AfterMath Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

I remember being in fourth grade when Columbine happened. I was in my second year of teaching when Sandy Hook happened. School shootings are true tragedies that affect those involved the rest of their lives.

AfterMath, by Emily Barth Isler, gives readers an inside look at grief, loss and devastation surrounding family, friends and gun violence.

Lucy is a seventh-grade girl who is moving to a new town after her little brother, Theo, dies from a heart condition. She moves to Queensland, Virginia, a town who experienced a school shooting in the elementary school a few years ago. She is the only student in her grade who was not part of that horrific day, but she is also grieving.

First, I must mention that I really loved the concept of this text. Typically, we read writings of the actual events that happen, but in this case, we see the ‘after’. We see how families, students, teachers, and the community grapple with tragic events that can never be forgotten.

I enjoyed the writing style of this book. I read it in two sittings and was thoroughly engaged. I love that there are little math questions and jokes, which emphasize Lucy’s need for definitive, black and white answers at this time. The point of view of Lucy is extremely effective. Readers of all ages can connect to being the new kid, experiencing loss, dealing with parents, and making friends.

Throughout the book, the theme of grief is seen in multiple ways.

Lucy’s grief. Lucy internalizes her feelings. She keeps her thoughts and emotions hidden not only from her new classmates, but also her parents. She doesn’t tell anyone at school about Theo because the teachers and students are already dealing with their own losses, and she doesn’t want it to seem as though she is competing with that. She doesn’t tell her parents because she has always had to be the ‘easy’ child. She gets good grades and does what is expected of her to make life easier for her parents. Also, her parents don’t communicate their feelings and memories of Theo, so the three of them constantly have an elephant in the room.

School’s grief. Lucy’s classmates react to their grief and loss differently than she does. They discuss the events and their feelings openly and matter of factly. They frequently bring up the shooting, their therapy sessions, injuries and emotions to one another to cope. The bond the school community has is supportive and loving.

The comparisons between the two situations shows readers that coping comes in many forms, depending on the individual and situation. Regardless of how someone grieves, we need to be supportive and understanding. Communication and honesty are also important aspects of the grieving process.

The theme of friendship is also seen in the story when Lucy befriends Avery, the girl no one notices. I don’t want to give away parts of the plot, but the author demonstrates to readers that kindness, standing up for one another, forgiveness and trust are all vital parts in a true friendship. Sometimes doing the right thing can be uncomfortable, but we must listen to our hearts and guts.

I would recommend this book for readers in sixth grade and up because of the mature topics. I can see this being used in a classroom as a whole class novel, especially since the author included some thoughtful discussions questions that highlight the themes in the text.

I would also like to add that this is the author’s first novel, which surprised me. Her writing is poignant, honest, supportive and loving. I could feel her warmth towards families affected by school shootings throughout my reading. I can’t wait to see what this talented writer does next.

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Avoid the Summer Slide: Tips for Parents

There’s just a special kind of vibe during the summer. The laid-back atmosphere allows our minds and bodies to relax and take a break. Kids of all ages take this opportunity to go swimming, hang out with friends, and not worry about the pressures of school.

However, while it’s important to take advantage of this time to rest and re-set, it’s just as important to keep kids academically engaged to some capacity.

The summer slide is a term used to explain learning loss that takes place over the summer.

Each family and child is different, so luckily there is no one way to avoid the summer slide. When choosing learning activities for your child, there are a few ideas to keep in mind.

  1. What are some areas of weakness that my child has?
  2. What is my child interested in doing?
  3. How much time do I want my child to spend doing “school work”?
  4. Do I want a specific schedule?
  5. Do I want to do activities with my child?
  6. Do I want my child to do activities independently?
  7. Do I want to invest in workbooks, books, camps, tutors, etc.?
  8. Are there local learning opportunities near me?

Some parents choose to do “school” in the mornings Monday-Friday, while others choose to do weekly tutoring sessions (for more information on tutoring check out Virtual Tutoring Services). Kids of all ages should spend 20 minutes each day engaged in learning activities.

Once you get a better idea of what you want for your child, it’s time to pick some activities!

Assignments.

Activity Books. These are fantastic go-to products for parents because there is no prep work involved and there are answer keys :). There are TONS of options for parents to choose from so you can find exactly what you’re looking for. I always recommend that parents get workbooks for the grade their child was just in. Why? To ensure there are no learning gaps and to prepare for the upcoming year. Of all the different workbooks out there, the following three are my personal recommendations.

  1. Spectrum. I’ve been using these books with my students for the last decade. They are easy enough for kids to work independently and cover all the skills required for each grade level.
  2. Flash Kids Editors. I’ve seen this series for years, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I really took a close look at these workbooks. I really like that these activities are more application based, so students are using a variety of skills on each activity, especially for writing. They are also available as individual subjects, whole curriculums and test prep, so there are options for P-8 students.
  3. Summer Bridge Activities. These workbooks are geared towards helping students make the transition to the next grade during the summer. The activities are meant to be 15 minutes long so the tasks don’t feel overwhelming.

Summer Reading Assignments. For older students, there are usually school assigned activities that need to be completed before the first day of school. Many times this includes reading a book, taking notes, writing an essay, etc. Summer assignment information can usually be found on the school’s website. My best piece of advice with summer assignments is don’t wait until the last minute! Sometimes the book choices can be challenging, so it’s important that students have enough time to read and complete any tasks. Reading the SparkNotes versions of the texts aren’t usually enough to complete assignments.

Travel

Vacations. One of the amazing aspects about literacy is that it’s everywhere! You just have to know where to look for it. Instead of using GPS, spend some time showing your child how to read a map and help he/she plan your route. If you’re going to a place like Gettysburg, do some research as a family about the area before you get there. During road trips, playing the Alphabet Game is fun ways to practice letter recognition skills.

Day Trips. Taking the time to go to different places helps build a child’s background knowledge that will be used the rest of his or her life when it comes to reading. Local towns have historical landmarks, festivals, and events throughout the summer that kids of all ages can learn from. There are also destination locations that can be fun and educational. For instance, growing up we went on a day trip to Crystal Cave and learned about stalagmites and caves. On these outings, read any information you come across (plaques, brochures, etc.) and listen to the tour guides.

Read

Independent reading. This is the easiest go-to avoid the summer slide activity. Kids can read anywhere, so always make sure to pack them a book. When choosing a great summer reading book for kids, take advantage of lists provided by local libraries or ones created by teachers. I’m currently LOVING book lists by Imagination Soup because of the different search options and book descriptions. Libraries and companies like Scholastic have summer reading challenges that add an extra layer of fun.

Read-aloud. I’ve always been a fan of read-alouds, in my classroom and home. With the flexibility of summer, reading aloud can happen anywhere and any time. Take a blanket into the yard and have a picnic while reading a chapter or two. While waiting in traffic, have your child read to you from the read-aloud book. Audiobooks are fantastic for family road trips.The reading possibilities are literally endless. For read-aloud ideas check out Reading Aloud Resources for Parents.

Whatever activities or learning opportunities you and your family participate in, remember to still use summer to have fun and relax.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Smallest Kid in the Class: Resources for Talking to Kids About Being Short

“Mommy, [Max] says that I’m a baby. He doesn’t believe I’m four.”

One day, Molly came home saying that her classmates think she’s a baby because she’s so short. As a mom, I had a little moment of panic, not going to lie. Molly is a sensitive kid and she has an incredibly accurate memory for remembering what people tell her. I knew she would remember my explanation and we would most likely have this talk multiple times over the years, so I had to set the foundation.

I’m 4’10”. Both of my parents are short, and my sister is also under five feet tall. So, it’s really no surprise that my daughter is the smallest girl in her preschool class. Growing up, I was picked on about my height, but I never really let it bother me. My mom proved to us multiple times over the years that being short doesn’t hold us back in life, and because of this I never felt self-conscious about being vertically challenged.

I told my daughter that there is nothing wrong with being short. I knew I would revisit this with her again, but I needed to think how I wanted to have a more in-depth conversation.

I spent some time thinking about appropriate resources for talking to my preschool-aged daughter about being short. All of the small characters show audiences that being short does not mean life has to be limited.

Reading Molly her first book, Madeline, in 2016.
  1. Being So Small (Isn’t So Bad After All) by Lori Orlinsky. I had the absolute pleasure of reviewing this book a few years ago (Being So Small (Isn’t So Bad After All) Book Review)and knew I would be using this book in the future with Miss Molly. I love that this book highlights the positive aspects of being small in a kid-friendly way with adorable illustrations.
  2. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. This was the very first book I read to Molly and it’s always been a personal favorite of mine. This past weekend we had a binge fest and watched the cartoon TV show from the late ’80s (currently on Amazon Prime). To say Molly loved it was an understatement. After hearing Madeline’s song, Molly declared that she wants to be like Madeline. The books, show and movie all show young children that size doesn’t put limits on someone. There are still so many adventures to be had, regardless of height.
  3. Disney/Pixar characters. There are sooo many reasons why I love Disney, such as the use of diverse characters. The following movies and characters continue to support the positivity of being short. RatatouilleRemy, a rat, not only breaks away from his family’s expectations, but pursues his dream of becoming a chef. I love how Remy uses creativity to cook in a real kitchen to reach various utensils and ingredients, showing viewers that there are ways to work around obstacles. Edna from The Incredibles and Incredibles 2. There is no stronger minor female character than Auntie Edna, in my opinion. Her self-confidence is clearly seen as she takes charge, especially with Jack Jack. She demonstrates that short statured women can still stand their ground next to successful and intimidating men. Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc. Did you just hear Boo’s voice, too? I love how the filmmakers add a sense of humor to being short. Whether it’s when Sully picks Mike up by the head, or when Mike’s eye is covered during the TV commercial, height is embraced in a loving and fun way.

While it’s a great idea to use these resources when talking to young children, it’s important to remember to follow-up with an open discussion. Ask questions about how characters are feeling, why they made decisions and what this teaches us. Personally, I would also include some of my own personal stories from my childhood to help show Molly that I truly understand how she feels. Every child is different, so always keep that in mind when having conversations.

To this day, many times I’m still the shortest in the class and I wouldn’t change it :).

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Taking Up Space Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

Speaking from my own experiences as a middle school teacher, these are without a doubt some of the most difficult years for kids. It’s the in-between stage where puberty is happening, friendships are changing, and kids start to pull away from their parents. Every child reacts to these situations in different ways as he/she tries to grapple for control of some aspect of life.

Taking Up Space, by Alyson Gerber, is an honest middle school novel about friendship, family and disordered eating.

This is the second book I’ve read and reviewed by the author (check out my thoughts on Braced), and I LOVE the writing style!

In Taking Up Space,Sarah is an eighth grade basketball player who dominates on the court, until puberty hits and she suddenly doesn’t know how to use her body the same way. She’s trying to fit in with the rest of the team, learning to cook for a YouTube competition with her crush, and dealing with her family insecurities. Using information from health class and her mom, Sarah tries to take control back by participating in disordered eating.

First, the writing style of this book is absolutely spot on for a middle school student. The vocabulary and sentence structure are grade level appropriate and don’t feel overwhelming. The descriptions are effective and easy to follow, making this ideal for younger YA readers.

Characterization of Sarah

Sarah is an extremely relatable character for middle school girls. She’s learning to navigate the waters of liking a boy and dating, trying to juggle being a good friend and needing a friend, and learning about herself as she starts puberty. Gerber has a gift of getting inside a middle schoolers head and putting their thoughts on paper.

Sarah shows readers true vulnerability through her challenges as she dives into the world of disordered eating. Her raw emotions will resonate with readers because every kid experiences them at one point. Her lack of self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-love are authentic and remind students that they are not alone with their feelings.

Themes

YA novels focus on themes that middle and high school students encounter in real life. Taking Up Space does a phenomenal job on hitting some really difficult themes for this age group.

Theme of family. From the beginning, we know that Sarah’s mom has a very different relationship with food than other parents. She only buys what she wants on a daily basis, and never cooks anything with lots of carbs. Sarah feels self-conscious about her mom, especially when her friends come over and they want to eat lots of junk food. She is unable to have open conversations with her mom about every day situations, let alone big challenges she’s facing. Sarah’s dad is a pillar of strength by taking Sarah out to eat, asking her for a grocery list, and listening to her problems. Without giving too much away, both of Sarah’s parents provide her incredible support and love that make a huge difference as she tackles her problems.

Theme of friendship. Sarah has two best friends, Ryan and Emilia, that she relies on throughout the book. As is typical for middle school girls, there is some drama between Sarah and Emilia over a boy. Emilia also turns into a mean girl towards Sarah by saying cruel comments to other girls on the basketball team. However, Sarah’s friendship with Ryan is truly a saving grace with her disordered eating. These situations reinforce the importance of friendship, and reminds readers that trust and honesty are vital to lasting friendships.

Disordered Eating

Middle school years are anything but easy. From raging hormones and worrying about friendship problems, surviving these years can be extremely challenging for many students. For the first time, teenagers are experiencing physical, emotional and mental changes all at once.

Sarah is one of these adolescents. She is looking for answers to problems she has never had before, and using information that she has easy access to. She really doesn’t realize that disordered eating can be harmful, showing her innocence that is typical of girls this age.

Usually, YA books focus on anorexia and bulimia, but this novel introduces readers to a different type of condition. For me, I had honestly never heard of disordered eating until reading this novel. Like other readers, we only really hear about anorexia and bulimia, so I found it extremely eye-opening to gain insight into the point of view of a student experiencing disordered eating.

Gerber approaches this subject with grace, honesty and clarity. The explanations are clear and can easily be comprehended by middle schoolers (which is not an easy task). Through Sarah’s voice, we feel her struggles and emotions, and can see how and why individuals turn to disordered eating as a solution. Readers will naturally feel sympathy towards Sarah and will accept her without judgement.

I recommend this book to parents, teachers, and counselors of middle and high school parents, along with students in grades 5-8.

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Caviar Dreams Tuna Fish Budget Book Review

I LOVE The Real Housewives franchise. I can honestly say I’ve spent an insane amount of hours binging these shows over the last ten years. As a Jersey girl, I’m automatically drawn to the NJ housewives, and as a small business owner I was really excited to see how these women tackle business in the Garden State.

Caviar Dreams Tuna Fish Budget: How to Survive in Business and Life, by Margaret Josephs, is spunky, authentic and inspirational to all women.

On the RHONJ, Josephs comes out with an incredible sense of humor, a ton of honesty and an over-the-top personality. As I was reading her autobiography, I could seriously hear her voice in my head the whole time, and I truly loved it! She has a way of being blunt with humor that I have yet to encounter in any other work, and nothing is off limits. She owns her actions and decisions while keeping a smile on her face.

Childhood

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how much our childhood shapes us. Josephs did not have a typical past, as she has expressed for years on the show, but reading about her experiences with her mother, Marge Sr., left me with an incredible amount of respect for this woman. I don’t want to go into too much detail because a lot of the stories build on previous events, and honestly you need to read them through Josephs’ words and not mine. Many times people will spend time blaming their parents and holding grudges, but the author loves her mother unconditionally, and her maturity and acceptance are to be admired.

Women in Business

I come from a family deeply rooted in family business on both sides. My paternal grandmother owned a pool business for fifty years, that she started with my grandpa from nothing. My mom has started multiple small businesses since I was five years old, so I have seen women in business first hand.

Josephs’ business journey was eye-opening for me. She openly and honestly recounts situations she was placed in from her first job until present day because she was a woman in the business world. There was no Me Too Movement in the ’80s, and it’s clear that women were treated differently than men. When she stepped out of the business world to be a mother, I could personally relate because of my own life choices.

Her drive and ambition to be a good mom and have a career are inspirational. She literally started a multi-million dollar business from her kitchen table. I had no idea she was the one behind the monogramed colorful clipboards during the 2000s (I worked in retail at the time and totally sold those products), and I didn’t realize how truly intelligent she is at spotting “the next big thing”. Her natural business abilities are to be admired. Yes, she has made mistakes, but many of those came from not being treated as an equal in the business world because she’s a woman.

I also LOVED how she gave kudos to her team throughout the book. She is extremely humble and acknowledges those who have helped her along the way. It was really interesting to see how she operates her business since the show doesn’t go into as many details as her book. As a business owner, Josephs taught me a few things and has given me more confidence in myself.

Life Lessons

My absolute favorite part of this book were the life lessons at the end of every chapter. The teacher in me LOVED that Josephs included main idea statements about the chapter, but the reader in me appreciated the wording of each one. The lessons are meant to be straightforward reminders for readers about life. I really wish she would create a calendar with her life lessons :).

Personal Takeaways

Josephs leaves on impact on readers that can’t be ignored. Even though there is lots of humor and f-bombs, the messages she’s getting across are extremely important.

Don’t judge. It’s easy for viewers to judge someone on TV. It’s easy for a friend to judge another friend’s actions. However, unless you walk in that person’s shoes, you have no idea the reasons behind the decisions. Josephs had an affair, but as she says, people don’t leave a happy marriages.

Love yourself. It is possible for a woman to be a good mom and a business woman. It is possible for women to be strong in the business world. Trusting our instincts and following our hearts to what makes us as women happy needs to be a priority in our lives.

Who cares what people think. This one is a biggie. Too many times women stay in situations, or avoid confrontations because we are afraid what other people think. Once we realize that other people’s opinions shouldn’t (and don’t) matter, the world is full of even more possibilities. Don’t let someone else’s opinion keep you from doing you.

I recommend this book for moms, women in business, fans of the show and those who read Open Book by Jessica Simpson. Yes, there are some additional tidbits from the show, but that is not the focus on the book.

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Fadeaway Book Review

As a teacher, I always try to read a variety of book so I can make recommendations to my students. With the end of the year on the horizon, I have more time to read, so I made a fantastic Amazon book purchase. I’ve been a little out of the reading loop over the last year, so I really focused on new(er) releases. I usually have my tutoring students read a novel during our summer sessions and I wanted to find the perfect book for middle and high school boys. Not only did I read this perfect book, it just came out in March!

Fadeaway, by E.B. Vickers, is a realistic young adult novel about basketball, love and addiction.

Summary

Jake is a senior in high school who is the star of the basketball team with his fadeaway move. He has just won the state championship for his team, but instead of celebrating at his coach’s house he disappears without a trace. His little brother Luke, best friend Kolt, teammate Seth and ex-girlfriend Daphne play roles in trying to find Jake.

The majority of the story revolves around basketball. During summer ball in sixth grade, Coach Cooper tells Jake, Kolt and Seth that he plans for them to win state championships their senior year. He gives them an intense pep talk that ends with, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”This lays the ground work for Jake’s life on and off the court as he dedicates his life to football, basketball and baseball. Jake’s world is turned upside down when he suffers an injury and he starts taking prescription pain killers.

First, I have to say that I am in love with the cover! Just like the title states, some of the letters pop and others fade. I just think it’s super creative and eye-catching.

The structure of this story is similar to Wonder, in that it’s told from multiple perspectives, but almost every chapter alternates between the characters. Usually, I’m not a fan of this constant switching, but in this case it really helps build the suspense in the story and I couldn’t imagine it being written any other way.

Themes

My favorite aspect of this book is the portrayal of realistic relationships.

Friendship is one of the most prevalent themes in this story. That day in sixth grade, Kolt and Jake become best friends because they have connections. Kolt’s older brother is an addict and Jake’s father was an alcoholic. Kolt and Jake are the typical best guy friends we usually read about in YA novels, always looking out for one another and making teenage boy comments.

The romantic relationship between Daphne and Jake is the definition of teenage love: pure, honest and supportive. While we don’t see a lot of this relationship, the little glimpse that we get shows a realistic teenage love complete with binge watching Netflix, helping each other with basketball and homework, and being together as much as possible. They don’t have drama, but they do tackle some serious real life issues that lead to Jake breaking up with Daphne out of nowhere. Personally, I love that their relationship isn’t based on physical acts, but rather being there for one another.

Sibling love is an incredibly powerful theme throughout this book. Luke idolizes Jake, and Jake wants to be a great role model for his younger brother. The two of them keep the lines of communication open by writing back and forth in a notebook (which I LOVED). Luke is actively involved in the search for Jake, and gives information that helps spark a development in the case that Daphne and Kolt investigate along with the twelve year old.

While there are lots of different types of love in this book, there is one major concept that is deeply explored: addiction.

Vickers does an incredible job in describing many aspects of addiction. Readers learn how it starts, how Jake realizes he needed help, and the direction that Jake’s life will take in the future. Through Jake’s character, readers see that addiction can be hidden from those closest to a person and anyone can struggle with this disease (teenager or adult). The pressures Jake feels of not being enough will resonant with young adults who can relate to the stress of athletics or academics.

I recommend this book for young adult readers (especially boys) in grades 7 and up, and for parents of high school students.

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Admissions Book Review

Like many, I was very intrigued by the college scandal a few years ago. From an educator’s perspective, I was curious how they were able to get away with all that they did. Of course, I was not surprised that lots of money was involved, but I was shocked that celebrities, including Lori Loughlin, were guilty. So when I saw there was a fictional book about the scandal, I knew I had to read it.

Admission, by Julie Buxbaum, is a dramatic and eye-opening story about privilege and social issues in America.

Summary

Chloe’s mom is a famous TV star and her dad is in finance. She’s living a very glamorous life in LA, attending an elite private school, preparing to go to prom with her crush and getting excited to attend her dream college. That is, until the FBI shows up at her house and arrests her mom in the college admission bribery scandal.

Analysis

The structure of the story alternates between past tense and present day, which took me a little while to get used to (I prefer the sequence of events to go in chronological order). Readers are literally thrown right into the story, creating an immediate sense of engagement.

The setting is modern day Los Angeles. I am a fan of the Housewives franchise and other reality shows, so I really enjoyed the descriptions of Chloe’s luxurious life.

I like how well-developed the characters were, and how authentic they all seemed. They each served a very specific purpose and helped move the plot along.

Chloe

I have to admit that as a reader I was going into this story with some bias based on my background knowledge of the scandal. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I sympathized with Chloe in the beginning of the text. She comes across as very innocent about the scandal events, and readers instantly believe and support her. However, throughout the story, she gets these little flashback memories relating to the scandal, and like any other teenager, she dismisses these thoughts.

One of my favorite aspects of Chloe is that the reader is reflecting and accepting right along with her. When I first meet Chloe, I felt for her. I wanted to give her a hug when her best friend stopped talking to her and her life spiraled out of control. However, as the truth slowly unravels, and Chloe accepts responsibility for her actions, I didn’t feel as bad for her. I was proud of her for how she handled her situation in the end (I can’t give too much away, but I personally feel made the right decisions). I gained a lot of respect for her as a character.

Chloe is defintely a relatable character. She sees herself as a plain girl, “nothing special”, that doesn’t really know what she wants to do in her next chapter. Chloe loves spending time with Cesar, a little boy, reading Harry Potter after school. She states multiple times that she is “not smart enough” to get into ivy league colleges and universities, and she has a hard time with the SATs. She doesn’t even know what to include in her college essay because nothing has ever really happened to her. Buxbaum truly captures the essence of a teenage girl with Chloe, the insecurities, avoiding grown up responsibilities and the inner dialogue of a girl with a crush.

Themes

This novel highlights a few specific themes that all relate around current social issues: privilege, family and expectations

Growing up, I would hear the word privilege and just knew it meant someone had money. In recent years, this term has evolved to mean so much more than that and this book tackles the concept in a way that speaks to young adults.

Shola, Chloe’s best friend, is Nigerian American and attends the elite private school on a scholarship. She works her butt off for her grades and hopes to go to a top college on a scholarship. Throughout the text, we see Shola ground Chloe and give her “reality checks” in a way that is respectful but eye-opening. She tries to help Chloe see outside her “bubble”.

While the book doesn’t use “privilege” a lot, it’s very easy to see the hints left by Buxbaum to alert readers. I feel this was tastefully done and encourages readers to reflect on what they see in their own lives.

Family is also another concept that is explored in this work. However, I believe that this theme can be broken up into two different thoughts: doing what’s best and supporting one another.

In truth, I can’t think of another book that includes one theme used in two different ways.

Chloe’s parents defend their actions by saying they “did what they thought was best”. They wanted to help their child. In typical situations, we would applaud parents for this belief, however, bribery and fraud are not to be commended. But, it does bring up the idea that parents usually want to do anything and everything to help their children.

As readers, we know that Hollywood is all smoke and mirrors, so when Chloe’s family came together during the scandal, it showed us that at the core of a family there is love. Regardless of how much someone can mess up, family is there to still love and support that individual. This is such an important message for teenagers to remember, because notoriously the teen years are a time when many mistakes are made.

Finally, as a teacher who has worked in affluent districts, there is absolutely an expectation put on students today. Every single grade matters because a student has to get into the best schools. This is clearly displayed in Admissions because it directly impacts a family’s social standing. This is not only seen in California, but across the country. There is real pressure put on students, as we see with the characters in the book, but there is also a pressure on parents. College has become a status symbol for many, and these expectations can be extremely heavy burdens on all involved.

I would recommend this book to parents of high school students and young adult readers.

To purchase this book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Bridging the Gap: 3 Virtual Ways to Help Students in Grades 5-12

Growing up, I was that kid who LOVED the summer read-a-thon my school hosted. I remember constantly going to the library and reading anywhere and everywhere. I probably should have also done some math work (I teach reading for a reason), but back in the day this was how students continued to improve their skills.

25 years later the world is a different place. Kids spend the summer playing video games, texting with their friends and getting involved in activities. Life is no where as simple as it used to be.

The expectations today are higher. The pressure to get good grades to get into good schools is real. The anxiety that kids have is real. During the school year, there just isn’t enough time.

Which is why summer is a great opportunity for students to practice and improve their skills. Over the years I have helped teens complete summer reading assignments, go through the writing process with a research paper, and complete college essays. I’ve also worked with students who need additional skills support by reading, discussing and analyzing novels and responding to writing prompts in preparation of the next school year.

The past year has been challenging for so many students and families. We can’t get time back, but we can take advantage of the summer months to fill in any gaps in reading and writing.

Below are three virtual options Little Reading Coach is offering to help students in grades 5-12 for summer 2021.

​Virtual Tutoring for Grades 6-12

Provides tutoring for:
*Reading (comprehension, vocabulary, intervention, summer reading, etc.)
*Writing (paragraphs, essays, research papers, college essays)
*Note-taking, study and organizational skills
*Distance/home-based learning support
(managing & organizing tasks, help with completing assignments)

Tutoring sessions include:
*50 minutes of customized one-on-one virtual tutoring
*Tutor notes emailed within 24 hours

Enroll in Virtual Tutoring

Middle School English Language Arts Boot Camp Course

Middle School English Language Arts Boot Camp

Use code SUMMER2021 to save $50

Are you concerned about learning loss?
Does your child need time to brush up on reading and writing skills?
Want to make sure your child is prepared for high school?

Developed by a certified English teacher and Reading Specialist, this 6-week virtual self-paced course covers all major reading and writing skills taught in middle school English Language Arts.

Grammar
* Parts of speech
* Sentence structure

Writing
*Paragraph Writing
*Essay Writing
*Persuasive Writing
*Research Paper
*Personal Narrative

Nonfiction
*Main Ideas and Details
*Author’s Purpose
*Cause and Effect
*Retelling and Summarizing
*Note-Taking Skills
*Lego Nonfiction Activity

Literature
*Reading Comprehension Strategies
*Plot
*Sequence of Events
*Point of View
*Figurative Language
*Symbolism
*Theme
*Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Lessons include:
– PowerPoint presentations
-Teacher created guided notes
-Quizzes
-Online games/activities
-Practice activities (with answer keys)
– Essay writing
-Teacher led read aloud of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

When you purchase this class, you get….
*Access to the LRC Academy VIP Facebook group to get advice, literacy tips and more!
*Teacher feedback on writing assignments. Students will participate in a variety of writing activities that can be emailed to the teacher for feedback
*Printable notes and presentations that can be utilized for future English classes
*Skill based lessons to help your student become confident in his/her reading and writing abilities

Enroll in Middle School English Language Arts Boot Camp

*Free* Weekly Read-Aloud

For students who love reading and may need some additional support, the weekly read aloud includes a teacher analysis and notes of the text covering:

 Reading comprehension
 Characterization
 Making inferences/drawing conclusions
Quote analysis
Theme 

5th & 6th graders will read The City of Ember
7th & 8th graders will read The Giver


Each week a new video recording will be released from 7/5-8/9. Students will have access to their text until 9/1.

Enroll in *Free* Weekly Read-Aloud 

Taking advantage of this summer to help students gain confidence in their reading and writing skills will provide a great transition into the ’21-’22 school year.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Teaching the Classics in Middle And High School

Even though kids consider classics to be “old”, they have stood the test of time because of their outstanding quality.

The characters, settings and conflicts of these pieces are relatable even hundreds of years after they were published. As teachers, it’s up to us to show students that these texts are truly gems.

In order for students to really appreciate these works of art, they need to comprehend the plot and make connections to the themes and characters. Below are some suggestions for teaching classic pieces of literature to middle and high school students.

Choosing the right text

For many teachers, our curricula dictate which texts we teach. While we may not have much wiggle room when it comes to choosing what woks we use, we do have control over the right type we use based on our student population.

Use the original work. During my time in public schools, I always used the original version of the text. To differentiate, I provided reading comprehension questions to my students and spent time reviewing major characters, plot events, symbols and themes. I also provided students with graphic organizers for writing assignments and to record their notes.

The version I used with my students.

Use alternative resources. Companies are constantly creating new materials to support teachers and students. Personally, I have my own preferences of the alternative texts I’ve used, especially with my struggling readers.

  • Great Illustrated Classics. This is by far my FAVORITE resource to use when working with my population of readers. I remember going to a bookstore out in Pennsylvania with my grandparents growing up and seeing the huge display of these books in the front of the store. It allowed me to read Oliver Twist as a fourth grader because the works are geared towards younger readers. The vocabulary and sentence structure are more simple, and some small details are changed, but the characters and plot events are the same. I will admit, that there were words I didn’t know in the book, but I was able to independently read and understand the books.
  • Textbooks. Years ago, when I did sixth grade curriculum writing, I was super excited to read The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I was a little surprised to find that the textbook we were using did not include the novel, but rather it had a play version. I did supplement parts of the plot by reading aloud the novel, but my students really enjoyed the play and were able to practice recognizing and interpreting the various literary devices.
  • No Fear Shakespeare by SparkNotes. Unfortunately, I just missed these amazing helpers as a high school student. Many students are so put off by Shakespeare because they get confused with the Old English language. No Fear Shakespeare takes the stress out of figuring out this older wording, allowing kids to comprehend the plays, with minimum effort. Through sparknotes.com, teachers and students can access side-by-side Old and Modern English versions of Shakespeare’s works. FULL TEXT versions :)!
SparkNotes’ No Fear Shakespeare- The Prologue from Romeo and Juliet

Supplemental Aids

Educator’s know that all students learn differently, which is why it’s so important to present information to classes in a variety of ways. Providing different activities to keep students engaged is essential in the classroom.

Unit Plans/Reading Guides. There are TONS of pre-made activities floating around online. A simple Google search will provide you with thousands of results, some free and some you can purchase. Teachers Pay Teachers is a phenomenal resource that always pops up on my Google searches.

I just finished reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with my students, and I used the vocabulary, reading questions and activities from this awesome free reading guide. I LOVE the police report activity for chapter four and made sure to use it with my class. I also paired it with a sample police report and did a mini lesson on formal writing.

Audiobooks. It’s no secret that I’m a HUGE fan of using audiobooks with my students. There’s something magical about listening to someone read a story. YouTube is full of free versions, and I also use Audible if I can’t find exactly what I want on YouTube. For virtual teaching, I prefer to use YouTube so I can post/share the link with my class in case they’re absent or want to go back and re-read. I used this version for Jekyll and Hyde (I did speed up the reading a smidge, which made a big difference).

Film Versions. Again, I LOVE using films and TV shows with my students. Being able to see the story in a visual way helps many with reading comprehension. A popular teacher favorite moving pairing is using The Lion King when teaching Hamlet. As with any form of media, always make sure to check the rating and content before showing a film version. I was all excited to use a Jekyll and Hyde movie on YouTube, until I saw in the comment section that some kind person mentioned an inappropriate scene. Needless to say, I went with a cartoon version instead for my students.

Activities for Teaching the Classics

Every classroom looks different and every teacher is different. What works for one teacher will not work for another, so the ideas listed below are just that, suggestions on how to read classics in the classroom.

  1. Act out scenes (readers theater). I have personally seen this in action with Shakespeare and it’s engaging for students. While kids can read aloud from their seats, there is nothing wrong with taking it up a notch. Include props, have students create a mini set, take a trip to the auditorium and read on the big stage.
  2. Have kids teach the class. Who says the teacher always needs to be at the front of the class? Allow students to get hands-on and create a lesson. Whether kids work individually or in groups, assign them a concept and give them freedom to teach it. I would suggest giving them some creative freedom with this choice and a rubric, so they know what the expectations are.
  3. Virtual field trips. Since field trips may not always be realistic, having a few virtual options is always a great choice. These can be done in-class or for homework and can provide students with some new information about topics relating to the classic text.

Importance of Theme

As with any text, teachers know to focus on plot, characters, conflict, figurative language, quote analysis, etc. We know these works are classics for a reason, and our goal is to show students how magnificent “old” books can be.

Universal themes are truly fantastic, as they can be found in any text, so incorporating these themes into class discussions, writing prompts and homework help students of all ages realize that even though the story is not modern, it deals with similar themes as books today.

Love, good vs. evil, jealousy, friendship, family, etc. can all be seen in classic literature.

For instance, one of my favorite themes of all time is good vs. evil. This can be seen in The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde quite clearly AND it is also seen in the Harry Potter series (especially book seven). Giving students copies of quotes from both works and asking them to write a comparison paragraph explaining how the theme is used and its meaning is a great activity to help students make connections with a classic text.

Classic pieces of literature are timeless for a reason. With modern technology, creative thinking, and the right resources, students of all ages and skill levels can read and enjoy these works of art.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

My Name is Layla Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

As I mentioned in my last post, “10 Reading Comprehension Tips“, middle and high school students are living in a text heavy world. They need to have strong reading skills to navigate reading textbooks, emails, writing lab reports, etc. But, what happens when a student is a struggling reader?

My Name is Layla, by Reyna Marder Gentin, is a realistic depiction of a dyslexic middle school student.

Layla, or ‘munk to her mom and older brother, is an eighth grade student who struggles with reading and writing assignments. Her best friend Liza and her neighbor Sammy, help Layla through the ups and downs of middle school life.

Layla

Like all middle school students, Layla wants to fit in. She worries about what she wears on the first day of school, what the popular girl thinks, and she worries that her teachers think she lacks intelligence. She envies Sammy, whose family sits down for dinner together every night, since Layla’s mom is a nurse who works the night shift and her dad has been out of the picture for 12 years.

On top of all this, she has a secret that she doesn’t share with anyone. It takes her a long time to read. “The words hop around like any good bunny should, refusing to stay still so I can get a grip on what they mean.” (15). The pressure to read quickly in class and get through homework each night is a lot for this thirteen-year-old, and she is used to low grades. For writing assignments, she struggles to get ideas from her head, through her fingertips on a keyboard and in an email to her English teacher, Mr. McCarthy. Through her frustrations, she has learned how to cope by watching movie versions of books to assist her in getting through assignments.

As a middle school English teacher, I can honestly say that the depiction of Layla is incredibly accurate. She avoids reading aloud in class or participating so she doesn’t bring attention to herself. She will submit gibberish writing out of pure frustration and she relies on her best friend to help her navigate projects. Layla’s emotions of anger, confusion, fear, and self-doubt resonate with readers on multiple levels as the school year progresses.

Plot

I really enjoyed the multiple layers happening in this book. The main conflict is Layla’s reading difference, but there is also a fair share of minor conflicts as well. As with any teenager, there are internal conflicts about her mom working and her dad not being present (until later in the book), problems with friends that involve trust, and the innocent buds of a potential first romantic relationship with a boy. Teenagers take everything to heart and can be very sensitive to change, as readers see when Nick suffers an injury in basketball. This book touches on all of the important themes in a young adult’s life: family, friends, relationships, and self-image.

Theme of Family

Today, families come in all shapes, sizes and forms and I really like that Marder Gentin chose to focus on a non-traditional family structure. Readers see Layla’s mom work overnight shifts, catching some sleep during the day to just repeat the routine again. She takes on extra shifts whenever she can in order to provide for her children, yet she will show up to basketball games and the first day of school when her children need her support. While Layla and her brother do have freedom after school, neither one of them takes advantage of this and continue to do homework, go to basketball practice and socialize with friends without getting into trouble. This maturity and self-reliance teach readers that being independent is important in life.

While no family is perfect, readers can empathize with Layla’s desire to have more family around for holidays, like Sammy’s. Or to have a mom that is very actively involved in her school life, like Liza’s mom. However, through her interactions with her friends, readers are reminded that each family has their own problems even if the outside world does not see them. For many teens, this nugget of wisdom is important because they don’t realize others may feel the same way they do.

Theme of Friendship

Friends are without a doubt the most important aspect of a teenager’s life, according to them. Establishing and maintaining true friendships takes time and effort on all parts, along with honesty. Typically, in YA books I find that there is often a backstabbing or betrayal between friends that causes a conflict. That doesn’t happen in My Name is Layla. In fact, Liza is an incredibly kind young lady (I hope my daughter has a Liza for a best friend in middle school). Liza knows that Layla struggles, but instead of ignoring this, Liza offers assistance to her friend wherever and however she can. From reminding her what class they have, or being partners for an in-class assignment, Liza takes Layla under her wing and supports her friend. There is never any negative comment made and Layla always feels comfortable.

Sammy. Ah, if there was ever a character I wanted to hug for being a good kid, it’s Sammy. His obvious crush on Layla isn’t the normal teenage kind. He truly likes Layla for who she is and wants to help her in his own way. I LOVE that he has the courage to ask Layla on a date to the basketball game and doesn’t leave her side when Nick gets injured. He mentions the Learning Center at school in the hopes of giving Lyla support in English. Through it all, Sammy is right there to help his neighbor (and girlfriend!).

Learning Differences and Dyslexia

Every single child learns differently. Some students show their struggles more than others, which is why there are always those that manage to “get by” in elementary school and part of middle school, but at some point someone notices.

Mr. McCarthy was Layla’s someone. He saw past her coping mechanisms and reached out to his school’s administration and helped create a plan for Layla (after a MAJOR plot twist that I refuse to mention). There were clues along the way that McCarthy was onto Layla, but she continued to plug along just “getting by”.

As I said before, teenagers worry about what others think of them. They never want to be “different”, especially at this stage. Layla is no exception to this because she cringes at the thought of going to see Mrs. Hirsch in the Learning Center.

What I LOVE about this book is the realistic way Marder Gentin has captured a teenager’s feelings when dealing with a learning difference. Readers experience the incredible emotions and thoughts that students cope with on a daily basis. As adults, we are reminded that these feelings need to be addressed when offering help to students. Anxiety and fear are incredibly consuming at this age, yet we need to provide the proper support.

Teachers like Mr. McCarthy and Mrs. Hirsch literally change lives.

Free Curriculum Guide

As always, my teacher heart gets insanely excited when there are resources to extend themes and learning in books. I will admit, I’m very picky with curriculum guides for my middle school learners, but this one is absolutely perfect! Not only is it aligned to the Common Core, it hits on all major teaching points for middle school English. There are plenty of discussion questions that can be used in small groups or whole class, it includes a few different activities for students (even some writing ones), a character chart with adjectives and practice with textual evidence and making inferences and drawing conclusions! AND, it’s also *FREE* on the author’s website! Pure perfection!

Never have I read a young adult book that hits on so many real-life issues for teens with so much accuracy. I highly recommend this book for parents and students in middle and high school, especially those with learning differences. Students will find comfort in knowing that they are not alone.

To purchase this book head over to Amazon.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.