Ashtown Burials – N. D. Wilson

Up until the summer of 2015, my children and I were living under a rock and oblivious to the author, N. D. Wilson. The rock was rolled aside when I brought home Boys of Blur and read it aloud. We all enjoyed it and “Read a book, yo!” is still a favorite family slogan.

It has been a year since we spent time with Charlie and Cotton. We jumped right into The 100 Cupboards series and had quite the adventure with Henry York. It is continually brought home from the library to be enjoyed again and again. A little Crazy Berry Juice was called for after a reading of Leepike Ridge. We just recently finished the three books in the Ashtown Burials series.

Cyrus, Antigone, Nolan, Rupert, Niffy…they have become treasured friends. Reading the Ashtown Burials was a time of “read, read, and read because we have to know how this book ends” and “I don’t want this to end!”  While targeted at the 8 to 12 year old readers, this series is perfect for a family read aloud.

Ashtown Burials gives the perfect blend of excitement, adventure, history, family, and friendship. All of this brought together by a wonderful cast of characters that will soon be like old friends. Conversations about the Smiths happens regularly around our table.  There have been discussions on good vs evil,  immortality and death and what living truly means. We have laughed over the antics of Cyrus and love his relationship with Rupert.

Not to ruin this series for those who have not read it, but the ending of Empire of Bones (Book 3) was bittersweet for me. It was what I expected for one character but it still was tough one to take. It led to some of the above mentioned discussions.

Don’t ask my children to choose between Ashtown Burials or The 100 Cupboards. Some will groan in distress and other will refuse to answer such an unfair question. It gets even better if you ask them to choose between characters: Cyrus or Henry? Rupert or Uncle Frank? It is great fun as a parent to have this small moments of torture.

Across the board, Mr. Wilson has become a treasured author in our home. Wilson’s writing “makes you feel like you are right there watching everything happen”.  One of my teens has declared Wilson one of the best authors ever. We might be some of his biggest fans.

If you happen to live under a rock like us and haven’t read the Ashtown Burials, we highly recommend it. Hopefully it won’t be long before Book IV: The Silent Bells will be published.

Flying Cats, Rainy Days, and a Tribe of Kids

Flying cats? Rainy days? Tribe of Kids? Yes, this could totally be an afternoon at our house. No, I’m not kidding. However, as exciting as our days might be this is a peek into our stack of picture books that we have enjoyed lately. I have many books to share but thought I’d highlight a few favorites before they head back to the library.

Caramba – Marie-Louise Gay – As soon as I began reading this one, my children were asking if this was the same author/illustrator that wrote Stella and Sam. We might have a few Stella and Sam fans here. Caramba is just your typical furry, fluffy cat that looks fabulous in suspenders. Caramba just has one problem. He can’t do what all the other cats can do. Fly. Poor Caramba. He tries and tries to fly like all the other cats but from landing on his face in the grass to crashing into Grandpa’s lap, flying isn’t working out well for Caramba. Cousins step in to help Caramba learn to fly. Unfortunately the lesson doesn’t go quite as planned. It all ends with a huge splash.

Perhaps Caramba was written to celebrate differences and to encourage us to embrace our individuality. Or not? We just enjoyed a fun story about flying cats, trying hard when things are a bit difficult, and the value of a good friend. And, sadly, our cats here don’t fly either.

Puddle – Hyewon Yum – There is nothing like a rainy day to make us a little grumpy at times, right? Rain can make a day seem so dull and dreary. Then the boredom sets in  and nothing indoors will do. Until mom brings out a bit of paper and crayons. A mom and her young son end up having great fun taking turns drawing pictures of what they would do in the rain. After creating such a delightful picture, even including jumping in puddles, what else could they do but go out in the rain? A picture comes to life!

Such a simple, quick read but so enjoyable. An excellent read for a rainy day especially if you an go outside after reading. It would also work well to encourage a bit of art. Children could take turns drawing what they would do at the park, in the backyard, or in the snow. Then make their creations come to life!

There is a Tribe of Kids – Lane Smith – Every week or two, I go through the New Books listings on my library’s home page. Most of the time I have particular books I am looking for but sometimes I’m just browsing for a book or two that catches my eye. This is how I stumbled across There is a Tribe of Kids. For several years, we have called our family by the title of Tribe. How could I resist this title?!?  It turned out to be a favorite book that we have read and looked at over and over again.

Simple text presents various groupings of animals to a young boy: bed of clams, parade of elephants, formation of rocks, and of course a tribe of kids. The beauty of this book is not only in its simplicity of text but the lovely illustrations; charming and sometimes funny when you notice the details. This is perhaps what has drawn my children to this book again and again. My almost two year old loves to flip through the pages and it inspired my ten year old to create a few sketches of her own. She loved the style of the tribe of kids. A beautiful read that appeals to a variety of ages.  It shouldn’t have been surprising that this book has become a favorite. We are fans of Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green. A beautiful, sweet story that shares about aging and memories.

Drawn by Hannah – 10



Salt to the Sea

Most of my personal reading is unplanned and driven by my mood. Over the last several years my reading tastes and preferences have expanded and grown for which I am thankful. Naturally a great deal of my reading time is spent with selections from the Children’s and Young Adult areas. What I have found surprising is that I am constantly reading books that share about people and events during World War II. It is most definitely unplanned yet I find myself captured by these stories.

During a recent library visit, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys caught my eye.  Between Shades of Gray by this same author had been on my to read list but I had to return it before I reached it in my pile. I grabbed Salt to the Sea and determined that I would bump it to the top of my stack.

With Salt to the Sea, we journey with four young people to one of the greatest maritime tragedies but a tragedy that is not known by most. Four refugees, all carrying heavy, heartbreaking secrets and burdens, are all traveling to gain passage on the Wilhelm Gustloff. At one time the Wilhelm has been a luxury ship but now it would serve as the means of safety and hope for thousands..

Florian, Joana, Emilia, and Alfred. Four young people who will capture your interest and some your heart. Each person is telling their story; the book switching from character to character. This not only allows you to see the character from their own perspective, but also gain the insight of how they are viewed by those around them. It allows for great depth in the characters. The secrets and the burdens they are carrying are slowly peeled back layer by layer. This can be quite gut wrenching for the reader. So quickly I came to love some of these characters.

Salt to the Sea is set during a tragic, horrific time in our history. So much pain, death, suffering, loss. As you read the stories of these four young people, there will be pain, sadness, despair, and loss. But there is also beautiful hope. Clearly you see forgiveness, strength, determination, friendship, sacrifice, and love. This time period seems to highlight man’s evilness and depravity. However, it is countered with such love and goodness.

Salt to the Sea reminded me much of my reading experience with All the Light We Cannot See and Code Name: Verity. Powerful, powerful stories that reveal so much about us as people and our capabilities of hate and love. And in the end…hope. Always hope.

I quickly passed this along to my 17 and 15 year old daughters. I will wait a bit before allowing my twelve year old to read it. I do highly recommend this for mature teens and adults. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have read Salt to the Sea!