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Posts from May 2013

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: May 16

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 1670 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have eight book reviews (three picture books, one early chapter books, two middle grade novels, and two young adult novels). I also have a one children's literacy roundup, and a post summarizing our experience with Screen Free Week

Not included in the newsletter this time around I have:

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

I'm currently reading Mojo by Tim Tharp and listening to Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris (the final Sookie Stackhouse book). And, of course, I'm reading every day with Baby Bookworm. She, at age 3, has started asking to do "book reports". This actually involves playing with flashcards, and has nothing to do with books. I'm not sure where she picked up the term.

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

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

JkrROUNDUPThe latest Children's Literacy and Reading News roundup is now available at Quietly. The roundups are 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. This particular roundup, which encompasses both the end of April and mid-May roundups, is chock full of news about literacy and reading-related events; literacy programs and research; and suggestions for growing bookworms.

Here are some highlights from Carol's roundup:

  • "Children’s Book Week, it’s this week! A time to celebrate the books we hold dear at The Roundup! In addition to the bookmark above by Grace Lin (complete with activities, also see the Brian Selznick posterfor this year as well!) Last evening was the Children’s Choice Book Awards Gala. Not being able to make it in person this year I was thrilled to have a clear, steamed version into my living room…what a fun evening as always. I mean, did you know Meg Cabot raps?  Check out the video of the program yourself, learn the results of the more than one million votes cast by young people!" [Note: I am not at all surprised that Meg Cabot raps. Seems totally fitting.]
  • "MAY 29:  Paper Clip Day
    READ: SIX MILLION PAPER CLIPS: The Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial by Peter W. Schroeder." [I had to share this one, because one of my college professors, Henry Petroski, wrote a book about the evolution of the paper clip, among other "useful things".] 
  • "Prettier Charts Can Be Harder for Students to Read Sarah D. Sparks starts this particular blog entry with “Graphics are often intended to engage children in learning otherwise dry material, such as data on a chart. Yet new research from Ohio State University suggests increasing charts’ artistic appeal can interfere with students’ ability to comprehend the information they represent.”  Read more about this study of 122 middle class 6- to 8-year-old students."

And here are a few additional tidbits from me:

  • 48hbc_newThere was much sadness around the Kidlitosphere when MotherReader announced that she wasn't able to organize her 48 Hour Book Challenge this year (though of course people understood). Happily, however, Ms. Yingling has stepped in to manage the event, with help from Abby the Librarian. The show will go on, the weekend of June 7-9. I will not, alas, be able to participate this year, but I'll be there in spirit. 
  • This is hardly unexpected, but a new Canadian report based on a meta-analysis of other reports confirmed the benefits of reading. There are some good soundbytes, like this: "“The research shows that choice, control, and the implementation of reading as a social activity are key to building a nation of those who love to read versus a nation of those who can read,” said the report’s author, Sharon Murphy, Associate Professor of Education at York University. “It also confirms the many long-term societal benefits associated with being a nation of avid readers, including increased civic engagement, empathy for others, and improved cognitive and academic development.”"
  • DSC03282This was an article that I found personally satisfying. A study found that the presence of book-lined shelves in the home give children an advantage in school. Yes, I do have that one covered. 
  • The Scholastic Parents Blog Raise A Reader shares 3 Reasons to Read with Your Elementary Schooler Every Night. Scholastic has been posting a ton of good stuff as Summer Reading season approaches. 
  • And just for fun, The Jenny Evolution just shared a list of 50+ Great Adventure Chapter Books for Girls. Because "Girls need more to read than princess books. They need to journey with daring, rough-and-tumble girls who seek out adventure or rise to the challenges thrown at them." Can't argue with that! 

And that's all we have for you today. But do check out the full roundup at Carol's. Carol will be back towards the end of the month with another roundup. And we'll continue to share literacy news as we find it @JensBookPage, @ReadingTub, and @CHRasco. 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.

2013 Children's Choice Book Award Winners

The 2013 Children's Choice Book Award Winners were announced yesterday by the Children's Book Council and Every Child A Reader at the launch of Children's Book Week. The winners are:


Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta, illustrated by Ed Young (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)


Bad Kitty for President by Nick Bruel (Roaring Brook/Macmillan)


Dork Diaries 4: Tales from a Not-So-Graceful Ice Princess by Rachel Renée Russell (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster)


The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton/Penguin). My review.


Jeff Kinney for Diary of a Wimpy Kid 7: The Third Wheel (Amulet Books/Abrams). My review.


Robin Preiss Glasser for Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet (HarperCollins Children’s Books)

From the news release:

"The Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader announced the winners of the sixth annual Children’s Choice Book Awards (CCBAs) at a charity gala benefitting Every Child a Reader in New York City last night.  The announcement is an annual highlight of Children’s Book Week (May 13-19, 2013) as the CCBAs is the only national book awards program where the winning titles are selected by kids and teens. Young readers across the country voted in record numbers for their favorite books, author, and illustrator at bookstores, school libraries, and at, casting more than 1,000,000 votes. Full video footage of the awards ceremony is available for book lovers of all ages at"

The 5th Wave: Rick Yancey

Book: The 5th Wave
Author: Rick Yancey (@RickYancey)
Pages: 480
Age Range: 13 and up 

I enjoyed Rick Yancey's Alfred Kropp books (see reviews here and here), but somehow never made it through the first Monstrumologist book. Still, when I started seeing rave reviews of The 5th Wave, I simply had to read it. I purchased it on Kindle on publication day, and read it within 36 hours. In case this isn't already obvious from the huge marketing push, The 5th Wave is going to be big. I predict a movie, or movies (there are two other books planned). 

But let's talk about the book. The Fifth Wave is set in a near-term post-apocalyptic world in which aliens have decimated most of the world's population. The devastation occurred in waves. In the first wave, an electromagnetic pulse took out electricity, engines, computers, etc. The second wave toppled the population centers on the coasts. The third wave sent a deadly plague throughout the world, killing 3.5 billion people.

But the fourth wave is the one that shakes 16-year-old survivor Cassie to the core. Because the fourth wave reveals that the aliens can look just like humans. Which means that she can't true anyone. Well, except for her five year old brother, Sammy. But Sammy has been taken away from her, and it's up to Cassie to find him.

To say that The 5th Wave is suspenseful is an understatement. The narration shifts (via sections of the book) between Cassie and three other characters. This allows Yancey to ratchet up the suspense via the traditional cliffhangers, as well as through conflicting information. The 5th Wave is a book that readers will puzzle over, asking questions like "How can that be true?" and "But why would they do that?" and so on. It is certainly a book that readers will think about whenever they put it down. If they can put it down. 

Although the primary action reaches a resolution at the end of The 5th Wave, I was left with questions. It seems like these may or may not be resolved in the remaining books, but I can't share them here without risk of spoilers. I also felt that the choice to include narration from 5-year-old Sammy's point of view wasn't completely successful, even though it wasn't written in the first person. I understood why this was necessary (to convey certain information to the reader), but it's not easy to make narration as seen by a five-year-old feel authentic in a YA novel. Still, this was only a brief section of the book.

Cassie's voice, in the other hand, totally worked. And having the chance to see Cassie via the viewpoint of other characters clarified her image for the reader. She is delightfully sarcastic. While she doesn't really see her own bravery, she is otherwise insightful (if not always polished in her language). Like this:

"That's the hard part, the part that, if I thought about it too much, would make me crawl into my sleeping bag, zip myself up, and die of slow starvation. If you can't trust anyone, then you can trust no one. Better to take the chance that Aunt Tilly is one of them than play the odds that you've stumbled across a fellow survivor. That's figgin' diabolical." (Page 9)

"The unofficial boss of the camp was a retired marine named Hutchfield. He was a human LEGO person: square hands, square head, square jaw. Wore the same muscle tee every day, stained with something that might have been blood, though his black books always sported a mirror finish." (Page 58)

"We told the stories of our lives before the Arrival. We cried openly over the ones we had lost. We wept secretly for our smartphones, our cars, our microwave ovens, and the Internet." (Page 61)

I've always thought that I would really miss the Internet if there was an apocalypse. This sounds shallow, perhaps. But there's something about constant access to any sort of information that you might need that is very comforting. Now that we're used to that, I think it would be very hard to let go of. I was pleased to see Yancey touch on that. He also (and this is something one rarely sees mentioned in post-apocalyptic stories) addresses Cassie's worry about her dwindling tampon supply. Extra points for this realism coming from a male author. 

I found Yancey's post-apocalyptic world to be a bit harsher in the details than some, though the world-building is also pushed to the background a bit relative to the action. You mostly just get occasional snippets like this:

"You know how you can tell when you're getting close to one? The smell. You can smell a town from miles away." (Page 39)

There are also some grim scenes involving the use of children to dispose of bodies. Although there isn't a lot of language, and only a fairly tame romance thread, I think that these scenes make The 5th Wave more of a high school book than a middle school book. There are, as you might expect in a post-apocalyptic book about an alien invasion, plenty of guns and other weapons. 

Fans of post-apocalyptic novels will not want to miss The 5th Wave. It's a book that will make readers think, both in a "what's going on?" sense and in a larger "what is it that makes us human?" sense. It could be an interesting book for discussion with teen readers, with some parallels to the Holocaust, and the open questions that I wondered about after finishing the book. My only complaint is that I wish I had waited to read this after the second and third books were published, so that I could have immersed myself even more fully in Yancey's post-Arrival world.

Highly recommended for teen and adult readers.  

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (@PenguinKids)
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Source of Book: Purchased on Kindle

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 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

In the Shadow of Blackbirds: Cat Winters

Book: In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Author: Cat Winters
Pages: 400
Age Range: 13 and up 

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters is detailed, atmospheric historical fiction involving a ghost. In October of 1918, Mary Shelley Black is forced to travel from Oregon to her aunt's home in San Diego after her father is arrested for helping World War I draft dodgers. She faces the terror of the Spanish Flu epidemic, and is soon enmeshed in the local craze for spirit photography (in which photographers claim to be able to photograph ghosts). Mary Shelley is largely skeptical. However, when her soldier boyfriend Stephen is killed, she learns that ghosts do exist.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds has it all: a richly detailed historical setting; suspense; complex characters; and a puzzling mystery. It's not an upbeat book - the dark cover image picture above is representative of the overall mood of the story. But then, it wasn't an upbeat time. 

My favorite thing about this book was the way that Winters layered in the historical context. Everything feels organic to the story, and it's impossible to ever forget exactly what time period you are reading about. People are wearing face masks all the time, to guard against the flu. The eat onions and garlic (believing these to be protective), and cast sharp glances at anyone who utters a single cough. Anti-German sentiment runs so strong that people have burned any books or music they might have of even remotely German origin. And, in a time of epic loss of loved ones, between the flu and the war, Spiritualism runs rampant. Occasional black and white photographs included in the book add to the depth of the historical context.

Mary Shelley is a strong character. She is intellectual at a time when women aren't supposed to be interested in learning. She is loyal to what her aunt considers to be a fault. She worries about her fate, but avoids being bitter. She craves books, when her family's books have all been burned. She's even brave enough, in the middle of a flu epidemic, to volunteer at a home for wounded soldiers. 

Here's a snippet of the text, to give you a feel for Mary Shelley's voice:

"While my bathwater roared through the downstairs pipes, I wandered around my new room with the compass, checking to see whether the walls behind the gilded paper contained any metal strong enough to move the needle. And for a short while, the lure or scientific discovery blotted out the sea of masked faces on the train ride south, the purplish-black feet rattling the back of that cart, my father getting punched in the gut in front of my eyes, and the first boy I'd ever loved fighting for his life in a trench in France." (Page 25)

The plot regarding Stephen's ghost is decidedly creepy, and not for the faint of heart. But people who enjoy chilling ghost stories will not want to miss it.

The flu details (ambulances racing away with neighbors, caskets piling up outside funeral homes) actually reminded me of more modern apocalypse novels, in which broad swaths of the population succumb to plagues. And because In the Shadow of Blackbirds is based on actual events, it's in some ways more scary (making one wonder would happen, and how people would respond, if a drug-resistant virus came around today). 

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is dark in tone, and complex in plotting and structure. But for those readers willing to invest the time, it is both rewarding and illuminating. It's a book that made me very happy NOT to be living in 1918. It's also a book that I won't soon forget. Highly recommended for teens, and anyone who enjoys historical fiction or ghost stories. 

Publisher: Amulet Books (@AbramsKids)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: May 10

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage.

Book Lists and Awards

Congratulations to the Edgar Winners and Nominees | @medinger educating alice #kidlit #yalit

2013 CLA/NCTE Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts via @MaryLeeHahn #kidlit #bookawards

12 Books for Teens Adults May Enjoy — Suggestions Welcome! @StorySnoops #yalit

Timely! 10 Great Picture Books that Celebrate Mom - No Twiddle Twaddle @bethanyntt #kidlit

RT @mitaliperkins: Blogged this => New @scbwi Award for Unpublished Children's or YA Authors over the age of 50!

Growing Bookworms

Some good tips at The Book Chook in Switch Kids On to Reading and Writing by Brian Rock #literacy

Nice little post by Mem Fox on Why Reading Really is Magic @BookChook #literacy

Don't miss the Thanks Mom Edition of the #Literacy Lalapalooza from @ReadingTub

Programs and Research

Tiny Tips for Library Fun is hosting a webinar on the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten movement on 3/14 #literacy

Who knew? Mild iodine deficiency in womb associated with lower scores on children's #literacy tests #litrdup


I quite like this post on review copy disclaimers from @01FirstSecond via @aquafortis

I totally respect this piece from @cassieclare, On writers getting paid to write via @haleshannon

Just For Fun: Who Would You Put In The Children's Book Writers Hall Of Fame If There Were One? asks @susanbpfeffer

Does the world need a content rating system for young adult books? @momhouston via @PWKidsBookshelf

Self-Published Ebooks not a Solution for K-12 Schools -Christopher Harris @ShiftTheDigital

Coverflip: @maureenjohnson Calls For End To Gendered Book Covers w/ An Amazing Challenge @HuffingtonPost via @RIFWEB

Editorial: Everybody Wants to Be a Teenager - The Horn Book @HornBook via @PWKidsBookshelf

This is good news: Hachette to Sell Frontlist Ebook Titles to Libraries via @sljournal

A valid rant: Elizabeth Vail: Lovesick and Tired: Unnecessary Romance in YA via @PWKidsBookshelf


An encouraging story: @freerangekids » School Canceled for Weather… GREAT Weather!

RT @WarrenBuffett: Read my new essay on why women are key to America's prosperity: .

© 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.

Night Light: Nicholas Blechman

Book: Night Light
Author: Nicholas Blechman (@NBlechman)
Pages: 48
Age Range: 3-5 

Nicholas Blechman's Night Light is a counting book that makes practical use of die-cut technology to increase interactivity. Night Light uses transportation-themed examples, which also makes it particularly preschool boy-friendly. Alternating page spreads contain only a number, a question, and some number of die-cut openings, against a black background. Like this:


up to


The location of the die cut openings on the right-hand page and the color shown through each hole are hints as to what lies on the next page. In the first example, a fairly large, white circle resolves, when the page is turned, into the light on the front of a"TRAIN". The die cut opening is cleverly repurposed on the now left-hand side of the page into a tunnel opening from which the train has just emerged.

I think that preschoolers will have fun guessing what lies on the next page, as they look at the question pages (though most will be pretty tricky to guess the first time around). They'll also enjoy figuring out what Blechman has mapped to the die cut holes on the solution pages. As an adult reader, I was quite impressed with the artist's use of space and proportions to line these openings up correctly in two different pictures, one a mirror image of the other. For example, the holes that show three lights on a taxi cab end up corresponding to the mouths of three people hailing the taxi. 

I also liked the professional graphic arts feel of Blechman's digitally created illustrations. He uses a slightly muted color palette, and demonstrates a pleasing use of symmetry in most of the illustrations.  

Night Light offers kids several opportunities to count up to each number. First they can count the die cut holes on the black pages. Then they can count the lights on the transportation item revealed when each page is turned. And then they can look to their left and count the back sides of the die-cut holes. It's educational without feeling educational.

The last page goes back to number 1, with a cozy night-light, and shows all of the items from the other pages as toys in a boy's room (while he reads Night Light in bed). This is only misleading in that I don't see Night Light as a quiet bedtime book. I see it as a book that preschoolers will read more actively, first with parents, and later alone, as they practice identifying the vehicles, and counting up lights. It would make a great addition to any preschool classroom library, or the perfect birthday gift for a three or four year old. Recommended.  

Publisher: Orchard Books (@Scholastic
Publication Date: April 30, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 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

Starring Jules (As Herself): Beth Ain

Book: Starring Jules (As Herself)
Author: Beth Ain
Illustrator: Anne Keenan Higgins
Pages: 160
Age Range: 7-10 

Starring Jules (As Herself) is the first book in a new early chapter book series by Beth Ain. I've been hearing good things about this series, and after reading the first book, I think that Jules is going to join the ranks of Clementine and Ivy and Bean as early chapter book staples.   

As you can see on the cover image, seven-year-old Jules is full of joy. As the book begins, she sings a jingle about fizzy ice cream to her family in a cafe, catching the attention of a casting director for a mouthwash commercial. After that, realistic and over-the-top worries about her audition mix with friendship dynamics, as we spend a week in the life of Jules. 

Jules makes witty lists. She rails against the former best friend who has become too interested in sparkly, girly things. She loves turquoise. She defends her four-year-old brother (and does n-o-t call him by vegetable names, like some protagonists we know). She has a mother who is an artist, and a father who is a chef. While I don't find her quite as authentic as Clementine, she's more dramatic, and I think that kids who pride themselves in not being mainstream will particularly enjoy her. 

Here are a couple of examples of Jules' voice:

"To me, Teddy is kind of like a bouncing Super Ball. The kind that bounces so high and crazy you have to cover your head once you've let it go just so it doesn't hit you when you aren't looking. Right now, the bouncing ball is coming right for Charlotte, and Teddy bumps right into her as he comes to a stop." (Take Two)

"Both my parents talk about palates a lot, but when my dad says it, he means taste buds, and when my mom says it, she means colors. Sometimes, wonder if they know they are not talking about the same thing." (Take Three)

Fun, yes? 

The advanced  copy that I read of Starring Jules (As Herself) didn't have most of the illustrations yet in place. But if the picture on page 3 of Jules and her little brother, Big Henry, blowing bubbles in their milk is any indication, the illustrations will be as lively and vivacious as the cover image (though the interior art is not in color). Jules' quirky sense of style comes across (striped leggings, sneakers, a short skirt, and a polka-dotted shirt), as does her apparent need for constant movement. I look forward to seeing the final version, with all of the pictures. 

From talking with parents of voracious new readers, I have the impression that there is a boundless need for early chapter books with strong characters and relatable adventures. Starring Jules (As Herself) will be a welcome addition to the genre, with a likable, energetic heroine. Kids who enjoy school plays, and are enraptured by the idea of being on television, will be particularly pleased with Jules. The second book in the series, Starring Jules (in Drama-Rama) will be out in late August, just in time for the new school year.  

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 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

WordGirl's Word of the Month: Challenge

ChallengeI like WordGirl's Word of the Month for May: Challenge, because I think it's good for kids (boys and girls) to tackle things that they find challenging. Challenging is actually one of my three-year-old's first big words. She was doing well with puzzles, so I bought her a couple that I told her were "more challenging". And she totally got the concept (though she tends to use "it's too challenging" as an excuse to ask for help now).

But Scholastic and PBS Kids have chosen Challenge for the word of the month because WordGirl is the official ambassador for Scholastic's Summer Challenge encouraging reading. Kids can log their reading minutes and win prizes. Scholastic posts stats on minutes spent reading by school, as well as collectively across all participants. 

But however you look at it, Challenge is the word of the month for May. 

Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems for Two Voices

Book: Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems for Two Voices
Author: Carole Gerber
Illustrator: Eugene Yelchin
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems for Two Voices is a picture book designed to be read aloud by two people, alternating portions of each poem. Written by Carole Gerber and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (Breaking Stalin's Nose), Seeds, Bees seems tailor-made for classroom use. It gives kids the chance to perform poetry out loud, in pairs, while also containing quite a bit of informational content about plants and insects. 

Each poem is told from the perspective of two plants or creatures, using different colored text for each part. Lines meant to be read by both participants use both colors, switching letter by letter, including the titles. Indentation is also used to make it clear which lines belong to which reader. 

There is often a bit of humor incorporated into the poems. For instance, a new green shoot asks a bunny to stop blocking its sunlight, and the bunny says "Relax. That doesn't matter. / You'll be gone in just one bite." Two plants lament the feel of snails leaving "icky, sticky trails." I do think that this humor will work well for kids reading the poems aloud in class. 

The nature of the informational content necessitates the occasional use of relatively difficult vocabulary words, though Gerber clearly tries to keep this to a minimum. But we still get stanzas like this:

"We'll gather all their nectar
and also pollinate,
with little tongues and little feet.
            Want me to demonstrate?" 

(the last line is recited by the second person).  

Yelchin's graphite and gouache illustrations are a riot of colors and textures. He often repeats a key texture from the plant or creature of interest as part of the background. So, for example, the texture of the sky reflects back the pattern of the bunny's fur. His insects and flowers tend to be large-scale on each page, really bringing the subject matter to life. 

In truth, information poetry isn't really my personal cup of tea. But I think that Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More! could be very useful in first through third grade classrooms, due to its combination of perform-ability, bright, realistic illustrations, and informational content. Many kids are fascinated by plants and bugs, making Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More! a great companion book for units on nature, gardening, spring, etc. This would be a good choice to gift to your child's classroom, or for library purchase. 

Publisher: Henry Holt (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the author

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 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


Screen Free Week Wrap-Up

SfwI posted last Wednesday about our early progress with Screen Free Week (which was April 29th through May 5th). Baby Bookworm ended up having a quite successful Screen Free Six Days.This doesn't quite have the same ring to it as Screen Free Week, but it was the best we could do. She woke up with a cold yesterday and was miserable and in need of the comfort of Mary Poppins (plus I was in need of the comfort of a shower and time to fold the laundry). But I did still distract her from watching television by taking her on a Barnes and Noble run yesterday. So all was not lost.   

In the end she had a week without any iPad or iPhone use, not even looking at pictures. And she had six days with no television (at least at home - not sure if she saw any when she was at her friend's house). As I mentioned last week, this resulted in:

  • More time for creative play (e.g. pretending to be on airplane, or camping).
  • More books read.
  • More direct interaction with my husband and myself. 

These are all good things. And the whining over not having the iPad or being able to watch TV definitely declined over the week (though the requests did not cease completely). I found that I was able to use my iPhone in front of her - she seemed to accept that as a different thing, and didn't ask for it. Of course this was a bit hypocritical on my part, but I was doing my best.

I'm sure that we'll try Screen Free Week again next year. And I'm considering only allowing television on weekends going forward (we do all love to watch movies together). How about all of you? Did anyone else attempt Screen Free Week? What were your outcomes? 

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

Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Book: Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka (@StudioJJK)
Pages: 280
Age Range: 8 and up 

I'm a huge fan of Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady series of graphic novels for early middle grade readers. So I was interested to see what he would do with a middle grade novel. The Frog Who Croaked is the first book in the new Platypus Police Squad series. As I expected from Krosoczka, it is quite entertaining.

The Frog Who Croaked is a noir-ish detective story, liberally illustrated by the author, and aimed at readers 8 and up. As you might gather from the title, the primary protagonist, Rick Zengo, is a platypus. Even more unusual in middle grade protagonists, Zengo is an adult, albeit one who still lives at home with his parents and sometimes acts like a 10 year old.

As The Frog Who Croaked begins, Zengo is about to head off for his first day of work as a detective with the Platypus Police Squad. He is partnered with a gruff veteran detective named Corey O'Malley. The two experience friction, due to their vastly different approaches to crime-solving. But, as they investigate the case of a missing frog (a respected teacher who may have been involved with the illegal fish market), they come to value on another's strengths. 

Krosoczka's writing style is a kid-friendly version of hardboiled detective fiction. The violence and cynicism are toned down to be kid-appropriate, and there isn't any profanity. Humorous substitutions occur throughout the book, like characters drinking root-beer floats instead of beer. But in tone, The Frog Who Croaked feels like noir fiction. Like this:

"This is the city. Kalamazoo City.Population: 75,000. By day, it's a bright, vibrant metropolis, the kind of city where dreams come true... But it is a different city once the sun goes down. The criminal element, asleep by day, haunts certain dark corners at night. Especially the run down old docks on the south side of town, perhaps the darkest corner of all." (Page 1)

The illustrations weren't final in the version of the book that I read, so I'll just say that the frequent black and white illustrations help make The Frog Who Croaked accessible to younger readers. They also fill in certain details that are not always directly spelled out in the text (as one might expect from someone with a graphic novel background).

For example, Krosoczka often neglects to spell out exactly what animal each character is (there's a wide range, not just platypuses). He implies it through descriptive text sometimes (like a boy who "scuttles" away), but often leaves the reader to determine this via the pictures. I wonder if this technique is a subtle lesson in taking diversity as it comes. We don't always need to spell out characters' "ethnicity". Either way, I like it

I also like that while there are human aspects to the characters' behavior (it would be hard to write the book otherwise), Krosoczka also includes animal-specific details. Like this:

"Zengo brushed his mouth plates, polished his bill, and then opened the vanity mirror, selecting one of the neatly placed bottles of fur product. He squeezed a dab out onto his webbed flipper and with a quick flip of the tufts of his coiffure, he was ready for his day." (Chapter 1)

There's a funny moment in which one of the Zengo laments working "at a snail's pace", and gets a disgusted look from a passing family of snails. 

Zengo himself is a well-developed character, enthusiastic about his job, struggling to feel independent while still living at home, and just beginning to be aware of the advantages that his well-off upbringing has conveyed. He talks when he shouldn't, and makes mistakes that a more politically seasoned detective would be able to avoid. And he is deeply suspicious of the city's magnanimous benefactor, Frank Pandini, Jr. Zengo's relationship with his partner evolves plausibly, and not too quickly.

The Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked is a great introduction to the detective novel genre for middle grade readers (or book-resistant middle schoolers). It has enough pictures to lend plenty of scaffolding for younger readers, but also doesn't shrink from using relatively advanced vocabulary words ("facade", "animosity"). It has distinctive characters and settings, and a nice mix of deadpan humor and ridiculous details (like the cops using boomerangs instead of guns). In short, The Frog Who Croaked is a lot of fun. Recommended for readers 8 and up. 

Publisher: Walden Pond Press (@WaldenPondPress)
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

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