Saturday, December 29, 2012

Keen Readers swan song

Close to two years ago, we launched with great fanfare, lofty ambitions and a flurry of fine contributions from dedicated volunteers.
Today, we announce with regret that this will be our final posting. And yet, any sadness we feel is powerfully overridden by pride in all we’ve accomplished. This website’s hundreds of features on young-adult authors and literacy efforts, book reviews, youth-writing contest winners and links remain here for anyone to access and read. And the hundreds of books we’ve donated to schools and libraries around North America will, we’re certain, continue to be appreciated by young readers for many years to come.
It has been an exhilarating ride, a passion we’ve both enjoyed pursuing. And judging from feedback we’ve had, the material has been appreciated by many parents, teachers, librarians and mentors out there.
We’re sorry to disappoint, but between health issues and other work commitments, it is time for us to step back and focus on other projects, other aspects of our lives, and to allow this site to serve as an archive of helpful hints for those dedicated to helping reluctant readers discover the lifetime joy of reading.
There are many other websites that continue to do what we’ve been doing, including many we’ve featured – as links (
So, while we’ve headlined this our “swan song,” in reality it’s merely a “freeze frame,” a library shelf still very much open to the public.
We wish to thank our talented team for their hard work and commitment to youth literacy, and we look forward to seeing them continue to excel in their careers. Finally, we wish our viewers and fans, our Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers, a warm and happy reading life.
Pam Withers and Tony Dirksen

P.S. In July 2013, Pam has a new book out: Jump Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life ($16.95, ISBN 978-1-936740-39-0). Co-authored with her sister Cynthia Gill (a licensed marriage and family therapist who taught high school for 30 years), it’s aimed at parents and mentors, and is available now for pre-ordering. Hope you enjoy it!

Below are links to publisher Viva Editions’ catalog…

… and to’s page:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A basket of books

Keen Readers just donated a basketful of books to Chaffey-Burke Elementary School in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, and here's the nice letter we just received back:
"Thank you very much for giving me so many books to take to my class. The students were thrilled and eager to look through the collection. What a hit! Thanks for thinking of us, and for your generosity. The books are much appreciated and will be well read. :)
-- Lori Barer., teacher, Div. 8 (Grades 4/5)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Marine life update for our intrepid book reviewer Stacey

Two blogs ago -- the one with the blue dolphin leaping above it -- I mentioned that one of our book reviewers, Stacey Matson, works with marine wildlife when she isn't writing book reviews for Keen Readers or working on her own novel. Well, strike that dolphin, because she just sent me an update: She is, in fact, working at an aquarium in Vancouver, BC, Canada as an interpreter, delivering public programs and family programs about marine life. There's a lot to learn, but she has definitely become a penguin, sea lion and otter expert in the last few months, and she tells me that she looks pretty good dressed up as a rapping penguin too! She's also volunteering with an organization dedicated to kids' literacy. The Writers' Exchange is helping to get inner-city kids excited about literacy through mentoring programs and creative writing projects. (You can check out their website here:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Another KR book giveaway!

My favorite part of running Keen Readers is giving away boxes of books to needy school libraries every few months. This month, we sent a big box (I know because I personally carried it to the post office) to Welland, Ontario, Canada. And here's the nice letter we got back today:
 Hi Pam:

I just wanted to say thanks so much for the box of books that arrived at our school yesterday!  The students here at Fitch Street are always popping in to the library wondering if any new books have been added to our collection.  I have already catalogued the books and put them on display!  We are very grateful for the donation which will be enjoyed by the many avid readers here at Fitch Street.  Thanks again!

Lisa Teal 
Fitch Street Public School
Welland, ON L3C 4V5

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Our team: from Newbery Medal committee member to gourmet cook to swimming with dolphins

As our November 1 features are being readied to appear tomorrow, I want to do a "shout out" about the team members who make keen readers happen.
Nothing makes me prouder than the hard work they all go to to bring you new material each month.
There's Cameron, reading and judging all the youth contest entries between his work as a science center presenter and substitute teacher. (Having recently finished his teachers' training, he hopefully will land on his feet in a lucky school soon.)
And Darian, who burns the midnight oil posting new features and keeping our website up and running in addition to coping with a staggering college workload (and on top of that, being a gourmet cook for friends and lucky keen-readers staff like myself).
I don't know what we'd do without Teresa Bateman, whose prodigious book reviewing output happens in her "spare time" between serving as a school librarian and writing books herself. (She has promised to give us a head's up when the next one is out.)
Then there's Stacey Matson, whose passion besides children's literature (and working on a novel of her own) is working with marine life. (I'd love to post a photo of her swimming with dolphins one of these days...)
Tony keeps tabs on the operation between voluminous travel trips (he's just off a cruise ship in Spain right now, the bum). 
And why have I saved our longest-serving book reviewer Rob Bittner till last? Because we're particularly proud of him this month. He has just learned that he will be a member of the 2014 Newbery Medal committee through the American Library Association. You rock, Rob! Plus, at about the same time, he learned that an article written with Dr. Eric Meyers will be included in the essay collection, Children’s Play Worlds: Culture, Learning and Growth in Virtual Spaces. Hard to top that!
Finally, thank you, readers, for making our work worthwhile.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Love letter & surprise phone call

Love letter
I was touched by a recent blog from a librarian who used to snub “reluctant reader” books, but now realizes the value of short, high-action, low-vocabulary books aimed at hooking middle grade and high school kids into reading. Her new insight inspired her to write a "love letter" to Orca Books, a publisher of reluctant-reader books, on her blog:
“You know that not every 15-year-old can read above a third grade level, and even a lot of those who can, think reading an actual book is equal to pulling out all of your teeth.”
Three of my own novels are aimed at “reluctant readers” – Camp Wild, Breathless and Daredevil Club – all published with Orca Books, whose Orca Currents and Orca Soundings series(among others) specialize in such material (
Here’s the rest of that blog entry I’d like to share:
Surprise phone call
Just a quick note regarding my most recent young-adult novel First Descent (Tundra Books), even though it’s not a reluctant reader book: I got the phone call a few weeks ago, only to be told I had to keep it hush-hush until today! Well, I’m honored to announce that as of this morning, the Ontario Library Association has officially released a list of books nominated for its “Forest of Reading” awards, and First Descent is up for the Red Maple Award. Thank you, Ontario Library Association! Here’s more information about them:

That means I’ll be in Toronto May 15-16, 2013. Coincidentally, just two weeks later I’m due to sign advance reading copies of my sister’s and my forthcoming book for parents, about getting reluctant-reader boys to read (more about that in a future blog) at the Book Expo America conference in New York City (May 30 and June 1, 2013). So in between, I’ll be doing presentations in Ontario, in Washington D.C. and in parts between. (Here’s where I insert a little plug; hope no one minds): Anyone interested in booking a presentation, feel free to contact my speaking-tours agent Chris Patrick, 1-866-413-9216, jcpem (at) More information on my presentations is below.
presentations for schools:
presentations to adults:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Black bears and silver awards

I spent the past week in Washington state visiting my Keenreaders co-founder Tony Dirksen (and his wife Elva) and  Theresa Bateman, Keenreader's U.S. book reviewer extraordinaire, who is also a children's writer. Theresa cranks out an incredible number of middle-grade/young-adult book reviews for Keenreaders each month, and it was fun to finally meet her. We discovered we're both from big families, though she has me beat me by several siblings. (I'm one of only six.)

It was the first time I'd spent time in scenic Port Ludlow, where Tony lives (and which is therefore the official "U.S. headquarters" of Keenreaders). He and Elva generously chauffeured me around the peninsula showing me the sites; we ate clams and other Pacific Northwest fare, and visited lots of used book stores. More importantly, Tony and Elva have a hot tub in their backyard, from which they occasionally glimpse black bears who wander about this quiet, wooded region. I spent lots of time in the hot tub -- only to increase my chances of a bear sighting, of course, but no such luck .

I also visited friends and relatives in San Francisco (including my nephew's wife ZhengZheng, who works for Facebook and helps Mark Zuckerberg practice his Mandarin). Also visited Brenda Knight, publisher of Cleis Books (, which is publishing my forthcoming book (fall of 2013) on boys and literacy. And learned during my travels that my latest young-adult novel just garnered an award (so I thought I might be allowed to mention it here).

Here's a full recap of the awards and mentions that First Descent has garnered: 

Silver award for young-adult fiction, 2011 Book of the Year Awards (BOTYA) by ForeWord Reviews, announced at the American Library Association conference in Anaheim, California June, 2012:

2012 Silver award for 2012 mid-grade/teen fiction, Nautilus Book Awards, "better books for a better world":

Fall 2011 Junior Library Guild Selection designation:

Feb. 2012 honorable mention for a young adult book in the Ontario Library Association list of "Best Bets":

Hope that helps it reach more readers, and makes them keener readers. All the sites above, of course, are great for scouting quality middle-grade and young-adult books.
Have a good July! 
Pam Withers

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Another book giveaway!

     Mary Ann Cummings of Vancouver, Canada is the type of person I admire. She had an idea for a nonprofit enterprise -- collecting "gently used" children's books from parents who have plenty, and putting them into the hands of less fortunate children. She spent months starting up her outfit with full fervor. Her passion soon drew a cadre of enthusiastic volunteers who now spend hours per week promoting, collecting, sorting, re-boxing and putting books into the hands of appreciative youngsters. The local school board helps direct her to the schools with children most in need.
     Thanks to Mary Ann and her team, "Books for Me" ( has become a busy, busy outfit, and thanks to them, many a child who isn't used to the privilege of owning a book have received some of their very own.
     Keen Readers was honored to contribute roughly 100 to Books for Me last month (many of them donated to us by the generous children's authors at , and here's a photo of Mary Ann opening our box.
     As our regular readers know, we do this several times a year. By going through Books for Me on this round, we got to know Mary Ann and her crew, who reignited our own passion for promoting youth literacy.
    Thanks, Mary Ann and team, for all you do!
-- Pam Withers, Keen Readers co-founder

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A small-world story

by Pam Withers

            My favorite part of running the keenreaders website is choosing someone to interview each month for our Interview feature. Basically, if they have anything to do with youth literacy, they intrigue me and become a potential candidate.
            So when I stumbled across something called, which promotes getting more male teachers into schools (thereby hopefully influencing reluctant readers that reading is not entirely a female thing), I decided that at some point I’d pursue an interview with whoever founded it. Not just because the majority of reluctant readers are boys, but because I think (and many mothers and female teachers agree) that girls could benefit from more positive male role models in the school system too.
            This past month, I got around to checking out their website, and who do you think popped up on my screen? The name and photo of Bryan G. Nelson, founder.
            “So that’s where you’ve gotten to, Bryan!” I exclaimed. Because not only did Bryan and I attend Beloit College in Wisconsin together thirty-some years ago, but we co-edited the college newspaper, The Round Table. I recall a free-spirited, dedicated colleague with whom I shared many laughs as well as late-night deadline panics in the cramped little attic college-newspaper room.
            It was fun to request a Keen Readers interview with Bryan, then add a “by the way…” He too was surprised and delighted at reconnecting in this way.
            So, here’s to a small world, and to folks who endeavor to make a difference. Keep up your good work, Bryan!

Keen Readers donates another 100 books

Keen Readers just donated 100 books to Kate Pike, manager of the Jefferson Teen Center in Chimacum, Washington. She accepted them from Tony Dirksen, co-founder of

The Teen Center, located on the Chimacum High School campus, is a place for kids to hang out, play music, play foosball, watch movies and yes, discover books and find a quiet corner to read.  Plus, the Center gives young people a place where they can come together to talk about issues of importance to them and to their safety, and it provides referrals to health care, employment and drug and alcohol prevention programs.

Keen Readers donates young-adult books to needy schools across North America, several times per year.

Monday, January 9, 2012

First fan letter of 2012

When you start a website and blog, you don't always know who is out there reading it.  Isn't it nice when somebody lets you know they have discovered your little piece of web real estate, and actually take the time to tell you it's useful and they like it! :)
Here's our first fan letter for 2012. Thanks so much Alicia.  Happy New Year everyone, and we hope you received lots of books over the holidays.  Pam Withers, co-founder
My name is Alicia and I am a middle school English teacher. I am currently working on my students' next reading project. Usually the projects are based off a book we read as a class but this time I am letting the students have a free choice. I am helping them out by creating a list of sites they can turn to get ideas of what book to choose. I just happened to come across your page while I was looking for some book lists and other reading related resources to add to the guide.

I just wanted to take a second and write you a quick email to show my gratitude for the help you have given me with my project guide and lesson plans. The resources and information you took the time to post were very helpful. 

I thought I could share another great literature resource page I found while searching. This page has some good information and resources on the different literary awards and I thought you might want to add it as another resource. 

Thanks again for your help, I really appreciate it.

Best Wishes in 2012,