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Posts from January 2016

Mouse Scouts: Books 1 and 2: Sarah Dillard

Books: Mouse Scouts and Mouse Scouts Make A Difference
Author: Sarah Dillard
Pages: 128 and 144
Age Range: 7-9 (illustrated early chapter books)

When I received the first two books in the new Mouse Scouts series I immediately set them aside to read with my daughter. They were a hit with both of us, but especially with her. My daughter is five (nearly six) and just started in a Girl Scout Daisy Troop, an activity which she flat-out adores. The Mouse Scouts books are aimed directly at my daughter's demographic - kids who are new to being scouts of some sort, and are devoted to it - though I would expect kids reading this on their own to be more in the 7 to 9 range. 

In terms of reading level, they are early chapter books (10 chapters each) with good-sized text and at least a small black and white illustration on every page. They could probably ever so slightly precede the Clementine and Ivy and Bean books. They are less realistic than those series, being about mice vs. humans, but they are cute and kid-friendly, with a nice sprinkling of more advanced vocabulary words. Excerpts from the Mouse Scout Handbook are included after each chapter. The illustrations are well-integrated with the text, and add considerably to the stories for this age range. 

In Book 1, Mouse Scouts, readers meet best friends Violet and Tigerlily, who, with four other mice, have just advanced from Buttercups to Acorns. Their new Acorn leader, Miss Poppy, is rather strict. Timid Violet lives in fear that she will not measure up, and will be sent back to Buttercups, while the more brave and impulsive Tigerlily is less concerned. The other four mice are a bit more two-dimensional (at least so far), but they have sufficiently distinct traits for readers to tell them apart (one who cares about how she looks, one who eats a lot, one who is an allergy-prone bookworm, and one who is a follower).

The bulk of the book is taken up by the scouts' quest to obtain their Sow It and Grow It badge by creating and maintaining a garden over the summer. They have to scavenge for seeds, sow them, take care of them, and cope with unexpected challenges, like other rodents digging into the eventual vegetables. There's a nice mix of mouse-specific detail (e.g. only selecting vegetables that are small enough for them to carry) and concepts that are more generally applicable to readers (working together, Mouse Scout values, relying on each person's strengths, coping with demanding leaders, etc.). 

In Mouse Scouts Make A Difference, the mice are striving for their Make A Difference badge. This one is a bit more overtly message-y, particularly in the Mouse Scout Handbook excerpts. But no more so than the actual Girl Scout material that I've seen, and not so much that the message overwhelms the story. More in this case that the message is a main part of the story. Like this:

"One of the greatest ways that a Mouse Scout can make a difference is to help those in need. Whether you are assisting a neighbor stack a pile of nuts, bringing some cheese to a mouse who is sick, or simply clearing a leaf away from someone's door, your consideration can make another mouse's life easier and brighter." (Mouse Scout Handbook, end of Chapter 9)

What I think makes these books work is that Dillard never loses sight of the mouse-ness of her characters. When they clean up trash in a park they have to work to figure out a way to get the trash into the trash can (too high and smooth to reach). When the park is cleaner, Violet can "imagine mouse families spending happy afternoons building tunnels in the sandbox or napping under the shade of the daisies." There is advice for staying safe from cats, as well as for dealing with specific garden predators. She also never loses sight of the importance to the girls (especially Violet) of being Mouse Scouts, and trying to uphold the values of the troop and the organization. 

The Mouse Scout books are probably not going to work for everyone. But for my daughter and me, they hit just the right note, a fun mix of fantasy (little creatures in a bigger world) and reality (getting scout badges and learning to work together in teams, etc.). I think this will be a nice addition to the ranks of early chapter book series. While the Mouse Scouts are girls, I don't see why you couldn't try them on boys, too. There's not much that's unique to the mice being girls - the books are more about their bravery and determination than their gender. 

The last page of each book includes a table showing 16 Mouse Scout patches, including the ones depicted in the first two books. My daughter is very much hoping that there will be 14 more books in this series. Knowing about publication lead times, I fear that by the time many other books are published, my daughter's interest will have waned. But the Mouse Scout series is going to be a great fit for the next generation of new young scouts. Recommended for home or library purchase. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher

© 2016 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).

Mathematical Milestones: From Recognizing Number Order to Playing Shop

MathMilestoneToday I'm kicking off a new series. I've been sharing my daughter's milestones on her path to literacy. But as I've expanded the focus of my blog, I realized that I've been remiss in not also sharing her milestones along the path to numeracy. So I'm going to recap a few here, and then share them going forward. 

I actually remember the first milestone quite clearly. It must have been about two years ago. We were in a parking lot in Monterey. There were numbers painted on the parking spaces. She pointed and said: "Look! They're backwards." I assumed that she was commenting on the fact that from the way we were standing, the numbers were upside down. But no! She proceeded to say: "Sixty-seven, sixty-six, sixty-five. Backwards!" I thought that this was pretty good for her age at the time, and the moment stayed with me. 

A couple of other more recent milestones stand out. We have a household rule that if she is ready for bed by a certain time, she can have 20 minutes of playtime. She came up to me a few weeks back holding up five fingers on one hand and four fingers on the other. I said: "9?". She said: "No, Mommy. Four fives. Twenty minutes." Since then, whenever she has to indicate 10 she holds up five and two fingers. Twenty is always four and five fingers. She is positively gleeful about her use of multiplication. Shortly after this, she came to me, very excited. "Mommy! Five twos is the same as two fives!" So it seems she has figured out The Commutative Property. To me it's fascinating to watch these concepts that I've understood for so many years dawn on her, new and fresh.  

Last night (and this is more of a game than a milestone) my husband and I were eating dinner. She was finished, so without any help from us, she decided to set up a store. She piled up a bunch of oranges, apples, and bananas, together with a couple of packages of crackers. Then she wrote numbers on some pieces of construction paper and taped one to each type of object. Then she started hitting us up to buy things, using napkins as currency. Her prices were a bit steep ($23 for a box of crackers! $9 for an orange), but we went along.

It was a great exercise for practicing math. I asked for two boxes of crackers, and what that would cost. She first thought $43, but we got her to the right total. Then she had to tell me my change from $50. The bananas didn't fare so well from being played with (and dropped at least once), but it was otherwise a fine game. I liked that she set it all up herself, and we didn't need any fancy props. 

One of the reasons I've expanded the focus of my blog is that while my daughter enjoys books, she also seems to like math. I would like this to continue, and I think it's high time I started sharing her progress in that area. Along the way, I'll try to include tips for other parents. My biggest tip at this point is to just turn everything that is remotely related to numbers into a word problem when you talk to your kids.

For example, my husband recently had to go to a meeting in San Francisco. My daughter wanted to know how long he would be gone. I said: "Well, the drive up and back will each take about an hour, and the meeting will take at least two hours. How long do you think he'll be gone?" She first thought "three hours", and I had to tell her to include the ride up and the ride back, but she got there. Then she illustrated her understanding of variability (in Daddy's arrival times) by suggesting that the meeting might run over, and that it might end up being closer to six hours (which was pretty accurate).

Do you all do this? Turn life into a series of math problems for your kids. Or is that just me? Of course I'm exaggerating a bit with this last question - I want it to stay fun for her, and I back off right away if I think that she's feeling pressured or impatient. But I do think that, just as surrounding kids with books and reading aloud to them are key to developing literacy, talking with kids about numbers and playing mathematical games with them are key to developing numeracy

Thanks for reading! I hope that some of you will find this useful. 

© 2016 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: #ALAyma, #STEM, #DiverseBooks + more

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Not included here, I shared some #JoyOfLearning articles earlier this week, with quotes and my comments. Topics in this post include: book lists, science fiction, teacher training, World Read Aloud Day, learning activities, the Cybils Awards, creativity, audiobooks, the ALA Youth Media Awards, STEM, diverse books, gender, picture books, parenting, and schools. 


2016: reviews of the winners. Congratulations to etc.

Reaction Tweets of the 2016 Youth Media Award Winners, gathered by 

"Your favorite books are worthy of (your) love, even if they didn't win an official award" reminds 

Winners of the 2016 Dolly Gray Children’s Lit Award (effective portrayals of developmental disabilities) 

Book Lists

Great for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a from

13 Books That Carry On the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. | by

Some favorite Multicultural Books for Preschoolers from

May the Facts Be with You | Mind-Boggling Stats, Marvels, and Daredevil Feats | Vicki Reuter

The latest Card Catalog podcast from highlights a variety of science-themed w/ more titles here:

2016 Rainbow List, a bibliography of high-quality books w/ significant GLBTQ content, aimed at kids up to 18

Compilation of Stacked Readers' Favorite Female-Driven Young Adult Novels from

Beyond the Stars: Sci-Fi Read-Alikes for “The 5th Wave” Fans | Joy Fleishhacker


2015 – The Ones That Got Away in speculative fiction, from at Stacked

2015 Finalists Announced; Accepting Symposium Proposals + more teen news | 

How did Finalists fare at the ALA Youth Media Awards? has the scoop 

Roundup of posts about 2015 Finalists: The Ones That Got Away on the blog 

The 2015 Finalists: What’s Being Said, Part 3 

Diversity + Gender

Go, indies, go! Independent booksellers compete to sell the most copies of certain says

"The gender gap in fields in general, + cybersecurity in particular, begins at home and in school" 

Top Ten Books That Colored My Whitewashed World by 

On the need for more Books in Spanish to Enhance Latino Family | Margarita Engle 

Why are there so few girls in children’s books? Jennie Yabroff kept noticing once she paid attention 

Events + Programs

WRAD2016World Read Aloud Day + are celebrating this as "Curiosity Week"

Great to see all the things that has been + will be accomplishing for in this recap:

One month to go until International on 2/14 | has the scoop: 

For this week's Multicultural Children's Book Day shares two books from Chinese culture 

Growing Bookworms

"Keep it fun", on Reading Picture Books With Children: An Interview with by Alicia Eames  

Schools that Read Together: Cultivating Reading Communities at the Secondary Level by

"If our true goal ... is to make students fall in love with books, then audio-books are a must"

Playful Learning / Creativity

14 Ways to Build Language Skills While Making a Pot of Soup | Featuring one of our fave books: Soup Day:

10 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently (e.g. follow their dreams): Andrew Tate via 

Lessons in math don’t have to be so boring. on puzzles/games to entice students 

Be you. The world will adjust. hopes his daughter retains her ability to do and see things her own way 

Schools and Libraries

"We can’t regulate our way to higher teacher quality, but we can teach our way" Shael Polakow-Suransky

How to Determine if Student Engagement is Leading to | new book excerpt

Why Do Students Love (or Hate) to Read? This Teacher Asks Hers to Figure That Out for Themselves by 

How to Fix the Country’s Failing Schools. And How Not To (examples from NJ) by David L. Kirp in 

Analyzing Reading Behaviors: A MUST for Every Teacher of Reading from Carla at Adventures in Land 

Comprehensive piece: How Business Got Schooled in War Over Standards by in 

Kindergarten Today Looks Like First Grade a Decade Ago, reports on research from UVA study 

© 2016 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

Beyond Measure: Vicki Abeles

Book: Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation
Author: Vicki Abeles
Pages: 304
Age Range: Adult Nonfiction

Beyond Measure is a new book by Vicki Abeles, a mom and former Wall Street lawyer who created a documentary called The Race to Nowhere, about problems with the educational system in the US. In this new book (there is also a new movie called Beyond Measure), Abeles shares ideas and solutions for parents and educators that she has distilled from talking with people around the country (including at community showings of Race to Nowhere). The idea is to build something of a grassroots movement to fix problems in the system, such as excessive homework, excessive testing, and hyper-competitive college application processes. 

For me, Beyond Measure was the right book at the right time. Over the past couple of years I've read a number of books that Abeles references (Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Excellent Sheep, Mindset), and others that touch on similar issues (Why Don't Students Like School, The Me, Me, Me Epidemic and How to Raise an Adult). I've been giving a lot of thought to how children learn and become capable adults.

I've also been struggling with the fact that my five-year-old daughter, one trimester into kindergarten, is already complaining about certain aspects of school. I know that some degree of complaining about school is normal and inevitable, of course, but I wasn't expecting it to be quite so soon. 

I've also been in need of a new direction for my blog, and had already decided to try to put more of a focus on the joy of learning. Beyond Measure was the first book that I read after deciding on this path, so I flagged a lot of passages. It is basically a call to arms to remake, in ways small and large, the US educational system, to turn out kids who are creative problem-solvers, rather than robots who can spit out rote answers. It's also a defense against school and community pressures that are making kids sick from stress.

Rather than attempt to review this book, what I'll do is summarize, and share some of the passages that I highlighted from each chapter. I hope that these passages will inspire some of you to pick up the book yourselves.

Chapter 1: Sicker, Not Smarter (on how academic stress is making kids sick, and how kids need positive environments and novelty for proper brain development)

 "So, by emphasizing quantity over quality, and content over mastery of complex skills, our traditional educational model is missing crucial opportunities to enhance brain maturation at a critical time."

"We have, without really meaning to, transmitted to young people the idea that academic achievement is the most important way to measure their value as people, and that success in school exclusively assures success in life. Yet the Novel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has decisively put that notion to rest. Analyzing thirty-five years of data that chronicled children's lives from preschool into adulthood, Heckman and colleagues demonstrated that character makes more difference than IQ for economic and social success." 

Chapter 2: It's About Time (on how necessary it is to give your kids unstructured time, and not give in to community pressures for overscheduling)

 "We forget in the push for productivity that much of what is lost is what happens below the surface of free time. Building a fort, daydreaming, or inventing a game might seem like dreamy luxuries--but these idylls of childhood are far from idle. It's in these unstructured moments that children develop essential capacities for reflective thought, creativity, social skills, and self-control."

"To survive as an underscheduler in an always-busy world, you have to keep faith in the value of space and time, of allowing a child to explore the new interests to which an unplanned afternoon may lead."

Chapter 3: Homework: Take Back Our Nights (on how excessive amounts of homework, starting in elementary school, leave kids with too little time for play and family - Abeles is quite vehement on this subject)

"This supposedly wholesome practice--which has spiraled to such extremes that it shreds family life, steals children's chances to explore and play, and deprives growing minds and bodies of essential rest--does not even help students learn."

"As Race to Nowhere screened in communities across the country, parent after parent stood up and identified homework as one of the most malignant aspects of the race. They worried about how to get their teens to go to bed before one a.m., or grew heartsick watching the spark of curiosity fade from their kindergarteners' eyes."

"For those who want to truly reinforce learning, the best practice is to prescribe as little as possible--only occasional, personalized assignments that involve experiences that can't happen at school--and to allow the student's brain ample time to explore fresh ideas and absorb and process what it has learned that day."

"Finally, and perhaps saddest of all, I have seen over and over again that homework overload steals from young minds the desire to learn."

Chapter 4: Testing: Learning Beyond the Bubble (on the drive toward ever-increasing numbers of standardized tests, and the amount of classroom time that is spent preparing for them, with comparisons to Finland)

 "America now faces a choice. We can break the chains of standardization and embrace a kind of education that nourishes the creative thinkers and compassionate leaders of tomorrow. Or we can keep insisting on the same outmoded protocol, trying to quantify all knowledge and churn out "educated youth" like uniform items on an assembly line."

Chapter 5: College Admissions: Break Free from The Frenzy (on the levels to which students and families go in the quest for admission to a small set of elite colleges, and the role that colleges could play in improving things)

"A good life does not depend on a brand-name alma mater, nor is one guaranteed by an Ivy League acceptance letter. Either way, we're losing too much in its pursuit... The college admissions process is a Darwinian and soul-bruising contest that represents nothing of the great leap toward autonomy, independence, and adventure that it should."

"College professors widely report that too many freshmen arrive on their campuses profoundly averse to risk, not daring to try new subjects or endeavors that they can't be sure to ace. The traditional treadmill has stripped them of their spark."

"The greatest myth of all is that only a tiny handful of colleges are worth attending. And once you stop believing that, you can also stop believing that you have to kill yourself to get there--because the vast majority of schools out there truly want a diverse set of students, including interesting kids with Bs and Cs." (This point is also made, extensively, in How to Raise an Adult.)

Chapter 6: Teaching and Learning: This Way Up (on small-scale ways that schools could be--and are being--changed to better prioritize kids' health and learning)

"What would the ideal school look like? A kind of school that goes deep instead of wide, that capitalizes on children's particular strengths and tends to their weaknesses rather than putting them all through the same paces, and that asks every student to cultivate truly original ideas instead of mere right answers?.. Ultimately, a school focused on learning through vigorous, genuine inquiry would grow the kind of inventive thinkers and keen communicators that our children's futures will demand."

Chapter 7: First, Be Well (on higher level ways that school policies could be changed to better serve the overall wellness of students, such as later start times for high school, more in-school advisors, and less reliance on technology)

"(Palo Alto school board member Ken) Dauber advocates loudly for reduced homework, and also wants to see the schools change their schedules, complete finals before winter break, provide lessons in social and emotional skills, and more closely align the standard curriculum to individual students' needs." 

"I have come to see that this problem (maintaining balance), like every problem we've examined in this book, stems from twin plagues: our twisted vision of success and, related, a culture of busyness that has become synonymous with success itself... As we being to redefine success--for our kids and for ourselves--we must place wellness at its core... As parents, it is also time we reclaim the definition of successful parenting with wellness ranking first. "

Chapter 8: Action: How You Can Replace the Race to Nowhere (basically a summary of actions to take at home and in one's community to deter the "race to nowhere". If in a hurry, one could probably just read this chapter and get a lot of the meat of the book. It is a bit repetitive having just read the of the book.)

"Prioritize kids' social time. Time with friends--play for younger children, and hanging out for teens--is as essential to healthy growth as food and water. Protect social time from the myriad other "productive" obligations that would crowd it out."

"You, along with your fellow parents, students, educators, and community members, are the advocates the next generation needs." 

There are lots of examples in the book of individual schools and educators that have had success with various changes, such as eliminating homework at least some of the time, grouping kids of different ages in classrooms, and giving kids project-based assessments rather than focusing on tests. For me, things that I would like to work on at home that were reinforced by this book (these are generally things I already wanted to do -- that's how taking advice works, I think):

  • I want to protect my daughter's unstructured time as much as I can, including pushing back on busywork-type homework if this becomes necessary in later grades, and limiting her number of scheduled activities.
  • I want to try to keep my family off of the elite college application process rat race as much as I can. 
  • I want to support ways that my daughter can keep her spark of learning alive, by helping her to research the things that she's interested in, by potentially keeping her out of standardized testing if it becomes a problem, and by paying attention. 

I am sure that I will be talking about these issues, and others, as I go forward with my blog's new Growing Joyful Learners direction. I also plan to go back and share notes from some of the other books mentioned above, which I've been reading over the past couple of years. 

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Source of Book: Purchased

© 2016 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 Joyful Learners

All young children have an innate thirst for learning. They are like little plants, leaning towards the sunlight that is knowledge. They want to know their ABCs, and they ask question after question about how the world works. Even if they are a bit nervous about it, most kids are excited to start kindergarten. They want to learn to read. They love it when an adult reads to them. They want to know about spiders and dinosaurs and what causes thunder. The curiosity that you see on the face of a brand-new kindergartener is a beautiful thing to behold.

Sadly, however, this pure joy of learning often fades as kids get older. It's rubbed away by onerous reading logs, assigned reading not to that child's tastes, and rote worksheets. It gets worn down further by test preparation and the pressure of thinking about college applications. It gets lost amid the distractions of extracurricular activities and online games, and parental pressure to get good grades. It gets overshadowed by peer pressure not to be geeky, or other social challenges.

This, I think, is a tragedy. Losing the joy of learning hurts individual kids who fail to reach their unique potential. And it hurts global achievement, as we turn out students who lack creative problem-solving ability and other skills. I think that we as individuals, and as a society, can and must do better.

Please know that I believe that individual teachers are doing their very best to maintain the joy of learning for kids. I am a huge fan of teachers. But teachers are under pressure to teach a certain curriculum, to prepare for a certain number of tests, to track and document things. There are parents who expect a certain amount of homework, and who care more that their children are on the Ivy League track than that they are joyful learners. There are systematic issues like poverty that impede some students' ability to focus on school at all. Most public schools have large class sizes, and kids of vastly different skill levels in each. All of these things make it hard for teachers to sniff out the particular learning methods that will help each child to remain passionate about learning. 

So here is what I want to know. How can parents maintain their children's joy of learning in the face of these obstacles? How can teachers keep the spark alive in their students? Is there research about what works and what doesn't that can be applied more broadly? Are there tips that parents and teachers have for other parents and teachers, hard-learned lessons from fighting these battles? Surely the answer is yes. Surely we can use this interconnected world of blogs and Twitter and Facebook to share with each other. 

I'm not a teacher. I'm a parent of one child who is only a few months into kindergarten. I am so far from being an expert on education that it is ridiculous. But I'm a person who reads a lot, and a person who cares passionately about this issue. I am pretty good at synthesizing information. I've dedicated years to thinking about how parents and teachers can help to grow bookworms. Now I am ready to expand that focus and work on growing bookworms, mathematicians, scientists, artists, and all sort of other joyful learners. 

I'm going to be reading all that I can, and sharing my findings here. I'm also going to be sharing my own experiences with my daughter. And if any of you have experiences to share (publicly or privately), I would love to hear about them. The joy of learning shouldn't be fading as our kids get older. Kids should be curious, creative, demanding, and aware of their unique skills. If we can keep them as joyful, passionate learners, think of what they will be able to accomplish, and how fulfilled they will be. Think of how much brighter the future will be for us all. 

Thanks for listening! I look forward to talking more with you all about this. To that end, I started a new Twitter feed to share #JoyOfLearning articles @JoyfulLearners, and will also continue to share on my @JensBookPage and GrowingBookworms Facebook page, too.

(c) 2016 by Jennifer Robinson. All rights reserved. 


Some #JoyOfLearning Articles, w/ Quotes + Notes: Homework + More

JoyOFLearningLogoHere are a few new links that I've run across related to the #JoyOfLearning, or lack thereof. The first is an expansion on a piece I shared last week, by Laura Goodman, sharing a mom's perspective about her children's elementary school experience. The other two are both by teachers (cross-linked) spelling out their objections to homework in elementary school. These articles give me hope!

Further Explanations from Laura Goodman, disappointed with her kids' experience in elementary school

Laura Goodman: Expanding on her earlier article (which I shared last week), Goodman says: "For my peers in education, I wrote this article because I wanted to clarify that it isn’t a lack of good teachers that is causing our current education crisis. Good teachers are everywhere, and are working tirelessly to engage students; they are successful in spite of our current system, not because of it. The sentiments of teachers align very closely with the sentiments of students and parents on this subject... I wrote this article, not just about my children’s school, which is by all standards is above average, but about education in America in general. My kids are everyone’s kids; the learner that excels and the learner that struggles."

Me: Goodman's original article generate a lot of attention. Here's an ABC News piece about it, for example. In this new piece, she captures exactly what I've been thinking about in terms of my blog's new direction. My daughter goes to a "good" school with good teachers, and is only in kindergarten. It's not that we are directly facing the serious issues of a broken educational system. But ... I'm concerned for my daughter's future learning, and for the future learning of all kids in the US educational system, because I feel like in the system as a whole there's a focus on testing and homework and memorization, instead of on instilling a joy in learning and a creative, growth-oriented mindset. 

Great piece by K teacher on why she doesn't give homework (has "very little impact" + takes time away (via Franki Sibberson)

Kristine Mraz: "We have our kiddos for 6 hours, if we can’t teach what we need to teach them in that time, we need to reflect on our own practice... Truth talk: Time is limited, ours and kids. Why waste it on something that doesn’t make that much of a difference any way?... Every year I set parents up with information about what will help their child become the best five year old they can be (or 6, 7, 8, year old): Schedule play dates, try to eat dinner together when you can, tell or read stories together.

Me: This post has a nice summary of the traditional arguments in favor of assigning homework to elementary school kids, and why these reasons do not hold up (with references). I especially likes Mraz's recommendations for parents, that instead of having kids do homework, they let them play and read and spend family time. In my heart, I know that this is the right thing. 

Four (unhappy) Stories That Homework Tells Children About School, Learning, & Life |  (linked from the Mraz piece)

Shawna Cooper: "how do we ever expect children to develop healthy habits and strong minds when they are being told what to do with their time the majority of the time?"...Instead of using homework to hold hostage students’ “out-of-school” time, let’s instead send children the message, by not assigning them homework, that we value what they want to do, what they want to know more about, and what they think about the world. And let’s find ways to support this."

Me: This is a great piece written by a teacher, with a strong emphasis on the fact that the time kids spend doing homework could be much more productively spent learning by exploring new ideas. I especially like the fact that she discusses the difference between unstructured time (good) and unsupervised time (probably not good for younger kids), and the fact that homework is not the solution to the latter. 

© 2016 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 post may contain affiliate links. 

Our Experience So Far with Reading Logs

I had a conversation on Twitter the other day with author Megan Dowd Lambert that was inspired by Laura Eberhart Goodman's article about her disappointment with her children's elementary school experience. Megan lamented her son "curbing his (avid) reading to avoid writing titles, authors & times in his reading log." She added "Since then I've unabashedly refused to enforce reading logs @ home if my kids don't want to do them."

This comment stuck with me. My response to Megan was that I found the idea of reading logs curbing a child's enthusiasm for books simply tragic. I mean, that's the exact opposite of what ought to be intended, isn't it? 

ReadingLog_1My daughter is in kindergarten, and so far, reading logs have been a positive experience for us. At the start of each month her teacher sends home what she calls a "reading chart". This chart has 30 numbered lines in two columns, and some little seasonal decorations. All we have to do is write down the name of a book that we've read to my daughter on each line. The idea is that families ought to be reading at least a book a day to kindergarteners, and that the empty chart might provide some gentle encouragement. (A partial example is shown to the left - you can see that we were in a Babymouse phase.)

My initial reaction to this reading log was: we are going to need more pages. So I went into Excel and created my own little table / template (continuing the 30 lines per page), and printed out some extra sheets. In September, we filled nearly 7 pages, for a grand total of 200 titles. Our totals dropped after that, with a total of 115 for December, but we've also been mixing in a greater number of chapter books. 

I find the reading log useful because my husband and babysitter also fill it out, allowing me to capture a complete list of the books that all three of us are reading to my daughter. When each sheet is completed, I sit down and enter the titles into a list on my blog. (The full 2015 list is here.) At the end of the month I also scan in all of the sheets. I am putting them into a binder, and think that this will be a fun thing for my daughter to look back on.

But of course it's not really a matter of whether I like this reading log format or not, but whether my daughter likes it or not. And she does. For her, seeing us stop to jot down each title after we finish reading a book has just become habit. She'll remind us if we forget. 

Sometimes as the month draws to a close, she'll want to read some extra books to bump up her total. But she's not, as far as I know, comparing that with anyone, or even comparing it with her previous months. She just likes counting. We even use the reading logs to practice math - if we have 3 full sheets of 30 books each, plus one with 20, how many do we have? She needs a little help, but it's good practice. 

Recently I've noticed that she's more interested in writing the book titles down herself. Sometimes this requires an extra line or two. Certainly it takes a bit of extra time. But she needs practice with writing, too, so it's all good. She also sometimes has us read, and then list, little stories that she has written herself. To her, these are completely equal to published books (as they should be). 

Her teacher hands us back the logs each month, having gone through them and added little comments here and there about the books that she particularly likes. This, I think, is validating for my daughter. And for me, a bit. 

So, in my house, where a reading log has been just a very simple list of titles read (no authors, no time tracking), it's been a positive experience. But, as I've learned from my own experience getting burned out on writing book reviews, I can see that having more onerous tracking requirements could quickly get old. For now, though, the reading log is a positive thing. Check back in with me on this next year. 

© 2016 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 post may contain affiliate links. 

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: January 8

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Please note that I am sharing links related to the #JoyOfLearning and education via separate posts (with quotes and notes). Those links are not included here. Topics this week include: book lists, the Cybils Awards, literacy programs, libraries, nonfiction, overparenting, World Read Aloud Day, raising readers, STEM, and genius hour.


The 2016 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction goes to The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz says

Close to the wire: Newbery / Caldecott 2016: Final Prediction Edition from

Book Lists

A standout among the year-end favorites lists: 100 Magnificent Children’s Books 2015 —

A good resource here: My Top Children’s Picks for 2015 from

14 about Perseverance for Kids from | possibly useful in encouraging "growth mindset"

Kicking off new Read Around Town series, shares about visiting the Doctor's Office

Recommendations from the New National Ambassador for Young People's Literature


Cybils-Logo-2015-Round-SmHappy New Year! And Happy Day! The shortlists are live and are fabulous:

MG Realistic Fiction Finalists and the Ones That Got Away according to

The 2015 EMGSF Panel: The Ones That Got Away, according to

Card Catalog Podcast talks about some of 's favorite finalists + winners from past Awards

Very cool spiderweb showing links between @kimberlymarief 's reading for 2015 speculative fiction

Fab reactions: The 2015 Finalists: What’s Being Said Online, Part 1

More reactions: The 2015 Finalists: What’s Being Said Online, Part 2 |

Celebrating ! Thoughts from organizer Jennifer at Jean Little Library on many of the shortlist titles

Happy New Year - Let the Reading Begin | suggests using the shortlists for book ideas

Awards 2015: The Ones That Got Away in Speculative Fiction, from organizer


Why do so many kids' books treat as a black and white (only) issue? Need cultural diffs

Events + Programs

IBGD-poster-bennewmanInternational Book Giving Day (IBGD) 2016 is February 14th: shares new logo designed by

Gene Luen Yang Named 5th National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, 2016–17 |

This is delightful: California Teens Create Center—and a Brighter Future—for Preschoolers |

January Activity Calendar celebrating events, authors, book birthdays, + favorite books from

New campaign from encourages reading with kids (inc. after age 5)

Library Garden + Future Home of Statue OK'd by City (NY)

WRAD2016Let’s All Connect for LitWorld’s World Read Aloud Day 2016!

World Read Aloud Day 2016 – A Call for Skype Read-Aloud Volunteers! from

Counting down strengths from reading for This week is focused on Belonging. shares:

Cool! Brazil Gives Out Books That Double as Subway Tickets, Promoting & Mass Transit

Growing Bookworms

"Getting students to love reading is about access, interest and engagement". reads aloud w/ 10 yo son

Encouraging Readers (2 sons) w/ Different Learning Styles, guest post by

10 Surefire Tips for Maximizing Student Reading Stamina: start w/ "Value Independent Reading" Lara Robb

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

What’s Trending? What Is, What Was, What’s Soon to Be in Imaginary friends + chickens

Intentional Reading and why is going to in 2016

Smiling Slaves in Post-A Fine Dessert World, proof "that intelligent people can disagree" Vicky Smith

Useful stuff in: So, You Want to Work in Publishing: Advice from a Editor


Overparenting: 5 Recovery Steps From a Former Stanford Dean |

So true: "we are doing our children ... a disservice if we teach them that failure is bad"

Playful Learning

Math Tic Tac Toe from sounds like a game that my math-loving daughter might enjoy

Schools and Libraries

How Saying + Showing Kids ‘I Believe in You’ Can Empower Them at School (esp. math) excerpt

Buy It! What Are You Afraid Of? argues for libraries buying multiple copies of the books kids request

Quick Tips: Focus on : (inquiry based learning experience at school), by for BookList

Interesting... 'A Bit Of A Montessori 2.0': Khan Academy Opens A Lab School via

Re-imagining School for Introverted Teachers >> 2 hours volunteering in kid's classroom wipes me out.

© 2016 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.

Some #JoyOfLearning Articles, w/ Quotes and Notes: January 7

JoyOFLearningLogoIn honor my new blog direction (see description here), I'm trying out a new feature. I'm rounding up articles specific to education and the joy of learning (or lack thereof) with quotes and my own notes. The idea is to go into a bit more depth than I'm able to do for my usual Friday Twitter links roundups. I would be interested to know if people find this useful. Here are three new links: 

Yes! "We need to (not) cheapen the act of learning w/ plastic trinkets" as rewards:

Pernille Ripp: "We need to stop teaching kids that when they learn, they earn something.  That when they learn they must be rewarded with a tangible thing to play with, rather than just the satisfaction of the knowledge they have gained. Because in our well-meaning intention of trying to help students feel accomplished, we are helping kill the love of learning itself."

Me: I agree with this. I have refrained from participating in Summer Reading programs for my daughter, because I don't want her needing prizes to want to read books. 

Big Changes in High School Testing Allowed in Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) -

Catherine Gewertz: "The Every Student Succeeds Act, now going by the nickname ESSA, allows states and districts to dump their current state tests to measure high school achievement, and use college entrance exams such as the ACT or SAT instead. This move might not sound like much on the surface, but it would represent a major shift in how achievement is measured, and in what kind of achievement is being measured. And in doing that, it would suggest an important change in what we think high school is for."

Me: On the one hand, I like the idea of fewer tests, and less school time taken for test prep. On the other hand, really? The SAT is supposed to measure what you've learned in high school? Results are highly correlated with parental income. I suspect that this move is going to have unintended consequences. The article has links to quite a bit of further discussion. 

The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids, they are working more but learning less in

Erika Christakis: "The real focus in the preschool years should be not just on vocabulary and reading, but on talking and listening. We forget how vital spontaneous, unstructured conversation is to young children’s understanding...The shift from an active and exploratory early-childhood pedagogy to a more scripted and instruction-based model does not involve a simple trade-off between play and work, or between joy and achievement. On the contrary, the preoccupation with accountability has led to a set of measures that favor shallow mimicry and recall behaviors, such as learning vocabulary lists and recognizing shapes and colors (something that a dog can do, by the way, but that is in fact an extraordinarily low bar for most curious 4-year-olds), while devaluing complex, integrative, and syncretic learning."

Me: Christakis suggests that what preschoolers need is not more academic training, but more time simply interacting and talking with qualified teachers, and more time exploring ideas. She also warns that kids who are in academic preschools may burn out earlier in elementary school, "losing their enthusiasm for learning." This is certainly food for thought. 

That's all for today! Happy reading!

© 2016 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 post contains affiliate links. 

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: New Year, New Focus Edition

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 generally contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. I normally send the newsletter out every two weeks. However, it's been four weeks this time due to the Christmas and New Year's holidays, and due to some soul-searching on my part related to changes to the blog (more below).

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have a post about my blog's 10 year anniversary, the New Year's Eve / Cybils Shortlist edition of my Twitter links roundup posts, a new literacy milestone post, and a post about my daughter and the importance of creative play. I also have a post in which I explain my plans for a new direction for the blog, and one launching a new feature about #JoyOfLearning articles

Three other Twitter links posts are not included in this issue. You can find them here, here, and here if you are interested.  

You'll notice that there are no book reviews in this issue. As you'll read below, I will be publishing fewer book reviews going forward, but I do expect them to resume once I get things settled again. I thank you for your patience. I hope that you will stay with me as I expand my journey from promoting the joy of reading to promoting a love of learning in general. I know that I'm excited about it!

Reading Update: In the past four weeks I read/listened to one middle grade, one young adult, and 10 adult titles. I read:

Now that I've given myself permission to read more books without reviewing them, I do expect to get back to reading more children's and young adult titles. For 2015 as a whole I read 47 children's books, 35 young adult books, and 59 adult books, for a grand total of 141 titles (not including countless picture books). My informal goal was 150, but I only came close because I listened to a LOT of audiobooks. Right now I'm listening to The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone and reading The Element by Ken Robinson

The books my husband and I read (and our babysitter) to our daughter in 2015 can be found here. The grand total was 1446, down a bit from last year, but including significantly more chapter books. She ended the year still on a Magic Tree House book tear. I've started a new list of her reads for 2016 in my sidebar, but it doesn't have a separate archive page yet.

We didn't read as much as I would have liked over the holidays, because we were out of our routine. Now that she's back in school, what I'm doing is selecting a different stack of picture books each morning and putting them on the breakfast table. I read 2 or 3 during breakfast, and then her babysitter reads others throughout the day. It's working so far, and we're starting the New Year reading more books. 

What are you and your family reading these days? Wishing you a joyful 2016! 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

Literacy Milestone: Reading Her First Picture Book On Her Own

LiteracyMilestoneAYesterday afternoon my daughter came running upstairs to my office, bursting with excitement, holding a picture book. "Mommy! Mommy! I readed this BY MYSELF!" she announced. "This" was the picture book Little Humans, by Brandon Stanton, a gift that we had received a while back from my sister. Then she opened the book to a page at random to show me that she could indeed read it. She was very, very proud, and almost immediately ran off to share her news with my husband. 

Little Humans is not a very text-dense picture book - it's more of a photo essay with little captions. For example, one page shows a boy with his bike on the ground. The text says: "Sure, sometimes they fall." Then the next page says: "But they get back up." But it's also not a book that we've read so many times that my daughter knows it by heart. (She also "reads" The Princess in Black, but there is a lot of memorization going on there.) I think that Little Humans is just a book that was unintimidating enough for her to give it a try. 

My daughter has so far shown more interest in writing than in reading - she's mostly happy to let us do the reading, but she'll sit down and write her own lists and stories. I think that the feeling of accomplishment from having read Little Humans will inch her forward a bit, though, and that she'll be reading more before we know it. Of course there's no rush. I just want to keep seeing the excitement that she showed last night. 

Do you remember your child's first (non-memorized) picture book? Thanks for reading! 

© 2016 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

Some Interesting #JoyOfLearning Articles, with Notes: January 5

JoyOFLearningLogoIn honor my new blog direction (see description here), I'm trying out a new feature. I've always shared a number of articles on Twitter each week, and then rounded them up on my blog on Fridays. Now that I'm looking for them specifically, I'm seeing quite a few articles that relate directly to my interest in education and the joy of learning (or lack thereof). I've decided that I'll try rounding them up with more detailed quotes and my own comments, so that I have these posts to refer back to. I'm not sure if this will be sustainable, time-wise, but I'm interested in giving it a try. 

This is awesome: More Playtime! How Kids Succeed w/ Recess Four Times a Day at School

Christopher Connelly: "Teachers at Eagle Mountain say they’ve seen a huge transformation in their students (since tripling the amount of recess). They say kids are less distracted, they make more eye contact and they tattle less...When it comes down to it, (Debbie) Rhea says, our kids are better off if we just let them be kids."

Me: This program for kindergartners and first graders is modeled on schools in Finland, where kids have much more recess time than in the US, and also have much higher scores on international education rankings. Kids this age learn SO MUCH by playing. In my daughter's kindergarten classroom there is a play area full of toys and dolls. However, the children are not, even during recess, allowed to use these. They are an artifact to an earlier time. 

What Do I Expect from Elementary School? Not this. Thoughts from a saddened mom

Laura Eberhart Goodman: "For my elementary school aged children, I care more about whether or not they love going to school than I do about their academic progress. I am clever enough to know that if they are enjoying themselves at school, they will learn. Academics follow naturally if the proper environment for learning is there... Just because students may have to sit in an office for 8 hours a day when they are adults, doesn’t mean that they should have to start practicing it now as children... Why has elementary school become the time for instructional and assessment methods that are more appropriate for high school and college students?"

Me: I found this article sad, about a mother's unhappiness over her children's reactions to school, but reactions to the article suggest that such feels are not uncommon. Although my daughter doesn't have much homework yet, it is something I worry about for the future.  

Is the Drive for Success Making Our Children Sick? (through stress)

Vicki Abeles: "Expectations surrounding education have spun out of control. On top of a seven-hour school day, our kids march through hours of nightly homework, daily sports practices and band rehearsals, and weekend-consuming assignments and tournaments. Each activity is seen as a step on the ladder to a top college, an enviable job and a successful life...Yet instead of empowering them to thrive, this drive for success is eroding children’s health and undermining their potential. Modern education is actually making them sick."

Me: I just finished reading Abeles' book: Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation. She has given me a LOT to think about. I'll have more to say about it in a future post. 

The Lessons of Winter Break: Protect Playtime, Downtime + Family Time via

KJ Dell’Antonia: "This winter break, in which we all managed to spend significant amounts of time completely off the clock, really fulfilled its purpose. We reconnected and recharged, and if we were reluctant to go back, that only proves that we need more of the same...A good vacation is a start. But our children need to have that open-ended, what-do-you-want-to-do-today feeling more often. That is the lesson of a good winter break for me: Saying yes to “PDF” (playtime, downtime, and family time) is worth saying no to something else."

Me: I had a similar experience to Dell'Antonia's (before running across this article). As my daughter's Christmas break drew to a close, I found myself tallying up all of the great things that she did with the unstructured time, and wishing she could have more of it. See details in this post on creative play

Re-Energize Your Classroom in the New Year w/ breakout rooms, + more |

Nicholas Provenzano: "The New Year is a wonderful time to start trying some new things. You've spent a good amount of time with your students and feel more comfortable exploring new strategies and practices that are more tailored to their learning needs. I want to share some great ideas that you can use to change things up for the second part of the year -- and that can also help beat the winter blues."

Me: I especially like the idea of "student interest projects", in which kids get time to learn about something that they are interested in. How much more do kids learn when the topic fascinates them? 

That's all for today. Please let me know if this feature is useful. Should I do separate posts for these articles, with more commentary from me? Or do you find it more useful to just see the links by themselves because you'll just click through anyway? 

© 2016 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