Thursday, August 26, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 8/16/21

Morning Read-Alouds

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) we read "The Pike" by Amy Lowell, "Brown-river Brown-river" by Anonymous, "Row Row Row Your Boat" by Anonymous, "The Last Rose of Summer (Extract)" by Thomas Moore, "What is Pink?" by Christina Rossetti, "The Secret Song" by Margaret Wise Brown 

We finished the remaining poems in A Book of Americans by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1933).

This week Grandma read an apple picture book to accompany our Johnny Appleseed readings for history. She picked Apples Apples Apples by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace. 


We learned to sing "Goodnight Irene" as performed by The Weavers. M. and C. practiced piano and recorder every day.


The girls made birthday cards for my husband's birthday as well as a place card they gave him as a gift. 


We started reviewing what M. needs to know to receive first Communion in preparation for a meeting at church next week. She worked on memorizing the Act of Contrition. 


This week we read "The Old Country Store" from The Golden Book of America adapted for young readers by Irwin Shapiro (Simon & Schuster, 1957), "Johnny Appleseed" from Yankee Doodle's Cousins by Anne Malcolmson (Houghton Mifflin, 1941), and "The League of the Iroquois" and "Indian Versus Indian" from The American Indian adapted for children by Anne Terry White (Random House, 1963). 


M. and C. did some work in Singapore Math and Khan Academy every day.

Reading and Writing 

At lunch, we started listening to the audiobook of The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. C. started working on her cursive again. 

Physical Education

The girls went to the pool on Saturday.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 8/9/21

The first week in August, we spent at the beach in the Southern Outer Banks. We had planned to do some reading aloud and some nature study, but we mostly ended up taking a very leisurely week. The girls enjoyed building sandcastles, collecting shells, and swimming in the pool, and they had a fun visit to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. We arrived home on Saturday and used this week to slowly return to our normal routine.

Morning Read-Alouds 

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), we read "If All the Seas Were One Sea" by Anonymous, "Until I Saw the Sea" by Lilian Moore, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by William Butler Yeats, "Squishy Words (To Be Said When Wet)" by Alastair Reid, "At the Seaside" by Robert Louis Stevenson, "Sea Shell" by Amy Lowell, "The Shell" by John Foster, "Days" by Brian Moses, "August Heat" by Anonymous, "The Mockingbird's Song" Tigua song translated by John Comfort Fillmore, "I am the Rain" by Grace Nichols, "Little Fish" by D.H. Lawrence, and "There Was an Old Man in a Tree" by Edward Lear. 

From A Book of Americans by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1933) we read poems entitled: "Daniel Drew" and "Jesse James." 

Our author/illustrator for this week was Wanda Gag. We read Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw by Deborah Kogan Ray, Millions of Cats, and Nothing-at-All. On Skype, Grandma read Gag's version of Snow White.


We learned to sing "The Titanic (When That Great Ship Went Down)" as recorded by Pete Seeger.  

M. and C. practiced piano and recorder daily.


Our readings for the week were "Old Whirlwind" from American Adventures by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan, 1968), and "Davy Crockett" and "Mike Fink" from Yankee Doodle's Cousins by Anne Malcolmson (Houghton Mifflin, 1941). 


M. worked on algebra basics and C. worked on addition with renaming using the soroban. They both did Khan Academy every day.

Reading and Writing

We read aloud Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins at lunch. In the evening, I started reading The Happy Hollisters at Pony Hill Farm with C. 

Physical Education

The girls went swimming twice this week.

Friday, August 20, 2021

A Year of Articles

Last September, I started volunteering as a monthly contributor at I have loved being a part of the team for the past year, and though I haven't been sharing my articles here regularly, I wanted to share a quick retrospective as I complete my first year. Because of my background, my primary focus in my articles is on books, but I also occasionally shift to a different topic. 

If you haven't seen them yet, visit the links below to read my pieces: 

September 2020: Picture Books for Teaching Kids to be Stewards of Creation 
I recommended several picture books that help kids care for and delight in the world God has given us. 

October 2020:  Children's Books That Promote Empathy for the Elderly 
I created a short list of books that help kids understand the intrinsic value of all human beings regardless of age. 

November 2020: Discussing Death with Catholic Kids 
I reflected on how we discuss death with our young children in order to minimize their fear.

December 2020: Advent Read-Alouds for Families
I shared some of my family's favorite books to read aloud leading up to Christmas.

January 2021: Favorite Fiction for Catholic Book Clubs
I made a list of some of my favorite books that I've read with my local Catholic book clubs.

February 2021: Books to Help Kids Use Their Gifts from God 
I selected a few picture books that help kids understand that God has given each of us our own unique gifts to use for His glory. 

March 2021: A Beginner's Guide to Flannery O'Connor
I revamped a post I previously wrote here on the blog to help others appreciate Flannery O'Connor's writing. 

April 2021: Books for the #girlmom: On Being Yourself
I reflected on how Be Bold in the Broken by Mary Lenaburg helps me think about the messages I want to send to my daughters when adolescence arrives. 

May 2021: Books for the #girlmom: On Motherhood
For Mother's Day, I read Motherhood Redeemed by Kimberly Cook and wrote a reflection. 

June 2021: Book Notes: A Holy Hour with Mother Angelica 
I reviewed A Holy Hour with Mother Angelica, published by EWTN. 

July 2021: Books for the #girlmom: On Yelling 
I explained why Harriet You'll Drive Me Wild by Mem Fox and Marla Frazee is the perfect picture book for moms who sometimes yell at their kids. 

August 2021: The Blessings of Catholic Social Media
I shared how social media, though negative in some respects, has enriched my spiritual life. 

Catholic Mom publishes new articles every day on all aspects of the faith. To receive them in your inbox, sign up at You can see all my articles together on my contributor page

Thursday, August 19, 2021

ARC Review: Soccer Trophy Mystery by Fred Bowen (9/1/2021)

Fred Bowen's Sports Story Series is celebrating 25 years in 2021 with a brand-new title in a brand-new genre: Soccer Trophy Mystery! Aiden and Ava, twins who both play soccer, are hoping their respective teams will make it into the upcoming championships. When they visit the library one afternoon, they learn that the trophy they both hope their teams will win is not the town's original soccer prize; rather, the original was stolen 40 years ago and never turned up. Intrigued, Aiden and Ava and their friend Daniel decide to investigate. To their surprise, their quest for a suspect with both motive and opportunity leads them very close to home.

This is the first book in this series with a mystery plot, and as such, it wasn't the strongest mystery novel I've ever read. It could have used more suspense and less predictability. The strengths of Bowen's other books are present in this one, too, however, and they mostly make up for the weakness of the mystery. There are plenty of scenes of sports action on the soccer field, lots of connections to sports history, including the history of women's sports, and the adult characters are supportive, interesting, and involved. The transitions back and forth between the sports scenes and the sleuthing felt a bit awkward at times, and the resolution of the mystery felt a bit forced, but neither of these things should be enough to turn off fans of the series. I also love that this book stars boy/girl twins! Since my twins were born, I've discovered that books about twins are harder to find than I would have expected.

Fred Bowen is an author I trust implicitly. He's never published a book I would call inappropriate and every story combines subtle opportunities for character education with strong writing and engaging storylines. Though the characters in this book are thirteen, I wouldn't hesitate to hand this to a strong reader as young as 7 or 8. All young readers can learn something from this and each of Fred Bowen's books.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

New Nonfiction For Our Homeschool Library

I often tell people that I feel justified in owning a lot of books because as a homeschooler, our home library is also our school library. Over the past few weeks, I've received review copies of a bunch of new books to support our homeschooling endeavors, and I'm excited to start the new school year with them on our shelves. Here's a list of what we have recently acquired. 

The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes by Silke Vry and Finn Dean (Prestel Publishing,  9/14/2021) is a visually beautiful exploration of mazes from a variety of viewpoints. From the figurative mazes of internet searches and virus contact tracing, to real historical labyrinths and mazes in the real world today, to instructions for creating mazes, this book is about as comprehensive a title on this subject as any child could hope to find. My 5-year-old will be learning about Theseus and the Minotaur this coming school year, so this is a definite potential tie-in for her, but I actually think my 7-year-old, who loves puzzles and challenges, is going to love this book the most. It has beautiful pictures and lots of detailed information - a perfect combination.

Fourteen Monkeys by Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane Books, 7/6/2021) arrived on the same day that my 3-year-old worked on her rainforest themed Koala Crate so that was an unexpectedly nice tie-in. Monkeys are also a favorite of our whole family so a book that introduces fourteen different species is the perfect fit for us. This book also appeals to me as a mom who frequently reads aloud to multiple ages. The main rhyming text of the story is quick and short for my little ones, but there are tons of facts about each monkey to satisfy the curiosity of my older kids. We also love Steve Jenkins and my oldest daughter immediately recognized him as "the same guy who did Actual Size." For some people, this might be too much information about monkeys; not so for the Fitzgeralds.

Barn at Night by Michelle Houts and Jen Betton (Feeding Minds Press, 9/14/2021) is a beautifully illustrated real-life look at what goes on in a barn in the middle of the night. The setting is winter and the illustrations do a wonderful job of making the reader really feel the cold and understand the feeling of being up long before everyone else in order to look after farm animals. We have quite a few books for introducing farm animals and the sounds they make, but this one adds some new layers of understanding to my city kids' image of what farm life is like. The rhyming text is perfect for my 3-year-old but I suspect everyone will want to hear it. 

Australian Baby Animals by Frané Lessac (Candlewick, 8/17/2021) is another preschool-friendly animal-centric title. The cover put all of us immediately in mind of Can You Cuddle Like a Koala? by John Butler, but this book has much more of a focus on the true behaviors of these creatures. Bold colors on solid backgrounds bring each animal to life in a visually engaging way and by selecting just one or two facts per page the author has made the book accessible to even the youngest picture book listeners. We haven't done any in-depth study on Australia yet, but if and when interest arises, we're ready.

North and South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres by Sandra Morris (Candlewick, 7/6/2021) not only demonstrates the opposite seasons of the two halves of our world, but it really gets into the details of how things are different in the northern and southern hemispheres. This book is just teeming with information: maps, plant life, animals, weather details, information about the conservation of threatened species and their most significant dangers, lifelike illustrations of each species mentioned, and even a list for further reading. The seasons and rotation of the earth are a key topic in our science curriculum, and this book will be a great resource for diving into that subject beyond just the basics.

Is There Life on Your Nose? Meet the Microbes by Christian Bortslap (Prestel Publishing, 9/7/2021) is another in-depth look at a subject of much interest to my kids: those invisible creatures that can do everything from digest our food to infect us with a virus. This book does a great job of making sure not to suggest that all microbes cause problems. Instead the focus is mainly on the fascination one might feel about these microscopic organisms. The main text of the book is pretty straightforward and easy to grasp but I love that there is also some back matter to elaborate on any questions that might arise. This will be a really fun addition to our health curriculum.

Finally, The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt (Prestel Publishing, 9/7/2021) is a gorgeous book to look at, and it also helps to explain different weather phenomenon that occur in our world. Each of the pop-up illustrations is a unique and eye-catching depiction of a type of weather and the text does a great job of condensing the important information about each type into just a few clear sentences. The last section of the book talks a lot about climate change, which isn't a topic my kids are really studying at this point, but what is included here is not as biased and alarmist as it might be, and I'm thankful for that.  

Bonus! We were also fortunate enough to receive a set of Mad Libs Reading workbooks. Despite the reputation of Mad Libs for silliness, these workbooks are actually pretty serious about teaching phonics, grammar, spelling, comprehension and vocabulary. We were sent books for Grades 1, 2, 3, and 4, and I think I'll be using grades 1 and 2 with my 5-year-old and 3 and 4 with my 7-year-old to review things we've covered in the past and to fill in any gaps where we haven't discusses a particular aspect of the English language yet. Each page at each level provides a fill-in story and a chart of parts of speech to choose from in order to reinforce the concept being taught. These exercises are interactive and low-pressure, which will hopefully make it easy for the girls to have fun with language. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 7/26/21

Morning Read-Alouds 

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), we read: "Thistles" by Karla Kuskin, "Cow" by Ted Hughes, "The Pasture" by Robert Frost, "Littlemouse" by Richard Edwards, and "The Falling Star" by Sara Teasdale. 

From A Book of Americans by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1933) we read poems entitled: "David Farragut" and "Clara Barton." 

Instead of an author, this week we did a theme: the beach. I read The Beach Before Breakfast by Maxine Kumin, A Jellyfish is not a Fish by John Frederick Waters, Shimmer and Splash by Jim Arnosky, Houses from the Sea by Alice Goudey, and An Octopus is Amazing by Patricia Lauber. On Skype, Grandma read some seashore poems and Chirri and Chirra Under the Sea by Kaya Doi.


We continued singing "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond" as performed by The Corries. We listened to Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Johannes Brahms, Dance of the Reed Pipes from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky, The Firebird: Infernal Dance by Igor Stravinsky, and Piano Sonata No. 11 in A: Turkish Rondo by Mozart. 

M. and C. practiced piano and recorder daily.


We studied The Edge of the Forest of Fontainbleau, Setting Sun by Theodore Rousseau from the Louvre Art Deck: 100 Masterpieces from the World's Most Popular Museum by Anja Grebe and Erich Lessing. 

C. followed the instructions on two how-to-draw videos from Art for Kids Hub: How to Draw a Playground Slide and How to Draw a Fishbowl. M followed the instructions in How to Draw a Coral Reef.


We continued working on Lesson 7: "Jesus Opens Heaven For Us" in The New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism. 


This week's readings were "Highwaymen of the Seas" and  "The New World Changes Warfare" from The Golden Book of America adapted for Young Readers by Irwin Shapiro (Simon & Schuster, 1957) and "Aunt Flora" from American Adventures by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan, 1968).  


The girls watched Mr. Wizard's World and finished the series. 


M. worked on algebra basics and C. worked on addition with renaming using the soroban. They both did Khan Academy every day.

Reading and Writing 

We finished our read-aloud of One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street and my husband finished reading aloud Serendipity Tales. M. continued to read A Book for Jennifer to Gran on Skype, and C. read a Houndsley and Catina book to Gran as well. 

Physical Education

We went to the pool with friends. 

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Read-at-Home Mom Report: July 2021 Wrap-Up

My Month in Books

July has officially been my biggest reading month of 2021 so far! I finished 19 books total! Here is the full list: 

Eleven Kids One Summer by Ann M. Martin (5 stars)
My 5-star rating of this book is my original Goodreads rating based solely on feelings of chuldhood nostalgia. I had re-read this book as an adult and it seemed to hold up, but when I started reading it to my kids, I saw it in a different light. There was a lot more about dating in it than I realized and I ended up breaking my own policy of never editing what an author has written. I just couldn't bring myself to introduce my 7-year-old to the world of middle school dating, especially since there will be no middle school dating for her. 

The Sparrow
by Mary Doria Russell (5 stars)
This 5-star rating was 100% earned. This book is brutal in some parts, but it is a beautiful exploration of human suffering and hope. I listened to the audio and read along in the book at some points, and it was just a beautifully written story all the way through. This will be on my list of favorites at the end of the year.

Letters to Myself from the End of the World by Emily Stimpson Chapman (5 stars)
Another five-star book! Emily Stimpson Chapman is one of my favorite Catholic writers, and I absolutely had to own a copy of her new book. It is beautifully written and every time I thought one of the letters in it was my favorite, I'd turn the page and read one that I liked even more. I just love everything she writes. 

Church of Cowards by Matt Walsh (4 stars)
I opened this book on Scribd out of curiosity and I was so pleasantly surprised to discover that Matt Walsh's narrative voice in this book is much less acerbic than his social media voice. It was a quick read, but its reminders about our purpose on Earth as Catholics were valuable. 

Green River, Running Red by Ann Rule (5 stars)
I really enjoyed The Stranger Beside Me and decided to listen to this, the author's other major true crime book, on audio. It was really interesting and I liked that Rule had some personal connections to the events detailed in the book.

The Fox Hole by Ivan Southall (3 stars)
This is a vintage Australian children's novel about a young boy who falls in a fox hole while visiting relatives and makes a discovery that threatens his chances of being rescued. I read it because I needed a book set in Australia for a challenge and I was running out of time. I ended up really enjoying the writing style and I plan to read some of the other books by this author that we have on our shelves.

Bookshop by the Sea by Denise Hunter (3 stars)
This Christian romance novel was a bit of a palate cleanser amidst these other, more serious and intense titles. I really enjoy Denise Hunter's writing and plan to read more from her.

Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger (4 stars)
My sister lent me this book when we were in New York and I zipped right through it. It's not quite a thriller - more of a police procedural - but I loved it. I'm looking for more just like it. 

We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange (4 stars)
This is a debut novel which I received on Netgalley in audio format. I loved all of the characters and their family dynamics, and aside from a slightly over-written, overly neat ending it was a really enjoyable read. 

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (5 stars)
We listened to this on audio in the car. I have read this book twice before but never added it on Goodreads or reviewed it. I decided to count it this time since I paid attention to most of the audiobook and I needed to cross it off my Newbery TBR.

Well Played by Jen Deluca (2 stars)
In the first book of this series, I had to skip chapter 16 because of graphic sex, but the rest of the story was so well written it was worth it. This time I think it was chapters 17 and 18, but the surrounding chapters weren't that good. I think the main issue was the nature of the plot, which involved something of a catfishing scheme and prevented me from getting to know the characters well enough. I'm still planning to read book 3, but I will go in fully prepared to skip multiple chapters again.

Let Them Be Kids by Jessica Smartt (4 stars)
My husband suggested this parenting book, and I enjoyed it even if I didn't necessarily want to implement everything she suggests. (Every family needs a pet? Nope, not this family.) This would be good for a new mom to read. It helps you think about a lot of important aspects of family life.

This Time Around by Denise Hunter, Melissa Ferguson, and Kathleen Fuller (3 stars)
This collection of novellas was a quick and fun summer read. Hunter and Fuller are both new favorite Christian romance writers I have discovered this year. This was my first time reading Ferguson, but based on this experience I'd be interested in more. 

8 Notes to a Nobody by Cynthia Toney (4 stars)
Barb from Franciscan Mom suggested this book to me on Instagram and I snuck it in before my Kindle Unlimited trial expired. I kept thinking that it was like Catholic Judy Blume. The story deals with very serious issues that kids can face during adolescence, but the approach is very gentle and very Christian. I will probably buy the whole series for Kindle. 

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (5 stars)
I read this in 2019 but the edition I had was revised, whereas everyone else in my book club had the original. I bought a copy of the original and finally got around to reading it this month. It was even better the second time, and it's still my favorite book. 

One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street
by Joanne Rocklin (5 stars)
This 5-star rating was also my original Goodreads rating from when I first read this book as a new release in 2011. Reading it aloud to my kids this time it seemed to lose some of its magic. They enjoyed it, and I didn't dislike it, but it did not wow me the way it did a decade ago. 

The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park (5 star)
This was a totally unexpected 5-star read! I chose it as a book set in Asia for a challenge on Instagram because the audio was only 3 hours. But what a great story! I want to buy a copy for my kids. 

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (4 stars)
I read this old Newbery winner aloud to my second daughter, just as I did to my oldest when she was 5 going on 6. It is difficult to read aloud because the chapters are long, but she really loved this story of 100 years of adventures in the life an antique doll. Four stars is my original rating from when I first read it, and I think it's still an accurate rating. 

Plymouth Undercover by Pamela Kelley (3 stars)
I read some of this author's Nantucket series in 2020, and jumped at the chance to request this new mystery title from Netgalley. It's not quite a cozy mystery and definitely not a thriller, but it hits a sweet spot somewhere in between. 

As for the rest of the family's reading...

My husband recently finished reading Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones and he gave it four stars. Now he's reading The White Twilight by Madeleine A. Polland. 

M. (7 years, 8 months) finished reading the second book in the Borrowers series, and she is now reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

C. (5 years, 10 months) was reading the first book in the Heartwood Hotel series by Kallie George, but she wasn't enjoying it, so she has moved on to The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. She is also on her third reading of my review copy of Ivy Lost and Found by Cynthia Lord which is the first book in a forthcoming chapter book series about the lives of stuffed animals and dolls who can be checked out of a public library. 

E. (3 years, 9 months) has started sounding out words! She has read three of our little Hooked on Phonics readers: Rag, Dad and Sam, and Pig Wig, and now she is working on Pig Wig Can Hit.

R. (16 months) has been very into books lately. He likes to point at different objects on the pages of books like First 100 Words by Roger Priddy.

A. (also 16 months) loves to read My First Prayers with Mary by Maite Roche during Mass. There is a particular illustration of the Madonna and child that she absolutely loves. She also loves Peekaboo by Taro Gomi.  

Up Next For Me 

I had high hopes of being able to read when we were at the beach all last week, but that didn't happen, so I have yet to finish a book in August. I'm currently reading The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher and listening to Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton. I'm also planning to read Fred Bowen's forthcoming new book (Soccer Trophy Mystery) and Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones. 

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