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Posts from August 2015

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: August 28

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include book awards, book lists, nonfiction, empathy, mysteries, the Cybils awards, diversity, women's equality day, growing bookworms, kidlitcon, ebooks, parenting, starting kindergarten, teachers, librarians, and accelerated reader program. 


Children's Book Council of Australia Awards for 2015: Winners & Honour Books from @TrevorHCairney  #kidlit

Fun stuff! 2014-2015 yearbook superlatives in #kidlit + YALit from @HornBook 

Book Lists

When it Rains, it Pours: 50 More #PictureBooks From a Stellar 2015 | @BottomShelfBks @HuffPostBooks  

10 Picture Books to Teach Empathy and Compassion from @momandkiddo  #kidlit #BookList

A Tuesday Ten from @TesseractViews | Male Protagonists in 2015 Fantasy Fiction #kidlit 

From the Danish Resistance to Charles Darwin: Nonfiction-Fiction Book Pairings in #kidlit from @read4keeps #BookList 

3 Recent #Diverse #YALit Mysteries from @catagator @bookriot 

Queens of Crime: Female Crime Novelists from Norway, recommendations from @bkshelvesofdoom @bookriot  #mysteries


Cybils-Logo-2015-Round-LgNew #Cybils blog post w/ FAQs + links + new round logo: Yes, YOU Can Be a Cybils Judge, Too! @Book_Nut  

"Being a #Cybils judge is a wonderful opportunity to meet others interested in children’s books" @RobertaGibson 

If you know of anyone who would be a good fit for featured blogger at #Cybils, please let us know #kidlit #YALit 

Why you should apply to be a #Cybils judge, especially in #nonfiction, from Jennifer at Jean Little Library #kidlit 

Why @Book_Nut keeps coming back to work on the #Cybils | "I like being a part of something bigger than myself" 

Diversity + Gender

The Opposite of Colorblind: Why it’s essential to talk to children about race | @LEEandLOW #diversity  

"It’s boring to only read about people just like you." 10 Reasons to Read #Diversely from @LEEandLOW via @fairrosa 

What the Science Says About Kids and Gender-Labeled Toys by @melissadahl @thescienceofus via @PWKidsBookshelf 

Events + Programs

Yesterday was Women’s Equality Day! @rifweb shares some picture books to celebrate, including ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER  

Philadelphia Launches $30 Million #Literacy Push to ensure all kids reading at grade level | @Llauren @sljournal 

Growing Bookworms

"Imagine how boring our reading lives would be if we only read books on our level." @rantryan @NerdyBookClub  #reading 

Librarian @KingAndKids says let's encourage kids to call writers by their names, not just by their books (I do this)  


News! @DanPoblocki joins #KidLitCon Horror Panel w/ Mary Downing Hahn, @TraceyBaptiste @RonSmithbooks + @MsYingling 

Reviewers and Bloggers: Prepare for #KidLitCon 2015, October 9–10, in Baltimore | @sljournal  

#KidLitCon is on @matthewwinner 's Let’s Get Busy podcast @pwbalto #kidlit 

RT @SOLurie: Betsy Bird at Evanston Public Library  Nice shout-out to @JonathanAStroud. Thanks, Betsy, and congrats on the new gig!

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Are tablet computers harming our children's ability to read? | In-depth discussion @Guardian via @PWKidsBookshelf  

Did technology kill the book or give it new life? @BBCNews via @tashrow 


Using #literacy activities (like choosing your own books) to teach kids to be more responsible, from @growingbbb  

Schools and Libraries

Getting Ready For Kindergarten #Literacy Learning - a checklist of things a school interventionist looks for 

Review by @MaryAnnScheuer of good title to ease transition to K | Monkey Not Ready for Kindergarten @randomhousekids 

Meet Kristina Holzweiss @lieberrian SLJ’s 2015 School Librarian of the Year | by @HapaMamaGrace @sljournal 

Maple & Willow Apart by Lori Nichols - back-to-school transitions for two sisters - review by @MaryAnnScheuer... 

Adventures in #Literacy Land: The Pros and Cons of Computerized Reading Programs (esp. Accelerated Reader) 

"Wonderful teachers, we’re in this together, and I see you." Message from Mom of 6 @alamocitymoms to thank teachers 

Social Media

Time Management Tuesday from @gail_gauthier | Managing The Beast That Is Twitter With Tweetdeck, Part 1 

© 2015 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 Rise and Fall of Oscar the Magician: Matthew Porter

Book: The Rise and Fall of Oscar the Magician
Author: Matthew Porter
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8

The Rise and Fall of Oscar the Magician is part of Matthew Porter's Monkey World Adventure series (though I haven't read anything else in this series). A magician monkey named Oscar is nominated by a magazine for the title of Magician of the Year. However, another monkey, the Milton the Magnificent, is also nominated, and very badly wants to win. Milton makes a variety of attempts to cheat and knock Oscar out of the competition. Oscar, through a combination of luck and an easy-going nature, triumphs for a time. But then Milton gets truly creative in his sabotage efforts.... 

I'm not a fan of coincidence in stories ("luckily" this good thing happened). But the five and six year olds on whom I tried out this book has no such issues. I would say, though, that The Rise and Fall of Oscar the Magician was right at the limit of their comprehension, in terms of the plot and particularly of the vocabulary. There is hypnosis involved, along with various nefarious tricks. The vocabulary includes words like "levitated", "encore", "impeccable", and "sabotage." I found myself having to stop and define some of the words (though not all - I don't like to break up the flow of a read-aloud too much). Here's a snippet:

"Thinking he was rehearsing a new
routine, Oscar became befuddled by
Milton's mysterious monocle.

Under the monocle's spell, Oscar the
magician stole the priceless Blue Diamond
Necklace from the city museum."

As an adult reader, I quite enjoyed the combination of strong vocabulary and alliteration here. But younger children will likely not have the patience for The Rise and Fall of Oscar the Magnificent. I would recommend it more for first or second graders. 

I also liked Matthew Porter's textured, colorful illustrations. Both monkeys have strongly delineated personalities. My five-year-old knew, on page two, just from the look of him, that Milton was going to be the bad guy. Some combination of his hair and mustache, I think. The monkeys are all quite human-looking, particularly their eyes, which makes the book more accessible, I think. The images hit a nice sweet spot between amusing detail and simple, bold colors.

I think that The Rise and Fall of Oscar the Magician could make a nice classroom read-aloud for second graders. The cover image is eye-catching, with a blindfolded magician riding a unicycle over a frayed tightrope, and I think that kids will be intrigued by the story. Fans of Porter's work will certainly want to add this one to their collections. 

Publisher: Little Bigfoot (@Sasquatchbooks) 
Publication Date: August 4, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: August 26

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a 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. I usually send the newsletter out every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews (3 picture books and one YA), as well as a post with mini-reviews of some back to school picture books. I also have two posts with literacy and reading links that I shared on Twitter recently, and one post about a new literacy milestone for my daughter (checking out her first book from the school library). Finally, I have a post directed towards book bloggers on why they should consider judging for the Cybils Awards and/or attending KidLitCon

Reading Update: In the past two weeks I finished two early chapter books, two young adult books, and two adult books. I read/listened to:

  • Liam O'Donnell (ill. Aurelie Grand): West Meadows Detectives: The Case of the Snack Snatcher. Owl Kids. Illustrated Early Chapter Book. Completed August 24, 2015. Review to come, closer to the October publication date. 
  • Bill Harley (ill. Adam Gustavson): Charlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey. Peachtree Publishing. Illustrated Early Chapter Book. Completed August 25, 2015. Review to come. 
  • Jennifer Lynn Barnes: The Fixer. Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. Young Adult. Completed August 14, 2015, on MP3. A fun, if rather improbable, read. I hope that there will be other books in this series about a teenage "fixer" in Washington, DC. 
  • Alan Gratz: Code of Honor. Scholastic Press. Young Adult. Completed August 16, 2015. My review.
  • Ingrid Thoft: Identify. Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed August 15, 2015, on Kindle. I'm liking this new mystery series, and have the third (and so far only other) one already downloaded.
  • Helen Simonson: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Random House. Adult Fiction. Completed August 22, 2015, on MP3. This was lovely. 

I'm listening to An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James and reading The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender in print and Starglass by Phoebe North on Kindle. I'm still finding that reading in the evening is difficult, because I get so sleepy. But this does mean that any book that I manage to complete is pretty interesting. 

The books my husband and I have been reading to our daughter can be found here. She's still interested in hearing Critter Club and Magic Treehouse books, and she's developed a particular interest in picture books that involve cooking for some reason. We actually made an attempt at Blackberry Fool, in homage to A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall (thanks to which she now also knows, in a very basic sense, about slavery). 

What are you and your family reading these days? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2015 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

For Bloggers: Why You Should Consider Judging #Cybils + Attending #KidLitCon

If you are a person who blogs about children's and/or young adult books, whether fiction or nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, or even book-related apps, here are two great opportunities for you to get more involved in the larger community. 

The Cybils Awards

Cybils-Logo-2015-Round-LgApplications are now open for Cybils judges. The Cybils Awards, now in their 10th year, highlight children's and young adult books that are both well-written and kid-friendly. Anyone can nominate titles published in the past year in each of 10 categories. Following the nomination period, two rounds of judging are conducted by bloggers. The Round 1 judges winnow the (sometimes large) nomination lists down to a shortlist of 5-7 titles in each category (some with sub-categories by age). The Round 2 judges then take over, and select a winner in each category. The result is a set of blogger-approved titles, by category, that are of high quality, and that we believe will appeal to kids. You can view past shortlists and winners on the Cybils website (see the right-hand sidebar).

The Cybils-selected titles are a tremendous resource for parents, teachers, and librarians, or anyone who connects kids with books. The process couldn't be conducted, however, without extensive participation by the community of children's and young adult book bloggers. If you are someone who reviews children's or young adult books, or book-related apps, on a blog, you can apply to be a Cybils judge. A number of people have already shared their reasons why being a Cybils judge is worth doing (links here). Here are my top three reasons:

  1. You can get to know other people with like interests. Each Cybils panel consists of a small team of five to seven people who are passionate about their particular category. You'll have email (and sometimes Google Hangout of the like) interactions with your fellow category members. You'll debate and discuss books, and you'll likely start reading each other's blogs, and generally forming personal connections. Blogging can be an isolated pastime (particularly as commenting has declined over the years). But it doesn't have to be isolating, and participating in the Cybils can help.
  2. You can become well-versed in the titled published in your category over the past year, particularly if you are a Round 1 judge. I've judged in Round 1 for Fiction Picture Books twice, and I find myself with a broad knowledge of the books that were published in each of those years. I have a more varied appreciation for authors and illustrators than I did previously, particularly those who work with smaller, more diverse publishers. 
  3. You get to know that you have made a real contribution in helping kids to grow up loving books. Many kids need to find the right book - the book that will hook them on reading. There are plenty of parents, teachers, and librarians working to help them find said right book. But with so many titles published each year, it can be difficult for caregivers to find the books with the highest kid appeal. This is where the Cybils awardees, particularly the shortlists in each category, come in. Know a seven-year-old new reader who wants funny chapter books? Want to make sure that the ones he reads are well-written? Check out the Cybils shortlists for Early Chapter Books. You, as a blogging reviewer of books can help to construct these lists. 

Being a Cybils judge can be time-consuming (particularly for Round 1, particularly for the Fiction categories). But it's also highly rewarding. Apply here

The Kidlitosphere Conference

2015-KidLitConLogoSquareAnother opportunity to participate in the children's and young adult book blogging community is also available this fall. You can attend the Kidlitosphere Conference, an annual gathering of bloggers and authors and other interested parties. This year's KidLitCon will be held in Baltimore on October 9th and 10th. Program Chair Charlotte Taylor has assembled a fabulous collection of panels on topics ranging from Exploring STEM to working with teams to how graphic novels work. This year, KidLitCon will be celebrating the 10th birthday of the Cybils, with a special emphasis on awards, and celebrating young people's literature in general. This year's keynote speakers are Meet keynote speakers Tracey Baptiste (The Jumbies) and Carrie Mesrobian (Cuts Both Ways). 

Attending KidLitCon is an amazing experience. It's a relatively small conference (usually 50-100 people), which means that you can easily meet people. Many of the attendees are introverts (as book bloggers tend to be), and you'll find that just about everyone would rather have some brief but substantive conversation about literature than make conventional small talk. In short, if you are a person who loved children's and young adult books, and cares about connecting kids with said books, attending KidLitCon will feel like going home. I can't recommend it highly enough. 

I live in California, and dislike traveling. Most days, I don't even want to leave my house. And yet, I've attended all of the KidLitCons except one, and I am planning to be there in Baltimore. Here are three reasons for you to consider attending:

  1. You can meet people face-to-face with whom you've been interacting via your blog and social media accounts for years. You can turn virtual friends into real ones, which is a tremendously validating experience. 
  2. You can recharge your interest in blogging, both through ideas from the formal sessions and through casual conversations with other bloggers. Conquering blog burnout has been a regular topic over the years. 
  3. You can learn about new areas of blogging and/or young people's literature, from diverse books to visual storytelling.

Registration for KidLitCon is now open. This two-day conference is quite reasonably priced at $125, if you register by September 20th (and still only $150 after that). This includes two days of panels and presentations, Friday lunch, Friday dinner and bowling(!), Saturday lunch discounts. Single day options are also available, as is an optional Sunday guided tour of Baltimore. 

Sign up now for KidLitCon and/or Cybils judging. You won't regret it!

© 2015 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

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova: Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad

Book: Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Julie Morstad
Pages: 52
Age Range: 6-9

Swan: The LIfe and Dance of Anna Pavlova is a nonfiction picture book written in poetry by Laurel Snyder, and illustrated by Julie Morstad. The text is quite spare, leaving some of the details of Pavlova's life to be inferred by the reader, until they are filled in by an Author's Note at the end of the book. This subtlety, as well as a sad (though poetic) ending, make this a better fit for elementary age readers than for preschoolers. 

Pavlova, as portrayed here, exemplifies the passion that can overcome a person (Anna simply had to dance - there was no other option for her), the success that can come from hard work and perseverance, and the importance of giving back when one does achieve success. Because Snyder keeps the focus on Anna's story, none of this comes across as didactic in any way. 

A combination of words and formatting are used to make Swan, though a cohesive narrative, also read as a series of poems. Like this:

"   Then--ah!

The lights.

             The lights!

Something is happening ...

         There's a swell of strings,

a scurry of skirts.

    A hiss and a hum and ...



(bearing in mind that the spacing of the lines won't be exact here). The above text is written in white against a gray, snow-filled sky. I love phrases like "a scurry of skirts." Swan is a quiet read-aloud, one that I think will benefit from multiple readings aloud. 

The illustrations are particularly important in Swan, because they bring to life details not necessarily spelled out in the text. The two young listeners that I read this book to could easily pick out Anna from the crowd at her first ballet because of Morstad's use of lighting. They had no trouble understanding, from Anna's clothing and the laundry draping her apartment, that Anna and her mother were poor. They could see from her posture where Anna suffered a disappointment. And so so. The muted color palette suits the tone of the story, while Anna comes across as graceful throughout. 

My five-year-old pronounced Swan: "Good, but sad." She was able to grasp, despite it not being quite spelled out in the text, that Anna dies at the end of the book. She has since requested this book again - she really wants to understand it. I think that slightly older readers, particularly those who are mad for dance, will appreciate it even more. Personally, though I am not mad for dance, I thought that Swan was beautiful in both words and illustration. Definitely recommended for library collections. Anna is a historical figure well worth learning about, and Swan is a beautifully constructed book with which to do so. 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: August 18, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Literacy Milestone: Checking Out Her First Book from the School Library

LiteracyMilestoneALast week my daughter started Kindergarten. Which is a literacy milestone in its own right, of course. She was a bit nervous at first, but seems to be settling in well. She was fortunate to have several kids she already knew in her class. 

After orientation, a friend who knows of my interests introduced our family to the school librarian, Ms. H. The librarian wasn't ready to check out books yet, but gave us a quick tour of the library. When I went to pick my daughter up on Friday she asked if we could go to the library again. The library was closed, but we ran into Ms. H, and she was happy to let us, along with my daughter's friend and his mom, in to have a look. 

Ms. H. still wasn't quite ready to check out books to the kids (some sort of technical issue involving A/C had thrown things off schedule). However, it turned out that after talking with us for a few minutes, she couldn't resist recommending a couple of titles for each child. And so it came about that not only did my daughter check out her first book from the school library, she was the first child this school year to check out a book at all. This seemed fitting.

We came home with The Aminal by Lorna and Lecia Balian and Seneca by Karen Lee Baker, the first of what I'm sure will be many books checked out of this library over the next few years. This milestone means a lot to be because I ADORED my elementary school library. I used to go in and shelve books before school in sixth grade. I still cherish two books given to me as gifts by Mrs. Tuttle, the wonderful librarian. I've hoped that my daughter's experience would be equally positive, and we are off to a good start so far. Of course we'll continue visiting the public library, too, I'm sure. We are fortunate in our libraries. 

© 2015 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: August 21

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include book lists, the Cybils awards, KidLitCon, feminism, growing bookworms, reading, kidlitosphere, literacy, brain activity, publishing, self-publishing, schools, and libraries. 

Book Lists

Does your child have Back to School Butterflies? @RIFWEB suggests 3 books to help. #kidlit  

Picture Books that Teach Kids to Combat Racism, a new @momandkiddo #BookList #DiverseBooks 

Race, Racism & Equality: Children's Books for all Ages, a #BookList from @TrevorHCairney #DiverseBooks 

Tears will Be Shed: Heart-Wrenching Novels for Middle Grades │ JLG’s Booktalks to Go | @sljournal #kidlit 

A Tuesday Ten #BookList from @TesseractViews | Female Protagonists in 2015 Middle Grade Fantasy 

Urban YA Fantasy Genre Guide from @molly_wetta  "a blend of the magic + the mundane... in a real-world urban setting"


Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-LgIsn't the new 2015 Cybils Logo beautiful? Great work by @aquafortis in honor of #Cybils 10th birthday! 

Hey there kidlit + YAlit bloggers: t's time for the 2015 #Cybils Call for Judges #poetry #graphicnovels #nonfiction 

New blog post: Announcing the 2015 #Cybils organizing team, including returnees @ReadingTub + @aquafortis #kidlit 

Get involved with the 2015 #Cybils awards or watch the Walking Dead? @ReadingTub on why this is a no-brainer #kidlit  

5 Things I Love About Judging the Cybils from @mrskatiefitz | Connecting, deep discussions, prof development + more 

5 reasons to apply to be a #Cybils Judge (w/ particular reference to middle grade spec fic) from chair @charlotteslib 

Five Reasons to Apply as a #Cybils Judge + what @SheilaRuth is looking for in #YALit Speculative Fiction panelists 

"It's the most wonderful time of the year! The #Cybils are starting!" @MsYingling has the scoop 

Love reading + discussing #kidlit ? 3 reasons why #Cybils judging may be just the place for you, from @brandymuses 

Diversity + Gender

Stacked: Announcing: Part One of FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD (feminist anthology for teens) Contributions @catagator  

Understanding + exploring ways dift forms of social oppression intersect, intersectional feminism #BookList @bookriot 

Growing Bookworms

How Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren worked as a family read-aloud for @SunlitPages #kidlit 

Early #Literacy in Everyday Places: The Zoo, fun ideas from @mrskatiefitz  

Must-read post by @Cynthia_Lord @NerdyBookClub on the importance of making kids feel good about their reading choices 

Reading to kids has a "very important role to play in building brain networks", among other benefits @PerriKlass 

#RaisingReaders Monday @kateywrites | On the joy of imaginary friends, with #KidLit #BookList 

Avoid the Summer Snide | validation from @readingtub for parents feeling guilty over letting reading practice slide 

A List of Visual #Literacy Resources for kids from @BookChook | from storytelling to activities 

Choosing a great chapter book to read aloud | advice from @MaryAnnScheuer + some friends for home or school #kidlit 


2015-KidLitConLogoSquareYay! Due to exciting early registration numbers + some generous sponsorships we are extending the #KidLitCon Early... 

New podcast show about children's books from @100scopenotes + @colbysharp | The Yarn  

Double the shark books for #KidLitCon attendees, thaks to Dr. Ellen Prager and @MightyPress 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

12 Things Every Book Nerd Loved As A Kid, Like Book Fair Books (OBVIOUSLY) @juliaseales @Bustle  via @PWKidsBookshelf

Why aren't there more grandparents in children's books? asks @brushingboots in @TeleGoodLife  via @PWKidsBookshelf

The books I loved as a child have lasted – but the world has changed | Owen Duffy @GuardianBooks 

Why do books still exist, asks a teenager. Because they are "truly magical" | @GdnChildrensBks 

From Harry Potter Latin to Hunger Games Rome: the classical jokes hiding in #kidlit @GdnchildrensBks  @PWKidsBookshelf

Schools and Libraries

50 Lbs of Books, Paper, + Toys Delivered to South African Preschoolers from kids in VA @amlibraries @PWKidsBookshelf 

Study finds taking notes in longhand (more selective) -> better performance than taking them on PC  @MindShiftKQED 

On accepting the identify of students who hate reading, and helping them to like it a bit more by @PernilleRipp 

At Any Given Moment We Have the Power to Stop the Hate of Reading, and make reading fun again  @PernilleRipp #teaching

Useful post (+ comments) for Indie authors: Why Librarians Don’t Want to Buy Your Self-Published Book by @molly_wetta  

w/ focus on boosting the weakest students, America’s smartest children aren't being pushed to do their best @WSJ OpEd 

© 2015 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

Peanut Butter & Brains: Joe McGee and Charles Santoso

Book: Peanut Butter & Brains: A Zombie Culinary Tale
Author: Joe McGee
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

Zombies are everywhere these days - television, movies, books, etc. But I do believe that this is the first time I've run across a picture book about zombies. Peanut Butter & Brains, written by Joe McGee and illustrated by Charles Santoso, is about a little zombie boy named Reginald who lives in the zombie-infested small town of Quirkville. Rather than wanting to eat brains, as all of his fellow zombies do, Reginald craves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But sandwiches are surprisingly hard to come by when you don't have a home or money to buy food. In the end, however, Reginald's devotion to peanut butter and jelly ends up saving the day uniting the town

As one would rather hope in a picture books, this is a very g-rated portrayal of zombies. The zombies shamble about in a hapless manner, muttering "Brains". People are easily able to avoid them. No brains are actually consumed (though the meatloaf at school does look suspiciously like brains). 

McGee uses the zombie lingo to admirable read-aloud effect. Like this:

"The zombie horde shuffled and shambled around the corner.

they moaned, licking their lips at
the sight of little Abigail Zink.

The townspeople froze in their
tracks, including the mayor and
his prancing poodle."

Lots of fun vocabulary words in this small passage alone. Peanut Butter & Brains is an enjoyable read-aloud. 

Santoso's illustrations show the zombies as blue or gray-faced, with ragged clothes and crudely stitched scars. They walk around with arms outstretched, and instead of the word "brains" we often see them with a dialog bubble containing a picture of a brain. Reginald, with spiky brown hair and a big smile, is almost cute. Santoso does include small humorous details, as when Reginald turns out his pockets looking for money and insects and worms come out.

I never would have thought that a non-violent picture book introduction to zombies would be necessary. But here's the thing. My five year has been listening to Plants vs. Zombies books for about a year now. And those zombies do kill people. Kids know of zombies, and find the idea interesting, just like adults do. So the idea of a kid-friendly introduction, in which nobody dies, and in which peanut butter and jelly are essential to town peace, well, it kind of works. I think that certain kids, pardon the pun, will eat this one up. Peanut Butter & Brains is definitely recommended for library purchase. 

Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers (@AbramsKids)
Publication Date: August 11, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

5 Picture Books for Kids Starting School (Especially Kindergarten)

My daughter will be starting kindergarten today. Here are five picture books we have been reading (three brand-new, and two from within the past couple of years, all from different publishers).

1. Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten, by Marc Brown (Knopf Books). This is a new book by the author of the Arthur series (books much-loved in our household). I learned about it from a review by Katherine Sokolowski and purchased it immediately. As I expected, it was perfect for my daughter. Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten takes place during the final week before the start of school. Despite the best efforts of his parents and older brother, Monkey just does not feel ready. The family practices school. They visit the library and read books about kindergarten. They attend a playdate with other kids who will be starting at the same school. They continue to offer patient, loving support. And when the big day comes, well, Monkey is finally ready.

This book opened up some good channels for communication with my daughter, and gave us concrete ideas. There's a page in which Monkey lists all of the things that he's worried about, eyes wide. The list is a nice mix of universal and Monkey-specific items, from "What if his teacher doesn't like him?" to "What if they don't have red crayons?" The only drawback to this book, and I think it's a minor one, is that if you child is not at all afraid of starting kindergarten, I suppose this could put the idea into her head. But I think it's more likely to pull out deep-rooted fears that are already there. Brown's child-like illustrations (including end pages featuring things Monkey has apparently drawn), add to the kid-centered focus of Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten. This is a must-have for school libraries, and a nice classroom read-aloud. 

2. Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmidt and Shane Prigmore (Chronicle Books). Planet Kindergarten came out last summer, but I never got around to writing about it before school started. It's about a boy who envisions his first day of kindergarten as a journey to another planet. So instead of arriving in the parking lot at school, "We arrive at the base camp, then orbit while we look for a place to dock." His teacher is his "commander", and classmates are "crewmates." And so on.

Planet Kindergarten does cover all of the basics, albeit often in a quirky fashion. The boy is nervous saying goodbye to his parents, and his mom slides a photo into his pocket. "Gravity works differently here. We have to try hard to stay in our seats." And so on. There is conflict, and the making of a new friend. And, ultimately, a successful mission. Prigmore's illustrations show the boy himself looking fairly ordinary, while those around him have odd, bright colors and unusual angles - everything looks and feels alien. Planet Kindergarten uses an interesting device to liven up what is, at its core, a universal story. This would be another good addition to school or classroom libraries. 

3. Polka-dot Fixes Kindergarten by Catherine Urdahl and Mai S. Kemble (Charlesbridge). This is a book that we've had for quite a while, but my daughter has recently developed more of an interest in it. It's about the first day of kindergarten for a girl named Polka-dot, used to being taken care of at home by her grandfather.

Polka-dot encounters a teacher who, though warm in some ways, has rules. And who can't drop everything to help each child right away. Polka-dot also encounters a girl who behaves in rather hostile fashion, and hurts Polka-dot's feelings. In the end, with a bit of help from a fix-it kit that her grandfather sent her with, Polka-dot is able to solve her own problems, and make a friend. 

I like that the lessons in this book (teachers can't give a classroom full of kids the same attention that one-on-one caregivers, for example) are relatively subtle. Polka-dot is a three-dimensional character, with her own traits and fears. See my slightly more detailed review (from 2011) here

4. ABC School's for Me by Suzan B. Katz and Lynn Munsinger (Scholastic). One of my daughter's favorite board books when she was small was Katz's ABC, Baby Me! Muningner's Tacky and Jellybeans books are also popular (with the illustrations in ABC School's for Me resembling those from the latter). ABC School's for Me is an alphabet book in which each letter is used to illustrate something that kids will encounter in school. For example, the E page features "Eating snack around the rug", followed by "Friends who share a hello hug." The relevant alphabet letter is shown slightly oversized and in a different color, and also begins the phrase or sentence on each page.

ABC School's for Me is better suited to kids starting preschool than kindergarten, both in the selection of the examples (playing in a play kitchen, building with blocks, using the potty alone, etc) and in the coziness of the illustrations. Munsinger's bears are cute and smiling, all with similar coloring and clothing. This would be a great book to read with a three-year-old about to head off to preschool. In truth, my own daughter, at five, was bored by this book (though she liked seeing the familiar illustration style). She said "Not enough is happening." But definitely look at it for younger kids starting school. 

5. Goose Goes to School by Laura Wall (HarperCollins). Goose Goes to School is a sequel to Goose, which I reviewed here. In the first book, a girl named Sophie becomes friends with a goose, and eventually is able to take it home with her. In this sequel, Sophie goes off to school, and Goose is not supposed to go. Goose, however, sneaks in, causing a bit of trouble, but eventually helping Sophie to make a bunch of new friends. 

This isn't overtly a book about starting school. The author doesn't really say that Sophie is starting school for the first time, or anything. But she does rather cling to her mother's legs when she first arrives at school, and she doesn't seem to have any friends until the other kids, seeing her play with Goose at recess, want to play, too. There's no useful message here for kids, of course, since they aren't going to be able to bring their own pets along on their first day of school. But this bright, spare book about Sophie and Goose offers a light-hearted look at what it's like to be in school, away from the cushion of one's parents. It would pair well with the first book Bailey book by Harry Bliss

© 2015 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Code of Honor: Alan Gratz

Book: Code of Honor
Author: Alan Gratz
Pages: 288
Age Range: 12 and up

Code of Honor by Alan Gratz is about a 17-year-old boy whose life falls apart when his beloved older brother is accused of terrorism. Kamran Smith's father is caucasian, but his mother is Iranian. Kamran is living a charmed life in Phoenix as a homecoming king, football star, boyfriend, and soon-to-be cadet at West Point (his longtime dream). All of that changes when CNN starts showing video of his Ranger brother Darius working with, and speaking for, middle eastern terrorists.

People at school (even his friends) are suspicious of Kamran, as is the Department of Homeland Security. Before he knows it, Kamran is locked in a detention facility, trying to escape so that he can save his brother. 

Code of Honor covers a lot of ground, from friendship and loyalty to what it feels like to be discriminated against to the bond of brotherhood. There is also, particularly in the second half of the book, plenty of high stakes action. While it might be a tad implausible for Kamran to be directly involved in preventing a terrorist attack, Gratz pulls it off. There was one scene in which I was skeptical, but then he mitigated my concerns, and made things make sense. 

I read Code of Honor in a single sitting, eager to know what would happen to Kamran and Darius. I didn't even stop to place post-it flags, so I don't have any quotes for you. I like that while Gratz addresses what it feels like to be treated differently because you look Middle Eastern, he also makes Kamran broadly relatable, and includes enough action to keep teens (and adults) turning the pages. 

Code of Honor has a ripped from the headlines theme, a fast-paced plot, a diverse protagonist, and a focus on loyalty and honor. It belongs in high school and public libraries everywhere. Recommended, and going on my keep shelf. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: August 14

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include book lists, the Newbery Awards, picture books, nonfiction, graphic novels, diverse books, gender, growing bookworms, parenting, common core, reading, publishing, KidLitCon, Magic Treehouse books, schools, and libraries. 


Who Publishes Newbery Winning Titles (1996-2015)? | @fairrosa  #BookAwards #KidLit 

Book Lists

26 #PictureBooks You Won’t Want to Miss This Fall | @dcorneal @ReadBrightly  #BookList 

"Get the school year off to a great start with a selection of fresh and engaging picture books". @sljournal  #BookList

New #BookList from @PernilleRipp featuring #nonfiction #picturebooks 

10 #PictureBooks About Lions & Tigers, a new #BookList from @mrskatiefitz 

Another useful #BookList from @mrskatiefitz | 16 Picture Books About Writing #kidlit 

Looking for a Back-to-School Chapter Book Read Aloud? Don’t Miss These! | @dgrabarek @sljournal  #BookList

Wild Rose Reader: Back to School 2015: Children's Books and Book Lists 

Chapter Books that Teach Empathy: a new #kidlit #BookList from @momandkiddo 

#YALit #BookList about Heading Back to Summer Camp from @bkshelvesofdoom @KirkusReviews 

Ten must-read, "obscure but brilliant" YA novels you've probably never heard of | @GdnChildrensBks  #BookList

Diversity + Gender

#PictureBooks that draw the line against pink stereotypes of girls in @GuardianBooks via @FuseEight  #DiverseBooks 

25 Multicultural Chapter Books for Kids from @KidWorldCitizen via @tashrow #DiverseBooks 

Report on new Harvard study in @TheAtlantic finds teen girls and boys still tend to prefer male leaders 

Growing Bookworms

Good post on the importance of reading champions to help kids become readers, vs. focus on instruction #teachers  

Why Teaching Kids to Read is NOT Enough. @ThisReadingMama discusses why teaching spelling is important, too  #literacy

Creative Prompts for Kids, like "Create a scene with LEGO and let it be the setting for a story you write" @BookChook 


2015-KidLitConLogoSquareBreaking News! Announcing the Program for #KidLitCon 2015. Early registration ends this Friday. Don't miss it! 

#KidLitCon update: @rafael_rosado1 + @jorgeagu added to our "How #GraphicNovels Work" panel on October 10th  

Want to know more about blogging? See interview: Life as a Book Blogger with Alysa of @Everead @freado 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

In random bookish news, the Latin edition of DIARY OF A WIMPY KID by @wimpykid releases this week, via @WSJ  

10 Things I Hate About Reading (a mix of humor and genuine pet peeves) from @BooksBabiesBows 

The Quintessential Edition: If You Could Choose Only One Version of Your Favorite Classic Books . . . — @fuseeight 

For the Love of Jack and Annie! (Ten Reasons to Love the Magic Tree House Series) by Adrian Stevens @NerdyBookClub 

Reading as Self-Care: "some ways that reading can be considered beneficial for my health" by @nikkilooch @bookriot 

We all "have something personal to gain from reading for pleasure that goes far beyond the pages of a great book" 


Are we destroying kids' love of learning by focusing too much on achievement? asks @jesslahey in @TheAtlantic  

Schools and Libraries

#CommonCore increasing popularity of children's history reports @katiahetter @cnn  #nonfiction

Adventures in Literacy Land: Engaging Kinesthetic Learners during writing practice with Legos  

Sigh. Kids have up to three times too much homework, study finds, reports @cnn 

Inspiring guide to several features of a productive classroom library by @CarrieGelson 

© 2015 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

Leo: A Ghost Story: Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson

Book: Leo: A Ghost Story
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Christian Robinson
Pages: 52
Age Range: 3-6

Leo: A Ghost Story, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Christian Robinson, is a book for preschoolers about the joy of friendship. And, as promised, it is a ghost story, though a far cry from scary, perfectly suited to preschoolers.

Leo is a small ghost boy who lives by himself in a large house. Most people can't see him, but luckily, the reader can. He spends his time reading and drawing. When a family moves into the house, he tries to be welcoming. Alas, they are not receptive. Leo is forced to leave.

Roaming the city, Leo meets a girl who (perhaps due to her strong imagination) can see him. She thinks that he's another of her (many) imaginary friends, and takes him home with her. Leo feels a bit badly about being there under false pretenses, but the lure of companionship is too strong for him to resist. And, of course (this being a picture book for preschoolers), things work out in the end. 

Leo felt to me like a cross between Casper, the Friendly Ghost and Beekle (the Caldecott-winning imaginary friend), with a hint of the boy from The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig. He's creative, nice, and polite, and wears a delightfully old-fashioned outfit. He makes mint tea and honey toast.

Leo: A Ghost Story is a trifle long, and a bit more text-heavy than most picture books aimed at the preschool crowd. There's a humorous bit where Leo expects the imaginary animal named "Sir Squawks" to be a bird (based on previous experience), but it turns out to be a giant hamster. This may go over the heads of the youngest listeners. But my five year old enjoyed every word, as did I. Here's a snippet: 

"After dinner Jane returned to her room and gave Leo a sword. They snuck into a cave, slew a dragon, and stole all his loot. When Leo closed his eyes, he could almost see the gold coins and green scales."

Such a celebration of imaginative play!

Robinson conveys Leo as a simple line drawing. You can generally see the background right through him. Otherwise, he is colored in with the lightest of gray tones, just so you know he's there. He has a mild, cheerful smile. He is not at all intimidating, despite being a ghost. Just as a note on diversity, Leo's friend, Jane, is apparently African-American (though her skin tone is actually a deep blue). She provides a nice contrast for Leo, who is merely outlined in blue. 

I believe that, like Barnett's Extra Yarn, Leo: A Ghost Story is destined to become a family favorite in my household. Recommended for home and library use. 

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 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, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).