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Posts from April 2015

Hold Me Like a Breath: Once Upon a Crime Family: Tiffany Schmidt

Book: Hold Me Like a Breath: Once Upon a Crime Family
Author: Tiffany Schmidt
Pages: 400
Age Range: 13 and up

Hold Me Like a Breath is the first book in Tiffany Schmidt's new Once Upon a Crime Family series. It's about a teenage girl who is a member of a mafia Family that has become wealthy by providing black market organs. And it is a fabulous book. I read it for National Readathon Day, and it easily kept my attention for all 400 pages. 

Hold Me Like a Breath is set in a kind of alternate reality in which federal regulation of organ donation has become so strict that most people die while awaiting transplants. This, naturally enough, opens up an opportunity for organizations that can provide organs, at least for those who can afford them. Penelope Landlow is kept largely out of her family's business, but believes that they are helping people who would otherwise die while on the transplant list. Her family, and the extended Family, worry about an act working its way through congress that might legalize people's selling of their organs, and thus change the Landlow family business forever. 

Penelope leads a highly sheltered life, even by mafia standards, because she has a rare platelet disorder that means that she bruises from the slightest touch. No one can hug her. Even a simple fall can land her in the Clinic on her family's estate. She requires regular platelet transfusions, and lives a victim to her "counts". Bored out of her mind, what she really wants is to go to school.

However, when danger invades Penny's sheltered estate, she gets more of the real world than she had bargained for. She has to figure out, rapidly, who she is and what she stands for, against a backdrop of extremely fragile health. (An afterword reveals that the seed for Penny's character came from the tale of The Princess and the Pea, someone who bruises so easily that it colors her life.) 

I quite like that Penny is NOT the (now) traditional "strong female." She can literally bruise from someone tickling her. When her counts are low, she can trace faces onto her skin, or pick up the pattern from a crocheted afghan. She spends her life privileged and sheltered, and when things go wrong, her anguish and indecision come across as real. But she's also the daughter of a crime lord, and she has absorbed important lessons about survival, too. She is unique and compelling.

I found the plot of Hold Me Like a Breath riveting. There were a couple of twists that I did see coming, but Schmidt's writing was so vivid that I read compulsively anyway. My only complaint was a coincidence that drove a major plot point, but even that did keep me guessing (in a "How can this be? Is this not what I think?" sort of way).

Hold Me Like a Breath also includes elements of love and longing, tricky things when you can't even be touched without bruising. I think that the darker elements of the book (secret organ transplant clinics and violent murders) will make Hold Me Like a Breath work even for those who might ordinarily shy away from romantic elements. There is a character with Downs Syndrome who plays a minor role, and who I hope we'll see again, in a more significant role, in the next book. 

Schmidt's writing is filled with suspense, and digs into all of the senses, like this:

"But in my daydreams, Garrett hadn't been wearing a gun.

And now we were parked somewhere made of shadows and secrets and fear that sat on my tongue like a bitter hard candy that wouldn't dissolve.

The car still smelled like them. Their seats were still warm when I leaned forward and pressed my hands against the leather. But I couldn't see them. What if the dark decided never to spit them back out again?" (Chapter 3, ARC)

I think that Hold Me Like a Breath is a fabulous addition to suspenseful, action-packed young adult literature. Due to some of the details around the organ donation restrictions and technology, I think it falls under the banner of speculative fiction, but just barely. My only regret is that I read this one so early (nearly four months before the book's release date), because this means that it will be a long time until the next book is available. I may even want to read this one again at that time, though I do expect the details of Hold Me Like a Breath to stay with me. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@bwkids)
Publication Date: May 19, 2015
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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 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: April 8

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 usually send the newsletter out every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this relatively brief issue I have four children's book reviews (picture book through middle grade) and two posts with literacy and reading links that I shared on Twitter recently. I hope to get back to sharing #KidLitFaves and literacy milestones soon - I've had a combination of travel and medical issues (recovery from dental surgery) that has knocked me off of my blogging stride. 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I completed four middle grade and two adult titles. I read/listened to:

  • Jeanne Birdsall: The Penderwicks in Spring. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed March 31, 2015. My review.
  • Sara Pennypacker (ill. Marla Frazee): Completely Clementine. Disney Hyperion. Middle Grade. Completed April 1, 2015. Review to come. 
  • Kate Hannigan: The Detective's Assistant. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade. Completed April 2, 2015. Review to come. 
  • Henry Clark: The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade. Completed April 3, 2015. Review to come. 
  • Stephen King: The Shining. Anchor. Adult Fiction. Completed March 28, 2015, on Kindle. A re-read, no review.
  • Orson Scott Card: Shadow Puppets. Tor Books. Adult Science Fiction. Completed April 3, 2015, on MP3. A re-read, no review.

I'm definitely on a middle grade kick right now. These are the books that go down most easily when I'm feeling a bit under the weather. I'm listening to Shadow of the Giant by Orson Scott Card, and reading Joshua Dread by Lee Bacon

The books my husband and I have been reading to our daughter can be found here. She remains quite into the Fly Guy books. She also recently pronounced D. W.'s Guide to Perfect Manners by Marc Brown her "favorite" book. Our most popular literacy activity lately has been playing "I Spy", as in "I spy with my little eye something that begins with the letter ...". (which my daughter for some reason always says with a southern accent ("Ah spah"). I don't know why. But it is helping her to recognize letter sounds.

She had a birthday this past weekend. My "Baby Bookworm" is now five years old, and starting Kindergarten in the fall.  

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

© 2015 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 Penderwicks in Spring: Jeanne Birdsall

Book: The Penderwicks in Spring
Author: Jeanne Birdsall
Pages: 352
Age Range: 8-12

It's so lovely to be back visiting with The Penderwicks. In The Penderwicks in Spring, the action moves forward several years, with Batty, at one time the youngest Penderwick, now 10 years old and the primary protagonist. Oldest sister Rosalind is off at college, younger step-brother Ben is in second grade, and the newest Penderwick, Lydia, is two. Beloved dog Hound, alas, has died, and Batty misses him terribly. But she and the rest of the family are muddling along in their delightful, Pendwick way. 

I loved Batty as a four year old in the first book. But in The Penderwicks in Spring, she emerges as a full-fledged character, painfully shy, determinedly NOT interested in sports, closer to some of her family members than others, and crazy about music. She struggles with falling behind on writing book reports for school, and with her guilt over (she thinks) not loving Hound enough to keep him alive. 

Batty's older siblings are only seen through Batty's viewpoint, but this is sufficient for long-time fans of the series to catch up with their doings. Rosalind brings home a boy from school who Batty immediately dislikes. Jane is Jane, lost in her stories, and largely oblivious to anything else, but surprisingly popular. And Skye is as prickly as ever, making the rest of the family unhappy with her rejection of Jeffrey (still an honorary Penderwick). 

I read this book with a smile on my face and, sometimes, a tear in my eye. There's heart and humor throughout, sentimentality without mawkishness. There's a scene in which Ben is desperate to stay up for the arrival home of neighbor, Nick, who has been away as a soldier in the Middle East. And it's brusque Skye who waits up with him, and carries him across the street. It's just ... lovely. I also enjoyed this passage (among many that I flagged):

"Then overnight the temperature zoomed up and water poured off the roofs and into the gutter and downspouts, along the driveways and into the street, where rivulets chuckled into the storm drains. Only the most stubborn snow was left behind, and the soaking rain that came next took care of that, and spring was back for real." (Page 151)

As with the other Penderwicks titles, and as with the classic children's stories like those about the Melendy Family, The Penderwicks in Spring is more episodic than plot-driven. But the theme that pulls the whole book together, like a silver thread, is Batty's emotional development (symbolized by her developing singing voice). 

The Penderwicks. They'll make you laugh, they'll make you cry, they'll make you love them Perfect for any time of year, the Penderwicks are especially enjoyable in spring. Highly recommended, and must-read for fans of the series. I understand from Lisa at Read for Keeps that there is a fifth Penderwick book planned for the future, when Lydia is old enough to be a middle grade protagonist. I can't wait!

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: March 24, 2015 
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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 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: April 3

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include book awards, book lists, the Cybils Awards, gender, diversity, growing bookworms, national poetry month, national autism month, women's history month, reading, schools, libraries, and literacy. 


2015 UK Independent Bookshop Week Book Awards Shortlist via @tashrow #kidlit

Some of my favorites here: The 11 greatest children’s books of all time, as selected by @BBC_Culture #kidlit

Book Lists

Picture Books about Bedtime, selected by @cjfriess #kidlit

Some fun titles in: Picture Book Favorites: March Edition from @StaceyLoscalzo #kidlit

April Showers: Books about the Water Cycle at the SSHEL Children's Collection #BookList #STEM

Books that Get Kids Asking Questions from @ThisReadingMama #BookList

A Tuesday Ten #BookList from @TesseractViews featuring characters in SF + fantasy who are Sick and Tired #kidlit


A Quick Word about The Temple of Doubt by the #Cybils own @zaftigbabe #YALit

On the #Cybils blog: Interview with @candacemfleming author of YA NF winner The Family Romanov #YALit @Book_Nut

2014 #Cybils Winners: Early Chapter Book and Easy Reader + behind the scenes w/ Round 2 judge @PragmaticMom #kidlit

Diversity + Gender

Stacked: On (Not) Reading Science Fiction as a Teenage Girl by @kimberlymarief #YALit #DiverseBooks

Thought-provoking + honest post from male perspective at Stacked on gender + reading by @thisjordanbrown @catagator

Girls, boys, and reading (study and stats) | Part 1 of Brown Center Report on American Education by @tomloveless99

Lots of comments on this @RogerReads post @HornBook | Gender by the numbers, addressing gender breakdowns in #kidlit

Also from @RogerReads @HornBook some questions about gender representation in picture books (especially wordless)

Stacked: Staking Our Claim in the Science Fiction Universe: Guest Post by @DuncanAlexandra #YALit

Stacked: What About Intersectionality and Female Friendships in YA?: Guest Post by @brandycolbert @catagator #YALit

Stacked: On Being a Feminist YA Author and Daring to Write “Unlikable”: Guest Post by @amyreedfiction

An Analysis of the 2014 Young Adult New York Times Bestseller Lists by Gender of Author from @molly_wetta

Events + Programs

Women's History Month: Woman Who Faced Amazing Challenges & Succeeded by @alybee930 @kidlitwhm for #WHM15

For April Fools Day: The best pranks in children's books by @macbarnett + @joryjohn | @GuardianBooks

ProgressivePoemNational Poetry Month: 2015 #NationalPoetryMonth Kidlitosphere Events Roundup at Jama's Alphabet Soup #Poetry (image to left from Jama's post)

Kick off National #Poetry Month with the 2015 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem | @JoneMac53

Unique and Creative Non-Boring Poetry Books to Make You Love #Poetry from @momandkiddo #NationalPoetryMonth

Tips and Resources for Poem in your Pocket Day from @BookChook #Poetry

National Autism Month: Why we need to hear from readers and writers with autism | @corinneduyvis @GdnChildrensBks

Autism on the Page event in April: tropes, representation of middle grade and young adult books at @DisabilityInLit

Growing Bookworms

Field Notes: “This Is Too Much!” Why Verse Novels Work for Reluctant Readers by Dorie Raybuck @HornBook

If you are experiencing April showers, try: 15 #Literacy Activities for Rainy Days from @mrskatiefitz

Study Reveals Sad Link Between Poverty And Children's Brain Development @HuffingtonPost

Reading with Little Miss Muffet: milestones, faves, + a tip from mom @mrskatiefitz (don't only read board books)

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

On writing: "invest your time and money in learning the craft + trade of children’s writing + publishing" @SheilaRuth

Audiobooks as survival tool for commuting: I "believe that audiobooks are for everyone" @kirleclerc @NerdyBookClub


16 Holiday Activities (for spring vacation) that Stimulate Creativity & Learning from @TrevorHCairney #literacy

Schools and Libraries

Fun stuff from @mrskatiefitz | 10 Alphabet Songs You May Not Know

On the Importance of Reading Mentors by @markovermeyer @NerdyBookClub #GrowingBookworms

© 2015 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 Book With No Pictures: B. J. Novak

Book: The Book With No Pictures
Author: B. J. Novak
Pages: 48
Age Range: 5-8

The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak is clearly a gimmick. It's a picture book that doesn't have any pictures. Even the cover is just plain white with black text. The idea is that if you have a book that only has words in it, the adult's job is to read all of the words to the child. This is true even if (especially if) the words make the adult sound foolish. Like "BLORK", "BLuuRF" or "I am a monkey who taught myself to read." So the kid feels powerful by forcing the adult to keep reading, even as the book gets sillier and sillier. 

Novak does use different font sizes and colors to jazz things up a bit. There is primary text that the adult is supposed to be reluctantly reading, as well as smaller, secondary text that seems to reflect the response of the reader to the primary text. Like this:

Big font, last three lines in huge red letters:

"My only friend in the
whole wide world is
a hippo named

Then in small font:


I'm afraid that I can't comment on how this book works with an actual child, however, as my four year old flat-out refuses to let us read this book to her. She says: "Maybe when I'm older", which is her diplomatic way of telling us that something is just not for her. But I do think that this book could work well when read aloud to a slightly older child, one with a developed enough sense of humor to appreciate the feeling of having power over the adult reader.

I do have to give Novak (and the publisher) points for originality and downright chutzpah. They have produced a picture book that doesn't have any pictures, and people are reading it. It's kind of the antithesis of the trend by which books for older and older children have illustrations.

I don't personally think that The Book With No Pictures is going to hold up over the long-term, and become any sort of classic in picture books, or even hold up in the home for repeated reads. But it's an interesting idea, executed about as well as it could be. And it's likely to generate a bit of buzz for picture books in general, which I think is a good thing.

By all means, public libraries should purchase The Book With No Pictures, because people will be curious about it. It is original and entertaining. But I don't think we'll be adding this one to our home library. 

Publisher: Dial (@PenguinKids) 
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Source of Book: Library copy, checked out for Round 1 Cybils consideration in Fiction Picture Books. All opinions are my own. 

© 2015 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).