Bound in Silver Book Review

I’m currently on a YA kick and I’m enjoying every second of it. I keep finding myself taking screenshots of books that I see on Instagram, which is how I found out about this lovely text.

Bound in Silver, by Marie Grace, is the total YA fantasy fangirl novel.

We follow Arabella Grace as she navigates the typical teenage issues (school, boys, the death of her grandparents) but her world gets turned upside down when she discovers she is a Clock Keeper. As readers, we experience her training, changes in her relationships with those around her, and the strides Arabella makes with her personal growth.

As a die hard YA fangirl myself, I LOVED all of the amazing references to Harry Potter, Divergent, Hunger Games, City of Glass, etc. I truly felt that the character of Arabella embodies girls like me (minus the super hero thing), which made me want to be her best friend. The first person narration made so many text to text connections (there were one or two I actually did not know) which made me appreciate the plot more because I was able to understand the significance of the events.

And just like all fabulous YA novels, there was a love story in the mix of fighting, Shadows, swords, and nightmares. However, unlike Twilight, this text downplays the love to explain more of the plot to set up future books. There is no mushy gushy nonsense happening. Each Clock Keeper has an Anam Cara, a true soulmate. As a romantic, I fell in love with this concept. It did remind me of parabatai from City of Bones, but on a much more intimate scale. The vow that is spoken to connect Anam Caras together is beyond beautiful and it should totally be part of future wedding vows for book lovers.

As a teacher, I really appreciated how the author was able to capture teenage thoughts without including curse words and nudity. It’s a little more conservative than Divergent and City of Bones, but the feelings and emotions are still powerful between the characters.

One of the overall themes of the novel is good vs. evil, and we see that with the constant mention of light and dark imagery. The Shadows, white ink tattoos, black ink tattoos, all express the importance of good vs. evil in the plot. Personally, I enjoyed how obvious the symbolism was because it allowed me as a reader to enjoy the story more. For struggling readers, especially high school students, this is a great way for them to make inferences and draw conclusions without feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

Without giving away any spoilers, I will say the plot kept me engaged, and it really ramped up the last two chapters. All of a sudden the book was over and I was left wanting more. The end doesn’t stop abruptly, but it definitely makes you want to start the second book right away (which I am trying very to wait patiently for).

Overall, I would recommend this book for any YA fantasy fans in grades 6-12.

The Enchanted Hour Book Review

I have always believed in the power of read alouds at home and in the classroom, even if students can read on their own. I have butted heads with administrators because they felt my 10 minutes of reading at the beginning of each class was “a waste of learning time”.

Now, I can finally say, there’s a whole book about why it’s not :).

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon is an incredible text about the power of reading aloud.

What I liked most about this book was the mix of researched information and first hand experiences. I feel like nowadays society demands to see numbers and statistics with every piece of evidence, so when it comes to crafting a text like this one every i must dotted and every t crossed. Boy, does the author do just that. She explains research, studies and interviews with a friendly tone that doesn’t make the reader feel as though he or she is reading a college textbook.

One of the biggest pieces of research that stuck out at me was the MRI study done when children are read to. The study’s results support the idea that reading picture books aloud allows a child’s brain to interact with the text on multiple levels. Personally, I see this first hand when I read with Molly. I’ll read the text and she’ll point at the pictures and draw her own conclusions based on what she sees.

As a parent, I really liked reading about the author’s personal experiences reading with her family. I always think it’s interesting to see what books are loved and read over and over again (Treasure Island is one of the family’s faves). Cox Gurdon also throws in a little parent reflection about her daughter’s experience with Johnny Tremain. If she could go back, she would read the text aloud to her child because the text may have been a little too complex for her at the time. I LOVE that not only does the author acknowledge things could have been done a different way, but also realizes why the text may not have been a good fit for her daughter.

As parents, we all want our children to be super stars, but it’s important to realize when something, such as reading, is just a little too challenging. The author does not get defensive, but rather wishes she could go back and give her child the little extra support she needed. As the author explains, reading aloud is not cheating. It’s just simply a way to get children to appreciate good literature because they aren’t so worried about reading the words.

The teacher in me agrees with every single aspect of this book. I teach secondary reading (6-12) and I truly believe in reading aloud to kids even at this level. As I mention in previous blog posts (click here) I do this in brick and mortar and the virtual environment. Why? Because reading aloud turns kids into readers. As this text explains beautifully, it helps with vocabulary skills at all ages, helps transport children all over this world (and out) during all periods of history, and allows children to appreciate and engage with a text.

My read alouds are without a doubt my favorite part of my teaching day. As the author points out, the reader and listeners bond and have a shared experience during that time. I engage in such in depth conversations with my students during read alouds that I often find myself feeling warm and fuzzy when the time is over. Students have also expressed similar feelings during our read aloud time, and we have such a stronger bond and connection.

The biggest take away from this book is that we need to read to kids. Yes, they can play on an Ipad to learn letter sounds, but nothing can replace someone reading to a child.

And of course the fabulous Sarah Mackenzie from Read Aloud Revival had Meghan Cox Gurdaon on her podcast in June to discuss the book. It’s honestly one of the best podcast episodes from RAR. Feel free to listen to it here.

I strongly recommend this text for parents, teachers and school administrators.

 

Braced Book Review

As readers, we all have books that speak to us. As I tell my students, we all read the same book differently. Why? Because each reader approaches a text with different life experiences.

I’m going to warn you, this is the most difficult book review I’ve had to do because of my own connection to the text. I read the book in one night and couldn’t stop ugly crying for a solid hour. Never have I read a book that has connected with me on such a personal and intimate level. I have purposely waited a few days to write this post because I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my thoughts out in a way that makes sense.

Braced by Alyson Gerber is a phenomenal story about Rachel Brooks who has to wear a back brace for scoliosis.

Scoliosis is when a person’s spine doesn’t grow straight during puberty. The severity depends on the degree of the spine’s curvature. Most scoliosis patients are fitted with a padded back brace to try and shift the spine. However, in some cases, the brace does not correct the curve enough and surgery is required.

Rachel is an average seventh grader. She has two best friends, plays soccer, and is about to be a big sister. Like her mom, Rachel has scoliosis and is required to wear a back brace for 23 hours a day in the hopes of avoiding spinal surgery.

The story follows Rachel’s journey living with the brace. From the appointment with Dr. Paul where she finds out she needs the brace, to telling her friends and people at school, to learning to play soccer, readers are part of every step.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is how personal and honest Rachel is to readers. Like other middle school girls, Rachel is going through puberty and dealing with so many different emotions. She has a crush on a boy named Tate and wants to play offense on the soccer team. She’s embarrassed when she goes to see Dr. Paul because the is basically naked in front of strangers. She gets super excited when Tate texts her about personal stuff and not just about science class.

Rachel also opens up about the struggles of wearing a back brace. She gets frustrated when she can’t find clothes to fit her. She’s mad at her mom for not listening to her. She’s scared to tell her friends about her brace. She works incredibly hard to play soccer differently so she can make the team. She’s hurt when the popular kids make fun of her brace. It’s challenging enough to go through middle school years without the additional worries of being different.

One of the major conflicts in the novel is Rachel’s relationship with her very pregnant mom. As readers, we learn that Rachel’s mom had scoliosis, wore a brace, and eventually had surgery. Mom is so focused on Rachel wearing her brace for the 23 hours to avoid the surgery that she loses sight of the emotional part of the brace. This disconnect drives a wedge between the two, which intensifies Rachel’s feelings of isolation because if anyone should understand what is happening, it’s her mom. The writing of this conflict is realistic, and is one that all middle school girls can relate to.

As adults, we sometimes forget how important friends can be to kids. As a middle school teacher, I have seen my fair share of middle school social drama. Braced dives into the support system that friends can offer one another. Hazel and Frannie are Rachel’s best friends. While they are both dealing with their own situations, they both help Rachel combat the kids at school, soccer stress, and Rachel’s mom. If it wasn’t for these two young ladies, it’s clear that Rachel would have struggled even more.

I love how Gerber incorporated texting and realistic social situations to appeal and relate to current middle school readers. As adults, we don’t have that first hand experience of texting a boy when we were in seventh grade, so it’s hard to sometimes realize the impact that social media and technology can have on kids. While this book doesn’t focus on social media posts, it does remind us that when the school day is over, the drama/situations don’t just stay at school.

While I loved the characters and plot of this novel, one of the most important components was the theme of isolation. Rachel has no one to talk to about what is happening to her because they are not experiencing it with her. No one understands how insanely hot the brace gets in the summer, or how exciting it is to find clothes that actually fit. Kids at school just see Rachel as “different”, and while she has a great friend support system, they just don’t get it. The story ends with Rachel googling support groups and finding Curvy Girls (a scoliosis support group) and realizing that she is not alone. I loved how Gerber ended with this because it is important for kids to realize there are always others out there with similar experiences.

Lastly, my absolute favorite part of this book was the Author’s Note where Gerber discusses her personal experiences with scoliosis and her brace. “It wasn’t until I was in my twenties, when I started talking about my experience of being treated for scoliosis, that I realized how alone I’d felt.” Never ever has a quote spoken to me as loudly as this one.

I was diagnosed with scoliosis in fifth grade. I had to wear my brace with the Bugs Bunny tattoo for 20 hours a day. I had an “S” curve that was extremely stubborn and did not respond well to the brace.

I was very fortunate to have a supportive team of teachers. If the activity in gym class would make me uncomfortable, I just told the teacher and she let me sit out and watch. I didn’t want to change in front of the other girls in my grade, so I was allowed to use the teacher’s bathroom. I had copies of textbooks at home so I didn’t have to worry about carrying them back and forth to school. I was fortunate that I never dealt with anything hurtful socially. I was always open and honest with kids about my brace, and never had to experience bullying.

On September 11, 2001 I went to go see Dr. Reiger for my usual progress check. I did the usual x-ray and waited in the cold room with my purple socks on. After he came in and asked about my boyfriend (he had a fabulous bedside manner) he told me my curve had progressed to 55 degrees and was heading towards my heart. I would need emergency spinal surgery.

On January 2, 2002 I had my titanium rod fused to my spine. For the next six months I healed a little bit more every day. I was out of school for four months, and slowly transitioned to half days towards the end of the year.

I remember one day I refused to go to school. I had a screaming match with my mom and I kept trying to tell her no one understands what I’m feeling, but she didn’t get it. Back then there was no social media and the only book was Deenie by Judy Blume (lovely book, but a little outdated for even back then). That feeling has never completely gone away for me. As I get older I talk about it more, even to my students, and I amaze myself that I was so strong.

Today, I don’t worry so much about my 18 inch scar showing in bathing suits. I had a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery with Miss Molly, even with the rod. I know what my body can handle and what it can’t (I will NEVER jump on a trampoline again). And one day when Molly is old enough, we will read Braced together and talk.

June is Scoliosis Awareness Month. As a teacher and a parent, I’m reminded how important it is for us to listen to kids. Even if we don’t understand or think the same way they do, kids have to talk about their feelings. We need to read books like Braced, and have open and honest discussions. I will admit that I cried writing this book review, and I’m pretty sure I have a tear drop on my glasses. But, that’s just a sign of fantastic writing.

Celebrate Book Review

It’s wedding season!! My social media accounts have pictures and posts at least once a week of a wedding. It’s that time of year where love is definitely being celebrated.

Celebrate by Christine Reynebeau, and illustrated by Kimberly Wix, is a delightful story about honoring a couple getting married.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of doing a virtual author visit with Christine. She is an absolutely amazing woman who is filled with determination and energy. She totally inspired me to push through my slump I was in, and I will always be grateful for that.Christine Author Visit

Usually stories about weddings focus on dramatic emergencies or details about the dress and flowers, but Celebrate takes a different approach. The story really explores how meaningful marriage is and highlights the importance of a wedding as a new beginning instead of just a big party. For instance, when discussing the bridal party, the author writes, “The wedding party is filled with people who are important to the pair, asked to stand at the altar, as people who have always been there.” Instead of merely just saying friends and family stand with the bride and groom, Reynebeau dives into the deeper meaning and significance.

I was also a HUGE fan of the illustrations for this book. There is something about it looking like a child drew the pictures that adds a warm and fuzzy feeling. Personally, I think that it definitely helps the appeal for younger audiences. I also love how the illustrations incorporate diversity.

The structure of the text is simple. There is a sentence on each page with simple vocabulary words and a smidge of rhyming. It’s perfect for toddlers to beginner readers. It’s an ideal book to use when discussing weddings with children, especially if they are in the wedding.

 

 

 

Blood Book Review

My favorite genre is 10000% YA. I’m fortunate where I get to share my love of these amazing texts with my students. During our class discussions we often compare works to Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, and Divergent. I’m always on a quest for the next series to completely suck me into a different world, and I just found one!

Blood by Kirsten Krueger, is a fantasy young adult novel about people with special powers (Affinities). Readers follow a group of new students who are learning about their unique abilities and how it impacts the world around them.

I had the privilege of meeting this author at my writing workshop meeting a few weeks ago. We attended the same high school and grew up in the same town (such a small world). In speaking with her, we learned that her writing is based on Harry Potter fan fiction. After reading this novel, I can totally see it!!

My number one favorite aspect about this piece are the characters. Hands down they are the most entertaining and engaging characters I have come across since City of Bones. The dialogue is filled with sarcasm, sass, and brutal honesty that captures the true attitude of a high school student. I actually caught myself loling for a solid 30 seconds during the scene with the students in the van when Adara freaks out over Kiki and Seth’s mushy gushiness.

Adara is an incredibly hard young lady (although she’d probably yell at me for calling her a lady) that many students can relate to. She has a very heavy guard up, which makes sense based on her history, and her mouth is razor sharp. While the point of view is third person, it doesn’t always stay on the main character, which I liked. The shifts in POV don’t distract the reader from the action, but rather is used to explore more personal feelings and experiences of other characters at just the right points in the plot.

As in Divergent,  Blood also alludes to some political commentary. The Affinities pose a threat to the US government and the presidential candidates are in favor of imprisoning these individuals. Usually writers focus on corrupt governments in YA novels like this, but Blood didn’t go in that direction. Instead, it looks like it will be a key piece of the plot in book #2 like a domino effect.

Personally, the plot felt a little drawn out to me during my reading. However, as the story went on, I realized it was so detailed to provide readers with a clear image of the dynamics between the characters and background information for the next book. The last two chapters did make everything come together, but also left me with some questions.

I would recommend this book for high school readers because of content and language used. Just as a heads up, it has 502 pages. It reminds me of a grown up version of Harry Potter, mixed with a little bit of City of Bones and Divergent.

For more information on the author click here.

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

How to Win the World Cup in Your Pajamas Book Review

June is shaping up to be an extremely busy month I’m starting to realize. End of the school year, Father’s Day, graduation, and sport events, like the Women’s World Cup.

I’ve been on a motivational quotes and texts kick recently, so I was super excited to come across a book that sends positive messages to kids. How to Win the World Cup in Your Pajamas by Kobe and Mary Nhin and illustrated by Milena Salieri, is a book that helps young athletes set goals.

Emma is a young soccer player, who has won the World Cup many times. At first I thought the book would describe a dream of Emma’s experience winning, but I was pleasantly mistaken. Instead, the text dives into providing kids with 5 tools needed to be successful.

These tools include: grit, rituals, visualize, mantras, and positive body language. What I like most about these tools is that they are not watered down for kids. I consider these tools for adults as well, and I like how the authors include maturity with the wording of the tools. The text is written clearly and does not have any challenging vocabulary words, which makes it a great work for elementary students. It provides a clear explanation of how kids can set and accomplish their goals.

While reading the book, I felt like I had a life coach in my ear. I have yet to come across another text that is able to speak to me as an adult the same way it speaks to a child. I felt a surge of girl power and determination after reading this book.

However, the best surprise was at the end of the book. The teacher in me got really excited when there was a Mental Toughness Growth Plan graphic organizer. Not only does the story teach kids how to develop mental toughness, but it includes a step by step guide kids can actually use on a daily basis! There is lots of writing required for the organizer, but it would be a great activity for kids to complete with a parent, older sibling, coach, etc.

To check out the book, click here.

 

Skating Shoes Book Review

As readers, we all have books we re-read. We could just love the characters, the story, or it’s associated with memories. I was fortunate to be very close to my maternal grandparents growing up and one summer they took us girls to Cape Cod for a week. I can still remember walking around a book store and finding three books that immediately became my favorites: Ballet Shoes, Theater Shoes, and Dancing Shoes. On the drive home I was transported into those English, theatrical worlds.

A few years later, a friend of mine mentioned her favorite of those books was Skating Shoes.  I would look for it in Barnes and Nobles (it’s weird remembering a time before Kindle and Prime) but I was never able to find it. Then, in March, I saw that Random House re-released Skating Shoes and I HAD to get my hands on it.

Skating Shoes by Noel Streatfeild is a charming novel about two friends, Lalla and Harriet, who experience the world of ice skating together.

The novel was originally published in 1951, and it definitely has a more classic feel to the writing. The story takes place in England, and kids are introduced to some English words and expressions. It was nice to take a break from more modern texts with technology and enjoy a simpler time.

Streatfeild has a way of developing such realistic characters. Lalla and Harriet could not be more different from one another. Lalla has grown up being told she is going to be a famous skater with her wealthy aunt, and Harriet comes from a poor, loving family. Both girls have sass, spunk, and determination that show young girls it’s okay to be unique. Readers can relate to pieces of the characters, and will smile at some of the cheeky dialogue. I especially like the conversations with Harriet’s younger brother Edward.

Personally, I would consider this a girly book, and would recommend it for kids in grades 3-6. The vocabulary is not complex, but the text is quite long (281 pages). It’s a fun read that shows the importance of friendship, family and determination.