The Eureka Key: Secrets of the Seven: Sarah L. Thomson

Book: The Eureka Key: Secrets of the Seven, Book 1
Author: Sarah L. Thomson
Pages: 240
Age Range: 8-12

The Eureka Key is the first of a new quest-driven series by Sarah L. Thomson. It's reminiscent of Kate Messner's Capture the Flag and sequels (see my reviews of Book 1 and Book 2). Both series feature descendants from historical figures uniting to uncover and protect certain secret artifacts. I like Messner's books, but I think I like The Eureka Key, with its strong focus on puzzles and Indiana Jones feel, a bit better. 

The Eureka Key begins with bright troublemaker Sam Solomon pulling off a minor but carefully timed criminal act at school (in service of a wronged friend). He reminded me a bit of Varian Johnson's Jackson Greene in this caper, but is more of a lone wolf. Later that day, Sam receives word that he's won a complex puzzle contest that he entered previously. The prize is a journey of discovery to follow clues around the United Sates over the summer. While it's rather implausible that parents would actually allow a 12 year old (at most) to go by himself on such a quest, this sets up the story nicely.

When he arrives in Las Vegas for a flight to Death Valley, Sam meets his fellow team members, the geeky, history-obsessed Martina and the strong and silent Theo. The action quickly takes off from there, and includes a near-death flight experience, a kidnapping, and the following of clues hidden by none other than Ben Franklin. This activity is not all strictly realistic, perhaps, but it is a lot of fun. 

I also enjoyed the personal dynamics between the three very different kids. Sam is a bit of a wise-ass, and flies by the seat of his pants, though he is extremely good at puzzles. He and the well-prepared, uptight Marty begin bickering almost immediately. Theo's dry sense of humor is more gradually revealed, as is his background. I think Theo is going to be my favorite, actually, though Sam is the primary viewpoint character. The adults in the story are considerably less developed as characters, but this is as it should be.

The Eureka Key offers a fine mix of adventure, history, and puzzles, as well as three distinctive (but not too quirky) and likable protagonists. This is a book that I would have adored as a nine-year-old, and read in a single sitting as an adult. I look forward to future books in the Secrets of the Seven series. Recommended for mystery and adventure loving kids, and the libraries who serve them. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 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. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


#JoyOfLearning Articles from @EscapeAdulthood + @PernilleRipp + @focus2achieve

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have three articles about creating more joyful learning (and joy in reading) for kids. The first is about giving kids time to "wonder aimlessly) to figure out what they most enjoy. The second is about giving kids reading choice, and not imposing rules on them that we would not follow ourselves. The third is about how one teacher is working to remake homework policies to better serve the needs of his students. 

PenguinsCantFlyOn the value of giving kids time to "Wonder Aimlessly" + discover their own interests http://ow.ly/R0Lt301sbpn  @escapeadulthood #Play

Jason Kotecki: "This ability to “wonder aimlessly” is a valuable thing. It is the heart and soul of tinkering and the key to a happy, fulfilling life...

The current system in America is anything but aimless. From the earliest ages, the goal is to get kids reading as quickly as possible, even if that means limiting the amount of time they have for “aimless” free play, which interestingly enough,science has confirmed is crucial to the development of resiliency and conflict resolution, while helping them discover their own areas of interest and engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue."

Me: I agree with Jason and his wife Kim that kids need time to pursue "aimless" activities, so that they can recharge, figure out their passions, learn resilience, and a host of other benefits. I find in practice as the parent of a six-year-old that this is easier said than done. But I appreciate posts like that one that remind me of why I need to keep trying... 

PassionateLearnersSo much truth! The #Reading Rules that we impose upon kids that We Would Never Follow as Adult Readers http://ow.ly/OksJ301xnEE  @pernilleripp

Pernille Ripp: "Choice is the cornerstone of our own literacy life, yet it is one of the first things we tend to remove for children, especially fragile or developing readers...

And while we can say that reading logs foster more reading because it is a check up system, it also kills reading for many.  If you want to see if the kids are reading, have them read in class and pay attention to what they are reading.  Allow students to track in a way that is meaningful to them; Goodreads, notebook page, poster, pictures of books on their phone, or even through conversations.  There is no one system that fits all and if a system we have in place is even killing the love of reading for one child, then we need to rethink it."

Me: In this post, Pernille Ripp hits on a variety of restrictions that we impose on kids' reading that risk killing their enjoyment of reading, like forcing "reflection" in the form of book reports about every book, and removing intrinsic motivation via reward programs. I just want to find a way to make every elementary school teacher in the country read this post, and come to understand these points. 

HomeworkMythHomework Doesn't Work. Now What? One teacher's plan to put his students' needs 1st http://ow.ly/j9DX301C6e7  @focus2achieve @BAMRadioNetwork

Oskar Cymerman: "A lot of research says that any amount of homework is largely ineffective. Some academics see it as something that can still be used if adjusted. But how do we fix homework? And, can we fix homework? I do not know, but I know that as educators we need to do what serves our students best. It is not always clearly laid out what is best. Should we still give some homework or abandon it completely? If we give homework, how can we ensure that we do not give too much, as we rarely know how much is assigned in other classes? How do we still teach what we are mandated to teach when we know that assignment completion at home rarely leads to meaningful learning?

Here’s what I decided, so try it at your own risk if you wish." A seven-step "oath to students" follows. 

Me: I'm still not sure as a parent how I'm going to handle homework expectations when my daughter starts first grade next year. But I do so appreciate teachers like Oskar Cymerman who are working to figure out ways to remake and minimize homework to better meet the needs of students and families.

© 2016 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. This post may contain affiliate links. 


Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: #PictureBooks, #Reading Choice, #Audiobooks + More

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include: #BookLists, Disney World, diverse books, #GrowthMindset, #SummerReading, Book Awards, leveled readers, libraries, reading aloud, reading choice, schools, teaching, parenting. 

Awards + Book Lists

TheStorytellerNewbery/Caldecott 2017: The Summer Prediction Edition — @fuseeight  http://ow.ly/iSGV301scXy  #kidlit #PictureBooks

Like Jennifer Wharton, I'm skeptical about books on specific #parenting issues. But sometimes you need them. A list: http://ow.ly/vjOH301scs0 

#EasyReaders w/ #diverse characters: Expanding our #library collection (ages 5-8) http://ow.ly/bAta301zL34  @MaryAnnScheuer #BookList

Read Around Town: Books about Laundry + the Laundromat http://ow.ly/mR9W301nzdc  @mrskatiefitz #kidlit

Read Around Town: Books that Focus  on the Bus + Bus Drivers http://ow.ly/Cb8l301zKD2  @mrskatiefitz #BookList

A Truly Eclectic #PictureBook Round-Up from @RandomlyReading   http://ow.ly/zDuh301xjXP  @MollyIdle @gBrianKaras @RyanT_Higgins + more

Goofy Pets, Daring Detectives, and a Drama Queen| Chapter Books Series Update | http://ow.ly/eRwM301uJgm  @abbylibrarian @sljournal #kidlit

Ten More Great School Age Readalouds for K-4th http://ow.ly/IFwh301sddh  @abbylibrarian #BookList #kidlit

Level Up: New @literacious series Pairing Video Games w/ Children’s Books| This week: Sports Games http://ow.ly/Rded301zJS7  #kidlit

Diversity + Gender

20 Books Featuring #Diverse Characters to Inspire Connection and Empathy  http://ow.ly/uf8Q301syAe  @Kschwart @MindShiftKQED

On the importance of praising girls for hard work + intelligence, not appearance http://ow.ly/ZUeT301sanG  @Jonharper70bd @BAMRadioNetwork

Toy Companies Aim to Make Toys More Gender-Neutral  @AnneMarieChaker @WSJ https://t.co/qmSsE8ZcoM

 Literature that Deals w/ Human #Diversity: Helping to overcome fear of the 'other' (age, race, etc) http://ow.ly/f7B1301xl2I  @TrevorHCairney

Growing Bookworms

Read It Wrong: One Tip to Make #ReadingAloud Even More Fun from @everead  #GrowingBookworms http://ow.ly/arlH301oPzG 

On the dangers of using leveled books to constrain a child's reading @pernilleripp  http://ow.ly/Ac9b301nyuM  Levels can damage reading life

6 Awesome Tips for Reading Chapter Books with Preschoolers (inc. abandon it if it's not working) from @growingbbb https://t.co/ach80wSJQc

On choice: What will my kids read this summer? I'm pretending not to care @Danny_Heitman  http://ow.ly/gfiw301nxys  @csmonitor via @tashrow

Adventures in #Literacy Land: Six #SummerReading Tips to keep kids #reading http://ow.ly/Nc6Y301utAJ 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

I agree with @literacious that marketing #Audiobooks at the Gym is a smart move on the part of @randomhouse http://ow.ly/4NlW301xpnB 

#PictureBook Bios I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Hark, A Vagrant Comics) — @fuseeight http://ow.ly/AwC4301zMY0  #kidlit

Schools and Libraries

DisneyParadeHow to give any educational organization a @WaltDisneyWorld feel in 3 steps http://ow.ly/ekKw301xlgt  @TonySinanis #EdChat

A Small Fix in #Mindset Can Keep Students in School http://ow.ly/VPh1301oPHk  @AlisonGopnik @WSJ #GrowthMindset #teaching

6 Reasons to Visit the #Library This Summer | @denabooks  http://ow.ly/nHUW301nxTS  @ReadBrightly via @tashrow #SummerReading

Why "NO is an appropriate response (for preschoolers) to a choice...just as much as YES" http://ow.ly/MrvI301xjuH  @sxwiley #teaching

What’s in those pre-packaged leveled book boxes? We must seek quality classroom titles | Nicole Hewes @HornBook  http://ow.ly/xfo1301zLvX 

© 2016 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


Can I Tell You a Secret? by Anna Kang & Christopher Weyant

Book: Can I Tell You a Secret?
Author: Anna Kang
Illustrator: Christopher Weyant
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

CanITellYouASecretMonty the frog has an embarrassing secret, one that he wants to share with the reader in Can I Tell You a Secret? Despite the fact that he's, well, a frog, Monty is afraid of the water. He's spent his childhood forging doctor's notes, ducking raindrops, and avoiding the water in any way he can. He seeks the young reader's advice, and reluctantly, with some false starts, agrees to share his terrible secret with his parents. Who, of course, know already. Monty takes his new friend the reader along as he sets out to learn to swim.   

I loved Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant's earlier collaboration: You Are Not Small, which won the 2015 Geisel Award. Like that one, Can I Tell You a Secret? is a book that simply begs to be read aloud. Like this:

"I have a secret.

Can you keep a secret?
You sure?
Because I don't want anyone else to know.

Do you promise

I challenge any reader not to read that "promise" like a scared four-year-old. 

Weyant's deceptively simple illustrations are perfect, too. We go in for a close-up of Monty's face when he's talking intently to the reader. Any kid who has ever been scared of anything will relate to Monty's anxious expression, and to the sheepish grin he uses when he chicken's out on his confession. His dejected appearance when he confesses (in a tiny font that calls for a tiny read-aloud voice) "I'm afraid of the water" will make any reader ache for him. Just as his simple joy at the end of the book will leave all readers happy.

Can I Tell You a Secret is a delightful picture book, perfect for the three to six-year-old set. It is certainly one that libraries and preschools will want to stock. It should have near-universal appeal for younger kids and their parents. It has plenty of repetition, and would also work as an early reader for slightly older kids. Highly recommended all around!

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 31, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 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. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


My Plan for My Daughter's "Summer Learning"

My daughter finished Kindergarten last week. My goal has been to keep her summer as unstructured as possible. I want her to have downtime after her first year of elementary school. I want her to have the mental space to develop and nurture her own interests. I want her to have fun. Which is not to say that she won't be learning. She's six years old. She is a little sponge, soaking up opportunities for learning every day. Here are the things that I plan to do that I think will support my daughter's learning process without taking away her autonomy or joy of learning:

KnuffleBunny1. Keep piles of picture books on the kitchen table and by her bed. Rotate these every couple of days to give her choice. Keep the simple reading log that we've been using on the kitchen table, so that we can jot down books as we read them. Read to her while she eats breakfast, before bed, and during whatever other times she requests it throughout the day. Visit the library as needed to keep the piles of books fresh. We are still mostly reading these books to her, but whenever she decides that she wants to read a picture book or early reader aloud, we're happy to listen and help out. 

1stGradeWorkbook2. Keep a Grade 1 workbook on the kitchen table or the playroom desk, in case she wants to use it. She especially likes the Scholastic workbooks that I get from Costco. She has already asked me to get the Grade 2 workbook, for when she finishes. I am not requiring her to do the workbook at any time, and certainly not to finish it. But I find that if it is her own idea, and she has some downtime, she's happy to use the workbook to practice her writing and math. Last night she was practicing sentences while my husband and I were finishing dinner. I loved workbooks as a kid, and seeing her industrious work does make me smile.

3. Keep her afternoons as open as possible (vs. having structured activities). My daughter ended up deciding at the last minute to sign up for swim team. There is practice every morning, though she is only required to go three times a week. These practices do get her outside exercising and spending time with her friends. They've been staying to play together at the pool for longer than the 45 minute practice time, so I figure this is a reasonable compromise. She also has two 50-minute karate classes a week, but as previously discussed, the karate classes bring her great joy. She's also going to do one week of "spy camp" because I couldn't resist. But otherwise, her schedule during the week is clear.  

4. Accept playdates when they are offered, and offer them in return. As I write this, my daughter is at a friend's house picking fruit from the family's garden. Yesterday she and a couple of friends arranged among themselves a playdate after swim practice. I believe there was dancing involved, but I'm not sure. We don't live in neighborhood where she can just spontaneously play with kids who live nearby, but this felt like the next best thing. We are very fortunate to have friends we can do this with, particularly given that my daughter is an only child.  

ThingsToMake5. Make sure we have plenty of construction paper, colored pencils, markers, and scotch tape. Costco is pretty helpful here, too. Save empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls, as well as shoeboxes. I also bought her something called The Big Book of Things to Make as an end-of-school present. While I'm philosophically in favor of her designing her own projects, I figured that a flipping through some ideas couldn't hurt. I also provide blank journals for writing stories.

6. Let her spend limited amounts of time doing hour of code tutorials (with a parent) and dabbling in Minecraft on her Kindle Fire. I do find that screen time can be addictive for my daughter, and I try to keep it quite limited. But I think it's ok in moderation, particularly if she is focused on things that are creative in some way. I also need some time in which she is occupied so that I can exercise, particularly on weekends, when our childcare provider is not with us. I agreed to download Minecraft (pocket edition) because I figured it would be better to have her building things than watching shows. 

That's it. Books and craft supplies. Kids to play with. Relatively constructive apps for her screen time. But most of all TIME. I realize that this might not be the right set of summer attributes for all kids. But for my daughter, I think this plan will do the trick. 

© 2016 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.