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Valensteins: Ethan Long

Book: Valensteins
Author: Ethan Long
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

ValensteinsValensteins is a sequel to Ethan Long's Fright Club, featuring a not-so-scary group of young creatures (vampire, ghost, mummy, bunny, butterfly, etc) who hang out in a cool club house. In this installment, the other creatures take note of Fran K. Stein, who is cutting out a pink paper heart. They mis-identify is as various things like a rounded bat or a big pink nose. They are baffled and revolted when Bunny tells them what it is, and why you would give someone a heart for Valentine's Day. As for Fran, he quietly goes about his own business, goes outside, and finds the person he had in mind all along. The overtly sappy message about the true meaning of love is leavened by the response of the majority of the Fright Club members, who think that Fran and his lady friend are just "Weirdos". 

Valentsteins is humorous through and through, full if entertaining details. For instance, when the creatures don't know what "LOVE" is, Vlad looks it up in a dictionary. When Bunny speaks of a fluttering like butterflies, the actual butterfly says "Don't drag ME into this." When Ghost says that love "is making my skin crawl" the butterfly points out "Ummm, you don't have any skin." And the the universal horror when Bunny says that people in love sometimes "KISS ON THE LIPS!!" is a delight to behold, particularly set against Bunny's clear delight in the concept.

 Long (or the book's producers) uses large fonts for emphasis when needed ("EEEEWWW!" for example), while various text bubbles give the book an early graphic-novel type feel. This is a book to read aloud to an individual or a classroom. Valenstines is pure fun, perfect for the sensibilities of preschoolers and kindergartners who are utterly grossed out by love and kissing (or at least who pretend to be). Recommended!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: December 19, 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).

Two Points on iGen and the Critical Importance of Kids Reading for Pleasure

IGenRecently I read the book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us by Jean Twenge. It's about the generation of kids born between roughly 1995 and 2010, a generation Twenge dubs iGen, is different from previous generations. Twenge relies on analysis of several surveys of high school kids and young adults that have been asking the same questions for many years, supplemented by interviews with junior high, high school and college kids. I was interested in this book in part because my daughter falls right at the tail of the time window, and also because my company has been looking to hire students graduating from college (the other end of the iGen window). 

There are a lot of interesting ideas and conclusions in the book, and I do recommend that people give it a look. The take home message for me is that I want to put off getting my daughter a smartphone for as long as possible, while encouraging her to continue participating in sports and spending time in person with other kids. Because these things are all associated with more positive outcomes. 

But what I want to talk about specifically today is two points that the book makes regarding reading for pleasure. In Chapter 2, there's a section of the book titled "Are Books Dead?" Sadly, Twenge's conclusion is that reading for pleasure, while not dead, is in decline among today's kids. She notes that:

"In the late 1970's, the clear majority of teens read a book or a magazine nearly every day, but by 2015, only 16% did. In other words, three times as many Boomers as iGen’ers read a book or magazine every day. Because the survey question was written in the 1970s, before e-readers existed, it does not specify the format of the book or magazine, so Millennials or iGen’ers who read on a Kindle or iPad would still be included... 

By 2015, one out of three high school seniors admitted they had not read any books for pleasure in the past year, three times as many as in 1976. Even college students entering four-year universities, the young people presumably most likely to read books, are reading less (see Figure 2.4)...

This huge decline flatly contradicts a 2014 Pew Research Center study cheered by many in publishing, which found that 16-to 29-year-olds were more likely to read books than older people. Why the difference? The Pew study included books read for school assignments, which younger people are of course more likely to have. Thus it committed the classic mistake of a one-time study: confusing age and generation. In the data here, where everyone is the same age, iGen teens are much less likely to read books than their Millennial, GenX, and Boomer predecessors."

There's a graph. Twenge shows similar results for reading magazines and newspapers. She posits (after looking at data showing that teens are not spending more time on homework or other extracurricular activities) that this decline is due to teens spending so much time on smartphones that reading time is basically squeezed out. She also shows that this decline in time spent reading coincides with a decline in SAT scores, especially in writing and critical reading (though of course it is impossible to directly claim causation). She expresses concern that as today's teens head into college, reading long textbooks will be extremely difficult for them, and suggests changes that may be necessary to accommodate the iGen'ers. 

So that's point 1: Teens today are reading less, at least in part because they are spending a lot of time on smartphones.

For the second point that I'm interested in sharing, we turn to Chapter 4 of iGen: Insecure: The New Mental Health Crisis. In this chapter, Twenge shares a range of demoralizing statistics about how today's teens are more emotionally fragile, more lonely, and more prone to depression and suicide. She looks at a variety of survey data and attempts to discern causes, applying a two-part test to possible causes: "(1) it must be correlated with mental health issues or unhappiness and (2) it must have changed at the same time and in the correct direction." She finds: 

"Time spent doing homework fails both tests; it’s not linked to depression, and it didn’t change much over that time period. TV watching is linked to depression, but teens watch less TV now than they used to, so it fails test number two. Time spent on exercise and sports is linked to less depression, but it didn’t change much since 2012, so they fail test number two, too.

Only three activities definitively pass both tests. First, new-media screen time (such as electronic devices and social media) is linked to mental health issues and/ or unhappiness, and it rose at the same time. Second and third, in-person social interaction and print media are linked to less unhappiness and less depression, and both have declined at the same time as mental health has deteriorated.

A plausible theory includes three possible causes: (1) more screen time has led directly to more unhappiness and depression, (2) more screen time has led to less in-person social interaction, which then led to unhappiness and depression, and (3) more screen time has led to less print media use, leading to unhappiness and depression. In the end, all of the mechanisms come back to new-media screen time in one way or another. By all accounts, it is the worm at the core of the apple."

You'll have to read the book for the full details of which studies Twenge is referencing and how she comes to these conclusions. But what particularly struck me (as will not surprise regular readers) is that reading print media, like participating in sports and spending time with friends, was associated with positive mental health outcomes. So that's point 2. 

So here's what we have: teens are spending less time reading for pleasure, and this decline is associated with negative mental health outcomes. What this says to me is that encouraging kids to enjoy reading is even more important than I already thought. Reading for pleasure has so many benefits: improved vocabulary, increased empathy, and improved math skills, to name a few. And now, it seems, it may also be tied to mental health and happiness. 

To all parents reading this, I implore you: put as much focus as you can on making sure that your kids ENJOY reading. Don't worry about their reading level, or how many graphic novels they read, or whether or not they make spelling errors when they write. If you help them to ENJOY reading, they will eventually read, and many good things will follow. You'll be helping them academically in the long run. You'll be giving them hours of pleasure in the short run. And you'll be doing something that appears to protect against ills like anxiety and depression. If that's not worth doing, I don't know what is. 

© 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: November 17: #Cybils #Reviews, #Math in Preschool, and "Dessert Books"

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #Cybils, #GraphicNovels, #GrowthMindset, #literacy, book awards, english learners, giftedness, homeschooling, kindness, learning, math, nonfiction, schools, and Veteran's Day.

Top Tweet of the Week

DorkDiaries1Child: "I don't want to go to school today. Can't I just stay home and read Dork Diaries all day?" No, but I did briefly consider saying yes. [And technically not a link, but an incident to please book lovers.]

Booklists + Gift Guides

9 Illustrated Chapter Book Series to Engage Early Readers | Jennifer Ridgeway + more

Other books for kids who are obsessed with Diary of a Wimpy Kid | from at  https://t.co/gYMajA7FqT

2017 holiday gift guide from suggests titles by age, focusing on things the found kids want in books, like humor


HereLiesDanielTateToday's featured review: Fiction nominee Here Lies Daniel Tate, reviewed by

Today's featured review is nominee We Come Apart, review by

Update + 4 Good for Teens recommended by category chair

Today's featured REVIEW: speculative fiction nominee Landscape with Invisible Hand, reviewed by

Cybils-Logo-2017-Round-SmA reminder from that Nomination Lists Make Great Reading https://t.co/oIBFfD3Dkx

Events + Programs

Collaboration & Creativity! How my Be-a-Famous Contest Can be Used in Your Classroom! FREE resource roundup for K-4 https://t.co/UL4OU5DxrV

Today is | Claire Noland suggests some kindness-themed + suggestions for spreading kindness while traveling

A good story for : nonprofit founded by teen connects Bay Area teens w/ veterans

Growing Bookworms

StrivingToThrivingThe Nutritional Value of Dessert Books, don't dismiss certain books + assume that reading them isn't valuable for kids |

Making time for independent at | How + why to do it via Wendie Old

Growth Mindset + Giftedness

Students Share The Downside Of Being Labeled |

RT @MindshiftKQED: "High achievers are being neglected in all sort of ways by schools that had no incentive to push them farther up"


Forget The 10,000-Hour Rule; Edison, Bezos, & Zuckerberg Follow The 10,000-Experiment Rule

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

WonderWonder No More: A Look at a Book to Screen Adaptation, positives + negatives

A Screen-Based Analogy of Books from | Like Kate, I'm all about meaty book series as well as complex TV dramas https://t.co/UyXqulprg3

Historical Children’s Books I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Stuff You Missed in History Class Episodes) —

Guest post by for | The Overlooked Benefits of Expository | Different kids relate to different things


7 Things I Was Totally Wrong About When It Came to - From a Dad

Schools and Libraries

Keep-it-real-1Keep it R.E.A.L.! Relevant, Engaging + Affirming for Adolescent English Learners by https://t.co/YFIdeh0XDF

9 Ways to Shift the Energy in the Classroom + help potentially anxious or sad kids focus on

"Educators have more control of the future of than any outside source will. Continue to create that meaningful change."

Silent vs. Independent Reading: What’s the Difference? (plus digital tools to assess IR) –  https://t.co/mD17EcPmtQ

Small things a new assistant principal does to show students that someone cares | passing on a book, celebrating positives, + more


Stanford's Deborah Stipek says we should teach more in https://t.co/vqF3URg9Dy

© 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.

Rekindling Intrinsic Motivation After Extrinsic Rewards Damage It

Last summer a mother lamented to me that her son, who had been a big reader during the school year, wasn't reading over the summer. She said that this was because he was no longer getting AR points for his books. So, whereas the previous summer he had always had a book in his hand, this summer he did not. The difference being that that he had been reading for AR points during the school year. [See my other post about AR.]

I've been occasionally mulling over this question ever since. More recently, I talked with another couple about this subject. These were parents who have older children and who have been through a similar experience. They said that they had to create some loose incentives for their kids during the summers, once AR tracking started in earnest. "Read 500 pages and get some reward" - that sort of thing. I imagine this is a reason why many parents enroll their kids in summer reading programs. To insert extrinsic motivation (you read and then you get something) when the intrinsic motivation (you read because love it) has faded.

These things probably work, at least to some extent, in making kids read over the summer. But it seems to me that this problem will get worse and worse over subsequent summers. What I wonder is this: is there a way to rekindle intrinsic motivation in someone who has become dependent on extrinsic rewards? Can we ever get them back to reading for its own sake? I don't have any definitive answers, but I do have some thoughts. 

Obviously, the ideal big picture solution is to keep your child from becoming dependent on outside rewards in the first place. [I personally don't enroll my daughter in summer reading programs for this reason.] But what can you do if you are already there?

You can do the usual things that I and many others have recommended for raising readers: read aloud, take your child to the library, subscribe to magazines that suit their interests, set an example by reading yourself, listen to audiobooks in the car, keep print books everywhere, and limit screen time, to name a few. 

LunchLadyReadingWhat I would add is that if your child was previously an avid reader, perhaps you can turn to nostalgia. If your child was into Harry Potter last summer, but has yet to pick up the next book this summer, try watching all of the movies for the books that he's already read. Do not offer the movies of any unread books. Find some subtle way to remind the child of how happy he was previously when reading. Are there photos? Bring them out. I'm going to be prepared to break out the photo shown to the left in the future, if my daughter ever needs reminding. Are there favorite titles for which you only had library copies? Buy one. Break out your family's favorite picture books and allow yourself to be spotted reading them. Your previously internally motivated child is still in there -- see if you can draw her back out.

If you are dealing with a child who has never been intrinsically motivated to read, then the challenge is harder. Here what I might try is extrinsic rewards that are experience-based, rather than stuff-based, and related to the books being read. "After you read this book about a kid surviving in the wild, we'll go on a camping trip." That sort of thing. It seems like this would create positive associations with reading in a more nuanced way than just "read 100 pages and I'll give you a dollar".

I would also highly recommend trying to create some sort of family reading routine. Maybe read aloud an old family favorite together at bedtime. Or initiate family D.E.A.R. time, when everyone reads the book or magazine of his or her choice. Start a project and borrow books related to that project: dig a garden, build a shed, plan a trip. The idea here is again to create positive associations with reading. You don't want "I read and I feel happy because I got a sticker from the library." You want instead "The time that my family and I spent listening to that book together in the car made us closer, and now we have all these fun inside jokes" or "Reading snuggled up on the couch next to my mom, with each of reading our own book, was a nice way to spend time every afternoon before dinner." 

We choose to spend time doing what we enjoy. We want our kids to spend time reading because they love it, not because they got a sticker or got a certain number of points next to their name on the board. If your child has lost that internal motivation to read, the path back could be to remind her of why she used to enjoy it, and/or show her why it's enjoyable now. That's what makes sense to me, anyway. 

Does anyone else have direct experience with this issue that you can share? 

© 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

Polaris: Michael Northrop

Book: Polaris
Author: Michael Northrop
Pages: 288
Age Range: 9-12

PolarisPolaris by Michael Northrop is historical science fiction, both creepy and suspenseful. In the 1830's, somewhere off the coast of Brazil, a ship (the Polaris) awaits the return of a boat that has gone ashore to explore. When the boat returns, however, part of the crew is missing, and one returning crew member is infected. Following mutiny and abandonment by crew members, a collection of six boys is left to handle the ship, and the mysterious danger that now lurks below decks. 

This story of young kids striving to sail a ship on their own would have been a compelling survival story in any event. The addition of a frightening creature that lurks below decks ratchets up the suspense. Northrop juggles the different personalities of the six young crew members skillfully. There is conflict between them, but they do eventually form a team, fighting a common enemy. The perspective of Polaris shifts between several of the quite different personalities, particularly those of Owen, chief cabin boy and nephew of the ship's one-time captain, and Henry, apprentice to the ship's botanist. Owen is strong and relatively skilled for his age, but, well, not terribly clever. Henry is an extremely poor sailor, but quite clever. As any reader will expect, the strengths of each boy come into play as the story progresses. 

Polaris conveys many details of old-time ships, from rigging to navigation to food to maintenance. Young readers interested in Columbus' voyage will definitely want to give Polaris a look. The supernatural elements have a Michael Crichton-like feel, with a basis in science. Any kid looking for science-based science fiction will also want to check out Polaris. While the science fiction elements give Polaris  a different feel from some of Northop's other books, there's no question that Polaris is a compelling and suspenseful read. Recommended, and well worth a look for libraries serving elementary and middle school readers. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: October 31, 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: Real-World Interest Sparked from a Book


Recently my daughter asked for a book from which she could study sign language. Does she have a friend who is hard of hearing? No. Well, not a friend she's ever met, anyway. No, she wants to learn sign language out of loyalty to Cece Bell, because she adores El Deafo that much. She's been scheduling weekly sessions (my daughter, not Cece Bell) in which she works with my husband and I on our lip-reading and sign language. After trying to learn sign language from El Deafo itself, she realized that she needed a better resource. 

ElDeafoI bought her Signing for Kids, Expanded Edition. Because we all know that I'm a sucker for any request for a book. In truth, her interest had already faded by the time the book arrived. But I think it quite likely that she'll want it someday. [This is why I have such a ridiculously large number of books in my house. Because we might need them. Someday.]

You couldn't make this stuff up. We also made blackberry fool after reading A Fine Dessert awhile back, so I suppose this isn't our first experience with this dynamic. But it is the first one for which a reference book was required. 

Have your kids had real-world interests sparked by books?

© 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: November 10: Mirror Books, #GrowthMindset, #KidLitCon + Pretend #Play

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. In addition to what I've shared here, I also retweeted quite a few posts from last weekend's Kidlitosphere Conference. To see all of the KidLitCon related tweets, simply search for the #KidLitCon hashtag. Other topics this week include #BookLists, #Cybils, #DiverseBooks, #GrowthMindset, #KidLitCon, #math, #nonfiction, #play, #STEM, early literacy, flexible seating, libraries, movie adaptations, parenting, personalized learning, reading, teaching, and writing.

Top Tweet of the Week

The Power of Being Seen | article about a Nevada middle where teachers make effort to know kids https://t.co/Tv5keVmfuA [This was retweeted more than 30 times, mainly by educators.]

Book Lists

WorstPrincessHere Be Dragons: 16 Books Starring Dragon-Loving Mighty Girls from

Reading for Empathy, + links to others from

The Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2017 according to

of Favorite Books for 6 Year-Olds from + her son

Holiday Cheer: New Titles To Help Celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah | w/ short reviews https://t.co/revPnnC0Tc

Young Adult Book Holiday Gift Guide: 2017 Edition from


ShacklesFromTheDeepToday's featured REVIEW: Shackles from the Deep, jr. high nominee, reviewed by

Today's Featured REVIEW: Yvain: The Knight of the Lion, rev. by Benedict Hutchinson, son of

Today's Featured REVIEW: Amina’s Voice by , reviewed by

Diversity + Gender

College-Savings Imbalance: Parents Put Aside More $ for Sons Than Daughters - (subscription req.)

The Importance of “Mirror Books” in the Classroom | Anna Nardelli via

SofiaMartinezWe Need Diverse Series by

Events and Programs

UK launches CWIG Award from authors to |

Baby's Got Mail: Free Books Boost Early :

Growing Bookworms

Fear Not The Adaptation. makes the case that it can be ok for kids to see the movie first

For those who love connecting kids w/ books, reading THIS from When a Moment Can Change A School Year https://t.co/7xbYwFB7oo [It brought a tear to my eye. Seriously. Read it.]

Growth Mindset

. power of ‘I can't do this ... Yet!’ isn’t just for kids; it can change the world Sal Kahn


MsYinglingKidLitConPanelSome photos + memories from [Image credit to Ms. Yingling Reads, where you can see the list of panelists shown in the photo]

It's Monday! What are you reading? list with memories from

10 Years of Scope Notes: Reader Survey Results | A lot of (mostly) women who really like

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

TheEmptyGraveIn Memorandum: Lockwood & Company — Thoughts from as 's series comes to an end

Top Ten Nerdy Book Places to find new titles by Jennifer Ansbach https://t.co/h8m5MtI71r

Mentor Texts for the Process, by Shari Frost


Hoping to learn from a sad incident with high schoolers not to judge other , wise words from https://t.co/UDXTHZGiC4

Mean Girls of 1974, still relevant: Thoughts running through 's head while reading Judy Blume’s Blubber

FreeRangeKidsWhen we say "Be Careful!" we are teaching children to fear and NOT teaching them to navigate risk, warns [Free Range Kids author Lenore Skenazy is quoted.]


The Power of Pretending: Playing or other heroes helps kids' performance,

Schools and Libraries

A reminder from to say Open to Possibilities when kids

Study finds standing + exercise breaks improve thinking. Should do this for kids via

Five Tips For Helping Angry Children Have Better Days -

Ideas from for libraries promoting to students | Meeting ALL types of readers where they are

The Case(s) Against | digs into the 3 main critiques https://t.co/u6DmbF04tX


5 Beliefs that Prevent Teachers from Increasing Rigor | Jessica Carlson

© 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.

Yes, #GraphicNovels Are Real Books

I've had a couple of parents approach me recently with questions akin to: "How do I get my child to read something else besides graphic novel? I want him to read real chapter books." To which I say: "Why do you need to do this?" If your child is reading graphic novels, then he is reading. Graphic novels are real books. If your child is reading graphic novels avidly, then my suggestion is not to try to push him to chapter books. My suggestion is to find him more graphic novels.

RealFriendsNow, I will concede one issue that I've run into due to my daughter's devotion to graphic novels. There just aren't as many graphic novels as there are chapter books. This means that we can actually run out of books for her to read that are even remotely age appropriate (and believe me, I have stretched this upwards). She doesn't help matters by having only passing interest in fantasy - she wants thick, realistic graphic novels only. And she pretty much has all of the ones I can find that she can understand. She simply reads those over and over again. I'm fairly sure she must know Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham's Real Friends by heart. 

Because of this shortage I have tried introducing some notebook novels into the mix. These still have plenty of illustrations, but also have more text. My daughter is having none of it. This means that unless I can find new graphic novels that she likes, she ends up reading less. Which is certainly not the goal. But I personally think it would be worse to push her to read books that she's not interested in. So I don't. 

Graphic novels, by their nature, provide more scaffolding to new readers. They can often figure out what's going on by looking at the pictures, even when the vocabulary might be above their heads. My daughter told me that she finds graphic novels easier to read because "you don't have to read all that 'he said' 'she said' stuff." To her, it's more intuitive to just SEE who is saying what. 

Graphic novels are also generally fast reads - our eyes can scan pictures faster than we can read words. My daughter is currently whipping her way through the Amulet series (here we have branched out a bit from the realistic fiction, though she doesn't expect to have an interest in re-reading these). Because they can be thick, but still a fast read, graphic novels give new readers a sense of accomplishment. 

SunnySideUpAnd just like chapter books, graphic novels can cover serious issues. In Sunny Side Up, by Jenni Holm and Matt Holm, young Sunny's summer is overshadowed by her worries about her older brother, whose drug problem has led to erratic behavior. This is shown via flashbacks, and the graphic format allows the authors to imply the drug use without speaking of it directly. This means that it's not overwhelming for my daughter (I think it mostly went over her head), but it's there for older readers to process. 

For more on benefits of graphic novels, see this digital document created by the Comic Book Legal Defense Club: Raising a Reader! How Comics & Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love To Read!, a resource for parents & educators about the learning benefits of comics. This is a great resource for parents covering things that graphic novels offer kids, tips for parents for navigating graphic novels, ideas for creating reading dialogs with graphic novels, booklists, and more.

So why are some parents (and many librarians, for that matter), so determined to push kids out of graphic novels and into chapter books? Here are three possible reasons:

  1. Parents don't like to see kids re-reading the same books over and over again when they could perhaps benefit from exposure to a broader array of titles.
  2. Graphic novels are different from the books that we grew up with, and we aren't as comfortable reading them. I personally don't much like reading graphic novels. I prefer the linearity of straight-up text. I find it distracting to have to look at the whole picture in each panel, and figure out what comes first. This bias on my own part makes it more challenging for me to support my daughter's graphic novel passion. But I do it anyway.
  3. The more academically-focused parents probably want their children reading more words, instead of looking at pictures, so that they are on a path to better test scores, etc. 

WrinkleInTimeGraphicTo reason one I say: try to find more graphic novels, if you can. Perhaps look to graphic novelizations of traditional chapter books. Did you know that there's a graphic novel version of A Wrinkle In Time? Ask librarians for help. And then maybe very gently offer things that stretch the child's reading zone. There are some nonfiction graphic novel-style books coming out - maybe these will lead into actual nonfiction on the same topics. For my realistic graphic novel-obsessed daughter I'm quietly mixing in some fantasy. I don't push, but I grab things from the library and offer them. If they are rejected I can return them easily enough. 

To reason two I say: try to get over your own feelings about graphic novels. Your child does not have to like the same books that you liked. I think it's ok to explain to your kids that you aren't as much of a fan as they are, as long as you respect their reasons for liking graphic novels. You can also learn more about graphic novels via resources like the CBLDF booklet linked above. Some extremely fine authors are producing simply fabulous books in this area. It's ok to take graphic novels seriously. They are much more than the old Archie comics from when we were kids.  

ReadAloudHandbookTo reason three I say this: our goal as parents should be to help our children learn to LOVE books. If we are successful at this, then they will read books. As they read more books, they will get better at reading, and they will want to read even more. We'll have a virtuous cycle in which their reading skill enhances their enjoyment, and vice versa. (See Jim Trelease's The Read Aloud Handbook for more about this).

I believe that if you have a child who loves books, she will eventually want to read MORE books, and she'll more than likely branch out from graphic novels. Maybe she'll move to notebook novels like Dork Diaries. Maybe she'll move to series books like the Rainbow Fairies. Maybe she'll go straight to the non-graphic version of A Wrinkle in Time, if she's old enough. Because that's what real readers do. As an adult, I like to read mysteries. If there's nothing new by any of my favorite mystery authors, perhaps I'll pick up some nonfiction, or science fiction, or re-read a classic. Readers find a way to read. Our goal should be to nurture readers. 

Shawna Coppola writes about this topic in "But they only read graphic novels". She links to some background on "the myriad of benefits that reading comics and graphic novels offer readers of all ages" but concedes that there can be a valid interest in teaching kids to have a more balanced reading diet. She suggests that we mine this food analogy to encourage kids to read different things, with different benefits. She also suggests for teachers "Perhaps we ought to simply let our students read what they want to during independent reading time–including as many graphic novels as their charming little brains can handle, for Pete’s sake–and be incredibly mindful about offering multiple opportunities for them to read and engage with other kinds of texts throughout the remainder of our time with them."

LunchLadyFieldTripMy personal belief is that this is what we should be doing at home - letting kids read what they want to read, to nurture their love of reading. What I also do is read aloud a more challenging work with my daughter, and talk her through the details, as a way to expose her to more complex plots and substantive vocabulary words. I feel like if she is listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, she's more than welcome to read the Lunch Lady books 10 times over on her own.

I've never personally been a big reader of graphic novels. But I will defend to all comers my daughter's right to prefer them. First, because there are many benefits to graphic novels, and second because I truly believe that one of the most important things we can do to nurture young readers is to give them choice in their 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

Groundhug Day: Anne Marie Pace & Christopher Denise

Book: Groundhug Day
Author: Anne Marie Pace
Illustrator: Christopher Denise
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4-8

GroundhugDayGroundhug Day, by Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise, is a charming story about holidays and friendship. It's February 1st, and Moose, with the help of his friends Bunny, Porcupine, and Squirrel, is planning a Valentine's Day party. The animals want their friend Groundhog to be able to attend. They worry, however, that he will see his shadow in the morning and go back inside for six more weeks. As they fight over various schemes for keeping Groundhog from seeing his shadow, they end up too late. But they nonetheless make a valiant effort to convince Groundhog to stay aboveground and to learn not to be afraid of shadows. Although things don't turn out quite the way the animals wanted, they do end up with groundhugs all around, and the chance to celebrate other holidays going forward. 

The bickering between the four well-intentioned friends follows a pattern throughout the book, sure to be reassuring to young listeners. Groundhug Day strikes me as more of a book to be read aloud to a child than for the child to read himself, with words like "silhouette" and "thundered". It would be fun for a parent or librarian to read aloud, doing distinct voices for the various animals. Here's a snippet to show the different voices:

""But you're not afraid of shadows
anymore," Moose protested.
"Now you don't have to miss my
Valentine's Day party."

"I may not be afraid,"
Groundhog said,
"but it is cold up here."

"But there aren't any balloons in your hole," said Squirrel.
"Or Valentine cards!" said Bunny.
"Or Valentine hugs!" said Porcupine pointedly."

Little snicker at: "Porcupine said pointedly." One can see that Anne Marie Pace (author of the Vampirina books) has put care into every work. I also like that she doesn't overly spell out details about Groundhog Day or the other holidays. She lets the details flow from the text, or from whatever auldt is reading the book aloud to young listeners.

Christopher Denise's digitally created illustrations lend both warmth and humor to the story. Each animal's personality comes through via details of their representation, with the paternalistic Moose wearing a sweater and glasses, and Porcupine thoroughly pouting when he laments the lack of hugs. When Groundhog emerges from his den in a St. Patrick's Day outfit near the end of the book, he's practically a different animal from the one who wasn't really ready to face the winter in early February. 

Groundhug Day is a fun addition to the ranks of holiday picture books - covering Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and even Easter. It would be a nice selection for any library serving preschoolers. My seven-year-old read it on her own and pronounced it a book that I had to write about. And so I have. Recommended!

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: December 5, 2018
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).

Further Evidence that It's All About Choice

My daughter regularly grumbles about her math homework. It's not that she usually finds it difficult, but that she resents having to do it at all. When it's easy for her she resents it more, because she sees her time as being wasted. Luckily for me, she usually does her math homework at her after school care (where all of the kids are expected to do homework at the same time), so I don't have to listen to the complaints.

MathWorkbookImagine my surprise the other morning when she asked to cut short our breakfast reading session so that we could work together on "math facts". She pulled out the workbook from a previous math module (they get to keep them after the module is completed) and started filling in unused pages. The next morning she asked to do the same thing.

So, when it's homework, she is annoyed and irritable about having to do it. But when it's her choice, she will happily pull out the same workbook and do the same activities.

It is possible that some of this difference stems from the fact that I'm sitting snuggled with her on the couch doing this "math facts" activity, vs. her sitting at Kids Club or at our kitchen table on her own. I could test this theory by doing her math homework with her on the couch (though this runs counter to my goal for her to learn to do her homework independently).

But I think it mainly boils down to free choice. When we're playing "math facts" she picks which pages look interesting. She stops to sketch on the unused backs of pages. She stops mid-activity if something is boring. When it comes to homework, it's not doing math that's the problem. It's doing a particular set of math problems that someone else expects her to do at a certain time, regardless of her own mood and inclination. The parallels to required reading are obvious here. 

This makes me wonder: if her teacher were to assign her to read graphic novels every day as homework, would she grumble and complain and stop enjoying them? This is an experiment that I do not wish to undertake. Because it is quite possible that the answer would be yes.

It's all about free choice. Which is not to say that teachers don't have to follow a logical curriculum, or that my daughter won't have to learn that sometimes you have to do things on other people's timeline. But it's also true that self-directed inquiry is more engaging for her than assigned work, particularly in that outside of school time that she considers her own. This is probably the case for most of us.

© 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: November 3: #KidLitCon, #Cybils, #Halloween + Growing #Readers

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. First up, while I'm not sharing the related links, the Kidlitosphere Conference is taking place today in Hershey, PA. I was unable to attend (travel is pretty difficult for me these days), but I hope that everyone there is having a fabulous time!! Follow the #KidLitCon hashtag on Twitter for updates. I'll be retweeting as my schedule permits.

In other news, I have posts about #AcceleratedReader, #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #GrowingBookworms, #Halloween, #math, #PictureBookMonth, #PictureBooks, flexible classrooms, grades, reading for pleasure, schools, teaching, the #Cybils Awards, and gender.

Book Lists

LovelyBadOnes5 Creepy Books Set in New England for Chilly Nights - by via

Historical + Contemporary Middle Grade Books, a from

Roundup of 2017 Best Books Lists started at w/ 's picks


EmptyGraveToday's featured REVIEW: Lockwood & Co., Book 5: The Empty Grave by , review by

Today's featured REVIEW by of nominee Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix

Today's featured REVIEW: Circle, Triangle, Elephant: A Book of Shapes and Surprises, review by Tiffa Foster

Easy Readers/Early Chapters Nominations w/ links from Jennifer Wharton

Full list of Elementary/Middle Grade Nominations w/ links to chair Jennifer Wharton's reviews

Events + Programs

LegendRockPaperScissorsSome of the best -themed costumes from over the years according to

Speaking of costumes, Bookmark Wishes You a Happy Day

founders share tributes to Dianne de Las Casas , + more


I’m 10. And I Want Girls to Raise Their Hands. OpEd in @nytopinionabout girls + confidence

Growing Bookworms

ReadingUnboundThe Benefits of for Pleasure. How + can help via https://t.co/z0GU4x3H7j

"We need to be connecting kids with books" by

The benefits of wordless (esp. for pre-literate kids) by Hilary Hawkes

How Samantha Goodger is treating work in high school recovery courses as a "do over" to develop lifelong https://t.co/Dq08kTiji2

Book Buzz: How Elementary Principal is Promoting a by Letting Students Shine in videos https://t.co/7j2IvEYQVc

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

In the quest for also include positive portrayals of / interactions w/ white characters says https://t.co/PgknzddKZF

Schools and Libraries

ReadingStrategiesRT The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader | http://ow.ly/UknN30gehYp Pennington Publishing Blog

A defense from of when implemented effectively | "If you don't like it don't use it"

[I rounded up other posts about Accelerated Reader, and added my own thoughts, in this post.]

How Can We Expect Students to Focus on When Educators Only Care About ? https://t.co/dg814Lz0BT

RT @MindShiftKQED: Answers to some of the logistical questions that come up around flexibly classrooms

KickStartKindergartenSchool Readiness AND Developmentally Appropriate Practice? How to Get on the Same Page with Parents  https://t.co/FhxzThqCAx

Thoughts on Meeting Where They Are, and what can + can't control from


Jeannie Curtis urges to have More Talking about problems in Class

© 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 Little Girl Who Didn't Want to Go to Bed: Dave Engledow

Book: The Little Girl Who Didn't Want to Go to Bed
Author: David Engledow
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

LittleGirlDidntWantThe Little Girl Who Didn't Want to Go to Bed is the first picture book by photographer David Engledow. The story itself is pretty straightforward picture book fare: little girl doesn't want to go to sleep because she feels like she is missing something. She ends up staying up all night, and is so tired the next day that she misses the real fun that she could have had. And so she decides that she will sleep at night after all.

What makes the book much more than that storyline, however, are Engledow's over-the-top illustrations, digitally manipulated photographs full of kid- and parent-friendly details. These are juxtaposed against text that is generally much more ordinary. For example: 

"Every night, she'd make up excuse after excuse...

"Just one more story. PLEEEEEEEEEASE?""

We see a picture of the little girl perched atop a teetering stack of picture books, surrounded by other stacks, and clutching a copy of "War and Peace." Small alphabet blocks spell out "ONE MORE STORY."

The blocks, as well as the girl's pink stuffed animal (in matching pajamas to her own) are in many of the illustrations, with the blocks spelling out key phrases. Then there are the parents. 

"Even after the lights were out, the little girl would lie awake imagining all the fun that must have been going on without her."

Here we see the parents, dressed up in fancy clothes, mom wearing a pink and white tiara, doing fun things like piñata, jigsaw puzzles, and bobbing for apples. At the very end of the book, when the girl is finally asleep in her own bed, there's a tiny hint that maybe that is the sort of thing the parents do.

But my favorite illustration is one where the girl sneaks out of her room at night and hides in the kitchen trash, banana peel on her head, apple in her mouth. The ones where she is tired and does things like put her arms through her pants are also pretty cute.

My seven year old thought that this book was hilarious. As for me, I thought at first that it would be a bit too gimmicky for me. But I have to say that The Little Girl Who Didn't Want to Go to Bed won me over through a combination of entertaining plot and humorous details. This would make a fun baby shower gift, in that it speaks as much to parents as to kids. It's definitely worth a look. Recommended. 

Publisher: HarperCollins  (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: October 17, 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).