34 posts categorized "Nonfiction" Feed

Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature: Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, Peter Sieruta

Book: Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature
Authors: Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta
Pages: 288
Age Range: Adult Nonfiction

Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature is an insider's guide to the world of children's books and their creators, written by three well-known children's book bloggers. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I have known Betsy Bird and Julie Danielson since my earliest days of blogging. While we've only met face to face a few times, I've read their blogs for years, and been on shared mailing lists and the like. I also read the late Peter Sieruta's blog, though I don't believe I ever had any direct contact with him. So you should consider my discussion of Wild Things! more along the lines of a recommendation than a critical review. I very much enjoyed the book. 

Wild Things! reveals the authors' deep affection for and knowledge of the field of children's literature. They discuss everything from the history of subversive children's literature to book banning to the ways that the Harry Potter books have affected the industry. This is the first book I've seen that openly discusses gay and lesbian authors of children's books, and how the outsider status of some of these authors may have affected their work. Like this:

"Unique perspectives yield unique books. It is difficult to be gay and not see the world in a way that is slightly different from that of your straight peers." (Page 54, ARC)

I especially enjoyed chapters on "scandalous mysteries and mysterious scandals" and "some hidden delights of children's literature." There's also an interesting discussion of the books critics love vs. the books that kids love. 

Despite covering a lot of ground, Wild Things! is a quick, engaging read. Though there are extensive end-notes citing sources, and it's clear that much research has been done, the book itself reads like a series of chatty essays written by friends. Wild Things! is full of interesting tidbits, like the extra pupil shown on one page of Madeline, and a rather disturbing claim by Laura that Pa Ingalls may have once encountered a serial killer. There are some resources that may help those new to thinking about children's books, such as a list of publications that review children's books. But for the most part, Wild Things! is a book that's going to appeal most to people who already have a reasonably solid grasp of the industry, and at least a passing familiarity with the key players. 

Wild Things! is not, however, insider-y in terms of the book blogging world. Because I've read so many posts by Betsy and Jules, there were certainly places where I could hear their distinct voices coming through. There are some fun sidebars in which all three authors briefly take on some question or author. But there is scant mention in the book of the authors' blogs themselves. The authors do muse a bit in the final chapter about the impact of cozy relationships between bloggers and authors, but for the most part they keep their emphasis on books and authors, and other people who have been instrumental in the evolution of the larger children's book world (like Ursula Nordstrom). They do include snippets of interviews with many authors and publishers, frequently backing up their own opinions with remarks from leaders in the field. 

Wild Things! is strong on the defense of the importance of children's literature (and fairly strong against message-driven celebrity books). Like this:

"And with every doctor, librarian, and early childhood educator telling us that childhood's importance is without parallel, it is baffling to see their literature condescended to, romanticized, and generally misunderstood." (Page 5 of the ARC)

"Childhood is not a phase to be disregarded; the same should be said of the books children read. They deserve well-crafted tales from the people who have the talent to write and illustrate them and who take their craft seriously. Do they need heavy-handed sermons from the latest celebrity "It" girl's newest children's book? Not so much." (Page 6)

I also loved this quote from A. A. Milne:

"Whatever fears one has, one need not fear that one is writing too well for a child, any more than one need fear that one is becoming almost too lovable." (Page 192)

Wild Things! is a book about the joy and quirkiness that is the field of children's literature. It is a celebration of books and their authors, and a defense of the importance of putting the very best possible books into children's hands. Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta accomplish all of this by sharing stories and opinions, theirs and those of others, with the reader. Fans of children's books, be they authors, bloggers, teachers, librarians, parents, or just people who appreciate a good book, are sure to enjoy Wild Things! Recommended for adults and older teens (there is definitely content that is not for kids), and a must-purchase for libraries. Wild Things! is a keeper!

Publisher: Candlewick 
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 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


Secrets of the Apple Tree: Carron Brown & Alyssa Nassner

Book: Secrets of the Apple Tree: A Shine-A-Light Book
Authors: Carron Brown & Alyssa Nassner
Pages: 36
Age Range: 4-8

Secrets of the Apple Tree is an informational text that uses the "Shine-A-Light" technology to make learning fun for kids. It starts out by showing an apple tree in the summer. When you shine a light behind the page (or hold it up to the light), you can see the image of the apple tree in winter, with bare branches. On the other side of the page, this inside view is shown in black and white, with some explanatory text. This pattern continues throughout the book, as the reader see mushrooms growing on a branch, a squirrel nesting inside the tree, a bug caught in a spider web, etc. 

I think that the gimmick of shining a light to see through the page will please preschoolers. My daughter was charmed by this, certainly, though she got a bit bored as the facts continued to mount from page to page. The text is designed for interactive reading with kids. Like this:

"Many animals live
around the tree.

Can you see who
the bird is about
to grab?"

(on the next page)

"Slithering, wriggling worms push
through the soil around the roots.

A tree's roots grow long and deep.
The roots soak up water from rain,
which helps to keep the tree alive." 

Every page has a question for kids to answer by shining a light on the page. At the end there's a little glossary of sorts, with more information about the creatures found in and around the tree. The authors encourage further exploration with:

"There's more...

When you find a tree, look all around it and see who you can find.
Remember to look up as well as down." 

The see-through illustrations (on the right-hand side of each page spread) are in color, using a palette of woodsy greens, browns, and grays. The left-facing pages are silhouettes, white images against black backgrounds. While neither style is incredibly detailed, the overall impression is pleasing, and the whimsy of the see-through illustrations works well. 

Secrets of the Apple Tree does a nice job of encouraging kids to pay attention to nature, to look closely, and see what hidden life they can find. And it's fun, too. I think it would make a nice addition to a classroom library for first or second graders, particularly in apple tree country. Recommended!

Publisher: Kane Miller Book Publishers 
Publication Date: January 1, 2014 (first American edition)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 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


A Baby Elephant in the Wild: Caitlin O'Connell

Book: A Baby Elephant in the Wild
Author: Caitlin O'Connell
Photographs by: Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

A Baby Elephant in the Wild is a nonfiction picture book that conveys facts about elephants by telling the story, with photographs, of the early life of a baby elephant named Liza. It's not clear to me who named the elephant Liza, but an author's note indicates that the author was a researcher studying elephants in Namibia who happened to be nearby when Liza was born. In any event, the narrative device of focusing the story on Liza works well, turning what could have been a dry recitation of facts into an engaging story. 

I think that readers of A Baby Elephant in the Wild will find themselves thinking, as I did, "elephants are really cool." My own daughter, on her second read-aloud of the book, was eager to tell me that Liza could still stand underneath her mother's belly, that all of the elephants were part of Liza's extended family, and that the mothers form a circle to protect the babies from lions. These details stuck with her, perhaps because of the truly fabulous photos. 

Here are a couple of snippets from the text:

"In this desert, a baby elephant named Liza takes her first breath after growing inside her mother for almost two years.

Liza is born weighing 250 pounds, the size of a grown black bear. Her mother weighs about 8,000 pounds."

and:

"And within a day, she is able to keep up with the rest of her family: her mother, and aunt, and older brother, and a female cousin."

This second quote illustrates how the author keeps a very specific focus on Liza. She's not just some placeholder - she's a baby who has a brother and a cousin. I think this will help kids to relate to the story. 

I did choose, spontaneously, to edit some of the later pages in reading this book aloud to my daughter. She is 3 1/2, and I'm not sure that she needs to know that elephants might not have enough food to survive in the wild, or that "poachers looking for either meat or ivory also threaten elephants". But that's obviously each parent's decision.

I do think, despite the universal appeal of elephants, that this would be a better book for elementary school kids than for preschoolers. It is fairly text-dense. A "Did you know?" page at the end of the book adds additional facts about elephants, perfect for feeding the hunger for information of a curious 7-year-old.  

A Baby Elephant in the Wild offers young readers an in-depth look at the lives of African elephants, with stunning visuals. As it's clearly designed to do, it leaves readers with a sense of wonder about elephants in general, and a feeling of familiarity towards Liza in particular. It would make a nice addition to any elementary school library, or to the home bookshelves of those with a particular affinity for animals. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition: Jim Trelease

Book: The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition
Author: Jim Trelease
Pages: 384
Age Range: Adult nonfiction (for parents and teachers)

The 7th Edition of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook was published in June. I pre-ordered my copy, and it arrived that day, but various things kept me from reading it until this week. I reviewed the previous edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook in 2010, having also read an earlier version before starting my blog. I was fortunate enough to hear Jim speak to parents at the Santa Clara City Library in January of 2007. My notes from that session are here. I have referenced Jim's work on encouraging reading aloud to children many times over the course of my blogging. So you may consider this more a recommendation and discussion than a formal review. 

Let me first state for the record that I believe that all parents of young children should read The Read-Aloud Handbook, as should all elementary and middle school teachers. The Read-Aloud Handbook started out as a little booklet that the author self-published in 1979 to encourage other parents to read aloud, and talk about books, with their kids. It became a phenomenon, was picked up by Penguin, and was named by Penguin in 2010 as one of the seventy-five most important books published in the company's 75 year history. It certainly had an impact on me, though I first read it long before I had a child of my own.

GBMantraThe Read-Aloud Handbook posits that instead of focusing on test-prep, flashcards, and the like, what parents and schools need to do to improve life-long levels of literacy and critical thinking, is simply read aloud to kids. I obviously agree (and posted the Read-Aloud Mantra to the left several weeks ago on my blog). 

More than 30 years after initial publication, The 7th Edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook retains Trelease's passion for reading to kids, but has a lot more references and research. The 7th Edition is about 40% changed from the 6th Edition, with new research findings, book recommendations, and discussions of the impact of eBooks and tablets. Even as someone who had read earlier editions (and follows published research studied pretty closely), once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down. I finished it in about a day (it helps that nearly half of the book consists of a treasury of recommended read-aloud titles, which I only skimmed). 

My reading of this edition was certainly colored by the fact that I have a three-year-old daughter who I very much hope grows up to be an avid reader. I flagged a mix of items throughout the book - interesting things that I might want to share on the blog, as well as action items for myself (like getting around to putting a basket of picture books in the bathroom). I'll share some of the former here, and put the latter into a separate post. 

Here are some of the many quotes that I flagged:

"Why are students failing and dropping out of school? Because they cannot read well enough to do the assigned work--which affects the entire report card. Change the reading scores and you change the graduation rate and then the prison population--which changes the social climate of America." (Page xxvi, Introduction) 

"If we're waiting for government to save our reading souls, we've got a long wait. Ultimately it will come down to the individual student, parent, teacher, and librarian." (Page xxix, Introduction)

"One factor hidden in the decline of students' recreational reading (as they get older) is that it coincides with a decline in the amount of time adults read to them. By middle school, almost no one is reading aloud to students. If each read-aloud is a commercial for the pleasures of reading, then a decline in advertising would naturally be reflected in a decline in students' recreational reading." (Page 6, Chapter 1)

"Students who read the most also read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don't read much cannot get better at it." (Page 7)

"What motivates children and adults to read more is that (1) they like the experience, (2) they like the subject matter, and (3) they like and follow the lead of people who read a lot." (Page 10)

"The message in this kind of research (especially the Hart and Risley study on Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children) is unambiguous: It's not the toys in the home that make the difference in children's lives; it's the words in their heads. The least expensive thing we can give a child outside of a hug turns out to be the most valuable: words. You don't need a job, a checking account, or even a high school diploma to talk with a child." (Page 16)

 "Here is a crucial fact to consider in the reading and writing connection. Visual receptors in the brain outnumber auditory receptors 30:1. In other words, the chances of a word (or sentence) being retained in our memory bank are thirty times greater if we see it instead of just hear it." (Page 43, Chapter Two). 

"So how do we educate the heart? There are really only two ways: life experience and stories about life experience, which is called literature. Great preachers and teachers--Aesop, Socrates, Confucius, Moses, and Jesus--have traditionally used stories to get their lesson plans across, educating both the mind and the heart." (Page 45)

 "(Expectation of Reward / Effort Required) = Frequency of Activity... When you maintain strong reward factors and lower the number of difficulties, you will see a higher frequency of reading... If you really want to get more reading done, then take control of the distractions: needless trips to the mall, phone calls, multiple televisions, DVD players, e-mails, computer games--each calling for immediate attention or multi-tasking." (Page 84-86, Chapter 5)

"Make sure you, the adult role model, are seen reading daily. It works even better if you read at the same time as the child." (Page 92, Chapter 5)

(On applying Oprah's example of generating enthusiasm for books) "What can we apply from this to our work with children? Well, let's eliminate not all but much of the writing they're required to do whenever they read. ("The more we read, the more we gotta write, so let's read less and we can work less.") We adults don't labor when we read, so why are we forcing children to? It hasn't created a nation of writers or readers." (Page 103, Chapter 5)

"It's difficult to get good at reading if you're short of print. Government programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top ensure that children who are behind in reading are entitled to after-school tutoring and extra help with phonics. Nice. But giving phonics lessons to kids who don't have any print in their lives is like giving oars to people who don't have a boat -- you don't get very far." (Page 107, Chapter 6)

"By the reckoning of its own Department of Education, California's ratio of school librarian to student ranks fifty-first in the nation, with 1 librarian for every 5,124 students, more than five times the national average of 1 to 916. Even the state's adult prison system does better, with 1 librarian to 4,283 inmates." (Page 109). Sigh!

(On reading blogs, tablets, social networks instead of books) "Reading, when it's done today, doesn't go very deep, and it's so private it's invisible. The trouble is, how do you pass invisible torches? How do you pose as an invisible role model?"

"...the e-book is here to stay, for very legitimate reasons. It's a win-win situation: a moneymaker for the publisher and a money saver for the buyer. It also saves time, space, student spines, and trees, to say nothing of what it does for the visually impaired." (Page 131, Chapter 7)

"The research clearly shows that we read more slowly (6 to 11 percent) from a screen than from paper. As with automobile driving, humans may get better and faster at e-reading over the years--but that could take generations." (Page 133) I did not know this, and found it fascinating.

"So what happens to the creative process when there is no disconnect time, when we and our children are constantly downloading, uploading, texting, YouTubing, Googling, or tweeting our 742 "friends"? Less "deep thinking" takes place, less creativity." (Page 139)

"It is not so much what children are doing while they watch multiple hours of TV; it is the experiences they are not having that make the viewing so dangerous." (Page 142, Chapter 8)

"A California professor, Jo Stanchfield, once told me that girls tend to be extrinsically motivated in their reading (favoring the choices of their peers, mom, and teacher), while boys are intrinsically motivated (favoring what they themselves are interested in). I agree. Call it selfish or pragmatic, but guys are drawn more to what interests them, not what interests the crowd." (Page 169, Chapter 10)

There's lots more to the book, obviously, but those quotes should be more than sufficient to give you a feel, and hopefully inspire you to want to read the rest. I feel that if you have kids, or you work with kids, you should read The Read-Aloud Handbook. If you feel like you don't have time, at least read the introduction, which sums up many of the findings discussed throughout the book. The Kindle edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook is $7.99, and you can read it on your phone. (I prefer the print edition for things like this, that I'm going to refer back to, but if cost or time is an object, e-books have advantages.) 

I'm pulling out a few other ideas from this edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook, and will be sharing them as separate posts in the coming days. I welcome your feedback. 

Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source of Book: Purchased

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 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


Teddy Bear Patterns (McGrath Math): Barbara Barbieri McGrath

Book: Teddy Bear Patterns (McGrath Math)
Author: Barbara Barbieri McGrath
Illustrator: Tim Nihoff
Pages: 32 
Age Range: 3-6

Teddy Bear Patterns is the latest entry in Barbara Barbieri McGrath and Tim Nihoff's McGrath Math series (beginning with Teddy Bear Counting, published in 2010). This series uses brightly-colored teddy bears to illustrate counting and mathematical concepts. In Teddy Bear Patterns, small, shiny bears in the six colors of the rainbow are used to teach children about patterns. McGrath starts out by simply grouping the bears by color, moving from two-color patterns up to repeating lines of all six. The bears are also used to show some simple addition and multiplication, as well as "skip-counting" to show odds and evens. Finally, young readers are asked to identify a few patterns near the end of the book, followed by a brief recap of the book's concepts. 

I like the idea behind this book, using something that kids tend to like as a vehicle for learning. One can readily imagine supplementing the book with properly-selected gummy bears (or with these plastic bear-shaped counters), and encouraging kids to dabble in hands-on pattern-making. I found a couple of the examples later in the book to be a bit cryptic, but most of Teddy Bear Patterns is straightforward and educational. 

McGrath's rhyming text isn't particularly lyrical, but this may be deliberate. It keeps the reader's attention on the patterns, rather than on word selection. Here are a couple of examples:

"Let's make a pattern
that's totally new.
Place the teddies by color,
arranged two by two."

"Do you see what they see?
If you do please give a nod.
The bottom bears are even;
the top bears are odd."

That second example didn't scan quite right for me, in terms of the prose. But I'm happy to see kids learning about odd and even numbers in a visual way (the bears are in two staggered rows, with odd numbers up top and evens down below, one skip-counts through them).

I actually liked this book enough to go ahead and order Teddy Bear Counting and the Baby Bear Counters that Amazon recommends with the books (not a formal companion item) for my daughter's upcoming third birthday. Recommended for library purchase and for home education for preschooler-age kids. 

Publisher: Charlesbridge (@Charlesbridge)
Publication Date: February 1, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you). 


Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader: Melissa Taylor

Book: Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader (Kindle edition)
Author: Melissa Taylor
Pages: n/a 
Age Range: Adult nonfiction

On a recent trip, I read two books aimed at helping parents to raise readers. The first was Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader by my blog/Twitter friend Melissa Taylor from Imagination Soup. Book Love is written from Melissa's perspective as an elementary school teacher and as a book-loving parent who found herself with two children who didn't enjoy reading. While there are certainly nuggets in the book that will apply to any parent of young children, Book Love is directed towards parents who have kids who, for one reason or another, don't enjoy reading. Taylor proposes four general reasons why kids dislike reading, and then explores them each in detail. The reasons are:

  1. Too boring (because "either the reading level is too hard, or your child hasn't found the right book or subject that gets him hooked.")
  2. Too blurry (because "vision, learning difficulties, and the ability (or inability) to pay attention" get in the way)
  3. Too tricky (because reading is a hard thing to learn to do)
  4. Too "sitty" (because some kids don't like to sit still and read)

Taylor starts with some brief, down to earth guidelines for "setting your child up for success as you help him learn to love reading". These include "Don't push him. Please", and a quick warning about limiting television.

The tone of Book Love is as if your child's very committed teacher sat down with you for coffee, and gave you one-on-one advice for helping your child with reading. There's a very personal, colloquial feel to the book, with plenty of short, declarative sentences ("Reading is important. Make time for it"). Here's an example:

"Engage in Grown-Up Reading

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, right? Kids copy what we do.

Here's your change to read that book you've been wanting to read. So read a book. Or two. Or ten. Show your child how you choose your books. Talk about the ones you want to read. Demonstrate how you make time for reading, even a little bit, every day."

Book Love is highly approachable, and not at all intimidating. It's a relatively quick read, a plus for busy parents. There are user-friendly lists of questions to ask your child to help diagnose the above-described reasons for not liking reading. There are lists of the child's favorite interests for the parent to fill in (and book lists to support those interests). There are carefully chosen pictures throughout. There are less common tips, like this:

"skip buying a reading lamp. Buy a headlamp--the light is brighter and covers a wider area. Then kids can also read in the car at night (including during longer trips where it's tempting to let them overdose on video games or movies), in a tent or in a cabin at camp, or when staying over with friends of relatives."

There are bulleted lists, and references to the most cutting edge technology (eBook readers, etc.). There are steps listed for assessments that parents can perform to understand their own children's reading issues (and references to where to find help in advocating for the child). There are literacy-themed games and activities. Book Love has a lot of useful information in a contemporary and user-friendly package.

I do think that readers who have already read canons of the literacy field (such as The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease) may find Book Love a bit ... informal. There are relatively few references to other books or to research studies. There are a fair number of links to online material, but these tend to be somewhat casually sourced (e.g a reference to Betsy Bird's list of top 100 children's books that doesn't actually mention Betsy or her blog, A Fuse #8 Production, by name; there's a reference to Daniel Pennac's The Rights of the Reader poster, but one has to click through to see the list itself, etc.).

I think that this informality stems from a) the fact that Book Love is self-published (it's harder for an individual author to go through the hoops of requesting permission to just include things like The Rights of the Reader poster) and b) the fact that Book Love was inspired by a blog. Just linking to something, rather than including it, is common blog practice. And it works well. When people are reading online, it's easy enough to click through to the original source, and is actually courteous on the part of the referring author (since traffic is sent to the original source). However, when one is reading a book (particularly a print book, but even an eBook on a device), having to click through to see something is more disruptive. This may be an artifact of where we are in the evolution of books (20 years from now we may be reading everything online, and so used to cross-linking that one would barely notice). Book Love is clearly on the cutting edge, in the sense of being a book-formed offshoot of content developed on a blog.

But getting back to the book itself (rather than musing on the nature of books), Book Love contains lists and lists of book suggestions, and also suggestions for products to help with literacy learning. I can't speak for the content of the product lists (though I do very much like the idea of helping parents find phonics tools and the like with which to help struggling young readers). But I found the book lists to be quite comprehensive. Taylor is well in the loop and up on both current and classic literature. The lists aren't blurbed (books or products), however, so to find out whether or not a particular book or item might be interesting and relevant to your child's age, one must click through. The lack of blurbs for book lists is common, of course, and would be prohibitive in this case (since Taylor suggests so many book). But I personally find lists that also tell me something about the book to be a bit more useful (like the Cybils shortlists). Still, the range of suggested books (and the many themes for the lists) is quite impressive.

The nicest thing about Book Love, I think, is that it is directly aimed at parents of children who are struggling with reading in one way or another (or disinterested in reading). For such parents, Book Love offers a real (and non-judgmental) lifeline. The tips for what to do are clear, concrete, and contemporary. There are tons of ideas, book suggestions, and product recommendations. Readers who like concise, practical advice, as from magazine articles and blog posts, will appreciate Book Love's format and tone. It's definitely a new era book, though, with a different feel from that of books by Jim Trelease and Mem Fox. Readers who expect a lot of references and research studies, and don't want to be clicking back and forth to the web when they read, may not find Book Love a good fit. But that's ok. As Taylor indicates herself in Book Love, the trick is finding the right book for the right reader at the right time. That goes for books about growing bookworms, too. Later, I'll have a review of a book that takes a more traditional approach.

Publisher: Imagination Soup, LLC (@ImaginationSoup)
Publication Date: November 5, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you). 


Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle: Brian Dennis

Book: Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle
Authors: Brian Dennis, Mary Nethery, and Kirby Larson
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4-8

Nubs I loved Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery's picture book about a dog and a cat who, together, survived the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: Two Bobbies. So naturally, I said yes when I was offered a copy of Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle. Like Two Bobbies, Nubs is both the story of a tenacious animal overcoming adversity and the story of a powerful friendship.

Nubs was a wild dog scraping out a meager existence in the Iraqi desert when he met US Marine Brian Dennis. Somehow, despite the demands of work and survival, the soldier and the dog bonded. They in fact bonded to such an extent that when orders took Major Dennis away, Nubs undertook a dangerous 70-mile journey to follow him across the desert. Their friendship then faced another challenge, this one from a military policy against pets. But the astute reader will suspect, since this was published as a children's book, that things probably turn out ok.

I found the style of this book, a mixture of photos, emails, maps, quotes, and narrative text, occasionally awkward to follow. It's not a great read-aloud title, where the text trips from the tongue. It's more a book that kids will pore over, looking at the crisp photos, and marveling over the maps that document Nubs' journey. Here are a couple of examples, to give you a feel for the text:

"The next day, Nubs watched as Brian and his team prepared to leave. He touched his nose to Brian's face as Brian bent down to pet him good-bye. He felt Brian's head on his and heard him whisper, "Hey, buddy, you need to eat. You need to get better.""

"Each night, after the sun set over the desert, Nubs and Brian did their job together. Under an ice-black sky of a thousand stars, they kept watch over everyone."

"This small dog has done amazing things in his short life. He chose to travel 70 miles alone across a desert to be with Brian. It was a miracle he survived. The bigger miracle may be that this dog of war chose to become a dog of peace."

The text is a mix of somewhat sentimental passages like the above and more workmanlike narrative, like about the dog eating pancakes and MREs. I'm not a pet person. Still, I must confess that the later parts of the book brought  tears to my eyes, even on a second reading. I think Nubs will work his way right into the hearts of early elementary school readers, particularly those who love dogs. Many of the photos are gorgeous, too, making this an excellent choice for reluctant readers. Nubs is well worth a look!

Nonfictionmonday Today's Nonfiction Monday Round-Up is at Books Together.

Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 1, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).


The Read-Aloud Handbook: Jim Trelease

Book: The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition
Author: Jim Trelease
Pages: 432
Age Range: Adult nonfiction 

ReadAloudHandbook I've recommended Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook many times, but I've never actually reviewed it. I recently re-read the book (inspired in part by Dawn Morris' comments after her first reading of the book), and thought that I would share a few thoughts. This is more a reaction than a formal review.

First of all, I agree with Dawn that this is a book that everyone should read. Or at least every parent and teacher, aunt, uncle, or grandparent should read it, along with anyone else who has an interest in the well-being and future success of children. I also agree with Teacherninja Jim, who commented on a recent Booklights post of mine that a copy of this book should be sent home from the hospital with every new parent.

The Read-Aloud Handbook is about why it's important for children to grow up as readers, and how parents and teachers can help to accomplish this goal. My earlier reading of The Read-Aloud Handbook helped inspire me to start this blog in the first place. The Read-Aloud Handbook blends the author's personal experiences as a parent, lecturer, and advocate of reading with extensive research.

The primary arguments of The Read-Aloud Handbook are (and I'm paraphrasing for simplicity):

  • Kids spend 900 hours a year inside of school, and 7800 hours a year outside of school. It's short-sighted to put all of the responsibility of encouraging kids as readers on the schools. Parents can play a huge role by reading to their kids, making sure that they have access to books in the home, and modeling reading behavior. (Introduction)
  • The only way to really drive change is to launch a huge national awareness campaign (like the one against smoking), telling parents what they should and must do in the home, if they want to prepare their children for success in today's world. This is unlikely to happen, however, because politicians are reluctant to hold the huge voting block of parents accountable. (Introduction)
  • The National Reading Panel found that "the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for success in reading is reading aloud to children." (Page 3) This applies at home and in schools.
  • Among the many reasons to read aloud to kids, one of the most important is that it helps them to associate reading with pleasure. Human beings are by nature pleasure-centered -- we will voluntarily do things repeatedly if we get pleasure from them. And because reading is an accrued skill, spending repeated time reading is what enables us to get good at it.

Here are a couple of quotes that particularly stood out for me on this reading (out of many that I could have chosen):

"Reading is the ultimate weapon, destroying ignorance, poverty, and despair before they can destroy us. A nation that doesn't read much doesn't know much. And a nation that doesn't know much is more likely to make poor choices in the home, the marketplace, the jury box, and the voting booth. And those decisions ultimately affect an entire nation--the literate and the illiterate." (Page xxvi)

"The last thirty years of reading research confirms this simple formula--regardless of sex, race, nationality, or socioeconomic background. Students who read the most also read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don't read much cannot get better at it.

Why don't students read more? Because of Reading Fact No. 1 (Human beings are pleasure centered). The large number of "unpleasure messages they received throughout their school years, coupled with the lack of pleasure messages in the home, nullify any attraction books might have." (Page 5)

After framing the arguments for raising kids who like to read, and using reading aloud as a tool to facilitate this, Trelease goes on to talk about when to begin (and end) reading aloud, the developmental stages of reading aloud, and some nuts-and-bolts dos and don'ts of reading aloud. These early chapters (especially Chapter 4, which consists of nothing but bulleted lists of dos and don'ts) are the ones that I would most encourage parents to read. If you have time for nothing else, read the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 4. This could help you to change your child's life for the better.

The later chapters get a bit more into specifics like sustained silent reading programs in schools; the effect of Oprah, Harry Potter, and the Internet; and limiting television. All of this is useful, just not quite as essential for parents as the first few chapters. I especially enjoyed the fact that Trelease intersperses his research findings with personal anecdotes, some from his own family (reading aloud to his kids while they did the dishes), and others from people he met along the way. For me, these stories often resonated more than the fact-based research.

The book ends with a "giant treasury of great read-alouds", classified by genre. The treasury takes up about 40% of the book, and is more of a reference than something that you need to read page by page. It's a great starting point, though the author also talks in the text about other ways to find books to read. [He doesn't mention the Kidlitosphere, but I'll bet that he would if there was a new edition in the future.]

The edition that I read this week was the sixth (and most recent) edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook, published in 2006. Because Trelease references so many studies on reading and literacy, it's perhaps inevitable that at four years old, the book does occasionally feel dated. At least, it does to me, someone who is constantly reading news stories about the latest and greatest reading studies. Ironically, if the book was less extensively researched and referenced, this wouldn't stand out so much (e.g. if he was just talking about his own experience, rather than tying things to concrete studies).

I do think that Trelease did a good job with this edition overall (I've also read the fourth edition), keeping many of the anecdotes that give the book its heart, but also updating to include web references, discussions about the impact of the Internet, etc. Jim is retired now, and I'm not sure whether or not there will ever be a later edition of the book. But in the meantime, I'm happy to report that the Sixth Edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook holds up well. I have every expectation of continuing to give it as a gift to new parents in the future. I hope that some of you will consider reading it, and giving it to others, too. The Read-Aloud Handbook has my highest recommendation.

Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: July 25, 2006
Source of Book: Bought it
Other Blog Reviews: Moms Inspire Learning, ABC and 123, The Homeschool Den. See also my notes from a talk that Jim Trelease gave in Santa Clara, CA. See also a personal story of the impact of this book at Original Content.

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).


NurtureShock: Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman: Nonfiction Book Review

Book: NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children
Authors: Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman
Pages: 352
Age Range: Adult nonfiction 

NurtureAlthough I was vaguely aware of NurtureShock from mentions in the press, I was inspired to read it by a review at Book Dads. The idea behind the book, written by journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, is that many common strategies for childrearing are backfiring, and that scientific studies do exist to explain why that is. Personally, I'm a sucker for things that seem counter-intuitive, but make sense on closer inspection. And I found this book fascinating.

After a brief introduction, the following ten chapters each tackle a particular aspect of parenting, from coping with kids who tell lies to encouraging multicultural acceptance. All of the chapters discuss scientific research studies, and are extensively referenced. The detailed notes and references are all confined to the end of the book, however, keeping the main text of the book accessible to the casual reader.

The first chapter includes what is probably the best-known claim of the book: that the modern-day practice of constantly praising children for being smart is counter-productive. Bronson and Merryman argue that being praised for being smart takes away kids' intrinsic motivation (why should they work hard when they're smart?) and sets them up for failure when they do run across something that they find difficult. They suggest instead that it's much better to praise kids for working hard, and to offer praise that is specific, rather than general. That way, you help kids to develop the confidence to try increasingly difficult tasks, and give them the skills that they need to develop. I have to say, this just plain makes sense to me.

The other chapters are full of interesting ideas, too. Chapter 2 discusses sleep deprivation in teens, and makes a strong case for shifting high school schedules to run a bit later. The authors also cite research tying sleep deprivation to obesity. Chapter 3 talks about why white parents generally don't talk about race with their children at all, and how that can backfire. There's also research that suggests that in more diverse school environments, kids are actually less likely to form friendships with students of other races (they self-segregate). Chapter 4 investigates the reasons that kids lie, and finds that many of the strategies that parents use to encourage honesty actually encourage kids to become better liars. And so on.

Readers of this blog may be particularly interested in Chapter 10, about language development in infants and toddlers. The authors discuss the reason that so called "baby videos" (like Baby Einstein) were found to actually impair infants' vocabularies (because they tend to show images that are disconnected from the audio track, and babies need the reinforcement of seeing someone's face while words are being formed).

Bronson and Merryman also take on the famous Hart and Risley study, which looked at how many words per hour kids in different families heard, and the resulting language deficit of preschoolers from working class families vs. kids from professional class families. They cite more recent studies that suggest that it's not so much the flow of words circling around a young child that matters, but rather, the responsiveness of parents to the child's early attempts to verbalize. Here's a quote:

"The variable that best explained these gaps (in developmental language milestones, among children who were all from parents with high vocabularies) was how often a mom rapidly responded to her child's vocalizations and explorations. The toddlers of high-responders were a whopping six months ahead of the toddlers of low-responders. They were saying their first words at ten months, and reaching other milestones by fourteen months". (Page 208)

As you can imagine, this isn't a book that all readers are going to be comfortable with. It challenges a lot of widely held ideas, and presents some unpalatable statistics (for instance, that 96% teens lie to their parents). But me, I flagged dozens of passages with post-it flags (turning my copy into a "porcupine book", though I cannot, alas, recall who coined that phrase).

While I found some chapters more interesting than others, I thought that the overall premise of the book was compelling. NurtureShock was a book that I thought about, and wanted to get back to. I was tripped up by awkward phrasing here and there, probably a result of much of the book's content having been originally published as magazine articles, and then re-edited for the book form. But for the most part, I found NurtureShock to be an engaging, enjoyable, and thought-provoking read. I recommend it for parents, or anyone interested in social sciences and child development.

Publisher: Twelve
Publication Date: September 3, 2009
Source of Book: Bought it
Other Blog Reviews: Book Dads, Kari Henley, The Cardinal House (not a review, but lots of excerpts)

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).


There's An Adult In My Soup: Kim and Jason Kotecki

Book: There's An Adult in My Soup
Author: Kim & Jason Kotecki
Pages: 192 
Age Range: 18 and up 

51Vkr6x4UyL._SL500_AA240_ I've been a follower of Kim and Jason Kotecki's Escape Adulthood site for several years now. I admire their quest to free the world of "adultitis", and the way that they encourage people to remain open to the joys of life. Jason's Escape Adulthood manifesto was one of my earliest book reviews. I am a regular reader of Kim and Jason's blog. Recently, Jason sent me a copy of There's An Adult in My Soup, with a note to check out a couple of specific pages. I was happy to see that a couple of conversations that I had with Kim and Jason had actually made their way into the book. On further reading, I was even more happy to discover quotes from TadMack (aka Tanita Davis) and Robin Brande. As you can see, I'm not objective about this book. So you may take this as more a recommendation from a friend than a formal review.

There's An Adult in My Soup is a collection of essays about "cooking up the life of your dreams". I think that most of these essays began as blog posts. As such, it's not a book that you need to read cover-to-cover, in order (though I suspect that the entries were published in the chronological order that they were written). In fact, reading it cover to cover, you will notice occasional repeated ideas. There are a few copy-editing errors, too. It reads like what it is - a hand-picked collection of inspirational blog posts, with cartoon illustrations added to brighten the start of each essay.

I still loved the book. I flagged it with about 30 post-its. I intend to read it again, and to give it to other people to read. Because, for me, this book is a reminder to try to be a happier, more optimistic, person. To be more childlike (as opposed to childish). To notice the small joys as they pass by. To strive for balance.

My general view is that people only change when the change is internally motivated. I think that self-help books work for people who happen to read a particular piece of advice that resonates with them at that time. That is, you'll only actually change if you read a particular book at a time that intersects with your own personal journey. And sometimes, you read a book that tells you things that you already believe, but serves as a gentle reminder not to get sidetracked. That said, here are a few passages from There's An Adult in My Soup that resonated with me this week:

"Everyone is busy. Enough already.
Do you find yourself unknowingly getting thrown into the "busyness" contest? Whether it's at work or with family or acquaintances, people start talking about how busy they are. Before you know it, you too are spouting about how little time you have. For some reason, it seems like the busiest person wins. What a twisted and damaging conversation." (Page 13)

"God has scattered these free prizes all around us: a watercolor sunset, the smell of fresh cut grass, the intricacy of a snowflake. We're so busy being self-absorbed and stressed-out that we miss them all because they're hidden just below the surface of our hurried consciousness." (Page 30)

"They say life is all about the journey, not the destination. But we don't often live like that. Many of us gear our lives around some arbitrary date in the future, as if everything will be better when that point in time--that day on the calendar--comes. But what makes THAT day on the calendar any better or more important than THIS day on the calendar?" (Page 44)

"What does your daily schedule look like?
Are you finding a good balance between work, family and alone time?
What can you do to take more control of your life, for the good of your health and sanity, as well as your relationships?" (Page 76)

And so on. Most people will, I think, have one of two responses to quotes. You might be intrigued, and want to read more (in which case, I direct you to Kim and Jason's blog). Or you might think it sounds a little naive or overly simplistic (in which case, this isn't the right book for you). My experience has been that the authors really believe in what they're promoting. They believe in creating a balanced life, in celebrating small joys, and in demonstrating a childlike curiosity. And this belief comes across in the book. There's An Adult in My Soup is like a series of pep talks from that unquenchable friend - the one who always makes you smile, even when your cynical side things that it's more complicated than that. I'm happy to have read it. I hope that some of you will want to read it, too.

Publisher: JBiRD iNK, Ltd.
Publication Date: September 1, 2009
Source of Book: Received copy as a gift from the authors 

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.


You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!: Jonah Winter & Andre Carrilho

Nonfictionmonday Book: You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Andre Carrilho
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-9

Sandy KoufaxYou Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!, by Jonah Winter and Andre Carrilho, has hands-down the coolest cover of any book I've seen this year. The online picture doesn't do it justice. The physical book has a holographic cover that shows, as you rotate the book, Koufax in action. It's a book that should be displayed face-out in libraries and bookstores, because kids and adults will be unable to resist picking it up. And once they pick it up, many will be drawn in by the story of the legendary Sandy Koufax. The book begins:

"You gotta be kidding! You never heard of Sandy Koufax?! He was only the greatest lefty who ever pitched in the game of baseball."

An accompanying chart shows the stats of the "Best Lefties of All Time". The next couple of pages share more about Koufax's dominance in the 1960's, and then the book steps back in time to describe Koufax's rise to fame. It's quite a story. This skinny Jewish kid from Brooklyn (who faced some discrimination, gently handled in the text). This pitching prodigy, who struggled early on in his career. This hugely dominant pitcher for six years. This guy who retires "at the peak of his game", leaving baffled reporters in his wake. Through it all, Koufax remains a bit of a mystery. But readers will learn enough to be intrigued.

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! is written in the voice of an old-time ballplayer, talking about the good ol' days to his grandkids. Speaking as someone who was there for the whole story. For example:

"One day one of our scouts, Al Campanis, invites Sandy to Ebbets Field--home of our team, the Brooklyn Dodgers--so's he can see the hotshot pitch. After battin' just one time against him, Campanis has seen enough. He says to Sandy, "Kid, how'd you like to play for us? Don't think too hard."

Quick as you can say "Jackie Robinson", this nineteen-year-old squirt was wearin' Dodgers blue and earnin' more dough than some of us old-timers."

I think that this writing style works for the story (though it may take getting used to for some readers). Andre Carrilho's illustrations work, too. He uses old-fashioned, sepia tones, conveying the feel of the time period. He makes Koufax lean and self-contained. Koufax looks intense and focused, but he never really looks happy. You can see, through the pictures alone, why this might be a guy who would give it all up, and retire early. The visuals and the text are well-integrated -- it's a nicely produced title.

In addition to being a tribute to Koufax, this book is also a tribute to old-time baseball. There are pictures of baseball cards on the inside covers, and a glossary of baseball terms and references are provided at the end of the book. More than that, though, is a general tone of respect for baseball that permeates the book. Even though Koufax played his entire career for the Dodgers, baseball fans everywhere are sure to enjoy this book. And hopefully, a few new baseball fans will be created by it, too. This book would make a particularly nice choice for a grandfather reading with his grandson or granddaughter. I recommend You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! for readers young and old.

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Publication Date: February 24, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Planet Esme, readertotz, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, TheHappyNappyBookseller 

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.


The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau: Dan Yaccarino

Nonfictionmonday Book: The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau
Author: Dan Yaccarino
Pages: 40
Age Range: 6-9 

Jacques CousteauThe Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, is an excellent example of a nonfiction picture book. It's filled with interesting facts and eye-catching illustrations. Even people who know about Jacques Cousteau, the father of undersea exploration, will likely learn new tidbits. He turned to the ocean because he was sickly as a child, and a doctor thought it would help him get stronger. He and a friend created the Aqua-Lung. "He produced fifty books, two encyclopedias, and dozens of documentary films." He built labs to see if people could live underwater. It's all fascinating. The book also includes quotes from Jacques Cousteau, lovingly placed inside bubbles on each page. An appendix at the end fills in additional details, and includes selected sources for further study.   

All of that makes The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau quality nonfiction. But the gouache and airbrush illustrations are what make the book hard to resist. Yaccarino's vaguely abstract paintings are perfect for conveying life under the sea. He uses lots of deep colors, and repeated geometric patterns, like a sea-formed kaleidoscope. Cousteau himself is drawn in a stylized manner,tall and thin, and literally immersed in his fascination with the sea.

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau would be an excellent choice for bedtime reading the night before a trip to the shore. Like Cousteau's work, the book is "a glimpse of the amazing universe under the waves." Recommended in particular for library purchase.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 24, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: readertotz, MotherReader, Just One More Book!

Diane Chen has today's Nonfiction Monday round-up at Practically Paradise.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.