Ben’s Adventures: A Day at the Beach Book Review

I’m taking a little break from YA and diving back into some picture books. As I’ve mentioned before, I LOVE being part of such a phenomenal book community on social media. Today’s author shared her book in a Facebook group that we are both in, and I instantly knew I wanted to share this title.

Ben’s Adventures: A Day at the Beach by Elizabeth Gerlach, is a heartwarming story about a little boy with Cerebral Palsy who dreams about a day at the beach with his family.

I have to be honest, I had tears in my eyes while I read this picture book. I fell in love with Ben instantly. His positive outlook on life and use of imagination melted my heart. In the first few pages, Ben introduces us to his family (he’s a triplet!), mentions that he has Cerebral Palsy, and explains that he can’t walk or talk. However, that doesn’t stop this little boy from enjoying his family and life.

Ben’s imagination is inspiring. He does not let his limitations keep him from experiencing the sand on his toes or the wind in his hair. One of my favorite pages is when Ben is building a sandcastle with a friend. Ben accidentally kicks one of the towers, and his friend’s reaction is spot on. His friend laughs off the tower destruction and mentions they will come up with a new plan. I love the powerful message of friendship that comes through this page, which encourages readers to be easy going and accomodating.

I also really enjoyed that Ben’s imagination has him spending time with members of his family. He does not spend the day alone, but rather bonds with his immediate family. He flies a kite with his daddy and looks for shells with Ava and Colin. The most touching moment of the story was when Ben’s mommy tucks him in at night. I think little details like this demonstrate to young readers the importance of spending time with family, and the fun and memories that can be had.

I think this book would be a phenomenal addition to a home library and a classroom library for preschool and kindergarten. I love that it promotes acceptance, hope, and diversity. I’m so excited for Ben’s next adventure.

For more information about Ben and the book, please click here.

 

Tips for Helping Students Stay on Task in ESY

This summer I spent the month of July working with high school students in an extended school year program at a private out of district placement school. Working with 25 teenagers, in the summer, every day, can be challenging to say the least. I co-teach a class of sophomores, and teach a class of juniors and seniors.

We’re currently on day 16 of 20 in ESY, and I would love to share some ideas on how to keep students motivated.

Allow them to listen to music. This is by far the best thing to keep kids calm and somewhat on task. Students in my program are allowed to use Chromebooks to listen to music on Youtube while they work. As long as they are not singing, dancing, rapping, or blasting their music, I’m quite happy with this arrangement.

Allow them to help choose materials. My program requires students to write a book report during summer school. Since we only have 20 days, we’ve been using short stories instead of teaching a novel. This has been super helpful because of vacations, field trips, etc. The first day I told my students the plan and asked for their input. One of the kids actually requested “Lamb to the Slaughter”, so we incorporated that into the curriculum. Students were definitely more engaged with reading and discussing this text.

Utilize film versions of texts. I have always been a huge fan of showing movies or TV shows then teaching, so I continued this in my ESY classes. In the three classes, we read “All Summer in a Day”, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, and “Lamb to the Slaughter”, which all have a movie/short film.

Personally, I think the film versions for “All Summer in a Day” and “Lamb to the Slaughter” are great adaptations that help students with reading comprehension. “All Summer” is super heavy on figurative language, so it was a little overwhelming for some of students. The film version really clarified the setting for them.

Walter Mitty is a full length movie that is very slightly similar to the short story. Walter does have daydreams quite frequently, but that’s the only similarity.

Be flexible. We have about a field trip a day, so I’m constantly losing kids to trips. Some students don’t want to participate with the field trips, so they see me every day. In these cases I work with kids individually to assign them work. For instance, my one student finished the book report, so she brings in a book from home to read. She sits in class every day, reads, listens to music and tells me about something that happened in her reading.

Since I know kids love to use the Chromebooks, I always make sure to have some vocabulary words ready to go for them to define. It’s super easy for them and they can listen to music while staying on task. I also make sure to have a couple of back up reading passages with questions for students to work on as well.

 

However, even with all of these tips, my classes are far from perfect. I still have students show up late, ask for food, walk out of class, and refuse to do their required book report. However, I’ve learned that incorporating these tips can help these situations and help keep my students calm.

Project Dandelion Book Review

My reader heart has been so happy the last few weeks with reading new YA books. Even better are YA dystopian novels.

Project Dandelion by Heather Carson, is a YA dystopian novel about the potential end of life in the US.

Katrina wakes up in a fall out shelter after multiple nuclear explosions have occurred. Like the other teenagers in the shelter, she has the Dandelion Gene, making her super adaptable. Like all heroines in YA dystopian novels, there is something different about Katrina. She tries not to get attached to the others (like her father told her), she uses her knowledge of survival skills to devise a plan for when the doors open, and she always seems to be one step ahead of the game.

The plot reminded me of Maze Runner, but a much more straight forward and quick read. I kept waiting for a plot twist with Nanny dropping a bombshell on the group, but the 14 days spent in the shelter moved along quickly. It didn’t feel as drawn out as The Hunger Games, which makes this a great read for students who struggle with reading stamina and comprehension.

While reading, I did have a few reader questions that weren’t answered. Why a dandelion? How does the government know the teens have this gene? Is there something more than these kids just being able to adapt well? None of these were answered in Book 1, so I’m curious if Carson will address some more of the back story in the next book.

As primarily a middle school teacher, I really appreciate YA texts that are appropriate for grades 6-12. The only little comment that raised a teeny tiny red flag was when Lark told James he just wanted to get laid. Personally, I think this will go over most middle schoolers heads, so I would still recommend it to readers in grades 6-12. There is a little bit of a flirting between Katrina and James, but it is purely innocent.

For more information visit the author’s website 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.

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.