Book Recommendations

D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) Day

In honor of Beverly Cleary’s birthday, April 12 is Drop Everything And Read Day. When your kids get home from school, instead of having them put away the dishes, maybe let them Drop Everything And Read! Or when they reach for the switch controller, suggest they first Drop Everything And Read!

Looking for a new book that you can borrow instantly? Using your Carnegie Library card, you can immediately borrow electronic and audio books from Hoopla. Here are a few recommendations:

First, obviously, is Beverly Cleary! Here you can find either audio or electronic copies of most of her books! Here’s a very well done recording of The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection, which is where D.E.A.R. began!

Books Ramona would have read a million times:
Understood Betsy Elizabeth Ann was orphaned at an early age and raised by her maiden aunts in the busy city. Sudden illness forces the aunts to send Betsy to other relatives, the Putnams, who live in the country on a farm. Betsy learns all about the farm and making butter and applesauce and dearly loves her new life. Then one of the aunts comes back and wants to take Betsy back to the city … such a dilemma! Children can readily relate to Betsy, a real girl in a real world where fortune seems to direct her life. She so loves being on the farm and doing all the things a farm girl does, including going to school. When fate again intervenes and tries to take her away from the life she loves, Betsy, though torn, bounds into another day of farm life, full of love for all she comes in contact with, and grows into a beautiful young lady.

Anne of Green Gables This tale follows the adventures of Anne, a young, red-haired orphan who has spent her entire childhood being passed around from one foster home to the next. Until one day she is sent to Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert by mistake. While trying to adopt a boy to help work on their farm, the Cuthbert’s ended up with Anne, who they could not send away after learning that an evil woman in town was attempting to adopt her. Anne gains many friendships in her new town with her eager, quick-witted, and bright attitude. While working on the farm, she also finds herself excelling in school and aspires to become a teacher.

Betsy-Tacy Betsy hopes that whoever moves into the house across the street will have a little girl just her age. And the little girl who moves in is just her age. Her name is Tacy. She is very bashful, but she likes to listen to Betsy’s stories-wonderful stories that the girls love, and that they keep as their own special secret. After a while, it’s hard to remember a time when Betsy and Tacy weren’t best friends.

Books that show history is interesting:
Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale These graphic novels can be a little gruesome (the narrator is the Revolutionary War patriotic spy Nathan Hale who is about to be beheaded by the British for treason and he is telling these tales to stall for time), so check them out for yourself first! But they are easy reads (comic-book style) and very informative! Your kids will be teaching you things about history!

Check out Clyde Robert Bulla! Two favorites: Secret Valley, about the gold rush and Sword in the Tree, set in the time of King Arthur. These aren’t as exciting as Nathan Hale’s tales above, but they are sweet.

Little House on the Prairie The Little House series is based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life growing up as an American pioneer.

Books with animal adventures:
Redwall Series (Often especially loved by dads, too!) The first book of the series in not on hoopla, but the prequel and many sequels are! Brian Jacques’ tales of courageous heroes and deliciously hateful villains have captivated countless readers.

The Green Ember Series. Rabbits with swords! Heather and Picket are extraordinary rabbits with ordinary lives until calamitous events overtake them, spilling them into a cauldron of misadventures. They discover that their own story is bound up in the tumult threatening to overwhelm the wider world.
Kings fall and kingdoms totter. Tyrants ascend and terrors threaten. Betrayal beckons, and loyalty is a broken road with peril around every bend.
Where will Heather and Picket land? How will they make their stand?

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (This animal is a toy china doll, but still…) Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who adored him completely. And then, one day, he was lost. . . . Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the bedside of an ailing child to the bustling streets of Memphis. Along the way, we are shown a miracle — that even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again.

Book Review: For the Children’s Sake (a good gift idea for teachers!)

For the Children’s Sake presents a picture of a Charlotte Mason-inspired education that sounds like many Christian schools.

Charlotte Mason gives us a plan that is beautifully balanced. The children are given tasks, so that they learn basic skills. Their minds are nourished. They are put in touch with the whole of reality. They have structure and yet they are given time, half the day, for freedom. This was up to the age of 13 years [ in the Charlotte Mason style school] without homework. They can develop their own affinities. They can be, imagine, play, ponder, create, read. They can move, be noisy, quiet, social or alone…This growing time produces integrated people who understand their own limitations, desires, interests, gifts, and tendencies. One person will end up in the garage tinkering with an old motor; another will be playing with toddlers; another will draw pictures and tell stories while yet another thinks of ways to earn money. Children are respected and accepted as valid persons, but they are not left on the island of their own limited resources. Through careful choice they are nourished with the best we human beings have to offer. Mind is introduced to mind. Child to nature and activities. Pray that our children may be so educated in a total life that they are enabled to have clear, realistic, and true thinking and action, based on thought and principle.

Really, the whole book is full of quotable passages to inspire your favorite teacher:

We don’t have to chart exactly what a child has ‘learned’ from any of these sources to make it worthwhile using them. This is a different way of thinking about learning. Our job is to give the best nourishment regularly. The child takes what is appropriate to him at the time. A good example is when we enjoy a book together as a family. The nine-year-old enjoys hearing J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He extracts nourishment for mind and spirit. The fourteen-year-old also is fed, but extracts something different. The parents enjoy it in yet another way. There is no ‘right’ way to react, no list of items one has to remember. Living life isn’t like that. We are individuals, and we leave it that way.

Children should have relationships with earth and water, should run and leap, ride and swim, should establish the relation of maker to material in as many kinds as may be; should have dear and intimate relations with persons, through present intercourse, through tale or poem, picture or statue; through flint arrow-head or modern motor-car: beast and bird, herb and tree, they must have familiar acquaintance with. Other peoples and their languages must not be strange to them. Above all they should find that most intimate and highest of all Relationships – the fulfillment of their being [their relationship with God].

This is not a bewildering program, because, in all these and more directions, children have affinities; and a human being does not fill his place in the universe without putting out tendrils of attachment in the directions proper to him. We must get rid of the notion that to learn the ‘three R’s’ or the Latin grammar well, a child should learn these and nothing else. It is true for children as for ourselves that, the wider the range of interests, the more intelligent is the apprehension of each.

The strength of this book is in encouraging teachers to treat their students as people who have their own worthy minds and interests and abilities and to remember to give them some freedom, while putting the best of the best material in front of them.

A Bookish Podcast for Kids Who Love Books (or for those of us who want our kids to love books!)

Goldberry Studios, creator of Close Reads (the best online bookclub and discussion podcast on all of the internet), has a BRAND NEW podcast for kids! It promises to be part nonsense/part bookclub, with book discussions, author talks, family-friendly jokes, game show bits, and more.

Hosts David and Graeme are deeply involved in both books and Christian education and they are trustworthy! This fun podcast definitely gets the Greater Pittsburgh Christian Schools Network stamp of approval!

Their first guest is S.D. Smith, author of The Green Ember series with its famous rabbits with swords! (This is a beloved series with some of our Greater Pittsburgh Christian Schools Network families!)

This summer, if you are looking for something for your kids to listen to–or something to listen to with your kids–check out Withywindle!

It is going to be so good.

Christmas Read Alouds

With news coming from the Governor’s office today with some potential celebration limitations, Christmastime might look different for a lot of our families this year. If you’ve never read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, it is a very sweet story that might lift some spirits or, at least, offer a few laughs. A bit of cheer seems welcome this year as we’re trying to keep Christmas Christmassy!

You can borrow an audiobook or an e-book from Hoopla if your library uses Hoopla. (Many of our libraries in the area do!) (Here’s a post on how-to-hoopla if you need it!)

Here’s where you can borrow the audiobook to stream or download onto a device.

Here’s where you can borrow the e-book.

And here’s a review from Christian Children’s Book Review to see if the book sounds like a good fit for your family. My family has read and enjoyed it many times, but every family is different! This site does a good job mentioning any objectionable material. (It’s not frequent and is treated as a negative, but you know your children best!)

Happy Reading!

The Gospel Comes With A House Key Book Review

The Gospel Comes with a House KeyThe Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a hard review to write. First, in college I was welcomed by the author into the very type of hospitality she describes in this book. I know that she practices what she preaches, and practices it very well. I was an unchurched Christian and she brought me, and many other college students, to church followed by lunch in her modest apartment with delicious and modest meals. The wisdom, love, and conversation she shared at these lunches were delightful. Many of us would stay the whole day and return with her for evening worship, in the small church’s basement.

Still, after I began this book, I was nervous. At first, I really did worry it was going to be a new law, and I think it was the description of how the Butterfields practice hospitality and the insistence that we must practice “daily” or “nightly” table fellowship. It is embarrassing to say, because it shows how unlike Rosaria I am, but I scoffed at this! You mean to say God requires that every day or night I need to open my home to people and if I don’t, I am sinning? Can that truly be a biblical command that I have been ignoring for my whole Christian life? This made me both nervous and skeptical. Oh no! I can’t even handle all of the things I already feel obligated to try to do well! Should I even finish reading this book? Am I just going to feel guilty? But I know how lovely Rosaria’s Lord’s Days were! How lovely she is! Keep reading! And I was also aware, thankfully, that even if I can’t do it the Butterfield way, I should be involved in hospitality way more than I am now. So I read it with part skepticism (sorry!) and part trepidation–I know I need to do this better. Keep reading!

The weirdest part was that the crazy radical hospitality that she describes is probably my dream life! I would love to see neighbors everyday and be in and out of people’s lives in such a constant way. But reading it when I was wondering if this was a command, scared me still! I don’t live this way and I don’t see that coming any time soon. At the time that I read this book, I had five kids who I was homeschooling. (Now my kids are split between going to Christian school or being homeschooled–which adds new challenges!) I know she homeschools, too, but we are different people with different gifts (she is brilliant, for instance) and have different numbers and ages of children and probably different levels of hands-on-edness required, etc. The fact that I even had to wrestle with these things (and make excuses for myself!) is what made me nervous! Should I be defending myself–to myself–because I don’t see making my house look exactly like hers? Again, the conviction that I was guilty of practicing hospitality less than I should be, regardless if it should be daily or weekly or what, told me to keep reading.

So I did! Finishing the whole book, I do not think that this book is saying that we must look like the Butterfields in order to be living right, because she does share how other people practice hospitality and they don’t all look like hers (chapter eight). Also, she describes a period of time (in chapter seven–my very favorite chapter for its sweetness and evidence of God’s beautiful grace in an otherwise sad story) where she could not practice this daily hospitality. She sorrowfully missed practicing this way, but she doesn’t say she was sinning.

I think my knee-jerk reaction to the earliest chapters were probably me reading the book critically out of a guilty conscience. I know I don’t practice regular or even frequent hospitality. I know that I could do some things differently in order to love my neighbors (which is God’s command for us) better and more frequently or even at all. I don’t know many of my neighbors. I don’t invite all the people from my church, even, to my home regularly. This book really gives a vision for an incredible, and hard, people-filled life–and it shows how this life brings people to the Lord himself! In the end, it has been a great encouragement! I fully recommend it.

As a memoir sharing how living a life of radical hospitality has turned strangers into friends into family members, this book is incredible. Five stars.

View all my reviews

Using Your Library for Audiobooks and Ebooks

blur book stack books bookshelves

Car rides make for EXCELLENT family audiobook listens!

Do you know about these FREE ways to listen to audiobooks?
If you have a Carnegie Library Card, Allegheny County Library Card, or a Beaver County Library Card, you can access Overdrive to borrow from a large selection of audiobooks! Search your library’s catalog for available audiobooks (or e-books). You can place a hold on a book to request it, or check it out if it is available. Then you can download it and play it on your phone!

And getting audiobooks or ebooks from Hoopla is even easier! Once you sign in with your library card, you can check out 7-10 books a month! These books are always ready to be checked out (you do not have to wait for them to be available!) and they can stream from your device or be downloaded to it! There are a ton of choices between Overdrive and Hoopla! And if your local library doesn’t have the ebook or audiobook you are looking for, all Pennsylvanians can get a Free Library of Philadelphia Card and get electronic books from them, too!