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July 2009 Archives


Series Books Featuring Adventurous Girls

Posted by Jen Robinson on July 13, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Middle Grade BooksRecommendations
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A commenter on my personal blog asked an interesting question the other day about book recommendations for girls. Susan wrote:

"My friend and I each have a son and daughter in the 3rd to 5th grade range. We were talking about what the kids were currently reading. In the course of our conversation, we both agreed it was much harder to find books that our girls were interested in than our boys. Given that I often read about the reverse here and on other kidlit blogs, I thought I'd mention it.

There are some great series that are more geared for boys like The Ranger's Apprentice, The Overland Chronicles and even the Percy Jackson books. While many girls enjoy these books, they have more of a boy bent to them to me. The series books for girls are about fairies or horses or mean girl behavior. In terms of currently popular series books, you've got those subjects or the Clementine/Ramona/Junie B. Jones genre which our daughters loved but have outgrown.

Where are the adventure series with the female main character that have our daughters eagerly anticipating the next book being published? There are lots of good single books, but I find that my kids dig into the series more. I haven't run across a great series that appeals more to my daughter than my son yet."

I responded briefly to Susan last week, but I thought that this might be a topic that other parents would find interesting, so I have expanded on my response here at Booklights. I think that the proliferation of adventure series with boy protagonists happens because of a common perception that boys won't read about girl heroines, but girls will read about boys. This was mentioned in a recent post by Mr. ChompChomp at Guys Lit Wire. He said: "I read somewhere that the reason Disney makes so many more "boy" movies than "girl" movies is that girls will go to see boy movies but boys won't go to see girl movies. "We don't like it. That's just the way it is," Disney executives say. But if you look at the girl movies that they make, it's no wonder guys aren't interested. They are nearly all about princesses."

I do think it's a bit of an unfortunate situation, for girls and boys, resulting in fewer adventures with girl protagonists, and kids of both genders potentially missing out on great books. I also think that this viewpoint is probably why there seem to be more adventure series out there centered around male protagonists.

Fortunately, I have several ongoing series to suggest that feature girls as the hero. In all cases, I've read at least the first book or two. They are listed roughly in age order, from books for elementary schoolers up to books that I think will also work for girls in middle school.

gilda_joyce_cover.jpgThe Gilda Joyce series, by Jennifer Allison, about a young girl who is a "psychic investigator". These are very fun, and set in a more modern setting. Gilda is fun, smart, and a bit wacky. There are four books out, and hopefully more on the way (I wasn't able to confirm that). The first book is Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator (reviewed here).

THEO_crop.jpgThe Theodosia series by R. L. LaFevers, featuring Theodosia Throckmorton, Egyptologist and adventurer. These are historical / supernatural mysteries, featuring a smart Victorian girl who runs rings around her distracted parents. There are 2 books out, and a third on the way. The first book is Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos (reviewed here).

enola_holmes1.jpgThe Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer, featuring Sherlock Holmes' younger sister. Enola runs away and starts her own detective agency, and is more than a match for her smug older brother. There are five books currently available in this series, and I would imagine that more are on the way here. The first book is The Case of the Missing Marquess (reviewed here).

Blackbringer pb cover sm.jpgLaini Taylor's Dreamdark series, about Magpie Windwitch, the strongest and feistiest of fairies. Currently the first book, Blackbringer, is available in paperback, with the sequel, Silksinger, due out in September. Others are planned for this series. Don't let the books being about fairies fool you - these are excellent books for strong middle grade and middle school girls.

suddenlysuper.jpgElizabeth Cody Kimmel's Suddenly Supernatural series, featuring a middle school girl who discovers that she has psychic powers. Despite the supernatural aspects, these books also feature realistic tween friendship dynamics. There are currently 3 books available. The first book is Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit (reviewed here).

kiki.jpgKristen Miller's Kiki Strike books, about a team of tween girls who fight crime in New York City. These books are clever and quirky, with interesting settings (including a city below NYC). There are currently two books available, and I'm hoping for a third. The first book is Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City (reviewed here).

Once they are ready for young adult books, there are tons of series featuring female protagonists, including Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series and Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls spy series. And there are other series books for younger girls that are wonderful, though not "adventures". For example, The Penderwicks books by Jeanne Birdsall and the Casson family books by Hilary McKay.

Readers, can you suggest any other series with adventurous female main characters that will have middle grade girls "eagerly anticipating the next book being published"? And if you're interested in the issue of gendered readers' advisory in general, check out Lisa Chellman's recent post on this subject.


Thursday Three: Animals

Posted by Pam on July 9, 2009 at 8:48 AM in Nonfiction BooksPicture BooksRecommendations
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Ten years ago, nonfiction books about animals would feature a block of text on one page with a second-rate photo on the opposite page. Then came the trend -- still popular -- of having several text boxes, a few photos, several captions, and maybe a "fun facts" box -- the busy look catering to the short-attention-span crowd. But recently, a new generation of books is putting more focus on the photos, with amazing results. Here are a few series to look for, each with a representative book featured.

Face to Face with Dolphins
by Flip and Linda Nicklin

Face to Face with DolphinsWonderful photos fill whole pages, drawing you into the scene. But with National Geographic as the publisher of this series, we can expect pretty pictures. What is special about this book is how the photographer recounts his experiences taking the pictures — and yes, it makes more of a connection to the photo of the Amazon River dolphin when we know that this was the dolphin that was playfully nibbling at his ankles as he shot the picture. There are lots of the usual facts about dolphins too, but the text has a personal, almost conversational touch to it. The book has little sections throughout — How to Swim Like a Dolphin, How to Speak Dolphin — that allow the reader to copy the dolphin's style for a little fun and games. The series, Face to Face with Animals, also investigates sharks, lions, frogs, penguins, orangutans, wild horses, cheetahs, gorillas, and more.

Parrots (The Wild World of Animals)
by Jill Kalz

ParrotsThe text is pretty standard, informational stuff -- but the photos are spectacular! One huge, stunning, no-borders, full-page picture, with text in a box over the photo itself. Some of the pictures fill up the two-page spread. Now with a subject as colorful as parrots, this style is exceptionally stunning, but you'll also relish the chance to explore many other topics in the series, The Wild World of Animals, including koalas, lions, dolphins, and swans. The series has been around for a while, so you'll want to look at the redesigned books published in 2006 or later.

Butterflies and Moths
by Nic Bishop

Butterflies and MothsAmazing photography, interesting facts, and fantastic design makes these books standouts among the standouts. In this title, Nic Bishop gives us magnified photos of moth eggs and caterpillar legs. Or was it the other way around? Either way, stunning camera work. At the end of the book, Bishop shares stories about how he captured some of the best shots, including a story of a last-minute flight to Costa Rica to see a particularly rare caterpillar before it turned to a pupa. He takes his time with each book, so only two other titles -- Spiders and Frogs -- are available now. Another, Marsupials, comes out in the fall.


Heavy Medal Dinner

Posted by Susan on July 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM in Awards
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I can't wait for dinner on Sunday. It'll just be me, Neil, Beth and Ashley. Oh, and a thousand or so other people.

Where am I having dinner? At the Newbery/Caldecott banquet which recognizes the honorees of two of the most illustrious awards in the children's book world. The banquet is held every year at the American Library Association's (ALA) Annual Conference.

The winners and the honor books get announced at a press conference at the ALA Midwinter conference in January. I was there this year, and the atmosphere was absolutely electric. It was so exciting to hear the applause, cheers, and exclamations of surprise.

Graveyard Book.jpgWhat won this year? The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes won the Randolph Caldecott Medal and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman won the John Newbery Medal.

Click here for the complete list of all the 2009 winners and honor books.

The winners of the Caldecott and Newbery Medals get honor, glory, increased book sales, and gold stickers on their books. And an actual medal. But they also have to give an acceptance speech. A speech that will be heard in front of a ballroom full of librarians, authors, illustrators, editors and publishers. A speech that will be published and studied for years to come. A huge, important, career-defining speech. But other than that, there's no pressure.

House in the Night.jpgAn interesting note about the Caldecott Medal: the award actually goes to the illustrator of the book. Although The House in the Night was written by Susan Marie Swanson, it's Beth Krommes who gets the medal and has to give the speech.

There's also a third speech this year. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award is given every other year. It honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children. This year's recipient is Ashley Bryan and I'm looking forward to his acceptance speech.

Last year, Jen and I went to the banquet together. And we even got interviewed on the red carpet. See this post for more details and an embarrassing YouTube video.

Hugo Cabret.jpgIt was an unforgettable night. First, Caldecott winner Brian Selznick wowed the crowd with his intelligent and heartfelt acceptance speech for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, complete with a movie! It was an impossible act to follow, but Newbery winner Laura Amy Schlitz was equal to the task. A storyteller through and through, she mesmerized the crowd and told beautiful stories as she accepted the Newbery for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

Her speech looked effortless, but it was much harder than it appeared. Good Masters Sweet Ladies.jpgI recently had the opportunity to hear Laura Amy Schlitz speak about what that night was like for her. She had memorized her entire fifteen minute speech. It had already been submitted for publication in The Horn Book, so she couldn't change even one word as she delivered it.

She said she would love to get those magic, unforgettable fifteen minutes of her speech back. It sounded like a roller coaster ride she never wanted to get off.

This year it will be Beth Krommes', Neil Gaiman's and Ashley Bryan's turn to ride the roller coaster. I wish them joy and exhilaration and hope they enjoy every moment. I'll be cheering them on from the sidelines and will tell you all about it next week.


Discussions In Defense of Escapist Summer Reading

Posted by Jen Robinson on July 6, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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JGS_WeekendReading.jpgLast week, I shared links and quotes from a variety of discussions about the power of social reading and the defense of kids reading at and below grade level. This week, I'm continuing my link-sharing theme, and bringing you a selection of posts about the joys of kid-selected summer reading (as opposed to required or extra-challenging books). As with last week's links, these posts are all from blogs that I read regularly - people whose opinions I value. I hope that you enjoy the articles. [Image credit: photo by Gracey, shared via MorgueFile.]

spitfire.jpgChildren's author Kate Messner inspired a flurry of posts and comments when she wrote an article In Defense of Summer Reading. She lists several "compelling reasons for schools to keep their standardized noses out of kids' summer reading". For example: "Summer is a time when our kids actually have the luxury of extra reading time, and if they're passionate about what they're reading, they can read for hours on end. We can't do that in school (as much as it's a lovely thought). But summer readers only show that kind of passion when they have choices. As teachers -- and parents -- we need to respect those choices." It's great stuff - another must-read post. Kate also includes a list of recommended (not required) titles for seventh grades. The list was assembled from student suggestions, and is an impressively diverse collection of books.

Here are some other posts on this topic from the last couple of weeks:

0470372273.jpgKate Messner has another brief post linking to several responses and summer reading suggestions from her blogging friends. In that post, Kate also links to a post of Donalyn Miller's (Donalyn wrote The Book Whisperer) from last summer. It's one that I remember, out of the sea of blog posts from the year. Donalyn pointed out the lamentable difference between the light, escapist selections on her bookstore's summer reading table for adults and the classics-heavy summer reading table for teens. While Donalyn's post is certainly still apt a year later, I have been pleased to see a stronger defense of escapist summer reading for kids from around the blogs and newspapers this year.

Librarian Liz Burns takes up this topic at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy, focusing on the importance of kids learning to make their own selections. She says: "If summer is about freedom --at least, for students if not for the rest of us! -- why not the freedom to pick your own books, including the freedom to fail at picking the right one?"

Teacher Monica Edinger shares a tongue-in-cheek poem about summer reading at Educating Alice.

Dawn Morris at Moms Inspire Learning says that summer reading should be kept fun. Based on the recommendations from her own kids, she shares "some books that have the potential to turn reluctant readers into avid readers" (for readers age 5 to 12).

The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance also has an article about summer reading "for the fun of it". They link to a June 25th Boston Globe article by Lisa Kocian about this, and also quote National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka on tips for getting kids excited to read.

Kate Coombs has a must-read post at Book Aunt about how even "college educated parents in our society" aren't necessarily doing the right things to raise a new generation of readers. She touches on our previously-discussed topic of pressuring kids to read ahead of their grade level, and makes a strong plug for regular visits to the library and trying lots of different books.

And of course, if you somehow missed it, Pam Coughlan had a great post about summer reading here at Booklights last month.

And one final point, which ties back to our earlier discussion about reading and grade levels. If you're looking for book recommendations for early expert readers, Robin Gibson at Bookmuse recently recommended a book called: "Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers from Preschool to High School by Judith Wynn Halsted (Great Potential Press, 2002)". Robin said: "this book is an excellent resource for those early expert readers discussed a few weeks ago -- not just gifted children. It also includes ideas and book suggestions for readers as they grow." A new edition is scheduled for publication September 1st.

We hope that you and your kids are finding plenty of time for relaxing summer reading this leisurely 4th of July weekend.


Thursday Three: Beaches

Posted by Pam on July 2, 2009 at 8:00 AM in
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I'm heading to the shore for the holiday to see family and fireworks. I can't bring you along, but I can suggest some fun picture books about the beach. Enjoy.

by Suzy Lee

I heard great things about this book and I had to see it for myself. As it turns out, I could have waited for the movie. Truly, this is a beautiful book wordlessly chronicling one girl’s encounter with the ocean. The book’s gutter gives a sense of a barrier between the cautious girl and the playful waves. As she gets braver and feels more invincible, she finds that the ocean has many surprises. A lovely summertime book combining light charcoal sketches and brilliant blue-painted sea.

Bebé Goes to the BeachBebé Goes to the Beach,
written by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Steven Salerno

Bright, stylized illustrations put Bebé and Mama at the beach following their previous shopping trip. Spanish words are used throughout the rhymes, often with context and pictures explaining the meaning of the words. (If you get stuck, there is also a glossary.) For instance, take this couplet: “He’s wearing his gorro with fuzzy jirafas./Mama parks her silla and puts on her gafas.” You could make some good guesses, but it’s certainly easier with Bebé sporting a hat decorated with giraffes as mom puts down her chair and puts on her glasses. In this story, it seems that the baby is a bit of a handful zipping around the beach, but mom still gets a chance to have fun with her son.

Duck DunksDuck Dunks,
written by Lynne Berry, illustrated by Hiroe Nakota

I loved the art of Duck Skates, so I was all psyched for the new title. I enjoyed the cute story as five ducks head to the beach and swim, snack, play, and fly kites in a gorgeous blue sky over an aquamarine ocean. Light and easy sing-song rhymes keep the book fun: “Five little ducklings, hand in hand, skip from the boardwalk, into the sand.” Fun book for preschoolers and anyone who likes really cute ducks. I mean, they are really cute ducks.


Comic Strips for Kids

Posted by Susan on July 1, 2009 at 12:00 AM in Comics and Graphic Novels
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There's a magical series in the world of children's books. I've seen kids who hate to read devour these books. The copies at my library keep falling apart and we can never keep the books on the shelf. When I worked in a bookstore, I was always tripping over kids in the aisles who had sat down to read right in front of where these books were displayed. I've watched everyone from 6 to 60 become mesmerized by them. What's the name of this incredible series that casts such a spell?

Calvin and Hobbes.

You thought I was going to say Harry Potter, didn't you? I'll save that series for another post.

Bill Watterson's comic strip about a hyper kid and his stuffed tiger ran in the newspapers for only ten years, from 1985 to 1995. It's been fourteen years since the last strip appeared and Calvin's popularity doesn't seem to have waned for a minute. It's a timeless creation that can be enjoyed by nearly every age.

What does this have to do with children's books? Reading is reading, no matter what form it takes. Popular comic strip such as Calvin and Hobbes frequently sell out in bookstores and have incredibly high circulation rates in public and school libraries. Children and teenagers ask all the time for Calvin, Zits, Foxtrot, Garfield and Peanuts. Unfortunately, at least half of the time I get a request for a comic strip book, I hear a parent tell their child that they shouldn't be wasting their time with comics, and urging the kid to pick out better books.

This pains me every time I hear it. Calvin is somebody kids can relate to. He has temper tantrums, he gets in trouble, he has a huge imagination and he doesn't always pay attention. In short, he's a typical kid. And the books are full of are full of complex words and ideas that challenge readers.

Think about a child who is struggling with reading. A chapter book full of words can be completely overwhelming but a comic strip is far less threatening and full of visual cues. Comic strips can help kids learn to read and develop a sense of humor. Reading a small number of panels to get to the punch line can give kids a sense of accomplishment. A collection can be put down and picked up at any time without interrupting the continuity. And most important, comic strips can show kids how fun reading can be.

Look at the picture below. Doesn't it make you want to read the book?

Essential Calvin.jpg

Comic strips are universal and appeal to a wide variety of people of all ages. A while back, I commuted into D.C. via the subway. Practically everybody on the train bought a copy of the Washington Post before they got onboard. And, every single day, 90% of the papers were open to the comics section.

My husband and I have completely different literary tastes. When we got married and merged our book collections, there was only one series that we both owned. Garfield.

The next time you see your child gaze longingly at Calvin and his stuffed tiger, let them give it a try, even if you think they're too young to get the jokes. Or hand a collection to a kid who's struggling and feeling unsuccessful at school. It might make a bigger difference than you think.

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