Category Archives: reading

5 New Family Picture Books We’re Loving

We’ve been cracking up at many new family- and friendship-related picture books lately. We highly recommend all of these, and they incorporate various family relationships (sibling, grandparents, adoption) and a WHOLE LOT of fun. Check these out at your library or local bookstore first!

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora – When the Bunny family finds baby Wolfie on their doorstep, Mom and Dad are smitten, but Dot is skeptical. How will they keep Wolfie from eating THEM ALL UP? But when Wolfie is threatened, Dot finds out how strong their sibling bond is. Adorable, hilarious, and the text and illustrations both add unique components to the story.

Excellent Ed by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach

Excellent Ed by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach – This recently-released picture book is seriously excellent. We LOVE it, and have reread it multiple times just in the few weeks it’s been out. The story structure is perfect, and readers will fall in love with Ed and relate with Ed’s struggle to feel like he fits in such an excellent family. The illustrator puts so much wonderful emotion into Ed’s expressions. A perfect family read!

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins – At very first read, I thought this book was just cute, but with further rereads, this book is so clever and the illustrations are SUPERB. My kids giggle and “aww” at this story over and over again. (Look for the sequel, Hotel Bruce, this fall!)

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson – Oh, this book. It’s beautifully written with descriptive language and just-right questions from CJ and responses from Nana about how different people live differently and how we can show love to all. Beautiful and totally worthy of the Newbery Award it won!

Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley

Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley – This fun picture book includes all the storied exaggeration we love from imaginative play. The illustrations combine vibrant colors along with a muted technique to show what’s imagined and what’s real. It ends up being a sweet story of sister togetherness. A fun read!

What family-oriented picture books is your family loving lately?

Disclosure: I am sharing about these books on my own accord and because we LOVE them, and we think you might love them too! All opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds

Book Review – The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds

I love when fiction tells such a relatable, powerful story that the reader has to consider their own lives, their own judgments/thoughts, and how to change the world around them because of actions told within a story.

When I find myself talking about a book to others around me while and after I read it, I know it’s impacting me in positive and challenging ways. The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds (Thomas Nelson/Blink, 2015) was one I found easy to want to talk about.

The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds

From the publisher:

Atticus Hobart couldn’t feel worse. Not only does he have the world’s most overactive imagination, he’s in love with a girl he can’t talk to, is the class bully’s personal punching bag, and to top it all off, his dad just left the family. Into this drama steps Mr. Looney, an older than dirt and crazier than insanity itself seventy-seven-year-old substitute English teacher with a very unconventional approach to teaching. But Atticus soon discovers there’s more to Mr. Looney’s methods than he’d first thought. And as Atticus begins to unlock the meaning behind his own name, he finds that his imagination can help him forge his own voice, and maybe-just maybe-show him that the power to face his problems was inside him all along.

My thoughts:

If I could give comparable tiles for this book, I’d actually liken it to something like the school-focused movie Stand and Deliver in many ways and even a little like Dead Poets Society in regards to the teacher (not necessarily so in plot, so don’t worry). The teacher, Mr. Looney, is an inspiring, interesting, unique character full of intrigue and wisdom (but wisdom shared in relatable and readable ways). The main character, Atticus, also offers much for readers to relate to — he’s not popular, he has struggles at home, he feels he’s unable to please his father and finds it hard to connect with possible friends.

The plot keeps the reader turning with action, questions, thoughtful observations and more. The author paces the information revealed and action very well, with high intensity scenes following by “quieter” scenes to allow the reader to recover and consider. While this isn’t a perfect book (I wondered why no one would see or hear one instance of bullying in the school … noise carried very easily in the halls of my high school; the ending felt a bit rushed though wrapped up satisfactorily without everything ending “perfectly”), it’s one that could spark important and needed conversations for ages 13ish and up. (Because of some tough themes, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend under 13, and definitely pre-read first for that age or younger.) The author weaves themes of bullying, acceptance, unconditional love, true community, the negative impact of seeking power, truth, true courage, and redemption in various ways.

Teachers (and parents) reading this book along with their students/kids can ask questions to gather what their readers feel about these realistic situations (with both school relationships and family relationships). The book also incorporates a bit of literature (namely, To Kill a Mockingbird, but also a bit more) and information about reading and writing/revising that could spur an educational unit along with the book.

“Courage is the ability to keep going no matter how hard life feels.” – p. 160

What is one of your (or your family’s) favorite books that cause to reflect and actually inspire change your own thoughts/actions?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a part of the BookLook blogger program in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates and GrapeVine Studies. If you click on an Amazon link or a GrapeVine Studies link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman

Celebrating the Small and Now {Book Review – Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman}

Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman

I had to read this book slowly.

And if a book makes me read slowly because I’m thinking, considering, reflecting, it often ends up being a 5-star book for me.

Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman (Revell, 2015) does exactly that. In this book, Emily focuses on what it means to “live small” and celebrate our smallness in the realm of living for and with our great big God. In her trademark style of poetic-meets-conversational, Emily introduces us to idea that the kingdom of God is “one inch above the ground,” meaning that the kingdom of God is “up,” yes, but it exists not in some too-far-to-reach place, but rather “right here in the moments were we live” (p. 14). She explains how Tuesday–the seemingly most ordinary day of the week–is exactly the kind of moments we live our lives. We might be in the habit to looking to the future or thinking of the mountaintop moments or wondering what to even celebrate/fear next, but most of our lives are spent in “ordinary time.” Ordinary time is time that is still marked, still real, still important, even if nothing “big” is happening at the moment.

Once Emily has established these perspectives (which she does much better than I just summarized above), she splits the book into essays, stories, thoughts, and questions in five parts: Tuesday (ordinary) home, Tuesday work, Tuesday people (community), Tuesday soul, and Tuesday plus all the moments beyond Tuesday.

Emily’s writing is a beautiful, pleasant, real, thoughtful blend of logical and poetic. Her writing doesn’t take a teaching tone, but rather a “let’s walk together” tone. Or, in this case, a “let’s sit down on this bench and breathe” tone. When reading any of Emily’s work, it’s obvious how much she reads the Word, studies, reflects, and does the hard work of communing to learn from others around her. She reflects all of these habits in the way she writes and the way she shares her own struggles, questions, triumphs, and experiences. There were joyful things to read and there were hard (but still joy-spurred) things to read, like on page 173:

“Walking by faith means being willing not to know, never to know why or how things happen the way they do, and to be willing to release my tight hold on the big finish I thought would come.”

She writes on fear, on community (and how hard yet how important it is), on anxiety, on being led by love, on embracing our smallness because small doesn’t mean unimportant (for even God decides to live and love in our smallness). Simply Tuesday is a book that requires you to reflect, to study stories in the Bible and in your life more, to pause to allow room to grow. It’s a beautiful book, and one I recommend reading by yourself, then perhaps following that with reading it again with a friend.

What have you struggled with in learning about God’s ways versus your own expectations? What has surprised you about the gift of “ordinary” time?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a part of the launch team in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates and GrapeVine Studies. If you click on an Amazon link or a GrapeVine Studies link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Irish Meadows by Susan Anne Mason

Book Review – Irish Meadows by Susan Anne Mason

Irish Meadows by Susan Anne Mason

About the book (from the publisher):

Irish Meadows (Bethany House, July 2015)

Faced with an uncertain future, sometimes all you have left is the courage to dream.

Brianna and Colleen O’Leary know their Irish immigrant father expects them to marry well. Recently he’s put even more pressure on them, insinuating that the very future of their Long Island horse farm, Irish Meadows, rests in their ability to land prosperous husbands. Both girls, however, have different visions for their futures.

Brianna, a quiet girl with a quick mind, dreams of attending college. Vivacious Colleen, meanwhile, is happy to marry—as long as her father’s choice meets her exacting standards of the ideal groom. When former stable hand Gilbert Whelan returns from business school and distant relative Rylan Montgomery visits Long Island during his seminary training, the two men quickly complicate everyone’s plans.

As the farm slips ever closer to ruin, James O’Leary grows more desperate. It will take every ounce of courage for both sisters to avoid being pawns in their father’s machinations and instead follow their hearts. And even if they do, will they inevitably find their dreams too distant to reach?

My thoughts:

If you’re looking for a fast, romantic-y read with a hint of Irish history, this would be a book you could enjoy.

The author picks an interesting time period (1911) with a family whose patriarch built up their social/economic standing from poor immigrant to highly-sought after horse trainers, and includes a mix of rural horse farm setting along with city setting. I loved the short glimpses we read in the barn and around the horses, and honestly wished more of the action and character development occurred there.

I also appreciated the author’s efforts to include “uncommon” dreams (for the time period) of education for women and women’s choice in marriage (over societal choice). The reader is doused with backstory right away in the first couple of chapters, which provides a bit of a slow start to the book. I also feel some of the conflicts and conversions (Colleen’s, in particular) are resolved at times too quickly and the ending wraps up a little too perfectly to be realistic. Another major relational conflict has almost too much back-and-forth miscommunication that it becomes a bit tiring, and somewhat unlike the characters were in the first two-thirds of the book. That said, the book covers a solid smattering of themes, including trust, courage to stand up for values, protecting others (and the balance between overprotecting), various definitions and types of family connections, and awareness of when we’re relying on ourselves for solutions or turning to God for His guidance. The author incorporates a range of emotions many readers will be able to relate to while reflecting on the “what ifs” posed.

Litfuse and the author are hosting a Kindle Fire giveaway! Click the image below to learn more.

Irish Meadows

What do you like to see in pacing and conflicts in romance-focused Christian fiction?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the Litfuse Publicity Group as a part of their blogger program in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Picture Book Biographies Instagram Series {undergodsmightyhand.com}

28 Awesome Picture Book Biographies

Back in February, I did an Instagram series of 28 mini-reviews of picture book biographies. I loved reading for that series and sharing those books, and I’m finally getting to list all of the books in one place here!

Picture books are an awesome medium for biographies because they can inform, encourage, tell an amazingly relatable story, and inspire all in 1500 words or less (and usually 1000 words or less). They’re useful for people/social studies in classrooms/homeschool, as well as introductions to special events or topics. Plus, most are written uniquely or beautifully and can be great mentor texts for kid writers and grown-up writers!

Read below for the title/author/illustrator for each book, plus a link to my mini-review on Instagram for each book.

Picture Book Biographies Instagram Series {undergodsmightyhand.com}

28 Awesome Picture Book Biographies

Basketball Belles by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins

Basketball Belles by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins (Holiday House, 2011) – My mini-review

Before John was a Jazz Giant - Carole Boston Weatherford, Sean Qualls

Before John was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Henry Holt, 2008) – My mini-review

Eleanor, Quiet No More - Doreen Rappaport, Gary Kelley

Eleanor, Quiet No More by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Gary Kelley (Disney-Hyperion, 2009) – My mini-review

Wilma Unlimited - Kathleen Krull, David Diaz

Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2000) – My mini-review

Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! - Jonah Winter, Kevin Hawkes

Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Arthur A. Levine books, 2012) – My mini-review

Nelson Mandela - Kadir Nelson

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson (Katherine Tegen Books, 2013) – My mini-review

Ben Franklin's Big Splash - Barb Rosenstock, S.D. Schindler

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Calkins Creek, 2014) – My mini-review

When Marian Sang - Pam Munoz Ryan, Brian Selznick

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2002) – My mini-review

Rosa - Nikki Giovanni, Bryan Collier

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Henry Holt, 2007) – My mini-review

On a Beam of Light - Jennifer Berne, Vladimir Radunsky

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky (Chronicle, 2013) – My mini-review

The Noisy Paint Box - Barb Rosenstock, Mary GrandPre

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPré (Knopf, 2014) – My mini-review

The Tree Lady - H. Joseph Hopkins, Jill McElmurry

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry (Beach Lane Books, 2013) – My mini-review

The Boy Who Loved Math - Deborah Heiligman, LeUyen Pham

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Roaring Book Press, 2013) – My mini-review

Words Set Me Free - Lesa Cline-Ransome, James E. Ransome

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon and Schuster, 2012) – My mini-review

The Iridescence of Birds - Patricia MacLachlan, Hadley Hooper

The Iridescence of Birds: A Story about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Roaring Book Press, 2014) – My mini-review

The Camping Trip that Changed America - Barb Rosenstock, Mordicai Gerstein

The Camping Trip that Changed America by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein (Dial, 2014) – My mini-review

Queen of the Falls - Chris Van Allsburg

Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg (HMH Books, 2011) – My mini-review

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library - Barb Rosenstock, John O'Brien

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by John O’Brien (Calkins Creek, 2013) – My mini-review

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise - Jan Pinborough, Debby Atwell

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debby Atwell (HMH Books, 2013) – My mini-review

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? - Tanya Lee Stone, Marjorie Priceman

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Henry Holt, 2013) – My mini-review

When the Beat was Born - Laban Carrick Hill, Theodore Taylor III

When the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III (Roaring Book Press, 2013) – My mini-review

The Right Word - Jen Bryant, Melissa Sweet

The Right Word by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans, 2014) – My mini-review

Mama Miti - Donna Jo Napoli, Kadir Nelson

Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon and Schuster, 2010) – My mini-review

Seeds of Change - Jen Cullerton Johnson, Sonia Lynn Sadler

Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler (Lee and Low, 2010) – My mini-review

Sojourner Truth's Step-Stomp Stride - Andrea Davis Pinkney, Brian Pinkney

Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Disney, 2009) – My mini-review

Manfish - Jennifer Berne, Eric Puybaret

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Eric Puybaret (Chronicle, 2008) – My mini-review

The Streak - Barb Rosenstock, Terry Widener

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Terry Widener (Calkins Creek, 2014) – My mini-review

Emmanuel's Dream - Laurie Ann Thompson, Sean Qualls

Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Schwartz and Wade, 2015) – My mini-review

Even more great picture book biographies have come out since I did this series, and more are being published in the future! What are some of your family’s favorite picture book biographies?

Disclosure: I either own the books above or checked each out from our library system. I was not given any for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates and GrapeVine Studies. If you click on an Amazon link or a GrapeVine Studies link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.