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The Spark


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The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett

4 of 5 stars

The memoir of a mother whose drive to nurture and support her autistic son in his own interests reveals his mathematical genius.

That night, I had the distinct feeling — which has never been very far away since — that Jake was going to use his amazing brain to make a significant contribution to the world.

In the meantime, though, I had to get him into kindergarten.

With my background in education, I’ve read quite a few books on kids with special needs or academic gifts.  Regardless, I loved reading Jake’s story, as told through the eyes of his mother.

Jake’s story is one that so many people need to hear.  With the prevalence of autism today, it’s great to be reminded that these kids can do amazing things.  Even if all kids don’t end up being prodigies like Jake, taking the time and effort to focus on a child’s strengths is a good lesson for all parents (and teachers).  Jake’s story was incredible, very touching, and a great reminder for parents everywhere to hug their kids, to make quality time for playing with them, and to not let a diagnosis (whether it’s autism or something else entirely) be an excuse for giving up on your child.

The downfalls of this book were all minor.  A personal pet peeve of mine was when the author switched back and forth between referring to her husband as “Mike” and “Michael” — at first, it confused me; then it just irritated me.

Another minor thing that bugged me was the focus on the family’s financial situation — with somewhat over-the-top spending in the first half, then a constant concern in the second half.  I feel weird even questioning the sharp contrast, because really, their personal finances are no one’s business but their own, yet it was a part of the book, so, it’s hard to ignore.

Overall:  An awesome story about an amazing kid and his never-give-up, never-surrender family.


Merry Christmas!


I’ve saved the best for last: the story of Christ’s birth, the most important Christmas story there is, and certainly a classic in its own right.  May God bless you this Christmas!

Luke 2

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,  and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Some great retellings of the nativity story from Arch Books:
Baby Jesus Is Born Born on Christmas Morn Just Look in the Stable My Merry Christmas Elizabeth's Christmas Story Joseph's Christmas Story Mary's Christmas Story My Christmas Prayer Book On a Silent Night Once Upon a Clear, Dark Night Star of Wonder The Christmas Baby The Christmas Message The Christmas Promise The Shepherd's Christmas The Shepherds Shook in their Shoes Three Presents for Baby Jesus When Jesus Was Born

My Child Wasn’t Born Perfect

My Child Wasn’t Born Perfect: Learning Disabilities and Autism, The Quest and Success of a Child by Kimberly Bell Mocini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not afraid to face the world knowing that I have a learning disability.  If you believe in yourself and keep working hard, your hopes and dreams will be within your reach and it will surely be the beginning of a brand new day.

This personal memoir describes, from a mother’s perspective, the challenges, setbacks, and triumphs of JD, a boy diagnosed with a learning disability at a young age.  Each chapter covers a stage of his educational years, and within JD’s story, his mom includes insights, suggestions, and encouragements for parents, educators, and children with autism or other learning disabilities.

I had the opportunity to meet the author of this book this weekend at a sale.  I hadn’t heard of her or her book, but after a few minutes talking with her about her son’s learning disability, their battle throughout his educational career to get him the help he needed to excel, and his subsequent successes, I felt compelled to pick up her book.  As I expected, it was a very touching, heartfelt story; but it was also chock full of information and encouragement for parents of children with autism and learning disabilities.  It was a wealth of knowledge, and with the book being organized chronologically, it would make an excellent reference guide for parents to hang onto, review, and draw encouragement from as their child grows.  During the early childhood and grade school years in particular, there’s a lot of fabulous practical advice  that can help a parent feel less overwhelmed in helping their child who learns differently.  Although I’m sure much of this information is available elsewhere as well, it comes across more effectively when tied directly to JD’s story.

My only small criticisms were that I did notice a few editing errors (“clicks” instead of “cliques”, a missing article, etc), and I wish that there had been more examples of the struggles he had in socialization — it was difficult for the reader to pinpoint specific identifying qualities or attributes that were part of his disability in this area.

Overall:  A touching story of overcoming a learning disability, generously supplemented with resources and encouragement for parents, educators, and those with learning disabilities themselves.

Fans might also enjoy:

A Smile as Big as the Moon

A Smile as Big as the Moon: A Special Education Teacher, His Class, and Their Inspiring Journey Through U.S. Space Camp by Mike Kersjes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Remember — don’t be afraid to go after your dreams.  It may take a lot of hard work on your part, but if you’re willing to make the sacrifices, there is nothing you can’t accomplish.”

 In 1989, Mike Kersjes and his teaching partner, Robynn McKinney, got the idea to send their class of special education students to Space Camp — an opportunity generally reserved for the best and brightest students.  After overcoming initial obstacles, fundraising struggles, personal trials, and opposition from within and outside of the school, they spent a year of intense preparation training the twenty students in their high school special education class to be ready for their week long Space Camp.

This is a great book to show teachers and students alike — special ed or not — how much students can accomplish when they have people who believe in them and are determined to see them succeed.  It’s an inspirational story of kids who came together as a team when the odds were against them, a true underdog success tale.  I enjoyed reading about what they did during their months of training at school to prepare them for the challenges of Space Camp, and my favorite part was the section covering their week at the camp, where they were completing missions and competing against “gifted” students and holding their own.

I was, however, a bit disappointed in parts at the author’s brusqueness, that bordered on downright rudeness.  I’m all for being blunt and honest, but anyone who opposed his Space Camp plan was portrayed as being excessively villainous, and he referred to them rather disrespectfully — using descriptions such as “gossipmonger,” “ego-driven,” “bitter and lazy,” “sadists,” “dirt-bags,” and “white-trash” to describe some of them.  For this reason, some of the first section of the book really rubbed me the wrong way; it didn’t paint the author in a particularly positive light, especially since many of the people he was referring to were other teachers and students in his school.

Also, I would have LOVED to hear more about the individual students themselves.  A few were highlighted throughout the book, but I only got a real idea of the personality and strengths of four or five of them, out of a group of twenty.

Overall:  A feel-good tale of underdog students overcoming opposition, working hard to their goals, and exceeding everyone’s expectations.

Fans might also enjoy:

Take Five! For Language Arts

What a great resource!

Although I’m currently taking time out of the classroom to raise my family, I was thrilled to receive this (in ebook format). The activities within these pages are easy-to-understand, thought-provoking, and don’t require a lot of extra work from the teacher, which I know I would have appreciate a lot while teaching third grade!

I will definitely be recommending this to my teacher friends! 🙂 ( )

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