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Posts from February 2012

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: February 27th

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 1510 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have five book reviews (two picture books, two middle grade, and one young adult title) and one children's literacy roundup. I'm currently reading a lot, and blogging not so much, because I'm a bit under the weather. Hoping to be back up to speed soon...

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I read 6 middle grade, 1 young adult and 2 adult novels. (I said last time that I was planning a middle grade reading binge...)

1-902283-90-2I also, of course, continue to read picture books and board books aloud to Baby Bookworm. We're currently at about 445 books read for 2012. This includes many, many re-reads (I re-list each book no more than once per day, but still...). Her current favorites are It's a Little Book by Lane Smith (she loves to chime in with the "No" on each page spread), Hug by Jez Alborough, Bear's Busy Family by Stella Blackstone, and Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton (which I have to say is brilliant). She pretty much loves anything about bears (all of which are "teddies"), babies, and monkeys.

51byoFMiQsL._SL500_AA300_I'm currently listening to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (such a nostalgic treat!). I'm reading Starters by Lissa Price (ARC on Kindle from NetGalley)

How about you? What have you and your kids been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms.

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

Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile: Gloria Houston

Book: Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile
Author: Gloria Houston
Illustrator: Susan Condie Lamb
Pages: 32
Age Range: 6 and up

DorothyMiss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile, written by Gloria Houston and illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb, is based on the true story of one of the author's childhood heroes. Dorothy Thomas, aka Miss Dorothy, drove a little green van around a rural area in North Carolina, bringing books to children and adults in an area with no standalone libraries. Miss Dorothy, as depicted in the book, knew as a young girl that when she grew up she would be in charge of "a fine brick library just like the one where she checked out books in the center of the town square in her hometown in Massachusetts." She trained as a librarian, but when she married:

"Her new husband wanted to move to a farm
in a land she had only seen on maps
but had read about in books,
a land of high blue mountains,
with deep green valleys
and cascading streams
splashing silver,
shaded with oak, maple, and fir,
at the base of high Mount Mitchell
in the Blue Ridge Mountains
of North Carolina."

Miss Dorothy spent hears longing for that "fine brick library", which she never did get. But she traveled around in a little green van, bringing the magic of books to people on farms, in churches, and even parking lots. She even one day gave a book of poems to a man who helped tow her bookmobile out of a river. A few of the real people she touched are mentioned in the book.

Lamb's illustrations match the tone of the book. Nearly every scene takes place outside, with natural beauty brimming forth. In the page quoted above, we see Miss Dorothy and her husband driving into a mountain sunset, a lovely pinkish glow suffusing the entire scene. There's an old-fashioned feel to the pictures. The women and young girls wear skirts, the cars and vans are old-fashioned. While readers won't know exactly when this story took place, the pictures make it clear that this takes place in the past. Dorothy herself has lively red hair and glasses, and a jaunty, friendly look. Author and illustrator are clearly in sync.

Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile is an homage to librarians, and to one particular woman who spent her life striving to connect people with books, despite difficult circumstances. Miss Dorothy was a librarian by avocation more so than by vocation, and the fact that she inspired the author to write this book, many years after Miss Dorothy's death, speaks volumes.

This is not a picture book that young children are going to find gripping. I could almost see it more as a gift book for librarians and other adult book-lovers, who will be able to identify with Dorothy's struggles. But I think that kids who are mature enough to appreciate librarians, and to see the little green bookmobile as charming, will enjoy Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile, too. I would have loved it at around age 9 or 10, as an incipient bookworm and fan of my elementary school librarian.

Recommended for librarians and bookworms of all ages, six or so and up.

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: January 25, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Mary McKenna Siddals

© 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).

Ghost Buddy #1: Zero to Hero: Henry Winkler & Lin Oliver

Book: Ghost Buddy #1: Zero to Hero
Author: Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver
Pages: 176
Age Range: 8-12

ImagesZero to Hero is the first book in the new Ghost Buddy series by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver (who are also partners in the Hank Zipzer series). When 11-year-old Billy Broccoli (go ahead, make whatever joke you feel compelled to make) moves into an old house with his new step-family, he quickly learns that he'll be sharing his room with a ghost.

Fourteen-year-old Hoover Porterhouse the Third, 99 years dead, is on probation. According to the higher-ups, he has one more year in which to improve his scores in Responsibility and Helping Others, or else. Meanwhile, Hoove isn't allowed to leave the original boundaries of his family's ranchero. He is, however, strongly encouraged to help Billy Broccoli. And Billy, who is starting a new middle school, and lacks even an ounce of coolness, can definitely use the help.

What follows is part buddy-story, part middle-school makeover tale, and part "how will we triumph over the neighborhood bully?" adventure. Although Billy is in middle school, Zero to Hero appears to be aimed more at 8-10 year olds. There aren't illustrations in the book, and the vocabulary is reasonably advanced, but there's still a younger feel to the story (helped out by the occasional pun). Here are a couple of examples:

"Billy was relieved, because he was not a guy who loved danger. At the top of his list of least favorite things were scary movies, bumpy airplane rides, bungee jumping, roller coasters, creepy or sad clowns, and anything that popped up at him. As a matter of fact, when he was five and a half, he'd smashed his jack-in-the-box to bits with his slipper." (Page 18)

"The thumping sounds of five girls playing the bass all at once streamed out of the basement window and hung in the air around the Hoove's tree. He covered his ears to block out the sound, but didn't do any good because his hands had no matter to them. They just didn't matter." (Page 75)

""Oh, sorry," he started to say, until he realized it was Ruby Baker, the girl with the bouncing blond ponytail who had witnessed not one, but two of the most embarrassing moments of his entire life. Billy realized that this was a perfect opportunity to create a different impression on her, and he racked his brain for something to say. Ruby beat him to it." (Page 77)

Ghost Buddy #1: Zero to Hero is not a literary novel. The characters tend toward stereotypes (particularly Billy's parents and stepsister). The setting is only lightly sketched in. There's a bit more telling vs. showing than one might prefer. However, Zero to Hero is highly kid-friendly. Billy is relatable, in all his insecurities and mis-steps. Hoove's ghostly pranks are funny, and especially likely to appeal to boys. Zero to Hero reminds me a bit of Jordan Sonnenblick's Dodger series (see my reviews of Dodger and Me and Dodger for President), though not quite so over-the-top.

I think that the Ghost Buddy books will be a must-purchase series for elementary school libraries. For one thing, they'll give kids who enjoyed the Hank Zipzer series something new to try. And for another, they are a fun, boy-focused series with reluctant reader appeal. Book 2 comes out July 1st. Kids will be waiting.

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 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).

The Moon Over High Street: Natalie Babbitt

Book: The Moon Over High Street
Author: Natalie Babbitt
Pages: 160
Age Range: 10 and up

513cy-UY5OL._SL500_AA300_The Moon over High Street is a book that reminded me why I enjoy reading middle grade fiction. It's a deceptively simple little slice of life story, a window into the life of a boy named Joe Casimir and the people who either care about Joe or want something from him. Among the former are Joe's Aunt Myra, his Gran, and a family friend named Vinnie. Among the latter is a determined millionaire named Mr. Boulderwall. Mr. Boulderwall, it turns out, has big plans for Joe, whether Joe likes these plans or not.

The Moon Over High Street is set in a small town called Midville, "down southwest across the state" from Lake Erie, during a time when man has not yet set foot on the moon. Joe travels down on his own to visit his Aunt Myra after his Gran breaks her hip. Although Joe is an orphan, he's well-loved by his Gran, and soon finds his Aunt to be a kindred spirit, too. When he learns that a beautiful girl his own age lives across the street, well, life in Midville looks pretty good for Joe. Until the interference of Mr. Boulderwall leads 13-year-old Joe to have to make an important decision about his future.

I love Babbitt's writing, crisp and insightful, with just the faintest hint of satire. I knew that I was in good hands on page 5, with this passage:

"Everything on High Street was big, especially the trees. There were a lot of trees, and they were big and very beautiful indeed. But in spite of all that beauty they were like most other trees: In the fall, they dropped their leaves all over everything, making a deep, dry rustle of a mess that had to be raked again and again. They didn't care, and why should they? They had their own rules, after all. And anyway, a few of them were so old they'd been on that hill before there even was a High Street. Trees don't pay attention to streets. But people do." (Page 5)

I also love Joe as a character. He's the kind of kid who thinks things through. He's a little bit prickly sometimes, and occasionally insecure (like when he meets the pretty girl), but fundamentally solid. He feels real. Here's Joe thinking about Aunt Myra.

"Aunt Myra wasn't really his aunt. She wasn't anybody's aunt. But she was a cousin of his father's--the same age as his father--so Joe couldn't call her just plain Myra. His grandmother disapproved of young people calling older ones by their first names. However, calling her Aunt Myra--that seemed to be all right. Funny how sometimes things were all right even when they were wrong." (Page 10)

And here's Joe's reaction to seeing Aunt Myra's house:

"They bounced into the driveway and Joe found himself in front of a small clapboard house that was not so different from his grandmother's--a friendly little two-story house with a porch across the front and what might be a pretty good yard out back. It looked as if--well, as if it wouldn't want much from him. As if it would take him as he was. And he let out a long breath." (Page 22)

How can you not love a kid who reacts that way to a house? Some of the other characters, like Vinnie and Mr. Boulderwall, are a little over-the-top. But still delightful.

Longtime fans of Natalie Babbitt (author of 16 books for children, including the brilliant Tuck Everlasting) will be thrilled to learn that she has a new novel coming out. Though not, perhaps, as inventive as Tuck Everlasting or Goody Hall, The Moon Over High Street is a well-polished little gem of a book. It lets the reader step into Joe's shoes, and experience life in mid-century Midville, while conveying universal themes of belonging and staying true to oneself. Highly recommended for kids and adults, age 10 and up.

Publisher: Michael di Capua Books (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: March 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 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).

Cars Galore: Peter Stein & Bob Staake

Book: Cars Galore
Author: Peter Stein
Illustrator: Bob Staake
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

CarsCars Galore, written by Peter Stein and illustrated by Bob Staake, is the perfect book to give to a four-year-old boy. There's no story to it. Instead, each page spread depicts several different types of outlandish cars, built along some common theme, described via brief, bouncy, four-line poems. Like this:

"Plug-in autos.
Solar autos.
Igloo ice-fueled
polar autos.

runs-on-air car!
without-a-care car!"


"Quick drive, ICK drive!
Makes-you-sick drive!
Round and round drive!
Upside-down drive!"

The latter format (also seen on other pages) reminded me of Cynthia Lord's Hot Rod Hamster) and Deborah Heiligman's Fun Dog, Sun Dog (which we have in board book format, and read aloud often). It works very well for read-aloud, and the repeated rhymes and short lines probably make this a good book for new readers. The brisk, bouncy text, punctuated with plenty of exclamation points, suits the topic of cars to a T.

But it's the illustrations that will probably make young readers, especially boys, pore over Cars Galore. Everything is vintage Bob Staake (see my review of The Donut Chef). People with odd geometrically-shaped heads, and faces of unusual colors. Cars in polka-dot, stripes, and plaids. An igloo car manned by a penguin holding a fishing rod. A shark car that looks like a shark, and is also driven by a huge shark with a menacing smile. The "hundred-feet car" is propelled by 100 feet in varied shoes walking along, and is driven by Uncle Sam. One knows from the merest glance at the cover who the illustrator is, and what to expect (quirky fun, with a hint of satire), and Staake does not disappoint.

Cars Galore isn't a book that will keep readers on the edge of their seats, wondering what's going to happen next. But is fun and lively to read aloud, and it features a tremendous assortment of unusual cars, from the creative to the ridiculous. I think it would make the perfect birthday gift for any vehicle-obsessed preschooler.

Publisher: Candlewick (@candlewick)
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Jennifer Roberts

© 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-February

JkrROUNDUPWelcome to the mid-February edition of the Children’s Literacy and Reading News Roundup brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Family Bookshelf, and Rasco from RIF. We're delighted to highlight several children's literature and literacy-related events on the horizon. We also have some news about literacy and reading programs and research, and a couple of suggestions for growing bookworms. Thanks for tuning in!

Literacy & Reading-Related Events

CybilsheartThe big news in the Kidlitosphere, of course, is that the 2011 Cybils winners were announced on Valentine's Day. Thirteen winners across eleven categories, each book guaranteed to be both well-written and kid-friendly. The 2011 Cybils award process started in October, with 1289 eligible books nominated. From there, teams of Round 1 judges winnowed the books in each category down to shortlists of 5-7 titles. Now, the Round 2 judges have picked winners in each category. The winners are all books that you should consider adding to your To Be Read list. The shortlists remain a wonderful resource, too, with balanced recommendations in each category. A tremendous amount of work goes into the Cybils award process each year - but the results are well worth it!

Kindness.003The Book Chook reports from Australia that tomorrow, February 17th, is Random Acts of Kindness Day in the US. The Book Chook says: "Being kind is perhaps something we take for granted. I quite like the idea of a special day like Random Acts of Kindness Day, because it reminds me to take time out and think about being kind. There are so many things to ponder on such a day." Ponder away, we say! And, of course, giving books is always a nice act of kindness.

2011RAAlogosmallComing up March 2nd we have Read Across America Day, hosted by the NEA. "Read Across America is an annual reading motivation and awareness program that calls for every child in every community to celebrate reading on March 2, the birthday of beloved children's author Dr. Seuss. " Reading Rockets has a particularly good collection of Read Across America Day resources. See also, hosted by Random House. This year's featured book for Read Across America Day is Seuss' The Lorax.

Following closely on the heels of Read Across America Day is LitWorld's World Read Aloud Day, on March 7th. "World Read Aloud Day is about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology." Book Dads is hosting a World Read Aloud Day Caption Contest, and generally promoting this event. Also not to be missed is Donalyn Miller's post inspired World Read Aloud Day: Make Every Day Read Aloud Day.

In other news, School Library Journal has launched a new blog, Make Some Noise!, dedicated to advocating for school libraries. "Sara Kelly Johns will highlight opportunities, describe techniques, and celebrate great initiatives in school library advocacy." This new blog is particularly timely, given that President Obama has cut school library funding from the 2013 federal budget. (Both links via SLJ's Extra Helping newsletter).

Literacy Programs and Research

We Give Books, the digital literacy initiative from the Pearson Foundation and the Penguin Group, just launched a program by which "as many as 150,000 new children’s books will be shared as part of its new online campaign, Read for My School, which allows readers to show their support for local elementary schools and to do their part to highlight the importance of reading... Simply by reading online at anyone can help give a book to one of many literacy-based charities from around the world. Read for My School is the one campaign each year that allows readers to direct donations to their own schools." See the full press release for more details. Thanks to Jenny Schwartzberg for the link.

Also via Jenny, 69News has a nice feature story about Judith's Reading Room, a Pennsylvania nonprofit that "has donated nearly 28,000 books worth more than $300,000 to children ... in the Lehigh Valley, and to children across the world. "Judith’s Reading Room is our interpretation of spreading the word of freedom through literacy, by delivering custom libraries – free of cost with the goal to enrich lives through the simple act of reading,” said (co-founder) Scott Leiber."

The Guardian recently published a list of 10 books (most of them series) to entice reluctant boy readers. The list was prepared by Ellen Ainsworth in response to a recently announced UK government initiative to get more kids reading. Although the list was published in the UK, nearly all of the titles mentioned are widely available in the US, too. Link via @tashrow.

RIF_Primary_VerticalAlso in the interest of getting kids reading, RIF recently released their 2011-2012 Multicultural Books Collection. From the news release: "RIF has distributed the collection to RIF programs across the country since 2007 as part of its Multicultural Literacy Campaign, a multi-year initiative to promote and support early childhood literacy in African American, Hispanic and American Indian communities. In honor of the organization's 45th anniversary, this year's collection features 45 children's books highlighting the theme "celebration."" (via @CBCBook)

Suggestions for Growing Bookworms

In a recent Huffington Post Parents column, Dr. Rebecca Palacios strongly recommends that parents share books with their children. She begins: "Open a book with your child and step into another world! When we provide children the gift of books and language, we are providing them with imaginative experiences that are important in building a nation of creative thinkers and innovators." She proceeds to outline additional benefits to kids that stem from reading to them early and often. A message always worth repeating! (via @ReachOutAndRead)

Stacey Loscalzo recently shared a wonderful Mem Fox quote about reading: “If every parent understood the huge educational benefits and intense happiness brought about by reading aloud to their children, and if every parent- and every adult caring for a child-read aloud a minimum of three stories a day to the children in our lives, we could probably wipe out illiteracy within one generation.”-Mem Fox, (Reading Magic). So, so true!

And finally, while this isn't literacy per se, I was fascinated by this 1 minute, 11 second video posted by Lee Wind. It shows a little girl named Riley, maybe 3 years old, in a toy store, protesting the way that toy companies try to pigeonhole girls into buying pink princess stuff, when they might (some of them) prefer action heroes. Riley rocks! She'll make anyone think twice about this issue.

That's all for today. Carol will be back at the beginning of March with more children's literacy and reading news. And, of course, we'll be sharing literacy links on Twitter in the meantime @RascofromRIF, @readingtub, and @JensBookPage. Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy!

The Fault in Our Stars: John Green

Book: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green (@RealJohnGreen)
Pages: 336
Age Range: 14 and up

ImagesI was initially not interested in reading John Green's latest young adult novel, The Fault in Our Stars. Although I've enjoyed several of his other books (An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances), the notion of a book written from the perspective of a girl with terminal cancer did not immediately appeal. However, I kept running across The Fault in Our Stars listed as a favorite January read by people I trusted (like Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn), and I eventually decided to give it a look. And I was quite impressed. The Fault in Our Stars is without question the most quotable book that I've read in a long time. I agree with feedback that I've seen elsewhere that the ending is somewhat predictable. But it's still undeniably moving. And the book overall carries Green's trademark mix of witty, intellectual banter and humor.

The Fault in Our Stars is a love story. Sixteen-year-old Hazel started out with thyroid cancer when she was thirteen. The cancer migrated to her lungs, and she nearly died. Thanks to a miracle drug, she is hanging on. Struggling every day for breath, unable to go to school, and highly dependent on her mother, but hanging on.

Hazel's "third best friend" is Peter Van Houten, a reclusive author who she has never met, who wrote a book about dying of cancer that has become Hazel's Bible. Her limited circle expands, however, when Hazel meets Augustus Waters in support group. Augustus (sometimes called Gus), has lost a leg to osteosarcoma, but is doing well, positively vibrant with health and energy. Augustus and Hazel slowly become friends, and then more than friends. And (this is a John Green novel after all) they go on an expectation-confounding road trip. Health issues, however, overshadow all.

It's almost impossible to pick quotes to represent this book - there are so many. They range from casual little asides, like:

"I don't know why boys expect us to like boy movies. We don't expect them to like girl movies."

to deep thoughts, like:

"I'm in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have, and I am in love with you."


"Most of the time, I could forget about it, but the inexorable truth is this: They might be glad to have me around, but I was the alpha and omega of my parents' suffering."

I do think that it's different to read The Fault in Our Stars as an adult, particularly as a parent, than it would be to read it as a teen. Hazel worries about the impact that her death will have on her parents. But the book is still (as it should be) about how she copes with that responsibility, rather than about how her parents cope with it. John Green writes in this book about incredibly bright teens, with improbably vocabularies and bookish interests. But they are still teens. Green has a real gift for keeping that aspect of the book real.

I don't know what else to say about this book that hasn't already been said. It's brilliant and heartbreaking. The Fault in Our Stars will make readers think about their own mortality, while encouraging them to seize the day, and take responsibility for their own choices. It's not an easy read, either emotionally or intellectually. But it is well worth the effort. Highly recommended, for teens and adults.

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (@ThePenguinPeeps)
Publication Date: January 10, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

© 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).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: Valentine's Day Edition

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 1513 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have one book review of a young adult novel and one children's literacy roundup (with full details at Rasco from RIF). I also have an announcement about some of my being quoted in Parenting Magazine, and a post about the winners of the 2011 Cybils awards.

Interview! I'm also happy to share with you today that Linda McInnis interviewed me for her blog, The Baby Book Nook. Linda focuses on books for babies, ones, and twos, and she interviewed me about my reading experiences with Baby Bookworm. The interview includes some specific recommendations for books that Baby Bookworm is enjoying, as well as more general thoughts on questions like when to transition between picture books and board books. I do hope that you'll take a moment to visit the Baby Book Nook, and check out the interview.

Cybils2011I posted ten 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 a few more to come over the rest of February):

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I read 3 young adult and 3 adult novels. I'm planning on a middle grade reading binge soon.

  • Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler: The Future of Us. Razorbill. Completed January 30, 2012, purchased on iPad. Compulsively readable - a book that really makes you think, about time travel, and about how decisions you make in high school can affect your future.
  • Jordan Sonnenblick: Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip. Scholastic. Completed February 5, 2012. My review.
  • John Green: The Fault in Our Stars. Dutton Juvenile. Completed February 7, 2012. Review to come.
  • Taylor Stevens: The Innocent: A Vanessa Michael Munroe Novel. Crown. Completed January 23, 2012. Compelling, like the first book in the series. I look forward to seeing where Taylor takes this character.
  • Carol O'Connell: The Chalk Girl (A Mallory Novel). Putnam Adult. Completed January 27, 2012. The Mallory books are one of my all-time favorite adult mystery series. The Chalk Girl did not disappoint. I bought this one in hardcover, because I collect these.
  • Michael Connelly: The Drop (a Harry Bosch novel). Little, Brown and Company. Completed February 9, on MP3. Vintage Harry Bosch, enjoyable for fans of the series, but perhaps not one that would quite stand on its one. A bit more bleak than some in the series.

ImagesI also, of course, continue to read picture books and board books aloud to Baby Bookworm. We're currently about about 416 books read for 2012. This, however, includes many, many re-reads. She's in a stubborn phase, and likes to be the one to choose each book that is read. She's given the books that she requests the most nicknames. Her current favorites are The Lady with the Alligator Purse by Nadine Bernard Westcott (aka "Lulu"), Buzz, Buzz, Busy Bees by Dawn Bentley (aka "Bee!"), Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman (aka "keys"), and The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood (aka "Boom!"). She's also showing a rising interest in It's a Little Book by Lane Smith, but it's too soon to say whether that trend will have staying power.

513cy-UY5OL._SL500_AA300_I'm currently listening to Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich (audio escapism). I've just started Natalie Babbit's The Moon Over High Street. I'm reading Deborah Crombie's No Mark Upon Her on my new Kindle Touch. It's funny - I was quite resistent to reading ebooks. But I am madly in love with my Kindle. I take it everywhere, and bought a little light for it so that I can read in bed. Who knew? The Kindle Touch also has the benefit over the iPad (and a major reason why I bought this model) that the black and white screen is not nearly so enticing for Baby Bookworm. I can never read in front of her on the iPad - she demands Nosy Crow's Three Little Pigs all the time. But the Kindle, I can occasionally get away with. 

How about you? What have you and your kids been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. Happy Valentine's Day!

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

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip: Jordan Sonnenblick

Book: Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip
Author: Jordan Sonnenblick
Pages: 304
Age Range: 12 and up

51guxYUSHTL._SL500_AA300_I've been a fan of Jordan Sonnenblick's novels since reading Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie five years ago. I even interviewed Jordan for the Summer Blog Blast Tour in 2007, back when I was still doing occasional interviews. Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip is his latest, due out March 1st.

Peter Friedman has always been an ace baseball pitcher, sharing pitching and catching duties with his best friend, AJ. The two incoming freshmen expect to take high school by storm, as companions and star athletes. However, an injury to Pete's elbow at the end of the previous season derails that plan. Pete instead finds himself working behind the camera as a sports photographer, while hiding the extent of his injury from AJ. He also tries to help his mentally deteriorating grandfather, while maybe, just maybe, acquiring a new girlfriend. It's classic coming-of-age, figuring-out-one's-place-in-the-world kind of stuff.

I enjoyed Curveball. It displays Sonnenblick's trademark skill in conveying self-deprecating, humorous teen boy voice. Like this:

"Don't look at me," she stage-whispered. "You might miss some priceless tidbits."

I just looked at her some more, because I didn't know what to say. Between the eyes and the incredibly rare conversational use of "tidbits," I think I was stunned.

She raised an eyebrow. I felt myself blushing for the second time in less than an hour. "Seriously, dude," she said. "Tidbits." (Page 36)

and this:

"I got him a drink -- I don't know what a drink was supposed to do, but it seemed like something one might do in a grandfather-rescue-type situation. He gulped it down and asked for a refill, so score one for Peter Friedman, Boy Untrained Paramedic. Then he locked eyes with me and said, "Pete. Don't get old. Don't ever get old."

"Sure," I said. "I'll be sure to step in front of a bus on my sixty-fifth birthday." (Page 113)

Curveball is not as moving as Drums Girls or After Ever After (a sports injury, however sad, isn't on a par with childhood cancer), and it's not as funny as Notes from the Midnight Driver. But it does feel authentic, particularly Pete's relationship with Angelika. A fair bit of the plot is driven by the keeping of secrets (from AJ, from Pete's parents), and Angelika is a refreshing force in favor of telling the truth.

There's a bit of wish-fulfillment to Curveball, I think. In addition to his relationship with Angelika, Pete attracts the attention of a gorgeous older girl at school. He also becomes well-known and popular awfully fast for a new freshman. But I don't think that this will be a negative for the target audience of teenage boys. And frankly, I don't think that there will ever be enough funny, realistic novels out there for teen boys. Although I personally didn't love Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip as much as I loved some of Sonnenblick's other novels, I still think that it's a must-purchase title for high school (and maybe middle school) libraries.

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: March 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher (pre-release, but a finished copy)

© 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).

The 2011 Cybils Awards!

CybilsheartHappy Valentine's Day! Happy Cybils Day! That's right. The 2011 Cybils Award winners have just been announced. There are 13 winners across 11 categories (2 have sub-categories), ranging from nonfiction picture books to poetry to graphic novels and young adult fiction. You can find the complete list of winners (all with blurbs) here.

ImagesI was a round 1 judge for Fiction Picture Books this year. We came up with a shortlist of seven great titles. The round 2 committee selected Patrick McDonnell's lovely Me...Jane as the winner. My review of Me...Jane is here.

For the winners in the other 10 categories (including the brand new Book App category), please click through to the Cybils site.

Cinnamon Baby: Nicola Winstanley

Book: Cinnamon Baby
Author: Nicola Winstanley
Illustrator: Janice Nadeau
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

51n7LExXC-L._SL500_AA300_Cinnamon Baby, written by Nicola Winstanley and illustrated by Janice Nadeau, is about a baker named Miriam. Every day, Miriam saves the cinnamon bread, her favorite, for last, singing songs while kneading the dough, and filling her bakery with the smell of cinnamon. Then Miriam marries Sebastian (after a courtship involving Sebastian buying bread every day for a year), and later gives birth to a baby. Unfortunately, however, the baby cries. And cries. And cries. The baby cries buckets and rivers of tears. Until Miriam figures out how to soothe her "cinnamon baby", that is.

This is an enjoyable book to read aloud, with multi-sensory passages like this:

"There she would make wonderful bread, full of smells to make your nose twitch and tastes to make your tongue tingle. She made a spicy bread, studded with little peppercorns and basil, and a sweet bread with ginger. She made a light, white loaf with dill, and a crusty brown one with sunflower seeds and honey."

I love "tastes to make your tongue tingle". They are words to make your tongue tingle, in fact.

Miriam and Sebastian are an interracial couple, as shown in the illustrations, but only mentioned in the text obliquely, in the description of the baby:

"The child had big brown eyes and dusky skin and smelled like sweet milk."

I like the casualness with which this is treated. And I love Nadeau's illustrations, rendered in watercolor, graphite pencil and paper collage, and assembled digitally. They have a collage look to them, with muted colors and ornate details in the background that somehow make the setting look European.

There's also a wonderful humor to the pictures. When the baby cries, tears rain from the stroller, such that passers-by need umbrellas, and things eventually float away. The illustrations are more over-the-top than the text would suggest, and I think that readers will get that they are conveying delightful hyperbole.

My only issue with this book is that it seems more aimed at parents than children. The protagonist is Miriam, not the baby. And parents will certainly be able to relate to the problem of a baby who won't stop crying (there's a wonderful montage of all the ways that Miriam tries to soothe the baby, from singing to juggling). I would be interested to see whether or not 4-8 year olds are interested in this problem of an endlessly crying baby, or captivated by the idea of the wonderful smells of the breads.

Still, Cinnamon Baby is a lovely picture book with gorgeous prose and unique illustrations. I think that I'll remember the smiling Miriam and her musician husband, and their cinnamon baby, for a long time.

Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: February 1, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Vasilly

© 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).

Thanks very much for getting in touch, and for your positive feedback about my blog. Unfortunately, I'm not taking on new review commitments at this time (I have a full-time job and a 18-month old daughter, and my reviewing time is extremely limited). I do wish you all the best in getting the word out about your book, but I'm afraid that I can't help.


Best regards,



Buglette, the Messy Sleeper: Bethanie Murguia

Book: Buglette, the Messy Sleeper
Author: Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3 and up

41kWBfPUmnL._SL500_AA300_Buglette, the Messy Sleeper, by Bethanie Murguia, is about an adorable little bug who has a sleeping problem. Though she settles neatly into her leaf bed each night, she is so active during her dreams that her bed is always a disaster in the morning. Her brothers try to help, but their efforts, combined with Buglette's powerful dreams, almost lead to disaster. Fortunately, Buglette is able to use skills honed during those dreams to save the day.

The overall pattern of this book is predictable, of course. Child laments some personal trait that turns out to be a special strength in the end. But the story itself is so darned cute that I'm willing to forgive a bit of predictability of theme. I mean, what kid could resist Murguia's images of a little bug family reading bedtime stories together on a series of leaves? Or Buglette herself, with purple hat and purple bows atop her antennae?

Buglette's dreams are broadly relatable, as she swings through the air on a trapeze, kicks a soccer ball to the moon, etc. And the details, like her little patched bug stuffed animal and her father shown reading the paper in privacy (grayed out a bit to show that he's in another location), are all fun.

Murguia uses light humor in the text itself, too. Like this:

"The thought of the crow made Spot and Red tremble. That's when they decided to put a lid on Buglette's messy sleeping.

Push. Pull. Hoist. The acorn cap was the perfect fit."

And they literally put a "lid" over their sleeping sister. Or this:

"Mama Bug sighed. "I just don't know how we ended up with a messy sleeper. Must have come from your father's side of the family."

"Are you talking to me, dear?""

Ordinary family dynamics. Except that the family consists of bugs in floppy hats. Buglette is an engaging picture book, a good choice for family read-aloud. Recommended for readers 3 and up.

Publisher: Tricycle Press (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 10, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Darshana Khiani
Reviewed by: morninglightmama

© 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).