Children's Books, Friday Favorites - Children's Books

Books to Read Just For Fun: Friday Favorites, Ed. 12

We had 7 days of 1st grade under our belts (“ours” because we’re homeschooling so we’re all in this together), when a fever struck poor Ella and a sick day was declared.  The good news is we had time to read a lot of fun picture books together that had nothing to do with anything. And now have some Friday Favorite fodder! Our favorite fun books this week are:

Victricia Malicia: Book-Loving BuccaneerVictricia Malicia, Book-Loving Bucaneer by Carrie Clickard is a great mix of boyish and girlish fun. We are always looking for these kinds of books with a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy in the house. Victricia is a young pirate who comes from a long line of seafarers, but declares herself to be a landlubber. It’s a fun, rhyming story perfect for bedtime –you will stay wide awake trying to keep your tongue untied!

The Duchess of Whimsy: An Absolutely Delicious Fairy Tale caught my eye at the library, with its fanciful The Duchess of Whimsyillustrations and crazy costumes. My kids love it for the pictures; I don’t think they understand a quarter of the words. It takes Fancy Nancy to task on increasing vocabulary. Whether you like it or not, it will leave you craving a big grilled cheese sandwich.

We’ve featured Shelley Moore Thomas’s Good Knight series before but A Good Knight’s Rest had us laughing harder than an of the others. The kids were laughing at the dragons’ antics and I was laughing in sympathy with the Good Knight who was just A Good Knight's Resttrying to find a restful vacation. Hint to the Good Knight: leave the little dragons (a.k.a children) at home.  I actually think this book might help a child see how ridiculous a dragon/child can be on a road trip. They may recognize themselves in the dragon who says, “I’m too squashed!” or the one who says, “Who at all the potato chips!” Maybe they’ll even turn themselves into great vacationers and tuck you into your bed when you finally make it home like the little dragons in the story do. Or maybe not. It’s worth a shot, though, right?

And finally, an oldie but goody, Don’t Forget The Bacon was in our recommended 246529reading for a unit study on attentiveness we’re doing right now, because who doesn’t want to start the school year drilling the words “attention” and “notice” into their children? I mean, sign me up! Pat Hutchins wrote and illustrated Don’t Forget The Bacon about a boy who is doing the shopping for his mom (yes, it’s that old of a book) and has a hard time remembering his mental list. I couldn’t help wondering if the mother in this book was sending a child out to do her errands who is so young, he couldn’t even read a list. Couldn’t you just write it down for the poor kid? I myself can’t remember more than 4 things I need to pick up at the grocery store and that’s all in the same place! But then I remembered “it’s just a book.” As a side note, the book uses the word “fat” a few times, which is another sign that it’s a bit dated, since that word is currently social taboo. It’s not meant to be insulting in this book, but I think it could hurt a child’s feelings if that word has been an issue in the past. Consider yourself warned.

I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of these books or all about the books your kids are loving these days (or loved long ago!). Leave a comment, and checkout the rest of the Friday Favorites series on our favorite children’s books of the week here!

Children's Books, Reading, Reviews

Books For Grown Up Fans of Louisa May Alcott

If you check out any books lists with the title, “Best Books of Childhood” or “Top 100 Classics,” you will find Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women somewhere in the top ten. I read the binding out of that book and Alcott’s many others when I was a young girl all the way through the teenage years. Then one cozy day close to a Christmas in my mid-twenties, I remembered the opening scene of Little Women, when Jo says, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” and I had an instant longing to get reacquainted with some of my favorite literary people of all time. I snatched the book off the prominent living room bookshelf, where it has sat for my entire adulthood, still a bit ragged and adorned with blue crayon thanks to a younger sister. I got through the first few chapters while fighting back the thought, “I should be enjoying this more. I love this book, don’t I?” The sad truth is, Little Women did not speak to me like it did when I was younger. Maybe it was the simplistic language or the situations I already knew so well but no longer related to, but I put the book down before even getting to the part when Amy burns Jo’s manuscript. It was a sad day.

Since then,  I’ve made it my mission to find books that grown up fans of Louisa May Alcott will love. I was so happy to find that these books do exist! And I’m constantly trying to find more. Here is my running list so far.

(Oh, and one of the best parts of this list is hat with the exception of The Blue Castle and Emily of Deep Valley, all of these books are free as e-books at Project Gutenberg. You’re welcome!)

MotherMother – I read this just last week and found it to be both sweet and relevant to today. Written by Kathleen Thompson Norris in 1911, it tells the story of Margaret, the oldest daughter of a large family who longs to get away from her small-town, family life and make something of herself. By a seemingly fairy tale twist of fate, she is whisked off as a secretary to New York City. As the story develops, Margaret becomes a modern thinking woman, and her mother seems to live a sad life. Margaret’s wisdom grows, however, and this book becomes a tribute to motherhood. It is old fashioned, and I loved ever bit of it.

A Girl of the Limberlost – If you have not discovered Gene Stratton Porter’s best novel, you must rush to read this classic right away! Elnora Comstock is one of my favorite literary characters. Though poor and unloved by her grief-hardened mother, Elnora’s strength of character and determination to learn despite the odds against her makes this novel a classic American coming-of-age story.

The Making of a Marchioness – Who knew the famous writer of The Secret Garden and The Little Princess also wrote for adults? Frances Hodgson Burnett’s adult novels still follow the trend of a poor girl finding unlikely happiness, which I don’t mind because it’s kind of comforting when you have expectations of a writer and your expectations are met.

The Blue CastleThe Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery’s best book for grown ups may feature a little too much rebellious spirit to be classified as Alcott-esque, but I’m pretty sure if you like Alcott’s books, you’ll like this one, too.

Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy – Jean Webster’s books are written as letters, so style-wise they differ a good bit from Alcott, but in character and theme, they are very similar.

And here are a few on my-to read list that I suspect will fall into this category as well.

Emily of Deep Valley by Maude Hart Lovelace

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Payson Prentiss

The Wide, Wide World by Susan Bogert Warner

(Why do all these writers have two last names?)

I hope you find something on this list that makes your Fall reading a delightful plunge back into old-fashioned books.

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Downton Look-Alikes

Everyday Life, Parenting

The Debris Of The Day

It’s 4:00 o’clock. The time when monsters come out.

Not really. But 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon is not the happiest time in my day. Rest time is over, the littlest one is done with her nap, and the dinner prep and clean up looms ahead. 4:00 o’clock should be the time when you sigh and tell yourself “Almost done.” But that’s just not true. Ever heard of “the witching hours?” Whether you like the term or not (and I try not to think too hard about it), there’s just no denying that when I  stand at the end of my time on earth and add up all my hours, late afternoons will undoubtedly be the doldrums of life.

Take today for instance. It was our second day of homeschooling in 1st grade, and it went ten times better than the first. Both the first grader and the preschooler were fascinated by the diagram of the inner ear we studied (is there anything more fulfilling than fascinated students? I think not). The complaining over writing vocab words went from 15 minutes to 5 minutes. And math (math!) was a cinch. Not to mention we read all kinds of books. It was nearly a per2015-06-23 08.21.16fect homeschool day. On top of that, I washed three loads of laundry, cleaned two bathrooms, vacuumed a room, kept up with a one-year-old, and stayed on top of the dishes. So maybe I’m crazy, but I really did think that when I surveyed the house and the children around me at 4:00 p.m. on such a smooth, wonderful day, my eyes would not be met with the molten lava of meltdowns and toys explosions. Yet there it sure was. A few words popped into my head when I looked around me at 4:00 o’clock today, and I found them strangely comforting. I took it all in and took a deep breath. “This is not my fault,” I whispered to myself in a soothing voice. “This is just The Debris of the Day.”

The Debris of the Day is one of my formerly unnamed triggers in the late afternoon that leads to irritability and a sense of exhaustion. The Debris of the Day makes me feel like all my work is for naught. Today, however, when I named it, I realized none of that is true. We live here. It’s a fact of the homeschooling or stay-at-home-mom life (and probably many other lifestyles I haven’t experienced!) that junk will surround you when you feel like the day should be winding down. The kids will be whining because they’re tired and maybe a little bored because you told them “no TV” (good for you!) and they want attention but you’ve got other things on your mind at this point. The glass doors will be smeared. The bathroom will have toothpaste stuck to the sink (and mirror? how the heck…). There will still be dishes (a few or a few meals worth!) in the sink because we have eaten here today. Books will be scattered hither and yon. All this is true for me, in one way or another every single day, but today I came to realize that The Debris of the Day is not a failure. It is just what a day brings right now in my house.

And it’s okay.

Deep breath. Say it with me. It is okay. Maybe we can call the kids, put on some music 2015-06-07 08.51.07(and a smile even?), and clean some stuff up. Maybe we can just send the kids outside and leave it be for a while during the dinner hours. However we handle this, we can decide that it’s perfectly normal and it’s okay for now.

And maybe tomorrow I’ll try not to think of it as debris. Debris makes it sound like a storm blew through, which is accurate enough some days, but not the most pleasant image in the world. Tomorrow, I might get all sappy and think of this crazy mess of emotions and stuff as The Proof of Life, or even The Proof of Life Abundant…or maybe not. One mental step at a time. Right now, I may not be too thrilled with the debris, but I can tell myself it’s not a failure in my motherhood, and it’s all going to be okay.

Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

Book Inhalation: Summer Reading Snippets, 2015 Edition

Are you soaking up the last days of summer this week? I am! We start first grade homeschooling in one week. It has been a truly awesome summer for our family. My husband has been busy with his new business, but way less busy than he was at this time last year. He’s been able to join us in our summer fun much more than in previous years. I love the days of waking up and throwing on a t-shirt and shorts (layering is too much work!), serving the kids breakfast in their playhouse,  watching them splash and play in crazy imaginative ways in our little kiddie pool on the back porch (which they can fill up themselves now…it’s almost like I’ve arrived), and so much more. Summer is my favorite.

And I have been reading a lot of books over the last few months, which also contributes to the awesomeness of this summer.  As soon as I put one down, I’m picking up another. Can you call that chain reading? I’m inhaling books these days, not stopping long enough to write a review or even process what I’m reading very well. I guess this is my version of summer binge TV watching. This book inhalation will slow down pretty soon (darn), but it’s been fun while it lasted. In the unintentional summer tradition of this blog, here is the 2nd  annual Summer Reading Snippets post.

Secrets of a Charmed LifeSecrets of A Charmed Life – My 2nd favorite book of the summer! I was totally spellbound by this book. I read this book in a 36 hour timespan. It’s very much like Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper, but shorter. One thing I really appreciate about this book is that while it is framed by a present day narrator, the bulk of the book is told in the past and does not flip-flop from past to present. I’ve come to deeply dislike all these books that transition every other chapter or so between past and present. Unless the writer is truly masterful, this format is jarring.  I like to get fully immersed in a story and setting. Secrets of A Charmed Life is a perfect beach read or curl up by the fire read. Just don’t plan on doing much else for two or three days! Five stars.

Henrietta’s War – A quaint mid-century British book that I loved. Full review here.

Ana of California – This is a pretty good YA book if you first put out of your mind the claim that it is a “modern day retelling of Anne of Green Gables.” It may be inspired by Anne of Green Gables, but that is the beginning and end of its ties to one of the best books ever written (okay, I am biased. I looove L.M. Montgomery).  None of the characters actually match up in personality between the old books and this “retelling.” Okay….so I obviously have some scornful feelings about the “retelling” claim, but I really did enjoy this book. The foster care background and the character development is well done, and I think it calls to light some important themes of caring for parent-less children and forgiveness. 3.5 stars. 

The Sound of GlassFalling Home and The Sound of Glass – I picked up Falling Home because it was all I could reach from the sofa one time when I was holding my sleeping baby at the beach house we rented in May. Thumbs down. However, The Sound of Glass, White’s most recent book, was pretty good if you like a good yarn. Her settings are always s. Her characters, especially the main characters, get a little predictable if you read more than a few of her books. My favorite book of White’s is still A Long Time Gone.  1 star and 3.5 stars.

The Persian Pickle Club – Another beach read, but it turned pretty well. I’ve never read Sandra Dallas’s work, but I found myself comparing The Persian Pickle Club to a Fannie Flagg book, kind of like Fried Green Tomatoes. 3 stars.

The Tilted World – I couldn’t finish this book about the Mississippi River flood in the 1930s and some very hopeless moonshiners. It was harsh and raw and great for readers who like Kenneth Follet. No stars because I didn’t finish it.

Saving Amelie – I cannot say enough good things about this Christian Fiction novel.  I don’t read a whole lot in this genre, but I’m glad I gave this book a chance. Set in Nazi Germany, it’s a look at the sanctity of all human life and how far from understanding that some people in this time era came. In light of recent debates on abortion in our country, this book hit even closer to home than usual, though it has more to do with treasuring children with disabilities than valuing them during pregnancy. 4 stars.

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)Code Name Verity – Young Adult fiction at its best! I loooved this book. Apparently, WWII was a theme in my summer reading. Oh, who am I kidding, it’s always a theme in my reading. I loved the creative journal format and the varying points of view that instead of making me infuriated, kept me guessing and led to some “aha!” moments in the plot. I’d read this again with my daughter when she reaches about age 15-16 in a heartbeat. 4 stars.

All The Bright Places – Two thumbs way, way down. YA at its postmodern worst. Do not read it. It’s being compared to The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s so much worse. That’s all I have to say about that. 1/2 star.

The Brontes Went to Woolworths – Erm…this is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. I can’t make sense of it at all. I think it’s supposed to be a comparison of three sisters who are like the Brontes but live in the 1940s. Their weird obsession with their current day stage actors just threw me off entirely. I don’t even know how many stars to give it.

A Spool of Blue Thread – Ann Tyler is an incredible writer. However, sometimes I get to the end of her books and go, “what was the point of that, again?” She’s an author I read for the beauty of her words and depth of her descriptions and characters, but not so much for the story. Tyler makes me think about writing and about how people live and think in every day life.

Garden Spells and The Peach Keeper – Here’s a conundrum: I like Sarah Addison Allen’s writing style, settings, and magical feel but I just don’t like her characters or the decisions they make. One might say they’re very human, but I’d say they’re often plain self-centered. Also, I end up skipping over many pages in her books when she decides to throw in a little romance because it is soooo cheesy and overly detailed. I guess the point is I get why people like her books, but I am not a fan. Yet. She may win me over someday.

Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel, #1)Doomsday Book – I am definitely finishing this book one day. It came due to the library when I was only a few chapters in (I got a little overly ambitious on one library trip and checked out too many books!). I read Blackout and All Clear by this author and really liked them.

Divergent – Always late to the dystopian lit parties, I’m in the middle of this one now. I’m not loving it, but I’m too involved to back out now.

I’m pretty sure this list doesn’t cover all the books I’ve read this summer, but those are  all I can remember right now. Even though I’ll be too busy to read as much as I have the past few months, I’m still a firm believer that Fall and Winter are the best times for reading. So, what have you read this summer? Anything I should put on my Fall reading list? I’m looking to get in a few more nonfiction titles and some classics.

Happy reading!