The Pomegranate Witch: Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler

Book: The Pomegranate Witch
Author: Denise Doyen
Illustrator: Eliza Wheeler
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-10

PomegranateWitchI wasn't sure what to make of The Pomegranate Witch when I first saw it. It's a slightly undersized picture book, with a dark, old-fashioned-looking cover. Inside the story has an advanced vocabulary and is written entirely in poetry (real poetry, not just upbeat rhymes). But after reading The Pomegranate Witch aloud to my daughter, I've concluded that it is fabulous.

The Pomegranate Witch is about a creepy farmhouse on the outskirts of a small town. In the yard of the farmhouse is an enormous pomegranate tree. The local children covet the fruit of this tree. However, the tree is protected by the Pomegranate Witch. We never see her clearly, but we see her actions as she battles the local children in an effort to guard her fruit. It's unclear for a time whether the witch is real or a sort of group hallucination, but someone blasts the children with water cannons. The mood lightens late in the book, around Halloween night. There's an ambiguity to the ending, though my seven-year-old has not doubts about her interpretation. The ending and the quality of the poetry both make The Pomegranate Witch special. 

Here's an example of Denise Doyen's writing:

"And before its sagging porch, amid a weedy foxtail sea,
Found the scary, legendary, haunted pomegranate tree.

The gnarled tree loomed high and wide; its branches scraped the ground.
Beneath there was a fort, of sorts, with leafed walls all around.
Its unpruned limbs were jungle-like, dirt ripplesnaked with roots,
But glorious were the big, red, round, ripe pomegranate fruits."

Don't you love the word choices? (Amid. Ripplesnaked. Gnarled.) I also like the adjective repetition in the last line of each stanza. You wouldn't write "big, red, round, ripe pomegranate fruit" in a regular sentence. But it works here. Last there's this:

"Some clever gangster-pranksters dug a foxhole in the field.
When they peered below the leaves? Witchy work boots were revealed!
Next, they scavenged broken racquets, rusty rakes, a dead tree limb;
What better tools to yank a pomegranate from its stem?"

The rhyme between limb and stem does work, if you read it aloud. It made me stop and give a little nod. The previous page also has a reference to how "forbidden fruit is tempting." Nice subtle biblical reference. This is clearly a book to reward repeated reads. The story itself is suspenseful (Is the witch real? Will the kids get any fruit?), atmospheric, and occasionally humorous. 

Eliza Wheeler's illustrations add to the ambiguity surrounding the witch, shown lurking beneath the tree, in shadow, with her broom most visible. They also lend humor, particularly when the Pomegranate Gang is formed, wielding weapons such as rakes and tennis racquets. There's a timeless quality to the images, with girls in dresses and boys in suspenders and bow ties, but the Gang also displays diversity in ethnicities and sizes. Nothing is shown as red in the somewhat muted illustrations, except for the glowing red pomegranates. 

Thought-provoking, surprising, entertaining, and gorgeously written and illustrated. The Pomegranate Witch is not to be missed. The advanced vocabulary makes it more of a book for elementary schoolers than preschool kids. It would make a lengthy but wonderful classroom read-aloud for Halloween. Here in my house, the Pomegranate Witch is going on our "keep" shelf. Highly recommended! 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: August 1, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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: September 20: #Reading Role Models, Required Reading, and Graphic Novels

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 contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, mainly bookworms, but also mathematicians and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this brief issue I have four book reviews (early reader through picture book) and one post about the impact of required reading time as homework on a child who already enjoys reading. I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter and one post with more detail about two joy of learning-related articles that I came across recently concerning teachers as reading role models. 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I finished two middle grade books and one adult novel. I read/listened to: 

  • Rob Buyea: The Perfect Score. Delacorte Press. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed September 15, 2017. Review to come.
  • Laura Martin: Edge of Extinction #2: Code Name Flood. HarperCollins. Middle Grade Fantasy. Completed September 17, 2017.  Review to come.
  • Louise Penny: Glass Houses. Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed September 15, 2017, on MP3. Fabulous addition to this long-running series. 

GhostsGreenglassHouseI'm currently reading The Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford and listening to The Western Star by Craig Johnson. My daughter and I have gotten back into a groove reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together at breakfast. We are nearly halfway through, and she is quite disappointed in Ron for not believing Harry about the Goblet of Fire. For her own reading, she continues to read the same graphic novels over and over again (Real Friends, the Hilo books, the Babysitters Club books, and anything else we can find by Raina Telgemeier.

I tried to broaden her range a bit (only because I'm running out of books that fit her narrow criteria and are remotely age-appropriate, not because I have any problem with her reading graphic novels) by picking up Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown. She complained: "It's kind of a graphic novel and kind of not," and cast it aside, declaring that she does not like this sort of book. So ... I guess she'll continue re-reading for the time being. She has no complaints about this, though she is very eager for Babysitters Club #5, which will be releasing soon.

I can tell that she's not bored by the re-reading from an incident that happened yesterday. We were driving home from karate and I heard her suddenly peal with laughter over something she read in her book. Said book was Babysitters Club Graphic Novel #3, which she has read at least four times already. So, as long as what she's reading is making her happy, I am happy. You can find her 2017 reading list here

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2017 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

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk: Josh Funk and Edwardian Taylor

Book: It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Edwardian Taylor
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

ItsNotJackIt's Not Jack and the Beanstalk, written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Edwardian Taylor, is a meta retelling of the classic story, in which young Jack rebels against the narrator. He doesn't want to sell the cow, who he loves. He wants to eat the beans instead of throwing them out of the window. He questions the rhyming choices of the giant. And by the end of the book, well, let's just say that things don't turn out quite the way the narrator was expecting. But it's all good fun, and everyone is happy in the end. 

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk is told with a mix of dialog bubbles and narration. The narrator basically interacts directly with Jack, as well as with the giant. The narrator's words are shown in a gothic font, while the dialog bubbles use different colors, to help identify the respective speakers. This is quite clear visually, but does require the use of voices (or other attribution) when reading aloud. Here's a snippet, where I've added attributions:

"(Narrator:) When Jack arrived at the
top of the beanstalk, he
found himself in front of
a humongous house.

(Jack:) "I'll bet a giant lives there."

(Narrator:) Jack entered the house.

(Jack:) "Are you sure about that?"

(Narrator:) Yes! Jack definitely entered the house.

(Narrator:) Everything inside the house 
was tremendously large.

(Jack:) "Spoiler alert: 
A giant lives
here. Can I 
go home

(Narrator:) Suddenly, Jack heard a booming voice--

(Giant:) "FEE-FI-FO-FUM,

(Jack:) "Umm, that 
doesn't even
rhyme. How about:
I can see the 
giant's bum?""

You get the idea. As the book progresses, Jack and the giant become less and less cooperative, and the narrator becomes more and more cranky. This is shown using bold, oversize text, with plenty of exclamation marks. I especially enjoyed when Jack pointed out an inconsistency in the narrator's instructions. How can he use his ax to chop down the beanstalk when we're already established that Jack has no possessions. There are also notes of modern humor, like the fact that the giant is a vegan (and thus unlikely to eat Jack). There's even a cameo appearance from Cinderella. 

Edwardian Taylor's digitally rendered illustrations feature a wide-eyed, expressive-faced Jack and a gold-toothed giant with an epic beard. The ending includes a delightful range of fairy tale characters, including an unhappy Pinocchio and a cheerful Goldilocks eating dinner with three three bears. A note on the back cover urges kids to look for the gingerbread man, the three blind mice and other fairy tale friends hidden throughout the book, suggesting good cause for a re-read. 

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk is an introduction for early elementary school kids to both meta-fiction and fractured fairy tales, all in a disarming and engaging package. The narrator's over-the-top responses are especially fun to read aloud. It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk is a joyful story, and would be a fun addition to any library or classroom serving preschoolers. We will certainly be reading it again in my house. Recommended!

Publisher: Two Lions (@AmazonPub)
Publication Date: September 19, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).

On Required Reading Time

My daughter just started second grade. The second grade teachers at her school don't have reading homework per se. They just ask that kids read whatever they like for 20 minutes each night, and that parents check a box to indicate that this has been done. This I find greatly preferable to last year's worksheet-driven reading homework. 

PiratesPastNoonSo, the first night this was assigned, I asked my daughter to read for 20 minutes for homework. Can you guess what happened? She picked up a Magic Tree House book, rather than one of her usually preferred graphic novels, and started reading. After exactly 20 minutes she asked if she could stop. Told yes, she dropped the book (never to be picked up again, as far as I can tell) and went to do something else.

This scared me a little bit. I don't want reading to be some chore that she does because she must and drops as soon as she is allowed. Later the same night she begged to be allowed to read in bed before going to sleep. With an inward sigh of relief, I said yes.

The fortunate truth is that my daughter pretty much always gets more than 20 minutes of reading time a day. On school days, I read to her for 20-30 minutes in the morning while she eats breakfast. She reads in the car as we drive between her various activities. This is good for at least 15 minutes a day. If the book is interesting to her, she will stay in the car when we get home so that she can continue reading. Most nights she reads in bed. Either she reads to my husband or he reads to her, and often she reads to herself also.

Every time I see her choose to read, it makes me happy. Thus the idea that forcing her to read as homework might make reading less desirable is disturbing. So, here's what I decided to do. I told her that as long as I do see her reading as she goes about her day, I'm going to just check off that "read for 20 minutes" box every day. We are not actually going to time anything. 

This is what I believe makes sense for us (and I'm more than happy to share this plan with her teacher). Other kids will be of course different in their responses. I do think that in general assigning 20 minutes of free reading time as homework is vastly preferable to having to read little curriculum-dictated stories and answer questions about them. And I think for kids who don't read, and/or who need the extra reading practice time, a parent being able to say "Hey, you have to read for 20 minutes now for your homework" is probably a good thing. The message that the teachers think that reading is important is also good. And the fact that they give the kids free choice about what to read is excellent. 

If I hadn't had this experience with my daughter, of her pushing to ONLY read for 20 minutes on the very first day that reading was made into homework, I don't think I would have questioned the policy at all. I would have been too busy cheering the fact that there were no worksheets or reading logs or quizzes. But even this. Even a very light touch, hands-off version of reading homework felt to me like, if I enforced it, it would diminish my child's joy of reading. So I stopped doing that. Very quickly.

The bottom line is that as a parent who wants to raise a child who loves to read, I'm going to have my work cut out for me. I will need to vigilant, and listen to the signals that come from my daughter. But it's something that I know for certain is worthwhile. 

What do all of you say? Do you enforce a dedicated time for reading as homework, if it is assigned? Or do you take a more organic approach? 

© 2017 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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: September 15: #NBAwards, Fearless Readers + #KidLitCon

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookLists, #Cybils, #KidLitCon, #LiteracyDay, #STEM, growing bookworms, parenting, publishing, raising readers, reading levels, schools, sleep, and teachers. 

Book Lists + Awards

The Award Longlist: Young People’s Literature | Kudos to + + others

SophiesSquashA Season of Change: 20 Mighty Girl Books Celebrating Fall | from | I adore Sophie's Squash

10 Books for the Jewish Fall Holidays, from

12 New Books About -Loving Girls & Women | from

Reading about wild weather & learning about hurricanes ( for ages 5-16 from )

Clementine36 Best Series about Girls, new , + more 

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of International | shares a Batchelder Award 

Alysa shares + seeks book recommendations for a 7-Year-Old Girl ,

Growing Bookworms

How is Raising Fearless Readers Who Will Try Anything |  

Interview by of Specialist Tracy Woelfle at Guessing Geisel | w/ tips for parents

My Principal Is ‘All Over the AR Points.’ Readers Respond recent piece on

Brilliant! Bathroom Book Blurbs: Recommendations in Every Stall | H.S. Librarian in

Kidlitosphere / KidLitCon

KidlitconLogo2017-SquareWithHeaderRegistrations are rolling in for , Nov. 3-4 in Hershey PA. Apply here + hang out w/ fab / crowd 

Delighted to announce new speaker 4 BuildingABetterWorld panel

Reserve Your Spot for in Hershey PA, Nov. 3-4 | calls it useful + "a lot of fun"

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Stroppy Author laments the low financial value given to "invaluable" children's books  


StrengthSwitchWhen Is Hard: A New Way to Help Your Child | Strength-based

Stepping Back from : A Stanford Dean’s Perspective |  

Schools and Libraries

Ideas to Incorporate Movement into the | via | stretches, walks + more 

I loved this story of how elementary principal built community by starting a Recess Baseball Club

start times are finally getting pushed back — and it's working via

Why should make a priority + how to get into a better routine


Why Is the Best Way to Make Sense of the World | interviews 

© 2017 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