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Playful Learning: Throwing Away the Instruction Manual

For her recent sixth birthday, my daughter received a very cool gift from her godparents: an Amusement Park Engineer Kit from Kids First.  [I learned about this product from a product review at Mama Smiles, and had it on our wish list.] I knew that she would love it, and in fact she started playing with it immediately. The kit consists of 97 plastic pieces that kids can use to construct 20 different models. There's a manual written in the form of a storybook about helping two kids to fix and build amusement park rides.

I thought that this story-focused manual might capture my daughter's imagination. But it turned out that she had no interest whatsoever in the manual. She said: "Mommy, it's more fun just to build things on your own." She asked me to work with her, and together we made our own little amusement park, using all 97 of the pieces (my daughter's requirement). We then got a bunch of her Little People, and they lined up to wait for the park to open. Like this:

2016-04LittlePeopleLineUpPhoto

The whole process took some tinkering. We had to figure out which pieces went together. Not everything in the result was stable, particularly once the Little People started to play:

2016-04LittlePeoplePlayAmusementParkPhoto

Never once did we consult the manual. This was free play, with a STEM focus, at its finest. If you ask me, it was a complete success. 

I did not actually throw away the manual. She may find one day that she wants to build some of the suggested items. But I didn't push. She does the same kind of thing with her Lego sets. She might look at the picture, to see how something is supposed to look. But, at this point, following the step-by-step directions seems more like work than fun to her. And I want building things to be fun. So the instruction manuals will wait, gathering dust, until when or if they are wanted. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


Lily and Dunkin: Donna Gephart

Book: Lily and Dunkin
Author: Donna Gephart
Pages: 352
Age Range: 10 and up

I probably would not have picked up Lily and Dunkin if I were not a fan of Donna Gephart's work. Books that overtly tackle sensitive subject make me wary. It's too easy for them to become preachy, or just boring. But Donna Gephart has a real knack for getting at the heart of things, while keeping the characters at the forefront, and adding enough humor. I read the first chapter of Lily and Dunkin, and found that I wanted to keep reading. I ended up reading it in one sitting. The ending even made me a bit teary-eyed. And I feel like I now have a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by both transgender and bipolar kids. 

So, Lily and Dunkin is a dual first-person narrative about a girl named Lily, born into a boy's body, and a boy named Dunkin, struggling with both bipolar disorder and the absence of his father. Lily (aka Tim) has known since she was very small that she wants to be a girl. Her mother and sister are reasonably supportive, but her father and grandmother are having a much difficult time accepting her wishes. She is bullied at school, despite not having yet come out as transgender. Her best friend is pushing her to be herself (wear dresses to school, etc.), but she (and her father) are afraid of the consequences. 

Here's Lily, after her sister shows off some caps she is knitting for premature babies: 

""That's cool," I say. But all I can think about is how the whole boy-girl color code is determined right from birth. The moment a baby comes into the world, someone decides whether the baby gets a pink hat or a blue hat, based on the baby's body. Not brain. Why can't they put a neutral color hat on the baby and wait to see what happens?" (Page 73)

Dunkin (aka Norbert) has just moved to Lily's South Florida neighborhood from New Jersey, and isn't sure how he will fit in. He and his mother are living with his fitness-crazed Jewish grandmother, having fallen on hard times. Dunkin speaks of having left his father in New Jersey, with the gradually revealed implication that is father is in a mental health facility. Dunkin takes medication for his own bipolar disorder, but resists seeing a psychiatrist. His up and down moods are revealed masterfully through his first person viewpoint. 

Here's Dunkin, on his first day a a new school:

"At lunch, I hold the orange plastic tray in a death grip, wishing again that Phineas were here. Mom wouldn't like it if she knew I were thinking that, but I hate navigating this loud, crowed, foul-smelling cafeteria alone. The good energy of feeling a part of everything in math class has completely evaporated." (Page 90)

Although the narrators for the different sections of the book are not identified, I never had any trouble distinguishing Lily's voice from Tim's. That said, this would make a great dual-narrator audiobook, if you could find someone with the right androgynous voice for Lily. 

As in Gephart's Death by Toilet Paper, there's a lot going on in the background here. A bit of environmental activism over a favorite tree, coping with the loss of a grandparent, dealing with bullying, changing oneself in order to fit in, bringing a third person into a best friend relationship, and striving for healthy eating and fitness. There are random acts of quirkiness (decorated plastic flamingos left strategically around the neighborhood), a t-shirt shop that makes chronic and humorous production errors, and a few Yiddish expressions. The mugginess of the Florida setting virtually emanates from the page. But the heart of Lily and Dunkin is the relationships between the various characters, particularly the title characters. 

I think that Lily and Dunkin belongs in all libraries that serve upper middle grade and middle school kids. I believe that this book has the potential to open people's eyes about what it's like to be transgender, and also about what it's like to be mentally struggling in some way. The quirky trappings of the book, and the purity of the first-person perspectives, keep Lily and Dunkin from reading like an "issue book". I also appreciated Gephart's soft touch in the resolution of Lily's bullying - there is no magic wand ending that situation, which I think is realistic, but we do gain a bit of insight into the challenges of the primary bully. Highly recommended, and a book that will certainly stay with me. 

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Literacy Milestone: Doing Crossword Puzzles

LiteracyMilestoneASometimes when I am watching a movie (especially a movie that I've seen before) I have trouble staying awake. I've taken to keeping a book of relatively easy crossword puzzles handy to work on while I'm watching. If the puzzles are easy they don't take up too much of my attention, but they keep me busy enough to keep me awake. 

Recently my daughter noticed what I was doing, and declared that she wanted to participate. She started by filling in a couple of words, after I told her what the answers would be, but she did progress to reading clues, and to guessing a couple of the answers. She ended up filling in the upper left-hand corner of a puzzle, and was quite excited to show off her accomplishment to my husband. 

She's not quite ready to do crossword puzzles on her own (her sight word knowledge is still fairly limited), but I'm happy to work on some with her if she enjoys it. And because I am a person who never passes up the opportunity to buy a book, I ordered a crossword puzzle book aimed at kids. She was thrilled when it arrived, and was nearly late for school the next day because she wanted to work on her first puzzle. I'm finding that crossword puzzles help build her skills in spelling, vocabulary, and general knowledge, all in a fun way. 

I do have an app for crossword puzzles on my iPad but I don't like sending my daughter the message that I'm on the iPad during family movie night, so I use an old magazine-style book that I've had for years. Using a print crossword puzzle book also offers fewer distractions, and is fairly portable. My daughter wanted to take her new book on her school field trip, which involved a train ride. [Which I did not agree to, but I appreciated the intent.]

Sometimes the classics are still the right thing. Have you tried crossword puzzles with your kids? 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


#JoyOfLearning Articles from @ECEPolicyWorks + @bethhill2829 + @SXWiley

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I am featuring three articles that all highlight the importance of unstructured play for young kids. In the first, an anonymous teacher touts the benefits of play for kids. In the second, teacher Bethany Hill proposes that "homework" for elementary school kids should consist mainly of reading, playing family games, and spending time in unstructured play. Now that's an assignment that my family can get behind! In the third post, Scott Wiley shares his thoughts on a portion of David Elkind's book The Power of Play, specifically focusing on when kids are actually developmentally ready to learn concepts that are rule-based. As Scott notes, this references back to Rae Pica's book, which I reviewed yesterday

A NYC Teacher Breaks the Silence on the Power of #Play | @ECEPolicyWorks http://ow.ly/4mPWeX "Kids need play. It is how they learn."

Anonymous NY teacher posting as Miss Rumphius (quoted at ECE Policy Works): "Kids need play. It is how they learn. It is how they process new ideas and become themselves. This is something study after study has shown—that children learn best through play, through social interaction, through exploration, through movement. Yet, we continue to insist that real learning happens silently at desks in front of “rigorous” worksheets."

Me: I'm going to start following this teacher's blog. I like the way she thinks. These days, every time I see my own child playing, whether with her friends or by herself, I notice the ways in which she is learning.

I agree with @bethhill2829 that The Best Homework EVER would be #reading, family games + unstructured #play https://t.co/p7VrSP4iZd

Bethany Hill: "A few minutes of practice is perfectly fine, but families shouldn’t have the added stress of hours of work into the evening, missing out on great conversations, family time, extra curricular activities, and PLAY.  My hope for all of our kids is to have moments of joy, relaxation, unstructured play, investment in them by adults, and participation in extracurricular activities in the community....

Unstructured play is one of the greatest opportunities for learning we can provide for our kids. They need time to imagine, create, and discover. Unstructured play allows kids to learn who they are. They face conflict and can learn to solve problems. They also learn how to use their imagination to enhance their fun."

Me: I love Bethany's suggestions for what kids should be doing instead of spending time on homework: reading (both read-alouds and quiet time when the whole family reads silently together), playing non-digital games with family, and engaging in unstructured play. I've always believed that having kids spend time reading at home is critically important, and I've certainly noticed in my own household that my daughter learns many things from playing games and from less structured, imaginative play. 

Young kids "must keep literacy, numeracy + science skills as exploration, investigation, play @sxwiley @DavidElkind2 http://ow.ly/4mZNpH 

Scott Wiley (recapping Chapter 6 of David Elkind's book The Power of Play): "Elkind says that formal instruction is the teaching of "rules" so no formal instruction should happen until children have developed reasoning skills. Literacy, math, and science all have "rules" and kids cannot effectively learn these things until they reach the age of reason. The best way for children to move into the age of reason is to play...

Bottom line - young children are not ready for formal instruction. Trying to introduce formal instruction to children before they are developmentally ready is fruitless and could even "run the risk of killing the child's motivation for learning, for schooling, and for respecting teachers.""

Me: I really should go ahead and read The Power of Play. But in the meantime, I'm enjoying reading Scott Wiley's thoughts as he moves through the book. I have noticed in my own daughter (who just turned six) an increasing ability to reason (e.g. applying logic in an argument to get her way), but I certainly find sometimes that she is not rational in her reactions. This is especially true when she is tired (which I think argues against full-day kindergarten, which our elementary school is going to launch next year). 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 


What If Everyone Understood Child Development?: Rae Pica

Book: What If Everyone Understood Child Development? Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives
Author: Rae Pica
Pages: 160
Age Range: Adult Nonfiction

What If Everyone Understood Child Development? by Rae Pica is a collected series of essay about education from the perspective of what kids need developmentally. Being more an essay collection than a structured book, it's a little bit repetitive when read straight through, and lacks any overall conclusion. However, the essays make many, many excellent points. I highlighted passage after passage. Rather than attempt to directly quote my many highlights, I'll share some general themes, Pica's points paraphrased into my own words:

  • All kids are unique, and their needs are not served by one-size-fits-all educational standards (particularly when those standards are written by people who have not worked with kids). Kids learn at different rates, and pushing them to learn before they are developmentally ready is counter-productive. This applies in particular to expectations that kids must be reading by the time they leave kindergarten.
  • Kids, especially young kids, learn best through play and when they can be active. When we take away play, and push kids to learn at ever-younger ages, we are taking away their childhood, and negatively impacting the adults who they will become. 
  • Kids need freedom to take risks, and learn what they can and can't to. "Bubble wrapping" them is detrimental. 
  • We should be talking with girls about things that they are interested in and things that they DO, instead of praising them for how cute they are. In general, we should avoid the empty "good job" sort of praise for all kids. 
  • Excessive testing is hurting kids and teachers. Schools should be teaching kids how to learn, rather than trying to just fill them with facts. 
  • Schools should be restoring both gym and recess. Kids need informal time for play and movement, as well as more formal instruction about exercise and fitness. There are academic as well as physical benefits to this. Recess should never be withheld as a punishment.  
  • Homework is not beneficial for elementary school kids, and is in many ways harmful, particularly because it can (and does) turn kids off of reading for pleasure. 

If any of these themes pique your interest, I recommend that you pick up a copy of What If Everyone Understood Child Development? and search the table of contents for the relevant topics. 

I especially like that at the end of each chapter, Pica includes a set of actions that teachers can take in support of that topic as well as a set of links to further information/research. Although this book is clearly written for teachers, a number of the actions, and certainly the references, are relevant for parents, too. The references include quite a few BAM Radio Network articles and interviews, where Pica is an organizer and featured blogger, but many other sources are also included, from TED talks to newspapers to books and blogs, most with URLs. 

What If Everyone Understood Child Development? would be a great book to give to any parent or teacher you know who is uneasy about aspects of our current educational system (excessive testing, lack of play-based or individualized learning, etc.) but having difficulty articulating the problems. Rae Pica has been reading and thinking about these topics as an educational consultant for more than 30 years. She has strong opinions, most of which resonated with me as a parent and as a person who has started reading much more recently in these areas. Pica clearly cares deeply about the welfare of kids. I wish that education policy-makers and school administrators everywhere understood more about these issues, which they would if they would read What If Everyone Understood Child Development?. If only...  

Publisher: Corwin
Publication Date: May 6, 2015
Source of Book: Purchased on Kindle

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Growing Bookworms Newsletter: April 20: #KidLit Reviews, #JoyOfLearning Links, Milestones + more

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter has refocused recently, and now contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, including bookworms, mathematicians, and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have two book reviews (one early chapter book, one young adult book) and two posts about my daughter's latest literacy milestones (using books to feel closer to someone far away and sending text messages). I also have one post about learning math via the Scholastic Reading Club flyer. I also have two posts with links that I shared on Twitter, and two more with quotes from and responses to links about to the joy of learning

Reading Update: In the past two weeks I read/listened to one middle grade, one YA and three adult titles. I read:

  • Donna Gephart: Lily and Dunkin. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade/Middle School. Completed April 15, 2016. Review scheduled for next week. 
  • Robison Wells: Dark Energy. HarperTeen. Young Adult Science Fiction. Completed April 14, 2016, on Kindle. This one had an interesting premise (aliens land on earth, two of them are sent to private school attended by NASA leader) and a fast-paced plot. However, I disliked the main character (braggy about her money and her BMW), and opted not to write a full review. Still, this is the first YA title I've read to completion in quite a while, so that was good.
  • Victoria Thompson: Murder on Amsterdam Avenue: A Gaslight Mystery. Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed April 6, 2016, on MP3. I continue to love this series, and was happy to see Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy finally marry. 
  • C. J. Box: Below Zero (Joe Pickett, Book 9). Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed April 14, 2016, on MP3. I found this installment of the Pickett series a little bit didactic (artificial-sounding conversations between characters about environmentalism and global warming), and I thought that the primary twist was predictable (almost unavoidable). But I was moved by the ending, and will continue to be unable to resist the series. 
  • Rae Pica: What If Everyone Understood Child Development? Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Corwin. Adult Nonfiction. Completed April 19, 2016, on Kindle. Review to come.  

I'm currently listening to Trespasser (Mike Bowditch, Book 2) by Paul Doiron and reading Skinnybones by Barbara Park (reissue edition). I have a bunch of other audiobooks queued up, with the newest Maisie Dobbs book at the top of the list. I'm hoping to get some reading time this weekend - I've been in another stop/start phase with books lately, and I would like to really find myself immersed in something. 

The books my husband and I (and our babysitter) have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here. We are currently re-reading our way through the Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe series by Noah Z. Jones (a Branches series of early graphic novels from Scholastic). My daughter adores these books about a pink-loathing, karate-loving girl whose parents named her Princess (last name Pink). Things are topsy-turvy in the Land of Fake Believe, to frequently hilarious effect (like a "Turncorn" with a smelly attached tuna instead of a horn). 

My daughter will occasionally take over and read a page of two, but usually she likes for one of us to read. There's no question that she can read, but she has to work hard to decode, and finds it more enjoyable to listen and look at the illustrations. Sometimes I think I should encourage her to practice reading on her own more, but then I remind myself that she's still in kindergarten. I firmly believe that my job at this point is to make sure that she enjoys books. And I think we're continuing to do quite well in that regard. 

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


The Leaving: Tara Altebrando

Book: The Leaving
Author: Tara Altebrando
Pages: 432
Age Range: 12 and up

I was initially a bit unsure about whether or not I wanted to read Tara Altebrando's The Leaving. It begins with the kidnapping of six five-year-olds on their first day of kindergarten. As the parent of a five year old, I feared that it might strike a bit too close to home. But I've been really struggling lately to find books that can hold my attention. The cover blurb on The Leaving, by E. Lockhart called it "a top-speed page-turner", adding "I promise, you will not even look up from the page." So I decided to give it a try. And I'm glad that I did.

The Leaving did succeed in holding my attention. I read most of it in a single sitting, after my husband and daughter left on a father-daughter camping weekend. I found it more intriguing than emotionally wrenching, so the core subject matter of kidnapped kids wasn't a problem. Nearly all of the story takes place eleven years after the kidnapping, when five out of six kids return home with  no memory of their lost time.

The Leaving is told in alternating chapters from the limited third person perspective of three teens: two of the kidnapped children and the younger sister of the one who does not return. The narrative styles of the three are quite different. Scarlett's thoughts include poetic fragments, shared via visual effects like circular words. Lucas's thoughts are darker, and include white on black snippets, like signs: "CAROUSEL OCEAN GOLDEN HORSE TEETH". Avery, the one was was not kidnapped, is the most ordinary, wrestling as much with her doubts about her boyfriend as with worries about the brother that she doesn't even remember anyway. Even Avery wrestles with questions about the nature of memory. 

The Leaving is filled with tiny clues about what might have happened to the kids, set against a backdrop of media frenzy and local suspicion. The reader is not sure who to trust, or whether the outcome might include something supernatural (aliens?). There are also ordinary teen attractions, socioeconomic differences, and conflicts with friends and parents. Altebrando balances it all smoothly, keeping the reader most of all interested in turning the pages. 

Here are a couple of quotes to give a feel for Altebrando's writing:

"Back at home around dinnertime, there were no signs of dinner. Mom was in bed, surrounded by still more tissues. The woman had become a movable flowering tissue tree, dropping fruit wherever she went." (Avery, Pag 110, ARC)

and

"Normal people don't remember everything.

Normal people forget.

Do normal people ever have just one memory that is so ...

Very ...

Unrelenting/unavoidable/unfathomable?" (Scarlett, Page 146, ARC)

Anyone who enjoys suspenseful books that also make the reader think will enjoy The Leaving. It is well constructed and intriguing, with flawed but likable characters and surprises throughout. Highly recommended.

Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids)
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


#JoyOfLearning Articles from @GreaterGoodSC + @emmersbrown + @hey_sigmund

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have three play and learning-related articles to share with you. The first is about how universities can learn (and in some case are learning) from preschools about the benefits of a more playful approach to learning. The second is a Washington Post piece that shares prepared remarks for a speech by the new Secretary of Education about how our public education system needs to return to a more well-rounded approach. The third is a piece by a psychologist about the benefits that kids derive from play. 

What Preschools Can Teach Universities, on adding #PlayfulLearning to university setting http://ow.ly/10B4Sj  @GreaterGoodSC

Nicola Whitton: "One way to develop a generation who can take risks is through playful learning. Play supports socialisation and decreases stress, develops imagination and creativity, and enables learners to have new experiences and learn from their mistakes. While it is integral to early years education, a focus on assessment has all but driven play out of schools. The relative flexibility of higher education curricula and teaching approaches provide opportunities to give learners chances to play, experiment, experience, and fail—and, most importantly, learn from those failures."

Me: I thought that this article made an interesting point, that universities are more able to introduce concepts of playful learning than K-12 schools, in some cases, because the curricula offer more flexibility. Of course I also think that we need to do more to incorporate playful learning in K-12 (and especially K-3) schools. This article also makes the link between play and the learned ability to manage failures in life. 

Not just reading + math: Education Secretary to call for return to well-rounded education @PostSchools @emmersbrown https://t.co/tZzkgR5j8B

Emma Brown: "King plans to say that No Child Left Behind -- the main federal education law that was signed in 2002 and required schools to show progress in math and reading test scores -- had the unintentional consequence of narrowing the curriculum for too many children.

“For so many students, a wide range of possible subjects in school, powerfully and creatively taught, can be exactly what it takes to make the difference between disengagement and a lifelong passion for learning. But today, that’s not happening enough,” King plans to say (in a scheduled speech, according to prepared remarks)."

Also in King's planned remarks is this: "I count myself among those who worry that the balance has shifted too much away from subjects outside of math and English that can be the spark to a child’s interest and excitement, are actually essential to success in reading, and are critical to a child’s future."

Me: I found Secretary King's comments encouraging. He's basically saying that in order for more kids to find their passion for learning, the curriculum needs to become more broad, and that the emphasis on testing in recent years (along with other resource constraints) has led to some reduction other topics, like social studies and science. He goes on to discuss why kids deserve and need a well-rounded education, particularly in areas like STEM where there are both gender and socioeconomic gaps that arise early. Overall, I found this speech encouraging. 

The Remarkable Power of #Play - Why Play is so Important for Children + how to nurture creativity http://ow.ly/4mHZeH  by @hey_sigmund

Karen Young: "Free play is critical for children to learn the skills that are essential to life – skills that cannot be taught in a more formal, structured setting. In every way, play is practice for the life. A lot of play involves imitating grown-ups – their work, their roles, the way they interact. Learning how to play is as important as anything that can come from play."

Me: This article was shared by someone in a Facebook group that I participate in. Karen Young is a psychologist, and she talks about the developmental benefits that kids get from play, with reference to what the research says. She also has a section on how to nurture kids' creativity through play, full of good advice like asking open-ended questions and nurturing "their abstract thinking by inviting them to list unusual uses for everyday objects."  This is a good overview article for those who don't have the time or inclination to read a whole book on the importance of play, but would like a solid introduction to reasons, benefits, and suggestions. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 


Learning Math from the Scholastic Reading Club Flyer

ScholasticFlyerMy daughter has been a fan of the Scholastic Reading Club flyers since preschool. She's now in kindergarten, and in addition to using the flyers for selecting books, I've started using them to get her a bit of practice with additional and division and general money sense. This has been a gradual process. Our iteration has gone something like this:

  1. I just chose for her. (Preschool)
  2. I let her go through and circle everything that caught her eye, and then I still chose which ones to order. (Start of kindergarten)
  3. I asked her to put stars on her top 3. I ordered mainly those, with a couple of extras that I would pick. (A couple of months into kindergarten)
  4. I started pushing back when she would pick things that were expensive (like a fossil excavation kit). She would then offer to pay, out of her allowance, for things that I wasn't willing to pay for. 

This month she picked her three items, and I pushed back a bit because two of them were relatively pricy (e.g. Dig it Up: Lots of Rocks for $10). She suggested that she pay for half of the order and I pay for half. I said ok, and then she went through and added up the total cost of the items that she wanted, and then (with a little help) divided the total in two. Then she counted out the money from her "spend" box. She ended up selecting four items costing a total of $30, for which she paid me $15 (there was some birthday money involved). I then quietly added two paperbacks that I thought were both a good deal - I don't think that she will notice by the time the order arrives. 

Bottom line is that my child is very interested in what books (and other things) she's going to be able to get from the Scholastic flyer. This makes her eager to do the math, if that's what it takes to get to what she wants. So here I am showing her that math is useful, and giving her a bit of light-hearted practice. It's just a matter of keeping one's eye open for these types of opportunities. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


The Magical Animal Adoption Agency, Book 2: The Enchanted Egg: Kallie George

Book: The Magical Animal Adoption Agency, Book 2: The Enchanted Egg
Author: Kallie George
Illustrator: Alexandra Boiger
Pages: 144
Age Range: 7-10

The Enchanted Egg is the second book in Kallie George's Magical Animal Adoption Agency series of illustrated chapter books, following Clover's Luck. These books are simply perfect for younger elementary age kids who enjoy books about caring for animals, and/or books about magic. In this installment, young Clover is once again left in charge at the Magical Animal Adoption Agency, where she started working three weeks earlier. Her boss, Mr. Jams, has gone off to find any expert who can help them care for whatever comes out of a mysterious large egg. Trouble ensues during Mr. Jams' absence, and Clover fears that as a small, non-magical being, she may not be up for the challenge. Young readers will, of course, know better. 

Clover is an engaging heroine, insecure but determined, and slowly coming to a stronger sense of her own strengths. She has largely absent parents (necessary for this sort of story), but at least there are two of them, and they do make sure to leave her with food.

The book is filled with delightful magical tidbits, like a ghost baker who makes cupcakes so light that they float and a little Leprechaun girl dressed all in rainbow colors. These are lovingly captured by Alexandrea Boiger's pencil illustrations, large and small. One of my favorite details is on page four. The text says: "The back door of the Agency was hidden by dark green vines. The vines gave the door a secret feel, which Clover liked." On this page, a delicate drawing of vines covers the left and top margins. Small drawings bring to life everything from cupcakes to magical animal bathing apparatuses, while full-page illustrations bring the reader into Clover's world. 

Really, what's not to like about a book that starts with this:

"An egg is full of possibilities. Especially an enchanted one. The tiniest egg can hold the most fearsome dragon. The biggest egg, the shiest sea serpent."

and includes a tiny green kitten who can form his tail into the shape of a question mark? The Magical Animal Adoption Agency series belongs in classrooms and libraries everywhere. I look forward to sharing these books with my daughter when she is just the tiniest bit older. Recommended!

Publisher: Disney Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: November 3, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Literacy Milestone: Using Books to Feel Closer to Someone Far Away

LiteracyMilestoneAA couple of weeks ago, my husband went away with friends for the weekend. My daughter, a true Daddy's Girl, was ok during the day when she was busy. But when bedtime came, she became very droopy. Usually my husband is the one who reads to her at bedtime, and she just wanted Daddy. Alas, all we had were books.

To cheer her up on the first night, I suggested that we read The Donut Chef by Bob Staake, reminding her that it was one of my husband's favorites. She countered by asking me for books about daddies and daughters that we could read. She specifically requested Pink Me Up by Charise Mericle Harper (review here). We could not, however, find Pink Me Up. (What can I say? We have a lot of picture books in the house. I'm still looking for that one.)

I did find a book called Giddy-Up, Daddy! by Troy Cummings, and we read that. Then I pulled out Mitchell Goes Bowling by Hallie Durand and Tony Fucile. I read that one to her, substituting her name for Mitchell's name, and "she" for "he" throughout. She did not want me to read Because I Am Your Daddy by Sherry North and Marcellus Hall, because that was one for Daddy to read to her himself. The next night, after attending a birthday party, she was too tired for books.

And there you have it. While I've seen my daughter turn to books for comfort before, this is the first time that I've seen her specifically use books to make her feel closer to someone she was missing. I suspect I'd better stock up on books about kids and grandparents, for the days immediately following my parents' upcoming visit. 

Do your kids do this? Use books to remind them of people? Or use books for comfort in other ways? If not, you might want to try it. Because it definitely works for us. Thanks for reading!

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


Growing Bookworms Newsletter: Middle Grade Reviews, Free #Play + #Literacy Milestones

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter has refocused recently, and now contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, including bookworms, mathematicians, and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have two book reviews (both middle grade) and two posts about my daughter's latest literacy milestones (appreciating Where the Wild Things Are and assigning book reports to family members). I also have one post with my daughter's latest mathematical milestone, and one about the benefits of free play. I also have one post with links that I shared on Twitter. This is a little bit of a light issue because I was on vacation last week, and have had visitors this week. I hope to catch up soon on the many article links that I've saved by not had time to share. 

Reading Update: In the past two weeks I read/listened to four adult titles. I read:

  • Paul Doiron: The Poacher's Son (Mike Bowditch Mysteries, Book 1). Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed March 23, 2016, on MP3. This is the first of a series about a game warden in Maine. I enjoyed it. I especially got a kick out of the Maine accents, with which the author did a good job. I will continue listening to see where this series goes. 
  • Barry Maitland: Crucifixion Creek (Belltree Trilogy, Book 1). Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed March 28, 2016, on Kindle. I like Maitland's Brock and Kolla PI series (set in London). This is part of a new trilogy featuring a cop in Sydney. I was interested enough in the outcome to have to finish this but I didn't care for it. Without wanting to get into spoilers, let's just say that I didn't care for some of the protagonist's actions. 
  • Margaret Mizushima: Killing Trail (A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery). Crooked Lane Books. Adult Mystery. Completed March 30, 2016, on Kindle. This is the first of a new series about a female K-9 cop in small-town Colorado. The protagonist is quite likable, and there's a hint of romance to come. I did figure out who the bad guy was a lot earlier than she did, but I'm prepared to cut her some slack on that. I'll definitely read future books. 
  • Drew Chapman: The Ascendant (Garrett Reilly, Book 1). Pocket Books. Adult Thriller. Completed April 5, 2016, on Kindle. This was kind of an odd book, about a pattern recognition genius with poor social skills who is roped into a secret project by a clandestine government agency. Garrett makes some questionable choices, but I found the plot and technical details intriguing. I do expect to look at future books in the series. 

I'm currently listening to Murder on Amsterdam Avenue by Victoria Thompson. I'm between print/Kindle books, having not decided what to read next (and having very little time to read this week anyway). I have a bunch of nonfiction queued up, but may just give myself a break and finish re-reading The Penderwicks. The books my husband and I (and our babysitter) have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here.  

My daughter turned six yesterday. For her birthday, kids in her class are encouraged to donate a book to the classroom library. My daughter chose Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, a book that she thought her classmates would appreciate. I thought that it was a fine choice. She's just started having us read Calendar Mystery #4: April Adventure by Ron Roy (she is parcelling these out by month). Her own reading skills are growing by leaps and bounds, but we expect to continue reading aloud to her for years to come. 

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook