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My Ninja Child: Or, Why Kids Should Pursue the Activities that Bring them Joy

I always have my eyes open for articles and posts about play and joy for kids. So I naturally read and shared a recent Washington Post article by Lena Aberdeen Derhally entitle "Kids don't know how to play on their own anymore. Here are four ways to change that."

The whole article is well worth a read. The author begins with why parents should care about getting their kids to play more and then gets into her specific suggestions. Here is the first one:

"Encourage your child’s unique strengths: Everyone has something they enjoy and usually we are pretty good at doing the things we enjoy. If your child truly enjoys an activity, encourage him to develop it. If the child loses interest in the activity and doesn’t want to do it anymore, listen to him. Forcing him to do something that is no longer enjoyable can hurt him in the long run and take the joy out of the activity. The purpose of hobbies and activities is enjoyment."

When I first read this paragraph, I have to confess that I thought it was rather obvious. I've been reading a lot of parenting books and books about the importance of play, and this of course made sense to me. But then I thought about the first sentence of that paragraph again: Everyone has something they enjoy and usually we are pretty good at doing the things we enjoy. This has always been my approach in terms of getting kids interested in books and reading - you have to help them to enjoy it, or they won't do it. 

But then I realized how much this outlook applies to my daughter's experience with karate lessons, and how very much she's been getting out of them. The other day our family met a couple of my husband's colleagues for lunch. My daughter was seated next to a man she knows fairly well (the father of two daughters himself), and she spent the entire lunchtime telling him all about her experiences and accomplishments with karate.


She was reciting exactly how many and which badges she has received ("teamwork", "respect", etc.) and sharing her belt level. She was talking about when her graduation ceremony would be to the next level, and relating with much pride her experience in breaking a board with her hand. She was just brimming over - so proud and so excited to talk about this passionate interest of hers with an adult who would listen attentively (bless him!). 

Ninja_print__79938.1440167600.500.571_1024x1024Of course this enthusiasm shows up at other times, not just at this lunch. She had a ninja-themed birthday party (hence the broken board). She runs around the house in a ninja mask, selects ninja-themed picture books, and was SO excited when for sharing at school she had to do or bring something that started with "K". She was beside herself when I bought her a dress with hidden pink ninjas on it (from Princess Awesome, a new discovery - see the fabric to the left). She used her own money to buy Kung Fu Panda 3. I think you get the idea.

Vision-martial-artsA couple of my friends, as well as my daughter's karate instructor, have commented on how much her confidence has increased since she started doing karate. Her karate studio (Vision Martial Arts in San Jose) is fabulous. They focus not just on karate, but on nurturing teamwork, self-reliance, and other core values. We are grateful to the friends who recommended that we give karate a try. 

But I think that my husband and I deserve some credit, too. We listened when she said that she wanted to give karate a try. We supported her sticking with karate vs. swim team this summer, even though most of her friends were doing the latter. We arranged the ninja-themed birthday party. My husband practices with her. I make sure her uniform is clean. In general, we have prioritized the karate, because it's clear that it is working for her. And the dividends from the decision have been significant. 

If and when her interests change, we'll respect that, too, of course. And it's not that she doesn't have other interests now. I also understand that karate isn't for everyone, and that parents will have to experiment to find the right thing for each kid at each stage of development. My point is that if your child develops a passionate interest, it's worth going out of your way to let her pursue it. You never know which activities are going to be the ones that make your child sparkle. But it's the sparkle that matters. Find it. Follow it. That's what makes kids shine. 

© 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 @ValerieStrauss + Lara N. Dotson-Renta + @MsSackstein

JoyOFLearningLogoI have three new articles to share with you today. The first two are about how early education has become more academic and less playful, particularly for less advantaged children, despite evidence in favor of play-based learning. The third article, by Starr Sackstein, suggests some ways to re-think elementary school homework to make it less harmful. 

How ‘twisted’ early childhood ed has become — from a child development expert http://ow.ly/NshI300kNoD  @valeriestrauss via @frankisibberson [This piece is from November 2015, Strauss shares a speech by Nancy Carlsson-Paige that is more relevant than ever today.]

Nancy Carlsson-Paige: "Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal – as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe. Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners. Or watch a 4-year-old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event."

Me: Carlsson-Paige makes the particular point in this piece that "It’s in low-income, under-resourced communities ... where children are most subjected to heavy doses of teacher-led drills and tests." She talks about the number of kids who are suspended from preschool. She laments that despite clear research on the developmental benefits to kids of play, schools, particularly schools serving less advantaged children, are moving in the opposite direction. I, too, think that this is a crisis. I'm doing my small part here to keep spreading the word and getting people thinking. 

Why Movement is Essential in Early Childhood + #Schools shouldn't stifle this http://ow.ly/9ZwQ300q6Py  @TheAtlantic #play

Lara N. Dotson-Renta: "Research has shown time and again that children need opportunities to move in class. Memory and movement are linked, and the body is a tool of learning, not a roadblock to or a detour away from it. Any parent who has brought home a kindergartener after school, bursting with untapped energy yet often carrying homework to complete after a seven-hour day, can reasonably deduce why children today have trouble keeping still in their seats. Many children are getting 20-minute breaks, or none at all...

It would be unwise and impractical to pretend that children do not need any structure, or that academic skills are unimportant in school. Yet it is necessary to recognize that the early-childhood classroom has been significantly altered by increasingly rigorous academic standards in ways that rarely align with how young children learn."

Me: This is yet another piece, full of links to research, about how the increasing focus on ever-earlier academics in schools runs counter to what child development experts know about how kids learn. The author does mention how some individual teachers and schools are effecting change in this area. However, she notes that "for now (such practices are) unlikely to become widespread given the current focus on assessment and school readiness, particularly in underserved communities." I think that last point is especially telling. And sad. 

Some things to consider (eg no reading logs) in rebranding our idea of #homework http://ow.ly/WGr2300szPW  From teacher + parent @mssackstein

Starr Sackstein: "There is a lot of research out there that supports its negligible purpose and positive support of achievement; yet, many are tied to the belief that students must have it to be successful. Parents are a large part of this challenge as many think that for a class to be rigorous, homework must be given. But it's time to rebrand our concept of "homework" - we need to give it a facelift and use it appropriately."

A list of suggestions / questions follows. My favorite is "Reading should be an expectation not a homework assignment (and PLEASE NO reading logs)"

Me: In this balanced piece, Starr Sackstein isn't saying to get rid of all homework. But she does suggest getting rid of busywork, finding other ways to teach kids accountability, and giving students more choice. I think that her point about parents being a large part of the challenge is going significant, but I'm not sure what to do about that beyond sharing research about the detrimental effects of homework with my own networks. 

© 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. 

Fortune Falls: Jenny Goebel

Book: Fortune Falls
Author: Jenny Goebel
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

Fortune Falls is an isolated small town in which superstitions become reality. Step on a crack, you really will break your mother's back. Breathe in the air in the cemetery, you'll die. Following a fairly new policy, the young people in the town are sorted after they turn twelve, via a test, into Lucky or Unlucky. Luckies have smooth sailing ahead. Unluckies are sent off to Bane's School for Luckless Adolescents. Sadie is due to turn twelve soon, on Friday the 13th (not a day that is kind to the Unlucky), with her luck exam to follow shortly. If she doesn't pass, she'll be separated from her mother and five-year-old brother, as well as from her long-time best friend (now a Lucky), Cooper. 

I found the premise of Fortune Falls intriguing, though actually following along with what was fact and what was perception and/or self-fulfilling prophecy was a bit tricky sometimes. If you tell someone that they are lucky, and they believe it, they probably will do better in certain areas, after all. But when you have lucky students just randomly guessing correct math answers, or getting every basketball into the hoop, you know that there's something more than perception going on. 

Actually, what I found most implausible in Fortune Falls had nothing to do with luck. It was Sadie's relationship with Cooper. Cooper's parents, and Sadie herself, have tried to keep him away from her, so that her bad luck doesn't rub off. Cooper remains loyal, and continues trying to spend time with Sadie, no matter how poorly she treats him. To me, his persistence didn't quite ring true. 

But that's a minor nit. Overall, I did enjoy Fortune Falls, particularly the later part of the book, when Sadie stops feeling sorry for herself, and starts to take action, even in the face of daunting bad luck. Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for Sadie's voice:

"The Luckies' parents made a huge fuss whenever they thought their fortuitous children were being jeopardized by an Unlucky. Sometimes, even parents of Undetermined kids complained." (Page 8) - Note Sadie's advanced vocabulary. She ends up participating in a couple of spelling bees. 

"I held my breath and barged right in. If a lifetime of mishap and embarrassment had taught me anything, it was the quicker you got the discomfort over with, the better." (Page 10)

"Arriving home to find Cooper on my front lawn was as good as stumbling upon a four-leaf clover. Just one look at his face--his rich brown skin and long dark eyelashes--made me feel happier inside. And, as any hapless person knows, happy is a close brethren to lucky." (Page 30)

Hmm... Makes you consider the connection between the word "hapless" and "happiness", doesn't it? 

Bottom line: if the premise of a place where luck-related superstitions actually come true sounds interesting to you, then you should give Fortune Falls a look. It's a quirky story with a fair bit of heart, as well as emotional growth by the main character. Recommended for 8-12 year olds. 

Publisher: Scholastic Press (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 5, 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).

The Power of Spending Your Own Money

Girl-Scout-DaisiesMy daughter and I had an entertaining day recently, with an experience that I thought was both educational and empowering for her. It started out when she was looking through her Girl Scout Daisy handbook. [Have I mentioned that she ADORES Girl Scout Daisies? It is true.] She found an exercise that her troop had not gotten to this year, in which participants are supposed to list something that they want, and figure out how long it will take to save for this item.

Her first item was a fish, with tank, which is going to require some time for saving. But her second item was three packets of seeds (flower or vegetable). I told her that this would likely only cost $7 to $10. She ran upstairs to check her "spend" box (which still contained some leftover birthday money), and came down brandishing a $20 bill. She wanted to know if we could go seed-shopping immediately. We were somewhat at loose ends, with my husband away, so I said "Sure."

BaskinRobbinsHere's how she spent her $20. First she spent just under $10 for three packets of seeds. Then she bought herself an ice cream cone from the nearby Baskin Robbins, at a cost of ~$3.25. Then she decided that she wanted to buy small gifts for the friends she was going to see later in the day. She picked out three items from the dollar bins near the front of the nearby Target (one was for herself), at a cost of $5.46 with tax. She had about $1.50 left over.

Leaving the hardware store, she remarked: "This was already a good day, but now it's a GREAT day." 

At all three stores, she paid with her own money, with much pride (though I did hold on to the change in between). As made sense, I encouraged her to do the required math. The three Target items cost $1, $1, and $3, so getting to $5 was easy, though she's not quite ready to compute San Jose's 8.75% sales tax in her head. When she handed over $5.50 at Target, I had her figure out what her change would be. I rounded the prices of the three seed packets and had add those numbers together. But I didn't push it too hard. I wanted our time together to be fun. 

But this whole experience highlighted to me why it's important for kids, once they are old enough, to have some small amount of money of their own. My daughter was empowered by the whole process of deciding what she wanted to buy, figuring out  how much things were going to cost and what she could afford, and physically being the one to pay the sales clerks. The day would not have had nearly the same feel had I just been buying her things. In fact, at one point, I offered to buy some cookies to take over to her friends' house. She said: "Mom, they're MY friends. I should buy the presents, not you." What parent could argue with that? 

We are currently deferring her allowance for the next few months, to save up for that fish tank. I'll keep you all posted. 

© 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

Literacy Milestone: "Say It Like This"

LiteracyMilestoneAThe other day I was reading my daughter one of our favorite new picture books: Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins. (I really must review this one - it is delightful). Lately she's been chiming in here and there when I am reading a book, and correcting me if I miss something. (The latter occurs frequently when I am sleepy.) But this time she took it a step further, and started making requests for me to change not WHAT I was saying but HOW I was saying it. 

Mother Bruce is about a grumpy bear who accidentally becomes the surrogate mother to four goslings. Bruce resists this. On one page, the text says: "Bruce could take it no longer and became EXTRA grumpy with them." A text bubble says: "ROAR!" in big letters. Well, I did say "ROAR!" but apparently I didn't say it loudly enough. My daughter gently chastised me. "Mama, it says he was EXTRA grumpy. Say it like this: ___". And then she roared quite loudly.

A few pages later Bruce is frustrated when the goslings refuse to migrate.  There's a page where the only text is "Sigh...". After I read this page I got another: "No, Mama, say it like this: ___". And then she said the gentlest "sigh", on a resigned little exhale. 

There are doubtless parents out there who would prefer not to have their reading style critiqued like this. But I found it to be an excellent sign regarding my daughter's appreciation for the read-aloud process. She's able to take in visual cues, like the size and color of the font, and she knows how one is supposed to respond to these cues. She can also take her cues from the text itself. The second example particularly pleases me, because it shows that she understands how the character is feeling, and wants to see that reflected in my reading. 

People who stop reading aloud to their kids just as the kids start reading on their own are missing out on many things. Watching your child develop a sense for how a read-aloud is supposed to sound is just one of them. But it's a particularly fun one, I think. 

What say you, fellow parents? Do your kids critique your read-aloud style? If not, just you wait... 

© 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: Milestones, Not Overscheduling, and Favorite Picture Book Sequels

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 picture book and one middle grade) and three posts about my daughter's latest milestones (one regarding literacy, one math, and one art). I also have one post about the virtues and difficulties of not overscheduling kids. 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. Not included in the newsletter, I shared an announcement about a new award from Hallmark for great picture books

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

  • Lauren DeStefano: The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart. Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed May 17, 2016, print ARC. Review to come, closer to publication. 
  • Mette Ivie Harrison: The Bishop's Wife. Soho Crime. Adult Mystery. Completed May 7, 2016, on Kindle. This was an unusual story told from the viewpoint of the wife of a Mormon bishop. I learned things I didn't know about Mormom beliefs and customs, and quite liked the protagonist. I do expect to read the next book in this series. 
  • Jacqueline Winspear: Journey to Munich: A Maisie Dobbs Novel. Harper. Adult Mystery. Completed May 11, 2016, on MP3. The Maisie Dobbs series creeps closer and closer to World War II, as Maisie visits 1937 Munich for a dangerous undercover mission. 
  • Thomas Perry: Forty Thieves. Mysterious Press. Adult Mystery. Completed May 14, 2016, on Kindle. This standalone by Perry features two husband and wife sets of viewpoint characters, one a pair of former cops working as private investigators and the other a pair of assassins for hire. I found the mystery intriguing, but sometimes got confused as to which wife was narrating. 
  • Charlaine Harris: Night Shift: A Novel of Midnight, Texas. Ace Books. Adult Mystery. Completed May 17, 2016, on MP3. This is the third book in a new series by Harris, a distant spin-off of the Sookie Stackhouse books. I quite like the small town full of quirky supernatural characters.

I'm currently listening to Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue by Victoria Thompson and reading The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis

The books my husband and I (and our babysitter) have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here. We have discovered that not one, not two, but three of our very favorite picture books have sequels out or coming soon. I purchased The Not-So-Faraway Adventure by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher, sequel to The Imaginary Garden (reviewed here). I have a review copy coming for Sophie's Squash Go to School by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf (review of the first book here). And I have Louise and Andie: The Art of Friendship by Kelly Light on our wish list (review of Louise Loves Art here). I was also just quite pleased to overhear my daughter reading Elephant and Piggie books aloud, back to back, to her stuffed animals. 

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

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @michellek107 + @ShawnaCoppola + @DonalynBooks + @HuffPostParents

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have two articles about wanting kids to have intrinsic, vs. extrinsic, motivation for reading, and two that address the lack of play in early elementary school classrooms today. These are both topics near and dear to my heart, and I hope you will find these articles of interest. 

We Don’t Need Badges for #Reading | How a class lost intrinsic motivation when badges in app took over http://ow.ly/TpM7300aJKp  @michellek107

Michelle Baldwin: "Just like that… my students’ motivation to read – because they love reading and want to learn more – flipped like a switch. This is what happens every single time we apply extrinsic motivation to something we want to encourage. EVERY. TIME. I’ve taught long enough to see cycles of rewards for reading… or learning to play the recorder… or learning multiplication tables… whatever you want to add to the list. You might help a kid memorize something or change a behavior, but extrinsic rewards always fail on a long-term basis. ...

I saw firsthand what happened to my littles when they were incentivized with something other than reading itself. They already loved reading… but then their focus changed for the worse. I have some “badge damage” to undo with a few of my kids."

Me: I see my daughter excited about coins and points in an app that she likes to play, and I cringe a bit. I worry about next year, when I believe she'll have to start logging Accelerated Reader points at school. I want her to her to read for the love of it, not for points or badges or gold stars. There's a nice list of references in Michelle's piece, if any of you would like to read more about this subject. 

Reading Is Its Own Reward: Ways to encourage kids' #SummerReading + the 7th Annual #Bookaday Challenge http://ow.ly/hV9i300dxGS  @donalynbooks [This post is actually from last year, but I re-shared it. The 8th challenge is starting soon.]

Donalyn Miller: "While you may be able to share the success of individual summer reading programs, there is little evidence that such programs foster lifelong reading habits or engage children with reading after the program ends. I suspect that most schools with successful summer reading programs invest in students’ reading lives all year long. If we want to engage our students with reading over the summer, we must focus our efforts on the fundamental best practices that encourage children to read for a lifetime instead of short-term external goals."

Me: When I was a kid, I was never particularly motivated by summer reading programs. I do remember participating in the town library's program at least once, and I think I may have gotten a book at the end to show for it. But this memory pales in comparison to my many other childhood memories of being immersed in books in locations indoors and out. One of the reasons I loved summer as a kid was because I had more time to read. I was lucky. I had time. I had books. I had choice. I had a mom who took me to bookstores and the library. I had a library within biking distance (when I was old enough). I wish that all kids had such opportunities, and I'm glad to see Donalyn, in this important post, talking about what kids need from their schools to nurture the intrinsic rewards of reading.

I'm going to try to participate in Donalyn's #BookADay challenge again this summer (I did it last year). I'm sure I'll mostly end up posting about picture books, but I certainly average more than one of those a day, so it won't be difficult. My plan is to choose a book worth highlighting for each #BookADay post on Twitter. And because I'm a compulsive list-maker, I'll probably round them periodically on my blog. Happy Summer Reading to you all!

4 Things Worse than Not Learning to Read in Kindergarten (like lack of #play ) http://ow.ly/2k26300iznP  @HuffPostParents

Gaye Groover Christmus: "If your son or daughter doesn't learn to read in kindergarten, relax. Because many, many things are worse than not learning to read in kindergarten. Here are four of them: 

Limited time for creative play. Young children learn by playing. They learn by digging and dancing and building and knocking things down, not by filling out piles of worksheets. And they learn by interacting with other children, solving problems, sharing and cooperating, not by drilling phonics. "

Me: Gaye Groover Christmus seeks to reassure parents whose kids don't learn to read during kindergarten, citing the example of her own son who learned to read late, and just graduated from college. She goes on to discuss other issues prevalent in today's early elementary school classrooms: lack of creative play, limited physical activity, teaching that focuses on standards and testing, and "frustration and a sense of failure" in kids who are not meeting (unrealistic) expectations. I think that this last point is particularly important, because it is this frustration (the kid who can't sit still, the kid who struggles with the book report, etc.) that sucks away the joy of learning. 

5 Educational “What Ifs” http://ow.ly/sgBc300b8Z0  #Teaching improvement ideas from @ShawnaCoppola after reading @ErikaChristakis new book

Shawna Coppola: "WHAT IF we spent a year devoted to re-discovering our “play mojo”? We’ve heard a lot about the benefits of play over the past year, particularly about how it supports the development of speaking and listening skills, collaboration, and written expression, among other things. We also know that most children, no matter what their age, are over-scheduled and wracked with more anxiety than ever before. And even though we see play as a “natural” behavior, Christakis argues that, like breastfeeding (another supposedly natural behavior among humans), play “is actually quite hard to accomplish without intention and assistance”" 

Me: This post by Shawna Coppola, convinced me to take a look at Erika Christakis' book. I've quoted some of Erika's articles, but hadn't picked up the book because my own daughter is no longer in preschool. Shawna, however, draws conclusions from the book regarding the education of older kids, too. Shawna's post is well worth a read for anyone looking for ideas to improve classroom education for kids. The point about learning through play requiring intentional effort particularly resonated with me. 

© 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. 

The Big Dark: Rodman Philbrick

Book: The Big Dark
Author: Rodman Philbrick
Pages: 192
Age Range: 8-12

The Big Dark, by Rodman Philbrick, is an apocalyptic survival story for middle grade readers. On New Year's Eve, narrator Charlie Cobb is outside with his family and friends watching for an expected dramatic display of the Northern Lights. Following an enormous flash in the sky, however, the residents of Harmony, NH (population 857) discover that nothing requiring electricity or using a battery works anymore: not cars, not generators, not flashlights. Certainly not central heating or water pumps. As some in the town band together, and others try to take control, Charlie and his sister stack wood and worry about their mom running out of medicine for her diabetes. Charlie ends up on a dangerous quest to try to find medicine, while the school custodian tries to keep things running smoothly in Harmony. 

The Big Dark reminded me a lot of One Second After by William R. Forstchen, an adult novel with a very similar premise (right down to diabetes of a loved one being a factor). The Big Dark is not nearly so bleak as an adult story, but does include enough danger to feel plausible. People die (offscreen) from cold, men with guns threaten Charlie at various points, and there is an instance of arson. Yet most of the people in Harmony, and the people Charlie encounters elsewhere, are fundamentally good. They line up for supplies. They tithe firewood to support the elderly residents. They have town meetings to decide what to do. While this may not all be entirely realistic, it works in this middle grade content. 

Although I love reading about the "what do we do now" kinds of practical questions that follow an apocalyptic event, my favorite part of The Big Dark was Charlie's quest for medicine, for which he skis out of town and into an unfriendly winter landscape. This is the part that I think will really hook young readers who crave adventure. 

The Big Dark is a quick read with short chapters. Charlie's first-person viewpoint lends an immediacy to the story that I think will work well for more reluctant readers. The characterization isn't especially detailed, but Philbrick keeps the action moving, while exploring themes or right and wrong. I didn't flag any passages to quote, because I just wanted to keep reading. And that's my best endorsement of a book these days: it made me want to keep turning the pages. Definitely recommended for library purchase, and a good introduction for middle grade readers to reading about post-apocalyptic landscapes. 

Publisher: Blue Sky Press (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 5, 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).

Mathematical Milestone: Counting Redeemable Cans Backwards from 100

MathMilestoneThe other day my daughter brought home Earth Day -- Hooray!! by Stuart J. Murphy and Renee Andriani as her book report book. It's about three kids who want to plant flowers in a local park that they are cleaning up for Earth Day. They decide to redeem cans to make money to buy the flowers, which their teacher tells them will take 5000 cans. They end up launching a can drive at their school and around their neighborhood, and of course succeed in time for Earth Day. There's a fair bit of math involved as they group the cans by 10s, 100s, and eventually 1000s, and add each day's haul to the total.

This type of overtly lesson-driven book would not normally be my personal cup of tea, but my daughter enjoyed it. And there are some cute details (e.g. squirrels helping to collect the cans). But I knew what was coming next. I read Earth Day -- Hooray!! to my daughter at breakfast. As soon as she got home from school she started digging through our kitchen recycle box, looking for cans. She is now on a mission, though she does seem to understand that 5000 cans would be too many to target on her own. She stood at my side while I drank my lunchtime Fresca, waiting impatiently for me to finish, so that she could have the can. 

She decided that she wanted to collect 100 cans, and then have them taken in for redemption. She seems to be motivated by a combination of environmentalism and an interest in the money. Where the math milestone for her comes in is that she is counting backwards from 100 as she adds cans to her bag. A friend kindly contributed a bag of cans (which my daughter simply had to go pick up within the hour). She counted them up, and excitedly came to me to say "We're in the 70s now." No, we don't have 70 cans, but we are in the 70s if we are counting backwards from 100.

So, redeeming aluminum cans turns out to be another unexpected way to incorporate math into the life of a six-year-old. Setting and counting down from targets, estimating how many cans can fit into one garbage bag, and, eventually, figuring out how much money she'll be due. Math is everywhere!

Thanks for reading! I hope that some of you will find this useful. 

© 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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: #BookLists Galore, #SummerReading + the Achievement Gap

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. I have rather a full slate of links this week, because I was catching up after traveling last week. Topics this week include the Children's Choice Book Awards, book lists (many!), the Cybils Awards, growing bookworms, Summer Reading, libraries, schools, celebrity children's books, picture books, growth mindset, play, education gap, Facebook, gender, Roald Dahl, and STEM. 


2016 Children’s Choice Book Awards have been announced http://ow.ly/AdhH3003aCh  @tashrow has the scoop, as usual. @CBCBook 

Book Lists

50 Sensational Books of Summer http://ow.ly/bWbx3003djj  @Scholastic 2016 #SummerReading list #kidlit #Booklist

Shape Books That Think Outside the Box (Board Book Edition) http://ow.ly/4MfU3005bIo  @housefullbkwrms #BookList

Fun! Beyond Lift the Flap: Interactive #PictureBooks for Kids of various ages http://ow.ly/s6Lz300394u  @momandkiddo #BookList

Favorite Children’s Books About Weather http://ow.ly/OfUP3001DQd  The water cycle, rain + more from @rebeccazdunn #kidlit

Stories with Science Experiments, a #BookList from Jennifer Wharton http://ow.ly/JmYe3001CK7  #kidlit

A Springtime #KidLit Round-Up http://ow.ly/Zp0b3001Dcr  @RandomlyReading #BookList

50 Great Historical Fiction Books for Readers 7-14 Years http://ow.ly/et4t3005aNK  @TrevorHCairney #BookList #kidlit

The Best New Children's Books of Summer 2016 http://ow.ly/sRNj3007s6P  per @ImaginationSoup @ReadBrightly #BookList #kidlit

You Gotta Have Heart: Out-of-the-Park #Baseball Novels For Middle Grade Readers http://ow.ly/jhp13005Ff7  #BookList @sljournal #kidlit

The Best Books for Middle School According to @pernilleripp 's Students | http://ow.ly/98Pv3001DkZ  #kidlit #YA #BookList

A Tuesday Ten: A Science Fiction Pathway VII (15-18 year-olds)  http://ow.ly/s0MG3005d2g  @TesseractViews Huxley, Asimov + more #SF


On the #Cybils blog: Interview with JonArno Lawson + Sydney Smith re: fiction +PictureBook winner SIDEWALK FLOWERS http://ow.ly/QQ3x3005dbl 

On the #Cybils blog: #BookList Fun: Cybils Books of Jewish Interest http://ow.ly/5okV3001Ef4  @heidiestrin

Diversity + Gender

Boy Books, Girl Books, + Missing Out on Anne Frank b/c it might make boys "uncomfortable" http://ow.ly/9mL33007sFC  @alisoncdoherty @BookRiot

Events + Programs (inc. Summer Reading)

ReadingSuperheroThe 2016 @Scholastic #SummerReading Challenge has begun! http://ow.ly/aqxm30059Y4  w/ stories from 19 authors inc. @varianjohnson @StudioJJK

Getting Books into Students' Hands for #SummerReading http://ow.ly/8r6T3001Crr  @ClareandTammy @ChoiceLiteracy

Penguin Random House Announces New Award to highlight extraordinary programs in public #libraries http://ow.ly/xBXV3005FrI  @randomhousekids

Partnerships Promote Culture of #Reading at Texas Elementary School http://ow.ly/vICN300982y  @sljournal

Growing Bookworms

Life After (being consumed by) Harry Potter by Dawn Michelle Brown  http://ow.ly/ou953001DLR  @nerdybookclub #kidlit #LoveOfBooks

Between Picture Books and Middle Grade Novels: Beyond Levels Part I (matching books to readers) http://ow.ly/6yJf3001DZg  @alybee930 #kidlit

When Your Kids Don't Love Your Favorite Childhood Stories http://ow.ly/JWsZ3001Czq  @RebeccaSchorr @BookRiot

When Storytime Blows Kids' Minds: The Power Of The Plot Twist + the joy of an excited kid http://ow.ly/L4pR3007sV8  @nprbooks

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

The History Of Children's Books from 1693 to now http://ow.ly/frUA3005dw2  Byrd Pinkerton @npr_ed #kidlit

Can Adult Authors Be Taught?: Considering the Alternative Celebrity Children’s Book http://ow.ly/vm6R3005aJz  @FuseEight #kidlit

In Praise of #PictureBooks (+ continuing to read them when older) by Randall de Seve @nerdybookclub https://t.co/vfFhVSZlgN

Roald Dahl's "subversive, un-PC writing... is a breath of fresh air" notes @femmorrison http://ow.ly/wVEg3007t5D  @HuffPostAU @PWKidsBookshelf

Reading Through Trauma: How Story Helped Us Navigate Challenging Days  http://ow.ly/Vwx53001DDm  Lauren Davis @ReadBrightly

Why headteacher who believes reading Harry Potter causes mental illness is wrong http://ow.ly/LbOu3003dIJ  Samantha Shannon @GdnChildrensBks

Positive Life Lessons from Harry Potter + Other Fantasy Novels http://ow.ly/beDa3007B4R  @JenniBuchanan @readingrainbow #Gandalf + more

8 Reasons Why People (and I) Buy Books ("Entertain me now" + more) http://ow.ly/vsVV3001E26  @StaceyLoscalzo


Talking About Failure: What Parents Can Do to Motivate Kids in School http://ow.ly/fz9f3003d75  @tarahaelle @MindShiftKQED #GrowthMindset

The 3 Most Important Questions You Can Ask Your Teenager - let's go back to basics http://ow.ly/NTTi3009aNG  @HuffPostEdu via @SophieBlackall


Playing to Become Part of Society at ages 6-12 http://ow.ly/MWQF3001D8E  @sxwiley discusses David Elkind's book on #play

#Play is our brain’s favourite way of learning.” http://ow.ly/MFfY3001DVy  @GeorgeCouros

Schools and Libraries

What Young Men Of Color Can Teach Us About The Achievement Gap http://ow.ly/nugZ3007fRF  @npr_ed #EdChat #schools

Data show segregation by income (not race) is what's getting worse in #schools http://ow.ly/rIvB3003ejT  @jillbarshay @hechingerreport

This is lovely! Teacher Gives Best #Homework Ever Before Standardized Tests http://ow.ly/FYcX3007AWb  @ScaryMommy via @RaiseAnAdult


How Teens Benefit From #Reading About the Struggles of Scientists  http://ow.ly/3Vra3005dKr  @dfkris @MindShiftKQED #GrowthMindset #STEM


Former @facebook   Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News from "trending" section http://ow.ly/9R5c3003AoT  @Gizmodo

© 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

Literacy Milestone: Life Imitating Art with Safety Tips

LiteracyMilestoneAThe other day I stood very briefly on my (wheeled) office chair to reach the inkjet printer refills from the cabinet above my desk. My daughter caught me and chastised me for doing something unsafe. Then she left the room giggling. A few minutes later she came back and taped the following sign to the wall near my desk (where I can't miss it):


I believe that she did have some spelling help from her babysitter. She later added a little checkmark to the upper left-hand corner, to mark the one incident of my standing on the chair. She told me that if I had two more incidents, I would lose access to my wheeled office chair. This actually does not seem unreasonable. She added a couple of other safety tips over the course of the afternoon (thankfully not in response to actual safety violations):




These safety tips were, of course, inspired by the delightful, Caldecott-winning picture book Officer Buckle and Gloria, by Peggy Rathmann. I'm sure that there will be more. But what I loved about this incident was the way my daughter took immediate action, and put her thoughts to paper. The fact that she was bringing a beloved book to life was certainly a bonus, though.  

Clearly I will have to be more careful in the future. Office Buckle, Gloria, and my six-year-old are all counting on me. 

© 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 @SergioRuzzier + @KateyWrites + David Brooks + @MarkBarnes19 + @MsSackstein

JoyOFLearningLogoI'm just catching up now after traveling last week/weekend. Today I have quotes from five articles that I've recently shared on Twitter that I think are particularly worthy of additional discussion. Two are about raising readers in general, and giving kids choice about what they read in particular. One is about GPAs, grit, and finding your passion. The last two are about homework and teaching with the interests of child and family in mind. To me, all of these articles touch on the central questions of how we can make reading and learning more joyful and rewarding (and less painful) experiences for kids. I welcome your feedback!

So right! We should let kids read anything they want, w/o imposing on them our adult ... prejudices http://ow.ly/Z3ku3005be8  @SergioRuzzier

Sergio Ruzzier: "What’s wrong with trying to read a “difficult” book, if that’s the book that is inspiring a child to read? They will understand all of it or parts of it, or they might discover something that not even the author was aware of. They might love or hate the book, read it from cover to cover or abandon it after the first few lines. All this happens to any reader anyway, no matter the age...

Age-labeling is yet another obstacle to reading, and if we restrict what kids can read freely, many may never come to love books. We should let children read anything they want, without imposing on them our adult insecurities and prejudices."

Me: Sergio Ruzzier hits it out of the park with this post at Nerdy Book Club. He defends the rights of kids to read books that adults might deem to young for them and books that might seem to old for them. His focus is on kids being able to read the books that seem right for them at the time. This, my friends, is how you raise kids who love books!

Great advice here! 8 Small Tools That Parents can use to Make Reading A Big Deal http://ow.ly/KgYz30038O1  @Kateywrites #RaisingReaders

Katey Howes: "6. Your open mind: The books your child (or grandchild, or student) enjoys reading may not always be the books you WISH he would read. (I’d personally give a lot of money to not have to discuss Captain Underpants any further!) But giving children the right to choose books that interest them, without judgement or criticism based on reading level or subject matter, is crucial. Ask questions about what your child is reading, and be enthusiastic about their choices. In this way you build confident, empowered readers – who are more likely to KEEP reading."

Me: I like the mix of practicality and passion that Katey Howes brings to this article about encouraging kids to love books. From reminding us to visit the library (where circulation numbers help to influence funding) to promoting reading choice (even when this is tedious for parents), Katey clearly knows from experience what she is talking about. Even for me, someone who thinks about this all the time, this piece offered some good suggestions and reminders. 

Interesting thoughts on #grit re: what students care about vs. GPA-driven mentality http://ow.ly/an7Y30059Ji  David Brooks @nytopinion

Interesting thoughts on David Brooks: "Success is about being passionately good at one or two things, but students who want to get close to that 4.0 have to be prudentially balanced about every subject. In life we want independent thinking and risk-taking, but the G.P.A. system encourages students to be deferential and risk averse, giving their teachers what they want...

I don’t know about you, but I’m really bad at being self-disciplined about things I don’t care about. For me, and I suspect for many, hard work and resilience can only happen when there is a strong desire. Grit is thus downstream from longing. People need a powerful why if they are going to be able to endure any how."

Me: This OpEd piece by David Brooks is fairly brief, but really resonated with me. Brooks talks about the inherent conflict between the skills that kids need to get a good GPA vs. the skills that they'll need to excel in life, and how that conflict plays out in the presence of focusing on grit. The part about being best at being self-disciplined when you care about something is so, so true. I'm still working for myself on spending more of my time on things that really matter to me, and I worry about my six-year-old, as she heads into the GPA-focused school years... 

6 Bad Reasons Teachers Assign #Homework and Why Each One Sucks  http://ow.ly/jecb3003zFG  @markbarnes19 #EdChat

Mark Barnes: "Begin by discarding the worksheets, workbooks, and mundane rote memory activities. Instead, provide kids with choices about what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. Consider the skill or concept you’re teaching, and brainstorm ways that students can extend the learning in ways that they will enjoy.

Instead of assigning do-this-tonight-and-turn-it-in-tomorrow activities, provide multiple options that kids can do at their leisure outside of class and ask them to share their approaches later in the week.

Think about what students like to do: play games, use social media, read content they choose that is enjoyable and relevant to them, explore, talk to fascinating adults, and shop. How can these activities engage students in what you are teaching?"

Me: This article is a synopsis of a more detailed podcast, but I think that the text version does a fine job of capturing the essentials. I especially appreciated Barnes' dismantling, in a single paragraph, of the argument that homework teaches responsibility. He also laments how slow the pace of change is in the educational system. This is one that gets me. It seems like the research on homework is pretty clear: it is NOT helpful. But what is it going to take to get change made in actual schools? I wish I knew... But I'll keep sharing articles like this in the  meantime. 

Good stuff! How Being a Mom Changed My Teaching http://ow.ly/TJFK3001CPD  @mssackstein @educationweek

Starr Sackstein: "My stance on homework has changed a lot since having a school-aged child as well. I value home time differently and therefore have worked hard to make homework (when necessary) flexible. Projects are done over time rather than on demand. This way I can respect the sanctity of what happens in the home and with the family."

Me: Starr Sackstein identifies a number of positive changes to her teaching after having a child of her own. The one that resonated with me, of course, is that she tries much harder to make homework flexible (or not assign it at all), to respect family time. I feel like if more teachers had fought this battle personally, in their own homes, there would be less homework in schools. But perhaps I am being overly optimistic. 

© 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.