We don't do stars...
We don't do thumbs...
We read children's books and grade them in 10 categories:
literary quality
descriptive ability
humor (if attempted)
illustrations (if present)
believability of characters
believability of situations
overall reading enjoyment

There is no grading curve. There are no points for classroom participation. There is no extra credit.
If you disagree, come speak to us after class.

The Grading System

A+.....this means (guess what) we think it's great. So great it surprised even us.
A.....this means it's pretty darn good. A book we'd recommend to just about everyone we know.
B.....better than most. Not exactly Shakespeare for kids, though, if you get our drift.
C.....mediocre. Like the color beige, it didn't stand out.
D.....we didn't like it. There were more bad aspects than good ones.
F.....it reeked of badness. We read it over and over when we are in dire need of hysterical laughter.
F-.....We're pretty sure Dante had a circle of hell for the people who wrote these...and a lower circle for those who published them.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Contest Winner!

Congratulations to Catherine Brandolini, winner of our first ever contest! We'll be contacting you shortly for your prize preferences.
The rest of you will just have to wait for the next contest... :)

10 Books of '10 that I wish I didn't have to wait for...

Have you checked out the Tenners yet? They're a group of writers all set to debut in 2010...and if you're not looking for more books to covet, you shouldn't check out their site. If you are, though...just be prepared for sudden bouts of wishing 2010 would come more quickly!
Here are the 10 of Winter and Spring (because it would have been impossible to choose just ten from the entire list) that I most look forward to reading, based on their synopses:

Brightly Woven, by Alexandra Bracken

A Most Improper Magick, by Stephanie Burgis

The Cinderella Society, by Kay Cassidy

Magic Under Glass, by Jaclyn Dolamore

Scones and Sensibility, by Lindsay Eland

Harmonic Feedback, by Tara Kelly

Princess for Hire, by Lindsey Leavitt

Escaping the Tiger, by Laura Manivong

The Mark, by Jen Nadol

Birthmarked, by Caragh O'Brien

If the covers alone don't make you drool, I'm surprised.

Reporter's Review: A Season of Gifts, By Richard Peck

Dial, October 2009
Overall Grade: A

Mrs. Dowdel (of A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago fame) is back, seen this time from the viewpoint of a preacher's son who has just moved into the house next door. As he and his family try to adjust and survive, they receive more than a little help from their crafty, indomitable next-door neighbor...though all given in her own, unique way.
Richard Peck's writing in A Season of Gifts is as wonderful as ever...if not more so. Every sentence is perfectly crafted, and there are some so perfect, so unique, that they left me gaping. He writes a town you can see and smell and people you could touch (or maybe smack or maybe hug!). The plot is not his strongest...but with writing this crazy good, who cares?
On second thought...we do. Because with this kind of character development, this remarkable crafting, this extraordinary pacing--imagine what a plot with more depth would do. Quite honestly, it would take this from one of the best children's books written this year to one of the best children's books written ever.
And if you're looking for a great Christmas gift for someone with good taste in books...you found it.

Literary Quality: A+
Plot: B
Voice: A
Originality: A
Descriptive Ability: A+
Humor: A+
Illustrations: A
Believability of Characters: A+
Believability of Situations: A+
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A+

Possibly objectionable topics*: various mentions of children born out of wedlock; mildly crude humor; underage drinking (viewed as dangerous)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reporter's Review: Al Capone Shines My Shoes, by Gennifer Choldenko

Dial, 2009
Overall Grade: A-/A

Moose Flanagan is still the nice boy of the kids living on Alcatraz Island. Their parents are guards—but even they can’t quite keep the incorrigible group of youngsters from getting involved where they shouldn’t. And getting involved with notorious gangster Al Capone tops the list. When Scarface Al asks Moose for a favor in return for helping Moose’s autistic (though that word is never used) sister Natalie into a good school, Moose doesn’t know what to do…and the other kids’ plans have a way of making the right choice even more difficult to find.
Al Capone Shines My Shoes falls into the category of very well-done sequels. Gennifer Choldenko created a unique, stand-alone plot for the second Alcatraz book, while nicely carrying through the elements that she set up in the first. In fact, the plot was masterfully structured; while being filled with action and suspense, each plot point clearly and logically arose from the characters’ actions and decisions. Some of the minor secondary characters didn’t always ring true, but the main characters were excellent and the interpersonal relationships were well developed.

Beyond that, despite its unique and seemingly “hard” setting, Al Capone Shines My Shoes was a beautiful story. I’ve read very few (though some excellent ones have been reviewed here) novels containing a character “on the autism spectrum,” to be specific, that was so authentic and genuine—and just as important, in terms of story, in which this character’s condition was so intrinsic to the plot. Moose and Natalie have a touching (while still honest and believable) relationship which dramatically demonstrates the immeasurable value of every human being, no matter how society might view them.
Now for one “pet peeve”, falling under the categories of both literary quality and overall enjoyment… Remember the post on “Yolenisms”? To briefly sum up, that’s the term we coined for melodramatic repeated phrases, often used at chapter and section ends (but very seldom in real life) to create a sense of drama and completion and/or suspense. It’s a pitfall for even some of the best writers, as evidenced here: we counted 17 altogether, which comes to more than one per every 15 pages. Here’s just a few, as examples:
p. 38: “Close enough, Moose. Close enough.”
p. 48: “You bet, doll. You bet.”
p. 133: “Jeepers, Moose. Jeepers.”
p. 193: “I dunno, Moose,” she says without turning back. “I really don’t know.”
(If you’re curious, you can find the others on pages 49, 58, 81, 110, 124, 142, 158, 176, 178, 185, 203, 209, and 222, respectively.)
After that, we thought of changing the term to “Choldenko-isms”… but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Why bring it up? Truth is, we see this a lot…but it’s so much funnier when an excellent author falls into it.

Literary Quality: B
Plot: A+
Voice: A-
Originality: A+
Descriptive Ability: A
Humor: A
Illustrations: n/a
Believability of Characters: B+
Believability of Situations: A-
Overall Reading Enjoyment: A

*Possibly Objectionable Topics: some mildly crude humor and scary moments

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Food for thought

"The good writer seems to be writing about himself, but has his eye always on that thread of the Universe which runs through himself and all things."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

...and, on a random note, remember to enter our contest to win a signed copy of Shannon Hale's FOREST BORN, or other cool writing- and reading-related things! http://thechildrensbookreporter.blogspot.com/2009/09/another-contest-to-win-free-stuff.html

Author Interview: Fran Cannon Slayton

A hearty welcome to Fran Cannon Slayton, author of When the Whistle Blows; the story follows a boy named Jimmy Cannon through several All Hallows' Eves of his life in West Virginia, as he grows up and his world changes. (Read my original (raving) review here: http://thechildrensbookreporter.blogspot.com/2009/09/reporters-review-when-whistle-blows-by.html)

CBR: Why did you choose All Hallows’ Eve as the day in which your stories are set? Does that day have a special significance for you?

FCS: Legend in our family has it that my grandfather was born and buried on Halloween. I always thought that was a pretty cool fact and it made me think about how the circle of life is made clear when a person dies on the same day that he was born. The beginning is the end, the end is the beginning – all whole; all complete; all one. And in some ways that is what my book is all about: that death – whether it is of a person, or a time, or a place, or a state of being – is not necessarily the “end.” It’s a part.

CBR: In your foreword you mentioned that much of WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS was inspired by stories your father told you growing up… Was it challenging for you to fictionalize these real-life events for the sake of the overall quality of the novel?
FCS: No, it was not hard to fictionalize the real events. I think the reason for this is because they were not events that I myself had lived through. My father had lived through them and knew them firsthand. But I only knew the stories through him – so even as he was telling me these stories when I was a child, I had to create my own visuals. When you create your own vision of an event it is already fictionalized to a certain extent. And because the events were not my own, I think it was easier for me to nip and tuck and let go of some of the realities in order to serve the narrative.
CBR: Would you want to live in 1940’s Rowlesburg if you (magically!) had the chance?
FCS: Not permanently, but I certainly would like to spend a month or so there. I’d love to see (and ride!) the steam engines, watch the railroaders work in the pits and in the shop; watch the ladies sweep the cinders off their porches; swim in the old swimming hole; walk along the old train bridge; meet my grandfather and eat some of my grandmother’s cooking. Sigh.
CBR: Where do you get your best thinking done? Best writing?
FCS:I can think pretty much anywhere as long as it is quiet. Thinking is one of my favorite parts of writing; I suppose my favorite place for it is in front of the fireplace.
In terms of writing, I really like writing late at night until the wee hours of the morning, but it doesn’t suit my family’s schedule very well. So most of my writing I do sometime between 8am and 3pm. I usually like writing best at home or in a coffee shop.
CBR: How do you push through those times when writing is difficult?
FCS: I’ll often revert to thinking about it. Things come in their due time, and I try not to worry about it and give myself space. Sometimes I’ll start working on another project, and let my subconscious percolate for a while. Other times I’ll just try to write through the issue, or approach it from another angle.
CBR: Thank you so much, Fran! Your book was delightful...and we look forward to seeing it come up often during "award season"--it's one of our picks for Newbery hopefuls!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Author Interview: Jenny Moss

Today we welcome Jenny Moss, author of Winnie's War, the story of a young girl struggling to keep her family safe and together through the outbreak of war and epidemic in her little Texas town.

CBR: What drew you to the time period and setting for WINNIE’S WAR?

JM: I live in the Houston/Galveston area and wanted very much to write about this part of the country. I chose the time period because of my interest in the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic. It actually wasn’t until I did research for the book that I realized what a fascinating time period it was, on the technological cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

CBR: Have you ever wanted to live in a different era? Would it be similar to Winnie’s world (minus the flu and the war!) or some other place and time entirely?

JM: Great question! I’m interested in many other time periods, including Elizabethan and medieval England, the time of the flappers in the US, the New York theater crowd in the 1950s, the world in 1969, so much! Which is what’s great about being a writer: You’re able to “visit” these amazing places.

CBR: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of writing historical fiction?

JM: Historical fiction is a lot of work, but well worth it. I’m into research. I like learning obscure facts about bygone days. My least favorite part is when I feel rushed, when I can’t linger over the details. But writing historical fiction requires finding the right balance between writing and researching. Researching more means writing less; you may never finish the book if you don’t find that balance!

CBR: Are there any authors you loved as a child (or an adult) which influenced your writing or your decision to become a writer?
JM: I don’t remember deciding to become a writer. I liked reading and writing stories. I kept doing it and finally was a writer, I think. I’ve admired many authors over the years and thought it would be wonderful to be as gifted as they were, writers like “Carolyn Keene” (during my Nancy Drew phase), Victoria Holt (during my gothic novel reading), and later, Toni Morrison, F Scott Fitzgerald, Emily Dickinson, Markus Zusak, Billy Collins, Megan Whalen Turner, Shakespeare, Geraldine Brooks, and on and on.

CBR: Are there any questions you’ve always wanted to be asked that you’d like to answer here?

JM: Are there any other members of your family who write?
Why, yes. :) My brother and daughter are both gifted writers. I like to think my mother started it all, tapping away at her typewriter when her kids were small.
Thanks so much for the interview!

CBR: Thank you, Jenny! Your book was great, and we very much appreciate your taking this time to talk to us!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Special Topic: Books for Boys

I've recently noticed a trend in the emails and feedback I've received from this blog's viewers: a large number of parents and teachers are reading it for a particular reason. To quote: "I want to find books for my boy(s) to read!" Sadly, while there are hundreds of great books out there for boys, many adults don't know where to look once they're off the NYT best seller list (and even if they're on the list, who's to say they're good?).

So.... I'm initiating a new feature of The Book Report: a monthly feature entitled "Books for Boys".
In the future I will be highlighting older (that is, not published this year, or not currently bestsellers) books, but today I'm going to briefly run through some books your boys may have already read and let you know what I think of them.


Controversy regarding witchcraft aside, this is obviously the most popular book ever written for children of either gender. The plot is one of the most well-thought-out I've ever encountered in either children's or adult's literature, and the characters are well-developed and unforgettable. Long sentences make it difficult to read aloud, but older readers will read it quickly and enthusiastically. However, due to the aforementioned controversy, parents should do their research and read it first. Being involved in your children's reading means being involved in their life...that's just good parenting.
Why boys like it: Action. Drama. Plot. Characters. The enticement of another world, another reality from what they know. Humor. With an emphasis on humor.


There's some controversy surrounding these books, as well, due to their content of ancient gods--so again, do your research. However, they are easy to read, filled with action, and very exciting. I would argue that character development suffers as a result of constant action, but... apparently millions of boys don't mind that.
Why boys like it: Action. (Some) humor. Fantasy. Quick pacing and readability.


Boy genius meets the fairy realm. One character can be a little crude, and a later book in the series turns demons into a possibly objectionable fantasy element, but the plot is excellent, surprisingly touching, and overflowing with clever humor.
Why boys like it: Humor. Action. Kick-butt fairies that are anything but girly.

These books seem to appeal to the younger fans of Tolkien's THE LORD OF THE RINGS. They're decently fast-paced, very action-packed, and filled with other-worldliness and excitement. Personally, I think the writing is amateurish and the plot and characters almost define cliche. Boys like it...but I would recommend they stick to Tolkien, Lewis, maybe MacDonald, or venture into the works of Robert Louis Stevenson if they're smart enough to tackle books with that kind of length and vocabulary.
Why boys like it: Fast-paced action. Fantasy elements reminiscent of (or stolen from) The Lord of the Rings. Plot reminiscent of (or stolen from) Star Wars.

And, still bestsellers for boys though it's been years since their publication:

It's great what a blockbuster movie will do to rejuvenate old classics. #5 is great for advanced readers who want to tackle it, and #6 is excellent for readers of any level, simple language yet profound story.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Food for Thought...and don't forget to enter contest to win real food (a.k.a. chocolate) and a signed copy of Shannon Hale's latest!

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."
-Albert Einstein

And speaking of imagination... I met Shannon Hale at a book signing Friday and she signed the copy of FOREST BORN for our contest. (Remember to enter here: http://thechildrensbookreporter.blogspot.com/2009/09/another-contest-to-win-free-stuff.html)
She has a seriously crazy imagination, and her chat/signing was a blast. If you haven't read any of her books, do so. Really.