Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 18: Middle Grade Reviews and Listening to 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 four book reviews (picture book and middle grade), one post with my daughter's latest literacy milestone (being read Harry Potter), and two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter.  I also have a post with excerpts from and responses to two #JoyOfLearning related articles that I read recently.

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

  • Jonathan Stroud: The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood and Co., Book 4). Disney-Hyperion. Middle Grade Fantasy. Completed January 15, 2017, on MP3. I agree with Charlotte that this book is better than books 2 or 3, and well worth a read. 
  • Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows: My Lady Jane. HarperTeen. YA Fantasy. Completed January 10,2017, on MP3. I enjoyed this reimagining of the story of Lady Jane Grey (complete with people who turn into animals) much more than I had expected. It is very fun and well-suited to the audio format. 
  • Thomas Perry: The Old Man. Mysterious Press. Adult Thriller. Completed January 8, 2017. 
  • Megan Abbott: You Will Know Me. Little, Brown and Company. Adult Thriller. Completed January 9, 2017. Suspenseful if implausible. I read this one quite quickly because it kept my attention, which is really all the endorsement you should need. 

I'm currently listening to The Final Day, the conclusion to the John Matherson trilogy by William R. Forstchen (an apocalyptic series about what happens to America in the wake of a devastating EMP). I'm dipping in and out of several nonfiction books on my Kindle, and haven't selected a next fiction read yet.

HarryPotterBook2IllustratedMy daughter's reading list for 2017 can be found here. It's not terribly lengthy so far, but we did just finish reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling. You can read about our experience below. My favorite moment from the final chapter was when the house cup was awarded. My daughter jumped up and down shouting: "We won!!!" It pleased me very much to see her so invested in the story that she felt like part of the "we". We have already started to read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. She also read the first Dory Fantasmagory book by Abby Hanlon on her own, and is currently reading the second. 

Thanks for reading, 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 Impossible Clue: Sarah Rubin

Book: The Impossible Clue
Author: Sarah Rubin
Pages: 304
Age Range: 8-12

ImpossibleClueSarah Rubin's The Impossible Clue features a 12-year-old girl, Alice Jones, who is a math geek and mystery-solver. To date, Alice's mysteries have been small-time. But when a famous local scientist, the business partner of one of Alice's classmates, disappears, Alice finds herself dragged into investigating a grown-up crime. There are thugs in suits, limo rides and high-end research labs. The professor has disappeared from a locked room, and evidence points toward the possible development of an invisibility suit. Alice, together with one geeky classmate and another who is a charming troublemaker, tracks down clues.

The Impossible Clue isn't the most realistic story out there, but it is a lot of fun. Alice lives with her scoop-hungry reporter father, while her drama-obsessed twin sister normally lives with their mother. Della is spending the summer with Alice and their dad, however, adding some domestic conflict to the story. Alice's banter with cute guy Kevin lends a hint of what I would classify as pre-romance. I can imagine further mysteries for Alice and Kevin to solve, and their relationship growing somewhat. 

But really, I just love reading a book about a girl who loves math. Alice had planned to spend her summer vacation proving Goldbach's Conjecture. She notes:

"Mysteries are a lot like math, word problems especially. Some are simple, some are complicated, but it's the same process. There's something you want to know, and a lot of information swimming around. The hard part is coming up with the right equation, figuring out which bits of information are important and which bits are just there to confuse you. Then it's just a matter of solving for x." (Page 4) 

And here's a passage that I think illustrates Alice's personality (and Della's) quite effectively. Alice and Della are discussing what to do on a possible trip to Italy with their mom. Della wants to shop, while Alice wants to see the Archimedes museum:

"It was the story of my life. Everyone understood that Della loved being onstage and that she hated math. Because that was normal. But when I said I loved math and hated performing, people looked at me like I had a screw loose. And because the things I liked weren't normal, I didn't have any right to ask other people to do them with me." (Page 141-142)

Now, I would like to think this perspective is a bit of a stereotype in this day of STEM and GirlsWhoCode, but the bottom line is that it's nice to read about a girl who loves math, and also has relatively normal sibling rivalries and relationships with boys. AND she gets to solve a mystery involving a disappearing scientist and a possible invisibility suit. It doesn't get much cooler than that! I recommend The Impossible Clue for middle grade readers, especially those who love math and/or mystery. I hope that Alice returns for further adventures. 

Publisher: Chicken House (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 3, 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).


Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: January 13: #Diverse #BookLists, #BookGivingDay, and #Education

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this relatively light week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookLists, #STEM, Accelerated Reader, book-rich environments, educational disabilities, growing bookworms, International Book Giving Day, libraries, Jennifer L. Holm, Scott O'Dell Award, Marianne Dubuc, math, reading assessment, schools, Sydney Taylor Book Awards, teaching, and higher education. 

Awards

InquisitorsTaleThe 2017 Sydney Taylor Book Awards have been announced — @HornBook @JewishLibraries  http://ow.ly/d4dw307UwYx  #kidlit

So happy for @jenniholm for winning the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction | FULL OF BEANS  @randomhousekids http://ow.ly/ebG8307WIvj 

Book Lists

Mom @fuseeight evaluates + scores the 2017 construction-themed #PictureBooks to date http://ow.ly/dKeV307PpvR  #BookList

Less common chapter books for 7-year-olds to devour, a @momandkiddo #BookList http://ow.ly/TAV7307PpR0  @sarapennypacker @juanamedina + more

MuseumOfMysteriesThe #Diversity List: Picture, Easy, and Early Chapter Books of 2016 — @fuseeight   #BookList #DiverseBooks http://ow.ly/1otJ307Uyr9 

Events + Programs

Marianne Dubuc Designs Official Poster for International Book Giving Day 2017, reports @TarieS  http://ow.ly/6FVs307UwyS  @bookgivingday

Libraries Join National Initiative To Transform Public Housing into Book-Rich Environments @sljournal  http://ow.ly/YIUJ307UuU2  @nationalbook

Growing Bookworms

"Assessment that results in a student not wanting to read more...causes more problems than benefits" @ReadByExample https://t.co/RC9HcfqV4X 

Introducing Daliyah, the 4-year-old girl who has read > 1,000 books, visited the @LibnOfCongress  http://ow.ly/H0Rk307WMvr  @washingtonpost

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

HouseWithAClockTop 10 Homes in Middle-Grade Fiction according to @KeirGraff @nerdybookclub  http://ow.ly/itTS307Ppi0  #kidlit 

A genius idea from @momsradius | #Reading Parties where you read (separately) in bed with your kids http://ow.ly/9Wno307WKoB 

Rumors of the Demise of #Books Greatly Exaggerated @GallupNews   http://ow.ly/XVbR307WN3i  | 35% read 11 or more books in past year

Some ideas for #Audiobook bedtime stories…for grownups from @lyraelle  @HornBook  http://ow.ly/N8se307Xi4W  

Schools and Libraries

Sad! #Librarians Go Rogue In Devious Attempt To Save Books From Getting Tossed http://ow.ly/BZOm307WJsT  @HuffingtonPost via @100scopenotes

MathematicalMindsetsAre We Killing Students' Love of #Math? asks @alicekeeler | How can we get kids more engaged? http://ow.ly/nVso307UzN3  @joboaler #STEM

Tips for Parents & Teachers as Children Start School from @TrevorHCairney  http://ow.ly/TWOo307Uwor  | Look like good advice here

Supreme Court to decide: What level of #education do public schools legally owe to students w/ #disabilities? https://t.co/Fr5bLabeHW

Interesting discussion on Leftward Tilt of #Education Scholarship @educationweek http://ow.ly/LQQq307UBgY  | I esp. liked @CSattinBajaj piece

© 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


Literacy Milestone: Listening to Harry Potter

LiteracyMilestoneAI think it's fair to say that a modern milestone for book-loving parents involves the reading to one's child of the Harry Potter books. My husband and I have been determined that our daughter will hear the books (at least the first book) before seeing the movies. This has not been easy. She saw an early snippet of the first movie while waiting for us in line at a ride at Universal a couple of years ago (the parent-share or whatever it's called where one of you waits with the child while the other rides). More recently, I went to pick her up at her after-school care, and found her happily, if somewhat guiltily, watching the movie. Luckily, I arrived early enough that she didn't get past the scene with Dudley and the snake in the zoo, early in the story. This happened again with the second movie. When I arrived, Harry and Ron were eating breakfast at the Burrow. While she knows we don't want her to watch the movies without us, the required degree of self-control is a bit much for a six-year-old.

IllustratedHarryPotter1As we are not keen to change our after-school care situation, this raised the pressure quite a bit. So we decided to make our third attempt at reading the first Harry Potter book. The first try had failed because my daughter just wasn't ready to process such a complex storyline. The second try failed because she started having nightmares (though these were later attributed to the imminent start of first grade, rather than to the book). But, as they say, the third time's a charm. As I write this we are ready to start Chapter 12 of the illustrated edition, and my daughter is hooked. There is no question that we will finish the book within a few days. We are now reading at breakfast and at bedtime, and if we can carve out any other time during the day, we will. She is admittedly motivated in part to finish the book because she wants to see the movie. But there is no question that she is interested in the story for itself, too. She is caught up in the excitement. 

Two of her responses so far have particularly pleased me. Last night we were reading about Malfoy's reaction to Harry receiving this Nimbus 2000 (an exception allowed for Harry because of his unusual election to the Quidditch team as a first year). My daughter remarked: "Malfoy is going to play for the other team, isn't he?" I acknowledged that she was correct in her assumption, though this would not actually happen until Book 2. But I love that she is using her past experience with story to make predictions about where this one is going, and that she has a sense already for what will ratchet up the drama.  That's my girl!

The second incident pleased me even more. This morning we came to a picture of Hermione holding a glass jar of blue fire. My daughter looked at the picture critically and said: "Is that supposed to be Hermione? That's not how I pictured her." And I thought: "YES! We were right to try to get her to listen to the book before watching the movie." Because Hermione doesn't appear in the snippets of the movies that she's seen, my daughter had a chance to form her own mental picture. In my daughter's mind, Hermione is a bit more "girly-looking", with longer, more reddish hair, than in the illustrated edition. But of course the details are not the point. The point is that she has her own impression, not created by this illustrator or by seeing Emma Watson. This is something that I wanted for her, something that I think is important.

HarryPotterBook2IllustratedI doubt very much that we'll be able to hold the line on reading all seven books prior to seeing the associated movies. (Though perhaps, since she's not ready to watch those later movies anyway.) I think that the later movies are less important in this regard, since there are fewer new characters. Still, we can try. And in that spirit, I have already ordered the illustrated edition of Book 2

For what it's worth, I do think that the illustrated edition was worth purchasing for the first book (even though we have at least two other copies of the book). It's not just the pictures, though those have helped keep the attention of a six-year-old who isn't accustomed to finishing such a long story. It's also the large size of the book, and the built-in ribbon bookmark. These give substance to our reading experiences. They make reading this book an event. If you are teetering on the fence, I would nudge you towards purchase, at least for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Currently my husband and I are taking turns reading the book to my daughter, depending on who is home and available. This is working ok for the first book, since we both know the story very well. This will become more challenging with the later books, but we'll figure something out... 

What do you say, other parents? What has been your family's experience in introducing your children to Harry, Ron, and Hermione? Whatever the details are, I hope you've enjoyed it as much as we have. 

[Addendum: Katie's comment below reminded me of something. I actually DID read my daughter the first Harry Potter book once before. She was an infant, newly home from the hospital, and I figured that the important thing was for her to hear my voice. So I read something that I wanted to read, which was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I also read her The Secret Garden while she was in the NICU. Of course she doesn't remember any of this. I barely remember it myself, given the sleep-deprived haze.]

© 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 to books are affiliate links. 


The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island: Dana Alison Levy

Book: The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island
Author: Dana Alison Levy
Pages: 272
Age Range: 9-12

FamilyFletcherRockIslandThe Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is the sequel to The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher (my review). Both books feature a family with two dads, four adopted sons (two brown-skinned and two white-skinned), two cats, and dog. This installment is set on a small island off the coast of New England, where the family is spending the month of August in a long-beloved cottage. The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is an episodic story, with viewpoint shifts between the four boys and an entertaining mix of adventure and chaos. They're a bit like a more diverse, and more male, Penderwick family, off to Point Mouette

Although members of the family have been visiting the island since Papa was a boy, this summer things are a bit different. The old lighthouse located next to the family's cottage is fenced off, pending possible sale and/or repairs. A weird artist guy is prowling around making mysterious phone calls. The big house nearby that is usually empty is now occupied, and two teenage girls promise to be annoying. And the boys are discovering that as they get older, their divergent interests can lead to moments of isolation, even in the place that they look forward to visiting all year. 

The plot thread surrounding the looming fate of the lighthouse lends a helpful degree of narrative interest to The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island. While there are plenty of diversions around kayaking, picnics, and trying to teach a cat to swim (who knew that this was even possible?), Levy ties the story together around the lighthouse. A lemonade stand fundraiser for lighthouse repairs goes comically awry, and a common interest brings the boys together with their new neighbors. Through it all, Papa and Dad guide the boys with light hands, sympathetic shoulders, and occasional bouts of exasperation.

One thing I especially liked about The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is that the family's status as a two-dad household is treated completely without comment. I've long been a fan of "incidental diversity" in children's literature, and I like to think that having read about the Fletchers would make kids equally blasé on meeting a new friend's same-sex parents. The book does take a direct look at racism, however. There's a scene in which second son Jax is presumed by a visitor to be a pickpocket, at least in part because of the color of his skin. This leads to discussions between Jax and his parents, and with an African-American uncle who can speak more from personal experience than can Jax's dads. Levy treats these discussions with a soft touch, not letting them overwhelm the book, and also not dismissing the fact of racism. Like this:

"Jackson," Dad repeated. "There are more good ones than bad. More Captain Jims and Officer Levees and Natalia Galindos and Elon Reynoldses than there are Sheldons. I wish there there were none of him. Seriously, if I could have one wish that would probably be it."

"I would wish for an invisibility cloak," Eli interrupted. He was sitting behind them, listening. "Think of how we could get back at Sheldon if we had that! Poison ivy leaves rubbed on the inside of his clothes. Burrs stuck in his hair." (Page 252)

And the topic moves on. The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is most of all about the joys of summer, the outdoors and family. Like this:

Jax agreed, and then, since they had caught up to the others, the boys all had to listen to Frog sing his special ice cream truck song again and again until Jax threatened to gag him with his dirty sweat sock. And so they tumbled back to the Nugget, loud and laughing. The sun was low and warm in th esky, and the breeze had picked up, rustling and shivering the tall grass so that it looked like rippling water. The smell of the sea was stronger now, and Jax couldn't wait to head to the beach." (Page 22)

Spending a month in a small cottage with four boys, two cats, and a dog would send me over the edge, but reading about the experience for a couple of hours was quite enjoyable. Of course I'm not the target audience anyway. Kids who enjoy realistic fiction, about families and doing fun things outdoors are sure to enjoy The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island. There's such wish fulfillment in the idea of spending a month of summer in a beloved cottage on an island, with an ice cream truck stopping by regularly, and a puzzle to solve. Levy also includes quite a bit of mapcap, kid-friendly humor (particularly a memorable scene involving flying butter). In short, The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is not to be missed. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Delacorte Press (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: May 10, 2016
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).