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Posts from August 2014

Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life: P. J. Hoover

Book: Tut: The Story of my Immortal Life
Author: P. J. Hoover
Pages: 320 
Age Range: 9-12

The premise of Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life is that when King Tut was fourteen years old, his uncle tried to kill him. A god (Osiris) intervened, and granted Tut immortality. 3000 years later, Tut is living in Washington, DC, attending 8th grade, and living with the god Horus (in the form of a cat) and another immortal named Gil. As the story begins, signs become evident that Tut's evil uncle (also immortal) is nearby, and that a curse on Tut and his uncle is affecting citizens in DC. Tut wants to kill his uncle both to stop the curse and for vengeance. But it's not so easy to kill someone who has been immortal for 3000 years. 

Really, that's all you need to know. Either this premise is irresistible to you, or it's not. My 10-year-old self would certainly have fallen into the "irresistible" camp. I think that P. J. Hoover executed this premise well. She clearly did a ton of research about the ancient Egyptians and the mythology surrounding their gods (particularly Set, Isis, and Horus). She sets this research against elements of modern-day middle school, and the combination proves quite entertaining. 

Tut is an engaging character. Yes, he has a bit of an ego. He was raised to believe he was the most important person in his country, after all. He has these shabtis (little pottery soldiers) that serve him, and constantly prostrate themselves before him. The shabtis are hilarious, actually. It's a bit implausible, perhaps, that Tut has lived 3000 years and remains at the maturity level of a fourteen-year-old, but of course this makes the book work for the target audience, so we'll have to let that go. Ditto the question of whether one could really retain a red-hot hatred for someone over 3000 years. But Tut does display a certain world-weariness at times that rings true. 

Here is Tut's voice:

"Great Osiris, help me. I'd have skipped today if Gil hadn't insisted I come. Just thinking about this whole exhibit was starting to make my skin turn green. Yeah, green. It's this weird, thanks-to-Osiris thing that happens to me when I get nervous. But in my defense, these were the King Tut treasures we were talking about." (Page 33, ARC)

"If I had to be immortal, why couldn't I have been eighteen? Or twenty-one? Why did I have to be fourteen? It was perpetual puberty." (Page 39, ARC)

Being 14 forever is a pretty horrific thought to me as an adult. One more quote:

"We wound our way through the paths, stepping on graves as we went. That whole theory about never walking on someone's grave? It's a bunch of garbage. If graves weren't meant to be stepped on, they wouldn't still be on the ground. Still, with each step I took, my anxiety grew. The cemetery felt like a bucket of creepiness had been dumped on top of it, like ghosts and goblins lurked behind every grave, waiting to jump out at unsuspecting visitors." (Page 187, ARC)

Tut is constantly using expressions like "Great Amun." But he is modern, too, texting and using computers and so on. And he's realistic in his procrastination in terms of homework. I mean, if you were never going to advance to high school, why would you care what you learned in 8th grade? There's a boy named Henry who represents a more regular (albeit geeky) middle school sensibility (including anxiety about school assignments). Henry goes a long way, I think, towards keeping Tut accessible to young readers. 

The plotting in Tut is fast-paced and full of kid-friendly elements like hidden tunnels, mysterious artifacts, and poisonous snakes. While the immediate plot wraps up sufficiently, Tut leaves several questions open at the end of the book suggesting that at least one other story about Tut will follow. I hope so. Because the antics of a 14-year-old King Tut in modern-day DC are well worth another visit. Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life is a perfect choice to give to fans of Rick Riordan's books (Greek or Egyptian-themed), or anyone who likes to read about kids running around on their own, getting into danger. I think that Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life is going to do well

Publisher: Starscape (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: August 13

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out a 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. I currenty send the newsletter out every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have six book reviews (picture book to adult), two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently, and a post about the upcoming start of Cybils book award season. I also have a post about putting a toast rack full of books on the kitchen table, to encourage my daughter to read more. 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I read five middle grade books, two young adult books, and one adult reference book. I read:

I'm currently reading The Magic Half by Annie Barrows. I'm listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixAs always, you can see the list of books that we've been reading to Baby Bookworm here

What are you and your family reading these days? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Books at the Breakfast Table

BookRackPhotoZoe Toft at Playing by the Book shared a fun post a couple of weeks ago about sneaking in books at breakfast by using toast racks as book storage. I was immediately charmed by this idea, and had to try it myself. Toast racks are more common in the UK, where Zoe lives, than they are here in California, but I was able to find one on Amazon. This rack, stocked with some of our books, is shown to the left. After filling it, I placed it on my kitchen table, next to where my daughter (age four) usually sits.

I'm pleased to report that the book rack has been a hit. My daughter is not reading on her own, and she has lately shown reluctance to even look at books by herself. She wants to be read to, and that's that. So, she won't pick out books from the book rack and flip through them herself while she is eating breakfast, which would have been my first choice.

However, having the books there in front of her all the time has prompted her to ask to be read to more often. During breakfast or lunch, or after dinner (because I draw the line at actually interrupting dinner to read to her), she'll ask for a book or two or three from whichever adult is most handy. Since the outcome has been that we read more books to her, I will call this experiment a success. But now I'm going to have an extra task to restock the rack every few days...I am getting a bit tired of Glasses for D.W.

What storage techniques have you used to keep books accessible to your kids? 

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.  

The Hypnotists: Book 1 + 2: Gordon Korman

Book: The Hypnotists (Book 1) and Memory Maze (Book 2, Hypnotists)
Author: Gordon Korman
Pages: 240 each
Age Range: 8-12

The Hypnotists and Memory Maze are the first two books in a new series by Gordon Korman. The hero of the books is 12-year-old New Yorker Jackson (Jax) Opus. Jax has always had unusual eyes that change color and an odd tendency to have things go his way. When Jax starts to experience hallucinations (seeing himself from outside), and finds certain people jumping to obey his every whim, it becomes clear to the reader that Jax is a natural hypnotist. Eventually, Jax comes to the attention of Dr. Elias Mako, founder of an institute at which Jax can learn to control and exploit his skill. However, when one is dealing with hypnotists, it's hard to know who to trust. Jax eventually finds himself in a difficult situation. 

If you can let go of the "kid who thought he was ordinary, but turns out to have a special skill, and to actually be the most special of everyone with that skill" trope (which is everywhere these days), The Hypnotists is an enjoyable read. Jax has a realistic dynamic with his long-time best friend (who is color-blind, and thus can't be accidentally hypnotized by Jax). Jax has a keen sense of right and wrong, without being smarmy, and a realistic balance of freedom vs. parental supervision for a New York City 12-year-old. 

I found that the plot in the first book (The Hypnotists) took a bit of time to get going. There's a fair amount of set-up, and I was rather frustrated with Jax's slow pace at figuring out what was going on. Of course, I had the title of the book as a clue. But the later part of book includes plenty of action and suspense. The stakes are high for Jax personally, and for the world at large. 

I must admit that I enjoyed the details of revisionist history sprinkled throughout the book, as various obscure hypnotists are credited with having directed historical events. Like this:

"Jax was amazed to learn how often hypnotism had played a part in key world events. Sir Edmund Hillary would never have conquered Mount Everest if he hadn't been mesmerized to get over his fear of heights. Brahms was tone-deaf, and wouldn't have been able to write halfway-decent music if his wife hadn't been a gifted mind-bender. Lewis and Clark were both hypnotists, and had bent each other no less than twenty-seven times before they reached the Pacific. It was the only thing that kept them going." (Page 73, paperback edition)

This again is a trope that we've seen used in other series. (The half-bloods in Rick Riordan's series come to mind.) But Korman makes it fresh by selecting slightly quirky examples. The details of how the hypnotism works seem age-appropriate, and carry a refreshingly scientific bent (it's not just mysterious magic that just works - there are rules and skills to learn and practice).  

The best endorsement I can give you of The Hypnotists is that immediately after finishing it, I picked up the next book, Memory Maze. I won't say much about Memory Maze, to avoid spoilers for the first book. I'll just say that since Jax already understands who and what he is at the start of the book, the action picks up more quickly than in The Hypnotists. There are a couple of interesting new characters, including a 97-year-old billionaire and nosy pre-teen girl who can read lips. 

Memory Maze has some interesting things to say about what it might be like in practice to be a strong hypnotist. You'd never know whether people liked you for who you were, or because you were unconsciously influencing them. Jax can't even lose at chess, as it turns out, because his opponents try to please him by making poor moves. Then there are the ethical choices: when, if ever, is it ok to hypnotize other people? And how hard is it to tread the straight and narrow when you don't have to? 

The plot in Memory Maze, as befitting the title, is twisty, with the reader unsure of exactly what is going on inside of Jax's head. I enjoyed the second book more than I did the first, and I look forward to finding out what will have to Jax in the next Hypnotists title. I think that these books will be a hit with middle grade and middle school readers.

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: July 30, 2013 and July 29, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

The Cybils Are Nigh!

Cybils-Logo-2014-Round-SmI'm happy to report that the 2014 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (the Cybils Awards) are kicking off soon. As noted on the Cybils blog last week:

"Exciting things are happening in the Cybils world, and we're gearing up for our 2014 season! The call for judges opens August 18, so if you're interested in judging this year, please be sure to check back and apply between August 18 and September 5. We also have a shiny new website coming soon!

Nominations will be open from October 1-15, as usual, so start making your lists!"

The new website is gorgeous! We can't wait to share it with you. This year I will once again be acting as Literacy Evangelist for the Cybils. I'm also acting as Social Media Guru, which means that I'll be spreading the Cybils word on Twitter and Facebook. Our new website features a rotating quotes widget, so if you have any pithy words on why the Cybils Awards are the best thing since, well, the book, please do share them (here or on our Facebook or Twitter pages). 

We have several new members of the Cybils organizational team this year (with thanks and regrets to those who opted to step down), and will be introducing them on the new website soon. Stay tuned... 

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader: Kelly Jensen

Book: It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader
Author: Kelly Jensen
Pages: 278
Age Range: Adult (reference title for librarians and others who do reader's advisory for teens)

I'm not quite the target audience for It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader, but I've been following Kelly Jensen's blog for years, and I have a lot of respect for her knowledge of and advocacy for young adult fiction. So when she had a contest on her blog to win a copy of It Happens, I decided to enter. And I won! So now I'm here to tell you a bit about the book. 

It Happens is a reference title for anyone who provides reader's advisory to teens, and wants to do better at recommending contemporary realistic fiction. As a blogger/reviewer, I do some of what Kelly calls "passive reader's advisory" (recommending titles, and discussing what interests a particular book might fall under). I can imagine doing more active reader's advisory (where you discuss a teen's interest with them and recommend specific titles) when my daughter and her friends are teenagers. In the meantime, I do a little of that with my nieces, friends who read YA, etc.

Anyway, this book is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to get the right books into the hands of teens, particularly librarians and teachers. It Happens is both a primer on HOW to get the right book into the right hands and a resource with suggestions for exactly what those books might be. In Part 1, Kelly defines realistic contemporary young adult fiction, discusses why this genre is both important and under-publicized, and provides some general resources (book awards, etc.) for discovering titles. She also proposes methods for evaluating and categorizing YA titles, and concludes with a detailed chapter on reader's advisory skills. 

Here is Kelly's definition of contemporary YA, from the end of Chapter 1:

"Contemporary YA features young adult protagonists set in today's world incorporating today's issues, paralleling and intertwining with the values that every teen - and every reader - thinks about: family, friendship, growing up, loss, faith, the future, and many, many more." (Page 8)

She starts each chapter with a quote (some short, some long) from an author or a librarian or other gatekeeper. I found these quotations inspirational in many cases. Like this, from Lisa Schroeder:

"... But perhaps after closing the pages of a well-done contemporary YA novel, a teen will think: If she can make it through, I can, too." (Page 9)

That's why we're here, right? To find the books that can make a real different for kids. I also personally, as a member of the children's book blogging community, enjoyed seeing quotes from people whose blogs I've been reading for years, like Liz Burns and Sarah Gross. [Though I think it would have been helpful for readers less familiar with the community had at least the names of these people's blogs been included.] 

As a reviewer, I found that Chapter 4, on methods for evaluating fiction, resonated, even though (or perhaps because) some of the topics were things that I have been thinking about for a long time. Here's what Kelly has to say about critical evaluation:

"Critical evaluation highlights the elements of a text that work well and those that don't work quite so well. All books have their strengths and their weaknesses, and while critical evaluation sounds like a way to tease out and emphasize only the parts that don't work, that's not the case. Exploring what does and does not work at the same time offers a thorough means for understanding not just the book at hand, but fiction more widely. (Page 27)

All in all, I enjoyed the first part of the book, and learned a bit about book genres and reader's advisory. But for me, where It Happens really shines is in Part 2. In this section, Kelly provides fifteen book "annotations" for each of ten separate topics, thus profiling 150 books in detail. Her selections are all relatively current titles (from the past 10 years), and do not include the obvious, huge print run titles, which people already know about. 

Each annotation includes a cover image, a brief summary of the book, a link to the book's trailer, if available, and a list of "Appeal Factors" (e.g. "female main character", "moving", "deafness", etc.). The appeal factors are very useful (and an index of the factors is available at the end of the book). Kelly goes beyond the genres to get into real specifics, like books set in particular locations, books with people of color or non-traditional families, books about filmmaking or fishing, etc.  

Below that, Kelly also includes a brief section on "Read Alikes" for each book. These Read Alikes were what impressed me the most about It Happens. Rather than just including a list of similar books, Kelly discusses just what it is about this book that might appeal to readers who liked some other title. And then she'll also discuss other books that might make a good follow-on read, and WHY. These references, these connections between the books, really showcase Kelly's deep knowledge of the field. I didn't read every annotation in detail, but I found the Read Alikes fascinating. 

At the end of each chapter/topic, Kelly includes another list of related titles. Then, at the end of the book, she provides several chapters dedicated to books that are good conversations starters around specific issues like bullying and sexual assault. She discusses four or five books in detail for each topic. She gets into exactly what types of discussions a parent or teacher might launch based on having read each book. As the parent of a four year old girl, I'm hoping for an update of this section in about 8-10 years. But I'll keep this edition handy in any case. 

I do wish that It Happens was available as a digital text. It would be lovely to be able to click through to read more about the additional titles listed at the end of each section, or to click on an "Appeal Factor" listed at the end of a book profile and immediately bring up all of the other books listed under that same appeal factor. But it's nice to have It Happens in printed form as a reference to keep on my bookshelf, too. 

The very last chapter of It Happens is a call for readers of the book to advocate for contemporary YA fiction as a genre: to read extensively, and work hard to promote strong titles and get them into readers' hands. For example, Kelly suggests nominating strong contemporary YA titles for the YALSA and Cybils awards. [I, of course, especially appreciated several Cybils references throughout the book.] This is a positive note on which to leave readers, giving them strong next steps to take.  

I will also admit that I found parts of the book a bit physically difficult to read. It Happens is an oversize paperback, and while the format works well for the chapters with book descriptions, it's not quite a comfortable fit to put the book on your lap and read the first section straight through. Also, this section includes quite a few text boxes, set aside from the main text. Some of the text boxes were excerpts of the main text, while others were supplemental. I found this a bit confusing. Visually, the text boxes keep the oversized book from appearing too dense in the non-booklist sections, but functionally, I thought that the ones that didn't provide new information would have been better left out. But that's the most critical thing I have to say in my evaluation of the book. 

All in all, I think that It Happens is a useful resource for anyone who evaluates young adult fiction, including blogging reviewers like me. For those are true gatekeepers, out there in the trenches getting books into the hands of teens, it is essential. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: VOYA Press (@VOYAMagazine)
Publication Date: August 15, 2014
Source of Book: Won from the author in a raffle

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: August 8

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include book lists, growing bookworms, ebooks, apps, KidLitCon, Cybils, reading, schools, libraries, and summer reading.

Books and Authors

I can't believe that people are protesting The Scarecrows' Wedding b/c the bad guy smokes via @bkshelvesofdoom

Children’s Lit Questions From Beyond the Grave: A Wild Things! Interview of @SevenImp + @FuseEight by @100scopenotes

Book Lists

es! RT @BookChook: @JensBookPage Think u wd like: @BooksBabiesBows Ten Reasons to Read Aloud During Times of Tragedy …

New Stacked #BookList and general thoughts from Kimberly on Matriarchal Societies #yalit

Stacked: Get Genrefied: Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi) #yalit @catagator #BookList

Top Ten Novels in Verse by @katiestrawser @NerdyBookClub #kidlit

THIS is a great resource | Easy Reader Books That Are Actually Easy, selected by @momandkiddo

Nice list of Back to School Books for different ages from @bankstreetedu via @ChoiceLiteracy

Children's and YA books featuring unlikely friendships from the SSHEL #Library #BookList

5 Superhero Comics with Girl Power | Friday’s Five @5M4B

25 Contemporary Picture Books To Help Parents, Teachers, And Kids Talk About #Diversity @buzzfeed via @FuseEight

eBooks and Apps

Eight Apps to Support Early Reading and Writing | Cool Tools @ShiftTheDigital

Important thoughts from @MaryAnnScheuer | Reading Online: How will it affect developing readers?

Smartphones: The Silent Killer Of The Web As You Know It @ow at The Next Web via @cmirabile

Growing Bookworms

Great advice from @TrevorHCairney | Helping toddlers to develop reading comprehension #literacy

#RT @ReadAloud_org Babies are born learning and parents are a child's first and most important teacher. Download our 15 Books & Tips

Raising Readers: The Power of Rereading from @SunlitPages #literacy

10 easy tips for keeping the love of books alive in an early childhood classroom | @NorahColvin


On Poetry Friday, @JoneMac53 has A Couple of Announcements about #KidLitCon + the call for #Cybils judges

Various interesting #kidlit tidbits in: Morning Notes: See You in 2114 Edition — @100scopenotes

Kidlit PictureRT @KidLitCon: Check out some of the people who will be at this year's #KidLitCon. Will you be there, too?

A #Kidlitcon program teaser @charlotteslib (+a note that the deadline for panel ideas has been extended a week)

Congratulations to @FuseEight + @SevenImp on the publication of Wild Things! Lots of fun stuff planned

At A Year of Reading, @MaryLeeHahn + @frankisibberson are Celebrating the fabulous @KateMessner

On Reading, Writing, and Publishing

"Being readers makes us friends" | Happy Esther Day, Nerdy Friends! | @CBethM @NerdyBookClub

Gorgeous post on The State of Photography Illustration in 2014 @100scopenotes #kidlit

Interesting: Wikipedia, Amelia Bedelia, and Our Responsibility Regarding Online Sources — @fuseeight

Programs and Research

New @RalphLauren program has designs to promote kids' #Literacy, 25% of price goes to @ReachOutAndRead @Scholastic

Very nice, from SFC Blog: The Y Helps Kids Combat ‘Summer Slide’ via @FuseEight #literacy

Scientists Say Child's Play Helps Build A Better Brain, more important than class time | @NPR  via @PWKidsBookshelf

Schools and Libraries

Love it! A Librarian's Guide to getting to 10,000 Steps in a day from @abbylibrarian

TEN TIPS FOR A PERFECT AUTHOR VISIT at school by Michael Shoulders | @NerdyBookClub #kidlit

Nice idea to encourage reading outside of class | The Phenomenon of the 100 Page Club @stephaseverson @NerdyBookClub

Summer Reading

Rocking #SummerReading and STEAM @RIFWEB

#SummerReading Tip36 @aliposner | As we head into August, take a moment to reflect on your kids’ reading lives |

#SummerReading Tip37 @aliposner | When in transit to your destination this summer, establish some no technology time

#SummerReading Tip38 @aliposner | Parents of boys, pay special attention to your boys’ reading this summer

#SummerReading Tip39 @aliposner | Consider motivating summer reading with some great graphic novels!

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

Bats in the Band: Brian Lies

Book: Bats in the Band
Author/Illustrator: Brian Lies 
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

Oh happy day! There is a new book in Brian Lies' Bats series, after Bats at the Library (review), Bats at the Beach, and Bats at the Ballgame (review). Lies' accomplished bats are back, and this time, they are making music with Bats in the Band. While the musical evening setting doesn't resonate quite as much for me as the earlier library or baseball game settings, it's still lovely to be immersing myself in Lies' detailed illustrations, and reading his rhyming but varied prose aloud. In this story, as night falls one evening, a number of bats experience a common yen to make music. They converge on a "summertime theater", deserted late at night, and engage in an impromptu series of musical acts. 

 Here are my two favorite snippets of text:

"Some bats have instruments perfect in size,
Others, without them, will just improvise.
Behind the stage curtain, they're getting in tune,
making up things out of straws, out of spoons.


"Then the shimmering vibrations
dwindle down and fade away--
and a silence fills our ears,
as loud as anything we played."

See what I mean? Each set of couplets rhymes, making Bats in the Band nice for read-aloud, but because the passages don't all have the same number of syllables, it doesn't feel sing-songy. I love how Lies uses strong vocabulary words, like "dwindle" and "shimmering". 

And the bats! Set against mainly dark backdrops, the bats have finely textured fur, bright black eyes, and jaunty ears. Their instruments mostly look like real instruments. However, careful study of the illustrations reveals things like a bat guitarist sitting on a champagne cork, and scraps of straws and bottle-caps put into service as instruments.

Bats in the Band has a delightfully silly premise, brought to life with a joie de vivre that could awaken in any reader a fresh appreciation for music. Highly recommended, and a must-read for fans of the series. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

The Summer I Saved the World . . . in 65 Days: Michele Weber Hurwitz

Book: The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days
Author: Michele Weber Hurwitz
Pages: 272
Age Range: 10 and up

The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days is about a thirteen-year-old girl who decides to do "one good thing every single day", anonymously, over the summer before starting high school. This would not ordinarily be my sort of thing. But The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days is about much more than the good deeds themselves. It's about that awkward stage in life when you start to grow in different directions from your childhood friends. It's about neighbors, and family, and the very early stages of adolescent attraction. And of all of this is exactly my sort of thing. I liked this book very much. 

Nina is someone who most readers will be able to relate to on one level or another. She likes playing basketball (though she's not sure she can make the high school team). She's exploring a new interest in art. She has a group of friends that she's spent time with because of common activities, but isn't sure she really belongs with them. She plays cheerfully with the little boy next door. She feels frustrated by her work-obsessed parents, and mourns a time when her family was different. And she both loves and is frustrated by her long-time best friend, Jorie. She declares herself "in beween everything". So many of us have been there at one point or another. 

The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days could almost have been written about a girl about to start middle school, instead of high school. It is definitely age-appropriate for middle schoolers - there are a couple of kisses; even the rebellious older brother sits around with his friends and plays poker and drinks root beer.

It's also relatively timeless. Much is made of Nina's not-very-functional cell phone. To me this seemed to be a device to keep Nina focused on the real world, and real conversations. There's plenty of playing ball in the cul-de-sac, gardening, and going to the playground. 

One thing that I really liked about this book was the way that the author highlights everyone in Nina's small neighborhood. This includes people of all ages, and at least a bit of ethnic diversity. There's a little map of the cul-de-sac at the front of the book, adding to cozy feel of the setting.

There's no question that The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days is a feel-good, coming of age story. Nina learns to "step up", instead of waiting for other people to do things. Her actions help to draw the neighborhood together (despite the suspicious reaction of one resident). But Michele Weber Hurwitz keeps the book from feeling message-y by focusing on Nina's first-person voice, and by making it clear that everything Nina does is self-directed. Here's what Nina has to say about it:

"I've never been terrific at finishing projects. This past year, I started a scrapbook, a journal, three books, daily yoga stretches, and a beauty routine involving a weekly mask and blackhead strips. I didn't continue any of them. I got bored, distracted. But the sixty-five things are something I want to finish. I have to. They're sneaky and fun and exciting--thinking of them, figuring out how to keep them secret. Every time, I get this filled-up, kind of powerful feeling. Strong. Hopeful." (Page 53)

The Summer I Save the World ... in 65 Days is a very nice read for middle schoolers, more girls than boys, I think (particularly given the pink and yellow cover). It addresses that yen that kids get sometimes to be a better person, and also explores the "in between" times that arise as kids grow up, and sometimes grow away from other people. There's a light romance and a smidgen of family drama to keep things interesting. The Summer I Saved the World .. in 65 Days is a fun book with heart. Recommended!

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Comics Squad: Recess!: Jennifer L. Holm and others

Book: Comics Squad: Recess!
Authors: Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, Jarrett Krosoczka, Raina Telgemeier & Dave Roman, Dan Santat, Dav Pilkey, Ursula Vernon, Eric Wight, and Gene Luen Yang
Pages: 144
Age Range: 7-10

Comics Squad: Recess! is a new collaborative book produced by a team of today's top cartoonists/illustrators/graphic novelists. It features eight stories, all told in comic strip format. The stories are set in an elementary school environment, and are relevant to the concerns of younger elementary schoo kids. Oh, and they are funny, of course. 

Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, creators of the Babymouse and Squish series, and Jarrett Krosoczka, creator of the Lunch Lady series, are the editors. Babymouse and Lunch Lady make a few cameo appearances before and between the other stories - I guess you could say that they are the informal hosts to the book. Babymouse also appears in one of the stories, repeatedly thwarted in her "Quest for Recess" ("Typical!". Lunch Lady is actually out sick, but Betty is on the job (and stocked up with new inventions) in "Betty and the Perilous Pizza Day".

As I've personally read most of the Babymouse and Lunch Lady books already, I was interested to see what the other authors would come up with. It's quite a varied lot. I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek humor of Gene Yang's "The Super-Secret Ninja Club", and the frankly adorable cupcake in Eric Wight's "Jiminy Sprinkles in "Freeze Tag"". Ursula Vernon's "The Magic Acorn" features squirrels meeting up with a tiny alien in an acorn-shaped spaceship. "The Rainy Day Monitor" by Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier celebrates the joys of pretending (with some pretty funny, mostly fake celebrity cameos). Dan Santat, on the other hand, mocks the idea of writing a 300 word essay on The Giving Tree, while giving the teeny-tiniest hint of a middle grade romance. 

My favorite story was Dav Pilkey's "Book 'Em, Dog Man". Pilkey writes this as if it were the work of a pair of comic-obsessed young boys. The story is introduced with a letter written by the disapproving teacher of the boys, like this: "As you will see, this comic book contains multiple scenes of stealing, violence, and unlawfulness... and don't get me started on the spelling and grammar!" Personally, I thought that the second-grade-appropriate spelling was hilarious ("desidid", "excape", etc.). 

But it's all fun. Though the tone and style of the eight stories varies, a common orange and black color palette across the book lends a certain visual consistency. 

Comics Squad: Recess! is dedicated to The Nerdy Book Club, which I thought was a particularly appropriate touch. The Nerdy Book Club members, like the authors of Comics Squad, dedicate their working lives to ensuring the kids find reading fun. 

Comics Squad: Recess! is an excellent introduction for younger kids to graphic novels. Including a range of authors ensures that each reader is bound to find at least one story that resonates. This is a book that all elementary school libraries will want to carry (probably in multiple copies). Just be prepared for requests for more of Comics Squad! Fortunately, the authors have other titles available. Comics Squad: Recess! is the absolute epitome of "kid-friendly". Highly recommended. I'll be keeping my copy for when my daughter is a tiny bit older. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: August 1

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include authors and illustrators, book lists, diversity, growing bookworms, events, summer reading, summer slide, literacy programs, kidlitcon, writing, movies, and schools.

Authors and Illustrators

Wild Things! Funky Buddha Parties to Children’s Books: Before They Were Authors + Illustrators @SevenImp @FuseEight

Fun! Books the @growingbbb family's favorite Children's Authors Liked When They Were Kids #kidlit

Book Lists

A timely list! 3 on a YA Theme: Summer Camp | @catagator @bookriot #yalit

100 Children's Books to Read in a Lifetime from @Amazon is a pretty nice list via @PWKidsBookshelf

A Tuesday Ten: SF-based Time Travel in #kidlit | Views From the Tesseract #BookList

Books to Help Your Child With Common Kid Problems | @BookishHQ #BookList #kidlit

From @CoffeeandCrayon | A List of Books About Starting Kindergarten #kidlit

New #BookList from Stacked: #YAlit involving Hacking, Gaming & Virtual Reality

Picture Books for Young Writers | Lit For Kids Blog via @ChoiceLiteracy #kidlit

A Top Ten Featuring the Coretta Scott King Book Awards by @medinger @NerdyBookClub #kidlit

Nice list of Middle Grade titles for #WeNeedDiverseBooks from @girlsincapes via @charlotteslib

Stacked: Censorship, Challenges, and Other Forms of Protest: A Reading List from @catagator


Congratulations to #WeNeedDiverseBooks for incorporating + having a great advisory board @sljournal

Go Doc McStuffins! Race in Toyland: A Nonwhite Doll Crosses Over @NYTimes via @PWKidsBookshelf

Sigh! Infographic: The Diversity Gap in Sci-Fi & Fantasy Films. @bkshelvesofdoom @leeandlow

Events, Programs, and Research

Very cool! School Librarian Fights Summer Slide with School Bus-Turned-Bookmobile | @sljournal

FirstBookSummer_ReadingEncouraging news from @FirstBook blog: How Kansas City Kids Beat Summer Slide #SummerReading

Neat idea! Richmond mom brings literacy to laundromats | @KALW in SF via @PWKidsBookshelf

"This summer, the streets of London have been filled with 50 book-shaped benches, celebrating a range of books"

Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers | @HornBook Colloquium sounds neat #HBAS14

Press Release: A Conference on Censorship in #kidlit and a Call for Proposals @fuseeight @ArneNixonCenter

Learning To Read May Take Longer Than We Thought @NPR via @PWKidsBookshelf #literacy

Growing Bookworms

This is awesome! I want one! Sneaking Books in at breakfast: toast racks as book storage | @playbythebook

The Maze Runner: Hooking Teachers + Reluctant Readers Since 2009 – Review by @shkrajewski @NerdyBookClub

Keep calm + read to your child, @JGCanada advises parents worried about their kids not yet reading

Don't miss: Getting Boys Excited About Reading: Ideas & Resources from @TrevorHCairney


KidlitCon2014_cubeWendie Old has all the links you need to learn about this year's #KidLitCon #kidlit #yalit

#KidLitCon 2014 Still Wants YOU! says co-organizer @aquafortis | She just registered. How about you?

Children's + YA BOOK blogging friends! This is the last week for Session Proposals for #KidLitCon14

Lots of good stuff in this week's Fusenews, including a plug for #KidLitCon14 from @fuseeight

A Little Shout-Out to #KidlitCon from co-organizer Tanita Davis: The more we talk about things like #diversity...

"My best memories of #KidLitCon are getting to meet people in real life" | @LizB on why you should attend

How I presented at #Kidlitcon, and how you can too! from this year's Program Organizer @charlotteslib

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Diversity + How Can YOU Contribute to the Conversation at #KidLitCon Tanita Davis

On Reading, Writing, Publishing

Middle Grade and YA: Where to Draw the Line? (+ where to shelve the books in the store) @PublishersWkly #kidlit

I feel like this too: Books as Traveling Companions through life by @AmericanClassrm @NerdyBookClub

"Read-alouds can sometimes be just as important to the teacher in the classroom" @rantryan @NerdyBookClub

I collect bookmarks, too. Loved: Handmade Mini Bookmarks + Books About Reading from @momandkiddo

Movies and Video

I am intrigued... The Famous Five are headed to the big screen, via @bkshelvesofdoom

Wild Things! Tar Babies + Cannibals: Children’s Literature + Problematic Cinematic Adaptations @FuseEight + @SevenImp

#KidLit Film Adaptations: The Good, The Bad, and the Traumatizing at Wild Things! @SevenImp @FuseEight

Who would have thought? 8 Reasons Why @momandkiddo Loves Pokémon


At Literate Lives, suggestions from a dad to his daughter, a first-time first-grade teacher

The plot to destroy education: Why technology could ruin American classrooms — by trying to fix them @salon

An idea for teachers: Battle of the Books by Sherry Gick @LibraryFanatic @NerdyBookClub

Summer Reading

RT @ErinMargolin: SO GOOD! 10 Tips on How to Avoid the Summer Slide … via @bonbonbreak

National Book Foundation Launches New #SummerReading Program in NYC via @PWKidsBookshelf

#SummerReading Tip33 @aliposner | Have a lemonade stand…and, tie it to #literacy! |

#SummerReading Tip35 from @aliposner | Parents, participate in a READING IN THE WILD scavenger hunt! | @donalynbooks

Nancy Howe and Rosanne Macek: Keep our kids off the summer slide w/ #SummerReading programs @MercuryNews

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.