel like lessons. The fifth and final book in the Percy Jackson series, The Last Olympian, is scheduled for publication tomorrow.
  • HarryPotter1.jpgHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling. Of course the Harry Potter books are modern classics, too. The thing that I like best about this series, apart from the fact that I enjoy reading the books, is the fact that they have turned millions of children and adults on to reading children's books. Their impact can't be over-estimated.
  • TheVelvetRoom.jpgThe Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. My reviews: here and here. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was probably my favorite author when I was growing up. Her books are filled with magic,, adventure, and memorable characters. My two favorites, The Velvet Room and The Changeling, are books that I read over and over again. The Velvet Room also houses my favorite fictional room from children's literature. [Update: I just re-read this book, reading it aloud to Baby Bookworm. It held up beautifully. The slower pace of reading it aloud just made me appreciate Snyder's insights that much more. Baby Bookworm will have to hear it again when she's older before she's ready to comment.]

One thing that's clear to me from assembling this list is how strong childhood loyalties are. It take a lot for a recent title to push aside one of my childhood favorites. But the ones on this list made the cut. What are your favorite children's books? Are you able to find recent titles that take their place alongside your childhood favorites, or do your childhood preferences reign supreme?

This list was originally published at Booklights on May 4, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.

10 Favorite Picture Books: A Booklights Reissue

Booklights As some of you know, I was a contributing blogger at the Booklights blog at PBS Parents in 2009 and early 2010. Booklights has ended now (my goodbye post is here). Although all of the Booklights posts remain on the PBS site right now, I've decided to follow Pam's example and republish a selection of my Booklights posts here. Just in case... Booklights was a great experience, and I would hate to see some of these posts vanish into the ether someday.

I decided to begin with my second post for Booklights: Favorite Picture Books: Jen. Although I've read lots of other picture books since I created this list in 2009, I still think it's as good a list as any I could come up with.

10 Favorite Picture Books


Recently [that is, back in 2009], fellow blogger Betsy Bird (aka A Fuse #8 Production) asked a variety of children's book fans to each share their top 10 picture books of all time. Betsy has compiled those lists to come up with a Top 100 Picture Books list (starting here) [Updated: final top 100 list here]. Here is my personal top 10 list, not previously shared anywhere else. I tried to keep it a mix of older and newer titles.

  1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are is a true classic, the ultimate tale of the strength of the imagination. Plus the illustrations are amazing! This was my favorite book as a child, and it holds up well.
  2. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. This choice is a nod to my childhood in Boston. The ducklings are part of many people's cultural heritage. They deserve a place on my list.
  3. A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker (ill. Kady Macdonald Denton). My review. A Visitor for Bear is a book that simply cries out to be read aloud. It is pitch-perfect for toddlers, and my favorite new picture book in years.
  4. Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst (ill. Ray Cruz). This book captures essential truths about life, in a humorous package, and is unforgettable.
  5. The House Takes a Vacation by Jacqueline Davies (ill. Lee White). My review. This book has gorgeous illustrations, and spot-on humor for preschoolers. It offers new tidbits on every re-read.
  6. Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt. My review. Scaredy Squirrel is a fabulous character - the books are funny and creative, and validating for young readers nervous about the world around them.
  7. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin (ill. Betsy Lewin). This is one of my favorite gift books for computer-savvy parents - a reminder to celebrate the ridiculous.
  8. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin (ill. Eric Carle). Brown Bear is a book that toddlers want to have read read and re-read. The rhythm is excellent for read-aloud.
  9. Duck and Goose by Tad Hills. This is a modern favorite, with gentle humor, bright illustrations, and engaging characters. A must-have for any preschooler's library.
  10. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. What can I say that hasn't already been said? The Pigeon, though relatively young, is already a cultural icon. Kids LOVE these books.

978076145331402.jpgOf course I can name lots of other wonderful books, and even now I'm tempted to replace some of these with other favorites. But these are all books that have stood, or that I feel will stand, the test of time.

How about you? What are your favorite picture books?

This list was originally published at Booklights on April 24, 2009. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.

Children's Literacy Roundup: Mid-November Edition

Jpg_book008The mid-November children’s literacy and reading news round-up, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub blog, and Rasco from RIF, is now available at the Reading Tub. Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco and I have collected plenty of content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; and suggestions for growing bookworms.

Terry has news from some of our favorite non-profits, including RIF, Reach Out and Read, and First Book. She also shares the Twitter IDs of some children's book characters, and a great picture book giveaway (two sets of 25 picture books each) from MotherReader. And she has the scoop on the fabulous new #ARCsFloatOn campaign launched by Sarah from The Reading Zone and Donalyn Miller from The Book Whisperer. And lots more. All in all, it's a not-to-be-missed roundup of news for those interested in children's literacy and reading.

I'd also like to mention an interview that Terry was too modest to include in the main roundup. Aaron Mead from Children's Books and Reviews interviewed Terry last week about her work at the Reading Tub, and her thoughts about children's literacy. It's full of great soundbytes like:

  • "Even in your (cough) 40s (cough) you can learn a lot from Kindergartners!"
  • "Reading is like exercise – to be “fit” you need to do some every day. It may help to remember that reading is like breathing: it is a natural part of our existence."

Terry also explains how these roundups came to be, for anyone who might be interested in that. The whole interview is well worth a look. You can also read past interviews that Aaron did with me and with Carol. Carol, Terry, and I have yet to all be in the same room together, but we have all visited virtually with Aaron, and we appreciate it.

Thanks for tuning in! Carol will be up later this month with some end of the month news, and a look forward to December events (of which I'm sure there'll be many), and I'll be back in early December with more tidbits for you. And of course you can always follow Terry, Carol, and me on Twitter to get your #literacy fix in the meantime. Have a great week!

Very Quick Saturday Afternoon Visits

I miss the days when I could spend a whole day every weekend preparing my "Sunday Visits" posts, for which I'd skim hundreds of blog posts, selecting and blurbing the ones that most caught my eye. These days, with a seven-month-old and a full-time job, I'm lucky if I have time to read my email, let alone 300 blogs. I do have hopes of getting back into sharing Kidlitosphere news regularly, but for today, I just have a couple of tidbits to share that have come my way.

First up, a relatively new blog that I've been reading is Read Aloud Dad. I like this blog so much that I've subscribed to receive the posts by email. It's written by a father who reads aloud to his preschool age twins. He recommends whether you should buy, borrow, or pass on the discussed books. I love (and am somewhat envious of) his review policy: "All reviewed books were bought by Read Aloud Dad, after detailed consideration. I took great care to find the best books and editions for my kids."

Handbook Today Read Aloud Dad has a post about five ways to find the best real-alouds. It's a nice, succinct post, complete with examples and recommended resources (the Read-Aloud Handbook and several other titles). A great starting point for anyone struggling with this issue, or anyone new to parenthood looking to get started with the read-aloud process. (And yes, he did recommend my blog, but I would have recommended the post anyway - clearly Read Aloud Dad and I are kindred spirits on this matter). 

Explosionist The second thing I'd like to share is a contest that Leila just announced at Bookshelves of Doom, part of a planned week-long, cross-blog celebration of Alt History and Steampunk novels. The whole concept stemmed from some offline discussion about how sad it is that certain wonderful YA novels in this genre aren't receiving more attention (I'm reading one right now: The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson). And how part of the reason for that is that some of these books have covers that aren't doing the job of drawing in the target audience. Here's the contest, straight from Leila:

"Create a book cover -- something that would attract you (or an audience that you think is missing out on the series) WHILE ALSO reflecting the contents and tone of the story -- for one of D.M. Cornish's books (starting with Monster Blood Tattoo), for either Jenny Davidson's The Explosionist or Invisible Things, or for one of Ysabeau Wilce's Flora Segunda books. (Just one! You don't have to do one of each! I mean, unless you want to, obvs.)"

SteampunkWeek So, if cover design is your thing, check out these books and get started (more details here). There are prizes! And if you're interested in alt history or steampunk novels, stayed tuned for what promises to be some smart discussion the week of December 13th. This, folks, is the kind of thing that the Kidlitosphere can do. Bring attention to books and genres that are receiving less attention than they deserve, all the while celebrating individual creativity. [Steampunk week graphic created by the talented Sarah Stevenson]

Finally, my congratulations to Colleen Mondor from Chasing Ray on her new book contract! I'd recommend Colleen's recent post about this to any aspiring writers. Colleen shares her feelings on what it feels like to have a life-long dream fulfilled (and what it feels like to have deferred that dream for as long as she did). She also talks about the importance of the support of her blogging/reading/reviewing friends in making it this far. What I especially like about this post is that it's a reminder that online communities can be real communities, with friendships and support groups that matter.

I've missed spending time highlighting the accomplishments of my Kidlitosphere peeps as much as I once did (though parenthood is certainly worth it). Thanks for tuning in for these today!

Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon: Jenni Holm and Matt Holm

Book: Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon
Author: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10

Cupcake I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: I LOVE Babymouse. I don't review all of the books, because, honestly, how useful is it to my audience for me to keep saying the same thing over and over again? Periodically, however, I give in to the urge to gush about these books. And given that the 13th installment of this series is about cupcakes, libraries, and the love of books, how could I possibly resist?

In Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon, our intrepid heroine, in typical fashion, allows her imagination to run away with her while climbing the stacks in the library (she's Indiana Jones in the Tomb of the Unknown Fraction). To replace the books lost in the resulting flood (groan), the school decides to hold a fundraiser. In a dream come true for Babymouse, the students will be selling cupcakes to benefit the library. Not only that, there's a special, top-secret prize in store for the person who sells the most cupcakes.

Babymouse, needless to say, is on the job. She finds herself in fierce competition with nemesis Felicia, and she suffers mightily in her quest. Will she prevail? Will the library get lots of great new books? Will Babymouse be the school's hero, and become a famous cupcake tycoon? I can't tell you the ending, can I? Go and read the book.

Things I especially liked about this installment:

  • The library as bucolic, book-filled paradise (complete with a river of letters) (page 15)
  • Image of Babymouse's jaw literally dropping to the floor in surprise (page 50)
  • Image of it literally raining cats and dogs (page 76)

I think that my favorite thing about these books, besides the indomitable character of Babymouse herself, is the dry exchanges between Babymouse and her narrator. For example, she's all excited to sell cupcakes, and he comments: "Because of your track record of excellent salesmanship?" (after reminders of less than successful prior fundraisers) (page 27)

Fans of the Babymouse series won't want to miss this installment. Neither will fans of books and libraries, elementary school graphic novel afficianados, or anyone who likes the color pink. And if you love cupcakes, well, Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon is the book for you. If somehow you don't fall into any of these categories (is that possible?), then I fear you can't be helped. No cupcakes for you!

In all seriousness, though, Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon is wonderful. It should provide further incentive for all of us not to outgrow an appreciation for Babymouse. And cupcakes.

Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: September 28, 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).

The Necropolis: P.J. Hoover

Book: The Necropolis, The Forgotten Worlds Trilogy, Book 3
Author: P. J. Hoover (blog)
Pages: 320
Age Range: 10-14

Necropolis The Necropolis is the final book in P.J. Hoover's middle grade science fiction trilogy, The Forgotten Worlds. The premise of the series is that the world has two additional, hidden continents, Atlantis and Lemuria, both populated by telegens. Telegens, like protagonist Benjamin Holt, are similar to humans, but with special abilities like telekinesis and telepathy. Benjamin is special even among telegens, and finds himself, with the help of a core group of friends, on a mission to save the world.

I don't want to say too much about the plot of this third book, because I'd rather recommend that you go read the whole series. So I'll just say that these are complex books, with plots that jump around in time and space (the characters literally jumping, via teleportation and time travel), and a fairly large cast of characters. The Necropolis has everything from Oracles to telekinetic bonds to DNA-splicing. Apollo and Chronos both play a part, as do the Egyptian pyramids. This makes for a nice mix of pure science fiction and mythology (as explained by science fiction).

This is all set against a backdrop of middle school relationships. Benjamin has a very poorly concealed crush on his friend Heidi. He and his friend Andy feel too awkward to show their affection for one another (only hugging the girls after dangerous moments). There's a bit of rivalry between the boys over telegenetic skills. And all of this is conveyed using a light-hearted, matter-of-fact tone that feels just right for the audience and subject matter. Here are a couple of examples:

"Man, Heidi really had a nice smile. Not that Benjamin noticed. But there was just something about it that made his insides feel kind of squishy and warm." (Page 42, ARC)

"Benjamin teleported a couple hallways away. Sitting down on a bench, he took a moment to gather his thoughts. In the space of only a couple hours, he'd moved from Virginia, found out Nathan Nyx was his crazy half-brother who planned to kill him, and learned that Iva had known everything all along. He couldn't believe she hadn't told him. Was she so caught up in Andy that she'd forgotten about Benjamin's burden? As if he wanted to save the world." (Page 11, ARC)

See? Adolescent angst, crazy half-brothers, teleportation, and saving the world, all in one paragraph. Perfect! Though I must confess that my favorite characters are the two Nogicals, little genetically engineered creatures with green skin, strong telekinetic abilities, and a hearty dose of sibling rivalry.

The Necropolis is a solid ending to an enjoyable series. My only complaint is that I wish that I had gone back to read The Emerald Tablet and The Navel of the World before reading this one. (And I could have - I have all three books - I just didn't take the time.) I think I would have enjoyed the experience more if I had read all three books together, keeping all of the details in my woefully short memory. Which makes it an opportunity for new readers of the series to dive in and read all of the books together. Amazon lists this series as being for 9-12 year olds, but I think it's more of a middle school than an elementary school series.

As I've said before, I think that there's a shortage of good science fiction for kids. And the Forgotten World series goes a long way towards filling that gap. The mix of gods, mental powers, and teenage interpersonal relationships is just right for the target audience. HIghly recommended.

Publisher: CBAY Books
Publication Date: October 16, 2010
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the author

© 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: November 8

Jpg_book007Today 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 and young adult books and raising readers. There are 1310 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once a month.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have three book reviews (two picture books and one young adult title), along with three children's literacy roundups (one here, one posted in detail at Rasco from RIF, and one at The Reading Tub). I also have a wrap-up post from the fourth annual conference of kidlitosphere bloggers (KidLitCon 2010).

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I finished:

  • P. J. Hoover: The Necropolis (Forgotten Worlds Trilogy, Book 3). CBAY Books. Completed November 8, 2010. Review forthcoming.
  • Cassandra Clare: The Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, Book 1). Margaret K. McElderry. Completed October 19, on MP3. Set in the same world as Clare's Mortal Instruments series, but set in the Victorian era, and a little bit darker in tone. Fans of the first series won't want to miss this one - it's fun seeing glimpses of the ancestors of the characters in the other books.  
  • Sarah Beth Durst: Enchanted Ivy. Margaret K. McElderry. Completed October 21, 2010. My review.
  • Louise Penny: The Brutal Telling: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel. Minotaur Books. Completed October 24, 2010, on the way home from KidLitCon. The second-to-latest installment in this mystery series, set in a small Quebec village. This series just keeps getting better and better. Very well-written.
  • Michael Connelly: The Reversal. Little Brown. Completed October 28, on MP3. A Bosch/Haller mystery (Connelly often brings together his two series leads these days) about the re-trial of a previously convicted child killer (not quite as dark as it sounds, because the crime happened far in the past).
  • Lee Child: Worth Dying For (Reacher #15). Delacorte. Completed November 4, 2010, on MP3. I normally love the Reacher series, and recommend them to all of my friends. This one, however, I found a bit too bleak even for my taste. It may be that it just wasn't well-suited to audio, and the slower pace of listening vs. reading. This won't stop me from eagerly awaiting the next book, though.
  • Dennis Lehane: Moonlight Mile. William Morrow. Completed November 6, 2010. On MP3. This is Lehane's first return to the Patrick/Angie series in several years, and also revisits the 12-year-old case of a missing child that led to the movie Gone, Baby, Gone. I enjoyed it, but I must admit that my favorite thing about the book was that several scenes were set near where I used to live, and very near to where my in-laws live. Lehane's details are 100% authentic, as is Patrick's native Boston resident voice.

ABCBabyMeCover I'm still reading The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh to Baby Bookworm, and we're almost through with one of my all-time favorites, The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Of course we're reading various picture books and board books, too. I'm especially enjoying The Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown (a gift for BB from a very dear friend) and ABC Baby Me by Susan B. Katz. I'm also having fun re-reading a childhood favorite, Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel.

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).

The Goodnight Train: June Sobel and Laura Huliska-Beith

Book: The Goodnight Train
Author: June Sobel
Illustrator: Laura Huliska-Beith
Pages: 32
Age Range: 0-3

Train I'm reading a variety of picture books to Baby Bookworm these days. One of our favorites is The Goodnight Train, written by June Sobel and illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith. I like it mostly because of the words - it's a joyful, rollicking tale with a nice cadence to it, perfect for reading aloud. Baby Bookworm seems to like the brightly colored, busy illustrations. She stares very intently at the pages.

The Goodnight Train is a bedtime book, as you might expect from the title. The train cars are beds and bathtubs, the passengers wear pajamas and slippers, and the porter carries pillows around. The train takes a somewhat surreal journey through tunnels and past fields of sheep, until arriving home at last, passengers all asleep.

Every page spread has a rhyming couplet, like:

"Find your sleepers! Grab your teddy.
Climb right up! Your bed is ready!"


"Slumber, lumber up the hill.
Cars climb slowly up until..."

Many of the pages also have train sounds, with a goodnight flair, like:

"Rock-a, rock-a, rock-a, rock-a -
Shhhhhhhhhhhh! Shhhhhhhhhhh!"

The train sounds are particularly fun to read aloud.

Huliska-Beith's illustrations are done in acrylic paints with fabric and paper collage, giving them a 3-dimensional aspect. The colors start out bright and warm, but become gradually cooler and more subdued as the train progresses along its journey. There are fun quirks, like an oversized toothbrush used to scrub the kids in the tub, and a pig for a porter. They're the kind of illustrations that just make the viewer happy to look at them.

If you have small children, I recommend that you consider adding The Goodnight Train to your bedtime reading arsenal. You won't be disappointed.   

Publisher: Harcourt
Publication Date: September 1, 2006
Source of Book: A gift for Baby Bookworm

© 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).

Maneki Neko: Susan Lendroth and Kathryn Otoshi

Book: Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat
Author: Susan Lendroth
Illustrator: Kathryn Otoshi
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

ManekiIn many Asian countries, images of a cat with a beckoning paw are used as a symbol of good luck. Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat, written by Susan Lendroth and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi, retells the Japanese legend of how Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat, came to be. It's a good story, heartwarming without being cloying, a bit scary in the middle, with an appropriately happy ending.

This is a picture book to read to 4 to 8 year old set, rather than a book for babies. There's a fair bit of text on each page, and a sprinkling of Japanese terms throughout the book (explained via a handy glossary at the end of the book). The relatively advanced vocabulary includes words like "murmured" and "torrential", though the meanings will likely be clear from context. It's a story that adults can enjoy, too, with passages like:

"Days slipped into weeks and months slipped into years until one morning the air hung heavy and strangely still." (Though I was surprised to see the next passage "The sun shown with fierce heat..." Really? The sun shown? Am I missing something? But that aside...)

Kathryn Otoshi's illustrations complement the story, with a series of deep purple/blue/green pages representing a storm, and a warm glow shining through in the storm's aftermath. The characters' postures convey their emotions, and there are a nice range of people represented in the village. The cat, as you can see on the cover image above, is adorable.

Recommended for fans of folk tales, legends, and stories from other countries, and for anyone who likes cats. Although I'm not a cat person myself, I will be keeping this one for Baby Bookworm for when she is older. I think that she'll enjoy it.

Publisher: Shen's Books
Publication Date: July 19, 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).