Taking Up Space Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

Speaking from my own experiences as a middle school teacher, these are without a doubt some of the most difficult years for kids. It’s the in-between stage where puberty is happening, friendships are changing, and kids start to pull away from their parents. Every child reacts to these situations in different ways as he/she tries to grapple for control of some aspect of life.

Taking Up Space, by Alyson Gerber, is an honest middle school novel about friendship, family and disordered eating.

This is the second book I’ve read and reviewed by the author (check out my thoughts on Braced), and I LOVE the writing style!

In Taking Up Space,Sarah is an eighth grade basketball player who dominates on the court, until puberty hits and she suddenly doesn’t know how to use her body the same way. She’s trying to fit in with the rest of the team, learning to cook for a YouTube competition with her crush, and dealing with her family insecurities. Using information from health class and her mom, Sarah tries to take control back by participating in disordered eating.

First, the writing style of this book is absolutely spot on for a middle school student. The vocabulary and sentence structure are grade level appropriate and don’t feel overwhelming. The descriptions are effective and easy to follow, making this ideal for younger YA readers.

Characterization of Sarah

Sarah is an extremely relatable character for middle school girls. She’s learning to navigate the waters of liking a boy and dating, trying to juggle being a good friend and needing a friend, and learning about herself as she starts puberty. Gerber has a gift of getting inside a middle schoolers head and putting their thoughts on paper.

Sarah shows readers true vulnerability through her challenges as she dives into the world of disordered eating. Her raw emotions will resonate with readers because every kid experiences them at one point. Her lack of self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-love are authentic and remind students that they are not alone with their feelings.

Themes

YA novels focus on themes that middle and high school students encounter in real life. Taking Up Space does a phenomenal job on hitting some really difficult themes for this age group.

Theme of family. From the beginning, we know that Sarah’s mom has a very different relationship with food than other parents. She only buys what she wants on a daily basis, and never cooks anything with lots of carbs. Sarah feels self-conscious about her mom, especially when her friends come over and they want to eat lots of junk food. She is unable to have open conversations with her mom about every day situations, let alone big challenges she’s facing. Sarah’s dad is a pillar of strength by taking Sarah out to eat, asking her for a grocery list, and listening to her problems. Without giving too much away, both of Sarah’s parents provide her incredible support and love that make a huge difference as she tackles her problems.

Theme of friendship. Sarah has two best friends, Ryan and Emilia, that she relies on throughout the book. As is typical for middle school girls, there is some drama between Sarah and Emilia over a boy. Emilia also turns into a mean girl towards Sarah by saying cruel comments to other girls on the basketball team. However, Sarah’s friendship with Ryan is truly a saving grace with her disordered eating. These situations reinforce the importance of friendship, and reminds readers that trust and honesty are vital to lasting friendships.

Disordered Eating

Middle school years are anything but easy. From raging hormones and worrying about friendship problems, surviving these years can be extremely challenging for many students. For the first time, teenagers are experiencing physical, emotional and mental changes all at once.

Sarah is one of these adolescents. She is looking for answers to problems she has never had before, and using information that she has easy access to. She really doesn’t realize that disordered eating can be harmful, showing her innocence that is typical of girls this age.

Usually, YA books focus on anorexia and bulimia, but this novel introduces readers to a different type of condition. For me, I had honestly never heard of disordered eating until reading this novel. Like other readers, we only really hear about anorexia and bulimia, so I found it extremely eye-opening to gain insight into the point of view of a student experiencing disordered eating.

Gerber approaches this subject with grace, honesty and clarity. The explanations are clear and can easily be comprehended by middle schoolers (which is not an easy task). Through Sarah’s voice, we feel her struggles and emotions, and can see how and why individuals turn to disordered eating as a solution. Readers will naturally feel sympathy towards Sarah and will accept her without judgement.

I recommend this book to parents, teachers, and counselors of middle and high school parents, along with students in grades 5-8.

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.

Lost Book Review

A few months ago I was watching Inside Out with Molly. We were watching the scene where the imaginary pink elephant does not get in the wagon. Molly asked where the elephant went and when I told her that he would not be coming back she instantly started to cry. As a parent, I was no where near prepared for this moment, and realized I didn’t even have a go to book in Molly’s library on this topic, until now.

Lost, written by Christine Reynebeau and illustrated by Rachael Hawkes, is an honest picture book that explains loss to young readers.

Lucy has a favorite toy, her stuffed giraffe Lou, who goes everywhere with her. Lou and Lucy have an incredible bond and go on many adventures together. Lou is always there for Lucy. One day Lucy goes on a cruise with her family and Lou falls off the ship into the sea. He is officially lost. Lucy goes through the emotional stages of grieving the loss of her favorite toy.

As with other books by this author, I LOVE the way that concepts are explained. Loss is by no means an easy idea to explain to a child, but this book does a fantastic job of discussing a difficult topic.

I love that Lucy seeks out comfort from her parents and that her dad makes it a point to explain loss. Dad uses kid friendly language to not only comfort Lucy, but to guide her through the process. The illustrations that support the text are absolutely spot on and help elaborate on Dad’s words. Readers can easily infer the text based on the pictures.

Readers see Lucy experience joy, sadness, and love throughout the story. Some days she feels happy and may not think about Lou, but then feels guilty for this. The realness of Lucy’s journey is authentic and relatable to readers of all ages. It gives readers all the feels.

DreamBuilt Books has created diverse texts and Lost is no exception.  I love the inclusiveness represented in the story.

I would recommend this books for ages preschool-2nd grade.

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 and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information 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.

 

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.