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Jen Robinson's Book Page - 5 new articles



Four Recent Chronicle Kids Picture Books that I Enjoyed

I've fallen behind on my picture book reviews of late. So I've decided to try something new. I'm going to do small round-up posts featuring my favorites of the titles that I've received from various publishers. First up was Kane Miller. Second was Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. Today I am featuring four titles from Chronicle Kids.

1. Stella Brings the Family, written by Miriam B. Schiffer and illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown. Stella Brings the Family is about a little girl who has two dads who is worried about being "the only one without a mother at the (class) Mother's Day party." Her discussions with her classmates reveal that the lack of a mother doesn't cause Stella any other strife. Daddy makes her lunch, and Daddy and Papa both read her stories, etc. It's not that her lack of a mother is a secret - she just doesn't know what to do on this occasion. Eventually, she decides to bring all of the people who care for her (two dads, grandma, aunt, etc.) to the party.

I was a tiny bit bothered by the central implausibility of this story - that her teacher wouldn't have known that she had two dads, and talked to her about it. Apart from that, though, I enjoyed reading about much-loved little Stella, her various family members, and her non-judgmental classmates.

Schiffer's prose is straightforward, with short declarative sentences that help in keeping this story matter-of-fact. Clifton-Brown's watercolor illustrations add warmth, with Stella's curly red hair front and center. The multi-paned party invitation that Stella makes also takes a central place, and appears realistically kid-drawn. Stella's classmates also display a realistic multi-cultural diversity, as well as having their own varieties of family structures. Ultimately, Stella Brings the Family celebrates not so much two dad families, but the fact that families today come in all permutations and combinations. This makes Stella Brings the Family a good choice all around for libraries.  

2. Polar Bear's Underwear, by Tupera Tupera. As one might expect from the title, Polar Bear's Underwear is a silly book about a polar bear who can't find his underwear. His friend Mouse helps him to search for it. Mouse continually points out outlandish pairs of underwear, each seen through a page cut-out. Turning the page reveals the owner of that particular pair of underwear (of course the own isn't Polar Bear until the end of the book). The colorful striped pair belongs to Zebra. ("it's his favorite pair, too.")

There's plenty of humor to Polar Bear's Underwear, as when the owner of a pink pair that says "I love mice" turns out to be Cat ("RUN!"). Of course it's not sophisticated humor. It felt a bit repetitive to me by the end as an adult reader. But I think that three and four year olds, particularly those new to wearing underwear themselves, will enjoy it. The illustrations primarily consist of the underwear and the animals wearing them, with minimal distraction for young readers. 

It's hard to tell from the picture, but the red underwear shown on the cover of Polar Bear's Underwear is actually removable cardboard that goes around the book. You have to take off the bear's underwear in order to open the book. I thought that this gimmick would please my five year old, but she was unimpressed. The removable underwear probably makes book a better choice for home than for library use (one had to keep track of the underwear once it is removed, after all). Polar Bear's Underwear is humorous and kid-friendly, though mainly suited to preschool age readers.  

3. Farewell Floppy by Benjamin Chaud. Farewell Floppy is a quirky tale of a boy and his pet rabbit, Floppy. Floppy isn't much use as a pet - he doesn't really do anything (except jump really high when you scare him). So the boy decides on day that he's going to set Floppy free. He takes Floppy deep into the woods, and (though it's harder than he expects) ties him to a tree and leaves him there. But then ... he learns that it's not so easy to leave behind something that you love, even if you are trying to be more grown up. 

Farewell Floppy is kind of an odd book - it's not fantasy, but it's not straight-up realistic, either. (Have you ever seen a rabbit ride piggy-pack on a boy's shoulders?). The writing is a mixture of dramatic narrative ("The trees got taller and taller. It got darker and darker.") and self-rationalization ("Instead, he just sat there like a nincompoop. He was practically begging me to leave him"). But it definitely makes you want to keep reading, to find out what will happen. Chaud's illustrations capture this mixed tone, with the woods looking rather scary, but Floppy coming across as amusing and slightly pathetic. Readers may not always know what to make of Farewell Floppy, but it will stand out as unique on their shelves. 

4. Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is a celebration of gardening, told from two different perspectives. Up in the garden, a girl and her grandmother plant and water and weed, and enjoy themselves. Down in the dirt, various animals also contribute to the growing of the garden, from the pill bugs chewing through last year's dirt to the skunks gobbling cutworms. 

Messner's prose is lyrical without actually being poetry. Like this:

"I weed and wilt in sun so strong even
Nana looks for shade.

Down in the dirt earthworms tunnel deep.
I'm jealous of their cool, damp, dark."

Neal's mixed media illustrations are as full of browns and greens as any garden. He gives loving attention to even the smallest of creatures, using shifting perspectives to emphasize, for example, a ladybug on a leaf, while the girl and her Nana are small in the background. The color palette follows the seasons, getting warmer and brighter at first, and then darker as fall and winter approach. Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is a book that will make young readers look at the outdoors in a different, respectful way (with fun thrown in, too). End material talks about the various animals in the book in more detail. This would make a great addition to a classroom unit on gardening for second or third graders. 

© 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).



Growing Bookworms Newsletter: May 20

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 children's and young adult books and raising readers. I usually send the newsletter out every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have two children's book reviews (both picture books) and two posts with mini-reviews of several titles each (from Eerdmans and Kane Miller). I also have one post describing my daughter's and my experience doing the #BookADay summer reading initiative, and one post describing a new literacy milestone for my daughter. Finally, I have two posts with literacy and reading links that I shared on Twitter recently, 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I completed one early chapter book, one middle grade title, one young adult title, and two adult titles. I read:

  • Marc Brown: Buster's Dino Dilemma (An Arthur Chapter Book). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Early Chapter Book. Completed May 18, 2015 (read aloud to my daughter).
  • John Stephens: The Black Reckoning (Books of Beginning, Book 3). Knopf Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed May 16, 2015. Review to come.
  • Melissa E. Hurst: The Edge of Forever. Sky Pony Press. Young Adult Fiction. Completed May 14, 2015, on digital ARC. Review to come. 
  • Daniel T. Willingham: Raising Kids Who Read. Jossey-Bass. Adult Nonfiction. Completed May 7, 2015. This is an excellent book for parents about encouraging children to love reading. The author shares a similar philosophy to my own, the idea of wanting kids to love books because we love them, and have gotten so much joy out of reading. I have not had time to review (I'm a bit daunted because I flagged about 100 passages), but I do highly recommend this one. 
  • Katherine Neville: The Eight. Ballantine Books. Adult Fiction. Completed May 19, 2015, on MP3. A re-read of an old favorite (and first time listening on audio). 

I'm listening to Dry Bones, A Walt Longmire novel by Craig Johnson. I'm reading the fourth book in Y. S. Lee's The Agency series, Rivals in the City on my Kindle (courtesy of a belated Christmas gift card). I have a sizable stack of books that I am dying to read, and am working on carving aside more time for that. My biggest problem is that I've been getting up very early, and by bedtime (when I'm most likely to allow myself to read), I fall asleep after very few pages. 

The books my husband and I have been reading to our daughter can be found here. Recent repeat requests have included The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher, The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, and The Eeensy Weensy Spider Freaks Out! (Big Time!) by Troy Cummings. On our most recently library visit she mostly picked out picturebacks featuring familiar characters from video series (Dora the Explorer, Caillou, Arthur, etc.). The funny thing is, she rarely actually asks to read these books - they mostly sit in her book bag until we return them. But something about pulling them off the shelf pleases her. 

She remains a dabbler in listening to chapter books. She has a good attention span when we read, and seems well able to follow along with a story even when there are minimal or no pictures. However, her attention usually flags between reading sessions, such that we rarely finish a title. Her selection process is somewhat random (based on what happens to catch her eye at the library, or what arrives on our doorstep).

I sometimes feel like if I pushed a bit harder to recommend titles myself, she might find the title that holds her interest from day to day. But my general policy is that if there's a book that she wants to read, for whatever reason (as long as it's not severely inappropriate), I go with it. So we spend a lot of time reading books like Plant Your Path: A Plants vs. Zombies Junior Novel (which has a decidedly non-linear, choose your own path storyline) and Battle Bugs: The Lizard War by Jack Patton (which we cannot read at bedtime, because it might cause bad dreams). I have managed to slip My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett into the rotation, so we'll see how that one works out. 

What are you and your family reading these days? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 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



Wish: Matthew Cordell

Book: Wish
Author: Matthew Cordell
Pages: 48
Age Range: 3-5

Matthew Cordell's Wish is a lovely little picture book about an elephant couple longing for a baby. They plan for the baby, but when he doesn't arrive, they are sad. They attempt to go on with their lives, but their happiness is dulled. Until the fabulous day when their wish is granted, and the baby arrives. 

The trying for and arrival of the baby are conveyed in a highly abstract manner. The elephants build a boat and go out to sea and wait for the baby to land in their boat. When he does come, he arrives in his own boat, carried in by a storm. I was reminded a bit of Sweet Moon Baby, in which an adoptive human baby arrives in a similar manner. But in Wish, the impression received by this adult reader is not of adoption, but of a battle with infertility, which is eventually and unexpectedly won.

This does make me wonder a bit about the appropriate audience for the book. I don't think it would work with the early elementary school set, kids who are interested in learning "for real" about where babies come from. It feels almost like a gift book that one would give to adult friends finally expecting a longed-for child. But I think that it also provides a nice vehicle by which parents can tell their young children how much they were longed for, and welcomed, without having to get into any technical details about childbirth. Like this:

"And with every feeling 
that was ever felt,
everything happens.

That everything is YOU.
That everything is US.

You are here."

The joy of the parents, and the child, positively leap from the last few pages of the book. Cordell's pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations are well-suited to the quiet tone of the book, with small vignettes, plenty of white space, and occasional flares of multi-colored bubbles, like gumdrops, conveying effervescence.  

Wish captures both the sadness of unfulfilled longing and the deep love of parents for their children, even before said children are bone. It does this with scarf-wearing elephants and confetti, maintaining a mostly light, quiet tone. I'm interested to try it out with my daughter, and I'll be keeping it in mind as a baby gift for new parents. It is sure to make them smile. 

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 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).



Literacy Milestone: Her First Visit to a Little Free Library

LiteracyMilestoneAThis weekend my daughter visited her first Little Free Library. Actually, it was my first visit, too, though I had seen various photos. Last week I saw an LA Times article by Carolyn Kellogg about a children's book drive by Little Free Libraries. As my daughter's bookshelves (not to mention my own) have been a bit overloaded, I suggested to her that we pick out some books to donate. She was thrilled with this idea.

We spent a couple of days intermittently going through a subset of her books and selecting those that were donation-worthy. Her first pick to be jettisoned was The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak (which she actively dislikes, as previously discussed), but we couldn't find it. We made a rule that we both had to agree on each title - if either us felt that the book should be kept, we would keep it. This process led to quite a bit of extra reading, as a number of books had to be read to be evaluated, and a relatively small stack of books to donate. I was able to beef up this stack with some selections from my own stacks, and we assembled a moderate-size box.

On Saturday morning we set out (with help from the LFL website) to find the closest Little Free Library. The one we eventually found was  across the street from an elementary school, close to the public library (where we also had books to drop off), and perfect for our purposes. We got out, dropped off the box, and picked out two books to take home. My daughter was charmed by the whole process, and has shown much more interest in reading "the Little Free Library books" than the (44!) books that we checked out from the public library. We are currently halfway through Buster's Dino Dilemma from the Arthur Chapter Book series). 

A few take-home messages from this process:

  1. The weeding process led to additional reading aloud (of infrequently read titles), and appeared to empowering for my daughter. 
  2. The cuteness of the actual Little Free Library increased my daughter's pleasure in the whole experience, and helped her to bond with her selections. 
  3. This entire experience, of course, reinforces the power of individual choice by kids in what they are going to read. 

I do recommend this experience. Even if there's no book donation drive going on, there is nothing stopping you from collecting a half dozen books from your child's shelves, and finding the closest Little Free Library. Or, of course, taking books to a school, hospital, shelter, etc. Anywhere that you know that gently read children's books will be welcome. And then you'll have room for more books!

© 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



Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: May 15

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include the Jane Addams Book Awards, the Cybils Awards, diversity, Reading Is Fundamental, Little Free Library, literacy programs, growing bookworms, Reading Rainbow, KidLitCon, reading, writing, book discovery, parenting, schools, and libraries. 


Recipients of the 2015 Jane Addams Book Awards were announced today, reports @MitaliPerkins #kidlit

The 2015 International Latino Book Awards Finalists! | @LatinosInKidLit #kidlit

Book Lists

Suggested titles from @StaceyLoscalzo + her daughter for a Middle Grade Family Book Club (parent + child) #kidlit

This week's Tuesday Ten @TesseractViews focuses on #kidlit SFF where the color silver plays a major role

67 Children's Books That Actually Changed Your Life, stories from @buzzfeed readers #kidlit

Stacked: What About YA Non-Fiction?: A Look at Recent and Upcoming Titles #YALit #nonfiction

Books that Rock: YA Fiction for Musicians and Music Lovers | @molly_wetta #YALit #BookList


On the #Cybils blog: Interview with @brandycolbert , author of YA Fiction winner Pointe #YALit

The #Cybils organization's very own @MsYingling is the @YABooksCentral Superstar of the Month. Much-deserved!

On the #Cybils blog: Easy Readers for Toddlers, #BookList from @TheNovelWorld includes @melissawiley + @The_Pigeon 


Spotlight on the Six #Diverse Stories selected for the @FirstBook 2015 Stories for All Project

8 Books About Low-Income Teens from librarian @farre @tsuteam2 #YALit #BookList

Events + Programs

Skybrary_Logo-400x307Fulfilling kickstarter promise, @ReadingRainbow introduces #SKYBRARY a subscription web service w/ books + videos

Read for Success program @RIFWEB shows huge success in turning summer slide into reading GAINS for disadvantaged kids

Neat! @LtlFreeLibrary announces kids' book drive this Saturday, reports @latimes via @PWKidsBookshelf

Per @CynLeitichSmith | @Jumpstartkids + @Candlewick Partner to Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Read for the Record 

See favorite moments from the 96th annual Children's Book Week here:  #CBW15 #kidlit

This is great! At The Barbershop, Cops Read To Kids To Build Language And Relationships | 90.5 WESA @PWKidsBookshelf

Children's Publishers Donate Books to Prison-Nursery Libraries, reports @MitaliPerkins @CBCBook @unprisonproject

This is neat! Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists Help Connect Low-Income Students w/ Elite Colleges @WSJ @QuestBridge 

Boston College Students (including my niece, Arev!) Start Support Group for Women in Innovation  @BostonMagazine

Growing Bookworms

My daughter likes to play library, but the @growingbbb kids really go all out. Fun photos!

Useful stuff! "Thoughts on 'teaching' reading (and why I don't do it)" from homeschooling mom @melissawiley

Sketching and imagination as tools for close reading and comprehension for kids 3-12 by @TrevorHCairney

13 Reading Ideas for the Child Who Needs to Move (inc. exercise bikes) by @ImaginationSoup @ReadBrightly #literacy

#RaisingReaders Monday @kateywrites | Thoughts on the intersection of musical education and #literacy development

"Forced #SummerReading does not make readers out of non-readers; all it does is build resentment" @brainchildmag

Fun stuff! How To Start a Story Time Program for kids in your community by @growingbbb

Brains, Schools and a Vicious Cycle of Poverty, results from new study on brain differences in lower income kids @WSJ 


2015-KidLitConLogoSquareAnnouncing the Call for Session Proposals for #KidLitCon 2015 from Program Coordinator @charlotteslib

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

For writers: "What Are the Great Children’s Literature Writing Retreats?" — @fuseeight rounds them up

For readers, a roundup of "New-ish book discovery engines and websites" from @bkshelvesofdoom

New and forthcoming books for teens tackle increasingly complex and sophisticated issues, reports @PublishersWkly

Why teenagers have to take terrible risks in YA literature – and in real life too | Maria Farrer @GdnChildrensBks

Amazon Editors Launch a Young Adult Book Club reports @GalleyCat via @PWKidsBookshelf #YALit

Lost for words? How reading can teach children empathy | @GuardianTeach @EmpathyLabUK

The Pros and Cons of Writing a Blog per @100scopenotes | I'd add "wondering if anyone is reading what you write" :-) 


This is hilarious! "Help! ‘Free-Range Kid’ Epidemic Is Spreading to Picture Books" by @216Sharon @ReadBrightly

Schools and Libraries

South Carolina Study: Good School #Libraries Affect Student Test Scores - WLTX

Librarian @FuseEight is "In Search of (kids' books, especially middle grade, with) the Elusive Lesbian Mom" 

© 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.