Nikeriff 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.

With Molly in preschool, I’ve really been trying to boost her home library with alphabet books. She can sing the alphabet, but we’re still working on letter recognition. So when I came across a Facebook post from a mom who wrote an alphabet book I had to reach out.

Nikeriff, by Natasha Barber and illustrated by Rayah James, is a heartwarming and lovable alphabet picture  book that takes readers on an adventure.

First, I have to address the name Nikeriff. Barber starts off the story with a note to readers explaining that her autistic son came up with the name. Right away I thought this was a fabulous personal touch and made me feel connected to the author as a mom.

Readers are introduced to the little monster, Nikeriff, who is having a difficult time remembering the letters in the alphabet. He asks his mom and dad for help and they give him the supplies he needs for a scavenger hunt. Nikeriff spends the rest of the story with his trusty teddy bear going through the woods and collecting different elements from nature (animals, insects, plants) and practicing the letters of the alphabet.

What grabbed my attention right away was the more complex sentence structure. Usually when I read alphabet books the sentences are simple and short, with the letter bolded and enlarged, usually in a brighter color font. This picture book includes more complex sentences, which makes the story feel less babyish. The letters are bolded and enlarged, but don’t really distract the reader from the rest of the text or pictures. Personally, I LOVED this writing style because it means the book can be used with older kids who may need support with alphabet work. Since I work with lots of special education students, this is super exciting for me because finding texts like this is quite challenging.

Similar to the sentence structure, I also found the animals and insects added to the sac to be super creative. I love that it included critters such as the “Underwing moth” and “Queen Butterfly”. While there were some traditional ones included, like ants, this hint of creativity not only helped the flow of the story, but it was incredibly engaging.

I was also a huge fan of the idea of a scavenger hunt, especially that it took place in the woods. Many kids are fascinated by animals, bugs and the outdoors, so the setting of this story can really engage readers who gravitate towards those topics. This also allows the book to be utilized in schools as a cross curricular text for science, specifically in preschool and kindergarten.

Finally, the illustrations were absolutely spot on! I truly enjoyed looking at each picture and felt that they matched the feel of the text. I love that they look like they were drawn with crayon, especially after the author’s note in the beginning. It just made me feel like i was reading a book imagined by a child, which leaves me feeling all warm and fuzzy.

I highly recommend this book for kids ages 0-8, but it can be used with older students working on basic reading skills.

To purchase the book click here 

To follow Nikeriff on Facebook click here

Lizzie Loftus and the Missing Peanut Butter Cookies: A Science Method Mystery Book Review

Literacy in the content areas is a topic I’ve been interested in since college when I had to take a class on it (with one of my favorite professors). I love coming across books that will spark the interest of a reader who has a love of science, math or history.

Lizzie Loftus and the Missing Peanut Butter Cookies: A Science Method Mystery, by Ruth E. Propper, Ph.D., and illustrated by Tanja Varcelija, is a delightful story about using the scientific method to solve a real life mystery.

Lizzie’s mom just baked a batch of delicious peanut butter cookies, but unfortunately a bunch have gone missing. Lizzie asked to have a cookie, but she listened to her mom and did not take one. She went outside to play with her neighbors, Robert and Joule. Lizzie’s mom thinks Lizzie ate the cookies, and has given her daughter an hour to explain what happened to them. Robert, Joule and Lizzie use the scientific method to create a hypothesis and design an experiment to show Mrs. Loftus what really happened to the cookies.

The format of this book is fabulous! Each chapter is a few pages long, which are filled with dialogue allowing the story to flow really well for young readers. The conversations are extremely realistic and allow readers to truly get to know the characters. The illustrations are adorable and can be used to help aid readers with comprehending the text.

Two of my favorite components of this story are the characters and the explanation of the scientific methods.

The three main characters are Lizzie, Robert and Joule. Robert and Lizzie are in second grade, and Robert’s older sister Joule is in fifth grade. Even though the story is about Lizzie’s situation, Joule’s character definitely steals the show! Joule is a know-it-all, with a big personality. She likes to remind Lizzie and Robert that she learned all about science and experiments “last year in fourth grade”. She is the driving force behind Lizzie finding out the truth about the missing peanut butter cookies, and truly moves the plot along.

For the record, science was in no way one of my best subjects growing up. I remember learning about the scientific method and having to use it in class, all while thanking my lab partner for getting me through.

This book not only does a marvelous job explaining and defining the different parts of an experiment (hypothesis, designing an experiment) it also provides clear examples in a real life situation. Joule spends lots of time teaching Robert and Lizzie about science in this short text, but her explanations are kid-friendly while using the proper scientific terminology, which I loved. There is no watering down of ideas and concepts, but rather a dialogue between characters that helps readers comprehend the ideas. For instance, Joule spends lots of time discussing hypothesis with the two other kids. She corrects them and explains why their ideas are incorrect, and provides guidance to the right way of thinking.

There were also some nice little surprises at the end of the story. The teacher in me always gets excited when an author includes extra educational activities that correlate with the story, and this author definitely got me excited!

Not only did she include a glossary of the scientific terms mentioned in the story, she included comprehension questions based on each term and the story! Truthfully, I have never seen it done this way, and I think it’s great! It adds an extra layer of skill building in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming for young readers.

And in true saving the best for last fashion, there is a recipe for peanut butter cookies! The illustrations of the ingredients make the recipe very kid-friendly, and the references to the story in the directions just add that little bit of extra.

I recommend this book for ages 5-12. It would work really well as a cross curricular activity with science and reading for students in grades 2-5. It is a must have for any kid who likes science or mysteries.

To purchase this book click here.

 

Cutie Sue Fights the Germs Book Review

For the last month life has definitely not been the same. As a parent, it’s been difficult to get my three year old to understand why she can’t go to school or the mall (she’s a shoppper). She knows that there are germs and people are getting sick, but it’s still quite a bit for her to comprehend. So, as always, I turn to books to help me explain the situation.

Cutie Sue Fights the Germs, by Kate Melton, is a fantastic picture book for teaching children about germs and how to prevent the spread of them.

I was first introduced to Cutie Sue when I reviewed Cutie Sue Wins the RaceIn Cutie Sue Fights the Germs, Sue unfortunately comes down with a bug and isn’t feeling well. Her mom takes this opportunity to educate Sue and her brother about germs. Mom mentions that germs are super tiny and can’t be seen, and they can be in food or passed on by other people. Mom also takes the kids to the doctor, who takes very good care of them. He also gives the family a leaflet with important information.

I love the clear explanations and simple words used in this text. Trying to explain anything to a toddler is not easy, so being able to use a book like this to help get important information across at a digestible level for a three year old is amazing. The rhyme scheme also provides that extra boost of fun and entertainment so it doesn’t feel like I’m reading a textbook.

The illustrations are also superb and coordinate very well with the written text. When Mom is explaining what germs are there is a great illustration on the page to show readers what the words mean. As a Reading Specialist, I love little clues like this in picture books because it aids in reading comprehension.

However, one of my favorite parts of the book is when the family shows readers how to prevent the spread of germs. The text and pictures show Sue and her brother opening windows, wiping down toys, sneezing into tissues, rinsing off fruits and veggies, etc. Not only are these great tips, but it helps kids realize how they can help make a difference, especially in today’s climate. Kids see so many adults on TV and at home trying to stop the spread of germs, and this book shows young readers how they can contribute.

Even though Cutie Sue is sick, she maintains a positive attitude and is full of hope. She helps to disinfect her toys and washes her hands with warm soapy water. I love how she continues to smile, which sends such a positive message to readers. It’s very easy for kids (and adults) to feel overwhelmed right now, but Sue is a much needed ray of sunshine and shows us the power of positivity.

“We will win the fight! Our germs will not spread if we do things right!”

I recommend this book for toddlers – third graders.

To purchase this book click here.

The Knowledge Gap Book Review

It’s no secret that I’m an education nerd. I’m drawn to all things literacy and curriculum. Over my last ten years in education I have seen a lot of different theories, standards, and curriculum come and go with no real answers about how to improve the knowledge gap.

The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System- And How to Fix It, by Natalie Wexler, examines the struggles American schools face, how it affects students, and possible solutions.

As a reader, it usually takes me twice as long to get through a nonfiction education book because I need to take breaks. The writing styles of these texts are dry and I find myself taking social media breaks. However, I have to admit, Wexler did an absolutely incredible job making the content flow. I think a lot of that has to do with her breaking up the reading with real life examples from different classrooms, and history of curriculum in America. The change up in content definitely kept me engaged longer and allowed me to draw my own conclusions between the historical facts/accounts and the classroom examples.

While the title doesn’t mention literacy, this whole book truly dives into the deep end of reading and writing. As Wexler points out, reading and math tend to be the focal points in elementary classrooms because of state tests. Even though teachers may have science and social studies scheduled for once a week, it’s rare that those lessons happen because teachers feel the need to constantly hit on reading skills.

One of the main ideas is that using balanced literacy, leveled readers, and guided reading are not helping students improve their reading comprehension skills. The Reading Wars are discussed briefly, with both sides being explained. However, it is crystal clear that phonics based explicit instruction will help the majority of all students learn to read, including those who are English Language Learners, classified with a learning disability, etc. As a reading teacher I was doing a happy dance with the evidence supporting phonics instruction.

Of course, one can’t discuss balanced literacy without mentioning Lucy Calkins. Wexler makes a fantastic argument against the literacy guru that there are indeed flaws in this reading model (and writer’s workshop, too). Readers even “saw” examples in the sections where Wexler observed classrooms using this concept.

But, if balanced literacy is not helping students, then what will?

The author’s #1 point in the 263 pages, is that in order to improve reading comprehension, students need to have more background knowledge, which can only be accomplished by exposing early elementary students to science and history. Yes, some students have social studies where they learn about members in the community, but they need world and US history.

Students have a thirst for knowledge and want to be challenged. Obviously we don’t want students feeling overwhelmed and shutting down, but the classroom teacher is there to guide students. Students can handle advanced vocabulary if they are seeing it in content-rich curriculum. The point of the Common Core was to have American students build on their knowledge from year to year, which a content-rich curriculum does.

Wexler also mentions Daniel Willingham. For my loyal readers you know that I LOVE this man and his book Raising Kids Who ReadIn The Knowledge Gap, Willingham is referenced for his contributions to education and the cognitive psychology. Yay!

Finally, Wexler’s last point was about teaching writing. I will admit during college and student teaching I was always told to teach that writing is a process. I have never used Lucy Calkin’s writing units, but would instead make up my own assignments/tasks with fellow colleagues. The author mentions Judith Hochman, who experimented with a teaching method that started with sentences and taught mechanics at the same time, and has seen great success. Not only has this approach been proven to improve student writing, it has also increased reading comprehension and the ability to critique information they are learning. Hochman and Wexler authored The Writing Revolution, which offers a road map for educators.

WOW!

I have so many parts underlined and marked in this book that there is no way I can share them all in a blog post. However, I would love to share my favorite line.

“…the transformation from a focus on comprehension skills and reading levels to one on content and knowledge is beginning to take hold.” (Wexler 259).

Education is changing. The Common Core sparked that change and caused a lot of educators to look at their teaching methods. As the education world continues to evolve, we need to remember that even though we live in a digital age where students can Google anything, we still need to be providing students with information. Knowledge rich curriculum makes sense for today’s readers. If we want to see changes in our students we have to start looking at the elementary school classrooms.

I recommend this amazing book for superintendents, principals, curriculum supervisors, teachers and anyone thinking about entering the world of education.

To purchase the book click here.

 

Arial the Chef 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 food. I’m a fan of going out to dinner, experimenting with different recipes and watching Hell’s Kitchen. Molly is also a fan of these food things, especially watching Hell’s Kitchen while cooking in her play kitchen.

Arial is definitely becoming one of my favorite characters in a picture book series. I’ve previously reviewed Arial the Youtuber (an Amazon best seller) and I’m so excited to share another Arial story today that involves food!

Arial the Chef, by Mary Nhin, is a fabulous story about the importance of working hard and helping others.

I really like how Arial’s Youtube videos continues into this book. We pick up with her recording a new video for making sushi at home (she makes it look so easy!). Arial wants to purchase a sushi robot to help her cut rolls, but she doesn’t have $400.

The family makes and delivers dinner to their neighbor, who is sick. Britany, the daughter, reveals that her dad may lose his job because he needs a surgery to get better, but the family can’t afford it. This bit of information may seem random and out of place, but it’s an important component to the overall plot and message.

To make money, Arial opens a sushi bar. Her grand opening is busy, but soon she realizes the struggles of starting a new business. Even though she feels defeated, Arial looks to her parents for advice, and they give her some great ideas. I love how Arial’s family works as a team to support one another. Her parents’ ideas allow Arial to gain some momentum with her sushi bar, and at the end of the month she is able to walk away with a profit.

But, wait, there’s more! With her $400 profits, Arial doesn’t buy the sushi robot, but instead goes to Britany’s and gives her the money! This act of kindness makes my heart so full and speaks volumes to young readers. The overall theme of the text can be summed up by this quote from the book. “She proved to herself she could do hard things and help others.” I am absolutely head over heels for this quote and want to put it in my office. I love, love, love the lessons of grit and kindness that this book offers. I feel like I fall more in love with Arial with each story she’s in.

And, just like Arial the Youtuber, Nhin provides some great extras at the end of the book. First, there is a step-by-step guide for making sushi at home and how to open a sushi bar. Super cool fun fact, the author has experience with opening a sushi restaurant! There is also a vocabulary activity, discussion topics, a writing exercise and drawing space for readers to interact with the story.

I think this book would be fabulous when discussing theme, characterization, or character education in a classroom or homeschool environment for students in grades 1-3.

To purchase this book click here.