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Posts from January 2013

About A Bear: Holly Surplice

Book: About A Bear
Author: Holly Surplice
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2 - 4

About a Bear by Holly Surplice is a book for very young readers about all of the things that a bear can be, from bored, to hungry, to silly. The text is minimal and soothing, with short sentences, and somewhat predictable rhymes. There's not really a narrative to About A Bear, more a string of images of Bear in different situations (a couple of them bear-specific, others things that might be true of any toddler). At the end, we have (across two page spreads):

"A bear can get sleepy
and need a bear hug.

Then cuddle up tight,
as snug as a bug."

While not groundbreaking as poetry goes, this ending makes About A Bear work as a bedtime book.

But what sets About A Bear apart is not the prose, but Surplice's illustrations. Bear's face and posture are expressive, matching the relevant text. The backgrounds on each page are lit in glowing, sunrise-themed colors. The page in which "A bear can be glad" is filled with a riot of luminous leaves pinks, golds, and oranges, against a peach background. It's hard to describe, but it emanates "glad." I would read and re-read this book to spend time on this page alone, though the other pages are nice, too. There are toddler-friendly details, like a picture of the bear sniffing a turtle ("a curious find") and then balancing the turtle on his stomach, as the two nearly touch noses. 

In short, we are putting About A Bear on our bedtime books shelf. I don't expect us to be reading this one for years (there's not enough complexity, as Baby Bookworm gets older). But About A Bear is going to be a good choice for now, when we want some pictures to spread a bit of joy. Recommended for 2-4 year olds.  

Publisher: Tiger Tales (@TigerTalesBooks)
Publication Date: September 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). 

Fourth Edition of Kids & Family Reading Report Released Today

I received this news release from Scholastic today, and thought that readers would be interested:


Overwhelmingly Children Who Read eBooks Still Read Primarily Print Books for Fun; Half of Parents Say

Their Child Does Not Spend Enough Time Reading Books that Are Not Assigned for School NEW YORK,

January 14, 2013 – In the fourth edition of the Kids & Family Reading ReportTM, a national survey released today, kids age 6-17 and their parents share their views on reading in the increasingly digital landscape and the influences that impact kids’ reading frequency and attitudes toward reading. The study, a biannual report from Scholastic (NASDAQ: SCHL), the global children’s publishing, education and media company, and the Harrison Group, a leading marketing and strategic research consulting firm, reports that: 

  • The percent of children who have read an ebook has almost doubled since 2010 (25% vs. 46%).
  • Half of children age 9-17 say they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to ebooks – a 50% increase since 2010.
  • Overall, about half of parents (49%) feel their children do not spend enough time reading books for fun – an increase from 2010 when 36% of parents were dissatisfied with time their child spent reading.
  • Seventy-two percent of parents show an interest in having their child read ebooks.

Findings reveal the potential for ebooks to motivate boys, who are more commonly known to be reluctant readers, to read more.   

  • One in four boys who has read an ebook says he is now reading more books for fun.

eBooks may also be the key to transition moderately frequent readers (defined as kids who read one to four days a week) to frequent readers (those who read five to seven days a week).  

  • More than half (57%) of moderately frequent readers who have not read an ebook agree they would read more if they had greater access to ebooks.

Even so, the love of and consistent use of print books is evident among kids, regardless of age.  

  • Eighty percent of kids who read ebooks still read books for fun primarily in print.
  • Fifty-eight percent of kids age 9-17 say they will always want to read books printed on paper even though there are ebooks available (a slight decline from 66% in 2010), revealing the digital shift in children’s reading that has begun.

“We are seeing that kids today are drawn to both print books and ebooks, yet ereading seems to offer an exciting opportunity to attract and motivate boys and reluctant readers to read more books,” noted Francie Alexander, Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic. “While many parents express concern over the amount of time their child spends with technology, nearly half do not have a preference of format for their child’s books. The message is clear – parents want to encourage more reading, no matter the medium.”

The report also notes that the gender gap in reading frequency and attitudes towards reading is narrowing; however, the narrowing of the gap is driven more by decreases among girls than it is by increases in boys.

  • Among girls since 2010, there has been a decline in frequent readers (42% vs. 36%), reading enjoyment (39% vs. 32% say they love reading), and the importance of reading books for fun (62% vs. 56% say it is extremely or very important).
  • Among girls ages 12-17 there was an increase in the amount of time they spend visiting social networking sites and using their smartphones for going online.  
  • Among boys since 2010, there has been an increase in reading enjoyment (20% vs. 26% say they love reading), and importance of reading books for fun (39% vs. 47%). Reading frequency among boys has stayed steady, with 32% being frequent readers.

“While highlighting opportunities, this report remains a call to action to stay focused on increasing reading frequency among our children because the more they read, the better readers they will become and the more they will love it and continue to read,” continued Alexander. “Literacy is a critical doorway to success in both school and life, particularly as the digital world increases access to information. Our children need to gain the skills learned by reading, such as the ability to analyze, interpret and understand complex texts and to separate fact from opinion.”

The study also looked at the influences that impact kids’ reading frequency, and parents ranked extremely high. The report found that having a reading role-model parent or a large book collection at home has a greater impact on kids’ reading frequency than does household income. Plus, building reading into kids’ daily schedules and regularly bringing home books for children positively impacts kids’ reading frequency.

Additional findings of note include:

  • Kids say that ebooks are better than print books when they do not want their friends to know what they are reading, and when they are out and about/traveling.
  • Print books are seen by kids as better for sharing with friends and reading at bedtime.
  • Consistent with the 2010 Kids & Family Reading Report, nine in ten kids say they are more likely to finish a book they choose themselves.
  • Thirty-one percent of parents who have read an ebook say they personally read more books now than they read before starting to read ebooks.
  • Thirty-two percent of parents say they are reading new kinds of books they never thought they would read, including children’s books and teen fiction.

The study was conducted by Scholastic and managed by Harrison Group, a YouGov Company. Survey data were collected by GfK, and the source of the survey sample of 1,074 pairs of children age 6-17 and their parents was GfK’s nationally representative KnowledgePanel®.

To download the Kids & Family Reading Report and access audio sound bites, visit

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 11

JRBPlogo-smallToday 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 1636 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every three weeks (though it's four this time because of the holidays).

Newsletter Update: In this issue I am including three book reviews (one early reader and two adult nonfiction titles about raising readers). I also have one post with the mid-December Children's Literacy Roundup, a post about my seven year blogging anniversary, and two posts with links that I shared on Twitter.

I also posted ten picture book reviews over the past four weeks. Since this seemed like too many to include, I am listing them here. You can use the following links to view them if you are interested. I'll have more middle grade and young adult reviews coming soon. 

Also not included in the newsletter as separate posts, but important to mention, are two things:

  1. Cybils2012The Cybils shortlists were announced on January 1st. These fabulous lists of kid-friendly, well-written books, available in 10 categories, are one of the best resources the Kidlitosphere has to offer. I'm a second round judge in Fiction Picture Books, and already know that we have our work cut out for us identifying the "best" of the seven fine titles on the shortlist. 
  2. The end of 2012 Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup was posted by Carol Rasco at Quietly last week. I didn't have a chance to pull highlights for you, but I do hope that you'll click through to see the many stories that Carol found to wrap up the year. Terry Doherty will be back with the mid-January roundup soon at The Family Bookshelf

Reading Update: In the past 4 weeks, I finished 3 novels for middle grade readers, 11 novels for young adults, and 2 novels for adults. I read:  

Several of the above were vacation reads, and I don't plan to review them. Reviews for others will be coming over the next few weeks. I'm recovering from pneumonia, and my ability to write new reviews has taken a bit of a hit. But, as you can see, I have gotten in a fair bit of reading time :-)

I'm currently reading Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. I'm still listening to The Black Box by Michael Connelly (a Harry Bosch novel), but expect to finish it tonight and start the third Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place book by Maryrose Wood

And of course I'm still reading books to Baby Bookworm. She's currently in love with Barbara Lehman's Trainstop (reviewed previously here) and Tatyana Feeney's Small Bunny's Blue Blanket. She likes to "read" Goodnight Gorilla to herself, and say all of the "Goodnights" aloud. We had a recent plane trip, and made quite a few references to Mo Willems' Knuffle Bunny Free. We're also continuing to dabble in Willems' Elephant & Piggie books.

How about you? What have you and your kids been reading and enjoying? Did you receive any good books as holiday gifts?

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. I hope that you are all off to a fabulous 2013.

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Links I Shared on Twitter This Week: January 11

Here are some highlights from the links that I have shared on Twitter since the first of the year @JensBookPage.

Kidlitosphere Links

The Kidlitosphere Comment Challenge, hosted by @leewind +@MotherReader is back! #kidlit

Giving Back: A @The_Pigeon Inspired Post from @MotherReader to warm your heart #kidlit

Useful primer fron @haleshannon: What's the deal with those authors visiting schools and stuff? #kidlit

Gathering Books Launches Bimonthly Theme for January/February: Crazy over Cybils! | #kidlit

Always fun to read about: Triumphantly Tweeting Authors @Cybils #literacy

Most Popular Book Posts of 2012 at What Do We Do All Day?@momandkiddo

Some great stuff here from @TrevorHCairney Top 20 Most Popular Posts in Five Years of Blogging #literacy

Book Lists

Don't miss Looking for kids of color in the middle grade sci fi/fantasy books of 2012 by @charlotteslib #kidlit

Top 2012 Teen Reads to Wake Your Brain Cells from @tashrow #yalit

Great roundup of #yalit Horror titles from @catagator at Stacked

Neat new blog with themed YA Reading Lists every day. Today: Columbus Spies Mermaids! #yalit @kidsilkhaze

TED Blog | 10 great children's books that will become classics by@StudioJJK

Great list by @haleshannon on squeetus: "Girl" books that boys love #kidlit

Some great choices: sequels that my young companion in fantasy reading + I are most looking forward to @charlotteslib

Literacy and Growing Bookworms

Some thoughts on The Reading Race, well worth reading, from Amy@LiteracyLaunch #litrdup #literacy

Authors Wanted: A call for Skype volunteers for World Read Aloud Day 2013 from @KateMessner #litrdup

Very nice! 5 Ideas for Organizing Books To Promote Toddler Interaction from Growing Bk by Bk #litrdup

Books and Libraries

Interesting article about book-lover who publishes new editions of obscure books - via @cmirabile

Sigh! School Library Thrives After Ditching Print Collection@ShiftTheDigital

McDonald's to become UK's largest book distributor with Happy Meal deal - via @PWKidsBookshelf #litrdup

Libraries are expanding scope. See Check These Out at the Library: Blacksmithing, Bowling -

The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton. @ReadAloudDad made me want to re-read the series. #kidlit

I find this encouraging. Never Mind E-Books: Why Print Books Are Here to Stay -

This post (c) 2013 by Jennifer Robinson. All rights reserved.

The Fox in the Dark: Alison Green & Deborah Allwright

Book: The Fox in the Dark
Author: Alison Green
Illustrator: Deborah Allwright
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3 - 6

The Fox in the Dark is the story of a rabbit who barely makes it back to snug little home after encountering a fox (in the dark). Rabbit is quite annoyed when a parade of other animals seek shelter from him, all on the run from the "fox in the dark." The twist comes when a tiny, lost fox cub knocks at the door, and has to be welcomed in, too, with mother fox not far behind. 

While the plotline didn't strike me as original, I found the text of The Fox in the Dark to be quite nice for read-aloud. There are lots of exclamations, like this:

"BANG! goes the door and
CLICK! snaps the latch.
THUNK! goes the key and
SCRITCH! strikes a match.

And, "Phew!" Rabbit sighs.
"I've escaped! Not a scratch!
And I'm safe from that
fox in the dark."

This is just the sort of text for parents to read aloud with plenty of expression. The phrase "fox in the dark" is repeated throughout the book, giving kids a chance to chime in. Similarly, every time someone knocks on the door we hear "Rat-a-tat-tat!", which is also fun to say.  My 2 1/2 year old daughter requests this book regularly ("I want rabbit - fox book"), and likes to chime in with "fox in the dark".

There's some little-kid-friendly humor, as when a small mouse is scared, and shouts "I need to wee!", followed on the next page by Lamb cleaning up Mouse's puddle. Rabbit's grouchiness (even as he shares his bed with all of the not so welcome guest) is also engaging.

I'm a bit more mixed on the illustrations. I quite like Allwright's animals, ranging from pathetic to cute. And I like the textured backgrounds that she uses, and the earth-toned colors. But she does this thing where some of the background is sketched in as outlines, such as chairs and a couch in Rabbit's house. And it's not clear whether these are meant to be imaginary (like, a couch would go here if this wasn't a Rabbit's den), or ... what, exactly. In other places, Rabbit's house does have three-dimensional furniture, so this is not even consistent. It's hardly the end of the world, and I still enjoyed the book, but I found this a bit distracting. Baby Bookworm, on the other hand, doesn't seem bothered by this at all. 

Overall, The Fox in the Dark has been a nice addition to our stack of bedtime stories. I plan to try it paired with Don't Wake Up the Bear! by Marjorie Dennis Murray, too. Recommended for read-aloud to younger children, ages 3 to 5. 

Publisher: Tiger Tales (@TigerTalesBooks)
Publication Date: September 1, 2012 (this paperback edition)
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). 

Should I Share My Ice Cream? An Elephant & Piggie Book: Mo Willems

Book: Should I Share My Ice Cream? (An Elephant & Piggie Book)
Author: Mo Willems (@The_Pigeon)
Pages: 64
Age Range: 4 and up

I've long been a fan of Mo Willems' Elephant & Piggie series of easy readers (there are at least 18 books in the series). I've given them many times as gifts, and seen them dominate the Easy Reader category of the Cybils for years. But somehow I've never reviewed one. I am taking the opportunity today to discuss Should I Share My Ice Cream?, which was published in 2011. 

In Should I Share My Ice Cream?, Elephant struggles with the challenge of sharing. He first exhibits a child's joy when he stumbled upon an ice cream cart, and buys a lovely green ice cream cone. But then it occurs to him that his best friend, Piggie, might want to share the cone. Greed ("Should I share my awesome, yummy, sweet, super, great, tasty, nice cool ice cream?) wrestles with responsibility ("What if she is sad somewhere?"), interrupted by several levels of rationalization ("She does not know I have ice cream."). Turns out that Elephant spends so much time deciding that ... the ice cream melts. A tragedy. But not to worry. Friendship will surely save the day.

A big part of the fun of this book is Elephant's expressive face. His evil smirk at "She does not know." His arched eyebrows at "Hey ... Piggie is not here." His beads of sweat at "It will not be easy." Kids everywhere will be completely able to relate to the struggle to do the right thing. This is a book about sharing done right. The humor, and Elephant's realistic struggle, put Should I Share My Ice Cream? in a separate universe from many didactic books about friendship and sharing that I've seen. The ending still leave you with a warm feeling, but it's not a cloying sort of warmth. 

The beauty of the Elephant & Piggie books in general, and this one in particular, is that they work as easy readers, while offering more. The sentences are short. There's enough repetition to help new readers, but not so much as to become dull. But they are also stories, about topics relevant to the interests of five year olds. Like eating ice cream, getting new toys, and being invited to parties. They feature realistic characters, with flaws and strengths. And Willems' illustrations are spare but expressive, perfect for the needs of the genre. 

Whenever anyone asks me about easy readers, this is the first series that comes to mind. Oh, there are others, of course, and in a couple of years, as Baby Bookworm reaches that stage, I expect to become much more of an expert. But as a starting point, you can't go wrong with Elephant & Piggie. Should I Share My Ice Cream? is an excellent example of why this series works so well. It is well worth picking up. 

Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: June 14, 2011
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). 

Hide & Seek: Il Sung Na

Book: Hide & Seek
Author: Il Sung Na
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2 and up 

Hide & Seek is the latest picture book by Il Sung Na. We also like Na's A Book of Sleep, a soothing bedtime book. Hide & Seek is a more lively text, one perfect for toddlers. The basic story is that Chameleon suggests a game of hide and seek to his animal friends. Elephant agrees to count, and as he counts to 10 (one number per page spread) the other animals hide. Elephant then finds everyone, except for the tricky Chameleon (who suggested the game despite having an unfair advantage).

Eagle-eyed readers will enjoy looking for Chameleon, who tries out different hiding spots on every page. The combination of something to search for in the pictures, minimal text, and the steady counting of numbers, make Hide & Seek an excellent choice for 2-3 year olds. There's just a hint of more advanced vocabulary in the dialog attributions. Like this:

"Can I hide behind this rock?" wonders Rhino.

"We'll hide up here," flutter the starlings.

While one wouldn't want to see a novel written with a different attribution words in every sentence, this style completely works for a picture book, and keeps the text from being too repetitive.

There's some gentle humor to Hide & Seek, too. The rock that Rhino tries to hide behind is actually Turtle. And when Gorilla stands on the same "rock" pretending to be a statue, the reader will feel for poor Turtle.

Na's animals, like those in A Book of Sleep, are not quite realistic, with extra-rounded shapes, and colorful textured skin (or shell, or fur) tones. Their style is quite distinctive. Na apparently creates these illustrations by "combining handmade painterly textures with digitally generated layers, which (are) then compiled in Adobe Photoshop." This is a great format for the many hidden images of Chameleon, as he takes on various colorful background images.  

HIde & Seek is destined for many re-reads in our household. In fact, I had to promise to read it later in order to get Baby Bookworm to let me borrow it to write this review. It is visually engaging, entertaining, and even a tiny bit educational. I think it would work for group storytime, but it is probably better suited to one-on-one reading, so that kids can hunt for Chameleon at their own pace. Recommended for home and library use, ages 2 and up. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Children (@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).