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Posts from July 2012

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: June in Review

JkrROUNDUPThe end of June Children's Literacy and Reading News roundup, brought to you by Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco and me, is now available at Quietly (Carol's new blog). I'm happy to report that Carol and Terry both have their power back, after the "DERECHO" that attacked the East Coast this week (though power outages did delay the roundup a bit). Nevertheless, Carol has the scoop on all things children's literacy and literature-related (well, ok, not all things, because that would be impossible. But many things).

Here are a few highlights:

  • "Poll results! Let’s start exactly where last month’s “events” section concluded…don’t miss Betsy Bird’s complete polls on chapter books and picture books; her introductory post on the winners will set the stage for you. Read about signing up to receive an email with a link to download the PDF of all the posts for both sets of the complete posts when published. Betsy Bird has done a great service for all of us who revere children’s books through her detailed posts on each winning book. Thank you, Betsy!" You can also find the complete top 100 picture books list here
  • How did LeBron James keep himself focused before the big games in the NBA finals? By reading books. Publicly. See this Washington Post article by Valerie Strauss. I love it when people that kids look up to demonstrate the value of reading. This is an excellent example!
  • "It’s back…and I’m so glad! LeVar Burton has brought back Reading Rainbow: Take a Look. It’s in a Book. And it’s an APP! Head to the site now, you’ll feel better just seeing and reading LeVar’s posts, I sure do!"
  • Plus a whole slew of resources about summer reading and the importance of play. Click through to see.

And here are a few other things that I ran across recently:

  •  At the ALSC blog, Sondra Eklund discusses early learning and technology, and whether the interactivity of apps will end up being helpful for kids' learning. My own take-home from the article was about the importance of responding to kids, rather than just talking at them. I'm also thinking that I should re-read Nurture Shock
  • In a Guardian blog post, author Michael Morpurgo shares his thoughts on the ways that we are failing boys in the enjoyment of reading. The piece is impassioned and yet clearly articulated, and is well worth a look. See also: We Are Not Doing Enough for Boys in Young People's Publishing at the NCBLA blog. 
  • This one isn't about children's reading, but I still think that it is fascinating. According to the Guardian, "Brazil will offer inmates in its crowded federal penitentiary system a new way to shorten their sentences: a reduction of four days for every book they read." Via Stacked
  • Congratulations to The Nerdy Book Club for winning their first Independent Book Bloggers Award. I really enjoyed this post, in which Donalyn Miller discusses both the award and their guiding principles regarding book reviews and book promotion. Here's her conclusion: "As a teacher, I gut check every decision by asking, “What is the right thing for the kids?” I think this ideal has been a good compass for Nerdy Book Club, too. Any blog dedicated to elevating young adult and children’s literature should be about the kids. As long as Nerdy Book Club continues to celebrate children and their books, we can’t go wrong." 

And that's all for today. I'll be sharing some other Twitter links, not quite so relevant for the roundup, in a separate post. We're going to skip the mid-July roundup because, well, it's already July 6th, and we all have a lot going on this month. But Carol will be back with the end of July roundup before you know it. And in the meantime, you can find us on Twitter at @CHRasco, @ReadingTub, and @JensBookPage.

Thanks for caring about children's literacy, and have a great weekend! 


Bailey & Bailey at the Museum: Harry Bliss

Books: Bailey and Bailey at the Museum 
Author: Harry Bliss
Pages: 32 (each)
Age Range: 3-8

In a sad commentary on how behind I am, by the time I was ready to review Harry Bliss' Bailey, the sequel, Bailey at the Museum, had arrived. So I decided to discuss the two books together (though the second book won't be available until September 1st). 

Images (4)Harry Bliss' Bailey is a huge hit in our house. Bailey is a small, spotted dog, who (apparently) lives by himself and attends elementary school. All of his classmates are kids, and the running gag is the way that the kids (and teacher, and principal) accept Bailey as a member of the class, despite his frequent demonstrations of dog-like behavior (digging around in the trash, licking people, etc.). 

Bailey is chock-full of humor, some of which may be over the heads of young readers. This is consistent with Bliss' work as a New Yorker cartoonist / cover artist, and with his illustrations for the Diary of a Worm series by Doreen Cronin. He clearly wants his books to appeal to parents as well as to kids. My favorite is a page in which Bailey's teacher asks for his homework. A thought bubble shows Bailey eating his own homework, a delightful riff on "the dog ate my homework". 

I think that Bailey is also a great title for promoting early literacy. Much of the text is conveyed in dialog bubbles and thought bubbles (with the latter including everything that Bailey "says" - he doesn't actually speak out loud). Pointing to each bubble while reading it aloud is a great way to show kids that there are words there, in a completely seamless manner. You have to point, to show which kid (or dog) is saying what. In light of recent research that touts the benefits of pointing at the text, this format seems like a real win-win. The dialog bubbles also give the books a bit of a graphic novel feel. And they are frequently funny. For example, when the principal tells Bailey not to lick anyone today, a fellow student thinks: "That's good advice!"

Bailey is definitely more a book for active sharing than for, say, a soothing bedtime read-aloud. All of the dialog bubbles make the reading a bit choppy. The sentences are all short and straightforward, with no fancy vocabulary. In fact, it would probably be a good early reader, too. 

Bliss' illustrations are crisp and colorful. Bailey's features are expressive, as is his frequently wagging tail. The kids have a tendency to look like mini-adults, particularly the ones with glasses (through which the eyes are never seen). But there's still a kid-friendly joy to the pictures. 

[I do, after many, many read-aloud sessions of Bailey with Baby Bookworm, have one complaint about the illustrations. Bailey is shown (see cover image above) as an off-white dog with brown spots. His spots are large and irregular, and Baby Bookworm (age 2) can not accept that they are not dirt. Every time we read the book we have to explain, again, that he's not dirty - this is just the way his fur is. But she'll get it eventually ;-) ]

All in all, though, Bailey is a can't miss title. It worked immediately for my two-year-old, and for me, though I suspect that the real sweet spot is more with 3-5 year old preschoolers. Top-notch illustrations, kid-and-parent-friendly humor, and an engaging protagonist. What more could one want from a picture book for pre- and new readers?

Images (5)Bailey at the Museum features, as one would expect from the title, Bailey going with his class on a field trip to the Museum of Natural History. The temptation of dinosaur bones results in Bailey having to be accompanied by his own personal museum guard. But our hero charms the guard, and still has an excellent visit. 

Bliss continues to add entertaining details for the alert reader. For example, at lunch the guard is reading a book called "Guarding Stuff" by "Don T. Touch". The children and adults walk along in height order in front of a painting of monkeys evolving to upright men (in height order). Bailey is unable to resist drinking from the fountain in front of the museum, and a pigeon muses "Looks like trouble!". 

I didn't find Bailey at the Museum quite as funny as the original book, though. Perhaps the joke of a dog engaging in regular kid activities (but being tempted to bad behavior by his doggy nature) is wearing a little thin. But it's equally well-illustrated, and equally well-suited to promoting early literacy. I think that fans of the first book will definitely want to give Bailey at the Museum a look. I do highly recommend both books for preschoolers and the adults who read with them.  

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: August 1, 2011 (Bailey) and September 1, 2012 (Bailey at the Museum)
Source of Books: Review copies from the publisher

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


Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! by Mary Jo Amani & Lehla Eldridge

Book: Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! 
Author: Mary Jo Amani
Illustrator: Lehla Eldridge
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

ImagesExcuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! was the winner of the NAESP Children's Book Competition for Picture Books in 2011, and was subsequently published by Charlesbridge. Author Mary Jo Amani is the founder of Libros para Niños/Books for Kids Africa, a non-profit that promotes the joy of reading in Nicaragua and Mozambique, and a portion of the sales from Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! will go towards funding mobile community and school libraries in rural villages in Mozambique. Which is all lovely. But the question for me as a reviewer, and a parent, is: does the book hold up as a entertaining read? And I think that it does, though it's more a concept book than a story.

Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! features a young girl in Mozambique who is trying to read a book (called Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read!). On each page spread, she encounters a different animal, and explains why trying to read with that animal around is a challenge. For example:

"Trying to read with an
elephant can be surprising.

Excuse me, 
I'm trying to read!
Will you please stop
spraying me?" 

and this:

"Trying to read with a dung 
beetle can be stinky.

Excuse me, I'm trying to read!
Would you please use your little feet to
roll the dung in the other direction?"

Both of these made me give a little snort of laughter, though they aren't side-splittingly funny. I like that the book features some less-common animals, like the dung beetle, the African ibis, and the impala (along with the expected monkey, zebra, etc.).

Each of the examples conveys some tidbit of information about that animal, though the delivery is unconventional (and thus miles away from didactic). I learned that zebras are known for laughing (though I had to look this up to confirm it). I like a book that can teach me something new, without feeling like it's teaching me something new. And of course I love that the girl spends the entire book trying to read, even under difficult circumstances (let's just say that I could relate).

Lehla Eldridge's illustrations use a color palette that suits the African setting (pale blues, muted greens, golden tan ground). The girl has an engaging smirk. The animals are somewhat realistic, but rendered with a decidedly two-dimensional appearance. The don't step from the page, the way that, say, Erin Stead's do in A Sick Day for Amos McGee.

There's a little bit of a home-made feel to Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read!, particularly in the illustrations. The text isn't especially lyrical, nor does it include much in the way of interesting vocabulary words. But Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! is entertaining, original, and what I would call quietly educational. And those are all good things. If you are looking for an animal book that is funny, a bit different, and multicultural, Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! is well worth a look. 

Publisher: Mackinac Island Press (@Charlesbridge
Publication Date: July 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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