Favorite Family Read-Aloud Books (Fall 2018-Spring 2019)


We are finishing up the school year. History is over and science fair projects have been completed. We are shifting gears for summer. One of our favorite parts of our day is “Circle Time” which is in the afternoon right after I put Ava to bed for her “Quiet Hour.” Then we often gather a few snacks and make our way to the living room. We spend the next hour or so reading various books. Over the year we’ve watched CNN 10 for current events, read our history text, The Story of the World, Vol 4, read tons of picture books, mapped our way around the world, took notes and wrote narrations. But our favorite book is whatever we’re reading as our family read aloud.

We usually have a couple going at the same time. One that I’m actually reading and one we listen to on audiobook when we’re driving. We read in community this year as I put together a book club for our school year. We chose books that loosely coincided to our history studies to bring the era alive. And wow, did we ever read some great books! Here’s what we read:

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
A favorite from my own childhood this one was the most complicated in terms of language, but the kids ended up loving it even more than I thought they would. It’s just so compelling, sobbing our way through the end. The relationship between father and son in this book is just incredible.

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Despite the fact that Laura is now a young woman these books still kept my kids spellbound, and I certainly enjoyed revisiting a favorite, once again, from my own childhood. Reading of the simple pleasures of pioneer life remind me to be thankful for our abundance today.

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (audiobook)
I just love Caddie! And all the kids did too. This book is filled with adventure and is a great discussion starter to discuss the pioneer/Native American relationship, as many views are presented in this book.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (audiobook)
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall (audiobook)
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall (audiobook)
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall (audiobook)
The Penderwicks At Last by Jeanne Birdsall (audiobook)
My kids LOVED the Penderwicks and were so sad when this series was over. I, however, was not. I liked the first couple of books but as they went on they became less compelling. The final book didn’t even really have a plot.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munzo Ryan (audiobook)
This book had a bit of a slow start but it was so good! It is a story of Mexican immigration during the Depression and I discovered some things I did not know about history. Because of the Spanish this is a good choice for audio. The story is one of overcoming hardship and making a new life for yourself.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (audiobook)
This book captured our attention immediately and the writing was strong and vivid. Perfect middle grade historical fiction. I loved it and so did the kids! Somehow I missed this one as a kid, glad to get a chance to finally read it! Again, I was introduced to history I knew nothing about: how the people of Denmark worked together to remove a huge amount of its Jewish population by small fishing vessels overnight to Sweden after Nazi invasion!

I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 by Lauren Tarshis (audiobook)
I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944 by Lauren Tarshis (audiobook)
I Survived the Attack of the Grizzlies, 1967 by Lauren Tarshis (audiobook)
Because we were studying W. W. II we listened to the battle of D-Day but then got interested in animal attacks. :) These are faced-paced historical fiction that are great to go along with history topics or introduce an era. Not classic literature but fascinating and based on true events.

George Muller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans by Janet Benge
I realized this year we’ve not read any in-depth biographies of Christians. While we’ve read some picture books, I thought it was time to get a more detailed picture of some Christians who have made a lasting impact in the world. George Mueller was my first choice. The kids kept asking, “this guy becomes a missionary?” because his life was so marred by fast-living and outright theft. Hard to believe this man who loved money ended up being known for trusting the Lord for literally, the daily bread of hundreds of children. What an amazing man and ministry!

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (audiobook)
I was so excited to listen to this book, as it again was one I missed as a kid. This book was incredible! The characters were vivid and my kids couldn’t get enough. It was hard to listen to sometimes but it brought to life an era that was hard for them to imagine.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (audiobook)
The back-and-forth narrative style was fast-paced and brought home how other people live life around the world. When we were finished we watched videos about the real people depicted in this book and marveled at all Salva went through.

This year’s books were incredible! We were captivated and learned so much. We look forward to starting our new summer book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone! I don’t know who’s more excited, me or the kids!

What I Read in 2018 (Non-fiction)


It was a good reading year for me! As I look over my list from the past year I see that in terms of non-fiction I read a lot of books with either a spiritual or educational/parenting focus. This was driven by my desire to particularly focus on helping my dyslexic kids in their educational journey. One thing that is missing is biographies and narrative history, which I love but just didn’t get to. Next year I hope to at least get one or two books of that genre into my rotation.

Books can earn up to five starts (*****) in my numbering system, five being excellent!

Different: The Story of an Outside-The-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him by Sally Clarkson and Nathan Clarkson ****
Sally Clarkson’s books are always an encouragement and this one was unique because it was co-written by her son. The story shares what it was like to parent as well as to be a child who had learning differences, anxiety, and clinical OCD. The chapters alternated between Sally (the mother) and Nathan (the son) giving different perspectives to their experience and offering hope who might be walking a similar journey.

Founding Mothers: Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts*** (audio)
This was the only biography/narrative history I listened to in 2018. It was at times a highly editorialized history, with Roberts inserting herself rather frequently. That added to the "chatty" quality that wasn't terrible but sometimes seemed to lack professionally. I did love learning about some women I never had heard of: Mercy Otis Warren and Mary Katherine Goddard for instance. Goddard was the original printer of the Declaration of Independence right here in Baltimore! 

Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot***
This one didn't speak to me as much as "A Lamp Unto My Feet" or "Be Still My Soul” which I thought were better compilations.

Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt by Leslie Leyland Fields*****
Refreshing and encouraging! This should be the first parenting book anyone reads, by doing so it will lay a great foundation and help them weed out all the parenting books they DON'T need to read.

Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass*****
A MUST-READ for anyone interested in narration. She explains with clarity what it is and is not, how to use it in a classroom, how to use it with kids with learning difficulties, how to move from oral to written narrations from age 6 to high school.

Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures & Transforming Power of a Reading Life by Sarah Clarkson*****
With chapter titles like "Books Can Stir You to Action" and "Books Can Foster Community" Sarah Clarkson's Book Girl is a joyful manifesto of all the good that books bring to our lives. Almost every chapter has a booklist too, so lots more titles to consider adding to your reading list!

Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking By Faith by Jon Bloom*****
Gritty, earthy, imaginative while staying true to scripture. I read this as a devotional, reading the scripture each chapter was based on. So good!

Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins*****
I read this for the second time. Written in a conversational—sometimes sarcastic style—I learned a lot from Cindy’s memoir on homeschooling.

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Every Life by Tish Harrison Warren****
I enjoyed reading this thought-provoking book (with cool chapter titles) a little bit each morning.

The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp*****
This is my favorite Ann Voskamp book and this is my third time reading it as my Advent devotional. Always speaks to me.

Hallelujah: A Journey through Advent with Handel’s Messiah by Cindy Rollins****
I definitely enjoyed this more than my kids did! We listened our way through Handel’s Messiah for Advent this year. It was very easy to follow along with this book as a guide.

The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain by Brock L. Eide and Fernette F. Eide
A book every parent and educator must read about dyslexia. The first half of the book is dedicated to brain science while the second discusses more practical application in the skill work of reading and writing and how that applies to different ages. Focusing on the STRENGTHS of dyslexia is important too, because there are strengths as well as weaknesses. And the teacher/student/parent knows the weaknesses only too well, so it is equally important to tap into the strengths.

What was YOUR favorite non-fiction book this year?

Discovering the Strengths of Dyslexia


I stood in the hallway of our local school and listened while the psychologist explained terms to me like auditory processing, visual processing, and working memory. My head spun as I sought to understand these new phrases and their implications. My eyes filled with tears as I fought to keep my emotions in check and a million questions exploded in my mind. A strange mixture of grief and relief threatened to overwhelm me.

We finally had a word for what described my twin boys’ struggle with reading, writing, and math. Dyslexia.

I am privileged to share that journey today in honor of Dyslexia Awareness Month for the subscribers of the Wild and Free monthly bundles. I’ve come to see dyslexia as not only a weakness but also a strength. Dyslexic learners are often entrepreneurial thinkers, good at recognizing patterns, can expertly manipulate 3D objects in their mind, and think in pictures instead of words. My own boys are excellent visual problem solvers and artistic. As Brock L. Eide writes in this book The Dyslexic Advantage, “Dyslexic brains have their own kinds of strengths and benefits, and these advantages should be recognized and enjoyed. Our goal is to help individuals with dyslexia recognize these many wonderful advantages, so they can enjoy the full range of benefits that can come from having a dyslexic brain.” In this article I share our story as well as some practical resources that have benefitted our family.

Once again my friend Molly Balint of The Farmhouse Creative photographed my boys as they drilled sight words while playing Connect Four, did some phonics play, and practiced their writing.

If you are interested in subscribing to the bundle (which is basically a digital magazine), check out the details here. You can even try one for FREE!

I will be posting daily over on Facebook this week about Dyslexia, so if you are interested in finding out more, follow me there.


My Favorite Homeschool Books


I must confess I've not read many books on homeschooling, partially because I was homeschooled myself, loved it, and had a great experience, so I never went through a "research" phase to determine if it was something I wanted to do or not. 

But this time of year I am deeply thinking and planning about our upcoming academic year, and I find myself returning to some books again and again, as well as discovering some new favorites.

One book that I read almost annually is Sarah Mackenzie's Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace. This is a slim volume that is full of wisdom, encouragement, and practical suggestions. This book introduced me to loop scheduling, using a "time budget," and choosing a literary mentor to guide my reading through the year.


I'm currently really loving the influence of Cindy Rollins. First, I read her book Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, and My Journey Towards SanctificationIt's really more of a memoir than anything else, but filled with so much goodness that includes what she did right--and wrong--told in a conversational way with a side of sarcasm. I've also become a Patron of her podcast, and am literally sitting down and taking notes of the exclusive content I've received by joining here.

Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass is a book I wish had been written several years ago when I was just starting this homeschool journey. It has cleared up all my questions having children narrate ("tell back") the material that is read to them (or they read) either orally or in written form. Since my boys struggled so much with reading/writing due to dyslexia we have not been consistent in this area, but this book has helped me as I plan for this year. There is even a chapter on narrations and learning challenges, so there is much to consider in this wonderful book. I will also be implementing some of the content from the "narration in the classroom" chapter in my co-op class this year.

What is your favorite homeschooling book? Or, if you don't homeschool, a book that has impacted your educational philosophy or parenting style?

The Power of the Voice


I'm very excited to share that an essay I wrote about my life as a homeschooled student has been featured in Wild + Free's most recent subscriber bundle, Wander. Wild + Free is a beautiful homeschool community. I have benefitted from their conferences, digital bundles, Instagram, and podcast.

I was thrilled to write about one of the most treasured memories from my days as a homeschooled student when my mom read to my siblings and me after lunch. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next to my favorite character, while being transported to another time or place by the power of Mom’s voice. These books were dubbed 'family books,' and we continued to read aloud together even long after I was old enough to read on my own. The power of the audible voice captured any wanderings of my mind, making the stories dance off the page and into my imagination.

To illustrate this article, my friend Molly Balint of The Farmhouse Creative photographed our own read-aloud moments. It's so special to have these images, not just for the article, but to treasure and document our days.

I also got to chat with Jennifer Pepito about reading aloud as a family and how to know whether we're doing too much or enough in the podcast portion of the bundle.

If you are interested in subscribing to the bundle (which is basically a digital magazine), check out the details here. You can even try one for FREE!


What I'm Into Right Now (July 2018)


July is almost over (can you believe it!) and since I wasn't able to post in June I have a nice round up of favorite things for you this month.


We've been watching When Calls the Heart for all five seasons as a family because it's a clean show the kids enjoy. Kind of reminds me of Christy or Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, remember those? Season five, however, ended in a very un-Hallmark manner with a shocker that left the kids in tears! What!?! Definitely will be interested in what plays out next season!

I still am enjoying Father Brown on Netflix. It's my laundry-folding show and it's a comfort that the bad guys are always caught and the mysteries are tidily solved each episode.


I've become a Patron of Cindy Rollins' podcast, The Mason Jar and am enjoying the exclusive content from her site. I am literally taking notes, the content is just that good.

Also, I just finished the fourth book in Alan Bradley's charming Flavia de Luce series. I adore them on audio. I don't know anyone else personally who has read them, however Cindy Rollins and Jen Hatmaker are fans. I was really happy to hear Jen rave about them on a recent episode of What Should I Read Next. These books really need more people to discover them!


I've read some good books lately, one of my favorites was this psychological thriller I Found You. Caveats include strong language and an especially icky assault scene, but overall I just couldn't put it down. Can't wait to try more of her books. A Murder for the Books has been a fun cozy type of mystery. Think a Hallmark movie in book form, so at times, it verges on cheesy, but a nice summer-type of read.

Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And 8 Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt was one of the best parenting books I've ever read. Seriously, there's not many more books you need to read besides this one. It was my first introduction to Leslie Leyland Fields, but I definitely plan to read more of her work!

I picked two books this summer to be my "professional development" to help me become a better homeschool parent to my kids. The first title, The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain has been hugely helpful and encouraging as I look to more year helping the boys thrive not only in spite of, but because of, their dyslexia. The other is Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass which I'm busy highlighting. It will be helpful in not only our narrations at home, but as I teach a Writing and Rhetoric class at our local co-op.


I made these Stuffed Sweet Peppers (by one of my favorite Instagrammers) for a party and man, were they delish! Also easy, which is always a plus. The other night we also tried these Korean BBQ Burritos which were quite tasty and had a unique blend of flavors.

What are YOU into right now?

Toddler Activity Boxes


In preparation for this school year I knew I needed a constructive plan to keep Ava, my toddler, creatively engaged. Since we homeschool, it would be important to the flow of our learning that she have her own "work" of play to do. But whether you homeschool or not, keeping a toddler busy can be a challenge while to try to accomplish other tasks.


In anticipation for the fall I created four "activity boxes" just for Ava. Call them what you want: sensory boxes, busy bins, they all are meant to engage her imagination and give her something tactile to do. I created one for each morning we are home. 

And look at that goofy face! She loves her boxes!

If you are interested in creating your own boxes, I will link to what resources I can here to help you get started. I created loose "themes" to get me organized.

Animal Box 1 (top left photo)
Felt map with animals from Target's Dollar Bin
Melissa and Doug Habitats Reusable Sticker Pad
Melissa and Doug Water Wow
Number cards with sticky foam to form the letters from Target's Dollar Bin

Craft Box 2 (top right photo)
Dot Markers (not shown--but Ava LOVES them)
Mr. Potato Head (similar)
Construction paper and scissors from the Dollar Store
Wikki Stix Adventures Across America book and Alphabet Cards


Sand Box 3 (Bottom left photo)
Sensory Sand with real shells from the beach and sand toys I dug out of the shed and washed up and added to the box.

Play-Doh Box 4 (Bottom right photo)
We've had this box for years, but I recently freshened it up by buying a bag of Mad Matter. All the kids love this and want me to buy their own bag in the color of their choice. It is very cool stuff! Similar to sensory sand--but less sandy and just more fun, in my opinion! So obviously Mad Matter is a great choice for older kids too. My older kids like to steal it out of her bin to play with it when I read to them.

You could also use these bins for "quiet play" when naptimes cease or only pull them down on rainy days. Check out my Sensory Play Pinterest boards for more inspiration. If you end up making your own boxes, or already have, I'd love to know what you filled them with!

Cromwell Valley Park

A few Sundays ago we took advantage of the perfect weather to visit Cromwell Valley Park. We have been there multiple times, but this time, we went to hike the orienteering course, which uses compass and map skills to follow a trail that pretty much takes you all over the main aspects of the park.

Of course, when you start a hike everyone is excited and exuberant! 

The building are quite lovely with some walled gardens. The Willow Grove farm house contains the nature center, where we saw live animals like snakes, birds, chicks, and turtles. I particularly love the Apple House. Apparently, this building was used as a "finishing room" when there were apple and peach orchards on the property. It is in this space the fruit was boxed and then transported to be sold along the waterfront and in stalls in Baltimore City.

The Lime Kilns were in the midst of being refurbished, which was neat to see. There are three kilns and the oldest was probably in operation from 1785 onward.

The kids had a blast playing in the Nature Discovery Zone, which had a sandbox, playhouse structure, and see-saw.

It definitely was a fun day of exploring and hiking in nature. We're definitely planning on packing a lunch and going back and spending more time playing in the stream sometime soon!

Hamilton {for kids}

I have found that my kids' interest often mirror my own. Even if but for a brief period.

So, it shouldn't have surprised me when I started listening to the Broadway blockbuster, Hamilton that they too would find the story interesting.

"Who was Alexander Hamilton?" and "What is dueling?" became some common questions in our house.

But, unless you want to explain to your kids what the Reynolds Pamphlet was all about (ahem) one might want to find a kid-friendlier version of history than the musical--until they're a bit older.

So off to the library I went to check out these wonderful picture books:

Duel! Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words and Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History. Both books have delightful illustrations and detail the almost ironically parallel lives that Hamilton and Burr lived. Duel! also does a good job of explaining that both men could have made different/better choices than dueling, should they have wished. It wasn't something they had to do. It also gives a short history of dueling in America and talks about other famous Americans who dueled (Andrew Jackson) or almost dueled (Abraham Lincoln).

So if your kids have caught Hamilton fever too, check out these books out!

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Resources for Rest Time Play

2016-08-23_001Rest time is essential for our homeschool year. In the summer it often goes by the wayside in favor of afternoons spent at the pool, park, or bike riding, but once school starts again, we go back to the routine.

It takes the place of naps for the older ones and allows the house to be quiet for the baby's afternoon nap. It also gives us some downtime after studying together all morning and provides me an dedicated hour to work. I typically race to my computer to work on a blog post, article, website, or process photos.

To freshen up our routine this year, I made the kids Rest Time Boxes that they are only allowed to play with during our hour of quiet.

I bought three clear plastic bins from Target for each child.

Each box has foldable headphones and I check out Playaways from our library and put them in so they always have a fresh rotation of stories on hand. I basically just searched for items I thought my kids would like at the dollar store and on Amazon.


Here's what I came up with:

Melissa and Doug Tape Activity Book

Build Your Own Cupcake Sticker Activity Book

Melissa and Doug On the Go Water Wow!

Henna Style Notebook Doodles

EyeLike Stickers Reusable Sticker Book

Fantastical Fairies Lacing Cards


Tic-Tac-Toe Play Anywhere Game

Minecraft Activity Book

EyeLike Dinosaurs 400 Reusable Sticker Book

National Geographic Kids Ocean Animals Activity Book

Usborne Write and Draw Your Own Comics

Usborne Make Buildings Book

Word search books and stickers from the dollar store


Do you have a rest/quiet time in your home? If so, what do your kids enjoy doing during that time?