Tuesday, March 03, 2015



When God wants an important thing done in this world or a wrong righted, He goes about it in a very singular way. He doesn't release thunderbolts or stir up earthquakes. God simply has a tiny baby born, perhaps of a very humble home, perhaps of a very humble mother. And God puts the idea or purpose into the mother's heart. And she puts it in the baby's mind, and then-God waits. The great events of this world are not battles and elections and earthquakes and thunderbolts. The great events are babies, for each child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged with humanity but is still expecting good-will to become incarnate in each human life.

Edmond McDonald


Sunday, March 01, 2015

favorite read-aloud books from 2014


IMG_5412 I think my favorite part of motherhood is reading out loud to my kids.  I still remember the day I read a real story (with a real plot instead of those baby books where you just point out pictures) to Hazel. The book was “The Happy Lion.”  The storyline was sweet and engaging for both of us and that instant we were both hooked.  I had bought Jim Trelease’s book “The Read Aloud Handbook” when I was still pregnant with Hazel and anticipated all of the great adventures I was going to take my kids on through reading aloud.  I remember LOVING the books my mom read aloud to me.  I wasn’t too big of a reader myself as a kid, so those adventures and emotions she took me on through those books really imprinted on my soul. 

I’ve found reading to my kids even greater than all the hype I had built up over the years.  I’m not really a playful mom….it’s hard for me to get down on the floor and play blocks or to imagine up a game for too long.  But I could read to them for hours.  It’s an awesome way to combine something I love with something that really engages my kids.  I think I’ve always read books that were a little beyond my kids in my rush to get to the books that I’m excited to share or discover with them.  And I think that’s been ok.  Our reading adventures started with just Hazel and Charlie, but this past year all four of them would be  in Em and Peter’s bedroom to listen.  The rule is that they all have to be still in their beds or on their spots while I read.  Of course Peter is almost always breaking that rule…climbing around the room or playing with his cars but he is quiet and doesn't seem to distract the other kids.  I’m sure he’s not getting much from the stories, but filling up his brain with all those words can’t be bad.  I like the room nice and dark so we either just have Christmas lights or read on the kindle with the room totally dark.  I like to think that the darkness helps them focus in on the words I’m reading and make pictures in their little brains. 

We also love to listen to audio books while in the car.  And Emmeline’s favorite quiet time activity is listening to the Ramona books (greatest reader ever).

Here are my favorite things about reading out loud to my kids:

- It motivates EVERYONE to move through the bedtime routine quickly.  I dread the bedtime routine.  But when we get our acts together early enough and we’re into a real page tuner we all rush through teeth and pjs and tidying our rooms and settle into that dark room quickly so that we can see what happens next.   

- It gives us such great things to talk about.  I’ve found that the very best way to teach anything to kids is through stories.  Since I’m not that great at coming up with my own stories (like Jeff is) I find stories from great books light up our minds and give us a shared experience to learn from together.  We’ve had so many engaged and profound chats after reading.  The stories seem to speak so much louder than any lecture or lesson i could give them.

- It calms everyone down and calms our minds.  My favorite thing is when the littlest of the bunch falls asleep while I’m reading.  Isn’t that a pleasant way to fall asleep?

- It gets me through books that I’ve been wanting to read or reread and that brings me lots of joy….both in reading and in anticipating the reading.

- It helps me to feel connected with my kids in a way that just hanging out with them, or watching a movie, or nagging them to move through the day doesn't. 

- It teaches us things, all of us.  We’ve learned so much about other people’s experiences, about far away countries, about history and overcoming obstacles. 

- It fosters a love of learning and books in my children.  I read them books that they wouldn’t choose to read for themselves.  I’m on the search for books that evoke empathy, have strong moral lessons and conflicts and are written well.  I think these are the books that hook children into the vast, deep and wonderful world of literature. 

By no means am I the most fantastic read aloud mother who ever lived.  There are often whole weeks where I don’t read any chapter books to them.  At the most we read three times a week. I dream of doing it every night, but life is just too packed for that.  And i think doing it everyday might make it loose it’s luster.

The trick is to have a pile of books waiting to be read.  When I do I find it so much easier to be more consistent with it. 

So, here are some of our favorites from 2014.  There are a few I couldn’t find to take a photo of, but I’ll include them anyway. 

We loved this book.  I read it just with Charlie and Hazel and it gave us so much to think about.  Did you know it’s part of a 4 part series?  My and Hazel read all of them on our own.  They are fascinating, bring up so much to talk about, and if you want a post-apocalyptic story they are SOOOO much better for kids than the Hunger Games.  We have a rule that you have to read the book before you can see the movie.  It was so fun to sit with my big kids and watch the movie when it came out a few months ago.  Such beautiful scenes in that movie. 

We just finished Heidi a few weeks ago and it was one of my favorite all time books I’ve read with my children.  Full of good inspiring characters and so many life lessons to talk about.  Made us want to save up money to go to Switzerland.  It’s all about how nature heals you and how beautiful it is to recognize God’s plan for your life.  I fell in love with Little Heidi and her grandfather.  And Peter sure perked up every time the goat herder Peter popped up in the story.  This book engaged everyone, and I think it was Emmeline’s favorite ever.

We’ve been slowly making our way through this book.  It is non fiction, about ancient history.  I’d think that would be a recipe for disaster with my kids, but somehow Bauer makes history gripping to kids.  They get so excited when I tell them we’re going to read this book.  Even Emmeline is digesting information from it, I heard her explaining to a friend the other day the geography of upper and lower Egypt.  And I am loving trying to piece back together little snippets of history that I remember to make a more complete picture in my brain.  This has even inspired us to make a new timeline like the one we made (and lost :() in England.

If you haven’t yet discovered Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, please go and buy the box set now. It is a delightful read.  It’s really geared more to Peter and Emmeline, but my big kids always trickled in when they heard me reading it.  We read through a few of them in 2014.  Each chapter is about a different naughty thing that a child does and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s cures that she helps the mothers administer.  They are whimsical and funny and really get the kids to see naughty behaviors from a different perspective.  It’s not only full of funny stories, but great parenting tactics. 

We finished the Chronicles of Narnia.  We loved all of them, such a great combination of adventure and life lessons.  I think the Last Battle might have been my favorite.  Such an interesting commentary on the world right now and religion and finding truth.  I want to re-read the last few chapters, they were deep and full of such beautiful imagery.  I’m amazing at how well Lewis captures kids minds while discussing such deep and profound things. 

We loved Holes.  I think the kids pondered it a lot in-between readings.  It left us with so much to discuss.  And we loved watching the movie after we were done reading. 

On Audible we bought the whole Ramona series.  All the kids love to listen to the adventures of this quirky girl, but I think Emmeline loves it best . I think it helps her feel normal since she’s a lot like little Ramona.  It’s laugh out loud funny, and the narrator (Stockard Channing – Rizzo in the movie Greece) is awesome.  I love the way she reads. 

I haven’t read even one chapter of this, but Hazel has read it to Emmeline lots and they love it.  I need to sit down and see what all the fuss is about!

We read this one and Little House on the Prairie.  I love love love these books, can’t wait to read more.  I keep trying to get my big kids to read them on their own and they won’t, but they love to hear me read them.  The stories are simple yet gripping.  Well written but still easy for a little one to understand.  They’ve filled us up with wonder as we’ve pondered what life was like long ago, how hard working people were, how happy they were with so little.  I love Laura Ingalls.  And now we’re totally hooked on the TV series. You can buy the whole first season on Amazon on demand for $15 and with all this snow we’ve been binge watching them.  I’ve cried in every episode so far.  It’s giving us all so much to talk about, so many great life lessons from the Ingalls family.

We read this early on in the year and loved it.  It went over Emmeline and Peter’s heads but the big kids still think and talk about it.  It’s about a boy with a deformed face and his challenges as he goes to school.  It spurred so many great discussions about kindness and empathy and has some great characters to learn from.  Hazel and my mom read a follow up book called Julian’s chapter which tells the story of the mean boy Julian.  They loved learning to have empathy even for the bully.  I need to read that one.

I’ve been wanting to read this one forever and we finally got to it over the Christmas break.  Another great one to help kids learn to have compassion on those who are different. 

We listened to this one in the car on a road trip.  It was gripping.  I loved listening to it too, the accent of the reader made the story feel just like it should. 

Some other favorites over the years include:

  • all of Roald Dahl.  That guy is a genius. His stuff is so funny and so great to read aloud.  So many great things to discuss.  I think my favorite is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.  I love those two characters.  Of course the movies are great, but the books take the cake.  I think those were the first chapter books I ever read aloud to the kids….they hooked us into discovering stories together.  
  • Charlottes Web: sort of a book you just have to read to your kids at some point.  Love it.
  • The Little Princess: I think it’s my all time favorite book I’ve ever read to my kids.
  • The Secret Garden:  we liked this too, but not as much as the little princess.
  • Ida B.  Fantastic book for girls.  Get the audio book, it’s read so well.  I think Hazel has listened to it 20 times.
  • Hatchet :  My kids love survival stories.  Better for bigger kids.
  • Pippi Long Stocking: So funny and quirky, one of Emmeline’s favorites
  • The Tale of Despereaux:  I love this one as a read aloud, I love how the author talks to the reader.  Really helps you know when it’s time to stop and talk about some lesson that the story is teaching. 
  • My Father’s Dragon: great for little kids just ready for chapter (no picture) books. 
  • Jonny Truman: we read this too early (like three or four years ago) in our quest to learn about the Revolution.  I think it was beyond my kids, but such a good book….live and learn. 
  • Mixed up files of Basil E Frankweiler,  A Wrinkle in Time, Because of Winn Dixie, The Mysterious Benedict Society
  • Some of our favorite road trip audio books: The Graveyard Book (kind of scary for littler kids), Harry Potter (such a great narrator), All of a Kind Family (seriously, these stories are precious! I love books that are simple but still reel in the big kids), Series of Unfortunate Events
  • For a while Jeff had a book he would read when he was putting the kids to bed and I had one I would read.  Things have gotten too crazy for that lately, so now he just tells “Froggie” stories about Brutus the Super frog.  But some that he has read with them that they really enjoyed are: The Hobbit, The Book of Three, The Great Wave….
  • that’s all I can think of right now. 

Anyway, I would love some recommendations for great read alouds.  Like I said, it makes it so much easier to keep going if I have a stack of books that we’re all excited about.  So please, let me know what your favorite books are that you’ve read to your kids, or that you’ve read as a kid. 

Happy Reading!!!



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