What To Read Quicklist (Pre-K)

One of my favorite children’s picture book authors is Valeri Gorbachev (here’s a charming interview with the Brooklyn-based author/illustrator). If you see his name on the book, chances are it’s a sweet story about anthropomorphized- could I possibly have spelled that right the first time?- animals.  Here are my top 5:

  1. Catty Jane Who Hated the Rain My middle boy called this his favorite book FOR. YEARS. It was one of those books we checked out from the library every time.
  2. That’s What Friends Are For Everyone needs these guys to teach a class on what it means to be a friend.
  3. Shhh! A sweet book for a house with a new baby.
  4. Turtle’s Penguin Day A great book for school awareness.
  5. Christopher Counting A sweet tale for young counters everywhere!

The Boxtrolls (Guest Review)


This review is brought to you by the lovely 8 year old who lives in my house. We’ll call her C. for anonymity’s sake.

Book: The Boxtrolls by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. It’s best for kids in grades 4-6. Strong sense of humor and some gross language. There is a corresponding movie, but we haven’t watched it yet.


Dickens Three (DT): What do you think this book is about?

C: an 11 year old that has an awewsme adventure.

DT: What did you like about the book?

C:mostly every thing

DT: Was there anything you didn’t like about the book?

C:snatcher and his thieves that try to get the  innocent boxtrolls

DT: Is there anything Boxtrolls makes you think about or want to talk about?

C:at the end the dad stops liking cheese more than his daughter

DT: How many stars would you rate The Boxtrolls?


*We don’t write reviews for money, but for the love of books. If you buy Boxtrolls through the link above, the kid gets the money to buy more books.

Gregor the Overlander (Guest Review)

This review is brought to you by the lovely 8 year old who lives in my house. We’ll call her C. for anonymity’s sake.

Book: Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1) by Suzanne Collins. The book is the first in a series of five, best for kids in grades 4-6 but appropriate enough for some in K-3 *if they can handle scary scenes and some violence*.


Dickens Three (DT): What do you think this book is about?

C:a start of a series

DT: What did you like about the book?

C:timp and tic the cokroaches

DT: Was there anything you didn’t like about the book?

C:it wasa little scarey

DT: Is there anything Gregor makes you think about or want to talk about?

C:when tic saves boots life (boots is the name of a 2 year oid girl)

DT: How many stars would you rate Gregor the Overlander (book 1)?

C:4becose it wsa little groes



What to Read Quicklist (Baking Cookbooks)

  1. Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller is a serious cookbook for real bakers. Not only does this tome count as an intro to weightlifting, but the recipes are delicious and varied.
  2. The Pastry Queen: Royally Good Recipes from the Texas Hill Country’s Rather Sweet Bakery & Cafe by Rebecca Rather. The bakery might be gone, but the recipes survive! Shortbread cookies, Texas kolaches, and an assortment of muffin recipes make this one a keeper. It has baked goods AND savories.
  3. Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes by Joy Wilson. You know a cookbook is good when you check it out so many times back to back that you feel annoyed when the library wants it returned. This is my #1 sign that it’s time to bite the bullet and buy a cookbook. I really like the recipes on Joy Wilson’s blog, but it’s nice to have the instructions on the shelf instead of  constantly pulling up the internet. Her brown butter peach muffins are in heavy rotation at our house.
  4. Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour & Butter by Kate Lebo. This was the book that got me through my early attempts at pie. The main thing I like is that her ratios always work! Not too runny, with healthy doses of booze and reasonable amounts of sugar. I still use her all-butter crust as my mainstay.
  5. Cake Keeper Cakes: 100 Simple Recipes for Extraordinary Bundt Cakes, Pound Cakes, Snacking Cakes, and Other Good-to-the-Last-Crumb Treats by Lauren Chattman. Okay, hang with me on this one because the cover and title does not seem like a great foodie find. Make the oatmeal and applesauce cake though, and then tell me you aren’t willing to look passed the exterior (and shame on you for judging this book by its cover!).

Hannah Coulter (Review)

coulterHere’s the sad thing: 90% of me loved Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry for 166 out of 186 pages.  Sure, I had my persnickety criticisms and misgivings. The author- a man- was less than credible as the main voice- a woman- in the book. This is actually the #1 criticism  I heard from friends in response to my overwhelming praise, and I totally agree.

Secondly, there are certain lovely passages that could benefit from a lighter touch as far as feelings and themes are concerned. Sometimes I wanted to say, “We get it. Love is a room and they’re entering into it together by grace. We don’t actually need to hear this over and over again.” See, I told you. It’s a persnickety criticism.

But on page 166 I reached the chapter, “Okinawa”. This chapter was a hard-hitting and thought-provoking essay from Wendell Berry on the nature of war. I would have been happy to read it, but it needed to die on the cutting room floor of this novel and make its way  to a non-fiction collection. To cram it into Hannah Coulter was sort of a literary tragedy.

All these things aside, I still wholeheartedly recommend this book. It has more to say about the nature of community, tradition, and grief than any other book I’ve read. Hannah Coulter, in its best moments, makes me question my ideas of parenting, marriage, and membership in all the loveliest ways. It makes me want to dig deeply into the heartfelt sorrows and joys that this life has to give, and to leave “openhanded, with only the ancient blessing, ‘Good-bye. My love to you all.'”

If the Okinawa chapter were cut as it should’ve been, I could see granting this book 4/5 stars. As is, as of course it must be taken, I give 3.5/5 stars. Grab some friends to read this book together and talk about what it means to stay in one place, raise a family, live a full and good life. You’ll probably also want to start a garden.


** I don’t get paid to write reviews, but if you purchase the books via these Amazon links it will contribute a few pennies to fund my book habit.

What to Read Quicklist (Fiction)

  1. Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson. If you know us at all, then we’ve probably recommended this book, and not only this book but its two sequels as well. It’s an epistolary novel with an aging father and pastor (Ames) at the core. If you don’t love him and wish he belonged to you in some capacity by the end of the novel, then something is missing in your heart.
  2. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This book is darkness and light painted on a sweeping human canvas. If you can perservere through the hundred pages of French civil war in the middle, then this book has the power to change you. Classics are often lauded for a reason.
  3. The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel. This book has been on my favorites list for so long that I almost don’t remember what I loved about it. When I try to remember the story I come up with words like redemption, grace, and compassion. This book is about hard lives handled with gentleness, and I really just loved it.
  4. Family Happiness by Leo Tolstoy. Short stories are a beautiful thing! Tolstoy is going to gather all his Russian thoughtfulness and pack it into little novellas that will make you rethink marriage, family, and the good life in 100 pages or less.
  5. The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett. I’ve read every novel Ann Patchett has published because of this book. This book overwhelmed me, on completing the last page, with the feeling that this was a new story and one that I’d never heard before. Some writers are language craftspeople and some are storytellers. Ann Patchett is the latter. [She has a new novel called Commonwealth coming out in September. I may have squealed with joy when adding it to my wishlist.]

Rebecca Stead

Am I the only one who thinks the best way to encounter a new author is to binge-read more than one book from their roster? I was interested in Rebecca Stead initially from the Newberry list, so I started with “When You Reach Me .”


Review (When You Reach Me ): The book starts off pretty slow. Pretty real slow. All the clues and signs are there building toward a grand climactic realization- and it’s a g00d one- but the story very nearly lost me along the way.  This is admittedly an adult perspective. I only have so much patience for 6th grade insecurities.

3.5/5 stars and expect to talk to your 4-6th grader about crushes, socio-economic differences, and time travel. A great companion read would be Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

I probably wouldn’t have gone looking for “Goodbye Stranger,” but I’m so glad it was within reach. This young adult book is modern, but restrained.

Review (Goodbye Stranger): The true heart of the book is friendship- what it’s worth and how to keep it. The set of Bridge, Emily, and Tabitha is established early on and manages to survive the strains of 7th grade and flourish in the tough and tricky times. The love interests are there, but they are thoughtfully portrayed, and the slippery slope of cell phone photos was helpful to me as a parent.

I would hand “Goodbye Stranger” to a kid 7th grade and up and hope to talk about the following: cell phones, social justice, and friendship. 4/5 stars.


** I don’t get paid to write reviews, but if you purchase the books via these Amazon links it will contribute a few pennies to fund my book habit.