Children's Books

Our Favorite Slightly Spooky Books

It’s the week of Halloween, and if you’re like us, you like the dressing up part of the day and the candy part of the day, but not so much the spooky part of the day. I could use a yard sign that says “No Zombies Permitted” right about now. However, if you’re up for just a little dose of spookiness combined with a large dose of silliness in your picture books this week, Mercer Mayer has got you covered. Mayer’s books are the absolute top of the list for us when it comes to fun and funny books with slightly scary subjects. Just go right past the Little Critter books and you’ll find a goldmine.

Bat Girl Pumpkin Courtesy of Ella Harvell

Four-year-old Violet especially loves The Wizard Comes to Town at our house, and all of us are huge fans of the books There’s An Alligator Under My Bed and There’s A Nightmare in My Closet. The reason we like these so much is because Mayer pairs these traditionally scary creatures with spunky human characters in his books who smash the scariness of the creatures by the end of the book with their wit and no-nonsense manner.  Another crowd favorite is You’re The Scaredy-CatIn fact, Mayer has written and illustrated so many fantastic books that are slightly spooky but one-hundred-percent light-hearted and silly, the Mercer Mayer shelf at the library or bookstore is going to be all you need to fuel your reading this week. But if you have a minute, also check out Ben Hatke’s Nobody Likes a Goblin and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures.

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Here’s wishing you happy reading and a fun and silly, not-too-spooky week!

 

Everyday Life

Two Months From Christmas

Well folks, it’s October 25th, so the obvious question for all of us is: ready for Christmas? Got your shopping started? Began prepping the teacher gifts (you know how long that vanilla extract takes!)? Shopped for matching outfits for your kids’ Christmas photos? Deep cleaned your house so that the moment your fall pumpkins rot, you can whip out all the greenery and twinkle lights?

Good grief, October 25th, and it’s time to get pumped and do this thing or go home. It’s time to prepare for holiday magic, but I’m already preparing for holiday exhaustion.

Image result for vanilla extract homemade
Photo from Gimmesomeoven.com

Doesn’t the fact that we have to start preparing for Christmas in mid-October or set ourselves up for definite and absolute failure tell us something? Things have gotten out of hand. Twelve secret santas, four hundred teacher gifts, thirty-two holiday parties….I may be exaggerating, but only slightly. It’s all a bit much. And the crazy thing is, the things that are potentially my favorite parts of the holidays – Christmas gifts, Christmas home decor, holiday gatherings — are also the parts that stress me out the most. They’re both the detractors from holiday joy and the givers of holiday joy.

Or are they? Do I really expect them to bring me joy? Christmas epiphany: if I don’t already have joy from deeper, more imporant things, I won’t get it from the outer trappings of our cultural Christmas traditions. I’m the one who brings the soul joy I receive from a heart of worship and love for God and others to all of that extra, surface stuff.

So as we gear up for Christmas 2018, maybe what we shouldn’t be doing is soaking vanilla sticks in vodka for our vintage jar gifts (that was so 2016 anyway)…maybe we should be soaking our hearts in worship? Maybe it’s worship that will make my heart both tender and strong for all the love and joy I and you and all the rest of us are expecting to pour out when late December dances into our everyday lives and reminds us that hope has always been here and it’s here to stay. Maybe that’s why Thanksgiving always comes first. After all, worship starts in gratitude and humble awe. That’s why today, I’m choosing not to skip Thanksgiving in my holiday preparations. It’s easy to brush over it in favor of all the tasks Christmas brings to a person, and especially a parent, in this current holiday frenzied age. Yes, it’s October 25th, two months ’til Christmas, but it’s also four weeks ’til Thanksgiving. The real Thanksgiving can start today.

Preaching it to myself and sharing it with you, in hopes that our hearts and not just our homes are ready for Christmas 2018.

Everyday Life, Parenting

My One Answer for How to Homeschool with Littles

Taking a break from writing about books and book culture in our homes to answer this frequently asked question:

How do you homeschool with little ones always around?

Wait, I should be the one asking this question, right? I’m the new homeschool mom with little kids!  This is our 5th year homeschooling and my brain is finally catching on: “Ohhh. I should know this now…” Up until this point, my answer has been so unhelpful. A shrug and a “some days are better than others!” is all I’ve mustered because (1) I hate to sound like I’ve got it all figured out and (2) I don’t have it all figured out! But I do know this: We want to instill in our children a love of learning, the ability to learn for themselves, and the strength of character that comes through hard work and good relationships. Our ideal for our homeschooling days may be full of warmth and beauty, but the chaos that comes with babies, toddlers, and/or preschoolers wages war on our ideal. How can this ever work?

This is about what our homeschool life looks like every day. There are crumbs on the floor, a babbling baby at the table, and a conglomeration of papers, pencils, and crayons scattered everywhere. We are all together the whole time, from youngest to oldest, either at the kitchen table or at desks in our schoolroom, like a crazy one-room schoolhouse in 1858. How in this madness do we (a) learn together and (b) still like each other?? How do you homeschool with littles in the mix? I’ve thought and thought about how to answer this question, and I keep coming back to one over-arching practice in our family. I wish it were a quick fix, a busy bag solution or a magic scheduling technique, but it’s nothing very pinnable like that. It’s totally uncool because the word “longsuffering” comes to mind. But let’s leave out “longsuffering” and use the word commitment.” My one answer to homeschooling with Littles is an everyday commitment to practicing togetherness.

So fun and snappy, I know. And what does it even mean? Well, after Day One of my homeschooling career, I realized my ideal of one child doing schoolwork with me while one child played quietly with toys and another napped was never going to happen. That just doesn’t fly in the world of kids under age 5 who have to be touching me/each other all day every day or spontaneously combust. Right away, I could see there would be no separating small children from our schooling. But if these tiny people expected to be included in the homeschooling fun (and they did), they would have to also expect to BEHAVE. No interrupting, no whining, no singing songs that sound strangely similar to Benny and the Jets out of tune incessantly under their breath. I guess the idea became if they wanted to be treated like students, they would have to behave like students. It’s crazy to expect this from a two or three-year-old, right? Maybe, but after weeks of consistent (and sometimes frustrated) training, an amazing thing happened – they behaved. They could sit and listen to our read aloud, they could color and be quiet during history, and a lot of times they could even answer many of the same questions about the lesson that their older sibling(s) could. I was floored.

I’m not really sure in those early days if I had an epiphany about setting schooltime behavior standards or if it just sort of happened out of necessity, but I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re plunging into homeschooling with little ones in your home, or you’re already wading through it, maybe practicing togetherness—welcoming the younger children into the experience along with setting standards of behavior—could change your days as much as it changed mine. Separating them from our homeschool life certainly didn’t work for me! To make our home the peaceful and loving place I envision it to, I have to keep practicing this togetherness of welcoming the small ones into our school environment.

Crazily enough, now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think having someone like my four-year-old involved actually enriches the experience. For one thing, she is hilarious, and laughing is good for our souls. But more importantly, our family culture being built on shared narratives and histories gives us a lot to talk about and imagine further as we learn it all together. But that never would have happened if we hadn’t set some expectations at the beginning!

So that’s my answer, my one big homeschooling with Littles discovery – if you expect great behavior from them and teach them how to do that…well, some day, it might just happen. =) I realize so much of it has to do with what personalities I’m dealing with and my own upbringing (I was the oldest in a homeschool family). But because it’s worked so great for me, I figured I would give sharing it a shot, and finally give a straight answer to that frequently asked question!

And now for some more fun and snappy side notes I’ve learned to stick with along the way ~

  1. Keep hands busy – drawing, playing with play-doh, building with blocks, or other quiet thing will stretch an attention span beyond your wildest imagination. In fact, some studies show that busy hands make brains learn more easily! My oldest now likes to stay focused while she’s listening to lessons by taking notes, but up until this year, she was sketching or molding dough along with the others.
  2. Take it outside – literally, take all of it outside any chance you get. Little people are happier out of doors. Fact.
  3. Snacks are golden learning opportunities – while many homeschool families do their ‘morning time’ or cultural studies first thing, I find that a 10:00 gather round the table with a snack works best for us. We have a snack, read some poetry or listen to a composer/hymn or study a piece of artwork, do some literature or geography, read a Bible passage, and the whole time the little people are (relatively) happy because they have their little hands busy and bellies full.
  4. When you have a breastfeeding baby, find a favorite educational show. I know, I know, TV is a crutch, but some babies don’t eat well when there’s a lot of action around them. A 20-minute Wild Kratts or Wishbone gives just the right window for giving the baby a good feeding in the mid-morning, hopefully followed by a nap, and that  100% makes the rest of the morning go better.
  5. Share some responsibility – There are some things we just can’t do all together. During these times, we trade responsibility. One child is responsible for keeping the baby happy, while the other student is taught by the parent, and then we trade off. This works best if I set an expectation for how long and why I need one of the kid’s help, so that they can understand the important role they’re playing in our family and so that they don’t get frustrated with being asked to help when they feel like they should be having a break.

Family dynamics are unique and ever changing, but I’m pulling for you as you figure out what works best for your amazing family in your homeschooling journey. And if you have any epiphanies about what works for you, please share!

Children's Books, Uncategorized

Favorite Picture Books, September 2018

Hey friends! We’re battening down the hatches in the path of Hurricane Florence here, but we’re well inland and so our  concerns have more to do with adequate reading material and flashlight batteries. I hope any of you who are on the Atlantic coast are safe and sound at this point! Here’s some picture book ideas for you and the children in your life based on what my children are loving lately.

My kids and I have read Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still over and over since getting it from the library and we all love it. Gray’s succinct yet descriptive and exciting writing is perfect for telling this story to young audiences and Davenier’s whimsical illustrations put life and movement into the words on the page. Being a former gymnastics coach, I enthusiastically showed three of my children (ages 4, 7, 9) the videos of Comaneci’s perfect 10s in Montreal after reading the book, and even now with the heightened difficulty of today’s gymnastics, her routines are breathtaking. I’ve never done a study of Comaneci’s life as an adult, but now I am thoroughly interested! 

For preschool ages (and beyond, of course), Bear’s Bicycle is a hilarious picture book with very little text that had my four-year-old thoroughly amused. The illustrations of Bear’s expressions as he gets into increasingly bad biking situations are just perfect. We all give it two thumbs up.

For the board book readers, we recommend Bunny and Bee’s Favorite Colors this week and 18-month-old Lydia wants to read it over and over again. It’s one of those books that suspends reality entirely…why are two little toddlers dressed up in animal costumes, wandering the forest and living by themselves in a tree house?…but it’s cute and the illustrations are colorful and fun. There’s a fair amount of text on each page, but for Lydia there is enough to look at in the pictures for her to wait until I’m done reading each page before she eagerly turns to the next. We’ll be looking for more in the series on our next library trip!

Those are our recent fave picture books! Happy reading!

Quick Lit, Reviews

The Book You Need on Your Fall TBR (and a few other ideas, too)

Hey friends! Welcome to Quick Lit, where book loving bloggers come together mid-month over at modernmrsdarcy.com to share what we’ve been reading lately.

I read a few great books this summer, but there was one that stood up and said to me as I was reading it, “As wonderful as I am now, I’m really an autumn book, you know.” The book was “Dear Mrs. Bird,” and I adored it. It’s historical fiction, set in the middle of World War II during the London Blitz. The plucky heroine Emmeline Lake leaves her day job in pursuit of becoming a war correspondent. She finds herself shoved into a back office of a dying magazine as an assistant to the fearsome Mrs. Henrietta Bird, a once popular advice columnist. Emmy’s war effort takes on its own type of intrigue and danger as she attempts to do her part for England. Emmy is one of those characters who is an unquenchable friend, loyal and kind, and also drives her friends crazy with her impulsive actions. The book is both humorous and moving, compassionate and light but with the realities of war woven through it. The way A. J. Pearce wrote a book that is both modern and true to the 1940s time period is incredibly rare and special. I’ve read several books written in England during the war years, and Dear Mrs. Bird strikes just the right tone to fit in with books actually written in 1940-45. (And because sometimes it’s nice to know, this book is about a PG/PG-13 level when it comes to adult content – fairly clean, with some mention of adult themes, some language, and of course the war themes). I think this book will appeal to you whether you like new releases or classics or just love a good cast of characters.

A few other ideas for your Fall TBR:

If you like middle grade novels: The Orphan Band of Springdale is a new release that is very good. I would argue that it has themes that put it more in a 6-8th grade range. It’s one of those “children’s” novels that anyone can enjoy.

If you like vintage books set in England: Merry Hall has me in stitches. The narrator is terribly funny in a sarcastic, witty way and his observations, though bogged down with gardening tidbits in my non-gardener’s opinion, are on point. I’m reading this rare book for free here. Internet Archive is a goldmine.

If you have a baby in the house: My baby (17 months) loooves the book Who?: A Celebration of Babies.

If you like non-fiction: I’m both laughing at and moved by Jennifer Fulwiler’s book One Beautiful DreamIt’s her story of how she came to realize that pursuing her passions and callings while raising a young family was actually something she needed to do. I’m hoping she’ll explain how she does that, too, because there are only so many hours in a day… and can I just say that the cover of this book kind of makes me cringe, and I think that was the intention? Fulwiler’s honesty about her real life starts even on the very cover. I admire her courage to put that on her book instead of choosing a cover that would be more Insta-worthy.

If you’re looking for an important and insightful addition to your fall reading, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis is eye opening and informative. J.D. Vance writes about his upbringing among the working poor of America. Ideas about how the American dream has come and gone for certain regions in America were especially fascinating.

I’m putting Kind is the New Classy by Candace Cameron Bure on my Fall TBR because her interview with Jen Hatmaker on the For the Love podcast had me very interested in Bure’s ideas about moving our outrage culture towards a kinder culture. I’m one of those strange people who didn’t actually watch much of Bure’s television or movie career develop, so I can honestly say I feel compelled to read her newest book based on the premise of the book alone.

So that’s what I’ve been reading lately and plan to read soon! Our homeschool’s first day of is today, and I’m both excited and nervous about going deeper into this home educating journey with a fourth grader, second grader, Pre-K-er, and toddler. Any ideas on good books about long term vision in homeschooling? I’m all ears.

Happy reading!

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