Book Review: The Adventures of Everyday Geniuses

One of my favorite parts of Book Expo America – aside from the fun of hanging out with fellow bookies – is the chance to chat with authors. When I can get a ticket for a fan favorite and picking up a popular book, I squee! like everyone else. But the REAL rush is in finding new authors and undiscovered gems.

Like many of us, I stood in line Sunday morning so that Barbara Esham could sign a copy of her book Mrs. Gorski I Think I Have the Wiggle Fidgets. This children’s picture book is part of the Adventures of Everyday Geniuses series.

When I looked closer, I saw that the publisher, Mainstream Connections, is in Perry Hall, Maryland. Baltimore! We have relatives that live in the Baltimore Suburbs, including Perry Hall! My husband went to Loyola College (just changed to Loyola University) … but I digress.

So I found Mainstream Connections on the map and went to their booth to talk about the old neighborhood.  That’s how I met Gina Zuk, learned more about the series, and picked up a few more titles.

I absolutely love these picture books. These are stories that do more than remind us that we each a unique person with our own strengths and weaknesses. They celebrate our talents and explain how they affect the ways we approach learning. Notice I didn’t say “learning potential” … Esham’s stories show that the sky is the limit for each of us.

Each of these stories has a classroom context, but not all of the action takes place at school. While doing homework, parents offer stories about their own experiences as students. Teachers are part of every book, and the author illustrates the parent-teacher dynamic as a partnership. A Note to Parents and Teachers, as well as a Resources page reinforce the importance of communication among all parties.

Catherine loves these stories, too. She clearly sees herself in several of the books, even when the main character is a boy. As we have read more stories, she will point out the classmates who starred in a different book. Catherine immediately picked up on Esham’s approach: let kids celebrate their own potential and see how they are part of a community. That is: you have the responsibility to accept others as they are, and, when necessary, help them. These are the books we’ve read. The title link takes you to our website review.

smart_mississippiIf You’re So Smart, How Come You Can’t Spell Mississippi? – Katie is a third grader at Westover Elementary School. When Katie asked her dad for help with a spelling list, Katie got the surprise of her life: Dad can’t spell. He is smart AND he is a lawyer? How could this be? Dad explained that he is dyslexic. Katie realized that her classmate Mark might have the same thing. She wanted to learn more, so she went to the library for a book on dyslexia. This picture book explains dyslexia to kids in ways they can process it for themselves.

last_to_finishLast to Finish: A StoryAbout the Smartest Boy in Math Class – Max Leonhard is a third grader at Perryville Elementary School. He used to love school … but problems in math have changed his mind. Max knows the answers because he practices at home. But as soon as Mrs. Topel starts the timer, Max’s brain freezes. He understands multiplication, but he can’t remember the answers and he never finishes before the timer dings. When Max and his parents are called into the principal’s office, Max expects the worst. But what he learns is that some people understand information but aren’t good at memorizing it. This picture book offers kids some understanding – and potentially comfort – with learning frustrations.

Mrs. GorskiMrs. Gorski, I Think I Have the Wiggle Fidgets – David tries really hard, but he just can’t stand in line like the other kids. Mrs. Gorski is always interrupting his thinking and correcting him.  Even at home, he knows he gets on everyone’s nerves. When Mrs. Gorski asks for a family-teacher conference, David spends the weekend brainstorming a cure for the wiggle fidgets. Maybe then everyone will be proud of him. This picture book describes the feelings and uncontrollable urges of an ADHD kid and has specific tips for helping the child in a classroom setting.

Stacey Coolidge's Fancy Smancy Cursive WritingStacey Coolidge’s Fancy-Smancy Cursive Handwriting – The best thing about second grade – at least for Carolyn – is Frederick, the guinea pig. When students finished their work, they could play with him. That wasn’t a problem until Mrs. Thompson wanted everyone to practice their cursive writing. No matter how hard she tried, Carolyn’s papers were a mess … and Stacey Coolidge finished before everyone and had perfect papers every time! Carolyn even had her mom drop her off at school early one day so she could get a head start and finally play with Frederick. She got so frustrated that day she put a hole in her paper. It was no use. When Mrs. Thompson asked her to stay after school, Carolyn was worried. She told Mrs. Thompson about her frustration, and Mrs. Thompson reminded her that some of the most talented poets and writers couldn’t write cursive well, either. She encouraged Carolyn to focus on her great imagination, not the slants and curves. Then Carolyn had the biggest surprise yet: she would get to keep Frederick for the weekend. This picture book story helps kids understand their frustrations and look at things with a different perspective.

Mike Godron’s illustrations are a great complement to the story, often adding some visual humor to the text.  Three of my favorites …

  • On the last page of Stacey Coolidge, Carolyn has on a T-shirt that says “I am a Literary Genius … I am Literally a Genius … Is there a difference, really?”
  • On page 21 of Stacey Coolidge, Mrs. Thompson is in front of a bookshelf with these books: Peter Pin, Jingle Book, Grapes in Wrath. The poster behind her is Where the Fun Things Are.
  • On the last page of Mrs. Gorski, David wears a Tshirt that says “Movers and Shakers often move and shake.”

These are stories that Kindergartners will understand and third graders can read themselves.  The main characters are second and third graders, so that audience will  appreciate the stories, even if they’re just listening.  Although younger children may like listening and looking at the pictures, until you have a context of life as a full-time student, some of the story will be lost on you.

If you’ve never seen these books, I’d strongly recommend that you find them. These are perfect choices for reading at home when your young student feels overwhelmed or in a group during story time. Every elementary guidance counselor should have a set of these books in their office … or at least in their school library.

Note of Integrity: Title links take you to the Reading Tub website pages; cover links take you to Amazon, with whom we have an affiliate relationship. This relationship offers us the opportunity to do passive fundraising. The Reading Tub is a 501c3 nonprofit.

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