Previous month:
May 2016
Next month:
July 2016

Posts from June 2016

Serafina and the Twisted Staff: Robert Beatty

Book: Serafina and the Twisted Staff
Author: Robert Beatty
Pages: 384
Age Range: 9-12

Serafina and the Twisted Staff is the sequel to Serafina and the Black Clock (which I listened to on audio last year and enjoyed but did not review). If you have not read the first Serafina book, please beware. There will be spoilers here for that book. My recommendation is that if you like reading about mysterious, supernatural creatures and dangerous situations, and you are intrigued by the idea of a girl growing up hidden in the basements of the vast Biltmore Estates around the turn of the 20th century, then you should stop reading this review, and just go out and get both books.

If you have read the first Serafina book, then you will not find Serafina and the Twisted Staff disappointing. This sequel takes place three weeks after Serafina and her friends have defeated the Man in the Black Cloak. Though Serafina's presence at the Biltmore Estate is now generally known, and her friendship with Braeden Vanderbilt accepted by his aunt and uncle, Serafina remains uncertain about her place in the world. She feels torn between the adoptive father who raised her in secret and the catamount mother who she has just met. Unlike her mother, and despite her odd physical traits, Serafina is unable to change into a mountain lion. 

As the story begins, Serafina again encounters a mysterious danger in the woods. When this danger extends into the Biltmore Estate, Serafina doesn't know where to turn, or how to help her family and friends. In Serafina and the Twisted Staff, Serafina must confront both her enemies and her insecurities. As in the first book, these quests are set against the fascinating backdrop of the secret-passage-studded Biltmore Estate and the treacherous forest that surrounds it. Real-life landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead also plays a role in the story. 

I read Serafina and the Twisted Staff in a single sitting, only hesitating to continue at one point near the middle, when it felt like too many circumstances were conspiring against Serafina. But I'm glad that I persisted, because Serafina is a heroine to be reckoned with, and rooted for. Here is Serafina:

"She jumped gullies and climbed hills. She took shortcuts, taking advantage of the road's meandering path. Her chest began to heave as she pulled in great gupls of air. Despite the trepidation she had felt moments before, the challenge of keeping up with the horses made her smile and then made her laugh, which made it all the more difficult to breathe when she was trying to run. Leaping and darting, she loved the thrill of the chase." (Chapter 2, ARC). 

And here's her pa:

"Look," her pa said, taking her by the shoulders and looking into her eyes. "You're alive, ain't ya? So toughen up. Bless the Lord and get on with things. In your entire life, has the master of the house ever demanded your presence upstairs? No, he has not. So, yes, ma'am, if the master wants you there, you're gonna be there. Will bells on."

"Bells?" she asked in horror. "Why do I have to wear bells?"" (Chapter 9)

And here's a description of Mr. George Vanderbilt, which I suspect is based on historical descriptions of this real-life figure:

"Mr. Vanderbilt had welcomed all sorts of guest to entertain themselves in the magnificent mansion he had built for that purpose, but he himself had a tendency to withdraw from revelry. He often sat in a quiet room by himself and read rather than imbibe with others. He was a man of his own spirit." (Chapter 13)

I'm pretty sure I would have liked this fellow introvert. I know that I would have liked his house.

Serafina and the Twisted Staff is a book that I would have found impossible to resist as a 10-year-old, and that I found difficult to resist even now, as an adult. It's a nice combination of creepy supernatural mystery and coming of age story, with bravery and battles set against musings on what makes up friendship and family. Fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak will certainly not want to miss this sequel. And I look forward to reading about Serafina and Braeden's future adventures. Recommended!

Publisher:  Disney-Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion) 
Publication Date: July 12, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author's publicist

© 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: June 29: Summer Learning, #PictureBook Reviews + Finding Winnie

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 four book reviews (three picture books and one middle grade) and one post about my daughter's latest literacy milestone (anticipating a sequel). I also have a post about my (play-based) plans for my daughter's summer learning. I close with two posts with links that I shared on Twitter and two more with quotes from and responses to articles about to the joy of learning. As you can see, I've been slowing getting my reviewing groove back. I have two reviews per week scheduled out for the next couple of months, which is a nice feeling. 

Reading Update: In the past two weeks I read/listened to two chapter books, two middle grade titles, and five adult titles. I also abandoned one middle grade title about one third of the way through because I kept falling asleep. I remain in an odd YA funk, where nothing I look at or begin catches my attention enough to get me through it. Anyway, I read:

  • SeaPonyEllen Potter (Ill. Qin Leng): Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Illustrated Early Chapter Book. Completed June 15, 2016, print ARC. Review to come.
  • Kirk Scroggs: Snoop Troop: It Came from Beneath the Playground. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Chapter Book/Graphic Novel. Completed June 16, 2016. Review to come.
  • Aimee Carter: Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den. Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. Middle Grade/Middle School. Completed June 21, 2016, print ARC. Review to come.
  • EdgeOfExtinctionLaura Martin: The Ark Plan: Edge of Extinction, Book 1. HarperCollins Children's Books. Middle Grade. Completed June 25, 2016. Review to come.
  • C. J. Box: Nowhere to Run (Joe Pickett, Book 10). Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed June 18, 2016, on MP3. This was a particularly bleak installment to the series, but nevertheless left me wanting to listen to the next one right away. 
  • Sara Paretsky: Indemnity Only (V. I. Warshawski #1). Dell Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 19, 2016, on both MP3 and Kindle (Whispersync). I enjoyed the experience of switching back and forth between the digital and audio versions of this modern classic, and will be moving on to try Book 2. 
  • C. J. Box: Cold Wind (Joe Pickett, Book 11). Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed June 23, 2016, on MP3. This had a nice, twisty plot, and kept me thinking. 
  • Laura Lippman: Wilde Lake. William Morrow. Adult Mystery. Completed June 26, 2016, on Kindle. This standalone by Lippman has an unusual narrative structure, but very deep characterization. I found it quite compelling, and am still thinking about it.
  • Paul Doiron: The Precipice (Mike Bowditch #6). Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 28, 2016, on MP3. I'm enjoying reading these books close together, and basically watching Mike Bowditch grow up (albeit with some backsliding). 

FindingWinnieI'm currently listening to the second V. I. Warshawski novel by Sara Paretsky, Deadlock, and reading the fifth Ruth Galloway novel by Elly Griffiths, A Dying FallThe books my husband and I and our babysitter have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here. My daughter's and my newest favorite title, far and away, is this year's Caldecott winner, Finding Winnie, by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall. Finding Winnie is one of those books that makes you say: "Oh my goodness, why didn't anyone tell me this book was so wonderful!"

I'm continuing to share all of my longer reads, as well as highlights from my picture book reads with my daughter, via the #BookADay hashtag on Twitter. I also enjoy looking at other people's #BookADay selections. Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. Wishing you all plenty of time for summer reading.

© 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 Eureka Key: Secrets of the Seven: Sarah L. Thomson

Book: The Eureka Key: Secrets of the Seven, Book 1
Author: Sarah L. Thomson
Pages: 240
Age Range: 8-12

The Eureka Key is the first of a new quest-driven series by Sarah L. Thomson. It's reminiscent of Kate Messner's Capture the Flag and sequels (see my reviews of Book 1 and Book 2). Both series feature descendants from historical figures uniting to uncover and protect certain secret artifacts. I like Messner's books, but I think I like The Eureka Key, with its strong focus on puzzles and Indiana Jones feel, a bit better. 

The Eureka Key begins with bright troublemaker Sam Solomon pulling off a minor but carefully timed criminal act at school (in service of a wronged friend). He reminded me a bit of Varian Johnson's Jackson Greene in this caper, but is more of a lone wolf. Later that day, Sam receives word that he's won a complex puzzle contest that he entered previously. The prize is a journey of discovery to follow clues around the United Sates over the summer. While it's rather implausible that parents would actually allow a 12 year old (at most) to go by himself on such a quest, this sets up the story nicely.

When he arrives in Las Vegas for a flight to Death Valley, Sam meets his fellow team members, the geeky, history-obsessed Martina and the strong and silent Theo. The action quickly takes off from there, and includes a near-death flight experience, a kidnapping, and the following of clues hidden by none other than Ben Franklin. This activity is not all strictly realistic, perhaps, but it is a lot of fun. 

I also enjoyed the personal dynamics between the three very different kids. Sam is a bit of a wise-ass, and flies by the seat of his pants, though he is extremely good at puzzles. He and the well-prepared, uptight Marty begin bickering almost immediately. Theo's dry sense of humor is more gradually revealed, as is his background. I think Theo is going to be my favorite, actually, though Sam is the primary viewpoint character. The adults in the story are considerably less developed as characters, but this is as it should be.

The Eureka Key offers a fine mix of adventure, history, and puzzles, as well as three distinctive (but not too quirky) and likable protagonists. This is a book that I would have adored as a nine-year-old, and read in a single sitting as an adult. I look forward to future books in the Secrets of the Seven series. Recommended for mystery and adventure loving kids, and the libraries who serve them. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: April 5, 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).

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @EscapeAdulthood + @PernilleRipp + @focus2achieve

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have three articles about creating more joyful learning (and joy in reading) for kids. The first is about giving kids time to "wonder aimlessly) to figure out what they most enjoy. The second is about giving kids reading choice, and not imposing rules on them that we would not follow ourselves. The third is about how one teacher is working to remake homework policies to better serve the needs of his students. 

PenguinsCantFlyOn the value of giving kids time to "Wonder Aimlessly" + discover their own interests  @escapeadulthood #Play

Jason Kotecki: "This ability to “wonder aimlessly” is a valuable thing. It is the heart and soul of tinkering and the key to a happy, fulfilling life...

The current system in America is anything but aimless. From the earliest ages, the goal is to get kids reading as quickly as possible, even if that means limiting the amount of time they have for “aimless” free play, which interestingly enough,science has confirmed is crucial to the development of resiliency and conflict resolution, while helping them discover their own areas of interest and engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue."

Me: I agree with Jason and his wife Kim that kids need time to pursue "aimless" activities, so that they can recharge, figure out their passions, learn resilience, and a host of other benefits. I find in practice as the parent of a six-year-old that this is easier said than done. But I appreciate posts like that one that remind me of why I need to keep trying... 

PassionateLearnersSo much truth! The #Reading Rules that we impose upon kids that We Would Never Follow as Adult Readers  @pernilleripp

Pernille Ripp: "Choice is the cornerstone of our own literacy life, yet it is one of the first things we tend to remove for children, especially fragile or developing readers...

And while we can say that reading logs foster more reading because it is a check up system, it also kills reading for many.  If you want to see if the kids are reading, have them read in class and pay attention to what they are reading.  Allow students to track in a way that is meaningful to them; Goodreads, notebook page, poster, pictures of books on their phone, or even through conversations.  There is no one system that fits all and if a system we have in place is even killing the love of reading for one child, then we need to rethink it."

Me: In this post, Pernille Ripp hits on a variety of restrictions that we impose on kids' reading that risk killing their enjoyment of reading, like forcing "reflection" in the form of book reports about every book, and removing intrinsic motivation via reward programs. I just want to find a way to make every elementary school teacher in the country read this post, and come to understand these points. 

HomeworkMythHomework Doesn't Work. Now What? One teacher's plan to put his students' needs 1st  @focus2achieve @BAMRadioNetwork

Oskar Cymerman: "A lot of research says that any amount of homework is largely ineffective. Some academics see it as something that can still be used if adjusted. But how do we fix homework? And, can we fix homework? I do not know, but I know that as educators we need to do what serves our students best. It is not always clearly laid out what is best. Should we still give some homework or abandon it completely? If we give homework, how can we ensure that we do not give too much, as we rarely know how much is assigned in other classes? How do we still teach what we are mandated to teach when we know that assignment completion at home rarely leads to meaningful learning?

Here’s what I decided, so try it at your own risk if you wish." A seven-step "oath to students" follows. 

Me: I'm still not sure as a parent how I'm going to handle homework expectations when my daughter starts first grade next year. But I do so appreciate teachers like Oskar Cymerman who are working to figure out ways to remake and minimize homework to better meet the needs of students and families.

© 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: #PictureBooks, #Reading Choice, #Audiobooks + More

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include: #BookLists, Disney World, diverse books, #GrowthMindset, #SummerReading, Book Awards, leveled readers, libraries, reading aloud, reading choice, schools, teaching, parenting. 

Awards + Book Lists

TheStorytellerNewbery/Caldecott 2017: The Summer Prediction Edition — @fuseeight  #kidlit #PictureBooks

Like Jennifer Wharton, I'm skeptical about books on specific #parenting issues. But sometimes you need them. A list: 

#EasyReaders w/ #diverse characters: Expanding our #library collection (ages 5-8)  @MaryAnnScheuer #BookList

Read Around Town: Books about Laundry + the Laundromat  @mrskatiefitz #kidlit

Read Around Town: Books that Focus  on the Bus + Bus Drivers  @mrskatiefitz #BookList

A Truly Eclectic #PictureBook Round-Up from @RandomlyReading  @MollyIdle @gBrianKaras @RyanT_Higgins + more

Goofy Pets, Daring Detectives, and a Drama Queen| Chapter Books Series Update |  @abbylibrarian @sljournal #kidlit

Ten More Great School Age Readalouds for K-4th  @abbylibrarian #BookList #kidlit

Level Up: New @literacious series Pairing Video Games w/ Children’s Books| This week: Sports Games  #kidlit

Diversity + Gender

20 Books Featuring #Diverse Characters to Inspire Connection and Empathy  @Kschwart @MindShiftKQED

On the importance of praising girls for hard work + intelligence, not appearance  @Jonharper70bd @BAMRadioNetwork

Toy Companies Aim to Make Toys More Gender-Neutral  @AnneMarieChaker @WSJ

 Literature that Deals w/ Human #Diversity: Helping to overcome fear of the 'other' (age, race, etc)  @TrevorHCairney

Growing Bookworms

Read It Wrong: One Tip to Make #ReadingAloud Even More Fun from @everead  #GrowingBookworms 

On the dangers of using leveled books to constrain a child's reading @pernilleripp  Levels can damage reading life

6 Awesome Tips for Reading Chapter Books with Preschoolers (inc. abandon it if it's not working) from @growingbbb

On choice: What will my kids read this summer? I'm pretending not to care @Danny_Heitman  @csmonitor via @tashrow

Adventures in #Literacy Land: Six #SummerReading Tips to keep kids #reading 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

I agree with @literacious that marketing #Audiobooks at the Gym is a smart move on the part of @randomhouse 

#PictureBook Bios I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Hark, A Vagrant Comics) — @fuseeight  #kidlit

Schools and Libraries

DisneyParadeHow to give any educational organization a @WaltDisneyWorld feel in 3 steps  @TonySinanis #EdChat

A Small Fix in #Mindset Can Keep Students in School  @AlisonGopnik @WSJ #GrowthMindset #teaching

6 Reasons to Visit the #Library This Summer | @denabooks  @ReadBrightly via @tashrow #SummerReading

Why "NO is an appropriate response (for preschoolers) to a choice...just as much as YES"  @sxwiley #teaching

What’s in those pre-packaged leveled book boxes? We must seek quality classroom titles | Nicole Hewes @HornBook 

© 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

Can I Tell You a Secret? by Anna Kang & Christopher Weyant

Book: Can I Tell You a Secret?
Author: Anna Kang
Illustrator: Christopher Weyant
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

CanITellYouASecretMonty the frog has an embarrassing secret, one that he wants to share with the reader in Can I Tell You a Secret? Despite the fact that he's, well, a frog, Monty is afraid of the water. He's spent his childhood forging doctor's notes, ducking raindrops, and avoiding the water in any way he can. He seeks the young reader's advice, and reluctantly, with some false starts, agrees to share his terrible secret with his parents. Who, of course, know already. Monty takes his new friend the reader along as he sets out to learn to swim.   

I loved Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant's earlier collaboration: You Are Not Small, which won the 2015 Geisel Award. Like that one, Can I Tell You a Secret? is a book that simply begs to be read aloud. Like this:

"I have a secret.

Can you keep a secret?
You sure?
Because I don't want anyone else to know.

Do you promise

I challenge any reader not to read that "promise" like a scared four-year-old. 

Weyant's deceptively simple illustrations are perfect, too. We go in for a close-up of Monty's face when he's talking intently to the reader. Any kid who has ever been scared of anything will relate to Monty's anxious expression, and to the sheepish grin he uses when he chicken's out on his confession. His dejected appearance when he confesses (in a tiny font that calls for a tiny read-aloud voice) "I'm afraid of the water" will make any reader ache for him. Just as his simple joy at the end of the book will leave all readers happy.

Can I Tell You a Secret is a delightful picture book, perfect for the three to six-year-old set. It is certainly one that libraries and preschools will want to stock. It should have near-universal appeal for younger kids and their parents. It has plenty of repetition, and would also work as an early reader for slightly older kids. Highly recommended all around!

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 31, 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).

My Plan for My Daughter's "Summer Learning"

My daughter finished Kindergarten last week. My goal has been to keep her summer as unstructured as possible. I want her to have downtime after her first year of elementary school. I want her to have the mental space to develop and nurture her own interests. I want her to have fun. Which is not to say that she won't be learning. She's six years old. She is a little sponge, soaking up opportunities for learning every day. Here are the things that I plan to do that I think will support my daughter's learning process without taking away her autonomy or joy of learning:

KnuffleBunny1. Keep piles of picture books on the kitchen table and by her bed. Rotate these every couple of days to give her choice. Keep the simple reading log that we've been using on the kitchen table, so that we can jot down books as we read them. Read to her while she eats breakfast, before bed, and during whatever other times she requests it throughout the day. Visit the library as needed to keep the piles of books fresh. We are still mostly reading these books to her, but whenever she decides that she wants to read a picture book or early reader aloud, we're happy to listen and help out. 

1stGradeWorkbook2. Keep a Grade 1 workbook on the kitchen table or the playroom desk, in case she wants to use it. She especially likes the Scholastic workbooks that I get from Costco. She has already asked me to get the Grade 2 workbook, for when she finishes. I am not requiring her to do the workbook at any time, and certainly not to finish it. But I find that if it is her own idea, and she has some downtime, she's happy to use the workbook to practice her writing and math. Last night she was practicing sentences while my husband and I were finishing dinner. I loved workbooks as a kid, and seeing her industrious work does make me smile.

3. Keep her afternoons as open as possible (vs. having structured activities). My daughter ended up deciding at the last minute to sign up for swim team. There is practice every morning, though she is only required to go three times a week. These practices do get her outside exercising and spending time with her friends. They've been staying to play together at the pool for longer than the 45 minute practice time, so I figure this is a reasonable compromise. She also has two 50-minute karate classes a week, but as previously discussed, the karate classes bring her great joy. She's also going to do one week of "spy camp" because I couldn't resist. But otherwise, her schedule during the week is clear.  

4. Accept playdates when they are offered, and offer them in return. As I write this, my daughter is at a friend's house picking fruit from the family's garden. Yesterday she and a couple of friends arranged among themselves a playdate after swim practice. I believe there was dancing involved, but I'm not sure. We don't live in neighborhood where she can just spontaneously play with kids who live nearby, but this felt like the next best thing. We are very fortunate to have friends we can do this with, particularly given that my daughter is an only child.  

ThingsToMake5. Make sure we have plenty of construction paper, colored pencils, markers, and scotch tape. Costco is pretty helpful here, too. Save empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls, as well as shoeboxes. I also bought her something called The Big Book of Things to Make as an end-of-school present. While I'm philosophically in favor of her designing her own projects, I figured that a flipping through some ideas couldn't hurt. I also provide blank journals for writing stories.

6. Let her spend limited amounts of time doing hour of code tutorials (with a parent) and dabbling in Minecraft on her Kindle Fire. I do find that screen time can be addictive for my daughter, and I try to keep it quite limited. But I think it's ok in moderation, particularly if she is focused on things that are creative in some way. I also need some time in which she is occupied so that I can exercise, particularly on weekends, when our childcare provider is not with us. I agreed to download Minecraft (pocket edition) because I figured it would be better to have her building things than watching shows. 

That's it. Books and craft supplies. Kids to play with. Relatively constructive apps for her screen time. But most of all TIME. I realize that this might not be the right set of summer attributes for all kids. But for my daughter, I think this plan will do the trick. 

© 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.  



Chicken in Space: Adam Lehrhaupt and Shahar Kober

Book: Chicken in Space
Author: Adam Lehrhaupt
Illustrator: Shahar Kober
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

Chicken in Space is a new picture book about a chicken who is not like the other chickens. Zoey dreams of bigger things, and makes plans accordingly. Her specific dream in this story (one senses that there could be more) is to ravel to outer space. She has a loyal sidekick, a pie-obsessed pig named Sam, and she tries to enlist other animals to accompany she and Sam on their quest. But in the end, Zoey and Sam venture alone into the skies for a great adventure. 

The personalities of the animals come through clearly from Adam Lehrhaupt's dialog-heavy text, particularly for Zoey and Sam. Like this (0ver 3 pages):

"Clara," said Zoey, "come to space with us."

"You don't have a ship," said Clara. "You can't go to space without a ship."

"Not a problem!" said Zoey. "An opportunity!"

"Zoey always finds a way," said Sam.

"Look, Sam! I found a ship!" said Zoey.

"Of course you did," said Sam.  

Of course Shahar Kober's illustrations help to bring the characters to life, too. Zoey is priceless, with her aviator's hat. Sam wears a cute little hat, too, while an apparently timid mouse friend has round wire-rimmed glasses. Later page spreads use tilting perspectives and large colorful fonts to convey particularly dramatic moments. 

Chicken in Space celebrates the power of imagination and the importance of friendship, both in a humorous, kid-friendly way. There is just the right amount of goofiness (and balloons) to keep things fun. Kids will gobble it up, I think, and hope for Zoey and Sam to have other adventures. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 17, 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: Anticipating a Potential Sequel

LiteracyMilestoneAMy daughter has been aware for some time that books can have sequels. I'll often point this out. As in: "Hey, I heard that there's a sequel to Louise Loves Art coming out later this year. Isn't that cool?" But the other day was the first time that I'm aware of that she finished a book and anticipated that there should be a sequel forthcoming. 

We were reading Frankie Stein by Lola M. Schaefer and Kevan Atteberry, about a little boy who baffles his scary monster parents (Mr. and Mrs. Frank N. Stein) by turning out to be completely human-looking and rather cute. After the parents spend most of the book trying to make Frankie look and act more like them, Frankie ends up deciding to be his own cute=scary-to-monsters self. The book ends with the birth of Frankie's even cuter baby sister. As we closed the book, my daughter said "I can't WAIT for the sequel."

I gently pointed out that I didn't think that there was going to be a sequel to this title. [Though later research proved me wrong about this.] Her response was: "But there was a baby born at the end." I thought it marked progress in her development as a reader that she could recognize a situation that seemed likely to require a sequel. There are babies born at the end of Maple by Lori Nichols and One Special Day by Lola M. Schaefer and Jessica Meserve, and both of those books have sequels. So why not Frankie Stein? 

It turns out that the sequel, which actually was published several years ago, appears to be more about Frankie than about his sister, but I haven't read it yet. I did order it, though, to show my daughter that she was correct in her instincts. 

Katherine Sokolowski wrote recently on her blog about how her son is eagerly waiting for a third book in a favorite series that won't even be published until next summer. She said: "Thanks, Phil (Bildner), for making my kid love a book so much he wants to spend a summer day reading it - a year from now." Here I'll express my thanks to Lola M. Schaefer, and to the many other authors who I am sure will follow, who make my daughter say: "I can't WAIT for the sequel."

I think that eagerly awaiting books that haven't been published yet (or that we don't know have been published yet, anyway) is the hallmark of a true reader. 

© 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: June 17: #48HBC, #SummerReading, Censorship + more

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #48HBC, #SummerReading, book lists, censorship, growing bookworms, kidlitosphere, libraries, Lois Duncan, movies, parenting, play, reading enjoyment, schools, STEM, teaching, and writing. Wishing you all plenty of summer reading, with books of your own choosing. 

Book Lists

Middle Grade adventures across the genres (gadgets + villains, #SF, + more) from Jennifer Wharton  #kidlit #BookList 

18+ Books and Series For Kids Who Like the Warriors Series  #BookList from @momandkiddo

Favorite Children’s Books About Summer in lots of great categories from @rebeccazdunn   #kidlit #SummerReading 

Summer Reading 2016 for 5th & 6th graders: #FamiliesRead  by @MaryAnnScheuer #BookList #kidlit

Out Now: #YA Titles Great for Middle Schoolers  @libraryvoice @sljournal #kidlit

Diversity + Gender

Why Hollywood Doesn't Make More Movies for Girls, Like Matilda + The Parent Trap  @TheAtlantic via @PWKidsBookshelf 

Events + Programs

Chicago libraries aim to give away 1 million children's books this summer to beat #SummerSlide  @chicagotribune

$13 Million in #SchoolLibrary Grants and Counting from @laurawbush Foundation  @sljournal

Growing Bookworms

Books Every Teacher, Homeschooler, and Parent Should Read to help w/ #RaisingReaders  @growingbbb

How One School Engaged Readers by Hosting "Flashlight Fridays"  #RaisingReaders

6 Easy Ways to Get Kids Outside and #Reading This Summer  @momandkiddo @ReadBrightly #RaisingReaders

In Orlando's wake: "modeling love of reading + need for reading makes a huge difference"  @RitaWirtz @BAMRadioNetwork


48hbc_newPut the next 48 Hour Book Challenge on your calendar for June 9-11, 2017!  @MsYingling is making it happen #48HBC

Lots of #kidlit tidbits in Morning Notes: Sit in the Dark and Eat Edition — @100scopenotes 

More #kidlit tidbits here: Fusenews: Trotsky, Harriet the Spy, A.A. Milne and More — @FuseEight 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

I was sad to hear about the death of Lois Duncan, one of my teen favorite authors. Here's @RogerReads  @HornBook

Thoughts on authors for adults who, when asked, disassociate from having read books published for kids  @FuseEight

How to Make #Writing an Important Part of Your Child’s Life w/ diaries, blogs + more  by @mrdad


Not really surprising: Kids Feel Unimportant to Cell Phone-Distracted Parents, says new study | @parenting 

After 16 Years, Teacher Is Fed Up With Kids’ Attitudes. His Rant On Facebook Is Going VIRAL!  @shareably @drdouggreen


Kids' #Nonfiction Books for Exploring The Great Outdoors  A @mrskatiefitz #BookList for #play + #exercise + #nature

#Play Counts: Confessions + Learnings of a Play-based Teacher by @DenitaDinger  via @sxwiley

Why Children Need #Play and How to Prioritize Play in a Busy World  @mamasmiles #parenting

Schools and Libraries

"We can't censor books because they make us uncomfortable"  @katsok  on needing broad classroom #libraries

Kristin Abbott on the story of Ellen Mouchawar, who started a much-needed library at a local school  @nerdybookclub

Why #HighSchools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians | A response from @DavidGeurin  #EdChat

How Can Teachers Get Students to #Read Over the Long Summer Break? @MarvaAHinton  @educationweek


Not surprising to me: Teens Like Science, Not Science Class, Study Finds - @JZubrzycki  @educationweek #STEM

© 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 @PaulBogush + @ErikaChristakis + @OliviaGoldhill + @NancyEBailey1

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have three posts about different aspects of nurturing kids as creative thinkers. The first is about not imposing too many rules on kids, particularly in school, but instead, letting them be risk-takers. The second is about creating the right environment to encourage kids to read over the summer. The third is about letting kids be bored, rather than scheduling activities for them every minute. These are all things that I try to do with my daughter, with varying degrees of success. I also have a post about the dangers of rigorous required summer reading lists. 

"You have to be willing to (let kids) do dangerous things ... to change the world"  @paulbogush @BAMRadioNetwork

Paul Bogush: "We preach to the kids "make a difference."  We tell them to "be the change they wish to see in the world." We put quotes on bulletin boards motivating them to dream "big."  There is continuous prodding to get them to be independent, be a leader, and who has not uttered or written on a wall that they should all "shoot for the stars."

All of that is followed up by a subliminal "not yet."...

Here's the thing. You have to be willing to do dangerous things if you want to change the world.  You need to be the person that everyone else thinks is a little crazy...because "people who are crazy enough to change the world, are the ones who do.""

Me: This post resonated with me. Paul Bogush is saying: "Hey, we tell kids to be risk-takers and people who change the world, but then we expect them to be careful and compliant all day in school. This is not consistent." It's not easy to let kids do things that could be dangerous, of course, but I do feel like many (most?) parents and schools do need to ease up a bit. This post reminded me of the Free Range Kids movement. 

Beyond summer #booklist: How to cultivate a childhood #reading habitat  @ErikaChristakis @washingtonpost via @tashrow

Erika Christakis: "If we parents really want to foster natural reading, we can start by keeping our anxious and competitive urges in check and offering stories pitched at genuinely comfortable levels.

Adults also sometimes overlook content that really captivates a young child, opting instead for “message” stories or dazzling illustrations with thin characters and plot...

We need to cultivate more respect for those quiet unplanned moments when children stare at their cosmic ceiling. Think of unstructured time as negative space in a painting, illuminating what is otherwise hard to see. It may be more valuable in the long term than checking off another title on the summer book list.

Me: The bottom line of this piece by Erika Christakis is that a) kids need to read books that are at the right level and are about things that interest them; and b) need free time (without distraction) in which to read them. I certainly do not have a summer reading list for my six year old daughter. What I do is try to put fresh piles of picture books on the kitchen table and by her bed, keep her from being over-scheduled, and hope for the best. 

Psychologists recommend children be bored in the summer  They need space for creativity + finding own interests

Olivia Goldhill: "There are activities and summer camps galore to fill children’s time and supply much needed childcare when kids are out of school. But psychologists and child development experts suggest that over-scheduling children during the summer is unnecessary and could ultimately keep kids from from discovering what truly interests them.

“There’s no problem with being bored,” says (Lyn) Fry. “It’s not a sin, is it? I think children need to learn how to be bored in order to motivate themselves to get things done. Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant.”"

Me: This relatively brief article makes the point that kids need time and space to figure out what really interests them. If the adults are scheduling them in activities all day long, they'll never learn to figure out what they like. Letting kids be bored makes them responsible for figuring out something to do, which is a useful skill to develop. This is something that I struggle with sometimes with my daughter, who is an only child and frequently wants an adult to play with her. I want her to learn to better entertain herself, both for my own sanity and for her own long-term happiness. Me, I can entertain myself with no one else around for days on end. That's a gift!

Rigorous summer "reading assignments are not really inducing fun. They’re making work out of reading"  @NancyEBailey1

Nancy E. Bailey: (After looking at typical summer reading assignments given to middle schoolers) "It is not that older students who dislike reading can’t get help and encouragement to be better, happier readers. It just doesn’t seem like piling on reading assignments over the summer is going to do the trick. 

And it could be turning off the students who enjoy reading! Once reading is turned into a chore, it is hard to make it sound enjoyable...

In the spirit of summer relaxation, reading should be encouraged as something enjoyable to do.

In the end, if one doesn’t like to read, they just won’t do it. And that means there is probably a real reading problem that requires fixing, or the student never really learned the great joy that can come from reading."

Me: I think it's great if a school wants to provide a list of recommended titles that kids might want to read over the summer. Ideally, that list should consider of books that are kid-friendly and likely to be enjoyed, rather than being "educational." But I agree with Nancy Bailey that providing lists of books that kids are required to read, and giving them a required number of books to read, is more likely to turn kids off from reading than to help make them avid readers. Sigh. When the time comes, I will protect my daughter from such lists to the best of my ability. 

© 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. 

Sophie's Squash Go To School: Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf

Book: Sophie's Squash Go To School
Author: Pat Zietlow Miller
Illustrator: Anne Wilsdorf
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

Sophie's Squash is one of my all-time favorite picture books (see my review). So naturally I was thrilled to learn that a sequel would be forthcoming. Sophie's Squash Go To School picks up not long after the end of Sophie's Squash. Readers of the first book will not be surprised to find that when she starts school for the first time, Sophie takes her two best friends, Bonnie and Baxter (the squash children of Bernice). Sophie is not keen on branching out to make any new friends, despite the best efforts of a boy named Steven Green. Eventually, however, the determined Steven is able to break through Sophie's reserve, and she learns that having common interests with someone really can be a basis for friendship.

Sophie's stubborn, loyal personality is, happily, largely unchanged from the first book. Like this:

"Sophie's parents were no help at all.

"Steven sounds adorable," said her mother. "And it's good to have friends."

"Especially human ones," added her father.

Sophie hugged Bonnie and Baxter tightly. "I have all the friends I need."

I just love how determinedly misanthropic she is. When she does start to come around to the other kids, it happens s-l-o-w-l-y. Like this:

"So when Liam showed everyone how do do his loose-tooth dance, Sophie considered joining in.

When Roshni spilled her milk, Sophie almost shared her napkin.

And when Noreen told her favorite banana joke, Sophie laughed--inside her head." 

The latter is accompanied by a picture of Sophie glancing over at the other kids, with the first smile the reader has seen yet on her grouchy face. There's no question that illustrator Anne Wilsdorf understands Sophie. 

My only minor quibble about this book was that I found Steven's persistence in becoming friends with Sophie a bit implausible. But an image of Steven sitting by himself, with only his stuffed frog, at the base of a tree while the other kids play suggests his need to find a single kindred spirit, rather than being part of the larger crowd. The other kids are clearly wilder and more extroverted. So I'm willing to give Steven a pass. 

Sophie's Squash Go To School is a long-ish picture book, but I think that the extra length is needed to give Sophie sufficient room for plausible growth. The nice thing about this book is that it works as a sequel for fans of Sophie's Squash and as a transition to kindergarten / learning to make friends book. I don't think that it quite stands alone - you really have to understand where Bonnie and Baxter came from to fully appreciate Sophie's Squash Go To School. But the two books together would make a great gift for a child starting pre-k or kindergarten. And the sequel is certainly not to be missed by Sophie's many fans. Recommended!

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: June 28, 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).