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Posts from April 2016

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: Reading Aloud, #Testing + #Technology in #Learning

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include Bank Street Book Awards, the Cybils Awards, book lists, growing bookworms, coding, reading aloud, science fiction, kidlitosphere, foxes, introversion, parenting, play, technology, education, schools, libraries, STEM, writing, and testing. 


Jon Agee and Mara Rockcliff Win Prestigious Bank Street #Awards  @sljournal @bankstreetedu  #kidlit

Book Lists

From @HornBook A Purple #BookList  #PictureBooks + Primary Grades

14 Books to #ReadAloud to a 2nd Grader (or similar listening age) @momandkiddo  @elockhart + Roald Dahl + more

Little Detectives: #Mystery Books for 6- to 8-Year-Olds  @denabooks @ReadBrightly #kidlit

Reading Allowed: Ten Compelling Middle School #ReadAlouds by Maggie Bokelman  @nerdybookclub #kidlit

A Tuesday Ten: #ScienceFiction Pathway VI (12-15 year olds)  @TesseractViews From Ender's Game to Jenna Fox + more


Today on the #Cybils blog, an interview with Victoria Jamieson, author of ROLLER GIRL  #GraphicNovels

On the #Cybils blog: #BookList Fun: Ghost Stories for All Ages from @LiteraryHoots  #PictureBooks to #YA

Growing Bookworms

#Reading w/ Little Miss Muffet + Little Bo Peep, April  @mrskatiefitz shares audiobooks, mags + more w/ her kids

5 Reasons to Read for Reluctant Secondary School Readers  @WordLib @edutopia #Reading makes you smarter


This week's Fusenews: from a literary auction to benefit refugees to @camphalfblood to @100scopenotes  @FuseEight

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

2016 is Foxy — @100scopenotes and @MrBenjiMartin have spotted a new #kidlit trend 

Happy to see recent successes for the #CoverKidsBooks campaign from @MGStrikesBack  #kidlit

A version of @susancain book Quiet Power (on #Introversion) is being released for teens. @book_nut has the scoop


What's Fair + What's Equal: "Don’t play favorites... but kids can handle differences" | Truth!  @HeatherShumaker

"Only by feeding the imagination of a child, can we help ... ask the questions that don't yet exist"  @lgoodman222

3 Parent Plans to Create a Strong Writer from @BookChook  GRAB any excuse for #writing + more

Playful Learning

Why Typical Preschool Crafts Are a Waste of Time  @thescienceofus Avoid the "grown-up cult of productivity" w/ kids

How can We Help Parents Understand the Importance of Messy #Play?  @easycda @BAMRadioNetwork "Just let me play!"

#SummerCamp at Home: 10 Budget-Friendly Plans from @momandkiddo  #play #STEM #SummerReading 

Schools and Libraries

What the “End of Average” (new book by Todd Rose) Means for K 12 #Education  @thinkschools @EdSurge via @drdouggreen

The #School Spending Debate: What Difference Does A $ Make?  @NPRCoryTurner on when money is most likely to matter

Get Rid of Grade Levels: A Personalized Learning Recipe for Public #School Districts  @travislape @EdSurge #EdReform

When Celebrating Learning Differences Is At Heart of #School Culture  2 examples from SF @Kschwart @MindShiftKQED


6 Ways to Help Students Understand #Math  @MathWithMatthew @edutopia #STEM #EdChat

Not Every Kid Wants to Learn How to #Code notes @pernilleripp  | What about the kid who just wants to read or write?


Nation's Report Card Says Most High School Seniors Aren't College Or Career Ready  @anya1anya @npr_ed #NAEP #testing

A Few Thoughts on Standardized Testing from parent + teacher @pernilleripp  "The test is not fair" to kids, for one

Race + the Standardized #Testing Wars - on growing test fatigue in minority communities  Kate Taylor @nytopinion

Chuck the #Tests - Project Based Learning is Better, including for elementary + middle schoolers says @teachbrooklyn

Technology + Learning

How is the brain in your pocket (smartphone) affecting your thinking?  @DTWillingham on research to date.

I believe this: Taking Notes By Hand May Be Better Than Digitally, Researchers Say  @npr_ed  via @gcouros  #Education

New Study of Impact of #Literacy Apps suggests they can help economically disadvantaged kids w/ #reading  @tashrow

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @LGoodman222 + @easycda + @ValerieStrauss on #Play, #Math + Imagination

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have three more articles related to children's need for play and maintaining the spark of the joy of learning. The first is by Laura Goodman, about trying not to quench the spark of imagination in kids. The second is from Deb Pierce, encouraging parents to let kids engage in "messy play". The third is a post by Petra Bonfert-Taylor, shared by Valerie Strauss in Answer Sheet, asking parents and teachers NOT to complain to kids about being bad at math. All three struck me on a personal level. I hope that you find them useful. 

"Only by feeding the imagination of a child, can we help ... ask the questions that don't yet exist"  @lgoodman222

Laura Goodman: "to allow a child’s mind to grow to its full potential, we must attend not only to the intelligence of his mind by imparting knowledge, but to his imagination as well. The reason is this: Only by feeding the imagination of a child, can we help him create pathways to find answers to all of the questions he has yet to ask. In fact, only by engaging the imagination, can he ask the questions that don’t yet exist...

How do we then, as a society, encourage the growth of imagination? In the same manner as our ancestors; we must tell our children stories, give them space to play, and allow them time to create."

Me: This post by Laura Goodman is about how we, as parents and as a society, should be nurturing the spark of imagination in kids, rather than little that spark die as a byproduct of the quest for intelligence. Which is exactly what I've been trying to get at with my whole pivot on this blog towards "joy of learning." When I see my child's innate excitement about learning new things threatened by dry math worksheets or overly structured book reports, I'm instinctively terrified. I don't want to see that spark, whether you call it imagination or joy of learning or whatever else, die. 

How can We Help Parents Understand the Importance of Messy #Play?  @easycda @BAMRadioNetwork "Just let me play!"

Deb Pierce: "As teachers of young children, the best we can do is model our own exuberance for play and discovery and provide opportunities for parents to experience it themselves. And, it never hurts to explain how important it is for children to engage in messy activities, using all their senses. This is exactly how a preschooler learns best. So, leave the special clothes and shoes at home and dress your child so he can get into things at school and be happy doing so. And, stop worrying. All of those rich experiences are forging new and critical connections in his brain- connections that will never happen looking out a car window in a white sweat suit."

Me: This piece, written by an early childhood education professor, resonated with me because, while I completely agree in spirit, allowing messy play is hard for me. I don't like mess. I don't care so much if my kid comes home from a camping trip all muddy, but I don't want to get muddy myself. And I'm bothered by mess around the house (paint, kitchen experiments), even when I know that the activities are good for my daughter. So, this was a good pice for me to read, and this is something for me to keep working on ... 

RT @Math_Rachel: Stop telling kids you’re bad at math. You are spreading math anxiety like a virus." Petra Bonfert-Taylor@WashingtonPost

Petra Bonfert-Taylor (quoted by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post): "Why do smart people enjoy saying that they are bad at math? Few people would consider proudly announcing that they are bad at writing or reading. Our country’s communal math hatred may seem rather innocuous, but a more critical factor is at stake: we are passing on from generation to generation the phobia for mathematics and with that are priming our children for mathematical anxiety. As a result, too many of us have lost the ability to examine a real-world problem, translate it into numbers, solve the problem and interpret the solution...

You do not need an innate mathematical ability in order to solve mathematical problems. Rather, what is required is perseverance, a willingness to take risks and feeling safe to make mistakes."

Me: I grew up working in my dad's hardware store. The cash register was an old-fashioned one. I learned at a very early age to calculate the 5% sales tax in my head and to figure out the correct change for people. I don't think that "hating math" or even being bad at math were options. I'm grateful for this, and very conscious of keeping math something that my daughter sees as a positive thing. I can only hope that she doesn't run across teachers who profess to be bad at math, and thus give her other ideas. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Playful Learning: Throwing Away the Instruction Manual

For her recent sixth birthday, my daughter received a very cool gift from her godparents: an Amusement Park Engineer Kit from Kids First.  [I learned about this product from a product review at Mama Smiles, and had it on our wish list.] I knew that she would love it, and in fact she started playing with it immediately. The kit consists of 97 plastic pieces that kids can use to construct 20 different models. There's a manual written in the form of a storybook about helping two kids to fix and build amusement park rides.

I thought that this story-focused manual might capture my daughter's imagination. But it turned out that she had no interest whatsoever in the manual. She said: "Mommy, it's more fun just to build things on your own." She asked me to work with her, and together we made our own little amusement park, using all 97 of the pieces (my daughter's requirement). We then got a bunch of her Little People, and they lined up to wait for the park to open. Like this:


The whole process took some tinkering. We had to figure out which pieces went together. Not everything in the result was stable, particularly once the Little People started to play:


Never once did we consult the manual. This was free play, with a STEM focus, at its finest. If you ask me, it was a complete success. 

I did not actually throw away the manual. She may find one day that she wants to build some of the suggested items. But I didn't push. She does the same kind of thing with her Lego sets. She might look at the picture, to see how something is supposed to look. But, at this point, following the step-by-step directions seems more like work than fun to her. And I want building things to be fun. So the instruction manuals will wait, gathering dust, until when or if they are wanted. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Lily and Dunkin: Donna Gephart

Book: Lily and Dunkin
Author: Donna Gephart
Pages: 352
Age Range: 10 and up

I probably would not have picked up Lily and Dunkin if I were not a fan of Donna Gephart's work. Books that overtly tackle sensitive subject make me wary. It's too easy for them to become preachy, or just boring. But Donna Gephart has a real knack for getting at the heart of things, while keeping the characters at the forefront, and adding enough humor. I read the first chapter of Lily and Dunkin, and found that I wanted to keep reading. I ended up reading it in one sitting. The ending even made me a bit teary-eyed. And I feel like I now have a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by both transgender and bipolar kids. 

So, Lily and Dunkin is a dual first-person narrative about a girl named Lily, born into a boy's body, and a boy named Dunkin, struggling with both bipolar disorder and the absence of his father. Lily (aka Tim) has known since she was very small that she wants to be a girl. Her mother and sister are reasonably supportive, but her father and grandmother are having a much difficult time accepting her wishes. She is bullied at school, despite not having yet come out as transgender. Her best friend is pushing her to be herself (wear dresses to school, etc.), but she (and her father) are afraid of the consequences. 

Here's Lily, after her sister shows off some caps she is knitting for premature babies: 

""That's cool," I say. But all I can think about is how the whole boy-girl color code is determined right from birth. The moment a baby comes into the world, someone decides whether the baby gets a pink hat or a blue hat, based on the baby's body. Not brain. Why can't they put a neutral color hat on the baby and wait to see what happens?" (Page 73)

Dunkin (aka Norbert) has just moved to Lily's South Florida neighborhood from New Jersey, and isn't sure how he will fit in. He and his mother are living with his fitness-crazed Jewish grandmother, having fallen on hard times. Dunkin speaks of having left his father in New Jersey, with the gradually revealed implication that is father is in a mental health facility. Dunkin takes medication for his own bipolar disorder, but resists seeing a psychiatrist. His up and down moods are revealed masterfully through his first person viewpoint. 

Here's Dunkin, on his first day a a new school:

"At lunch, I hold the orange plastic tray in a death grip, wishing again that Phineas were here. Mom wouldn't like it if she knew I were thinking that, but I hate navigating this loud, crowed, foul-smelling cafeteria alone. The good energy of feeling a part of everything in math class has completely evaporated." (Page 90)

Although the narrators for the different sections of the book are not identified, I never had any trouble distinguishing Lily's voice from Tim's. That said, this would make a great dual-narrator audiobook, if you could find someone with the right androgynous voice for Lily. 

As in Gephart's Death by Toilet Paper, there's a lot going on in the background here. A bit of environmental activism over a favorite tree, coping with the loss of a grandparent, dealing with bullying, changing oneself in order to fit in, bringing a third person into a best friend relationship, and striving for healthy eating and fitness. There are random acts of quirkiness (decorated plastic flamingos left strategically around the neighborhood), a t-shirt shop that makes chronic and humorous production errors, and a few Yiddish expressions. The mugginess of the Florida setting virtually emanates from the page. But the heart of Lily and Dunkin is the relationships between the various characters, particularly the title characters. 

I think that Lily and Dunkin belongs in all libraries that serve upper middle grade and middle school kids. I believe that this book has the potential to open people's eyes about what it's like to be transgender, and also about what it's like to be mentally struggling in some way. The quirky trappings of the book, and the purity of the first-person perspectives, keep Lily and Dunkin from reading like an "issue book". I also appreciated Gephart's soft touch in the resolution of Lily's bullying - there is no magic wand ending that situation, which I think is realistic, but we do gain a bit of insight into the challenges of the primary bully. Highly recommended, and a book that will certainly stay with me. 

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. 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: Doing Crossword Puzzles

LiteracyMilestoneASometimes when I am watching a movie (especially a movie that I've seen before) I have trouble staying awake. I've taken to keeping a book of relatively easy crossword puzzles handy to work on while I'm watching. If the puzzles are easy they don't take up too much of my attention, but they keep me busy enough to keep me awake. 

Recently my daughter noticed what I was doing, and declared that she wanted to participate. She started by filling in a couple of words, after I told her what the answers would be, but she did progress to reading clues, and to guessing a couple of the answers. She ended up filling in the upper left-hand corner of a puzzle, and was quite excited to show off her accomplishment to my husband. 

She's not quite ready to do crossword puzzles on her own (her sight word knowledge is still fairly limited), but I'm happy to work on some with her if she enjoys it. And because I am a person who never passes up the opportunity to buy a book, I ordered a crossword puzzle book aimed at kids. She was thrilled when it arrived, and was nearly late for school the next day because she wanted to work on her first puzzle. I'm finding that crossword puzzles help build her skills in spelling, vocabulary, and general knowledge, all in a fun way. 

I do have an app for crossword puzzles on my iPad but I don't like sending my daughter the message that I'm on the iPad during family movie night, so I use an old magazine-style book that I've had for years. Using a print crossword puzzle book also offers fewer distractions, and is fairly portable. My daughter wanted to take her new book on her school field trip, which involved a train ride. [Which I did not agree to, but I appreciated the intent.]

Sometimes the classics are still the right thing. Have you tried crossword puzzles with your kids? 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @ECEPolicyWorks + @bethhill2829 + @SXWiley

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I am featuring three articles that all highlight the importance of unstructured play for young kids. In the first, an anonymous teacher touts the benefits of play for kids. In the second, teacher Bethany Hill proposes that "homework" for elementary school kids should consist mainly of reading, playing family games, and spending time in unstructured play. Now that's an assignment that my family can get behind! In the third post, Scott Wiley shares his thoughts on a portion of David Elkind's book The Power of Play, specifically focusing on when kids are actually developmentally ready to learn concepts that are rule-based. As Scott notes, this references back to Rae Pica's book, which I reviewed yesterday

A NYC Teacher Breaks the Silence on the Power of #Play | @ECEPolicyWorks "Kids need play. It is how they learn."

Anonymous NY teacher posting as Miss Rumphius (quoted at ECE Policy Works): "Kids need play. It is how they learn. It is how they process new ideas and become themselves. This is something study after study has shown—that children learn best through play, through social interaction, through exploration, through movement. Yet, we continue to insist that real learning happens silently at desks in front of “rigorous” worksheets."

Me: I'm going to start following this teacher's blog. I like the way she thinks. These days, every time I see my own child playing, whether with her friends or by herself, I notice the ways in which she is learning.

I agree with @bethhill2829 that The Best Homework EVER would be #reading, family games + unstructured #play

Bethany Hill: "A few minutes of practice is perfectly fine, but families shouldn’t have the added stress of hours of work into the evening, missing out on great conversations, family time, extra curricular activities, and PLAY.  My hope for all of our kids is to have moments of joy, relaxation, unstructured play, investment in them by adults, and participation in extracurricular activities in the community....

Unstructured play is one of the greatest opportunities for learning we can provide for our kids. They need time to imagine, create, and discover. Unstructured play allows kids to learn who they are. They face conflict and can learn to solve problems. They also learn how to use their imagination to enhance their fun."

Me: I love Bethany's suggestions for what kids should be doing instead of spending time on homework: reading (both read-alouds and quiet time when the whole family reads silently together), playing non-digital games with family, and engaging in unstructured play. I've always believed that having kids spend time reading at home is critically important, and I've certainly noticed in my own household that my daughter learns many things from playing games and from less structured, imaginative play. 

Young kids "must keep literacy, numeracy + science skills as exploration, investigation, play @sxwiley @DavidElkind2 

Scott Wiley (recapping Chapter 6 of David Elkind's book The Power of Play): "Elkind says that formal instruction is the teaching of "rules" so no formal instruction should happen until children have developed reasoning skills. Literacy, math, and science all have "rules" and kids cannot effectively learn these things until they reach the age of reason. The best way for children to move into the age of reason is to play...

Bottom line - young children are not ready for formal instruction. Trying to introduce formal instruction to children before they are developmentally ready is fruitless and could even "run the risk of killing the child's motivation for learning, for schooling, and for respecting teachers.""

Me: I really should go ahead and read The Power of Play. But in the meantime, I'm enjoying reading Scott Wiley's thoughts as he moves through the book. I have noticed in my own daughter (who just turned six) an increasing ability to reason (e.g. applying logic in an argument to get her way), but I certainly find sometimes that she is not rational in her reactions. This is especially true when she is tired (which I think argues against full-day kindergarten, which our elementary school is going to launch next year). 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: Lunch Box #Poetry, Movies without Sequels + Independent Bookstores

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include book lists, the Cybils Awards, race in books, diverse books, growing bookworms, reading aloud, National Poetry Month, book selection, libraries, eBooks, bookstores, Judy Blume, James Patterson, nonfiction, testing, middle school, growth mindset, education policy, STEM, and schools. 

Book Lists + Awards

Chapter Books for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month  A @momandkiddo #BookList #APAHM #kidlit

It's National Parks Week! Here are some books to help you celebrate it.  #BookList @RandomlyReading #kidlit

Recommended reading for kids about Harriet Tubman (who'll replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill)  @HornBook #kidlit

Recommendations for Science-Focused Additions to a Middle School Reading List  @NSTA @MissCheska #STEM #KidLit 

Hollins Announces Winners of the Inaugural Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature  #kidlit


On the #Cybils blog: Interview with EVERY LAST WORD author @tamaraistone  #YA @DisneyHyperion

Also on the #Cybils blog: Interview with Abby Hanlon, author of DORY AND THE REAL TRUE FRIEND  @penguinkids #kidlit

On the #Cybils blog: A #BookList from @sunlitpages | #Math Related #PictureBooks  #STEM


50+ #PictureBooks about Mixed Race Families  @coloursofus #BookList #DiverseBooks

Thoughts on Whether or Not to Indicate Race in print and book reviews  @medinger #DiverseBooks

Events + Programs

Lunch Box #Poetry: Ideas and printable poems for enhancing #Literacy Learning at Lunch!  @momandkiddo

Happy #PoemInYourPocket Day! — @100scopenotes has the scoop  #poetry #kidlit

Find the first book that you loved and read it for @readathon this weekend, urges @JenniBuchanan  @readingrainbow

Growing Bookworms

Are you reading your child too many #PictureBooks  @CribtoTable @TODAYshow suggests going for quality vs. quantity

Helping Young Children to make #Reading & Writing Breakthroughs: Eight Simple Steps to #Literacy  @TrevorHCairney

17 Ways to Find Your Child's Next Book, from librarians to @cybils to @amazon  + more  @everead

On the impact of the right book, plus tips for being a great storyteller / #reader  Tracy Bryan @nerdybookclub

5 Tips for a Successful Trip to the #Library with a Toddler  @growingbbb #RaisingReaders

Adventures in #Literacy Land: How to Use Top 20 #BookLists to Motivate and Excite Readers in the classroom 

Easing Young Readers into #Nonfiction (improving their vocabularies + critical thinking + more)  @readingrainbow

Between #PictureBooks + Middle Grade Novels: Early Readers + Leveled Books  @alybee930 #kidlit

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, Bookstores, and Publishing

Never Gonna Sequel — Thoughts from @fuseeight on first series movies that flop  #BookToScreen

New Model for Independent Bookstores includes more #technology + appeal for book lovers  @WSJ

On Judy Blume's new #bookstore, w/ suggestion for other successful authors to open their own  @FuseEight to @JP_Books

Young Readers And eBooks: How's That Working? Kids aren't the ones reading #EBooks, adult women are  @gail_gauthier 

Nerdy for Life | @HornBook discusses the origins + purpose of the #NerdyBookClub w/ @donalynbooks + @colbysharp 

Schools and Libraries

James Patterson Puts Cash for school #libraries Behind his Convictions w/ Help of @Scholastic Reading Club  @JP_Books

How ‘Productive Failure’ For Students Can Help Lessons Stick  @MindShiftKQED @Kschwart

How School Funding's Reliance On Property Taxes Fails Children  @npr_ed @NPRCoryTurner #education

The Promise and Perils of Technology in Education  Black/white thinking is not the answer says @ReadByExample #EdTech

Student Engagement: Is It Authentic or Compliant? Nodding your head is not enough  @PeterMDeWitt @educationweek

Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman's Education Plea: Revolutionize Teaching via more active learning  @npr_ed @Ericnpr

Mind the Gap: Serving Readers in Sixth Through Eighth Grade  @sljournal #kidlit #YA

9 Out Of 10 Parents Think Their Kids Are On Grade Level. They're Probably Wrong  @npr_ed @anya1anya #EdChat


#Science + #Poetry => Observation & Exploration #sciencefriday (ages 4-10)  @MaryAnnScheuer #STEM


The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed with #StandardizedTesting – But You Don’t Have to Be  Overview by @drdouggreen

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Rae Pica

Book: What If Everybody Understood Child Development? Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives
Author: Rae Pica
Pages: 160
Age Range: Adult Nonfiction

What If Everybody Understood Child Development? by Rae Pica is a collected series of essay about education from the perspective of what kids need developmentally. Being more an essay collection than a structured book, it's a little bit repetitive when read straight through, and lacks any overall conclusion. However, the essays make many, many excellent points. I highlighted passage after passage. Rather than attempt to directly quote my many highlights, I'll share some general themes, Pica's points paraphrased into my own words:

  • All kids are unique, and their needs are not served by one-size-fits-all educational standards (particularly when those standards are written by people who have not worked with kids). Kids learn at different rates, and pushing them to learn before they are developmentally ready is counter-productive. This applies in particular to expectations that kids must be reading by the time they leave kindergarten.
  • Kids, especially young kids, learn best through play and when they can be active. When we take away play, and push kids to learn at ever-younger ages, we are taking away their childhood, and negatively impacting the adults who they will become. 
  • Kids need freedom to take risks, and learn what they can and can't to. "Bubble wrapping" them is detrimental. 
  • We should be talking with girls about things that they are interested in and things that they DO, instead of praising them for how cute they are. In general, we should avoid the empty "good job" sort of praise for all kids. 
  • Excessive testing is hurting kids and teachers. Schools should be teaching kids how to learn, rather than trying to just fill them with facts. 
  • Schools should be restoring both gym and recess. Kids need informal time for play and movement, as well as more formal instruction about exercise and fitness. There are academic as well as physical benefits to this. Recess should never be withheld as a punishment.  
  • Homework is not beneficial for elementary school kids, and is in many ways harmful, particularly because it can (and does) turn kids off of reading for pleasure. 

If any of these themes pique your interest, I recommend that you pick up a copy of What If Everybody Understood Child Development? and search the table of contents for the relevant topics. 

I especially like that at the end of each chapter, Pica includes a set of actions that teachers can take in support of that topic as well as a set of links to further information/research. Although this book is clearly written for teachers, a number of the actions, and certainly the references, are relevant for parents, too. The references include quite a few BAM Radio Network articles and interviews, where Pica is an organizer and featured blogger, but many other sources are also included, from TED talks to newspapers to books and blogs, most with URLs. 

What If Everybody Understood Child Development? would be a great book to give to any parent or teacher you know who is uneasy about aspects of our current educational system (excessive testing, lack of play-based or individualized learning, etc.) but having difficulty articulating the problems. Rae Pica has been reading and thinking about these topics as an educational consultant for more than 30 years. She has strong opinions, most of which resonated with me as a parent and as a person who has started reading much more recently in these areas. Pica clearly cares deeply about the welfare of kids. I wish that education policy-makers and school administrators everywhere understood more about these issues, which they would if they would read What If Everybody Understood Child Development?. If only...  

Publisher: Corwin
Publication Date: May 6, 2015
Source of Book: Purchased on Kindle

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. 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: April 20: #KidLit Reviews, #JoyOfLearning Links, Milestones + more

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 has refocused recently, and now contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, including bookworms, mathematicians, and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have two book reviews (one early chapter book, one young adult book) and two posts about my daughter's latest literacy milestones (using books to feel closer to someone far away and sending text messages). I also have one post about learning math via the Scholastic Reading Club flyer. I also have two posts with links that I shared on Twitter, and two more with quotes from and responses to links about to the joy of learning

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

  • Donna Gephart: Lily and Dunkin. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade/Middle School. Completed April 15, 2016. Review scheduled for next week. 
  • Robison Wells: Dark Energy. HarperTeen. Young Adult Science Fiction. Completed April 14, 2016, on Kindle. This one had an interesting premise (aliens land on earth, two of them are sent to private school attended by NASA leader) and a fast-paced plot. However, I disliked the main character (braggy about her money and her BMW), and opted not to write a full review. Still, this is the first YA title I've read to completion in quite a while, so that was good.
  • Victoria Thompson: Murder on Amsterdam Avenue: A Gaslight Mystery. Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed April 6, 2016, on MP3. I continue to love this series, and was happy to see Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy finally marry. 
  • C. J. Box: Below Zero (Joe Pickett, Book 9). Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed April 14, 2016, on MP3. I found this installment of the Pickett series a little bit didactic (artificial-sounding conversations between characters about environmentalism and global warming), and I thought that the primary twist was predictable (almost unavoidable). But I was moved by the ending, and will continue to be unable to resist the series. 
  • Rae Pica: What If Everyone Understood Child Development? Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Corwin. Adult Nonfiction. Completed April 19, 2016, on Kindle. Review to come.  

I'm currently listening to Trespasser (Mike Bowditch, Book 2) by Paul Doiron and reading Skinnybones by Barbara Park (reissue edition). I have a bunch of other audiobooks queued up, with the newest Maisie Dobbs book at the top of the list. I'm hoping to get some reading time this weekend - I've been in another stop/start phase with books lately, and I would like to really find myself immersed in something. 

The books my husband and I (and our babysitter) have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here. We are currently re-reading our way through the Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe series by Noah Z. Jones (a Branches series of early graphic novels from Scholastic). My daughter adores these books about a pink-loathing, karate-loving girl whose parents named her Princess (last name Pink). Things are topsy-turvy in the Land of Fake Believe, to frequently hilarious effect (like a "Turncorn" with a smelly attached tuna instead of a horn). 

My daughter will occasionally take over and read a page of two, but usually she likes for one of us to read. There's no question that she can read, but she has to work hard to decode, and finds it more enjoyable to listen and look at the illustrations. Sometimes I think I should encourage her to practice reading on her own more, but then I remind myself that she's still in kindergarten. I firmly believe that my job at this point is to make sure that she enjoys books. And I think we're continuing to do quite well in that regard. 

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

The Leaving: Tara Altebrando

Book: The Leaving
Author: Tara Altebrando
Pages: 432
Age Range: 12 and up

I was initially a bit unsure about whether or not I wanted to read Tara Altebrando's The Leaving. It begins with the kidnapping of six five-year-olds on their first day of kindergarten. As the parent of a five year old, I feared that it might strike a bit too close to home. But I've been really struggling lately to find books that can hold my attention. The cover blurb on The Leaving, by E. Lockhart called it "a top-speed page-turner", adding "I promise, you will not even look up from the page." So I decided to give it a try. And I'm glad that I did.

The Leaving did succeed in holding my attention. I read most of it in a single sitting, after my husband and daughter left on a father-daughter camping weekend. I found it more intriguing than emotionally wrenching, so the core subject matter of kidnapped kids wasn't a problem. Nearly all of the story takes place eleven years after the kidnapping, when five out of six kids return home with  no memory of their lost time.

The Leaving is told in alternating chapters from the limited third person perspective of three teens: two of the kidnapped children and the younger sister of the one who does not return. The narrative styles of the three are quite different. Scarlett's thoughts include poetic fragments, shared via visual effects like circular words. Lucas's thoughts are darker, and include white on black snippets, like signs: "CAROUSEL OCEAN GOLDEN HORSE TEETH". Avery, the one was was not kidnapped, is the most ordinary, wrestling as much with her doubts about her boyfriend as with worries about the brother that she doesn't even remember anyway. Even Avery wrestles with questions about the nature of memory. 

The Leaving is filled with tiny clues about what might have happened to the kids, set against a backdrop of media frenzy and local suspicion. The reader is not sure who to trust, or whether the outcome might include something supernatural (aliens?). There are also ordinary teen attractions, socioeconomic differences, and conflicts with friends and parents. Altebrando balances it all smoothly, keeping the reader most of all interested in turning the pages. 

Here are a couple of quotes to give a feel for Altebrando's writing:

"Back at home around dinnertime, there were no signs of dinner. Mom was in bed, surrounded by still more tissues. The woman had become a movable flowering tissue tree, dropping fruit wherever she went." (Avery, Pag 110, ARC)


"Normal people don't remember everything.

Normal people forget.

Do normal people ever have just one memory that is so ...

Very ...

Unrelenting/unavoidable/unfathomable?" (Scarlett, Page 146, ARC)

Anyone who enjoys suspenseful books that also make the reader think will enjoy The Leaving. It is well constructed and intriguing, with flawed but likable characters and surprises throughout. Highly recommended.

Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids)
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. 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: Texting

LiteracyMilestoneAMy daughter recently passed another somewhat questionable milestone on her pathway to literacy. She sent her first text message using words. She had been sending emoji texts or a short while. [She especially favors an emoji that depicts poop, for some reason.] But now she is texting with words.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 2.37.25 PMThis started a couple of weeks ago when we were on vacation in Boston. I passed along a message from her nanny, telling my daughter that she was missed. My daughter wanted to send a return text herself. I figured that it would be her usual pattern of smiley face, heart, flag, and other emojis. And she did send some of those. But not until after she had typed, with no help from me: "I Mis you to I luv you" (with to and from names also). Later she sent a similar message to my husband, who was out of the house for the day. And the next day she told family friends "I with that I was thear" in response to a photo that they had sent. (Shown to the right.)

Now, she's off to the races. I've had to change the password on my phone and iPad, because she is a texting fiend. Her latest trick involves selecting random words from the autocomplete, and thus sending us convincing-looking gibberish. Of course none of her friends have phones of their own, but she has no problem at all texting my friends who are her friends' parents, as well as her older cousins. And Daddy, of course. She would send texts to him all day if I let her. For the record, this all started just before her sixth birthday, which was the week before last. Crazy! But I do think it's neat that she's using the written word to communicate with people.

In a related accomplishment (?) she typed her first Facebook comment. And so it begins. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: #NationalPoetryMonth + #FreedomOfSpeech + #testing

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. It was a bit of a light week for links (perhaps because I'm still catching up after back to back travel and houseguests), but I do have links relating to book lists, baseball, the Cybils Awards, Beverly Cleary, National Poetry Month, accelerated reader, play, testing, common core, teaching, and ebooks. 

Book Lists and Awards

2016 Indies Choice and E.B. White Read-Aloud Award Winners Announced | @ABAbook  #kidlit #YA #MotherBruce

Nine Classic #BoardBooks My Toddler Asks for Again and Again from @sunlitpages  #kidlit

Some #Baseball themed #PictureBooks from @HornBook for #RedSox home Opening Day 2016 

Best Audiobooks for Your Next Family Vacation, by type of destination  from @growingbbb #kidlit

Between #PictureBooks + Middle Grade Novels: Books for New Readers  @alybee930 #kidlit

Children's Poets Your Kids Should Know (And Will Love!) from @momandkiddo  @nikkigrimes9 + Silverstein +Raczka + more

Jean Little Library: Read-alikes for kids who enjoy the popular Wimpy Kid + other notebook novels  #kidlit 

Top Ten Books for Gamers by Erin Johnson  @nerdybookclub #kidlit #YA

10 Young Adult Novels About Depression, Because Teens Need To Know They Aren't Alone  @bustle via @PWKidsBookshelf


On the #Cybils blog: Interview with @SteveSheinkin author of #YA nonfiction winner MOST DANGEROUS 

Events + Programs

Today’s the day! Happy 100th birthday, Beverly Cleary | @HornBook rounds up tributes by #kidlit luminaries 

Beverly Cleary at 100: Roundup of the Tributes from @100scopenotes  #DropEverythingAndRead

Hundreds of books pour in for Michigan girl, 8, who lost everything in a fire  @bobshea @colbysharp

Today is International Moment of Laughter Day  Celebrate with #poetry says @missrumphius #NationalPoetryMonth

Book an appointment: UK doctors to prescribe novels to teens coping w/ mental health issues  @GuardianBooks #YA

Everything You Need to Know to Make a Book Spine Poem — @100scopenotes  #NationalPoetryMonth

Growing Bookworms

Why We Are Moving on from AR  by @brandonkblom + @rachaelpeck23  #RaisingReaders #education 

#AgeOfLiteracy: Can’t Read vs. Won’t Read: Reading Engagement and African American Males | @dcseverett + @ritaplatt

Higher Education

I'm a progressive student who's scared my peers have gone off the deep end killing free speech @_atariz @CollegeFix

On Reading + Writing

Our stories are as unlimited as ourselves" Why I Came Out As A Gay Children's Book Author by @ca_london @BuzzFeed


A Stanford dean on adult skills every 18-year-old should have by @RaiseAnAdult  @Quora

8 science-backed reasons for letting your kids #play outside, from better vision to lower stress  via @litsafari

Schools and Libraries

Is #CommonCore 's Effect on Achievement Fading?  Liana Heitin @educationweek #NAEP score analysis raises question

"I teach to entertain myself." Bring #JoyOfLearning Back Into the Classroom by Jonathan Eckert  @EdweekComm

80% of US schools use #eBooks or digital textbooks  @Goodereader via @PWKidsBookshelf

Fewer Americans Are Visiting Local Libraries—and Technology Isn't to Blame  @TheAtlantic thinks it's declining $


Standardized #testing blunders just keep on coming  @valeriestrauss @washingtonpost @drdouggreen #CommonCore

Ah hypocrisy | These Politicians Think Your Kids Need High-Stakes Testing—but Not Theirs  @thenation via @drdouggreen

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook