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Posts from May 2012

Zoe Gets Ready: Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Book: Zoe Gets Ready
Author: Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3 and up

5132P-djIWL._SL500_AA300_Zoe Gets Ready by Bethanie Deeney Murguia is the perfect followup to Margaret Chodos-Irvine's Ella Sarah Gets Dressed (about a preschooler exerting her fashion-independence). Zoe Gets Ready is the ideal book to have on hand as your young fashionista gets a little bit older.

Zoe Gets Ready features young Zoe, perhaps 4 or 5 years old, and her toddler sister. Their mother, not seen until the end of the book, keeps calling out for Zoe to hurry up and get dressed. But it's Saturday, the one day that Zoe can completely choose for herself (unlike school days, rainy days, and soccer days). Will it be "a cartwheeling day" or "a twirling day, a dizzy, whirling day"? These, of course, call for completely different outfits. Really, the outfits evoke completely different aspects of Zoe's multi-faceted personality.

The text, while upbeat, is largely beside the point. This is a story that is told through Murguia's pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations. Images alternate between Zoe's imagined plans for the day and the ever-growing chaos of her bedroom. My favorite is a bird's eye view of Zoe having a "blend-in" day, perched up high in a tree, wearing a green shirt, with a crown of leaves and flowers in her hair.

Zoe's little sister (who bears a resemblance to Buglette, from Murguia's earlier book, Buglette: The Messy Sleeper) is shown on every page, clearly wanting to be near her big sister, but also happy to do her own thing while she waits. The little sister sometimes foreshadows Zoe's next selected outfit, reaching up on her tippy-toes to pull a particular pair of pants out of a drawer, or grab a scarf. The sibling relationship, while never even mentioned in the text, is perfectly conveyed through the pictures. And I found an image of the little sister, shown from behind wearing a pair of Zoe's pants over her head, to be delightful.

While the two girls, with their round faces and minimalist, cartoon-like features, are not exactly representational, their simplicity allows Murguia to focus on the clothing, and the backdrops, which leap from the pages. There is plenty of detail to the illustrations, too, detail that I believe will reward repeat readings.

Zoe Gets Ready celebrates individuality, imagination, and sisters. I think it would work well for group read-aloud, or for individual reading by kids (especially girls) age 3 and up. The cover is a bit sparkly, too, which will add to appeal for this age range. Recommended!

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: May 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).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: May 21

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 1537 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every three weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews (three middle grade books and one young adult title), two children's literacy roundups (one here and one published in more detail at Carol Rasco's new blog, and one post about the announcement of the 2012 Children's Choice Book Award winners.

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I read 1 middle grade, 2 young adult and 1 adult novels. I haven't had as much time for reading as I would like lately, but I am looking forward to MotherReader's upcoming 48 Hour Book Challenge (June 8-10), an excuse to prioritize reading for a couple of days.

  • Marianne Malone (ill. Greg Call): The Sixty-Eight Rooms. Random House. Completed May 5, 2012. My review.
  • Kristin Cashore: Bitterblue. Dial. Completed May 10, 2012. My review.
  • Veronica Roth: Insurgent (Divergent, Book 2). Katherine Tegen Books. Completed May 17, 2012. I didn't write a formal review of this one, so I'll include a mini-review here: Insurgent accomplishes the primary purpose of the middle book in a trilogy: it leaves the reader desperately wanting to read the third book. It also suffers from the challenges common to middle books. The premise is no longer so new and fascinating, and the conflict in the primary romance feels a trifle forced. I also found it a bit disturbing that Tris, the strong heroine from Divergent, is borderline suidical throughout much of Insurgent. Still, the new plot reveals and cliffhanger ending left me determined to read book 3 as soon as it is available.
  • D.E. Stevenson: Miss Buncle's Book. ISIS Audiobooks. Completed May 16, 2012, on MP3. Note sourcebooks is releasing a new paperback edition in September 2012. This is one of my favorite comfort reads, a novel published in 1934 about a woman who writes a thinly veiled novel about the residents of her small English town (much to the neighbors' chagrin).

ImagesI also, of course, continue to read picture books and board books aloud to Baby Bookworm. We're currently about 1550 books read aloud for 2012. Current favorites include Olivia by Ian Falconer, Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett, and Hot Rod Hamster by Cynthia Lord. She also loves all Leslie Patricelli's toddler books (especially Tubby and Potty), and Sandra Boynton's Pookie books. She is starting to "read" some of her favorites aloud to herself, which is both rewarding and fun to watch (particularly Yummy Yucky, which comes with facial expressions, like the pretend spitting out of sand). If anyone has particular recommendations for picture books that work well with 2-year-olds, I would love to have them to add to our list.

I'm currently listening to Miss Buncle Married by D. E. Stevenson on MP3 and reading Across the Universe by Beth Revis. I also have a whole stack of picture books to (hopefully) start reading and reviewing soon, as well as a stack of middle grade books set aside for the 48-hour book challenge.

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.

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: Mid-May

JkrROUNDUPWelcome to the mid-May edition of the Children’s Literacy and Reading News Roundup brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Family Bookshelf, and Quietly. We focus this week on a couple of on-going literacy and reading related events. We also have some news about literacy and reading programs and research, and a few suggestions for growing bookworms. Thanks for tuning in!

Literacy & Reading-Related Events

NutshellThe reading world - online and off - has come alive with remembrances of children's author Maurice Sendak, who passed away earlier this month.  Ironically, enough, there is a national tour of his work traveling the country's libraries. We discovered it in Inside Over There! an article about the exhibit's stop at the Skokie Public Library  in this month's edition of Children & Libraries (an ALA publication). This article at WinnetkaTalk has a wonderful photo gallery of the exhibit (photo to left one example).

There are far too many appreciations and homages to Maurice Sendak for us to list them all. But here are a few things that particularly caught our eye:

Jcg_portraitAlso, just in under the wire, Jean Craighead George died this week at 92. She was probably most well-known for Newbery-medal winning Julie of the Wolves, but SLJ reports (in an article by Rocco Staino) that she wrote more than 100 books for young adults.  For other links, see this piece on the Cybils blog. A tough month for big-time children's literature voices, that's for sure.

Lloydalexander01Speaking of now-silent voices from children's literature, I received an email this week from Jared Crossley about his Kickstarter project to do a documentary about Lloyd Alexander (who died 5 years ago tomorrow). Jared adds "Tomorrow is the five year anniversary of the death of Lloyd Alexander, and to honor him, I have organized a "Lloyd Alexander Day". As part of "Lloyd Alexander Day", I sent a letter out to over 50 elementary schools (30,000+ students) inviting them to join with us in celebrating this great author, by reading/starting one of Alexander's books on that day. We have received support from Utah, Pennsylvania, California, Georgia, and even as far as Kenya (Mt. Kenya Academy and Nyeri Primary School, where the Janine and Lloyd Alexander Library is located, will be participating in the event)." You can find details here.

In other news, articles about summer reading have just started to pop up:

And in award news, the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards were just announced. These awards come in a variety of categories, for children and adults. We were especially happy to see our friend Sarah Jamila Stevenson receive a Bronze Award in Children's Multicultural Fiction for her debut novel, The Latte Rebellion. But there are lots of other great choices on the lists. Via @SheilaRuth.

Literacy Programs and Research

Ror.redA newly released study shows that At-Risk Latino Children in Reach Out and Read Have Strong Kindergarten Literacy Skills. "The study... is detailed in the Journal of Community Medicine & Health Education. The results of the study are hopeful for the future of students involved – and to all students who enter school ready to learn." Via @ReachOutAndRead.

Irene Sege reports in the Eye on Early Education Blog that "A recent analysis of international data from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) offers more evidence of the link between oral language development and reading. The new analysis finds that children whose parents regularly read aloud with them in the first year of primary school performed substantially better in reading at age 15 than children whose parents rarely, if ever, read to them." This is hardly surprising, but we say the more concrete data that is presented about the links between reading aloud and literacy the better. Note that the countries studied for the analysis did not include the United States. Via @ReachOutAndRead and @EarlyEd4All.

Here's a small but concrete tip for boosting literacy skills for preschoolers. According to Barri Bronston in the Times-Picayune, "A 30-week study (at Ohio State University) found that specific references to print in books - such as pointing out letters and words on pages or showing capital letters - can have a major impact on children's literacy skills... The study is part of Project STAR (Sit Together And Read), a randomized clinical trial based at Ohio State to test the short- and long-term impacts associated with reading regularly to preschool children. It involved more than 300 children in 85 classrooms." Via @ReadAcrossCA.

Here's a story that will warm your heart. Megan Stokes writes in the East Orlando Sun about 12-year-old Sarah Dewitz, who just realized her dream of getting a bookmobile (like "an ice cream truck but for books") for her family's 2-year-old children's book distribution nonprofit, adopting a county bookmobile that had been abandoned due to a loss of funding. Via @BookPatrol.

Speaking of book distributions programs, here are articles about two more from Jenny Schwartzberg that we thought readers might find of interest:

  • First up is an op-ed piece by the Shirley Bigley Lamotte, the CEO of Baltimore Reads. Lamotte discusses why physical books still matter in the digital age, and the importance of book distribution programs. She says: "Students (particularly those who come from poor families) who participate in book distribution programs improve in reading performance, are motivated to read and find enjoyment and inspiration in reading. They achieve better basic language skills, such as the ability to express themselves verbally and understand spoken language. Book distribution programs help to level the playing field." We certainly agree!
  • According to an article by Huang Ying in China Daily, up to 80% of the available children's book in China go to the 30% of the population that lives in urban areas. Rural children have extremely limited access to books. A new program by the China Youth Development Foundation is aiming to change this through "the donation of books to primary schools and training teachers there to become qualified in reading guidance and exploring the children's interest in reading."

Suggestions for Growing Bookworms

CliflogoSuzanne Loring from the Children's Literacy Foundation shares tips for making reading time family time at Parent Express. I enjoyed Suzanne's list of "ideas to get you and your kids reading together throughout the day", such as: "Take one night a week and make dinnertime reading time, too. Everyone in the family must bring a book to the table and read while they are eating."

Melissa Taylor shares some great suggestions for pretending that every week is Children's Book Week (like "pick an author and read all of his or her books") in an article titled Good and Bad News at Children's Book Week is the good news of the title. The bad news concerns the cutting of nearly 50 librarians from D.C. school libraries, and the implications for everyone who cares about kids and reading. Our own Carol Rasco is quoted in the piece, and Jen Robinson's Book Page is also linked. But we'd recommend the piece either way for Melissa's strong stand in favor of school libraries.

I also really enjoyed The Equation for Nerdy Book Club World Domination by Jen Vincent at The Nerdy Book Club. The equation is pretty simple: You + Books + Others = Nerdy Book Club World Domination. But the point of the piece is that we who love books should do more than sit by ourselves in the corner reading books. We should be out there talking about books to everyone we can, and helping to connect people with books, and spreading the culture of reading. But Jen puts it all much more eloquently than I do. Please do read the piece.

A recent post by Laurel Snyder focuses on importance of picture books. In "a meditation on my fierce love of picturebooks", Laurel discusses, passionately, why she thinks that many parents are making a mistake by pushing their kids toward chapter books, and away from picture books, too soon. She makes both the practical point that early chapter books "generally offer simpler sentence structure and easier vocabulary than the picture books they’ve “graduated” from" and the emotional point that " in abandoning their picture books, these kids are missing out on sheer  play and poetry". As a parent who wants my daughter to LOVE books, I want her to enjoy the pictures, play, and poetry for as long as possible, and I appreciate Laurel's reminder. (Via @CynLeitichSmith)

And two miscellaneous items:

  • Image-2-224x300Did you know that they now sell Scrabble Junior Cheez-Its? I learned about them from Stacey Loscalzo,and almost immediately ran out to get some. How cool to have letters on my child's snack food!
  • Have you seen the "These are your kids on books" poster, from the Denver, Colorado nonprofit literacy group Burning Through Pages? It has, accordingly to GalleyCat, gone viral. Which is great, because it is AWESOME. You can see it here.

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

Bitterblue: Kristin Cashore

Book: Bitterblue
Author: Kristin Cashore
Pages: 576
Age Range: 14 and up

BitterblueBitterblue is the long-awaited sequel to Kristin Cashore's Graceling (reviewed here), a companion novel to Fire (reviewed here). Bitterblue takes place 8 years after the events of Graceling (and close to 50 years after the events of Fire). We find Queen Bitterblue, now 18, struggling to run her kingdom, Monsea. Her advisers, and the general public, remain scarred (literally and metaphorically) by the actions of Bitterblue's father, King Leck. Bitterblue's quest to restore and heal her kingdom is further complicated by the arrival of her friends from the Council (including Katsa, Po, and Giddon from Graceling). The Council is working in secret to strip power from corrupt kings running other kingdoms. Their presence puts Bitterblue, and Monsea, in danger. But Bitterblue (and the reader) are happy to have them there.

I haven't read very many other reviews of Bitterblue, but according to Melissa from Book Nut, the responses tend towards love it or hate it (she has some thoughts as to why this is). Personally, I didn't love Bitterblue as much as I loved Graceling or Fire, but I still enjoyed it, and find the story staying with me. I loved most of all being able to spend more time in Kristin Cashore's fanciful world of castles, battles, and graced individuals.

Bitterblue is not the strong heroine that Katsa and Fire were. She doubts herself, and lets her advisers bury her in mountains of paperwork. She has only patchy memories of her childhood (thanks to Leck), and a lot of her time is spent trying to figure things out (rather than acting). She's not graced. But she is, arguably, easier for the reader to relate to, because of her relative ordinariness.

There are in any event a couple of wonderful new characters in Bitterblue. I especially enjoyed Death (pronounced to rhyme with "teeth"), the Graceling castle librarian who remembers everything that he has ever read (an excellent quality in a librarian, wouldn't you say?). He's cranky and supercilious, but his devotion to knowledge and books is admirable. I also liked Hava, a girl graced with the ability to disguise herself as ordinary objections, and for all practical matters disappear. And there are some other neat new graces introduced in Bitterblue. The author seems to have an endless capacity for coming up with them.

I also enjoyed seeing Katsa, Po, Raffin, and Bann again, and seeing Giddon (who was fairly marginal in Graceling), come into his own as a character. I didn't care so much for Bitterblue's new love interest, but their romance is much less a focus of Bitterblue than the romances in Graceling and Fire, so this wasn't a major factor. There are also references to the world from Fire in Bitterblue (Leck's reign was influenced by the things that he saw when traveling in the Dells). These references made me want nothing more than to go back and read Fire again.

The setting in Bitterblue is fully realized. The castle is marvelous (though I'm not sure why the map of the castle is shown at the end of the book instead of the beginning). The political systems, both within Monsea and without, are complex and plausible. Even the geography is well-understood and conveyed - you almost get the sense that the author has spent the last few years actually living in the Seven Kingdoms.

Bitterblue is definitely a book for mature readers (I think high school, not middle school). There is a fair degree of violence. And the cruelties wrought by Leck, although described second-hand, are gut-churning. There are sexual relationships (both gay and straight), not described in detail, but alluded to with frankness. And there's a certain degree of intellectual maturity required to sift through the shifting memories of Bitterblue.

All in all, I think that Bitterblue is a worthy sequel to Graceling. It's a more difficult book (longer, more bleak, not so straightforward). But Bitterblue offers fans of the previous books the welcome chance to revisit The Seven Kingdoms and (to a lesser extent) The Dells, and to see what's been happening with Katsa, Po, Bitterblue, and their friends and family members. If you haven't read Graceling and Fire, I suppose you could technically read and understand Bitterblue. But you would lose a lot. I highly recommend going back to the beginning, and reading the books in the order that they were published. Anyone who enjoys reading about creative, fanciful talents and strong female characters will not be disappointed by the Graceling universe.

Publisher: Dial (@PenguinTeen)
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it

© 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 Sixty-Eight Rooms: Marianne Malone

Book: The Sixty-Eight Rooms
Author: Marianne Malone
Illustrator: Greg Call
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8-12

ImagesThe Sixty-Eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone, has an irresistible premise and a fabulous, eye-catching cover. Two sixth graders, best friends Ruthie and Jack, find a special key while on a field trip to visit the Art Institute in Chicago. When Ruthie holds the key, it allows her to shrink down and enter the fabulous Thorne Rooms, incredibly detailed miniature rooms on display at the museum. In the Thorne Rooms, Ruthie discovers even more magic.

My 9-year-old inner self was captivated by the idea behind this book. I loved miniatures as a child, and spent wonderful hours decorating my doll house with my mother. The fact that the Thorne Rooms are real makes the book that much more appealing.There are also echoes of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to The Sixty-Eight Rooms. An overnight adventure in a museum is tougher to pull off in this day and age (with motion detectors and the like), but Moore clearly spent time working out all of the details. Greg Call's black and white illustrations are lovely, and held draw the reader into the story.

However, although I loved the premise and setting, and found The Sixty-Eight Rooms well-researched, I did have some problems with the book's execution. There were a couple of places where the author stepped out of limited third person perspective (showing something that Ruthie couldn't have seen herself), or seemed to be telling instead of showing. There's also a very large coincidence near the end that struck me as unnecessary. These are minor points, but did take me out of the story.

More importantly, the plot seemed to meander a bit. The Sixty-Eight Rooms reads more like the embodiment of a personal fantasy than a novel with a narrative arc. Oh, there are mysteries to be solved, and uncertainty over Jack and his mother's financial solvency. But as Ruthie and Jack explore the rooms, they kind of just go from one to the next, and have a little adventure here, and another little adventure there. It felt like Moore was so excited to describe the rooms that she let the setting/premise get in the way of the story.

But then again, the very appeal of The Sixty-EIght Rooms lies in that wish fulfillment. The idea that magic could be found anywhere, and could happen to otherwise ordinary children. Here are a couple of examples:

"When Ruthie was little, she had always loved fairy tales. Now that she no longer believed in those stories, she wondered what living in the time of knights and kings and queens might have been like. And here she was standing in a room that looked exactly as she had imagined that world to look. For the first time in her life, Ruthie felt extraordinary.

It was a relief to be inside a space that was her scale again, and her dizziness lifted. There was a big stained-glass window to her right and a carved stone fireplace to her left. The floor was made of different kinds of wood in squares that formed an elaborate geometric pattern... But the most impressive thing to Ruthie was the giant (to a five-inch-tall girl) canopy bed covered in silvery green silk." (Page 39)

"Soon the five-inch-tall duo found themselves scaling the wall like a pair of four-legged spiders racing to the top. In their miniaturized state they were so light that they hardly pulled on the strip of tape at all." (Page 159)

Although I had some issues with the book, I do think that kids will find The Sixty-Eight Rooms appealing. I'm interested to read the second book in the series, Stealing Magic, to see if there's a more structured plot. Recommended for anyone who finds the idea of shrinking down to a 1" to 1' scale and visiting historically accurate miniature rooms compelling.

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: February 23, 2010
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).

2012 Children's Choice Book Award Winners Announced

Kids Vote Jeff Kinney Author of the Year and Brian Selznick Illustrator of the Year -- Another Record Breaking Year with More Than 900,000 Votes Cast!

51umip4u9jL._SL500_AA300_NEW YORK, NY — May 7, 2012 — The Children’s Book Council (CBC) in association with Every Child a Reader (ECAR), announced the winners of the fifth annual Children’s Choice Book Awards at a charity gala in New York City this evening as part of Children’s Book Week (May 7-13, 2012). Children across the country voted in record numbers for their favorite books, author, and illustrator at bookstores, school libraries, and at, casting more than 900,000 votes.

Video of the awards ceremony will be available for viewing on May 8 at

The Children’s Choice Book Award winners are as follows:


Three Hens and a Peacock by Lester L. Laminack, illustrated by Henry Cole (Peachtree)


Bad Kitty Meets the Baby by Nick Bruel (Roaring Brook/Macmillan)


Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) (my review)


Clockwork Prince: The Infernal Devices, Book Two by Cassandra Clare (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster


Jeff Kinney for Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever (Amulet Books/Abrams) (my review)


Brian Selznick for Wonderstruck (Scholastic) (my review)

The Children’s Choice Book Awards program, launched in 2008 by The Children’s Book Council (CBC) in association with Every Child a Reader, was created to provide young readers with an opportunity to voice their opinions about the books being written for them and to help develop a reading list that will motivate children to read more and cultivate a love of reading.

About the Children’s Book Council

The Children’s Book Council is the national nonprofit trade association for children’s book publishers. The CBC offers children’s publishers the opportunity to work together on issues of importance to the industry at large, including educational programming, literacy advocacy, and collaborations with other national organizations. Our members span the spectrum from large international houses to smaller independent presses. Membership in the CBC is open to U.S. publishers of children’s trade books, as well as in some cases to industry-affiliated companies. The CBC is proud to partner with other national organizations on co-sponsored reading lists, educational programming, and literacy initiatives. Please visit for more information.

About Every Child a Reader

Every Child a Reader (ECAR) is a 501(c)(3) literacy organization dedicated to instilling a lifelong love of reading in children. To achieve this, ECAR creates and supports positive programs and opportunities that promote the enjoyment of reading among America’s youth. Founded by the Board of Directors of the Children’s Book Council (CBC), it is unique among literacy organizations in its ability to harness the collective power of the children’s book publishing industry to create positive social change in our communities. Its goals echo those of the CBC, which are to make the reading and enjoyment of children’s books an essential part of America’s educational and social aims, and to enhance public perception of the importance of reading.

Every Child a Reader administers Children’s Book Week. In conjunction with The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and the CBC, ECAR sponsors the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Program, which raises national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.

Here Lies Linc: Delia Ray

Book: Here Lies Linc
Author: Delia Ray
Pages: 320
Age Range: 8-12

ImagesHere Lies Linc is a middle grade novel by Delia Ray that is set, more or less, in a cemetery. 12-year-old Lincoln Crenshaw lives with his mother, a "history professor who studies burial customs" in a run-down house that backs up to Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City. Linc's "first best friend" is the groundskeeper at the cemetery. He keeps a journal of interesting epitaphs. As the story begins, Linc is about to start public school for the first time. And while he is dying to fit in with regular kids, a school project pulls Linc right back into the graveyard. He finds himself investigating a legend suggests is cursed. Along the way, however, he also uncovers friendships, family secrets, and some truths about himself.

Each chapter in Here Lies Linc is preceded by a picture of a gravestone, complete with epitaph. I was glad to read, in an author's note at the end of the book, that the epitaphs are all taken from actual graves. (To have made them up, when there is such excellent real material, would have seemed wrong.) Turns out the grave that Linc investigates, The Black Angel, is also real, as is the Oakland Cemetery. While Linc's story is fictional, this factual backdrop lends an authenticity to the book. I grew up walking (and occasionally roller-skating) in the cemetery across the street from my grandparents' house. This, I think, helped the many scenes set in the Oakland Cemetery to resonate with me.

Factual backdrop aside, Here Lies Linc is also pure, kid-friendly escapism. There is a midnight visit to a graveyard crypt. There is a family mystery. There is a cute girl (and a completely PG relationship). Some of the epitaphs are hilarious. There is even a subtle pun in the book's title (apart from the gravestone reference, Linc is also quite a storyteller). Oh, sure, there are also a couple of convenient coincidences (one actually preceded by "It was too good to be true"), and the bad guy is completely over the top. But it's still a fun read. 

Linc is a good character, too. He's funny and self-deprecating. Like this:

"I hung my first poster not too long after Dad died, promising myself to live out his dream and conquer a mountain like the ice-capped Elbrus in Russia someday. But who was I fooling? Here I was stuck on the plains of Iowa, hiding in my room like a scared rabbit in its hole. How did I think I could ever scale one of the Seven Summits when I couldn't even keep up with my junior high cross-country team?" (Page 41)

After a conflict, he runs away and hides in his bed, "waiting for the worst attacks of anger and embarrassment to pass." Despite the lies that he tells, Linc also has a conscience. He grows up a reasonable, but not overdone, amount over the course of the book. The other characters aren't as fully developed as Linc, of course, but they aren't one-note characters, either. Linc's mother, Lottie, while a bit of an eccentric, grows a bit, too. And the aforementioned cute girl, Delaney, is a delight.

Here Lies Linc is a middle grade novel with a fully realized, unique setting. It's also a book that will keep kids turning pages, eager to watch Linc solve the various mysteries in his life. Recommended for middle grade readers and up, boys or girls.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
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).

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: April in Review

JkrROUNDUPThe end of April Children’s Literacy and Reading News Roundup brought to you by Carol Rasco at Quietly (her new blog), Terry Doherty at Family Bookshelf and me, Jen Robinson, is now available at Quietly. I don't know how Carol managed to pull things together this month, with everything going on at RIF (Book People Unite, the RIF Gift of Reading Gala, new RIF blog, etc.). But she's got plenty of tidbits for us in literacy and reading events, literacy and reading programs and research, and suggestions for growing bookworms. [And if you haven't taken the Book People Unite pledge for literacy, what are you waiting for?]

NPM_LOGO_2008_finalIn truth, there's been so much going on in the world of children's literacy and reading that it's nearly impossible to keep up. Carol shares some of her favorite aspects of the just-finished National Poetry Month, and notes (via The Book Chook) that Australia has declared a National Year of Reading (the Reading Superheros submitted by kids are fabulous). She also has the scoop on the Hans Christian Anderson award winner.

A few other events worth noting:

Also in the roundup at Quietly, some great links about summer reading, kids' digital media products, and STEAM exploration (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Not to mention a link to a contest to win a Skype classroom visit from Judy Blume, and some fabulous book trailers. I hope you'll click through for all the details.

Carol, Terry, and I will be back mid-month with more children's literacy and reading news (we've already got some great stuff lined up). Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy!

Read-a-palooza provides girls with fun activities and incentives to inspire them to keep their reading skills sharp and encourage engagement in a variety of different literacy activities! In addition, Read-a-palooza will be contributing to Save the Children through a book purchase donation. Starting May 1 through September 3, $1 from every book purchased from American Girl will benefit Save's U.S. Literacy Program.

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict: Trenton Lee Stewart

Book: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Illustrator: Diana Sudyka
Pages: 480
Age Range: 9-12

ImagesThe Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is a prequel to the three Mysterious Benedict Society books written by Trenton Lee Stewart (The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma). It features Nicholas Benedict (the wealthy benefactor of the children in the later books) as a nine-year-old orphan with narcolepsy and a freakish intelligence. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict recounts a pivotal few months from Nicholas's childhood, spent at an orphanage known locally as 'Child's End (a humorous contraction of Rothschild's End). Nicholas spends his time at Child's End avoiding three bullies known as The Spiders, hunting for Mrs. Rothschild's lost treasure, and learning the importance of friendship.

As a fan of the Mysterious Benedict Society series, I loved this glimpse into the background and development of Nicholas Benedict. This book made me want nothing more than to go back and re-read the first Mysterious Benedict Society book, looking for connections. I also appreciated this book as a lover of books and words in general. Nicholas's appreciation for books and libraries permeates every chapter. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is filled with rich vocabulary words and quotable passages. Like these:

"Now follow me, and no more questions. It has been an insufferably long day, and I am much too weary. Tomorrow you will be shown about and told all you need to know." (Page 46)

"In the candle's flickering light, the library's thousands of books emerged from their shadows, and for a moment Nicholas could not help admiring them again. During free time he had almost never looked up from pages he was reading, but now he saw the books anew, from without rather than from within, and was reminded of how beautiful they were simply as objects. The geometrical wonder of them all, each book on its own and all the books together, row upon row. The infinite patterns and possibilities they presented. They were truly lovely." (Page 141-142)

"When at last he'd ordered himself to bed, his mind was so aglow with new ideas and new knowledge, he almost expected beams of light to shine from his eyes." (Page 158-159)

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is a book that children who appreciate books, puzzles, and figuring out how things work will enjoy. Nicholas is a likeable hero, with a disability that renders him sympathetic (in spite of his prodigious intelligence), and a willingness to take himself to task for his mistakes. I found the book overall to be a bit slow-paced, with the action frequently interrupted by ruminations and descriptions. Despite the presence of a treasure hunt, this may not be a good book for reluctant readers (though I can think of one young friend who really must read it). There is a bit less adventure, and a bit more reflection, than in the other books of the series.

Still, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is chock-full of entertaining word-play and ingenious activities, and is set against a kid-friendly backdrop (caves, tapping the walls looking for secret panels, etc.). Fans of the series won't want to miss it. And, since it's a prequel, it could be read first, I suppose, should you happen to be new to the series. Recommended.

Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: April 10, 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).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: May 1

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 1531 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every three weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have five book reviews (three picture books, one middle grade, and one young adult titles), one children's literacy roundup, and one post about the new RIF Book People Unite public service announcement / call to people to pledge for literacy.

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I read 5 middle grade, 2 young adult and 2 adult novels. I had a child-free weekend last weekend (when my husband took Baby Bookworm away for a father-daughter trip), and I got quite a bit of reading done.

  • Kate Messner: Eye of the Storm. Walker Children's. Completed April 9, 2012. My review.
  • Gennifer Choldenko: Al Capone Does My Shirts. Puffin. Completed April 21, 2012. I listened to this book on MP3 from Audible, and enjoyed it, but don't plan to write a formal review.
  • Trenton Lee Stewart (ill. Diana Sudyka): The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. Little Brown. Completed April 28, 2012. Review to come.
  • Zilpha Keatley Snyder: The Witches of Worm. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Completed April 30, 2012. Originally published in 1972. Although I am generally a big fan of Snyder's older titles, I didn't care for this one. I respect what she was trying to do with the book, but the protagonist is quite unlikeable.
  • Delia Ray: Here Lies Linc. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Completed May 1, 2012. Review to come.
  • Sheba Karim: Skunk Girl. Penguin. Completed April 13, 2012.
  • Rachel Ward: Numbers 3: Infinity. Chicken House Books. Completed April 29, 2012. My review.
  • Jacqueline Winspear: Elegy for Eddie. Harper. Completed April 23, 2012. This is the latest book in the Maisie Dobbs series. This wasn't my favorite of the series (too much inner turmoil for Maisie), but I still enjoyed it.
  • Nancy Atherton: Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree. Penguin. Completed April 28, 2012. The latest in the Aunt Dimity series. A fun romp, though not much of a mystery (and no murders at all).

51AukOVedpL._SL500_AA300_I also, of course, continue to read picture books and board books aloud to Baby Bookworm. We're currently about 1270 books read aloud for 2012. Current favorites include Uh-Oh! Oh No! by Ann Hodgman (reviewed below), Beach Day by Anahid Hamparian, and Pinkalicious by Elizabeth Kahn and Victoria Kahn. Although she still requests many of the same board boards (over and over again), she is starting to have the attention span for longer picture books now, too. 

I'm currently listening to Miss Buncle's Book by D. E. Stevenson on MP3 and about to start reading The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone. I was also thrilled to just discover that Sourcebooks is reissuing Miss Buncle's Book as a paperback on September 1st. D. E. Stevenson's novels are among my favorite comfort reads, and I would love to see more of them in print (I would also love it if someone would publish them as e-books - I want them to be around forever).

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.