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.

Who Has A Pet Hedgehog? Book Review

Pets are a topic that kids love to read and talk about. The most common pet books I see are about dogs and cats, with some minor characters including fish and birds. I was intrigued to come across a book about a different type of pet.

Who has a Pet Hedgehog?, written by Jan Heng and illustrated by Tan Su En, is a delightful picture book about having a pet hedgehog.

Victoria has an African pygmy hedgehog named Odin, and readers learn all about taking care of a pet hedgehog, which is very different than taking care of a cat or dog.

First, I have to say that I really enjoyed the set up of this book. It really provides fantastic details about facts and the responsibilities needed to take care of this kind of pet, and includes great illustrations. The sentence structure is varied and reads really well. The font is reader-friendly for all types of readers (side note: I totally helped the author pick the font for this book!).

I consider myself an experienced reader with lots of background knowledge. Growing up, I had a friend named Kayla who had a pet hedgehog, so I was able to draw on some text to self connections while reading this story. However, there were so many facts about hedgehogs that I didn’t know until I read this book! Did you know that hedgehogs are nocturnal? Did you know they like to munch on three different types of worms? These facts were described so perfectly in the story that kids won’t even realize they’re learning new information. And the pictures really do a lovely job supporting the text with visuals to help in reading comprehension. The illustrations also show how absolutely adorable these little guys are and it really makes me want to get one for Molly one day.

I would recommend this book for kids ages P-8.

To purchase the book click here.

For more information about the book click here.

5 Favorite Halloween Books for Kids

October is just around the corner and it’s time to start busting out those great seasonal books. Whether you have a book basket in the living room, or a shelf displaying books, adding in some festive Halloween books is a great way to get in the fall spirit.

I LOVE that I can share some of my favorite childhood Halloween books with Molly, and I wanted to share a list of the ones that we will have in rotation over the next few years.

The Witches by Roald Dahl. This has always been a personal favorite Roald Dahl book of mine. Since Halloween is the time of year for witches, this book fits in perfectly. The plot is engaging and absurd as only Dahl could create. This chapter book is longer than other works by the author, so give yourself plenty of time to read it aloud to kids. I recommend this book for kids in grades 1-4.

The Berenstain Bears Trick or Treat by Stan and Jan Bernstain. To me, Berenstain Bears a staple in children’s literature, so reading one of their seasonal books is a must. As with all other books in this series, Trick or Treat includes an important lesson about right and wrong. I recommend this book for kids in grades P-2.

Arthur’s Halloween by Marc Brown. I can still remember when Arthur was afraid to touch the bowl of spaghetti that was meant to be brains. I really like how this story shows kids how creative Halloween can be, and that things can look much scarier than they really are. I recommend this book for kids in grades P-2.

Llama Llama Trick or Treat by Ann Dewdney. Since becoming a mom, I have fallen in love with Llama Llama books. I LOVE reading these books with Molly because of the simple sentences and great illustrations. This quick-read board book is ideal for NB- 5 year olds.

EEK! Halloween! by Sandra Boynton. Similar to the previous book, I became familiar with this author when Molly came along. This book throws in some great humor and wacky illustrations that will entertain kids and adults. I recommend this board book for NB- 5 year olds.

So, as the weather turns chilly, snuggle up with one of these great books and read with your kids with a bowlful of candy.

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 3-12. For more information click here.

Writing Right: A Story about Dysgraphia Book Review

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Over the weekend I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, when I came across a very interesting post in a dysgraphia parent group about a teenager who wrote a children’s book about dysgraphia. I immediately took a screenshot to remind myself about the book and I am beyond glad that I did so.

Writing Right: A Story about Dysgraphia, by Cassandra Baker, is a phenomenal children’s book about the realities of a little boy with dysgraphia.

Before I launch into why I love this book so much, I have to share a little bit of background. Cassie wrote this book to earn her Gold Award with girl scouts because she grew up with family members who were affected by dysgraphia. Having been a girl scout a long time ago, I completely respect and admire this young lady’s passion and desire to share information with families.

As soon as readers open the book we are greeted by our main character, Noah, who has dysgraphia. He tells readers that he has great ideas, but his handwriting is messy and he has trouble getting his thoughts on paper. He does not write as quickly as his classmates and he wishes he had a writing robot.

Even though Noah has great ideas, when he works on a project it doesn’t come out like it looks in his head and he gets very frustrated. He even yells at his mom and rips his poster in half. His mom clearly sees his struggles and reaches out to the teacher, and together they come up with a great plan. Noah can use his mom’s computer to help with homework and he also goes to an occupational therapist.

With lots of practice, patience, and hard work, Noah improves his ability to express himself in writing. So much so that he even writes his own story!

There are so, so many aspects of this book that I love. The first is that it’s written from Noah’s point of view. The simplicity of his explanations and his honesty are absolutely spot on and relatable to children. The struggles that he faces are truly ones that children also experience, adding to that realistic factor.

As a parent and a teacher, I also love how Noah’s mom reached out to his teacher and came up with a plan. By working as a team, they were able to find out what would not only help Noah in the short term, but what would help in the future as well. This is the ideal type of teamwork parents and teachers hope to experience when working together to help a child in need.

I was also a HUGE fan of the in-depth look at OT from a child’s perspective. I have seen some OT’s come up with super creative and fun activities for students at all age levels, and it’s clear that Natalie, the OT in the story, is one of those amazing individuals who really “get” kids. She has Noah practice cutting, using different writing utensils and more in order to help him.

However, I think that my absolute favorite aspect was the end of the story. Not only do we see progress for Noah, but Cassie also includes super important information about dysgraphia. While the picture book is meant for children, these notes are clearly meant for adults, making this a true family text.

As a Reading Specialist, I am always looking for works to recommend to families and this one will definitely be added to my list. If you’re an educator, a parent or a child affected by dysgraphia in some way, this book is a must read.

To purchase the book click here. 

Project Dandelion: Reentry Book Review

It’s been a little while since I read a YA dystopian novel, so I decided to get back to my true love. In July I reviewed Project Dandelion, and I was so excited when the author sent me a copy of the sequel.

Project Dandelion: Reentry, by Heather Carson, is a fabulous YA dystopian novel that reminds readers how important it is to fight for our rights.

The story picks up right where the first book left off. The group is heading towards Katrina’s dad’s cabin to seek safety and hopefully answers. The nuclear explosions have cleared and the world is covered in ash. Early on, the group encounters survivors who realize the teens are part of Project Dandelion and try to capture them. However, the survivors don’t know they are dealing with incredibly resourceful teens who manage to escape.

During their trek to the cabin, the group uses their survival skills to hunt, fish, build shelter, etc. They work together to stay alive and they don’t leave anyone behind. I love that even those this takes place in modern day, the kids aren’t helpless without the use of a cellphone. There is no Alexa for them to ask for help, and yet these teenagers are able to make it through.

There is a smidge of teenage love, but it reminds me of the relationship between Tris and Four in Divergent. Katrina and James are like a team, supporting one another and keeping on eye out for the other. They do kiss, but other than that there is no mushy gushy stuff going on. Personally, I admire teenage relationships like this because it teaches readers about the important aspects of what to look for in a partner.

Without giving too much of the plot away, we learn more about Project Dandelion as the story progresses. The new government wants to keep all of the chosen teenagers safe so they can help create a new society. While this sounds good in theory, it quickly becomes obvious that the teens will not have many choices in the new world. They will be forced to have children in a few years and do what the new government tells them.

Katrina, Dreya, Mia, James and Jayden continue to go against the crowd, as they did in the first novel, to fight for their rights. They want the right to make decisions about their own lives, such as when to have children and where to live. By working together, they demonstrate the power of teamwork and perseverance. They don’t let petty teenage drama cloud their judgements, and show how important maturity is.

As we know, there is no utopia without a dystopia, and this novel is a fantastic demonstration of this idea. It is a quick read with a few curse words, so I would recommend the text for eighth grade and up.

To purchase the book click here.

The Knowledge Gap Book Review

It’s no secret that I’m an education nerd. I’m drawn to all things literacy and curriculum. Over my last ten years in education I have seen a lot of different theories, standards, and curriculum come and go with no real answers about how to improve the knowledge gap.

The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System- And How to Fix It, by Natalie Wexler, examines the struggles American schools face, how it affects students, and possible solutions.

As a reader, it usually takes me twice as long to get through a nonfiction education book because I need to take breaks. The writing styles of these texts are dry and I find myself taking social media breaks. However, I have to admit, Wexler did an absolutely incredible job making the content flow. I think a lot of that has to do with her breaking up the reading with real life examples from different classrooms, and history of curriculum in America. The change up in content definitely kept me engaged longer and allowed me to draw my own conclusions between the historical facts/accounts and the classroom examples.

While the title doesn’t mention literacy, this whole book truly dives into the deep end of reading and writing. As Wexler points out, reading and math tend to be the focal points in elementary classrooms because of state tests. Even though teachers may have science and social studies scheduled for once a week, it’s rare that those lessons happen because teachers feel the need to constantly hit on reading skills.

One of the main ideas is that using balanced literacy, leveled readers, and guided reading are not helping students improve their reading comprehension skills. The Reading Wars are discussed briefly, with both sides being explained. However, it is crystal clear that phonics based explicit instruction will help the majority of all students learn to read, including those who are English Language Learners, classified with a learning disability, etc. As a reading teacher I was doing a happy dance with the evidence supporting phonics instruction.

Of course, one can’t discuss balanced literacy without mentioning Lucy Calkins. Wexler makes a fantastic argument against the literacy guru that there are indeed flaws in this reading model (and writer’s workshop, too). Readers even “saw” examples in the sections where Wexler observed classrooms using this concept.

But, if balanced literacy is not helping students, then what will?

The author’s #1 point in the 263 pages, is that in order to improve reading comprehension, students need to have more background knowledge, which can only be accomplished by exposing early elementary students to science and history. Yes, some students have social studies where they learn about members in the community, but they need world and US history.

Students have a thirst for knowledge and want to be challenged. Obviously we don’t want students feeling overwhelmed and shutting down, but the classroom teacher is there to guide students. Students can handle advanced vocabulary if they are seeing it in content-rich curriculum. The point of the Common Core was to have American students build on their knowledge from year to year, which a content-rich curriculum does.

Wexler also mentions Daniel Willingham. For my loyal readers you know that I LOVE this man and his book Raising Kids Who ReadIn The Knowledge Gap, Willingham is referenced for his contributions to education and the cognitive psychology. Yay!

Finally, Wexler’s last point was about teaching writing. I will admit during college and student teaching I was always told to teach that writing is a process. I have never used Lucy Calkin’s writing units, but would instead make up my own assignments/tasks with fellow colleagues. The author mentions Judith Hochman, who experimented with a teaching method that started with sentences and taught mechanics at the same time, and has seen great success. Not only has this approach been proven to improve student writing, it has also increased reading comprehension and the ability to critique information they are learning. Hochman and Wexler authored The Writing Revolution, which offers a road map for educators.

WOW!

I have so many parts underlined and marked in this book that there is no way I can share them all in a blog post. However, I would love to share my favorite line.

“…the transformation from a focus on comprehension skills and reading levels to one on content and knowledge is beginning to take hold.” (Wexler 259).

Education is changing. The Common Core sparked that change and caused a lot of educators to look at their teaching methods. As the education world continues to evolve, we need to remember that even though we live in a digital age where students can Google anything, we still need to be providing students with information. Knowledge rich curriculum makes sense for today’s readers. If we want to see changes in our students we have to start looking at the elementary school classrooms.

I recommend this amazing book for superintendents, principals, curriculum supervisors, teachers and anyone thinking about entering the world of education.

To purchase the book click here.

 

Using Social Media to Find New Books

I don’t about you, but every once and a while I go through a reading slump. It’s like when you can’t decide what movie to watch, but instead you can’t pick a book to read. When I have moments like this, I look to social media for some inspiration.

Facebook groups– These are amazing! Not only do participants post books they’re reading, they also ask for suggestions and often engage in a quick book discussions. One of my favorite parts of being a member of these groups is how honest people are. It also keeps me up to date on the new releases are current best sellers.

Following authors on Instagram– Personally, this is one of my favorite things to do in general. Authors are incredible people and love to share their love of reading. They will often post stories about what they’re currently reading, or share information about an author friend’s new book.

Friends on Goodreads- As a true bookworm, I love Goodreads. It’s such a great way to see what your friends are reading, how they rated books, and to see what authors are doing. I’ve been a member of Goodreads for years now and I have to tell you my absolute favorite part about it…THE GIVEAWAYS!! They are free to enter and you can add books to your To Read list. It’s kind of amazing.

Finding pins on Pinterest– Pinterest is the most addicting thing ever. The amount of boards I have with different recipes, teaching activities, and future office decor is insane. Some people create really great reading lists for each season, holiday or new releases. I love that you can get super specific with book lists, like apple picking for preschoolers, so I can find exactly what I’m looking for.