Thursday, January 28, 2021

Book Review: A Place to Come Back To (1984) and The Love of Friends (1997) by Nancy Bond

A Place To Come Back To and The Love of Friends are the sequels to The Best of Enemies (1978). In book two, A Place To Come Back To, Charlotte, now a teenager, struggles to help her friend Oliver when the death of his great uncle threatens the life he has established for himself in Concord. Charlotte tries to be helpful, but her naivete surrounding family dysfunction frustrates Oliver and strains their relationship. In book three, The Love of Friends, Oliver once again introduces a stressful situation by having Charlotte come to visit him in London without his parents' knowledge. As they masquerade as adults and take a secret side journey to Scotland, Oliver meets with an old friend of his great-uncle (a character the reader has previously met in book one) and Charlotte tries to advise a young woman who has recently discovered she is pregnant.

While I very much enjoy the way Nancy Bond writes, the second book was largely a let-down after the excellence of the first one. Oliver is endlessly frustrating and depressing to spend time with, and though I completely understood Charlotte's lack of perspective about his emotional demands on her, and even his inability to process his grief, it still drove me nuts that he was constantly so selfish and that she never seemed to be bothered enough to say anything. The second book ended on such a sad and uncertain note, however, that there was no way I wasn't going to read the last one. 

Unfortunately, the third book suffers from the same frustrating issues, just on another continent. I am usually not much for books whose sole purpose is to empower girls because they come across as preachy, but Charlotte is so passive and there is so little evidence that she ever figures out how to stand up for herself in her weird friendship with Oliver, that I was almost desperate for a girl power message. Somehow, too, the third book is suddenly very concerned with sneaking in more progressive content, including a gay couple and the possibility of an abortion. These things have no bearing at all on Charlotte or Oliver, so they read like gratuitous pandering to trends in the greater culture in the late '90s. (And this doesn't make much sense, since the first book was published in 1978 and only about three years pass from book one to book three.) The British setting was fun, but all the emotional baggage weighs down the book as a whole. 

Overall, these two books reminded me a lot of Madeleine L'Engle's books about Vicky Austin and Zachary Gray.  The writing is great, but sometimes I had to wonder what the point of this friendship was. The whimsy and mystery of The Best of Enemies is just totally missing from these sequels, and I finished the series feeling more depressed than hopeful for these characters. We own all three books now, so we may hang onto them, but truly the only one I would be likely to give to my kids to actually read is that first book. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Favorite Authors I Discovered in 2020

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2020. I discovered quite a few authors for the first time last year, and added some new favorites to my list. Here are ten, in no particular order.

  • Jan Karon
    I have known of Jan Karon and her Mitford books for a long time, but had always dismissed them, thinking they would be too saccharine or preachy. But someone on Instagram mentioned that At Home in Mitford had strong fall vibes when I was looking for autumn-themed reading material, and I decided to try the audiobook. Between September and the end of the year I ended up reading 8 of these books!

  • Rosamunde Pilcher
    This is another author I'd heard of but had never tried for myself. In September, I read September  and in December, I read Winter Solstice. Both were very cozy, relaxing reads.

  • Anne Rivers Siddons
    I found Colony by this author when I was looking for pre-2000 women's fiction to listen to over the summer. I loved it so much that I bought several others of the author's books, including Outer Banks, which I also really enjoyed.

  • Fredrik Backman
    I wanted to try this author, and I decided to start with Beartown. I loved the writing, and I thought he handled difficult subject matter very tastefully and gracefully. I plan to read more of his books in 2021.

  • Beth O'Leary
    I downloaded the audio review copy of The Switch from NetGalley and really loved the story. I am planning to read The Flatshare by this author in 2021.

  • Katherine Center
    I read Things You Save in a Fire because the description sounded interesting. I then immediately downloaded the ARC of What You Wish For from Edelweiss. I like that these are love stories with some substance.  

  • Abby Jimenez
    The Happy Ever After Playlist was one of the books in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide. It was the perfect summer read.  

  • Abbi Waxman
    I read both The Bookish Life of Nina Hill and I Was Told It Would Get Easier and then I bought Other People's Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings for Kindle. I love the way Waxman writes.

  • Anne Tyler 
    Redhead by the Side of the Road from the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer reading guide was my first Anne Tyler and I gave it five stars. 

  • Wendell Berry
    I had been saying for years I was going to try Wendell Berry and in 2020 I decided to read Hannah Coulter. It was beautifully written and it was one of my favorites of the year. 

Homeschool Update: Week of 1/18/21

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "White Fields" by James Stephens, "A Morning Walk" a Southern Paiute song translated by John Wesley Powell, "Small, Smaller" by Russell Hoban, "Over wintry wind-whipped waves" by Anonymous, "Shell" by Ted Hughes 
  • Articles from: National Geographic Explorer: Trailblazer Women in Science Issue 
  • Art appreciation: Route 6, Eastham. by Edward Hopper from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: Red River Valley, Gloria from Mass VIII (Missa de Angelis)
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week, "The Tiger" by William Blake; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first eight books of the Bible, "A Christmas Carol" by Kenneth Grahame; E: numbers 1-10, letters of the alphabet 
  • Catechism: Lesson 14, The Resurrection and Life Everlasting and Lesson 15, The Two Great Commandments from The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism 
  • Music Appreciation: "A Midsummer Night's Dream: Scherzo" by Felix Mendelssohn 


This week we learned about the water cycle. We read Water for Dinosaurs and You by Roma Gans and conducted experiments with evaporation as described in Early Elementary Science Education by Shannon Jordan. We also watched several water cycle videos: 
M. did her first mission with her Go Pi Go robot: creating an obstacle course. 


M. read Joan of Arc by Josephine Poole and Angela Barrett and Joan of Arc by Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel and  she colored a stained glass coloring book page of her image from Shining Light Dolls. She also looked at Rulers of Britain by Peter Somerset Fry, Chaucer and His World by Ian Serraillier, The Canterbury Tales by Selina Hastings and Reg Cartwright, The Canterbury Tales: An Illustrated Edition,  and A Taste of Chaucer: Selections from The Canterbury Tales by Anne Malcolmson. She watched What Was Life Like? | Episode 5: Medieval - Meet a Medieval Monk, What Was Life Like? | Episode 6: Castles - Meet A Medieval Noblewoman, and the three episodes of Chivalry and Betrayal: The Hundred Years War. She;s also working on memorizing the monarchs of England through the Plantagenets using this rhyme.

C. started reading History Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf, and she was introduced to pyramids, pharaohs and papyrus, Mesopotamia, the Tigris and Euphrates and the Phoenicians. She really loves this book and is really excited to read it each day. She reads it aloud to me, and I just jump in to help with tricky vocabulary.


C. has gone back to working on Singapore math. She is working on the money exercises using the skills she practiced in the Complete Book of Time and Money

M. took a break from Singapore this week to get some extra practice reducing fractions to their simplest forms. I generated worksheets of 20 problems, and she worked on ten each day. 

Reading and Writing 

M. continued reading Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago to Gran on Skype. (They will finish by the end of next week.)

C. is now reading Henry and Beezus by Beverly Cleary.  

Instrumental Music

Both girls practiced piano and recorder

Other Activities

On Wednesday, the girls painted with tempera paint. On Friday, they had a masked playdate outside with friends.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 1/11/21

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Winter Days" by Gareth Owen, "Snow in the Suburbs" by Thomas Hardy, "A Hard Winter" by Wes Magee, "In the Garden" by Anonymous, "Once I Saw a Little Bird" by Anonymous
  • Articles from Kids Discover magazine: The Middle Ages (This was much better written than the previous week's issue about bicycles. It was engaging for C., for whom it was new, and M., for whom it was review.)
  • Art Appreciation: New York Waterfront by Stuart Davis from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: Red River Valley
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week, "The Tiger" by William Blake, address, phone number; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first eight books of the Bible, "A Christmas Carol" by Kenneth Grahame; E: numbers 1-10
  • Music Appreciation: Symphony No. 94, "Surprise": Second Movement by Franz Joseph Haydn


We worked some with magnets over the summer before deciding on our science schedule for the school year, so much of this unit was review. We watched a few videos, including some about about maglevs that both M. and C. found really interesting:  

C. also did her first Kiwi Crate this week. She made an arcade claw and some pom pom friends to grab with it. She loved this project and can't wait for the next one. 


M. read about the development of Parliament in A Picturesque Tale of Progress. She also read The Bayeux Tapestry: The story of the Norman Conquest: 1066 by Norman Denny and Josephine Filmer-Sankey, The Norman Conquest by Walter C. Hodges, Magna Carta by Walter C. Hodges, and Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz. She watched The Bayeux Tapestry - all of it, from start to finish, The Animated Bayeux Tapestry, History at Home Live! – 1066 and the Battle of HastingsThe Story of Magna Carta, What Was Life Like? | Episode 3: Anglo-Saxons - Meet an Anglo-Saxon Warrior, and What Was Life Like? | Episode 4: Normans - Meet William the Conqueror and King Harold. She also looked at a panoramic image of the Bayeux Tapestry and she visited

C. finished The Big Golden Book of Cavemen and Other Prehistoric People. She watched a few videos to finish out this topic:  


C. finished counting with quarters in the Complete Book of Time and Money. M. continued working on fractions in Singapore 3B.

Reading and Writing 

C. read Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary. M. continued reading aloud Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago to Gran over Skype. She also read Ramona and her Father, Ramona and her Mother, and Ramona Quimby Age 8 on her own. 

Instrumental Music

Both girls practiced piano and recorder every day.

Other activities 

The girls did their exercise video from the Ten Thousand Method  and had a masked outdoor playdate on Friday. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Read-at-Home Kids Report: Candlewick Picture Books (November 2020)

I fell behind on reviewing picture books at the end of 2020, but even though these have been out for a few months now, I think it's still worth sharing my three oldest girls' thoughts (and mine) about these titles.

Ellie's Dragon by Bob Graham

When she is very small, Ellie, the daughter of a single mom, finds a newly hatched dragon whom she names Scratch. Though none of the adults in her life can see him, Scratch goes everywhere with Ellie - even to preschool. As Ellie approaches the teen years, however, her need for Scratch diminishes until one day he leaves Ellie to find a new friend.

All three girls liked this one. Little Bo Peep (5 years, 3 months), said her favorite parts were when Ellie named the dragon and when the dragon found a new friend. For Little Jumping Joan (3 years, 2 months) ., the best part of the book was the illustration where Scratch first flew. Little Miss Muffet (7 years, 1 month) said her favorite part was when Ellie found Scratch. I thought the story was really similar to "Puff the Magic Dragon" and I went back and forth between thinking the song and story would make a good pairing and feeling like the book was unnecessary since we already have the song.

Mr. Brown's Bad Day by Lou Peacock, illustrated by Alison Friend

Mr. Brown, a tiger who is a very important businessman, has a bad day when a baby elephant snatches his briefcase, sending it on a path that leads Mr. Brown all over town. The briefcase has very important items inside, and Mr. Brown just can't rest until he has them back.

Little Bo Peep enjoyed the fact that different animals kept ending up in the briefcase. She especially liked the baby elephant. Little Jumping Joan liked that the baby elephant hung the briefcase from the ice cream vendor's cart. Miss Muffet said her favorite part was the ending, which got a big "Awww" from all three girls. The ending didn't work as well for me, but I think it got the intended reaction out of the girls.

Can Bears Ski? by Raymond Antrobus, illustrated by Polly Dunbar

Little Bear doesn't know whether bears can ski, and he is tired of being asked, until he and his dad visit an audiologist who helps him realize people are asking, "Can you hear me?" After he is fitted for hearing aides, the answer to that question becomes a resounding yes.

The girls did not get this one. They could not understand that, to someone reading lips "Can bears ski?" and "Can you hear me?" might look alike. The ending was also too subtle for them to grasp and trying to make sense of the last page distracted them from talking about anything else in the book. I tried multiple ways of explaining it, but while they could appreciate that Little Bear could not hear, the story focused their questions on the meaning of the text rather than the implications of Little Bear's discovery.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 1/4/21

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "January" by Winifred C. Marshall, "Birch Trees" by John Richard Moreland, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost, "Diamond Poem" by John Foster, "Snowflakes" by Leroy F. Jackson
  • Articles from Kids Discover magazine Bicycles issue 
  • Art appreciation: Day and Night by M.C. Escher from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: We Three Kings  
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week, excerpt from the Gospel of Luke; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first eight books of the Bible, "A Christmas Carol" by Kenneth Grahame; E: numbers 1-10
  • Music Appreciation: Amahl and the Night Visitors 


We moved things around in our schedule for this second half of the school year, so now we're doing science immediately after breakfast instead of after lunch. This week, we revisited magnets, which we covered over the summer, but which came up again in BFSU and EESE. We reviewed the first two parts of the lesson in EESE and then watched some videos: 

The favorites for both girls were the SciShow Kids and Dr. Binocs videos. They actually retained everything we covered over the summer, too, so I think that added to their interest in the videos. 

E. opened her first Koala Crate, the theme of which was rainbows. She made a rainbow pillow, a tie-dyed tote bag, and a stained glass window craft. She absolutely loved it, and has been sleeping with the pillow every night. 


C. finished her Sticker Histories book about the Ice Age and went back to reading from The Big Golden Book of Cavemen and Other Prehistoric People

M. finished learning about medieval Spain by reading about the Alhambra. She then discussed it with Gran, who has been there. Then she started on medieval England with the story of Beowulf in A Picturesque Tale of Progress.  


C. spent some time with real coins reviewing their values and continued workings with dimes, nickels, and pennies in The Complete Book of Time and Money. We had been having her fill out the worksheets on the computer, but because so many of the pages started involving coloring and matching, we printed out a few of them for her to be able to work on without having to master the stylus. 

Reading and Writing 

C. continued reading Twig, and after finishing it, drew a picture of the characters. M. zipped through two Ramona books: Ramona and her Father and Ramona and her Mother. She has been enjoying reading in my bedroom closet, and if she isn't interrupted will happily sit in there and read an entire book in a single afternoon. M. also worked on her Christmas thank-you notes and continued reading Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago on Skype with Gran. 

Instrumental Music

M. and C. both practiced piano and recorder daily.


Of her own volition, M. drew a picture of an ear cleaner (called "CleanEar") that she invented.

Other Activities

We had a masked playdate with the grandkids of our next door neighbors. We also attended a Latin Mass at a new parish, and M. followed along with the Latin. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

An Open Book: January 2021

This year, I've decided to join in each month with An Open Book, a link-up hosted by Carolyn Astfalk at and My Scribbler's Heart where everyone shares what they and/or their families are currently reading. I'm getting this one in just under the wire, but hopefully I'll be better prepared for next month.

I recently stayed up until 2 o'clock in the morning to finish the latest middle grade novel by Gary D. Schmidt, Just Like That, which just came out January 5th. Something horrible happens to a beloved character from one of Schmidt's previous novels in the first chapter, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to enjoy the book after that, but happily that was not the case. This was a definite five-star read for me. 

This month I'm also slowly working my way through The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge and a re-read of The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the audiobook of The Late Show by Michael Connelly, which has a really interesting female detective as its lead character and an obscure 1990s middle grade novel called The Love of Friends by Nancy Bond. I've also been reading aloud to my three oldest girls at lunch time and right before bed. We just finished Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald and now we're reading Felicia the Critic by Ellen Conford. 

My husband is reading Bartholomew Fair by Mary Stolz. I haven't read it yet myself, but it's a middle grade novel that follows several characters, including Queen Elizabeth, as they attend London's Bartholomew Fair in 1598. He says it's pretty disappointing because while the author is an excellent writer, historical fiction is not her forte.

My daughter, M., age 7, is  getting back into the Ramona series. She was very early to learn to read and read several of the books when she was 5, and we cut her off for a while and said she needed to be a bit older to appreciate the others. She now has the green light to finish the series. She has been holing up in my walk-in bedroom closet to read, and so far this month she has finished Ramona and her Father and Ramona and her Mother

My daughter, C., age 5, has been reading Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones. At first she had trouble getting into it, and then suddenly she had only a few chapters left. Her plan is to read Henry Huggins next. 

My daughter, E., age 3, is really into the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. She loves that Mercy likes to eat toast "with a great deal of butter on it" and she enjoys looking at the illustrations to retell the story after it is read aloud to her. Her current favorite title from the series is the final book, Something Wonky This Way Comes

My twins, daughter A. and son R., age 9 months, have been listening to nursery rhymes in the board books by Claire Beaton that they received for Christmas. I also recite nursery rhymes to them, and R. has taken a particular liking to "Doctor Foster went to Gloucester."

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Reading Through History: Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt (2021)

Meryl Lee Kowalski is devastated when, between seventh and eighth grades, her close friend, a beloved character from The Wednesday Wars (2007), is killed in a tragic accident. Unable to stand the thought of returning to Camillo Junior High School, she enrolls in a girls' boarding school where Mrs. MacKnockater is the headmistress. Mrs. MacKnockater is sympathetic to the boarding school students and also to a young man named Matt who is on the run from danger but has sought refuge at Mrs. MacKnockater's house. As Meryl Lee and Matt both face their individual fears and forms of pain, they also turn toward each other in friendship and perhaps a bit more.

I have to admit that, after Schmidt killed one of my favorite middle grade characters of all time in the first chapter of this book, I was almost not going to read the rest of the story. As a one-time creative writing student, I admire his willingness to take a risk, but as a reader who counts The Wednesday Wars in her top 10 children's books of the last 20 years, I felt like this was a cruel way to open the book, and though the rest of the story turns out to be wonderful, I still think the character in question died in vain. Schmidt could have had Meryl Lee mourn almost any loss; I would love to hear the author's thinking behind his decision.

All that aside, however, because Schmidt is an author whose books I consistently love, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. The book was so engrossing that I wound up reading it all in one night, staying up until after 2 a.m. to finish, and I couldn't bring myself to give it fewer than five stars. The writing in this book is amazingly vivid. It's not flowery, but the descriptions are almost deceptively evocative. Without realizing it was happening, I built up images in my mind of Meryl Lee's school, her dormitory, Mrs. MacKnockater's house, and all the people and places Matt remembers from his previous life. Schmidt also does a nice job of balancing tension and hope. There are lots of very difficult moments for each of the characters, but there is never sense that they are insurmountable. Gary Schmidt really effectively infuses this story with heart, and it becomes impossible not to love the characters. Were he to kill one of these characters, I would be just as devastated as I was over the death that occurs in Chapter One of this book.

My recommendation to Schmidt fans is to stick with the book. It's definitely reasonable to be angry over a death that may seem gratuitous, but it would be a shame to miss the rest of this wonderful story because of that. If you've never read The Wednesday Wars, my suggestion would be to read that first, and then read Okay for Now (2011), and only then pick up Just Like That. Reading this book immediately after The Wednesday Wars would be kind of emotionally torturous, I think, as would reading Just Like That first. But do read them all. Schmidt is a brilliant writer even if I don't think his big writing risk has quite paid off. 

Thanks to Clarion Books and Edelweiss+ for the digital review copy.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Read-at-Home Kids Report: Christmas Book Haul Edition

In 2020, I didn't do a great job of keeping up with reviewing the picture books I received from publishers. I think there were a few reasons for that, one of which was that I stopped posting regularly about my kids' reading outside of books the older two read for school. So this year I'm bringing back this feature. It won't cover every single title we read, but it will hit the highlights of the new and classic titles everyone is enjoying.

Jack and Jill (9 months)

We have never had a baby this old at Christmastime, since the three older girls are all fall babies, so it was really fun watching the twins enjoy the excitement of Christmas morning. They received mostly books as gifts, since they are likely our last babies and we didn't want to buy a lot of baby toys that would end up being donated within a year. 

In their stockings were Indestructible books (Busy City, My Neighborhood, and All Year Round) and Melissa and Doug Fun Faces Mask books (Goodnight Faces, Farm Faces, and Zoo Faces.) They love the Indestructible books, but so far they have mostly just stared at me when I put the mask books up to my face.

Under the tree from me were You're My Little Baby by Eric Carle, Up Cat Down Cat by Steve Light, the Johnny Appleseed Babylit book, and Freight Train by Donald Crews. They happily listened to me read each of these. Jill seemed most fascinated by the mirror at the end of the Carle book, while Jack loves the colors of Freight Train.

From my sister they received a set of cloth books with animal tails on the sides of the pages and crinkly pages, and one board book with ocean animal tails. They probably play with these the most of any toys they have. They both love the crinkling sound.   

From my mom they received three board books of rhymes illustrated by Clare Beaton and Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown, with illustrations by the Dillons.  

Little Jumping Joan (3 years, 2 months)

From me, Jumping Joan received Some Dinosaurs Are Small and Curious About Mammals. The dinosaur book was not a hit and may end up leaving our home library for the donation box, but she seemed to like Curious About Mammals as much as she liked the book that preceded it, Curious About Birds

From my mom, she received This Old Man by Carol Jones, which I first saw in an Instagram post and which reminded me of Peek-a-Boo by the Ahlbergs because it has cut-out holes to peek through. She loves that song and has been singing the book to the babies. My mom also sent We All Go Traveling By, which Jumping Joan knows from watching the video adaptation on YouTube. It was one of her favorite gifts of the year. 

Little Bo Peep (5 years, 3 months)

Bo Peep received books 3 and 4 in the Tales from Deckawoo Drive series from my mom, and the 5th one from me. She has already read the third book and has moved on to the fourth. Her other books were all from my mom: You Can Do It, Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells, Caroline at the King's Ball and Caroline and the King's Hunt by Jean Le Paillot, and Penny and her Sled by Kevin Henkes. She read Penny and her Sled and has been reading the others aloud to family members on Skype calls.

Little Miss Muffet (7 years, 1 month)

Miss Muffet received the first three books in the Poppy series by Avi from my mom and a couple of Alain Gree activity books from me. She was much more interested in other things she got for Christmas, but she did start one of them and said she "kind of" liked it. 

For the Family

I wrapped up my review copies of The Language of the Universe by Colin Stuart and One of a Kind by Neil Packer to add to our nonfiction shelves. These have been a hard sell so far, but I'm sure their time will come. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Homeschool Update: Weeks of 12/21/20 and 12/28/20

Advent and Christmas Activities

In the days leading up to Christmas Day, we added the last four ornaments to the Jesse Tree: Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, and the Holy Bible. We also watched the last few Days of Advent from Brother Francis and C. and E. also watched the Brother Francis Christmas episode. On Christmas Eve, we did a short Lessons and Carols service at home. M. played Joseph and a king, C. played Mary and the angel, and E. played a shepherd and a king. M. and C. took turns reading from the Bible and singing carols. On Christmas Day, I sent the performance to some long-distance family and friends. On Christmas Day, we watched Mass online. 

Morning Time 

  • Poems from Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018): "Winter" by Judith Nicholls, "Winter Trees" by William Carlos Williams, "Be Like the Bird" by Victor Hugo, "At Nine of the Night I Opened My Door" by Charles Causley, "Amulet" by Ted Hughes, "The Four Corners of the Universe" (Mescalero Apache song) translated by Claire R. Farrer, "I Heard a Bird Sing" by Oliver Herford, "Keep a Poem in Your Pocket" by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, "The Garden Year" by Sara Coleridge  
  • Art Appreciation: The Repast of the Lion by Henri-Julien-Felix Rousseau and Summer House, Bayshore by William J. Glackens from Come Look with Me: Exploring Landscape Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard (Charlesbridge, 2006). 
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender:  "How is sugar made?"; Where does starch come from?"; "How does yeast make bread rise?"; "What is caffeine?"; "Why is milk pasteurized?"; "What is aluminum?"
  • Music Appreciation: Handel's Messiah and  Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV 58 by Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Memory work: C.: continents, directions, planets, months, days of the week, excerpt from the Gospel of Luke; M: marks of the church, 7 sacraments, oceans, Great Lakes, 50 states, 13 colonies, first five books of the Bible, "A Christmas Carol" by Kenneth Grahame; E: numbers 1-10


C. continued working in her Sticker Histories book about the ice age. She watched The Story of Saberteeth and When Camels Roamed North America.

My husband and M. read about Medieval Spain in A Picturesque Tale of Progress. Independently, she started reading El Cid by Geraldine McCaughrean, Victor G. Ambrus.   


C. worked on counting dimes, nickels and pennies in The Complete Book of Time and Money from American Education Publishing, and she completed Life of Fred: Butterflies Chapter 12. She also worked in third grade math on Khan Academy. 

M. worked on fractions in Singapore 3B, completed Life of Fred: Honey Chapter 7, and worked in fourth grade math on Khan Academy.  


We took the week leading up to Christmas off from science. The lesson for the week of the 28th in BFSU and EESE was Lesson B-3 Plant and Animal Kingdoms - Distinguishing Between Plants and Animals. We used a printable from the BFSU Facebook group to sort photos of living things into groups of plants and animals. We discussed that the key difference between plants and animals is how they obtain energy, and that all energy ultimately comes from the sun. We also watched Feed Me and  Gotta Eat! from Crash Course Kids. 

Reading and Writing

My husband read aloud The Long Christmas by Ruth Sawyer. I read aloud The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L'Engle, Amahl and the Night Visitors adapted by Frances Frost and Roger Duvoisin, and the beginning of Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald. Independently, C. read more of Twig. For diction practice, she read sections from the first McGuffey Reader aloud to me. M. worked on Christmas thank you notes and started reading Little House By Boston Bay by Melissa Wiley. 


C. and E. practiced piano and recorder and watched a performance of The Nutcracker

Physical Education

We went to the playground once, and the girls ran on the deck when it was warm enough. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

2021 Reading Plans


Though I think the last couple of years have been really good for my reading life, I wanted to make some changes for this year that would introduce some balance and boundaries that might make it easier for me to occasionally do things in my free time besides read. I've also been more intentional about choosing my reading challenges for the year in the hopes of being able to slow down and appreciate the books that I read a bit more.

So, first, here are 10 goals I have set for myself for 2021. 

Goal #1: Stop tracking picture books and board books.
I started tracking every single book I read back in 2011 when I was a new children's librarian. Because I was doing a lot of story times and class visits each week, I needed to be able to keep track of which picture books I read, and to which audience, and how it went, and what themes I used, and things like that. I continued tracking these for my own kids after I left the library, and this was really doable until I had my third daughter, and still pretty manageable up until this past year. Now, with five kids, and two doing school, it has become burdensome and I haven't been able to keep up with it very well.  I've decided to stop tracking these on Goodreads, and to just blog about them and use my blog as my record, as I do with all of our school subjects. And this means that my Goodreads challenge number could be reduced, which leads me to the next goal... 

Goal #2: Read exactly 200 books, and no more.
I'm used to inflating my challenge number every year to make up for the fact that I included picture books and board books, so it took me a little bit to settle on this number. I will still count middle grade and YA books that I read for myself, as well as the chapter books I read aloud to my kids for fun (rather than for a specific school subject) so I decided to pad it a little bit more than I would if I were reading only adult books. Since my combined total of adult, middle grade and YA in 2020 was 247, and I wanted to cut back a little bit, 200 seemed like a good number. And there is a catch. 200 is both my goal and the maximum number of books I will permit myself to read this year. I want breathing room in my reading life setting a cap on my reading is the only way I'm going to get that. 

Goal #3: Read 50 e-books.
I have a Kindle Fire and a bunch of unread Kindle books as well as a ton of e-books I want to read on Hoopla and Scribd, so I knew that whatever number I chose for my reading goal, I wanted to make sure that 25% of those books would be e-books. Basically I'd like to knock out one ebook per week if I can.  

Goal #4: Cut back on audiobooks.
I became really dependent on audiobooks in 2019 and 2020, to the point where I started avoiding reading books for which I couldn't find an audio recording. I still want to listen to some books, such as the ones for book club, and some cozy mysteries, but I want to re-train myself to read with my eyes as well. 

Goal #5: Keep up with Goodreads reviews.
Last year, my biggest failure goals-wise was that I didn't post something on Goodreads for every book I read. I am attributing this in part to the fact that I was trying to review all of those picture books and homeschool books as well as my personal reading, and it was just too much. Hopefully reading less and tracking less will translate into more time to spend writing reviews.

Goal #6: Write down more quotes from books.
I made  a very brief effort to do this in 2020, but it was hard to do when I was reading so many audiobooks. This year, I'm planning to post pictures of my letter board to Instagram with quotes from the books I'm reading, so I have a practical reason to keep track of them, and I hope that will help. 

Goal #7: Host a read-a-thon.
I've hosted reading challenges, and I hosted a read-along, and neither one was that successful, but I love read-a-thons and I can't resist giving one a try. This will most likely happen in the second half of the year. 

Goal #8: Read the Bible in a year.
Father Mike Schmitz of Ascension Presents is hosting a podcast to guide Catholics through reading the Bible in 365 days. This is another reason I wanted to cut back on audiobooks. I want to prioritize actually sticking with this and finishing the Bible.   

Goal #9: Fill in Literary Listopia journal. 
My mom gave me this journal for my birthday which provides a variety of lists on bookish topics. I have a tendency to acquire things like this and then never use them, so this time I'm going to make myself jump  in and do it right away. 

Goal #10: Write 1200 words per week. 
After NaNoWriMo (about which I am still working on a blog post) I decided I wanted to keep writing in a small way throughout the year. I wanted it to be possible to reach a goal in as few or as many days per week as suited my mood, so I low-balled it at 1200 for each week, knowing that I could write that many words at once sometimes, but that I could also break it down into four 300-word days to make it less overwhelming. By the end of the year, I hope to have written 62, 400 words. 


I am keeping things very simple with my reading challenges this year. I'm basically only doing two: The Unread Shelf Project and the Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge. I've decided that I will sign up for Craving for Cozies and continue to post in the Facebook group but that I won't keep track of it here on the blog since it's not really a goal I'm striving toward as much as a group I don't want to leave because I like seeing what books are out there. 

In any case, the Unread Shelf Project has prompts for each month, plus a set of bonus prompts for a total of 24. I'm not going to copy them all here, but they are on my 2021 Challenges page

The prompts I do want to share are the ones for the Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge because I chose them myself. This year, the challenge focuses on creating goals that will help improve our reading lives in the ways we need. The instructions said to choose 12 books, but I chose 12 categories, and I'm challenging myself to read 3 books in each one. Here is my list:

  • Three Newbery Award winners
  • Three books that are the last/most recent in a series
  • Three books of more than 500 pages
  • Three books by the same author
  • Three audiobooks with the same narrator
  • Three Catholic nonfiction books.
  • Three general nonfiction books.
  • Three books under 200 pages.
  • Three books about books or reading.
  • Three books about writing.
  • Three books published in 2020.
  • Three re-reads. 
I am expecting some of these to overlap with the Unread Shelf prompts and others to require borrowing library books and finding books on Scribd. 

And those are all my plans for now! What are you planning to read in 2021? 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Read-At-Home Mom's Top 25 Books of 2020

One of my favorite things to do at the end of December is to make my list of my top 25 books for the year. Though 2020 was an unusual reading year in some ways, I still read a lot of really interesting and well-written books. They are listed by category below. I marked my top ten very favorites with an asterisk.

Feel-Good Reads (5)

This spring, between bringing home newborn twins and everything being closed and canceled right and left, I found myself wanting to read purely to escape. Though I eventually started reading other types of books too, feel-good reads remained my top genre throughout 2020. It's hard to guess how I might have felt about these books had I not read them during a global pandemic, but for this year, they were all five-star reads.

  • *Attachments by Rainbow Rowell was one of the picks for the Everyday Reading book club on Instagram, and I just absolutely loved it. I think it's hard to write something funny, and Rowell made me laugh a lot with this quirky romance set in the 90s. I really enjoyed the characters and I felt that the story managed to have substance while still helping me take my mind off what was going on in the world. 
  • The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs was a pleasant surprise for me. Her older books have typically been three-star reads for me, but this one has deeper characterization and a more engaging plot than her previous titles. I think I also appreciated the story because it was about finding hope during a time of grief, and I was grieving the loss of a lot of things this year.
  • *At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon is the first in a series that one of my Instagram followers said had good fall vibes. It turned out that I loved this series so much that from October to December, I read eight of the books. I could have chosen all of them, but the first one is representative of everything I love about the series so I just went with that. I love the characters, the small-town setting, the Christian themes, and the audiobook narrator, John McDonough. 
  • *Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge is the second in a trilogy which I've been reading with the Elizabeth Goudge book club on Instagram. I really liked the first book, too, but this one stuck with me more strongly, especially because it made me love some characters I had previously seen as totally unlikable.  I'm looking forward to finishing the trilogy in January. 
  • *The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop by Fannie Flagg was the real surprise of the year. This is a sequel to Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe that catches us up on all the characters from the first book and follows Buddy Threadgoode through his entire adult life. I thought this was just going to be a quick novelty read, but it was actually so much more satisfying than that. It made me laugh and moved me to happy tears. It will only make sense to people who have read the first book, but for those readers it is such a treat. 

Children's and YA Books (3)

The longer I am away from working in libraries, the fewer children's books I read, but there were still a few stand-out middle grade and YA titles I read this year. 

  • Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham is a Newbery winner I read with two Instagram friends and it was great. I liked it mostly for what it had to say about education, but it's also great for readers who are interested in sailing and the history of navigation. 
  • The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell was chosen from the shelf at random by my three-year-old as a potential read-aloud. I read it aloud at lunchtime over the course of a week, and though it was a strange little story about a man and a mermaid and their adopted animals, I was completely surprised by how emotional it was and how beautifully written.  My kids also loved it. 
  • *By the Book by Amanda Sellet is an adorable YA romance that came out this spring. I loved the protagonist who is a sweet, naive, and bookish girl from a very quirky and intelligent family who accidentally finds love. As I was reading this one, I was wishing it had been around when I was a teenager. 

Memoirs (3)

I didn't read as much nonfiction this year as I wanted, but there were a few standout titles among the ones I did pick up. 
  • The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp was my book club's pick for November. I really loved seeing how this family lived out their faith and relied on God to see them through some really challenging times. 
  • *A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle is the first of her Crosswicks Journals. I loved reading her descriptions of family life and her neighbors at Crosswicks as well as the insights into the inspiration for her fiction. I also found that her religious beliefs as articulated in this book were pretty in line with my own Catholic beliefs  (but this was frustratingly not the case in the other Journals I read after this one). 
  • A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel is a book I owned as a teenager but it didn't come with me when I moved out of my parents' house and I have no idea what happened to it. I listened to the audiobook on the recommendation of an Instagram follower and I absolutely loved it. It was funny, and relatable, and I'm planning to listen to the second book in 2021. 

Pandemic Reading (3) 

After spending the spring losing myself in escapist reads, I leaned into the pandemic a bit and read some books that ultimately made me feel more optimistic about the current situation.  

  • An American Plague by Jim Murphy is a middle grade nonfiction book about the 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia. So much of the situation back then was similar to what's been happening here, from people avoiding each other in the streets to fake news writers trying to capitalize on the public's fears. I found this book completely fascinating and I never would have appreciated it half as much had I not read it during the pandemic. 
  • *Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel had been recommended to me prior to the pandemic, and I almost didn't pick it up once Covid-19 started to spread because I thought it would hit too close to home. It turns out, though, that this book really put things into their proper perspective. Compared to the societal collapse depicted in this book, 2020 was a walk in the park. 
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau has been on my TBR since I read We Alcotts at the beginning of 2019 and decided I wanted to know more about Concord. It turns out that it's basically a crash course in social distancing! I read it in the fall, but I wish I had thought to read it in the spring when lockdown first started.  

Classics (5)

  • Common Sense by Thomas Paine is a must-read for understanding how the fouding fathers saw the role of government. This was much better reading than people's unfiltered political opinions on social media.
  • *Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was one of my first reads of the year and it confirmed that I am definitely a Bronte girl, rather than an Austen girl. I loved the writing, the characters, the story, everything. I will definitely re-read this one someday. 
  • Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset is probably the longest book I've ever read. I started it in 2019 and finished it in early 2020. It's so dramatic, and sometimes I got annoyed with Kristin's horrible decision making as a young woman, but it's ultimately a beautiful story of redemption that is worth all the work it takes to reach the end. 
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is a book I'd been meaning to read for over a year. I listened to most of it on audio and found that it really is very readable and quite funny. 
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson was another book I read early in 2020. It's so creepy and unsettling but so good. I listened to the audiobook at regular speed and it was a great reading experience. 

Mysteries (3)

  • The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny is book 11 in the Armand Gamache series, and it's one of the best. It's somewhat darker and different than the ones that come before it, but I like that this series continually reinvents itself.  
  • Anatomy of a Murder by William Traver is the novel on which my favorite movie of all time is based, and I finally read it this year. Though my favorite line from the film turns out not to be from the book, I still really enjoyed this and found that overall the film is very faithful to its source material.
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Gaines is a science fiction novel and not a mystery per se, but it does have a mysterious quest at its center that made me want to include it in this category. I thought this was a really interesting take on social media and its potential dangers, and I'm excited to read the sequel that just came out.  

Strong Sense of Place (3) 

Finally, the last three books in my top 25 are stories where the setting plays a significant role.  
  • *Colony by Anne Rivers Siddons is an audiobook I listened to over the summer. It follows Maud, a southerner who marries a man from Maine and thereafter spends her summers in Retreat, a small colony on the coast of Maine where her mother-in-law reigns supreme and where, over the decades, Maud acquires power - and secrets - of her own. This was a perfect summer read, and I liked it so much I bought several more Siddons titles.
  • *Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry is the first book I've read by this author but it won't be the last. It's a beautiful look back at the life of one elderly woman and her family on their farm, and it is beautifully written from beginning to end. It was sadder than I was expecting, but a great book all the same. 
  • Beartown by Fredrik Backman is my first book by this author and also won't be my last. Backman writes gorgeous descriptions of the small town of Beartown, where everyone lives their lives around hockey, and he writes tastefully and honestly about a sexual assault that tears the town apart. I have never read a book with so many quotable lines. I can't believe Fredrik Backman is my age; he seems wise beyond his years.
Have you read any of these books? What were your favorites of this past year?