Friday, October 30, 2015

Finding Courage in Learning with The Wizard of Oz

About a week ago, I found myself having the all too familiar conversation with another parent regarding which schools our children attend or will attend. When I told them which elementary school my oldest daughter attends, the other parent asked me if I felt the school had academic rigor. I paused, thought a moment, and said, "Yes, it is academically rigorous enough." However, I started to ponder the question and my answer. What does academic rigor imply? Is academic rigor applicable for small children? How do we measure the success of academic rigor in elementary school? Do the results of a series of standardized tests really gauge the academic rigor of a school, or do they simply measure the ability of a child to choose the correct answer?

This reminded how a couple weeks ago I had to coach my daughter off a figurative ledge after she had an anxiety attack during the second full week of standardized testing. She is eight. Crazy, right? She cried as she recounted how she didn't have enough time to answer all the questions. She cried about how confusing the questions were to answer. And frankly, when she described some of the questions, I was confused.

All of these questions make me wonder which skills, beyond the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, I would like my children to have before leaving elementary school. Inspired by watching The Wizard of Oz tonight with my girls, I am calling on L. Frank Baun to support me in explaining which skills and attributes I hope my children will acquire or keep intact by the end of elementary school:

1. A protected and nurtured imagination.  Children are born scientists with vivid imaginations. They are naturally drawn to explore and question. Why this? Why that? The constant mantra of a child is too often shushed or quieted in the classroom in the interest of completing a set of standards. However, I cannot help but wonder if this is not the time when we should be embracing their desire to learn and think like little scientists by using their imaginations?

Recently, I lent the book If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen to a dear friend of mine. She sent me a picture last Saturday morning of the car her five-year-old son made out of things he found around the house because he was so inspired by build and create after reading the book. Isn't letting the imagination run wild how we grow little scientists and future engineers?

2. Courage to try again after failing. About a month ago, Miss M tried out for a club and didn't make the cut. Secretly, I was pleased. She cried. She mourned the loss. She expressed jealously towards those who were chosen and commiserated with those classmates that were also not chosen. The reason I was please is not because I have some sick desire for my daughter to suffer. No. I have a strong desire for my daughter to be built of grit and grace. Grit in that next time maybe she would try harder and practice more before the tryouts. Grace in that she will learn how to fail, dust herself off, feel genuinely happy for those who succeed, and then ask herself what she learned from the experience. Life is full of bitter disappointments, scathing reviews, and frustrating setbacks in both professional and personal lives. Of this, I am sure. However, most never learn to fail and keep moving forward. This is why I love this clip from Meet the Robinsons so much.

However, to have the courage to keep moving forward, you also must have the courage to try in the first place. It is scary to try something new or ask a complex question when there is so much pressure to be "right."

3. Grow a love for knowledge and not just learn a bunch of facts. Have you ever met a little kid that is totally into dinosaurs? That kid can tell you anything and everything you ever wanted to know about dinosaurs. They will be unable to say personality properly, but they will be able to pronounce Brachiosaurus. They assemble these facts together into a matrix of information that evolves into knowledge about these dinosaurs, their evolution, and their disappearance from this earth. A child, amazingly, will be able to understand that there are many theories as to why dinosaurs all died. I know this because my children have explained this to me while visiting the Tellus Museum. Knowledge, once gained, can never be taken away. There are very few things in this world that can never be taken away. However, so many times, we become so focused on the next test, memorizing individual facts, that we fail to absorb any real knowledge about the subject. We may know something to be true, but we may not understand why it is true or how discovered information about the subject.

If my children grow up to acquire and develop these three skills, I believe that will lead rich lives. Maybe they may not have a lot of money, but they will have brains brimming with knowledge and a wealth of desire to keep learning.

Finally, if I could have just one more wish, I would release all the amazing teachers we have encountered from the rigid framework from which they are given to teach their daily lessons. I am constantly in awe at how passionate the teaches my children have had so far are for educating and igniting a love of learning. If given the freedom, I am sure they would soar.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Magelica's Voyage and The Rescue by Louise Courey Nadeau- Books 1 and 2 Review

Book 1

Title: Magelica’s Voyage
Author: Louise Courey Nadeau 
Publication Date: June 1, 2013 
Publisher: Magelica Inc. 
Pages: 48 
Recommended Ages: 5 to 10

About the Book 

Who ever heard of a girl being hatched from an egg the colour of sapphires? Magelica doesn’t know where she came from or who she really is. But when she’s transported to the Isle of Dreams in a flying bathtub, she launches into an adventure of discovery, and learns that wonderful things can happen when she uses her imagination, believes, opens her heart and trusts in love. Come fly with her and discover for yourself the power of imagination, gratitude, believing in yourself, and love! In this special first voyage, fantasy, adventure, magical illustrations, empowering messages, and a wonderful cast of enchanting characters come together as Magelica takes young girls and the special people in their lives on a fun, inspiring voyage about making your life magical.

My Review

As soon as my daughter laid her eyes on the perfectly put together package we received from the author, she instantly stole both books one and two. (We were thrilled to be sent both books one and two from the author and some great book swag to go with the books from the author!) In fact, I had to go searching through her room in order for me to write the review for these books. Magelica's Voyage sings to an adventurous young girls heart with vibrant illustrations on every page, bringing the story to life. The book is a little over 40 pages, which kept my daughter's attention and let her finish the book in one sitting. The brevity of the book is a great feature for parents looking to find books for reluctant readers.

While I, with my jaded adult heart, found some of the story line of there being whole village on top of a turtle hard to believe, my daughter completely embraced it. This is exactly why I love getting my daughters' perspectives on books. Children are able to envision the magic and wonder, whereas an adult reviewer may not connect with the make believe. My daughter's favorite parts of the book focused on the necklace in the story. She was thrilled when the wizard found her missing necklace, and my daughter connected with Magelica when the hero of the story gave one of the feather charms from her necklace to the Queen in order to bring her back to the magical Isle of Dreams. She loved the idea of an object reminding you of another place and thinking about that place while holding the object bringing you to that place.

What really made this book shine for my daughter, I believe, is the quality of the book as a whole. It is printed on high quality glossy pages. There are bright and colorful illustrations covering each page. And the chapters are short, making them easy to comprehend. What a great series to read as your child transitions from picture books to chapter books. 

Book 2

Title: The Rescue (Magelica’s Voyage, Book 2)
Author: Louise Courey Nadeau 
Publication Date: May 27, 2015 
Publisher: Magelica Inc. 
Pages: 48 
Recommended Ages: 5 to 10

About the Book

 When Magelica dreams of the prince lost on a deserted island, she realizes that it could lead to his rescue. She returns to the Isle of Dreams to tell Queen Raya what she knows. Can they save Prince Will before it’s too late? Will the power of laughter and love be enough?

My Review

In the second book in the series of Magelica's Voyage, the reader follows Magelica as she heads back to the Isle of Dreams to help rescue Prince William. Magelica learns to listen to her heart and be brave. My daughter started reading this second book as soon as she finished book one. When reflecting on what she liked the most about this book, she firmly stated that she loved all the adventures. This fairy tale certainly bring a fresh twist to magic and wonder. The message is positive for young girls to read that they can be strong and make a difference in the world. Make sure if you purchase the first book, to order this one at the same time. 

About the Author

Passionate about empowering and inspiring children around the world, Louise Courey Nadeau, born and raised in Montreal, Canada, and mother of two girls and two boys created her first fairy tale Magelica’s Voyage, with the second book in the series, The Rescue, launched June 2015.

“Through life’s trials and tribulations, I always believed I could. With the Magelica book series my goal is to take young girls and their parents and teachers on empowering adventures and to inspire and encourage them to believe that they are amazing just the way they are, and to discover the power of love, positivity, and believing in themselves.

Magelica’s Voyage is inspired by my life, my family, and the special people and places I love”, says Courey Nadeau. “All of the characters in the story, including Magelica are reflections of the person I am- the wacky part, the funny part, the philosopher, the teacher, the caretaker, the chosen mom, the giver, and of course the dreamer. What would Magelica do, I often ask, and I get the answer. When you fly with Magelica, the possibilities are endless and there is magic all around.”

To read her blogs and learn more about Louise Courey Nadeau please visit Magelica’s Voyage website at You can also follow Magelica on FB, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

FTC Required Disclosures:
 *I received a review copy from the author free of charge. All opinions expressed in this review represent my honest opinions about the book.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Secret Lives of Animals Blog Tour

The Secret Lives of Animals


The Secret Lives of Animals is the perfect mix of field guide know-how and armchair entertainment. In addition to the standard field guide notes and range maps, the meat of the book will offer up “spark moments” in nature—something fascinating or memorable that catches your attention and sets you on a path of lifelong learning. The Secret Lives of Animals will feature more than 100 North American animals and over 1,000 tidbits in a fun, colorful, illustrated format.

My Review

I fell in love with the book The Secret Lives of Animals from the moment I started skimming through the pages. As a scientist, I love any book that invites children to not only read about nature, but to also get out into nature. This book shares over 1000 facts about 128 animals. Each description of an animal includes an illustration, several little known facts about that animal, information about the types, size, eating habits, and location of the animal, and sometimes a hint on how to find this animal out in nature. There are also several science question and answer sections that encourage the reader to dig deeper into a specific concept about animals. The authors also choose several world animals that children might not be familiar with to be featured in "Animal All-Star" sections throughout the book.
The beauty of this book is that a good deal of the animals represented are within reach for a child to seek out and find. Almost all of the 128 animals showcased in the book are from North America. As a family, we read about deer, squirrels, turkeys, and goldfinches.Sometimes we would read about an animal and then go out into nature to find them, like we did with deer and turkeys. Other times, we would look up fun facts about the animal after spotting them in real life, like we did with squirrels and goldfinches.  

The Secret Lives of Animals is interesting enough to be read from start to finish. However, I recommend that parents encourage their children  skip around the book and read whatever strikes their fancy. I think parents would be pleasantly surprised how much those children who are classically viewed as not interested in reading will get lost in this book. The sections about each animal are short enough to not be overwhelming to a reluctant reader. 

This book would also make a great selection to include in an elementary school science classroom, mainly because it makes learning about animals so accessible. Teachers could feature an animal a day throughout the school year or use it as a reference anytime in animals is brought up in discussion.

Overall, I highly recommend this book for any child who is interested in learning more about animals. 

FTC Required Disclosures:
 *I received a review copy from the author free of charge. All opinions expressed in this review represent my honest opinions about the book.





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Stacy Tornio is an Oklahoma girl at heart, though she’s lived in Wisconsin for the last 10 years. As editor of Birds & Blooms Magazine, Stacy is able to share her love of backyard nature. Her first book, Cathy’s Animal Garden, takes readers on a picture journey into the neighbor’s scary backyard in search of a homerun baseball. Project Garden, her recent book, is a monthly guide filled with activities to keep the whole family gardening all year long. Along with her husband, Steve, Stacy enjoys watching her two children explore nature in their Milwaukee backyard and on trips up north.

Ken Keffer was born and raised in Wyoming.  A vagabond naturalist, he’s done a little bit of everything, from monitoring mice and vole populations and picking up carnivore scat in Grand Teton National Park to researching flying squirrels in the Tongass National Forest of southeast Alaska, and monitoring Bactrian camels in Mongolia’s Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area. He’s also worked as an environmental educator in Wyoming, northern New Mexico, coastal Maryland, and along the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio. Ken enjoys birding, floating on lazy rivers, and fly fishing in the mountains out west.

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