Saturday, August 6, 2016

Quick Lit {July 2016}

I've always thought that summers are made for reading.  I've been trying to finish up a class I've been taking, and instead of climbing into my reading chair after the kids are in bed to read a good book, I've had to sit at a desk trying desperately to stay awake enough to finish assignments.  I did, however, manage to sneak in a few:  

And Then There Were None

Written by Agatha Christie

Ten individuals are invited to a mansion on a secluded island only to discover that their host is nowhere to be found.  A recorded message is played accusing each guest of having killed someone in their past.  There is no way to escape from the island, and one by one, the guests are killed.  Interesting mystery that had me guessing throughout the book, but one that I wasn't able to solve.  I had hoped that it would be a bit more of a thriller, but still enjoyed it.
My Rating: 4/5

Salt to the Sea

Written by Ruta Sepetys

A young adult historical fiction narrative following a group of refugees trying to escape East Prussia and the Soviets invasion.  Heartbreaking experiences and secrets haunt them as they do everything within their power to fight their way to freedom and safety.  Beautifully written story of the power of the human spirit.  I have read a lot of World War II historical fiction, but had never heard any stories about the Wilhelm Gustloff or any of the other ships carrying refugees.  Definitely a page turner, and one of the most interesting ones I have read this year.  Highly recommend.
My Rating: 4.5/5
This book is written for young adults, but I would hesitate recommending it to young teenagers due to references to rape and other war atrocities.

The Child Whisperer

Written by Carol Tuttle

Carol Tuttle has spent a lot of time researching in the field of energy profiling, and applies her knowledge of different personalities and temperaments to specific childhood situations in The Child Whisperer.  During the description of each of the personalities and how they relate to the world (socially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually), I was able to relate her descriptions to each of my children, and it really helped me be able to see them in a different light.  She really helps the reader understand the gifts that each personality has to offer, and how to let them live true to themselves.  I am normally not a fan of parenting books, but found this one to be helpful.  I didn't agree with everything, but was able to gain some great insights about how to help all of the different personalities in my family.  My sister-in-law has also been reading it, and we've had a great time discussing it.  Perfect for a book club setting.  
My Rating: 4/5

Consider the Blessings

Written by Thomas S. Monson

This was a great collection of stories told by Thomas S. Monson from over the pulpit throughout his many years serving in church leadership for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Each of the stories was an example of God's love for his children and the blessings He sends.  I have always loved his stories, and come away uplifted after hearing them.  This book is one I would like to read as a family.
My Rating: 5.0/5

The Maze Runner

Written by James Dashner

I've been meaning to read The Maze Runner for years, and after a recent glowing recommendation from my teenage nephews, decided to finally read it.  Thomas enters the glade with no memory except for his name.  The new community of teenage boys that he has entered into makes no sense to him, and no one around him is much help in figuring it out.  All he knows is that he wants to be a maze runner, and is determined to find a way out.  Definitely a lot different than I was expecting.  Slow pace at first, but picks up at the end.  It isn't my favorite book, but the ending has left me wanting to continue reading the rest of the series.
My Rating: 3.5/5

What did you read this month?  Be sure to leave a comment with any books that you've been enjoying lately!  

Happy Reading!


Friday, August 5, 2016

New Releases {July/August 2016}

This last month was a fun month for new releases in children's books for us!  Here are a few that we enjoyed!

  Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?

Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Released August 2, 2016

Both the Mercy Watson series and the continued Tales from Deckawoo Drive have been hits at our house, so I was excited to try this latest book in the series.  Baby Lincoln is probably the most timid of all of the characters in the Deckawoo Drive clan, so I wasn't quite certain how much energy was going to be in the book, or how some of my children were going to respond, but they all enjoyed it and we finished it in one sitting.

Baby Lincoln gets tired of being told what to do by Eugenia all of the time, and decides to go on a "necessary journey".  

Baby packs her bags, buys a train ticket, and sets out on her journey.  Throughout her train ride, she sits by a number of interesting characters that are true to Kate DiCamillo's style.  A man in a fur hat introduces her to the joys of comics (which Eugenia says are a waste of time!), a girl shares her flavored jelly beans, and a little boy traveling alone brings out an unknown talent of storytelling.  By the end of her journey, Baby has discovered a few things about herself, and Eugenia has, as well.  This latest edition is on the sweet and side, which probably won't suit all crowds, but it worked for ours.  Once again, Chris Van Dusen's illustrations do not disappoint.

Coding Projects in Scratch

Written by Jon Woodcock
Published July 5, 2016

I've been on the hunt for STEM activities for my six year old, and this one caught my eye.  Scratch is an online website developed by MIT that allows kids to learn computer coding processes to create their own games and projects.  I had gotten on the website a couple of times to see if I could figure it out enough to get my son started, but felt overwhelmed both times.  

As soon as this book arrived in the mail, my son started poring over it and getting excited about the projects inside.  They are incredibly engaging projects for the ages that the book is geared towards, and have allowed him to learn the program without a problem.  He's had the time of his life, and I love how much he is learning.  This has been an excellent resource, and I highly recommend it!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Written by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Published July 31, 2016

I've been excited to read this one since it was announced months ago.  The main differences between this book and the original seven in the series are that this one is written in play script and that it takes place when all of the main characters (Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Draco) are older and have children of their own. The main character is Albus Severus Potter, Harry's second son.  

I had a hard time with this one due to the fact that it is written as a play, and doesn't have the same flow as the previous books in the series.  This, along with a few other quirks in the story, caused it to not have the same magic as the original seven for me.  However, I still enjoyed the story, and am glad that I read it.  Out of five stars, I would give it a 3 1/2.  Have you read it?  What are your thoughts?

Follow the Trail: Trucks

July 5, 2016

I am always on the lookout for interactive and sturdy board books to put in my diaper bag.  This series is new to me, but I am glad I found it.  Each page has textured trails for little fingers to follow trucks as they go about their duties, along with nonfiction text describing the different trucks.  All in all, the book has nineteen trails and shapes for fingers to trace and outline.  These are great for practicing pre-writing skills.  I have caught my toddler going through this book multiple times.  I'd like to add the rest of the books in the series to our collection, as well!

What have you been reading?  Have you found a new book that your family has enjoyed?  Please share!

Happy Reading!


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Terrible Two and The Terrible Two Get Worse

The Terrible Two

written by Mac Barnett and Jory John
Illustrated by Kevin Cornell

For some reason, mischievous characters have always been some of my favorites.  It isn't that I can relate to them personally, but I always find great amusement in their shenanigans and perhaps live vicariously through them.  I kept seeing The Terrible Two pop up on recommended lists, and after reading a few nonfiction in a row, I was in the mood for something quick and humorous.  This was the perfect choice.  It was quick, light, and full of mischief and laugh out loud moments.  Some books are written to convey a message, and some are just meant to be enjoyed.  The Terrible Two is just that---meant to be enjoyed by young (and old!) readers.

Miles Murphy just moved to Yawnee Valley, and is on a mission to be the school prankster.  On his first day, he discovers that he has competition...someone has parked the principal's car on the school's front steps.  Niles Sparks is a pranking genius who has the perfect cover in his self-created position as School Helper, and the principal's star student.  When Miles and Niles combine forces, blundering Principal Barry Barkin is in for trouble and pure chaos.

The illustrations perfectly match the quirky characterizations, and add to the humor.

The Terrible Two Get Worse

Miles and Niles are back, and have plans for some terrific pranks.  However, there's a problem.  Barry Barkin has been fired as principal because of all of the pranking chaos that has occurred.  His father and former principal, Bertrand Barkin, is put in as the new principal.  Bertrand is a new challenge for Miles and Niles because he doesn't acknowledge their pranks. If nobody knows about a prank, is it still a prank?  Feeling bad about getting Barry Barkin fired, Miles and Niles are determined to pull a big enough prank on Bertrand to get Barry his job back.  Will they succeed?  Miles and Niles begin to draw some lines----they love a good prank, but don't want to hurt anyone along the way.

Cleverness at its best, and one that even reluctant readers will want to read.  It moved a little slower than The Terrible Two, but still had some laugh out loud moments.

My Rating:  5 stars for The Terrible Two and 4.5 stars for The Terrible Two Get Worse   (I will be adding these to our home library).  They would make great read-alouds in upper elementary grades.
Perfect for: 10-12 year olds

There is a third book in the series that is going to be released next February, and it looks like the fun is going to be taken to a whole new level!

Happy reading!


Monday, July 11, 2016

New Release: Wolf Hollow

Wolf Hollow

Written by Lauren Wolk
Published May 3, 2016

I don't think that I've ever read a children's book that I've contemplated as much as I have with Wolf Hollow.  Annabelle, the main character, gets wrapped up in the middle of a horrible situation, and I keep contemplating how I would have handled it if I were in her shoes.

Annabelle lives with her parents, brothers, and grandparents on a farm in small a town called Wolf Hollow, Pennsylvania during World War II.  Life is fairly normal for her until a bully by the name of Betty moves in with her grandparents and starts to threaten Annabelle.  A quiet and distraught former soldier named Toby, who roams the woods, sees what is going on and tries to stop Betty.  This causes Betty to focus her malicious behaviors towards him, and she accuses Toby of some serious incidents that have occurred in the town.  

Unfortunately, most members of the town believe her, and misjudge the situation and the parties involved in it.  They view Toby as threatening and not mentally stable while Annabelle sees him and comes to understand him as a soldier whose experiences during war and life changed him, but is still a good person. The situation grows more dire as both Toby and Betty come up missing.  Annabelle sees Toby for who he truly is, knows Betty's true self, and doesn't know how to morally approach the situation when she finds Toby before everyone else does.  She wants to protect him, but can't prove that he is innocent. 

The book is so beautifully written.  I kept finding myself rereading certain passages just because of the word structure, flow, and comparisons made.  Wolk was able to tie in themes of bullying, judging and misjudging others, compassion, and honesty.  Annabelle fought for Toby as best as she could,  but had to make some hard decisions along the way, and sometimes regretted the decisions she did make. 

"If my life was to be just a single note in an endless symphony, how could I not sound it out for as long and as loudly as I could?"---Annabelle

I can almost guarantee this novel will receive a lot of recognition, and it will be well-deserved.  I wish I could go into greater depth, but I can't without spoiling the book.  Absolutely incredible and thought-provoking.

My Rating:  5 stars (I am planning on purchasing a copy, and I would recommend it to friends)

Perfect for:  Ages 12-15 (Publishers recommend ages 9-12, but I would recommend it for youth a little older due to descriptions of war and the overall heaviness of the book.  Annabelle also befriends Toby and spends time alone with him innocently.  Regardless, I would want to reinforce with my children that it would not be an appropriate situation in real life.)

Have you read it?  What were your thoughts? 

Happy reading!


Friday, July 8, 2016

Starting Read-Alouds {With Young Children}

When I taught elementary school, my favorite time of the school day was after lunch.  All of my second graders would pile into the classroom, and excitedly find a place on the floor.  It was our time dedicated to me reading aloud to them from a variety of chapter books of my own selection, and not from the textbooks.  I always took great care in choosing books that would peak their interest and introduce them to authors or series that they would return to in the future for personal reading.  As I saw how much they looked forward to that time, I knew that reading aloud from chapter books to my family was a tradition that I wanted to incorporate when I had children of my own.

Now I have my own little family I'm reading aloud to, and have learned some things along the way that have helped in setting up our read-aloud habit.  I started reading aloud chapter books when my oldest was about 2 1/2, and siblings have grown up hearing read-alouds from the time they were infants.  Some tricks I've learned along the way that have helped us with little ones {and big ones!} are:

Choose one or two times during the day and make it a daily habit.  

When they are really little, I love to read chapter books to them while they are eating lunch or a snack.  When their little mouths are busy eating and they are sitting up to the kitchen table, they are able to quietly listen to most of the story and catch a lot of what is going on!  As an added bonus, they stay at the table longer because they want to hear the story, and don't get down before their meal is through!  Double bonus!  At the beginning, keep it short.  Guage how long to keep reading based off of how well they are sitting still.  As soon as they start to get restless, put a bookmark in and pick it up the next day.  At our house, some days we read aloud for half an hour, and other days only ten minutes.

Read with expression!

You can make or break a story simply with the amount of energy you put into it.  With read alouds, the more dramatic flair you add to the story, the more exciting the story becomes.  Vary the voices for the characters.

Establish a few rules.

For us, these have depended on where we are reading.  When I'm reading to them in their bedroom before bedtime, the rule is heads on pillows unless there is a picture to look at.  But, generally, the main rule is to listen quietly.  I usually take a few breaks to chat about what is going on and give them time to ask questions or talk about an exciting part.  

Choose books that will have them looking forward to read-alouds!

Interestingly enough, you don't have to worry about rules if you pick the right books.  We've dropped a few books without finishing them because they just didn't cut the mustard and everyone was restless.  I would much rather have them excited to hear a story they love than try to force our way through a book that no one is enjoying.  For toddlers and preschoolers, short chapters with lots of colorful pictures help.  Silliness, easy to follow plots, and fast moving adventures help seal the deal.  

Here are some of our favorite read-alouds for ages 2-5.  I hope you find one that your family will love, as well!

Mercy Watson 
Written by Kate DiCamillo

Mercy is a pampered pig who lives with Mr. and Mrs. Watson.  She loves buttered toast and always ends causing exciting action or commotion.  Full of colored illustrations.  We love her antics.  

The Princess in Black
Written by Shannon and Dean Hale

Princess Magnolia isn't your ordinary princess.  When alerted to a problem, the princess secretly changes into her black costume, and defeats monsters.  Large text, colored illustrations, and short chapters make it a perfect beginning read-aloud.

My Father's Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland
Written by Ruth Stiles Gannett

In this series of three stories, Elmer befriends and helps a dragon named Boris.  Full of adventure, friendship, and fantasy, they were a definite hit.

Tumtum & Nutmeg
Written by Emily Bearn

Tumtum and Nutmeg are two mice who live in the broom cupboard of Rose Cottage unbeknownst to the Mildew family, the humans who live there.  Short novels full of fun characters, humor, and adventures.

The Boxcar Children
Written by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Boxcar Children stories are simple and easy to follow, but I am always amazed how intrigued children are by them and how closely they listen.  The Alden children are orphans who don't want to be separated from each other and try to take care of themselves by making a home out of an abandoned boxcar.

Pippi Longstocking
Written by Astrid Lindgren

Astrid Lindgren is in a class all of her own when it comes to telling a good story.  Pippi is an orphan who lives all alone in the house named Villa Villekulla and truly marches to the beat of her own drum.  Pippi amuses the neighbor children, maddens the adults in the town, and provides a lot of laughter to those who read about her.

James and the Giant Peach
Written by Roald Dahl

James encounters a strange little man with magic, and as a result, a peach on the peach tree near his aunt's house, grows to gigantic proportions.  James crawls into the peach and discovers a number of creatures that have also grown!  The peach starts rolling down the hill and takes James on an adventure that literally saves him.  Hands down, this is the story that my two-year-old has enjoyed the most.

Happy reading!


Friday, July 1, 2016

Our Bag of Books {Let's Play, It's Only Stanley, and Finding Winnie}

Every week, we come home from the library with a bag full of books.  Some books are new, some books are old, and some are books that we have checked out repeatedly.  Every week, a few stick out for various reasons.  I share them in hopes that you'll find some new ones to enjoy with your family.  :)

Let's Play!

Written and Illustrated by Herve Tullet

From the same author as Press Here and Mix it Up comes the new release Let's Play.  In this latest book, Tullet has the reader follow a line with their fingers in a manner that reminded me of an amusement park complete with a carousel and roller coaster.  His classic yellow dot follows a line throughout the book to experience a number of twists and turns, adventures, and obstacles that the reader guides it through.  Tullet knows how to provide simple text and illustrations that delight and amuse.  My little crew couldn't stop giggling during our read-aloud.

My Rating: 5 stars (we will definitely be adding it to our library!)
Perfect for: Toddlers, Preschoolers, Early Elementary

It's Only Stanley

Written and Illustrated by Jon Agee

The Wimbledon family is trying to get some sleep one night, but it is impossible to do with Stanley in the house.  Stanley is a dog that one cannot help but love.  He has big plans up his sleeve, and goes to great lengths to make sure they happen.  From making catfish stew to messing with the oil tanker, Stanley works all throughout the night to make sure he gets to where he wants to go.  Each time the dad investigates what Stanley is up to, he always comes back to tell his family that "It's only Stanley...".  I am not a huge dog person, but I would love a Stanley in my life.  Written in poetic form, it made for a great read aloud that I've seen picked up by little hands many times throughout the week.

My Rating: 4 1/2  (I would recommend it to anyone!)
Perfect for: Preschoolers, Early Elementary

Finding Winnie:
The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear

Written by Lindsay Mattick
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Finding Winnie tells the story of the real bear that inspired the tales of Winnie the Pooh written by A.A. Milne.  I had known small bits of the story, but found this non-fiction picture book interesting and informative.  Harry Colebourn was a Canadian on his way to Europe during World War I when he saw a little bear at a train station and purchased it.  Winnie (named after the town Winnipeg) traveled with his military unit and was loved by all.  Before advancing further into war, Colebourn left Winnie at the London Zoo, and it was there that Christopher Robin and his father came to know Winnie.  While the story is full of beautiful illustrations, I loved looking at the photographs included of Winnie and the adventures the bear had as a military unit mascot and at the London Zoo.  It is a fabulous book to kick-off reading any of A.A, Milne's stories.

My Rating: 4 1/2 stars
Perfect for: Early Elementary, Middle Elementary, Late Elementary

Happy Reading!