Morris Mole: Dan Yaccarino

Book: Morris Mole
Author: Dan Yaccarino
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

MorrisMoleMorris Mole by Dan Yaccarino is about a mole who is smaller than all of his brothers but proves that he can still do "big things." Morris isn't just smaller than the others. He's also different in style, wearing a checked suit and jaunty hat to his brothers' hard hats and boots. He eats at his own small table, and sleeps in his own small bed, reading while the others snore away. When a food crisis arrives, Morris is the only one who thinks to dig upward instead of downward, as they've always done before. And thus he discovers a world of sunshine, other animals, and delicious new foods. Morris's quick wits and his digging ability together are able to save the day. 

The text in Morris Mole is minimal, with most pages containing just a brief sentence or two. Like

"He dug up.

And this is what he found."

Yaccarino's signature colorful digital illustrations are where the details of the story are told. "And this is what he found", for example, is set at the bottom of a glorious page spread filled with sunshine and colorful birds, flowers, and insects. We see Morris sticking is head out of a hole in the ground, umbrella to protect him (as shown on the cover, but with a much different background. Why he needed an umbrella to live underground isn't clear, but the umbrella somehow works with Morris's frumpy style. 

The following page, in which Morris gets acquainted with the above-ground world, in a series of vignettes, is delightful. I also loved the final page spread, in which Morris's brothers praise him, and he says: "I may be small, but I can do big things." OK, so that particular text isn't groundbreaking. But we see that Morris now does sit at the table with his brothers, propped up on a pile of books. And while he still has on his suit, he has a little hard hat to match theirs. So, even as they celebrate the way his unique idea helped them, his own personal growth also leads him to fit in with his family a bit better. Subtle but important, I think. 

My daughter and I are big fans of Dan Yaccarino's work. She especially likes Lawn to Lawn and Doug Unplugged, while I favor All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel. We both agreed that Morris Mole was one worth my writing about. She liked the direct written message, and I liked the details revealed by the illustrations. Overall, I think that Morris Mole is like its protagonist: something small that can do big things. Recommended, especially for library or classroom storytime. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: May 2, 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).

Literacy Milestone: Noticing Gender Imbalance of Protagonists

LiteracyMilestoneAThe other day my daughter made an observation. She said: "It seems like there are more boys having adventures in books than girls having adventures." (Or something to that effect). For what it's worth, she made this observation as we were starting the fourth Harry Potter book together. She is seven, and just finished first grade. 

Caught off-guard - I was not expecting her to notice this so soon - I told her what I see as the simplest explanation. That people at least perceive that boys are less willing to read books about girls than vice versa, leading authors and publishers seeking the widest readership to write books featuring boys. My daughter accepted this as a logical explanation and we moved on. But I was left with a mix of pride that she's observant enough to figure this out and sadness that it's there for her to see, so soon. 

RubyRedfortI don't think that this one will be anyone's favorite of my daughter's milestones on the path to literacy. Certainly it is not mine. But I did think that it was worth sharing with you all as a data point. Coincidentally, I just ran across a BBC News piece about the new UK Children's Laureate, Lauren Child, in which Child brings up this exact issue.

Of course my daughter is lucky because I am more equipped than most to find her books that DO feature girls having adventures. 

© 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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: June 16: Father's Day Books, Audiobooks + Reading with Engagement

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #Audiobooks, #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #GraphicNovels, #PictureBooks, #ReadAloud, #SummerReading, Audiobook Month, Father's Day, gender equality, growing bookworms, play, reading choice, recess, teaching, and time management. 

Book Lists

WeekendsWithMaxA for father's day: Ten Great Middle Grade Dads (or at least they try really hard) 

Longer for developing listeners: June is Audiobook Month says

Fantasy + realistic fiction for longer listening: June is Month (ages 8-12)

for children & teens (ages 7-14) | from

New Reading Beyond from + ALA | Recommended titles for advanced readers in 3 age ranges


BeautifulBlackbirdWe Need Diverse Collectables: Why the Collectors of Children’s Books Need to Diversify —  

Lauren Child: New UK Children's Laureate worried about gender equality + in books via

An excellent point about implementing challenge for East Asian (+ other) kids

Growing Bookworms / Summer Reading

The Key to ? Invest in Children’s Reading Lives All Year Time Access Choice + Community 

MarieCuriePersistence Boost Children’s Engagement + Performance (w/ plug for GN about Marie Curie from )

Does for Pleasure in Schools Make a Difference? 's data says YES | Choice + Time + Community

Want to Raise Successful Kids? Science Says Read to Them w/ more engagement via  

Yes! Dear + : It Doesn't Matter That YOU Don't Like The Book

Language for – Importance of Building Vocabulary in Preschool | Conversation +

Excellent! Maryland school gives away more than 2,000 books to spur

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Thought-provoking Proclamation! regarding by authors + illustrators + more via  

TaoofPoohNever Meant for Children: The Odd Consumer-Driven Rise of the Graduation Book —

New Podcast features and her sister Kate discussing


25+ Boy Approved Summer Activity For Kids Ideas from (of course girls can do them, too)  

Ideas gleaned for Sensory from the Blogosphere by

Encouraging piece about schools increasing , after trend towards reduction has hopefully peaked

MulberryStreetSounds like fun! A New Place You Will Go: Opening Day at The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum

Schools and Libraries

Report reveals eye-opening data on English learners in Philadelphia schools — NewsWorks via

How to Empower Students with One Simple Phrase (that can boost student effort by 40%)  

Timed, Standardized-Testing: Is it Worth it? asks

What the Perception-action Cycle Tells Us About How the Brain Learns, w/ implications for


Why Kids Need , and How You Can Teach It |

8 ideas for encouraging summer learning for grade school kids from

Digital Manipulatives and the Mind - Body - Connection in the Digital Age, Infographic by

Time Management

Too Much Busyness is Counterproductive. You Need to Schedule Breaks on Purpose  

© 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

Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls: Beth McMullen

Book: Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls
Author: Beth McMullen
Pages: 304
Age Range: 9-13

MrsSmithSpySchoolMrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls, by Beth McMullen, features an elite boarding school that is actually a cover for a hidden spy agency with female teen agents. Who could resist that? Not I. Narrator Abigail knows none of this when her mother strong-arms her into attending Smith School for Children, but she finds out soon enough when a late-night escapade and an escape attempt go awry. As the story progresses she learns self-defense moves from a mean girl super-agent, is sent to California as bait for a trap, is kidnapped (more than once), and escapes again to undertake a quest of her own. There are cool (if slightly glitchy) gadgets, unexpected bad guys, and loyal friends. Fans of Kiki Strike will definitely want to give Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls a look. I believe it may also work for fans of the Gallagher Girls series, though Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls is aimed more at middle grade than YA readers. 

What made Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls work for me was not so much the strong girl looking to be a spy premise (though that was certainly the hook), but rather Abigail's understated yet snarky voice. I'm not supposed to quote from the ARC, but she uses phrases like "smartphone blackjack", and she keeps her snarkiest responses to herself (shared in italics, to differentiate from regular dialog). There's a little more of a "trappings of rich kids" vibe than I personally love, but I suppose that's hard to avoid when setting a book in an elite boarding school. And it's certainly more plausible that rich kids would be able to skip about the country for adventures than otherwise. 

Abigail is a goofier, more realistic, more female version of young James Bond. She has a crush on a boy who likes someone else, but it's all very PG, and not especially "girly". I see no reason why boys wouldn't enjoy this book just as much as girls would. Beth McMullen takes a bit of time in Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls to set the stage for the further adventures of Abigail and her crew. Hopefully other books will be forthcoming soon, because this is going to be a fun series, sure to please middle grade fans of spy/adventure stories. 

Publisher: Aladdin (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: July 4, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author

© 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).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: June 14: #SummerReading Edition

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 and young adult) and two posts with my daughter's latest literacy milestone (reading to recharge and needing the next book in a series). I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter, and one that shares my top five tips for parents to encourage kids' summer reading. I'll be trying to take these tips to heart myself in the coming weeks, as my daughter has just started her summer vacation. Hard to believe she's now a rising second grader. 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I finished two early chapter books, three young adult novels, and one adult nonfiction title. I read/listened to: 

  • Sara Pennypacker (ill. Marla Frazee): Clementine. Disney Hyperion. Early Chapter Book. Completed June 1, 2017. Read aloud to my daughter. My previous review.
  • Sara Pennypacker (ill. Marla Frazee): The Talented Clementine. Disney Hyperion. Early Chapter Book. Completed June 5, 2017. Read aloud to my daughter. My previous review.
  • Chris Bradford: Bodyguard #3: Hijack. Philomel Books. YA Thriller. Completed June 4, 2017. Review of the first four books in this series to come. Great for summer reading!
  • Chris Bradford: Bodyguard #4: Ransom. Philomel Books. YA Thriller. Completed June 4, 2017.
  • Gwenda Bond: Double Down. Switch Press. YA Science Fiction. Completed June 12, 2017, on Kindle. This is a fun series!
  • Vanessa Van Edwards: Captivate. Portfolio. Adult Nonfiction. Completed June 6, 2017, on MP3.

HarryPotterGobletofFireI'm currently reading Serafina and the Splintered Heart (Book 3) by Robert Beatty and listening to The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway series) by Elly Griffiths. My daughter and I are reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together. As this is a longer book with a sad event at the end, I was going to wait a bit before reading this one to my daughter. But she begged and pleaded, and I figured that if I'm going to go around telling other parents that I think they should give their kids choice in what they read this summer, I had better do the same. She's on notice that if she starts having nightmares we will stop. But so far, so good. 

IvyAndBean1You can find my daughter's 2017 reading list here (though I'm finding it harder to keep this list up to date now that she's reading some of the books on her own). She's had a nostalgic return to having my husband read her Berenstain Bears books of late (maybe they say "summer vacation" to her). We're also working our way through some new picture books that have been arriving. She now routinely takes books to read for even the shortest car trip. My mother tells me that I was exactly the same. She's been making noises about finding longer books to read on her own, so that she doesn't finish quite so quickly, but I'm in no rush. She just finished the first Ivy and Bean book, and is asking for the second. 

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. 

© 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