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Jen Robinson: May 2009 Archives


Outdoor Reading

Posted by Jen Robinson on May 25, 2009 at 3:00 AM in Recommendations
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Happy Memorial Day! In honor of the holiday that marks (in the US, anyway) the start of summer, I'd like to talk about outdoor reading. I was inspired in this by a recent post at Australian blog The Book Chook. Blogger/reading advocate Susan Stephenson (one of the organizers of the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour from earlier this year) shared several of her favorite childhood reading spots (including "halfway up our huge jacaranda tree"). She closed by asked her readers "Where do you read?".

Part of my response (in the comments) was: "when I was a kid I read in the car (for even the shortest of drives), up in a tree in my yard, on the roof of our house (love those dormer windows), and on a raft in the lake (you have to swim with one arm holding the book up, it's a bit awkward, but worth it)." I SO wish I had photos, especially of the skinny little kid swimming out to a raft, holding a book up in the air.

momson.JPGWhat the most memorable of my childhood reading spots have in common, I realize now, is that they are all out of doors. It's been quite a while since I climbed up into a tree to read. But reading out of doors, particularly in some scenic location, remains one of my greatest joys. I'll go a step further, and say that it's how I recharge, how I heal myself, how I do what I love while remaining connected to the world. (Image credit: photo by taliesin, made available for use at MorgueFile.)

One of the best days that I have ever spent was during a vacation to Bar Harbor, Maine not long after college. We stayed at a tiny hotel with individual cabins, right on the ocean. After several days of hiking together, I sent my boyfriend off on his own one day to tackle another mountain. I spent the entire day on a chaise lounge on a little peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by water and trees, reading. Even now, when things are stressful, I travel back in my head to that oasis of a day. It continues to make me happy. And it's perhaps not a coincidence that on the day, quite a few years later, that the same boyfriend asked me to marry him, he left me sitting on a deck facing the Pacific Ocean, reading, while he was off making preparations.

Something about the outdoor reading actually sharpens my memories of my surroundings. I can still remember what beverages I drank that day in Bar Harbor, and what books I was reading. I can feel the wooden raft on Echo Lake, in New Hampshire, and picture the gray water. I can sketch the way the branches came together on the tree in my side yard. I can smell the tar on the roof. And I'm not a person who is generally blessed with a good memory. Reading and spending time out of doors are far from incompatible. And in fact, they can enhance one another.

GirlReading_Carolina_Antunes.jpgSummer is here, and that means that it's time to start talking about summer reading programs for kids. You can find resources about summer reading here at PBS, at Reading Rockets, and all over the Kidlitosphere (I'll follow up with more links in a future post). But to me, summer reading for kids is about much more than lists of recommended books. It's about more than having time to read books outside of school (although that is a wonderful thing). To me, summer reading is about reading out of doors, on a beach, on a raft, on a sun-warmed rock, in a weathered rowboat, or up in a tree. Summer reading is about the smell of sunscreen and salt and chlorine. It's about feeling the sun on your shoulders, and having to angle the book to reduce the glare. It's about shaking the sand out of your book, and having the lower part of the pages get warped from resting on your wet bathing suit. (Image credit: photo by Carool, made available for use at MorgueFile)

IMG_2627.JPGOne of the marvelous things about books (as Susan mentioned in her post) is how portable and sturdy they are. You can take them anywhere. You can read them in bright sunlight. If you're careful, you can even read them in the middle of the lake. Might I suggest, then, as you plan your family's outdoor events for the summer, that you think about bringing along a book or two. Or ten. Wouldn't it be nice, thirty years from now, for your kids to be able to share their memories of the fabulous places that they read books as children? (Image credit: photo by Wallyir, made available at MorgueFile.)

What does summer reading mean to you? Did you ever read outdoors when you were a child? Did you have a favorite spot? Does your child? I would love to hear your feedback! Happy Memorial Day!


The Cybils Awards

Posted by Jen Robinson on May 18, 2009 at 6:00 AM in AwardsRecommendations
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CybilsLogoSmall.jpg Are you, as a parent, teacher or librarian, looking for well-written, kid-friendly books to recommend to your kids? If so, I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to learn about the Cybils awards. The Cybils are a series of book awards given by children's and young adult book bloggers in nine categories. The Cybils awards highlight books that have both literary merit and kid appeal. Anyone can nominate books (one nomination per person per category), resulting in a wide array of nominated titles (see the 2008 nomination lists here). Nominated titles in each category then go through a rigorous two-round selection process, the first to identify a short list of five to seven titles, and the second to select a winner. The judges for this process are children's and young adult book bloggers, including parents, teachers, librarians, authors, and literacy advocates. People who read, review, and recommend children's books every day.

The Cybils awards were founded by Anne Boles Levy and Kelly Herold. More than 80 participants are involved each year from the Kidlitosphere, in addition to many members of the public who nominate titles. I've been on the organizing committee for the Cybils since the awards were launced in 2006. My current title is Cybils Literacy Evangelist. Booklights' own Pam Coughlan was the organizer for the Fiction Picture Books category this year, while Susan Kusel was a tireless promoter for the Cybils (especially the new Easy Reader category) at Wizards Wireless.

The Cybils winners and short lists are an excellent source of well-written, engaging titles. They've been called the "organic chicken nuggets" of the children's book world. One of the best things about the Cybils is the range of categories, fiction and nonfiction for different age ranges, along with poetry, graphic novels, and fantasy and science fiction titles. The Cybils short lists have something for everyone!

Here are the Cybils winners to date:

EPNewToy.jpgEasy Readers
2008: I Love My New Toy by Mo Willems, Hyperion. This is the first year that the Cybils has included an Easy Reader category. You can find the full list of nominated titles here.

GraveyardBook.jpgMiddle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction
2008: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, HarperCollins.
2007: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, Disney/Hyperion.
2006: Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud, Hyperion: Miramax.

HungerGames.jpgYoung Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction
2008: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Scholastic. My review.
2007: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Bloomsbury USA Children's Books.

BrokenWing.jpgFiction Picture Books
2008: How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham, Candlewick Press.
2007: The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County, written by Janice N. Harrington and illustrated by Shelley Jackson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
2006: Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt, Kids Can Press. My review.

RapunzelsRevenge.jpgMiddle Grade Graphic Novels
2008: Rapunzel's Revenge written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale and illustrated by Nathan Hale, Bloomsbury USA.
2007: Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel written by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano and Paolo Lamanna, Hyperion.
2006: Amelia Rules, vol. 3: Superheroes by Jimmy Gownley, Renaissance Press.

EmikoSuperstar.jpgYoung Adult Graphic Novels
2008: Emiko Superstar written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Steve Rolston, Minx.
2007: The Professor's Daughter written by Joann Sfar and illustrated by Emmanuel Guibert, First Second.
2006: American Born Chinese by Gene Yang, First Second.

LondonEye.jpgMiddle Grade Fiction
2008: The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd, David Fickling Books. My review.
2007: A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban, Harcourt. My review
2006: A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz, Candlewick. My review.

YearWeDisappeared.jpgMG/YA Nonfiction
2008: The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby and John Busby, Bloomsbury USA. (I nominated this title!) My review.
2007: Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
2006: Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman, Holiday House.

NicBishop.jpgNonfiction Picture Books
2008: Nic Bishop Frogs by Nic Bishop, Scholastic Nonfiction.
2007: Lightship by Brian Floca, Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books.
2006: An Egg Is Quiet written by Dianna Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long, Chronicle Books. My review.

2008: Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose by Naomi Shihab Nye, HarperCollins.
2007: This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness, written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, Houghton Mifflin.
2006: Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes, Houghton Mifflin.

disreputablebig.jpgYoung Adult Fiction
2008: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Hyperion.
2007: Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Houghton Mifflin.
2006: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Knopf Books for Young Readers. My review.

You can find printable lists of the Cybils short lists for the past three years on the Cybils blog (in the right-hand sidebar), along with blurbs about each title. I think that these short lists are a tremendous resource. Think about it. Five to seven high-quality titles in each of the above categories, from each year. I think you'll find the lists well worth a look. And when the time comes for nominations for 2009 titles, I'll be sure to check back in with you for your input. Happy reading!


Rick Riordan Event: Jen

Posted by Jen Robinson on May 11, 2009 at 3:00 AM in Authors and Illustrators
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LastOlympian.pngThis weekend, I attended a book signing by Rick Riordan at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, CA. The event was in honor of the publication of the fifth and final book in the Percy Jackson series, The Last Olympian. Despite the best efforts of the Kepler's staff, it was a complete madhouse - some 600+ people crammed into a single store, all with books they wanted signed.

Keplers1.jpgBut it was amazing, too. Hundreds of kids choosing to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon at a bookstore. Kids waiting more or less patiently in line for hours, that eager to meet an author. Kids treating said author like a rock star (my friend Camille, who blogs at Book Moot, calls him Rockstar Rick Riordan). It was a beautiful thing. (The pictures to the right were taken about 30 minutes before the signing, and give you some idea of how mobbed this event was.)

Keplers2.jpgThe event stared with Rick speaking to a packed crowd for just a few minutes, and then answering questions from the kids. He talked about his time working as a teacher in the Bay Area, and how the first seeds for the Percy Jackson series came from experiences that he had in California. It was a nice tie-in for the local crowd.

Here are a few highlights from the Q&A:

Rick's favorite characters from the series: Grover and Tyson. (I agree. I especially love Tyson)

Greek parent that Rick would like to have, if he were a Half-Blood: Poseidon.

Greek parent that Rick thought he would actually have: Dionysus, or someone else like that.

Rick's favorite myth: Orpheus

Keplers5.jpgOn whether the movie set for The Lightning Thief accurately represents Camp Half-Blood: The best pictures are always the ones in your head, so it's always hard to see the movie at first (though he was in general wowed by the movie set - see here for details).

And the two pieces of news that elicited screams of excitement from the crowd:

1. Rick is working on a second series about Camp Half-Blood, with the first book due out in late 2010, featuring next generation characters. He promised that some of the characters that we know and love will be there in the background, though not the major focus of the new stories.

2. He is also working on a new book based on Egyptian mythology, and promises that next spring, "the Gods of Egypt will be invading the modern world." Boy, is that series going to be huge.

Keplers4.jpgYou could tell during the Q&A that the author was a former teacher. All of his attention was for the kids. The signing portion felt like a parade, with people everywhere, and everyone there had books in hand. They even had a wheel that you could spin, to see which of the "Big 3" gods was your father. (The picture shows my better half, spinning the wheel. He landed on Hades. But we thought that the wheel was rigged - most people seemed to land on Hades.)

Keplers3.jpgWe had to wait in line ourselves for about an hour, but it was time well spent. I was impressed by the many parents who took time out on a Saturday afternoon to bring their kids to a celebration of books. Seeing kids, and their parents, treating any author like a rockstar is an inspiration.

Other links:


Favorite Children's Books: Jen

Posted by Jen Robinson on May 4, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Middle Grade BooksRecommendations
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JenRobinsonEarlyReader.jpg Continuing last week's discussion of favorite books, I would like to share some of my favorite titles for middle grade readers (ages 8 to 12). I've been a reader since a very young age (as is apparent from the photo to the right) It's nearly impossible to narrow down to 10 titles, out of all of the children's books out there. But here are a few of my treasured favorites, books that I've read multiple times. I've limited myself to one title per author, though many of these authors have written other books that I loved, too. Most of these are books that I own in multiple editions, because I can never resist them when I run across them. I have not ranked this list, because that would be truly impossible. It is alphabetical by author.

  • 21WXW4GJCQL._SL500_AA140_.jpgReturn to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright. I love all of Elizabeth Enright's books. Her Melendy family quartet sets the standard, I think, for kid-friendly, accessible stories about families (see my reviews of the first two Melendy family books: The Saturdays and The Four-Story Mistake). But Gone-Away Lake and the sequel, Return to Gone-Away, are magical. They epitomize summer, adventure, and things that kids find cool. They are timeless. I give the edge to Return to Gone-Away, because I love the house that the children move into. But anything by Elizabeth Enright is worth reading.
  • Maida's Little Shop by Inez Haynes Irwin. Maida's Little Shop was originally published in 1910, and was the first of a series of 15 books about the motherless daughter of a magnanimous tycoon, and her close-knit group of friends. I can't really say how these books hold up for new readers, but they were among the first books that I loved and collected. The Maida books also taught me, early, that children's books are not just for children. My grandmother introduced them to me.
  • ForgottenDoor.jpgThe Forgotten Door by Alexander Key. My review. The Forgotten Door is the book that made me fall in love with science fiction. It's about a boy from an advanced world who falls through a long-unused door into our own world, where most people are less than kind. It's a slim novel, but one that makes readers think. Key also wrote Escape to Witch Mountain.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. A Wrinkle in Time is another classic title that taught me the joy of reading science fiction and fantasy novels. The bonus with AWIT, though, is that the main character feels so very real.
  • TheGiver.jpgThe Giver by Lois Lowry. The Giver was probably the book that ignited my passion for dystopian fiction. It is also famous for having an ambiguous ending (though that ending becomes more clear in a later companion story).
  • AnneOfGreenGables.jpgAnne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. I truly believe that Anne Shirley helped to shape the person that I became. There's a reason why people are still reading about her (and even writing prequels) after more than 100 years.
  • Clementine.jpgClementine by Sara Pennypacker (ill. Marla Frazee). My review. Clementine is a modern-day children's book character, one who I feel deserves a place right along with Pippi Longstocking and Ramona. Clementine is 100% real, and hilariously funny. I think that all early elementary school children should have a chance to read about her. I also enjoyed the next two books in the series, The Talented Clementine, and Clementine's Letter.
  • TheLightningThief.jpgThe Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. My review. The Lightning Thief is the first book in Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. These books are modern classics. I think that they will be read for generations. They are well-written, engrossing, funny, and filled with mythological details that never feel like lessons. The fifth and final book in the Percy Jackson series, The Last Olympian, is scheduled for publication tomorrow.
  • HarryPotter1.jpgHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling. Of course the Harry Potter books are modern classics, too. The thing that I like best about this series, apart from the fact that I enjoy reading the books, is the fact that they have turned millions of children and adults on to reading children's books. Their impact can't be over-estimated.
  • TheVelvetRoom.jpgThe Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. My reviews: here and here. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was probably my favorite author when I was growing up. Her books are filled with magic,, adventure, and memorable characters. My two favorites, The Velvet Room and The Changeling, are books that I read over and over again. The Velvet Room also houses my favorite fictional room from children's literature.

One thing that's clear to me from assembling this list is how strong childhood loyalties are. It take a lot for a recent title to push aside one of my childhood favorites. But the ones on this list made the cut. What are your favorite children's books? Are you able to find recent titles that take their place alongside your childhood favorites, or do your childhood preferences reign supreme?

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