Tallgrass

Tallgrass is a novel delving into the complex relationship between a midwestern town and a Japanese internment camp during World War II.  My feelings toward the book are mixed, but I liked it a lot better in hindsight after discussing it with a book club.  Isn’t it interesting how some books are better read with a group?

I thought the author did a great job of exploring how the midwest experienced the war–particularly bringing in elements like the way that having lived through the Depression and the Dust Bowl impacted people and influenced their attitudes and responses.  The main characters realistically explored their feelings on race and patriotism, and gave a nuanced look at the role of community in shaping ideas and responding to challenges.

However, I do think the book suffered somewhat from the author’s decision to incorporate some mystery genre elements.  I didn’t mind the murder mystery aspect, or even the overuse of parallel experiences in different storylines (and I loved that the author had one peripheral character make a funny aside about how odd it is to find so many examples in one small town), but I felt like the genre tropes were inconsistently applied, especially at the end, which made the whole thing feel too neatly wrapped up and rushed at the end.  Actually, the whole ending was pretty bad, in my view, and the other people in my book club agreed.

If you’re interested in World War II history, especially in the subject of the internment of Japanese-Americans, this book would probably provide helpful insights, if you can read it with half an eye closed to its weaknesses and if you’re prepared to have it end with a thud.  That probably sounds like a terrible advertisement, but I find that a lot of books have merit even if they aren’t stellar across the board.  I would still recommend the book, and issue the caveats only for the benefit of those whose reading time is limited or whose interest in the topic is not deep enough to warrant giving up a book spot.

Have you read any other novels on the Japanese-American internment?  Someone in my book club mentioned a couple of other books, but I’ve already forgotten their titles!  

 

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The Bookmarked Life

Something new!  The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

Did you see this Slate article about the girl who sent all of her texts in calligraphy for a week?  Something about that really appeals to me–maybe it’s the juxtaposition of fast and slow communication, or the fact that it would force me to think before I mindlessly use my phone.  I probably won’t text in calligraphy (although I could!  I love calligraphy!) but I’m thinking about mindful technology use.

…Furnishing my mind

As we’ve been reading more poetry and going over grammar in a different way this month, I’ve been reminded of how beautiful language can be–it has a structure, but there’s a wildness to it too.  Reading about the Oxford English Dictionary reinforced that feeling!

…Learning about

…Spanish curriculum options.  I decided to go with PowerGlide based on the Rainbow Resource review, and then after a 20 minute perusal of Homeschool Classifieds I found a like-new used set for $25, postage paid.  Since my kids love mysteries and stories, I think this option is going to be a win for us.

…Living the Good Life

The kids wanted to put on a colonial feast at the end of the semester, but we were getting ready for our big trip then so we put the idea off until this month.  Sarah made blancmange, Hannah made Scotch Collops, and Jack made Martha Washington’s Great Cake with meringue on top.  They did a great job, and it turns out that blancmange is really good.

…Teaching

We had a short Summer Term this month–nothing taxing, just reading from Sonlight, Ambleside, and other book lists.  We checked out all of the preschool and kindergarten type books to read aloud and Hannah and Jack read a lot of the older grade selections.  We also found some fun new favorites.  I’m happy that we got a chance to really focus on reading great children’s literature, read more poetry, and brought in math concepts in different ways this summer.  We also started a fantastic language arts enrichment curriculum that I’m super excited about.  More about that later.

…Creating

After living in our house for over a year, I’m finally doing something about the children’s rooms.  Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the baby is now over a year as well?  First up, the nursery.  I painted the walls (Baby Bee Yellow, same as the old house) and also painted some furniture and rearranged knick-knacks and pictures.  I think the new color makes the changing table/dresser with the Peter Rabbit knobs look much smarter.

…Memorizing

We’re working on 1 Corinthians 13 together, and I’m beginning to memorize Colossians on my own.  I recently read a fabulous book on the topic of using Scripture memory to deeply meditate and study the Bible–look for the review next week.

…Seeking balance

As I look ahead to the fall, I’m trying to think through the best way to handle my work/life balance in terms of windows for our best work.  I do my best focused creative work in the morning, and the kids focus on schoolwork better in the morning too.  I don’t want to wake up at 4am, but sometimes the kids are up before 6:00.  So as I work through plans for fall I’m considering the best times to schedule our babysitting (we have an amazing adult, Christian, educated babysitter who is available part time and who is fabulous with the kids and willing to supervise them doing schoolwork assignments–it is nothing short of a miracle, I know) in order to maximize everyone’s best windows.

…Building the habit

Exercise.  It’s addictive when I can get into a rhythym, but due to my aforementioned desire to sleep past 4am, it’s tough to schedule.  I’m trying to give myself points for showing up, even if some days I only make it through 15 minutes of Jillian Michaels before the baby starts eating crayons or someone starts a small fire in the toaster.

…Listening to

The baby now refers to herself as “Ah-za-za!” and it’s so stinking cute.  I could listen to that all day.  In the car, the kids and I are listening to the audio book of The Swiss Family Robinson (it’s very, very, very long).  And, since the new carseat I bought last week was a Graco TurboBooster, naturally I have had I Got a Man on the brain (“When your man don’t treat ya like he used ta, I kick in like a turbo boostah”).  Late 90′s hip-hop is always relevant, isn’t it?

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

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Manage Your Day-to-Day

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind is a compilation of essays and interviews of time and creativity gurus (people you’ve heard of like Gretchen Rubin, Seth Godin, and the like) about how to get hold of your day to maximize your productivity.

OK, you feel like you’ve read a million books on that topic.  Or at least a million reviews of that kind of book on my blog.  Maybe not a million, but close.  How is this book different?

  • It’s perfect for flex workers.  If you work on a contract, from home, part-time, or entrepreneurial basis, this book is for you.  When you’re setting your own schedule, work can spill over into everything and you really have to fight for your own creative space.  This book is geared toward people dealing with those challenges, and I think more and more of us are going to be working this way in the future, so these are good tips and habits to work on now.
  • It’s a good reminder to be the boss of your technology.  Are you in the habit of checking your email first thing?  Do you leave your email and Facebook open while you’re trying to get your other work done?  Is the internet taking up too much of your creative time, or are you successfully keeping it as your servant rather than your master?  These are all dangers to be aware of and another reminder never hurts.
  • It covers old standby topics in fresh ways.  Balancing your personal creative work with the creative work you get paid for, combatting perfectionism, saying no to good things to make room for best things…these are all topics with which we’re familiar.  But I appreciated how the essays in the book tackled these perennial favorites with new perspectives and insights.  For example, to find out where you’re indulging in perfectionism, check yourself for idealism, judgement, fear, and pride.  Sounds simple, but it’s amazingly helpful to nail yourself down on why you’re thinking or feeling a certain way on a given project.

Is Manage Your Day-to-Day a panacea of time/life management?  No.  But is it worth your time?  Yes, particularly if you’re in a creative line of work and work in a flexible way.  The book’s format lends itself to reading in short spurts – while you nurse the baby, when you’re waiting for the onions to brown, while you’re waiting for the client to join the conference call…and the essays are such that you can read them quickly but then benefit from digesting the information later.  I enjoyed it, and would recommend it.

 

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Some Books on Communicating

I think the most helpful piece of advice I’ve ever heard about communicating came from Gretchen Rubin (sadly I can’t find a direct link): If you’re talking and are interrupted by a child or loud noise or whatever and the other person doesn’t ask you a follow up question about what you were saying, drop the topic. I’ve tried to keep that in mind, and also I’ve tried to notice it with others–when someone is interrupted I now make a point to ask a follow up question about what they were saying.

Communication is filled with little things like that–small cues to keep in mind or ways to remember to show someone else that you’re interested in what he or she is saying. In The Fine Art of Small Talk, you’ll get tips for when and how to engage in small talk, but perhaps more helpful for most people are the interesting asides about how to leverage small talk in business situations, and how to handle it when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t know how to make small talk.

For example, the book has lots of helpful tips on how to structure questions to avoid getting one word replies.  Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “Tell me about…[your weekend, your project, whatever]” rather than “How is…”  I’ve been using that idea with good results so far–it’s amazing what changing the phrasing of a simple question can do.

While the book is a little light, it could be really helpful if you don’t know where to start with small talk, and would probably be at least moderately helpful for anyone.  We can always get better at communication.

If you’re the sort of person who feels like small talk is a waste of time and superficial, consider that small talk paves the way for relationship building and for establishing a friendly tone before bringing up big topics. In a sense, you need small talk in order to make big talk. Heap big talk, I sound like Disney’s Peter Pan, good grief.

At any rate, once you’ve got small talk down, you almost certainly could use help navigating more touchy or in-depth topics. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most is an exceptional resource from the Harvard Negotiation Project that covers common reasons why difficult conversations go awry, and how you can reframe your perspective and tactics to really understand the person you’re talking to in order to have a productive conversation.

The book is, happily, not a manual for how to manipulate or browbeat the other person into agreeing with you until you get your way.  Rather, it presents a method for understanding a competing point of view, emphasizes respecting the other person, assists you in understanding your own weaknesses and hot buttons, and gives very helpful steps for changing your phrasing and your objectives to arrive at a better result.

I noticed these tips working almost immediately.  In one particular conflict, I realized I was inwardly thinking in terms of “they always…”  Instead, as the book suggests, I began to frame the problem around “I feel…” and asked myself what information the group had that I did not and tried to disentangle the impact of the action from the intent.  Although I didn’t actually have a difficult conversation about the issue, just reframing the matter in my own head helped me tremendously.

One particularly helpful exercise in the book involves discerning patterns in when you tend to get knocked off balance and lose your cool in a situation.  These, the authors say, are times when your identity is being challenged and reveal some of your fears.  By identifying these things, you can more calmly talk to yourself about the situation, and not lash out.

I could go on and on about the myriad ideas and concrete action points contained in this book.  Difficult Conversations is an excellently thought out, well written, eminently helpful reference and I highly recommend it.

What do you find tougher: small talk or difficult conversations?

 

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In which I couldn’t put down a book about a dictionary

Sounds like the beginning of a joke about nerds, doesn’t it?  But really, I was immediately sucked in to this odd and genre-bending book about a brilliant editor, an insane Yale alumnus locked up in an asylum after committing murder, and the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.

First of all, the book covers a lot of historical ground in telling the life stories of the two men and their obsessions, plus a side story about the man who was murdered.  Then there is also the fascinating story of how the OED was compiled, mixed with great trivia about the history of the English language and examples of OED definitions, which alone would have kept me reading. When you combine all that with the author’s precise yet good-humored writing style, you get a truly winning book, if somewhat unlikely in subject and organization.

As with the best histories, this one reads like a novel and includes lots of fabulous and interesting trivia and vocabulary.  If you love words and language in general you’ll particularly enjoy this book.  It’s an odd pick, but I highly recommend it!

 

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Some Books on Epidemics

Kind of an odd topic to read about, but epidemics are strangely fascinating and can make for compelling narrative!

In fact, once I started Mary Beth Keane’s historical novel Fever, which is based on the life of Typhoid Mary, I couldn’t put it down.  At first I kept reading because I was so horrified by the terrible treatment Mary suffered at the hands of public health officials, but then I kept reading because I couldn’t get over how Mary kept making terrible decisions in her personal and professional life.  This book is a great example of how well-researched historical fiction can bring an academic subject to life.  Having previously only had cursory knowledge of the way Mary’s case progressed and the changing cultural and social attitudes toward disease and contagion at that time, I learned a lot from this book and also gained understanding of how the events of Mary’s case fit in with broader historical narratives.

Even if you think you don’t care much about typhoid outbreaks, the well-done pacing and solid writing in Fever will probably hold your interest!

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History suffers from being about 200 pages too long, but in spite of a tendency toward repetitiveness and overwrought chapter endings apparently tacked on to raise tension, the book covers such a fascinating period of history that you can’t help but like it anyway.

In addition to chronicling the flu pandemic of 1918, the book also delves into topics ranging from the science behind how viruses work, how influenza evolves and becomes more or less deadly as new strains develop, the way that medicine changed as a profession over time, and how geo-political concerns helped to facilitate and spread the epidemic.  I learned a lot from reading this book, and would recommend it to history buffs interested in the World War I era.

Although I didn’t intentionally set out to read two books about epidemics so close together, I did find that the information contained in these two books added to my understanding of each topic and gave me a fuller picture of an interesting period of medical, social, and cultural change.

 

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Some Books on Art and Drawing

Until recently, if you had asked me whether or not I’m an “artful parent” I’d have said no. I mean, my kids draw stuff and cut stuff up and tape it back together and whatnot, but I don’t break out the paints all the time, nor do I allow glitter. But one thing I really liked about The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art and Creativity–Includes over 60 Art Projects for Children Ages 1 to 8 was the author’s emphasis on art being more than just making messes.  It is about making messes somewhat, but art is also studying artists and looking at great art, listening to great music, reading great literature, and enjoying nature.

But you probably wouldn’t pick up a book like this if you didn’t at least sort of want to get more into art projects.  While I enjoyed the philosophical bent of the book, the suggestions for further reading (for kids and adults), and thoughts on generally living an artful life, I really appreciated the project ideas billed in the subtitle.

So far we’ve only tried one of the projects, but the kids went to town with it.  We had Katie’s Sunday Afternoon out from the library, so we read a little about pointillism and saw some examples of it.  Then we talked a little bit about the method, and I set out paints and paper and q-tips as suggested in The Artful Parent.  It was really fun, and, more to the point, the kids REALLY got into pointillism and now they are finding examples everywhere.  I made notes of lots of other projects to try, and look forward to building them into our days in the coming months.

As a final note, The Artful Parent gives great suggestions for art supplies–including helpful tips on what things to buy cheap and what to avoid.  If you’ve looked at art supplies, you will understand why this is helpful!  There really is a gamut out there of varying prices and qualities.  I appreciated the insight.

I read about Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain in A Whole New Mind, and I was interested to learn more about how drawing techniques can help you to think and problem solve better.  I’ve dabbled in painting and have tried a couple of times to teach myself to be a better artist, but nothing ever clicked.  Many art books present exercises of things you should draw, with a little bit of academic prose on topics like perspective, and then when you can’t automatically do it, the implication is “oh well, I’m just not that good at art.”

This book, however, actually walks you through, step by step, how exactly to LOOK at things, where to put your eyes first, what you’re looking for, how to precisely, exactly, absolutely DRAW.  The author teaches a five day course during which adults who begin the class drawing like five year olds end the class less than a week later drawing better than many art school students.

One thing I particularly liked about the book was the way the author explains how to move from your left brain to seeing with your right brain.  If you’re a staunch left-brain person, this could be a major break-through, but even if you tend to move freely between sides like I do, it’s helpful to realize that there are actual concrete things you can do to break out of a creative block or challenge your own thinking.  The ideas in the book, while presented in the context of drawing, have application in all sorts of creative and problem solving realms.

I also felt like the instructions were so clear that the book could be used with kids.  I haven’t decided on this yet, but I think I might try some of the techniques with my children when we get into our fall term of school.

If you’re interested in reading about art and great artists with kids, we have loved:

  • The Katie series by James Mayhew – A little girl named Katie visits museums with her grandmother and has interesting adventures jumping in and out of famous paintings.  This is a fun and memorable way to learn about different artists, time periods, and schools of art.  
  • The Child’s Book of Art and I Spy books – By Lucy Micklethwait, this series is excellent for beginning to really study detail in paintings.   You can use the books for very small children, or add more depth and detail with older kids.
  • The Mini Masters Board Books about Art for Babies – Even tiny tots can enjoy great art!  And their older siblings can begin to recognize famous works by various artists.
  • The Anholt books – These stories are fictionalized tales about famous artists, incorporating the style of the artist’s works as well as many of his or her most famous pieces.
  • Drawing With Children is supposed to be the gold standard of teaching children to draw.  To be honest, it didn’t resonate as clearly with me as Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain did, but it does have very good and clear lessons for beginning to learn about how lines and shapes are formed.  We’ve never gotten much beyond those lessons, but perhaps we’ll get to it this year.
  • Discovering Great Artists has projects loosely based on techniques or forms used by great artists.  So if you’re studying a particular artists, you can look up a project to do that would be a tie in.  They vary in quality, but we’ve done some good projects from this book.
If you like to read about art or do artful things with your kids, what are your favorite resources?

 

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What Should I Do With My Life?

You should know up front that What Should I Do with My Life? isn’t going to tell you what to do with your life.  It won’t even give you a clear-cut, step-by-step workbook for attempting to figure it out.  Instead, it will introduce you to a lot of people–some of whom seem to have their lives figured out and others of whom clearly don’t–whose stories may help you by illustrating fears that are holding you back, behaviors that are sabotaging you, or attitudes that aren’t serving you well.

The author notes that some people seem to be born knowing what they want to do with their lives, and then they do that.  Others don’t seem to care about the question, and happily go along doing whatever with nary a thought about it one way or the other.  But if you’re the sort of person who sees a title like What Should I Do with My Life? and thinks “Ah!  Will I come to an answer at last?” this book will probably interest you.

I am the sort of person who loves the idea of reinvention, of changing directions, and of trying new things, so I imagine I will always be asking this question and uncovering different answers for it.  I enjoy reading about how other people answer the question, deal with fears and setbacks, and remake themselves.

But the concept that really jumped out at me from this book is one that the author borrowed from C.S. Lewis (from this article, I think) about how we have a tendency to work toward an inner circle, holding up our choices and accomplishments to the judgment of a group that may or may not have our best interests at heart or even be aware of being on our pedestal.  Bronson brings this concept up several times in the book, and I found it interesting to consider who is sitting at this imaginary table in my life and if they belong there.

What Should I Do with My Life? may not be the most helpful book of its kind, but if you enjoy self-discovery books, or if you need some inspiration for retooling your purpose, this book may be for you.

 

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2nd Quarter in Books, 2014

Lots of reading this quarter, buoyed, no doubt, by the fact that we were traveling for several weeks.  In April – June of this year I read 44 books, plus 18 read-alouds to the kids.  Here are snippet reviews by category, with links to my longer reviews:

Fiction

  • A Place of Greater Safety – Amazing author Hilary Mantel’s historical novel of the French Revolution–hard to untangle at first (much like the real thing!) but worth it.
  • The Wandering Falcon – Set in Pakistan and Afghanistan, this novel is built on lovely storytelling but lacks somewhat in redemption or conclusion, which is probably on purpose and a metaphorical statement about the region.
  • The Paris Wife – Based on the life of the utterly abhorrent and despicable Ernest Hemingway, the novel brings an epoch and location to life.
  • The Swan Thieves – An engrossing novel of art, madness, painting, and love.
  • Brideshead Revisited – I feel guilty when I dislike classics, but there it is.  I didn’t like this book, didn’t care for the characters, and thought the underlying theology was lacking.
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – This quick beach read is cleverly structured with bookstore type book reviews between the chapters, but the second half felt contrived.
  • The Fault in Our Stars – If you like YA you might like this cancer-crossed-teen-lovers story.  I don’t like YA much so I didn’t love it.  It is what it is.
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – This interesting science fiction story tackles big questions like the definition of life and which lives need or deserve protection.
  • Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker – In spite of a killer premise and wonderful subject matter, this book fell flat and succumbed to anachronism too often for my taste.
  • On Such a Full Sea – This crazy-amazing novel combines an engrossing story, fascinating characters, and commentary on society and community.  A must read.

Memoir

  • Holy is the Day – Carolyn Weber’s follow-up to Surprised by Oxford deals more with motherhood and the need to see conversion as a lifelong process not a one-time event.  I didn’t like it as much as the first book, but it was still good.
  • My Beloved World – A fascinating memoir by Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, including her challenges growing up and how her good attitude and work ethic pulled her through difficult situations.
  • Something Other Than God – A funny conversion memoir of how an atheist Texan became a dedicated Catholic.  It was interesting to read how the author’s initial stumbling blocks led her to different theological conclusions.

Education

  • When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers – Geared toward teachers managing a classroom full of students, this book does have good tips for managing goals and combatting perfectionism in gifted kids.
  • A Love For Learning – Helpful tips for keeping gifted kids motivated, with applications for classroom teachers, homeschoolers, and parents.
  • Parenting Gifted Kids – Mostly geared toward parents, this book has particularly helpful explanations of the “overexitability” types, which I wish were labeled as “intensity” since the word “overexitable” sounds pejorative to me, but anyway.
  • Guiding Gifted Readers – An exceptionally helpful resource for parents and teachers of gifted kids, this book has lots of book recommendations and helps for discussing books, but also great insight into how gifted kids think.
  • Guiding the Gifted Child – This book has a great balance between big picture ideas and practical applications when it comes to how gifted kids are wired and particular issues they face.
  • Raising Gifted Kids – If you only have time to read a few books on giftedness, this should not be one of them.  Not a total dud, but not that great.

Life Hacks

  • The Paradox of Choice – A bit long for what it is, this book illuminates…wait for it…choices!  Including a helpful framework for understanding whether you’re a satisficer or maximizer and what to do about it.
  • Take the Risk – This book presents a helpful framework for making decisions using risk assessment, with examples from the author’s life and also helpful hints for teaching kids to assess risk.
  • The Family-First Creative – I pre-bought a book just to get this e-book free, and I don’t regret it.  If you balance multiple roles this book would be helpful and inspiring.
  • The Early To Rise Experience for Moms – This motivational e-book contains the author’s main get-up-early arguments (he has another book about it, not geared just to moms) and then lots of essays from mothers in various stages and circumstances offering tips and encouragement for how to manage your mornings.
  • A Whole New Mind – Based on research and trend analysis, this book looks at how our current economy and future jobs will depend on integrating right brain and left brain abilities.  Interesting, and also includes ideas for building your brain.
  • Gifted Grown-Ups – Issues related to how you think and deal with life don’t just go away when you graduate.  This book offers great insight and ideas for how gifted challenges apply in adulthood.  Highly recommended.

Family

  • Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages – An interesting and compelling evidence-based set of tips for how to be happy in your marriage.
  • Love and Respect in the Family - A helpful framework for communication in families.
  • The Whole-Brain Child – Excellent ideas for helping kids (and parents) learn to control emotions and attitudes.
  • Hints on Child Training – Written in the 1800s but surprisingly fresh with ideas on cultivating a calm and supportive household.
  • Wild Things – Helpful developmentally organized hints on how to raise boys.
  • Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids – The first half of this book is helpful, but I disagreed with the conclusions in the second half.
  • The Key To Your Child’s Heart - This book is not that great in the sea of parenting books, but there was a good tip about figuring out how to help your kids with their goals and interests.
  • Hands Free Mama – A blog-post-style manifesto about putting down the phone and enjoying your blessings.  I thought I would love this book, but didn’t wind up really connecting with it.

History and Sociology

  • The Worst Hard Time – A truly shocking account of the Dust Bowl that goes so far beyond what you probably learned in high school history.  I was floored by this book, and can’t imagine how people lived through this dreadful, decade-long event.
  • City of Tranquil Light – I’m not sure if I should put this in history or fiction, since it’s a sort of historical fiction account of the author’s grandparents who were missionaries in China.  In any case, it was touching and interesting, although somewhat lacking in depth of insight at places.
  • The Next America – This fascinating, evidence-based look at generational differences and how our society will have to restructure as Baby Boomers age and birthrate falls is well-written and non-partisan.  Good food for thought.
  • Elizabeth of York – A readable, well-researched account of Henry VIII’s mother.  Alison Weir always delivers.
  • The Small Woman – A wonderful biography of Gladys Aylward, a missionary to China in the early- to mid- 1900s, which also gives great insight into the cultural and political changes ocurring at that time.  It’s amazing what one person can do, even if she’s not well prepared, as long as she’s willing to risk in order to be obedient to her calling.
  • Beyond the Stone Arches – Taking place in the late 1800s to early 1900s, this book likewise tells the story of missionaries to China and gives insight into cultural and political change.  Although the focus is a little different, it’s still fascinating.

Faith

  • The Hole in Our Holiness – An excellent and readable account of holiness and how to get there (starting with the problem that often we don’t really want to be holy in the first place).  This book points out our many cultural blindspots and manages to be convicting and encouraging at the same time.
  • In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day – This is kind of a faith/life hacks hybrid book, as the author draws on Scripture and spiritual things to present ideas about how Christians can see and seize opportunities, have more robust and vibrant prayer lives, and live free of fears.  Very helpful and highly recommended.
  • Made for More – A thoughtful and nuanced look at what our faith means for our identities.  Perhaps the best discussion of “balance” and “having it all” that I have ever read.  Highly recommended.
  • A Neglected Grace – Highly readable and short, but full of information and challenge, this book offers great help and doable suggestions for incorporating family worship into your home.

Health and Fitness

  • Lose Your Mummy Tummy – Thoughts and tips on how to heal the diastasis in your stomach muscles that you probably got while pregnant.  This book would almost certainly be more helpful if I regularly took its advice.

Read-Alouds

Kid chapter books read aloud or listened to in audio book form, or that I read so I could discuss them with kids who read them independently (I can’t read everything they read, but I do aim for a sampling!):

What’s the best book you read this quarter?

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June Read-Alouds

The months seem to be flying by–once again it’s time for a monthly read-aloud round-up! Many of these books were audio versions this month due to long car trips, but a few were read by me. While I’m not against audio books, I do sort of prefer when I do the reading since I can choose whether or not and how to do the voices!

Of course we’ve seen the Julie Andrews movie version of Mary Poppins, but I had never read the book before. In the book version, Mary Poppins has a lot more detail and some differences in adventure, as well as some differences in the characters.  First off, the Banks family has four children rather than two!  The book includes twin babies John and Barbara in addition to Jane and Michael.  I also thought the character of Mary Poppins herself was a bit different than Julie Andrews’ version.  The book reminded me a bit of the Nurse Matilda series–fanciful imaginings, a nanny who comes out of nowhere and doesn’t stay, children who wind up changed–but felt less formulaic.  We enjoyed the story.

Having seen the Disney movie and the play, I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the book version of Peter Pan.  The version we read was published in 1911 and is very close to the play, and is very funny in parts, but as a read aloud it just seemed a bit clunky to me.  The story is so much better as a play.  However, if you’re a big fan of Peter Pan or have only seen the Disney version, it might be fun to interact with the tale in a different way.

Then There Were Five is the third book in Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy quartet.  In this book, the Melendy kids befriend a boy who lives with his dreadful uncle, have their usual more-than-fair-share of adventures, put on a huge carnival for the war effort, and ultimately wind up with a new sibling.  These books are so fun and present a realistic but happy picture of how siblings get on each other’s nerves and bicker but still love each other and are best friends.

Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze departs from the usual format of the series, as the youngest two Melendy kids are left at home with the big kids off at boarding school.  Bereft without their older siblings, Randy and Oliver begin receiving mysterious clues and undertake what becomes a year-long scavenger hunt until their family returns home.  the mystery aspect was great fun but we all missed Mona, Rush, and Mark, who only made short appearances in this book.  Most of all, we were sad to see this marvelous series come to an end!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a fun and zany book to read aloud and the kids quite enjoyed it.  We listened to it on audio book as a matter of fact, but I wish that I had done the reading because I did not always love the narrator’s choice of voices.  However, the story is funny and I got past the voice thing eventually.  Note that this book is free on Kindle at the time of this writing, so if you were thinking of procuring it, now would be a good time!

 

What has your family been reading aloud this month?

 

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