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. :)

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

November 2017 Reads



My reading stack for November. It was a light month for me as far as books go. I've got a big project that I'm working on book wise and it will probably take me through the end of the year (more on that in a minute).

We'll start with read-alouds. The boy and I finished Prince Caspian as our bedtime read-aloud last month. We are slowly but surely making our way through the Narnia books - if I'm counting right, this is my third time through reading them aloud. We were going to jump into The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but we have taken a slight detour (though a worthwhile one) and he and I are reading The Hobbit together right now. Just so you know, The Hobbit is so much FUN to read aloud. This is the first time that I've ever done that and I think it's easier to follow when I'm reading it aloud versus reading it to myself. And, since Ethan has watched the movies (4th child with older siblings problem), he can ask if this is the part with the ring or Gollum or the goblin cave and is following along just fine.

The other read aloud we finished in November was our school-time read, Little House in the Big Woods. N2 (my 11 year old) remember much of the story from when we read aloud several years ago (and has read it on her own since then), but I'm not sure how much B remembers. She would have been 3 when we originally read it! Ethan hung in with this "girl" book pretty well ... there is a lot of Pa in this book so that helped. We'll see how he feels when we get to something like These Happy Golden Years. :)

As far as personal reading, I read Emily Ley's book, A Simplified Life. I enjoyed this book - Emily has a very friendly and encouraging writing style as she walks you through ten different areas and ways to simplify your life. I think I need a book like this every so often to remind me that it's ok to let go of things (clutter does not equal joy) and where I can tighten up ship around here in other ways. The book also has blank pages if you need workbook space to work through your simplifying needs and strategies. I haven't used those but those could be a great tool for a wife and/or mama that is completely overwhelmed and needs even more help on where to start.

The other book I have read this month is an advanced PDF of Kristen Kill's book Finding Selah. I read this book in one sitting (started it on my phone at gymnastics on night - my least favorite way to read ever!) and I am eagerly waiting my advance copy to get here so I can highlight in it. I became aware of Kristen when she began co-hosting Sally Clarkson's podcast with her and was eager to read her writing since Sally (one of my top homeschool mama mentors) thinks so highly of her. Her writing is lovely and I hope to share more on this one later.

The other big reading project that I've been working on - and the reason my book stack is so small - is that I've challenged myself to read through the whole Bible this Christmas season. Instead of a chapter a day, I'm getting through as many as I can with the goal of absorbing and taking in the big overarching scope of the Bible. I have read through the whole Bible before as a year long project, but if you are like me, by the time you get three-fourths of the way through, it's a little harder to find those connections with what you read at the beginning. Plus, I love to spend time also doing in depth verse by verse studies of certain books ... again, well worth my time, but hard to get the feel of the book as a whole. Which is what it is - one whole book, subdivided into different books but with one overarching theme and story that it is telling. I've just finished up 2 Samuel this morning and am about to dive into the lives of the kings of Israel and Judah. I can't wait!

November in a nutshell! I foresee December's stack will be small with my Bible project, but I'm sure there will be a read-aloud or two to share in a few weeks. :)

Friday, December 01, 2017

Making Advent Harder Than It Needs to Be


Apparently, I'm not the only one that makes things harder than they need to be! After hitting publish on that last post, I thought of several areas where this is glaring at me right now. (I'm sure there are others, but two are in the forefront of my mind right now.)

The first is Advent.

I realize that it is December 1 today and if you are like me you have been inundated with Advent every where you turn for the last few weeks. Daily activities for children. Countdown calendars. Devotional books for adults. Devotional books for children. Jesse tree projects. Christmas book projects. And, on and on. There are just so many options - good options - that it gets overwhelming. And I tend to think that I need to reinvent the wheel every year and if we don't do all the things I will fail my kids utterly.

That's really not true. (Whew.)

I am giving myself permission to keep out Advent simple. For the most part, I'm not planning on buying anything new. (Except for the chocolate Advent calendars ... last year's were eaten). :) I'm reading an Advent devotional that has been on my Kindle for at least a year (maybe two) and I've never read it. We are going to read all our Christmas story books without wrapping them. And that's really as far as I've thought about it. Micromanaging our month is not just stressful, but it's not really all that fun either. Most of the things that would probably be on my "want to do" list happen naturally without needing to make a note that we are making gingersnaps on the 8th of December no matter what unfolds on that day's schedule.

December always seems to hold a magic of its own and when I overplan and overschedule, I tend to miss it. And for me, instead of December being about all the extra activities, it is about the margin that comes to our schedule because of the break from Wednesday night church and gymnastic practices and music lessons. It's more nights at home and time to make a real dinner as opposed to eating quesadillas over the stove as I cook them up for everyone before heading out the door. Margin to take a meal to someone that needs it, or for those one-on-one shopping trips with a child that usually always includes a trip for coffee or a donut.

Maybe that's where I've been getting it all wrong ... focusing on the more, more, MORE that comes with December instead of embracing less. Less stuff, less going, less "me, myself and I" this month. I think this is the direction I'm going to head this way for this year.