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Posts from February 2010

Sunday Afternoon Visits: February 28: Kidlitosphere News and Views

I've been spending some time weeding through my ridiculously large to be read pile this weekend, after a relatively hectic work-week, so I haven't had much time for reading blogs. But I managed to do a bit of catch-up today. Here are some links that I thought people might be interested in.

Cybils2009-150px This year, for the first time, you can purchase stickers to place on your Cybils finalist and winning titles. All of the information, and samples of the stickers, is available at the Cybils blog.

Speaking of book-related contests, School Library Journal's annual Battle of the Kids' Books starts tomorrow. This contest pits book against book, until a field of 16 is narrowed down to one by an illustrious panel of judges. Betsy Bird has the details at A Fuse #8 Production. You can also follow the action on Twitter at @SLJsBoB or at the Battle of the Kids' Books blog.

At The Reading Tub, Terry Doherty has an interview with Liz Burns from A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy. Terry says: "We *know* a lot about Elizabeth Burns’ book, TV and movie interests from A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, but she doesn’t talk much about her job as the Youth Services Consultant at the New Jersey State Library Talking Books and Braille Center. In fact, she makes it clear on the blog that what she says there is her opinion and not her employer’s. Last fall, after reading several articles about Braille literacy, I asked Liz if we could do an interview."

Speaking of Tea Cozy, Liz has sparked a discussion about the difference between "lit blogs" and "book blogs". All of the discussion is in the comments, so do go beyond the main post if you're interested in this. Personally, right at the moment, I don't have the energy for any clique-ish behavior or finger-pointing. But I'm glad that Liz is sorting things out. [See also Liz's thoughts on the new CommonSense Media ratings at Barnes & Noble's website.]

Colleen Mondor has the 12th edition of her What a Girl Wants series at Chasing Ray, with musings and book recommendations from authors about "Bad Girls" in literature. She says: "This month the panel discusses just what good and bad have to do with sex and the teenage girl, why we persist in labeling girls so much more harshly than boys and books that help readers navigate these ever present and always turbulent teen waters."

Amy has an interesting post at Literacy Launchpad about watching movies made from books, and why it's important to use them as an addition to, rather than a substitute for, reading the book.

Percy_Jackson_poster And speaking of movies made from books, check out the new Percy Jackson Reads! poster from the ALA store. There are also bookmarks available. I think this poster would be a great classroom addition - let's by all means jump on the coattails of the popularity of the book and the movie and use them to encourage reading. I'm sure that Rick Riordan agrees.

David Elzey continues his great series about building better boy books. Part 7 is about keeping things short. He says: "There are readers, many of them boys, who will pick up that book and judge it by its girth, by its font size, by the amount of white on the page. As a former bookseller, if I had a dollar for every boy I ever witnessed fan a book’s pages as a method for deciding whether or not to read it, I’d have enough money today to buy a small publishing house."

Happy-accident-31-300x296 Greg Pincus is offering a free consultation from his blog, The Happy Accident. He says: "At conferences recently, besides doing my main presentations, I’ve also been giving individual, shorter social media consultations (see below for the details of how they work). Because they’ve proven to be so popular, I’ve decided to start offering that same service here through The Happy Accident. To kick this new offering off  (and to help celebrate my fourth anniversary of blogging over at GottaBook), I’m going to give one of these consultations out for freeeeeee." Comment by midnight tonight with a recommended blog or blogs to enter. You'll already find a great list of recommended blogs in the comments.

Today is the last day of The Brown Bookshelf's 28 Days Later celebration of African American authors and illustrators, featuring Charles R. Smith, Jr. Of course, one of the great things about blogs is that it's easy to go back and look over the posts from the entire month, if you've missed them.  

Quick hits:

And now it's back to my towering stacks of books. Eventually, my creating order from the books will translate into more reviews for you. In the meantime, Terry will have this week's Literacy and Reading News round-Up tomorrow at The Reading Tub.

Carnival of Children's Literature and Poetry Friday

Carnivalbutton2 Sally Apokedak is hosting the new Carnival of Children's Literature at Whispers of Dawn. The carnival is a monthly celebration of children's books, authors, and literacy. Sally says: "I found bunches of new and interesting blogs this month and a shelfful of books that look really good. (Yikes! Shelfful is a funny looking word!)  No matter what you’re looking for, if it involves children’s books, from author interviews to marketing tips for authors, or from edgy YA novels to nonfiction books for youngsters, you’re bound to find something of interest in this carnival."

She's done a beautiful job of laying out detailed categories, and formatting to make the carnival easy to read. The new carnival is well worth your time, and the perfect way to start the weekend.

Also today, Jone MacCulloch is hosting Poetry Friday at Check It Out. She starts with her own "Ode to Poetry Friday", and closes with an announcement about her annual Poetry Postcard project, with lots of poetry links from around the blogosphere in between.

Happy Friday!

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).

Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up: February 22

Literacy Reading News RoundupThis week’s children’s literacy and reading news round-up, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page and Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub blog, is now available at Jen Robinson's Book Page. This week Terry Doherty and I have collected plenty of content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; and grants, sponsorships & donations.


This just in from Reading Rockets: "March 2nd is Read Across America Day, the nation's biggest read-in! Celebrated each year in honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday, it's a chance for families, schools, libraries, and communities to join together and celebrate reading. Send an e-card to your favorite book lovers and learn more about this NEA-sponsored event on our Read Across America resource page, where you'll also find great ideas for integrating Dr. Seuss into classroom and at-home literacy activities. Looking for great book ideas? Browse our themed book lists, featuring engaging stories for children (0-9 years old)."

And here's another idea for promoting literacy and encouraging community service. The Reading Tub is looking for student reviewers. Terry says: "If you have a reader – or know a reader – who is interested in reading and writing book reviews, we can help!  Over on the right-hand side (at the Reading Tub's blog), I have created a widget that lists middle-grade books for which we need a target audience review (I’m still loading titles).  We have an established protocol to guide the student through the review process. The books on our list are easily found, as they include many popular titles in libraries. Help from individual students, student groups, social groups, etc. would all be welcome.  We have volunteer opportunities listed with for those who want (or need) a formal record system for tracking their work."

The NCBLA blog offers another opportunity for taking action. Inspired by the news that the Boston Public Library system may have to close 10 branches and lay off one quarter of its staff,  they warn: "There are young people right now who do not have access to libraries because their school libraries have been shut down and their branch libraries have been closed.  If you care, raise your voice for libraries in your own community and in our nation! Call, email, write, and fax your local, state, and national representatives and let them know how you feel!"

Other library news was mixed this week. School Library Journal's Lauren Barack reported last Monday that the Mount Diablo Unified School District in California is eliminating school librarian positions. Wednesday, however, brought the more upbeat news that school librarian positions in Santa Rosa CA have been spared (at least for now) thanks to support from the teacher's union. A little ray of light in an otherwise dark time for libraries, especially school libraries.

We've mentioned these things before, but you still have a few days left to vote for literacy-related programs in the Pepsi Refresh project (vote through the end of Feburary - $1.3M will be given away in various categories, including education) and in Ideas for Change in America (the first round ends February 25th). In Ideas for Change, "the 10 most popular ideas will be presented at an event in Washington, DC to relevant members of the Obama Administration, and will subsequently mobilize its full community to support a series of grassroots campaigns to turn each idea into reality." You should obviously vote for what you believe in. But should you be interested, here's the direct link to vote for Everybody Wins! idea of a National Read to Kids campaign. And here's the direct link to vote for Reach Out and Read's Pepsi Refresh proposal to help 25,000 kids enter school more prepared.

Literacy Programs & Research

@DebbieDuncan brought to our attention a feature story by Jennifer Golson from the Star-Ledger about Project Storybook,  a program that lets incarcerated New Jersey parents use tapes to read to their children. "The program began at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township in 2003 through a collaboration between prison officials and children’s author Pat Brisson of Phillipsburg."

EagerReader Science Daily reports that a new study found that "the home literacy environment-what parents do at home in terms of literacy-and motivation predict children's various initial literacy skills, such as letter knowledge and vocabulary, differently across languages. These skills, in turn, ultimately predict future reading ability." Because English is such a difficult and inconsistent language, the home literacy environment is particularly critical (when compared with other languages). Link via @RascofromRIF. Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery.

The UK Press Association reports "Children who are read to daily at the age of three are more than two months ahead of their classmates in literacy and maths by the age of five, research has found. Reading is more important to a child's academic development than teaching them the alphabet or how to count, a study by the Institute of Education, University of London suggests. The study analysed the Foundation Stage Profile (FSP) results - the teacher assessment of five-year-olds carried out at the end of reception year of primary school in England - for more than 10,600 children taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS)." See also this article by Charlotte Martin in the Sun.

NLT(web)80px The Telegraph reported recently, in an article by Stephen Adams, on a National Literacy Trust study that found that fewer than half of children between the ages of 9 and 14 read fiction more than once a month. The article says: "Little more than four in 10 boys (42 per cent) regularly open the pages of a work of fiction, while among girls the proportion is only marginally higher, at 48 per cent. By comparison, websites, emails and blogs or social networking sites are now all more popular forms of leisure reading among that age group. " The actual study, as clarified by the National Literacy Trust, was from research conducted in 2007. Thanks to Jenny Schwartzberg for the link. has an excellent special report by Lisa Moran on the early literacy crisis. It includes background for why early literacy is important to future achievement, highlights from some ongoing efforts, and suggestions for taking action. Here's a snippet that caught my eye:  "A poll by the Pearson Foundation and Jumpstart found that while 95 percent of Americans consider early childhood literacy an important issue, they were not aware that reading to a child between the ages of 3 and 5 is critical for future achievement." But do read the whole thing. Link via @TeachStrategies.

You know that Terry and I both like programs that put a creative spin on promoting literacy. So you can understand why we noticed this Greenville News article about a "Pancake Palooza" to celebrate literacy and learning, and this Tennessean article about a Scrabble tournament for literacy. Fun stuff! Despite all of the depressing news about government funding for literacy programs and libraries, I remain encouraged by the endless variety of grassroots efforts.

21st Century Literacies

At there is an interesting proposal (and lots of discussion) about the merit of providing used Kindles for low-income/at-risk children as a way of raising literacy rates. Specifically, "refurbished Kindles, and Kindles with minor defects that can't be sold, [would be] provided to high-risk/low income children or schools at no cost, with the restriction that downloads be limited to free public domain titles (or maybe the massive number of titles between 99¢ and, let's say $1.99, IF there is a pre-funded account attached, though there are obvious risks and problems involved with such accounts.)"

NCFLlogobig The NCFL's latest Literacy Voices Roundup links to another interesting article about technology in the classroom. reports, in an article by Juan Antonio Lizama and Jeremy Slayton, that mobile devices may be the next wave in education, citing a Richmond, VA classroom where students watch historical videos on their iPods. The article does note that "While some schools embrace smart phones, iPods and other hand-held devices for instruction, educators are wary of students’ improper use of the technology and their exposure to the perils of the Internet."

Terry wrote last week about the ongoing debate on whether or not school libraries still need physical books. Middle school librarian Ms. Yingling responded by sharing her thoughts on technology in her library. Noting the realities of cost, she concludes: "The only way that I see, right now, to get them (the students) the number of books they need for a price that the tax payers in my district can afford is to buy paper books. It is not because I am resistant to technology; it is because I am a realist."

Grants and Donations

According to a recent press release in the Tucson Citizen, "Make Way For Books, a non-profit organization that  promotes early childhood literacy in limited resource areas of Tucson and  southern Arizona, today announced it has  received a $20,000 grant from Staples Foundation for Learning (SFFL), a private foundation created by Staples, Inc.  Funding from SFFL will  support Read to Me, Arizona!, a public awareness campaign to encourage  parents to read aloud to their children every day, starting at birth." Link via Jenny Schwartzberg.

According to another news release, "The Dollar General Literacy Foundation strengthens its commitment to education and literacy opportunities for the entire family by donating $500,000 to Volunteer USA. The funds will be used to advance family literacy programs in communities throughout Florida, Georgia and Tennessee."

In other news, "City National Bank's Reading is The way up(R) nonprofit literacy program, in partnership with Barnes & Noble, has donated nearly 11,000 new books to schools in the Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco and San Diego areas in an effort to promote literacy and support the local community. The donation marks an expansion of Los Angeles-based City National's literacy program from four schools in California last year to 12 schools in 2010."

Wrapping Up ...

Nonfictionmonday I have some additional children's literacy links, these focused on helping parents to encourage young readers, at Booklights today. Terry may also have some last-minute literacy and reading links at The Reading Tub. Although with more snow in the forecast, she may be out shoveling the driveway. [Have I mentioned lately how happy I am to be living in California this winter?]

Today's Nonfiction Monday round-up is at Diane Chen's School Library Journal blog, Practically Paradise. Thanks for your interest in children's literacy!

Guest Post at Presenting Lenore: Michael Grant's Gone Series

Gone Lenore from Presenting Lenore and I are book twins. We're frequent sources of book ideas for each other, despite living many thousands of miles apart. One thing that we both LOVE is reading post-apocalypse and dystopian stories. Lenore appreciates them so much that she's dedicated the entire month of February to celebrating dystopias on her blog. She was kind enough to ask me to participate.

Today, I have a guest post up at Presenting Lenore about Michael Grant's Gone series. I hope that you'll check it out. And while you're there, do check out Lenore's other posts for Dystopia February. If she can't turn you into a dystopia convert, no one can. Happy reading!

Thursday Afternoon Visits: February 18: Kidlitosphere News and Views

Kidlitosphere_button So I've been struggling through a bout of laryngitis this week. It's made me a bit cranky (or perhaps general malaise has made me cranky - whichever). But the nice thing about the whole online world is that I can still interact with people, without needing to talk. And so, here are a few tidbits from the Kidlitosphere and twitterverse.

First up, the Kidlitosphere's own Betsy Bird was profiled in Forbes today (online anyway)! Author Dirk Smillie calls her "the most powerful blogger in kids' books". And really, who could dispute that? I think she uses her power for good, though, don't you? I especially liked this part, a quote from Dan Blank: "She channels her oddness into this niche blog, which then extends beyond its niche. Why was she born to do this? Who knows?" But do read the whole article. It's great stuff!

Speaking of Betsy, she's at the halfway point in revealing the results of the top 100 children's books poll, with today's reveal of titles 51 to 55. The list of titles is a wonderful resource in and of itself. And what Betsy's doing with the posts, profiling each book, including cover images and quotes from contributors - it's truly a labor of love. She's made me want to go and read, or re-read, every single one of these titles. See also an interesting analysis of titles 100-71 by Eric Carpenter at What We Read and What We Think. Eric looks at things like distribution of votes, distribution of titles by decade, etc. His post is well worth a look.

Mockingjay While I love many of the titles on Betsy's list, the genre that catches my attention most reliably is dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, especially when published for young adults. There's been plenty of activity within my pet genre this week:

Cybils2009-150px My fellow Cybils panelist, Sam from, has posted mini-reviews of all of the non-winning finalists in our category, middle grade fantasy and science fiction. I'm not sure if or when I'll get to this myself, so I refer you to Sam's comments. They line up pretty well with what I would say, anyway. I'll also note that Joni Sensel's The Farwalker's Quest is a post-apocalyptic title, and thus had my automatic attention. Melissa also has a Farwalker's Quest review at One Librarian's Book Reviews.

Speaking of the Cybils, special thanks to Rocco Staino for a lovely writeup about the Cybils winners at School Library Journal.  

I-can-read-meme The February I Can Read Carnival (an idea launched by Terry Doherty, now in its second moth) is running right now at Anastasia Suen's 5 Great Books blog. Fittingly enough, Anastasia was the category organizer for the 2009 Easy Reader and Short Chapter Book committee of the Cybils. She has lots of excellent links for new readers.

Quick hits:

  • David Elzey continues his series on the aspects of books that appeal to boy readers. He talks about violence/conflict, action, and emotion in parts 3 through 5.  
  • At the Spectacle, KA Holt expresses her concern about lexile ratings being used to steer kids away from books that they want to read.
  • Travis has a very fun post at 100 Scope Notes predicting what books will be like in 3001. He is ridiculously creative, isn't he?
  • The Texas Sweethearts have named their newest Featured Sweetheart: Mitali Perkins. Great choice, wouldn't you say? You can read the interview here.
  • Liz B writes again, at Tea Cozy, about why it's wrong to sell advance reading copies, or place them in library collections. If she keeps saying it often enough, perhaps the message will get across. There's an extensive discussion going on in the comments.

And that's all for today. Hope you all found some news of interest. I'll have the roundup of literacy and reading news up on Monday.

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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: February 18

Jpg_book007Today I will be sending out the new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's books and raising readers. It is sent out once every two weeks. There are currently 1022 subscribers.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have two book reviews (one middle grade and one nonfiction title for adults), one post with Kidlitosphere news, two children's literacy round-ups (both posted in detail at The Reading Tub), an announcement about the Cybils awards, and an announcement about an interview that I did at the Texas Sweethearts blog.

At Booklights, I recently shared a different post about the Cybils, as well as the latest installment of my Tips for Growing Bookworms series (this one about being selective in television watching).  

Reading Update: I had an eclectic couple of weeks, reading-wise. I read one picture book, one middle grade title, one YA title, one adult thriller, and one adult nonfiction title.

  • Joyce Sidman (ill. Pamela Zagarenski): Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors. Houghton Mifflin. Completed February 17, 2010. This title was the 2009 Cybils winner for Poetry, and also was a Caldecott Honor Book. It's beautiful.
  • Chris Grabenstein: The Hanging Hill. Random House. Completed February 4, 2010. My review.
  • Dom Testa: The Web of Titan: A Galahad Book. Tor Teen. Completed February 7, 2010.
  • Stephen White: The Siege. Dutton Adult. Completed February 14, 2010. This title is a shift from White's Alan Gregory series, focusing on suspended detective Sam Purdy. It's about a hostage crisis at Yale. I found it suspenseful, but a bit choppy. I liked the last Stephen White book I read better.
  • Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman: NurtureShock: New Thinking About Childen. Twelve. Completed February 17, 2010. My review.

I'm currently re-reading Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook. How about you? What have you been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms.

© 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).

Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up: February 15

Jpg_book008 This week’s children’s literacy and reading news round-up, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page and Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub blog, is now available at the Reading Tub. This week Terry Doherty and I have collected plenty of content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; and grants, sponsorships & donations.

Terry_readingtubfinal_1Here are a couple of interesting tidbits from the roundup:

"The New York Times Room for Debate blog takes on the question of whether or not school libraries need books. A number of panelists respond formally (including the headmaster of Cushing Academy, the school that announced last fall that they were getting rid of most of their books), followed by 300+ reader comments."

"In a commentary for Education Week, Nancie Atwell makes the case for “why literature should continue to be taught in the 21st century.” Atwell says: “giving corporate interests a role in setting education policy is like letting foxes supervise the henhouse. These foxes are not vested in children’s reading books. They are interested in profitmaking—in selling prefab curricula, standards, and the diagnostic, formative, and summative tests that measure them.”"

Booklights In other news: My post at Booklights today is about the Cybils winners. The most recent Poetry Friday roundup was hosted by Lee Wind. Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is being hosted by Amy Graves.

The Cybils Winners Are Here!

Cybils2009-150px Around the corner of the Internet known as the Kidlitosphere, February 14th is a double holiday. It's Valentine's Day, of course, that annual celebration of love and chocolate. But February 14th is also the day that the Cybils winners are announced. The Cybils are an annual celebration of children's and young adult literature that is both well-written and kid-friendly.

This year, there are twelve winning titles, in categories ranging from easy readers to poetry to middle grade graphic novels to young adult fiction. You can find the complete list of winners, with descriptions, at the Cybils blog.

I was on the second round judging committee for middle grade fantasy and science fiction this year. From this shortlist: 

11 Birthdays
by Wendy Mass
Nominated by: Maggi Idzikowski

Dreamdark: Silksinger (Faeries of Dreamdark)
by Laini Taylor
Putnam Juvenile
Nominated by: Melissa

Farwalker's Quest, The
by Joni Sensel
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Joan Stradling

Odd and the Frost Giants
by Neil Gaiman
Nominated by: Susan the Librarian Pirate

Prince of Fenway Park, The
by Julianna Baggott
Nominated by: Doret

Serial Garden, The: The Complete Armitage Family Stories (Junior Library Guild Selection)
by Joan Aiken
Big Mouth House
Nominated by: Charlotte

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
by Grace Lin
Little, Brown
Nominated by: EM

We selected:

Silkinger cover final Silksinger! You can read my review (written well before the judging period). Or you can read Laini Taylor's response to having her book selected. Here's the blurb that my fellow judges and I put together about the book:

"The judges were blown away by the three-dimensional world-building, believable characterization, lyrical writing and non-stop adventure of this complex fantasy. Silksinger picks up where Blackbringer left off, as fairy champion Magpie fights to find the sleeping Djinn and restore them to their rightful places of power. We meet two new fairy heroes along the way, each with secrets of his or her own. Themes of friendship and betrayal are explored in a way that doesn't shy away from ambiguity or nastiness, while retaining strong appeal for middle grade readers. Although it is a sequel, Silksinger is satisfying on its own -- but why wouldn't you want to start with the first book in this compelling series?"

Many thanks to my fellow judges:

Tarie Sabido, Into the Wardrobe
Emily Mitchell, emilyreads
Melissa Baldwin, One Librarian's Book Reviews
Sam Musher, Parenthetical

They were a pleasure to work with, thoughtful and responsive and passionate about finding just the right mix of beautiful writing and page-turning story. We think that you'll find Silksinger a winner. Thanks also to category organizer Sheila Ruth for keeping us on track.

I hope that you'll all consider reading Silksinger, as well as the other Cybils winners. A lot of people put a lot of thought into selecting this set of wonderful titles. While we of course support libraries and independent booksellers, we are also hoping that enough people purchase the winning books from Amazon that we see a blip in the sales numbers for the winners. We find this a nice, tangible way to say, to publishers and authors, that the Cybils make a difference.

And remember, you can find a printable list of all of the shortlist titles in the upper right-hand corner of the Cybils blog.

Congratulations to all of the Cybils winners! And Happy Valentine's Day! 

Wednesday Afternoon Visits: February 10: Celebrating My New Niece with Book-Related Links

For me today, the Kidlitosphere news pales in comparison to the real-world news that I'm an aunt! Although this is one of those times that I wish I didn't live 3000 miles away from my family, I'm still very happy for my brother and sister-in-law, and looking forward to meeting my new niece. And, of course, I'm looking forward to buying her lots of books.

Meanwhile, there has been a lot going on around the Kidlitosphere this past week. Here are some links for your perusal:

The biggest news is that Betsy Bird has started reporting the results of her Top 100 Children's Books Poll at A Fuse #8 Production. Betsy asked readers to share their list of top 100 children's books of all time. She's compiled the results, and is reporting the list in small chunks, complete with commentary and assorted covers for each book. These posts (see 100-91, 90-86, 85-81) are truly an amazing resource, filled with quotes and memories about beloved books, new and old. Even though we're only 20 titles in, I would venture to suggest that the completed list is going to make an excellent recommended reading list. In fact, I actually dreamed about reading these posts last night. Stay tuned to A Fuse #8 Production for the rest of the Top 100.

For anyone who might be snowed in this week, Joan S. at the First Book blog suggests: "Settling in to enjoy a GOOD BOOK doesn’t require electricity or a wireless connection. Satellite dishes may be covered with snow, wires may be down, but READING A BOOK just takes a quiet nook and a willingness to enjoy the moment."

I noticed two posts today about creative classroom activities dedicated to popular books. At Educating Alice, Monica Edinger shares a mural that her students created after reading When You Reach Me together as a class. And at Learn Me Sumthin', Tony's class is tracking Percy Jackson's adventures using Google Maps. Here's a snippet from Tony's post: "Some very unexpected and wonderful things started to happen. The classroom conversations about writing became stronger, because I think the kids really started to see the connection that fiction, even fantasy like The Lightning Thief, is more 'real' when the author can layer in events, details that are real. Also the importance of setting, which can get lost of 4th grade writers is now more apparent."

Speaking of classrooms, Everybody Wins! reports: " has created some beautiful literary-inspired valentines -- that you can download for free at They are perfect for teachers or mentors to use in the classroom this week. They are created for readers of all-ages and perfect to give to the book lovers in your life." Here's the direct link. They are very cute! 

And in other Percy Jackson news, Amanda from A Patchwork of Books reports: "The Guardian has an awesome interview with author Rick Riordan (of Percy Jackson fame) about his son's dyslexia and ADHD preventing him from enjoying reading. Well Mr. Percy Jackson's story helped fix that!". Of course, the Lightning Thief movie comes out on Friday, too, so we'll be hearing lots more about Percy in the coming weeks.

David Elzey is writing a series (based on work that he did as part of a graduate residency) on building better boy books. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here. Part 1 is introductory, while Part 2 is about grabbing the attention of boys by using humor. David says: "there are subtleties to some forms of humor that boys respond to above others that can be incorporated into fiction. Knowing these elements might help explain what makes many boys – both readers and characters – tick."

Charlotte's web At Booklights, Susan Kusel discusses reading Charlotte's Web aloud to young children (who might not cope well with Charlotte's death). Susan notes: "As a librarian, I frequently get asked what age the book is appropriate for. My answer is always that it depends on your child. Will they be able to handle it?" Commenters seem to agree.

Also at Booklights, Terry Doherty has launched a new monthly column called A Prompt Idea. She says: "Each month, I'll talk about writing and suggest ways to add writing to children's literacy diet. Even if your child isn't ready to put pen to paper, prompts can open the doors to building vocabulary, honing communication skills, and being creative. Varying the outlets for writing and communicating is as important as offering different types of reading materials."

Abby (the) Librarian and Kelly of Stacked are starting a new monthly roundup of posts about audiobooks. Abby says: "We want to encourage people to listen to audiobooks and to post about them. We want to provide a place for people to find out about great audiobooks."

Cybils2009-150px The Cybils winners will be announced this Sunday (Valentine's Day). In the meantime, the Cybils blog has been running a fun series about the inside scoop on the nominees in various categories. Here's Part I, Part II, and Part III. I continue to be wowed that Deputy Editor Sarah Stevenson manages to keep up her own blog, and keep coming up with creative content for the Cybils blog, too.

Quick hits:

And that's it for today. I'm feeling much better having the starred items in my reader cleaned up, and I'm off to watch the Duke/UNC game with a friend. Happy reading, all!

Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up: February 8

Jpg_book008 This week’s children’s literacy and reading news round-up, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book Page and Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub blog, is now available at the Reading Tub. This week Terry Doherty and I have collected plenty of content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; 21st century literacies; and grants, sponsorships & donations.

Terry_readingtubfinal_1Terry is calling this the post-snowmaggedon edition. Seems like she had plenty of time for compiling links, while snowed in in Virginia. Here are a couple of highlights:

"Have you heard about the Pepsi Refresh project? Pepsi is giving away $1.3M to fund a variety of projects, at different funding levels. If you sign up for the site (or sign in using your Facebook ID), you can vote for up to 10 ideas (out of 729 submitted ideas) each day in February. You can browse the ideas here. We would never tell anyone else what to vote for - there are many, many great causes. But we will point out that three organizations that we regularly mention in the literacy roundups are in the running for a $250,000 education award: Everybody Wins (to provide lunchtime reading mentors), Reach Out and Read (to promote school readiness) and Better World Books with the NCFL (to distribute 1 million children's books).

Spiritofpapertigers The PaperTigers team, staunch advocates of global literacy, have launched the Spirit of Paper Tigers Project. According to the project announcement, "The idea is to donate 100 book sets of 7 carefully selected multicultural books to libraries and schools in areas of need across the globe." You can view the list of selected titles here."

And here is one lamentable lowlight:

RIF"President Obama's proposed budget also eliminates funding for Reading is Fundamental. Without RIF, more than 4.4 million children and families will not receive books. Without getting political ... Jen and I believe strongly in the power of early literacy, and this would be a very serious blow to at-risk readers. Read what Executive Director Carol Rasco has to say in her Alert at Rasco from RIF, as well as her statement on the RIF website."

Terry has a host of other interesting links this week. I hope that you'll click through to check them out.

Booklights I also have a new post up today at Booklights. It's the 8th installment of my Tips for Growing Bookworms series. This one is on being selective about television watching.