April Favorites

I ended my book a day streak April 15th and my reading, as I feared it would, has fallen off a cliff. It’s been an extremely busy few weeks that will continue for a few more, so I am trying to sneak in more reading time. A real bonus of taking my time with books is that I’ve completely abandoned two audiobooks already whereas before I would have probably powered through just to finish. I love the luxury of just moving on, abandoned books in my wake.

I finished 23 books in April, bringing my yearly total to 139. I read 7 fiction, 4 nonfiction, 7 kids nonfiction picture books, 4 kids fiction picture books, and 1 kids nonfiction chapter book.

My 5 favorites were

A Sparrow’s Disappearing Home by Mary Ellen Klukow and Albert Pinilla, 5/5 stars, Nonfiction kids picture book, 24 pages, 2019

One of our Earth Day reads and I loved everything about it. The illustrations were fabulous and the story of the sparrow’s search for his native habitat in an increasingly hostile world was powerful. The story ended by showing the heroes that were doing something about it, those working to save the environment and the birds. It also had a list of ways to help the birds and a map. This is part of a series and you can be sure we’ll be checking out the rest.

Infinity and Me by Gabi Swiatkowska and Kate Hosford, 5/5 stars, 32 pages, 2012

A beautifully illustrated book about infinity. Infinity is a big, huge thing for small kids and somehow this book makes it work. We follow a girl as she asks her classmates and some adults in her life what they think infinity looks like and, not surprisingly, everyone has a different answer. This had a sweet ending and led to a good discussion.

The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli, 4.25/5 stars, 320 pages, 2012

Terrier Rand was from a notorious family of thieves. They were all good at stealing money, wallets, expensive items from your house, and doing it without violence. Until Collie goes on a bloody rampage leaving 8 dead. As Terry comes home for the lethal injection of his brother he finds himself more fearful than ever of the blood that runs through him.

I was drawn into this one right away and loved the balance between action and introspection. The Rand family was captivating and I loved the gritty reality of them. Terry has a follow up book and I’m going to have to see what Terry does next.

Falling by TJ Newman, 4.25/5 stars, 304 pages, 2021

Are you a fearful flightier? Terrified at turbulence? Skittish of soaring 20,000 feet in the air? Me too! And yet this thriller managed to entertain not invoke nightmares.

The pilot’s family has been kidnapped and he is ordered to crash the plane or they will die. Will he choose his family or the souls onboard his plane?

Fast paced and pertinent to today’s politics this was a great audio book.

I’m always jealous of happy fliers. Are you one of them?

Past Tense by Lee Child, 4/5 stars, 382 pages, 2018

This is #23 in the Jack Reacher series and I’ve read them all in order up to this point. I love the Reacher and especially love the books that have a family connection. Reacher spontaneously gets off the bus in the small town his father grew up in and wants to see if he can find where he grew up. But, nothing is easy with Reacher and I like it that way 🙂

Migrations Across Borders

Trying to be better about logging my books!

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy, 4.25 out of 5 stars, 256 pages, pub. 2020

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy is our book club read for this month. I had no interest in it during the first bit of listening, but the slow moving story grew on me as it weaved between past and present. It’s one that I’m sure will benefit from a group discussion.

Franny is desperate to find a boat to help her find the last of the Arctic terns as they make their last migration. We feel her despair even though we don’t understand it until the very end of the book when we learn of her past. Frankie was a complicated character, both heroic and prickly, and always, it seemed, utterly true to herself.

I don’t know if I liked it because I went in with such low expectations or if the underlying environmental theme drew me in, but either way I think this will stick with me for a while. And I look forward to our book club discussion.

Drawn Across Borders: True Stories of Human Migration by George Butler, 4 out of 5 stars, 56 pages, published 2021

My friend Diane (Bibliophile by the Sea) sent this to Gage a few months ago, but I’m the first one reading it! I’m curious to see how it works as a kids book because I loved the heartbreaking insight into the tragedy of loss and the beautiful art.

Artist George Butler made his way across war zones and refugee camps to document the people he found there. Looking for the many reasons people choose or are forced to move from their homes to places where they are often unwelcome. The places he visited were in Europe or the Middle East and I was captivated by how much could be gleaned from 4 pages about each place.

I wanted more detail and more stories, but as a book for older kids it worked. A great book to consider what makes a person a refuge or migrant.

The Sensory Team Handbook by Nancy Mucklow, 4,5 out of 5 stars for Teens, 180 pages, pub. 2009

This is a great book for preteens/teens who have any kind of sensory issue. It is a positive book with enough science to explain what is going on in their bodies without being overwhelming. It’s full of easy at home weekly and daily exercises to help them gain more control of their body. Will be so useful for many.

What You Must Know About the Hidden Dangers of Antibiotics by Jay S. Cohen, 3.5 out of 5 stars, 144 pages, pub. 2018

Gage has had too many antibiotics in his few years and finding an alternative is sometimes possible, but always more time consuming.

This book is about the family of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, (Cipro, Levaquin, and others), but I found it’s usefulness beyond that. Author Jay S. Cohen, MD did a good job in laying out the many supplements that are helpful not only for people injured by these antibiotics, but also for those just trying to heal from other toxicity.

*there are times when antibiotics are the only answer, yes.*

Shirley Chisholm Dared: The Story of the First Black Woman in Congress by Alicia D Williams and April Harrison, 4.25 out of 5 stars, 48 pages, pub. 2021

Loved this book about Shirley with its overriding message of persistence.

The Eye That Never Sleeps: How Detective Pickerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss and Jeremy Holmes, 4 out of 5 stars, 48 pages, pub. 2018

A story I’ve never heard before about the threat to Lincoln’s life before he became president. I liked the illustrations, but they were very busy.

Peter Pan: A Graphic Novel by Blake Hoena and Fernando Cano, 1.5 out of 5 stars, 72 pages, pub. 2016

Um. just no.

The latest Harlan Coben and Elizabeth Chudleigh

The Duchess Countess.
Let’s talk about a rather infamous woman from from the Georgian Era for Women’s History Month. Elizabeth Chudleigh was a woman who learned how to use her considerable assets to gain security and influence. In the mid 1750s women had make an advantageous marriage and Elizabeth managed to do that, twice and at the same time.

She was a strong-willed woman who knew what she wanted and no shortage of men willing to provide it. She made a hasty marriage when she was young and a well-suited one when she was in her middle years. When she becomes a widow she still has a husband left.

This biography was dense and well annotated, so I really got a sense for the customs and politics of the day and all the players involved. Because of that it wasn’t a fast read, but I suppose if you were more familiar with her or her story this might read a little easier.

She was fearless, but with vulnerabilities too. A fascinating woman.

Thanks to Atria Books for sending me a copy of this book.

The Match.
Wilde, The Boy In the Woods, is back. It’s a few months after the first book ended and he’s managed to track down his father via an online DNA database. He also finds someone he believes to be his brother. Only neither one is really forthcoming with information for different reasons.

This can be a standalone, but do yourself a favor and read The Boy in the Woods first. You’ll want to know more about Wilde. All of the great characters from that book are back as is an additional guest from another Coben novel, The Stranger.

No one does thrillers quite like Harlan Coben and his latest is the sequel to Wilde’s story that I’d hoped he write.

Wilde survived in the woods on his own as a very young child, so Gage and I took this book on a walk in the woods and discussed how likely that would be. We decided you’d have to be extremely 🍀, but today is a lucky day, so anything is possible!

Loved it and am looking forward to more Wilde in the future.

Women’s History Month Reading

A few of my reading favorites so far this month…

❤️My favorite was The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. Dual storylines and three perspectives made this a fast read. In the 1700s there’s an old apothecary shop that women in need can find to assist them with their troubles, man troubles. A young girl visits one day bringing friendship and disaster. The current day storyline involves a woman with man troubles of her own unraveling the mystery of the serial killer apothecary.

❤️ Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq is a colorful graphic memoir by a Bangladeshi-American. I really liked this true story of her experience as a 13 year old girl being targeted in a hate crime. She showed the struggle of coping, the family drama, and the lessons learned about friendship, as she came out the other side of her PTSD a stronger person. Perfect for tweens who need to read from another kid’s point of view.

📚The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict was a good historical novel that imagines what was behind the true life 12 day disappearance of renowned mystery writer Agatha Christie. I liked it , but admit I wasn’t thrilled at the end 🤷🏻‍♀️ it did make me do some internet reading, so it sparked an interest!
On a Night Like This by Lindsey Kelk. A sensible young woman with a fiancé who doesn’t appreciate her has the opportunity to live out her wildest dreams. It definitely had some Cinderella vibes, in the best way. One magical night at a ball brought Fran the excitement she didn’t even know she was looking for. She was kind and funny and I liked her journey to find herself and the friends she picked up along the way.

I was sent the ARC but ending up mostly listening to it because I really liked the audio.
These are a few of the favorites we’ve read for Women’s History Month this week pictured with the only other girl in the house.

We just finished Who Was Amelia Earhart after dinner. I learned new things that either I didn’t know or didn’t remember. It really is amazing how her plane just disappeared with a Coast Guard ship waiting for her and 10 ships and 65 planes trying to find her soon after. A mysterious and tragic end for a badass woman.

We read She Persisted Around the World by Chelsea Clinton. It featured 13 women who didn’t take no for an answer. We used the one page as a starter and supplemented with other books or articles. A great message for girls (and boys, but I imagine it would mean more for girls).

Who Said Women Can’t be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone was great. She applied to 28 medical schools and was told NO! by all. Women were not doctor material. Her 29th application proved fruitful and in 1849 she graduated and became America’s first woman doctor. If that doesn’t convince your kid to never give up on a dream I don’t know what will.

Gloria Takes a Stand: How Gloria Steinem Listened, Wrote, and Changed the World by Jessica M. Rinker is a nice reminder to all of us that change doesn’t happen without a fight. Too many people like to wax poetic about the good old days without bothering to acknowledge the ridiculous limitations put on women (and others but specifically women here). It was a nice reminder to use your voice for progress.

Cybils Award Winners

Cybils Awards
The Cybils Awards announced their winners this week, so make sure to check out all of the category finalists and winners.

I had the honor of being a finals judge for the Cybils Awards again this year for both board books and picture books. The five of us exchanged a flurry of emails after we’d read these 7 finalist board books and chose a winner…

🎉Big Bear, Little Bear by Marine Schneider was universally loved and a perfect book to read and reread with your wee babes. Simple and sweet with touches of humor, it has a nostalgic feel that’s sure to please. 🎉

The other finalists were also fantastic and I can easily recommend all of them for the 0-3 crowd.
❤️ Comparrotives by Janik Coat (I was so charmed by this parrot!)
❤️ Circle Under Berry by Carter Higgins was Gage’s favorite.
❤️ Animals Go Vroom by Abi Cushman had a fun animal story with peekaboo pages.
❤️This is Still Not a Book by Jean Jullian was full of whimsy with funny pictures and pull up pages.
❤️Turn Seek Find Habitats by Ben Newman is a new take on hidden picture fun with the turn of a wheel changing what you seek every time through.
❤️ Caution! Road Signs Ahead by Toni Buzzeo and Chi Birmingham is an easy choice for your car loving toddlers with big road signs and what they mean.

For the Picture Books category we had 7 fabulous choices and between the 5 of us finalist judges we chose…

🎉 Watercress by Andrea Wang and Jason Chin 🎉 This has won many awards this past year for good reason. A quiet story with heart and an important message. Eat weeds for dinner that your family picked on the side of the road? That’s a tough sell for any kid. This was my and our favorite.

Other finalists
❤️ Someone Builds the Dream by Lisa Wheeler and Loren Long ❤️ I loved this one almost as much but for different reasons. Want to teach your kid to celebrate everyone who contributes to building bridges or rides or parks? This is your book!
❤️ Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Feder❤️. Every child needs to spend some time with this book. Seriously. This book celebrates every body type you can imagine. I can’t recommend this one enough for body diversity awareness. And it’s really fun too!
❤️ The Midnight Fair by Gideon Sterer and Mariachiara Di Giorgio❤️ This story of animals taking over the fair at night has no words and doesn’t need them. Loved it.
❤️ Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman and Loren Long. Beautifully celebrates the difference one child can make in the world.
❤️Itty-Bitty Kitty Corn by Shannon Hale and Leiden Pham. Cat or unicorn lovers will want this one.
❤️ Arlo Draws An Octopus by Lori Mortensen and Rob Sayegh Jr, is perfect for any budding artists out there.

Have you read any of these?

Black History Month Kids Picture Books, pt.2

It’s been another great week for picture books! I’ll list them in the order I liked them best and give you a few thoughts. In the morning as we start our day I read a picture book (I sometimes make him read, but the morning goes a lot better for everyone if I don’t make him ‘work’ first thing, lol). Sometimes we just talk about the story or the time in history and sometimes we explore more with writing or videos. He always has to sum it up or include important points in his journal. All in all, most days it takes 10-25 minutes.

The Other Side
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis, 32 pages, pub. 2003

I love this writing/illustrating duo. Their books are timeless even if they seem like a quaint story of a time gone by. Clover is told that she has to stay on her side of the fence because white people lived on the other side and blacks stayed on their side. But one summer she always saw a girl sitting ON the fence and in time made her way to the top of the fence too. I adored this book and the hope it gives for the children of today paving the way to a better future.

Trombone Shorty
Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty”Andrews and Bryan Collier, 40 pages, pub. 2015

It didn’t take us long to realize that this book overlapped with The 5 O’Clock Band that we read last year. This was more about a moment with Bo Diddley that Andrews had when he was just a young boy with a beat up trombone he found on the street. Gage loved this true moment in time and we had fun with the photos in the back. Loved it. As always, Collier sparkles as an illustrator.

Let's Talk about Race
Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester and Karen Barbour, 32 pages, pub. 2005

This eye-catching book is a great starting point for a discussion about race. It starts with the story everyone has and how it’s impossible to know the whole of anyone if we just look at the outside. He uses the example of shedding our skin as we move through life and how preferable that would be. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Unfortunately, that isn’t the world we live in so a real conversation must happen after the book is done. But it was visually appealing and a conversation starter.

Ellen's Broom
Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons and Daniel Minter, 32 pages, pub. 2012

Ellen’s parents and others celebrate when it becomes legal for them to be married in the eyes of the government. Until then, jumping the broom was the way slaves married. I loved the celebration of new beginnings and progress being made. It didn’t have as much detail about the tradition as I would have liked, but it was a good starting point and I loved the illustrations.

When Langston Dances
When Langston Dances by Kaija Langley and Keith Mallett, 40 pages, pub. 2021

This inspiring story of a boy finding the courage to do something unexpected is gorgeously illustrated. Langston was good at basketball, but he ADORED dancing. A sweet story sure to appeal to younger kids.

Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer
Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson and Bryan Collier, 32 pages, pub. 2016

I liked the idea of this book based on the few details about the man that we know. Stephen was of several slaves who gave tours of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. The cave is the biggest in the world and he made a few discoveries during his 20 years. The story was a little to little for me to really love it, but the history at the back was interesting.

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Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman’s Dreams Took Flight by Karyn Parsons and R. Gregory Christie, 48 pages, pub. 2020

The first black woman to get her pilot’s license in 1921 had to go to France to learn to fly. I loved the additional pages with timelines and photos in the back It was also fun to read about this period because of how it relates to Jason’s great grandfather who learned to fly in this era.

Black History Month picture books

What does Black History Month look like for our homeschooling? I checked out 28 picture books. We are using two for month long lessons so they’ll show up later and we’re reading, watching, writing, talking about one book a day. Yes, this means even weekends we’ll have books to read. Our first three have been terrific.

My Name is James Madison Hemings is for older kids who you can have deeper conversations with. Thomas Jefferson had 4 children with his slave Sally Hemings and this is their story from the perspective of one of the sons. How would you feel if you lived in one room under the terraces built in the hillside with your three siblings and mother while your father had his other family in the palatial Monticello? What if your father listed you as property, next to the sheep and hogs in the farm book?

There was so much to unpack and it led to great discussions about how people who do great good can also do bad things. By focusing only on the good doesn’t that show an incomplete picture of history? I could go on, but you get the idea 😁. We also watched a video that I’ll try to link to below. Such an important story.

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave was a real man who made approximately 40,000 pots with poetry sometimes carved in. Some of these pots are still around today, 200 years later. We paired this with videos of current potters and learned more about the process.

Freedom in Congo Square is about a real place in New Orleans where black people could meet once a week (it became the only place they could congregate on their one day off a week) and keep their African traditions alive. The pictures are colorful and the reading easy for younger kids.

We’re going chronologically through a history book, so not all the books will be about slavery.

I’ll keep our picture books to a once a week recap, but want to make sure I highlight the really good ones – like these!

January favorites and February intentions

I’ve managed to keep my book a day streak alive! 31 books!

13 picture books
3 fiction
3 young adult
3 chapter books
2 non-fiction
2 contemporary romance
1 historical romance
1 thriller
1 historical fiction
1 kids graphic novel

Technically, I’ve read 13 more for Cybils Award judging, but since I can’t talk about them until judging is done and winners are announced, I’ll count them next month 🙂

My favorites

The Comfort Book
The Comfort Book by Mark Haig. I talked about it here.
The Siren of Sussex (Belles of London, #1)
The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews. I talked about it here.
Kelley Armstong’s Darkness Rising trilogy. I talked about it here.
Just Haven't Met You Yet
Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens. I haven’t even done any kind of review and to preserve my sanity this will have to serve as a recommendation. It’s a quirky, modern British romcom. I listened to this one and thought the meet cute aspect of it really worked. It delved into serious parent issues without ever feeling weighed down or losing its spark.
Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama. Since I read so many picture books I should share my favorite one! I talked about it here.

Last February I read a book by an African American author every day for Black History Month. I found new authors I fell in love with, Jesmyn Ward, August Wilson, Beverly Jenkins, Octavia Butler…the list goes on.

So, I chose books from last year discoveries, plus a Toni Morrison, that I’m going to try and get to this month. In January I read 6 of the 8 I selected at the beginning of the month so we’ll see how I do with this 9.

I started by reading Jesmyn Ward’s Tulane graduation speech turned into the book Navigate Your Stars. It’s an inspirational story of her growing up believing that college meant success. What she found was that hard work and persistence led to success and that a college degree was no golden ticket. There was also personal reflection on how we often judge people and the circumstances they find themselves in and how this view can change over time if we make the effort to continue to grow. The illustrations were gorgeous. A great gift for graduates at any level.

Kids Picture Books and a Fun Chapter Book Series

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued.by Peter Sis has been nominated for numerous 2021 best book awards. All awards are well-deserved.

PBS did a short story on the author and the making of the book and I highly recommend watching it online. Gage and I watched it and even if some of it went over his head it let us start from a meaningful place before we even opened the book.

In 1938 Nicholas Winton was supposed to go on a ski vacation, but instead went to Prague, where the people were scared of a Nazi invasion. He set up shop and managed to evacuate 669 children to England. Once the war started he became an ambulance driver for the war effort and never told anyone about the children. Only after his wife found his notes tucked away in the attic many years later did the world find out what he’d done.

This book is fantastic, but be prepared if reading with younger kids that when Vera went home after the war her parents and cousins had died in concentration camps.

This month we’ve been spending a few minutes in the morning talking about whatever national day it is, National Learn Your Name in Morse Code Day, National Popcorn Day, National Thesaurus Day…and when I can I get a related picture book, like these!

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is a great book. The illustrations are fabulous and the story of how Roget wrote the original thesaurus. A fun book for list makers like me!

Samuel Morse That’s Who was great too, but not quite as beautiful and Pop, Pop, Popcorn was a fun, easy book explaining corn from when it gets planted all the way to when you eat a piece of popcorn.
Gage’s weekend homework this year has been reading me books from the Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol series. These are 3-5. I admit that I’m looking forward to #6 this weekend 👻

This fun series is told is first person by Andres, the newish kid in Kersville, who is afraid of many, many things. His next door neighbor turned best friend, Desmond, loves all things otherworldly. I love the relationship between these two elementary aged boys.

The mysteries are cute and the illustrations are fantastic. Perfect for early chapter book reading. Always 10 chapters, 122 pages with pictures on every page. Prepare to be spooked 💀

Darkness Rising trilogy by Kelley Armstrong

The Gathering, The Calling, The Rising by Kelley Armstrong

So, I needed an audio book for puzzling and decided to check my Goodreads list of over 1800 ‘want to read’ titles 😂. I looked at the oldest page of the list and found Kelley Armstrong’s The Gathering, the first of a YA supernatural trilogy that I added to my wish list in 2012. Yep, 10 years ago. I started listening last Wednesday, then listened to the next one, and then read 406 pages of The Rising over the last two days. So, I finished the trilogy in less than a week. Take that for the recommendation it is. If you like skin walkers and other supernatural creatures that would be a bonus.

Maya just turned 16 and lives in a small community nearish Vancouver. She has friends and is popular. But she’s about to have her world come crashing down when she finds out that she is special and so are her friends thanks to the gene testing by the cabal that runs their whole lives. There’s danger, friendship, love, death, and decisions no one should have to make.

I was looking for something completely different than my usual read and this trilogy fit the bill nicely. I’ll have to check out more of Armstrong’s books.

What’s your favorite Armstrong book or trilogy?