With Malice: Eileen Cook

Book: With Malice
Author: Eileen Cook
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

I picked up With Malice one afternoon, when I needed a little break from work, and simply could not put it down. With Malice begins when 18-year-old Jill wakes up in a hospital. She's been seriously injured in a car accident, and has no memory of the previous six weeks, including what was supposed to have been a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy. She soon learns that she is not the only one who has questions about what happened in Italy, and particularly what led to the car accident. A media frenzy and legal case ensues. 

What follows is a deconstruction of the events as revealed through police interviews, news stories, blog and Facebook posts, interspersed with the experiences (mainly from before the accident) that Jill does remember.  Every piece of information, every revelation about personality or intentions, feels like a tiny clue, as the reader (and Jill) tries to figure out what happened. I read With Malice over about 24 hours, because I simply could not stop until I knew what had happened. 

Eileen Cook's characterization is masterful, particularly of Jill and her best friend, Simone. Jill's roommate from rehab is a delight. Even some of the tertiary characters, revealed mainly through interviews with the policy, come through clearly. But of course it is Jill's experience that is at the heart of the story. She suffered brain damage in the accident, and struggles with aphasia (not being able to come up with the right word when she is talking). Like this (as she is thinking to herself):

"I'd never been in the hospital before. Well, once in second grade. I fell off the -- Dammit. Now I can't think of what they're called. The ladder thing, suspended above the playground. Lion bars? No. Elephant bars. That's not it either, but that's like it. You swing across them. I'd had to get stitches, but I'd never stayed in the hospital before." (Page 6)

Impossible not to empathize with Jill - her perspective is so immediate. I'd like to talk about her more, but I don't want to give anything important away. With Malice is a book about which the less you know ahead of time, the better. Just read it. With Malice is a compelling mystery and a fascinating character study, with a ripped from the headlines subject. It is a pitch perfect summer reading delight! Recommended for teens and adults. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: June 7, 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 Ninja Child: Or, Why Kids Should Pursue the Activities that Bring them Joy

I always have my eyes open for articles and posts about play and joy for kids. So I naturally read and shared a recent Washington Post article by Lena Aberdeen Derhally entitle "Kids don't know how to play on their own anymore. Here are four ways to change that."

The whole article is well worth a read. The author begins with why parents should care about getting their kids to play more and then gets into her specific suggestions. Here is the first one:

"Encourage your child’s unique strengths: Everyone has something they enjoy and usually we are pretty good at doing the things we enjoy. If your child truly enjoys an activity, encourage him to develop it. If the child loses interest in the activity and doesn’t want to do it anymore, listen to him. Forcing him to do something that is no longer enjoyable can hurt him in the long run and take the joy out of the activity. The purpose of hobbies and activities is enjoyment."

When I first read this paragraph, I have to confess that I thought it was rather obvious. I've been reading a lot of parenting books and books about the importance of play, and this of course made sense to me. But then I thought about the first sentence of that paragraph again: Everyone has something they enjoy and usually we are pretty good at doing the things we enjoy. This has always been my approach in terms of getting kids interested in books and reading - you have to help them to enjoy it, or they won't do it. 

But then I realized how much this outlook applies to my daughter's experience with karate lessons, and how very much she's been getting out of them. The other day our family met a couple of my husband's colleagues for lunch. My daughter was seated next to a man she knows fairly well (the father of two daughters himself), and she spent the entire lunchtime telling him all about her experiences and accomplishments with karate.

JoyfulNinja

She was reciting exactly how many and which badges she has received ("teamwork", "respect", etc.) and sharing her belt level. She was talking about when her graduation ceremony would be to the next level, and relating with much pride her experience in breaking a board with her hand. She was just brimming over - so proud and so excited to talk about this passionate interest of hers with an adult who would listen attentively (bless him!). 

Ninja_print__79938.1440167600.500.571_1024x1024Of course this enthusiasm shows up at other times, not just at this lunch. She had a ninja-themed birthday party (hence the broken board). She runs around the house in a ninja mask, selects ninja-themed picture books, and was SO excited when for sharing at school she had to do or bring something that started with "K". She was beside herself when I bought her a dress with hidden pink ninjas on it (from Princess Awesome, a new discovery - see the fabric to the left). She used her own money to buy Kung Fu Panda 3. I think you get the idea.

Vision-martial-artsA couple of my friends, as well as my daughter's karate instructor, have commented on how much her confidence has increased since she started doing karate. Her karate studio (Vision Martial Arts in San Jose) is fabulous. They focus not just on karate, but on nurturing teamwork, self-reliance, and other core values. We are grateful to the friends who recommended that we give karate a try. 

But I think that my husband and I deserve some credit, too. We listened when she said that she wanted to give karate a try. We supported her sticking with karate vs. swim team this summer, even though most of her friends were doing the latter. We arranged the ninja-themed birthday party. My husband practices with her. I make sure her uniform is clean. In general, we have prioritized the karate, because it's clear that it is working for her. And the dividends from the decision have been significant. 

If and when her interests change, we'll respect that, too, of course. And it's not that she doesn't have other interests now. I also understand that karate isn't for everyone, and that parents will have to experiment to find the right thing for each kid at each stage of development. My point is that if your child develops a passionate interest, it's worth going out of your way to let her pursue it. You never know which activities are going to be the ones that make your child sparkle. But it's the sparkle that matters. Find it. Follow it. That's what makes kids shine. 

© 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


#JoyOfLearning Articles from @ValerieStrauss + Lara N. Dotson-Renta + @MsSackstein

JoyOFLearningLogoI have three new articles to share with you today. The first two are about how early education has become more academic and less playful, particularly for less advantaged children, despite evidence in favor of play-based learning. The third article, by Starr Sackstein, suggests some ways to re-think elementary school homework to make it less harmful. 

How ‘twisted’ early childhood ed has become — from a child development expert http://ow.ly/NshI300kNoD  @valeriestrauss via @frankisibberson [This piece is from November 2015, Strauss shares a speech by Nancy Carlsson-Paige that is more relevant than ever today.]

Nancy Carlsson-Paige: "Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal – as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe. Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners. Or watch a 4-year-old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event."

Me: Carlsson-Paige makes the particular point in this piece that "It’s in low-income, under-resourced communities ... where children are most subjected to heavy doses of teacher-led drills and tests." She talks about the number of kids who are suspended from preschool. She laments that despite clear research on the developmental benefits to kids of play, schools, particularly schools serving less advantaged children, are moving in the opposite direction. I, too, think that this is a crisis. I'm doing my small part here to keep spreading the word and getting people thinking. 

Why Movement is Essential in Early Childhood + #Schools shouldn't stifle this http://ow.ly/9ZwQ300q6Py  @TheAtlantic #play

Lara N. Dotson-Renta: "Research has shown time and again that children need opportunities to move in class. Memory and movement are linked, and the body is a tool of learning, not a roadblock to or a detour away from it. Any parent who has brought home a kindergartener after school, bursting with untapped energy yet often carrying homework to complete after a seven-hour day, can reasonably deduce why children today have trouble keeping still in their seats. Many children are getting 20-minute breaks, or none at all...

It would be unwise and impractical to pretend that children do not need any structure, or that academic skills are unimportant in school. Yet it is necessary to recognize that the early-childhood classroom has been significantly altered by increasingly rigorous academic standards in ways that rarely align with how young children learn."

Me: This is yet another piece, full of links to research, about how the increasing focus on ever-earlier academics in schools runs counter to what child development experts know about how kids learn. The author does mention how some individual teachers and schools are effecting change in this area. However, she notes that "for now (such practices are) unlikely to become widespread given the current focus on assessment and school readiness, particularly in underserved communities." I think that last point is especially telling. And sad. 

Some things to consider (eg no reading logs) in rebranding our idea of #homework http://ow.ly/WGr2300szPW  From teacher + parent @mssackstein

Starr Sackstein: "There is a lot of research out there that supports its negligible purpose and positive support of achievement; yet, many are tied to the belief that students must have it to be successful. Parents are a large part of this challenge as many think that for a class to be rigorous, homework must be given. But it's time to rebrand our concept of "homework" - we need to give it a facelift and use it appropriately."

A list of suggestions / questions follows. My favorite is "Reading should be an expectation not a homework assignment (and PLEASE NO reading logs)"

Me: In this balanced piece, Starr Sackstein isn't saying to get rid of all homework. But she does suggest getting rid of busywork, finding other ways to teach kids accountability, and giving students more choice. I think that her point about parents being a large part of the challenge is going significant, but I'm not sure what to do about that beyond sharing research about the detrimental effects of homework with my own networks. 

© 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. 


Fortune Falls: Jenny Goebel

Book: Fortune Falls
Author: Jenny Goebel
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

Fortune Falls is an isolated small town in which superstitions become reality. Step on a crack, you really will break your mother's back. Breathe in the air in the cemetery, you'll die. Following a fairly new policy, the young people in the town are sorted after they turn twelve, via a test, into Lucky or Unlucky. Luckies have smooth sailing ahead. Unluckies are sent off to Bane's School for Luckless Adolescents. Sadie is due to turn twelve soon, on Friday the 13th (not a day that is kind to the Unlucky), with her luck exam to follow shortly. If she doesn't pass, she'll be separated from her mother and five-year-old brother, as well as from her long-time best friend (now a Lucky), Cooper. 

I found the premise of Fortune Falls intriguing, though actually following along with what was fact and what was perception and/or self-fulfilling prophecy was a bit tricky sometimes. If you tell someone that they are lucky, and they believe it, they probably will do better in certain areas, after all. But when you have lucky students just randomly guessing correct math answers, or getting every basketball into the hoop, you know that there's something more than perception going on. 

Actually, what I found most implausible in Fortune Falls had nothing to do with luck. It was Sadie's relationship with Cooper. Cooper's parents, and Sadie herself, have tried to keep him away from her, so that her bad luck doesn't rub off. Cooper remains loyal, and continues trying to spend time with Sadie, no matter how poorly she treats him. To me, his persistence didn't quite ring true. 

But that's a minor nit. Overall, I did enjoy Fortune Falls, particularly the later part of the book, when Sadie stops feeling sorry for herself, and starts to take action, even in the face of daunting bad luck. Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for Sadie's voice:

"The Luckies' parents made a huge fuss whenever they thought their fortuitous children were being jeopardized by an Unlucky. Sometimes, even parents of Undetermined kids complained." (Page 8) - Note Sadie's advanced vocabulary. She ends up participating in a couple of spelling bees. 

"I held my breath and barged right in. If a lifetime of mishap and embarrassment had taught me anything, it was the quicker you got the discomfort over with, the better." (Page 10)

"Arriving home to find Cooper on my front lawn was as good as stumbling upon a four-leaf clover. Just one look at his face--his rich brown skin and long dark eyelashes--made me feel happier inside. And, as any hapless person knows, happy is a close brethren to lucky." (Page 30)

Hmm... Makes you consider the connection between the word "hapless" and "happiness", doesn't it? 

Bottom line: if the premise of a place where luck-related superstitions actually come true sounds interesting to you, then you should give Fortune Falls a look. It's a quirky story with a fair bit of heart, as well as emotional growth by the main character. Recommended for 8-12 year olds. 

Publisher: Scholastic Press (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 5, 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).


The Power of Spending Your Own Money

Girl-Scout-DaisiesMy daughter and I had an entertaining day recently, with an experience that I thought was both educational and empowering for her. It started out when she was looking through her Girl Scout Daisy handbook. [Have I mentioned that she ADORES Girl Scout Daisies? It is true.] She found an exercise that her troop had not gotten to this year, in which participants are supposed to list something that they want, and figure out how long it will take to save for this item.

Her first item was a fish, with tank, which is going to require some time for saving. But her second item was three packets of seeds (flower or vegetable). I told her that this would likely only cost $7 to $10. She ran upstairs to check her "spend" box (which still contained some leftover birthday money), and came down brandishing a $20 bill. She wanted to know if we could go seed-shopping immediately. We were somewhat at loose ends, with my husband away, so I said "Sure."

BaskinRobbinsHere's how she spent her $20. First she spent just under $10 for three packets of seeds. Then she bought herself an ice cream cone from the nearby Baskin Robbins, at a cost of ~$3.25. Then she decided that she wanted to buy small gifts for the friends she was going to see later in the day. She picked out three items from the dollar bins near the front of the nearby Target (one was for herself), at a cost of $5.46 with tax. She had about $1.50 left over.

Leaving the hardware store, she remarked: "This was already a good day, but now it's a GREAT day." 

At all three stores, she paid with her own money, with much pride (though I did hold on to the change in between). As made sense, I encouraged her to do the required math. The three Target items cost $1, $1, and $3, so getting to $5 was easy, though she's not quite ready to compute San Jose's 8.75% sales tax in her head. When she handed over $5.50 at Target, I had her figure out what her change would be. I rounded the prices of the three seed packets and had add those numbers together. But I didn't push it too hard. I wanted our time together to be fun. 

But this whole experience highlighted to me why it's important for kids, once they are old enough, to have some small amount of money of their own. My daughter was empowered by the whole process of deciding what she wanted to buy, figuring out  how much things were going to cost and what she could afford, and physically being the one to pay the sales clerks. The day would not have had nearly the same feel had I just been buying her things. In fact, at one point, I offered to buy some cookies to take over to her friends' house. She said: "Mom, they're MY friends. I should buy the presents, not you." What parent could argue with that? 

We are currently deferring her allowance for the next few months, to save up for that fish tank. I'll keep you all posted. 

© 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