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Posts from May 2011

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: May 17

JRBPlogo-smallToday 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 1396 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have three book review posts (all middle grade titles) and one children's literacy roundup. I also have two Booklights reissue posts with the fourth and fifth entries in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series. All of my posts from the past two weeks are included in the newsletter.

Reading Update: I spent two days away by myself last week, which significantly increased my reading total (it was a little reading/relaxing retreat - truly wonderful!). Since the last newsletter, I finished nine books (besides various picture books and board books, see those here and here):

  • Kristen Tracy: The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter. Delacorte Press. Completed May 5, 2011. My review.
  • Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm: Babymouse #14: Mad Scientist. Random House Books for Young Readers. Completed May 7, 2011.
  • Jennifer. L. Holm and Matt Holm: Squish #1: Super Amoeba. Random House Books for Young Readers. Completed May 8, 2011. My review.
  • Jeanne Birdsall: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Completed May 11, 2011.
  • Roald Dahl: Matilda. Puffin. Completed May 16, 2011, on MP3. Fun to listen to this book, and compare it to the movie, which I love (the movie is pretty true to the book, but with some added detail).
  • Gary D. Schmidt: Okay for Now. Clarion. Completed May 16, 2011. This book is so, so wonderful!
  • Cecelia Ahern: The Book of Tomorrow. Harper. Completed May 12, 2011.
  • Lauren Myracle: Bliss. Amulet. Completed May 12, 2011.
  • Meg Cabot: Abandon. Point. Completed May 13, 2011.

Reviews for some of the above books are still to come. I'm currently listening to The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly (when I'm by myself) and The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (when Baby Bookworm is listening with me in the car). I'm reading Lauren Henderson's fourth and final Scarlett Wakefield mystery, Kiss of Death, and reading D.E. Stevenson's Celia's House aloud to Baby Bookworm.

The other reading-related thing that I've been enjoying is that 13-month-old Baby Bookworm has started pointing things out in books, and making connections between what she sees on the page and what she sees in real life (Where's the bear's nose? Where's Mommy's nose? etc.). This is making read-aloud much more fun for me (although she's still prone to tear at and chew on picture books, so we're mostly sticking with board books right now).

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).


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #5 Visit Libraries and Bookstores: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on December 14, 2009.

Tips for Growing Bookworms: #5 Visit Libraries and Bookstores

This is Part 5 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information.

Tip #5: Visit libraries and bookstores. I talked last week about how I think that it's important for kids to have at least a few books that they can own and cherish. And that's absolutely true. But I think that libraries and bookstores are important in raising readers, too.

BoyReading.jpgLibraries
It would be impossible, not to mention incredibly wasteful, to try to buy copies of every book that might possibly work for your child. Libraries allow you to choose a variety of books on every visit, and to try books out before you buy the ones that your child really loves. This is a true gift. The library will have the big-name popular books, sure, but they'll also have books that you would never have heard of on your own. The array of choices can be dazzling. Some of those books might become your child's favorites. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt gallery]

But there's much more to it than just the chance to try out books for free. A library is a celebration of books and reading, day in and day out. Taking your child to the library is a way to show her that you aren't the only one who values books. Lots of people, from all sorts of backgrounds, work in and visit the library, and think that books are important. Libraries also have events and read-alouds, programming centered around showing kids that books are fun. Yes, you can (and should!) read books aloud at home. But being surrounded by other kids listening to the same book delivers a powerful message to pre-schoolers. Hearing someone besides Mom or Dad reading books aloud tells kids that literacy is a universal thing. All of this reinforces what you're already doing at home.

Another plus to visiting libraries, although one that not every visitor takes advantage of, is access to librarians. Youth service librarians excel at recommending books based on a child's interest. Sure, you can find book recommendations online, too. But if your school or community boasts a highly trained, caring person, someone who can get to know your child and help him to select books, why on earth wouldn't you take advantage of that? I still have books on my shelves that were recommended for me personally by my elementary school librarian.

For more on the services performed by librarians, from collection development to cataloging, check out this recent post from Liz Burns at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy. Other Booklights posts that talk about the benefits of libraries can be found here (from Susan), here (from Terry), and here (from Pam).

JenwithJonScieszka.jpgBookstores
Many of the benefits of libraries (with the notable exception of the free access to books) are also true of bookstores. Bookstores show kids an environment and a culture filled with people who also love books. The good ones are staffed by people who can help you choose books based on your child's interests. Bookstores also often have fun events. A bookstore is more likely than a library to host author events. These can be an amazing opportunity to get kids excited about books. See my Booklights post about a Rick Riordan author event last summer, an earlier post on my own blog about an event by Jon Scieszka, and Becky Levine's recent post about a signing by Eoin Colfer. [Image credit: Photo taken by Susan Taylor Brown at Jon Scieszka signing event at Hicklebee's Books.]

And although the books aren't free at the bookstore, that can be a plus, too. Occasionally taking your child out and buying her a book says that you value books enough to spend money on them. My mother used to take me to our local used bookstore on a regular basis. She'd buy books for herself, and she'd buy books for me. We always had fun picking them out. I loved the treasure of finding a used copy of a book by one of my favorite authors. Is it any wonder that I grew up a reader? (And, actually, my mom and I still go to used bookstores together when we have the chance. And I still love finding old copies of books by cherished authors.)

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of visits to the library, and visits to bookstores. Taking your child to visit both can be a wonderful component to growing bookworms. And, as an added bonus, you get to visit libraries and bookstores yourself.

This post was originally published at Booklights on December 14, 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.


Squish #1: Super Amoeba: Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm

Book: Squish #1: Super Amoeba
Authors: Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10

Squish The Babymouse series has a new spin-off. Arising out of a sample of pond water in Babymouse #14: Mad Scientist we have Squish: Super Amoeba. Although Squish is an amoeba, and lives in a world filled with paramecia, slime molds, flatworms, and the like, he's also just a regular guy. He goes to school. He likes comic books. He wears a baseball cap. He tries to be brave. He loves Twinkies. And he has two best friends, mooch Pod and relentless optimist Peggy.

As with the Babymouse books, my favorite parts of Squish: Super Amoeba are when the narrator makes smart-aleck remarks (this is probably because I can never resist the smart-aleck rejoinder myself). Like:

  • In a drawing of Squish's room, showing his dresser: "What's in there, anyway? It's not like he wears clothes."
  • And, in a panel showing Squish in science class we see: "smart at science"; "bad at paying attention"; and "never learns."

I also quite like Peggy ("she's like a ray of sunshine", says the narrator). Her exclamation points and sweetness are completely over the top, but they work, somehow. Pod is a total mooch, and an unrepentant geek - the kind of kid that a nice guy really can end up best friends with. For a bow-tie-wearing amoeba, he's a pretty realistic kid.

In Squish: Super Amoeba, there is a bad guy, because "Amoebas come in all shapes and sizes, just like snowflakes! (Some are pure evil!). There are some fantasy sequences, in which Squish imagines himself to be the comic book hero Super Amoeba. The fantasy sequences are helpfully colored in gray, while the main narrative is black, white, and green - this helps the reader to keep things straight. After all, when one is reading a book about an amoeba who sits in a beanbag chair and reads comic books, it's helpful to know which sequences are meant to be fantasy, and which are the everyday reality ;-)

Squish: Super Amoeba is, as you would expect, pretty much along the same mold (no pun intended) as the Babymouse series. It's a bit more of a buddy story (Babymouse is pretty much the total star of her show), and I think that's a good addition. And, of course, the green coloring, and the presence of molds and worms, makes Squish a bit more boy-friendly than the pink-and-black Babymouse books (though I personally think that either series could work perfectly well for kids of either gender).

In short, I think that Squish is going to be a hit with the early-to-middle elementary school set. He's a likeable character, with entertaining sidekicks, in a setting that's a fun mix of typical and unexpected. I'll be interested to see how the series evolves, in terms of taking advantage of unique traits of amoebae and their microscopic brethren. Recommended, and a must-purchase for libraries.

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 10, 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).


The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter: Kristen Tracy

Book: The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter
Author: Kristen Tracy
Pages: 320
Age Range: 9-12

Bessica As I've stated before, I have a particular weakness for books about kids on the cusp of adolescence, making the transition to middle school. This made The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter a perfect fit for me. Bessica Lefter (named after the first US woman to fly solo in an airplane) has always planned to reinvent herself at the start of middle school. But she's horrified when, due to an error in judgment on her own part, she has to start her new school alone and friendless, without the crutch of her best friend, Sylvie. I'm 30 years past the start of middle school, and I still find this notion terrifying, even as the prospect of starting with a clean slate might be intriguing.

Bessica, fortunately, is up to the challenge. She is funny and brave and impulsive, with a believable degree of melodrama.

Some things in The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter are cringe-worthy (oh, Bessica, don't rat out the bully to the teacher on your first day), some are painful (the heartache of having a rift with your best friend), and some are humorous. I like that the focus is on Bessica's fitting in, adjusting to school, trying to make friends, and deciding what activities to pursue. There's no romance to this book (though I wouldn't be averse to a sequel that explores Bessica's romantic future). It's a perfect book for 9 and 10 year olds just starting to think about middle school, and not looking for all that "kissing stuff".

Tracy does a nice job of giving the reader Bessica's first-person view, yet making Bessica's shortcomings apparent. The reader will realize long before Bessica does the flaws in Bessica's relationship with Sylvie, and the mistake that she made in relying so much on her best friend that she didn't even see anything else. I also quite liked Bessica's relationship with her parents. While she certainly has to solve her own problems, they are present in the book as parents, reminding her to be polite, helping her out here and there, etc. I found it to be a positive yet realistic depiction of family (with Bessica's grandmother also playing an important role).

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a sense of Tracy's writing style, and Bessica's voice:

"I rolled my eyes. My mom was so naive. Did she think that all it took to make up was a phone call? Because I didn't think that.

Then I sat down in the grass and started ripping it out.

"Bessica, tearing apart the lawn is not a solution to your problems," my mom said.

"Actually, if you want to move over by the sidewalk you could pull out some of the crabgrass," my dad said. (Page 73-74)

and:

"I cracked open my bedroom door. My parents were watching the news. And it wasn't even the local news. It was one of those stations that broadcasts the news twenty-four hours a day. All the time. Earthquakes. Puppies flushed down toilets. Hostage situations. That station was such a bummer." (Page 185)

The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter offers refreshingly original, quirky characters dealing with universal themes (fears about starting middle school, growing pains as elementary school friendships change, and the desire for personal reinvention). It's a strong addition to the canon of books for girls about starting middle school. Recommended to individual readers, and highly recommended for library purchase.

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: January 11, 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).


Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: Early May Edition

JkrROUNDUP We've been a bit delayed by internal technical issues, but the early May 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 here. Over the past couple of weeks Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco and I have collected content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; and suggestions for growing bookworms. [Well, we lost a few things due to the aforementioned technical woes, but we still have a few tidbits for you.] I also added a short section this week on library funding (which is clearly Reading News, but didn't seem to fit into any of the other categories). Carol also shared an April review and look forward at May/June/July events at Rasco from RIF last week, and Terry will be back later in the month with more news.

Events

This week is Children's Book Week. I posted earlier in the week about the Children's Choice Book Awards. I'd also recommend a quick search of #ChildrensBookWeek on Twitter. You'll find lots of excitement about Children's Book Week, especially from @MrsPStorytime.

Logo Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day. According to the website, "Free Comic Book Day is a single day - the first Saturday in May each year - when participating comic book shops across North America and around the world give away comic books ...  to anyone who comes into their stores." What a great way to promote literacy (and hook future customers on comic books). I was reminded about this by @BookLovingBoys and @JenniHolm. See also this Parents' Guide to Free Comic Book Day from School Library Journal, via @LinksToLiteracy.

4738-1 Thursday, May 12th is National Doodle Day. According to Publisher's Weekly, "Daniel Pinkwater, Neil Gaiman, Eric Carle, Mo Willems, and Jon Scizezka are among the authors and illustrators joining publishers Albert Whitman & Company, Chronicle Books, Gibbs Smith Publishers, and Running Press in celebrating National Doodle Day on Thursday, May 12. This annual event, which includes an online eBay auction of doodles by children’s favorites, as well as actors Jeff Bridges and Julianna Margulies, and Orioles pitcher Wally Bunker, raises money and awareness for families and individuals affected by Neurofibromatosis, or NF." (Via @PWKidsBookshelf)

Congratulations to Greg Pincus, who reached his funding goal for his Kickstarter project Poetry: Spread the Word. This is an innovative (and experimental) project that Greg is funding through donations. He'll be writing and distributing original poetry, and making school visits to talk with kids about poetry. I've been so thrilled to see his pledges mounting to and past the target, so that the project can go forward. There are currently 95 backers, and 3 days left to participate (more backers means more school visits, at this point).

Red_logo If you would like to help literacy-based organizations like RIF and Reach Out and Read, you might consider buying some artwork in Scholastic's "auction to benefit its global literacy campaign, “Read Every Day. Lead A Better Life.” The auction features pieces created by twelve celebrated children’s illustrators: Norman Bridwell, Bruce Degen, Edwin Fotheringham, Mary GrandPré, Barbara McClintock, Jon J. Muth, Sean Qualls, Stephen Savage, David Shannon, Jeff Smith, Mark Teague, and Raina Telgemeier." Terry suggests bidding on a Mother's Day gift.

Don't miss this Book Fair sponsored by the Kidlitosphere's own Guys Lit Wire. GLW is working with Powells Books to send books to students at Ballou Senior High in Washington, D.C. Book Fair founder Colleen Mondor says: "Ballou is very special to me as school librarian Melissa Jackson made such an eloquent case for her students’ need for more books. Her video, which shows so many empty shelves, really gave me reason to pause. There are probably more books in my house then Ballou has in this video and that is wrong in so many ways that I don’t even know where to begin." Do check out the video, and consider sending some books along to Ballou (via a wish list at Powell's).

Literacy and Reading Programs and Research

This is just cool. A portable Dutch children's library built in a modified shipping container. According to Inhabitat: "Conceived to help support local Dutch schools that lack the funds or space for a library, the BiebBus can pull in, pop up, and let kids participate in a parable or two. The design is also a lot of fun -- with a transparent floor, cool lights, and huge portals for kids to see out, the BiebBus makes kids excited to grab a book, kick back, and explore the written word." Do click through to see the pictures. Via @FirstBook.

The Tenneseean recently shared a piece by Jessica Bliss about the Books from Birth program, a program that sends kids free book in the mail from ages zero to five (affiliated with Dolly Parton's Imagination Library). One of the main points of the article was that the children who are most in need of books are often the ones who miss out on the program, due to lack of permanent mailing address, unwillingness or inability of parents to sign up, etc.). Sad, isn't it? But still a great program. I'd sign Baby Bookworm up in a heartbeat. I think as kids get old enough to understand it, having books arrive in the mail, addressed to them, is a beautiful thing. Link via Jenny Schwartzberg.

Also from Jenny, a story from ChicoER.com about a woman, Jeannie Freedom, who first started a program to leave boxes of books (nicely decorated) for kids at homeless shelters, and is now donating books to the Butte County Jail.

And speaking of prisons, one more article from Jenny, about a program that promotes family reading in correctional facilities in Baltimore. The Turning Pages program gives incarcerated dads something positive to talk about with their kids, and strengthens both family bonds and reading skills.

I also received an email about a nonprofit that provides postage to people so that they can donate books, which are then distributed to low-income and at-risk kids in the Detroit area. Pretty cool!

In sadder news, USNews reports, in a story by Serena Gordon: "More than two-thirds of daycare centers included in a new U.S. study have TVs available for children to watch, and nearly 60 percent of the centers ignored the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines for television exposure in young kids." I think this part summed up the reason that this is a problem quite nicely:

"The thing about television is that if it's developmentally appropriate, it's not evil, but it comes at the expense of interpersonal interaction, which is really how children achieve developmental goals," explained one expert, Dr. Rahil Briggs, director of the Healthy Steps program at Montefiore Medical Group in New York City. She was not involved in the new study. (Via @ReachOutAndRead)

Library Funding

Libraries are clearly under siege these days. Here are a couple of things that caught my eye lately on the topic of library funding. Hopefully this won't need to be a permanent section of the roundups.

  • From my local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, the Santa Clara County Library system is going to start charging people who live outside the district (some 43% of current users) an $80 annual fee to check out books. I can see the tough position that the library system is in, with limited funding, but this is still sad news. There are people who won't be able to afford the $80 fee (the library only expects a 2% conversion rate), who won't have access to libraries near their homes or work. And there's a risk of other Bay Area libraries doing the same thing, so that an area once rich in library access and cross-library-lending will be fragmented. Sigh! This is just one of many pieces of recent bad news from and about public and school libraries.
  • Donalyn Miller, the Book Whisperer, has a must-read piece in defense of libraries (why we need them, and closing libraries actually costs more money than it saves.
  • Author Brad Meltzer recently also wrote an op-ed piece for the Miami Herald in defense of libraries, sharing his personal recollections of getting his first library card, and his thoughts on how libraries are vital to us as a nation. (Link via email from Sharon Levin).
  • And School Library Journal has a piece by Lauren Barack about a third grader who launched a fundraiser to help close a $300,000 funding gap for the Jersey CIty Free Public Library. Now, I think it's great that Paul Valleau has the drive to this, but really, should it be necessary for nine-year-olds to set up their own consignment shops to support the public library? These are dark times for literacy, people. And don't get me started on what's happening to RIF another literacy organizations (well, I'm sure I'll talk about that more at a later date).

Suggestions for Growing Bookworms

On a brighter note, Lindsay at Passionate Homemaking (@PassionateHome) shares a detailed response to Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook, concluding that "reading aloud to your children throughout their childhood and teenage years can make the greatest impact on their education" and that "you may do nothing else with your children but reading aloud for schooling for the first six years of their life, and they will be well-equipped to jump in, if they haven’t already on their own, to the world of reading, and loving it too!". Link via @ReadAloudDad.

CBWlogo-kid-style-250-1qkbahc The Early Childhood School Library Blog shares a guest post from Chris Singer of Book Dads (@Book_Dads). Chris, stay-at-home dad of a 2-year-old daughter, offers advice for reading aloud, specially written for Children's Book Week. I especially liked Chris' suggestion to offer "small books for small hands", giving toddlers kid-friendly board books, rather than worrying about getting in every award-winning title. I've actually found myself that I turn again and again to our board book collection with Baby Bookworm, and that many of the beloved picture books remain on the shelf, patiently waiting for a time when she won't try to eat the books. I also like Chris' general advice not to force things, but to go with the child's interest level. Excellent stuff!

Ror.red In honor of Mother's Day, Reach Out and Read CEO Earl Martin Phalen suggests on Examiner.com that the best gift that mothers (and fathers) can give back to their children is the gift of time, time spent reading aloud. He says: "Reading difficulty often leads to school failure.  A recently-released study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that one in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than proficient readers. It’s scary stuff – but incredible to think that it can be prevented with books."

In closing, I'd like to wish all of the moms out there a Happy Mother's Day. I think I'm going to take Earl Martin Phalen's advice, and give myself the gift of some extra read-aloud time with Baby Bookworm this weekend.

Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy!


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #4 Make Sure Your Children Have Books of their Own

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

Tips for Growing Bookworms: #4 Make Sure Your Children Have Books of their Own

This is Part 4 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information. Today's tip also includes links to a variety of book suggestions for the holiday season. [Note, although originally produced for the holiday season, obviously lists of gift book ideas are relevant year-round.]

Tip #4: Make sure that your children (and nieces and nephews and grandchildren) have books of their own. Sure, it's great to visit libraries (we'll talk more about that in the next tip) and explore a wide range of books. But it's also important that kids have at least a few books of their own. Books that they can re-read as often as they like. Books that they don't have to return by a certain date. Books that they can save and cherish and (eventually) look back on as priceless childhood mementos. I know that the books from my childhood that I still have on my shelves will always remain among my most treasured possessions. [Update: see also a must-read recent piece from The Book Whisperer on this topic.]

ReadingAtNight.jpgThere's a special bond that comes with re-reading a book many times. Especially as a child becomes older, and is reading on his own. The experiences of reading a beloved book build upon one another. Each reading becomes a celebration of the book, and a reminder of the past readings. To have that bond, I think that you need to own the book. Sure, you can check the same book out of the library every year. But it's not the same as having the book on the shelf next to your bed, and being able to pick it up when you can't sleep, or aren't feeling well, or just need the comfort of familiarity. The shelf doesn't need to be large, but it needs to be filled with books that are loved.

ReadingOlderKids.jpgThere's also a sense of pride that comes with ownership of possessions. And attaching that pride to books elevates the importance of literacy. When you spend your hard-earned money to buy books for your children, you're putting your money where your mouth is. You aren't just saying that books are important. You're demonstrating that you value books and literacy. I think that's important. And books are a bargain, compared with video games, going out to eat, going out to a movie, etc.

So, if you're doing any holiday shopping for the children in your life this season [or buying birthday gifts, or getting ready for summer vacations], I urge you to consider buying at least a few books. Great books are truly a gift that can last a lifetime. I know that it can be difficult to know what books to buy. Fortunately, quite a few bloggers have taken the initiative to offer targeted suggestions. Liz Burns from A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy has a post in which she's keeping track of other people's gift-giving ideas (mostly books). You'll find lots of links there.

Here are links to a few of my favorite sources for book ideas this year:

I hope that you'll find these lists a useful resource. But really, however you choose the books, and whenever you buy them, the important thing is that you make sure that your children have at least a few books of their own, to keep. You'll give them books to re-read and fall in love with, and you'll show, in a tangible way, that you think that books are important. And that's worth doing, both at the holidays and year-round.

This post was originally published at Booklights on December 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.


The Emerald Atlas: John Stephens

Book: The Emerald Atlas (Books of Beginning, Book 1)
Author: John Stephens
Pages: 432
Age Range: 9-12

Emerald The Emerald Atlas is the first book in the Books of Beginning series, a new middle grade fantasy series by John Stephens. Random House has put so much marketing hype behind this series that I am finding it a bit difficult to objectively assess the book. It doesn't jump out at me the way, say, the first Harry Potter book, or The Golden Compass did. But I did enjoy it. And I would certainly recommend it to middle grade and young adult readers looking for an intriguing new fantasy series.

The Emerald Atlas is the tale of three functionally orphaned siblings who discover a magical book, and then find themselves to be the subjects of a prophecy concerning the book. There are wizards, dwarves, and cruel orphanage matrons. There are children in peril and sibling rivalries. There's a mix of timeless fantasy (hidden dwarf cities, monsters the lurk underground) and humor. ("Soon the great hall reverberated with the echoing symphony of burping dwarves.") There is time travel, with the resulting paradoxes explained plausibly.

The relationships and emotions of the characters stood out for me in this book. Kate, Michael, and Emma are classic orphaned siblings in some ways, mutually dependent and fiercely loyal. The oldest, Kate, takes on more responsibility than she should, and suffers the most from the loss of parents she can remember. The middle child, Michael, is a geeky kid, picked on, and generally found with his head in a book, but showing occasional flashes of a bravery. The youngest, Emma, is a true spitfire, but she develops a close friendship with a man who helps the children, something of a parent-child bond, though with Emma as Gabriel's sometime-rescuer. I think that John Stephen's background as a writer for Gilmore Girls and the O.C. comes through here - the personal dramas carry as much resonance for him as the epic plot actions. And that does, I think, raise the Emerald Atlas up a notch from many middle grade fantasy series.

Here are a couple of examples of Stephens' characterization:

"All in all, he looked like someone who had gotten dressed in the midst of a whirlwind and, thinking he still looked too presentable, had thrown himself down a flight of stairs." (Page 4)

"Alone with her secretary, the Countess apparently felt no need to be charming or to act the part of the airy, gold-speckled teenager. She looked the same, certainly, but her manner, her voice, everything about her now spoke of power, malice, and a greedy, jackal-like hunger.

Cavendish sucked in his head like a turtle. He spoke in moist little gasps." (Page 125)

And here are a couple of examples of the book's general tone:

"... for a brief moment, she realized the insanity of their situation. They were inside a mountain, under the remains of an ancient dwarf city, about to dive into a black pool where a monster might or might not still be living, all so they could retrieve a lost magic book. What was she thinking?" (Page 264)

"Even Michael, whose sense of personal dignity as the only boy in the family kept him from ever appearing too effusive, had to remove his glasses and rub at his eyes because he "got some dirt in them."" ((Page 305)

I quite liked the ending of The Emerald Atlas - it reminded me of one of my favorite movies (I won't say which one, because I think it would be a bit of a spoiler, but it's based on a children's picture book). I will be looking forward to the remaining books of the series. Recommended for middle grade and young adult readers, even those who are not generally fantasy fans.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: April 5, 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).


Growing Bookworms Newsletter: May 4

JRBPlogo-smallToday 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 1391 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have three book review posts (one picture book and two young adult titles) and one children's literacy roundup (published in detail at Rasco from RIF). I also have two Booklights reissue posts with the second and third entries in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series, and an announcement about the April Carnival of Children's Literature. I also published two posts not included in the newsletter:

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

I'm currently listening to The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly, reading The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter by Kristen Tracy, and reading D.E. Stevenson's Celia's House aloud to Baby Bookworm. As always, I wish that I had more time to read for myself. But I'm working on 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 Choice Book Awards Announced

I thought that this news release from Goodman Media might be of interest to readers (book links added by me, using my Amazon affiliate account):

CHILDREN’S CHOICE BOOK AWARDS ANNOUNCED

Kids Vote Rick Riordan Author of the Year and David Wiesner Illustrator of the Year

A Record Breaking 500,000 Votes Were Cast!

NEW YORK, NY — May 2, 2011 — The Children’s Book Council (CBC) in association with Every Child A Reader, the CBC Foundation, announced the winners of the fourth annual Children’s Choice Book Awards at a gala in New York City this evening as part of Children’s Book Week (May 2-8, 2011). Children across the country voted in record numbers for their favorite books, author, and illustrator at bookstores, school libraries, and at www.BookWeekOnline.com, casting over 500,000 votes.

The Children’s Choice Book Award winners are as follows:

Author of the Year

Rick Riordan for The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, Book 1) (Disney-Hyperion) 

Illustrator of the Year

David Wiesner for Art & Max (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)                                                                          

Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year

Little Pink Pup by Johanna Kerby (Putnam/Penguin)                                                

Third Grade to Fourth Grade Book of the Year

Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Knopf/Random House)  

Fifth Grade to Sixth Grade Book of the Year

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1) by Rick Riordan (Disney-Hyperion)

Teen Choice Book of the Year

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (Dutton/Penguin)

The Children’s Choice Book Awards program, launched in 2008 by The Children’s Book Council (CBC) in association with Every Child A Reader, the CBC Foundation, was created to provide young readers with an opportunity to voice their opinions about the books being written for them and to help develop a reading list that will motivate children to read more and cultivate a love of reading.


Everywhere Babies: Susan Meyers

Book: Everywhere Babies, Lap Board Book
Author: Susan Meyers
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Pages: 30
Age Range: 0-5

51fjJMcYXnL._SS500_ HMH has a new lap board book edition of Everywhere Babies coming out next month, and it is a already a favorite in our household. Everywhere Babies was written by Susan Meyers and illustrated by Marla Frazee, and originally published as a hardcover picture book in 2001. This new edition is an oversized board book, thick enough to lie open on the floor, but, at about 10" square, not too big for a one-year-old to turn the pages.

Meyers' text is simple and rhythmic, and begs to be read aloud. Each page says, in big letters, "Every day, everywhere, babies ... (something)". ("are born", "are kissed", "play games", etc.) Then a series of vignettes appears, each with a brief, smaller, text description ("peek-a-boo", "pat-a-cake", "this-little-piggy", etc.). Read aloud together, the smaller text descriptions form mini poems. For example:

"Every day, everywhere, babies make friends
with a puppy, a kitten, a goldfish, a bunny,
with young people, old people, anyone funny."

I can imagine that preschoolers will enjoy predicting the text, helped on by the repetition of the structure, the rhyming, and the pictures. For babies, this is a soothing read-aloud, not to mention being chock-full of pictures of ever-fascinating babies.

Marla Frazee's illustrations are a delight. Frazee, the woman who brings Sara Pennypacker's Clementine to life, is one of my favorite illustrators. Here, she includes babies of all shapes and sizes and colors. The babies are distinctive and gorgeous, varying in eye color and hair texture and expression. While they are clearly drawings (not photos), they look real.I can't even imagine how much time she must have spent on all of these illustrations.

I was especially drawn to the second page spread, showing two different babies being kissed by loving, but clearly exhausted parents. There's so much detail in each drawing, from the steaming cup of tea atop a pile of books on a mom's nightstand to the dad in boxer shorts and athletic socks on a worm sofa.

Everywhere, Babies has a similar feel to Mem Fox's Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (which I adore but have somehow never reviewed). It is one of my new favorite books, and is going on my mental list of books to give as baby gifts.

It also has baby Bookworm's stamp of approval. After reading this aloud to her the other day, I left it, closed, on the floor of her playspace. Since then, I have found her looking through it several times. She seems like the pictures of the babies, and to find the large size appealing for flipping through on her own. She doesn't know that it's supposed to be a "lap book", of course ;-)

One small warning for parents of young children. This edition comes with a custom "Baby on Board" window cling (MUCH nicer looking than the usual such stickers, featuring a circle of babies from the book). The cling is attached to the inside back cover of the book by several round stickers. These stickers, I have learned, are tempting for babies to eat. I recommend removing the cling and disposing of the stickers before handing the book over to your kids.

And you should hand this book over to your kids. It is lovely! Everywhere Babies, and particularly this new lap board book edition, has my highest recommendation.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Books (@hmhbooks)
Publication Date: June 13, 2011 (this edition)
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).


...then i met my sister: Christine Hurley Deriso

Book: ...then i met my sister
Author: Christine Hurley Deriso
Pages: 288
Age Range: 12 and up

Then-I-Met-My-Sister-Cover-250 Christine Hurley Deriso's ... then I met my sister caught me from the title. It made me wonder, how is this teen meeting her sister for the first time? What family dynamic caused that? Well, turns out Summer doesn't literally meet her sister at all. But the family dynamics are definitely compelling.

Summer has lived her whole life in the shadow of her older sister, Shannon, who died before Summer was born. Summer, in fact, wouldn't have been born at all had Shannon not died. Summer was an attempt at replacing her sister, who died in a car accident on the way to her first day of senior year of high school. Summer's house is a shrine to the beauty and accomplishments of Shannon, who would surely have done great things with her life, had she had the chance. Determined not to compete, Summer has spent her entire life under-achieving, refusing to give in to her controlling mother.

Everything changes when Summer's aunt gives her a secret journal, the journal that Shannon kept during her last summer. Summer soon learns that neither Shannon was both more and less than she had imagined - a real person instead of a column of trophies on the shelf. She finds hints that Summer's death might not have been an accident. and that her parents have been keeping secrets from her. Summer's exploration into her sister's life consumes her, and changes her relationships with the people around her (including her very cute male friend Gibs).

In ... then i met my sister, all of the drama is emotional. There are no zombies or apocalypses or magical devices. Summer hardly ever even leaves her small town. She spends time reading her sister's diary, working at her aunt's flower shop, and circling around a relationship with Gibs. And yet, the book is utterly compelling. I read it in one sitting, and didn't even stop to mark any pages.

I think that what's compelling about the book is the authenticity of Summer's emotions. She's a great character. She is unaware of how smart or pretty she is (only aware of how much less pretty and smart she is than her sister), and unwilling to be part of the mainstream. She is brave and sarcastic and funny. Her developing romance with Gibs is real and sweet, without being insipid. And her relationships with her parents are flawed, but real, too.

... then i met my sister is a fast read, with quite a bit of dialog, and generous amounts of white space. The interspersed journal entries provide contract to Summer's first-person viewpoint. I think that the book will appeal to reluctant readers.

Here are a couple of examples of Deriso's writing:

"I pull out a book. It's bound in plump lavender fabric. It's faded and, even with no writing on the cover, it looks dated."

"Honey." Aunt Nic grabs my hands, loosening the book from my grip as it lands on my lap with a dull thud.

"Yes?"

"You don't have to read this if you don't want to."

I glance down at the book, suddenly acutely curious. Every English teacher should preface a literature assignment this way. "You don't have to read this if you don't want to." The assignment would become downright irresistible." (Page 27)

And:

"I hear Mom's sing-song voice at the bottom of the stairs. She must have seen Gibs coming up the driveway and opened the door before he could ring the bell. She's welcoming him in the foyer, complimenting his shirt. He's unusually neat for a guy with a ponytail. Like the suit during Honors Day. I bet his mom didn't even have to talk him into it.

I walk downstairs and give him a peace sign. He's wearing an Oxford shirt, unbottoned at the collar and tucked into khaki pants. Only Gibs can manage to look preppie and boho at the same time. His face broadens into a shy, sweet smile. God, he looks cute. But it'll be another five years or so before Gibs figures out that girls dig his smile. I totally get that, so I don't wast my time even considering a crush." (page 32)

Ah, self-protection. Who can't relate?

In short, ... then i met my sister is something that I've come to expect from Flux, top-notch realistic young adult fiction. A review that I skimmed on Amazon recommended pairing this book with 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, and I agree. I could also see this as a wonderful teen movie. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Flux (@FluxNow)
Publication Date: April 8, 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).


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #3 Choose Books that Your Children Enjoy: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on November 23, 2009.

Tips for Growing Bookworms: #3 Choose Books that Your Children Enjoy

This is Part 3 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information where I have them.

Tip #3: Choose books that your children enjoy. Find books that satisfy their interests, and let them choose books that please them. When kids are reading (outside of assigned school reading), the important thing is that the reading is a pleasurable activity. The best way to make this true is to help them to find books that they are interested in. Not books that are good for them. Not books that teach them a particular lesson. Not books that are someone else's favorite (like the parent's favorite). Just books that the particular child eagerly wants to read.

BoyReading.jpgThis is especially important for women selecting books for boys, who may prefer reading in formats other than traditional fiction. Yes, it can be frustrating to have your child read nothing but comic books. But reading comic books IS reading. I'm not saying don't try to suggest other books for them, too. But keep in mind that the central goal is for kids to find reading a pleasurable activity, one that they wish to continue. Everything else follows from that (all the way to better test scores and dream colleges).

EagerReader.jpgA related point regarding book choice is the question of reading levels. Pam suggested in a post from earlier this fall that children benefit from reading a mix of books, some within and some outside of their comfort zone. She also said, strongly, that it's important for parents to avoid playing "The Reading Game". You know the one. Where parents speak loftily to one another about their children's advanced reading levels. Don't get sucked into this trap. The important thing isn't that your third grade daughter is reading a sixth grade book. The important thing is that your third grader is avidly reading ANY book. She'll get to the sixth grade level book eventually, if she enjoys reading. But if you pressure her to read harder and harder books all the time, you're likely to turn her off of reading altogether. And that is a tragedy.

For more on reading levels, see my earlier post about discussions in defense of escapist summer reading, which links to several articles in defense of letting kids read what they enjoy. I also had a two-part piece (part 1, part 2) early last summer about reading levels, and the defense of kids reading books that they enjoy, even if they are capable of reading more challenging books.

StackOfBooks.jpgIt's simply, really. If you want kids to learn to enjoy reading, you have to give them time to read things that they like, and that they choose. The choice itself is empowering, and leads to a positive association with reading. Your son could choose fiction or nonfiction, graphic novels or poetry, magazines or car manuals. He could read Goosebumps or Junie B. Jones or 100 different Magic Treehouse books. He could read the comic pages of your newspaper, all of the Harry Potter books, or the Guinness Book of World Records. What he's reading doesn't matter. What matters is that he is engaged in what he's reading, and wants to read more. Because that's what we're after here. As long as kids keep reading, something, anything, they'll become more proficient. And that's the way to make them readers for life.

This post was originally published at Booklights on November 23, 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.