Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January Reads

January ended up being a pretty decent reading month for me, all things considered. It turns out that the first month of the year is one of the busiest for the person who is a director of a Classical Conversations community. It's time to re-register families for the coming year, hold informational meetings, figure out how to fill out 1099s for the first time, and the list goes on. I've been sticking to a pretty strict to-do list and just checking off the next thing. That said, the majority of the stack above are read-alouds - that's where most of my reading time ended up taking place. Personally, I read a couple books on my Kindle and one fairly good-sized series which was fantastic and a great way to end the month.

To recap our read-alouds, the two books leaning to the left in the photo above were actually December's read-alouds. They were all I finished in December (besides the big Bible reading project that I'm nearing the end of) and I never got a monthly wrap up for that month written. We finished Mr. Popper's Penguins and By the Great Horn Spoon this month. Mr. Popper's was a HUGE hit with my 7 year old. We read the book, we saw the play at our local children's theater, and he has the audiobook loaded on an ancient iPad and has listened to it several times. It's fun to look back and now and see when I had last read that book aloud (before he was born), so the 7 year cycle of repeating books is working out pretty good for me!

We also finished Sid Fleischman's By the Great Horn Spoon which tied more into the American History memory work that we are doing in CC this year. I admit, I wasn't sure about this book when it started. However, it did pick up about halfway through the book and by the end we were to the "just one more chapter, please!" and finished it up rather quickly. It was a great story as far as describing what it might have looked like for someone heading out to try their hand during the great gold rush.

In January, we finished The Prairie Thief by Melissa Wiley and Little House on the Prairie (and who all should know who that author is). :) The Prairie Thief was a just-for-fun read and requested by my 10yo girl - since she is the one that I seem to have the hardest time engaging with a read-aloud, I obliged her and we all enjoyed this one. (Again, this was another re-read, last enjoyed in 2012, so the girls would have been 4 and 5ish, and the boy not quite 2).

Little House on the Prairie was as reread for Natalie, who remembers it the first time we read it and has since read the series on her own at least once. Betsy didn't remember this at all ... and I have to say, I pick up different things every time that I go through the series, and especially the farther along I get into parenting. What a hard life it would have been to travel with three little girls with her husband to build a home literally from the ground up. And to read aloud Ma's feelings towards their Native American neighbors was not exactly pleasant, but we did have some good conversations about it. 

The last read aloud worth mentioning is The Hobbit which the boy and I read before bed off-and-on in December and January. It doesn't even need to be said how great a book The Hobbit is, but I might argue it's an even better read-aloud. So, so good.

On my Kindle this month, I read two books: The Boneshaker by Kate Milford and Lost and Found: Losing Religion and Finding Grace by Kendra Fletcher. I had such high hopes for The Boneshaker after I read Milford's Greenglass House books. As you might predict from the cover alone, it was a little creepy and I didn't love it. Lost and Found was a book that I've had on my wish list for years, and was able to buy for a steal as a Kindle version. I used to read Kendra's blog (Preschoolers and Peace) years ago when my girls where tiny. A year-ish ago she wrote this deeper work about her and her husband's shift in faith through some deep trials in their family and how they were drawn deeper to Jesus and from a works/checklist based faith. Her testimony in this book spoke to me, and I'm thankful I finally got the chance to read it.

The rest of the month was completely taken up with Brandon Mull's Beyonders series. Last summer I fell hard for his Fablehaven series, and decided to try this series featuring an older protagonist. I loved this series just as much! Where the main character in Fablehaven is a young teen girl and her younger brother, this series is focused on Jason, about 15, and how he becomes embroiled in Lyrian. He takes on a cause that he has no tie to because it's the right thing to do and becomes the unlikely hero of the tale and one well worth recommending. While I handed Fablehaven immediately off to my 12 year old, (and I'll be recommending the Beyonders to her as well), I'm excited about this series with a male hero for Ethan when he gets older.

Happy reading. :)

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Reading Anne in January

It's been a tradition for several years now, that my friend Carrie over at Reading to Know hosts an L.M. Montgomery reading challenge every January. I think I've participated almost every year ... some years I'm reading on my own, and a couple of those years, the kids and I have worked through a read-aloud together.

I'm hoping to pick up something by LMM this month and join in the challenge ... but I'm having major indecision on what to pick. So far I've:

  • reread the Emily series (2011)
  • Story Girl and The Golden Road (2012)
  • Jane of Lantern Hill (with the girls and my personal favorite for a LMM read-aloud with kids) and Rilla of Ingleside (2013)
  • The Blue Castle, Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat (2014) ... Mistress Pat has one of my favorite literary quotes ever and I always forget how much I love those two books.
  • The Story Girl and The Golden Road again, this time as a read-aloud (2015). The summer of 2015, I also did a re-read of the whole Anne series for the first time in FOREVER.
  • Anne of Green Gables, read aloud with the girls (2016)
I would love to do another read-aloud with my munchkins but with a 7 year old boy in the group, I don't think Anne is up his alley. (I do think he would love Jane of Lantern Hill! That's just a good, all-round fun story). I am would love a reread of Emily, but I'm also not sure I want to dive deep into a series right now when I have an imposing stack of things on my to-be-read list. 

I think I'm leaning toward A Tangled Web to start with and we'll see what happens after that. Classic LMM with quirky family characters that I remember being quite humorous. Based on my GoodReads account, I haven't marked that I've read in since I've started logging books there (2006), so I can also justify that it's time for a reread. :)

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

All the 2018 Thoughts

Happy 2018!

Our Christmas break has been a whirlwind around these parts. While we didn't travel, I realized today that (I think) there was only one day that I managed to stay home the entire day we have been on break. Not nearly enough hibernating for me! However, in spite of the busy-ness, it was a good break with lots of just-us family time, movies in the evening (we finished our annual watching of Lord of Rings / Hobbit movies, extended editions of course), and mornings without an alarm clock. We have reached the point where it's time to go back to school because we need more structure to our days!

I've spent some of the last week thinking about the coming year and where I think I need to put a little more focus and diligence. I hesitate to call them resolutions ... one, because as a New Year's Eve baby, on top of it being a new calendar year, it's also a new year around the sun for me. I just happen to be able to combine the two. :) There will always be books that I want to read in the coming twelve months (or revisit) and new promises to snack less and drink more water, but I've had a word stuck in my head and on my heart for several weeks now, and it's something I want to pursue in the coming months. The word JOY has been on the forefront and I want to be conscious of it in my own life (instead of tending to be a glass-half-empty person) and how can I cultivate that in my life (spiritually, physically, emotionally ... and all the other -ally words). :) This isn't something that I can make lots of lists about - my preferred method of working on something and getting it done! But I'm excited to keep this in the forefront of my mind and heart and work on a new perspective in several areas.

Here's to a new year, a fresh clean calendar (for now), and the promise of what's to coming the next twelve months!

Of note: JOY was apparently my word of the year in 2009. I guess it's the season to revisit this one again! :)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

2017's Favorites

One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is to look back over the books that I've read and remember what stood out to me as the really good ones. The ones that I went and added to my shelf if it was a library copy. Or the ones that I finished and went and told one of my girls "you have to read this RIGHT now."

What follows are my top ten (plus one bonus, of course) from 2017. They are in no particular order - I decided to just blog them in the order that the pictures uploaded so I didn't have to rank them!

Just to give you some idea of numbers, here's what I tallied up from this year:
  • I read 70 total books this year.
  • 24 of those (34%) were read-alouds. (We did a LOT of reading aloud.)
  • 11 of those were ones that I read aloud with just Ethan in the evenings. 
  • 8 of those (11%) were non-fiction.

Bark of the Bog Owl by Jonathan Rogers. This was one of the read-alouds that I did with Ethan in the evening and I LOVED it. Sarah Mackenzie has raved about this author and series on her podcast and after reading book one of this trilogy, I can see why. I'm not going to spoil it for you (Sarah didn't for me!), but it's an allegorical tale done so well and so cleverly that it wasn't until about half-way through that I started putting the pieces together. This has been our go-to gift book for our boy friends that are 8-9 years old and upwards this year.

Sally & Nathan Clarkson's book Different was one that I really needed this year - encouragement as we homeschool and parent some munchkins that would fall in to the category of "out of the box" kids. (She defines that as a child that doesn't fit the mold or expectation of how a child should learn and behave whether it is because of a larger than life personality, a learning struggle, clinical diagnoses of some kind, or a combination of any and/or all of the above.) It was very timely for me and I've recommended to several friends who have munchkins wired the same way as one of ours.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. Delightful and magical and wonderful. The story of three children all tied together by a single item. Just read it if you haven't. Why I haven't purchased a copy of this for our shelves yet, I do not know, but I'm rectifying this ASAP.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. This was my fun, guilty pleasure reading this year. For the fantasy fan or Harry Potter enthusiast that needs another series, I highly recommend this one. This was one of those books that I finished and immediately hunted down N2 (age 11) and said you MUST read this. And she might be getting the whole series under the tree this year. Completely creative storyline and a perfect series for junior (or YA) reader that love fantasy. 

Greenglass House (and Ghosts of Greenglass House) by Kate Milford. This is where my bonus book comes in. I've owned Greenglass House on my Kindle for ages, but I finally picked it up this fall and started reading it. It's a ghost story, but it doesn't go the way you think. Another one that I think my girls would all LOVE and I'm contemplating a read-aloud of it in the spring. (But I enjoyed reading this one on my own because I couldn't put it down and when you read-aloud you have to go slower!) When I finished the first book, I immediately got the second one on my Kindle and am hoping to read more of Kate Milford in 2018. I love authors that make you want to find all their books and read them all!

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I bought this pretty copy last year for Christmas and it's a book that is worth rereading every few years. It just gets better with age.

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton. This was another new author to us this year and one that we fell in love with. To repeat what I wrote back in January when we finished this one: this is a delightful stand-alone story that was recommended to me by a fellow homeschooler on Instagram. It is a blend of nonsense and wordly wit that reminds me of the great Roald Dahl.  (High praise, indeed!) There were so many lines that I wanted to go through and flag so that I could read them to my grammar class that I teach in our Classical Conversations community - fantastic uses of alliteration, rhyme, -ly adverbs, etc. The author is a crazy, talented illustrator in her own right AND is the sister in law of Andrew Peterson, author of another of my favorite series, The Wingfeather Saga. So many good signs that pointed to us loving this book. And we did. Highly recommend as a read aloud and for your library.

Note: We also read Jennifer Trafton's newest book, Henry and the Chalk Dragon, and loved it as well. (But Mount Majestic was my favorite). :)

Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie. If you don't have this book in your homeschooling arsenal, why not? I've blogged about this book some here and revisited again this year. I took away from it something completely different this go round (a reminder that teaching from my strengths v. what I see others doing is always the better choice). Sarah has a new book coming out in 2018 about reading aloud and y'all know how I feel about that. 

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. This ended up being one of my absolute favorite read-alouds of our year! I picked this one this past spring because we needed a "boy" book thrown in our rotation. I was dreading it because I remember the old Disney movie from when I was a kid (and how I had bad dreams about the shipwreck at the beginning of the story!) By the time we got to the horse race at the end of the story we just had to read through to the end! 

The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong. Last in the list and another surprise read-aloud favorite. I picked this one because I'm eventually going to read all the books that have one the Newbery Award. We were captivated by the school children of Shora, a small Dutch town that doesn't have any storks. The children of the school want to know why the storks don't land and nest in Shora anymore and it turns into a project that pulls the children, and eventually the town, together.

There you have it. :) The best of 2017. I'm already plotting what I want to read next year - definitely more non-fiction. I have several books that I've bought and started or are just waiting to be picked up that I'm eager to get to. What was your favorite book of 2017? I might need it add it to 2018's list as well!

PS. I've edited and updated our Family Read-Aloud List up through 2017, and my full list of what I read in 2017 if you're interested in all the books. :)