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1. It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader: Kelly Jensen

Book: It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader
Author: Kelly Jensen
Pages: 278
Age Range: Adult (reference title for librarians and others who do reader's advisory for teens)

I'm not quite the target audience for It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader, but I've been following Kelly Jensen's blog for years, and I have a lot of respect for her knowledge of and advocacy for young adult fiction. So when she had a contest on her blog to win a copy of It Happens, I decided to enter. And I won! So now I'm here to tell you a bit about the book. 

It Happens is a reference title for anyone who provides reader's advisory to teens, and wants to do better at recommending contemporary realistic fiction. As a blogger/reviewer, I do some of what Kelly calls "passive reader's advisory" (recommending titles, and discussing what interests a particular book might fall under). I can imagine doing more active reader's advisory (where you discuss a teen's interest with them and recommend specific titles) when my daughter and her friends are teenagers. In the meantime, I do a little of that with my nieces, friends who read YA, etc.

Anyway, this book is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to get the right books into the hands of teens, particularly librarians and teachers. It Happens is both a primer on HOW to get the right book into the right hands and a resource with suggestions for exactly what those books might be. In Part 1, Kelly defines realistic contemporary young adult fiction, discusses why this genre is both important and under-publicized, and provides some general resources (book awards, etc.) for discovering titles. She also proposes methods for evaluating and categorizing YA titles, and concludes with a detailed chapter on reader's advisory skills. 

Here is Kelly's definition of contemporary YA, from the end of Chapter 1:

"Contemporary YA features young adult protagonists set in today's world incorporating today's issues, paralleling and intertwining with the values that every teen - and every reader - thinks about: family, friendship, growing up, loss, faith, the future, and many, many more." (Page 8)

She starts each chapter with a quote (some short, some long) from an author or a librarian or other gatekeeper. I found these quotations inspirational in many cases. Like this, from Lisa Schroeder:

"... But perhaps after closing the pages of a well-done contemporary YA novel, a teen will think: If she can make it through, I can, too." (Page 9)

That's why we're here, right? To find the books that can make a real different for kids. I also personally, as a member of the children's book blogging community, enjoyed seeing quotes from people whose blogs I've been reading for years, like Liz Burns and Sarah Gross. [Though I think it would have been helpful for readers less familiar with the community had at least the names of these people's blogs been included.] 

As a reviewer, I found that Chapter 4, on methods for evaluating fiction, resonated, even though (or perhaps because) some of the topics were things that I have been thinking about for a long time. Here's what Kelly has to say about critical evaluation:

"Critical evaluation highlights the elements of a text that work well and those that don't work quite so well. All books have their strengths and their weaknesses, and while critical evaluation sounds like a way to tease out and emphasize only the parts that don't work, that's not the case. Exploring what does and does not work at the same time offers a thorough means for understanding not just the book at hand, but fiction more widely. (Page 27)

All in all, I enjoyed the first part of the book, and learned a bit about book genres and reader's advisory. But for me, where It Happens really shines is in Part 2. In this section, Kelly provides fifteen book "annotations" for each of ten separate topics, thus profiling 150 books in detail. Her selections are all relatively current titles (from the past 10 years), and do not include the obvious, huge print run titles, which people already know about. 

Each annotation includes a cover image, a brief summary of the book, a link to the book's trailer, if available, and a list of "Appeal Factors" (e.g. "female main character", "moving", "deafness", etc.). The appeal factors are very useful (and an index of the factors is available at the end of the book). Kelly goes beyond the genres to get into real specifics, like books set in particular locations, books with people of color or non-traditional families, books about filmmaking or fishing, etc.  

Below that, Kelly also includes a brief section on "Read Alikes" for each book. These Read Alikes were what impressed me the most about It Happens. Rather than just including a list of similar books, Kelly discusses just what it is about this book that might appeal to readers who liked some other title. And then she'll also discuss other books that might make a good follow-on read, and WHY. These references, these connections between the books, really showcase Kelly's deep knowledge of the field. I didn't read every annotation in detail, but I found the Read Alikes fascinating. 

At the end of each chapter/topic, Kelly includes another list of related titles. Then, at the end of the book, she provides several chapters dedicated to books that are good conversations starters around specific issues like bullying and sexual assault. She discusses four or five books in detail for each topic. She gets into exactly what types of discussions a parent or teacher might launch based on having read each book. As the parent of a four year old girl, I'm hoping for an update of this section in about 8-10 years. But I'll keep this edition handy in any case. 

I do wish that It Happens was available as a digital text. It would be lovely to be able to click through to read more about the additional titles listed at the end of each section, or to click on an "Appeal Factor" listed at the end of a book profile and immediately bring up all of the other books listed under that same appeal factor. But it's nice to have It Happens in printed form as a reference to keep on my bookshelf, too. 

The very last chapter of It Happens is a call for readers of the book to advocate for contemporary YA fiction as a genre: to read extensively, and work hard to promote strong titles and get them into readers' hands. For example, Kelly suggests nominating strong contemporary YA titles for the YALSA and Cybils awards. [I, of course, especially appreciated several Cybils references throughout the book.] This is a positive note on which to leave readers, giving them strong next steps to take.  

I will also admit that I found parts of the book a bit physically difficult to read. It Happens is an oversize paperback, and while the format works well for the chapters with book descriptions, it's not quite a comfortable fit to put the book on your lap and read the first section straight through. Also, this section includes quite a few text boxes, set aside from the main text. Some of the text boxes were excerpts of the main text, while others were supplemental. I found this a bit confusing. Visually, the text boxes keep the oversized book from appearing too dense in the non-booklist sections, but functionally, I thought that the ones that didn't provide new information would have been better left out. But that's the most critical thing I have to say in my evaluation of the book. 

All in all, I think that It Happens is a useful resource for anyone who evaluates young adult fiction, including blogging reviewers like me. For those are true gatekeepers, out there in the trenches getting books into the hands of teens, it is essential. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: VOYA Press (@VOYAMagazine)
Publication Date: August 15, 2014
Source of Book: Won from the author in a raffle

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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2. Bats in the Band: Brian Lies

Book: Bats in the Band
Author/Illustrator: Brian Lies 
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

Oh happy day! There is a new book in Brian Lies' Bats series, after Bats at the Library (review), Bats at the Beach, and Bats at the Ballgame (review). Lies' accomplished bats are back, and this time, they are making music with Bats in the Band. While the musical evening setting doesn't resonate quite as much for me as the earlier library or baseball game settings, it's still lovely to be immersing myself in Lies' detailed illustrations, and reading his rhyming but varied prose aloud. In this story, as night falls one evening, a number of bats experience a common yen to make music. They converge on a "summertime theater", deserted late at night, and engage in an impromptu series of musical acts. 

 Here are my two favorite snippets of text:

"Some bats have instruments perfect in size,
Others, without them, will just improvise.
Behind the stage curtain, they're getting in tune,
making up things out of straws, out of spoons.

and

"Then the shimmering vibrations
dwindle down and fade away--
and a silence fills our ears,
as loud as anything we played."

See what I mean? Each set of couplets rhymes, making Bats in the Band nice for read-aloud, but because the passages don't all have the same number of syllables, it doesn't feel sing-songy. I love how Lies uses strong vocabulary words, like "dwindle" and "shimmering". 

And the bats! Set against mainly dark backdrops, the bats have finely textured fur, bright black eyes, and jaunty ears. Their instruments mostly look like real instruments. However, careful study of the illustrations reveals things like a bat guitarist sitting on a champagne cork, and scraps of straws and bottle-caps put into service as instruments.

Bats in the Band has a delightfully silly premise, brought to life with a joie de vivre that could awaken in any reader a fresh appreciation for music. Highly recommended, and a must-read for fans of the series. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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3. The Summer I Saved the World . . . in 65 Days: Michele Weber Hurwitz

Book: The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days
Author: Michele Weber Hurwitz
Pages: 272
Age Range: 10 and up

The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days is about a thirteen-year-old girl who decides to do "one good thing every single day", anonymously, over the summer before starting high school. This would not ordinarily be my sort of thing. But The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days is about much more than the good deeds themselves. It's about that awkward stage in life when you start to grow in different directions from your childhood friends. It's about neighbors, and family, and the very early stages of adolescent attraction. And of all of this is exactly my sort of thing. I liked this book very much. 

Nina is someone who most readers will be able to relate to on one level or another. She likes playing basketball (though she's not sure she can make the high school team). She's exploring a new interest in art. She has a group of friends that she's spent time with because of common activities, but isn't sure she really belongs with them. She plays cheerfully with the little boy next door. She feels frustrated by her work-obsessed parents, and mourns a time when her family was different. And she both loves and is frustrated by her long-time best friend, Jorie. She declares herself "in beween everything". So many of us have been there at one point or another. 

The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days could almost have been written about a girl about to start middle school, instead of high school. It is definitely age-appropriate for middle schoolers - there are a couple of kisses; even the rebellious older brother sits around with his friends and plays poker and drinks root beer.

It's also relatively timeless. Much is made of Nina's not-very-functional cell phone. To me this seemed to be a device to keep Nina focused on the real world, and real conversations. There's plenty of playing ball in the cul-de-sac, gardening, and going to the playground. 

One thing that I really liked about this book was the way that the author highlights everyone in Nina's small neighborhood. This includes people of all ages, and at least a bit of ethnic diversity. There's a little map of the cul-de-sac at the front of the book, adding to cozy feel of the setting.

There's no question that The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days is a feel-good, coming of age story. Nina learns to "step up", instead of waiting for other people to do things. Her actions help to draw the neighborhood together (despite the suspicious reaction of one resident). But Michele Weber Hurwitz keeps the book from feeling message-y by focusing on Nina's first-person voice, and by making it clear that everything Nina does is self-directed. Here's what Nina has to say about it:

"I've never been terrific at finishing projects. This past year, I started a scrapbook, a journal, three books, daily yoga stretches, and a beauty routine involving a weekly mask and blackhead strips. I didn't continue any of them. I got bored, distracted. But the sixty-five things are something I want to finish. I have to. They're sneaky and fun and exciting--thinking of them, figuring out how to keep them secret. Every time, I get this filled-up, kind of powerful feeling. Strong. Hopeful." (Page 53)

The Summer I Save the World ... in 65 Days is a very nice read for middle schoolers, more girls than boys, I think (particularly given the pink and yellow cover). It addresses that yen that kids get sometimes to be a better person, and also explores the "in between" times that arise as kids grow up, and sometimes grow away from other people. There's a light romance and a smidgen of family drama to keep things interesting. The Summer I Saved the World .. in 65 Days is a fun book with heart. Recommended!

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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4. Comics Squad: Recess!: Jennifer L. Holm and others

Book: Comics Squad: Recess!
Authors: Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, Jarrett Krosoczka, Raina Telgemeier & Dave Roman, Dan Santat, Dav Pilkey, Ursula Vernon, Eric Wight, and Gene Luen Yang
Pages: 144
Age Range: 7-10

Comics Squad: Recess! is a new collaborative book produced by a team of today's top cartoonists/illustrators/graphic novelists. It features eight stories, all told in comic strip format. The stories are set in an elementary school environment, and are relevant to the concerns of younger elementary schoo kids. Oh, and they are funny, of course. 

Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, creators of the Babymouse and Squish series, and Jarrett Krosoczka, creator of the Lunch Lady series, are the editors. Babymouse and Lunch Lady make a few cameo appearances before and between the other stories - I guess you could say that they are the informal hosts to the book. Babymouse also appears in one of the stories, repeatedly thwarted in her "Quest for Recess" ("Typical!". Lunch Lady is actually out sick, but Betty is on the job (and stocked up with new inventions) in "Betty and the Perilous Pizza Day".

As I've personally read most of the Babymouse and Lunch Lady books already, I was interested to see what the other authors would come up with. It's quite a varied lot. I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek humor of Gene Yang's "The Super-Secret Ninja Club", and the frankly adorable cupcake in Eric Wight's "Jiminy Sprinkles in "Freeze Tag"". Ursula Vernon's "The Magic Acorn" features squirrels meeting up with a tiny alien in an acorn-shaped spaceship. "The Rainy Day Monitor" by Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier celebrates the joys of pretending (with some pretty funny, mostly fake celebrity cameos). Dan Santat, on the other hand, mocks the idea of writing a 300 word essay on The Giving Tree, while giving the teeny-tiniest hint of a middle grade romance. 

My favorite story was Dav Pilkey's "Book 'Em, Dog Man". Pilkey writes this as if it were the work of a pair of comic-obsessed young boys. The story is introduced with a letter written by the disapproving teacher of the boys, like this: "As you will see, this comic book contains multiple scenes of stealing, violence, and unlawfulness... and don't get me started on the spelling and grammar!" Personally, I thought that the second-grade-appropriate spelling was hilarious ("desidid", "excape", etc.). 

But it's all fun. Though the tone and style of the eight stories varies, a common orange and black color palette across the book lends a certain visual consistency. 

Comics Squad: Recess! is dedicated to The Nerdy Book Club, which I thought was a particularly appropriate touch. The Nerdy Book Club members, like the authors of Comics Squad, dedicate their working lives to ensuring the kids find reading fun. 

Comics Squad: Recess! is an excellent introduction for younger kids to graphic novels. Including a range of authors ensures that each reader is bound to find at least one story that resonates. This is a book that all elementary school libraries will want to carry (probably in multiple copies). Just be prepared for requests for more of Comics Squad! Fortunately, the authors have other titles available. Comics Squad: Recess! is the absolute epitome of "kid-friendly". Highly recommended. I'll be keeping my copy for when my daughter is a tiny bit older. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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5. The Scarecrows' Wedding: Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

Book: The Scarecrows' Wedding
Author: Julia Donaldson
Illustrator: Axel Scheffler
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

The Scarecrows' Wedding is the latest picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axle Scheffler, the team that created the beloved book The Gruffalo. The Gruffalo is one of my husband's favorite books to read aloud to our four-year-old daughter. They like the rhythm of the text, combined with the every-so-slight scariness of "the deep dark woods." The Scarecrows' Wedding has a similar rhythmic feel. It is a book that begs to be read aloud. The subject matter is a bit lighter, though there is a risk of death near the end of the book.

In The Scarecrows' Wedding, scarecrows Betty O'Barley and Harry O'Hay decide to get married. Betty draws up a short list of her expectations for the wedding. Their farmyard friends help with some of these, but Harry ends up gong off on a quest to find "lots of pink flowers." While he's gone, a slick new scarecrow attempts to make time with Betty. But, of course, it all works out in the end. 

Here's an example of Donaldson's bouncy text:

"They hadn't gone far when some cows gathered round,
And the bells round their necks made a wonderful sound.
Ring-a-ding ding! Ring-a-ding ding!
"Oh, cows, will you please come and make your bells ring
For our wonderful wedding, the best wedding yet,
The wedding that no one will ever forget?"

That last bit, about the wonderful wedding that no one will ever forget, is repeated at intervals throughout the book, giving young readers a chance to chime in. There's subtle humor for adult readers, too, like the fact that the scarecrow who intervenes is called "Reginald Rake." He looks like a rake, too. 

Scheffler's illustrations are kid-friendly, with wide-eyed people and animals. The affection between the two scarecrows is conveyed via their companionable proximity and pink-cheeked smiles. The scarecrows move about as awkwardly as you would expect scarecrows to move, and there are tons of different types of animals to name and count sprinkled throughout the book. 

I believe that The Scarecrows' Wedding is going to make an immediate entry into my family's go-to bedtime reading list. It is a sure-fire hit, and must-purchase for libraries. This will be a great title to read to kids, alone or in groups, come fall. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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6. Growing Bookworms Newsletter: July 30

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. I currenty send the newsletter out every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews (picture book to adult), two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently, and an summary post about the status of KidLitCon planning

Reading Update: In the last three weeks I read four middle grade books and one adult book. I read:

I'm currently reading Rose and the Lost Princess by Holly Webb on Kindle, and Memory Maze (The Hypnotists, Book 2) by Gordon Korman in print. I'm listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I am quite enjoying listening to the Harry Potter series (for the first time). 

As always, you can see the list of books that we've been reading to Baby Bookworm here. She has been developing more of an appreciation for humor lately. She especially likes Plants vs. Zombies: Brains and the Beanstalk and Wedgieman: A Hero Is Born. She also likes to peruse the back covers of the Berenstain Bears books, where they display some 20 or so pictures of other books in the series, and make requests. 

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

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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7. The Way to the Zoo: John Burningham

Book: The Way to the Zoo
Author: John Burningham
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

The Way to the Zoo by John Burningham is a picture book about a little girl named Sylvie who discovers a secret doorway in her bedroom that leads to a zoo. The animals are friendly, and sometimes Sylvie brings some of them back into her house. The small bear is cozy to sleep with, but the penguins make a splashy mess in the bathroom. And when Sylvie forgets to close the door to the zoo one day, chaos ensues. 

The Way to the Zoo reminded me a bit of Barbara Lehman's Rainstorm, and a bit of Philip and Erin Stead's A Sick Day for Amos McGee. All three books feature implausible events related in a completely matter-of-fact manner. My four year old daughter thought that The Way to the Zoo was hilarious, and asked immediately that I read it again. 

Burningham takes his time with the story. Instead of jumping in to where the girl finds and opens the door, she first glimpses the door from her bed, decides to wait to check it out in the morning, and then forgets, and doesn't look inside until after school the next day. He uses a relatively basic vocabulary, and explains what's happening in detail. I think that The Way to the Zoo could function as an early reader for some kids. Here's an example (all on one page spread):

"It was getting late. Sylvie had to get back 
to her room and go to sleep because she
had school again in the morning.

Sylvie asked a little bear to come back
with her. He did and slept in her bed

She made sure the bear was back in the
zoo and the door in the wall was closed
before she left for school."

This passage is, of course, also good for teaching young readers about foreshadowing. 

Burningham's illustrations are in pen, pencil pastel, and watercolor. The are minimalist, with only the faintest suggestion of backgrounds, lots of white space, and the details left to the reader's imagination. This isn't my personal favorite style of illustration - I couldn't always tell what kind of animal was being represented, for instance. But the pictures made my daughter laugh, particularly one involving birds in the living room, and another in which a rhino lies on the floor covered up in towels for the night. 

The Way to the Zoo has a timeless feel, support in particular by the apparent freedom that Sylvie has from parental oversight. It would make a nice school or library read-aloud for K-2nd graders. Recommended for home or library use! 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick) 
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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8. In the After: Demitria Lunetta

Book: In the After
Author: Demitria Lunetta
Pages: 464
Age Range: 13 and up

In the After is the first of a two-book series by Demitria Lunetta (the second book was just released, though I haven't read it yet). In the After is set in the wake of a world-wide apocalypse caused by an invasion of predatory, man-eating creatures. 17-year-old Amy has lived for three years in hiding, alone except for the company of Baby, a young girl she rescued from a grocery store. Amy and Baby live in silence, for fear of drawing Them. They use sign language to speak, and have never even heard one another's voices.

They actually have things pretty good, all things considered. Amy's mother held an important government position, and their house is surrounded by an electric fence that keeps the monsters out. Her dad was an environmentalist who kept their home as off the grid as possible. Amy and Baby have electricity and water. But they do have to venture out among the creatures to scavenge for food. An encounter with other survivors on one of their trips starts a process that changes Amy and Baby's lives forever. 

In the After is a compelling read, one that will keep the reader guessing. The first part of the book takes place in and around Amy and Baby's home in Chicago. Without giving too much away, I'll say that the second part of the book takes place elsewhere, among other people. This is where Lunetta's storytelling really starts making the reader think. In brief, italicized scenes, Amy is in a mental ward. The rest of the story is told in intermittent flashbacks, as a mentally foggy Amy tries to pieces together how she got there. Because of Amy's fragile state, the reader isn't always sure how to interpret the flashbacks, which makes the story even more thought-provoking. 

The characters apart from Amy are distinct, though not always highly nuanced. Basically, we get to know Amy very well, and the other characters not so well. But Amy is great. Here are a few snippets, to give you a feel for her voice:

"I only go out at night.

I walk along the empty street and pause, my muscles tense and ready. The breeze rustles the overgrown grass and I tilt my head slightly. I'm listening for them." (Page 1)

"So much of who I used to be was about being good in school and having friends who were also good in school. We were, to put it simply, arrogant little know-it-alls. But I miss that." (Page 78)

"The arts were probably pointless now that everyone was focused on survival. I thought back to all my time alone, reading, as the world crumbled around me. It was the only thing that gave me solace and hope." (Page 191)

In addition to keeping the reader wondering about plot points, Lunetta is good at creating atmosphere. She makes the reader feel the creepiness of walking down a dark street where silent monsters might be a only few feet, and the helplessness of being trapped in a mental ward. 

In the After grabs the reader from the first page, and doesn't let go. Recommend for fans of YA dystopias, particularly of the alien invasion variety. Particularly recommended for those who enjoyed Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave. Readers who have read many dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories will notice certain universal themes, but I don't think this takes away enjoyment of the story. I think that In the After is a book that will especially appeal to adult readers, actually, though I would expect teens to enjoy it, too. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: HarperTeen (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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9. I Didn't Do My Homework Because... Davide Cali

Book: I Didn't Do My Homework Because ...
Authors: Davide Cali & Benjamin Chaud 
Pages: 44
Age Range: 6-9

I Didn't Do My Homework Because ... is a celebration of the ingenuity of childhood. On the first page, a teacher asks a child: "So why didn't you do your homework?" On subsequent pages, he shares a host of creative excuses, like:

"An airplane full of monkeys landed in our yard"; and

"Some escaped convicts from the local jail hid in my bedroom and wouldn't come out." 

Each excuse is accompanied by a humorous illustration. In the prior example, we see the boy surrounded by much larger prisoners in yellow-striped outfits. The boy is brining them pink lemonade, and they are looking at his books. Because why not? 

This is a small format book, about the size of an early reader. It's more like a picture book in format otherwise, though the target age range is probably solidly in elementary school. Preschoolers don't generally have much homework, after all. Nor are they likely to know what "carnivorous plants" are. There's a humorous ending in which the teacher doesn't believe the boy, because she has the same book. For me, this was just enough to make it feel a bit like a story, rather than solely a collection of excuses. The illustrations are full of detail, and include boy-friendly tidbits like giant lizards. 

Instructions on the back of the book read:

"WHEN TO USE THIS BOOK:
Whenever you haven't finished your homework.

CAUTION:
Each excuse may only be used once."

Like the excuses, I'm not sure how well this book will hold up to multiple reads. But it's definitely fun, and sure to make elementary school kids laugh. Recommended for classroom libraries, or any seven-year-old with an overactive imagination.  

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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10. Growing Bookworms Newsletter: July 16

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. I currenty send the newsletter out every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews (picture book and young adult), two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently, and an announcement about a post that I did at The Nerdy Book Club about the 8th Annual Kidlitosphere Conference (which I am co-organizing). Not included in the newsletter, I shared announcements about the KidLitCon Call for Proposals and Registration Form

Reading Update: In the last three weeks I read four middle grade books, two young adult titles, and one adult book. I read:

  • Sharon M. Draper: Out of My Mind. Atheneum Books. Middle Grade/Middle School. Completed July 5, 2014, on Kindle. Review to come.
  • J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Scholastic. Middle Grade. Completed July 8, 2014, on MP3 (library copy). This is my first time listening to the Harry Potter books, and I am quite enjoyig the experience.
  • J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Scholastic. Middle Grade. Completed July 12, on MP3 (library copy).
  • Betsy Byars: The Pinballs. Apple. Middle Grade. Completed July 14, 2014, on MP3. This was a re-read of a childhood favorite, and I was delighted to find that The Pinballs completely held up. 
  • Michele Weber Hurwitz: The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days. Wendy Lamb Books. Middle School. Completed July 2, 2014. Review to come. 
  • Naomi Paul: Code Name Komiko. Scarlet Voyage. Young Adult. Completed July 13, 2014, on Kindle. I'm not planning to review this one. I finished it, but it didn't quite work for me overall. 
  • Anthony Doerr: All the Light We Cannot See. Scribner. Adult Fiction. Completed July 3, 2014, on MP3. I enjoyed this novel, though it's a bit slower-paced than my usual reading diet of mysteries and children's books. It's about the lives of two teens (a radio-obsessed German boy and a blind French girl) leading up to events during World War II. 

Incidentally, I did not finish The Silkworm (A Cormoran Strike novel) by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) on Kindle. I had enjoyed the first book in this series, and continued to appreciate the relationship between Strike and his secretary, Robin. However, there were some aspects of the book that were just too dark for me. I put it aside about 1/3 of the way through, not wishing to subject myself to more. Other people report more appreciation for the book. 

I'm currently reading Rose by Holly Webb on Kindle, and Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater in print. I'm listening to Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright, while I await the third Harry Potter book (on request from my library). 

As always, you can see the list of books that we've been reading to Baby Bookworm here. We're closing in on 1000 books read so far this year, though this is a lower bound. I'm not good about listing books that we read on vacation, nor about listing books that anyone else reads to her besides my husband and me.

One thing that I've particularly noticed about reading with my daughter lately is that she notices things in the pictures that I wouldn't necessarily notice myself. For example, she always points out the "L" knitted into "Little Louis'" sweater in Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen. She is not good enough yet at observation to recognize the bear and other animals from Klassen's I Want My Hat Back making a cameo in Extra Yarn. But I'm working on her. 

I also love, love, love when a book makes her peal with laughter. The most recent standout in this arena was A Promise Is A Promise, by Florence Parry Heide & Tony Auth. This is the book that taught my daughter the word "Nincompoop", a new favorite. 

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

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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11. The Young World: Chris Weitz

Book: The Young World
Author: Chris Weitz
Pages: 384
Age Range: 14 and up

The Young World by Chris Weitz is a post-apocalyptic survival story, this one featuring a mysterious illness that kills everyone except teens (they continue to catch it as they reach age 18 or so). The Young World ought to have felt like "been there - done that" to me. But it didn't, for some reason. Well, because of a combination of strong characterization, well-delineated settings, and intense action, I think. With bonus points for the inclusion of diverse characters, and for tackling race relations head on. I quite enjoyed it, and look forward to the sequel (the book ends with a cliffhanger). 

The Young World is set in New York City. Rival groups of teens have formed armed encampments. There's a considerable amount of rivalry, political maneuvering, and violence. In this, The Young World reminded me a bit of Charlie Higson's Enemy series, though without the zombie adults, and with considerably more three-dimensional characters. 

The story is told in alternating chapters by Jefferson and Donna, two kids who were friends before the Sickness came, and who seem destined to be more than friends in the aftermath. If they can survive that long, that is. Jefferson and Donna are very different from one another, and keeping track of their separate first-person voices is not a problem. (The publisher also helped in the digital version that I read by using different font sizes for the two narrators.) Jefferson is a half Japanese / half white younger son of an "oldie" father. He is introspective and hopeful, a self-declared "nerd philosopher king", genuinely trying to find a better way for the survivors. Donna is a "trigger-happy feminist sniper", and calls herself "the pixie-ish, wacky best friend". She's all tough talk, but she secretly cries while watching iPhone videos of her deceased baby brother. 

Jefferson and Donna live in a kind of commune in a protected Washington Square Park. However, they soon set out on a quest to help find a journal article that their resident evil genius (and apparently person with Asperger's), Brainbox, thinks may hold a key to understanding the Sickness. Jeff, Donna, and Brainbox are joined by Peter, a gay, Christian, African American boy who is a bit of a wise-ass, and SeeThrough, a tiny Chinese girl who excels at Martial Arts, but doesn't talk much. They make friends and enemies in the course of their journey, and even have to fight a bear. 

Here are a couple of quotes, to show you the difference between Jeff and Donna's voices:

"Taped to the pedestal, mementos of the dead. Snaps of moms, dads, little brothers and sisters, lost pets. What Mom used to call "real pictures," to distinguish them from digital files. Hard copies are where it's at now that millions and millions of memories are lost in the cloud. An ocean of ones and zeroes signifying nothing." (Jefferson, in his first chapter)

"Not enough hands or time to get rid of all the bodies, though. And they're still out there, millions of them, slowly turning to mulch, pulsing with maggots. It's been a banner year for carrion eaters. Hope I didn't spoil your appetite." (Donna, her first chapter)

In looking through my clippings, I find that I highlighted a ton of passages, mostly from Donna. She has a real flair for getting to the heart of things. Like this:

"But books--books are handy. You can keep ideas on paper for, like, centuries. And if you want to find stuff out, it's right there. You don't have to grab it out of the air, call it up from some data center in, like, New Jersey. So books had the last laugh. Nobody is going to know what the hell me and Jeff and the crew did five years from now. Unless Jefferson writes it down in one of his fancy notebooks or there's space aliens who can read things from people's bones or something. But Huck Finn is gonna be chillin' on the Mississippi forever." (Donna)

I love that last bit. The Young World is an adventure story that I could see reading again, even after I know how things turn out, just to enjoy hanging with the characters. On the first read, I did read pretty quickly, curious to know how things were going to turn out. There is plenty of suspense.

I also quite like the attention that Weitz pays to the details of New York. One of my favorite scenes is when Donna finds Pooh and friends in the New York Public Library. I don't know New York all that well, but there are plenty of other details that enhance the sense of place, without being too insider-y. Like details about the exhibits in the Met.  

One has to get past the contrived nature of the premise of The Young World, of course, but that's true of all post-apocalyptic stories, particularly ones that strive to leave the teens in charge. However, I found other aspects of Weitz's world-building are refreshingly realistic. The kids scrounge up generators and solar panels, so that they still have some access to gadgetry. They run around clutching their iPhones even if there's no cell service, and they can occasionally listen to music or watch movies, too. It's not all "technology is now dead" as in many stories.

The characters also maintain certain aspects of their pre-existing social structures. The rich, white kids band together, call themselves the Uptowners, and have a fully separate society from the kids from Harlem. The Harlem kids are strong fighters, and some of them believe that they are actually better off than they were before the apocalypse. The kids from the alternative school end up in Washington Square Park, and remain cool with alternative lifestyles. I found it all fascinating. 

Bottom line: even though this post-apocalyptic scenario of killer virus leaving only teens might seem on the face of it a bit tired, Weitz's execution made The Young World totally work for me. I can't wait for the next book, and I highly recommend The Young World to fans of near-term post-apocalyptic teen fiction. It's a bit violent, though, and has some cursing and sexual references, so I would call it a high school, rather than middle school, read. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids) 
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Source of Book: Advance digital review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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12. The Girl Who Wouldn't Brush Her Hair: Kate Bernheimer & Jake Parker

Book: The Girl Who Wouldn't Brush Her Hair
Author: Kate Bernheimer
Illustrator: Jake Parker
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

The Girl Who Wouldn't Brush Her Hair, written by Kate Bernheimer and illustrated by Jake Parker, is my favorite type of picture book. That is, it is largely nonsense, but is based on an issue that will resonate with young kids. There's a girl who has beautiful long brown hair, and who decides that she doesn't need to brush her hair. "It's just my way", she tells her (largely invisible) parents. Because her hair is such a mess, a mouse decides that it's the perfect habitat, and moves in. Before she knows it, the girl has something like 100 mice living in her head. but there are consequences. 

Kate Bernheimer ratchets up the nonsense from page to page. Like this, after the mice ask the girl not to bathe anymore:

"Much to the mice's relief, the girl agreed. For though she was becoming quite dirty, she had grown fond of their company. They had set up such a marvelous home for themselves -- a palace, really, atop her head. It had secret passageways and a cheese cellar and a tiny circular moat."

Seriously? Mice with a moat on her head? It's hilarious. 

Jake Parker's illustrations (rendered in pencil and digitally colored) suit the story perfectly. The girl's hair is a gorgeous, tangled mess. She has bright brown eyes in her heart-shaped face. She  looks like a doll, really. The mice are perky and cute. The girl's doll, Baby, manages to look forlorn as the girl's attention is taken up by the mice. There's a slight soft-focus to the pictures that works well with the story. 

I can't wait to share The Girl Who Wouldn't Brush Her Hair with my own daughter, who has, shall we say, issues with hair-brushing. In our house, we've been telling her that birds will come to live in her hair if we don't get out the tangles. But mice work, too, and, as it turns out, are more fun. The Girl Who Wouldn't Brush Her Hair is hilarious, and well worth picking up. Especially recommended for preschool girls who have long hair. 

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: September 10, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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13. Good Night, Sleep Tight: Mem Fox & Judy Horacek

Book: Good Night, Sleep Tight
Author: Mem Fox
Illustrator: Judy Horacek
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-5

Good Night, Sleep Tight is a fun little bedtime book, chock full of nursery rhymes both well-known and obscure.  Two siblings, Bonnie and Ben, are being looked after by "their favorite babysitter", Skinny Doug. When bedtime comes, Doug relates a series of rhymes to them, like this:

"Good night, sleep tight.
Hope the fleas don't bite!
If they do,
squeeze 'em tight
and they won't bite
another night!"

The kids keep asking for a repetition, and it always goes like this:

"Some other time," said Skinny Doug.
"But I'll tell you another
I heard from my mother:"

And he goes off into another rhyme. The rhymes wind the kids up for a bit, but eventually Skinny Doug slows things down, and Bonnie and Ben go to sleep. 

Horacek's illustrations are fun-filled, and with more detail than the original rhymes suggest. For example, the "It's raining! It's pouring!" story ends with a raincoat-clad man Fred and kids knocking fruitlessly at the door of the old man's little house. In pat-a-cake, Fred and the kids, clad in old-style clothing, purchase the cake from the baker's counter. And so on.

It's nice to see a positive male caregiver dynamic, and a book about two kids experiencing the joy of words. Because the text consists mainly of nursery rhymes, Good Night, Sleep Tight is, of course, perfect for reading aloud. This one belongs on the bedtime reading shelf for preschoolers everywhere. Recommended!

Publisher: Orchard Books (@Scholastic
Publication Date: July 30, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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14. My Pet Book: Bob Staake

Book: My Pet Book
Author: Bob Staake
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-7

I love Bob Staake's picture books. I especially love Mary Had a Little Lamp, written by Jack Lechner and illustrated by Staake, about a little girl who has a lamp for a sort of pet. I also love a two other books about the crazy things that kids will select as companions: Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf and Prudence Wants a Pet by Cathleen Daly and Stephen Michael King. So you may imagine my delight when Staake's newest picture book, My Pet Book, landed on my doorstep. Yes, My Pet Book, as is clear from the cover image, is about a boy who has a book for a pet. My Pet Book is fun-filled AND has the bonus of making a statement about how wonderful books are. 

The boy, from Smartytown, doesn't care for dogs, and is allergic to cats. As he's casting about for a pet that will be easy, his mother suggests that "A book would make the perfect pet!". His father jumps on the bandwagon by suggesting that "no pet book had ever run away." Various benefits of book as pet are outlined in the book, including the fact that they don't poop. (This amused me because just the day before two young friends were lamenting the fact that dogs poop, and that kids in their home would be expected to help clean that up.) And so the boy selects "a frisky red hardcover." 

"Of all the books with the store,
He liked this one a lot!
The pages crisp, the printing fine,
It's spine so very taut.
He didn't need to give his pet
A name, like Rex or Spot.
It wouldn't answer anyway,
And so the book was bought!"

The boy has a number of good times with the book (not least immersing himself in the book's stories), and he is devastated when the book in fact does run away. A frantic search ensues, but not to worry. All turns out well in the end for boy and book. Here's my favorite part of the text:

"The boy's mom gently asked him
How a book could bring such joy.
"It's cuz every book's a friend!"
Said the yawning little boy.

While I generally resist overt messages in picture books, I am happy to be able to give this particular message a pass, because it is supported by an such exciting and amusing story. While the book is not alive (doesn't eat or talk or anything), Staake does allow the book a bit of apparently independent movement. It can march along ahead of the boy on its leash, and it is able to hide at one key point in the story. 

My Pet Book showcases Staake's colorful, detailed illustrations. The people have round, abstract faces in various colors. The houses are sometimes tilted, and the cars oddly shaped. Each page includes some small detail to delight young readers. My daughter, for instance, was pleased to point out fleas jumping off a dog's back on one page. And while there is no apparent reason for there to be a cat on a tightrope in the middle of the book, it's nice to see one there anyway. My daughter and I both particularly like one page spread in which the boy is imaging that he is in various stories. The smirk on his face as he ties a purple octopus in knots is priceless, as is his sheer joy to be headed into space in a yellow rocket ship.

Even the end papers of My Pet Book are fun. They feature various images of the boy doing things with his book, like juggling, eating ice cream, and taking a bath. 

My Pet Book is destined to be a family favorite in my house, and will find a place beside The Donut Chef (a frequent read) in my daughter's room. Especially recommended for libraries, My Pet Book will be a colorful, quirky addition to the ranks of books about the joy of books. What a treat!

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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15. Growing Bookworms Newsletter: July 1

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. I currenty send the newsletter out every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews (board book, picture book and young adult), two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently, and a tip for nurturing developing readers. Not included in the newsletter, I shared a news release about the Kate Greenway Medal win for Jon Klassen's This Is Not My Hat

Also, just so that it doesn't get lost amid the clutter of my Twitter links, I highly recommend a Summer Reading Tip a Day series that Ali Posner is running on her blog, Raising Great Readers with Great Books. These tips are well beyond your usual: take your kids to the library and participate in summer reading programs. For example, there's Tip #7: Make sure your kids have reading STARs – Space, Time, Access to books, and Rituals for summer reading. This one comes complete with a photo of kids quietly reading in a cozy, tent-like space. My daughter happened to see the photo, and immediately demanded her own reading tent. In short, if you are in need of detailed, out of the ordinary tips for engaging young readers this summer, you definitely won't want to miss Ali's series. 

Reading Update: In the last three weeks I read two young adult and three adult books (helped out by a lot of time spent listening to books on MP3 while walking). I read:

  • Demitria Lunetta: In the After. Harper Teen. Young Adult. Completed June 18, 2014, on Kindle. Review to come. 
  • Charlie Higson: The Fallen (Enemy #5). Hyperion. Young Adult. Completed June 29, 2014. I enjoy the plot twists of this series, and the way the various books connect and overlap. But the violence and gore are starting to get to me ... 
  • Victoria Thompson: Murder in Murray Hills (A Gaslight Mystery). Berkley Hardcover. Adult Mystery. Completed June 21, 2014, on MP3. This series remains one of my favorites, though there is some particularly disturbing content in this installment. 
  • Elizabeth Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta: Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature. Candlewick. Nonfiction. Completed June 23, 2014, ARC. Review to come.
  • Janet Evanovich: Top-Secret Twenty-One (Stephanie Plum). Bantam. Adult Mystery. Completed June 24, 2014, on MP3. Must admit that I am getting a bit tired of the sameness of these books - I may stop here... 

I'm currently reading The Silkworm (A Cormoran Strike novel) by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) on Kindle, The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz in print, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr on MP3. Next up on MP3 is going to be the first Harry Potter book (with thanks to Maureen Kearney, who inspired me to try listening for the first time instead of re-reading this series). 

As always, you can see the list of books that we've been reading to Baby Bookworm here. She's currently obsessed with an old childhood favorite of my husband's, rediscovered on a recent trip to Boston. It's Something Queer is Going On: A Mystery, by Elizabeth Levy & Mordicai Gerstein. She got quite upset when she was unable to find it one afternoon when she had friends over, because she wanted to show it to them. 

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

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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16. Abuelo: Arthur Dorros & Raul Colon

Book: Abuelo
Author: Arthur Dorros
Illustrator: Raul Colon
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

Abuelo by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Raul Colon, is a quiet picture book about the relationship between a boy and his grandfather. They live somewhere in the country, where they ride horses, camp, and encounter wildlife. Later, the boy and his parents move to the city, leaving Abuelo behind. However, the skills that Abuelo has taught the boy (such as standing his ground) come in handy in his new life, too. 

Dorros blends English and Spanish words in the text, including translations for key words and phrases. Like this:

"We would ride into the clouds,
with the sky, "el cielo,"
wrapped around us."

and this:

At night, we could see forever.
"Mira", look, he would tell me,
reaching his hands to the stars."

Even after the boy moves to the city, he still includes the Spanish translations for the things that he sees, though he perhaps does this a bit less. 

Colon's watercolor and colored pencil illustrations are warm and deeply textured, cast in desert palettes of browns, grays, and sage green. There's a nostalgic feel to the pictures - this is a book that could be set now or 40 years ago. My favorite illustration is that one at the end of the book. The boy rides a bike, with the shadow of his Abuelo riding alongside him. I can't describe it, but Colon captured this perfectly. 

Abuelo is about family and culture, moving away and growing up. It's a book that introduces readers to a different environment, while touching on universal truths (the fear of getting lost, the need to stand up to bullies). Abuelo is well worth a look, particularly for library purchase. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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17. A Tip for Nurturing Developing Readers: Take Away A Possible Fear

My daughter just turned four in April. She loves to be read to, and we are in no rush whatsoever for her to learn to read on her own. But I've noticed lately that she's sometimes resistant to even flipping through the pages of a book on her own (say, in the car). She'll say: "I can't read yet, Mommy." And it struck me that there was something defensive about this.

So this morning something came up about books (as is not uncommon in our house), and she remarked that if she was going to read a book it would have to be easy. I was inspired to say: "You know, even if you learn to read, we will still read to you. Whenever you like, for as long as you like." Huge smile, big hug, and, perhaps, a look of relief. 

I may be projecting here. It's not that she came out and said: "I'm afraid that if I learn to read you guys won't read to me anymore. And I like it when you read to me." Rather, I've put together fleeing impressions based on her responses to things (including a diminishing interest when I point out individual words when we are reading together). But it's certainly possible that I'm right, and that she's been cautious about the idea of learning more words because she doesn't want us to stop reading to her. This is a fear that I am more than happy to take away.  

So, that is my tip for other parents of developing young readers:

Take a moment to assure your child that even if he learns to read on his own, you will still read to him. 

Then, of course, stay true to your word. There are so many benefits to continuing to read aloud to your children after they can read on their own. You can read them more advanced titles, thus enhancing their vocabularies and giving them exposure to ideas. You can use the books as a springboard to discussions about all sorts of things. And you can experience parent-child closeness, snuggled up together over the pages of a book. 

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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18. Open Wide! Stephen Krensky & James Burks

Book: Open Wide!
Author: Stephen Krensky
Illustrator: James Burks
Pages: 14
Age Range: 1-4

Open Wide! is a preschooler-friendly upcoming board book about the challenges of getting a baby to eat, and the lengths that parents will go to. A mom and dad are trying to get their baby to eat his dinner. He's old enough to be offered a variety of solid foods, and to take a certain delight in refusing to open his mouth. The parents attempt to manipulate him into eating through a combination of words and actions. They have a spoon that projects from a red airplane. They try to entice him with a series of animal comparisons, like:

"These yummy green beans will make you as big as an elephant."

We see the mom holding out the spoon/airplane, while the dad pretends to be an elephant. The dad's shadow is in the shape of an elephant, lending an additional visual cue so that readers can see what he's trying to do. My four year old found the goofiness of the dad's animal postures hilarious. He is particularly silly jumping around the kitchen like a bunny. His son, however, is not amused. The baby remains recalcitrant to the very end, when he takes matters into his own hands. As a bonus, this book comes with a paper airplane / spoon holder that can be extracted fro the back cover and folded together.

Although this book is about a baby, I think that it works for preschoolers, too, because stubborn behavior in regards to eating does not go away when kids learn to walk and talk. When reading with a preschooler, one can leave the punch line of each animal comparison up in the air, and ask the child to fill in the blanks.

Open Wide! is entertaining for parents, too, because we've all been there. It's quite clear, though not explicitly stated, that these are first-time parents. The cute animal examples are interspersed with statements like: "Sam, we don't have all night." For me, this dance between cajoling and demanding obedience rang true. 

Burks' illustrations are entertaining, full of funny animal shadows, grouchy baby faces, and increasingly frantic parents. There is enough detail here to make this more a book for preschoolers than for babies, though I'm sure parents will not be able to resist sharing it with their brand-new solid food eaters.

Open Wide!, with its combination of little kid humor and realistic (ok, slightly exaggerated) depiction of first-time parents, is going on my baby gift list. The "Free Plane Inside" is an added bonus. This one is definitely worth a look. 

Publisher: Cartwheel Books (@Scholastic
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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19. Three Bird Summer: Sara St. Antoine

Book: Three Bird Summer
Author: Sara St. Antoine
Pages: 256
Age Range: 10 to 14

Three Bird Summer by Sara St. Antoine is a lovely book about the summer that a 12 year old boy spends at his grandmother's cabin on Three Bird Lake in Minnesota. It's a quiet sort of book about an introspective kid, but St. Antoine manages to touch upon the challenges families face as grandparents age, the aftermath of divorce, and the tentative first steps of boy-girl relationships. There's also a small mystery, and even a treasure map. It's a coming-of-age story, though without major drama. 

In truth, the subject matter of Three Bird Summer felt a bit ... familiar, with echoes of Cynthia Lord's Half a Chance and Karen Day's A Million Miles from Boston, and even Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. Summer stories all, featuring kids of a similar age range. But the sheer beauty of St. Antoine's writing, as well as her choice to feature a male protagonist, make Three Bird Summer stand out. 

Adam is a fine narrator, a little geeky, a little lazy, and baffled by the behavior of girls. His initially reluctant friendship with new neighbor Alice, and the oh-so-gradual dawning of "more than friend" feelings, is utterly believable. Alice and her parents are, perhaps, a tiny bit too good to be true, but I love that she spent the previous summer at a science camp for girls, and that she chafes under the yoke of her over-protective parents. Adam's mother and grandmother are well-drawn, too, with flaws as well as surprises. 

Three Bird Summer perfectly captures the feel of a rustic summer lake house. Like this:

"Mom lingered in the kitchen while I hauled my duffel through the main part of the cabin, breathing in the familiar smell of wood paneling and fireplace cinders. Everything was in its usual place." (Page 10)

and

"A cool breeze crossed the water. It felt like the great North was barreling through me with my every breath. Here's what slipped away: schedules, bus rides, the stale smell of the school cafeteria, algebraic equations, Mom and Dad's phone arguments, girl talk, and Grandma's interrogations. Here's what I got in exchange: water sloshing slowly and steadily against the dock like the heartbeat of a great whale. A pair of black-and-white loons swimming into view. Fresh air and a lake that, right then, felt like it was all mine." (Page 16)

Reading the above passage, I could practically feel the tension leaving Adam's shoulders. Three Bird Summer is filled with passages that I wanted to save, long and short. Like this:

"Mom turned around and we began paddling again, but not in a getting-there sort of way -- more like a being-there sort of way." (Page 199)

For the rest, you'll have to read the book. Three Bird Summer is a book to read on your front porch on a warm summer day (or, even better, on a dock floating in a lake in your bathing suit). It's about growing up, the ways that family relationships change, and young love. It's beautifully written, with a strong sense of place, and well-rounded characters. While Three Bird Summer is clearly a book that will appeal to adult readers, I hope that kids find it and love it, too. Despite the male protagonist, Three Bird Summer certainly has as much appeal for girls as for boys. Recommended! 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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20. First Book’s Summer Book List: Grades 7-8

Summer_ReadingLooking of more summer book lists?  This week you’ll find some fantastic tales for readers in seventh and eighth grade.

Sign up to receive more great book lists, tip sheets and summer reading facts from First Book!

If you work with kids in need, you can find these titles on the First Book Marketplace by clicking on the pictures next to the publisher descriptions of each book.

For Grades 7 and 8

shark girl“Shark Girl” by Kelly Bingham

A teenager struggles through physical loss to the start of acceptance in an absorbing, artful novel at once honest and insightful, wrenching and redemptive.

On a sunny day in June, at the beach with her mom and brother, fifteen-year-old Jane Arrowood went for a swim. And then everything–absolutely everything–changed. Now she’s counting down the days until she returns to school with her fake arm, where she knows kids will whisper, “That’s her–that’s Shark Girl,” as she passes. In the meantime there are only questions: Why did this happen? Why her? What about her art? What about her life? In this striking first novel, Kelly Bingham uses poems, letters, telephone conversations, and newspaper clippings to look unflinchingly at what it’s like to lose part of yourself–and to summon the courage it takes to find yourself again.

monster“Monster” by Walter Dean Myers

While on trial as an accomplice to a murder, sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon records his experiences in prison and in the courtroom in the form of a film script as he tries to come to terms with the course his life has taken.

 

 

the_giver“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

Jonas’ world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear of pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community. When Jonas turns 12, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

 

heistsociety_carter“Heist Society” by Ally Carter

For as long as she can remember, Katarina has been a part of the family business – thieving. When Kat tries to leave the life for a normal life, her old friend Hale conspires to bring her back into the fold. Why? A mobsters art collection has been stolen, and Kat’s father is the only suspect. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.

The only solution is to find the paintings and steal them back. Kat’s got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s history and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way.

With its glamorous international settings, intriguing suspense, complicated cons, and even more complicated romance, Heist Society is stealing the hearts of Ally Carter fans everywhere.

true_meaning_of_smekday“The True Meaning of Smekday” by Adam Rex

When twelve-year-old Gratuity (“Tip”) Tucci is assigned to write five pages on “The True Meaning of Smekday” for the National Time Capsule contest, she’s not sure where to begin. When her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Maybe on Christmas Eve, when huge, bizarre spaceships descended on the Earth and the aliens – called Boov – abducted her mother? Or when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it “Smekland” (in honor of glorious Captain Smek) and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod? In any case, Gratuity’s story is much, much bigger than the assignment. It involves her unlikely friendship with a renegade Boov mechanic named J.Lo.; a futile journey south to find Gratuity’s mother at the Happy Mouse Kingdom; a cross-country road trip in a hovercar called Slushious; and an outrageous plan to save the Earth from yet another alien invasion.

Look for our Summer Reading Lists from previous weeks?  Click below:
K-2
Grades 3-4
Grades 5-6

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21. Searching for Sky: Jillian Cantor

Book: Searching for Sky
Author: Jillian Cantor
Pages: 288
Age Range: 12 and up

I picked up Searching for Sky to skim the first few pages, and couldn't put it down. It's not that it's action filled, but more that the premise and the narrator are irresistible. Fifteen-year-old Sky has lived for as long as she can remember (since she was 2) on a tiny Pacific island. She was raised by her mother, Petal, and her mother's partner, Helmut, along with Helmut's son, River. Since her mother and Helmut died a year earlier, Sky and River have lived alone on the island. Though they worry a little bit about survival, they are happy, and just starting to perhaps have grown-up feelings for one another. Everything changes when a boat arrives one day, and takes the two frightened teens to California. Back to a world that they didn't even really know existed. 

There are mysteries in Searching for Sky, as Sky seeks to understand what led Petal and Helmut to the island in the first place. She struggles to reconcile her own memories with the things that other people tell her are true, and begins to realize that not everything was as she thought. She is separated from River, and wants desperately to find him. These issues kept me turning the pages, wanting to understand. Wanting Sky to understand. Wanting to know what would happen to Sky and to River. But the remarkable part of Searching for Sky actually lies in Sky's reaction to the more mundane details. It's fascinating to watch as someone who has never seen civilization tries to understand things like money, lipstick, and the Internet.

I thought that Cantor did a fine job of keeping Sky in character (frequently baffled), even as certain things become more clear to the reader. This is a book that could only have been written in first person present perspective. This aspect of the book reminded me a bit of reading far-future dystopias, in which the characters come across artifacts of our current civilization, and struggle to understand them. Sky struggles to understand just about everything, right down to how to use a toilet (or "Bathroom Tree" as she calls it). For example, one of the first people Sky sees is apparently wearing sunglasses. She says:

"His eyes are hidden by small black shells, and I don't like that I can't see them, that I don't know what color they are." (Page 26)

Sometimes her reactions are humorous:

""Now, come on into the kitchen," she's saying. I follow her into a large open space with a lot of square wood boxes everywhere. "Have a seat at the table." She points to a large, round wood, and I begin to climb up on it. "No, no. On a chair," she says, pulling on another, smaller wood and showing me how she wants me to sit on it." (Page 92)

Sometimes they are profound:

"I think it disappoints her that I refuse to watch the television box with her after dinner. But the few times I've sat there with her, all I've seen are pretend faraway people talking to each other about things that have nothing to do with me. I don't understand why she's interested in them if they're not even here, if they're not even real." (Page 119)

Sky is a strong character, even though her lack of basic knowledge makes her feel foolish and vulnerable at times. I think that teen readers will find her as compelling as I did. Despite the female narrator, I have every reason to believe that teen boys would find this book intriguing, too. In fact, I'm going to put it on the small stack of books that I recommend to my husband. (The previous book I gave him was Matt de la Pena's The Living). I highly recommend Searching for Sky for teens and adults. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWkids) 
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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22. I Am the Mission (The Unknown Assassin): Allen Zadoff

Book: I Am the Mission (The Unknown Assassin, Book 2)
Author: Allen Zadoff
Pages: 432
Age Range: 13 and up

I Am the Mission is the second book in Allen Zadoff's The Unknown Assassin series (following Boy Nobody, which was renamed I Am the Weapon). Like the first book, I Am the Mission is a fast-paced, suspenseful book in which the reader isn't quite sure who to root for. Book 2 picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first book. The variously-named narrator (we do eventually learn his real name) has gone AWOL from his shadowy government organization, The Program. He is in hiding as a camp counselor when a crew from Homeland Security extracts him. His "Father" figure, the head of The Program, gives him a new assignment, one intended to test his loyalty.

The boy's mission is to penetrate the tryouts for an ultra-right-wing summer camp that is apparently radicalizing teens and assassinate the head of that organization, a charismatic man named Eugene Moore. He is not supposed to actually enter the camp, because a prior operative from The Program disappeared there (and is now presumed deceased). The boy ends up out of communication with The Program, and not sure who to trust. I mean, when you are a secret teenage assassin, who can you trust, really? Happily for the reader, the boy's one friend from the previous book, Howard, makes an appearance. 

Like the first book, I Am the Weapon has a premise that may disturb some readers: a teen who has been taught to kill people, quickly and stealthily, and who has no semblance of a normal life. But if you can accept that premise, it's a well-constructed, twisty thriller. The boy does commit one act that I found ... disturbing, I guess, in part because it's clearly a mistake. But he shows hints of humanity, too. Zadoff also provides more background for how he ended up in The Program, and why he is the cold-blooded, fearless killing machine that he is. Fans of the first book will definitely not want to miss this one. 

Zadoff has a knack for quick characterizations, like this:

"He has a masterful way of using truisms to support his ideas. One can easily agree with the truth of the surface statements without questioning the ideas themselves." Chapter "It's Moore", digital ARC (The ARC, at least, doesn't have conventional chapter titles. The first sentence of each chapter is formatted as a title, instead.)

He also muses quite a bit in this book on the nature of fear. Like this:

""The part they don't understand..." he says. "If you don't feel fear, you don't feel joy or love. Not in any real way. Without the fear, the risk is gone. And without risk, rewards don't matter. You're left with nothing much at all. You're numb." ("My Name is Francisco Gonzalez", he says.)

I Am the Mission is written in first-person present tense, which helps to keep up the suspense. The narrator is a surprisingly sympathetic character for a stone-cold killer. Attempting to figure him out is perpetually interesting. Recommended for older teen and adult readers for whom the fascinating aspects of the premise outweigh the disturbing aspects. Personally, I couldn't put it down, and eagerly await the next book. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids) 
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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23. Growing Bookworms Newsletter: June 18

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. I usually send the newsletter out every two weeks. However, I've just returned from yet another trip, and so have a three week interval this time. My travels are done for now, and I should be getting the blog and newsletter back to normal. Thanks for your patience!

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have six book reviews (picture book through young adult), two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently, and a post about another of my daughter's literacy milestones (making up stories). Not included in the newsletter, I shared a news release from Reading is Fundamental about the results of a recent survey. Sadly, the survey found that only 17% of parents make reading a top priority for summer. I'm sure that's not true about readers of this newsletter, thought travel does complicate things a bit. 

Reading Update: In the last three weeks I read two middle grade, three young adult and three adult books. I read:

I'm currently reading In the After by Dimitria Lunetta and listening to Murder in Murray Hill (A Gaslight Mystery) by Victoria Thompson.

You can see the list of books that we've been reading to Baby Bookworm here. It's not complete, because I don't keep very good track when we are traveling, but still gives you an idea. Last night she was pretending to be a baby, so we read several board books. She quite liked new arrival Dinnertime for Chickies by Janee Trasler, the third in this very cute padded board book series for toddlers. In fact, she liked that one so much that this morning she voluntarily put down her Kindle Fire to "read" it on her own. This pleased me. She gets screen time while I ride my exercise bike, and while we're on airplanes, but I'm always happier when she chooses books or coloring instead. 

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

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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24. Zephyr Takes Flight: Steve Light

Book: Zephyr Takes Flight
Author: Steve Light
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-8

Zephyr's Flight by Steve Light is an ode to people's fascination with flight. Zephyr is a little girl who is obsessed with airplanes. Her family is too busy to really notice, until her flight attempts cause her to knock over a set of shelves. Sent to her room, Zephyr discovers a hidden door behind her dresser, leading to a magical room full of books and implements related to flying, as well as all sorts of "flying machines." From this room, Zephyr embarks on a fabulous adventure. But, as in the best of children's books, in the end she is back at home, and with her pancakes (instead of dinner) waiting. 

Zephyr's Flight reminds me a bit of Barbara Lehman's books, like Rainstorm or Trainstop, in which a fanciful world is hidden right beside a real one. There are two primary differences, however. First of all, Lehman's books are wordless, while Light's are not. Also, there's a nonfiction underpinning to Zephyr's Flight, with actual historic airplanes set alongside the magic.

Zephyr's Flight is a delightful mix of aeronautical and whimsical. Zephyr ends up, for example, in a land populated by flying pigs. She is able to use her knowledge of airplanes to help one flightless pig to build wings. 

Light's text is full of the wonders of flight. Like this:

"It was filled with papers and pens, drawings and maps,
books about how to fly and where to go.

And then there were the flying machines.
There were big ones and small ones, some with propellers and some
with rudders and very strange things. And all of them were real."

The illustrations all have a steampunk sort of feel, full of amber brown airplanes in old-fashioned styles. Well, at least if steampunk normally includes flying pigs. In truth, the cover of Zephyr's Flight fails to convey the sense of fun and adventure of the book. Which is too bad, because this is a book that I think would please lots of kids in the early elementary school range. I hope that libraries have discovered it, and I wish that I had reviewed it sooner. Recommended for kindergarten and up. 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: October 9, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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25. The Prince of Venice Beach: Blake Nelson

Book: The Prince of Venice Beach
Author: Blake Nelson
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson is about a 17-year-old runaway called Cali who lives in Venice Beach, CA. He sleeps in a treehouse behind the home of a generous local woman named Hope, has an assortment of quirky and interesting friends, and spends much of his time playing pick-up basketball. After helping a couple of private investigators to find missing kids, Cali decides that he wants to become a private investigator. However, when the case of a missing rich girl named Reese Abernathy lands in his lap, he finds his life becoming far more complicated than he would have expected. 

Cali is an engaging protagonist who should appeal to teen readers. He has a lot of autonomy (Hope is not a parental figure in any way). He knows how to take care of himself, and he tries to do the right thing. But he's a street kid, and he definitely runs into trouble sometimes, too. He's also remarkably uneducated compared with your maintstream YA protagonist (he's not even sure if Austria is a country). He's different, and that makes him interesting. 

Although The Prince of Venice Beach does involve a mystery, and has some action scenes (fights, chases), it's also quite relationship-driven. There's Cali's friendship with a young friend of Hope's, his complex relationship with Reese, and his protective attempts to help a new homeless girl on the scene. And it's a bit of a coming-of-age story for Cali, too, as he decides what he wants to do with his life, and even starts to take a course towards his GED. I found it a nice mix, and a quick read. I read it in a single sitting, and thought that Nelson's prose flowed well. 

Here's Cali musing on a runaway that he's looking for:

"He'd probably enjoyed his new freedom for the first couple days. Away from authority, from teachers and parents. But then the freedom gets to you. And the isolation. No family. No friends. Not even a dog. How many times can you go to McDonald's and eat cheeseburgers by yourself? How many days can you spend on the beach? How many nights can you sleep in your car? Not as many as you think." (Chapter Three)

The Prince of Venice Beach isn't entirely realistic, of course, but it does offer a YA-appropriate version of a private eye novel. Cali would, I think, admire Veronica Mars, were he ever to run across her. It has a unique premise and strong main character, a well-defined setting, and a fair bit of action. Recommended for teens (boys and girls) and escapist-leaning adults. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids) 
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Source of Book: Advance digital review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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