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Jen Robinson's Book Page - 5 new articles



The Scourge: Jennifer Nielsen

Book: The Scourge
Author: Jennifer Nielsen
Pages: 368
Age Range: 9-12

TheScourgeThe Scourge is an upcoming middle grade novel by Jennifer Nielsen, author of The Ascendance Trilogy (reviews here, here, and here) and the Mark of the Thief series (book 1 review here). Although Nielsen does a fair bit of world-building in The Scourge, she wraps up the story quite thoroughly, and this seems to be a standalone novel (which I find refreshing). To me, The Scourge seemed aimed at a slightly younger audience than the previous books, more elementary than middle school. The Scourge is a fast-paced, suspenseful read with an engaging main character, and is sure to be well-received by kids.

The Scourge is set in a country, Keldan, that is suffering from a dangerous pandemic called the Scourge. People found to be ill from or carriers of the Scourge are sent to an island called the Colony, housed in a former prison. No one ever returns. The Scourge is always fatal. Things start to change, however, when young Ani Mells is sent to the Colony. Ani and her best friend Weevil belong to the River People, an ostracized segment of the population also know as "grubs". Grubs have few rights compared to the townspeople (called "pinchworms"), but they do know how to fight, and take care of themselves. What follows is an exploration of friendship, government oppression, and manipulation, set against a variety of dangers and cruelties.

Ani is a delightful character, stubborn and belligerent, and pretty much incapable of following the rules. She blossoms into a leader over the course of the book, even as her antagonists attempt to break her. Her friendship with Weevil is strong enough to withstand various tests, too. [Slight spoiler: A turn from friendship to love interest later in the book didn't seem necessary to me, but is certainly G rated enough to keep the book elementary schooler-friendly.] And, in another refreshing change for any children's fantasy novel, Ani actually has two loving and living parents (though she's separated from them starting early in the book, of course).

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for Ani's voice:

"The River People knew every plant and its uses. Pinchworms thought we were less educated than them because we didn't have their expensive medicines or tests like the governor would probably try to administer on us. I figured we were just differently educated. They knew the world that came out of books, but we knew the world that went into them. I'd have loved to see a hungry pinchworm challenge a water cobra for its fish. Mostly because no River Person I knew would ever try such a foolish thing. In river country, we all learned early to respect things that could swallow us whole." (Chapter Three, ARC)

"Sometimes I hated the way my brain worked, like a magnet to thoughts I should not have and actions I should not take. My mother said I was born backward and that probably explained how I'd gotten this way. Maybe she was right--I didn't know." (Chapter Twenty-Five, ARC)

Fans of Nielsen's other fantasy books are going to love The Scourge. For those who haven't read her work, The Scourge is a great introduction, particularly given that it's a standalone novel. The Scourge is one that libraries serving elementary and middle school kids should have on their "must purchase" list. Highly recommended, for kids and adults.  

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).



Snoop Troop: It Came from Beneath the Playground: Kirk Scroggs

Book: Snoop Troop: It Came from Beneath the Playground
Author: Kirk Scroggs
Pages: 176
Age Range: 7-10

SnoopTroop1It Came from Beneath the Playground is the first book in the Snoop Troop series of mysteries for early elementary school kids. I found it to be highly entertaining, with kid-friendly humor and a non-obvious mystery. When sources of fun (including a local merry-go-round and the school playground) start disappearing, a mystery-obsessed girl named Logan Lang races to help. In the face of inept adult investigators, Logan reluctantly joins forces with a police-obsessed boy named Gustavo Muchomacho (previously her "arch-nuisance"). The two each bring complementary mystery-solving skills to the table, and their differences lend humor along the way. 

It Came from Beneath the Playground is a heavily illustrated  chapter book, with multiple pictures on every page, much of the information conveyed in text bubbles, and seek-and-find type activities throughout. There are also bonus puzzles and visual games included at the end of the book. It reads like a graphic novel, but does include some narrative text, too. The narrator talks directly to Logan from time to time, and readers are directly encouraged to find clues along the way.

Despite the many illustrations, I would place It Came from Beneath the Playground as more a book for second graders and up than for first graders. It's relatively long, and many of the illustrations are small and detailed. Readers hoping to solve the mystery will need to keep track of hints from different parts of the book. There are also some strong vocabulary words, as well as puns that I don't think the newest readers will get. (e.g. an amusement park owner named "Izzy Hurling"). And there are ransom notes in the form of word jumbles. 

But for kids who are ready for it, It Came from Beneath the Playground is a lot of fun. I laughed out loud several times while reading it. Like this:

Narrator: "That's fourth-grader Logan Lang sitting in the dark, dank library, just like she does every day after school, surrounded by her friends...

And when I say "friends," I mean mystery books, crime novels, and twisted tales of suspense...

They're all she has in this cold, lonely world." 

Logan (via text bubble): "Okay, I think they get it. I'm a little too into mystery books."


Police detective (via text bubble, at the amusement park crime scene): "You again? I've warned you about trespassing on crime scenes. This place is crawling with stuffed animals, candy, and arcade games--it's no place for a kid!" 


Narrator: "Gustavo jumps onto one end of the seesaw to save Bobby Bing, but for some reason, Bobby goes sailing into the air without even saying good-bye."

Gustavo (via text bubble): "Wait! Don't go. I'm trying to rescue you!"

Gustavo is not too bright, but he does mean well. He has a bunch of gadget-enhanced mustaches, which are pretty funny. Logan has a combination police scanner/lunchbox. Her office is a retired ice cream truck. 

Snoop Scoop: It Came from Beneath the Playground is perfect for kids who enjoy the Lunch Lady series and are ready for something a little bit more challenging. It's highly interactive and dynamic, and a great introduction to how to solve mysteries. Recommended for library or home purchase, with a slight plus for home purchase because kids may want to write in the puzzle and game section at the end. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the author (via my friend Miles)

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).



Literacy Milestone: Adding A Dedication Page to Stories

LiteracyMilestoneAThe other day my daughter decided that she would make my husband a book for his birthday. The book is called "The Case of Pirititis" (pirate-itis). It's about a girl named Olive who finds herself transformed into a pirate, though it's not finished. This is not my daughter's first book, but what struck me about her work this time was that she added a dedication page. The book was dedicated to my husband and me, with our full names listed. 

She's been noticing dedication pages for a while now, though I haven't always made a point of reading them to her. I do always read the name of the author and illustrator, and we'll frequently talk about what other books the same person has written and/or illustrated. If I've met the author I'll tell her that, too. And if we received the book as a gift I'll mention that, of course.

Anyway, the book for which she started noticing dedications was a book that included her own name along with the name of a family friend. Even though she understood that the book wasn't really dedicated to her, she got a kick out of this, and it has added to her enjoyment of a favorite title. Now we often look at the dedication page as part of our reading, and we sometimes speculate on who the person might be.

And now, apparently, her own work will also have dedication pages. I think this is great, and I wish that I had always highlighted the dedication pages in our read-alouds. I think that seeing the dedications helps her to see authors and illustrators as real people with loved ones. It also shows her, example after example, in a non-pushy way, authors and illustrators demonstrating appreciation for the people in their lives. Can't go wrong with that!

A small related story that some of you will perhaps appreciate: yesterday she was negotiating with me to receive a prize for a particular behavior. I'm not a big fan of using extrinsic rewards, and I was pushing back. She said to me, with a gleam of triumph in her eyes: "But don't you want to know what the prize I want is? It's a new notebook for writing more stories." She does know me pretty well, and that I'll be much more likely to okay a notebook than, say, a toy. I'm proud to report that I still refused to give the reward. However, a new pack of exam books may have landed in my shopping cart at Costco yesterday, to be given at a later date. 

For those of you who wrote your own stories/books as a kid, did they have dedications? I can't remember doing that myself, though my memory isn't what it might be... 

© 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



The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer: Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud

Book: The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer ...
Author: Davide Cali
Illustrator: Benjamin Chaud
Pages: 44
Age Range: 6-9

A couple of years ago I reviewed I Didn't Do My Homework Because ... by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud, saying that I thought that it was fun, but wasn't sure if it would hold up to repeat reads. I didn't review the second book in the series, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School.... But I have to say that my six-year-old daughter and I both really enjoyed the newest book in this series: The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer... It is a perfect book for elementary school kids to dig into over summer vacation. 

In The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer..., a teacher asks a suit-clad boy "what did you do this summer?" The boy launches into a lengthy story  about how he found a message in a bottle containing a treasure map, which was stolen out of his hand by a magpie, launching him on a world-wide quest to find the magpie, and follow the map to the treasure. There are pirates, sea serpents, balloons, and bookstores, among other scenes. The boy visits countries like India and China, and travels via everything from skis to jetpacks, always accompanied by his dog. 

Cali's text is minimal, but descriptive and fun to read aloud. Like this (across three pages):

"At just the right moment, my uncle passed by in his latest invention.

Since it was still experimental, there were some surprises.

My uncle dropped me off on a deserted island, where the magpie stole my map again." 

But it's the illustrations that really bring the boy's story to life. We see that the "invention" is a kind of spaceship, and that the uncle picks up boy and dog using hooks on ropes. We see the boy, led along a rooftop by a costumed actress. We see him fall from a bookstore ladder, with books flying. It's all just pure, kid-friendly fun. 

This book is aimed at six to nine year olds. It's sort of a cross between a picture book and an early reader. It's shaped like a hardcover early reader, but features full-page illustrations with a single sentence (usually at the bottom) on each page, like a picture book. The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer... would work as a read-aloud to a six-year-old, or as a book for a slightly more advanced reader to enjoy on her own. 

There was only one part that my daughter had trouble following, when the boy says that he traveled back in time, but it was really just some people making a movie. Both of us loved a twist at the end. 

In short, I think that The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer... is the best installment so far of this quirky series. Recommended for any six to eight year old kid who likes reading about travel and pirates and adventure in general. This would, of course, make a fun summer read. 

Publisher: Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids)
Publication Date: July 5, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).



Small Talk Books: Star Bright Books

Star Bright Books sent me two upcoming books from their Small Talk Books collection. These are picture books written by Ellen Mayer, an early literacy home visitor. They are unusual in that they seem to be written more for adults than for kids. They are sort of manuals (complete with instruction sections at the end of the books) for talking with preschoolers in a way that will enhance their vocabularies. 

RosasVeryBigJobThe first book is Rosa's Very Big Job, illustrated by Sarah Vonthron-Laver, about a little girl who decides to help her mother by putting away the laundry, and in the process engages in some fantasy play with Grandpa. There's definitely some preschool-friendly humor here, as Rosa is able to put away the (previously folded by Mama) clothes neatly, while the lazier Grandpa struggles. Rosa has to teach Grandpa how to keep a jacket from slipping off the hanger ("Zip it up").

The transition into fantasy mode (when the laundry basket becomes a boat) is seamless, though reality remains in the details (as when they fish for a striped sock, using a hangar for a fishing rod). Rosa is very cute, and demonstrates the classic drive of a preschooler to help Mama. It's a nice bonus that the family is brown-skinned, though no other multicultural details are included. It's also nice, in both books, to see grandparents included as day-to-day caregivers.  

CakeDayThe second book is Cake Day, illustrated by Estelle Corke, about a little boy who helps his grandmother make a cake, which turns out to be for his own birthday. There's a recipe at the end. The tasks undertaken by Grandma, vs. the ones delegated to the boy, are realistic (she measures, he pours, etc.). His sentences are quite short - I suspect that he's younger than Rosa, but Grandma expands on his statements, and explains things to him step-by-step.

The note for parents, grandparents, and caregivers at the end of the book, written by Dr. Betty Bardige, explains Grandma's efforts to build the boy's vocabulary and encourages caregivers to do the same thing. In a nice touch, Bardige notes that it doesn't matter what language you speak when you are talking with your child, just that you keep talking interactively. 

I'm not generally a fan of books that are written for some overt purpose like this. But I do think that there's a place for these particular books. I think that they would be a good fit for doctors' office waiting rooms, and for giveaways by early literacy programs like Reach Out and Read. They would make good new baby gifts for parents not aware of the importance of reading and talking with kids, particularly if handed to those parents by a pediatrician or other trusted adult. 

I did read these two Small Talk Books aloud to my six-year-old, and she liked them reasonably well. I don't think that we'll be re-reading them on a regular basis - they skew a bit young for her interest - but they do have a certain cozy charm. They also show an understanding of things that preschoolers are interested in. Rosa's Very Big Job and Cake Day are worth a look from libraries and literacy organizations. These two books will be published on July 31, 2016. There are two other books in the series that are already available in both English and Spanish board book editions. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).




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