Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Read-at-Home Mom Report: July 2022 Wrap-Up

My Month in Books

After a slower month in June, I thought the downward trend might continue through the summer, but that didn't end up being the case. I read a whopping 24 books in July. I'm trying to simplify the way I do my monthly wrap-ups, so there isn't going to be much commentary this month, especially since there are so many titles. 

40 Re-reads Before 40 

I didn't read enough for this challenge during June, so I made a concerted effort to re-read a bunch this month. I ended up with a good mix: 

  • The Tenth Justice by Brad Meltzer (4 stars)
  • Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger (4 stars)
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean (5 stars)
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (5 stars)
  • The Professor's House by Willa Cather (5 stars)
  • One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak (2 stars)

Most of these kept their original ratings, but One More Thing dropped from 5 stars down to 2. I don't know what 2014 me saw in that book. 

Challenges and Book Clubs

Here's what I read for each of my challenges and groups this month:  

#EbookSummer Challenge

  • The Bodyguard by Katherine Center (5 stars)
  • 3 Things to Forget by Cynthia T. Toney (3 stars)

Ronald Welch Book Club on Zoom

  • Escape from France by Ronald Welch (4 stars)
  • Captain of Foot by Ronald Welch (2 stars)

Close Reads Podcast

  • A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr (4 stars) 

Goldberry Reading Challenge (A book that takes place somewhere you want to visit)

  • The Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon (5 stars)

Buzzword Reading Challenge (A book with a book related word in the title)

  • How to Write a Mystery by Lee Child (5 stars)

Read Your Bookshelf Challenge (Want to read but have avoided)

  • The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe (4 stars)

#WorldFullOfBooks: Italy

  • The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani (3 stars)

Local book club

  • Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper by Brant Pitre (5 stars)

The Patron Saint of Second Chances was such a fun, heartwarming story, and it had Catholic characters and themes! I didn't even know that going into it, and it was a pleasant surprise. The Bodyguard kept me up until 2am to finish it and it made me cry. 


I read two books aloud to my girls: 

  • The Narrow Passage by Oliver Butterworth (4 stars)
  • The Little Silver House by Jenny Lindquist (3 stars)

Mood Reading

These are the books I picked up that didn't fit any of my challenges: 

  • Flying Solo by Linda Holmes (4 stars)
  • Nine Lives by Peter Swanson (4 stars)
  • All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson (4 stars)
  • Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan (3 stars)
  • Sparring Partners by John Grisham (4 stars)
  • French Braid by Anne Tyler (5 stars)

Flying Solo wasn't as good as Evvie Drake Starts Over. It's hard for me to sympathize with characters who want to get married but adamantly oppose children. I really enjoyed the Peter Swanson books and want to read more. Maine was disappointing because it was about a Catholic family but got everything wrong about actual practicing Catholics. Sparring Partners was great. I especially loved the second of the three stories, entitled "Strawberry Moon." French Braid was my favorite of these  - I love Anne Tyler.

As for the rest of the family's reading...

A (girl, 2 years 4 months)

  • Boats by Richard Scarry
  • Babies by Gyo Fujikawa
  • No, David by David Shannon 

R (boy, 2 years 3 months)

  • Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever 
  • Big Stuff: Planes, Rockets, Spacecraft! by Joan Holub, illustrated by The Little Friends of Printmaking

E (girl, 4 years 9 months)

  • Animals do the Strangest Things by Leonora Hornblow
  • Birds do the Strangest Things by Leonora Hornblow
  • Reptiles do the Strangest Things by Leonora Hornblow
  • Insects do the Strangest Things by Leonora Hornblow
  • Meet The Men Who Sailed the Seas by John Dyment 
  • Riding the Pony Express by Clyde Robert Bulla 

C. (girl, 6 years 10 months)

  • Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter 
  • Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum 
  • Granny's Wonderful Chair by Frances Brown 
  • Alexander the Great by John Gunther 

M. (girl, 8 years, 8 months)

  • Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert 
  • John Treegate's Musket by Leonard Wibberley
  • Peter Treegate's War by Leonard Wibberley
  • Sea Captain from Salem by Leonard Wibberley
  • Treegate's Raiders by Leonard Wibberley

My husband

  • Peter by Anne Holm
  • Escape from France by Ronald Welch
  • When Shlemiel Went to Warsaw and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer
  • John Treegate's Musket by Leonard Wibberley
  • Peter Treegate's War by Leonard Wibberley
  • Sea Captain from Salem by Leonard Wibberley
  • Treegate's Raiders by Leonard Wibberley
  • The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
  • Leopard's Prey by Leonard Wibberley
  • Captain of Foot by Ronald Welch 

Up Next For Me

On the agenda for August are Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin (with Close Reads), Absalom! Absalom by William Faulkner (for a buddy read on Instagram), Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life by Haley Stewart (for #WorldFullofBooks), and Mystery and Manners by Flannery O'Connor (for my local book club). I'm also hoping to read A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. 

I'm adding this post to the link-up for An Open Book at

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Homeschool Update: June 2022

We are fully in summer mode here now. We began the month in North Carolina visiting one side of the family and ended the month in New York with the other side, so schoolwork was sporadic at best, but here is what we did.

Poetry & Art Appreciation 

For the summer, we're reading poetry and looking at paintings in Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People selected and introduced by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell. In June, we covered the first two sections: Hymn to the Sun and Come Unto These Yellow Sands. 


The girls learned to sing "America the Beautiful" and practiced piano and recorder daily when we were home. 


C. finished Grammarland

M. continued doing a daily sentence diagram from Rex Barks. She was working on sections 3-2 and 3-3 in June. 

We read aloud The Narrow Passage by Oliver Butterworth.  


For the summer, the girls are watching Eyewitness Videos for science. They have watched the first 8 episodes so far: "Cat," "Fish," "Horse," "Dog," "Jungle," "Bird," "Amphibian," and "Insect."


M. attended Little House on the Prairie Camp at the home of a fellow homeschool mom. To prepare for the experience, she came up with a prairie backstory for herself in which her name was Mary Ellen O'Keefe. At camp, she learned to wash clothes in the wash tub, sew, churn buttermilk, make bread, bake cookies, make an autograph book, and she acted in a skit. 

She read Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder and The King's Beard by Leonard Wibberley. She has also been watching Victorian Farm.  


C. continued working on multiplication in Singapore Primary Mathematics 2B and started some division.  

M. worked on Challenging Word Problems, algebra basics on Khan Academy, and continued reading Life of Fred: Liver


In addition to M.'s handicrafts at camp, the girls did some summer-themed 3-D coloring pages from and they made birthday cards for Aunt B.  

Physical Education 

The girls went to the pool twice in June. They also ride bikes and played on the playground. M. learned a ball game called Hunters and Bunnies at camp. 

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones (1985)

One day, when she is going through some of her belongings from childhood, nineteen-year-old Polly is suddenly flooded with a second set of memories. These contradict everything she thought she knew about herself, and instead recall a series of adventures she had with a cellist named Tom Lynn. The story explores these memories and the impact of Tom's friendship on her life during the time when her parents' marriage is breaking up. 

I am not a fantasy reader, so I don't have a lot of practice at picking up on the allusions authors include in fantasy novels, and I often feel lost in the genre. This book, which is probably the most complicated fantasy story I have ever picked up, was not an easy read for me, but I do feel it was worthwhile. Diana Wynne Jones writes beautifully, and even when I wasn't sure exactly what was happening, or what mythological references were being made, I still wanted to keep reading so that I could take in more of her prose. 

The mood of this book reminds me a lot of The Dark is Rising, but whereas I think of Susan Cooper as mianly a middle grade author, Fire and Hemlock skews very strongly in the YA direction. I'd probably hand it to a thirteen-year-old who was a strong reader, but most likely not a ten-year-old just because I think it's hard for younger readers to empathize with some the teen angst Polly experiences.

Fire and Hemlock is very different from anything I've ever read, and it's a definite challenge, but I gave it 5 stars and I'll be very curious to hear what my fantasy-loving kids think when they're old enough to read it in several years. If you have younger kids and want to try Diana Wynne Jones now, I wholeheartedly recommend Howl's Moving Castle.  

Monday, July 11, 2022

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks (1980)

When Omri's best friend Patrick gives him an Indian figurine for his ninth birthday, Omri is vaguely disappointed, thinking his friend is a bit immature for giving him a toy at his age. When his older brother gives him an old cupboard as his present, Omri locks the Indian inside. When the Indian, an Iroquois named Little Bear, suddenly comes to life, Omri faces a series of challenges, including how to feed this small person, and whether to tell anyone about his magical discovery.

I read this book as a kid, and my kids and I listened to the audiobook together. While the book is mainly criticized these days for being racist, I actually found the overall theme of the book to be very much the opposite. Omri does stereotype Little Bear and, later, the cowboy who also comes to life in the cupboard. These stereotypes arise from the movie-fueled imagination of a young British boy, and they are challenged again and again by Omri's interactions with Little Bear. Omri assumes certain things about how Indians live, some of which are not true for the Iroquois. Omri also takes a while to realize that Little Bear is a human being worthy of dignity and respect. The fact that he learns to recognize the humanity in his Indian friend through magic doesn't make the lesson any less significant.

It's been a very long time since I read any of the sequels to this book, so I can't yet speak to the series as a whole, but I found this book to be far less egregiously offensive than most 21st century reviews about it would suggest. I also noticed on Goodreads that some parents edit the book on the fly as they read it aloud; I really urge parents not to change an author's words and recreate a book in their own image. If there are books with content in them that I don't want to share with my kids, I skip the book. It's not my place to rewrite the story. The choices are really to take the story as is, or leave it. In this case, I recommend reading this book in its entirety, especially with ages 7-10.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Book Review: The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson (1958)

Armand, a homeless old Parisian man, has never wanted to be tied down by traditional family life.  When three children and their mother move in beneath the bridge he thinks of as his own, he is at first very resistant. Over time, though, his affection for the little family motivates him to look beyond his own desires and help the little "starlings" get back on their feet. 

I have read this book three times, and have never managed to put my thoughts down in a review. In a lot of ways, it's a very sentimental story, the kind of heartwarming tale that I like to read around Christmastime, which is when the story takes place. Because it has that sentimental feel to it, not everything that happens in the story feels completely realistic, and sometimes that has bothered me. I also struggle with the French pronunciation when I read the book aloud.

Still, in terms of setting and character, I think it's a top-notch children's book. Armand is a very different hero for a children's story, and I think young readers fall in love with him the same way the young children in the story do. Though homelessness is slightly romanticized by this book, the story does give kids a chance to contemplate what it might be like to live in less fortunate circumstances. It's also fun to do a bit of armchair traveling to Paris with Armand as a guide. 

My most recent reading of this was aloud to my 6-year-old. She didn't love it as much as her older sister did, but I wonder if that will change in a year or two when I read it again to the next child. In any case, I'm happy to keep this book on our shelves as a feel-good read for the holiday season. 

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Book Review: The Other Side of Silence by Margaret Mahy (1995)

Hero, whose mother wrote a famous parenting book and raised several academically gifted children, is the youngest in her family, and she almost never speaks. To escape her parents and siblings, she often leaves the house and hides out in the tree in a neighbor's yard down the street. When the neighbor finds her there one day, she invites her in, and hires her to do a little work around the house. After spending some time there, however, Hero realizes the warm welcome she has received might not be as friendly as it seems on the surface, and she needs to find a way to communicate to her family what's really going on.  

I was looking for a book to fulfill a challenge prompt, which asked for a book with a quiet word in the title. My husband, who has not read this book, handed this one to me. The only other Margaret Mahy novel I've read is The Haunting, and that was pretty strange from the outset, so when this one was a little more in the vein of ordinary young adult fiction, I let my guard down and settled into the world of the story. The result is that when things got weird, as they did about 90% into the book, I was caught utterly off-guard. Not since Afternoon of the Elves have I been so disturbed by a book for children! 

It's hard for me to say right now whether I will give this book to any of my kids. My oldest is eight, and it's definitely too dark in tone for me to suggest to her right now, but she doesn't mind scary or creepy things, so I think when she's 13 or 14, she might enjoy it. My second daughter is so sensitive, I'm not sure she'd be able to stand the shift in tone near the end of the story. I would not have handled it well as a kid. As an adult, I was disturbed enough.

Often, I think it's fine to take the word of a trusted reviewer rather than to pre-read every book yourself, but this is one that I think parents need to read ahead of time so they know what their kids are getting into. It's definitely not just a sweet slice-of-life YA book, however much it may feel that way until almost the end.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Book Review: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (1972)

Miyax, also known as Julie, who has been forced into a marriage she does not want, decides to run away into the Alaskan tundra. There she takes shelter with a family of wolves, while she tries to figure out how she might get to San Francisco where her pen pal lives. 

Julie of the Wolves is a book I actively avoided as a kid, and as with many books like that, over time, I invented my own mental version of what the story was about that was just totally off-base. I thought this was historical fiction, like a winter version of Island of the Blue Dolphins. While it does have the same focus on survival, this is a much more contemporary story, the crux of which is the clash between modern American values and the traditional values of Miyax's family. 

I liked the writing in this book very much, but I found the story very slow. I listened to the audiobook, and read along in the print book and that did help me stay focused, but it was hard to stick with the story. I absolutely appreciate the reasons this book was awarded a Newbery medal. The author's writing style is very distinctive and there are moments from the story that still come to mind months after reading it. It's not my cup of tea, and I think George's My Side of the Mountain is infinitely more readable and enjoyable than this book, but I have kids who I suspect will feel differently and will love Julie of the Wolves.