Little White Lies (Debutantes): Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Book: Little White Lies (Debutantes, #1)
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Pages: 400
Age Range: 12 and up

LittleWhiteLiesLittle White Lies is the first of the new Debutantes series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. The protagonist of Little White Lies is Sawyer Taft, an 18-year-old girl who was raised above a bar by her less than reliable single mother. Sawyer's life changes forever on the day she first meets her wealthy grandmother, Lillian Taft. Lillian gives Sawyer an offer she can't refuse. Live with Lillian for nine months, participating in a debutante season, and receive half a million dollars in trust for college. Also, have the chance to investigate to figure out who her unknown father might be. 

Little White Lies actually begins as an inexperienced police office named Mackie is left to cope with the presence of four white-gloved debutantes, clearly from wealth, in a holding cell. As Mackie tries to figure out their story, the action flashes back nine months to Sawyer's meeting with Lillian. The primary action moves forward in jumps, narrated from Sawyer's first person viewpoint, interspersed with brief scenes with Mackie in the jail cell. This technique allows Barnes to build suspense, and foreshadow certain aspects of Sawyer's story. 

And what a story it is: full of suspense, secrets, and yes, lies. I found Little White Lies to be compulsively readable. Although it's fairly lengthy, I devoured most of it in a single afternoon. [Luckily I have turned my 8-year-old into a bookworm. She understood and mostly let me be.] The characters aren't all particularly likable, but Sawyer is. And Lillian grows on you. The posh setting of the debutantes (country clubs, balls, charity auctions, spa days, and pearl necklaces) is nicely counter-balanced by Sawyer's much less polished manners. Here's Sawyer interacting with a man in a bike shop (where she works pre-Lillian):

"It's times like this," I told him, "that you have to ask yourself: is it wise to sexually harass someone who has both wire cutters and access to your brake lines?" (Chapter 1)

And here she is interacting with her new-found relatives:

"If there was one thing I'd learned growing up bar-adjacent, it was that sometimes, the best way to keep someone talking was to say nothing at all." (Chapter 10)

"For the record," I told my cousin, "any lock-picking ability I may or may not have acquired growing up has less to do with where I lived and more to do with the fact that I was a very weird, very obsessive little kid."

The lock popped open." (Chapter 17)

But really, I could have picked any of dozens of passages. Sawyer has a strong personality. Her rough edges are set against the knife in velvet glove mannerisms of the society set, where women cut one another down by saying sugary things that could be taken as compliments. The makes the book pleasurable to read. The twisty plot, with clues false and real planted throughout, makes it compelling.

Although Sawyer's mother's teen pregnancy is a major plot point, and there are references to teen drinking, there's no overt sex in the book. There is a blog that plays a part in the story on which someone is posting secrets written on intimate (but not too intimate) parts of her body (her face hidden). The fact that Sawyer is out of high school (via GED), and the importance of various adults to the story, makes this a book that I think will work well for adults as well as teens. 

My only complaint, really, is that I'm sure it will be at least a year until the next Debutantes book comes out. I highly recommend Little White Lies, and expect it to be a hit with teens and adults. 

Publisher: Freeform (Disney)  
Publication Date: November 6, 2018
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2018 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: Actively Wanting to Transition to Reading More Text

LiteracyMilestoneA

I wrote last month about my daughter (age eight, third grade) expressing a preference NOT to influence her younger cousin towards reading graphic novels, so that he would not become addicted. The other night she brought this up again, even more directly, saying that she wished she had never discovered graphic novels, even though she loves them, because she thinks that reading them has made it harder for her to learn to read books with more text. Her worry made me wonder, for the first time, whether such a thing could be true.

StuartLittleI think her concern has been triggered by two things. First, she's participating in her school's Battle of the Books (quiz show-themed reading incentive contest), and is feeling (self-imposed) pressure to read at least some of the books on the booklist. There are some appealing titles on there (Stuart Little, a Magic Treehouse book, a Judy Moody), but none of them are graphic or notebook novels.  Second, her teacher has asked her to try to read (and take AR tests on) more nonfiction titles. I am not an AR fan, but I am ok in general with the idea of her reading more nonfiction, as long as it doesn't dampen her enthusiasm for reading. And although there are a few nonfiction graphic format books, the pool of these in the school library is fairly limited. 

I ran her question by my Facebook and Twitter communities and received an array of responses. Most people said things along the lines of what I've always believed, that she will get there in her own time or when she finds the right book, and that the important thing now is to keep up her enjoyment of reading. This was helpful and encouraging, and there were some suggestions for encouraging her to diversify her palette a bit (see below). But a few quieter voices did say things like "Well, it took my son until 8th grade" for that to happen. Or, "I'm seeing 8th graders who will only read Wimpy Kid and Big Nate and I worry about them in college." Or, "I'm an adult and I still read mostly in graphic formats."  And these things, together with my daughter's own concerns, gave me pause.

SmileI've defended my daughter's love of graphic and notebook novels always. I've bought her a ton of books, and checked out piles of library books. I've loved watching her curled up on the window seat reading these books over and over again. But I've done all of this secure in the understanding that she will one day move beyond them into also reading more text-heavy books. [See Pernille Ripp's recent defense of graphic novels, complete with examples of some high quality graphic novels that tackle serious subjects.]

I love graphic novels and believe that they are "real books". However, I do not want my daughter to be someone who grows up ONLY reading comics, graphic novels, and notebook novels. First of all, she would miss out on a LOT of amazing books. Second, she would struggle in high school and college, or whenever it becomes necessary to be able to read more dense prose. Third, she would eventually start to struggle with reading comprehension in testing (and say what you will about the amount of testing in our schools, she needs to be able to do it). So yes, she does need to add more to her reading repertoire than heavily illustrated reading at some point.

That point doesn't have to be in third grade, I would have said… But now here she is, feeling like it's time. This tells me that it's time to at least explore our options.

WimpyKidMeltdownThe first thing my husband and I told her when she brought this up the other day was that she could practice by reading something text-heavy but easier. We told her that she doesn't need to go directly from the 13th Diary of a Wimpy Kid to the third Harry Potter book. She immediately seized on the idea of the Magic Treehouse books, and set herself a goal of reading all 49 of the ones that we have (thank you Scholastic Reading Club) for practice. She thought that she could read 7 a day, and whip through the series in a week. She has already realized that this would only be possible if she was home sick from school for several days, or otherwise had her schedule magically become clear of other things. But she did whip through three or four of them. 

ChristopherMouseWhat I have seen her doing since then is switching back and forth between formats. The other day she read a couple of chapters of Christopher Mouse (a Battle of the Books title) on one couch, then moved over to the other couch to re-read a Dork Diaries book. She brought home Who Is Jane Goodall? and Crystal the Snow Fairy from the school library, and alternates between those and whatever graphic novel or picture book is near at hand. Now that I think about it, she's like someone working to build up a new muscle. She exercises for a bit, then takes a break with some other activity that's easier for her, and then returns. 

Meanwhile, I've been working on building up some titles that I think might be helpful for her during this transition. In the interest of beefing up her nonfiction options, I ordered a couple of the Who Is(Was) ... titles about people I knew she would be interested in. She shrieked with joy over Who Was Blackbeard?! I also picked up a few Science Comics, and dug a Nathan Hale Hazardous Tale title that I had previously picked up out of the stack.  

My Facebook and Twitter friends had other constructive suggestions, such as:

  • Me reading aloud something more challenge to her, to build up her listening comprehension. And yes, we will get back to this at some point, but we're taking a break after the very intense Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Her reading something in print format that she has already read in graphic format, like City of Ember or a Babysitters Club or the first Wings of Fire book. 
  • Finding more in between books, like the Andy Griffiths Treehouse books and the various Scholastic Branches books, that are heavily illustrated by still primarily text driven. 

I'm keeping all of these in my back pocket, along with my own the thought of trying audiobooks again. But I don't want this to turn into some sort of a complex for her, either. Third grade: the year she had to give up reading what she loves. So I'm planning to take it very, very slowly. I'll keep buying her graphic novels (and science comics and so on) and helping her check them out from the library. I'll also help her if and when she wants to find other titles that are a bit less heavily illustrated, but still hold her interest. 

I will keep you all posted. Many thanks to those who have already chimed in and offered support on this topic! 

© 2018 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: October 12: #Cybils Nominations, #KidLitCon Panels and #Reading for Pleasure

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookAbandonment, #BookLists, #Censorship, #Cybils, #DiverseBooks, #GrowthMindset, #homework, #introversion, #JoyOfReading, #KidLitCon, #LearningStyles, #MentalHealth, #Mindfulness, #Nonfiction, #PE, #SchoolLibrarians, #ScreenTime, #spelling, #ViewpointDiversity, parenting, schools, and testing.

Announcement of the Week

Cybils-Logo-2018-Round450pxNot a tweet, but: #Cybils Nominations are open through Monday, October 15th. Just a few more days! You can find the nomination link and details here. The Cybils award is for high-quality, kid-friendly children's and young adult books published in a variety of categories in the past year. Anyone can nominate. The Cybils shortlists (which come out on New Year's Day) are an excellent resource for parents, teachers, and librarians looking for excellent titles.

Book Lists + Awards

DragonsHalloween -themed Early for Kids Ages 6-10, timely from https://t.co/vYbX2f8eUL

This is a super-fun : 24 Must Have Books for 1-Year Olds according to |

Not sure about celebrating ? has compiled a of Literature for Young Readers that you can peruse instead

NeverTooYoungTwo New Books for preteen + young teens w/ a lot to love

Yet To Be Nominated | suggestions from

books not yet nominated for the Awards, a from

Diversity + Gender

And a response to Shannon's piece: How handles Boys Who Boo Books — | "I looked every student in the eye and told them that whatever they like to read is okay. And that making fun of someone for what they like is not okay"

PrincessInBlackWhat are we teaching boys when we discourage them from books about girls? The goal is to encourage . The more we try to tell kids which books are for them, the more reluctant they are to read https://t.co/WLZQySGw0R

Let’s Indigenize Our Bookshelves & Fully Welcome Native Kids As Readers by

This is an interesting study: “My-side bias” makes it difficult for us to see the in arguments we disagree with –

This article about by in is fascinating | Large Majorities Dislike + don't fit into the divisive tribes that most people think they do https://t.co/31RXvDQxeL

Growing Bookworms

DogmanWhy Belong in All of Our Libraries – A defense from as + "Because you see when we tell kids that a book is too easy we are dismissing their entire journey"

We are Changed Because of Our Daily Stories | shares the way that has helped grow her classroom into a community of

Growing up in a house full of books is major boost to later and levels, 31 country study finds (w/ >80 books needed to be effective)  https://t.co/93GDYIAM5s

Kidlitosphere / KidLitCon

KidLitConNoDetailAnnouncing Big Issues in Panel! | This year's organizers are +

Don’t Forget the ! Panel w/ | Organizers

[To see the other KidLitCon2019 panels being announced individually, follow https://kidlitconprovidence2019.com or @KidLitCon. I'll share again when the full program is published.]

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

THIS: Children who enjoy + have significantly better mental wellbeing + are much happier than their peers says new report based on survey of UK children

Pleasure includes anything you read just because you want to. In this post for UK , shares benefits of + ways help

BadKittyCensoring the Unsaid, OR, Damned If You Do, #%&*@ If You Don’t — "If we start removing all the books that don’t contain bad words but mere allusions to them, where precisely does that end?"

Thoughts from on one of the key ways that she makes time for : leaving books that aren't working unfinished. We need to teach this to our kids.

Parenting, Play + ScreenTime

Kids and : What's a parent to do?

were concerned that my son plays alone at . Here’s why is ok with it | | FWIW my daughter does this sometimes, maybe due to

Schools and Libraries

WhyStudentsAre You a Visual or an Auditory ? It Doesn’t Matter, "there’s no good scientific evidence that actually exist" https://t.co/EO6Q5xOANa

I appreciated these musings from on working on a + something new every day |

6 Improvements Inspired By Practicing -

Should you teach kids ? has learned over time that avoiding spelling is doing the child "a complete disservice". She shares some tips https://t.co/OmwmgwE95Z

The Problem with, "Show Me the Research" Thinking. Understanding the limitations of + accepting responsibility for contributing to moving it forward via

is just as important as any other subject, say Andrew Sprake + Clive Palmer

In These Districts, Friday Is Not a School Day. More adopt a four-day schedule to save money, retain | | What do you guys say? Good idea, or no?

The Case for Quality : Why it improves , and how can help | argues that reducing homework might help some affluent kids but would deprive poorer kids

The Teen Brain: How Can Help Students Manage Emotions and Make Better Decisions - via

Testing / Assessment

Singapore abolishes exam rankings + various other + metrics, says is not competition + each should focus on his or her own learning progress

In similar news, UK's Ofsted (Office for Standards in ) inspectors to stop using results as key mark of success | +

The Data Says…What? (Or: Why we struggle to make sense of results) –

© 2018 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.


Growing Bookworms Newsletter: October 10: Print Books, Picture Books, and Looking for Nonfiction

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 usually sent out every three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this issue I have two book reviews (one middle grade and one board books), a roundup of children's items published by the US Government Bookstore and two literacy milestones (pushing me to read print books, and a renewed appreciation for picture books). I also have three posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter, full of reading- and education-related news. 

Reading Update:  In the last three weeks I finished four middle grade and five adult titles. I read/listened to: 

  • PowerPlayBeth McMullen: Power Play (Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls). Aladdin. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed September 21, 2018, library copy. This is the second book in this series which would be a great followup for slightly older fans of the Spy School series (with a bit more of a girl power slant). I look forward forward to future books about Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls
  • Jennifer L. Holm: The Third Mushroom. Random House Books for Children. Middle Grade Fantasy. Completed September 22, 2018, print review copy. My review.
  • Tom Angleberger: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Book 1). Harry N. Abrams. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed September 23, 2018, library copy. I had seen this book around for years but never read it. I found it a fun, quick read, but my daughter didn't have any interest in reading it. Maybe when she's a bit older... 
  • Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm: Babymouse: Our Hero. Random House. Early Middle Grade Graphic Novel. Completed September 28, 2018, read aloud to my daughter, who remains on a huge Babymouse kick.
  • Michael Gurian: The Minds of Girls: A New Path for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Successful Women. Gurian Institute. Adult Nonfiction. Completed September 21, 2018, on Kindle. This book had some interesting ideas about how differences in male vs. female brains could affect parenting decisions.
  • HardwiringHappinessRick Hanson: Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. Harmony. Adult Nonfiction. Completed September 22, 2018, personal copy. This book I really liked a lot. The idea is to kind of re-wire your brain by noticing things that make you happy and taking a bit of extra time to really absorb them. 
  • Heather Mac Donald: The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture. St. Martins Press. Adult Nonfiction. Completed October 3, 2018, on Kindle. I read this book as part of my quest to understand what's going on on college campuses these days. I thought that Mac Donald made some interesting points, but found the book to be a bit of a slow read due to the significant over-abundance of examples. 
  • Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are. Dey Street Books. Adult Nonfiction. Completed October 7, 2018, on Kindle. This book is about using big data, particularly Google search data, to draw social science conclusions. It's not all correlation. There are sections on the types of A/B tests that tech companies can run on the fly in the presence of today's huge quantities of data, for example. The writing style is engaging and some of the ideas that Stephens-Davidowitz teases out of the data are fascinating (he was inspired by Freakonomics, and it shows). 
  • Anne Bogel: I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life. Baker Books. Adult Nonfiction. Completed October 8, 2018, personal copy. This book was a visual and experiential delight. I read a chapter or two before bed every night for a couple of weeks, and enjoyed it immensely. It would make a perfect holiday gift for any book-loving friend or family member. 

RemarkableThingI'm currently reading Hank Green's An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. I'm listening to Fire on the Fens by Joy Ellis. However, my audiobook reading time has been significantly curtailed since I started listening to podcasts. The most interesting of those that I listened to recently was a recommendation from Sandhya Nankani, an installment of Shane Parrish's The Knowledge Project from last year in which Shane interviewed Naval Ravikant. You can view a transcript here. There's some good discussion about reading (not telling kids what to read, not putting pressure on yourself to finish books, etc.). 

My daughter and I are continuing to read picture books together while she eats breakfast. We've been checking out a few each week from the library (more details about our library visits here and about her renewed love of picture books here), as well as reading old favorites. She also helps me to screen any titles that arrive for potential review, though I'm not really seeking those out at this point.  

RealFriendsIn terms of her own reading she continues to worry that her "addiction" to graphic novels is making it more difficult for her to branch out into reading more text-based titles. This is going to be a topic for another post (with thanks to several of my Facebook and Twitter friends). For now I'll just say that it's something we are working on. I'm trying to help her balance reading a few more books that are text-based without losing the joy that she gets from diving into those graphic and notebook novels over and over again. This is mixed in with a push from her teacher for her to read more nonfiction, which we are also working on. 

Not to worry, though. I still have to drag her away from books to get her out of the house, into bed, or out of the bathroom. I am still getting back strain because she wants so many library books. And one of my best moments of the weekend was listening to her read Real Friends aloud to her Build A Bear, Janet, during a car ride.  

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms! 

© 2018 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


House: 5 First Words Board Books: Michael Slack

Book: House: 5 First Words Board Books
Author: Michael Slack
Pages: 14 pages each
Age Range: 3-5

HouseBoardBookI don't normally review board books. But my daughter and I both thought that House: 5 First Words Board Books, illustrated by Michael Slack, was exceptional. It arrives as a box, hinged on the left-hand side, so that you can open it like a book. The outside of the box displays the exterior of a house, with a cut-out for the upstairs window. Inside, five little chunky board books are laid out face up, representing five locations in a house (and matching what you see on the cover of the box, like you are now peeking inside). The rooms consist of living room and bedroom upstairs, and bathroom, kitchen, and garage downstairs. 

The living room is the largest room (twice the width of the others) and drew us in first. Each page contains a simple labelled illustration of something that you might find in the living room: sofa, coffee table, computer, art, window, etc. The final page spread shows all of the items assembled together in a view of the whole room, with the text "living room". The other books follow the same general pattern. The bedroom is, as you would expect, a child's bedroom, so the illustrations include things like an easel and crayons. The kitchen has a high chair. The garage has a tricycle. It's definitely a family home. 

Although not specifically mentioned, a black cat makes a cameo in the final spread of each book. The cat is somewhat mischievous, hiding in a drawer, flushing the toilet, and getting behind the wheel of the car. My daughter and I found the presence of the cat a nice detail, and something to guess about as we read each book ("What will the cat be doing here?"). 

Slack's illustrations have a graphic design quality to them, with bold colors and simple shapes, and a robust two-dimensionality. The couch, for instance, is a flat shape with thick black lines delineating the seat, sides of the arms, and cushion divider. There's some texture to the green shape and the black lines, but it's more an abstract representation of a couch than anything else. I think this works in terms of being kid-friendly. You can tell what everything is, and the illustrations are highly accessible. I see this as a book that will make preschoolers want to try their hand at drawing household objects. Or perhaps they'll try abstract art, because the art in the living room is delightful. 

The whole package of House is simply satisfying. The way the books fit together in the box and the way the interior and exterior of the box reflect and augment what's going on in the book, works. The labels of the objects are simple and appropriate, and the illustrations are cheerful and straightforward, with just a hint of whimsical detail. My daughter would have flat-out adored these books when she was about three, and even at eight she was utterly charmed. We are at the stage of giving away a lot of books, but this one is already dear to our hearts, and going on our keep shelf. Highly recommended! This would be a wonderful gift for any preschooler. 

Publisher:  Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: September 11, 2018
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2018 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).