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 .

15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas

One of my favorite things about connecting with members of the literacy world is being able to share great books. Today I’m super excited to share a blog post written by Jennie Lyon about the 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas.

Christmas Hot Chocolate

Do you remember what Christmas was like when you were a child?

Sure, as an adult, the winter holidays can be filled with all kinds of stress. You have to worry about family, hosting a big dinner, making sure that all of the presents are under the tree… It’s crazy!

But if you’re a child, it can be pure magic. Santa Claus and snow and reindeer and stockings! They get to be around all of their favorite people for days and be showered with nothing but love and attention. It’s little wonder why kids love Christmas.

And if you really want to build up the Christmas spirit in them, you can work in some fantastic children’s books about Christmas into the evening bedtime story rotation! Here are some of my favorites that I highly recommend you share with them:

Polar Express

The Polar Express: 30th Anniversary Edition by Chris Van Allsburg

Before it was a Tom Hanks movie, The Polar Express was one of the most beloved Christmas books ever written. If you’ve only seen the film, then you should definitely check out the original it’s based on.

On Christmas Eve, a little boy boards a mysterious train bound for the North Pole. Once there, he meets Santa himself, who gives him any gift he desires. His choice isn’t what you might expect and leads to a magical tale filled with beautiful images.

Arial Christmas

Arial the Secret Santa by Mary Nhin

I love Christmas. It’s a time of peace and kindness. And kindness and compassion are the traits I most want to instill in our kids.

In Arial the Secret Santa, children will follow Arial the unicorn through school, in her community and in nature as she models how easy it can be to share kindness. From giving a compliment to smiling at someone who’s having a bad day, Arial shows children that, no matter how small, words and act of kindness MATTER, especially at Christmas! Included in the book is the Kindness Tree Activity to help encourage your child to give praise and spread positivity into the world.

If you’re looking for a book this Christmas to help teach your kids about the power of kindness, then this is the book to have under the tree. I highly recommend this book!

Festive Flamingo

Festive Flamingo by Shaula Maitland

If you would like a moment of calm this Christmas (and a brilliant night’s sleep, shh…) then Festive Flamingo is the book for you!
Flamingo shares a festive selection of breathing exercises and relaxing
visualizations. She joins you for twelve magical meditations, where you explore
positive themes such as perseverance, curiosity and self-belief. Build a magical
camel out of snow, learn to ice-skate with the woodland animals and create an
exciting game for the elves.

Enjoy the benefits of meditation, alongside adventure and festive fun!

Grinch Stole Christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss

I mean, do you really need a summary of How the Grinch Stole Christmas? It’s one of the most celebrated children’s books of all-time, let alone one of the all-time great Christmas books! It’s also a brilliant cartoon, two big-budget movies, and the basis of countless toys. And you know what? It deserves every single bit of praise it gets.

The Grinch that Stole Christmas perfectly communicates the meaning of Christmas and is filled with stunning art, hilarious rhymes, and some truly funny jokes. It’s a true classic that should be on every child’s bookshelf. If you’ve never encountered it before, you owe it to yourself to give it a read (even if you’re an adult)!

Little Squirrel

Little Squirrel Squish Gets His Christmas Wish by Ross Hammond

Do you remember the story of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer? Everyone told him that he couldn’t be a member of Santa’s reindeer team. Well, here is a children’s book that reflects that story, putting a whole new spin on the idea of following your dreams!

Little Squirrel Squish is a tiny squirrel who wants to be part of Santa’s flying crew. But because he’s so small (and because he’s not a reindeer), everyone keeps telling him to forget about his dreams. But one Christmas, he decides to go for it, changing everything! This book will teach your children that their every dream, no matter how seemingly out of reach, is worth exploring!

Santa's Reindeer

Santa’s Reindeer by Brooke Stevens

Getting back to Santa’s reindeer, let’s talk about Santa’s Reindeer, the book! Discovering that everyone is different is one of the most important lessons a child can be taught. In this adorable Christmas book, all of the various personalities of Santa’s reindeer are explored. It’s a perfect read for small children, full of cute illustrations and a lovely Christmas message!

The Mouse

The Mouse in the Hammock, a Christmas Tale by Bethany Brevard

If you think it’s only Santa who does good deeds on Christmas Eve, you need to meet a very special mouse!

Spinning off from the “Not a creature was stirring…” line from Twas the Night Before Christmas, this wonderful book features a mouse who is busy all Christmas night doing small acts of kindness, such a cooling the cocoa for Santa, hanging up the mistletoe, and taste testing the cookies! It’s a fabulous lesson for kids who are looking to drive the meaning of Christmas home: that you’re never too little to make a big difference!

The Elf Who Couldn't Read

The Elf Who Couldn’t Read by Sonica Ellis

Do your children know how to read yet?

Countless children learn how to read their first words while sitting on their parents’ laps. And if you want a book that will help them sound out letters while also embracing the Christmas spirit, then this is it!

In it, Jingles the elf doesn’t know how to read yet, but needs to figure out Santa’s Christmas list. With the help of your child, they read the list together and make sure that Christmas is a huge success!

Secret Santas

Secret Santas And The Twelve Days of Christmas Giving by Courtney Petruzzelli

One of the reasons why I love Secret Santas so much is that it makes giving anonymous. You aren’t giving someone something with the expectation of a “thank you” from them. Instead, their enjoyment is its own reward.

In this wonderful Christmas book, your kids will learn about Secret Santas and why it can be such a wonderful Christmas tradition. Beautiful art and a wonderful message make this a Christmas must!

Christmas Cookie Exchange

A Christmas Cookie Exchange by Sheri Wall

Who doesn’t love Christmas cookies? But have you ever noticed that there tends to be one seemingly plain oatmeal cookie left on the plate after all the other cookies are eaten? Well, this is HIS story!

Meet Phil, an insecure fruit-filled oatmeal cookie who longs to be more fancy and famous. With help from his cookie friends, he learns what’s on the inside is more important than fancy sprinkles. Self-love and acceptance are essential qualities for kids to learn, and this rhyming Christmas tale teaches them that character and self-confidence really do matter.

How to Catch an Elf

How To Catch An Elf by Adam Wallace

Have you kids ever wanted to catch an elf? It turns out that it’s trickier than you might think…

In this fun and silly story, a clever elf manages to elude all of the traps that children set for him on Christmas Eve! There are lots of fun rhymes and some inventive illustrations that your kids are sure to love!

Never Let a Unicorn

Never Let A Unicorn Meet A Reindeer! by Diane Alber

If you’re looking for a Christmas story with a twist, this might be the book for you and your kid!

Instead of it being Christmas in the book, it’s about a birthday wish gone wrong. A little girl (who has a unicorn) sends a letter to Santa to ask if she can borrow one of his reindeer during their “off-season.” He sends one with a note saying that the reindeer should never meet any unicorns. It turns out that unicorns and reindeer get highly competitive around each other, so the little girl soon has a mess on her hands! This is a funny and delightful book that can even be read when it isn’t Christmas!

Adventures of Pookie

The Adventures of Pookie: Mission Fat Hearts by Rebecca Yee

If you want your kids to take lessons of kindness and caring into the real world, this book might be the perfect way to do it. It not only tells a Christmas story about three of Santa’s helpers doing missions of good deeds before Christmas but gives your children some missions of their own!

For example, their Christmas mission might be to give an extra hug to someone they love that day. Or to leave a “thank you” note for the mailman. With these Christmas missions, your kids will be brightening up someone else’s Christmas, a wonderful lesson to learn!

God Gave Us Christmas

God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren

If you worry that presents, tinsel, and trees are distorting the true meaning of Christmas, then this might just be the book for you and your child.

In it, a Mama Bear and her cub explore what Christmas truly means, from what Santa truly represents (the spirit of giving) to the birth of Jesus. It’s filled with beautiful art and a wonderful Christian message.

Construction

Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Have you ever read any books from the Construction Site series? If not, this might be the perfect place to introduce you and your children to some fun and entertaining characters!

In this Christmas tale, all of the vehicles of the construction site get together to build a new home for the fire engines and, after they finish that important job, find Christmas surprises of their very own! A lovely message and some adorable art make for a great Christmas book!

What are some of your favorite Christmas children’s books? Please share them in the comments below!

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.

DyslexiaLand Book Review

A few months ago I saw a book on Facebook that I knew I had to read. I bought it and added it to the TBR pile, where it sat for a few months. I wanted to make sure I dedicated a solid chunk of time to reading it since it’s not the usual YA novel that tends to call my name.

DyslexiaLand: A Field Guide for Parents of Children with Dyslexia, by Cheri Rae, is a must have book for parents and educators about the realities of dyslexia.

First and foremost, this guide is written by a mom with a dyslexic son AND a dyslexia advocate. I love this on so many levels. Rae gives us the mom-to-mom heart to heart in a way that is supportive and engaging. There is no pity party, but rather advice to provide families with comfort and guidance.

The guide does not read like a textbook, and the organization and structure are insanely user-friendly. I love how I can easily flip to exactly what I’m looking for and not feel overwhelmed with text on a page. One of my favorite aspects is the acronyms list of educational terminology. Even as a seasoned English teacher and Reading Specialist, this is an extremely handy list that I have book marked for future IEP meetings.

I was definitely interacting with this text while I was reading. I have underlines, hearts, stars and exclamation points all over the place. Rae totally hit a HUGE nail on the head when she discussed that teachers do not have the proper training or professional development for supporting students with dyslexia. As I’ve mentioned in We Need to Talk…About Dyslexia, I was one of those teachers who lacked training. My knowledge of dyslexia and appropriate teaching strategies were pretty much non-existent until I started my Orton-Gillingham journey. In the public and charter schools I’ve worked in over the years,  I have never had any training for dyslexia, which supports the point Rae brings up.

I have also been in about 25 IEP meetings since August, and have seen the term “specific learning disability” and ideas like reading comprehension and fluency associated with it. Yet, the “d” word has never been uttered in any of these meetings. I’ve been very intrigued with IEPs recently (probably from being part of so many), and I find it fascinating that I have not seen dyslexia ever mentioned in one. So needless to say, I was all over the section on IEPs. For the first time ever I completely understood what was being discussed about these legal documents. Rae’s explanations are crystal clear and makes IEPs less confusing (which is not an easy feat).

Middle school is my jam. Always has been and always will be. However, one of the biggest obstacles I’ve faced is the belief that learning to read only happens in elementary school. This is not the case for all students. Rae makes it a point to discuss dyslexia from elementary school through high school (woot woot!). The transition to-do lists are super awesome and spot on.

I also appreciated how Rae discussed that Orton-Gillingham tutoring can be done online. As a virtual teacher and tutor, it’s often difficult for people to wrap their heads around online education, let alone embrace it. As research has proven, OG is a successful approach when working with dyslexia. Whether the instruction is given in a school environment, at a center, or one-on-one with a tutor in person or online, the goal is to help students with reading.

Overall, I am absolutely over the moon about this guide. I believe it should be in the hands of every educator. Yes, every math, science, consumer arts, woodworking teacher, etc. should read this book. Literacy and reading impacts all areas of life. It provides parents with a sense of direction in tackling DyslexiaLand. It equips parents for the meetings, discussions, and realities of navigating the educational system.

To purchase this amazing guide click here.

3 Easy Ways Busy Parents Can Help Readers

The alarm goes off at 5. You shower, get ready, pack lunches, make breakfast, wake the kids up, drive to sit in the drop off line, drive to work and start a jam packed day at the office. After work you run to pick up the kids, fly to football practice then dance class, rush home to throw dinner together, go back out and pick up the kids, come back home, eat dinner, get the kids in bed, try and catch up on social media and go to sleep.

Then wake up the next day and do it all over again.

It’s amazing how much parents are trying to cram into a 24 hour period. So how can parents help their kids with reading in the midst of every day chaos?

  1. Squeeze in reading time. This may sound overwhelming. How can you possibly squeeze 20 minutes of reading in before bed every night? Easy, you don’t have to. Reading can happen anywhere at anytime. While driving to violin lessons, have an audiobook playing in the car. Keep a book in the car and have your child read it. Same thing goes while your making dinner. There are always reading moments, it’s just making sure you’re prepared for them. Keep books around the house so they are within reach.
  2. Stay up to date on what’s happening in the classroom. Technology is amazing these days. Every teacher I know has a website that is jam packed with information. They include assignments, reminders, homework, etc. Dedicate 5 minutes a day (probably around 3-4 pm) to check your child’s English class website. See what the homework is, check out when the next quiz is. Have conversations with your child about specifics from class. For instance, if they have a vocabulary quiz, have them go over the words and definitions with you while you drive, making dinner, etc.  (are you seeing a pattern here?).
  3. Stay in touch with your child’s teacher. A lot of my middle school parents would sign up for parent-teacher conferences within minutes to ensure they got a slot. During our discussions, they would mention how they didn’t want to bother me with questions if it wasn’t parent-teacher conference time. Never, ever hesitate to reach out to a teacher with a question. Your goal as a parent is to ensure your child gets an education. If you don’t understand an essay rubric, or why your child scored low on a reading comprehension quiz, reach out to the teacher. The more you understand the more you will be able to help your child.

These three quick and easy ideas do require a little bit of prep work, but they all can be done on a smart phone and on the go.

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