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Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 17: Lots of Reading But Not So Much Blogging

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 two book reviews (both middle grade) and two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter. I've been ill since New Year's, and have not been able to blog very much. I have been able to read about a book a day since the start of the new year, so there is an upside to all of this time in bed, but my blogging has definitely suffered. 

Reading Update: For those who are interested in such things, in 2017 I read 65 middle grade, 23 young adult, and 72 adult titles, for a total of 160 books read (just above my very informal goal of 150, though not as balanced by age range as I would have liked). You can see the full list here. In the last four weeks I finished three middle grade, two young adult, and thirteen adult titles. I read/listened to: 

I'm currently listening to The Wanted by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike). I'm reading Fall from Grace by Tim Weaver, a random library pick that I'm enjoying, but that is making me wish I had started the series at the beginning. There's a lot of backstory that I'm now familiar with, so it would be tough to go back and read the earlier books. Ah well. Lesson learned. 

HarryPotterPhoenixMy daughter and I have started reading Harry Potter Five (The Order of the Phoenix). I really wanted to wait until the summer to start it, but she got a lot of Harry Potter stuff for Christmas, and she just couldn't wait. So far she's not finding it too dark, but we're at a pretty early point. She was giddy with delight over Petunia Dursley receiving a howler.  

For her own reading, she was very sad to come to the end of the Dork Diaries books and has been re-reading the books and reading the spinoff Max Crumbley series. Sadly, there are only two of those. She finally read and enjoyed the first Jedi Academy book, which I had purchased for her months ago. She had refused to read it because it wasn't a graphic novel, but once she did read it she immediately hit me up for the other books in the series. 

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. I do hope to get my blog back up to speed eventually, but it will probably take a while. As illnesses go, this one is really lingering. Luckily I have books!

© 2018 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 Van Gogh Deception: Deron Hicks

Book: The Van Gogh Deception
Author: Deron Hicks
Pages: 320
Age Range: 10-12

VanGoghDeceptionThe Van Gogh Deception by Deron Hicks is a suspenseful, smart, fast-paced mystery for middle grade readers. The story begins when a boy with amnesia is discovered one December day in the National Gallery in Washington, DC. When the boy, dubbed Art, is sent to temporary foster care, he meets Camille, a strong-willed young red-head. It turns out, however, that dangerous people are looking for Art. Soon he and Camille find themselves on the run, trying to solve the mystery of Art's past and determine whether or not a recently discovered Van Gogh is real or fake. 

Classic art, and the way it might be forged, is discussed throughout the story. There are QR codes included in the book, wherever a famous piece of art is mentioned. Readers can scan the codes to bring up a picture of each artwork. I didn't personally need that distraction after looking at one or two, but I'm sure this will be fun for many young readers. 

What makes The Van Gogh Deception fun for me is the quick-wittedness of Art and Camille, and the fast pace of their adventures. Art, though he can't remember anything about himself, knows a lot about art, and he has instincts that cause his pursuers to liken him to Jason Bourne. Camille, while lacking Art's educational background, is a firebrand and a loyal friend, a more than worthy sidekick for Art. The characters of the Camille's mother and a concerned police detective are also strong, though Hicks never lets them take over the story, or do any real rescuing. Even the bad guy is intriguing, definitely not a one-note criminal stereotype. 

I read this book so quickly that I didn't stop to flag any quotable passages. But it's unquestionably cerebral as well as action-packed, perfect for mystery fans of all ages (10 and up). 

The Van Gogh Deception belongs in libraries serving upper middle grade and middle school readers everywhere. It has a great cover, and an irresistible premise (amnesia is always compelling, as is art theft/forgery). Highly recommended, and one I will be passing on to my daughter when she is just a bit older. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: August 29, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2018 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: January 5: The #Cybils Shortlists, #SchoolLibraries, and Love of #Reading

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter over the past two weeks @JensBookPage. While there hasn't been a lot going on in the kidlit blogosphere over the holidays, the big news is that the Cybils shortlists were announced on New Year's Day. Other topics included: #FlexibleSeating, #GrowthMindset, book fairs, bookstores, growing bookworms, independent learners, inspiration, libraries, raising readers, recess, schools, and writing.

Top Tweet of the Week

How to Stop Killing the Love of | talks w/ | https://t.co/R2ONY4OWzC

Cybils Awards

Cybils-Logo-2017-Round-SmThe 2017 Finalists are live! High-quality, kid-friendly titles in 12 categories + more

The 2017 Middle Grade Fiction Finalists, with blurbs, from category chair

The shortlists are here! Category organizer has the elementary / middle grade speculative fiction shortlist

We are grateful to for sharing the relevant 2017 Awards Finalists with their readers  https://t.co/jFih690QI0

SpirithuntersCybils Finalists Are Live! | shares her panel's speculative fiction choices https://t.co/RbKAQ3fcyk

Announcement! Announcement! Announcement! from | 2017 Finalists! https://t.co/0ix53uTPMg

Reading Round-Up, Part 2 from co-blog editor and round 1 panelist https://t.co/tDdcCQHOp4

Today's featured REVIEW is nominee The Playbook, reviewed by

Today's featured REVIEW is Jr. High nominee Beastly Brains | review by

BeyondBrightSeaToday's featured REVIEW is middle grade fiction nominee Beyond the Bright Sea, review by Tara Smith

On the blog: 2017 Finalist Reactions! | So great to see this enthusiasm from + authors, illustrators + publishers

Events + Programs

The 6th National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, 2018-2019 is | News release at via

Growth Mindset

RT: @MindshiftKQED:What's the most effective way to praise girls? Compliment them for taking on difficulty, trying different strategies and sticking to it over time. Not for how smart they are. https://t.co/JHSHofib5E

Miscellaneous

20 Inspirational Quotes to Start off 2018 from | "Stay positive and happy" + lots more

Schools and Libraries

I love this! A School Library’s Free Bookstore Turbocharges | | librarian's former office = bookstore w/ used + donated books [Though if they could find a way to do this without "book bucks" based on AR points, I would love it more.]

Students: How a 'Quiet Revolution' Is Changing Classroom Practice - via  https://t.co/DCLtqouMqX

BookLoveHow My High School Doubled Its Circulation | | teacher + librarian enthusiasm, + more

Move Over, : Launches Book Fairs | | Parents want fewer non-book items

Guiding to Be

3 Ways to Make the Process More Authentic by

This Is Why Schools Need To Stop Taking Away Recess As A Form Of Punishment, thoughts + links from https://t.co/kQLCZczqdX

Thoughts from On as part of encouraging flexible thinking in the https://t.co/TngiByNayh

© 2018 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 Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade: Jordan Sonnenblick

Book: The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade
Author: Jordan Sonnenblick
Pages: 208
Age Range: 9-12

SecretSheriffThe Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade is the latest middle grade novel by Jordan Sonnenblick, who has a gift for using humor to take the edge of off difficult subjects (having a sibling with cancer, e.g.). In The Secret Sheriff, Sonnenblick introduces readers to sixth grader Maverick Falconer. Maverick lives in poverty with his alcoholic mom, his dad having been killed in the line of military duty. In addition to coping with his mother's benders and her abusive boyfriend, Maverick struggles with being much shorter than average (mild implication of fetal alcohol syndrome), and with being the target of bully Bowen. Despite these challenges, or perhaps because of them, Maverick decides at the start of the school year that he's going to be a secret sheriff, looking for opportunities to help people. Things don't go as planned, however, and Maverick ends up in the vice principal's office twice on the very first day. 

Without being heavy-handed about, Sonnenblick includes plenty of details that make the challenges of Maverick's situation clear. He can't afford the $10 fee for gym clothes. The vice principal can't call his mother in because she doesn't have a car, and might not be sober. His hamster is missing a foot, a damaged animal that a kind-hearted pet shop owner gave to child who couldn't afford an unmarked pet. And lots more. Here are a couple of examples, in Maverick's voice:

"As far as I could figure it, anybody with two parents had nothing i the world to complain about. It was a little hard to be sure, though. I hadn't had a father since I was three. All I even had to remember him by was a cheap little plastic sheriff's star he had bought me at a beachside souvenir shop on the last day I had ever spent with him. I vaguely remember that I had been angry about something, and he'd gotten me the star to cheer me up." (Page 8)

"I had heard of fresh berries and cream. Fresh berries and cream sounded awesome. Fresh anything sounded awesome. We never had fresh food in our house. Or even cooked food. The only time my mom lit a stove burner was when she ran out of matches and needed to fire up a cigarette." (Page 10)

But there's humor, too. Like this:

"A massive hand tapped me on the shoulder. I whirled and literally banged into the protruding stomach of the largest man I had ever seen in my life. He had to be at least six and a half feet tall, with super-broad shoulders, that big belly, a bushy red handlebar mustache, and wild red hair. If Santa Claus had married a Viking queen, their firstborn son would have looked like this dude." (Page 21)

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade also features excellent characterization. No one is all bad or all good, though one has to look pretty hard to find the good in some of them. I especially appreciated the nuances of the vice principal (the Santa/Viking hybrid described above). Maverick has an aunt who is able to provide something of a safety net for him, but even she has her quirks. 

I think that The Secret Sheriff would be an excellent read for middle schoolers, providing a window (or mirror) into poverty and substance abuse, but also providing constructive ideas about making the world (or at least one's school) better. I'll be happy to have my daughter read this book when she's a bit older - it may make her a bit more appreciative of having two parents, and being able to afford things like new sneakers when she needs them. And if not, she'll probably still enjoy Maverick's scrapes. Recommended, and a must for middle school libraries. 

Publisher: Scholastic  (@Scholastic
Publication Date: August 29, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2018 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: December 22: Bookish Gifts, A Readerly Life, and Literacy via #GraphicNovels

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics during this relatively light week include #BookLists, #Cybils, #GiftGuides, #GraphicNovels, #GrowingBookworms, #PictureBooks, #STEM, Christmas, creativity, schools, and science.

I suspect, with the holidays coming up, and my daughter out of school for the next two weeks, that this will be my last post of the year. Wishing all who celebrate it a joyous Christmas, and a happy and healthy New Year to all. Thanks for reading!

Book Lists + Gift Guides

AfterTheFallFavorite , 1st and 2nd Grade Edition, Fall 2017 from Chicken Spaghetti, w/ list of book-finding resources https://t.co/yMKAQWwkpH

Books You Can Sing, a that made for her toddler niece

Challenge: NSTA 2018 Outstanding Trade Books & Books | from

27 Great Books to Share at Christmas, some focused on bible, others on values + traditions, from

Some fun stuff on this | 50 Bookish Gifts for Mighty Girl Book Lovers

Cybils

AllsFaireToday's featured REVIEW: middle grade nominee All’s Faire in Middle School from , reviewed by

Today's featured REVIEW: nominee When Your Lion Needs a Bath from , review by Tiffa Foster

Today's featured REVIEW: Elem/MG nominee Ghosts of Greenglass House, review by

Growing Bookworms

13 Keys To Nurturing A Readerly Life from | Model , give students choice, + more

ChristmasForBearTime to put ‘a book on every bed’ for morning (or whatever holiday you celebrate), a reminder from

foster says Lydia Olsen in | "Kids who struggle reading traditional books might do better with comics"

Parenting

20 Great Holiday or Travel Activities for Kids (5-15), many themed, from

Schools and Libraries

BunnysBookClubUsing in the Middle School | Students are never too old |

What Is That?": How We Unwittingly Dampen Children's Creative Development - | Describe what you see in a child's art

© 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.


Growing Bookworms Newsletter: December 20: 12th Blog Birthday Edition

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 three book reviews (all early chapter books) and one post about my daughter's latest literacy milestone (understanding someone else's need to read). I also have three posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter

Blog Birthday: This edition of the Growing Bookworms Newsletter marks my recently passed 12th anniversary of starting this blog. It's hard to imagine now that on December 17th I somehow had time to start a blog, but that seems to have been the case. Many thanks to those of you who have been stopping by the blog over these past 12(!) years. Recently my blogging (and especially reviewing) has been a bit more limited than usual. I'm hoping to get my groove back after the New Year. 

Reading Update: In the last three weeks I finished fifteen middle grade, and five adult titles. Most of the  middle grade were actually early graphic novels that I read aloud to my daughter. I read/listened to: 

  • Jennifer L. Holm (ill. Matthew Holm): Babymouse #11: Dragonslayer. Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed November 29, 2017, read aloud to my daughter.
  • AmbroseDeceptionEmily Ecton: The Ambrose Deception. Disney-Hyperion. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed November 29, 2017, print ARC. Review to come, closer to publication. 
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians (Book 2). Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed November 30, 2017, read aloud to my daughter.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta (Book 3). Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed December 1, 2017, read aloud to my daughter.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown (Book 4). Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed December 3, 2017, read aloud to my daughter.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit (Book 5). Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed December 4, 2017, read aloud to my daughter.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Lunch Lady and the Field Trip Fiasco (Book 6). Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed December 5, 2017, read aloud to my daughter.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes (Book 7). Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed December 5, 2017, read aloud to my daughter.
  • LunchLady10Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle (Book 10). Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed December 6, 2017, read aloud to my daughter.
  • Jennifer L. Holm (ill. Matthew Holm): Babymouse #5: Heartbreaker. Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed December 8, 2017, read aloud to my daughter. My review.
  • Jennifer L. Holm (ill. Matthew Holm): Babymouse #10: The Musical. Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed December 11, 2017, read aloud to my daughter.
  • Jennifer L. Holm (ill. Matthew Holm): Babymouse #9: Monster Mash. Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed December 12, 2017, read aloud to my daughter.
  • Jennifer L. Holm (ill. Matthew Holm): Babymouse #12: Burns Rubber. Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed December 13, 2017, read aloud to my daughter.
  • Jennifer L. Holm (ill. Matthew Holm): Babymouse #9: Puppy Love. Random House Children's Books. Early Graphic Novel. Completed December 14, 2017, read aloud to my daughter.
  • SecretSheriffJordan Sonnenblick: The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade. Scholastic. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed December 18, 2017. Review to come.
  • Carlene O'Connor: Murder in an Irish Village (Book 1). Kensington. Adult Mystery. Completed November 30, 2017, on MP3. This is a new series that I listened to on audio and enjoyed, despite occasionally wanting to shake the protagonist by the shoulders and tell her to wise up. 
  • Lee Child: The Midnight Line. Delacorte Press. Adult Thriller. Completed December 7, 2017, on MP3. This I liked much better than Child's last couple of Reacher installments. 
  • Chris Knopf: The Last Refuge (Sam Acquillo). Permanent Press. Adult Mystery. Completed December 11, 2017, on Kindle. This one dragged a bit for me, though I did finish it. 
  • Carlene O'Connor: Murder at an Irish Wedding (Book 2). Kensington. Adult Mystery. Completed December 12, 2017, on MP3. 
  • Janet Evanovich: Hardcore Twenty-Four. G. P. Putnam's Sons. Adult Mystery. Completed December 15, 2017, on MP3. This installment of the Stephanie Plum series had an even less plausible plot than usual (involving zombies), but still a fun listen. 

LionWitchI'm currently listening to Blood Hollow (Cork O'Connor series, book 4) by William Kent Krueger. I also have a stack of new children's and YA books on my nightstand, and haven't decided which of those to read next.

After a period where my daughter and I read nothing together but Lunch Lady and Babymouse books during her breakfasts, I've just started reading her The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. I'm happy that she is engaged in it, despite the relative dearth of illustrations. This is interesting for me, too, because it's been decades since I read it. And yes, I'm going by the original book order, starting with this one. One thing that contributed to her interest in reading the book, I should note, was that it's mentioned in one of the Babymouse books. This makes it cool, I think. 

DorkDiaries8For her own reading, she is continuing to work her way through the Dork Diaries books. Yesterday we borrowed Dork Diaries 8 from her friend, and she stayed up late reading until she had finished (it's almost vacation, right?). 

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. Wishing you all a joyful Christmas, or whatever holidays you celebrate, and a book-filled New Year. 

© 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


Spy Toys: Mark Powers & Tim Wesson

Book: Spy Toys
Author: Mark Powers
Illustrator: Tim Wesson
Pages: 224
Age Range: 8-12

SpyToysSpy Toys, written by Mark Powers, with frequent black and white illustrations by Tim Wesson, is the first of a new chapter book series from Bloomsbury (an epilogue points to future stories, at any rate). Spy Toys is set in a slightly futuristic world in which a company called Snaztacular Ultrafun makes intelligent toys, each with "a tiny computerized brain that gave it a personality and allowed it to walk and talk as if it were alive."

Due to quality control policies at the manufacturing plant, however, two toys are rejected: a Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear named Dan who is vastly too strong to cuddle any human and a cranky rag doll named Arabella who can't stand people. When Dan and Arabella escape the plant, they meet up with an escaped mechanical police bunny named Flax, and the three toy-like intelligent creatures are recruited into the Department of Secret Affairs. Before they know it, the three Spy Toys are sent on an assignment to hide in plain sight and protect the spoiled son of a senator. 

I found Spy Toys to be entertaining, with a wry humor that especially appealed. Like this:

"When you hugged one of these bears, it actually hugged you back. In a world where many parents were simply too busy to do trivial things like hug their children, the teddy bears sold in their millions." (Chapter One)

There's also a scene in Chapter Five in which a set of toddler triplets is used to test the resilience of the Spy Toys, because "No destructive force has yet been found that's greater than a toddler." 

I especially enjoyed the sharp-tongued Arabella. After she and Dan escape she at first tries to abandon him. When he asks what he should do know she says:

"How should I know? You're a bear. Go and eat a marmalade sandwich or something." (Chapter Three)

It's just fun. Tim Wesson's illustrations lend additional humor. Dan's kindness is visible in his big, soft eyes, even as the tiny Arabella wears a frequent scowl, despite heart-decorated cheeks. Even a minor jump rope character has a face and a personality. 

The plot flows swiftly. There are plenty of sound effects and cartoon-style exploits to keep younger elementary school readers engaged, while the mild social commentary (e.g. a burger place that even fries the buns, and is hence very popular) keeps Spy Toys relevant for older readers, too. Spy Toys is a promising start to a new series, and should be a welcome addition to library collections serving elementary school kids. Recommended!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Source of Book: Advance 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: December 15: Bookish Giving, Diverse BookLists + Love for #Librarians

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. It's a fairly brief list today, probably because we're all getting too busy for blogging around the holidays. (I know I am!) Topics this week include #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #literacy, #math, #ReadAloud, #STEM, awards, charitable giving, Cybils, growing bookworms, and libraries.

Top Tweet of the Week

The 2017 Bookish Charitable Giving Guide from + lots more

Book Lists

HundredBillionStars31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 10 featured one of my fave sub-genres: 2017

Cybils

Reading Round-Up, Part 1 from Elem/MG speculative fiction judge (+co-blog editor) https://t.co/2jTSN2xYF6

Today's Featured REVIEW: Christmas in Cooperstown, reviewed by easy reader/early chapter books chair

Today's featured REVIEW is YASF nominee Caraval, reviewed by

Today's featured REVIEW: elementary nominee Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code | reviewed by

Diversity

WhenDimpleMetRishiThe Message Your All White Booklist sends to patrons, white and of color, a challenge from

How white parents are addressing racism – by to their children - via

Growing Bookworms

Why and How Benefit Middle Graders, w/ tips for choosing titles + references, by

CaptainUnderpantsDon’t Be the Grumpy Film Critic of Children’s Literature by | being dismissive of books they love turns kids off https://t.co/kRjOy3ybx6

Schools and Libraries

School, Teen Recognized at 2017 I Love My Librarian Awards |

Study links later start times for teens w/ economic benefits | via  https://t.co/6JieWfXuWj

© 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.


Ellie, Engineer: Jackson Pearce

Book: Ellie, Engineer
Author: Jackson Pearce
Illustrator: Tuesday Mourning
Pages: 192
Age Range: 8-12

EllieEngineerEllie, Engineer is an early middle grade novel by Jackson Pearce, lightly illustrated by Tuesday Mourning, about a girl named Ellie Bell who loves to design and build things. She's a more grown up (~10 years old), more confident version of Rosie Revere, Engineer. Ellie has turned the playhouse portion of her backyard playset into a workshop. She walks around wearing a tool belt. Her prize possession is a small drill. Her best friend, Kit, also likes to build things, though Kit is more interested in things like staying clean and attending beauty pageants than Ellie is. 

Ellie, Engineer begins with Ellie furious because the neighborhood boys refuse to let her play soccer, because she is a girl. She builds a water balloon launcher and uses it to wreak a successful revenge. However, when Kit's birthday present (a French-braiding machine) goes awry, Ellie finds herself needing a to build a new present in secret and on short notice. Her ambitious plans to build a dog house (for the dog that the eavesdropping girls believe that Kit is getting) require help. And that means that Ellie has to reach out to other kids, including one of the dreaded neighborhood boys. 

As a woman who studied engineering in college and graduate school, I, of course, found Ellie irresistible. I liked her parents' free range attitude towards her pursuits, and I liked that even though she was into building things she also liked to wear things like fluffy purple skirts. I loved that she built a balloon launcher, and that she was able to seek out help where her own strengths were not a match (like in decorating the inside of the dog house). I loved this:

"The drill was one of her favorite tools because it was the only electric tool she was allowed to use without her mom and dad watching. She'd written Ellie Bell's Drill across the side in purple paint pen, then drawn some flowers and some dragons, which had mostly rubbed off by now since she used it so much." (Chapter One)

The combination of wanting to build things, but also wanting to decorate a drill with flowers and dragons, felt realistic to me. Contrived, maybe, a tiny bit, but I'll give it a pass because I think that readers will like it. 

I also liked the illustrations, consisting largely of Ellie's designs, drawn on graph paper. Oh, how I loved graph paper when I was young, all through school. The sketch of the balloon launcher, made out of a spare yard sign, two brooms, exercise bands and a funnel, was delightful, especially little instructions like "SOAK BOYS!".

I was not quite as keen on the friendship dynamics of the book. When Ellie started telling unnecessary lies (because of what she thought other people would think about her co-conspirators), I gave a little sigh. The conflicts were resolved rather easily in the end for my taste, though I do think that the book is appropriate to kids in the target age range. I'm interested to test it out on my seven year old daughter. I did laugh out loud at this bit:

"Ellie frowned. This was turning into a big project, with so many people wanting to help. Plus, she wasn't so sure she trusted the neighborhood boys when they were all together like this. Boys, as far as she could tell, were sort of like rabbits. One was fine and maybe even interesting to play with, but a whole bunch of them would just be a lot of jumping and running and smelling." (Chapter Six)

This last quote does suggest a rather direct targeting of Ellie, Engineer toward girls, though I would think that boys would find Ellie's projects interesting, too. 

Parents who want to encourage their girls to be interested in STEM fields should certainly pick up a copy of Ellie, Engineer for their daughters. It's a shame this is releasing in January, instead of in time for Christmas. It would also be a good addition to elementary school library collections. The back matter suggests that this book is the first of a new series, so I expect that we'll see Ellie and her friends in future books. Recommended and entertaining!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Source of Book: Advanced 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: December 8: Bookish #Christmas Gifts, Holiday #Reading, and #Math as #Play

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookLists, #Cybils, #GiftGuides, #GrowingBookworms, #GrowthMindset, #math, #play, #poetry, #STEM, book awards, kidlitosphere, parenting, preschool, reading, schools, and testing.

Top Tweet of the Week

How Rewires Your Brain for More Intelligence and Empathy | via https://t.co/VeTkIzTrar

Book Lists + Gift Guides

RealFriendsThese books can help build strong girls — and boys — for today’s world. This has some nice choices https://t.co/44mEDoQeV8

Center for Multicultural Literature’s Best for 2017 (Hint from : It is Excellent) | https://t.co/iyf1y6BLSe

Fun Children’s Book Gifts for Christmas | Detailed from

Bookish Gifts for Christmas - suggestions from https://t.co/Yt5nYLiS4d

Cybils

ForestWorldToday's featured REVIEW: fiction nominee Forest World, reviewed by

Friday's featured REVIEW: middle grade fiction nominee Stef Soto, Taco Queen | reviewed by

Today's featured REVIEW: Fiction nominee A List of Cages by , review by

Events and Programs

Guys Lit Wire: On behalf of in Washington DC, THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

Growth Mindset

Why We Should Embrace Mistakes (+ actively model managing them) in | Amy L. Eva

The Best Questions for Encouraging a | Lee Watanabe-Crockett

Kidlitosphere

A Year of Reading: -- Call for Roundup Hosts for early 2018 from

Fun stuff here: 2017 Children’s Lit: The Year in Miscellanea —

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

LetItSnowHelping plan for the luxury of extra time over the holidays, by  [Pictured: one of my favorite holiday reads, Let It Snow]

Survey by Finds More than 770,000 UK children 'don't own a book'. Those kids 15X less likely to be good readers

Schools and Libraries

U.S. Graduation Rate Hits New All-Time High, With Gains in All Student Groups -

Communicating the Importance of Early Childhood Education to Parents, how and why, does w/

U.S. scores drop in international study -

RT @MindshiftKQED: Anxious teens often just want counselors to help them feel safe again — but their problems will likely only escalate if they don’t learn how to cope with stress, discomfort, and panic. https://t.co/dT8WErTbcW

STEM

is | Axioms + can use to encourage playful math

Holiday Math and More: Math Teachers at Play #114 – rounds up seasonal activities, puzzles, etc.

RT @SheilaRuth: Cool project teaching data analytics to students who might not otherwise be interested in #STEM - Edmondson athletes form Sports Analytics Club https://t.co/e5mFrteagd

© 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 Uncanny Express: Kara LaReau + Jen Hill

Book: The Uncanny Express (The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, Book 2)
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Jen Hill
Pages: 176
Age Range: 7-10

UncannyExpressThe Uncanny Express is the second book in the Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters series, written by Kara LaReau and illustrated by Jen Hill. The Bland sisters, Jaundice and Kale, love on their own in a boring house in Dullsville. In the absence of their parents (who have been gone for years, having adventures), Kale and Jaundice darn people's socks for a living. In The Uncanny Express, however, they are drawn into an adventure involving a train ride, a lady magician named Magique, and a mysterious disappearance. They find themselves co-opted twice as assistants, first to Magique, and then to detective Hugo Fromage. It's quite an adventure for two girls who would prefer to stay home, eat cheese sandwiches, and watch the grass grow. 

Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for the girls:

"I don't like train stations," Kale decided. "There's too much hustle. Not to mention bustle." (Page 19, ARC)

and:

"Well, this is the mother of all plans," said Magique. "This time, my act is even bigger, even more astonishing than it was before! And it all starts with the very thing the audience hated so much last time: mind reading. Would you like to see a little bit of it?"

"As long as we can keep eating," Jaundice said, taking another bite of her croque madame. Once she scraped off the fried egg on top and removed the ham inside, it almost tasted like a cheese sandwich from home." (Page 39, ARC)

Although this will go over the heads of new readers, I enjoyed the way the book spoofs Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot with Hugo Fromage. His prior cases included "The Mysterious Affair at Kyle's" and "The Murder of Roger Adenoid." Magique is also something of a spoof of stage magicians, admitting outright that everything she does is an illusion (though a hint of actual magic does appear, too). In fact, all of the characters fill locked room mystery stereotypes of one sort or another (jaded reporter, limping ex-military officer, ditzy rich blonde, etc.). This would make a great read for an 7-year-old who has recently discovered the joys of playing Clue, and appreciates the joys of the Fluffernutter (marshmallow fluff plays a surprisingly important role in the story). 

Kara LaReau sprinkles light humor throughout the book. Like this:

"Just remember, mademoiselles, the key to being a good detective is to be observant," said the great detective.

"'Observant?'" repeated Kale. On these occasions, she sorely missed her dictionary.

"It means we must pay close attention to everyone and everything," Hugo Fromage explained.

"Sorry, what did you say?" asked Jaundice, still considering the clipboard.

The great detective sighed." (Page 65, ARC)

It made me laugh. Jen Hill's black and white sketches also add to understanding of the story for new readers, particularly a schematic of the train labeled with occupants of the various compartments. Little quotes from the books that the girls are reading begin each chapter, adding humor and/or insight, depending on the chapter. 

All in all, The Uncanny Express is a worthy successor to The Jolly Regina. This one is a quirky, fun book, perfect for introducing newer readers to the joys of mysteries. Kale and Jaundice are unusual heroines, in their desire for sameness and stability, but this makes then stand out compared to the various plucky heroines typical to most children's books. In The Uncanny Express the two sisters do experience personal growth, but they do so without changing their basic natures. There's also a setup to Book 3, which is sure to be welcome. Recommended! 

Publisher: Amulet Books 
Publication Date: January 9, 2018
Source of Book: Advance 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: December 1: Gift Guides, Boys and Reading, Growth Mindset + More

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookLists, #creativity, #Cybils, #GrowYourHeart, #GrowthMindset, #play, book awards, boys and reading, flexible seating, gift guides, math, preschool, reading, schools, #STEM, teaching, and testing.

Book Lists + Gift Guides

CrosswordsForKidsI found some useful ideas from this | 25+ Stocking Stuffers for the Whole Family https://t.co/VLAu5OQuzG

The Ultimate Children’s Literature Illustrator Gift Guide 2017 — w/ thanks to

Kicking off another 31 Days, 31 Lists | Day One – 2017 Great |

Ten Gift-Worthy Subscription Boxes for Bookworms by

Christmas is Coming: 50 Mighty Girl | from  https://t.co/pH4avReepU

Cybils

FishGirlToday's featured REVIEW: elementary/MG nominee Fish Girl | review by

Today's featured REVIEW: nominee 7 Ate 9: The Untold Story | review by Ami Jones

Today's featured REVIEW: Sr. High nominee Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time | review by

Events + Programs

RandonHouseLogoFor every person who shares a good deed on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram by 12/25 w/ , + Dr. Seuss Enterprises will collectively donate $1 (up to $20k) to

RT @MrsPStorytime: Calling all K-4 teachers! There is still time to enter by Be-a-Famous Writer Contest! Prizes from & judged by Run till Dec 15th FREE to enter https://t.co/T34s2y6xPa

Growing Bookworms

"The secret to getting boys to read is the same as the secret to getting girls to read: empower them to make their own choices" via https://t.co/b8y4C6qpb3

Kidlitosphere

WhatMakesAMonsterVarious tidbits in this week's Fusenews: “Luminous with the beauty and fragility of life” — + more

Miscellaneous

6 Unusual Habits of Exceptionally Creative People – via

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

RaisingKidsWhoReadHow to Get Your Mind to Read | "The problem is ... bad education habits engendered by a misunderstanding of how the mind reads"

Thoughts from On Goal Failures... and Possibilities w/ links to more

Schools and Libraries

Want To Become Successful? Allow Them To More | Kim Nassoiy via https://t.co/tgo3tiyoVF

What Must Consider When Moving to | | Pix from + more

College students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lecture, taking notes by hand is better | Susan Dynarski

InnovatorsMindset"If the technology takes away our human connection that is crucial for the development of our , it is not worth it" on parent portals vs. conferences

5 Reflective Questions to Encourage a |

Is It Possible To Teach + Willpower + , and how might we do that in ? asks

Liberate the Turkey and on Holiday Weekends suggests other activities instead (like ) https://t.co/pVXLSwCDFE

3 Articles for Discussion on “Success” – quotes |

STEM

RT @MindShiftKQED: When young kids solve problems with their before bed it makes a difference in their academics later

Testing

Maybe American Students Are Bad at Standardized Tests (vs. global rankings) Because They Don’t Try Very Hard, suggests new study by economists |

© 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.