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Posts from December 2011

Play Ball Jackie!: Stephen Krensky

Book: Play Ball Jackie!
Author: Stephen Krensky
Illustrator: Joe Morse
Pages: 32
Age Range: 7 and up

PlayballPlay Ball, Jackie!, written by Stephen Krensky and illustrated by Joe Morse, is a fictionalized account of a young white boy attending Jackie Robinson's first major league baseball game at Ebbets Field. Krensky fills in lots of historical details, from the approximate number of fans in attendance to background about segregation in the US in the 1940s to details about how Robinson became the first black player in the Majors. These background sections are interspersed with sections telling of Matty's (fictional) experience at the game, as his immigrant father tells him that this is America, and everyone should have a chance to play.

Krensky strikes a reasonable balance, I think, between making Matty and his father open-minded (Matty even takes the side of a black boy in a potential conflict), while acknowledging the many people in attendance who were downright hostile towards Robinson. I also think he does a reasonable job of balancing story with presentation of facts. Play Ball, Jackie! isn't a gripping page-turner, or anything. But showing the history from Matty's perspective makes the story more accessible to young readers than it might be otherwise (particularly for those not already fans of baseball). An author's note and several archival photos at the end add more detail for those who need it.

Joe Morse's illustrations bring Jackie Robinson, and Matty and his father, to life. The ugly, anti-Robinson fans remain more as ugly caricatures. Morse's appreciation for baseball comes through, too, as does a sepia-tinged impression of the general time period.

For kids growing up baseball fans today, in the time of David Ortiz, Miguel Tejada, and Manny Ramirez, the idea of not having any black players seems inconceivable. Play Ball, Jackie! shows them how different things were 65 years ago, and how brave Jackie Robinson was. Play Ball, Jackie! is a picture book for older kids, one that would go right over the heads of preschoolers. But it would make a fine classroom reference book to consult for a history section, and a great gift for any 8-year-old baseball fan. I enjoyed it!

Publisher: Millbrook Press
Publication Date: April 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Steve L.

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

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

JkrROUNDUPWelcome to the mid-December Children’s Literacy and Reading News Roundup brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book PageThe Family Bookshelf, and Rasco from RIF. Over the month of December so far 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. Despite the upcoming holidays, there is plenty going on right now in the world of books (with extra thanks to Carol, who found MANY of these links).

Literacy & Reading-Related Events

Though not quite book-related, here's an appropriate link for parents for the holiday season. is a nonprofit that evaluates children's toys and products in five areas as they relate to learning disabilities: physical, cognitive, sensory, and communicative. With so many parents and educators seeking "reliable advice" on the best toys for their children, this could be an invaluable resource.

2012CalendarCoverAnd speaking of the holiday season, advice columnist Ask Amy is promoting the Family Reading Partnership's Book on Every Bed effort. Here's the column in which she urges all parents to "Take a book. Wrap it. Place it on a child's bed so it's the first thing the child sees on Christmas morning (or whatever holiday you celebrate)." Simple and powerful. This is the second year for this campaign, and I hope it's a huge success. I know that Terry has her books lined up already! (And speaking of the Family Reading Partnership, Melissa Taylor's post about A Book on Every Bed reminded me that it's not too late to order the Family Reading Partnership's 2012 Read to Me calendar. I've got mine all ready to go for January, and I love it.

Cybils2011If you are looking for books to buy to put on that special child's bed, you might consider mining the Cybils nomination lists (as suggested by Sheila Ruth at the Cybils website). Many wonderful titles have been nominated in categories ranging from fiction picture books to graphic novels to young adult fiction. And if you click through from the lists and make a purchase from Amazon, a small portion of your sale goes to the Cybils organization (where it helps fund things like prizes for the winners). Cybils shortlists will be announced on January 1st.

ImagesIn honor of the 50th anniversary of The Snowy Day, the Jewish Museum in New York is mounting a retrospective of the work of author/illustrator Ezra Jack Keats. The New York Times, in an article by Laurel Graeber, says "Celebrating the book’s 50th anniversary and traveling to three other museums, the show, “The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats,” tells the story of how a white Jew — Keats was born Jacob Ezra Katz — created a black character who helped change the face of children’s books."

Awit2012 is also the 50th anniversary of Margaret L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, one of my all-time favorite books. I was pleased to read in Publisher's Weekly (via the Children's Bookshelf newsletter) about Macmillan's year-long plan for celebrating this important milestone.  The multiple 50th anniversary editions that Macmillan is publishing will include "new additional content, including an introduction by Katherine Paterson, an afterword by L’Engle’s granddaughter, Charlotte Voiklis, and previously unpublished photos." There's also going to be a graphic novel version. I wonder what Meg Murray would have thought about that!

And if you happen to be headed to a museum that has dinosaurs, we suggest that you check out this New York Times feature by Pamela Paul that introduces a picture book for older kids on how those dinosaur fossils make their way to museums. (via @PamelaPaulNYT)

Literacy Programs and Research

51+PAI0uIpL._SL160_Terry ran across what we think is a neat collaborative effort to benefit The National Literacy Trust in the UK and the Children's Literacy Initiative in the US. It's a charity anthology of short crime stories, where each of 38 stories is based on a classic song title (Light My Fire, Dock of the Bay, etc.).

As reported in CBCNews, author Margaret Atwood spoke recently about how Twitter and the Internet boost literacy. Here's a snippet: "Thanks to the rise of the internet and of social media, "I would say that reading, as such, has increased. And reading and writing skills have probably increased because what all this texting and so forth replaced was the telephone conversation," she continued." I do hope that all of the online time is helping literacy. An article in The Digital Shift by Debra Lau Whalen reports that "A whopping 95 percent of teens between the ages of 12-17 are now online—and one in five of them say they’ve been bullied in the last year, either in person, online, by text, or by phone, says a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project." At least the literacy benefits might counterbalance some of the social downsides...

On the other hand, The Chronicle of Higher Education shared a nice op-ed piece by William Pannapacker about how many people are "still in love with print books." He says: "Contrary to many futuristic projections—even from bibliophiles who, as a group, enjoy melancholy reveries—the recent technological revolution has only deepened the affection that many scholars have for books and libraries, and highlighted the need for the preservation, study, and cherishing of both." I know I cherish my books in print, even as I download library books onto my iPad for vacations.

Jenny Schwartzberg sent us the link to a neat Washington Post story by Joshua Partlow about a program that uses old folktales (turned into books by a nonprofit publisher)  to help teach Afghan students to read. This story highlights the importance for literacy of having stories available that resonate with the particular audience. The Anne E. Casey Foundation Population Reference Bureau recently reported, in their analysis of 2010 census data, that "Children of mixed race grew at a faster rate than any other group over the past decade; from 1.9 million in 2000 to 2.8 million in 2010 (a 46 percent increase)." Sounds like there's going to be a need for a lot of copies of Sarah Stevenson's The Latte Rebellion in a few years...

Suggestions for Growing Bookworms

Stacey Loscalzo recently decided, given the need for reading tutors, to go back to work in this area. In this short post, Stacey shares a poem that inspired her wish to provide her first student with "A Lot of Slow to Grow". Which pairs quite well, I think, with this post from Read Aloud Dad. RAD asks, how do you want your child to spend time when bored? Watching TV (or worse), or reading books? One key to having your child read whenever they have a passing moment of boredom is to keep lots of books around your home. Let's see if we can provide all of our children with plenty of "slow to grow", and even plenty of boredom (with books handy), in the hope that they'll find time to grow as readers.

SkeletonI also just read (with thanks to Carol) a piece that Patrick Carman wrote last month for The Digital Shift about transmedia and the way it has changed the very notion of books and reading. Carman's view is that "What many ultra-wired kids needed was a pathway back to books. They needed someone to take two steps toward them before they could take one step in the direction of reading." As a result, he's been experimenting with stories that cross over between books and video, offline and online. I think this ties in well with a November NY Times Education piece that captures and categorizes various links about "the future of reading."

PBSKidsFor those families headed out on long trips for the holidays, PBS Kids is offering a video app for the iPad through which you can have free streaming access to more than 2000 PBS Kids television episodes. New videos are added every week. (Of course books are still our top choice for travel, especially for children under 2, but there's certainly an appeal of having some educational video content available, to add variety to the mix.) School Library Journal actually reported, back in November, that iPads are expected to outpace computers in schools by 2016.

Speaking of the iPad, and other app platforms, Cybils app category organizer Mary Ann Scheuer was interviewed last week on NPR's Here & Now show. Mary Ann did a great job of discussing the benefits of apps to help encourage reading, and she also managed to put in a good word for the Cybils. Excellent work!

If you live near New York, you might try visiting the Queens Library's new Children's Library Discovery Center. According to this ABC News story (you can check out the video), "Interactive components create an environment where children can learn about science, engineering and math. There are, of course, books related to each experience." Sounds pretty cool!

Finally, for some more concrete Growing Bookworms tips, Amy at Delightful Children's Books has just launched a new three-part series on introducing children to books. In the first installment, Amy focuses on introducing books to babies. She includes some general ideas for reading to babies, as well as a lovely list of recommended titles for "discoverers and communicators", age 0 - 13 months. I wish I'd had this post when Baby Bookworm was in this age range.

Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. We wish you all a joyful holiday season, and a book-filled 2012! Carol will be back at the beginning of January with the next roundup.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Movie Rights Acquired by Universal

SMOKE-BONE_240Yay for Laini Taylor! Although I don't normally post much movie news on my blog, Laini is my friend, and I was thrilled to see the word this morning at Waking Brain Cells that the film rights to Daughter of Smoke and Bone have been acquired by Universal. You can read the Entertainment Weekly exclusive story here, and you can read my review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone here. Actually, here is the conclusion from my review:

"Daughter of Smoke and Bone is highly recommended for fans of young adult fantasy, or anyone who would like to be immersed in an epic love story. There are plenty of other paranormal romance novels out there, but Daughter of Smoke and Bone stands apart, with glowing prose, unusual characters, and three-dimensional world-building."

Apparently, Universal thinks that Daughter of Smoke and Bone stands apart, too. So nice when good things happen to good people. Now if they would only make movie versions of Laini's Dreamdark books...

LaRue Across America: Postcards From the Vacation: Mark Teague

Book: LaRue Across America: Postcards From the Vacation
Author: Mark Teague
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-8

LaRueLaRue Across America: Postcards from the Vacation by Mark Teague is an unconventional picture book in which the story is told in the form of a series of postcards sent from Ike the dog to his neighbor, Mrs. Hibbins. Ike is traveling across America with his owner, Mrs. LaRue, and Mrs. Hibbins' two cats. Ike is NOT happy about the cats, or the fact that the drive is replacing a previously planned (cat-free) cruise to Mexico. Ike solicits Mrs. Hibbins' help in talking Mrs. LaRue out of this craziness, but no replies are shown. Each postcard shows a date and location, and a map on the end pages of the book maps out the full journey from Snort City, NY to Los Angeles.

Ike's postcards are witty in and of themselves, with added humor from the pictures (which sometimes reveal Ike's biased perspective on the situation). Here's a snippet to show you Ike's tone:

"We have departed, and things do not look hopeful. It seems that the same awful heat which caused your own collapse has left your cats ill-tempered and unmanageable. Our visit to the water park was a disaster. Needless to say, we all want the cats to be happy, but I am certain that they would be happier at home."

The accompanying picture shows Ike having a great time on the waterslide, while the cats scowl in the background.

From state to state, Ike continues to implore his neighbor to end the torture of "endless travel, poor food, lump mattresses, and unpleasant company (!)", but to no avail. However, due to a fortuitous rescue by an outside party, things turn out ok in the end.

In addition to postcards, there are a couple of articles from the Snort City Gazette included, adding visual interest. Many of the pages feature two illustrations, one in color and the other in grayscale. Some show two different aspects of the situation described in the postcard, while some images just show Ike, Mrs. LaRue, and the cats as they are, traveling along.

Teague's illustrations are lively and full of humor. He throws in little details, like a bottle of "Bob's Sunblock for Dogs" next to a pair of sunglasses, and a vulture waiting on the roof of Mrs. LaRue's car, stalled in Death Valley. Ike is appealing, with a nice painted texture to his fur. Mrs. LaRue looks rather grim in many of the picture, but then, who wouldn't in her situation?

LaRue Across America: Postcards From the Vacation is a picture book that will go right over the heads of younger kids. There's also quite a bit of text on each page, making it fairly time-consuming as a read-aloud (certainly impractical for storytimes). But it should be a good fit for early elementary school kids who are comfortable with reading, and ready to appreciate the humor of Ike's conflicts with the cats (as when he tries to drop them off a building, even though he denies any such intention). Certainly I found it entertaining as an adult reader. I will keep an eye out for any future adventures of Ike and Mrs. LaRue.

Publisher: The Bly Sky Press (@scholastic)
Publication Date: March 1, 20111
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Kristy

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Dear Tabby: Carolyn Crimi & David Roberts

Book: Dear Tabby
Author: Carolyn Crimi
Illustrator: David Roberts
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

Tabby_coverDear Tabby is the perfect companion to LaRue Across America: Postcards From the Vacation. Written by Carolyn Crimi and illustrated by David Roberts, Dear Tabby is told primarily in the form of advice column letters to Tabby D. Cat, and Tabby's responses. Tabby's no-nonsense tone is what really makes the book, Confronted with complaints from an overly-pampered puss named boots, Tabby's response, though polite, is along the lines of "Be thankful for what you have and stop complaining".

One neat thing about this book is that the different letter-writers all have quite distinct voices. These range from excessively chatty to whiny to insecure. But Tabby's responses are usually spot-on as well as entertaining. For example, after a bear named Betty, in trouble, asks Tabby NOT to tell her brother of her difficulties (even though she clearly needs help), Tabby replies:

"I must apologize. A horrible thing has happened to your letter. A gust of wind blew it right out of my paws. I chased it for half a block, but I'm afraid it blew right into the Dingaling Sisters' Traveling Circus. I think I saw your brother reading it. I realize that this is the last thing you wanted to happen! Again, I am truly sorry."

The humor is a bit subtle here. You have to get that Tabby is in going beyond letter-writing to actually manipulating events. Dear Tabby is more a book for early elementary school kids than for preschoolers. It's a book for kids who are comfortable with reading, perhaps even reading chapter books, but who still love a good picture book. And have a good sense of humor.

David Roberts' illustrations are a relatively small part of the book, compared to many picture books. But they are engaging and well-integrated with the text. A letter from a dizzy hamster is shown in circular form, with words around a wheel, for example. The illustrations also show what is only lightly implied by the text, that Tabby is not exactly living the high life. All of the animals are conveyed expressively, their moods and quirks visible to the discerning reader.

The book's designer also did a nice job of matching fonts to the circumstances of each animal. Incidental materials like news stories and wedding announcements also add to the fun of Dear Tabby. This information helps to tied off some of the various threads introduced by the letters.

I think that Dear Tabby would actually make a nice literacy-building tool for first graders. The kids could write their own letters to Tabby, or write their own responses to the letters that Tabby receives. Parents or teachers could expand upon the book by sharing snippets (carefully selected) from actual advice columns in the newspaper.

But in any event, Dear Tabby has humor and heart, and plenty of visual interest. Tabby, as the reader gleans from both words and pictures, is a strong, resourceful character, one whom kids will enjoy spending time with. Recommended, age 4 and up (though probably optimal at around age 6).

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: February 8, 2011
Source of Book: Cybils review copy from the publisher
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Ashley Barrineau
Also reviewed by: MotherReader

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Pecan Pie Baby: Jacqueline Woodson

Book: Pecan Pie Baby
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5 and up

51wnzMGsJ2L._SL500_AA300_Pecan Pie Baby, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Sophie Blackall is a realistic look at what it can feel like to be expecting a new younger sibling. The girl in the book, Gia, lives alone with her single mother. She reacts with unabashed grouchiness whenever the topic arises of the "ding-dang baby". She worries that the baby will get in the way of her sleepover friend, and she bristles over the way everyone seems more interested in the new baby than her. But what she really worries about is the loss of her mother's undivided attention.

The baby is due to arrive "by the time the first snow is on the ground," and Gia makes "a silent wish for winter to come and go quickly without bringing any snow." Gia's mother, for the most part, accepts her reluctance, but she does point out to Gia that "this baby sure loves itself some pecan pie." And so mother and daughter (and unborn baby), eventually, bond over pie.

What I like about this book is that there's not really a warm and fuzzy happy ending. Gia does come to terms with the expected arrival of the baby, to a certain extent, but she still thinks of the time before the baby was even a possibility as "the good old days."I find this refreshing.

I also like that Pecan Pie Baby is up-front (without comment or judgement) about Gia living alone with her mother, with no father figure in sight. I'm not saying that all books should portray that situation, of course, but this is a reality for a lot of kids. It's nice to see it reflected in a book (and one by a well-known and respected author). Gia and her mother are black. Gia has uncles and aunties and cousins and friends of a variety of ethnicities. This, too, feels real, as does showing that although Gia and her mother live alone, they have family and community support around them.

Woodson's writing style is perfect for the feel of the story. Like this:

"Upstairs, I got that teary, choky feeling. And even though there were a whole lot of people in my house, I felt real, real,

real alone."

Blackall's ink and watercolor illustrations match the tone of the book perfectly. Gia is beautiful, if not always cheerful, and her mother's belly grows realistically throughout the course of the book. I especially like a page that shows several of Gia's memories of "all the years it had been just me and Mama", happy little dream bubbles of simpler times. I'm not really a pecan pie person (all chocolate all the time for me), but Blackall makes the pie, and Gia's world, look warm and inviting.

Pecan Pie Baby is a must have for libraries, and is also highly recommended for any family expecting a second child. Even if the older sibling isn't going around talking overtly about "the ding-dang baby", Gia's struggles might bring some hidden feelings to light. I would think that this would be a good read-aloud in elementary school classrooms, too, because of the way that it reflects single parent households and larger mixed-ethnic families. Recommended!

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (@ThePenguinPeeps)
Publication Date: October 28, 2010
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Paula Chase Hyman

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Little Chicken's Big Day: Katie Davis & Jerry Davis

Book: Little Chicken's Big Day
Author: Jerry Davis
Author/Illustrator: Katie Davis
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

LittleChickenLittle Chicken's Big Day, by Katie Davis and Jerry Davis, describes a very small adventure in the life of a very small chick. Little Chicken sasses back to his bossy mother, Big Chicken, over getting ready for an outing. But when Little Chicken gets distracted, and loses sight of Big Chicken, out there in the big, wide world, he's awfully relieved to hear her "cluckin'". Little Chicken's Big Day wraps up safe and sound at home, with a book and bedtime, and a final suggestion that Big Chicken (aka Mama) and Little Chicken are both loved.

The text in Little Chicken's Big Day is all dialog, if you can call it that. From Big Chicken come mostly admonishments like "Hold my hand! Stay Close!" and "Buckle up!". For Little Chicken we mostly hear "I hear you cluckin', Big Chicken" (albeit in varied tones). Until the end, that is, when he admits: "I love you, Mama." I think that readers, however young, will realize that "I hear you cluckin'" and "I love you", along with all of Big Chicken's commands, all say pretty much the same thing, anyway.

Like the text, the illustrations in Little Chicken's Big Day are simple. But they're also bright, bold, and very fun. Mostly they just feature Little Chicken, and some part of Big Chicken (e.g. a hand), against a minimalist background. The colors are smooth, and the chickens are shown with bold, black outlines. Perfect for small children not yet ready to get distracted by minute details or busy textures.

But there are a few entertaining details, too. Little Chicken sleeps in an egg-shaped bed, and rides in an egg-shaped car seat. When he chases after a tiny purple butterfly, there's a GREAT image of him looking between his own legs, while the butterfly rests up high, on his little tail feathers. When Little Chicken finds Big Chicken again, he grabs hold of her leg. Which is a narrow stick, disappearing into her much wider bright red shoes.

And Little Chicken is adorable, particularly when he's annoyed with the seeming over-protective bossiness of Big Chicken. He furrows his little eyebrows, and puts his hands on his (nonexistent) hips. I think that preschoolers will want to eat him up, metaphorically speaking.

Little Chicken's Big Day is a book that tackles the fear of getting lost, but does so with a very light touch. Preschoolers are sure to love Little Chicken, and to identify with his relief and joy when he finds his mama again. Recommended for home or library reading.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (@SimonBooks)
Publication Date: April 19, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Colby Sharp

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

All These Things I've Done: Gabrielle Zevin

Book: All These Things I've Done
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Pages: 368
Age Range: 12 and up

IMAG015All These Things I've Done is the first book in a new dystopia series by Gabrielle Zevin. All These Things I've Done is the story of Anya Balanchine, sixteen years old in 2083 (told in her first person viewpoint, looking back from many years later). Anya's parents are both dead, and her grandmother is dying. Anya is responsible for her 12-year-old sister Natty and her developmentally disabled older brother Leo. Anya's life is complicated by the fact that she is the heir apparent of her father, legendary crime boss Leonid Balanchine, founder of Balanchine Chocolates.

What I think is noteworthy about All These Things I've Done as a dystopia is that Anya's 2083 New York isn't fundamentally different from the New York of today. Oh, sure, there are some changes. Chocolate and caffeine are illegal. Public funding has deteriorated to such an extent that most museums have been turned into nightclubs. Water is heavily rationed, and riding anywhere in a car is extremely rare. International travel is prohibitively expensive, because of fuel costs. But really, it's a logical extension of today's world, as public and environmental resources have become scarcer and scarcer, and public perceptions of what constitutes an illicit substance have shifted a bit. Kind of depressing, though reassuring in some ways.

But the dystopia is a backdrop, anyway. All These Things I've Done is a character-driven coming of age story that focuses squarely on the tribulations of Anya. She is mercurial in temperament, fiercely loyal to her family, and as cynical as one would expect from someone of her background. But she's a good Catholic girl, too, refusing to have sex before she's married, and confessing her sins in chapel. She's surrounded by a slightly zany cast of characters, and she only gradually finds her place among them all.

I listened to the audio edition of All These Things I've Done. I thought that the narration and pacing were well done. The narrator's voice felt like Anya's to me, and listening to the audio version increased my empathy for the character. (The audio version made it harder for me to flag passages as I was reading, however, one of the reasons that I rarely review audiobooks).

Here are a couple of passages from the print edition of the book, to give you a feel for Anya's voice, and Zevin's world-building:

"The first day of school stunk more than most first days of school, and they tend to stink as a rule. Everyone had already heard that Gable Arsley and Anya Balanchine were over. This was annoying. Not because I had any intention of staying with him after the foul he'd committed the night before, but because I'd wanted to be the one to break up with him. I'd wanted him to cry or yell or apologize. I'd wanted to walk away and not look back as he called my name. That sort of thing, right? (PAge 10, ARC)

"We had missed our regular crosstown bus and, due to MTA budget cuts, the next one wasn't for another hour. I liked to try to be home when Leo got back from work and I decided that it would take less time for us to walk across the park back to our apartment. Daddy once told how the park used to be when he was a kid: trees and flowers and squirrels, and lakes where people could canoe, and vendors selling every kind of food imaginable, and a zoo and hot-air balloon rides and in the summer concerts and plays, and in the winter, ice skating and sledding. It wasn't like that anymore.

The lakes had dried up or been drained, and most of the surrounding vegetation had died. There were still a few graffitti-covered statues, broken park benches, and abandoned buildings, but I couldn't imagine anyone willingly spending time there." Page 21, ARC)

I wasn't wholly won over by Anya's relationship with the son of the acting District Attorney, Win. Despite the story being told in the first person, it felt like Anya wasn't really sure how she felt, or wasn't admitting how she felt, so it was difficult as a reader to invest in the relationship. Anya's relationships with her siblings and her best friend, and even with Win's father, on the other hand, all felt real.

All These Things I've Done features an intriguing premise (What if chocolate was illegal? How would that affect society and the black market? Would a black market around something as benign as chocolate still breed violence?), and detailed, plausible world-building. But its real strength as a book is Anya, a compelling and admirable character faced with a series of difficult situations. I will certainly read future books in this series, because I want to know what happens next to Anya and her family. I'd like to know if she lives up to her birthright, and if she ends up happy or not. Recommended for dystopia fans, or anyone who enjoys reading about strong characters facing moral dilemmas.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers / Macmillan Young Listeners (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: September 6, 2011
Source of Book: Listened to review CDs from the publisher, and then pulled quotes from the print advance review copy (also from the publisher).

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

I Spy with My Little Eye: Edward Gibbs

Book: I Spy with My Little Eye
Author: Edward Gibbs
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5

51EpO3N3YkL._SL500_AA300_I Spy with My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs is a deceptively simple, gorgeously constructed picture book for preschoolers. It will pull in curious, tactile young readers from the very cover. There's no dust jacket. Instead, there's a cut-out where the eye is, just begging kids to stick their hands into the hole, and open up the book. The eye is then shown in a spyglass-like frame on the title page.

Throughout the book, the same theme is repeated. On the first page spread, an eye in a blue face is shown inside the spyglass frame on the left. On the right is a hole, revealing something blue on the other side. The text reads:

"I spy with my little eye...
something that is blue."

Then underneath, in a dialog bubble from the animal:

"I am the biggest animal in the whole world."

Turning the page reveals a blue whale (and another dialog bubble saying so). This continues through the book, with other colors, and other animals. It's a little like Nina Laden's Peek-A-Who, with the cutouts and hints pulling children forward. But I Spy with My Little Eye is a bit more grown up than that. It's not a board book. And Gibbs' digitally created illustrations of the animals are truly beautiful, from gray elephant to orange orangutan to red fox. Kids may not have a difficult time guessing what each animal is, but they'll enjoy the process anyway.

I Spy with My Little Eye adds an element of sophistication to the traditional toddler picture book showing animals and colors. This is a book that doesn't condescend to the young reader, and will also please parents confronted with reading the same book over and over again. I Spy with My Little Eye is solidly and creatively constructed, and the perfect melding of inform and entertain. Highly recommended. This would be a wonderful birthday gift for any 2 or 3 year old.

Publisher: Templar Books / Candlewick Press (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: April 12, 2011
Source of Book: Cybils review copy from the publisher
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Julie
Also reviewed by: morninglightmama | rebeccareid

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: December 5

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 1454 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have five book reviews (one picture book, one middle grade, and three YA). I also have one children's literacy roundup (with additional detail available at Rasco from RIF), and a post about my current status in reading Cybils fiction picture books

I also posted four reviews of Cybils-nominated picture books in the past two weeks. I have NOT included the full reviews in the newsletter, because I thought that it was getting a bit too long. However, here are the links to the Cybils reviews (all four of the books are wonderful):

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I finished three books, one middle grade, one YA, and one adult title (as well as various picture books read for the Cybils, and picture books and board books read aloud to Baby Bookworm, here, here, here, and here):

I'm now listening to Rick Riordan's Son of Neptune on my MP3 player, and I'm still listening to Return to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright when Baby Bookworm is with me. I'm currently reading Hill's End by Ivan Southall (an older title, recommended by Charlotte).

41PkFWSGpiL._SL500_AA300_Baby Bookworm's current favorites are:

How about you? What have you and your kids 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 Queen of France: Tim Wadham

Book: The Queen of France
Author: Tim Wadham
Illustrator: Kady MacDonald Denton
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

FranceThe Queen of France, written by Tim Wadham and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, is about a girl named Rose who wakes up one morning feeling "royal." Rose dons her jewels and crown, and announces to her mother that she is the Queen of France. She spends the rest of the day alternating between her Rose and Queen of France personas, with the continued cooperation and loving support of her tolerant mother (and occasionally her father). The Queen of France is a celebration of pretending as well as a testimonial to parent-child affection.

Most of the text in The Queen of France is in the form of dialog between Rose, or the queen (but never both, of course), and Rose's mother. Whenever Rose is dressed as the queen, she is completely in character. Like this:

"Ouch!" said the queen. "I have pricked my royal finger."
"May I kiss it for you?" said Rose's mother.
"No," said the queen. "I have a Royal Physician for things like that. Good-bye."
"Good-bye," said Rose's mother.


"Hello, Rose's mother," said the Queen of France.
"Hello again," said Rose's mother.
"I am shocked to see that you do your own cooking," said the queen.
"Well, here in the village, we have to cook for ourselves."

And so on. But when given the choice of being the queen permanently, Rose decides that she would rather be her mother's daughter than be the Queen of France. Well, at least until the next dress-up urge comes along. Just a the nicest bit heartwarming, without being cloying.

I must admit that a big part of what draws me to The Queen of France is Kady MacDonald Denton's illustrations. I'm a huge fan of her work in the Mouse and Bear series, written by Bonnie Becker (see my reviews of A Visitor for Bear and A Bedtime for Bear). In The Queen of France, we see the same warmth, glowing colors and attention to detail that I've loved in the Mouse and Bear books. However, as befitting a book about a girl who imagines herself to be a queen, the tones that Denton uses here are a bit richer, a bit pinker.

Rose's house is cluttered and homey. There are toys everywhere. Her parents are a little bit pudgy, and they look homey, too. The Queen of France herself is a delight, bedecked with bracelets and necklaces, and holding a pink parasol above her head. Her expression is different from Rose's (more snooty), such that even without the costume, one could probably tell Rose and the queen apart.

I think that any little girl who enjoys dressing up will enjoy looking through these illustrations and reading about Rose (though parents should be prepared to ensure that a dress-up basket is available afterwards). This is the first picture book by Tim Wadham, a longtime librarian, and I expect that we'll be seeing more of his work. The Queen of France is an entertaining, gorgeously illustrated book, recommended for home or library purchase.

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: March 8, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Michelle H.

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: End of November Edition

JkrROUNDUPWelcome to the November Children’s Literacy and Reading News Roundup brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Family Bookshelf, and Rasco from RIF. Over the month of November 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 put it all together in lovely style this week at Rasco from RIF.

Carol has linked to SO MUCH great stuff this time around. As Terry put it, there's more than a Santa's sack worth of goodies. Like:

Also, while not in the roundup itself, Carol just posted an open letter to President Obama at Rasco from RIF that is a true must-read for everyone who cares about children's literacy. She starts with praise:

"it was gratifying and encouraging to see news stories about your trip to the local Washington, DC bookstore with your daughters over the Thanksgiving holiday. What a great example you set for all parents and caregivers by showing the importance of children having choice in selection of books and actually obtaining books to own, both highly researched principles necessary to building strong reading and literacy skills in children and youth."

But then she goes on to question, quite respectfully, how someone who cares about literacy and book choice for kids could have recommended taking away RIF's federal funding, and that of other literacy organizations. She makes what I think is a very good point, and quite eloquently.

7084-1Moving on, here are a couple of other tidbits that I've run across this week, too late to share with Carol for the roundup:

  • This Saturday, December 3rd, is the second annual Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day (via the Publisher's Weekly Children's Bookshelf newsletter). What could be more perfect during the holiday season? Well, I may instead celebrate "Take Your Child to the Library to Donate Boxes of Review Books to Needy Children Day", but it doesn't have quite the same ring to it. 
  • Another program (in addition to the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair mentioned above) that is working to get books into the hands of teens is the YALSA Books for Teens effort. Here's the information that Alicia Blowers, YALSA chair for this effort, sent me: "Books for Teens mission is to empower the nation’s at-risk teens to achieve more by providing them with free high quality, new, age-appropriate books. Funds raised through Books for Teens will be distributed to libraries in communities with a high level of poverty, where teen services librarians will purchase and distribute new books, encourage teens to get library cards and provide teens with reading-focused events and activities. During the month of December, we are hoping to raise $500.  If we can meet our fundraising goal, a generous donor has agreed to provide a matching donation." See also the Facebook fan page.
  • A friend at the Santa Clara Library Children's Department shared with me this great list of Librarian-Selected Apps that the Darien Libary is including on their early literacy iPads. These are librarian-vetted apps that, while fun, also help to build early literacy skills. Me, I'm keeping this list in mind for when 20-month-old Baby Bookworm is a tiny bit older (though we have dabbled already).
  • Finally, to add to MotherReader's list of bookish gift ideas, you might also check out Choice Literacy's 6th Annual Gifts for Literacy Geeks list.

And that's all I have for today. But I do hope you'll check out the full roundup at Carol's. We'll be back mid-month with another children's literacy and reading news roundup. In the meantime, thanks for caring about children's literacy. Wishing you all a wonderful start to the holiday season!