Our July Reads, or The Series is The Thing


While this monthly post generally shares the list of books we’ve read during the current month, we’ve just noticed we haven’t yet returned the list of learning books we checked out last month. In fact, these same books have been gracing our shelves for several months and I have no intention of returning them until they force me. It might be time to break down and just buy them. Maybe. Instead, the family has chosen to spend this month focusing on various series we enjoy. Perhaps some of them have found their way into your home?

  1. Fablehaven (Brandon Mull) – For centuries mystical creatures of all description were gathered into a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite.
    This is a fun series my girls enjoyed. Every magical creature you could imagine is found within its pages. Very imaginative. 
  2. The Ranger’s Apprentice (John Flanagan) – They have always scared him in the past — the Rangers, with their dark cloaks and shadowy ways. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger’s apprentice. What he doesn’t yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, he will not be denied….
    My little lady didn’t know what to expect with this series and had misgivings at first. She quickly gained an appreciation of both characters and storyline. This series is long, but worth every page. 
  3. The School for Good & Evil (Soman Chainani) – This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.
    I read this series before my children came across these books. I was drawn to the storyline and the idea of roles being chosen simply by looks. Upon further reading, we are forced to acknowledge external appearances do not always indicate the person within, and true love is friendship. The girls loved the series, and it gave us plenty to discuss.
  4. The Cat Who... (Lilian Jackson Braun) – A series of twenty-nine mystery novels and three related collections by Lilian Jackson Braun, featuring a reporter named Jim Qwilleran and his Siamese cats, Kao K’o-Kung (Koko for short) and Yum Yum.
    Not the most action packed of series, I do enjoy the mystery of each story and the silly antics attributed to Koko and YumYum. The books are clean and easy reading.

As we launch into a new month, it might be time to make decisions regarding new purchases and look for upcoming reads. Until then, we’re enjoying these great series and keeping our eyes peeled for books to enjoy. There’s no doubt we’ll find what we’re looking for, the question is how we’ll fit them all into our book box!

Your Turn!: Which series would you recommend; either juvenile or adult?

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The Read-Aloud Dilemma

Read_Aloud_Dilemma“Do we really have to sit here and listen, Mom? Please!” Four anxious faces stare back at me, waiting for my answer. Our current read-aloud story is supposed to be Robin Hood. The plan was to progress through the book together, taking in the beauty of the words and having an open discussion of ideas. Instead, my kids are hoping I’ll see things their way and the torture will end. We have a read-aloud dilemma and this mama’s praying for a solution.

Our stand-off might leave you with the impression our children dislike books in general. Let me assure you this is not true. Our children read an average of 100-150 books per week. Reading is not the issue. Reading aloud is not necessarily the issue either. We read our history and science lessons together daily and enjoy the experience. So what is the problem?

The Dilemma – The simple fact is reading aloud takes time. We need to be sitting down all together and work through the literature at a pace which will, on average, suit the entire family. This is difficult when you have children in a wide age range and some of your children are exceptionally fast readers. Reading aloud can additionally be challenged by children who naturally have shorter attention spans. Time dedicated for reading together might need to be short, and those children who are steeped in the read might balk at having to stop for the sake of other siblings.

While our children are all willing, and happy, to sit through read-alouds which directly pertain to our “learning day”, when it comes to fictional reads, all patience flies out the window. It seems we need a compromise.

The Compromise – I have reading lists which I’d like our children to work through, literature which would be of benefit or add beauty to their learning adventure. Rather than make them suffer through reading it as a group, these books are provided for them to read at their own pace. Often, our girls breeze through them quickly. My youngest and I slowly meander through his list with dedication, adding fun side trips to encourage a love of reading.

Outside our regular learning routine and during devotions, reading aloud as a family is generally done in the car! Those long drives to nature walks and field trips are the perfect opportunity to pop in a good audio book and enjoy a story. We can also pass around a novel, taking turns reading the book to the group.

The Discussion – As each of our children work through their reads, Mom is sure to keep an eye on progress and engage them in dialogue. We talk about favorite characters, lessons learned, world views, selections which we all found rather dull, passages which were beautiful beyond words, gentleman which were anything but, ladies who needed stiffer backbones, places we wish we could visit, and so much more. We laugh, groan, and sniffle together. As a few of us start in, the rest inevitably chime in with their thoughts or are encouraged to read faster in order to join in the conversation.

One key point I should probably highlight is that all assigned and highly recommended reads handed to our children are books I have read myself. Either I read them before handing them over or have read them in the past. If I am going to have an intelligent conversation with my children about key ideas and plot points, it would behoove me to know what they’re reading. As a side note, I would personally feel a hypocrite if I required my children to read something I had no intention of working through myself. My children take note of this and it makes an impression upon their hearts.

Now, four smiling faces urge me to, “Start the next story, please!” Happy voices remind everyone about our last read, while anxiously waiting to hear what is coming. We all settle in for the drive, and our minds are taken on a journey to another place even as our bodies are being transported on another adventure. Our read-aloud time is no longer a dilemma, but a delight.

“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned;”
~ II Timothy 3:14-15

Your Turn!: How has your family dedicated time for reading aloud?

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Getting the Most From Our Reads

getting_the_most_our_readsSurprisingly, I read as much young adult fiction as my children do. I enjoy the genre and especially appreciate being able to share these books with my kiddos. Our family also delights in classic literature. We laugh, cry, and share some wonderful memories centered on great books. Together we’re getting the most from our reads.

In our family, reading books extends beyond the page. We soak up the words and make them come to life. Through conversation, play, and more, we use these steps to help us:

Read – No matter how we choose to read, sharing a book with our child can be fun. We pick one of the following methods and go to town:

  • Together – We snuggle on the couch, gather round the table, or cuddle in bed at night. No matter when or how, we enjoy the read as a family.
  • Alone – Some of our books make the rounds. Mom reads it first – making sure it’s a clean read – then it goes through the crowd, usually from the fastest reader down.

Story Coaster – After we finish our book, we hit the plot points. Were my younger children able to follow along? I use this time to ensure they understood who the main characters were and the focus of the story; reviewing vocabulary and literary terminology I wish for them to learn. Only a short amount of time is given to this, but it is well worth the few moments and our children have learned much in this practice.

Reenact – Depending on our chosen book, acting out portions of the story is included. While reading Little House on the Prairie, we might build a cabin with Lincoln Logs or do a little baking. Most stories inspire some form of hands-on activity to partake in.

Discuss – While the reading, in-and-of itself, is always a treat, I rarely leave a book without taking a moment to check in with my kids. I want to hear their thoughts on the read and cover important ground which the Lord has prompted me to share. This takes our book to a new level, moving past what’s on the page and encourages our children to correspond the story to reality.
A key-note: We launch conversations with open-ended questions. The goal is to get our children to talk, not merely answer “Yes” or “No”. We ask what our children liked/disliked about the book; what they learned; their favorite character/portion of the story; and their take on the book in general. As our children mature, we discuss world views which might be present. (One series which comes to mind is Hunger Games. These books launched many wonderful conversations about government and reform. The writing was not at its best, but the benefits from our talks was well worth the poor literature.)

Watch – If there’s a movie, we’re more than likely going to watch it. This launches entirely new discussions on difference between the two, which they liked better, and more. Plus, who doesn’t like a good movie?

Play – Did you know many popular books, authors, and publishers have websites filled with games and activities? For added fun, we enjoy hopping on to one of these sites and playing games which relate to our read. Our favorites are the The Chronicles of Narnia, Mysterious Benedict Society, and Harry Potter websites.

For those with littler children, or are unsure of where to start in their literary adventure, we highly recommend Five in a Row. With FIAR all the work is done for you! Each week, you follow a suggested read and enjoy the multitude of activities available. Included are questions to discuss with your children and additional resources. Once you’ve grown comfortable with the format, branch out and choose your own books.

We love great literature. By discussing these books and bringing them to life, we are creating wonderful memories and life-long lessons for our children to remember forever. Our books jump off the page and we get the most from our reads.

📢 Chime In!: What is your favorite part of reading a book?

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When Your Child Hates to Read

when_your_child_hates_to_readWe’ve been blessed in raising four children who love to read. But occasionally, one of our children will go through a phase where nothing appeals to them. There is no book mom can suggest and no genre which appeals to them. What’s a parent to do when their child is going through this difficult time; and what if this isn’t just a ‘stage’ and our child truly hates to read?

If our child is going through a stage where reading is no longer of interest, or has never experienced the joy of reading, it can seem impossible to spark the flame of desire. Is there hope?

Be Prayerful – You know me! Everything – but everything – starts with prayer. Encouraging a love of reading is no different. If our children are struggling in this area, we need to be asking the Lord to soften their hearts and open their minds to this skill. He can do what we cannot. We pray for an increase in their interest, and wisdom on our behalf to show them the way.

Set An Example – Expressing joy over our own reads encourages our children to pick up books. Our enthusiasm can be infectious. Are we reading often and consistently? We might share what we’re reading, exciting plot twists, what we’ve learned, and how this book has sparked our imagination. Reading our Bible daily is also important. Our children will mimic what they see us live out.

Show Patience – Yelling, belittling, grumbling, and nagging aren’t going to encourage our children to pick up that book buried under piles of dust. Our children need to hear about literature in a positive light and see grace lived out.

Be Creative – Great literature doesn’t only come in book form. We might consider reading aloud to our child, listening to books on tape, or attending book reading events. We want our children to experience the joy of the story, not stress over the reading of words. Given time, the reading will follow.

Talk It Out – Is there a genre our children like more than others? Before we hand them Shakespeare and ask them to enjoy, we might start with something more on their level and in their interest range. Perhaps we’re choosing books which are not challenging enough. Our child might need to step up their game.

Start Small – Just because our children know how to read, doesn’t mean they are ready for War and Peace. We might begin with littler books, or even books which seem like twaddle (shudder) but inspire our children to explore more. Our goal is to start the flame, then build. Eventually War and Peace might not seem out of reach.

It helps when I keep things in perspective. Our goal is to raise righteous children who love the Lord. We want them to enthusiastically read their Bibles. But if my focus shifts out-of-place and becomes the ever-impressive list of books my child has read, the Lord might be using this to teach me a lesson.

May the Lord help each of us to find balance in this area of our lives. May we have patience to reach our children where they are, wisdom to help them overcome this obstacle, and grace to lead our children in joy.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
~ Romans 12:12

📢 Chime In!: Have any of your children expressed disinterest in reading? Share with us how you’ve helped – or are helping – your littles through this challenging time.

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Work Hard, Play Harder: The Read-a-thon

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” (Ecc. 3:1) Join us as we explore a season of fun and family! Help us discover new ways to enjoy family time and build lasting memories.


Summer_work-playI am an avid reader. Everyone in my immediate family is; from the man, all the way down to the little man. Us in a bookstore is a dangerous thing, my friend. One way our family enjoys having fun is through our local library, participating in the summer reading program.

Now, I understand that reading it not fun for everyone. For those who do not enjoy, I am truly sorry. There is an entire world you are missing.

As parents, one way we can inspire our children to read, is to read ourselves! Whenever a parent shares their struggle in getting a child to read, the first question I ask is how often they, as parents, read. Often, the answer is, “hardly ever”. We cannot expect our children to do that which we do not model for them. If you want your children to enjoy reading, you must be excited about reading yourself.

Back to the point at hand… One way to encourage a love of reading in the entire family, is the summer reading program! Everyone, from pop down to the little people, are free to join in. (Disclaimer: I should specify that our local library has a program for everyone; no matter the age. I understand not all libraries do this.)

During the summer reading program, we turn in weekly reading logs to earn prizes for our hard work. At the end of summer, there are special prizes awarded to those with the most reading tickets! Our kids walk away each week with a cute, little prize. I usually walk away with raffle tickets towards the bigger prizes.

At the end of summer, the library hosts a huge end of summer party. For completing the reading program, you get tickets for free ice cream, face painting, balloon animals, and more!

Paws to Read

So, what do you do if your library doesn’t host a summer reading program? If you have the time, I would highly recommend organizing a committee to get a program started! Offer to help out at the library or find out how to bring such a program to your area. Lacking in time? (Aren’t we all?) Consider hosting your own ‘family reading program’! Set a goal for each member of your family and announce prizes for each week’s goal. At the end of the summer, have a party to celebrate all your hard work and remember all the fun books you’ve read.

Our library picks a theme each year. In fact, I think the entire state of California is using this current theme. This year, we are focusing on “Paws to Read”. Get it? We are using an animal theme to help children get excited about reading. We are welcome to read any book in the library, but we get extra credit for reading books about animals; fiction or non.

Reading is loads of fun! (At least for us.) I cannot imagine summer time without the summer reading program. For our family, the reading program also means lots of fun and tons of memories.

Time to Chime In: What is your fondest memory from a summer reading experience?

Required Reading, Part II

The first half of the year under our belt, it was time to take stock of where we stood and discover if we were ‘on track’ with the year’s reading plans. Would our routine within stand the scrutiny or need to be revamped?

(sigh of relief) Okay, it looks like we are doing just fine! Two of my kiddos are zooming through their reading lists; one of them all done, but for her Bible reading. My little one doesn’t have a required list quite yet, but he too is doing just fine with his reading. So, it looks like our yearly plan is panning out so far.

Having required reads is definitely a plus for all of us. I don’t have to remember to pass out assignments each week and the kids get to choose which books they read on their own, in whichever order they prefer.

The downside… getting the kids to remember to look at their lists. Occasionally I will look in their binders and remind them to get busy on them, but usually they are pretty good at taking care of business on their own.

Third Grade

The biggest struggle is when you have a read that just doesn’t interest them at all. While I would like nothing better than to let it sit by the wayside, this just doesn’t sit right with me. Not everything in life is going to be fun and enjoyable; I think this is one of those areas I need to push. Good literature is never a bad idea, whether or not we think we’ll ‘like it’.

Thankfully, most of their reads are enjoyable. We’ve had lots of fun discussing, critiquing, and recommending various books over the first half of our year. A few of them have movies as well; we watch those whenever possible as well.

Now, let’s hope the second half of the year is as successful as the first!

How do you handle reads which don’t interest your child? Do you make them read anyway or wait until they express a desire to dive in?

Adding the Little People

My three little girls are sitting at the kitchen table. Mommy is bouncing between the three of them, trying to breathe and exhibit patience while helping all of them simultaneously. When out of the corner of my eye, I spot… my little man. Not quite old enough to school all day, I realize something needs to be put into place so that my baby is occupied and not a distraction to his sisters. Its time to get creative!

Balancing four kiddos during homeschooling can be challenging enough, but when one is not quite school age, it can get a little tricky. Along the way I have learned some fun tips and ideas on how to keep him entertained that doesn’t necessarily require my presence.

Set up a play area just for him. While my girlies are doing school, my son has a section of our living room that is set up just for him. There he can play, read, and create without worrying about anyone else invading his space. He also learns how to keep himself occupied without needing anyone to entertain him.

Rotate his daily play toys. Each day of the week, I try to give him something different to keep him occupied. I also try to make sure that there are several options for that day. For example: On Monday we might have Legos, his pirate ship, or his talking Mickey Mouse. On Tuesday we might have his train sets, his board games, or his books. I try not to make all his toys accessible at once; this might cause him to get bored with them and make it harder to keep him entertained. If he asks for one especially, I will make the trade, but I only will leave it out for that day. Now that our son is older, I ask him what options he would like for the day, but I still keep most toys put away.

Include him, as much as possible, in what you are doing. While my son enjoys his play time, at some point he becomes interested in what is going on at the table and wants to be included. At this point, I want to make sure that he has coloring pages or tracing papers that he can use. It makes him feel part of the group and still keeps him occupied. If possible, when working on our unit study, we make sure he gets to participate as well. When we learned about magnetism, he played with magnets. When we learned about the Civil War, he got to be dressed up as a soldier and play a drum.

Start him on his own learning day as soon as possible. Children as young as three and four can begin their own learning day. This will encourage them in their love of learning and start the “schooling” process off nice and easy. All of our kids started their learning day at three years old. Nothing too complex or too time consuming; just enough to get them used to sitting at the table and putting their mind to the task.

We started off with a workbook on letters, another on numbers and shapes, and a reading lesson. Their learning day was usually no more than an hour. It wasn’t long, but it set up the foundation for the rest of their learning years. Were there days when they didn’t want to do school? Sure! That didn’t stop us. We would talk through it and get the lessons done anyway. This taught them the importance of learning, obedience, and the value of a job well done. Even little children are able to learn these skills. Our children had their hard days, but when the lessons were done, they were proud of their work and excited to go back to their play things.

As my son requires most of my attention while he is schooling, I try to pick a time that I won’t be as distracted. Usually my oldest girl takes about an hour to do her arithmetic workbook. This is the perfect time for me to sit down with my little man and encourage him in his own studies. We talk about the numbers together and I help him with writing them out. I teach him his handwriting and the importance of neat work. I teach him how to read and the importance of reading his Bible. Through my presence and encouragement, he (hopefully) is learning not just to get the lessons done, but to love learning.

Get the big kids to help out. Being able to keep yourself occupied is an important skill. However, it is nice to have someone to play with after a time. When one of my girls finishes with her study time, she will hop on over to little brother and help out. She will play with him, read to him, and help keep him entertained. This allowed me to help out the others or to just get things done around the house.

Our little guy is going to be in Kindergarten this coming year. This means a little more school time for him, but we will probably be sticking to pretty much the same routine. It has been a pleasure and an exciting challenge to help each of our babies grow up and start the learning process. I pray that as each of them continues in this coming year, that the Lord will show us how to best meet our kids’ needs.