Dating the Quarterback (Secret # 3) Book Review

A few years ago I was looking for free books for my classroom library, and I stumbled on the giveaway section on Goodreads. About a month ago I entered a bunch of giveaways for young adult and children’s books not expecting to win anything. Well, I won three!!

Dating the Quarterback (Secret #3) by Emily Evans is a young adult romance novel. We follow the main character, Chelsea, as she tackles her love life while trying to get a letter of recommendation from a teacher to get into the college of her choice.

YA is by far my favorite genre. Part of me will always be a 16 year old girl, so romance YA books are my guilty pleasure. Dating the Quarterback is a fun novel that includes all aspects that appeal to teenage girls: boys, money, trips, and clothes.

I absolutely loved that Chelsea is an intelligent young lady. She has big dreams of becoming a doctor and works her butt off to make her senior year of high school the best she can academically. Her maturity made me forget that she’s still a teenager.

My only issue I had with this book is the choppy plot. I was confused a few times by the switch of scenes/time frames a few times before I got familiar with the pacing. It felt a little stop-start for me, which caused me to put the book down a few times because I would lose interest. I will say that even though I wasn’t a fan of the vision in the beginning, I really enjoyed how Evans incorporated the idea throughout the novel, especially at the end.

As a teacher, I always worry that some of the content may be a little too mature for my students. This novel was super conservative about the relationship budding between Chelsea and Sterling, which I really appreciated. I would feel completely comfortable giving this text to even my middle school students.

I will admit that I have never come across books by Emily Evans until this win, but that will be changing :).

Agent 603 Book Review

Like many others, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. This past week has been all love though because I was invited to join a new Facebook group that connects children’s book authors with bloggers. I have about 5 new books on my To Read list so I can write some exciting reviews, which makes my reading heart quite happy.

I’ve spent the last eight years working with middle school students, so I have a soft spot for any texts for this age group. Agent 603 by Tabitha Bell is an ADORABLE story about a teddy bear who is really a secret agent. Based on the writing style, some advanced vocabulary and humor, I would recommend this book for students in grades 4-6.

Our main character is Agent 603, later named Mr. Snuggles, who is a teddy bear fresh out of secret agent training. As readers, we dive into the details of his first mission. The point of view is mostly in first person, and we get to know our cuddly character very well. He is dramatic, clumsy and a foodie, making him relatable to readers. He tends to always have food on his mind, which adds to the humor of the book.

One of my absolute favorite aspects about this novel is the humor. The story is structured like a secret agent case file, but every so often an amendment for the record interjects some realities about the situation. These amendments had me lol’ing for real, which doesn’t happen to me as a reader. I started reading the novel on my phone while I was getting my hair done (love the Kindle app) and I had to use my close reading strategies and highlight some of my favorite parts.

Agent 603 Excerpt

The plot is very imaginative and reflects how children think. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book as creative as this one in terms of characterization and plot, which made the novel super engaging to me. There were a few points that I got confused with the plot because of the immense attention to detail, but it wasn’t enough to distract me from reading. This happened once or twice when Mr. Snuggles ventured into the closet and experienced new surroundings every time.

A theme that really struck me while reading this novel was imagination. Without giving anything away, the falling action allowed readers to see what can happen if we aren’t afraid to be creative and use our imaginations. Personally, I think this is a fantastic theme in a book for this age group. Students at this point are in the weird transition period of puberty, and teachers often see this in the behaviors of students. We can tell when some students haven’t hit that stage yet because they tend to have over active imaginations and immaturity. This book highlighted that having an over active imagination is a positive aspect and to embrace it. Having worked with sixth grade students for years, I was very drawn to this because kids often hide their true thoughts to fit in with others.

This is definitely one book that should be in a classroom library. I think it would attract those readers who enjoy adventure and humor types of books. I can’t wait to see the next mission that Mr. Snuggles goes on.

Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom

For over a year and a half I have been an virtual English teacher with EdOptions Academy. There is definitely some transition from being in a brick and mortar school to working with kids digitally, but the rewards are still the same.

One of my favorite activities to do with my students when I taught in a brick and mortar was my daily read aloud. I would choose a high interest text for my students, read it aloud to them every day and then have a quick class discussion about the reading. I was ecstatic when EdOptions Academy started using Zoom to conduct live weekly lessons because I would be allowed to continue my read alouds in the virtual setting.

For the last six months I have held weekly read alouds for my students in secondary English. It was slow going in the beginning, but I now have students waiting for me in our weekly meetings.

Below are some ways that I have created a successful virtual read aloud for students in grades 6-12.

Picking the right book. EdOptions Academy has a set curriculum, so I wanted to choose a novel based on assignments students are required to complete. For fall semester I did three separate read alouds (The Hunger Games, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Giver). While I loved reading these novels with my students, it was a lot to manage with 250 students. For spring semester, I am reading Divergent because it has similar themes to the texts from last semester and it’s an AMAZING book.

Student participation. Zoom allows students to participate via video chat or instant message using a chat box. I never gave students direct instructions on how to share their ideas during our sessions because I didn’t know what they would be comfortable using. My goal is always to have students be comfortable during our time together. Students started utilizing the chat box while I was reading to ask questions or express their thoughts. I monitor the chat box periodically while I read each chapter, and go through it at the end of each chunk to address any questions or ideas students have.

This is has been the most powerful aspect of my read aloud. Students are able to socialize with other students in the chat box while discussing the text. I notice that students make a TON of text-to-text connections (my favorite are the Harry Potter connections) and really love to discuss characterization. Students even came up with a hashtag ,#pusheric, when discussing the youngest Dauntless leader and it was one of my favorite discussions I’ve ever had. Having the freedom to type their ideas at any point during our hour together encourages students to participate when they feel comfortable and not worry about getting in trouble for interrupting.

Talk about being readers. Just as in a brick and mortar environment, it’s important to discuss reading habits in and out of the classroom. During my read alouds, I often find myself saying things such as, “As readers, we can infer…”. Using language like this helps create a stronger community feeling that we are all readers, regardless if we struggle or not. We also spend time talking about other texts the students are currently reading. Some are reading the Divergent series and others are enjoying Percy Jackson. By engaging in conversations like this with my students on a consistent basis we are not only bonding in the virtual classroom, but sharing books and characters we love.

Recorded sessions. I am required to record all of my live lessons with my students, which has turned out to be an incredible concept. Since my read aloud changes every week depending on meetings and office hours, some of my students are unable to attend the live session. I send the recorded link to my students each week so they can watch it at their convenience and still feel included. I also keep a Word document of all my recording links so I can share them with other teachers, parents, and schools. Students have told me they have “watched” me in the car traveling to tournaments and at night with their families. I love that parents get just as excited for the next chapter as my students.

All are welcome. During the fall semester, I was talking to another English teacher who was on a different team. She expressed her concern for a student because he was struggling in her class. I told the teacher the student should come to my read aloud to help practice reading skills in addition to the amazing work that she was already doing with him. The student participated in my read alouds and made significant progress in his English class. His success story is one of my favorites because it shows the power of collaboration in the virtual environment. I will never turn a student away from a read aloud because he or she is not “mine”. Any student is welcome to attend my read alouds and engage in amazing conversations with us.

The virtual learning environment is still a very new concept, but it is possible to create a community of readers from the comforts of home or on the road. My students now wait for me to start our meetings and I have a steady core group of readers. My read aloud is easily the highlight of my week and I love that I get to share it with my students from all over the US.

Like Vanessa Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way. Like Vanessa by Tami Charles is an AMAZING book for young adult readers.

Book Description from Amazon: In this semi-autobiographical debut novel set in 1983, Vanessa Martin’s real-life reality of living with family in public housing in Newark, New Jersey is a far cry from the glamorous Miss America stage. She struggles with a mother she barely remembers, a grandfather dealing with addiction and her own battle with self-confidence. But when a new teacher at school coordinates a beauty pageant and convinces Vanessa to enter, Vanessa’s view of her own world begins to change. Vanessa discovers that her own self-worth is more than the scores of her talent performance and her interview answers, and that she doesn’t need a crown to be comfortable in her own skin and see her own true beauty.

Personal Thoughts: I am beyond excited to share this new book with you today! As an avid reader and well read educator I love getting my hands on young adult books, and this one is AMAZING!!! If I’m being totally honest, I spent an entire Monday night reading this novel from cover to cover because I was so emotionally invested in Vanessa’s journey. It has been a long time since I’ve stayed up half the night reading, and it was a fantastic decision.

The plot in Like Vanessa had two pieces that made it memorable. One piece is it’s a little predictable. About halfway through I got a feeling where Vanessa’s mom was, but the back story was one I did not expect. From an English teacher’s perspective, Charles did a beautiful job leaving some great foreshadowing breadcrumbs about Vanessa’s childhood. Some of them are a little more obvious than others, but in a positive way because it requires readers to think while reading.

The second piece is how the plot includes realistic situations. I’m a Jersey girl, born and raised, so I’m familiar with Newark, the setting of the story. Along with capturing the realities of living in an urban area, Charles hit on so many different experiences that young girls face. Peer pressure, puberty, family problems, friendship struggles, etc., can all be seen through Vanessa’s eyes.

I honestly fell in love with three characters while reading, Mrs. Walton, TJ and Vanessa.

As a teacher, I truly loved how Mrs. Walton, Vanessa’s music teacher, helped shape Vanessa into such a beautiful young woman. I make it my goal to reach one student every year, and to see the relationship between the two blossom reminded me that teaching is more than following a lesson plan. My heart melted when Mrs. Walton took Vanessa shopping because students don’t always realize that teachers are people too.

TJ is by far one of the strongest characters I have encountered in years. His love of fashion and creating works of art give him the strength to follow his dreams, regardless of his sexuality. Without giving too much away, I got choked up at a very scary part and started shaking. I had to put the book down so I could take a deep breath and continue reading.

Vanessa Martin is one of the most beautiful characters I’ve had the privilege to get to know. Nessy has a fabulous personality that shines through the pages of this novel. She is relatable to all girls, regardless of race or class. Her physical and emotional transformation is inspiring and motivating. She reminded me a little of Esperanza from House on Mango Street with her innocence and dreams, and like Esperanza she pushed through her environmental situations to take control of her life. At the end of the novel I wanted to climb inside the pages and give her a hug.

Personally, I recommend this book for grades eight and up because of mature content (references to drugs, alcohol and sex). Like Vanessa by Tami Charles is the best new young adult books that I’ve read since I found City of Bones. I encourage everyone to read this heartwarming story.

For more information on this fabulous novel please check out the following sites:

Tami Charles:  https://tamiwrites.com

Publisher’s Website:  https://www.charlesbridge.com/

Rice & Rocks 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. Rice & Books by Sandra L. Richards and illustrated by Megan Kayleigh Sullivan is a phenomenal book about culture and tradition.

Giovanni is a little boy who has friends coming over for dinner. His grandmother is making rice and rocks (rice and beans) and he is afraid his friends won’t like the traditional Jamaican dish. He goes on a magical ride with his parrot, Jasper, his Auntie and her dogs, and discovers how the same dish is a tradition in multiple parts of the world. The illustrations are creative with realistic facial expressions. The attention to detail and the colors are breathtaking and help the text come alive. Rice & Rocks

As a reading teacher I have discovered the lack of diverse texts in classrooms. I have worked with students from all different cultures and it’s important to have books that reflect the background of every classroom. Rice & Rocks is a book that should be in elementary classrooms and libraries because it addresses important themes that impact all children.

Friendship

Kids of all ages always worry about what their friends will think about them. Giovanni demonstrates this by worrying if his friends won’t like his grandmother’s Jamaican dish because it is different. Children experience this every day and can connect to Giovanni on multiple levels.

Rice & Rocks last pageFamily Traditions and Culture

Every family has their own way of doing things. Whether it’s a special morning routine or having Sunday dinner to catch up. For many children the only family traditions they know are their own, so it’s important to expose kids to other ways whenever possible. Tradition often includes cultural foods and customs, especially if it is a celebration. Rice & Rocks does a beautiful job of introducing children to Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Japan, and southern American culture and cuisine.

I personally loved how Richards intertwined various traditions in an easy to understand manner that was fun and imaginative. By doing so, children learn about other parts of the world, languages, traditions, and food all in a beautiful picture book. The text is easy for young children to understand (Richards provides great explanations) and the illustrations also provide children with great visuals to help with comprehension. This book could be used for so many different concepts at home and at school.

Anything But Pink Book Review

I am so excited to share my thoughts on this diverse book with you! 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 received a free copy of Anything But Pink written and illustrated by Adelina Winfield. I recommend using this book in the classroom and at home for grades P-2.

I’m going to be honest, I broke one of my classroom reading rules with this book because I chose it for the title. I LOVE pink, so when I had the opportunity to review this book I jumped on it immediately. Here is a look at my favorite page :).

Pink

Anything But Pink is a beautifully illustrated story about a family who does not want their daughter, Starri, to wear pink as a baby because they want her to be different. As Starri grows up, she wants to wear only pink and her parents teach her that “variety is the spice of life” by encouraging her to wear all of the colors of the rainbow.

Since having my daughter I have become immersed in children’s books and have come to appreciate the overall themes these books often carry. Even though I am one of those moms that made Molly a pink nursery, I can appreciate the lesson the parents in the book are trying to teach Starri. The book teaches children to be open and try new things. Starri does this when she adds other colors to her pink outfits and finds she loves the changes. Some kids really struggle with trying new things, and this book does a lovely job of showing parents working together to teach their daughter an important life lesson. Anything But Pink Family

 

This book is also a great example of using diversity in children’s books by including a mixed family. As a reading specialist, one of the things I look for when choosing books for my students is that my kids are represented in what they are reading. This book does a flawless job of incorporating diversity on a level that young readers can understand.

 

Using Zinnia and the Bees in the Classroom

Last week I posted a book review of Zinnia and the Bees by Danielle Davis. I really enjoyed this book, and while I was reading I had a bunch of different ideas go through my head about incorporating it into the classroom or homeschool curriculum. Today, I want to share my ideas. This post is for educators and homeschool families.

Reading the Text

Depending on your curriculum and classroom structure, this book may fit best as a whole class read aloud. I would try and pair it up with other texts that revolve around friendship, family, environment or nature since those are the biggest themes present.

Pairing Fiction with Nonfiction

Since the introduction of the Common Core, there has been a push for pairing fiction texts with nonfiction texts. Zinnia and the Bees provides a great connection for this with the concept of migratory bees.

After doing a little bit of research, I came across a perfect article to introduce and explain the importance of migratory beekeeping. The Mind-Boogling Math of Migratory Beekeeping is a fantastic article from 2013 that dives into detail about bees and the impacts they have on our food. This text is a little challenging because of all the math included, so I would suggest doing a partner or whole-class read with the article. Kids should also highlight the text for information they find interesting or important. After kids read and highlight, I would suggest having them complete reading questions (click here) to solidify their understanding of the material.

Some other ideas for infusing nonfiction with this text:

-online scavenger hunt about bees

-research project on current situation with migratory bees

-compare and contrast migratory bees in other countries

Discussing the Book

One of my favorite aspects about this book is the diversity of themes that it covers. You can do whole class or small group discussions about the following themes:

-Bullying

-Friendship

-Family

-Environment

-Death

-Trust

-Change

If you use this for a read aloud, try asking a theme related question each day (trust me there is lots of material) to help generate discussions.