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Posts from August 2011

Scapegoat: Dean Hale and Michael Slack

Book: Scapegoat: The Story of a Goat Named Oat and A Chewed-Up Coat
Author: Dean Hale
Illustrator: Michael Slack
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 to 8

61cFXlUogdL._SL500_AA300_ Scapegoat is pure fun. It's the story of a family with a mischievous young son and a poor maligned goat. Every time something bad happens in the Choat household (nose blown in Mom's tote bag, baby brother's boat broken, etc.), young Jimmy blames the family goat. Although the goat, Patsy Petunia Oat, tries to defend herself, Mr. and Mrs. Choat do not speak goat, and thus take Jimmy's words at face value. But when a goat-speaker happens by, Jimmy's scapegoating gig might just be up.

Dean Hale's text is chock full of rhyme, but has plenty of variation in line length, words on the page, etc, to keep the text from becoming sing-songy. It's perfect for read-aloud. Like this:

"On Tuesday, Pa Choat wanted to watch The Love Boat and asked Jimmy Choat, "Where is the TV remote?"

The pet goat, Patsy P. Oat, raised her head and said, "Jimmy threw it away."

But Papa Choat, like Mama Choat, could not speak Goat, and listened to his son Jimmy instead, who said, "The remote? It was eaten by Patsy the goat."

The mischief that occurs is sure to be entertaining to kids, while the reactions of the weary Mr. and Mrs. Choat will feel familiar to parents. A twist at the end will have everyone turning back to read the story again.

Michael Slack, author/illustrator of Monkey Truck, is well-matched to this story. His photoshop/digital collage illustrations have an over-the-top, stylized feel, softened by the digitally painted, textured backgrounds. Jimmy has enormous eyes and a pig-like nose, while his baby brother sports a single tooth and a single curl of hair. Mrs. Choat's expression, on finding "her keys in a much moat" is like something out of a horror film. And Patsy is quite stylish for a goat.

My favorite illustration is on a page mid-story in which "The goat was outside, chewing the grass with some sass", and see, out the window, an unflattering sketch of Jimmy chewed into the grass. This is excellent sass. I also especially like how Mrs. Choat is initially pictured, at a computer with a cup of tea, but holding a baby in one arm.

All in all, Scapegoat is fun, fun, fun. The incidents are boy- and girl-friendly, the text is well-suited for read-aloud, and the lively illustrations will make parents and kids laugh out loud. Recommended for readers in any household in which parents ask "Okay, who threw this away?", "Who broke this?", etc.

Publisher: Bloomsbury (@BWKids)
Publication Date: June 21, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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

The Big Snuggle-Up: Brian Patten and Nicola Bayley

Book: The Big Snuggle-Up
Author: Brian Patten
Illustrator: Nicola Bayley
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3 to 8

61YPVPWtnGL._SL500_AA300_Honestly, who could resist a picture book called The Big Snuggle-Up? Not me. The Big Snuggle-Up was published in England by Anderson Press and brought to the US by Kane Miller. It's a simple story set in a small stone house in the country. As a winter storm approaches, the narrator invites a scarecrow in out of the snow. The scarecrow is followed by animal after animal, a cumulative list building on each page spread. Eventually, everyone settles down for a quiet, cozy evening.

Brian Patten is a well-known British poet. His soothing text works well for read aloud, from the very first page:

"I asked a scarecrow in out of the snow,
Please by a guest in my house.
The scarecrow said, "Can I bring a friend,
For in my sleeve lives a mouse.""

Patten uses just the right verbs for each animal, as when a "robin peeped out from its freezing nest" or when a cat "allowed itself to be let in". I think my favorite part is:

"A donkey looked in and said,
"I'm unable
To find my way back to the stable.""

Each page spread ends with:

"Into the house and out of the snow
Came ..." (a list of animals)

The growing list of animals invites children to participate in the reading, as they remember dog, cat, fawn, etc. Children will certainly remember the refrain at the end of each list "and an old scarecrow."

I like that Patten doesn't always choose conventional rhymes, matching, for example "fur" and "chair". I think this keeps the text from being too sing-songy. I think that "Into the house and out of the snow" is going to become part of the vocabulary of my home (even though we don't have snow here).

Much as I liked the text, what made me love this book were Nicola Bayley's detailed colored pencil illustrations. Light glows from the windows of the little stone house - anyone can see why the animals would find it inviting. The scarecrow is cheerful and friendly, with a pine branch sticking out of his hat and a jaunty, ever-so-slightly floppy posture. The animals practically step from the page, with bright eyes, and every hair or feather lovingly depicted. Readers will want to try to stroke the squirrel's tail, and feel the butterfly's wings. The donkey is particularly adorable.

Even as the animals are detailed and realistic, Bayley adds whimsical details, like the scarecrow turning on the water faucets for the heron in the bath, and a cozy armchair missing part of a leg, propped up on a pile of books. Kids will enjoy searching for such details. The butterfly can be found, through careful searching, just about every page, adding additional visual interest.

Bayley is best known for her detailed illustrations of cats, and her affection for cats comes through in this book, too. When a cat joins the party, he casts a baleful eye on a butterfly that lands on his tail. He then proceeds to be scene-stealer in several subsequent pages. 

In short, The Big Snuggle-Up is aptly named, and the perfect read for a cold winter night. It's a wonderful combination of rhythmic text and soothing yet visually intriguing illustrations. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Kane Miller
Publication Date: June 2011 (US edition)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: August 17

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out the new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. There are 1495 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out approximately once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews (two middle grade and two YA) and two children's literacy roundups (one here and one published in detail at Rasco from RIF). I also have a post about the just-announced partnership between KidLItCon and Reading is Fundamental. Not included in the newsletter, I posted:

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter (which was actually sent three weeks ago), I finished six books, two middle grade, two young adult, and two adult novels (as well as various picture books and board books, see those here, here, and here):

  • Mike Lupica: The Underdogs. Philomel. Completed July 31, 2011. My review.
  • Gary Paulsen: Flat Broke. Wendy Lamb Books. Completed August 13, 2011. My review.
  • Charlie Higson: The Dead: An Enemy Novel. Hyperion. Completed July 27, 2011. My review.
  • Susan Beth Pfeffer: Blood Wounds. Harcourt. Completed August 15, 2011. Review to come, closer to publication.
  • John Hart: Iron House. Thomas Dunne Books. Completed August 8, 2011. My review.
  • Jeff Abbott: Trust Me. Dutton. Completed August 14, 2011, on MP3. Not reviewed. An entertaining thriller, but I saw two of the major twists coming.

I'm still listening to The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (occasionally) and also listening to A Spark of Death, a historical mystery by Bernadette Pajer. I'm reading Hound Dog True by Linda Urban. I also just downloaded a whole bunch of Georgette Heyer eBooks, after learning from Leila at Bookshelves of Doom that they are on sale for $1.99 each from Sourcebooks until August 21st. I don't really expect to read them any time soon, but I had to have them anyway. Now if only someone would put the complete set of D. E. Stevenson's novels on eBooks, and sell them to me for $2 each - I would buy the lot.

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.

KidLitCon Partners with RIF

Bebooksmart_bnr Colleen Mondor just shared this news at Chasing Ray, a few minutes too late to make it into the Mid-August Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup. Just as well, because this deserves its own post.

Kidlitcon_logo2 KidLitCon (the annual conference of children's and young adult book bloggers, which I've been posting about recently) has always included a charitable donation opportunity as part of the event. This year, and going forward, KidLitCon is going to be partnering with Reading is Fundamental. Colleen very eloquently explained why:

"I'm sure many of you are aware how RIF's budget was decimated by the elimination of federal funds this year. I'm not going to get all political with you because the hard truth is that there are few painless answers to our economic mess. But cutting RIF is particularly harsh as it exists solely to put books into the hands of children who otherwise can not afford them. RIF is an investment in our future in the purest and most direct terms. When you think about that way, it's hard to understand why anyone would ever put RIF on the chopping block but that is what has happened and now we just have to do what we can to make sure that future promise remains unchanged.

There are many generous groups and corporations who have stepped up to help RIF and for that we should all be grateful. KIdLit Con is seeking to make a more personal and direct contribution as the funds we raise will be coming directly from book lovers in the pursuit of creating more book lovers. Now is the time, quite frankly, where we need to put up or shut up. If you are a writer or a librarian or a bookseller or a book blogger or if you read blogs about books then this fundraiser is targeted directly at you."

I'm joining Colleen in asking those of you who are planning to attend KidLitCon, or wish you could attend KidLitCon, or plan to be there in spirit, to consider supporting KidLItCon's partnership with RIF. You can do that by donating, but you can also help by spreading the word about the KidLitCon RIF fundraising partnership. Please do use this specific link, as donations via the link will be tracked and added up, and we'll be able to know what a difference we've made, together, for RIF. 

I'm not objective, of course. Carol Rasco, the CEO of RIF, works with Terry Doherty and me on our children's literacy roundups. The RIF smart car came to my house last month. I would support RIF whether or not this year's KidLitCon organizers asked me to. But the bottom line is that I agree with Colleen. Book lovers have a responsibility to help create and nurture more book loves. And supporting RIF is a wonderful and effective way to do that.

I've taken on Colleen's challenge. I've donated, I've shared Colleen's post on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, and I've written this post. I hope that some of you will do the same.

RIFF_logo RIF and KidLitCon. Two great things, even better together.

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

JkrROUNDUP Welcome to the mid-August Children’s Literacy and Reading News Roundup brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Family Bookshelf, and Rasco from RIF. Over the month of August so far, Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco, and I have collected content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; and suggestions for growing bookworms (with special thanks to Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook, for sending us several links). There is a ton of great stuff going on out there. Apologies for the length of the roundup. But there should be something here for everyone!

Literacy & Reading-Related Events

This is cool. According to BBC News, "Ambitious plans are being unveiled to turn the house which inspired the story of Peter Pan into a Scottish centre for children's literature... "What we want Moat Brae to become is Scotland's first centre for children's literature," said project development director Cathy Agnew...She said the centre could become a place to celebrate children's stories and "their history, their heritage and their past". "It is a very fitting legacy for JM Barrie - this was his enchanted land which was the genesis for his character of Peter Pan"." Link via Susan Stephenson.

OneWorldCollage Also via Susan, a post at The Book Chook on how to celebrate Australia's upcoming Children's Book Week, August 20-26. The theme of this year's Children's Book Week is One World, Many Stories. Susan has tons of concrete suggestions on how to "celebrate books and the gift of reading with kids", with emphasis on introducing "children to literature from other cultures".

Now here's a summer camp that I would have enjoyed! Publisher's Weekly's Sally Lodge reports on a summer camp for bookish kids. "Chris Raschka, Gordon Korman, Adam Gidwitz, Matthew Cody, Jacqueline Woodson, and Lauren Oliver are among the 15 authors who are entertaining—and challenging—kids attending Thalia Kids’ Book Club Camp this summer" in Manhattan. There are writing exercises as well as occasional field trips to locations tied in to the featured books. So cool! (Via @PWKidsBookshelf). Els Kushner also shared a link with me to a Vancouver writing and book camp. Of course one can also (if very lucky) attend Camp Half Blood in Austin, TX.

Young adult author James Kennedy emailed me about a 90 second Newbery video contest that he's curating with Betsy Bird from Fuse 8 this fall. Here's a brief description: "open to anyone: make a video that compresses the story of a Newbery award-winning book into 90 seconds or less. It turns out that any book, no matter how worthy and somber, becomes pleasingly ludicrous when compressed into 90 seconds. Please watch our very first entry... a 90-second version of A Wrinkle in Time (1963). We’re planning a star-studded 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the New York Public Library on November 5, 2011. And at the Chicago Public Library on November 16, 2011!" So, if you're a Newbery fan, or you like the idea of making short, entertaining videos, check out the contest for more details.

And speaking of video and Betsy Bird, check out this list of last gasp summer reading suggestions for kids video by Betsy and Monica Edinger, at the Huffington Post.

Bannedbooks And while we're on the subject of #KidLit videos, School Library Journal suggests that you create a YouTube video for Banned Books Week. "Librarians, bookstores, and others celebrating the freedom to read from September 21 to October 1 are encouraged to take part in this year's Virtual Read-Out on YouTube. The criteria are simple: create a video that's less than two minutes long of anyone reading a book that's been banned. If you choose to talk about a personal experience battling censorship, then feel free to extend the video to three minutes."

Literacy Programs and Research

2012CalendarCover I received an email this week from the director of The Family Reading Partnership, "a non-profit community organization that promotes early literacy... by promoting family reading practices throughout our community." What I especially liked, and wanted to bring to your attention, is their 2012 calendar, featuring art by illustrators like Debra Fraser, Iza Trapani, and Tad Hills, as well as "word play and book activities, holidays and important dates for many cultures, and suggestions for great books to read." They note that "All families will see themselves in the diverse illustrations of reading together!" Nonprofits can order the calendar at a deep discount to give out to families that they work with. I'm not a nonprofit, but I do plan on ordering one for myself.

Literacyheadlogo Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast recently profiled LiteracyHead, and thought, correctly, that this might be something that we would like to mention in the literacy roundup. LiteracyHead is a small, fairly new company that helps teachers to build literacy while connecting children with art. But I think if I let Jules tell you why she loves LiteracyHead, that will be all you need to know. She says: "Because, as you can see at this page of their site, the folks over there love children’s literature and art (”the connections between the two make us positively giddy”); they want to “help teachers nurture their creative lives while they meet the demands of high accountability to which they are subject”; and they “believe that the arts are a basic component of a healthy life, not an afterthought or a bonus if there is time or funding.”

Susan Stephenson sent us the link to a Telegraph story by Murray Wardrop about how a growing number of children in the UK (and I'm sure other places) "don't know their own name when starting school". According to the article, "Parents are failing to teach their children how to speak because they spend too much time on the internet and watching television, experts claim. The problem is most acute in deprived areas, where researchers found half of youngsters have communication difficulties when starting school." Like Susan, I find this truly appalling. To take a more proactive approach to getting kids ready to start school, check out this article by Ann Barbour in the PBS Parents Expert Q&A archive on helping children prepare for kindergarten.

I ran across two interesting articles recently about the rise in adults who read young adult literature.

  • The first (via Susan Stephenson) is an Atlantic piece by D.B. Grady called How Young Adult Fiction Came of Age. Grady spoke with a number of people in the publishing industry, in an attempt to understand what YA is, why adults are reading it, and whether or not publishers "now target adults when buying and marketing ostensibly young adult literature" (the answer to this was "no"). Lots of food for thought.
  • On a lighter note, the Faster Times (via @PWKidsBookshelf) has a piece by Laura Goode called Your Mom Reads More YA Than You. Goode says (in reference to the Meghan Cox Gurdon tempest from earlier this summer) "What struck me about the WSJ debate was not whether or not YA veers into a damaging darkness; rather, it was the allegation that mothers are unaware of, or disapprove of, the current YA offerings.  It was striking to me because, in my own experience promoting a YA novel, mothers have been some of the most ardent and vocal harbingers of what’s new and what’s next in the genre." Her explanation of why adult women are reading YA is "When you’re covered in kid puke, haven’t had sex in five months, and are in the middle of explaining where babies come from to a five-year-old who throws wet Cheerios in your face in response, the simple escapism of reading a first-kiss story might be blessedly necessary."

Dystopian-august By the way, if you are an adult who reads YA, you might be interested in checking out Dystopian August at Presenting Lenore. Chock-full of information about great books in one of my favorite genres.

The Huffington Post reports that more schools (and a high school in Indianapolis in particular) are teaching boys and girls in separate classrooms. Seems like the jury is still out on whether or not this is a good idea, but it will be interesting to watch. Link via @TrevorHCairney.

The New York Times reported recently, in an article by Pam Belluck, on a new study that found that dyslexia may also affect listening comprehension. "Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that people with dyslexia have more trouble recognizing voices than those without dyslexia... Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a director of the Center for Dyslexia and Creativity at Yale University, said the study “demonstrates the centrality of spoken language in dyslexia — that it’s not a problem in meaning, but in getting to the sounds of speech.” That is why dyslexic children often misspeak, she said, citing two examples drawn from real life."

Last week the US Census Bureau reported an increase in the number of children being read aloud to every day by a family member. Griselda D. Ramirez of The Californian reports: "In 2009, half of children ages 1 to 5 were read to seven or more times a week by a family member." I'd like to see that number at 100%, but an increase is still good.

NPR's Planet Money had a good piece this week by Alex Blumberg about how, dollar for dollar, preschool is the best job training program available. Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman found that the soft skills that enable people to learn later are acquired way back in preschool ("things like being able to pay attention and focus, being curious and open to new experiences, and being able to control your temper and not get frustrated"). Another study cited by Heckman found that 27 year old men who had gone to a particular preschool program were "half as likely to be arrested and earned 50 percent more in salary that those who didn't." How much better is it to spend money on preschools than prisons? There are not enough words to express this. (Carol found this piece)

Although it's not directly about literacy, I was pleased to see an article at Today Parenting (link via @PBSParents) offering a strong defense of more playtime/recess in schools. LiveScience writer Stephanie Pappas talks about the top 5 benefits of play, the reasons why unstructured playtime is vanished, and the consequences of this (including an increase in childhood obesity). I'm really hoping that all of these article that we're seeing in defense of play are early indicators that the pendulum is going to start to swing the other way.

On Reading Rockets, experts  Deb Linebarger, Lisa Guernsey, and Marnie Lewis discuss (on video) " what the growing exposure to media means for children's literacy development." They tackle questions like "Can parents and teachers use media effectively in their homes and schools?" and include links to a variety of followup resources. (Via @ReadingRockets)

And finally, on a lighter note, a fun article (via Cheryl Rainfield) about lending libraries on Subway systems. Talk about an obvious win!

Suggestions for Growing Bookworms

Donalyn Miller, the Book Whisperer, has a great post this month, written in response to an excerpt from a new book by English Professor Alan Jacobs. The topic (of book and post) concerns whether or not one can teach students to love reading (and definitions regarding what a serious reader is and isn't). Discussing what she thinks it takes to create kids whose eyes light up when talking about books, Donalyn concludes: "Do most children grow up in environments where reading is a desired behavior, a cultural norm? Do most children have reading role models? Do most children have the opportunity to read for sheer pleasure? Do we value all types of reading and embrace all types of readers? Do we expect children to read a lot? If not, then we exclude most children from developing a love of reading at all."

ReadAloudDad pointed us to an excellent article on Boys and Reading by Ian Whybrow at Daddy Be Good. After musing on why he believe that boys don't read as much as girls do ("As long as men are marginalised in primary schools, one of the casualties is boys reading books for pleasure. Men and boys have come to see reading fiction as a girly thing"), Whybrow shares four concrete suggestions for dads. I wish that every dad who has ever been unhappy with a son's academic performance could read these tips. See also Why Don't More Teen Guys Read YA? by author Mike Mullins.

RIFF_logo Another must-read article that I cam across recently was at RIF, on motivating children who can read, but don't. I'm not sure when this article was first published, but Choice Literacy highlighted it recently in their newsletter (you are reading The Big Fresh, aren't you?). And the content sure looks likely to  me. The article includes reasons why some kids don't like to read, a list of things NOT to do, and 20 ways to encourage reading. (Personal soapbox: articles like this are just a small part of why RIF should continue to be funded).

And speaking of RIF, I'd like to close with congratulations to RIF, and our own Carol Rasco, for the success of the recent Be Book Smart campaign at Macy's. The campaign raised $4.9 million much-needed dollars for RIF, considerably above the initial goal of $3 million. Happy, happy news!

Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. Carol will be back at the end of August at Rasco from RIF with the next roundup, but I'm sure that Terry will have tidbits for you in the meantime at The Family Bookshelf. And I'll be sharing children's literacy links as I find them on Twitter and Google+.

The Fox Inheritance: Mary E. Pearson

Book: The Fox Inheritance: The Jenna Fox Chronicles, Book 2 (WorldCat)
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Pages: 304
Age Range: 13 and up

Cover_FoxInheritance200 I loved Mary Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox. It was a suspenseful, intriguing title that I read in one sitting. The Adoration of Jenna Fox inspired my list of Futuristic, Speculative, Science Fiction and Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults (which I updated recently). So, naturally, I was thrilled when I learned that a sequel was coming (with at least one more to follow). I was even more thrilled when an early copy landed on my doorstep. It went straight to the top of my to read pile.

This review will contain spoilers for The Adoration of Jenna Fox (it would be impossible not to). If you haven't read that book, stop here, and go read it. Jenna Fox #1 is a book that you want to read knowing as little about the conclusion as possible.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox ends with an epilogue that takes place 260 after the main events of the story. The Fox Inheritance picks up shortly after that epilogue, 260 years after a horrific car accident changed forever the lives of three teenage friends. The protagonist of The Fox Inheritance is not Jenna, but instead her friend Locke.

Locke's mind (or technically a backup of his mind) has spent 260 years in a six inch black cube, only able to communicate with their third friend, Kara, imprisoned in another cube. As the story begins, a scientist named Dr. Gatsbro has given Locke and Kara highly functioning new bodies made from Bio Perfect (the next generation of Bio Gel), based on only the tiniest snippets of their original DNA. Locke and Kara have to adjust to a world that has advanced 260 years, a world in which everyone they knew and loved is long dead. Everyone, that is, except for Jenna Fox. Jenna, who left them trapped in the cubes, while she went on to live her own life. Locke is puzzled by Jenna's apparent neglect. Kara is furious (and rather scary).

Although a sequel/companion novel, The Fox Inheritance is a different sort of book from The Adoration of Jenna Fox. The first book looked at a relatively near-term future, and a big chunk of the story involved the puzzle of Jenna figuring out who and what she was. It was the "what is going on here" that was most compelling. The Fox Inheritance, while exploring the same questions of technology and identity, is more of straight-up Dystopia. While there is some uncertainty about various people's motives, it's more an action novel than a mystery. The Fox Inheritance is about Locke's struggle to escape Dr. Gatsbro, find Jenna, and navigate his relationships with the two girls that he loves.

All of this is set against a fascinating future civilization, one in which a civil war has torn the US in two, huge machines sweep bad elements out of the atmosphere (able to clean up after even a nuclear weapon), and everyone is constantly tracked through their IDs. There are still marginalized citizens in Pearson's future world. These include highly evolved "Bots", machines that sometimes develop their own aspirations for freedom. One such Bot, Dot, is a significant character in The Fox Inheritance.

The new world is seen in glimpses via Locke's first-person viewpoint. One gets the sense, as a reader, that there's a lot more to understand than Locke is able to grasp yet (food for future books). What Mary Pearson has done (and I'm not surprised by this, having read her other books) is write a character- and plot-driven story, one that happens to be set against a Dystopian background. This stands head and shoulders above books where the interesting details of the Dystopia are the primary point, and the characters and plot feel secondary. Character and plot over premise and setting, even in a book with an intriguing premise and unique setting. I actually enjoyed the scenes that took place at Jenna's relative throwback of a home more than the more science fiction-y scenes along the way, because this is where the characters really come into their own.

The Fox Inheritance is a book that makes the reader think. About what the world will be like in 260 years. About what it would be like to have no frame of reference at all. About what it means to be a person. About whether or not it's possible for someone who spent 260 years in limbo to have meaningful interactions with someone who has actually lived (and married, and interacted with people) for 260 years. Locke is mentally scarred by what he endured while his mind was in the box. He's also still clearly a teenager, in his thoughts and reactions. Jenna, on the other hand, is appropriately portrayed in the third person in this young adult novel, because she is now an adult (and mother).

Here are a couple of quotes to give you a feel for the book:

"It is strange that I didn't question it more before, but now I can't stop thinking about it. I knew we were illegal, but I just thought it was a technicality, like someone not having the proper passport. It didn't make us bad or less human. It was a bureaucratic snafu, that's what I told myself, something on paper that could be cleared up eventually. It had to be. Everything about me is human. Dr. Gatsbro said so. Eighty percent. Bioengineered with some adjustments, but still human." (Chapter 17, ARC)

"How did I get here? Hiding in the back of a land pirate's truck with fabricated but very cracked ribs, a stolen Bot on one side of me, a likely criminal on the other, and more than two centuries and a dozen lifetimes from who I was? Does any part of the Locke I was even exist anymore?" (Chapter 33, ARC)

Fans of The Adoration of Jenna Fox will NOT want to miss The Fox Inheritance. And if you aren't a fan of Jenna Fox already, I urge you to get out there and read the first book.  Even if you aren't generally a science fiction fan, you'll want to get to know Jenna and her friends. The Jenna Fox Chronicles are books that offer intriguing premises, strong characters, and settings that you can practically see and touch. The Fox Inheritance, while somewhat different in feel from the first book, is a worthy successor to The Adoration of Jenna Fox. I consider both to be must-read titles for anyone, especially Dystopia fans. Highly recommended.I can't wait for the next book!

Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers (@MacKidsBooks). Note that an audio edition is also available.
Publication Date: August 30, 2011
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.

Flat Broke: Gary Paulsen

Book: Flat Broke: The Theory, Practice and Destructive Properties of Greed
Author: Gary Paulsen
Pages: 112
Age Range: 10-14

Flatbroke During the 48 Hour Book Challenge in June I read and reviewed Gary Paulsen's Liar, Liar, calling it: "a perfect read for reluctant middle school readers, especially boys". It was also a very quick read, and when the companion novel, Flat Broke, arrived on my doorstep, it went straight to the top of my to be read pile.

Flat Broke again features 14-year-old Kevin, a bright, energetic kid whose ideas sometimes get away from him. As Flat Broke begins, Kevin (being punished for the events of Liar, Liar) is an eighth grader in need of cash. He has a huge, stammering-inducing crush on a girl named Tina, and he needs money to be able to invite her to the school dance. When his fledgling attempts to earn money prove successful, Kevin decides that he might as well become a wealthy tycoon. He sets out to rapidly expand his efforts (cutting more than a few corners along the way). Hilarity ensues.

I didn't find Flat Broke quite as laugh-out-loud funny as Liar, Liar, but I liked Kevin even better in this book. Even as he's making questionable business decisions, he looks out for the little boy next door (who adores him). And although he's a bit of an operator, he's not afraid of hard work. He's the kind of kid that makes parents and teachers shake their heads ruefully, even as they feel a sneaking pride. The supporting characters in the book are excellent, too. Just quirky enough to be three-dimensional, without being overdone.

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for Kevin's voice:

"If you ask me, people who say you've got to work smart and not hard are just lazy." (Page 1)

"I could fill a week's worth of airtime with all my great ideas... But my parents are always going on about TV sucking the life out of a person's mind and depriving that person of IQ points, and I didn't want to start out my career disappointing my folks. Plenty of time for that later. When they can no longer ground me or take away my allowance." (Page 33)

And really, that's all you need to know. If you find Kevin's voice likable and entertaining, as I do, then you'll want to pick up a copy of Flat Broke. Like Liar, Liar, Flat Broke is a perfect read for middle school boys (and for the middle school boys lurking in the hearts of their dads, too). Highly 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.

Macy’s Be Book Smart Campaign Raises $4.9 Million for Reading Is Fundamental

BBSmart4I am so happy for RIF! (Photo to the left is of me with the Be Book Smart campaign car, B.B. Smart. Details here.). Here's the full news release:

WASHINGTON, August 11, 2011—For the third year in a row, more than 1 million Macy’s customers sprung into action to support Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), the nation’s largest children’s literacy nonprofit. From June 24 – July 31, Macy’s customers donated $3 through the Be Book Smart campaign to provide a book for a child, and Macy’s donated 100 percent of every $3 to RIF for a total donation of $4.9 million. The organizations partnered with the goal of giving 1 million books to children.

“RIF is overwhelmed by the generous support of Macy’s and the millions of customers who shopped during the Be Book Smart campaign,” said Carol H. Rasco, president and CEO of RIF. “As we look to our future, we are pleased to call Macy’s our partner and appreciate their ongoing commitment to RIF and our efforts to improve children’s literacy in the United States.”

Earlier this year, federal funding for RIF was eliminated from the budget which accounts for 80 percent of the organization’s overall operating budget. Macy’s annual campaign offered a timely opportunity to help increase private funding for the organization while giving back to local communities.  

“Giving back to local communities is a cornerstone of our business,” said Martine Reardon, executive vice president of marketing for Macy’s. “Reading Is Fundamental has a long history of inspiring children to read and achieve by providing books to own at home. Macy’s passionately supports children’s literacy, and we thank our customers for adding their generous contribution to the RIF organization.”
Since 2004, RIF’s partnership with Macy’s has raised nearly $21 million to support children’s literacy through customer-supported fundraising campaigns, in-store events, and volunteer activities. Last year, Macy’s supported RIF programs that provided 3.6 million free books to more than 1.2 million children and donated 350 multicultural book collections to RIF programs throughout the country.

The Underdogs: Mike Lupica

Book: The Underdogs
Author: Mike Lupica
Pages: 272
Age Range: 9-12

Book_underdogs I adored Mike Lupica's 2006 novel Heat (review). It was a Cybils finalist for middle grade fiction, and one of my very favorite titles that year. So I had high expectations for Lupica's latest sports-themed novel for kids, The Underdogs. And I wasn't disappointed.

The Underdogs is about a football team for 12-year-olds, and the boy who fights for the team's very existence. Will Tyler is kid with a natural talent for the game. A key mistake that Will made the previous year cost his team the championship. And now, because his fading Pennsylvania town is so pressed for cash, it looks like his team won't even have a new season. They don't have money, they don't have a coach, they don't have uniforms, and they don't have enough players. The situation seems utterly hopeless. But Will, through sheer grit, makes the season possible.

I love Will. He's smart and determined, with realistic insecurities. Although he loves the team, and football, people matter to him more. Will's father is a beaten-down former high school football star, denied a future by a knee injury, raising Will alone. Despite his burdens, he's a good father, and I enjoyed the relationship between Will and Joe Tyler. Will also has a smart-aleck best friend, and a girl (who plays football) who catches his eye. And he has his gift for football. Like this:

"Fantasy football was just one more version of a game that had always come naturally to Will. He knew the stats he needed, for selecting a quarterback or running back or wide received, were already inside his own head, that he didn't need to look them up online. He knew them by heart.

Like football was his heart." (Chapter 06, ARC)

Will's hometown of Forbes is practically a character in the book, too. Here's an early description:

"Will knew all about it by now, the sad history of the business and the town, just because he'd grown up hearing his dad talk about it so much, like somehow his own life story was tied up with the story of the Forces Flyers. It was like a book Will had not just read, but re-read, a movie he had seen over and over again. Families gone. Friends gone. Houses empty and yards ignored. Will was pretty sure that the only successful business in Forbes was the one that printed the "For Sale" signs." (Chapter 02, ARC)

[Side note: Because this is a football book, the chapter numbers are formatted to look like numbers on a football jersey. A nice touch.]

The Underdogs is a great feel-good book, a must-read for anyone who lives and breathes football or is a sucker for underdog stories. If you've read a fair number of sports stories, or watched Friday Night Lights, you may find The Underdogs a tad predictable. There wasn't a whole lot, plotwise, that I didn't see coming. I did like the way the author handled the addition of a girl to the football team (controversial, but not taking over the whole story).

The whole setup in The Underdogs (the beaten down former athlete father, the town fading after the close of the factory, the motherless boy, the rivalry, the barely being able to scrape up enough kids for a team, and the need for this sports team to be a beacon of hope for a family and a town) seems almost like an homage to the genre. Like Lupica was thinking: let's include all the tropes of the genre, and see if we can still make it feel fresh. And I think that he succeeds pretty well.

The Underdogs is not groundbreaking literature. But it is a solid, character-driven sports story, with a nice balance of football play-by-play vs. human interaction, and an appealing setting and cast of characters. Lupica's reverence for sports, family, and small town America all come through like champions. Recommended for middle grade readers, and sports fans of all ages.

Publisher: Philomel (@PenguinTeen)
Publication Date: September 20, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes should be checked against the final printed book when available.

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

Iron House: John Hart

Book: Iron House
Author: John Hart
Pages: 432
Age Range: Adult

Iron_house I accepted a review copy of John Hart's Iron House, an adult thriller, because it was on my wish list. I had enjoyed Hart's previous novel, The Last Child, and wanted to check this one out. Iron House is about two brothers who spent their childhood in a hideous, neglectful institution (called Iron House), until a tragedy separated them. Older brother Michael ran away, and went on to become a top of the line mob enforcer. Julian, on the other hand, was adopted by a wealthy senator and his wife. Twenty-three years later, Michael, in love, is trying to get out of the mob, even as violence taints Julian's sheltered world, and brings the two estranged brothers back into each other's lives. The seeds of Julian's problems can be traced clearly back to Iron House. 

Primary protagonist Michael is a strong character, shaped by his terrible childhood into a killing machine, but still possessing a moral compass. Here's a passage that I think captures Michael's essence:

"Michael waved back, conflicted. He knew what to do, but didn't want to do it; needed Elena, yet was here. Michael told himself to get a grip, to chill out. He could still fix everything: Julian, Elena, the life they'd yet to make. But the comfort was illusory. Everything he loved was far away." (Page 237)

Michael is highly capable (a bit like Lee Child's Reacher in that sense, but more complex), and despite the many other treads, is the heart of the story. The senator's wife, Abigail Vane, is also intriguing, much stronger than her polished looks would suggest.

Iron House is well-written and compelling - I stayed up late reading it several nights in a row, and then had trouble falling asleep because my adrenaline was racing. There are quite a few puzzles, and I found it intriguing to try to figure them out. But overall, Iron House was a bit too graphic for me to whole-heartedly enjoy it.

I have a fairly high threshold for violence in my adult reading. Lee Child and Harlan Coben are two of my favorite authors. But Iron House had a couple of scenes that crossed the line for me. That doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend Iron House to other adult readers. Hart sets a good balance between action and mystery. The settings are well-defined (particularly the creepy Iron House). The characters are also clearly delineated and interesting, and Michael is a killer to cheer for. Iron House is a top-notch thriller. But you should only read it if you have a high tolerance for graphic violence (including torture).

Iron House is a book that will (for good and ill) stay in my memory for a long time. Recommended for fans of sharp-edged, intelligent thrillers.

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (Macmillan)
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: End of July Edition

JkrROUNDUP The end of July Children’s Literacy and Reading News Roundup [a few days late ;-)] is now available at Rasco from RIF. The roundups are brought to you each month by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Family Bookshelf, and Rasco from RIF. Over the month of July, 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 managed to pull everything together this month, despite her important family event. (Do click through for a beautiful photo of her new baby bookworm grandson, Charlie, with his older brother). In other news, I was happy to learn about "the New York Public Library’s “reading-for-fines” program? Pretty innovative and a way to bring more children back into the library, children who currently have fines their families can’t perhaps pay."

Carol also highlights several programs helping kids affected by recent storms in Mississippi and Missouri to prepare for school (including one help by RIF and the United Way). She takes a look forward at some September and October events, and closes with some suggestions for growing bookworms, and a video with some "mental relief" for all. Do click through and check out the whole thing. I'll be back next week with the mid-August literacy roundup. But I did want to share one other time-sensitive tidbit now. Reach Out and Read CEO Earl Martin Phalen  is going to be featured on MSNBC this coming Thursday, August 11, at 2 pm EST.  He will be on “NewsNation” with Tamron Hall, talking about Reach Out and Read during a segment on Education in the Community. We love Reach Out and Read, and hope that you'll check it out.

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

KidLitCon Plans Are Shaping Up!

Kidlitcon_logo2 The 2011 Kidlitosphere Conference (being held at the Hotel Monaco in Seattle on September 16-17) is shaping up nicely. The multi-talented author and artist Sarah Stevenson created the beautiful logo to the left. Our hardworking co-chairs Jackie Parker and Colleen Mondor have scored a great hotel, and put together an amazing (tentative) agenda (including a keynote presentation by Scott Westerfeld). Colleen reported on Twitter that as of Friday, 68 people were registered. You can see some of them here - registration coordinator Pam Coughlan has been traveling, but should be updating the list soon.

And I'm delighted to report that I finalized my own travel plans this weekend. I'll be arriving at KidLitCon on Thursday afternoon, September 15th and leaving late Saturday night. Things won't really get started until Friday at noon, but I wanted to squeeze in an extra evening talking about everything and nothing with my KidLit peeps. For me, that's what KidLitCon is all about. But I am scheduled to present twice:

Friday 3 – 3:50 pm

One is Silver and the Other’s Gold: A Discussion on Blogging Backlist vs. New Releases, and Why It Doesn’t Have to Be Versus

Presented by Maureen Kearney, Terry Doherty, Melissa Madsen Fox, Jen Robinson

Four reviewer-bloggers will discuss the different advantages to blogging the backlist and blogging about newer titles, and how having a variety of books strengthens your blog and your voice.

Saturday 3:00 – 3:50 pm

Moving Beyond Google Reader: Taking Your Blog to Where Your Readers Are

Presented by Jen Robinson and Carol Rasco

Because of the large number of blogs in the Kidlitosphere these days, it is difficult, if not impossible, for people to follow them all, even when using a blog reader. Fortunately, a variety of tools and services, new and old, exist to help bloggers take their content to where their audience is. These include Feedblitz, Twitter, Facebook, and the new Google+ service. In this session, we will share tips for using these tools effectively, to get your blog posts into the hands of people who are interested in them, without oversaturating and turning off your audience. We’ll also include some tips for blog readers on how to use these tools to cut through the clutter, and find interesting content.

There are tons of other sessions planned, and all of them look interesting. Here is the full schedule (without session descriptions - click here for those). Note that this schedule is tentative, and likely to change a little bit. But it should give you a nice picture of what the conference will be like.

KidLitCon 2011 Schedule

Friday, September 16

12:00 – 12:50 pm

Registration begins. Regardless of whether you are attending the day’s sessions, you can register for any portion of the conference during this time.

 1 – 1:50 pm

Bloggers and Writers and Pubs! Oh My!

Presented and facilitated by Pam Coughlan and Liz Burns

2 – 2:50 pm

Managing the Privacy Line: Your Blog, Your Kids, Your Readers, and You

Presented by Marcia Lerner, Andrea Lampman, Eden Kennedy

The Future of Transmedia Storytelling: Angel Punk, Pottermore, and Skeleton Creek

Presented by Amber Keyser, Devon Lyon, Matthew Wilson, and Jake Rossman

3 – 3:50 pm

One is Silver and the Other’s Gold: A Discussion on Blogging Backlist vs. New Releases, and Why It Doesn’t Have to Be Versus

Presented by Maureen Kearney, Terry Doherty, Melissa Madsen Fox, Jen Robinson 

Group Blogging: Strategies for Success

Presented by Elissa Cruz, Wendy Martin, Rosanne Parry, Katherine Schlick Noe

4 – 4:50 pm

Building a Better World With Your Book Blog

Presented by Chris Singer

5 – 6 pm

Wine Reception

Hotel Monaco offers a complimentary glass of wine during their nightly wine hour. It’s another great opportunity to linger in their beautiful lobby, mingle with guests and your kidlitosphere colleagues.

7 – 10 pm

Meet and Greet

Come meet and mingle with your peers! We’ll provide light appetizers and access to a cash bar. SCBWI of Western Washington will provide entertainment in the form of a lightning-fast intro to attending and local authors. Think speed-dating, only quicker – we’re going to pack in as many authors and illustrators as possible in 30 minutes (if you are an author interesting in participating in this, contact Joni Sensel: sensel [at]

Saturday, September 17th

7:15 – 7:55 am


8 am

Keynote by Scott Westerfeld

9 – 9:50 am

Forming Author – Blogger Collectives to Support Book Promotion

Presented by Stasia Ward Kehoe

Who Are You Online? Social Media and the Professional Persona

Presented by Karen Kincy, Chelsea Campbell, Denise Jaden, and Mindi Scott

9:50 – 10:15 am


10:15 – 11:05 am

Going Deep: The Hows and Whys of Blogging Critically

Presented by Kelly Jensen, Abby Johnson, and Janssen Brandshaw

Tears, Sweat, and True Blood: DIY Marketing in a Post-Twilight World

Presented by Holly and Shiraz Cupala

11:15 – 12:05 pm

Give Your Blog a Voice: Podcasting in the KidLitosphere

Presented by Michelle Ann Dunphy and Allison Tran

Building Your Online Brand

Presented by Amanda Hubbard

12:30 – 2 pm


2 – 2:50 pm

Convergence: Social Media Life, the Publishing Universe, and Everything

Presented by Greg Pincus

Finessing Your Inner Zoo

Presented by Richard Jesse Watson

3 – 3:50 pm

Moving Beyond Google Reader: Taking Your Blog to Where Your Readers Are

Presented by Jen Robinson and Carol Rasco

Teaming Up: How Authors and Bloggers Can Work Together for Successful Promotion

Presented by Suzanne Young and Sara Gundell

3:50 – 4:15 pm


4 – 4:50 pm

The Fantastic New World of Book Apps for Children

Presented by Mary Ann Scheuer, Elizabeth Bird, and Paula Wiley

Teaming Up with S in SCBWI

Presented by Joni Sensel

5 – 5:50

Blogging Diversity: Prejudice and Pride

Presented by Lee Wind

7 pm


The Bottom Line

It's going to be great, I tell you. Click here to register. Discounted registration has been extended to August 15th. If you're on the fence, and not sure whether or not KidLitCon is worthwhile, see my thoughts on why KidLitCon IS worthwhile here. Or search on Twitter for KidLitCon - you'll find lots of reasons to attend. I hope to see you all there. I'll be the one in the lobby with a glass of wine Thursday night, ready to talk life, blogging, and kidlit.