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April 2017

Posts from May 2017

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: May 26: Super Villains, Reading Spaces, #Coding + Conquering Busyness

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics for this relatively light week include #BookLists, #STEM, #SummerReading, bullying, coding, First Book, growing bookworms, math, parenting, reading culture, reluctant readers, schools, and time management. And speaking of time management, I wish everyone a Memorial Day weekend spent doing whatever means start of summer to you. As for me, I'll be sitting outside reading just as much as I can. 

Book Lists

Super Heroes and Super Villains, a + a couple of new arrivals   

8 Delightful Children's Books That Celebrate

Events + Programs

FirstBookSummer_ReadingHappy 25th Birthday to , still bringing books + resources to kids in need  

Growing Bookworms

Reading Spaces + creating a culture in , guest post by  

Ten Types of Books That Are Hooking My MOST Reluctant Readers by

Best Programs, Contests, and Challenges 2017, collected by

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

GeorgeShrinks-500x412THEY’RE ALIIIIIIIIVE! 2017 Out-of-Print Books Back From the Dead —  

This looks like a good list: 36 Twitter Accounts Teachers Should Follow

Thoughts (inspired by ) on how + other bloggers organize overflowing bookshelves

Parenting and Time Management

HappinessTrack#Happiness research shows the biggest obstacle to is being too busy

Practical Ways to Teach Young Children How to Respond to a Bully - Bethany Todd

This has really hit home for me lately: You Can Never Be Your Best If You're Too Busy  


Getting More Girls (& Boys) to Love by  

Do Digital Games Improve Children’s Skills by making fun?

© 2017 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

Shorty & Clem: Michael Slack

Book: Shorty & Clem
Author: Michael Slack
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

ShortyAndClemShorty & Clem is the story of two friends. Shorty is a relatively short dinosaur and Clem is a quail. They apparently live together. One day while Clem is out, a package arrives for him. Shorty is achingly curious about the contents of the package (wrapped in cheerful spotted paper). He doesn't feel right opening it, but, well, bouncing it, thumping on it, and other activities prove irresistible. Eventually Shorty succumbs to temptation and opens the package, finding something delightful. But he has to face the music when Clem comes home. Or does he? 

This book reminded me very much of the Elephant & Piggie books (with Shorty taking the role or Elephant), albeit with a hint more text, and obviously very different illustrations. For example, on one page spread Shorty says:

"I will drive it!"

He looks gleeful (if somewhat demented), sitting on the package. Then there's a page of sound effects: "VROOM, VROOOM, VROOOOM" "screetch" "CRASH!" as he drives the box/car around. I could just hear Gerald the Elephant saying "I will eat the ice cream!" under similar circumstance. 

But, you know, someone does have to fill the void left by the retirement of Elephant and Piggie. And Shorty and Clem are dynamic and funny. Michael Slack's exclamation-filled text is read-aloud friendly, with plenty of opportunities for drama. And the colorful characters are visually engaging. Clem, I think, is especially cute, with his big round eyes. (I'm not sure why Clem is male, to tell the truth, as he is basically wearing pumps, but whatever.) 

I think that Shorty & Clem could work well for a storytime read-aloud for preschoolers, or as an early reader for primary-age kids. Slack nicely captures the desperation that young kids feel when they have to wait to open a present. Oh, the suffering! Shorty's creative uses of the simple box are also inspired. I would not be at all surprised to see these two characters repackaged into an early reader format, and having further adventures. In any event, my daughter and I enjoyed them in picture book format. Recommended. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: April 25, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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 @medinger and @biblioracle on #SummerReading and #JoyofWriting

JoyOFLearningLogoI ran across two articles about nurturing the joy of learning last week. The first was about how schools should NOT assign mandatory summer reading, something with which I agree strongly. The second was about the importance of nurturing a joy of writing in students, in addition to a joy of reading. This was a good reminder to me, the mother of a child who declares herself a writer. I hope you find these articles useful. 

Yes, yes, yes! The best ? Not mandatory. Don't send home required lists.

John Warner: "As someone who loves and values books and reading and also has been teaching college writing for the past 16 years, I have a request: Please don't do that [send home required reading lists].

Seems paradoxical, I know. Why would a book lover like me discourage schools from requiring students to read over the summer?

Nurturing good reading habits is a long game, and whenever we tether reading to school, we hinder, rather than help, students. The National Counsel of Teachers of English has a list of best practices when it comes to effective reading instruction, including this: "Provide daily opportunities for students to read books of their own choice at school."

I'd like to add a personal recommendation: When not in school, let students read whatever the heck they want."

Me: I agree with John Warner 100%. I think it's fine to provide lists of titles that kids might enjoy, as a helpful tool. But to me, summer reading for kids, as it usually is for adults, should be about reading whatever is of interest at that particular moment. Comic strips, books of amazing facts, instruction manuals, notebook novels, verse novels, series titles, etc., etc., etc. 

JoyWriteA reminder of the need to maintain a joy of in the classroom + a response from to a new book

Monica Edinger: "All of this informs my beliefs when it comes to teaching writing to 4th graders. These include:

  • Creating situations where students feel invested in their writing
  • That they have audiences
  • That they find joy in the work
  • That they understand that there are many different ways and reasons to write — some being completely private, some to figure out a problem, and more.

Of late my impression is that writing instruction in schools is highly driven by testing, common core curriculum, packaged programs, and consultants."

Me: Monica shares an early experience in school that harmed her confidence in her writing for years, and discusses how that experience informed her methods of teaching writing today. She also shares her responses to Ralph Fletcher's new book on "cultivating high-impact, low-stakes writing." This post really struck me because my daughter right now loves to write. But I do worry that emphasis on structure and spelling and the like will take away that joy as she gets older. Monica's post made me realize that in addition to my efforts to keep reading at home as joyful an experience for my daughter as possible, I need to do the same thing with writing. I certainly intend to try!  

© 2017 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. 

Go Sleep in Your Own Bed!: Candace Fleming & Lori Nichols

Book: Go Sleep in Your Own Bed!
Author: Candace Fleming
Illustrator: Lori Nichols
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-7

GoSleepInYourOwnBedI thought that Go Sleep in Your Own Bed! would be one of those books designed to encourage kids to, well, sleep in their own beds, instead of with Mom and Dad. But if that is the point that Candace Fleming is trying to make, she has an unusually subtle approach. Instead, Go Sleep in Your Own Bed is a silly tale in which a succession of animals each attempts to go to bed, finds someone else in the bed, kicks out said someone else, and then goes to sleep. Then we proceed to the next page spread, where that kicked out animal also finds his or her bed taken. This structure is repeated half a dozen times. There is a mild surprise at the end when the final animal is offered the choice to sleep in someone else's bed. 

What made this book work for me was Fleming's use of apt descriptive language. Like this:

"Oh, w-w-w-h-o-o-o-a is me," whickered Horse. 
And he shambled to his stable, cloppety-plod.

But when he settled down--
Who do you think he found?

(next page)

"Get up!"
whinnied Horse.
"Go sleep in your
own bed!"

For a book with so little text, those are some great descriptive words. "Whickered", "shambled", "clopety-plod". And of course there is a hint in "Mehhhhh" about what the next animal is going to be. Vocabulary-building and read-aloud friendly! 

Lori Nichols' illustrations add humor on every page, from chicken feathers flying everywhere when the chickens try to evict a horse to the expression of righteous indignation on the face of the horse when he finds a sheepish sheep in his bed. She also includes visual hints of what the next animal will be (e.g. a bunch of shaggy wool that looks like a mop, in the above example), making it more fun for younger listeners to guess the next animal. She uses dim backgrounds throughout, and closes the book with a cozy nighttime scene perfect for saying "Goodnight" to young listeners.

Go Sleep in Your Own Bed! is a comforting bedtime read, perfect for preschoolers. There's enough interesting vocabulary to keep primary listeners engaged, too, and enough silliness that it could also work as part of a farm sounds unit for a school or library storytime. Definitely worth a look, for libraries and families! Recommended!

Publisher: Schwartz and Wade (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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: Having Her Own Genre Preferences

LiteracyMilestoneAI've always tried to give my daughter choice in what we read, of course. And she's always had preferences for particular books, and, eventually, particular authors and illustrators. When she was younger, I would let her pick whatever she liked from the library, even if that meant a whole stack of TV tie-in paperbacks. But recently, for the first time, she identified herself as a fan of a particular genre. Someone asked her what she likes to read and she said: "I'm really into graphic novels." To me, this is a milestone because she's defining herself as a person who likes to read a particular type of book. She's starting to understand her own preferences, and seek out the things that work for her. 

This incident also stood out for me because, well, I'm not particularly into graphic novels. I enjoy some of the ones for younger readers, particularly Babymouse and Lunch Lady. But I'm not a very visually-oriented person, and for longer, more complex stories I prefer text. Shifting my focus between the words and the pictures in a graphic novel is a distraction for me. 

KnightsOfLunchTable1But my daughter! She adores graphic novels. I've written before of her love for Lunch Lady by Jarrett Krosoczka, and for Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham. She's also reading the Knights of the Lunch Table series and the Babysitters' Club full color graphic novel editions. She loves them all. She stays up late reading them, reads them in the car, and talks about them with whoever will listen. At this point, she prefer realistic graphic novels to fantasy [Zita the Spacegirl didn't work for her, for example], but I can imagine that changing in the future. We'll have to wait and see. Right now, I'm just celebrating that she knows what she likes, and seeks it out.

The other night I left a new graphic novel on her bed. I said: "I think you'll like this one." She said: "Is there a graphic novel in this book? Then, YES, I will like it." (Awkward phrasing, but she was trying to quote the scene in Elf where he says he likes sugar.) 

Me, I like mysteries and post-apocalyptic stories. My daughter's preferences will likely evolve as she gets older. But right now she is doing what readers do, figuring out what she enjoys, and then asking for more. 

© 2017 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: May 19: Locus Award Finalists, #Audiobooks, Family Reading + Silent Reading

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. The roundup is relatively short this week because I had some travel, and wasn't able to spend much time with Twitter. Topics I did share include: #audiobooks, #BookADay, #PoetLaureate, #SummerReading, bedtime reading, book awards, reading aloud, reading parties, and science fiction.

Book Lists + Awards

DoubleDown2017 Locus Award Finalists in shared by 

Congratulations! Margarita Engle named Young People's via

Best for Family Road Trips, a from

Week: Some of the Funniest Children’s Books of 2017 by Women —

Events + Programs

Read on the Fly program connects kids, books at Alaska airports  

Growing Bookworms

CharlottesWebThe Family Who Reads (Aloud) Together, Cries Together — Cynthia Platt

I’m Nearing the End of w/ My Daughter + It’s Breaking My Heart  

The Case for To Older Kids via

Why the Music of with expression Matters for Kids |

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

PenderwicksThere Is A Difference Between Middle Grade and Young Adult Lit + It Does Matter  

What is the Best Way to Listen to ? suggests some sources

A fine idea: Silent Parties--How Great Does This Sound?  

Sharing Plans for Summer ! by


How Parents Can Help Kids Develop A Sense Of Purpose

To Raise Better Kids, Say No | keep them from being spoiled + nurture creative thinking |

© 2017 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

Enzo and the Fourth of July Races: Garth Stein and R.W. Alley

Book: Enzo and the Fourth of July Races
Author: Garth Stein
Illustrator: R.W. Alley
Pages: 40
Age Range: 6-8

EnzoFourthOfJulyI like the previous books about Enzo very much (see reviews here and here). But Enzo and the Fourth of July Races I LOVE. Enzo is a cute little dog who lives with a girl named Zoe and her race car driver dad, Denny. The books are told from Enzo's perspective. In this installment, Enzo accompanies Zoe and Denny to Pine Cone Speedway for the Fourth of July Races. Denny will be competing as usual. And Zoe will be competing for her first time in the Kids' Kart Challenge. If she can overcome the hit to her confidence that comes from overhearing a boy scoff at the idea of a girl competing, that is. 

There's so much to love about this book. It's about how you need to have confidence in yourself to succeed, and how no one else can give that to you externally. It's about the rewards of working hard, and about how you should pay attention to people who might have useful information (even if they are not in conventionally "important" positions). And it's about how girls can, in fact, accomplish anything they set out to do. 

Of course regular readers know that I am very sensitive to books that are didactic. But Enzo and the Fourth of July Races manages to teach these growth mindset-inspired lessons without the tiniest hint of being message-y. I think Garth Stein pulls this off by keeping the viewpoint of the book squarely in Enzo's determined paws. Enzo isn't capable of thinking in didactic terms, and readers won't be, either. Enzo is just observing what Zoe and Denny do, with a few reflections on how they feel, and trying to figure out how he can support his family. It's brilliant. 

The book also highlights fun aspects of the fact that the narrator is a dog. Enzo has learned a bit about people since his puppy days, but he still has a decidedly dog-centric view of the world. Like this:

"This is what I love about the racetrack: the roar of engines, the smell of fuel and rubber, the dirt on everyone's faces, and the look of intensity in their eyes as they work on their cars to make them the fastest of the weekend.

And I also like that sometimes someone drops a hot dog and doesn't notice."

There's also a great spread in which Zoe and Denny are both qualifying at the same time. Enzo runs back and forth between them until he is tired and panting, observing: "They don't realize how much work it is for me to look after them!" You just have this feeling that dogs really think that way. 

R. W. Alley's illustrations of Enzo and his family are warm and pleasing. The illustrator of recent Paddington books brings the shaggy Enzo to life perfectly. 

One other thing I love about this book is what a great dad Denny is. When Zoe (temporarily) backs out of the Go Kart race he tells her: "A wise man once told me there is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose." But he also tells her: " I respect your decision, and I love you whether or not you race." I kind of wanted to hug him right there. 

Enzo and the Fourth of July Races is long and text-dense for a picture book. I would recommend it more for first and second graders than for younger kids. Despite being long, to me (and I am not at all patient these days) it didn't drag on at all. Every page and paragraph was necessary to the plot. Because the vocabulary is relatively straightforward, I think it could work as a read-alone book for first or second graders, or for a classroom read-aloud (perhaps over a couple of days). Certainly my first grader had no hesitation whatsoever in assigning Enzo and the Fourth of July Races to the "write about this book" stack. 

Enzo and the Fourth of July Races is a new favorite in our household. Highly recommended for home or school use!

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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: May 17: Reading in Bed, Reading Together, and Realistic Graphic Novels

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 growing joyful learners, mainly bookworms, but also mathematicians and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this issue I have five book reviews (picture book through young adult) and one post with my daughter's latest literacy milestone (staying up too late reading). I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I finished two middle grade novels, two adult novels, and one adult nonfiction title. I read/listened to: 

  • Jennifer Bell: The Uncommoners. Crown Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade Fantasy. Completed May 5, 2017, on Kindle. Review to come.
  • Shannon Hale (ill. LeUyen Pham): Real Friends. First Second. Middle Grade Graphic Novel. Completed May 16, 2017. Read aloud to me by my daughter, who loves this book madly, and is now reading it on her own for a third time. She loves discussing it with me ("Which parts are your favorite?" "Why do you think X did Y?" etc.). Highly, highly recommended - this is going to become a go-to birthday gift book for us. 
  • William Kent Krueger: Boundary Waters (Cork O'Connor, No. 2). Atria Books. Adult Mystery. Completed May 4, 2017, on MP3. This series is holding up for me so far, and I have downloaded book 3. 
  • Victoria Thompson: Murder in the Bowery. Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed May 11, 2017, on MP3. Delightful, as always. 
  • Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant: Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Knopf. Adult Nonfiction. Completed May 15, 2017, on Kindle. This is a very powerful book. I read it partly because I'm interested in Sandberg's story and partly as an aid to building my own resilience. It delivered on both fronts. 

MrsSmithSpySchoolI'm currently listening to Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane and reading Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls by Beth McMullen.  I have a weekend coming up when I should be able to get some good reading done, and I have both physical and Kindle stacks waiting. 

My most positive reading experience lately by far was having my daughter read Real Friends (see above) aloud to me. We were (for the most part) cozy on the couch reading together. I could help her with words she didn't understand (though I accepted her somewhat unconventional pronunciation of various names). We could stop and discuss the behaviors that she didn't understand. (The toughest thing was young Shannon's older sister being made more angry by an apology from her saintly younger sibling.) We noted resemblances to things in the Princess in Black books. We discussed what we would have done in X or Y situation. And we just enjoyed the book. It was wonderful.

You can find my daughter's 2017 reading list here. She especially enjoys realistic graphic novels these days. El Deafo by Cece Bell was also a hit. I would especially love suggestions for realistic graphic novels for which the themes are not too advanced for a first grader (I'm fine with stretching her on vocabulary, but she's not really ready to read about dating, etc.). 

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2017 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 Legend of Rock Paper Scissors: Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex

Book: The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
Author: Drew Daywalt
Illustrator: Adam Rex
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4-8

LegendRockPaperScissorsThe Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Adam Rex, is the dramatic origin saga of the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. It is set in the mysterious land of a suburban home. Readers first meet Rock, who lives in the Kingdom of Backyard. Rock defeats all challengers by pummeling them. Rock, however, feels let down by the lack of "a worthy foe." A similar situation faces Paper, who dominates his Empire of Mom's Home Office, and Scissors, who dwells in the Kitchen Realm, in the "tiny village of Junk Drawer." As each warrior sets out in search of more equal challengers, the three heroes meet"in the great cavern of Two-Car Garage." Astute readers will be able to predict what happens from here. 

The text of The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors is over-the-top and read-aloud friendly, full of dramatic exclamations as well as more subtle wordplay. Like this:

"They called her Scissors,
and she was the fastest blade in
all the land. She, too, was unchallenged.
On this day, her first opponent was a strange and sticky circle-man.

"Let us
do battle,
you tacky and vaguely
round monstrosity!"

"I will
battle you,
and I will
leave you
beaten and 
confused with 
my adhesive
and tangling 

We have classic adventure lingo, like "fastest blade in all the land" as well as "you tacky and vaguely round monstrosity" (describing a roll of cellophane tape). This is a book that simply begs to be read aloud, and will make kids and adults smile. There's also a scene in which Rock tells an apricot that he looks like a "fuzzy little butt", which will have listeners chortling (though things do not end well for the "odd and delicious fruit").

This is a longer text at 48 fairly busy pages, however, and will work better for the K-3 set than for preschoolers, I think. It also might be a bit long for library storytime. But for reading at home, The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors is hard to beat.

Adam Rex's bold illustrations bring the three unconventional main characters, and their opponents, to quirky life. Even the elements of a half-eaten bag of trail mix have individual, frightened expressions when confronted by the bold Paper. My favorite is Scissors, though. Her two green loops look like eyes within eyeglasses, expressive and shiny. 

My seven year old gave this one two thumbs up and a "Yes, you'll have to write about this one, Mommy." And so I have. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors is pure fun, and a must-read for fans of Daywalt's Crayons books. Read it, and you'll never play Rock, Paper, Scissors in quite the same way. Highly recommended and a must-purchase for libraries. 

Publisher: Balzer + Bray  (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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: May 12: #Audiobooks, #Reading More + #Parenting

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #KFRR, #PictureBooks, #STEM, #SummerReading, audiobooks, biographies, children's books for adults, Christine Carter, foster care, growing bookworms, parenting, play, reading, reading aloud, Rick Riordan, Scholastic, and women in engineering.

Book Lists

Blackout13 Summer Books for Preschoolers from

20 Titles for , from + more 

2017 Recommendations from

Ten Biographies Tweens, Teens + Teachers Will Love! by

Funny 3rd Grade Books: The Perfect from

8 New Middle Grade Novels (w/ 40s-friendly fonts) Adults Will (Also) Love, from

Growing Bookworms

PippiAudioYes! : Benefits to listening (w/ reading along) as children develop skills by

The Kids & Family Report™, Canadian Edition Offers First-ever Insights  

This Kindergarten Class Threw A "Millionaire Bash" To Celebrate 1 Million Words Each In A Year

A Reminder of the Importance of to Babies from

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

People who read (fiction) books are nicer, study finds |

If you could remove any famous from fame (as now problematic to you), what would it be? asks  

MagnusChaseI enjoyed this post Celebrating by (who like me was a fan of 's books early on)

How to read more books — Tips gathered from research by

Female Authors Aren’t Funny (And Other Lies You May Have Heard) by 


How to Your Children Helps You to Be a Present Parent | 

So true! "It takes a mountain of books to raise a capable, caring, confident child"

SweetSpotGood advice here: How to Help Your Teen Deal With Stress 1. Stop doing things that stress YOU out


Roundup of some recent Posts About + , with quotes, from

How a daycare provider transformed her school: "I Stopped Stopping Play"


Seven Ways to Get More Women into and Tech by Alyssa Johnson | guest post  

© 2017 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

Prudence the Part-Time Cow: Jody Jensen Shaffer and Stephanie Laberis

Book: Prudence the Part-Time Cow
Author: Jody Jensen Shaffer
Illustrator: Stephanie Laberis
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

PrudenceCowPrudence the Part-Time Cow by Jody Jensen Shaffer and Stephanie Laberis is a celebration of science, invention, individuality and belonging. Prudence is only a part-time cow because she spends a significant portion of her time being a scientist, architect, and engineer. The other cows find Prudence's odd behavior off-putting. When they criticize her, she tries to be more like the other cows. But she simply can't help herself. She wants to read and learn and understand and try things out.

When the other cows let her know, again, that she'll never truly be one of them, Prudence sets her considerable mind to figuring out a way that she can be herself and still belong. She ends up making a series of inventions tailored to the needs of those around her. The ending, in which the other cows happily accept the results of her efforts, struck me as an adult reader as a little bit too easy. But I think that kids will like it. Certainly my seven-year-old inventor, ninja, engineer, architect, pirate daughter had no complaints, and pronounced the book a success. 

Shaffer's text uses strong vocabulary words and lots of quotations. I think this is more suited as a book to read to children then from them to read on their own. Here's a snippet:

"When it was pond-standing time, Prudence stood with the herd.
She was doing great ... but then she calculated
the water temperature and wind speed.

"Sixty-eight degrees and four miles per hour."

The herd was not impressed. "Cows don't calculate,"
said Bessie, counting the salves as she hustled
them from the pond."

I like "pond-standing time" and the use of "hustled." I also got a little smile from the fact that the cow busily counting the calves claimed that cows don't calculate. For what is counting but calculating? I chose not to point this out to my daughter, though. Let her pick it up on her own when she's ready, I say. 

Laberis' illustrations add humor and detail. Prudence is shown with a shock of curly pink hair. The other cows are frequently shown with grumpy expressions, while the calves tend to look more open and questioning. Prudence sometimes stands on two legs, to the other cows' four, a subtle visual representation of her more evolved state. She looks like someone's quirky aunt, a bit embarrassing in public, but lovable. 

You have to appreciate any book that has a female character who loves science and math so much that she simply can't help calculating and inventing. The fact that she's a cow, not a person, makes her community's lack of acceptance of her true nature understandable. Her attempts to balance staying true to herself with fitting in reflect tensions that most science-loving girls will experience one day. This theme, along with the book's vocabulary and visual detail, makes Prudence the Part-Time Cow a better fit for first to third graders than for preschoolers, I think. It would make a very nice classroom read-aloud for, say, second graders. Libraries looking for pro-STEM books, especially pro-STEM books with female characters, will definitely want to give Prudence the Part-Time Cow a look. Recommended!

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (@MacKidsBooks) 
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author

© 2017 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).

Thirteen Reasons Why: Jay Asher: A Review Reissue

Book: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Pages: 256
Age Range: 13 and up


Nearly 10 years ago I wrote a review from an advance copy of Jay Asher's book, Thirteen Reasons Why. Since then I've followed Jay's journey with the book through his blog and Facebook. [He toured the 50 states to discuss the book with students, for example.] Recently I've heard a fair bit from other parents (who have older children than I do) about the Netflix series based on the book. I thought it might be useful for me to re-post my original review of the book. I have not watched the TV series, though if my daughter was a teenager, I am pretty sure that I would watch it with her.  I have not updated or edited this review, though if I was writing it today as a parent, I would probably have responded a little differently. Anyway, without further ado, here are my 10-year-old thoughts on Thirteen Reasons Why:

Thirteen Reasons Why is an unusual and fascinating book. Author Jay Asher starts with an intriguing premise, then tells his story via a complex dual narrative structure. He juggles a large cast of characters, and maintains near-constant suspense. Although the book isn't due out until mid-October, I've already seen considerable buzz about it. Having read the book, I can understand why. It's one of those rare books that I finish, and then immediately want to turn back to the beginning to read again, to double-check how all of the puzzle pieces fit together.

Thirteen Reasons Why is narrated by Clay Jensen, high school junior. One day Clay receives in the mail a box containing seven audio cassettes (13 sides) narrated by Hannah Baker. Hannah is a girl from Clay's class who he was interested in. She recently committed suicide, and left a significant "what if" in Clay's heart. The remainder of the book follows Clay's progress in listening to the tapes as he walks around town through one very long night.

Hannah's voice is interspersed with Clay's, as he listens and reacts. Hannah's text is in italics. I did occasionally get confused between whether Hannah or Clay was speaking, but as I was reviewing from the ARC, I would imagine that this is easier to distinguish in the final printed text.

Hannah dedicates one side of each cassette tape to a person, and a reason that put her on the path to suicide. Clay knows (because he has received the tapes) that one of the installments will be about him. A large part of the suspense of the book centers on Clay's fears about what he could have done to contribute to Hannah's despair.

Clay's reactions to Hannah's revelations, of cruelties and misunderstandings and missed opportunities, intensify the emotional impact of her words. We feel for Hannah as Clay feels for Hannah, and we feel for Clay having to make his way through the tapes. There's a constant "if only" refrain to the whole thing, too. If only Justin hasn't started everything off on the wrong foot. If only the teacher hadn't let down his student. If only ...

In addition to being a suspenseful and intriguing novel, Thirteen Reasons Why is a laser-focused magnifying glass, through which we examine the microcosm of high school. More specifically, through which we examine the way that kids treat one another, often carelessly, and the sometimes overwhelmingly high emotional cost. This isn't a "message book". The fully drawn characters and their experiences come first. But underpinning their story is a series of warnings about how not to treat people. I think that Thirteen Reasons Why would make an excellent discussion book for high school students. I think that parents should consider reading it alongside their kids.

But the discussion potential is not the reason to read this book. Instead, read it because the characters are so strong that they positively breathe from the page. Read it because by the time you finish, you'll care about Hannah and Clay as though they were your friends. Read it because the narrative structure is utterly engaging (as well as technically impressive). I also confidently predict that once you start this book, you'll read it because you can't not read it. Highly recommended for ages 13 and up. The alternating male/female narration makes this book particularly accessible to both female and male readers.

Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: October 18, 2007
Source of Book: ARC from Razorbill and the author
Other Blog Reviews: youngadultARCS, The Loud Librarian, Through the Studio Door, Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Chatboard
Author Interviews: Bildungsroman, Tales from the Rushmore Kid

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