Read: June 2022

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone

This was the last book I read for my LSU children’s literature class, and a topic about which was unfamiliar to me. What great research was performed in diving into the history of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion!

Read via: academic library youth collection

She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sarah Smarsh

This book of four essays written by Sarah Smarsh in 2016 were compiled for a look at Dolly Parton’s life and career. Deep respect is paid to Dolly’s roots growing up in poverty in rural Appalachia, akin to Smarsh’s rural and impoverished upbringing in Kansas, and Dolly’s ability to claim her own identity, business savvy, and thriving entrepreneurship.

Read via: home library

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

I’ve begun my adolescent literature class through LSU! The first unit included this early YA story from 1974 that takes place at a Jesuit boys day school. This cautionary tale includes themes of bullying, hazing, intimidation, a secret society, and power given to those who abuse this privilege and willfully do not wield this responsibility properly.

Read via: academic library youth collection

Godless by Pete Hautman

This is another coming-of-age story that examines a group of teenagers who form their own religion, where the water tower serves as their god. It does, after all, stand high above town to dispense a life-giving source of nourishment. Each time I drive by a water tower I now think of this memorable premise.

Read via: academic library youth collection

I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet: Discovering New Ways of Living When the Old Ways Stop Working by Shauna Niequist

What fond memories I’ll have of reading this on the porch of a rental cabin during our 10th anniversary get-away. Shauna remains one of my favorite leaders of living life rooted in faith and connected to others. I, too, am finding that what used to work no longer serves me well, so this, her newest book of essays, came at the perfect time. This is easily one of my favorite reads of the year!

Read via: home library

A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich by Alice Childress

Another theme in adolescent fiction is the “problem novel.” 13 year old Benjie is addicted to heroin and it’s hard to convince him to trust the adults in his life to help him get clean. This is the kind of book that stands out for its boldness and contribution to the genre, especially in the early days of adolescent literature.

Read via: academic library youth collection

Cut by Patricia McCormick

Another “problem novel” example, this one focuses on the theme of self-harm and cutting. Although a few decades old now, this remains an approachable story of Callie repressing her fears and frustrations and working through her troubles in a rehab facility with trained counselors and other mental health professionals.

Read via: academic library youth collection

You Have a Match by Emma Lord

I became a fan of Emma Lord after reading an ARC of Tweet Cute in early 2020. When I heard about this newer YA novel of hers, set mostly in a summer camp, I wanted to wait until summer to read it, which was a fun choice. Lord skillfully weaves story arcs of friendship, newfound family, and romance with a satisfying conclusion.

Read via: Hoopla audio

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

So far, this is the only YA re-read I’ve encountered in my coursework so far. The theme of a “school story” includes this scenario where high school student Melinda begins her freshmen year broken and lonely after being raped the summer before 9th grade. It’s a tough but hopeful story of survival, bravery, and healing.

Read via: home library

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

The newest unit in my adolescent literature course covers romance novels for teens, and this groundbreaking YA LGBTQ story was new to me. It was gentle and unhurried in the telling of the friendship-turned-romance of Annie and Liza in New York City in the 1980s.

Read via: Hoopla e-book

What a busy month June has been! I’m looking forward to a long holiday weekend to read some more for my class (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) and for fun (The Lazy Genius Kitchen), do some local exploring, and buy fireworks with The Optometrist. What are some of your 4th of July plans?

Learn: Spring 2022

Here we are, at the handoff between spring and summer. Spring provided so much beauty with cool weather, lots of rain, gently warming temperatures, open windows for fresh breezes to blow through the house, and blissfully low humidity. Now, on the official cusp of summer, our raised bed garden is coming on strong and our corner of Green Country Oklahoma is living up to its name. Here’s a few snapshots and reflections of what I’ve learned as the seasons transition.

Making connections with others

During a recent professional development library training day, we were asked by our facilitator, “About what are you passionate?” In a previous conversation with The Optometrist a few days before, he pointed out to me something that should have been obvious to me a long time ago: you love making connections with people. He was so right, and it was an easy answer to the survey question that day. I love learning about people and knowing their stories, interests, and backgrounds so I can make connections with them and/or connect them with others, too.

Keep a little bit in the tank

Back in the Fall I attended a virtual library conference and our keynote speaker spoke about kind leadership. She shared one of the best ways to be an effective leader is to manage your time and energy. Preserving margin for unexpected tasks or conversations during the day and leaving a little bit in the tank is good for yourself and those around you.

St. Paul’s Cathedral history

It’s been so neat to see pictures of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in London and throughout the U.K. this past week. When we were there in December we loved taking a self-guided tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Two neat things I learned are:
1.) Martin Luther King, Jr., preached there on his way to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and Coretta Scott King spoke there after her husband’s assassination, being the first woman to preach in the cathedral.
2.) Winston Churchill’s funeral was held there in 1965 and the gates set up outside the cathedral are now in the crypt below.

Hogwarts scale model

Also while in London, I visited the Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition, which was an easy walk from our hotel in Covent Garden. In addition to lots of behind-the-scenes photographs and some props used in the making of the movies, I learned that a scale model of Hogwarts was used for some filming. I knew the Lord of the Rings movies utilized this practical technology, but never realized the same applied to that of the Harry Potter movies.

My experience isn’t the only one

There have been a couple of moments over the past few months when I’ve been reminded that my abilities and my experiences are not the only ones, nor are they the same as everyone else’s. I don’t have any answers, but I feel that paying attention and taking notice of our differences will make us more considerate and kind. That, in and of itself, is important.
1.) While on our London trip, it dawned on me that our hotel, many restaurants, restrooms, and popular attractions were not ADA accessible. Yes, an elevator might have been on site, but the large step to enter the building would be prohibitive for those using a wheelchair.
2.) After returning home, I heard a story on NPR about those with visual impairments struggling to administer at-home COVID tests. If someone was in quarantine and/or lived alone, printed directions would be moot not only for the testing procedure, but also determining the test results.

Don’t overthink it!

This Spring I’ve worked hard to complete the Children’s Literature course through LSU’s Online and Continuing Education program. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve been a student and it’s been very vulnerable to step back into this role, rather than be the instructor providing grades for a class. I’m prone to verbosity in my writing, but I quickly learned I could succinctly answer the essay prompts and keep moving forward to the next question or the next module. I have learned a lot, read a significant number of picture and middle grade books, and am excited to see how this knowledge will benefit me in my role as the College of Education Librarian. Now, on to the YA Literature class!

Here’s to what has been, what is, and what will be. Amen.

What have you learned throughout this Spring? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Read: May 2022

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary

I’m sure I read this as a child, but didn’t remember any of the plot. Therefore, it was fun to re-read this for my LSU certificate course for books that feature animals who can speak. Ralph’s motorcycle adventures in the hotel where he and his family live were charming to revisit as an adult.

Read via: home library

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Fantasy isn’t my favorite genre, but selecting this from my unread shelf for my children’s fantasy unit was time well spent! I can now understand why so many readers love Ged’s adventures throughout Earthsea and his growth and journey of becoming a powerful wizard.

Read via: home library

East by Edith Pattou

Based on the Norwegian folk tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed this fantasy story for my LSU course. Rose’s longing for adventure, her quest to find the man who is a white bear, and break him of his spell made this a truly page-turning YA novel; one I probably wouldn’t have picked up otherwise!

Read via: academic library youth collection

10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston

I strategically chose to read this fun YA novel around the time of graduation, which was perfectly suited for the season of celebration! If you haven’t read the companion novel 10 Blind Dates, which I did around Christmas a few years ago, I would recommend both!

Read via: Hoopla e-book

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

First read in April 2017, the details of this novel in verse had grown a little fuzzy in my memory, so re-reading it for my LSU course was enjoyable. I now need to read the others in this story arc.

Read via: academic library youth collection

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I had never before heard of Ruta Sepetys, but attending some of her panel presentations during the 2020 North Texas Teen Book Festival piqued my curiosity into her research process and writing of YA historical fiction. Set during World War II, 15 year old Lena, her mother, and younger brother are forcibly removed from their home in Lithuania and travel arduously to Siberia, fighting for survival. It’s an honest and difficult look at one lesser known facet of WWII.

Read via: home library

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

Shawn is a whip-smart teenager, but nobody knows it since he has cerebral palsy and cannot communicate with his family, doctors, or teachers. Shawn’s father begins contemplating the idea of mercy killings and Shawn is rightly afraid of what his father might do. This was a reading selection in my course of a controversial book and it would certainly be interesting to hear teenagers’ thoughts about this Printz Award nominee.

Read via: academic library youth collection

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

While Lucky is surrounded by love, she is unaware of how powerful it is and continues searching for her “higher power,” much like the adults she overhears in their community 12-step program. Here’s to smart and vulnerable female protagonists!

Read via: academic library youth collection

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

One year ago I read Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park and loved it. I can now attest that I equally love A Single Shard and found this the stand-out title for my children’s literature class! Set in Korea during the 12th century, Tree-ear longs to become an apprentice to the imminently talented potter he often sneakily watches. What a lovely and artistic story of bravery, kindness, and history. Highly recommend!

Read via: academic library youth collection

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

I loved this heroic WWII story as a girl in the 1990s, most recently re-read it in 2019, and was excited about picking it back up again during the historical fiction unit in my course.

Read via: home library

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

This was another long-ago read book that I was glad to revisit for my class during our historical fiction unit. It’s a wonderful story of finding family, historical accuracy of the depression, and the joy of traveling with a group of jazz musicians throughout the upper midwest.

Read via: home library

Two Nights in Lisbon by Chris Pavone

This summer thriller was a slow build for the whole story to be revealed of Ariel, her husband John being kidnapped in Lisbon, his release, her return to the United States, and them orchestrating a better future for themselves and countless others.

My thanks to Macmillan and NetGalley for access to the audio book ARC. 

You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton? by Jean Fritz

Having celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment last year, this middle grade non-fiction selection is a fact-filled and fun way for children to learn about suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and other and dedicated women pioneers.

Read via: academic library youth collection

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman

As a musician, I loved learning more about the life of Marian Anderson, the way the black community supported her musical training, and her determination to not let segregation stop her from sharing her gift of song.

Read via: academic library youth collection

Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

This informational non-fiction selection takes a look at the development of the atomic bomb, the key physicists involved, like J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Soviet spies who infiltrated the ranks of those working in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and the current reality of living in a world with nuclear technology.

Read via: academic library youth collection

Through the Eyes of a Child by Donna Norton

It’s been a very long time since I’ve read a textbook cover to cover, but this was required for my course and I found the information comprehensive and practical. Since I borrowed it from our libraries’ collection, I think it would be a great personal resource for me to purchase someday!

Read via: academic library

I’m just about through with my Children’s Literature course and will move on to the YA course in June. That about sums up my reading month! What about you?

Read: April 2022

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

This is a perennial middle grade favorite, last read during Middle Grade March in 2019. This time I read it as a part of the curriculum for my Children’s & YA Literature certificate I’m completing through LSU.

Read via: Overdrive audio

Locked In: The Will to Survive and the Resolve to Live by Victoria Arlen

Victoria Arlen’s life is the embodiment of tragedy turned to triumph. After experiencing two simultaneous medical emergencies, she was “locked in” her own body as a pre-teen; cognitively aware but physically unable to communicate. Her in-person visit to our campus to share her inspiring story was a highlight of the semester!

Read via: home library

What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey
Recently mentioned by Emily P. Freeman in one of her podcasts, I became curious to hear Oprah’s list of what she knows for sure. It was a reminder for me to deeply ponder what I know for sure and to remain on the lookout for confirmations of good and true things in my life.

Read via: Overdrive audio

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

Easing out of Middle Grade March, I took advantage of the hold that came in from the public library for this adult thriller. I read The Guest List in January and loved its many twists and turns, and here again Foley creates a murder mystery with the characters’ stories and secrets overlapping, with a surprising twist near the end of the story.

Read via: Overdrive e-book

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

This 2017 Newbery medal winner has been on my TBR for several years and reading it for my LSU course was the push I needed to cross this off my middle grade reading list. While it wasn’t my favorite, I did enjoy the fantastical themes of magic along with friendship & found family and good triumphing over evil. Read more about my ongoing Newbery Reading Project here.

Read via: Overdrive audio

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Re-reading this Caldecott winner was a literal study into the illustrations of Brian Selznick for my LSU course. I had forgotten just how talented he is, and how his pencil drawings are so evocative, aiding in the exquisite storytelling of this award-winning book.

Read via: home library

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

Reading through a selection of poetry in April for National Poetry Month remains an attainable goal for me. This short collection highlights Baer’s experience as a woman, wife, and mother. With contemporary settings and situations, this creates art that is straightforward and relatable.

Read via: Hoopla audio

Bitter & Sweet: A Journey into Easter by Tsh Oxenreider

During Lent, this was my go-to devotional to look at the 7 deadly sins through the lens of daily reflection and repentance. If you’re familiar with Oxenreider’s newer Advent book Shadow & Light, the format is very similar with an original short meditation or story, related quotes, written prayers, and accompanying visual and musical works of art.

Read via: Hoopla e-book

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

For fans of George Takei’s work in Star Trek and other roles, his memoir in graphic novel format is eye-opening to learn about how he and his family were imprisoned in American internment camps during World War II. This is a contender for next year’s Common Read at our university and is a worthy selection, in my opinion.

Read via: academic library youth collection

The Love of My Life by Rosie Walsh

Theo, Emma, and their young daughter Ruby live quiet lives in London, where Theo is an obituary writer and Emma is a marine biologist. When Emma’s behavior begins to be troublesome and she goes missing, Theo’s journalistic skills lead him to investigate and discover painful secrets about Emma’s past. Unlike a lot of other domestic thrillers I’ve read as of late, I appreciated this gentle approach to the subgenre with loving and forgiving protagonists who are willing to work through past hurts with one another.

Read via: Overdrive audio

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

It’s been a goodly number of years since journeying through this well-known fantasy novel for children of all ages, but it was good for me to re-read it for my LSU course on the unit regarding fantasy stories. Maybe now I will continue on in the series!

Read via: home library

As I endeavor to dive deeply into my LSU coursework, look for more highlight reviews of children’s and middle grade titles in May! Please feel free to share what you’re reading and enjoying right now!

Read: March 2022

The Hero Two Doors Down by Sharon Robinson

This sweet, true story of the friendship between Jackie Robinson and 8 year old Steven Satlow in 1940s Brooklyn was a gentle way to begin my month of Middle Grade March. Written by the daughter of the baseball pioneer, she provided special insight into these family connections that remain today.

Read via: Hoopla audio

Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

This advanced middle grade autobiography was a gritty, but authentic remembrance of growing up poor and hungry. Themes of abuse and abandonment are also included, so I would recommend adults or older readers accompanying younger ones through this selection.

Read via: academic library youth collection

Amal Unbound by Aisah Saeed

12 year old Amal lives with her family in a Pakistan village, loves attending school, and dreams of becoming a teacher. However, her village is held in a feudal type of system, and when Amal unintentionally offends this overlord one day in the market, her dreams for the future quickly change. Despite these setbacks, readers will be endeared to Amal and applaud her spunk, curiosity, and bravery. This was one of my favorites this month!

Read via: Overdrive audio

Ground Zero by Alan Gratz

It’s been a while since I read Refugee in 2017, and similarities abound with the story being told from two narratives and timelines. On September 11, 2001, 9 year old Brandon accompanies his father who works in Windows on the World in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Meanwhile, in September 2019, we meet Reshmina, an 11 year old girl whose entire life in Afghanistan has been lived overshadowed by the impact of 9-11. Gratz deftly weaves their stories together and raises thought-provoking questions about the fallout of war in this middle grade thriller.

Read via: Hoopla audio

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Sam Westing is believed to be dead and in his will he invites his 16 heirs to solve the mystery of who killed him, where the winner will inherit $200 million. Although it was filled with a cast of quirky characters and it reminded me of the board game Clue, I was disappointed in the overall plot and pacing of the story and was left wanting more from this 1978 Newbery winner.

Read via: academic library youth collection

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O’Connor

When Reenie Kelly moves from Missouri to Minnesota during the summer of 1968, she takes on a paper route to help earn money for her family who have fallen on hard times. Despite their age difference, Reenie makes an unexpected friend in the form of Mr. Marsworth, an older, reclusive gentleman on her route. In a series of letters exchanged between them, Reenie finds a kindred spirit who shares her worries about the possibility of her 18 year old brother Billy being drafted into the Vietnam War. Reminiscent of Dear Mr. Henshaw, readers will root for Reenie’s bulldoggish tenacity, her love for family, and the sweet connection that exists between the Marsworths and Kellys. Highly recommend!

Read via: academic library youth collection

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green

While tuning in to one of the Middle Grade March livestreams this month, this book was recommended as another intergenerational story, which was as charming as it could be! Macy McMillan is facing a huge life change as her mother prepares to be married, but so is her elderly next door neighbor Iris, who is moving into an assisted living facility. Despite their age difference and that Macy is deaf and Iris can hear, a friendship is made that surrounds books, stories, cookies, the power of female friends, and living a colorful life to the full.

Read via: Hoopla audio

The Genius Under the Table by Eugene Yelchin

This was another Middle Grade March livestream recommendation for those interested in understanding what life was like as a child in the USSR. The pressure of being special – athletic, artistic, or uniquely talented – was often the only way to secure a better life in the 1970s and Yelchin’s ability to draw became his ticket away from communist rule. (His biography on his website is fascinating!) I’ve heard this autobiography is filled with his interesting drawings, but I enjoyed the author’s narration as he shared what it was like to grow up behind the iron curtain. This timely read presents a first-hand perspective of the past while the Russian occupation of Ukraine persists.

Read via: Hoopla audio

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

I don’t read much middle grade non-fiction that isn’t poetry or memoir, but this narrative non-fiction selection for Middle Grade March was so well done; very deserving of all its many accolades! Soontornvat, an American citizen, ironically arrived in Thailand to visit family on June 23, 2018, the day twelve young soccer players and their coach became trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand. Yes, you know the boys are all rescued safely in the end, but the excitement lies in the build-up of the story: the background and maps of the cave’s structure, snapshots of the rescue camp, and in-depth interviews from the everyday heroes who saved these boys’ lives. This would make a terrific curricular tie-in for any studies of southeast Asia, soccer players, or the power of community volunteerism.

Read via: academic library youth collection

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Jude and her family live in Syria, but political conflicts continue to rise and, for their safety, Jude and her mother decide to immigrate to the United States. This was a lovely story of a young girl navigating so many things that brought about growth – a new language, new culture, and living with her extended family.

Read via: Hoopla audio

The Lost Language by Claudia Mills

Bumble and Lizard, both named Elizabeth, are 6th graders and have been best friends for several years. Bumble’s mother is a professor and linguist and her work to save dying languages inspires the girls to save one too. I enjoyed their growth in adding friends to their circle and learning how to understand the struggles of their adult parents.

Read via: Hoopla audio

Pony by R.J. Palacio

This was the Middle Grade March group read and I LOVED IT! It’s a gorgeous story of a boy going on an adventurous journey to find his father, a ghostly friend, and a brave and mysterious pony that doesn’t lead him astray. Highly, highly recommend for readers of all ages!

Read via: academic library youth collection

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

I’m currently enrolled in a certificate course for children’s literature through LSU, and this was my selection for a foundational American children’s book. Years ago my parents and I visited Hannibal, MO, and saw a live production of Tom Sawyer, I read Huckleberry Finn in high school, but this might have been my first time reading through Tom Sawyer in its entirety. The Audible narration by actor Nick Offerman was pitch-perfect with elocution and humor.

Read via: Audible

What a wonderful Middle Grade March it’s been! I have many more middle grade books on my TBR, which I look forward to sprinkling in the rest of the year, but am looking forward to some literary and women’s fiction e-ARCs in April, including Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel and The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani. What about you?

Best of: Winter 2021-2022

At the end of last summer, I really enjoyed reflecting on the season with a best-of list, inspired by artist and author Emily Lex. As we now turn the corner from Winter into Spring, I thought it would be fun to revisit this as a means of reflection during another time of seasonal transition.

(Dale Chihuly, Azure Icicle Chandelier – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)

Best thing I read: My new year has begun with lots of good books, both in audio and print formats. However, if I were to choose two, my non-fiction pick would be the new essay collection These Precious Days by Ann Patchett and the award-winning contemporary YA novel Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley would be my fiction selection.

Best thing I did: Close to the New Year, The Optometrist and I were still on our winter vacation and the weather was mild, so we decided to take an afternoon walk. Except looping around our neighborhood or along our city’s green belt, we deviated from the norm and walked to our closest shopping center (0.8 miles). My husband wanted to pick up a few items at Harbor Freight and I wanted to browse around Family Dollar. This simple shopping journey was so memorable for some reason, perhaps reminding me of how normal this is for folks who live in urban areas, and was akin to what we experienced a few weeks before during our travels to London.

Best thing I made: The Optometrist and I enjoy seafood and sushi very much. As we continue to avoid crowds and fix many meals at home, we’ve happened on to a newfound favorite: poke bowls with glazed salmon. In the picture above we used imitation crab sticks, which were good, but the salmon (we opted for pan cooked vs. baked) is so full of flavor! First we cook sushi rice in our Instant Pot, although you could use any rice or grain. Atop that we add a variety of veggies, with some of our favorites being carrot, radish, cucumber, shelled and cooked edemame, and Kimchi. Then we share a filet of fish, drizzle some of the salmon glaze over the rice (makes 4 servings for us), and add any other toppings like Sriacha or furikake. Sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, tangy, warm, and cold…it ticks all of the boxes!

Best thing I watched: How fun it was to take part in two bluegrass livestreams from the Ryman Auditorium! In January, we thoroughly enjoyed the My Bluegrass Heart concert featuring banjoist Béla Fleck and a cadre of his talented friends including Sam Bush, Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan, Sierra Hull, Billy Strings, and Justin Moses. In February, we “returned” to the Ryman once more, this time in the company of the Punch Brothers. Having seen Sara Watkins and The Infamous Stringdusters live at the Ryman in 2017, watching these stellar musicians perform songs from their latest albums from the comfort of our home was a special mid-pandemic treat.

Best thing I saw: During the short month of February, I was off of work 6 days because of snow and ice, which is unusual for us. But having lived in the St. Louis and central Missouri areas a large portion of my life – locations that routinely and consistently receive more snow – I adore the rare snow days that occur in our region of Oklahoma. The muted hush outside mirrored the peace felt during our quiet breakfast, eaten by candlelight.

Best thing I took a picture of: My morning routine during Advent was quiet, special, and good. The picture above is a reminder of simple, ordinary pleasures – waking up and cuddling with my husband in our warm bed, arising to turn on the “Christmas house” (lights and fireplace, plus lighting candles), feeding George, and making tea. Yes and amen.

Best thing I wore: As a proud Gryffindor, I’ve accumulated a lot of corresponding colors over the years and wear them in different combinations throughout each fall and winter. This year I added to the mix Wool& Rowena Swing Dress (Modern Red), mustard yellow tights from Target, brown leather booties, and a plaid blanket scarf. This outfit brings me so much joy and makes me feel most like myself.

Best thing about Winter 2021-2022: After having a really rough time with anxiety during our trip to London, I returned home and began seeing a local therapist. He has been a kind, warm, trained professional to listen, offer sound advice, and equip me with new tools to deal with an uncertain future. I am SO thankful for this opportunity and having health insurance that helps cover this cost, which I know is a privilege. My husband also reminded me that my beloved grandmothers lived during different, but equally tumultuous days, and if they could be strong and resilient, so can I. Revisiting Crystal Bridges during our Valentine’s Day weekend date and seeing Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter was a visual reminder of the call to everyday bravery.

What have been some of your favorite moments from Winter? Please feel free to share by dropping a comment below!

Middle Grade March TBR – 2022

Middle Grade March is here once again! I’ve been looking forward to this month since the beginning of the new year and I’m so excited to dive into some great middle grade stories! Co-led by Krista, Katie, and Amanda, these bookish gals have some fun prompts for this read-along for middle grade readers of all ages! Here’s what I’m selecting for this year’s read-along.

Group read

Pony by R.J. Palacio

This newest release from R. J. Palacio has been on my TBR since this Fall, so I’m glad this was the group pick! I absolutely loved her book Wonder, so if that is any indication, Pony should be highly moving and memorable.

1.) 5 or more words in title

The Hero Two Doors Down by Sharon Robinson

I’m always a sucker for a good sports story and this looks to be a great blend of historical fiction with a sweet friendship between baseball player Jackie Robinson and a little boy who lived in his Brooklyn neighborhood in the late 1940s.

2.) Orphan main character

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

In one of the last scenes of You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen Kelly shares through her tears how wonderful “the shoe books” are, and that the customer in Fox Books should begin with Ballet Shoes. So, here we are, long overdue, but just in time to finally explore this beloved story!

3.) Contemporary book

Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

I live in a very rural area, where many local children qualify for free or reduced lunches in their public schools. While I know this biography will be a hard read, I think it will be a timely one as I develop further empathy and understanding of childhood food insecurity and poverty.

4.) Set in Asia or featuring an Asian main character

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

2021 was a banner year for Christina Soontornvat, winning not one but two Newbery honors! I’ve heard such good things about her treatment of this true story of the Thai soccer team trapped in a cave in Northern Thailand and can’t wait to learn more about this heroic effort.

5.) Book older than you

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Since I was born in the 1980s and this was published in 1978, I can soon mark off this title from my reading list! I’ve heard glowing reviews from many authors and readers about this Newbery winner, where newer stories like The Mysterious Benedict Society and Wayside School are compared to it as the gold standard.

While these are my selections for 2022, here’s what I aimed to read in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Are you participating this year, too? If so, please feel free to share your Middle Grade March selections in the comments below!

Read: February 2022

The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

I typically don’t read a lot of World War II history, but I do enjoy the research and anthropological perspective of Malcolm Gladwell. The development and precision of air raids (versus trench and hand-to-hand combat), and the development of napalm, was disturbing but fascinating. This was especially engaging on audio, expanded from Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History.

Read via: Hoopla audio

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton and Robert K. Oermann

In this audio book, Dolly speaks with honesty and humor to describe her inspirations, motivations, and stories behind the writing of many of her songs. This series of interviews also features several music clips. I’ve seen excerpts of this in print and it looks equally in-depth, so I might have to track this down, too. What a treasure Dolly is to country music and the world!

Read via: Hoopla audio

Royal Valentine by Jenn McKinlay

New Yorker Molly thinks she will never find love, but maybe her luck will change during the grand opening gala of a Jane Austen exhibit held at the Museum of Literature where she works. Little does she know that she will meet a sweet British academic, but whose secret identity will send her head and heart spinning. This was a delightful novella to read in honor of Valentine’s Day.

Read via: Hoopla audio

Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Daunis is many things: a daughter, a sister, a niece, a hockey player, an aspiring scientist, and is equally proud of her Ojibwe and French-American roots. Because I enjoyed this book so much I don’t want to give away any of the plot, but what a terrific story of a young woman’s strength, vulnerability, loyalty, and desire for truth. All of the accolades this YA debut has received are well deserved – highly, highly recommend.

Read via: public library

Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch is one of my favorite authors and I love how he pairs well researched, speculative science fiction with a love of humanity and the importance of our connection to one another. In his forthcoming release, the future of homo sapiens is looking bleak, but, what if adjustments could be made to upgrade the DNA of humans? Be on the lookout for my full review when this is published in July!

My thanks to Random House Ballentine Books and NetGalley for access to the digital ARC. 

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

After reading Dolly Parton’s Songteller, I remembered this historical fiction novel being on my TBR. Its slow pace but hard realities mirror the tough lives many rural Kentuckians lived during the Great Depression. Cussy Mary is a dedicated Packhorse Librarian with Roosevelt’s WPA, taking books and other reading material to her patrons scattered throughout the hills and hollers of Appalachia in the 1930s. As a blue-skinned woman, she faces discrimination and rejection, but her indominable spirit cannot be quashed as she faithfully honors her duties as “Book Woman.”

Read via: Hoopla audio

Wildfire by Rodman Philbrick

12 year old Sam has faced a lot of difficulties and loss as he heads to summer camp in Maine, but when a wildfire breaks out, his survival instincts are forced into high gear. This story of bravery, friendship, and adventure reminds me of books I enjoyed as a pre-teen, like Nightmare Mountain by Peg Kehret.

Read via: Hoopla audio

Sprinkle with Murder by Jenn McKinlay

After enjoying Royal Valentine, I saw that Hoopla also includes the entire Cupcake Bakery Mystery series by Jenn McKinlay. In this first installment of the cozy murder mystery series, cupcake bakers and best friends Mel and Angie have agreed to bake the custom flavored cupcakes for their other best friend Tate’s wedding. When Tate’s fiancé Christy winds up murdered after sampling the cupcakes, their friendship and business aren’t the only things at stake.

Read via: Hoopla audio

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

Olive is a biology Ph.D. candidate at Stanford and her academic future and friendships with fellow graduate students are more important to her than a dating life. However, when Olive wants to prove that her best friend can date her ex-boyfriend, Olive takes drastic measures into her own hands to fake-date one of the biology professors. This open-door romance is a clever take on the genre, set smartly in higher education.

Read via: Overdrive e-book

Buttercream Bump Off by Jenn McKinlay

Second in the Cupcake Bakery Mystery series, this time we find Mel juggling her job as co-owner of Fairy Tale Cupcakes along with amateur sleuthing duties. It’s close to Valentine’s Day and her mother is on a first date with a new beau, but it doesn’t go according to plan when he winds up dead. It’s up to Mel and Angie to keep their business open and also prove that Mel’s mother is innocent.

Read via: Hoopla audio

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

As the Ingalls family moves and sets up their new house in former Indian Territory (Kansas), harrowing adventures on the prairie ensue. This book is written from a fixed perspective in time since Ma Ingalls is blatantly anti-Indian. Therefore, quality conversations with children would be most appropriate to accompany this with a more contemporary, inclusive perspective.

Read via: home library

A snow storm and ice storm fell on two separate occasions during this short month, which gave me 6 paid weather days to stay home! What a gift that has been, allowing me time to take cozy naps with George, fix yummy meals with The Optometrist, and read many good books. How about you? How has your riding life been this month? Please share in the comments below!

Saving My Life: February 2022

I’m grateful to get to live in a place where I can experience 70 degree days like yesterday, juxtaposed with the winter storm heading our way later this week. As our lives continue to journey mid-pandemic, the yo-yo weather mirrors my emotional state – some days are sunny and warm, other days are blustery and frigid. Maybe it’s the same for you too?

So, as tomorrow marks the official halfway point of winter, I join Anne Bogel and many others as I share a few things saving my life right now (from Barbara Brown Taylor).

My life is small, but good

“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around?”

You’ve Got Mail (1998)

As the pandemic persists, I’m learning to embrace that my life is small, quiet, and good, and that I can bravely face the future just like Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail. I’m also coming to realize, like Mother Teresa, that I can do “small things with great love” to serve my husband, our neighbors, my colleagues, and friends.


If I could have had it my way, experiencing an anxiety attack while traveling to London before Christmas was not the ideal time or place for my mind and body to be at war with one another. However, upon returning home, I am so thankful I have been able to begin seeing a local therapist who is helping me process my anxieties and fears about the future, reconciling and embracing the ambiguity of it all.

Neighborhood walks

I can’t remember when my solo walks turned into duo walks with The Optometrist, but this has quickly become something we both anticipate whenever we have time and the weather is at all accommodating. Lately, as soon as we get home around 5:00, we put on our walking shoes, grab a flashlight, and take a quick loop around the neighborhood before it gets too dark. This allows us to share with one another the news of the world and decompress from our days, say hello to our neighbors also out on a walk, and return home around 5:30, which still gives us ample time to feed George, fix dinner, and spend a quiet evening indoors together.

Books & audio books

I spend a lot of time in my head, ruminating about what has been, and thinking about what’s to come. Therefore, the fact that I can continually escape, learn, and be entertained by quality written and audio books is a priceless gift that truly keeps giving.


During these dark and cold days I find the process of brewing tea meditative: filling up our (now discontinued) yellow Le Cruset kettle with water, turning on the burner to high, selecting the type of tea I wish to drink, choosing my cup, squeezing in a healthy dollop of honey, turning off the burner as the kettle whistles its shrill announcement the water is hot, pouring the boiling water over the tea bag, using a demitasse spoon to stir and dissolve the honey, setting the timer, watching the steam waft as it steeps, turning off the timer and removing the tea bag, adding a splash of heavy cream (my personal preference), and sitting down to enjoy. This never, ever gets old.

Candles and light

During Advent, one of my spiritual practices was to light at least one candle every day. This simple act reminded me of Christ coming to be the light of the world and how I can choose to shine His light in the world (Matthew 5:16). But just before Christmas, we were thrilled to finally find a pair of pristine crystal candlesticks at our favorite antique store for only $20! Now, we light tapered candles from Hobby Lobby at our dining room table not just at Christmastime, but for our everyday-fancy occurrences.

It comes as no surprise that what was saving my life in 2021202020192018 2017, and 2016 doesn’t vary too slightly from year to year. However, I would love to hear about what’s saving your life right now. Please feel free to leave a reply in the comments below.

Read: January 2022

This Time Next Year by Sophie Cousens

Minnie was born on January 1 but instead of feeling that her birthday is an energized way to begin a new year each time the calendar turns over, she has long believed this day is filled with rotten luck. When she meets Quinn at a party on New Year’s Eve, she discovers the truth about a shared and misunderstood family connection and the long-held belief about her luck begins to change.

Read via: Overdrive e-book

This Beautiful Truth by Sarah Clarkson

In this gently written memoir, Sarah Clarkson shares about her struggle with mental illness with grace and vulnerability. She is living proof that the goodness of God can meet us in our places of frustration and shame, and how He brings about renewal and beauty.

Read via: Hoopla audio

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Recommended by local bookseller friends, this sweeping historical fiction novel takes the reader on a decades-long journey as the Oxford English Dictionary is written, edited, and published. Accompanying this overarching story is the growth and social education of protagonist Esme, who is reared underneath the sorting tables in the Scriptorium, comes of age during the women’s suffrage movement, and has to learn how to face a new reality during World War I.

Read via: public library

If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t) by Betty White

Betty White – what a wonder she was! With her recent passing, I found reading about her life in her own words comforting, humorous, and refreshingly candid. May we all approach each day of life with as much passion and optimism as she did!

Read via: academic library

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Over the holidays The Optometrist and I re-watched the Harry Potter movies and during The Deathly Hallows, it occurred to me I had never read this collection of short stories. I particularly liked “Babbity Rabbity and her Cackling Stump,” along with the well known story of “The Tale of the Three Brothers.”

Read via: academic library youth collection

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

Like most commuters in England’s capital city, Zoe relies on taking the Underground each day to work and, like most people, she has developed a routine habit of behavior. However, when she discovers her photograph in the advertisement section of the newspaper, she realizes her predictable route to and from work is making her a target for unwanted attention…or worse.
As I read through the backlist of Clare Mackintosh, I’m glad I chose this one after we visited London!

Read via: Overdrive audio

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

Written in her trademark poetic style, Woodson creates a sadly comforting story told from the perspective of ZJ, a young boy whose father is a professional football player. When ZJ’s father Zachariah is given a break from the NFL after his hands start to shake and he begins having memory issues, life begins to look different. Yes, this is a book about football, loss, and CTE, but equally about the love of family and the support of friends.

Read via: academic library youth collection

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

Given to me by The Optometrist for Christmas (and signed by Ann Patchett!), I had been looking forward to this new book of essays and they did not disappoint! Patchett’s style of writing remains one of my favorites for her ability to clearly share ideas and emotions on each page of the book. Highly recommend!

Read via: home library

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

A fancy wedding is taking place on a remote island off the coast of Ireland, with the bride being a media mogul and the groom a reality TV star. Their guest list is small and the wedding party is made up of the bride’s immediate family and groom’s friends from boarding school. Told in the span of two days, the plot is intricately woven together to reveal long-held secrets and grudges, and one member of the wedding party will be dead shortly after the bride and groom say, “I do.”

Read via: Overdrive audio

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change by Maggie Smith

At this point in time, and in my personal life/journey of hope, motivation can’t come any finer than this work from American poet Maggie Smith. Here she shares quotes from her Twitter account with the clarion call, “Keep moving,” along with other nuggets of wisdom and encouragement.

Read via: Overdrive audio

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Recommended by Anne Bogel, as the new year begins, I intentionally chose this memoir about the death of Didion’s husband John Gregory Dunne, choosing not to shy away from her personal grief brought on by his unexpected passing. While her turns of phrase were not organic for me to read, I’m glad I journeyed through this account of how her life changed and grew to see the world without her beloved husband in it.

Read via: academic library

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman

In her first full book of poetry, inaugural youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman draws artful attention to both past and present events. Her topics span widely: World War I and the 1919 Chicago race riots, the AIDS and Black Lives Matter movements, and, of course, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. All are written through a beautifully insightful lens of how she sees the world.

Read via: Overdrive audio

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier

It’s the zombie apocalypse and 13 year old foster kid Jack is left alone to defend his treehouse safe haven, find his best friend, and rescue his damsel in distress. Filled with lessons about independence paired with the value of friendship, along with fun illustrations, this is a great read for any pre-teen who likes clean humor with a little guts & gore.

Read via: academic library youth collection

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

Winner of this year’s Newbery Medal, the future of Earth is in danger, so a select number of humans have been tasked with traveling deep into space to recreate human life on the planet Sagan. Petra, her younger brother Javier, and their scientist parents are among this elite contingent. However, when Petra awakens after centuries of being in stasis, she discovers the operations of their spaceship are now being run by the hivemind “Collective,” which drastically deviates from the original plan. Guided by her beloved grandmother’s cuentos (stories), it’s now up to Petra to bravely remember her humanity and lead others into a hopeful future.

Read via: public library

At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

These witty musings and stories from “The Yarn Harlot” made me smile, and I learned a few new things: to “tink” is to retrace your steps to undo a mistake made in a row, but I never realized this is just the word “knit” spelled backwards. Also, when ripping out a significant portion of knitting, especially starting over again, this is called “frogging,” the sound of a frog ribbiting (ripping).

Read via: Hoopla audio

What a dynamite, diverse way to begin a new reading year! If you have any bookish recommendations for February, please feel free to share in the comments below!