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Posts from October 2015

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: October 30

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. The roundup a bit of a light week this week because I had some travel for work. I'll get you caught up for next week. Topics this week do include book lists, Halloween books, diverse books, picture book month, literacy activities, #KidLitCon, Tracey Baptiste, Carrie Mesrobian, prioritizing, depiction of slavery, schools, and poetry. 

Book Lists (Halloween-ish Lists at the Top)

Halloween Books for Kids, grouped by age range up to 13, from Bex at Adventures in #Literacy Land

KidPages: Four Favorite Picture Books About Ghosts (w/ detailed recommendations) from @SunlitPages

Halloween #PictureBooks: 5 new favorites (ages 4-9) from @MaryAnnScheuer

All Treats, Not Tricks: Some Books for Halloween, a #BookList from @randomlyreading 

Roundup of The Stars So Far in #kidlit + #YA @PWKidsBookshelf via @ehbluemle @100scopenotes

Top 10 books about adoption, chosen by adopted children @GuardianBooks for UK National Adoption Week, via @tashrow

Read Aloud Chapter Books for Every Type of Parent, from those who love animals to those who want silly @momandkiddo

List of #YA novels featuring Parallel Worlds (not alt histories) from @kimberlymarief at Stacked 

12 Amazing #YA Books By Latino Authors You Wont Be Able To Put Down, by Farrah Penn @buzzfeed  via @PWKidsBookshelf


Leila Rasheed on writer development scheme aimed at increasing #diversity in #kidlit @MegaphoneWrite @AwfullyBigBlog

Events + Programs

PictureBookMonthComing Soon: November is Picture Book Month! A reminder from @100scopenotes#PictureBookMonth

The November #kidlit Activity Calendar from @MrSchuReads is now available #PictureBookMonth + more! 

Growing Bookworms

10 #Literacy Activities About Monsters, including Monster Stomp action rhyme, from @mrskatiefitz

Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep, October 2015 from @mrskatiefitz w/ baby + toddler book picks 


2015-KidLitConLogoSquareLinks to various #KidLitCon 2015 Recaps available at the @KidLitCon blog:

Don't miss @CarrieMesrobian 's keynote speech from #KidLitCon 2015, now available on YouTube thx to @SheilaRuth

Now live on YouTube! @TraceyBaptiste 's Keynote Speech from #KidLitCon 2015 w/ intro by @SheilaRuth


I really like this manta for prioritizing by @SunlitPages | Secrets of Adulthood #2: I'd Rather Read Than Waste Time

Guest post by @catagator at @twloha | Five Lies Depression Told Me (starting with "that I did not have depression")

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Response to concerns about the depiction of Slavery in A Fine Dessert by @SophieBlackall

#KidLit Conspiracy Theories: Are Harold and his Purple Crayon in Journey? (+ Quest) | @MrBenjiMartin  @storybreathing

You Have to Read the Book: "critiquing a book or reviewing it requires knowledge of the entire book." @fuseeight 


Giftedness: How to Identify, Develop & Support It: Ideas for parents + teachers from @TrevorHCairney 

Schools and Libraries

10 Tips to Get HS Students (+ more) Interested in AND Excited about #Poetry w/ @KwameAlexander by @JoEllenMcCarthy

Sigh. Our high school kids: tired, stressed and bored by @gtoppo via @thereadingzone

On Slow Readers and What It Means for Student Reading Identity - a defense of taking your time from @PernilleRipp

© 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.

Death by Toilet Paper: Donna Gephart

Book: Death by Toilet Paper
Author: Donna Gephart
Pages: 272
Age Range: 9-12

Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart is a quick and humorous read that manages to cover quite a bit of ground. 7th grader Benjamin and his mother are suffering financially following the death of Benjamin's father the previous year. Although his mother is close to completing her CPA certification (and thus improving their fortunes), they are at risk of being evicted from their apartment in the meantime.

Benjamin tries to help raise money by entering a variety of contests, including one involving toilet paper. He also sets up a small business selling candy at school. This stressful time becomes more complicated when Benjamin's grandfather arrives unexpectedly on their doorstep, and appears to be having memory problems.  

Although there's a lot going on in this book, and some of it is serious stuff, the overall tone of Death by Toilet Paper is, as you would expect from the title and the cover, reasonably light. Definitely middle grade friendly. There's a series of letters included throughout the story between Benjamin and an executive from the Royal-T Toilet Paper Company. And there are toilet-related facts included at the start of each chapter. Like:

"Toilet paper for the average person was invented by an American, Joseph Gayetty, in 1857 but didn't catch on for a while. In those days, housewives had to ask the grocer for every item, and many were too embarrassed to ask for toilet paper." (Page 35)

One thing that particularly stands out in Death by Toilet Paper is the direct way that Gephart addresses money. Benjamin knows exactly what the rent is each month, and what his mother makes in her temporary waitressing job, and how much his mother gets for Benjamin from social security (following the death of his father). There are little math examples where he adds and subtracts these numbers to understand how much they owe vs. how much they have. His mother is, of necessity, completely open with him about their situation. I find that young readers are rarely exposed to this level of detail about finances, and I think that this makes a real contribution. [Only once of twice did the dialog regarding the finances feel forced to me - by and large it worked well.] 

In addition to socioeconomic diversity, Death by Toilet Paper also incorporates religious diversity. Benjamin and his family are Jewish. His grandfather, Zeyde, drops Yiddish expressions regularly - not so much as to make the book impenetrable, but enough to give readers a flavor for the Jewish culture. There are references to Jewish holiday, mourning and burial traditions, included quite organically within the text (see an example below). There is a brief glossary of Yiddish terms included at the end of the book. 

Benjamin's best friend, Toothpick, lives with his divorced father and only sees his mother occasionally. The relationship between the two boys is nicely-done, with realistic degrees of conflict, but ultimate loyalty. Toothpick's passion is shooting his own horror movies, and especially working on the makeup for these movies, which I found quirky and interesting. The relationships between Benjamin and Toothpick's dad, and between Toothpick and Benjamin's mom are believable, too. Even though both boys come from fractured families, they are also functional families with caring parents (and one grandparent, flawed but loving). 

Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Benjamin's voice:

"I grab a few crackers and chow down, pretending they're hot, gooey slices of Kirk's Pizza--my favorite kind. Unfortunately, when it comes to pretending food is something it isn't, my imagination is weak. 

And my imagination is apparenty weak when it comes to creating grand-prize-winning ideas, too. Royal-T, from the finest tree, makes you clean and happy. Awful. Use Royal-T and you'll see it's the best there can be. Hopeless." (Page 21)


"I know he's joking, because every time Zeyde visits, he always goes into my room to say hello to Barkley. And last Chanukah, he bought Barkley a castle to go inside his tank. Dad died shortly before Chanukah. I remember feeling miserable that Dad didn't get to see Barkley's new castle. Or light the candles with us. Or eat latkes with applesauce--his favorite dish." Page 67)

Benjamin is moody, sometimes sad, and frequently self-doubting. But he's hopeful and determined, too. I enjoyed reading about him. Death by Toilet Paper is more serious than one would expect based on the title and cover. But the presence of toilet humor, zombie makeup, and an over-the-top grandfather help to keep things light. It's rare to see family finances addressed so directly in a middle grade book, particularly in a book that is so multi-dimensional overall. For this reason, and because of the mix of humor and heart, I think that Death by Toilet Paper would be an excellent choice for elementary and middle school libraries. Recommended for readers of all ages. 

Publisher: Yearling Books (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: July 28, 2015 (paperback edition)
Source of Book: Personal copy (purchased). The author does read my blog. I have emailed with her on many occasions, though we have not met in person. She did not ask me to review the book, nor did we have any discussions specific to the book. 

© 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).

The Way Back from Broken: Amber J. Keyser

Book: The Way Back from Broken
Author: Amber J. Keyser
Pages: 216
Age Range: 13 and up

The Way Back from Broken by Amber J. Keyser is a young adult novel about recovering from grief, with generous helpings of interpersonal relationships, diversity, and outdoor adventure. 15-year-old Rakmen, a city kid from North Portland (OR) is struggling 10 months after the death of his baby sister. He's not doing well in school, doesn't care about playing basketball with his friends anymore, and fears that his parents' marriage is breaking up. As things deteriorate further, Rakmen's parents end up sending him to the Canadian wilderness for the summer with Leah, who has recently lost a baby, and her 9-year-old daughter Jacey. There, the three mis-matched lost souls have an adventure, and also start to form a new sort of family. 

The Way Back from Broken is most suitable to young adults (and adults), with a bit of language and references to suicide. The grief of the characters is often searing, and I think it would be a bit much for younger kids. At the start of the book I wondered "why would I put myself through reading this?". But Rakmen's voice (limited third person perspective) pulled me in. And I'm glad that it did. The Way Back from Broken is powerful and unflinching but ultimately hopeful. 

Keyser does a nice job of incorporating diversity organically in The Way Back from Broken. Rakmen's dad is (apparently) black, his mother is Mexican. The grief counseling center that Rakmen and his mom visit groups them together with black and white families from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, their shared grief building bridges that would otherwise be unlikely. The tentatively developing friendship between Rakmen and a white girl named Molly is handled in a way that felt realistic to me. There's awkwardness when Rakmen's friend teases him about Molly, and even more awkwardness when she and her parents attend a cookout at Rakmen's home. None of this diversity is what the book is about - but it renders the interpersonal relationships more layered and interesting. 

Keyser's prose is descriptive, using all of the senses, yet without slowing the pace of the book. Here are a couple of the passages that I flagged:

"Rakmen breathed in the summer evening--the bite of diesel in the air, garden dirt, and burgers cooking next door. This was what he knew, but it no longer felt like home. He was a runaway truck with burned out brakes. The ache that filled Rakmen pulsed in his bones, white-cold and penetratingly deep. With leaden arms, he hoisted his duffel into the trunk." (Page 60)

"As he picked up the paddle and thrust the canoe into deeper water, his open blister burned against the wooden shaft, and every muscle in his arms and torso screamed in protest. Au large was the perfect torture, he though. When you can't walk anymore, you paddle. When your hands are about to fall off, you hike. And every single part of your body ends up hurting." (Page 123)

The later part of the book is suspenseful. I read The Way Back from Broken in just about one sitting, engaged because of the action that takes place, but also because I cared about the characters. The relationship between Rakmen and Jacey is particularly well-done, built slowly and steadily over the course of the book. The Way Back from Broken is a book that will stay with me. Highly recommended for teen and adult readers. 

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab 
Publication Date: October 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: October 23

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. It was a bit of a light week this week (particularly compared with last week). Still, topics this week include Astrid Lindgren Award, Caldecott Award, Halloween books, book lists, diversity, gender, #StoriesForAll, #KidLitCon, libraries, growing bookworms, reluctant readers, readcations, reading, and The Hired Girl. 


Which month has birthed (seen published) the most Caldecott Medals? @100scopenotes has a handy chart #kidlit  

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award Longlist has been announced | @tashrow has the scoop + some American + UK nominees 

Book Lists

Top 10 Halloween Picture Book Read Alouds according to @MrBenjiMartin (includes Creepy Carrots + The Dark) 

Monster Mayhem | Great #PictureBook Read-Alouds for Inspiring Shivers and Giggles | Joy Fleishhacker @sljournal 

#PictureBooks to Read for National Reptile Day! a #BookList from @rosemondcates 

#PictureBooks that Teach Kids About the Writing Process, a #BookList from @ThisReadingMama  

14 Favorite Books for 4-5 Year Olds from @growingbbb | Bill Peet, Chris Van Dusen, @BobStaake + more 

Graphic Novel is a Format, Not a Genre, by @MaryLeeHahn for #GNCelebration w/ #BookList 

Diversity + Gender

Recommended Children's-YA Books and Related Resources for LGBTQ Youth from @leewind via @CynLeitichSmith #CASC15 

"When you don’t know any PoC, even with the best research in the world, you’ll get things wrong." @JustineLavaworm 

"No one should be writing for boys. Or writing for girls. Please don’t do that." @Jon_Scieszka for #StoriesForAll 

"I also hope my work opens up the world a bit for readers who are not black, not female @reneewauthor #StoriesForAll 

For #StoriesForAll @Everead is thinking about our culture + gender in books (w/ link to fab #PrincessInBlack review)  

15+ Strong & Fierce Princess Chapter Books both Boys + Girls Will Love, from @momandkiddo #StoriesForAll 

Noting that "science books that specifically speak to women and girls" are rare @LoreeGBurns shares 2 @NerdyBookClub 

Events + Programs

"Jungle Books" Library in the Calais Refugee Camps, "a haven of peace and quiet", by Tess Berry-Hart @AwfullyBigBlog  

This I love. Bus service partners w/ libraries, targets young riders w/ storytimes, songs @thebulletin via @tashrow 

2 out of 3 Kids Living in Poverty Don’t Own Books. Help w/ Picture Book Pass it On #PBPiO challenge says @Lauri14o 

Growing Bookworms

13 Children's #Literacy Activities About Spiders from @mrskatiefitz (e.g. Play name game w/ The Silly Willy Spider) 

Integrating Reading Into Everyday Life for Reluctant Readers, e.g. "Introduce Pig Latin" | @Scholastic Parent+Child 

Why kids still need ‘real books’ to read +time in school to enjoy them @ValerieStrauss @washingtonpost @NancieAtwell  

Exploring Onomatopoeia (words which mimic the sound something makes) with Kids @BookChook 

Moving Beyond the "Just Right" Book Conversation, balancing self-selection w/ books that are a good match @cathymere  


2015-KidLitConLogoSquare#KidLitCon 2015 (+ Baltimore) in Pictures from @Book_Nut including #Cybils birthday cake  

Kickin’ Back With #KidLitCon, guest post by @afrocubansista @LatinosInKidLit on intersectionality, being a POC +more 

A Middle Grade Librarian Spills Secrets @TheKidliterati interviews @MsYingling | Books for boys, unmet needs + more 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Tips for Taking a Readcation (one of my favorite things, a staycation with books) from @catagator @bookriot 

Top 10 Fictional Places in Literature by Isabelle Sudron @NerdyBookClub | For me it would be ZKSnyder's Velvet Room 

We don’t commit to reading + writing once in our lives. We recommit to reading + writing again + again @donalynbooks 

New Pew Survey Finds Young Adults (18-29) Reading More Than Adults @PublishersWkly 

Book Advisory from @semicolonblog inc. seeds+botany, long picture books + chapter books for 5 y.o. strong readers 

Lots of discussion here: Are Historical Heroes Allowed to Have Prejudices in Children’s Literature? asks @fuseeight 

Which book will hurt which reader how? @RogerReads continues discussion from @FuseEight on The Hired Girl (+more) 

Another controversy discussed @fuseeight Hands Off, Hussy! Hot Men of Children’s Literature Under (Too Little?) Fire 

Another viewpoint from @amyeileenk on a recent topic | Problematic Trust: Why We Can't Just "Trust Child Readers"  

.@HMHKids Debuts Kids’ Digital Subscription Service w/ interactive digital content for 3-7 year olds  @PublishersWkly

Interesting: Kids Want Factual Stories, Versus Fantasy, More Often Than Adults @TaniaLombrozo @NPR @PWKidsBookshelf 


For parents: How to Have Courageous Conversations With Your Child’s Teacher (plus a word for teachers) @PernilleRipp 

Some ideas for parents to get better answers to "What Did You Do Today?" + ways teachers can help 

© 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

Tulip and Rex Write a Story: Alyssa Satin Capucilli and Sarah Massini

Book: Tulip and Rex Write a Story
Author: Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Illustrator: Sarah Massini
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

Tulip and Rex Write a Story is the sequel to Tulip Loves Rex, written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and illustrated by Sarah Massini. In Tulip and Rex Write a Story, young Tulip plans to spend the day with her beloved and unusual dog Rex. When a package arrives from Grandma containing a pretty notebook for Tulip and a new leash for Rex, they decide to head out for a walk / neighborhood exploration. As Tulip and Rex notice the "wonderful" words that mark their experiences, Tulip starts jotting the words down in her notebook. Eventually, she realizes that she can transform the words, and her experiences, into a story. Readers get a glimpse into Tulip and Rex's story before the book ends with a cheerful family picnic. 

As an adult reader, I found this book to be a bit too contrived, as Tulip putters about putting words like "butterfly" into her journal. But I think that kids who are just learning to read themselves will enjoy it, and might even be inspired to think about making up their own stories. Here's a snippet of the word-finding:

"Just then, a butterfly landed atop Rex's nose!
"Butterflies flutter, Rex. Flutter, flutter.
Flutter is a lovely word, don't you think?

Rex wagged his tail. Flutter
was a lovely word; it tickled, too!
Into the notebook it went!

And butterfly, too."

Here "Flutter" and "butterfly" are shown in a large, orange font (not quite the same color shown here), clearly standing out from the rest of the text. Later, when some of the words from the notebook make their way into Tulip's story, they are colored also. Sort of a vocabulary recap. Like this:

"But wait! There came a 
feather floating from the sky.
It was no ordinary feature; why,
it seemed to dance! King Rex
grasped the magical feather and
held it aloft and, as if he had the
wings of a butterfly, Kind Rex
sailed across the moat and--"

The story within the story isn't finished - leaving kids to imagine for themselves how it might end. 

I also do quite like Massini's illustrations. The joy of both Tulip and Rex comes through, with the dog a large, benign presence on every page. I also like how, in both text and illustrations, the authors make the parents recede to the background. If you were just reading the text, you might think that Tulip and Rex are out exploring on their own for most of the book. But Massini shows the parents periodically, always in the background, barely visible, but present. Adults reading this book to children can reassure anxious kids that yes, Mommy and Daddy are nearby. 

Fans of Tulip Loves Rex will certainly want to give Tulip and Rex Write a Story a look. While it doesn't have the same emphasis that the first book does on dance, it does convey the same joyful exuberance of the characters. I think this book will also work for kids just on the cusp of being readers and writers, who are intrigued by words. It would pair well with Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills, and could make an interesting (if slightly lengthy) classroom read-aloud. 

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (@HarperChildrens
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).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: October 21

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 four book reviews (picture book through early chapter book). I also have two posts with literacy and reading links that I shared on Twitter recently, and two posts with my daughter's latest literacy milestones (writing her first story, and critiquing illustrations in a book).

Reading Update: In the past two weeks I finished three middle grade and five young adult titles. I had extra reading time because I spent one weekend at KidLitCon (with two cross-country flights by myself) and then had a miniature readcation when my husband took my daughter away overnight the next weekend. The three YA novels that I read on the KidLitCon trip were purchased solely for my own recreational reading, and though I enjoyed them, and have notes below, I won't be writing formal reviews. I read/listened to:

  • Kristen Kittscher: The Tiara on the Terrace. HarperCollins. Middle Grade Fiction (Mystery). Completed October 16, 2015, printed ARC. Review to come, closer to January 2016 publication. This book is the sequel to The Wig in the Window
  • Paul Tobin (ill. Thierry Lafontaine): How to Capture an Invisible Cat (The Genius Factor, Book 1). Bloomsbury USA Children's. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed October 17, 2015, printed ARC. Review to come, closer to March 2016 publication. This is the first of what promised to be a very fun new five book series. 
  • Donna Gephart: Death by Toilet Paper. Yearling. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed October 18, 2015. Review scheduled for next week. 
  • Gwenda Bond: Fallout (Lois Lane). Switch Press. Young Adult. Completed October 8, 2015, on Kindle. This book about a teenage Lois Lane is such fun! I can't wait for additional books in the series. Highly recommended!
  • Michelle Painchaud: Pretending to Be Erica. Viking Books for Young Readers. Young Adult. Completed October 11, 2015, on Kindle. This book about a teen con artist imitating a lost girl was interesting, and a quicker read than I expected, with a satisfying conclusion. 
  • Jennifer Latham: Scarlett Undercover. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Young Adult. Completed October 11, 2015, on Kindle. This book, about a teen private eye, has crime-solving, ethnic diversity, and supernatural elements. I enjoyed it, but I found that a central coincidence took me out of the story a bit. 
  • Ransom Riggs: Library of Souls: The Third Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children. Quirk Books. Middle School / Young Adult. Completed October 15, 2015, on MP3. This conclusion to the Miss Peregrine series was enjoyable and satisfying, though things dragged out a bit longer than I expected after the dramatic conclusion. 
  • Amber J. Keyser: The Way Back from Broken. Carolrhoda Lab. Young Adult Fiction. Completed October 18, 2015. Review scheduled for next week. 

I'm reading Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin and listening to the third Lockwood & Co. mystery by Jonathan Stroud: The Hollow Boy. The books my husband and I have been reading to our daughter can be found here. She remains very interested in the Magic Tree House books, which she refers to simply as "Jack and Annie books". She's also been dabbling in reading aloud to me at bedtime. She "read" me the wordless picture book Where's Walrus by Stephen Savage the other night. She had wanted to read the sequel, Where's Walrus? And Penguin?  but we were both too tired to get out of bed to look for it. So she just pretended that Penguin was in this book, too, always hidden behind something in the pictures. 

She's also been enjoying Human Body Theater, a comic format book full of facts about the human body. I learned about this book from Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production, who mentioned that he four year old daughter liked it. Because my daughter has been obsessed with facts about the human body, viruses, vaccines, etc., this seemed like a perfect fit. And it is, though we are taking it in small doses. She now knows what type of atoms make up a glucose module - which will be useful when she gets to college-level chemistry. 

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

Austin, Lost in America: Jef Czekaj

Book: Austin, Lost in America: A Geography Adventure
Author: Jef Czekaj
Pages: 40
Age Range: 6-9 (picture book for older kids)

Austin, Lost in America: A Geography Adventure is a picture book that seems best suited to first through third-graders. Austin is a dog in search of a home. He breaks out of his pet shop and embarks up on a criss-cross country journey through all 50 states, looking for the one that feels best. As he visits each state (usually over less than a page), author Jef Czekaj shares tidbits about that state. Each spread also includes a small map of the state with the capitol labeled. 

The tidbits about each state are quirky things that kids are likely to find amusing or interesting, like: "Every year, Brattleboro, Vermont hosts the Strolling of the Heifers, a parade of cows down its main street." Austin is displayed in some scene that matches the tidbit (e.g marching down the street ahead of a pack of cows, waving a baton). 

There's also an over-the-top narrative tying together the facts about each state and indicating why that state isn't the right one for Austin. Like this:

"Florida had to be it! It was warm. It was sunny. Austin ate oranges. He sunbathed. He swam with manatees. This would be the perfect place to live. (Image of Austin with sunglasses on a beach)

He even got invite to a dinner party. (Image of an alligator opening the door for Austin)

But when he discovered that he was to be the main course, he knew it was time to go." (Image of Austin lying on a dining room table, surrounded by alligators and crocodiles)

Austin, Lost in America is vividly illustrated and full of unusual and or amusing facts. It is, however, rather lengthy for a picture book. I can't imagine that preschoolers would have the patience for it. I myself was a bit daunted at the idea of reading about each and every state, with only a minimal thread tying the different sections together. But I do think that for first to third graders who are interested in learning more about the United States, Austin, Lost in America offers a plethora of facts in a non-intimidating context. It's probably more a book to dip into occasionally than a book to read through, cover to cover. But it is a fun and informative ride across the country. 

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (@HarperChildrens
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: Critiquing the Illustrations

LiteracyMilestoneALast night my daughter and I were reading one of our long-time favorite books (Chicken Soup, by Jean Van Leeuwen and David Garvil) when she surprised me by offering a critique of one of the illustrations. Our interchange went like this:

Child: "They didn't do a very good job."

Me: "The sheep?" (There are sheep on this page, and proximity to their wool has made Little Chickie sneeze.)

Child: "No, the person drawing. His beak isn't even touching the wool. It wouldn't make him sneeze."

Me: "OK...."

Child: "Maybe we could draw lines to fix it, since it's our book." 

Just to be clear, she still enjoyed the book. She particularly likes to read Chicken Soup when she is sick herself. But she has reached the stage where she can like a book overall, but still criticize something specific about it. I think this is an important milestone in her developing life as a reader. 

Speaking of her life as a reader, you all might appreciate this. The other night she came home from a playdate. She referred to her hostess as "the main character of the playdate." I found this rather charming. A friend pointed out on Facebook that it was fortunate that she didn't refer to her hostess as the "antagonist." 

Thanks for reading! Wishing you all a book-filled weekend. 

© 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: October 16

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. I'm not sharing links here to posts with Cybils nomination suggestions, since the Cybils public nominations are now closed. Nor am I sharing my #KidLitCon tweets from last weekend. There are many, but few contain links.

I do have links to a couple of #KidLitCon recaps. I also have links to tons of posts shared during the week for the #StoriesForAll initiative (kicked off here by Shannon Hale), which aims to encourage boys and girls to read ALL sorts of books, not just books "for boys" or "for girls". 

Other topics this week include book awards, book lists, diverse books, Halloween, poetry, growing bookworms, reading aloud, Alice in Wonderland, and school libraries. 


LOLBookAward.@Scholastic launches prize for funny children's books in the UK, w/ Michael Rosen as head judge | @TheBookseller  

Finalists for National Book Award in Young People’s Literature have been announced | @tashrow has the scoop 

Book Lists

They always read great books at @momandkiddo 's house. Here are: Favorite Children's #PictureBooks of 2015 (Part 3) 

8 Not-So-Scary #PictureBooks for Halloween | a #BookList from @denabooks @ReadBrightly 

Big categorized list of Favorite Halloween Books for kids from @rebeccazdunn (pumpkins, trick-or-teating, cats, etc) 

Here is a lovely list of #Diverse Chapter Books from @abbylibrarian, who welcomes suggestions for more #kidlit  

10 Graphic Novels Recommended by 3rd Graders from @frankisibberson for #GNCelebration  #BookList

A Tuesday Ten from @TesseractViews : 2015 Alternate Histories in #kidlit | Fun to see so many. 

6 Great Middle Grade Fantasies Starring Sisters from @charlotteslib @BNKids  #kidlit #BookList

Really scary middle grade titles, selected by @KidLitChick @HornBook #kidlit 

Stories About Refugees: A #YALit Reading List from @catagator at Stacked 

Interracial Romance In (and on) YA Books: A Guest Post from @afrocubansista at Stacked @catagator #DiverseBooks 


New post on the #Cybils blog | On #DiverseBooks for Kids, Agendas, and More from blog co-editor @aquafortis

Diversity + Gender (including #StoriesForAll)

Must-read/discuss post from @haleshannon on gendered reading + damage it causes boys + girls. #StoriesForAll  @BWKids

"don’t let anyone convince you that what you want to read wasn’t written for you" Maya Van Wagenen on #StoriesForAll  

Great post from librarian Margaret Millward how she got kids reading boy AND girl books #StoriesForAll @haleshannon 

"books are empathy bombs with the gigatons necessary to blow apart our biases" @writerMattKirby #StoriesForAll 

"Flipping the script on ... cultural norms and expectations is a great deal of fun!" @KeklaMagoon #StoriesForAll 

"I know I am a better man for having been able to read books that appealed to me" Calvin Crosby on #StoriesForAll 

"We read to understand the “other”, to build empathy, to appreciate nuance" RebeccaRichardson #StoriesForAll  @BWKids

Varian Johnson on how he read Judy Blume as a kid: "These books are for readers, period."  #StoriesForAll @BWKids

Suzanna Hermans on how booksellers work to transcend "boy books" vs. "girl books" #StoriesForAll  @BWKids @oblongirl

“I didn’t raise ‘girls’. I raised people." A story about @MelissadelaCruz 's dad for #StoriesForAll  @BWKids

6 Key Points from the UK Study on #Diversity in Publishing | @LEEandLOW #DiverseBooks 

Events + Programs

Lots of celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland | @medinger has the scoop on many  

Fun! Librarian Shares Her Love of Books with a Bike-powered Mobile Library in SF - @shareable via @tashrow 

Read With @ReadingRainbow This Saturday In Dewey's 24 Hour @ReadAThon (Yes, parents and kids, that means YOU!) 

Growing Bookworms

I was not aware of this phenomen: How to Spot a Fake (Reader) by Laura Lambert @ReadBrightly 

A bittersweet #ReadAloud Milestone: when your child reads ahead on his own, by @DefineMother @NerdyBookClub 

Helping Children to Love #Poetry: 9 ideas and some books, recommended by @TrevorHCairney  

5 Tips for Reading to Babies Every Day from @growingbbb | e.g. "Read when baby wakes up" 

Useful advice: How to Help Your Child Transition to Chapter Books by @ImaginationSoup @ReadBrightly  #literacy

High Interest Low Readability Books for Struggling Readers (+ why such books are important) from @ThisReadingMama 

Top 10 #Literacy Tips for Teens from Carla at Adventures in Literacy Land, e.g. "Tap into the enthusiasm for Tech" 

Nice! I'll Never Stop Reading Bedtime Stories to My Kid, No Matter How Old He Gets | @DresdenPlaid @BabbleEditors 

10 #Literacy Activities About Pumpkins from @mrskatiefitz | eg "Act out the traditional Five Little Pumpkins rhyme" 

How We Can Help Our Book Abandoners? asks teacher @PernilleRipp | Start by sharing our own abandonments + why 

Kidlitosphere /#KidLitCon

KidLitCon2015GroupMaureenBlather- What I Learned at #Kidlitcon (+ some thoughts on possible blog changes + a fun picture) from @MsYingling [Photo taken by Maureen Kearney, shared by Ms. Yingling]

Quick #KidLitCon report @Everead "If you're thinking about going next year, just start planning now. So worth it."  

Plenty of interesting #kidlit stuff in today's Fusenews: In and out of the loop I go — @fuseeight

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

ThankYouBookMoBenji from Tales of an Elem School Librarian + I are both very sad about coming end to the Elephant & Piggie series  (Image from this post at 100 Scope Notes)

Now that she has a new job, @FuseEight keeps Finding MORE Children’s Literature references in Unexpected Places   

How do you read books? asks Miriam Halahmy @AwfullyBigBlog | There are many ways these days  #eBooks

Schools and Libraries

.@MrSchuReads on His New Role as @Scholastic Ambassador for School Libraries (aka cheerleader) by @roccoa @sljournal  

© 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 Night Before Christmas: Clement Moore and David Ercolini

Book: The Night Before Christmas
Author: Clement C. Moore
Illustrator: David Ercolini
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

If asked, I probably would have said that a new illustrated version of The Night Before Christmas, with the classic text by Clement C. Moore, was unnecessary. I would have been wrong. David Ercolini's brand-new version of this tale is hilarious, and offers great fun for preschool and kindergarten-age readers. 

The text is the straight-up traditional version. But in Ercolini's vision of the story, the narrator is Christmas-decoration-obsessed. His house has decorations on every imaginable surface. His roof features a giant Santa statue (shown on the cover with Santa's reindeer treating it as a tourist attraction). Even his truck sports reindeer antlers and a wreath. He's like a quirkier, more charming, Clark Griswold. When he hears the clatter, he is reading in bed to the light of a Christmas candle (headboard and footboard bedecked with ornaments), deep in a copy of "Home Decor: Christmas Issue". 

The house is paradise for Santa. There's a welcome sign on the chimney, and a welcome mat in the fireplace. Instead of the usual plate of cookies, there is an entire buffet of desserts, complete with a giant bowl of eggnog. You can tell that Santa considers this house a highlight of his journey.

There are other fun details, too. The mouse may not be stirring, but we can see him living in the partially eaten gingerbread house.  The cat, the dog, and mouse share their wish lists with Santa. The mouse gets a remote-control car, which Santa helps him drive. And all kinds of decorations have wide, round eyes which open when something is surprising. The sugarplums not only dance, they basically have a party. One of the reindeer wears a football helmet for some reason (all of them are unusual). In short, this is a book in which young readers will find something new and entertaining on every read. 

David Ercolini's version of The Night Before Christmas is fun and inventive, the perfect book to keep your preschooler occupied in the run-up towards Christmas. Beware, however, of it giving your kids ideas. My daughter now wants us to bake a cake for Santa. And if she could, I'm sure she'd have a mouse come to live in our gingerbread house. Highly recommended! This would be a great addition to library or home holiday collections. 

Publisher: Orchard Books (@Scholastic
Publication Date: September 29, 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).

Literacy Milestone: Writing Her First Story

LiteracyMilestoneAMy daughter came to my office the other day, very proud. She had written a story, and wanted to share it. The story consists of two sentences, followed by "The End". It is written in green magic marker on the front and back of a pink piece of paper. It involves various characters going to San Francisco.

Our nanny apparently facilitated this story-creation by writing a bunch of words on individual slips of paper, which my daughter could reorder and copy from. I didn't realize this at first, though I was a bit suspicious of her being able to write "San Francisco."  

But that's a detail. The point is that she wrote out her own story, and was excited to share it with me. We had to make two copies of the story, double-sided, to send to her grandparents. We are of course, keeping the original. I have a feeling (a hope) this will be the first of many. [She later that evening had my husband help her staple several pieces of paper together in book format, so that she can work on something a bit longer.]

Thanks for reading! 

© 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

West Meadows Detectives: The Case of the Snack Snatcher: Liam O'Donnell

Book: West Meadows Detectives: The Case of the Snack Snatcher
Author: Liam O'Donnell
Illustrator: Aurelie Grand
Pages: 128
Age Range: 7-10 (illustrated early chapter book)

The Case of the Snack Snatcher is the first book in the new West Meadows Detectives early chapter book series from Owl Kids. The Case of the Snack Snatcher is told from the perspective of Myron, who is starting as a new third grade student at West Meadows Elementary. Myron, who is autistic, spends his mornings in a special class, Room 15, though he is in a regular class in the afternoons.

On his very first day, Myron, who fancies himself a detective, sets out to solve a mystery involving the theft of the morning's snacks. He is soon joined in mystery-solving by fellow Room 15 denizen Hajrah (there because she "bounce(s) around too much"). Myron and Hajrah look for clues and experience intimidation by a couple of school bullies. They are supported and encouraged by the school's staff, particularly their teacher, Mr. Harpel.

Myron's voice works well. He clearly thinks in a different way than other kids do, but not in such a different way that young readers will find him hard to connect with. Some of his particular autistic traits serve him well as a detective (such as keen senses of smell and hearing). I was reminded of The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd, but The Case of the Snack Snatcher is more accessible for young readers. Like this:

 ""Stop digging your heels into the sidewalk," Mom said. "Let's go!"

I wasn't really digging my heels into the sidewalk. That would be impossible. The sidewalk is made of concrete. My heels are made of skin, bone, muscles, and blood. And I only had running shoes on. It was an expression. I don't like expressions, either." (Page 8)


"I was also too busy thinking about the Meadows Fireballs.

Apparently, they are a big soccer team in town. I didn't know anything about them. I'm not a big soccer fan. I'm not a big any-sports fan. I don't see the point in kicking a ball across a field. It would be much easier to pick it up and carry it." (Page 94)

Hajrah is simply delightful, buoyant and impervious to rejection, she is the perfect foil for Myron. Like this: 

"Hajrah didn't walk down the corridor--she zipped. She had one speed: fast. She did not zip in a straight line. She carved high-speed curves down the hallway, like a downhill skier. And she talked the whole way." (Page 35)

I did think that the adults in The Case of the Snack Snatcher were implausibly slow on the uptake at times, but I don't think that will be a negative with the book's target audience. The mystery itself, while not complex, was not obvious, either. The Case of the Snack Snatcher has a nice mix of action and character development for the target age range. Aurelie Grand's occasional black and white illustrations help by highlighting Myron's somewhat fussy personality, as well as the diversity of the other characters. 

So we have a literal-minded kid who sets himself up as a detective. We have another kid who can't sit still (and, bonus, comes from an ethnically diverse background). These characters are set against a cozy elementary school setting. And there's a mystery involving the theft of snacks. Who doesn't love snacks? The Case of the Snack Snatcher is total kid-friendly fare. I look forward to seeing future books in the West Meadows Detectives series. This title is well worth a look for library purchase, or for home use by mystery-loving newer readers.  

Publisher: Owl Kids (@OwldKids) 
Publication Date: October 13, 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).