Previous month:
September 2017
Next month:
November 2017

Posts from October 2017

#JoyOfLearning Links from @PernilleRipp + @NCTE on #Reading Choice + Pleasure Reading

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I share two posts that I read last week that talk about giving kids choice in their reading. I also wrote about reading choice last week myself, and was glad to see that the NCTE website and Pernille Ripp were on the same page with me. 

PassionateReadersTHIS everyone who shares books w/ kids should read. on why we should give kids true choice

Pernille Ripp: "If we constantly limit choice in reading because we need kids to always be reading a just right book as determined by us, how will kids ever learn to self-select a book? ...

I will tell you, if we do not offer choice until they have reached their grade level reading level, then we will have lost so many readers before then.

So we offer choice and we offer our support.  We help them figure out how to book shop and we use tools, such as reading data as PART of the support.  But we don’t tell them that they can only choose from a certain bin, or shelf, or letter level.  We don’t tell them that this is the only section for them."

Me: The first thing I want to say here is that if you care about kids and reading, you really really should be reading Pernille's blog. She hits it out of the park every single day. If you are a teacher, I highly recommend that you invest in Pernille's latest book, Passionate Readers [I haven't read it, but I have been reading her blog posts on similar themes for a couple of years now]. 

This post was, I think, a response to people challenging one aspect of a broader post that Pernille had recently published: A Call for Common Sense Instruction | time to read, choice, access to books + a community . Also well worth your time. Pernille defends the right of kids to choose what they want to read, no matter where they are in the literacy process, both because they need to learn to choose for themselves and because if you don't let them choose, reading won't be fun for them.

I have tried over the past seven years to give my daughter as much choice as I possibly can, whether she is reading on her own or I am reading to her. I wish that I could count on all of her future teachers to feel the same way. [I do think that her current teacher feels this way, which makes me happy.] There is some concept of levels that she's supposed to choose from in her school library, and I try to give that as little validation as possible from home. Today I checked out some books for her at the public library. A few might be judged too easy for her "reading level" and a few too advanced. But my criteria was that they were books that I thought she would enjoy (mostly graphic novels). And if she doesn't like them - she is more than welcome to cast them aside. We'll find others. 

ReadingUnboundYes! Promoting the Pleasures of : Why It Matters to Kids and to Country - via

Jeffrey Wilhelm: "In our book (shown to right), we argue that pleasure reading is a civil rights issue. Why? Because fine-grained longitudinal studies (e.g., the British Cohort study: Sullivan & Brown, 2013; and John Guthrie’s analysis of PISA data, 2004, among many others) demonstrate that pleasure reading in youth is the most explanatory factor in both cognitive progress and social mobility over time.

Pleasure reading is more powerful than parents’ educational attainment or socioeconomic status. This means that pleasure reading is THE way to address social inequalities in terms of actualizing our students’ full potential and overcoming barriers to satisfying and successful lives...

Our data clearly establish that students gravitate to the kinds of books they need to navigate their current life challenges, and that many ancillary benefits accrue in the realms of cognition, psychology, emotional development, and socialness. So much so that we developed the mantra: Kids read what they need!

This finding led us to be more trusting of kids’ choices and to ask them about why they chose to read what they did, and eventually to championing these choices. We likewise found that each of the marginalized genres we studied (romance, horror, vampire, fantasy, and dystopia) provided specific benefits and helped students navigate different individual developmental challenges."

Me: This post is also related to material from a book, in this case Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want and Why We Should Let Them by Jeffrey Wilhelm, Michael Smith, and Sharon Fransen [which I also haven't read, but I quite liked the research that Wilhelm described in this NCTE article]. There's a lot more to this article, and I do recommend that you click through to read it in full. The author talks extensively about how and why to focus on pleasure in reading. I, of course, especially liked the part about the importance of giving kids choice. 

I've never directly thought about pleasure reading as a civil rights issue, but I am certain that my own years of pleasure reading helped me to be one of the first people in my extended family to graduate from college. I have always felt that all kids deserve the chance to learn to love books. I understand that people are different, and that not everyone will become as book-obsessed as I am, but I feel that they should all have the opportunity. I was pleased to see the NCTE featuring this work. 

© 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 13: Improving #Math + #Literacy Instruction, #28DaysLater + #JudyBlume

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookLists, #Cybils, #DiverseBooks, #GrowingBookworms, #JudyBlume, #nonfiction, #reading, #STEM, Ada Lovelace Day, independent reading, literacy, math, and schools.

Book Lists

SophieMouseBest for Kids featuring Animals, a

Ghost, Witches, and Monsters, Oh My! 35 Books for |

Picture Book Challenge Celebrates Books for Ada Lovelace Day! from

Cybils Awards

HalfwayNormalBooks that Could be Nominated for the Awards in Middle Grade | from

We need nominated for Elem/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category of the !

Nominations for the awards close Saturday, Oct. 15. Don't miss your chance to celebrate great +

Events + Programs

The is accepting submissions for , a celebration of creators

Growing Bookworms

PassionateReadersA Call for Common Sense Instruction | time to read, choice, access to books + a community

Driving Our Children to Life Long Reading via Independent by

This is so important: Planning for the Long Game, helping kids to become long-term readers, not dependent on teacher


This is interesting: How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds | We lose focus just having them nearby

Various tidbits in Fusenews | , , + more

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Forever, a Pre-Teen Fiction Trailblazer, Opens Up Her Archive - selling it to Yale

Thing 1 and Thing 2: sums up (w/ links) A Pair of Controversies

Parenting + Play

10 Tips for Creating a Fertile Environment for Kids’ Creativity + Growth

RT @MBrussoni: Why parents need to let kids play on their own

Schools and Libraries

Why Don’t Schools Focus on ? – a few thoughts on this from


MathematicalMindsetsHow to Improve Class | to emphasize + exploration, not performance

Activities for Kindergarten Using Buttons - Button Themed

© 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.

Let's Not Be Hypocrites When It Comes to Reading Choice for Kids

Hardcore24The other night my friend texted me about how much she was looking forward to getting the kids to bed so that she could read "my trashy, stupid, not educational, seriously below my reading level Stephanie Plum book". She added "I haven’t read one in awhile and love the humor break in my life. I love reading funny, silly, entertaining books that let me escape for just a little bit." As a matter of fact, I share my friend's occasional enjoyment of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books (I listen to the audio versions). My friend went on to muse "why on earth would I ask my child to read for any reason that is not fun? Why would I care about AR points and levels?"

And here we are, as is often the case, on exactly the same page. 

I understand that there are reasons for teachers to ask kids to read certain things, things which may or may not be fun.  I can even understand that there may be instances where a child is struggling with reading, and some corrective practice is necessary at home. I understand that I am fortunate not to be in that situation. But for the situation that I am in as a parent, I agree with my friend. My only goal in terms of my daughter's reading is to nurture her enjoyment. I truly believe that as long as she enjoys reading, she will keep doing it, and that her skills (and range) will eventually improve. More importantly, I believe that if she enjoys reading, she will be set up for a lifetime of joy from books. 

Pushing my daughter to move on to chapter books, instead of re-reading the same graphic novels that she's read 10 times each? I think that this would be hypocrisy. And this is one hypocrisy (unlike a few others I have named) that I intend to stay far, far away from. 

Me, I read mostly middle grade fiction, mysteries, and science fiction. Sure, I throw in the occasional nonfiction title that catches my eye. And I do read two newspapers every day, as well as various news magazines over the course of the month. But when it comes time to read in bed or outside on a sunny Sunday afternoon? Naturally enough, I gravitate to reading something that I know I will enjoy. 

CaptainUnderpantsI do not care if my daughter decides to read nothing at home but Captain Underpants books for the next six months. I do not care if the level that allows her to check out books in the school library is green, though her classmate's is red. I do not care if her name is never on the leaderboard for AR points for her school. 

What I care about is:

  • Hearing her laugh out loud from the back seat of the car as she reads The Babysitters Club.
  • Having her say to my husband: "Is it ok if I read on my own for a bit first, before we read together tonight?"
  • Seeing her curled up on the couch reading Junie B. Jones while I make dinner (and having her be genuinely puzzled to learn that some parents don't approve of the books.) 
  • Hearing her squeal with joy when a new book that she's been waiting for arrives at the house, and having her throw her arms tight around me in thanks. 
  • Having her recommend the books that she likes to her friends. 
  • Listening to her demand that I read Harry Potter for three more minutes, even though we have finished the chapter, because we usually read until 7:30 in the morning and it is only 7:27.
  • And so on... 

I think it's easy as a parent to get caught up in the competition. To feel inadequate if our child is not reading quite at grade level, or gets the minimum number of AR points, or reads slim books while the kid sitting next to her is reading a fat novel. Even I succumb sometimes. When my daughter told me, not lamenting, about her school BFF being at a higher reading level, I started to tell her that if she were to read more challenging books, she would likely advance to that level herself. Then I stopped and said: "But all I care about is that you are reading and that you enjoy it." That's all I care about for myself, isn't it? I strive to find time to read because I like to read. And I read what I like. My job, at least at home, is to defend my daughter's right to do the same. 

There are many reasons why my Stephanie Plum-reading friend is my friend. Her excellent example of not being a hypocrite when it comes to reading choice for her kids is an important one. I am thankful for the reminder. 

© 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

Edge of Extinction #2: Code Name Flood: Laura Martin

Book: Edge of Extinction #2: Code Name Flood
Author: Laura Martin
Pages: 352
Age Range: 8-12

EdgeOfExtinctionFloodCode Name Flood is the second book in Laura Martin's Edge of Extinction series, following The Ark Plan. Both books are sent in a post-apocalyptic world in which the reintroduction of dinosaurs (a la Jurassic Park) led to a pandemic that wiped out most of humanity. Small groups of survivors live in a set of four underground compounds, led by a power-hungry leader referred to as The Noah.

In The Ark Plan, tweens Sky and Shawn escape from North Compound, determined to follow a map left to Sky by her long-lost father. They meet up with Todd, who is part of a community of tree dwellers, as well as Ivan, Sky's dinosaur-hunter grandfather. Code Name Flood picks up as Sky, Shawn, and Todd reach the shores of Lake Michigan with the map, and the knowledge that they need to somehow get to the middle of the lake. A series of adventures follows as the kids, joined by trainee scientist Chaz, set out to do no less than save the (admittedly imperfect) world. 

These books are such fun. (Ms. Yingling likes them, too.)  A post-apocalyptic world with underground compounds, tree villages, AND dinosaurs, kids taking the lead in their own adventures, and a smattering of science (genetic engineering, habitats, technology). What more could anyone want? Sky's grandfather is a great character who helps them a bit, but is conveniently out of commission when any real adventures take place. The friendship dynamics between the kids are plausible without overwhelming the plot, and there is no romance whatsoever. And did I mention that there are dinosaurs? 

One difference between Book 1 and Book 2 is that in Code Name Flood, some of the characters are sympathetic to the dinosaurs. They accept that dinosaurs have taken over, and instead of just trying to kill them, they work to ensure a stable biome. Other characters have huge philosophical differences on this point, which adds a layer of complexity to the story (again without bogging down the plot). 

Best of all, Code Name Flood appears to wrap up Sky's story. I find the idea of a two-book series refreshing, in this day and age of seven book series with spin-offs, etc. Which is not to say that I wouldn't welcome reading more about Laura Martin's dinosaur-filled world. But the Edge of Extinction story reached a satisfactory conclusion after only two books. 

The Edge of Extinction books should be a great fit for any adventure-loving middle grade readers, particularly those who enjoy reading about dystopias or dinosaurs. Fans of the first book will not be disappointed by Code Name Flood, a worthy successor and conclusion to Sky's story. Highly recommended, and one I will be saving for my daughter to read when she is a little bit older. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Source of Book: Purchased copy

© 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).

Do Audiobooks "Count" As Reading?

PippiAudioRecently, in response to a post that I wrote about my daughter's 20 minutes a day of required reading, a mom of a four-year-old boy commented. She said that she and her son listen to audiobooks together constantly. She wondered if, when he is in school, those sessions would count towards time spent reading. I thought about this for a bit, and decided that the short answer is: "It depends." Here's the longer answer.

I would think that listening to audiobooks would count in the same way that books a parent reads aloud to a child would count. For instance, when my daughter was in kindergarten her teacher asked for a list of books that we had read aloud to her each month. I believe that I would have added in any audiobooks that she listened to for that list. And of course I think that listening to audiobooks is a wonderful way for parents and children to spend time together, especially in the car. 

Once kids are reading on their own, however, I think the question of whether audiobooks count would be up to the teacher. On the one hand, I believe that listening IS reading - I certainly consider that I've read a book when I've listened to it. Listening prevents me from skimming, in fact, and I generally retain audiobooks better than I do print books. Listening to audiobooks is great practice for holding stories in your head and for visualizing. Listening to audiobooks is particularly helpful for literacy when a parent and child listen together. If the child has a question about a vocabulary word or the meaning of some plot element, it's simple enough to pause the audio and discuss. So, all in all, yay for listening to audiobooks, especially together.

On the other hand, when kids are just learning to read, they do need practice sitting down with a printed book and decoding the words themselves. So, at that point it's important for kids to spend some time reading print books, in addition to listening to audiobooks. 

Of course any required reading assignments are going to depend on the individual teacher. I think that when the time comes, this parent could talk to her son's teacher to see what the teacher's goals are and what the best way might be for this mother to support those goals at home. My feeling is that any mother who listens "constantly" to audiobooks with her four-year-old is already doing a great job with literacy development, and probably doesn't have too much to worry about. 

What happened in my own household was that my daughter and I dabbled in listening to audiobooks in the car for a while. But then, as her reading skills advanced, she became impatient and wanted to just read books on her own in the car. This was probably influenced in part by her love affair with graphic novels, which don't lend themselves as well to the audiobook format. So the audiobooks have fallen by the wayside for us, for now. I imagine that we'll pick them up again at some point.

As long as kids are reading, it's all good. That's what I say. The details of format will certainly sort themselves out. 

© 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 6: #Math Books, #Cybils Suggestions + Joy of #Reading

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BannedBooksWeek, #BookList, the #Cybils Awards, #DiverseBooks, #GrowingBookworms, #HomeSchooling, #KidLitCon, #math, #STEM, literacy, numeracy, parenting, play, raising readers, reading, and teaching.

Book Lists

HundredBillionTrillionStarsBooks that showcase "crazy awesome enormous numbers!" from

about Poverty / Economic Insecurity, Homelessness + Hunger, a from

Scary books for beginning readers: Challenge (ages 6-8), from

Cybils Awards

Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Books in Search of a Nomination –

Some elementary/middle grade books that haven't been nominated for the #Cybils yet, a #BookList from @charlotteslib

Cybils-Logo-2017-Round-Lg nominations are rolling in. Don't miss your chance to highlight well-written, kid-friendly titles:

Nominations Are Open! A brief intro + plenty of enthusiasm from long-time organizer @aquafortis |

Nominate for the Awards! links to the nomination lists by category so far

A host of 2017 Nomination Suggestions from Jennifer Wharton | +more

Some Nomination Suggestions for from


Diversity Resources Explode: What Are Some Current Options? —

Growing Bookworms

When Adults Don't Read Kids Lose InfoGraphic (3)When Adults Don't Read, Kids Lose! Excellent Infographic + Resources by +

Thoughts on "Avoiding the Biggest Mistakes We Make When Teaching " from | Remember

A proposal to update D.E.A.R. in the classroom to be Drop Everything and Reflect from

How to Help Children Select Books, advice + infographics from


Have you seen the epic program for this year's (11/3-4 in Hershey PA). Register + book your rooms now:

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Why your kid should read banned books. Still relevant even after via

How does reading books influence children? asks David Thorpe | Dift kids influenced by dft things

Parenting + Play

Fun Family Dinner Activities That Go Beyond Asking "How Was Your Day?" - , games, art from

Life Skills Kids Gain by Playing Pretend Town -

It’s Time We Started Telling Little Boys about the Things That Really Matter.

Schools and Libraries

ReadingChamps"Modeling love and joy of ... oh that’s what it’s all about"

Here's a 21st Century Skill--and How to Teach It! - on students' use of internet sources

Reasons plus pros and cons on switching from Public to for 3/4 of her kids from

The Power of Un-Leveled Books, Heather Zeissler | How an unleveled classroom library helped a family

Behavior Charts = Poor Adult Behavior says |

CatchingReadersParents + : "Choosing a book by the level is not an authentic way of choosing books in the real world"

For : Making the Most out of Conferences w/ Families | Celebrate each child as a person FIRST


8 Teaching Habits that Block Productive Struggle in Students from

© 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 Perfect Score: Rob Buyea

Book: The Perfect Score
Author: Rob Buyea
Pages: 368
Age Range: 9-12

PerfectScoreThe Perfect Score is the latest middle grade novel by Rob Buyea (who also wrote Because of Mr. Terupt and Mr. Terupt Falls Again). Like Buyea's previous books, The Perfect Score is a multi-narrator story that highlights the impact that a caring teacher (in this case two caring teachers) can have on kids at the cusp of middle school. As the cover image and title suggest, The Perfect Score also takes on the standardized testing craze.  

The five narrators of The Perfect Score each have one or more personal issues.  Randi, a talented gymnast, is coping with relentless pressure from her overbearing single mother. Trevor, an incipient bully, is bullied by his older brother and his friends, and wants to stay away from home as much as possible. Gavin, who adores football, is unable to participate in any activities because he spends all of his time babysitting his younger sister. His struggling parents work most of the time. Gavin also has literacy issues.  Natalie, daughter of two lawyers, is a teacher's pet, ostracized by the other kids. And Scott is bright but odd (apparently on some sort of behavior spectrum), wrapped up in a quest to care for his lonely, declining grandfather. When the five kids (most of whom are not friends with one another), end up taught by returning retiree Mrs. Woods, trouble arises before their situations improve. 

Meanwhile, standardized testing (the CSA exams), looms over everything. Read-aloud time, classroom parties, and recess are taken away, as is working on anything interesting. Everything at the school is given over to exam preparation. The stakes of the exams are gradually ratcheted up, too (football eligibility, etc.). The beleaguered kids eventually take drastic action (the fact that something serious happens is telegraphed from early in the story). This, I truly hope, was over-the-top relative to what's happening in actual middle schools. 

I enjoyed reading The Perfect Score. I liked the kids (most of them), and I flagged lots of passages. I particularly enjoyed multiple scenes that focus on the mesmerizing quality of Mrs. Woods' classroom read-alouds. Like this:

"It's safe to say I didn't like reading all that much, which was why I was struggling to understand how my favorite thing about sixth grade so far was the way Woods read to us. Maybe she wasn't a champion football player, but she deserved a trophy for reading aloud. She had a way of making the words come to life so I could see the whole story in my head. I'd never had anyone read to e like that, and I couldn't believe how much I'd started looking forward to it." (Gavin, page 54)


"Not only was Mrs. Woods the best at reading with expression and different voices, but she knew that the way to enjoy a story was not to open the book once a week or to make kids do a gazillion reader-response questions or activities, but just to read it." (Scott, Page 82)

The Perfect Score ticks off a lot of boxes (ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, care of the elderly, bullying, testing, parental pressure, learning disabilities, family dysfunction, etc.). All of which, I must admit, felt a little bit contrived at times. I think that the book's humor will win kids over, despite the relatively overt messages. Scott is particularly delightful, with his baked good obsession and penchant for big, crazy ideas. One's heart breaks for the way the other kids exclude him and laugh at him, and the way he doesn't even seem to really realize it, but he inspires joy, too.

I'm quite sure that teachers and librarians will enjoy The Perfect Score. The anti-standardized-testing, pro-joy-of-learning message certainly resonated with me, and would make this an interesting classroom read-aloud for middle grade to middle school kids.  The ending is satisfying, and wraps up things that need to be wrapped up. And yet, I would be happy to read more about these characters (certainly the teachers) in the future. Recommended, and a must-read for fans of the Mr. Terupt books. 

Publisher: Delacorte Press (@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).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: October 4: Reading in Bed, Reading Hypocrisies, and Endless Graphic Novels

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 four book reviews (picture book through young adult) and one post about my own hypocrisies as a parent when it comes to books. I also have a post with my daughter's latest literacy milestone, reading to fall asleep at night. I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter

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

  • Kate Milford: Ghosts of Greenglass House. Clarion Books. Middle Grade Fantasy. Completed September 23, 2017. This I enjoyed, but not as much as I liked the first book in the series. Fans of From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will certainly want to give it a look. 
  • Catherine Newman: One Mixed-Up Night. Random House Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed September 24, 2017. This book is very fun, and I hope to find time to review it soon. 
  • Kristen Cashore: Jane, Unlimited. Kathy Dawson Books. YA Fantasy. Completed October 3, 2017, on Kindle. I liked about the first half of this book, but then it got a bit too weird for me. 
  • Craig Johnson: The Western Star (Walt Longmire, Book 13). Viking. Adult Mystery. Completed September 22, 2017, on MP3. Always a pleasure to spend time with Walt, though I wasn't thrilled that this book ended with one storyline as a woman-in-peril cliffhanger. 
  • James R. Benn: Billy Boyle. Soho Crime. Adult Historical Mystery. Completed September 23, 2017, on Kindle. This is the first book in a historical series about a Boston cop who ends up investigating mysteries in WWII London. I will likely read others in the series. 

BabysittersClub5I'm currently listening to Extracted by R.R. Haywood, and deciding what to read next.  My daughter and I are still reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together at breakfast. For her own reading, she continues to read and re-read the same graphic novels over and over again (Real Friends, Lunch Lady, Squish, the Hilo books, the Babysitters Club graphics books, and anything else we can find by Jenni Holm or Raina Telgemeier). She was a bit disappointed in the fifth Babysitters Club graphic novel because there was a different illustrator (not Raina, with whom she considers herself on a first-name basis). But I think she still enjoyed it. We had to buy the first four of the Babysitters Club Graphic Novels as a birthday present for her close friend, even though we already had a present, because my daughter was so sure that her friend would appreciate them. How can I argue with logic like that? 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

The Hanging Girl: Eileen Cook

Book: The Hanging Girl
Author: Eileen Cook
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

TheHangingGirlI was interested in reading The Hanging Tree because I found Eileen Cook's prior novel, With Malice, suspenseful and compelling. Like With Malice, The Hanging Tree is full of twists and turns, and features a not necessarily likable protagonist. The Hanging Tree is told, mostly, from the first person perspective of high school senior Skye Thorn. Skye, who does fake tarot card readings to earn extra cash, is in serious need of money with which to move to New York after high school. Desperate, she gets involved in a kidnapping scheme. But, of course, things become more complex than Skye expects. 

I can't say that I really liked Skye, though I had a certain sympathy for her. Her less than responsible mother, who also claims psychic powers, gave birth to Skye when she was only 15. They struggle financially, and Skye has no expectations post high school. Skye envies her best friend, Drew, who has a more conventional life, and is headed to college. Skye's background to me almost felt like a YA trope (less the fake psychic part). But Skye is also a manipulator who uses her understanding of people to fake the tarot card readings, and plays her school counselor like a violin. She's been lying to Drew about money for New York, and soon she is lying to the police about the kidnapping of popular girl Paige. The fact that she is also lied to by her conspirator, Pluto, seems only fair, really. But here's a snippet of Skye's voice:

"Drew took a careful sip of the coffee we'd stopped to get on the way. Not that she was drinking real coffee: it was some kind of dessert in a cup. If you don't like coffee, fine, but don't pretend to like it by making it into a sugar smoothie." (Page 140)

Sections of the book are also told from the perspective of Paige, who writes diary entries from an isolated cabin. I did find these moving. Like this:

"I always thought I was brave, but now I realize it was only because there was never anything I really needed to be scared of." (Page 58)


"I've never been so aware of how many hours, minutes, and seconds fill every day. I've taken to doing everything slowly. Staying focused keeps me from losing control, from letting the panic take over. I keep my fear locked up, but I can feel it straining to get out. Its thin fingers scratching at the door, breaking it down, like something from a zombie movie. You know it's going to get out, and when it does, it'll eat you alive." (Page 109)

I don't want to say more, for fear of spoiling the book. This is one of those stories about which the less the reader knows, the better. Suffice it to say that I read most of this book in a single sitting on a Sunday afternoon, unable to put it down despite the distractions of my child's visiting friends. Anyone who enjoys twisty suspense in a high school setting will want to give The Hanging Tree a look. Recommended!

Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
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).

In Which I Admit to Some Hypocrisy Re: My Daughter's Reading

Something I generally try to avoid is hypocrisy: claiming beliefs to which one's actual behavior does not comply. However, I have recently noticed a few instances of hypocrisy in my behavior regarding my daughter's reading. 

  1. Once my daughter was in first grade, and I was the one driving her around to her various after-school activities, I banned her from using her tablet in the car for any drives of less than 30 minutes. What I told her (and this was true) was that driving around while she sat in the back absorbed by her device made me feel like an unpaid chauffeur. I told her that I didn't like it, and was going to keep it from happening. Hence the 30 minute rule. Fast forward to second grade. My minivan looks like a lending library, with books all over the back section. Pretty much the minute my daughter gets in the car, she is absorbed into one of these books, not talking to me or responding to anything that I say. (See previous post: I'm in my book now.") And although I once again do feel a bit like a chauffeur, I feel happy that she is reading, instead of feeling irritated. Fortunately she has not noticed this inconsistency on my part (that it is ok for her to be immersed in a book, but not ok for her to be immersed in a device).  
  2. BabysittersClub1OldThe other day my daughter asked for a new set of Legos (not a kit, just more pieces for free construction). I told her that she would have to either save up her allowance or add that to her Christmas list. Even though I do support her use of Legos in general, I am trying to teach her the value of money and that she can't have everything she wants. But when it's a book that she asks for, well, let's just say that I am a MUCH softer touch. I did still draw the line when she asked for the entire series of both old Babysitters' Club and Rainbow Magic. But the new Babysitter's Club Graphic Novel? The personal copies of the two additional books by Raina Telgemeier that she HAD to have? Well, don't be surprised if you see those on her reading list.
  3. Then there's bedtime. As the person who is responsible for getting her up every morning, I am also the person who badgers her to go to bed at a reasonable hour every night. I take a hard line right up until she is in bed, with teeth brushed and jammies on. But then, when she begs to read for a few minutes, because it will help her to fall asleep...? Well, I guess I can struggle with getting her out of bed for one more day. 

Of course all of these behaviors do comply with my core belief that kids should grow up with the chance to love reading. I suppose this is true whenever you see anyone engaging in hypocrisy. They claim some secondary beliefs, and probably stick by them some of the time. But when those secondary beliefs run up against a primary internal conviction (whether it is acknowledged or not), actual behavior deflects to support the higher (sometimes unstated) goal. And so, I will own and accept these particular hypocrisies regarding my daughter's reading. Because the real goal is for her to enjoy reading. We'll work the rest of it out as best we can. 

© 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