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Posts from March 2013

Perfectly Percy: Paul Schmid

Book: Perfectly Percy
Author: Paul Schmid (@PaulSchmidBooks)
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6 

I loved Paul Schmid's A Pet for Petunia. So I was quite pleased when Schmid's newest picture book, Perfectly Percy, arrived. Like A Pet for Petunia, Perfectly Percy is about someone whose preferences are not a good fit with reality (Petunia wanted to have a skunk for a pet).

In this case, Percy is a young porcupine who loves, loves, loves balloons. As the illustrations make clear, however, balloons and porcupines are not a successful fit. Percy strives to find a solution to his problem. He asks people he trusts for help. But in the end, he comes up with a solution all on his own. There's a subtle message here about solving one's own problems, but this message is conveyed utterly through Percy's actions and perspective, so the book doesn't feel at all didactic. 

Schmid's tone is rather tongue-in-cheek. Like this:

"But HAPPY little porcupines with balloons are soon SAD little porcupines."

and this:

"Percy sat.
He closed his eyes tight.
But no thoughts came.

Well, useful thoughts, anyway."

The latter example is accompanied by a picture of Percy, eyes shut tight, thinking of an ice cream cone.  

As this example shows, the text and illustrations are well-integrated in this author illustrated picture book. Percy's sister's "not very practical" idea is accompanied by a picture of Percy with marshmallows stuck to the ends of several quills. 

Percy's joy when he finally, after a whole day and night of thinking, comes up with a workable idea, is a delight to behold. 

Schmid's pencil on paper and Photoshop illustrations are minimalist, primarily showing Percy with a few props (bike, rock, etc.) against a solid-colored background. But Percy, with his tangle of quills and pink nose, is irresistible. I foresee young readers, upon finishing the book, sitting down to draw their own porcupines. 

I think that the simplicity of both illustrations and text makes Perfectly Percy more suited to preschoolers than to elementary school kids. It could almost work as an early reader, too, with lots of repetition to the text, and only a handful of challenging words. I plan to try this one on Baby Bookworm tonight, and I expect it to become a favorite. Recommended for home and stotrytime use. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: January 29, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2013 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). 

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: March 20

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 1650 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I am including six book reviews (two picture books, two middle grade novels, and two young adult novels). I also have one Children's Literacy Roundup, a quick post about a literacy milestone in my homeand a list of several of Baby Bookworm's favorite picture books.

I also have an announcement that I hope some of you will find useful. I've started a new Growing Bookworms Facebook Page, where I'll be sharing tips, research results, and book recommendations, all with the aim of helping parents, teachers and librarians to grow bookworms. Not so different from what I'm doing in this newsletter, but in a more immediate format. I hope that you'll consider checking it out. If you "like" the page, you'll get these updates in your Facebook timeline. 

Not included in the newsletter this time around I have:

One other note about the newsletter is that I have recently upgraded to the Pro version of Feedblitz, which means that there will no longer be any ads in the newsletter. I haven't had a lot of complaints about the ads that came with the free version, but they've always bothered me. I've also tweaked the format a bit - this is my first attempt to send using the new template, so please bear with me if it turns out to need a bit more adjustment. It's all in the name of improvement. 

Reading Update: In the past 2 weeks, I finished 2 novels for middle grade readers, 1 novel for young adults, and 1 adult nonfiction title. I read:  

  • J. E. Thompson: The Girl from Felony Bay. Middle Grade. Walden Pond Press. Completed March 6, 2013. Review to come.
  • Kate Messner: Hide and Seek. Middle Grade. Scholastic Press. Completed March 15, 2013. My review.
  • Jennifer E. Smith: This Is What Happy Looks Like. Young Adult. Poppy. Completed March 11, 2013, on digital ARC. Review to come.
  • Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier: Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. Adult Nonfiction. Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Completed Maarch 19, 2013. This was a thought-provoking read, though more immediately relevant to my work than to my blogging. 

I'm currently reading Mousenet by Prudence Beitrose, and listening to Shades of Earth by Beth RevisAnd, of course, I'm reading every day to Baby Bookworm. She has fun little literacy milestones all the time now. Today we were reading Cat the Cat, Who Is That?, immediately after having read Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep, and she said "This book by Mo Willems, too." I thought: "How neat. She's starting to recognize favorite authors." Because that's part of being a reader, isn't it? Having favorite authors. 

How about you? What have you and your kids been reading and enjoying? Who are your favorite authors? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

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

One Special Day (A Story for Big Brothers and Sisters): Lola M. Schafer & Jessiva Meserve

Book: One Special Day (A Story for Big Brothers and Sisters)
Author: Lola M. Schafer
Illustrator: Jessica Meserve
Pages: 40
Age Range: 2 to 5

One Special Day (A Story for Big Brothers and Sisters) is a lush picture book for younger readers. Spencer and his grandma watch a car (presumably bearing his parents) drive off. Subsequent page spreads show Spencer glorying in being outside, running and jumping and climbing. Lola Schafer's minimal text and Jessica Meserve's illustrations together compare Spencer to various animals. Like this:

"He was fast--" (with a picture of Spencer running) 

"fast as a" (on the next page, with a picture of a horse racing with the small boy)

Schafer leaves young readers to fill in for themselves what kind of animal it is (always quite clear from the illustrations). Because the first and second part of each segment are on separate pages, parents can also encourage kids to guess what the next animal will be. When I see "He was tall--" (with a picture of Spencer using a ladder to climb a tree), I can ask: "Tall as a what?", for example. 

Only at the very end of the book, "one special day", is Spencer quiet and gentle, as his parents return with a baby sibling. It's a little sentimental, sure. But I personally found it moving, and (digging into my own long-ago memories as an older sibling) accurate. 

Meserve's digital oil pastel illustrations are perfect for the book, with strong lines depicting Spencer and the animals against nature-filled backgrounds. Spencer is, as promised at the start of the book, all boy, playing cheerfully in the mud, and marking his face like a tiger. But the quiet, waiting Spencer is clean and at peace. And adorable.

The animal comparisons and outdoor-focused illustrations alone make One Special Day an engaging read-aloud for toddlers and preschoolers. The emotional payoff regarding the arrival of a new sibling makes this a must-purchase title for libraries, and a perfect gift for soon-to-be big brothers or sisters. Highly recommended. A delight from start to finish. 

Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: March 20, 2012
Source of Book: Purchased for Round 2 judging in Fiction Picture Books for Cybils. This book was a finalist, but not the winner.

© 2013 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 and Seek: Kate Messner

Book: Hide and Seek
Author: Kate Messner
Pages: 256
Age Range: 8 - 12 

Hide and Seek is the second book in Kate Messner's Silver Jaguar Society series, following last year's Capture the Flag. Like their parents, José, Anna, and Henry are members of the Silver Jaquar society, an organization dedicated to protecting the world's most precious historical artifacts. The three met while snowbound in an airport, and ended up saving the flag that inspired The Star Spangled Banner (see Capture the Flag).

Now established friends, the kids find themselves setting off with their respective parents and guardians to the Costa Rican rainforest, in search of the Jaguar Cup (an artifact important to both their organization and to Latin American culture. The kids are left at a secluded rain forest eco-lodge, operated by another society member, while their parents search in the city for the missing cup. But soon, in addition to facing the dangers of the rainforest (poisonous snakes, ants, etc.), José, Anna, and Henry find themselves on the run from dangerous thieves. 

The rainforest setting in Hide and Seek, particularly the eco-lodge where the kids stay, feels quite authentic. An author's note at the end of the book describes the author's family's visit to a similar location. This research (in addition to doubtless having been a fabulous family vacation), really comes through in the book. Without impeding the book's action, the rain forest winds its way into practically every page. Like this:

"Michael opened the van door, and they stepped out into the lobby of the eco-lodge. It had a red-tiled floor and pillars every so often to hold up the roof. But where the walls should have been were...well...walls of green. The rain forest grew right up to the lodge, and leafy limbs poked into the lobby as if the trees wanted rooms for the night." (Page 27)

The interpersonal dynamics of the kids are realistically detailed, too, with squabbling and misunderstandings. José is the primary protagonist in this installation, and I think that kids will be able to relate to his insecurities (and will respect how he takes action in spite of them). 

The mystery itself is fast-paced and kid-friendly. As an adult reader, I had a tiny bit of trouble letting go of some of the conveniences of the setup (the one parent-figure is helpfully away from the lodge during the climax of the book, for example). But I think that some amount of this sort of thing is inevitable in books that let kids take the reins of mystery-solving. 

Hide and Seek is a middle grade mystery novel that features kids taking charge. It has a unique backdrop, realistic interpersonal dynamics between 12-year-olds, and some very cool chase scenes. Fans of Capture the Flag will doubtless enjoy Hide and Seek, and librarians will be pleased to find this a growing mystery series, good for boys and girls, suitable for ages 8 and up. Recommended.

Publisher: Scholastic Press (@Scholastic
Publication Date: April 1, 2013 (but available now)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2013 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). You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

Eight Recent Baby Bookworm Favorites: March 18

Last month I did a post sharing Ten Recent Favorites from Baby Bookworm (Almost 3). That post was well-received, so I've decided to try to make this a monthly feature. Here are eight titles that have sparked requests of "Again!" recently, in no particular order (though I can tell you that her favorites right now are numbers 6 and 7 below). 

1. Louis the Tiger Who Came from the Sea, by Michal Kozlowski & Sholto Walker (Annick Press). Back in 2011 I reviewed this, saying: "I recommend Louis the Tiger Who Came From the Sea for preschoolers and early elementary school kids, or anyone looking for a laugh. It would make a good classroom or library read-aloud, with engaging illustrations and delightfully dry humor." Baby Bookworm definitely misses some of the humor in this one, but she still loves it. Whenever we see a tiger in another book now she says "like Louis". (See Making Connections Between Books and Day to Day Life)

2. Ella Sarah Gets Dressed by Margaret Chodos-Irvine (Harcourt). Ella Sarah Gets Dressed is a delightful picture book (we have it as a lap-size board book) about a little girl who knows exactly what she intends to wear, despite the best efforts of her family members. When her friends show up for a tea party as elaborately dressed as she, Ella Sarah is shown to have made the right choice. I think it's pretty clear why my almost three year old daughter, who is just learning to dress herself, enjoys this one ;-)  

3. Big Mean Mike by Michelle Knudsen & Scott Magoon (Candlewick). I reviewed this one before reading it with Baby Bookworm, and in truth I didn't expect her to "get it" for a while. But she greeted her very first read with peals of laughter, as being followed around by four little fuzzy bunnies caused embarrassment for a big, tough dog. This one is a little bit longer than many of the books that we read, but remains a favorite. And it's one that my husband and I think is quite funny, too. 

4. How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti & Yancey Labat. I reviewed this one last year, saying "If you are looking for a book for preschoolers that conveys the concept of large numbers, How Many Jelly Beans? is an excellent choice. It's bright and creative, and the foldout section (displaying a million jelly beans) is a wonderful surprise." I also warned of the "risks of tearing of the pullout section", and that fear has been proven out in our household. But we keep plenty of tape around. Baby Bookworm talks about this book all the time. She doesn't understand the numbers past about 20, I don't think, but she talks about Emma and Aiden and their dog as though they were real. And she adores the fold out section.

5. The Fox in the Dark by Alison Green & Deborah Allwright (Tiger Tales). In my review of this one I noted that while I found the illustration style a bit distracting, it was a nice text for reading aloud. This has continued to be true. It's one that Baby Bookworm will ask for, especially in the evenings. She loves to chime in when we get to the page where the fox in the dark shows up on the rabbit's doorstep. I've found (for good or ill) that a number of the book's rhymes stay in my head between readings. Honestly, it's one that I've come to appreciate more and more over time. 

6. Corduroy by Don Freeman (Viking). Corduroy was a book that I had put on my Amazon wish list before Baby Bookworm was born. We received a copy from a dear friend back then, but for whatever reason (an abundance of books, I suppose), I only introduced it to Baby Bookworm recently. As I had hoped, she fell head over heels in love with Corduroy on the very first read. She feels so strongly that she's compelled to interact with the book. On the page where "no one ever seemed to want a small bear in green overalls" she always chimes in with "I do!". She also likes to pretend that she thinks that our stairs are a mountain. Such a happy thing when your child cherishes a book that you love. (In contrast, Where the Wild Things Are fell completely flat - I have put that back away until she's older). 

7. Soup Day by Melissa Iwai (Henry Holt). Soup Day is a book that I would probably not have picked up on my own. Baby Bookworm selected it on our recent library visit, and we have read it dozens of times since. It's a fairly simple story about a girl and her mother making soup on a snowy day. They go to the market for vegetables, they cut them up, they mix everything together, etc. It's one of those books that packs in a lot of education. There is counting and color recognition ("three long orange carrots, four smooth tan potatoes", etc), shape recognition ("the celery and onions become tiny squares"), and examples of following the steps in a recipe. I think it may be that Baby Bookworm is at an age in which she likes to cook with me herself, and she likes to test her own knowledge. So this book works for her. She'll miss it when the time comes to return it to the library. 

8. Monsters Love Colors by Mike Austin (HarperCollins). I have a review pending of this new picture book, about several monsters who love to "scribble, scribble, mix, dance, and wiggle." The book starts out with several monsters in primary colors. They then do some mixing, to color several smaller, gray monsters with secondary colors. Baby Bookworm identifies with the smallest gray monster, who has the chance to be purple snatched away from him (though he gets rainbow coloring as a consolation prize). She will bring this book up in conversation, reminding us that "the little one wanted to be purple."  

This post © 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

Amazon's Top 10 Kids and Teens Spring Books

Amazon's Seira Wilson and her team of editors put together the following list of Top 10 Kids and Teens Spring Books. I don't believe that these books necessarily represent the best books coming out. There are a number of titles that I am personally more eager to read than these (future post coming). But I think that there are some interesting titles on this list (including one that I've already reviewed, and several that I expect to read). It's also interesting to see what Amazon expects to be the big spring titles.

This list was sent to me by an Amazon PR person, but I've added age classifications and put them in release order within each age range, which I think makes the list a bit more useful. I've also added links and cover images. 

Picture Books and Board Books

Hello Kitty, Hello Spring! by Sanrio and Jean Hirashima (Mar 5, 2013)

Dig In! by April Jones Prince and Michelle Berg (Mar 12, 2013)

Ribbit! by Rodrigo Folgueira and Poly Bernatene (Mar 26, 2013)

Tea Rex by Molly Idle (Apr 9, 2013)

Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld (Apr 16, 2013)

Middle Grade

Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz (Apr 9, 2013) [My review of this book is here]

House of Secrets by Chris Columbus, Ned Vizzini and Greg Call (Apr 23, 2013)

Young Adult

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (Feb 26, 2013)

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (May 7, 2013)

Icons by Margaret Stohl (May 7, 2013)

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). You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

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

JkrROUNDUPWelcome to the latest children's literacy and reading news roundup, brought to you by Carol Rasco from RIF and Quietly, Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub and The Family Bookshelf, and me, here at Jen Robinson's Book Page. For this mid-month roundup I have simply buckets of information regarding literacy and reading-related events; literacy programs and research; and suggestions for growing bookworms.

Literacy and Reading-Related Events

ShareAStoryLogo-colorThe fifth annual Share a Story - Shape a Future Literacy Blog Tour took place last week. The theme was Literacy: The First Five Years. There were tons of amazing posts about literacy activities and experience with kids, from babies to kindergartners, across the participating blogs. Each day featured writing prompts, to encourage others to participate. Winners of a contest for writing prompt participants are listed here. Terry will be back shortly with a full recap, and a handy list of links to all participating posts. Please stay tuned for that (though only when you have plenty of time on your hands - there is a LOT of material). [Updated to add: I missed that roundup of Share A Story links before - it's here.]

PBSKidsThe PBS Kids GO!Writers contest is launching for spring. Here's the scoop: "It's a Contest held by many local PBS member stations for kids in K-3rd grade who want to write and illustrate their own stories. If your local PBS station is participating, you can submit your story to your local station for judging, and a chance to win prizes! Plus, everyone who enters gets a Certificate of Achievement."

March 21st is UNESCO's World Poetry Day. From the UN website: "According to the UNESCO’s decision, the main objective of this action is to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities. Moreover, this Day is meant to support poetry, return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals, promote teaching poetry, restore a dialogue between poetry and the other arts such as theatre, dance, music, painting and so on, support small publishers and create an attractive image of poetry in the media so that the art of poetry will no longer be considered an outdated form of art but one." That all sounds quite ambitious. But we think it's a good occasion to try reading some poetry with your children. 

IbbyApril 2nd is IBBY's International Children's Book Day, (via Tarie at Into the Wardrobe), "celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children's books." The theme for 2013, hosted by IBBY's US section, is "Bookjoy around the world." The poster to the right was designed by Ashley Bryan. The message was created by Pat Mora

The shortlists for the most prestigious literary awards for children's literature were announced this week. They are wonderful lists! I first saw them on Tasha Saecker's blog, Waking Brain Cells. Here Tasha posts the Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist for picture books, and here she posts the Carnegie Medal shortlist for middle grade and young adult books. 

Literacy and Reading Programs and Research

Carol shared a thoughtful piece at Quietly this week, written by Deborah Kenny, founder of Harlem Village Academies, for the Washington Post. Kenny takes on the implementation of the common core standards for kindergarten, and proposes that the right curriculum for kindergartners involves more play. She says: "Play is not a break from learning or a way to fill time for the little ones: play, imagination and discovery are how kindergartners learn."

Reading Horizons recently shared an interesting post about the gap between perceived ability to teach reading and actual ability to teach reading. The post cites the "The Illusion of Explanatory Depth", the idea that people believe that they understand complex phenomena better than they really do, and applies this idea to reading instruction. A survey of teachers found "some major gaps in teacher knowledge about reading instruction and understanding of the structure of the English language." (via @pacrapacma)

Terry found an article by J. Richard Gentry on Psychology Today about a quick method for assessing your child's reading level by looking at his or her drawings (published a couple of years ago, around the time the author published his book, Raising Confident Readers). 

FirstBook.jpgFirst Book announced two $500,000 grants to publishers for its Stories for All project. First Book offered to purchase $500,000 worth books "featuring voices that are rarely represented in children’s literature: 

Stories-for-All-group-photo-newsletter.gifminorities, characters of color, and others whose experiences resonate with the children (they) serve" from a publisher. They ended up having such a strong response from publishers that they decided to award two grants, one to HarperCollins and the other to Lee & Low. Many relevant books will be getting into kids' hands thanks to this effort. (Photo credit to First Book's blog)

The Independent, in a story by Jonathan Owen, cites recent research by Jessica Horst from Sussex University to suggest that re-reading the same books to children over and over again has more benefit than reading them a host of different titles. The article concludes with this from Dr. Horst: "Obviously, the more times you read to a child and the more books you have will help them, but you don't need to go crazy and buy every single Thomas the Tank Engine book. Reading the same books over and over again helps." Parents may find this a relief. (via @PWKidsBookshelf)

School Library Journal's Debra E. Kachel and Keith Curry Lance reported last week on a study that found that "a full-time school librarian makes a critical difference in boosting student achievement". The article (which is quite detailed) concludes: "Students are more likely to succeed when they have library programs that are well staffed, well funded, technologically well equipped, well stocked, and more accessible. And, the neediest learners may benefit the most from trained librarians and quality library programs." The study specifically looked at schools in Pennsylvania, but I would imagine that this conclusion holds most everywhere. 

Should Teens Be Reading More Challenging Books? A recent survey conducted in the UK has sprouted a range of responses.  

  • Sean Coughlan at BBC News reported on the survey, published for World Book Day, concluding that "Teenagers are selecting "easier reads" in their book choices, rather than more challenging classics".
  • Journalist Annie Murphy Paul responded to the study on her blog, concluding: "Parents may be more inclined to be hands-off in regard to the reading habits of teenagers (maybe they’re happy that teens are reading at all). But this survey suggests that parents need to stay involved in guiding their children’s book choices—even when those kids are in high school." 
  • Matt Renwick (@HowePrincipal), however, defends teens' rights to read whatever they want in his post: I Say Let Them Read. He says: "Where some seem to see a problem in students not selecting challenging texts, I see this issue as a success story. Students are reading! Who here reads books because they are challenging? I don’t. I choose to read text that is interesting, engaging, and meaningful to me as a reader and a person. Sounds like this is what these students are doing. For the most part, I say leave them alone and let them read." 
  • Amanda Craig also shares some thoughts on this in the Telegraph, suggesting that parents become more involved in helping their kids to find great books. She concludes: "Not every child takes instantly to books like a duck to water, but I don’t believe there are children who hate books. There are just children who haven’t yet found the right books for them."
  • What do you all think? I'm with Matt Renwick on this, though I do think that Amanda Craig makes some useful points, too. 

Speaking of Matt Renwick, he had an encouraging piece recently at the Stenhouse Blog about how he revamped his school's reading intervention program (inspired by another post by Peter Johnston). Here's the bottom line: "At a fraction of the previous year’s costs, we have developed a literacy intervention that engages students and has the potential to increase students’ reading abilities at a faster rate than prescribed programming."

Ror.redAnd speaking of programs that cost less (and rely on books), there was a thought-provoking OpEd piece by Steven Cohen in the Wall Street Journal this week comparing Reach Out and Read's proven success (at a cost of $10/year/child) to the President's proposal for universal preschool (at a cost of $10,000/year/child). This is something that I've been wondering about ever since the State of the Union address. If the true concern is literacy and kindergarten readiness, there is an awful lot that programs like Reach Out and Read and RIF are already doing, and quite cost-effectively. Just saying... 

Suggestions for Growing Bookworms

WradNBC Latino shared a nice piece by Monica Olivera for World Read Aloud Day last week about using audiobooks to boost children's literacy. The article addresses the specific concerns that parents might have about the literacy benefits of audiobooks for struggling readers, and includes links to other resources on the topic. The author concludes: "It’s time to get creative and be more open-minded in order to boost our children’s literacy skills and help them succeed academically." (Terry found this one.)

At The Book Chook, Susan Stephenson shares ideas for playing guessing games with kids. She says: "Guessing games help kids to think critically, solve problems, develop skills in numeracy and literacy and generate ideas." That all sounds smart to me! Susan also has a nice post on questions to ask kids to promote visual literacy

PreschoolathomeAnd, since this seems to be a particularly strong week at The Book Chook, Susan just shared a post with recommendations for a mom who is unable to send her child to preschool. Susan outlines several things that Ethan's Mum can do with him at home (to prepare him for when he does go to school), most notably reading aloud to him. (Susan found this great picture by danitort, made available at

I am always on the lookout for initiatives that make reading fun for kids. So naturally, I had to click through when Travis Jonker reported this at 100 Scope Notes: "As part of World Book Day Davyhulme Primary School in the UK held an “Extreme Reading Competition”, where students and staff were challenged to take a picture of themselves reading in the most unique place. They posted a gallery of the results. Click here to check it out." So very fun!!

And that's all we have for you today. But Carol will be back towards April 1st with the end of March roundup. And we'll continue to share literacy news as we find it @JensBookPage@ReadingTub, and @CHRasco. I'll also share the links that I think are particularly relevant to people trying to grow bookworms on my new Growing Bookworms Facebook page. Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. 

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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: March 15

Here are some highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Note that links that I'll be including in the upcoming mid-month children's literacy and reading news roundup are not included here, making this a bit of a shorter recap than usual.

Book Lists and Awards

RT @santaclaralib: Have you discovered the genre of steampunk yet? Here’s a list of recommended children’s books.

RT @MrSchuReads: 2013 ALSC & YALSA Book Picks: The year’s best titles for children and teens via @sljournal

2013 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and New Illustrator Awards (#picturebooks) via @tashrow #kidlit

What books are in your personal canon, asks @donalynbooks @NerdyBookClub

Book Suggestions from those who know books, Capitol Choices: (via @ldonline) #kidlit

At Cozy Up and Read, Valerie shares several Easy Readers that are lively and fun (not always the case):

Thinking ahead to St. Patrick's Day--Irish Fantasy (Middle Grade) for Kids from @charlotteslib #kidlit

Boys will be boys: 4 recommended middle-grade adventures from @HornBook

Books and Gender

Must-read from @charlotteslib: International Women's Day, reviewing + raising the next generation of male book reviewers

Food for thought: What Happens When Your Son Falls in Love with a "Girly" Book Series? | @BitchMedia via @catagator


An older post but still delightful, @debnance shares photos of little libraries (via @semicolonblog )

RT @bkshelvesofdoom: Good project to do with discarded library books, possibly? | Miniature Houses Built of Books: via @flavorwire

The weight of books, thoughts on personal libraries by David L. Ulin @latimes via @catagator

RT @tashrow At A Pakistani Mobile Library, Kids Can Check Out Books, And Hope : NPR #literacy


How the Nerdy Book Club Changed [Saved] My Life by @brianwyzlic |@NerdyBookClub

RT @howeprincipal: IRA's Reading Today is free for this month …

Literacy Programs and Research

RT @FirstBook: Competitors or Collaborators? A Q&A w/ Carol Rasco puts the myth to rest & explains how @FirstBook works with @RIFWEB

RT @HowePrincipal: The literacy crisis: Searching for solutions in Mississippi | News | The Sun Herald

RT @PennyKittle: Mexico is floundering socially, politically and economically because so many of its citizens do not read. Thx, Anna.

Most Influential #kidlit Publisher You've Never Heard Of | @roomtoread Publishing Perspectives via @PWKidsBookshelf

I'll continue to share children's literacy and reading news @JensBookPage. You can also follow me at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

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

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Ransom Riggs

Book: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Pages: 352
Age Range: 12 and up 

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is another book that I knew had been well-reviewed by people, but that just didn't jump out as one that I wanted to read. Based on the title and the cover, I expected some sort of old-fashioned, Gothic orphanage story. Which it is, kind of. But it turns out that Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is more than that. For starters, the book begins in modern-day Florida. Sixteen-year-old Jacob is an ordinary if not very popular kid, right up until his beloved grandfather is killed in horrific fashion. It's only when Jacob makes a pilgrimage to the small island off the coast of Wales where his grandfather lived as a child that things become a bit Gothic. But there's still a pleasing mix of modern-day, wisecracking sensibility with supernatural, hard-to-explain events. I quite enjoyed Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and hope to see sequels.  

I especially liked Jacob's self-deprecating, humorous voice. Like this:

"I think they worried that my grandfather would infect me with some incurable dreaminess from which I'd never recover--that these fantasies were somehow inoculating me against more practical ambitions--so one day my mother sat me down and explained that I couldn't become an explorer because everything in the world had already been discovered. I'd been born in the wrong century, and I felt cheated."  (Page 9)

"He was, I suppose, my best friend, which is a less pathetic way of saying he was my old friend." (Page 27)

"It seemed like my parents were always trying to get me to care about money, but I didn't, really. Then again, it's easy to say you don't care about money when you have plenty of it." (Page 54)

"I did love her, of course, but mostly just because loving your mom is mandatory, not because she was someone I think I'd like very much if I met her walking down the street. Which she wouldn't be, anyway; walking is for poor people." (Page 63)

OK, I think that's enough to give you a clear picture of Jacob, and of Riggs' tone (entertaining without needing to resort to over-the-top gimmicks). Though I could certainly go on. This is the kind of book that inspires lots of highlighting. 

The plotting in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will keep kids turning the pages. Riggs sprinkles in enough clues to enable the reader to figure things out just a little bit ahead of Jacob figuring them out (which is probably desirable for middle school-age readers, giving them the chance to feel smarter than the narrator). But I think that the author's strength lies more in quirky characterization, fully rendered settings, and pithy observations. There are also some nods toward early teen hormones and dating, though not so much of that that I think a strong elementary school reader couldn't handle the book. For me, this aspect of the book wasn't necessary, but I don't think it hurts anything (except for possibly muddling the age classification for the book). 

I think that middle school age readers who enjoy fantasy that is set against the real world (vs. high fantasy) will appreciate Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It's well-written, with engaging characters and a memorable premise. I'll be interested to see where Riggs takes Jacob next. Recommended!

Publisher: Quirk Books (@QuirkBooks)
Publication Date: June 7, 2011
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

© 2013 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). 

Pirates vs. Cowboys: Aaron Reynolds & David Barneda

Book: Pirates vs. Cowboys
Author: Aaron Reynolds
Illustrator: David Barneda (@Barneda)
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-8

I thought that Aaron Reynolds' 2012 picture book Creepy Carrots (illustrated by Peter Brown, shortlisted for the Cybils in Fiction Picture Books) was brilliant. Therefore, I was not surprised to find that his newest picture book, Pirates vs. Cowboys, is hilarious. I mean, really. I lost track of how many times I laughed aloud. 

Pirates vs. Cowboys begins when Burnt Beard the Pirate and his crew head inland to Old Cheyenne, looking for a new place to store their loot. There, they run into Black Bob McKraw and his "gang of rip-roarin' rustlers." Trouble ensues when the pirates, who only speak Pirate, are unable to communicate with the rustlers, who only speak Cowboy. Fortunately (and in a completely non-saccharine way), a third party is able to help the two groups find (ludicrous) common ground. 

You know that you are in good hands with this book on the very first page: 

"Burnt Beard the Pirate was the scourge of the seven seas, the four oceans, and several lakes." 

Rich vocabulary and deadpan humor. What more could the parents of a six year old want in a picture book? Pirate-talk, you say? Cowboy-talk, you say? No problem. Pirates vs. Cowboys has those in spades, too. Like this:

"Ahoy there, me hearties! Be ye knowin' where we'd be findin' a fair scrub and a swish?"

"What'd you call us, ya yellow-bellied varmints?" was Black Bob's reply. "Why don't ya mangy hornswogglers beat a trail of dust right back out of Old Cheyenne!"

What a joy to read aloud. Of course one will have to practice pirate and cowboy voices. But I'm sure that kids will be more than happy to chime in. Because the Pirate and Cowboy grammar can be a bit confusing, this may not be a good book to read with your two or three year old. But for five to eight year olds, kids who have already been exposed to cowboys and pirates somewhere along the way, Pirates vs. Cowboys should be a delight from cover to cover.

David Barneda's acrylic and colored pencil illustrations add to the humor of Pirates vs. Cowboys. On the second page spread we learn that:

"His scurvy crew had ransacked so many ships and pillaged so many villages that all their treasure had them riding low and slow."

This is accompanied by a picture of the pirate ship sailing along, almost entirely under water, with only the crow's nest above the waterline. The pictures reveal Burnt Beard to be a (bearded) six-legged octopus with sharks, a lobster, and a turtle on his crew. When they go ashore they take with them an eye-patch-wearing smaller fish in a fishbowl. Black Bob's crew of animals also includes a sentient cactus in a pot and a snake that wears a cowboy hat, sunglasses, and a kerchief. All of the pirates and cowboys demonstrate a cheerful menace. 

There are, to be sure, knives and guns throughout the book. These are waved around, but never used. There are also lots of regular words used as contractions (swashbucklin', ropin', etc.). Again, this is not a book for your two-year-old. But I think that kids in early elementary school, and parents with a sense of humor, will find Pirates vs. Cowboys hard to resist. It is, of course, particularly boy-friendly. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2013 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). You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

A Little Literacy Milestone

My daughter displayed what I think was a little literacy milestone the other day. We were making blueberry muffins together, from a mix. She picked up the box, pointed to the letters on the front, and said "That say 'Blueberry Muffin Mix'". Technically, she wasn't correct - the wording was slightly different from what she expected (see image to the left).

It's not that she was reading, at not quite 3 years old. But she understood that the letters on the front of the box meant something, and she was able to make a reasonable guess as to what that something might be. She understands that letters make words, and that words have meaning, and tell us what things are. We don't do any worksheets or flashcards, or even active instruction regarding the alphabet. But we do read books every day. And from that, she has learned this important concept. I was quite pleased!

Just goes to show that early literacy milestones can be found anywhere. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open. 

This post © 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

Zebra Forest: Adina Rishe Gewirtz

Book: Zebra Forest
Author: Adina Rishe Gewirtz
Pages: 208
Age Range: 9-12 

Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz is a dark, brooding novel for middle grade readers. Eleven-year-old Annie and her younger brother Rew live with their Gran in a house that backs up to a wood that they call the Zebra Forest. Gran is just barely able to care for the children, taking to her bed for days at a time. But their small, broken family is managing. Right up to the day that an escaped prisoner breaks in and holds the family hostage. The rest of the book takes place primarily in the house, as an unexpected connection between the prisoner and the family is revealed. Other long-hidden family secrets eventually come out, too.

Zebra Forest is set during the time of the Iran hostage crisis, in the summer of 1980. This choice serves two purposes. It allows Gewirtz to draw parallels between Annie and Rew's situation and that of the hostages, and it sets the story in a less-connected time, when it is plausible that a family could just vanish into their home, with no outside contact, for an extended period. Annie's family doesn't even have a television set - the isolation of the four people in the house is near-total. 

I did have a bit of an issue with the central coincidence on which the story is based, though discussing it would be a bit of a spoiler. Suffice it to say that I kept waiting for the author to find a way to explain it, to make it not a coincidence, without satisfaction. But for readers who can suspend belief on that one point, Zebra Forest is a compelling story. The characters are all complex, and Gewirtz doesn't take the easy way out in resolving their interpersonal conflicts. There is growth and healing in the book, but not so much as to feel implausible. Most of the tension in the book is around relationships and secrets, rather than dramatic action. Gewirtz's taut prose keeps readers turning the pages.

""I don't like people snooping around," she said. "We're enough for each other, aren't we?"

I always told her yes, of course we were. And on her good days, it was even true. But by the end of sixth grade, I'd counted more bad days than good, more days when Gran didn't wake until noon, and then only got up to sit in the kitchen, staring  through the windows  at the Zebra, grinding the tip of her slipper into the linoleum until it left little bits of gray rubber scattered like eraser dust on the floor." (Chapter 2)

and this:

"I woke to a noise. The lights were still on, and Rew was asleep on the floor, head between a couple of stray pawn.

Someone was rattling the back door in the kitchen. We never locked it, but it stuck, and if you rattled it once or twice, it opened. I got up, stepping on Rew in the process, and made my way to the kitchen just as the back door opened, and a man stepped in.

I blinked, trying to make sense of him." (Chapter 6)

A theme one sees fairly often in children's books is the kids protecting their dysfunctional caregiver from the scrutiny of the system, because their imperfect home is better than the alternative. Gewirtz handles this sub-text well, through small examples. 

Zebra Forest is not an upbeat novel. But it's full of moments and characters that ring true, set in a suspenseful atmosphere. Zebra Forest is a book that will stay with the reader long after the relatively slim text is finished. Recommended for kids who enjoy suspense and kids who enjoy novels about dysfunctional families.

Publisher: Candlewick (@candlewick)
Publication Date: April 9, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2013 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).