Growing Bookworms Newsletter: Crossword Puzzles, Playful Learning + Middle Grade Reviews

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 has refocused recently, and now contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, including bookworms, mathematicians, and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks, and is being sent a day early this week due to schedule constraints on my part.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have three book reviews (two middle grade books and one for adults) and two posts about my daughter's latest literacy milestones (doing crossword puzzles and understanding the ending of an ambiguous books). I also have one post about playful learning: throwing away the instruction manual. I also have two posts with links that I shared on Twitter, and two more with quotes from and responses to links about to the joy of learning

Reading Update: In the past two weeks I read/listened to one early reader, four middle grade, and four adult titles. I read:

I'm currently listening to Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear and reading The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison. I have a business trip coming up, so I expect to get some good reading done next week. 

The books my husband and I (and our babysitter) have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here. April was a good reading month for us. We turned in a healthy reading log comprising more than 160 titles. I think that the funniest reading moment for me was last week, when my daughter came down from my office with her nose buried in The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh (a middle grade novel that is pretty clearly about my daughter's current reading level). She insisted that she could read it, and was on page 3.

However, when we asked her what it was about, she couldn't say, explaining that she was working so hard to understand the words that she couldn't follow the story. I told her that she was welcome to read the book, but that she might get more enjoyment out of something a bit easier to decode. I then told her (somehow for the first time) about the Lunch Lady books by Jarrett Krosoczka. She loves spying and gadgets and the like, so I thought it would be a good fit. And it is. She's working her way through Book 1, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, determined to read it herself. 

And that, my friends, is why it's a good idea, if you can swing it, to have various books around the house. Because you never know when a particular book will catch your child's interest. 

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 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

The Wild Robot: Peter Brown

Book: The Wild Robot
Author: Peter Brown
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8-11

My daughter and I are big fans of Peter Brown's picture books, particularly The Curious Garden and Mr. Tiger Goes WildSo when Brown's first middle grade novel turned up, I put it on the top of my to read stack. The Wild Robot is a quirky but lovely little book. It's about a robot who ends up on an island populated only by animals (following the sinking of a container ship). The animals are initially frightened of Roz, but she takes time to learn their language, and eventually makes her way into their hearts. This process is helped by Roz's adoption of an orphaned gosling. 

The action in The Wild Robot is a bit slow-paced, particularly the first 2/3 of the book. But the chapters are brief (sometimes only a page or two), and the illustrations will keep kids turning the pages. Brown's illustration style in The Wild Robot is consistent with the nature-celebrating, slightly stylized look on display in Brown's other books. A few of the images (particularly one in which Roz watches Brightbill head off to migrate) have real pathos. In general, the images are a bit darker in mood than what one sees in Brown's picture books, but they'll feel familiar to kids weaned on The Curious Garden

Brown strikes a nice balance with Roz's character. She has the analytical nature of a robot. And yet, she learns to care about others, particularly her adopted son, Brightbill. She has some miscellaneous facts filed away, but the important things are the things that she learns via observation. Young Brightbill is delightful, as is his best friend Chitchat, a squirrel. 

There's a hint of a message about global warming in The Wild Robot that I didn't think was necessary to the story. But it's subtle enough that young readers won't find it intrusive. Brown mixes humor, wisdom, and even a bit of poetry into the book's text. Like this:

"Oh, it's nothing, you just have to provide the gosling with food and water and shelter, make him feel loved but don't pamper him too much, keep him away from danger, and make sure he learns to walk and talk and swim and fly and get along with others and look after himself. And that's really all there is to motherhood!" (Advice to Roz from a goose about motherhood, page 75)

and the following (as the animals are helping Roz to fertilize her garden):

"I shouldn't be much longer, now," said a smiling turtle as he slowly made his contribution.

As all this was going on, Roz walked around and thanked everyone. "I am not capable of defecating," she explained, "so your droppings are most appreciated." (Page 94)

and (after a harsh winter on the island):

"The wilderness really an be ugly sometimes. But from that ugliness came beauty. You see, those poor dead creatures returned to the earth, their bodies nourished the soil, and they helped create the most dazzling spring bloom the island had ever known." (Page 195)

For anyone interested in animals or robots, or for kids who grew up enjoying Peter Brown's picture books, The Wild Robot has a distinct appeal. The brief chapters, frequent illustrations, and somewhat slow pace make it suitable for kids on the younger end of middle grade. There are deaths and fights, too, but these feel like part of the Circle of Life, rather than anything disturbing for younger readers. I look forward to giving The Wild Robot to my six-year-old daughter in a couple of years, to see what she thinks. Recommended. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids) 
Publication Date:  April 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).

Literacy Milestone: Understanding the Ending to I Want My Hat Back

LiteracyMilestoneAMy daughter has always been something of an optimist. Over the years, I have periodically read her Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back, which most adults would agree has a dark ending. [If you don't know what I'm talking about, go and read it. It's fabulous. Here's the link to my review.] I would ask her afterward what she thought happened to the rabbit in the story. She would always say something like "He ran away." I would let this go without a word. 

Recently, however, I read her the book for the first time in a while. We got to the end and I asked my question. She got a sly little smile on her face and whispered, pointing to the bear, "In his tummy. Or maybe he's sitting on it." 

I was torn between sadness at this loss of childhood innocence and pleasure that she could understand something that was only implied by the text. I went ahead and showed her the parallel text between the page when the rabbit is denying having seen or stolen the hat (while clearly wearing it) and the bear's denial at the end ("I would not eat a rabbit"). I told her about the expression: "Methinks he doth protest too much." I think she understood, at least on some level.

She still thinks that the little fish gets away in the sequel, This Is Not My Hat. But that one, to my mind, is far more subtle. I think we mainly assume that the little fish was eaten because we've read the first book. 

Anyway, I'm finding it fascinating to watch her comprehension and appreciation for books evolve over time. Thanks for sharing this journey with us! 

© 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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: Reading Aloud, #Testing + #Technology in #Learning

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include Bank Street Book Awards, the Cybils Awards, book lists, growing bookworms, coding, reading aloud, science fiction, kidlitosphere, foxes, introversion, parenting, play, technology, education, schools, libraries, STEM, writing, and testing. 


Jon Agee and Mara Rockcliff Win Prestigious Bank Street #Awards  @sljournal @bankstreetedu  #kidlit

Book Lists

From @HornBook A Purple #BookList  #PictureBooks + Primary Grades

14 Books to #ReadAloud to a 2nd Grader (or similar listening age) @momandkiddo  @elockhart + Roald Dahl + more

Little Detectives: #Mystery Books for 6- to 8-Year-Olds  @denabooks @ReadBrightly #kidlit

Reading Allowed: Ten Compelling Middle School #ReadAlouds by Maggie Bokelman  @nerdybookclub #kidlit

A Tuesday Ten: #ScienceFiction Pathway VI (12-15 year olds)  @TesseractViews From Ender's Game to Jenna Fox + more


Today on the #Cybils blog, an interview with Victoria Jamieson, author of ROLLER GIRL  #GraphicNovels

On the #Cybils blog: #BookList Fun: Ghost Stories for All Ages from @LiteraryHoots  #PictureBooks to #YA

Growing Bookworms

#Reading w/ Little Miss Muffet + Little Bo Peep, April  @mrskatiefitz shares audiobooks, mags + more w/ her kids

5 Reasons to Read for Reluctant Secondary School Readers  @WordLib @edutopia #Reading makes you smarter


This week's Fusenews: from a literary auction to benefit refugees to @camphalfblood to @100scopenotes  @FuseEight

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

2016 is Foxy — @100scopenotes and @MrBenjiMartin have spotted a new #kidlit trend 

Happy to see recent successes for the #CoverKidsBooks campaign from @MGStrikesBack  #kidlit

A version of @susancain book Quiet Power (on #Introversion) is being released for teens. @book_nut has the scoop


What's Fair + What's Equal: "Don’t play favorites... but kids can handle differences" | Truth!  @HeatherShumaker

"Only by feeding the imagination of a child, can we help ... ask the questions that don't yet exist"  @lgoodman222

3 Parent Plans to Create a Strong Writer from @BookChook  GRAB any excuse for #writing + more

Playful Learning

Why Typical Preschool Crafts Are a Waste of Time  @thescienceofus Avoid the "grown-up cult of productivity" w/ kids

How can We Help Parents Understand the Importance of Messy #Play?  @easycda @BAMRadioNetwork "Just let me play!"

#SummerCamp at Home: 10 Budget-Friendly Plans from @momandkiddo  #play #STEM #SummerReading 

Schools and Libraries

What the “End of Average” (new book by Todd Rose) Means for K 12 #Education  @thinkschools @EdSurge via @drdouggreen

The #School Spending Debate: What Difference Does A $ Make?  @NPRCoryTurner on when money is most likely to matter

Get Rid of Grade Levels: A Personalized Learning Recipe for Public #School Districts  @travislape @EdSurge #EdReform

When Celebrating Learning Differences Is At Heart of #School Culture  2 examples from SF @Kschwart @MindShiftKQED


6 Ways to Help Students Understand #Math  @MathWithMatthew @edutopia #STEM #EdChat

Not Every Kid Wants to Learn How to #Code notes @pernilleripp  | What about the kid who just wants to read or write?


Nation's Report Card Says Most High School Seniors Aren't College Or Career Ready  @anya1anya @npr_ed #NAEP #testing

A Few Thoughts on Standardized Testing from parent + teacher @pernilleripp  "The test is not fair" to kids, for one

Race + the Standardized #Testing Wars - on growing test fatigue in minority communities  Kate Taylor @nytopinion

Chuck the #Tests - Project Based Learning is Better, including for elementary + middle schoolers says @teachbrooklyn

Technology + Learning

How is the brain in your pocket (smartphone) affecting your thinking?  @DTWillingham on research to date.

I believe this: Taking Notes By Hand May Be Better Than Digitally, Researchers Say  @npr_ed  via @gcouros  #Education

New Study of Impact of #Literacy Apps suggests they can help economically disadvantaged kids w/ #reading  @tashrow

© 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 @LGoodman222 + @easycda + @ValerieStrauss on #Play, #Math + Imagination

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have three more articles related to children's need for play and maintaining the spark of the joy of learning. The first is by Laura Goodman, about trying not to quench the spark of imagination in kids. The second is from Deb Pierce, encouraging parents to let kids engage in "messy play". The third is a post by Petra Bonfert-Taylor, shared by Valerie Strauss in Answer Sheet, asking parents and teachers NOT to complain to kids about being bad at math. All three struck me on a personal level. I hope that you find them useful. 

"Only by feeding the imagination of a child, can we help ... ask the questions that don't yet exist"  @lgoodman222

Laura Goodman: "to allow a child’s mind to grow to its full potential, we must attend not only to the intelligence of his mind by imparting knowledge, but to his imagination as well. The reason is this: Only by feeding the imagination of a child, can we help him create pathways to find answers to all of the questions he has yet to ask. In fact, only by engaging the imagination, can he ask the questions that don’t yet exist...

How do we then, as a society, encourage the growth of imagination? In the same manner as our ancestors; we must tell our children stories, give them space to play, and allow them time to create."

Me: This post by Laura Goodman is about how we, as parents and as a society, should be nurturing the spark of imagination in kids, rather than little that spark die as a byproduct of the quest for intelligence. Which is exactly what I've been trying to get at with my whole pivot on this blog towards "joy of learning." When I see my child's innate excitement about learning new things threatened by dry math worksheets or overly structured book reports, I'm instinctively terrified. I don't want to see that spark, whether you call it imagination or joy of learning or whatever else, die. 

How can We Help Parents Understand the Importance of Messy #Play?  @easycda @BAMRadioNetwork "Just let me play!"

Deb Pierce: "As teachers of young children, the best we can do is model our own exuberance for play and discovery and provide opportunities for parents to experience it themselves. And, it never hurts to explain how important it is for children to engage in messy activities, using all their senses. This is exactly how a preschooler learns best. So, leave the special clothes and shoes at home and dress your child so he can get into things at school and be happy doing so. And, stop worrying. All of those rich experiences are forging new and critical connections in his brain- connections that will never happen looking out a car window in a white sweat suit."

Me: This piece, written by an early childhood education professor, resonated with me because, while I completely agree in spirit, allowing messy play is hard for me. I don't like mess. I don't care so much if my kid comes home from a camping trip all muddy, but I don't want to get muddy myself. And I'm bothered by mess around the house (paint, kitchen experiments), even when I know that the activities are good for my daughter. So, this was a good pice for me to read, and this is something for me to keep working on ... 

RT @Math_Rachel: Stop telling kids you’re bad at math. You are spreading math anxiety like a virus." Petra Bonfert-Taylor@WashingtonPost

Petra Bonfert-Taylor (quoted by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post): "Why do smart people enjoy saying that they are bad at math? Few people would consider proudly announcing that they are bad at writing or reading. Our country’s communal math hatred may seem rather innocuous, but a more critical factor is at stake: we are passing on from generation to generation the phobia for mathematics and with that are priming our children for mathematical anxiety. As a result, too many of us have lost the ability to examine a real-world problem, translate it into numbers, solve the problem and interpret the solution...

You do not need an innate mathematical ability in order to solve mathematical problems. Rather, what is required is perseverance, a willingness to take risks and feeling safe to make mistakes."

Me: I grew up working in my dad's hardware store. The cash register was an old-fashioned one. I learned at a very early age to calculate the 5% sales tax in my head and to figure out the correct change for people. I don't think that "hating math" or even being bad at math were options. I'm grateful for this, and very conscious of keeping math something that my daughter sees as a positive thing. I can only hope that she doesn't run across teachers who profess to be bad at math, and thus give her other ideas. 

© 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. 

Playful Learning: Throwing Away the Instruction Manual

For her recent sixth birthday, my daughter received a very cool gift from her godparents: an Amusement Park Engineer Kit from Kids First.  [I learned about this product from a product review at Mama Smiles, and had it on our wish list.] I knew that she would love it, and in fact she started playing with it immediately. The kit consists of 97 plastic pieces that kids can use to construct 20 different models. There's a manual written in the form of a storybook about helping two kids to fix and build amusement park rides.

I thought that this story-focused manual might capture my daughter's imagination. But it turned out that she had no interest whatsoever in the manual. She said: "Mommy, it's more fun just to build things on your own." She asked me to work with her, and together we made our own little amusement park, using all 97 of the pieces (my daughter's requirement). We then got a bunch of her Little People, and they lined up to wait for the park to open. Like this:


The whole process took some tinkering. We had to figure out which pieces went together. Not everything in the result was stable, particularly once the Little People started to play:


Never once did we consult the manual. This was free play, with a STEM focus, at its finest. If you ask me, it was a complete success. 

I did not actually throw away the manual. She may find one day that she wants to build some of the suggested items. But I didn't push. She does the same kind of thing with her Lego sets. She might look at the picture, to see how something is supposed to look. But, at this point, following the step-by-step directions seems more like work than fun to her. And I want building things to be fun. So the instruction manuals will wait, gathering dust, until when or if they are wanted. 

© 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