Thursday, September 20, 2018

Book Review: A Long Line of Cakes by Deborah Wiles (2018)

A Long Line of Cakes is the fourth book in the Aurora County series by Deborah Wiles. Picking up immediately where book three, The Aurora County All-Stars, left off, the story begins with the Cakes family arriving in town. They are itinerant cake bakers, so they never stay in one place too long, but as soon as she sets foot in their new home, Emma Lane Cake, one of the five Cake kids, wishes she could make Aurora County her permanent address. Knowing she can't, however, and feeling heavy with the sadness of having said goodbye to many best friends in the past, Emma hesitates about making yet another new friend she will have to leave behind. But when Emma meets Ruby Lavender, she decides to put herself out there just one more time. Soon, the two girls hatch a plan that might help Emma's parents change their minds about moving so often.

I think of this author as Fannie Flagg for tweens. Each of the books of this series is so gentle, and the setting is so idyllic, that a reader can't help but feel a sense of cozy comfort when she is immersed in these stories. That said, for a fourth book of a series, published 11 long years after the third book, it assumes a lot of background knowledge on the part of the reader. I read the entire series for the first time in order to be ready for reading my ARC of this one, and it's a good thing I did. Had I not done so, I definitely would have been lost for much of the book. There are so many characters, and they share so many memories and traditions that the reader really can't appreciate the Cakes' love for Aurora County without understanding all of these details, most of which have been established by an earlier book and are only alluded to in this one. It felt like the book was trying both to tell a new story and to bring all of the previous stories to a satisfying conclusion at the same time, and it often felt like too big of a task.

All that said, for fans of the series, or those willing to go back and read the earlier volumes, there is a lot to like about A Long Line of Cakes. Kids can relate to the importance of home and friendship and they will easily become invested in understanding Emma's father's long-forgotten connection to Aurora County. The way things are resolved is also very satisfying, especially for kids like I was, who crave uncomplicated happy endings and hate goodbyes. This was an okay read for me, and it definitely does not stand alone, but for the right child who has enjoyed the earlier books, it could become a favorite.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Book Review: The Animal, The Vegetable, and John D. Jones by Betsy Byars (1982)

Clara and Deanie are looking forward to being on vacation with their dad until they find out he is bringing along a girlfriend, and the girlfriend's son, John D. John D. isn't crazy about meeting the girls either, and rather than calling them by name, he refers to them as the Animal and the Vegetable. The kids do their best to avoid each other until a near-tragedy bands them together unexpectedly.

Though this book has a quirky title, it's really a very straightforward story about the tension between kids who are forced to interact because of their parents' relationship with each other. What makes it stand out is the way Byars describes each character and brings each one to life in his or her dialogue. Each chapter is like a small character study in which the reader shares brief glimpses into the thoughts of the three main characters. Byars manages to inspire feelings of empathy for all three of them, making it difficult to take one side against the other. This means that the reader begins to accept friendship for the trio before the characters themselves can even imagine it, which contributes to the reader's feelings of satisfaction at the conclusion of the story.

I sometimes wonder why Byars seems to solve so many of the problems in her books with tragedies. In the books of hers that I have read in the past few years, conflicts have been resolved by a drowning, a car accident, a near-drowning, a punch in the face, and a flood, just to name a few. I can't tell if Byars believes that people only change when life throws dire circumstances at them (something that feels very Southern a la Flannery O'Connor) or if she is just trying to keep things exciting by throwing in these high stakes. Either way, it's a definite pattern in her work, and it has varying degrees of success. In this book, the dangerous situation works well enough, but also I think the story could have made its point just as well without putting a character in that situation.

Compared with Goodbye, Chicken Little, The Animal, the Vegetable and John D. Jones was the better book, but it is by no means as original or well-written as something like The Summer of the Swans or the Blossom series.  It's a solid three-star read which is dated, but which might still appeal to a 21st century kid in a similar situation to that of the characters.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Books On My Fall 2018 TBR

I made TBR lists for both spring and summer. Of the titles on my spring list, there are still 11 I haven't read, and from my summer list (which was much shorter), there are still 2 titles outstanding.  I have learned that I just can't stick to a list no matter how hard I try. But there are some books I'm already planning to read this fall, and that I'm pretty certain I will actually complete, so I'm going to go ahead and share those today for Top Ten Tuesday.

  • Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt
    I have been on a binge of books about books. I have this and Honey for a Teen's Heart sitting on my desk, and I know I will get to them soon because I want to do a blog post about books of this type. 
  • Give Your Child the World by Jamie C. Martin
    This is another book about books that I want to include in the aforementioned blog post.
  • Barking with the Big Dogs: On Writing and Reading Books for Children by Natalie Babbitt
    Yet another book about books. This one comes out in November and I have an ARC from Edelweiss. 

  • X by Sue Grafton
    I need to read this because I'm doing an alphabet challenge and it's all I've got for the letter X. I basically have to read it this fall if I'm going to finish it by the end of the year! 
  • Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
    I downloaded this for Kindle when it was on sale a few months ago and saw it pop on blogs a lot when Top Ten Tuesday focused on back to school a couple of weeks ago. A mystery set at a boarding school feels like the perfect fall read to me! 
  • The Figure in the Shadows and The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs
    These are the sequels to The House with a Clock in its Walls. I've heard the third book is set around Christmastime, and I'm always looking for a seasonal read during December, so I'm going to try to finish book 2 between now and then so I can read book 3 when that holiday mood strikes.

  • The Hangman by Louise Penny
    This is a novella about Armand Gamache that isn't really connected to the series and was written for adults learning to read English. It appears to be November in the story, so it seems like it will be a good book to enjoy as the weather gets older. 
  • Deadly News by Jody Holford
    This is a new cozy mystery to be published at the end of October. I have an ARC from NetGalley. 
  • Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass
    I started this a few weeks ago, then got distracted by other books. It's one of a few homeschooling-related books I hope to get through in the next month or two. 
  • The Diva Haunts the House by Krista Davis
    I have a hard time finding Halloween-themed books that actually interest me, even though I always feel the need to read one when October comes around. I'm only just reading the first book of this series now, so I may go out of order just so I can read this one when it's seasonally appropriate. I just hope I snag a library copy before they all get checked out. 
What will you be reading this fall? 

Monday, September 17, 2018

The RAHM Report for 9/17/18

What I Finished Reading

  • Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny, audiobook read by Ralph Cosham ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This is the best of this series so far. It was different from the ones preceding it, but beautifully written and emotional. I went back and forth between the ebook and the audiobook and really enjoyed Cosham's voice. I also liked hearing the author's interview about the book at the end of the audio recording. 
  • The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I read this with three Instagram friends and really enjoyed it. I avoided scary books like the plague as a kid, but this one has great character development. I'm already planning to read at least the next two books in the series. 
  • The Happy Hollisters and the Indian Treasure by Jerry West ⭐⭐
    This was a read-aloud with my four-year-old. It's the weakest of the four books we've read from this series so far, but she still enjoyed the time the Hollisters spent searching in caves for stolen treasure.
  • Come Back To Me by Sharon Sala, audiobook read by Amy Rubinate ⭐⭐
    I started this on audio, got fed up with all the random chapters about characters not connected to the main plot and plowed through the rest in the ebook edition. It was fine, but not as good as I'd hoped.
  • I'd Rather be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I read this quick, light celebration of the reading life in just two days. It's a really fun little book in which the blogger behind Modern Mrs. Darcy shares her observations about the habits of readers. 

What I'm Currently Reading

  • The Diva Runs Out of Thyme by Krista Davis, audiobook read by Hillary Huber 50%I'm really enjoying this audiobook. Krista Davis is one of the best cozy mystery writers, and I love all the characters in this book. 
  • Montana Sky by Nora Roberts 49%
    I was halfway through this book a week and a half ago when my loan period on Open Library ended. I put myself back on the waiting list for it, and of course, as I soon as I started a bunch of other books, it became available again. I will definitely finish it before it expires this time. 
  • Queenie Peavy by Robert Burch 42%
    I've been meaning to read this book for months to satisfy the letter "Q" for the A to Z Challenge hosted by Ginger Mom and the Kindle Quest. It's a quick read and I will probably finish it today. 
  • Watching the Detectives by Julie Mulhern 20%
    I love this series, and it's been a little while since I read book 4, Send in the Clowns. So far, it's every bit as good as the earlier titles of the series. This author's writing style really clicks for me. 
  • Not of this World: A Catholic Guide to Minimalism by Sterling Jaquith 13%
    My husband brought home a stack of Catholic and homeschooling books for me to read. I'm starting with this one because it's quick, and the subject matter is far removed from anything else I'm reading. So far it's dwelling a lot on hoarding. 
  • Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen 7%
    This book was mentioned by Anne Bogen in I'd Rather Be Reading. I normally don't read much involving magic or fantasy, but this book appealed to me in spite of that, so I'm giving it a try. So far, I like the writing a lot. 
  • Charm City by Laura Lippman 0%
    My loan period for this book also expired a couple of weeks ago, and I put myself on the list again, and my turn came up again a couple of days ago. I'm going to try really hard not to let time run out again! 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Paging Through Picture Books: New and Forthcoming Titles

Here are some of the new and soon-to-be-published picture books I've been reading thanks to Edelweiss (*) and Candlewick (**). 

  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I Know Exactly What You Are by Julia Kregenow, illustrated by Carmen Saldana (9/4/18)*
    The text of this book provides lots of scientific information about stars, all set to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Though the rhyme scheme and rhythm works well, and the information is interesting, I think the meaning of the text is drowned out by the gimmick of the song. When I finished the book, I had the tune stuck in my head but couldn't really remember most of the facts that had been presented. The scientific details require more attention than simply singing through the book allows. That said, the illustrations are gorgeous, and I think it's a good book for introducing the scientific concepts as long as it also supplemented by other texts.
  • The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (9/4/18)**
    This poetic and visually explosive picture book describes the big bang in lyrical text that captures the beauty and drama of the beginning of the universe. My almost-five-year-old was fascinated by the illustrations and though the book does not mention religion at all, she immediately attributed the images she saw to God, which made me feel good about her understanding of the relationship between faith and science. This book makes the abstract concept of how the universe came into being into something relatable, dynamic, and awe-inspiring. 
  • Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein (9/11/18)**
    In this sequel to Interrupting Chicken,  Chicken comes home from school with instructions from her teacher to find the elephant of surprise in every story she reads. Her dad tries to explain that her teacher is talking about the element of surprise, but Chicken is determined to write elephants into every story instead. Though the artwork is just as great in this book as it was in the first, there is little more to the text than this one joke, which is pretty well played out before the story is half over. I expected more from this book. 
  • Night Job by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9/11/18)**
    This is a nice slice of life story about a boy who goes to work at night with his janitor father. The writing is poetic and the illustrations capture the warmth and humor of the characters' relationship. The story taps into two ideas kids are fascinated by - what happens at night and what their parents do at work. Though this is a quieter book with a subdued color scheme, it appealed strongly to my almost-three-year-old and my almost-five-year-old. 
  • Leo Gets a Checkup by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Ruth Hearson (9/11/18)*
    Geared toward toddlers, this is a pretty straightforward book about going to the doctor's office. It includes some details that champion particular causes (the doctor gives Leo a free book, and a mom is nursing in the waiting room) but otherwise, it's pretty much like every other book of this type. 

  • Liza Jane and the Dragon by Laura Lippman, illustrated by Kate Samworth (10/2/18)*When Liza Jane fires her parents and hires a dragon to take their place, she encounters a variety of problems, chief of which is the dragon's desire to set on fire everything that bothers, annoys, or makes life difficult for Liza Jane. While the thought of being fired doesn't thrill me as a parent, I think there is value in books that allow kids to imagine the logical conclusions to some of their fantasies. This book also reminded me a lot of Princess Cora and the Crocodile, which I love.
  • You Can Be by Elise Gravel (10/9/18)*
    I enjoyed the cartoonish illustrations in this simple book which celebrates kids' freedom to be whoever they want to be and to feel however they'd like to feel. Because there is minimal text and the illustrations are more humorous, this book doesn't feel as preachy as What If? (see below) even though the subject matter is essentially the same. There is a bit of bathroom humor on the page for "Smelly" but otherwise I wouldn't have a problem sharing this book with my girls.
  • What If?: What Makes You Different Makes You Amazing! by Sandra Magsamen (2/1/19)*
    This is a saccharine and preachy book about celebrating one's uniqueness. It panders shamelessly to the push for more diverse books but offers nothing of real substance. In my experience, kids think of themselves as pretty great; adults are the ones who suggest it might be otherwise by writing books like this. 
  • The Smallest Elephant in the World by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Milton Glaser (2/19/19)*
    This is a reprint of a sweet vintage book from 1959 about an elephant the size of a house cat who disguises himself as a cat and attempts to live among a family. The red, black, and green illustrations are charming and the story is just the right mix of humor and imagination. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Book Review: Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens (2018)

Mistletoe and Murder is the fifth book in the Wells and Wong series by UK author Robin Stevens, which will be published in the US on September 18th. As the title suggests, this mystery is set during the Christmas holiday, which Daisy and Hazel are spending with Daisy's aunt at a women's college in Cambridge, England. Also in Cambridge, but staying at the all-male Maudlin College are Daisy's brother, Bertie, Hazel's friend Alexander and his crime-solving partner George (whom Daisy has always seen as rivals), and a pair of twins, Donald and Chummy Melling, who are about to come of age, at which point the older of the two, Donald, will inherit the family fortune. Daisy and Hazel notice right away that there seem to be a lot of accidents whenever the twins are around, and they suspect the impending inheritance might be the motive behind them. When one of the twins dies as a result of one of these accidents, the Detective Society is desperate to find out who did it, even if it means relying on their rival detective agency for clues and inside information.

The festive holiday atmosphere and new setting make this book feel charming right from the outset. Though I am typically disappointed when a story is not set at the girls' own school of Deepdean, the fact that the backdrop was a university made up for that in this book. I was intrigued by the way colleges so severely segregated students by gender in the '30s and I liked the way the author handled the girls' difficulties in gaining access to evidence in a dormitory they were not even supposed to enter. The fact that Daisy, in particular, was forced to get along with her rivals, felt like a good point of character development for her. I didn't quite feel the same tension in Hazel's friendship with Daisy as I have in previous books, but I also appreciate that some books of this series might just want to tell a really good mystery story without exploring too many subplots.

Truly, my only complaint about this series is how quickly each book goes by and how long I have to wait before the next volume is published in the U.S. Book six, A Spoonful of Murder, just came out in the UK in early 2018 and the Goodreads reviews are all so positive that I'm already dying to know when I'll get to read it!  Thankfully, the author has done a reading on YouTube, so I can at least have a taste to tide me over until it makes its way over here - but I still hope it will be sooner rather than later! (Thanks, as always, to Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss for the ARC of this book.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Book Review: Our Library by Phyllis R. Fenner (1939)

Published in 1939, Our Library is a book-length reflection on the successes of Phyllis Fenner's career as a school librarian in Manhassett, New York. This was one of the first books written about elementary school libraries, and it provides advice on everything from materials selection to the involvement of students in running the library.

I found this book completely fascinating not because of how much has changed in librarianship in 80 years but because of how much has remained exactly the same. Fenner's concerns mirror many that today's librarians still consider: welcoming all races, reaching reluctant readers, developing a diverse collection, etc.  Sometimes I think forward-thinking young librarians have a tendency to only look ahead at what's coming next without regard for the foundations that have been laid by the pioneers of the profession. This leads to professionals who feel as though they have just discovered things (like diversity, for example) that, in truth, have been around for decades. There is a lot to learn from professional texts of the past. Sure, some of the tools Fenner uses are out of date, but her reasons for using them, and the end results of their use, are very much the same as the purposes of today's librarians.

I found this book to be both a charming walk down memory lane (I do love the card catalog!) and a valuable professional tool that helped me renew my understanding of what the field of youth librarianship is all about: connecting kids with books they will love that will help them achieve academically and become lifelong readers. When Kirkus reviewed the book upon its original publication, the reviewer noted, "It should prove very constructive and stimulating to school librarians, to teachers who are uncertain to what extent the school library can meet their needs, to parents who should understand the extent to which library work is of value to their children." Though decades have gone by, I still found this to be an accurate assessment of Our Library.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Hidden Gems of my Home Library

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is hidden gems. As we have been reshelving our books since our move, I have been taking note of some of the lesser-known vintage children's titles we have in our home library, and this seemed like the perfect time to share!

  • No Boats on Bannermere by Geoffrey Trease (1949)
    This is a British children's novel from 1949 about a group of children who move to a new neighborhood only to learn that one of their neighbors, a wealthy man named Sir Alfred Askew, doesn't allow any boats on the nearby lake. As they set out to learn the reasons behind this rule, they uncover a shocking murder mystery. This is like Swallows and Amazons meets The Boxcar Children meets Minnow on the Say, and it's just great. The sequels are harder to find, but I have managed to read Black Banner Abroad and Under Black Banner, though there is sadly little hope I will ever own them. 
  • The Wonderful Farm by Marcel Ayme, illustrated by Maurice Sendak (1951)
    This book has the distinction of being the first children's book ever illustrated by Maurice Sendak! Translated from French, it is the story of two little girls, Delphine and Marinette, who live with their stern parents on a farm which is in every way normal except that the animals can talk. Each chapter follows the girls through a particular adventure involving animals either from the farm or the surrounding forest, and the episodes are funny, sad, suspenseful and everything in between. I read the book aloud to my older two girls this winter, and it was just a joy from beginning to end. 
  • The Cottage at Bantry Bay by Hilda van Stockum (1938)
    This is a novel about the O'Sullivan family of Glengarriff, County Cork, Ireland who introduce the reader to Irish culture through their everyday adventures. This book is often overshadowed by van Stockum's semi-autobiographical Mitchells series and by her Newbery honor book, A Day on Skates, but it's a gentle and engaging story in its own right, and I'm still hoping to read the sequels, Francie on the Run and Pegeen
  • The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom (1960)
    Ursula Nordstrom was the children's books editor for Harper & Row for over 30 years, and she mentored many beloved authors  including Maurice Sendak, E.B. White, Margaret Wise Brown, Louise Fitzhugh, and Russell Hoban. She only published this one book herself, but it embodies so much of the advice she gave to the authors she worked with (which I read about in another gem, her collection of letters called Dear Genius) and I was disappointed to learn that she wrote another book and subsequently burned it because she didn't think it was good! 
  • The Open Gate by Kate Seredy (1943)
    This wonderful novel is set right near where I grew up, so it has a special place in my heart. It also seems to be the most difficult Seredy novel to find, which is a shame because it's so good! It follows the Preston family as they move from the city to the country on the spur of the moment and try to learn to farm. Set in 1941, it also explores the reaction of average Americans to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and its ramifications.
  • Sticks Across the Chimney: A Story of Denmark by Nora Burglon (1938)
    Siri and Erik live with their widowed mother in Denmark, where they live near a Viking burial ground, as it is the only place they can afford. The community ostracizes them for living there and threatens them with ghost stories, but they do their best to remain true to themselves and loyal to their mother while they wait for their luck to change. There are some old-fashioned sensibilities to the story, but overall it's a great novel for building character. 
  • (George) by E.L. Konigsburg (1970)
    Konigsburg is a well-known author, but this odd book of hers flies a bit under the radar. It's about a middle school student, Ben, whose best friend is his "concentric twin" George who lives inside of him. The story is well-written and funny, but there is also an underlying A Beautiful Mind vibe that keeps you both questioning Ben and rooting for him through the entire book. I put off reading it for a long time because I thought it would freak me out too much, but now I'm actually glad to have it on my shelf.
  • The Far-Distant Oxus by Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock (1937)
    The Far-Distant Oxus was written by two teenage girls, Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock, as an homage to their favorite author, Arthur Ransome of Swallows and Amazons fame. Ransome enjoyed the book and helped to have it published. Though the writing is unpolished and many plot points are unresolved, this is an interesting read both because the authors are so young and because it's basically vintage fanfiction. 
  • Those Miller Girls! by Alberta Wilson Constant, illustrated by Joe and Beth Krush (1965)
    This is the first book in a Penderwicksian trilogy about two sisters, Maddy and Lou Emma Miller and their widower father, Professor Cyrus Miller, who have just moved to Gloriosa, Kansas, where they struggle to settle in among the locals. The story includes great dialogue and lots of fun detail about daily living around the turn of the 20th century. This book is hard to find, and the sequels are even harder. I have a signed copy of book three, Does Anybody Care About Lou Emma Miller?, that was a Christmas present from my husband last year, but I'll probably never even see book two, The Motoring Millers.
  • Ellen Grae by Vera and Bill Cleaver, illustrated by Ellen Raskin (1967)
    Vera and Bill Cleaver are better known for Where the Lilies Bloom, which was a 1970 National Book Award finalist, but Ellen Grae, published in 1967, shares a lot of the same vivid language and emotional dilemmas. Ellen has such a strong reputation for telling tall tales that when she is taken into the unlikely confidence of the town recluse she wonders whether she will be believed if she decides to report what she has learned to someone who can help. It's a really challenging novel, just right for the advanced middle schooler. Interestingly, this book is illustrated by Newbery medalist Ellen Raskin. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

The RAHM Report for 9/10/18

What I Finished Reading

This was a really slow reading week, but I did get through two middle grade novels:
  • The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden (ARC) by Karina Yan Glaser ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I know gentle family stories like this aren't trendy right now, but I'm still thankful someone is writing them. 
  • You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I have been curious about this book just based on the cover. Though I expected there to be more interaction between the two alternating narrators, I thought the author really captured how excruciating middle school can be.

What I'm Currently Reading

  • Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny 77%
    I am really close to done with this and I'm hoping it will be the first book I finish this week. 
  • Come Back to Me by Sharon Sala 53%
    I was listening to the audiobook, but I wound up downloading the ebook too because I haven't had many occasions to listen to audio this week and I want to get it done before I forget what happened in the early part of the story.
  • Montana Sky by Nora Roberts 49%
    I had this from Open Library, but just could not read fast enough to get it done before it went to the next person on the waiting list. There are 2 people ahead of me now so I figure I'll get back to the book in about a month and finish it then. 
  • The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs 11%
    I'm doing a buddy read of this book with some people on Instagram. I'm trying to read it slowly so I can discuss as we go. (I have a library copy with the movie cover, but I hate that, so I'm posting a different cover here.)
  • Charm City by Laura Lippman 0%
    This library ebook expires in three days and there are 4 holds. I'm going to see if I can power through it. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Friday, September 7, 2018

Homeschool Highlights: Teaching Toddlers and Preschoolers About Our Catholic Faith

One of the many reasons we will homeschool our children is that we want to incorporate our Catholic faith into every aspect of their lives, including their academic studies. Unlike other homeschool subjects, only a few of which we have even begun to explore with Little Miss Muffet (age 4.5), Catechism is something we have introduced almost from birth. In the Catholic communities I belong to on Facebook, I see a fair number of questions from new moms about how to start introducing the faith to their very young children. Today I want to share what's working for us so far with our three daughters under five.

Mass Attendance

Our kids attend Mass pretty much from birth, and unless they are horrendously loud, we keep them in the pew for the duration. (No cry room, no children's liturgy, etc.) I really feel that the best way for kids to learn how to sit through Mass quietly and attentively, is to sit in the congregation, observe others, and practice doing it. (This is how I was raised, and it worked for me!) We do take screaming children to the vestibule to calm down, and we take potty training toddlers to the restroom, but we typically come back to the pew in time for Communion. We also don't allow toys or food during Mass. The girls are allowed to look at the hymnals and missalettes, but we don't bring anything to entertain them, as we want to send the message that the Mass is exciting and interesting all by itself.


Praying is a part of our daily routine, mainly at mealtimes and bedtime. (I plan to become more organized about morning prayer now that we are getting into more of a homeschool routine.) At meals, we pray the Sign of the Cross in English, say the Grace Before Meals, and then pray the Sign of the Cross again in Latin. For a few years, at bedtime, we said a variety of prayers, repeating them again and again so they would become familiar. To date, my oldest has memorized Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Memorare, Hail Holy Queen, the St. Michael prayer, and a good portion of the Apostle's Creed. (Our second daughter has mostly memorized these just by imitating her sister.) We have also used a set of board books by Maite Roche to model more spontaneous types of prayer that reflect on the events of the day. Lately, we have started lighting a candle and praying Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours using the iBreviary app, which we follow up with a sung "Salve Regina," and a few other prayers. Sometimes we give each of the girls a chance to ask God to bless five people of her choosing and we ask our patron saints, or the saint of the day, to pray for us. During Lent, I also try to have the girls join me in praying the Rosary (using their Chews Life mini decades) and/or the Stations of the Cross (either at home or in the church).

Gregorian Chant

We have been attending Mass in the extraordinary form several times a year for several years now, and it has really made me want to learn more chant. Currently, I am working on learning the Marian antiphons for each season of the Liturgical Year, and the girls are picking it up as I go. We mastered Regina Caeli during Easter, and now we're working on Salve Regina for ordinary time. Next, I plan to learn the Credo and the Pater Noster that is sung at the Latin Mass.

Liturgical Year Activities

A great thing about homeschooling is how easily you can conform your school year to the rhythm of the liturgical year. With help from the wonderful monthly saints coloring books created by Angie from Real Life at Home, we are able to keep track of saint days easily. We also encourage the girls to pay attention to vestment colors on Sundays, and even if we don't do anything in particular to celebrate, we try to point out different important feast days as they occur. During Advent we have a Jesse tree, we "bury" (really hide in a bookcase) the Alleluia during Lent, pray for the dead on All Souls Day, and put treats in shoes on St. Nicholas day. When I have the time and inclination to be more crafty, we also occasionally do some projects from Catholic Icing. I do keep a calendar that lists all of the occasions I want to remember, but we don't always get to them all, and that's okay. Even celebrating one or two things a month helps the girls start to understand how the church year flows.

Shining Light Dolls

We received our first Shining Light Doll - Our Lady of Fatima - from my second daughter's godparents on her first Easter. Now, my non-Catholic mom has started collecting these dolls for us and we receive them as birthday and Christmas gifts. In addition to Our Lady of Fatima, our current collection includes: St. Nicholas, St. Patrick, Our Lady of Knock, Our Lady of Lourdes,  St. Michael the Archangel, St. Gabriel the Archangel, and St. Raphael the Archangel. The girls absolutely love these, and they enjoy lining them up, pretending to fight Satan, and in the case of the baby, chewing on their heads. I was taught as a kid that it was sacrilegious to "play" anything church-related, but I find that playing with these toys makes the girls feel comfortable with the idea of Heaven and with the concept of Jesus as someone they can love and trust.

Catechism Memorization

My oldest child has always been very advanced verbally. She talked early, read early (at 3.5) and has a great memory for facts, poems, etc. Because of her oddly advanced abilities in this area, we started having her memorize the The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism. After a little less than two years of working on this on and off, she is about 8 lessons into the book, but she can answer all the questions in those lessons with probably 95% accuracy. She also recognizes many words and phrases from the Catechism when they come up in the readings at Mass. We do plan to have all three girls memorize this version of the catechism before First Communion, but when the next two will start will depend on their own verbal capabilities. In general, though, it seems to be wise to start young because their little brains just soak it all up and then they can make more and more connections as they grow older.

Illustrated Children's Bibles

Finally, what has been great for our girls is having access to children's Bibles with good pictures. They especially love to study the New Testament, looking for Mary and Jesus, but they also enjoy picking out Old Testament figures like Jeremiah, Noah, Moses, and Job, to ask their names and learn a little bit about them. Inevitably, when they hear the names in the readings at Mass, their faces light up. The Bible we like best for pictures (but not for the text, because there are some strange spellings and such) is The Catholic Children's Bible by Mary Theola, with illustrations by J. Verleye. We also have a Baptism bible that retells some of the more kid-friendly Bible stories in a simple way that is good for really little kids, as well as The Golden Children's Bible, which is the one I plan to read aloud in our homeschool starting this fall.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Book Review: Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (1945)

Pippi Longstocking, a spirited young girl, lives alone in a house in Sweden called Villa Villekulla with only her monkey and her horse for company. When she meets her neighbors Tommy and Annika, some attempts are made to get Pippi into school or a children's home, but it soon becomes clear to everyone that this unusual child, who fights off robbers and jumps into circus acts is probably better off on her own.

I didn't have a lot of patience for misbehavior and over-the-top silliness as a kid, so I never wanted to read this book. My kids, however, have a much greater tolerance for characters who are not completely serious and realistic, so I decided to bite the bullet and read this book aloud to them. (My main audience was my oldest daughter, age 4.5, but my middle daughter, age 2.5, also listened in.) Alas, even though my kids adored this book and now pretend to be Pippi on a fairly regular basis, I found the reading experience excruciating.

I guess I can understand the appeal of a child who defies authority and lives life on her own terms if you're the kind of person who is uncomfortable with rules and who dreams of greater freedom. (My four-year-old is such a person.) I, on the other hand, thrive on rules and order and mostly just wished that some adult would pin Pippi down and get her to start living more conventionally. And I think what frustrated me most is that Annika and Tommy, who basically represent the point of view of the child reader in the story, weren't more troubled by her, or at least more skeptical about her way of life. As a mom, I also wasn't sure my own kids needed anymore incentive to disobey rules, though I haven't seen any changes in their behavior (or levels of misbehavior) since we read the book.

We have an omnibus collection of three Pippi books, but I don't think I can stomach anymore of them as read-alouds. I have decided that, if the girls are interested, they can read them independently when they're ready, or listen to them as audiobooks. Generally, when it comes to picture books, I'll read even the ones I'm sick of, because the time investment is so minimal, but with a book this long, I just can't put myself through it. In most cases, the books I refused as a kid turn out to be great reads I wish I hadn't missed. Pippi Longstocking, however, is just not on that list.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

TV Shows I Use for Background Noise

I do a little bit of freelance proofreading for a crossword puzzle publisher. The work is pretty tedious at times, so while I would like to listen to audiobooks while I test-solve puzzles, sometimes I just can't focus enough on the book to make it worthwhile. Therefore, proofreading time is often when I watch shows on Hulu and Netflix. Since we don't have cable (or a TV), I often save up episodes of shows I want to keep up with so that I have them when a proofreading set arrives, or I watch older shows that I missed when they aired. For Top Ten Tuesday's Bingeworthy TV Shows topic, here's a sampling of what I typically watch.

  • Catfish: The TV Show (Hulu)
    I got into this show recently, just before Max Joseph announced he was leaving. I have to admit that the repetition from episode to episode is getting old now that I've watched 5 seasons, but the formulaic nature of it makes it very easy to follow even when I'm not fully paying attention. And I enjoy the friendship between Nev and Max, and will be sad to see that end. 
  • Frasier (Netflix)
    I am almost done with this show. I like it because it's set in the 90s and makes me nostalgic. The humor is also really smart, and most of the jokes are wordplay so I don't have to be looking at the screen constantly to appreciate them. I also love the romance between Niles and Daphne. I wish there were newer sitcoms that were as good as this one. 
  • Law and Order: SVU (Hulu)
    I have seen every episode of this show and though I miss Chris Meloni as Stabler, I think the show has done a great job of reinventing itself since his departure. I am not so devoted to this show that I watch every episode as it airs, but I do tend to catch up once a month or so. (And if Alex Cabot is ever on, or Robert Sean Leonard guest stars, I drop everything and watch that episode!) This is another one where dialogue often carries the plot so I can listen without having to see every scene. 
  • Chicago Med (Hulu)
    In theory, I like the concept of "One Chicago," but this is the only show from the franchise I've gotten into and been able to stick with. I especially love Dr. Charles and Dr. Reese. 
  • E.R. (Hulu)
    This past winter, I watched the first two seasons of E.R. in about two months' time. Then I got burned out and took a break. The writing and characterization are so great, though, that I plan to pick it back up again soon.

  • The Staircase (Netflix)
    This is a true crime documentary about an author who is accused of killing his wife by pushing her down the stairs. It's one of those stories with twists and turns where you're never quite sure if he is innocent or not. I checked it out on a whim one day and immediately binge-watched the whole thing. 
  • A Crime to Remember (Hulu)
    This show, which airs on Investigation Discovery, is a documentary series with dramatic reenactments of scenes from real-life crimes. I have watched almost every available episode, but I have lost interest as other shows have appealed to me more. 
  • Criminal Minds (Netflix)
    I am currently caught up on all the episodes that are available on Netflix, but I suspect season 13 will be available soon, at which point I will start watching again. This show can be scary, so I like only half-focusing on the details of what is going on. 
  • Stranger Things (Netflix)
    I started out watching this in the background, but got so sucked into it that I wound up starting it over and watching it with my husband. We are caught up and will definitely jump back in when the next season comes out. 
  • This is Us (Hulu)
    Finally, I'm including this show because it's the only new show I watch every week. I can't watch it when it airs, but to avoid being spoiled by postings on social media, I try to get to it the next day at lunch time before spending much time on Facebook. I typically don't proofread while I'm watching this one because I want to give it my full attention, and often I need to cry at least once an episode. 
Do you watch any of these shows? What other shows should I watch when I'm done with these?

Monday, September 3, 2018

The RAHM Report for 9/3/18

What I Finished Reading

  • Read and Gone (ARC) by Allison Brook ⭐⭐⭐
    This was a decent cozy mystery, on par with the first book of the series, Death Overdue. I'm still not sure of the purpose of the ghost character, but I did enjoy gaining more insight into Carrie's relationship with her jewel thief dad.
  • Reading Together by Diane W. Frankenstein ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This is a book everyone who reads with kids should find immediately! The author succinctly summarizes everything you could possibly need to know about reading aloud in a few short sections and then provides dozens of recommendations for books to read with kids of all ages, along with great questions, quotes, and ideas to spark discussion. 
  • Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I liked this companion to The Book Whisperer even more than the first book. It made me think a lot about my own reading habits and the habits of lifelong readers that my young daughters already exhibit.

Did Not Finish

  • Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction by Catherine Pearlman, audiobook read by Christine Williams
    I wanted to read this, but my library only has the audiobook and I just don't like listening to parenting books. If I can find an ebook or a physical copy, I might revisit it in the future. 

What I'm Currently Reading

  • Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny 46% 
    I started out listening to the audio book but my mind kept wandering and I had a hard time following the changes in scene and time period without seeing character names in print. So I downloaded the ebook from the library and things are going much faster. I am especially enjoying how the story revisits the murder from the previous book.  
  • Montana Sky by Nora Roberts 2%
    Two people are waiting for this book after me on Open Library and it's due back in 4 or 5 days. I've been wanting to read it for a while, so I think I might just try to power through it tomorrow. I have a cold and have mostly just been resting so I should be able to do it. 
  • Come Back to Me by Sharon Sala, audiobook read by Amy Rubinate 44%
    I wanted a quick, light audiobook and this was was a new featured audiobook on Hoopla. It's been much easier to listen to than Bury Your Dead and so far, and I'll probably finish it in another day or two. 
  • The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser 5%
    I realized I didn't read any children's novels this week and quickly got this one going. I'm just starting out, but so far it seems very much like the first book (which I enjoyed so that's good!) 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Book Review: The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie (2018)

The Read-Aloud Family is the inevitable book to arise from Sarah Mackenzie's inexplicably popular Read-Aloud Revival podcast and website.  In this book, Mackenzie tells how she first discovered reading aloud, and then provides advice for doing so with supporting anecdotes from her own life. The book concludes with a series of annotated book lists.

I have long felt that the success of the alleged "Read Aloud Revival" that Mackenzie champions is a bit of a hoax. Though Mackenzie claims she only discovered reading aloud for the first time at age 20, when her oldest child was a baby, this should not suggest to anyone that reading aloud was a lost art that Mackenzie has single-handedly resurrected. In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton talks about the man in the yacht who thinks he has discovered England, not realizing that anyone has landed there before him. He was talking about his journey toward the Christian faith when he wrote about how he "fancied [he] was the first to set foot in Brighton and then found [he] was the last," but I think it is also an apt metaphor for describing Mackenzie's relationship to reading aloud. She had never considered the importance of reading aloud, and therefore she assumes no one else has either. But most of us have been here in England all along. 

This book gives very basic advice, most of which is either common sense or simply amateurish. Directives for developing a read-aloud habit are interspersed with personal anecdotes about her kids which often give rise to banal metaphors that are then beaten to death over several pages. Some of the advice just isn't good, such as the assertion that the only two criteria to consider when evaluating a book are appeal to all ages and a sense of hope, and some of it is a mere regurgitation of quotations from articles, books, and studies that have already presented this information more cogently, and in better prose. Though she says a few times that reading aloud should be simple, she undermines this message by over-complicating the process at every turn and by providing condescending examples for each point she makes. (The worst of these occurs in the chapter about "compelling questions." At one point, she suggests asking a child reader what a character in a given book fears most, then provides three examples, all of which consist of the same exact question: "What is Henry Huggins most afraid of? What is Janner Ibigy most afraid of? What is Corrie ten Boom most afraid of?" Surely, anyone who can read could have figured out how to pose that question without help.)

Though the book is published by a Christian publisher (Zondervan) and is labeled as a Religion book right above the ISBN on the back cover, there is next to nothing in this book about how Mackenzie's faith informs her family's read-aloud culture. There is an assumption on her part that the reader desires to raise Christian children who love God, and she includes recommendations for Bibles, and makes casual references to parables, but she completely misses the opportunity to provide Catholic families like hers with any advice unique to their (our) particular values and morals. This would have been the only redeeming quality of the book for me, and it was just not there.

The book lists in the final section of the book are very hit or miss. Some of the books are so new, it seems foolish to put them on any kind of list without knowing how they'll stand the test of time. Others are books written by Mackenzie's friends, all of whom have blurbed the book and appeared on her podcast, and most of whom are mentioned multiple times in the text of the book. The lists are also very short - there are dozens of blog posts and library websites out there that provide more comprehensive lists. 

The countless positive reviews of this book are baffling to me. As I've blogged about before, reading aloud is not that hard to begin with, and, frankly, if a handbook is needed, Jim Trelease has already taken care of it.  The fact that The Read-Aloud Family is so popular with #bookstagrammers and other parents who already read to their kids makes me think it's less about the quality of the book, and more about the fact that the content reaffirms what these readers already know and experience. But I am seeking more than just a pat on the back when I read books like this, and this one had nothing else to offer me. My recommendation would be to skip this book and instead look for Annis Duff's wonderful books Bequest of Wings: A Family's Pleasure with Books (1944) and Longer Flight: A Family Grows Up with Books (1955). Not only is Duff an expert (she was a librarian), but she also writes beautifully and in great depth about her family's relationship to books. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Books for Our First Year of Homeschooling

Next week, I will begin my journey as a homeschooling mom. My oldest daughter is not technically old enough for kindergarten in our state (the cut-off is September 1st and her birthday is around Thanksgiving), but she already reads and does basic math and I don't see a reason to hold her back for a year when we plan to homeschool all the way through anyway. So our first day of school will be September 5th and she will start her unofficial kindergarten year. Her younger sister, who wishes to be included, will also be doing some preschool.

Today, for Top Ten Tuesday's back to school topic, and also in response to Blog All About It's August prompt of "beginning," I want to share some of the books we'll be using as we start homeschooling.

  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2 by Bernard Nebel
    We'll start using this book for science this year, and see how far we get. It seems like a good fit for me because it provides resources and information on the topics to be covered, but it doesn't give a rigid structure for actually teaching the material so I can adapt it to suit our family. The first topic we'll be covering is organizing things into categories, so I've also found a few books to cover that subject, including Like and Unlike: A First Look at Classification by Solveig Paulson Russell (which we own) and a series of books about sorting by Lauren Coss, which are available from our library through Hoopla.
  • My Backyard History Book by Linda Allison and Marilyn Burns
    Eventually, I will be teaching history in chronological order according to the classical trivium, but I wanted to take some time to introduce the concepts of history, the past, and the passage of time first. This book, which focuses on a child's personal and family history as well as the history of her home and town, seems like the perfect way to introduce these ideas. The audience for the book is definitely upper elementary, but I am sure I'll be able to simplify things for my daughter's level. 
  • Words Are Categorical series by Brian P. Cleary
    My daughter already reads at around a third grade level. As she continues to hone her reading skills, I plan to start teaching her the parts of speech. These books, which are available through the library from Hoopla, combined with Mad Libs and Schoolhouse Rock videos will be the means by which I introduce nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. 
  • Primary Mathematics 2A (Singapore Math - U.S. Edition)
    My husband started our daughter on Singapore Math months and months ago and this is where she left off. We'll pick up here and see how she progresses as time goes on. Just looking over the problems, it seems like this will be fairly easy for her, but there is no rush!
  • Where is Thumbkin? 500 Activities to Use with Songs You Already Know by Pam Schiller and Thomas Moore
    This is the book I'm planning to use for my preschooler's "curriculum." She loves to sing, and this book provides a bunch of extension activities for a variety of favorite children's songs, so it seems like it will be a good fit. I don't plan to do very much in the way of formal teaching with her. This will just be a way for her to have fun one-on-one with me for a little while each day. 
  • The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading by Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington
    This is how my oldest daughter learned to read, starting shortly after she turned 3. My plan for right now is to use it to introduce letter sounds to my second daughter. How she does with that will determine when we get into the rest of the book. 
  • Catholic Children's Treasure Box series by the Maryknoll Sisters
    These are sweet, vintage magazine-like publications for Catholic kids. We originally tried to read them during Lent last year but never finished, so I'm hoping to use them as read-alouds throughout the first few months of our school year. This will be in addition to my daughter continuing to memorize the St. Joseph catechism. 
These books will of course be supplemented by lots of read-alouds and lots of independent reads for my oldest daughter as well. I will be sharing more about those in my Read-at-Home Kids Reports in the coming months! 

Monday, August 27, 2018

The RAHM Report for 8/27/18

What I Finished Reading

  • (George) by E.L. Konigsburg 
    The only way I can describe this book is as A Beautiful Mind for tweens. I liked it a lot, but it messed with my head. I'm planning to post a review on the blog in September. 
  • 51 Sycamore Lane by Marjorie Sharmat 
    This one was a little weird. I liked the voice of the main character - it's very similar to the author's Nate the Great - but the story felt somewhat thin and disorganized. 
  • A Long Line of Cakes: An Aurora County Novel (ARC) by Deborah Wiles 
    This book was pretty par for the course for this series. I definitely don't think it would make sense if I hadn't read the first three books, so I probably wouldn't recommend treating it like a standalone. 
  • Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani 
    I started listening to the audiobook of this, which is read by the author, and it was wonderful, but I was so into the book I wanted to read faster so I wound up switching to the book after about 100 pages. I know this book has been recommended to me before - I don't know why it took me so long to finally read it! 

What I'm Currently Reading

  • Read and Gone (ARC) by Allison Brook 60%
    This is a quick read that I had hoped to finish over the weekend, but I didn't quite make it. I will most likely finish it today. 
  • Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction by Catherine Pearlman, audiobook read by Christine Williams 21%
    I heard about this book from @everydayreading on Instagram. I normally would prefer to read the print version, but my library only seems to have the audio. I'm not sure yet that I will finish it just because audio is not my preferred format for parenting books.
  • Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller with Susan Kelley 15%
    I didn't get to spend much time on this book this past week, but I'm getting back into it now. Though it's about getting kids to develop the habits of lifelong readers, it's giving me a lot of food for thought and potential ideas for future blog posts about my own "wild reading."
  • Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny, audiobook read by Ralph Cosham 14%
    This is one of only two Louise Penny books I do not own, so I decided to take the opportunity to listen to one from this series on audio. Ralph Cosham is great, and this book, though very different from the first few Gamache books, is intriguing and well-written. 
  • Montana Sky by Nora Roberts 0%
    One of the challenges I am trying to complete this year has a Nora Roberts category. I decided to go with an older book that I have been wanting to read for a while. I have only read the first two pages, but I'll dig in a bit more after I finish a couple of these other books.

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

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Book Review: The Sparrow Child by Meriol Trevor (1958)

Philip Sparrow is spending the summer with some of his mother's family at Corben Place. There he learns of a family legend which states that an ancient chalice has been hidden somewhere on the property. While the adults debate the future of the house itself, and the rightful place where Mirabel, an orphaned cousin, ought to live, Philip concerns himself with searching for the long-lost grail.

Published in 1958, this book is one of Trevor's earlier works. Of the ones I've read, two come right before this book (Sun Slower, Sun Faster (1957) and The Other Side of the Moon (1957)) and two more (my favorites, Shadows and Images (1960) and The Rose Round (1963)) come a few years after it. Though this book feels more simplistic and less polished than The Rose Round, both stories have similar themes, and in some ways it feels like The Sparrow Child was a way for the author to explore some of the questions she really covers in depth in The Rose Round. Themes in both books include elderly relatives near the end of their lives, people who wish to control everyone around them, the impact of disabilities on the lives of the disabled and their caregivers, and the idea of home and what constitutes a good one. Interestingly, The Sparrow Child doesn't really include any of the supernatural events that help Trevor's other books resonate so much with the reader - perhaps this is why it felt less rich to me. 

Also present in this book, as in all of her others, is Trevor's unwavering devotion to her Catholic faith. There are so few authors who write authentically Catholic books for kids, so I am very thankful that Trevor did write every story from a Catholic point of view, and didn't tone down the religion in order to appeal to a wider audience. I am always puzzled when I see reviews on Goodreads that say things to the effect of "Well, I know her books are always Catholic, but this one had too much religion in it." If you knowingly pick up a religious-themed novel, why would you then complain when the book was religious? For Catholic families, books like this one, where the existence of God is seen as a given, and where the Catholic church is unquestionably the one true church, are such a gift, and we have so few. To see readers giving them negative reviews simply because they are Catholic is very frustrating.

Meriol Trevor's books are hard to find and can sometimes be expensive to purchase. If you come across this one and it's available for a great price, I would definitely recommend snatching it up. If, however, you are looking to spend a limited book budget on only a few of her titles, this book is probably not one I would make a big priority. For me, the must-haves are The Rose Round, Shadows and Images, and Sun Slower, Sun Faster - in that order. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book Review: So Done by Paula Chase (2018)

Jamila (Mila) and Metai (Tai), who live across the street from each other in a low-income housing project, have been good friends for a long time. Their friendship is strained these days, however, for a variety of reasons. After staying with her aunt in the suburbs for a few weeks, Mila suddenly objects to being called her childhood nickname of Bean and she doesn't want to spend time at Tai's house. Tai, on the other hand, is becoming more and more interested in getting a commitment out of her long-time crush, Rollie, while she also deals with the erratic behavior of her drug-addicted father. Additionally, both girls, and many of their other friends, are interested in auditioning for the new Talented and Gifted (TAG) program, but worry that with so much competition they may not be accepted.

I immediately recognized Paula Chase as the author of the Del Rio Bay Clique series, which I remember ordering for my library back when I was a teen librarian, and which was hugely popular. This book, though written at the middle grade level, is set in the same community, and judging from how well-written it is, it is also likely to be very popular. 

So many middle grade friendship stories are set against very generic middle class backgrounds where all the characters talk, act, think, and sound the same. This book, by contrast, makes great use of slang and local color to make the characters sound real and authentic, and  develops its setting in such a way that it is not just the backdrop of the story, but an integral part of the way the plot unfolds. Despite the fact that I wasn't familiar with a lot of the slang or subject matter, I was completely drawn into this world and fully invested in the well-being of both girls and in their hopes for getting into TAG. I can imagine that kids who do get the cultural references will be that much more immersed in the story.

There is some mature subject matter in this book that definitely places it at the higher end of the middle grade spectrum. Both Tai and Mila have parents who use drugs, and though it is never explicitly stated, it is clear that Tai's mom and dad were teen parents. There is also a troubling incident involving Mila and Tai's father, which, while handled gracefully by the author, with a clear-cut resolution, might be too much for some readers, especially those who are used to lighter friendship books. For that reason, I think of it as more appropriate for middle school than elementary school readers. Still, there are plenty of positive role models in the story, and the overall focus is on hope and healing, not on darkness and despair, as is fitting for a middle grade novel. 

So Done is yet another wonderful 2018 middle grade book (there are so many good ones this year so far!) and certainly a strong middle grade debut for Paula Chase. I'd be happy to see more books like this one in the years to come! (Thanks to Edelweiss for the digital review copy!)

Monday, August 20, 2018

The RAHM Report for 8/20/18

I had intended to be back into the regular routine of reading and posting last Monday. Sadly, right in the middle of our big move to our new house, my dad passed away, 15 months after suffering a debilitating stroke. Although the fact of his death was not a shock, since we knew it was likely to be sooner rather than later, it was still a really stressful situation. Because we had to travel for the wake and funeral, we lost an entire day from our moving plan and had to scramble to get everything done. I didn't read a single book for the first 10 days of this month, which is basically unheard of! Thankfully, things are beginning to calm down, I'm settling in to our new home, and I've been reading with a vengeance. I'm excited to really get back on track with the Bout of Books read-a-thon this week. As that kicks off today, here's what I've read lately and what I will be reading this week.

What I Finished Reading

  • Listen To Your Heart by Kasie West, audiobook read by Nora Hunter ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I have really enjoyed every Kasie West book I've listened to this summer. Though I don't usually like stories about mistaken identity and misunderstandings, this one was written so well that I didn't feel the usual discomfort I associate with these storylines. 
  • Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres ⭐⭐
    This was a pretty generic middle grade story. It wasn't bad, but it didn't really grab my interest. I finished it because it was short. 
  • Crime and Punctuation by Kaitlyn Dunnett, audiobook read by Margaret Strom ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I really enjoyed this cozy mystery, which is set in Sullivan County, NY, not far from where my mom lives. References to my local newspaper, and the city of Middletown, where I frequently went as a kid, and the overall small-town feel made me love the book even though the mystery itself unfolded kind of slowly. I also loved the audiobook narrator and will definitely look for other books she has read.
  • The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie ⭐⭐
    This was every bit as disappointing as I expected, and I have no idea why people rave about this book. I'll save my in-depth comments for my review, coming soon. 
  • The Intentional Bookshelf by Samantha Munoz ⭐
    This book really needed a good editor. There is also some misinformation and just outright bad advice that reveals the author's lack of expertise on the subject matter. 
  • The Book Whisperer by Donalynn Miller ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    Though this book is directed at public school teachers, I enjoyed reading about how the author encouraged her class to love reading by giving them lots of time in school to both read and write. 
  • By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank ⭐⭐⭐
    This was a very light read, and at times I found myself wanting just a bit more description. The dialogue-heavy text made the story feel rushed at times. I thought it was neat, though, that the characters were all named for real people who had won the chance to see their name in one of the author's books. All of the names fit their characters perfectly, and I never would have guessed that the author didn't make them up.
  • Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chien (ARC) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    The Noodle Shop Mysteries series is my favorite cozy series right now. I love that Lana is a younger protagonist and I enjoy all the supporting characters and the plaza setting. The writing is really excellent, and I think a lot of women in their 20s and 30s can relate to Lana. Book 3, Murder Lo Mein, comes out in March, and I'm already counting the weeks. 

Did Not Finish

  • Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
    I started this audiobook but it never really hooked me. I abandoned it about a third of the way through. 

What I'm Currently Reading

  • (George) by E.L. Konigsburg 20%
    This book has the strangest premise of all of Konigsburg's odd titles. It's about Ben, a boy with a high IQ who has a secret twin  named George living inside of him. I've avoided it for a long time because it sounds so weird, but the writing is so good I am finally taking the plunge. 
  • Reading in the Wild by Donalynn Miller
    This is the follow-up to The Book Whisperer which focuses on teaching kids the habits that will turn them into lifelong readers.  I've only read the introduction and a bit of the first chapter, but I'm enjoying it already. 
  • 51 Sycamore Lane by Marjorie Sharmat 8%
    I randomly picked this up from the shelf as we were unpacking books, and I love the tone and writing style. It will be a quick read that I will probably finish by the end of today.
  • Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani, audiobook read by the author 8%
    I have listened to the first hour of this audiobook and I already love it. The author has a great reading voice, and her main character's sassy comments make me laugh. 
  • Read and Gone by Allison Brook 2%
    In my last RAHM report, I said I was planning to read this on the last day of July for the Christmas in July read-a-thon at Seasons of Reading, but I didn't get to it and haven't had a chance to pick it up again since. I'm not really currently reading it, but it comes out in mid-September so I'll get back to it soon. 
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

An Interview with Children's Author Fred Bowen

All week, I've been sharing reviews of the books by Fred Bowen that I have read. Today, I'm happy to share an interview I recently conducted with Fred over email.

Read-at-Home Mom: One of the things I admire about your books is the way each story teaches a character-building lesson without preaching at the reader. When you're writing, do you set out to tell a story with a particular moral, or does the lesson present itself as you go?

Fred Bowen: First, thanks for saying my books are not preachy!  I think that any heavy-handed message would turn readers away.

My sports books for kids ages 7-12 are a balance of three major elements.  First, I want to tell a good story.  If you don’t have a fast-moving, interesting plot with sympathetic characters the kids will put the book down.

Second, I want to teach the kids something about the sports they love.  That’s why I weave some sports history into the plot and always include a chapter of real sports history at the end of the book.

Finally, I definitely want to include a lesson that kids can learn from the story.  But the lesson is always an intrinsic part of the sport.  So in Outside Shot (Peachtree 2017), for example, Matt sees himself as a shooter, the kid who is going to score a lot of baskets.  The lesson he learns over the course of the season is to not define himself so narrowly.  He can be more than he thinks.  Matt learns that lesson through playing basketball.

When I start a book I have a good idea of what the history and lesson contained in the story will be.  As I work out the plot I am always thinking about how to emphasize (without preaching!) the history and the underlying lesson.

RAHM: Each of your books involves scenes where kids play in sporting events, requiring you to describe a lot of physical action very clearly and concisely. Do you have a particular method you use to organize all the logistics of these scenes? Are some sports harder to capture on the page than others?

FB: I outline my books extensively before I start writing.  First, I develop the “arc of the story” by figuring out what has to happen in each of the chapters (my books are usually 15-17 chapters and about 120 pages).  That arc is usually a few typewritten pages.

Next, I write out (in longhand!) a first draft of the book using two, 100-page (6” X 9”) notebooks.  This is where I work out the dialogue and the details of the action, including the action in the games.  I am not trying to be perfect in this draft.  I am only trying to figure out what goes where and who says what.

After I have worked out those details in my notebooks, I begin to type up on the computer the first “official” draft of the book.  I am trying to be as perfect as possible with this draft.

I should emphasize that things are always changing in this process.  I am adding and deleting scenes, emphasizing certain themes more, developing the characters.  It’s a lot of fun!

And yes, some sports are harder to describe than others.  Baseball is easy because you can summarize the previous action quickly and then “drop into” a dramatic moment in the game and describe it in more detail.  Basketball and football are similar in this way.

I find soccer the most difficult to describe because so much of the action does not lead to any significant result.  Many soccer games are 60-90 minutes of barely differentiated action punctuated by one or two goals.   I played and enjoy the game but it is hard to describe.

RAHM: Your books also always include interesting information about sports figures of the past. When you were growing up, which sports heroes inspired you?

FB: I didn’t really have sport heroes in the traditional way kids have heroes.  I had favorite players and favorite teams – go Red Sox and Celtics! – but I did not have sports heroes as such.

I think I sensed (probably through my family) that just because someone was great at sports this did not make him or her necessarily admirable in every aspect of their life.

I have written a weekly kids sports column for the Washington Post since April 2000.  I have often tried to convey this truth to my readers.  Just because LeBron James is a fabulous basketball player does not automatically make him a good father, person or friend.  He may be, but that is a separate inquiry.  I think this is an important point to make to kids in our celebrity-crazed culture.

RAHM: I heard you speak at the Gaithersburg Book Festival several years ago, and I remember you commenting on the number of names you need for all the teammates, coaches, and other supporting characters who appear in your books. How do you choose the names for all those characters? 

FB: I do several things to name the characters in my books.  First, I check the Social Security website to see what names were popular ten years before the scheduled publication date of the book.  Those names will be familiar to the kids reading my books.

My wife teaches at a school in our neighborhood.  So I look at the names in the student directory and mix and match first names with different last names.

I also put in names of friends, friends’ kids and grandchildren, as well as kids who write me fan letters and emails.  Finally, I am a big jazz fan so I will sometimes sneak in the name of a favorite jazz pianist, bassist or sax player in a roster or as an opponent.

RAHM: Finally, for readers who have read all of your books, which authors would you recommend for them to enjoy while they wait for your next book?

FB: I have written 22 chapter books for readers ages 7-12 and one picture book, so it is hard for me to believe that kids have read all my books.  But I know kids have because I have met some of them.  There have been times that I have met kids who knew my books better than I did!

What I would encourage all kids to do is to read as often and widely as possible.  If they like sports, they should read the sports section in their local newspaper.  Get a subscription to Sports Illustrated or ESPN the magazine.

I remember when I was young, my father encouraged me to read the sports section of the Boston newspapers.  But after a while, he would only give me the sports section after I had read the front pages.  This helped me develop a life-long interest in politics and current events.

Finally, my parents always encouraged reading.  They said we (the 7 kids in the family) should always be reading something.  If someone asked us what we were reading we should always have an answer.  Sure enough, we all turned out to be readers.

My point is that kids (and their parents) should make a habit of reading.  Find what you are interested in and then find a book about that subject.  It isn’t hard but it takes more effort than turning on the TV or checking your phone.  There are so many terrific writers for kids these days that if kids say they can’t find anything to read they aren’t really trying.

If they like my books they should know my next book – a football book – will be published in the Fall of 2019.

Thanks to Fred Bowen for these wonderful answers! I know I'll be looking for that football book next year!