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Posts from July 2011

The Dead: An Enemy Novel: Charlie Higson

Book: The Dead: An Enemy Novel (WorldCat)
Author: Charlie Higson
Pages: 496
Age Range: 14 and up

51-oLhpU4KL._SL500_AA300_ The Dead is the second book in Charlie Higson's Enemy series, though most of it takes place before the events of the first book (The Enemy, reviewed here). Both books take place in and around a post-apocalypse London. The city, and the world, have been decimated by a plague that killed most adults and left the remainder as mindless, deformed, child-eating creatures. The Dead takes place shortly after the collapse as a group of boarding school boys set out from their once-safe school in search of food and sanctuary.

The viewpoint in The Dead alternates primarily between two one-time best friends, Jack and Ed, now currently experiencing some friction. Ed was always a leader before, but finds himself holding back, unable to commit the violence that's now needed for survival. Jack is a reluctant leader, even though all he really wants to do is go home. Together, Jack and Ed lead a motley crew of jocks and geeks towards London. The boys learn a lot about survival, and figure out a few important things about the diseased adults that they're fighting. They encounter a variety of other kids, some become allies and some rivals, before the action links up with the events of The Enemy.

Like The Enemy, The Dead is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. There are many gruesome sights (and sounds and smells), and quite a few deaths. One of the deaths I found particularly sad (though not on the level of Rue from The Hunger Games), more so than any in the first book.

The Dead explains a few things that were left vague in the first book, and is, if anything, more suspenseful. It suffers not at all from the traditional weakness of the second book in a series. Even though most of the events take place prior to those of The Enemy, I still think that it makes sense to read the books in the order published. Otherwise, you'll miss out on some nuances, and spoil the suspense regarding the survival of a key character from The Enemy.

I don't have a whole lot more to say than what I said about the first book. The Enemy novels are solidly-written tense thrillers set in a perilous world in which children need to work together, negotiate with one another, and figure out how to keep the tattered remnants of civilization intact. Highly recommended and compulsively readable. I look forward to the next book. 

Publisher: Hyperion Children's Books
Publication Date: June 14, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: July 26

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 1455 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book review posts and one children's literacy roundup (published in detail at The Family Bookshelf). I also have a recap of my Tips for Growing Bookworms series (originally published at Booklights), plus a new tip suggested by crime author Denise Hamilton. All of my posts from the past two weeks are included in the newsletter.

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I finished three books, one middle grade and two young adult novels (as well as various picture books and board books, see those here, here, and here):

I'm still listening to The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and also listening to Trust Me, a thriller by Jeff Abbott. I'm reading The Dead: An Enemy Novel, by Charlie Higson. I've also dipped a toe into reading The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder aloud to Baby Bookworm, but she's not so great at sitting still these days (she's just starting to walk).

My new reading challenge is that Baby Bookworm enjoys pulling the bookmarks out of my books and eating them (when she isn't tossing my books into the trash. Sigh! She never throws her own books into the trash, I've noticed...). Ah, the challenges of a mommy bookworm.

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.

The Summer I Learned to Fly: Dana Reinhardt

Book: The Summer I Learned to Fly (WorldCat)
Author: Dana Reinhardt
Pages: 224
Age Range: 10-14

51+WmVl7lZL._SL500_AA300_The Summer I Learned to Fly by Dana Reinhardt is a coming of age novel set in the summer of 1986 on the central California coast. Thirteen-year-old Drew Solo, sometimes known as Birdie, and sometimes called Robin, doesn't have very many friends her own age. Drew likes to spend her spare time at her mother's cheese shop, hanging out with a woman she considers an aunt, an older teen on whom she has a tremendous crush, and her pet rat.

Her father died when Drew was very small, and she clings to a book of lists about himself that he left for her, sometimes seeking guidance from his words. Her relationship with her mother is a bit strained, as Drew learns that her mother is hiding something from her. Her only friends are away for the summer (not that she really misses them anyway). But when she meets an unusual boy called Emmett Crane, Drew feels an immediate sense of connection. Her friendship with Emmett changes her forever.

One style thing that I didn't like in The Summer I Learned to Fly was the way it starts out as a book that an adult is writing, looking back nostalgically on the long-ago events of a childhood summer. This gave me a bit of a feeling like the book was aimed at other adults who were kids in 1986, rather than at kids themselves. I would be interested to see how kids react to this (the scene is set on the first page). The 1986 setting is, in general, fairly subtle, more noticeable for what isn't there (computers, cell phones, Internet) than what is (rainbow shoelaces, an economic recession).

But that's a minor point. The Summer I Learned to Fly is filled with small mysteries and poignant moments. The short chapters feature cryptic titles like "mom, a vanishing act" and "absolutely, positively fine". The first-person narrative jumps around a bit, especially early in the book, as Drew fills in necessary backstory. Stylistically, this book reminded me a little bit of Please Ignore Vera Dietz, though it's not as complex.It took me a little while to get into the book, but the end brought a satisfied little tear to my eye.

Here are a few quotes, to give you a feel for Reinhardt's writing:

"I was the only youngish person she knew in her life, and so I received the fully bounty of her auntlike energy." (Page 22)

"I would never be that girl. I would never swim where there was nobody certified to rescue me from an undertow. I'd never jump into any body of water fully clothed. I doubted that any boy would ever take my hand like that, run beside me, and then pull me toward him into the waves, laughing, grabbing on tighter." (Page 95)

"We all have our stories. The ones we're told or read as children that never leave us. For me, that story is Charlotte's Web, and it always struck me how Emmett mentioned it the very first night we met in the alley, as if he'd removed a big fat crayon from his pocket and drawn a line connecting us together." (Page 153)

Dana Reinhard is a writer who sometimes makes me nod in recognition, and sometimes makes me see things from a different perspective. (See also my reviews of her novels A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life and How To Build A House.) The Summer I Learned to Fly is a quick yet thoughtful read, with just enough mystery to keep kids turning the pages. Recommended for readers more interested in real human connection than popularity and fitting in. Although Drew is thirteen, she seems younger, and I would say that kids (particularly girls) about to start middle school, or in middle school already, would be the ideal audience. Recommended.

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: July 12, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Tips for Growing Bookworms: Guest Tip from Denise Hamilton

Paperbackphoto Last week I wrapped up my Tips for Growing Bookworms series, saying that I would add future tips if anything that anyone suggested inspired me. Crime novelist Denise Hamilton (who tells me she "will definitely NOT be reading her upcoming book Damage Control to her 13 year old son") was kind enough to send in a guest tip. I have not yet read Damage Control, but I have enjoyed Denise's mystery/thriller series about LA Times reporter Eve Diamond. Denise also works for the LA Times, and this lends authenticity to the series. She's written articles for the Times about reluctant boy readers and Beverly Cleary, and has been a subscriber to my Growing Bookworms newsletter for several years now. As makes sense coming from a crime novelist, Denise's guest tip for growing bookworms is about using cliffhangers to draw in young readers.

Tips for Growing Bookworms #11: Use the Power of Cliffhangers to Spur Independent Reading, by Denise Hamilton

When Mom is an author,  kids grow up with a natural love of books, right?

Not necessarily.

When they were younger, my children assumed that all parents read to their kids for a half-hour before bedtime. For my younger son, that ended at age 11, when he pried Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere from my hands, announced I was reading too slowly, and trotted off to read to himself.

My younger son is a more reluctant reader.

Sometimes he’ll pick up books when he’s bored and I won’t let him play video games.

But the bulk of his reading happens at night.

He’s 13, and I still read to him before bed.

It’s a ritual that we cherish. He clambers into bed with the cats and I prop up my feet and read aloud. Standouts: The Hunger Games Trilogy, Stephen King The Stand, The Shining and Firestarter, Justin Cronin’s The Passage, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, Philip Reeve’s Hungry Cities Chronicles, anything by Rick Riordan, the entire Redwall series, Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, John Connolly’s The Gates, and many others.

Often, I’ll bring home several books and he’ll peruse the dust jackets, study the cover art, thumb through them and decide which to read next. Having a choice is very important at his age, when so many things in life, such as Algebra, Health Science and P.E., offer very little in that department.

But as much as I love our time together, I want Alex to read on his own too.

So I’ve come up with a way to whet his interest.

At night, I’ll often read until I hit a big fat cliffhanger. I size these up like a military general, waiting until he’s rapt and on the edge of his seat. Then announce I need to go feed the dog or lock up the car. I hand him the book.

He wants to wait until I get back.

But he needs to find out What Happens Next.

Guess which side usually wins?

As he reads, my one chore will often mushroom into five and 20 engrossed minutes will pass without him calling for me. Several times I’ve even sat back down, careful not to disturb him, and picked up my own book.

When the action lulls and he looks up and realizes I’m back, he’ll hand me the book and I’ll read him another chapter. Then another errand might call – but only when something very suspenseful is about to happen.

Is it manipulative?

A bit.

Does it work?

Try it yourself and see.

Thanks, Denise, for sharing such a clever tip. I especially like the bit about sizing up cliffhangers "like a military general". I have every expectation of trying this tip out on my own bookworm as soon as she's reading on her own, and old enough to care about What Happens Next. Alex is a lucky kid. Enjoy your reading time together!

Readers, have any of you used this technique? Do you have other ways that you encourage your kids to read on their own? I'd love to hear about them. Links to the other entries in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series are here.

This post © 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

You Are My Little Cupcake: Amy E. Sklansky

Book: You Are My Little Cupcake (WorldCat)
Author: Amy E. Sklansky
Illustrator: Talitha Shipman
Pages: 16
Age Range: 0-3

9780316078184_154X233 You Are My Little Cupcake merges two delightful things, babies and cupcakes, in a frothy confection of a board book. Amy Sklansky draws a different analogy on each page, with pairs of page spreads forming rhyming couplets. Like this:

"Your skin is smooth as butter,
Your giggles sugar-sweet.

Your scent is so delicious--
Each hug's a special treat."

Talitha Shipman's pastel illustrations shows different parent/baby pairs, in a range of ethnicities, all with matching smiles. Pictures of cupcakes are in the background on every page, on the shower curtain, on a baby's bib, on a book cover, etc. The front cover of the book features a touch and feel cupcake wrapper, with ripples that make noise when kids run a fingernail across them. Although there are no touch and feel or flap elements inside, that cupcake is enough to draw a one-year-old's attention.

You Are My Little Cupcake would be a good gift book for any new parent, deliciously immersed in kissing, hugging, and tickling a new small person. And if that new parent should happen to be a fan of cupcakes, well, then you have a perfect fit. And really, who isn't a fan of cupcakes? You Are My Little Cupcake is a nice addition to anyone's board book collection.

Publisher: LB Kids (@LBSchool)
Publication Date: April 19, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Forever: Maggie Stiefvater

Book: Forever (Wolves of Mercy Falls, Book 3)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater (blog)
Pages: 400
Age Range: 12 and up

Forever-175 Forever is the final book of Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. This review may contain spoilers for Book 1: Shiver and Book 2: Linger (but not for Forever). Honestly, it feels a bit pointless to review Forever. If you've read Shiver and Linger, then you already know that you want to read Forever. You don't need to know what I think. And if you haven't read Shiver and Linger, then you shouldn't read this review at all, because you don't want to spoil those books (though you SHOULD immediately get yourself Shiver and get started). But here are a few thoughts anyway.

The Wolves of Mercy Falls series is about a group of teens who are affected, in various ways, by a werewolf contagion. Those who are infected turn into wolves whenever the temperature drops too low. Since Mercy Falls is in Minnesota, this means that they spend their winters as wolves, only returning to their human bodies (and human thoughts) in the summertime. Although the wolf premise is interesting (and frequently suspenseful), what makes The Wolves of Mercy Falls series wonderful is Maggie Stiefvater's lyrical writing, and her ability to capture true love in the pages of a book.

Forever finds former part-time wolf Sam apparently cured, no longer turning into a wolf (though the cure feels a bit shaky). Sam's love Grace, however, is coming off of her first winter as a wolf. Former musician Cole is also adjusting to his new life as a part-time wolf, and circling around the aloof Isabel whenever he can. Because Grace has disappeared, Sam is under suspicion from the police, Grace's parents, and the general public. Meanwhile, the entire family of wolves is under threat from Isabel's father, who wants to see them destroyed. Forever is told through the alternating viewpoints of Grace, Sam, Cole, and Isabel as they fight both these external threats and their own desires and internal demons.

Like the other books in the series, Forever is beautifully written, full of pithy truths, apt analogies and tactile descriptions. I flagged dozens of passages, finally stopping mid-way through, since I knew that I couldn't possibly quote them all. For example:

"I spent so long debating my options that I  missed my window of opportunity for escape. I was standing in the foyer, my phone in my hand, waiting for me to give it orders, when my father came trotting down the stairs at the same time that my mother started to breach the door of the living room. I was trapped between two opposing weather fronts. Nothing to do at this point but batten the hatches and hope the lawn gnomes didn't blow away." (Page 11, Isabel)

"Everyone harbored the secret fantasy that everyone who was friends with them would also be friends with each other." (Page 163)

As I indicated above, Maggie Stiefvater's greatest gift, I think, is her ability to convey love and longing. For example:

"Without Grace, I lived in a hundred moments other than the one I currently occupied. Every second was filled with someone else's music or books I'd never read. Work. Making bread. Anything to fill the thoughts. I played at normalcy, at the idea that it was just one more day without her, and that tomorrow would bring her walking through my door, life going on as if it hadn't been interrupted." (Page 20, Sam)

"There is no better taste than this: someone else's laughter in your mouth." (Page 78, Sam)

"She turned to look at me and it was her eyes and my eyes and I felt a surging sensation of rightness, of saying the right thing at the right time to the right person, that too-rare sensation of having the right thing to say and believing it, too". (Page 93, Cole)

There is suspense to Forever. Will Sam be arrested? Will Grace reconnect with her parents? Will the wolves survive? And yet, it's a book to be savored, rather than gulped down for plot. Take your time. Linger. Enjoy being in the hands of a master.

Maggie Stiefvater is, hands down, one of my very favorite authors. Forever does not disappoint. Existing fans of the series will want to get their hands on it as quickly as possible. And if you haven't read any of Stiefvater's books, start now. You won't be disappointed. (See also my reviews of Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception and Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie.)

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: July 12, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: July 15

JkrROUNDUP The July 15th Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup, brought to you by The Family Bookshelf, Rasco from RIF, and Jen Robinson's Book Page, is now available at The Family Bookshelf. In the past couple of weeks, Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco and I have collected a variety of interesting tidbits about literacy and reading-related events, literacy programs and research, and suggestions for growing bookworms. Terry has pulled it all together into a joyous celebration of reading, perfect for mid-summer (how did it get to be mid-summer so quickly, by the way?).

I especially liked this tidbit:

Latino literacy expert Robert Rueda wishes more Latinos could discover literature when they are young. Many Latino youths don’t see the practical value in reading and never fulfill their potential, according to Mr. Rueda. To prevent that, Riverside County literacy officials are offering a reading program aimed at young Latinos called Un Libro, Mil Mundos, or One Book, a Thousand Worlds. The goal of the program is to spark a passion for reading in Latino students and improve literacy skills by offering books that focus on life matters they can relate to. You can read more in the Riverside Press-Enterprise and become a fan of the Riverside Public Library on Facebook to learn about upcoming Un Libro events.

I had also somehow missed Michelle's excellent post at Reading Rewards about how to pick the best books for your kids. Lots of great suggestions (including the Reading Rewards Book Recommendations tab, which is highly visual). I especially like Michelle's tip to get recommendations from your children's friends. A nice way to promote social reading!

One event that's going on this week that I wanted to add is the Summer Blog Blast Tour, organized by Colleen Mondor from Chasing Ray, featuring a host of author interviews across a variety of blogs. The Summer and Winter Blog Blast Tours are always well-thought-out and varied (much more interesting, I think, than reading about a single author day after day). You can find the master schedule here.

Please do check out the full mid-July children's literacy and reading news roundup at Family Bookshelf. We'll be back at Rasco from RIF at the end of the month with more news. Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy.

Animals Should Definitely NOT Wear Clothing: Judi Barrett

Book: Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing (WorldCat)
Author: Judi Barrett
Illustrator: Ron Barrett
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

Animalshould Author/illustrator team Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett are best known for writing Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (recently made into a motion picture). I hadn't run across their book Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing until Baby Bookworm received it as a birthday gift from a very dear friend. And oh my goodness, this book is hilarious. Just about every page had me giggling aloud.

The cover image, of a porcupine wearing a quill-torn outfit, sets the stage. Each page spread displays a different animal, with a corresponding reason why that animal really, definitely, shouldn't wear clothes. For example:

"because a giraffe might look sort of silly" (Picture of a giraffe wearing seven ties spread out along its long neck)

and my personal favorite:

"because it might make life hard for a hen" (Picture of a hen wearing pants, and attempting to lay an egg. Get the book. It will make you laugh. I promise).

Judi Barrett's text is brief and to the point. It's really the juxtaposition of the text with the ludicrous illustrations that make the book so giggle-inducing. The sweating sheep in a sweater, hat, and scarf, tongue hanging out of mouth, is unforgettable. Apart from the clothing, Ron Barrett draws the animals straight up, with detailed, realistic sketches, and mostly patient expressions. This is what makes the contrast with the ridiculous clothing work so well.

Baby Bookworm isn't old enough to appreciate the humor of this book yet, but I'll be reading it to her anyway, because I find it so entertaining. Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing is going on my mental list of books to give as gifts, which is pretty much my highest form of praise for picture books. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Atheneum (@SimonSchuster)
Publication Date: 1970
Source of Book: A birthday gift for Baby Bookworm

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Tips for Growing Bookworms: Series Recap and Future Plans

This post was originally published at Booklights on April 5, 2010 (fortunately I had already scheduled the post, because that was the morning that Baby Bookworm was born). I have updated it to reflect the reissued posts on my own blogs, and to add new tips as published here on Jen Robinson's Book Page.

Tips for Growing Bookworms: Series Recap and Future Plans

Back in 2007 I wrote a post for my own blog about 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Over several months in 2009 and 2010, I expanded upon each of those original ten ideas in separate posts at Booklights. This year, I've republished each of those 10 Booklights posts back at my own blog (because the Booklights blog is no longer active, and I wanted to make sure that the posts were archived here, too).

In today's post, I'm going to link to each of the original 10 tips posts, as presented at Booklights and back here at Jen Robinson's Book Page, so that they'll all be handy in one place. Some of the reissue posts have added commentary, based on my experience with Baby Bookworm, now 15 months old. I'll also be adding new tips as they become available, so that they can all be found in one place (such as Tip #11 below).

  1. Read Aloud [reissue]
  2. Read the Books Your Children Read [reissue]
  3. Choose Books that Your Children Enjoy [reissue]
  4. Make Sure Your Children Have Books of their Own [reissue]
  5. Visit Libraries and Bookstores [reissue]
  6. Read Yourself, and Model an Appreciation for Reading [reissue]
  7. Point Out When You're Learning Useful Information by Reading [reissue]
  8. Be Selective in Television Watching [reissue]
  9. Create Cozy Reading Spaces within Your Home, and Keep Books Handy [reissue]
  10. Let Them Stay Up Late Reading Under the Covers [reissue]
  11. Use the Power of Cliffhangers to Spur Independent Reading, by Denise Hamilton

It should be noted that the original ten tips owe a debt to the following references, all of which I read prior to writing the original post (versions updated here as appropriate). Any of these books would be an excellent place to start, in learning more about growing bookworms.

I'd also add Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer to my list of recommendations, of course. That hadn't been published yet when I wrote the original set of tips. [And Pam Allyn's What to Read When: The Books and Stories to Read with Your Child--and All the Best Times to Read Them.]

I would love to know if there are other tips that you'd like to share to help parents and teachers in encouraging young readers. In my mind, there's no particular reason why the list has to stop at ten tips, after all. Any suggestions? If anything here in the comments (or elsewhere) inspires me, I'll add further entries to the series, and/or include some guest Tips for Growing Bookworms on the blog. Thanks for reading, and for caring about growing bookworms!!

A slightly different version of this post was originally published at Booklights on April 5, 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: July 12

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 1439 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have five book review posts and one children's literacy roundup (published in detail at Rasco from RIF). I also have the last two installments in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series (originally published at Booklights). Finally, I have a post with reasons to attend September's KidLitCon in Seattle. The only post from the past two weeks not included in the newsletter is one with photos from a visit to my home by the RIF BeBookSmart car, B. B. Smart.

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I finished three books, one YA and two adult mysteries (as well as various picture books and board books, see those here and here):

Clearly, I need to get back to reading more middle grade novels. My to be read stack is enormous. I'm still listening to The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. I'm reading (and lingering over) Forever by Maggie Stiefvater.

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.

The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York: Kevin Hawkes

Book: The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York (WorldCat)
Author: Kevin Hawkes
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3 to 8

Images Somehow I missed Kevin Hawkes' The Wicked Big Toddlah, though I'm not sure how it escaped my attention. When the sequel, The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York, arrived on my doorstep, it went straight to the top of my reading stack. Because really, how could anyone raised in New England resist a book about a wicked big toddlah? (Note the Maine accent on "toddlah". Note the use of the word "wicked" for emphasis.)

The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York finds Toddie, a super-sized toddler, visiting New York City with his parents. They visit Yankee Stadium, ride a train, and visit Staten Island. Toddie is separated from his parents for a time, but makes friends with a group of children and dogs, and even visits FAO Schwartz. When it's time to come home, he takes a very big souvenir along with him. Toddlers rarely have a strong grasp of what is and isn't theirs, after all.

There are two running jokes with this book. The first is the super-sized Toddie, who acts like a classic toddler, and whose family treats him as though he's any old regular kid. They even manage to misplace him, despite his enormous size. This humor will appeal to kids (and parents) everywhere. The second theme is Hawkes' poking fun, with affection, at Toddie and his parents' Maine background. Anyone who has ever been to Maine, or even to Boston, will smile when Toddie says "STAAAHS!" or "HOMAAH!!", or when his dad says "Ayuh". The two jokes actually work together, because it's very Maine to be low-key about your child, even if said child is 50+ feet tall.

Examples are on every page. When the family first arrives in New York:

"Whoa! This place is busier than Rupert's Bait Shop on Memorial Day weekend!" said Pa.
Toddie stared at all the cars honking their horns. He looked at the crowds. Then he looked up, and up, and up!
"WICKED BIG!" he whispered.
"You'd better hold on to me," Ma hollered. "We don't want to lose you in this crowd."

After Toddie has been off playing with other kids for a while, lost, we have:

"Meanwhile, Ma and Pa were busy snapping pictures.
Let's get a photo of you and Toddie at the Brooklyn Bridge," suggested Pa.
"Toddie!" said Ma. "I thought you had him."
"I thought you had him," said Pa.
"Leapin' lobstahs!! Where's Toddie!?!?!?"

The accents make this a book that cries out to be read aloud. It would also be great for storytime. Hawkes has illustrated a number of other picture books, and his experience shows. The illustrations in The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York are India ink, charcoal, and acrylic. They are bright and exuberant, with Toddie practically leaping from every page. Despite Toddie's large size, the illustrations feature lots of small details, too, like a tiny baseball in Toddie's palm. My favorite picture shows Toddie's parents nestled in his pocket as he sleeps sitting up on the roof of a building, back against a taller building, the moon shining down on the family from Maine.

In many places, the pictures are needed to tell the full story. For instance, the text says that "They took the Staten Island Ferry". We learn from the picture that "took" refers to Toddie picking the ferry up and wading across to Staten Island. Hilarious, on multiple levels.

The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York is a delight from start to finish. I can't wait until Baby Bookworm is old enough to appreciate it. Meanwhile, I've already started giving The Wicked Big Toddlah as a baby gift to friends (sight unseen, though I do want to get a copy for us one of these days). Funny, witty, and delightfully illustrated. The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York has my highest recommendation.

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.

The Fenway Foul-Up: Ballpark Mysteries: David A. Kelly

Book: The Fenway Foul-Up: Ballpark Mysteries, Book 1 (WorldCat)
Author: David A. Kelly
Illustrator: Mark Meyers
Pages: 112
Age Range: 7-10

Fenway Regular readers of this blog will understand that I was unable to resist reading The Fenway Foul-Up, the first book in David A. Kelly's new Ballpark Mysteries series. This is a Stepping Stone book for newer readers, with roughly two illustrations per chapter. There are also "Dugout Notes" at the end of the book that fill in more details about Fenway Park.

Cousins Mike Walsh and Kate Hopkins have great seats and all-access passes to Fenway Park during a Red Sox game against the Oakland A's, courtesy of Kate's mom, a sports reporter. When someone steals the lucky bat of star slugger Big D, Kate and Mike set out to solve the mystery. They follow clues (including a red herring or two), while lamenting Big D's poor performance without the lucky bat. Then hasten to solve the mystery in time to give Big D a chance to save the game.

As a Red Sox fan, I personally didn't learn too many new things about Fenway (except about some secret writing on the scoreboard, hidden in plain sight, which I had never heard of). But I appreciated the fact that there was a knuckleball pitcher (with "field" in his name), and that the presence of Wally the monster played a part in the events of the story. I enjoyed passages like:

""The field looks so much bigger when you're down here," Kate said. "I can't imagine hitting a home run all the way over that wall."

Kate was right. The field did seem bigger. Mike couldn't believe he was walking on the same grass that the Red Sox played on. It was like a dream come true." (Page 92, ARC)

I especially liked one scene in which the kids are able to visit the pressroom, with open windows out to the infield. The behind-the-scenes look at the park is a lot of fun. Overall, I think Kelly did a good job balancing information-sharing (about baseball in general, and Fenway park specifically) with plot (a challenge in books for this age group).

As for the plot itself, I thought that the solution to the crime was inventive, and the aftermath satisfying for young readers. I did identify the culprit quite early, which is not my favorite thing as an adult reader, but I think that if any young readers do this, it will probably make them feel smart. And even once you know who committed the crime, there's still a question of how, which resolves much later in the book. There's a nice "clue follows from clue logic" to how Mike and Kate go about solving the crime.

Mark Meyers' black and white sketches help bring the characters to life (especially secondary characters like Bobby the Bat Boy). There is plenty of white space, and reasonable amounts of dialog, italics, and exclamation points, all of which should make this book non-threatening to relatively new readers.

All in all, I think that The Fenway Foul-Up is a solid start to The Ballpark Mysteries series for new readers. Baseball fans will like the behind-the-scenes peek at the parks, and the extra information in the Dugout Notes. Mystery fans will like working alongside Mike and Kate to solve the (age-appropriate) mysteries. The Fenway Foul-Up, with its two protagonists, should appeal to both boys and girls. Recommended.

Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: February 22, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the advance copy, and should be compared with the final book.

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.