Friday, May 31, 2019

The Read-at-Home Kids Report: May 2019

Family Read-Alouds

This month's lunchtime read-aloud (read by me) has been Inside the Ark by Caryll Houselander. This is a collection of short stories aimed at Catholic children, and it has been a lovely way to make Easter last all through the season. Though Little Miss Muffet (age 5 years, 6 months) liked the stories, they seemed to make a surprisingly even bigger impression on Little Bo Peep (3 years, 8 months). She told me her favorites were "The Dancing Bear," "The White Mouse's Story," and "Petook," but insisted all of them were great.

Bo Peep was less enthusiastic about Joan of Arc by Josephine Poole and Angela Barrett, which we read aloud at breakfast yesterday morning, on her feast day. Bo Peep said she hated the book and rated it one star because it had too many battles. Miss Muffet was a big fan, though, partly because she knows one of the voices Joan heard was her patroness, St. Margaret of Antioch. 

At dinner, my husband is reading aloud The Little Circus, which everyone likes except Little Jumping Joan (19 months) who is frequently too disruptive to stay at the table to even pretend to listen.

Little Miss Muffet (5 years, 6 months)

Though we're pretty much schooling year-round, we have started to wind down some of the things we have been working on in our homeschool during kindergarten. This month, we finally made it to the end of The World We Live In, which we have been reading on and off since January. I know she didn't understand every single concept presented, but the book gave her an excellent overview of natural history and the natural world, and it has great illustrations. We also finished the second Life of Fred book, Butterflies, and we're very close to the end of Famous Paintings: An Introduction to Art by Alice Elizabeth Chase. She also really loved Filippo's Dome by Anne Rockwell, about the building of Brunelleschi's Duomo in Florence, and now she's enjoying The Caves of the Great Hunters by Hans Baumann, which we take turns reading aloud to each other.

This month, we also started a new chapter in Building Foundations for Scientific Understanding focused on materials, which led us to borrow a few ebooks from Hoopla: Wood by Andrea Rivera, Wood by Harriet Brundle, Rock by Harriet Brundle, Materials by Steffi Cavell-Clarke, and Let's Investigate Everyday Materials by Ruth Owen. (We have finished all but that last one.)

On her own, Miss Muffet has also been reading a ton of great books. She finished our omnibus edition containing three Wishing Chair books by E. Nesbit, and has since zipped through five picture books in the Something Queer series by Elizabeth Levy, as well as Three Boys and a Lighthouse by Nan Hayden Agle and Ellen Wilson, On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder,  Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary, Sarah, Plain and Tall, Skylark, and Caleb's Story by Patricia Maclachlan, and Beyond the Pawpaw Trees by Palmer Brown. She is now reading The Silver Nutmeg by Palmer Brown.

Miss Muffet also learned "Daffodils" by William Wordsworth as her memorization work for the month.

Little Bo Peep (3 years, 8 months)

Bo Peep's latest book obsession is Christina Katerina and the Box by Patricia Lee Gauch. She talks about it a lot, and if anyone offers to read a story to her, this is the one she will almost always choose. I enjoyed Christina Katerina as a kid, too, so I'm always happy to oblige. When we're not reading about Christina Katerina, her other book of choice is  Janet's Thingamajigs by Beverly Cleary, another of my childhood favorites.

She's also been enjoying reading a new wordless book, Sign Off by Stephen Savage, listening to the Little Miss and Mr. Men audiobooks read by Jim Dale, and carrying around a poetry book illustrated with paintings of babies. (The best books, she says, always have babies in them!)

Little Bo Peep's memory work for this month was "Away We Go" by Eleanor Dennis.

Little Jumping Joan

Finally, our baby has really started to become interested in having books read aloud to her. The other day, she stood in the playpen and listened to Animal Sounds by Aurelius Battaglia, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle, Mama, Look! by Patricia Murphy and David Diaz and If All the Seas Were One Sea by Janina Domanska. She also loves to point out when anyone else is holding a book, and she frequently listens along when Bo Peep has audiobooks playing. She also loves to look at our Catholic Baptism Bible, even though we're constantly taking it away from her for fear she will rip it!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Reading Through History: The Master Puppeteer by Katherine Paterson (1975)

Jiro, the son of peasant Hanji the puppetmaker and his wife, Isako, whose other children all died of the plague, is starving to death in feudal Osaka, Japan. When he is offered the opportunity to become an apprentice for Yoshida at the puppet theater, he decides to leave his family behind in favor of a better life for himself. As he befriends the other apprentices, including Yoshida's own son, Kinshi, Jiro does his best to fulfill his role within the theater without offending those above him. He worries, however, about the welfare of his parents and wonders about Saburo, a Robin Hood-esque samurai and hero of the poor who has been stirring things up around Osaka.

This is a short book, but a complex one. Paterson, who was born in China and worked as a missionary in Japan, studied both Chinese and Japanese history, and she clearly did a lot of research on this time period, resulting in a book very different from her American-based works of realistic fiction.  I know very little about feudal Japan, but Paterson helps her readers to identify the main conflicts of the time, and to empathize with the extreme poverty of the peasants. She also brings to life the fascinating behind-the-scenes world of kabuki theater, and the illustrations by Haru Wells provide a lot of good context for readers who might otherwise have difficulty imagining the puppets and how they are manipulated.

It took me a good 40 pages to feel invested in Jiro, which is a lot in a 179-page novel, but once he enters the theater and becomes close with Kinshi, he comes to life as a character, and then it becomes easier to settle in to the story. It didn't flow as easily for me as something like Jacob Have I Loved or The Great Gilly Hopkins, but it also took me further outside of my reading comfort zone than I have gone with this author in the past, and I think it's a good thing that it stretched my reading muscles a bit.

The Master Puppeteer would be a good assignment for middle schoolers who have some background knowledge about feudalism. I will definitely want my girls to read it when we study this time period. It would also be interesting to pair this book with The Shakespeare Stealer, as theater and theft both figure heavily into both books.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Book Review: Friday's Tunnel by John Verney (1959)

Friday's Tunnel is a children's novel originally published by English writer John Verney in 1959, which has been reissued by Paul Dry Books. (I'm grateful to have received a review copy!) February and Friday Callendar are sister and brother and they have just returned home for the summer holidays. Shortly after their arrival, their father, a well-known and much-respected newspaper reporter, announces that he will need to journey to the nation of Capria to report on an emerging crisis for the paper. When it becomes clear that he never makes it to Capria, however, February and her brother begin to investigate exactly what is going on in Capria and where their father might really be.

I really enjoyed this book. February has a great narrative voice, and she kept me interested in the plot even when I wasn't always completely invested in all the political intrigue. She struck me as a precursor to a character like Ruby Redford. The family itself reminded me a bit of other favorite vintage kidlit families: Hilda van Stockum's Mitchells, Madeleine L'Engle's Austins, and Geoffrey Trease's Melburys (from No Boats on Bannermere and its sequels), but with an added layer of Cold War era suspicion and suspense. I also found myself comparing this book to Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, as February is resourceful in the same way as those characters, and they have a similar light tone and straightforward writing style.

Though some of the government issues and political problems felt a bit confusing at times (especially since Capria is an invented country), overall, it was fun trying to piece together the clues (many of which February discerns by reading a comic strip) and to guess what was going to happen from chapter to chapter. Next, I'm looking forward to reading February's Road, the second book of this series, of which I also received a review copy.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

My Favorite Books Released In the Last Ten Years

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is favorite books released in the last ten years. Up until recently, I've been reading more children's books than anything else, so I decided to pick two titles for each year: one written for an adult audience, and one written at the middle grade level.


  • Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny
    This is the eighth book in the wonderful Armand Gamache series, and it's my favorite of the ones I've read. I rated it 5 stars in December 2018.
  • Crunch by Leslie Connor
    In this novel, there is a major gasoline crisis which brings a sudden influx of business to Dewey's family's bike repair shop at a time when his parents happen to be out of town. I gave it 5 stars in August 2010.


  • No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene
    This memoir about a family with nine children tells the honest truth about the joys and challenges of international adoption. I rated it 5 stars in July 2018. 
  • The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky
    Though this book wasn't available in the U.S. until 2013, it was published in Australia in 2011. It's the story of the mysterious disappearance of a teacher at a girls school after an outing with her students. I rated it 5 stars in July 2013.


  • The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch
    This is a memoir about a couple opening a used bookstore in a small town in West Virginia. I rated it 4 stars in April of this year.
  • Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
    This novel explores the Japanese roots of its main character, Skye, as family members she has never met move from Japan to the U.S. I rated it 5 stars in August 2016.


  • A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor
    This slim volume of journal entries by Flannery O'Connor gives great insight into her spiritual life. I rated it 5 stars in June 2015. 
  • Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill
    This historical fiction novel about a plucky little girl named Bo and the two burly miners who take her on as their child after the death of her mother is a great read-alike for the Little House series. I rated it 5 stars in September 2013.


  • Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler
    Jennifer Fulwiler's conversion story is one of my favorite Catholic books. I rated it 5 stars in January 2015 and still found it worthy of 5 stars this past month.
  • Greenglass House by Kate Milford
    This atmospheric novel about a smuggler's inn and its inhabitants is a perfect cozy read for the winter months. I rated it 5 stars in July 2014, and rated the audiobook 5 stars in February of this year.


  • The Gentle Traditionalist: A Catholic Fairy-tale from Ireland by Roger Buck
    This fairy tale explains the Catholic faith to a secular audience through a mythical character known as the Gentle Traditionalist. I rated it 5 stars in March of this year.
  • Moonpenny Island by Tricia SpringstubbThis beautifully written novel by one of my favorite middle grade authors follows a young girl named Flor through a period of great change during which her best friend moves away and her mother leaves home. I rated it 5 stars in January 2015.


  • The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
    The four adult siblings in this book have each been counting on a fund of money called "the nest" to help them with their financial problems, but each one's claim is threatened when their mother spends the money to bail her oldest out of trouble. I rated it 4 stars this month. 
  • Mission Mumbai: A Novel of Sacred Cows, Snakes, and Stolen Toilets by Mahtab Narsimhan
    In this novel, a young boy accompanies his best friend to visit family in India, and while there, he explores the photography hobby that his father believes is a waste of time and helps his friend figure out how to avoid being sent to India for school. I rated it 5 stars in January 2016.


  • The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor
    This novel is about a marine biologist who survived a shark bite as a kid and has now returned to her hometown to sort out her feelings for her long-ago crush. I rated it 4 stars in December 2017. 
  • Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
    Lauren Wolk's second middle grade novel is set on a tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts, where a young girl named Crow is cared for by an old man named Osh, who rescued her as a baby and Miss Maggie who lives nearby. Crow has always known she came from another nearby island, but when she sees a fire there one night, she becomes curious about her past an sets out to discover the truth. I rated it 5 stars in December 2017. 


  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean
    This nonfiction book about the fire at the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986 is a wonderful tribute to libraries and a fascinating look into the history of one American library system. I rated it 5 stars in January of this year.
  • Front Desk by Kelly Yang
    This story about a Chinese immigrant family working in a hotel in 1990s California has all the qualities of excellent middle grade books. I rated it 5 stars in June 2018. 

2019 (so far)

  • Murder Lo Mein by Vivien Chien
    I love the Noodle Shop Mysteries, and this third book did not disappoint! I rated it 3 stars back in March.
  • Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes
    This gentle novel by Kevin Henkes is a quiet book, but beautifully written. I rated it 4 stars in March.
See any of your favorites on my list? 

Monday, May 27, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 20-23

I really loved this week's set of chapters: Chapter 20 ("The First Task"), Chapter 21 ("The House-Elf Liberation Front"), Chapter 22 ("The Unexpected Task"), and Chapter 23 ("The Yule Ball"). Spoilers ahead!

The cheating in the Tri-Wizard Tournament continues as the first task gets underway, and I have to admit that I found this annoying. It's one thing for Hagrid to clue Harry in to what the task is, or for Harry to let Cedric know what it is after realizing it will level the playing field, but why is Bagman trying to give Harry help on his way out to meet his dragon? The "cheating is a traditional part of this tournament" explanation strikes me as lame. But at least Harry has the good sense to say no, though I do question whether he would have done so if he hadn't already come up with a plan.

Ron and Harry also make up after Ron realizes how dangerous the first task actually is. I loved this line: "Ron's indignation on his behalf was worth a hundred points to him." For all his flaws, Harry does recognize the value of a good friend. Harry also dismisses Rita Skeeter's desire to have a word with him in a way I appreciated. He says, "Yeah, you can have a word. Goodbye." No, this is not how fourteen year olds should speak to their elders, but it is absolutely how I would deal with a reporter like her.

Hermione's crusade for house elf rights also continues in this section of the book. I always find myself skimming those sections, but it was fun to see Dobby again, and to hear him and Winky speak a bit about their former masters who were Death Eaters. This same chapter (21) includes a lot of great one-liners that really highlight what adolescent boys find funny, without resorting to vulgarity, which I appreciate.

As happens in each book, this one provides a reason for other students to stay at Hogwarts over Christmas so Harry is not just alone. This time it's a reason for everyone to stay: the Yule Ball. This event provides the catalyst for Hermione and Ron's first argument surrounding their slowly growing feelings for each other. Ron is so believably clueless about the idea that Hermione might want to be his date, and when he gets around to figuring it out, he can only bring himself to point out that she's a girl. His reaction to the fact that she went with Krum is also age appropriate and appropriate to his personality. I also love that Krum pronounces her name "Herm-own-ninny."

There are some really good subtle clues in this book hinting at things to come. One that I especially love is the fact that the Secrecy Sensor and Sneakoscope keep whistling in Moody's office. "Moody" explains this away by saying that it's  because so many students are lying about their homework and such, but of course, it must really be the fact that this isn't Moody at all, but the imposter. Another great one is when Dumbledore mentions taking a wrong turn on his way to the bathroom and discovering a previously unknown room full of chamber pots that he has since not seen again. This has to be the room of requirement! I love that Rowling lays such a careful groundwork for this series. It really rewards re-readers!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 17-19

Over the weekend, I read my next installment in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Chapter 17 ("The Four Champions"), Chapter 18 ("The Weighing of the Wands"), and Chapter 19 ("The Hungarian Horntail"). Spoilers below for the entire series as always.

Though I remembered most of the plot in broad strokes, there was a lot happening that I didn't remember as clearly. For one thing, I'd forgotten about Ron's anger and jealousy toward Harry, and his assumption that Harry did put his name in the goblet but just kept it from him. In some ways, this rift in their friendship foreshadows their bigger disagreement in the final book of the series. Like their fight in that final book, this one also helps the reader to see Ron as more than just the comic relief or the loyal sidekick.  He's my favorite character, so I am always appreciative when Rowling takes the time to give him a little more depth. I'm looking forward to their friendship being repaired, but I do like that Rowling is adding some believable tension to it.

I also found myself getting angry at Rita Skeeter. As becomes more evident when Dolores Umbridge comes on the scene, Rowling does a really good job of writing obnoxious, self-serving adults. Skeeter, though not as evil as Umbridge, definitely pushes a lot of buttons for the reader. (Parallels to the way the current mainstream media likes to distort certain news stories may have made her behavior seem more egregious than it did the first time.)

The other thing I want to mention is that that it kind of made me laugh that, before the first task even begins, Hagrid is helping Harry to cheat. Obviously, in the grander scheme of things, Harry should never have been permitted to compete, and indeed has been placed in the Triwizard Tournament in order that harm should come to him, so it makes sense that all the adults in his life feel compelled to keep him safe through whatever means necessary. But I still chuckled a bit at how Harry is always always an exception. Ron's position is definitely understandable. Also, it seems a little odd to me that an underage wizard is bound by this magical contract when he didn't opt into it himself. Surely Dumbledore could have prevented this whole thing somehow!

I have a general memory of how things proceed from here, but not much in the way of specifics, so I'm actually looking forward to finding out what happens next. I'll also be curious to see if I find more parallels between Harry's trials in the tournament and those he endures later when seeking out the horcruxes.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Books My Children Have Destroyed

Top Ten Tuesday's theme for this week is Books That I Refuse to Let Anyone Touch. I'm a big believer in Ranganathan's First Law of Library Science: books are for use. Therefore, I'm not too particular about letting other people touch my books. It's possible, however, that I should not apply this principle quite so liberally with my children, as they have managed to destroy all ten of the books on today's list.

My oldest daughter, Little Miss Muffet (now 5), was usually very gentle with books as a baby, and it was rare that she did anything with them other than turn the pages and look at the pictures. On two occasions, though, she was left unsupervised with a book and disaster struck.

Her first victim was the My First Word Board Book. She chewed off a corner of the front cover, tried to swallow it, choked, and spit up. To prevent further damage, my husband trimmed the corner straight across, and the book has lasted through two more kids, but this was the first book that ever got destroyed by a child in our household.

Another time, we borrowed Go In and Out the Window: An Illustrated Songbook For Children from the public library, and I foolishly left it within her reach at naptime. I thought she was sleeping, but it turned out she was tearing a page of that book into tiny little pieces. I decided that, rather than bring it to the library and pay for the book, I would use my librarian skills to tape it back together. Amazingly, I had every piece and it didn't look that bad when it went into the book drop. (Later, we bought a nice used copy, and thankfully, that one is still intact.)

Miss Muffet also kicked off the destruction of our first board book copy of Ten Little Babies by Gyo Fujikawa. When it seemed like it was in danger of falling apart, I took the book away and put it on a shelf she couldn't reach. I didn't want the two subsequent babies to miss out, however, and when they had their chance to read it, they finished it off. Thankfully, Grandma, who bought it for us originally, recently replaced it with a nice new copy.

Also recently, Miss Muffet read to shreds one of my books from childhood: 696 Silly School Jokes & Riddles by Joseph Rosenbloom. It wasn't in the best condition when I passed it down to her in the first place, and she reads it so often that it has just fallen into three pieces. I'm working on figuring out how to tape it back together so we can get a bit more mileage out of it.

My second daughter, Little Bo Peep (age 3), has been a bit rougher on books than her older sister, in part because she never reads just one at a time. She requires a stack, preferably as tall as she is, and she goes through the titles in rapid succession, tossing one side and immediately moving on to the next. Her earliest favorites were Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Eloise Wilkin Stories. We have owned several copies of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, but the one she destroyed was the hardcover edition of the most recent version. We still have the board book, as well as the older version with the original art in hardcover. I wish Golden Books would strengthen the binding on their collections like Eloise Wilkin Stories. We've replaced it twice, and no one has even been that rough with it. It just doesn't hold up well to multiple readings per day.

The three-year-old also started Babies on the Bus on the road to ruin, just by reading and re-reading it. We did eventually replace the picture book with a board book (again, thanks to Grandma!) but then the toddler broke the spine on that one.  I believe the toddler (now 19 months) may also be responsible for the ripped cover on my signed childhood copy of Sarah's Unicorn and the fact that the pages of The Catholic Children's Bible have become detached from the cover. She hasn't admitted to it, but neither has anyone else!

Finally, the latest book my kids have destroyed is A Brief History of Life on Earth by Clemence Dupont. This is a beautiful science book that folds out to be a timeline which I received for review from Prestel. The two older girls love it so much that they are constantly fighting over it. Every time one tugs it away from the other, it gets ripped in a new place. It's also really easy for little ones to unfold it too much and get confused about how to put it back together, and that results in loosening of glue and ripping as well.

Which books have been damaged at your house? 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Book Review: The Doll People series by Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin

When my mom came to visit just before Easter, she brought us paperback copies of all of the Doll People books. I have always wanted to read them, so I decided to just preview them all at once so that I will be ready to hand them to my oldest daughter whenever I think she is ready.

The main character of the series is Annabelle Doll. She and her family belong to Kate Palmer, an eight-year-old girl who is the most recent owner of a dollhouse that has been passed down through several generations. The other members of the Doll family include Annabelle's mother and father, her brother Bobby, Nanny, baby Betsy, Uncle Doll, and, though she has been missing for 45 years, Auntie Sarah. The adults have always been very protective of Annabelle, owing in part to their fear of breaking the oath all dolls take if they want to remain living. Part of the oath is to avoid behavior that threatens dollkind, such as being seen moving around by humans, and the penalty for putting other dolls in danger in this way can be as mild as "Doll State," a 24-hour coma-like state in which the doll is only a doll and not a living being, and as severe as "Permanent Doll State," when the doll becomes inanimate forever. When Annabelle finds Auntie Sarah's diary, however, she begins gathering clues as to where her aunt may have gone. Despite the dangers, Annabelle convinces her family that she must venture out into the Palmers' house to find her aunt and bring her back home.

On the night she leaves her dollhouse for the first time, Annabelle comes upon a box containing a present for Kate's younger sister Nora to receive on her upcoming fifth birthday.  The package contains a Funcraft dollhouse and a family of brand-new, durable, plastic dolls: Mom, Dad, Bailey, Baby Britney, and Tiffany, with whom Annabelle becomes fast friends. With Tiffany by her side, and buoyed by the Funcrafts' less cautious outlook on life, Annabelle is certain she can find her long-lost aunt and bring their family back together again. This quest comprises the plot for book one, The Doll People (2000).

The Doll People is really well-done. The story is similar to tales like Hitty: Her First Hundred Years and The Borrowers, but the authors also add new twists to the concept to make it their own. I love all the descriptions of the ridiculous games Nora plays with all the dolls, including the fragile ones that belong to her sister,  as well as the fun little details, such as the fact that Baby Betsy was sent to the original owner of the dollhouse by mistake, and that she is actually a much larger doll from a different set. Martin and Godwin understand what appeals to the imaginations of little girls who love dolls, and they tell a great story using those elements.

Brian Selzick's illustrations, which I don't always like, are perfect for a book like this. His cinematic changes in perspective, and the immersive quality of his pictures really place the reader in the doll world and keep her there for the duration of the story. He does an especially great job capturing the differences in appearance and personality between the Dolls and the Funcrafts.

Book two, The Meanest Doll in the World (2003), sends Annabelle and Tiffany to school in Kate's backpack. When they climb out to explore the school and inadvertently go home in the wrong backpack at the end of the day, they find themselves in a house full of dolls who live in fear of Princess Mimi, a bully who constantly puts them all in danger by intentionally doing things that can't be undone before the humans discover them. Before they return to the Palmers', Annabelle and Tiffany want to save their new friends from Mean Mimi once and for all.

In book three, The Runaway Dolls (2008), the Palmers are getting ready to go on vacation when a mysterious package arrives. Annabelle discovers that it contains a baby named Tilly May - the baby doll that was originally supposed to come with the Dolls has finally been delivered after all these years! Annabelle is overjoyed to have another sister, but also very nervous. What if the Palmers don't realize what's in the package and return it unopened? Unwilling to take that chance, she and Tiffany carefully open the package, release Tilly May, and take off into the great outdoors. Unfortunately, they don't have much of a plan, and before they know it, all three girls, along with their brothers, are placed for sale in a department store from which no doll has ever escaped!

The conclusion of the series, The Doll People Set Sail (2014), is illustrated by Brett Helquist, and sadly, though he tries to uphold the style established by Selznick, the charm just isn't there. The story, which is about the Dolls and Funcrafts accidentally being donated to charity and shipped overseas, is not as strong as the others to begin with, and the loss of Selznick as the illustrator just contributes to the feeling that maybe this series went on just one book too long. I will have no objection to my kids reading it (I gave it three stars), but it kind of a let-down to end the series on a low note.

There is also a picture book companion to the series, The Doll People's Christmas (2016), also illustrated by Helquist. The illustrations are in color, which makes them work a little bit better than Helquist's black and white ones, but the story is bland compared to the plots of the novels. I'll probably bring it out as a novelty at Christmastime sometime after we have read the rest of the series. 

My oldest daughter who loves dolls and adventure stories is definitely going to love these books. She will not understand some references (the dolls sing "Respect" by Aretha Franklin, which she has never heard, and a couple of the books mention Barbies, which she has played with but has never heard called by their brand name) but the themes of friendship and family will appeal to her, and since there are always consequences for bad behavior, I feel like the series will uphold the values we are currently trying to teach her. I haven't decided yet whether to read the first one aloud to my two older girls or to just hand it over to the oldest for independent reading, but we will definitely be getting to these soon! They are great additions to our shelves, and I'm happy to have them.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Making The Most of Read-a-thons

Over the past several years, as I've been away from library work longer and longer and therefore not interacting daily with a large community of readers anymore, I have become fond of read-a-thons hosted on blogs and social media. Read-a-thon hosts select a focus and time period for the event, and often they encourage participants to reach a particular goal, seek out a particular type of book, and/or interact with one another through challenges and chats. Read-a-thons are a wonderful way to feel connected to other readers on a larger scale than may be possible for you locally, and to make strides in your reading goals alongside others doing the same thing.

Why Join a Read-a-Thon?

The biggest reason to join a read-a-thon is that it adds a social element to a hobby that is often solitary. Read-a-thon participants have the chance to check in on each other's progress, share reading suggestions, and feel a sense of camaraderie as they work toward the same goals. Read-a-thons also hold you accountable to someone other than yourself. If you announce to a community that you're planning to read a certain number of books, or to read for a certain number of hours, you often feel more inclined to follow through on that plan.

The other reason to participate in read-a-thons is motivation. There are a lot of distractions in everyday life that can keep you from accomplishing all the reading you might like to do: games on your smartphone, television shows on Netflix, texting with friends, etc. Because a read-a-thon typically runs for a short period of time, it can motivate you to set those things aside just for that brief window and accomplish more reading. It is also often easier to give yourself permission to let go of a few tasks for a few days in order to focus on reading if there is an "official" event taking place. Knowing that others are making the same sacrifices for reading makes you more inclined to make them yourself.

Having a Successful Read-a-Thon

Though a read-a-thon will often challenge participants to meet a certain reading goal, achieving this target is not the only way to get something out of a read-a-thon experience. There are always some read-a-thons where I don't quite attain the end goal, but it is rare that one of these ends up being a waste of time. Even read-a-thons where you don't read as much as you hoped present opportunities to find new bookish blogs and social media accounts to follow, to discover interesting books previously unknown to you that others might be reading, and to talk with fellow readers about reading-related topics.

To get the most out of your next read-a-thon, try some of these suggestions:
  • Create a TBR stack (or at least a "possibilities pile") ahead of time. This way you won't spend valuable reading time looking for books you want to read, and if one book doesn't work for you, you can quickly move on to another. 
  • Join in on any Twitter chats or other interactive events hosted by the organizers. Chats and challenges that encourage interaction are a great way to make new bookish connections and to renew your enthusiasm for reading if you hit a slump.
  • Use audiobooks to get some reading time in while you clean, drive, exercise, or do other tasks that make it impossible to hold a book. 
  • To prevent distractions, avoid screens and read physical books. I try not to watch any YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu during read-a-thons and, if the temptation to watch videos or scroll social media is distracting me from reading, I'll also avoid reading e-books and put the devices away. 
  • Get your family involved. You don't have to neglect your family to participate in a read-a-thon! You can read aloud to your younger kids, and encourage your older ones (and your spouse!) to read independently toward the read-a-thon goal. 

My Favorite Read-a-Thons

I have been doing read-a-thons for several years. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Seasons of Reading
    Michelle at Seasons of Reading hosts month-long seasonal read-a-thons per year. Though some of them have themes, there are very few rules about sticking to the assigned theme for every single book. There is a Facebook group for reporting your progress, and Michelle also gives away some pretty generous prizes at the end of each read-a-thon. 
  • 25 In Five
    This read-a-thon is hosted by @katiebiblio and @kaitbattista on Instagram. Every few months, they challenge participants to read for 25 hours over the course of 5 days. Occasionally, they also offer shorter "8 in two" read-a-thons over  a weekend. I have never met the time goal since I've started participating, but attempting to get there always motivates me to read a ton. It's also been a fun way to feel more connected to the #bookstagram community.
  • Bout of Books
    This laidback week-long read-a-thon is hosted three times a year, in January, May, and August. There are group Twitter chats, Instagram and blog challenges, and an opportunity to win a grand prize. The best thing about this read-a-thon is you set your own goals so you can plan to read as much or as little as your schedule allows! 
  • Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon
    I will never be able to read around the clock as some people do for this read-a-thon, but I do sometimes like to join in on some of the pre-readathon challenges in the Goodreads group. (Last year, they did one where the goal was to read 1000 pages in a week. I really liked keeping track of pages!)

Do you participate in read-a-thons? Which ones do you enjoy most?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 13-16

This week's chapters were: Chapter 13, "Mad-Eye Moody," Chapter 14, "The Unforgivable Curses," Chapter 15, "Beauxbatons and Durmstrang," and Chapter 16, "The Goblet of Fire." This post contains spoilers for this book as well as the whole series. 

As I was reading, I took a few notes. The first thing that gave me pause is Professor Trelawney's ignorance of when Harry's birthday is. Harry has been a celebrity since he was a year old. It seems unlikely that even someone as loopy as Trelawney would think his birthday was in the winter. Of course, though, Tom Riddle's birthday is in December, which is probably the real significance of her mistake.

I also noted that, in that same scene, there is a joke about Uranus (pronounced "your anus"). I didn't remember there being this kind of humor in this series, so that was a bit disappointing.  I haven't allowed my kids to read any books with poop/toilet humor in them yet, but I do want them to read this series, so I guess it's in their future. 

Another thing I was thinking about when I was reading is how free members of the Hogwarts faculty are with their feelings of dislike toward the students. Though I know the character that is presented as Moody for most of this book is an impostor, it's still shocking that he gets away with turning Malfoy into a ferret. Snape, too, gets away with frequently treating Harry like garbage, and that also strains credulity. It is clear that McGonagall disapproves of Moody's tactics, but the fact that there isn't further discipline for Moody seems to serve the plot a little too neatly. Seems to me, McGonagall could have "ferreted" out the impostor right then and there. At least Snape has the sense to be wary of him. 

The chapter in which "Moody" introduces the unforgivable curses for the first time was my favorite of these four. This is the first time we really understand the darkness of the evil side of the wizarding world, and the fact that Harry and Neville have to witness someone casting the spells that harmed their respective parents just adds to the gravity. I also didn't remember that "Moody" explains that it isn't enough to simply say "Avada Kedavra" in order to commit murder. I've often wondered how that works with spells in this universe, and it was good to be reminded of the rules.

Finally, I was just impressed by how much of the lore of this series I have assimilated over the years. I can remember historical details, family connections, and magic spells better than I can recall most things I was taught in high school. I'm not sure if that's a positive thing, but it does show that if I care about something enough, I'll learn everything there is to know about it. 

This set of chapters ended on the perfect cliff-hanger moment, just when Harry's name has come out of the Goblet of Fire. I am eager to get on with the story and look for the clues that might suggest that Moody isn't who he claims to be. I bet there are a few! 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Goblet of Fire, Chapters 9-12

Over the weekend, I read the next four chapters (9-12) of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: "The Dark Mark," "Mayhem at the Ministry," "Aboard the Hogwarts Express," and "The Tri-Wizard Tournament." Spoilers for the entire book and series beyond this point.

The whole time I was reading these chapters, I kept thinking that this is the book where the story of this series really takes off. Whereas the first three books are largely self-contained stories used primarily to introduce the wizarding world, this one begins the serious over-arching plot that will take Harry through the rest of the series.

There are so many important details in the scenes at the Quidditch World Cup that I'd forgotten: that Harry's wand goes missing just before the Dark Mark appears; that Winky is found with it and accused of conjuring the Mark; that Harry had never heard the term "Death Eater" until that night. I also didn't remember that the fake Mad-Eye Moody told everyone there had been an attempted robbery at his house that same night. What a convenient way to explain away the fact that he kidnapped the real Moody and took his place.

I also didn't remember much about the history of the tri-wizard tournament, but it did strike me as somewhat unbelievable that the three schools involved have decided to reinstate it now, just at the time when Harry Potter is at Hogwarts to witness it. It would have felt less forced if this had just been another thing about the wizarding world that Harry didn't know about until it became important.  But since things are about to get even more likely in this book, I have to just suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride...

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Read-at-Home Mom Report: April 2019

I had hoped to slow down my reading a bit this past month so that I wouldn't be so far ahead of my Goodreads challenge goal. But then I received a bunch of picture books for review and my husband was able to find some good vintage Let's Read and Find Out About Science books on inter-library loan, and I finally decided I would just increase my Goodreads goal to allow for the fact that I'm probably always going to read 20 picture books per month. My current goal number is set at 425, and I'm prepared to increase it again at mid-year if necessary.  I also decided not to continue with the Mount TBR challenge.

Books Read

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years

by Rachel Field
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy (middle grade)
Source: Personal collection
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Seven Storey Mountain 

by Thomas Merton
Format: Paperback
Genre: Autobiography/Catholic
Source: Inter-library loan
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)


by Abby Johnson
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Memoir 
Source: Public library (via Hoopla)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

So Far So Good: Final Poems: 2014-2018

by Ursula K. Leguin
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Poetry
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐)

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book

by Wendy Welch
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Memoir
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)


by Kwame Alexander, with Mary Rand Hess
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Realistic fiction/poetry (YA)
Source: Public library
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy 
Source: Personal collecton
Follow my #YearOfHarryPotter on the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems

by Billy Collins
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Poetry
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems

by Billy Collins
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Poetry
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Murder with Puffins

by Donna Andrews
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Brideshead Revisited

by Evelyn Waugh
Format: Paperback
Genre: Literary fiction
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage

by Paul Elie
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Public library
Review: On Instagram (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Screwtape Letters 

by C.S. Lewis
Format: Paperback
Genre: Religious
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

The Way of the Cross

by Caryll Houselander
Format: Ebook
Genre: Religious
Source: Public library (Hoopla Digital app)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Bel Canto

by Ann Patchett
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Literary fiction
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Come Sing, Jimmy Jo

by Katherine Paterson
Format: Hardcover/Audiobook
Genre: Realistic fiction (middle grade)
Source: Personal collection
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Archy and Mehitabel

by Don Marquis
Format: Paperback
Genre: Poetry
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

Follow My Leader

by James B. Garfield
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Realistic fiction
Source: Personal collection 
Review: On the blog (⭐⭐⭐)

Prince Caspian 

by C.S. Lewis
Format: Hardcover/Audiobook
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Personal collection
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life

by Julie Bogart
Format: Ebook
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Public library (via Cloud Library)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐)

84, Charing Cross Road

by Helene Hanff
Format: Paperback
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Public library
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything

by Anne Bogel
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Public library (Hoopla Digital app)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

Everything I Never Told You 

by Celeste Ng
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Literary fiction
Source: Public library (Libby app)
Review: On Goodreads (⭐⭐⭐)

Picture Books (with links to Goodreads reviews):

Blog Posts Published

  • Alphabet Soup: 1 read in April, 19 of 26 read total 
  • Alphabet Soup Author Edition: 1 read in April, 19 of 26 read total
  • #CathLit: 3 read in April, 11 of 19 read total
  • Cloak and Dagger: 1 read in April, 24 of 55 read total
  • Craving for Cozies: 1 read in April, 16 of 51 read total
  • Library Love: 13 read in April, 32 of 60 read total
  • RMFAO Audiobooks: 7 read in April, 25 of 25 read total
  • Goodreads Goal: 44 read in April, 163 of 425 read total
I'll be linking up this post for It's Monday! What Are You Reading? with The Book Date and Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and for the April 2019 Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up Link-Up at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.