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Reading More and Connecting More in 2021

HappyNewYear2021JenHeadshotNew Year's Greetings to any of you who are still following my sorely neglected blog. December 17th marked the blog's 15th birthday. I had hopes of doing a post to celebrate that, but today will have to do. I am still here, and grateful for my years of blogging and reviewing books. Sadly, however, juggling work and family responsibilities in this pandemic year has caused blogging to fall off my plate. 

I popped in today to share two things: my "one word" for 2021 and my list of books read in 2020. 

Last year, my "one word" was LESS. I intended that to mean spending less time on things I wasn't enthusiastic about, and more time on things like reading. But, as with many people's plans in 2020, that is not how things turned out. I ended up with LESS reading and much less blogging time instead. 

I read 75 books in 2020 (see below), of which 41 were audiobooks. My normal pace, through 2018, was about 150 books a year. I slowed down some in 2019 (to 123) because I was reading a greater percentage of adult books. This year, though, I think the decline was more about 2020's challenges and my own inability to focus on reading. I also listened to quite a few podcasts, which cut down on my audiobook listening time. I hope to be able to read more in 2021, but there's no telling. I intend to accept that as it comes. 

2020 also ended up meaning LESS travel to see family, and LESS time with other people closer to home. A silver lining for me of the year was how very much I came to appreciate the people that we did see in person and the people that we connected with in other ways. One of my favorite reads of the year was Vivek Murthy's Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. I closed out the year with Kate Murphy's You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters.

I've gone back and forth between choosing CONNECT and LISTEN for 2021's one word. Ultimately, I chose CONNECT. If there's one thing I learned this year it's how critically important genuine human connection is to well being. I think LISTEN is more of a skill to help me strengthen my connection to people, though it's one I intend to actively work on. But my real goal is nurturing stronger connections with the people who matter to me. What that's going to mean in terms of my blogging, I can't say. 

My wish for all of you is more human connection in 2021 AND more time for reading and listening and taking care of yourselves. Happy New Year! And thank you for listening. 

Jen's 2020 Reading List

Middle Grade Books

  1. Janet Tashjian: My Life As A Gamer. Square Fish. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed January 9, 2020. Read aloud to my daughter from library copy.
  2. Janet Tashjian: My Life As A Ninja. Square Fish. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed January 22, 2020. Read aloud to my daughter from library copy.
  3. Janet Tashjian: My Life As A Youtuber. Square Fish. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed February 5, 2020. Read aloud to my daughter from library copy.
  4. Janet Tashjian: My Life As A Meme. Square Fish. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed February 28, 2020. Read aloud to my daughter from library copy.
  5. Kenneth Oppel: Bloom (The Overthrow, Book 1). Knopf Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. Completed March 8, 2020. 
  6. Julia Nobel: The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane Sourcebooks. Middle Grade Mystery. Completed March 21, 2020, on Kindle.
  7. Chris Grabenstein: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library. Random House. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed April 11, 2020. Read aloud to my daughter.
  8. Amy McCulloch: Jinxed. Sourcebooks. Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. Completed May 9, 2020, on Kindle.
  9. Janet Tashjian: My Life As A Coder. Square Fish. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed May 13, 2020. Read aloud to my daughter.
  10. Lawrence Yep: The Earth Dragon Awakes. Harper Collins Children's Books. Middle Grade Historical Fiction. Completed May 14, 2020. Read aloud to my daughter for school.
  11. Julia Nobel: The Secret of White Stone Gate. Sourcebooks. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed June 6, 2020, on Kindle.
  12. Elizabeth Enright: Gone-Away Lake. HMH Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed June 8 2020, personal copy.
  13. Elizabeth Enright: Return to Gone-Away. HMH Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed June 11, 2020, personal copy.
  14. Kazu Kibuishi: Amulet (Book 1). Scholastic. Middle Grade Graphic Novel. Completed August 26, 2020, my daughter's personal copy.
  15. Kazu Kibuishi: Amulet (Book 2). Scholastic. Middle Grade Graphic Novel. Completed August 30, 2020, my daughter's personal copy.
  16. James Ponti: City Spies. Aladdin. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed September 18, 2020, my daughter's personal copy.
  17. James Ponti: Framed. Aladdin. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed September 26, 2020, on Kindle.
  18. James Ponti: Vanished (Book 2). Aladdin. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed September 27, 2020, on Kindle.
  19. James Ponti: Trapped (Book 3). Aladdin. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed October 6, 2020, on Kindle.
  20. Jennifer Chambliss Bertman: Book Scavenger. Square Fish. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed October 16, 2020, on Kindle.

Young Adult Books

  1. Elizabeth Eulberg: Past Perfect Life. Bloomsbury YA. Young Adult Fiction. Completed January 7, 2020, personal copy.
  2. David Yoon: Frankly in Love. G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers. Young Adult Fiction. Completed January 16, 2020, on MP3.
  3. Adriana Mather: Killing November. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Young Adult Mystery/Thriller. Completed February 7, 2020, on Kindle.
  4. Maureen Johnson: The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, Book 3). Katherine Tegen Books. Young Adult Mystery. Completed February 20, 2020, on Kindle.
  5. Jennifer Lynn Barnes: Deadly Little Scandals (Debutantes, Book 2). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Young Adult Mystery. Completed February 25, 2020, on Kindle.
  6. Karen McManus: One of Us Is Next (sequel to One Of Us Is Lying). Delacorte Press. Young Adult Mystery. Completed March 5, 2020, on Kindle.
  7. Rebecca Hanover: The Similars. Sourcebooks. Young Adult Speculative Fiction. Completed August 14, 2020.
  8. Rebecca Hanover: The Pretenders (Similars 2). Sourcebooks. Young Adult Speculative Fiction. Completed September 5, 2020.
  9. Jennifer Lynn Barnes: The Inheritance Games. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Young Adult Fiction. Completed September 10, 2020, on Kindle.
  10. Adriana Mather: Hunting November. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Young Adult Fiction. Completed September 27, 2020, on Kindle.
  11. John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle: Let It Snow. Young Adult Fiction. Speak. Completed December 20, 2020, on MP3.
  12. Karen McManus: The Cousins. Delacorte Press. Young Adult Mystery. Completed December 21, 2020, on Kindle.

Adult Books

  1. Eve Rodsky: Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live). G.P. Putnam's Sons. Adult Nonfiction. Completed January 3, 2020, on Kindle.
  2. Janet Evanovich: Twisted Twenty-Six. G. P. Putnam's Sons. Adult Mystery. Completed January 3, 2020, on MP3.
  3. BJ Fogg: Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Adult Nonfiction. Completed January 22, 2020, on Kindle.
  4. Tom DeMarco + Tim Lister: Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams. Addison-Wesley. Adult Nonfiction. Completed January 25, 2020, personal copy.
  5. Michael McGarrity: Tularosa (Kevin Kerney, No. 1). W. W. Norton & Company. Adult Mystery. Completed February 8, 2020, on MP3. The fact that this series uses the same narrator as the Walt Longmire books bothered me at first, but I soon got past that.
  6. David L. Bahnsen: Elizabeth Warren: How Her Presidency Would Destroy the Middle Class and the American Dream. Post Hill Press. Adult Nonfiction. Completed February 13, 2020, on Kindle.
  7. Taylor Stevens: Liar's Paradox (Jack and Jill, Book 1). Pinnacle. Adult Thriller. Completed February 15, 2020, on Kindle.
  8. Michael McGarrity: Tularosa (Kevin Kerney, No. 2). W. W. Norton & Company. Adult Mystery. Completed March 1, 2020, on MP3.
  9. Michael McGarrity: Serpent's Gate (Kevin Kerney, No. 3). W. W. Norton & Company. Adult Mystery. Completed March 9, 2020, on MP3.
  10. Gytha Lodge: Watching from the Dark Random House. Adult Mystery. Completed March 14, 2020, on Kindle.
  11. P.J. Tracy: The Guilty Dead. Penguin Random House. Adult Mystery. Completed April 11, 2020, on Kindle.
  12. Suzanne Redfearn: In an Instant. Lake Union Publishing. Adult Fiction. Completed April 12, 2020, on Kindle and MP3.
  13. Julia Spencer-Fleming: Hid from Our Eyes (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne). Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed April 19, 2020, on Kindle.s
  14. P.J. Tracy: Ice Cold Heart. Crooked Lane Books. Adult Mystery. Completed May 2, 2020, on Kindle.
  15. Michael McGarrity: Hermit's Peak (Kevin Kerney, No. 4). W. W. Norton & Company. Adult Mystery. Completed May 4, 2020, on MP3.
  16. Iona Whishaw: A Killer in King's Cove. Touchwood Editions. Adult Mystery. Completed May 16, 2020, on Kindle.
  17. Graham Norton: A Keeper. Atria Books. Adult Mystery. Completed May 18, 2020, on MP3.
  18. Michael McGarrity: The Judas Judge (Kevin Kerney, No. 5). W. W. Norton & Company. Adult Mystery. Completed May 4, 2020, on Kindle.
  19. Harlan Coben: The Boy from the Woods. Grand Central Publishing. Adult Mystery. Completed May 25, 2020, on MP3.
  20. Mark Greaney: The Gray Man (Court Gentry, Book 1). Berkley. Adult Thriller. Completed June 17, 2020, on MP3.
  21. Madeline Levine: Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World. Harper. Adult Nonfiction. Completed June 4, 2020, on Kindle.
  22. Victoria Thompson: Murder on Pleasant Avenue (Gaslight Mysteries, No. 23). Penguin Group. Adult Mystery. Completed June 7, 2020, on MP3.
  23. D.E. Stevenson: Listening Valley. Sourcebooks. Adult Fiction. Completed June 20, 2020, personal copy.
  24. Iona Whishaw: Death in a Darkening Mist. Touchwood Editions. Adult Mystery. Completed July 3, 2020, on Kindle.
  25. Joy Ellis: Hidden on the Fens (Nikki Galena, No. 11). Joffe Books. Adult Mystery. Completed July 7, 2020, on MP3.
  26. Iona Whishaw: An Old, Cold Grave (Lane Winslow, No. 3). Touchwood Editions. Adult Mystery. Completed July 12, 2020, on Kindle.
  27. Iona Whishaw: It Begins in Betrayal (Lane Winslow, No. 4). Touchwood Editions. Adult Mystery. Completed July 21, 2020, on Kindle.
  28. Paul Doiron: One Last Lie (Mike Bowditch, No. 11). Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed July 21, 2020, on MP3.
  29. Iona Whishaw: A Sorrowful Sanctuary (Lane Winslow, No. 5). Touchwood Editions. Adult Mystery. Completed July 26, 2020, on Kindle.
  30. Iona Whishaw: A Deceptive Devotion (Lane Winslow, No. 6). Touchwood Editions. Adult Mystery. Completed August 2, 2020, on Kindle.
  31. Elly Griffiths: The Lantern Men. Recorded Books. Adult Mystery. Completed August 3, 2020, on MP3.s
  32. Michael McGarrity: The Big Gamble (Kevin Kerney, No. 7). W. W. Norton & Company. Adult Mystery. Completed August 24, 2020, on MP3.
  33. Jen Fulweiler: Your Blue Flame. ZOndervan. Adult Nonfiction. Completed August 28, 2020, on Kindle.
  34. Vivek Murthy: Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. Harper Wave. Adult Nonfiction. Completed September 5, 2020, on Kindle. 
  35. Keith McCafferty: The Royal Wulff Murders (Sean Stranahan, Book 1). Adult Mystery. Completed September 8, 2020, on MP3.s
  36. Louise Penny: All the Devils Are Here (Gamache, No. 16). Adult Mystery. Minotaur Books. Completed September 27, 2020, on MP3.
  37. Margaret Mizushima: Hanging Falls (Timber Creek K-9, Book 6). Adult Mystery. Completed October 7, 2020, on MP3.
  38. Tana French: The Searcher. Adult Mystery. Viking. Completed November 2, 2020, on MP3.
  39. D.E. Stevenson: Spring Magic. Adult Fiction. Dean Street Press. Completed November 8, 2020, on Kindle.
  40. Janet Evanovich: Fortune and Glory (Stephanie Plum, No. 27). Adult Fiction. Atria Books. Completed November 14, 2020, on MP3.
  41. Keith McCafferty: The Gray Ghost Murders (Sean Stranahan, No. 2). Adult Mystery. Penguin Books. Completed December 1, 2020, on MP3.
  42. Michael C. Grumley: The Last Monument. Adult Speculative Fiction. Audible. Completed December 31, 2020, on MP3.
  43. Kate Murphy: You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters. Adult Nonfiction. Celadon Books. Completed December 31, 2020, on Kindle.

© 2021 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage. Links to be books may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission.

My One Word for 2020: LESS

A number of bloggers that I follow choose "One Word" to strive for each year. It's a simpler version of setting resolutions, I suppose. You pick a word that speaks to where you are at the moment, and where you would like to head in the coming year. 

As to where I am at the moment, my workload for the job for which I am actually paid has increased. Juggling that together with family responsibilities, especially during the holiday season, has been challenging. The phrase that has been most often on my lips (or at least in my head) for the past couple of months is: "I don't have time." As in:

  • "I'd like to wash my hair today, but I don't have time to blow-dry it."
  • "I wanted to personally wrap gifts and mail them to my family members, but I didn't have time, and had to have things shipped directly."
  • "I should write a blog post about this incident, but I don't have time."
  • "I want to read that book, but I don't have time." 
  • Etc.

My reading is down. My blog is sorely neglected. I find it nearly impossible to relax, because I'm always thinking about this or that "productive" thing that I should be doing. And I am tired of feeling like this. 

I've read a number of books in the past year about focusing, making time, changing habits, and being indistractable. Assimilating the advice of these various smart authors and thinking about how I feel right now, one word definitely comes to mind. The word is LESS. 

  • Less trying to sneak in checking work emails when I'm with my daughter.
  • Less running around after said daughter, trying to keep my house tidy.
  • Less forcing my introverted self to socialize more than I can handle.
  • And lots more.

I am unsubscribing from a number of blogs and email lists that I have been reading, in the interest of streamlining. When I think about doing something extra around the house that doesn't really need to be done (or at least doesn't need to be done solely by me, right now) I think "Less!" and try not to do it. I'm going to try to do the same thing with work. I don't know if any of this will help, but I'm trying... 

As for my blog, I'm ready to make a change that I've been thinking about for quite some time. I'm going to stop accepting review copies. I've been reviewing so few books for the past year that this won't be a visible change for my blog readers. But I've continued to receive some books, and it's past time for  me to notify the so generous publishers that they should stop spending resources on me. I'll probably still write the occasional review, but if I want a book enough to review it, I can buy it or check it out from the library. I'll still talk about books that my daughter and I are reading, and we will surely read from the stack of books that we already have for many years to come. 

If I'm successful in applying LESS to my work and personal responsibilities, then I will continue to share my own reading, my daughter's literacy milestones and bookworm moments, and articles about nurturing the joy of reading in children. 

My hope is that if I strive for LESS of the things that aren't strictly necessary and/or are wearing me down, I will have more time for things like reading and sleeping and spending quality time with my husband and daughter. That's the goal, anyway. I wish all of you success  in the coming year and decade in figuring out how to allocate your precious time. Thanks for reading!

© 2020 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage. Links to be books may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission.

Pressure from my Daughter for Screen-Free Family Time

My daughter  has been on an anti-cell phone kick for a while now. She is deeply resentful when she feels that my husband and I are texting or otherwise on devices when (she feels) we should be focusing on her. Her views have actually helped drive me in the direction of cutting back (see my post on improving my focus), because a) she's not wrong and b) I don't want to set a screen-obsessed example for her.

A couple of weeks ago she suggested/requested that my husband and I have a contest to see who could go longer without being on a screen. The loser would pay the winner $9 and pay her a $1 finders fee for organizing the contest. We agreed and on a Sunday at noon we put our cell phones into a drawer. Rather to my surprise, we both made it until her bedtime. I made it until my own bedtime and won the contest when my husband returned a few texts late in the evening. I wouldn't have made it past the early morning, though, because I like to read the newspaper on my iPad.

Going without my phone all afternoon was interesting. I didn't really mind not texting. But I did find things that I couldn't do. Adding groceries to my Wunderlist shopping list. Checking scores in the NCAA tournament. Listening to my audiobook while I folded the laundry. It was kind of refreshing, to tell you the truth, though I wouldn't / couldn't do it every day.

ScreenFreeWeekLogoI do recommend screen-free time as something that families should try out, though. It's a great way to make sure that you are focusing on one another, instead of giving diluted semi-focus to a bunch of other people or things. I later mentioned Screen Free Week to my daughter. Naturally, she wants us to try to participate. I told her I didn't think I could do it during the work day (though sitting around all week reading books while she's in school sounds heavenly right about now) but that I'd be open to trying it when she's at home. I'll have to report back on what we do there. I think it will most likely be a screen-minimum week that has exceptions for things like:

  • Family movie night
  • Texting with her friends' parents about playdates
  • Taking photos with my iPhone

GlowKidsBut if you ask me, screen minimum sounds pretty good, too. The more I read about kids and screens (and reading about topics that I'm interested in is what I do), the more I want to keep my daughter off of them as much as possible (and myself, too). More on that another time, but I refer you to Be the Parent, Please: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat by Naomi Schaefer Riley and Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids - and How to Break the Trance by Nicholas Kardaras. 

For right now I am cherishing the fact that my daughter has (somewhat anyway) absorbed the idea that HER time is better spent reading, writing, drawing, and playing than sitting around tapping away on a tablet. I love the fact that she feels the need to encourage this sentiment in her parents. Oh, she still watched more movies on her tablet than I would have liked during a recent long car ride to the Sierras. And she still sometimes gets sucked down the rabbit hole things like of making memojis on my cell phone. Just as I occasionally find myself scrolling down the Facebook wall. But we're trying. This Saturday afternoon, even without a contest, we spent some time in matching recliners each reading our respective (print) books, without a device in sight. And I was content. 

Thanks for reading!

© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage. Links to be books may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission.

Things I'm Doing to Improve My Focus

Focus3_1I thought I'd do a quick update on how I'm progressing on my word of the year: FOCUS. It's going well. I have been making various changes inspired by several of my recent reads. [Links are at the end of the post.] Most importantly, I try to work for an hour or so in the mornings with no email or other notifications. I go to a different room from the one I usually work in, to provide a visual separation that says: "This is focus time." I really love the focus / deep work time, and hope to be able to expand the amount of time I can commit to it.

Even when I'm not doing that deep work time, I'm trying to work and live in a less distracted mode. Here are some of the things I'm doing for that:

  • DeepWorkI turned off text notifications on my watch and my laptop. Instead of getting actively alerted, I just check for texts when I'm already changing tasks. This does mean that I'm a bit less responsive to family and friends, but it also means that my attention is disrupted much less often. I especially appreciate this when I'm with my daughter. It's a slight headache when I'm actually expecting a text, because I have to keep checking, but I still find it worthwhile overall (and of course I could re-activate notifications in that case if there was something critical).  My phone does still vibrate for phone calls, which is how I would be notified if there was some problem with my daughter.
  • MakeTimeI removed social media from my phone (including Facebook messenger), so that I'm not tempted to use random moments of downtime to scroll down the various rabbit holes. I still have Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn on my iPad. I check them briefly in the morning after I read the paper. And I do check in on them on my computer sometimes during the day (and share things), but I try to always close the tabs in between checks, and only check when I'm between other tasks. I don't have any active notifications for social media (except for notifications of LinkedIn messages that go to my work email account).
  • I removed news apps from my phone and "breaking news" notifications from my watch. I read two newspapers every morning and usually check the WSJ app for updates while I eat lunch. I don't need other notifications in between.
  • I unsubscribed from a number of blog feeds, email newsletters, and podcasts. I'm trying to spend more time reading and listening to books.
  • I turned off email updating on my phone and erased the associated passwords. I left the app installed in case I get in to a situation where I really need to log in, but having to enter the password(s) is a real deterrent.
  • HyperfocusI started reading with a notepad and pen next to me, instead of my having my phone within reach. If I get distracted by something, or want to add a book to my reading list or something, I can write it down, instead of pulling out the phone. This makes me less likely to be distracted by some incoming text, etc.
  • On my computers (I have separate ones for work and blog/personal use) I shut my email programs down when not in use. I've had notifications for new email messages turned off for a long time.

These suggestions were compiled from the books below. I would recommend any or all of them. 

All in all, I'm pleased with how this journey towards being more focused is going so far. I feel less distracted, and like I have more of a sense of purpose about the work that I'm doing. These are both good things! 

© 2019 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage. Links to be books may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission.

An Attitude of Gratitude

ThanksgivingThanksAs Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself a bit more introspective than usual. 

I recently read a human interest piece in my local newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, which has stayed with me. The article was about a local woman named Evelyn Buck who, at 104 years old, still cooks, knits, and organizes an annual bazaar at her housing facility. What struck me most in the article was this bit, on how she stays active and lively:

“I also have a mantra,” Buck said. “You’ve got to live with an attitude of gratitude. You have to be thankful for what you have and quit bellyaching about the stuff you don’t have.”

I read that and I thought to myself: "You know, if an attitude of gratitude worked for this woman who is 104, perhaps I should try it." So over the past few weeks, I'm been reminding myself, probably every day, to have an attitude of gratitude. I'm not doing anything formal. I'm not blogging every day or keeping a list of things that I'm grateful for or anything like that. But when something good happens, I try to notice it, and actively think: "I'm grateful for that." When something annoying happens, I try to stop and think: "OK, but what can I be grateful for here?".

Anyone who knows me will know that I am quite unlikely to turn into a Pollyanna, but I do think that this effort is having a positive impact on my outlook. I'm also hoping to quietly influence my six-year-old daughter in this regard. She's an only child living in comfort, and I would like her to appreciate, on at least some level, how very fortunate she is. It only makes sense that if she sees me being more grateful for things, this may rub off. Please wish me luck!

As a small example, this morning we read a picture book called Thanksgiving Day Thanks, by Laura Malone Elliott and Lynn Munsinger. In this story, a classroom is preparing for a Thanksgiving celebration. A bear named Sam struggles with expressing what he is grateful for, and with how he can help the class to celebrate. As we read, I shared with my daughter the things that I'm thankful for about Thanksgiving, and she shared her own thoughts with me. And then we moved on, but I was happy to have taken a few moments out of a busy morning to have the discussion. 

I wish for all of you a joyful Thanksgiving and upcoming Christmas/holiday season. I am grateful for my family and my friends and for the communities that I share in both online and offline. Happy Thanksgiving! 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

10 Years Blogging at Jen Robinson's Book Page

JRBPlogo-medI'm finding it difficult to believe that today is the 10 year anniversary of the day I started my blog. It does feel like an accomplishment. I've published ~3170 posts, of which ~1165 are book reviews. I've participated in and helped to organize the Cybils, KidLitCon, and the Children's Book Review Wiki. I've met (online and in person) many wonderful people, some of whom have become treasured real-world friends. And I've read a lot of great books. 

And yet ... as I reach my 10 year anniversary, I find myself at a bit of a crossroads with my blog. I've whittled away a 2-3 month backlog of scheduled reviews, and find myself ... disinterested in writing more. I'm not even reading children's and young adult books (except for the ones I read with my daughter), because I don't want to read things that I'll feel obligated to review. I'm still sharing my daughter's literacy milestones, and I'm still sharing literacy and book-related links on Twitter, and rounding them up here on a weekly basis. But those two things seem to be all I have in me at the moment, blog-wise.

Perhaps this is just because I'm feeling tapped out, between work (unrelated to the blog) and personal responsibilities. Or perhaps it's the way that children's book blogging has changed over the years (fewer comments, etc.). Or maybe it's just the time of year. I'm not sure.

What I do know is that posts, especially reviews will be a bit scarce on my blog in the coming weeks, as I try to dig my way out of this blogging funk. I thank you all for your patience, and wish you the health and happiness this holiday season. Many, many thanks to those of you who have been following this blog over the years. 

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


Children's and YA Books I Have Shared with My Husband

In my review of The Living by Matt de la Peña, I mentioned this:

"as soon as I closed the book I said to my husband "You have GOT to read this" (something I reserve for only a select few titles each year)."

My husband doesn't read nearly as many books as I do, so I reserve the cream of the crop (and the more exciting/action-packed titles) for him.

My longtime blogging friend Susan Stephenson from The Book Chook said that she would be interested to know what other books I had passed on. She suggested that this might make a good blog post. So I discussed this with said spouse. We couldn't remember every book that I had recommended, but we did come up with a list of the titles that I had passed on that he particularly enjoyed. Here they are:

The Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling. This is admittedly an obvious one, but I distinctly recall telling him after reading the very first book that I thought he was going to like them. We ordered the second book from the UK, because it was published there earlier. And I recall my husband getting one of the later books out of the library, even though I had bought a copy, because he didn't want to wait for me to finish.

The Underland Chronicles (Gregor the Overlander) by Suzanne Collins. This middle grade series didn't get nearly the attention that Collins' YA series received later, but my husband devoured them. I had read them as library copies, but then I bought a full paperback set for him for Christmas one year. Here are links to my reviews of Books 1 and 2, Book 4, and Book 5

The first Diary of a Wimpy Kid book by Jeff Kinney. I handed this one to my husband at some point, and he enjoyed it, but never read the others. Recently, after we watched the first movie with our daughter, he decided that he would like to go back and read the other books in this series. Luckily there are quite a few now. I've reviewed Book 3, Book 6, and Book 7

The Hunger Games series, also by Suzanne Collins. Again, this recommendation seems obvious now after all the hype, but this may have been the first time my husband read an ARC, because I gave him the first book as soon as I had finished it and said something like: "Yes!" Incidentally credit goes to Liz Burns, who was the one who told me that I needed to get hold of that ARC at a conference one year. Here are my reviews of Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor. I wasn't actually sure about this recommendation, because the books in this series have a bit more romance than my husband is normally looking for. But we had met Laini at KidLitCon, and he decided to give it a try. He enjoyed these books, and thinks that Laini is a fabulous writer. 

The Living by Matt de la Peña, as mentioned above. I read this book in pretty much a single sitting, deaf to everything going on around me, which made it an easy recommendation. We are both looking forward to the sequel. 

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey. I read this one on Kindle, which I later regretted, because I wasn't able to pass along my copy (I'm the only e-reader in our household right now). I waited for it come out in paperback, but finally gave up and bought him the hardcover for this past Christmas. He is reading it now. Here are my reviews of Book 1 and Book 2

I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones that stood out for the two of us. I know it looks like I've just shared the really popular titles with him. But in fact, it's more true that I only share books with him that truly stand out for me (and that I think he will enjoy). This has proven to be highly correlated with books that end up doing well. So, the next time I hand my spouse the first book of a new series I will let you know, and you'll know that it is likely to be successful. 

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. 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).

Reflections on 8 Years of Blogging

JRBPlogo-smallToday marks the 8 year anniversary of the day that I started my blog. Here's what I said in my very first post:

"Hi! I'm Jen Robinson. Here are three things that you should know about me.

  1. I love stories, especially in book form, and most especially mysteries, thrillers, and children's books. To that end, I would like to offer support to the people who produce stories (writers and publishes), and offer ideas to the people who love stories.
  2. I strongly believe that all children should be given the opportunity to learn to love books and reading for pleasure. I'll be on the lookout for suggestions for parents to help raise children who read, inspirational success stories, and literacy news and resources.
  3. I think that many adults could benefit from reading children's books, too. I think that if more adults read children's books they would a) find them enjoyable, b) help to support the children's book industry (thus bolstering item 1 above), and c) offer tremendous validation to children (thus supporting item 2 above).

I'm saddened by the declining rate of reading for pleasure in the our adult population in the U.S. I'm even more saddened when I hear of children growing up illiterate, or literate, but too busy to take time to read. I've started this blog as a tiny step to do something about that. Thanks for reading! More to follow..."

And more has followed. This is post #2697 at Jen Robinson's Book Page. Typepad says that I have >800,000 page views and >10,000 comments (including my own responses to other people's comments). I now have my own snazzy logo, designed by the talented Sarah Stevenson.

Cybils2013SmallI'm involved with the Cybils, Kidlitosphere Central, KidLitCon, and the Children's Book Review Wiki. I've participated in dozens of Carnivals of Children's Literature. Pretty good, for someone who's not much of a joiner. I've participated in these things because in the Kidlitosphere, I've found my people, and I love interacting with them. The community of children's and young adult book bloggers has become something of an extended family for me, and this makes me very happy. 

I'm still reviewing children's and young adult books, and sharing literacy news and tips. In many ways, my blog hasn't changed much over the years. I think the two biggest changes are:

  1. LiteracyMilestoneANow that I have a child, my literacy tips and musings, as well as some of my reviews, include a more personal component. I've been sharing my daughter's literacy milestone, for example, and the books that she loves (even when I don't love them myself). This may make the blog a bit less "professional" (if it ever was), but I think it adds something, too. 
  2. When I run across blog posts or news articles about literacy, I no longer post about them directly on my blog. These days I share those things out on Twitter (and, to a lesser extent, Facebook) right away. Then I round up the links once a week in a single blog post, without any commentary. I'm not sure whether this is a good change. I don't discuss these stories as much as I would like these days. On the other hand, I'm able to share more of them, and with a broader audience. So there are pros and cons. But really, it doesn't matter whether it's good or not, because this is what I can manage right now. And if there's one thing I've learned in 8 years of blogging, it's that you have to do what you can, and not let the things that you can't do stress you out. 

As I said in my first post, I am a person who loves books, and who believes strongly that kids should have the chance to love them, too. But I'm also a person who chose to go into engineering and start a software firm (from which I make my living). Even though I chose a different career path, this blog allows me to do something constructive with my love for books and literacy. For that, I am very grateful. And I expect that I'll be here blogging for a long time. Whether you've been with me for the whole 8 years, or are just popping in today for the first time, or anywhere in between, thanks so much for reading. 

© 2013 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. 

Baby Bookworm is 2 Months Old Today

Amazing as it seems, our daughter is two months old today, and closing in on 8 pounds. She's still two weeks away from her original due date (June 18), but would have been considered full term if she was born today. She's doing really well with eating, and we're hoping that she'll start to sleep for more than an hour or so at a time one of these days. We still have to keep her a bit isolated from people (especially children), because her immune system isn't very well developed, but she doesn't seem to mind.

She's definitely showing her own personality already. She is very stubborn, and knows what she wants. But we think that being stubborn has helped her to do as well as she's doing, so we have no complaints [check back with us in about two years on that subject ;-)]

She's still not very interested in looking at pictures, so I'm continuing to read chapter books to her. We read Pippi Longstocking this week. I hadn't actually read that one myself in a long time, and was interested to see how it would hold up. It was a much easier read-aloud than The Secret Garden (our previous book), and without the same richness of language. Still, I found it a good mix of description and dialog for read-aloud, and found many passages laugh-out-loud funny.

Pippi remains one of my favorite literary characters - one of the ultimate "cool girls of children's literature". She is strong and independent. She can not only take care of herself, but she can amuse herself. Although thoughtless in some ways, she's incredibly kind in others (hiding gifts for Tommy and Annika to find, for example). She is a lot of fun.

The book is a product of its time and place. There are some references that are a bit dated (Annika always wears dresses, the neighborhood mothers complain about their maidservants, a four and five year old child are left alone in a house that catches fire, and there's no implied criticism, etc.). I was a bit floored by the last chapter, in which Pippi gives Tommy and Annika guns to take home as gifts. If Baby Bookworm was older, I'd certainly have to do some explaining while reading this book. But that's one of the benefits of reading books aloud, isn't it? I'm glad to have spent some time with Pippi this week.

I have Ballet Shoes queued up next (I was going to do The Penderwicks, but realized that I had listened to that one on audio, and have to procure a printed copy).

I send out my best wishes to those participating in this year's 48 Hour Book Challenge at MotherReader. Perhaps next year I'll be able to participate again. Happy reading, all!

A Baby Bookworm at Home

I just realized that I forgot to put the word out on my blog that our Baby Bookworm came home from the hospital last week, after five weeks in the NICU. She still has about a month until her original due date, but she's gaining weight like a champ, and doing really well.

I'm still reading her The Secret Garden. She also likes those black and white board books by Tana Hoban (White on Black, etc.). Alas, I forget who recommended those. Her library continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and I'm looking forward to reading more and more books to her over time.

Still not sure when I'll be back to blogging. Right now a higher priority is finding a way to get more than 2 hours of sleep a day. But I do miss you all, and hope to be dipping a toe back into the Kidlitosphere soon.

Thanks again to everyone who has sent our Baby Bookworm good thoughts. I really do believe that they've helped. And all of the positive thoughts (and books) from my Kidlitosphere friends has been a reminder, not that I needed one, that a virtual community can absolutely be a real community. And a very special one to boot.

More soon...

Baby Bookworm Update

Just a quick update to let you all know that Baby Bookworm is doing well. She's one month old today. She's still in the hospital, but the doctors think that she'll be ready to come home very soon. We just need her to eat a bit more reliably on her own, and gain a little more weight. She's up to a pound above her birth weight now, so she's well on her way.

Many thanks to everyone who took time to send good wishes (here, on Facebook, on Twitter, etc.), and to the many friends who have sent our daughter books. She's going to have a wonderful library, made that much more special by having been a community effort.

I actually started reading her first chapter book to her this week: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. She seems to find it calming. I know that I do. I'll provide more updates on our reading experiences, as time permits.

Thanks again for the good wishes! And it seems an appropriate time for me to wish all of the mothers out there an early Happy Mothers Day.

Baby News and Blog Hiatus

It was only a month ago that I announced that Mheir and I were growing our own little bookworm. My news today is that our daughter was born last Monday, April 5th. She's doing well, but she arrived about 10 weeks early, so she'll be in the hospital for at least the next few weeks.

I'm spending as much time at the hospital with her as I can, and am thus taking a bit of a leave of absence from the blog. I won't be posting or accepting any offers of books for review. Terry will be continuing the Children's Literacy Roundups as she can, but I won't be contributing right now. I'm putting all of my energy into my little girl.

For those who might be interested, the first book that we read to her was One Night at the Zoo by Judith Kerr (reviewed here - last week's reviews were previously written and set up as delayed posts). We're starting to order books from the wish list that I set up last month, and appreciate the suggestions that many of you made. We can't wait to get our little one home from the hospital, and to read to her in a more cozy environment.

I will be sending out one issue of my Growing Bookworms email newsletter this week, so that subscribers know what I'm up to. My apologies to the many people who just signed up for the newsletter (subscribers flooded in after a recommendation from Donalyn Miller). I'm sorry about the timing - but I hope that you'll stick with me, as I'll be back to posting, and sending the newsletter, as soon as I can. Thanks for your patience!