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Posts from September 2014

The Worst Princess: Anna Kemp & Sara Ogilvie

Book: The Worst Princess (iBooks link)
Author: Anna Kemp
Illustrator: Sara Ogilvie
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-8

The Worst Princess, by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie, is an antidote to tales of conventional Disney-fied princesses who sit around and wait to be rescued. Well, Princess Sue does initially sit trapped in a tower, waiting to be rescued. She is utterly bored, and is thrilled when a prince finally comes to set her free. But then she is chagrined when the prince expects her to spend her time trapped (for safety) in a penthouse tower of his own castle. At this point, however, the princess rebels, and establishes a mutually beneficial alliance with a fire-breathing dragon. The prince (a "twit") ends up with a demolished castle and burned underwear. 

By keeping the story humorous, Kemp avoids making The Worst Princess feel didactic. She uses rhyming couplets that are generally pretty conventional, but sometimes surprise (like "awed" and "sword"). Here are a couple of examples to give you a feel for the text:

"Princess Sue! That's quite enough!"
The prince was back, and in a huff.
"Where's your tower? Just look at your dress!
You really are the worst princess."

"Also, Susan, beg your pardon,
why's there a dragon in my garden?"

The Worst Princess is a quick, bouncy read-aloud. 

Sara Ogilvie's bright illustrations lend an appropriately unconventional air to the book. When she is rescued, Princess Sue is wearing yellow high-tops, while the snooty prince wears high-heeled boots. As Princess Sue grabs him and kisses him upon her rescue, his face turns a pink that matches the large feather atop his armor. The red and orange dragon looks friendly, and Princess Sue is at her best looking disheveled. (She bears a passing resemblance to Pippi Longstocking, actually.)

As the mother of a daughter, I appreciate the message of this story (Rescue yourself! don't be conventional!). But I must confess that my four-year-old was less than wowed. Perhaps she has seen too many conventional Disney princesses to accept this one. She just didn't get it. But I say, all the more reason that we should keep The Worst Princess on our shelf. The Worst Princess is a title that I think libraries should stock, and display prominently, as an antidote to more passive princess depictions. Kemp's rhyming text and Ogilvie's quirky pictures make it a fun read for home or school. Recommended. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: September 10

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 currently send the newsletter out every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this relatively brief issue I have four book reviews (picture book to young adult) and two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently. I had a bit of travel and a lot of work over the past couple of weeks, so that's all I have for your this time. 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I apparently only completed two books, one middle grade and one young adult. I read:

  • J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Scholastic. Middle Grade/Middle School. Completed September 8, 2014, on MP3. So much better than the Order of the Phoenix!
  • Garth Nix: Clariel. Harper Collins. Young Adult. Completed August 31, 2014. Review to come. 

I'm currently reading Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson in print and The Long Way Home (A Chief Inspector Gamache novel) by Louise Penny on Kindle. I'm listening to the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by (of course) J.K. Rowling. I hope to have more reading time next week. 

As always, you can see the list of books that we've been reading to Baby Bookworm here. She recently, after we watched the movie Ramona and Beezus for Family Movie Night, asked me to start reading the book to her. She received the boxed set of Beverly Cleary's Ramona books from her godparents a while back, but hadn't shown interest before. We've been reading a few pages a night, before switching to picture books. She does seem ready to listen to a chapter book like this, at least in small doses. We left the book for several days when we were away for a long weekend, and when we picked it back up, she remembered a detail that I didn't. She especially enjoys predicting what Ramona will do in various situations. I am far from sure that we'll get through the whole book any time soon, but it's fun to dabble.  

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

Rose and Rose and the Lost Princess: Holly Webb

Books: Rose and Rose and the Lost Princess  (Rose iBooks link) and (Rose and the Lost Princess - iBooks link)
Author: Holly Webb
Pages: 240 and 256
Age Range: 8-12

Rose by Holly Webb was shortlisted for the 2013 Cybils Awards in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. I've also seen a number of positive reviews around the blogs. So when Rose popped up as a Kindle daily deal, I decided to give it a look. And I was immediately hooked (to the point of having to purchase the second book immediately after finishing the first).

Rose is young girl (10 or 11) who has been raised in an orphanage in an alternate version of Victorian London in which magic exists. As the story begins, Rose has just discovered within herself what appears to be magical ability. Rose squashes that down as secondary to her life-long dream of getting a job as a maid, so that she can work to support herself. But, as it happens, the household that hires Rose turns out to be that of a well-known magician, Mr. Fountain. And despite her best efforts to keep her special abilities under wraps, Rose soon finds herself embroiled in a magical mystery involving kidnapped children.

I found Rose to be a charming (a word that I don't use lightly) mixture of magical and historical fiction. Rose is thrilled to have multiple dresses of her own, and a tiny little servant's room up six flights of stairs. She has another maid as a rival, and a potential friend (and perhaps eventual love interest?) in the household page / kitchen boy, Bill. But she also finds herself able to understand the thoughts of the household cat, and occasionally indulging in unintentional acts of magic. When she learns that her best friend from the orphanage has been kidnapped, she is unable to stop herself from taking action to help.

In short, Rose offers strong characters, detailed world-building, and an appealing premise (maid as reluctant magician). I found Rose, and its title character, a delight. I highly recommend it for middle grade readers, especially girls.  

I can't say that I enjoyed Rose and the Lost Princess quite as much. In this second book, Rose is still working as a maid, but she is also training part time as Mr. Fountain's second apprentice. A freakishly cold and snowy winter is being blamed on magicians, and the country's beloved young princess is in danger. Rose is eventually sent to the palace to help the princess, and hopefully help save the reputations of magicians throughout the city. 

I still enjoyed Rose and the Lost Princess, but I didn't love it the way I did the first book. Maybe because the world-building was already more set, so it wasn't as interesting. Maybe because the more sterile palace setting lacked the warmth of Mr. Fountain's house. Maybe because people who were nice to Rose in the first book, like Mr. Fountain's cook, aren't reacting well to her magical abilities. Maybe because I just don't like winter. I don't know. This book just seemed a bit more bleak. 

I'll likely get a yen to check in with what's going on with Rose again in the future, but I'm fine with taking a break from the series right now. Still, I highly recommend Rose. When I was reading it I was consumed by Rose's magic-tinged world. Rose would make a great introduction to speculative fiction for any middle grade reader. And for such readers, it's a wonderful thing that there are other books in the series. There are two more to come. This series was originally published in the UK, and is being released on a compressed schedule here in the US. 

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky 
Publication Date: September 2013, April 2014
Source of Book: Purchased them

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

Storm: The SYLO Chronicles #2: D. J. MacHale

Book: Storm: The SYLO Chronicles #2 (iBooks link)
Author: D. J. MacHale
Pages: 496
Age Range: 10 and up

Last year I read and enjoyed the first book in D. J. MacHale's SLYO Chronicles series. When I saw Ms. Yingling's positive review of the second book, Storm, last week, I immediately had to read it. I'm happy to report that I was not disappointed. I read it compulsively over the weekend, and can't wait for the next SYLO book (due out in October). This review will contain spoilers for the first book (it would be impossible not to, though I'll try to keep them to a minimum). 

The SYLO series started with a mysterious government quarantine of a small island off the coast of Maine. Book 1, SYLO, was fast-paced and intriguing, with a nicely-realized depiction of island life, and the reluctant coming together of four teens.

In the second book, D. J. MacHale dramatically raises the stakes for teen hero Tucker Pierce. Storm begins immediately following the events of SYLO, with Tucker and his friends having escaped Pemberwick Island. They discover that the epic battle that they witnessed between SYLO (the military organization that quarantined and tried to kill them) and another branch of the US Military was NOT an isolated event. They find themselves in a post-apocalyptic landscape, unsure of where to go or who to trust. But Tucker, at least, knows what he wants: revenge against SYLO (or whoever else may have been ultimately responsible) for the death of his best friend. 

Storm is action-packed and suspenseful. There are big picture questions about what is going on in the world, and what the fate of humanity will be. And there are more immediate questions about how to survive, and who to rely upon. These questions are set against various battles and chases, with teen relationship dramas provided as counterpoint. There is a nice balance between introspection (wondering what is going on, and what the implications are of what is going on) and action. 

Tucker throughout, and despite his desire for revenge, remains the moral center for the book. Even after the trials that the teens have been through, he continually strives to do the right thing, and to encourage the others to do so, too. He is a solid hero, one that readers will respect and relate to. Tori, a schoolmate who helped Tucker to survive in the first book, is also a strong, likable character. The other teens, Olivia and Kent, as well as new traveling companion Jon, are a bit more mixed, in terms of likability (especially Kent, who is a bit of a jerk). Wondering whether any of the characters, besides Tucker, can be fully trusted adds to Storm's suspense.   

Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Tucker's voice:

"Home. It's a simple little word that means so much. It's not just a place, it's a concept. Home is safety. It's where you are surrounded by loved ones who watch out for you. It's the one place where you will always be welcomed, no matter what craziness may be going on around you. I think for most people it's the single most important place in the world. I know that's true because I no longer have one." (Page 20)

"The water was still warm. That wouldn't last. Once it ran out, there would be no way to heat it again. There was no electricity and therefore no lights. Or heat. Or refrigeration. We didn't have cell phones or radios or Internet or any of the other things we had always taken for granted. A hot shower was a luxury that wouldn't be repeated until we reconnected with civilization." (Page 43) 

I also personally appreciated scenes set in several familiar Boston locales, including Fenway Park, though I'll spare you the detailed quotes.

Storm reminded me a little bit of Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave (though in Storm we don't know whether or not there are aliens involved). I would say, however, that SYLO and Storm could be read by a slightly younger audience, suitable for middle school as well as high school (Ms. Yingling also gave the thumbs up for this, just barely). Fans of SYLO will definitely want to check out Storm (or perhaps wait until Strike comes out in October). Book 2 is, I think, better than Book 1. Anyone who enjoys fast-paced thrillers featuring teen heroes, with or without post-apocalyptic elements, will want to give the SYLO Chronicles a look. 

Publisher: Razorbill (@RazorbillBooks)
Publication Date: March 25, 2014
Source of Book: Bought it

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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: September 5

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include book lists, the cybils awards, diversity, growing bookworms, kidlitcon, nonfiction, schools, libraries, and Dr. Seuss. 

Books and Book Lists

These are so fun! 2013-2014 #kidlit yearbook superlatives from @HornBook

New at Stacked: Get Genrefied: Mythology in #yalit #BookList

A celebration of #YAlit about teens who work, from @bkshelvesofdoom @KirkusReviews #kidlit

Children's Books for Hispanic Heritage Month from @momandkiddo #kidlit #BookList

10 Book Characters Who Would Be Awesome Friends by @dailymayo @NerdyBookClub #kidlit

Mighty Girl Book List, various cultures + times: Ages 11-14 | @WeCouldBFriends via @CBCBook #kidlit

10 Books By Women (About Girls) That Boys Should Read from @brandymuses inspired by @Book_Nut #kidlit


Cybils-Logo-2014-Web-ButtonInterested in the #Cybils book awards? Sign up for our new email newsletter: #kidlit #yalit

CYBILS--Submit to be a Judge Today! why you should apply, from new YA nonfiction organizer @scharle4

New post: Meet the Organizers: @SheilaRuth | Publisher Liason (and more!) | #Cybils Awards #kidlit

New post: Meet the 2014 #Cybils Organizers: Anne Levy, Executive Director (aka Cybils Boss Lady) |

CybilsPhotoJenMy profile is up today @Cybils blog. I'm #Literacy evangelist and social media guru this year

Must-read from Jean Little Library: Why you should apply for #Cybils (preferably in my category, but ...)

There's a week left to apply for the #Cybils...and here's a YA Speculative Fiction Winner's Poll @charlotteslib

New #Cybils post: Meet the Organizers: Melissa Fox @Book_Nut , Blog Editor 


Talking with Kids about Ferguson: Recommended Titles on Race & Equality from @SproutsBkshelf #diversity

Brown Bookshelf: Nominations Now Open for 28 Days Later! Seeking African American authors/illustrators to highlight

To Achieve #Diversity In Publishing, A Difficult Dialogue Beats Silence @NPRCodeSwitch via @CBCBook

#WeNeedDiverseBooks to Launch a #Diversity in the Classroom Initiative | @DiverseBooks @CBCBook

Growing Bookworms

In-depth review @playbythebook of new book for parents called Help Your Child Love Reading

Raising Readers: 3 Ways to Learn the Alphabet from @SunlitPages #literacy

Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers, by David Riley @BookChook #literacy

Beautiful! 21 Cozy Makeshift Reading Nooks @IAM486 @buzzfeed via @ChoiceLiteracy #literacy

"What kids read from the youngest age can shape so much of who they are, + who they see themselves becoming" Ann Dye

Kidlitcon / Kidlitosphere

A Year of Reading is Celebrating Amy Ludwig VanDerwater this month @MaryLeeHahn @frankisibberson

NonfictionmondayWendie's Wanderings: #Nonfiction Monday has moved to Facebook #kidlit

The Uncommon Corps: The #Nonfiction Minute Goes Live, w/ daily short writing and recordings from nonfiction authors

Saturday Six: Reasons you should go to #KidLitCon from Becky Levine (who will be there)

On Reading, Writing, and Publishing

Inside Dr. Seuss Inc.: How a Publisher Keeps Reinventing Seussville @WSJ @RandomHouseKids #kidlit

Schools and Libraries

Why librarians offer storytime (to help kids succeed in school) by @abbylibrarian @alscblog

The Uncommon Corps: What We Don't Know Hurts Us, why librarians should be aware of books for stats collectors #kidlit

Michelle Colte Named School Librarian of the Year | @sljournal

"The librarian is the heart of the school, the center of #literacy " | Hug your librarian today, says @haleshannon

Using Comics for Information Reports from @BookChook (a good format for kids who need extra help)

Some suggested "essential ingredients for imagination to flourish in an early childhood classroom" @NorahColvin #ECE

© 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.

Out of My Mind: Sharon M. Draper

Book: Out of My Mind (iBooks Link)
Author: Sharon M. Draper
Pages: 320
Age Range: 10 and up

I've been in a bit of a reading funk lately, starting books and abandoning them after 10 or 100 pages. That's why it was so refreshing to me to discover Sharon M. Draper's Out of My Mind. This book grabbed me from the very first page, and still has not let go, two days after finishing it. 

Melody is a brilliant young girl with a photographic memory (probably) and a passion for words. No one knows this, however, because Melody spends her days trapped in a wheelchair, unable to utter more than a few grunt-like sounds. What bothers Melody is not so much her inability to do anything for herself, but her inability to communicate with her family, let alone with the larger world. 

This pulled me in: 

"I have no idea how I untangled the complicated process of words and thought, but it happened quickly and naturally. By the tie I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings.

But only in my head.

I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old."

And things like this kept me reading:

"It's like I've always had a painted musical sound track playing background to my life. I can almost hear colors and smell images when music is played." (Page 5)

"It's like I live in a cage with no door and no key. And I have no way to tell someone how to get me out." (Page 38)

"When I sleep, I dream. And in my dreams I can do anything. I get picked first on the playground for games. I can fun so fast! I take gymnastics, and I never fall off the balance beam. I know how to square-dance, and I'm good at it. I call my friends on the phone, and we talk for hours. I whisper secrets. I sing." (Page 51)

You get the idea. There is much more to Out of My Mind than Melody explaining her situation, of course. Things happen in Melody's family, and at her school. A nation-wide quiz contest for middle schoolers becomes a major plot point. There are secondary characters to cheer for, and others to sneer at, and still others that fall somewhere in the realistic in-between. 

But, at heart, Out of My Mind is about Melody and her actions and reactions. Because her lows are so very low, even small accomplishments are cause for celebration, by both Melody and the reader. 

Out of My Mind is a book that drops the reader into the shoes of a character with severe physical limitations, and makes her real. I felt so frustrated on Melody's behalf - so angry when people underestimated or belittled her. I feel like I've gained a degree of empathy for people with cerebral palsy that I didn't have before. Draper manages this without heavy-handed platitudes or giving me the impression that I should react a certain way. Instead, she gets out of the way, and lets Melody tell us what she thinks and feels. Powerful stuff, with a soft-spoken delivery. 

I highly recommend Out of My Mind to advanced elementary school and middle school readers and up, girls or boys. For younger kids, Melody's vocabulary might be a tad intimidating. In fact, my initial reaction to Melody's voice was that her language was too poised and advanced for an 11-year-old narrator. I concluded, however, that this was intentional, and fit with who Melody was. 

I will not forget Melody any time soon, and I hope that many other readers, kids and adults, will be able to get to know her, too. Out of My Mind is something special. 

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (@SimonKids) 
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle during #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign

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