The Storyteller: Evan Turk

Book: The Storyteller
Author: Evan Turk
Pages: 48
Age Range: 5-10


When The Storyteller turned up at my house I nearly set it aside for when my daughter is older. It's long and text dense, and I wasn't sure if she would appreciate it. But I figured I'd wait and see, and left it on the kitchen table for her. A couple of days later she asked me to read it to her, because her babysitter had already read it to her, and it was "A really good book." Long, yes. Mythic, vs. tied to ordinary suburban existence, yes. But The Storyteller is also "really good" and well able to hold a six-year-old's attention. I agree with her assessment.

The Storyteller is a nested tale of stories within stories about Morocco, magic, and the desert. It begins:

"Long, long ago, like a pearl around a grain of sand, the fertile Kingdom of Morocco formed near the edge of the great, dry Sahara. It had fountains of cool, delicious water to quench the dangerous third of the desert, and storytellers to bring the people together."

What right-minder lover of stories would not want to continue reading after that? What follows is a tale of a thirsty young boy looking for water during a drought. He finds an old man who tells him a story, the hearing of which fills the boy's bowl with water. But the story contains the seeds of previous stories, and the boy returns day after day, as the old man fills in the details, and magically fills his bowl with water. Then, when a danger approaches, the boy uses the power of story to help his people. 

Different colored fonts are used to distinguish visually between the different stories within stories. This is nice, but I didn't find it necessary - the book was not difficult to follow. There is certainly an old-fashioned, epic sort of tone. Like this:

"Many years ago, my great-great-grandmother's great-great-grandmother was a carpet weaver. Our village again had a terrible drought, and people had to travel far to find water.

One day, a very old woman walked into the weaver's home with a bundle wrapped in cloth."

Just as young readers will be swept away by the story, they'll also delight in Turk's lush illustrations, "rendered in water-soluble crayon, colored drawing pencils, inks, indigo, sugared green tea, a heat gun, and fire." They look like old parchments, with a mix of bold inks and more muted colors to help visually convey the layers of the stories. A page in which a carpet is woven looks like a carpet itself, complete with a collection of different geometric borders. Other pages have carpet-like borders, too. The Storyteller seems ancient, and yet timeless.

The Storyteller is a gorgeous and compelling picture book that would be welcome in any library serving elementary school children. While it's a bit dense for preschoolers, it is sure to captivate older kids, and their parents. Highly recommended. 

Publisher:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers (@SimonKids) 
Publication Date: June 28, 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).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: July 27: Back-to-School #PictureBooks and Stories with Dedication Pages

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 has refocused recently, and now contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, including bookworms, mathematicians, and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this relatively brief issue I have four book reviews (picture book through middle grade) as well as a post with mini reviews of some new back-to-school picture books. I also have one post about my daughter's latest literacy milestone, adding dedication pages to her stories. I close with one post with links that I shared recently on Twitter

Reading Update: In the past two weeks I read/listened to one middle grade title, and five adult titles. I read:

  • BridgetWilderJonathan Bernstein: Bridget Wilder: Spy-in-Training. Katherine Tegen Books. Middle Grade. Completed July 15, 2016, on Kindle. Review to come. 
  • Paul Doiron: Widowmaker (Mike Bowditch #7). Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed July 14, 2016, on MP3. I'm sad to be caught up now on this series, awaiting any future books... 
  • C. J. Box: Breaking Point (Joe Pickett, Book 13). Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed July 18, 2016, on MP3.
  • Elly Griffiths: The Outcast Dead (Ruth Galloway #6). Mariner Books. Adult Mystery. Completed July 20, 2016, on Kindle. This series remains addictive for me. I was under the weather last week, and pretty much read these two Ruth Galloway books back-to-back. But now I'm going a bit more slowly on the final (so far) book in the series. 
  • Elly Griffiths: The Ghost Fields (Ruth Galloway #7). Mariner Books. Adult Mystery. Completed July 22, 2016, on Kindle.
  • Sara Paretsky: Bitter Medicine (V. I. Warshawski #4). Dell Books. Adult Mystery. Completed July 24, 2016, on MP3. Lots more of these books to go before I finish this series, thank goodness. I remain fascinated with the changes in both technology and social norms since these books were published 30 years ago.

I'm currently reading The Woman in Blue (Ruth Galloway) by Elly Griffiths and listening to Stone Cold (Joe Pickett) by C. J. BoxThe books my husband and I and our babysitter have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here. We've slacked off a bit on our reading with my daughter, because of various activities and guests, but the remaining weeks of the summer should be quieter, and give us more free time for reading. Or so I can hope, anyway... 

HarryPotterIllustratedWe did give reading the first Harry Potter book as a family another try. My daughter had asked about it, but was hoping for more pictures, so I splurged on the new illustrated edition of book 1. This was our third try, and it was the first time that I felt like my daughter's listening comprehension was up to the task. However, we had to stop before the end of chapter one (after 2 nights of reading together) because she was having nightmares. It might not have been the book, but our sleep is too important for us to be willing to take the chance. Maybe when she turns seven... The book is beautiful. 

I'm continuing to share all of my longer reads, as well as highlights from my picture book reads with my daughter, via the #BookADay hashtag on Twitter. Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. Wishing you all plenty of time for summer reading.

© 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

The Scourge: Jennifer Nielsen

Book: The Scourge
Author: Jennifer Nielsen
Pages: 368
Age Range: 9-12

TheScourgeThe Scourge is an upcoming middle grade novel by Jennifer Nielsen, author of The Ascendance Trilogy (reviews here, here, and here) and the Mark of the Thief series (book 1 review here). Although Nielsen does a fair bit of world-building in The Scourge, she wraps up the story quite thoroughly, and this seems to be a standalone novel (which I find refreshing). To me, The Scourge seemed aimed at a slightly younger audience than the previous books, more elementary than middle school. The Scourge is a fast-paced, suspenseful read with an engaging main character, and is sure to be well-received by kids.

The Scourge is set in a country, Keldan, that is suffering from a dangerous pandemic called the Scourge. People found to be ill from or carriers of the Scourge are sent to an island called the Colony, housed in a former prison. No one ever returns. The Scourge is always fatal. Things start to change, however, when young Ani Mells is sent to the Colony. Ani and her best friend Weevil belong to the River People, an ostracized segment of the population also know as "grubs". Grubs have few rights compared to the townspeople (called "pinchworms"), but they do know how to fight, and take care of themselves. What follows is an exploration of friendship, government oppression, and manipulation, set against a variety of dangers and cruelties.

Ani is a delightful character, stubborn and belligerent, and pretty much incapable of following the rules. She blossoms into a leader over the course of the book, even as her antagonists attempt to break her. Her friendship with Weevil is strong enough to withstand various tests, too. [Slight spoiler: A turn from friendship to love interest later in the book didn't seem necessary to me, but is certainly G rated enough to keep the book elementary schooler-friendly.] And, in another refreshing change for any children's fantasy novel, Ani actually has two loving and living parents (though she's separated from them starting early in the book, of course).

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for Ani's voice:

"The River People knew every plant and its uses. Pinchworms thought we were less educated than them because we didn't have their expensive medicines or tests like the governor would probably try to administer on us. I figured we were just differently educated. They knew the world that came out of books, but we knew the world that went into them. I'd have loved to see a hungry pinchworm challenge a water cobra for its fish. Mostly because no River Person I knew would ever try such a foolish thing. In river country, we all learned early to respect things that could swallow us whole." (Chapter Three, ARC)

"Sometimes I hated the way my brain worked, like a magnet to thoughts I should not have and actions I should not take. My mother said I was born backward and that probably explained how I'd gotten this way. Maybe she was right--I didn't know." (Chapter Twenty-Five, ARC)

Fans of Nielsen's other fantasy books are going to love The Scourge. For those who haven't read her work, The Scourge is a great introduction, particularly given that it's a standalone novel. The Scourge is one that libraries serving elementary and middle school kids should have on their "must purchase" list. Highly recommended, for kids and adults.  

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: August 30, 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).

Snoop Troop: It Came from Beneath the Playground: Kirk Scroggs

Book: Snoop Troop: It Came from Beneath the Playground
Author: Kirk Scroggs
Pages: 176
Age Range: 7-10

SnoopTroop1It Came from Beneath the Playground is the first book in the Snoop Troop series of mysteries for early elementary school kids. I found it to be highly entertaining, with kid-friendly humor and a non-obvious mystery. When sources of fun (including a local merry-go-round and the school playground) start disappearing, a mystery-obsessed girl named Logan Lang races to help. In the face of inept adult investigators, Logan reluctantly joins forces with a police-obsessed boy named Gustavo Muchomacho (previously her "arch-nuisance"). The two each bring complementary mystery-solving skills to the table, and their differences lend humor along the way. 

It Came from Beneath the Playground is a heavily illustrated  chapter book, with multiple pictures on every page, much of the information conveyed in text bubbles, and seek-and-find type activities throughout. There are also bonus puzzles and visual games included at the end of the book. It reads like a graphic novel, but does include some narrative text, too. The narrator talks directly to Logan from time to time, and readers are directly encouraged to find clues along the way.

Despite the many illustrations, I would place It Came from Beneath the Playground as more a book for second graders and up than for first graders. It's relatively long, and many of the illustrations are small and detailed. Readers hoping to solve the mystery will need to keep track of hints from different parts of the book. There are also some strong vocabulary words, as well as puns that I don't think the newest readers will get. (e.g. an amusement park owner named "Izzy Hurling"). And there are ransom notes in the form of word jumbles. 

But for kids who are ready for it, It Came from Beneath the Playground is a lot of fun. I laughed out loud several times while reading it. Like this:

Narrator: "That's fourth-grader Logan Lang sitting in the dark, dank library, just like she does every day after school, surrounded by her friends...

And when I say "friends," I mean mystery books, crime novels, and twisted tales of suspense...

They're all she has in this cold, lonely world." 

Logan (via text bubble): "Okay, I think they get it. I'm a little too into mystery books."


Police detective (via text bubble, at the amusement park crime scene): "You again? I've warned you about trespassing on crime scenes. This place is crawling with stuffed animals, candy, and arcade games--it's no place for a kid!" 


Narrator: "Gustavo jumps onto one end of the seesaw to save Bobby Bing, but for some reason, Bobby goes sailing into the air without even saying good-bye."

Gustavo (via text bubble): "Wait! Don't go. I'm trying to rescue you!"

Gustavo is not too bright, but he does mean well. He has a bunch of gadget-enhanced mustaches, which are pretty funny. Logan has a combination police scanner/lunchbox. Her office is a retired ice cream truck. 

Snoop Scoop: It Came from Beneath the Playground is perfect for kids who enjoy the Lunch Lady series and are ready for something a little bit more challenging. It's highly interactive and dynamic, and a great introduction to how to solve mysteries. Recommended for library or home purchase, with a slight plus for home purchase because kids may want to write in the puzzle and game section at the end. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the author (via my friend Miles)

© 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).

Literacy Milestone: Adding A Dedication Page to Stories

LiteracyMilestoneAThe other day my daughter decided that she would make my husband a book for his birthday. The book is called "The Case of Pirititis" (pirate-itis). It's about a girl named Olive who finds herself transformed into a pirate, though it's not finished. This is not my daughter's first book, but what struck me about her work this time was that she added a dedication page. The book was dedicated to my husband and me, with our full names listed. 

She's been noticing dedication pages for a while now, though I haven't always made a point of reading them to her. I do always read the name of the author and illustrator, and we'll frequently talk about what other books the same person has written and/or illustrated. If I've met the author I'll tell her that, too. And if we received the book as a gift I'll mention that, of course.

Anyway, the book for which she started noticing dedications was a book that included her own name along with the name of a family friend. Even though she understood that the book wasn't really dedicated to her, she got a kick out of this, and it has added to her enjoyment of a favorite title. Now we often look at the dedication page as part of our reading, and we sometimes speculate on who the person might be.

And now, apparently, her own work will also have dedication pages. I think this is great, and I wish that I had always highlighted the dedication pages in our read-alouds. I think that seeing the dedications helps her to see authors and illustrators as real people with loved ones. It also shows her, example after example, in a non-pushy way, authors and illustrators demonstrating appreciation for the people in their lives. Can't go wrong with that!

A small related story that some of you will perhaps appreciate: yesterday she was negotiating with me to receive a prize for a particular behavior. I'm not a big fan of using extrinsic rewards, and I was pushing back. She said to me, with a gleam of triumph in her eyes: "But don't you want to know what the prize I want is? It's a new notebook for writing more stories." She does know me pretty well, and that I'll be much more likely to okay a notebook than, say, a toy. I'm proud to report that I still refused to give the reward. However, a new pack of exam books may have landed in my shopping cart at Costco yesterday, to be given at a later date. 

For those of you who wrote your own stories/books as a kid, did they have dedications? I can't remember doing that myself, though my memory isn't what it might be... 

© 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