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Monthly Archives: January 2015

“The Three Thorns” by Michael Gibney

“Dickens meets Tolkien for Kids.” That’s how I’d describe The Three Thorns (The Brotherhood and the Shield) by Michael Gibney. Three orphans are abandoned in Edwardian England, raised in wretched circumstances, and then happily reunited–only to discover the truth about their destiny.

It’s hard to talk about the plot of The Three Thorns without giving away major spoilers, but remember what I said earlier about Tokien? If you love trolls, goblins, magical creatures and battles, this book is for you! As soon as my nine-year-old read it he begged me to purchase the sequel, which will be published next year.

What I especially appreciated about The Three Thorns was the richness of location. I really felt like I was in 1912 London, or out in the countryside on a rabbit hunter’s estate. That made the contrast to the otherworldly scenes all the more sharp.

For more information about this series, check out http://www.thebrotherhoodandtheshield.com/.

“Still Life” by Christa Parrish

Still Life by Christa Parrish is a multi-view novel that bounces from the present to the past. Ada is a twenty-something woman who was raised in a cult and escapes when Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Julian feels called by God to marry her after a brief meeting. Katherine is a wife and mother of two teen boys who is having an affair. This is a story about broken people who deal with tragedy and bumble around being hurt and depressed.

I had high hopes for “Still Life because I loved “The Air We Breathe” and thought “Stones for Breads” was okay, but unfortunately, I had a hard time connecting with this book. My main problem was that most of the characters were so weak and pathetic that they were unlikable. The one really heroic character was Julian, who sounded too good to be true anyway. Julian’s best friend Hortense–who doesn’t have any hands–was a likable character, but she was part of the B-cast.

You know how in “Charlotte’s Web” the reader falls in love with Fern in the very first ten pages because of the “save the pig moment” when she rescues Wilbur? There was never a moment like that for me in “Still Life.” Why root for these people? In real life I’d have compassion for them because they were actual human beings, but as fictional characters they were simply annoying.

I still think Christa Parrish is an incredibly talented author based on “The Air We Breathe.” But “Still Life” did not do it for me at all.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Every PTA in America should screen this film

Last night my husband and I watched The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia a documentary that digs deep into dyslexia. What is dyslexia? Does it go away? Are there advantages to having a dyslexic brain? How can teachers and parents help?

Unfortunately, like many teachers, I received very little training in how to help dyslexic children as part of my credentialing process. My first real encounter with dyslexia was when a beautiful third grader named Maricella grabbed my wrist and asked me to hold the flashcard steady because the words were moving. “Holy crap,” I remember thinking. “I have no idea what to do.”

Ever since that moment I’ve read everything I could about dyslexia, even now when I’m not longer a teacher. Many of the methods used to help dyslexic children are good ideas that can be used for all students. Be patient. Figure out what you are actually testing–reading speed or thinking? Teach kids how to take notes in a way that makes sense to each individual brain. Use technology to accentuate learning. Most importantly, empower kids to “own” their education.

What I loved about The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia is that it is inspiring. Big names like Charles Schwab and Sir Richard Branson share how the gifts of dyslexia have helped them in life. At the same time, all of the cast is upfront about the challenges they have had to overcome.

The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia is a movie all teachers should watch. Since 1 in 5 people have dyslexia, parents should absolutely see this film too.

It all comes back to good teaching. There are a million ways to learn and the move paths to success we offer children, the faster they will succeed.

Find a way to make words pop.

Find a way to make words pop.

Divide and conquer.

Divide and conquer.

Building words you can't sound out.

Build words you can’t sound out.

Use pictures and graphic organizers.

Use pictures and graphic organizers.

Find fun ways to isolate words.

Find fun ways to isolate words.

Hands on math whenever possible.

Do hands on math whenever possible.

Try to understand a child's state of mind and how that effects behavior.

Try to understand a child’s state of mind and how that effects behavior.

Find ways to learn to spell besides copying words down endlessly.

Find ways to learn to spell besides copying words down endlessly.

Bob Books with cookies.

Bob Books with cookies.

Encourage creativity.

Encourage creativity.

Learn from audio books.

Learn from audio books.

Seek out new tech like  the Bookboard library.

Seek out new tech like the Bookboard library.

Recognize that there are so many ways to learn besides reading.

Recognize that there are so many ways to learn besides reading.

Utilize special paper for dysgraphia.

Utilize special paper for dysgraphia.

Use math manipulatives.

Use math manipulatives.

An abacus is your friend!

An abacus is your friend!

Advocate for all learners.

Advocate for all learners.

Dream big!

Dream big!


Realistic fiction for teens: “Muchacho” by Louanne Johnson

Muchacho by Louanne Johnson tells the story of self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent Eddie, who decides to change his ways after falling for Lupe, a college-bound beauty. This book takes place in New Mexico and is heavily laced with Spanish, slang, swear words and grit. It’s not your typical YA book, but could easily appear on a college reading list for a class on Chicano Literature–even though to my knowledge the author is white.

Johnson is also the author of the memoir My Posse Don’t Do Homework which was portrayed on screen as the movie “Dangerous Minds” with Michelle Pfeiffer. That book takes places in Northern California, whereas the movie version centers on Los Angeles.

This is a big deal to me personally, because I taught third grade in the Ravenswood School District in East Palo Alto–former murder capitol of America–which was the district that fed into the high school classrooms that Johnson based My Posse Don’t Do Homework on. I still don’t understand how Hollywood thinks Los Angeles is “scarier” than East Palo Alto. I had eight year olds drawing pictures of hiding from gangsters with guns.

In Muchacho, Johnson makes fun of white Stanford students (like me) who come to districts like Ravenswood. Although to be fair, it’s hard to tell if Johnson is making fun Stanford teachers or Eddie is. The Mr. McElroy character starts out a bit rough but ends up becoming a pretty good teacher (in my opinion at least).

Muchacho is not your typical YA book, but I enjoyed it a lot. It is a quick read, probably an under 50k word count, an is something that teenage boys would like too.


Why I want everyone I know on the Internet to Read “Faking Faith” by Josie Bloss

Faking Faithby Josie Bloss is like the website Homeschoolers Anonymous in novel form. It tells the story of a teenage girl from Chicago named Dylan who faces high school hell after a sexting incident. In her despair, Dylan becomes obsessed with fundamentalist homeschooled bloggers, and most especially a blogger named Abigail. After starting her own blog using the pseudonym “Faith”, Dylan is eventually invited to Abigail’s farm for a two-week vacation where she gets a whole new type of education.

Faking Faith never mentions the Advanced Training Institute by name, but ATI is written all over Abigail’s life. At seventeen and a half, her formal education is complete and she prepares for life as a professional “stay-at-home-daughter”, or else must submit to whatever husband her father chooses for her, whether that be the boy next door, or a creepy twenty-eight year old molester.

In addition to showing all the negatives, Bloss does an awesome job depicting the seductive nature of the ATI lifestyle. To Dylan as the outsider, she’s a bit jealous of Abigail’s family dinners, well-behaved siblings, and the fact that Abigail’s parents are concerned about guarding Abigail’s heart and making sure she doesn’t fall in love with the wrong person.

I loved Faking Faith so much that I read it start to finish in one day. Half way through my mind started churning with all the people who should know about this book: R.L. Stollar at Overturning Tables, Jerry at Hersey in the Heartland–the entire Recovering Grace community. If I was Josie Bloss’s publicist I would mail out a case of copies to Homeschoolers Anonymous and let them distribute at will.

Every time I turn on my computer it seems I see another news article about how “cute” and wonderful the Duggars are. Nobody mentions the dark side. A while back I wrote an article on my blog called: “What ordinary moms should know about the Bill Gothard Scandal.” Josie Bloss has shared that same information in novel form. Faking Faith is brilliant.

Fun book for beginning readers

Looking for a book that fits somewhere between Level 2 Book Books and Level 3? Check out Early Bird by Toni Yuly. This is a bright, cheerful story for beginning readers that my own daughter really enjoyed. We found this book at our local library.

A fun aspect about Early Bird is that in addition to the lovely illustrations, the text is presented in an interesting way, so that the words  “pop” out to kids. My daughter and I enjoyed  Early Bird  a lot, and can’t wait to see the author’s new book, Night Owl, which comes out in a few days.


For moms who don’t have time to read

Got a teen in your home? Got a child capable of reading at a high school level? It’s darn near impossible to keep up with what your kids read.

Over on my other site, The YA Gal, I review books as fast as I can get them. And yet…I’m still behind. Here are three books I’ve read recently that parents might want know about–even if you don’t have time to read them:

All last year I felt guilty for not having read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. How could I call myself a YA fan and not have read such a popular book? Well, today I remedied that situation. Start to finish. Cover to cover. Quite a lot of Kleenex.

At its heart, The Fault in Our Stars is a teenage love story set against the backdrop of cancer. Hazel drags her oxygen tank everywhere she goes and Augustus has a prosthetic leg. Both are erudite, witty, and converse in a fashion that I’ve never heard teenagers sound like ever–and I’ve been around a lot of smart teens. Like, literally, I’ve never heard teens talk like that. Still, the Gilmore-Girl-esq dialogue is fun to read, although if it doesn’t come across as realistic.

If you enjoy tear-jerkers, this is a great book for you. If you’d rather not put yourself through an emotional wringer, stay away. The only thing that bothered me was Augustus and his unlit cigarette. Hopefully that doesn’t spawn a fad of cigarettes becoming cool again even if they aren’t smoked.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner is another title in the uber-popular genre of YA books about teenagers in dangerous “fight-to-the-death” games. But in this case, the main character, Thomas, is not on television…probably. He doesn’t really know the truth because his memory is wiped.

Thomas, along with the rest of the cast, are stuck in the middle of the Glade. Right next to them is the mysterious Maze with ever changing walls. Somewhere, deep in the Maze are evil Grievers which are half slug, half robots ready to attack.

Will Thomas be able to solve the Maze and lead the other kids to freedom or is he actually their worst enemy?

My nine-year-old son loves, loves, loves The Maze Runner. He read it start to finish in one day. To me as an adult it seemed predictable but fun. I wish there were more female characters but I appreciate Dasher’s brilliance in crafting a book that makes adolescent boys want to read.

The Soulkeepers by G.P. Ching might be on your teen’s e-reader right now because it’s free. Usually free books are hit or miss, but this book is amazing.

The last place fifteen-year-old Jacob Lau wants to be is living with his Uncle John in the middle of nowhere. But in the wake of his mother’s disappearance, Jacob has no place else to go. The kids at Jacob’s school act like they’ve never met an Asian American before, and make mixed-race Jacob feel like a freak. His only source of comfort is Malini, a bright and beautiful transplant from India.

Meanwhile, Jacob is seriously spooked by Dr. Silvia, the ghostly pale women who lives in the Gothic Victorian next door. When Jacob breaks one of her stained glass windows he’s forced into her servitude, scooping compost and working in the garden. Jacob can’t figure out if Dr. Silvia is a witch or a trusted mentor–which is too bad because some strange things have been happening to Jacob recently, and he needs all the help he can get to figure out what the heck is going on.

The pacing of this book is perfect. The characters suck you in right away and make you care about them. The suspense makes you want to turn pages as fast as possible. But under all of it, is a deep heart. The Soulkeepers is a book that makes you think.

I was unfamiliar with G.P. Ching until I read The Soulkeepers and since then I’ve cyber stalked her in the most friendly way. I’ve also signed up for her newsletter. I’m pretty darned convinced that Genevieve is a brilliant writer and marketer. I can see why traditionally published authors would be jealous. But this woman is also a class act. G.P. Ching is full of grace and friendly advice for writers and teens alike.

Fractions in Action


Have you ever seen one of these? It’s a hands-on way to teach fractions.

All you need is construction paper, scissors, a stapler, and markers.

Staple five pieces of construction paper together and then slice them up to make a flip book. At this point, hand the book over to your kid. Let him figure out how to cut and label the pages to make a fraction flip book.

I did this project with fourth graders this afternoon, and it took them about thirty minutes to make their first book. Then I passed out more paper and it took them fifteen minutes to make a second book, using 1/3, 1/6, 1/9, and 1/12. The second set of fractions was more difficult, but by then they had mastered the whole concept behind the activity.

If you try this at home, don’t be afraid to let your child struggle. Tape is okay! That means learning happened. 😉




Attention Parents!

cropped-img_0934.jpgYou can teach your child a tremendous amount of academics, especially with some guidance.

My name is Jennifer Bardsley. Find out more about me here or here.

Where to Start  will give you ideas for toddlers and preschoolers, and Afterschooling is for Kindergarten on up. Every child deserves one-on-one instruction, and that experience can begin in your home.

“Sammy the Centipede Gets Fit” by Maria Luchsinger


My five-year-old daughter and I have been reading Sammy the Centipede Gets Fit all day. She absolutely adores the pictures, and I have to admit, there’s something funny about all of those feet.

We haven’t read any of the previous Sammy the Centipede titles, but this book focuses on ways families can have fun together, experience nature, and exercise at the same time. It also includes some important safety tips, like never go swimming without an adult nearby.

Author Maria Luchsinger sent me Sammy the Centipede Gets Fit in exchange for my honest opinions and review. I am highly impressed by the illustrations, and believe the message of the book is convened in an engaging way.

But I do wonder about the wisdom of a centipede playing soccer. That’s an awful lot of shoes to tie!

Sammy the Centipede Gets Fit

“Both of Me” by Jonathan Frisen

Both of Me by Jonathan Frisen is YA book with a unique concept. Clara is an older teen girl traveling around the globe, fleeing her past when she accidentally switches bags with the airplane passenger sitting next to her–a good looking but aloof guy named Elias who clearly has Autism Spectrum Disorder. When Clara tracks Elias down to retrieve her bag, she gets sucked in by the mystery of his condition because–here’s the twist–Elias only exhibits ASD traits half of the time. The other half his personality shifts into a charming, brilliant young man who steals Clara’s heart.

I give Frisen major kudos for writing a book that’s not another rip-off of the last YA book I read. There are a lot of other things to like about Both of Me too. The dialogue is funny. The narrative is completely unpredictable. But there are a lot of “thin” characters like Kira and ideas that are never really explained like the borders and what exactly Elias does when he’s with them. I felt like the story needed another 100 pages to flesh things out.

However, my major issue with Both of Me is that I’m not okay with using ASD as a plot device. I know and love a lot of people with ASD and none of them can flip back and forth like that. Plus, without giving away any spoilers, the end of the book provides an artistic explanation for Autism that is pure BS.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Booklook in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

I review for BookSneeze®