Guest Blogger Review – Mercy (age 10): A Series of Unfortunate Events

In my opinion, A Series of Unfortunate Events is a really good series. Lemony Snicket did a very good job on these books. You may have heard of them. If you haven’t read the books, I recommend reading them.

The main characters are Violet, Klaus, Sunny, and Count Olaf. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are the Baudelaire siblings. Count Olaf is the villain in the books and is always chasing the siblings around in order to get their fortune. The question is, can the Baudelaire siblings use their special abilities to not get put into Count Olaf’s clutches?

Although all the books are good, there are a couple that seem to drag on; but you should stick with them because they play parts in some of the later books. Don’t stop because you think that the books get worse because the last four books are the best.

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My favorite books are books 10, 11, 12, and 13. Book 10 is called The Slippery Slope, book 11 is called The Grim Grotto, book 12 is called The Penultimate Peril and book 13 is called The End. I like book 10 because Sunny learns a new skill and passes out of babyhood. Also the Baudelaire siblings learn about a secret organization. I enjoyed book 11 because they meet a girl and her stepfather. They go into a grim grotto to find something and then they have to save Sunny. But I won’t tell you how because then I would spoil the suspense of it. So if you want to find out, you will have to read the series. Book 12 was good because they meet up with characters they met previously. They go to a hotel and have to solve problems for people at the hotel. Finally, book 13, my personal favorite, was a good book because they meet up with a friend from the hotel and have to solve problems on the island that they get ship wrecked on.

*Warning! Warning! Warning!* These stories are not as happy as other books and good things don’t happen as often as in some other books, but they are still really good. Therefore, I really suggest reading A Series of Unfortunate Events. They are amazing books, and very well written. Thank you, Lemony Snicket.

 

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Audiobooks: Maybe There’s Something There

As I write this, my mind is spinning its proverbial wheels with all the things I have to do:

  1. Deal with overflowing piles of laundry in two different rooms.
  2. Put away two laundry baskets full of clean clothes.
  3. Wash sink full of dirty dishes.
  4. Wash dishwasher full of dirty dishes.
  5. Go to the store and get soap for the dishwasher so those dishes can get washed.
  6. Fill out jog-a-thon pledge forms times three for the school fundraiser.
  7. Have weekly meeting with the husband about how to navigate the families’ various and numerous activities for the coming week.
  8. Plan meals for the week based on: precisely zero edible things in the house, times any number of the six of us will actually be in the house at the same time, the surprise, random inedible items of the week.
  9. Finish this post.
  10. Plan multiple lessons for upcoming children’s programs.
  11. Navigate two highly sensitive school situations.
  12. Respond to five emails I have been putting off.

I will spare you the rest. Like you, my life seems to be a constant cycle of never having enough time to do the things I have to do, never mind getting to the things I want to do. I have found myself increasingly frustrated with the everyday life tasks getting in the way of “my time.” “My time” is also known as reading time, preferably in an atmosphere of total silence. You can see why there are multiple layers of frustration, since time and silence are as far from me as Hogwarts (the real one, not the Universal Studios variety).

It seems like an ineffective parenting strategy to find oneself constantly annoyed by the tasks of parenting. But try as I may, I cannot carve out enough of the time to read that keeps me sane. I have tried waking up early before everyone else is awake, but then I don’t want to put the book down when they all wake up. I have tried staying up late, but then I am exhausted when they all wake up. I have tried reading during the miniscule amount of time I set aside for exercise and immediately gained ten pounds.

A few months ago, while ironing (yes, I begrudgingly iron) I was feeling especially hard done by, because I COULD BE READING! The thought occurred to me that instead of listening to Hamilton for the 82 millionth time (here’s to 82 million more times), I could be listening to a book. Wait, what?! Listen to a book. But that thought was immediately dismissed because listening to books is not reading them and I read books. Everyone knows you read with your eyes not your ears.

And here is where I admit a far amount of book snobbery on my part. I have long-held the belief that audiobooks are not *real* books. To my way of thinking, their sole purpose is to replace movies during road trips. I have stood firmly on the soap box called “paper-in-hand.”

But when that fleeting audiobook thought entered my mind I started thinking about all the hours I spend during the day with at least one ear bud in my ear. (Because if I can’t read, I have to listen to music…my music. This is to stay sane and, let’s be honest, drown out the incessant fighting, complaining, and whining. Again, perhaps not the most effective parenting strategy, but something has to give and it is better for all of us if that thing is not my mind.) I slowly came to the realization that if I listened to books during all those times when I was listening to music, I could actually start to make small amounts of progress on my “to be read” list. Hmmmmm…

And so for the first time ever, I find myself looking up books on Overdrive and intentionally checking for the headphone icon as opposed to pompously filtering that icon out of my sight. I am beginning to have hope that maybe, just maybe, there is way to make progress on this never-ending list of things to do while also getting the chance to cross some books off my list. In my imagination, this possibility gives way to a mother of a bright and bubbly disposition and a family seamlessly gliding from one thing to the next with nary a bump in the road.

It really could be that simple, right?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here Be Dragons

Dragons are among the coolest probably-fictional creatures ever created. The fire-breathing, the flying, the caves, the tumultuous relationships with humans, the treasure; it is all together captivating.

For a time, dragons were the gold standard in fantasy fiction. The folk-lore surrounding dragons is arguably greater than any other probably-fictional character. J.R.R. Tolkien, the “father of modern fantasy” once said that he “desired dragons with a profound desire.” It showed in his writing. His writing was and is positively infectious. It would be impossible to count the books written with dragons before or since.

While some have said that the “overabundance” (as if there could be) of dragons in the genre has turned them into a cliché, I say if there is a shred of truth to this accusation it is only that humans have become cliché in their portrayal of these majestic creatures. For on their own, dragons and their stories are limitless in their diversity, versatility, and creativity. From Puff the Magic Dragon, to Smaug; Elliot to Drogon; Toothless to Temeraire; Falkor to St. George’s dragon; the range of characters represented is anything but predictable and tired.

If you have been wondering how to introduce your children or students to the wide-eyed thrill of dragon-lore, then you have come to the right place. There are books for every age.

Board Books:

That’s Not My Dragon (Fiona Watt) – This book is the perfect baby shower or bringing-baby-home gift. It is guaranteed to please children and parents alike.

Picture Books:

The Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch) – The classic tale told in this brilliant book was genre shifting upon its release. It was among the first stories told, and arguably the most famous, about a princess not only saving herself but rescuing a wayward prince in the process. It belongs in every classroom and in every home.

The Egg (M.P. Robertson) – This is the first book in an excellent series of picture books about a boy named George and a dragon he raises. The other books that follow are: The Secret Dragon Rescue and The Dragon Snatcher. I highly recommend these books.

Dragons Loves Tacos (Adam Rubin) – Dragons Loves Tacos has been a hit with children and adults for the past five years. It is hilarious, creative, and combines two of the best things our world has to offer…dragons and tacos!

When a Dragon Moves In (Jodie Moore) – My younger two children love this book. I cannot tell you how many times we have checked it out. They are freshly excited each time. It is a funny story of imagination and the typical familial response to such imagination.

Puff the Magic Dragon (Peter Yarrow) – We all know the song by Peter, Paul, and Mary. Now your children can look at fantastic illustrations while you sing. I dare you to try to read the book rather than sing it. I am convinced it is impossible.

The Knight and The Dragon (Tomie dePaola) – This is an excellent book for those children who are not yet reading. The story is cute and clever, but it is the illustrations that make the book. Tomie dePaola does not disappoint.

Early Chapter Books:

My Father’s Dragon (Ruth Stiles Gannett) – The Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon can now be read altogether in the same book. I recently read this to my younger kids, who loved the story and would beg me to read more. When I was reading to them, I would look up to find the older two suddenly close by and paying full attention. This is an American classic for a reason.

The Snow Dragon (Marti Dumas) – This is a fantastic story that combines the reality of moving and finding a new home with the magical, in the form of a dragon. As you may already know, I am a very big fan of Marti Dumas’ writing and this is yet another example of why.

Middle Grades:

The Dragon in the Sock Drawer (Kate Kilmo) – This is the first book in a six book series called the Dragon Keepers. It is a great book for your second or third grade reader. The books are suspenseful and entertaining, but not scary or dark. These would also make very good read alouds for kids of different age ranges.

How to Train Your Dragon (Cressida Cowell) – The How to Train Your Dragon twelve book series has inspired multiple movies and TV spinoffs and for good reason. These books are so fun. They combine adventure, hijinks, dragons, humor, friendship, and life lessons.

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Keeping of Humans (Laurence Yep) – Who knew dragons were so funny?! This perspective changing book gives literal voice to a frustrated dragon trying to figure out how to care for its pet human. My daughter laughed out loud through most of this book.

The Last Dragon Chronicles (Chris D’Lacey) – This wildly popular series starts off a bit slow on the dragon front. The first book, The Fire Within, spends a lot of time on a squirrel. Be patient, dragons are coming. This is a good series for your young advanced reader.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Patricia Wrede) – A princess voluntarily choosing to go live with dragons, while turning away every prince who attempts to “rescue” her, what could be better? This series is an absolute must read.

Dragon Slippers (Jessica Day George) – This three book series follows Creel, a misunderstood, underappreciated teenage girl, who finds her confidence in the company of some misunderstood dragons. This unlikely heroine makes for a surprisingly relatable fantasy. There are moments of mild, innocent flirting throughout the story. While it is innocuous enough, it is probably better suited for older elementary school age kids. I would not recommend this series for kids “reading up.”

The Neverending Story (Michael Ende) – I will be honest, it was not until embarrassingly late in life that I knew there was a book behind the movie. The movie is perfection and may be the only example of a movie that outshines the book. But the book deserves its due as well. Ende introduced many of us of a certain generation (ahem) to our favorite childhood dragon, Falkor. And for that gift, we owe him a great deal of gratitude. Read the book and then, by all means and with no delay…watch the movie!

Wings of Fire series (Tui T. Sutherland) – These books are fascinating. They are narrated by dragons and are almost exclusively about dragons. All the elements of world building and fantasy fiction are present, just with dragons as the main (and, for the most part, only) characters. My guess is your kids will fly (pun intended) through them.

Young Adult:

The Inheritance Cycle series (Christopher Paolini) – This series has won the hearts of many readers. If you are looking for dragons, adventure, and fantasy, you will find those here. There is a major romance that runs through the series, just by way of forewarning.

The Hero and The Crown (Robin McKinley) – I actually enjoyed this Newberry Medal winning story a great deal. I have a great appreciation for a hard-done-by female protagonist who can kick some dragon tail. However, the innuendo is strong throughout the book, to the point where I am not sure what age to recommend this for. It is not so obvious that it should only be for high school, but it is prevalent enough that it may not be great for some junior highers. I suggest parents and teachers read this one first. You will enjoy the read and then you can determine your comfort level for your children.

Now, go slay your dragons, or befriend them…whichever suits your fancy.

 

Fantasy Fiction for Kids

You would not know it from looking at the list of books I have read mostly recently, but the fantasy genre is my favorite. I am thoroughly intrigued by the world building, the scope of the stories, and the depth of the characters. The creativity involved in writing fantasy fiction is fascinating and enviable.

For whatever reason, I was not exposed to much fantasy fiction growing up. It was not until my early 20’s when J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time entered my life, that I discovered the genre that would take my appreciation for the written word from “I like you a lot” to “You are my soul mate, never leave my side.” Since my first encounters with the worlds of Hogwarts and the Westlands, I have spent countless hours lost in Westeros (George R.R. Martin’s Songs of Fire and Ice),  the Four Corners of Civilization (Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles), and the Underdark of Faerun (R.A. Salvatore’s Dark Elf Trilogy), among many others. Not all of those lost hours have been while reading, I have to admit. Fantasy fiction has a way of captivating your attention. Excellent fantasy fiction can hold that attention long after the book has been put down.

I remember many school days when this escape and distraction would have been very helpful. This, coupled with the fact that my oldest daughter seems to have inherited my inclination towards the fantasy genre, got me thinking about what fantasy fiction books there are available for kids.

You should be forewarned, Harry Potter will not be included in this list. The reason being that it goes without saying (or writing) that the Harry Potter books should be read. We all know this. What we need to know is what else there is after those phenomenal seven books have stolen our hearts.

Traditional Fantasy:

The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster) – This fantastic piece of literature is the perfect introduction into fantasy fiction. The jokes may go over the younger kids’ heads the first time around but that just makes it an ideal re-read for them. Whether they get it fully or not, you will laugh out loud in every chapter.

The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis) – These books need no introduction. While The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe gets all the attention, make sure your children read them all. They are all excellent.

The Wingfeather Saga (Andrew Peterson) – Don’t let the titles deter you from these books. It took me a long time to get over the title On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness before finally letting my oldest daughter read the book. She could not put it down and has thoroughly enjoyed the series.

The Ranger’s Apprentice  (John Flanagan) – I’ll be perfectly honest, I read these books because I heard them mentioned in passing and wanted to see if they would be good for my kids and then I never put them down. These books have all the elements of good fantasy fiction. There are moments of flirtation and the beginnings of boy/girl relationships, but it is all very innocent and not a main story line. Fair warning for your young advanced readers.

The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien) – If you have been reading this blog or following along on social media, then you already know my feelings about this particular book. However, like it or not, it is a British classic and a remarkable (yes, I said it) example of fantasy writing.

The Chronicles of Prydain (Lloyd Alexander) – I have not read these books yet, but they have been highly recommended to me over and over again by people whose opinions I trust with my reading list. This series is next on my list to read.

 

Animal Fantasy

The Green Ember (S.D. Smith) – The Green Ember, its sequel Ember Falls, and its prequel The Black Star of Kingston are very entertaining books that follow the lives of a few very brave rabbits. These books make excellent read alouds.

Gregor the Overlander (Suzanne Collins) – Suzanne Collins’ (of Hunger Games fame) Underland Chronicles is an example of the fact that fantasy does not need to be watered down when written for children. This series is a must read.

Warriors (Erin Hunter) – If you have been in a place where books of any kind are collected in any number, then you have seen a Warriors book. They are the ones with the cats on the cover. Yes, those ones. There seem to be an unlimited number of them. Here’s the deal, I have never read them (because I am completely guilty of judging books by their cover in this case). But every single elementary school age girl I know has read them and loved them. That is good enough to get my recommendation.

Guardians of Ga’Hoole (Kathryn Lasky) – At the risk of sounding negligent…this is another series highly recommended that, you guessed it, I have not read. Don’t worry I promise to not make a habit of recommending books I haven’t read. These owls have inspired many conversations I have been a part of and I look forward to being able to add my two cents soon.

Redwall (Brian Jacques) –

It was the start of the Summer of the Late Rose. Mossflower country shimmered gently in a peaceful haze, bathing delicately at each dew-laden dawn, blossoming through high sunny noontides, languishing in each crimson-tinted twilight that heralded the soft darkness of June nights.

And that is just the prologue. This is a master’s class is writing. You will never regret reading these books or having your children read them.

Maybe you noticed that a staple of the fantasy genre is missing from this list, never fear, the dragons have not been forgotten. Dragons are coming soon!