1,168 posts categorized "Reviews" Feed

Can I Tell You a Secret? by Anna Kang & Christopher Weyant

Book: Can I Tell You a Secret?
Author: Anna Kang
Illustrator: Christopher Weyant
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

CanITellYouASecretMonty the frog has an embarrassing secret, one that he wants to share with the reader in Can I Tell You a Secret? Despite the fact that he's, well, a frog, Monty is afraid of the water. He's spent his childhood forging doctor's notes, ducking raindrops, and avoiding the water in any way he can. He seeks the young reader's advice, and reluctantly, with some false starts, agrees to share his terrible secret with his parents. Who, of course, know already. Monty takes his new friend the reader along as he sets out to learn to swim.   

I loved Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant's earlier collaboration: You Are Not Small, which won the 2015 Geisel Award. Like that one, Can I Tell You a Secret? is a book that simply begs to be read aloud. Like this:

"I have a secret.

Can you keep a secret?
You sure?
Because I don't want anyone else to know.

Do you promise

I challenge any reader not to read that "promise" like a scared four-year-old. 

Weyant's deceptively simple illustrations are perfect, too. We go in for a close-up of Monty's face when he's talking intently to the reader. Any kid who has ever been scared of anything will relate to Monty's anxious expression, and to the sheepish grin he uses when he chicken's out on his confession. His dejected appearance when he confesses (in a tiny font that calls for a tiny read-aloud voice) "I'm afraid of the water" will make any reader ache for him. Just as his simple joy at the end of the book will leave all readers happy.

Can I Tell You a Secret is a delightful picture book, perfect for the three to six-year-old set. It is certainly one that libraries and preschools will want to stock. It should have near-universal appeal for younger kids and their parents. It has plenty of repetition, and would also work as an early reader for slightly older kids. Highly recommended all around!

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 31, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Chicken in Space: Adam Lehrhaupt and Shahar Kober

Book: Chicken in Space
Author: Adam Lehrhaupt
Illustrator: Shahar Kober
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

Chicken in Space is a new picture book about a chicken who is not like the other chickens. Zoey dreams of bigger things, and makes plans accordingly. Her specific dream in this story (one senses that there could be more) is to ravel to outer space. She has a loyal sidekick, a pie-obsessed pig named Sam, and she tries to enlist other animals to accompany she and Sam on their quest. But in the end, Zoey and Sam venture alone into the skies for a great adventure. 

The personalities of the animals come through clearly from Adam Lehrhaupt's dialog-heavy text, particularly for Zoey and Sam. Like this (0ver 3 pages):

"Clara," said Zoey, "come to space with us."

"You don't have a ship," said Clara. "You can't go to space without a ship."

"Not a problem!" said Zoey. "An opportunity!"

"Zoey always finds a way," said Sam.

"Look, Sam! I found a ship!" said Zoey.

"Of course you did," said Sam.  

Of course Shahar Kober's illustrations help to bring the characters to life, too. Zoey is priceless, with her aviator's hat. Sam wears a cute little hat, too, while an apparently timid mouse friend has round wire-rimmed glasses. Later page spreads use tilting perspectives and large colorful fonts to convey particularly dramatic moments. 

Chicken in Space celebrates the power of imagination and the importance of friendship, both in a humorous, kid-friendly way. There is just the right amount of goofiness (and balloons) to keep things fun. Kids will gobble it up, I think, and hope for Zoey and Sam to have other adventures. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 17, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Sophie's Squash Go To School: Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf

Book: Sophie's Squash Go To School
Author: Pat Zietlow Miller
Illustrator: Anne Wilsdorf
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

Sophie's Squash is one of my all-time favorite picture books (see my review). So naturally I was thrilled to learn that a sequel would be forthcoming. Sophie's Squash Go To School picks up not long after the end of Sophie's Squash. Readers of the first book will not be surprised to find that when she starts school for the first time, Sophie takes her two best friends, Bonnie and Baxter (the squash children of Bernice). Sophie is not keen on branching out to make any new friends, despite the best efforts of a boy named Steven Green. Eventually, however, the determined Steven is able to break through Sophie's reserve, and she learns that having common interests with someone really can be a basis for friendship.

Sophie's stubborn, loyal personality is, happily, largely unchanged from the first book. Like this:

"Sophie's parents were no help at all.

"Steven sounds adorable," said her mother. "And it's good to have friends."

"Especially human ones," added her father.

Sophie hugged Bonnie and Baxter tightly. "I have all the friends I need."

I just love how determinedly misanthropic she is. When she does start to come around to the other kids, it happens s-l-o-w-l-y. Like this:

"So when Liam showed everyone how do do his loose-tooth dance, Sophie considered joining in.

When Roshni spilled her milk, Sophie almost shared her napkin.

And when Noreen told her favorite banana joke, Sophie laughed--inside her head." 

The latter is accompanied by a picture of Sophie glancing over at the other kids, with the first smile the reader has seen yet on her grouchy face. There's no question that illustrator Anne Wilsdorf understands Sophie. 

My only minor quibble about this book was that I found Steven's persistence in becoming friends with Sophie a bit implausible. But an image of Steven sitting by himself, with only his stuffed frog, at the base of a tree while the other kids play suggests his need to find a single kindred spirit, rather than being part of the larger crowd. The other kids are clearly wilder and more extroverted. So I'm willing to give Steven a pass. 

Sophie's Squash Go To School is a long-ish picture book, but I think that the extra length is needed to give Sophie sufficient room for plausible growth. The nice thing about this book is that it works as a sequel for fans of Sophie's Squash and as a transition to kindergarten / learning to make friends book. I don't think that it quite stands alone - you really have to understand where Bonnie and Baxter came from to fully appreciate Sophie's Squash Go To School. But the two books together would make a great gift for a child starting pre-k or kindergarten. And the sequel is certainly not to be missed by Sophie's many fans. Recommended!

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: June 28, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

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


Swing Sideways: Nanci Turner Steveson

Book: Swing Sideways
Author: Nanci Turner Steveson
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8-12

Swing Sideways is about an anxious girl named Annie who has been promised a summer of freedom, and her developing friendship with the much more down to earth California. Annie has been having panic attacks, and is worrisomely thin because her throat closes up when she tries to eat. Her extremely tightly wrapped, schedule-obsessed mother is trying to give her freedom, as her therapist has recommended, but is struggling. Annie's more low-key father mediates.

The family, clearly well-off, is summering at their vacation home at some unspecified lakefront community outside of New York City. California is spending the summer at her grandfather's farm nearby, and the two girls, though from very different backgrounds, become close friends. Annie is able to put aside her own insecurities to help California uncover a long-buried family mystery, and accomplish an emotionally important quest. 

Steveson delves deeply into all of the relationships in the story, keeping things moving with the mystery of California's family, as well as a parade of summer hijinks. There is a tree-climbing, sneaking out at night, and secret pet that has to be fed. As the book progresses, the reader also begins to suspect that this is going to be deep sadness by the end of the book. This, I feel I should warn prospective readers, is correct. There is humor and adventure and personal growth in Swing Sideways, but also sadness. 

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for the book: 

"At the top of the driveway stood a red mailbox. No name, only a crooked, black number seven. I resisted the urge to straighten it. Spindly lilacs lined a gravel driveway, and a jumble of what-type stuff covered what used to be a yard. Peering around the corner of the barn, I squinted and studied the place I'd coveted for so long, listening for the sound of someone lurking nearby. Silence. No sign of a human." (Page 16)

I like how Steveson slipped in the bit about how hard it was for Annie to resist straightening the crooked number. Even by page 16, one knows that her mother would probably find resisting impossible. I also like the use of the word "lurking", setting the tone of hiding and secrets, even as Annie is just looking at a farm. 

"When she came up, we laughed like we'd known each other forever. Like she'd been my best friend since nursery school and not Jessica Braverman, who ditched me last fall when the panic attacks started. Jessica had traded our friendship for contact lenses, a nose job, and her first crush, while I hid in the school bathroom every day, gasping for air. The blooming connection between California and me made my heart lift. It was a powerful feeling." (Page 55-56)

This is a trope of tween lit that always hooks me - the girl who isn't ready to grow up as quickly as her friends are, and ends up having to figure herself out and find new friends. The fact that Annie has had panic attacks and has some sort of eating disorder raises the stakes, and her declared interest in all things country personalizes it, but I think that many tweens will be able to relate. For sure the adults will. I have to say that I think Swing Sideways is a book that adult readers are going to enjoy, but I think kids will, too. Annie's struggles will particularly ring true for those kids who are over-scheduled and struggling with excessive parental expectations. 

Swing Sideways made me laugh, nod in recognition, and cringe in different places, and it brought tears to my eyes at the end. Give this one to kids who like books about summer outdoor adventures (there are chickens!), and to kids who like sad books. Annie and California (and the adults in their lives) will stay with me, I think. Recommended. 

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Mister Cleghorn's Seal: Judith Kerr

Book: Mister Cleghorn's Seal
Author: Judith Kerr
Pages: 96
Age Range: 7-10

Mister Cleghorn's Seal is a new illustrated chapter book by Judith Kerr (who wrote the very first book that we read aloud to my daughter after she was born: One Night in the Zoo). Mister Cleghorn's Seal is a quick and lovely read, set in a time when cigarettes are "newfangled". I think it would make pretty much a perfect first chapter book to read aloud to a preschooler, with a short length, no chapter breaks, and Kerr's black-and-white illustrations on just about every page. 

Mister Cleghorn's Seal is about a retired shop-owner who, while visiting his cousin's family by the sea, ends up adopting an orphaned sea cub. While it is not common that children's books have an adult protagonist (and even a quiet romance), children will know from the earliest pages of the book that Mister Cleghorn is a kindred spirit. He plays with his cousin's children. And when the seal is refusing to eat, he holds it like a baby, with no concern at all for appearances or anything else. He tricks the narrow-minded janitor in his building. He is wonderful. 

Kerr's gentle illustrations bring Mister Cleghorn, the seal, and the time period to life. My favorite is a page spread in which Mister Cleghorn is sitting in the luggage compartment of a train, bringing the seal home, holding onto his hat, and clearly wondering how he got into this mess. But one could look at any illustration on any page to get a sense of the tone of Mister Cleghorn's Seal. 

Mister Cleghorn's Seal is the perfect next step to read-aloud to kids who enjoy picture books, and have the attention to handle a bit more text. It is a book that will make the reader, and the listener, happy. I'm going to try it with my daughter soon. Recommended!

Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus: Edward Hemingway

Book: Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus
Author: Edward Hemingway
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-7

Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus by Edward Hemingway is an engaging little picture book about a grumpy little monster. Adult readers will anticipate the ending (in which the monster is turned by the power of a smile into a little boy), but my six-year-old seemed to take the story literally. The Grumpasaurus pouts and stomps about, scaring away the cat and occasionally roaring. 

I feel like this may be a book that will appeal more to parents of toddlers than to kids themselves. But I think there's a humor in it for older siblings, too, who will recognize the grumpy behaviors of others, even if they deny ever behaving like that themselves. 

Hemingway's dry humor worked for me. Like this:

"Sometimes called Grumpelstiltskin or the Great Grumpsby, the Grumpasaurus can live anywhere, and is most often seen sulking around the room after a great tragedy or mishap. Such as... 

... a broken toy."

This passage shows the Grumpasaurus, arms folded, mouth turned down, watched apprehensively by the cat, while on the facing page, a teddy bear's arm dangles by a thread. The Grumpasuarus's posture will be familiar to parents everywhere. (And although not stated, I believe that the cat may be responsible for the broken teddy bear.)

Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus sticks to the field guide theme. The inside pages are lightly lined, like a notebook, with faux-spiral visible in the middle. The opening illustration of the Grumpasaurus features call-outs pointing to various features, like "Its angry eyes don't blink" and "Not sure why, but it's got a tail!". Later in the book there is a yellow warning signal, when the Grumpasaurus is forced to do something it doesn't want to do (following storm clouds over a bathtub). 

Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus is cute and funny and true to the moods of a grumpy toddler. While kids will likely not recognize themselves in the Grumpasaurus, parents and older siblings will find much to chuckle about. I could also see this book inspiring kids to create their own field notebooks, making it a potentially good book for classroom use. This is one that we'll be keeping to read again at home. 

Publisher: Clarion Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids) 
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: June 3: #eBooks, #SummerReading, #teaching + more

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. It's a bit of a light week this week because of the holiday, but I do have links for you about #DiverseBooks, #EdTech, #GrowingBookworms, #SummerReading, beginning readers, classroom libraries, funny books, mysteries, play, testing, ebooks, and teaching.

Book Lists + Awards

Review Round-Up from @mrskatiefitz : Books for Beginning Readers (Easy Readers + Chapter Books), May 2016 http://ow.ly/FLLg300JAt9 

23 Entertaining Books For Kids Who Like Diary of a @wimpykid http://ow.ly/xlCv300JAly  A @momandkiddo #BookList #kidlit

RA RA Read: Recommended Middle Grade #Mysteries (standalone + series) chosen by Jennifer Wharton http://ow.ly/rpVE300JAdR  #kidlit

2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Announced (inc. video presentation) http://ow.ly/wfKb300Rkp4  #kidlit @HornBook

2016 #Diverse #SummerReading Lists Grades PreK-8 from @LEEandLOW https://t.co/eyxH8MVRvW

Diversity

When is #Reading a Mirror, a Window or Neither? http://ow.ly/cv0m300MaKS  @medinger reflects on #DiverseBooks #kidlit

We Need Diverse #eBooks Too, Y’know says @fuseeight lamenting the small selection of choices  #DiverseBooks http://ow.ly/aXBf300Oxnh 

#EdTech + eBooks

Ed tech purchasing decisions | @DTWillingham questions some  intuitions regarding #EdTech http://ow.ly/3uxS300Mb2I 

#Reading Digitally vs. on Paper | @Larryferlazzo shares responses  http://ow.ly/kJTw300OuU3  @DTWillingham  @KristinZiemke  @lester_laminack

Growing Bookworms

#SummerReading: Solid tips for encouraging children to enjoy reading more from @MaryAnnScheuer  http://ow.ly/tkCR300Oy5O 

5 Reasons Kids Need Books in Their Hands...EVERYDAY! (to take home, to be responsible for, to enjoy) http://ow.ly/qKLI300JA8e  #raisingreaders

Are We Expecting Too Much–and Too Little–of #Reading / #Literacy Teachers asks @ShawnaCoppola https://t.co/ChN37EgycW 

Lovely post from @katsok | My Heart is Full: #Reading and My Sons (+ appreciation for @PhilBildner ) http://ow.ly/NNmR300Rnts 

Kidlitosphere

#PoetryFriday -- Call for Roundup Hosts from @MaryLeeHahn http://ow.ly/pE9S300RoFM  #kidlitosphere

Play

Some of the ways #play + storytelling + imaginative recreation stimulate #learning + #literacy http://ow.ly/idZv300Ma06  @TrevorHCairney

Schools and Libraries

Lindgren Award winner @megrosoff condemns UK's exam-focused education policy as an 'assault on childhood' @guardian https://t.co/49rMPC0JaT

Reflections on #Library Service Responsibilities to an apparent #SummerReading Scammer http://ow.ly/EWyO300Mbls  by @mrskatiefitz

"it is not what we got done that matters, it is how we felt doing it" | Take the Time says @pernilleripp https://t.co/vcJISuPwCP

Classroom Libraries Work: Tips from @donalynbooks @Scholastic for maintaining yours http://ow.ly/yvgy300EVsA  #kidlit

Sweat Small Stuff To Find #Teaching Zen |Control over kids is illusion but they can choose to engage http://ow.ly/t9Bz300OwpB  @focus2achieve

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


Mother Bruce: Ryan T. Higgins

Book: Mother Bruce
Author: Ryan T. Higgins 
Pages: 48
Age Range: 5-8

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins is one of my favorite new picture books (published late last November). It's a book that I liked immediately, and that has held up to repeat readings with my daughter. It has humor, warmth, and a delightful grumpiness. 

Bruce is an antisocial black bear who likes to cook and eat eggs. One day, however, something goes wrong with a batch of goose eggs, and Bruce finds himself the surrogate mother for four goslings. Bruce resists, strongly, but the goslings are not to be deterred. Bruce eventually accepts his new role, and does his best, but never without a certain stoic grouchiness. 

Where to begin? Mother Bruce is filled with engaging details that will please adult readers, like the way that Bruce "liked to support local business, you see" (as he pilfers honey from a nearby hive), and the time he asks Mrs. Goose if her eggs are "free-range organic". These both went right over the head of my six-year-old, but she did giggle over the way Bruce uses a shopping cart in the river, where he catches salmon. The geese go from being "annoying baby geese" to "stubborn teenage geese" to "boring adult geese". When Bruce tries to get the geese to migrate he first flaps his arms, and then tries shooting them off via a giant rubber band. It's a dry sort of humor, accentuated by Bruce's relentlessly unsmiling face. For me, all of this comes across as pitch perfect.

And the illustrations! Bruce and the goslings are adorable, in their own different ways. The cover image tells you the story. There's a wonderful image in which Bruce is stomping about, and the geese stomp right along after him. In another, Bruce holds four goslings in a baby carrier strapped to his chest, frowning all the while. Higgins uses a dark palette, but lightens this via friendly details (like the goslings in four high chairs).  

Recently my family watched the movie Fly Away Home, in which a young girl becomes the surrogate mother for a flock of geese. Seeing this phenomenon (geese thinking that whatever moving creature they see first after they hatch is their mother) made my daughter and I both appreciate Mother Bruce that much more. 

Mother Bruce is a pitch perfect read for early elementary school kids and their parents. I could (and will) read it over and over again. Right now, this is my top candidate for next year's Cybils Fiction Picture Book nominations. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion 
Publication Date: November 24, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


With Malice: Eileen Cook

Book: With Malice
Author: Eileen Cook
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

I picked up With Malice one afternoon, when I needed a little break from work, and simply could not put it down. With Malice begins when 18-year-old Jill wakes up in a hospital. She's been seriously injured in a car accident, and has no memory of the previous six weeks, including what was supposed to have been a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy. She soon learns that she is not the only one who has questions about what happened in Italy, and particularly what led to the car accident. A media frenzy and legal case ensues. 

What follows is a deconstruction of the events as revealed through police interviews, news stories, blog and Facebook posts, interspersed with the experiences (mainly from before the accident) that Jill does remember.  Every piece of information, every revelation about personality or intentions, feels like a tiny clue, as the reader (and Jill) tries to figure out what happened. I read With Malice over about 24 hours, because I simply could not stop until I knew what had happened. 

Eileen Cook's characterization is masterful, particularly of Jill and her best friend, Simone. Jill's roommate from rehab is a delight. Even some of the tertiary characters, revealed mainly through interviews with the policy, come through clearly. But of course it is Jill's experience that is at the heart of the story. She suffered brain damage in the accident, and struggles with aphasia (not being able to come up with the right word when she is talking). Like this (as she is thinking to herself):

"I'd never been in the hospital before. Well, once in second grade. I fell off the -- Dammit. Now I can't think of what they're called. The ladder thing, suspended above the playground. Lion bars? No. Elephant bars. That's not it either, but that's like it. You swing across them. I'd had to get stitches, but I'd never stayed in the hospital before." (Page 6)

Impossible not to empathize with Jill - her perspective is so immediate. I'd like to talk about her more, but I don't want to give anything important away. With Malice is a book about which the less you know ahead of time, the better. Just read it. With Malice is a compelling mystery and a fascinating character study, with a ripped from the headlines subject. It is a pitch perfect summer reading delight! Recommended for teens and adults. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


Fortune Falls: Jenny Goebel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher: Scholastic Press (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


The Big Dark: Rodman Philbrick

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher: Blue Sky Press (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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


This is not a picture book! Sergio Ruzzier

Book: This is not a picture book!
Author: Sergio Ruzzier
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

This is not a picture book! by Sergio Ruzzier is about a yellow duck who is initially outraged to discover a book that doesn't have any picture. His insect friend is baffled (calling the very idea of a book without pictures "wacky"), but asks if Duck is able to read the book. He is! Inside the book he finds words that are funny, sad, wild, and peaceful, among others.

The reader sees the mood that Duck is experiencing on each page through Ruzzier's lovely pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations. My favorite is "and peaceful words", with which we see Duck lounging in a rowboat on a pink sea, with multicolored hills and clouds in the distance. If I had a print of that page, I would think seriously about putting it on my wall, to remind me of calm. The end of the book, where we see that Duck has been in his room the whole time, imagining the various scenes, is one that will resonate with book lovers everywhere. 

This is not a picture book! uses minimal text. My six year old daughter wanted to read the words herself our first time through, though I did offer some commentary. I only had to help her with a couple of less familiar words - this is definitely a book that can function as an early reader. 

The duck in the book bears a strong resemblance to the duck in Ruzzier's Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? (which my daughter and I love). My daughter actually thought that is was the same duck, though the two ducks are different colors. Ruzzier's illustration style is distinct, and perfect for this gentle but profound little book. I love his use of color, and the quirky supporting characters that show up in Duck's imagination. 

This is not a picture book! is one that I doubt librarians or book-loving parents will be able to resist. Ruzzier uses a picture book to convey the wonder of books that are only illustrated inside the reader's imagination. This would be an absolutely perfect book with which to introduce the idea of starting family chapter book read-alouds or audiobook listens. Fans of Ruzzier's work will also want to check this one out. This one is going on our keep shelf. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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