Saving My Life: Beginning of Fall Edition

As per the phrase by Barbara Brown Taylor, this is a look at the things saving my life as fall begins.

  1. Bath & Body Works Spiced Apple Bourbon hand soap with pumpkin butter

    During my last trip to Bath & Body Works, I discovered they didn’t have the Leaves scent in this year’s fall soaps, which is my all time favorite. I was so disappointed I didn’t take the time to try anything else new this season, but when a dear friend gave us this as a thank-you gift, I was excited to realize it is very reminiscent of Leaves. Washing my hands at the kitchen sink has been an extra special treat, thanks to this year’s new release!

    bbw

  2. Cross stitch

    Since mid-August I’ve been experiencing some consistent joint stiffness and occasional twinges of pain in my left pinkie finger. When you look at the sheer number of items I knit in July, it’s no wonder my joints and hands have needed a break! And while I know it’s in my body’s best interest to give my hands time to rest, it’s been so difficult to not reach for my needles and yarn (or sit down at my piano) during this stressful back-to-school time. But I’ve had to go through seasons of vocal rest in the past and have seen God bring about healing in His time, so I am making a concerted effort to trust His faithfulness once more.

    With this in mind, my patient mother-in-law recently gave me a refresher tutorial on how to cross-stitch. As a young girl I loved printed cross-stitch, but was always intimidated by counted cross-stitch. A few years ago I picked up this beginning kit from Cecilia’s Samplers in Branson, MO, determined to learn, so she showed me a few things, but after our visit I promptly went back to knitting. Now that I’m on the knitting DL, I figured this was the perfect time to devote my creative energies to a new craft, while not putting as much strain on my fingers. It’s been a fun, puzzle-like adventure to see take shape, X by X.

    This is “Simplicity” by Little House Needleworks.

  3. Adult coloring books

    As a child I wasn’t a huge fan of coloring. I loved activity books with word searches and dot-to-dot pictures, but the lack of precision of crayons was always frustrating to my small hands. Fast forward about 30 years and now that adult coloring books and colored pencils have arrived on the scene, this has been another way for me to decompress at the end of a long day. This is Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford, a past Christmas present from The Optometrist.

  4. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan on Audible

    While coloring, I have frequently set my phone nearby and listened to this spectacularly performed (not just narrated) middle-grade story that spans continents and time frames, all connected to themes of hope and the power of music.

    It was highly reviewed by Sarah Mackenzie of Read Aloud Revival and it has lived up to her recommendation! Not only so, but it’s one of the best children’s books I’ve ever read and so far my favorite overall book of 2017.

    echo-cover

  5. NCIS 

    And when my brain has needed a vacation, it has often found itself escaping via Netflix to NCIS headquarters to hang out with Gibbs, Ziva, McGee, Abby, and company. The Optometrist and I are currently working our way through Season 10 and I realized the other day, the reason I watch isn’t for the mystery or murders they solve, it’s for the character development between cast members. (I consider them make-believe friends.)NCIS


What things are saving your life as fall finally arrives?

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Read: July 2017

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At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

This was the perfect book to read at the beginning of the month since The Optometrist and I did quite a bit of traveling throughout July. Granted, it wasn’t across continents with backpacks and children, rather, across state lines in our own vehicles with suitcases and no other dependents. Yet the perspective of an introvert with wanderlust (like me) finding beauty, rest, and a deeper sense of home among the ordinary and extraordinary during her family’s year-long journey around the world was a comforting read. The writing was beautiful, inviting, and focused on the ways she and her family interacted with places they visited and the ways they lived life as a family in huge cities and tiny villages. So rather than serving as a do-this, go-here, make-sure-you-don’t-miss “travel guide,” it was still enticingly descriptive of landmarks and locations around the world.

Wanderlust and my longing for home are birthed from the same place:  a desire to find the ultimate spot this side of heaven. (p. 246)

This was highly recommended by two sources I’ve returned to time and time again this summer: the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide in the Thought-Provoking Stories category and the Shauna Niequist Podcast, where Tsh was her inaugural guest in Episode 1.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

Summerlost

Summerlost by Ally Condie

You might know Ally Condie from her YA novels, including the Matched trilogy (of which I still need to read the second and third installments…), but this is her newest offering, a middle-grade stand-alone story.

Cedar Lee and her family have a new summer routine after tragedy has struck and as Cedar processes this loss and her grief, her new neighbor Leo invites her to take part in the town’s annual summer Shakespeare festival, Summerlost. I immediately developed a strong sense of place as I began reading this book, which is very important for me to connect with the story, characters, and setting. This sweet tale of healing, friendship, and remembering loved ones could be easily read over the span of a day or so, especially during summer vacation.

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

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World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

World of Trouble is the final installment of the Last Policeman trilogy, of which I read book 1 in April and book 2 in June, thus I wanted to finish book 3 before I forgot many of the details and connections among the three.

Now just days away from an apocalyptic asteroid making impact with Earth, Henry Palace is on a journey from Massachusetts to Ohio to find his rogue sister Nico and investigate her belief that there really might be a way for the asteroid to be re-routed in the sky before it makes impact. Final mysteries are solved and the series comes to a likely, if not somewhat depressing, conclusion.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

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Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn 

Given to me by The Optometrist for Christmas, I felt it was finally time to read this smart, epistolary homage to the alphabet, the famous pangram (use of all 26 letters in the alphabet) phrase the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, a struggling Utopian community, and what happens when the literal letter of the law overrides common sense.

There were hints of Fahrenheit 451, which I love, and of course, Ella Minnow Pea is also known as the series of letters LMNOP. Overall a very cleverly written and thought-provoking novel!

Book read via: home library


As July gives way to August, this signifies to me the end of summer and the beginning of fall since school resumes late-month. Therefore, I’m excited to read and report on some upcoming fall books to which I’ve been given access via free, digital ARCs. Look for blog reviews over some of these titles in the months ahead!

Solo by Kwame Alexander (August 1)

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (September 19)

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon (September 19)

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (September 19)

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks (October 17)

 

Read: April 2017

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Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

For fans of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood (but especially Gilmore Girls), Graham’s autobiography provides readers with stories of her childhood, education in becoming an actor, and personal insights and memories of filming  such beloved TV roles. This was a very quick read for me (<48 hours) since her writing style follows a “stream of consciousness” dialogue. If you’re a fan of GG, as I’ve been for years, this is a fun, lighthearted, pop-culture read!

Book read via: public library

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Love Story by Karen Kingsbury

This continuation of the Baxter family series features a love story of more recent characters Cody Coleman & Andi Ellison, plus takes a look back at how it all began with John and Elizabeth Baxter. Love Story will be released on June 6, so look for an in-depth book review closer to that time. (Update: my book review is now available!)

My thanks to Edelweiss for this digital ARC!

Cruelest Month
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

Reading The Cruelest Month, third in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, the week of Easter was fortuitous since the book takes place at the exact same time! However, there’s nothing holy about the murder that takes place in Three Pines after someone is literally scared-to-death after a seance. Or is there more to this death than meets the eye?

It took me a while to personally connect with this story compared to the first two books in the series, but once the characters are established and Gamache returns to Three Pines to investigate, my interest was definitely piqued!

For new readers of Penny’s “Gamache” series, I recommend reading these in order for ease of recurring character and plot development continuity.

Book read via: public library

Cover of The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Crossover
by Kwame Alexander

This award-winning middle grade story is told in free verse poetry and was a lightning fast read (literally a few hours at the most on a Friday afternoon). Yes, this is a book about a young man who loves playing basketball, but interwoven is a beautifully supportive family dynamic where the words “crossover” come to mean more than just a way of handling the ball.

A well-deserved recipient of the 2015 Newbery Medal and a 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award that I should have read two years ago!

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams

The Optometrist and I picked up a hardback copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle several summers ago, which is a fun memory! It’s not very lengthy and we enjoyed reading it aloud together, along with a little help from the audio version checked out from the public library, excellently narrated by Stephen Fry.

It’s funny, I’ve knit three Hitchhiker shawls over the past few years and watched the movie years ago, but honestly couldn’t remember anything substantial about the plot, so reading the original inspiration was a fun experience to tie everything together!

Book read via: home library

The Silver Chair
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

Narnia is always a magical and inviting place to visit, no matter how old you are. My parents gifted me with a paperback set (exact copy of the cover above) for Christmas when I was ~8 years old and I would unequivocally say The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is probably one of my all-time favorite books.

And yet, I haven’t ever finished reading the entire Narnia series. Well, I can’t say that’s entirely true because my 5th grade teacher read the entire series aloud to us throughout that school year upon returning to our classroom after recess each afternoon. And I also remember loving the BBC movie version as a young girl – especially marveling at how they made Puddleglum’s hands and feet webbed!

I’m now just one book away (The Last Battle) from finally reading all seven Narnia books!

Book read via: home library

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Hope Heals 
by Jay and Katherine Wolf

If you haven’t heard the testimony of Jay and Katherine Wolf before, it’s one that will forever leave an impression on your heart of what God’s faithfulness looks like in the midst of unknowable human suffering. Their autobiography centers around the event that forever changed their lives: Katherine having a massive stroke at the age of 26. Their marriage is one that is covered with God’s grace and a real-life inspirational example of “loving one another in sickness and in health.”

Or if you’re interested in watching and hearing more about their story, check out this 20 minute documentary on YouTube.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

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Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Nuevel

Last summer I signed up for a 3 month subscription to the Book of the Month club and this was my personal selection for July.  The opening premise of “a little girl is riding her bike and inadvertently falls into a pit that contains a giant metal hand” might sound a little bizarre – it did to me – but I’m glad I gave it a chance! This sci-fi scenario is grounded in believable ensuing possibilities: research motivations, military involvement, linguistic breakthroughs, and developing love interests.

After finishing The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with The Optometrist I was excited to start another sci-fi adventure with him. And now we can look forward to reading book two of the Themis files, Waking Gods, which was released at the beginning of April and the digital ARC awaits us on my Kindle!

What I’m learning, as a relative new comer to sci-fi, is that the genre is much more approachable than I once believed. Like a lot of other genres: this book was fun, well written, kept me wanting to know what would happen next, and contained characters for whom I developed affection.

Book read via: home library

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The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

John Green’s (The Fault in Our Stars) endorsement of this series immediately piqued my interest, “[The] weird, beautiful, unapologetically apocalyptic Last Policeman trilogy is one of my favorite mystery series.”

A brief scenario of this apocalyptic mystery: an asteroid is headed for Earth and will make impact in the next 6 months, so what should Detective Hank Palace do when he discovers a suicide is actually murder?

As a reader, I’m excited all three books in the trilogy have been published so I don’t have to wait to read books 2 and 3!

Book read via: public library

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May brings the end of the school year and the kick-off for summer reading! Books from series like the Dresden Files, Narnia, The Penderwicks, Gamache, and Alaskan Courage are on my short list for right now!

Books: December Edition

Several sick days during finals week (when the library was busy with students, but slower for me not having to provide any instruction) afforded me lots of glorious time to stay at home to rest, drink tea, and read, read, read! And then, with the semester ending and visiting family over Christmas, I had even more time to read! And somehow, I forgot to post this before 2017 rolled around…so here is my December reading recap!

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Good Behavior by Blake Crouch
Oh how I love anything by Blake Crouch! The Pines trilogy was so engrossing and Dark Matter was my favorite book read in 2016 (twice). Now, after finishing Good Behavior, I realize why I enjoy Crouch’s books so much: he writes descriptively and draws the reader in, which helps vividly envision scenarios and characters’ mannerisms, allowing the stories to mentally come to life and remain with you long after the last page is turned.

Comprised of three novellas stories, “The Pain of Others,” “Sunset Key,” and “Grab,” we meet Letty Dobesh, a seasoned criminal who is smart but her past choices and addictions haunt her life post-prison and influence the decisions she currently faces. The stories each stand alone, so there really isn’t a cohesive flow between the three. Yet, after each short story/novella, Crouch provides additional commentary about the story, its creation, and/or how it was adapted for TV; a neat, insider’s glance behind the scenes, allowing the reader to understand this slightly disjointed structure.

While I haven’t seen the TNT series, I’m curious about it simply because Michelle Dockery, Lady Mary from Downton Abbey, plays Letty. Talk about an actress not wanting to be typecast and playing a diverse range of characters!

My thanks to NetGalley for the digital ARC!

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Greenglass House by Kate Milford

I saw this listed as a Kindle daily deal in early December, and as I always do, first looked to see if my library had this in the youth collection, which we did (which means I probably ordered it…)! Free beats a Kindle deal any day!

This is an inviting story, perfect for cold, snowy weather, drinking hot chocolate nestled near the Christmas tree, and escaping into a world where two children are solving ongoing thefts and mysteries in a unique, snow-bound inn. Although this is a children’s book, the reading level is advanced (upper elementary for sure) and the plot requires some attention to remember different characters, various names, and details about the mysteries that unfold.

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What Light by Jay Asher

I received a three-chapter preview of this Young Adult novel from NetGalley, and it propelled me to request it from our public library. Jay Asher is best known for his book Th1rteen R3asons Why, which has become a well known, go-to YA story about the tragic impact of bullying.

In comparison, this Christmas story is much more positive and sweet. Sierra’s family owns a Christmas tree farm and each year they travel from Oregon to California to sell their trees, so she has two lives and two sets of friends divided around the holidays. This year, however, she meets a cute boy whose past is shrouded in speculation and rumor, and she must decide whether to accept him as he is, or be fearful of his past. This YA novel includes positive messages of acceptance, fresh starts, and openness towards the future.

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Submerged by Dani Pettrey

While I’m pretty familiar with Inspirational Fiction authors, Dani Pettrey had never been on my radar until seeing one of her books as a Kindle daily deal. Again, I opted for checking my public library first to see if any of her books (especially starting with Book 1 of a series) were available. Thankfully, several were, including Submerged, the first in her Alaskan Courage series.

Although I’ve never been to Alaska, I was easily whisked away to the small, fictitious, coastal town of Yancey where Cole McKenna and his adventurous siblings work together with a friend from years past to uncover the motives surrounding a series of interconnected murders. This Christian fiction story includes themes of forgiveness, letting go of the past, the bonds of family, and an assurance in God’s faithfulness.

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Shattered
by Dani Pettrey

After devouring Submerged I grabbed Shattered, the second book in the Alaskan Courage series, at my public library and enjoyed it equally as much as I did the first! The McKenna siblings return once more, with sister Piper and family friend Landon being featured as the main characters in this installment, as they collectively work to prove the true identity of someone who has killed their brother’s friend.  Themes in Shattered include dependence on God, being open to love, truth prevailing, and loyalty among family members.

I’ve also realized my favorite books are written with a strong sense of place, which allows me to fully immerse myself in the writer’s world, and this series definitely whisks me away to an inviting, fictitious place!

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A Baxter Family Christmas by Karen Kingsbury

I began reading stories surrounding the Baxter family in 2008 and have read every.single.one.of.them (this is the 24th) over the years – wow!  This is definitely the longest series I’ve read and endeavored to keep up with, but the characters leave imprints on your heart and it’s always cozy to return to beloved friends found between the pages.

However, Kingsbury shares a brief backstory about all the characters in the preface, so you can be completely new to the Baxter family and still enjoy this sweet story of love, honesty, forgiveness, family relationships, and the birth of Jesus at Christmastime.

My thanks to Edelweiss for the digital ARC!

 

6 great read-aloud picture books

Today we had a group of 2nd graders visit our academic library for story time. A handful of our librarians, professional staff, and student workers all pitched in to help with this outreach effort.

Our children’s/YA collection in the library is the second most (read: heavily) used, which primarily supports candidates in our robust teacher education program. Yet it’s rare when we have actual groups of school-aged children in the library, so today was a special treat.

During my stint as a school librarian aide I became quite familiar with story-time with our K-2 students. Even though I’m no longer a children’s librarian I’ve never quite outgrown children’s literature and one of the best parts of my job is overseeing our youth collection. Thus, over the years I’ve amassed a few favorites that are fun, interactive, and memorable for the reader and listener alike.

Many of these have corresponding coloring pages or worksheets from the author’s website, Pinterest, or a general Internet search, which is a great way to incorporate a more engaged and thorough lesson.

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1.) The Gold Miner’s Daughter: A Melodramatic Fairy Tale by Jackie Mims Hopkins 

This unique story combines some snippets of classic fairy tales, a dastardly bad guy, and presents an interactive way for students to respond the story in melodramatic fashion. Students must keep watching the pages of the story to look out for familiar fairy tale characters, plus know when to insert their sound effects.

Reader interaction: This is a great choice for those who have trouble keeping quiet during story time, since it prompts guided and appropriate noise.

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2.) Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

This 2011 Caldecott Honor book just begs for a dramatic reading! The little red chicken is so eager to listen to his bedtime stories and is so full of imagination…well, the book is called “interrupting chicken” for a reason, so you can guess what happens!

Memoirs

3.) Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian

One of our student workers discovered this in our youth collection when we hosted last year’s group of 2nd grade visitors. (It made a reappearance today!) There are some silly parts, some sweet parts, and a great take-away reminder of how we are better together than alone.

Shiver

4.) Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC by June Sobol

A dear friend of mine used to teach 1st grade and was kind to include me as a guest reader in her classroom each year (see photo at the end of the post). I often came to read during the first few months of the school year and my Momma, a retired kindergarten teacher, reminded me how these kiddos are recent kindergarten graduates. Thus their attention spans are a little shorter and reinforcing the alphabet is never a bad idea.

Reader interaction: Every time the pirate  captain says “arrrrgh,” students can say it along with him and hold up a printed letter R. (See link above for ideas.)

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5.) A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

In my opinion, this is probably best suited for older elementary students, 2nd – 3rd graders. The illustrations are big, round, colorful, inviting, and warm. And the theme of being okay with yourself is a lesson that kids of all ages can take to heart. For a classroom conversation, this website includes some great philsophical discussion ideas.

Reader interaction: For a fully narrated version, visit Storyline Online, a terrific website reminiscent of Reading Rainbow.

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6.) We’re Going on a Bear Hunt retold by Michael Rosen

This version of the poem/story has been around for 25 years and is a modern-day classic. A father and his three children search for a bear and traverse different types of terrain on their quest, allowing for repetitive, onomatopoetic text. Intensity builds as they encounter said bear, have to hastily retrace their steps, and rush home to safety.

Reader interactions: Watch Michael Rosen perform and act out the story.

If you want to incorporate music, the story pairs terrifically with an audio recording of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” from Peer Gynt. The musical dynamics crescendo in volume and intensity as the story progresses.

Latta1stGrade
What are some great read-aloud picture books you enjoy and recommend for elementary-aged students?