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Posts from February 2011

The E.B. White Read Aloud Awards: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on September 21, 2009. It has been modified here to add the 2010 award winners (for books published in 2009). The 2011 shortlists will be announced in April.

The E.B. White Read Aloud Awards

eb-white-award-final-emboss.gifPam and Susan K. have both written recently about reading aloud with kids (here and here). Pam asked readers about their favorite read-aloud chapter books, and received some excellent suggestions. I thought that this would be a good time to talk about the E.B. White Read Aloud Awards, another great source for family reading titles.

The E.B. White Read Aloud awards are awarded by the Association of Booksellers for Children. Here's the description from the ABC website:

"The E.B. White Read Aloud Awards, established in 2004, honor books that reflect the universal read aloud standards that were created by the work of the author E.B. White in his classic books for children: Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. In the first two years of the award, a single book was selected. In 2006, in recognition of the fact that reading aloud is a pleasure at any age, the award was expanded into two categories: Picture Books, and Older Readers. Books are nominated for their universal appeal as a "terrific" books to read aloud."

The books are selected and judged by ABC Booksellers. And I, for one, think that they've been doing an excellent job. Here are the recent winners (note that the award is given for books published during the previous year, so the 2009 winners were published in 2008, etc.):

Curious The 2010 Award for Picture Books: The Curious Garden, written and illustrated by Peter Brown (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers). We received a copy of this book as a gift for Baby Bookworm, and we love it. I reviewed it here, saying: "It's the sort of book that one wants to read aloud... There's no word-play. It's straight-up narrative text, written with a relatively advanced vocabulary, but the innate suspense of the story propels the reader forward."

Brilliant-fall The 2010 Award for Older Readers: The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner (Walker Books for Young Readers). I reviewed this one here, saying: "I liked the way the many threads of the story came together, and the balance between happy and realistic endings... I think that The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. will work well for fifth or sixth grade girls, especially those of an artistic or outdoorsy disposition. I could see it as a classroom read-aloud, too. There's plenty to discuss, and Zig is a strong enough character to pull in the boys."

Visitor for Bear.jpgThe 2009 Award for Picture Books: A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Candlewick). A Visitor for Bear is one my all-time favorites. It's about a grumpy bear, dragged reluctantly into friendship by a determined mouse. I reviewed it here. I said: "what really made me LOVE the book is the tremendous read-aloud potential. By the second page I was reading aloud to myself in an empty house. The use of repetition, the presence of informal asides, and the varying font sizes to indicate emphasis all contribute to what is nothing less than a compulsion to read this book out loud."

masterpiece.jpgThe 2009 Award for Older Readers: Masterpiece by Elise Broach, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Henry Holt). I read Masterpiece in part because it had won this award. It's about an unlikely friendship between a boy named James and a beetle named Marvin. While Masterpiece is about art forgery, and Marvin's adventures out in the wide world, at it's heart it is a story of friendship. My review is here. I said "Masterpiece is wonderful! It's the type of book that ought to become a classic over time, set alongside The Borrowers and A Cricket in Times Square... This is a must-read title for children and adults."

The 2008 Award for Picture Books: When Dinosaurs Came With Everything by Elise Broach, illustrated by David Small (Simon & Schuster). This one, I must confess, I have not read. But fellow Cybils organizer Kerry from Shelf Elf reviewed it back in 2007. She said: "All kids love free stuff. A lot of kids love dinosaurs. So, for many kids, a world where dinosaurs came free with everything would more or less equal total bliss. A picture book that is cute, clever and charmingly illustrated is for me, more or less total bliss." It sounds fun, doesn't it? I'll have to give this one a look.

mysteriousbenedict.jpgThe 2008 Award for Older Readers: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers). This book is an exciting adventure story, filled with puzzles, for middle grade readers. It's about a group of talented children recruited to work as investigators for a mysterious benefactor. As I noted in my review, the book has a bit of an old-fashioned feel, but it's also funny on multiple levels. My review of this title is here, of book 2 is here, and of book 3 is here.

The 2007 Award For Picture Books: Houndsley and Catina by James Howe, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay (Candlewick Press). I haven't read this title, but another book in the series, Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time, was shortlisted last year in the Easy Reader category of the Cybils, for which I was a judge. I liked it very much. Cybils panelist Andi from A Wrung Sponge reviewed it, saying: "Howe's language is so poetic in spite of the limited vocabulary and concrete imagery that beginning readers require... I find this book to be a gem that will hold readers of all ages in the magic. It's as sweet as a read-aloud as it is a beginning reader. You must find this and snap it up!"

The 2007 Award For Older Readers: Alabama Moon by Watt Key (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). I read Alabama Moon earlier this year, because one of my blog readers recommended it to me. It's about a 10-year old boy named Moon who is raised alone in the woods by his survivalist father. When his father dies, he has to learn to interact with other people. It's an excellent adventure story, great for boys, one that is also genuinely moving. I think that what makes this book a good read-aloud title is the strength and uniqueness of Moon's voice. My review is here. I haven't read the new companion novel, Dirt Road Home, yet, but it is a 2010 Cybils shortlist title for Young Adult Fiction.

As you can see, the ABC Booksellers have an excellent track record in picking fine titles for this award. To see the E.B. White Read Aloud Award titles from 2004-2006, click here. What titles do you think will make the E.B. White Read Aloud shortlists for 2011?

This post was originally published at Booklights on September 21, 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 and Reading News Roundup: February in Review

JkrROUNDUPThe end of February children’s literacy and reading news roundup, 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 Rasco from RIF. How Carol found time for this, in the midst of her fight for RIF's life, I do not know. But I do know that she lots of exciting award announcements, tidbits from the American International Toy Fair 2011, thoughts on other current events and controversies, and a look forward at interesting events of March and April. (Did you know that March 9th is Barbie's birthday? I did not.)

I had deliberately missed the controversy over Martin Amis' insult to children's book writers, so I was glad to see Carol summarize. Amis said “People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children’s book. I say, ‘If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children’s book…..” - sigh! Carol links to and quotes from some of the responses to that piece, as well as a New York Times Magazine piece that calls YA literature a "teenage wasteland".

Head on over to Rasco from RIF for the full roundup. And I'll be back with more literacy and reading news in just a few days. Stay tuned after that for the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour, coming March 7-11. Happy reading!

One Was A Soldier: Julia Spencer-Fleming

Book: One Was A Soldier (A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery)
Author: Julia Spencer-Fleming
Pages: 336
Age Range: Adult

OneWasASoldier Background: I don't generally review fiction published for adults on this blog. However, I make the occasional exception for some of my favorite mystery series. I have found a considerable overlap between adults who read children's and young adult literature and adults who enjoy mysteries - so I figure I'm doing my audience a small service.

Review: One Was A Soldier is the 7th title (due out in early April) in Julia Spencer-Fleming's Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series, set in Millers Kill, NY. If you haven't read the earlier books in the series, I recommend that you do so before reading this review. The Fergusson/Van Alstyne books feature a small town police chief who falls in love with an Episcopal priest. [Some additional background on the series is included in my review of Book 6.]

As One Was A Soldier begins, Russ and Clare are finally free to be together, after overcoming various hurdles. Clare is back from 18 months flying helicopters in Iraq, and Russ has an engagement ring in his pocket. The events of the summer are described via the shifting viewpoints of several characters (including Clare, Russ, and rookie police officer Hadley Knox). Interspersed between these passages are flashes forward to September meetings of Clare's veterans' counseling group, from the relatively objective viewpoint of the group's leader. The two timelines eventually meet, mid-way through the book.

The mystery in One Was A Soldier involves the suspicious death of a newly returned soldier, a death that strikes a bit too close to home for Clare. Her tenacious investigation of this death threatens to create a rift between Clare and Russ, and puts various members of the counseling group in danger. The plot is complex, involving a variety of different threads and a host of potential suspects. Mystery fans will find themselves mulling this one over, trying to solve the puzzle.

But One Was A Soldier is really about the physical and emotional scars that war leaves on people. Clare is traumatized, having nightmares, drinking too much, and relying on pharmaceutical help to get her through her work-filled days. Another member of the group has serious anger issues, while another struggles to conceal his memory problems. All of these damaged individuals are portrayed sympathetically, but unflinchingly.

One Was A Soldier is not an easy book. Those looking to mysteries for "comfort reads" will probably want to look elsewhere. Readers have to pay close attention to keep up with the shifts in time and viewpoint, and the intersecting details of the various stories. And seeing Clare struggle, for fans who have loved her through six earlier books, is gut-wrenching. But for those who are prepared to invest the time and effort, this is a very rewarding read.

One Was A Soldier offers a window into the reintegration challenges that soldiers face. This is set against an intriguing puzzle, the ongoing personal progress and mis-steps of the characters, and, fortunately, dry witticisms that lighten the tone. I think that Russ is my favorite viewpoint character. He's full of heart, but with a wry tone. Like:

"Clare gestured with her head toward the CIC lounge across from the elevators. He resisted the urge to wrap his arms around her and tote her into the room, settling for walking just behind her to catch her if she fell. The waiting room was done in early modern Valium, all mellow colors and soft lights." (Page 61, ARC)

I love "early modern Valium". So true! And I love Russ's banter with his long-time deputy, Lyle MacAuley:

"MacAuley let his half-smile drop. "Seriously. The only young MP I know is Eric McCrea, and I'll tell you, if I had to go pick him up for something, I sure wouldn't do it without backup."

Russ nodded. "Yeah. Okay. you're right."

"I usually am. It's save us a lot of time if you'd just start from that premise."" (Page 90, ARC)

I talked in my last review about the difficulty of maintaining tension in a series in which unrequited passion is a major component of the plot. I'm happy to report that Spencer-Fleming continues to pull this off. As an unmarried priest in a small town, Clare can hardly just have Russ move in. So the two are still not able to be together as much as they would like. And, oh, how it pains them to be apart. They're also two strong-willed people who don't always agree, and that keeps the tension going, too. I think that the author is doing a nice job of giving this long-suffering couple some happiness, without making "happily ever after" boring.

But for readers looking for unrequited passion, Spencer-Fleming also continues to explore the (non)relationship between younger officers Hadley Knox and Kevin Flynn. She has a real flair for writing about longing, I must say.

In summary, One Was A Soldier is a must-read addition to the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series. Readers who care about the residents of Millers Kill won't want to miss it. And for anyone looking for a smart series with intriguing puzzles and nuanced characters, these books are hard to beat. This installment is particularly strong, and quite timely, with all of the violence going on in the Middle East. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: April 12, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author

© 2011 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).

Dark Mirror: M. J. Putney

Book: Dark Mirror
Author: M. J. Putney
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

Darkmirror I picked up Dark Mirror because I've been listening to Georgette Heyer regency-era romances lately, and I was intrigued by the idea of a regency romance for teens with magic as part of the story. And while I can't say that M. J. Putney's historical world-building is on a par with Heyer's, I did find the book enjoyable.

Lady Victoria (Tory) Mansfield is the privileged youngest daughter of the Earl of Fairmount. She anticipates her "coming out", and has every expectation of making a good marriage. However, Tory has a secret, and when her secret is revealed, she is banished from polite society. Just what is Tory's shameful secret? She can fly. Magical powers are shunned by the aristocracy in 1803, and Tory's family sends her away to a prisonlike school called Lackland Abbey to be "cured". Instead of a cure, however, Tory finds a new life, one in which, despite being a woman, she can make a real difference in the world.  

There is romance. There is time travel. There are friendships and deprivations and perilous situations. And there is magic surrounding it all. A note explains that this book stemmed from the author's "what if" musings regarding an actual historical event (which I won't reveal, to maintain suspense). That event is integrated seamlessly into the book, and is likely, I think, to send readers off looking for more information. I was quite moved by the book's ending, knowing a bit about the true history.

I like how the magic is portrayed in Dark Mirror. People either have magical ability or they don't, with the specifics and degree of each person's ability varying. They have to work hard to learn how to use their magic, and using it tires them out. There are no spells. Magic requires a combination of innate ability and training.

I also like Tory as a character. She's strong-willed, but she feels like a strong-willed Regency heroine, rather than a modern-day girl plunked down in the past. This is especially true when she travels to a different time than her own. The other characters are, for the most part, likeable, too. I'll want to read the next book about these characters, Dark Passage, when it comes out in the fall.

I do have a few quibbles. I thought that Putney took a long time to get to the action in Dark Mirror - quite a bit of time is spent setting up Tory's situation at Lackland Abbey, only to have her time travel away from there for the real story. I was also struck by the lack of a real antagonist (beyond generic groups of people).

I was initially a bit skeptical about the cover of Dark Mirror, which to me speaks much more to adult romance novel than YA paranormal. Perhaps the publisher is trying to appeal to Putney's adult audience (she is a prolific author of romance novels for adults). And I actually think that Putney's adult audience will find a lot to like here. But young adult audiences will notice a bit more of a romance novel slant than they may be used to. Nothing inappropriate (Dark Mirror is actually much tamer than many YA paranormals), but Dark Mirror has a different feel to it than, say, books by Maggie Stiefvater or Kristin Cashore.

After thinking about it some more, I've decided that the cover is true to what the book is. My take is that Dark Mirror is a Regency-era historical romance that features teen protagonists and magical elements, as opposed to a YA paranormal that happens to be set in Regency times. I suspect that this will make it a good crossover novel, one that teenage girls and their mothers can enjoy together. It might even entice some of those mothers to look more young adult fantasy novels - a happy outcome indeed. If the combination of Regency romance, magic, and time travel sounds appealing to you, you'll find Dark Mirror well worth a look.

Publisher: St. Martins Griffin
Publication Date: March 1, 2011
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher

© 2011 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).

What I Saw and How I Lied: Judy Blundell

Book: What I Saw and How I Lied
Author: Judy Blundell (blog)
Pages: 288
Age Range: 12 and up


Judy Blundell's What I Saw and How I Lied won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2008. It was always on my radar, but I finally got to it last week. What I Saw and How I Lied is top-notch historical fiction with a noir slant. The story opens with narrator Evie in a Florida hotel room with her mother, the pair ostracized after some unnamed tragedy. Evie then goes back to tell the story from the beginning, leaving the reader aware the whole time that things are not going to go well.

What I Saw and How I Lied is set in 1947, when "the war was over (and) everyone wanted a new car." Most of the story takes place in off-season Palm Beach. Blundell's sense of time and place is palpable. There are details anchoring the book on practically every page, from "In the basket I had a bottle of cream soda and two Baby Ruths" (page 2) to "Afterward we stopped at a filling station for icy cold Cokes. They had two water fountains, one for Whites and one for Coloreds" (Page 116). The very fonts of the chapter headings evoke the post-WWII era.

Blundell's descriptions, in addition to capturing the historical details, are full of sounds and smells and textures. Here's an example:

"I breathed in and out, perfume and smoke, perfume and smoke, and we lay like that for a long time, until I heard the seagulls crying, sadder than a funeral, and I knew it was almost morning." (Page 2)

What I Saw and How I Lied is a window into a time and place, a window that smells and sounds can filter right through. It's also a mystery/suspense novel, one likely to intrigue readers of all ages. Evie has a handsome young love interest, a charming stepfather, and a "knockout" mother. Readers will see elements of the tragedy coming long before Evie does - but Evie's innocence is part of the book's charm.

At its heart, What I Saw and How I Lied is a coming of age story. Evie grows from sheltered schoolgirl to adulthood in less than 300 pages. Here's some foreshadowing:

"Just one dance. Just one. That's all I wanted.

I know now how you can take one step and you can't stop yourself from taking another. I know now what it means to want. I know it can get you to a place where there's no way out. I know now that there's no such thing as just one. But I didn't know it then." (Page 42)

Evie is a strong character - she feels real from the first page. The adult characters are a bit less clear, but this is because Evie takes quite a while to see them clearly herself.

What I Saw and How I Lied is beautifully written, and likely to appeal to teens and adults. Just tell kids who don't like historical fiction that it's a mystery/suspense novel, and vice versa. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: 2008 (hardcover edition)
Source of Book: Bought it

© 2011 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: February 23

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 1357 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks or so.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book review posts (all picture books - some middlge grade and YA reviews to come for next time), along with one children's literacy roundup (posted in detail at The Reading Tub), a post about the Cybils winners, and an announcement about World Read Aloud Day. I also have reissues of two posts from Booklights about favorite series titles and types of series books.

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I finished five books (besides picture books and board books, see those here):

  • Sara Pennypacker (ill. Marla Frazee): Clementine, Friend of the Week. Hyperion. Read-aloud to Baby Bookworm. Completed February 13, 2011.
  • Judy Blundell: What I Saw and How I Lied. Scholastic. Completed February 17, 2011.
  • M. J. Putney: The Dark Mirror. St. Martins. Completed February 21, 2011.
  • Julia Spencer-Flemning: One Was A Soldier. Minotaur Books. Completed February 20, 2011.
  • Georgette Heyer: The Quiet Gentleman. Sourcebooks. Completed February 22, 2011, on MP3. I love Heyer, but I found that this one dragged a little on audio, because there's almost no banter between the main characters (though nominally a Regency romance, the Gothic-tinged main plot centers around an attempted murder).

Reviews of the first four above to come. Work has been rather hectic lately, and my "to be reviewed" stack is growing fast.

Turtle_sm I'm currently reading Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm. For a change of pace from Georgette Heyer, I'll be listening next to The Sentry (a Joe Pike novel) by Robert Crais. I've just started reading The Borrowers by Mary Norton aloud to Baby Bookworm. It's already even better than I remembered it.

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

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: Mid-February Edition

JkrROUNDUP The mid-February children’s literacy and reading news round-up, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book PageScrub-a-Dub-Tub, and Rasco from RIF is now available at The Reading Tub. Over the past couple of weeks Terry Doherty and I (mostly Terry this time, I must admit) have collected plenty of content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; and unwrapping literacy. Carol Rasco will be back with more tidbits later this month, and I'll have another roundup in early March.

Eve_re_acr_ame_photo As Terry noted, for such a short month, there's a lot going on, and still more to come in March. I'm excited for Read Across America Day on March 2nd (image credit Seussville). And of course, as I've previously mentioned, World Read Aloud Day will be celebrated on March 9th.

World Book Day is being celebrated on March 3rd in the UK this year. Terry has the scoop on a Librariathon being celebrated at Playing By the Book. I also received an email this week about a World Book Day celebration at Tidy Books, in partnership with Book Aid International. Tidy Books will be running a campaign via Facebook and Twitter, and on their blog, asking people to nominate either the book that changed their life, or their favourite book as a child. For every four nominations that they receive on the Tidy Books Facebook page, they will send a book to Africa, via Book Aid. This campaign will run from February 21st until March 3rd, so stay tuned to the Tidy Books Blog for details.

Terry's got lots of other news in the full roundup at The Reading Tub, so I'll just send you over there. Happy reading! Thanks for caring about children's literacy.

Monkey Truck: Michael Slack

Book: Monkey Truck
Author: Michael Slack
Pages: 32
Age Range: 1-4

Monkey Monkey Truck by Michael Slack is another title where the cover grabbed my immediate attention. There's a monkey, who is also a truck, against a bright yellow, banana-like background. It's fun already.

Monkey Truck is about the adventures of a monkey/truck who zooms through the jungle helping animals in trouble. "When there's trouble in the jungle, Monkey Truck knows what to do." He totes things about, forms himself into a bridge, and feeds hungry baby birds. Always with a smile on his face. Monkey Truck burns banana gas (which has a side-effect that toddlers will find amusing). And when a real emergency arises, Monkey Truck leaps into action to save the animals.

Monkey Truck is a book for the youngest of listeners. It's not quite a board book - the pages are flexible cardboard, thicker than regular paper, but not so chewable as a board book. The text is quite minimal - the focus is solidly on the comical jungle-themed illustrations. What text there is tends heavily toward sound effects ("vroom, vroom", etc.), making it a fun read-aloud for younger kids.

But really, the joy of Monkey Truck is Michael Slack's over-the-top illustrations, digitally painted and collaged in Photoshop. The colors are vibrant, jungle hues. The animals all have expressive faces, sometimes happy, sometimes scared. There's a lot of action, as seen by animals careening around the pages at odd angles. I found the hippos sliding down a waterfall particularly charming.

Monkey Truck is a fun read for active preschoolers, offered in a pleasingly sturdy package. It would be a good companion book to read with The Hiccupotamus by Aaron Zenz and Hippo Goes Bananas by Marjorie Dennis Murray.

Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: January 18, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 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).

Two Types of Series Books: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on September 7, 2009.

Two Types of Series Books

Inkheart Continuing my post on favorite series from last week, I've spent a bit of time thinking about two types of series books. The first type of series consists of multiple books that follow one primary story arc. Examples include the Inkheart series, the Percy Jackson books, and the Lord of the Rings series. While there are, of course, multiple plot streams within each of these series, the books are meant to be read together, to tell a single, epic, story. Clues are planted in one book that aren't explained until the end. There are sometimes major cliffhangers between books. When I wrote about series books last week, I limited my discussion to series with more than three titles, to keep the number of favorites under consideration manageable. But obviously, most trilogies fall within the spectrum of these single story arc series. In general, many fantasy titles fall within this single arc, multiple-book format.

Junie.jpgThe other type of series is more episodic. Susan alluded to this in her original post, when she talked about kids who need to read even the Magic Treehouse books in order (even though there's no strong continuing arc across the books). An episodic series (like the Captain Underpants, Junie B. Jones, and Encyclopedia Brown books, to name a few) might have dozens of titles. While the books generally all feature the same primary characters, each book has an independent storyline. This is commonly observed in mystery series (for kids and adults). The same characters solve each mystery, and the story is usually wrapped up within the course of each book.

Of course the difference between these two types of series is not always black and white. For example, in many episodic series (though by no means all) the characters experience personal growth and/or changes in their personal lives from book to book. This keeps the series from becoming flat, and adds an additional incentive for readers to pick up the next title. Still, there's nothing stopping a reader from picking up and reading a title from the middle of the series - the plot won't be confusing.

Also, just because a series ends after a few books doesn't mean that it was a single arc series. All of the books might be only loosely connected, and able to be read out of order. The end point of the series could be arbitrary. It's also not uncommon for something to start out as a standalone book, and then have one of more sequels added. By definition, such books weren't originally published to tell a single story. I don't think that we can expect them to hold up together as one, consistent story arc when they weren't planned that way (though the books may still be wonderful as individual books).

Still, despite some blurriness in this classification, I do think that this breakdown of single story arc vs. episodic is helpful in thinking about series books. The different formats serve different needs. Episodic series are a huge part of various markets, from early readers to adult mysteries. There's something satisfying about reading bite-sized books, at one's own leisure, and then having new books, with familiar characters, become available later. But there's nothing like a tightly-connected continuing series for generating excitement among readers. Harry Potter and Twilight together have created thousands upon thousands of avid readers (not to mention the Hunger Games Trilogy), in part because of the suspense from book to book, the compelling need to know how the series will end.

I've always remembered something that Rick Riordan said about this. He wrote on his blog, on the eve of publication of Harry Potter 7: "The series is still wonderful and I will be sad to see Harry go. On the other hand, I hope Rowling sticks to her guns and ends the series at seven. Nothing should go on forever. Even the best series must have a solid, strong ending. Again, I know many would argue with this. There are readers who would happily buy Harry Potter #28 years from now, but I think seven is plenty."

It seems to me that Riordan is talking more about the single story arc series than about episodic series like the Magic Treehouse books. For new readers who want to read 50 books from the same series, I would argue that it's great to have those 50 books available. And for me as a reader of adult mystery series, I hope that my favorite authors will keep those new mysteries coming.

All Harry Potter books.jpgBut for series based on one primary story, like the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books, I think there's real value in limiting the number of books. One of my favorite things about the last Harry Potter book was the way that Rowling hearkened all the way back to events from the first book. She made it clear that she had planned out the whole series in some detail. Stephenie Meyer did the same thing with the last Twilight book. This approach makes the reader feel cared for and respected, in a way that a more haphazard approach to ending a series can't.

What do you all think? Have you noticed this divide in series books? Do you favor one type or another? Or do you like different ones for different times? And do you have any suggestions for a better name for these single story-arc series that I'm talking about? ("Epic" arose in the comment discussion on the Booklights post. Does that work?)

This post was originally published at Booklights on September 7, 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.

Basil's Birds: Lynn Rowe Reed

Book: Basil's Birds
Author: Lynn Rowe Reed
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3 to 8

Basil's-Birds-jacket Basil's Birds by Lynn Rowe Reed is one of those books where the cover drew me in. I mean, take a look. There's a guy with a bird's nest on his head, and birds flying about, and he's smiling sort of a cheesy smile. Doesn't get much more kid-friendly than that, I'd say.

Basil Berkmeister is an elementary school janitor. When Principal Kabalsky orders him to get rid of the multitude of birds around the school, he works so hard that he wears himself out. While he naps, the birds find "the perfect place to build a new nest" - the top of Basil's head. Feeling sorry for the bird who worked so hard to build the nest, Basil decides to keep it (it's also a "great conversation piece", after all). And when three baby bird arrive, well, Basil learns what it's like to be a parent.

The illustrations in Basil's Birds are quite eye-catching. They were originally painted onto illustration boards, but then various scanned and photographed items were added via Photoshop. The bird's nest, for example, is a photo of a real bird's nest (photographed by Brian Art). And the birds were made of clay, and then scanned in. This causes the birds and nest to positively leap from the page, and is sure to intrigue curious young readers.

I also like the way that the story, although completely ridiculous, is told dead-pan. Like, let's just accept that this guy is going to walk around with a bird on his head, and focus on what he might feed the birds, and how best to entertain them. The picture of Basil singing lullabies to his baby birds, as they sing back, is my favorite.

There's a happy ending, but there's no moral, no lesson, nothing much to be learned. Basil's Birds is just what a reader expects from the first glimpse of the cover: pure entertainment. Recommended for preschool and elementary school readers, and anyone else with a keen appreciation for the ridiculous. This one is definitely going on our "keep" shelf.

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children's Books (@MarshallCav)
Publication Date: April 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 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).

Cybils Winners Announced Today


What are you going here? The Cybils winners are being announced this morning over at the Cybils blog. Head on over and check them out! Some dozen titles for children and young adults, all guaranteed to be kid-friendly and blogger-approved. You can't go wrong!

And, as I suggested last week, those Cybils-winning titles sure would make excellent Valentine's Day gifts, if you happen to be looking for one. [Even if it is a bit of a contrived holiday.] Books are much longer-lasting than flowers, or even chocolate. If you buy anything via the Amazon links on the Cybils blog, a portion of your purchase goes back to the Cybils organization, and is used the buy prizes for the winners. (Usually we buy engraved pens - also long-lasting.)

But in any case, whether you buy the books, or get them from your library, or borrow them from your friends, please do check out the Cybils winners. Many thanks to the dedicated panelists who selected these dozen books from hundreds and hundreds of nominated titles. Thanks also to the publishers and librarians who helped with review copies, and to the Cybils category organizers, who worked hard behind the scenes to keep the process running smoothly.

The 2010 Cybils winners are here! It's a happy day for children's book lovers of all ages.

A Dazzling Display of Dogs: Concrete Poems by Betsy Franco

Book: A Dazzling Display of Dogs: Concrete Poems
Author: Betsy Franco
Illustrator: Michael Wertz
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4 to 8

Dazzling I must admit that I wasn't familiar with "concrete poetry" when I first opened Betsy Franco's A Dazzling Display of Dogs. But the meaning of concrete poems (" in which the typographical arrangement of words is as important in conveying the intended effect as the conventional elements of the poem" - Wikipedia) was apparent from the first page. A Dazzling Display of Dogs features dozens of poems about dogs. All of them are displayed on the page in some fashion that reflects and enhances the topic of the poem. For example, a poem about a retired greyhound is written inside an oval band, like a racetrack. One about white medical collars fills the shape of the collar. One about lost dogs encompasses the text of a "missing" poster. And so on.

This style makes the poems a bit harder to read than conventional poems, of course. You have to figure out where the poem starts, and sometimes tilt your head, or turn the book, to continue. But one thing that I found impressive about Franco's poems is that I never had difficulty figuring out where to pause in reading the poems aloud, even in cases without obvious visual queues (like the poem about a circling dog written in a continuous spiral). Her cadences are strong and sure.

And the poems themselves are a lot of fun. I can imagine preschoolers and early elementary school kids, dog-lovers or not, laughing aloud at poems like "Pug Appeal", "Letting Gwen In and Out", and "Bedtime with Brownie". I hesitate to give quotes, since I can't convey the imagery that's part of the poems, but picture an entire poem about the only words that a dog hears (squirrel, walk, etc.). Or a haiku about a puppy piddling on the newspaper. I think that kids who are familiar with common dog behaviors will be particularly charmed.

A Dazzling Display of Dogs is educational, too. There's are examples of haiku and cinquain, and illustrations of a variety of types of dogs. One could spend considerable time with this book without becoming bored.

Michael Wertz's illustrations (started in pencil and finished using monoprints and Adobe Photoshop) are linked together by a common palette (lots of slate blue and soft orange) and graphical style, even though the shapes of the individual poems vary considerably. The dogs are all quite distinct from one another, and many of their personalities come across.

I found A Dazzling Display of Dogs to be clever and enjoyable. The same team published A Curious Collection of Cats in 2009, and I'm sure that it's a fun read, too. This pair of books would make a great gift for any young animal-lover, and would also be a wonderful introduction to poetry for kids of all ages. Recommended!

PoetryFridayButton I'm posting this review today in honor of Poetry Friday, a Kidlitosphere-wide weekly celebration of poetry. This week's Poetry Friday roundup is at Rasco from RIF. Check out Carol's post for lots of other poetry links.

Publisher: Tricycle Press (@CrownPublishing)
Publication Date: January 25, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 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).