Not only do I read books, but I love books (especially children’s books), and I bet you do, too!

Pink Me Up

Posted: April 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Picture Books | 155,595 Comments »

Fellow library school student Jennifer K. pointed out Pink Me Up by Charise Mericle Harper to me, and I’m so glad she did.

Cover of Pink Me Up!

I’ll start off by saying that I’m tired of all the princess, fairy, diva, and generally “pink” clap-trap marketed to young girls today, but this picture book is really about the special relationship between a girl and her father.  Although our protagonist loves pink, she is not timid, demure, or delicate.

As the book opens, Violet is excited for her “special Mama-and-me day” at the Pink Girls Pink-nic.  But when Mama wakes up with spots on her face, too sick to take her daughter to the big event, Violet throws herself on the floor and proclaims, “Today is the worst day EVER!”

Daddy steps in and offers to take her, but Violet shares some important information with her father – “Boys are NOT pink!”  But Daddy is not discouraged, and gets dressed for the occasion in a pink necktie.  Then Violet helps pink him up.

“We draw polka dots on Daddy’s shirt.  We tape stripes to Daddy’s pants.  We wrap paper on Daddy’s shoes.  We put stickers on Daddy’s jacket.”

And despite his daughter’s preconceptions about gender and color, Daddy is the hit of the pink-nic!  The mothers ooh-and-aah over him, and Violet finds that “now all the girls want to PINK UP their daddies, just like me.”

I found this to be a touching story about the love of a father for his daughter (maybe because even though I know he loves me, I’m quite sure my own father would never have let me pink him up – sorry, Dad!).


Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel

Posted: April 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Chapter Books | 214,098 Comments »

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, caught my eye in the “Beginning Chapter Books” section at the library.

Cover of Make Way for Dyamonde DanielThird-grader Dyamonde Daniel has been in her new school for 3 weeks and still doesn’t have a best friend.  When her parents got divorced, she had to move to a new neighborhood with her mom and leave her old best friend behind.  Luckily, an even newer kid has just joined her class…and even though he’s grumpy and unfriendly, Dyamonde decides to follow her teacher’s advice and ask Free why he’s so mad all the time.

When she sits with him at lunch, the other kids stare, but that doesn’t stop Dyamonde.

“Wow,” said Free.  “You’re amazing.”
“What?”
“You really don’t care what people think.”
“About what?”
“About sitting with me.  About anything.”
“Why should I?” asked Dyamonde.  “I know what I think, and that’s enough” (55).

The dialogue is believable and the urban setting is laid down in a central but unobtrusive manner; almost any child will be able to identify with Dyamonde’s story.  Christie’s blocky, contemporary illustrations reflect the setting well.

Dyamonde gives Free a lot to think about, and by the end of the book he’s much less grouchy and even decides to read out loud at school, something he’s never wanted to do before – and surprises everyone when he turns out to be one of the best readers in the class!

Although I haven’t extensively read in this genre, there don’t seem to be many early chapter books about African-Americans, so I think this book fills an important need – I believe that everyone should be able to find characters like themselves in the books they read.  It was a quick but thought-provoking read, and since it’s supposed to be the first book in a series, I look forward to the next!


My Favorite YA Novel

Posted: April 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: YA | 166,170 Comments »

My favorite young adult (YA) novel is The Divorce Express by Paula Danziger.

Cover of The Divorce Express I enjoyed Paula Danziger’s earlier YA books, too – The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?, The Pistachio Prescription, and especially There’s a Bat in Bunk Five (I had a real thing for summer camp books when I was younger), but The Divorce Express was published closer to the time of my own adolescence, so it was easier for me to relate to the characters.

It’s the story of 9th-grader Phoebe, whose parents are divorced.  At the beginning of the story, her father has just moved away from New York City to rural Woodstock, New York.  As the new school year starts, Phoebe lives with her dad during the week and goes to the city on the weekends to stay with her mother, “riding the Divorce Express” (the nickname of the bus that runs between New York City and Woodstock, ridden weekly by a crowd of kids with divorced parents).

In The Divorce Express, Phoebe adjusts to a new school, makes friends with the kids in Woodstock (so different from her friends back in the city), and makes a new best friend, Rosie, on the Divorce Express.  She also gets dumped by her long-distance boyfriend, meets a new guy, dabbles in civil disobedience at school (helping organize a school cafeteria boycott to convince the school to serve healthier lunches), and deals with her parents’ own romantic relationships.

When Paula Danziger visited Jenny talking with Paula Danzigermy Midwestern high school during my sophomore year in 1988, only the 9th graders were scheduled to go to the assembly.  Somehow I was able to convince the head of the English department (whom I had never met and seemed a little scary) that since Paula Danziger was my favorite author, I should go, too.  I’m still thankful that she made the arrangements for me to miss class and attend the assembly.

It didn’t take me long to decide which book to bring along for Paula to autograph – it had to be The Divorce Express. I was lucky enough to speak with her briefly after the assembly, and I told her about my desire to become an author.  Somehow I mentioned S.E. Hinton, whose book The Outsiders waPaula's Autographs published when she was only 16.  Maybe I felt like I was on a deadline to become an author; I don’t really remember.  But I’ll never forget what Paula told me – “Oh, honey, Susie was a fluke.”  It doesn’t seem like much now, but the warmth with which she said it filled me with encouragement.

Even though there’s nothing groundbreaking or earth-shattering about The Divorce Express, in it Paula Danziger creates a complex, meaningful, and realistic world that I yearned to be a part of.  I love the language and tone of the writing, and as a suburbanite I always thought it would be so much fun to live in Woodstock, “Colony of the Arts,” and be a neo-hippie like Phoebe and her friends.

The New York Times Book Review called The Divorce Express “a pleasure,” and The Horn Book said, “The author has a sympathetic eye for the ups and downs of her characters and a quick ear for adolescent conversation.”  I couldn’t agree more – as both a teenager and an adult!


My Favorite Children’s Chapter Book

Posted: March 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Chapter Books | 155,076 Comments »

Hands-down, my favorite chapter book is The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.

It’s the only Newbery Medal winner among my favorite books, and it’s easy to see why it won.  As an adult I find this book as witty and brilliant as ever, especially since it reveals the interior lives of not only the children in the story, but the adults as well.

In 2000, School Library Journal named The Westing Game one of “One Hundred Books That Shaped the Century.”

In the front of the edition I currently own (published by Puffin Books in 1992), there is a quote from The Horn Book describing it as “a fascinating medley of word games, disguises, multiple aliases, and subterfuges – a demanding but rewarding book.”  I couldn’t agree more!

The Westing Game begins with a great first line:  “The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east.”  That’s only the first of many strange details in this convoluted and funny mystery.  The story opens with an odd man named Barney Northrup leasing apartments to mysteriously selected tenants.  But at the end of the very first chapter, the reader learns that something has gone wrong…“Barney Northrup had rented one of the apartments to the wrong person.”

After this portentous beginning, the book skips ahead several months and begins to follow the lives of 16 residents of Sunset Towers, who soon find out that they may be heirs to the fortune of eccentric millionaire Samuel Westing.  According to the dictates of his will, the heirs are paired and set off to play the game, win, and inherit millions.

I love the interactions between the characters (especially the adult-child pairs), and I love the way the children are savvy and, at times, much smarter than the grown-ups.  And I love the way this clever mystery unfolds.  The Westing Game is just a sharply-crafted, rollicking good read!


My Favorite Picture Book

Posted: March 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Picture Books | 180,651 Comments »

I’ve decided to start out my blog with posts on my favorite children’s books.  Today I’m writing about The Maggie B., by Irene Haas, which has been my favorite picture book since I can remember (see photo).

My copy of The Maggie B. originally belonged to my older sister, Beth.  When I found a reprinted edition on Amazon.com a few years ago, I excitedly bought 2 copies – one for me, and one to give to Beth on her birthday.  I wrapped her copy and waited expectantly for the big day.

When she opened her present, Beth said, “Hmm…The Maggie B….” and looked at me inquisitively.  I don’t think she remembered it at all!  And here all along I’d thought this book was just as beloved to her as it was to me.

I love The Maggie B. for its lush illustrations (color alternates with black-and-white) and the lyrical rhythm of the story.  It’s about a little girl named Margaret Barnes who wishes on a star one night before bed…and wakes to find she’s the captain of her own ship (the titular Maggie B.) with her brother James (“who was a dear baby”) along for company.  They spend an entire day on the Maggie B. and even make it through a scary storm to fall asleep to “nice steady rain [that] made a lullaby sound on the roof of the cabin.”

I imagine that the absence of any adults was part of the book’s attraction when I was little, but this treasure of a book has stood up well over time.  I was excited recently to find it listed as an “overlooked gem” in Elizabeth Bird’s Children’s Literature Gems: Choosing and Using Them in Your Library Career. She writes, “If comfort could be synthesized and pasted between the covers of a book, then what you’d have is Haas and her wonderful tale of a girl, her baby brother, and their ship filled with animals and good things to eat” (63).

So now I have 2 copies of The Maggie B. – the well-loved paperback copy from my childhood, and a nice new hardcover copy.  I think I’ll keep them both.


Welcome to Jenny Reads Books

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 168,359 Comments »

Hey, you found me!  But I’m not quite ready for you yet.  Check back soon!