Chapter Book Challenge: Mid-Year Update

Earlier this year I wrote about a Chapter Book Challenge. The idea is to encourage each other in our reading and share great books we’ve found.

Please jump in with your comments and share your great ideas! I have learned a lot from you.

So each week this year I felt like we were not doing nearly enough reading, maybe only sitting down to read 2-3 times per week, but somehow it added up. (The audio books did help greatly in squeezing more in.)

Here’s what we read and what we thought. At the time of the reading, my children were:
son, 8 years
daughter, 6 years
son, 3 years (But most were read during his nap.)


The Horse and His Boy; C.S. Lewis
My Rating: 4 stars
(For this age. For an older child, 5 stars.)

Great story and Christian worldview, but the complex plot and vocabulary made it hard to read to a 6 and 8 year-old without a lot of explaining.

Wonderful writing, of course.




Prince Caspian; C. S. Lewis
My Rating: 4 stars
(For this age. For a an older child, 5 stars.)

Same review as The Horse and His Boy. My kids did like it, but I think they’d enjoy it even more in a few years.






Voyage of the Dawn Treader; C.S. Lewis
My Rating: 4 stars
(For this age. For a an older child, 5 stars.)


I crossed the last two Narnia books off our list for this year and plan to try them in a few years when the kids are a bit older.





A Little Princess; Frances Hodgson Burnett
My Rating: 4 stars
(Due to weird theme of how The Magic is inside all of us and watches over us, instead God’s providence and care.)

Wonderful character story that ignites the imagination, but the weird “Magic” undertone bothered me. My kids (especially my daughter) enjoyed it.  I liked the concept of holding ourselves to a high standard of civility and graciousness.  Writing was good but not great. This is a classic though, and I’d recommend it, especially for girls.



Anna Hibiscus; Atinuke
My Rating: 4

Story of a girl in Africa, written by a storyteller. Lyrical writing. Kids were interested in the funny stories and names. No explicit Christian content, but seemed a Christian worldview. Lovely. Perfect for us since we hope to go to Africa this summer (Lord willing). Wonderful way to learn about the world.

Usborne carries these.



In Grandma’s Attic; Arleta Richardson
My Rating: 5 stars

Though the writing isn’t exceptional, I loved this book. Each chapter is a story from
Grandma’s day. The kids were interested in the stories. All come from a Christian worldview; some have explicit spiritual messages. This is the perfect book for their ages—simple enough plot to understand, moral lessons, funny stories, spiritual truth. I plan to get others in the series.



Hank the Cowdog and the Runaway Windmill; John R. Erikson
My Rating: ? I don’t know. I didn’t hear it.

My son said he would recommend it. (He also said I HAVE to tell kids about the A-Z mysteries. HAVE TO. But we’ll get to those later.)


The First Four Years; Laura Ingalls Wilder
My Rating: 3 stars

This book was a rough version because Wilder didn’t polish it before she died and you can tell. The writing is not nearly as strong or descriptive as the others, the theme doesn’t really work, it’s poorly transitioned in spots, and it’s extremely depressing.

The happy parts: they have a daughter.
The sad parts: hail destroys their wheat crop, Almanzo and Laura get diphtheria, Almanzo has a stroke, they lose their homestead, most of the trees on the tree claim die, their infant son dies, and the book ends right after their house burns down.
Cheery, right?

This is not one I’d recommend for kids unless they are dying to see what happened to Laura (mine were).

[Note: I don't blame Laura Ingalls Wilder for any of this. All her other books are a 4.5 or 5 stars. She's wonderful. This book, from what I've read, she didn't even like, and put the rough draft away and didn't work on it again. Her publisher decided to publish the rough draft after her death. So it's really not her fault. I'd highly recommend any of her other books.]

 Throughout the Year

The Jesus Storybook Bible; Sally Lloyd Jones (and God)
My Review: 4.5 stars

This is the Bible we read through in the mornings, one story most days. I would
recommend this because it held all three of my children’s attention, an impressive feat, and all stories are tied in to Jesus, which is a lovely thread.

The only thing I didn’t love is it’s a bit silly in parts and embellishes with dialogue that is not true to the Bible accounts. My kids really enjoyed it.


James Herriot’s Treasury for Children; James Herriot
My Rating: 4 stars, so far

I feel like this is required homeschool reading! It is lovely, with quirky stories about various animals and an English vet. My daughter is the animal-lover and she enjoys the book the most. My 3 year old likes looking at the pictures even though the stories are a bit above him. Gorgeous illustrations.
Warning: will make you want to move to a farm in England.

Here’s our updated list for the rest of the year. You might notice almost everything has changed since the original list. Ah, well.

Regular (Print) books
We are hoping to go to Africa this summer, so the books are Africa-heavy.
January:          James Herriot’s Treasury (finish); Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s farm (finish)
February:        Anna Hibiscus, books 2 and 3 (Africa girl stories)
March:            No. 1 Car-Spotter, book 1 (Africa boy story)
April:               David Livingstone, illustrated version
May:               Anna Hibiscus, book 4 and Dr. Doolittle (if time)
June:              Heidi, if time

Audio Books – as many as we get through from this list. My brilliant friend Sarah really encouraged me by how many books they’ve gotten through by using audio books. Here are some of the ones she recommended.
Beverly Cleary - Runaway Ralph, Motorcycle, Henry and Ribsy
Sarah Plain and Tall and 2 sequels
Boxcar Children
Peter Pan
Sugar Creek Gang, Focus on the Family Radio Drama
Anne of Green Gables
Hank the Cowdog

These books were bumped from the original list for a while.
Narnia, last 2 books 
Mary Poppins, Paddington Bear

What about you? What are your favorite read-aloud books so far this year?

10 Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books – Part 2

Lucy saving Edmund's life with her magical cordial

I’m doing this two-part series to go along with my Chapter Book Challenge. Won’t you join us?
In Part One, I shared my 5 real-life tips for reading chapter books. Here are the other five:
NOTE: Before I start opining about the wonders of reading aloud to your children, I just have to tell you that Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader is killing me.
I tried to read a little tonight and things did not go well. Maybe it was the “Swedish pancakes” (rolled pancakes with sugar inside) the kids had for dinner; maybe they devoured secret hoards of espresso beans.  All I know is—they were bouncing all over the  place for the 20 minutes I read to them. I think we covered three pages.

And I skipped over long paragraphs of boringness.

I’m sure all the quirky jokes C.S. Lewis makes were amusing to kids at the time, or to adults now, but I’ve had to stop to explain nautical terms, what the British Consulate is, what “cheeky” and “chirruping” mean, and try to guess what “lodge a disposition” means. I would totally ditch the book if the kids hadn’t already seen the movie and decided it’s the best thing EVER. So we must soldier on. But I’m telling you, I’m going to
cut out a lot.

And I DO NOT recommend the later Narnia books (Any after 1 and 2) for kids under 10 or so. Feel free to disagree with me; I’m stickin’ with that. I’m changing our reading list to save the last two books for a few years from now.

Anyway, on to some real life reading tips, because I could use some…


6. Answer vocabulary quickly and move on.
Most classic chapter books are going to have more ”rare words” and complex vocabulary; that’s part of their value.  Usually I don’t stop to explain words unless my kids ask.  “What does swift mean?” I’ll say, “Fast,” and read the sentence again with “fast” substituted. Many times they’ll figure it out because of context.

(But again, this is why picking a book at their level is important, because The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has so MUCH hard or British vocabulary that it’s exhuasting.)

7. Simplify (or summarize) difficult passages while reading if needed.
Ideally, complexity of sentences is a good thing. It teaches kids to listen and understand nuances. But when we get bogged down (like tonight), I adjust.

a.  Make complex sentences simple. Some of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader sentences are ten lines long! I make the sentences shorter and simpler when I can.

b. Cut out long, complicated descriptions. Tonight I skipped over a few lengthy paragraphs on the boat layout. The kids don’t need to know that to follow the action. If they are losing interest, I skim forward to the next dialogue or action scene.

8. Make fun voices.  I try to use creepy voices for the scary parts, or deep voices for kings or whatever. When I remember.

Audio books are great for this, if your kids can follow the plot. We LOVED the audio of the Little House books.

(The Narnia books are way too complicated for us to listen to the audio books so we’re reading those.)


9. Encourage Imaginary Play. 
We don’t act out the books in a formal way, but I might just plant the seed of an idea in their heads.  We had friends over when we were reading The Long Winter and the kids were playing outside. I said, “Oooh, I think a storm is coming. You better get your hay in the barn and cattle inside!” After looking at me like I was nuts, the other children caught on quickly and they spent the next hour or so getting in crops.

When that friend came over months later, the first thing she wanted to do was get her crops into the barn!

This lets the kids learn about the situations, time, vocabulary, as well as helping them connect emotionally with the story and turn the characters into friends.

My kids often do this spontaneously and I just play along. If my daughter says she’s Lucy and her brother is Edmund, who am I to argue? (The picture at the top is my daughter pretending to be Lucy and nurse “Edmund” back to life. This is an almost daily occurance.)

10. Answer their questions. Sometimes I ask them questions later, but more often they learn by asking questions. Lots and lots of questions.

I realized one day that if I did nothing else but answer all my children’s questions they’d get a very in-depth and well-rounded education. I try, as much as possible, to answer their questions with thoughtful, honest answers. (When it doesn’t suck the life out of me with the volume of the questions. Tonight, I kid you not, I think my son asked about twenty questions ON ONE PAGE. And I just don’t know that much about the British Consulate or boatswains.)

The question is the teachable moment. That’s the real lesson, not whatever’s on the page.

“Yes, but what I don’t understand,” my daughter said the other day in the middle of Prince Caspian, “is how God was there before anything. How could he be?”

We talked about it. Instead of being annoyed that we spent 10 minutes off topic, I thought, wow, this really is wonderful literature. It’s getting them thinking about the important things.

So, let’s do it together, shall we? Let’s just pick an interesting book and start. It may be slow going. It may take ten times longer than we thought it would, and involve more discussions of British slang than we ever thought possible, but let’s do it anyway. Let’s read these rich books to our children.

As these courageous, noble, strong characters come alive to our children, may they awaken something in their hearts. And in ours as well.

Our Favorite Chapter Books So Far
The comments to Part One and the Chapter Book Challenge had lots of great book ideas and reading tips. Be sure to check those out if you haven’t. Thank you all for wonderful ideas! (Did anyone else have the same trouble with Narnia or is it just me?)

Ages 5 and up

  • Little House Books
  • Pippi Longstocking (Kids loved it; she can be disrespectful to adults so we discussed that.)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • The Hundred Dresses
  • Pinnochio
  • (One of my son’s favorites was Danger at Quicksand Swamp. Not a classic, not particularly well-written, but a great boy adventure story!)

Ages 8 and up

  • Narnia books #1 and #2 (all others I’d say wait until they are at least age 10)
  • The Whipping Boy
  • Historical: Pilgrim Boy, Squanto, Childhood of Famous Americans (we did George Washington and Einstein), Sign of the Beaver

These are my two favorite books about reading aloud, and they have great book lists in them. Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt, and The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Your library might have both.

Also, Ambleside online and the Sonlight website are great resources.
What did I leave off? What are your favorites for ages 5-10?

Also, a note: a big thank you to Carey Jane Clark, author of After the Snow Falls, for her kind review of The Homeschool Experiment: a novel last weekend:

“When it comes to novels, I want to be awed by the way the author puts words together, and I was not disappointed. But perhaps the most disarming thing about this book is the main character, Julianne Miller, and her very real life. Any mother who’s ever compared herself to others (and what mother hasn’t?) will relate to this down-to-earth character.”  Read Carey’s whole review on her blog >


10 Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books – Part 1

I’m doing this two-part series to go along with the Chapter Book Challenge. Come join us!

We all know we’re supposed to be reading volumes of great literature (“Living Books”) to our kids. It increases their vocabularies, improves attention spans, blah blah blah.

So why don’t I read as much as I would like?

Because it’s hard.

My kids fight over where to sit. They interrupt with a million questions. They whine and want to watch TV instead. Last year, my toddler invented an exhilarating game of trying to fling himself backwards off the couch during story time. Not exactly an ideal focusing environment.

When I read by myself, I can knock out a book in a few hours. When I read to my kids, I might as well settle down and get comfortable with the characters because I know we’ll be there a while. Like a month.

But that’s okay. It’s still worth doing.

Here are some real-life tips I’ve found for making reading chapter books less painful (and now, many days, actually enjoyable!) at our house.

(Picture books are wonderful too, but in this post, I’m focusing on chapter books, with only a few pictures and mostly text on a page. )


1. Read when the toddler is asleep or with the other parent. I’ve given up on trying to read chapter books with my 3-year-old in the room. He’s adorable, but a complete distraction. So I try to read to my six- and eight-year-old for 20-30 minutes during Tea Time when he’s napping. I also try read at bedtime for 20 minutes or so while Dad reads to The Great Distractor on the couch in the living room (or vice versa).

(I’ve heard rumors that there are toddlers who behave nicely and can actually be in the same room when you’re reading a chapter book. If this happens at your house, consider yourself in the 1%.  I’m very happy for you and only the tiniest bit jealous. Don’t mind me–carry on!)

2. Expect it to go slowly and be frustrating.

When I expect to get through a whole chapter, I get annoyed at interruptions. But if I resign myself to the fact that we’ll probably only get through a couple pages, I’m much more pleasant. We often only get through 2-4 pages in 20 minutes.

I answer questions as we go.  (If they ask totally unrelated questions, I’ll ask them to wait until we’re done.)

It takes us about a month to get through a chapter book.

That’s a long time, but it also allows the children to really get into the story, to get to know the characters, to dream themselves into that world. Some people might read more, but that’s okay. This is what we can do. I figure it’s better than nothing.

 3. Bribe them with food. My kids like Tea Time (i.e. Reading Time) so much better now that I give them warm milk and a snack. Our standard snacks are apples and peanut butter, Baked Lays, pretzels, or crackers and cheese.

4. Pick a book you actually want to read. I’m much more likely to announce, “Tea Time!” when I care about the book.  If I hate the book and have to drag myself to
read it, it’s just agony for all. And we don’t really need any more of that.


5. Make sure the kids understand what’s going on. I’ll often stop and ask, “Do you know what’s happening?” I let them ask endless questions about plot, character, time period, etc. If they need to do that to get it straight in their minds, I let them.

I’ll finish the other 5 tips in Part 2, and also list some of the chapter books we’ve loved.
Any tips to share for reading Chapter Books? I’d love to hear them!

Want to join in on our Chapter Book Challenge? (I also list out the chapter books I’m hoping to read with them this year.) Let’s help each other out with this! 

Chapter Book Challenge!

One of my main goals this year is to sit on the couch and read to my kids. (I kinda dropped the ball last year.)  I thought this might be a way to both hold myself accountable and to share what books we love as we go.

Do you want to join us? Here’s my idea: I will post our year’s chapter reading goals. I’ll update it about once a quarter, letting you know if we did it and what we thought of the books. Sort of a mini book review.

And you link up, okay? You could do it two ways:

  1. If you have a blog – comment with a link to your blog post where you do the same
  2. If you don’t – comment with the books you want to read for the year, or what you’ve been reading and what you thought. A mini book review.

We’ll just try it and see how it goes. I know there may only be a few who join in, but I figure we can at least learn from each other and share what books our kids like.

Your goal may be to read one chapter book this year, or twelve, or twenty-seven. Whatever. But sometimes it helps me to write these things down and share them with friends as a way of encouraging each other.

Join in, won’t you?

My Chapter Book Goals for 2012-2113
(These are for my 8 year-old son and 6 year-old daughter. My 3 year-old gets mostly picture books. )

August Narnia: Prince Caspian
Sept Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Oct The Little Princess, Burnett
Nov Mary Poppins (1-3 books)
Dec Peter Pan
Jan Paddington Bear (1-2 books)
Feb Ben Hur (picture version)
Mar The Bronze Bow
Apr In Grandma’s Attic
May Narnia: The Silver Chair
June Narnia: The Last Battle

Extras, if done early:

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
The Story of Doctor Dolittle
Anne of Green Gables
James Herriot’s Animal book
The Door in the Wall

What about you? What chapter books do you hope to read with your children this year?

(I plan to do a two-part series on Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books later this week. Because this getting kids to sit still and listen isn’t fabulously easy, is it? But let’s do it anyway.)

What Summer Reading Looks Like at Our House

My son read to me while I cooked eggs.

Of course things aren’t as orderly as I planned, but we do get a lot of reading done in the summer. The long, hot days mean we spend extra hours inside most days, so July and August are some of our prime reading months. (January and February are also big reading months for the opposite reason.)

Here’s what that looks like at our house:

1. Before breakfast –  Whichever child wakes up first staggers out to the kitchen and groggily lays on the kitchen couch while I read.Lately it’s been my eight-year-old son and we can read a chapter book (right now, The Horse and His Boy, the 3rd Narnia book) uninterrupted.  Often we get a good twenty minutes in before someone else wakes up. Whoever wakes up first gets to pick the book.

2. During lunch – This does not happen every day, but a couple times a week I might read the kids a book during lunch.  I have been choosing picture books so everyone is interested, one with a story they know. I often retell it, using my own words instead of reading every word. (I eat bites while they look at pictures, or sometimes I eat before or after them.) I do this more so they’ll be quiet and eat and not bicker, but I’m sure there’s value in the reading too!

The basket on the left is for library books; the one on the right is for our own.

3. After lunch- Often on the living room couch. Sometimes I read again that book we did at lunch, but I read the actual words, not my retelling.

4. Before naptime – This is pretty much mandatory. I read two or three picture books upstairs to my toddler before he goes down for his nap. (If the books are long or above his level, I paraphrase a bit.)

My toddler's books in the living room. There's another basket upstairs for before naptime.

5. Rest time 
My six- and eight-year-old read in their rooms during rest time, sometimes. I was planning for this to be when they do their 30 minutes of independent reading each day, but I need to enforce it, plus I’m out of easy chapter books right now for my son. So that’s my fault. But when I remember, my son sits in his beanbag chair and reads.

(My daughter is supposed to look at books and read what she can, but like I say, I haven’t been checking up on her.) Sometimes she listens to books with CDs when I am organized enough to get them from the library, but you know about my library issues this summer.

Our favorite easy chapter books we’ve found this summer are these Imagination Station ones. They are a lot like Magic Treehouse, but with actual Christian history mixed in.

6. When somebody’s sad – If someone has been crying and needs some Mommy attention, reading is a great excuse for a little cuddle time. Especially for my eight-year-old who often thinks he’s too big for such things.

Oh, those sweet sweeties. Melts my heart.

7. Before bed – this is almost mandatory as well. We skip it only when we’re running really late. My toddler gets two to three books out in the living room before bed with either Mom or Dad. The older two get a few pages of a chapter book, either read to them or on CD with the other parent.

The chapter book we’re reading now, The Horse and His Boy (3rd Narnia book), is very complicated with plot and vocabulary, so it would be too confusing to listen to on CD. We’re reading it a few pages a night, and stopping often to explain vocabulary or recap what’s going on.

8. Audio books In the car-  The other day we went swimming out at Blue
, and the hour drive out and back was enough to almost finish The Whipping Boy. My son had read it earlier this year, partially by himself, so this was a great chance to review and go over some things he hadn’t understood, and I wanted to hear it too.

I do have to say, the audio books work much better when my two-year-old is not in
the car or when he’s asleep. The other day I put in an audio book  and he slapped
his tiny baby forehead and moaned, “Not again!” He likes his music.

9. Waiting at the doctor’s office - We actually haven’t done much of that this summer, but whenever we do go, I try to bring a backpack with some books.

Okay, I think that’s about it.  And full disclosure, we’ve gotten very little math done. I was planning to do flash cards every day, but that has not happened. Sigh. I need to work on that. Oh, and I was going to work on some summer writing activities, which has not happened either. So many things, so little time. Anyway . . .

What does summer reading look like at your house? Any favorite times or places?

These Happy Golden Years

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is the final book in the original series (I think These First Four Years was published after her death).

It was great, of course. The first part has a scary part in it where this lady tries to kill her husband with a butcher knife, and another scary part where two boys get caught in a tornado, but Wilder is so matter of fact about both stories that my kids weren’t really scared by them.

Again, the character lessons of perserverance and hard work really stand out. Man, those pioneers were tough. Laura had to sleep in a room that was so cold the water was always frozen, go to a cold school through the snow, teach, and come home. Then on the weekends, Almanzo picked her up with his horses in weather so cold that the thermometer froze at 40 below, but it was actually below that, then they went twelve miles home. One time she almost froze to death she was so cold, but they made it in time. Sheesh!

This kind of stuff is so great for my kids to hear. My kids who complain if they get a little shiver.

The ending is bittersweet. Laura and Almanzo get married. It’s almost anticlimactic. Here’s the sentence about the wedding. Are you ready?

“They were married.”

Okay, then. So, they were married and start a whole new life. It’s so monumental, but she writes it beautifully, you can feel how Laura is glad, but missing her family.

It’s still a little sad though, because we can’t see her life with Almanzo yet, so it still feels like she’s leaving somthing great. Anyway, despite that I give it five stars.

The kids just don’t want to stop. My son wants to go on to The First Four years and my daughter wants to go back to Farmer Boy. I’m trying to move us on to the Narnia series.

Happy reading, friends. Happy Golden Years, these surely are.

Chapter Book Reviews: Little Town on the Prairie & Surprise Island

Here’s the order of the Little House on the Prairie Series, and my rating (and some of that is influenced by what my children thought of them). I listen to the CDs with my two older children, ages 8 (boy) and 6 (girl).  They also listen to a CD most
nights in bed as they fall asleep.


  1. Little House in the Big Woods (5 stars)
  2. Little House on the Prairie (5 stars)
  3. Farmer Boy (about Almanzo’s childhood in New York) (5 stars)
  4. On the Banks of Plum Creek (5 stars)
  5. By the Shores of Silver Lake (4.5 stars)
  6. The Long Winter (5 stars)
  7. Little Town on the Prairie (listening to now)
  8. These Happy Golden Years
    (The First Four Years would come next but was published after her death; it’s not technically part of the series.)

We are starting Little Town on the Prairie. I had forgotten about it and thought we were on the last one already, and I just wasn’t ready for Laura to be all grown up! So, I’m very glad to have this one come next.  So far, my kids have really enjoyed it, especially the story about the mouse eating some of Pa’s hair, and the fight between the little kitten and the big mouse.  I think Laura Ingalls Wilder does such an excellent job of weaving the history and mood of the time together in a more mature narrative now that Laura is older, but still keeping these stories that delight young listeners.

My final review of By the Shores of Silver Creek is four-and-a-half out of five stars, not because it’s not as well- written, but I just had an unsettled feeling for most of the book. That’s exactly what the time was with the work on the railroad, wondering if they’d get their claim, moving, moving again, so I’m sure this was intentional. I mean, I liked it, and my kids did  too, I just didn’t love it quite as much as the others. They still enjoyed the stories of Laura traveling west and having candy in a railway car, sleeping in a tent with cousin Lena, winter in the surveyor’s house by the creek, and Laura and Carrie meeting up with a huge wolf one moonlit night.

Boxcar Children: Surprise Island
during Tea Time reading (afternoon, for 15-30 minutes, during my toddler’s nap time)

We just started this one.  It is the second in the series. My review of the first one, The Boxcar Children, is probably four-and-a-half stars.  I think
it’s a great one for my son to read himself.  I read most of it to get him into it, but he’s capable of sitting down and reading a chapter, or the whole thing if he wanted.





What I liked:

  • Simple vocabulary, so my son can read it on his own.
  • The children are nice to each other and look out for each other. Good examples.
  • Children are resourceful, thinking of ways to do things.
  • Simpler, more creative world – I like that these were written in the forties, because it shows how fun and exciting and adventurous the world can be even with no computers in sight. In a world where every show they watch, like WildKratts or Superwhy! even, seems to have kids using a handheld computer to get things done, it’s so nice to see that kids can do all kinds of things just by using their own brains and what’s around them.

What isn’t my favorite:

  • Simple vocabulary, so I want to make sure they are listening to literature above their reading level as well, like the Little House on the Prairie series. They
    learn new words all the time from that.
  • Sometimes bizarre that no adults are around.

Anyway, both my kids like the Boxcar Children series so far, and Tea Time is going well, even though we have only done it a few times!  It’s a good snuggle time with my older two while my toddler is napping.  I really want to keep doing it.

Chapter Book: Winnie-the-Pooh & Boxcar Children

“I hate Winnie the Pooh!” was my son’s comment when I told him I was putting in that CD at bedtime. He’s eight, you know, and he’s way too old for such babyish things. But, that was before he heard it.



This is the real thing, the original from A.A. Milne, not a watered-down Disney version.  A friend recommended this audio version to me and it’s great! The British actors are just perfect for the voices and it cracks the kids up!

I tried Pooh before, and it was always over their heads. I think age 6-8 is just about right to understand that world of childhood that Milne describes, and to actually get the jokes. I know I tried it earlier with my kids, like ages 3-5, and they had no interest whatsoever. Anyway, I bought this on Amazon, but maybe your library has this version.  Here’s the
link for the info
. Judi Dench and Stephen Fry are two of the narrators.  I also really like Milne’s book of poems Now We are Six, but I can’t find my copy currently. I think my kids are at the perfect age for it, so I need to go figure out what I did with it!

I’ve requested  These Happy Golden Years from the library, but haven’t gotten it yet, which is fine with me because I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about Laura growing up and getting married. Laura! You were just a five-year-old sitting on pumpkins in the attic in Wisconsin! You can’t get married yet! So, while I wait on the library copy and adjust to the passage of time, we also started The Boxcar Children.

I’ve been feeling neglectful of my children lately, and missing that snuggly reading time. Every time I tried to get everyone to cuddle up on the couch, my toddler would start squirming around, cracking skulls, flinging himself off the back of the couch, and lots of other really restful, peaceful activities. So, I’m going to try to have a thirty-minute Tea Time with my six- and eight-year old during the toddler’s nap time. Yesterday it went really well and we read four chapters of The Boxcar Children. They were begging to keep going!

I’m trying to get my eight-year-old son hooked on a series of chapter books. I don’t think he’s quite ready for the Hardy Boys or my dad’s old Tom Swift; I don’t really love the Magic Treehouse series, though I know many do; so maybe this will be a good one. We’ll see. Any suggestions for good boy books are appreciated!

In other news, can I show you the cutest thing ever?

Rainbow socks. My two-year-old likes to wear them as knee socks. And, in order to see their stripey-stripeyness, we must roll up his pant
legs so he can see them. Very Important! And, it turns out, I love the whole ridiculous outfit! Those chubby knees poking out are just begging to be gobbled up. I think I’m dressing him in lederhosen from now on.  You think I’m kidding.

I haven’t discussed this with my husband yet, but I’m sure he’ll be on board.


And, look at that baby! Doesn’t that make you
want to just buy some red knee socks and go backpacking in Austria with your
kiddos? Sigh.

Spring really makes me want to live in a mountain village in the Alps. Or go on a train ride through the misty English countryside. Does this happen to other people? Sometimes it seems nearly impossible to just stay still.

Have a lovely rainy spring break, friends!


I got this adorable apron from Pier 1 the other day and it’s hanging in my kitchen making me happy. I hardly ever go to Pier 1  because a) they have too much gorgeous stuff, and I end up wanting things I don’t actually need, like cute aprons, and b) it’s about the worst place in the world to go with small children. I really talked to my kids about NOT TOUCHING ANYTHING before we went in, and the older ones did fine, but I put my two-year-old down for like four seconds, and when I turned back around he had grabbed this feather-covered chicken and had white feathers sticking to his grubby little hands and a guilty look on his face. I offered to buy it, but the
guy there kept telling me they could write it off and it was no big deal, and I was very glad because it was, by then, a sort-of hideous $15 half-bald Styrofoam oval of a chicken. And I don’t really need one of those.

Anyway . . .  my apron. Got it. Love it. I’m hoping it will inspire me to make dinner, which is one of my goals for the rest of the year. I didn’t actually make dinner much last
year, and I think it would be a fabulous new hobby! My husband says he supports
the idea.

I’ve been working on the book like a crazy person, but there was a brief two-week window where there wasn’t anything I could do, so I was just waiting (which I’m not so good at), and I made gluten-free chicken-pot pie and let me tell you, it was delicious. I even served it on actual plates.  I took pictures. Of dinner. On plates. See,
don’t you feel better about your own homemaking skills?

I’ve had a thousand blessings a day around here lately, what with books being published, children turning six and eight (gasp!), prayers being answered, and plum trees bursting into bloom in the sunshine.  I’ve been writing down lists upon lists of
answered prayers and blessings. It’s all very exciting, and I’m enjoying it immensely
(Except for figuring out Facebook. That, not so much.), and thrilled at what God
has done and excited to see what He’s going to do with this book. But also, I’m
looking forward to having a few less things on my list. What’s been ignored a
lot lately is the heart of my home. I’ve been so busy, typing my little fingers
to the bone, that I’ve been blocking out all the non-essentials. Dishes, for one.




We’ve been listening to On the Shores of Silver Lake on CD, and I haven’t enjoyed it as much as the
other books. I kept feeling oddly unsettled, with that Ingalls family packing up their belongings and taking the train out West, leaving their sweet, cozy home on Plum Creek so Pa could work with the railroad. It didn’t feel right. I missed their home. I didn’t know where they would end up. Ma didn’t really like
the idea, but she went. It just seemed all wrong. I can’t remember what happens
at the end of the book, but tonight the chapter we listened to was when they
got to move into the surveyor’s house for the winter. It was a good, snug,
board house with supplies and even a trundle bed for Grace.  And, in this chapter, everything was right again. The family was together, settled, with peaches and saltines for dessert on their red-checked tablecloth, and Ma rocking idly in the rocking chair after
supper. For the winter at least, they were home.

Even in the midst of math clutter and play-doh placemats, they're beautiful, aren't they?

That chapter changed the tone of the book—to have a warm home and a contented mother. I feel better hearing that, and Laura felt better living it. So, I’m eager to get back there myself, to the heart of my home.  I’m humbled and grateful that God
and my husband were in cahoots to help me get this book done, so thankful for
all the friends who helped it happen, and amazed at how God has carried this
plan along. I’m looking forward to promoting the book this summer.  But I’m also looking forward to wearing my cute apron and making dinner.

For now though, despite the busyness, I am so incredibly blessed. I can kiss my soft-cheeked children, get tears in my eyes at how they’ve grown, feel my heart dance every time I see snowy blossoms gracing the dining room table,
and rest in the beauty of home.


Family Song right now is How Firm a Foundation, verses 1 & 3. Love this video of friends in France with a new church and it’s on there.

How Firm A Foundation
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.”


Chapter Book: On the Banks of Plum Creek

  The Ingalls family has settled in Minnesota now, living in a dugout house, then in one with real wood boards! We listened to 2/3 of this driving to Oklahoma City and back for Capitol Day on Monday, and now the kids have finished it! They listen at night on CD, so I am always a bit behind, but I only have a few more chapters to go.

Oh my goodness, the understated courage of those people! Laura Ingalls Wilder is a magnificent writer, maybe my favorite. She calmly lays out the facts in her heroic prose, showing us Ma’s quiet courage and strength in the face of grasshoppers, blizzards, missing husbands, and droughts. She doesn’t hit you over the head with something, sometimes she doesn’t even say it, she just tells what the characters do and you get it. Some of my favorite understatements of the year from this book:

1. “A couple of hundred miles don’t amount to anything!” he said. – This is after the grasshoppers eat the entire wheat crop, Pa has no money to pay back what he borrowed for the house, and he has to walk 300 miles to find work to get enough money to get the family through the winter, all in his falling-apart boots because he gave his last $3 for the church bell. I mean, really. And we complain when someone cuts us off in traffic?

2. Then Ma said, cheerfully, “We have to take care of everything now, girls. Mary and Laura, you hurry with the cow to meet the herd.” – This is after her husband just left, walking, to find work, and she is left alone with her three children on the grasshopper-ravaged prairie. By herself. With no Wal-Mart down the road, and no way to even get into town.

3. She [Ma] warmed her hands, and then she lighted the lamp and set it on the window sill. “Why are you doing that, Ma?” Mary asked her, and Ma said, “Don’t you think the lamplight’s pretty, shining against the snow outside?”  – Um, yes, and also, that way it makes a light for her husband to see if he can find the house in the raging blizzard that is going on outside. Pa ends up burrowing into a snowbank and surviving until the blizzard is over and makes it home. (But Wilder doesn’t tell you this, she shows you. You get the feeling of being the mom, trying to be cheerful to not worry her children.)

My goodness! What fortitude those people had! So good for my children to hear, to realize how easy they have it. I love this pouring of truth and beauty into their hearts. That’s what any great book should do. We talked about this very thing at my last book club, and I think this is one requirement for a great book, for me anyway, that it makes you want to be a better, stronger person. And if it can show you someone as an example, all the better.

I love my children hearing how Laura struggled not to cry (with her only doll torn apart and her father gone) because it was “shameful for an eight year old to cry” and hope a bit of that sinks in. Not that they can’t cry, but my children tend to cry if someone looks at them the wrong way. We can do with a bit more stoicism around here. Laura and Mary bravely bring in the woodpile before an approaching blizzard while their parents are gone, and they have to, otherwise they will “have to burn up the furniture, and maybe even then will freeze stark stiff.” Sheesh. And my kids complain when I make them eat beans.

If you’ve never read On the Banks of Plum Creek, get it! Get it today! Get thee to thy library website, request it on CD, and listen to it the next time you get in your car! It’s one of the best.