Previous month:
July 2015
Next month:
September 2015

Posts from August 2015

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: August 12

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 (picture book through middle grade). 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 (understanding the need for conflict in a story).

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

  • Ellen Potter: Piper Green and the Fairy Tree. Yearling / Knopf Books for Young Readers. Illustrated Early Chapter Book. Completed July 29, 2015. My review.
  • Ellen Potter: Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: Too Much Good Luck. Yearling / Knopf Books for Young Readers. Illustrated Early Chapter Book. Completed July 29, 2015. My review.
  • Suzanne Chazin: The Land of Careful Shadows. Kensington. Adult Mystery. Completed July 31, 2015, on MP3. I appreciated the voice of this one, but I found it a tiny bit message-driven, which grated at times. I also figured out the whodunnits long before the hero did. 
  • Ingrid Thoft: Loyalty. Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed August 5, 2015, on Kindle. First of a fairly new PI series set in Boston. I quite enjoyed it. I like the character (even if her incessant junk food eating with no ill effects is implausible.)
  • Thomas Perry: A String of Beads (Jane Whitefield). Mysterious Press. Adult Mystery. Completed August 6, 2015, on MP3. I've always enjoyed this series, and I did like this one, but I found it to occasionally drift into "how to" territory. This is how you create a new identity. This is what thieves do when they break into your house. Etc. 

I'm listening to The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes I'm reading Identity by Ingrid Thoft on my Kindle. I've accumulated quite a few Kindle Samples that I'll be weeding through to decide what to read next. The books my husband and I have been reading to our daughter can be found here. She's been particularly interested in hearing Critter Club and Magic Treehouse books lately. She had another illness and she listened to so many books that she actually started to complain that we didn't have enough picture books in the house. Anyone who has seen my house in the past few years knows that this is ridiculous. But I do appreciate the fact that she finds books a source of comfort. 

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

Magic in the Mix: Annie Barrows

Book: Magic in the Mix
Author: Annie Barrows
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8-12

Magic in the Mix is the sequel to The Magic Half by Annie Barrows. Whether there will be other books in this series is unclear, but I do hope so, because these books are delightful. They are time travel books, with plenty of ordinary family drama. Barrows uses the idea that magic is causing the time travel as a way of "setting things right." This allows her to gloss over any pesky details about paradoxes and the like, and just focus on the characters and the story. It is impossible to write about this second book without giving away the ending of the first, so if you are new to this series stop here. 

As Magic in the Mix begins, Miri and Molly are settling in to their new life as twins, sandwiched between older identical twin brothers and younger identical twin sisters. They remember an alternative timeline in which Molly lived in the 1930s and Miri was lonely as the only non-twin in the family, but the magic has slid Molly seamlessly into the family, and no one else has any idea that she wasn't always there. As long as I don't think about the details too much, I find this premise charming. 

Miri and Molly hope that the magic that seems to dwell about their house will send them into the past again. But they get more than they bargained for when the chance to set something right in the past threatens to separate them forever. Magic in the Mix dwells extensively on Civil War (with an author's note at the end to give interested readers a bit more context into the real historical underpinnings to the story). 

Things I like about this book:

  • Molly and Miri have a reasonable degree of independence, and yet have a careful and observant mother. They are left alone in the house together for an afternoon, but only after a long list of instructions. 
  • Molly and Miri's relationship with their two older brothers feels particularly realistic - a mix of wrestling and insults, with flashes of protectiveness on all parts. 
  • The integration of history about the Civil War into the story is not didactic, and might even inspire kids to want to learn more about that. There is real danger for those traveling back into a war zone, but Barrows keeps things from being too terrifying or stomach-churning. She also slips in some little details, like the fact that a Civil War-Era bedroom would be likely to smell less than pleasant due to the presence of chamber pots. 
  • Molly and Miri have to use their wits, and figure things out. There's not quite a mystery, but there's a solution that readers may want to try to spot themselves. The whole time travel adventure involves a bit of a puzzle. 

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

"A whole day with the house to themselves. In a family of eight, this was a rare and precious event. An opportunity. An occasion not to be squandered but to be spent judiciously in an activity that their parents would be happier if they didn't know about. Miri and Molly grinned at each other. They could do anything. They could do nothing. And whatever they did, no one would know!" (Page 38)

"The two girls had edged out the barn door and gone toward the corner nearest the house. Their appearance caused pandemonium among the chickens, but then, everything caused pandemonium among chickens. They sidled part the pigs, who watched them with utter boredom, and a dignified goose, who decided that they weren't worth biting. Now, though, they had arrived at the point of no return: To get to Molly's grandmother, inside the house, they had to cross the open lawn." (Page 64)

There's just a nice balance between humor, tenderness, and excitement in Magic in the Mix, as there was in the first book. These books are perfect for 8-10 year olds, especially girls, who like magic and/or family stories. I look forward to introducing these books to my daughter when she's a bit older, and I do hope that Barrows writes more in the series. Highly recommended, and a must-have for libraries serving middle grade readers. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids)
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Source of Book: Library copy

© 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 7

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include the Caldecott Awards, picture books, diverse books, hesitant readers, the Cybils Awards, technology, growing bookworms, literacy programs, KidLitCon, reading, schools, and libraries. There are a ton of links this week, so hopefully anyone popping by will find something of interest. 


#kidlit award by the numbers from @fairrosa | Who Publishes Caldecott Winning Titles (1996-2015)?  

Predictions! 2015 NYT 10 Best Illustrated Books — @100scopenotes #kidlit #PictureBooks 

Book Lists

Picture Book Favorites: Belated July Edition, from @StaceyLoscalzo  #kidlit #BookList

More Favorite Picture Books of 2015 (Part 2) from @momandkiddo 's family. Plenty of #DiverseBooks here:  

Dahl, Blume and more | #BookList by @Tiffiny223 @NerdyBookClub Top Ten Authors Recommended for Hesitant Young Readers 

The Most Anticipated Children’s and YA Books of Fall 2015, according to @PublishersWkly  #kidlit #YALit

Hiroshima' (70 years today): Remembered with Children's Books, #BookList by @TrevorHCairney  #kidlit

A Tuesday Ten: 2015 Science Fiction for Middle Graders! from @TesseractViews #kidlit 


THE TEMPLE OF DOUBT, new #YALit #fantasy by @Cybils Exec. Director @zaftigbabe comes out TODAY | Happy Book Birthday!  


From @PernilleRipp on need for #DiverseBooks | Books Are A Chance for Students To See the World They Do Not Live In  

"being "colorblind" doesn’t make you somehow more evolved. " | Why You Aren’t Really Colorblind — @tehawesomersace 

Committing to #Diversity When You're White: A Primer from @catagator 

eBooks, Apps + Technology

Less time online + more time w/ people @ReadByExample What Can Be Gained When We Lose Our Connection w/ Technology 

Events + Programs

Adventures in Literacy Land: What's in the Truck? ~ A Different Approach to #SummerReading in rural Florida  

Growing Bookworms

I love these posts from @mrskatiefitz about her toddler daughter | Reading with Little Miss Muffet, July 2015 

Idea from @SunlitPages inspired by @everydayreading #RaisingReaders: Create a Book Timeline to Preserve the Memories  

Cooking, questions, and a scavenger hunt: 3 Back-To-School Ideas perfect for summer #literacy @ReadingTub 

Back to School: Setting #Literacy Goals for kids (homeschool or local school) from @growingbbb 

"I think comics are win-win for kids... + get far too little appreciation in that regard" @gregpincus @DarbyPopComics 

A librarian's plea: when you are in the #library "Engage with your kids and they will model your reading... 

Stop Feeding the Beast – Dismantling The Reading Myths We Pass on As Truth by @PernilleRipp  #GrowingBookworms

How Reading To Young Children Can Transform Their Brains (more neuron growth), @SamPKCollins via @PWKidsBookshelf 

Highights from @FirstBook Twitter Chat on How to Foster a Love of Reading 

Tips to help kids and parents read outside the box and open up a whole new world of books! @ReadingRainbow 

"When we tell a child they are developing rather than struggling (reader), then there is hope" @PernilleRipp 


2015-KidLitConLogoSquareHey there, children's book authors and bloggers: early registration for #KidLitCon 2015 ends 8/15. Don't miss it! 

A brief + silly video featuring @pwbalto + family, @LaurelSnyder + Kevin O'Malley to promote #KidLitCon 2015!  

Attending #KidLitCon in October? Opportunity to tour Baltimore: @KidLitCon Tour Day Registration Now Open 

Happy Blog Birthday to Tasha Saecker @tashrow | She's been blogging for 12 years about #kidlit and #yalit ! 


The Brewing Backlash Against Busyness + the need for disengagement @Justina_Reichel @epochtimes via @raisinghappines 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Sordid Taglines: Doing Children’s Lit Classics a Wrong — @fuseeight #kidlit  

Like @gail_gauthier I am always looking for more time to read | Time Management Tuesday: More Time For Reading 

Interesting | Homme de Plume: What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name by @clnichols6 @jezebel  

Reading for pleasure builds empathy and improves wellbeing, research from @ReadingAgency finds  via @tashrow

Impressive. WHAT PET SHOULD I GET is the fastest-selling #PictureBook in @randomhousekids history. Dr. Seuss still gets 'em buying

Fun stuff! Best holiday activity tips from Enid Blyton's Famous Five, with pictures, from @GdnChildrensBks 

Press Release Fun: Middle Grade Twitter Chat w/ authors on 8/18! Moderated by @MightyPress@fuseeight  #MGINSPIRES

Schools and Libraries

There is no too old for picture books @PernilleRipp Why Picture Books - 5 Reasons Why They Belong in Every Classroom 

Great advice from @SunlitPages on planning library visits w/ young kids, bc "books are more important than food" 

Tips + resources to make transition from summer to fall more smooth from @RIFWEB It's Time to Head Back to School!  

Breaking Some Chains |Ideas for creating + nurturing teen readers over the summer by @marciepmann @NerdyBookClub 

Can You Rob a Little Free Library? Apparently people do. Sigh. Here are some solutions, by @mmaldrich @bookriot 

This Public Library Figured Out The Perfect Way For Teens To Find Self-Help Books - @buzzfeed via @PWKidsBookshelf 

© 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

A Curious Tale of the In-Between: Lauren DeStefano

Book: A Curious Tale of the In-Between
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Pages: 240
Age Range: 8-12

A Curious Tale of the In-Between is a ghost story, and the middle grade debut of young adult author Lauren DeStefano. Pram (short for Pragmatic) lives with her two "very practical" aunts, who run a home for the elderly. Pram was orphaned slightly before her birth, when her unwed mother hung herself from a tree. For as long as she can remember, Pram has been able to see ghosts. Her best friend is a ghost named Felix, who haunts a pond outside of Pram's home. She even sees the ghosts of insects. 

In A Curious Tale of the In-Between, Pram, sent to school for the first time, befriends a boy named Clarence. Clarence is mourning his recently deceased mother. Clarence's search for his mother's spirit and Pram's search for the father who abandoned her before birth send the two friends, and Felix, into grave danger. 

A Curious Tale of the In-Between is moody and atmospheric, with an old-fashioned feel and setting (though we don't know the precise time frame in which the story takes place). Pram is an intriguing character, separated from the regular world by the seeing of ghosts, as well as by her unusual upbringing. Pram is not aware of how her mother died, though there are times when the reader aches to explain it to her.

DeStefano uses the device of letting the reader know more than Pram does in moderation. There are multiple places with text like: "Pram couldn't know the fuss her new friend had caused at the house. She couldn't know that Clarence Blue was the son of the wealthiest man for miles." (Chapter 5). I'm not normally a fan of this style - I prefer to get the full story from the primary viewpoint character, and find that outside information can pull me out of the story. But this method worked for me with A Curious Tale of the In-Between, rendering the pragmatic Pram a bit more vulnerable. 

I do like Pram's quirky but observant voice. Like this:

"The knock came again, and the aunts stood shoulder to shoulder and drew a deep breath in tandem. Pram watched them through a part in the blanket, and in their nervous gestures she could see that they loved her." (Chapter 2)


"To Pram, most of the people in the living world were gray, but Clarence was bright and vivid. In fact, he was the loveliest living thing she'd ever seen. Why would someone like that want to hide?" (Chapter 3)

A Curious Tale of the In-Between is more than a ghost story. It's an exploration of what might happen after death, from the perspective of someone living closer than most to the border between life and death. It would make a good next book, one level up in complexity, for fans of Mary Downing Hahn's books. I read it cover to cover in a single sitting, curious about Pram's fate. It kept me awake into the evening, which is no small feat these days. Recommended for classroom and public libraries, or for anyone who enjoys spooky stories. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids)
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Source of Book: Advance 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: Understanding the Need for Conflict

LiteracyMilestoneAThe other day I was reading a new picture book to my daughter (her first time hearing it). The book was The Rise and Fall of Oscar the Magician by Matthew Porter. Page one introduces Oscar the Magician. Page two introduces another magician named Milton. My daughter took one look at the picture of Milton and immediately said: "I bet that's the bad guy." When I asked her why she thought so she said: "He looks like a bad guy, and there has to be a bad guy." Questioned by a friend who was there about this conclusion she added something along the lines of "Well, I have a lot of books."

There you have it, folks. Understanding of the need for conflict in a story, at age five. Milton does have a rather sinister mustache. And it does become clear almost immediately that he is, in fact, the bad guy. Without Milton's shenanigans, there would be no Rise and Fall of Oscar the Magician. There might be Oscar, but there would be no story. The fact that my daughter understands this stems directly from the large number of books that we've read to her. 

In moments like this, I feel that I am doing something right as a parent. 

© 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

Two Mice: Sergio Ruzzier

Book: Two Mice
Author: Sergio Ruzzier
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-4

Two Mice by Sergio Ruzzier is a simple picture book for preschoolers, part friendship tale and part counting book. Two mice (one white, one white with patchy brown spots) live together in a cozy little house. After a bit of minor discontent concerning the allocation of three cookies, they set out in a rowboat on an adventure. They get a tad more excitement than they bargained for, but end up safe and sound at home in the end. 

The only text in the book is the labeling (mostly once per page spread) of one, two, or three objects ("three boats", "two oars", etc.). This minimal text combines with the illustrations to imply more detail. For instance, when there is "One rower", the laboring mouse appears visibly discontented, while his friend relaxes, smiling. The numbers also, obviously, provide opportunities for kids to practice their counting. Most counts are straightforward, but the spread involving "Two stars" requires identifying both a star in the sky and a starfish. 

Ruzzier's pen and ink and watercolor illustrations are what lift Two Mice above the common. The expressions and postures of the mice convey their moods perfectly. There are lovely colorful but muted backgrounds, particularly of sea and sky. There is humor as well as pathos in the plight of the mice, quite a feat for a book with such minimal text and relatively spare illustrations.

Ruzzier leaves some ambiguity regarding the gender of the mice (to my eyes, anyway). They are not clothed or accessorized. Parents can decide (or let their children decide) what they think the gender and relationship dynamics are. The mice sleep side-by-side twin beds. Are they friends? A couple? A gay couple? Who can say?  This flexibility broadens the potential appeal of the book, I think. (Though the mice are undoubtedly white.)

Two Mice is a book that I think will work well for one-on-one reading with two and three-year-olds, kids old enough to chime in with what they think the mice are thinking, but young enough not to demand more text or a more complex plotline. The counting practice, of course, is a bonus for this age group, as is the presence of cookies. Parents will also enjoy the soothing yet amusing illustrations. Two Mice would make a nice first or second birthday gift. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids) 
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Source of Book: Advance 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).