Saturday, November 26, 2022

13 New Picture Books for Christmas 2022

Christmas book shopping season is upon us! I have received a number of new Christmas picture books for review in the past few months, and I want to share a rundown of those new titles today. 

First up, some board books. 

Christmas Street by Jonathan Emmett and Ingela P. Arrhenius (Nosy Crow, 10/4/22) is a companion book to 2019's Alphabet Street. Just like the original book, this one pulls out horizontally to form a 3-D street, and little readers can open and close various flaps to reveal festive pictures of items beginning with each letter of the alphabet. The street is populated by animals dressed in human clothing and many of the figures are parent/child pairs. While the alliterative phrases on each panel (i.e. "delicious drinks" and "lamps & lanterns") are pretty obvious, the fact that this book feels like a toy is really appealing to toddlers. My 2-year-old son, R., will receive this book from St. Nicholas on December 6th.

Santa Mouse Bakes Christmas Cookies (Little Simon, 10/4/22) is a board book starring the character from Michael Brown's original Santa Mouse book, which a high school friend introduced to me when I was a teenager but which was not part of my family Christmas traditions growing up. Rhyming text and adorably sweet illustrations tell the story of Santa Mouse baking cookies with the help of a diverse group of elves so that Santa and the reindeer have something to eat on Christmas Eve. St. Nicholas will give this book to my 2-year-old daughter, A. 

I'm a Little Snowman written by Hannah Elliott and illustrated by Anna Daviscourt (Little Simon, 9/13/22) is a companion book to I'm a Little Pumpkin. In rhyming text that can be sung to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot" various snowmen (and a snowgal) introduce themselves and cheer for the start of winter. The lyrics could have used a bit more polish, as they are awkward to sing at times, but the artwork is very kid-friendly and cheerful, and the colors evoke all the smells and sensations of the winter season. I might put this in A's stocking on Christmas Eve.

Bizzy Bear: Snow Sports (Candlewick, 8/23/22) is a board book by Benji Davies with some interactive components for little hands to slide and pull. The text seems to be based on the classic children's rhume, "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn Around" and the illustrations shows Bizzy and his animal friends skiing and snowboarding. R. loves books with sliding elements, so this will most likely appear under the tree with his name on it. 

Now, for the picture books.

First is a new version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (Candlewick, 9/13/22) illustrated by Matt Tavares. This book is illustrated entirely in black and white pencil drawings and it has a timeless, classic feel. The use of light and shadow in the pictures is very striking and though none of the illustrations necessarily introduce anything new to the story, neither do they try to update or alter it in any way. We tend to rotate the versions of this book we read each year, so this one might get a turn this year if my kids don't request another favorite version.

Another book with a classic feel is a reprint from 1987: Tomie dePaola's Book of Christmas Carols (Simon & Schuster, 10/25/22). In terms of the actual music, there isn't really anything in this book that can't be readily found in any standard book of Christmas songs, but of course the artwork, complete with several fold-out illustrations is utterly charming. I do wish the songs themselves included all of their verses, but otherwise this is an appealing volume that will look lovely on our shelf next to dePaola's Joy to the World.

I'm thrilled to finally see a Christmas book starring Mercy Watson. A follow-up to A Piglet Named Mercy, A Very Mercy Christmas (Candlewick, 9/27/22) sees Stella Endicott and Mercy the pig trying to recruit neighbors to go caroling with them. Most of the beloved characters from the original Mercy Watson series make an appearance and the writing is both funny and poignant. There is also a Mercy ornament included at the back of the book, which can be punched out and hung on the family Christmas tree. My 5-year-old daughter, E., has been wanting a Mercy Christmas story for years, so this book will be her St. Nicholas day gift. 

Raymond Arroyo also has a new Christmas book this year: The Wise Men Who Found Christmas (Sophia Institute Press, 10/11/22). In this book, Arroyo restores the wise men to their proper historical context and tells their true story without any of the embellishments that have been added over time. I was fortunate enough to review a digital copy of this book for Catholic Mom, and after the book was published, Sophia Institute Press kindly sent me a finished hardcover. The artwork is very colorful and fills each and every page to the edges. The story is told from an interesting surprise point of view that gives the book a very kid-friendly feel. This will join The Spider Who Saved Christmas on our Christmas shelf.

Through the North Pole Snow written by Polly Faber and illustrated by Richard Jones (Candlewick, 11/8/22) follows a little fox through the snow to Santa's house. The fox stays all year, through all of Santa's Christmas preparations and finally learns what all the work was leading up to. This is a very cozy and gentle read with engaging collage-style pictures. This book seems a bit young for my bigger girls, so it will either go under the tree for one of the three littles or just go directly on our Christmas shelf.

The Magic of a Small Town Christmas (Aladdin, 10/18/22) is another very cozy book. Written by Megan Alexander, who produces a TV show called Small Town Christmas, and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata, this book depicts a variety of scenes that one might witness in a small town at Christmastime. The text rhymes awkwardly and has some rhythmic problems, but the pictures evoke all the nostalgia for me. My kids have never been in a small town for Christmas, so I like that this can give them a taste of that experience. This book also reminds me a lot of Cold Snap by Eileen Spinelli and Marjorie Price, which has been a big favorite with my kids for a number of years.

The last few picture books are winter-themed but do not explicitly involve Christmas.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Candlewick, 11/8/22) is a bit of a new take on Robert Frost's poem in that it depicts the speaker as a young woman. Since there is no gender specified in the original poem and because the tone and substance of the poem are not altered at all, I don't have a problem with this new interpretation. The muted greens of the illustrations and the use of perspective give the book a strong visual appeal, and I like that the young woman wears braids. St. Nicholas is bringing this to my poetry lover, C., age 7.

Frindleswylde by Natalia and Lauren O'Hara (Candlewick, 11/8/22) is a fairy-tale style story about a Jack-Frost-like creature who brings winter to the woods where Cora and her grandmother live. When Cora stumbles into his underground home, Frindleswylde gives her three impossible tasks to complete before he will let her go. This book is a bit more wordy than the average picture book and is best suited for a slightly older reader. The mixed media illustrations really capture the season of winter, and they are unique compared to the pictures in most of the other books I've mentioned. I think St. Nicholas will bring this book to my 9-year-old.

Finally, Snow Horses: A First Night Story written by Patricia Maclachlan and illustrated by Micha Archer is a new year story depicting one town's annual celebration of the first night of the year in which sleigh rides play an important role. The text is written in free verse and the collage and ink illustrations have a folk art feel on some pages. The book is very gentle and quiet, and it would make a lovely bedtime read-aloud. 

Friday, November 11, 2022

Homeschool Update: October 2022

Group Activities

After we finished listening to The Lion of St. Mark, we started reading aloud Those Miller Girls by Alberta Wilson Constant. On Halloween, we listened to The Best Halloween Ever by Barbara Robinson. The girls continued working on their poetry memorization. They are still learning "The Goat and the Three Red Shirts" (E.), "Barbara Frietchie" (C.), and "The Cremation of Sam McGee" (M.)

We read some more issues of The Catholic Treasure Box, and then took a break to begin learning the Nicene Creed in Latin. We use this video to practice pronunciation, and this video to learn to sing the chant. We didn't pray a Rosary every single day, but we continued using the videos from The Little Rose Shop when we did pray it. We also added in a Novena for a family we know who recently lost a baby. 

We continued reading aloud from A Child's History of Art. For music appreciation, my husband read aloud the second Metropolitan Opera Guild picture book adapted from the Ring of the Nibelung, and the girls listened to the accompanying music. For poetry, we read aloud all the poems (but not the prose excerpts) in Poetry for Young People: Edgar Allan Poe.

The three girls practiced piano and recorder daily and they practiced singing rounds like "Chairs to Mend" and songs we previously learned, including "Red River Valley" and "All Through the Night." 


E. quickly became bored with family history, so we moved onto Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton and First Days of the World by Gerald Ames, and near the end of the month we started The Giant Golden Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles by Jane Werner Watson, illustrated by Rudolph F. Zallinger.

C. started the month with Charlemagne, then learned about monks and the medieval church, Vikings, and feudalism. She read Viking Adventure by Clyde Robert Bulla, and Castle: How it Works by David Macaulay and watched The Secret of Kells and looked at some pages from the Book of Kells. She wrote a narration about the Book of Kells as well. 

M. continued studying World War I. She read a lot of historical fiction: 

  • The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
  • You Choose: At Battle in World War I by Allison Lassieur
  • You Choose: The Sinking of the Lusitania by Stephen Otfinoski
  • You Choose: World War I by Gwenyth Swain
  • The White Nights of St. Petersburg by Geoffrey Trease
  • The Wild Children by Felice Holman
  • Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan
  • The Night Run by Bali Rai
  • The Guns of Easter by Gerard Whelan
  • The Great Migration: African Americans Move to the North, 1915-1930 by Monica Halpern
  • Some of Us Survived: The Story of an Armenian Boy by Kerop Bedoukian
She also watched a variety of videos: 
  • The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima
  • Shackleton
  • Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance
  • Harriet's Army 
  • The Century (WWI episode)


M. continued doing one lesson per week from Middle School Chemistry. Sometimes we do the demonstrations; other times, if the materials are something we don't typically buy and it doesn't seem worth buying them, we watch videos of the demos and complete the student worksheets accordingly. We are also reading one small section from Romance of Chemistry twice a week, and often the historical context we read about goes along with the MCS lesson. (M. claims to dislike Romance of Chemistry and complains that the scientists are boring). 

C. and E. learned about gravity this month, which included watching some videos from the International Space Station about how astronauts do things like make peanut butter sandwiches and wash their hair without gravity. We also talked about vertical and horizontal lines. They each completed a worksheet for each chapter. 


C. worked on capacity and area in Singapore 2B. She is very close to completing the book. She did one chapter per week from Life of Fred: Dogs.

M. worked on Challenging Word Problems 3 and the review sections in Singapore 4A. She did one chapter per week from Life of Fred: Mineshaft

E. is still working on counting by two, threes, and fives on the soroban. She is beginning to learn the numbers that add up to 10 (" big friends"). 

Language Arts

C. is given a sentence from a McGuffey reader every morning, and she is asked to name the parts of speech. 

M. diagrams two sentences per week from Rex Barks. E. practices reading aloud from the McGuffey reader most mornings.
I read aloud Babe: The Gallant Pig to E., and then started reading her My Bookhouse: Through Fairy Halls

Physical Education

The girls rode bikes several times. 


M. went to her own orthodontist visit and accompanied the twins to their check-up at the pediatrician. 

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Read-at-Home Mom Report: October 2022 Wrap-Up

My Month in Books

During October, my son stopped napping for a few weeks. This meant I was walking him in the stroller every morning and again every afternoon, and I listened to a lot of audiobooks. He has now resumed napping, so a month like this probably won't happen again for a while, but I read a whopping 30 books in 31 days. Because there are so many, this month I'm organizing this wrap-up according to genre just to make it easier to follow. 

Mystery and Thriller

The Plot and the Pendulum by Jenn McKinlay (5 stars)
This is the newest title in the Library Lover's mystery series, and it's set in the fall so it was the perfect choice for getting into the autumn mood. The portrayal of the world of libraries was spot-on as usual, and I was so impressed that this is the thirteenth book in the series and it still felt fresh enough to earn 5 stars. 

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson (5 stars)
Janssen from Everyday Reading selected this young adult title for her book club this month and I listened to it based on her recommendation. It was pretty clearly inspired by the story of Adnan Syed as covered by the Serial podcast, but after the initial set-up, it does become its own story with a unique plot. I liked that the audiobook was formatted like a podcast in some parts and that the story kept me guessing until the very end. 

Shady Hollow by Juneau Black (5 stars)
I kept hearing about this book in YouTube videos and ended up using an Audible credit left over from my free trial to buy the audiobook. I love the concept of anthropomorphic woodland creatures starring in a cozy mystery and zipped right throught it. It really made me want to write a story starring animals, which is saying a lot since I'm not really an animal person. 

In the Woods by Tana French (5 stars)
I found this book in a Little Free Library and when I mentioned it on Instagram, so many people said they loved it. A friend of mine had also read it and enjoyed it, so I decided to make it a priority this month. This is one of the few books in this post that I read cover to cover without listening to any part of the audiobook, and it was so worth taking the time to savor every single word. I raved about the book to my mom, and she kindly ordered me used copies of the rest of the series, which I want to continue ASAP.  

Killer Queen by Julie Mulhern (4 stars)
Night Moves by Julie Mulhern (5 stars)
Lyin' Eyes by Julie Mulhern (4 stars)
I thought I was a book or two behind in this series, but Julie Mulhern is so prolific, it actually wound up being five books! I listened to these three on Hoopla, one right after the other, and as with the Jenn McKinlay series above, I was glad to see that the humor and intrigue of the stories has not faded at all compared to the earlier books. I hope to catch up on this series completely by the end of the year.

One by One by Ruth Ware (4 stars)
A couple of bookish YouTubers I follow were hosting a Book of the Month read-a-thon this month. I don't subscribe to BOTM, but I have used copies of a number of books that have been BOTM selections so I joined in with a few of those, of which One by One is one. This isn't my favorite Ruth Ware, and I thought the ending dragged on a little too long, but I did still enjoy the story. 

Dust by Patricia Cornwell (3 stars)
This was another adequate but not exceptional title in the Kay Scarpetta series. I am still planning to finish the series even if not every book is a great read at this point. 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (3 stars)
I didn't  think one lived up to the hype at all. I liked the writing at the beginning, and I thought it was very atmospheric, but it felt like there were long pointless lulls between moments of action, and I just didn't care that much about the characters. I think dark academia may just not be my genre. 


Mothering by the Book by Jennifer Pepito (4 stars)
In this book, the author reflects on lessons learned about parenting from the books she has read aloud to her kids. I originally had the e-ARC from Netgalley, but ended up listening to the audiobook on Hoopla. I'm considering including it in an article for Catholic Mom next year.  

Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson (4 stars)
This was a re-read for my 40 Re-reads Before 40 project, which I will also include in that article if I decide that's what I want to write.  

Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine (4 stars)
I've had this children's book about writing sitting on my shelf for years and finally listened to the audiobook read by the author. Despite being geared toward children, it had some little nuggets of wisdom about writing that I found useful for myself. I also think it's a good, solid introduction to the writing life for kids. 

Romance & Romantic Comedy 

Husband Auditions by Angela Ruth Strong (5 stars)
I picked this up because it was the chosen book for Spark Flash Fiction's new reading community on Facebook. It's a Christmas romance with lovable characters, a fun premise, and a very satisfying and unexpected ending. 

Pumpkin Spice and Not So Nice by Becky Monson (4 stars)
I intended to read this book and its companion by Jennifer Peel, A Pumpkin and a Patch, but only got to this one. I enjoyed the setting of the family farm and the relationship between the main characters. 

Luck and Last Resorts by Sarah Grunder Ruiz (4 stars)
This was a different take on the fake relationship and marriage of convenience tropes. I didn't like this book as much as Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships, but I did root for the characters all the way through. 

Sleeping Tiger by Rosamunde Pilcher (3 stars)
I love an outdated Rosamunde Pilcher romance any day of the week. This one had some weird Daddy issues that gave me pause, but the writing was lovely as ever. 

Built to Last by Erin Hahn (3 stars)
This romance was pretty steamy, with multiple sex scenes that I kept having to scramble to fast-forward through. The surrounding story was good, though, and I really liked the characters.. 

The Kiss Curse by Erin Sterling (3 stars)
This didn't have as much sexual content as book one, but it also didn't have as many cozy fall vibes. I didn't feel like I got to know these characters as well as the ones in the first book either.

How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days by K.M. Jackson (2 stars)
This is another Book of the Month book that I didn't get from BOTM. Unfortunately, it was kind of disappointing. There was both too much and not enough Keanu Reeves, and I never felt the chemistry between the heroine and hero. I did really like the audiobook narrator, though!


Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (5 stars)
This was a reread on audio of a book I read in print years ago. It's still the best book for this time of year, and it has so many great things to say about the nature of good and evil. 

Babe: The Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith (5 stars)
I read this aloud to my 5 year old, but I didn't count it as one of my re-reads even though I've read it aloud before. She really enjoyed the story, though she didn't seem to understand it quite as well as her siblings at the same age.

The Edge of In Between by Lorelei Savaryn (5 stars)
This was recommended to me months ago and it took forever to find it. In the end, I wound up getting the audiobook from Audible with a credit I had from a free trial. It's a beautiful Catholic retelling of The Secret Garden that really resonated with me. 

Bunnicula: The Graphic Novel by James Howe (5 stars)
We don't really do graphic novels here as a rule, but I wanted to read this for my own enjoyment, and it didn't disappoint. It's a very faithful adaptation of the original and it made me laugh out loud several times.

General Fiction 

The Clock Winder by Anne Tyler (5 stars)
I decided I wanted to listen to an Anne Tyler novel and I selected this one at random. I really enjoyed the story of how a female "handyman" impacted the lives of a Baltimore family over a couple of decades. I was surprised to learn that this book didn't do very well when it was first published. I thought it was every bit as good as any other Anne Tyler book I've read so far.

Oh, Sal by Kevin Henkes (5 stars)
This realistic fiction book is third in the Billy Miller series, and such a delight. Yes, part of the plot does revolve underpants, but because Kevin Henkes is a gentleman, it's not handled in a gross way. Sal is a fully believable 5 year old and this was a take on the arrival of a new baby that feels both fresh and timeless. 

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (5 stars)
This was a re-read of the book I have long called one of my favorites. I'm happy to say I loved it even more this time around than I did as a teenager. Dickens is such a great writer.

Room and Board by Miriam Parker (4 stars)
This is a very pleasant, uplifting story about a woman who becomes a dorm parent at a boarding school and reconnects with her own high school flame from her days as a student at the school. The reviews of this book on Goodreads are really unfair, and so undeserved. There's nothing wrong with a low-stakes feel-good novel now and then!

Historical Fiction

Dancing & Doughnuts by Rachel Kovaciny (5 stars)
The theme for #WorldFullofBooks on Instagram was fairy tales, so I took the opportunity to read another Western fairy tale retelling by Rachel Kovaciny. This one is based on The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and it was so much fun. I loved the main character's voice and the way he solved the mystery of who was bringing alcohol into the dance hall.

Sackett's Land by Louis L'Amour (3 stars)
I wanted to try this author, so I chose the first of this series at random. Because it sets up a longer series, I don't feel like I really got a taste of L'Amour's Westerns from this book and I think I need to read a few more.

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

A. (girl, 2 years, 7 months)
  • Truck or Treat by Hannah Eliot
  • It's Pumpkin Day, Mouse! by Laura Numeroff
  • Little Excavator by Anna Dewdney
  • Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
R. (boy 2 years, 7 months)Witches Four by Marc Brown
  • Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
  • Boo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton
  • Truck or Treat by Hannah Eliot
  • Monsters Play... Peekaboo! by Flavia Z. Drago
  • Monsters Play... Counting! by Flavia Z. Drago
E. (girl, 5 years old)
  • Happy Birthday from Carolyn Haywood
  • Away Went the Balloons by Carolyn Haywood
  • Halloween Treats by Carolyn Haywood
C. (girl, 7 years, 1 month)
  • Mossflower by Brian Jacques
  • Our Little Saxon Cousin of Long Ago by Julia Darrow Cowles
  • Viking Adventure by Clyde Robert Bulla
M. (girl, 8 years, 11 months)
  • You Choose: At Battle in World War I by Allison Lassieur
  • You Choose: The Sinking of the Lusitania by Stephen Otfinoski
  • You Choose: World War I by Gwenyth Swain
  • The White Nights of St. Petersburg by Geoffrey Trease
  • The Wild Children by Felice Holman
  • Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan
  • The Night Run by Bali Rai
  • The Guns of Easter by Gerard Whelan
  • Three Investigators: Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure by Robert Arthur
  • The Great Migration: African Americans Move to the North, 1915-1930 by Monica Halpern
  • Some of Us Survived: The Story of an Armenian Boy by Kerop Bedoukian
My husband
  • Tank Commander by Ronald Welch

Up Next For Me

My local book club is reading The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day. I'm also planning to read The Rose Round by Meriol Trevor as my final re-read of my 40 Rereads Before 40 project.