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Posts from July 2011

The RIF #BeBookSmart Mobile and Me

RIFF_logo Today I had an opportunity that really thrilled my inner 8-year-old, the one who grew up watching RIF public service announcements about how Reading is FUNdamental. The RIF #BeBookSmart car, a truly awesome little smart car with a stack of books on top, is touring California right now. B. B. Smart, as the car is called, is drumming up excitement for RIF's summer promotion with Macy's to raise money so that RIF can continue to buy books for kids. (You can find more details here and you can enter a related contest on Facebook here.) This program is extra-important this summer, given the large funding hit that RIF took in this year's federal budgeting cycle.

Anyway, B. B. Smart made a quick stop this afternoon at my house in San Jose. Here are some photos:




Is it not the cutest car you've ever seen? Even if it didn't have books on top, it would be cute. But as it is? Priceless. I only wish I'd had more advance notice - I could have planned a little party. But Baby Bookworm and I still had a great time meeting B. B. Smart and driver Charles.

If, like me, you think that RIF's book distribution program is fundamentally important, please do consider checking out the RIF Macy's summer promotion. Just go to any counter at Macy's and give $3 to help provide a book for a child. You'll then get $10 off a $50 purchase. Macy’s will donate 100 percent of every $3 to RIF. Or, you know, you can just donate to RIF directly. I can't promise that you'll get to see B. B. Smart. But I can promise that you'll be helping to put books into kids' hands. 

What a great afternoon for me and my inner child! You have to love a nonprofit that has such a spirit of fun.

Have You Registered for KidLitCon 2011?

Kidlitosphere_button The date has been set, the hotel has been picked, session proposals are being accepted, and it's time to register for KidLitCon 2011. If you blog about children's or young adult books, or you're thinking about starting a blog, or you write or publish children's or young adult books and you'd like to interact with bloggers, KidLitCon is for you.

This year's KidLitCon will be held at the Hotel Monaco in Seattle on September 16th and 17th. Organizers Colleen Mondor and Jackie Parker have been working hard on the venue and other logistics, and it's sure to be a fabulous time. You can find the logistical details (location, pricing, etc.) here.

Now in it's 5th year, KidLitCon was the first conference to bring book bloggers face to face. KidLitCon started on a whim in 2007, when author Robin Brande offered to host a pot-luck dinner in Chicago. Robin, who at the time hosted a Friday watercooler type of post, wanted to meet some of the friends she had made through blogging. One thing led to another, and before we quite knew what was happening, a full day of sessions was scheduled, followed by a festive dinner, and people, myself included, were winging their way to Chicago. And KidLitCon was born.

I'm proud to say that I was one of the very first people to sign up for that first KidLitCon. And I haven't missed a KidLitCon since. Not even last year, when I had a six month old, premature baby. This year I have a bit of a family conflict, but I am working things out, and will definitely be there for as much as I can of the conference. KidLitCon is one of the highlights of my year, and I would not miss it.

So what is KidLitCon exactly, you ask? This year's KidLitCon is a 1 1/2 day conference on topics related to blogging about books for children and young adults. This year's sessions are still being worked out, but past topics have included things like: adding podcasts to your blog; blogging the backlist; navigating the author/blogger relationship; staying clear of FTC regulations; participating in the Cybils; and many other aspects of blogging, reviewing, and children's literature. This year's keynote speaker is author Scott Westerfeld. There will be sessions of interest to both new and experienced bloggers.

KidLitCon also includes plenty of networking time (lunches, dinners, breaks, etc.), so that friends who only know each other via online exchanges can meet up and chat in person. I am a die-hard introvert, and I still LOVE KidLitCon. It's a fairly small conference (usually around 100 people), so it's not as overwhelming as, say, BEA or ALA. And the thing about it is that even if you've never attended it before, you still have people there that you already know. If you're reading this post, then you must know me in some way. Perhaps we follow each other Twitter, and exchange literacy news. Perhaps we're Facebook friends. Perhaps you've been reading my blog for 5 years, or I've been reading yours. The point is that when we meet at KidLitCon, we already know each other. KidLitCon just gives us a chance to put a face with a name.

The other thing that's wonderful about KidLitCon is the chance to be surrounded by kindred spirits. Those of us who are adults immersed in the world of children's literature may find that our friends and family members, even when they are supportive, don't completely "get it". They maybe find it a little odd that we were more eager than the kids for the last Hunger Games book to come out, or that we can't resist scanning their children's bookshelves, and making recommendations. But the people you meet at KidLitCon? They understand. And they feel the same way.

So, come because you're interested in the sessions, and you want to learn more about blogging platforms, or writing reviews, or interacting with publishers, or whatever the final topics turn out to be. Come because you've been commenting back and forth with MotherReader for five years now, and you'd like to finally meet her face to face. Come because you love the idea of sitting up late in a hotel lounge, drinking a glass of wine and talking about the best children's books of the year. Come because you live in Seattle, and you figure you might was well see what the fuss is about. Come for whatever reason resonates with you. But do come. I personally guarantee that you won't be disappointed.

KidLitCon 2011 is not to be missed!

Tips for Growing Bookworms #10: Let Them Stay Up Late Reading Under the Covers: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on March 30, 2010. This one is not yet relevant for my Baby Bookworm.

Tips for Growing Bookworms: #10 Let Them Stay Up Late Reading Under the Covers

This is Part 10 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. Then we'll recap, and see what we can do to come up with some more.

ReadingAtNight.jpgTip #10: Once in a while, let your kids stay up late reading under the covers. Pretending you don't know is probably acceptable in this case, though I'm not generally a big advocate of deception. Staying up past bedtime reading a great book under the covers makes reading fun. It's a special treat. It's a way to keep reading a joyful experience. It feels sneaky and grown up at the same time. It's the kind of thing that kids remember, and helps them to associate reading with pleasure as they grow older. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

redpyramid.jpgI think that this idea could tie in to the whole concept of "social reading", too. Say, when the new Rick Riordan book (The Red Pyramid, featuring Egyptian mythology) comes out in early May, or the next Diary of a Wimpy Kid book by Jeff Kinney is released. If your child stays up late reading that buzz-generating book under the covers, and can brag about that at school tomorrow, well, I think that could go a long way.

As kids get older, one of the challenges is that reading isn't always perceived as "cool." I say, if your child wants to read enough to sneak a flashlight into bed - you should consider yourself very lucky. (See Tricia's post about this at The Miss Rumphius Effect. That post was the inspiration for this tip.) Of course sleep is important, too. But I think that the occasional bending of the rules about bedtime could be a real asset in growing bookworms.

What do you all think? Do you ever let your kids stay up late, reading under the covers?

This post was originally published at Booklights on March 30, 2011. 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. 

Roundup of Children’s Literacy and Reading News – June in Review

JkrROUNDUP A new Children’s Literacy and Reading News Roundup, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Family Bookshelf, and Rasco from RIF is now available at Rasco from RIF. Over the month of June, Carol Rasco, Terry Doherty, and I have collected content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; and suggestions for growing bookworms. Carol has all of the details here.

I especially liked the story about a program that's putting books in the back of taxi cabs in Cairo (link from Jenny Schwartzberg). Also interesting: two different posts about how family moves affect children's literacy (and how reading can help reduce the stress of the move).

Also not to be missed are articles about “Prioritizing Early Childhood Education: We Can’t Afford to Wait” and Achievement Gaps: How Hispanic and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Carol has a bunch of posts with suggestions for growing bookworms in this roundup. I hope you'll take a few minutes to check them out. Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. Terry or I will be back mid-month with the next children's literacy and reading news roundup.

The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale: Lucine Kasbarian

Book: The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale (WorldCat)
Author: Lucine Kasbarian
Illustrator: Maria Zaikina
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 to 8

Images The Greedy Sparrow is a retelling by Lucine Kasbarian of an Armenian Folk Tale. Since my husband is Armenian, and Baby Bookworm is half Armenian, this seemed like a book that we needed to have in our collection. And we're happy to have it.

Like most folk tales, The Greedy Sparrow has an overt moral. But, in Kasbarian's version, anyway, the reader is not bashed over the head with the moral. Rather, we spend most of the book shaking our heads at the antics of the greedy sparrow, and only see him get his (relatively mild) comeuppance on the last page.

The sparrow starts out with a thorn in his foot. He asks a baker woman to pull it out. She does, cheerfully, and throws the thorn into her fire. Then the manipulative sparrow demands to have his thorn back. When this is impossible, he guilts the woman into giving him a piece of bread. He then repeats this behavior, trading up and up and up by taking advantage of people's good nature, and in some cases their own inability to resist things (e.g. he asks a hungry shepherd to watch the bread, and then ends up with a sheep when the shepherd eats the bread, etc.). Of course he faces a reversal at the end, because that's how these stories work.

My favorite part of The Greedy Sparrow, having spent a lot of time with Armenians, is when a groom, left to care for the sheep at his wedding, wonders "what would happen if I slaughtered the sheep, grilled it, and made shish kebab for all the guests?" (The Armenians that I know eat a lot of shish kebab.) Of course this aspect of the book may not be pleasing to everyone. (No worries - the pictures go straight from worried sheep to skewers on the grill - no details.)

Another aspect of the book that I liked, but that non-Armenian readers might find challenging, is that there are various Armenian place names mentioned, like the Arax River, Mount Ararat, Lake Van, and Aghtamar. A pronunciation guide, at least for the last location, might have been useful, but isn't strictly necessary.

Maria Zaikina's illustrations are perfect for the story. The art was created with layers of wax and oil paint, with layers then cut away to reveal the colors underneath. The resulting illustrations have bold colors and decisive lines, and a crayon-like texture. The illustrations feel rustic, as befits a folk tale set in mostly rural areas. The church, the wedding clothes, and the people's faces all look, to my eyes, authentically Armenian. Even the greedy sparrow has kind of a Middle Eastern look to him. The book's designer, Anahid Hamparian, is apparently Armenian, and her attention to detail shows. I also love the expressive face of the ill-favored sheep.

The Greedy Sparrow is a lovingly created rendition of a traditional Armenian fable. It is authentic and entertaining, and conveys the anti-greed message with a deft touch. The Greedy Sparrow is a welcome addition to the ranks of multicultural picture books and folk tale retellings. Recommended.

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children's Books (@MarshallCav)
Publication Date: April 1, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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

Beauty Queens: Libba Bray

Book: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Pages: 400
Age Range: 13 and up

Bqcover Libba Bray's Beauty Queens is a satire for young adults with an irresistible premise: a plane full of beauty pageant contestants crashes on a deserted island. In contrast to Lord of the Flies, the dozen or so Miss Teen Dream survivors prove that girls can work together in isolation. Except that it turns out they aren't alone on the island after all...

Beauty Queens is laugh out loud funny. Both in the main text and in an assortment of footnotes, Bray pokes fun at everything from reality television to the fashion industry to CEO's salaries. It's the sort of book from which one could select an amusing quote from nearly any page. Here are a few examples:

"Ohmigosh. No food at all." Tiara sank down on the sand as if the full weight of their predicament had finally hit her. She blinked back tears. And then that megawatt smile that belonged on cereal boxes across the nation reappeared. "I am going to be so superskinny by pageant time!" (Page 11)

"The Shills, The Corporation's wildly popular program about product placement and the teens who love it. Currently, it ranks #3 among the coveted 13-18 demographic, just behind What Would You Do to Be Famous? and My Drama So Tops Your Drama!" (Footnote 5, Page 18)

"The earth beneath them gave way suddenly, and the girls were swept down the mountainside in a spiral of mud and sequins and screams." (Page 55)

We have beauty queens practicing their runway speeches in between scavenging for food and fighting off monster snakes. We have makeup and hairspray used as weapons, and tumbling skills turning out to be useful for fighting. Opportunities for humor abound.

And what of the girls themselves? They start out giving a near-universal impression of shallow inanity (with the exception of Adina from New Hampshire, who turns out to have entered the pageant under false pretenses). But, gradually, most of the girls reveal secrets and/or hidden depths. All of them are changed by their time on the island (most for the better), though it can't be denied that a couple of them remain dim-witted to the end. But really, the beauty of this book is the blossoming of the girls as individuals, and as a team, once they are removed from their original, relentlessly competitive surroundings. Favorite passage:

"Mary Lou wiped fruit juice from her mouth with the back of her hand. "Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one's watching them so they can be who they really are." (Page 177)

Beauty Queens is not a quick read - it's one to take slowly and savor. The plot  meanders a bit. It's more like a serialized television show than a novel (as is clearly the intent). There are quite a few characters to keep straight (though Bray handily lets us know which are the less important characters, by referring to them as Miss New Mexico, etc., instead of by name). There are sections of supplemental material interspersed between chapters, like "Miss Teen Dream Fun Facts Pages!" for the various girls, words from "Your Sponsor" (The Corporation), and "Commercial Breaks". And there are the aforementioned footnotes, 49 in total.

All of this takes a fair bit of time to read through, and is a bit of a change from more standard fast-paced, plot-driven YA novels. But for teens who have a keen sense of humor, and for anyone who enjoys satire, or likes the idea of a book about girls coming into their own that is the very opposite of preachy, Beauty Queens is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: May 24, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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