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Make It Happen! Series Review by Julie Kieras

(Lower Level Interest Level: Grades 2-8)
Ashima Shiraishi – Rock Climber
We McDonald – Singer
Solomon Dubner – Podcaster
“Big Boy” Wills – Cartoonist
Dr. Alfredo Quinones – Surgeon
By Ryan Hume and Dan Gunderman
Lightswitch Learning
150 E 52nd Street, Suite 32002
New York, NY 10022

Kids love to learn about unique careers and read about how people overcame challenges in life. This is exactly the concept behind the Make It Happen! Series, lower level, by Lightswitch Learning. The Make It Happen! series currently contains five titles, available at two different reading levels, upper and lower. The lower level readers are listed for grades 2-8, while the upper level interest level is for grades 4-10. Each title can be purchased separately for $8.95 each, or the full 10-book series (all five titles, at both levels) is available for $99.50.

These nonfiction biographies share the life stories of five unique people who overcame significant challenges to advance their careers. From surgeon, podcaster, singer, rock climber, and cartoonist, readers get a glimpse into the steps and hurdles of interesting career choices.

Each book is laid out similarly, with a table of contents, and six main reading sections that include vocabulary words in bold, plus sidebar vocabulary definitions. At the end of each section is a Make It Happen! Activity like a group discussion, creating lists based on internet research, making schedules, listing equipment, writing mini-essays, and writing scripts. After the main reading sections, there are post-reading questions, a final project idea, glossary, timeline, internet resources, and bibliography. The final projects included going for a rock climb, organizing a talent show, creating a local news report, planning a meeting or making a portfolio.

This series could be used for reading and writing assignments, as well as biography or nonfiction study in both homeschool and traditional classrooms. The lower level books are ideal for grades 2-8 interest level, but a reading level of probably grades 2-4; this makes them perfect for older students who struggle with reading but want something interesting to read.

My second grader needed additional practice in responding to reading, so we read the books aloud with my five-year-old listening in, and then discussed each section together. I used this time to point out and define common nonfiction text features like bold text, section headers, and glossary. My son had no difficulty reading and understanding the text, although he did not know most of the bolded vocabulary words, so the sidebar definitions were useful.

What I liked the most about these books were how they were laid out graphically. The bolded text, sidebar features, and items like the glossary and timeline provided excellent examples of nonfiction text features that I could teach my son. I also liked how they are biographies about people with unusual careers; I could see making a mini-unit on career choices with these books. Another plus is that we could read each title in one or two sittings; these books are short enough to add into any reading schedule for a little change in pace. Although my boys usually like to read books with a little more drama and adventure, they did enjoy reading through the life stories of these individuals. The colorful photos on each page also held their attention well.

While there is a good range of activities throughout the book in the Make It Happen! Sections and the final projects, many of them involved writing beyond my second graders’ ability. Instead, we modified by discussing his answers verbally. Several of the activities or projects would be time-consuming especially for the younger grades, such as preparing for an audition or researching and writing an essay. Some activities might work better for a traditional classroom than a homeschool student, such as making a study plan that involves other students and teachers. Still, there is room for modification in each activity, and they are good jumping off points. For independent writers, these books would be a good resource for short-term projects.

For teachers looking to introduce biographies or include more nonfiction reading and writing, this series is a good choice. As a homeschool mom, while we enjoyed reading these titles, I would probably rather borrow these from a library for short term use versus buying them for my permanent home library.

-Product review by Julie Kieras, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June, 2018