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March 2014

Posts from February 2014

Knightley and Son: Cracking the Code: Rohan Gavin

Book: Knightley & Son: Cracking the Code
Author: Rohan Gavin
Pages: 320
Age Range: 10-12

Cracking the Code is the first book in the new Knightley & Son series by Rohan Gavin. It features a father and son team of detectives. As the story begins, Alan Knightley, a once successful London private investigator, has been in a pseudo-coma for four years. His son Darkus has spent the four years reviewing and memorizing his father's old cases, and internalizing Sherlock Holmes-like methods of analytical detection. When Alan wakes from his extended sleep, Darkus finds himself drawn in to the investigation of a shadowy conspiracy involving people who commit peculiar crimes after reading a self-help bestseller. 

Cracking the Code is dark in tone, though occasionally humorous. Although this is strictly true, it feels looking back like the entire book takes place at night, on dark London streets. There are supernatural overtones, though the question of whether anything supernatural has actually occurred is skillfully left murky. There are also sufficient private eye novel trappings to make readers feel grown up, though the story is appropriate for middle schoolers.  

The characters in Knightley & Son are unconventional and just a hint larger than life. Darkus is an unabashed geek, who says things like this:

"So I conclude that the only possibility is that you were in fact the culprit, Clive--by accident of misadventure, of course. And I will hazard a guess that if you measure the zipper on your fashionable new coat, in all probability you'll find it's approximately one yard from the ground." (Chapter 3: The Case of the Scratched Quarter Panel)

You can definitely hear him channeling Sherlock Holmes (and his father, for that matter). Fortunately, Darkus's stepsister, Tilly, adds a more emotional component to their eventual investigative team, as well as much cooler hair. 

The humor in the book tends to be understated, as when a colleague of Alan's stops unexpectedly by the home where Darkus lives with his mother, stepfather, and Tilly. As he leaves he says:

"Thank ye for the tea, and the rather disappointing snacks." (Chapter 4: Uncle BIll)

My one problem with this book concerned the viewpoint. I suppose it's omniscient third person perspective, but there's a lot of "Darkus felt ..." and "Alan thought..." So it's more like limited third person, but with shifts in viewpoint from paragraph to paragraph. I found it occasionally distracting - it took me out of the story. (Note: I was reading the advanced copy, so this could theoretically be changed in the final book.) Like this:

"Draycott thought carefully about how to word this last piece of testimony. As he returned to scribbling, Tilly brushed by indifferently..."

And then the viewpoint shifts to Tilly. It's like in a movie, where you follow one character, and then another, but there are intermittent glimpses of people's inner monologues, too. 

Apart from that concern, I did enjoy Cracking the Code. The plot is suspenseful. There are various pieces to mull over and assemble, throughout the book. The kids are granted a fair bit of leeway to do things on their own, in a reasonably plausible manner. There are some interesting gadgets, and intelligence is definitely prized and rewarded. 

I think that Cracking the Code will be a good fit for fans of the Young James Bond series by Charlie Higson (though Darkus is more analytical than James). It should also be a good bridge book for middle schoolers prior to reading adult mysteries, including the Sherlock Holmes stories. As for me, I look forward to hearing what Alan, Darkus, and Tilly get up to next. Recommended for age 10 and up, boys or girls. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids) 
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
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).

© 2014 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: February 7

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. There is some exceptionally good stuff in the Growing Bookworms section this week.

Also, in my quest to make it easy for people to keep up on these sorts of children's book and literacy-themed stories, I have a question for readers. Do any of you use Flipboard (app for reading news stories on tablets - lets you set up your own customized set of topics and shows stories magazine-style)? At the suggestion of Sheila Ruth, I've been dabbling in Flipboard a bit, and I am wondering if people would find some sort of Literacy Links Magazine there useful. But on to the links!

Valentine's Day

Fun! Write on, Valentine! FREE Printables for Your Favorite Writers & Readers from @MrsPStorytime

A celebration of hearts – 7 Valentine’s Day activities (all reading-friendly) for families | @wendy_lawrence

Book Lists and Awards

Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals longlists announced @TelegraphBooks via @PWKidsBookshelf #kidlit

Some fine SFF #yalit on the Locus Recommended List! including @Gwenda

Wow! Impressive, categorized list of 125+ Must Have Children's Books from @BooksBabiesBows #kidlit

New booklist at Stacked: Get Genrefied: YA Urban Fiction @catagator #yalit #kidlit

Season of the Witch: A #YAlit Reading List from Stacked @catagator

Encouraging Scientific and Engineering Practices with Picture Books @michaeltcarton guests at Darlene Beck-Jacobson

2014 @yalsa Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers | @tashrow #yalit

2014 @alscblog Notable Children’s Books–Younger Readers | @tashrow #kidlit

2014 Notable Children's Books for Middle Readers from @tashrow #kidlit

ALA Award Reactions

Fun stuff, w/ photos and videos | The 2014 Youth Media Awards: Things I Love — @100scopenotes #kidlit

Librarians React to the Youth Media Awards | ALA Midwinter 2014 | @sljournal #kidlit

Common Core

Getting Up to Speed on Common Core: An ABPA Panel @PublishersWkly via @PWKidsBookshelf #commoncore

In the Classroom: Some Questions from @medinger About Some #CommonCore Lessons | educating alice

Gender, Books, and Diversity

Suggested books for young children that include "casual diversity" from @FuseEight #kidlit

Is Pink a Girl Color? And Other Questions We Should Quit Asking, focusing on readers not gender by @cathymere

BoysReadPinkIt's time for the Fifth Annual Guys Read Pink Month! @MsYingling w/ celebrity sponsor @AVance_Author

35 Multicultural Early Chapter Books for Kids from @momandkiddo #kidlit #diversity

Growing Bookworms

Sigh! Setting Children Up to Hate Reading

Here's a fine resource for parents | 100 Ways to Grow a Reader from @growingbbb #literacy

Collecting #100ReasonstoRead @Scholastic | Share yours: #literacy

Solid advice! How to Raise a Reader: 5 Tips for Parents from @delightchildbks #literacy

Non-Fiction Love | On how nonfiction helps kids develop reading comprehension skills @ReadingWithBean #CommonCore

5 Tips for Parents of That Precocious Reader | @NYPL via @librareanne #literacy

Just Interesting

A useful resource: Book Chook Favourite Online Image Makers for kids @BookChook

Must read from @EllenHopkinsYA On Finding Peace in Living (re: addiction, her daughter's + Philip S. Hoffman)

What say you on this news: J.K. Rowling questions Ron and Hermione's relationship #kidlit


Inscription Magazine is a new pub w/ fantasy & science fiction for teens #yalit via @CynLeitichSmith

Let's Cekebrate International Book Giving Day says @BookChook

On Reading, Writing, and Publishing

RT @NUSLibraries: Sharing an interesting article: Why Printed Books Will Never Die via @mashable

RT @PWKidsBookshelf: 9 life lessons everyone can learn from these beloved children's books | Huff Post

What makes an adult book right for teens? asks @StyleBlog via @tashrow #reading

RT @tashrow The Netflix of kids’ books? Epic launches on iPad for $9.99/month — Tech News and Analysis #kidlit

RT: @Librareanne: Young Adult Literature Is Better Than You Think

Dark YA RT @HMHKids: "Even if your kids aren’t going through a difficult situation, it’s likely their friends are."


Words of wisdom | Why Not Letting Your Kids Do Chores Hurts Society and Me | @SensibleMoms

Useful post for parents from @cmirabile | Advice to My 10 Year Old Regarding SnapChat Hack

Schools and Libraries

Nice! New Teacher’s Reading Guide: Ten Steps to Turn High School Students Into Readers by @shkrajewski @NerdyBookClub

Excellent Choice! Judy Blume Named Honorary Chairman of National Library Week 2014 | @infodocket via @sljournal

© 2014 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.

A Baby Elephant in the Wild: Caitlin O'Connell

Book: A Baby Elephant in the Wild
Author: Caitlin O'Connell
Photographs by: Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

A Baby Elephant in the Wild is a nonfiction picture book that conveys facts about elephants by telling the story, with photographs, of the early life of a baby elephant named Liza. It's not clear to me who named the elephant Liza, but an author's note indicates that the author was a researcher studying elephants in Namibia who happened to be nearby when Liza was born. In any event, the narrative device of focusing the story on Liza works well, turning what could have been a dry recitation of facts into an engaging story. 

I think that readers of A Baby Elephant in the Wild will find themselves thinking, as I did, "elephants are really cool." My own daughter, on her second read-aloud of the book, was eager to tell me that Liza could still stand underneath her mother's belly, that all of the elephants were part of Liza's extended family, and that the mothers form a circle to protect the babies from lions. These details stuck with her, perhaps because of the truly fabulous photos. 

Here are a couple of snippets from the text:

"In this desert, a baby elephant named Liza takes her first breath after growing inside her mother for almost two years.

Liza is born weighing 250 pounds, the size of a grown black bear. Her mother weighs about 8,000 pounds."


"And within a day, she is able to keep up with the rest of her family: her mother, and aunt, and older brother, and a female cousin."

This second quote illustrates how the author keeps a very specific focus on Liza. She's not just some placeholder - she's a baby who has a brother and a cousin. I think this will help kids to relate to the story. 

I did choose, spontaneously, to edit some of the later pages in reading this book aloud to my daughter. She is 3 1/2, and I'm not sure that she needs to know that elephants might not have enough food to survive in the wild, or that "poachers looking for either meat or ivory also threaten elephants". But that's obviously each parent's decision.

I do think, despite the universal appeal of elephants, that this would be a better book for elementary school kids than for preschoolers. It is fairly text-dense. A "Did you know?" page at the end of the book adds additional facts about elephants, perfect for feeding the hunger for information of a curious 7-year-old.  

A Baby Elephant in the Wild offers young readers an in-depth look at the lives of African elephants, with stunning visuals. As it's clearly designed to do, it leaves readers with a sense of wonder about elephants in general, and a feeling of familiarity towards Liza in particular. It would make a nice addition to any elementary school library, or to the home bookshelves of those with a particular affinity for animals. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
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).

© 2014 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

A Few Valentine's Day Picture Books from Harper Collins

My three year old is getting excited for Valentine's Day. It is, after all, the next holiday coming up. And there will be chocolate involved. But in truth, much of her excitement was sparked by a box of Valentine's Day-themed picture books and early readers that Harper Collins sent us last week. They're not all my personal cup of hot chocolate, but my child is thrilled. 

Far and away the most exciting of the books for her is Pete the Cat: Valentine's Day is Cool, by Kimberly and James Dean. In this story, Pete initially thinks that Valentine's Day isn't "cool." However, encouraged by his friend Callie, he gets on board with using valentines to tell people how special they are. By the end of the book he's making valentines for the school bus driver and other people he encounters throughout his day. Pretty classic Pete the Cat storyline, all in all. But there is a pull-out poster, as well as stickers, and a set of tear-out valentine cards. This turned out to not be a great bedtime book, because my daughter was so excited by all of this. She just came in to my office needing help finding the cards, which I imagine she wants to give to her friends. I do like the "show people you appreciate them" message, delivered in a light-hearted fashion. 

My daughter also enjoyed Foxy in Love by Emma Dodd. We have not read Foxy, for which this book is a sequel. But the premise comes across fairly quickly. Foxy is a fox who can conjure things with a wave of his magical tail, though he doesn't always quite understand what his friend, a girl named Emily, wants from him. In Foxy in Love, Foxy comes across Emily as she is working on a valentine. He suggests that she draw what she loves in the card, hoping that she'll draw him. But instead, she focuses on things like balloons and rainbows. Not until the end of the book does Foxy finally tell Emily that "Valentine's Day is not about what you love... It's about who you love." Of course it all ends happily. Foxy's longing to be loved actually comes across in relatively subtle fashion throughout the book, and there is plenty of humor as he tries, with mixed results, to conjure the things that Emily wants (not tarts, hearts!). I think we'll keep this one in our arsenal. 

The first book that my daughter actually picked up from this box was Little Critter: Just A Little Love, an I Can Read book by Mercer Mayer. She adores Little Critter, and I've come to appreciate the humor in the differences between what he says is happening and what the pictures show. The expressions on the faces of the characters, particularly Mom and Dad, are often priceless (as when Dad looks rueful after Little Critter causes a flood in a gas station restroom). Just A Little Love is not actually a Valentine's Day book at all, though it certainly works for the season. Rather, the family members (pets included) have a series of mishaps as they set out to visit Grandma, who isn't feeling well. Each time someone ends up unhappy, someone else "gives him (or her) a little love." There's not enough of a storyline for this one to end up a favorite for us, I don't think, but one can't really argue with a book that makes us laugh, and in which family members console one another. 

It's Valentine's Day by Jack Prelutsky & Marylin Hafner is a level 3 I Can Read! book, full of love-themed poems. It's fairly text-dense, with a small illustration or two on each page. My daughter lost interest after the second poem. It's more a book for elementary school kids than preschoolers, it seems. But I thought that the poems, on subjects like how pets respond to receiving valentines, and how a child might be tempted to eat all of the chocolates that he bought for his mother, were clever and funny. This is a nice introduction to poetry for new readers, with colorful illustrations to make the book more accessible.

Love Is Real by Janet Lawler & Anna Brown is a picture book for the youngest listeners about all of the little things that people (well, animals doing human-type things) do that show their love for one another. Like this: "Love awakes... and helps you dress. Love will clean up any mess." These sentences are accompanied by three different images, each showing a different kind of animal parent helping his or her child (bunny, bear, fox). The same three families are followed throughout the book. The children sometimes are the ones who do things that express love. For us, this book skewed a bit young / sentimental. But the digital collage illustrations are fun. 

Finally, we read Tulip Loves Rex by Alyssa Satin Capucilli & Sarah Massini. Tulip Loves Rex is a picture book about a little girl who loves dancing, and dances everywhere, but has one unfulfilled wish. One day in the park she encounters a dog who, miraculously, loves to dance, too. And it turns out that this perfect-for-Tulip dog needs a home. I quite liked Massini's breezy illustrations, and I liked Tulip as a character, but the convenience of the ending felt a little flat for me. The parents "didn't mind a bit" bringing home a large stray dog from the park? Really? Perhaps I just don't want my daughter to get any ideas... 

All in all, though, these books are a welcome addition to our February reading.  Wishing you a happy run-up to Valentine's Day (or Balentine's Day, as it's called around here). 

© 2014 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. 

Half a Chance: Cynthia Lord

Book: Half a Chance
Author: Cynthia Lord
Pages: 224
Age Range: 8-12

Cynthia Lord's Half a Chance is a book that will transport middle grade readers straight to summertime. When Lucy moves with her parents to a house on a New Hampshire lake she's a bit tired of starting over. And she is definitely over her father's extended travel - he is a well-known photographer who leaves on a long trip immediately following the move. But Lucy soon finds a friend in boy next door Nate (and a rival for Nate's attention in nearby neighbor Megan).

Through Nate's family, Lucy becomes interested in a pair of loons nesting on the lake. Then, with Nate's help, Lucy enters a photography contest for kids, for which her father is the primary judge. These threads intertwine with Lucy's involvement with Nate's grandmother, who is suffering from the early stages of dementia, and Lucy's evolving relationship with her own parents. 

I love books set in that pre-teen timeframe, when boys and girls can still be friends, but other feelings are just barely beginning to make things complicated. Lord hits this dynamic perfectly. The reasons for Megan's enmity towards Lucy may go over the heads of younger readers, but 11 and 12 year-olds will understand. 

I also liked the fact that nothing is completely tidy in the book. Lucy adores her father, and he's not a terrible parent, but it's clear to this adult reader, anyway, that he could do better. Lucy's mom gets shortchanged a bit, but she remains pretty understanding. (I might have liked to see a Lucy's relationship with her mother fleshed out a little more - but there is a lot going on in a relatively short book). Megan isn't nice to Lucy, but she's not some one-dimensional villain, either. And Nate's Grandma Lilah is delightfully complex. 

And, as always, I just like Cynthia Lord's writing. Like this:

"Whenever we move, I take a picture as soon as we arrive. It always makes me feel a little braver, knowing that on some future day I can look back at that photo, taken when it was new and scary, and think, I made it. Like creating a memory in reverse." (Page 2)

And this:

"The ground under my feet felt squishy from last night's rain, like walking on foam. My ears rang with the quiet of tiny sounds: a faraway bird cawing, the hum and buzz of insects, and occasional red squirrel pipping or moving about through the leaves. And my own breath as I climbed." (Page 64)

This latter passage takes place during a hike that reminded me of New Hampshire hikes from my own childhood. There's a timeless quality to Half a Chance, despite the inclusion of text messages and digital cameras. 

Half a Chance is likely to make kids want to become more serious about photography, and even includes some useful lessons about how to frame interesting subjects, and take pictures that tell a story. (The author's husband is, probably not coincidentally, a professional photographer.) This book may also inspire young readers to appreciate the outdoors a bit more (and loons in particular). It offers a moral conundrum or two, and some oh so gently put ideas about interacting with aging relatives. All in a lakeside summer setting so clear that the reader can smell the bug repellent, and see the light glistening off the water. 

Half a Chance would pair perfectly with Karen Day's A Million Miles from Boston, and Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. And, of course, Lord's own Touch Blue. All of these books are about growing up a little bit, while living life in small-town New England. Half a Chance is well worth a look, and will be staying with me for quite a while. Highly recommended! 

Publisher: Scholastic Press (@Scholastic
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
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