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.

 

My Why: Making My Classroom Virtual

Why did you want to be a teacher?

I’ve been asked this question countless times over the last ten years, by parents, administrators, college professors, etc. In the early days I would dive into a heartfelt story about playing school with my dolls growing up,  saying that I was meant to be a teacher. When I was working in public school I would express my desire to make a difference in the lives of my students.

Today, my why looks nothing like those responses.

In college, I was fortunate to be in a program that valued creativity and ambition. We were taught to create unit plans that sparked student engagement, incorporated real world skills, and fulfilled all of the state requirements. I felt incredibly confident in my ability to teach and truly impact my students in a positive way. I was ready to experiment with new ideas and collaborate with other teachers to give my students a memorable experience.

Since day one my goal has always been putting my students first. I promised myself I would always fight for my kids, to do whatever I could to provide them with the best education that I could give them. If that meant working on weekends, doing additional research, enrolling in courses, I would do it.

What they don’t tell you in college is that not all districts, supervisors or principals will have the same mindset. What they don’t tell you is how political a school building can be. What they don’t tell you is that sometimes the student will not come first.

My first year I taught eighth grade English. My course was focused on literature (woot woot!) and I worked in an affluent district with involved parents. They expected their children to go to college. Over the course of the year it became clear that my students wanted help with reading comprehension. They literally asked for help with it. The curriculum said I had to do a literature circle (students could choose 1 of 4 books to read), one of those being To Kill a Mockingbird. I knew the high school would have high expectations for my students, so I wanted to do To Kill a Mockingbird as a whole class novel to help prepare my students and work on reading comprehension.

I collaborated with my amazing in class support teacher, who agreed with me that this was the best decision for our students. I reached out to my supervisor, in his first year on the job, and waited for a response. He took days to get back to me. It was Friday afternoon, we started the unit on Monday. At 1 pm he responded that no I couldn’t focus on reading comprehension with TKAM. We had to leave the curriculum as is.

I was beyond frustrated.

That summer I was moved to sixth grade reading (yay!), and was writing curriculum with our new Pearson textbook. The Common Core had just come out and we had to revamp everything. I was so excited, until I was told we needed to use the textbook for EVERYTHING that wasn’t using one of our novels. The reason? New teachers need to follow a textbook.

The following year, I was moved to teach literacy support for sixth and seventh grade. I was working towards my reading specialist certification, so this was perfect for me. I had done a lot of research on read alouds and started to dedicate the first 10 minutes of my class to reading Divergent. I wanted a book that would hook my struggling readers and get them excited to read. These students were not scoring proficient on the state standardized test, so they needed all the additional support I could provide. Divergent was a title in the seventh grade curriculum as a literature circle choice. However, being that it was a popular book, many students had been reading it on their own. I included the text in my lesson plans for my supervisor to see when he checked it. He never said anything.

When he came to observe me first marking period he was not a fan of my read aloud. It took up 10 minutes of precious instruction time. The book was in the seventh grade curriculum, so I was told to stop reading the trilogy, even though Insurgent (the second book) was not in the curriculum.

At the end of the year, my tenure year, I was told I wasn’t a good fit and would not be returning.

I was hired to work in a charter school for the following September teaching sixth grade. I had an incredibly supportive administration team who wanted me to experiment. What I wasn’t prepared for was having students on a third grade reading level, with a severe lack of resources. I created a classroom library and a community of readers, but I couldn’t provide the individual time with students that they needed.

I resigned from my position to be with Molly. However, I needed to work because I’m just that type of person. I was an experienced teacher with a reading specialist endorsement, and I couldn’t get a job. I applied to hundreds of positions, virtual and brick and mortar. I didn’t even get an interview.

Finally, I was hired by EdOptions Academy, a branch of Edmentum, an edtech company. Making the leap from brick and mortar to virtual has changed my life. I’ve worked with hundreds of students from different backgrounds and life situations. I had the flexibility to collaborate with other teachers and provide my students with the support they needed. However, working full time was taking a toll on me. I struggled with balancing my work-home life, even working from home. I decided to go back to being part time.

Why?

Because I have a vision. I believe that literacy affects all areas of a person’s life. I believe those skills are critical for a person to be successful. I believe struggling readers need customized support.

From my own personal experiences, I can see how struggling readers fall through the cracks. There isn’t enough time, money, resources, etc. in many of our schools. There are teachers who are frustrated and burned out. The amount of red tape is negatively impacting our readers.

That is why I started Little Reading Coach. I’m getting rid of the red tape and set curriculums. I’m giving each student the individual focus they deserve.

Students have a million activities going on. I want to provide convenience by conducting all sessions virtually through Zoom. Tutoring can take place in the backseat of a car, at home or during study hall. There are no limits as long as we have wifi.

My why is to help struggling readers gain the skills they need to be successful. Whether that is to go to college, become a mechanic, or train to be a chef.

I struggled for years trying to understand why I wasn’t a “good fit” when I realized they weren’t the good fit. They lost the individual attention I believe every student deserves. They lost a teacher who made personal connections with families, who cried with moms during parent teacher conferences. A teacher who believes that it only takes one book to make a student a reader.

For more information click here.

Tips for Helping Students Stay on Task in ESY

This summer I spent the month of July working with high school students in an extended school year program at a private out of district placement school. Working with 25 teenagers, in the summer, every day, can be challenging to say the least. I co-teach a class of sophomores, and teach a class of juniors and seniors.

We’re currently on day 16 of 20 in ESY, and I would love to share some ideas on how to keep students motivated.

Allow them to listen to music. This is by far the best thing to keep kids calm and somewhat on task. Students in my program are allowed to use Chromebooks to listen to music on Youtube while they work. As long as they are not singing, dancing, rapping, or blasting their music, I’m quite happy with this arrangement.

Allow them to help choose materials. My program requires students to write a book report during summer school. Since we only have 20 days, we’ve been using short stories instead of teaching a novel. This has been super helpful because of vacations, field trips, etc. The first day I told my students the plan and asked for their input. One of the kids actually requested “Lamb to the Slaughter”, so we incorporated that into the curriculum. Students were definitely more engaged with reading and discussing this text.

Utilize film versions of texts. I have always been a huge fan of showing movies or TV shows then teaching, so I continued this in my ESY classes. In the three classes, we read “All Summer in a Day”, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, and “Lamb to the Slaughter”, which all have a movie/short film.

Personally, I think the film versions for “All Summer in a Day” and “Lamb to the Slaughter” are great adaptations that help students with reading comprehension. “All Summer” is super heavy on figurative language, so it was a little overwhelming for some of students. The film version really clarified the setting for them.

Walter Mitty is a full length movie that is very slightly similar to the short story. Walter does have daydreams quite frequently, but that’s the only similarity.

Be flexible. We have about a field trip a day, so I’m constantly losing kids to trips. Some students don’t want to participate with the field trips, so they see me every day. In these cases I work with kids individually to assign them work. For instance, my one student finished the book report, so she brings in a book from home to read. She sits in class every day, reads, listens to music and tells me about something that happened in her reading.

Since I know kids love to use the Chromebooks, I always make sure to have some vocabulary words ready to go for them to define. It’s super easy for them and they can listen to music while staying on task. I also make sure to have a couple of back up reading passages with questions for students to work on as well.

 

However, even with all of these tips, my classes are far from perfect. I still have students show up late, ask for food, walk out of class, and refuse to do their required book report. However, I’ve learned that incorporating these tips can help these situations and help keep my students calm.

Project Dandelion Book Review

My reader heart has been so happy the last few weeks with reading new YA books. Even better are YA dystopian novels.

Project Dandelion by Heather Carson, is a YA dystopian novel about the potential end of life in the US.

Katrina wakes up in a fall out shelter after multiple nuclear explosions have occurred. Like the other teenagers in the shelter, she has the Dandelion Gene, making her super adaptable. Like all heroines in YA dystopian novels, there is something different about Katrina. She tries not to get attached to the others (like her father told her), she uses her knowledge of survival skills to devise a plan for when the doors open, and she always seems to be one step ahead of the game.

The plot reminded me of Maze Runner, but a much more straight forward and quick read. I kept waiting for a plot twist with Nanny dropping a bombshell on the group, but the 14 days spent in the shelter moved along quickly. It didn’t feel as drawn out as The Hunger Games, which makes this a great read for students who struggle with reading stamina and comprehension.

While reading, I did have a few reader questions that weren’t answered. Why a dandelion? How does the government know the teens have this gene? Is there something more than these kids just being able to adapt well? None of these were answered in Book 1, so I’m curious if Carson will address some more of the back story in the next book.

As primarily a middle school teacher, I really appreciate YA texts that are appropriate for grades 6-12. The only little comment that raised a teeny tiny red flag was when Lark told James he just wanted to get laid. Personally, I think this will go over most middle schoolers heads, so I would still recommend it to readers in grades 6-12. There is a little bit of a flirting between Katrina and James, but it is purely innocent.

For more information visit the author’s website here.

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.

How to Win the World Cup in Your Pajamas Book Review

June is shaping up to be an extremely busy month I’m starting to realize. End of the school year, Father’s Day, graduation, and sport events, like the Women’s World Cup.

I’ve been on a motivational quotes and texts kick recently, so I was super excited to come across a book that sends positive messages to kids. How to Win the World Cup in Your Pajamas by Kobe and Mary Nhin and illustrated by Milena Salieri, is a book that helps young athletes set goals.

Emma is a young soccer player, who has won the World Cup many times. At first I thought the book would describe a dream of Emma’s experience winning, but I was pleasantly mistaken. Instead, the text dives into providing kids with 5 tools needed to be successful.

These tools include: grit, rituals, visualize, mantras, and positive body language. What I like most about these tools is that they are not watered down for kids. I consider these tools for adults as well, and I like how the authors include maturity with the wording of the tools. The text is written clearly and does not have any challenging vocabulary words, which makes it a great work for elementary students. It provides a clear explanation of how kids can set and accomplish their goals.

While reading the book, I felt like I had a life coach in my ear. I have yet to come across another text that is able to speak to me as an adult the same way it speaks to a child. I felt a surge of girl power and determination after reading this book.

However, the best surprise was at the end of the book. The teacher in me got really excited when there was a Mental Toughness Growth Plan graphic organizer. Not only does the story teach kids how to develop mental toughness, but it includes a step by step guide kids can actually use on a daily basis! There is lots of writing required for the organizer, but it would be a great activity for kids to complete with a parent, older sibling, coach, etc.

To check out the book, click here.

 

Spring Song Book Review

 

As a mom of a toddler, I’m always looking for quality children’s books with multi-sensory elements to help keep her engaged. Instinctively, I go for touchy-feely books, or noisy books so she can press buttons.

Spring Song by Anetta Kotowicz and illustrated by Nina Ezhik, is a delightful, multi-sensory story to use with preschool aged children. Not only is it a picture book, but there is also a Youtube playlist to accompany the reading, in addition to some great crafts and activity ideas.

I’ve been teaching figurative language with my students for the last nine years, so the teacher in me gets excited when I see these elements used in any type of text. The use of sensory details and onomatopoeia makes this a super fun story to read! When reading this with preschool children, I would have students repeat the onomatopoeias after me because there are so many. It gives kids a chance to practice saying new words and makes them feel like they’re also reading the story.

In my experience as a Reading Specialist, a lot of my students benefit from additional auditory support when interacting with a text. The Spring Song playlist on Youtube provides young readers with four different songs that correlate to the story. Songs are available on Arts Kindred Magic YouTube channel under Spring Song playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVltdElxMWR0dMxq1sVmv3iKhgJ7_m2N9

The e-text does have an icon to click which takes listeners right to the song for that page. Readers can sing along with the story. This is a fabulous way to introduce little ones to reading! If you want to practice reading skills, I suggest reading this text on a tablet and pointing to the words in the songs while singing.

A great surprise is what is included at the end of the book for parents and teachers. There are pages of additional craft ideas and a game. The game involves kids doing an action (clap your hands, act like a bird, etc). This is perfect for a preschool classroom!

Interested in this fabulous book? Check it out on Amazon.

 

For additional texts and information, feel free to check out www.ArtsKindred.com . Summer Song was just published and there are ones for Fall and Winter!

 

Virtual Author Visit with Brenda Felber

Yesterday was without a doubt one of my favorite days as a virtual teacher. I had the absolute pleasure of chatting with author Brenda Felber using Zoom.

I use Zoom every week for my read alouds, but this was the first time I used the video chatting platform to host a guest. Zoom allows users to share their screens, so Brenda was able to share a fabulous PowerPoint presentation. Using the Gallery view, we were able to see one another while the Powerpoint was being shared. This was a great aspect because we were able to have a “face to face” conversation while Brenda went through her presentation.

In my eight years of teaching, I have never had the opportunity to have an author visit with my students. Usually at the middle school level students are limited with their experiences because there is so much pressure on getting class time in. In the brick and mortar schools that I have worked in, students were allowed one or two field trips a year and that was it outside of usual class activities.

Teaching in the virtual classroom allows me to give my students more learning opportunities. Not only do I do my weekly read alouds, but I can now bring my students author visits.

As a teacher, one of my favorite aspects of Brenda’s presentation was how she uses the writing process for all of her novels. She showed us a picture of her word map, one of the ways she brainstorms, and explained how detailed her editing process is. She also shared specific programs that she uses to bring the novel together. The teacher in me was ecstatic because students are able to see that the writing process is used for more than just a five paragraph essay.

As a reader, my favorite part was when Brenda discussed the different components of her books. In my book review on Twisted Games (Twisted Games: Pameroy Mystery Series Book 5 Review), I mention how Brenda combines mystery, history and fantasy. During our author visit, Brenda referred to all three of those ideas and why she uses them in her writing. This validated my reading skills and interpretations and also added to our conversation.

I made sure to record the Zoom session and I included it in my weekly newsletter for my students to watch when they have time. It was a truly fantastic experience and I am so glad to have connected with such a talented author.