Selections from the Read Aloud Basket

I love, love, love that we are falling back into our read aloud groove. Is it always easy? Not so much. Do I sometimes sacrifice a bit of schoolwork for that time? Yes, yes, I do. Today was beautiful example of how I have to push through and purpose to not let reading aloud get bumped down the list.

Our morning, for some reason that I can’t figure out went from running smoothly to running behind. Then my Mr. Happy became Mr. Fussy Pants. I really needed to get grammar covered with Lydia and Hannah. Mary had a bit of writing I need to read and enjoy. Then there is that pesky Algebra to discuss. Those little people? Yes, they wanted lunch and they wanted it now. Hey! so did I!

No worries. Grammar will still be there in the afternoon. Writings and Algebra will be there as well. I got food on the table, rolled the office chair into the kitchen (most comfy nursing spot for this short momma), cuddled up with the little one, and read. Reading aloud is so refreshing for me. It was just what I needed to get our day flowing well again.

Enough of that rambling! We had quite the full basket this month. I have selected a few favorites to share.

Chapter Books/Children’s Fiction Novels

* The Magician’s Elephant (Kate DiCamillo) was finished up at lunch time today. This wasn’t a planned read aloud. My daughter found it at the library and thought my middle daughters would enjoy it. I opted to pre-read it and I am so glad that I did. Not because of objectionable material or mature topics, but The Magician’s Elephant was a simple, beautiful story of a young boy’s heart led to believe his sister is truly alive. A magician, an elephant, a policeman, a beggar and a few more characters help Peter. The mood and atmosphere of this book is cold, dark, and dreary at times. However, hope, the impossible….is always just ahead. We have enjoyed this as our lunch time read aloud.

* Lawn Boy (Gary Paulsen) was a relatively quick read that a dear friend of mine said that I must read to my children. Like the good friend that I am, I did just that. I read it and my children loved it. There was much laughter as we read about the Lawn Boy who went from having a long, boring summer to become quite the entrepreneur; all thanks to his grandfather’s old riding lawn mower. This is more than a light hearted summer tale. Stocks, business management, supply and demand….this a fun way to discuss a bit of economics with your children. However, we are all wondering, what was Lawn Boy’s name?

Up next? The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt. I have already read it and to appease the masses, I am going to read it aloud.

Picture Books


The Bunny Rabbit Show is the newest board book from Sandra Boynton. Mrs. Boynton’s works have been a favorite in our home for years. My oldest ones read to my younger ones now with same tone and rhythm that I have read them over the years. I don’t think we even need some of the books anymore. The Bunny Rabbit Show did not disappoint. Ten terrific rabbits all in a row but on quite an entertaining show. Martha, 2, often grabs the book and reads (or sings) it on her own. Just plain singing fun!

Mix It Up (Herve Tullet)is another favorite of my younger two; especially Martha. The concept of mixing colors is so very simple but so very fun when it becomes interactive. A tap here, press the pages together there, close your eyes and count to five….just a few of the ways to mix it up! I love that the pages are nice and thick to stand up to little hands and the smooshing and shaking they do to mix it up. Best of all, at the end, you of course must go mix it up and explore colors yourself!! We haven’t yet but I did pick up new paints so we would have all the colors and a few new brushes. Now to mix it up!!

Bang! Boom! Roar! A Busy Crew of Dinosaurs was a surprise favorite. I’m not sure who pulled it off the library shelf but this has been quite the hit. Rhyming text that highlights each letter of the alphabet sets a fun pace for this construction site story. The pages are full of all kinds of action on the site and kiddos will love the ending. Just what were those dinosaurs building? If that construction site wasn’t excitement enough, at the end you are given a list of items to hunt for in the pages of the books. Plain and simple fun!

Telephone (Mac Barnett) takes the childhood game of Telephone and sends it to the birds on a telephone wire. It all begins when Peter’s mother asks a fellow bird to tell Peter to fly home for dinner. As the message travels along the telephone line with a few unexpected birds (have you seen a turkey on your telephone line?) that message gets just a tiny bit distorted. Thankfully, wise old owl was at the end of the line and Pete just might make it home. A fun read enjoyed by all. It was not uncommon to hear kiddos tossing quotes from the book around.

And I have even more I’d love to share.  I think I may need another post.

What have you been reading aloud?

With Lee in Virginia Audio – A Review

While everyone in our home loves snuggling up with a good book in hand, we also appreciate and love audio books. Often you will find someone knitting while listening or perhaps drawing while listening to an audio version of a book. There are a few among us who enjoy the works of G. A. Henty, so how could we say no to the audio book: With Lee in Virginia  from Jim Hodges Productions? With a couple of the children studying the 1800s and the Civil War, this particular selection seemed perfect!

With Lee in Virginia from Jim Hodges Productions

G. A. Henty was the author of 122 books that take you on a journey through history. Along the way you will have adventure, deepen your knowledge of history, and learn about having character. Jim Hodges has taken over twenty of these books and made audio recordings that young and old alike can enjoy.

These audio books are recorded on a MP3 CD. This means that the CD will play on any computer CD drive, DVD player or MP3 compatible CD player. A standard CD player will not play a MP3 CD so check for compatibility before purchasing.  There is also a downloadable version available.


I chose With Lee in Virginia mainly for my 12 year old son. He is deep in the 1800’s and heading into the time of the Civil War. Since he has enjoyed reading Henty in the past, I thought this would a nice change of pace for his studies. Not only could Caleb listen to With Lee in Virginia but we could further extend his learning by using the With Lee In Virginia Study Guide.

Listen to Chapter 12 of With Lee in Virginia

My original plan was for Caleb to use this independently as he was traveling to work with his dad. Caleb would listen to With Lee in Virginia and then complete the study guide. There was a bit of scheduling changes so Caleb actually used the audio book and study guide at home. In hindsight, this was a much better option.

The study guide is broken into sections that line up perfectly with the chapters of the book. As each chapters was listened to, we could easily move into the study guide. The study guide consists of vocabulary for each chapter, comprehension questions, and then extra activities for further research and study.

For example, from Chapter Five a comprehension question would be ” What happens to several professors at West Point?” And an activity for further study/research in Chapter 6  is: Learn about the Battle of Bull Run and create a map.

Since Caleb was at home with me and to fit more in line with our style of learning, we opted to complete the study guide orally. Caleb would listen to the chapter and then we would discuss any words he didn’t know or understand and cover the questions as well. As time and/or interest allowed, Caleb would select different activities for further learning.

The study guides were written by a certified teacher (K-8) who minored in history. After a medical condition removed her from teaching, she had the opportunity to later homeschool her daughter. Not only is she a certified teacher but a homeschool mom as well!


Purchasing Information

With Lee in Virginia MP3 CD Audio Book is recommended for ages 8 and up. (Jim Hodges recommends ages 10 and up for reading the print copies.) Running time is 11 hours 20 minutes.

MP3 CD – $25.00 or the Downloadable Audio – $18

With Lee in Virginia Study Guide PDF  (58 pages) is available for $12

Our Thoughts

I must make a confession….I, personally, do not enjoy audio books. I struggle being “read to” by others. I suppose it is a side effect of so many years reading aloud? Since Caleb used the audio of the book, I felt it appropriate for him to share his thoughts.

“I really enjoy Henty books that I have read in the past. I’ve never read With Lee in Virginia though. This audio book was ok. The narrator didn’t really have any excitement or feeling in his voice when reading. I think it would be better if he read it differently. I think I’d rather read the book instead of listen.” Caleb – 12

When Caleb shared these thoughts with me, I wanted to get some other opinions. I had my older daughter listen (she enjoys Henty as well) and my husband (who listens to audio books almost daily) listened to portions of With Lee in Virginia as well. Both of them agreed with Caleb on the monotone quality of the reading.

I am sure that we are in the minority with this view. This is why it is so wonderful that you can listen to a sample chapter for the book. While we don’t expect a dramatized reading, we do enjoy when someone “reads with italics” as my daughter likes to say; meaning the emotion and mood of the story comes through the reading aloud.

I feel the study guide was a nice addition to the audio book. As our family is in the practice of discussing (or narrating) about our various studies, the discussion guide wasn’t a necessity. We had easy dialogue about what was happening in the story. The options for additional studies were nice with links to activities online. Always a plus when I don’t have to hunt down appropriate enrichment opportunities.

I think the study guide is best suited to the younger side of With Lee in Virginia listeners. My son, at 12, was not challenged by the vocabulary or questions. In the future, it might be nice to have an option for a study guide geared to upper middle – high school level students.

In closing, Henty books offer a great way to learn history through literature. Audio books are a great resource to utilize in your home and learning. Jim Hodges Productions offers not only Henty selections but others as well. Take a look around, listen to a few samples, and decide is this is a way to enhance your learning or the next audio book for a road trip. Also see what other Crew members had to say about With Lee in Virginia and other selections.


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What’s on my Nightstand – October 2014

What's On Your NightstandI have noticed that I have a problem. The list of books I want to read grows faster than I can read!!  What happened to those days of just sitting around with a good book and a cold drink?

I read a bit here, a chapter there, and then there is the rare occasion I get an hour or so of straight reading completed. Almost always I make time for a chapter before bed to help my mind quiet down so I can rest better.

So here are the readings I enjoyed over the past few weeks:

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo was not a planned read. One of my older daughters grabbed it off the shelf for my younger ones to enjoy. I felt a need to read it first and was surprised as this moving tale. Peter, an orphan, longs to find his sister; a sister that he has been told is dead. A fortune teller, a magician, an elephant all lead to a bit of hope during a cold, dreary, and dark season for Peter. Does his sister live? How will Peter find her if she is?

Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera is a  middle grade fiction nominee for the Cybils Awards. I was intrigued by the cover art and book synopsis. I must confess that I found this book to be a disappointment. I am thinking of reviewing all the books I read that are Cybils Nominees so I’m still trying to flesh out my thoughts on this one.

This past Sunday I spent the afternoon reading The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt. I have already recommended it to others. My children are prepared for this to be our next  read aloud. Set in the 1960s, Mr Schmidt does an amazing job of bringing the reader right into the heart of the story of Holling Hoodhood.  Moments of laughter and moments of heartbreak are weaved throughout the pages of Holling’s story. Middle school pranks, moments of maturity, relationship struggles, and a glimpse into the history of this time period presented so well for the audience. Loved this book!

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer got me. No other words. Such a bittersweet story of Grace as she deals with losing her mother and finding her way home. I did not want to put this down! I think Ms.Holczer did an amazing job of telling Grace’s story. Before I was even done, I knew I was passing this along to my oldest daughter (15). She agreed that it was a beautiful, bittersweet story. This is another nominee from the Cybils Award for middle school fiction.

I did step out of the children’s section of the library and grab an adult selection or two. The Confession by Robert Whitlow was a step into a bit of legal drama. Many years ago, I enjoyed reading this type of story. I was a bit disappointed with The Confession. The dialogue seemed stilted or forced at times. The storyline did not grab me and keep my interest. It was predictable to a point and I was so ready for it to end.I forced myself to finish it because I truly hate an unfinished story. I think it will be  while before I grab another legal drama.

In progress books are:

The Narnian (Alan Jacobs) is still on my nightstand. I am making slow, slow progress through this one. I do enjoy it but I have to take it in small bites. No problem with that as long as no one else requests it at the library!

Nest (Esther Ehrlich) is another Cybils Award nominee. I’ve had it for a few weeks and kept setting it to the side. My two oldest girls grabbed it and read it. Both have let me know that they did not enjoy it. This definitely intrigued me to pick it up and begin reading. I’m about a fourth of the way through and think I can see why my girls didn’t enjoy this read. Not sure of my thoughts yet.

Attributes of God (A. W. Pink) This is a slow read as I am reading it along with my oldest daughter. I’m just doing a chapter or two a week during my quiet time.

Five Points (John Piper) was started this past week while my son was in surgery. I’m pre-reading this before handing it to my older children. Hopefully it will be completed in a week or so.

Coming Up:

Breakfast Served Anytime (Sarah Combs) and Rose Under Fire (Elizabeth Wein) are both nominees in the Cybils Award; young adult fiction if I remember correctly.

Frankenstein is still on to be read list. I will at least get it started! Not sure what else will be added to the pile. I really want to get my in progress ones completed this coming month.

I’d love to hear what you have been reading! I’m always looking for new titles!