Children's Books, Picture Books

Favorite Picture Books Summer 2019

Happy August 1st! I kind of wish I wasn’t saying that right now. If social media is any indicator, I think we all have a tendency to reach this date and either hold tightly onto summer and live in denial that the school year starts during this month for many of us, or throw our hands in the air and cry, “Great white sharks, we are so far from being able to survive our fall schedule right now!” … or both. What I would like to do on this August 1st is acknowledge what’s coming and hold on to what is. Because it is still summer, and we will still spend hours at the pool and watch TV in the late afternoon and all the other summer things. Still, I have to admit that, yes, it is a good idea to maybe start inching the bedtimes back towards the school year routine. The great thing about this time of year is it’s the perfect time to begin or reinstate reading before bed with your kids. (Or yourself. Great adult options here!) And picture books are a great place to start. While the land of chapter books is a wonderful place to plunge into with my kids, I am beyond glad to have a five-year-old and a two-year-old who keep me deep in picture books every day. If we’re honest, the older two read almost all of them with us, too. Here are our favorites lately!

What Do You Say, Dear? by Joslin Sesyle is hands down my favorite picture book discovery of the summer. This book on every day manners presents completely bizarre scenarios that will have you and your kids laughing and learning at the same time. Now, when I say, “What do you say, dear?” no one groans; instead, we all smile at the inside joke this book gives our family now and eases us into talking about manners. The illustrations by Maurice Sendak are priceless. If your kids don’t learn a thing, you will at least have a lot of fun reading it!

All of us enjoy Ella the Elegant Elephant and other books in the series. The warm colors are so friendly and the atmosphere of Elephant Island make these books perfect for summer reads. We took Ella Sets Sail with us to the beach this year. Warning: Ella’s mother is a baker and you might want a pineapple pie when you’re done reading this book!

Rapunzel by Sarah Gibb and Cinderella by Barbara McClintock – Both of these fairy tale books are beautifully illustrated. I love that the McClintock version of Cinderella is drawn in the style of the time period the story is set in. Neither of these books is very much like the Disney version of their stories at all, in case that is refreshing to you as it is to me sometimes. (Not knocking the Disney moves, I love them, but staying true to old texts is important, as well!)

The Kitchen Knight by Margaret Hodges- A longer picture book, for sure, but chock full of good talking points on winning a prize fairly and on your own merit. And it’s not just a morality tale–my eight-year-old son thinks this book is a keeper and when we were done reading it with just one of his sisters, he said, “We need to read this one with everyone!” His only complaint is that the Kitchen Knight looks too old, but I liked the illustrations just fine. =)

I can’t promise that these are any of our other favorite picture books (visit our children’s book category to find more!) will completely erase the chance of protests when you push those bedtimes back to sane fall hours. Push through that whining! Picture books are magic.

Hoping your last days of summer are as magical as humanly possible,

Mia/Alana (why two names? Answers here)

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

2019 Summer Reading Re-cap: Fiction

Happy mid-summer! I hope your summer has been full of adventure and fun plus some meaningful work, or at the very least, really good books! I’ve read a slew of both new and vintage fiction summer, so I’m going to join Modern Mrs. Darcy/Anne Bogel and do a quick lit recap for June and July reading of the fiction I’ve been reading. Click over to her site and see what other readers and reviewers have liked or disliked so far this summer. Our summer started mid-May and we gave ourselves permission to be lazy about projects and curriculum planning and all the the normal school year things until July, so I’m now realizing I haven’t updated the blog on any books since April! So this is going to be quite a long list.

New Fiction

The Spies of Shilling Lane – Mrs. Braithwaite is our main character in this unexpectedly cozy, adventurous read. She is a middle-aged, domineering village woman, who is suddenly demoted from her position in her village and decides to go visit her daughter in London during WWII, only to find her daughter missing. Mrs. Braithwaite puts herself on a mission to find her and runs into more intrigue and danger than she ever expected. Despite some adult themes, this book is not a heavy WWII book. It’s reminiscent of The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax but with a more familiar setting… or maybe that’s just for those of us who have read way too many books set in WWII England. There were some sections that were a bit on the cliche side, and some character development that happened very fast at times, but overall it’s a fun read with a lot of heart for historical fiction fans.

Time After Time – This magical realism novel starts out with tons of potential, between the characters, setting, and history. If you liked The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or The Age of Adeline, you will probably like this book! That being said, I think I would have liked it better as a short story or novella. The first quarter of the book was 4-5 stars. The dialogue between the two main characters was swingy and the concept for the story was grabbing, plus Grand Central Station was a fascinating setting. In the last three-quarters the good things the novel had going for it fell apart and fell in the 2 star range, so it’s somewhere at 2.5 star as an entire book for me (but don’t grade me on my math!). The middle is too long and tumultuous, in my inexperienced opinion. On a side note, the comparisons to The Time Traveler’s Wife don’t ring true. The Time Traveler’s Wife was much more graphic and tragic. This one isn’t exactly lighthearted or “clean,” as far as themes go, but leaves out details and has less language.

The Lieutenant’s Nurse – I couldn’t put this one down. Ackerman wove fascinating pieces of radio communications in the Pacific throughout her story leading up to the attack at Pearl Harbor. The characters were also interesting, though the romance focus was a little much for me. I could’ve done without about half of it and still thought that was more than plenty. I enjoyed the book, though, and was pleased that, like Ackerman’s first book, there was no smut and just a smattering of language. I liked her first book, Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, better than The Lietuenant’s Nurse, but both were enjoyable and Sara Ackerman is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers of compelling, readable, and clean summer reads.

I’m Fine and Neither Are You – The cover of this book and even the publisher’s write up did not prepare me for how tender, fragile, at times beautiful, and thought provoking this novel about the modern woman’s pursuit of the perfect life would be. The life of Penelope Ruiz is painted in vivid detail and echoes many real life conversations I’ve had with friends about the burden in the modern goal to “do it all.” This book begs the question, “but why?” It was not at all light, but there was a sense of humor woven throughout the weighty themes. It was easy to read, hard to forget, and reminded me of Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot. I am probably the target audience for this book–it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea–but I’d give it four stars.

Vintage Fiction

The Scent of Water – Goudge is a long drink of water for a thirsty, old-fashioned soul. Like her other adult books, The Scent of Water is an introspective novel centered around a home, a country town, and the people in it. The book approaches life on the soul level, and though the plot won’t drive you to turn pages as fast as possible, I keep on reading Goudge because the wisdom, truth, and beauty in it are timeless.

Amberwell, Summerhills, and Celia’s House – More of my favorite D.E. Stevenson! She’s the current home base of my reading life for her glorious settings in the Scottish or English countryside and strong, noble, likable characters.

Corner Shop – Though I love Elizabeth Cadell, this one was not my favorite of hers. It was hard to follow.

Jane of Lantern Hill – I re-read this L.M. Montgomery novel for the first time as an adult while we were at the beach in May. It is wonderful, right up there with the Anne and the Emily books. I hate how L.M. Montgomery’s work is considered children’s literature—almost all of it is much more enjoyable when you read it as an adult! But since she and C.S. Lewis are my all time favorite authors, I may be incredibly biased.

Thrush Green – I always think I should be the perfect candidate to enjoy the works of Miss Read, but alas, I simply cannot get into them. Oh well.

And that’s all for the summer reading fiction update! I’ll be adding a non-fiction post just as soon as I finish the three non-fiction books I’m in the middle of. For all my fiction reading speed, I operate on a slow intake when it comes to nonfiction. But I’ll have that nonfiction reading list up soon! Until then, happy summer reading!

Everyday Life, Parenting

The Brave Learner Is Your Summer Reading Assignment

Breaking from the normal book reviews today to post about my new favorite book on homeschooling. If you’re not into this topic, check out our favorite kids books or some summer reading updates from the past and come back soon for more new book reviews soon!

Whew, it’s June! We made it through May! Time to eat watermelon and sleep in at least once and get in some swimming and maybe pick some berries and all the summer things! But wait…what curriculum are using next year? Did you sign up for a co-op yet? Have you picked out a planner?

This is the homeschooling parent’s state of mind! If you’re like me, you would love to just breathe for a bit (like, maybe a year), to rest and recover from a busy and sometimes/totally draining school year. Yes, homeschooling children gives us so many benefits and rewards, but no one says it’s easy. We desperately need a break at certain points of the year, depending on what kind of homeschooling schedule you choose for your family. I just finished my fifth year of homeschooling, and even though it might have been our best year yet, I still feel this way! Before I urge you to do anything else, I can’t encourage you enough to take that break! Throw the books in a box for a full week and don’t think about them! It will do you all good. Spend a day doing something fun, taking a hike or playing at the beach, and don’t even consider counting it as a school day! (this is an act of will for some of us, haha).

But then, after that break, we have to dive back in, don’t we? It’s a good idea to use some of the time off from regular school to get ready for what’s next. Most of us look at new curriculum, maybe gather ideas for unit studies, pick out the perfect planner, or what have you. But first! I’m boldly giving you an assignment to do first this summer, before you look at curriculum and sign up for anything: read The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart.

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Why should you? Prepare for a gushing.

I loved this book so much. It presents learning philosophies from a very different angle than anything I’ve seen. It doesn’t just focus on the mind, or the schoolwork, but on your complete lifestyle and approach towards learning of all kinds. It’s such a wholesome and healthy approach! Enchanted, interest-driven learning is the big idea of this book, but don’t let that scare you. Bogart heavily focuses on practical, day-to-day wisdom for a family, as well. She is a rare person who can be the most sensible, down-to-earth voice about being a homeschool parent while at the same time introducing and completely convincing her readers that the best way to learn is from a place of enchantment and fun. It sounds impossible, but I’m telling you, this book is both insanely practical and inspiring. And in case you’re wondering or even worrying, Bogart is neither promoting nor demoting the “unschooling” philosophy. The ideas she presents can breathe life into pretty much any homeschooling approach (aside from a highly legalistic one, but who wants to claim that?).

Since I loved every page, summing it up is proving extremely difficult, but I’ll share a few of my favorite parts with you in hopes that you’ll go grab a copy, too!

~Many of her ideas come with specific suggestions on how “stage the home” for fun and interesting learning. The “stage the home” sections in chapter 4, “How To Harness the Four Forces of Enchantment” are especially helpful. And the chapter titled “House Schooling” might have been my favorite—all about evaluating what you have and embracing it + changing your mindset to see at is what you need.

~The “Continents of Learning” exercise changed my view of how learning can stay fun and still encompass the necessary branches of traditional schooling (page 24).

~The idea of keeping a monthly narrative—writing a paragraph or two on what each child learned/embraced/was challenged by/was involved in— as part of homeschool record keeping revolutionized my attitude. I went from a “have we done enough? I feel like we aren’t doing enough!” crisis to a “wow, we have done so much and come so far!” mindset.

~This saying in the chapter titled “Liberation from School”: “classical education in the fall, unit studies in winter, and unschooling in spring.” Also, I needed to have the idea put into clear words that you can ditch the books when inspiration strikes for great fun combined with excellent learning, but in the day-to-day, but most of us also need those school books to keep us going when inspiration is lacking.

~Throughout the book are clear and varying examples on how the writer used her own children’s likes and interests to develop both personal character and a thirst for knowledge that inspired me to embrace the things my children like instead of what I think they should like.

The Brave Learner has helped me embrace the freedom of homeschooling, without shirking the weight of educating my children. After reading it the first time through in the month of March, I’m more excited than ever to head into a new school year (after a fully restful and wonderful summer–fingers crossed!). I plan to read it again this month and do more of the exercises I didn’t have time for during the school year, while using it to help guide my planning for the 2019-20 school year.

Seriously, The Brave Learner is the perfect combination of practical and inspirational. It’s the most successful homeschool book I’ve ever read when it comes to walking the fine lines between the tensions of philosophies of education, along with Teaching From Rest. There is wisdom on every page, and even a chapter on homeschooling through hard times.

I hope you have a happy and restful summer, whatever you end up doing, and if you pick up The Brave Learner, come back and tell me what you learned so we can keep on learning together!

Other Homeschooling Posts on Miathereader.com:

A Day In The Life of Our Homeschool

My One Answer for How to Homeschool with Littles

Us, making it over the finish line of 4th grade, 2nd grade, K4, and Toddler-In-It-All, celebrating the end of our school year at Pelican’s Snow Balls

Claimer: I am not in any way affiliated with Julie Bogart or Amazon or any of the other links included in this blog post. No proceeds of any sales come to me.

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit April 2019 – What I Read (And What I Didn’t!)

Today, readers across the blogosphere are gathering to catch up on all we’ve read in the past month at modernmrsdarcy.com. Join in here!

What I Read

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens has crafted a book with exceptionally beautiful writing and storytelling that lingers in your mind well after you’ve finished the book. My only hesitation in saying “I loved it!” comes from some graphic accounts of encounters between a few characters and a sinking feeling I had by the end of the book that science had won over the truth that humanity transcends nature. Our souls are unscientific, not bound by genes or the recycling of DNA over millennia, and it is our souls that makes us unique, different from the animal kingdom. However, whether I agree with the overarching ideas presented, Owens has created a literary gem. The setting of the North Carolina marshes and coastline is so alive that you will feel like you’re there the whole time you read the book (which is more than fine with me! NC beaches are pretty much my favorite places in the world). The poetry included throughout is gorgeous, and the characters live on the pages. (Side note – I am so thankful that Owens stuck with a few main characters that are fully developed and did not overpopulate her novel!) Overall, Where the Crawdads Sing is a moving and atmospheric novel with all the marks of a classic for years to come.

Sarah Morris Remembers and Sarah’s Cottage – More D.E. Stevenson. I know, I’m a broken record. There’s nothing better for middle-of-the-night sleeplessness than a comfortable author who creates characters that are good and steady friends to the reader. [While we’re on the subject of what people call “comfort reads,” who’s your favorite comfortable author? I’m curious!] And another question: why is that when finally all of my children sleep through the night on a regular basis, I get insomnia? Is it a hardwiring in the body that tells a regularly sleep deprived person, “Remember, you don’t sleep much at night?” Whatever it is, it’s maddening.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World – Everyone can benefit from this book. So much of the facts and principles Cal Newport introduces about technology in our lives we suspect but we don’t really know for sure (or don’t want to know for sure). It’s not a punishing , guilt-stirring book, however, but helpful and insightful. The main idea is to limit your optional technology (think social media, streaming video, blog consumption), for thirty days and then see what you gained and what you lost during that time and determine what’s really valuable to you. I’m a fan. And I’m putting Cal Newport’s earlier book Deep Work on my summer TBR.

What I Didn’t Read

Confession time: I have started The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah at least five times. Most recently, I picked it up earlier this year, determined to get through it. I got almost halfway this time. Why can’t I like this book so many people rave about? It’s one of the highest rated books on Goodreads, for goodness sake! But, I’ve tried, I’ve really tried, and I’m done trying. It’s not the book for me. I guess I prefer a book with more subtlety. The characters and the setting seemed overdrawn and overly tragic top to bottom. I couldn’t get into the way the father and the older sister treated other people. It was both unbelievable and unforgivable from the get-go. Maybe I’m missing the point, but that’s my only explanation.

That sums up this quick lit for April! May the rest of your spring be full of sunshine and good books!

Uncategorized

What I Read in Winter (2019)

It’s Spring, it’s spring! Well…the calendar says it’s spring. There are leaves on trees, dogwoods blooming out in the woods, azalea blossoms everywhere, and pine pollen putting a fine, yellow dust on everything. Cue Coldplay’s “Yellow!” Because it is all yellow.

I ended the winter season in bed, despite all my vitamin D taking ways. Last Thursday I woke up with a slight sore throat but thought I was fine, and by later afternoon I was down for the count. Fever, chills, aches, a throat made of fire…great fun. But minor compared to the flu of February, 2018, so that’s an improvement. This illness I call The Putrid Throat (thanks, Poldark) only lasted a couple of days, and I was given the gracious gift by my husband of spending those two days in bed. He even kept the homeschooling going on Friday so we didn’t lose a day. I should make that guy a steak dinner. [And if you’re a parent and you’re hating me right now for getting to stay in bed while sick, I know. I hate me, too. There here have been many times when bed was not an option during an illness for me, and there probably will be many times like that in the future. I salute all of you fighting illnesses in the thick of parenting through busy work schedules, single-parenthood, taxi-ing children with hot tea and theraflu by your side, and travel.]

Ending up in bed for two days means I started and finished several books. These, on top of another stack I read, make up my “Books I Read This Winter” list.

Fiction

The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden – This was a very compelling and beautifully written but dark book, set in rural Russia at the end of the medieval period. The Russians held many beliefs about household spirits, similar to the light-hearted treatment of the Scandinavian “Tomten” that guards the house and gave favor to it if the house is well cared for, or the Irish Faeries that look favorably upon a household if milk is left out for them. However, the Russian household spirits were numerous and called “demons” so that definitely adds a darker feel to the whole thing. Katherine Arden lived in Russia and studied their history and culture deeply, and her immersion is reflected well in this seamless and fascinating novel. This is part fairy tale, part historical novel, and does require you to suspend all reality and accept it for fantastical, or you will probably hate it. I loved it, however, and couldn’t put it down.

Bel Lamington, Fletcher’s Inn, and The Blue Sapphire, by D.E. Stevenson. I believe I’ve written ad nauseum about how I adore this author’s work, so I’ll not elaborate here, except to say I liked Bel Lamington, thought Fletcher’s Inn a rather weak sequel, and really enjoyed The Blue Sapphire. I wouldn’t put any of these at the top of your D.E. Stevenson list if you’ve never read her work. Start with Miss Buncle’s Book or Listening Valley or Mrs. Tim of the Regiment.

Where the Forest Meets the Stars , Glendy Venderah- Whew, this book was a page turner! It reminded me a lot of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, as far as atmospheric setting and some similar content, but was more personable when it came to characters and fast paced. Some hard, real life things came up in this book, and the characters’ values are certainly not my own life values. I’d give it a solid PG-13 rating (and it does, in fact, read like a movie in my opinion), but I really enjoyed it.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Patti Callahan – I had no intention of reading this novel of the relationship between Joy Gresham and C.S. Lewis when I first heard of it. It felt like sacrilege to touch these real people and their relationship with fiction! Then I heard Mrs. Lewis’s son Douglas Gresham talk about the book in an interview. He said that he had become friends with Patti Callahan during the writing of this book, that he really liked the book, that he found it more true to life than many other accounts of Joy Gresham, and that he thought it was a well-written and delightful novel…well, gee, he convinced me. I decided to read it. And I fully agree with him, it’s a great book! I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a Lewis fan.

Non-Fiction

Becoming, Michelle Obama – I think Michelle Obama’s memoir was an important book for me to read. Through reading it, I got to know the former first lady and former president as people instead of merely as political figures. Their backgrounds shaped so much of what they cared about in politics, and that was good for me to understand where they’re coming from, whether I agree with them on all the issues or not. It was eye opening in many ways, and I really enjoyed learning about Michelle Obama’s background and her journey from a lower-income Chicago neighborhood to the White House. I think my husband got tired of me interrupting his own reading to say, “Did you know that…..” so many times. Michelle Obama has a great writing style, and a kind tone towards all people in her book.

Book Girl, Sarah Clarkson – Several times as I read Sarah Clarkson’s memoir about the way books have shaped her life, I felt like I was reading my own story. Almost all of the same books that impacted her are the ones that have impacted me, from childhood to adulthood. She is more eloquent than I am, however, when it comes to explaining the deep effect these books have had on her. I can highly recommend her book and all of her book recommendations in it. There were some she recommends in her booklists and friend’s booklists that I haven’t read yet, and knowing our book tastes are almost exactly the same, I’m moving them to the top of my reading list.

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work, Kathleen Norris – I didn’t love this book as much as I expected to, but I’m still glad I read it. It was thought provoking and a good reminder of the beauty and call to worship that is available in our everyday lives. Norris has a friendly, thoughtful tone and unique insights. However, this book remains cerebral and somewhat academic. It is not dry or lifeless, but it is very inwardly focused and you can tell it is written by a person who has led a life spent in times of long quiet and contemplation. Norris did not have children, and I have four, so my homelife is very different from hers. Several times I found myself thinking “but I have children around all the time!” as I read her work. Still, it was definitely worth reading and possibly re-reading in the future.

The Private World of Tasha Tudor, Tasha Tudor and Richard Brown – I have always loved Tudor’s illustrations, and reading about the life she cultivated in an old house using many antique things just because she delighted in

Image result for tasha tudor

that was fascinating and inspiring. I don’t plan to start wearing long dresses and dipping candles, but embracing simpler living and building beauty into everyday life, along with a deeper connection to nature in daily routine, definitely appeals to me. Her words quoted throughout are full of wit and good sense. The photos are beautiful, as well! I sat down with this book on a cold Sunday afternoon and read through it in a pleasant hour.

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery, Liz Rosenberg – L.M. Montgomery’s books are up there with The Chronicles of Narnia as my favorite books of all time (if I’m forced to choose!). I’ve skimmed through a few biographies of Montgomery’s life, but have never found a satisfactory account of her outer life and inner life (think journals plus facts) combined until now. Rosenberg’s tone and writing style are just perfect for taking readers through the ups and downs of Montgomery’s life without sinking into melodrama. She writes about Montgomery with admiration and respect, but keeps her tone light and not overly passionate, as some biographers can be. House of Dreams is easy and enjoyable to read, suitable for young adults, and well researched. Also, Julie Morstad’s illustrations make me slightly giddy with their perfection.

Read Alouds

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster – We all laughed a lot in this book, but especially Ella (9), who understood the word play. Isaac (7) liked the story, but much of it was over his head. Since reading it, we’ve talked many times about how Milo, the main character, went from bored and in a hurry for no reason at the beginning of the book to curious and interested in everything by the end, and how much more he enjoyed life after his adventure.

Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink – Oh, this book. As I read this aloud to my kids, I remembered over and over again why it has kept a strong hold on my heart all these years. It’s such a perfect book – a mix of danger and adventure, complex yet lovable characters, compelling history, and relationships between family, friends, and neighbors. I choked up so many times reading it, and it’s not even particularly sad, it’s just that powerful. Brink is one of those amazing writers who doesn’t have to explain what the characters are feeling, but conveys deep emotions just the same. And let me tell you how much my kids loved it: after we finished it together, they immediately got the audio book from the library and began it over again. I call that a hit. Violet (4.5 going on 10) says it’s her new favorite. (Caveat: she has said that about The Secret Garden, The Boxcar Children, Pippi Longstockings, and many other books…she is a story lover to her core).

The Railway Children, E. Nesbit – We’re halfway through this one and we look forward to reading a chapter of it every day. I have to confess, I have never read E. Nesbit, as a child or grown up. This is a terrible, horrific oversight and 2019 will see a complete remedy of it. I’m thinking about watching the movie adaptation of The Railway Children when we’re done reading the book. Ideas on which version is best are appreciated!

And that wraps up the books that saw us through Winter, 2019! Of course, we read many, many picture books with the little two as well, but that’s another post for another time. I hope your winter was a good one and that spring treats you well and brings lots of sunshine and great books your way. Happy reading!

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