What the Kids are Reading in May 2015

Just like last month, we still didn’t have all that many new picture books that we finished this month.

Frogs Play CellosFrogs Play CellosFrogs Play Cellos (Did You Know?) by Laura Lyn DiSiena and Hannah Eliot, illustrated by Pete Oswald and Aaron Spurgeon by Laura Lyn DiSiena and Hannah Eliot, illustrated by Pete Oswald and Aaron Spurgeon

I think this would work better not as a true introduction to instruments but reinforcement for children who already know the names and concepts. We read it through once but my two were not interested in it at all. We’ll try it again another time.

Inside WeatherInside WeatherInside Weather (Inside Series) by Mary Kay Carson by Mary Kay Carson

My son’s pick, and it was quite timely, as we’re also reading a WeatherWeather (Usborne Beginners, Level 2) book for school. They go together quite nicely. The only thing I don’t like about this one is there are lots of fold-out pages that have me policing the use of the book more – they’d be easy to rip. This has more text than other books my son has tried to read on his own, but the layout keeps him from feeling overwhelmed, and he likes the information, so he’s stuck with it.

Air Is All Around YouAir Is All Around YouAir Is All Around You (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1) by Franklyn Branley, illustrated by John O'Brien by Franklyn Branley, illustrated by John O’Brien

Read it once, and then I put it away in the library bag. It includes some simple experiments mentioned in the text, but “simple” does not always equal “easily doable with three small children,” and the way the information is presented means it’s hard to skip over it without having kids asking questions. “Why can’t we do that?” “Because I do not have the mental and physical energy to wrangle you two and the baby and anything involving water and food coloring, that’s why.”

Also, the illustrations were a little bit creepy to me. The eyes! So freaky!

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Soulless

PrintSoulless (The Parasol Protectorate)Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate) by Gail Carriger by Gail Carriger

If you’ve read my reviews for the Finishing School series, author Gail Carriger‘s name may be familiar. This series was written first, but it takes place twenty years or so after the first. There are some connections between the two, but one book in I’d say it’s not essential that you read the other one first.

If I’d never read the other series, I’d likely be much more enthusiastic about this one. As it is though, I preferred that one as it’s aimed at young adults and is much lighter on the romance aspects. This one has more specifics than I sometimes appreciated (it’s not graphic, although there would have been too much for my grandmother. As if she’d have read a book with vampires, werewolves, and all the other fantasy elements of this one to let the romance aspect be the only issue.)

My preference is definitely to be skimpy on the romance details however – let’s keep the plot moving forward, and skip the lovely dovey stuff/other action. Your mileage may vary. ;)

I enjoy the imaginative world Carriger has created, and despite my quibbles, will be reading more in the series. I’d recommend it to any fantasy fans who think it sounds intriguing – it’s a quick and easy read, and won’t require much of a reading investment to find out if it’s a style you enjoy.

But start with Etiquette and Espionage. It’s so much fun, and it does come first chronologically. :)

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The Lady and the Panda

The Lady and the PandaThe Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China’s Most Exotic AnimalThe Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal by Vicki Constantine Croke by Vicki Constantine Croke

A mostly fascinating look at the amazing life of Ruth Harkness, who became the first Westerner to capture a panda. The best part of the book is the first half, which relates the details behind how and why Harkness set off on that challenging task.

The account loses its way a bit after Harkness captures the panda and delivers it to the United States. That may be because Harkness seemed to lose her way too, after achieving that momentous goal. When you’ve done the impossible, how can you top it?

If you’re an animal lover, there are parts of the book that will be hard to read. The animal collecting frenzy of the time led to awful suffering for those prized animals. It was interesting to learn how Harkness herself can to recognize the wrongs involved and attempt to right some of them.

It’s well-researched and well-written, but occasionally quite discouraging. Sometimes life can be so unfair, and reading about how lost people can be when they don’t have a strong foundation can be heart-wrenching.

If you’ve got younger children, there’s also a picture book about Harkness and her expedition: Mrs. Harkness and the PandaMrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter, illustrations by Melissa Sweet. Looks like fun, although I haven’t read it yet!

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Top 10 Tips for Homeschool Conventions

Sonlight is having a monthly blog linkup this year, in honor of their 25th anniversary. May’s topic is to share your best homeschool convention tips and experiences.

Top 10 Tips for attending a homeschool conventionLet’s first get the disclaimer out of the way: I’ve never been to a homeschool convention. So why on earth do I think I have anything to say about attending one then? Because I’ve been to a lot of library conventions, and I think there’s enough overlap that some general points will apply to homeschool ones as well. And I also ran this post past a friend who has been to some homeschool conventions to see if I was completely off-base with my tips. She didn’t think so, so here are my top 10 tips for going to conventions, homeschool or otherwise. :)

  1. Go for comfort, especially with your shoes.
    Seems obvious, right? Big convention, large exhibit hall, presentations taking place all over the place – there can be a lot of walking. Every year I’d see people collapsed on a chair, rubbing their feet as they bemoaned their choice of footwear. Also, be aware that temperatures can vary – the middle of summer might still have an overly air-conditioned hall, or you might be in stuffy rooms, so wear layers.
  2. Know the rules.
    Are rolling bags allowed on the exhibit floor? They’re super handy, but not all conventions allow them. Same goes for strollers – sometimes they’re allowed, sometimes they’re not. You’ll want to know before you show up expecting to use one. Check the convention website – that’ll usually let you know what is and is not permitted.
  3. Carry some cash.
    Even if you don’t usually use it, you may need to now. Parking fees, vending machines – they may take cards, but they may not.
  4. Pack a snack and a drink.
    I always like having a granola bar or some almonds. Food options vary, and you may never need it, but having something small and not needing it is much nicer than desperately wishing you had something … anything … to quell the hunger pains. (But remember to make sure you’re following point #2 – some places don’t allow outside food or drink.)
  5. Figure out your goals.
    Which presentations will best meet your needs? Which vendors do you most want to see? Set priorities as to how you’re going to use your time, and have back up plans in case certain presentations are full or even cancelled.
  6. Divide and conquer.
    If you’re attending with a friend, can you split up and cover more ground? Especially if two presentations you’re interested in are taking place at the same time, see if you can each attend one and then swap notes later. If you’re on your own, find out if audio will be available after the convention. Maybe you don’t need to go to some of the presentations, if you can download the talk later. Remember though, if there’s one where you want to ask a question, go in person to that!
  7. Have space in your bag.
    I always left with tons of literature, and needed to plan ahead and have space in my luggage.
  8. Think ahead for what you might want to buy.
    Are any publishers running convention specials? Are they good enough to be worth buying on site? And compare online prices – is that special convention price really special?
  9. Bring address labels.
    Library convention exhibit halls had tons of giveaways, and they usually involved dropping a business card in a container, or filling out a entry slip. Leaving a card was much quicker, and saved writing my info multiple times. I saw others slapping address labels on those slips, so even without a business card they still avoided having to write their info again and again.
  10. For all the introverts out there – plan some downtime.
    It helps to not be overwhelmed by everything and ALL THE PEOPLE.

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7QT on birthdays, baseball, essential oils, and of course books

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

G at firstI think I already mentioned how my son is playing baseball now. He’s so excited, and will tell anyone he can that he has 5 practices and 13 games. He’s got new shoes as well to go along with the rest of the brand new uniform.

No cleats, just new tennis shoes, as his old ones had holes in the toes and let sand in. Why did they have holes in the toes? Because he continues to use his shoes as breaks when he rides his scooter.

Although it didn’t really matter that he had holes in the toes, because he needed to move up a size anyway. The kid has enormous feet.

— 2 —

My daughter has started giving me her list of what she wants for her birthday, and the other day when she added one more thing to it, I reminded her that she might not get that exact item, but we’d get her something she’d like. Her plaintive response: “Only ONE thing?”

It was all I could do not to laugh.

And then her big concern was that she gets the same number of things as her brother. Why does that not surprise me?

— 3 —

What she really insists she wants is a blue mermaid and a purple mermaid. And that they be soft, not hard. Her brother wants Legos (he’s going to be disappointed, because what he really wants is the big police stationLEGO City Police 60047 Police Station, and we’re not spending that much). I keep steering him to smaller, cheaper sets and seeing which one he wants most, because he just says “I want this one and this one and this one and this one….” The boy loves his Legos!

— 4 —

They’re also both giving me ideas for the baby, and are in disbelief when I tell them that they baby isn’t getting much besides a few books. I wouldn’t even worry about getting her new books, except some of my favorites for babies have been so well loved by the older two that they’re in tatters.

— 5 —

AAR Level 3 Progress ChartMy son flew through his last reading lessons in level 3, and then was horrified that I didn’t have level 4 ready and waiting. Well, no, I didn’t expect you to do 19 lessons in 5 days, so I hadn’t ordered it already. It arrived Wednesday however, and he was ready to dive into it immediately.

Instead I was the mean mom and have made him wait until we did a final review of the word cards he’d had trouble with. “Semicircle” is officially the hardest one for him from level 3. I thought it would be “pilgrim” or “titles” but he finally got those. Why those three caused him so much trouble I’m not sure, but they did.

— 6 —

April YLEO ER orderIf you follow me on Instagram you’ve already seen this, but I got some FREE essential oils recently, thanks to Essential Rewards points. Yay for essential oils, and yay for free ones!

And for my last ER order, I got Dragon Time massage oil, Valor, Lemon, Raven, and RC. I feel lucky – I got my order for Valor in just before it went out of stock for the season. Love that oil, and I’d passed along a bottle so I’m so happy I was able to replace it.

— 7 —

Blue BirdsI mentioned on Tuesday my birthday reading plans. And then I got zero reading time in, thanks to kids. Oh, well, the books will still be there waiting for me. I am in the midst of reading
Blue BirdsBlue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose, and it’s fabulous. I’ve slowed down a bit because it’s so good and so quick to read I’m intentionally setting it aside so I don’t gulp it down in one big binge read.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t The Lyceum!

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Recent Readaloud: Dolphin Adventure

Dolphin AdventureDolphin Adventure: A True StoryDolphin Adventure: A True Story by Wayne Grover, illustrated by Jim Fowler by Wayne Grover, illustrated by Jim Fowler

The story-telling isn’t the best (it’s serviceable, but not phenomenal), and if I were rating it on my own I’d probably give it 3 stars. However, my son’s enjoyment of it made me bump up the overall rating I gave it on GoodReads to 4 stars. He was a fan – so much so that when he realized there was a second book following this one, he insisted that we had to get it because he needed to hear it too.

My verdict:
An amazing true story, I appreciated how it opened up several areas of discussion. Plenty of illustrations and very short chapters make it a good choice for kids new at listening to chapter books. It’s easy enough that it would also work for newer readers – not complete beginners, but somewhat new to reading chapter books.

The kids’ verdict:
My son immediately requested to read the second book, Dolphin Treasure. My daughter was only slightly interested in it, and mostly just wanted to see the pictures. So, good for my five-year-old, not so good for my three-year-old.

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The Thirteen Problems

The Thirteen ProblemsThe Thirteen ProblemsThe Thirteen Problems (Miss Marple Mysteries) by Agatha Christie by Agatha Christie

I loved this collection of Miss Marple short stories – each one was very satisfying, and I enjoyed putting my brain to the test to figure out if I could solve the mystery before Miss Marple revealed the answers.

While I generally try and avoid reading fiction too close to bedtime (invariably I find myself reading “just one more chapter” several times, and regretting it the next day), this is an easy choice for reading when you don’t have much time. Each chapter is a self-contained story, and while there is an overarching narrative connecting the stories, it doesn’t matter which order you read them in, and you could easily read once chapter, set the book aside for weeks or months, and then pick up again with no worries over forgetting plot points.

Eminently satisfying to read, and makes me appreciate just how good Christie was.

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Birthday Reading

The Truth According to UsToday’s my birthday, and while I can’t spend it reading all day long like I did once upon a time (as in, pre-children), I can still make an effort to have a book waiting for me that I think I’m sure to love.

This year, it’s The Truth According to Ushe Truth According to Us: A Novel by Annie Barrows by Annie Barrows. Yes, Annie Barrows, the co-author of my beloved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows has a new book coming out next month and I got a review copy.

Because I’m a book nerd, I got curious about my previous birthday reads, so I looked in my book log (a.k.a. GoodReads) and found some of the highlights of years past:


2013: The Distant Hours (4 Stars)
And I’ve mentioned it on social media, but maybe not here: Kate Morton has a new book coming out this year – The Lake House! So exciting!

2012: Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic LifeDon't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasley (3 Stars)
I remember feeling very amused reading a book with this title on my actual birthday. And feeling very grateful that I don’t have the severe food allergies the author has!

2011: nothing!
We were a couple weeks away from moving, and I was very pregnant with baby #2. I didn’t do much reading that month.

2010: The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunThe Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin (4 Stars)
If I’d thought to time it better, I could have read her new book this year on my birthday. But I just finished Better Than BeforeBetter Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin earlier in the month.

2009: The Contemplative Mom: Restoring Rich Relationship with God in the Midst of MotherhoodThe Contemplative Mom: Restoring Rich Relationship with God in the Midst of Motherhood by Ann Kroeker (3 Stars) and Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to RealityHeading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality (4 Stars).
Why yes, I was due with my first baby the next month. Although he waited until the NEXT month to actually arrive. ;)

2006: To Live is Christ Leaders Guide: The Life and Ministry of PaulTo Live is Christ Leaders Guide: The Life and Ministry of Paul by Beth Moore (4 Stars)
I need to read more by Beth Moore – I don’t know why I stopped, as I always got a lot of out them.

2001 – EnduranceEndurance by F. A. Worsley (5 Stars)
Such a good book.


What surprises me with this is that in my mind, I’ve always made an effort to have a great book to read on my birthday. And apparently this wasn’t always the case (hence all the unlisted years above that consisted of ok or just good-but-not-great reads). Wonder what else I’m mis-remembering, or at least idealizing, when the reality is somewhat different. Or perhaps it’s just that I selected the books to read on my birthday thinking they’d be great, and then they didn’t always live up to those hopes. :)

Fingers crossed that this year’s book is as good as I’m hoping it will be!

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Read This, Not That: French Food Memoir

Read This Not That French Food Memoir

I love food memoirs, and books that take place in France, so combining the two makes me very excited to read a book. If you feel the same way, I’ve got two great options for you to try (and one to skip).

Read This

The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – CityThe Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City by David Lebovitz by David Lebovitz is such a wonderful read. It made me wish I could move to Paris, and also feel so grateful that I’m living somewhere where I can navigate the issues of daily life with relative ease. Lebovitz is a fantastic story-teller, and terrific at describing the sounds, smells, and tastes of Paris. Prepare to be hungry as you read this one.

Or Read This

On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French TownOn Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Herrmann Loomis by Susan Herrmann Loomis is the best sort of food memoir. Her stories are engaging and bring her experineces to life. You feel like you’re with her as she’s navigating her new world and adjusting to life in France. There are recipes too, although I never tried any of them. It’s got a fairly quiet pace, but I enjoyed that quite a bit.

Not That

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with RecipesLunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard by Elizabeth Bard sounded promising, but dragged on quite a bit, and I found the repeated references to her cleavage tedious. Sections of it were quite enjoyable, but they were pulled down by the rest of it. There are recipes tacked on, and that’s just how they read – like they’ve been tacked on to the narrative in order to produce a oh-so-popular-right-now food memoir. They don’t fit with the story overall, the way they do in other examples in the genre.

Other Great Choices

While I won’t say there’s absolutely no reason to read this only, there are just so many better choices, so I’d save your reading time. Besides On Rue Tatin and My Sweet Life in Paris, try Mastering the Art of French Eating, My Life in France or The Sharper the Knife the Less You Cry (these last two aren’t as close of matches to the overall feel of the others, but they’re great reads.)

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All About Spelling Level 1 Review

All About Spelling Level 1I promised this review ages ago, and kept letting it get pushed off in favor of other posts. So hopefully no one was waiting too anxiously for it!

We finished up All About Spelling (AAS) Level 1 just as we finished Core P 4/5. And despite being a couple of months into the next set of material we’re using for our framework, Core A, we still haven’t gotten back to spelling by continuing with Level 2. That is in no way a reflection of any dislike for the program! I wanted us to get into a good routine with Core A, and then my son was so focused on finishing Level 3 of the All About Reading (AAR) program, that I figured that was enough phonics work, and holding off on continuing spelling was ok.

Because we will be continuing with spelling using AAS – it’s fantastic!

If you’ve been using AAR, AAS seems less hands-on. It’s still got the letter tiles and word cards, but there aren’t all the activities like there are in AAR. That’s not a criticism, just a comment and comparison. I love the letter tiles, and my son does as well – he’s not fond of writing, and they keep him from being held back by his writing. Building words via tiles is much simpler, and lets him focus on the letters, not how they’re formed.

I love how the phonics rules are reinforced with AAS. Every one taught in Level 1 was one he knew already through AAR, but the change in focus from decoding to encoding helped him learn them in a different way. Spelling was always my worst subject in school, and my lack of phonics instruction really hampered me. I learned some things from Level 1 (the rules anyway, not so much the application at that level), and I’m kind of excited to see what else I’ll learn from the additional levels.

Each day’s lesson is quick – maybe 15 minutes tops – but that’s enough to make steady progress through the book. Everything is really easy for me to follow as well. It’s slightly scripted, and even with my non-phonics background it’s simple for me to use and teach.

Highly, highly recommended. I love this program. My son loves this program. It’s wonderful. It might seem a little bit pricey, but it’s completely reusable for my younger two. The only consumables in this program are the stickers – even the progress chart, phonogram chart, and certificate of completion can be downloaded for free from their website to use with additional students. Love that!

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post, and I didn’t receive this program for free – I paid for it myself – I just LOVE this program. So much so that I am an affiliate for it, which means that if you buy the program using my link I may receive a percentage of the cost at no additional cost to you. And then I use any money I make to buy more books and homeschooling supplies which I talk about here. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!