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Posts from October 2012

The Monster's Monster: Patrick McDonnell

Book: The Monster's Monster
Author: Patrick McDonnell
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3 and up 

For Halloween today, I bring you a book about monsters, The Monster's Monster by Patrick McDonnell. It's not a scary book, but it is a fun celebration of (and then completely shifting the viewpoint of) monsters. 

Here's the opening:

"Grouch, Grump, and little Gloom 'n' Doom thought they were monsters."

The next few pages demonstrate how very monster-like these small, charmingly ugly creatures are. They throw rocks, they have temper tantrums, they fight. And one day, to settle an ongoing argument about who is "the biggest, baddest monster," they decide to make an enormous monster (shades of Frankenstein's monster). But the creature that they create doesn't act at all the way they expect. In fact, he doesn't act like a monster at all. He acts like someone who is grateful to be alive. And he changes Grouch, Grump, and little Gloom 'n' Doom's perspective. 

Ironically, for a book about monsters, the end of this book was a little too sweet / message-y for me. The little monsters learn to say thank you, and smile, and appreciate the sunrise. Which is nice, but ... more heavy-handed than I personally prefer in picture books.

But I was won over by McDonnell's illustrations. The little monsters are hilarious. The big monster is surprisingly huggable. The page in which Monster throws out his hands, "thankful to be ALIVE", against a color-splashed background, is uplifting. The pink-tinged beach scenes at the end of the book are enough to make anyone feel calm, and grateful that there are beaches. 

I also do think that this would be a fun read-aloud, though I haven't tried it yet. There's lots of "SMASH, CRASH, and BASH" and "ROAR" type text. The monster has a delightfully nasal pronunciation ("Dank you!").  And there are phrases like "gunk, gauze, and gobs of goo." 

Bottom line: if you are looking for a monster-themed book for Halloween that is actually rather sweet, The Monster's Monster is well worth a look. Patrick McDonnell is a Caldecott Honor and Cybils winner for last year's Me...Jane, and his talent as an illustrator shows here, too. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator: Josh Berk

Book: Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator
Author: Josh Berk (@JoshBerkBooks)
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up 

Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator is part mystery, part family drama, and part day-to-day high school adventures of geeky slacker guy. It's an unusual mix, but one that works. After Guy's 70-something father dies, Guy joins the forensics club at school. He also starts writing a book containing various pithy maxims of his much-traveled, larger-than-life dad. He soon run across several potentially intersecting real-world mysteries (including a potential murder attempt). Together with his friends (and fellow geeks) from forensics club, Guy attempts to pull it all together, and pull himself out of an extended period of depression.  

Guy has a great voice. He's over-the-top lazy, and funny in spite of his depression (Crime Scene Procrastinator is much more about black humor than sadness). Like this:

"I had a bunch of tissues. Before we left the house (for the funeral), I jammed my suit pockets with them until my pockets were bulging cartoonishly, like I was a shoplifter swiping throw pillows. The last time I bought a suit was for my bar mitzvah, so it hardly fit. I looked ridiculous. I knew that. I had two whole boxes of tissues in there. I feared I'd need them all. I was wrong. I needed more." (Page 1)

"After Social Studies, Anoop and I go to lunch. School lunch sucks. Ever since the "healthy lunch" program began last year, there's no more pizza, burritos, barf-a-roni, tots o' tater, or even those awesomely gooey chocolate chip cookies. We can't even have peanut butter anymore, because one kid is allergic to peanuts and apparently can't be in the same room with even a dab of PB&J without having his face explode or something." (Page 13)

Guy's is definitely a teen boy voice. There's another kid who is called "Penis-head". There's a documentary with "boobs ... flopping around like pizza dough." There is a scene in which Guy resists going up to the front of the classroom, for a particular reason (though not explained in painful detail), etc. These things don't dominate the book, but they definitely make it more YA than middle grade. And they make Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator more boy book than girl book (though there are two strong girl characters, and no reason at all why girls wouldn't enjoy all of the forensic science discussed in the book). 

The plot in Crime Scene Proscrastinator meanders a bit, and I saw most of the twists coming. But it's nice to see a book that makes science (forensic science) cool, and relevant. Also, Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator is life-affirming without being didactic (as Guy comes out of his depression), and tackles real subjects without letting go of humor. Recommended, particularly for high school libraries. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
Source of Book: Library copy on Kindle (but quotes checked against finished review copy from the publisher)

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Links I Shared on Twitter This Week: October 26

Here are some highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage.

Frank Cottrell Boyce Wins Guardian Prize « Waking Brain Cells  via @tashrow #kidlit

Terry adds some tidbits to the mid-October Children's #Literacy#Reading News roundup @readingtub @RascofromRIF

The Role of Imaginative Re-creation in #Literacy & #Learning from @TrevorHCairney

Share your thoughts in a Reading Poll on Favorite Series @NerdyBookClub  #kidlit

Children’s Literary Salon: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss @FuseEight  #kidlit

Wendie's Wanderings: November is Picture Book Month #picturebooks #kidlit

Intersect | Where Stories and Pop-Culture Collide, new podcast interview series from @PatrickCarman #kidlit

Educational Twitter Hashtags, the infographic (updated) « NeverEndingSearch  @sljournal

Pew study reports: Younger Americans Reading More via @sljournal

A neat idea. @AndiSibley is looking for Fabulous Fathers in New Middle Grade Books. Share your faves:

"Libraries are probably the scariest places in the world to any reluctant reader... Too many choices." @NerdyBookClub

Don't miss this week's The Children's Bookshelf, a gathering of #kidlit posts hosted by @momandkiddo

Amy @LiteracyLaunch recommends some excellent Books About Books... For Teachers and Parents! #literacy

On the #Cybils blog: 2012 Nominations Roundup (1074 eligible books!)  #kidlit #yalit

#KidLitCon Presentation Recap Part 1: "Oh, You Mean the Caterpillar Guy?" from @AliceInBakerSt  #kidlit

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Ready for Pumpkins: Kate Duke

Book: Ready for Pumpkins
Author: Kate Duke
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5 and up 

As October 31st approaches, Kate Duke's Ready for Pumpkins is a fun celebration of that quintessentially Halloween treat, pumpkins. Hercules, or Herky, is a guinea pig who lives in a first grade classroom. A class project undertaken by the students inspires Herky to want a garden of his own. When he is taken to live with the teacher's father on a farm for the summer vacation, Herky puts his dream into action. With the help of a rabbit named Daisy, and some leftover pumpkin seeds from October, Herky creates a pumpkin patch.

Ready for Pumpkins is definitely more a picture book for early elementary school kids than for toddlers. It's somewhat text-dense, and a bit busy (with a mix of narrative text and dialog bullets). But it's also a matter of the theme. The classroom scenes are filled with first-grade projects, like growing plants and carving pumpkins. The garden scenes are fairly detailed, showing exactly what it takes (including patience) to make a garden. But for readers old enough to follow the storyline, Ready for Pumpkins is quite entertaining. Like this:

"But the seeds weren't ready.
Seeds can take a long time.

They don't grow faster if you yell at them.
They don't grow faster if you jump up and down and stamp your feet.

They won't grow at all if you dig them up to see what they are doing.
I tried all these things. Finally Daisy said, "Cool it!" 

The above is accompanied by small illustrations of Herky waving his arms, tapping his feet, and finally having a temper tantrum. I challenge anyone not to smile. Later Herky learns that "A garden is not a place to be angry in."

There are other funny moments, like when Herky is back in his classroom, singing pumpkin songs to himself, while the one of the kids notes: "He's making that noise again!"

Despite Herky's non-traditional actions (for a guinea pig), Duke's illustrations stay on the realistic side (vs. more cartoon-like books). Her affection for guinea pigs, kids, and nature all come through. 

Ready for Pumpkins is in many ways more of a summer book than a fall book, a celebration of gardening and all things green and growing. But it begins and ends in a classroom, and begins and ends with pumpkins, making it a good choice to read now, and then read again when gardening time comes around. Personally, I would like to see further adventures of Herky. He's a delight. Recommended for kids K-3. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Flutter: Gina Linko

Book: Flutter
Author: Gina Linko (@GinaLinko)
Pages: 352
Age Range: 12 and up 

The premise of Flutter caught my interest, despite the truly hideous cover (I get what they were going for, but seriously?). Seventeen-year-old Emery Land experiences such frequent seizures that she spends most of her time in the hospital. Emery doesn't think that she is having seizures at all -- she believes that in her "loops", as she calls them, she is time-traveling. Her experiences are too vivid to be dreams, and she comes back with knowledge that she couldn't otherwise have. Her medical team, led by her distant father, doesn't believe her. They do, however, consider her worthy of top-secret study.  

The action in Flutter begins when Emery escapes the hospital, following clues that she has gleaned from her loops to a small town on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. There she finds a dash of freedom, and a compelling bond with handsome, tormented teen Ash. On the run from Emery's father (and Ash's demons), Ash and Emery try to solve the riddle of Emery's loops. Before she disappears altogether.

I found the plot in Flutter intriguing. It certainly kept me turning the pages. And I quite liked the small town setting and mildly quirky characters of Esperanza, MI. However, I didn't totally buy in to the love story. It may be that I'm just burned out on the whole 'inexplicable and immediate bond / inability to resist one another' concept. Or that Linko doesn't execute this as well as, say, Laini Taylor or Maggie Stiefvater. But whatever the case, I wasn't completely on board with Emery and Ash. 

However, I did like Emery, a physically frail but surprisingly strong girl in an impossible situation. Her relationships with others (father, best friend, and various people encountered in her loops) were multi-layered and plausible. And the resolution of Emery's loop situation surprised me (not easy to do these days). 

Here are a couple of examples of Linko's writing, to give you a feel for the book:

"I would forget how do these sort of automatic things--tie my shoes, stuff like that--after an episode. And then they started getting more violent, like with my shoulder, when I broke my collarbone a couple of years ago. Dad got interested then. My EEG showed completely unorganized, uncoordinated firings of impulses in my brain while I'm in the loop--when I time-travel." (Page 40)

"Betsy's was warm and softly lit, the smells every bit as welcoming as I had hoped they would be. The bakery was small, mostly taken up by a large glass display counter, showing off cookies, eclairs, donuts, scones, cakes, and pastries of all kinds. I sat down at a little bistro table in the corner, next to a small Christmas tree complete with a pink satin ribbon garland. I smiled as I realized that each ornament on the tree was a miniature cake, cup of coffee, or something to do with the bakery. Elvis's Christmas album played over the speakers." (Page 65)

She can definitely set a scene. There's also an apt comparison of the small town to the town from the movie Back to the Future. I found Esperanza easy to visualize, and enjoyable to visit. Flutter would be a good pre-Christmas read, with lots of holiday trappings. If the idea of someone mentally traveling somewhere (and/or sometime) else during seizures captures your imagination, then Flutter is well worth a look. Suitable for ages 12 and up. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 23, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Links I Shared on Twitter This Week: October 19

Here are some highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Note that links already mentioned in Wednesday's Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup are not included again here.

What do Readers Expect from Mysteries and Thrillers? asks @kidlitmysteries

Happy Birthday @readingtub | Here's to 10 More Years of #Literacy

On the #Cybils blog: Five Reasons to Love the Cybils from Charlotte's Library  #kidlit

RT @rifweb: Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) wants everyone to give a scary book this Halloween.  #allhallowsread

RT @tashrow: Love 'Divergent' by Veronica Roth'? 10 other teen reads you can't miss | Shelf Life  #yalit

RT @LizB: In light of @ZMarriott's post about boys only library zones here's a post I did earlier this year

RT @CHRasco: Scary stories are appropriate because they prepare children for the real world 

RT @CBCBook: Exciting opportunity alert! @sljournal seeks a news editor: via @kishizuka #kidlit #jobs

Makes sense to me that Legos can help build kids' interest in math + engineering @mpvenables on @forbes

Anthony Horowitz: Parents, not politicians should encourage kids to read - Telegraph via @PWKidsBookshelf

Top Ten Tips for (Classroom) Reading Aloud by @HowePrincipal @NerdyBookClub

Lois Lowry, the Children’s Author Who Actually Listens to Children -

RT @AdLit: Dare to read for the fun of it for Teen Read Week! (via @yalsa) #TRW12 #reading #yalit #books

RT @edecaria: I enjoyed this concise recap "KidLitCon 2012: What I learned as a publisher" by @LEEandLOW

#KidLitCon session I would have loved to attend: Avoiding the Echo Chamber by @gregpincus

RT @playbythebook: Dyslexia-friendly books by top children's authors

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

All by Myself!: Emile Jadoul

Book: All by Myself!
Author: Emile Jadoul
Pages: 26
Age Range: 2 - 5 

All by Myself! by Emile Jadoul is a book aimed at kids who are towards the later edge of potty training. A young penguin named Leon wakes up frequently during the night. He always wakes up his mom or dad to take him to the potty. As a result, his mom and dad are always exhausted in the morning. In All by Myself!, Leon learns to be more independent. With a humorous twist at the end. 

This is a very simple book, suitable for the youngest of listeners. Like this:

"Leon wakes up.
He has to use the bathroom.
So Leon calls to his mom:
"Mommy, I need to go potty!""

When Leon decides to go potty on his own, he just ... decides. No fuss. I actually think that this is the right approach for the book to take. No pressure, but if you happen to be at an age where you can decide to go on your own, then you do. I doubt it's that simple in real life, but I see no reason for this straigthtforward little book to complicate things.

What really makes All by Myself! is Jadoul's illustrations. The penguin family lives in a cozy little igloo. Leon is oval-shaped and red-cheeked. He's not realistically portrayed, but he is portrayed in a friendly, relatable sort of way. My favorite illustration, though, is the one in which:

"Every morning, it's the same.
Mommy and Daddy are very, very tired."

Mommy's eyes are closed, with bags beneath them. Daddy's eyes are deeply worried, and he clutches his coffee cup like a lifeline. I think that parents everywhere will be able to relate. 

All by Myself! is a slim book that covers a particular aspect of the potty training process. A particular aspect that sleepless parents everywhere will appreciate. The minimalist illustrations and short declarative sentences are toddler-friendly, and likely to evoke belly laughs. Recommended (more for home than storytime use). 

Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (@eerdmansbooks)
Publication Date: May 3, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: October 17

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out the 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 children's and young adult books and raising readers. There are 1617 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every three weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have nine book reviews (six picture books, one middle grade, and two YA), one children's literacy roundup, and one post with quick hit news items. Because there are so many reviews, I am not including my two Twitter links posts in the newsletter. You can find them here and here. I also had a post announcing the opening of Cybils nominations, but since nominations closed Monday, that post is no longer relevant. You can view the Cybils nominations here (in the first sidebar to the right, listed by genre).   

Reading Update: In the past 3 weeks, I finished five books for young adults, and one for adults. Turns out that vacations WITH a 1/2 year old are not so great for reading. But I read: 

  • Maggie Stiefvater: The Raven Boys. Scholastic. Young Adult. Completed September 27, 2012. My review.
  • C.K. Kelly Martin: Yesterday. Random House. Young Adult. Completed September 30, 2012. My review.
  • E. Lockhart: Dramarama. Hyperion. Young Adult. Completed October 5, 2012, on Kindle from library.
  • Josh Berk: Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator. Knopf. Young Adult. Completed October 10, 2012, on Kindle from library.
  • Elizabeth George: The Edge of Nowhere. Viking Juvenile. Young Adult. Completed October 15, 2012, Kindle purchase.
  • Ada Madison: The Probability of Murder (Professor Sophie Knowles). Berkley. Adult. Completed October 13, 2012. This is the second in this academic cozy series about a math professor at a small Massachusetts college. I liked the setting and characters, but the mystery wasn't particularly compelling.

I also continued to read picture books and board books aloud to Baby Bookworm. I haven't been able to keep up with the number of books read (TypePad support has really let me down by not fixing a 2 month old problem with sidebar booklists). But I can tell you that while we were on vacation, we read Just Say Boo! by Susan Hood and Jed Henry, Imogene's Antlers by David Small, I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, and Hug by Jez Alborough over and over and over again. Her new favorite is Big Girl Panties by Fran Manushkin and Valeria Petrone. 

As for me, I'm reading Flutter by Gina Linko. I'm still listening to A Wanted Man, the latest Jack Reacher novel from Lee Child. How about you? What have you and your kids been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms.

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: Late September / Early October

JkrROUNDUPI've just returned from a 10-day, computer-free vacation. While I was away, Carol posted the End of September Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup at Quietly. The roundups are bi-monthly celebrations of all things related to children's literacy and reading, brought to you by Carol Rasco from RIF, Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub, and me.

Here are some things that caught my eye from Carol's latest roundup:

  • CliffordAnniversaries. The Boxcar Children turns 70 this year, and Clifford the Big Red Dog turns 50. I didn't realize that either was quite so long in the tooth. Carol shares lots of other fun October birthdays, too. Check out the full roundup for more.  
  • I'm thrilled to congratulate Carol, and RIF, for this news. "RIF has been awarded a $4.18 million first-year research grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s INNOVATIVE APPROACHES TO LITERACY Program. Check it out, we’re excited about looking more closely at scalable summer learning strategies for early elementary students." Way to go, RIF!
  • Like Carol, I have continued to think about the article What's Wrong With Reading, published in the Huffington Post last month (and publicized in the Publisher's Weekly Children's Bookshelf newsletter). Teen Anthony Turner discusses the anti-reading social pressures that he faces in his BedStuy, Brooklyn neighborhood. He talks about the pressures to dumb himself down. The article is both horrifying (that the situation exists) and inspiring (that he still finds a way to "enjoy the simple pleasures of reading"). 

And here are a few additional tidbits from me:

  • Wimpy_ebook_logoI hadn't realized this, but apparently Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid books have not been available as eBooks. But now, as of October 30th, you'll be able to get them for Kindle, Scholastic's Storia, and other digital book platforms. The 7th book in the series, The Third Wheel, will be available in hardcover and digital formats on November 13th. Prepare to see lots of kids giggling over their eBook readers in November.
  • 11800-2The National Book Award finalists in Young People's Literature have been announced. Publisher's Weekly has the scoop (and is where I got the picture to the right). I have not, alas, read any of them. 
  • The results of a 20 year research study, as reported recently by Alok Jha in The Guardian, found that "an early childhood surrounded by books and educational toys will leave positive fingerprints on a person's brain well into their late teens... Scientists found that the more mental stimulation a child gets around the age of four, the more developed the parts of their brains dedicated to language and cognition will be in the decades ahead."
  • The Sydney Morning Herald recently ran an articulate and moving opinion piece by Anna Fienberg in defense of funding for teacher librarians in schools. Fienberg notes that "The library is the heart of the primary school, and it is the teacher librarian who brings it alive", and that "if parents understood the real threat to the role of teacher librarians, the majority would be horrified, as I am. After all, childhood is the beginning of a life, and what an enriched life it is, with the comfort and wisdom of stories." I wish everyone could read this. Link via Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook
  • In related news, DC parents are demanding that school librarians be restored, according to an article by Lauren Barack in School Library Journal. 

That's all I have for you today. But do check out the full end of September roundup at Quietly. Carol will be back with another roundup at the end of October/beginning of November. And I'll continue to share literacy and reading news on Twitter @JensBookPage. Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. 

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. 

I'll Save You Bobo!: Eileen & Marc Rosenthal

Book: I'll Save You Bobo!
Author: Eileen Rosenthal
Illustrator: Marc Rosenthal
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-8 

I'll Save You Bobo! is the sequel to one of my favorite titles from 2011, I MUST Have Bobo!. The first book introduced the dynamic between young Willy, his stuffed monkey, Bobo, and Willy's cat, Earl. Willy likes to always have Bobo, his favorite comfort object, nearby. However, Earl is also attached to Bobo, and persists in dragging him away. In I'll Save You Bobo!, author/illustrator team Eileen and Marc Rosenthal continue Willy and Earl's competition for Bobo. They also introduce a new boy-friendly, imagination-focused storyline. 

I'll Save You Bobo! begins as Willy attempts to read a book about dinosaurs to Bobo. Disappointed that the dinosaur in the book isn't bloodthirsty enough, Willy decides to write his own book, about the adventures of Bobo and Willy in a snake-filled, tiger-infested jungle. Fantasy and reality collide when Earl mimics the actions of a tiger in the story, nearly ruining the book-writing. Willy concludes his jungle story in satisfying fashion by having Earl eaten by a giant snake. But it's Earl who gets the last laugh, and the last cuddle with Bobo. 

This new Bobo book was an instant hit with Baby Bookworm. We easily read it ten times during our first 24 hours of ownership, and have read it at least a couple of times a day since. It's not completely clear if she likes the jungle-themed storyline or if she is just pleased to see another book about the characters (whom she loves from the previous book). But she does chortle every time at the end, when Willy is startled by Earl's tail. 

I'll Save You Bobo! is a gleeful celebration of danger. The jungle that Willy draws features snakes, vines, tigers, and "giant poison mushrooms." My favorite page is one in which Willy is describing the jungle to Bobo, and then adds, in large, triumphant letters "AND WE HAVE A TENT!" It's just such a perfect five-year-old boy response, glee over the tent and over his own creativity in thinking up the tent. Later, after Willy kills off Earl (in the story within the story), he says:



I'll Save You Bobo! would be a nice companion to Rocket Writes a Story, since both feature characters writing books, though the two stories are quite different in tone. Fans of I MUST Have Bobo!, particularly boys, will certainly not want to miss I'll Save You Bobo! This new Bobo book is a celebration of creativity, imaginary danger, and the companionship of a favorite stuffed animal. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: April 3, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Because You Are My Teacher: Sherry North & Marcellus Hall

Book: Because You Are My Teacher
Author: Sherry North
Illustrated: Marcellus Hall
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 - 8 

Because You Are My Teacher is the latest book from Sherry North and Marcellus Hall, the team that wrote and illustrated Because You Are My Baby and Because I Am Your Daddy. It's a book that I think is better than the title promises. Really, I almost didn't even open this one, because I thought that it would just be a sentimental book written to please teachers, rather than a book to please kids. While I adore and admire teachers, the picture books that I'm looking for are the ones that will keep kids turning the pages. But I have to say that this book is more kid-friendly than the title would suggest.  

Each page spread features a teacher and her four students visiting a different part of the world (or, in one case, outer space). Each two-line couplet manages to get in a fact or two about the location, while also introducing a different mode of transportation. Like this:

"If we had a schooner, we would have our class at sea
And study the Atlantic, where the great blue whales roam free."


"If we had a river raft, we would tour the Amazon
And listen as the howler monkeys growl their spooky song."

There's no narrative arc. Just a series of these visits. But some of the scenarios are quite kid-friendly, as when they use hang gliders to get "a bird's-eye view" of a giant kangaroo. Then the book ends with:

"Our classroom is our vessel,
always headed someplace new.

Because you are our teacher,
We'll explore the world with you."

I can't say I was wowed by the ending. But I did very much like Marcellus Hall's watercolor illustrations. The teacher (of some brown-skinned, black-haired ethnicity) is smiling and intrepid. The four children are wide-eyed and interested in everything. The various animals that they encounter are slightly cartoonized (in a good way), with big eyes and expressive faces. I especially liked the alligators from the Everglades and the elephants from Africa. Each page has its own color palette, reflecting the landscape. There's also a lot of action conveyed in the pictures (see the page where the class goes kayaking in the Grand Canyon, for example). They are pictures that I would be happy to visit again and again.  

So, while I think that the storyline is a bit contrived (perhaps designed to fit in with the rest of the series), I still found Because You Are My Teacher to be a kid-friendly book. There's plenty of action, all of it in interesting settings. There's a fair bit to be learned from the book, without it feeling dry or didactic. And the illustrations are eye-catching and full of likeable characters. This would certainly make a good gift book for a beloved teacher. But I hope that it also finds its way into the hands of kids. Because You Are My Teacher is a fun ride. 

Publisher: Abrams (@ABRAMSbooks)
Publication Date: August 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

I Want to Help!: Diane Adams & Nancy Hayashi

Book: I Want to Help!
Author: Diane Adams
Illustrator: Nancy Hayashi
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

I Want to Help!, written by Diane Adams and illustrated by Nancy Hayashi, is about the abilities of and challenges faced by preschoolers (or perhaps kindergartners). Emily Pearl is a highly energetic young girl, able to beat the boys in a race, count to 14, and take the monkey bars two at a time. Throughout the day, she constantly tries to help her long-suffering teacher (with mixed success). When her father is late to pick up her, Emily's teacher, Ms. Glenn, uses Emily's desire to help to distract her from worrying.

I personally found the story itself to be lacking in narrative punch. It's more like a series of vignettes throughout the day, capped off by the incident, over just a couple of pages, about the late father. Yes, Emily spends the day trying to help, and does end up being asked to help in the end, but it's not because the teacher actually needs her. And all of her offers to help throughout the day are intermixed with general statements about what Emily is like "strong", "brave", etc. It just doesn't hold together for me as a narrative. 

And yet, I still find it an enjoyable read (and I've read it quite a few times, because my two-year-old loves it). The text is catchy. The refrain stays stuck in my head for days after a read. Mostly this part:

"And whenever Ms. Glenn
sighs, "Oh, my," to herself,
Emily Pearl says,
"I want to help!"" 

But the rest of the text reads aloud well, too. Like this (over several pages):

"Emily Pearl is a very brave girl.
She can give the tarantula water and bugs.

She can let out the rabbit and clean up the rug.

She can shoo away critters
that come to the door.

And capture the crickets that hop on the floor." 

I think that what Baby Bookworm likes is the glimpse of life in a classroom. Most of the humor goes right over head, but the bits that she does get, she thinks are hilarious.  

A lot of the humor in I Want to Help! comes from Hayashi's watercolor, pen, and colored pencil illustrations. She shows how things "really" are. For example, at one point the text says :

"Emily Pearl is a very big girl.
She can wash her own paint can
and put it away." 

The picture shows Emily rinsing out her paint can in the water fountain, with colored water spilling all over the floor, and Ms. Glenn looking on. Emily's classmates are frequently shown either laughing at her antics (as in the paint can example), or getting knocked over by Emily's careless exuberance (like when she takes the monkey bars two at a time). I think that kids who mean well, but struggle to sit still, or put things away properly, will identify with the pictures of Emily Pearl. 

The classroom setting is cheerful, full of crayons and books, pets and projects. There are huge windows, and an old-fashioned, minimalist playground. The combination of day-to-day activities shared in the text and the kid-friendly classroom make this a good book to read with kids who are about to start school. I Want to Help! is a book that will allay fears, and increase enthusiasm about going to school. And it just might make kids want to help out more, too. 

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (@PeachtreePub)
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).