Homeschool Happenings – New Zealand

Last week was New Zealand week and we read some fantastic picture books. So many I just had to share. I love to use picture books as a teaching tool, even as I teach my middle schooler. They garner interest for further learning and can be used as a part of the lesson themselves.

Circle by Jeannie Baker. 48 pages.

I am in love with the illustrations in this nonfiction book about the godwits migration from New Zealand (and Australia) to the Arctic and then back again. Great for learning about migration in general.

Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a Very Smart Octopus Found His Way Home by Sy Montgomery and Amy Shimler-Safford. 32 pages

Such a fun and colorful story about a real octopus who was rescued and then freed himself. The story was fantastic as were the end notes. Your kid will learn so much about octopus and will most likely want to know more. This was my favorite book of the week.

Elizabeth, the Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox and Brian Floca. 48 pages.

Elizabeth was an elephant seal who made her home in the Avon River in Christchurch. She became a problem when she started sleeping in the middle of the road in the afternoon. Three times they captured her and took her far away to live, but each time she came back. The solution they found will make you smile. I loved the picture of the real Elizabeth in the middle of the road at the end of the book.

**For school, Gage had to write a paragraph comparing the two animals and their journeys.

First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Amazing Everest Adventure by David Hill and Phoebe Morris. 32 pages.

Why is a book about Mount Everest on this list? Because that’s where Hillary was from! This was full of information, even with a timeline of his life at the end. Don’t let the page count fool you. Excellent resource.

Two at the Top: A Shared Dream of Everest by Uma Krishnaswami and Christopher Corr. 32 pages.

I didn’t love the illustrations, but did love the concept. Sir Edmund Hillary didn’t get to the top of Everest alone and yet he always gets the credit. This book tells the story of Hillary but also the story of his sherpa Tenzig Norgay on each opposing page. By telling their stories side by side, it is giving Norgay the due he deserves.

**For school, Gage made a Venn diagram comparing the information featured in each book.

Anywhere Artist by Nikki Slade Robinson. 40 pages.

This is not a book about New Zealand, but one created by New Zealander. This is most definitely geared toward a younger audience and it was Gage’s favorite. It’s all about making art wherever you are using what nature has provided. The only fictional book (except for Ranger which is only half fiction)

**For school, Gage and I set the timer for 20 minutes and each created art from whatever we found in our yard. His was super cool with big branches sticking out of theground to look like trees and stones making a circle around it. I’m not embarrassed to say it was way better than mine!

Race to the South Pole (Ranger in Tme Series) by Kate Messner. 160 pages.

This was our longer read and I love this series! The journey starts in New Zealand aboard the Terra Nova and, while obviously fiction since it’s based on a time travelling dog, only Ranger and the boy he was there to save were fictional characters. All the other characters were based on real life people and a real life race to the Pole. The end notes were the best part even though they were sad.

**We read this aloud as a family, each taking a chapter each night.

The Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket

We did it!!! We finally finished the whole series of very, very unfortunate events. We read the first last July and finished the last one in April. The series is perfect for road trips with upper elementary and middle school kids. The audio production is fantastic and how we experienced the series after reading the first book out loud together. The series can get repetitive, especially the first few, but kids will love it.

Three orphans get passed from one cluless adult after another, all the while trying to escape the evil clutches of Count Olaf who is after them for their huge fortune.

I couldn’t tell you who my favorite character was at the beginning (besides poor Uncle Monty), but by the end it was the youngest, Sunny, who could do it all, even as she was just learning to walk and talk.

We’ve started watching the Netflix series, but I confess I’m not a fan so far. We’re only 4 episodes in and they’ve changed some very important things. It’s disappointing.

1 The Very Bad Beginning (Count Olaf shows his intentions)

2 The Reptile Room (Uncle Monty was my favorite of the series!)

3 The Wide Window (Poor Aunt Josephine)

4 The Miserable Mill (the reason unions were formed)

5 The Austere Academy (Sunny makes paper clips fom scratch)

6 The Ersatz Elevator (I had such high hopes for Jerome)

7 The Vile Village (It takes a village to abuse 3 orphans)

8 The Hostile Hospital (the kids realize no adult can help 😦 )

9 The Carnivorous Carnival (Still trying to wrap my head around Violet and Klaus passing as a two headed person and Sunny as a wolfbaby)

10 The Slippery Slope (Violet finds time to fall in love)

11 The Grim Grotto (Horseradish to the recue!)

12 The Penultimate Peril (Are the Baudelaire children blameless? Are any of us?)

13 The End (Needed way more information, but Lemony told the reader repeatedly to stop reading so we have only ourselves to blame.)

Have you read the series? What did you think? I loved that Gage loved every one and was always excited for the next one. That’s NEVER been the case before so for that reason alone this series will always have a place in my heart. And I repeatedly thank my friend who gifted Gage the whole series at once, giving him something to strive to finish.

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, 4/5 stars, 341 pages, 2021

In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture on the New York society scene and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps build a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths to which she must go—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

I’ve always loved libraries. Since I was young and my mom used to drop me off for a few hours to now as I volunteer with the Friends of the Library, libraries have always been a comforting space. This book of historical fiction is based on Belle da Costa Greene, the woman who became JP Morgan’s personal librarian who curated his collection and looked after it after his death.

Did I mention she was Black but passed for White in high society and to Morgan himself? What an amazing story to tell!

I love Marie Benedict’s stories about overlooked women in history and I especially love that for this one she had a co-writer, Victoria Christopher Murray. In the letters at the end of the book Benedict explains why she wanted a woman of color to help her get this story just right. And I love the friendship that was formed in the writing of this book.

If you like historical fiction and intriguing women don’t miss this one.

Homeschooling Happenings – Mexico

Today we finish up our time in Mexico. Last week we studied the country as a whole and this week we concentrated on what’s going on at the US-Mexico border and its history. These are a few of the books we liked this week.

The Other Side: Stories of Central American Teen Refugees Who Dream of Crossing the Border by Juan Pablo Villalobos. 160 pages, 2018, 4.5 stars. This is labeled as a teen book, but most could be shared with younger kids. So important for kids(and adults) to understand the why of the kids that are coming.

Hear My Voice: The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States compiled by Warren Binford. 96 pages, 2021, 4 stars. So many things I loved about this picture book. I loved that each page was illustrated by a different artist with Mexican ties. I loved that it was told in both English and Spanish. I loved the additional information at the end, along with questions and ways to help.

Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins and Sara Palacios. 40 pages, 2019, 3 stars. A more upbeat story for younger kids about a one day event between San Diego and Tijuana where families on different sides of the border can come together. Fictional story about a real event.

Travesia: A Migrant Girl’s Cross-Border Journey by Michelle Gerster and Fiona Dunnett. 72 pages, 2021, 3 stars. It’s listed for teens, but I think mature 10-11 year olds could also read it. This was about actually coming across the border, with the afterward telling how it changed their family.

We watched videos, read different viewpoints, and had a writing assignment for the week. I wish we’d had time to delve into it further.

A few excellent reads

City of Thieves by David Benioff, historical fiction, 4.5/5 stars, 258 pages, pub. 2008

This novel takes place during the Siege of Leningrad during WWII. I probably wouldn’t have picked this up on my own, but I bought it as a blind date book at a fundraiser. I’m so glad I did!

This coming of age story about the friendship between Russians, one a young looter and the other a seasoned soldier, is riveting. Lev and Kolya are sent out in search of a dozen eggs for the wedding of and official’s daughter. I’m not a huge fan of WWII fiction, but the siege of Leningrad books always fascinate me. The inhumanity up against real people and their will to live is always a story worth reading.

It’s at times harsh, crude, and absurd. I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it!

I listened to the audio and picked up the book to read the parts I wanted to think about a little more. The cannibal scene alone will have your heart racing.

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka, 4.25/5 stars, thriller, 323 pages, pub. 2017

The Last Place You Look is set in the Columbus area, so that was a big draw.

Roxane is a private investigator dealing with grief and a drinking problem. This is not unique in this genre, but the addition of her relationships with both men and women added a new layer to her personal story.

She was hired to get her client’s brother out of jail and she’s pressed for time because he’s set to be executed in two months. When she starts nosing around the problems with the local police begin.

This was a fast paced mystery with a flawed lead character and dysfunctional family and I liked it I see that this is the first of four books (so far) about Roxane so there’s hope for her yet.

Dark and Shallow Lies by Ginny Myers Sain, 4/5 stars. YA, 432 pages, pub. 2021

This was a fun, swampy, mystical thriller. Eleven teens bound together in the Louisiana bayou town known for its seers and those with special powers. When one of them disappears the one who got away, Grey,, comes home to find her.

The audio performance was great and I really liked it. It’s not a planned series, but I can see another book being written about these kids.

A couple of books worth mentioning

I’ve been so out of sync this summer that I’ve neglected talking about books that should have been mentioned. I’m hoping to get back on track in the next few weeks, but Jason just threw a mini-vacation to NYC for the two of us into the mix, so don’t hold me to that 🙂

The Airship Pirate by Minerva Pendleton, 85 pages, 2022

How fun is it when you know the author of a book before said author writes the book? I’m lucky enough to know Minerva Pendleton, aka someone I know whose name is not really Minerva, and they are fabulous people.

Verity Wheelwright lives a life of luxury but boredom. She is the only daughter to the widowed Lord Wheelwright, and he keeps her in his manor on New Lutetia, where she meets with tutors to learn classical literature and music. Verity craves adventure and often escapes to the pages of livre rouge—cheap, paperback books with crimson covers that contain sordid tales of lust and adventure. When New Lutetia is invaded by the infamous airship pirate Cavalier Eli Callahan, Verity is forced to make a choice. She can run and hide, or surrender herself in exchange for the safety of her city, but at what cost?

Verity is a pampered lady who longs for more excitement in her sheltered life. One day that excitement arrives on her doorstep with the arrival of pirates who whisk her away aboard their airship. Can she trust the captain of the ship, the renowned Eli Callahan, to keep her safe while awaiting the ransom? Does she even want to be kept safe?

I really liked Verity, Eli and his first mate Screw. There were even some spicy bits if you like that sort of thing in your romance (and who doesn’t?).

This was a short read, only 85 pages, and my only complaint was that I wanted more.

The Precious Jules by Shawn Nocher, 350 pages, 2022

This ARC was sent to me months ago and forgotten about and misplaced by no fault of its own. The premise of a daughter who isn’t the norm being shipped off appealed to me. It felt personal.

After nearly two hundred years of housing retardants, as they were once known, the Beechwood Institute is closing the doors on its dark history, and the complicated task of reassigning residents has begun. Ella Jules, having arrived at Beechwood at the tender age of eight, must now rely on the state to decide her future. Ella’s aging parents have requested that she be returned to her childhood home, much to the distress of Ella’s siblings, but more so to Lynetta, her beloved caretaker who has been by her side for decades. The five adult Jules children, haunted by their early memories of their sister, and each dealing with the trauma of her banishment in their own flawed way, are converging on the family home, arriving from the far corners of the country—secrets in tow—to talk some sense into their aging parents and get to the root of this inexplicable change of heart. from Goodreads

Precious Jules is the story of a family. The Jules family is picture perfect, but one of the children has live at Beechwood Institute since she was 8. Now the parents want her back and the girl’s caretaker says no. The rest of the kids, all five of them, come home to convince their parents to leave their sister with the caretaker.

It’s a great examination of what’s good for the family isn’t always the best thing for any one of the individuals. The secret guilt, the alternate realities, the vilifying, and the eventual acceptance make for some thought provoking stuff.

There were a lot of characters. My biggest problem was keeping track of all of the characters and their past and present stories. It was a lot. I think there were 10 characters who each had a chapter from their point of view. I wish there had been less so that I could have been drawn into the story a bit more.

June Stats and Favorites

I finished 10 books this month, The Bat by Jo Nesbit isn’t pictured because it was an audio. I don’t remember the last time I liked all of my reads so much. 6 of the 10 were sent to me in exchange for a review, so most of these are new and for the first time in forever, no library books!

You can see my 3 favorites, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them! And honestly, from the time I took these pics this morning to the time I’m posting this I already would have changed one of my favorites 😆. Just add them all to your list.

I’ve read 166 books of my 300 goal so I’m on track.

What was your favorite book this month?

Ghost Games by Brooke Mackenzie

Ghost Games by Brooke Mackenzie, 4.25/5 stars, 264 pages, 2022

Do not play these games.  This is the standard Internet disclaimer given to anyone who wishes to summon the supernatural through a potentially dangerous ritual or game.  

But how scary can a game really be?

As it turns out, games can be terrifying. GHOST GAMES is a collection of short horror fiction intended for adults (but appropriate for young adults), in which the female main characters throw caution to the wind, play a game, and summon an entity.  What happens next will make you think twice before riding in an elevator, looking in a mirror, or soaking in a bathtub. There are seven fictional stories—each one devoted to a specific game—and one non-fiction story, in which the author describes her real-life encounter with an evil spirit after playing with a Ouija Board.

The stories in GHOST GAMES thrill with satisfying scares, and tap into each character’s internal psychological struggles as the motivation behind wanting to escape reality. The reader develops a relationship with the characters, making each of their experiences all the more harrowing.  While the stories themselves are fiction, each of the games they describe has a life of its own on the Internet, and several forums are filled with firsthand accounts of bold (or foolhardy) players who played the games with terrifying results. 


Ghost Games by Brooke Mackenzie is a spookily great collection of fiction stories based on known and searchable urban legends. Not that you need to search because at the end the book she includes the rules for each of the games and where they came from.

I’m not a ghost seeker, but I flew through these eight fun and eerie stories. I’d never heard of these before, but some of you probably have. The Elevator Game, the Three Kings Game, the Closet Game, Bloody Mary, the Telephone Game, the Bathtub Game, the Hide-and-Seek Game and the tried and true Ouija which I have tried with no success.

I really loved these stories and think even those who get spooked easily will love them too. I’m not sure I can even pick a favorite, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch. The protagonists were all women living an upper midclass lives, a choice the author purposely made. The women in stories ranged in age from teens to 40’s.

I want to thank TLC Book Tours for having me on this tour and Brooke Mackenzie for sending me a copy of the book. I’m excited to see what you write next!

The Craigslist Incident by Jason Fisk

The Craigslist Incident by Jason Fisk, 4/5 stars, 218 pages, 2022

In The Craigslist Incident, Edna Barrett takes an advertisement out on Craigslist: I’m an 18-year-old female and I want to take a hit out on myself. Joe Dolsen, a 20-year-old who has suffered from periodic blackouts his whole life, answers the ad. What would bring two people to such ominous points at such young ages, and will they actually go through with it? from Goodreads

“Women Seeking Men: I’m an 18-year-old female and I want to take a hit out on myself.”

You know from the first page that it’s going to be a wild one. Edna’s father killed himself when she was a teen and she had a hard time adjusting, getting into fights and writing disturbing poetry for class assignments. Joe, raised by a religious fanatic mother who thought his blackouts were a sign from God, had his own violent tendencies. They had been failed by the system and/or their parents.

I really felt for both Edna and Joe and their struggle to make their way. Edna’s depression and the way that adults failed her, except for her mother, was an easy thing to believe because we’ve all seen it happen. One bad decision at 18 and her life goes off the rails.

This book reads fast and really showed the mental health crisis many are facing in this country firsthand. I really liked it, especially the unexpected ending.

I’m on a book tour for The Craigslist Incident today. The author was kind enough to mail me a copy. Thanks TLC Book Tours and Jason Fisk