Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 Reading in Review

Stats

This year, for the first time ever, I didn't count picture books, board books, or books for beginning readers toward my Goodreads goal, and I set myself the challenge of reading exactly 200 books, neither more nor less. I reached that goal just a few days before the end of the year and decided to stop reading rather than go over 200. 

I averaged 16 books per month, with the highest number (20) read in October and the smallest number (13) read in February. 

Here is the breakdown of books by intended audience, accompanied by my annual pie chart:

  • 63.5% adult (127 books:  33 romance, including 6 Regency romances; 35 mysteries or thrillers, including 5 cozy mysteries; 29 nonfiction, 16 regular fiction, 7 classics, 4 fantasy, 2 science fiction, 1 poetry)
  • 31% middle grade (62 books: 26 realistic fiction, 16 fantasy, 11 historical fiction, 4 nonfiction, 4 mysteries, 1 adventure)
  • 5.5% YA (11 books: 4 realistic fiction, 2 romances, 2 nonfiction, 1 short story collection, and 1 historical fiction)

Among these 200 books there were: 
  • 29 read-alouds with my kids 
  • 42 children's and YA titles from our home library
  • 37 books from my physical TBR
  • 18 books from my digital TBR 
  • 100 books that I read at least partly in audio format
  • 100 books that I read exclusively with my eyes

Goals 

My goals for 2021 wound up being kind of a bust, but that hasn't necessarily turned out to be a bad thing. Here's a recap of what my goals were and a quick summary of how each one worked out. 

  • Goal #1: Stop tracking picture books and board books.
    This was surprisingly easy for me to do. I did still review a few of the picture books that were sent to me by publishers, but I didn't add a read date for them on Goodreads to prevent them from being added to my challenge number. I read so many picture books in a week, it's just a relief not to have keep track of them anymore.
  • Goal #2: Read exactly 200 books, and no more.
    I accomplished this, and I think it was good for me to give myself permission to not always be reading. I was able to listen to podcasts or take some time to write without feeling like I was supposed to be reading. For 2022, I'm going to lowball my Goodreads challenge number and then just not worry about the numbers.
  • Goal #3: Read 50 e-books.
    Goal #4: Cut back on audiobooks.
    These two goals kind of show how obsessed I was with format last year. As this year wore on, though, I realized that I like the freedom to switch back and forth between formats. A good number of books I read this year were titles that I started in ebook format and finished on audio, or vice versa.  I still like to make a note when I listen to even part of the audio because I like to keep track of narrators that I like and things like that, but the breakdown by format just isn't something I feel the need to focus on going forward.
  • Goal #5: Keep up with Goodreads reviews.
    I think I stuck with this longer in 2021 than I did in 2020, but I still wasn't perfect. I'm not putting this goal on my list for 2022 but I will still try to keep my Goodreads up to date if I can.
  • Goal #6: Write down more quotes from books.
    I gave up on writing these down pretty early on. I have added some quotes to my Goodreads, and in this season of my life, that's probably the best I'm going to do.
  • Goal #7: Host a read-a-thon.
    I have learned that it's just not in the cards for be any kind of leader in the bookish world. I'm perfectly happy to let other people host and will be sticking with that for the future. This read-a-thon didn't happen, and I'm not disappointed.
  • Goal #8: Read the Bible in a year.
    I'm almost done with this, but most likely I'll actually finish a day or two into the new year. It was difficult to commit to listening daily, but I was always able to catch up and I really enjoyed having explanations from a priest to accompany Scripture. 
  • Goal #9: Fill in Literary Listopia journal. 
    I looked at this a few times, but I felt like I couldn't come up with anything to add to each list. I'm still planning to use it, just trying to figure out how. 
  • Goal #10: Write 1200 words per week. 
    When I set this goal, I said that I hoped to have written 62, 400 words by the end of 2021. I basically didn't write a single word until November, when I did NaNoWriMo, but then I did a writing prompt challenge in December and now I'm less than 2000 words away from that goal. Clearly, I need to be motivated by something other than word count. I'm working on a more practical 2022 goal.


Challenges

I only planned to do two challenges in 2021: the Modern Mrs. Darcy create-your-own challenge and the Unread Shelf Project. The host of the Unread Shelf kind of abandoned the challenge after a few months, so I decided not to continue with it. I did stick with my self-created Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge and  I mostly enjoyed it. These are the titles I read for it: 

  • Three Newbery Award winners: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller; Sounder by William Armstrong; The 21 Balloons by William Pene du Bois 
  • Three books that are the last/most recent in a series: The Love of Friends by Nancy Bond; The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge; Majesty by Katharine McGee
  • Three books of more than 500 pages: Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy; Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry; Fox's Earth by Anne Rivers Siddons
  • Three books by the same author: The Late Show by Michael Connelly; The Black Echo by Michael Connelly;  Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly
  • Three audiobooks with the same narrator:  The Duke and I by Julia Quinn; The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn; An Offer from a Gentleman by Julia Quinn
  • Three Catholic nonfiction books: Mother Angelica by Raymond Arroyo; Be Bold in the Broken by Mary Lenaburg; Motherhood Redeemed by Kimberly Cook
  • Three general nonfiction books: Romance is My Day Job by Patience Bloom; Upstairs at the White House by J.B. West; And Then They Stopped Talking to Me by Judith Warren
  • Three books under 200 pages: Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather; Dream Work by Mary Oliver; The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
  • Three books about books or reading: How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster; We Are the Babysitters Club; Steeped in Stories by Mitali Perkins
  • Three books about writing: The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
  • Three books published in 2021: Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt;  Treasures: Visible and Invisible by Catholic Teen Books; Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer
  • Three re-reads: Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien; Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh; Charlotte's Web by E.B. White 
Check back tomorrow for my 2022 reading plans! 

Book Review: 8 Notes to a Nobody by Cynthia T. Toney (2014)

8 Notes to a Nobody is the first book in a series by Cynthia T. Toney known as Bird Face. Fourteen-year-old Wendy Robichaud is navigating junior high school, and all the social difficulties that accompany it. Along with trying to figure who might be sending her anonymous post-it notes, she is also working on understanding how she fits into her peer group, her family, and the world at large. 

As I was reading, I kept thinking to myself that this book was basically the Alice series (by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor) for Christian kids. All the same heavy topics are covered here: divorce, friends growing apart, bullying, even suicide - but they are not used for shock value or to push the envelope. Instead, this book presents the reality of the challenges young teens face, and also promotes the idea that these difficulties are surmountable with the help of strong relationships with friends and family. There is a strong sense of hope throughout this book that makes it feel like a safe outlet for thinking about some of the dark issues that arise during adolescence.   

Like many people, I had a very difficult time in middle school, and I remember it was hard at the time to find books that reflected my experience and seemed to really understand it. This author really gets it. My girls are homeschooled and at the moment, still quite young and sheltered. Someday, though, when we want to have conversations about the difficulties many girls have growing up, this book is at the top of my list for broaching those topics. I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Book Review: Ginger Pye by Elizabeth Enright (1951)

Ginger Pye is a Newbery-medal winning novel by Elizabeth Enright, which follows the Pye children and their dog, Ginger, who mysteriously disappears shortly after they find her. 

I have read this book three times in my life and have yet to review it, mostly because I find it hard to put into words what I like about it. It's a long, slow-moving story about a dog, which sounds terrible, but is truly the opposite. The characters in this book are so well-crafted that they and their community come to life on the page. From siblings Rachel and Jerry to their three-year-old uncle, Benny, to the various townspeople who help them in their quest to find Ginger, the population of this book is memorable and delightful. The writing is beautiful, and it's just the kind of thing I loved as a kid: descriptions of people living their lives and doing ordinary things, thinking the kinds of thoughts that real kids think, and also, over time, solving a bit of a mystery. 

This is the perfect book for a young kid who reads far above grade level. The writing is beautiful and sophisticated but the content is truly appropriate for all ages and audiences. I've read the physical book and listened to the audiobook, and it's excellent in both formats. My kids, who have been as young as three when they've heard this story, have loved the Pye family, and have had no trouble following the details of the story, even if it is long. This is a Newbery favorite with definite staying power. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Book Review: The Fox Hole by Ivan Southall (1967)

The Fox Hole is a slim middle grade novel by Australian author Ivan Southall. Ken has come to stay with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. When he falls into a fox hole and makes a surprising and valuable discovery, Ken's uncle, Bob, struggles with two conflicting desires: the desire to rescue his nephew, and the desire to strike it rich.

This is a concise story that packs a bit of a punch. Ivan Southall not only portrays a realistic child character to whom most kids can relate, but he also uses his story to raise moral questions about how people, including adults, navigate their lives. At first the story feels like it could have been lifted from the everyday life of any child. but it takes a bit of a dark turn when it becomes clear that the uncle is having second thoughts about actually helping Ken. The author deftly handles the change in tone and also manages to write an ending that resolves most of the story's tension but still makes the reader think.

I think this book would pair nicely with something like On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer, which also explores the complicated feelings people sometimes have when things go wrong. I definitely want to read some more from Ivan Southall - in his economy of language, he reminds me very much of one of my favorite authors, Betsy Byars.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Read-At-Home Mom's Top 21 Books of 2021

I just finished my 200th book of 2021, and I'm ready to share my favorites of the year. This year,  I chose 21 titles across 5 categories. All of these were rated 5 stars on my Goodreads, and all are books I read for the first time in 2021. 


Nonfiction (3)

  • Letters to Myself from the End of the World by Emily Stimpson Chapman is one of the few books I bought new this year. The author is one of my favorite Catholics to follow on Instagram, and this book explains church teaching in a really beautiful way, as she addresses letters to her younger self on issues related to femininity, motherhood, marriage, and other important topics for women.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a classic guidebook for writers. I listened to the audio and found it inspiring on a practical level in a way that other books on writing are not. 
  • Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West  is a fascinating memoir of the White House's chief usher's relationship to first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Ladybird Johnson, and (briefly) Pat Nixon. Without dwelling on anything salacious or scandalous, the book gives an inside into the personal lives of these woman, and sometimes their husbands. 

Children's and YA (4)

  • A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan is a middle grade novel about a young girl doing community service at the public library to make up for a poor decision she made at school. The library in the story reminded me so much of my old library in New York, and reading it made me so nostalgic. It captures everything good about small-town libraries.
  • Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang is a YA graphic novel in which the author, a teacher at a Catholic school, follows the school basketball team over the course of the season while also grappling with personal decisions regarding his career. It touches on issues of race, culture, religion, art, truth, etc. without becoming preachy. 
  • Treasures: Visible and Invisible from Catholic Teen Books is a collection of short stories related in some way to St. Patrick. The stories are printed in chronological order based on setting, beginning in ancient times and ending in a futuristic society. 
  • Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt is another beautifully written middle grade novel by one of my favorite authors. It follows two kids: Meryl Lee, who flees to boarding school after the death of a classmate and Matt, who is on the run from dangerous figures from his past. I stayed up late into the night reading this book; it's so hard to put down. 

Romance (6)

  • Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey is the story of Teddy, who works in a toy store and Everett, the host of a children's TV show. It's the coziest, sweetest book I've read in years and I actually bought a copy so I can re-read it. 
  • The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon is set in the world of public radio. Two radio hosts pretend to be exes in order to give on-air advice to couples. As they pretend they dated in the past, they start wanting to date in the present. The writing is really strong, and I really loved the characters. 
  • All That Really Matters by Nicole Deese is a Christian romance novel about a YouTube influencer who wants to volunteer at a home for young adults aging out of foster care, but who doesn't realize the value of that work until she meets a man for whom it is a real passion. 
  • People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry is the story of two best friends who vacationed together every year of their lives until something happened to make things awkward. Then they go on vacation again, and fall in love. This book unexpectedly made me cry. 
  • Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk is the story of a relationship between Dan Malone, who has been recovering from some previous bad dating decisions and Emily, the sister of Dan's new friend, Robert. It follows the ups and downs of their friendship and eventual romantic relationship as they grapple with the serious consequences of Dan's bad choices.  
  • The Matzah Ball is about a Jewish woman who secretly writes Christmas books, but whose publisher now wants her to write a Hanukkah story. In trying to learn more about her own Jewish culture, she secures an invitation to the upcoming Matzah Ball from a former love interest from childhood. I loved the way this was written, especially the dialogue. 

Women's Fiction (3)

  • Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy is a lengthy story about the people who work at a heart clinic. It's a cozy feel-good read filled with memorable characters. 
  • The Chicken Sisters by K.J. Dell'Antonia follows two sisters and the rival chicken businesses at the heart of their family. It involves a reality show, hoarding, family dynamics, and a little romance. I've already got this author's second book from Netgalley.
  • A Place Like Home by Rosamunde Pilcher is a posthumous collection of Pilcher's short stories. These made me realize that it's possible to write short, feel-good pieces and feel like a real writer.  

Other Fiction 

  • The Professor's House by Willa Cather is a beautifully written character-driven novel that comments on wealth, friendship, regret, and home. I plan to read it again in 2022. 
  • Lonesome Dove is a Western about a group of men driving cattle to Montana. It's long, but it went by so quickly and I didn't want to put it down. 
  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is a dark but beautiful science fiction novel about a Jesuit priest who travels to space to meet an alien race and endures brutal suffering as a result. 
  • The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge is the third book in the Eliots of Damerosehay trilogy, and it was the perfect ending to the series. 
  • Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier is a classic suspense novel. I loved the way it was written, as well as the open-ended conclusion to the story.
Have you read any of my favorites? Which books did you love in 2021? 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

New Concept Books for Toddlers

My toddler twins destroy board books like nobody's business, so I'm thankful to have a supply of five new titles generously sent to us by publishers. These are all new or soon-to-be-published concept books in board book format. 

Hooray for Snowy Days! by Susan Kantor and Katya Longhi (Little Simon, 10/19/2021) is a cheerful rhyming book featuring big-eyed woodland creatures experiencing the joys of winter. They say hooray for jumping in snow, riding on sleds, building snowmen, and other traditional winter activities. The illustrator uses lots of color in the animals' clothing and in the mountains which serve as the backdrop for every scene. The result is that even the pages featuring snow and ice have a warm and cozy feel. 

Similarly The Very Hungry Caterpillar's First Winter (Penguin Random House, 1/4/2022) describes a variety of ways to spend a winter day: watching the snow, bundling up, jumping in slush, baking treats, etc. Each spread shows a cozy scene created in Eric Carle's signature style, and the Very Hungry Caterpillar can be found hiding in each illustration. This book highlights the fun side of wintry weather and is a great introduction for little ones who might soon experience snow for the first time. 

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eats Breakfast (Penguin Random House, 12/14/2021)  uses familiar breakfast foods to introduce the concept of counting. Each spread features a different type of food: one cup of yogurt, two bowls of cereal, three pastries, etc. As in the original The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the title character makes a hole in each item as he eats through it. Little fingers can touch the holes as they count the foods on each page. In my family, we especially like the egg page because one of the six egg dishes featured is "egg-in-a-hole," which is a frequent breakfast favorite of my kids. All the food vocabulary in general is pretty unusual for a board book, and it provides some good opportunities for exposure to words young kids might not otherwise hear in everyday conversation. 

Learning with Llama Llama: Numbers (11/9/2021) counts backwards from 10 as Llama Llama cleans up his bedroom and then runs to give Mama Llama a hug. The style of the illustrations makes it a bit difficult to count each individual item, which is not ideal for actually teaching counting. As a quick slice-of-life story for toddlers, however, the book is a success. I would have gladly used this in a baby or toddler story time when I worked in the library. Learning with Llama Llama: Colors (12/21/2021) combines colors with food, as Llama Llama, in the mood to make art, creates a picture out of the fruits and vegetables on his plate. The rhyming text in this one falls a bit flat, as the rhymes aren't perfect all the time, and the rhythm is often awkward to read aloud. I'm also not personally thrilled with the idea of a book that encourages playing with food, though it's hard to know whether kids will imitate the behavior or not. 


Monday, December 13, 2021

Homeschool Update: Weeks of 11/29/21 and 12/6/21

A cold came through our house in the middle of last week, and we didn't do school for a few days, so I decided to just combine the past two weeks into one post again. 


Advent Activities 

We have simplified our Advent a little bit for this year. Instead of trying to manage one Jesse tree for each child, we printed only one for the family. We also received five sticker Advent calendars in the mail from a friend, but we're only using one this year. The three older girls take turns coloring the Jesse Tree ornament, putting the ornament on the tree, and putting the sticker on the Advent wreath. Then we do a short prayer service based on this Jesse Tree Prayer and Litany. Each week, we are singing a different Advent hymn. First, we did Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, and then Oh Come Divine Messiah. We also pray the Christmas Anticipation Prayer 15 times each morning. 

For the first time, we also have an Advent wreath this year. We light it after dinner and say the Advent prayer for that week from The Catholic All Year Prayer Companion. We finish by singing O Come O Come Emmanuel in English and Latin. 

On November 28, we went to the Advent Family Festival at the Shrine of St. Anthony. On December 5th, we went to breakfast with Santa at our parish. On December 6th, the kids woke up to shoes filled by St. Nicholas and we sang O Who Loves Nicholas the Saintly.


Morning Time 

Poems: From Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris (Doubleday Books, 1957), I read aloud: "Marjorie's Almanac" by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, "Prairie-Dog Town" by Mary Austin, "Goody O'Grumpity" by Carol Ryrie Brink, "Villagers all, this frosty tide" from Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame,  and "The Kitten at Play" by William Wordsworth. 

Music: We started reading Peter Tchaikovsky and the Nutcracker Ballet by Opal Wheeler, and we listened to the pieces included in the text: 

Art Appreciation: In 100 Masterpieces in Color (Hamlyn, 1972), we studied The Annunciation by Fra Angelico and Madonna of the Meadow by Raphael. We also watched the Smarthistory video about The Annunciation.  


History 

First Grade: C. and I read two sections from Builders of the Old World: In the Hall of Truth and A Great Queen. Then we read Hatshepsut: His Majesty, Herself by Catherine M. Andronik and watched two videos: Hatshepsut Temple and Obelisk and Hatshepsut, The Woman Who was King. She also watched two more parts of BBC's Egypt from 2006. 

Third Grade: M. finished The Puritan Revolution by Walter Hodges (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1972) and has moved onto The World of William Penn by Genevieve Foster, in which she read the first section, about William Penn. 


Science (and Health)

We started BFSU Lesson B-9, How Animals Move IV - Energy to Run the Body. We discussed how the respiratory, digestive, circulatory, and urinary systems help the body use energy and eliminate waste, and watched a variety of videos: 

C. asked about how her voice box works, and she watched a video about the larynx and colored a diagram of its part. 

M. and I read the chapter about hair care in The Care and Keeping of You Volume 1. She also went to the orthdontist to get her lip bumper put in, and she has been learning about caring for her teeth and her orthodontic appliances. 

E. did her Under the Sea Koala Crate. 


English 

C. read Philomena by Kate Seredy, Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charlie? by Rebecca Caudill, Lester and Mother by Myra McGee, and Henry and the Paper Route, as well as Very Merry Christmas Tales (Scholastic, 2004) and Here Come the Holidays (Scholastic, 2005). She started writing a thank you letter to her godmother for her St. Nicholas gift. 

M. finished Puritan Adventure by Lois Lenski. She started Tumtum & Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn, which was a birthday gift from Grandma. She also wrote thank you notes for her birthday gifts.  

E. read Dog Bug, Mutt and Pup, Pig Fun, Rag Gets Wet, and Ann's Big Muffin. Now she is working on Tim the Truck

At lunch, we read The Genie of Sutton Place by George Selden. At dinner, the read-aloud was Little Pear and his Friends by Eleanor Frances Lattimore. 


Typing and Handwriting 

C. and M. both did typing daily. Their handwriting practice was primarily writing thank yous.


Languages 

C. started learning Christmas songs in ASL from We Play Along: O Little Town of Bethlehem, The First Noel, I'll Be Home for Christmas, and Little Drummer Boy


Math

C. worked on multiplication and division in Singapore 2A. M. worked in Challenging Word Problems. Both girls did Khan Academy some days, but they need to get back to a better routine. 


Instrumental Music

M. and C. both practiced piano and recorder every day. 


Art 

The girls colored the words "hope" and "love" for the first two weeks of Advent. R. and A. colored pictures of Santa. C. also made the "unicorn world" M. gave her for her birthday. 

Monday, December 6, 2021

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

My Month in Books

I read 14 books in November, most of which were three-star audiobooks I listened to on breaks from writing for NaNoWriMo. 

Here is the full list: 

Geekerella by Ashley Poston (3 stars)
I found this book at Dollar Tree on one of those rare occasions when they actually had books. It's a Cinderella retelling involving a fictitious fandom similar to Star Trek. It was a quick, fun read.

 Bowman of Crécy by Ronald Welch (4 stars)
My husband and I have a friend we met on Goodreads and we meet with her monthly on Zoom to talk books. This month, we talked about this second title in the Carey family series by Ronald Welch. The characters are outlaws and  the story involves a lot of fighting with bows and arrows. I wouldn't have picked it up on my own, but it wasn't bad. 

Vision in White by Nora Roberts (3 stars)
I read this book and its sequels when they were first published and decided to re-read this one on audio. It was still entertaining, but I dropped my rating from 5 stars down to 3. 

Autumn Skies by Denise Hunter (3 stars)
I borrowed this Christian romance from the library in paperback, but I listened to most of it on Hoopla. It was an easy read, but not too memorable. It is part of a series, and I would be interested in reading the other books. 

The Girl Who Ruined Christmas by Cindy Callaghan (1 star)
I received this middle grade ARC from the author, and I was surprised by how disappointing it was. The writing was rough and the story barely made sense. The characters also used a lot of slang that made them sound unrealistic. I can't recommend this one. 

Sebastian Bach: The Boy from Thuringia by Opal Wheeler (4 stars)
This was one of our homeschool read-alouds. We read the book and listened to the musical pieces included. I didn't know much about Bach before, and I think this was a great introduction. 

To Sir, with Love by Lauren Layne (4 stars)
This was basically a retelling of You've Got Mail. I loved all the details of the New York City setting, and the characters were well-developed. 

The Dearly Departed by Elinor Lipman (4 stars)
This was kind of a quirky story about two adults who don't know they are siblings until their parents, who recently reunited romantically, die together of carbon monoxide poisoning. It wasn't what I expected at all, but it was a fun read anyway. 

Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell (3 stars)
I'm trying to get through the rest of this series by the end of 2022. This one was fine. Not remarkable, but still entertaining. 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (5 stars)
This was my first time reading this book since I was in high school, and it holds up so well! I love the author's sense of humor, and it was fun to revisit this universe. 

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (3 stars)
I read this for the #WorldFullOfBooks theme of Indigenous Peoples, but I really wasn't in the mood for it and my mind really wandered. I honestly can't remember a thing about what actually happened. 

Killer Research by Jenn McKinlay (5 stars)
I took a long break from cozy mysteries this year, but I never miss a new installment in this series. This was one of the best of the series in my opinion. The small-town politics were so believable, and I love the way the characters continue to evolve, even 12 books in. 

The Happy Camper by Melody Carlson (3 stars)
This was a light, sweet Christian romance about a woman who refurbishes an old camper and connects with a new love interest while fending off advances from her ex-boyfriend.

The Christmas Swap by Melody Carlson (4 stars)
I am finding myself drawn to the idea of novellas, and this was a short and sweet one to kick off my holiday reading. I'm definitely interested in reading more by this author. 


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


In November, my husband read Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls, This New Land by Clifton G. Wisler, The Galleon by Ronald Welch, and The Luckie Star by Ann Waldron (this last book is being donated based on how little he enjoyed it). 

M. (8, years) also read This New Land by Clifton G. Wisler, as well as The Man Who Was Don Quixote by Rafaello Busoni and The Adventures of Don Quixote by Leighton Barret and illustrated by Warren Chappell. She also read A Donkey Called Mistletoe by Helen Peters.
 
C. (6 years, 2 months) finished reading King Oberon's Forest by Hilda van Stockum. She also read Runaway Ralph by Beverly Cleary and The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum independently, and aloud to Gran over Skype she read Three Boys and a Lighthouse by Nan Agle and Ellen Wilson. 

E. (4 years 1 month) read a bunch of Hooked on Phonics readers:  Sam and the Mitt, Pop Fox, The Fog, Pom Pom, The Big Log, and Tub Fun, as well as some selections from The Ultimate Dick and Jane Storybook Collection

 R. and A. (20 months) enjoyed looking at Up Cat Down Cat and Black Bird, Yellow Sun, both by Steve Light. 


Up Next For Me


December has started off with a bit of a reading slump for me, but I need to read 15 books to meet my goal by the end of the year. I'm planning to read The Gift Counselor by Sheila M. Cronin, So This is Christmas by Tracy Andreen (thought after I bought it I did hear there is some content in it I would prefer to avoid), Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk, and Gifts: Seen and Unseen from Catholic Teen Books, as well as Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien for book club and The Galleon by Ronald Welch. 

Linking Up


Friday, December 3, 2021

New Picture Books for Christmas 2021

It's December, which means the Christmas books are out on our shelves, just waiting to be read! We have several new additions to our collection this year, which I will highlight today.  Every title mentioned in this post was sent to me for review from the publisher, except the Tomie dePaola titles and Jan Brett's The Nutcracker, which were purchased by my mom. 

First up is a book I received for review over at Catholic Mom, where it will be the subject of my December article. It's called The Night the Saints Saved Christmas, written by Gracie Jagla and illustrated by Michael Corsini (Our Sunday Visitor). I'll save most of my thoughts for that piece, but I will say that the idea of saints jumping in to help Saint Nicholas deliver gifts on Christmas Eve is a really clever concept, and it's the best approach to the "Santa has a crisis and can't deliver the gifts" trope that I've ever read. 

Another book I received for review is a cute interactive pull-tab book called Deer Santa, which is written by Hannah Eliot and illustrated by Kathryn Selbert (Little Simon). On each page a different sweet little animal asks for a special gift. Each one holds an envelope with a tab that can be pulled out to reveal a message to Santa that matches the qualities of that animal. (The skunk's message, for example, reads, "Jingle smells!") Because of the delicate tabs, I'm not giving this to my toddlers; my four-year-old will enjoy it, and she will be much more careful with it! 


We have several different versions of Twas the Night Before Christmas, but I couldn't resist this one illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Candlewick). The soft, dark pictures create the perfect Christmas Eve ambiance, filled with a hushed anticipation as we await the arrival of Santa. Santa himself has an ethereal quality that is very appealing. His expression as he eyes the narrator just before filling the stockings is one of the best single images of Santa Claus I have ever seen. It infuses him with such personality and impishness, turning him into the "right jolly old elf" described in the text. This is a beautiful book worth owning even if you already have several versions.


We also have a lot of versions of the Biblical Christmas story on our shelves, but The First Christmas illustrated by Will Moses (Paula Wiseman Books) is different because the text is the lyrics to O Little Town of Bethlehem. I love a good singable Christmas book and this one just jumped to the top of my list for a Christmas story time. The folk art style illustrations are also unique in our collection, and I love that Moses's paint strokes are visible, and that there is so much to look at on each page. I also like the realistic Middle Eastern setting that is the backdrop to each painting, and the joy the artist depicts on the face of each figure in his illustrations. This is just a lovely book. 

We also have two new Jan Brett books on our shelves.  In The Animals' Santa (Penguin Young Readers), a young snowshoe hare is excited to learn that, on Christmas Eve, the Animals' Santa will leave presents for him and his all his woodland neighbors. But who is the Animals' Santa? All the creatures speculate, imagining which species would be best suited to the job - in the end, they witness a special delivery and learn who truly has the task of  delivering their gifts. I love the way this story parallels the experience of real preschool kids at Christmastime - the anticipation, the questions about how exactly the magic works, and the joy of discovering their gifts on Christmas morning. I also love the idea of animals having their own Santa and their own Christmas traditions. 

The Nutcracker is a retelling of the beloved holiday ballet in which the dancers Marie and the Nutcracker encounter on their sleigh ride are portrayed as animals. Every spread is a feast for the eyes, with many details to pore over, including clothes, festive decorations, the features of various creatures, and a host of musical instruments. There are some problems with the way certain figures hold and play their instruments - something we are sensitive to with a former music teacher in the family - but this is somewhat forgivable given the fact that animals in the illustrations would not even have opposable thumbs in real life. 

The Cat on the Dovrefell by Tomie de Paola has been re-released this year with the 1979 illustrations and brand-new text. This is a Scandinavian folk tale about Halvor, who tricks the trolls into staying away from his house at Christmas by scaring them with his "cat," which is really a polar bear. The most entertaining part of the book is the wordless spread of the trolls wreaking havoc. The original text, which I listened to on YouTube, seems to have been more wordy and complex; the new text isn't necessarily bad, it's just simpler and probably easier to read aloud to younger audiences. Depending on how things work out for my Christmas-themed story time this year, I may add this to the repertoire. 

There are two more recently released Christmas-themed Tomie dePaola titles as well : a new edition of Jingle the Christmas Clown, in which a circus clown provides a holiday performance for a town that is too poor to have Christmas and Christina's Carol, the text of which is the words of "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Christina Rossetti. 

Finally, Nosy Crow has two new board books. Jingle Bells  by Nicola Slater is a vibrantly illustrated version of the popular song featuring woodland animals in winter clothes. The last page of the book has buttons to press, one of which plays music, and the other of which lights a yellow star atop a Christmas tree. Where's the Polar Bear? by Ingela P. Arrhenius is a lift-the-flap book where the flaps are made of durable felt. The imagery in the illustrations is generically wintry, but the color scheme and the presence of pine trees gives it a strong Christmas mood.