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Posts from September 2011

Hound Dog True: Linda Urban

Book: Hound Dog True
Author: Linda Urban
Pages: 160
Age Range: 9-12

9780547558691 Linda Urban's upcoming novel, Hound Dog True, is a lovely little book that I didn't want to see end. I loved Urban's previous middle grade novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, and I think that Hound Dog True is even better. 

Hound Dog True takes place during the week before Mattie Breen starts fifth grade in a new school. Her fourth new school. Mattie, a writer, is painfully, heartbreakingly shy, and these new beginnings are torture for her. This time, though, Mattie has a plan. Her Uncle Potluck is the custodian for the new school, and Mattie hopes to be his "custodial apprentice". That way she can spend those lawless times, like lunch and recess, in the safety of her uncle's office.

Learning this, early in the book, I just wanted to reach out and say "Oh, Mattie, that is so not a good idea." But not to worry. Linda Urban has Mattie in excellent hands.

Hound Dog True is a quiet little book. It takes place in just a few settings, in a small town, over just a few days. But the settings, especially Uncle Potluck's country home, and the elementary school where he works, feel real. And the characters feel even more real. Uncle Potluck is quirky and gregarious, rendered shy only by the attractive and understanding Principal Bonnet. Mattie's Mama is loving but flawed, insensitive to the way her frequent moves are damaging her daughter. And Quincy Sweet, a girl introduced as a potential friend for Mattie, is an unexpectedly perfect fit. And Mattie, well, I ached for Mattie. And now that the book is over, I wish I could spend more time with her.

Hound Dog True is written in the third person present tense, which took me a tiny bit of getting used to, but works, and lends immediacy to the story. Mattie keeps detailed accounts of custodial wisdom in her ever-present notebook (along with the occasional story). Her jottings (shown in a different font), add visual interest, and will, I think, make the book more accessible to new readers. Urban even works in a few vocabulary words, gleaned through Mattie's discussions with Uncle Potluck.

But really, for me, it's the tone that makes Hound Dog True special. Kind of a gentle understanding, mixed with playful humor. Here are a couple of examples:

"The bulb is ash gray. Uncle Potluck puts his hat to his heart and bows his head. "Gave its life in service of the illumination of youth," he says.

Mattie smiles. Bows her head like Uncle Potluck. "Thank you, bulb," she says. It's only Uncle Potluck around, so she doesn't mind saying it out loud. (Page 3)

"All day Mattie follows Uncle Potluck close, watching, making notes for the posterity people best she can. A few times she has to set her notebook aside--like for helping set up the playhouse in the kindergarten and for sink-cleaning in the girls' restroom. It is hard writing neat with rubber gloves on." (Page 34)

The phrase Hound Dog True isn't exactly defined, but it seems to mean something true in its essence, even if not necessarily true in terms of mundane facts. And really, isn't that the very definition of a successful novel? Something that may not be technically true, but extends our understanding of the truth? By this measure, Hound Dog True is a complete success.

I highly recommend Hound Dog True for middle grade readers, especially for girls who are a little bit timid or shy. The custodial wisdom, and the quirks of Uncle Potluck, should appeal to boys, too. Teachers, take note: I think that Hound Dog True would make an excellent classroom read-aloud for early in the school year.

Publisher: Harcourt (@hmhbooks)
Publication Date: September 20, 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: September 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 1487 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have seven book reviews (four picture books, one middle grade and two YA). I also have two children's literacy roundup posts (one published in detail at Rasco from RIF and the other at The Family Bookshelf, but both with added content here). All of my posts for the past 2 weeks are included in the newsletter.

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I finished five books, two middle grade books, two young adult books, and one adult novel (as well as various picture books and board books read aloud to Baby Bookworm, see those here, here, and here):

  • Jen Bryant: Kaleidoscope Eyes. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Completed September 1, 2011. Review to come.
  • Andreas Steinhöfel: The Spaghetti Detectives. The Chicken House. Completed September 9, 2011. Review to come.
  • Jessica Warman: Between. Walker. Completed September 5, 2011. Review to come.
  • Amy Kathleen Ryan: Glow. St. Martins Griffin. Completed September 5, 2011. My review.
  • Bernadette Pajer: A Spark of Death: A Professor Bradshaw Mystery. Poisoned Pen Press. Completed September 8, 2011, on MP3. First of a new historical mystery series about a Seattle engineering professor in 1901. A likable protagonist and a nice attention to historical detail. I expec to read other books in the series as they arrive.

I'm currently reading The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty and listening to A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (one of my very favorite mystery authors these days). I'm also reading my very first e-book: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick. I'm planning to do a comparison of whether the Kindle or iBooks app works better for me on the iPad on my upcoming trip to KidLitCon. I have Shelter, the first Mickey Bolitar book by Harlan Coben also queued up. Of course I'll still have to take at least one print book with me for backup (and for the record, I'm still not accepting eBooks for review - this is an experiment, for which I've purchased books).

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.

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

JkrROUNDUP The mid-September 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 The Family Bookshelf. Over the last few weeks, Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco, and I have collected content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; and suggestions for growing bookworms (with special thanks to Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook, for sending us several links). Terry has put it all together with style!

Here are a couple of things that I especially enjoyed:

If you’re going to grow bookworms, one of the best ways to do that, of course, is to read aloud to them, and to continue to read aloud to them even after they are old enough to read themselves. That’s why we were so thrilled to see this amazing list of “Readalouds for a “snarky-smart precocious almost-12-year-old” girl” at Bookshelves of Doom. Leila compiled recommendations from various commenters to come up with a wonderful list of titles. Do check it out!

And speaking of reading books with older kids (whether aloud or not), Jen enjoyed this guest post by Stephanie Wilkes at Cheryl Rainfield’s blog. Stephanie, a young adult librarian, proposes that ” while doing the daily duties of a young adult librarian brings teens closer to books, maybe I should change focus for a short time and target the PARENTS.” She’s looking at YA book clubs with parents (with or without teens present), to help ” 1) facilitate discussion amongst teens and adults; 2) allow adults to indulge and learn more about young adult fiction; and 3) open the door for adults to embrace this new generation and to understand their dilemmas.” These sound like good things to us!

I do have one new article to add, that I just came across this morning. A new study, as reported in Time Healthland by Bonnie Rochman, found that:

"What kids watch — and not just how much — matters when it comes to television viewing, according to new research that finds that preschoolers who watch fast-paced shows have far more trouble concentrating than other children.

The research, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, finds that kids who watched just nine minutes of a “very popular fantastical cartoon about an animated sponge that lives under the sea” (that sounds like code for SpongeBob SquarePants) were “significantly impaired” in tests of executive function — essentially a person's ability to stay on task and not get distracted — compared with children who were assigned either to watch an educational cartoon (in this case, Caillou) or to draw."

And that's all for today. Carol will be back at the end of the month with the next children's literacy and reading news roundup (though I'm sure we'll all be sharing more on Twitter, etc. in the meantime). Thanks for caring about children's literacy!

Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed: Eileen Christelow

Book: Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed
Author: Eileen Christelow
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3 to 8

61us+EKPQNL._SL500_AA300_ I've always liked Eileen Christelow's five little monkeys. We have a lap board book edition of Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, and we read it all the time. But Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed is extra fun, because in addition to featuring our mischievous young monkey friends, it celebrates the joy of books. What's not to love about that?

Our story begins with the five little monkeys, all ready for bed, begging for "one more story tonight!". When Mama is too tired, and closes the door, the monkeys decide to try reading on their own. But they keep getting caught when they are unable to contain their tears, screams, laughter, etc. (depending on the book), and Mama cries:

"Lights out! Sweet dreams!
No more reading in bed!"

And at the end of the book, who do you think the little monkeys catch reading in bed herself?

I like that Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed celebrates "happy, sad books", ghost stories and joke books. And I love how excited the monkeys get about the books. They are emotionally invested, and jumping up and down. This is conveyed seamlessly in both the text and the illustrations. I especially like how sly they are, as they scheme to read just one more book on their own (and yes, they use a flashlight to read the ghost story).

Like the other books in the series, Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed is fun to read aloud. My favorite part is when the Mama comes back in each time, saying: "What's all this racket? This chaos? This din?" Then she raises her eyebrow and says, "What was it I said?" That tone, I have down already. Also fun to read aloud are the ghost sound effects, and the squeals of joy when the happy/sad book turns out okay at the end.

Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed is a welcome addition to this popular series. It celebrates reading in an irrepressible manner, and is not the least bit preachy. Reading isn't something that the monkeys are supposed to do, or that's good for them. It's something that they want to do, want to do so much that they're willing to be disobedient, and stay up late reading under the covers. (Okay, the disobedience part is never too tough for the monkeys to convince themselves of, but still...). Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed is likely to stand as my favorite book in the series. Recommended for kids and parents.

Publisher: Clarion (@hmhbooks)
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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

Glow: Amy Kathleen Ryan

Book: Glow (Book 1, Sky Chasers series)
Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan
Pages: 320
Age Range: 13 and up

Glow-225 Glow is the first book of the new Sky Chasers series by Amy Kathleen Ryan. It's young adult science fiction set in outer space, reminding me a bit of my beloved Exiles trilogy by Ben Bova (which I may have to re-read now). Glow, however, devotes considerably more attention to characterization and relationships than one usually finds in old-school science fiction. It is also quite compelling. I read Glow in a single day, unable to put it down.

The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Kieran and Waverly, two teens on board the spaceship Empyrean. Waverly and Kieran were both born on the Empyrean, the very first of the first generation of kids born on the long journey to New Earth (still 40+ years away). They are contemplating marriage, aware of their responsibility to procreate and support the survival of the human race. However, their personal concerns fall by the wayside when tragedy strikes. Their ship is brutally attacked by one-time sister ship the New Horizon, and all of the girls, including Waverly, are kidnapped. The remainder of the book follows the tribulations of Waverly and Kieran on their separate spaceships, uncertain if they'll ever be together again. 

Glow's dark, action-filled plot will appeal to the current generation of dystopia fans. Glow is also straight-up science fiction, with airlocks and shuttles and crops grown on board the ships. The premise of coping with battles from aboard a spaceship, with nowhere to escape to if something goes wrong, is inherently suspenseful. Like this:

"A sudden, deafening wind ripped through Kieran's ears. He tried to stay on his feet, but he felt the soles of his shoes sliding along the floor. He was being sucked toward what looked like an enormous hole in the side of the ship.

No. It wasn't a hole.

The air lock doors were opening to the emptiness of the nebula." (Page 33, ARC)

But what really sets Glow apart is Ryan's attention to character and interpersonal dynamics. The characters, particularly Kieran, come across very differently depending on who is looking at them. I wouldn't quite go so far as to say that anyone is an unreliable narrator, but people's personalities are not black and white. Motives are murky, and the adults, especially, are quite tricky. Hunger Games fans will feel right at home.

Recommended for high school and adult readers, boys and girls, particularly people who enjoy dystopias, science fiction stories set in space, and/or books in which the adults are not to be trusted. There's a bit of a Lord of the Flies feel to Kieran's experience, and echoes of what-if reproductive stories to Waverly's (The Declaration by Gemma Malley, some of Orson Scott Card's books, etc.).

Glow isn't a book that you'll linger over, flagging beautiful turns of phrase with sticky notes. It is, however, a book that will make you stop and shake your head in surprise. It's a book that will keep you turning the pages well after you should already be asleep, and have you eagerly awaiting the next installment of the Sky Chasers series. I know I am.

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (@StMartinsPress). See also the Glow Facebook Page
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher

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

It's a Little Book: Lane Smith

Book: It's a Little Book
Author: Lane Smith
Pages: 24 (Board Book)
Age Range: 1-4

51rGTRcM8HL._SL500_AA300_ It's a Little Book is a Mommy Bookworm's dream. It's a Little Book is, as you might expect, a board book sibling to Lane Smith's It's a Book. A monkey in diapers has a book. His little baby donkey (jackass?) friend wants to know "What is that?".

The donkey keeps trying to find uses for this funny rectangular thing. "Is it for chewing?", "Is it for flying?", etc. The monkey just sits there, without expression, with a little hat on his head, saying "No." Until the end, when we learn: "It's for reading... It's a book, silly."

My favorite page is "Is it for calling?", as the donkey holds the book up to his head. [Just yesterday, my daughter had me saying "Hello" while holding a TV remote up to my ear.] But plenty of other toddler-friendly activities, like building, are represented. 

Smith's illustrations have his trademark muted color scheme, and show a deadpan sense of humor. I love how the monkey just sits there, even as the donkey is acting up in crazy ways. The illustration of "Is it for quacking" is particularly funny. 

It's a Little Book is a quick, fun board book read, full of activities that toddlers will be able to relate to. It's sized for small hands, and just right for chewing. Or building. Or even, dare I suggest, reading. Recommended for baby bookworms everywhere.

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: August 30, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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

Bedtime in the Jungle: John Butler

Book: Bedtime in the Jungle
Author: John Butler
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5

61ehFzcnO1L._SL500_AA300_ Bedtime in the Jungle is a bedtime story by John Butler, written to the tune of "Over in the Meadow" (as is Over at the Castle by Boni Ashburn). It's a soothing counting book that features different animal mothers snuggling up with their babies. Like this:

"It was bedtime in the jungle,
And the sun glowed no more.
A wolf nuzzled noses
With her babies four.
"Nestle," said their mother.
"We'll nestle," said the four.
And they nestled in their den, as the sun glowed no more.

Leopards snuggle, peahen's hush, crocodiles laze, and elephants dream. The text is rhythmic, and kids will be able to predict the rest of each page, as they sleepily practice counting.

Really, the text in Bedtime in the Jungle feels almost beside the point. The strength of this book is Butler's glowing, detailed illustrations. Each page spread features a different background color for the text, from dusky pink to sky blue. The animals are pictured against an ever-darkening sky.

Butler's animals are beautiful, realistic but painted with a soft, tender focus to them, perfect for a bedtime book. My favorite individual animal is the baby rhino, whose very eyes look sleepy, but whose posture remains alert. The mother crocodile is a bit scary, but the babies are small and cute. The yellow ducklings positively shine.

The next to last page shows ten baby elephants, with their mothers, on an extra-wide fold-out. The babies are various states of sleepiness, against a dusky, starry sky. I'm half tempted to pull this page spread right out of the book, and put it on my wall, it's so lovely. But instead, I'll just add Bedtime in the Jungle to our bedtime reading shelf, so that I can visit those elephants over and over again.

Bedtime in the Jungle would be a delightful addition to anyone's bedtime reading shelf. Recommended for sleepy preschoolers and their parents.

Publisher: Peachtree (@PeachtreePub)
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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

Louis the Tiger Who Came From the Sea: Michal Kozlowski

Book: Louis the Tiger Who Came From the Sea
Author: Michal Kozlowski
Illustrator: Sholto Walker
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

61TfS6fYsHL._SL500_AA300_ Louis The Tiger Who Came From the Sea is a very fun picture book by Michal Kozlowski. It's a nonsense story about a brother and sister who wake up one morning to find a tiger sleeping in their yard. They can tell, by the way he rolls around in his sleep, and the way he smells of fish and saltwater, that he came from the sea. They name him Louis, and feed him cereal with milk. Eventually, and with much creativity, Ali and Ollie and their parents help Louis to find his way home.

What I love about this book is that it celebrates the ridiculous with a straight face. There's no message, nothing that Kozlowski is trying to teach kids (except perhaps that books are fun). This is a depressingly rare thing in picture books these days, and Kozlowski, illustrator Sholto Walker and publisher Annick Press are to be commended for it.

Kozlowski's writing is highly kid-friendly. Like this:

"What do you think his name is? asked Ollie.

He looks like a tiger named Louis to me," said Ali.

"I think you're right," said Ollie. "You can tell by the white patch on his chin and the way his whiskers tickle his nose."

Of course, right? I think that the funniest bit is when the family makes sea-creature costumes, so that they can lead Louis back to the sea. We have this:

"Ollie was a narwhal, with a big tusk on his head.

Ali was a dolphin, with a long snout.

Mother was a blowfish, with a funny mouth,

and Father was an octopus with six tentacles, because there was not enough material to make eight tentacles."

I laughed out loud at "not enough material to make eight".

Sholto Walker's illustrations suit the tone of the book, with small vignettes on some pages, and full-page paintings on others. Ali and Ollie have a cartoonish feel, but Louis is a gorgeous, realistic tiger. The color palette is mostly muted oranges, blues, and greens, with smooth backgrounds. The family's costumes are hilarious.

The design of the book is nice, too. The words "carrot" and "pumpkin" are in big, orange letters. Other key words are also shown large and in color. This makes it easy to emphasize the words when reading aloud, and will help young readers to see the important words. The phrase "And so they opened the window and could smell fish and saltwater" is shown as a fish-bordered wave, like a breeze passing across the page.

I recommend Louis the Tiger Who Came From the Sea for preschoolers and early elementary school kids, or anyone looking for a laugh. It would make a good classroom or library read-aloud, with engaging illustrations and delightfully dry humor. Louis the Tiger Who Came From the Sea is definitely going on our "keep" shelf. 

Publisher: Annick Press (@AnnickPress)
Publication Date: January 20, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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