Valensteins: Ethan Long

Book: Valensteins
Author: Ethan Long
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

ValensteinsValensteins is a sequel to Ethan Long's Fright Club, featuring a not-so-scary group of young creatures (vampire, ghost, mummy, bunny, butterfly, etc) who hang out in a cool club house. In this installment, the other creatures take note of Fran K. Stein, who is cutting out a pink paper heart. They mis-identify is as various things like a rounded bat or a big pink nose. They are baffled and revolted when Bunny tells them what it is, and why you would give someone a heart for Valentine's Day. As for Fran, he quietly goes about his own business, goes outside, and finds the person he had in mind all along. The overtly sappy message about the true meaning of love is leavened by the response of the majority of the Fright Club members, who think that Fran and his lady friend are just "Weirdos". 

Valentsteins is humorous through and through, full if entertaining details. For instance, when the creatures don't know what "LOVE" is, Vlad looks it up in a dictionary. When Bunny speaks of a fluttering like butterflies, the actual butterfly says "Don't drag ME into this." When Ghost says that love "is making my skin crawl" the butterfly points out "Ummm, you don't have any skin." And the the universal horror when Bunny says that people in love sometimes "KISS ON THE LIPS!!" is a delight to behold, particularly set against Bunny's clear delight in the concept.

 Long (or the book's producers) uses large fonts for emphasis when needed ("EEEEWWW!" for example), while various text bubbles give the book an early graphic-novel type feel. This is a book to read aloud to an individual or a classroom. Valenstines is pure fun, perfect for the sensibilities of preschoolers and kindergartners who are utterly grossed out by love and kissing (or at least who pretend to be). Recommended!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: December 19, 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).


Two Points on iGen and the Critical Importance of Kids Reading for Pleasure

IGenRecently I read the book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us by Jean Twenge. It's about the generation of kids born between roughly 1995 and 2010, a generation Twenge dubs iGen, is different from previous generations. Twenge relies on analysis of several surveys of high school kids and young adults that have been asking the same questions for many years, supplemented by interviews with junior high, high school and college kids. I was interested in this book in part because my daughter falls right at the tail of the time window, and also because my company has been looking to hire students graduating from college (the other end of the iGen window). 

There are a lot of interesting ideas and conclusions in the book, and I do recommend that people give it a look. The take home message for me is that I want to put off getting my daughter a smartphone for as long as possible, while encouraging her to continue participating in sports and spending time in person with other kids. Because these things are all associated with more positive outcomes. 

But what I want to talk about specifically today is two points that the book makes regarding reading for pleasure. In Chapter 2, there's a section of the book titled "Are Books Dead?" Sadly, Twenge's conclusion is that reading for pleasure, while not dead, is in decline among today's kids. She notes that:

"In the late 1970's, the clear majority of teens read a book or a magazine nearly every day, but by 2015, only 16% did. In other words, three times as many Boomers as iGen’ers read a book or magazine every day. Because the survey question was written in the 1970s, before e-readers existed, it does not specify the format of the book or magazine, so Millennials or iGen’ers who read on a Kindle or iPad would still be included... 

By 2015, one out of three high school seniors admitted they had not read any books for pleasure in the past year, three times as many as in 1976. Even college students entering four-year universities, the young people presumably most likely to read books, are reading less (see Figure 2.4)...

This huge decline flatly contradicts a 2014 Pew Research Center study cheered by many in publishing, which found that 16-to 29-year-olds were more likely to read books than older people. Why the difference? The Pew study included books read for school assignments, which younger people are of course more likely to have. Thus it committed the classic mistake of a one-time study: confusing age and generation. In the data here, where everyone is the same age, iGen teens are much less likely to read books than their Millennial, GenX, and Boomer predecessors."

There's a graph. Twenge shows similar results for reading magazines and newspapers. She posits (after looking at data showing that teens are not spending more time on homework or other extracurricular activities) that this decline is due to teens spending so much time on smartphones that reading time is basically squeezed out. She also shows that this decline in time spent reading coincides with a decline in SAT scores, especially in writing and critical reading (though of course it is impossible to directly claim causation). She expresses concern that as today's teens head into college, reading long textbooks will be extremely difficult for them, and suggests changes that may be necessary to accommodate the iGen'ers. 

So that's point 1: Teens today are reading less, at least in part because they are spending a lot of time on smartphones.

For the second point that I'm interested in sharing, we turn to Chapter 4 of iGen: Insecure: The New Mental Health Crisis. In this chapter, Twenge shares a range of demoralizing statistics about how today's teens are more emotionally fragile, more lonely, and more prone to depression and suicide. She looks at a variety of survey data and attempts to discern causes, applying a two-part test to possible causes: "(1) it must be correlated with mental health issues or unhappiness and (2) it must have changed at the same time and in the correct direction." She finds: 

"Time spent doing homework fails both tests; it’s not linked to depression, and it didn’t change much over that time period. TV watching is linked to depression, but teens watch less TV now than they used to, so it fails test number two. Time spent on exercise and sports is linked to less depression, but it didn’t change much since 2012, so they fail test number two, too.

Only three activities definitively pass both tests. First, new-media screen time (such as electronic devices and social media) is linked to mental health issues and/ or unhappiness, and it rose at the same time. Second and third, in-person social interaction and print media are linked to less unhappiness and less depression, and both have declined at the same time as mental health has deteriorated.

A plausible theory includes three possible causes: (1) more screen time has led directly to more unhappiness and depression, (2) more screen time has led to less in-person social interaction, which then led to unhappiness and depression, and (3) more screen time has led to less print media use, leading to unhappiness and depression. In the end, all of the mechanisms come back to new-media screen time in one way or another. By all accounts, it is the worm at the core of the apple."

You'll have to read the book for the full details of which studies Twenge is referencing and how she comes to these conclusions. But what particularly struck me (as will not surprise regular readers) is that reading print media, like participating in sports and spending time with friends, was associated with positive mental health outcomes. So that's point 2. 

So here's what we have: teens are spending less time reading for pleasure, and this decline is associated with negative mental health outcomes. What this says to me is that encouraging kids to enjoy reading is even more important than I already thought. Reading for pleasure has so many benefits: improved vocabulary, increased empathy, and improved math skills, to name a few. And now, it seems, it may also be tied to mental health and happiness. 

To all parents reading this, I implore you: put as much focus as you can on making sure that your kids ENJOY reading. Don't worry about their reading level, or how many graphic novels they read, or whether or not they make spelling errors when they write. If you help them to ENJOY reading, they will eventually read, and many good things will follow. You'll be helping them academically in the long run. You'll be giving them hours of pleasure in the short run. And you'll be doing something that appears to protect against ills like anxiety and depression. If that's not worth doing, I don't know what is. 

© 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: November 17: #Cybils #Reviews, #Math in Preschool, and "Dessert Books"

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #Cybils, #GraphicNovels, #GrowthMindset, #literacy, book awards, english learners, giftedness, homeschooling, kindness, learning, math, nonfiction, schools, and Veteran's Day.

Top Tweet of the Week

DorkDiaries1Child: "I don't want to go to school today. Can't I just stay home and read Dork Diaries all day?" No, but I did briefly consider saying yes. [And technically not a link, but an incident to please book lovers.]

Booklists + Gift Guides

9 Illustrated Chapter Book Series to Engage Early Readers | Jennifer Ridgeway + more

Other books for kids who are obsessed with Diary of a Wimpy Kid | from at  https://t.co/gYMajA7FqT

2017 holiday gift guide from suggests titles by age, focusing on things the found kids want in books, like humor

Cybils

HereLiesDanielTateToday's featured review: Fiction nominee Here Lies Daniel Tate, reviewed by

Today's featured review is nominee We Come Apart, review by

Update + 4 Good for Teens recommended by category chair

Today's featured REVIEW: speculative fiction nominee Landscape with Invisible Hand, reviewed by

Cybils-Logo-2017-Round-SmA reminder from that Nomination Lists Make Great Reading https://t.co/oIBFfD3Dkx

Events + Programs

Collaboration & Creativity! How my Be-a-Famous Contest Can be Used in Your Classroom! FREE resource roundup for K-4 https://t.co/UL4OU5DxrV

Today is | Claire Noland suggests some kindness-themed + suggestions for spreading kindness while traveling

A good story for : nonprofit founded by teen connects Bay Area teens w/ veterans

Growing Bookworms

StrivingToThrivingThe Nutritional Value of Dessert Books, don't dismiss certain books + assume that reading them isn't valuable for kids |

Making time for independent at | How + why to do it via Wendie Old

Growth Mindset + Giftedness

Students Share The Downside Of Being Labeled |

RT @MindshiftKQED: "High achievers are being neglected in all sort of ways by schools that had no incentive to push them farther up"

Miscellaneous

Forget The 10,000-Hour Rule; Edison, Bezos, & Zuckerberg Follow The 10,000-Experiment Rule

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

WonderWonder No More: A Look at a Book to Screen Adaptation, positives + negatives

A Screen-Based Analogy of Books from | Like Kate, I'm all about meaty book series as well as complex TV dramas https://t.co/UyXqulprg3

Historical Children’s Books I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Stuff You Missed in History Class Episodes) —

Guest post by for | The Overlooked Benefits of Expository | Different kids relate to different things

Parenting

7 Things I Was Totally Wrong About When It Came to - From a Dad

Schools and Libraries

Keep-it-real-1Keep it R.E.A.L.! Relevant, Engaging + Affirming for Adolescent English Learners by https://t.co/YFIdeh0XDF

9 Ways to Shift the Energy in the Classroom + help potentially anxious or sad kids focus on

"Educators have more control of the future of than any outside source will. Continue to create that meaningful change."

Silent vs. Independent Reading: What’s the Difference? (plus digital tools to assess IR) –  https://t.co/mD17EcPmtQ

Small things a new assistant principal does to show students that someone cares | passing on a book, celebrating positives, + more

STEM

Stanford's Deborah Stipek says we should teach more in https://t.co/vqF3URg9Dy

© 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.


Rekindling Intrinsic Motivation After Extrinsic Rewards Damage It

Last summer a mother lamented to me that her son, who had been a big reader during the school year, wasn't reading over the summer. She said that this was because he was no longer getting AR points for his books. So, whereas the previous summer he had always had a book in his hand, this summer he did not. The difference being that that he had been reading for AR points during the school year. [See my other post about AR.]

I've been occasionally mulling over this question ever since. More recently, I talked with another couple about this subject. These were parents who have older children and who have been through a similar experience. They said that they had to create some loose incentives for their kids during the summers, once AR tracking started in earnest. "Read 500 pages and get some reward" - that sort of thing. I imagine this is a reason why many parents enroll their kids in summer reading programs. To insert extrinsic motivation (you read and then you get something) when the intrinsic motivation (you read because love it) has faded.

These things probably work, at least to some extent, in making kids read over the summer. But it seems to me that this problem will get worse and worse over subsequent summers. What I wonder is this: is there a way to rekindle intrinsic motivation in someone who has become dependent on extrinsic rewards? Can we ever get them back to reading for its own sake? I don't have any definitive answers, but I do have some thoughts. 

Obviously, the ideal big picture solution is to keep your child from becoming dependent on outside rewards in the first place. [I personally don't enroll my daughter in summer reading programs for this reason.] But what can you do if you are already there?

You can do the usual things that I and many others have recommended for raising readers: read aloud, take your child to the library, subscribe to magazines that suit their interests, set an example by reading yourself, listen to audiobooks in the car, keep print books everywhere, and limit screen time, to name a few. 

LunchLadyReadingWhat I would add is that if your child was previously an avid reader, perhaps you can turn to nostalgia. If your child was into Harry Potter last summer, but has yet to pick up the next book this summer, try watching all of the movies for the books that he's already read. Do not offer the movies of any unread books. Find some subtle way to remind the child of how happy he was previously when reading. Are there photos? Bring them out. I'm going to be prepared to break out the photo shown to the left in the future, if my daughter ever needs reminding. Are there favorite titles for which you only had library copies? Buy one. Break out your family's favorite picture books and allow yourself to be spotted reading them. Your previously internally motivated child is still in there -- see if you can draw her back out.

If you are dealing with a child who has never been intrinsically motivated to read, then the challenge is harder. Here what I might try is extrinsic rewards that are experience-based, rather than stuff-based, and related to the books being read. "After you read this book about a kid surviving in the wild, we'll go on a camping trip." That sort of thing. It seems like this would create positive associations with reading in a more nuanced way than just "read 100 pages and I'll give you a dollar".

I would also highly recommend trying to create some sort of family reading routine. Maybe read aloud an old family favorite together at bedtime. Or initiate family D.E.A.R. time, when everyone reads the book or magazine of his or her choice. Start a project and borrow books related to that project: dig a garden, build a shed, plan a trip. The idea here is again to create positive associations with reading. You don't want "I read and I feel happy because I got a sticker from the library." You want instead "The time that my family and I spent listening to that book together in the car made us closer, and now we have all these fun inside jokes" or "Reading snuggled up on the couch next to my mom, with each of reading our own book, was a nice way to spend time every afternoon before dinner." 

We choose to spend time doing what we enjoy. We want our kids to spend time reading because they love it, not because they got a sticker or got a certain number of points next to their name on the board. If your child has lost that internal motivation to read, the path back could be to remind her of why she used to enjoy it, and/or show her why it's enjoyable now. That's what makes sense to me, anyway. 

Does anyone else have direct experience with this issue that you can share? 

© 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


Growing Bookworms Newsletter: November 15: Choice in Learning, #GraphicNovels as "Real" Reading, and Harry Potter

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 three book reviews (picture book and middle grade) and one post about my daughter's latest literacy milestone (having a real-world interest sparked from a book). I also have a post about the importance of choice in my daughter's learning and another in defense of graphic novels as real reading. I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter

One other newsletter-related item that I wanted to mention is that I learned after the last issue was mailed out that there was a problem with the newsletter sign-up form. My thanks to the determined new subscriber who contacted me to let me know about this. I have fixed the main signup form and also streamlined the form in my blog sidebar to make it easier to use (you don't have to leave the page to subscribe). If you find anything worth reading in the newsletter, I do hope that you'll consider passing it along to others. Thanks!

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

52StoryTreehouseI'm currently listening to Two Kinds of Truth (Harry Bosch series) by Michael Connelly and reading The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. My daughter and I finally finished reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together.  It took us close to five months, though we didn't read as regularly as usual over the summer vacation. We have decided to take a (possibly lengthy) break before reading Book 5 (which is equally long and more depressing). We are currently reading The 52 Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths together. 

For her own reading, she finished the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi quite rapidly, and is showing some signs of willingness to branch out a little from pure reading of graphic novels. This is not out of disloyalty to her format of preference, but because she has read all of the ones that she has quite a few times, and hasn't had any others grab her interest. After having various other ideas rebuffed, I suggested, very tentatively, that she could try reading the first Harry Potter book on her own. She was eager to do so, and did try for a couple of days, but she wasn't really ready.

DorkDiaries1She tried the first Dork Diaries book by Rachel Renee Russell instead, and has found that a much better fit. I suspect that Dork Diaries will be her next reading obsession. I had a copy of the first one already and how now ordered book 2. She took the first one in to school to read at D.E.A.R. time. 

However, as a small indicator of her continuing obsession with the world of Harry Potter, she remarked the other day: "I left the picture right there and one day it just disapparated." This was a genuine slip. "Disapparate" comes more readily to her than "disappear." She also had her first experience of being truly annoyed (and sometimes baffled) by differences between the book and the movie, in regards to The Goblet of Fire. My own take, after spending literally months reading the book, is that they may have gone a tiny bit too far in cutting things down for the movie. 

EllaSarahOne other title that grabbed my daughter's interest last week was an old lap-size board book that she picked up: Ella Sarah Gets Dressed by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. We read this book many times when she was younger, and I always liked it, but she apparently didn't remember it. She was completely charmed now by the book's message of self-determination regarding clothing. She wanted me to write about the book, and she wants to get another copy to give to her younger cousins. 

One final thing that she's reading these days: magazines. I recently subscribed her to National Geographic Kids. She's received her first two issues and LOVES them.  

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