Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: December 2: Gift Guides, Long-Distance Reading, and Homework-Free Holidays

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. It's been a bit of a light week for links, as people ease their way back in after the Thanksgiving holiday. But I do have some links for you about #BookLists, #PictureBooks, book awards, book drive, diversity, e-books, gift guides, gifted-and-talented programs, growing bookworms, homework, Native American Heritage Month, reading aloud, and reading levels. Happy reading!


The very first Undies: Case Cover Awards have been selected | @100scopenoteshas the scoop  #PictureBooks #YA

Book Lists

NewYearMulticultural Winter Holiday #PictureBooks, a new #BookList from @momandkiddo  #DiverseBooks

Kicking off 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day One – 2016 Great #BoardBooks@fuseeight  #Kidlit #BookLists

A #PictureBook Roundup for Native American Heritage Month from @RandomlyReading  #kidlit #BookList

Review Round-Up: Books for Beginning Readers (#EasyReaders + #ChapterBooks), November 2016 from @mrskatiefitz 

The Best Transgender Kidlit for Everyone | @ehbluemle @PublishersWkly  #DiverseBooks #BookList

Events and Programs

A Bronx Librarian @nypl Keen on Teaching Homeless Children a Lasting #LoveOfBooks @nytimes  @PWKidsBookshelf

Guys Lit Wire: Do something good! Buy a book for Ballou SR High School on Cyber Monday!  @chasingray @BallouLibrary

Gift Guides + Tips

Some great, kid-tested stuff on the "I Would Buy That Again" Gift Guide from @sunlitpages 

Tips on Selecting Special Gift Books for Kids Who Already Have a Lot of Books from @mrskatiefitz  #RaisingReaders

Growing Bookworms

DinoDanceNice! Tips from a distant aunt for #reading together w/ kids across the miles | Cynthia K. Ritter @HornBook 

Tips for Navigating the Challenging World of #ReadingLevels from librarian @DanielleBookery at Guessing Geisel 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Do 'Digital Natives' Prefer Paper Books to #E-Books? Not so far, reports @kate_stoltzfus @educationweek  #reading

Schools and Libraries

Brooklyn School Works to Diversify Gifted-and-Talented Programs (racially + economically) @TheAtlantic

Liberate the Turkey and #Homework on Holiday Weekends - some ideas for what to suggest instead from @mssackstein 

© 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

Noah Webster & His Words: Jeri Chase Ferris + Vincent X. Kirsch

Book: Noah Webster & His Words
Author: Jeri Chase Ferris
Illustrator: Vincent X. Kirsch
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8

NoahWebsterNoah Webster & His Words, written by Jeri Chase Ferris and illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, is a picture book biography of the man who compiled the first American dictionary. We learn that Noah was born in 1758, expected to be the next in a long line of Webster farmers. But Noah wanted to be a scholar, and the world is more literate today thanks to his efforts. 

The book follows Noah through the major events in his life, as he goes to college, becomes a schoolteacher, starts working on his first speller, marries, and so on. I hadn't realized the patriotic underpinnings of Webster's work prior to reading this book, and found reading about Noah's motivations quite uplifting. Here's the first hint:

"In October 1781, King George's soldiers SURRENDERED [verb: gave up] at Yorktown. The war was over at last! America was free and IN-DE-PEN-DENT [adj.: not controlled by others]. THat gave Noah an idea. He would write the schoolbooks for America, beginning with spelling. "I will write the second Declaration of Independence," Noah wrote to a friend. "An American spelling book!"

I quite like the way Jeri Chase Ferris incorporates dictionary-like definitions right into the text. This both reinforces the subject of the book and makes a fairly text-dense book more accessible to new readers. I also like the way she uses a slightly old-fashioned tone to her writing, to suit the time period. Not so much as to make the book inaccessible to modern kids, but just enough to give a flavor, though the use of words like "Alas". The text is rendered in an old-fashioned-looking font, also, furthering this impression. Even the author and illustrator bios at the end of the book follow these conventions, complete with definitions. This made me smile. 

Vincent X. Kirsch's illustrations show somewhat oddly proportioned people (see cover image above), but I think he does capture Noah's scholarly, well-intentioned character. I think that kids will appreciate seeing how Noah ages over time as the book progresses. The muted color scheme also support the historical, bookish feel of the book. The brightest thing on many pages is Noah's blue-backed speller". 

I only had one nit about the text. There's a sentence: "Over the next ten years Noah wrote six more schoolbooks for children and had several children of his own." The "several" seemed imprecise in a biography. I had to consult the end matter to see how many children Noah and his wife did have, to satisfy my own curiosity [8]. I'm guessing that the children arrived over more than those ten years, and this was too complex to explain, but it took me out of the story. This is, however, my only complaint about a solid, interesting, well-written book.  

A handy, illustrated timeline at the end of the book fills in details for those who are interested in extra facts, and should make Noah Webster & His Words a useful reference title for elementary school kids. A bibliography includes both primary and secondary sources [providing a good opportunity to introduce this concept to kids.]

Noah Webster & His Words is a picture book biography done right, from the choice of an important historical figure to the selection of anecdotes and facts to the choice of fonts. It belongs in primary school libraries and classrooms everywhere. As for me, I gained a new appreciation for Noah Webster, and for the importance of dictionaries in making America the distinct country it is today. Highly recommended!

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: October 23, 2012
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).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: November 30: #PictureBooks, #MiddleGrade, #Math + #Literacy

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.

Newsletter Update:  In this issue I have five book reviews (picture book and middle grade), one post with my daughter's latest literacy milestone (using cliches), and one post about including a bit of subtraction practice during reading time. I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter and one post about my recent efforts to cultivate an "attitude of gratitude." 

Reading Update: In the past two weeks I read four chapter book/middle grade, one young adult, and two adult novels. I read/listened to: 

MakerMischiefI'm reading What’s Happened To The University?: A sociological exploration of its infantilisation by Frank Furedi on my Kindle and listening to Stalking Ground by Margaret MizushimaThe books my husband and I have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here. I am currently reading my daughter the second West Meadows Detectives book by Liam O'Donnell: The Case of Maker Mischief. Yes, these are illustrated chapter books that she could probably read on her own, but reading the books together has led to some interesting discussions about the autistic main character and his classmates (who also have learning differences). Of course she also loves that the books feature a boy close to her age who is a DETECTIVE. Exciting stuff! 

SantaClausThreeBearsFor picture books, we've been dipping into our stack of Christmas-themed books since Thanksgiving. She especially liked Santa Claus and the Three Bears by Maria Modungo, Jane Dyer, and Brooke Dyer. And she was thrilled that I ordered The Princess in Black Takes A Vacation by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. I tried to save that one for Christmas, but I just couldn't do it. 

I'm continuing to share all of my longer reads, as well as highlights from my picture book reads with my daughter, via the #BookADay hashtag on Twitter. Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. Wishing those of you in the US a Happy Thanksgiving.

© 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 Secrets of Hexbridge Castle: Gabrielle Kent

Book: The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle
Author: Gabrielle Kent
Pages: 366
Age Range: 8-12

HexbridgeCastleThe Secrets of Hexbridge Castle is a very fun new fantasy novel, the first of a series by Gabrielle Kent, previously released in the UK. The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle is about a boy named Alfie Bloom who lives a rather bleak life alone with his distracted inventor father. Alfie's life changes forever when he learns that he has inherited an ancient and mysterious castle, and is required to live there. Alfie finds Hexbridge Castle full of hidden passageways and strange contraptions. A mysterious lawyer doles out sparing hints regarding Alfie's selection as heir to the castle, including letters from Alfie's benefactor, the druid who built the castle 600 years earlier. While living in Hexbridge Castle, Alfie finds friends and enemies, wondrous delights and terrible dangers. 

The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle is kid-friendly perfection, full of trappings and experiences that are simply cool. There's a Dahl-esque quality to Kent's writing, albeit with more three-dimensional, modern characters. From page 22, when Alfie and his dad are driven in a carriage that seems to be flying, fanciful touches are everywhere. Like this:

"He led them to a gigantic door made up of lots of other doors of decreasing size, one inside the other, like Russian nesting dolls. The smallest only came halfway up Alfie's knee. "Just through there. Ms. Fortune will sign you in."

"Which door do we open?"

The coachman chuckled as he filled a nose bag for each horse. "Whichever one fits, Master Bloom, whichever one fits."" (Page 24)

Kent also captures the delights of an English farm and village, giving the book a slightly old-fashioned feel, even though it is set in modern times. Like this:

 "Alfie was glad he was so hungry; he could swear the table was groaning louder than his stomach under the weight of the food. His mouth watered as he saw three types of freshly baked pie, soda bread hot from the oven, buttery new potatoes, and a golden roast chicken surrounded by crisp lettuce and tomatoes fresh from the garden. Between the mountain of food and the twins' never-ending questions about the castle, dinner lasted a very long time." (Page 46)

There's a school that bears no small resemblance to the school that Dahl's Matilda attended, and there are occasional hints of Harry Potter in Alfie's persona of near-orphan who discovers a secret about his own birth. These things feel not incidental but more like homages (particularly to Dahl). There's even a scene involving flight that carries a hint of Peter Pan. 

I could keep quoting all day - I flagged another dozen passages, and all of them are wonderful. But I don't want to give away any of the twists and turns of Alfie's story. While I did see a few of the twists coming before Alfie did, my enjoyment of The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle was in no way diminished. I felt more like the author and I were together, quietly encouraging Alfie on. The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle ends in a satisfactory manner, but it's clear that Alfie's story is not finished. Which is a happy thing, because I am very much looking forward to the next stage of Alfie's adventures. Highly recommended, one of my top reads of the year. 

[Update: I was pleased to see, on the very day that I published this review, that Ms. Yingling also recommends The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle.]

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: October 25, 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).

Quick Tip for Including Math Practice with Reading

I MakerMischief'm always keeping an eye out for opportunities to give my daughter a bit of practice with math and show her that math is useful. This morning we finished the first chapter of a book (West Meadows Detectives: The Case of Maker Mischief). She looked at the number at the bottom of the page and remarked: "We read 20 pages." I said: "Well, no, because the story doesn't usually start on page one." So we looked, and sure enough, the text of the first chapter of this book started on page seven. She was quick to tell me that we had read 13 pages. (Technically, we read 14 pages, because we read pages seven and 20, but I didn't see the need to get into that right way. That will be a topic for another day.)

We attempted a similar calculation when we started reading a storybook collection with a table of contents (Biscuit's Christmas Storybook Collection), but the numbers weren't as easy (page five to page twenty-one), and so we dropped the effort for now. But I intend to try this again. 

Page numbers and book chapters provide a natural opportunity for practicing subtraction. Obviously, I wouldn't want to turn every reading session into some sort of drill concerning number of pages. But if you have a child who is achievement-focused ("How many pages did we read today, Mommy?"), I don't think that there's any harm in using page numbers for a bit of extra math practice from time to time.

What do you think? 

© 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