Something I’ve learned about myself

Within this last year, I realized that I LOVE to check off things consistently. I want to see how many days I can complete something. 30 day squat challenges? Love them! So when my school began using Beanstack as a way to track reading minutes, I should have known how into it I would get!

Beanstack is a platform we use for our students to track their minutes read. As the Library Media Specialist, I set a community goal for the year (which we have already exceeded!) and the kids track their minutes. Our charter ran a challenge for Hispanic Heritage Month to see which school could read the most. Man did I jump on this! I’m not an athletically competitive person, but when it comes to academics, I can go all out. (Side note: my school of 148 kids read over 25,000 minutes! We read the most out of the high schools in the charter. But I digress!)

I enjoyed tracking my minutes and made sure that I read for at least 10 minutes a day so my streak wouldn’t die. I think I may have been more into it than the kids! 🙂 I did, however, lose my streak in October… that is because I completed two absolutely fabulous books and I just needed to sit with them for a while. You ever feel that way? I couldn’t even fathom starting another book because those two were just so, so good! But I have since picked up another great read and my streaks are back! Do you like to see how many days in a row you can read? Also, do you know how many books you can read when you ensure you’re reading 10 minutes a day? Trust me, it’s more than you think!!

My Beanstack streak for October!

The Paper Wolf

Gracie is an eleven year old who has been in foster care since she was six, moving from family to family. It is no wonder that she has no true understanding of family stability. After being kicked out of a foster home, she is temporarily placed in a group home while her social worker searches diligently for a new family for her.

Early on on the novel, Gracie is placed with the Barkmans. Here is a true family unit. Mr. and Mrs. Barkman have two teenagers and are eager to show love to foster children. But Gracie is not the easiest child to love or so she thinks. Plagued with emotions she can’t really name, Gracie struggles to let down her walls and allow the Barkmans into her heart.

Through unconditional love and one very dramatic experience, the Barkmans show Gracie that they do love her and want her to be a permanent part of their family. But Gracie is holding out. She has to decide if she can let go of what she dreamed of the last six years and let the Barkmans become her permanent family.

Written by a foster parent, this novel introduces its reader to the potential struggles faced by those in foster care. At some points, you just want Gracie to get over herself, but then you remember that 5 years is a long time to be in foster care and Gracie has not had loving families care for her. You begin to see that Gracie is not being a pouty preteen but is harden by a difficult life and needs lots of love to break down barriers she has had to put up to survive. As a granddaughter to foster parents, I have some personal experience with children who have had to be removed from their families for various reasons. Loving foster families can make such a difference in the lives of these children. I think this is a great book for preteen and teen readers. It lends itself to some wonderful discussion about the love of family and the love God has for us all.

Awesomeness:

-The Barkmans want to show Gracie love the way Christ loves us.

-Mrs. Barkman prayers out loud when she is having a particularly difficult moment.

-A wonderful picture of a family who truly loves each other and enjoy being around one another.

Cautions:

-As you can imagine, Gracie has a lot of anger and frustration. She has several outbursts and runs away a few times. Chrissy does a great job of showing us what possible walls a child in foster care might have and ways they might express their emotions without being unrealistic or too descriptive. I think this allows for some really great conversation regarding the experiences of children in foster care.

-There is a scene where Gracie is nearly assaulted by some older boys but is saved by her brother who is then beaten up pretty badly. The description here is well-written and does not use any unnecessary details.

You can connect more with Chrissy at www.chrissymdennis.com

The Broken Paintbrush

Everyone wants to be needed, important, seen.

Sitting among perfectly crafted paintbrushes was a little broken paintbrush. He was continually passed up by artists because he was cracked. But one day, a painter comes in and purchases this little, imperfect paintbrush. The paintbrush is excited. Finally!! Finally he was going to be an artist!

His excitement was diminished when he discovered the artist he was going to be used by was not a great, artistic master but a little girl. Feeling disappointed and confused, the paintbrush had no choice but to do what the little artist wanted. He was dipped into clay paint and roughly brushed across the canvas. He lost bristles. He was unable to breathe. He was, to say the least, very upset.

But his demeanor changed when he realized that this little girl thought he was special. He was special to her.

We can all relate to this broken paintbrush. At one time or another we have felt forgotten, but we can remember that even on days when we feel this way, God sees us and has NOT forgotten us. This powerful story is told in such a way that the littlest of readers can understand. Certainly a must-have for your child’s library.

Awesomeness:

-Art history- this is a fun little intro into Italian art and one of the most famous paintings around.

Challenge:

-Grab your child’s untouched/forgotten art supplies and encourage them to create a masterful work of art!

Twelve Weeks to Midnight Blue

Chance has his heart set on buying a bike before school starts in the Fall. But he doesn’t just want any bike, he wants Midnight Blue which can be his for a mere $225! With this information Chance sets out to do what any enterprising kid would do: make money. He starts by cleaning his dad’s pool once a week for $10. As his customers increase, he learns about leverage, marketing, business partners, and more during his twelve weeks of summer.

In this first volume of KidVenture, Steve Searfoss takes his reader through the ups and downs of reaching for a goal. Several times Chance wonders if all the work is worth it. Through conversations with his parents and lots of math, Chance will learn just how much work it takes to run a successful business.

Awesomeness:

-The family relationships presented in this story are delightful. Chance has regular conversations with his dad about his business. He also has a personal conversation with his mom. He takes his sister on as a partner.

-Each chapter has 3 discussion questions to allow for conversation about the issues Chance encounters. Readers will have a chance to discuss what they would do or how they would proceed. This book lends itself to being read aloud.

-The book is only 118 pages and written in a way that younger readers can follow.

-A fun story for any enterprising kid!

Cautions:

-Some mild sibling bickering. (But isn’t that real life?)

Just Like That

I picked up this novel straight out of the Junior Library Gild delivery box! The book jacket sounded so good. I will tell you that I have not read any of Gary D. Schmidt’s other works. For you Wednesday War fans, just be prepared for the beginning of this book… my friend threw it across the room!

After the loss of her best friend, Meryl Lee’s parents send her to an all girls’ boarding school. There she will be exposed to societal expectations all the while attempting to become accomplished and still holding on to her personal convictions.

Gary D. Schmidt beautifully weaves two storylines together. While Meryl Lee is figuring out life at an all girls’ prep school, Matt is figuring out how to survive on the move. Finding himself on the Maine coast, Matt is welcomed into Dr. Nora Macknockater’s home. As headmistress of St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, she encourages Meryl Lee to stay true to who she is all the while attempting to learn just who Matt is. As the common thread between the two, Dr. Macknockater has a front row seat to see just how things really do change- just like that.

Awesomeness:

-Meryl Lee works through her grief at losing her best friend and finds ways to bring people together despite their differences.

-Matt discovers a true sense of family. The way his story starts out, it reminds me of the Boxcar Children.

Cautions:

-Matt is running from some seriously nasty men. They burn down buildings and hurt people in an attempt to get back what he stole (after they killed his best friend).

-There is a bit of kissing towards the end of the book. And at the end, Meryl Lee and Matt are left alone in a house while the adult supervision leaves on an extended trip.

The War I Finally Won

In June 2020, I listened to The War That Saved My Life for my Children’s and Young Adult Literature class. Apparently I did not write a review over it! I will do that soon.

A few weeks ago, I was emptying the book return box outside the library. There I found this book. I had NO IDEA there was a sequel! I immediately checked it out to myself and proceeded to read it in less than 3 days. It has been a really long time since I have managed to do that!

I will say that there is not way I can truly convey through my writing just how powerful these books are.

Once again, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley brings us deep into Ada’s world. It is still early 1940s and we pick up with a very important event in Ada’s life. Even though she is still tucked away in her village with Susan, Ada continues to struggle to let go of her fears and anxiety. She may be physically free but she still struggles in her mind. As the war rages on and more and more people become personally affected by it, Ada will learn that she is not the only one holding on to past trauma and difficulty.

Bradley develops such wonderfully complex characters. Ada’s life experiences (presented in The War That Saved My Life), have caused her to struggle to trust but thanks to the events of WWII along with patience and love from those around her, Ada will finally win the war.

Awesomeness:

-Ada has experienced true trauma in her life, but those around her can see and understand that. Therefore, they are loving and patient with her as she continues to work through it.

-I love how protective Ada is of her brother Jamie. I also love how protective Susan is of Ada. Their family grows throughout this novel.

Cautions:

-This novel is set in WWII. There is death all around. However, there is no graphic depiction of death. (Except for a plane crash in the village. Even that is mild.)

-Ada did truly experience trauma. She will be moody, anxious, and at times, have verbal outbursts. This could be a great way to discuss how different people handle trauma and the need for working through it.

-Ruth, a young Jewish-German girl comes to live with them. Lady Thorton is not nice to her at all. Even though she is Jewish, Lady Thorton only sees her as the enemy. (Eventually, this will lighten up.) I think this allows for some good discussion about the feelings of war.

Little Man’s Spring Basket

My husband and I decided that we’d do a seasonal basket for our little man at the start of each season. This spring was my first chance to follow through with this.

If you follow me on instagram, then you saw my story about my Reading Warehouse book order. I ordered my son 12 books for less than $30! And that included shipping!!! Then I noticed that he was running low on paint so I bought him some new paints and some new brushes. Fast track a few weeks later, Zulily was running a deal on magnet tiles, so I purchased another small set; this one containing tires and a windmill.

As I was pondering what his spring basket would contain, I realized that I had a book about painting and a book about architecture in my Reading Warehouse order. An idea materialized: I’d put the painting book with the paints and the architecture book with the magnet tiles. Voila!

Little man LOVED this!! We immediately opened and put together the windmill car and then painted. The funny thing was that he would only use the paintbrush with the paint it matched! Therefore, the orange and purple did not get painted with! Silly boy.

All in all, these gifts were fantastic. We have added Roberto the Insect Architect to our bathroom schoolroom and Violet and the Eggplant Painting Problem has been read countless times before bed. I love that all of these items were purchased separately but worked together so nicely! I have decided that I want to give him a book with each “basket” he gets throughout the year. The best thing this momma hears is: “I want to read books.” Oh this momma heart!

So the next time your contemplating a themed basket, think about adding a book or two. Your little one will truly love it.

And yes, we are still wearing our Christmas pjs, because if they fit, why not?!?

Wishes and Wellingtons

After listening to Julie Berry’s Lovely War, I knew I wanted to try out a few of her other works. It just so happened that Wishes and Wellingtons was included in my Audible membership and it is narrated by one of my favorites: Jayne Entwistle.

Maeve Merritt isn’t like the other girls. She prefers the unconventional and it just happens that the unconventional prefers her. Maeve attends Ms. Salimanker’s School for Upright Young Ladies where, her parents hope, she will learn to be an upright young lady. But this feisty girl, who does not back down from bullies, is certainly not on the path to becoming an upright young lady.

Maeve happens upon a tin of sardines while serving out her punishment for yet another act of disobedience. But this isn’t just any sardine tin; this tin holds the power of magic. Once unleashed Maeve finds herself, along with her roommate Alice and an orphan boy, Tommy, on more than one adventure. Will she be able to discern just who she can trust? Will she be able to outsmart the bad guy and save her father from ruin? Come along with Maeve on an adventure you’re sure to never forget.

This Young Adult novel, full of adventure and mishap, is sure to entertain.

Awesomeness:

-The friendship between Maeve, Alice, and Tommy is realistic and sweet. It is the power of friendship that saves Maeve.

-A bit of a Coming of Age novel. Maeve will learn about who she is and just what is truly important.

Cautions:

-Once the knowledge of Maeve’s secret is out, she will be blackmailed and followed. While nothing is graphic or extreme, we are talking about grown men attempting to intimidate a young girl. However, she will give them a run for her money!

First Quarter Reading Update

Wow! It’s already April 1st! I can’t believe it. I decided to take a few moments to figure out where I am in my reading goals for 2021. I realized that I did not publish a post about my goals so if you do not follow me on instragram, here is my reading plan for 2021:

10 Biographies- I decided that I really enjoy reading biographies and I would like to know more about certain people from history.

5 General Nonfiction- Any other type of nonfiction not considered a biography.

10 Fiction- because I cannot NOT read fiction!!

So, where am I as of 4/1/2021?

I have completed 1 biography. I read a YA biography on Benedict Arnold that read like a novel! It was very good. I am currently working on a biography on Mary Todd Lincoln. I’ve actually been reading on this book for nearly a year. It is very scholarly and at times I can only read a few pages in one sitting.

I have read 1 nonfiction book written by a 12 year old! It was over Dred Scott v. Sanford. I have a huge stack of books that fit this category and hope to dive into more of them over the summer.

And no surprise here, but I have completed 10 fiction books! And the stack keeps growing. I had no fears about meeting this particular goal but I hadn’t anticipated meeting it so quickly! Audibles and the Libby app have really assisted me in getting more fiction reading down these last few months. You can read my thoughts about Lovely War, Amora, and Shadows of the White City now. More reviews on my fiction reads coming each Monday.

The Notorious Benedict Arnold

Like most people, I am familiar with Benedict Arnold and his treasonous behavior. And also like most people, I have not done any reading on him outside of the textbook from school. When I saw this book on the shelves in my library, I decided to check it out. Boy, am I glad that I did!

Benedict Arnold really only desired on thing: to be known. You got to give some credit there, because, don’t we all? But his biggest issue was that he needed recognition and accolades at a time where there were bigger fish to fry (or lobsters in this case). Congress did not have money or time to spend doling out accolades for every little success. This, added to Arnold’s personality, created a real issue. (That and his young bride, Peggy Shippen.)

I won’t spend too much time going into the details oh his heroics and then his betrayal, but I do want to share this quote from the author:

“If Arnold had died from his wounds at the Battle of Saratoga, we would think of him today as one of the all-time great American heroes. Aside from Washington, we’d say, he did more to win our Revolution than anyone. We’d celebrate his life as one of the best action stories we have– Washington never did anything half as exciting as the march to Quebec or the Battle of Valcour Island. Sure, we’d say Arnold was unstable, tormented, a loose cannon. But he’d be our loose cannon.” (p. 306)

I think back to my lessons on Saratoga, the turning point of the revolution. Not once did I ever mention Arnold’s involvement. After reading this extremely well-researched biography, I realize that Arnold really was, up to the point where he betrayed the colonists, one of our greatest fighters for independence.

Awesomeness:

-Well-researched (there are 28 pages of notes!)

-I think we get a really good look at the struggles in Arnold’s life that created a perfect storm.

Cautions

-This book is set during the American Revolution. There are battle scenes and wounds depicted, but none with excess graphic descriptions.

For the more mature crowd, if you found this interesting, you might look into The Traitor’s Wife. I read this book several years ago and found it fascinating. I do think Arnold’s marriage to Peggy Shippen (who I think was truly in love with Andre) was the tipping point. I think he would have been less likely to betray the cause if he had not had such easy access to the British. Full disclosure: I do not remember all of the details in this book. I’m pretty sure there is a bit of a romantic escapade described at one point. I would only suggest this book to mature readers.