Arial the Secret Santa Book Review

This week I shared a blog post about the 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas, which features some incredible indie authors. With Christmas quickly approaching, I wanted to personally dive into some of the books on the list.

I’m drawn to children’s books that I can read with my three year old, Molly, that have incredible quality. Mary Nhin never fails when it comes to crafting a quality text, especially when it comes to Arial. In the past I have reviewed Arial the Chef, and Arial the Youtuber, and today I’m incredibly happy to share Arial the Secret Santa.

Arial the Secret Santa, by Mary Nhin, is a heartwarming picture book that teaches young readers the true spirit of Christmas through acts of kindness.

The story begins with Arial’s mom planning to donate a bag of her daughter’s old toys. Arial proceeds to tell her friends that once she donates her old toys, she will be replacing them with new ones. Her mom teaches her a life lesson about acts of kindness, and that they can be done in many different ways. Right after this, in the drive thru coffee line, someone pays it forward and buys Arial’s mom coffee, which clearly demonstrates the lesson.

The family then decides to change up their secret Santa Christmas tradition, and will instead perform daily acts of kindness. For each deed completed, the family will add an ornament to the tree. Nhin includes some examples of these types of ornaments on the pages before the story begins, which is a fabulous pre-reading point to make with young readers.

Arial then spends time thinking about ways she can be kind to others, and creates a solid list. She can give a sandwich to someone in need, provide a smile to someone who is having a bad day, donate her time to nature by planting trees, and give back to the community by volunteering. I truly love that this list has SOOO many options of ways to give show kindness that individuals of all ages can do.

Arial reminds readers that the true meaning of Christmas is showing kindness, which can be done in so many different ways. It’s not just about giving one another presents, but about making an impact in the lives of others.

And, as always, one of my favorite parts of a Mary Nhin book is the after reading activity. In this book, Nhin provides directions on how to create ornaments to record acts of kindness just like Arial’s family used. Nhin took it a step further and provides instructions on how to download the free printable, making this a super teacher-friendly activity.

I would recommend this book for kids in preschool through second grade.

To purchase this adorable book click here .

And Pip Too 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 LOVE when I get to work with authors multiple times. When I started to get back into blogging again in March, I connected with a fabulous author, Colleen Brunetti, who wrote a picture book about food allergies (click here to see the original post). Today, I’m so excited to share her new book with all of you.

And Pip too, by Colleen Brunetti, is an adorable picture book about a little sister and big brother’s sibling love.

Right away one feature that popped out at me was the font. I really like how the font was a little bolder than I usually see in a picture book, and how the author played with it. For instance when Big Guy stretched, the word is literally stretched on the page.

Pip is Big Guy’s little sister who wants to do everything her big brother does. From reading a book to building a tower, Pip is right behind him to trying join in the fun. While readers can infer that Big Guy isn’t always thrilled about this, he never actually says anything negative to Pip, which I really liked. Big Guy shows older siblings that even though younger brothers and sisters can be a lot to handle at times, it’s all part of being siblings.

The more we get to see some of the silly things that Pip does, my favorite is pouring the milk, the more she reminds me of the Cat from The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. Pip is just trying to join in with her older brother, and sometimes she doesn’t do something the right way, but she does it all out of love. Pip is only trying to include herself in tower building, and resting underneath the oak tree, just like the Cat was trying to make that rainy day fun.

I think this book would be great to use with preschool and kindergarten kids.

To purchase the book click here.

The Ring 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.

Last week I connected with BLKDOG publishing, a new independent publisher. I’m super duper excited to read these amazing books and share my thoughts with all of you.

The Ring, by Sarah Anne Carter, is a military romance book that will take you on an emotional roller coaster of love.

In all honesty, I wasn’t crazy about the start of the book. The main character, Amanda, meets Lucas while she’s working at a coffee shop. She repeatedly says that she doesn’t want to get seriously involved with a military man, but doesn’t really discuss why too much. I would have liked for the character to dive deeper into her reasons and open up to readers a smidge more. I felt the first few chapters were a little rushed and it was hard for me to connect with Amanda because I wasn’t getting enough of her.

However, once Amanda and Lucas start dating there’s a shift and as a reader I was not only able to connect with Amanda, but I felt emotionally involved.

I was definitely drawn to the innocence and simplicity of the dating relationship between Amanda and Lucas. There was no mention of social media, no drama, or bedroom activity. It was refreshing to see love blossom between two characters in such an authentic and traditional way.

As a character, I really like how determined Amanda is. She has her own personal goals that are realistic and she will do whatever it takes to achieve them. She works two jobs to pay her way through school, which is NOT an easy thing to do. She studies her butt off to earn her teaching certification and get a full time job. I LOVE that she doesn’t stop pursuing her dreams just because she meets a guy.

Personally, no one in my immediate family has ever been in the military, so I don’t have personal experience with deployments. The author did a lovely job explaining all of the military jargon that Lucas used, and kept the events simple enough for someone like me to understand.

Carter also did a really great job of communicating how strong the military community is. I really loved how she included the different events that military wives created among themselves, like book club. As a complete outsider to this world, I was able to get a sense of how much of a family military life can be, and the incredible bond between all of those involved.

The longer Amanda and Lucas are married, the more we see the true sacrifices of being married to the military. This book had me in tears and took me on such an emotional roller coaster. The plot twists were crafted beautifully and implemented seamlessly. I can’t say any more than that because you just have to read it to appreciate the strength of the incredible women married to military men.

If you’re looking for a sweet story that takes you on an emotional roller coaster, this book is perfect for you.

To purchase this book click here.

I Like Me and I Love Me 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.

As a middle school language arts teacher, I would use picture books here and there in my lessons to teach reading skills. However, it wasn’t until I started reading books to Molly that I developed a whole new appreciation for picture books. It’s incredible what pictures and simple sentences can convey to young readers.

I Like Me and I Love Me, by Abby Zaitley, is a charming picture book that teaches children the importance of self love.

I was instantly drawn to the simplicity of this text. Each page consists of a simple sentence with easy vocabulary for kids. The end rhyme allows the sentences to flow nicely and avoid choppiness, especially when reading it aloud. The pictures also add a lovely touch, especially the water color feel. They provide a very calm feeling that aligns really well with the text.

While I was reading this book, I have to say that I felt very zen, as though I was taking a yoga class. The affirmations are supportive and reassure young readers that not only is it acceptable to love yourself for who you are, but to embrace the quirks. The story in fact opens with the lines, “I like me when I feel perky. I love me when I’m quirky.” We live in a very judgmental world sometimes, so being able to tell young children that it’s okay to be different is a very powerful message.

My favorite pair of pages is when the main character is at school. “I like when I trust in me. I love me when we are we.” The picture shows the little girl holding hands in a circle with friends and it just evoked such a safe feeling. When kids are around their friends they should be able to be themselves and enjoy their friendships. The wording reminded me a little bit of Winnie the Pooh, which also adds to the warm and fuzzy zen feeling of the story.

This is a great book to use with young readers at home or in school settings. I could see it being used by a guidance counselor to do some self-esteem/confidence building skills when working with preschool, kindergarten and elementary aged students.

For more information about this book check out the author’s blog here.

To purchase the book click here. 

The Happiest Birthday Ever Book Review

One of my favorite things about being a teacher is that kids always surprise me. I’ve seen students share their lunch with a friend who dropped theirs in a puddle on a field trip. These little acts of kindness warm my heart.

The Happiest Birthday Ever, by Stephanie Berger, is a fantastic story about children participating in random acts of kindness which who shows young readers that it’s all about the little things in life.

Ben is turning seven. He tells his mom what he wants for his birthday (candy, a treasure hunt), but most of all he wants to make people happy. Ben invites his closest friends to his party with a very unique invitation that has RAOK written on them, and the children are asked to bring a stuffed animal. When they arrive at Ben’s house on the day of the party, Ben reveals that they will be doing seven random acts of kindness to celebrate Ben’s birthday.

The acts of kindness are truly thoughtful and realistic. The children bring the stuffed animals to a police station for officers to give to little kids who are upset and scared. Ben and his friends create a treasure hunt for kids at the park. My personal favorite was when the children made cards to send to soldiers.

There are so many things I like about this book that I don’t even know where to start. The writing style of this book is perfect for doing a class read aloud. When I first saw RAOK in the pictures I actually thought this would be the perfect time to stop and ask readers to make a some guess about what RAOK stands for. I like the consistency with the pictures on the left and the text on the right. The sentence structure allows the story to flow naturally without choppiness (perfect for reading aloud). I love that the pictures really do explain what the text is saying on each page, especially for those students who need that visual to help with comprehension.

I am also a HUGE fan of the acts of kindness mentioned in the book. They are ones that kids of all ages can do, they don’t require much money, and they don’t take too much time. With every act of kindness, Ben and his friends placed cards with the act to explain their purpose. The author was generous enough to provide copies of those cards in the back of the book for children to use.

It’s clear that the overall theme of this picture book is happiness. Not only do Ben and his friends make strangers happy with their acts, but they each feel happy knowing they did something kind. This just gives me the warm and fuzzies.

I think this book can be used with students in grades K-3. I would highly recommend making it a read aloud activity for character education or to help celebrate Veteran’s Day. Burger provides readers with a link about more information for sending thank you cards to active military members, and a percentage of sales will be donated to Make A Wish Foundation to help children smile.

To purchase this book click here.

 

Fiona: Forever? Book Review

Once in a while a book comes into my life that will forever stay with me. Whether it’s a character, a gripping plot, some works just tend to stay with you as a reader.

Fiona: Forever?, by Erinn Uher, is a remarkable story about a little girl in foster care who is looking for her forever home.

One of my favorite things about working with self published authors is the freedom they have to create a book that includes everything they want. The structure of this book is a fiction with some nonfiction elements thrown in. There are bolded words throughout the text (vocabulary words) that students can look up in the glossary at the back of the book. The vocabulary words were related to foster care (such as case worker, bonding) to help teach readers important aspects about new information. Personally, I really liked this because I even learned a few new words.

And, as always, I love when a book can be more than a book. This text includes Think About It questions after each chapter to help the reader think, reflect, and interact with the text. These are not just reading comprehension question, but are higher order thinking based. There are also some areas for readers to draw characters, or other aspects of the story, which is also fabulous.

Fiona, our main character, is  an adorable little girl with red curly hair and glasses. She has been to eight foster homes, but dreams of her forever family. Her mole pet, Melvin, is her best friend and the only constant in her life. As with any child in the system, she has issues letting people in and trusting them. She is very independent.

The Oliver’s are a caring and loving family. Lorraine, Pete and their teenage son Clyde, welcome Fiona into their home with open arms. Pete helps Fiona with her homework, and he shows a tremendous amount of patience, Lorraine takes Fiona shopping and respects Fiona’s decisions, and Clyde interacts with Fiona like a big brother by teaching her to play basketball.

We see Fiona blossom into a happy little girl because of the Oliver family. They make her feel special on her birthday, are by her side when she breaks her wrist, and provide her with a strong support system.

However, my absolute favorite character is Miss Alice. Fiona stayed with Miss Alice temporarily. This older woman is truly amazing. When Fiona was with her, Miss Alice had had 48 foster children. Talk about a woman with a huge heart. One night, Miss Alice was telling Fiona about the first little boy she fostered, and how much of a challenge he was.

“He was just so used to bein’ hurt and neglected by the grown-ups in his life. He needed to learn to trust all over again. Needed to know for sure I was gonna be here for him no matter what, even on the most ugly days.”

Personally, I think this is the most powerful quote in the entire text. It sums up beautifully the struggles children in foster care face, and why it is so hard for them to trust others. It also shows us how important foster parents truly are in the lives of children. There are many, many emotions that are involved, and it takes special individuals to help children work through these emotions.

Without giving away the ending, I will tell you that I did cry when reading this book. I actually Facebook messaged the author as soon as I finished. I had a hard time typing because of the tears in my eyes. For those of us with children or who work with children, this book will grab your heart.

While I was reading, I kept visualizing a third or fourth grade class reading this as a class novel, and using the activities inside like a reader’s notebook. It can also be used at home and in a homeschool environment.

To purchase this book click here: https://www.amazon.com/Fiona-Forever-Erinn-Uher-ebook/dp/B07XHN4K8M

Family Dinner Book Review

My favorite emails are from Goodreads when they tell me I’m a giveaway winner. I just so happened to get one of those glorious emails earlier this week. The last book review I did for a Goodreads giveaway win was with The Fever King.

Family Dinner, by Cory Q Tan, is a picture book about a dad who will do whatever it takes to bring home carrots to his family for dinner.

When the book first started, I thought it was realistic fiction. There’s a husband and wife and the wife is nagging the husband to go out and by carrots for dinner. She wants to make potato carrot soup, but they have no carrots. I loved the dialogue in the beginning because it really does capture the realities of being married (with nagging).

As we all know, sometimes things don’t turn out the way we expect/hope. We all have those days when things go from bad to worse, which is exactly what the dad deals with. His go-to grocery store is closed, the next one is out of carrots, then he ventures into the country.

This is where I got surprised as a reader. All of a sudden the story took a fantasy turn. There are big talking worms, a wolf with a toothache, a giant fish and more. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about this shift, but as the story continued I could see that it was effective.

The dad made it a point to help every animal/insect he came into contact with. Even though the wolf could have eaten him, the dad still helped the wolf pull out his tooth. This shows readers the importance of kindness and helping others.

However, my favorite part was at the end of the story. The dad was gone an awfully long time trying to get the carrots for his family, and it was clear the family was concerned when the dad finally got home. The mom didn’t care about the carrots, but instead told readers all the family needs is the dad.

This was a really cute little story that would work for early elementary students.