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Posts from June 2011

Tips for Growing Bookworms: #7 Point Out Useful Information from Reading: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on January 25, 2010.

Tips for Growing Bookworms: #7 Point Out When You're Learning Useful Information by Reading

This is Part 7 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 #7: For younger children, point out when you're learning useful information by reading. The idea is to gradually (and in non-didactic fashion) show young children the many doors that reading opens, and make them that much more eager to learn to read themselves. Here are just a few examples:

FamilyCooking.jpgRecipes. When you're cooking from a recipe, you can ask your older child to help you by reading the next step, or measuring out an ingredient. For younger kids, you can browse through recipe books or cooking magazines that have pictures, and point out that the text can tell you how to make the dishes that you see. If you then follow up by actually making some of the most interesting dishes, that will really reinforce the value of reading. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

ReadingGroceryLabels.jpgProduct names, ingredient lists, and prices at the supermarket. You can say "Look, your favorite cereal is on sale" or "Well, let's check the package and see how healthy this is" or even just "Can you tell which one is the Cheerios box? See the C?". Teaching kids to read and pay attention to ingredient lists is especially important for kids who have food allergies. (One of my favorite bloggers, HipWriterMama, writes about kids and food allergies occasionally.) But for most kids, food is a pretty important part of their day-to-day life, so seeing the connection between food and reading can only help. When you're out to eat, you automatically demonstrate useful reading when you read the menu. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Maps. When you're planning to go somewhere new, near or far, break out the atlas, and point out some of the things you can learn from the writing on maps. Being able too read the symbols on a map is like learning to decode words, and is sometimes easier (since the symbols appear as pictures).

KangarooRoadSign.jpgSigns on the roadways. I've seen snippets on blogs (I don't remember exactly where) to the effect that the first reading that many kids do involves street signs. Makes sense to me. STOP signs are big and clear, and have a special color and shape to add visual cues, and make reading easier. Any time you're out in the car, or out in the neighborhood for a walk, it can't hurt to point out signs, and talk about what they say. The same goes for directional signs in neighborhood parks and amusement parks. For example: "This sign says that there are ducks around this way. Should we go see?". [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Instructions. Whenever you have something new come into the house that requires setup or assembly, you can point out how helpful it is to read the instructions. As kids get older, you can encourage them to read instructions themselves.

FamilyReadingNewspaper.jpgNewspapers and magazines. When you pick up the daily paper or a magazine, it might make sense to point out to your child that you're getting useful or interesting information there. For example: "Should we check and see if the Red Sox won yesterday, and where they are on the standings now?" or "I'm thinking about buying a new phone, and this article talks about the one that I'm thinking of." And of course many kids enjoy reading the comics before they're ready to read much of anything else. I personally think that it's a great idea to keep printed newspapers and magazines coming into the house, even when you can look up a lot of things online. The physical presence of printed material provides opportunities for entertainment and consultation. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Search engines. When a question comes up that you can't answer off the top of your head, you can develop a habit of turning to the computer. Most of us do this anyway - it's mostly just a matter of pointing out to kids when we consult Google or Wikipedia or IMDB or whatever. Of course we can also still turn to the printed dictionary or thesaurus. The more important point is to show that when certain types of questions come up, we can use reading, in whatever format, to answer them.

These are just a few ideas for pointing out the positive consequences that come from knowing how to read. We can get to where we need to go, eat what we want to eat, use the new things that we buy, and find information that we're interested in. Of course there's no need to be overly aggressive about this, and turn every little walk around the neighborhood into a reading lesson. But here and there, as you go about your day, you'll naturally find a few opportunities to demonstrate practical reading. It makes sense to me to use them.

What do you all think? Do you have other ways that you subtly point out to your kids the benefits of reading (above and beyond reading with them)?

This post was originally published at Booklights on January 25, 2010. 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.

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: June 14

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 1411 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book review posts (two picture books, two middle grade) and one children's literacy roundup. I also have a post showing photos of "the wake of Baby Bookworm" around my house, and my wrap-up post from the 48 Hour Book Challenge hosted by MotherReader. I published six other book reviews (mostly middle grade fiction) as part of the 48 Hour Book Challenge. I have not included these in the newsletter. You can find links to all six in the wrap-up post below. The only other post from my blog not included in the newsletter was An Appreciation for National Ambassador Jon Scieszka: A Booklights Reissue.

48hbc_newReading Update: Since the last newsletter, I finished eight books (besides various picture books and board books, see those here and here). In addition to the six from the 48 Hour Book Challenge, I finished:

  • Emily Diamand: Flood and Fire. The Chicken House (Scholastic). Completed June 2, 2011. Review to come.
  • Michael Connelly: The Fifth Witness. Little, Brown. Completed June 2, 2011, on MP3.

I'm still listening to The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (when Baby Bookworm is listening with me in the car). I've also started listening to Live Wire, a Myron Bolitar mystery, by Harlan Coben. I'm reading The Fox Inheritance (The Jenna Fox Chronicles) by Mary Pearson.

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).

Prudence Wants a Pet: Cathleen Daly

Book: Prudence Wants a Pet
Author: Cathleen Daly
Illustrator: Stephen Michael King
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 to 8

9781596434684 Prudence Wants a Pet is an upcoming picture book written by Cathleen Daly and illustrated by Stephen Michael King. As is evident from title, it's about a girl named Prudence who really, really wants a pet. When her parents say no, Prudence tries out a series of unconventional pets, like shoes and car tires. No surprisingly, these pets are unsatisfactory. But it all turns out ok in the end.

On one level, this is a fairly simple book about a child who stands up for what she wants. What makes Prudence Wants a Pet special is Daly's quirky humor, delivered in a matter-of-fact manner. Like this:

"Prudence finds a new pet.
It is her brother.
His name is Milo.
She puts Milo in a box with some water."


Mr. Round is getting harder to roll. And to carry.
Mr. Round is big. Prudence is small.
Mr. Round finds a new home in the vacant lot.
He will have friends there."

I challenge you not to laugh at the rejected spare tire finding friends in the vacant lot. And the little brother sitting in a box being fed and watered. Daly's tone is perfect. The reader feels empathy for Prudence, but in a non-mawkish way. The ending is completely satisfying.

King's illustrations help a lot, too. Many of the pages consist of small vignettes. For example, the above section about Milo is shown as four separate sketches of Prudence and Milo, all on the same page. All of the sketches are simple line drawings, with just a hint of color. They look a bit like lightly colorized New Yorker cartoons. Only more kid-friendly. Prudence's mood is conveyed through her expression and her posture - from hopeful to determined to hopelessly dejected.

Prudence Wants a Pet is a fun read for kids and parents alike. Pair it with Bob Staake's Mary Had A Little Lamp for double the fun. This is one that I reviewed from the advanced copy, and will want to pick up in hardcover when it's available. Highly recommended for the early elementary school set.

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: June 21, 2011
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the author. Quotes should be compared with the final book.

© 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).

Lunch Lady #4 and #5: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Books: Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown and Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Pages: 96
Age Range: 8-12

I've enjoyed Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady series of graphic novels for elementary school kids (see reviews of prior books here and here). They're excellent escapist reading, featuring a crime-fighting school lunch lady and her gadget-inventing sidekick, Betty. My grandmother was actually a school lunch lady at one time, so I have a special fondness for this premise. Lunch Lady is no-so-ably assisted by the efforts of three friends known as The Breakfast Bunch. This week I read books #4 (Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown) and #5 (Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit) of the series.

9780375860959Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown finds Lunch Lady, Betty, and the three Breakfast Bunch kids all attending the same two-week summer camp. This is a bit of a departure for the series (generally set in a school). But not to worry, Breakfast Bunch nemesis Milmoe and his minion are at the camp, too. Things get off to a scary start when one of the counselors is attacked by "the terrible swamp monster." Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch independently take it upon themselves to investigate (and naturally save the day).

I actually didn't care for this one as much as I have the others in the series. It felt a bit like a Scooby Doo episode for me, and I had to flip back and forth to keep track of the various new characters (camp counselors, directors, etc.). But it's still a fun read. We find Lunch Lady and Betty "Salisbury-staking out the pond", and undertaking explorations using "an Underwater Bendy-Straw Breathing Apparatus and an Underwater Mixer-Propulsion Backpack".

There's also a fun cameo by an over-the-top arts and crafts instructor ("Become one with your clay pots!" "Knead the clay, love the clay!"). My favorite character is the sole girl in the Breakfast Bunch, Dee, who reacts cynically to her peppy counselor ("This is all so lame...") and air-headed bunkmates. The contrast between the conversation in the boys vs. girls cabins is also entertaining (fart jokes vs. discussions of cute male counselors). Authentic if perhaps a trifle over the top.

In any event, kids seem to love it. Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown received this year's Children's Choice Award for Third to Fourth Grade Book of the Year (Krosoczka also won last year's award in this category).

Bakesalebandit In Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit, everyone is back at school and excited for a bake sale/fundraiser. Until, that is, the baked goods are stolen. Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch investigate a variety of leads before closing in on the culprit. It's possible that I liked this one better than the Summer Camp Shakedown because it includes the school's cranky janitor, one of my favorite characters. I love his Boston accent ("Theyah the bane of my existence", "I'll be cleanin' them up fah weeks") and his grouchiness.

There's more classic Lunch Lady rhetoric, like "It's as dark as the inside of a chocolate doughnut in here!", and "Porridge!" and "Brussels sprouts!" as expressions of disgust. And of course there are inventions, like the "Mac & Cheese cannon". I also love this from the end of the book (not a spoiler): "Justice is served!" say Betty and Lunch Lady. "And baked goods!" adds Hector.

The Lunch Lady books are perfect for third or fourth graders, including reluctant/dormant readers. They are fun, action-packed, over-the-top fare, while staying true to the day-to-day issues of elementary school kids. Krosoczka's black, white, and yellow illustrations are boy-and-girl-friendly, and excellent crutches for relatively new readers. Highly recommended, and a must-have for libraries.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 11, 2010 (#4) and December 28, 2010 (#5)
Source of Book: Review copies 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: June 8

JkrROUNDUP The June 8th edition of the children’s literacy and reading news round-up, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Family Bookshelf, a Reading Tub blog, Rasco from RIF, and The Book Chook, is now available at Jen Robinson's Book Page. Over the past couple of weeks, Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco, Susan Stephenson, and I have collected content for you about literacy & reading-related events, programs, and research. Carol shared a host of news at Rasco from RIF at the end of May, including a tons of news about book-related events. Today, I have a couple of events, a plethora of information for you about literacy and reading programs and research, and a few tips for growing bookworms.


As summer reading season begins, Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer) invites fellow readers to join her third annual Book-A-Day Challenge. The idea is to read one book a day for each day of summer vacation, and share what you're reading on a blog, Twitter, or Facebook (somewhere that you can build community around reading). You can read picture books, and you can read multiple books on the same day, the idea is on average to complete one book a day. I've signed on, though so far I've been reading primarily picture books. It's still nice to think, each morning, what will my #BookADay be today?

A tempest erupted in the #kidlit world last weekend, while I was happily immersed in MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge. The Wall Street Journal published a very critical article by Meghan Cox Gurdon about "hideously distorted portrayals of what life is" in today's young adult fiction, and specifically lashing out at a number of books. A storm of protest erupted around the kidlitosphere and the twitterverse in defense of young adult fiction that tackles difficult, but real, problems. See articles by Liz Burns at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, Donalyn Miller at The Book Whisperer, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Cheryl Rainfield for more details. Or search for #YASaves on Twitter.

Literacy Programs and Research

The Huffington Post has a piece by College Board President Gaston Caperton on the College Completion Agenda: State Capitals Campaign, part of a national campaign to once again make the United States a world leader in college graduation rates.  Capterton notes: "Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming evidence demonstrating the importance of education, too many young Americans are opting out of college. Some feel it's not worth their time. Some feel it's not worth their money. Some just feel they aren't college material."

Pragmatic Mom recently shared conclusions from an interesting study described in Education Week. The gist is that "people remember better and longer when there are “desirable difficulties” in the study process – when they self-test themselves on big chunks of material and space out study sessions over days and weeks before an exam... The ideal thing is to put students in a situation where they are challenged. You want them to eventually feel something is easy to process, but only because they’ve worked through it."

FirstBook.jpg David Bornstein has a must-read two-part piece (part 1, part 2) at the NYTimes Fixes column about First Book's marketplace, and why kids (and teachers) need a low-cost source of NEW children's book. In part 1 he introduces First Book's "new market mechanism that is delivering millions of new, high quality books to low-income children through thousands of nonprofit organizations and Title I schools." In the second part, he addresses feedback that he received from a number of readers asking why low-cost new books are needed (vs. strictly reusing donated books). Both pieces are well-informed and include feedback from First Book founder Kyle Zimmer. [Second link via Jenny Schwartzberg]

Charles London offers a strong defense of boys' reading in Boys Don't Read, Except When They Do in the Huffington Post. He argues that "boys are reading. Just like girls, boys are hungry for stories that speak to them, that excite their imaginations and reflect their experiences. They are hungry for information to help them make sense of the world, or achieve a goal or just to geek-out on whatever is holding their attention at that moment. ... Boys today are consuming more text than at any time in human history. Adults simply are not valuing the reading that boys are doing." London is certainly not the first to make this point (Jon Scieszka immediately comes to mind), but it's a strong piece, with examples, well worth a look. (via @linkstoliteracy)

Raising_a_reader_logo-thumb-240x210-3618 Latina Lista recently ran a spotlight feature about the California-based nonprofit Raising a Reader. Raising a Reader's emphasis is on "working with parents when their children are still babies and helping them establish "book cuddling" routines with their children until they reach the age of five." We love that. "Book cuddling." Because that is what it's all about - giving kids positive associations with books and literacy, so that books become their friends.

This is not really a "program or research". But there's a nice OpEd piece by Caille Millner in the San Francisco Chronicle about how literacy is about more than just reading and jobs. Comparing her own education and experiences with those of her illiterate grandfather, Millner says "when you can read, you can read other people's stories. You can step into other people's lives, other people's existences. And when that happens, your own world expands." She concludes that "helping children become literate is our patriotic duty."

And here's a study to make a book-lover cry. The National Literacy Trust in the UK recently did a study on books in the home. As reported by, "Both the Daily Mail and Evening Standard reported on figures from the National Literacy Trust. The Mail reported the study found almost 40% of those aged eight to 17 live in homes with fewer than 10 books. However, 85% of those aged eight to 15 own a games console and 81% have a mobile phone. The Evening Standard focused on results from London, which revealed one in three children do not have a book of their own at home." Just sad! Link via @PWKidsBookshelf and @RileyCarney.

Unwrapping Literacy

Here's an interesting tidbit from eClassroomNews (via @TrevorHCairney). "Test scores of iPad-using students are climbing." The idea seems to be that using an iPad makes school (and the subject being studied), cooler and more interesting. Of course one wonders how lasting this effect will be... But still interesting.

Our thanks to Geraldine at Tidy Books for her thought-provoking post Facebook in Schools? She offers links to multiple perspectives: parent, teacher, and student. From there, we discovered, a website that "information for educators, parents, carers, and young people. It is used to strengthen their awareness and understanding of what digital citizenship is and encourages users of technology to be and become responsible DIGItal citiZENS."

A recent edition of Education Week's Digital Directions by Ian Quillen offers a wonderful example of how Skype has become a valuable tool for students ... as a way to connect language students with native speakers, conduct virtual field trips, and more. “What I’ve found is that the learning transcends the Skype environment,” (Colleen) Blaurock adds. “The kids saw a reason in a traditional classroom to learn. And Skype helped make that happen.”

Suggestions for Growing Bookworms

4199x+NLFDL._SL500_AA300_ Amy shared a nice post at Teach Mama recently, about making connections during (and after) read-aloud sessions. She says: "I’ve found that among all of the comprehension strategies out there, connecting is one of the easiest for children to learn and for parents to model. It’s one that we do around here most often, without thinking, because it’s natural to try to figure out where we fit compared to the world around us.' She gives examples for parents of ways to connect books with day-to-day life (objects, feelings, memories, etc.), and talks about why this is important. This is why every time my daughter sneezes I say: "Bless you, my little fur child" (in a nod to Margaret Wise Brown's Little Fur Family).

RADLogo Read Aloud Dad suggests a very simple way that families can double the read-aloud time that kids get: enlist dads in family read-aloud sessions. [I especially liked the part that says "Skip this if you are married to Jim Trelease]. And of course there's this important point: "A Read Aloud Dad is worth his weight in books!" So true!

Also via @ReadAloudDad, we learned of a book that bookworm-growing parents might be interested in. We shared the story a while back of the father and daughter whose "streak" of consecutive read-aloud nights stretched to 3218. Now the daughter, Alice Ozma, has written a book about the experience, The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared. You can read more about the book in this Ventura County Star piece, which says: "Through a series of short stories, Ozma tells how books and time spent with her dad influenced her life, and provided comfort, laughter, and most importantly love — gifts that she continues to carry with her into adulthood."

And finally, at Rasco from RIF, Carol shares her concern about the learning gaps that are going to grow as kids are out of school for the summer. She says: "If you do nothing else this week, watch the two minute video posted by Horizons National on their home page, share it with as many people as you can, particularly policy makers, and decide what you as an individual are going to do about the summer learning loss being experienced by children in your community this summer. It’s an issue that deserves high attention…that is if we care about improving the reading ability of our nation’s children." I'll close by sending you over there.

Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. We'll be back later this month with more children's literacy and reading news. Meanwhile, I wish you all happy summer reading, and lots of it.

An Appreciation for National Ambassador Jon Scieszka: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on January 4, 2010. Although it's a bit dated, as far as references to timing go, the essence, an appreciation for Jon Scieszka's work, remains relevant.

An Appreciation for National Ambassador Jon Scieszka

On January 5th [2010], the second National Ambassador for Young People's Literature was announced by the Library of Congress. [Katherine Paterson] The official National Ambassador site explains: "The position of National Ambassador for Young People's Literature was created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people's literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people... The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Children's Book Council (CBC), and Every Child a Reader, the CBC foundation, are the administrators of the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature initiative." As you might imagine, I was thrilled when this position was first announced two years ago.

JenwithJonScieszka.jpgThat day, Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading hosted a virtual celebration of our outgoing (first) National Ambassador Jon Scieszka. They asked for blog posts honoring Scieszka, saying: "The "Thank You Jon Scieszka" post can be a review of one of his books, your reflections on his work as ambassador, a personal story around one of his books or author visits, something connected to Guys Read...anything Jon Scieszka."

I have previously reviewed one of Scieszka's books (Smash! Crash! (Trucktown)) on my blog, and recapped one of his bookstore events during his term as Ambassador (see a photo of me with Jon Scieszka above). I just mentioned one of Scieszka's articles, written as Ambassador, in my most recent Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere post, among many other mentions over the past two years.

knucklehead.jpgI also loved Scieszka's memoir, Knucklehead (though I didn't review it, because I listened to it on audiobook, but you can read a great review at A Fuse #8 Production). I think that his Trucktown series cries out "make reading FUN" with every new book. All in all, I'm a huge fan not only of Scieszka's books, but of his tireless efforts to promote reading, especially among boys and reluctant readers.

Before he was appointed National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Scieszka founded Guys Read, a website dedicated to helping boys learn to enjoy reading. Here's his brief statement on boys and reading (much of which he carried over to his work as Ambassador), edited slightly for formatting:

"Boys often have to read books they don't really like. They don't get to choose what they want to read. And what they do like to read, people often tell them is not really reading. We can help boys read by:

  • Letting them choose what they read.
  • Expanding our definition of "reading" to include: nonfiction; graphic novels, comics, comic strips; humor; and magazines, newspapers, online text (edited for formatting)
  • Getting boys to recommend reading they do like to other boys.
  • Providing boys with male role models for reading in school and at home.

Great ideas, all! A big part of what Guys Read provides is lists of boy-friendly books and audiobooks, broken up into entertaining categories like "Outer space, but without aliens" and "At least one explosion". But there are also recommended resources, options for starting a Guys Read field office, downloadable bookmarks and bookplates, and more.

Guys Read is a great resource, and I'm glad that it will be continuing. But I personally think that Jon Scieszka has done even more for kids (especially boys) and reading during his tenure as Ambassador. You can read his platform here. He visited 33 states and 274 schools, libraries, bookstores, conferences, and festivals in the past two years (per the Huffington Post article). He engaged thousands and thousands of children, and their parents, during that time. He spent the past two years encouraging people to let kids choose what they want to read, provide adult reading role models, expand our definition of what constitutes "real" reading, stop vilifying other types of media like television, and take ACTION to prmote literacy. The amount of energy this must have taken is truly breathtaking.

The committee members who chose Jon Scieszka to be our first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature chose well. They picked someone dynamic and talented, with a kid-friendly sense of humor and an unquenchable enthusiasm for connecting kids with books. I was eager to hear who the 2010-2011 selection committee would choose for our second National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. She had big shoes to fill. Thanks, Mr. Scieszka. You did a great job!

Updated to add: you can find links to many more posts in honor of Mr. Scieszka in this post at A Year of Reading.

This post was originally published at Booklights on January 4, 2010. 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.

Bats at the Ballgame: Brian Lies

Book: Bats at the Ballgame
Author: Brian Lies
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 to 8

Ballgame_jacket I adored Brian Lies' Bats at the Library (reviewed here). And I adore baseball. So when I learned that Bats at the Ballgame was coming out, I naturally had to have it. And when I discovered that Lies (who lives in New England) had planted a couple of nods for Red Sox fans in the book, well, you may believe that I was in love.

Bats at the Ballgame begins with a group of bats (in red caps and white shirts) eagerly awaiting sunset so that they can play a baseball game against a longtime (blue-clad) rival. The book is filled with references that indicate a genuine appreciation for the game. Like this, on the second page:

"Restless wings begin to itch—
excitement's at a fever pitch.
At last it's time, and with a sigh,
we hustle out to diamond sky.

Hurry up! Come one—come all!
We're off to watch the bats play ball!

And this:

"We wing from dark to dazzling bright,
startled by the stunning sight
of colors like we've never seen:
the brown so brown, the green so green."

Of course there are also plenty of bat-specific details to go with the baseball details. A vendors offers "Mothdogs" and "Cricket Jack." The grounds crew uses a fork to rake the mound. Sugar packets are used for bases. And so on.

Lies writes in bouncy, rhyming couplets that positively cry out to be read aloud. Like this:

"At first, we're full of reckless joy—
their batters strike out fast.
But when our batters strike out too,
our laughter doesn't last.

The illustrations are fabulous, too. I especially enjoyed one of a grandbat and child in the stands, awaiting a pivotal call, hearts in their eyes. Lies' bats are all lovingly detailed, with textured fur that makes you practically want to stroke the page, and bright, intelligent eyes.

Lies' tones tend to be dark (as befitting books that take place at nighttime), making the Bats series perhaps better for slightly older kids than for preschoolers. Older kids will also be more appreciative of the details in the pictures, like the bats rolling the foul lines using a cannister of powdered sugar, and the audience hanging from the ceiling.

Bats at the Ballgame features an exciting game, true to how bats probably would play ball (if, you know, bats played ball). It's a lovely combination of whimsey and reverence for baseball. And yes, Red Sox fans, there is a "PESKY POLE." Bats at the Ballgame is a must-read for fans of the series, fans of baseball, and anyone who appreciates a lavishly illustrated, energetic read-aloud. Bats at the Ballgame is going to stand as one of my all-time favorite picture books. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Houghton MIfflin Books for Children (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: September 6, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher. The publisher sent me an ARC, but I later purchased the finished book. Quotes are from the finished book.

© 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).

MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge: The Finish Line: #48HBC

48hbc_new I'm so glad that I decided to take on MotherReader's 6th Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge this weekend. I feel like it recharged me as a reader and a blogger. I got into such a groove on the first day (when I had a babysitter during the day, and a cooperative spouse in the evening). I was just reading, reviewing, tweeting, reading, reviewing, tweeting, etc. I wanted to be able to keep that cycle up forever. Of course real life isn't going to allow that. But the take home message for me is that if I set my mind to it, I CAN find ways to fit in more reading, even with a 14-month-old Baby Bookworm in the house.

Anyway, here are my final stats:

  • Reading time (print): 11 hours, 40 minutes
  • Listening time (audiobooks): 1 hour, 6 minutes (exact b/c I had just started a new book on MP3)
  • Reviewing time: 4 hours, 55 minutes
  • Social networking time (following the #48HBC on Twitter and commenting on other blogs): 55 minutes (I plan to spend more time on that today)
  • Book completed: 6 (plus part of an audiobook)
  • Total time: 18 hours, 36 minutes

Considering that my goal was 12 hours and 4 books completed, I'm quite pleased. I actually started hoping to get to 20 hours on Saturday night, but my daughter chose not to cooperate with that plan. By the time I could get her down for the night, I was too tired for book 7. Still, 18 1/2 hours and 6 books read and reviewed makes me very happy. Perhaps I can shoot for 20 hours next year...

And here my six completed books:

I also listened to part of Live Wire, by Harlan Coben, and read the first couple of chapters of Oggie Cooder, Party Animal, by Sarah Weeks.

Thanks so much for hosting the 48 Hour Book Challenge again this year, MotherReader. It was a privilege to participate. I will certainly be back next year, and will try to keep my reading/reviewing/networking groove in the meantime.

Penny Dreadful: Laurel Snyder: #48HBC

Book: Penny Dreadful
Author: Laurel Snyder (@LaurelSnyder)
Illustrator: Abigail Halpin
Pages: 320
Age Range: 9-12

Pennydreadful My sixth book for the 48 Hour Book Challenge was Laurel Snyder's Penny Dreadful. Which I loved. Laurel Snyder's gift is that she's able to channel the best of classic children's literature, all of the books that I wanted to live in as a child, and yet update things enough to make her books feel modern and fresh. Penny Dreadful is a book for book lovers. It's a book for anyone who thinks that a summer afternoon spent reading with your best friend on the front porch is a perfect day. It's a book for anyone who has ever explored caves with their friends, or built a fort in the woods, or wanted to.

Penelope Grey lives a privileged life in The City. She has every creature comfort, but she is, alas, bored to pieces. She wishes on a wishing well for a major change. But her father quitting his job and her family sinking rapidly into financial difficulties wasn't exactly what she had in mind. Inheriting a rambling home in the country appears to change the family's fortunes. Whippoorwillows house in Thrush Junction, TN doesn't turn out to be exactly what anyone expects, either. But it might, just might, be the making of Penny and her family.

Penny Dreadful is a book in which events that occur could be magical, or not, like several of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books. There is a faintly unreal, idealized quality to the story, from Penny's father's giddy joy at quitting his job to Penny's mother's quite unexpected choice of a job in Thrush Junction. Laurel Snyder channels Elizabeth Enright, L.M. Montgomery, and Jeanne Birdsall in her work, sometimes with direct references to books, and sometimes with more subtle allusions. Yet there are realistic bits, too, like the possibility of foreclosure, friends hurting each other's feelings, and parental admonitions to clean one's room.

Penny Dreadful is chock-full of quirky, interesting characters. Penny, coming from a sheltered background, is a nice foil for this. Everything is new and interesting to her, from an elderly woman who used to be a cabaret dancer to a pair of hyper-protective parents to a boy who has two mothers. Penny's parents appear conventional and dull at first, but both prove to have unexpected sides to them. Watching Penny develop a relationship with her parents is one of the joys of the book.

I LOVE Penny. She's spent most of her life without real friends, being taught at home by a tutor, and she turns to books for everything. For excitement, ideas, and advice. Like this:

"Duncan didn't look especially fragile to Penny, no more so than anyone else she'd ever met. But looks could be deceiving. Maybe Duncan was like an upsetting book with an ordinary, happy cover. Maybe he was Bridge to Terebithia." (Page 140)

Penny is actually a bit like Hope from The Memory Bank, now that I think about it. Hope had a memory deficit, from spending more time dreaming than experiencing life. Penny has a memory deficit of her own, from spending her time reading books, instead of doing things herself. But Penny has much better parents. But when Penny gets the chance, she's 100% ready to experience life. Like this:

"But staring up into the green of the willows and down the winding dirt road, Penelope also felt a thrill. Gazing at the mountains beyond the house, she wanted to ramble, to do--in a hungry, wandering real way. Looking at all the tiny cottages, Penelope wanted to explore. She had never felt so excited, or so nervous. Penelope had never felt so much. (Page 76-77)

And Penny does have experiences and adventures in Thrush Junction. But, perhaps more importantly, she learns about friendship. She finds a wonderful friend in Luella, wild-haired, brown-skinned, and a little bit out of control. Here's probably my favorite passage from the whole book:

"In fact, Penny was so content, and Luella was so content, that for a number of days the two girls kept mostly to themselves and stayed busy, if you could call it busy, doing nothing and everything, the way friends do. They sat in their fort beneath the waving willow fronds, and they swung on the porch swing. They lounged around in a falling-apart hammock behind the house and listened as Old Joe practiced playing the fiddle one morning. They played Uno under a tree and drew pictures of what they thought they might look like when they grew up and were famous actresses and/or fairies and/or vampires and/or rock stars." (Page 165-166)

So perfect! The ending of Penny Dreadful is just right, too.

Two years ago, I read Any Which Wall during the 48 Hour Book Challenge, and loved it. That book was an homage to the work of Edward Eager and E. Nesbit. But Penny Dreadful has echoes of the authors that I really love from my childhood -- Zilpha Keatley Snyder and Elizabeth Enright. Laurel Snyder seamlessly integrates a modern sensibility, too. Penny Dreadful is a book that I finished with sigh of satisfaction.

Penny Dreadful is going on my keep shelf, to be read aloud to Baby Bookworm when she's older. Highly recommended for middle grade readers, or anyone who loves books and the adventures that they bring.

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: September 28, 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).

A Monster Calls: Patrick Ness: #48HBC

Book: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness (inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd)
Illustrator: Jim Kay
Pages: 224
Age Range: 13 and up

51IQn6YPgbL._SL500_AA300_ My fifth book for the 48 Hour Book Challenge was A Monster Calls. A Monster Calls was written by Patrick Ness, based on an idea outlined by author Siobhan Dowd before she died, at 47. It's a relatively brief book, with quite a few black and white illustrations, and yet took me quite a while to read. It's a book that made me stop to think, puzzling out riddles, and drawing parallels to my own life. A Monster Calls is a powerful story, one that puts the reader through an emotional wringer. It's quite a triumph for Patrick Ness, and a legacy for Siobhan Dowd.

A Monster Calls begins as Conor O'Malley wakens from a terrible, recurring nightmare. Out of the darkness behind his house rises a monster, a huge old yew tree come to life. The monster speaks to Conor, who is too traumatized by his other nightmare, and the events of his waking life, to even be afraid. The monster may be a dream, or maybe not, but Conor will certainly see him again.

I won't say anything further about the plot, because this is a book that the reader should enter with an open mind (and because the US edition won't be released until September, though you can order it now from the UK if you can't wait). Suffice it to say that A Monster Calls is heart-wrenching.

Jim Kay's illustrations are dark, in keeping with the tone of the story, and the nightmare themes. The monster looms menacingly above the pages. Shadowy tendrils creep along the borders of other pages. Conor is seen primarily in silhouette.

A Monster Calls reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, but with even darker themes. It also reminded me, a tiny bit, of the movie The Princess Bride. The monster tells Conor three stories within the story, and the banter between the boy and the monster reminds me of that between the grandfather and grandson in the movie. Like this:

("This is all sounding pretty fairy tale-ish," Conor said suspiciously.)
(You would not say that if you heard the screams of a man killed by a spear, said the monster. Or his cries of terror as he was torn to pieces by wolves. Now be quiet.)

The stories themselves seemed familiar, though I can't precisely place them. Classic myths, perhaps.

Ness writes spare yet descriptive text, evoking scents, smells, sounds, and feelings. He also writes with a certain adolescent attitude, channeling the moody Conor. Here are a couple of quotes that I think give a feel for the book, without giving away the story:

"Already taller than Conor's window, the monster grew wider as it brought itself together, filling out to a powerful shape, one that looked somehow strong, somehow mighty. It stared at Conor the whole time, and he could hear the loud, windy breathing from its mouth. It set its giant hands on either side of his window, lowering its head until its huge eyes filled the frame, holding Conor with its glare. Conor's house gave a little moan under its weight." (Page 5, ARC)

"Conor said nothing, and the silence took on a particular quality, one he was familiar with, caused by how Miss Kwan's body shifted forward, her shoulders dropping, her head leaning down toward Conor's.
He knew what was coming. He knew and hated it." (Page 72)

A Monster Calls is a book that is already generating a lot of buzz among reviewers. It's a YA book that adults are going to love. I'll be interested to see how kids like it. Conor's voice is authentic, and the issues in the book cut to the heart of what's most important to kids. The monster is terrifying and fascinating. But it's also a bleak and intense read, demanding an emotional response from the reader. It's not that I don't think kids can handle it - but it's going to require a certain degree of hand-selling to get them started with it.

A Monster Calls is impressive and memorable, a real tribute to Siobhan Dowd. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: September 27, 2011 (in the US, the book was published in May in the UK)
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes should be checked against the final printed book.

© 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).

Scumble: Ingrid Law: #48HBC

Book: Scumble
Author: Ingrid Law
Pages: 416
Age Range: 9-12

61vxcEcwbxL._SL500_AA300_Scumble was my fourth book for the 48 hour book challenge. It's a companion book to Savvy (reviewed here). Scumble takes place several years after the events of Savvy, and features Mibs' cousin, Ledger Kale. Like everyone in his extended family, Ledge came into a special ability, a savvy, when he turned thirteen. A few weeks later, it's clear that Ledge's savvy involves destroying things - watches and windshield wiper blades explode when he's upset, and nails come rising up out of picnic tables.

When it becomes apparent, during a trip to the family homestead in Wyoming, that Ledge's savvy also destroys BIG things, his parents leave him on the ranch for the summer. Ledge's primary mission is to learn to scumble, to control his savvy and keep it from taking over his life. He struggles with other missions, too, however, like saving the ranch from foreclosure, and restoring a lost family heirloom. And maybe, just maybe, getting involved with a girl.

I'd heard mixed reviews of Scumble, and I did find that it took me a few chapters to get into it. But once I became invested in Ledge, I quite enjoyed it. A fun bonus of Scumble is getting a glimpse at Mibs and her siblings from Savvy, and seeing how they've grown and adapted (or not) to their own savvys. But Scumble is definitely a companion novel, not a sequel - Ledge's story is his own (though you wouldn't want to read the books out of order, because Scumble does give things away about Savvy).

I like Ledge. His struggles are those of every adolescent, albeit with a big twist. He needs to control his moods. He struggles with authority. He's interested in a girl, even as he tries not to be. He has rivalry with some of his cousins. And he worries about living up to his father's dreams, all the while figuring out how to separate those dreams from his own.

As with Savvy, the various savvys of the family members are creative and often entertaining. Uncle Autry's skills as a bug-whisperer are particularly fun. The prospect of having a mother with an obedience savvy, in contrast, is horrifying. One feels for Ledge. 

Not all of the characters in Scumble are particularly well-developed. Ledge's twin cousins have no distinguishing features that I noticed, and the villain of the story, while quirky, feels a bit like a cartoon bad guy. But Ledge, his younger sister, Uncle Autry, and cousin Rocket are all solid. And many of the others have enough quirks (particularly through the savvys) to be memorable, even when not deep. 

In any event, Scumble is good fun - a rousing adventure, filled with characters with unusual talents. Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for the book:

"In my family, thirteenth birthdays were like time bombs, with no burning fuse of beeping countdown to tell you when to plug your ears, duck, brace yourself, or turn tail and get the hay bales out of Dodge." (Page 1)

"Everyone cheered as Fish and Mellie kissed at last. Everyone but me. The cheers set off a frenzied swirl of color. Hundreds of butterflies rose into the air around the couple in a Technicolor tornado, then scattered and split the scene, all orchestrated by Uncle Autry like some insect rodeo air show. The towering birch trees began to creek and groan, bending and swaying as Fish blasted the glad with a happy, rumbustious storm."

Ingrid Law's Savvy was about discovering the unique abilities within oneself. Scumble is about learning to control those abilities, turning what could be liabilities into strengths. The premise of the savvys, naturally, doesn't feel quite so fresh in this second book. But I think that kids will be able to relate to the coming to terms aspect of the book. And Ledge, and his adventures, are a lot of fun along the way. Recommended.

Publisher: Dial/Walden Media (@PenguinTeen)
Publication Date: August 17, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy

© 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).

Dancing Through the Snow: Jean Little: #48HBC

Book: Dancing Through the Snow
Author: Jean Little
Pages: 242
Age Range: 9-12

51Gi9xwnlrL._SL500_AA300_ My third book for the 48 Hour Book Challenge was Jean Little's Dancing Through the Snow. Little's Look Through My Window was a book that I loved as a kid (though I haven't re-read it in many years). Dancing Through the Snow is lovely, too. It's the sort of book that makes the reader think and stop to appreciate things. It brought tears to my eyes on several occasions, and also made me laugh out loud. It's a quiet book, set in the snow of a Canadian winter, but there are moments of pure joy (like the one captured on the cover).

The story begins as 11-year-old Min Randall girds herself up for being rejected from her fourth foster home, right before Christmas. Min was abandoned "in a washroom at the Canadian National Exhibition" when she was three, and has been largely unwanted ever since. She surrounds herself by virtual walls, and hardly ever speaks. When an unexpected rescuer scoops her away from social services on a whim, taking her to a warm, loving household, Min knows better than to trust her good fortune. But she can't help having her cold heart thaw out a bit, as she spends what is for all practical purposes her first real Christmas.

Dancing Through the Snow is about what it feels like to be abandoned, and what it feels like to be finally wanted. It's about learning to trust, and what makes up a home. It's also about puppies, sledding, coping with bullies, and the horror of the tsunami in Indonesia. Dancing Through the Snow is about love and family and blueberry pancakes.

Min is a complex character, one who evokes sympathy, but is too strong to evoke pity. Here she is:

"Min herself despised people who blubbered. Crying let your guard down and made you easier to hurt. As the door banged shut behind the two women, Min set her jaw and sat, waiting for the paid to come out and reveal what they had decided to with her next. Pressing her feet flat on the floor, she reached back automatically for the comfort of her braid. Her back was rigid, as though she had been carved out of stone like the family downtown. Or wood maybe. A totem-pole girl. But the thick rope of hair she clutched was warm and soft -- and hers." (Page 19)

The Canadian winter is everywhere through the text, like this:

"The doctor drove on through the late afternoon. Snow was still falling in lacy, lazy flakes. The oncoming evening had turned their cloudy white to a soft grey. Despite the islands of yellow light cast by the streetlamps, the dusk deepening into night was strangely eerie and Min, peering out the window, shivered." (Page 30)

There are lots of literary references in Dancing Through the Snow, from classic to modern. As in my first book of the day, there is a family read-aloud.

The plot in Dancing Through the Snow relies on a few coincidences, but I was willing to set them aside to lose myself in Min's story. I can imagine re-reading Dancing Through the Snow around Christmastime, and appreciating it even more when I know for sure how it's going to end.

Dancing Through the Snow is a beautiful novel for middle grade readers. I know that I had a phase in which I liked reading about orphans and foster children -- Dancing Through the Snow should be a nice companion to The Great Gilly Hopkins, Anne of Green Gables, The Pinballs, and the like. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Kane Miller Book Publishers
Publication Date: June 2009
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).