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Posts from November 2013

Santa Claus and the Three Bears: Maria Modugno

Book: Santa Claus and the Three Bears
Author: Maria Modugno
Illustrator: Jane Dyer and Brooke Dyer
Pages: 40 
Age Range: 3-8

Santa Claus and the Three Bears by Maria Modugno is, as you might guess from the title, a Goldilocks retelling in which the role of Goldilocks is played by none other than Santa Claus. Apart from that difference, and a northerly setting, it's pretty much a straight-up version of the story. The porridge is replaced by chocolate pudding, and there are Christmas decorations around the house. Santa apologizes for intruding and breaking Baby Bear's chair. He also leaves presents at the end, unlike that ungrateful Goldilocks. But overall, the rhythms of the story will be familiar to young readers. 

I honestly wasn't sure about this blending of Goldilocks and Santa. But it actually works quite well. There's a cozy winter feel to the book, and honestly, Santa is a lot more appealing than Goldilocks any day. My three year old adores this version, and I anticipate reading it many, many times between now and Christmas. 

Modugno's text, while it carries the repetition of the original story, is not sing-songy, and uses a bit of moderately advanced vocabulary. Like this:

"Papa bear was bringing in a tree from the forest,
Mama Bear was preparing Christmas pudding,
and Baby Bear was busy getting in the way.
Even though he was a baby, he was still pretty big."


"Meanwhile, Santa had finished delivering presents to everyone in the Southern Hemisphere, and he was halfway through the northern part of the world when his sleigh landed on the roof of the three bears' house."

The watercolor and gouache illustrations by Jane Dyer and Brooke Dyer are warm without being cloying. The bears are polar bears, and they are in fact pretty big (Mama and Papa are both bigger than Santa). They are quite expressive, too. Their house is lovingly decorated for the holiday, inside and out. There are some nice details, like "Papa", "Mama" and "Baby" written on their bowls, and a cozy patchwork quilt on Baby Bear's bed. My daughter's favorite picture is one that shows Baby Bear "getting in the way" while Mama makes pudding, chocolate all over his face and arms. 

Santa Claus and the Three Bears would make a nice addition to anyone's collection of Christmas-themed picture books. The outlines of the story are familiar, of course, but the Christmas details lend variety, and the illustrations stand up well to repeat reads. Recommended!

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: September 24, 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: November 29

TwitterLinksHoping that you all had a lovely Thanksgiving. Here are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Happy reading!

Book Lists

Just out: the @NYTimes Notable Children’s Books of 2013  #kidlit via @bkshelvesofdoom

Kirkus Best Children’s Books of 2013 list released via @tashrow #kidlit

A very nice list: SLJ Best Books 2013 Picture Books | @sljournal #kidlit

Top Ten Old-School Girl Books by Lyn @FairchildHawks @NerdyBookClub #kidlit

Best Picture Books of 2013, by category, according to @darshanakhiani #kidlit


TakeYourChildToABookstorePin1Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day Returns December 7th via @PublishersWkly

Gender and Reading/Writing

Lots of thoughts on gender in picture books from author Jonathan Emmett @ScribbleStreet via @playbythebook

Women make picture books too… observes @LaurelSnyder after looking at male-dominated best of lists

The gender bias in children's books by @sarahvmac in DailyLife via @tashrow #kidlit

Thoughtful post by @anneursu On Gender and Boys Read Panels #kidlit #literacy

Growing Bookworms

RT @CStarrRose: Thanks Jen @JensBookPage for her post on the new edition of THE READ ALOUD HANDBOOK for the Spellbinders newsletter

At @KirbyLarson blog, school librarian @IPushBooks talks about how she is nurturing wild readers @donalynbooks

Good ideas! How to Create a “Culture of Reading” | Suggestions from AASL 2013 | @sljournal


Flippy-Do Reads!: #KidLitCon13 - ARCS, Turkey Sandwiches and Twitter, oh my! reports Emilia P @flippydo

Don't miss @MotherReader 150 Ways to Give a Book, one of the best book-themed holiday gift guides around! #kidlit

Lots of great links here: This Week’s Tweets and Pins | Waking Brain Cells by @tashrow

MatildaOn Reading and Writing

Have to do any holiday shopping for a YA lover? @bkshelvesofdoom suggests Lizzie Skurnick subscription @Igpublishing

RT @tashrow Neville Longbottom is the Most Important Person in Harry Potter—And Here’s Why #kidlit

Programs and Research

Study from Booknet Canada finds parents, children, + teens prefer paper books for reading, reports @tashrow

Young adult readers 'prefer printed to ebooks' | @GuardianBooks via @PWKidsBookshelf

Research shows TV can impede kids' intellectual development -- even when it's playing in the background @salon

In Austin, @BookPeople + @RandomHouseKids Partner on Pen-Pal Literacy Initiative with Malawi, Africa @PublishersWkly

Schools and Libraries

Common Core: What it Means for Fiction in Schools, asks a high school English teacher @bookriot via @PWKidsBookshelf

Things @katsok loves about sharing The Lightning Thief by @CampHalfBlood w/ her students #kidlit

The Totally Awesome Way Some Libraries Are Tackling Hunger (food donations in lieu of fines) @HuffPostImpact

Userful post: Ten Ways to Get Books for Your Classroom or Library by @GigiMcAreads @NerdyBookClub


I'm grateful for this, too. "It's All Over Now!" - My Gratitude for the Power of Storytelling by @gregpincus

Thank God for Books, a collection of Thanksgiving book posts gathered by @semicolonblog

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a list of picture books about food from @bookblogmomma #kidlit

More ideas for Thanksgiving travel | Top 5 activities for family roadtrips--without TV! from @rosemondcates

Suggestions for #literacy-building car activities from @Scholastic via @JGCanada

© 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.

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: Thanksgiving Edition

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 1771 subscribers. I send out the newsletter once every two weeks. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews, ranging from picture book through young adult. I also have a post about my first read-aloud to a group of children, as well as one with a small literacy milestone for my daughter. I have two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently.

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I read one middle grade book, two young adult titles, and one adult mystery. I read:

  • Jennifer Ann Mann: Sunny Sweet Is So Not Sorry. Bloomsbury USA Childrens. Early Middle Grade. Completed November 12, 2013. My review.
  • Jennifer Rush: Erased (Altered series). Little Brown Books for Young Readers. Young Adult. Completed November 15, 2013. Review to come (closer to publication).
  • Robin Benway: Going Rogue (An AKA Novel). Walker Children's Young Adult Fiction. Completed November 23, 2013. Review to come (closer to publication). 
  • Victoria Thompson: Murder in Chelsea (Gaslight Mystery). Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed November 22, 2013, on MP3. This is far and away the best of the series so far. It's extremely rare for me to have to keep listening to an audio book to find out what will happen next, but I did with this book. Quite a clever ending, too. Fans of the series will not want to miss this one. 

I'm currently listening to Takedown Twenty (the latest Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich) and reading Just One Evil Act, a Lynley Novel, by Elizabeth George. The latter is quite long, so I will most likely mix in some middle grade fiction and/or adult nonfiction before I'm through. (The Kindle conveniently tells me that I have ~8 hours of reading time left.)

Baby Bookworm (now 3 1/2) has been enjoying multiple books in the Madeline series, as well as Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin & Daniel Salmieri and The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf by Mark Teague. I also finished reading two longer books to her last week:

  • Shirley Hughes: The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook. Red Fox Press. Completed November 18, 2013. We had dipped in and out of this book of stories previously, but read it cover to cover before breakfast one morning. It was a recommendation from Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook, 7th Edition
  • Johanna Hurwitz: Busybody Nora (Riverside Kids). HarperCollins. Completed November 18, 2013. We read this one over several weeks, in little bits, and it is at just the right age level. I wish that the other books in the series were still in print. They are available in Kindle editions, but I prefer to read print books to my daughter at this point. We do have some checked out from the library, but because they are ones we read more slowly, I would rather own them. Perhaps a trip to the used bookstore is in order... 

Wishing all of my readers from or in the U.S. a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. I am thankful for many things this holiday season, especially for books and all of the magical things that they offer to children. Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. Enjoy your holiday!

© 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

Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry: Jennifer Ann Mann

Book: Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry
Author: Jennifer Ann Mann (@jenannmann)
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry by Jennifer Ann Mann is the start of a new series featuring an older sister (5th grade) and a younger sister (1st grade), with an amped-up level of sibling rivarly. There are Beezus and Ramona references on the cover, and I can see the comparison, but I found Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry to be more over-the-top than Cleary's books. Fun, to be sure, but not the most realistic of realistic fiction. 

Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry begins as older sister Masha (the first-person narrator) wakes up to find her head glued to the pillow, and a bunch of plastic flowers glued to her head/hair. Way up at the root, where they can't be cut out. She learns that her genius of a younger sister, Sunny, has invented a new, and basicallly impossible to unstick, glue. Needless to say, Masha is not happy. What follows are a series of escapades over the course of the day involving Masha and Sunny, their elderly Chinese neighbor, the local hospital, and Masha's problematic hair. 

Things I liked about this book:

  • Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry could actually work for a fairly broad age range. Masha is in 5th grade, but she's kind of a young fifth grader, and this book is accessible to 7 and 8 year olds. There are a few illustrations, perhaps one per chapter, but not so many as you would find in Clementine or the like. Masha does have social problems fitting in at school, too. This means that Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry is ok for younger kids, but should also work for 10 year old readers who want something light. 
  • Although there are modern touches, like cell phones, Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry has an old-fashioned feel, particularly in the relative freedom that Masha and Sunny experience throughout the day (though it's not that their mother intended this freedom). Sunny is a particularly competent (if annoying to her sister) six-year-old. 
  • Sunny and Masha live with their single mother, but any mentions of their dad indicate that he's an upstanding member of society, not some deadbeat. It's apparently not clear to Masha why her mother divorced her father, but I thought it was a realistic single-parent situation. 
  • Later in the book, Masha meets a number of hospitalized children, and becomes friends with one of them. The descriptions of the children's ailments are realistic, but not overly scary. It's nice to see disabled or sick children as regular kids.

I did, knowing a bit about hospitals, find some of the hospital dynamics a bit implausible. For instance, the hospital staff goes to quite a bit of trouble to try to remove the plastic flowers from Masha's head, when it's not really clear that there's any medical issue (let alone discussion of insurance or payment). Actually, this all added to the old-fashioned feel of the book for me. I can imagine a community hospital of years gone by working this way, perhaps... This didn't really take away from my enjoyment of the book, but it certainly contributed to my impression of it as over-the-top vs. strictly realistic fiction.

Anyway, I did like Masha. She's plausible as the put-upon older sibling of a child who is not normal (Sunny's over-sized IQ). Here's Masha's voice:

"Sunny had to go to school, and my mom had to go to work. She had some huge meeting that she was stressed about. She always had some huge meeting she was stressed about. you could never say this to her, though. If you did, she'd remind you about how she's got a lot on her plate, blah, blah, blah, and make you feel all guilty--like it was my big idea to divorce my dad and move to another state." (Page 24, ARC)

"An ER waiting room is such a weird place. All the people are quiet, as if they're in a library, but they aren't working or reading, they're just slumped in chairs. It's like some kind of misery library." (Page 47, ARC)

Masha is not popular. She's actually pretty much invisible at school. But she maintains a healthy sense of self. And Sunny... Sunny is an "evil genius", but she's also a six year old who cries if her sister hurts her feelings. She figures things out, and has reasons (even if they are unusual) for the things that she does. I look forward to seeing what she's going to come up with next. Book 2 is due out in May, and appears to take up immediately where Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry leaves off. 

I think that Sunny Sweet Is So NOT Sorry will be a welcome addition to the ranks of early chapter books, bridging the gap between Clementine and The Penderwicks. Masha and Sunny's adventures are funny, and they are both strong-willed and independent. Recommended in particular for elementary school libraries. 

Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA Children's (@BWKids)
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher, picked up at KidLitCon

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

Literacy Milestone: The Search for Story

LiteracyMilestoneAMy daughter had what I thought was a tiny literacy milestone last night. She picked up the Berenstains' B Book, a "Bright & Early Book" that came to us as a hand-me-down. She flipped through it herself, and then asked me to read it. It's basicially a bunch of words and cumulative rhymes in which all of the words start with "B". In truth, it's the sort of book over which a sleep-deprived parent will find herself nodding.  

Anyway, we got to the end of the book and Baby Bookworm said: "Let's read another book. That one didn't have much story" (or something to that effect). This is the first time I've seen her consciously aware of whether a book contained a story, or just other things (vocabulary, pictures, etc.). 

And so we picked up another book. Because I am one to reward the search for story. Not to say that we won't seek out nonfiction in the future (there's a certain Pinkalicious Cupcake Book that my daughter is fascinated by). And of course much nonfiction does have story, in spades. The point is that I think it's important to be able recognize what is and isn't a story. Seeking out more personally satisfying stories is certainly a development along the path to becoming a reader. 

We also watched the movie Wall-E this weekend, my daughter's first viewing. I was pleased to note that she had no problem staying engaged during that first part of the movie, when essentially no dialog takes place. She needed us to explain what was happening, but she didn't need the movie itself to have words. I doubt she would have stayed still if there hadn't been a good story, though. 

© 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. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: November 22

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

Book Lists

A Tuesday Ten: #kidlit Fantasy stories launched by a birthday | Views From the Tesseract

A list that @charlotteslib will like | Top Ten Fantasy Books for Boys with Starring Girls from alibrarymama #kidlit

Stacked: 2014 Contemporary YA Books to Get On Your Radar @catagator #yalit

12 Great New Picture Books recommended by @TrevorHCairney #kidlit

Top 10 Chanukah Books by @raisealithuman @NerdyBookClub #booklist

Lots of parents will like this book list: Chapter Books for Kids with Old-Fashioned Flair - from @momandkiddo

Stacked: Contemporary YA Books Featuring Family Stories @catagator #yalit

25 Empowering Books for Little Black Girls from @ForHarriet via @CBCBook

Book-Related Gift Guides

For your holiday #kidlit shopping pleasure: Book and Toy Gift Sets selected by @momandkiddo

Gifts to help develop love of literacy | 2013 #Literacy Gift Guide from @growingbbb

Blogging and Reviewing

The Blogging Blahs have hit @tashrow at her Sites and Soundbytes blog. Giving self permission NOT to do things is ok

KidlitCon2013Thoughts on reviewing Changes + Gender Issues in light of #KidLitCon13, from @Book_Nut (age ranges, labels)

Are your Books (that you read or recommend) Mirrors or Windows? {On Reading} — @5M4B #KidLitCon13

Book Awards

Congratulations to Cynthia Kadohata, winner of the @nationalbook Award for #kidlit for The Thing About Luck

Winter 2013-2014 Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten via @tashrow + w/ congratulations to @LaurelSnyder #kidlit

Growing Bookworms

How and why you should give your child plenty of choice when it comes to reading | @ReadingWithBean

A Case for Letting Kids Read Books on Digital Devices | @LevarBurton @BigKidStir via @tashrow #literacy

5 tips to make sure you don't kill your child's love of reading @zoobeanforkids @HuffPostBooks  via @PWKidsBookshelf

Hunger Games Movie

Suzanne Collins interviewed at Time Magazine. Quotes from part 1 + 2 @bkshelvesofdoom #yalit

I still think this is a bad idea | That 'Hunger Games' Theme Park? Here Are 5 Attractions We Want to See says @Time

RT @tashrow: Hunger Games Catches Fire Online


#Kidlit bloggers, it's that time again. Submit your posts for the November Carnival of Children’s Literature @asuen1

Link Du Jour: Nonfiction Monday is a-Changin’ — @100scopenotes #NonFiction

KidLitConSarahCynthiaScroll down to see some #KidLitCon13 links and photos in this post from our keynote speaker @CynLeitichSmith

(Photo shows Sarah Stevenson, Cynthia, and me.)

Don't miss the #KidLitCon13 Austin Round-Up at Kidlitosphere Central (created by @MotherReader )

Diversity, Authenticity, and Kindred Spirits: Thoughts from #Kidlitcon13 from @SheilaRuth

ChildrensStoryOn Reading and Writing

December is Read a New Book Month reports @readingtub Keep reading during this busy time, and try to stretch yourself

Why I’m an unapologetic book-quitter by Leah McLaren @GlobeAndMail resonated with me | via @tashrow

I could relate to: Friday Confession:I Love Book People from @NoVALibraryMom

Guest Post by @JennWalkup @yahighway: Keeping it Real - Female Protagonists in YA Lit via @CynLeitichSmith

Picture Book Month

PictureBookMonthThird Annual Picture Book Month Is in Full Swing |reports @roccoa @sljournal #kidlit

Getting the Most Out of Picture Books, a helpful guide from @RIFWEB via @BookChook #PictureBookMonth

Why Picture Books Are Important @inkyelbows for #PictureBookMonth via @BookChook

Are you following the @SproutsBkshelf 30 Days of Picture Books posts? Charley's First Night by Amy Hest looks lovely

Programs and Research

This is nice to see: A list of Charities That Give Books to Children and Promote #Literacy from @momandkiddo

GivingKidsThis is neat. New website that helps kids find opportunities to help others (projects/donations/etc) @GivingKIDS

Nice! London benches to celebrate books + promote reading reports @TheBookseller via @PWKidsBookshelf

More gadgets, more reading: Survey suggests e-reader and tablet owners read more books @gigaom via @cmirabile

Publishers, Authors, and Booksellers

Lee & Low Acquires Shen’s Books, reports @fuseeight #kidlit @leeandlow

Amazon rolls out Kindle MatchBook: About 75k print books bundled with discounted ebooks @gigaom via @cmirabile

A Female Author Talks About Sexism and Self-Promotion by @sarahreesbrenna in @thetoast via @CBCBook

A Second Female Author Talks About Sexism and Self-Promotion by @malindalo in @thetoast via @CBCBook

Park18n-1-webRest in peace, Barbara Park, Junie B. Jones author (wretched cancer) [Image from Random House]

In Support, Forever, of Junie B. Jones by @MotherReader #kidlit Barbara Park

Schools and Libraries

Neat! Stockholm’s Tio Tretton Library–Inspiration for Service to Tweens | Sites and Soundbytes @tashrow

Five ideas for librarians to nurture creativity at work, adapted from @Zen_Habits by @tashrow at Sites + Soundbytes

Fun post at @KirbyLarson blog about student/parent/teacher book clubs run by @muellerholly #literacy

Cut to the Core: Has the Common Core Rollout Gone Awry? asks @PublishersWkly #education

Inspiring post @KirbyLarson blog by @kelvorhis about spreading the love of books to colleagues + parents at school

Inspiration. Applying "First, do no harm…" in all areas of life, not just medicine, by teacher @katsok

© 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.

My First Group Read-Aloud

SophiesSquashI have read many picture books aloud to my daughter over the past 3 1/2 years. Prior to that I read books to my nieces and friends' children here and there. But until last weekend, I'd never done a read-aloud for a larger group. But when the organizers for my church's Mommy and Me group asked me if I would do a little storytime for the kids as part of one of our regular monthly playdates, I said "Of course!" How could a determined bookworm-grower refuse such an invitation? 

I sought out input from my Facebook friends (many of whom are librarians and teachers). With their help, I settled on Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and Ann Wilsdorf and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. (It seemed especially fitting that our copy of the Pigeon book was a baby gift from Donalyn Miller, Book Whisperer and co-founder of The Nerdy Book Club.)

The reading took place at a local park, with the kids and their moms gathered around a picnic table. And I thought that it was quite successful. The kids ranged from 18 months up to about 8. One of the older girls recited Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus along with me, line by line, which was fun. And the 18 month old hung on to every word, however much he actually understood. With Sophie's Squash, we talked about what happens when one keeps a vegetable around for too long, and I think that at least the older kids and their moms appreciated the clever and heart-warming ending. I had some good talks about children's books and reading with a couple of the moms afterward, too. 

Bottom line: I do believe we'll try this again! Fun was had by all, especially me. My thanks to the Social Club of the St. Andrew Armenian Church for inviting me to read, and to Ani Yeni-Komshian for the above photo. 

Back to Bed, Ed!: Sebastien Braun

Book: Back to Bed, Ed!
Author: Sebastien Braun
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5

I must confess that when I first received Back to Bed, Ed! by Sebastien Braun, I didn't fully appreciate it (and didn't review it). This was back in early 2010, when I was pregnant with my daughter (my first and only child). A picture book about a boy (well, a mouse) who keeps getting into his parents' bed, and the solution that his family finds for the problem, well, it seemed a bit ... slight to that pre-parent me. But NOW, 3 1/2 years later, I have come to consider Back to Bed, Ed! necessary and relevant. Now that I have a child who climbs into my bed multiple times a night, I can appreciate how spot-on Braun's work is. (Or at least I would be able to appreciate it if I wasn't so tired all the time.)

ClosedSignIn fact, my plan for tonight is to copy Ed's parents' solution. Since this is a picture book, I'm not going to worry too much about spoilers, so I'll tell you. After many nights of being woken up (and kept awake) by Ed, his parents hang a "Closed" sign on the door. When he gets out of bed, he is stopped by the sign from entering their room. His dad walks him back to his room, where he gathers up all his stuffed animals into his bed and tells them "There's no need to be scared. I'm here now." (Image created by me, though similar to the one in the book.)

My daughter loves Back to Bed, Ed!, and she was actually the one to suggest the "Closed" sign (she's much braver by daylight than she is at night). We're going to bring all of her stuffed animals up from the playroom, and put them nearby, so that she can gather them into her bed, just like Ed does. I can only hope that life will imitate art. 

For those of you facing a similar problem (or anticipating the possibility of facing a similar problem), Back to Bed, Ed! is an essential book for any preschooler's home library. The reactions of Ed's (tired) parents are spot-on. Braun's illustrations are a mix of realistic (groggy parents spilling cereal on the table) and fanciful (the monsters that Ed imagines following him into the bedroom).

Nothing in Back to Bed, Ed! is actually scary. The monsters look like friendly dinosaurs, and the night-time background colors are blues and purples, rather than the inky blacks of Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen's The Dark. Jammie-clad Ed, clutching his stuffed bunny, is determined, then sad, and then, ultimately, pleased with himself. 

I kept Back to Bed, Ed! around, even when I didn't really anticipate needing it, because I found Ed a likeable character. Now, he's practically a member of my family, and I highly recommend this book for anyone struggling to keep a preschooler in bed. It is still in print, with a paperback coming out in February, which suggests that I am not alone in my assessment.  

Wish me luck!

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (@PeachtreePub)
Publication Date: February 1, 2010
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

Also Known As: Robin Benway

Book: Also Known As (AKA Series)
Author: Robin Benway (@RobinBenway)
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

I quite enjoyed Robin Benway's first novel, Audrey, Wait! When I heard that her newest book featured a 16-year-old female spy, well, of course I was intrigued. Also Known As proved to be the perfect read for my trip back from Austin last week. 

Also Known As features Maggie, a talented safecracker who works with her parents for a shadowy spy organization called The Collective. The 200 members of The Collective, including Maggie's family, travel around the world righting wrongs, through not necessarily legal means (e.g. safecracking). When Maggie gets her first real assignment, however, she finds herself in particularly dangerous territory: a private high school in New York City. Her task is to befriend a cute boy named Jesse, before Jesse's dad can publish a news story about The Collective. Maggie's mission is to gain access to the dad's computer, and find information about who might have leaked the story. But what seems simple enough becomes complicated when (you knew this was coming), Maggie develops personal relationships with a couple of the teens that she encounters. And spies are not supposed to make friends, let alone fall in love. 

What I liked best about Also Known As was Maggie's voice. She reminded me a bit of Ananka, the primary narrator for the Kiki Strike series, but with more of a sarcastic streak. She discusses spying matter-of-factly, like this:

"The first rule of being a spy: Listen. Our family friend Angelo always says that a good spy never asks questions, that people will always tell you what you need to know." (Page 4)

"Personally, I would have rather jimmied the lock open because hi, let's play to our strengths, but my parents are always about doing things the simple way. It gets annoying sometimes, I can't lie." (Page 7)

She's just plain funny, too:

"When I was five, I had to leave a princess-style canopy bed behind in Sydney, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that it was tragic. I think I'm still grieving for that bed." (Page 21)

(Giving herself a pep talk about starting high school for the first time) "You could eat those kids for breakfast. You won't, though, because that would be cannibalistic and wrong." (Page 31)

See? I could go on all day, but I think you get the idea. There are a couple of strong supporting characters, too. Roux, Maggie's first-ever same-age friend, is impressively complex. A former mean girl turned school pariah, Roux has wealthy but neglectful parents. A grumpy doorman is her only real authority figure. She drinks too much, and isn't above turning to prescription meds to help cope with her issues. (Content advisory here, though Maggie steers clear of these substances.) 

Maggie's other friend is Angelo, an older man who has been a mentor to Maggie's family for as long as she can remember. He is cryptic about his past, but always gentlemanly and supportive. Bonus points for the way Benway reveals, casually, mid-way through the book that Angelo is gay (through a reference to falling for someone on a case early in his career). Angelo sets up meetings with Maggie by leaving her little sketches of the places that they are supposed to meet, which I loved (sketches not shown). 

So, fun premise, solid characters, and fast-paced plot (especially later in the book). All excellent. I was less thrilled with the love story between Maggie and, well, no need for spoilers. There's a bit more description of kissing than I personally needed (though nothing further than kissing). And also quite a bit of conversation along the lines of "you and me against the world", "no one else understands me", etc. I think this will probably all work for the target audience, of course, but I personally would have had a bit less love story and a bit more spying. 

That minor quibble aside, I enjoyed Also Known As, and look forward to reading the next book in the series, Going Rogue (which I luckily have, though it's not due out until January). Also Known As is a light-hearted story featuring a teen girl spy who, in addition to having adventures, has to cope with protective parents and the challenges of fitting into the high school shark tank. Something for everyone, I'd say! Recommended for library purchase, especially at the high school level. A great follow-on to the Kiki Strike books, aimed at a slightly older audience.

Publisher: Walker Children's Books (@BWKids)
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Source of Book: Bought it 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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: November 15

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter for the past week or so @JensBookPage. Please note that I'm not including my various Tweets from last weekend's KidLitCon (you can find those under the hashtag #KidLitCon13). I'm also not including links to the other KidLitCon recap posts, because I have been rounding those up here. There are still plenty of links to share!

Book Lists

Stacked: Contemporary YA Books Featuring Humor @catagator #yalit

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne, with list of other "art theft" #kidlit books | @semicolonblog

Best Audiobooks: 20 Must-Have Titles for Tweens and Teens (includes nonfiction) | @sljournal #kidlit

It's time again for agreat resource: @Susan_Thomsen Best Kids' Books 2013: A List of Lists and Awards #kidlit

Fun! A Tuesday Ten: Little Folk (miniature book in #kidlit) | Views From the Tesseract

PW's Best Children's Books of 2013 via @100scopenotes #kidlit @PublishersWkly

Stacked: Contemporary #YAlit Books Featuring Mental Illness from @catagator

Reading with Kids - Let's Make Some Noise • Favorite books featuring sounds from @readingtub #kidlit

So You Want to Read Middle Grade, Strong Girls Edition by @CStarrRose @greenbeanblog #kidlit

What To Read Next after Percy Jackson « Fat Girl, Reading #kidlit via @catagator

Book Awards/Cybils

CBW-coast-FINALGet young readers ready! Voting for the Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards will open March 25: ! @cbcbook #ECAR

Great poem from @carwilc on the madness and joy that is life as a round 1 #cybils judge

A Year of Reading: #CYBILS: Picture Book Biographies by @frankisibberson #kidlit


Huge list of SLJ Resources for Diversity in Kid and YA Lit | @sljournal via @tashrow

Literary Agents Discuss the Diversity Gap in Publishing « the open book via Wendie Old

DiverseComing this weekend--A More Diverse Universe, with a list of the books I hope to read from @charlotteslib #kidlit

Growing Bookworms

Nice guest post by Jake Ball on Reading with Dad | @wendy_lawrence #literacy

RT @ShareaStory 12 Ways to Help Your Kids Break Free From Electronics and Get Outside via My Kids' Adventures

This is awesome! A Bookish Advent Calendar (25 xmas picture books) from @delightchildbks

That's a lot of turkeys! 60+ turkey themed activities, crafts, + books for kids from @bookblogmomma

Top Ten Go-To Authors for Reluctant Readers by Brooks Spencer @NerdyBookClub #kidlit

Excellent post by @katsok on how she is Raising Readers at home and school #literacy

Advice on Helping Reluctant Readers from @ReadingWithBean #literacy

Good stuff, and includes a great book list! Reading to the Bump: Tips & Books for Expecting Parents @rebeccazdunn

Advice on how to use the pictures when reading picture books aloud, from @readingwithbean #literacy

Movies and Entertainment

I find this kind of creepy: Lionsgate Pursuing 'Hunger Games' Theme Park Opportunities - TheWrap @BrentALang

ThebookthiefposterI believe that Jennifer @5M4B has convinced me to see #TheBookThief Movie with this review: @BookThiefMovie

Interesting! Promoting 'The Book Thief' with Help from Little Free Library, report from @PublishersWkly

On Reading and Writing

Must-read from @charlotteslib | Consternated about gender and #kidlit with reference to two sessions at AASL meeting

Powerful! Sometimes The 'Tough Teen' Is Quietly Writing Stories : Matt de la Pena @NPRBooks via @PWKidsBookshelf

Top tips for a scary story by @JonathanAStroud @NerdyBookClub #yalit #kidlit

'Stephen King Saved My Life' says @robinwasserman in @TheAtlantic essay via @bkshelvesofdoom

Reading and Writing Feed One Another: 8 Key Illustrations from @TrevorHCairney #literacy

Must-read at Stacked: A Closer Look at The New York Times YA Bestsellers List, Part 2 by @catagator

Well done piece | Who Buys (And Who Reads) Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein | @WriteTeenNovels via @catagator


Refreshing words of sanity from @MotherReader in response to "pinkwashing" controversy and right book at right time

I liked this post @SensibleMoms on how Ellen handles her child reading more mature book content via @bkshelvesofdoom

I like this article from Kara Corridan in Parents Magazine on how more worry doesn't equal more parental love

Common-sense guidelines: Much ado about media | Sound It Out by Joanne Meier | @readingrockets

Programs, Research and Events

Authors and Illustrators for the Victims of Typhoon Haiyan, and online auction via @TarieS

NNRW_main-with-dateI learned via @cjfriess that it's National Nursery Rhyme Week - what will you be reading? #kidlit

Early Warning (on importance of reading by end of grade 3) Confirmed | Annie E Casy Fdn via @tashrow #literacy

Let's Celebrate with Picture Books! urges @bookchook for #PictureBookMonth #kidlit

Sigh! New Study Finds Language Gap Between Rich and Poor Children Begins Earlier Than Previously Thought | @CBCBook

Schools and Libraries

Reading in the Wild by @donalynbooks | Ideas for Your Library from @abbylibrarian #literacy

Reading teachers take note! Reading in the Wild by @donalynbooks – Reviewed by @katsok @NerdyBookClub

How are books judged? @postlocal rips apart Accelerated Reader as applied to #CommonCore titles via @100scopenotes

Uncommonly Good Books (and more!), resources for Common Core Instruction | Hi Miss Julie! #literacy

Social Media and Communication

Very useful article, I thought: How to Get Busy People to Take Action When You Send an Email @msuster via @cmirabile

Thoughts from @bonnyglen on why she likes the Facebook "Like" button (and Twitter Favorite)

© 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.

Sky Jumpers: Book 1: Peggy Eddleman

Book: Sky Jumpers
Author: Peggy Eddleman (@PeggyEddleman)
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8-12

I'm grateful to author Peggy Eddleman. Because Sky Jumpers got me out of a bit of a reading funk. I've been slow to get through books, and have actually abandoned several of late. But as soon as I started Sky Jumpers, well, I just wanted to keep reading. And that's what we're looking for, isn't it? Books that you just want to lose yourself in? Sky Jumpers fits the bill. 

Sky Jumpers is middle grade post-apocalyptic fiction with a strong female protagonist. Sky Jumpers is set in a largely depopulated world, following the "green bombs" of World War III. Twelve-year-old Hope lives with her adoptive parents in White Rock, a small (apparently mid-western) town that is struggling to survive. Besides undertaking basic activities (like growing food), the folks in White Rock pour all of their energy into trying to invent things. The green bombs have changed just enough, including the chemical properties of steel, to make this a tricky business. And Hope, our heroine, though courageous and decisive, well, Hope is singularly bad at inventing. But when her family and her town,are in danger, Hope doesn't hesitate. 

The world building in Sky Jumpers doesn't feel contrived, despite the obvious editorial convenience of the green bombs having changed some things but not others. It feels like realistic fiction, with a dash of unconventional science. As an engineer myself, I enjoyed the focus on inventions (even though the inventing life wasn't a good fit for Hope). This is the kind of book that will make kids want to invent things themselves. 

Hope is a solid character. She's a bit reckless, and ends up in trouble a lot. But she has her vulnerabilities, too. Like this:

"When Carina finished showing her invention, she sat next to me and put her hand on my knee. "It's okay, Hope. I'm sure you're not the only one bad at inventing."

Maybe I wasn't. But it definitely felt like I was the worst. Like everyone else was at least good enough." (Page 48-49)

And this:

"I couldn't help wondering how many times my parents had wished they had a kid with their own genes, someone they could have passed on their talents to. Someone who didn't keep messing things up." (Page 65)

(For the record, she has great parents. It's not them making her feel like this.) Only gradually does Hope come to recognize some of her strengths. 

Other things I liked about Sky Jumpers:

  • Sky jumping is very cool, though I won't spoil it by telling you what it is.
  • The plot, particularly in the second half of the book, is action-filled and suspenseful, and steers away from being too grim for middle grade readers. 
  • Hope has a male best friend who is not a love interest, and another male friend who might be. But it's all very PG so far. No visible love triangle, which is refreshing.
  • There's a very cute five year old who tags along with the big kids, and adds opportunities for being protective. But Brenna is strong-willed and fun, not a helpless doll. 
  • There's a little bit of looking at "relics" of the previous society, which is something that I always enjoy. The kids in Hope's class are fascinated by the idea of wall to wall carpeting, for example. And they don't really believe what they hear about cell phones at all. Sky Jumpers is set 40-odd years after World War III, so there are people who remember "before". Hence the emphasis on inventing things to make life easier. 

In short, Sky Jumpers has an action-filled plot, a pleasing emphasis on science, and likeable characters, all set against a compelling backdrop. I was pleased to see Sky Jumpers listed as "Book 1", because, although the plot is thoroughly wrapped up in this book, it would be a shame for this level of world building to be squandered on a single book. Sky Jumpers is highly recommended for middle grade readers, or anyone who enjoys adventure. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: September 24, 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

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: November 13

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 1768 subscribers. I send out the newsletter once every two weeks. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews (three picture books and one for middle school age). I also have a post about National Literacy Day and the Scholastic SPOTLIT collection, one about WordGirl's word of the month for November, and one with links that I shared on Twitter.

Not included in the newsletter, I have three posts about a conference that I both attended and helped to organize last weekend (the Kidlitosphere Conference, aka KidLitCon):

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I read two middle grade/middle school books, one young adult title, and one adult mystery. I read:

  • Rick Riordan: The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus, Book 4). Disney-Hyperion. Middle Grade / Middle School. Completed November 5, 2013, on MP3. I don't review audiobooks, but I did enjoy this one. 
  • Peggy Eddleman: Sky Jumpers. Random House Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade. Completed November 6, 2013. Review to come.
  • Robin Benway: Also Known As. Walker Children's. Young Adult Fiction. Completed November 10, 2013. Review to come.
  • Julia Spencer-Fleming: Through the Evil Days (A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery). Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed November 10, 2013. A highly suspenseful installment of this series, one that finds all of the major characters facing important personal and professional decisions/deadlines. A perfect winter read, with Russ and Clare spending much of the book stranded by a major storm.

I'm listening to Murder in Chelsea by Victoria Thompson, and reading Sunny Sweet is So Not Sorry by Jennifer Ann Mann (which I picked up at KidLitCon). I also have Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kellley on my nightstand, though I haven't had a chance to really start it.  

Baby Bookworm is reading Back to Bed, Ed! by Sebastien Braun. More on that next week (sigh! sleep problems). We received a box of winter/holiday-themed books from HarperCollins this week, and she is particularly excited about the Pinkalicious Cupcake Cookbook and Charlie the Ranch Dog : Charlie's Snowy Day (an early reader).

She insisted that her babysitter read aloud to her from the cupcake book immediately, though this isn't normally what one does with recipe books. And about the Charlie the Ranch Dog book, before we had even finished it she said: "Let's read this one every day until Christmas, and then on Christmas." It's not even a Christmas book, but ok... Whatever keeps her excited about books. 

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