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.

March Stats and Faves

March was thriller month! Four of the seven adult books I read were thrillers, with the other three being one romance, one fiction, and one motivational.

My 2 favorites

Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen. I posted about it here. She is one of my very few auto buys.

My Darkest Prayer by S.A. Cosby. I’ve read all three of his books, this being his debut. He’s grown into a must read for me.

I read 21 books for kids. 10 non fiction picture books, 8 fiction picture books, 3 middle school fiction.

My 5 favorites

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan. Middle school historical fiction based on Norwegian children smuggling gold out of the country on their sleds while Nazis watched, unknowing.

King Sejong Invents an Alphabet by Carol Kim and Cindy Kang. Education is for everyone!

Rice from Heaven by Tina Cho and Krug Jin Sing. A beautiful true story of South Koreans sending food to their starving northern neighbors by balloon.

Zhang Zheng and the Incredible Earthquake Detector by Randel McGee. Great story and fabulous illustrations.

My Dragon Boat Festival by Bing Ge and Li Li. I thought this book looked too childish for Gage, but when we read it together it was a good jumping off point and I loved the illustrations.

I’ve read 69 books this year, less than I would like, BUT, I really am trying to find a life balance.

What was your favorite book this month?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, historical fiction, 4.75/5 stars, 389 pages, 2017

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways. from Goodreads

I finally got to see what all the hype was about! We read this for book club this month and it was mostly loved. I stayed up past 1am to finish it and found it addictively juicy.

Evelyn Hugo was a force to be reckoned with. Abused by her father and determined to become a star, she used the assets she was born with to reach the highest echelons of 1950s Hollywood. She reaches out to Monique, a relatively unknown reporter to write her life story and we find out what can be hidden during a lifetime spent in the public’s eye.

This was a fast read with highs and lows, but always at its heart, a story about the price of fame. It was about other things too, but I don’t want to spoil the surprises of Evelyn’s life. She was unapologetically bold and an honest liar. Let me know if you agree. The choices she made are worth discussion and the reason I loved her character so much is that she owned every one of them.



“You’re the most beautiful woman here,” Don said into my ear as I stood next to him. But I already knew that he thought I was the most gorgeous woman here. I knew, very acutely, that if he did not believe that , he would not have been with me.

Men were almost never with me for my personality.

I’m not suggesting that charming girls should take pity on the pretty ones. I’m just saying it’s not so great being loved for something you didn’t do. page 116


Evelyn shakes her head,” Heartbreak is loss. Divorce is a piece of paper.”

“If you are heartbroken right now, then I feel for you deeply,” Evelyn says. “That I have the utmost respect for. That’s the sort of thing that can split a person in two. But I wasn’t heartbroken when Don left me. I simply felt like my marriage had failed. And those are two very different things.” page 141

First Book – On Tyranny, Graphic Edition: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

On Tyranny, Graphic Edition: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder, illustrated by Nora Krug. Finished 1-2-23, 5 stars, 128 pages, 2021

There’s no better day to review this book than today, January 6. This is an expanded, graphic work taken directly from the book On Tyranny. I didn’t read it, but picked this up on a whim not knowing it had an original. I think every American should read Professor Snyder’s work, in either form. It’s quick, but most definitely packs a punch and I know that I will definitely be giving this a reread. Maybe even every January 6.

Timothy Snyder is one of the most celebrated historians of the Holocaust. In his books Bloodlands and Black Earth, he has carefully dissected the events and values that enabled the rise of Hitler and Stalin and the execution of their catastrophic policies. With Twenty Lessons, Snyder draws from the darkest hours of the twentieth century to provide hope for the twenty-first. As he writes, “Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism and communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”

from Goodreads

This was such a thought-provoking, visually appealing book about the dangers the United States faces from authoritarianism. The lines are drawn between Europe and the rise of fascists and the US today. Trump is not once mentioned by name, but he’s impossible to miss. Maybe I think a few of the connecting lines were a stretch, but in the context of the greater picture, completely fair. I’m going to include some passages. Do yourself a favor and read the book with an open mind. you don’t need to agree with every word to come away with new understanding.

#2 Defend institutions. It is institutions that help us preserve decency. They need our help as well. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you make them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning. So choose and institution you care about- a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union- and take its side. (page 13)

#4 Take responsibility for the face of the world. The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow.

You may one day be offered the opportunity to display symbols of loyalty. Make sure that such symbols include your fellow citizens rather than exclude them. (page 27)

#7 Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service may God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be prepared to say no. (page 39)

#10 Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.

You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case. Post-truth is pre-facism.

19. Be a patriot. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

It is not patriotic to try to end democracy.

A nationalist encourages us to be our worst and then tells us that we are the best.

A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to love up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves.

Epilogue & Liberty

The habit of dwelling on victimhood dulls the impulse of self-correction. Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather then a discussion of possible solutions to real problems. Since the crisis is permanent , the sense of emergency is always present; planning for the future seems impossible or even disloyal. How can we even think of reform when the enemy is always at the gate? (page 116)

Birding Basics (and how to thwart those pesky squirrels)

Birding Basics: Tips, Tools & Techniques for Great Bird-Watching by Noah Strycker. 5 stars. 256 pages, pub. 2022

Targeted to beginners and beyond, National Geographic’s fun, inspiring guide to the art, craft, and science of bird-watching combines practical know-how and expert knowledge. Browsable and bursting with helpful illustrations and photographs, Birding Basics offers new ideas for when, where, and how to get to know the birds in your world.

Not a field guide but a primer in best practices, authored by birding expert Noah Strycker, this breezy book features easy-to-follow advice on what to look and listen for, how to use field guides and birding apps, the best equipment to start with, and ways to engage with other birders around the world. Filled with fun facts and seasoned advice, this useful book will help you attract birds to your backyard, master bird identification, name a bird by its song, and witness the magic of migration. Sidebars feature fun facts, identification tips, and easy projects for exploring the world on the wing. from Goodreads

Gage and I have become a little obsessed with our backyard birds in the last few years and this book is going to help us take it to the next level. This book is full of gorgeous photos and information to turn you from a bird-watcher to a birder or bird nerd. It recommends field guides and how to use them. I’ve already downloaded the two recommended apps (Merlin & eBird) and have several websites marked to visit. The middle section where it talks about how to track and identify the birds you see was so helpful.

Even though there are over 10,000 species of birds, only around 700 are found in North America. Gage and I have been using a midwest bird guide for our backyard birds, but we’ll definitely talk about the different ways to track what we see and buy a more comprehensive guide for when we travel. I’m excited to make this part of our homeschool curriculum.

A few quick tips: when birding don’t point and don’t wear white. If you want to keep the squirrels out of your feeder sprinkle the food with chili powder. Birds don’t taste the spice, but the squirrels do.

I can’t recommend this enough for bird enthusiasts.

I want to thank TLC Book Tours for inviting me to be part of the book tour and sending me a copy of the book!

Food Journeys with a side of Covid

Well, covid finally showed up at our house and it hasn’t been great. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I spent 2-3 days in bed with a fever before transitioning into different yuckiness for about 9 full days. I finally tested negative on day 10. Gage joined me in isolation on day 4 and he’s pretty much run the same schedule, but he’s had chest discomfort. He’s on day 9. He’s bummed that he’s missing his last art class today and his last nature class tomorrow, but the doctor said he shouldn’t go even if he tests negative. Jason managed to not get it. Covid has really put the Christmas cheer and shopping in jeopardy this year.

Needless to say, I’m behind on a few reviews, so let’s get to the first one. I LOVED this one.

Food Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe, second edition, by National Geographic, 320 pages, 2022

Few experiences are as satisfying as a chance to explore the world through food. Compiled from the expert travel writers at National Geographic, Food Journeys of a Lifetime scours the globe for the world’s best dishes, markets, and restaurants that are worth traveling far and wide to savor.
In this fully revised and updated edition, find the best of the best, including:

Tokyo’s famed fish market and its 226 Michelin-starred restaurants–the most of any city in the world
The ultimate Philly cheesesteak from the city of brotherly love
The perfect cup of tea in China
The spice markets of Marrakech
The juiciest cuts of beef in Argentina
The freshest pasta in Italy
And the ultimate Swiss wine route
Featuring more than 60 new bites and destinations, this book is the key to building a foodie traveler’s ultimate bucket list. Within the flavors and tastes of every cuisine, you’ll find unique stories about the places, cultures, climates, and chefs that produce these extraordinary dishes. A wide selection of recipes invite you to try new cooking techniques and obtain flavors from abroad at home; top 10 lists offer side trips from chocolate factories to champagne bars.

Filled with a dazzling array of diverse recommendations, each page of this inspiring book will make your mouth water–and spur your next gourmet vacation. from Goodreads

If you are looking for the perfect gift for the foodie and or traveler in your life, look no further (Amazon can have it delivered to your door by Friday!). It’s a beautiful book to have on your coffee table or in your kitchen. When I was sent the book, I was expecting restaurants in different countries and while it has that, it’s so much more. It’s full of all of the wonderful things you’d expect from National Geographic. Gorgeous photos, exotic locales, and the details to bring the food alive.

It has lots of Top 10 lists, like Top 10 Places to Catch Your Supper and Top 10 Unusual Food and Drink Festivals. If you want to live vicariously there’s even a list for Bank-Breaking Cocktail Bars. Anyone want to join me in Northern Ireland for $105 Singapore Sling at the Merchant Hotel? All of my fellow Clevelanders will be happy to know that Heinan’s downtown made it on the 10 Historic Food Shops list!

The categories range from Great Food Towns to Specialties & Ingredients and you visit so many gorgeous places. We are planning a trip overseas next year and you can be sure that I’ll be using this for the planning. It also has lots of American mentions so I guess I should check it for our next road trip too.

There are so many sections with phot spreads and so many lists. I’m pretty sure we’ll be reading this for months to come. Honestly, this is on of my favorites from National Geographic.

I want to thank TLC Book Tours for sending me the book!

October Favorites

I’ve been reading like a maniac for Cybils judging (I think I’ve read around 70 and I’m not even halfway done!) but I’m going to wait and talk about them after judging is done.

These are my 5 favorite reads in October that aren’t up for Cybils judging.

Hector: A Boy, a Protest, and the Photograph that Changed Apartheid by Adrienne Wright

This one packs a punch. I wasn’t familiar with Hector or his story. The way that this story was told in three different first person segments made it all the more powerful. This was perfectly told for the older elementary or even early middle school set. So much to discuss. I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t give more details, but if you are talking about apartheid, this story of 12 year old Hector is a must read.

I Am You: A Book About Ubuntu by Moahloli and McDonald

This is a fabulous book for little kids about the beauty to be found in each other. I adored it. We we read this and compared the idea to other religious ideas. And it came full circle when we read the Mandela book and it talked about ubuntu, which means “I am, because you are.”

A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation by McDivitt and Palmer

A great book that shows the amazing strength of this man as he brought about change for his people. We were lucky to have such a leader on the world stage. Intelligence, empathy, and courage are qualities too often lacking in leaders.

The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews

It’s the second book of the Belles of London series but is a standalone. To be honest, I wish there had been a bit more interaction between the four friends that we met in The Siren of Sussex, but that just means it works better for new readers to the series.

Julia has crippling anxiety in social situations and that’s a big problem since her huge dowry puts her on everyone’s radar. Enter Captain Blunt who has come to London to fetch a rich wife to support his estate and three illegitimate children. A mutual attraction is there from the beginning, but it takes a life-threatening situation to move things forward.

This is one of those sweet romances that features two decent people who are each to cheer for. There are mysteries and problems to unravel, but the goodness of the characters make this a comforting read. And the mysteries aren’t so hard to figure out early on, but waiting for Julia to learn the truth made it worth reading.

I first knew I’d like Julia when she took a book to a party and actually found time to read it! She was a mouse who became a lioness thanks in part to the man who first showed her love. While she was a quiet character Captain Blunt was full of mystery and seemingly bad choices so the two matched quite nicely.

Highly recommend for romance fans, especially ones who love historicals. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series.

Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis by Susan Hood

This 339 page middle school book told in free verse is fantastic. I mostly listened to the audio and it was great.

Zhanna and Frina are piano prodigies and live in Ukraine with their parents. One day the Nazis come and march them toward the killing fields. Both girls manage to escape at separate times but eventually find each other again. They change their names and birthdays in the hopes of hiding, but Zhanna’s piano genius couldn’t be denied.

Read the book. Watch these two Jewish girls stand in front of the Nazis night after night and survive.