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Posts from June 2017

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: June 30: Read-Aloud Books, Everyday Diversity + #KidLitCon

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #KidLitCon, #STEM, #SummerReading, Little Free Libraries, love of reading, reading levels, schools, summer slide, #ReadAloud, #kidlit, #YA, audiobooks, parenting, and student engagement.

Book Lists

DivaAndFleaRead-Aloud Chapter Books for Kindergarteners (Month by Month), from  

Chapter Books for 1st Graders (Month by Month), a from

75 Mighty Girl Books for Tweens' /

10 Cool Middle Grade Adventures for Kids Not Quite Ready for |


Everyday + Beginning Readers | mirrors show diverse characters in familiar settings | Gigi Pagliarulo  

Events + Programs

JetBlue + Reprise program: book vending machines, PSAs, + more 

Growing Bookworms

SerafinaSplinteredHeartWhy Book Series Are Best For Kids' (they just keep reading) + rec for

6 Easy Ways to Get Kids Outside and This Summer | | Picnics, walks + more

Being Creative With Oral for Young Readers, making it enjoyable + fun

You want kids to get excited and engage with books? Give them a book that they want to read"

KidlitconLogo2017-SquareWithHeaderHey there + bloggers, the Call for Presenters for 2017 is live | Please RT 

Attention + bloggers: Have You Saved the Date for 2017? 11/3-4 in Hershey, PA

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Nice introduction to a – meeting the neighbors in A Field Trip Life's beach community  

Power of Audiobooks | likes recent commercials promoting awesome


MadLibs18 Great Games for Car Trips |  

New Parents, The Public Has Got Your Back (, , story hour + more) by Dana Staves

Schools and Libraries

What teens want from their | new report shares survey results + makes recommendations

Misinterpreting the : Why We're Doing Students a Disservice

"if a program (eg AR) harms the love of a for a child, question the program, not the child"


A Summer of : 25 Science Kits for Independent Exploration selected by  

© 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

Emily and the Spellstone: Michael Rubens

Book: Emily and the Spellstone
Author: Michael Rubens
Pages: 288
Age Range: 9-12

EmilySpellstoneEmily and the Spellstone is a middle grade / middle school fantasy novel by Michael Rubins, one that could be the first of a series. The fantasy elements are layered over middle school angst, including bullying, and shared in an over-the-top style. 12-year-old Emily is having a tough time, after moving cross-country with her family. She misses her friends, doesn't like her new home, is ignored by her older sister and tormented by her six-year-old brother, and is bullied by mean girl Kristy. All of these problems fade into the background, however, when Emily discovers a mysterious stone device on the beach that turns out to be a powerful Stone. The Stone contains an enslaved demon-like creature who must become Emily's servant, but also attracts interest from an evil and powerful family living in another dimension. 

I found the fantasy elements of Emily and the Spellstone to be creative and tween-friendly.  The Stone is basically a magical cell phone, filled with apths that Emily could control, if she could understand them. There's a Librarian who understands magic (though she's not able to be a huge amount of help), and a surprisingly good-natured demonic creature. There are clone versions of Emily and her brother that are cooperative to the point of worrying everyone around them. It's all in good fun.

I could relate to Emily as an extremely reluctant heroine. Here's a snippet that tells you everything you need to know about her personality:

"Adventure, she had learned, was an adult code word that actually meant "disruption and discomfort and change," none of which Emily was partial to. Last year in school the students had had to create personal profiles. Under hobbies Emily put hibernating and collecting rocks. Hibernating because Emily's idea of an ideal evening was to wrap herself up in a cozy blanket and read a book (preferably one without too much adventure.) Collecting rocks because she had a vague affection for geology: it was for the most part stable and slow-moving and trustworthy and comforting." (Page 3)

I also quite liked Angela, the only person at her new school to befriend Emily:

"She was quiet, observant, serious. The sort of student of whom other students might say, Oh, right, her. What was her name again?" (Page 50) 

Rubens' understanding of middle school social dynamics seems apt, if hopefully slightly exaggerated. Similarly with Emily's relationship with her clueless parents and annoying siblings. Like this:

"Her sister sat in the third row of the minivan and listened to music, occasionally singing out loud in her off-key voice. Dougie sat next to Emily in the second row, sometimes poking her in the ribs to wake her up and once dipping his finger into his yogurt shake and then sticking his finger in her eat, until she screamed at him and her parents scolded her and ordered her to sit in the back row with Hilary." (Page 77)

In terms of the fantasy elements of the book, I especially appreciated the role of the library and the librarian. There's a secret bookshelf that is only noticed by kids (like Angela) who read a lot. I am certain that my 10-year-old self would have been looking for that bookshelf after reading Emily and the Spellstone

In truth, the voice of Emily and the Spellstone was a little over the top for me personally. But I think that for tweens the book provides a very nice blend of middle school concerns and epic fantasy adventure. Emily is a likable heroine who manages to grow in strength without changing her core personality as the book progresses. I think this one is well worth a look for elementary and middle school libraries. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids) 
Publication Date: June 13, 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: June 28: Summer Reading, Noticing Gender in Books, and Reading via Series

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 four book reviews (picture books through young adult) and two posts with my daughter's latest literacy milestone (noticing gender imbalance of protagonists and reading in a treehouse). I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter, and one post with more in-depth quotes from two recent articles about the joy of reading. Oh, and if you would like something to read offline, I am quoted in an article about summer reading ideas for kids in the July print issue of Real Simple magazine. 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I finished two middle grade, one young adult, and seven adult novels. My husband and daughter were away for a few days, so I got in some extra reading time, but I was more in the mood for grown-up mysteries than for children's / YA (probably because then I wouldn't feel the need to formally review). I read/listened to: 

  • Robert Beatty: Serafina and the Splintered Heart. Disney Hyperion. Middle Grade Fantasy. Completed June 16, 2017, print ARC. Review to come.
  • BabymouseLockerJennifer L. Holm (ill. Matthew Holm): Lights, Camera, Middle School! (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker, Book 1). Random House. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed June 17, 2017. Review to come. 
  • Laini Taylor: Strange the Dreamer. Little, Brown. YA Fantasy. Completed June 24, 2017. This book is classic Laini Taylor. It is beautifully written with exceptionally strong world-building and relatable characters. But it is also devastating. I read it in pretty much a single sitting (despite it being quite long) and yet I'm not sure I'll have the heart to read the sequel when it comes out... 
  • Elly Griffiths: The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway series). Houghton Mifflin. Adult Mystery. Completed June 14, 2017, on MP3. I adore this series more and more all the time. Highly recommended for mystery fans.
  • A. G. Riddle: Departure. Harper. Adult Speculative Fiction/Thriller. Completed June 18, 2017, on Kindle. I needed a page-turner one day, and this one fit the bill, with a plane crash and mysterious events that followed.
  • Tamni O'Dell: Angels Burning. Gallery Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 18, 2017, on Kindle. This is a standalone mystery about a small-town police chief, with a highly nuanced portrayal of rural poverty and dysfunctional families. It was a good follow-up to my recent read of Hillbilly Elegy. 
  • CrimeFensJoy Ellis: Crime on the Fens (Nikki Galena, Book 1). Joffe Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 20, 2017, on MP3. This is a new series for me featuring a UK detective with some serious personal demons. I didn't like Nikki at first, but she grew on me, such that I had to listen to the second book right away. 
  • Frances Brody: Dying in the Wool. Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 20, 2017, on Kindle. This is the first of a historical mystery series set in the years following World War I. The heroine sets herself up as a finder of missing people, after her husband goes missing (presumably permanently) in the war. 
  • Joy Ellis: Shadow on the Fens (Nikki Galena, Book 2). Joffe Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 25, 2017, on MP3. I didn't like this one quite as much as the first, because I don't like plots that involve gaslighting. But the characters are growing on me, so I probably will give the third book a try. 
  • Brett Battles: Becoming Quinn. CreateSpace. Adult Thriller. Completed June 25, 2017, on Kindle. This is a prequel to a series about a man who is a "cleaner", as in, he disposes of bodies and associated evidence. He's an interesting character, and this look into how he ended up in the field was fascinating.

FenwayFoul-UpI'm currently reading The Deceived by Brett Battles (the second book in the Jonathan Quinn series) and listening to Knife Creek by Paul Doiron (Mike Bowditch series). My daughter and I are still reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together, as we will be for a while. You can find her 2017 reading list here. She's got a number of series that she is reading on her own now: Ivy and Bean, Eerie Elementary, Fancy Nancy Clancy, Owl Diaries, Dr. KittyCat, and Ballpark Mysteries.

We had a productive visit to a used bookstore recently to fill in some titles that she "needed" before her trip. She's starting to officially define herself as a reader. An adult asked her the other day what she likes to do and she responded with "reading and karate." She had to wait for my husband to take her somewhere the other day and she entertained herself by reading picture books, so she hasn't abandoned those, happily. These are all little moments that make me happy about her development as a reader. 

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. Here's to lots more summer reading!

© 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

#JoyOfLearning Links from @PernilleRipp + @Lisa_Westman: Nurturing a Love of Reading in Kids

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I would like to share quotes and my responses to two recent articles from teachers about nurturing a love of reading in kids. Although these articles are both technically aimed at educators, I think there are important messages for parents, too. Pernille Ripp calls for helping kids learn to love reading by letting them read books that are easy for them (while also encouraging them to develop their skills). Lisa Westman makes a similar point when she says that teachers should be focused on helping kids to love reading, rather than taking away the joy by making reading a chore.

In my own post about summer reading tips, I talked about how parents should let go of reading levels and just let kids read, and how they should give kids choice. These two recent post thus both resonated with me. If you are a parent reading this, I would suggest that you channel your energies towards making summer reading FUN for your kids. The rest will surely follow. 

PassionateLearnersMust-read for parents by | helping kids to become by supporting "easy" reads that they enjoy

Pernille Ripp: "A better reader is someone who sees reading as valuable.  Who recognizes the need to read because they will feel less than if they don’t.  Who sees reading as a necessity to learning, for themselves and not just for others. Who sees reading as a journey to be on, something worth investing in.  And so I wonder; when we tell children not to read easy books, how much of that individual reading identity journey do we dismiss?

Easy books, whether they be graphic novels, books below their actual comprehension skills, free verse, audio books, or even picture books, can get such a bad reputation in our schools... Yet these are the books that keep us loving reading.  That keeps us coming back.  Those books that we devour in one sitting because we must find out what happens next, aren’t those “easy” books for all of us?...

While our job, as educators, is to develop children who can read, our job is also to develop children who want to read. "

Me: I wish that all teachers could feel as Pernille Ripp does, that part of their job is to develop kids who want to read. I wish that all of the teachers who do feel this way could have the support and tools to make that happen. What I know is that as a reader, I absolutely choose books that are "easy" on one level or another much of the time. I don't get enough sleep these days for various reasons, and when I try to things that are dense, or that bore me even a little bit, I fall asleep. And then I don't get any reading done. And so, at least for now, I gravitate towards mysteries and page-turners. That is what's working for me right now. 

For my daughter, as I've said before, I feel that my job is to make sure that reading at home (and in the car, and on trips, and so on) is enjoyable for her. The more she enjoys it now, at seven, the better she'll be able to withstand the challenges to her life as a reader that I fear are coming (AR points, whole class reads of dry classics, reading logs). But in any case, Pernille's words give me hope. I would like to see many teachers and parents read them in full. 

Educators should cultivate a love of in to prevent 

Lisa Westman: "If (as advertised) reading is the key to preventing the summer slide; the one thing all educators must do is curate a love of reading.

Unfortunately, however, we tend to do just the opposite and systemize reading. For many students, reading is seen as a chore, a measure of compliance, or worse, something it is ok to "lie" about (read more about this here or here).

With this in mind, it is no wonder that students choose to not read in the summer. They need a break because reading feels strenuous and stressful." (Click through for Lisa Westman's suggestions for what teachers should do instead to curate a love of reading). 

Me: This article is about how teachers can better prepare kids NOT to regress so much in their learning over the summer. The reading section is only one part of it, together with thoughts on building awareness so that kids can synthesize learning from different sources and incorrectly using assessment. But of course it was the reading part that resonated for me. While the author's point in this regard is that teachers should do more to nurture a love of reading in kids (and I certainly agree), I think this is another reminder for parents to keep reading fun, and avoid anything that makes reading feel like a chore. 

I do keep a log of what my daughter reads, for example. Just a simple paper list, which I use to write down the titles so that I can then track them on my blog. My daughter used to enjoy writing the books down herself, but this seems to have gotten old. So, no problem. I write them down myself, sometimes having to dig out the books from the back seat of the car to see which ones she has finished. My job is to keep the fun books coming, and to know what she needs next in this week's series of interest. Her job is just to read. And if she tires of a series and wants to read something else, of course that's fine, too. Reading at home, especially during the summer, should be guilt-free, stress-free, and fun. That is all. 

© 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. 

Into the Hurricane: Neil Connelly

Book: Into the Hurricane
Author: Neil Connelly
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

IntoTheHurricaneInto the Hurricane by Neil Connelly is the story of two troubled teenagers who meet  in a lighthouse on Shackles Island, Louisiana as a major hurricane looms. Green-haired Max has absconded from New Jersey with her father's ashes, planning to release them at the lighthouse. Local boy Eli is haunted and berated by the ghost of his dead sister, Celeste, and is considering killing himself to end the visions. Things don't go as planned for either teen when they encounter first a violent backwoods family/borderline religious cult and second, Hurricane Celeste. 

Into the Hurricane is a survival story, full of perils and twists. But it's also a character study into two damaged kids, and a look at the redemptive power of second chances. Into the Hurricane is told in alternating chapters from Eli's first-person viewpoint and Max's limited third-person viewpoint. I suspect that this format would work well as an audiobook with two narrators, especially given the different regional accents of the two characters. 

It's not clear whether Eli's sister's ghost actually appears to him, or whether (as seems more likely), her presence is a manifestation of his guilt over his role in her death. The circumstances of this death are a mystery revealed only slowly through the course of the book. Max's relationship with her stepmother, though less dramatic, is also revealed gradually. Both teens are working on understanding themselves, even as they seek to understand each other. 

Connelly's bio says that he "weathered five hurricanes in Lake Charles, Louisiana" and this authenticity of viewpoint does come across in his representation of the storm. Details about the wind and waves, and the storm's destruction, fill the book. Here's a snippet, from Eli's viewpoint:

"The wind picks up, just a bit, like the storm's decided I'm worth noticing again, a genuine threat to the way she wants things to be. I clutch the metal, press my body and face into the beam. She's pulling at me good now, blowing at me from the front and sucking from behind. I close my eyes and think what Sweeney said before ended that deer's suffering. When a thing has got to be done, it's best to get on and do it." (Page 110-111)

My favorite quote in the book is this one (with an ellipsis to remove spoilers):

"Maybe the Shacks just makes people crazy. Chemicals in the air, some ancient voodoo curse. But when I think about the kind of folks who live out here--the Odenkirks (backwoods family), Sweeney (quirky local veteran), me--there's hardly a sane one in the bunch. So maybe back when she lived in New Jersey, Max was something like normal. Or at least as normal as a girl with green hair can be. Whatever the case may be, this thing she's doing now..., that's certifiably insane. So make no doubt about it. She's one of us now." (Page 172)

I like this quote because it captures the fact that none of the characters in the book are exactly stable. But they all fit together, with the hurricane, to form an intriguing story. Into the Hurricane is a great pick for those who enjoy survival and natural disaster type stories, but it's more than that, too. Max and Eli, facing the storm, undergo a tremendous amount of personal growth in a short period of time, in a plausible manner. I recommend Into the Hurricane for anyone who enjoys suspenseful young adult fiction or books that make readers think. And shouldn't that be just about anyone? Into the Hurricane is well worth a look, and has a great cover.  

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: June 27, 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: Reading in the Treehouse


This one wouldn't be a milestone on everyone's path to literacy, but it mattered to me. For my daughter's first week of summer vacation I didn't enroll her in any day camps or other childcare - I wanted her to experience the start of summer in a relaxed way. On that Wednesday we went out to lunch, and then popped into the used bookstore across the street. She was quite impressed, saying: "So many books!!" in awed tones. Heading back to the car with our loot, we tossed ideas back and forth for what to do with the afternoon. And then I struck bookworm parental gold. I said: "You could read up in the treehouse." And so was born what is sure to be one of my favorite memories of the summer.

IvyAndBean3I should explain that our treehouse is more of a "tree platform", though that doesn't have the same ring to it. There is one section with a partial wall that one can lean against. And that is where my daughter headed, with her water bottle and her current Ivy and Bean book. As for me, I sat at the patio table right next to the treehouse with my own book in hand, ready to pass things up to the treehouse reader as needed. She finished one book and moved seamlessly on to the next. And me? I let out a very deep breath, feeling the most relaxed I had felt all week.

It was very quiet, with the wind moving the branches of the tree about, and the temperature neither too hot nor too cold. I kept glancing up, looking at my daughter's bent head, smiling (and, ok, texting a photo to family members). Though the whole interlude didn't last more than an hour, it will stay in my memory as pure bliss.

I think the reason this particular experience resonated with me was that I used to sit reading in a tree in my side yard when I was a child. Even though it wasn't all that comfortable, there was something about the experience that I loved. I felt hidden away, reading in secret high above everyone else, able to see over the hedges to the street, feeling like part of the outdoors. Seeing my daughter having a similar experience felt … immensely comforting. In many ways my daughter is quite different from me. But we do have the enjoyment of reading in a tree in common. For a bookworm parent, it doesn't get much better than that.

How many of you ever read in a treehouse (or just up in a tree) as a kid?

© 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: June 23: #SubwayLibrary and Summer #Literacy Tips

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #Audiobooks, #BookLists, #math, #play, #SubwayLibrary, #SummerReading, #writing, bookmobiles, chapter books, Chapter Books, diversity, Free Range Kids, growing bookworms, kindergarten, libraries, literacy, and schools.

Book Lists

FlotsamTen fabulously illustrated bks for young readers that adults will enjoy just as much via

Newbery/Caldecott 2018: The Summer Prediction Edition —

30 First Chapter Books for Kids (6-10): Series About Boys, a from  

CharlieAndMouseRead-Aloud for Preschoolers (Month by Month) from

Nice but too many male protagonists: 13 Books That 9- to 12-Year-Old Boys Say Are Awesome

The Ultimate List of for kids (by age) for Summer 2017 |


Interesting article on measuring racial by | applying mathematical rigor to tense topic  

Call for papers for new journal: Research on in Youth Literature  

Growing Bookworms / Encouraging Summer Reading

FullOfBeans: Tips from librarian for encouraging children to read | , Choice, Time +more  

How to Raise a Reader - guide in w/ tips + book ideas by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo

Beyond the Book: Summer Adventures, suggestions for students + families, like talking more

+ Resources from

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

ReadingMindIs the Internet Changing Kids' Brains? Excerpt from The Reading Mind by 

Call in UK to boost children's for pleasure (in addition to for pleasure)

I'm A Teenager And I Don't Like Young Adult Novels. Here's Why | good ideas for writers in this piece

Parenting + Play

The epidemic that’s ruining youth sports | specializing too early -> injuries via

If You’re a Kid, the Experts Want You to Have a Fun-Free Summer warns

LetsAllPlay#Play Counts: Empowering Imagination Beats the Real Deal (when it comes to cupcakes anyway)  

A Rallying Cry To End The Overwhelm of Toys | fewer toys -> deeper + better attention

Schools and Libraries

The NYPL just turned a subway train into an adorable | read while you ride

for a Day | Programs That Pop (golf carts = perfect!) via

The Unintended Impact of Award Programs in Elementary , food for thought from principal

Esther J. Cepeda: Across America, kindergarten is the new 1st grade, exacerbating racial + economic achievement gaps 

Encouraging news from Menlo Park school boosts in K-2nd graders w/ intensive program 

© 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

Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want To Survive the Cafeteria: John Grandits & Michael Allen Austin

Book:  Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want To Survive the Cafeteria
Author: John Grandits
Illustrator: Michael Allen Austin
Pages: 32
Age Range: 6-9

SevenRulesYouMustNotBreakWhen bossy school bus mate Ginny learns that Kyle will be buying school lunch for the first time, she tells him Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want To Survive the Cafeteria. She makes him write them down, though the reader does not learn the rules right away. As Kyle goes through his lunchtime experience, however, he breaks the rules, one right after the next. It is total chaos. And yet, by the end of the day, Kyle considers his cafeteria experience a success. 

This is a text-dense picture book, with illustrations that are a complex mix of reality and fantasy. This is a book that will work well as a read-aloud to first or second graders, but would likely be intimidating for younger readers. Here's a snippet:

"We got to school, and the morning went along as usual. Then, at 11:25, it was time for lunch. My class scurried down the hall like a column of starving army ants.

I was last in line once we reached the cafeteria, and another class got in line right behind me. They were sixth graders, and they were as scary as a swarm of yellow jackets. I didn't turn around. It's best to ignore wasps. They sting when they're angry." 

This passage illustrates several things that repeat throughout the book:

  • Relatively advanced vocabulary ("scurried"). This makes the book more a read-aloud than read-together, though advanced readers could manage it. 
  • Concrete details, like lunchtime being at 11:25, which will help primary kids relate to the story.
  • Insect analogies. Kyle is obsessed with bugs, and he sees many things through an insect-eye filter. Austin's highly three-dimensional illustrations capture this, as we see a line of upright ants wearing t-shirts moving down the hall ahead of Kyle, while yellow jackets fly behind him. On the next page Kyle, confronted by a bully, says: "I felt like a little snail faced with a giant meat-eating water bug."

Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break... is a visual treat throughout, with the rules displayed in variable banners throughout the story (Rule Two: Don't Take Too Many Things), and the wide-eyed Kyle walking around with a bug book under his arm, much smaller than the intimidating sixth graders. The boldness of the illustrations would make this book work for a classroom read-aloud for first or second graders, I think, despite the relatively lengthy text. Certainly the relevance of the subject would make it work for that age range. For kids who, like Kyle, are interested in bugs, Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break... should be downright irresistible. 

While not, perhaps, of strong interest to me personally as an adult, I think that Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want To Survive the Cafeteria absolutely belongs in elementary school libraries and in the home of kids who are fascinated by the social dynamics of insects and/or grade schoolers. A standout title. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: June 27, 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).

Morris Mole: Dan Yaccarino

Book: Morris Mole
Author: Dan Yaccarino
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

MorrisMoleMorris Mole by Dan Yaccarino is about a mole who is smaller than all of his brothers but proves that he can still do "big things." Morris isn't just smaller than the others. He's also different in style, wearing a checked suit and jaunty hat to his brothers' hard hats and boots. He eats at his own small table, and sleeps in his own small bed, reading while the others snore away. When a food crisis arrives, Morris is the only one who thinks to dig upward instead of downward, as they've always done before. And thus he discovers a world of sunshine, other animals, and delicious new foods. Morris's quick wits and his digging ability together are able to save the day. 

The text in Morris Mole is minimal, with most pages containing just a brief sentence or two. Like

"He dug up.

And this is what he found."

Yaccarino's signature colorful digital illustrations are where the details of the story are told. "And this is what he found", for example, is set at the bottom of a glorious page spread filled with sunshine and colorful birds, flowers, and insects. We see Morris sticking is head out of a hole in the ground, umbrella to protect him (as shown on the cover, but with a much different background. Why he needed an umbrella to live underground isn't clear, but the umbrella somehow works with Morris's frumpy style. 

The following page, in which Morris gets acquainted with the above-ground world, in a series of vignettes, is delightful. I also loved the final page spread, in which Morris's brothers praise him, and he says: "I may be small, but I can do big things." OK, so that particular text isn't groundbreaking. But we see that Morris now does sit at the table with his brothers, propped up on a pile of books. And while he still has on his suit, he has a little hard hat to match theirs. So, even as they celebrate the way his unique idea helped them, his own personal growth also leads him to fit in with his family a bit better. Subtle but important, I think. 

My daughter and I are big fans of Dan Yaccarino's work. She especially likes Lawn to Lawn and Doug Unplugged, while I favor All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel. We both agreed that Morris Mole was one worth my writing about. She liked the direct written message, and I liked the details revealed by the illustrations. Overall, I think that Morris Mole is like its protagonist: something small that can do big things. Recommended, especially for library or classroom storytime. 

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).

Literacy Milestone: Noticing Gender Imbalance of Protagonists

LiteracyMilestoneAThe other day my daughter made an observation. She said: "It seems like there are more boys having adventures in books than girls having adventures." (Or something to that effect). For what it's worth, she made this observation as we were starting the fourth Harry Potter book together. She is seven, and just finished first grade. 

Caught off-guard - I was not expecting her to notice this so soon - I told her what I see as the simplest explanation. That people at least perceive that boys are less willing to read books about girls than vice versa, leading authors and publishers seeking the widest readership to write books featuring boys. My daughter accepted this as a logical explanation and we moved on. But I was left with a mix of pride that she's observant enough to figure this out and sadness that it's there for her to see, so soon. 

RubyRedfortI don't think that this one will be anyone's favorite of my daughter's milestones on the path to literacy. Certainly it is not mine. But I did think that it was worth sharing with you all as a data point. Coincidentally, I just ran across a BBC News piece about the new UK Children's Laureate, Lauren Child, in which Child brings up this exact issue.

Of course my daughter is lucky because I am more equipped than most to find her books that DO feature girls having adventures. 

© 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: June 16: Father's Day Books, Audiobooks + Reading with Engagement

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #Audiobooks, #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #GraphicNovels, #PictureBooks, #ReadAloud, #SummerReading, Audiobook Month, Father's Day, gender equality, growing bookworms, play, reading choice, recess, teaching, and time management. 

Book Lists

WeekendsWithMaxA for father's day: Ten Great Middle Grade Dads (or at least they try really hard) 

Longer for developing listeners: June is Audiobook Month says

Fantasy + realistic fiction for longer listening: June is Month (ages 8-12)

for children & teens (ages 7-14) | from

New Reading Beyond from + ALA | Recommended titles for advanced readers in 3 age ranges


BeautifulBlackbirdWe Need Diverse Collectables: Why the Collectors of Children’s Books Need to Diversify —  

Lauren Child: New UK Children's Laureate worried about gender equality + in books via

An excellent point about implementing challenge for East Asian (+ other) kids

Growing Bookworms / Summer Reading

The Key to ? Invest in Children’s Reading Lives All Year Time Access Choice + Community 

MarieCuriePersistence Boost Children’s Engagement + Performance (w/ plug for GN about Marie Curie from )

Does for Pleasure in Schools Make a Difference? 's data says YES | Choice + Time + Community

Want to Raise Successful Kids? Science Says Read to Them w/ more engagement via  

Yes! Dear + : It Doesn't Matter That YOU Don't Like The Book

Language for – Importance of Building Vocabulary in Preschool | Conversation +

Excellent! Maryland school gives away more than 2,000 books to spur

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Thought-provoking Proclamation! regarding by authors + illustrators + more via  

TaoofPoohNever Meant for Children: The Odd Consumer-Driven Rise of the Graduation Book —

New Podcast features and her sister Kate discussing


25+ Boy Approved Summer Activity For Kids Ideas from (of course girls can do them, too)  

Ideas gleaned for Sensory from the Blogosphere by

Encouraging piece about schools increasing , after trend towards reduction has hopefully peaked

MulberryStreetSounds like fun! A New Place You Will Go: Opening Day at The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum

Schools and Libraries

Report reveals eye-opening data on English learners in Philadelphia schools — NewsWorks via

How to Empower Students with One Simple Phrase (that can boost student effort by 40%)  

Timed, Standardized-Testing: Is it Worth it? asks

What the Perception-action Cycle Tells Us About How the Brain Learns, w/ implications for


Why Kids Need , and How You Can Teach It |

8 ideas for encouraging summer learning for grade school kids from

Digital Manipulatives and the Mind - Body - Connection in the Digital Age, Infographic by

Time Management

Too Much Busyness is Counterproductive. You Need to Schedule Breaks on Purpose  

© 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

Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls: Beth McMullen

Book: Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls
Author: Beth McMullen
Pages: 304
Age Range: 9-13

MrsSmithSpySchoolMrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls, by Beth McMullen, features an elite boarding school that is actually a cover for a hidden spy agency with female teen agents. Who could resist that? Not I. Narrator Abigail knows none of this when her mother strong-arms her into attending Smith School for Children, but she finds out soon enough when a late-night escapade and an escape attempt go awry. As the story progresses she learns self-defense moves from a mean girl super-agent, is sent to California as bait for a trap, is kidnapped (more than once), and escapes again to undertake a quest of her own. There are cool (if slightly glitchy) gadgets, unexpected bad guys, and loyal friends. Fans of Kiki Strike will definitely want to give Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls a look. I believe it may also work for fans of the Gallagher Girls series, though Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls is aimed more at middle grade than YA readers. 

What made Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls work for me was not so much the strong girl looking to be a spy premise (though that was certainly the hook), but rather Abigail's understated yet snarky voice. I'm not supposed to quote from the ARC, but she uses phrases like "smartphone blackjack", and she keeps her snarkiest responses to herself (shared in italics, to differentiate from regular dialog). There's a little more of a "trappings of rich kids" vibe than I personally love, but I suppose that's hard to avoid when setting a book in an elite boarding school. And it's certainly more plausible that rich kids would be able to skip about the country for adventures than otherwise. 

Abigail is a goofier, more realistic, more female version of young James Bond. She has a crush on a boy who likes someone else, but it's all very PG, and not especially "girly". I see no reason why boys wouldn't enjoy this book just as much as girls would. Beth McMullen takes a bit of time in Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls to set the stage for the further adventures of Abigail and her crew. Hopefully other books will be forthcoming soon, because this is going to be a fun series, sure to please middle grade fans of spy/adventure stories. 

Publisher: Aladdin (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: July 4, 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).