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Barkus: Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant

Book: Barkus
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator: Marc Boutavant
Pages: 56
Age Range: 6-8

BarkusBarkus is the first book in a new early chapter book series by Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant. Red-headed Nicky, apparently a first grader, is thrilled when her favorite uncle unexpectedly gives her a large, grown dog named Barkus. Nicky's parents are a bit more apprehensive, but they all come around, and Barkus becomes part of the family. In subsequent brief chapters, young readers follow Barkus as he sneaks in to Nicky's school, has a noisy birthday party, adopts a kitten, and participates in a backyard campout.

Barkus is not especially realistic (e.g. a scene in which a couple of unknown dogs are let into the house to celebrate Barkus' birthday with a crazy dance party, and the fact that Nicky's teacher just accepts Barkus and makes him the class dog), but it is a lot of fun. It's perfect first-grade wish fulfillment (including a snow day). 

Each page has a moderate amount of text, but also a large font, short paragraphs, and color illustrations, making Barkus suitable for relatively new readers. There's enough complexity to the story to keep slightly more experienced readers entertained, too. Here's a sample page, the beginning of Chapter 2, Barkus Sneaks, to give you a feel for the reading level:

"It was Monday morning.

I put on my sweater and coat and boots.

Barkus watched me.

I put on my gloves

Barkus watched me.

"Goodbye, Barkus. I'll see you after school."

I patted him on the head.

I went out the door.

When I looked back Barkus was watching through the window."

See? Not overly challenging, but the astute reader will know that Barkus has something up his sleeve (or would, if had sleeves). 

[As a tiny side note, I appreciated the fact that the teacher, Mrs. Gregolian, has an Armenian last name, as do my husband and daughter.]

Boutavant's illustrations give Nicky and Barkus both bright-eyed, mildly cartoonish looks. While the illustrations are relatively spare, with plenty of white space (or simple, primary-colored backgrounds), there are occasional details to reward closer inspection. For instance, in the Barkus Sneaks chapter, careful observers will notice a brown tail sticking out from behind a tree, as Nicky hears a suspicious noise on her way to school. The noisy birthday party scene will make any reader smile. 

Barkus is a lively addition to the ranks of early chapter book series, with a pair of easy-going protagonists (well, a trio, once the kitten comes along). As a well-made, nearly square hardcover, it stands out relative to the swarms of slim early chapter book paperbacks. While my first grader, near the end of the school year, is already a bit further along than this in reading level, I still she'll still enjoy meeting Barkus. Libraries will want to give this one a look, especially once there are a couple of other books in the series (as is planned). Recommended for readers who are just ready for the satisfaction of a book with chapters, and who still seek dynamic and colorful illustrations. 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @NYTimes, @RaisedGood, @GCouros, @NoguchiOnK12, @TimDWalk, @Salon

JoyOFLearningLogoThis week I have a plethora of quote-worthy articles related to play, homework, and the joy of learning. First up is a piece about how parents come down on both sides of the debate about homework levels. Next is a piece about how simplifying childhood, by reducing activities and distractions, would helpful for kids' mental health and development. In the third, George Couros responds to a letter published by students at a high school asking for more flexibility in the expectations of the adults around them. Next, from my local paper, a survey by Project Cornerstone (a YMCA group) finds an alarming drop in engagement among high school students. Finally, I have two articles about the need for young children to have time in school for play and recharging. Special thanks to Sandhya Nankani, who was my source for multiple articles. Happy reading!

HomeworkMythThis is a balanced piece (inc. socioeconomic side) regarding the debate + how it divides parents https://t.co/o0FXYK3pt1

Kyle Spencer: "The focus for many anti-homework parents is what they see as the quality of work assigned. They object to worksheets, but embrace projects that they believe encourage higher-level thinking. At P.S. 11 in Manhattan, even parents who support the no-homework policy said they often used online resources like Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization that provides free educational videos. The school’s website also includes handwriting exercises, scientific articles, and math and reading lessons. Sophie Mintz, whose son is in second grade at the school, said that the no-homework policy had afforded him more time to build elaborate Lego structures.

But parents with fewer means say the new policies don’t take into account their needs and time constraints, and leave them on their own when it comes to building the skills their children need to prepare for the annual state tests.

Me: This article linked to and discussed various situations that I was already aware of. But it also covered an aspect of the homework wars (some parents want it and some parents don't) that I hadn't much thought of. Spencer quotes from lower income and/or working parents who complain that while more affluent parents can provide enrichment (tutoring, etc.) for their kids, less well off families rely on the school to provide homework that they see as needed for their kids' development. I've been more familiar with the flip side of the argument, which is that more affluent families are more likely to have a parent available in the afternoons to help kids with their homework, such that homework can increase learning gaps. 

Now, what I really think is that rote worksheets are probably not doing much for anyone's development in the early grades. But I do think that the question of whether and how much homework to require does require input from families of various circumstances.  And for that, this article is a good addition to the discussion. 

PowerOfPlaySimplifying Childhood (more free , less stuff, fewer activities) may be good for Kids Mental Health https://t.co/SgcY9HLQfj

Tracy Gillett: "When children are overwhelmed they lose the precious down time they need to explore, play and release tension. Too many choices erodes happiness, robbing kids of the gift of boredom which encourages creativity and self-directed learning. And most importantly “too much” steals precious time...

Developmental Psychologist David Elkind reports kids have lost more than 12 hours of free time per week in the last two decades meaning the opportunity for free play is scarce. Even preschools and kindergartens have become more intellectually-oriented. And many schools have eliminated recess so children have more time to learn.

The time children spend playing in organized sports has been shown to significantly lower creativity as young adults, whereas time spent playing informal sports was significantly related to more creativity. It’s not the organized sports themselves that destroy creativity but the lack of down time. Even two hours per week of unstructured play boosted children’s creativity to above-average levels.

Me: Parts of this article did hit home for me, especially when Gillett is urging parents to free their children from excessive activities (and stuff) to give them more mental space to grow and develop. This is something that I really struggle with as a parent. My daughter wants to do each thing that comes up (the school play, swim team, softball, karate, playdates, birthday parties). But she gets burned out, too. I certainly listen when she pushes back. However, it may be that I need to push back more directly, too. Food for thought, for sure... 

InnovatorsMindsetThere is Not Only One Road to Success | responds to a HS student petition seeking alternate life paths https://t.co/XgAEPvJBJd 

George Couros: "Katie Martin shared this article on Facebook, with the title, “Student petition says too much pressure to succeed at Naperville North“...

kudos to the students for sharing their voices.  This is not about being soft on the students; personally, I expect anyone who is working toward success to put in the time and effort. I love the Simon Sinek quote,  “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress: Working hard for something1 we love is called passion.” This is not about having low expectations; it is ensuring that the students have a voice in those expectations in the first place...

Success means different things to different people, but take note of this statement made by the student petition; “Start defining success as any path that leads to a happy and healthy life1. Start teaching us to make our own paths, and start guiding us along the way.”  Yup.  I don’t know what else to say. It is just perfect, and even more perfect that it comes from the voice of students."

Me: Like Couros, I liked what these students had to say about defining success as paths that lead to a healthy and happy life, instead of defining success as one particular path (e.g. the path to an Ivy League college). I also thought that the Sinek quote was spot on. People don't mind working hard for things that they care about - they mind working hard for things that they don't care about. I am already thinking about how I'm going to protect my daughter from the academic rat race when she is in high school. Articles like this do give me some hope. 

ProjectCornerstoneSilicon Valley teens report big drop in engagement | reports survey

Sharon Noguchi: "Fewer high school students are drinking, having sex, doing drugs and resorting to violence, a large-scale survey of Santa Clara County public school students shows. At the same time, engagement in school has plunged, as has students’ optimism about their future.

This mixed picture of youth well-being emerges in Project Cornerstone’s Silicon Valley youth survey — the first in six years —  of 43,000 youths at more than 180 elementary, middle and high schools in Santa Clara County. The survey was administered last fall, and the results were released this spring...

Among high school students, the drop in school engagement was striking. It fell to 38 percent — compared with 66 percent in 2010, the last time Project Cornerstone conducted its survey."

Me: The student engagement piece was only a small part of this survey, but it was the one that struck me. In seven years, the percentage of students engaged in what they are learning at school fell almost in half. This is consistent with other studies I've seen (see this article for more on the subject of declining student engagement). It's all just so demoralizing for those of us who want to see kids finding joy in learning. As I said above, do already worry about the high school rat race.

TeachLikeFinlandHow Kids Learn Better By Taking Frequent Breaks Throughout The Day via

Timothy D. Walker (in an excerpt from his new book shared at Mind/Shift KQED, in which he describes what he learned teaching in Finland, after having taught in the US): "Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would, without fail, enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a fifteen-minute break. And most important, they were more focused during lessons.

At first I was convinced that I had made a groundbreaking discovery: frequent breaks kept students fresh throughout the day. But then I remembered that Finns have known this for years—they’ve been providing breaks to their students since the 1960s...

Initially, I thought that the true value of Finnish-style breaks is related to free play, but I no longer hold this view. I’ve concluded that the primary benefit of Finnish breaks is in the way it keeps kids focused by refreshing their brains. Daniel Levitin, professor of psychology, behavioral neuroscience, and music at McGill University, believes that giving the brain time to rest, through regular breaks, leads to greater productivity and creativity."

Me: I am happy to report that my daughter does have three recesses per day (except for the short day of the week). It's not quite breaks every hour like they do in Finland, but it's not too far off. If I ever hear the school talking about reducing recess (which I have not), I will have my ammunition ready... 

Kindergartners get little time to . Why does it matter? Christopher Brown via

Christopher Brown: "As a former kindergarten teacher, a father of three girls who’ve recently gone through kindergarten, and as researcher and teacher-educator in early childhood education, I have had kindergarten as a part of my adult life for almost 20 years.

As a parent, I have seen how student-led projects, sensory tables (that include sand or water) and dramatic play areas have been replaced with teacher-led instructional time, writing centers and sight words lists that children need to memorize. And as a researcher, I found, along with my colleague Yi Chin Lan, that early childhood teachers expect children to have academic knowledge, social skills and the ability to control themselves when they enter kindergarten...

Research has consistently shown classrooms that offer children the opportunities to engage in play-based and child-centered learning activities help children grow academically, socially and emotionally. Furthermore, recess in particular helps children restore their attention for learning in the classroom.

Focus on rules can diminish children’s willingness to take academic risks and curiosity as well as impede their self-confidence and motivation as learners — all of which can negatively impact their performance in school and in later life."

Me: Brown's views in this piece on changes to Kindergarten are consistent with other things I've read (Rae Pica's book, for example). But this is certainly a nice summary to share with parents newer to the discussion, with tons of links for further reading. It always made me sad, when my daughter was in Kindergarten, to see the unused play kitchen and toys, which sat in the back of the classroom... 

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: April 28: #STEM, #ReadingLevels, and Like-Hearted People

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Because I was on vacation last week, there are quite a few links. Topics shared here include #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #Kidlitopshere, #PreK, #ReadAloud, #STEM, Anna Dewdney Award, children's books for adults, gender identity, growing bookworms, math, parenting, publishing, reading, reading levels, Rick Riordan, screentime, and teaching.  I'm also working on another post with more detail from several joy of learning / play-related articles. 

Book Lists + Awards

EdwardGetsMessyCongratulations to + for winning award |

8 Fascinating , a from via

Darling Books about Fairies, & Other Wee Things, a new  

IzzyBarrPlayful Early Chapter Books About Sports, a https://t.co/WTn10chPgt

10 New Books Highlighting the and Strength of Girls & Women by

Diversity + Gender

Thinking About (Gender) Identity Labeling | links to a couple of interesting recent articles https://t.co/ZGoE07I9Tn 

Events + Programs

New Kid-Lit Landmarks To Be Named During |

I love things like this: Barbershops Give Kids Free Cuts if They  

Growing Bookworms

MalalaRethinking : Some Practical Advice from the Experts | Laura Lambert

Important: How to Be A Role Model – Without Actually Reading In Front of Your Class https://t.co/6l1w6oIpGG 


This post by about finding "Like-Hearted" people via Twitter made me think of my pals  

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

MagnusChaseRick Riordan Imprint Acquires First Three Titles

What makes a book one grown-ups will like? asks | Great discussion in comments

Revisiting Childhood Book Friends + what it feels like when someone criticizes them  

Parenting, Play + Screentime

One Simple Trick to End Tech "turn it off time" Tantrums Forever, what works for  

Give a kid a computer...what does it do to her social life? summarized some recent research

What Is Open Ended , and Why Is It So Important? Five Reasons Play Is Critical for Kids.

Schools and Libraries

What do we really know about pre-k? shares + discusses conclusions from a new research report  


How Do I Get My Kids to Love ? Simple Steps Parents Can Take at Home from  

12 Inspirational Stories About Women Who Code: Inspiration for Girls via

© 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

Charlie & Mouse: Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes

Book: Charlie & Mouse
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Emily Hughes
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4-8

CharlieAndMouseCharlie & Mouse kicks off a new early reader series by Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes. It's the story of a day in the life of two small brothers, told in four chapters. In the first, Charlie waves up the lump who shares his bed, otherwise known as Mouse, and the boys proceed to wake their parents, too. In the second chapter, the two brothers eagerly tell their parents that this is the day of the neighborhood party. The family trundles off to the park, gathering an array of children along the way. When they arrive, they find no one else there, but by that point "It was the best party ever!". In the third chapter, the boys decide to sell rocks as a way to make money. Things don't work out quite as expected, but there is enough money for ice cream. The last chapter, coming full circle, has Charlie and Mouse going to sleep. But not without a bit of mischief, and a plan for more in the morning. 

The text in Charlie & Mouse is fairly brief, with short paragraphs and straightforward text. I noticed that the author refrains from using contractions, despite the extensive dialog. Here's a snippet:

"HURRAH! Today is the party!"
shouted Charlie.

"Today is the neighborhood party!"
shouted Mouse.

"Everyone will be there!" shouted Charlie.

They danced around the kitchen.

There's an innocent impishness to the boys that feels real (and the author notes in her biography that she is the mother of two sons). There's also an old-fashioned feel to the story. There are kids just playing outside by themselves, able to follow Charlie and Mouse to the park without a word to anyone. Charlie and Mouse go door to door with their wagon, offering to sell rocks the neighbors. There are also hints that the family, while clearly stable, may not be exactly well off (the boys sharing a bed, and needing to sell rocks in order to afford ice cream). 

While the text gives no particular information as to the book's location (beyond being clearly suburban), illustrator Emily Hughes (who is from Hawaii) drops some hints of Hawaii, particularly a sign offering "Shave Ice" outside the ice cream store. These aren't strong enough to feel foreign for mainland kids, but they add some extra visual interest. 

As for the Charlie and Mouse, they are adorable, wide-eyed, mess-haired, and freckled. They are full of joy, as is the book overall. Charlie and Mouse is an early reader / very early chapter book that is both kid- and parent-friendly. I look forward to future books in the series, and certainly recommend that libraries give this one a look. 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids)
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Literacy Milestone: Screening Books for Mom's Blog

LiteracyMilestoneAWhile this is not a typical milestone on the path to literacy, I've noticed a new behavior on my daughter's part that I thought my readers might appreciate. When new picture books for potential review come to the house, I normally place them on the kitchen table so that I can read them with my daughter. She's become gradually aware that I write about some of the books, but not all of the books, and she has started giving specific feedback.

Yesterday I was a bit busy, so she sat herself down, read through a stack of five books, and sorted them according to whether or not she though I should blog about them. She calls the ones that make the cut "write books", meaning that I should write about them. Of the five books in yesterday's stack she pronounced three "write books" and one "meh, you don't need to write about this one." The fifth book she was uncertain about, and said that I would have to read it myself to decide. It was like she had taken on the responsibility of doing the first pass screening as her job (for which she is amply paid in books). 

VampirinaBeachI should clarify that I will read all of the books and will decide myself which ones call for a review. She's a bit harsh these days on books for younger kids, for example. But I do find her input helpful. When she loves a book, chances are good that I will appreciate it, too. We've been reading together for seven years, after all. She also checks back sometimes to make sure I've written about the books that she particularly likes. As I picked up Vampirina at the Beach (which we had read previously) from the floor of her room this morning she said: "You did write about Vampirina, didn't you, Mommy?" [Yes, I did.]

What say you, blogging parents? Do you ever use the opinions of your kids on your blog? Am I ruining my child by making her a critic at such a young age? I don't really think so. I think it's useful to learn that there are books we like more than others, books we think are better-written, or better illustrated, or that other people would like to know about. So I guess we can call this one a milestone on the path the literacy for children of book reviewers. 

© 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

Rain: Sam Usher

Book: Rain
Author: Sam Usher
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-7

RainUsherRain by Sam Usher is one of those picture books that one appreciates a little bit more in each reading. It's a lovely little story of a boy and his grandfather on a rainy day. The boy wakes up and desperately wants to go outside to play in the rain. But Granddad asks him to wait for the rain to stop. The boy spends the interminable waiting time reading, looking out the window, and asking Granddad again and again. Granddad, however, is distracted by his apparent attempts to respond to a love letter (hand-written, in this timeless story). And then, at last, the rain stops, just in time for Granddad to mail his letter. Just in time for an adventure involving "acrobats and carnivals and musical boatmen." 

Rain's mix of reality and fantasy may be a bit confusing to the youngest readers, but observant older readers will spot the elements of the fantasy adventure inside the boy's home, as toys and models and book illustrations. Only observant readers (and perhaps only adult readers) will pick up on the reason for Granddad's distraction. But all readers will simply love the cozy scene at the end of the books, as the two damp companions sit in the kitchen "with warm socks and hot chocolate." 

Usher's text is relatively minimal. This is a tale told more in pictures than in words. Usher's ink and watercolor illustrations perfectly capture the wavy colors of the rain, the kindness of Granddad, and the eagerness of the red-headed narrator. The reflections of various people and objects in the rain puddles, upside-down and blurred, will make any young reader long for the next rainy day. 

It's nice to see a picture book reflecting an unconventional family structure in which a small boy apparently lives alone with his grandfather. The bond between the two stands out. As does the rain. The rain practically leaps from the pages. In fact, the jacketless cover of Rain features raised raindrops, a tactile experience invites the reader in. Rain celebrates family, adventure, and a cozy home. It is simply lovely, and belongs in homes and libraries everywhere. Especially here in California, where we've learned to really appreciate the rain. Highly recommended, and one of my recent favorites. 

Publisher:  Templar (@Candlewick) 
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Vampirina at the Beach: Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham

Book: Vampirina at the Beach
Author: Anne Marie Pace
Pages: LeUyen Pham
Age Range: 4-8

VampirinaBeachVampirina at the Beach is the third book in the Vampirina series, written by Anne Marie Pace and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Vampirina is a joyful young vampire with fangs and pale skin. In this entertaining picture book, Vampirina and her parents, along with a host of ghoulish friends, go to spend a full moon-lit evening at the beach. Pace's text doesn't directly address the fact that the various people in the story are non-human. She just shares things that are fun about visiting the beach, together with practical safety tips, leaving Pham to provide the visual, and unconventional, details.

For instance, we have this text over a couple of page spreads:

"When the waves are breaking, just right,
give surfing a whirl.

Practice your best ballet posture:
catch a wave,
and ride,

This spread is accompanied by vignettes that show Vampirina dragging a new, apparently human, friend out onto a gravestone-like surfboard. As the kids are trailed by a green octopus, the moon comes out from behind the clouds, and the friend is revealed to be not-so-human after all. Other spreads show sunken ships, pirate ghosts, and treasure maps, as well as supernatural creatures of all sorts doing relatively ordinary things, like playing beach volleyball and building sand castles. Turns out that being able to turn into a bat is useful in adding decorations to the tippy top of a castle. A fold-out spread in the middle of the book ramps up the action with a dance party. 

Vampirina at the Beach is full of entertaining monster details that will reward multiple inspections. These are set against a comforting backdrop of family fun and friendship. The closing image, of Vampirina and her friend sitting back-to-back eating roasted marshmallows beneath a full moon will make any kid smile. Pham manages to make the various monsters a mix of grotesque and cute, with Vampirina herself falling on the cute side, of course. 

Because so much of the fun of Vampirina at the Beach is visual, mainly in the form of multiple small illustrations per page, I think this is a better book for reading alone, or with a parent, rather than for a larger storytime. I think that first and second graders might be more receptive to the humor than preschoolers will, too, which also supports the read-alone, pore over it time and time again, hypothesis. Fans of the earlier two books will certainly want to give Vampirina at the Beach a look. It stands alone just fine, however (I have not read the other two books), and is a fun choice for celebrating the start of summer and beach season. Recommended! 

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion 
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: April 14: Book Deserts, Judy Blume, Harry Potter, and #STEM

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics inclue #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #Makerspace, #Math, #PictureBooks, #STEM, children's literacy, creativity, Harry Potter, Judy Blume, Kidlitosphere, poetry, raising readers, schools, science fiction, summer reading, and teaching. 

Awards and Book Lists

SuperfudgeJudy Blume to receive lifetime achievement award from American Academy of Arts + Letters

Passover , a   


The Power of Representation: finding yourself in by

Growing Bookworms

Yes! Reasons not to assign required titles + what to do instead to encourage

A highlight from Pernille Ripp's post: "Why not create reading experiences that actually entices further reading, rather than further dictation of what kids are expected to read?  Perhaps now would be a good time to examine our summer reading practices before the damage is potentially done."

The best way to improve kids' reading test scores? Provide access to books, encourage free choice...

A bit more from the Donalyn Miller's post: "Even in middle-income communities, we create book deserts for too many children through misguided efforts that level, limit, control, and define when and where and what children will read. We test and test kids while providing few opportunities to improve their reading skills in the only way that works—lots of successful, engaging reading experiences. This man-made desertification ensures that fewer children will read well or become engaged readers each year." (There's lots more: do go and read the whole post!

OwlAndPussycatBedtime : The One Thing Your Child Will Remember Forever by https://t.co/Z8ML9RrRg3

My recent post on Drawing inferences: Why it's a key skill is up as a guest article 's blog https://t.co/qU2JRbPzoV

Donating Character-Developing, Idea-Generating, World-Building Books: The Beginning by  https://t.co/n6KHeHRRXi


Extra-good week for round-up of middle grade fantasy + science fiction from around the blogs  

The 2017 Progressive Poem -- Line #8 from

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

BabymouseLockerThis makes me feel so old: Babymouse is heading to ... MIDDLE SCHOOL!?!?!?!

Inspiring story of writer Bob Greene who tracked down + thanked the first grade teacher who taught him to read

New DNA Study Finds Genes May Significantly Impact Ability | Traci Pedersen via  

Schools and Libraries

Homework: Helpful, Harmful, or Otherwise? asks | Is it more important than , , family? https://t.co/LMi2w6xuSb

HarryPotterBook1I love this: 10 Teachable Moments From and the Sorcerer's Stone - https://t.co/tUGmLNSuPs  (Good for parents, too!)

How Kills And How To Fix It -


3 Games Kids Love | guest post  

Inspiring With A Simple Home , Plus Airplane Activities for Kids https://t.co/NUqtAhD4HU

© 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

Mosquitoes Can't Bite Ninjas: Jordan P. Novak

Book: Mosquitoes Can't Bite Ninjas
Author: Jordan P. Novak
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5

MosquitoesCantBiteNinjasMosquitoes Can't Bite Ninjas, by Jordan P. Novak, is just what it sounds like, a picture book that celebrates the triumph of a young ninja over a garden variety mosquito. Novak first recaps the categories of people that mosquitos do bite (swimmers, etc.). Then he shows that, despite being sneaky, quick, and persistent, mosquitoes are no match for the stealth, speed, and creativity of the ninja. He even introduces a baby ninja-in-training who has skills of his (?) own. The ending, in which the ninja ends up accidentally eating the mosquito, is a little bit disgusting, but definitely kid-appealing. It adds a nice twist to a story that might otherwise have been a bit too straightforward. 

This is a picture book for younger listeners. The text is minimal, and the digitally colored illustrations are bold and simple. I like the fact that the little we can see of the skin of the ninja siblings is brownish in color - not terribly dark, but at least dark enough to give some ambiguity. I also like how Novak can convey the ninja's attitude through his stance, when all we can really see of his face is his round eyes. 

Even though, at seven, she's a bit older than the target age range for this book, my ninja-obsessed daughter loved this book. What budding ninja wouldn't want to read:

"Mosquitoes try...
and try...
and try...

but a mosquito is no match

for a ninja."

Mosquitoes are universal. Ninjas are universally cool. Mosquitoes Can't Bite Ninja's belongs in libraries serving preschoolers. It would make an excellent start-of-summer storytime book. But parents should beware. It may awaken in their children the desire to become ninjas. In my experience, there are worst things. Recommended!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: April 12: Baby Bookworm's 7th 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 relatively brief issue I have four book reviews (picture book and middle grade) and one post with my daughter's latest literacy milestone (making inferences). I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter. I've had a bit less time for blogging than usual because I've been busy helping my daughter celebrate her 7th birthday. I'll also be taking some time off for her upcoming spring break, and expect to be back with another newsletter in three weeks. 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I finished two young adult novels, two adult novels, and one adult nonfiction title. I read/listened to: 

  • Chris Weitz: The New Order (The Young World, Book 2). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. YA Science Fiction. Completed March 31, 2017, on Kindle.
  • TheRevivalChris Weitz: The Revival (The Young World, Book 3). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. YA Science Fiction. Completed April 3, 2017, on Kindle. I had read the first book in this post-apocalyptic trilogy a couple of years ago, but somehow never went back and read the other two books. These were just what I needed during a quiet weekend in Lake Tahoe. While I don't plan a formal review, I do recommend this series to fans of YA dystopia. It's set in a post-plague New York City, after the plague has left only teens alive, but with a ticking clock for each of them. There are warring tribes of kids, grim battles, and scientific efforts to find a cure. The cast is nicely diverse, too, with shifting first person viewpoints between a number of distinct characters. 
  • Angela Duckworth: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Scribner. Adult Nonfiction. Completed March 29, 2017, on Kindle. I've been familiar with the concept of grit for a while. My takeaway from reading the full book was the importance of the passion element - I think we tend to think of grit as just endless persistence. But it's really persistence towards something that is personally important. Grit held my interest, and I do continue to think about it now, a couple of weeks after finishing it. 
  • C. J. Box: Vicious Circle (Joe Pickett series). G.P. Putnam's Sons. Adult Mystery. Completed April 3, 2017, on MP3. Although I've been hooked on this series for a while, the bleakness of it is starting to wear on me a bit. I don't think that the next one (presumably due out next year) will be an automatic purchase, but I think it will depend on my mood when the time comes. 
  • Charlaine Harris: All the Little Liars (Aurora Teagarden, No. 9). Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed April 7, 2017, on MP3. I am also now caught up with this series, which I enjoyed. It's the only one I've read by Harris that doesn't include supernatural occurrences, and I quite like the librarian main character. In the books, about 8 years pass for the main character between books 1 and 9. In real time, something like 26 years have passed. Harris handles this by merely referencing the most current technology in each book, and not getting too hung up on the details, which does pretty much work. I've been reading other series that started quite some time ago, and I just find it interesting to note how authors manage this (e.g. Sue Grafton, who has basically stayed in the 80's with her character).  

SquishCaptainI'm currently listening to Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger (first book in the Cork O'Connor series). I'm reading This Is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang in print and reading Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris on my Kindle. I'm still reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling to my daughter. We are about 3/4 of the way through, and it's been a great reading experience. I think we're going to take a break after this, though, before moving on to even longer and darker books in the series.

VampirinaBeachMy daughter has also continued to enjoy the Squish series by Jenni Holm and Matt Holm. The other day, instead of opening some recently arrived birthday presents, she elected to go upstairs and read Squish: Captain Disaster in my bed. Needless to say, I did not object. She's also reading the Fantastic Frame series by Lin Oliver (a recommendation from a friend). Her newest picture book recommendation is Vampirina at the Beach by Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham, which she liked very much and suggested that I review (and I will). You can find her 2017 reading list here

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. 

© 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

Duck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night: Kallie George & Oriol Vidal

Book: Duck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night
Author: Kallie George
Illustrator: Oriol Vidal
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

DuckDinosaurNoiseNightDuck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night is the sequel to Duck, Duck, Dinosaur by Kallie George and Oriol Vidal. Both books feature a family with three siblings: two little ducks, Flap and Feather, and a much bigger dinosaur, Spike. In this installment, Mama Duck tells the siblings that it's time for them to "sleep all by themselves in their very own nest." They are initially proud and "only a little scared." Until a big, scary noise wakes them up, that is. They try hiding from the noise, and running away from the noise, and even scaring the noise. But the noise keeps following them. Sleep is impossible until they figure out just what the noise is.

My favorite part? At the very end of the book, we see that Mama Duck has been keeping watch all along, leaving it to the kids to solve their own problem. 

This is a text that calls out for reading aloud. The noise is rendered in huge block letters, to show how loud it is. There are calls from Spike to "HIDE!" and sound effects when their knees knock and teeth chatter. There is some repetition to the text which my six-year-old eventually had me skip over, but which I think will work well for preschoolers. Like this:

"They shared a story. They shared a snuggle. They sang a song. They counted the stars.

Then, at least, they fell asleep." 

This bedtime ritual repeats throughout the story. 

Vidal's digitally created illustrations are eye-catching and slightly stylized (particularly the backgrounds). He captures the coziness of the snuggling, and the utter exhaustion of the siblings as their night keeps being interrupted. The round eyes of all three after each scare made me laugh, and the fond smile of Mama Duck at the end made me smile, too. 

The source of the noise will be readily apparent to adult readers, but I don't think that kids will catch on. Duck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night is a book that has an age-appropriate hint of scary for preschoolers, but ultimately will leave young listeners with a warm, safe feeling. It is fun to read aloud, and kids will enjoy poring over the illustrations. Fans of the first book will certainly want to take a look at this one, and librarians will find it well worth a look for preschool storytime. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: April 7: #ReadingWithoutWalls, #AutismAwareness, #GrowthMindset + More

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #GrowingBookworms, #GrowthMindset, #play, #poetry, #RaisingReaders, #ReadingWithoutWalls, #STEM, autism, economic diversity, games, homework, National Poetry Month, publishing, reading, screens, teaching, and translation. 

Book Lists

TheWildRobot10 Books to Inspire Inventors, Engineers, Tinkerers + Those Who Wish We Were! by https://t.co/VKxKlH2xZA 

50+ about Mixed Race Families now updated to 70+ books via


 Economics, Money + Class in 2017 Today — | Including poverty in

Events + Programs

ReadingWithoutWallsTake the Challenge this April + add to your https://t.co/pkPD6eL241

Here’s How You Make a Book Spine Poem with Your Students/Patrons —

World Week and Autism Acceptance/Awareness Month - resources + w/ mini-reviews  

Growing Bookworms

BravoEngle How Margarita Engle's books helped a mother + daughter to re-engage in discussion over books

How to Get Your Kids to Read a higher ratio of good stuff vs. "junk books" from + more 

How to Make Fun: 25 Ideas Kids Will Love | Jean Reagan etc. https://t.co/c2DkjtXbCA

Growth Mindset

Four Moves That Promote A In All |

Is Not Enough | on other character-based skills should help build https://t.co/Q6RBip7Yrb

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

WizardOfOz"the thing about as a child. You don’t just read a book: you enter it."

Even More Outlandish: Further Thoughts (vs her piece) on the Role of Translation +  


Lamenting a 2nd grade classroom "party" to which kids could bring tablets but not toys by

Schools and Libraries

RaisingKidsWhoReadNew studies show the cost of student laptop use for notetaking in lecture classes -

It Takes a Suburb: Lexington MA (where I went to HS) Struggles to Ease Stress | Kyle Spencer https://t.co/G7WmJqP5vC

We should not assume how parents will react to changes like eliminating says  

Bookmobiles and Beyond: new services on wheels serve newborns through teens |


The Big List of Board Games that Inspire Mathematical Thinking, sorted by age range, from  

© 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