The Bones of Who We Are 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 you know, my weakness in my book life is YA. A few weeks ago I shared my thoughts on Swimming Sideways, and I loved it so much that I DM’d the amazing author and totally bonded. So when C.L. Walters reached out to me to be part of the The Bones of Who We Are I literally jumped at the opportunity.

The Bones of Who We Are, by C.L. Walters, dives into the realities of friendship, family, and personal growth.

The amazing characters pick up right where they left off, but this time we get Gabe’s story. The amount of build up to this will have you skimming pages to get to the good stuff, although the entire novel is quite fabulous. My goal is to not give anything away because I don’t want to ruin that reader moment for anyone.

Walters has a way of creating the most genuine characters I have ever come across. In The Bones of Who We Are, two characters really packed an incredible punch that have such positive impacts on Gabe’s life.

Martha, Gabe’s adoptive mother, has been depicted as the quintessential housewife. The woman makes fresh, homemade chocolate chip cookies every day with an apron. But, we discover that Martha is an incredibly strong woman. We get a glimpse into her past during a heartfelt conversation with Gabe. Underneath the perfect mom, is a ferocious mama bear who has the biggest heart I have ever seen in literature. The love that she has for Gabe and the need to protect him reminds me of Lily Potter. Martha will stop at nothing to get her son what he needs to learn in a healthy environment. As a teacher and parent, I hear this story so many times from mom’s of classified students who have to fight for their children. Martha symbolizes the strength it takes to raise a child who is different in a world that is not understanding.

Dr. Miller, Gabe’s psychologist, is a true team player. We go back in time to the first session, and it’s clear that Doc Miller has way with children. I love how he is able to guide Gabe through the healing process with such kindness and heart. He is the glue in Gabe’s life. Dr. Miller’s insight is powerful and leaves readers to ponder their own lives. He is a pillar of strength in Gabe’s support system.

Along with incredible characters, Walters really dives into the themes of family and friendship. Families today look very different than families from fifty years ago. Families deal with addiction, separation, divorce, and abuse in a very judgmental society. Through Gabe’s story, Walters shows readers that a family does not have to be made up of biological parents and children. Family can be defined by those who love, fight, and protect one another. This is a very powerful message for readers today. It let’s them know it is okay not to have the perfect nuclear family. In fact, there is no such thing as a perfect family.

Friendship is a re-occurring theme in Walters’ novels, and she continues to dig deeper into this concept with each novel. In The Bones of Who We Are, forgiveness is seen between all of the characters. They learn that regardless of what was done in the past, it is possible to move forward with relationships. True friendships have a solid foundation that can withstand anything, as we see with Seth, Abby and Gabe. The quality of friends is more important than the quantity.

Personally, I think that every reader can relate to Gabe. Throughout the novel, he is battling some serious internal conflicts that have plagued him for years. It is as though Seth’s accident and life/death situation has forced Gabe to battle through demons of his past. We see him contemplating suicide while extremely intoxicated in order to deal with Seth’s condition. Gabe’s personal growth is really explained in the second part of the book. We see his physical change in actions (sitting in the cafeteria again) but we also see some symbolism with his wardrobe. He exchanges his black hoody based attire for lighter colored clothing. It’s as though Abby has literally brightened his world. I love that he takes Dr. Miller’s advice of working through situations because it allows Gabe to morph into a stronger individual.

The Bones of Who We Are is an incredible book that I would recommend for readers 15 and up. There is some mature language and content included in this text. I truly can’t say enough about these amazing novels.

 

 

Timothy’s Lesson in Good Values 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 took a survey for a fellow woman entrepreneur about how I choose which books to read/purchase. Some of the options included: cover art, cute characters, genres, etc., but none focused on quality content. When I choose books to read with Molly, I like to focus on ones that have good morals and values because there are so many life lessons Molly needs exposure to.

Timothy’s Lesson in Good Values, by Christopher Gordon, is a picture book that reinforces good values and sparks conversation.

In simply flipping through the book, readers get a sense of the organization. It is broken up into three different components, each focusing on a different value (obedience, responsibility, kindness). There is a quick story about the value then a page of questions for young readers to answer. How do readers learn about the value? Timothy transforms into the Warrior of Good Values and jumps in to save the day!

I liked that each value is given it’s own short story. It’s not overwhelming and the message is quite clear. The three stories are all totally different with their settings and conflict.

My personal favorite is the story of obedience. In my opinion, this is a value we don’t really talk about much on a daily basis. The setting is at a school after winter break, and a blue monster convinces Timothy’s friend, Emily, to skip school. Timothy explains to readers that Emily promised her parents she would go right to school and right home. I think this simplifies the value of obedience and makes it easier for young readers to grasp. I really liked the concept of skipping school because it’s not over used, but it’s also a lesson I could see kids applying to their real lives. I should also admit I never skipped school or even a class growing up.

I was also a fan of a super hero being used in the story. Young readers, especially boys I’ve noticed, gravitate towards superheroes, so utilizing one in the story hooks and speaks to readers. It has a little bit of a Superman feel to it, but in a more realistic way.

Each story ends with a page of questions. There are lines included so kids can either write directly in the book or copies can be made. Kids can answer the questions on their own for reading comprehension questions, or parents/teachers can use the questions to springboard discussions.

I could see this working in an elementary classroom for character education. The teacher reads the story and uses the questions to spark whole class discussions. The book also includes coloring and drawing pages, which can easily be used in the classroom.

For more information about the author click here

To purchase the book from Amazon click here

 

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

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!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Braced Book Review

As readers, we all have books that speak to us. As I tell my students, we all read the same book differently. Why? Because each reader approaches a text with different life experiences.

I’m going to warn you, this is the most difficult book review I’ve had to do because of my own connection to the text. I read the book in one night and couldn’t stop ugly crying for a solid hour. Never have I read a book that has connected with me on such a personal and intimate level. I have purposely waited a few days to write this post because I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my thoughts out in a way that makes sense.

Braced by Alyson Gerber is a phenomenal story about Rachel Brooks who has to wear a back brace for scoliosis.

Scoliosis is when a person’s spine doesn’t grow straight during puberty. The severity depends on the degree of the spine’s curvature. Most scoliosis patients are fitted with a padded back brace to try and shift the spine. However, in some cases, the brace does not correct the curve enough and surgery is required.

Rachel is an average seventh grader. She has two best friends, plays soccer, and is about to be a big sister. Like her mom, Rachel has scoliosis and is required to wear a back brace for 23 hours a day in the hopes of avoiding spinal surgery.

The story follows Rachel’s journey living with the brace. From the appointment with Dr. Paul where she finds out she needs the brace, to telling her friends and people at school, to learning to play soccer, readers are part of every step.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is how personal and honest Rachel is to readers. Like other middle school girls, Rachel is going through puberty and dealing with so many different emotions. She has a crush on a boy named Tate and wants to play offense on the soccer team. She’s embarrassed when she goes to see Dr. Paul because the is basically naked in front of strangers. She gets super excited when Tate texts her about personal stuff and not just about science class.

Rachel also opens up about the struggles of wearing a back brace. She gets frustrated when she can’t find clothes to fit her. She’s mad at her mom for not listening to her. She’s scared to tell her friends about her brace. She works incredibly hard to play soccer differently so she can make the team. She’s hurt when the popular kids make fun of her brace. It’s challenging enough to go through middle school years without the additional worries of being different.

One of the major conflicts in the novel is Rachel’s relationship with her very pregnant mom. As readers, we learn that Rachel’s mom had scoliosis, wore a brace, and eventually had surgery. Mom is so focused on Rachel wearing her brace for the 23 hours to avoid the surgery that she loses sight of the emotional part of the brace. This disconnect drives a wedge between the two, which intensifies Rachel’s feelings of isolation because if anyone should understand what is happening, it’s her mom. The writing of this conflict is realistic, and is one that all middle school girls can relate to.

As adults, we sometimes forget how important friends can be to kids. As a middle school teacher, I have seen my fair share of middle school social drama. Braced dives into the support system that friends can offer one another. Hazel and Frannie are Rachel’s best friends. While they are both dealing with their own situations, they both help Rachel combat the kids at school, soccer stress, and Rachel’s mom. If it wasn’t for these two young ladies, it’s clear that Rachel would have struggled even more.

I love how Gerber incorporated texting and realistic social situations to appeal and relate to current middle school readers. As adults, we don’t have that first hand experience of texting a boy when we were in seventh grade, so it’s hard to sometimes realize the impact that social media and technology can have on kids. While this book doesn’t focus on social media posts, it does remind us that when the school day is over, the drama/situations don’t just stay at school.

While I loved the characters and plot of this novel, one of the most important components was the theme of isolation. Rachel has no one to talk to about what is happening to her because they are not experiencing it with her. No one understands how insanely hot the brace gets in the summer, or how exciting it is to find clothes that actually fit. Kids at school just see Rachel as “different”, and while she has a great friend support system, they just don’t get it. The story ends with Rachel googling support groups and finding Curvy Girls (a scoliosis support group) and realizing that she is not alone. I loved how Gerber ended with this because it is important for kids to realize there are always others out there with similar experiences.

Lastly, my absolute favorite part of this book was the Author’s Note where Gerber discusses her personal experiences with scoliosis and her brace. “It wasn’t until I was in my twenties, when I started talking about my experience of being treated for scoliosis, that I realized how alone I’d felt.” Never ever has a quote spoken to me as loudly as this one.

I was diagnosed with scoliosis in fifth grade. I had to wear my brace with the Bugs Bunny tattoo for 20 hours a day. I had an “S” curve that was extremely stubborn and did not respond well to the brace.

I was very fortunate to have a supportive team of teachers. If the activity in gym class would make me uncomfortable, I just told the teacher and she let me sit out and watch. I didn’t want to change in front of the other girls in my grade, so I was allowed to use the teacher’s bathroom. I had copies of textbooks at home so I didn’t have to worry about carrying them back and forth to school. I was fortunate that I never dealt with anything hurtful socially. I was always open and honest with kids about my brace, and never had to experience bullying.

On September 11, 2001 I went to go see Dr. Reiger for my usual progress check. I did the usual x-ray and waited in the cold room with my purple socks on. After he came in and asked about my boyfriend (he had a fabulous bedside manner) he told me my curve had progressed to 55 degrees and was heading towards my heart. I would need emergency spinal surgery.

On January 2, 2002 I had my titanium rod fused to my spine. For the next six months I healed a little bit more every day. I was out of school for four months, and slowly transitioned to half days towards the end of the year.

I remember one day I refused to go to school. I had a screaming match with my mom and I kept trying to tell her no one understands what I’m feeling, but she didn’t get it. Back then there was no social media and the only book was Deenie by Judy Blume (lovely book, but a little outdated for even back then). That feeling has never completely gone away for me. As I get older I talk about it more, even to my students, and I amaze myself that I was so strong.

Today, I don’t worry so much about my 18 inch scar showing in bathing suits. I had a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery with Miss Molly, even with the rod. I know what my body can handle and what it can’t (I will NEVER jump on a trampoline again). And one day when Molly is old enough, we will read Braced together and talk.

June is Scoliosis Awareness Month. As a teacher and a parent, I’m reminded how important it is for us to listen to kids. Even if we don’t understand or think the same way they do, kids have to talk about their feelings. We need to read books like Braced, and have open and honest discussions. I will admit that I cried writing this book review, and I’m pretty sure I have a tear drop on my glasses. But, that’s just a sign of fantastic writing.