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Posts from June 2012

So B. It: Sarah Weeks

Book: So B. It
Author: Sarah Weeks
Pages: 254
Age Range: 10 and up 

Weeks-2l-sobit-bookMy 8th book for the 2012 48 Hour Book Challenge is So B. It by Sarah Weeks. I've reviewed 2 of Weeks' earlier books, Jumping the Scratch and PIE, and found So B. It consistent with those (in a good way). So B. It is about 12-year-old Heidi, who lives with her developmentally disabled mother in Reno. Heidi and Mama are cared for by Bernadette, an agoraphobic neighbor with a connecting apartment. Heidi doesn't know anything about her father, or where she came from, because her mother only knows 23 words, and can't tell her. But when clues surface about Mama's background, Heidi sets out alone on a cross-country journey, determined to find out who she really is.  

Though technically realistic fiction, So B. It has overtones of fantasy. Heidi possesses a freakish lucky quality. She can call head or tails correctly 10 times in a row, no problem. And she has a way of coaxing extra money that her family needs out of slot machines. Luck also brought Mama, baby Heidi in tow, to Bernadette's door, at a time when the two damaged women needed one another. Their small, unconventional family works, but the notion that they could actually manage in the real world is a bit of a stretch.

But So B. It is also a book full of sharp insights and profound truths. Like this:

"I'd be lying if I said that given a choice, I wouldn't rather know than not know. But there are some things you can just know for no good reason other than that you do, and then there are other things that no matter how badly want to know them, you just can't.

The truth is, whether you know something or not doesn't change what was. If dinosaurs were blue, they were blue; if they were brown, they were brown whether anybody ever knows it for a fact or not." (Page 4)

and this:

"I cried for a long time. I cried so hard, it felt like my ribs might crack open. I imagined my heart flying out like a small, red bird escaping its cage, going off in search of a more promising person to live in. A person with history. A person who knew." (Page 63)

Although there is some humor to So B. It, there's sadness, too. The relationship dynamics feel real, albeit unconventional. Heidi's relationship with her child-like mother is touching, though her more traditional parent-child relationship is with Bernadette. There aren't a lot of kids in So B. It. Heidi mostly interacts with adults. But there's still a solid coming-of-age feel to the book, as Heidi works to understand her place in the world. 

So B. It is unique and suspenseful, heart-felt and moving. A perfect 48 Hour Book Challenge book. Highly recommended for readers age 10 and up. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@harperchildrens)
Publication Date: April 2004
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).

Down a Dark Hall: Lois Duncan

Book: Down a Dark Hall
Author: Lois Duncan (@duncanauthor)
Pages: 240
Age Range: 10-14 

 DownADarkHall_LBcoverFor my 7th read of the 48 Hour Book Challenge, I was inspired (by Kelly Jensen) to re-read Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall. I was an avid reader of Duncan's young adult novels in my teens and early twenties. I found them utterly addictive. Down a Dark Hall was one of my very favorites (along with Killing Mr. Griffin at the time, though I later found that one too horrifying to re-read). 

Down a Dark Hall is about 14-year-old Kit Gordy. When Kit's mother remarries, Kit is sent to a small, select boarding school in rural New York. Her immediate impression of the school, Blackwood, is one of evil. Despite the luxury of the school, and the individualized attention (there are only 3 other students), and the presence of a young, attractive music teacher, Kit continues to find the school disturbing. She has bad dreams, and wakes up exhausted. Gradually, she and the other girls learn why they were selected for the school, but by then the headmistress has no intention of letting them go. 

Down a Dark Hall is a ghost story, a modern Gothic horror novel. A cloud of menace hangs over the entire book, and Kit works to uncover the truth, and, eventually, to escape. Although I hadn't read Down a Dark Hall in years, I found that I remembered what was happening quite clearly, and even remembered a number of individual scenes (which is not really like me - I have a terrible memory). Remembering the story so clearly certainly took away from the suspense, but it does speak to how strongly the novel affected me in the first place. The setting is strongly depicted, the tone haunting, and the plotting solid. 

If you like spooky or suspenseful stories, and have somehow missed Lois Duncan's books, Down a Dark Hall would be a great place to start. Although technically a young adult novel, the content (apart from being spooky) is probably suitable for younger readers. I've listed it for 10 and up. Fans of Mary Downing Hahn and Caroline Cooney will likely enjoy this one. I'm glad that I re-read it (and glad that I read it by daylight, instead of alone in the middle of the night). 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@lbkids)
Publication Date: 1974
Source of Book: Bought it (an older edition than the one shown)

© 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). 

Middle School: Get Me Out of Here: James Patterson

Book: Middle School: Get Me Out of Here
Author: James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts 
Illustrator: Laura Park
Pages: 288
Age Range: 10-14 

ImagesMy sixth book for the 48 Hour Book Challenge was Middle School: Get Me Out of Here, by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, with illustrations by Laura Park. This is the sequel to Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. I didn't think that Get Me Out Of Here was as good as the first book, but I still think that kids (particularly reluctant male readers, who are clearly the target audience) will like it.

Like the first book, Get Me Out Of Here is a heavily illustrated novel about an artistic middle schooler named Rafe Khatchadorian. The pictures, included as sketches by aspiring art student Rafe, tell part of the story. In this installment, Rafe's mother loses her job, and the family has to move 80 miles away to live with Rafe's grandmother in the city. Rafe is accepted to a public arts school, however, and things look pretty good. Until a couple of popular kids start to bully him, and a teacher's criticism sets Rafe up for a new personal challenge, Operation: Get a Life. 

Trouble seems to find Rafe wherever he goes. He makes his first human friend, but said friend leads him into new scrapes. He discovers a potential relative of his long-lost father, but antagonizes the man unwittingly. And so on. The real theme of Get Me Out Of Here is Rafe's need to understand more about the father who abandoned the family when Rafe was four (a year after Rafe's twin died). This theme isn't fully compatible with the book's format, somehow. One doesn't really feel for Rafe in his quest. 

Laura Park's illustrations are still solid, entertaining and kid-friendly, and often showing better things than the authors could ever tell. And there's still a wry humor to the text that works. Like this:

""Come on, honey. I know it's a big adjustment, but you've got to stay positive," Mom said.

"Okay," Georgia said. "I'm positive I'm never going to make any friends here."" (Page 19)


""Rafe, when you're done, I want you to put on the shirt I left out for you," Mom said. "And clean pants, please."

That stopped me with a mouthful of everything. Nothing good ever happens in clothes your mom picks out for you." (Page 33)


"I've heard that every once in a while, there are these things called sinkholes that open up in the earth out of nowhere and swallow people whole. I don't know how often it happens, but right about then I was thinking, Not nearly often enough." (Page 76) 

All passages that will make kids nod and smile. 

I think that Get Me Out Of Here is well-executed, for what it's trying to do. It's kid-friendly. It's just lacking in both substance. Kids who enjoyed the first book will certainly want to check it out. But Rafe didn't charm me the way he did in the first book. 

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (@lbkids)
Publication Date: May 7, 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).

Umbrella Summer: Lisa Graff

Book: Umbrella Summer
Author: Lisa Graff
Pages: 240
Age Range: 8 and up 

UmbrellaSum_HC_c_397x600Umbrella Summer was my fifth book read for the 2012 48 Hour Book Challenge. In the wake of her older brother's sudden death 3 months earlier, 10-year-old Annie Richards has become super-cautious. She wears a bike helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, and ace bandages around her ankles, and still walks her bike down the hill instead of riding. She reads books about diseases that she might get, and covers the slightest scratch with band-aids. People worry about her behavior, but Annie knows how important it is to be careful. Because you never know what might happen.

Umbrella Summer made me cry in more than one spot. But it made me laugh, too. A number of the characters, including Annie, are funny. Like when Annie's best friend Rebecca's father tells the girls to play with words, so they act out "Goldilocks and the Three Proboscises." Or when Annie and Rebecca scheme to get inside a new neighbor's home, only to have Mrs. Finch see right through them (and, fortunately, find them amusing). 

I flagged quite a number of passages. And, since I read this book on the Kindle, I know that many other people had also flagged passages. It's that sort of book, particularly near the end. Profound, I guess you'd say. Like this:

"I wished there was a way to keep that in a bottle, that one moment of wonderful perfect, so I could open it up whenever I needed to get a good whiff."


"But I just have stuff. And I think people don't need my stuff to remember me." He took a bite held out the tin to me so I could take a cookie too. "I guess I think people will just remember me 'cause of things I did." 

For someone who didn't talk much, Tommy sure had lots to say."

There are also just nice quotes, like this one:

"He was quiet for a while, thinking I guess, and I just sucked on my last Junior Mint until it was just peppermint air." 

I love that! "Peppermint air."

I did think that Mrs. Finch (who arrives in the neighborhood and promptly helps Annie to figure things out) was a bit of a device. She's a device that works, and quite a likeable character, but it did feel like a tiny bit of a cheat to have her just show up partway through the story and then help so much. I did like the way that Annie's nemesis, Doug, doggedly tried to help her, despite Annie consistently pushing him away. And the quiet presence of other adults from Annie's life who tried to help, at a time when her own parents weren't equipped to do it. 

Umbrella Summer is a book with sadness in it, but it's also funny and true-to-life. There's a bit of a nostalgic feel to it - kids on bikes playing in the neighborhood, with computers only playing a token role. Definitely a book to give to kids who like a book that makes them cry, but also one to try on kids who like to laugh. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: June, 2009
Source of Book: Bought it for 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).


Capture the Flag: Kate Messner

Book: Capture the Flag
Author: Kate Messner (@KateMessner)
Pages: 240
Age Range: 8 and up 

Capture-the-Flag Capture the Flag is my fourth book read for the 2012 48 Hour Book Challenge, an upcoming middle grade title by Kate Messner. It's a PG movie of a book about a trio of kids who join together to save the stolen Stars and Stripes, while trapped by a snowstorm at a DC airport. Anna, Henry, and Jose meet by chance, first at a reception at the museum, and then the next morning at the airport. By (a rather large) coincidence, all three kids have family members who are part of a secret society dedicated to protecting America's treasures. Members are descended from famous historical figures, like Paul Revere. Stuck at the airport with nothing else to do, the kids decide to solve the mystery of the missing flag.

While not technically fantasy, Capture the Flag is hardly realistic fiction. The kids have conveniently lax parents, the bad guys are larger than life, and the chase scenes are fabulous (mainly taking place behind the scenes, on baggage conveyors). But Messner knows that the story is a romp, and pokes fun at this by having one of the kids be Harry Potter obsessed (frequently quoting Dumbledore), and by throwing in sly jokes. For instance, a meteorologist has a cell phone that plays "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." A senator's phone plays "Hail to the Chief" when his wife calls. One of the airport concessions is "Cinna-Bunny". And one of the adult characters is "Senator Snickerbottom", who walks around with Tootsie Rolls in his hat. It's all in good fun. 

Oh, there is character development, particularly in Henry (a boy bitter about his father's remarriage). There are worries about parents (Jose's mother, a flag restorer, is a suspect in the theft). There are brief discussions on patriotism, loyalty, and friendship. There are quotes about leadership and bravery. There is a suggestion that politicians working for immigration reform are like the Malfoy family from the Harry Potter books. These things are all present.

But at the end of the day, Capture the Flag is an over-the-top adventure about a trio of kids chasing bad guys around a snowbound airport. What middle grade reader wouldn't want to read it? My favorite quote is this one:

"Anna threw her hands in the air. "You are such ... boys! What is wrong with you? You spent your whole lives looking for excitement in video games and movies and books, and then when something big finally happens, you're too busy reading and poking at some SuperGameThingy to do the real, live, exciting thing right there in front of you!" (Page 44)

There's also a delightful little 8-year-old boy adopted by the older kids. Sinan is half-Pakistani and half-Turkish, and working on learning American idioms. Every time he runs across one, he makes a little drawing of it in a notebook. The book is sprinkled with sketches like "Let the cat out of the bag" (featuring a cat peeking out over the top of a paper bag). I thought that Sinan's quirk added a nice touch of whimsy to the book. 

Capture the Flag is written by a former middle school English teacher, and it has kid-friendliness in spades. Highly recommended for middle grade readers, age 8 and up. Me, I'll be waiting for movie. And sequels. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: July 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).

May B.: Caroline Starr Rose

Book: May B.
Author: Caroline Starr Rose (blog)
Pages: 240
Age Range: 9 and up 


May B., by Caroline Starr Rose, was my third book read for the 2012 48 Hour Book Challenge. May B. is a verse novel set in the late 19th century, on the Kansas frontier. May lives with her parents and older brother in a homestead "soddy". Her parents send her away to help a new bride at another homestead, 15 miles away (a large distance in those days). When the unhappy bride runs away, and her husband follows her, May is left completely alone, apparently forgotten. And when the winter blizzards start, she finds herself trapped and running out of food. Written off at school because she struggles with reading and makes mistakes, May has only herself to rely on to survive. 

May B. packs a lot into a very quick read. May experiences a range of emotions, from shame at her reading disability to depression caused by loneliness to a root core of determination. The dangers she encounters range from getting lost on the prairie and freezing to death to starvation to the threat of wolves.

Her physical struggles are intermingled with her mental struggles. An afterword explains that the author, a longtime fan of the Little House books, wondered how children with learning disabilities would have been treated, before such disabilities were understood. May's self-esteem is diminished, but not extinguished completely, by the treatment of an unsympathetic teacher. 

This mix of physical and mental challenges gives the book a certain balance. And though it's certainly not an upbeat story, May's occasional bursts of impetuousness lighten the tone. The spare verse format also helps in this manner. Troubles are alluded to, rather than described in detail. 

Rose chooses every word carefully, rewarding readers who take their time. Like this:

"I find myself inside the rhythm
of hoof
and wheel
and join this going forward,
but I am behind, still." (Page 17)

I like the double meaning of still. And here she conveys May's fear at being alone at night, in just a few words:

A mouse,
a footstep,
I tell myself.
I would have heard
the wagon
and the welcome sound
of voices.

Gooseflesh ripples
up my arms.
I squeeze my knees tighter.
will morning
come?" (Page 68)

Give May B. to young fans of frontier novels, novels in verse, or survival stories. It would make a great companion read to the Little House books, or Caddie Woodlawn, or even a stepping stone for younger readers not quite ready for the challenge of Hattie Big Sky

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: January 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).


Happy Families: Tanita S. Davis

Book: Happy Families
Author: Tanita S. Davis (blog)
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up 

HappyfamiliesMy second book for the 2012 48 Hour Book Challenge was Happy Families by Tanita Davis. It seemed fitting to read a book by one of my Kidlitosphere pals for this community-building event. Although Tanita and I haven't technically met (what with her living in Scotland for the past 5 years all), I certainly number her among friends. 

Anyway, Happy Families is a young adult novel about talented teenage twins, Ysabel and Justin. Their happy family is blown apart when their father reveals a life-altering secret. It's a bit hard to discuss the book without revealing the secret, but if the publisher chose to keep it off the book jacket, it doesn't feel like my place to give it away in a review. Suffice it to say that Happy Families is a book that made me think, made me sympathetic to Ysabel and Justin, and made me wonder how I would react to their family's situation. 

The story is told in alternating first person chapters by Justin and Ysabel. As is often the case for me with multi-narrator books, I occasionally had trouble keeping track of which character was speaking. I wish that publishers would use different fonts, or something. This would, however, make an excellent two-narrator audiobook. Despite this difficulty, I thought that Justin and Ysabel, and their parents, were strong characters. No one is all good or all bad in Happy Families - people are as they really are, complex, caring, and flawed. I thought that the twins were realistically difficult (sulky, etc.) in coping with their family drama, without being at all unlikeable (a fine line). 

Tanita Davis has a teen-friendly writing style - she seems fully able to channel her inner adolescent. Like this:

"It's not possible to die of embarrassment. But as I hastily scoop up the bouquets and scuttle back to my seat, to the amusement of everyone around me, I'm almost positive you can at least have a coronary, or a stroke or something." (Page 8, Ysabel)

"We know why, of course. It's because we're going to Dad's house in Buchannan, and Mom's wrapping us both in an extra layer of God.

Which we might not need -- no offense to God -- if she'd just let us stay home." (Page 25, Ysabel)

"I read on a Web site that Ys and I are just two of thousands of kids around the world dealing with this right now, but funny thing--that just doesn't make me feel any better. No matter how many people's stories I read online, it isn't the same. It's my family crashing; it's my dad. It's me." (Page 37, Justin)

One other thing that I liked about Happy Families is that Justin and Ysabel's family is African American, and it's not a big deal. This fact is only mentioned directly (that I noticed) once in the book, rather late in the story, because it's not the point of the story. There need to be more books in which kids and teens just happen to be African American, or Middle Eastern, or Asian, or whatever else.

Happy Families is without question an "issue book". It educates the reader, while detailing a family going through a particular crisis. There's resolution at the end, without any fake tying up of all of the issues. But it doesn't feel like an issue book, because the characters (including the adults) are so strong, and because the author maintains a light, non-judgmental touch. Happy Families is a book that deserves to be read because the topic is important, but it's a book that will be enjoyed by teens because the characters feel real. Highly recommended. 

[Oh, and a final fun note for my Kidlitosphere friends - there's a character in Happy Families named Tarie Sabado, just like Tarie from the blog Into the Wardrobe. I'm thinking not a coincidence. This doesn't change the story at all, but gave me a little insider-y smile. ]

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 8, 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).


Keeping Score: Linda Sue Park

Book: Keeping Score
Author: Linda Sue Park (@LindaSuePark)
Pages: 208
Age Range: 9 and up 

ImagesKeeping Score by Linda Sue Park was my first book read for the 2012 48 Hour Book Challenge. It is wonderful! I don't know how I came to wait so long to read it. Keeping Score is set between 1951 and 1955, in Brooklyn. Maggie-o (nine-going-on-ten at the start of the book) is a devoted New York Dodgers fan, listening to many of the games with her father's colleagues at the local firehouse. Her passion for baseball finds a new outlet when one of the men, Jim Maine, teaches Maggie how to keep a scorecard. When Jim is sent to Korea, to fight in the "Korean Conflict", Maggie writes him letters. Through her letters, through her scorecards, through prayers, Maggie does what she can to help the Dodgers win, and to help Jim. 

Keeping Score is an ode to baseball. There is no question that (as indicated in an afterword), Linda Sue Park is a diehard baseball fan. She's able to channel her childhood devastation over Chicago Cubs losses into Maggie's reactions to the early 1950's Dodgers. I flagged passage after passage, like this:

"There was something else about keeping score -- and Maggie loved this most of all. Like every other Dodger fan she knew, she felt almost like part of the team, like she herself was one of the Bums. It was as if cheering for them, supporting the, listening to the games, talking about them, somehow helped them play better." (Page 35)

So true. Boston is like that today. And Chicago. And doubtless anywhere that a baseball team has a grip on a community's heart.  

Keeping Score is also a historical novel that, in completely organic fashion, teaches the reader about the Korean War (I realized while reading that I had never known how the conflict got started myself, despite years of MASH episodes). Certain aspects of the story are moving (and aspects of the war horrifying), but never overwhelming for the reader. The book also gives readers a window into life in Brooklyn in the 50's, when 15 cents was a reasonable allowance, and you could listen to the Dodgers games as you walked down the street, because everyone had them on the radio. Like this:

"She would walk past the row of houses that looked just like hers, all built of dull brownish yellow brick, one window downstairs two windows up -- to Pinky the butcher or Mr. and Mrs. Floyd at the bakery or the drugstore, and she wouldn't miss a single pitch. Everyone would have their radios on, the sound of the game trailing in and out of each doorway like a long thread that tied the whole neighborhood together." (Page 10)

That last sentence is perfect, isn't it? Park has this ability to get right to the heart of things. If I had more of them lying around, I think that I would want to read her books all day today. 

Park's characterization, particularly of Maggie, is flawless. Maggie is a living, breathing girl. She is stubborn and loyal, and the first one to criticize herself when she makes a mistake. In the Author's Note at the end, Park includes comments on how Maggie would have reacted to historical events that took place after the end of the story, and this completely works, because she knows Maggie so well. 

As a baseball fan, particularly a Red Sox fan (dating back well before 2004), Keeping Score struck a chord deep in my heart. But Keeping Score is about lots more than baseball. It's about the devastating effects of war, and the ties of family and friendship. It is beautifully written and 100% real. Highly recommended for anyone, male or female (and especially for baseball fans), ages 9 and up. 

Publisher: Clarion (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: March, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher (long ago...)

© 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).

MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge: Launch Post

48hbc_newI have:

  • A stack of middle grade and young adult books from various publishers*
  • Caffeine and a fresh bar of Trader Joe's Belgian chocolate
  • Assorted Post-It flags
  • A notebook (for tracking time)
  • An MP3 player (I use the Sansa Clip), fully charged**
  • A Kindle, fully charged and with two unread middle grade books***

Looks like I'm ready to start MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge. I look forward to this all year, and I'm so happy that it's finally here. Many thanks for the opportunity / motivation, Pam!

*I find that for me personally, it's better to read books that are on the shorter side. One of my greatest enemies to success during the #48HBC is falling asleep - variety helps, as does stopping more frequently to write reviews. I also try to read from a range of publishers, to keep things fresh.

**Audiobooks are invaluable in continuing to read during times that would otherwise be lost (making lunch, flossing teeth, etc.). This is something I try to do all the time, but especially during the #48HBC.

***This will be the first year that I may mix in Kindle books. Then again, I may not, since I'll be at home with my big stack of books anyway. The Kindle books are very useful in reading while out and about, but I hope not to be out and about for the next 48 hours. Still, I did add a couple of new titles to my virtual drive.

RIF_Primary_VerticalNew this year, MotherReader has asked that participants pledge to donate to RIF's #BookPeopleUnite campaign for each hour of reading. Like Pam, I hope that together we can make a positive impact for RIF, an organization that has been making an impact on children's literacy for longer than I've been alive. RIF (particularly CEO Carol Rasco) has been a huge supporter of the Kidlitosphere for years, and I love that we can use the 48 Hour Book Challenge to give something back. 

Happy 48 Hour Book Challenge weekend to all! I am in as of 9:38 am Friday (Pacific Time).

A Girl Named Digit: Annabel Monaghan

Book: A Girl Named Digit
Author: Annabel Monaghan
Pages: 192
Age Range: 12 and up

Media_image_right_digitcomp_FINALA Girl Named Digit is a young adult novel about a 17-year-old math genius who ends up on the run (with a very young, handsome FBI agent), hiding from domestic terrorists. Farrah (also known as Digit) is actually pretty good at hiding - she's spent her tenure in Santa Monica High School hiding her abilities from her friends, pretending to be popular and normal. But when she cracks a numeric code that she sees in the corner of her television screen, and realizes that she could potentially have stopped a suicide bombing in New York, Digit has no choice but to dig further. A Girl Named Digit opens with Farrah's fake kidnapping, flashes back to the events leading up to her involvement, and moves forward with a coast-to-coast chase. 

The plot of A Girl Named Digit is so over the top that it is virtually satire (shades of Libba Gray's Beauty Queens, though not as funny). Even as Digit is hiding out in a warehouse, supposedly kidnapped, she's receiving vapid text messages from one of her friends about the prom. John, the FBI agent she is working with is ludicrously attractive as well as brilliant (and wealthy, and ... well, I won't spoil the rest). But he also has a weakness for terrible puns. Digit's Mom is a second tier actress, who dresses perfectly for the news cameras after her daughter's "kidnapping." And so on.

Still, I have to say that I really enjoyed A Girl Named Digit. How great is it to read a book about a girl who is a math genius, and uses that ability to avert threats to national security? Digit sees patterns everywhere, and as a child had panic attacks if she saw, say, a bunch of numbers that weren't logically related to one another. She collects bumper stickers, and arranges them at perfect right angles in her bedroom. Sure, she also hides her talents in high school, fitting in by never expressing an opinion of her own about anything. But that's just background - readers see her as she is. Like this:

"... I never initiate a conversation but respond in a group with "Cool" or "Me too." My favorite song is whatever everyone else seems to be into, and I'm dying go see whatever movie you suggest. Honestly, it's a pretty easy way to live. All you have to do is shut yourself down and become a mirror for whomever you're talking to. (Also try not to use "whomever," even if it is correct to use it as a pronoun modifying the object of the verb. It qualifies as Digit-speak.)" (Page 8-9)

"We printed out Creepy's face and went up three flights to what passed for their CSI lab. It differed from TV in two majors ways: first, it was populated by both attractive and unattractive people and, second, the lights were on. All the way." (Page 39)

"The view was like a spa for my mind. Central Park is a perfectly shaped giant rectangle, and from a distance all of the trees appear to be the exact same height. The kidney shaped reservoir is slightly off center but is balanced by kidney-shaped meadows dotted by baseball diamonds." (Page 111)

Yes, Digit is a character I liked, and will remember. I'd be happy to read more books about her. 

The action in A Girl Named Digit isn't realistic, perhaps, but it is fast-paced and intriguing. I found myself wondering which characters might not be as they initially seemed, and also trying to crack codes myself along the way. There are examples of Fibonacci sequences and check-sum digits, as well as Caesar shift codes (this would be a great companion novel to Kristen Cashore's Bitterblue, in terms of the codes). I thought that Monaghan did a great job of including these mathematical details without making the explanations dry (though I'm not sure how an audio version of the book would work). 

Give A Girl Named Digit to any teens you know who are into math (whether openly or secretly) or spy novels. There is a romantic sub-plot (including wanting to but not actually having sex), and a bit of an obligatory rom-com movie ending, but I still think that there's enough humor and action to make this book boy- and girl-friendly. Recommended for anyone who doesn't take their thrillers too seriously, and likes reading about intelligent characters. 

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: June 5, 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).

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

JkrROUNDUPThe end of May children's literacy and reading news roundup, brought to you by Carol Rasco, Terry Doherty, and me, is now available at Carol's new blog, Quietly. The roundup is a tiny bit later than usual (due to some weather-related Internet issues on Carol's end), but is still chock-full of information about children's literacy and reading events, literacy and reading programs and research, and suggestions for growing bookworms. 

Here are a few highlights:

  • Betsy Bird has been posting the results from her latest picture book and chapter book polls. Anyone interested in finding great children's books should really take a look. Start here
  • See also Best Books for Babies. (The Fred Rogers Company supportsBest Books for Babies along with The School of Information Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC))
  • The May Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Hope is the Word.
  • Carol says: "You read often in our Roundups about summer reading issues.  I hope you are aware of the invitation issued by The New York Times Learning Network for you to “take to twitter” on this Thursday, June 7 to discuss your plans, your questions, your students’ and children’s ideas about #summerreading!  Let’s make the twitterworld well aware of this important period in the education of our children!"

And here are a couple of additional tidbits from me:

  • To Carol's list of friends to be remembered, lost during May, I must also add Ray Bradbury, who passed away yesterday. Leila has a roundup of obituaries at Bookshelves of Doom. 
  • 48hbc_newI think that a fitting tribute to all of the authors who have passed away this year would be to participate this weekend in MotherReader's 7th Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge. It's very simple. Pick any 48 hour period between 7 am Friday the 8th and 7 am Monday, the 11th. During that time, spend as much time as possible reading and blogging about books (middle grade and up). More details are here
  • RIF_Primary_VerticalOne particularly important point about the 48HBC. From Pam: "New this year, we'll be making ourselves a real readathon with a dedicated beneficiary. For the last few years we've been able to connect the 48HBC to charitable causes, while not officially being a fundraiser readathon. I would like to do so now with a pledge to Book People Unite and collect money for Reading is Fundamental. All participants should sponsor themselves with a pledge for the number of hours spent in the 48HBC and donate that amount directly through Reading is Fundamental This donation is on your honor and at your financial comfort level. You many also look for additional sponsors in your online and "real" life, which if nothing else, promotes the ideas of us book people, you know, uniting. While there are many great libraries and literary causes that need help in these difficult times, I think the timing of the Book People Unite is perfect for us to join forces for the greater good." 

But do check out the full roundup at Carol's. I'll be back mid-month with the next roundup, here at Jen Robinson's Book Page. You can also expect literacy links from all of us on Twitter in the meantime (@JensBookPage, @CHRasco, and @ReadingTub). Particularly tomorrow, when we'll be reading and participating in tweets about #SummerReading. Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. 

The Cloud Spinner: Michael Catchpool & Alison Jay

Book: The Cloud Spinner
Author: Michael Catchpool
Illustrator: Alison Jay
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5 and up

51TGCEDWJmL._SL500_AA300_The Cloud Spinner, written by Michael Catchpool and illustrated by Alison Jay, is a picture book that is basically a fable. A young boy has the gift of spinning clouds into beautiful cloth. He only uses his gift to make a couple of small scarves (one to protect from the sun, and the other to keep him warm), because his mother taught him that "enough is enough and not one stitch more." A greedy king, however, orders the boy to spin a long scarf, and a cloak, and dresses for the queen and the princess. Despite the boy's warning, the king insists, with tragic consequences. Only the brave actions of the young princess make things right again.

The Kirkus review for The Cloud Spinner said: “There are definitely lessons about taking only what you need, about care for the needs of others and about listening to what is unsaid, but they are fully inside the story and only add to the pleasure.” I think that's a good assessment of this book. One infers the lessons from the story, rather than feeling like the story was written solely to share the lessons (as is, alas, so often the case with picture books).

Catchpool uses a lush, descriptive vocabulary, with words like "glorious" and "galore". I can't even decide which page to quote for you, because all of them make me smile. There's a nice mix of lyrical and humorous, from passages like this:

"He spun the clouds as they passed in the morning and were gold with the rising sun.
He spun in the afternoon as the clouds sailed past, white as snowdrifts.
And he spun in the evening, when the clouds were crimson."

To passages like this:

"The King's face was a twist of scowls.
"I want those clothes and I order you to make them!")

I love "twist of scowls". This would make a good companion book to The Princess and the Pig, one of my favorite of last year's Cybils nominees, and a shortlist title.

Jay's illustration style reminds me a bit of Peter Brown's The Curious Garden, with lots of blues and greens, and the sky looming large. Jay renders each picture against a backdrop of fine cracks, however, making The Cloud Spinner seem like a series of old paintings. She used alkyd paint and crackle varnish on thick paper to achieve the effect, and, while subtle, this gives the book a unique flavor. There is also quite a bit of whimsy to the pictures. On the opening page spread, the configuration of sheep and a tree on a hill make a happy face. Later, the same hill is shown frowning. Most of the people are shown with over-sized bodies and tiny heads, particularly the foolish king. There are lots of details to reward careful re-reads.

The Cloud Spinner offers an engaging story that will make kids think, and illustrations that perfectly suit the tone of the book. This is a picture book that will appeal to slightly older readers (kindergarten and up), with a relatively complex storyline, and subtle visual humor. This one is definitely going on our keep shelf (though I don't think that Baby Bookworm, at 2, will appreciate it just yet). Highly recommended.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: March 13, 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).