An e-book bundle for people who don’t buy e-book bundles

Maybe you’re like me.  I never buy e-book bundles because:

  • Lots of e-books are free anyway.
  • Lots of e-books (even the not-free ones) are poorly written, poorly edited, and full of bad information.
  • You can often find the same information online for free.

And yet, this week I bought an e-book bundle.  I can’t believe I just typed that.  There was really only one thing that made me pull the trigger.


  • One of the free (well, almost, you have to pay $6.50 shipping) bonuses is three bottles of essential oils: lavender, lemon, and peppermint.

That’s it.  I clicked Buy Now on The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle.  It was $29.97, and if you purchase by September 12 you also get access to a free live webinar with an aromatherapist about how to use essential oils safely and effectively.  I think that’s worth it.  Here’s my thought process:

  • I use Young Living essential oils, and the ones included in the bundle are not YL, they are Plant Therapy brand.  I may not use these oils exactly as I use my YL oils, because I did a lot of research into YL and trust them, but there are a lot of uses for oils that don’t require ingestion or undiluted use, especially for lavender and peppermint.  These three oils would set you back a lot more than $36.47 if you bought them elsewhere, making the bundle worth it for the oils alone.
  • In addition to the oils, there is also a bonus $16 credit, plus two Meyers soaps, plus free shipping to ePantry.  So even if I’m considering those as replacements for drug store brands, that saves me another $10.
  • The people at Ultimate Bundles screened and curated the included e-books, so I’m assuming a higher level of quality than your standard free-on-Amazon fare.

The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle also includes:

  • A month-long membership to Paleofit and Paleo Meal Plan.  I’m not all in for paleo, but I do prefer to eat lower carb, real food meals, so paleo often fits recipe-wise, even if I don’t believe it as a philosophy.
  • Two free months of Once a Month Meals membership–choose menus based on your eating preferences and family size, and get a personalized plan to shop for, prepare, make ahead, or cook as you go, all of your meals for the month.
  • The Foundational Five course–a heal your diastasis program I have looked at before and will NEED after baby arrives.
  • Other good workout resources I can access any time after I get through post-partum recovery and ramp back up.
  • An e-book on handling PCOS, which is a major problem that comes roaring back every time I wean a baby.
  • Several e-books on healthy/real food easy freezer/crockpot type meals.  I’m a working, homeschooling mom expecting her fifth baby.  I’m sure I don’t need to explain why meal streamlining is a big thing for me right now!
  • money back guarantee on the whole bundle.  For 30 days, no questions asked.

There are also about 85 other e-books I might look at later although they don’t immediately appeal, and other free bonuses that I might or might not redeem depending on if I feel like paying for shipping is worth it (updated to add: I did wind up redeeming several of the other bonuses because the shipping charge still made the items cheaper than what I would normally pay).  You should check out the full list of courses and e-books and bonuses included–topics include: allergy friendly, essential oils, fitness and weight loss, healthy kids, homesteading, natural home, natural remedies, paleo, and real food–because different things would probably appeal to you.

So, you never buy e-book bundles.  I get it; neither do I.  But The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle might make you reconsider.  At least this once.


Disclosure: If you do decide to purchase the bundle, I’d love it if you click through my link.  I signed up as an affiliate after I made the purchase because I think this is an actual good deal, and I so appreciate it when y’all help support A Spirited Mind!  Thank you!

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An Excellent Memoir of Growing Up in Soviet Russia

crumbsIn 1993, when I was in 9th grade, I did a Russian exchange program. We lived in Germany at the time so it wasn’t as huge an undertaking as getting there from the US would have been. Our group spent several days in St. Petersburg at the beginning, then several days in Moscow at the end, and in between we stayed with Russian families in a little textile town called Ivanovo.

When I ran across Elena Gorokhova’s memoir A Mountain of Crumbs I nearly fell out of my chair because Gorokhova’s mother was from Ivanovo–and it sounded like the passage of decades between when Gorokhova left Russia for the US and when I visited hadn’t changed very much about the general standards of living.  The author writes about her experiences with exchange students in the 80s, and it was so fascinating to get the other perspective.  My point of view was as an American kid wondering how on earth a family made up of parents, grandmother, great-aunt, daughter, and a dog lived in two rooms plus a small kitchen and balcony apartment, wondering why the daughter didn’t seem to have many clothes and none of them were what teenagers wore in the West, wondering why there wasn’t actually anything for sale in the store we visited…and yet the whole family was very polite and friendly and had a dacha, which I thought sounded like a vacation home–and kind of upper class.  Now I’m wondering what lengths they must have gone to just to pull together what they did have, and also thinking about the ways their mindsets formed in Soviet Russia might have influenced their perceptions of me as a Western kid.

Gorokhova does a fantastic job in her memoir of painting a picture not just of what daily life was like in 1960s-1980s Soviet era Russia, but also of giving the reader insight into how people thought and why.  The writing is insightful and compelling, with balanced storytelling and development of family relationships.  Although I spent considerable time in high school, college, and thereafter reading about Russia and studying the language, I felt like Gorokhova’s perspective added depth and nuance to my understanding in a way most sources don’t cover.

Even if you don’t have a long-term interest in the region, I still think A Mountain of Crumbs would be a good investment of your reading time.  You’ll learn a lot about the country, develop a more well-rounded understanding of the Cold War era from a different perspective, and have the pleasure of reading a well-crafted memoir.


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Exceptional Books About Writing

before we get startedAs someone who writes professionally, I find that different types of writing feed each other–for me at least, the strategic and marketing writing I do for pay both helps and is helped by the creative non-fiction writing of book reviews and essays, and the work of creating short stories and longer fiction. That’s why I was delighted and challenged by Bret Lott’s two exceptional books about writing:
Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life, and Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian. As a successful author who also teaches in MFA programs, and as a Christian who does not write in the Christian publishing industry, Lott has a perspective on writing that shares similarities with other books on craft and vision, but also brings a refreshingly different twist on familiar topics.

Lott examines long fiction, short stories, and narrative non-fiction to get at the root of what each genre is and why and how we write it.  Further, he explores how our understanding of fundamental principles informs our writing even–and especially–when we are simply writing honest stories.

letters & lifeBoth books are also personal memoirs of Lott’s development as a writer and major events in his family relationships.  I found those sections interesting as memoirs, but also instructive as narrative non-fiction and the roles that writing, words, and thinking about creativity and art play in a writer’s life.

What made the books stand out as exceptional to me was their mix of vision and practical application, as well as Lott’s perspective as a Christian who is a writer ( and not a writer for Christians).  Lott’s insight helped me to to see how my work with words can be seen as a calling, which is sometimes hard for me to see or communicate since some people see corporate writing as a lesser way to write or selling out or something like that, and also how important it is to remove myself from the equation entirely and pursue the work whether or not I make a successful attempt at publication for my other–currently just personal–writing efforts.

If you’re a writer in any form, or if you are another type of creative or artist, and especially if you’re a Christian creative, I’d recommend both of Lott’s books on writing.  You’ll find a lot to think about, and will come away inspired and challenged.


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Helpful Books for Dealing With Intense Kids

So far all of my children tend toward intensity, and this year one child in particular has been navigating a phase of particularly heightened emotional responses.  After a troubling encounter with the pediatrician, who immediately declared those behaviors abnormal and probably indicative of extremely serious mental illness, we had a major parenting crisis and the wheels felt like they were coming all the way off of our already challenging family life (not challenging in a bad way, but parenting soon-to-be five children when we are all pretty intense people and are in various stressful and/or developmental stages takes considerable effort).  Thankfully, and as a major answer to prayer, we got connected with a very understanding and helpful psychiatrist who assured us that the child in question is not at all mentally ill, but is a gifted kid with an intense personality who needs different strategies and parenting techniques.  Progress has been slow, but we do see progress, both in this child’s responses and in our own ability to parent these intense–but also intensely interesting!–kids of ours.

In this process we got a lot of good counsel from friends we trust, and naturally I read some books.  On the off chance that one of you might run into similar situations at some point, I’m reviewing a few that were particularly helpful.

misdiagnosisIt turns out that common characteristics of gifted children and adults are often misdiagnosed as mental illness or disorder.  It also turns out that we were exceedingly fortunate to find a mental health professional who recognizes the difference (as apparently this is not the norm). Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, Ocd, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders contains exceptionally helpful comparisons between behaviors and markers for a variety of illnesses and the ways giftedness can look like those conditions but is actually different.  The book also goes into what to look for when a child or adult has a dual diagnosis–that is, the person is gifted AND has another condition, and how that dual diagnosis often presents differently or can be overlooked.  The information is complex, but the detail is critical if you are at all unsure about what someone is telling you about your child.

To be very clear: I absolutely support getting help and using medication for actual mental illness or imbalance.  This book does NOT take the line that you shouldn’t medicate children at all, ever.  It just counsels restraint and accurate diagnosis prior to medicating, which seems eminently reasonable to me, especially as so many of the case studies in the book involve kids being given serious drugs designed to treat conditions the children did not even have–to the detriment of the child’s development.

Even if you aren’t currently dealing with a potential diagnosis issue, I still might recommend this resource for parents of gifted kids in general.  I’ve read plenty of books on the topic, but this one presents data-driven findings about the way gifted kids think and react to situations that I found helpful for all of my kids.  The authors point out that often giftedness is a touchy topic because it strikes people–even people who are gifted themselves–as gilding the lilly, but in reality parenting kids who think differently, experience life differently, and engage differently and more intensely can be very, very challenging.  This part of the book is insightful, encouraging, and helpful.

explosive childThe Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children is not written explicitly about gifted kids–although lots of the case studies seem to feature them–but rather offers perspective and techniques for parenting kids who are intense (in all sorts of ways) because they lack skills in flexibility and frustration tolerance.

One criticism I’ve seen of this book is that it’s just making apologies for kids who are bad and manipulative.  Don’t they just need more discipline or sticker charts or to be told to get over it when they overreact?  Well, maybe some kids do.  But if your kid is consistently flipping out at one or two key triggers (in our house this often happens with deviations from the planned schedule–whether our stated agenda or what the child had in mind for the day.  Other kids may overreact to bedtime or departures or homework or whatever) and the regularly suggested parenting tips aren’t working, it might be worth your while to consider another approach.

The book suggests a collaborative problem solving approach to teach kids to deal with unexpected situations with greater flexibility and perspective.  It’s not an easy one-click solution, but if you have a kid who flips out it might take less time than dealing with that.  One thing I found particularly helpful was examining my own reasons behind making changes or asking kids for things.  I kind of like flexibility and being able to change plans when things make more sense a different way, but I have a few kids who don’t roll with that as easily (and who aren’t as highly motivated by efficiency as I am!).  The problem solving approach requires the parent to articulate the actual concern behind a request–why am I saying no/changing the plan/setting this requirement–and sometimes once I’ve considered what I’m really concerned about, I realize that I don’t actually need to instigate the problem.  Sometimes I do–I’m still the parent here–but being more aware of the couple of triggers a child has can go a long way to minimizing them.  I also liked how the book emphasizes teaching skills rather than various techniques for strong-arming or manipulating kids into doing what you want.  It seems more in line with the goal to train children to be functional adults.

As for how well the problem solving works…well, it’s a process and the author admits that.  We’ve had some success with it, and I’ve been surprised at how well mutually agreed upon solutions can work–especially in areas where I have pretty well defined ideas of how things should go.  By getting to what my concern is, and what the child’s concern is, we can come up with solutions that might not have been either of our first idea, but which are workable.

Emotional Intensity 3Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope with Explosive Feelings is a very readable, encouraging book geared primarily toward parents but also with considerable insights for teachers, schools, and other outside-the-family situations.  I liked how the book focused on the strategies you can teach kids to help them to navigate their feelings and intensity.  So often the response is “get over it” or “stop overreacting” or otherwise implying that something is wrong with the child.  But our feelings are not wrong, just sometimes what we do with those feelings.

I think this book does a great job of exploring the different ways that kids can be intense.  It doesn’t always look like anger or flipping out or weeping–many kids just chatter a lot, get giddy, and have a lot of energy.

If you’re parenting a gifted kid, especially if you are also teaching one, this book has a lot of practical helps and things to think about.  I found it very, very helpful and would highly recommend this one.

living with intensityLiving With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults takes a much more academic approach, which was fine with me but might be dry if you aren’t really fascinated with the topic.  I found that there were several chapters I only skimmed, while others I took time to read slowly and carefully, because some dealt with things I’m not dealing with currently, or were better laid out in other books (like the Misdiagnosis book reviewed above).

I thought the particular strengths of this volume were the chapters on specific strategies for different excitabilities (if you’ve read much of the literature of giftedness you’ve probably run into this idea of different types of intensity/excitability) and the sections on being a gifted adult.  I took LOTS of notes on the practical strategies, because my kids do have different excitability types and frankly, I can actually use some of these ideas on myself!

Sometimes I wonder if I read books on giftedness halfway for parenting and halfway for myself.  The chapters in Living With Intensity on adult giftedness really helped me. First, it’s helpful to know that I’m not so very strange or abnormal as I usually feel.  This book goes into several studies on how gifted adults progress through life stages, and it helped me to look at my stage in life and realize that I am not alone in some of my feelings and fears.  It also helped me to think through strategies of dealing with things as part of a bigger picture–this is the very thing I try to help my kids with, but I don’t always do it for myself.

Living With Intensity might be a good book to check out of the library so you can read sections of particular interest to you, but if you don’t have time to read widely on these topics you really can skim lots of it.

If you have intense and/or gifted kids, or were/are one yourself, what resources have you found particularly helpful?


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Consider This

Consider ThisOne problem with modern life is the difficulty we have with defining our terms.  Some words become labels, and yet can mean vastly different things to different people.  When people hear you’re a Christian, maybe they think you handle snakes. Or that you are a die-hard Republican who hates women and likes to judge people for fun.  Or that you are a vaguely moral person who may be a hypocrite.  And that’s not what you mean at all.

The same thing happens in the homeschooling community, and it has an unfortunate side effect of tripping people up.  Labeling something as “classical” or “Charlotte Mason” can mean very different things.  In my experience this has often resulted in expensive curriculum and co-op mistakes that don’t fit with my educational philosophy.

That’s why I think it’s really important to read carefully and define your own philosophy and standards.  Then, when an opportunity comes along, you can evaluate it in light of what YOU mean by popular terms, rather than what anyone else says.

Karen Glass’s book Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition is helpful in this regard. The book challenges readers to explore the ways that the classical tradition has changed over time, and how in fact many currently espoused “classical” education techniques and programs are actually grounded in modern invention. But not to knock the classical idea, Glass also gently takes CM fans to task for divorcing Mason’s educational philosophy from the classical tradition in which it is rooted.  Ultimately, Glass upholds what Mason actually did, which was consider what was good and working out of the classical mold, and change what was not to fit the ideals–which ARE classical ideals–of pursuing truth, beauty, ideas and synthetic thinking.

A particular strength of the book is Glass’s articulation of the difference between synthetic thinking–“an approach to knowledge that places things together, comprehending the relationship of new knowledge to old knowledge, one discipline to another, and man to all things”–and the purely analytical approach which artificially separates facts from ideas, and disconnects subjects from the whole.  Modern education–including, unfortunately, many neoclassical approaches–vaunts analytical thinking at the expense of the integrated, holistic continuing story of synthetic thinking.  Glass points out that analytical thinking has its place, but that before we can take things apart, we need to understand how they fit together.

This had me shouting Amen at every turn, as it matches up with my own educational goals and with the reasons that I choose curriculum like Tapestry and use lots of Susan Wise Bauer’s materials–even though die-hard CM’ers often dismiss both resources as classical-not-Charlotte-Mason.  I think the focus on synthetic thought and THEN analysis lends itself well to CM ideals and methods, even in materials that aren’t explicitly CM.  And likewise I have found that many people who claim Charlotte Mason’s philosophy overlook the synthetic strengths of certain classical ideas.

Can’t we all just get along?!!

Of course not.  :)  What works for me won’t work for everyone.  But if you are interested in educational philosophy, and especially if you’re homeschooling, I’d recommend reading books like Consider This to help clarify your thinking–whether you self-identify as classical, Charlotte Mason, or neither.  Of course, read them with a critical eye, and sort them out for yourself, but I think it’s good to keep thinking through and refining your positions as you go.


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Read Alouds August 2015

August did not turn out to be a month for finishing read-alouds! We have had a lot of false starts, bad matches, and books in midstream. And that’s ok. Some months are like that. We still did a lot of reading aloud and maybe we will finish more to share next month. In the meantime, here is one really stellar recommendation:
good masterThe Good Master makes an excellent read-aloud, although my older kids kept taking the book to read ahead, so I suppose it’s a good read alone as well!  The book tells the story of a family on the Hungarian plains in the early 1900s (pre-World War I).  Their old fashioned life is interrupted by a cousin from the city (where there are cars and radios and people don’t wear traditional Hungarian clothes) but rhythyms of the animals, food production, and seasons carry on and are showcased beautifully amidst adventures, exploits, and folk tales.

What read alouds did you find this month?


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restlessJennie Allen’s interactive book (not a Biblestudy–I’m not sure why it’s billed that way) Restless: Because You Were Made for More has some helpful points about considering whether your vague restless feeling is God calling you to a bigger purpose and seeking Him more deeply.

I appreciated that Allen led off with an admission that our culture, even church culture, encourages an often obsessive amount of self-focus.  She is up front about how a lot of times we just need to get over ourselves and get started obeying God’s word.

The majority of the book then walks the reader through how the various threads of your life may point to God’s purpose for you.  This may be helpful for some readers, but to be honest I thought it was a little too surface in some areas and a little too opaque in others.

It’s not that the book wasn’t worthwhile at all–I did get some good reminders and insights–but overall it felt a little light to me.  If you’re really interested in digging into this sort of thing, I’d recommend Lara Casey’s book Make It Happen instead.


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Establish Your Heart (a Biblestudy on James)

Establish-Your-Heart-Cover-for-web-228x300Having really enjoyed Jenni Keller’s study on Colossians, I eagerly bought her second book, Establish Your Heart: A Six-week Study of James.  Although the format was a little different and I preferred the Colossians study overall, I still got a lot out of the James study, and would recommend it.

You can get the study two ways: via Amazon or directly from Keller’s website.  I got my copy from her website as a download and printed it out, but in hindsight I would have just gotten it on Amazon because for $2 extra you get a paperback version that doesn’t require your colored ink and is presumably bound versus being a stack of computer paper held together by a binder clip.

Either way, the study is an economical investment that will encourage you to think deeply about the book of James and really study this Scripture.  Like Keller’s previous study, this one doesn’t force feed you any answers–you really do your own study, but feel supported along the way.  I really like that about Keller’s approach.

The study could easily be done with a group or on your own.  If you’re looking for a tool to help you dig more deeply in your Bible study, I’d recommend Establish Your Heart or Complete in Christ, Keller’s study on Colossians (you can read my review of the Colossians study here).


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The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

shallowsIf you’re interested in how brains work–and particularly if you’re fascinated by how they change and what we can do about that–I’d recommend Nicholas Carr’s thought-provoking book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

At first I feared this would be a Luddite, over-anxious screed against computers, but instead I found it to be fairly balanced, and devoted mostly to an exploration of the considerable and growing body of research into the impact of screen reading and internet use on how we think, learn, reason, and process information.  The findings are quite interesting and have staggering implications for our social, political, and intellectual future.

Topics raised include:

  • How reading on a screen is vastly different from reading in a linear book, and what that means for an individual’s ability to retain, engage with, and learn from the material.
  • What linear reading allows that screen reading does not (including questions of what literacy means beyond simple decoding of letters).
  • How interacting online impacts our ability to see nuance and respond with empathy (hint: over time it draws both down shockingly)
  • Why online connection is addictive and how it differs from in person interaction or direct correspondence.
  • The nasty side effect of internet quick hit information–including unbundling content and being able to find things fast on google–which is distraction, and how that changes the ways our brain works with a negative impact on creativity, deep thinking, and higher-level cognitive skills.
  • How the philosophies of technology–especially in influential industry giants like google–really drive the direction of how we interact with the internet, ideas, and each other.
  • Why brains aren’t actually like computers, but how believing they are drives a lot of technology and the resulting flattening of our intelligence.

These are heavy subjects.  And yet the book does not have a doom-and-gloom feel at all.  The author concedes that technology and the internet are inevitable, and won’t be rewound.  But I think he hints at hopeful ideas as well.  If you’re aware of what’s going on, and what the medium is doing to you, you can take steps to combat it in yourself and your children.  I’m less certain what to do about society overall–especially the kind of frightening political implications of a populace in which the majority basically loses the ability to interact deeply with nuanced ideas.

Personally, I felt confirmed in my convictions about limiting screen time for my kids and requiring them to read only print books for now.  Obviously there is a huge continuum here that bears a lot of reflection.  This year I’ve taken steps to self-monitor the time I spend in online community versus the time I devote to real-life, in-person relationships.  I also watch how much time I spend reading things online versus reading sustained arguments and narratives in actual books.  My experience mirrors the findings in the studies Carr cites: I retain more and interact more deeply when I’m reading linear paper books than when I read online, and not just because of click-bait articles being inherently shallow–I’m talking about the difference I see between reading a book on my Kindle app and reading it in paper form.  There is value to having a book ready on my phone for many situations.  But I am mindful about which format would be best for different types of books.

Your conclusions may–and likely will–be different.  But The Shallows is the sort of book that begs to be discussed!  If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments!


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Five Favorite Picture Books – August 2015

To help keep me accountable for my goal of reading more picture books directly to Eliza (she sits in on family read alouds but deserves her turn with the picture book favorites!) I’m posting five of our most beloved titles every month.

ferdinandThe Story of Ferdinand is a charmingly illustrated story about a very docile young bull you really just loves to sit around dreamily smelling flowers.  The other bulls like to paw around and snort about, but Ferdinand’s mother knows he is just his own person so she lets him hang out in the meadows loving life.  When men come from Madrid to find the best bulls for the bullfights, Ferdinand doesn’t bother trying out, but he accidentally sits on a bee and naturally goes a little beserk,making him the clear favorite for the fighting.  The book tells what happens when he goes to the city for the fight.  The story is fun, and Robert Lawson is one of my favorite illustrators.  It’s a great book!


In Clocks and More Clocks, a punctual man becomes more and more distraught as he realizes that the clocks he keeps in different rooms of his house are all–seemingly–different.  Finally he drags the watchmaker to his house to investigate and learns an interesting lesson, plus the value of having a watch.  The illustrations in this book are really 1970s-ish, but amusing.


Tacky the Penguin is a strange bird, but a good bird to have around.  He’s very different from his penguin companions (Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect), but maintains a strong sense of who he is.  So when hunters come, Tacky has the presence of mind to confound them and save all of his friends.  This is a funny book, and lots of fun, but also has a good message about how being different can be ok.

sloppy kisses

I had the book Sloppy Kisses when I was a kid, and still enjoy reading it to my own children.  In the book, a pig family is very affectionate, giving hugs and kissing each other good-bye, and things like that.  But when the oldest daughter is seen getting a good-bye kiss at school drop-off, a friend makes fun of her and she decides she’s too old for kissing.  This makes her family sad, but eventually the pig daughter decides that it’s perfectly fine to hug and kiss your family members, and not babyish after all.

leo-late-bloomerLeo the Late Bloomer is a very simple book, with short, simple text about the theme of kids hitting milestones in their own good time.  What makes the book is the illustrations.  They are colorful, funny, and detailed, giving lots of points of interest.  This makes the book a great choice for very little kids who are just getting the hang of sitting still while you read to them, but it’s also a nice selection for kids who already know what to do during reading time.

Did your family find any great new picture books, or rediscover any old favorites this month?


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