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Posts from July 2017

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: July 12: Keeping a Diary and Selecting Comfort Reads

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, mainly bookworms, but also mathematicians and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this relatively brief issue I have four book reviews (picture books through middle grade/middle school) and one post with my daughter's latest literacy milestone (keeping a diary). I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I finished three adult novels.  I read/listened to: 

AdventurersGuildI'm currently reading The Adventurers Guild by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos and listening to Lockdown by Laurie R. King. My daughter and I are still reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together, as we will be for a while. You can find her 2017 reading list here. I've noticed that her comfort reading these days consists primarily of Jarrett Krosoczka's Lunch Lady graphic novels. She had a tiring couple of days of sporting and social events this weekend, and when she disappeared for a while I thought she might be sleeping. But no. She came back down having read (for at least the fifth time each) the last two Lunch Lady books. 

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. Here's to lots more summer reading!

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid: Kara LaReau + Matt Myers

Book: The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Matt Myers
Pages: 96
Age Range: 6-9

RatsosNotAfraidThe Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid is the sequel to The Infamous Ratsos (reviewed here), in what I hope will be a continuing early reader/early chapter book series by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers.  Brothers Louie and Ralphie live with their dad, Big Lou, and the memory of their deceased mother. In this book, the brothers decide to clean up a vacant lot in their neighborhood so that they can set up carnival-style arcade games for their friends. In the course of the project, both brothers have to overcome fears. For Louie, it's a fear of ghosts in the ramshackle house next to the vacant lot. For Ralphie, there's fear of being laughed at by his peers (over an incident with a girl). Luckily, the boys get solid advice from their father that helps along the way.

Can I just say, as a parent, that I love Big Lou? He's a good example to his boys, in a matter-of-fact way. Like when Ralphie talks about a girl in his class who stinks (images reveal her to be a skunk), so that no one has even gone near her. Big Lou says: "Then how do you know she stinks?" That's all, then he drops it. Then when Ralphie claims not to be afraid of anything, he says: "Really? I'm afraid of lots of things." Only when the boys ask how he copes does he say: "By reminding myself that I'm the boss of me, not my fears." All this while he's plying them with spaghetti and meatballs. He's this big, tough guy, but gives his boys the tools that they need. It's nicely done. 

The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid is what I would characterize as a very early chapter book. There are 10 short chapters in 96 pages, with full or partial page illustrations every couple of pages. The line spacing is wide, the sentences are mostly brief, and there is plenty of dialog to keep things moving. Here's a snippet, to give you a feel:

"Chad's stomach growls. "We'd better be done soon. It's almost dinnertime," he says. The Ratsos used to think Chad was mean, until they realized he gets cranky when he's hungry, which is almost all the time.

"Never fear," says Ralphie. "I brought emergency snacks for Carl."" (Page 15, ARC)

I feel like the formatting and vocabulary of the book overall keeps it accessible to very new readers, while the storyline itself retains appeal for slightly older kids (say first and second graders). There's a lovely vibe of kids playing unsupervised together in a neighborhood that kids and adults will find appealing. There's also a whole elementary school dynamic of kids being teased about "kissing in a tree", and the deep embarrassment that comes from being laughed at. But with a soft touch. 

Myers' illustrations lend humor to the story, and capture a lower income urban setting that is too rare in children's books (brick apartment buildings in the background with lines of laundry stretching between them, various junk in the vacant lot, etc.). We see Louie's terror when he approaches the possibly haunted house, as wavy lines show him shaking. And when Ralphie stands up on a bench at school and yells out a brave declaration, any reader will smile at the image. 

Although my daughter has moved on to reading longer, more dense books than The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid, I'm going to give it to her anyway. I think she'll appreciate the central lesson about not giving into your fears, as well as less direct examples in the book of doing the right thing. All set against a backdrop of kids playing and working together on a fun project. What is not to love about that? Highly recommended, and well worth purchasing for libraries serving new readers. 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick) 
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Literacy Milestone: Keeping a Diary

LiteracyMilestoneAKnowing that my daughter enjoys writing, I recently picked up a 10-pack of bound composition books for her from Costco. To my surprise, she turned one of them into her first diary (others are being used to document her trips as well as her plans for the future). She was apparently inspired by the Owl Diaries series, part of Scholastic's Branches line of early chapter books, which are written in diary/notebook novel format. The cover actually lists the book as her own "Owl Dire". [I do recommend this series - it is super-cute, and my daughter has gobbled them down this summer.]

BaxterIsMissingHer first set of diary entries was written over the weekend before July 4th, when she spent three nights at our friends' house while my husband and I were out of town. On our return, I was quite pleased to be able to learn more about her weekend by reading the diary (with her permission). Her spelling remains a bit creative, but she is certainly literate enough at this point to get the basics across. She's enthusiastic, using exclamation points to highlight the most exciting moments. She also writes to the diary, as in "Dear Dire, How are you?". It's very fun!  

After the weekend she missed a couple of days because of the July 4th festivities. When she realized this, she had to take the diary with her in the car while we were running errands, so that she could catch up. She started worrying about how difficult it would be to catch up if she were to miss more than a couple of days. [Oh, does she ever take after her father.] I assured her that it's not necessary to write in the diary every single day. She can just write about days that are interesting. If she's going to keep a diary, I want it to be fun for her, not turn into some sort of stressful task. 

My guess is that the diary will soon fall by the wayside for now. But in the meantime it's fun for her, enlightening for me, and a great way to keep up her writing skills. Best of all, if we can manage to keep the diary, she is going to LOVE reading it when she's an adult. A win all around! 

I don't remember having a diary when I was as young as seven, but I did keep one in high school and college. That one, of course, I did not let other people read. How about all of you, my book-loving friends? Did you keep diaries when you were young? 

© 2017 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: July 7: Board Books, Picture Books and Reading Aloud

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this relatively light week include #audiobooks, #BookADay, #BookList, #Cybils, #GraphicNovels, #GrowingBookworms, #KidLitCon, #ReadAloud, #SummerReading, board books, library storytime, literacy, reading, and writing. Wishing you relaxing summer reading this weekend!

Book Lists

QuantumPhysics. calls 2017 The Year of the , w/ of notable titles | was early to the trend

100 Children's Audiobook Deals for Summer 2017 | list from sale | Some true bargains 

26 Wonderful Books for Kids Celebrating Summer (ages 4-12), from

ALA 2017 highlights: coming this summer & fall (ages 8-14), from

Diversity + Gender

PottymouthBooks Will Be Books: Enough With Gendered Children’s Lit | | Why market just to boys?

"Dear fellow white Christian writers," | chimes in on by imagining NOT being the default 

 Growing Bookworms

5 Ways to Help Your Child Read More, tips from  

10 Reasons You Should to Big Kids, Too | Introducing genres, discussing issues + more

HackingLiteracyNo excuses: How can build a culture of this year - at Hack Learning


Call for Presenters: 2017, Nov. 3-4 in Hershey, PA | encourages bloggers to attend  

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Discussion on Starting vs. Finishing Books | Me, I abandon more books every year 

Schools and Libraries

& The Power of Shared Stories by  

Early At Its Finest: shares piece, positive effects of storytime on kids

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

The Too-Scary Story: Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Book: The Too-Scary Story
Author: Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

Too-ScaryStoryThe Too-Scary Story by Bethanie Deeney Murguia is about a father telling a bedtime story to his young son and slightly less young daughter. The daughter, Grace, presses for the story to be scarier. The son, Walter, wants it to be less scary. So the father has to keep switching back and forth, leading into something scary and then pulling back and offering something more cozy instead. Like this:

"Beyond the fireflies,
deep in the bushes, crept all kinds of ...


"I can hear them all breathing," whispers Grace.

"Too scary!" says Walter.

Don't worry.
Those creatures were just settling into bed for the night."

Here we see a picture of Walter and Grace petting safe, sleepy creatures like rabbits, though their Toto-like dog still looks a bit scared. Only late in the book do both kids have the chance to be scared. And brave. As with all of the best bedtime stories, The Too-Scary Story ends with the kids cozily in bed. 

This is a fun book to read aloud, with lots of changes in tone, communicated through both the fonts and the illustrations. In the above example, "creatures" is in large, bold font, while the "Don't worry" font is smaller and less intimidating. The font used for Papa's story is different from the font used for the dialogue with the kids, making it easier for the adult reader to use a special, spooky voice for the story within the story. 

I like that the family is brown-skinned (exact ethnicity vague, though we know the dad is "Papa" instead of "Daddy"). I also like that the brother and sister share a room, with twin beds, something you don't always see in books these days, and that it's Papa who is reading to them. There's a well-stocked bookshelf in their room, and, at the end, a jar of fireflies. 

The Too-Scary Story captures the difficulty inherent in creating a bedtime story for kids of two different ages. It celebrates family, and fathers in particular. It provides a lovely mix of scary (with dark palette to match) and cozy (fireflies!). It's different in style from Murguia's other picture books (e.g. Zoe Gets Ready and sequels), but with the same understanding of sibling relationships. And, if anything, this new book is more fun to read aloud. Recommended for anyone looking for a new bedtime book! 

Publisher:  Arthur A. Levine Books (@Scholastic
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).

Lights, Camera, Middle School: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Book: Lights, Camera, Middle School! (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker, Book 1)
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

BabymouseLockerLights, Camera, Middle School! is the first title of a new novel / notebook novel / graphic novel hybrid series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm featuring Babymouse, now in middle school. Although Babymouse is in middle school, I think that readers of this series will begin in elementary school. My seven-year-old, who is out of town with my husband, asked me to read it to her over the phone. I declined. But I'm certain she'll read it when she can. 

Anyway, Lights, Camera, Middle School! begins as Babymouse is acclimating to middle school. She has a few friends (especially BFF Wilson) from elementary school, but she's struggling to adjust to things like the cafeteria, and the quest for popularity. She wants fame, but she also wants to be herself and to be appreciated. She still has issues with monsters in her locker, and being on time for class. When it comes time to sign up for some sort of Club, Babymouse decides on film club. She ends up the director of the student film (an epic saga), and finds the experience to be challenging but ultimately character-building. 

Here are a couple of snippets:

"If this was a monster movie, Felicia would be a Zombie. At middle school, Zombies traveled in packs and dressed the same. Instead of hunting brains, they wanted stuff: whatever was cool and "in." It could be wedge sandals or ruffled scarves or sparkly lip gloss. They just had to have it." (Page 5)

This is accompanied by a sketch of four zombies in wedge sandals moaning "STUUUFFFFFFF!!!!" and the like. 


"Chapter 2: Laws of the Jungle Cafeteria

The hardest subject in middle school wasn't science or social studies or literature. 

It was friendship.

And there was no textbook or helpful study guide. In elementary school, if kids didn't like you, they were just flat-out mean. But here, figuring out who your friends were was harder than a quadratic equation.

And I had a failing grade."

Graphic elements in the book range from full-page, multi-panel comic to full-page illustrations to small cartoon-like images included with the text (like a muffin with a face crying "ButI'm so lovable!" after the movie's star rejects muffins in favor of fresh croissants. The characters from the Babymouse graphic novels have grow up ever-so-slightly. Babymouse is taller and thinner, but otherwise looks (and acts) pretty much the way kids will expect. 

The text has plenty of dialog, short paragraphs, and bolding, along with the occasional French phrase, making it a nice transition book for kids who are not excited about reading something too text-dense. There’s a cute product placement for the Holm siblings’ Squish series (which Babymouse’s little brother Squeak enjoys). Fans of the Squish books will get a kick out of it. Although there's no interior color, there are cute heart and star symbols providing within-chapter section breaks. There are also occasional lists and other written supporting materials, in notebook novel style.

In short, you have the familiar and lovable characters from the long-running Babymouse early graphic novel series experiencing slightly more grown-up problems now that they are in middle school, and with the addition of some narrative and notebook novel-style text. If this isn't the perfect, seamless next step for fans who are ready to progress from the quick graphic novel reads, then I don't know what is.Highly recommended, and a must-purchase for libraries serving middle grade and younger middle school readers.

I wonder if we'll ever progress to reading about Babymouse in high school...  

Publisher: Random House (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: July 4, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).