This is my stack of books for this month:IMG_6387

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

Convicting and made me want to adopt ALL the children!

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

Fast-paced adventure with an interesting twist.

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

Boost your child’s ACT scores with one easy activity! 😉 Ha!

The Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs

I’m always a fan of an empowered princess story!


Current favorite children’s series: The Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale


April coming up!








I only made it through 4 of my 5 planned February books, but I’m still ahead of my goal for the year. Here are the short but sweet reviews:

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Fascinating legend/myth/reality of a woman Pope

Well-written, well-researched historical fiction astonishes me!





The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

Things aren’t always easy for a kid in foster care, and sometimes it surprises you when you find someone who loves you.

After listening to Katherine Paterson on the Read-Aloud Revival podcast (, I’m on a mission to read all of her books. 🙂



Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Amazing memoir told in poems. I’d call this one a must-read.

Read-alikes: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros; Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons




I’m Proud of You by Tim Madigan

Mr. Rogers was always a favorite of mine, and according to this book, his TV personality matches his everyday personality!





It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, so I’m headed out to read some more!





Photo Credit/Amazon Links:


I’ve been inspired by a book on my shelf called Not Quite What I Was Planning: 6 Word Memoirs by famous and Obscure Writers. This year’s book reviews will be short and sweet–somewhere in the ballpark of 6 words each. 🙂

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

Perfect hero, perfect villian, & French Revolution. (Yep, not counting the ampersand as a word. Ha!)

Also, another one for good measure:

Should’ve taken Leah’s advice in college.


How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs

Not a how-to, but more of an explanation of the ways we make decisions and what effects our thinking. Not as dry as it sounds. Ha!




The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

A World War II novel always has a leg up on pretty much any other book. To use the author’s words, “Fear and what you [do] with it [are] two separate things.”

(The first book in this series, The War That Saved My Life is one of my favorite YA books. Check that one out too!)



Finn by Jon Clinch

Dark, disturbing look at Huck Finn’s Pap.

Note: I honestly cannot recommend this book because of how dark it is, but the writing is beautiful–reminds me of William Faulkner–and the premise is unique. Plus it’s pretty brave to take on one of Mark Twain’s characters!

My favorite example of fantastic wordsmithing: “…his own deep alcoholic alchemy overlays its own twinings and taints and endless entanglements.”


By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman

A boy and his butler strike out for gold and find themselves in the process.

I’m looking forward to reading this one with my boys!





January goal of 5 books achieved! Any suggestions for February?



Photo Credits/Amazon Links:


Historical Fiction, American Style

I’ve compiling a list of historical novels (and some well-written nonfiction) that corresponds to the Classical Conversations Cycle 3 history sentences. I have coded aamerican_bookss follows:

* = a book I have personally read (books that I have not read are recommended titles from other CC moms)

^ = young adult fiction; may or may not be suitable for your own young adults 😉

+ = nonfiction

@ = one of a series or one of many relevant works by one author


Week 1: Colombus/early exploration

Week 2: Pilgrims

  • Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick +@
  • Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks *
  • The Crucible by Arthur Miller *
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne *
  • The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent *
  • The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooperpurtian-woman

Week 3: Boston Tea Party

  • The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki
  • My Name is Resolute by Nancy E. Turner

Week 4: Declaration of Independence

Week 5: George Washington/other founding fathers

  • Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson *^
  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow +@
  • The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs
  • John Adams by David McCullough +@
  • Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage by Edith Gelles
  • Dear Abigail by Diane Jacobs
  • First Family by Joseph Ellis

Week 6: Louisiana Purchase/westward expansion/pioneers

  • Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose +
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather (one of my favorites; doesn’t quite fit here chronologically but thematically) *@
  • These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 by Nancy E. Turner  (again, a little out of order, but deals with pioneering) *

Week 7: War of 1812/Monroe Doctrine

  • In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick (not specifically related to the sentence, but the same time period and FASCINATING!) *+

Weeks 8 & 9: Missouri Compromise/Slavery

  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd *
  • Savannah by Eugenia Price @
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Week 10: Polk/Manifest Destiny/late 1800s

  • Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman +
  • Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (about President Garfield; one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read; slightly out of chronology) *+@

lincolnWeeks 11, 12 & 13: Civil War/Reconstruction/14th Amendment

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott *
  • March by Geraldine Brooks *
  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson *^@
  • Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
  • Mrs. Grant & Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini
  • A Blaze of Glory (Book 1 of 4 in Civil War series) by Jeff Shaara (all of his novels are based around an American war) @
  • My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira
  • The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom *
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell *

Week 14: US Industrial Age

  • Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow +

  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson *+@

Week 15: Theodore Roosevelt/Rough Riders

  • Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough +@
  • Alaska by James Michener @

Week 16: Immigration

  • The Personal History of Rachel Dupree by Ann Weisgarber (westward expansion/pioneers) *
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith *
  • Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls *
  • The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin *
  • The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline *

Week 17: World War I/Lusitania

  • Dead Wake by Erik Larson *+
  • Fall of Giants (1 of 3) by Ken Follett
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald *

Week 18: World War IIuntitled

  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown *+
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand * +
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford *
  • All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg *

Week 19: NATO/Communism

  • God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew; not specifically US history, but well worth your time! *+
  • The Chosen by Chiam Potok *

Week 20: Brown v. Board of Education/Civil Rights

  • Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals *+
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee *
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot *+
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett *

Week 21: US Astronauts

Week 22: September 11

  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer *^

Week 23: Preamble/Constitution

  • The 5000 Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen +

Week 24: Bill of Rights28efaec9a64d8486b29a2543b5753777.jpg

Books about other US Presidents:

  • Killing Reagan by Bill O’Reilly (this one is the most fascinating of this series, in my opinion) *+
  • Riding with Reagan by John Barletta +

Books about US history in general:

  • America’s Women by Gail Collins +
  • The History Chicks (podcast)


samThis is really a work in progress. If you have any additions, please let me know!


Blue YA Books

Since I’ve read several YA books lately and they all happen to be blue, I came up with a very creative title for this post. 😉 Even if you don’t typically read YA fiction, I highly recommend these.

Sweet Home Alaska

Carole Estby Dagg

Terpsichore and her family move to Alaska during the Great Depression as part of a New Deal plan to help struggling families and to settle the new territory. She works hard to convince her mother that they should stay by helping her father on their farm, founding a community library, and creating a life for their family. Terpsichore loves Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and often finds parallels between her life and Laura’s. (These are the only Little House books in publication at the time–Little House on the Prairie appears later in the novel.) She even names her prize-winning pumpkins Laura and Almanzo!

My main problem with this book is the title. I’m not sure what I would have called it, but I’m not a fan of the author’s choice. Ha! I did enjoy learning a bit about American history that I didn’t know previously–the Alaska settlement plan is all based on fact, as are many of the details Ms. Dagg included. I would recommend this one for the middle school crowd: 8 and up.

Report Card: B+



Pam Munoz Ryan

This book is incredible. The author tells the stories of three different children on different continents immediately before and during World War II. The thread that ties them together is a harmonica that they all end up playing. Beyond that, these stories are set within a frame story that’s part of another story! Confused yet? It sounds nuts, but it works.

Echo reminds me of All the Light We Cannot See, but for the younger set. I would probably hold off on this one until 6th/7th grade mostly because 1)it’s huge (and therefore intimidating) and 2)it deals with World War II and the accompanying issues of the Holocaust, concentration camps, and death. I have heard great things about the audio version of this book as well.

Report Card: A+


The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book is a clever retelling of The Jungle Book, except the jungle is a cemetery and the animals are the souls of the dearly departed. Nobody Owens ends up in an old cemetery as an infant and stays there, protected by its inhabitants for 15 or so years. It’s a fun coming-of-age story, as Bod deals with his past and moves into his future during the course of the story.

This novel has a Harry Potter vibe to it: lots of supernatural and fantasy and weird made-up facts. I love that Mr. Gaiman wrote this book for his kids. 🙂 I would recommend this book to the middle school + crowd as well.

Report Card: B+







Photo credits/Amazon links:;;


America’s First Daughter

America’s First Daughter IMG_0629.JPG

Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

This is a history book that reads like a novel, or a novel that reads like a history book; I can’t decide which! The authors took historical facts (mainly based on the thousands of letters written by Thomas Jefferson over the course of his life) and filled in the unknowns about the president and his daughter with probable and possible events. The book covers a span of 50+ years in the life of Patsy Jefferson, from her escape from Monticello with her father, mother, and sister during the Revolutionary War, to the mid-1800s, after the death of her father. While quite a tome (well over 500 pages), I found the story fascinating because it demonstrates how much influence Patsy had on her father’s life (and presidency) as well as bringing to life the Revolutionary period. So much of that era becomes rosy and glorified, when it really had to have been a terrible time, even though so much good came out of it. I enjoyed how the authors gave voices to the great fathers of America and showed their humanness–too often we just see them as legends and larger than life. The parallels between the American Revolution and the closely-following French Revolution also gave me new insights into the history of that era and the relationship between the new Americans and their French allies.

My Rating: B+

  • fascinating history, but dry at times (and long!)
  • excellent meshing of historical fact and imagination
  • a good compromise as far as learning history and providing enjoyment

Clean Factor: A

  • no objectionable language or scenes

Application: B-

  • I think the target audience for this book is fairly narrow.
  • It would spur a fun discussion in book club if I could talk them into a big one! 😉


Amazon link:

Secrets of a Charmed Life

Secrets of a Charmed Life51Dv9RUSOJL

Susan Meissner

Summary: American student Kendra Van Zant meets Isabel McFarland and intends to interview her for a college history assignment. Isabel is an elderly survivor of the London Blitz during World War II. However, the interview becomes increasingly interesting when Isabel reveals that she isn’t actually Isabel at all.

*Warning: the next two sections contain spoilers.*

What Works:

  • The Londoner’s perspective of the Blitz. With as many WW2 books as I have read, this is the first one that centers on the German attack on the civilians of London (minus introductions to books taking place in the country which focus on children who have been shipped out of harm’s way–i.e. The Chronicles of Narnia and The War that Saved My Life.) Meissner puts you right in the middle of the air raids and the aftermath of the destruction.
  • The frame story. Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled about Isabel telling her story as a part of a college-student’s history assignment. The whole flashback is a fairly common literary technique (at least in the modern literature I’ve read), and I admit I rolled my eyes a bit when I figured out that’s what was going on again. However, the present-day “bookend” in the final pages and Isabel’s reasons for wanting to tell her story to the public make it work better and complete a tidy ending to a messy life.

What Doesn’t Work:

  • The entire section of the book written as letters from Julia. I get that Meissner wanted to keep the fact that Julia is still alive as a secret, but the letters seem like a cop-out. The rest of the novel is so compelling, but the letters leave a lot to be desired. Even though the previous parts of the book have a third-person perspective, they still have much personal insight and really connect the reader to Emmy/Isabel. The letters, despite being written in first person, do not have nearly the emotion and feeling as the prose in the other parts of the novel.

Final Thoughts:

Overall I enjoyed the book and it read quickly. Meissner develops the characters well, writes a believable story, and keeps the action moving quickly (except for that letter part. Yawn.) This is a great book club pick (I missed this month’s meeting) and has a wide reader-appeal. (Kendal, I think you would like this one!) I much preferred this novel to the other of Meissner’s that I have read (The Fall of Marigolds). Sorry for all the parentheticals!


My Rating: B+

  • compelling storyline, despite frame story/flashback
  • less-than-stellar choice for Part 3
  • lovely character development
  • historical significance


Photo Credit/Amazon link:



CC Cycle 3/Usborne Match-Ups

Here is a list I’ve compiled of current Usborne offerings that correspond to Classical Conversations Cycle 3 (2017-2018 academic year). Please give me credit for this list if you choose to share. And if you do not have an Usborne rep, please use my website to order your books! I am grateful for your support of my business. 😉

To visit my website, click here:


Disclaimer: All links go to my Usborne website.

Timelines of World History
History: Usborne Encyclopedia of World History

What does the President Look Like?

Who Were the First North Americans?

Sticker Dressing Explorers

See Inside Exploration and Discovery

1920s Fashion (sticker book)

Hollywood and the Golden Age of Glamour

World Wars

The Story of the Second World War

See Inside the First World War

Sticker Dressing First World War

Sticker Dressing Second World War

First World War Sticker Book

Wartime Fashion (sticker book)

Animals at War

Fighter Planes

Living in Space

The Story of Astronomy and Space

Astronaut’s Handbook (there are bunches of space books if you search for them: here)

Science: Usborne Encyclopedia of Science

Usborne Children’s Encyclopedia

First Encylopedia of Science

First Encyclopedia of the Human Body

Human Body Reference Book

Complete Book of the Human Body

Usborne Living World Encyclopedia

Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers about the Body

See Inside Your Body  (7+)

Look Inside Your Body  (3+)

Shine-a-Light: The Human Body

Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers about Science

Science Activities (3 volumes); many other science activity books here

Illustrated Elementary Science Dictionary (8+)

Usborne Illustrated Dictionary of Biology (12+)

Usborne Illustrated Dictionary of Science (12+)

Usborne Illustrated Dictionary of Chemistry (12+)

All science books here.

Math: Lift-the-Flap Times Tables

Learning Wrap-Ups Multiplication

First Illustrated Math Dictionary (6+)

Illustrated Elementary Math Dictionary (8+)

Illustrated Dictionary of Math (12+)

Times Tables Activity Book

Wipe-Clean Starting Times Tables

Geography: Big Picture Atlas

Lift-the-Flap Picture Atlas

Shine-a-Light: Wonders of the USA

See Inside Great Cities

Learning Wrap-Ups: States and Capitals

Usborne Geography Encyclopedia

Fine Arts: Usborne Children’s Book of Art Famous Artists Sticker Book

Usborne Book of Famous Artists

Children’s Book of Art

Lift the Flap: Art

I Can Draw Animals

Step-By-Step Drawing, Animals, People, Dinosaurs

Art Treasury

Famous Paintings Cards

Classical Music Reference Book

Famous Composers Reference Book

First Book about the Orchestra

Noisy Orchestra

Latin: First Thousand Words in Latin

The links I listed for the encyclopedias are for the reduced format, which are the smaller, paperback versions, but they contain the exact content as the more expensive, slightly larger, hardback versions, which are linked here: Science Encyclopedia, History Encyclopedia, Geography Encyclopedia. There are library editions available as well. If you want the hardback versions, you can save some money by ordering the set here.

Building a Home Library:

If I had to choose only 3 books from Usborne, I would choose these:


Usborne Encyclopedia of Science

This book provides a survey of pretty much every science topic. Here is an example of a page on energy (cycle 2, week 15):


If you send me a message, I will send you pictures of the table of contents.

NB: There is a perfunctory explanation of sex in the biology section, so you may want to keep an eye on your younger readers. Also, Usborne is not a Christian company, so some topics may require discussion of that nature, i.e. evolution.

Timelines of World History

This book is pretty amazing. I think at least 10 families from my CC community have purchased this book. Not every CC timeline event is mentioned, but the majority correspond. I like how the pages show parallel events across the world. It’s a great starting point for further investigation. I will send a picture of my Foundations timeline page marked with the corresponding Timelines pages via email or PM upon request.


Big Picture Atlas

This one is just fun! I like that you can see more of the culture of the places we discuss in geography.


If your wishlist has extended your budget, please consider hosting a party with me. You can email me at or PM me on Facebook.

Please join my page to stay updated on all things Usborne!

*If you purchase books using these links or via my website, I will be compensated by Usborne. I appreciate your support of my business (and your consideration of my time in creating this post) through your purchases.

Deconstructing Penguins: English Teacher Pick

Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading

Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone


The Goldstones describe the book club model they set up through their local library, specifically for 2nd-5th graders. They explain the importance of reading itself, but also emphasize reading good literature and not just reading for reading’s sake. (Sorry for all the “readings.” 🙂 ) In each chapter, the authors discuss different literary elements, specifically protagonist/antagonist, plot/climax, and conflict. It sounds boring, but it’s not; the comments and questions from the kids in the reading groups keep things light for sure, even when discussing difficult texts like Animal Farm (in 4th grade!) and The Giver.

Who Should Read This Book:

-Parents of elementary aged kids

-Literature teachers at any level

-People who want to get more out of what they read

Even though this book is geared at teaching/guiding elementary students, I think that most of what the Goldstones demonstrate translates to the reading of any book. I have found myself thinking about their questions and methodology in the (adult) books I have read since finishing this one. I hope to utilize these methods in discussing books with my own kids and if I find myself teaching in a classroom setting again.

Why You Should Read This Book:

The Goldstones show how to get to the meat of any book you pick up. The themes in the books they choose for their book clubs are not light reading by any means, and the kids are extremely insightful. I love how they don’t “dumb down” reality and they let the kids make the observations themselves while gently guiding them to deeper understanding. The whole point of literature is to experience things that you otherwise wouldn’t, and then to act on it. If there’s no reason the author wrote the book, then it’s just popcorn and not really worth my time. 😉

The reading lists in the back of the book are full of great titles that promote thinking, discussion, and self-examination. If you have any interest at all in reading for more than just checking it off your list, you won’t be disappointed.


Photo credit/Amazon link: