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Posts from March 2016

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @JessLahey + @HeatherSchumaker + @Guardian

JoyOFLearningLogoI've been pleased to discover ever-more articles and books dedicated to topics like reducing homework and giving kids more time to learn through play. Today I share three links: one about ways to make kids happier in the classroom; one about fighting to keep / restore recess in schools; and one about restoring learning through play for kids younger than eight. To me, all of this is part of restoring a joy of learning for everyone's kids. I feel that this is urgent and important.  

Letting Happiness Flourish in the Classroom @jesslahey talks with "Happiness Track" author @emmaseppala  @NYTimes

Jessica Lahey: "If we truly want to cultivate happiness in our homes and schools, we can’t just pay it lip service. We must model behaviors that, according to Dr. Seppala, make us happier, healthier and more productive.... (for example:)

Do nothing. “Taking time off to disconnect and relax focus helps promote kids’ creativity and insights,” Dr. Seppala wrote. “Children need time for idleness, fun and irrelevant interests, and as research shows C.E.O.s currently value creativity higher than any other trait in the incoming workforce, it behooves you to let your kids relax and access their inner inventor.”

Me: I have Jessica Lahey's book The Gift of Failure on my nightstand and have just downloaded the Kindle Sample of The Happiness Track. I like the focus in this article on concrete behaviors that parents and teachers should be modeling if we truly want kids to be happy in school. And I do believe that happier kids will end up being better, more engaged learners. 

Parents want #recess for their kids. Why they should keep fighting for it. @HeatherShumaker @washingtonpost  #play

Heather Shumaker: "Recess replenishes and refreshes young minds. It’s a glimmer of free thought in an otherwise highly structured day, and it’s as important as a good night’s sleep for behavior and learning. 

Recess is not a luxury from a bygone time. It is every bit as necessary today for children’s optimal learning. Regular, daily recess for every child must be recognized as a right."

Me:  I've just finished reading Heather Shumaker's new book: It's OK to Go Up the Slide, and I highly recommend it to parents and teachers. In promoting the book, she's had articles in various publications. While her advocacy of eliminating elementary school homework resonates a bit more with me than the recess issue, I do think that this is all part of the same problem. We're turing elementary school students into little test-taking robots, instead of the curious learners that they should be. Cutting back on time for recess makes that situation worse and contributes to the obesity epidemic. 

Children should learn mainly through play until age of eight, says @LEGOfoundation | @Guardian  #LearningThroughPlay

Lucy Ward: "A lack of understanding of the value of play is prompting parents and schools alike to reduce it as a priority, says Hanne Rasmussen, head of the LegoFoundation. If parents and governments push children towards numeracy and literacy earlier and earlier, it means they miss out on the early play-based learning that helps to develop creativity, problem-solving and empathy, she says. According to Rasmussen, the evidence for play-based learning has built enormously over the last decade, but parents don’t know about it...

The 29-year-old Lego Foundation, generously funded with a quarter of Lego’s post-tax profits, is beginning to flex its muscles. Where once it quietly dished out cash – and bricks – to lots of small projects, it has set its sights on campaigning for a mindset change in education around the world. “Our contribution to the world is to challenge the status quo by redefining play and reimagining learning,” says the foundation’s mission statement."

Me: This article, being from The Guardian, is about the implications of recent Lego Foundation-funded studies relative to the UK's educational system. But it certainly rang true for me as a parent in the United States, too. I would also like to see a mindset change in education for younger kids that restores the emphasis on play, and reduces the push to ever-more academic content at ever-younger ages. Lego, being a tiny bit more profitable an enterprise than my blog, might be able to make a real difference. 

© 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. 

The Oodlethunks #1: Oona Finds an Egg: Adele Griffin and Mike Wu

Book: The Oodlethunks #1: Oona Finds an Egg
Author: Adele Griffin
Illustrator: Mike We
Pages: 160
Age Range: 7-10

Oona Finds an Egg is the first book in the new Oodlethunks series of early chapter books, written by Adele Griffin and extensively illustrated by Mike Wu. The Oodlethunks are a cave family living in a time when the oldest in the community can remember seeing dinosaurs. One day, when young Oona gets lots, she finds a large, beautiful egg. She carries the egg home, and tries to care for it, though there's no telling what, if anything might hatch. In parallel she fights with her younger brother, feels jealous of her best friend's new pet, and attends school. 

Oona Finds and Egg is kind of a funny mix of pre-historic and contemporary. Burping is considered normal, even encouraged behavior, and meals are followed by the picking of teeth. Art is produced only on cave walls. But Oona and her brother wear shoes, and have household rules written (in words) on their cave wall. Her mother goes out to work, while her father stays home and cooks ahead-of-his-time cuisine. The shoes really bugged me for some reason. But I doubt that the average seven year old reader will be bothered by this anachronism. 

Oona Finds an Egg is kid-friendly fun for the early elementary school set, with a bullying neighbor, embarrassing school lunches, and the universal desire for a pet. These are set against entertaining details like the fact that each kid has a named club. Wu's sepia-toned illustrations render Oona as a cute, big-eyed kid, at her best when seen showing affection for Egg. There are occasional sequences of panels, like little comic strips, mingled with full and partial page illustrations. 

Oona is a relatable kid, despite her occasional prehistoric behavior. For example:

"Whenever I am feeling my feelings, I yell. Sometimes my feelings are worried. Sometimes my feelings are scared. Sometimes my feelings are just plain mad.

But I always need to let them out." (This is accompanied by a picture of Oona screaming "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!")


"I tried not to care, but my mind made a sad picture of Bonk's hot, embarrassed face. I shouldn't have teased him about his Luvie in front of Erma.

Even if my head felt dinged from where bristle cones had smacked me. It couldn't hurt worse than my mean words.

And I was still the big sister." (Chapter 5)

All in all, I think that the Oodlethunks are a fun addition to the ranks of early chapter book series. The second Oodlethunks book will be published in September. 

Publisher: Scholastic 
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy 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).

3 Tips for Reading Aloud to an Impatient 11-Month-Old

JRBPlogo-smallOne day last week, a mom who reads my blog emailed me looking for advice. She said that she had been trying to read aloud to her 11-month-old son, but that she was having a hard time getting him to stay put for the reading sessions. I sent her the following three suggestions:

1. Don’t try to get him to stay put. Read aloud to him while he’s wandering around, playing with blocks, or whatever else captures his fancy. Kids often are listening even when they don’t seem like they are listening. If he’s not looking at the pictures, you can actually read aloud from almost anything. When my daughter was an infant I read the first Harry Potter book aloud to her. The idea is to get him used to cadence of your voice when you are reading, and for him to hear lots of different (rich) vocabulary words.

2. Read to him while he’s in his high chair eating. Take advantage of him being a captive audience. Here you can hold the book up and show pictures, so it's good to stick with books that have simple, bright illustrations. Leslie Patricelli's board books are excellent for this purpose, but anything he's shown an interest in will do. I still read aloud to my daughter almost every day while she eats breakfast. I believe that I first saw this idea in Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook.

3. When you are trying to sit with him and read together, try books with flaps and/or things to touch. You have to give them something extra to hold their attention at this age. My daughter adored books with flaps when she was a year old or so, and they remain among my go-to gift books for toddlers. Here are a few suggestions:

Young toddlers can be a tough audience for reading aloud, but it's absolutely still worth the effort. The trick is to accept that they may need to move around or play with the books. Whenever they are a captive audience, sitting in a high chair or in a car car seat, you can take advantage of that, too. 

What do other readers say? Do you have particular tips for reading aloud with one-year-olds? 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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: #ReadingAloud + Women's History Month + #Nonfiction

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include the Lambda Awards, Irish Children's Book Awards, the Cybils Awards, booklists, International Women's Day, Women's History Month, nonfiction, growing bookworms, schools, education, parenting, publishing, reading aloud, blogging, podcasts, STEM, playful learning, KidLitCon and kindergarten. 

Awards and Book Lists (including Lists for International Women's Day)

2016 Children’s/YA Lambda Literary Award Finalists for LGBT Writing Announced | @LibraryVoice @sljournal 

Irish Children’s Book Shortlist Announced by @tashrow  #kidlit #YA

The Best Interactive Books for Kids per @growingbbb  #BookList #kidlit

More #PictureBooks to Teach Theme from @PernilleRipp "It is a great time to be a lover of picture books"  #BookList

Inspired by the #PrincessInBlack | Best Princess Books for All Ages by @KarinaYanGlaser @bookriot  via @tashrow

50 of the Best Heroines from Middle Grade Books by @KarinaYanGlaser @bookriot  Elizabeth Enright to @CeceBellBooks 

American Girls | Historical Fiction Featuring Feisty Females | Erinn Black Salge @sljournal for #WomensHistoryMonth 

Disrupters, Daredevils, and Artists: Women Who Changed the World | Joy Fleishhacker @sljournal  #WomensHistoryMonth 

On Your Mark, Get Set, Read! #EasyReader Book List for #SummerReading 2016 from @mrskatiefitz 

Looking to read more kids' poetry? See 8 of Our Favorite #Poetry Collections from @SunlitPages 


On the #Cybils blog: Interview w/ award-winning author of Flutter and Hum, Julie Paschis by @book_nut 

On the #Cybils blog: #BookList Fun: Favorite Series for Beginning Readers from category chair @mrskatiefitz 

Events + Programs

Harvard University Has A Plan To Transform K-12 #Education by including community factors: @rklein90 @HuffingtonPost 

Growing Bookworms

#RaisingReaders: What You Need to Know About #Nonfiction | Guest Post from  @Everead @SunlitPages 

Building on today's @SunlitPages #RaisingReaders guest post, @Everead shares 11 Excellent #NonFiction Books for Kids 

5 Big Reasons to Continue to #ReadAloud to Your 'Big' Kids @epochtimes via @tashrow  #GrowingBookworms

Building the Perfect #Nonfiction Blog/Site for use by teachers, librarians, parents — @fuseeight 

Food for thought in @ReadAloud_org 2016 #ReadAloud Survey | Knowing  importance isn't enough #RaisingReaders 

Allowing Kids to Select What They Read | "Does it matter if students read 'easy' books?" @JoneMac53  thinks not. 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Did you know that a Clementine spin-off is coming soon? Waylon! One Awesome Thing @SaraPennypacker @DisneyHyperion 

Good, I think (though not all agree): @HarperChildrens to Release Little House on the Prairie Series as E-books w/ Williams illustrations 

Useful tips from @booksandwine | The Book Blogger's Guide To Moving 

Everyone Needs a Ramona, a book that "truly speaks to you" + shares some background says @KateMessner @HornBook 

Middle school librarian @MsYingling is officially declaring Video Games in kids' books a trend 

Reading Fiction May Enhance Social Skills | New study reported in @WSJ  #BenefitsOfReading

"The brain doesn't behave that differently whether we read about experiences, or actually have" them @TrevorHCairney 

Blog Flashback #4: @gregpincus looks back on his early #KidLitCon experiences. We hope to see him there this year! 


Interesting application: How Asking 5 Questions Allowed Me to Eat Dinner With My Kids by @cduhigg @NYTimes 

Are Parents Modeling "Doing Tough Things"? Kids "do as parents do, not as they say" | Bethany Todd @LauraBarrEd 

Playful Learning

Playful Learning: 5 Ways to Use Lego Bricks by @sxwiley (w/ links by category to ideas from various sources) 


New @Scholastic #podcast episode features @sesamestreet actress & author @SoniaMManzano. Listen here: 

Introducing...the Horn Book Podcast. @RogerReads + @KidLitChick will talk weekly about #kidlit @HornBook 

Schools and Libraries

The Importance of Being Little | Review of new @ErikaChristakis book about what preschoolers need @sljournal 

Project-based #Learning gives Kindergarteners Agency, guest post by K teacher Paula Ford @plearnchat  @DeVargasSchool

In NC District, leader Steve Oates Brings #Play Back to #Kindergarten @EducationWeek @lrmongeau 

How Can the College Application Process Be Improved? | @HKorbey @MindShiftKQED  #TurningTheTide

Interesting... Gamification in the classroom: small changes and big results — @neolms via @DrDougGreen  #education

Proposal for a new UK primary school #literacy curriculum w/out cramming stuff in by C.J. Busby @AwfullyBigBlog  

8 Reasons #CommonCore Will Ultimately Fail, according to @Lynch39083 in @AdvocateforEd  #EdReform #education

Take a lesson from Walt Disney and "Plus" your classroom, strategies to improve learning every day @RACzyz  #schools


Americans Rank Last in Problem-Solving w/ Technology, skills stagnating in recent years @dougbelkin @WSJ  #education

The Evolution of Library #SummerReading programs to #SummerLearning | Editorial | @sljournal 

© 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

Is homework wrecking our kids? If so, what do we do as parents?

I've been reading (and sharing) quite a few books and articles that address the impact of homework on kids' joy of learning. This weekend I ran across a Salon Magazine article by Heather Shumaker that I thought summed up the situation in a direct and action-oriented manner. The article is called: Homework is wrecking our kids: The research is clear, let’s ban elementary homework. Here's the part of the article that stood out most clearly to me:

“(A) comprehensive analysis of multiple research studies found no evidence of academic benefit (of homework) at the elementary level. It did, however, find a negative impact on children’s attitudes toward school. This is what’s worrying. Homework does have an impact on young students, but it’s not a good one. A child just beginning school deserves the chance to develop a love of learning. Instead, homework at a young age causes many kids to turn against school, future homework and academic learning. And it’s a long road. A child in kindergarten is facing 13 years of homework ahead of her.”

Also this, from the end of the article:

"What works better than traditional homework at the elementary level is simply reading at home. This can mean parents reading aloud to children as well as children reading. The key is to make sure it’s joyous. If a child doesn’t want to practice her reading skills after a long school day, let her listen instead. Any other projects that come home should be optional and occasional. If the assignment does not promote greater love of school and interest in learning, then it has no place in an elementary school-aged child’s day.

Elementary school kids deserve a ban on homework. This can be achieved at the family, classroom or school level. Families can opt out, teachers can set a culture of no homework (or rare, optional homework), and schools can take time to read the research and rekindle joy in learning.

Homework has no place in a young child’s life. With no academic benefit, there are simply better uses for after-school hours."

[Please do go and read the full article at Salon. I'll wait. I'm also looking forward to reading Shumaker's new book, It's OK to Go Up the Slide. My husband and I both liked her previous parenting book It's OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids.]

I strongly agree with Shumaker's conclusions that a) what kids need instead of homework is reading aloud at home and b) that this should be a joyous experience. My daughter is in kindergarten, and I am have already seen homework, in the form of required book reports, negatively impact her joy of learning. I've heard my crying five-year-old say that she "hates" book reports, and it was devastating.

From everything that I've heard from other parents, homework levels at our elementary school increase significantly after kindergarten. So here I am with this kid who loves books and is just starting to read, and who enjoys playing around with math and numbers, and likes doing little experiments. Just like most five year olds, she is a curious and engaged learner. I'm wondering how quickly her school is going to quench that love of learning via excessive homework. And I'm wondering what I can do to keep that from happening, for my own daughter and for other children. 

One small thing that I did was share the Salon article on Facebook, where I am friends with a number of other parents from my daughter's school. Another thing that I did was forward the link to the school principal. I'm considering starting a Facebook group or something similar for people from our school community who would like to discuss this. 

What I'm doing at home is putting in extra time to counteract the negative impact of the book reports by making reading with my daughter as fun and cozy as possible. Inoculating her against the book reports, so to speak. So far, her dislike of book reports is completely separate from her feelings about the books that we read at home for pleasure. But what happens next year when there are accelerated reader quizzes?

I just can't help feeling that it shouldn't have to be like this. I would truly welcome feedback on this topic. 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.

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: March 9

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 has refocused recently, and now contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, including bookworms, mathematicians, and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have one book review (middle grade), a post about my daughter's latest literacy milestone (skepticism about meta-fiction), a post about playful learning at Disney World, and a post highlighting cases where limiting reading choice seems likely to harm kids' love of reading. I also have two posts with quotes from recent #JoyOfLearning articles as well as two posts with other links that I shared on Twitter (including lots of links related to Growing Bookworms). Not included here, I posted a news release about a donation of 50,000 Dr. Seuss books from Random House to First Book. 

Reading Update: I am finally getting my reading groove back. In the past two weeks I read/listened to five middle grade, one young adult, and four adult titles. I read:

  • Jory John and Mac Barnett (ill. Kevin Cornell): The Terrible Two Get Worse. Harry N. Abrams. Middle Grade Fiction (illustrated). Completed March 5, 2016 (printed ARC). My review.
  • Adele Griffin (ill. Mike Wu): The Oodlethunks #1: Oona Finds an Egg. Scholastic. Illustrated Chapter Book. Completed March 5, 2016.
  • Linda Urban (ill. Katie Kath): Weekends with Max and His Dad. HMH Books for Young Readers. Illustrated Chapter Book. Completed March 5, 2016 (printed ARC). Review to come.
  • Beth Fantaskey: Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter. HMH Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed March 5, 2016. Review to come. 
  • Kallie George (ill. Alexandra Boiger): The Magical Animal Adoption Agency, Book 2: The Enchanted Egg. Disney Hyperion. Illustrated Chapter Book. Completed March 6, 2016. Review to come.
  • Tara Altebrando: The Leaving. Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. Young Adult Suspense. Completed March 4, 2016. Review to come.
  • Carl Honore: In Praise of Slowness. HarperOne. Adult Nonfiction. Completed February 29, 2016, on Kindle. This book gave me some food for thought, but I can't say that I've changed anything in my life as a result of reading it. 
  • C. J. Box: Blood Trail (Joe Pickett, Book 8). Berkley. Adult Mystery. Completed March 1, 2016, on MP3.
  • Nikhil Goyal: Schools on Trial: How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice. Doubleday. Adult Nonfiction. Completed March 2, 2016, on Kindle. I thought that Goyal did a nice job of laying out the problems with our current public educational system. He is very passionate about it. I didn't find his solutions (e.g. get rid of the entire system of compulsory education in this country and start over) to be very practical, but the book overall is well-researched and thought-provoking.
  • Andrew Hacker: The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions. The New Press. Adult Nonfiction. Completed March 2, 2016, on MP3. This book is somewhat controversial, particularly among mathematicians, but I thought that Hacker made some interesting points, particularly around gender differences in math testing and their impact on gender ratios at elite colleges. I think that the general idea that schools should focus more on imparting numeracy at a younger age is a good one, though Hacker's attacks on the education reform establishment, Common Core, and top-tier math professors seemed a bit over the top.

I had time for that much reading because my husband and daughter went away last weekend on a father-daughter camping trip. (Thank you Y-Guides!) I treated the weekend as something of my own 48-hour Book Challenge, reading and reviewing six books (three of them geared to early elementary school kids, making them quick reads). I'm just about finished listening to Robert B. Parker's Lullaby by Ace Atkins. I'm reading Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel and Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

The books my husband and I (and our babysitter) have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here. We had to scramble a bit to get to our informal goal of 100 books read in the month of February, because of not reading much while on our vacation in Disney World. But we're back on track now. My daughter continues to use the reading list for math practice, she looks at what sheet we are on (we list 30 titles per sheet) and then figures out our total. This week we started reading the first Harry Potter book aloud as a family. I'm not sure if she's really ready for it, but she's been interested for a long time, so we'll give it a try. Perhaps I should get the illustrated edition for her coming birthday...

I'm also currently reading her A Rock is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long. She's been showing a bit more interest lately in nonfiction. What are you and your family reading these days? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 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

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @Karol + @MamaSmiles

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have links to two articles that I thought warranted further discussion.  The first is about assigning kids homework that they can't complete without the help of a parent. (More on homework coming later this week.) The second is about the importance of play for young kids, and how we're "creating a white-collar child's workforce" by not allowing kids sufficient time in school for play. 

Yes! "It’s time to end the insanity and leave parents out of the homework process." @karol @NYPost via @DrDougGreen 

Karol Markowicz: "(On having to help her daughter with homework:) She’s in kindergarten — why are we spending multiple hours on homework? More importantly, why am I? Shouldn’t any homework assigned to the child be limited to their independent abilities? You’d think that it would get easier as a child gets older and acquires more skills to do his or her own work, but, in fact, it only gets worse as the work gets harder... It’s time to end the insanity and leave parents out of the homework process. We already have our own homework — either work from our jobs, which continues long after official work hours are over, or housework, or any number of things adults have to do that shouldn’t involve glue sticks and cardboard."

Me: I've already experienced a tiny piece of this. My daughter had the option to participate in her school's science fair in Kindergarten (I believe that this will cease to be optional next year). She was initially excited - she likes the idea of science experiments - until we sat her down and explained what the requirements were (coming up with a hypothesis, etc.). I ended up very grateful that at least for this year the project was optional, because I didn't have time to even work with her to come up with a project, let alone do one. I believe strongly that kids should do their own homework. But what do you do when things are assigned that would be impossible for them to do on their own?

Must read! "In our quest to give our children more, do we forget that #play is what they need most?" @mamasmiles 

MaryAnne from Mama Smiles: "As parents and educators, we want to see the children in our lives achieve as much as possible. In our quest to give our children more, do we forget that play is what they need most?...We have a lifetime for reading and writing and structured skill-building, but only a few years to play like a child. We each get exactly one year to play as a one-year-old plays. One year to play as a two-year-old plays. One year to play as a three-year-old plays. One year to play as a five-year-old plays, and one year to play as a ten-year-old plays. Play changes so much throughout childhood. It’s easy to dismiss play, as “just play”, but children use playtime to discover critical life skills. Through play, children learn to express emotions. Through play, children learn to work through conflicts and fears. Through play, children experience joy. Through play, children discover what they love."

Me: MaryAnne's post captures so exactly what I've been struggling with myself as my daughter has started kindergarten. The initial seed for the post was a conversation that MaryAnne had with a kindergarten teacher about the students just wanting to play. Of course they just want to play! They are five year olds. In my daughter's classroom there is a play section filled with toys, but these are just artifacts from a kinder, gentler time. They are not used. There is too much "curriculum" to get through. Sigh. I'm just grateful that my daughter only has half day kindergarten. Please do go and read the full post. There are links to several books on the importance of play for kids, such as the one shown to the right.

© 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. 

The Terrible Two Get Worse: Mac Barnett, Jory John, and Kevin Cornell

Book: The Terrible Two Get Worse
Author: Mac Barnett and Jory John
Illustrator: Kevin Cornell
Pages: 224
Age Range: 8-12

The Terrible Two Get Worse is, of course, the sequel to The Terrible Two (reviewed here) by Mac Barnett and Jory John, with extensive illustrations by Kevin Cornell.  It handily passed my new litmus test for books, which is: this book has to make me actively want to keep reading, or I will find something else. I read it in a quick single sitting. While I didn't think it was quite as funny as the first book, I thought that The Terrible Two Get Worse had more heart. Believe it or not, I cared about what happened not only to prankster pals Niles and Miles, but also to Principal Barry Barkin (the pranksters' nemesis in the first book). 

As The Terrible Two Get Worse begins, Miles and Niles are having a great time pulling pranks at their school and around their community. Principal Barkin is hapless to stop them. Everything changes, however, when Principal Barkin's father, Former Principal Bertrand Barkin, stages a coup, gets Barry put on "involuntary, indefinite leave of absence" and takes back over. Principal Bertrand Barkin has a way to cut off the pranks, leaving Niles and Miles without a purpose and the school without joy.

This book resonated with me in particular because a whole sub-theme of the book is about how an unenlightened administrator can suck the joy right out of a school. The new (old) principal cancels pajama day, and any other fun events. He stomps on the will of a progressive teacher, changing her from teaching interactive group activities to lectures. Here he is, at his first assembly:

"Today is also School Day. And so is next Monday. In fact, there are 120 School Days remaining this year, and all of them will be the same. You will learn facts, you will learn figures, you will be quizzed, and you will be tested. We will proceed thusly until June, at which point I do not are what you do. Wear a cowboy hat, wear a hideous sweater. That's what summer is for." (Chapter 10)

While Principal Barkin is, of course, a caricature, I do believe that this may strike close to home for some readers as a commentary on modern school systems (though I hope not). 

The other thing that struck me about this book was how the authors, ably assisted by Kevin Cornell, humanized the initial principal, Barry Barkin. Lost without his job to do, Barry undertakes a series of projects, like quilting and nature photography. These are shown in between chapter, full-page illustrations. Attentive readers will notice that no matter what hobby he undertakes, Barry always has a sub-theme of school. For instance, his nature photos include a bird on top of a school bus. A rabbit is hopping along the school running track. And so on. One can't help but see that for all of his foibles, Barry loves the school. 

The authors also do a nice job of continuing to develop the personalities of Niles and Miles. I especially enjoy Niles, who is an adult-pleasing geek as camouflage for his prankster self. Like this:

"Niles knew the tired look Mr. Yeager was giving him right now. It was the look that said, "There's one of these kids at every school. What Niles understood was that people love to put things--songs and books and other people--into categories... Niles didn't want people thinking about him--he believed the best pranksters were invisible. And so every school day, Niles played the kiss-up, the toady, the persnickety twerp." (Chapter 3)

Finally, I think that Barnett and John do a good job of balancing over-the-top humor against ordinary, relatable aspects of school: class photo day, bake sales, assemblies, and fire drills. I think it's not a coincidence that Niles pulls out a copy of Roald Dahl's Matilda near the end of the book. There's definitely a Dahl-esque quality to The Terrible Two. 

In short, The Terrible Two Get Worse is sure to be a hit in both elementary and middle schools. Recommended for home or library purchase. 

Publisher:  Harry N. Abrams (@AbramsKids)
Publication Date: January 12, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy 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).

Limiting Kids' Free Choice in Reading Will NOT Make them Avid Readers

This weekend I read a post called Kindles, Nooks and eReaders - or Paper Books? by Savita Kalhan at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure (the group blog of some UK-based authors). Kalhan shares the story of "a very large school" that recently invested in eReaders for all year seven, eight, and nine students. Here's the part that got me:

"The school has preloaded each eReader with a total of eighteen books for the school year. It also preloads subject specific word banks, revision tools, and other tasks to support work in lessons and out of school.

Interesting, although the school allows its pupils to read paper books, all their form reading time and reading in English lessons must be on the eReader. Even more interestingly, pupils require a permission note from the parent to bring a paper book to school!"

Now, I think there are arguments to be made for and against eReaders in general. This school administration apparently felt that the benefits of being able to look up words easily while kids are reading outweighed any disadvantages of using eReaders vs. print books. This may or may not be true. But they pre-loaded the devices with 18 titles each! I currently have 117 mostly unread titles on my Kindle (because I remove books after I read them). And I still find myself adding new titles all the time, especially before I travel, to make sure that I have enough books to choose from. How could anyone restrict kids, for their in-school reading, to choosing from such a small number of titles? Titles that someone else picked in the first place. Who could possibly think that this would be a good idea? 

Coincidentally I noticed this remark from Katherine Sokolowski on a blog post on the same day. Katherine will moving from teaching fifth grade to teaching seventh grade at a different school, and said:

"My biggest challenge of the moment is how to take my classroom library of 3500 books and sort it. Books that are really not for 7th graders will stay, I want to leave the person taking over for me something to start with. But how to even begin? I have no idea. "

That's right: "my classroom library of 3,500 books." Of course not every student is lucky enough to have a teacher who assembles a library of this magnitude. But I wish they did. I wish more teachers were like Katherine. 

Anyway Savita Kalhan has more to say about these eReaders in her post, and there are some thoughtful comments there already. But to me, the central point is: you can't restrict the reading choice of kids, and then expect them to end up as avid readers.

In a related incident, I shared a less-than-positive experience regarding my daughter's book reports on Facebook last week. [That will be a topic for another day.] One of my friends commented that her issue was that her granddaughter is only allowed to read books in school that are at her grade level. So this 11-year-old is not being allowed to read Coraline, which she really wants to read, because that book is for 8th graders.

My feeling on that you should let kids read books that they are excited about. If a book is truly too difficult, the child will become bored or discouraged, and will go read something else. What often happens is that if the child is interested enough, she will stretch herself, and advance her own reading skills.

Yes, there may be cases where you want to say no because of some mature content in a particular book. But that is not at all the same thing as having some blanket policy that says you can only choose from some sub-set of books that happen to qualify as your "age level." Presumably this girl is also not allowed to go back and read Magic Tree House or Princess in Black books either. 

It just makes me so angry when schools put policies in place that take away kids' joy of reading. The number one goal of schools should be nurturing the joy of learning, especially when it comes to reading. If you learn to love reading, doors will open to you throughout your entire life. In contrast, if you learn that reading is a chore, if you are rebuffed in your enthusiasms, you'll be harmed forever. 

© 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

Literacy Milestone: Skepticism about Meta-Fiction

LiteracyMilestoneAThe other day my daughter selected Herve Tullet's Press Here as one of her bedtime books. We've read this book many times, but this reading was a bit different. As we opened the book she said: "Let's see what happens if we don't do what it say." I agreed, and for the first few pages, we did not "press here" or shake the book or otherwise follow Tullet's instructions. Sometimes we would do the opposite of what was requested (e.g. pressing a different dot). Then we would turn the page, and (of course) see the outcome that would have been expected had we done what was asked.

My daughter was not disappointed by this - she seemed more satisfied than anything. I believe this confirmed her hypothesis that pressing on the dots or whatever would not, in fact, change what was displayed on the next page. Once we had done this for a few pages, she was ready to go back to pressing, shaking, blowing, etc. She knew that there things wouldn't impact the outcome, but she was unable to resist the fun of doing these things anyway.

Coincidentally, a new companion book to Press Here, Let's Play, arrived at our house two days later.  She dropped what she was doing, and had to read it immediately. Her appreciation for these books has not been spoiled by her understanding of how they work (or don't work).  For me, watching her developing understanding is fascinating.  

© 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: Education, Reading Nooks, #STEM + #WeNeedDiverseBooks

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include book lists, the Cybils Awards, diverse books, Scholastic Reading Summit, literacy programs, KidLitCon 2016, schools, libraries, nonfiction, eBooks, education, math, testing, and STEM. I also shared some additional links in this #JoyOfLearning Links post, with quotes and my responses (with more of those to come next week). 

Book Lists

A Tuesday Ten: A #ScienceFiction Pathway Part II (Gateway books for kids 3-5 yrs.) @TesseractViews 

Hilarious Toddler-tested #PictureBooks selected by @BookChook  | @The_Pigeon + more | #kidlit #BookList 



On the #Cybils blog: #BookList Fun: 10 Cybils Finalists/Winners that Also Received ALA Awards  @book_nut #ALAyma 

On the #Cybils blog: Interview with @minilabstudios Creators of #BookApp winner Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System 

#Nonfiction and Young (+ Young Adult) Readers - a Perfect Match | @readingtub  References to #Cybils @thereadingzone

Diversity + Gender

WNDBLogoSqaure.@Scholastic and #WeNeedDiverseBooks announce an expanded partnership to bring more @DiverseBooks into #schools 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Announces the Opening of Applications for the 2016 #WNDB Internship Grants @DiverseBooks 

#KidLit Heroines Best Heroes in UK World Book Day Poll, though Harry Potter on top, reports @sljournal 

Events + Programs

RT @MrSchuReads: Good morning! Registration is now open for the @Scholastic Reading Summits! :) 

Ohio Storytime Turns Into Life-Changing Program for Low-income Families | Katie Johnson @sljournal  #literacy

Growing Bookworms

Hilarious post from @Everead : Drop That Book! 10 Times to Stop Kids Reading  (aka just put on your clothes first)

These are beautiful! 15 Awesome #ReadingNooks for Kids by Karina Glaser @bookriot via @PWKidsBookshelf 


Save the Date for #KidLitCon 2016, October 14-15 in Wichita, KS. More details to follow soon! Thanks @Book_Nut ! 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Suggestions for Keeping Up with 2016 Book Releases in #kidlit from @frankisibberson  @MrSchuReads @100scopenotes etc

#Ebooks Can be a Great Choice for Middle Schoolers reports #library media specialist @sljournal 

White House Wants To Use Science Fiction To Help Inspire Ways to Settle The Solar System @gizmodo @TesseractViews 

8 Reasons Why People Buy Books | @arhomberg at Digital Book World  #Reading #eBooks

Schools and Libraries

How high school would be different if students could design it @s_garl @hechingerreport via @DrDougGreen  #education

The Importance of Teaching Kids Problem Solving (+ not over-solving for them) and How to Do It - @LauraBarrEd 

Testing for Joy and Grit? #Schools Nationwide Push to Measure Students’ Emotional Skills @kzernike @NYTimes 

The Tide Is Turning: High School Is Coming Back | @reallearningct via @thereadingzone  #Education

.@stevehargadon: Escaping #Education Matrix | Families must reclaim ownership of #learning @LubaSays @MindShiftKQED 

One Small Step for A Classroom, One Big Step to A Better World | @MrazKristine on giving kids control over schedule 

Want to Start a Library #STEM Program? Assess Your Community Needs First | Linda W. Braun @sljournal 

20 Strategies for Motivating Reluctant #Learners | Have Only Positive Expectations | Katrina Schwartz @MindShiftKQED 

Michelle Gunderson: Administrator's Pledge on Ethical Treatment of Students Who Opt Out of #testing: @anthonycody 


Counterpoint: The #Math Myth that permeates Andrew Hacker's “The Math Myth” by @profkeithdevlin  #STEM #CommonCore

Practical Ways to Develop Students’ Mathematical Reasoning  (vs. pure memorization) | @MindShiftKQED  #STEM

Several public school districts across the country are teaching economics units to kids says @ninasovich @WSJ  #STEM

Coding for Everyone? Why it won't + probably shouldn't happen| Guest post by @DrDougGreen @mssackstein  #STEM

© 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

News Release: Random House to Donate 50,000 New Dr. Seuss Books to First Book

I don't share full press releases very often, but decided to share this one in honor of today's celebration of Read Across America Day (Dr. Seuss's birthday). 


Nationwide “Hats Off to Reading” birthday celebrations honor the beloved children’s author 

TedGeisel_DrSeuss_4cNew York, NY (March 1, 2016)—In honor of Dr. Seuss’s 112th birthday on Wednesday, March 2, Random House Children’s Books (RHCB), together with Dr. Seuss Enterprises (DSE), will make a donation of 50,000 new Dr. Seuss books to First Book, it was announced today by Barbara Marcus, President & Publisher, RHCB. [Photo of Ted Geisel Courtesy of Dr. Seuss Enterprises]

The books donated to First Book by Random House Children’s Books and Dr. Seuss Enterprises will be provided to children in need through First Book’s network of more than 230,000 educators and program leaders nationwide. First Book supports educators and program leaders serving children from low-income families by providing ongoing access to free and affordable, high-quality new books and educational resources. To date, the organization has distributed more than 140 million books in the U.S. and Canada.

“Dr. Seuss’s incredible imagination, unique storytelling, and beloved characters have inspired generations of readers to learn to love to read, and we at Random House aspire to carry this legacy on in our work every day,” says Marcus. “We are thrilled to work with First Book to give children who do not have access to books the opportunity to experience the magic of reading a Dr. Seuss book.”

“Helping kids become lifelong readers is the number one reason why educators seek books from First Book,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book. “Just imagine their excitement when receiving 50,000 brand-new Dr. Seuss books! Thank you to our heroes at Random House Children’s Books and Dr. Seuss Enterprises for sharing this generous donation of books to kids who need them most.”

“Ted wanted to make reading fun for children and inspire their imaginations so it would please him to know that those without books at home are being given the opportunity to read and imagine the possibilities by receiving their very own first book, says Susan Brandt, President of Licensing and Marketing, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. “We at DSE are thrilled to announce this donation in honor of his birthday, and together with our partners at First Book and Random House.”

Dr. Seuss’s birthday is an annually recognized nationwide reading event, with millions of children celebrating in stores, libraries, schools and even military bases across the country. Visit for a listing of events and more information about “Hats Off to Reading” activities.

HiRes_WhatPetShouldIGet_COVER2015 marked an extraordinary year for Dr. Seuss, with the publication of a newly discovered book, What Pet Should I Get?—making this year’s “Hats Off to Reading” events even more special, and a celebration of not only Dr. Seuss’s birthday but this exciting new addition to his classic canon. The manuscript and accompanying sketches for the picture book were discovered in the late author’s La Jolla, California, home and the book was published on July 28, 2015. It debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and went on to become the fastest-selling picture book in Random House Children’s Books history. [What Pet Should I Get cover image TM & © Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. 2015. All Rights Reserved.]

About Dr. Seuss

Theodor “Seuss” Geisel is quite simply one of the most beloved children’s book authors of all time. His long list of awards includes Caldecott Honors for McElligot’s Pool, If I Ran the Zoo, and Bartholomew and the Oobleck, the Pulitzer Prize, and eight honorary doctorates. Works based on his original stories have won three Oscars, three Emmys, three Grammys, and a Peabody. Geisel wrote and illustrated 45 books during his lifetime, and his books have sold more than 650 million copies worldwide. Though Theodor Geisel died on September 24, 1991, Dr. Seuss lives on, inspiring generations of children of all ages to explore the joys of reading. For more information about Dr. Seuss and his works, visit

About Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.

The primary focus of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., is to protect the integrity of Dr. Seuss books while expanding beyond books into ancillary areas. This effort is a strategic part of the overall mission to nurture and safeguard the relationship consumers have with Dr. Seuss characters. Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) said he never wanted to license his characters to anyone who would “round out the edges.” That is one of the guiding philosophies of Dr. Seuss Enterprises. Audrey S. Geisel, the widow of Dr. Seuss, heads Dr. Seuss Enterprises as CEO.

About First Book

First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise that has distributed more than 140 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. By making new, high-quality books and educational resources available on an ongoing basis, First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education. For more information, please visit or follow the latest news on Facebook and Twitter.

About Random House Children’s Books

Random House is the world’s largest English-language children’s trade book publisher. Creating books for toddlers through young adult readers, in all formats from board books to activity books to picture books, novels, ebooks, and apps, the imprints of Random House Children’s Books bring together award-winning authors and illustrators, world-famous franchise characters, and multimillion-copy series. Random House is the longtime home of the beloved and bestselling Dr. Seuss books, which continue to make learning to read fun for millions of children everywhere. The company’s website, Kids@Random (, offers an array of activities, games, and educational resources for children, teens, parents, and educators. Random House Children’s Books is a division of Penguin Random House LLC.