Dec 1, 2013

Any Jeopardy Fans Out There?

I've chatted recently with some college grads who've been working as classroom aides while hoping to break into the professional fields for which they were trained. After chatting about progress on that front and offering as many encouraging ideas and as much support as possible, I couldn't resist asking how they feel about their classroom  experiences. Without fail these highly educated and accomplished young people end up raving about the amazing things they are learning in third, fifth, or seventh grade classrooms. They each mentioned some topic in science, history, math, or literature that fascinated and intrigued, that raised questions and led to further investigations.

I've often felt that odds favor elementary teachers in Jeopardy competitions for that very reason. Despite massive campaigns to suggest that schools are utter failures, elementary classrooms are teeming with energized learners pursuing far-reaching topics of study and research, analysis and inquiry. Who better to have amassed (and frequently shared) an encyclopedic array of information, and to have finely-honed reflexes from managing those eager learners than their teachers?

I mention this because I recently received preview materials from Simon & Schuster,  created in collaboration with Ken Jennings, the record-setting Jeopardy champion. I'll review them briefly below, but first I want to share a passage from the letter written by Ken and enclosed with the samples.

"…let me tell you where my story started: not on a Culver City soundstage in 2004, but decades earlier, when I was a kid with a bookshelf beside my bed just crammed with amazing-facts books, ratty paperbacks full of hard-to-believe knowledge about every subject under the sun. Dinosaurs, computers, Vikings, baseball, ice cream. It didn't matter. I was curious about everything."

Simon & Schuster,
April,  2014
These new materials are in two forms- picture books aimed at ages 4-8 and topical books aimed at middle grade readers. Both incorporate visuals to appeal, to clarify complex concepts, to visualize vocabulary, and to present accessible pages with manageable amounts of text and colorful images. His new materials is called the Junior Genius Guide, including interactive books on specific topics. I previewed the book on maps and geography; also available are titles on Greek mythology and U.S. Presidents, with more topics in development. The picture book series is the "Did You Know" collection (Hippos Can't Swim and Other Fun Facts, Chickens Don't Fly and Other Fun Facts).
Simon & Schuster
April, 2014

These feature minimal but clearly-stated text with cartoonish, vibrantly-colored full spreads. They offer engaging openings to further reading through their quirky factual details. Countless  quality non-fiction picture books are available to extend this lead into further explorations at reading levels to suit preschoolers through established readers. Find some great suggestions at this post from

The Junior Genius series provides the same benefit. Reluctant readers will especially like the extensive white space on each page, the small blocks of print in comfortable font size, and the quirky line drawings that call to mind the sketches in the Wimpy Kids series. Here, too, the serious reader will find a wealth of additional resources that are equally accessible and extend the content in many directions.

I love that these materials are produced in traditional paper format, offering online links that are interactive in the best sense. The S&S Junior Genius Guides website is colorful, appealing, and age-appropriate. If you take a look, chime in with your thoughts, or let me know if you were ever the kind of kid who collected odd facts and figures like a crow hoards gum wrappers. (If so, why not follow the lead of  Ken Jennings and try out for Jeopardy?)

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