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Jen Robinson: July 2009 Archives


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Mid-Summer Edition

Posted by Jen Robinson on July 27, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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I've run across a few useful posts about encouraging young readers from around the universe of children's and young adult book bloggers (aka the Kidlitosphere), and thought that I would share them here.

KillerPizza.jpgThe Book Chook suggests using scary books to engage kids in reading (for those kids looking for chills, of course). After some concrete suggestions, like the Goosebumps series, she concludes: "Don't despair if your child wants to be a beastly boy or ghastly girl. Go with the flow that goes bump in the night, and let them read scary stories. Once seduced by the thrill of books that put them inside a ghost house or monster's cave, it's not such a stre-e-etch to go further along the pathway to reading." [I'd suggest, for kids who have graduated from the Goosebumps books, but are still looking for horror, Killer Pizza, by Greg Taylor.]

At BookMuse, Robin Gibson shares some selections from the Gifted Reader's Bill of Rights (from Bertie Kingore, link goes to PDF). Robin's highlights are focused on making sure that kids are allowed to read books that challenge them. For example: "I have the right to read at a pace and level that matches my ability, no matter what grade I'm in." I think that these rights are great. But personally (as regular readers know), I'd also like to make sure that gifted readers have the right to read books that don't challenge them, but that they enjoy, at least some of the time. I think that Jennie Rothschild from Biblio File would agree. Jennie recently wrote: "Everyone should always be reading something below level, something above level, and something at level. This mixture is what lets us grow as readers."

Dawn Morris at Moms Inspire Learning has a follow-on to her recent YA Books and Bikes post (in which she made the analogy: "Would you let your children ride their bikes on major streets when they were 10 years old? Would you let your children read teen books when they were 10 years old?"). This time, she discusses the need for parents to keep an eye, even if a distant eye, on what their kids are reading, and offers suggestions for book lists and reviews (including my feature on series books for adventurous girls from here at Booklights).

Lori Calabrese shares tips for how to build your child's library on a budget, ranging from the obvious suggestion to use the library to creative ideas like holding book swaps asking relatives to give books as gifts. She concludes with this lovely quote: ""A home without books is like a room without windows ... A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life." ~Henry Ward Beecher." Lori also offers suggestions for helping your child while reading. She explains: "You can prepare your child to read by sharing your time, talking about the world around you, telling and reading stories and asking and answering questions", and offers concrete suggestions. I especially liked #10 "Talk about the stories. Ask and answer questions. Share ideas about the funniest and most interesting characters and events in the stories".

And last, but not least, I found a nice post by Lisa at 5 Minutes for Books about her first-hand experience reading aloud to her daughter from birth. She says: "And now, one year later, I look at my little angel. She is a toddler, busy walking, talking and exploring all the fun to be had in every nook and cranny of our home. The only time I can get her to sit still is when I pull out a book. ... I am glad I read to that little newborn, because somewhere along the way she learned to love books." But do read the whole thing -- it's a lovely endorsement of the benefits that stem from reading aloud.

For more links about children's literacy and reading, check out this week's Children's Literacy Round-Up, written by Terry Doherty and myself, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, and last week's round-up at The Reading Tub.


More Series Books Featuring Adventurous Girls

Posted by Jen Robinson on July 20, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Middle Grade BooksRecommendations
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Last week I suggested several current series with adventurous girl protagonists. Commenters to that post pointed out a few notable oversights, and I'd like to share those this week.

sistersgrimm.jpgMichael Buckley's Sisters Grimm series was suggested by both Stephanie and Laura. I actually had this series on my mental list at one point, and then neglected to include it. I've only read the first two books (reviews here: The Fairy Tale Detectives and The Unusual Suspects), but there are seven books available. This is an excellent series for elementary school readers. It features two sisters who find themselves in the family business of investigating criminal behavior among the EverAfters (fairy tale characters living real lives in a particular town). The irrepressible Puck was my favorite character from the first book, The Fairy Tale Detectives. They're lovely hardcovers, too, excellent gift books.

YoungWizards.jpgDiane Duane's Young Wizards series (currently at eight books, with a ninth expected in 2010), was recommended by Deva Fagan. This series actually has two primary protagonists, a boy and a girl who are wizard partners in a society that lies hidden within our own. The presence of a very strong younger sister character makes this series definitely qualify for inclusion. Nita, Dairine, and Kit are all among my favorite characters. This is a series in which the magic is relatively mathematical, and in which real-life family dynamics play a strong part, too. As with many series, the books do get a bit darker as the series progresses, with the later books more suited to middle school and up than elementary school. The only one that I've reviewed is the most recent, Wizards at War, because I read the other books before starting my blog. (And, in fact, this series is one that kept me reading YA as an adult, even when I wasn't blogging.) The first book is So You Want to Be a Wizard, in which Nita discovers a wizard's manual, and is partnered with Kit.

200px-Sandry's_book.jpgDeva and My Boaz's Ruth also both recommended Tamora Pierce's books (specifically, the Protector of the Small and the Circle of Magic series). I hadn't included Pierce because I think of her books more as straight-up YA, but Deva and Ruth both remind me that these series start with the characters around 10 or so. The only Pierce title that I've reviewed is Wild Magic (#1 in the Immortals Quartet). But I have read the first Circle of Magic book, Sandry's Book. The first book in the Protector of the Small series is First Test. Tamora Pierce is known for writing about strong female characters, and her books are huge hits with teen readers. I personally tend more towards fantasy that is set in and around our modern world, rather than your knights and castles sort of fantasy, which is why I haven't read more of these. But I have read enough to feel quite comfortable recommending these books.

My Boaz's Ruth also mentioned several older titles that feature strong girls (Trixie Belden, etc.). This reminded me of a list that I created on my blog in 2006, 200 Cool Girls of Children's Literature. I started with a list of a few girls from children's literature who I thought were smart, brave, strong, and independent. With the help of many, many reader suggestions, I eventually collected a list of more than 200 cool girls. I later added a Cool Boys list, now at about 175 or so. Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading were inspired to create their own list, of 100 Cool Teachers of Children's Literature, which is delightful. And TheBookDragon collects "Great and/or Infamous Librarians in Children's and YA Literature" in her sidebar. One day, I'll find time to update the Cool Girl and Boy lists with my discoveries from the past three years. Meanwhile, I thought that I would share the links here, in case any of you find them useful.


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.


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.

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