We read a book and then we wanted to help. You can help too.

Reading A Long Walk to Water really inspired my kids to want to do something to help. So we joined a fundraising effort through Water for South Sudan.

We would like to invite anyone who feels they can to help in our efforts by donating money or joining our fundraising group.

You can read more about our fundraiser and donate at https://runsignup.com/hodeyhohomeschool.

A Long Walk to Water

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True StoryA Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

A Long Walk to Water alternates between the perspective of  girl in Sudan in 2008 and a boy in Sudan in 1985. Nya’s life revolves around water and her twice daily walk to a pond that is two hours’ away. Salva is a war refugee who walks the African continent in search for family and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva’s and Nya’s lives come to intersect in a powerful way.

My Review

My 11 year old, 9 year old, 6 year old, and I read this together. I found myself reading aloud through tears more than once. We read together past bedtime for several nights in a row because we just couldn’t bear to leave Salva in such tribulation. The author writes simply but effectively communicates events and emotions. Tragic and tough realities but written so appropriately for children.

My 9 year old said it best tonight when she went to get a drink right after we finished the book. “I feel a little guilty,” she said as she turned on the faucet. “After reading about Nya and Salva it doesn’t seem very fair that I can just come in here and turn a knob and get clean cool water. But I am very grateful that I can.”

Age Recommendation: Clearly at our house all ages were engaged. Reading level might be 3rd-6th grade, but as a read aloud even my 6 year old was riveted.

Appropriateness: Definitely hard facts of life as a refugee are presented, but not in gory detail. The full impact of the tragedy and trauma is expressed but in ways that stays true to children’s literature. So much discussion material for a classroom or book club. The website for the non-profit organization, waterforsouthsudan.org,  has so many great resources including videos, maps, pictures and information on how you can help bring clean water to South Sudan.

Teachers and book clubs should definitely check out the discussion questions found here.

Other Book Recommendations: This book made me think of So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. I would also recommend Charlotte’s Rose by Ann Edwards Cannon, and I Am Malala.

View all my reviews

Only Gossip Prospers

Only Gossip ProspersOnly Gossip Prospers by Lorraine Tosiello

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads):

In late 1875 Louisa May Alcott spent a winter in New York City. Her journals give a rough sketch of the people she met, the salons she attended and a few outings that she enjoyed. She intended to stay “until I am tired of it,” but left abruptly in mid-January.

Filled with biographical references to Louisa’s family, New Yorkers of the time and Alcott’s literary works, Only Gossip Prospers intertwines the real people Louisa met, the actual events of New York City and a host of fictional characters who inhabit a world that Louisa herself would recognize. Written in a style reminiscent of Alcott’s juvenile fiction and short adventure stories, the book is part historical fiction, part love letter to the charm of 1870s New York and part biography of Louisa and her contemporaries.

My Review:

For as much as I love reading, especially reading classic literature and well written literature, you’d think I’d be a bigger fan of “Little Women.” I have read it, but only once and I think I was probably too young because I found it boring. I did love the Winona Rider movie from the moment I saw it, and I have often thought I should read “Little Women” again. (I also love the movie of “The Inheritance,” another Louisa May Alcott novel. But I’ve never read that book and feel I should.)

What does all of that have to do with this book – “Only Gossip Prospers”? Well, it’s the reason this book gets 3 stars instead of 4 for me. It has nothing to do with the book, and everything to do with my experience. This book is beautifully written. The description and historical information is poetic and and scientific all at the same time. The characters are interesting, and their stories being presented as pieces in a bigger puzzle was intriguing; I wanted to know how it was all going to fit together and what the final takeaway would be with so much variety and almost randomness in happenings. The author does tie it all together believably and very satisfyingly. All the while painting a picture of Louisa May Alcott that is human and heroic. She was fascinating to me as a character even though the events and actions of the book were mostly mundane.

Unfortunately, because my personal interest in Louisa May Alcott and Little Women is low I didn’t have the love for this book that it deserves. There are definite nods to feminism as well, and I don’t consider myself a traditional feminist so that theme didn’t resonate with me like it would for many readers. I don’t know much about this period in history, particularly the history of New York, mostly because it hasn’t been of high interest. I certainly know more after reading “Only Gossip Prospers,” but my interest level hasn’t really increased. That’s all on me though. Just wasn’t my cup of tea. However, with the new perspective this book gave me on Louisa May Alcott and on the societal and historical importance of “Little Women,” I am very interested in reading Little Women again. I think I’m likely to enjoy it much more now that I’m more mature, but also because of the window “Only Gossip Prospers” gave me into how autobiographical “Little Women” is.

If you are already a Little Women fan, I imagine this is a book you don’t want to miss. With the genius of the writing I bet it would feel as inviting as coming home for the holidays. If you are not a Little Women fan, or maybe aren’t sure if you are, this book is informative, interesting, and worth reading so you can appreciate the easy and yet poetic prose. It may not have been a page turner for me, but it is impressive in its literary value.

Age Recommendation: This book is appropriate for all ages, but I think 16 and older will understand it best, and get the most out of the message. I think It takes some life experience with complex emotions, and some independent decision making to be able to understand the feelings and choices of characters in the book.

Appropriateness: I found nothing offensive. There is reference to drug addiction and sex, but the references are so innocent. Book club groups would enjoy discussing the many themes presented: similarities between Alcott’s life and her book, how feminism has progressed since her time, and how we can present our best selves to the world without losing our true selves, to name just a few.

Other Book Recommendations: Obviously Little Women and other books by Louisa May Alcott would be good choices if you like this one. I think you would also enjoy A Tree Grows in Brooklyn  by Betty Smith, the Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wicker, or I am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai.

Olive

OliveOlive by Michelle E Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

Meet Olive. She’s optimistic and well-intentioned . . . and a magnet for mishaps. When Olive’s day goes from bad to worse, she wonders if her family and friends can love her in spite of her flaws.

My Review

Olive is for everyone. As an adult reading it brought back so clearly what it felt like to be a kid, and like Olive, I would make mistakes and get in a little trouble. I could also so easily relate to the adults in Olive’s life who get frustrated by the messes she creates. Reading about Olive was a good reminder of the commonalities in human experience and the importance of responding to our own and other’s emotions with love and understanding.

And this book does all of that important stuff while being cute, witty, and so entertaining. The illustrations are colorful and full of the fun and innocence of childhood.

My 8 year old and 5 year old LOVED this book. They have asked to read it everyday since we got it. Not only was it fun to read the story together, but the “Stop and Think” pages at the end gave us great opportunity to communicate, learn, and connect. Since reading the book together when one of us experiences some “thumps or lumps or bumps” I have been able to say, “Remember what we read about Olive? How did she feel after such-and-such happened?” Or “How did Olive fix the mistake she made?” Or “How did her family feel?” It has given us a non-threatening, child-friendly, and loving vocabulary to talk about the mistakes and problems that come up in our family life.

Olive Ewe’s story is worth owning and reading over and over, but those Stop and Think pages really make it an incredible educational tool. This is an ideal book for character lessons at school and the lesson plan and questions are already there for you at the end of the book. Olive would also make a great prompt for writing personal narratives, and for studying emotions and problem-solving.

If you have kids, work with kids, know any kids, or if you were once a kid, do yourself a favor and read Olive.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

Becoming Mrs. LewisBecoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

This is a fictional novel based on Joy Davidman, the woman C. S. Lewis called “my whole world.” When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis is above all a love story—a love of literature and ideas and a love between a husband and wife that, in the end, was not impossible at all.

My Review

Didn’t finish this one. I just couldn’t get past the fact that this is a work of fiction. While the people in the book actually existed, the picture that the author paints of them is all her own creative work. Sure some of the events actually happened, but the responses and feelings of the people that you see in this book are completely the author’s ideas. And while the author’s writing is engaging and entertaining, it didn’t work for me when what I really wanted was to know the real people better. Even the letters between Joy and C.S. Lewis, which are such a huge part of their developing relationship, are completely faked by the author. I tried getting into a mindset where I could read the book as pure fiction, but I was reminded too frequently that these were real people; and I couldn’t help wondering if they would approve of their portrayal in this book? Which just made me want to pick up a biography rather than spending time on the fiction. And that’s what I plan to do.

Age Recommendation: 18 and older would be most interested in this book, I think.  I didn’t read the whole thing, but what I did read wasn’t necessarily “action packed.” It was more about personal discovery, character and relationship development.  I know the events that occurred later in Joy Davidman’s life, so I imagine the book gets more dramatic as it goes with some difficult facts of life to deal with, which would be another reason more mature readers would do better with this book.

Appropriateness: There was infidelity and drinking discussed in the portion of the book I read, but nothing explicit or glorified. However, deep down I think I do object to the author fictionalizing these real people so much. Though I know she did her research so if anyone has deep insight into who these people were it’s probably her. For me her interpretation came across too much like a soap opera; these great people in history felt minimized by becoming characters.  I would have preferred they stay more “real.”

Other Book Recommendations: I plan to read And God Came In by Lyle Wesley Dorsett, a biography of Joy Davidman. If you are interested in people like Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis I think you would also enjoy Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  The writing style of this book reminded me some of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Victoria by Daisy Goodwin, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate.

The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni (The Golem and the Jinni, #1)The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free.

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection.  Helene Wecker’s debut novel weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

My Review

I almost didn’t finish this one because it had a really slow start for me; there were a lot of characters to meet and some were interesting, others I wasn’t so sure about. There were multiple cultures, eras in time, and settings. At first it took some work to keep it all straight and I wasn’t sure if I cared enough to try. I was curious to see how it would all fit together which kept me reading, and I was eventually drawn in and finished the last 2/3 pretty quickly.

I enjoyed the history, philosophy, and theology woven into the fantasy. By the end I found all of the characters fascinating and intricate. Each gave unique insight into the book’s themes; I appreciated that each had weakness and strength and it was their choices that determined the total sum of each of their parts. When the sequel is available I will likely pick it up.

Age Recommendation: I wouldn’t give this book to my teens. Adult readers with more life experience will relate better to character’s individuals struggles and choices, and the book’s themes.

Appropriateness: Mention of and focus on sex was beyond my comfort level, but not so graphic that it kept me from finishing.  I didn’t find the language offensive.

There is plenty of material for book club discussion regarding faith, religion, cultural tradition, immigration, nature vs. nurture, and responsibility for and importance of agency.

Other Book Recommendations: If this book interests you I think you’d also enjoy The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Magician’s Elephant by Katie DiCamillo, The Time Key by Melanie Bateman, and The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson.

 

 

 

High Sierra


41x9jzpashl._sx321_bo1204203200_High Sierra
by Adrienne Quintana

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

When Jasmine Fuentes finds herself thousands of miles from home, forced to hike around in the wilderness of California with a bunch of juvenile delinquents, she’s convinced she doesn’t belong.

Forage for food, build shelter, make fire—Jasmine sets out to learn what she needs to do to ace the program so she can go home and salvage her summer vacation. But the more she tries to prove she doesn’t need wilderness therapy, the more desperate her situation becomes. Confronted with life and death, she comes face to face with her past and her imperfections. Will Jasmine ask for help before it’s too late?

My Review

I wish more YA fiction was like High Sierra. It was so enjoyable and refreshing to read through the eyes of a teenage girl that didn’t drive me crazy with her whining. Jasmine Fuentes is still definitely a teenager with the sarcasm and struggles that come with that stage of life, but she has wit and intelligence that help her to continue to function despite the unfairness life left in her path.

There are other teenage characters in the book who turn to more destructive coping strategies, but I love the hopeful message that those choices (whether severely dysfunctional or only slightly less than functional) don’t define them (or us); change is possible, and these teens even at their lowest lows have a desire to change. They just need to see the way to get started, and patient and sincere guides to help them along the way. High Sierra portrays realistically that that kind of change requires hard work and time, but it can happen and is worth the effort when it does.

Wilderness is a great positive influence in my life. I have learned through experiences in nature about strength, confidence, hard work, peace, awe and wonder, and Divinity. So reading about teens starting their path to change through wilderness therapy was relatable and realistic. I appreciated that learning about our place in God’s plan helped Jasmine, as my relationship with God is the most defining aspect of my life. But I also appreciated that High Sierra is not preachy. No one religion or agenda is pushed.

And I have to be clear that while High Sierra surpasses other YA fiction in strength of characters and depth of theme, it also does not disappoint in humor, excitement, and of course romance that I think we all have to admit we are looking for when we pick up a book from this genre. I look forward to giving this one to my daughters to read. I know that like me they will be entertained and enthralled, but also made better for having read it.

Age Recommendation: I think readers 14 and older would enjoy this book most as they would relate best to the struggles the characters face in their lives.

Appropriateness: Characters’ struggles with drugs, eating disorders, and sex are mentioned in the book but without any inappropriate detail or glorifying. Language is clean. Nothing offensive for any age.

Other Book Recommendations: If High Sierra interests you I recommend Eruption and Reclamation also by Adrienne Quintana, The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, Relic by Renee Collins, Out of my Mind by Sharon M. Draper, and Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath.

It’s Not Easy Being a Superhero – blog tour

It's Not Easy Being a Superhero: Understanding Sensory Processing DisorderIt’s Not Easy Being a Superhero: Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder by Kelli Call

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

Unlike most superheroes, Clark’s superpowers aren’t a secret. And instead of just one, Clark has five superpowers he must learn to control: super hearing, super sight, super smell, super taste, and super feeling. He uses his five superpowers to defeat sensory triggers, and his arch nemesis Igor Ance. This beautifully illustrated picture book helps parents, teachers, students, and friends understand what it’s like for these superheroes who have sensory processing disorder and the tricks they learn to control their powers.

My Review

I’m so grateful for this book! And excited to be participating in the blog tour.

From infancy we knew there was something “different” about my daughter. The older she got the more apparent it became that she had some unique struggles and strengths to deal with. When a friend told me about Sensory Processing Disorder I started researching like crazy. My daughter has not been officially diagnosed, but what I learned about SPD just fit so much of what we saw in her. Learning about SPD gave us many tools to help her.

So imagine my excitement when I heard about a picture book for kids all about SPD. As a mother and a former school teacher I knew the value of presenting this information in a format that would make sense to kids struggling with SPD and to the children and adults in their lives. So the day the book came I gathered my 4 kids, ages 4-11, and we read it together. All 4 of them were caught up in the ups and downs of the superhero’s powers, and in the illustrations that brought it all to life with exciting colors, movement, and a bit of a classic superhero comic book feel.

When we’d finished reading I asked my kids if they felt like they could relate to Clark at all, or if they knew someone from church or school who maybe reminded them of Clark. I was fascinated that they all could say they related to Clark and having triggers that just set certain feelings or behaviors off. We talked about what things they do now and could do better, just like Clark, to help keep our reactions in check and to calm us down. All 3 of my school age children told me about kids they knew in their current class or in previous classes that they thought had super senses just like Clark, and they felt that the book helped them understand better why they acted in certain ways at times. And it didn’t seem so weird anymore.

My 11 year old, who actually displays SPD behaviors, didn’t stick around too long after we finished discussing. I imagine she felt she was “too old” for picture books, but I loved watching my 7 and 4 year old look through the book again together. When it was time for bed my 7 year old took the book with her. I saw her reading it again in bed. The next morning when I went in to her room she was already awake reading the book again.

I got to thinking about what about it spoke to her in particular. She hasn’t ever seemed to have symptoms of SPD; but she is independent to the extreme. She tends to react suddenly and strongly with her emotions in unpleasant situations, and sometimes even her positive reactions are overly strong or dramatic. We are always working on self-regulation of her emotions, and it struck me that Clark’s sensory superpowers might feel similar to her lack of emotional control. I was inspired to take a new, more positive, approach to her unique struggles; to see her as a future superhero in training, with a lot of strength to offer the world.

I’ll say it again – I am so grateful for this book and the positive discussion it inspired in my family. And for the perspective we all gained. It would be an amazing tool in any classroom or family to help understand the strengths and weaknesses involved in SPD and in all of us. It’s so relatable and understandable. And so very inspiring and positive in a world where we all have hard things, but doing them is what makes us super.

 

Victoria

VictoriaVictoria by Daisy Goodwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

In 1837, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria – sheltered, small in stature, and female – became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.

Drawing on Victoria’s diaries as well as her own brilliant gifts for history and drama, Daisy Goodwin, author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter as well as creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria, brings the young queen even more richly to life in this magnificent novel.

My Review

I watched the Masterpiece show first and then picked this audio book up while I was impatiently waiting for season 3 to start. Listening was just like watching the show in my mind but with more detail. Very enjoyable and entertaining.

It also got me wondering about how true to life the telling actually is. So when I finished this one I looked into some other books about Queen Victoria. Ended up listening to Victoria a Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef. Also very interesting, less dramatized but I was still entertained particularly by the quotes directly from the writings of the people who were involved in the events. Reef painted a little different picture of Victoria than Goodwin. Less heroic. She also indicates Victoria’s first impression of Albert was favorable, more of a love at first sight interaction which is very different than Goodwin’s description. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle. I guess I’ll have to do some more reading to see if I can find out.

Victoria: Portrait of a Queen

Victoria: Portrait of a QueenVictoria: Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

Catherine Reef brings history vividly to life in this sumptuously illustrated account of a confident, strong-minded, and influential woman.

Victoria woke one morning at the age of eighteen to discover that her uncle had died and she was now queen. She went on to rule for sixty-three years, with an influence so far-reaching that the decades of her reign now bear her name—the Victorian period. Victoria is filled with the exciting comings and goings of royal life: intrigue and innuendo, scheming advisors, and assassination attempts, not to mention plenty of passion and discord.

My Review

Very enjoyable to listen to. I enjoyed the quotes taken from the writings of the people actually involved in the events. It was a very brief look at Queen Victoria’s whole life and left me wanting more information about what came before and after her.

I felt this book didn’t do a very good job of helping me understand what about Victoria’s reign made her so influential or so loved. I felt the author’s explanation was simply that Victoria reigned for a long time and a lot of changes happened in technology, culture, and rights during her time. I felt the author didn’t portray Victoria as really having been a vehicle for those things. More that she just happened to be alive and the queen as all those changes happened around her, sometimes with no connection to her actions and sometimes actually in spite of her actions. I wonder if another author or a more in depth look at Queen Victoria would be able to show she was more involved in the changes of the times? I’d be interested in a perspective that might be able to show me why her people loved her so much, what good she actually did for them and for the world.