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Posts from October 2017

Red Again: Barbara Lehman

Book: Red Again
Author: Barbara Lehman
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-7

RedAgainRed Again is a new wordless picture book by Barbara Lehman. Like her other books (see my reviews of Rainstorm and Trainstop), Red Again offers quirky delights that celebrate friendship and make kids think. In Red Again, a boy on a bike (shown on the cover) finds a red book. When he takes it home and reads it, he discovers that the book is about a boy in a boat who also finds a red book. As the first boy reads his book, he see images of the boy in the book seeing images of him. So we have boy 1 looking at a picture of boy 2 looking at a picture of boy 1 looking at a picture of boy 2, and so on. It's fascinating and brilliant. As Red Again progresses, the boys find a way to meet in person, and the red book, cast aside, is found by a girl. Lehman doesn't have to show us what will happen next. 

I would have recognized the illustrations as Lehman's work anywhere. The first boy lives in a house in a city, along the waterfront. He travels up regular stairs, circular stairs, and a ladder to get to a glass cupola, where he reads his book (and from where he can eventually spot the boy in the boat). His setting reminded me very much of the settings in Rainstorm. It's not enough for Lehman to make the basic story intriguing, she also adds cool details like a glass cupola, and a telescope. The only red to be seen in most of the illustrations is the book itself, small compared to city- and seascapes, but visible throughout. 

As an added bonus, the first boy is African-American. The second boy is white, and from a much more rural environment. But of course no cosmetic differences matter once these two meet under such wondrous circumstances. 

Barbara Lehman's work just keeps getting better. Red Again is fabulous, and a book that I expect to keep for the long term. It will make kids think and make them smile. Highly recommended!

Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: November 7, 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).

On the Emotional Benefits of A Family Reading Together

BigMeanMikeThis is a follow on post to one that I wrote last week about my daughter turning to favorite picture books for comfort. My friend Judy commented that I had under-emphasized an important aspect of the incident that I related. I had spoken of how my daughter was comforted by a particular book (Big Mean Mike), but Judy pointed out that my daughter hadn't selected that book to read by herself. She wanted ME to read it to her. Judy added: "during that reading and sharing of the book, the two of you were able to transform her sad and angry feelings." I realized that not only was Judy right, but that this topic called for another post. So this is with thanks to Judy. 

There are many benefits that accrue to my child from reading (empathy, vocabulary, imagination, self-soothing, etc.). One benefit that I particularly appreciate that affects both of us (and applies for my husband, too) is that reading together brings us closer. Part of this is physical - when we read together we are often snuggled up on the couch or in her bed, sharing a blanket. We even occasionally snuggle together when we are each reading our own book, though that's not quite the same. I love the feeling of being snuggled up together, reading a book. But even larger benefits are on the mental/emotional side. 

SwingItSunnyPart of the closeness that we achieve through shared reading is the building of a shared frame of reference. My husband and I still refer to our daughter as being like Mo Willems' Pigeon when she's tired but denying it. (She professes to hate this, but I think she will look back on it with affection). We frequently end up referring to what Harry or Hermione would or wouldn't do. We had to start watching old Brady Bunch episodes together because of Jenni Holm and Matt Holm's Swing It, Sunny. The examples of inside jokes and cultural references that have come to us from books are endless. 

Another part of the closeness stems from our mutual self-declaration of being people who enjoy reading. I'm very clear that this is a major part of my identity. Seeing my daughter start to declare this too is both validating and happy-making (because I know that reading will make her happier and more successful over time).

HarryPotterGobletofFireThen there is the building of shared values. Reading together is wonderful for that, and is going to increase, I think, as we read more chapter books. As one small example, my daughter was outraged when Ron accused Harry of putting his own name into the Goblet of Fire. We had a brief and mutually satisfying discussion to the effect that yes, you should trust your friends and offer them support instead of resentment. We've also discussed bullying, conformity, and reaching out to new kids, as a result of picture books. I look forward to shared reading of further portrayals of loyalty, bravery, kindness, and persistence.  

13ReasonsAnd while I wouldn't say that I look forward to this, exactly, I think that as my daughter and I continue to read together, we will be able to use books as stepping stones to discuss difficult topics. Several of my friends who have slightly older daughters are already reading books about puberty with them. These same friends have proposed reading Wonder with our kids, and then seeing the movie together. I fully intend to read books like Speak and 13 Reasons Why with my daughter when she is older and ready to understand them. 

So yes, she can read on her own now. But I plan for us to keep reading together, also, for as long as possible. Reading together brings us closer, physically and emotionally. It's not something that any parent should give up lightly. 

© 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).

Some Thoughts + Recent Articles about Life without Accelerated Reader (AR)

My daughter is in second grade. At her school, this means dipping a toe into the world of Accelerated Reader (AR). I think she's supposed to get five points a month, but it's not required. The idea is apparently to get the kids used to the program. The AR tests haven't been a problem so far (because she hasn't actually taken any tests), but my fear is that AR will eventually drown her love of reading, if I do not fight back. 

WonderHere's one small example. My friend's daughter is in fourth grade at the same school. Recently my friend lamented that her daughter couldn't start the book that she wanted to read (Wonder by R.J. Palacio, a book that most parents and teachers would want a child to be reading), because she wouldn't be able to finish it in time to take the AR test by the end of the month. And she needed to get a certain number of AR points by the end of the month in order to achieve a particular grade in reading. This strikes me as so, so very wrong. When you have a kid who wants to read a particular book at home, the reading "incentive" program should not be what is stopping her.

Another mom talked to me a while back about how her son wanted to read the Harry Potter books, but wouldn't be allowed to take the AR tests because the books were above his so called reading level, and so read something else. This seems again wrong to me. If a child wants to stretch himself because he's fascinated by a particular book (and his parents don't have content issues regarding the book), he should be able to do so. The reading program should not be discouraging him. 

LunchLadyFieldTripOne of my personal concerns is that my daughter likes to re-read books. She reads a particular selection of graphic novels over and over again. Re-reading something that many avid readers do, each for our reasons. But AR is going to discourage this, isn't it? Because you can only take the AR test once. And will she be able to get "enough" AR points for graphic novels, or is the program going to push her to read books that she's not interested in? I know that not all books even have AR tests (particularly nonfiction titles), so that's an issue, too. 

Mind you, I do not intend to have my daughter competing for the leader board in the library, where the kids who have the most AR points are listed. I'm going to follow the example of another parent I know, who told me that she always encouraged her kids to get the minimum required number of AR points, and then read what they wanted. Her kids still read for pleasure in high school. But should we have to be working around the school's program to keep our children reading? This seems really counter-productive to me. The school is spending money on this program, money that could instead be spent on, say, books, and I'm afraid that it will keep my daughter from reading for pleasure? Crazy. 

I get that having a required number of a AR points is a way to force certain kids who wouldn't otherwise be reading to read. I get that the program isn't really aimed at my daughter, or at my friend's Wonder-reading daughter. But if the program is hurting the kids who already like to read, isn't that a problem? And what about the kids who are struggling, and for whom the AR tests are too difficult? Is the program really helping them?

Isn't there a better way? 

My sources say that yes, there is a better way. Here are a selection of articles that I have read and shared recently on the subject:

PassionateReadersPlease, + , read 's post On + All the Other Computer Programs

Pernille Ripp: "And before, someone tells me that for some kids programs like this works, I would like to know what we define as “works?”  Do we define “works” as rushing to read another book?  As sharing the incredible experience a book just provided them with others?  Do we define “works” as cannot wait to read another book, outside of class not because they have to but because they want to?  Do we define “works” as continuing to develop a positive reading identity that will carry them into adulthood?

Or do we define ‘”works” as kids doing it because they are rule followers and don’t want to cause a stir? Do we define “works” as a computer telling us how much a child remembered from the book they just read?  Do we define it as how many points they have gained this year as a supposed reflection on how they have grown as readers?  Or as now we know which book a child should read next because the computer told them so?

Because if that is what we mean be developing lifelong readers then I must have lost my mind."

Me: Pernille has a lot more to say about computer-based reading programs, and what schools should/could be doing instead to foster young readers. Please click through to read the full piece. Honestly, I wish that parents and teachers everywhere would read this, and believe it, and start conversations around change because of it. 

How can create Engagement in a non-AR School by , Connect, w/ authors

Angie's post begins with a reference to a YouTube rant by librarian Colby Sharp about AR. Colby is furious that he can't recommend a book that he thinks a high school student ought to read, because that book isn't on AR, and instead he has to waste his time finding a book that he can recommend to this kid that has the right number of AR points. Colby is not at all polite in his impressions of AR, shall we say. 

Angie Huesgen: "Colby is mad and rightfully so. This topic is not a new one. We know there is little research to confirm that AR increases reading achievement, or turns out readers beyond the books in the system, as Donalyn Miller wrote extensively about 7 years ago. We know the assessment that “places” these readers and provides a reading level range is flawed. Pernille Ripp digs into that assessment in this blog post which includes a response from Accelerated Reader’s parent company, Renaissance Learning.  

We know all this, and yet AR is still widely used as a reading achievement indicator and reading incentive. Colby’s message lit a fire in me and I went down the rabbit hole of reading the comments. The sheer number of those in defense of AR still baffles me but what I really took away from these comments was that human connection was never mentioned. I find it difficult to believe that a computerized program alone is the sole factor in a school’s increased reading engagement and achievement. I would strongly argue that a computer is not what gets kids excited about reading….people do."

Me: Angie's school is a non-AR school, the only one in her district, and she offers a list of ways that kids pick out books in a non-AR school. This list, too, I wish would be widely read by administrators, teachers, and parents. My favorite observation is this one: "You give them total choice in the library. To quote our beloved librarian and some teachers in our school, “This is a library. They can get what they want.”"  

Interesting post  on how his  stopped using  | I'll be interested in outcome

Matt Renwick: "Now that we had collective commitments along with a focus on literacy, I think our lens changed a bit. Maybe I can only speak for myself, but we started to take a more critical look at our current work. What was working and what wasn’t?

Around that time, I discovered a summary report from the What Works Clearinghouse, a part of the Institute of Educational Sciences within the Department of Education. This report described all of the different studies on Accelerated Reader. Using only the research that met their criteria for reliability and validity, they found mixed to low results for schools that used Accelerated Reader...

With a finite budget and an infinite number of teacher resources in which we could utilize in the classroom, I started investigating the use of different technologies currently in the building. I found for Accelerated Reader that a small minority of teachers were actually using the product. This usage was broken down by class. We discovered that we were paying around $20 a year per student.

Given our limited school budget, I asked teachers both on our leadership team and the teachers who used it if they felt this was worth the cost. No one thought it was. (To be clear, the teachers who were using Accelerated Reader are good teachers. Just because they had their students taking AR quizzes does not suggest they were ineffective; quite the opposite. I think it is worth pointing this out as I have seen some shaming of teachers who use AR as a way to persuade them to stop using the tool. It’s not effective.)"

Me: I'll be interested to see Matt's followup reports (and I'm sure that he will post them at some point) on how his school is doing without the AR program. I particularly appreciated that despite the observation that most of the teachers at his school weren't using AR, Matt took pains not to criticize the teachers who were. Teachers have an incredibly difficult job, and it's a fine line to criticize AR if there are teachers who find that it makes their at jobs easier (see next post).

RT @PernilleRipp: On Computer Programs and Our Most Vulnerable Readers as we start our first assessments, please don't forget this 

Pernille Ripp: "A program like Accelerated Reader 360 is easy.  It is quick.  It is less work for us, the teachers.  A child reads a book, takes a test, the score determines whether they understood it, what they need to practice, and what they should read next.  One computer program and so much work has been done for us.

So we hand the companies our money, sometimes instead of buying books.  We place our children in front of computers who decide which books they should read, which skills they should practice.  All we have to do is sit back and print out the results.  We have all the data we need right there.  It is so much easier to teach a child when we don’t have to take the time to get to know them...

We create readers when we give them time to read.  When we help them work through text that they have self-selected.  When we give them choice and the room to explore.  When we offer them many ways to succeed.

When a teacher is there to protect, to guide, to help, to adjust and to learn about the reader that is in front of them..."

We take our most vulnerable.  The kids who hate reading.  The kids who are not where they should be.  The kids whose gaps continue to grow and instead of putting them with a specialist, instead of putting them in an environment where books, and conversation, and interaction, and being on a journey together rule the day.  We push start and then walk away….

And then we wonder why they tell us they never want to read again." 

Me: This post from earlier this summer by Pernille is one that tells me that just as AR seems likely to harm the love of reading for already-eager readers like my daughter, it also has the potential to harm the struggling readers. This makes me wonder: how big is the slice in the middle? How many kids are there that CAN read and take AR tests without too much difficulty, choose not to, but are incentivized to do so by a program like AR? Pernille does address this at the very end of her post, that there are some kids who LOVE the AR program, and enjoy taking the tests. And that's fine. But if you ask me, then the tests should be optional. There shouldn't be some rigid point scale by grade. 

BookWhispererTeacher shares tips for others on Life After | , communities

Leigh Anne Eck: "I fear that many of our teachers would struggle if we discontinue AR because we have used it for so long, and they do not know anything different.  I am sure many teachers, not only those in my district, have this same fear.  I am proof that there is life after Accelerated Reader.

If you know teachers who use AR and are afraid they can't teach without it, then send them a link to this post.  Let this post be their life preserver; give them something to hang on to and let it buoy up their strength to make the decision that is best for readers.

You have to believe that a reading community can and will exist without AR. You not only have to believe it, but you have to live it.  Is it easy? No. One of the positives (if there truly is one) of AR is the ease in its implementation and the little work it places on teachers."

Me: Leigh Anne goes on to first offer teachers suggestions for finding support, starting with reading Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer. She then shares a five-step process for life after AR, beginning with living a literate life yourself, and showing students that you are a reader. The last step is to find value in all reading. I've personally come to conclude that creating readers at home boils down to these things (though of course other things help). Read WITH them and give them choice in what they read. Leigh Ann's list suggests that it's the same in the post-AR classroom.

These posts all suggest, with a considerable degree of passion, that there is life after Accelerated Reader programs, and that there are better ways to nurture a love of reading in kids than giving them fact-based tests on a narrow range of allowed reading. These posts give me hope for the young readers of the future, including my daughter. I think it's safe to say that this will not be my last post about AR.

As I've said many time: my only goal for my daughter's reading is that she LOVES it. I'm not generally a confrontational person, but I will fight against anything that gets in the way of that. 

© 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 post may contain affiliate links. 

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: October 27: #Halloween Reads, Standing Desks + #Reading Communities

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this relatively busy week include #BookLists, #curiosity, #cybils, #DiverseBooks, #GrowthMindset, #homework, #KidLitCon, #math, #PictureBookMonth, #reading, #STEM, blogging, censorship, classroom design, coding, Halloween, Jason Reynolds, parenting, raising readers, reluctant readers, schools, and teaching.

Book Lists

DayBreakBondMiddle Grade Standalones + Sequels from Favorite Authors | w/ reviews from

Here's a from that caught my eye: 3 Playful | + more

Favorites, old + new - A Roundup from

Just in time for : 25 Terrifying Horror Novels for Kids + Teens | from

CreepyUnderwear5 Recent Recommended | We need Creepy Carrots sequel

30 Days of for Kindergarten + First Grade , a

Elementary, My Dear Mighty Girl: 40 Books Starring Mighty Girl Detectives, from

Middle Grade Book Holiday Gift Guide: 2017 Edition from

Cybils Awards

Cybils-Logo-2017-Round-Sm Challenge: highlights some Nominations for / Early

Today's REVIEW: Easy Reader nominee King & Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code, rev. by Jennifer Wharton

Events + Programs

The 2017 (November) Calendar has been posted w/ hosts + themes for each day

First books have arrived at Ballou High School in DC thanks to the book fair

Today Is… Books with Barbers Day! over | See details about this great, expanding program

Growing Bookworms

ReadingInTheWildWhat's been working in Creating a Community of by Rachel Weidenhammer

Becoming A Reading Teacher – Benefits discovered by after focusing on

Young adult author is determined to get reluctant readers to read -

6 Ways to Encourage Toddlers to Read + Love It w/out Singing the ABCs | Laurel Elis Niedospial


What’s Going on Inside the Brain Of A Curious Child? |

Lots of news in today's Fusenews , news, Latino Book Awards,

Morning Notes: Bookit Edition — | Worth admission for the pumpkin photo by

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

ToKillAMockingbirdWhen making people uncomfortable is exactly the point | A defense of To Kill A Mockingbird from

bloggers: offers the Myers Briggs personality test, adapted for book blogs | prep


How Parents Can Help Their Child Thrive at School, w/ infographic | via

8 simple ways to develop + encourage speech in your toddler’s daily routine - via

Schools and Libraries

EthanMarcusA 7th Grade Teacher’s Shift to Flexible Seating | [Side note: Ethan from Ethan Marcus Stands Up would have LOVED this classroom. Second side note: this tweet went relatively viral for some reason and introduced me to many new tweeting teachers.]

Interesting post on how his stopped using | I'll be interested in outcome

Instead of just railing against pointless , offers 5 Ways to Make Homework Exciting

On 1st day of school, asks parents to tell her about their kids "In A Million Words Or Less…" | Love it!

What's on your Walls? 3 Charts that have Got to Go from Early Childhood Classrooms, says

FutureDriven10 Thoughts On Positive Attitude from to Share With Your Team


Infographic: How Game-based Learning Can Support Strong Mathematical Practices

10 Reasons Kids Should Learn to Code | via

share their definition of mathematical rigor + what it means in today’s

© 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.

Who Killed Darius Drake?: Rodman Philbrick

Book: Who Killed Darius Drake?
Author: Rodman Philbrick
Pages: 192
Age Range: 8-12

DariusDrakeWho Killed Darius Drake? by Rodman Philbrick is a rare realistic middle grade mystery that involves a potential murder. Narrator Arthur Bash (aka Bash Man) is a misunderstood bully who hires himself out for candy bars. When orphaned genius geek Darius Drake hires Arthur to help with a quest, the two become incongruous friends. With a bit of help from Arthur's wealthy, put-together stepsister, the boys end up involved with multiple ex-cons, searching for a long-missing diamond necklace. 

Arthur is a great character, with a much more sensitive soul than anyone seeing his large body and scowling face would imagine. Here are a couple of quotes to show you his personality:

"I knew about the home (for orphans)--everybody does, all the kids--but this is my first time inside it. No surprise, the place creeps me out a little. Not because it's spooky or scary, nothing like that. It's actually kind of cheerful, in a sad-but-trying way. But it made me think, what if it was me? What if both my parents died and nobody wanted me? Like that." (Chapter Three)

"The air smells of leather and old books. I must be some kind of weirdo, because to me that's a good smell." (Chapter Nine)

"Silence. If only I could melt into the flood, or turn invisible, or maybe go deaf. Because hearing them talk around each other is like getting poked with a sharp stick. It hurts in familiar places, even though I'm not an orphan like Darius, or a felon like Winston Brooks..." (Chapter Nineteen)

Darius is also interesting. He's bright and prickly and socially awkward, and determined to figure things out using inductive reasoning. His awkwardness around the attractive Deirdre is disarming. The way he gradually comes to appreciate Arthur for more than his bulk feels realistic. 

The plot of Who Killed Darius Drake? is suspenseful and fast-paced. There's an old-fashioned feel to the book, with the boys doing library research and scrolling through microfiche, despite the presence of modern trappings like a GoPro camera. This is either because the seeds of the mystery lie in the past or because of Philbrick's writing style. Some modern details aside, Who Killed Darius Drake? feels like a book that I would have gobbled down when I was ten years old. I do expect it to be a hit with today's kids, too. 

Any kid (or adult) who enjoys quest-type mysteries, with clues gradually revealed through research, will enjoy Who Killed Darius Drake? Although this is clearly a standalone novel, I personally would be more than happy to run across Arthur, Darius, and Deirdre again in the future. Recommended!

Publisher: The Blue Sky Press (@Scholastic
Publication Date: September 26, 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).

One #JoyOfLearning Link from @KatieMartinEdu about #Homework

JoyOFLearningLogoThis week I only have one article to share with you in detail (though various tweets will be rounded up on Friday). Fortunately, the one I have is a highly quotable piece on a topic to which I have plenty to contribute myself. Katie Martin wrote a substantial post about starting conversations in school communities around getting rid of (or at least improving) homework. I have a few highlights here, but highly recommend that you click through to read the whole article

Excellent piece by on ways we can have productive conversations about + why still assigned

Katie Martin: (After commenting on how few of the teachers did prework assigned prior to a workshop.) "Thankfully, none of us were forced to miss our break or publicly humiliated for not doing our homework. But, it makes me think that if dedicated and passionate educators aren’t doing homework, why in the world are we expecting kids to spend their precious free time out of school doing more work?...

The live #IMMOOC chats with both Jo Boaler and Alice Keeler really resonated with me and helped me move from venting about homework and it’s lack of purpose (especially for elementary school kids) to thinking about some constructive ways to talk about it. So, here are three ways that I think can help me (and hopefully you) have productive conversations about homework and talk about why we are still assigning it...

I think there are a lot of assumptions that we hold about homework and because it has always been part of school, we think it is what we are supposed to do.  Many believe that it’s the responsibility of the teacher to assign homework, and as parents, we are good parents if we set time aside to do the homework, some are so invested they even do it for the kids:). I am asking that teachers who are assigning homework really think about why you are assigning it. I want parents to think about why they push for it. "

My Response: I'm drawn to pretty much any article that questions the assignment of homework (especially for elementary school kids). What I especially liked about Katie Martin's post is that she goes beyond railing against homework and on to discussing three specific ways that parents and schools can start the conversation about reducing it. She talks about goal-setting (is the homework that is being assigned moving us toward our goals for our kids?), reorganizing classroom time (so that homework isn't needed), and making the time that kids and teachers spend meaningful. 

In my daughter's elementary school, the second grade teachers dropped spelling homework last year. This year, the year that my daughter is in second grade, spelling homework is back. Rumor has it that this is because parents complained, though I don't know this for sure. The spelling homework isn't particularly burdensome. There's a set of about a dozen activities, and each week kids have to perform two of them using that week's spelling list. They get to pick which two activities to do. Most of them only take a few minutes, and there is some creativity involved in some of them. The teachers have clearly put effort into making the spelling homework as flexible and painless as possible (within the context of having weekly homework and associated spelling tests at all). 

Despite the second grade teachers' best efforts, my daughter CAN'T STAND doing the spelling homework. She feels like her time is being wasted. She would rather be: reading, doing Minecraft on her tablet, working on Sudoku, doing a craft project, practicing karate, or doing pretty much anything else. She rails against the spelling homework every.single.time. It's hard for me to argue with her because I don't disagree with her (though to me it feels like a bit of a mountain/molehill situation). For what it's worth, checking this homework can't possibly be mentally stimulating for the teachers, either. 

If this homework is truly back because parents requested it, I'm sure that they have their reasons. Just as I have my reasons for thinking that this isn't a particularly good idea. But if I am to take Katie Martin's advice, I'll need to start having that conversation in my own school community. Tweeting or writing blog posts is much easier, but is unlikely to have any measurable effect. But perhaps by sharing Katie's thoughts, and my own, here, I'll inspire some of you to start these difficult conversations, too. Thanks for 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. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever! (Probably): Julie Falatko & Tim Miller

Book: Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever! (Probably)
Author: Julie Falatko
Illustrator: Tim Miller
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8

SnappsyAndFriendSnappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever! (Probably), written by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Tim Miller, is the sequel to Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book). This installment is narrated by a Bert, a chicken who has declared himself to be Snappsy's best friend. Snappsy, who clearly values his alone time, looks askance at Bert. The dialog and illustrations reveal the disconnect between what Bert wants to be true and what actually is true. Like this:

"(Narrator:) We met at a party. And now we do everything together. 

(Dialog bubble from Snappsy:) Actually I'm going into town. To run errands. By myself!"

When Bert plans a "Best Friends Sleepover", Snappsy says: "I prefer quiet evenings. Alone." 

Bert persists through a shopping expedition, party planning, and best friend t-shirts, despite Snappsy's attempts at polite deterrence. Eventually, he drives Snappsy to lash out and kick Bert out of the house: ("All the other guests went home WEEKS AGO. And you're still here.")

But when Snappsy gets his quiet alone time back, he discovers that life without Bert is a bit TOO quiet. 

Personally, I found the ending of this book unrealistic. I would have been THRILLED to get rid of Bert, and doubt that I would have missed him at all. But, you know, it's a children's book, and it is quite entertaining throughout. My daughter found the very end of the book confusing - I had to go in and explain it to her. I think that the disconnect between what Bert has to say as the narrator and what is actually happening requires a bit of a leap in understanding. I think that Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever! (Probably) is more suited to elementary than preschool readers, though the vocabulary is not particularly advanced. 

Tim Miller's brush and ink and "computer hocus-pocus" illustrations are in graphic novel format, with colorful panels and lots of text bubbles (with occasional narrator-generated text shown above the panels). This format would make the book work well as an early reader, though kids might need some explanation of the concept of the unreliable narrator. I love how grouchy and/or baffled Snappsy looks for most of the book, and the visual fun of the chaos wrought by Bert. 

Fans of the first book about Snappsy will certainly want to snap this one up (sorry!). It would make a good introduction to the concept of friends having different needs regarding alone time. As an introvert, I especially related to Snappsy, myself, but I think that many kids will love Bert. Recommended, and an especially good fit for elementary school classroom libraries. 

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (@PenguinKids) 
Publication Date: October 3, 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).

Literacy Milestone: Turning to Favorite Picture Books for Comfort

LiteracyMilestoneAThe other night my overtired seven-year-old had a bit of a meltdown. It was bedtime, and she was in the awkward position of being angry with me, but also needing me for comfort, because I was the only one home. She was stiff, and responding to me only with nods instead of words. So I asked her if she wanted me to read. Nod. I gestured to the stack of graphic novels next to her bed, and asked: "One of these? Or a picture book?" She lifted her chin towards the shelves of picture books. Then she finally spoke.

"I want Big Mean Mike." 

BigMeanMikeAlrighty then. After a bit of hunting, I found Big Mean Mike (by Michelle Knudsen), and also ran across Donut Chef (by Bob Staake) along the way. We snuggled down to read. It only took a couple of pages for her to start pointing out details of Big Mean Mike, which we have read many, many times. She was soon cooing over the cuteness of the bunnies, and commenting on the talent of illustrator Scott Magoon. She took over some of the reading late in the book, and was pretty much back to her usual self by the time we moved on to Donut Chef (which we know more or less by heart).  By the time we finished Donut Chef, she was ready to go to sleep. 

DonutChefI suppose this isn't really a milestone, because it isn't the first time that my daughter has turned to books for comfort. But it stood out to me that she knew that when she was sad, certain favorite picture books would do the trick. And of course she was correct. May she continue to find reading her old favorites with me a comfort for a long time to come. 

Thanks for 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

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: October 20: Motivating #Readers + #Writers, Getting Books in Their Hands

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookLists, #Cybils, #GraphicNovels, #GrowthMindset, #HispanicHeritageMonth, #ReadAloud, #ReadForTheRecord, book donation, Danziger Awards, raising readers, reading, reading levels, reading motivation, schools, and writing.

Book Lists + Awards

ClementineGreat Books About Amazing Girls, from + more

Wonderful for Children, a

book picks, a from via

Announcing the Danziger Awards for Hilarious Kids Books. starts a new book award + wants your nominations

Cybils Awards

2017 public nominations are now closed. We are accepting author + publisher nominations thru 10/25. Thanks!

Announcing the 2017 Awards Publisher/Author Submission Period: Now until 10/25 |

Events + Programs

QuackersOne day. One book. One record. Join to QUACKERS on 10.19.17. Visit []

Donate books! The Annual Guys Lit Wire for Ballou Sr High School Is On!

Growing Bookworms

Sharing a nurse's vision for raising her kids as readers, after not growing up as a reader herself

SuperReaderThoughts from  on nurturing readers, inspired by : Every a Super Reader

Middle schoolers tell Jennifer Schwanke what they miss most about elementary: teacher

Schools (+ parents) "cannot punish children into reading" | A reminder from

How to Motivate a Middle School Reader | | Choice, Interests, Sociability + more

“But they only read !” – defends visual texts but offers ideas for helping find balance

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

DePaseoSpotlight on Independent Publishers with Great Spanish Content for kids |

Schools and Libraries

Reading system developers: Should Guide Readers by Interest, Not

Great Sunday Reflections from | Growing in the classroom "without erasing any joy"

Developing Students’ Ability to Give and Take Effective Feedback |

© 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.

One Mixed-Up Night: Catherine Newman

Book: One Mixed-Up Night
Author: Catherine Newman
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

OneMixedUpNightAs a long-time fan of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I found the premise of Catherine Newman's One Mixed-Up Night irresistible. Two friends sneak off and spend a night creating their own adventures in an Ikea store. What I found when I read the book was that Newman absolutely captures the fun of being somewhere cool that one is not supposed to be, while also making the book about something more substantive (grief). 

Frankie (a girl) basically comes up with the scheme as a way to try to shake up her best friend, Walter, after Walter suffers a loss. As Frankie tells readers in the very first paragraph, these are not bad kids getting into trouble. Rather, these are "dorky geeks" who are more than a bit obsessed with Ikea, and are in need of a serious distraction. While the plot of One Mixed-Up Night requires some suspension of disbelief for the adult reader, I think that middle grade readers will have no trouble at all. What kid wouldn't want to spend the night in a huge store full of furniture and other cool things, able to jump on couches and have pillow rights and race shopping carts, with no adult supervision?  

Here's Frankie's description of Walter:

"He's hard to describe, Walter, because he's kind of bubbling over with energy, but then he's also so chill. And some people assume he's going to be good at sports because he's black--or his mom is, so technically he's mixed race--and he's um, not good at sports. One of our favorite things (it's still magneted to Walter's refrigerator) is this end-of-year report he got from our gym teacher when we were in first grade. We loved this teacher, who wrote on Walter's report: "Walter is one of the finest students I have had the pleasure of teaching. He's a model of sportsmanship, good nature, and serious effort. That said, his athletic abilities will continue to develop as he works on the following:"--we especially love that colon--"Running. Jumping. Throwing balls. Catching balls. Passing. Receiving. Strength. Coordination. Balance." (Page 21)

Meanwhile, Frankie is working on carving out a modicum of independence from her "pretty great", but very involved, parents. Like this:

"And now, in sixth grade? I was starting to realize that I didn't have to (tell her mother everything). That I could have this private part of my life inside my own head, and I could share it or not. And if I didn't, nobody would even know about it. It was kind of strange--like discovering that there was a hole in the floor underneath your bed, filled with jewels and gold coins, and you could just go ahead and not mention it to anybody." (Page 24)

What a great depiction of starting to grow up! One more, then you can go read this yourself:

"Do you know how you can just feel completely strange in the world sometimes? Like everyone's one way and you're another? Or like there's some translator chip that someone forgot to program you with, and other kids joke about stuff and you don't know what they're talking about? (Page 71)

Again, pitch-perfect, without being overly introspective. 

One Mixed-Up Night is a super-fun book about two kids who scheme to spend the night in an Ikea store. But it's much more than that, too. It's about growing up, being loyal to a friend, coping with grief, and taking responsibility. And yes, it's about the cool kitchen items that you can find in an Ikea store, and what you might pack for a sleepover. This is a book that definitely belongs in all libraries serving middle grade readers. Highly recommended, and one of my favorite new releases of the year. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Source of Book: Purchased it.

© 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).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: October 18: Reading Choice, Reading Audiobooks + Middle Grade Reviews

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 issue I have three middle grade book reviews and one post about my determination to give my daughter choice in reading. I also have a post about whether or not audiobooks "count" as reading for kids, and a post with extracts from and responses to two recent articles on reading choice. I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I finished three middle grade books and one adult title. I read/listened to: 

  • D.J. MacHale: Black Moon Rising (The Library, Book 2). Random House Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed October 7, 2017. My review
  • Michele Weber Hurwitz: Ethan Marcus Stands Up. Aladdin. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed October 8, 2017, on Kindle. This was a fun look at school science fairs, making a difference, and sibling rivalry. 
  • Rodman Philbrick: Who Killed Darius Drake?. Blue Sky Press. Middle Grade Mystery. Completed October 14, 2017. Review to come. 
  • R.R. Haywood: Extracted (Book 1, Extracted Trilogy). 47North. Adult Science Fiction. Completed October 10, 2017, on MP3. I found this science fiction/time travel story a little slow, but interesting enough for me to want to download the sequel. 

RobotSudokuI'm currently listening to Stalker on the Fens by Joy Ellis and reading The Strength Switch by Lea Waters.  My daughter and I are still reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together at breakfast. Harry and the other Champions have just finished the second trial. For her own reading, she remains dedicated to graphic novels, adding some occasional variety via the Rainbow Fairies books. She has also re-discovered Sudoku puzzles, after dabbling in them more than a year ago. She is quite entertained to see that she used to write some of her numbers backwards. You can find my daughter's 2017 reading list here

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. 

© 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

Black Moon Rising (The Library, Book 2): D. J. MacHale

Book: Black Moon Rising (The Library, Book 2)
Author: D. J. MacHale
Pages: 304
Age Range: 8-12

BlackMoonRisingBlack Moon Rising is the second book in D. J. MacHale's The Library series, following Curse of the Boggin. The events in Black Moon Rising begin just a week after middle schooler Marcus has become an agent of the magical Library and had his first adventure. The Library is a place out of space and time in which uncountable numbers of stories reside. The stories are written by ghosts who track mysterious events throughout the world. The agents enter into certain stories and try to help. In Black Moon Rising, Marcus is asked to travel through the Library to a Massachusetts middle school where strange mishaps have been occurring and escalating. Marcus and his two best friends, Theo and Lu, find themselves confronting witchcraft. 

The plot in Black Moon Rising is creepy and has high stakes, but moves along too quickly for the book to be overwhelmingly scary or dark. At one point Marcus is in grave peril and is accidentally rescued by troublemakers randomly lighting off fireworks. Overall, it's a nice balance for middle grade readers. MacHale touches on other middle grade / middle school issues, like bullying and parents pushing kids to sign up for more activities. None of the characterization is especially deep, but it's sufficient for one to pull for the various characters. There's a bit of diversity, though not a lot. Heres the relevant passage:

"My two best buddies don't always get along. If not for me, I doubt they'd even be friends. Annabella Lu is driven by emotion. She's a real "seat of the pants" kind of girl who always starts out in third gear. Theo McLean, on the other hand, is a thinker. An overthinking, actually. By the time he analyzes a problem and looks at every possible solution from multiple angles, it's usually the next day and nobody can remember what the problem was in the first place...

Lu is Asian American, Theo is African American, and I'm Caucasian Euro-mutt-American. Together we look like the cast of some racially diverse kids' TV show." (Page 11)

I like the way that MacHale basically acknowledges that this is surface diversity, but that at least he's trying. There are a couple of references later to how Theo feels as an African American (he opens up to connect with a shy girl in the Massachusetts school). And we hear a bit about the academic pressure that Lu's parents put on her. 

The writing style in Black Moon Rising is interesting. Most of the book is told from Marcus' first person perspective. This is interspersed with passages from the Library volume that the ghosts are writing about the story, as it occurs. This allows the author to directly share actions that occur when Marcus is busy somewhere else. Late in the book, this narration switching accelerates, and definitely helps keep readers turning the pages. The print book uses a distinctive font for the Library entries - I'm not sure how this is handled in the audio version. 

Here's one more passage, to give you a feel for Marcus' voice:

"I was in Massa-freaking-chusetts. I had stepped out of the Library and been transported to another state. Another state of mind too. It's tough enough figuring out where you belong in your own school. I was now in alien territory with no friends to rely on. I didn't belong there. At some point a teacher was bound to corner me." (Page 39)

And here's a passage from the Library book:

"Some thought the school was jinxed. Others felt it was nothing more than a run of incredibly bad luck. None could deny that a nefarious black cloud had drifted over the school, one that was producing impossible waves of serious misfortune." 

Yes, definitely distinct from Marcus' voice. 

I'll tell you something that I especially liked about Black Moon Rising. I'm a fast reader, and I read a fair number of books each year (~150). When I'm reading a series as it is published, I often find that I struggle when I start the second (and third, and so on) book, because I haven't retained enough of the plot, and I don't know what's going on. This did NOT happen with Black Moon Rising. I think this was due to a combination of factors: not too many core characters to keep track of; interesting premise around the Library and how it works; and sufficient backstory provided by the author at the start of Book 2. So, kudos to D.J. MacHale there. I will certainly keep an eye out for the next book in the series. 

In short, I think this is a must-purchase series for libraries serving middle grade and early middle school readers. Those who enjoyed the first book, Curse of the Boggin, will not be disappointed by Book 2. If anything, this is where MacHale really hits his stride, with the library setup already in place, and the chance to explore a whole new (yet ancient) supernatural phenomenon. Highly recommended, and one that I will keep for my daughter. 

Publisher:  Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: October 3, 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).