Not If I Save You First: Ally Carter

Book: Not If I Save You First
Author: Ally Carter
Pages: 304
Age Range: 12 and up

NotIfISaveYouNot If I Save You First is a recent thriller by Ally Carter. 10-year-old Maddie, daughter of a senior secret service agent, is best friends with Logan, son of the recently elected President. The two children are inseparable and the White House is their fiefdom. After a near-kidnapping of the first lady, however, Maddie's dad moves her to a remote cabin in Alaska, with basically no outside human contact. Six isolated years and hundreds of unanswered letters to Logan later, Maddie is furious with both Logan and her father. When Logan is sent on a visit to the cabin as a punishment, she has every intention of making him pay. When Logan is kidnapped, however, Maddie finds herself with no choice but to go after her childhood friend. A thrilling chase and quest for survival follows, full of twists, turns, and tidbits about the Alaska wilderness. 

Maddie is a resourceful, if somewhat bitter, character. Her life in Alaska has taught her various survival skills, though she maintains hints of her previous glam-loving self (such as a bedazzled hatchet). She is more than a match for her enemies, but is vulnerable to Logan's charms. Logan, despite a reputation as a rebel, turns out to have some self-defense skills, too. Here's Maddie:

"... Maddie walked to the river and gathered the biggest rocks she could then placed them like an arrow, pointing the way. She piled a few smaller stones on top, just high enough to be noticed in a few inches of snow and ice, but not so high that they might topple.

Then Maddie lowered her hood. She brought her hand to the side of her face and pressed her palm against the largest of the rocks until her bloody handprint shone like an eerie beacon, announcing the world: Trouble came this way.

But trouble was Maddie's family's business, so she did the only thing that made sense. She followed it." (Page 89)

And here's Logan:

""So what's your name?" Logan wanted to sound casual, maybe crazy. A sane person would be terrified by now, he knew, ranting and rambling and promising to give the man with the gun anything he wanted. 

But Logan had learned a long time ago that there was nothing you could give a man with a gun to make him happy. Men with guns were only satisfied when they took. And Logan was going to hang on to the last of his self-respect for as long as he possibly could." (Page 101)

Not If I Save You First is a bit far-fetched in terms of the plot, but the details about survival in the Alaskan wilderness feel authentic. The conflict and growing attraction between the characters rings true, also (though I never really understood why Logan didn't write back to Maddy). Anyone who has enjoyed Ally Carter's other books while certainly want to give it a look, as will fans of teen survival or spy stories. Not If I Save You First is a fast-paced read that you'll want to devour in a single sitting - ideally on a warm summer day, or beside a cozy fire. Recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic 
Publication Date: March 27, 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).


Some Ideas for Encouraging Kids Who Can Read but Choose Not To

A couple of friends have said something to me lately along the lines of: "So, [my elementary-age child] can read, but never chooses to read. What can I do?" I've shared various posts in the past with suggestions for encouraging reading from birth. But this is a more specific question. What do you NOW when, whatever you have or haven't done before, your child just isn't that interested in reading. Here are a few thoughts for parents about trying, after a late start, to ignite a joy of reading:

ReadAloudHandbookRead Aloud: Even though it might be awkward to begin, studies show that one of the best ways to get kids engaged in reading is for the adults in their lives to read aloud to them. Reading aloud, even to kids who can read themselves, offers tremendous benefits. [This is especially true if the dad reads when you are talking about boys, but either parent reading is great.]

  • Reading aloud shows kids that you value reading.
  • Reading to them shows kids that you value them enough to take time out to read together.
  • Reading together fosters closeness.
  • Reading to your children helps you to expose them to books that they aren't ready to read on their own. 

I'm currently reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix aloud to my 8-year-old daughter. While she's a reasonably strong reader for her age, she is in no way ready in terms of skill or emotional maturity to read a book like this on her own. I pause to define words or to clarify plot points. Or (in one memorable case) so that I can comfort her when she cries over a character. There is no question in my mind that reading this book together, over the months that we've been at it, has brought us closer together. Probably it has helped with her vocabulary, too, but for me that is incidental. Reading together is helping her to bond with books, to LOVE reading. And that's the goal. 

It doesn't matter when you read. Many families read together before bed. Personally, I get too sleepy for that, so I read to my daughter while she eats breakfast. On lazier summer days, we can often move over to the couch when she's done, and keep going. If you're going on a road trip, the parent who isn't driving can read aloud to the whole family. You just have to be a bit creative to find the time. 

As a caveat, if you find reading aloud awkward, you might also try listen to an audiobook together in the car, or in the kitchen while you're preparing dinner. You can play them on Alexa, your phone, etc. As another caveat, if a book you are reading together isn't working for you or for the child, it is completely find to stop and try another instead. You want the experience to be joyful. See Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook for lots more on this topic. 

LightningThiefNot sure what to read? What you want is something that is popular and engaging and that they might not be ready to read on their own. Harry Potter or the Percy Jackson Lightning Thief books are two good places to start. You want the book to be something that you are interested in reading also, not something that you are reading out of some sense of duty. Kids can tell. Is there a movie coming out that you want to see that is based on a book? Try reading that. A new film version of A Wrinkle in Time came out recently. Louis Sachar's Holes is an excellent book and an excellent movie. There are loads of choices. A quick google search for "movies based on children's books" brings up any number of lists. And of course you could ask and see if your child has any suggestions. Which leads us to... 

Let Them Choose: I say this all the time, but I can't emphasize it enough when you are talking about a child who can read but chooses not to. You simply must let her choose what she wants to read. If you are pushing her to read the books that you loved a kid, or that you think will strengthen her reading skills, or that will give her a leg up on the Battle of the Books contest in the fall, please stop. I've heard parents lament that their kids aren't reading when in reality, their kids are reading. But what they are reading doesn't count because it's graphic novels or joke books or activity books. You should celebrate anything that makes your child want to read, and go out and find more of that. 

My daughter has been reading constantly this summer. I am so, so, so grateful for this. For the most part, she is only reading graphic novels, notebook novels, and picture books. I have mixed some chapter books that I think she would like into her book baskets (Clementine, Ivy and Bean, The Bland Sisters), but she mostly ignores these. This is fine with me. I'm just glad that she has found books that she wants to read. 

If your child isn't reading, my best piece of advice content-wise is to try graphic novels and/or notebook novels (Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries are the two biggest series, though there are certainly others). There are graphic novels available for a range of age levels and interests. The ones I would start with for newer readers are the Lunch Lady series by Jarrett Krosoczka and the Babymouse and Squish series by Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm. For slightly older kids, the Babysitters Club graphic novels are hugely enticing, as is the Amulet series. Just pick up a few at the bookstore or the library, and leave them in the backseat of the car.  Which brings us to...

Make Reading the Most Desirable Option (Sometimes): One of the most successful things I ever did in terms of encouraging my daughter to read was to ban her from using her tablet for car rides of less than 30 minutes. I actually did this because I didn't like feeling like her chauffeur, and that's what I told her. But then I put some books in the car. Now she starts reading the minute she gets into the car and doesn't stop. She frequently stays in the car (in the relatively cool garage) when we get home, so that she can finish what she's reading. So, I still end up feeling like a chauffeur sometimes, but I don't mind, as long as she's reading. The point is that whenever we are in the car for a short drive she is a captive audience, with no choices but to talk to me or read. Seems like a win-win, doesn't it? 

Another friend told me that she bans devices for the first hour of any read trip in her family. I've heard of other people who ban devices while on camping trips, or even on vacation in general. Maybe there's dead time between races at swim meets, or when you're out at a restaurant, or at grandmas's house. It couldn't hurt to have a book handy for such situations.

You do have to be a bit careful with this suggestion. You don't want to be always taking away the desirable thing (devices) and have reading be used as a punishment. But if you can find ways to limit the screen time, while also making sure that potentially interesting books are available, you give kids a chance to choose reading. 

ReadingInTheWildSummary: There's a belief among many reading advocates (Donalyn Miller comes especially to mind) that there exists a right book that will hook each child on reading. The trick is for the child to find that book at the right time. The best teachers and librarians work during the school year to match kids with those gateway books. But there's no reason parents can't do their part to help, especially during summer vacation.

You can try reading aloud to your child, something exciting that he wouldn't read on his own. You can try to figure out what sorts of books your child finds most engaging, and keep those around. You can ensure that there are times when your child does choose to read, even if it's only out of boredom because no screen is available. All of this is in the hope that your child will run across that right book, that gateway book, that will make him want to keep reading. 

The primary guiding principle that I follow in nurturing my daughter as a reader is to make the reading experience as enjoyable as possible. If in doubt about any decision I ask myself whether it adds joy to the process or not. Then I respond accordingly. Thanks for reading!

© 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: July 13: #Reader Identity, the #MarshmallowTest + #FlexibleSeating (or not)

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookList, #Dystopias, #FlexibleSeating, #GrowthMindset, #LearningStyles, #Literacy, #SummerReading, #Treehouse, #YA, gender roles, failure, play, Project LIT, reading, and science.

Top Tweet of the Week

JediPrincipalThe cries of joy from my daughter will be audible all across the neighborhood when she gets home today. Yes, we received an early copy of the new book by from today. [releases July 31st]

Diversity + Gender

Musings on strength, failure + gender in by | "I think a better reaction against the truly awful, helpless Mary Sues of the past is not ‘strong’ female characters, but realistic female characters"

Book Lists

Favorite Dragon and for Kids, new from  https://t.co/jnv4NofiCL

SummerBrainQuestKid Tested : Activity + Information Books | from | Making fun

10 Captivating to Read This Summer | from Dena McMurdie | I found a few worth checking out here

Events + Programs

First Project LIT Summit: shares the welcome address w/ background on this program started by high schoolers to combat w/ quality + https://t.co/1eDdWp84iC

Spotlight: NY-based program Literacy for Incarcerated Teens (LIT), profiled , provides material + support for teens https://t.co/X7WiCb9po4

Buckle-up for the Road Trip! | | Family events to meet authors + costume characters

Growing Bookworms

She Just Asked Google To Remind Her to “Read All the Books On the Bottom Shelf” reflects on how not pushing her agenda on her daughter probably led to her daughter CHOOSING to read this summer https://t.co/KxTMzPilpv

PassionateReadersOn and Its Importance – need to help kids understand who they are as readers + set a path to grow, says |

Show and Tell Idea for from w/ printable resources https://t.co/QlmtTwsU8n

Growth Mindset + Self Control

"Find your passion" is bad advice, say Yale-NUS and Stanford psychologists | Sitting around waiting to find passion runs counter to + developing via

Try to Resist Misinterpreting the - "Early research with the marshmallow test helped pave the way for later theories about how undermines " https://t.co/48EhEdvRew

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

UgliesFor Teens, Seems Pretty Real — And That's Why They Like It : |

Resilience, strength, empathy: How books are helping my daughter find her place in the world -

You can never have too many books | This photo tour by Anne Rooney of her daughter's overstuffed bookshelves made me smile |

The series, by Andy Griffiths -- zany, over-the-top, can't-put-it-down stories | celebrates the latest release w/ words from the author about the series' kid-engaging vision

Parenting + Play

WildThingsAreGrowing Children's Imagination & Creativity by | Sample ways to encourage story-based by age group

Stop the Slide! Prevention Tips for 6- to 8-Year-Olds from Schools and Libraries

A counterpoint: The Case Against |

I found it refreshing to see someone advocate for Finding the Middle Ground in arguments (listen, assess other arguments for their strengths, etc). Thanks

How to help struggling when they are young | | in training need more support

STEM

LightningThiefApplying the Power of to Excite Students About | , +

How to boost skills in the early grades - |

Will New Standards Improve Elementary Education? | |

© 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.


Willa of the Wood: Robert Beatty

Book: Willa of the Wood
Author: Robert Beatty
Pages: 384
Age Range: 9-12

WillaWilla of the Wood by Robert Beatty is the first book that I've felt compelled to review in quite some time. Honestly, not many books are capable of making me stay up late to finish these days, but this one did. It is suspenseful, beautiful, and thought-provoking, while featuring unique and memorable characters. The end brought a little tear to my eye. Willa of the Wood is set in the same Great Smoky Mountain region as Beatty's Serafina series (see reviews here and here), but features a brand new protagonist.

Willa is a Faeran, or night-spirit. She lives with her clan, most notably her grandmother, Mamaw, deep in the wood. She's been trained to be a jaetter, which is basically a thief, stealing money, food, and artifacts from the humans who are starting to populate the area. But unlike most of the jaetters, Willa possesses ancient abilities once common among her people. She can change skin color, and blend in with the forest. She can speak to plants and animals. She can ask a tree for help as she climbs, and find branches bending to help her. She knows little about the "day-folk" (homesteaders), but much about the problems that have arisen within her clan over her lifetime.  

The home of Willa's clan, and her abilities, reminded me a little bit of the world in Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Green Sky trilogy. Here's a description:

"She was part of this clan, and it was part of her, as inextricable as root and soil. Willa looked up, beyond the throng of the Faeran that surrounded her, toward the ceiling. The hall had been built for many thousands of people to gather here, but far fewer than that remained. The walls of the great hall rose up all around, vast expanses of dark brown woven sticks reaching to a large gaping hole broken to the sky above. What was left of the decaying ceiling and walls was held aloft by the ancient, massive woven-stick sculptures of giant trees, the columns of their trunks soaring upward to spreading canopies above. Thousands of hand-curled leaves glimmered with emerald green, and brilliant kaleidoscopes of ornately woven birds of all shapes and sizes and colors seemed to be flying through the branches of the trees." (Page 93, ARC)

I don't want to give away anything about the plot. Suffice it to say that Willa finds herself in peril on several occasions, and has to call on both her inner resources and special skills to survive. Parts of the story, as with the Serafina books, are quite dark. Although this book is certainly middle grade, I will personally wait until my eight-year-old is a bit older before recommending it to her. 

Other things worth knowing about the book: 

  • There is diversity. In addition to the Faeran, the humans include both white homesteaders and Cherokee tribe members. 
  • There are also loggers, and quite chilling depictions of the evils of clear-cutting old growth forests (as seen from the perspective of someone who knows the trees personally, and thinks of them as if they were people). The loggers were a bit one-note as villains, but I doubt most kids will mind that. 
  • A caring adult (human) plays a major role in the story, as he and Willa help one another. I found this refreshing - in so many children's books adults are either absent or presented as villains or buffoons. Beatty offers a nuanced treatment of the different viewpoints of Willa (who would never harm an animal) and the man (who has cut down trees to build his home, etc.). She is baffled, for instance, over the idea that he can own land.
  • Animals also play important roles in the story. 

In short, Willa of the Wood is wonderful, and has my highest recommendation. It is not necessary to have read the Serafina books to read this one. Though I certainly recommend those, too, Willa tugged more at heart. 

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: July 10, 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: Distinguishing between Reading and Skimming

SwingItSunnyThe other day my daughter demonstrated a milestone in her understanding of reading. She's been a bit better over summer vacation about telling me which books she's read, so that I can add them to her reading list. (I don't push her about this, because I don't ever want her summer reading to feel like a chore, but I document what she tells me.) She put a stack of three books on the kitchen table the other morning. Then she sorted them into two stacks.

She waved Swing It, Sunny by Jenni Holm and Matt Holm at me and said: "I read this one." Then she set aside El Deafo by Cece Bell and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney and said: "I just skimmed these."

LiteracyMilestoneAAnd so I added Sunny to the list. This was a re-read, but it's not a book that she's read over and over and over again the way she has with El Deafo

I'm not sure where she picked up the wording for skimming, but she's actually been doing it with certain books for a while. She will skim her way through the entire set of 10 Lunch Lady books by Jarrett Krosoczka while we are eating dinner and talking at the table afterward, for instance. She'll also sometimes tell me that she didn't really read a particular graphic or notebook novel because she "only looked at the pictures." 

Once a child is reading on her own, the concept of keeping track of which books she has read becomes a bit murky. And that is totally fine. The important thing is that she's enjoying her time with the books, whether she is reading, re-reading, skimming, or just looking at the pictures. 

I will also add that as adult readers, we skim ALL the time. I read two newspapers every day. This would be virtually impossible without skimming. So skimming actually a useful reading skill to develop. Practicing by skimming books that one has already read makes a lot of sense. 

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