A Day in the Life of a Kid: Circus Is Fun for Everyone Book Review

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.

I absolutely love the relationships I’ve been able to establish with so many great authors over the last few years through this blog and social media. I also get super excited when authors reach out to me about a new project they want me to share, which is what brings me here today. In May, I did a book review for Spring Song (check out the post here), and was touched when Anetta emailed me two weeks ago about a new book.

A Day in the Life of a Kid: Circus Fun for Everyone, by Anetta Kotowicz, is a whimsical book about a circus experience that promotes anti-bullying.

As with Spring Song, there is a music component with this text. I think that this little extra helps readers to visualize what it is like going to a circus. The use of onomatopoeias in the text make it super fun to read aloud, especially if little ones repeat the sounds.

I really enjoyed the illustrations of this text. As a parent, I haven’t taken Molly to a circus yet, and I felt that this book does a great job depicting the whimsical and fun aspect of the experience. The bright colors, including all the different elements (food, animals, etc). provides readers with a realistic visit. I believe that books can take readers on new adventures, especially if readers don’t have the ability to physically go on these. This book definitely fulfills the adventure of going to the circus for the first time.

What I found a little unexpected was the shift the plot took when the clowns came out. Up until this point, I thought the book was quite enjoyable as we “watched” a circus performance. However, when one of the clowns did not feel comfortable to go through the ring of fire, the other clowns poked and bullied instead of supported their friend. Ellie, our main character, takes a very brave stand and speaks up for the scared clown in front of the entire circus.

In all honesty, I had to read this scene twice to make sure I understood what I was reading because as a reader I wasn’t prepared for this. I thought Ellie’s courage was admirable and sent a very powerful message to readers about bullying. Instead of being a bystander, Ellie intervenes and the crowd supports her decision. Typically, we think of clowns at a circus as silly characters who all follow the group. The fact that we see a clown, cry out of real fear, goes against the grain of what we typically think, which I personally happen to love. This scene teaches readers that there are times where we can be bullied by our friends, that it takes courage to stand up for what is right, and respect is important in all aspects of life.

And as always, the teacher in me gets excited when authors include activities at the end of the book. This book encourages students to draw or make signs about helping those who are hurt. Kids can then share their signs on Instagram @ArtsKindred with the hashtags #ArtsKindred #ADayInTheLifeOfAKid.

I recommend this book for ages P-2, and I think it would be a great text to springboard a discussion about bullying in early elementary.

To purchase the book, click here.

 

Swimming Sideways Book Review

It’s no secret that I LOVE a good YA novel. I’ve realized that I tend to gravitate towards dystopian, fantasy, sci-fi work, so it was nice escaping into a a realistic fiction piece.

Swimming Sideways, by C.L. Walters, is a relatable YA novel that focuses on the importance of family, love and friendship.

Our main character, Abby, has just moved from Hawaii to Oregon with her family (parents and twin brothers). Her parents are hoping for a fresh start so they can work on their marriage. Abby is hoping for a fresh start because of events that were out of her control in her old school (that involved social media).

As an older sibling myself, I love how protective Abby is when it comes to her family. Even though she is hurting from her own social media situation, she hides it from all the members of her family so they don’t have to worry, suffer, etc. She carries her secret alone and deals with the emotional side effects. Her pain is felt in the first few pages and readers question why there’s a Good Abby and a Bad Abby.

Abby’s home life is also not as clean as one would hope. It’s clear that her parents are having marital problems and the family is struggling emotionally. Usually, the YA books I read only focus on the love part of being a teenager, but Swimming Sideways also tackles the reality of problems at home. The realness that Walters created with this conflict not only puts readers in Abby’s shoes, but also shows adults how children are affected by words and actions. The use of Abby’s point of view really does shed light on how a teenager interprets experiences.

As with any great piece of literature, there’s a little bit of a love triangle. Abby spent time in Oregon growing up with her grandma, who happened to be neighbors with Seth. The two of them pick their friendship right up and start to date. Meanwhile, Abby is fascinated by the school “freak” Gabe, and makes friends with him. And just to thicken the plot, Gabe and Seth used to be best friends. If I say anymore I will give away some of the plot, but Walters does a beautiful job of showing readers that friendship is the foundation of a good dating relationship.

One of my favorite characters was Abby’s new best friend Hannah. Hannah approaches Abby in the cafeteria on her first day of school and goes out of her way to make Abby feel welcome. Through all that happens over the course of the novel, Hannah never leaves Abby’s side, providing a safety blanket that teenage girls need, especially in social situations. This reminds readers that it isn’t the quantity of friends, but the quality that is most important. There were a few times I wanted to reach through the pages and hug Hannah for being a true friend.

As a teacher, I know some of the situations my students have dealt with in their personal lives. What really drew me into this story was how so many real life situations are woven into this text. Dealing with relationships, family problems, abuse, social media, and the social pressure of being a teenager all come together in such a realistic way. The ending does leave readers on an intense cliff hanger, so be prepared.

This was one of those books that I stayed up all night reading. I messaged C.L. Walters on Instagram the next day because I had to tell her how sucked in I was (and that I was grateful the second book was already out).

I would recommend this book for students in grades 9-12, parents of teenagers, and teachers working with high school students.

For more information check out the author’s website here

My Why: Making My Classroom Virtual

Why did you want to be a teacher?

I’ve been asked this question countless times over the last ten years, by parents, administrators, college professors, etc. In the early days I would dive into a heartfelt story about playing school with my dolls growing up,  saying that I was meant to be a teacher. When I was working in public school I would express my desire to make a difference in the lives of my students.

Today, my why looks nothing like those responses.

In college, I was fortunate to be in a program that valued creativity and ambition. We were taught to create unit plans that sparked student engagement, incorporated real world skills, and fulfilled all of the state requirements. I felt incredibly confident in my ability to teach and truly impact my students in a positive way. I was ready to experiment with new ideas and collaborate with other teachers to give my students a memorable experience.

Since day one my goal has always been putting my students first. I promised myself I would always fight for my kids, to do whatever I could to provide them with the best education that I could give them. If that meant working on weekends, doing additional research, enrolling in courses, I would do it.

What they don’t tell you in college is that not all districts, supervisors or principals will have the same mindset. What they don’t tell you is how political a school building can be. What they don’t tell you is that sometimes the student will not come first.

My first year I taught eighth grade English. My course was focused on literature (woot woot!) and I worked in an affluent district with involved parents. They expected their children to go to college. Over the course of the year it became clear that my students wanted help with reading comprehension. They literally asked for help with it. The curriculum said I had to do a literature circle (students could choose 1 of 4 books to read), one of those being To Kill a Mockingbird. I knew the high school would have high expectations for my students, so I wanted to do To Kill a Mockingbird as a whole class novel to help prepare my students and work on reading comprehension.

I collaborated with my amazing in class support teacher, who agreed with me that this was the best decision for our students. I reached out to my supervisor, in his first year on the job, and waited for a response. He took days to get back to me. It was Friday afternoon, we started the unit on Monday. At 1 pm he responded that no I couldn’t focus on reading comprehension with TKAM. We had to leave the curriculum as is.

I was beyond frustrated.

That summer I was moved to sixth grade reading (yay!), and was writing curriculum with our new Pearson textbook. The Common Core had just come out and we had to revamp everything. I was so excited, until I was told we needed to use the textbook for EVERYTHING that wasn’t using one of our novels. The reason? New teachers need to follow a textbook.

The following year, I was moved to teach literacy support for sixth and seventh grade. I was working towards my reading specialist certification, so this was perfect for me. I had done a lot of research on read alouds and started to dedicate the first 10 minutes of my class to reading Divergent. I wanted a book that would hook my struggling readers and get them excited to read. These students were not scoring proficient on the state standardized test, so they needed all the additional support I could provide. Divergent was a title in the seventh grade curriculum as a literature circle choice. However, being that it was a popular book, many students had been reading it on their own. I included the text in my lesson plans for my supervisor to see when he checked it. He never said anything.

When he came to observe me first marking period he was not a fan of my read aloud. It took up 10 minutes of precious instruction time. The book was in the seventh grade curriculum, so I was told to stop reading the trilogy, even though Insurgent (the second book) was not in the curriculum.

At the end of the year, my tenure year, I was told I wasn’t a good fit and would not be returning.

I was hired to work in a charter school for the following September teaching sixth grade. I had an incredibly supportive administration team who wanted me to experiment. What I wasn’t prepared for was having students on a third grade reading level, with a severe lack of resources. I created a classroom library and a community of readers, but I couldn’t provide the individual time with students that they needed.

I resigned from my position to be with Molly. However, I needed to work because I’m just that type of person. I was an experienced teacher with a reading specialist endorsement, and I couldn’t get a job. I applied to hundreds of positions, virtual and brick and mortar. I didn’t even get an interview.

Finally, I was hired by EdOptions Academy, a branch of Edmentum, an edtech company. Making the leap from brick and mortar to virtual has changed my life. I’ve worked with hundreds of students from different backgrounds and life situations. I had the flexibility to collaborate with other teachers and provide my students with the support they needed. However, working full time was taking a toll on me. I struggled with balancing my work-home life, even working from home. I decided to go back to being part time.

Why?

Because I have a vision. I believe that literacy affects all areas of a person’s life. I believe those skills are critical for a person to be successful. I believe struggling readers need customized support.

From my own personal experiences, I can see how struggling readers fall through the cracks. There isn’t enough time, money, resources, etc. in many of our schools. There are teachers who are frustrated and burned out. The amount of red tape is negatively impacting our readers.

That is why I started Little Reading Coach. I’m getting rid of the red tape and set curriculums. I’m giving each student the individual focus they deserve.

Students have a million activities going on. I want to provide convenience by conducting all sessions virtually through Zoom. Tutoring can take place in the backseat of a car, at home or during study hall. There are no limits as long as we have wifi.

My why is to help struggling readers gain the skills they need to be successful. Whether that is to go to college, become a mechanic, or train to be a chef.

I struggled for years trying to understand why I wasn’t a “good fit” when I realized they weren’t the good fit. They lost the individual attention I believe every student deserves. They lost a teacher who made personal connections with families, who cried with moms during parent teacher conferences. A teacher who believes that it only takes one book to make a student a reader.

For more information click here.

Merry Fairy Birthday Book Review

September is always a big month in my world, with the start of a new school year and Molly’s birthday. I’m still kind of shocked that I’m going to have a three year old (eek), but not gonna lie I do like sharing all of my favorite things with her at this age. She has recently gotten into Disney princesses and has been requesting to be read to more often. Today’s book is the perfect combination of all things Molly.

Merry Fairy Birthday, by Melissa Spencer, is a delightful story about a birthday girl receiving colorful fairy presents.

First, I really love how girly this book is. The little girl in the story gets dressed up in a sparkly party gown and is surrounded by fairies. The illustrations are a combination of realistic pictures and hand drawn images, with fabulous colors that make the text engaging. I really wanted to run my fingers over the sequins on the party dress.

The teachermom in me got very excited with the writing style. It is fun and creative with a little bit of rhyming thrown in. I really liked the use of ‘hue’, which is a word not often seen in picture books. I think the vocabulary is a little challenging for a beginner reader to read on their own, but it’s a great read aloud book.

Now to my favorite part…the fairy gifts! It may be my Disney brain or the fact that Molly watched Sleeping Beauty for the first time two weeks ago, but I had an immediate text to media connection. The fairies present the birthday girl with gifts based on colors of the rainbow. Similar to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, the gifts are qualities for a little girl to use her whole life. I LOVED that the gifts were not material objects, like a tea set or a baby doll, but were things like success and happiness. It leaves readers with a beautiful message and instills self-confidence in young readers. Especially when the birthday girl was given green, which is the gift of curiosity and ambition. It’s very girl power without the punch.

Personally, I think this would make an adorable birthday gift for a little girl. This book will definitely have a home on Molly’s bookshelf (see what else is on her shelf here). I plan on reading Merry Fairy Birthday with Miss Molly this month as we get ready to celebrate her special day.

To purchase the book click here

The Fever King Book Review

I really feel like my TBR pile has exploded in the last few weeks. I feel truly touched that authors and agents have reached out to me for book reviews, so be prepared for a lot of great new texts appearing on this little blog in the near future.

In the past I have reviewed books I’ve won from Goodreads giveaways (see Dating a Quarterback Secret #3). Today I’m sharing another one of my wins!

Fever King, by Victoria Lee, is a YA political novel about trust, love, and change.

The setting is futuristic in America that is no longer the country we all know. We follow Noam, a teenage boy, as he navigates the world among refugees, a virus, and a very tense political climate. Early on, Noam is infected with the virus and turns into a witching (a survivor of the virus with magical powers). His magic is so special, he is to be trained with the most elite witchings and has private tutoring sessions with Lehrer. Lehrer is the most powerful witching, who survived the catastrophe that transformed America over a hundred years ago.

In all honesty, it took me a while to wrap my head around the history of story. While texts like The Hunger Games are super straightforward about the history, Fever King was not as upfront. There are bread crumbs here and there to provide the reader with more background (letters, videos, etc), but it was hard for me to keep all of the information straight. I’m also not very big into politics to begin with, so my brain isn’t used to reading about political issues in a text. In my opinion, this text is a HUGE social commentary, and the timing of it is perfect with our current society.

I realized while reading this text, that most popular YA novels have a female main character, so it was quite a treat to have a male one. Noam is an incredibly intelligent, mature and responsible individual. It is also revealed that he is bi-sexual, which I loved. Since it is a YA book, there is a hint of romance, but it is not the center of the plot. Noam is a character that does wrong things for the right reason. He has difficulties trusting others and takes this very seriously. He is an extremely loyal individual, until he has a reason not to be.

I can honestly say I haven’t read any other books that are similar to Fever King. Between the heavy politics, bi-sexual romance, and complicated relationships, this book keeps readers on their toes. While reading the last few chapters, I found myself skipping lines to find out what happens next.

One aspect that caught my eye right away was style of writing. Usually YA books are written on a less complex writing level, making it user friendly for readers in middle school. Fever King‘s sophisticated writing is definitely geared towards an older audience, I would suggest sophomores and up. I can’t wait for the next book!!

Arial the Youtuber Book Review

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.

I absolutely love that I have connected with so many incredible authors over the last few months. Every time I read a new book I remember how powerful words truly are.

Arial the Youtuber, by Mary Nhin, is a fabulous picture book about a unicorn on a mission to encourage others through her Youtube channel.

This is my second blog book review for Mary Nhin, (click here for How to Win the World Cup in Pajamas ) and again I’m in love with her work. Mary is a true boss babe, who is building an empire with her whole family (so amazing!). Grow Grit (her business) is all about positivity and following a dream.

In this book, Arial learns a valuable life lesson that the way we speak to others makes an impact (both positive and negative). By encouraging others we can all make a difference in someone’s life.

Arial is an extremely relatable character. She says the wrong things without meaning to. Personally, I am totally guilty of doing just this, so I instantly felt a connection to the main character. After an inspiring talk with her mom, Arial learns how popular Youtube is and decides to encourage others by creating her own Youtube channel.

As a teacher and a mom, I thought it was so clever that Arial did research, created a checklist and got permission from her parents before diving into the world of Youtube. I’ve seen so many students just want to jump into a project without doing the necessary research, so having Arial take these steps sends a great message to young readers.

Once Arial is ready to go, we are with her while she makes, edits, and posts her first video. I was really hoping to know how successful the video was, but as readers we are left with a viewer leaving Arial a positive message, which is just as delightful.

I’m also slightly obsessed with the illustrations. They truly help readers comprehend the story and learn new information (checklist for creating a Youtube channel). The bright colors help create an upbeat and happy vibe throughout the reading, which enforces the message of the text.

As if the book couldn’t get any better, there are worksheets at the end!! My teacher heart did a happy dance because I could totally see this book working as an anti-bullying activity for grades K-2. There’s vocabulary, discussion topics, a writing component and a drawing piece, which would make for a great multi-day lesson plan.

Click here to purchase the book.

Under the Scars Book Review

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.

I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Events that happen, people that walk in and out of life, and books that we read. This summer I’ve been soul searching and setting up a new business (more of that to come in the future). I somehow connected with an author through Instagram and made arrangements to review her book. Being 100% honest, I read this book in one night. I stayed up til 2 am reading because I was so emotionally invested in the story.

Under the Scars, by Isabella Morgan, is a true love story that grips readers from the very first page.

I have read Twilight (team Jacob) and 50 Shades of Grey. While both of those stories portray unrealistic love stories, Under the Scars is the complete opposite (in a good way). Violet and Nick have a summer romance that develops into true love. After a very difficult break up, the story really starts four years later when Violet’s mother is battling cancer. As luck would have it, Nick turns out to be Violet’s mom’s doctor.

The POV shifts back and forth between Nick and Violet, which I really enjoyed. There’s definitely more from Violet’s POV, but the placement of Nick’s thoughts/experiences allows readers to get a more well-rounded feeling of the plot. Violet is anything but a whiny, immature character. Her strength is mind blowing, especially once readers get more insight into her history, and her thoughts and actions are spot on.

Nick is first described as a typical ladies man, but readers quickly can see that his soft spot for Violet clearly suggests otherwise. Not only is he an attractive doctor, he also has the biggest heart I have come across in literature thus far in my reading life. He is the ideal man and I would marry him in a heart beat.

I was also a fan of the dialogue. I tend to gravitate towards realistic conversations between characters, and this novel delivers! There are curse words used (including the f bomb), and their placement is totally perfect. The conversations between characters are raw, honest, and filled with emotions.

In terms of plot, holy moly!! I loved the breadcrumb trail of clues Morgan leaves readers. Some were so tiny I wondered if I was overthinking, but there were definitely some twists I did not predict (which is rare). I thought the plot moved along seamlessly, and the build up to the climax was paced really well. Not once did I skip ahead because I was losing interest. Personally, I stopped a few times because the text was so mind blowing I needed a second to digest.

I tend to be an active reader, I’m always highlighting or making notes with lines I like. I have never highlighted so many amazing lines than in this book. I’m a sap for good quotes and there were just so many. The love between Nick and Violet is so pure and deep, and the language that Morgan incorporates is beyond beautiful.

The book ended with an Author’s Note that made me want to hug Morgan. I was also shocked and amazed that this is not only her first book, but it took five years to write. To say this is a book of love is an understatement.

However, the cherry on top for me was the playlist included at the end of the book. The author and I totally share the same taste in music (“Fighter” by Christina Aquilera) and I could totally see us being best friends in real life. The songs included fit the story PERFECTLY! She also introduced me to “When I Look at You” by Miley Cyrus, which I’m now obsessed with.

Due to language, some sexual and mature content, I would recommend this book for juniors and seniors in high school and older.