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On March 5th, Neal Shusterman came to visit my school!

My amazing principal set a goal for an author to visit our school each year and she started this tradition with Jennifer Nielsen visiting in December, 2018. Neal Shusterman continued the tradition and hopefuly in April, 2021 Nathan Hale will be visiting us. This tradition shows how important literacy is to my principal!

We were so excited for the visit, and we wanted our school to reflect our excitement:

Our library and school decorations were made by so many different students: everyone in an art class, 6th and 7th grade intensive reading students (Ms. DeLuca and Ms. Chacon’s classes), 7th grade language arts students (Ms. Rokaw’s classes), Advanced Academics students (Ms. Perez’s classes), my book club, my Student Literacy Leaders, and my library student assistants. My libray clark, Ms. Armstrong, and I made the Neal Shusterman unwound pieces signs.

You can see a tour of my library on Neal’s Instagram:!


Neal did a whole-grade presentation with each grade level. He did a Q&A format and students were so engaged as they drove the conversation. We learned about his upcoming books, movies, and TV shows as well as his inspirations, start as an author, and more!

At lunch, students who had read 3 or more of his novels were invited to a special event where Neal read a couple of chapters from an upcoming novel and then he hosted a writer’s workshop which was truly engaging!

Our AMAZING day ended with a signing line for any student, faculty/staff, or community member that wanted a book signed by Neal.

It was a perfect day! I am so lucky to have school and admin support in endeavors like this and the friendship and brilliance of authors like Neal Shusterman!


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“Four Ways to Help Reluctant Readers”

School is about to start back up—in fact, if you live in my neck of the woods in Colorado, school is already up and running again. Online or in-person remains to be seen for some, and some may prefer to homeschool. Which means as parents, we’re thrust into the role of educators.

It’s challenging, to say the least. After my youngest daughter struggled with reading, I decided to homeschool to help her, and discovered she has a reading disability. Where we lived at the time, there was no help in the way of special education—bottom line, I was on my own.

The upside: you know your kid best. The downside: because you’re the parent, your child is less likely to listen to you. I had to become an expert on reluctant readers, learning disabilities, and ways to ensure my daughter would read.

Here are four things that worked for me:

Start with choice

Okay, so there may be certain books that are part of classroom reading. But whenever possible, make what your kid reads a choice—even if (s)he picks the easiest book with the thinnest spine there is. Graphic novels, manga, comics, non-fiction (yes, even those Ripley’s Believe It or Not books) all count. In fact, if there’s a topic your child is interested in (say, sports, bugs, drawing), non-fiction is a great way to connect reading with what (s)he thinks is fun.

Use stepping stones

If you have a kid who really, really doesn’t want to read, and perhaps is reading below their grade level, you’ll need stepping stones. You can’t start with, say, The Bridge to Terabithia out the gate. Using choice where possible, start with a book that’s at a comfortable reading level for your child—it doesn’t matter where that is. Look for illustrated books, graphic novels, and high-interest books with possible pop-culture tie-ins (like books featuring favorite TV characters, comics, or non-fiction with photos).

Audiobooks are great, because your child will be able to hear someone else read the text while reading along themselves. It increases vocabulary, and helps with pronunciation as well.

Once you feel like your kid is improving, try introducing books that are just a level up from where they’re reading currently.

Oh, and as an added note: graphic novels are perfectly fine reading, no matter the reading level! I talk to parents and educators all the time who think that because of the heavily illustrated nature, graphic novels are lesser reading somehow. Here’s the truth: all reading will help your child get ahead—and in all other classes, too.

Read along

It may seem obvious (and you teachers will already be doing this) but for parents at home: try reading along with your child. Not only do you get to read some great books (children’s literature is booming, and has some amazing books), you also get to make an invaluable connection. When my husband was deployed in the military, my daughter and he read the same book, and would talk every few days about what they read. Not only did it allow them to stay close, my daughter’s reading (and math and science) improved exponentially because they were reading together. If you are a grandparent, this is also a great way to stay close to (perhaps far away) grandchildren.

Celebrate progress

You’ve given your child the choice, watched her or him improve… Now find a way to celebrate this progress! Particularly for a kid who has trouble reading, or started below grade level, it’s hard work to move from milestone to milestone. Imagine getting fit, and charting your progress as you walk longer on the treadmill—it’s like that. So celebrate! Try to make the celebration an experience rather than money or a gift when possible: maybe a movie night at home (you can pick one that was made after a book), a day outside, a picnic or other celebration. Your child worked hard—this deserves celebrating. And maybe, now (s)he’ll have a reason to aim for the next milestone…

My daughter is now grown, and has already finished college. I certainly helped her, but in the end, it was her hard work that got her there.

I now do librarian and educator talks on reaching reluctant readers, and like to end each session with why it’s so important to keep kids reading, by the numbers. So here goes, for my fellow statistics people:

  • Kids who read proficiently are five times more likely to graduate high school;
  • Twenty minutes of reading a day can get your childto their grade level;
  • Strong readers answer 66 percent more math questions correctly…*

I could go on a while, but I’ll simply say this in closing: that hard work to reach your reluctant reader? It’s worth it.

*Source: Renaissance (blog series, struggling readers)

Publishes August 25th, 2020 from Viking Books for Young Readers

About the Book: Hunting ghosts and solving the case before checkout? All in a weekend’s work.

When JJ Jacobson convinced his mom to accept a surprise invitation to an all-expenses-paid weekend getaway at the illustrious Barclay Hotel, he never imagined that he’d find himself in the midst of a murder mystery. He thought he was in for a run-of-the-mill weekend ghost hunting at the most haunted spot in town, but when he arrives at the Barclay Hotel and his mother is blamed for the hotel owner’s death, he realizes his weekend is going to be anything but ordinary.

Now, with the help of his new friends, Penny and Emma, JJ has to track down a killer, clear his mother’s name, and maybe even meet a ghost or two along the way.

About the Author: Fleur Bradley is the author of many middle-grade books aimed at reluctant readers, including the (spooky) mystery Midnight at the Barclay Hotel. Fleur is passionate about two things: mysteries and getting kids to read, and she regularly speaks at librarian and educator conferences on reaching reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, Fleur now lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and two daughters, and entirely too many cats.

For more information on Fleur and her books, visit, and on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor.

Thank you, Fleur, for sharing your experience and advice with us and our readers!

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Digital versus Traditional School by Nitya A. and Sarah W., 7th grade

Thoughts on Digital School:

Sleep: You definitely get more sleep because you don’t have a set time for class. This means you can wake up whenever it feels right for you and do your work whenever you want.Since you control what you do throughout the day and when you do it, you can move your schedule to get more sleep.

Disruptions: You won’t get disrupted as much. Instead there is a due date and the teachers give you more freedom to be productive on your own time and/or scheldule. This leads to more sleep, and a good look at self-control for future jobs/projects.

Engagement: Since you don’t have teachers to make you stay focused on what you are supposed to be doing in online school, you can become very lazy and not do work. When your work is due and you haven’t done it, it can be very stressful for some students. In online school, there is no one to enforce rules and tell you to stay focused so you can procrastinate a lot and not be very engaged in what you’re doing.

Flexibility: Since you don’t have a set schedule, you can change your schedule in any way you see fit as long as you complete your work. You have lots of flexibility when it comes to online school and when you do your work during it.

Time for extracurricular activities: You have more time for your extracurricular activities because you can choose when to do your work and when to do something else. Also if you finish your work early, you can use the time that was not used for school to do some other activity. Since you don’t have to sit in class for most of the day and limit the time you have for extracurricular activities, you can have more time to do other activities.Lastly, even if your extracurricular activities outside of home are canceled, you can still do other things inside of your home to keep active.                                    

Thoughts on Traditional School

Sleep: You will get less sleep because of the schedule for school. This is because when you have normal school, you have a set amount of time for each class and a set amount of time you are in school. Since you will most likely have homework for after school that may take up lots of time, sleep is also limited and you have less of it.

Disruptions: There will be quite a couple disruptions because you have so many breaks between classes and you might not be completely focused due to those “disruptions”. Since there are many disruptions and you aren’t focused on the task at hand but rather talking with your friends or something else, your grades, performance, and participation might drop drastically.

Engagement: Engagement may take a toll on many kids during online school because during normal school you are being watched over and teachers are making sure that you’re doing your work.

Flexibility: During normal school many kids don’t have a lot of flexibility during their day. They have to get ready to go to school, come home and go to their activities, then do their homework and go to bed only to do the same thing the next day. This means that students don’t have much room to change their schedule or be flexible.

Time for Extracurricular activities: During normal school there are many opportunities for Extracurricular activities. But for some this makes your schedule a lot tighter and harsh to manage. While others may miss all the excitement and activity going on whether it’s going to soccer practice or a ballet class.

Thank you, Nitya and Sarah, for comparing the two types of school from a students’ point of view!

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About Orboot from Shifu

An award-winning educational toy, Orboot is a no-borders globe that connects with the fun & interactive Orboot app.

A STEM toy that sparks the imagination and creativity, Orboot encourages the little ones to explore and discover on their own. It builds knowledge as well as develops linguistic and cognitive abilities in the process.

Explore the world with 400+ highlights and 1000+ cool facts across 6 categories – cultures, cuisines, monuments, inventions, animals and maps (national and state boundaries of countries).

Visit to learn more!

Four Reasons to Love Orboot

And Trent surely does love Orboot!

What makes Orboot stand out versus other globes and other geography apps is that it combines the two: hands on and technology. The globe can be used like a standard globe but it also can be taken to the next level by using the AR-powered app to dig in!

There are some awesome pluses to the app: all aspects of it is free, it is available in many different languages, and once you download the app WiFi isn’t needed. Also, there is a portion of the app that can be used if the physical globe is not available!

There are so many different ways to play with your globe with its app. First, you can learn information about six different categories: maps, monuments, animals, food, inventions, and culture. There is also a scavenger hunt type game, quizzes, and the ability to build their own national park. And that is the digital puzzles and activities.

In addition to the digital activities, the user also gets a passport, stickers, guide, and stamps to keep track of the countries you “visit” while using Orboot.

Trent adores his globe! He will sit with it for hours, listening to facts, interacting with the information, telling me about the places he traveled to, and making connections between what he is learning and what he knows. Trent says, “I like that I can learn about different places!”

I was surprised that the coins, stars, gems, and badges he could earn wasn’t what kept him going back to the globe, it was the knowledge and the mysteries. He loved figuring out all of the clues in the scavenger hunt type mysteries, and he likes throwing out the “Did you know?” questions at us. He likes looking up places he sees in books or entertainment to learn about them. Who can argue with a learning toy that engages kids this way?

He also really likes the Oko Park aspect because it allows him to take his knowledge about the world and apply it to make a virtual national park. In the park the user looks at the balance of the national park, problems in the national park, and ways to keep their national park healthy. Trent says, “I love that I can learn to help nature.”

As a teacher, I could see Orboot as a center all by itself. It has such possibilities that it, by itself, could fill a center need and would allow students to dive into geography, social studies, and science!

Orboot takes kids on an adventure that they’ll love!


**Thank you to Shifu for providing a globe for review!!**

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I am extremely excited to share this virtual-hands on learning system with you because my kids love it. Plugo offers a variety of learning options, and I elected to get their Letters, Count, and Link package. I chose the Letters kit by itself, and it came with a very high quality gameboard and alphabet kit (a lot of letters and a display that allows the app to read the letters). I also chose to get the Count and Link dual package, which also came with the gameboard, a three-spiked device named Spike, a lot of numbers that fit on spike, and magnetic patterned tiles for building. All of the materials are very well-made, and the app is very easy to download and follow (my three-year-old, for instance, figured it out immediately).

One thing I love about this system as opposed to other similar systems is that it adapts to the child’s age level. Each of my children have a profile with their grade level noted, and the app saves their progress.

I also like how well-made the product is. The magnets are strong, and the system feels very sturdy. My three-year-old has dropped several of the activity kits a few times, and they are still doing well.

Below, I share more details about each of the systems, all of which I recommend highly. As a family who is home for the summer (we’ve canceled all summer camps), this is what we’ve needed. The kids used to beg me for television, which we only use as a real treat, but now they beg me to play Plugo. This is much, much more exciting than their workbooks, and they love to engage in the varied games that each of the system offers.

Plugo Letters

An alphabet kit that goes beyond word-building. Develop grammar concepts like verbs, vowels, synonyms & more. Learn to spell & use new words through story-based games.

  • 5 story-based games in the app
  • 250+ challenges and puzzles
  • Age-adaptive challenges, PreK to Grade 5
  • Skills: language development, comprehension, storytelling

I love how my kids use this system and are reading and developing their language without even knowing it. I can hear them whispering the words as they sound them out. I see them trying out different vowels and experimenting with words.

Here, my 6-year-old spells out words along his pathway.

I thought my 3-year-old would be too young for the game, but sure enough, he played for almost an hour (when I cut him off).

The games are fun, and it goes all the way up to fifth grade. This is going to be a learning system that grows with our kids, and I am glad that they are learning letters and words through story. Rather than a video game, the app is more of a narrative that kids follow and stop at selected points to interact with the story using the letter tiles. If they get tired of a story, there are other games within the app to play!

Plugo Count

Traditional math made fun with an innovative hands-on approach. Plugo Count reinvents math with engaging stories that help kids understand and fall in love with numbers.

  • 5 story-based games in the app
  • 250+ challenges and puzzles
  • Age-adaptive challenges, PreK to Grade 5
  • Skills: math (+ – x /), problem-solving, logical reasoning

I love, love, love how this system adapts to the age level of the child, too. My 6-year-old loved playing the games and using operators like addition and subtraction. The repetition of the addition phrases is helping strengthen his memory of common equations. He goes through the story and learns math through authentic examples. I am looking forward to him being able to try out the multiplication and division operators in the future.

When my 3-year-old asked to play Count, I hesitated because I didn’t think he’d be able to play it. Imagine my relief when he started playing and the game asked him to count items in the story and complete the missing number (3, 4, 5, ___). I think about all of the worksheets within workbooks that ask kids to do these same skills, but with Count, he is able to count images that go along with a story. This feels more authentic and exciting!

Plugo Link

Classic building blocks meet modern digital play with Plugo Link! Build and balance the magnetic blocks in real world to solve exciting engineering puzzles on the screen.

  • 5 story-based games in the app
  • 250+ challenges and puzzles
  • Age-adaptive challenges, PreK to Grade 5
  • Skills: engineering, analytical thinking, creative design

My kids are Lego lovers. They could sit at the table for hours with a new Lego kit. So it comes as no surprise that they are obsessed with Link. In the image above, you see my 3-year-old linking up gears to complete an animal. In another game in the app, for instance, He is figuring out how to build pipes to prevent water from flowing out. Older kids can play a game like a word search to connect letters to make words with the patterned tiles. The kids absolutely love Link and enjoy all of the different building games.

Among Letters, Count, and Link, do I have a favorite? No. All three feel very educational and offer something different that is valuable for a child. It would be like asking me if I wanted my kids to attend math, reading, or engineering class. We’ve had a lot of fun with all three of the systems, and we recommend them all. For parents who are looking for more learning options and for parents who are looking to engage kids with hands-on learning, Plugo offers a fun and exciting option that kids will love.

From a teacher perspective, these systems would be really great options for learning stations and fast finishers. I would be really, really excited to see them in my kids’ classrooms because they offer a kinesthetic approach to learning.

**Thank you to PlayShifu for providing Letters and Count for Review!**

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Best Learning’s iPoster My WORLD Interactive Map is a “beautifully illustrated large floor map for kids, great for interactive lessons in school or at home. Explore and discover the world with your fingertips!

The smartest way to learn the world which includes 92 countries, capital cities, flag, population, languages spoken, important landmarks, fun facts with 4 challenging quiz modes.

Learn over 1,000 facts about the world we live in!

Capital & Country – Learn about each country and its capital cities with quiz.

Flag – Learn about each country’s flag with quiz.

Population – Learn about the population of each country.

Language – Learn about the languages spoken in each country.

Landmark – Learn about the important landmark or monument of each country with quiz.

Fun Fact – Learn a fun fact of each country with quiz.

  • Family Choice, Mom’s Choice Gold Metal & Tillywig Brain Child Award Winner 2018! The most valuable interactive touch activated talking map.
  • Learning has never been so much easy and fun. Hang on a wall, play on the floor or use as a colorful play mat.
  • Learn capital cities, countries with their flags, population, languages spoken in each country, important landmarks, fun facts with volume control.
  • Skills learned include concentration, earth science, memory, problem solving, geography and environment.
  • Requires 3 AAA batteries (included); intended for Preschoolers and early learners of ages 5 and up.”

Ricki’s Review: We received this map a few weeks ago, and my kids take it out to explore again and again. I love how it isn’t just a simple, straightforward map with just countries. The different settings allow kids to explore more about our world. For instance, my older son seems to gravitate towards learning the country names, capital cities, and landmarks, yet my younger son is fascinated with the flags, and he regularly puts the map on the flag mode.

When we first opened the map, all three boys were interested. They learned to take turns learning about the countries. The baby is only included in this picture because as you see, he prefers to push everything at once.

Here, my oldest son clicks on the flags to learn about the countries they come from.

And here, the kids take turns trying to identify the correct country in a fun quiz.

We plan to move the map to the wall this week, and we are happy that it will be something that the kids can keep referring to. I can’t count the number of times that one of them asks something like, “Where is XXXX country, city, or monument?” The map will offer a fun way to not only identify the location but to also learn more about the countries as they pop up in teachable moments.

Kellee’s Review: This map is endless entertainment and information! For those of us who have inquiry-driven kids, the freedom of the map and plethora of information just lends to their natural curiousity. So often I would get questions about a setting of a book or movie or just a random country that he heard somewhere, and now we can visit the map to find the country and learn all about it.

Trent is a fan of landmarks. He can tell you where the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Pyramids of Giza, etc. are, so he immediately gravitates towards learning about them with the map. And he just adores quizzes and will relisten to information and retake quizzes until he knows things by heart and will randomly share information with strangers. He says that this is his favorite part: “I love that the map tells you what the place is and tells you everything about the place.” It is all of the interesting information that keeps him gravitating towards it.

While Ricki loves that it isn’t just a simple map, I understand what she means, but I love that in the end it is still a map. Although there are some graphics, it isn’t overwhelming, and we can still use the map as a map also. I love that something that Trent goes back to over and over is fun and educational!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This map would be a beautiful addition to classroom walls. It offers so much more than a simple, paper map, and it allows kids to learn more about our world. We would recommend using velcro strips to hang this map on classroom walls to allow kids to pull the map off of the wall and bring it to their seats for further investigation.


**Thank you to Best Learning for providing maps for review!**

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Book Reader Animal Kingdom is an interactive book reader for children to learn about 12 animals through 27 book pages about their appearance, behaviors, habitats and much more! Filled with playful melodies, friendly voices, and interesting sounds of animals and nature! Also comes with Quiz mode for those up for a challenge to keep them enthusiastic and learning at the same time!

  • Family Choice & Tillywig Parents’ Favorite Products Award Winner 2018! An interactive book reader for children to teach 12 animals about their appearance, behaviors, habitats and much more!
  • Simply press the paw down against the page as it reads aloud the contents.
  • Comes with a true and false quiz mode for those up for a challenge to keep them enthusiastic and learning at the same time.
  • Skills learned include animals, memory, dexterity, motor functions, concentration and problem solving.
  • Requires 3 AAA batteries (included); intended for preschoolers and early learners of ages 3 years and up.

Ricki’s Review: About twenty minutes after my 3-year-old started playing with this book, I messaged Kellee because I had to share about it. I wrote, “The Animal Kingdom book is SO COOL. He’s been playing with it for twenty minutes and hasn’t let his older brother have a turn. It would be so good for classrooms, too. It teaches reading comprehension really well!” Within about five minutes, Kellee had ordered one for her son, too. Although I was supposed to be reviewing this book alone, Kellee is joining me because she loved it just as much.

(This is how my 3yo started the book—he immediately placed it on the ground to start reading.)

This is a book (and product) worth sharing about. As you can see in the video above, the pages offer fascinating facts about animals, and the reader is clear and easy to understand. My kids listen intently to the reading, and they are always excited to take the true/false quiz to test their listening skills. Soon, my six-year-old will be able to easily follow along as she reads aloud. My three-year-old typically guesses the answers to the quiz (the concept of true/false is still a bit confusing for him), and my six-year-old is able to practice his listening and reading comprehension skills independently. The both love this product equally, despite their different reading abilities. Even my one-year-old gets a kick out of pushing down the reader to get her talking!

(20 minutes later…)

(I kid you not, 20 minutes after that…)

My three-year-old spent almost an hour with this book and even moved to a comfier spot. It is a favorite in our toy room (they consider it to be a toy!). We’ll be gifting this book to friends. (And I plan to write an email begging Best Learning to produce more of these books.)

Kellee’s Review: Like Ricki said, she shared with me how informative and engaging this book was, so I immediately jumped on and bought one for Trent. Trent adores animals but is more interested in watching documentaries and shows about them than reading about them (he is a fiction loving reader), but this book defies his normal interests, and he loves learning everything he can about each of the animals in the book. He’ll re-listen to pages, redo the quiz, and look back at the images over and over. This book is a hit in our household (it is in the living room because he keeps grabbing it to bring out here as a choice activity), and I, like Ricki, look forward to sharing as a gift and hoping for Best Learning to make more readers like this.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: ELA teachers focus on reading, writing, speaking, and listening (among the obvious other things like thinking). This is a beautiful example of a book that teaches listening. It would be a great learning tool to place at an independent or group station for reading comprehension. Alternatively, it could also be used for fast finishers. Even adults will find joy in this book.

Additionally, it would be a great mentor text for early education animal research projects. Students can emulate the format of a spread about an aimal of their choice.


**Thank you to Best Learning for providing a copy of Animal Kingdom for review!**

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