Thursday, January 18, 2018

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (1973)

The day before his birthday, Will Stanton notices that animals suddenly seem to fear him. By the next day, when he turns eleven, it has become clear to Will that the animals know what he is only about to realize: that he is not an ordinary child, but an Old One, with the important destiny of finding and bringing together the six signs that will vanquish the Dark. As the days pass from his birthday, through Christmas, and on to Twelfth Night, Will experiences the usual Christmas festivities of his ordinary life, but frequently slips into other times and places where he slowly begins to acquire the signs. As he gets closer to completing the task, however, the Dark becomes more and more dangerous, causing serious weather conditions and threatening the lives of people Will loves.

I decided to finally read The Dark is Rising on the spur of the moment after realizing that a group of people re-read the book together annually and tweet about it under the hashtag #TheDarkisReading. I liked that at least some participants were reading sections of the book on the date on which they took place, and though I fell behind a few times and then finished a day early, I found this a satisfying way to really appreciate the novel. Though I did listen to the audiobook of Over Sea, Under Stone a few years ago, it was not until I got into The Dark is Rising that I realized how truly wonderful a writer Susan Cooper is. I don't know a lot about English folklore, so I know I missed many references, but even without understanding all of those, the power and beauty of this story came through for me.

Like Something Wicked This Way Comes, this book includes much commentary about the eternal struggle between good and evil, Light and Dark, and I read many passages as decidedly Christian in their sensibilities. I was particularly interested in the character of Hawkin, a traitor who has served both the Light and the Dark at different points in history. While Will is the hero of the story,  Hawkin is almost the cautionary tale, showing how easy it is for an ordinary human being to fall into the trap of believing evil is more powerful than good. He also serves as a reminder that is never too late to be redeemed, to choose the right thing even after many terribly wrong choices.

This book was a lovely atmospheric read to enjoy during the holiday season, and I absolutely understand why it was a Newbery honor book and why people would want to read it every year. I'd like to let this book settle a bit before diving into another from the same series, but the remaining three books of the series are on my to-read list for the future.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2018 Reading and Blogging Goals

A few weeks ago, I took a look back at all the reading and blogging goals I aimed to complete in 2017. Today, to go along with Top Ten Tuesday's theme for this week (Bookish Resolutions/Goals), I'm sharing the goals and challenges I am focusing on in 2018. (All but the last two are reading and blogging related.)

Read fewer books.

I didn't find it all that difficult to read 800 books this past year, but there were a few instances where I read through a stack of easy readers or picture books just for the sake of staying on track. In general, I also tend to read quickly and often not very deeply. This year, in the interest of going deeper into what I'm reading, and of having the time to do other things (like writing blog posts and homeschooling my four-year-old), I'm only shooting for 500 books, and I expect a large number of them to be picture books. 

Review more books overall, but fewer books on the blog.

I was originally thinking I would try to post two book reviews per week to the blog in 2018, but then I realized this would put me back on the path to blogging every single day, and I'm trying to avoid going back to that kind of schedule. So instead I am setting a goal to review at least 100 books this year, but to make the majority of those briefer Goodreads reviews and only post here about the ones I feel really deserve a more detailed assessment. I'd like to post four blog reviews per month, give or take. 

Review books in a more timely manner.

I have a habit of reading a ton of books and then not reviewing them for months after the fact. By the time I get around to reviewing them I've often forgotten the details and my reviews are not as strong as a result. This year, I want to get better about reviewing one book before finishing the next. 

Branch out from book reviews.

Last year, I set a goal to write more reflection posts, but I didn't really accomplish it. This year, though, I want to think of some ways to post something other than book reviews and reports about my reading to this blog. I'm hoping reading fewer books will free me up to concentrate a bit more on the blogging side of book blogging.

Post blog posts to Facebook regularly.

Now that I have consolidated my two Facebook pages into one, it should be easier to post regularly, but I haven't been making the time to do it. At the very least, I'd like to post twice a week this year and try to maintain something of a following on Facebook. 

Host a #bookstagram challenge. 

I have wanted to do this for over a year now, but haven't been bold enough to put the challenge together and get it out into the world. I'm not sure yet what the focus will be (other than children's books of some kind), or when it will happen, but I really want to try it at least once. I am not the greatest photographer, but I do enjoy finding books to match different daily prompts, and it doesn't seem like there is always a kidlit-focused challenge each month. 

Complete reading and blogging challenges.

I'm doing more reading challenges this year than I ever have, but I tried to choose challenges that would help me achieve some of my goals, and that I have a reasonable chance of actually finishing. Here's what I picked. (Links are to the challenge sign-up pages. There is a list in the sidebar which links to my landing pages for my progress in each challenge.)
  • Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge
    I'm hosting this one for the second year in a row. This year, there are no monthly categories; just set a goal and read old school books! My goal is to read 52, but in light of my goals above I probably won't review every single one.
  • Craving for Cozies
    This is the only other challenge I did last year that I'm doing again in 2018. I like that there is a Facebook group for updating progress and that I can easily just send in my Goodreads shelf as proof that I completed the challenge at the end of the year. I also discovered a lot of cozy series last year that I hope to finish for this challenge.
  • Cloak and Dagger Challenge 
    Last year, I read a few mysteries (mostly by Sue Grafton and Kathy Reichs) that were not cozy. I wanted to be able to count them for something, so I signed up for this challenge which counts everything in the mystery/thriller genre. 
  • Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge
    Because I liked Craving for Cozies so much, I'm joining a second challenge hosted by the same blog. For this one, I'll be trying to read 26 adult books - one for each letter of the alphabet. (This makes me glad I haven't read X by Sue Grafton - that would be a tricky letter for me otherwise!)
  • A to Z Reading Challenge
    I had trouble deciding between the two alphabet challenges I came across. Thankfully, this one has an option to focus on children's books so I decided to just join both and focus on kidlit for this one. 
  • Family Tree Reading Challenge
    Becky's Book Reviews hosts so many interesting challenges. I didn't want to do another challenge with a very long checklist this time around, so I opted for this one, where the goal is to read books published in the years of family members' births. I chose the birth years of my grandmother, my parents, my sister, my husband, and my three girls, giving me a good mix of new and old options.
  • Author Love Challenge
    For this one, I'm planning to read as many Betsy Byars books as I can. I'm excited to finally get to them, as reading her books has been a goal in the back of my mind for a couple of years now. 
  • Linz the Bookworm Reading Challenge
    I'm only aiming for level 1 of this challenge, which should give me a nice well-rounded checklist of titles. 
  • Library Love Challenge
    I borrow a lot of picture books from the library, but not as many longer works. I'm hoping my goal of reading 36 books borrowed from the library this year will help. (I'm only counting middle grade, YA, and adult novels toward this one.)
  • Reading Challenge Addicts
    This is a challenge for people doing multiple challenges. I figured it was worth joining given that I have signed up for so many! 
  • Writing Reviews Challenge
    For this one, I'm aiming to write 100 reviews, some to post here and some to post to Goodreads. 
  • Blog All About It
    I thought the prompts for this challenge would help me focus a little less on book reviews and more on developing other kinds of content.  
  • Book Blog Discussion Challenge
    I've eyed this challenge in the past and felt a little nervous about jumping in, but I'm going to start small and try to post six discussion posts this year, hopefully in the even-numbered months. 

Keep a bullet journal.

From ages 14 to 20, I kept a daily journal. I have always meant to get back into the habit, but there just isn't time in the day to write pages and pages about what goes on. I'm hoping that having a book set up to record daily happenings will give me a way to quickly jot down important events, ideas, memories, etc. so I can look back on them. A bullet journal is also a great place to keep track of reading challenges, blogging ideas, and other important things all in one place.

Stop getting the news from social media. 

Following news outlets on Facebook seemed really convenient when I first started doing it, but I've grown weary of seeing everyone's comments and reactions to the news, especially since they typically involve a lot of name-calling and overall nastiness. This year, I'm going back to reading the news either on Feedly or directly on news sources' websites, so I can find out what is happening in the world without having to read what 100 strangers think about what is happening in the world.      

Monday, January 15, 2018

The RAHM Report for 1/15/18

What My Kids Are Reading

See yesterday's Read-at-Home Kids Report for our current lunchtime read-aloud and my two-year-old's favorite concept books.

What I Finished Reading

Last week was Bout of Books week, so I did a decent amount of reading. This is probably the fewest number of books I have ever finished for a single Bout of Books, but I still feel good about it.
  • The 18th Emergency by Betsy Byars
    I think this is my least favorite Betsy Byars book so far. There just wasn't enough meat to it. Review forthcoming here on the blog.
  • The Cartoonist by Betsy Byars
    This was not as good as Byars's best books but it was definitely more in line with my expectations than The 18th Emergency. Review also coming soon to the blog.  
  • Clementine by Betsy Byars
    This is Betsy Byars's first book, and I had never heard of it until I decided to read all of her books this year. It's about a boy and his toy dragon, and their conversations and adventures. I'll be reviewing it soon and probably reading it to my four-year-old and two-year-old as well.
  • Password to Larkspur Lane by Carolyn Keene
    This was a bit tedious, but I ended up giving it 3 stars. Review coming soon on the blog.
  • By Your Side by Kasie West
    This looked like it was going to be a wacky little romance novel about two teens with opposite personalities having to tough it out together when they are locked in the library for a weekend. But that was only the first half of the story, and the shift toward something deeper was very rewarding. And thankfully, there was no teen sex in this book! I'll be looking for more by this author. My review is on Goodreads.
  • My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
    This was really well-written and had surprising depth for appearing on the surface to be just a light romance. The sexual content makes me uncomfortable with the idea of actual teens reading the book, but are teens even the real audience for YA anymore? Either way, I skimmed the sexual parts and really enjoyed the character development otherwise. My review is on Goodreads.
  • Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs
    This book has very mixed reviews on Goodreads, but I really liked it. The insights into Tempe's past and the turmoil in her relationship with Ryan provided very good subplots that almost kept me more interested than the mystery itself. I reviewed this book on Goodreads.

What I'm Currently Reading

  • The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
    I have fewer than 50 pages left in this. I've taken quite a few notes, and I'm looking forward to book club on Thursday.
  • The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick
    This is a companion novel to My Life Next Door, starring some of the minor characters from that book. I'm barely into it yet, but the voices are really strong and I'm glad to be able to spend more time in this universe. 
  • To All The Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
    I've never read anything by Jenny Han so I decided to give her a shot while I'm apparently on a YA kick.
  • Bookman Dead Style by Paige Shelton
    I keep meaning to read a chapter of this before bed, and then it doesn't happen. I'm hoping to fix that this week and finish the book.  
  • Devil Bones by Kathy Reichs
    I have this checked out from Open Library and I'm planning to zip right through it. I'm just in the mood for Reichs's writing style right now. 

Challenge Progress


I feel like people are going to think I'm cheating or something because I'm making such good progress on these challenges. But it's really only because of Bout of Books that I am so on top of things right out of the gate. I expect my progress to slow down, especially as I start reading books whose titles begin with the same letter.

  • For the A to Z Challenge, I have crossed off letter C for The Cartoonist and Letter P  for Password to Larkspur Lane. 
  • Password to Larkspur Lane is also my 1933 read for the Family Tree Challenge, and it counts also for Craving for Cozies and Old School Kidlit. 
  • The 18th Emergency, The Cartoonist, and Clementine also count for Old School Kidlit, as well as for the Author Love challenge.. 
  • Bones to Ashes fulfilled letter B for the Alphabet Soup challenge, and it also counts toward Cloak and Dagger. 
  • By Your Side and My Life Next Door were both ebooks borrowed from the library, so they count toward the Library Love Challenge.
  • Finally, for the Writing Reviews challenge I posted four reviews this week: Amahl and the Night Visitors, My Life Next Door, Bones to Ashes, and By Your Side.
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The RAHK Report for 1/14/18

Here are the highlights of what the girls have been enjoying this week: 

  • The Wonderful Farm by Marcel Aymé, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
    We have started reading this, the first children's book Maurice Sendak ever illustrated, at lunch, now that we have finished The Racketty-Packetty House. It's a bit wordy for Bo Peep (2 years, 3 months), and the chapters are a bit long even for Miss Muffet (4 years, 1 month), but I'm dividing each chapter into three or four smaller sections and that's working fine so far. I'm not crazy about talking animal stories, but the introduction to the book explains how that works in the universe of this story and that makes it more palatable. The girls, of course, have no problem with talking animals and are enjoying meeting the different animals as their stories unfold.
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    Having finished Betsy's Little Star, Miss Muffet has moved on to her second chapter book, Little House on the Prairie. (She heard Little House in the Big Woods  as a read-aloud.) She reads a chapter aloud to my husband in the evenings using the read-aloud edition of the book, and he follows along in The Little House Treasury to make sure she's not skipping words and that she understand what she reads. This book is probably a little bit above her current level, so it's giving her a bit of a challenge while also increasing her stamina for reading longer passages and introducing new vocabulary.
  • Hill of Fire by Thomas P. Lewis, illustrated by Joan Sandin
    Miss Muffet has developed an interest in volcanoes, so she read this easy reader (which is probably right on her reading level) about a volcano eruption in Mexico, and then she followed it up with some YouTube videos. She was happy to have the reassurance that there are no volcanoes in Maryland, but other than that, she did not seem especially upset about volcanoes. I think her interest is primarily scientific. 
  • "Some One" by Walter de la Mare, from Listen Children Listen by Myra Cohn Livingston
    Miss Muffet successfully memorized "Holding Hands" by Lenore M. Link and has been assigned a new one: Some One by Walter de la Mare. She's already memorized a few lines so I don't think it will be long before it's mastered. 

  • A Winter Day by Douglas Florian
    Bo Peep has been requesting this book over and over again. Though she likes the story itself, she is more enamored of the author's self-portrait that accompanies his biography on the jacket flap. Besides the jacket flap, her favorite page is the one where the family eats pancakes. "I eat pancakes also!" she says. 
  • Discovering Trees by Douglas Florian
    Both Miss Muffet and Bo Peep have been looking at this book a lot, but I think they are mainly looking at the pictures. Miss Muffet has loved reading the book with me in the past, but Bo Peep would rather "read" it to Jumping Joan (2.5 months) than have me read the text. Attempting to read this with her did remind me, though, that I want to make more of an effort to introduce nonfiction to her. Jim Arnosky will probably be the author with whom I start.
  • Alphaprints: Colors by Roger Priddy
  • Alphaprints: 123 by Roger Priddy
  • Jane Foster's ABC
    Bo Peep has started showing more of an interest in concept books, so we have been looking at these old favorites, often while she sits on the potty (another skill we'll be working on mastering soon!) She has pretty much mastered her colors, and she is enjoying counting up to 10 and slowly learning how to count items using one-to-one correspondence. Miss Muffet is also more than happy to review any of these concepts with Bo Peep, whether she wants help or not.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review: Amahl and the Night Visitors adapted by Frances Frost, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin (1952)

Amahl, a poor shepherd boy who uses a crutch to walk, has an active imagination, and he has often told fibs to his mother, telling her of fanciful things he claims to have seen or heard. One night, though, when he sees a huge bright star in the sky, followed by three kings knocking at his own front door, his mother has no choice but to believe him. As the kings speak of the Child to whom they wish to bring beautiful gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, Amahl's mother laments the fact that no one brings such precious items to her own child. Meanwhile, Amahl asks nosy questions and wonders whether such powerful kings might have a cure for the condition which cripples him and keeps the family poor.

This book is a narrative adaptation of Gian Carlo Menotti's 1951 opera, which I first learned about by watching the 1978 film in music class when I was in elementary school. Using all the original dialogue from the opera and her own beautifully written descriptions of the characters' actions, Frances Frost retells the story of Amahl and the three kings who visit his home, giving young readers a chance to experience the story either instead of or in preparation for seeing the opera. Illustrations by two-time Caldecott Medalist Roger Duvoisin supplement the text with full-color spreads and black-and-white line drawings depicting key scenes.

Leading up to this past Sunday's Feast of the Epiphany, my four-year-old daughter and I  read the book and watched the 1978 film together. I found the film on YouTube divided into 5 parts, so I also divided the book accordingly, and we read and watched a small section each day of the week. Because the show is only an hour, and it's in English, it's really a perfect first opera for a preschooler, and this book made it even more accessible. Reading each scene ahead of watching it helped my daughter understand what was happening and what to anticipate,  and if she had a question after the fact, it was easy to find that spot in the dialogue without having to watch and re-watch the YouTube videos.

Though the music is an integral part of appreciating this story, the lyrics and plot are almost as important, and this book is about as a perfect a non-musical adaptation of the opera as one could hope to find. I plan to make reading and watching Amahl and The Night Visitors a yearly Epiphany tradition in my family, and I would encourage other Christian moms to do the same!

Monday, January 8, 2018

The RAHM Report for 1/8/18

What My Kids Are Reading

Friday's RAHK Report covers my four-year-old's recent enjoyment of Amahl and the Night Visitors and Carolyn Haywood, my two-year-old's love for Richard Scarry, and the baby's new indestructible book.

What I Finished Reading

  • The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
    I started this when I learned about #TheDarkisReading on Twitter, and I really loved it. My review, which focuses a lot on the Christian themes I see in the book, and on the character of Hawkin in particular will publish to the blog tomorrow (Tuesday).
  • The Box of Delights by John Masefield
    My husband recommended this book to me, and though it had a lot in common with The Dark is Rising, I found it more difficult to follow. My review is not yet scheduled, but I expect it to be in a week or two. 
  • Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky
    I had mixed feelings about my first adult book of the year. My review is on Goodreads

What I'm Currently Reading 

  • The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
    I had this book out of the library for six weeks total, and never made it past the Introduction. Now it's gone back to the library and I'm about a third of the way through the first edition of the book, which I found on Open Library. It's really good, and I'm looking forward to my book club's discussion coming up in mid-January. 
  • By Your Side by Kasie West
    I was in the mood for something light and quick to balance out the longer and more demanding books I've been reading to start the year. I've been meaning to try Kasie West, and when I saw that this book was about two teens being stuck in a library together, I was sold. I'm approaching the halfway point, and so far I'm a fan. There has already been an unexpected turn of events that took me totally by surprise and I'm eager to see how all the threads of the story are resolved. 
  • Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs
    I have been carrying this around all week, but have only read a few chapters. So far I am excited to learn more about Tempe's childhood and I'm so curious as to how her lost childhood friend will figure into the plot. 
  • Password to Larkspur Lane by Carolyn Keene
    I'm reading this for the Family Tree Challenge, where the goal is to read books published in the year of family members' births. There wasn't much published in 1933 (when my grandma was born) that interested me, but then I found this on OpenLibrary and decided it was perfect. I've only just started it, but I'm pretty sure I will like it more than the original Hardy Boys book I read this fall. 

Challenge Progress

I haven't made an official post about all the challenges I'm doing yet (it's coming next week), but I have individual posts for each one linked in the sidebar. This week, I have already made some progress on a few of them:
  • For the A to Z Reading Challenge, I've covered A (Amahl and the Night Visitors), B (The Box of Delights), and D (The Dark is Rising). These same three books are my first three reads for Old School Kidlit 2018. 
  • For the Alphabet Soup Challenge, I completed I (Indemnity Only). Indemnity Only is also my first book for the Cloak and Dagger Challenge, the Library Love Challenge, the Family Tree Challenge (1982, the year of my own birth!), and the Writing Reviews challenge 
  • I've also crossed three items off the checklist for the Linz the Bookworm Challenge: a book under 300 pages (The Box of Delights), a book that takes place around a holiday (The Dark is Rising), and A children's book  (Amahl and the Night Visitors). 


Finally, I'm participating in two read-a-thons this month. Winter's Respite is new to me, and it runs for the entire month. Bout of Books, which I participate in every time it is offered, starts tomorrow and runs all week. For the first time, I've decided to post my Bout of Books progress to Twitter instead of making a daily blog post. I'll summarize what I read for the readathon in next Monday's post!

I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Friday, January 5, 2018

The RAHK Report for 1/5/18

For the past several weeks, with our Christmas tree taking up most of the living room, the girls have not had access to the usual baskets of books that are typically available when that space is free. They have had access to one basket, which was filled with Christmas books and has now been filled with our books about the Epiphany and our winter books. So the reading lists for all three are a bit shorter than usual. But here is what everybody is currently enjoying.

Family Read-Alouds

  • New Year's Day by Aliki
    We read this just ahead of the new year. It's a good overview of how (and when) different cultures celebrate the new year and a nice introduction to the concept of a new year in general. I also love the illustrations. 
  • The Racketty-Packetty House by Frances Hodgson Burnett
    I read and reviewed this book last year, and kept it in mind when I was compiling my mental list of short chapter book read-alouds of interest to preschoolers. This isn't divided into chapters, but the way it is formatted and illustrated lends itself to good natural stopping points, so we've been doing one little section each day. So far, the book has prompted Miss Muffet to ask, "Does Baby Robin come alive when I'm not looking?" and "If I hide, could I see the dolls moving?" I figure we'll read it again in a few years so she can appreciate the message more deeply. 

Little Miss Muffet (4 years, 1 month)

  • Amahl and the Night Visitors, adapted by Frances Frost, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
    Miss Muffet is listening to me read this book, and also watching the 1978 film production of the opera on YouTube. We read a little and then watch a little. If our day goes according to plan, we'll be finishing today. I don't think she understands every single thing that happens, but since I want to make this a bit of an Epiphany tradition, I think this was a good year to start it. 
  • Betsy's Little Star by Carolyn Haywood
    This was one of my favorite books as a kid, and my husband recently found a hardcover at a used booksale. At first, Miss Muffet didn't want to read it because it "looks like a grown-up book" but then she found out that Star, the main character, is four, and suddenly she was hooked. She's more than halfway through the book now, and she can retell every moment of the story down to the tiniest detail. I'm thrilled that she likes Haywood, because we have bought quite a few of her books.

Miss Muffet has also been working on memorizing and reciting poems. Her current poem is Holding Hands by Lenore M. Link, which we found in both Favorite Poems Old and New by Helen Ferris and The Random House Book of Poetry.

Little Bo Peep (2 years, 3 months)

Bo Peep occasionally has the attention span to sit for a whole stack of stories, but not lately. Lots of books she abandons at the halfway point, either to "read" on her own or to go and terrorize one of her sisters. I have been able to get her to listen to Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field a handful of times at bedtime, and she also happily flips through certain titles on her own, including Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever (she loves to hold all the pages in her hand and then flip until her hand is empty), Secrets of Winter: A Shine-a-Light Book (any excuse to hold a flashlight!), and The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (which is wordless, so she looks at the picture while singing, for some reason, The Huron Carol.)

Little Jumping Joan (2.5 months)

Finally, my littlest reader received the Indestructible book version of Hey Diddle Diddle for Christmas, which she seems to like. I'm still not doing a whole lot of reading with her because she's not ready to look at pictures for too long, but we have been reciting a ton of nursery rhymes and she is really attentive to me when she suddenly hears me speaking in rhythm and rhyme.