Tuesday, February 2, 2010


THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS are thrilled to introduce our newest FEATURED SWEETHEART, Jen Robinson. Jen is an amazing book reviewer who works tirelessly reading and reviewing books, sending out newsletters for bookworms, and all around promoting good will through the Kidlitosphere. And why does she do all this, you might ask? Well, let's let Jen tell us herself!

You can check out Jen's incredible blog here and can subscribe to her Growing Bookworms Weekly Newsletter there as well.

We can't recommend her blog more if you're looking for books for kids of all ages!


TXS: You run an amazing book review blog along with the Growing Bookworms newsletter. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

JKR: I started my blog four years ago, because I had this strong affection for children's books, as well as a passion for encouraging kids to enjoy reading. After hearing the suggestion from a couple of friends, I decided to start my blog for an outlet for that enthusiasm. These days, I mostly post book reviews and information related to raising readers, but I also try to keep up with happenings from around the Kidlitosphere (the community of children's and young adult book bloggers). I review picture books through young adult titles, mostly fiction, and I have particular interest in mysteries and dystopias. But mainly I'm looking for books that are well-written and engaging enough to keep kids (and me) eagerly turning the pages.

I started my bi-weekly Growing Bookworms newsletter in late 2007, in response to a suggestion from another friend. I basically take the content from my blog that's most focused on book reviews and literacy news and send that out in an email format. The idea is to reach people who are interested in this information, but don't necessarily read blogs (parents, teachers, librarians, etc.). I currently have just over 1000 subscribers. I also blog one day a week at PBS Parents Booklights blog, on the same general topics.

Jen with her dad

TXS: How did you get started doing reviews? And how do you manage all the time it takes? Also, how has your vision changed since its inception?

JKR: I had actually experimented briefly with reviewing adult titles on another blog, but I found that felt like work. When I started my current blog, though, I just started writing about children's books that I particularly enjoyed. And for some reason that was more fun. While I didn't have a lot of experience in writing reviews, I had been an avid consumer of book reviews
for most of my life, and I think that helped. I started by reviewing books that I owned or checked out of the library. After eight months or so, I started being approached by publishers with offers of review copies, and things took off from there.

As far as the time commitment goes, my general feeling is that if one is passionate enough about something, then one makes the time. For me, it's really all about helping kids to learn to love books. I feel like if I get to the end of my life, and can look back and see that I've helped a few kids grow up loving books, then I'll have accomplished something important. So that helps me prioritize. Which is not to say that it's not stressful sometimes - particularly the piles of review books that show up on my doorstep. I have to periodically remind myself that this is something that I'm doing as a volunteer activity, and that any reviews that I can find time for are a positive thing. Otherwise the size of the TBR pile would paralyze me.

I wouldn't say that my overall vision has changed much. It's more been a case where I periodically try new things, and then the time commitment gets out of hand, and I have to scale back. I probably refine my focus about once a year. But I've done weekly children's literacy round-ups (now shared with Terry Doherty of the Reading Tub, as well as book reviews, since I first started.

Betsy Bird, Jen, Jay Asher, and Greg Pincus

TXS: What is the biggest surprise you've had since you started as a blogging book reviewer?

JKR: The biggest surprise for me was definitely finding the community of other blogging book reviewers. When I started my blog, I thought that I'd just put some information out there, and see if anyone was interested. I pictured my friends and family members who had children being my primary audience. But in no time at all I found myself part of this whole community of amazing reviewers and literacy advocates and writers, interacting with them, and learning from them. It's been wonderful. And validating, to know that I'm far from being the only adult out there who is still reading children's books.

TXS: With less resources being given to libraries around the country, how do you see the future of books for kids and the importance of the Internet in that future?

JKR: I have a suspicion that the generation of kids growing up now is going to be a lot less attached to the physical book than today's adults are, as a general rule. These kids are used to reading things on screen, looking things up on the computer, etc. It's going to be natural to them to do a lot of their reading online, and especially on portable devices like cell phones. I do worry a bit about what that means for the future of printed books. But I'm hopeful that the increase in illustrated books (graphic novels, etc.) will help to drive people to continue to want physical books for their kids. To me, it just doesn't seem the same for Mom or Dad and baby to curl up before bed with the e-Reader. However, for the ten-year-old to take a Kindle stocked with lots of books on a long plane trip - that seems reasonable (and probably inevitable) to me.

As far as libraries go, it's obvious that they're changing (even as I personally feel a sense of horror as I read about libraries that are getting rid of their printed books). But I don't think that our need for librarians is decreasing. As self-publishing increases, and more people are reading books electronically, it's going to be easier and easier for anyone to get their books out there into the ether. I think that there's going to be an increasing need for professionals who can sort through the many books available for kids, and highlight the best of them. I'm not sure what's going to happen with the publishing industry in all of this electronic transformation, but I know that I still want to see books that are professionally edited and designed. And I feel that this attention to quality is especially important when it comes to books for kids.

Jen with Mitali Perkins

TXS: If you could make a wish for kids and reading in the future, what would it be?

JKR: I wish that every child could grow up with the opportunity to love books and reading. I know that not every child WILL love reading, but I'd like them all to have the chance. So this wish encompasses everything from more libraries in underdeveloped areas to more parents and teachers and other concerned adults being able to find the time to read with kids.

Jen with Rick Riordan

JKR: Thanks so much for featuring me at Texas Sweethearts!

TXS: Thank you so much, Jen!


Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts!


  1. Jen is one of the first people I discovered when I entered the blogosphere. She's amazing in the breadth and depth of her insights and altruism. Thanks, you guys, for featuring her!

  2. I love Jen's blog so much, Liz. It's always my first go-to when there's a book I'm considering, and I take her suggestions very seriously.
    You're welcome!

  3. Sweetheart: Jen's the epitome of the word, especially when it comes to the world of children's and teen books.

  4. Thanks so much for featuring me, and for asking such great questions. It's an honor to be in such good company, among the Texas Sweethearts!

  5. I so agree, Mitali, but then you are, too!

    You are so welcome, Jen. We are the honored ones!

  6. Jen's blog was one of the first I found and the first one I search for books to put on my classroom shelves. She is invaluable in the kidlitosphere when it comes to passion and resources.

  7. I couldn't agree with you more, Sandra. She does so much for people who love to read.
    Thank you so much for visiting!

  8. Like Sandra, Jen's was one of the first people I found when I started wading into the kidlitosphere. It is such an honor and privelege to collaborate with her. Three years and counting, she has been my go-to person for literacy news and reading ideas.

    I'm so glad to have found the Texas Sweethearts in the process.

  9. Thank you so much for visiting, Terry! Jen amazed me every time I read her blog, email her, see her newsletters. She keeps doing more and more and still some how manages to stay sane :)

    Thank you!

  10. I remember when I first started blogging, Jen was kind enough to visit my blog and leave a comment. It totally made my day. I've been continually amazed at all Jen does to promote literacy for children. We're so fortunate to have her. You're right--Jen is a Sweetheart and a total rock star!

    Thanks for a great interview!

  11. It made my day when she would comment on my blog too. And of course the same is true for you, Vivian. You always made my day!

  12. Jen is amazing. She is truly a valuable resource when it comes to kid lit. I'm so impressed with her -- and I still get excited when she comments on my blog :)

  13. Me, too, Sherrie! Her passion for kids' books is catching!