Dating the Quarterback (Secret # 3) Book Review

A few years ago I was looking for free books for my classroom library, and I stumbled on the giveaway section on Goodreads. About a month ago I entered a bunch of giveaways for young adult and children’s books not expecting to win anything. Well, I won three!!

Dating the Quarterback (Secret #3) by Emily Evans is a young adult romance novel. We follow the main character, Chelsea, as she tackles her love life while trying to get a letter of recommendation from a teacher to get into the college of her choice.

YA is by far my favorite genre. Part of me will always be a 16 year old girl, so romance YA books are my guilty pleasure. Dating the Quarterback is a fun novel that includes all aspects that appeal to teenage girls: boys, money, trips, and clothes.

I absolutely loved that Chelsea is an intelligent young lady. She has big dreams of becoming a doctor and works her butt off to make her senior year of high school the best she can academically. Her maturity made me forget that she’s still a teenager.

My only issue I had with this book is the choppy plot. I was confused a few times by the switch of scenes/time frames a few times before I got familiar with the pacing. It felt a little stop-start for me, which caused me to put the book down a few times because I would lose interest. I will say that even though I wasn’t a fan of the vision in the beginning, I really enjoyed how Evans incorporated the idea throughout the novel, especially at the end.

As a teacher, I always worry that some of the content may be a little too mature for my students. This novel was super conservative about the relationship budding between Chelsea and Sterling, which I really appreciated. I would feel completely comfortable giving this text to even my middle school students.

I will admit that I have never come across books by Emily Evans until this win, but that will be changing :).

Building the Bond in a Virtual Classroom

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is being able to create amazing relationships with my students. That feeling when you walk into the room and you feel like a rockstar can’t be compared to anything else.

When I first started as a virtual teacher I had no idea how I would be able to achieve a bond with students I was not going to meet face to face. I learned very quickly that it’s impossible to develop a strong relationship with virtual students via email. They need human contact.

Over the last year, I have tried various modes of communication with my students in grades 6-12. Here is how I personally create a strong bond with my students.

Being myself. I’m a dork. I tell my kids all the time I’m a nerd. I’m loud, I’m dramatic and I know it. And when I show this side of myself my kids LOVE it. I use Zoom on a weekly basis for my read aloud (check out that post here) and while it was a little intimidating to be myself on video at first, now I embrace it. My kids have seen me drink Snapple during my read alouds, they have seen me recovering from a cold, they have heard the construction on my neighbor’s deck, and they love it. We have had conversations about our favorite Snapple flavors and what the weather is like. They are able to see me as a real person and we can connect in some capacity.

Listen to parents. I will admit that I was not a fan of parent teacher conferences in brick and mortar classrooms. I have had parents yell at me and make me feel uncomfortable, but I have also cried with parents as we discuss the fears they have for their child. I do not have parent teacher conferences in the virtual world, but we do make monthly progress calls/texts. I have had some students in four courses, so I’ve gotten to know the families very well.

A good chunk of my students take online courses because of health problems, physical and mental. When I call parents of these types of students I know I may spend 20 minutes talking to a mom about her other children and struggles she is dealing with. I listen every time. Even if she tells me the same story every month, I listen. Why? Because she’s trying to help her child to the best of her ability and at the end of the day my goal is to help children be successful.

When I let parents talk (sometimes vent) I always get more information about what I can do to help their child. One mom told me her son is just so overwhelmed by his assignments that he shuts down and has fallen behind pace. I made her son an individual calendar of what assignments to do on what day. He is able to focus on just one task to get him going, and sometimes that’s all a student needs. By listening to parents, I can individualize my approach, create resources and build trust with the family so we are all on the same page.

Consistency. My kids know they can always call/text/Zoom or email me. How? Because I do it ALL THE TIME. I send out my weekly newsletter with my office hours and read aloud schedule, I text or call to check in once a month, I have my read aloud every week and remind students. I put my contact information on every email that goes out to students. I tell kids I’m calling on my cell phone and they can call/text/or email me, whatever works best for them. I offer to meet with kids one-on-one in Zoom if they need help, even if it’s for every unit activity. It’s important to remind students you are there to help them.

Listen to the students. One of the perks about teaching virtually is that I don’t live by a bell. I make my schedule and have the flexibility to meet with students at all times (yes, even weekends). Some of my students are working and can only do homework at night. Some of my students are incredible athletes and train/practice for multiple hours a day.

Students today have crazy lives. They each have a story and sometimes they just need someone to listen to them. When I first started teaching students in Michigan, I called a student to do my welcome call. I have no idea how, but we started talking about life in general. She works part time at Burger King. Homeschooling was her best option because she has to pay for her college education and needs to work all different shifts to make that a happen. I was on the phone with her for an hour. We discussed how to manage time, how hard it is to adult (according to her I have adulting down), how to get the motivation to wake up an hour early to get an extra assignment done, etc.

After our phone call, she would check in with me regularly. If she had a question, she would shoot me a text. If she needed help with a course activity, she called me to walk her through it so she didn’t waste her time trying to figure it out herself. She passed my class. Halfway through last semester she randomly texted me to say hi and to let me know she was getting better at not procrastinating.

We’re a team. Whether I’m talking/texting/emailing/Zooming with a parent or student, I always reinforce that we are a team. We all need to work together in the virtual world to be successful. This looks different depending on my student.

I had a mom I called every week on Friday mornings so I could give her a progress report on her son. She told me in the beginning that she was not tech savy and preferred I spoke to her on the phone since she never read my emails.

I had a middle school student who was struggling to stay on pace. I was in constant communication with his guidance counselor, and we decided to meet in Zoom once a week as a team to check in. The student would ask me questions, we would review assignments and create a plan for the week. The student would also email me any questions/concerns during the week as well.

When I text with parents, they often tell me how frustrated they are. I always tell them we will get through it together as a team. It’s amazing how just saying that provides comfort to parents because they know they have a go-to person.

The virtual classroom has no judgement. Every student comes to me with a specific situation. A lot of them aren’t straight A students. For some of them, this is their only option to get an education. I feel closer to my students virtually than I ever did in a brick and mortar classroom because of the environment.

 

Aidan the Wonder Kid Book Review

Through an amazing Facebook group, I have had the pleasure to connect with so many great children’s book authors over the last few weeks. Within the first 24 hours of joining the group I was chatting with the fabulous Colleen Brunetti.

Aidan the Wonder Kid by Colleen Brunetti, and illustrated by Dan Carsten, is a picture book that explains the “secret energy powers” of a little boy named Aidan, and how sometimes those powers disappear because of the foods he eats. As readers, we witness Aidan change his diet, experiment in the kitchen, and continue to be A WONDER KID WHO CAN’T BE STOPPED!

One of my favorite aspects is the characterization of Aidan. Right away kids can bond with him because he has the same interests and hobbies that they do. My favorite is that he prefers to front flip across the couch instead of strolling through the living room. He has lots of happy, positive energy and loves to go on adventures. When he gets sick and not able to do all of his favorite things, the reader does feel for Aidan.

I was also a HUGE fan of the illustrations for this book! The story describes Aidan as an extraordinary little boy, but with hints of super powers, which can also be seen in the illustrations. I really enjoyed the realistic cartoon look and the creativity. On one of the pages, mom and Aidan are mad scientists in the kitchen, and the illustrations do a beautiful job showing their experiments. Aidan Science Experiment

For me, the main theme of the book is that health issues don’t have to stop a person from enjoying life. Just because Aidan has food allergies it doesn’t mean he can’t still go to birthday parties (he may just have to bring his own dessert). By providing his body with what it needs, Aidan can play, jump, and flip just like he always did. I also love that the author included the importance of finding a support system, in this instance a group of other kids with food allergies. I think this really shows kids that food allergies are not uncommon and they should not be afraid of them.

Not only does this picture book have a fantastic theme, it also has lesson plans!! This totally made my teacher heart happy. Brunetti did a truly wonderful job creating Common Core aligned lesson plans for kids in grades 1-3, which focus on higher order thinking skills. I’m a huge fan of the discussion guide. It provides super clear directions (great for parents to use at home) and opens the door for meaningful conversations about food allergies and awareness.

This would be a lovely book and activity in a preschool to lower elementary grade classroom.

For more information about the book and author, feel free to check out these sites:

Newsletter signup: http://eepurl.com/cQeR9j       Website: http://www.colleenbrunetti.com

Facebook: FB.com/CoachColleenBrunetti             Instagram:Instagram.com/ColleenBrunetti

Pinterest: Pinterest.com/ColleenBrunetti

 

 

 

Agent 603 Book Review

Like many others, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. This past week has been all love though because I was invited to join a new Facebook group that connects children’s book authors with bloggers. I have about 5 new books on my To Read list so I can write some exciting reviews, which makes my reading heart quite happy.

I’ve spent the last eight years working with middle school students, so I have a soft spot for any texts for this age group. Agent 603 by Tabitha Bell is an ADORABLE story about a teddy bear who is really a secret agent. Based on the writing style, some advanced vocabulary and humor, I would recommend this book for students in grades 4-6.

Our main character is Agent 603, later named Mr. Snuggles, who is a teddy bear fresh out of secret agent training. As readers, we dive into the details of his first mission. The point of view is mostly in first person, and we get to know our cuddly character very well. He is dramatic, clumsy and a foodie, making him relatable to readers. He tends to always have food on his mind, which adds to the humor of the book.

One of my absolute favorite aspects about this novel is the humor. The story is structured like a secret agent case file, but every so often an amendment for the record interjects some realities about the situation. These amendments had me lol’ing for real, which doesn’t happen to me as a reader. I started reading the novel on my phone while I was getting my hair done (love the Kindle app) and I had to use my close reading strategies and highlight some of my favorite parts.

Agent 603 Excerpt

The plot is very imaginative and reflects how children think. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book as creative as this one in terms of characterization and plot, which made the novel super engaging to me. There were a few points that I got confused with the plot because of the immense attention to detail, but it wasn’t enough to distract me from reading. This happened once or twice when Mr. Snuggles ventured into the closet and experienced new surroundings every time.

A theme that really struck me while reading this novel was imagination. Without giving anything away, the falling action allowed readers to see what can happen if we aren’t afraid to be creative and use our imaginations. Personally, I think this is a fantastic theme in a book for this age group. Students at this point are in the weird transition period of puberty, and teachers often see this in the behaviors of students. We can tell when some students haven’t hit that stage yet because they tend to have over active imaginations and immaturity. This book highlighted that having an over active imagination is a positive aspect and to embrace it. Having worked with sixth grade students for years, I was very drawn to this because kids often hide their true thoughts to fit in with others.

This is definitely one book that should be in a classroom library. I think it would attract those readers who enjoy adventure and humor types of books. I can’t wait to see the next mission that Mr. Snuggles goes on.

Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom

For over a year and a half I have been an virtual English teacher with EdOptions Academy. There is definitely some transition from being in a brick and mortar school to working with kids digitally, but the rewards are still the same.

One of my favorite activities to do with my students when I taught in a brick and mortar was my daily read aloud. I would choose a high interest text for my students, read it aloud to them every day and then have a quick class discussion about the reading. I was ecstatic when EdOptions Academy started using Zoom to conduct live weekly lessons because I would be allowed to continue my read alouds in the virtual setting.

For the last six months I have held weekly read alouds for my students in secondary English. It was slow going in the beginning, but I now have students waiting for me in our weekly meetings.

Below are some ways that I have created a successful virtual read aloud for students in grades 6-12.

Picking the right book. EdOptions Academy has a set curriculum, so I wanted to choose a novel based on assignments students are required to complete. For fall semester I did three separate read alouds (The Hunger Games, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Giver). While I loved reading these novels with my students, it was a lot to manage with 250 students. For spring semester, I am reading Divergent because it has similar themes to the texts from last semester and it’s an AMAZING book.

Student participation. Zoom allows students to participate via video chat or instant message using a chat box. I never gave students direct instructions on how to share their ideas during our sessions because I didn’t know what they would be comfortable using. My goal is always to have students be comfortable during our time together. Students started utilizing the chat box while I was reading to ask questions or express their thoughts. I monitor the chat box periodically while I read each chapter, and go through it at the end of each chunk to address any questions or ideas students have.

This is has been the most powerful aspect of my read aloud. Students are able to socialize with other students in the chat box while discussing the text. I notice that students make a TON of text-to-text connections (my favorite are the Harry Potter connections) and really love to discuss characterization. Students even came up with a hashtag ,#pusheric, when discussing the youngest Dauntless leader and it was one of my favorite discussions I’ve ever had. Having the freedom to type their ideas at any point during our hour together encourages students to participate when they feel comfortable and not worry about getting in trouble for interrupting.

Talk about being readers. Just as in a brick and mortar environment, it’s important to discuss reading habits in and out of the classroom. During my read alouds, I often find myself saying things such as, “As readers, we can infer…”. Using language like this helps create a stronger community feeling that we are all readers, regardless if we struggle or not. We also spend time talking about other texts the students are currently reading. Some are reading the Divergent series and others are enjoying Percy Jackson. By engaging in conversations like this with my students on a consistent basis we are not only bonding in the virtual classroom, but sharing books and characters we love.

Recorded sessions. I am required to record all of my live lessons with my students, which has turned out to be an incredible concept. Since my read aloud changes every week depending on meetings and office hours, some of my students are unable to attend the live session. I send the recorded link to my students each week so they can watch it at their convenience and still feel included. I also keep a Word document of all my recording links so I can share them with other teachers, parents, and schools. Students have told me they have “watched” me in the car traveling to tournaments and at night with their families. I love that parents get just as excited for the next chapter as my students.

All are welcome. During the fall semester, I was talking to another English teacher who was on a different team. She expressed her concern for a student because he was struggling in her class. I told the teacher the student should come to my read aloud to help practice reading skills in addition to the amazing work that she was already doing with him. The student participated in my read alouds and made significant progress in his English class. His success story is one of my favorites because it shows the power of collaboration in the virtual environment. I will never turn a student away from a read aloud because he or she is not “mine”. Any student is welcome to attend my read alouds and engage in amazing conversations with us.

The virtual learning environment is still a very new concept, but it is possible to create a community of readers from the comforts of home or on the road. My students now wait for me to start our meetings and I have a steady core group of readers. My read aloud is easily the highlight of my week and I love that I get to share it with my students from all over the US.

Girls Like Me Book Review

The last few months have been a little crazy, but with summer here things have finally calmed down (well, kind of).

Last week I had a chance to read a new book, Girls Like Me by Lola StVil. I saw the book post on HMH Kids’ Instagram and thought I would give it a try. I’m so glad that I did!

Shay is an overweight 15 year old young lady. She is coping with the death of her father, trying to co-exist with a step mom, dealing with bullying by the Queen Bee (Kelly) at school, and working on making it to her 16th birthday. Like many teenage girls, Shay has a crush on the popular boy in school, Blake Harrison, but he doesn’t know she exists. Shay relies on her best friends, Boots (dying from a brain tumor) and Dash (the amazing gay sidekick) to deal with every day life.

Shay’s life completely changes when she starts talking to a boy from her high school online. Suddenly she is able to open up and be herself with Godot and begins to experience teenage love.

The structure of this text is very different from the traditional YA novels, it’s written in prose/poetry style! I will admit that there were a few parts that confused me because I couldn’t tell who was talking, but re-reading it once or twice cleared that up. Without the presence of paragraphs and dialogue, the reader is able to truly feel what Shay is writing. The first person narrative literally puts the reader in Shay’s head and feel her pain and confusion right along with her.

I was very similar to Shay as a teenager, and StVil’s writing was spot on. She was able to grasp the humor, drama, and fears of a 15 year old girl perfectly.

I’m currently teaching an Intro to Social Media class, and one of the topics we’ve discussed is how many teens’ lives revolve around technology and social media. This book is a clear example of this concept. Shay’s whole mood completely changes when she gets a message from Godot, and when they don’t message she is completely crushed. Shay’s enemy, Kelly, uses a website to bully Shay during the climax of the novel, further demonstrating how teenagers use cyberspace to live their lives.

Overall, this book is a fabulous quick read! I devoured it in about 2.5 hours in one sitting because I simply couldn’t put it down. I recommend this book for high school students because of the mature content and sexual references. I plan on suggesting this as a summer read for my high schoolers.

Like Vanessa Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way. Like Vanessa by Tami Charles is an AMAZING book for young adult readers.

Book Description from Amazon: In this semi-autobiographical debut novel set in 1983, Vanessa Martin’s real-life reality of living with family in public housing in Newark, New Jersey is a far cry from the glamorous Miss America stage. She struggles with a mother she barely remembers, a grandfather dealing with addiction and her own battle with self-confidence. But when a new teacher at school coordinates a beauty pageant and convinces Vanessa to enter, Vanessa’s view of her own world begins to change. Vanessa discovers that her own self-worth is more than the scores of her talent performance and her interview answers, and that she doesn’t need a crown to be comfortable in her own skin and see her own true beauty.

Personal Thoughts: I am beyond excited to share this new book with you today! As an avid reader and well read educator I love getting my hands on young adult books, and this one is AMAZING!!! If I’m being totally honest, I spent an entire Monday night reading this novel from cover to cover because I was so emotionally invested in Vanessa’s journey. It has been a long time since I’ve stayed up half the night reading, and it was a fantastic decision.

The plot in Like Vanessa had two pieces that made it memorable. One piece is it’s a little predictable. About halfway through I got a feeling where Vanessa’s mom was, but the back story was one I did not expect. From an English teacher’s perspective, Charles did a beautiful job leaving some great foreshadowing breadcrumbs about Vanessa’s childhood. Some of them are a little more obvious than others, but in a positive way because it requires readers to think while reading.

The second piece is how the plot includes realistic situations. I’m a Jersey girl, born and raised, so I’m familiar with Newark, the setting of the story. Along with capturing the realities of living in an urban area, Charles hit on so many different experiences that young girls face. Peer pressure, puberty, family problems, friendship struggles, etc., can all be seen through Vanessa’s eyes.

I honestly fell in love with three characters while reading, Mrs. Walton, TJ and Vanessa.

As a teacher, I truly loved how Mrs. Walton, Vanessa’s music teacher, helped shape Vanessa into such a beautiful young woman. I make it my goal to reach one student every year, and to see the relationship between the two blossom reminded me that teaching is more than following a lesson plan. My heart melted when Mrs. Walton took Vanessa shopping because students don’t always realize that teachers are people too.

TJ is by far one of the strongest characters I have encountered in years. His love of fashion and creating works of art give him the strength to follow his dreams, regardless of his sexuality. Without giving too much away, I got choked up at a very scary part and started shaking. I had to put the book down so I could take a deep breath and continue reading.

Vanessa Martin is one of the most beautiful characters I’ve had the privilege to get to know. Nessy has a fabulous personality that shines through the pages of this novel. She is relatable to all girls, regardless of race or class. Her physical and emotional transformation is inspiring and motivating. She reminded me a little of Esperanza from House on Mango Street with her innocence and dreams, and like Esperanza she pushed through her environmental situations to take control of her life. At the end of the novel I wanted to climb inside the pages and give her a hug.

Personally, I recommend this book for grades eight and up because of mature content (references to drugs, alcohol and sex). Like Vanessa by Tami Charles is the best new young adult books that I’ve read since I found City of Bones. I encourage everyone to read this heartwarming story.

For more information on this fabulous novel please check out the following sites:

Tami Charles:  https://tamiwrites.com

Publisher’s Website:  https://www.charlesbridge.com/