Growing Bookworms Newsletter: August 23: Middle Grade Reviews, Realistic Graphic Novels and Getting Lost in Books

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 issue I have four book reviews (picture books through middle grade) and one post with my daughter's latest literacy milestone (not wanting to be interrupted when reading). I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I finished three young adult and one adult novels. Due to a minor knee issue I haven't been able to exercise as much as usual, so my audiobook reading is way down. Still, I read/listened to: 

  • Rebecca Donovan: Reason to Breathe. Skyscape. YA Fiction. Completed August 18, 2017, on Kindle.
  • Rebecca Donovan: Barely Breathing. Skyscape. YA Fiction. Completed August 19, 2017, on Kindle.
  • Wendy Walker: Emma in the Night. St. Martins Press. Adult Psychological Thriller. Completed August 16, 2017, on Kindle.
  • Rebecca Donovan: Out of Breath. Skyscape. YANew Adult Fiction. Completed August 22, 2017, on Kindle. I binge read this series after a friend recommended it. It's romantic suspense featuring a main character who is emotionally scarred from abuse and family dysfunction, set in a wealthy suburban (first two books) and college (third book) setting. 

SmileI'm currently reading Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh and still listening to Not Alone by Craig Falconer. My daughter and I are still reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together. Now that she is back in school for the year (effective today!), I expect us to get back into our regular morning reading routine, and make more progress. You can find my daughter's 2017 reading list here. For her own reading, she recently became hooked on Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier. We had to make an immediate library trip to look for Drama and Ghosts. However, she was disappointed that these don't feature the same characters, and she is resisting reading them.

We looked at a whole section of other graphic novels at the library, but she's primarily interested in graphic novels that are thick and realistic (like the memoir-driven Real Friends and El Deafo as well as the Babysitters Club Graphic Novels). So it's become a bit difficult to find titles that fit her criteria and are age-appropriate. In the meantime, she continues to re-read the aforementioned titles repeatedly. She usually has at least one open in her room, in the car, and in the family room. Whatever works for her, I say, though I'll keep my eyes open for other choices. 

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. Happy back to school season!

© 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


My Life with the Liars: Caela Carter

Book: My Life with the Liars
Author: Caela Carter
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8-12

MyLifeWithTheLiars

My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter is a middle grade novel about a girl who has been rescued from a cult. Zylynn is a few days shy of her thirteenth birthday when she is removed from the compound of the Children Inside the Light by a man who tells her that he's her dad, though she can call him Louis. Zylynn, who spent her entire life inside the compound, is baffled by everything around her. She doesn't even know what a "dad" is.

As her story unfolds, the reader learns from Zylynn's first person thoughts just how poorly she's been treated, though she doesn't even fully realize it herself. Even as Louis and his sympathetic wife Charita try to help Zylynn, they have no idea how deeply damaged she is inside, and how hard she is fighting to get back Inside the Light, where she has been programmed to believe that she belongs. A deadline involving a ceremony that must be performed inside the compound by her thirteen birthday, if she is ever to return "home" adds tension to the story. 

I read this book in pretty much a single sitting. I couldn't put it down because Zylynn felt so real to me. I kept thinking things like: "This poor child. How could they do that to children?" Here she is smiling for the first time in her birth father's home:

"I feel a strange pinch in my cheeks, an ache in my jaw. I move my fingers to my lips and that when I realize it: I'm smiling too." (Chapter 10)

And here she is laughing for the first time:

"She pokes me again right above the belly button. And the strangest thing happens. It starts at that point. A little bubble, a movement of my muscles. Not indigestion or cramps. Not painful. It bounces from my belly through my windpipe and it's already out my mouth before I know what it is.

I laugh." (Chapter 16, ~70% of the way through the book)

She is stunned by simple things, like being given the choice of what t-shirt she wants to buy at Target. It's heartbreaking. 

I do think that My Life with the Liars is middle grade reader appropriate. Having read a number of young adult and adult novels about cults, there were things I was waiting, dreading to see revealed that were, happily, not. Kids will likely be baffled by the things that the leaders of the Children of the Light did to children, but I don't think it will give them nightmares. And for certain My Life with the Liars has the potential to make kids appreciate the things that they do have, from parents who hug them to the ability to choose what kind of sandwich they want for lunch.  But the reason to read it is that Zylynn is an unusual, compelling character, and her experience feels real and immediate. Highly recommended for kids and adults. 

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Source of Book: Personal copy, purchased on Kindle after reading Kate's review at Opinionated Book Lover

© 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).


Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: August 18: Super-Short Distracted-by-My-Birthday Edition

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. I took a bit of vacation time over the past week (wine tasting with friends and also celebrating a milestone birthday) so this is a super-short post. Topics include the #Cybils Awards, #play, #STEM, #YA, book awards, learning, literacy, reading levels, studying, and wordless books. Wishing you all a lovely weekend, as summer starts to wind down (!). 

The Cybils Awards

Cybils-Logo-2017-Round-SmWelcome to the 2017 Cybils Awards from , co-blog editor (w/ ), frequent judge + logo designer

Have you all seen the beautiful new 2017 Logo? Designed and updated by

Literacy + Learning

GirlAndBicycleMaking books accessible for even the newest readers: wordless + one-word stories  

Before You Study, Ask for Help - more active, self-regulated approach -> better  

An example where bins of leveled readers took away a 1st grader's enjoyment of | Lisa Koch

Play

FreeRangeKidsWhen it comes to physical activity, 19 Is the New 60 says in | Kids need more time to

Children Were Born to Learn! Get Out of Their Way! Don't let get lost  https://t.co/ETYd2HBP8o 

Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

This piece on the Toxic Drama on Twitter by is fascinating if depressing  

STEM

5 Ways to Make Exciting in , observations from | Experiments + more

© 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


The Adventurers Guild: Zack Loran Clark + Nick Eliopulos

Book: The Adventurers Guild
Author: Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos
Pages: 320
Age Range: 9-12

AdventurersGuildI accepted a review copy of The Adventurers Guild because I think it's a great title. After reading it, I do think that it's a fun book. The Adventurers Guild is set in a world in which most of civilization has fallen to various Dangers (monsters, etc.). Teenage friends Zed and Brock live in one of the few remaining safe places, a walled town called Freestone. As the story begins, Brock and Zed are preparing for the annual Guildculling, a ceremony in which teens are assigned to a profession. Both boys hope to be assigned to one of the four High Guilds, though this is a stretch for Zed who comes from poverty and is the only person in town who is half-elf. Brock, son of two Merchants, expects his path to be more smooth. However, the Guildculling offers surprises for both boys and (could this possibly be a spoiler, given the book's title) they end up in the Adventurers Guild.

The Adventurers Guild is made up of fighters who protect Freestone's citizens, and who are the only ones to ever venture outside of the city's walls. Becoming Adventurers thus exposes Zed and Brock to exciting new things, as well as unexpected dangers. Each boy has a secret, also, which complicates his situation. 

The world that Clark and Eliopulos has created is basically medieval (with guilds, hand-crafts, armored soldiers and flagons of ale), with the addition of magical characters such as elves and dwarves. Magic is certainly not ubiquitous, but it can be learned, and the elf-blooded Zed turns out to have innate abilities. Freestone is protected by magic, and part of the plot involves a quest to an abandoned druid shrine to acquire a powerful protective artifact. These things are set against a post-apocalyptic world in which the boys, traveling outside the wall, are scared the first time they see a squirrel. The occasional references to a long-gone world (like worn stone that was once a road between cities) added enjoyment to the story for me. 

The Adventurers Guild is clearly aimed at boys, with the two viewpoint characters male and regular references to "breaking wind", spitting, and belching. There are strong female characters, though, as well as economic and other diversities that should make this book appeal to a wide range of kids. There's a minor plotline to do with one of the boys having a crush on a girl, but this is far from central to the storyline. Loyalty to friends and comrades is a much stronger theme in the book. 

The Adventurers Guild ends on something of a cliffhanger, and it's clear that Zed, Brock, and their friends will be experiencing other adventures. I expect this novel, with fighting, scary creatures, politics, and magic to be a hit with fantasy-loving middle grade readers. Recommended, and certainly one that libraries will want to purchase. 

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Source of Book: Advance 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).


Give Me Back My Book!: Travis Foster and Ethan Long

Book: Give Me Back My Book!
Authors: Travis Foster and Ethan Long
Pages: 56
Age Range: 3-6

GiveMeBackMyBookGive Me Back My Book is the story of two friends, Redd and Bloo, who fight over ownership of a green book. Only when the rather smug Bookworm makes off with the book do the two friends find a way to work together. Give Me Back My Book is part celebration of reading, part illustration of the way kids sometimes bicker, and part introduction to the components that make up books. 

Personally, I found the third element, the instructive bits about what makes up a book, a tiny bit off-putting. But when I read the book aloud to my daughter, the humor outweighed that. Here's an example (Redd is making the case that the book is his book):

"There are letters on each  page
and they are gathered together
to form words that have meaning
when you read them!"

Then on the facing page, Bloo basically has a tantrum, stomping his feet, shaking his fists, and saying: "ALL books do that!" You just have to smile as you read it. 

Bloo's reactions are definitely read-aloud-friendly. My daughter pronounced the book "hilarious" (though, interestingly, she didn't feel that it was necessary for me to write about the book).

The illustration style of the book is unusual. According to the front matter, Travis Foster created Redd and Bookworm digitally, while Ethan Long created Bloo. Mr. Long assembled the images, adding photos for the green book and various art supplies that are used later in the story. So we have cute, cartoon-like characters reading and interacting with real books. 

Give Me Back My Book! is a bit quirky, but I think that librarians will find it useful for preschool storytime. And kids, if they are anything like my daughter, will pronounce it hilarious, even as they are learning about table of contents, spine, and illustrations. Recommended for library purchase. 

Publisher: Chronicle  (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: September 5, 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).