Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Read-at-Home Kids Report: April 2019

This past weekend, I got the two older girls to help me, and we re-shelved all the books that had been left hanging around after my mom brought us a bunch of new ones right before Easter. We also emptied the bookshelf in the girls' room and refreshed its contents so that the books in it are ones they actually want to read and which actually fit in the shelf when standing up. It was a job well done, and it has caused a lot of old books to feel new again.

Family Read-Alouds

Most of our family read-alouds this month have been read by my husband after dinner. He finished Rufus M. by Eleanor Estes and has now moved on to The Moffatt Museum. The older girls love this series, but the baby can get kind of fussy waiting for the end of a chapter, so I often spend time with her and miss out on the story. I will probably need to read the entire series on my own at some point.

For a while in March and early April, I was doing separate read-alouds for the older two girls, but whenever one girl was hearing her book, the other was left unsupervised and got into trouble, so now we're back to reading all together. For a couple of weeks, we did some short books here and there: a couple of Beatrix Potter titles (The Tale of Two Bad Mice and The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies), The Headless Horseman Rides Tonight: More Poems to Trouble Your Sleep by Jack Prelutsky and Arnold Lobel, and Nobody Hugs a Cactus by Carter Goodrich, which is a review copy.

Now I'm back to reading aloud a longer book at the lunch table. We just started is Inside the Ark and Other Stories by Caryll Houselander, which is a collection of children's stories with Catholic themes from the 1950s.   

We also had our first poetry picnic of the season this month, during which I read Please Bury Me in the Library by J. Patrick Lewis, The Little Bitty Man by Halfdan Rasmussen, and Handsprings by Douglas Florian. The older two girls ran away from me during the picnic, so we may not be doing anymore for a while, but they did enjoy the books before their bad behavior overtook them.

Little Miss Muffet, Age 5 

Our main read-aloud book for school this month was Follow My Leader by James B. Garfield. Miss Muffet has become interested in Braille, and this book follows a young boy from the time he is blinded in an accident until he brings home his guide dog. I found the text really dry, so it took us a while to get through it, but she really loved the story and especially enjoyed acquiring new facts about blindness and blind people.

Now that we have abandoned dinosaurs for the time being, we have returned to reading from The World We Live In. We have covered the desert and the arctic tundra, and now we're focusing on the rainforest. It seemed like it was too much to read both this and The Fantastic Flying Journey at the same time, so that one is on the book burner until we finish this one.

For history, we've started reading The Caves of the Great Hunters, about the young French boys who discovered the cave paintings at Lascaux. She's fascinated by it already, so her interest in cavemen is still going strong.

Miss Muffet has also been busy reading independently. She's revisited some old favorites (Back to School with Betsy and Betsy and Mr. Kilpatrick by Carolyn Haywood, and Surprises by Lee Bennett Hopkins, which is an I Can Read book of poetry) and discovered some new favorites (Attaboy Sam by Lois Lowry, The Treasure Hunt by Meriol Trevor, and How Many Teeth?, which is a vintage  Let's Read and Find Out About Science book by Paul Showers.) Additionally, she is reading an omnibus edition of The Wishing Chair series by Enid Blyton, the latest Sophie Mouse book (#14, The Great Bake-off)  and she has become interested in wordless picture books, especially Journey by Aaron Becker.

Little Bo Peep, Age 3.5

This child is much more likely to find a set of books she loves and stick with it, so she is still enjoying "Ell-oh-nee" (Eloise) Wilkin and the Alfie books by Shirley Hughes, and I don't see her ever moving on from those. She has varied her repertoire a little bit this month, however, throwing in Christina Katerina and the Box by Patricia Lee Gauch as well as a few of the new picture books we received for review: A Piglet Named Mercy by Kate DiCamillo, Rosie & Rasmus by Serena Geddes, and A New Home by Tania de Regkl.  She's also enjoying a new-to-us used copy of A Child's Garden of Verses illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa.  

For Easter, Bo Peep's godparents also gave her a picture book about St. Jerome, whose feast day falls on her birthday.  St. Jerome and the Lion has lovely illustrations, and our copy is even signed by the author! Bo Peep was thrilled to receive a book of her very own and she enjoyed the story even though it was a bit on the longer side. 

Little Jumping Joan, Age 18 months

This little girl is in full-blown toddler mode, walking around the house and exploring everything, including books - both those she should handle and those she should not. She has learned to say "book," too, so she can both label them as she walks by and request one by saying "booook" (pronounced to rhyme with Luke) repeatedly until someone finds a board book and hands it over.

Like Bo Peep, she is fascinated by babies and has been drawn to the same collection of Eloise Wilkin stories. (Thankfully, Grandma replaced it for us again, because the cover of the second copy has now been stripped of its cover.) She also loves Spring Babies and Summer Babies, both of which I received for review from Peachtree Publishing, and The Baby's Catalogue, which was originally a birthday gift from Miss Muffet to Bo Peep. 

Bo Peep also loves the new Wheels on the Bus board book published by Nosy Crow which Grandma brought when she visited. It has moving parts, and only three verses of the song so it actually holds her interest and I'm able to get through an entire book with her before she takes it away from me and wanders off. At nap time, she likes to take either Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann or Babies on the Farm (a lift-the-flap book published by Cottage Door Press), to bed with her.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Book Review: Follow My Leader by James B. Garfield

In this vintage middle grade novel originally published in 1957, Jimmy Carter (no relation to the man who would later become president) is a Boy Scout and a baseball player. All of that changes, however, when one of his friends sets off a firework and Jimmy is blinded. Determined to resume his old activities, Jimmy works hard to learn new ways of reading, writing, and navigating the world without his sense of sight. His efforts ultimately lead to his being matched with a guide dog to act as his eyes.

My five-year-old is very interested in understanding how people who are blind live their lives, and this book, despite its very "after school special" style really engaged that interest. Though some of the information about disability laws and such has change in 60 years, the details about Braille, using a cane, and interacting with a guide dog were mostly still relevant. She loved having me read the book to her, and she continues to speak of Jimmy and his dog, Leader, in a way that suggests they felt very real to her.

For me, this was not a favorite read-aloud. The text is very dry, and the dialogue sounds like it might have been lifted from Leave it to Beaver. Jimmy is also a bit too perfect and generally takes all of his setbacks in stride, which is an admirable quality, but feels a bit false when there are no flaws to add depth to his character. I probably would have preferred to learn about the blind from a memoir or other nonfiction book, but my story-oriented daughter likes having a character to latch onto, and it was enjoyable to observe her reactions to the book. I also thought about my dad a lot when I was reading. He would have been 11 in 1957, the same as Jimmy, so in some ways, this felt like a little window into his childhood as well, even though I don't think he knew any child who was blind.

Friday, April 26, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 1-4

I have read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire exactly once in my life before this, so I've really been looking forward to this re-read. Last week, I read chapters 1 to 4 ("The Riddle House," "The Scar," "The Invitation," and "Back to the Burrow.")

I have always thought of this book as the turning point in the series where everything starts to get a bit deeper, darker, and more mature. Reading the first chapter, though, I also noticed a change for the better  in the quality of the writing. The opening chapter is very different from the beginnings of the first three books, starting with a scene in which a Muggle overhears Voldemort and Wormtail having an argument. This is a much more engaging way to start the book than simply dropping in on Harry as he suffers through another summer with the Dursleys.

I also like the fact that, from the start, the reader knows more than Harry does about the reasons his scar is hurting. Though it sometimes makes me feel anxious to know something a character doesn't, in this case prior knowledge is helpful because it makes the stakes clear, helps us to know that Harry should be taken seriously, and gives the story an undercurrent of suspense leading up to Voldemort's return to power at the end of the book.

I had forgotten completely about the Weasleys coming to Privet Drive and trying to use floo powder in the Dursleys' blocked-up fireplace. I love any scene where all the Weasleys are together, and this one is especially amusing because of how unfamiliar (and fascinated) they are with the Muggle way of life. I'm a little bit weary of the fat jokes at Dudley's expense, so I wasn't that enamored of the way Fred and George tricked him, but there is still something so comforting about the idea of this big, loving family sweeping in to whisk Harry away to the Quidditch world cup.

Speaking of the Quidditch world cup, that's up next! I'm looking forward to revisiting that setting. A big part of my enjoyment of these books is the world-building, and lots of details about wizarding life come out as Harry observes the crowds. Similarly, I'm looking forward to the introduction of the other wizarding schools that will participate in the Tri-Wizard Tournament.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Book Review: Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (1929)

Hitty, the title character of this 1930 Newbery Medal winning novel, is a doll made of mountain-ash wood who lives in the present day (1929) in a Maine antique shop. Because she has access to pen and paper, Hitty has decided to write her memoirs, which trace the first one hundred years of her life story. Hitty starts out living with a young girl named Phoebe Preble and survives several harrowing adventures under her care, before being lost and bouncing from owner to owner down through the decades. As Hitty moves around from place to place, she witnesses changes in technology and transportation, clothing and customs, resulting in a unique perspective on history.

I had planned to read this book on my own, but then took a chance that my five-year-old daughter might enjoy it and read it aloud to her instead. Though some things undoubtedly went over her head, it wound up being a good idea to share the book with her, as she became immediately invested in Hitty's adventures, and as a result, received some great insights into life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She is also young enough that some of the predictable and coincidental elements of the plot that drove me crazy with their unlikelihood were genuine surprises for her.

The writing in the novel is strong, and distinctive, and for the most part I thought it was a worthwhile story. I was a little surprised to come across the phrase "making love" during a scene late in the book, even though it only referred to kissing, and though I didn't censor that line (I make it a point to always read an author's words as written), I did quickly gloss over it so I didn't have to explain it. My daughter didn't seem to notice and has yet to ask me, so it wasn't a big deal for us, but I think it would have been helpful to know that was coming. There are also some sections of the book that contemporary values would deem inappropriate with regards to racial stereotypes. I don't condemn books for being products of their time, and I mostly just made a few editorial comments to explain how times have changed and kept moving through the story.

Hitty is a real doll, and there is a lot of information on this website to enrich the reading experience after finishing the book, including photos. My daughter didn't seem that impressed, as I think the Hitty of her imagination looms larger than any doll of the real world ever could, but I found it interesting to learn some of the real-life influences that contributed to Field's writing of the book.

What does not enrich the reading experience quite as much (or at all) is Rosemary Wells's retelling of this book, published as Rachel Field's Hitty: Her First Hundred Years in 1999. Though Wells claims in her "Note to the Reader" to have loved this book as a child, she also expresses concern about how infrequently it is read, and seems to believe that the way to reach a wider audience is to rewrite the book, editing out much of the original plot and adding in a whole new storyline of her own. She likens this process to "weeding a beautiful garden" but from what I can tell in my copy of this book (purchased before we knew better), it looks like she mostly just trampled the life out of it. Reader, beware.

Friday, April 19, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 20-22

This week, I read Chapter 20 ("The Dementor's Kiss"), Chapter 21 ("Hermione's Secret"), and Chapter 22 ("Owl Post Again"), and I have now finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban! (Spoilers for this book, and for the series, beyond this point.)

This has been the most satisfying re-read of the series so far. I don't think this book was as magical to me the second time because there were no surprises, but I really love the way the relationship between past and present starts to emerge as Harry gets to know Black and Lupin and to understand how his parents were betrayed. 

In these final chapters, what I enjoyed most was the use of the time turner. I love books that play with time, and the scenes where Harry and Hermione go back and watch themselves living out earlier events held up well for me. While it's a bit easy for Rowling to magically produce this previously unknown object at the end of the story just when the major problems of the book need to be resolved, it's mostly easy to forgive because of all the references throughout the book to Hermione's strange behavior and her impossible class schedule. It's a little unfair that the reader can't figure out the mystery because we don't know there's such a thing as a time turner,  but it's still a pretty neat twist to the story. 

The other thing that stood out to me is Dumbledore's behavior. Dumbledore is one of my favorite characters, but his judgment is often dubious, and it does require some suspension of disbelief. It's just not logical that a grown man - and powerful wizard - would entrust the task of rescuing Buckbeak and Sirius to two students. It's also ridiculous that he puts them up to it, but then doesn't really explain what he wants them to do. Granted, Hermione is smart enough to figure it out within a few seconds of arriving in the past, but still. It's amusing to me how Dumbledore is always either overprotecting Harry or sending him off into dangerous situations on the spur of the moment with virtually no protection. 

In any case, I'm really excited for book four. I only ever read it once, and I think I've only seen the movie once or twice, and it's a really long book, so I know I've forgotten a lot of what happens. I'm especially looking forward to the Quidditch World Cup and the Yule Ball.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Book Review: Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess (2017)

Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess is the story of seventeen-year-old Blade, a musician, whose mother has died, and whose rock star father struggles with addiction. While Blade's sister, Storm, is able to remain hopeful in the face of all this adversity, Blade has a more difficult time. When he suddenly learns that he is adopted, and that Chapel, his girlfriend, has been dating someone else behind his back, Blade is blindsided and devastated, so he flees to Ghana both to escape his personal problems and to locate his birth mother, who has been living among the people of a small Ghanaian village for ten years. While in Africa, Blade works through a lot of the issues that have been plaguing him, and begins to figure out that he can't run away from his family.

Though some of the themes in this book push the envelope a little bit, this is, for the most part, a wholesome read for teens. The issue of drug addiction is treated tastefully, with an emphasis on the fact that this is a disease against which Blade's father is fighting for his life. There is the slightest hint of sexual innuendo, but the potential romantic relationships in Blade's life are mostly very chaste, and Joy, a girl he meets in Ghana, even says that the most important basis for any relationship is friendship. Characters also make casual references to attending church as though this is a typical and normal part of their lives.

The writing is solid, and the 457 pages of verse go by in a flash. Like The Crossover, this is, at its heart, a story about families, the way they sometimes fall apart, and the uncanny way they also fit back together again. I really enjoyed the book, and I think anyone who loves Kwame Alexander's middle grade work will be pleased with this one as well, though I recommend saving this particular book for older teen readers.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Eating Poetry: How I Read and Appreciate Poems

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

These lines come from "Eating Poetry" by Mark Strand. As a whole, the poem is pretty surreal and disturbing, but this opening stanza sums up how I approach reading poetry. When I read a poem, what I want to do is simply take it in, and allow whatever joy it can offer me as a reader to fill me up. I read poetry solely for pleasure, and not to analyze, criticize, or otherwise tear apart each stanza. This may seem strange for someone who majored in English, but I mostly avoided poetry courses in college, and I think that is why I still have such a love for it today.

Billy Collins, my favorite contemporary poet, has a poem entitled "Introduction to Poetry," which expresses his frustration with poetry students who "want to tie the poem to a chair with rope / and torture a confession out of it" while Collins would prefer that they "...waterski / across the surface of a poem / waving at the author’s name on the shore." I also like to appreciate poetry at the surface level, and allow the deeper meanings to wash over me without having to agonize over each word. As I think about the ways I approach a poem in order to gain this appreciation, it becomes clear that there are three main ways I connect with poetry: through its sound, through its use of language, and through its resonance with my emotional experiences.

Rhythm and Rhyme

I have come to some of my favorite poems purely by my sense of sound. Often, the rhyme and rhythm of a poem will appeal to me and engage me before I have any idea of what the words are saying. My father read "Casey at the Bat" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee" to me when I was less than ten years old. I knew little about baseball, and nothing at all about gold mining in the Yukon, but both of these poems have such wonderfully playful meters to them that it's impossible not to get caught up in them, even if you're not catching every word.

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
[Casey at the Bat]

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
      But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.
[The Cremation of Sam McGee]

The rhythm and rhyme of these poems has become so familiar to me that I've read them again and again as I've aged, and their words have also become easier to comprehend and appreciate because of how often I have been exposed to them.

In college, I had a similar experience with some of the poems of William Butler Yeats, which I did briefly study in an Irish literature class. To this day, I don't really understand a word of "The Song of Wandering Aengus," but I still love the way it sounds:

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

And if nothing else, there is always the fun exercise of singing Emily Dickinson's poems to the tunes of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and/or "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" and/or the theme from "Gilligan's Island." (Try it with "'Hope' is the thing with feathers" - it's so satisfying.)


Another thing that will draw me into a poem is the way it plays with words and structure. Though there are many poems by e.e. cummings that go right over my head, he is also the author of some of my favorites. My favorite of his for playing with language is "anyone lived in a pretty how town." At first glance, this poem sounds like nonsense:

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

But as you slowly take in each stanza, it becomes clear that this is a poignant meditation on the lives of anonymous residents of a typical American town. I couldn't articulate exactly what a "pretty how town" is, nor do I have any idea why cummings included phrases like "up so floating many bells down" or, later in the poem, "dong and ding" and yet, as a whole, I instinctively understand the mood the poem means to convey. In this poem, cummings's experimentation with words brings artistry and universality to mundane daily life.

Another cummings poem that I really like, "in Just-" plays with language and the arrangement of words on the page:

in Just- 
spring          when the world is mud- 
luscious the little 
lame balloonman 

whistles          far          and wee 

This poem includes wonderful descriptions for the season of spring - "mudluscious," "puddle wonderful" -  and the way the words dance across the page also evokes a feeling of springtime joy and excitement. Again, I'm not sure what it really means to be a "goat-footed balloonman" as he is called near the end of the poem, nor could I explain the meaning of "far and wee," but the poem evokes spring beautifully, and I love to read the poem each year as the seasons change.

Another poet who plays with words and structure in a similar way is Douglas Florian, author of collections of poetry for children about seasons, animals, insects, and other favorite topics. His poetry is a bit more accessible than cummings, but equally as satisfying.

Emotional connection 

The third way I connect with poetry is through emotion. Poems that reflect experiences I have had or circumstances I have gone through tend to become favorites. One such poem is "Lanyard" by Billy Collins, in which he riffs on the idea of a child giving his mother a lanyard as a gift, as though it might make up for everything she has done for him. I first heard the poem in 2004 when Collins gave a reading at Vassar, and I very much resonated with the child's point of view, and connected to the poem through the nostalgia I associated with making lanyards at Girl Scout camp. Now, as a parent, I view the poem through the mother's eyes and see reflected in the lanyard the art projects my own children make for me. Collins, in general, writes very relatable poetry, giving new insight into ordinary everyday events.

Another poet whose work resonates with me on an emotional level is Edna St. Vincent Millay. I started reading her as a teenager, when relationships with boys were often at the forefront of my mind. When I experienced my first break-up, her poem “Time does not bring relief; you all have lied" (also called Sonnet II) reflected my feelings:

There are a hundred places where I fear   
To go,—so with his memory they brim.   
And entering with relief some quiet place   
Where never fell his foot or shone his face   
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”   
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

This seems a little melodramatic to me now, but the melancholy feeling this poem reflected to me as a teen has been replaced now with a strong sense of nostalgia for more innocent times. And these days, others of her poems with a more positive outlook appeal to me. One example is "Afternoon on a Hill":

I will be the gladdest thing  
    Under the sun!  
I will touch a hundred flowers  
    And not pick one.  
I love the way this poem expresses the thrill of being outside on a beautiful spring day.

Another example is a sonnet from her collection entitled Fatal Interview, which includes the following beautiful stanza:

Love in the open hand, no thing but that, 
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt, 
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat 
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt, 
I bring you, calling out as children do: 
"Look what I have! - And these are all for you."  

This is my favorite poem of all time, solely because of that final image, which appeals to our memories and impressions of childhood to explain the purity of the speaker's love.

Advice for Reading Poetry

I have come to appreciate all of these poems on my own without any specialized knowledge or guidance. Even if you have been made to feel that poetry is beyond your reach, there is no reason you can't overcome that roadblock and find some poems that speak to you. My advice is simple:

  • Don't panic. One of the wonderful things about being an armchair reader of poetry is that no one is going to grade your analysis of any poem that you read. Maybe one poem in an entire collection speaks to you - if that's the case, enjoy that poem and continue your search for more in another volume. There are many poems which are beyond me, and which I don't want to work to decode. So I don't read those, and I don't worry about it. 
  • Start small. A lot of short poems pack a big punch, and even poems that are ostensibly for children can be excellent gateways into poetry appreciation for adults. Shorter poems tend to feel less intimidating, both because they won't waste much of your time if you don't like them, and because their meanings are usually pretty easy to grasp at a glance. 
  • Read poetry aloud. Much of a poem's meaning comes from how it sounds. Reading poems aloud, even just to yourself in a quiet room, can make them seem less mystifying. Recordings of authors reading their own work (which can often be found on YouTube) can also help you become attuned to the way they intended the poems to sound, which can also help elucidate their meanings.
  • Don't give up. Poetry can take time to appreciate; even if it's not clicking for you after trying several poets, this does not mean that you are in some way defective as a reader. If you are person who loves the written word, there is a poem out there somewhere that will make sense and become important to you. You just have to have the patience and perseverance to keep looking until you find it. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 16-19

Things are getting exciting as the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban approaches! In last week's chapters ("Professor Trelawney's Prediction," "Cat, Rat, and Dog," "Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs," and "The Servant of Lord Voldemort"), we finally sort out all the details of how Lupin and Black are connected, and how Pettigrew betrayed the Potters and then allowed Black to take the fall for him.

This part of the book was pretty clear in my memory, so there weren't a lot of surprises on this re-reading. It was fun to see the scene in the Shrieking Shack play out, knowing the outcome, but as has been the case with several Snape scenes in this book, I felt he was too cartoonishly cruel. Given his role in the final two books of the series, it's almost not believable for him to be so gratuitously mean to his students. I know we're seeing him through Harry's eyes, but even so, it feels over the top.

What does feel very real, though, is Sirius's indignation toward Pettigrew on behalf of James and Lily. I wanted to stand up and cheer at this moment:

"You don't understand," whined Pettigrew. "He would have killed me, Sirius!"


These words really drive home the fact that Pettigrew was their friend, something that is a bit hard to believe given how deplorable he appears in this book. This line also highlights one of the reasons I don't object to Catholic kids reading these books. Rowling reinforces what Jesus says: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

I'll be finishing the book this week, and then I'll be spending two months with book four!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Read-at-Home Kids Report: March 2019

I had so many book reviews to squeeze in at the end of March that this post got pushed back a few days, but I still want to share all the books the girls enjoyed in March.

Family Read-Alouds

We finished Miss Hickory  (which was peculiar, yet charming) and then I decided to start reading to the two older girls separately so each could listen to a book tailored to her own interests. Little Miss Muffet just finished listening to Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field, which is the story of a doll's adventures with a series of owners. It's written at a much higher level than she could read on her own, but she has comprehended it well and learned a lot of history in the process. With Little Bo Peep, I'm switching back and forth between The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook and Old Mother West Wind. She has not been especially attentive, but she is enjoying them from what I can tell. In the evening, my husband is reading them the Moffats series. He finished The Moffats and The Middle Moffat, and now they're hearing Rufus M..

We also undertook a couple of reading challenges on Instagram leading up to St. Patrick's Day for which we read five picture books of a different color every day for six days. The big girls each chose two books, and I chose the fifth, and we read them aloud after breakfast. This was a great way to revisit some old favorites and to discover some books on our shelves that we hadn't read yet. Little Bo Peep was especially into this idea, and she is still looking at some of the books we read even two weeks later.

Little Miss Muffet, Age 5 

For school this month, we've been exploring many different topics. We started (but decided not to finish) a disappointing nonfiction title about fish (Classifying Fish by Louise Spilsbury). Then we reviewed some of our natural history lessons by comparing the timeline in A Brief History of Life on Earth by Clemence Dupont to the illustrations in Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton.  We're also still occasionally dipping into Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages, though her interest in dinosaurs is starting to fade a little bit. My plan is to read aloud The Fantastic Flying Journey by Gerald Durrell next.

Independently, she is also reading a variety of titles, including books of Norse myths (Adventures with the Giants and Thunder of the Gods), collections of Irish fairy tales (Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Ireland by Virginia Haviland and Tales from Old Ireland by Malachy Doyle), series books (the latest Sophie Mouse and book 3 of the Heartwood Hotel series), and audiobooks (the usual favorites - Muggie Maggie, Mitch and Amy, and The Year of Billy Miller.) During school time, she is also reading a biography of Louis Braille on Open Library.

Little Bo Peep, Age 3 

Little Bo Peep has been enjoying peeking into her sister's Sophie Mouse collection and she likes to look at the omnibus edition of the first four books in the series. She also likes to have her sister read aloud to her, and I've caught them together on the couch sharing such books as Fin M'Coul by Tomie dePaola and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury.

Bo Peep has become more interested in playing with toys than looking at books during naptime, but she does like the occasional audiobook. Just the other day, she listened to Tops and Bottoms while acting the story out on the flannel board at the same time. Her Eloise Wilkin book was confiscated because she wasn't treating it nicely, and that seems to have diminished her interest in her for the moment, though I'm sure the loss of interest isn't permanent. The other books she has been carrying around the house with her are our two Catholic children's Bibles: The Catholic Children's Bible by Sister Mary Theola and The New Catholic Picture Bible by Lawrence G. Lovasik.

I'm also teaching Bo Peep the consonants and their sounds using The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading. We have done B, C, D, F, and G so far.

Little Jumping Joan, Age 17 months

Little Jumping Joan has fallen in love with word books: Happy Baby Colors by Roger Priddy, Richard Scarry's Just Right Word Book, DK's My First Words, and DK's My First Word Board Book. She is especially intrigued by animals, and likes to growl at bears and anything she perceives to be similar to a bear.

She is also completely obsessed with both The Babies on the Bus by Karen Katz and Ten Little Babies by Gyo Fujikawa (both of which she has basically destroyed), as well as Atinuke's new picture book, B is For Baby. She refers to each of these books as "babies" and mostly just walks around the house with them. I keep trying to read them to her, but mostly she howls at me until I agree to just let her hold them. She also likes to point to babies' toes in the illustrations and say "feet."

Jumping Joan is also beginning to notice that we have a lot of bookshelves in our house and she walks around the living room, visiting each one and asking "whassat?" I have no doubt she will be a book lover like her sisters.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

#YearofHarryPotter: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 12-15

I'm moving right along with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Last week, I read Chapters 12 to 15: "The Patronus," "Gryffindor Versus Ravenclaw," "Snape's Grudge," and "The Quidditch Final." Spoilers ahead, as always.

One nice thing about re-reading this series is getting to see all the supporting characters enter the story with a new appreciation for their significance. In this book, we meet Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang through Harry's interactions with them on the Quidditch pitch, but for re-readers who know their role in the later books, the first moments they appear are heartwarming (and in Cedric's case, heartbreaking!) I also really enjoyed Oliver Wood and Lee Jordan in these chapters - both are written with great humor.

Another thing that is standing out to me in this book is how scary the dementors are! In my mind, the first three books of the series are the "tame" ones, but really, I'd be a little nervous about letting a little kid read about these soul-sucking beings. My kids are pretty unflappable, but dementors are intense!

I also took note of a moment where, despite my loyalty to Harry, I felt a little sympathy for Snape's point of view. On page 209, he says, "Everyone from the Minister for Magic downwards has been trying to keep famous Harry Potter safe from Sirius Black. But famous Harry Potter is a law unto himself. Let the ordinary people worry about his safety! Famous Harry Potter goes where he wants to, with no thought for the consequences." Harry definitely has this attitude throughout the series. The worst of it hasn't even come yet, so it's understandable why Snape just doesn't have patience for him.

Another moment I loved is a quick awkward glimpse into the slowly developing romance of Ron and Hermione. When they get the news that Buckbeak is to be executed, Hermione gives Ron an unexpected hug, and he reacts by patting "her very awkwardly on the top of the head." Poor clueless Ron. He will always be my favorite.

Finally, I think some of the best writing of the series so far is in the chapter about the Quidditch final, in which Gryffindor finally wins the Quidditch Cup. There is a lot of sadness ahead for Harry, so the moment of triumph he feels as the match ends is especially meaningful. I also love the image of McGonagall sobbing over a sporting event.

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Read-at-Home Mom Report: March 2019

I read an insane number of books in March. My original plan was to make it a slower reading month than February, but then a variety of things made it busier than usual. 

For one thing, between review copies and a few local book sales, we added a lot of picture books to our collection this month, and I read a lot of them with the kids as soon as they came into the house. I also participated in two picture book challenges on Instagram, one focused on the rainbow, and one where the goal was to read five picture books per day for a week. Though we read a lot of books we'd previously read (which I didn't count on Goodreads), we also read some books we owned but had never read before. So nearly half the books I read this month were picture books.

The other major factor contributing to the huge number of books I read is that it was also #MiddleGradeMarch on Instagram. I originally set out to read just five books, but once I saw what other people were reading, I got inspired to read more and doubled that number. Additionally, I did some Lenten reading and finished two books for book club, and then finished out the month with a two-day read-a-thon (#8intwo). When I counted it all up, I had read 27 novels and nonfiction books. 

I really hope to have a much slower reading month in April, even if it is nice to be a bit ahead of the game on some of my goals. But here is my list of March reads, which I'll be linking up for It's Monday! What Are You Reading? with The Book Date and Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and for the March 2019 Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up Link-Up at Feed Your Fiction Addiction. 

Books Read 

Lily Lo and the Wonton Maker
by Frances Lee Hall
Format: Paperback
Genre: Realistic fiction (middle grade)
Source: Ann Jacobus
Review: On Instagram (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Life of Fred: Apples
by Stanley F. Schmidt
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Math textbook
Source: Inter-library loan
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Corned Beef and Casualties
by Lynn Cahoon
Format: Audiobook, read by Susan Boyce
Genre: Cozy mystery  (novella)
Source: Public library (Hoopla app)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐)

The Porcupine Year
by Louise Erdrich
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Historical fiction (middle grade)
Source: Personal collection
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐)

A Girl from Yamhill
by Beverly Cleary
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Memoir (middle grade)
Source: Personal collection
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Night Watchmen
by Helen Cresswell
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy (middle grade)
Source: Personal collection
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐)

From Potter's Field
by Patricia Cornwell
Format: Paperback/audiobook, read by C.J. Critt 
Genre: Mystery/thriller
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Field Notes on Love 
by Jennifer E. Smith
Format: Digital ARC
Genre: Romance (YA)
Source: NetGalley
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Restaurant Weeks Are Murder 
by Libby Klein
Format: Digital ARC
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: NetGalley
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Miss Hickory
by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Personal collection
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Gentle Traditionalist
by Roger Buck
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Religious/Catholic
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Hello, Universe
by Erin Entrada Kelly
Format: Ebook
Genre: Realistic fiction
Source: Public library (Libby app)
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐)

Cause of Death
by Patricia Cornwell
Format: Audiobook, read by C.J. Critt
Genre: Mystery/thriller
Source: Public library (Libby app)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐)

Sweeping Up the Heart
by Kevin Henkes
Format: Digital ARC
Genre: Realistic fiction
Source: Edelweiss+
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐) 

The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer: Special Edition for Young Readers
Selected and Adapted by A. Kent Hieatt and Constance Hieatt
Illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Classic
Source: Home library
Review: On Instagram (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Humanae Vitae
by Pope Paul VI
Format: Ebook
Genre: Religious/Catholic
Source: Formed.org
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

Searching for and Maintaining Peace
by Fr. Jacques Phillipe
Format: Paperback
Genre: Religious/Catholic
Source: Inter-library loan
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Crossover
by Kwame Alexander
Format: Audiobook, read by Corey Allen
Genre: Realistic fiction/novel in verse (middle grade)
Source: Public library (Libby app)
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Three Children and Shakespeare
by Anne Terry White
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Realistic fiction
Source: Inter-library loan
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Murder Once Removed
by S.C. Perkins
Format: Digital ARC
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: Netgalley
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Hard Times
by Charles Dickens
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classics
Source: Used book sale
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

Park's Quest
by Katherine Paterson
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Personal collection
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐)

A Beautiful Mystery
by Louise Penny
Format: Paperback
Genre: Mystery
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Noah Green: Junior Zookeeper and the Garage Sale Pet
by Carolyn Leiloglou
Format: Paperback
Genre: Realistic fiction
Source: Carolyin Leiloglou
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

In This House of Brede
by Rumer Godden
Format: Ebook
Genre: Literary fiction
Source: Personal Kindle collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Murder Lo Mein
by Vivien Chien
Format: Digital ARC
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: NetGalley
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

Murder with Peacocks
by Donna Andrews
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: Public library (Hoopla app)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Picture Books (with links to Goodreads reviews):

Blog Posts Published

Challenge Progress

  • Alphabet Soup: 0 read in March, 18 of 26 read total 
  • Alphabet Soup Author Edition: 3 read in March, 18 of 26 read total
  • #CathLit: 4 read in March, 8 of 19 read total
  • Cloak and Dagger: 8 read in March, 23 of 55 read total
  • Craving for Cozies: 5 read in March, 15 of 51 read total
  • Library Love: 4 read in March, 19 of 60 read total
  • Mount TBR: 8 read in March, 23 of 36 read total
  • RMFAO Audiobooks: 4 read in March, 18 of 25 read total
  • Goodreads Goal: 52 read in March, 119 of 400 read total