Book Review & Giveaway: “Bubble Gum Brain”

Being a blogger can sometimes come with some pretty cool perks. When I am sent the latest Julia Cook book, FOR FREE?! That’s the best. And when I’m asked to do a review and giveaway for my readers?! Even better!

My school counselor library boasts quite a few Julia Cook books already. She is one of my go-to authors to creatively address many social-emotional learning topics. Her latest book, Bubble Gum Brain: Ready, Get Mindset…GROW!, discusses one of my favorite SEL topics – growth mindset.

bubble gum brainI believe that teaching growth mindset explicitly is crucial for our students. I cannot wait to add this piece of literature to my future classroom lessons! In her usual creative fashion, Julia Cook uses two characters – one with a bubble gum brain (representing growth mindset) and one with a brick brain (representing fixed mindset). Readers will quickly see that having a bubble gum brain, one that can flex, stretch, and expand his/her thoughts, leads to a lot more fun and a lot more learning!

While I love bubble gum brain’s antics, I must say I have a soft spot in my heart for brick brain, who reminds me so much of many of my students, who struggle with new things and hold onto fears that block their growth. I know they will be able to relate to this character.

My favorite pages in the whole book are page 10 and 23, because both talk about THE POWER OF YET. I use this language with my students already, and this book will naturally fit into the conversations I am already having.

Another powerful message in this humorous story is that having a growth mindset is a choice! The words colorfully show that all of us can choose to stay stuck in our negative thoughts, or we can choose to try, make mistakes, and learn how to be hopeful. What an important, life-changing conversation for our children to have!

What I like most about Bubble Gum Brain is the way Julia Cook uses adventure and fun to draw young readers in, while teaching a critical social-emotional skill – growth mindset – in a very real, life-like way. I can already see so many uses for this book, including classroom lessons, individual “booster” sessions, as well as guiding parents to help their own children develop growth mindset using the convenient “Tips for Growing a Child’s Mindset” in the back of the book.

If you are interested in receiving a free copy of Bubble Gum Brain for your own library, please comment below with how you would like to use this book with your students. All entries will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on July 10, 2017. One winner will be chosen.

Good luck and thanks for reading! 🙂


Responding to 13 Reasons Why

There are times and trends in pop culture that lead me to worry, or wonder, or fear how it might impact my students. 13 Reasons Why is one of them. The series is already claimed to be the most watched that Netflix has ever produced. If you have not watched or heard about this series, it follows a high schooler who has received 13 cassette tapes made by a classmate before she died by suicide; the tapes explain her 13 reasons for killing herself, essentially uncovering dark secrets that caused her suicide.


Okay, I have to say that I did watch this series, even before I heard the rumblings on social media. The rumblings include everything from praise for the show for not shying away from difficult topics like bullying, sexual assault, and suicide, to criticism for romanticizing the act of suicide. The thing about this show is, it puts you on an emotional roller coaster from the very first episode, and leaves you shaken. It is graphic, often times uncomfortable, and still, keeps you wanting to watch until the very end. This is not a series that you can move on from immediately after finishing; the story line and images stick in your mind.

After seeing many conversations about the series on social media, I saw some parents writing in about allowing their children to watch the show to “prepare” them for middle and/or high school. AND THIS IS WHEN I KNEW I NEEDED TO PREPARE MYSELF TO RESPOND AS A SCHOOL COUNSELOR.

Over this past week, I have read articles, blogs, and editorials about responses to this series to get a pulse on the impact. Still, I didn’t feel prepared enough to address any concerns stemming from this series in my own school. Yes, I work at the elementary level, but I fear that there are upper elementary students binge watching this series and perhaps not even talking to their parents about it, because their parents might not even be aware they have watched it at all. This, THIS, is scary and unacceptable.

Yesterday, I participated in a webinar facilitated by several experts in the field of suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. Each of them brought their expertise to the topic of how educators in particular could and should respond to this series. Needless to say, there are a lot of concerns about how the sensitive topics are handled in the show.

Here are a few of the concerns:

  • This show is FICTION, though many people (children and adults alike) are taking the show as the reality for many high school students today.
  • The graphic depictions of bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, and suicide can be very triggering, especially for anyone who is or has struggled with any of these things.
  • Young people may over identify with the characters in this show, particularly the main protagonist, Hannah, who dies by suicide.
  • The show very much over-simplifies suicide. The majority of people who have suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or die by suicide, have an underlying mental illness that they need professional treatment for. This show does not mention mental illness, or specifically, depression, at all. Not even once.
  • The 13 tapes created by Hannah before her death romanticize the ability to speak to people “from the beyond.” This is completely unrealistic. The tapes would have taken a rational mind to create; Hannah was not thinking rationally near the end of her life. In fact, most people who die by suicide end up acting impulsively at the very end. Suicide notes are not common.
  • One theme through out the show is the blame and shame placed on Hannah’s classmates (and the School Counselor) for her suicide. At one point, a character in the show says, “We ALL killed Hannah Baker.” Suicide survivors already tend to feel guilt when someone they care about dies by suicide; this is a dangerous and hurtful message to send.
  • The other theme through out the show seems to be about how kindness can save lives. Sounds great, right? After all, we want our children to be kind. However, Hannah references in almost all of her tapes that if that person had just done one thing differently, she might not feel as badly as she does. In the last episode, Hannah says, “Some of you cared. None of you cared enough.” Kindness is not enough; suicidal ideation requires PROFESSIONAL help! Again, this is not mentioned AT ALL in this series. Let’s not let the message to our children be that if they had just been more kind to so-and-so, maybe they wouldn’t have killed themselves. Talk about guilt!
  • The adults in this series, yikes. None of them appear to know how to help when they see their children/students struggling, or they don’t have the time. This is also a very dangerous message. The School Counselor in the series, Mr. Porter, is cringe-worthy when it comes to his responses to Hannah in the last episode. He is dismissive, distracted, and unhelpful. We need our children to know that there ARE adults who will listen and who know how to help them.
  • There are little to no help-seeking behaviors shown in this series. Hannah appears to be helpless and hopeless. The series offers no alternatives to suicide as a means to deal with serious problems. (I have to add that there is a follow up to this series, Beyond the Reasons, showing the producers, cast, and mental health professionals discussing how to get help for these kinds of issues, though there is NOTHING about it in the actual show.)
  • Contagion. Experts in this field know that research shows that young people are more likely to attempt or die by suicide themselves after experiencing a suicide death of someone close to them (about 4 to 5 times more likely). You might say, “But this is just a show. They don’t really know Hannah.” And you would be right, except that there has already been an increase in young people who are attempting suicide in the same way depicted in the show. Contagion is real.
  • Finally, producers of this show claim to have consulted suicide experts and media portrayal experts. The truth is that they did not consult said experts until after the show was already completed.

Here are a few resources to prepare yourself for potentially hard conversations:

I am not saying we should not watch this show. What I am saying is if you live with or work with young people, you need to be prepared to process this material with them. If it leaves adults shaken and heartbroken, imagine how it leaves our children. Do NOT let them watch this without an adult to process with.

Hopefully this post will be found helpful for someone! And School Counselors, let’s continue to be the best listeners and problem solvers for our students that we can be! We are needed now more than ever.

School Counselor’s Role with Students At-Risk for Substance Abuse

Here’s some information that was created and shared with me to help increase our awareness of substance use among our students. It got me thinking, as school counselors, are we doing enough? What do you think?

School Counselor’s Role with Students At-Risk for Substance Abuse — Infographic

In 2013, a study showed that 7,800 individuals tried drugs for the first time. An additional 12,500 reported drinking alcohol for the first time. One of the most troubling findings of this study was that well over half of these new users were younger than 18.

School counselors spend most of their time directly helping and communicating with their students, through issues both academic and personal. With drug usage so prevalent among youth, substance abuse is an inevitable issue school counselors will face throughout their careers.

Warning signs like academic decline, absenteeism, changing peer groups, and changes in attentiveness and grooming habits are all potential indicators that drug usage is beginning to impact a student’s life.  School counselors are invaluable when identifying and intervening substance abuse among individual students, but direct counsel is only one of many ways counselors can help in preventing substance abuse.

Students today are more likely to self-report drug usage than a decade ago, but they’re less likely to fully understand the risks associated with drug use. As illustrated in the infographic below, students are less likely to understand the risks associated with smoking marijuana, using heroin, or using cocaine than students surveyed over a decade ago.

Revealingly, these students are also less likely to report having been exposed to drug prevention messaging in their schools. Although these statistics reflect a downward trend, they illustrate that school counselors and educators alike have a great opportunity in reducing substance abuse by reinforcing their school’s drug-prevention policies and promoting drug-prevention messaging.

For instance, in one school district located in Escabana, Michigan, a community was able to reduce the rate of alcohol abuse over a span of seven years from 17% to just 7% by incorporating substance abuse prevention policies into their curriculum, conducting student messaging campaigns, and involving parents and youth agencies.

School counselors are fundamental in orchestrating the community involvement and policy changes needed to educate students and positively impact the rate of substance abuse in their schools. In the infographic below, produced for Bradley University’s Online Counseling Program, you can learn more about substance abuse statistics among K-12 students and how school counselors are capable of making a difference.


Bouncy Bands provide some wiggle room

Bouncy Bands. When I first heard the name, I thought for sure they were for exercise. Well, I was sort of right. Bouncy Bands are made to let students release energy while they are working at their desks in a quiet, non-distracting way!

Here’s a picture of Bouncy Bands set up on a desk:

bouncy bands

I was offered a free set to try out at my school, and for the last two weeks, a highly active fourth grader has had the set attached to his desk. Just for a little perspective, this student is scrappy, energetic, curious, and more often than not impulsive. Before Bouncy Bands, he would typically be found standing at his desk to do his work because sitting just wasn’t comfortable for his high energy needs. Basically, he was the perfect “guinea pig” for this kind of thing!

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been checking in with him to see how the experiment has been going. His first reponse was to thank me for allowing him to try them – isn’t that so nice?? Other feedback from him has been that he likes using them to move his feet up and down, back and forth, while he sits at his desk (SITS, not stands!). He also told me that it’s really quiet and no one even notices when he’s bouncing away.

When the fourth grade teacher requested to try the set for this student, I was a little skeptical because I thought for sure it would cause a distraction for the teacher or other students. I have received ZERO complaints from anyone, teacher included! I even sat at his desk last week to try it out for myself – I like how the rubber provides a comfortable and stretchy place to rest and wiggle your feet.

Here are a few interesting facts about Bouncy Bands:

  • They’re made with heavy-duty rubber bungee rope for maximum stretching ability.
  • They’re noise-less (really, they are).
  • They’re super easy to install – it takes a minute, tops.
  • They’re not just for students with ADHD or severe sensory issues – any student who is willing to try them can benefit.

For more facts and information, including how to order your own set of Bouncy Bands, head on over to the website:

Little book – Big lesson

One of the best parts about being a blogger is the chance to share ideas and resources that can help others who have and work with children. There is power and knowledge in collaboration! Today, I’m excited to join a virtual book tour of “Spoonful of Sweetness and other delicious manners” by author Maria Dismondy.

Spoonful of Sweetness

Review of the book

Who knew that children could exhibit acts of kindness from the time they are infants? Children’s author Maria Dismondy makes this point clear and encourages the teaching of kindness and other powerful traits in her new board book “Spoonful of Sweetness.”

Each sturdy page pictures super cute and diverse babies showing character traits through their play. The traits include kindness, friendship, responsibility, empathy, respect, and courage.

What I love most about this book is how simply each trait is written about and shown through the realistic play of each baby. I have always believed that children learn the most through play and discovery, and Maria captures this beautifully on every page. I love that Maria shows how simple it can be to help young children begin to learn manners – it’s as easy as waving, saying hello, smiling, and picking up toys! What a great start to life every child would have if these behaviors were modeled and encouraged.

As an Elementary School Counselor, I have much appreciation for families who model and teach their children pro-social behaviors from an early age. “Spoonful of Sweetness” is an excellent resource for any parent, teacher, or counselor who believes in setting their child up for social and emotional success, in school and in life!

Other children’s books by Maria

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun

The Potato Chip Champ

Pink Tiara Cookies for Three

The Juice Box Bully (co-authored by Bob Sornson)

More about Maria


Maria Dismondy is a #1 best-selling children’s book author, former teacher, and highly sought-after speaker. Spoonful of Sweetness is her 5th children’s book. Maria has a passion for spreading an anti-bullying message and making a difference in her writing, public speaking, blogging, and charity work. She lives in southeastern Michigan with her husband and children.

Maria’s website: (go here for a FREE parent/teacher guide and a FREE coloring page!)

Maria’s Facebook page:

Book giveaway!

Maria was kind enough to offer a free, autographed copy of “Spoonful of Sweetness” to one of my readers! If you’d like to enter for a chance to get a free copy of this adorable book, all you have to do is comment on this post with a reason you’d like to have this book or how you’d use this book with the young children in your own life. All entries will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. Saturday, January 25, 2014. I will review all comments and pick one winner! I will contact you for your mailing address and Maria will send you your free copy.

Good luck and thanks for reading! 🙂

You want NAMI on your list

NAMI logo


Did you know that mental illness affects 1 in 4 people or nearly 60 million Americans every year? That means that mental illness affects you. It means that if you haven’t struggled with a mental illness yourself, there is likely someone you love who has or still is.

It means that mental illness deserves some attention. Attention for normality, education, recovery, advocacy, and support. If it doesn’t get more attention from all of us, there will likely be more needless deaths, suicides, violence, school shootings, abuse, substance abuse, etc.

So instead of slapping more band aids on people and communities affected by the aftermath of untreated mental illness, why not be proactive?

Last weekend, my husband (who is a mental health counselor) and I attended a 2-day training provided by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This free training gave us the certification to co-facilitate NAMI support groups for peers and families affected by mental illness. We plan to run groups in our area, on a volunteer basis, for those needing help from others who understand what they’re going through.

NAMI is an organization you want to know about because they are leading the way in supporting mental health needs. Each state has a NAMI organization which offers lots of FREE services, including:

  • Peer and family support groups
  • Advocacy for public policy to fight stigma and to help the mentally ill get proper treatment
  • A non-crisis hotline for anyone needing someone to listen, answer questions about mental illness, or guidance through the tedious process of getting treatment
  • Respite services for families needing self-care time
  • Parent and family classes to educate families about mental illness and how it might affect them and their loved ones
  • Resources on specific mental illnesses, state and federal laws that affect mental health, suicide awareness and prevention, veteran support services, and more

Because most of their services are free (seriously, how awesome is that?!), NAMI encourages people to become members to help support their important work. When they have more members, they can pack a lot more punch when they stand up for policies and legislation that will help our communities heal. Membership is only $3 for open door or $35 for individual/family (basically, it’s what you can afford to pay), and it gives you access to your state and national NAMI organization.

For School Counselors, it is vital that we have some understanding of mental illness, as we are often involved in the early stages of identifying and referring for treatment. It’s so important that we can spot the difference between a child simply having a difficult time, and a child who may be struggling with mental illness and in need of much more support than we can provide in the school setting. I don’t think I even need to write about the lasting damages of untreated mental illness…I’ll just say that if we can avoid causing this kind of harm, we should.

So, when you compile your resources list, please add NAMI. They have a lot to offer.

National site:

State of Maine site: 

You don’t have to walk your journey alone.