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Posts from December 2013

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: December 11

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out the new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. There are 1769 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 one post with a literacy milestone from my daughter, and another sharing our latest literacy-themed game. I have two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently.

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I read one early reader, one young adult title, and two adult mysteries. I read:

  • Kallie George (ill. Geneviève Côté). Spark. Simply Read Books. Early Reader. My review.
  • Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando: Roomies. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Young Adult. Completed December 9, 2013, on digital ARC. Review to come. 
  • Janet Evanovich: Takedown Twenty (A Stephanie Plum Novel). Bantam. Adult Mystery. Completed December 2, 2013, on MP3.
  • Elizabeth George: Just One Evil Act (Inspector Lynley). Dutton. Adult Mystery. Completed December 4, 2013, on Kindle. I must say that this novel utterly consumed my thoughts for days. It's not exactly action-filled - there's a lot of description - but I kept thinking about the motivations of the characters, and wondering what they would do, or had done. Quite satisfying (though long and not for everyone).

I'm currently listening to Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy and have just started my annual holiday season re-read of Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle. The first story, by Maureen Johnson, is my favorite of the three, so I may or may not actually read the entire book. 

Baby Bookworm has been continuing to enjoy the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans. We're also reading Christmas books, like The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska and The Berenstain Bears Old-Fashioned Christmas by Jan and Mike Berenstain. We're also enjoying A Very Fuddles Christmas by Frans Vischer (my review of the first Fuddles book). 

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season. I'll be back after Christmas with the next newsletter. Thanks for reading, 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

Hero Worship: Christopher E. Long

Book: Hero Worship
Author: Christopher E. Long
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

Hero Worship is an upcoming young adult title by Christopher E. Long. Technically, Hero Worship is a dystopia, set in a future civilization that is similar to ours, except for the some advanced technologies, and the harsh rules guiding the rights of certain segments of the population. But for practical purposes, Hero Worship is speculative fiction that explores what might happen to society if a small percentage of the population developed superpowers. Funnily enough, I recently read an adult title with a very similar premise (Marcus Sakey's Brilliance). But Hero Worship is clearly young adult fiction, with its emphasis on the personality, and personal growth, of the primary narrator, Marvin. 

Marvin is something of a classic superhero - he has super-strength and speed, but only after he drinks in fear from someone nearby. He's quite powerful, and wishes that he could be part of The Core, a group of famous superheroes who aid law enforcement. But because his power was branded "dirty" after a required government blood test, it's illegal for Marvin to use his superpowers. He's relegated to earning a meager living as a dishwasher. He lives with two other teens who are also dirty: Yvonne, who can induce mindless bliss in anyone she touches; and Kent, who can change his appearance by molding his shape (and can turn into a puddle, basically). After Marvin saves a family, a member of The Core seeks him out, and offers him a chance to become part of their group. And Marvin learns that things are not always as they seem.

I think that this premise, and the various superpowers held by the different characters, will appeal to young readers. I found it interesting, but I would have liked to see a bit more background/context. How did these superpowers develop? How long has the world been divided into "clean", dirty", and "normies", and people with no powers?

I did like Marvin as a character. He's driven by personal demons, and tries hard to do the right thing. He matures quite a bit over the course of the book (though not much calendar time passes). I found him a bit naive, especially early in the book, but this does nothing to diminish his appeal.

Hero Worship has a reasonable balance of introspection and action. Here's some introspection:

"On the way to the convenience store, I think about last night and how Eliza just acted. Perhaps that is what's required of members of The Core -- just act, don't think. I recognize that I overanalyze everything. I spend so  much time thinking about how I should act, I don't do anything." (Chapter Eighteen)

And here's some action:

"In a blur, I speed toward the hoodlum. I reach out and grab hold of Jackson, pulling him out of the hood-rat's grasp. Clutching the boy to my chest, I run him to safety behind the SUV. The ringleader hasn't even had time to process that he no longer has a grip on the young boy as I connect my clenched fist to the side of his head."(Chapter Three)

There's one coincidence in Hero Worship that I found overdone (an unnecessary scene in which Marvin reads a seemingly random books, the knowledge from which turns out to be helpful later). But I thought that the superhero bits were well-done. Kent is particularly interesting as a case study. And the larger societal aspects (discrimination against the "dirties", the collapse of the factory districts, the rise of a shadow economy) lend a bit of heft to what is otherwise a quick, light read. 

Much of Hero Worship would actually be fine for readers younger than 12, but there are some references to sex (a character who uses her sex appeal as a weapon), as well as drinking and drug use (not by the protagonists, but it's there). It's like a complex comic book come to life, though Long leaves the reader to imagine his or her own pictures). I think it would be a good fit for reluctant teen readers, especially boys, and anyone who has ever wondered what it would be like to be a superhero.  

Publisher: Flux (@FluxBooks
Publication Date: January 8, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes should be checked against the final book. 

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: December 6

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. As we near the end of the year, there are lots and lots of lists! Also several posts with book and literacy-themed gift ideas. Of course any of the book lists could be a fertile source for gift ideas, too. (And don't miss MotherReader's 150 Ways to Give a Book, updated for 2013.)

Book Lists and Awards

The 2013 @HornBook Fanfare list is here, #picturebooks, fiction, and nonfiction via @tashrow #kidlit

The finalists for the 2014 William C. Morris Award... in #yalit, from @bkshelvesofdoom

Favourite reads of 2013 as chosen by 25 (children’s) authors and illustrators (and @playbythebook ) #kidlit

The Stacked #yalit genre of the month is Humor

Two thumbs up for the ALSC Tween Book List from Stacy Dillon. I like it too, and I love tween books #kidlit

The #kidlit + #yalit Categories for the 2013 GoodReads Choice Awards, reported by @tashrow

Children's Literature at the SSHE Library: Winter Wonderland: Books About Snow and Cold #kidlit

A varied list: Best Teen Books of 2013 from @KirkusReviews via @bkshelvesofdoom #yalit

20 Magical Children's Christmas Books To Read Aloud from @buzzfeed via @PWKidsBookshelf #kidlit

Top Ten Hanukkah Picture Books for Elementary Classroom Read-Alouds | Raising Great Readers with Great Books

Our 2nd Nerdversary and The 2013 Nerdy Award Finalists | @NerdyBookClub

Gift Ideas

Cybils2013SmallBetter late than never! Shop #Cybils for Black Friday (or CyberMonday, or anytime)

Looking for unique gifts? “Lunch Lady” Author @StudioJJK Hosts Scholarship Auction for Art Education | @sljournal

Another #YAlit subscription service, this one from @soho_press + why @bkshelvesofdoom loves subscriptions!

Why You Should Give a Book and Help Raise a Reader, from @SheilaRuth with links to book ideas like @MotherReader

Fun stuff! Top 10 #Literacy Stocking Stuffers for Kids from @growingbbb

Growing Bookworms

Great idea from @LiteracyLaunch | Have kids help hunt for books by call no. at the library

YES! Mo Willems @The_Pigeon on how parents can create readers: "Just make it fun" @OnParenting via @PWKidsBookshelf

#Literacy Ideas + Book Recommendations for the Christmas Season from @ReadingTub

Expanding Our Ideas About What it Mean to Be a Reader (with audiobooks) | @clareandtammy @NerdyBookClub

I could relate to @StaceyLoscalzo's daughter asking for "Books With a Story, Please" #literacy


Carnival_logo#Kidlit fans, check out the November Carnival of Children’s Literature Roundup | Lindsey McDivitt

On Reading and Writing

Happily Ever After? — @lizb muses on #yalit romance and whether readers require a happy ending

Wherefore Art Thou Fly Guy Read Alikes? asks @100scopenotes (early readers w/ attention-grabbing characters) #kidlit

Programs, Events, and Research

JK Rowling + Henry Winkler among top 10 #literacy heroes named by charity @BBCNews via @PWKidsBookshelf

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

Guys Lit Wire: Spread Some Holiday Good Cheer With Ballou High School & Pledge To Read 5 Books With the Students

NationalLatino-500x329Timely! The 2014 National Latino Children’s Literature Conference is coming reports @fuseeight #kidlit

Schools and Libraries

Questions Matter! Helping Children (& Teachers) to Ask Good Ones by @TrevorHCairney #literacy

For those looking to hold great storytines, @lochwouters links to a Storytime Brain Trust #literacy #libraries

Does your library offer a Winter Reading Club for kids? @abbylibrarian describes hers at @alscblog

A great idea for building family #literacy: Bedtime Reading at School by Jenny Orr @NerdyBookClub

author, author! | Advice from @himissjulie on arranging author visits at libraries

Sad. Thoughts from @himissjulie on being suspect as a childless woman who works with kids in a professional capacity

On sharing your reading life with students, to get them hooked on reading | @DebKrygeris@KirbyLarson

© 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.

Zoomer's Out-of-This-World Christmas: Ned Young

Book: Zoomer's Out-of-This-World Christmas
Author: Ned Young 
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

Zoomer's Out-of-This-World Christmas appears to be Ned Young's third book about Zoomer, but it's the first one that I've run across. Zoomer is a young dog, preparing for Christmas with his two brothers. While on the lookout for Santa, the brothers are surprised to discover that a spaceship has landed in their backyard. The alien family that comes from the ship is friendly (and surprisingly humanoid). Adventures ensue, followed by a sacrifice made by Zoomer on behalf of his new friends. 

I'm not sure that I am completely on board with the end of this book, in which Zoomer is rewarded by Santa for his sacrifice. Does this suggest that we should do good things only in the hope of someone noticing and quietly rewarding us later? Perhaps there is truth in that, but it's not my first choice for a Christmas message. Still, it does make for a festive ending to the book. 

Ending aside, it is a fun book. Young includes a few nonsense words, like this:

"... And out stepped a family from outer space, their robot, and their pet--a yarple-headed gigantaziller."

"They feasted on kookaloon sandwiches, zablookee salad, and blopwapple pie and washed it all down with some zoinkinfizz soda. Everything was out-of-this-world delicious."

And yet, despite the innate ridiculousness of the whole thing (from the pups living with their parents in a gabled house, as though they were regular children to the aliens somehow managing to eat pie through their space suits), Young presents everything in straight up fashion. Apart from the aforementioned nonsense words, the text is relatively staightforward.

The real playfulness comes via the illustrations. The aliens and their gadgets are brightly colored and detailed, with a vaguely Seussian flair. The gigantaziller is a friendly blending of giant caterpillar and butterfly, with several shoe-clad feet. There is a force-field swimming pool that makes for interesting visuals, too. The pictures are highly dynamic, and certainly kid-friendly. There are plenty of details to reward repeated viewings.

All in all, Zoomer's Out-of-This-World Christmas is an unconventional holiday-themed book, merging sled-riding dogs, humanoid aliens, and Santa Claus into one colorful, snow-covered mashup. For those looking for something to mix things up a bit, and especially for kids who are fascinated by aliens, this one is worth a look. 

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

Literacy Activity: Typing Names on the Computer

TypingI wouldn't call this one a milestone, but my daughter and I came up with a little literacy-themed game earlier this week. I was working on the computer in my office. My daughter came in, climbed up into my lap, and asked if she could "use the letters" on the computer. So I opened up a notepad application, and she started typing words.

She would suggest a word (generally the name of someone important in her life), I would tell her how to spell it, and she would find and press each letter on the keyboard. She was able to type "Mom" (see previous post) and her own name without any spelling help, though she required a bit of help in finding the letters. Where possible, I would sound out the word, and let her figure out what the corresponding letter. Had it not been bath time, I think that this game could have continued for quite some time.

So we have:

  1. Practice at spelling;
  2. Practice at recognizing which letters go with certain sounds; 
  3. Practive at memorization, as she worked to remember where each letter was located on the keyboard (something that is hardly intuitive); and
  4. Fun with Mom.

Item #3 is extra-challenging on my computer, because some of the letters have been worn off due to repeated use (the "n" is completely gone, presumably because I have several in my name). 

It's not that I'm eager to have my child spending more time on electronic devices. But it does please me that she enjoys making words, whatever the format. And the seek/find/remember aspects of doing this on the keyboard are a learning bonus. I won't be pushing this activity, but I will be receptive to it when she asks for it. Because really, work can usually wait a few more minutes... 

© 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. 

Spark: Kallie George & Genevieve Cote

Book: Spark
Author: Kallie George
Illustrator: Geneviève Côté 
Pages: 44
Age Range: 5-8

Spark is a delightful easy reader by Kallie George and Geneviève Côté, the first of a new series from Simply Read Books. It consists of five short chapters, with extensive color illustrations. Spark is about a young dragon who struggles to control his flames. His parents attempt three lessons (the middle chapters) to teach him flame-breath management, but nothing works. Spark is simply not ready. But sometimes time is all you need. And when Spark's birthday rolls around, he's ready to give it another try. 

What I like about Spark is that although it's meant for new readers, it's plenty interesting enough to hold a child's attention. Spark is a sympathetic character. Five year old readers will probably be savvy enough to understand the parallels with potty training or learning to ride a bike, but the message of waiting until you are ready remains secondary to Spark's personality. There's humor in Spark aimed at parents, too, which is always appreciated in a book that's likely to be read over and over again. For example:

"Spark tried to be careful.
It was hard.

He set his hankie on fire.

He set some leaves on fire.

Mama got a book:
How to Tame Flames

Mama and Papa both read it."

Yes, what parent hasn't turned to a book for help with something?

Spark is relatively advanced in terms of vocabulary for an early reader. There are words like "crackle", "marshmallow", and "phoenix". But many of the more challenging words are repeated multiple times through the book, and are made clear by Côté's illustrations. 

These illustrations are beautiful. The dragons are drawn with a thick pencil outline, and then filled in with watercolor. This gives the pictures the appearance of something a child could have done. Except that your average child won't be able to use facial expressions to convey mood, and add humor. Spark's birthday party is a particularly joyous celebration, populated by whimsical creatures (including a "troll" who looks a lot like a regular boy). I challenge any five year old not to relate to and enjoy Spark. 

Highly recommended for home or library use. I look forward to future books in this planned series. I also look forward to reading Spark with my daughter tonight before bed. Simply lovely. 

Publisher: Simply Read Books (@simplyreadbooks)
Publication Date: November 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

Literacy Milestone: Writing "Mom"

LiteracyMilestoneAMy daughter had another little literacy milestone last week that I wanted to share. We had been drawing pictures (with her supervising, and telling me how to draw a pig). I left the room for a minute, but I could hear her, and she said:

"I'm going to write Mom on your picture."

And sure enough, when I came back, there was my picture, labeled "MOM" in pencil. 

She's been writing her own name for a while now, with reasonable legibility, and, well, her name does have an M in it. So writing Mom wasn't a huge stretch. But still, she:

  • Knew that it would make sense to write the name of the person who had drawn the picture.
  • Knew how to spell Mom.
  • And wrote the letters, legibly and without help, on her own initiative. 

She'll be reading the Junie B. Jones and Ramona books before I know it! 

Actually, she is pretend-reading Robert Parker's Widow's Walk even as I speak. She just came in and asked for a bookmark. It's a bit violent for a 3 1/2 year old, but fortunately, she can't actually read. At least as far as I know. 

[I hope these posts don't come across as bragging. Each child follows his or her own path to literacy, and I know that these paths can meander and diverge. It's just that for me, having spent so many years thinking about how to grow bookworms in the abstract, I find observing the actual process fascinating. And sharing is what we bloggers do.]

© 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.