24 posts categorized "Audio Books" Feed

How to Be Popular: Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot's How to Be Popular is the story of Steph Landry. Steph is about to start 11th grade. She has been something of an outcast in her small town ever since the legendary red Super Big Gulp incident five years earlier, in which she spilled a big gulp onto the white skirt of popular, and unforgiving, Lauren Moffat. This incident led to the phrase "way to pull a Steph Landry", now ubiquitous in Bloomfield, Indiana as a way of accusing someone of doing something really, really stupid.

Fortunately, Steph has two loyal, if quirky, friends. Becca is a somewhat ditsy former farm-girl who enjoys scrap-booking, and has a history of falling asleep in class. Jason is Steph's long-time best friend and neighbor, who she has recently, and disturbingly, discovered to be attractive. But Steph's unrequited heart belongs to school quarterback and dreamboat Mark Finley. Mark, sadly, is dating Lauren, and apparently doesn't even know that Steph exists.

As the school year begins, Steph has a bold plan for becoming popular. She's discovered an old book on the subject, which she takes as her bible. She changes her hair and makeup, buys new clothes, and even (gasp!) participates in school activities. And she discovers that it is possible to edge her way into the "A Crowd". But will it last? Will her efforts capture Mark's attention? Will she alienate her existing friends? Will she be able to overcome Lauren's enmity?

All of this is set against a backdrop of Steph's family chaos, her four (soon-to-be-five) siblings, her mother's feud with her beloved grandfather, her grandfather's upcoming wedding, and the fear caused by declining revenues at the family bookstore. You have to love a book in which the family owns a bookstore, don't you?

I did find this book predictable, for the most part, but I enjoyed it anyway. I listened to it on MP3, and found myself sneaking listens even when I didn't really have time for it. Steph is a realistically flawed, likable character, as are her friends and family members. Even when you know that Steph is making a mistake, and setting herself up for trouble, you still like her, and can relate to where she's coming from.

I think that the real power of How to Be Popular, as with most of Cabot's other books, is that it's pure fantasy fulfillment. I would guess that most kids who aren't in the in crowd fantasize at least occasionally that if they could just fix their hair, and get better clothes, and get a break somehow, they could crack the code of popularity. I know that I did.

Here's what I think is interesting about this book - it actually comes down on both sides of the popularity question. Steph's popularity plan requires a certain amount of hypocrisy, shallow behavior, and letting down of her friends and family. There are some negative quotations late in the book from famous people about the ephemeral nature of popularity. However, some of the advice from Steph's popularity manual is actually quite useful and lasting. For instance, don't make catty remarks about other people. Be dependable so that your friends can rely on you. Have your own interests, and don't be a afraid to let people see that you enjoy them.

Ultimately, How to Be Popular is about being true to yourself, and what you stand to gain from that in terms of friendship and popularity. No, the details of the story aren't particularly plausible. Would a whole town really continue to torment a girl for a single, minor mistake that happened five years earlier? No. Can one really achieve popularity instantly, by following the right instructions? No. But it's fun anyway. And Steph speaks to that unappreciated teen who lives inside many of us. I think that it will make an excellent teen movie, and will be a sure hit with current and former teenage girls.

Book: How to Be Popular
Author: Meg Cabot
Publisher: HarperTempest
Original Publication Date: 2006
Pages: 304
Age Range: Young Adult
Other Blog Reviews: Once Upon a Bookshelf, Teen Book Review, Hip Librarians Book Blog

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Wild Magic: Tamora Pierce

I just finished listening to a full-cast audio version of Wild Magic, by Tamora Pierce. This is the first book in Pierce's Immortals quartet, which is a follow-on series to her Song of the Lioness quartet. I had previously listened to another Tamora Pierce book (Circle Of Magic #1 : Sandry's Book), and I really didn't see what all the fuss was about. But I liked Wild Magic much more than I expected to. It's the story of 13-year-old Daine, an orphan with an unusual gift for communicating with animals, living in a land where many people have magical abilities.

Daine actually seems to be part animal: creatures flock to her, defend her, and will do just about anything for her. Sometimes, in fact, she fears losing her human self, because she bonds so completely with animals. Despite her abilities, Daine is a vulnerable young girl. She's ashamed of her common upbringing and the fact that she doesn't have the usual "gift" of magic, and she mourns her lost family. Her animal friends keep her grounded, however, and she has a blunt, unique voice that gradually wins over human friends, too.

Through her gift with animals, Daine gets a job as an assistant horse mistress for the kingdom of Tortall. There she is trained in her type of "wild magic" by mage Numair, and uses her gift to help Tortall to defend itself from enemies. And enemies abound, as a rival kingdom begins a series of stealthy attacks, drawing on the power of strange immortal creatures. Daine slowly finds her place among the people of Tortall, but finds everything she now cares for threatened by these attacking immortal creatures.

The full-cast audio of this book is excellent. Daine's voice is perfect, usually pleasant and young, but becoming almost strained when her friends are threatened, or when she has to yell to get attention. When Daine communicates with her mind, there's an echoing quality to the audio, so that it's clear that the words aren't spoken aloud. The voices of the other characters are, for the most part, distinct and recognizable (though I had trouble distinguishing between a couple of the women). I especially liked the voice of Sarge, a relatively minor character, but one who's voice stood out. I don't usually think that full cast audios are necessary, but I did enjoy this one.

Overall, I thought that Wild Magic was an engaging story, featuring several strong characters, and detailed relationships between the characters. Tortall is a fully realized world, and I look forward to visiting again.

Book: Wild Magic (Immortals)
Author: Tamora Pierce
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Original Publication Date:
Pages: 384
Age Range: Young Adult

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Behind the Curtain: Peter Abrahams

Behind the Curtain : An Echo Falls Mystery by Peter Abrahams is the second book in the Echo Falls series, after last year's Down the Rabbit Hole. These are Abrahams's first children's/young adult books, after writing many adult mysteries. I really enjoyed Down the Rabbit Hole (reviewed here), because it was a classic sort of mystery, with clues and red herrings and all of that, with a smart, realistic 13-year-old girl as the protagonist.

Behind the Curtain picks up not long after the solution of the previous mystery, and continues many of the family-related threads left open in the first book. Ingrid finds herself investigating steroid use at the local high school, while worrying about her brother's health, the stability of her father's job, and the pressure on her grandfather to sell his farm. Ingrid's Dad is particularly cranky in this installment, as he reacts poorly to competition at work. But Grampy remains his quirky and lovable self.

Here's my problem with this book, however. I saw the solution to all of the open questions very very early into the book. It was just too easy. Now, I know that I'm not the target age range for this book, and that I've read a lot more mysteries than most 13-year-olds have. But I still have trouble believing that kids wouldn't see the end coming a long way off.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the book. It's well-written. Abrahams has an excellent sense for the way kids think and interact. I like the town that Ingrid lives in, and I like the way family dynamics play an important part in the story. I also like Ingrid (she's on the Cool Girls list), and after two books, I feel like I know her pretty well. She trusts her own instincts, and she doesn't let anyone push her around. I'll certainly look for the next book in the series. I just hope that Abrahams learns to trust his readers a bit more, and ratchets up the mystery a bit.

Book: Behind the Curtain : An Echo Falls Mystery
Author: Peter Abrahams
Publisher: HarperCollins
Original Publication Date: 2006
Pages: 352
Age Range: 10-14

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

The Prophet of Yonwood: Jeanne Duprau

The Prophet of Yonwood is a prequel to The City of Ember, by Jeanne Duprau. It takes place 50 years before people first go below ground to live in Ember, during a time when the world is on the precipice of war.

The story is set in the small town of Yonwood, North Carolina. 11-year-old Nickie goes to Yonwood with her aunt so that they can clean up an inherited mansion, and prepare it for sale. Nickie immediately falls in love with Yonwood, and with the rambling old house, and sets herself a series of goals for the visit:

  1. To live with her parents in her great-grandfather's house in Yonwood (instead of in their current apartment in Philadelphia, and instead of her mother and aunt selling the house).
  2. To fall in love.
  3. To do something to help the world.

Nickie soon discovers, however, that Yonwood is not so peaceful as she had imagined. A local resident has had a terrible vision of war and fire, and lies half-conscious in her bed, mumbling to herself. The town's leaders, especially the bustling Brenda Beeson, set about interpreting the prophet's garbled words. They insist that if the townspeople can correctly interpret and follow the prophet's warnings, the people of Yonwood, at least, can saved. This seems reasonable to Nickie, because the country is so close to war, and because Nickie's own father is off on a war-related mission.

In between sorting through her great-grandfather's papers, hiding her new dog from her aunt, befriending a local boy who collects snakes, and spying on a mysterious neighbor, Nickie tries to help Mrs. Beeson to uncover any wicked behavior in the town. She accepts that the town has banned music and lights and other activities that the prophet, mysteriously, has forbidden. She accepts the ostracism of local residents who don't bend to Mrs. Beeson's will. But when the sacrifices demanded by the town start to hurt people she cares about, Nickie begins to question the words of the prophet.

The Prophet of Yonwood is a cautionary tale about the trampling of individual rights in the name of security. It's about what extremes of fear, suspicion and insecurity can do to otherwise rational people. Nickie is a likeable character who is initially swayed by the adults in her life, but ultimately comes to trust her own judgement. I did find The Prophet of Yonwood to be the faintest trifle heavy-handed in its treatment of trampled human rights, but overall I enjoyed this book. I especially liked that it set things up for The City of Ember, a book that I thought was wonderful.

The Prophet of Yonwood also reminded me a bit of Elizabeth Enright's books (the Melendy books and especially Gone-Away Lake). Jeanne Duprau has that same quality of understanding what kids will think is cool. You have Nickie digging around in an interesting old house, and going for walks with her dog in the woods, and decoding secret messages from her father, and watching Grover feed his snakes. Despite the dark things happening in Yonwood, and the cold winter weather during most of the story, I still kind of wanted to there, hanging around with Nickie, having adventures. I think that lots of kids will feel the same way.

You can find Jeanne Duprau's website here. My favorite paragraph from her bio is this: "Jeanne DuPrau doesn’t have children, but she has two nephews, a niece, and a dog. The dog lives with her. His name is Ethan. Jeanne and Ethan get along well, though their interests are different. Ethan is not very fond of reading, for example, and Jeanne doesn’t much like chasing squirrels. But they agree on walks, naps, and trips in the car to surprise destinations." I like it when authors that I like have a sense of humor.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Twilight: Stephenie Meyer

I've never been an aficionado of vampire stories, and I was therefore a bit skeptical about this one. But it came highly recommended by others, and it was available for download from Audible, so I gave it a try. And once I started listening to Twilight I was completely drawn in, unable to stop listening. I found myself thinking about the story frequently. Partly I was wondering what would happen next, but mostly I was just thinking about it, wrapped up in the story. Author Stephenie Meyer has a real gift for describing people and places, without actually using a lot of text, but in a way that makes them feel completely real. I could easily picture the town of Forks, Washington, where most of the book takes place.

Twilight is the story of 17-year-old Bella Swan, who moves from sunny Phoenix is live with her father in the small, rainy town of Forks. She is initially miserable, because she loves the sun, and she misses her Mom, and she's certain that she'll never fit in with a small community of kids who grew up together. But the kids in Forks, especially the boys, are friendlier than she would have imagined, and she begins to think that things might be ok.

Then Bella meets her lab partner, Edward Cullen. Edward is strikingly attractive and graceful, and seems to completely hate her at first sight. She can't understand why he hates her, and yet she can't stop thinking about him, either. A period of alternately drawing together and pulling apart follows, reminding me a lot of Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Edward, the glamorous one, fights (not so successfully) against his attraction to the more ordinary Bella. And oh, the forces of attraction between these two. They positively smolder, even when they're doing nothing more than sitting next to one another during a class film. This is definitely a book for young adults (and older, of course), rather than for younger kids.

It turns out that Edward's attraction towards Bella is two-fold. He is interested in her in the same way that several other local boys are interested in her. But he's also interested in her as prey, finding her very scent intoxicating. This is because Edward, along with the rest of his family, is a vampire. Oh, they belong to a particular sub-sect of vampires, one that believes that it's wrong to kill humans. But to live among humans without killing them, the Cullens have to fight against tremendously strong instincts.

Bella, for Edward, is the ultimate forbidden fruit. He wants to be close to her, but fears that he'll hurt her. Bella, once she figures out what's going on, has to battle her own combination of attraction and fear. It's the ultimate conflict. How can you fall in love with someone when being with them goes against your very nature? You'll have to read the book yourself to find out how Bella and Edward handle the conflict, and what other obstacles are thrown in their path.

I found Bella to be an interesting heroine. She sees herself as ordinary, but all of the Forks boys are swarming around her. She's clumsy to the point of being dangerous, she doesn't seem particularly brave, and she has a positive gift for landing in life-threatening situation. Yet when her family is threatened, it turns out that she is brave after all. Normally I'm not a fan of inept heroines who need to be rescued all the time, but Bella works for me somehow. I found her very likeable and real.

And Edward - Edward is a hero to end all heroes. He's beautiful and charming and funny, and he's dark and brooding and dangerous. And his greatest battle is within himself. Most of the other characters are a bit more one-dimensional (Bella's parents, the other kids at school, etc.), except for the vampires. This could be deliberate on the author's part, to keep the reader focused on the characters who matter most. I enjoyed Alice, Edward's "sister", in particular. I did find the notion that Bella's Dad, the police chief, was completely clueless about Edward and his family a bit of a stretch. But that's a minor complaint, stemming from the number of cop stories I've read in my life. And I guess that he couldn't really be expected to guess that his daughter's new boyfriend was a vampire, so I'll cut him a little slack.

As you can probably tell by now, I really loved this book. There's something compelling about star-crossed lover stories, and this is one of the best I've seen. Twilight unites myth and legend with ordinary teen problems in a remarkably seamless fashion. I was a bit frustrated by the ending, which seemed to leave a few things hanging. I was also sad to say goodbye to characters that I had come to love. So I was very happy when I learned that there's a sequel (New Moon) coming out in August. Thanks goodness! I simply can't wait.

You can read more at Stephenie Meyer's website. One thing that you can find on Stephenie's website is the first chapter of a companion book to Twilight, one that she's writing on her own, that isn't currently scheduled for publication. Midnight Sun tells the same story as Twilight, but from Edward's perspective. Don't read it unless you've already read Twilight. But if you have read Twilight, and you would like to know more of the story, I'm certain that you'll find this chapter of Midnight Sun fascinating. I hope that the whole book is eventually published.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

The Saturdays: Elizabeth Enright

This weekend I finished listening to The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright (1909-1968), one of my all time favorite authors. The Saturdays is the first of four books about the Melendy children: Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver. Originally published in 1941, The Saturdays tells of several months in the life of the Melendys, as they live in their New York brownstone. The children's mother is dead, but they accept this with the equanimity of most children in books, and live securely with Father, their longtime housekeeper Cuffy, and handy-man Willy Sloper.

One rainy day, the four children conceive the idea of pooling their weekly allowances, and taking turns going off alone on adventures. They call it the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club (I.S.A.A.C.). Randy visits an art exhibit, and has tea with a family friend. Rush goes to the opera, and discovers the stray Isaac. Mona visits a beauty parlor, and hears the story of a young runaway. Even six-year-old Oliver manages an adventure on his own (though for the modern reader, the mental image of a six-year-old wandering around New York City alone is pretty harrowing). Other more dramatic adventures follow.

This story is set during the early years of World War II, before the U.S. has entered the war, but with the war as a dark cloud on the horizon. The war doesn't affect the main story, but references to it pop up at regular intervals, mostly from Cuffy or Father. My impression is that the war was weighing so heavily on Elizabeth Enright's mind as she wrote the book, that she had to mention it. Today, these references serve to anchor the book to a particular point in time.

For the most part, the story holds up remarkably well for being 65 years old. There is a scene in which 13-year-old Mona comes to the dinner table wearing bright red nail polish, and completely scandalizes her family. This will probably seem quaint to modern-day children, as will the Melendy children's 50 cent allowance, and the fact that the girls wear dresses and hats when dressing up to go out.

Still, much of the book is completely timeless. Elizabeth Enright clearly understands what makes kids tick. She is a genius when it comes to portraying the details of children's lives, and how they react to different situations. In the foreword to the audio book, she says that she writes about adventures that she would have liked to have as a child. She's quite successful at this.

I highly recommend all four of Melendy books: The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and Spiderweb for Two. I can't wait to go back now and re-read the others, as well as my favorite Elizabeth Enright book, Gone-Away Lake.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

The Railway Children: E. Nesbit

This week I re-read Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children by listening to it on MP3. It's finally stopped raining in northern California (skipping right over spring to summer, pretty much), and yesterday I just kept walking until I finished the book.

The Railway Children was originally published in 1906. It's different from many of Edith Nesbit's books, in that it doesn't feature any magic. The Railway Children is the story of three children, Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis. At the start of the story, the children live with their loving parents in a nice, modern house in London. Their lives change drastically, however, when their Father is called away unexpectedly and mysteriously. Their Mother takes them to live in an older house in the country, with only a single part-time servant, where they quickly realize that they are now poor. Mother spends all her time writing stories and poems, to submit them for publication, instead of playing games with them and teaching them, as she had done previously. The children are left largely to their own devices, with no lessons to distract them.

The house that they live in, Three Chimney's, is located near to a railway line and a small railway station. The railway quickly becomes a source of friends. The Stationmaster and the Porter (most especially the Porter, Perks) become major figures in the children's lives, as does a friendly "Old Gentleman" who waves to them every morning from the 9:15 train.

And the adventures begin. Through bravery and ingenuity (and through the coincidence of always being in the right place at the right time), the children avert not one, not two, but three separate disasters. They also get into trouble through their innocent attempts to help their Mother, and through their own sibling rivalries, and eventually help a Russian stranger newly escaped to England. Through it all, they miss their Father, and wonder what's happened to him, and why their Mother is so sad.

The constant adventures in this book make it a lot of fun. It does feel a little bit dated in places. There's a scene in which the local doctor tells Peter to be kinder to his sisters, for example, because they are "so much softer and weaker" than he is. But overall, I think that Edith Nesbit did a wonderful job of making the girls strong characters, too. The youngest, Phyllis, reminds me a lot of one of my nieces, while the oldest, Bobbie, takes on much responsibility bravely. As for Peter, he misses having another male in the household, and acts out quite a bit in response.

This book has lots of messages about bravery and right and wrong, and what makes up charity vs. friendship. And how to be good without being priggish. Some modern-day children might find it a little bit preachy in this area, though it is generally lightened with humor. But hopefully the adventures, and the realistic imperfections of the children, will win new readers over anyway. I know that I love this book (despite having a slight problem with the number of coincidences) and that the end brings tears to my eyes. If you haven't read it, The Railway Children is well worth checking out.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

The Birchbark House: Louise Erdrich

The Birchbark House (originally published in 1999) is the story of a year in the life of a seven-year-old girl and her Ojibwa family, living on an island in Lake Superior in 1847. The book was written by Louise Erdrich, herself a member of the Turtle Band of Ojibwa (former name: Anishinabe). The Birchbark House takes place during the same time frame as Little House on the Prairie, and the two books share certain similarities. However, The Birchbark House illustrates that time frame from the perspective of the Native Americans, who fear being pushed ever Westward by white people. It includes many Ojibwa words and customs, and Ms. Erdrich does a wonderful job of conveying the sense of harmony that the Ojibwa share with their surroundings.

The Birchbark House is told from the point of view of young Omakayas (Little Frog), so named because her first step was a hop. She lives with her parents (when her father isn't away working as a fur trader), her grandmother, her older sister Angeline, and her two younger brothers, Pinch and Neewo. As the book begins, the family is moving to their summer fishing camp in a birchbark house by the lake. The reader quickly comes to know Omakayas. She is bright and quick. She admires and envies her beautiful older sister, and adores her baby brother Neewo. Pinch, on the other hand, is the bane of her existence, and we see that sibling rivalries easily transcend cultural backgrounds. The characters of Omakayas' entire family are realistically drawn.

At first, this book seems like a pleasant, easy read, with descriptions of berrying and scaring away crows from the corn, and harvesting rice. Soon, however, Erdrich begins to deal with larger issues, related to the encroachment of the white people, the dreaded small-pox, and the possibility of starvation during the harsh winter. I was stunned by how bleak things became, relative to the early joyfulness. But in the end, the book offers hope.

I listened to this book on MP3, and thought that the narration was excellent. The Native American voice of the grandmother, in particular, was quite compelling. And I'll remember the voice of the family's pet crow for quite some time, squawking out "Gego, Pinch".

I think that this would be a perfect companion book for anyone reading the Little House books, showing another side to the story. The Ojibwa words should also lend themselves well to read-aloud for younger kids. The book is targeted to middle grade readers, probably up to about 7th grade. However, because there are sad parts to the book, I would strongly recommend that parents read the book themselves, too. Without being heavy handed about it, The Birchbark House opens the door to discussions about how Native Americans were treated during the 1800s, what constitutes a family, survival, and respect for elders. And it's also fun, too! Really, it's a wonderful book, and I'm glad that I finally got around to listening to it. I highly recommend it.

And, if you happen to be in Minneapolis, Louise Erdrich owns a bookstore there called Birchbark Books. I hope to check it out one day myself.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

The Penderwicks: Jeanne Birdsall

This morning I finished The Penderwicks : A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall, which I listened to on MP3. I thought that it was wonderful. The book is about the four Penderwick sisters. Together with their father and their dog, they rent a summer cottage in the Berkshires for three weeks. The cottage turns out to be located on the grounds of a large estate, Arundel Hall, which includes a fairy-tale mansion and extensive gardens. The estate also boasts the modern-day equivalent of the wicked witch, Arundel Hall's owner, Mrs. Tifton, as well as her minion/boyfriend Dexter.

During their tenure at Arundel Hall the Penderwicks befriend Mrs. Tifton's 11-year-old son, Jeffrey, as well as the 18-year-old gardener Cagney (a Red Sox fan!), the motherly housekeeper Churchy, and a pair of rabbits. The sisters are a breath of fresh air for Jeffrey, who lives a relatively isolated life on the family estate and is faced with the imminent and dreadful prospect of attending military school. Together and separately, the five children embark on a series of adventures.

This book has a very old-fashioned feel, featuring children let loose on a large estate, with gardens and statues and attics and secret passages through the shrubbery. It reminded me of The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit, and the many excellent books by Elizabeth Enright. It also reminded me, a bit, of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon, both by L. M. Montgomery. There's no magic in The Penderwicks, and no improbably coincidences. It's a story of regular kids having a memorable summer, with a conveniently vague father hovering as a benevolent presence in the background.

What makes this book special is the depth of the characterization of the Penderwick sisters. The oldest is 12-year-old Rosalind, the maternal and responsible caretaker over her motherless sisters. Next comes 11-year-old Skye, prickly and difficult, with a love of math and of order. 10-year-old Jane is the writer and dreamer of the group, with a love of stories and big words that evokes a young Anne Shirley. Finally, four-year-old Batty rounds out the sisters, with her shyness, and her passionate love for the family dog, Hound. The girls' characters are so well-drawn, and so distinct from one another, that the dialog attributions (Rosalind said, etc.) are almost completely unnecessary. I found this to be true before the end of the very first chapter. The viewpoint of the book shifts seamlessly between the four sisters, leaving the reader with a feeling of knowing them all well by the end of the story.

The supporting characters are not quite so well fleshed out, but I think that this is deliberate, to keep the focus on the Penderwick sisters. And of course, we don't hear the story from the perspective of any of the other characters, so we can't know them as well. But I did empathize for both Mr. Penderwick and for Jeffrey at different points in the story.

The Penderwicks won the 2005 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. I think that it was much deserved. I'm pleased that the National Book Foundation chose a book that is well-written, while also being a story that people will enjoy reading. If you have a child in the 9 to 12 age range, I strongly recommend that you get them a copy of this book. And if you don't have a child in that age range, then you'll just have to get it for yourself. Because the book contains hardly any pop cultural references (beyond Cagney's ubiquitous Red Sox cap), I think that it will hold up many years from now without seeming dated. I know that it's one that I will want to re-read in the future. I highly recommend that you spend some time with The Penderwicks this summer. You'll be glad that you did.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life: Dana Reinhardt

I just finished listening to A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life, by Dana Reinhardt (Wendy Lamb Books: February 14, 2006). I would classify this as an early young adult book, appropriate for grades 7 and up. It's about a sixteen-year-old girl named Simone, who grows up knowing that she was adopted, without wanting to know anything about her birth parents. She is resentful when her parents tell her that her birth mother, Rivka, wants to get to know her. She eventually gives in, and finds her life enriched by knowing Rivka.

I liked this book a lot. I found myself wanting to keep walking and listening, so that I could spend more time with Simone. I found her voice realistic (and the narrator did a wonderful job with this). She is sometimes a resentful teen, and sometimes awkward or insecure, and sometimes wise beyond her years. She has an unabashedly good relationship with her parents and her younger brother (ok, this is a tad unrealistic in my experience, but still nice to see). She has a small group of true friends, and a crush on a boy named Zack. I found the scenes between Simone and Zack particularly enjoyable. There's a scene in which Simone gets off the phone, and jumps up and down. Reading it, I almost wanted to be her. I certainly could identify with her.

This book also has a lot of information about what it means to be Jewish. Simone is an atheist, being raised by atheist parents, but her birth mother, Rivka, was raised as a Hasidic Jew. As Simone gets to know Rivka, she learns about various Jewish ceremonies and customs. I found this a tiny bit heavy-handed. It was interesting to me to learn more about Passover and Seder, etc. But I felt once or twice like the author was deliberately educating me, which I tend to find off-putting when reading fiction. However, this was not off-putting enough to keep me from absolutely loving the book, and it was an important part of the story. And I actually think that the whole Jewish aspect to the story has the potential to increase my understanding of and empathy with some of my Jewish friends. Certainly it could do so for young adult readers.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It's a light-hearted, engaging read that also deals with complex issues. It brought a few tears to my eyes near the end, but made me smile, too.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Getting Older Kids, with Difficulties, to Read

My friend Kim works for a Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. She has a post today in which she seeks input from other bloggers and librarians on how to resolve a problem that she has.

Kim says "Here is my dilemma: the kids in my state are not reading. I have done everything I can think of to encourage them to read but nothing helps...I am up against a brick wall!" Kim is particularly interested in finding ways to reach young adult readers who can't be drawn through vibrant book exhibits because they can't see. If any of you out there have any experience in this area, please comment on Kim's post. Kim, and the kids who she and I both believe could benefit from greater exposure to books, will thank you for it. 

Using Audiobooks to Get Children to Read More

I just read an article by Karen MacPherson of the Toledo Blade (published in the Pasadena Star News). The article suggests that audio books are a key tool in getting children to read more. Some reasons listed why kids are attracted to audio books include the coolness factor (being able to download a book onto an MP3), and the ability to listen to an audiobook while also doing something else. (The latter makes sense to me. I listen to books on MP3 whenever I'm out walking. This has a dual benefit for me - I get to listen to great books, and I end up walking more, because I get interested in what I'm listening to.)

The article goes on to reference statistics about the growth of the audio book industry in general, and the children's book segment in particular, with the Harry Potter books as the new gold standard. Finally, Ms. MacPherson concludes by citing experts to make the point that "listening to books is a great tool to help students develop reading skills".

As someone who wants to see more students develop reading skills, and who also loves listening to audio books, I thought that the article made some excellent points. I am an Audible.com subscriber, and used my subscription to listen to many great children's books last year, including:

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