Friday, May 25, 2018

Summer Reading Challenge 2018 (with BOOK LISTS!)

(but first - a friendly disclosure that there a lot of Amazon affiliate links dropped here.
If you click through and buy any of my recommendations I get a few pennies.
Your generosity allows me to continue buying good books (umm... and nerf bullets...) for my family.  Thank you <3)


Also, gone are the days of lovely and edited photos here.  The pics here are straight from my ghetto phone.  It was either that or edit and beautify photos and publish this post in September.  I chose bad pics and post now!


It's that time of year again where we're transitioning into our "summer school" months of homeschooling.  Since the beginning we've been year-round homeschoolers.  It's because I'm often lax and my kids are not child prodigies and so we're always a bit behind in some subject or another.  And it's also because we all benefit from a having some daily expectations and tasks that have to be done each morning before enjoying the busyness or laziness of the summer day ahead.  

Even though we "school" in the summer, it looks very different than the way things are the rest of the year.  The Summer Reading Challenge is one of those differences.  Last year was the first year I proposed the Challenge and it was wildly successful.  The three big kids read more than I ever imagined they would! Dominic (who has dyslexia) gained an enormous amount of confidence and pride in himself as well as a growing enjoyment of reading, and Ruth improved by leaps and bounds and became a "real reader" - the kind that reads even when it's not required ;)  

In last summer's Challenge, the kids got to choose a box of cereal for each book they completed.  They read a lot and we had boxes of sugary cereal flying everywhere.  It was a bit crazy.  But it really was a key motivator and a real treat for the kids to have a special breakfast cereal that was entirely their own.  I kept the same reward for this summer but instead of a box of cereal for each book, I'm using a point system.  I've written in the front covers whether the books are worth 1,2,3, or 4 points.  They can choose a box of cereal for every 3 points they earn.   I'm happy with this change because it allowed me to choose books of varying lengths and difficulties for each child and assign the points accordingly.  Without the point system, I may have skipped some titles that are entirely worth reading but are not quite worth a whole box of cereal ;)  

Like last year, I chose the books again.  I chose more this year, giving each kiddo a wider variety to choose from.  They get a basket full of their options.  I sit down with each of them one on one and go through the titles, often reading the summary and teasers on the back, and chatting about which books they think they'll pick and what they might want to read first.  I sometimes encourage them to read the first few pages of a book they're unsure about and I always let them set a book aside if it's not grabbing them.  It is supposed to be fun after all :)

I'm always happy to share book lists and recommendations here, so of course I've got the Summer Reading Challenge lists for you!  I spend a lot of time previewing books and reading reviews for content.  I'm pretty particular.  Ok, I'm downright picky about what they read.  A lot doesn't get past my filters.  I have not personally read  every book that I've given to my kids to read, but if I haven't read it, I've done everything else possible to assess it's appropriateness (in terms of themes, language, behavior of characters, etc... as well as reading level).  I feel pretty confident recommending all the titles here, but as in everything, parents have to determine what meets their own standards and what's ok for their own kids, right?!    

In terms of reading level, I know how maddening it can be trying to figure out if your "3rd grader" is reading what another mom's "3rd grader" is reading and what the *bleep* is a 3rd grade reading level anyway!?!?!!?! Anyway, your 3rd grader might be (probably is) reading what my 6th grader is reading now (remember, we have no advanced geniuses here...) There truly is no common standard among publishers and reviewers and you never know what you're going to get when you see something is a "___ grade reading level."  (My blood pressure is rising steadily even as a  write this...)  Add into the mix my Dominic, who is obviously a bit behind in his reading abilities but who doesn't want to read content intended for "little kids."  It's sometimes a crazy (but such fun) challenge finding reading material that fits his age, interests, and ability.  So, we're all over the board here in terms of reading levels and books that I'll "allow."  But here's a quick point of reference so you can better understand who the lists have been tailored for and how they might be able to work for you:

Aaron is 12, going into 7th grade.  He most recently finished the Tolkien Lord of the Rings trilogy and On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, (Andrew Peterson.)

Dominic is 10 1/2, going into 6th grade (dyslexic, improving in reading with his great, great tutor, Miss Lynn!)  He's most recently read  Frindle  (Andrew Clements), and a couple Boxcar Children mysteries.  

Ruth is 8, going into 3rd grade.  She's been blowing through the Ramona series as  her read-upstairs-in-bed books, and she recently finished Little House in the Big Woods as her "downstairs" book.  

Clare is 6, going into 1st grade.  She's still learning some letter sounds and does bits of All About Reading's pre-reading program as well as Level 1.  Basically, she doesn't read.......

(in no particular order, points in parentheses)

For Aaron:

The Stolen Train, Robert Ashley (2)
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle (3)
The Borrowers, Mary Norton (3)
Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright (3)
Annie Moore, First in Line for America, Eithne Loughrey (2)
By the Great Horn Spoon, Sid Fleischman (3)
Escape from Warsaw, Ian Serraillier (3)
Lost on a Mountain in Maine, Donn Fendler (1)
Young Canaller, Gerry Stafford (1)
Call It Courage, Armstrong Sperry (1)
The Mitchells: Five for Victory, Hilda von Stockum (3)
The Trumpeter of Krakow, Eric Kelly (3)
The Winged Watchman, Hilda von Stockum (3) 
Nicholas Gilroy: Our Lady and the Guardian, Father Stephen and Deacon George (1)
The Borrowed House, Hilda von Stockum (3)
32 Days: A Story of Faith and Courage, Ellen Lucey Prozeller (1)

For Dominic:

Mary Jemison, Indian Captive, Jeanne LeMonnier Gardner (3)
Freedom Crossing, Margaret Goff Clark (3)
Ranger in Time, Danger in Ancient Rome, Kate Messner (2)
Here We All Are, Tomie DePaola (1)
The Secret Valley, Clyde Robert Bulla (2)
Shepherds to the Rescue (Gospel Time Trekkers), Maria Grace Dateno, FSP (1)
The Whisper in the Ruins, Lisa M Hendey (3)
The Chestertons and the Golden Key, Nancy Carpentier Brown (2)
Twenty and Ten, Claire Huchet Bishop, (2)
Cabin in the Snow, Deborah Hopkinson (1)
Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder (4) 
Escape by Night: A Civil War Adventure, Laurie Myers (2)

For Ruth:

The Secret Soldier: the Story of Deborah Sampson,   Ann McGovern (1)
Daisy Dawson is on Her Way, Steve Voake (2)A Fine Start: Meg's Prairie Diary (My America), Kate McMullen (2)Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder (4) The White Stallion, Elizabeth Shub (1/2 pt) 
The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, Alice Dalgliesh (1)
Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie, Peter and Connie Roop (1/2 pt) 
Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry (3) 
Runaway Ralph, Beverly Cleary (3)
In Aunt Lucy's Kitchen, Cynthia Rylant (2) 
Besty-Tacy, Maude Hart Lovelace (3) 
In Grandma's Attic, Arleta Richardson (3) 
The Night Crossing, Karen Ackerman (2)
26 Fairmount Avenue, Tomie dePaola (2)
Prairie School, Avi (1)
My Father's Dragon, Ruth Stiles Gannet (2)

For Clare:

Various titles from the Flyleaf Publishing Books for Emergent Readers.
You can read my review of Flyleaf's Emergent Readers and Decodable Literature here.

Finally, I have high hopes for lots of read-alouds this summer.  I've been forgoing reading out loud lately in favor of knitting, so it will take some discipline on my part ;)  I haven't decided what I'll read, but we have lots lying around the house so I have a great stack of my own to choose from.  Some contenders are:
The Family Under the Bridge,   Natalie Savage Carlson
Tumtum and Nutmeg,  Emily Bearn 
Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfeild 
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (this would be the first time for the girls, so that would be super fun!) 

And, we have our Audible account locked and loaded full of stuff, so lots and lots of audio favorites are on the summer book menu too :)  

What are you and your kiddos reading this summer?  

* * * * * * * 


Exhausted Mom Syndrome, Narnia Read Alouds, 

and Why I Was a Big Fat Crying Blubbering Mess Today








Friday, December 1, 2017

A Book List for (last minute!) St. Nicholas Day Giving

The great thing about this list is that these books are available through Amazon Prime, and even if you've sort of let Advent creep up on your again, you can STILL manage to get these in time for St. Nicholas morning (Dec 6, btw...)  (Thanks for clicking through and using my affiliate links.  I get a few pennies if you buy something, and by book-loving family thanks you <3) 

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Do you give your children books for Christmas?  Yeah, us too!  We also give each of our kids one or two books for St. Nicholas day - usually a book to add to our collection of picture books about saints, and another to add to our Advent/Christmas book collection.  

I love it when we pull out our holiday books each Advent!  It's such fun to look through all the favorites we haven't seen for nearly a year!  We've been collecting books for a while now, and I've got a few new titles that we particularly like that I thought I'd pass on to you :)   (Also, PLEASE check out this post on our favorite Advent/Christmas book from a couple years ago, as the books listed here are have only been added to our collection in the last two years and there are many other great titles in my previous lists <3 )  

Picture Books About Winter and Christmas 

Ooh, I sure do love a pretty picture book!  I've already written once about a book by Teagan White (check out THIS POST, or THIS BOOK) and she's done it again with the beautifully illustrated Mice SkatingThe illustrations are so sweet, and Lucy the mouse knits hats for her friends and fashions handmade ice skates out of pine needles.  I mean seriously, she's like me if I was a rodent in a picture book......  erm..... anyway....
Anyway, the story by Annie Silvestro is as sweet as the illustrations, and I think you and your kids will love its celebration of the joys of winter <3  

Finding Christmas, Lezlie Evans.  This is a lovely story, sort of reminiscent The Fourth Wise Man, or Papa Panov's Special Day (both of which we also love!). This book (again, delightful illustrations of woodland critters!) speaks to the joy of generosity.  It has an overtly Christian theme, and indeed, includes Christ's exhortation "whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me," at the end of the book.  

Christmas Farm , Mary Lyn Ray.  Well, how have I not heard of this one before?!?  It's simply lovely!  It tells the story of the care of a Christmas tree farm, a chore shared by an older women and her young five-year-old neighbor.  It's just delightful!  And the double spread illustrations of the farm and rural life are beautiful!

Babushka: A Christmas Tale, Dawn Casey.  I love the legends of Russian Babushka and Italian Old Befana, so we have several books about her :)  This is our latest and it doesn't disappoint.  It's fun to get different author's and illustrator's takes on the story!  

Mr. Willowbby's Christmas Tree, Robert Barry.  Oh man, this book is funny.  James (who is almost 4 this year, but was almost 3 last year) asked to read it nearly ever day during Advent.  It begins with the wealthy Mr. Willowby's impressive tree... that doesn't quite fit in the hall.  Bits of the tree make their way through the servants quarters, the local wildlife, and back into Mr. W's home where the very very tiptop decorates the home of the mice in the wall.   It's cute ;)


Room for a Little One, Martin Waddell.  This is a lovely gift for little ones in board book format.  The illustrations are soothing and pretty - animals gathering in the stable one by one, and even though it's full, there's enough room for The Little One.  

Apple Tree Christmas, Trinka Hakes Noble.   My daughters especially love this story.  It's an old-time, feel good, down-on-the-farm story about the beloved family apple tree and the year it doesn't survive the winter (hmmm, should I have put a "spoiler alert" there???)


A Dozen Silk Diapers, Melissa Kajpust.  Now I have to be fair here and tell you up front that there doesn't appear to be Prime shipping available for this title, but it's still worth checking out and you could get it in time for Christmas morning if you'd still like to buy it :)  This book -- delightful story and illustrations - is another favorite with my little kids.  I even like it, and I don't particularly care for spiders (main characters here...) ;), but quite frankly, it's hard not to like arachnids when they're caring for the Holy Family <3  

Cobweb Christmas: the Tradition of Tinsel, Shirley Climo.  Spiders again.  And tinsel, which I make it a habit to avoid as well.  And yet, even I can read this story without cringing!  Tante cleans her home thoroughly to prepare for Christmas, but Kris Kringle lets the spiders back in!  Ack!

The Gift of the Christmas Cookie - Sharing the True Meaning of Jesus' Birth,  Dandi Daely Mackall.  This is a sweet story about a boy and his mother who practice generosity even though they themselves have barely anything to give.  

The Story of Holly and Ivy, Rumer Godden.  This is an absolute classic by one of my favorite authors ever.  And one of my favorite illustrators, for that matter (Barbara Cooney).   It's a real heart-warming story of finding love and family - the best fulfilled Christmas wishes <3  (It's a longer story, maybe not the type of picture book you could finish in one sitting with some kids, but it's worth a few nights of reading!)  


Christmas in Noisy Village,  Astrid Lindgren.  My kiddos are Pippy Longstocking and Children of Noisy Village fans, so this Christmas story is a holiday favorite.  The Noisy Village kids know how to prepare and keep Christmas, for sure - Gathering firewood, baking, decorating, feasting and partying, with nary a TV holiday commercial or Toys R' Us SALE flyer in sight!  It's perfect :) 

The last two titles here are books that I bought for my older boys, who still enjoy listening to picture books while curled up on the couch (be still my heart!) but who also will grab a holiday book and read to themselves.  Curled up on the couch ;)  But these books aren't just for big kids.  Everyone enjoys them, especially as they're true stories <3  

Christmas in the Trenches,  John McCuthceon.    


I KNOW you'll find some treasures here, books your family will look forward to pulling out of storage each Advent!  I've made lots of other fun book discoveries lately (especially a few new series for my big kids) so if all the stars align, maybe I'll be writing another book lists again soon :)  They are, after all, some of my favorite things <3  

Have a blessed Advent and a happy (book-filled!) St. Nicholas Day!  

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

That Day Last September When I Saved the Summer

In many ways I felt like last summer was a bust.  I was somewhat distracted with my recently re-opened Etsy shop.  We had just enough camps and activities on the books that it made it tricky to just hop in the car and go to the park for a day of roaming and exploring.  We usually go to the creek several times every summer, but last year a friend's son got a leech in the water and I could never bring myself to go back there.  We even skipped our long-standing tradition of going to the opening day of the county fair because it was 95 degrees and just, nope.

It was sort of a blah summer - reflected in both our lack of really enjoyable family time and my mood.

In early September we went on a field trip with other families from the study center to see the tall, historic sailing ships in port in Erie, Pennsylvania, a two hour ride from our home.  I'm not naturally spontaneous or fun-loving but I knew this was an opportunity to do something for my kids to "redeem" the humdrum summer we had had.  I told everyone to bring an extra set of clothes (because you might get wet while touring the ships...??)  I packed up lunches and water and snacks and we left early the next morning to meet up with our group in Erie for the tour.  

It was awesome!  We loved the ships and hearing about their sailing from the crew.  I think Aaron especially enjoyed it since he and I had recently watched a few episodes of  Horatio Hornblower :) We enjoyed our lunches with our friends and were finished with the last tour around 1 in the afternoon. It had been a blistering hot day - lots of sweating and re-hydrating while waiting on long lines in full sun.  We were all sticky and uncomfortable and couldn't wait to get in the air conditioned van. The kids thought we were headed home but I surprised them with a spontaneous trip to the beach at Presque Isle.  

I can't tell you how much enjoyment I received from their surprise and delight.  Mom, are you really taking us to a beach??  You're going to let us take our shoes off??  Can we walk in the water???  We know you'll probably say no, but can we swim??  They about fell over when I said yes.  I wasn't acting like myself at all.  They could hardly believe that I would  let them swim and get sandy in their clothes.  Oh!!!!  This is why you told us to bring extra clothes!!!!   I hadn't even brought towels.  They just swam and jumped and ran and splashed until everyone really was getting tired (it had been a really long day).  Even then, it was hard to convince them to get out and dry in the sun.  They were water logged.  And you can imagine the amount of sand in their underwear ;) Everyone changed into their dry clothes in the back of the van - sand and dirt flying everywhere - me trying to remain calm and in my happy-go-lucky-summer-state-of-mind.  We even hit up the ice cream stand before leaving the peninsula.  I taught my kids about ordering extra sprinkles for when the you've licked the first layer of sprinkles off your cone.  We pulled up back at home well into the evening and stayed up late telling Dad about the day and eating pizza in the driveway as the sun set.  

The kids still talk about that day.  I still think about it regularly.  It was the day that made last summer amazing.  For me, at least.  I intentionally let go of so much of my uptight, plan-everything-to-a-T ways, and we had an unforgettable day.  It meant so much to me to be able to give that to my kids, it's hard to really convey how important it was to me in words.  But I've always wanted to share some photos from that day.  They're a souvenir of one of my favorite days ever.  And they're a reminder of the sheer joy it was to make my children so very happy with a few simple "spontaneous" changes to the plan :)

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