2018 Christmas Books

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Reading aloud is a big part of our family culture. Reading to my kids was important to me before my health failed me. After I got sick, it became an even more significant part of our family life. I read for at least an hour each day to the children. Often I read upwards of two to three hours throughout the day. Reading aloud is something I can do regardless of how I am feeling. It allows me to “travel” with my boys too far away places that I physically can’t go. It provides an escape from my medical issues. Even on days, when pain flares leave me stuck in bed, I can still read to my boys. We’ll curl up together with a book, and I’ll read.

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is reading Christmas stories, so every year, we gift a new Christmas picture book to each boy. These are then added to our Christmas book basket. The books are given along with their stockings on Dec 6, which is St. Nicholas’ Feast Day. Picking out the books is one of my favorite things to do in the weeks leading up to St. Nicholas’ Feast day. This year I ordered all of the books from Thriftbooks, an online bookstore that specializes in used books.  Here are the picks I made this year.

Paul (10-years-old.): The Race of the Birkebeiners by Lise Lunge-Larsen9290f39f2d13937ca8146a3f2e536b9f2d3bd091
I was unfamiliar with this a book. However, as soon as I saw it, I knew it would be perfect for our oldest. Paul is currently very into all things medieval. So, I knew this was right up his alley. The Race of the Birkebeiners tells the true story of the fierce Birkebeiner warriors of Noway and their struggle to ski a baby prince to safety. They are racing against the elements of nature and human greed, in the hopes of saving the baby prince and bringing peace to Norway. The illustrator Mary Azarian’s provided beautiful woodcuttings that capture the spirit of the story. I am sure that this book will quickly become a favorite.



Thomas (8-year-old): Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 by John Hendrix
Thomas is very interested in the tanks, airplanes, and other machines of war. He has been learning about the equipment they used during WWI and WWII. So, I knew that I wanted to get him a picture book that had to do with the Christmas Truce of WWI. There are several pictures books about the truce; I chose this one because I liked the illustrations and the hand-lettered text. This is another picture book which is based on an actual historical event. I can’t wait to share the story with Thomas.

51AEjRHugoL._SL300_Antonio (6-year-old): The Christmas Cobwebs by Odds Bodkins
This book tells the story of an immigrant family, who move from Germany to the United States. They bring with them a box of beautiful glass ornaments. However, a fire destroys their new home/business, and they have to move into an abandoned shack. The father is forced to sell the family’s ornaments leaving the family’s Christmas tree undecorated. However, all is not lost. The family wakes up Christmas morning to find a beautiful shimmering surprise decorating their tree. This is a sweet story with whimsical illustrations. I chose it because the pictures reminded me of Tomie dePaola’s work. He is Antonio’s favorite author.


William (4-year-old): The Little Drummer Mouse by Mercer Mayer9372a3861e67eae929069385ff569c16dbdb40d6
I have a Little Drummer Boy music box that is put out ever Christmas. It is one of William’s favorite decorations, which is why I picked this title for him. Mercer Mayer, the author of the Little Critter stories, retells the classic Christmas carol Little Drummer Boy in this endearing book. However, she twists it by having the drummer be a mouse instead of a boy.  The illustrations are bright, cozy and perfect for little ones. It is a great way to introduce little ones to the story of the Nativity in a way that is at their level.

61TBRbxasHL._SX376_BO1,204,203,200_Both Antonio and William are crazy about dinosaurs. Everything is dinosaur this and dinosaur that. With that in mind, I purchased a Christmas book to give them jointly. It is called The Dinosaurs’ Night Before Christmas by Anne Muecke, which is a fun take on the classic poem Twas the Night Before Christmas. As soon as I saw this, I knew I had to give it for my little boys. I can’t wait for them to find it on December 1st along with their chocolate advent calendars.




The last pi3be5e04ee31915dc4d249b767d222e43c7c3397dcture book The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe by Pat Mora will be given to the boys on December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This book is filled with gorgeous illustrations and invites you to learn the story of Our Lady and St. Juan Diego from Grandma Lupita.





For those who are interested here is a list of our other Christmas books. I will add links to Amazon for each book, but I am sure most of the titles can be found on Thriftbooks.

Joy to the World: A Collection of Christmas stories and songs by Tomie dePaola (includes The Night of Las Posadas, The Story of the Three Wise Kings, and the Legend of the Poinsettia)
Bambinellei Sunday: A Christmas Blessing by Amy Welborn
Jacob’s Gift by Max Lucado
How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan
The Twelve Days of Christmas by Gennady Spirin
Saint Francis and the Nativity by Myrna Strasser
Pretzels by the Dozen by Angela Elwell Hunt
Christmas Around the World by Mary D. Lankford (One of my favorite Christmas books. This is my copy from my childhood. I met the author and she signed it.)
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
Room fo a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell
The Donkey’s Christmas Song by Nancy Tafuri (one of my all-time favorite Christmas books. It’s a really simple story but so heart warming.)
Merry Christmas, Curious George by Margret and H.A. Rey’s
The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi
Santa’s Crash-Bang Christmas by Steven Kroll and illustrated by Tomie dePaola (this can be a tough book to find but so worth it!)
Joseph’s Story by Patricia A. Pingry
Talking Eagle and the Lady of the Roses by Amy Cordova (Another story about Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego)
The Visit of the Wise Men by Martha Jander
Little Star by Anthony DeStefano (This is a very unique take of the story of the Nativity and the meaning behind putting a star on your Christmas tree.)
Bethlehem by Fiona French. (We have the Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible, Catholic Edition. There is also a King James version.)
The Miracle of Saint Nicholas by Gloria Whelan
The Winter Story of Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem (We have a beautiful treasury of the Brambly Hedge stories.)
Country Angel Christmas by Tomie dePaola
The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
A Little House Christmas Treasure by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett (board book)
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore (Board book)
Clifford’s First Christmas by Norman Bridwell (Board book)
Dear Santa by Rod Campbell (Lift the Flap Board Book)
Little Blue Truck’s Christmas by Alice Schertle (Board Book)
Felicity’s Surprise by Valerie Tripps (American Girls)
Josefina’s Surprise by Valeria Tripps (American Girls)
Kirsten’s Surprise by Janet Shaw (American Girls)
Addy’s Surprise by Connie Porter (American Girls)
Kit’s Surprise by Valerie Tripps (American Girls)
Molly’s Surprise by Valerie Tripps (American Girls) *All the American Girl stories are audio books, purchased through Audible.
Jotham’s Journey: A Storybook for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide. *I am going to put a disclaimer that we haven’t actually read this yet. We were gifted it several years ago and the story was way to intense for my boys at the time. I think our oldest was 7 at the time. I am going to try and read it this year to just my older two boys (almost 9 and 10.) It is a great story but not appropriate for kids under 8.)

Top 20 Board Books

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With the impending move into the RV later this month we had to downsize drastically. Everything from kitchen stuff to toys had to be downsized. I had to go through all of our books and decided which ones we were keeping and what we were donating. As homeschoolers books are super important in our house. We go to the library on an almost weekly basis. We read for several hours most days. It was pretty easy to downsizes the older kid books and chose what to keep.

However, it was much harder to downsizes the board book collection. I am not a big fan of checking out board books from the library; mostly because of a germ factor. Knowing that babies and toddlers like to slobber and chew on the books I just prefer to have our own books that I know only my kids mouths have been on! Given that I read these books to our baby on a daily basis I wanted to have good reading worthy books; not silly dull “this is green” “this is red” type books. Sure, having a few books like that are nice to teach colors, etc but I would much rather a good story! So, without further ado here is the 20 books that made the cut.

  1. So Many Bunnies Board Book: A Bedtime ABC and Counting Book by Rick Walton
  2. Pajama Time! by Sandra Boynton
  3. Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow
  4. Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Bill Martin Jr
  5. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr
  6. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  7. From Head to Toe by Eric Carle
  8. The Mitten by Jan Brett
  9. Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett
  10. Over There by Dorinda Silver Williams  (we have the daddy version)
  11. My Very First Bible Stories Our Father by Lois Rock
  12. How Much Is That Doggie in the Window by Iza Trapani
  13. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
  14. Usborne’s That’s not My Snowman (Touchy-feely book)
  15. Little Big Flaps Dinosaurs by Charles Reasoner
  16. The Saving Name of God the Son by Jean Ann Sharpe
  17. Santa’s Prayer by Mary Lou Andes
  18. The Saints Are Watching Over Me by Tiny Saints (This is actually a Christmas present!)
  19. Baby Einstein’s First Words by Disney book group
  20. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury

When picking out books I wanted to meet several different criteria. For example I wanted several interactive type books. So, we kept one touch-in-feel book and one lift the flaps book. I kept Over There by Dorinda Silver Williams because it was an invaluable book when my husband was deployed. We read it multiple times a day. It isn’t in print anymore and I didn’t want to worry about having to replace it if my husband deploys again while William is a little guy.  I kept Baby Einstein’s First Words not because it’s a great literature but it’s been invaluable in helping Antonio work on his speech.



Ancient Rome Book List

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Our first history unit this year is Ancient Rome. My sons really enjoyed Ancient Egypt; so they wanted to learn about other ancient civilizations. As usually our books are borrowed from the library. Here is our book list.

- You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Roman Gladiator by John Malam
-Gladiators and the Story of the Colosseum by Dr. Nicholas Saunders
-Sightseers Essential Travel Guides to the Past Ancient Rome by Jonathan Stroud
You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Roman Soldier by David Stewart
- Fierce Fighters Gladiators and Roman Soldiers by Charlotte Guillain (This is an early reader)
100 Things You Should Know About Ancient Rome by Fiona Macdonald
Metropolis Roman Town by Hazel Martell and Mark Bergin
How Would You Survive as an Ancient Roman by Anita Ganeri
Terrible Tales of Ancient Rome by Clare Hibbert

Ancient Egypt Booklist and Activities

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We finished off our first grade year with a unit on Ancient Egypt. We spent about 3 months really diving into Ancient Egypt. Paul was absolutely fascinated by the subject. So, I thought I would share our favorite resources. Most of them we checked out from the library.

Non-Fiction Books

You Wouldn’t Want to Be an Eqyptain Mummy! : Distuging Things You’d Rather Not KNow by David Stewart

You Wouldn’t Want to Be Tutankhamen!: A Mummy Who Really Got Meddled With by David Stewart

You Wouldn’t Want to Be Cursed by King Tut!: A Mysterious Death You’d Rather Avoid by Jacqueline Morley

You Wouldn’t Want to Be Cleopatra!: An Eqyptian Ruler You’d Rather Not Be by Jim Pipe

You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Pyramid Builder!: A Hazardous Job You’d Rather Not Have by Jacqueline Morley

How Would You Survive as an Ancient Egyptian by Jacqueline Morley

DK Eyewitness Books: Ancient Egypt by George Hart (the only book we bought)

Fiction Picture Books

Miu and the Pharaoh by Sally Wallace-Jones

The Little Hippo: A Children’s Book Inspired by Egyptian Art by Geraldine Elschner

Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile by Tomie dePaola (Antonio’s favorite. He liked it so much I bought him his own copy)

Bill and Pete to the Rescue by Tomie dePaola (I also bought Antonio a copy of this one)

The Scarab’s Secret by Nick Would

Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs by James Rumford.


Egyptian Treasures Mummies and Myths by Jim Weiss

Building Pharaoh’s Chariot (Documentary we found on Netflix)

Virtual Field Trip of Pyramids

Activities: Sadly, while we did a number of hands of activities I did a very poor job taking photos of them.

Step Pryamids built out of legos

Cat Mummy Statues

Egyptian Collars




1-8th Grade History for under $200 ($25 per year!)

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I had grand plans of teaching history using a  laid out curriculum; that utilized a classical approach. I had researched a ton of curriculum options and settled on one that came with a high cost of several hundred dollars a year. It was suppose to be perfect. I ordered the first unit and quickly realized when I tried to implement it that it wasn’t going to work for us. It was to much and frankly boring. It didn’t keep Paul’s interest. He wasn’t interested in learning about things chronologically. He didn’t want the boring stuff. He wanted to pick a subject that interested him and dive in.  So, we promptly threw in the towel on our fancy expensive curriculum and decided to go with child led unit studies.

In teaching this way our biggest asset is our local library. I let Paul pick a topic and than we go on to the library catalog and start reserving books. Once, they have all arrived (our library is very small; so we rely pretty heavily on inter-library loans.) we go and pick them up. I use pinterest to assembly a list of hands on activities Paul can pick from. We normally do around 5 activities per topic. I try to find at least one field trip in our area that ties in. We will also do virtual field trips via the internet. I can normally find a couple good documentaries or movies on netflix as well.

However, I do have a couple materials that in my opinion are worth investing in. They are materials that can be used over and over; regardless what historical topic you are studying. They can all be purchased for under $200 and will serve you all the way through eight grade. When used in conjunction with the library and internet they help you provide your child with a quality eduction in history. (They could even be used through high school either with a curriculum or continue to be used with unit studies). They are the following:

I bought two poster frames from Walmart ($15 each) to put the maps in to make them easier to use and keep them looking nice.

The other thing is a timeline. I think a timeline is so important for children because it helps them see how history builds on itself. It helps them see the relation between people and events. As we study each topic we add relative events and people to our timeline using figures from the timeline figure collection I listed above. Now, there are timelines you can buy to hang on your wall (like this) but I was to cheap for that. So, what I did was get some painters tape and make my own. I added dates to the tape and that is our timeline. Here is a photo; so you can see what I mean. It’s worked out really well for us and cost me under $5.  So, what is your favorite product for teaching history?


Laura’s House

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 laura's house Standing outside the farm house.

My love affair with reading began when I was 7 years old courtesy of a librarian named Mrs. Street. I can still see her friendly smile in my mind. I was bored with school and the picture books that were given to me to fill my spare time; while I waited for the other children to finish. My teacher sent me to Mrs. Street with the request that she find me a chapter book to read; something that would keep my interest and keep me from chatting with my neighbor. Mrs. Street handed me The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I devoured the book in three days. I had officially caught the reading bug. From that point on I read book after book. I finished the entire series in the space of a month. I would go on to re-read the series over and over as a child. The set I was gifted fell apart from being read so much in the ensuing years.

I was obsessed with Laura and her stories of life on the prairie. I wanted to be her. I wanted a family like hers and to have adventures like she did. I would disappear into her world for hours. I read her, I played her and I learned everything I could about her. My great-grandmother made me two prairie dresses to wear. I adored those dresses and wore them well beyond their life span turning them into long tunic shirts after they became too short to be dresses. I use to pretend the bottom bunk of my bunk beds was a covered wagon. I had a doll that came with a trunk to store her clothes and accessories in. I used the trunk instead to pack what I would take with me on my trip west. I made a rag doll to be my companion like Laura’s doll Charlotte. I decided that someday I would go to visit all her homes.

My love of all things Little House has not waned over the years; as Mark will attest. The second winter we were living in Virginia we had a huge snow storm that left almost a foot of snow on the ground. I had never seen so much snow in my life. I promptly sent Mark out to buy maple syrup; so I could make snow candy like Laura’s grandma did in The Little House in the Big Woods. The kicker is I don’t even really like maple. I’ve had maple sugar candy and I don’t like it. But, I wanted the experience. I wanted to be able to say I made maple sugar candy just how it was made in the book. If I could have tapped a maple tree and then heated the syrup on a wood burning stove I would have! Alas, our rental house didn’t come equipped with a wood burning stove or maple trees.

pecan tree

Well, this weekend 20 years after I read my very first little house book I had the opportunity to go see Almanzo and her home in Mansfield, Missouri. We drove out there this weekend and it was amazing. It was everything I had ever dreamed it would be. The only thing that would have been better is if I could have actually touched the items on display. I will admit despite the no touching sign I did just briefly touch the top of her writing desk. It was awe inspiring to walk through the house that she walked through and lived in. It was overwhelming for this fan.

I have always loved the idea of being like Laura. Growing up I wanted a farm and use to dream about owning one with chickens and a garden. However, that’s just a little girl’s dream. Reality is I don’t like getting dirty. I can’t grow anything for the life of me. I like modern day conveniences like a washing machine. I always thought it would be cool to churn my own butter but now days churning butter would put me out of commission for at least a day due to my chronic pain. My body couldn’t physically handle the work that would come with living like Laura did.

Walking her house and seeing her belongs reminded me of just how much I loved the little house books. How my love transcended to all things Wild West and pioneer related. I use to make lists about what I would pack if I was traveling by covered wagon and had to fit everything in one. What would I bring? What would I leave behind? Life was more difficult back then. Work was harder. Yet, in a lot of ways it was simpler.

This past August when we moved (even after purging a ton) our household goods weighed in at almost eight thousand pounds. The amount of stuff is overwhelming but yet society says we need all this stuff to be happy. We need a large home to be happy. The upkeep that comes with that stuff and with having the large house is tiresome. I feel like I can never quite catch up. I think that is what appeals to me the most about Laura and the little house on the prairie. I think from the beginning at 7 years old that is what appealed to me. My life has never been simple…my childhood was filled with things that no child should have to worry about. Life was never simple. Simplicity is what I found in her books and what I craved. I think it’s still what I crave.


Easter Baskets 2014

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Easter is only a few weeks away and that means it is time for Easter baskets. I find great enjoyment out of putting together Easter baskets and things of that nature. However, with 3 kids it can become time consuming and expensive! Last year I switched to a family basket instead of individual baskets. It was wonderful! This is a tradition we will be continuing this year.

Growing up my Easter basket as a kid was filled completely with candy. From the start I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to approach Easter baskets. I wanted them to be fun but not filled with junk candy; that was bought just for the sake of filling the baskets. Thankfully, this approach was already well established by the time we found out Thomas needed to be gluten free; since, it’s hard to find seasonal candy that’s gluten free. Though, Peeps candies (including the chocolate covered ones) are!

I like to fill the Easter basket with stuff that was already planned purchases for the most part. That way there isn’t a lot of extra money going out the door. There are certain staples that go in every year like sidewalk chalk. My kids adore the stuff and we use it all up by the end of the summer. So, each Easter I replenish our supply. This year’s basket will have:

The Easter Egg by Jan Brett. (I picked this up last year on after Easter clearance)
The Weight of Mass: A Tale of Faith by Josephine Nobisso (school related)
The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great (The Knight’s Tales Series) by Gerald Morris
Butterfly garden (school related)
– a new matchbox car per kid
Sidewalk chalk (I scored a better deal on Amazon than what the price was at our local Walmart)
Thermos Funtainer water bottle for each kid. (I picked these up at our local Walmart/Target because they were significantly cheaper than on Amazon.)
-Octonaut’s DVD

So, what is going in your kids Easter baskets?

The Donkey That No One Could Ride

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For Easter my boys received a wonderful book from the Godparents of the youngest 2 called The Donkey That No One Could Ride by Anthony DeStefano. It was a wonderful surprise and is a very lovely book. I fell in love with it the first time I flipped through the pages of the book.

The illustrations by Richard Cowdrey are some of the most beautiful ones I have seen in a children’s book in a very long time. As an amateur artist I love good artwork. It is one of the things I look for in children’s literature. The colors in the book are vivid and full of rich images. Both boys enjoyed the pictures and Thomas has picked the book up time and time again to look at the pictures.

The story is wonderfully done and is a fantastic read aloud. It is written in the form of a poem with rhyming but not in a sing song way that some rhyming books have. The poetry form actually reminds me a lot of The Highway Man by Alfred Noyes; which happens to be my favorite poem. It tells the story of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem by telling the story of the donkey; who carried him. It makes a fantastic addition to any library and is especially timely for the Easter season.

I will be adding more of DeStefano’s books to our collection and have picked out his Little Star for Paul’s Christmas book this year.

Book Storage for Kids

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I love books; especially children’s books and believe that having a wide variety available for children’s browsing and enjoyment is very important. However, storage is a big concern for a number of reasons. First off we live in a small house and secondly Thomas is a dumper. Thomas loves to dump everything and drag it from one end of the room to the other.

There are so many cool book storage ideas out there….so many that I would love to do if it wasn’t for the fact that we rent and space is limited. I am going to share how I store the kids books and some other ideas that I love.

Our current house has a built in bookcase in the living area that I use to store our books. However, since Thomas is a dumper using the bookcase as it is intended isn’t an option because Thomas will clear the bookcase of all books every chance he gets. So, what I did was take several fabric bins and split the books among them and set the bins on the shelves.  This works wonderfully for us. Each bin has a theme to it; which makes it easy for Paul to find what he is looking for. Also, Thomas is much less likely to dump all the bins but rather just dumps one of them. That leads to a happy mommy!

Here are some other book storage ideas I love.

Rain Gutter Bookshelves
Book Slings
IKEA Spice Rack Bookshelves

All of these are easy to do (check the links for instructions) and are a great way to store the books but also display them. Research shows that young children are more apt to read when they can see the front covers.  I am hoping to add one of the types of shelves into our house so that I can display some of the children’s books. I think this would be especially great for putting out our seasonal books- like Easter, Christmas, etc.

Crazy about the ABC’s

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Paul is starting to show a huge interest in learning about the ABCs; so we’ve been doing lots of reading about the ABCs. Here are some of my of our favorite books we have been using in our ABC fun!


I lucked out and scored a set of my first steps to reading books by Jane Belk Moncure from a thrift store. It is a set of 25 books that cover all the letters. Each letter has its own book with the exception of X, Y, Z; which are cover together in one book. These books are great vocabulary building books. You can find the books used on Amazon or purchase them through http://www.earlymoments.com/Our-Products/My-First-Steps-to-Learning/

Bill Martin Jr is a favorite children’s author of mine and his ABC book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is no exception. It is a fantastic fun read about the ABCs. It elicits giggles from the children every time we read it. There are also a ton of fun activities you can do with this book. You can get a cd to go with the story. This website has a wealth of activities you can do to go along with the story.

If you have train fan in your house then I highly recommended C is for Caboose: Riding the Rails from A to Z.

One of our favorite places to go as a family is the zoo. The kids always have a great time and love seeing all the animals. Therefore; it comes as no surprise that the children adore Alphabet Zoo- which  takes the kids on a fantastic scavenger hunt through the ABC.