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April 2013

Posts from March 2013

April Fool, Phyllis!: Susanna Leonard Hill (re-issue)

I am reposting this review from last winter, in honor of April Fool's Day. What tricks do you have planned? See also Ready-Set-Read's review of this book. 

Book: April Fool, Phyllis!
Author: Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrator: Jeffrey Ebbeler
Pages: 28
Age Range: 4-8

616liJlVgvL._SL500_AA300_April Fool, Phyllis! is a picture book by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler. It's the story of a groundhog named Phyllis who predicts a blizzard on April 1st. Alas, no one believes her (because of it being April Fool's Day and all). But when all the little groundhogs are out partaking in their annual scavenger hunt, a blizzard does come. Fortunately (if a tiny bit too easily), Phyllis is able to save the day, and solve the second layer of clues to the scavenger hunt to boot.

There's a lot going on in this book. April Fool's Day pranks, pancakes, a treasure hunt, a bit of information about sap lines and sugar houses, and a perilous blizzard. A one-page end note explains the origins and customs of April Fool's Day. It is pretty text-dense for a picture book, and the dialog is sometimes a bit trite (e.g. "All's well that ends well," said Aunt Sassy). But I do like the way that the treasure hunt clues are all shown as notes (rather than inline with the text), and I think that young readers will enjoy trying to solve the clues themselves.

Ebbeler's acrylic paint illustrations are detailed and textured. The picture of a plate of pancakes "flooded" with syrup is quite enticing, and Phyllis, in her little green overalls and worried expression, is pretty cute. There's a certain joyfulness to some of the illustrations that stands out. And Phyllis has a pretty cool weather lookout up in a tree.

All in all, I think that this is a useful addition to the world of holiday-specific picture books. It's a fun read for Groundhog Day and April Fool's Day, making it a double win. Recommended for libraries and winter-themed read-aloud sessions, especially in places where the sap runs.

Publisher: Holiday House
Publication Date: April 1, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Marie-Therese Miller

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 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 Runaway King: Book 2 of the Ascendance Trilogy: Jennifer A. Nielsen

Book: The Runaway King: Book 2 of the Ascendance Trilogy
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen (@NielsenWriter)
Pages: 352
Age Range: 10 and up 

The Runaway King is the second book in Jennifer Nielsen's Ascendance Trilogy, following last year's The False Prince. The Runaway King is that rare second book of a trilogy that completely holds up. If you haven't read The False Prince, stop here, because there will be spoilers for the first book (though not the second). Just go read it. The False Prince is fabulous. 

While The Runaway King lacks the unforgettable solo twist that characterized The False Prince, Nielsen compensates by repeatedly upping the stakes for Sage/Jaron, now King of Carthya. In order to save his kingdom, and himself, Sage sets off in disguise on a dangerous quest. There are pirates, surprises, and betrayals. There are swordfights, ethical dilemmas, and enemies (old and new). But there are also new friends and allies for Jaron, and a much better understanding, by the end of the book, of who his friends really are.  

Nielsen's plotting is multi-layered and adept, and will keep readers eagerly turning pages. The very first line of the book is "I had arrived early for my own assassination." Who could stop reading after that? Well, the whole book is like that. You simply can't put it down. 

But what I personally love most about this series, and this book, is the character of Jaron. His central character trait is stubbornness. He is the very personification of the expression "loyal to a fault." He is self-deprecating in his speech, but in a endlessly entertaining sort of way. Like this:

"I nodded, and when Kerwyn entered the room, Mott made an excuse about finding more alcohol and left. I thought he looked a little exasperated when he glanced back, but people often did when they talked with so it was hardly worth noting." (Page 40)

and this: 

"Erick continued to look at me. "I think I may grow to hate you before this is over."

"You don't already and that's got to be some sort of record."

To my surprise, Erick laughed." (Page 161)

Here is one more passage that shows you Jaron's character:

"This had become my favorite place on the frequent occasions when I needed to get away from everyone. The bright springtime flowers were surrounded by tall, dense hedges and lined with plants of every variety. Majestic trees kept the view from above concealed through most seasons of the year, and the grass was soft enough to make bare feet nearly mandatory." (Page 2)

I love that "to make bare feet nearly mandatory." Just listen to the way I talk about this character. It is as though he is real. I predict that we'll see him in a movie or three one day.

The Runaway King has a strong central character, complex supporting characters (I love Mott), an action-packed plot, and a fully realized setting. No sophomore slump for Jennifer Nielsen, that's for sure. This is a perfect book to give to kids who love adventure. Though it's set in an imaginary, medieval sort of land, there are no magical elements to the story. But there are pirates! A map of the pirate camp is included at the start of the book, as a hint to where things are going. 

Highly recommended for middle grade readers as well as teens, boys and girls. But make sure they read The False Prince first. As for me, I'm already looking forward to Book 3. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Source of Book: Bought it at a book signing

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Two Finalists for the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards


A publicist for The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards contacted me about profiling two young women who were named among their states’ top youth volunteers of 2013 for helping others experience the many benefits of books. Since I am all in favor of kids helping kids to gain access to books, I thought that I would share their stories:

"Alison Forger, 16, of Monroe, Conn., a junior at Masuk High School, promotes the love of reading and writing in young students through a club she organized that sends high school students to elementary school classrooms to assist with reading activities. When Alison was in eighth grade, her English teacher challenged her to use her love of reading and writing to benefit the community. Alison created “Reading and Writing Rock,” a student mentoring club that she has run for the past four years. “I wanted all of those students to be able to pick up a book or write a story and feel the same sort of happiness and satisfaction that I do,” said Alison.

To start her club, Alison, with the help of her English teacher, recruited six fellow students and contacted local elementary school officials, who agreed to let the students visit their school once a week during English classes. The older students read to the children, helped them write stories, taught them about authors and even organized plays based on their favorite books. Over the years, the club has grown to include 35 high school mentors in all three of the district’s elementary schools. In 2010, Alison won an essay contest sponsored by NBC Connecticut’s Education Nation and was awarded $5,000. After soliciting input from elementary teachers involved in her program, she used the money to purchase more than 500 books for the schools. Last summer, she also worked with a local bookstore owner to hand-pick 100 books to stuff in backpacks for children in need. “I always tell other high school students how much fun it is to see the kids light up when you walk through the door,” said Alison.

Emily Morgan, 17, of Moscow, Pa., a senior at North Pocono High School, has raised $24,000 in donations and distributed 1,700 new books, bookcases, art and school supplies, games and puzzles through the organization she founded called “Eat a Book.”  Emily, who started the project in 2011 to inspire children to “devour” good books, developed curriculum for two summer camps, publishes a children’s magazine and has built six literacy centers at shelters and other facilities for at-risk children.

National Volunteer Week is April 21st-27th.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program is the United States’ largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service. Since 1995, more than 345,000 young Americans have participated in the program. Each year, the program’s judges select 102 State Honorees to receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. where, on May 6th, 10 of them will be named National Honorees. You can watch the live webcast of the May 6th event here:"

Two pretty impressive teens helping connect other kids with books. We should be celebrating young women like this, and programs like these, year-round. There are, of course, tons of other kids doing great things all around the country, too. If you are in need of inspiration, you can browse by state here.

This post © 2013 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: March 29

Here are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. I sometimes share links in other places, too, like on my Growing Bookworms Facebook Page or on Google+. But I try to always share things on Twitter, so that I have a full collection there.


RT @readingrockets: How the Children's Choice Book Awards @CBCBook help kids develop critical thinking: #kidlit

The 2013 Astrid Lindgren Award Winner is Argentinia illustrator Isol, reports @tashrow #kidlit

Waterstone’s 2013 Children’s Book Prize Winner | Waking Brain Cells via @tashrow #kidlit

Book Lists

My Top 10 Easter Egg Books - No Twiddle Twaddle @bethanyntt #kidlit

Suggested Reading for a Fifth Grade Boy who doesn't love fantasy from @StorySnoops #kidlit

Top Ten Picture Books I Recommend the Most from @thepbreview #kidlit

Ten MG Books Featuring Homeschoolers by Carrie Cox | @NerdyBookClub @wonderwegian #kidlit

List of Haiku #Poetry Books for Kids from @momandkiddo  #kidlit

Growing Bookworms at Home

Nice post by @365gcb about two #literacy milestones from her 2 1/2 year old daughter things...

Must read post from @BookChook on letting kids read books that they enjoy, so they learn to love reading #litrdup

Read the Same Book to All Your Children, urges @StaceyLoscalzo #literacy

Books, Babies, + Bows shares heartfelt post on the @Scholastic Read Every Day, Lead a Better Life Campaign #literacy

Teaching Reading

Shanahan on Literacy: Why Discussions of Close Reading Sounds Like Nails Scratching on a Chalkboard #literacy

Rt @jkloczko: Teaching Readers, Not Books via @nicolekukral Great post about reading and the whole class novel

Programs and Research

RT @tashrow Love! Cleveland project to turn vacant lots into literary spaces inspired by children’s books @pageturner

Impact of TV watching on children's ability to fall asleep | Sound It Out by Joanne Meier | @ReadingRockets

Demoralizing but important: how children's play is being sneakily redefined, by @alfiekohn on @joe_bower 's blog


Fun stuff! Reading Too Much Into It: When Simple Picture Book Plots Take on Lives of Their Own — @fuseeight #kidlit

A wonderful resource! The March 2013 Carnival of Children's Literature is now up @SharingSoda

GottaBook: Announcing the 2013 Edition of 30 Poets/30 Days! (And hosting Poetry Friday, too!) @gregpincus

A celebration of one of my favorite books: Noel Streatfeild Read-Along: Ballet Shoes @bonnyglen #kidlit

Really fun post @bookpatrol with photos of gigantic books from old movies via @bkshelvesofdoom


So true! RT @bookchook: Yay for school libraries! The library: beating heart of the school @readingtub

RT @mrschureads: 50 things kids will miss if they do not have a school librarian:@colbysharp

RT @tashrow Play Boxes: Mini Playspaces in Your Library |


This is disturbing. Amazon still featuring porn as 'teen books for girls' | @todayshow via @PWKidsBookshelf

Amazon buys Goodreads. People are not going to be happy.

© 2013 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.

A Recipe for Growing Bookworms

ReadAloudEveryDayI've written quite a number of posts about growing bookworms (i.e. raising children who love books). I've shared many, many other people's post and articles on this topic in my literacy roundup posts (with Carol and Terry) and my Twitter and Facebook links. But today I was thinking that it really boils down to a recipe with three ingredients: 

Books + Parents + Time 

Combine these three ingredients by reading aloud together, every day, and you'll most likely grow yourself some bookworms. 

Let's talk about these ingredients for a moment, shall we? 

Books: You need to have books in your house, all the time, if you are going to grow bookworms. They can be your own books or library books (or ideally both). They can be new books or books that you buy for 25 cents at your library booksale. They can be recently published books or classics (ideally a mix of both). But there have to be books. As many, and as varied, as you can manage. This is why I love programs like Reach Out and Read, RIF, and First Book (and many other local programs). But library cards and book sales work great, too.

Parents: While it is certainly true that other people have an impact on whether or not children grow up to love books (librarians, teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.), parents are positioned to have the MOST impact. Parents are the ones who are there, every day, and can read aloud, every day. (This does hold for other adults who live with children, of course.) I can (and do) buy books for my niece and nephew. I will talk with them about books when they are older. But they live 3000 miles away from me. Their parents are the ones who will grow them into bookworms, not me. Parents grow bookworms by getting all of those books into the house, by modeling reading as a positive and desirable activity, and, most of all, by reading aloud. 

Time: It's not enough to have dozens or even hundreds of books lying around the house. Parents also have to make time for reading aloud. This means turning off the television in the evening, so that there's time to read before bed. It means starting the bedtime routine early enough that there is time to read before the child, or the parent, falls asleep. It  means carving out other times for reading during the day, whenever you are home with the kids. I'm a working parent myself. I know that this is not always easy. But time spent together enjoying books is a crucial ingredient for growing bookworms. There are no shortcuts. No real ways to multi-task or make your time more efficient. There's just you, your children, the books, and the time to read them. 

JRPB-NoText-smallThere are other things that help, of course. Having great teachers and librarians. Having people to help you find the right books. Going to the library and to bookstores. And there are things (like learning disabilities) that can make this more difficult. But in general, if you want to grow bookworms (and there are many, many reasons why this is a good idea), you need books, parents, and time. Stir these ingredients together by reading aloud, and you're on the right path to grow some bookworms. 

© 2013 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.  

Christopher Sat Straight Up in Bed: Kathy Long & Patricia Cantor

Book: Christopher Sat Straight Up in Bed
Author: Kathy Long
Illustrator: Patricia Cantor
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4 - 8 

Christopher Sat Straight Up in Bed is about a boy who is (apparently) spending the night at his grandparents' house, and is scared by a mysterious noise. He imagines all sorts of possible explanations, but eventually summons his courage and investigates. In the end, he finds that there is a logical and non-scary source to the sound. 

Christopher Sat Straight Up in Bed is fun to read-aloud. The sound that Christopher hears is "Honk-shoo", shown in a variety of large, colorful fonts throughout the book. This formatting positively begs the reading parent to make much of the sound. 

Kathy Long's text is relatively dense for a picture book, and includes advanced vocabulary, as well as the occasional metaphor. Like this:

""What's that?"

Christopher sat straight up in bed again. "It sounds like an elephant trumpeting."

He tiptoed to the window and looked out, but he only saw the moon playing hide-and-seek with the clouds.

Christopher waited and listened. He didn't hear anything else except the squeak of his grandparents' bed. He crawled back into bed and closed his eyes."

The inherent suspense in the text also works well for read-aloud. The page following the above just says: "Then he heard it again." How could a parent not read that in a melodramatic tone? Such brief, dramatic paragraphs become more frequent as Christopher gets closer to solving the mystery. 

Patricia Cantor's illustrations, rendered in pastel on sanded paper, alternate between humorous depictions of Christopher's fears (an elephant curled up on a tree branch, a tiny monster screaming under the bed), and dim nighttime scenes. Christopher is shown with a rather odd-shaped head. Things that he sees, like his bed, are often shown a bit off-kilter, the way one's vision can be in the middle of the night.

Cantor also hand-lettered the "Honk-shoos" and some other display text, which makes sense - these are well-integrated with the pictures.  

One doesn't run across picture book mysteries every day, and that alone makes Christopher Sat Straight Up in Bed worth a look. The moody colors and slightly surrealistic illustrations, not to mention the suspense over the noise, may not work for all children. But my relatively timid 3 year old (at night anyway) found Christopher Sat Straight Up in Bed more funny than scary. Because of the ambiguity over why Christopher is at his grandparents' house (does he live there now?), this book may also work well for nontraditional families. 

Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (@eerdmansbooks)
Publication Date: February 7, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 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

Mia: The Easter Egg Chase: Robin Farley

Book: Mia: The Easter Egg Chase
Author: Robin Farley
Illustrators: Olga Ivanov and Aleksey Ivanov
Pages: 24
Age Range: 3-6 

If you are looking for a fun book to include in your preschool daughter's Easter basket, Mia: The Easter Egg Chase should fit the bill. This book is part of a character-driven series that includes both text-heavy paperback picture books and "I Can Read" books. The picture books are each holiday-themed, while the early readers are focused on Mia's experiences in dance class.

This approach in general, publishing pre-early readers and early readers about the same character, is one that I am learning to appreciate as a parent. My daughter isn't really ready for early readers, but she has learned to love this character, and we're already dipping into books for the next phase when we run across them at the library. (This is very similar to our situation with the Mercer Mayer Little Critter books.) These are the sort of books that would have been invisible to me prior to becoming a parent, but I can't argue with their kid-accessibility (and low cost). 

Mia: The Easter Egg Chase starts out with Mia Cat and her father dyeing Easter eggs. They fill a big basket with eggs, and leave them overnight for the Easter Bunny to hide. The next day, all of Mia's cousins come over for an Easter egg hunt, including Mia's favorite cousin, little Sophie. When the bigger, faster kids keep Sophie from getting any eggs, Mia has to decide whether to help Sophie, or achieve her own goal of securing the special chocolate bunny. A happy ending occurs for all. 

There is also a page of Easter egg hunt-themed stickers, and a special page at the end where kids are supposed to place them. In our house, as I'm sure is the case in many houses, the stickers actually end up sprinkled all over the book. The stickers, which include a wide assortment of colored Easter eggs, are a particularly good fit with this story (see also books in the series about Halloween and Valentine's Day). My daughter placed a whole bunch next to an early picture of Sophie, "giving her some eggs." 

Another thing that I thought worked well in this story was the Easter egg hunt itself. My daughter enjoys scouring the pages of the book, looking for the eggs herself, and pointing them out to Sophie and Mia. 

The Ivanovs' illustrations are not ground-breaking, but they are well done. Tutu-wearing kitten Mia is sure to appeal to preschool-age girls. Details about Mia's love of dance abound throughout the story (her ballet dancer lamp, a dancer on the cover of the book her mother reads to her before bed, etc.). The Cats' house is cozy and warm, and Mia's parents and grandparents are pretty much always smiling. And bunny-ears-wearing Sophie, pictured on the cover image above, is hard to resist. 

Mia: The Easter Egg Chase has been a hit in our house for months now. The combination of cute, feminine kitten protagonists, an easily resolved ethical dilemma, chocolate bunnies, and stickers is a winner. And, since this is a small paperback book, I reiterate that it would be a nice book to stick in a child's Easter basket. 

Publisher: HarperFestival (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: January 22, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Riffle Invitation

If any of you are interested in trying out Riffle (a book-themed Facebook add-in), you can use this direct access link to sign up. This link is good until Saturday morning only. Riffle lets you create booklists and share them on Facebook. You can also follow people, and see what they are reading, recommend books, mark books as read, etc. I've been dabbling with Riffle for a few months, and some new features should be coming on line soon. 

One Riffle thing that I have found to be a potentially addictive time sink are "Questions". You answer questions like "What books have changed the course of your life?", and you can see what books your friends and others have selected in response to the question. 

There are some changes that I would still like to see that would make Riffle more useful to me as a reviewer. But it's still evolving, and I've been giving it a try. If you would like to try it yourself, you can sign up here

© 2013 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

Flight 1-2-3: Maria van Lieshout

Book: Flight 1-2-3
Author: Maria van Lieshout (@msvanlieshout)
Pages: 40
Age Range: 2-5 

Flight 1-2-3 by Maria van Lieshout is an airport-themed counting book. A brief introduction explains: "This book will take young readers on a tour of the iconic airport and in-flight sounds found around the world." The font used for the minimal supporting text is a font that was specifically commission for an airport in 1968, and has been used widely ever since. 

Flight 1-2-3 is visually appealing, with digitally generated images created with a limited color palette (yellow, black, red, white and blue, to match colors used in the common airport signs). The book follows a family (mother, father, and son) as they arrive at "1 Airport", use "2 Luggage carts", etc. After the "10 Gates", closing pages count ahead, with "100 Fastened seat belts", and numbers showing the plane's altitude and flight distance. But the bulk of the story works as a counting book for the numbers one to ten. 

There's an old-fashioned feel to some of the illustrations. The ticket agents, shown as white silhouettes with no faces visible, wear tidy little red hats and scarves. But the security details are clearly up-to-date, with "5 Trash cans" accompanied by signs showing five of the things that are forbidden on modern flights. There are tiny hints of humor, as when the father and son wait at the end of '8 Men" for the restroom, and the son crosses his legs uncomfortably. 

But the humor is pretty mild. Flight 1-2-3 works primarily as a counting book with a kid-friendly theme and pleasing, mildly abstract illustrations. I expect Baby Bookworm *who has already spent far too much time in airports) to love it. Flight 1-2-3 is a good choice for home or library use for the toddlers and preschoolers. It's solidly constructed, too, with stiff pages. It's almost a cross between a board book and a picture book. So it should hold up well to multiple readings. Recommended. 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids)
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 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 Is What Happy Looks Like: Jennifer E. Smith

Book: This Is What Happy Looks Like
Author: Jennifer E. Smith (@JenESmith)
Pages: 416
Age Range: 12 and up 

I loved Jennifer E. Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, and was happy to find that her latest young adult romance novel, This Is What Happy Looks Like, has a similar feel. Two teens "meet" when one of them mis-addresses an email, and they start up a regular correspondence. Graham lives in southern California; Ellie in a small town in Maine. They bond over their email exchange, sharing things that they aren't able to share with the people around them. When Graham orchestrates a meeting, however, the situation proves to be a bit more complicated than either had expected. 

I quite enjoyed This Is What Happy Looks Like (even if I didn't love, love, love it quite as much as I did The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight). Ellie and Graham are both solid characters, multi-faceted and relatable. Their interactions with each other, and with secondary characters, feel spot-on. I actually cared what would happen with Ellie and Graham so much that mid-way through reading it I dreamed of a movie version of the book that didn't go the way I had hoped. 

Smith's portrayal of the small coastal town of Henley, Maine is solid, too. The reader can practically smell the sea salt, and see the ice cream shop where Ellie works. Like this:

"A few seagulls wheeled overhead, and from some distant boat a bell began to clang. Ellie hurried past the gawking tourists and away from the trailers, which now lined the harbor road like a gypsy caravan. There was a sharp tang of salt in the air, and the smell of frying fish was already drifting out of the town's oldest restaurant, the Lobster Pot. Its owner, Joe Gabriele, was learning against the doorframe, his eyes trained on the flurry of activity down the street." (Chapter 1)


"The inside of the shop was wonderfully cool and smelled like spun sugar, and as always, there was something about it that made the years recede for Ellie, peeling them back one at a time like the skin of an onion." (Chapter 1)

There's a wish-fulfillment aspect to the storyline (involving a movie star) that I think will work well with teens, but This Is What Happy Looks Like is still largely realistic in tone. There are disagreements between parents and teens, and between friends. There are annoyances. There are whoopie pies. I particularly like that Smith didn't try to wrap up all of the storylines, but rather left the characters in a reasonable place, where one could imagine (but not know for certain) what might happen in the future. 

Like the emails in the first chapter, the limited third person viewpoint in This Is What Happy Looks Like shifts between Ellie and Graham (though a bit more Ellie, I think). Both offer keen insights, like these: 

"But what nobody ever told him was that once something like this happens to you, there's no going back. In hindsight, this seemed like it should have been obvious, something he might have realized before everything was already in motion, but there was a slow inertia to the whole process that made it feel less like a catapult and more like a tumble downhill. And as with most cartoon characters, once the ground ran out beneath him, he continued to hang there in midair, legs churning, hoping that if he just kept moving, maybe he wouldn't fall." (Graham, Chapter 2)

"Childhood memories were like airplane luggage; no matter how far you were traveling or how long you needed them to last, you were only ever allowed two bags. And while those bags might hold a few hazy recollections--a diner with a jukebox at the table, being pushed on a swing set, the way it felt to be picked up and spun around--it didn't seem enough to last a whole lifetime." (Ellie, Chapter 7)

This Is What Happy Looks Like is part romance and part coming-of-age novel, with both characters learning something about who they are, and who they want to be. I think it could actually work for boys or girls, though the more traditional audience of a book with a kissing couple on the cover will be girls. The thoughtfulness of the characters could make this a good fit for kids who enjoy John Green's novels, though I think This Is What Happy Looks Like could also work for slightly younger readers.

Fans of Jennifer E. Smith's work will certainly want to scoop this one up. I would also strongly recommend it for library purchase - I think it could appeal to a wide range of teens in middle school and high school (not to mention some of their parents). This is a book that will make people happy. 

Publisher: Poppy (@LBKids)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 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

A Long Way Away: Frank Viva

Book: A Long Way Away
Author: Frank Viva
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

A Long Way Away by Frank Viva is a picture book that's designed to be able to be read from two directions. Starting from the side with the black cover (shown), one finds the story of a little alien creature who leaves his (?) family to travel through space and all the way down to earth, and the bottom of the deep sea. Turning the book over and starting with the blue cover, one can instead follow the creature as it travels up from the bottom of the sea and out into space, eventually finding home. 

You hold this book sideways, so that when you are looking at each page spread, the top and bottom (which would ordinarily be left and right) form a single image. In fact, an endnote explains that the book "was created as a single, continuous twenty-six-foot-long piece of art using Adobe Illustrator", printed, and then the type was hand-drawn by the author. I can envision it as a very long panel stretching out across, say, a school hallway, with kids walking along reading it top to bottom, or bottom to top. But the book form is more convenient. 

As you might imagine for a book that can be read forwards or backwards, the text in A Long Way Away is brief. It begins:









Where the --- indicates turning to the next page spread. A few pages have a little more text than that, but not much. A Long Way Away is clearly a story that's meant to be told more through pictures than through words. Without the pictures, the story wouldn't make much sense at all. But it is still fun to read aloud, with short phrases, and extended rhymes across pages. In fact, the limited vocabulary and prevalent rhymes could make A Long Way Away work as an early reader. 

But it's Viva's visuals that really shine. His background as a designer is unmistakable. The little alien looks kind of like an onion with arms, eyes, and mouth. He swoops along through a curvy yellow tube that widens for him, and loops along like a narrow, overlapping path otherwise. (It reminds me a little of the string in Hugo and the Really, Really, Really Long String by Bob Boyle.) Everything that the little guy passes is rendered with a modern art sort of feel, boxy houses and people shown with minimal features, in slightly muted primary colors (a dusty red, yellow, and blue, with lots of black for accent). 

A Long Way Away is clearly a book that's been designed more than written (as was Press Here by Herve Tullet, for example). The storyline, while certainly linear, is minimal - representing a journey through space and sea. But the illustrations are eye-catching, and the text is entertaining to read aloud. I think that kids will find the gimmick, the way that the book can be read from front or back, fascinating. And if that draws them in to wanting to read the book, then that's a happy thing. I think that the space alien aspect to the story will appeal to kids, too. I think that A Long Way Home is going to be a hit. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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© 2013 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: March 22

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


The BEA Children's Art Auction from ABFFE will be hosted by Jack Gantos and @LaurenMyracle #kidlit

Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month has a great post today about women who were inventors

#Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month: Celebrating Women in Picture Books by @AuthorDianneDLC

Don't miss Opening day at the International Edible Book Festival | @playbythebook #kidlit

RT @playbythebook: What will you add to the March Carnival of Children's Literature?

This month's cross-blog Virtual Book Club for Kids is focusing on Julia Donaldson via @bookblogmomma #kidlit


RT @howeprincipal: Wired and Tired: Electronics and Sleep Disturbance in Children | Psychology Today

RT @readingtub: Sound, not sight, major cause of dyslexia - Medill Reports: Chicago via @NeonTikiTribe

Growing Bookworms

Why "make & do" books matter, and what they teach from @TrevorHCairney #literacy #litrdup

RT @tashrow: 8 Ways Parents Discourage Their Kids From Reading #litrdup #literacy

Tips + book ideas for parents + friends visiting a classroom to read aloud from Valerie at Cozy Up and Read #literacy

RT @katsok: I'm not exaggerating when I say that this post by @colbysharp is vitally important for teachers to read.

Nice post about five ways to make your home book-friendly and grow bookworms from Mrs. Brown's Books #literacy

Remember, You Are Not Alone! @ReadAloudDad on the importance of community in inspiring parents to read aloud

What do the kids think about narrative nonfiction. Is there a disconnect? asks @mstewartscience on @NerdyBookClub

"#Literacy is the means to read, but books have a life of their own", on #reading CourierMail via @tashrow

How long should you hold on to your kids' favorite books? asks Maria Salvadore @readingrockets. I say forever!

Book Lists

There's a great list of series books for new chapter book readers by @frankisibberson @ChoiceLiteracy

Fun list! Math Chapter Books and Story Collections from @momandkiddo #kidlit

Fun list of #yalit featuring aliens at Stacked for Alien Abduction Day @catagator @KimberlyMarieF

Very nice list of Read Aloud Favorite picturebooks from Lauren @365gcb #kidlit

Valerie at Cozy Up and Read celebrates teddy bears today (with a great list of bear-themed #picturebooks)


RT @lisayee1: LOOK!!!! The Children's Choice Book Awards finalists have been announced!!! RT and get the vote out!!!

Children's Book Ireland Book of the Year Awards Shortlist 2013 via @tashrow #kidlit

Winners of the 2013 @Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for creative teens were announced today #literacy

Book News

'The Chocolate War' + Other Robert Cormier Titles Now Available Digitally @PublishersWkly @RandomHouseKids

RT @bkshelvesofdoom: The Mysteries Behind Gwenda Bond's Blackwood: Omnivoracious @Gwenda

Interesting stuff: Four Observations on the Best-Selling Children’s Books of 2012 from @100scopenotes @PublishersWkly

Author @lenoreva is offering to donate copies of Level 2 to Libraries #yalit

Three lives saved by a children’s book – via @tashrow #kidlit


RT @bkshelvesofdoom: I don't even. | Canadian government muzzles librarians and archivists | …

"Here’s the thing about respect.. it’s something you earn, not something you are entitled to because of.."  @catagator

I 2nd @bkshelvesofdoom 's suggestion to read SPEAK and INEXCUSABLE in the wake of Steubenville verdict  @halseanderson

This post © 2013 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.