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October 2015

Posts from September 2015

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party

Book: The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party
Author: Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Pages: 96
Age Range: 5-8

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party is the second book in the Princess in Black series, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale with illustrations by LeUyen Pham. This second book is even better than the first. My daughter and I both hope that there will be many more. 

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party is an early chapter book with frequent color illustrations. It is perfect for newer readers, but also works well as a read-aloud. As this installment begins, "prim and perfect Princess Magnolia" is about to host her own birthday party. She is interrupted, however, by a ring of her "glitter-stone ring", indicating that her presence, as the top-secret Princess in Black, is needed to fight monsters. As the story progresses, the calls keep coming, and the poor princess wonders if she will ever be able to open her birthday presents. 

I read this to my daughter in a single sitting. She had enjoyed the first book, The Princess in Black, but this one she found hilarious. She was simply choking with laughter as the glitter-stone ring kept interrupting Princess Magnolia's party. She was sitting up in bed, tapping on the pages, saying things like: "Another monster!! This one is pink!". She was completely engaged. [This proved to be a less than perfect book for bedtime reading because she was so excited that she wouldn't settle down. But these are the risks we take.]

There's a passage late in the book which emphasizes the repeated nature of the interruptions. Several, but not all, of the sentences are followed by "Again." My daughter chimed in after every sentence with "Again." As soon as we finished the book she wanted to read it again, with Daddy. I was concerned when reading the beginning of the book that it was going to be too much like the first Princess in Black book. Little did I know that this repetitive structure was part of the story, the part that would make my own small child giggle uncontrollably. It's brilliant.

What I especially liked about The Perfect Princess Party was the extensive, though not overwhelming, use (as hinted by the title) of alliteration. This makes The Perfect Princess Party a delight to read aloud, though one might not notice so much if reading silently. Magnolia has a "favorite fluffy dress". She "slid down the secret chute." The "ballon bobbed." And so on. The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party is in any case sprinkled with enjoyable words to read aloud. Like "faithful steed" and "Frimplepants." The princesses who attend Magnolia's birthday party have fun names like Princess Euphoria and Princess Sneezewort.

As in the first book, LeUyen Pham's bright illustrations add humor and drama to the story. Young readers will especially enjoy watching Magnolia become increasingly disheveled after fighting a sequence of monsters. The visiting princesses are a multicultural lot, compete with the trappings of various cultures (dragon, giraffe, etc.). The party-related illustrations are generally pink and frothy, while the monster fight scenes are more bold and comic book-like. The drama of the fight scenes prompted an "Oh my!" from my own young listener. 

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party has everything a young reader (or listener) could ask for: a butt-kicking heroine in black, a lovely party with pink cupcakes and a beautiful young hostess, party games, and monster defeats. This second installment is a bit more pink than the first, which could turn off male readers. But I hope it doesn't. Because Princess Magnolia's struggles to do her duty, despite the pain of denying herself presents, should resonate with all kids. As should the laugh-out-loud humor and rich vocabulary in The Princess in Black and Perfect Princess Party. This party is not to be missed, and would make a pitch-perfect fifth birthday gift for any child. Highly recommended, and a must-have for libraries. 

Publisher: Candlewick 
Publication Date: October 13, 2015
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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).

Six New Picture Books for Halloween

I've received several new Halloween-themed picture books this year, and wanted to share them.

1. Fright Club, written and illustrated by Ethan Long. From Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. In this title, which reminds me visually of Creepy Carrots, a group of traditionally scary creatures (vampire, mummy, witch, etc.) is practicing for Halloween when a cute bunny tries to join their Fright Club. Upon being rebuffed, the bunny returns with a lawyer, and some cute friends like butterflies. It turns out that the Fright Club has something to learn from their conventionally cute, but surprisingly scary, colleagues. This one has lots of fun sound effects, making it a good (and not actually very scary) choice for new readers. 

2. Fancy Nancy: Candy Bonanza, written by Jane O'Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. From HarperCollins. In this pictureback installment of the Fancy Nancy series, Nancy goes trick-or-teating with best friend Bree and little sister Jojo. Although Nancy's mother warns her not to eat too much candy, Nancy finds herself repeatedly tempted. She ends up at home on the couch with a stomach-ache. There's no "I hope she learned her lesson" feel, though, as Nancy is sure she'll be ready to eat candy again tomorrow. Vocabulary words include: "exaggerating", "scrumptious", and "indigestion". There are also stickers. 

3. Happy Halloween, Witch's Cat, written and illustrated by Harriet Muncaster. From HarperCollins. In this simple story, a girl routinely dresses as a black cat to accompany her mother, who she thinks is a witch. With Halloween coming, the girl tries out a variety of different costumes. In the end, she comes up with a paired costume with her mother that feels just right. This story doesn't completely make sense if you don't read the dust jacket explanation (or the earlier book, I Am A Witch's Cat). But it doesn't matter. The real reason to read this book is to view the very cool illustrations, for which the author created and photographed miniature scenes. 

4. Otter Loves Halloween, written and illustrated by Sam Garton. From HarperCollins. In this sequel to I Am Otter, Otter and Teddy are getting ready for Halloween, with a bit of help from their grown-up, Otter Keeper. They select a pumpkin, decorate the house, and make costumes (including a goofy fairy costume for the stuffed giraffe). The only problem is that when the trick-or-treaters arrive, Otter finds them a bit too scary. But the understanding Otter Keeper helps to save Halloween. Otter is basically a really troublesome, but adorable, preschool, in Otter form, and his Halloween adventures are funny and charming. 

5. Pete the Cat: Five Little Pumpkins, written and illustrated by James Dean. From HarperCollins. Five Little Pumpkins is kind of a surreal addition to the Pete the Cat series. There are five pumpkins sitting a gate, each decorated/costumed (pirate, Frankenstein, etc.). They say things like "There are witches in the air... But we don't care." The illustrations show things like a frog with a witch's hat riding a motorized brook, accompanied by a yellow bird. I don't understand it. But Pete the Cat fans will likely find this right up their alley. At the end of the book, Pete (in a robot costume) and the pumpkins roll away on skateboards.  

6. Scaredy-Cat, Splat!, written and illustrated by Rob Scotton. From HarperCollins. In Scaredy-Cat, Splat!, Splat strives to be the scariest one at his cat school Halloween party. However, he finds that his costume, and his jack-o-lantern, are more funny than scary. Thanks to a convenient mishap, though, Splat ends up scaring the day. This one does have some nice language, like "wobbled with worry" and "wayward." There's also a ghost story (related by Splat's teacher) that, read aloud properly, is sure to make young listeners jump. 

Wishing you all a book-filled, treat-filled, decoration-filled Halloween season. 

© 2015 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: September 25

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, picture books, chapter books, norse mythology, the Cybils Awards, pirates, Poetry Friday, raising readers, kidlitcon, imaginary friends, monsters, school and diverse books. 


It's time for the Newbery / Caldecott 2016: Fall Prediction Edition @fuseeight #kidlit  

Celebrating the 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction Award Winners @HornBook  #kidlit

Today is 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book #Nonfiction Award Day @HornBook #kidlit 

Book Lists

Great #PictureBooks to Use for Teaching Kids about Aha Moments from @PernilleRipp  #kidlit 

#BookList of #PictureBooks About Monsters, with "scare factor numbers" from not scary at all + up, by @growingbbb 

All In A School Day | #PictureBook Perspectives on the School Experience, #BookList by Joy Fleishhacker @sljournal 

Big List of Favorite Books About Fall from @rebeccazdunn | apples, equinox, harvest, leaves, scarecrows + more 

Funny Early Readers Sure to Hook Kids Who Are Learning to Read | @MirandaBW@ReadBrightly #kidlit

22 Alternative (appealing, funny, kid-friendly) Book Series to Junie B. Jones for Kids from @momandkiddo #kidlit 

Companions Steadfast and True | Great Books about Imaginary Friends |#BookList by Joy Fleishhacker @sljournal

Get Ready for @CampHalfBlood 's The Sword of Summer w/ 6 Books Featuring Norse Mythology, @charlotteslib @BNKids 


Cybils 2015: @kimberlymarief a #YALit Speculative Fiction Judge for Round 1 shares titles she thinks may be nominated 

Start thinking about your #Cybils nominations. Here's the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Books Category Description 

To help you plan for #Cybils nominations (Opening 10/1), here's the Fiction Picture Books Category Description 

 Fiction #PictureBook Introductions (Round 1 Panelists) from new category chair @ReadingTub

As you think about what #GraphicNovels to nominate for the #Cybils Awards on 10/1, here's the Category Description  

Cybils-Logo-2015-Round-LgDid you know that the #Cybils Awards include a #BookApps Category? Here's the Description from @cppotter

Are you thinking about #Cybils nominations? Here's the Elementary/Middle Grade #NonFiction Category Description

Meet the 2015 #Cybils Fiction #PictureBookJudges (Round 2) | @readingtub

What the #Cybils YA #Nonfiction Category is looking for in 2015 nominations by @scharle4

"The @Cybils hopes to find realistic fiction books that ... make Middle Grade readers want to keep turning the pages"

Events + Programs

Tomorrow is Talk Like a Pirate Day. Here are some #kidlit pirate book recommendations from @ReadBrightly @tashrow 

#PoetryFriday: Constitution Day, Citizenship Day Plus Announcement of #Cybils #Poetry Panels from @JoneMac53  

Now this is cool McDonald’s in UK to distribute extracts from Roald Dahl stories | @TheBookseller @PWKidsBookshelf 

Growing Bookworms

How to Start Reading Chapter Books with Your Preschooler or Kindergartner | Janssen Bradshaw @ReadBrightly 

How I get my kids to read | @kateywrites re-shares post w/ tips by @JuliaAnnMace for #Rasising Readers Monday  

Early #Literacy Around the House: The Washing Machine (e.g. "Sort clothing into given categories") from @mrskatiefitz 

6 Tips to Make Reading Fun, Not Frustrating (e.g. "Let kids choose their own books")| @ImaginationSoup @ReadBrightly 


2015-KidLitConLogoSquare“And the winner is …” @zaftigbabe will moderate panel on #kidlit book awards at #KidLitCon Friday 9/9 at 2pm  

Some fabulous new additions to the #KidLitCon 2015 attendee list here:  It's not too late to sign up!

Lots of #KidLit Tidbits in Morning Notes: Baton-Twirling Edition — @100scopenotes 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Children's Books as Windows, Mirrors, and temporary escapes from difficult lives by @katsok #kidlit   

The Plot Twist: #EBook Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead | Alexandra Alter @NYTimes 


Useful: 5 Questions Better Than "How Was Your Day?" to ask kids after school, by @DrAndreaBonior via @ReadBrightly 

© 2015 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

Upside-Down Magic: Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins

Book: Upside-Down Magic
Author: Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

Upside-Down Magic is the first of a new middle grade series by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins. After attending an ordinary elementary school, ten-year-old Nory applies to start fifth grade at the prestigious magical academy that her brother and sister attend, and where her father is principal. Unfortunately, Nory's magic, though strong, is a bit, well, wonky. Nory ends up being sent away to live with her aunt, and attend a special Upside-Down Magic class. Missing her family, Nory is determined to fix herself, so that she can go home. But, of course, things are not quite so simple when your magic is Upside-Down. 

The Upside-Down Magic class reminded me a bit of the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The magic for the kids in the class works backwards or differently from what people expect. While it's normal for Flares to be able to control fire, Elliott can't help freezing things instead. And poor Andres has to be attached to a leash, otherwise he will simply float away. As for Nory, she can't seem to shift into one animal at a time - she ends up turning into creatures like a beaver-kitten that eats everything in sight. 

On thing I like about this book is that, despite the fact that everyone has some sort of magical ability (or disability), Upside-Down Magic is in many ways an ordinary school story. There is a caring, if quirky, teacher. There are friendships to be made, humiliations to be suffered, and bullies to be confronted. Nory is homesick, but learns to appreciate the lax rules in her aunt's household. The book's central conflict doesn't involve saving the world, but rather, whether or not Nory will find a way to graduate from Upside-Down Magic class. This makes Upside-Down Magic a great book for younger readers who like the idea of reading about magic, but aren't ready for complex world-building or epic crises. 

One other nice thing about this book is the authors' treatment of diversity. One learns part-way through the book, in matter-of-fact manner, that Nory's dad is black, while her (deceased) mom was white. Hence she looks black, but is living with her white aunt. Whenever any character is introduced, Nory notes the person's skin color and (sometimes) ethnicity. Even if the character is white. There's no judgement about this one way or the other. Nory notes people's appearances just as she notes their likely magical classification (Flare, Flyer, etc.). I found it quite refreshing. Here's an example:

"Elliott tapped his big-hair head at a boy a few years away, floating in the air. He was brown, probably Latino, Nory thought. He had shaggy hair and wore a stripy shirt. He was a Flyer, obviously, but he was much higher up than any beginner flyer Nory had seen."Every so often his body jerked forward. He flailed his arms. Around one ankle was a red rope. An older girl held the other end and chatted with her friends." (Page 52)

Upside-Down Magic is a quick, accessible read, perfect for elementary-age kids, with a direct take on diversity, and a surprisingly realistic setting. It should particularly appeal to those kids (most kids?) who have fantasized about being able to fly, change shapes, or talk to animals. I look forward to reading future titles in this fun new series. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: September 29, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: September 23

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 children's and young adult books and raising readers. I usually send the newsletter out every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have five book reviews (picture book through middle grade). I also have two posts with literacy and reading links that I shared on Twitter recently, and one post about a new literacy milestone for my daughter (being aware of book awards). 

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

  • Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins: Upside-Down Magic. Scholastic. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed September 12, 2015. Delightful. Review to come. 
  • Robert Beatty: Serafina and the Black Cloak. Disney-Hyperion. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed September 21, 2015, on MP3. I'd been wanting to read this one for a while, intrigued by the premise of a girl living secretly in the basement of the Biltmore mansion in 1899. I found the plot reveals to be a bit overly telegraphed/obvious for my own taste, but I did like the character, and found the ending satisfying overall. 
  • Simone St. James: Silence for the Dead. NAL Books. Adult Mystery. Completed September 11, 2015, on MP3. This was as creepy and atmospheric as the other St. James book that I listened to recently, but now I'm ready for a break from these. 
  • Lee Child: Make Me (A Reacher Novel). Delacorte Press. Adult Mystery. Completed September 15, 2015. I enjoyed this latest Reacher novel, except for some particularly vicious reveals late in the book. It was interesting to see Reacher a tad more serious about a woman than usual... 
  • Amy McCready: The Me, Me, Me Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World. Tarcher. Adult Nonfiction (Parenting). Completed September 22, 2015. This book is fabulous - I've never used so many post-it flags in my life. 

I'm still reading Trouble is a Friend of Mine (a new YA novel) by Stephanie Tromly) on my Kindle. I'm listening to Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I I had to abandon Rogue, the third book in Mark Frost's Paladin Prophecy series, because I just couldn't get into it (and hence wasn't getting much other reading done). There's always a bit of a letdown when that happens mid-series, but it can't be helped. 

The books my husband and I have been reading to our daughter can be found here. She was completely thrilled when her Scholastic Reading Club set of Magic Tree House books arrived last week. She has already listened to several of them. She reads them out of order, according to her whims, which I find mildly irritating, but of course I want her to be able to make her own choices so I do not complain. 

She continues to like the fact that we are writing down everything we read to her on paper reading log sheets (as described here). She asks me periodically how many books we have read so far in September (>150 at last count - I had to print a couple of additional log sheets). I purchased some binders that I can use to save the sheets for her - I think it will be a fun thing for her to look back on. 

What are you and your family reading these days? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2015 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

Stay!: A Top Dog Story: Alex Latimer

Book: Stay! A Top Dog Story
Author: Alex Latimer
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8

Stay! A Top Dog Story is about the love between a boy named Ben and his ill-trained dog, Buster. After a previous bad experience, Ben's parents refuse to take Buster on vacation with the family. Buster is left with Grampa. Ben spends enormous amounts of time, both before and during the trip, writing out instructions for Grampa to help him care for Buster. Stay! consists mainly of Ben's illustrated lists, bracketed by various real-world experiences of Ben and Buster. 

Stay! is a bit tricky to read aloud, because of the large number of lists and notes, some of which overlap one another and aren't actually readable in detail. It's more a book for young readers to pore over on their own. The things that come across are:

  • How well Ben knows Buster's likes and dislikes, and how much Ben adores Buster.
  • How spoiled Buster is. For example: "Dog biscuits (2 if he's been good, only 1 if he's been bad."
  • How patient Grampa is. (He is far and away my favorite character in the book.)

There is a fair bit of humor to Ben's lists, and it is humor that I think will please elementary-school kids. For example, one of Buster's "Dislikes" is "cat farts", accompanied by a picture of the rear end of a cat, spewing a noxious green cloud. Or "When should Buster have a bath?" "!) Your eyes sting when you pet him." (picture of Buster with fumes wafting off of him). There are diagnosis charts and maps. There's a funny, if disturbing, image of Mum with a completely green face, after eating a bad hot dog. There is, in short, plenty to keep a seven-year-old entertained for quite some time. 

Stay! is a book that will please dog lovers, particularly those who have struggled with dog training, as well as elementary schoolers with a faintly crude sense of humor. There is heart in Ben's concern for his dog, but more humor in Alex Latimer's execution of the story. Stay! is a fun, irreverent addition to the ranks of pet stories. 

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (@PeachtreePub)
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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: September 18

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include the National Book Awards, the Cybils Awards, Caldecott Awards, board books, books for babies, picture books, manga, diversity, magic tree house books, growing bookworms, events, literacy programs, parenting, kidlitcon, Pippi Longstocking, Jeff Kinney, schools, and libraries. 


Gallery: The 2015 National Book Awards Longlist: Young People’s Literature — @100scopenotes #kidlit  

2015 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards Finalists Announced | via @tashrow #kidlit 

Recent #PictureBooks that the Calling Caldecott team @HornBook thinks you should have on your radar 

Book Lists

KidPages: Six (Recent) Board Book Favorites of @SunlitPages son (at ~1 year old)  #kidlit

Build a baby's library | 10-12 board books from categories like "high contrast" + "photographs" by @growingbbb  

For the end of summer: 10 Super Cool #PictureBooks about Ice Cream recommended by @rosemondcates #BookList 

A Tuesday Ten: 2015 Speculative Fiction Picture Books! | @TesseractViews #kidlit 

8 Wonderfully Wordless Picture Books (including WHERE'S WALRUS?) | Janssen Bradshaw @ReadBrightly 

10 to Note: Fall Children's Book Preview 2015 from @100scopenotes 

A useful resource for anyone: Best Books to Give at a Baby Shower: The Librarians’ List, compiled by @rebeccazdunn 

#Nonfiction #PictureBook Wednesday: 10 beginning read alouds | @carriegelson 

A list I'll be saving: 19 Book Series for Kids Who Like Magic Tree House, from @momandkiddo #kidlit 

Blowing the shofar, again, for fine books celebrating Rosh Hashanah for boys and girls @HornBook  #kidlit 

15 New Manga Series to Freshen Up Teen Collections |Brigid Alverson @sljournal #YALit 

Events + Programs

Charleston Library Hands Out “Some Girls Are” After School Bans Book | by @Llauren @sljournal  @catagator @courtney_s 

At Stacked, @catagator shares the very positive response to the Some Girls Are by @courtney_s Donation Drive 

On the joy of running into "Jack and Annie" at the JetBlue terminal (my kid would be thrilled) from @HornBook... 

Book Truck to tour U.S. to promote reading in Spanish | @FoxNewsLatino via @PWKidsBookshelf #DiverseBooks 

Growing Bookworms

#RaisingReaders Monday: The Importance of #ReadingAloud w/ Older Kids, guest post by @emmablandsmith @kateywrites 

A post (w/ photos) to inspire any book loving parent from @SunlitPages | #RaisingReaders: Make a Library in Your Home 

What I’ve Learned (about my sons) from the Books My Kids Love | @DeniseSchipani @ReadBrightly 


2015-KidLitConLogoSquareDon't miss the Middle Grade Madness Panel at #KidLitCon, Saturday 10/10 at 2:45 - @MsParenthetical #kidlit 

Attend #KidLitCon 2015. Meet Fellow #KidLit Fans like @MsYingling @lizb @Everead @bottomshelfbks @Book_Nut + more! 

This month's Featured Blogger at #Cybils is Paula Wiley ( @pwbalto ), this year's #KidLitCon co-chair w/ @SheilaRuth 

Going Wide: Beyond Your Blog | writing for yourself vs. writing for pay - Saturday at 1:30 at #KidLitCon  

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Pippi Longstocking: a feminist, an optimist, a free thinker, an inspiration | @GdnChildrensBks via @PWKidsBookshelf

Author, Artist, + Now Bookstore Owner: “Wimpy Kid” Creator Jeff Kinney’s Latest Endeavor | Brigid Alverson @sljournal  

Pictures, advice + more | 10 Reason to Read Kids' Books Instead of ‘Grown-Up’ Books by Isabelle Sudron @NerdyBookClub 

I LOVE this. Top Ten Reasons You Should Be “Playing Booky”, e.g. "Reading diminishes stress", from @kateywrites 

Market or Institutions or Both? Which Route Produces the Best Kids' Books by @EmmaBarnesWrite @AwfullyBigBlog 

Disability in Kidlit is seeking a new team member for their blog @DisabilityInLit #DiverseBooks 


"When we model... behavior of being plugged in... it shows our kids that technology is more important" @greenbeanblog  

Schools and Libraries

Teachers Find Many Reasons to Use #PictureBooks w/ Middle and High School Students | Linda Jacobson @sljournal 

"You can protect the read aloud" + more | What Administrators Can Do to Promote a Reading Culture – @PernilleRipp  

Pedaling Librarians Bring 'Books on Bikes' to Children and the Masses - NBC's @joefryer via @PWKidsBookshelf 

How to help kids prioritize reading during the school year as "Reader Leaders" by @donalynbooks @Scholastic 

© 2015 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

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent: Linda Urban

Book: Milo Speck, Accidental Agent
Author: Linda Urban
Pages: 272
Age Range: 7-10

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent, by Linda Urban, is a lightly illustrated fantasy for early middle grade readers about a boy who is sucked through a clothes dryer into a land of ogres. In Orgrgon, Milo learns that his fencing-salesman father has secrets, and that the long absence of his mother might have a more complex explanation. He finds himself on the run from ogres who want to eat him, or smash him, or both. He meets up with the (human) head of a secret organization, discovers that he has a way with turkeys, and struggles to make a difference as a tiny boy in a very large world.

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent is filled with kid-friendly, humorous details. Author Linda Urban leaves no stone unturned in her world-building. The ogres are greedy, near-sighted, and none too bright. Pun-like spelling errors abound, like the "Out of Odor" signs on a drinking fountain and an elevator, and the "Keep Calm and Carrion" inspirational banner. The local newspaper is called the Ogregonian, with a banner "All the News We Feel Like Printing."

Milo is a relatable character, longing for more attention from his traveling father, insecure about his small size, but with a core of steel when he needs it. His prickly relationship with a human girl he encounters in Ogregon will make readers like him even more, I think. 

Here's an opener sure to pull in young readers:

"Milo had read about magic before. He knew that kids in stories sometimes found magic in secret drawers or hidden away in attics, and he had always hoped that if he were to find magic, it would appear in the form of a mysterious silver coin or a doorway to an enchanted world. But when magic came to Milo Speck, it came in the form of a sock.

"Figures," said Milo."

And right there we see his idealism and his sense of humor. Perfect. 

There's also a bit of a technical bent to the story, involving the way that dryers are constructed. I like it when magic is mixed (or explained by) science, and Urban does a fine job here. As a small bonus, Urban also uses Milo Speck, Accidental Agent to explain what's happened to all of the socks lost in clothes dryers (see Chapter 2).

Mariano Epelbaum's pencil illustrations bring Milo to life, and convey the scale of the story (e.g. a tiny Milo peeking out from between the fingers of a gnarled hand with long, cracked fingernails).  

A note from the author at the end of Milo Speck, Accidental Agent says that Urban was inspired by the works of Roald Dahl and Edward Eager. I could  see the Dahl influence in the over-the-top nastiness of the ogres (for whom a primary delicacy is "boy"), as well as in the setup of a corporate headquarters that included rooms like "the Office of Bragging About Stuff". Eager's influence is more subtle, but there in the way that magic is more complicated than the characters expect, or are prepared for. 

In any event, I think that kids will enjoy Milo Speck, Accidental Agent, and will look forward to Milo's future adventures (one significant mystery remains unsolved - there will surely be at least one more book). And if, as Urban suggests, this book leads them onward to Dahl and Eager, that's a happy outcome, too. Milo Speck would make a fun classroom read-aloud, and is definitely one to look at for elementary school libraries. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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).

Literacy Milestone: Being Aware of Book Awards

LiteracyMilestoneAAs my daughter and I have read picture books over the years, I've started each read by telling her the author and title of each book. Sometimes I'll add something about the publisher, where the book came from, or whether I've met the author. Occasionally, I'll point out the Caldecott medal or honor sticker on a book, but I've never made too much of this. [Must get some Cybils stickers to add to my Cybils-winning books.]

You can imagine my surprise when we started reading Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type the other morning. My daughter pointed to the Caldecott Honor sticker on the cover and said: "This means that this book is really famous." We then got into a discussion about the silver stickers vs. the gold ones. It went over her had when I said that The Adventures of Beekle has a gold sticker, but that our copy doesn't have the sticker. She did, however, recall the sticker on the cover of Officer Buckle and Gloria, which we had read just a few days before. 

I thought it was interesting that she understood that the award-winning books were famous, without necessarily having an idea of whether they would be good or not. If she can grasp that a particular book might be award-winning, but still not necessarily her personal cup of tea, then I think we'll be in good shape. 

© 2015 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 Copper Gauntlet: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Book: The Copper Gauntlet (Magisterium, Book 2)
Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Pages: 272
Age Range: 8-12

The Copper Gauntlet is the second book in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, following The Iron TrialAs The Copper Gauntlet begins, protagonist Call is looking forward to returning to the Magisterium for his second year of school, his Copper year. He is deeply concerned that the revelations from the end of book 1 will become known by his friends. Even more, he is worried that he himself may be evil. He constantly tests his own own motives, wondering if they are good, or are those of an "Evil Overlord." When evidence suggests that his own father may believe him to be evil, Call goes on the run with his Chaos-ridden dog, Havoc. But it turns out that school may not be safe for Call, or for his friends, either. 

As in the Harry Potter series, the Magisterium books are about a boy with an unusual background who attends a secret magical school. The boy is uniquely qualified to help the magical community face a dangerous villain. This similarity in theme makes the Magisterium books an excellent followup to the Harry Potter series. Happily (in the interest of being interesting), the detail of Black and Clare's worldbuilding departs considerably from that of J.K. Rowling. The Magisterium, located in a series of underground caves, is gloomy and atmospheric, but with occasional fun touches (like eating entirely lichen-based food, and watching movies controlled by mages, where the ending changes). It feels unique as a setting. The world outside of the school is both more modern and more American than Rowling's England, with cell phones and GPS and the like. The Magisterium series is highly accessible all around. 

But back to this second book. Although I enjoyed The Copper Gauntlet, I must admit that I didn't love it as much as I did The Iron Trial. This may be due to second-book-in-a-series phenomenon. The world that Black and Clare have built is already familiar, as are the characters. This makes the book less fresh and new. And because this isn't the final book in the series, the stakes aren't as high as they might be. This is a tough thing to overcome. However, in this case, I think part of my issue was that only a fairly small portion of The Copper Gauntlet actually takes place at the Magisterium. And I missed it. The twists were also not as epic as in the first book.

I do really like Call, though. As if it wasn't enough for him to be saddled with a misanthropic father and a bad leg, he now has to cope with the legacy of having the soul of an Evil Overlord. He certainly has his moments of being grouchy about these things. But he keeps going. He remains loyal to his friends (and his dog), and he worries about this, but he keeps his sense of humor. Like this:

"What movie do you want to see?" Call asked, figuring that Evil Overlords didn't consider the movie choices of others. That had to count for something." (Page 7)

And this:

"Call desperately wished he could see whatever was on that paper. The problem with having a horrible secret was that any time anything happened, Call worried it had something to do with him." (Page 87)

I also appreciate the depth of Call's relationships with the other characters. Aaron and Tamara aren't just his best friends and apprentice-mates. He's jealous of them sometimes, and prickly. But they have their own issues. Chaos-mage Aaron is especially likable. At one point he delays the group from an escape, and we read:

""Uh, Aaron," Call said. "We're kind of in a hurry."

Aaron looked helpless. He clearly didn't want to be rude. Social pressure was, apparently, his kryptonite." (Page 129)

The bottom line is that fans of The Iron Trial will certainly not want to miss The Copper Gauntlet. The authors' worldbuilding and characterization remain strong, and The Copper Gauntlet, while not quite as twisty as The Iron Trial, has plenty of action. I am looking forward already to reading Book 3, and finding out what happens next to Call and his friends. 

Publisher: Scholastic Press (@Scholastic
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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).

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier: Michelle Cuevas

Book: Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier
Author: Michelle Cuevas
Pages: 176
Age Range: 8-12

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier is, as you would expect from the title, the first person tale of a boy who learns, gradually, that he is in fact the imaginary friend of a girl named Fleur. Jacques starts out telling the reader about his twin sister and his parents. He laments the fact that people don't seem to like him, not picking him for the soccer team, or calling on him in class. When another imaginary friend clues him in to reality, he resists for a while, and ends up in group therapy, but eventually accepts his fate. From there, a slightly surreal journey of self-discovery ensues. 

I found this to be a kid-friendly premise, well-executed. The story calls to mind the recent Caldecott winning picture book The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat. I was also reminded a bit of the Toy Story movies. But Michelle Cuevas' rendition of life as an imaginary friend offers a variety of unique twists, like the fact that the dog can apparently see the imaginary friend. There is even a bureaucracy involving moving from one imaginary friend position to another, with an after hours hotline for "imaginary emergencies". It is fun stuff!  

Despite not being technically real, Jacques is a fully rounded character, with his own interests and a distinctive voice. Like this:

"Maurice was old. I don't mean grandparent old or even great-grandparent old. I mean old. Old like the candles on his birthday cake cost more than the cake. Old like his memories were in black and white. (Page 10)

"I became very blue.

Okay, I'll be honest, that's an understatement. I was way beyond blue. I moved into shades of navy and indigo and midnight. I got so low, my insides must have turned the color of deep space, of burned campfire, of the dark up a dragon's nose in a dungeon." (Page 41)

I liked Jacque's "parents", too, especially the dad. They've supported Fleur's imaginary friend ideas to an impressive degree (bunk beds, a place at the table, etc.). But as Fleur reaches 8 years old, as convinced as ever that Jacques is real, they start to have their doubts:

"THAT'S IT! I've had it! This is just ... just ...  too much imagination!" he yelled. He stood in his robe, his hair on end like a madman. "It's just too many layers," he continued. "A girl having an imaginary friend is one thing. But an imaginary friend who has his own imaginary friend? No, no, it's too much. It's like a nesting doll of imagination! It's like a painting of a painting! It's like the wind catching a chill from the wind, or a wave taking a dip in the ocean. It's like reading a novel that merely describes another novel." (Page 30)

While much of Confessions of an Imaginary Friend involves over-the-top humor, this is a story that addresses profound questions about one's sense of self. When Jacques learns that he isn't real, Fleur wonders if she might also be imaginary. Because if Jacques always thought that he was real but wasn't, why couldn't that happen to anyone? Then later, Jacques has to figure out what makes him himself, even if the details of his appearance change. Some of this may be beyond the comprehension of the eight-year-old reader, but I believe that Confessions of an Imaginary Friend will still work, even without a full grasp of the subtleties. 

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend is a middle grade title that welcomes newer readers. The sixty chapters are extremely short (~3 pages each), the lines are wide-spaced, and the book is lightly illustrated with small sketches by the author. However, I think that Confessions of an Imaginary Friend will also work for older readers, particularly those who are starting to wonder what it is that makes them special. It would make a wonderful classroom read-aloud, and it's one that is going on my keep shelf for when my daughter is a bit older. Definitely recommended!

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (@PenguinKids) 
Publication Date: September 8,2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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).

Where's Walrus? And Penguin? Stephen Savage

Book: Where's Walrus? And Penguin?
Author: Stephen Savage
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-5

Stephen Savage's Where's Walrus? (reviewed here) was a 2011 Cybils Fiction Picture Book nominee. After reading a library copy of this wordless picture book, I ended up purchasing a copy for my daughter. Walrus has been a family favorite ever since. Thus my daughter and I were both delighted when a sequel showed up on our doorstep recently: Where's Walrus? And Penguin?. I think that the sequel is even funnier than the original book.

Where's Walrus? And Penguin? follows a similar pattern to the first book, a consistency that will be comforting to Savage's target audience of preschoolers. In this installment, the crowds thin out one rainy day at the zoo. So Walrus decides to take a little jaunt out into the city, dragging a small penguin with him. The ever-determined (though not so observant) zookeeper follows them. 

To avoid the zookeeper, Walrus and Penguin disguise themselves as, among other things, a mother holding a swaddled baby, a limo driver and passenger, and a conductor and opera singer. Having a sidekick gives Walrus a bit more scope for his disguises. I laughed out loud to see Penguin disguised as a pigeon, being fed from a park bench by Walrus. And I was a bit surprised to find the duo playing professional baseball. But all of it was entertaining. 

A twist arises towards the end of the book, as Walrus, after a minor injury, meets a nurse who is also a walrus. The ending is highly satisfying (and really, no more implausible than the rest of the book, if you stop to think about it. A penguin driving a limo?)

Where's Walrus? And Penguin? is a wonderful book for preschoolers. There's plenty of humor, as well as scope for interactivity. Kids will look for both Walrus and Penguin on each page, and giggle when they find them. Although there is a plotline, of sorts, the seek and find aspect of the story makes Where's Walrus? And Penguin? a book that preschoolers can happily look through on their own, a boon to parents everywhere. 

Where's Walrus? And Penguin? is a must-purchase for public library collections, and would be a nice addition to home libraries, too. Certainly I am happy to be adding it to ours. Highly recommended for preschool audiences. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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).