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Posts from December 2012

Lemonade in Winter: Emily Jenkins & G. Brian Karas

Book: Lemonade in Winter: A Book About Two Kids Counting Money
Author: Emily Jenkins
Illustrator: G. Brian Karas
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3 and up

I rarely like picture books that use fiction as a transparent means of teaching something to kids. This so, so often results in a book that's either boring or didactic, or both. And my problem with such books is that people buy them, thinking "oh, it will be good to teach this to my kid", but the result is to make the child think that books are boring and/or manipulative. 

So, when I saw that the book Lemonade in Winter has a subtitle "A Book About Two Kids Counting Money", I almost didn't even read it. But I've liked Emily Jenkins' other books, so I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. And I'm glad that I did. Because Lemonade in Winter is that rare book that tells a kid-friendly story, while also illustrating a particular concept (in this case, counting money).

Pauline decides, one cold winter day, that it would be fun to have a lemonade stand. Actually, a lemonade, limeade, and lemon-limeade stand,. Her little brother John-John immediately begs to help. Despite the objections of their parents ("it's freezing... Nobody will want cold drinks"), the two embark on their project. They round up some money (searching under the sofa cushions), buy their supplies, make the product, and create the lemonade stand. When business doesn't go as well as expected, they undergo a variety of stunts to get people to buy their product. At the end of the day, they sit down to figure out whether they've turned a profit of not. 

So you see, the counting part is definitely in here. They have to add up the coins that they find, figure out what supplies they can buy for that amount, decide what to charge for each sale, and calculate the profit and loss at the end of the day. But this is all so well integrated into the story that it just augments the story, rather than seeming like the point of the book. Like putting a recipe for apple pie at the end of a book about making an apple pie. Lemonade in Winter reads like, "if you're going to write a book about a lemonade stand, you might as well explain how the financials go". Rather than "if you're going to write a book about counting and money, you might as well use selling lemonade as an analogy." Make sense?

The thing that is wonderful about Lemonade in Winter is Pauline and John-John's relentless enthusiasm for their project. When there is no one around on the cold street, Pauline suggests "Maybe we should advertise". Without missing a beat, the two launch into a cheer:

"Lemon lemon LIME, lemon LIMEADE!
Lemon lemon LIME, lemon LIMEADE!
All that it will ya? Fifty cents a cup!
All that it will cost ya? Fifty cents a cup!"

When that's not sufficient, they add entertainment (cartwheels and drums), have a sale, and make decorations. Their neighbors, like the reader, are simply unable to resist their efforts.

Karas' illustrations (brush and ink, colored via Photoshop and then finished with pencil) celebrate Pauline and John-John's irrepressible energy. Every time they sing, he shows them with heads tilted up, and smiling mouths wide open. I find this aspect of the pictures reminiscent of the Charlie Brown specials (though Karas' illustrations are otherwise quite a bit more detailed). After Pauline and John-John add decorations, the lemonade stand is irresistible, lit up with flashlights as floodlights, bedecked with balloons and cocktail umbrellas, and with a teddy bear holding a sign. 

The bottom line is that Lemonade in Winter works as a story about two siblings executing a crazy idea. It also works as a vehicle for preschoolers to painlessly learn a bit about counting and money, and profit and loss. Emily Jenkins succeeds again. Lemonade in Winter is a nominee for the 2012 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books. Recommended, and a must-purchase title for libraries. 

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: September 11, 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). 

Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty?: David Levinthal & John Nickle

Book: Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? (and Other Notorious Nursery Tale Mysteries)
Author: David Levinthal
Illustrator: John Nickle
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5 - 8

Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? (and Other Notorious Nursery Tale Mysteries) is nursery rhyme noir. Frog-faced cop Binky investigates five crimes, ranging from a housebreak by a blond, pigtailed dame to a suspicious queen judging a beauty pageant. Not to mention, of course, the sad case of much-loved band member Humpty Dumpty, fallen to pieces but leaving surprisingly little yolk on the ground. 

As a long-time reader of adult mysteries, I love the hardboiled tone to this book. David Levinthal channeling Raymond Chandler. Like this:

"I'd heard that story before. It could only be one dame: Goldilocks! I nabbed her trying to make her getaway."


"I took him downtown for some questions. It wasn't long before he confessed. He knew his bacon was cooked."

The latter is particularly apt, as the suspect is actually a pig.

Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? is text dense. That and the relatively mature content make this a picture book for slightly older readers. While it is perhaps not strictly necessary to know the original fairy tales on which Levinthal's versions are based, this context certainly makes the book funnier. And, of course, the average three-year-old may not be ready to read about attempted murder and the like (depends on how many Disney movies they've seen, I guess). 

John Nickle's illustrations add to the fun of Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? He uses deep tones to add to the noir feel, but also adds plenty of humor. Officer Binky, as a frog, is appropriately small, which makes the image of him driving a police car, while barely reaching the steering wheel, inherently funny. At the end of the case of Hansel and Gretel, we see a smiling bear with utterly rotten teeth standing in front of a mostly demolished candy house. And so on. The pictures that show action from the past (someone's story) are rendered in sepia, clearly separating them from the main action. 

Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? is certainly not for everyone. The whole concept, not to mention the noir details, is going to go completely over the head of younger kids. But for slightly older kids, and their parents, particularly those who enjoy mysteries, Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? is a lot of fun. 

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: September 25, 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). 

Santa on the Loose: A Seek and Solve Mystery: Bruce Hale & Dave Garbot

Book: Santa on the Loose: A Seek and Solve Mystery
Author: Bruce Hale (@StoryGuy1)
Illustrator: Dave Garbot
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 and up 

Santa on the Loose, by Bruce Hale and Dave Garbot, is a Christmas-themed seek and find mystery, suitable for kids old enough to look for detail in a very busy background. The premise is that:

"All the North Pole is in a tizzy! Someone stole Santa's toys, and it's almost Christmas Eve! Mr. Claus is in hot pursuit -- can you figure out who did it?"

Six suspects are shown on the first page. After that, readers look for Santa in each of several subsequent page spreads. Santa is always holding (or adjacent to) a clue. Together, the clues point back to one of the six suspects. 

It's not much of a mystery, in the traditional sense. The clues don't lead to other clues - they are more just tidbits that happen to match up to one of the suspects portrayed on the first page. Each page spread focuses on a different aspect of the pre-Christmas rush at the North Pole: the workshop, "Ye Olde Elf Inn", the stables, etc. And on each page, Santa uncovers a clue. 

As an adult reader, I didn't find it too difficult to pinpoint Santa on any of the pages (though I can imagine very young children having to work at it). The fun, of course, lies in absorbing the many details of the scenes. In the stables, four reindeer and an elf are sitting around in a big bathtub/hot tub. One ladder flight up, another reindeer is getting a mud facial in the Salon. The mall features stores like "Hoof Locker" and "Bear Essentials". And much, much more. I can imagine four and five year olds poring over this book, giggling. 

Santa on the Loose! isn't going to work for storytime. But if you are looking for a holiday-themed activity book, something to keep the kids busy while you wrap presents or mix up the cookie dough, this seek and solve mystery should do the trick. We'll keep our copy on hand until the 2 1/2 year old is a bit older, and more able to appreciate it. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: September 25, 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).

Splat Says Thank You! (Splat the Cat): Rob Scotton

Book: Splat Says Thank You! (Splat the Cat)
Author: Rob Scotton
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3 - 8

Another series that I've somehow missed until now is the Splat the Cat books by Rob Scotton. Splat Says Thank You! is, I believe, the seventh picture book in the series. There is also a series of Splat easy readers, and a Splat App. Splat is clearly quite a personage. 

In Splat Says Thank You!, Splat is worried about his mouse friend Seymour, "covered in spots and not feeling well." Splat makes it his mission to "make Seymour smile." He does this by reading aloud a book that he has prepared for Seymour, called "a Friendship Book." Reading the book aloud, Splat recounts a series of the friends' adventures, and misadventures, ending each with "Thank you!". Like this:

""When I broke my mom's favorite ornament, you fixed it for me," said Splat.

"Except somehow, Mom noticed and I had to have a bath and go to bed early.

"Thank you, anyway.""

In truth, the prose in Splat Say Thank You! is pretty basic. Like this:

"When I overslept the next morning, you woke me up so that I wasn't late for school," said Splat. "Thank you!"

What makes the book stand out are Scotton's vibrant digital illustrations. The above is accompanied by a picture of Seymour jumping on a bicycle-type horn, with "HONK!" blaring into the ear of a recently-asleep Splat, cross-eyed and fuzzy-headed. Readers will also notice Splat's sardine skeleton comforter.

Many of the pictures are downright three-dimensional, with Splat's round eyes in particularly leaping from the page. The illustrations are a visual treat, in the use of textures and movement, in addition to being humorous. The page "Then when I climbed a tree to rescue my brother's kite and got stuck..." is accompanied by what looks like a photo of a kite wrapped around a sketched and painted tree. Splat hangs from a branch, looking hapless, with birds from all over the tree staring at him. 

The incidents recounted in the book are slightly exaggerated versions of incidents that elementary school kids might experience, centered around building rocket ship cars, giving Valentine cards, and being in the school play. Each incident reveals, in a non-syrupy manner, the things that friends to do help each other. For instance, when someone "gave Kitten a bigger Valentine card" than the one Splat gave her, Seymour gave him a wagon full of cupcakes decorated with sardine skeletons. The humor of the skeletons cuts the sweetness of the gesture, and keeps Splat Says Thank You! from becoming cloying. 

I can see why the Splat the Cat books are popular. The illustrations are dazzling and the plot, at least for Splat Says Thank You! shows a nice balance of real-kid issues and slightly goofy humor. Recommended for home and library use for kids three and up. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: September 25, 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). 

The Man from the Land of Fandango: Margaret Mahy & Polly Dunbar

Book: The Man from the Land of Fandango
Author: Margaret Mahy
Illustrator: Polly Dunbar
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

The Man from the Land of Fandango is another collaboration between author Margaret Mahy (who died this past summer) and illustrator Polly Dunbar. I adored Mahy and Dunbar's Bubble Trouble, and it remains a family favorite (we have the board book edition). I was slower to warm up to The Man from the Land of Fandango, however, because it doesn't have as much of a plot. The premise is that the man from the land of Fandango comes to visit two children, leaping out of a picture that they have painted to lead them through a series of remarkable antics (dancing with bears, making music with dinosaurs). At the end of the book, he disappears back into the painting. 

Story-wise, it's a bit too surrealistic for me. But the more I read it, the more I appreciate Mahy's gift for writing lyrical text. She varies the structure of the rhymes, but maintains a consistent, bouncy feel from page to page. She's not afraid to stretch out a rhyme sequence over 3-4 pages, and she uses fun phrases like "bingles and bangles and bounces" and "tingle and tongle and tangle". Here's a snippet: 

"Oh, whenever they dance in Fandango,
The bears and the bison join in,

And baboons on bassoons make a musical sound,

And the kangaroos come with a hop and a bound,

And the dinosaurs join in the din."

(Here each paragraph is a separate page spread.) As you can see in the above example, there aren't a lot of words on each page, and I think that having text like the above spread out over multiple pages makes the book a bit harder to read aloud than it might be otherwise. But the writing is still brilliant.

Polly Dunbar's watercolor and collage illustrations are as bright and bouncy as the text. The man from Fandango visibly started out as a child's drawing, with curved lines for eyes, nose, and mouth, and pink circles for his cheeks. But after he leaves the painting, he is clearly 3-dimensional, and seems to even become increasingly more human-looking throughout the course of the book. The two children are clad in gray, a subtle reference, I think, to the dullness of their lives prior to the visit from the man. They look slightly more realistic than the man does.

Mahy's backgrounds are filled with stars and bubbles and flowers. The page in which "the man from the land of Fandango is given to dancing and dreams" shows the man and the two children riding a sort of stream through the air, filled with stars, hearts, and other shapes. There are other humorous elements, like spilled drinks, and a dinosaur reaching over a bear to take a bite of cake. There are plenty of tidbits to reward repeat reading. 

In short, even though surrealism sans plot is not really my sort of thing, I was won over by the quality of both the poetry and the illustrations in The Man from the Land of Fandango. Recommended for at home read-aloud with preschoolers and early elementary school kids, and for anyone who enjoys nonsense. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: October 23, 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).

Oh No, George! Chris Haughton

Book: Oh No, George!
Author: Chris Haughton (@ChrisHaughton)
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2 and up

Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton is an excellent choice for preschoolers, particularly those who like dogs. George is a big dog who lives with a small person (sporting a monster-ish look) named Harry. When Harry goes out he asks George to be good in his absense. George has every intention of being good, but it turns out that the day is filled with temptations. Like a cake to eat, a cat to chase, and dirt to dig. By the time Harry returns, despite the best of George's intentions, the house is a wreck, and there is no cake left. George does, however, feel remorse, and he does (at least for a little while) learn from his mistakes. 

Oh No, George! is aimed straight at preschoolers who understand what good behavior is expected of them, but sometimes have trouble living up to parental expectations. When confronted by Harry after making a big mess, George cries, and offers up his favorite toy as penance, for example. Harry accepts George's apology, and suggests a nice walk. Oh No, George! never feels messagey, however, because Haughton keeps the focus on George's feelings. 

Haughton also asks the reader questions, encouraging the reader to predict George's behavior. Like this:

"George sees something in the kitchen. 

It's cake! I said I'd be good, George thinks, but I LOVE cake.

What will George do?"

My 2 1/2 year old LOVES predicting George's bad behavior, part of that universal love of mischief, I think. But at the end of the book, when there's an open question about whether or not George will behave, she has complete faith that he will. (Of course she also believes that the rabbit "ran away" at the end of I Want My Hat Back. Me, I'm a bit more cynical). 

Haughton works as a designer, and his pencil and digital media illustrations have a unique feel. He uses vibrant colors (lots of red, orange, and purple), including unconventional choices like making George purple and red, and Harry blue and green. The backgrounds have an abstract feel, with Haugton using impressions more than details. These bold illustrations should work well for the youngest of readers. 

We haven't yet read Haughton's debut picture book, Little Owl Lost, but it's now on our wish list. I highly recommend Oh No, George! for home or library use, for kids age 2 and up. 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
Source of Book: Bought it, after a recommendation from Darshana.

© 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). 

7 Years and Counting

JRBPlogo-smallToday marks the 7th anniversary of the day that I started Jen Robinson's Book Page. One weekend, after suggestions from two different friends that I stop talking about doing something regarding children's books and take action by start a blog, I just sat down and did it. I chose TypePad because that was the software that Keith Ferrazzi used for his blog and I had just finished reading his book Never Eat Alone

I didn't have my own logo back then (thank you Sarah Stevenson for the one I have now). And I only had a few links in my blogroll. But I started recommending books (I can't really call what I was doing back then reviews) and sharing literacy links. I wasn't a parent, or a teacher, or a librarian. I was just an adult who loved children's and young adult literature, and cared passionately that children growing would have a chance to love books, too.  

It's now seven years later and I am a parent to 2 1/2 year old Baby Bookworm (though still not a teacher or a librarian). The content of my blog hasn't changed all that much. I still read and recommend lots of children's and young adult books (though I think I'm a bit more nuanced in my reviews than I was when I started). I now describe myself as a literacy advocate, and I work with Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub and Carol Rasco from RIF to share literacy and reading-related news each month. I send out regular Growing Bookworms newsletters, and I also share quite a bit of literacy and reading news on Twitter.

But the great thing that has happened over the past seven years is how much my blog has led me into a larger community. I'm the Literacy Evangelist for the Cybils (though others do most of the heavy lifting there). I've been a board member for the Foundation and Friends of the Santa Clara City Library (and still help out with their Facebook and Twitter accounts). I maintain user access for the Children's Book Review wiki, and I'm a board member for Kidlitosphere Central. I've attended nearly all of the annual Kidlitosphere conferences (the most recent one was the first that I've missed), and I always try to participate in MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge each spring.

I've read a lot of great books in the past seven years. I hope that I've helped a few people to find books that they've enjoyed, too. But more importantly, I've made real friends through my blog, kindred spirits who I never would have had a chance to meet without this online connection. For that, whatever else happens with my blog in the future, I will always be grateful. I hope that I'll still be here blogging seven years from now. 

Thanks for reading. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and/or whatever your winter holiday of choice might be. 

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

The Christmas Quiet Book: Deborah Underwood & Renata Liwska

Book: The Christmas Quiet Book
Author: Deborah Underwood
Illustrator: Renata Liwska (blog)
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3 and up

The Christmas Quiet Book is a companion to The Quiet Book and The Loud Book (reviewed here) by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska. The Christmas Quiet Book features the duo's collection of animal kids experiencing a host of the quieter winter and holiday-themed experiences. Like making snow angels, drinking hot chocolate, and "listening for sleigh bells". As with the other books in the series, Underwood's text is minimal. Each page is a single phrase that ends in quiet:

"Hoping for a snow day quiet"

"Nutcracker quiet"

"Shattered ornament quiet"

And so on. While the book is undoubtedly Christmas-themed, some of the pages are more about winter than about any specific holiday (being bundled up, etc.). The repetition of "quiet" at the end of each phrase encourages the whole book to be read quietly, barely above a whisper, making The Christmas Quiet Book a nice bedtime book. 

Liwska's pencil illustrations (digitally colored) are delightful. The animals are fuzzy and cute. The illustrations are simple enough for toddlers to follow, but with surprising details to reward more careful readers (like characters walking right out of a book, into the shadows, as a child sleeps). The animals' postures and expressions capture universal feelings, like the furtive blush of a rabbit who drops a Christmas ornament, and the nervousness of a lamb who has forgotten her lines in the class play.

Baby Bookworm (age 2 1/2) loves The Christmas Quiet Book. She likes to point things out in the pictures, and ask questions about what some of the pages mean. (Why are the kids drinking cocoa? She thought that was a grownup drink, etc.) Will there be a Christmas Loud Book published next year? If so, it's sure to be on our reading list. Recommended for reading in front of the fire, or curled up on the couch, with kids age 3 and up. 

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: October 16, 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). 

Links I Shared on Twitter This Week: December 14

Here are a few literacy and reading-related links that I shared on Twitter over the past week. Links blurbed in yesterday's children's literacy roundup are not repeated here.

Miscelleneous Kidlitosphere Links

Hey #kidlit bloggers, it's time again for the weekly Children's Bookshelf, where you can share links  @bethanyntt

Great stuff! 2012 Children’s Lit: The Year in Miscellanea from @100scopenotes  #kidlit

What is a debut novel?: Thoughts on the Morris Award via@catagator (w/ links to @lizb on the topic)

I liked this post from @momandkiddo: 5 Holiday DOs That I DON'T

Fun stuff: The Babymouse and Lunch Lady Book Club from @MrSchuReads  @jenniholm @mattholm @StudioJJK

RT @novalibrarymom: Sound off: Do you read fairytales with your child? Are the originals too violent?

Fun essay on architecture as inspiration in children's literature from Naomi Stead at Design Observer

From the #cybils blog: Cybils Panelist Update: YA SFF Blog  #yalit @yasffblog @cybils

Book Lists!

2012 Parent’s Choice Award Winners for Children's Books (different categories) via @tashrow #kidlit

Great Kid Books: Holiday books to share with your children (ages 2 - 8) from @MaryAnnScheuer #kidlit

Nice to see a book I just reviewed ( ) on the YALSA Morris Award Shortlist « via @lizb #yalit

Great #YAlit Mysteries from 2012! from @kidlitmysteries

New Mysteries for Kids and Teens This Winter, list from @kidlitmysteries  #kidlit

RT @cbcbook: What are your 5 fav #yalit books of 2012? Cast your vote for @CBCBook's 2013 Teen Choice Awards @Teenreads

A nice, detailed list: The Y.A./Middle-Grade Book Awards, 2012 Edition @TheAtlanticWire #kidlit #yalit

Best Picture Books of 2012, Part 4 (w/ links to 1-3) from @momandkiddo #kidlit

Thanks for stopping by. I'll be continuing to share literacy and reading links on Twitter @JensBookPage, though I may not have a chance to round them up on the blog again until after the holidays.

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: Mid-December

JkrROUNDUPHello and welcome to the mid-December Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup from Terry Doherty (The Family Bookshelf), Carol Rasco (Quietly), and me (Jen Robinson's Book Page). It's a busy time of year, so I'll be brief. But I do have some children's literacy and reading-related events and programs and research to share, as well as a few posts with suggestions for growing bookworms. 

Literacy and Reading-Related Events

Cybils2012The Cybils shortlists are coming! Stay tuned. Cybils shortlists in 10 fabulous categories of children's and young adult books will be announced on January 1st. A little late for Christmas shopping, it must be admitted, but there you can find the shortlists for the previous years in the upper right-hand sidebar of the Cybils blog.  

BookGivingDayAnd right in line with the announcement of Cybils winners on February 14th (Valentine's Day) a group of literacy advocates from around the world will be celebrating International Book Giving Day. More details will be announced after the new year, but for now, Amy Broadmore has asked us to share this announcement: 

International Book Giving Day is a volunteer initiative aimed at getting books in the hands of as many children as possible on February 14th, 2013. International Book Giving Day’s focus is on encouraging people worldwide to engage in simple acts of giving. We invite individuals to: 1) give a book to a friend or family member, 2) leave a book in a waiting room for children to read, or 3) donate a book to a local hospital, shelter or library or to an organization that distributes used books to children internationally. In addition, we encourage people to support the work of nonprofit organizations (i.e. charities) that work year round to give books to children, such as Room to Read, Books for Africa, Book Aid International, The Book Bus, Indigenous Literacy Foundation and Pratham Books.

Children's book illustrators who would like to support International Book Giving Day are invited to add their names to the list of authors/ illustrators celebrating International Book Giving Day. They are also invited to design an International Book Giving Day bookplate. For more information, see this post.

Literacy and Reading Programs and Research

Terry found this article via @BrainInsights@ScoopIt, and @BookChook, a Psychology Today piece by Jim Taylor about how technology is changing the way children think and focus. Taylor's conclusion is that "too much screen time and not enough other activities, such as reading, playing games, and good old unstructured and imaginative play, will result in your children having their brains wired in ways that may make them less, not more, prepared to thrive in this crazy new world of technology." But do read the whole article to understand why.

According to a recent Education Week article, "the first-of-its-kind National Assessment of Educational Progress report suggests a consistent relationship between performance on vocabulary questions and the ability of students to comprehend a text, which experts say is consistent with prior research on the subject." While not much about the article is surprising (including performance trends by family income), the article does reinforce the importance of helping kids to obtain as broad a vocabulary as possible. In my view, this is futher incentive, should anyone need it, to keep reading aloud to your kids for as long as possible. 

'Tis the season for holiday donations. Walmart just gave $25,000 to support school literacy programs in Arkansas (Carol's home state). See details in this Arkansas Business article.  

Suggestions for Growing Bookworms

Reading Rockets' guest blogger Julie M. Wood shared some tips earlier this week for using digital media to help get boys hooked on reading (via @ReadingRockets

The long awaited Hobbit movie hits theaters tomorrow. Read The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance's Tips for Linking Books to Movies. Here's a sample:

"Read the book first. Read picture books and novels aloud to your kids whenever possible. Encourage older kids to read a novel on which a movie is based before they see the movie or video with their friends. Why? Books are generally much better written than movies." 

It's also that time of year for buying gifts for kids, of course. While we love stuffed animals and dolls as much as the next person, may we humbly suggest that all children should also receive some gifts that are also good for their literacy development?

I shared a bunch of other suggestions for growing bookworms in last week's Twitter recap post, all grouped together right in the middle of the post. I won't repeat them here. 

And that's all for this week's children's literacy and reading news roundup. Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season, and great books to read in the New Year. Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. 

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Small Bunny's Blue Blanket: Tatyana Feeney

Book: Small Bunny's Blue Blanket
Author: Tatyana Feeney
Pages: 32 
Age Range: 1-5 

Small Bunny's Blue Blanket, by Tatyana Feeney, is a simple celebration of the importance of security blankets, suitable for the youngest of readers. Small Bunny keeps Blue Blanket with him at all times, to "help him go even higher on the swings", "to help him read the hardest words", and so on. When Mommy declares that Blue Blanket needs to be washed, Small Bunny is quite concerned. He tries to hide Blue Blanket, and he doesn't accept Mommy's declaration that Blue Blanket is "Good as new" afterwards. He doesn't like new. But after some quality playing time, he's able to get his blanket back, just the way he likes it.

The text in Small Bunny's Blue Blanket is minimal and straightforward. It could probably also work as an early reader, in fact. But it is designed to make sense to very young listeners, and I think that it works perfectly. My favorite part:

"...Mommy picked up Blue Blanket and put it into the washing machine.

"Don't worry," she said, "it will only take a minute."

It actually took 107.

And Small Bunny watched Blue Blanket for every single one."

The illustration accompanying the last two lines shows 9 panels of Small Bunny standing in front of the washer, with the elapsed minutes displayed for each picture. His ears start out drooping, but as the end approaches, they perk fight back up. 

Baby Bookworm's favorite part, on the other hand, is where Small Bunny tries to hide Blue Blanket, and Mommy says "BUNNY" in a warning tone. This is the kind of detail you can miss, just reading a book silently to yourself. But when you read it aloud, with the right emphasis, to an attentive toddler, you realize that it's spot on. 

Like the text, the illustrations are minimalist and easy to follow, small black and white sketches very lightly colored with pink and pale blue. Blue Blanket (appropriately written as a proper noun) is shown in slightly darker blue, the brightest thing on each page. Small Bunny and Mommy are basically boxes with rounded corners, dots for eyes and nose, tiny feet sticking out, squiggles to represent tails, and pink ears. I can imagine preschoolers reading this book and thinking "I could draw a book like this, too." But there's a subtlety to certain details (like the way Blue Blanket varies in size depending on the context) that suggests a much more experienced hand at work. 

Small Bunny's Blue Blanket is an excellent choice for very small children, particularly those for whom a security blanket is an essential member of the family (ours is called Bea, pronounced be-uh). This one is a Baby Bookworm favorite right now, though there is probably not enough detail to keep her attention as she gets older. Still, we may be able to recycle it as an easy reader later on, too. Recommended for home or library storytime. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: June 12, 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).

Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment: Emma Walton Hamilton

Book: Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment
Author: Emma Walton Hamilton (blog)
Pages: 208
Age Range: Adult nonfiction

I recently read two books dedicated to helping parents to raise readers (see also my review of Book Love, by Melissa Taylor). The second of these was Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment by Emma Walton Hamilton. Raising Bookworms is a call to arms, written by a parent, "professional educator, children's book author and editor", aimed at encouraging parents to raise book-loving children.

Hamilton starts with the bad news, results from studies that show a decline in reading in the US (including a host of depressing statistics, like "Forty-two percent of college graduates never read another book once they have graduated."). She admits that she isn't a trained reading specialist or educator, and she doesn't get into the mechanics of reading at all, but she proposes the same essential solution that Jim Trelease does, emphasis (by parents and teachers) on the link between reading and pleasure. She says "This book is about creating--or restoring--the connection between reading and joy." She starts with context, giving a history of reading, and then she proposes concrete methods for encouraging reading, aimed at each age group (from birth through early adolescence).

The chapters for the different age groups are designed to allow each to be read independently, as needed by the parent of that age child. I think that this will be quite helpful for parents looking to inspire a particular child. This structure does make it a bit tedious to read Raising Bookworms straight through, however, as many of the tactics that Hamilton proposes apply to multiple age levels. These are thus repeated throughout the book. She does separate the previous suggestions from the new ones each time, so that it's not difficult to skip the ones that one has already read, but there is certainly extra page-turning. [Mind you, I don't have a better solution for the problem of creating standalone chapters but having content that applies to each. It's just tough to read straight through.] Hamilton also includes tables "encompassing all the ideas and recommendations", and indicating which recommendations apply to which age group, in the appendix.

One thing that I really like about Raising Bookworms is that Hamilton includes short, blurbed lists of book suggestions within the chapters for each age range. While I found her lists to be a bit heavy on classics (or relatively light on contemporary fare - she has nowhere near the breadth of Melissa Taylor), I liked that she took the time to tell parents why they should consider a particular book. Hamilton is the daughter of Julie Andrews, and there are some plugs for Andrews' and Hamilton's own books. But it's still clear that Hamilton is a genuine advocate for reading books of all sorts.

Hamilton is also "a great believer in the synergies that exist between literacy and the arts--and the ways in which each can inform the other". In addition to encouraging literacy and reading, she includes a number of suggests related to encouraging the arts in general (attending and participating in plays, etc.). I haven't seen this covered in many other literacy books, and this adds a bit of a personal slant to Raising Bookworms. She's also quite open with discussing the reading experiences of her own children, and what worked during their evolution as readers.

Raising Readers is well-sourced. There are references throughout to literacy organizations, books about encouraging readers, and research studies. There is a bibliography at the end of the book, as well as a helpful index. There is a short section on blogs and other online resources for learning about books (A Fuse #8 Production and Cynsations are both mentioned). Published in 2008, Raising Readers doesn't cover the rise of eBook readers, but these online references give the book a reasonable balance between traditional and contemporary (though without the up-to-the-minute feel of Book Love).

Raising Readers has a bit of a philosophical feel to it. Though there are certainly specific tips and recommendations, Hamilton is sharing her views in a number of areas related to literacy. The fact that these views tended to coincide with mine made this a satisfying read for me. Like this:

"By employing the techniques outlined in the following pages with your children, you stand a good chance of helping them to discover the power and wonder inherent in books. You also stand to enrich your own relationship with them, and to help them achieve rewarding relationships with others. You may even experience a greater sense of personal fulfillment--and might just gain (or rekindle) a new appreciation for reading yourself.

... Ultimately, my dream is that we might reestablish a society of readers ... and by extension, a society of thoughtful, engaged citizens who play an active, positive role in their community and their world." (Page 5-6)

and this:

"I believe that the main reason we move away from reading as an elective activity is because of our conscious association, often unwittingly learned at school and reinforced at home, between reading and "chore." (Page 12)

and this:

"Nothing will teach children to love reading more than seeing the adults around them showing enthusiasm for it. In fact, according to a recent survey by Scholastic, parents who regularly read for pleasure are six times more likely to have kids who read for fun." (Page 17)

Raising Bookworms is also sprinkled with quotes from other reading advocates (Jim Trelease, Esme Raji Codell, Daniel Pennac, etc.). This gives Raising Bookworms the feel of building on the efforts of those others. Most of the tips that I found in Raising Bookworms weren't new to me (a compulsive reader of books on growing bookworms), but I found it a nice refresher, something to rejuvenate my determination to help my child to grow up to be a reader. 

[Note: later this week I will be sharing some thoughts on the Kindle format of this book and Book Love. I wish that I had purchased the paperback copy of Raising Bookworms instead, so that I could more easily refer back to Hamilton's age-specific tips.]

Publisher: Beech Tree Books
Publication Date: December 1, 2008
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle, after Darshana mentioned it

© 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).