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Posts from April 2011

Otis & Sydney and the Best Birthday Ever: Laura Numeroff

Book: Otis & Sydney and the Best Birthday Ever
Author: Laura Numeroff
Illustrator: Dan Andreasen
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-8

Cover Otis & Sydney and the Best Birthday Ever is a picture book about the joys of best-friendship. Otis and Sydney are two little brown bears who look quite similar to one another, and have very similar tastes. They become best friends, and after that they do everything together. One year, Otis decides to throw a surprise birthday party for Sydney. He plans lots of fun activities, but a mistake on Otis' part very nearly ruins everything. Not to worry, though. Best-friendship triumphs.

OK, so it's a tiny bit sappy. But it worked for me, and I think that kids will love it. Otis and Sydney are both adorable, with their wide smiles and laughing eyes, and their respective overalls and suspenders. They like to do fun things, like play tug-of-war and wear silly costumes and play the harmonica. There's an enormous birthday cake. I think that Laura Numeroff has a pretty keen sense of what kids will find enjoyable.

But what really makes the book work for me is the same thing that I like about James Marshall's George and Martha (who are clearly literary predecessors to Otis and Sydney). The friendship is strong, and completely unthreatened by any mistakes or mishaps. It's not a book about overcoming challenges in friendship, or anything like that. We just have two little bears who are best friends, in the simplest, purest sense of the word. They like to do the same things, and spend time together. It's reassuring. It's comforting.

I love Dan Andreasen's pen and ink (with digital coloring) illustrations. The pen and ink is used to give everything a detailed, cross-hatched texture, from Sydney and Otis' fur to the grass to the rope used for the tug-of-war. And the expressions on the faces of Otis and Sydney and their friends exude such joy. There are lots of small vignettes on many of the pages, keeping the action flowing, and making the book accessible to impatient young readers.  

In short, Otis & Sydney and the Best Birthday Ever is going on our "keep" shelf. I expect it to garner many reads. And I hope that Otis and Sydney return soon for other adventures.

Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 1, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 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).

Happy Birthday, Baby Bookworm!

Birthday_cake Amazing as it seems, my Baby Bookworm is one year old today. She had a bit of a rough start (arriving 10 weeks early at 3+ pounds, and spending 5 weeks in the NICU), but today she's healthy and happy and pretty much caught up relative to her "corrected age". I like to look back at the very early photos from time to time, to remind myself of how far we've come. We're so very, very lucky. She had excellent care at the hospital, and we've had wonderful support from family and friends.

But what my blog-reading friends most likely want to know is: is she really a Baby Bookworm? So hard to say, really, when watching a one-year-old. For sure she loves books. But she mostly likes to, well, eat them. Does that count?

Seriously, though, she has spent her first year surrounded by shelves and baskets and piles of books. She definitely enjoys picking them up and looking at them. Her favorites right now are lift-the-flap and touch-and-feel books - she especially likes the DK Peekaboo series, which has flaps to lift and fun things to touch, and the Clackers series from Random House. She's developing an appreciation for pop-up books, too. [I'm developing a new appreciation for scotch tape.]

I read aloud to her as often as I can - usually multiple times a day. You can see our 2011 reading list here. She doesn't have a lot of patience for sitting still, so I often read at her while she's doing something else - playing or sitting in her high chair. She tends to tear at the pages of picture books, so our lap-reading consists mostly of board books. I also continue to read her chapter books, when she's in my lap and willing to listen. And I usually have an audiobook going when we're in the car.

We've just started visiting the library. She's not sure what to make of it yet, but I've enjoyed having additional sources of books. We plan to start attending storytimes soon. And we're keeping up her wish list for new titles to own - book buying has really become a vice with me these days.

And that's the reading life of Baby Bookworm, age one. It makes me happy to know that the years when she'll really start to appreciate books are still ahead of us. We'll be focusing on birthday books for the rest of this week on the blog.

To all of you who have offered support and encouragement this past year, thank you. We couldn't have done it without you.

Happy Birthday, Baby Bookworm! You bring us joy every day.

[Update: see also the absolute perfect virtual birthday cake for a Baby Bookworm at Rasco from RIF today]

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: April 4

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 and young adult books and raising readers. There are 1375 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book review posts (all picture books and board books) and two children's literacy roundups (one published here and one at Rasco from RIF). I also have a Booklights reissue post about favorite fictional houses from children's literature. All of my posts from the past two weeks are included in the newsletter.

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I finished only two books (besides picture books and board books, see those here and here):

  • Tim Egan: Dodsworth in Rome. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. Completed April 1, 2011. I adore Dodsworth and the Duck!
  • Carrie Ryan. The Dark and Hollow Places (Book 3 of the Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy). Random House. Completed March 31, 2011.

Reviews to come. I'm still listening to the latest book in Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series, Bury Your Dead, and reading D.E. Stevenson's Celia's House aloud to Baby Bookworm.

How about you? What have you been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms.

© 2011 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 Roundup: Early April Edition

JkrROUNDUP The early April children’s literacy and reading news round-up, brought to you by Jen Robinson’s Book PageScrub-a-Dub-Tub, and Rasco from RIF is now available here. Over the past month Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco and I have collected plenty of content for you about literacy & reading-related events; literacy and reading programs and research; and suggestions for growing bookworms. Carol also shared a March review and look forward at April/May/June events at Rasco from RIF last week.

ShareAStoryLogo-color We didn't do a mid-month roundup in March because Terry was working so hard on the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour. If you somehow missed that, please do check out this master post, with links to the many amazing article about unwrapping the gift of literacy. As Carol pointed out, lots of people worked on contributions to Share a Story, but no one was as tireless as SAS founder and champion Terry Doherty. She certainly deserved a break from the roundup.

But now we're here, with a host of lovely literacy-related events for April. I hope that spring has sprung wherever you are.


NPM_LOGO_2008_final April is National Poetry Month, an event always embraced by the Kidlitosphere. There are far too many events going on for me to mention them all here. But fortunately, Irene Latham compiled a thorough list, which Pam Coughlan presented at Kidlitsosphere Central. Do take a moment to check out the bounty of events.

30days_2 One particular initiative that I would like to mention is something new that Greg Pincus (Gregory K from Gotta Book) is undertaking. He's launched a Kickstarter project called Poetry: Spread the Word. The idea is that individuals can pledge to contribute to the project, and thus become patrons of the arts. If the project is funded to the tune of $5000, Greg will commence a flurry of writing and sharing original poetry and making visits schools to talk about poetry. Greg says: "I think poetry - like music, art and the arts in general - is critical for kids to experience. Yet with budget cuts and shifting priorities, it's happening less and less. It's time to find creative and replicable solutions to the problem." Personally, the part that drew me in to become an official backer of Poetry: Spread the Word was the school visits. I never like to tell other people how to spend their money. But if you love poetry for kids, this project is well worth a look (and well on the way to being funded already). See also Greg's annual 30 Poets/30 Days poetry tour, already in progress.

If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend that you check out the March Carnival of Children's Literature at Playing by the Book. Zoe Toft did an amazing job of categorizing more than 50 posts on topics like early literacy, picture books, poetry, and more. She's highlighted posts by first-time contributors and posts that especially spoke to her (including Read Aloud Dad's post about how reading aloud made him a better father, which I love, too). It's an editorial triumph, and a great place to start to catch up on the doings of the Kidlitosphere.

Speaking of Playing by the Book, Zoe brought to our attention two other events this month. First, she brought us the scoop about a new Twitter forum for adults who want to talk about children's books. Chats will take place every other Sunday at noon Pacific Time. I haven't been able to participate yet, but I do have the chats on my calendar. Zoe also shared a roundup of Bookish Ways to Help Japan.

Images Drop Everything And Read (D.E.A.R.) Day will be celebrated in the US on April 12th, Beverly Cleary's birthday. National D.E.A.R. Day is a special reading celebration to remind and encourage families to make reading together on a daily basis a family priority. Leaders include: The National Education Association (NEA); Parent Teacher Association (PTA); the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association; Reading Rockets; The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC); the Newspaper Association of America Foundation (NAA); First Book; HarperCollins Children’s Books; Read Kiddo Read; Walden Media and Ramona Quimby. But really, anyone can participate. Just make some time on April 12th to read with your family. Bonus points for reading a Ramona book!

Literacy Programs and Research

Because she is apparently tireless when it comes to sharing information about children's books, Zoe from Playing by the Book also held a book drive last month for families in Christchurch, New Zealand, following a terrible earthquake. Terry found a post thanking Zoe and others who helped at Day 1 Every Pen In The House Ran Out Of Ink.

In a guest post at Margo Dill's Read These Books and use Them, Sharon Burch explains the role music plays in our development, and, by extension literacy.  "Humans are 'wired' for music. Until recently, scientists did not know how music affected the brain ...  Most activities only cause a portion of the brain to “light up” with activity; thus, the saying, right brain/left brain, etc. But there are actually four parts to the brain and music makes ALL of the areas “light up” and create new neural pathways as a person is learning and playing an instrument."

A recent study by the Journal Research in Social Stratification found that having more books in the home was correlated with higher education levels for kids. I found a piece on this at, via @RoomToRead. GOOD's Patrick James says "It makes sense that having access to books and being keen to seek books out on ones own would lead to a greater interest in reading and schooling. I wonder how electronic books and iPads would factor in to a future study like this." Personally, I think it's more likely to be correlation relative to what the parents think are important. People who buy lots of books are people who encourage their kids to go on to higher education. So I think you could be buying those books in digital format, too. (Though certainly my home will always be filled with physical books, and I see the appeal of thinking "if you buy more books, your kid will end up having more years of education"). More details in this Salon piece.

As the mother of an "ex-preemie" (turning 1 year old tomorrow!), I was particularly interested in a recent Boston Globe article by Carolyn Y. Johnson about the effects of mothers' voices on preemies. The results aren't in yet, but the participants make recordings of their voices, which are played for the babies in the NICU. This is one of those studies that I think is good to do, so that if there's a significant effect, more people will use recordings, etc. But the idea of talking to your premature baby as much as you can, and reading books aloud, well for me that was just what I wanted to do anyway. (via @ReachOutAndRead)

Talking to your kids early and often is one thing, but new research is showing that teaching kids more and more, at ever-younger ages, is counterproductive. Alison Gopnik at Slate reports on two upcoming studies that find "while learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution." She gives some interesting examples of experiments where kids find more creative solutions on their own, when they don't have the answers spoon-fed to them. Which makes complete sense to me.  I'm already trying to get Baby Bookworm to figure things out on her own when she can, even though it's hard sometimes not to help. (via @PWKidsBookshelf)

Suggestions for Growing Bookworms

At Delightful Children's Books, Amy and her children are reading their way around the world, and they invite others to join them.  The tour is grouped by continent, and so far includes visits to South America and Africa, with more to follow. Parents, if your kids are armchair travelers (or you'd like them to be), this is something to check out.

And for a much more local program, both @DebbieDuncan and I enjoyed this San Jose Mercury News piece by Carol Rosen about a Reading Buddies program that pairs teens with younger kids. "It's a program that allows parents a little time to themselves, while area teens enchant the children with different books, and encourage the youngsters to find reading fun and adventurous. It also lets these kids know that older children enjoy reading and in turn promotes emulation." Lovely! And while we're talking about teens who are promoting literacy, see also this Book_Dads interview with 18-year-old author and literacy advocate Riley Carney at Blog Talk Radio.

I also enjoyed this School Library Journal interview by Debra Lau Whelan of second grader Bella Grace Tyler, who challenged herself to read 1000 books in a year (she's going to make it, too).  Now this is a kid after my own heart. I guess it's not a suggestion for growing bookworms, exactly, but just goes to show that challenging kids to read more books can work, if it's done right. A library contest got Bella Grace started. (Via the ExtraHelping newsletter) Reading Rockets, in a guest article by Reach Out and Read, shares family read-aloud tips for parents of children with ADHD. For example: "If your child has ADHD, paying attention for long periods of time can be a challenge. So, meet the challenge head-on — make reading time fun time for you and your child. First, pick a quiet spot away from TV, radio, and video game noise. Read for short periods at a time and put the book away if your child loses interest. Pick up the book later and read for another short time period." But do check out the whole piece. (via @ReadingRockets)

That's all I have for you today. I have a birthday to get ready for, after all! But I'm sure that Carol and Terry will both be checking in on their own blogs later today with other literacy tidbits. Thanks for reading the roundup, and for your interest in Children's Literacy! And happy baseball season, for those of you who celebrate it. Go Red Sox!

Stop Snoring, Bernard!: Zachariah Ohora

Book: Stop Snoring, Bernard!
Author/Illustrator: Zachariah Ohora
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

Cover Stop Snoring, Bernard!, as you might guess from the cover and title, is a picture book about an otter named Bernard. Bernard's only problem, in an otherwise idyllic zoo life, is that he snores. Loudly. When fellow otter Grumpy Giles complains, Bernard searches the zoo for other places to sleep. But not only are the other habitats less than congenial for the young otter, the other animals aren't so thrilled with him either. He continually hears: "Stop snoring, Bernard!".

I personally found the resolution of this book, in which the other otters miss Bernard and want him back, snoring and all, a bit unsatisfying. Bernard doesn't really DO anything that fixes the problem - it basically resolves itself. But young children will probably find the ultimate message, about being accepted for who you are, reassuring.

And I did still like the book. Ohora's acrylic illustrations are both funny and touching, with bold lines, and a focused color palette. I especially enjoyed Grumpy Giles, with his dramatically narrowed eyebrows and down-turned mouth. The places that Bernard chooses to sleep, like in a fountain, are pleasantly ridiculous. The page where "He even tried sleeping in a puddle! But that really didn't work" is sure to elicit both giggles and sympathy for Bernard (he has bags under his eyes, poor thing). And having him spend a night with the bats (who don't sleep at night anyway) is rather ingenious. For me, the illustrations make the book.

I recommend Stop Snoring, Bernard! for young animal-lovers, and anyone with a keen sense of the ridiculous. Kids who have parents who snore might especially get a kick out of this book - I can almost hear choruses of "Stop snoring, Daddy!" echoing around the country.

Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 12, 2011
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Please note that quotes are from the ARC, and should be compared with the final, finished book.

© 2011 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).