Previous month:
May 2014
Next month:
July 2014

Posts from June 2014

Three Bird Summer: Sara St. Antoine

Book: Three Bird Summer
Author: Sara St. Antoine
Pages: 256
Age Range: 10 to 14

Three Bird Summer by Sara St. Antoine is a lovely book about the summer that a 12 year old boy spends at his grandmother's cabin on Three Bird Lake in Minnesota. It's a quiet sort of book about an introspective kid, but St. Antoine manages to touch upon the challenges families face as grandparents age, the aftermath of divorce, and the tentative first steps of boy-girl relationships. There's also a small mystery, and even a treasure map. It's a coming-of-age story, though without major drama. 

In truth, the subject matter of Three Bird Summer felt a bit ... familiar, with echoes of Cynthia Lord's Half a Chance and Karen Day's A Million Miles from Boston, and even Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. Summer stories all, featuring kids of a similar age range. But the sheer beauty of St. Antoine's writing, as well as her choice to feature a male protagonist, make Three Bird Summer stand out. 

Adam is a fine narrator, a little geeky, a little lazy, and baffled by the behavior of girls. His initially reluctant friendship with new neighbor Alice, and the oh-so-gradual dawning of "more than friend" feelings, is utterly believable. Alice and her parents are, perhaps, a tiny bit too good to be true, but I love that she spent the previous summer at a science camp for girls, and that she chafes under the yoke of her over-protective parents. Adam's mother and grandmother are well-drawn, too, with flaws as well as surprises. 

Three Bird Summer perfectly captures the feel of a rustic summer lake house. Like this:

"Mom lingered in the kitchen while I hauled my duffel through the main part of the cabin, breathing in the familiar smell of wood paneling and fireplace cinders. Everything was in its usual place." (Page 10)


"A cool breeze crossed the water. It felt like the great North was barreling through me with my every breath. Here's what slipped away: schedules, bus rides, the stale smell of the school cafeteria, algebraic equations, Mom and Dad's phone arguments, girl talk, and Grandma's interrogations. Here's what I got in exchange: water sloshing slowly and steadily against the dock like the heartbeat of a great whale. A pair of black-and-white loons swimming into view. Fresh air and a lake that, right then, felt like it was all mine." (Page 16)

Reading the above passage, I could practically feel the tension leaving Adam's shoulders. Three Bird Summer is filled with passages that I wanted to save, long and short. Like this:

"Mom turned around and we began paddling again, but not in a getting-there sort of way -- more like a being-there sort of way." (Page 199)

For the rest, you'll have to read the book. Three Bird Summer is a book to read on your front porch on a warm summer day (or, even better, on a dock floating in a lake in your bathing suit). It's about growing up, the ways that family relationships change, and young love. It's beautifully written, with a strong sense of place, and well-rounded characters. While Three Bird Summer is clearly a book that will appeal to adult readers, I hope that kids find it and love it, too. Despite the male protagonist, Three Bird Summer certainly has as much appeal for girls as for boys. Recommended! 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: May 13, 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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: June 6

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics covered this week include book lists and awards, diversity and gender, growing bookworms, the kidlitosphere, parenting, reading, writing, publishing, schools, libraries, and summer reading. 

Book Lists and Awards

Britain's best-loved children's book? Winnie-the-Pooh | @TelegraphArts reports on survey via @tashrow

Stacked: Get Genrefied: Magical Realism in #yalit @catagator

Barbro Lindgren Wins Lindgren Prize, reports @tashrow at Waking Brain Cells #kidlit

The 2014 Lambda Awards have been announced, via @bkshelvesofdoom #yalit

Four-and-a-half books about the Rwandan Genocide, list from @bkshelvesofdoom who would like other suggestions #kidlit

Predictions for the 2014 NYT Best Illustrated Children’s Books from @100scopenotes #kidlit

Stacked: Making a List & Checking it Twice: Bucket Lists and More in YA (a microtrend) @catagator #yalit

A solid list | The Best of the Underrated Middle School Books from @fuseeight #kidlit

The Top Ten Books I Never Wanted to Read (But I’m Glad I Did) by @emilypmiller3 @NerdyBookClub #kidlit

2014 Boston Globe/Horn Book Awards | via @tashrow @HornBook #kidlit

Everead: 10 Books to Read to a Kindergarten Class, plus some tips, from Alysa Stewart #GrowingBookworms

Who knew that there were 12 Picture Books about Theater for Kids? Erica @momandkiddo has the list!

Lovely start to the week: Sink Your Teeth into a Sweet Read: Books about Candy, from SSHEL blog #kidlit

Diversity + Gender

At The Uncommon Corps, Marc Aronson addresses how we can help encourage girls in math + computer sicence

Guest Post @CynLeitichSmith | Varsha Bajaj on Reading Across Borders & Cultures #kidlit #diversity

For #WeNeedDiverseBooks @MsYingling shares a list of #kidlit since 2000 w/ focus on Hispanic culture

#WeNeedDiverseBooks, The Panel & Musings on Diversity Discussions from Tanita Davis + #KidLitCon plug

Overview of #WeNeedDiverseBooks panel at BEA 2014 by @sdiaz101 in @sljournal

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Announces New Initiatives at BEA, reports @PWKidsBookshelf

Growing Bookworms

DadsReadHow and Why You Should Help with the #DadsRead Campaign — @ZoobeanForKids  #literacy

Announcing the launch of @ReadingTub Recommendations newsletter - Just in Time for Summer | Family Bookshelf #kidlit

Judy Blume: Parents worry too much about their kids are reading, @TelegraphArts via @PWKidsBookshelf

A quite useful addition to the @SunlitPages Raising Readers series: Nonfiction Early Readers

Growing up in home w/ lots of books + being read to as a toddler have biggest impact on school readiness @librareanne

The Reading Teacher by Emily Rozmus @rozmuse @nerdybookclub  #growingbookworms


Lots of #kidlit news at Morning Notes: Sit on a Book Edition — @100scopenotes

Always full of interesting tidbits: Fusenews: The Bear grumbleth “mum mum” — @fuseeight

48 Hour Book Challenge: A Call for Diversity from @MotherReader #48HBC

Good to see countdown to this weekend's 48 Hour Book Challenge @MotherReader | Who is participating? #48HBC

Much deserved! Celebrating @MotherReader With a Donation to @FirstBook from @MaryLeeHahn + @frankisibberson


Have a Productive Day! | @tashrow links to 2 recent articles about improving personal productivity

Fun! Disney Parks Are Hiding These 35 Secrets From Us...And You Probably Never Noticed! via @escapeadulthood

On Reading, Writing, and Publishing

Round Up of SLJ Day of Dialog 2014 at BEA from @roccoa @sljournal

Words to live by! RT @donalynbooks "@rikkir77 @JensBookPage Just read every day and let the rest take care of itself!"

How Wordless Picture Books Empower Children | SLJ Day of Dialog 2014 | Sarah Bayliss @sljournal

Interesting ideas for reinventing the bookshop to attract people to physical stores in @intlifemag via @medinger

On the autonomy that came with being given permission to read the once-forbidden Harry Potter books @NPRBooks

12 Quotes From Roald Dahl for Book Lovers @mashable via @tashrow #kidlit


I loved reading Ami's plan to give her kids a relaxing, time-filled summer vacation at bunkers down

This post on Building Trust by @lochwouters in response to @NPRBooks piece, resonated with me

Schools and Libraries

Helping if "kids can discover books that mean something to them, that sink in and stay with them" @MaryAnnScheuer

On the importance of audiobooks for teachers + in the classroom by Kristin Becker @KirbyLarson

I'm enjoying @MaryAnnScheuer series on #CommonCore IRL. Today: Life in Colonial America (grades 3-5) #kidlit

Summer Reading

Age-selected, updated lists for Building a Home Library from @CBCBook @ALALibrary + @alscblog  #SummerReading

Parents: Here are links to Free #SummerReading Resources for the Whole Family from @Scholastic

SummerReading-LOGONice little roundup of #SummerReading Resources, including links to @Scholastic lists from @365GCB

How to Get Kids Hooked on Nonfiction Books This Summer | @MindShiftKQED via @tashrow #SummerReading

Things I wish people knew about #SummerReading from @greenbeanblog

© 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.

The Great Greene Heist: Varian Johnson

Book: The Great Greene Heist
Author: Varian Johnson
Pages: 240
Age Range: 10-14

The Great Green Heist is a fun caper novel for middle school students, written by Varian Johnson. It features Jackson Greene, a semi-reformed prankster who sets out, with a talented crew, to ensure that his former almost-girlfriend wins the election for student council president. There are spy novel trappings such as disguises, hidden microphones, and custom gadgets. However, the real emphasis in The Great Greene Heist is on interpersonal dynamics, and the role that the various kids play in the drama.

The Great Green Heist features a diverse cast of characters (as one can see by looking closely at the cover), but it is about the heist (well, more of a scam), rather than being about the ethnicity of any one character. Johnson does a nice job of including small details that let the reader know that the characters come from different backgrounds, without distracting too much from the story. There is one minor character, an administrative assistant in the Principal's office, who is overtly racist, but skin colors are otherwise mainly a background matter. A bigger difference in how Jackson perceives other students involves whether or not they play basketball (and how good they are), rather than what they look like.

In truth, I had a bit of trouble sorting out all of the characters and their relationships at the beginning of the book. I had to go back and skim the first few chapters a couple of times. A relationship diagram / cast of characters might have been helpful. There is a glossary of Jackson's past capers included in the book's end materials, as well as a list of the 15 rules that make up the "Greene Code of Conduct." For example, "Stay cool under pressure. A rattled crew is a mistake-prone crew."

The Great Greene Heist has an intro sure to pull kids in: 

"As Jackson Greene sped past the Maplewood Middle School Cafeteria -- his trademark red tie skewed slightly to the left, a yellow No. 2 pencil balanced behind his hear, and a small spiral-bound notebook tucked in his right jacket pocket -- he found himself dangerously close to sliding back into the warm confines of scheming and pranking." (Page 1)

The story is a bit over the top, as is common in caper-type novels, featuring a candidate with basically no redeeming value, and a corrupt principal, not to mention a cooler-than-cool Jackson. I was reminded a bit of the Veronica Mars television series, in a good way. Kind of a quirkier, more interesting school than one might actually find in real life. 

I enjoyed The Great Greene Heist, and I think that kids will, too. I especially liked the character of Gaby, a strong girl running for Student Council President. Gaby at one point laments a female friend who prefers watching boys play sports over playing herself, and vows never to be like that herself. I think I would have liked to be friends with her. And I love the fact that Jackson makes it cool to be smart.

The Great Green Heist has become a bit of a poster-book for diversity, in light of the recent We Need Diverse Books campaign. But don't read it out of some sense of making a difference by reading diverse books. No, read it because it's a fun story about smart kids taking matters into their own hands, and bending the rules for a greater good. Recommended for middle school readers, boys or girls. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: May 27, 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

Early Birdy Gets the Worm: Bruce Lansky & Bill Bolton

Book: Early Birdy Gets the Worm
Creator: Bruce Lansky
Illustrator: Bill Bolton
Pages: 24
Age Range: 2-5

Early Birdy Gets the Worm is billed by the publisher, Meadowbrook, as "A PictureReading(TM) Book for Young Children". The end flaps include a User's Guide for Parents and Teachers on using PictureReading books (with pictures telling the story) to support storytelling with young kids. The guide says: "The ultimate goal of PictureReading is to turn over to the child the role of figuring out the plot points and connecting them with a narrative thread as soon as possible." So, something like a wordless picture book that is meant for the child to lead the reading of, instead of the parent taking the lead. An early reader without any words, if that makes any sense. 

For me, however, a book has to be judged on how good it is, not on what the intentions are. It needs to be a book, rather than a "parenting resource". And in the end, I liked Early Birdy Gets the Worm as a wordless picture book, but I didn't love it. It's the story of a young bird who is inspired by seeing his mother pull a worm out of the ground to try to do the same thing himself (with less than successful outcomes). Bolton's illustrations are gentle, and convey a mild humor, though his backgrounds seem overly simplistic.

I think that Early Birdy's setbacks will make kids laugh, even as they feel a bit protective of the fuzzy brown chick. For example, he see a bit of pink poking out of a tree trunk and pulls, only to find an irate mouse at the other end. The expressions of the characters are slightly exaggerated, to make sure that kids can follow the story. 

I found the conclusion to Early Bird Gets the Worm disappointing, however. He's never able to get a worm himself. He goes back to his nest, and then his mother brings him a worm. The message feels like: Try, but don't worry, if it doesn't work out, Mommy or Daddy will take care of you. And while this is doubtless true in most cases, I found it unsatisfying in a narrative sense. 

I will try this one out with my four-year-old daughter. And thinking about this book has inspired me to try to be a bit more interactive when reading with her, to encourage her to tell the story. Early Birdy is definitely cute. But I'll be surprised if Early Birdy Gets the Worm lands a spot on our regular re-reading list. 

Publisher: Meadowbrook
Publication Date: May 6
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