Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Nightstand (June 2017)

June 27th, 2017

This month turned out to be a good month for reading, probably because I was exhausted enough that I let everything go to seed while I read (I did stop to change diapers and to heat up leftovers for the kids for lunch). I’m expecting that, as my energy returns (we’re definitely in the second trimester now, so any day now?), my reading will decrease but maybe my house will get a bit cleaner and my husband will be able to relax when he comes home from work instead of having to pitch in to clean the house, make dinner, etc. etc. Fingers crossed.

Fiction Read:

  • The Secret Warning by Franklin W. Dixon
    I picked up the 17th volume of the “Hardy Boys” series after a long break from the series (I read #11 in 2013). Fast-paced, formulaic, and a blast straight from my childhood :-)
  • The Tournament at Gorlan and
    The Battle of Hackham Heath by John Flanagan

    I thought about resisting the siren call of Flanagan’s prequel series to “The Ranger’s Apprentice” – and then succumbed. I was not disappointed with the first two books of this series.
  • The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer
    Unlike many of Heyer’s novels, this book is not set in the Regency period. Rather, it is set around the time of the Jacobite rebellions in the 18th century. A brother and sister pair travel to London, intending to lie low as they await their father’s arrival. All three had participated in one of the recent rebellions (at the behest of the rather flamboyant father), and the young people are eager for respectability and to escape notice. To this end, they each masquerade as the opposite sex, the son being rather excepionally short and the daughter rather exceptionally tall. But their goal of respectability and escaping notice is rather quickly thrown to the side as they get embroiled in London society and each their own little love affair. An enjoyable read, although not my favorite Heyer title.
  • Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer
    Orphaned young people head off to London to live, intending to set up a place for themselves despite their elderly guardian’s apparent distaste for the scheme (he’d told them by letter to stay put in the country.) But they’re in for a shock when they discover that their guardian is actually quite a bit younger than expected. As is often the case with Georgette Heyer’s novels, I enjoyed this romp through Regency high society.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
    Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

    I came down with a case of what I’m guessing was food poisoning that left me horizontal for several days, long enough to run out of library novels to read – so I started reading from my own collection. And, just like when I first read these books, I could barely put them down. This time, reading as a mother, I am absolutely baffled as to when I will think it’s appropriate to let my children read these (mostly given the moral ambiguity throughout – I may change my mind later but I’m less worried about the “tense scenes”.) I’d love to hear thoughts from moms who are ahead of me in the process :-)

Nonfiction Read:

  • Prenatal Tests: The Facts by Lachlan De Crespigny and Frank A. Chervenak
    This was the most difficult book I’ve read in a long time. de Crespigny and Chervenak take a highly clinical tone as they describe the various prenatal tests offered women. They discuss what each procedure is like, what the procedure tests for, risks and benefits of one test over another, and who is generally offered each test. That’s tough reading because of the tone, but what really makes this book difficult is the basic assumption behind the whole thing. The same calculus is offered on every page, for every test: what test should be done and when in order to ensure that you can kill the baby you don’t want without harming the baby should you decide you do want him. It’s tragic. I cried. A lot. I cry just thinking about it now.
  • The Complete Organic Pregnancy by Deirdre Dolan and Alexandra Zissu
    Are you terrified by potential toxins lurking everywhere? Are you convinced that pregnancy means you should quit absolutely everything and move to an organic cotton yurt in the middle of an organic pasture where you spend your day drinking filtered water and doing yoga (but not on one of those yucky plastic yoga mats)? Then this is the book for you. It’s a primer in just how dangerous absolutely everything on the face of the earth is. Really, it’s safer to just not get pregnant than to try to deal with all the potential dangers lurking in your office chair, your water bottle, your cosmetics, your local park, everywhere, really. (In case you haven’t yet figured it out, I think this particular book is worthless. Also, while I don’t necessarily think “natural” birth is for everyone – I’ve ended up with two c-sections with spinals despite hoping for a natural birth – I do find it interesting that a book that tells women to avoid absolutely everything during pregnancy due to the potential for minute amounts of chemicals to leach into the mother’s body and then make it to the baby suddenly switches gears when asked about, say, narcotic painkillers during delivery – we wouldn’t DREAM of telling you what to do, that’s a personal decision!)
  • The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
    A history of the London cholera outbreak of 1854 – and how a moonlighting epidemiologist and a curious curate tracked down the source of the spread: the Broad Street pump. Daniel and I listened to this in the car and enjoyed the history of the epidemic and of the two main characters. What we didn’t enjoy were the lengthy, repetitive monologues about the wonders of cities and the metropolitan world. We’re guessing that we might not have minded so much if we were reading silently, since we could have skimmed through the monotony of those passages. We also wished that the author could have chosen some word other than “sh*t” to indicate human excrement. Have mercy on us audiobook listeners who happen to listen with our children in tow! Thankfully, while the word appears several dozen times, it’s pretty much confined to the first chapter – so, if you plan on listening to this one, listen alone for that section!
  • Parkinson’s Disease and the Family by Nutan Sharma and Elaine Richman
    This “Harvard University Press Family Health Guide” is a general introduction to the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease, how disease progression is assessed, various treatments for Parkinson’s and issues affected individuals and their families experience. At just over 200 pages, this is not too long for the less-avid reader. As a health professional, I am ill-equipped to evaluate the readability of this book for a general audience; but I found it to be understandable and informative (as well as generally free of the “woo” that way too many “health” books for a general audience are prone to.) Recommended.
  • Stokes Bird Gardening Book: The Complete Guide to Creating a Bird-Friendly Habitat in Your Backyard by Donald and Lillian Stokes
    Helpful ideas for creating a bird garden. Based on the information from this book, I feel that I have a good idea of how to move forward in creating a bird-friendly habitat in our yard. My one complaint was that little information was given about areas of the country, growing zones, etc.

Don’t forget to drop by 5 Minutes 4 Books to see what others are reading this month!

What's on Your Nightstand?

Reading Report (April and May)

June 1st, 2017

I haven’t been keeping my Nightstand posts up-to-date (or more, haven’t been posting them when it’s time), but I want to end April and May on a clean slate so that maybe I can pick things up again for June (hope springs eternal!)

So here’s [a little of] what I’ve read in April and May:

Gardening Books:

  • Starting from Seed by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
    This book focuses on the environmental impact of monocultures and sees starting from seed as a way of maintaining genetic diversity in the garden (and in our world.) As such, it spends a lot of time talking about how to obtain heirloom seeds, how to protect against unwanted hybridization, and how to collect your own seeds.
  • Seeds: The Ultimate Guide to Growing Successfully From Seed by Jekka McVicar
    The subtitle should be “the ultimate guide to successfully starting seeds”. This book has instructions for starting virtually any seed you can imagine for your garden or yard – but it doesn’t have much information on how to go about transplanting those seeds into their final locations, which I think is kinda important.
  • The Backyard Orchardist by Stella Otto
    A readable, if somewhat dated (published in 1993), introduction to growing fruit trees. The general growing and pruning instructions are applicable, but there are TONS more varieties and rootstocks available now than there were then.
  • The Gardener’s Peony by Martin Page
    Until I read this book, I had no idea that peonies were a collector’s item, something people get excited about like they do about roses or orchids. But there are hundreds of different cultivars of peonies and people do indeed go crazy over them. This book gives something of the history of peonies and has what seems like endless pages describing the history of various cultivars and their characteristics. In the last chapters, Page gives some advice on raising peonies and on selecting cultivars (which was really what I was looking for.) I think this is probably more a reference work for the serious gardener and enthusiast, not necessarily for a dabbler like me – but it was fun to go down the rabbit hole for a little while :-)

Relationship Books (Marriage, Parenting, etc):

  • Everyday Creative Play by Lisa R. Church
    Lots of the activities seem either seem “duh” obvious or overly didactic. But sometimes a reminder of those “duh” activities is worthwhile, so it wasn’t time completely wasted.
  • 150+ Screen-Free Activities For Kids by Asia Citro
    Lots of sensory activities – doughs and clays and oobleks and the like. Tirzah Mae had fun with whipped shampoo (colored baby shampoo whipped just like whipped cream or egg whites.) I’ll be checking this book out again sometime when I’m not in my first trimester of pregnancy and therefore have a little more energy for making sensory activities (for now, the kids are making do with playdough, baths, the sandbox, and the garden :-P)
  • Show Them Jesus by Jack Klumpenhower
    A fantastic book about sharing the gospel with children. Klumpenhower writes as a Bible teacher, but gives plenty of suggestions for parents and others who work with children. I reviewed this book here.
  • Success as a Foster Parent by the National Foster Parent Association with Rachel Greene Baldino
    I’ve finished this at last and consider it to be a great introduction to the process for someone who’s interested in fostering but who wants to learn a little about it before they start juggling schedules to actually get certified.
  • Your Time-Starved Marriage by Les and Leslie Parrott
    A short, quick read about making time to invest in your marriage. I think if I’d read this six months ago, it would have been helpful; but we’d already started implementing many of the suggestions they made by the time I got around to reading this. I would recommend this, though, for couples who are feeling the crunch of busyness and who don’t really know what to do about it. Like I said, it’s a quick read and has some helpful suggestions.
  • The RoMANtic’s Guide by Michael Webb
    The “World’s Most Romantic Man” gives lots of romantic ideas. I thought it would be fun to get some ideas for how I can show Daniel love. Unfortunately, pretty much all the ideas involve ridiculous public displays of affection or spending money on trinkets and food. We are NOT trinket people. And heaven knows we don’t need more food. Basically, we’re just not the romantic types.

Miscellaneous Nonfiction:

  • The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth
    Part-journalism, part-memoir, this book tells the story of the Nordic (or Scandinavian, depending on how you decide to tell it) countries that so often lead those “quality of life” measures. Booth travels through each country one by one, telling personal stories, bits of history, and describing interviews with economists and politicians and the like. I found this an interesting read and fairly informative (according to Booth, the hygge everyone is talking about this year? it’s actually a stifling set of social conventions that forces one to avoid talking about anything controversial or unpleasant.) For the most part, I found each nation intriguing and different – until I got to Sweden, the most perfect of all the places. There the house of cards crashed. Booth describes a society where all one needs is to declare something modern for it to be accepted, a nation where government care frees one from dependence on anyone else (dependence upon a spouse, a parent, a child). He acts as though this is a utopia,
    but it sounds to me like the worst dystopia I can dream of. Some of the highest divorce rates in the world. The most senior adults (actually, most people altogether) living alone in the world. Eighty-two percent of children in full-time daycare by 6 months of age. Eugenics practiced unquestioningly until the 1970s. If this is happiness,
    I’ll opt for the less-happy (by whoever determines that) but more relational world I inhabit.
  • Some of My Best Friends Are Black by Tanner Colby
    The story of the origins and continued existence of segregation in four spheres of American life: schools, neighborhoods, the advertising/marketing industry, and churches.
    This has been on my TBR list forever based on Lisa’s recommendation and I’m SO glad I read it.
  • The Gluten Lie by Alan Levinovitz
    A look at the sociology of how diet fads, following a variety of fads through time. This was enlightening, interesting, and so good.
  • The Prairie Girl’s Guide to Life by Jennifer Worick
    Instructions for fifty “Little House”-inspired activities, most of which turned out to be… beauty potions (okay, lavender spritzer for your ironing, soap, face cream,
    etc) or terribly ordinary recipes (cherries canned in syrup, rhubarb pie, dandelion greens.) I would have rather learned to make my own sausage and cheese like ma did,
    or to braid a hat out of straw, or… well, any of those things Ma and Pa (or Mother and Father or Laura herself) did in the books. So I was a bit disappointed with this.
    Of the projects listed, I’d either already done them (pretty much all the cooking stuff, embroidery, crochet, quilting, etc.) or have little desire to do them since they aren’t really prairie skills anyway.

Miscellaneous Fiction:

  • The Lost Stories by John Flanagan
    A series of short stories (3-5 short chapters each) detailing some of the things that happened concurrent to or in between the previous books in the “Rangers Apprentice”
    series. I wish there were more of these because I found the short story aspect helpful in allowing me to enjoy fiction without neglecting my home and family.
  • The Royal Ranger by John Flanagan
    I truly thought I was done with this series – but then the girls who babysat our kids during our foster care class told me that no, there really was a twelfth book. And,
    yes, there is indeed. This was a nice cap to the series, taking place a good fifteen or so years after the books before. I’m debating whether I want to read some of the related series’ (in order to close out this author before he writes too much more!) or if I want to take a break and focus on something else fiction-wise (it’s been a long time since I read any elementary or middle-grade fiction…)
  • Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer
    I always enjoy Heyer’s lighthearted Regency romances. And the “spinster takes on a runaway” plotline is rather a favorite of mine, so this was perfect for an escape when things got overwhelming (right after I wrote about how I’d found my rhythm – hah!)
  • The Pearl by John Steinbeck
    I read this 6-chapter-long novella after Amy wrote about it at Hope is the Word. She wrote that “it deals with the big questions of life in a way that is thought-provoking and sophisticated.” And, boy, does it ever. She forgot to mention that it’s also gut-wrenching. I should NOT have read the last chapter right before bed :-)

Book Review: Show Them Jesus by Jack Klumpenhower

May 20th, 2017

Kids need the gospel too.

Jack Klumpenhower’s thesis is simple, obvious, and only rarely acted upon.

I’ve been teaching children for almost 20 years now (I know, I was very young when I started). I’ve seen a lot of different Sunday School curricula, a lot of different midweek programs, a lot of websites for teaching the Bible to kids. Almost all of them agree that the gospel is important.

But when push comes to shove, lessons are moral tales or informational lectures. Every lesson ends with a “what you should do” or “who you should be” – without necessarily pointing to who Christ is or what He has done on our behalf.

Klumpenhower diagnoses the problem:

“We’ve been dispensing good advice instead of the good news. Eventually kids will tire of our advice, no matter how good it might be. Many will leave the church. Others will live decent, churchy lives but without any fire for Christ. We’ll wonder why they’ve rejected the good news, because we assumed they were well grounded in it. In fact, they never were. Although we told them stories of Jesus and his free grace, we watered it down with self-effort – and that’s what they heard.”

He explains the necessity of the gospel:

“Only the good news fights both smugness and insecurity, declaring both that we’re horribly sinful yet more loved by God than we could dare imagine.”

He describes the freedom that can be found for teachers and parents in sharing the gospel:

“Don’t be discouraged. Kids will need correction sometimes, but our mission is not to hound or plead or talk them into anything – it’s to speak God’s word of salvation, peace, faith, and the righteousness Christ gives.”

And then he gives practical examples, one after the other, of how to incorporate the gospel into your teaching, your classroom discipline, your home.

Klumpenhower gives tips for finding the gospel in every Bible story (even those obscure Old Testament ones). He encourages teachers to ask three questions of the text: What is God doing for his people in this story? How does God do the same for us – only better – in Jesus? How does believing this good news change how we live? I enjoyed how Klumpenhower walked through the process of studying a passage with an eye to the gospel. Even for those who are not teachers (although, if you’re a parent, you are a teacher), the exercise of finding the gospel throughout the pages of Scripture is still beneficial. This is not contorting the Scriptures to fit a “gospel-focus” – this is reading the Scriptures as they were intended to be read. Jesus excoriated the Jews of his day in John 5:39 saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” If we are not finding Christ in every page of Scripture, it is because we are not looking. All of Scripture testifies to Him.

In case you were quick to come up with a counter-text, a passage that can’t possibly be about Jesus, Klumpenhower does describe a few different ways that the gospel can be showcased in Scripture. First, there’s the “what does God do in this story and how does he do it better in Jesus?” that I mentioned above. But there’s also the “what does this passage reveal about God’s nature – and how is that aspect of his nature more fully seen in Jesus?” And there’s the one we see fairly often in some of the darkest stories: “what human problem does this passage reveal that God solves by sending Jesus?”

When discussing New Testament stories and texts, Klumpenhower encourages teachers to see Jesus as beautiful and to portray him as such to their students. Not primarily as someone to be emulated, but as one to be worshiped. He relates a time when he asked some students to give reasons why Jesus was better than good works. The only reason they could come up with was that Jesus died on the cross for their sins. Now, that’s a wonderful reason why Jesus is better – but it certainly isn’t the only one. He made a goal of showing in every lesson that year why Jesus is better than the many things that compete for our love.

Going beyond the content of our lessons, Klumpenhower encourages teachers (and parents) to consider what their classroom culture and their responses to difficulties say about the gospel – and to intentionally align their classroom’s atmosphere around the gospel. He gives an abundance of tips and examples for how to to do this and what it might look like.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the inclusion of two little sections at the end of each chapter. The first section was “Questions You Might Be Asking”. Here, Klumpenhower addresses those questions I’ve heard or seen or asked a dozen times: “It sounds like you’re saying it doesn’t matter how we act as Christians. Don’t we still have to work hard to obey God?” “I understand some Old Testament passages are prophecies about Jesus. But aren’t you going too far in saying it’s all about Jesus?” “Do you really need that much context – like the whole book – when you’re going to teach one Bible passage? It sounds like a lot of reading.” The second section is “Show Them Jesus Right Away”. In this section, Klumpenhower offers immediate practical steps for teachers, parents, grandparents, youth leaders, song leaders, etc. to take to implement some of the concepts from the chapter. He always offers a practical step for parents and for teachers, the other positions are included as applicable.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I was highly impressed with this book – both with its thesis and with how Klumpenhower describes the process of actually showing students Jesus over the course of a class session. This would be an excellent book for Sunday school teachers and children’s ministry directors and kid’s club leaders to read together or individually. But it’s also a great book for parents (homeschooling or not) to read. The truth is, we ALL need the gospel – we need to set the gospel forever before our eyes. Klumpenhower’s excellent Show Them Jesus provides the rationale and the tools to do this – for ourselves and for our children.


Rating: 5 stars
Category: Children’s ministry
Synopsis: Why children need the gospel and how to communicate the gospel to them in all our Bible teaching.
Recommendation: Are you a parent, a grandparent, an uncle or aunt? Do you teach children in Sunday school, midweek clubs, or youth groups? This book will challenge and encourage you to clearly communicate the gospel to the children you work with in everyday life. Highly recommended.

Reading picture books for preschoolers from 100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey

April 11th, 2017

Silvey’s collection of 100 Best Books for Children is organized into six categories: Board Books (Birth to age 2), Picture Books (Ages 2-8), Books for Beginning Readers (Ages 5-7), Books for Young Readers (Ages 7-9), Books for Middle Readers (Ages 8-11), and Books for Older Readers (Ages 11-12). The widest range by far is the picture book section, which covers a whopping 6 years (7 inclusive). In the introduction to each book, Silvey gives an “at a glance” which includes the title, author, illustrator, date of publication, publisher, age range, and length of the book. This is wonderful. But as I went through the picture book section, I noticed that the age ranges were always either “ages 2-5” or “ages 5-8”. Which frustrated me. I understand jumbling all the age ranges for picture books together if some books are best categorized as “ages 2-5” while others are “ages 3-7” and other “ages 5-8” – but if there are really two distinct categories of picture books, one for younger and one for older children, why not give those separate sections in the book?

I checked all of the picture books out of the library and read them, but I’ve chosen to separate them here into age ranges – because I wish that’s what Silvey had done for me. Below are the first five picture books geared toward preschoolers (ages 2-5) – the ones that fit my Tirzah Mae’s demographic.

Madeline written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans

Me: “What do you think about Madeline? Is it a good book?”
Tirzah Mae: “Yeah.”
Me: “What do you think about Madeline? Is it a bad book?”
Tirzah Mae: “Yeah.”
Me (thinking): “That was helpful.”
Me (speaking now): “Is Madeline a good book or a bad book?”
Tirzah Mae: “A good book.”
And she brought it to me for re-reads.

My thoughts? If it weren’t already considered a classic, I’d have probably complained about the rather forced rhyme scheme.

Cover art for "The Snowman"

The Snowman illustrated by Raymond Briggs

Remember how I don’t like wordless books? I really need to revise that statement now that I’ve found Baby Animal Spots and Stripes, Suzie Lee’s Wave, and The White Book by Elisabetta Pica and Lorenzo Clerici. The Snowman also joins the ranks of spectacular wordless books. Illustrated with multiple cells per page, like a cartoon strip, The Snowman tells the story of a snowman who takes the little boy who created him on a spectacular adventure. There’s enough detail here that you don’t have to stretch to tell a slightly different tale each time – and there’s plenty for a child to look at to help them tell the story themselves.

Tirzah Mae reads "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel"

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton

I remember this book fondly from my childhood, remembering Mike and Mary Anne digging faster and faster but failing to give themselves an escape route. And I remember the solution: turning Mary Anne into the furnace for the new town hall. I don’t remember that the context was the obsolescence of the steam shovel (which was replaced by “gasoline diggers and electric diggers and diesel diggers”) or that the newly-hired City Hall janitor Mike Mulligan apparently only sits in the basement in a rocking chair telling stories. I suppose that’s for the best. I take heart from my own experience that children can enjoy stories, even ones that might have some political under- or over-tones, without internalizing all the issues they bring up. So I’ll keep reading this one to Tirzah Mae (and probably Louis too when he’s a bit older), although I might not make a priority of acquiring it for our home library.

Cover art for "Millions of Cats"

Millions of Cats written and illustrated by Wanda Gág

A very old man and a very old woman were lonely, so the very old man sets off at his wife’s behest to find them a cat to keep them company. He finds “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats”, but can’t decide which to bring home. So, of course, he brings them all home. This is a great story, with just the right amount of repetition, a little bit of violence (’cause children’s books need a little violence here and there), and an understated moral. The black and white illustrations are a refreshing change from the bright modern cartoons currently so favored in children’s picture books.

From the inside of "Millions of Cats"

The Snowy Day written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats

It was sunny and bright with leaves on the trees and green grass covering the rain-slogged land when Tirzah Mae and I read Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day. I didn’t expect this story to resonate much with Tirzah Mae, since her only experience with snow was at Grandma and Grandpa’s when she was one. But resonate it did. Tirzah Mae was delighted to point out Peter on every page as he enjoyed the eponymous snowy day in the city. When we finished, she begged me to read it again and again. Finally, I left her to narrate the story herself, which she did with surprising detail, talking about Peter’s bath and how his mom took off his socks and “about the snowy day”. This was a definite hit – one I think I might check out next winter near when we travel north again (just in case we can catch a bit of snow ourselves!)

Louis reads "Snowy Day"

All in all, I’m glad we’re reading through these books together. While I’m not enamored with all of them, they are introducing me to books I have never read, some of which that are quite good. I’ll probably have another couple posts on these preschooler picture books (there are nine more) – and haven’t decided whether I’m going to write about the books for 5-8 year olds or not – maybe I should wait until I’m reading those with the kids?

Read-Aloud Roundup (March 2017)

March 30th, 2017

We’ve been reading a fair number of board books this month, with a few regular picture books thrown in for good measure. Tirzah Mae and Louis have been enjoying the board books equally, while I’ve been keeping the regular picture books away from Louis because of his fondness for ripping and chewing :-)

I checked out Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children and we’re reading through her list. The first section was five board books, most of which we enjoyed and which I wrote about here.

Otherwise, we’ve read…

Babies on the Go written by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Jane Dyer

A gentle little tale of how different animal babies get around (via mama-power, of course!) We enjoyed the pictures of all the baby animals with their mamas, and the quietly rhyming text. Our favorites are the sloth “swinging in a belly sling” and the kangaroo “tucked inside a private sack” – since that’s the way Garcia babies get around too. I enjoy reading this aloud to Louis. Tirzah Mae loves listening along. And Louis loves eating it. Naturally.

Louis eats "Babies on the Go"

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Tirzah Mae must have decided she likes this classic tale, because she brought it to me and to grandma (who has been staying with us this last weekend while papa was gone with grandpa) to have us read it to her over and over and over again.

Tirzah Mae reads "Freight Train"

Baa, Baa Black Sheep
Old King Cole
and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star written and illustrated by Iza Trapani

After our good success with Penny Dann’s Row, Row, Row Your Boat at the end of last year, I knew I was interested in some more books I could sing to Tirzah Mae. Somehow, I fortuitously happened upon the sheet in my reading log that recorded Iza Trapani’s picture books and decided to check a few out again. We enjoyed these singable variations on the songs, with multiple verses telling a story. For instance, in Old King Cole, King Cole wears himself out preparing for a fancy ball – and falls asleep for the ball itself. Everyone tries to wake him, with no success until Queen Cole brings out a good-smelling tart. That wakes him up right away, to everyone’s delight.

"Caps for Sale"

I intended to write more about the half dozen other board books we’ve been reading and re-reading (Sandra Boynton’s Snuggle Puppy is in the rotation again!) and the several dozen children’s picture books Tirzah Mae’s been cycling through (We’re currently loving Herve Tullet’s Press Here and Let’s Play), but it’s already the afternoon and I’ve got several things to do before our foster care class this evening – so you’ll get what I’ve already written – which happens to be the books we’ve loved that I’ve had to return to the library in the past month. Some of the books we’ve read but that I haven’t written about yet are included in the pics above :-)

Some recent favorites


We’re linking up with Amy’s Read Aloud Roundup to see what other parents (and kids) are reading aloud this month!

Nightstand (March 2017)

March 28th, 2017

This March has felt like what Almanzo describes springtime to be like in Farmer Boy: busy from dawn until dusk with no time to sit except to race down some food. I had 10 cubic yards of compost delivered earlier this month and it’s been busy shoveling and building and planting. An herb bed built and filled with compost (thanks to my mother-in-law for the help!), extra compost added to one of my raised beds, eleven trees planted. Raking the old dead grass off the “pasture” (actually the septic field).

When I have had opportunity to sit down, I have done some reading – but it’s almost entirely been children’s picture books read to Tirzah Mae and Louis. So I’ve got another spare list this month (lots of in-progress books, only two finished).

Books for Loving:

  • Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley (In Progress)
    I’ve gotten a few more chapters read in my church history studies – and am SO thankful that I scheduled myself a “catch up” month every fourth month. I’m going to need it (especially since every section gets longer!) I’m currently looking at the period between Constantine and the Middle Ages, a time ripe with creeds and controversies.
  • Getting to Know the Church Fathers by Bryan Litfin (In Progress)
    I’m clearly abusing my church library’s lack of fines for not returning books on time – I’ve checked this one out several times, and currently have it out over a month longer than the three week lending period. But as far as readable mini-biographies of the church fathers go, this is excellent. I’ve resolved to read the last three chapters this week so I can return it next Sunday. (End the abuse!)

Books for Growing:

  • Your Time-Starved Marriage by Les and Leslie Parrott (In Progress)
    The Doctors Parrott make good on their promise of short, readable chapters. I can read a chapter in just 7 minutes (while doing something else, because I rarely simply read these days.) In some ways I think I started reading this just a moment too late, since Daniel and I had already come up with some action steps to deal with the “now that we have two kids, neither of whom sleep predictably, it feels like we never spend any time together-together” problem. But what they’ve said already has resonated with me – and I’m about to get into the nitty-gritty part, so I’m hopeful they’ll have some useful tips for making intentional time together.
  • Success as a Foster Parent by the National Foster Parent Association with Rachel Greene Baldino (In Progress)
    Reading this has slowed to a crawl thanks to all the reading and homework we have for our foster care class – but I’m glad for the start I had on this before our class, which has meant that our classwork is more familiar. This is a great introduction to the process for someone who’s interested in fostering but who wants to learn a little about it before they start juggling schedules to actually get certified.
  • Growing Family Fruit and Nut Trees by Marian Van Atta with Shirley Wagner (In Progress)
    We planted five apple trees this month and are hoping to have a plan for the rest of the orchard by fall so we can put everything else in first thing next spring. So I’m reading up on fruit trees. This particular book is somewhat dated but ended up being my first pick to read right through because it doesn’t attempt to be comprehensive, which means that it’s quite easy to read. I read the first hundred pages in moments snatched here and there the day we planted our apple trees (read: when going to the bathroom or taking a break to breastfeed Louis). The remaining 20 pages are waiting for…someday soon, probably. One of the most interesting features of this book is that the author writes from Florida, so she discusses plenty of trees I’d never thought of planting. I spent my early teen years reading homestead memoirs from back-to-the-land folks in Maine and envied their ability to grow their own maple syrup. Now I’ve had a chance to envy Ms. Van Atta’s ability to grown her own oranges and grapefruits!

Books for Knowing:

  • The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth (In Progress)
    You’ve heard of how the Scandinavian countries are some sort of utopia, right? (Unless you read conservatives, then you might be pretty skeptical of that claim.) Anyhow, Booth writes about Scandinavia (where he’s lived for some time, having married a Dane) in this semi-journalistic, semi-memoirish book. In general, I’m enjoying reading this, although Booth jumps here and there and everywhere without any obvious thesis or point even to the individual chapters, much less to the entire book.
  • The Place Where Hell Bubbled Up: A history of the First National Park by David A. Clary
    A short (64 page) little book filled with old-timey black and white photos from the first days of Yellowstone National Park along with the tale of its discovery and early status as a national park (approximately until the introduction of automobiles.) I enjoyed reading this in preparation for our family trip to Yellowstone this summer.

Books for Enjoying:

  • The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
    Daniel and I have been trying to complete the “Light Reader” level for the 2017 Christian Reading Challenge put out by Tim Challies. One of the book categories is “a book for children or teens” and I’ve been intending to read the Chronicles of Prydain since Amy’s husband Mike recommended it when I asked for advice finding a completed series that would be similar to Brandon Sanderson’s work (Daniel is a fan of Sanderson, but neither Daniel and I are super fond of reading series that haven’t been completed – and Sanderson has LOTS of those.) Anyway, we read this first book in the series and I certainly enjoyed it enough to continue on with the series. It’s a relatively lighthearted children’s fantasy with plenty of adventure and not-too-heavy-handed-learning-opportunities.

Don’t forget to drop by 5 Minutes 4 Books to see what others are reading this month!

What's on Your Nightstand?

Reading board books from 100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey

March 15th, 2017

Anita Silvey has selected what she considers the 100 best books for children, from birth to teenage years. The first five books Silvey selected for her collection are board books. We’ve checked them out of the library and enjoyed reading them through together – although we enjoyed some significantly more than others :-)

Goodnight Moon written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
I know people love this book. But I just can’t bring myself to even like it. I read this to myself to say that I did, but elected to not read it to my children (lest they like it and I end up stuck reading it aloud ad nauseum.

Board books

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing written and illustrated by John Burningham
Not long after reading about this title in Silvey’s book, I chanced upon a paperback copy at a library book sale and snapped it up. I enjoyed the gentle story of the children and the various animals that joined Mr. Gumpy on his outing (after having been warned not to horse around) – but I thought the illustrations were rather lacking. Then I happened upon the board book version at the library and picked it up to read to Louis – and the illustrations were much better. Once I compared the two, I realized that the colors do in fact show up a little differently, but the main difference was that I had been reading our copy to Tirzah Mae at naptime under a dim lamp in her room – and was reading the board book to Louis in the quite bright library!

Louis reads "Freight Train"

The Very Hungry Caterpillar written and illustrated by Eric Carle
I expected Tirzah Mae to enjoy this more than she did, but I’m wondering if maybe it’s a timing issue. I enjoy The Very Hungry Caterpillar and think we’ll probably pull out the copy we own later on when Tirzah Mae is showing interest in numbers, or when it’s monarch time and we’re inundated with caterpillars feasting on our milkweed.

Tirzah Mae plays with her "Freight Train" activity

Freight Train written and illustrated by Donald Crews
This was already a favorite of Tirzah Mae’s and mine – and we were thrilled to check it out of the library again. We’ve been reading it and doing activities with it and reading it again. It’s one of a selection of books Tirzah Mae has memorized and “reads” to herself frequently. This definitely deserves a place on any such list.

Carrot Seed

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Crockett Johnson
When I first read this book’s spare text, I wasn’t sure what to think or whether I liked it. Silvey describes this book as having a “believe in yourself” message – a message I happen to despise. But that isn’t really the message. The message is about the benefits of hard work and patience even when others doubt there will be any outcome. That’s a message I can get behind. Besides, I had to learn to like this book since Tirzah Mae likes it rather a lot. She loves the simplicity of the text and illustrations – and it can’t hurt that all the illustrations are orange, her favorite color.

My First Little House Books

March 2nd, 2017

HarperCollins’s “My First Little House Books” are picture book adaptations of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House books.” Renee Graef illustrates the collection, with an aesthetic intentionally mirroring Garth Williams’s illustrations for the chapter book series.

I read all the “My First Little House Books” I could get my hands on this February in celebration of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th birthday and Barbara’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge. I was joined in this challenge by my two-year-old daughter Tirzah Mae, who ate up every word.


Based on Little House in the Big Woods:

Winter Days in the Big Woods, based on the chapters “Little House” and “Winter Days and Winter Nights”

This introduction to Little House in the Big Woods skips right past the messy business of butchering and jumps into the coziness of winter life in the little log house. Mary and Laura playing in the attic. Making “pictures” on the frosty windowpanes. Doing the proper work for each day. Dressing up paper dolls. And pa coming home and playing the fiddle and telling stories. This particular book condenses 44 pages of Laura’s writing into 35 sentences. I couldn’t tell whether I disliked that it skipped so many details or that it said just enough that I could draw up those missing details in my mind. For Tirzah Mae’s part, she adored this particular book, especially the sing-song list of each day’s tasks.

Based on "Little House in the Big Woods"

Christmas in the Big Woods, based on the chapter “Christmas”

I’ve always loved the Christmas stories from each of the Little House books, modeling my own planned “St. Nicholas Day” stockings after Laura and Mary’s (from Little House on the Prairie) with a candy cane, (chocolate) coins, a small toy, and something useful inside. Reading this, I am reminded of even simpler pleasures: pancake men. I plan to include this title in next year’s Christmas basket – and maybe we’ll make some pancake men of our own after reading it.

From "Winter Days in the Big Woods"

Sugar Snow, based on the chapter of the same name

While some of the “My First Little House Books” mention that Pa told stories, few share any of Pa’s stories (maybe because most of them are a little dark?). Sugar Snow is an exception. After Pa brings home some maple sugar for Mary and Laura, he takes them on his knee and tells them how Grandpa made the sugar. This particular story has a nice structure since it (mostly) begins and ends with a day – from Laura’s wakening to her going to sleep.

Studying the upside-down cover rather intently

Dance at Grandpa’s, based on the chapter of the same name

Each book adapted from Little House in the Big Woods begins with the same words: “Once upon a time, a little girl named Laura lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin in a little house made of logs. Laura lived in the little house with her Pa, her Ma, her big sister Mary, her little sister Carrie, and their good old bulldog Jack.” For the adult reader, this repeated introduction might get old (does get old), but toddlers like Tirzah Mae lap it up. This reminds her that this story is about the same family the last story was about. From there, the stories only introduce a limited additional cast of characters. So, in this particular tale, we learn about the dance at Grandpa’s without any mention to the aunts by name, without wild Uncle George, and without the other Laura. Also, since this is NOT the book about sugar snow, there is no mention of the maple sugar. Does this ruin Laura’s delightful narrative? I’ve puzzled it over multiple times and decided that, no, it does not. Instead, it gives a taste to entice a child into Laura’s world – and leaves enough detail unspoken to make exploring the whole thing desirable.

Tirzah Mae turns the pages of the songbook

Going to Town, based on the chapter of the same name
Summertime in the Big Woods, based on the chapter “Summertime”
The Deer in the Wood, based on the chapter of the same name

Tirzah Mae loved all these books based on Little House in the Big Woods, so much so that whenever I read one, she brought me another and another and another. After spending more than a half hour reading through these books, I thought maybe I had been premature in assuming Tirzah Mae couldn’t pay attention to the real thing. I brought up my copy of Little House in the Big Woods from the basement, and began reading it to her the next day. I learned that all those people who say it’s not a great first chapter book read-aloud are right. Even though Tirzah Mae has plenty of attention for prolonged reading of the picture book versions, the “real deal” simply moves too slowly for her toddler mind. Which is just fine. I enjoyed introducing her to the world of Little House using these books and look forward to exploring the “real deal” with her when she’s a little more mature.


We also read a more limited selection of picture books adapted from Little House on the Prairie and Farmer Boy. It seemed to me that Tirzah Mae wasn’t as interested in these, perhaps because she enjoyed the continuity of place so much from the many books based on Little House in the Big Woods. The other books we read were Going West, Prairie Day, A Little Prairie House, Winter on the Farm, A Farmer Boy Birthday, and County Fair.

Based on "Little House on the Prairie" and "Farmer Boy"

While the majority of what we read were abridgments of chapters from the first three Little House books, we also read some even simpler topical titles in the “My First Little House Books” series: My Little House ABC, My Little House 123, My Little House Book of Family, and My Little House Book of Animals. These were effectively labeling books, with text like “Brother” in a large typeface with a smaller quote from one of the Little House books underneath (“Nellie and her little brother, Willie, came bouncing in.”) Neither Tirzah Mae and I were big fans of these books, which had no narrative arc and whose characters were often unfamiliar to Tirzah Mae since they hadn’t been included in the narrative storybooks we read.

"My First Little" Concept Books

The one exception to our dislike of the topical titles was My Little House Songbook, which included several of the songs Laura mentions in her books. Tirzah Mae insisted that Papa and I read and re-read this book over and over (preferably skipping the text and going straight to the singing part.) :-)

Tirzah Mae and her favorite "My First Little House Book"


I am so glad that Tirzah Mae and I opted to explore the Little House books together this month. While these picture book abridgments can’t possibly measure up to the works they’re based on, they are delightful in their own right and I’m thrilled to be able to use them to introduce my daughter to one of my old friends a little earlier than I otherwise might have been able to. Don’t forget to run over to Barbara’s wrap up post to read about what others have read and done for this year’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge.

Nightstand (February 2017)

February 28th, 2017

Between a quick weekend trip north to pick up some beef (a 513 lb half!), a teething infant, a toddler who is no longer napping, and beginning our foster-care class, I haven’t had a lot of time for reading this month. But I’ve sneaked in a little here and there :-)

Books for Loving:

  • The Epistles of St. Ignatius
    I appreciated reading through these epistles and learning a little more about Ignatius, a second century Christian bishop. While I had some points of disagreement with Ignatius, his arguments against the docetists and for the Incarnation encouraged me to give praise to the Incarnate God. I wrote a little of what I learned about Ignatius in this blog post.

Books for Growing:

  • Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink
    What can be better than a book subtitled “why we eat more than we think”? The subtitle is a delicious wordplay. We eat more food than we think we eat. We eat mindlessly and therefore spend more physical time eating than we spend thinking about what (or why or how) we’re eating. Wansink’s book talks about the psychology of eating, about our unconscious behaviors related to eating and how to tweak those behaviors. Highly recommended.

Books for Knowing:

  • Getting to Know the Church Fathers by Brian Litfin
    I’ve actually only read half of this so far – I’ll finish the other half next month while studying the church under Constantine (and thereabouts). So far, though, it’s been an excellent introduction into some of the noteworthy people of the first few centuries of the church. Litfin gives a mini-biography of each father (and one mother), reflects on their life and teaching from an evangelical perspective, and then shares an excerpt from that father’s writings. As someone who has virtually no knowledge of these individuals, I’ve found this to be very helpful in my study of church history.

Books for Seeing:

  • The Pearl by John Steinbeck
    It’s only five chapters long (I think), and I’ve only read one of those chapters. Sigh. But I’m looking forward to finishing it up next month.

Books for Enjoying:

  • The Emperor of Nihon-Ja by John Flanagan
    Ever since I finished the ninth book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, I’ve been checking my local library to see if the final book of the series was available. Finally, after months of weekly peeks at the bookshelf, I checked the computer – and discovered that my branch doesn’t own a copy! Silly me. I requested this from another branch and greatly enjoyed it.

While I haven’t read much as far as grown-up reading goes, I’ve been doing lots of reading aloud to the children. And in celebration of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th birthday this month, Tirzah Mae and I read a whole slew of the “My First Little House” picture book adaptations (which I plan to write about Thursday when I wrap up my participation in Barbara’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge.

Don’t forget to drop by 5 Minutes 4 Books to see what others are reading this month!

What's on Your Nightstand?

Books of Action Rhymes

February 8th, 2017

Maybe some people grew up knowing dozens of little hand plays – they learned them in preschool or at library story time or whatever.

I am not one of those people.

Furthermore, since my preemies aren’t supposed to spend time with other kids until they’re older, I can’t take my toddler to story time (lest my infant be exposed to kids). So I am stuck with books to learn those action rhymes – which is fine with me. Books are my preferred way of learning anyway.

I’ve checked out a few books of action rhymes, mostly as they come up in my reading of the “nursery rhyme” section – juvenile nonfiction Dewey Decimal 398.8, and am attempting to learn a few to share with Tirzah Mae.

Knock at the Door by Kay Chorao

Knock at the Door

A collection of 20 finger-plays conveniently organized with one or two per double-page spread. Each line of the finger-play is preceded by a small box illustrating the appropriate action. The illustrations are generally clear (or at least I was able to do something with them – whether or not it is correct is another story.) Best of all, the book also includes large illustrations of each rhyme – which means it’ll keep a child’s interest even if mama chooses not to do the finger-play (Guilty as charged – I’m working on it.)

Inside 'Knock at the Door'

Clap Your Hands: Finger Rhymes selected by Sarah Hayes, illustrated by Toni Goffe
A little over 20 finger-rhymes accompanied by illustrations of children performing the finger rhymes. Some of the illustrations make the actions perfectly clear, while others are decidedly less so. There are multiple rhymes to a page, making this less of a favorite for me than Chorao’s Knock at the Door.

Marc Brown’s Playtime Rhymes
Twenty finger plays and other action rhymes accompanied by small-box illustrations of each action and large illustrations depicting the content of the rhyme. While I detest Brown’s Arthur books, his illustrations in these classic rhymes are just fine. Some of these rhymes are more involved than others – but that’s okay. Each rhyme has its own double-page spread, which makes it easy to open up and just do one rhyme (not that I ever want to limit us to just one rhyme. *sarcasm*)

Playtime Rhymes for Little People by Clare Beaton

Playtime Rhymes for Little People

About 40 rhymes including familiar action rhymes (“Incy Wincy Spider” and “Head and Shoulders”) and unfamiliar ones, familiar songs (“The Wheels on the Bus” and “Here we Go round the mulberry bush”) and less familiar ones, and a range of “counting out” songs for selecting who’s “it” during playtime. Unlike several of the other collections I read, this does NOT include figures for how to “act out” the rhyme. Instead, instructions are given in italicized print at the bottom of the page. But, as with other Beaton titles, to focus on the text misses the highest point: Beaton’s lovely applique and embroidery illustrations. Oh how I long to make a collection of pieces in her style for our nursery! (But, time.)

Inside 'Playtime Rhymes for Little People'

Of the four collections reviewed here, I recommend either Knock at the Door or Marc Brown’s Playtime Rhymes for the mom seeking to learn new finger plays – and Playtime Rhymes for Little People for people who are interested in beautiful fabric art :-)

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