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Posts from March 2013

New Facebook Page Dedicated to Growing Bookworms

JRBP-small-notextIn response to some of the input that I received on last week's post about helping parents to find quality books for their children, I've decided to start a new Growing Bookworms Facebook page. I'll be sharing tips and research results about growing bookworms, as well as book recommendations (my own and other people's). I think this page will provide a couple of benefits:

  • People interested in encouraging young readers (parents, teachers, librarians, etc.) can follow the page without having to friend me on Facebook and clutter up their own news feeds.
  • The visual Facebook page format will provide a much nicer archive for links and posts than, say, Twitter (and in a leaner format than on my blog).  

I'll continue to share most links on Twitter, and will use the Growing Bookworms page only for the most relevant of articles. I'll also try to share relevant articles in my Google+ communities. I've changed my blog so that it won't automatically share all of my blog posts to my personal Facebook timeline. Instead, I'll decide for individual posts whether to share them on my personal timeline, the Growing Bookworms page, or neither. It will probably take me a little time to get into a groove with deciding what to share where, but I do hope to make the Growing Bookworms Facebook page a useful resource, particularly for parents. I hope that some of you will check it out, and I welcome your feedback. Thanks for reading! 

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

One Stop Shopping for Children's Book Recommendations

I've been thinking a lot lately about ways to make it easier for parents to learn about high quality children's books. There are lots of wonderful individual blogs that I follow, but I realized that I do know of several good sources at which people can find out about multiple books at one time. Here are a few highlights:

  • The Children's Book Review Wiki. This is a site at which a number of children's book bloggers (including myself) archive their reviews. You need a login ID to add links to the archive, but anyone can browse the links. You can browse books by category, or search for particular books. Clicking through the review links takes you to the original contributor's blog. The nice thing about this site is that visitors have access to thousands of reviews. The downside, then, is that it can be a bit overwhelming in terms of volume. And it's not a push system at all, but rather a reference to be searched.
  • Cybils2012The Cybils blog, specifically the Cybils shortlists. The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards are given in ten categories, ranging from in age from picture books through young adult, and in genres poetry through graphic novels. Each year, panels of bloggers come up with 5-7 book shortlists in each category (some of the categories are further separated by age range). These shortlists are a fabulous resource for parents. The Cybils selection criteria requires that the books be both well-written and kid-friendly. Shortlists since 2006 are available on the website. Printable lists can be found in the right-hand sidebar.
  • NonfictionmondayPoetry Friday and Nonfiction Monday. The Kidlitosphere has two weekly themed events: Nonfiction Monday and Poetry Friday. Bloggers are encouraged to add links to book reviews or other relevant posts to each theme (e.g. an original poem), and many participate each week. While the hosts change each week, you can find the 2013 schedules via the preceding links (maintained, respectively, by Anastasia Suen and Mary Lee Hahn). This week's Nonfiction Monday roundup is hosted at Sally's Bookshelf. Last week's Poetry Friday was hosted at My Juicy Little Universe
  • Monthly Themed Carnivals. Zoe Toft at Playing by the Book hosts a monthly themed carnival, requesting children's book reviews on a particular topic. This month, she is looking for books about Ancient Civilizations, especially Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and the Romans. 
  • Booklinky150finalThe Children's Bookshelf. Another weekly, cross-blog event that is a great source of children's book reviews is The Children's Bookshelf, hosted by What Do We Do All Day?No Twiddle TwaddleSmiling Like SunshineMy Little BookcaseThe Picture Book ReviewSprout’s Bookshelf, MeMeTales, and Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns. Bloggers are encouraged to link book reviews, literacy, and book activity posts. There are usually lots of interesting entries.
  • Charlotte's Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy Roundup. One individually-curated roundup that I wanted to mention is Charlotte's Library's weekly roundup of middle grade science fiction and fantasy. For this post, bloggers don't have to submit entries (though they can add their links in the comments). Instead, Charlotte scours the blogs each week for middle grade fantasy and science fiction reviews, author/illustrator information, and other tidbits of interest to fans of the genre. If you have a child who enjoys this genre, Charlotte's roundups offer a treasure trove of new book ideas each week. 

There are lots of other great sources of information about children's books available, of course. But these are a few that offer multiple ideas (sometimes many ideas) in a single location. I hope you find them useful. I'll highlight others in the future.  

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

Three Things I Learned from Visiting the Library with Baby Bookworm

This weekend I took my daughter, who is nearly three, to the library. It had actually been a while since we'd been the library together, and I noticed a three things that increased Baby Bookworm's excitement in reading:

  1. Self-Selection. Being able to pick her own books dramatically increased her excitement in reading said books. The few books that I picked out, we haven't read yet. The books that she picked out? We've read several of them 5 or 6 times already. We read her top picks (the favorite was Soup Day by Melissa Iwai) in the library, as soon as we got home, after nap, before dinner, etc. Her selection process was pretty random, but apparently empowering. 
  2. New Books and Authors. Just having new books by new authors also increased her excitement in being read to. I've been guilty of not visiting the library very often because we have SO many books in our house already. But I must say that we spent more time reading yesterday than we have spent in ages. There's something about having new books in the house, books that we will only have for a limited time, that increased Baby Bookworm's excitement in reading. New authors, too. She is now crazy about Rachel Isadora's books, especially The Pirates of Bedford Street and Uh-oh!
  3. Familiar Characters. Seeing familiar characters drew her attention. She spotted the early reader A Birthday for Bear by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton, and scooped it right up. We have all three Bear and Mouse picture books (see two reviews here), and for her, seeing a book about Bear that she hadn't read was like finding a friend unexpectedly waiting at the library. Of course this recognition of familiar characters can be a bit of a mixed bag, as some of the characters that are familiar because of television shows do not inspire the highest-quality books. But for us, with a child who doesn't really watch television shows, this seeking out of familiar characters worked out great.

These particular benefits of going to the library may be obvious to all of you. They should have been obvious to me. One of my Ten Tips for Growing Bookworms series (written before I had a child) was Visit Libraries and Bookstores. And of course there are other benefits of going to the library, too (storytime is good for socialization, the whole environment reinforces the importance of books, etc).

In our case, I think that the large quantity of picture books that we already have in our home has made me a bit lazy about packing up the child and taking her to the library (I mean, we have plenty of picture books here that we haven't read to her yet). This weekend's library visit has inspired me to reprioritize a bit. Yay for libraries!

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

Ideas from "How Can We Help Parents Find Quality Books?" Responses

The other day I shared a post asking "How Can We Helps Parents to Find Quality Books for the Children?" I received a number of thoughtful responses in the comments on the post, as well as on Google+. Here, I'm summarizing some of the ideas (there's other good stuff in the comments, too, but I'm focusing here on specific ideas):

  • Amazon Suggestions. A good source of book ideas for parents is the lists of like books displayed on Amazon, when you search for or purchase books ("you may also like ..." and "customers who bought this item also bought"). This suggestion came from author E.S. Ivy, and it is a method that I have used as a parent. There are acknowledged problems with this approach (broad age categories, a few popular books showing up over and over again), but if you have a book that you know your child likes, this can be a quick way to find other, similar books. 
  • Better Classification of Review Books: Include narrower age ranges on book reviews, as well as more subject information, suggests  E.S. Ivy. Consider using Accelerated Reader classifications for the age ranges, as they may be narrower than publisher classifications. I think that I could make improvements in my own blog in this area, though I do have concerns about making age ranges too narrow on book recommendations. There's such a wide range in reading ability at each age range that classifications are very difficult. But for sure I could do better in providing more easy to search subject classification. Our Learning mentioned experimenting with including more detailed categories in the blog sidebar, and is working on evaluating the effectiveness of this. 
  • More Lists: Erica MomandKiddo talked in her extensive and helpful comment about making booklists for parents, because she finds those useful herself. They are easier for parents to print out and take to the store or library. I've been dabbling in this already of late, and I do think that people are more willing to spread the word about booklists than about individual reviews. 
  • Facebook and Pinterest: Build "respected collaborative resources on the media platforms that most moms are on (ie. Pinterest & Facebook)", suggests Bethany @ No Twiddle Twaddle. +Erica Mom and Kiddo shared similar thoughts on Google+, saying "I feel no shame about trying to promote my book lists on platforms like Pinterest and Facebook even though I know those platforms are not widely used by Kidlitosphere folks. They are super-popular platforms with moms and they find books there." I agree with Bethany and Erica that something based on these platforms would be worth pursuing (and I know that people like Bethany and Erica and Pragmatic Mom are pursuing it at various levels, through group Pinterest boards, Google+ communities, the new collaborative Facebook effort The Niblings, etc.). The idea of leveraging Facebook was echoed by mom Jenny from BooksBabiesBows
  • Smart Phone Apps (?). Bethany's comment also made me wonder it some day there will be some sort of collaborative children's book finder smart phone App. Because that's the other place moms and dads spend their time these days, right? Tapping away at smart phones.
  • Pooling Existing Resources. "Maybe we can pool resources and come up with a better way or organizing the info that we already have as a first step", suggests author Barbara Mojica. I think that the idea of actually tacking something like this is daunting (given the volume of information, and the freewheeling nature of the Internet), but potentially very high yield. Of course there is overlap here with the idea of doing something on Facebook, Pinterest, or an App platform. The "go where the parents already are" message continues to ring in my head. 
  • Focus on the Message, rather than the ToolsRead Aloud Dad thinks that rather than trying to give parents shortcuts to the book selection process, "we need to promote the idea of investing time in finding good children's books." His extensive comments are basically a short blog post on the value in parents spending precious time finding the best books for their kids. At Google+, +StackingBooks shared a similar view: "To me a blogger's job is to get to the "good" content and then broadcast it and make it as "discoverable" as possible. The rest is really up to the parent. :)" I don't disagree that parent involvement and investment is key. But I still think that there have to be ways to make the process a bit easier, and to help people get started. Erica responded to this point with "I think it is pretty unrealistic that parents will spend a few hours every week doing so. Parents are busy!! ... Better to help them out with an easy way to find titles so they can spend the hours actually reading! :)" This is pretty much my view, too.
  • Search Engine Optimization. The Book Chook also shared extensive comments on this topic (she was the one who brought my attention to the original article). Like me, she's a bit concerned about issuing narrower classifications of books, for fear of "constrict(ing) kids' choices." And she acknowledges that to a certain extent "we are stuck with the transitory, fragmented and idiosyncratic nature of the way we publish information for parents and other book buyers about books." But she does suggest a couple of concrete things, including working on search engine optimization (so that people can find our blogs more easily. What if every blog-posted children's book review was tagged with a standard set of tags? Would you be able to search for those tags on Google? (This last thought came out of a discussion on the Kidlitosphere Yahoo Group.)
  • Reaching Out to Other Communities. The Book Chook also talked about "reach(ing) out to other communities. There are parent forums, teacher groups, librarian lists. If we join in their discussions, answering questions where we can, participating rather than promoting, I believe we have a chance of extending our reach." This last point is similar in spirit to Bethany and Erica's thoughts about finding moms where they spend time online, but with a different means of execution. 
  • An Idea for Libraries. Author and mom Rosanne Parry suggests "a parent component to preschool story time. My own half hour w/ a book person who could help me find what my family needed." There's not much I could personally do in that direction, but it is a neat idea for a library program, isn't it? Help for parents to find great children's books. 
  • Don't Forget Libraries and Bookstores. Like some of the commenters on the original article, Sara Lane suggests that parents take advantage of the wonderful resources that libraries and bookstores offer to help in selecting books. I certainly agree that this is a good idea. But I would like to also come up with resources to make things easier for parents for whom regular visits to libraries and bookstores, for whatever reason, aren't as good a fit. 

This question of how to help motivated parents to find quality books for their children is clearly something that many of us have struggled with. Just as clearly, there is no silver bullet. Some of the commenters would push most of the responsibility back onto the parents, telling them to spend more time, visit libraries, etc. But I still think, and a number of people seem to agree, that there is room for us to do more.

That "more" could involve something as ambitious as building a new collaborative platform to better share information. Or it could take the form of more incremental steps, tweaking individual blog reviews to make them more useful, publishing more themed book lists, reaching out to other communities, and working together on existing platforms like Google+, Pinterest, and Facebook.  

I'm going to keep thinking about this. I hope others will, too. I have always believed that by bring great books to the attention of people who can put them into the hands of children, I am making a positive difference in the world. I still believe that. I believe that each book review that I post is a tiny ray of light pointing out into the darkness. But now I'm trying to figure out a way to turn up the wattage of that light. I appreciate all of you who have taken time to help me think about this. I hope that our discussion will continue. 

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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: March 8

Here are some highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. I have NOT included all of the links from this week's Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour, because Terry will be collecting those all at the Share a Story website soon.

Book Lists

Get Genrefied: Stacked Blog takes on High Fantasy for young adults  #yalit

List O Mania: Edgar Award Nominees via @lizb #yalit

Literacy Events

I love the photo of @MsYingling in Cat in the Hat footie pjs: Read Across America Day Celebration! #literacy

Pam Allyn: World Read Aloud Day: Building a Worldwide #Literacy Community on @huffpostimpact

Librarians Celebrate World Read Aloud Day reports @roccoa @sljournal

Don't miss first post in #Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month, a girl inspired by a library book @shelfemployed

Thoughts and Tips for Growing Bookworms

How to Read an E-Book with Your Child from @ReadingRockets  #literacy #ece #parenting

More Reading, More Writing, More Engaged Citizens of the World, thoughts on #literacy education from @thereadingzone

Tips from @bookchook on how and why to Play Guessing Games with Kids #literacy

"We cannot give them what we do not have." Helping Teachers Rediscover Reading by @grithale @NerdyBookClub

Literacy and Reading Research

Again, again! That is the best way to learn to read, reports The Independent via @PWKidsBookshelf #litrdup

Latest Study: A full-time school librarian makes a critical difference in boosting student achievement | @sljournal

BBC News - Teenagers' book choices 'go for easier reads' (especially for boys) via @PWKidsBookshelf

Not surprising, but still nice to see: study finds proof of benefits of reading aloud to children #literacy #litrdup

Students Must Learn More Words before starting school, say studies @EducationWeek via @ReadingRockets #literacy


Meet the Latest Newbery Winner: How Katherine Applegate created a modern-day classic by @fuseeight @sljournal #kidlit

Useful post by @GreenBeanBlog on how she squeezes in time to listen to audiobooks via @catagator in AudioSynced

Comradeship, conflict of interest and CAKE... | thoughts on reviewing books by people you know from @playbythebook

Gender Relations and Observations

Just ... wow. A very powerful post by @hiMissJulie | Your silence is protection that they do not deserve

The gender imbalance in professional book review journals (mainly adult books, I imagine) | . via @haleshannon

Another example of demoralizing sexism: Stacked: Why we continue to fight sexism by @catagator

Male character function: be a character; Girl character function: love interest. Food for thought @haleshannon

Don't miss this post continuing the discussion on Women and Youth Librarianship by @lochwouters


Sigh! Elyria (OH) Schools To Lose All School Librarians | @sljournal

When Our Local Libraries Closed, Here's How We Designed Our Own | Cities on GOOD via @bookchook

This post reminded me of my own 6th grade: My time in the service… as a Library Cadet! by Molly Idle @nerdybookclub

RT @tashrow: Somerville Public Library Becomes 1st Public Library to Make “Awesome Box” Available | LJ INFOdocket


Author Beverly Cleary's childhood home for sale | via @PWKidsBookshelf

Kind of demoralizing RT @tashrow Here’s How You Buy Your Way Onto The New York Times Bestsellers List – Forbes

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

Strangelets: Michelle Gagnon

Book: Strangelets
Author: Michelle Gagnon
Age Range: 14 and up

When I learned from Colleen Mondor that Soho Press was debuting Soho Teen, a mystery/thriller imprint for young adults, I was intrigued. I am generally on the lookout for teen mysteries. So I went onto NetGalley, and found Strangelets available for review. Once I started to glance through it, I couldn't put it down, actually pre-empting the book that I was already reading.

I would call Strangelets science fiction with a mystery slant, rather than pure mystery/thriller. Strangelets begins with three geographically separated teens, each facing imminent death. A hole opens up, sucking each teen into a vortex. They wake up locked in an otherwise abandoned hospital wing, together with three other teenagers with similar near-death stories. When they eventually make their way outside, they find themselves in a crumbling, overgrown complex of buildings. The truth about where they are, and why, is revealed gradually over the course of the book. The puzzle of trying to figure things out kept me reading long into the night.

Strangelets is plot-driven and suspenseful, with a delightfully creepy atmosphere. Like this:

"They emerged from it into an enormous room, the size of an airplane hangar. It was filled with computer equipment, huge towers, and complicated looking panels. Silent and dark as a tomb, cast in an eerie red glow by emergency lights place at staggered intervals. It looked like a scene straight out of an old James Bond film; Declan half-expected to find a villain in a swiveling chair stroking a cat."

The limited third person viewpoint shifts frequently between the three primary protagonists, but I never found this disruptive. Terminally ill Californian Sophie, Irish bad boy Declan, and defecting Israeli soldier Anat have quite distinct voices. Sophie evokes sympathy (and is clearly intelligent), while Declan adds charm, street smarts, and humor (as above). Anat is not particularly likeable, but has other strengths. Here's Anat:

"Not that any of these kids were her fellow countrymen. Far from it, she thought with a snort. They were all soft, whining about missing a single meal. If anything happened, she was clearly the best equipped to handle it."

 Here's Sophie (with elipses to avoid spoilers):

"Of course, it was pretty absurd for a bunch of teenagers to get sucked across the planet into the infirmary beneath a research facility, too. And for ... Absurd was the order of the day."

The science in the science fiction of Strangelets is a bit vague, but still thought-provoking. I don't want to say more, because a big part of the fun of reading the book lies in figuring out what's going on. I found the ending a little more tidy than I might have personally preferred, but I think that most teen readers will like it. 

I enjoyed Strangelets, and I think that teens (boys and girls) will too. I look forward to seeing what else Soho Teen comes up with. Recommended. 

Publisher: Soho Teen (@soho_teen)
Publication Date: April 9, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from NetGalley

© 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 6

JRBPlogo-smallTonight 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 1643 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I am including six book reviews (four picture books, one middle grade novel, and one young adult novel). I also have one Children's Literacy Roundups and two posts about preschool literacy that I wrote for the Share a Story - Shape a Future Literacy Blog Tour.

Not included in the newsletter this time around (because even after two weeks, it was getting a bit long):

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

I'm currently reading The Girl from Felony Bay by J. E. Thompson, and listening to Shades of Earth by Beth Revis. I'm also hoping to catch up on some picture book reviews soon. 

And, of course, I'm reading every day to Baby Bookworm. She is fast approaching her third birthday, and is ever more opinionated about which books she does, and does not, want to read. She is currently obsessed with a set of 12 little Mercer Mayer books that are focused on phonics. The stories are, shall we say, thin, due to the brevity of the books, but she loves them. She is also obsessed with puzzles these days. This is cutting into our reading time a little bit, but I think it's good for her development in other ways (spatial, reasoning, and fine motor skills).

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

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

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: End of February

JkrROUNDUPThe end of February children's literacy and reading news roundup is now available at Quietly. The children's literacy roundups are brought to you twice a month by Carol Rasco at Quietly, Terry Doherty at The Family Bookshelf, and me (Jen Robinson's Book Page). This time around, Carol shares a host of literacy and reading-related events, a few highlights from literacy and reading programs and research, and several links of interest to those seeking to grow bookworms.

Here are a few highlights from Carol's post:

And here are a couple of additional tidbits from me:

  • The 90 Second Newbery Film Festival. This year's 90 Second Newbery film festival concluded with screenings in New York, Chicago, Tacoma, and Portland. Founder and organizer James Kennedy reports: "The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is an annual video contest in which kid filmmakers create movies that tell the entire story of a Newbery award-winning book in 90 seconds or less. We're now starting our third year! We've received hundreds of entries from all over the world, in a dizzying variety of styles -- from a shadow-puppet version of Grace Lin's 2010 Honor Book Where The Mountain Meets the Moon (view) to a full-scale musical of William Pene du Bois' 1948 Medal Winner The Twenty-One Balloons (view)."  The deadline for videos for the 3rd Annual 90-Second Newbery is December 10, 2013.
  • Proof of the benefits of reading to childrenThe Age reported yesterday on the results of a study that "has not only proven a causal effect between the frequency of reading to a child and his or her development, but have also for the first time measured the benefits... Reading to children six to seven days a week puts them almost a year ahead of those who are not being read to. It was also found that reading to small children has a positive effect on the development of numeracy skills." None of this is surprising, but it is very nice to see it quantified and publicized, isn't it? 

I'll be back on March 15th with the mid-March roundup. I the meantime, Carol, Terry, and I will be sharing literacy links on Twitter @CHRasco, @ReadingTub, and @JensBookPage. 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. 

Making Connections between Books and Day to Day Life

ShareAStoryLogo-colorThis post was written for Day 3 of the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour. The overall theme for this year's Share a Story is Literacy: The First Five Years. Day 3, hosted by Debbie Alvarez at The Styling Librarian, focuses on literacy for pre-preschoolers (ages 2-3). Since I work on building a love of books for my pre-preschooler (Baby Bookworm, who is nearly 3) every day, this seemed like a theme in which I should participate. Specifically, I'd like to talk about making connections between books and day to day life.

Making connections between books and the real world is a recommendation that I've seen in various blog posts and books. But for me, this isn't actually something that I work on consciously. I think that this is just something that happens when you have a book-focused household. If you read the same book over and over and over again (as will happen), it's natural that you think of that book when something crops up. All you have to do is share those thoughts with your child, and let her share them with you. 

Yesterday morning, as I was lying in bed looking at the sunlight coming in, I thought: "The sun was up. The day was bright. It filled our room with yellow light." This is the opening for Good night, laila tov, by Laurel Snyder and Jui Ishida (my review). My daughter wasn't there at the time. But if she had been, it would have been the most natural thing in the world to say those words aloud. She would have known what I meant. 

When we see a dog, she'll mention Bailey (by Harry Bliss). When she is being particular about what she wants to wear, I'll tell her that she's being like Ella Sarah (Margaret Chodos-Irvine), or Zoe (Bethanie Deeney Murguia). Sometimes I'll say "hmmpf", and my daughter laughs and says that I'm being "just like Bear" (from Bug and Bear, by Ann Bonwill and Layn Marlow). When she gets dressed in the morning, Baby Bookworm will say: "pink me up" or "purple me up", in reference to Charise Mericle Harper's Pink Me Up!. When we go through the security lane at the airport, her blanket goes through the big machine, just like Knuffle Bunny (Mo Willems). 

These things are pretty much seamless. I think the important thing is to encourage them as much as possible. You don't need to force it, or make artificial references to books. But if something that you see makes you think of a book, by all means point it out. And if your child refers to something from a book, celebrate that, and encourage it where you can.  

Of course there are other ways that these connections work, too. Up to this point, I've been talking about mentioning things that you've seen in books as you go about your day-to-day life. Another aspect of making connections lies in mentioning things about your day-to-day life as you are reading books. And although this is a little bit different, I think that includes making connections between books. Because the other books are part of our life, too. 

So, when we were reading Big Mean Mike (Michelle Knudsen and Scott Magoon) last night, I pointed out to my daughter that Mike's reaction to the bunnies was almost exactly the same as Bear's reaction to Mouse in A Visitor for Bear (Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton). This, to be honest, was over her head. But when we see a reference to a tiger in a book, it's logical for me to say, "what other tigers do we know from books?" and for her to chime in with "Louis!" (Louis the Tiger Who Came from the Sea, Michal Kozlowski and Sholto Walker).

When we see a reference in a book to a baby, we talk about Baby Bookworm's new baby cousin. We just read Bear's Busy Family (Stella Blackstone and Debbie Harter), and talked about all of her cousins. When we read Pink Me Up!, there's a reference at the end to a daddy who is a doctor. Baby Bookworm always chimes in with "My daddy a doctor, too." 

Making these latter sorts of connections (back to the real world, or to other books, while reading) may feel a bit more forced, at first. Sometimes as a reader you don't want to interrupt the book to talk about something else. But I think, particularly for books that are repeat reads, that this actually makes your child appreciate the book more. The book has relevance to her life. And she can better understand what something means, if it's compared with something concrete that she knows. 

In summary, here are three ways to help your pre-preschooler to make connections between books and life:

  1. Point out connections to favorite books as you go about your day to day activities. This shows your child that you value books, and increases his or her excitement about reading the books. If you do this consistently, you'll soon find that your child is making these connections on his own.
  2. As you read books, point out connections between the book and the child's larger world. This shows your child that books are relevant, and helps to enhance her understanding. 
  3. As you read books, point out connections to other books. This helps to solidify the universe of books in your child's mind, and gives him practice in making connections (which can in turn help with 1 and 2). 

Making connections between books and day to day life (and between books and other books) is a way to improve your pre-reading child's literacy. It's also fun, easy, and completely addictive. I highly recommend it. 

© 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). 

How Can We Help Parents to Find Quality Books for their Children?

I found considerable food for thought in this TeleRead article by Joanna Cabot (brought to my attention by Susan Stephenson from The Book Chook). Cabot shares some thoughts from her "Beloved's" sister, the mother of a toddler and a newborn, regarding the problems that this mother sees in the marketing of children's books. She would like to see more advertising and special promotions, and fewer books that are media tie-ins. But the bottom line is that, as the person selecting books for her children, she has difficulty discovering books. 

The author's conclusion is that there's a gap (and hence a marketing opportunity) in reaching parents like this one. She's talking about parents who have some money to spend on books, and a willingness to spend it, but have difficulty in finding quality books that aren't brand extensions or re-issues of classic titles. She says:

"I do think it’s clear that there is a promotion gap, and perhaps an information gap, too. There’s certainly room for improvement.

Customers are willing to spend in the children’s book category. Indeed, the primary feeling she has about children’s books is guilt—guilt that maybe she isn’t reading to them enough.

A smart publisher—a smart marketer—can sell to a customer like that! So … why aren’t they?"

To me, this is not just a question (and opportunity) for publishers. It's an issue that's important to all of us who want to see children, as many children as possible, grow up with a love of books. How do we help parents find the right books for their children? For the purposes of this discussion, let's stick to parents like the one described in Joanna Cabot's article, parents who want to buy books for their kids, and have the resources to do so, but don't know what books to buy. (Not that the question of reaching parents who don't fit this description isn't important, but let's table that for another day.)

There is a lot of interesting and useful discussion in the comments of the TeleRead article, including people suggesting visits to the library and bookstores. But (as is also clear from the comments), this is not a sufficient solution for many parents. There's a barrier to entry to gathering your kids up and taking them to the library or the bookstore. There's a comfort zone issue - many parents  may not be comfortable asking librarians or booksellers for help. And ever-shrinking budgets for librarians in elementary schools exacerbate the problem. 

I know for me, I'm something of a homebody. I tend to find out about books that I'm interested in online (though various sources), and then order them from Amazon, because that's what's easy for me. (I also receive books from publishers, but that's clearly not the situation that most parents are in, so we'll discount that). If I find myself out and about near an independent bookstore, I'm happy to buy books in person. If I'm at the library, I'm happy to be able to check out books, too. But I work from home and have a small child. I spend many hours every day on the computer, and what is easiest for me when I hear about a book that I want is to order it online. My guess is that this is true for many other parents, too.

What is also true, however, is that most parents don't have the exposure that I do to ideas about quality children's books to buy. I learn about new books by reading blogs and Facebook posts, by reading e-newsletters from publishers, Publisher's Weekly, and School Library Journal, and by reading print publications like the Horn Book Magazine. But how do other parents, who work in other industries and don't read these various publications, learn about books to buy for their kids? 

There's a wealth of information available online via blogs. But it's scattered and disorganized. There's no one place that a parent can go and rely on finding everything they need. Just taking my own blog, I've published hundreds of reviews. I have them categorized by age range, and I do have a list of all of the titles in one place. But if you're looking for great books for your 10 year old girl who likes magic but no kissing, I don't have an easy way to generate that list for you (though I've certainly been known to pull together such lists manually).

There are other sites that are more organized than I am, in terms of providing lists (StorySnoops, The Reading Tub, the Cybils shortlists) and there are many other sites that are more focused than I am by age range or genre. That all helps. But still, parents have to be able to find these sites. And no one site is going to give them everything they need. The average parent isn't going to spend an hour every day scrolling through the new posts from 158 blogs in Google Reader, either. 

So what can we do? How can we, collectively, the Kidlitosphere, make it easier for parents who AREN'T bloggers, who aren't part of our sometimes self-referential circle, find books? Can we start a discussion about that? And if you're a parent who reads my blog, do you have suggestions for how I can personally make finding books easier for you? I know that there are no easy answers, but I do welcome your feedback. Thanks for listening. 

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

I Like Old Clothes: Mary Ann Hoberman & Patrice Barton

Book: I Like Old Clothes
Author: Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrator: Patrice Barton
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8

I Like Old Clothes is, just as the title promises, a celebration of the merits of hand-me-down and used clothing. The narrator, a young girl, spends page after page outlining all of the things that she likes about previously-owned clothing. While not a riveting topic, perhaps, this book has two important things going for it.

First, the author is Mary Ann Hoberman (former US Children's Poet Laureate, and author of many many children's books in verse), which means that every page contains a perfect little poem. Like this:

"Clothes that belonged to a friend of a friend,
Who wore them to school when she lived in East Bend.
"You lived in East Bend once, Blue Sweater," I say.
"Just think, you are living in my town today.""


"I like to wonder what they've done,
What games they've played
And if they won,
And if the parties turned out fun." 

Second, I Like Old Clothes is illustrated by Patrice Barton, whose work I loved in Sweet Moon Baby. Barton's pencil sketch and mixed media illustrations make extensive use of texture, making them especially suited to a book about fabrics. She actually weaves clothing-related elements into other parts of the pictures, showing flowers made of buttons, and a sepia tape measure stretching across a floor. On one spread, the siding of the house is rendered in oh-so-gentle plaid. There are as many textures to the book as there are articles of clothing. The little girl is shown rosy-cheeked, muss-haired, and ever joyful, enjoying her wonderful, new-to-her clothing. 

The text of I Like Old Clothes was originally published in 1976 with different illustrations. I haven't seen that version, but this one is lovely. I Like Old Clothes is a 2012 Cybils nominee in Fiction Picture Books. And in fact, it would be a perfect companion to last year's short list title I Had A Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn. I'm not sure how broad the appeal of this one will be, but I do recommend it for readers old enough to have opinions about where there clothes come from, and for anyone who love Hoberman's verse or Barton's pictures. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: August 14, 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). 

Look! Another Book!: Bob Staake

Book: Look! Another Book!
Author: Bob Staake
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4 to 8 

I reviewed Bob Staake's Look! A Book! as part of last year's Round 1 reading for the Cybils in Fiction Picture Books. I recently received the sequel: Look! Another Book! There's not a lot that's new to say about this second book - it is very similar to the first one. But I personally have an endless capacity to marvel over Bob Staake's illustrations, so I wanted to give it a try.  

 Like Look! A Book!, Look! Another Book! is a seek and find book chock-full of pictures. Here is part of Staake's intro:

"Discover things, both small and large,
you can DO it--just take charge!

Scary monsters, hanging bats,
super-goofy flying cats!
The words are few and far between,
more PICTURES than you've ever seen!

Now open up this crazy book,
grab a seat--and have a LOOK!"

The  remainder of the book alternates between incredibly detailed, themed pages, and pages that just have a few cut-out circles, isolating individual items from the details. The first page, for instance, is a shopping mall. Readers are advised to "Watch out for that bowling ball" and asked "Can you find the waterfall?" Windows look into this scene from ahead and behind. Observant readers will find plenty of delightful tidbits, many more than suggested by the text, like a black and white checkered cow, a purple alligator carrying a purse (or perhaps a shopping bag), a bat flying out of the top of a stovepipe hat, and much, much more. 

The characters in the book, a mixture of people, animals, and robots, are in Staake's classic style, the people shown with round heads, huge eyes, and a variety of skin tones never to be seen in nature. There's an underlying joy to many of the displays, a constant sense of fun, that will make Look! Another Book! appeal to readers of all ages. Well, to readers age four and up, anyway. The illustrations are a bit too small, and too surreal, to appeal to very young children. 

At the end of the book, in a page that opens up from the bottom to a vertical double page spread, Staake sends readers back to the pictures. He includes a dozen quests, ranging from "1 panda" to "12 green books". I personally like the fact that, somewhere within Look! Another Book!, readers can find "11 blueberry bagels", though I don't personally have the patience to look. But if I was a curious and determined six-year-old, I'm sure it would be a completely different story.

I recommend Look! Another Book! to anyone who enjoys Bob Staake's illustrations (I can imagine it as a great coffee table book for twenty-somethings), but especially to parents and librarians of kids who like seek and find books. You can't go wrong with this book.  

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@lbkids)
Publication Date: December 4, 2012
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).