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Posts from January 2012

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 9

JRBPlogo-smallTonight 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 1471 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks (though I'm a week late with this issue, because of the holidays).

Newsletter Update: In this brief issue I have three book reviews (one middle grade, one middle school, and one young adult), and one children's literacy roundup (with full details at Rasco from RIF). 

Cybils2011I also posted eleven reviews of Cybils-nominated picture books in the past three weeks (I was a round 1 judge). I have NOT included the full reviews in the newsletter, because I thought that they would collectively make the newsletter too long. However, here are the links to the Cybils reviews (with about 20 more to come over the next month):

*A Cybils shortlist title.
**Not a Cybils shorlist title, but one of my personal favorites.

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I read 2 middle grade, four young adult, and two adult novels. (I flew to Boston via connecting flights, so there was a fair bit of reading time. Baby Bookworm is a champion airplane sleeper.)

  • Michael Rex: Fangbone: Third Grade Barbarian. Putnam Juvenile. Completed December 21, 2011. My review.
  • Michael D. Bell: The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour. Yearling. Completed December 28, 2011, Kindle eBook from the library. I really WANTED to like this book, about a group of smart high school girls solving an old puzzle. But I found that it strayed too often into didactic territory (with one girl explaining geometry to another, for example, in painful detail).
  • Lauren Baratz-Logsted: Little Women and Me. Bloomsbury. Completed December 20, 2011. My review.
  • Peter Abrahams: Bullet Point. HarperTeen. Completed December 22, 2011, Kindle eBook from the library. I found this novel fast-paced and quite hard-edged. Definitely a boy-friendly action story. It was a perfect airplane book, though not particularly memorable.
  • Jennifer E. Smith: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Poppy. Completed January 1, 2012, ARC on iPad. This one I loved. Review to come.
  • Stephenie Perkins: Anna and the French Kiss. Speak. Completed January 7, 2012, purchased on iPad after it was shortlisted for the Cybils in Young Adult Fiction. I enjoyed it, but I liked The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (which wasn't eligible for the Cybils, since it's just published) better.
  • Stephen Hunter: Soft Target. Simon & Schuster. Completed January 1, 2012, on iPad. This adult thriller was another good airplane book, full of action, if a little predictable.
  • Ada Madison: The Square Root of Murder (Sophia Knowles mystery). Berkley. Completed January 7, 2012. This is the first of a new mystery series (paperback originals) about a female math professor at a small New England college who sets out to solve the mystery of fellow professor's murder. I liked seeing a woman who is lives and breathes math and puzzles as a protagonist, though I found the mystery itself a bit flat.

I also, of course, continue to read picture books and board books aloud to Baby Bookworm (though we didn't have as much reading time as I would have liked while we were in Boston). You can find the links to all of our 2011 reads together (1526 total): here, here, here, and here. I've started her list of 2012 reads in my blog sidebar (upper left-hand side), and will create a web page for them by the next issue.

I'm still listening to Rick Riordan's Son of Neptune on my MP3 player, and to Return to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright in the car with Baby Bookworm. The latter I love so much that I don't want it to end, so I'm stretching it out. I'm currently reading The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, and finding it quite compelling.

ImagesBaby Bookworm's current favorite is Nina Laden's Peek-a Who?, which we read several times a day. She likes to say "Boo!" when we get to the page with the ghost (though it sounds more like "Bah!"). She doesn't tend to sit still for too many picture books these days (unless she's eating), but she does make an exception for books about Curious George.

How about you? What have you and your kids been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. Wishing you all a book-filled 2012!

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: New Year's Edition

JkrROUNDUPThe December Children’s Literacy and Reading News Roundup brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Family Bookshelf and Rasco from RIF is now available at Rasco from RIF. Carol Rasco managed to find plenty of news, despite the slowdown over the holiday period.

Cybils2011First up, of course, was the news of the Cybils shortlists being announced. I was remiss in not posting about this last week myself. Though, in my defense, everyone else in the entire Kidlitosphere seemed to have posted by the time I came back online after the holidays, so it didn't feel much like urgent news. Still, the Cybils shortlists are, I think, one of the best things to come out of the Kidlitosphere all year. Lists of books (and now apps) in eleven categories, all guaranteed to be well-written and kid-friendly. What more could anyone possible want, as a way to start the new year? I'm especially proud of the Fiction Picture Books list, of course, as I was a judge in that category.

Naypl_featureImmediately following the Cybils announcements was the news that Walter Dean Myers is the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Like Carol, I love his stated theme for his two-year term: "Reading is not optional." Here's the PW story, in case you missed it.

In other news, the full roundup has links to the December Carnival of Children's Literature, updates on the Little Free Library Project (which I adore), and ideas for making Family Literacy Bags. Click through to read the full roundup for all these things, and more.

And here are a few additional tidbits that I came across too late to share in the regular roundup:

Terry Doherty will be back soon with the mid-January roundup at The Family Bookshelf, so that's all I'll share for now. Happy New Year! Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy.

Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian: Michael Rex

Book: Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian
Author: Michael Rex
Pages: 128
Age Range: 7-10

9780399255212HFangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian launches an entertaining new graphic novel series for early elementary school kids. The premise is that Fangbone, a young boy from a primitive planet (where they happen to speak English), is sent via a wormhole of sorts to our world. Fangbone is tasked with laying low while protecting the all-important Big Toe of Drool. Told to blend in and not attract attention, Fangbone ends up in room 3G, a classroom full of misfits. But his enemies are not far behind...

Fangbone is pure, boy-friendly fun. Fangbone marvels at the wonders of indoor plumbing. He starts a trend of wearing fur underwear to school. Although not viewed as much of a warrior on his own planet, he turns out to be pretty fantastic at "beanball". The enemies that he fights include dirt devils, hound-snakes, squirrels, and atomic hot wings. He also struggles to balance his mission against the needs of his new friends.

Fangbone's frazzled teacher and hapless principal lend humor for older readers, too. Like when the teacher, confronted with the other kids copying Fangbone, mutters: "Where do you even get fur underwear?". Or when Principal Bruce, popping in to see the students dressed in odd clothes, responds with "Fantastic! Learning about other cultures through their clothing." Everyone wonders if Skullbania is in New Jersey.

Michael Rex's illustrations are in shades of mustard yellow and gray. The big toe of drool is suitably repulsive, and the battle scenes are filled with action and acrobatics. There are plenty of interesting monsters, mixed in with depictions of relatively ordinary kids. Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian is fast-paced and filled with classic action imagery (sound effects, etc.).

Fangbone's moral debates and logistical problems are perhaps a tad easily resolved, and the "teamwork" message perhaps a tiny bit overdone (especially at the end). But I don't think that the target audience of seven-year-old boys will mind. Fangbone after all features a third-grader who fights real monsters, set against the inherent humor of someone from a primitive society ending up in a suburban elementary school. There's a lot to like about Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian. If the author can tone down the friendship lessons a little bit more, I think this new series will be a success.

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (@PutnamBooks)
Publication Date: January 5, 2012
Source of Book: Advance review copy from Ronin Publishing Services

© 2012 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).

Leap Back Home To Me: Lauren Thompson & Matthew Cordell

Book: Leap Back Home To Me
Author: Lauren Thompson
Illustrator: Matthew Cordell
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5

51bP+sXzAkL._SL500_AA300_Leap Back Home to Me is a cute little picture book about testing the bounds of independence, while always having the safety of mom to fall back on. A mother frog suggests ever more distant places that her young son could leap to (or over), ranging from a nearby patch of clover all the way to "the farthest stars." Each leap is followed by the comforting refrain "then leap back home to me!". Like this:

"Leap frog over the owl's nest.
Leap frog over the trees.

Leap frog over the rocky hilltop,
then leap back home to me."

Lauren Thompson's text is brief (the above lines covered 3 page spreads), but scans well for read-aloud, and leaves the audience feeling sleepy and secure at the end. Matthew Cordell's pen and ink and watercolor illustrations lend both exuberance and security to the book. The little frog leaps higher and higher, arcing lines indicating his motion. He has huge eyes and a wide smile. His mother is always shown with a smile, too, and she waits with homey things like paper and crayons, books, and dinner (this last brought to mind Where the Wild Things Are, a tiny bit).

Cordell uses different colors for the backgrounds of many of the pages, (purple, yellow, blue, pink, orange). This adds visual interest, and provides the chance to use the book to help teach colors.

Leap Back Home to Me is a book that I can see mothers enjoying reading to their young children, and the children asking for it "Again!". It's also quite likely, I think, to inspire bouts of toddlers jumping around like frogs, which I think would be pretty fun to see in a library storytime. It's not a groundbreaking book. But Leap Back Home to Me left me with a warm feeling, and the wish to own a copy for our keep shelf. Which I think is a pretty strong endorsement.

See also my reviews of Trouble Gum (written by Matthew Cordell) and Righty and Lefty: A Tale of Two Feet (written by Rachel Vail and illustrated by Matthew Cordell).

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (@SimonBooks)
Publication Date: April 26, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Tobin Harper

© 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).

Caveman: A B.C. Story: Janee Trasler

Book: Caveman: A B.C. Story
Author: Janee Trasler
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

51joSaEbR+L._SL500_AA300_Caveman: A B.C. Story is a likeable little book for preschoolers. It's basically an alphabet book, but one in which the 26 words together tell a story. It's not a story with a strong dramatic arc, or anything. But still, more a story than one finds in most alphabet books.

As one would expect from the title, Caveman: A B.C. Story is set in a Flintstones-like time in which caveman and dinosaurs together roam the earth. There's even a tongue-in-cheek reference to the ice age. The caveman of the title competes with a bear, a squirrel, and dinosaur for food, ends up with a cute little purple armadillo-like creature as a pet, is rescued by an unexpected ally, and gets struck by lightning. All with one word per page. Like this:

"ACORN" (We see, on page 1, a picture of a squirrel running for an acorn, while the caveman chases him, and a bear watches from behind a bush.)

"BEAR" (We see the bear chasing the caveman and the squirrel, who now has the acorn.)

"CAVE" (Continuing on the other side of the same page spread, we see everyone racing towards a cave, where a green tail just barely pokes into view.)

"DINOSAUR" (On the next page, we see a big green dinosaur trotting out of the cave, as bear, caveman, and squirrel all run away.)

And so on. Kids will easily be able to fill in the details of the story from the pictures, and should be able to guess the single word on each page from the context. The first letter of each word is shown in color, while the rest of the word is brown, making the alphabet part of the story extra-clear.

Janee Trasler's illustrations appear digitally created, with smooth backgrounds and a limited color palette (lots of green, brown, and tan, with hints of blue and purple). All of the characters have big, round eyes that basically pop out of their heads. Motion is conveyed by lines on the page, and there's an animation-like feel to the resulting package. The dinosaur is more cute than scary (despite the responses of the other characters), and the bearded caveman is quite a likeable fellow. He comes across best in a page spread in which he first says "NO" to the eager pet, and then, with pet jumping on his stomach and slobbering all over him, admits "OK".

I think that kids will enjoy the caveman's escapades, and will like being able to relate the events of Caveman: A B.C. Story to their parents and siblings. This is a fun book that I would be happy to add to our collection. Recommended for home or library use.

Publisher: Sterling Children's Books (@SterlingKids)
Publication Date: August 2, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Els Kushner

© 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).

Winterling: Sarah Prineas

Book: Winterling
Author: Sarah Prineas
Pages: 256
Age Range: 10 and up

WinterlingSarah Prineas, author of the Magic Thief series, launches a new middle grade fantasy series with Winterling. Jennifer, or Fer, lives with her tremendously protective grandmother, Grand-Jane, in a small town. Fer is not ordinary, however. She can't stand technology (like being on a bus), has uncontrollable hair, and craves the outdoors. One day, Fer's touching of a small, round pool in the woods opens up a portal to another world. A boy comes through, and Fer learns that her long-lost mother came from that other world, and that her father entered it when Fer was a baby, and never returned. In an attempt to learn what happened to her parents, Fer passes through the portal to that other world. There, she encounters a witch disguised as the Lady of the land, and eventually finds herself striving to save both worlds.

Winterling carries echoes of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, as a child travels through a portal to a wintry world ruled by a treacherous witch. But it's also of that prolific fantasy sub-genre in which a child learns, at around the age of 10-12, that he or she is secretly important in some magical way (Harry Potter, The Emerald Atlas, Magyk, and many others). Personally, I'm a little tired of this device (is every child the one-and-only?), but I think that it must speak to some deep-rooted fantasy on the part of children (like the fantasy of having really been born to someone famous, and only loaned out to one's current parents). And I do get that it's a necessary device for certain epic fantasy novels.

Winterling also employs that children's fantasy trope of orphaned child wondering about the fate of lost parents (also inevitable, since we normally need to get rid of the parents before the child can go on a great quest). Sarah Prineas has a PhD in English literature, and recently taught honors seminars on fantasy and science fiction literature, and I think that her deep appreciation for the fantasy genre comes across in her homage to the traditional fantasy themes.

Winterling is well-written and enjoyable. Fer is quirky and likeable, with a strong desire to help others, and an innate shrinking away from harming any creature (right down to her being a vegetarian). This, naturally enough, helps her to succeed. She is quite consistent as a character. Prineas has Fer well-fixed in her mind. There's also a boy, Rook, who is in an impossible position, but does become her friend. I suspect that he's going to really come into his own in future books, but I kind of like that he is borderline hostile and downright irritable in this one.

Here are a couple of quotes to give you a feel for Prineas' writing, which I would call lyrical without going overboard:

"Winter had ended. Fer could feel spring coming in the smell of rich dirt, in the cold, knobbled nubs at the tips of tree twigs. Soon the oak trees would have mouse-ear-sized leaves budding out, and the bees would be stirring. Spring tingled just under her skin, waiting to burst out. (Page 3, ARC)

"Stepping lightly, Fer walked around the pool. It was perfectly round, and springy moss grew right up to its edge. She stilled her breath, listening. Something in the air felt strange. Tingly, or twitchy, like a rope stretched too far and about to break. She knew what Grand-Jane would say, in her scoldingest voice: Come home right now, Jennifer! It's not safe! Fer felt in her pocket for the spell-bag of herbs and gripped it, the seam in the fabric rough under her fingers." (Page 8-9, ARC).

I must admit that I personally didn't love Winterling as much as I loved The Magic Thief. Winterling is a bit more traditional, and hence, to my mind, a bit less inventive. But I think that people who enjoy traditional fantasy (like the C.S. Lewis books) will welcome this addition to the canon. Fans of Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs will also want to give this one a look. Recommended for anyone looking to visit a new world (and one with the promise of additional books), ages ten and up.

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: January 3, 2012
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. 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).

The Loud Book: Deborah Underwood

Book: The Loud Book
Author: Deborah Underwood
Illustrator: Renata Liwska
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5

Stacks_image_8_1The Loud Book is a companion to The Quiet Book, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska. The Loud Book doesn't have a narrative story. Instead, each page features one of the many different kinds of "louds". These range from "last slurp loud" to "fire truck at school loud". My personal favorite was "deafening silence loud" (two kids confronted over a stolen cookie jar by a disapproving mother".

The types of loud that Underwood has come up with are a nice mix of expected, kid-friendly tropes (home runs, dropped lunch trays) and unexpected (ants cause "loud" when they make you cry by getting all over your picnic").

Liwska's illustrations add considerably to Underwood's already humorous framework, as a variety of warmly fuzzy animals experience the various loudnesses. "Surprise loud" shows rabbit and bear characters encountering a skeleton around a corner at school. "Dropping your lunch tray loud" features a mortified hedgehog, stickers fully extended. The animal characters are generally wide-eyed in surprise (or insomnia), as loud things happen around them.

The Loud Book is a fun read-aloud, perfect for preschoolers who are just old enough to understand the humor, and young enough to be interested in learning about all of these different kids of noise. I think this would make a nice library storytime read. Recommended for the preschool set.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (@hmhbooks)
Publication Date: April 4, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Sally Gee

© 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).