How to get books when the libraries are closed…

Coronavirus library closure

Please share this with your fellow-book-lovers!

It seems like the entire country is shutting down thanks to COVID-19! One of the recent shutdowns that is directly affecting me is the closure of my local library system.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! LOL…

I use the library all of the time to create and update curriculum schedules, besides feeding my voracious book addiction! When I was homeschooling, I used it even more (feeding 3 young minds is a full-time job!) and we used to come home with a trunk-load of books on a regular basis. If you are wondering how you are going to keep your homeschool going when the libraries close, I have a few tips for you on keeping the readers in your family happy. ūüôā

  • Research the electronic resources your library has access to such as:Hoopla

Hoopla¬†‚Äď

Hoopla Digital provides a wide range of digital content and allows library patrons to download or stream media content for free. Hoopla has videos, books, music, and graphic novels available!

Overdrive¬†and Libby¬†‚Äď Overdrive gives you access to tons of e-books and audiobooks. Use the¬†free Libby app¬†to sign into multiple libraries or use more than one card for each library.Libby app

Libby can also send books to a Kindle and show you all of your loans and holds on a single shelf (even if you are using more than one library’s access to Overdrive).

FlipsterFlipster¬†‚Äď You can check out digital versions of magazines from Flipster. What‚Äôs available will vary from library to library, but there are usually some really great offerings like Time, craft magazines, Consumer Reports, Babybug, Cricket, cooking magazines, health & nutrition magazines, and more!

RBdigital 
‚Äď This library subscription gives you access to audiobooks, ebooks, videos (including videos from The Great Courses), magazines, and comics.

rbdigitalCloud Library – See if your library has a subscription! You can get tons of popular books to read on your computer, tablet, or phone.

cloudLibrary

A small sample of books taken from the cloudLibrary homepage.

 

The Amazon Ecosystem

 
  • Use a¬†Kindle¬†or other tablet and¬†purchase Kindle books at discounted prices. Ebooks are often less expensive than physical books. Some classic books are also FREE. I shop for books all the time via Amazon and I LOVE my Kindle. Since my library closed down, I’m going to be getting a lot of digital books in the months to come.

  • Kindle Unlimited
     has a 30-day free trial and sometimes has special deals where you can get a 3-month subscription for 99 cents! A subscription gives you access to the Kindle Unlimited Library of 1.4 million titles in eBook and audiobook format. Some of the books in our language arts program are free through this subscription like the books by Brian P. Cleary.

  • Amazon‚Äôs Free Time Unlimited¬†gives kids access to books, apps, and videos for an inexpensive subscription. Try one month for free to see if the books available are a match for the program you wish to use. Note: The iOS version of the app only gives you access to books and movies. You need the Android version to access apps/games and other features. Some of the books in our Guest Hollow programs are featured in¬†Free Time Unlimited¬†(at the time of this writing) like¬†An Ambush of Tigers, What do Authors Do?, National Geographic Readers: Sea Turtles, Eye to Eye, The Trojan Horse,¬†and¬†Phineas Gage.
  • Use Audible for audiobooks. Try it out for free for 30 days and get TWO free books you can add to your homeschool library. Audible is great for reluctant readers or for listening to ‚Äúon the go.‚ÄĚ
  • Try the free trial for the Amazon-owned¬†ComiXology app. One of our customers shared that she was able to get two free comics for our American History Curriculum with her 30-day free trial!

Other Subscriptions and Online Freebies

 

  • Epic Digital LibraryEpic!¬†is a digital library for kids 12 & under. You can instantly access 35,000 books, learning videos, and more. They have a 30-day free trial and right now are offering FREE access through the end of the school year (June 30, 2020) by teacher invitation. There is a nice selection of books and comics that can be read via a computer or tablet/phone.
  • FunBrain books
    FunBrain books – You can read a variety of books via FunBrain like Judy Moody, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and more!
  • Storyline OnlineStoryline Online The SAG-AFTRA Foundation‚Äôs award-winning children‚Äôs literacy website, Storyline Online, streams videos featuring celebrated actors reading children‚Äôs books alongside creatively produced illustrations. Readers include Viola Davis, Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, James Earl Jones, Betty White and dozens more. (Thanks to my daughter Hannah for sharing this one!)
  • scribdScribd¬†allows you to subscribe and borrow tons of eBooks, magazines, audiobooks, and various documents (like sheet music). You can get a 30-day free trial. I‚Äôve used Scribd several times to borrow books when creating Guest Hollow curricula. It‚Äôs saved me a bundle!scribd
  • Open LibraryOpenlibrary.org¬†lets you borrow hundreds of thousands of books in digital format. You can read the books online or download them in ePub, PDF, text, and sometimes Kindle format. A lot of the books in the Guest Hollow programs can be found at the Openlibrary website like¬†A Patriot‚Äôs History of the United States,¬†Colonial Living,¬†The Cartoon Guide to Genetics, and many more.
  • Internet ArchiveArchive.org¬†has lots of free books, magazines, movies, software, music, and more. You can search and see if it has the book or magazine you need in a digital format.
  • Free books online
    Project Gutenburg
    – Check out this library of over 60,000 free eBooks in a variety of formats. You can read them online, via a Kindle, tablet, phone, etc.

Used Book Websites

There are lots of websites besides Amazon where you can get used books if you need to have a few books in hand vs. digital books. Pay attention to the recent recommendations about virus spread via surfaces to know if this is the right option for you. ūüėČ

AbeBooks.com. Thousands of booksellers - millions of books.

Thankfully, there are so many options for reading that don’t require anyone to leave the house. I’ve already checked out a ton of books for my Kindle and will be settling in for some great reading during this time of family and reflection! If you have any go-to resources for books, let us know by sharing a comment! Please also feel free to share this post!

P.S. Don’t forget to check out our free pack of printables to keep your kiddos busy and entertained!
https://guesthollow.com/store/shop/stay-at-home-sampler-pack/

 



How to Save Money When Using a Literature Based Curriculum

literature-based curriculum - How to save money?

Using a literature-based curriculum is one of the best ways (in my opinion) to engage students. It steers clear of boring textbooks, adds variety, and builds retention. While it may be one of the best ways to engage a student’s interest, it can also really engage your pocketbook!

I homeschooled my children for 20+ years, and during that time we used (and created) LOTS of literature-based programs. We were also always on a tight budget. In creating curricula for Guest Hollow I haven’t forgotten the struggle to balance what’s best for your kids with what’s best for your budget!

In this post, I’m going to share ways of obtaining the books for a literature-based curriculum without breaking the bank…

Use the Library

This may seem like the most obvious way of saving the money, but there are lots of specific tips for making the most out of this free resource!

  • Install the Library Extension for the Chrome browser.Library Extension for Chrome
    This free extension can check your library’s online catalog while you are browsing sites like Amazon and Goodreads, and it will display the availability of an item on the same page. Here is a screenshot of the extension in action on an Amazon page. If you click on it, you can see a larger version. The extension is featured on the right side of the page:

library-extension-screenshot

Click on the picture to see a larger size.

I am a member of several local libraries. The extension checks all of my libraries – both the physical copies and e-books. I can click on the “borrow” button to go straight to the library and check the book out. This is one of my FAVORITE money-saving resources!

The authors of the plugin are also really friendly and helpful. One of my library systems wasn’t in their database. I wrote an email requesting it, and it was added literally within 30 minutes. I can’t recommend this plugin enough! I highly recommend you look at the Library Extension’s support page. Even though it’s free, this extension is worth a little extra thank you!

  • Research the electronic resources your library has access to such as:Hoopla

Hoopla 

Hoopla Digital provides a wide range of digital content and allows library patrons to download or stream media content for free. Hoopla has videos, books, music, and graphic novels available!

Overdrive and Libby – Overdrive gives you access to tons of e-books and audiobooks. Use the free Libby app to sign into multiple libraries or use more than one card for each library.Libby appLibby can also send books to a Kindle and show you all of your loans and holds on a single shelf (even if you are using more than one library’s access to Overdrive).

FlipsterFlipster – You can check out digital versions of magazines from Flipster. What’s available will vary from library to library, but there are usually some really great offerings like Time, craft magazines, Consumer Reports, Babybug, Cricket, cooking magazines, health & nutrition magazines, and more!

RBdigital
– This library subscription gives you access to audiobooks, ebooks, videos (including videos from The Great Courses), magazines, and comics.

rbdigital

  • Use your library’s inter-library loan program. This will allow you to check out books that aren’t available in your local library system. Be careful, though! Sometimes this service costs a few dollars per book or, if it’s free, you can rack up nasty fines if you turn in these books late.
  • Make requests. If your library doesn’t have a book, there is usually a way to request it for purchase. Our library system purchased a bunch of books I wanted to read while creating the High School American History curriculum.
  • See if you qualify for an educator’s card. Some libraries have a card for educators that allows longer checkout times and lower fines.
  • Consider joining a library that isn’t local for access to their e-books and digital resources. Some libraries will allow someone who is not in their area to have a library card if they are willing to pay a yearly fee. You can then use the card to access digital items and subscriptions. Click here to check out an article about libraries with non-resident borrowing privileges.¬†Do a Google search to find other libraries that allow this.

The Amazon Ecosystem

There are quite a few online resources that can help you save your pennies via the Amazon ecosystem!  Also, when you click on and then shop through our Amazon links, you help support Guest Hollow (we get a small commission)!


  • Kindle Unlimited
    has a 30-day free trial and sometimes has special deals where you can get a 3-month subscription for 99 cents! A subscription gives you access to the Kindle Unlimited Library of 1.4 million titles in eBook and audiobook format. Some of the books in our language arts program are free through this subscription like the books by Brian P. Cleary. I’ve found some really great books through K.U. for the upcoming high school geography curriculum!

  • Amazon’s Free Time Unlimited gives kids access to books, apps, and videos for an inexpensive subscription. Try one month for free to see if the books available are a match for the program you wish to use. Note: The iOS version of the app only gives you access to books and movies. You need the Android version to access apps/games and other features. Some of the books in our Guest Hollow programs are featured in Free Time Unlimited¬†(at the time of this writing) like An Ambush of Tigers, What do Authors Do?, National Geographic Readers: Sea Turtles, Eye to Eye, The Trojan Horse,¬†and¬†Phineas Gage.
  • Use Audible for audiobooks. Try it out for free for 30 days and get TWO free books you can add to your homeschool library. Audible is great for reluctant readers or for listening to “on the go.” Quite a few of our customers purchase some audio books to use with our curricula, especially the high school courses like Chemistry in the Kitchen and American History.
  • Use a Kindle or other tablet and purchase Kindle books at discounted prices. Ebooks are often less expensive than physical books. Some classic books are also FREE. The Kindle also has a feature where you can tap any word to see an instant definition and save it in the Kindle Vocabulary Builder. Kindle books can also be less intimidating to reluctant readers and there is also a special font for Dyslexics. Some Kindles also have a text-to-speech feature that can read books to your student. Kindles and eReaders are a great resource when using a literature-based curriculum.
  • Try the free trial for the Amazon-owned¬†ComiXology app. One of our customers shared that she was able to get two free comics for our American History Curriculum with her 30-day free trial!
  • Look for used versions of the books you need (see the screenshot highlighted in yellow):
    used-books
    You can save a LOT of money purchasing used books on Amazon.

Other Subscriptions and Online Freebies

scribdScribd allows you to subscribe and borrow tons of eBooks, magazines, audiobooks, and various documents (like sheet music). You can get a 30-day free trial. I’ve used Scribd several times to borrow books when creating Guest Hollow curricula. It’s saved me a bundle!scribd

 

Openlibrary.org¬†lets you borrow hundreds of thousands of books in digital format. You can read the books online or download them in ePub, PDF, text, and sometimes Kindle format. A lot of the books in the Guest Hollow programs can be found at the Openlibrary website like A Patriot’s History of the United States, Colonial Living, The Cartoon Guide to Genetics, and many more.Open Library

Archive.org has lots of free books, magazines, movies, software, music, and more. You can search and see if it has the book or magazine you need in a digital format.Internet Archive

Used Book Websites

There are lots of websites besides Amazon where you can get used books. Two of our customer’s favorites are:

AbeBooks.com. Thousands of booksellers - millions of books.

After researching them (and seeing how great they are) we became affiliates for both. Please bookmark this page and click through the links if you plan to use AbeBooks or Thriftbooks for your used book purchases! We’ll get a small commission. ūüôā <3

Other Online Resources

  • https://buynothingproject.org/ – No trades or swaps are allowed via Buy Nothing Groups – just gifts that are freely given. You may be able to find (and share!) some homeschooling books and resources.
  • Paperbackswap.com and other book swap sites – List books you would like to swap, mail it out, and then you can choose from the other books listed on the site. You pay for the postage on books you ship out. Books you receive come to you postage-paid!

Looking Locally

Don’t forget to look at local thrift stores, homeschool consignments stores, and yard sales! Try to keep a list on hand when you are out and about with the titles of the books you are looking for.

Planning Wisely

  • Every Guest Hollow curriculum comes with a printable book list to help you with your planning and shopping. Some of the book lists even rank the books in order of importance to help you potentially cull some titles out, if necessary, for time and/or budget constraints.

    Guest Hollow homeschool curriculum book list

    Screenshot from the Chemistry in the Kitchen book list. Notice the timeframe of the book’s use is marked (weeks 1-2). There are also boxes to check to help you decide whether each resource is something you need to buy or borrow, as well as the format (physical book, e-book, audio book, etc.).

  • Purchase books a “chunk” at a time. No one says you have to get every single book all at once. You can purchase or borrow books on an as-needed basis. Get “spine” books and books that are used multiple weeks at the beginning of the year. Separate your other purchases into more manageable bits and pieces in 4-week intervals or so, if possible.

If you are using a different curriculum, check out your curriculum’s boards, homeschool groups, and Facebook groups to see if buying and selling of books is allowed and encouraged.

Using a literature-based curriculum like Guest Hollow can take a bit more work when you are gathering materials (since we don’t offer book packages you can click on and buy in one swoop), but there is the potential to save SO much money! What homeschooler doesn’t like that? ūüėČ Using the tips I’ve shared above will hopefully help you do the best not only for your child’s education but also for your pocketbook!

Don’t forget to pin and share this post! Spread the Guest Hollow love! Let me know in the comments if you have any other money-saving ideas! I would love to read them!

Homeschooling with Guest Hollow

Y.A. Book Review: The Light Between Worlds

Light Between Worlds Book ReviewI had a lot of great expectations for The Light Between Worlds and while some of the writing was beautiful and poetic, it just didn’t come together for me. Instead it felt like a recycled Narnia but dripping with sadness and lacking in the magical, wonderful quality of that series. The fantasy portion of the story is told via a series of flashbacks that feel like you are reading a newspaper instead of being immersed in a world. The real-life portion of the story is a constant parade of unhappiness, dark thoughts, self-harm, and the constant same longing and strained sister relationship that got tired after awhile. It’s like the same thing over and over and over.

The story starts out with 3 siblings running to their bomb shelter during an air raid in England during WW2. The youngest sister Evelyn wishes to be somewhere else and suddenly they are in a forest with a magical stag (Cervus). She is happy to be there, but her older sister Phillipa is a bit more reluctant. From there you get a little bit of a description of the children wandering around in the woods for two weeks. Besides some beautiful descriptions, there is really no meat and potatoes, and everything feels totally orchestrated and somehow sterile. The characters in the woodland are not developed and barely mentioned. They feel like they were recycled from a fairytale: barefoot woodlanders, tree and water spirits, etc. There was a lot of potential there, but besides barely mentioning these creatures, there was no more substance to them. The dialogue felt stilted and just jumped into events you totally don’t care about because there is no development of the world or situation.

The story jumps back-and-forth between past flashbacks about the Woodland to the present. I would have liked the author to spend some time in the past where things could have been magical, especially with her skill at writing descriptions. Most of the book is really centered on the present, though – with Evelyn longing to go back to the Woodland and feeling very out of place and unhappy in her life as a child again in England. She has what seems to me a weird and unhealthy relationship with her sister (who is away at an American college). She is always moping about wishing she was in the other world that she feels is her home – not the one she was born to. She is always moping about over her sister, as well. In the process of said moping she participates in self-harm. She also develops a relationship with a kind boy, Tom. I probably liked Tom’s character the most out of everyone in the book. He is sweet and accepting of Evelyn, even when it’s clear she is distressed/depressed, etc.

The flashbacks during this portion of the book felt worthless to me. I didn’t care about any character in the past as none of them were fleshed out. Cervus was a recycled Aslan. I didn’t care about the war in that world, either. There were no real details! Again, it felt like reading about everything in a newspaper. “Here are the bare details of what’s going on. Let’s throw in a sword or two and an evil guy that you don’t really know anything about because we are just briefly mentioning him. blah blah blah. The real-life world was where the book spent much more time on details and character building.

At one point in the book Evelyn disappears and the book switches over to Evelyn’s sister Phillipa’s viewpoint. This part of the book is a bit more interesting because you wonder…

SPOILER:

if Evelyn has killed herself or actually managed to somehow return to the Woodlands. You find out that Evelyn managed to go back to the Woodlands. Her sister appears there for a moment (somehow?) and talks to her and gets to go back to the real world. The way it all worked out didn’t feel creative, but rather contrived.

END SPOILER

There was a lot of potential for this book. It’s a shame more time wasn’t spent on developing the whole Woodlands portion. It was also a depressing read in general with many portions that felt contrived. There was no adventure (despite things going on in the Woodlands that could have contributed to that). It felt mostly like a Narnia rip-off that didn’t really work out well. I guess the contrast is that the focus was on the children’s lives after they returned and how miserable it was for the youngest sister as she grew older. I can see how some readers will find the story “heart wrenching” or haunting, etc. probably because of how much time is spent focusing on Evelyn’s inner feelings of despair. It’s very intimate in a way, but again, it just didn’t work for me.

I still would recommend it to someone who wanted a dark rendition of a struggle of not wanting to be somewhere. If you are looking for a magical fantasy, though, this book doesn’t deliver in that area (at least not for me).

Parent rating:
There are a few fairly chaste kisses in the story in the context of a romantic relationship. There are a couple incidences of cursing. The main character participates in self-harm. There is a LOT of dark/unhappy emotion in this story.

*I received an ARC copy of The Light Between Worlds in exchange for my review.

Nxyia Unleashed – Y.A. Book Review

Nyxia Unleashed book review
I really loved the first book in this triad (see my review on Goodreads
or on Amazon).¬†After reading Nxyia, I thought this series totally filled a Y.A. sci-fi void with a diverse cast of characters, an intriguing plot, and though the 1st book had a lot of violence, there were a lot of good themes that were just plain wholesome. I couldn’t wait to dive into this sequel (Nyxia Unleashed), but honestly, it fell pretty flat compared to the first book (imo). It started out great, with the same terrific cast of characters, the suspense surrounding the Babel corporation, and the highly anticipated meeting with the Adamites (Imago), but then…I don’t know…it just tanked. Everything started getting stale, and I stopped caring about the characters as much.

The unraveling of the mysteries surrounding Babel and the Imago was a total let down and felt unoriginal. There were a few twists, but I saw most of them coming. I also felt like the character development was much more flat this time around. In the first book the characters are complex with a rich tapestry of back story and conflicting feelings that brought up plot developments that had no easy answers. The deep mental elements in the first book made the story so worthwhile, and they made you THINK. This time around it felt like the author was just coasting off the first book character-wise. There wasn’t much in the way of new growth or development. There were no “thinking” moments, for me anyway. It was all pablum and kumbaya. Even the action scenes had no tension or anything to them (imo). They were boring and just something to get through quickly in order to find out what happens via the main thread of the story.

I really didn’t like how the Imago (Adamites/aliens) were handled. Here you have this alien race on an alien planet and they are all way too human. Their responses are human… their mannerisms are human… their cultures are human. I felt like there was a lack of imagination in the world building and everything was too pat and easy. The author had an opportunity to make something really interesting out of the Imago, but I found myself hardly caring at all about them or their weak interactions with the main characters. The big plot twist was a yawner. I won’t share it, as I would spoil it for those of you who may actually enjoy the book, but I think part of the reason why it didn’t have much of an impact on me was that I didn’t really care about the Imago much because there was no development in their characters. I wasn’t emotionally invested in them, so I didn’t really feel the tension (or whatever I was supposed to feel) with their part of the plot twist.

There is also this little side story about “slings” (rogue Imago) and nothing is done with it. There is no insight, no depth…just a little incident that feels like a waste of time to read because it has no drama, suspense, or anything else built into it.

The way the teens interacted with the Imago also seemed forced and a bit ridiculous. Emmett talks to the Imago like they are “dudes” from his neighborhood. This is where the book really comes off as lazy Y.A. writing (to me). I believe the author has a lot of talent but everything surrounding the Imago felt rushed or shoved aside for other agendas and so it just didn’t live up to its potential or what I would hope it could have been.

There is also something else that happens in the book where you get a glimpse into the Babel spacecraft…and again, it’s boring, it’s rushed, and all of the potential in that side story is wasted (at least in my opinion).

I’ll interject a few parental thoughts in here as well while I’m on a roll (since I’m an adult who loves to read Y.A.)…the first book felt like it was for the younger teen crowd, but had a lot of depth for older Y.A. readers and even adults. My review for the 1st book talked about how it was “clean” with hardly any cursing, etc. This 2nd book took a dive in that area. There is a lot of swearing….to my eyes anyway. So much so that it was starting to become distracting. There is a teen pregnancy – which is fine and maybe something that needs to be written about…but there is no depth there (yet again with this book) and that sort of thing throws it more out of the young teen league. There is also the current trend to have a LGBT character. I say “trend” because I believe that’s what it is (in the way it’s being handled lately imo) and every Y.A. author out there seems to be scrambling to add some sort of character in his/her story that fits that mold. There was ZERO hint of that in the first book. Then all of the sudden you have it thrown into this one as if that box can now be checked off.

I hate to give this book 2 stars. I SO loved the first one, but this 2nd effort feels rushed and is lacking the depth in the first one. I still want to read the 3rd book and am hoping that it will go back to the roots of the 1st one (since the focus will probably be off planet). If you read the first one, you will probably want to read this one, and I do encourage you to do so – so that some of the mysteries in the first get wrapped up. I just can’t say I’m enthusiastic about it for any other reason (except to know the answers to what you are probably wondering if you read the 1st). It’s no longer a series I would recommend for a teen/student who likes or wants to try out the sci-fi genre. Here’s hoping that the 3rd book will redeem the series.

Encouraging Reluctant Writers – Happy Mail

Happy Mail

If you have a reluctant writer, you know that getting your child to get even a sentence down on paper can be an exercise in extreme frustration for you both! I explored lots of different ways to get the not-so-enthusiastic writer in my family to write, and one thing I found that worked was to have him write letters! I arranged for my son to write letters to everyone from the president, to family members, to restaurants. He worked hard to get his letters just right and was always excited to get a response tucked in our mailbox. Over the years we saved the letters he received back, and some of them will always be treasures, like the letters from his beloved grandfather who has since passed away.

While working on my up-and-coming language arts curriculum, I was looking for some books to get students writing in a creative way and stumbled across Happy Mail. I will be adding it to my curriculum schedule in the writing assignments. The writing portion of my curriculum is being designed to be a gentle, non-pressure introduction to writing for grades 2-6. I’m taking my experiences with students who both LOVE and HATE to write and incorporating these into my book and resource choices.

Happy Mail is the perfect book to get kids and young teens engaged in the old-fashioned art of letter writing and card making. It starts out with an introduction to letter writing tools – all the fun stuff the artist in me loves like felt-tip pens, card stock, and even the humble black crayon. Some of the supplies call for a craft knife, so an adult will need to supervise or assist with a few of the projects.

The next section covers letter writing basics: parts of a letter, salutations, how to address an envelope, and so on. After that there is a section of simple writing prompts (perfect for kids who would otherwise stare at a blank page for hours), as well as a 30 days challenge with plenty of letter writing activities and ideas for your budding writer.

The next section covers lettering styles. Each letter style shows a complete sample alphabet and is followed by a lined practice page like this:

Letter writing for kids

There are 5 lettering styles:

Paper Cut Alphabet, Brush Lettering, Open Alphabet, Ribbon Alphabet, and a Storybook Alphabet

The book emphasizes that there is no need for perfection, and kids are encouraged to add their own touches and styles to their lettering.

After playing around with some hand lettering, there are several projects that are shown in detail with all of the needed supplies listed. Some of these projects are:

Cut Paper Love Notes, a Quote Note, Emoji Note, I Love You More Than…, a List Letter, Birthday Card, Wildly Grateful Thank You Card, Salty Pretzel Sorry Card, and plenty more for a variety of occasion like holidays, congratulations, etc. There are even simple instructions on now to make a homemade envelope. I like the Letter to Your Future Self idea. It’s something I did when I was a kid, and it’s fun to look back as an adult on some of my younger self’s ideas and dreams!

Letter writing ideas for kids

The last section of the book has some pre-designed cards, notes, and templates with cute and full-color art, along with some black-and-white samples your child can color in.

card projects for kids

Happy Mail is a good book to get your child off the computer and into the world of pens, pencils, and the excitement of sending off a letter or card the old-fashioned way!

Book Review – Drawing School

Drawing School book review

I’m a sucker for art books. When I was homeschooling, I had quite a few on the shelves for my kids like Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad and various Klutz Art books, among others. I have always felt that basic art and drawing skills are important to teach!

I recently had the chance to review Drawing School. (Thank you Quarto Group and Edelweiss!) This book is ADORABLE and stuffed full of over 300 things to draw with very clear and easy-to-follow drawing instructions. The 272 pages are organized into categories of items that will appeal to both boys and girls. The categories are:

  • Pets
  • Sports Stuff
  • Let’s Celebrate
  • On the Farm
  • At the Beach
  • Under the Sea
  • At the Zoo
  • In the Garden
  • At the Circus
  • At the Show (with things like guitars, instruments, a movie star, etc.)
  • In a Fairy Tale
  • Around the House
  • At School
  • Around Town
  • Around the World
  • Beyond Our World (planets, an astronaut, etc.)
  • In the Past (dinosaurs)

The book starts out with a small section on supplies and basic drawing instruction, like learning how to see shapes and different types of lines.

Each section features a number of specific items that belong in the category. The items are shown being drawn in full color with manageable steps like the following screenshot of a cat’s head:

At the end of each section, there is a full color, 2-page spread that shows many of the section’s drawings in a scene like this:

Homeschoolers will like the Around the World section with instructions on how to draw things like an Egyptian pharaoh:

This book is not just for kids. I got it for myself, lol…because the drawings are so cute and perfect for handmade cards and notes.

I LOVE this book. I love the happy, colorful drawings, as well as the simple drawing instructions. If you have a student who loves drawing, Drawing School would make an excellent Christmas present, or a perfect addition to a low-key art program.

Book Review – Nyxia

I haven’t taken any time to review books in a long time, but recently came across a Y.A. (young adult) sci-fi book that looked so promising, I had to grab the ARC copy. I’m SO glad I did, because¬†Nyxia¬†by Scott Reintgen is one of the best YA sci-fi books I’ve read in a long time. It features a host of multi-cultural characters (which is unusual!), unexpected twists, great pacing, and some unique sci-fi elements that were a joy to read for the geeky girl inside me. ūüėČ I devoured it in 2 days and am chomping at the bit to get the other 2 books in the series (which are, as yet, unpublished)! It reminds me of a mix of Hunger Games, The Maze, and maybe a smattering of Red Rising – and yet it’s quite original.

Here’s the book’s description, and then I’ll add my comments:

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden‚ÄĒa planet that Babel has kept hidden‚ÄĒwhere they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

There’s a bit of mystery swirling throughout the entire book. The author only hints at bits and pieces about the Babel Corporation – letting you know there is something more going on, but not unraveling what that something is. It’s clear Babel is the most powerful corporation on Earth, and it’s clear they aren’t upfront with their recruits. That’s about all that’s clear! They aren’t telling them something about the mysterious and most valuable material ever found – Nyxia, or the circumstances surrounding their trip to Eden. Babel is lying about… something. Babel is hiding…something, not only from the recruits, but from those left behind on Earth. That thread winds itself through the novel, leaving tantalizing clues, but never giving any concrete answers.

There is also something about Nyxia itself that is almost frightening. From it, Babel has achieved unheard of technological advances. It’s a material that can be manipulated into almost anything, and yet you wonder, is the material itself doing the manipulating?

Then, there is the mystery surrounding the Adamaites, the native inhabitants of Eden who are more technologically advanced and powerful then we are. There is something that has gone wrong with the Adamites and it seems they are unable to reproduce. The youngest Adamite is in his 50’s and for some reason it appears that there are no more females. They treasure and adore children…which is why these 10 teens are hurtling through space on their way to Eden. Only children will be allowed on the planet to mine Nyxia and a competition ensues. Out of the 10 recruits, only 8 will be chosen.

The children chosen are from poverty stricken backgrounds, all of them with a huge and desperate needs. Babel exploits those needs in what becomes a brutal competition. ¬†The losing 2 will get a small amount of money, but the winners will get everything beyond their wildest dreams, not only for themselves, but for their families. For Emmett it means saving his mother from the cancer that’s killing her. If he loses the competition, he could very well lose her. This isn’t just about being rich (and famous), it’s about life and death. ¬†That makes some interesting moral situations that don’t always have an easy answer. The desperation all of the recruits face is also something that makes it easier for them to ignore the undercurrent that something isn’t quite right.

I loved the character development throughout the book as these teens are stretched to their limits – both physically and sometimes morally. The adults in the book are also multi-layered. No one is purely black or white as far as good and evil and the struggles the characters go through are thought-provoking. I loved the honest approach to these struggles. It wasn’t always clear what a character would do in different situations, and the author didn’t shy away from allowing even Emmett to have flaws that he had to work and sometimes fight through. You grow to love him and other characters and you also can’t help but hate some as well, and yet nothing is ever totally set in stone in that regard. Even the hated characters have their reasons for being the way they are and because of the depth of the character development and the complexity of the situations, it’s not always totally clear who you want to win, or who you want to lose…

As a parent, I can say that this books is quite CLEAN and promotes morality – but in an honest and non-preachy way. The characters have their struggles, but it’s refreshing to see some take the higher path, even if it could turn out to be a sacrifice. Emmett’s background is also positive. He comes from a rough neighborhood, but he’s stayed away from drugs and other negative lifestyle choices. He loves and honors his parents, and their relationship is touching. There is a little bit of “boy likes girl” with a scene of holding hands and a non-descriptive kiss. The way it’s handled is pretty wholesome and doesn’t seem contrived or out of place, nor is it “obsessive.”

Another thing I noticed is that there are multiple minor religious references. At first I wasn’t sure if they were underhanded digs toward Christians, but over time figured out that the author is coming from a Christian background and drops little tidbits here and there that aren’t proselytizing, but appear as the main character struggles to understand things or in reference to Babel. They won’t offend a secular reader, and they are refreshing to a Christian reader. I get tired of YA books with anti-Christian agendas. This isn’t one of them.

There is a LOT of violence in this book,

***spoiler alert***

including a death that was a bit unexpected (think: a Game of Thrones killing that gets rid of a character you LIKE).

***end of spoiler alert***

The violence is probably at the level of Hunger Games. I recall only one incident of very minor cursing (the word hell).

The “about the author” note states:¬†Scott Reintgen¬†has spent his career as a teacher of English and creative writing in diverse urban communities in North Carolina. The hardest lesson he learned was that inspiration isn‚Äôt equally accessible for everyone. So he set out to write a novel¬†for the front-row sleepers and back-row dreamers of his classrooms. He hopes that his former students see themselves, vibrant and on the page, in characters like Emmett.

I think he’s done a tremendous job in creating a page-turning novel that does exactly what he was trying to do. It’s very difficult to find any worthwhile sci-fi that is accessible to teens (and adults who like YA novels!!). Nyxia does a terrific job not only as a sci-fi novel, but also as something that tackles tough issues and brings to life a multitude of cultures in a fresh and exciting way. If you have a teen who loves sci-fi or you want to encourage a student to dip his/her feet into that genre, Nyxia definitely fills a YA sci-fi void! I can’t wait for the next two books to come out!!

The Science of Seasons is published!

Science booksI’m so excited to announce that The Science of Seasons set of books is finally published and available for purchase! They are available on our NEW online store and also from Amazon.com! I’ve also created a FREE science curriculum to go with them!

If you are a member of Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited you can check out The Science of Seasons for free via the Kindle lending library! The Science of Seasons Activities book is also on sale for a limited time in honor of our book launch! You can get the PDF of the activity book for only $7.50. That’s HALF off the normal PDF price and even more than half off the softcover price. Visit our online store for detailed descriptions of the books as well as a free handwriting paper pack, and a set of ¬†printable¬†paper dolls with¬†a set of outfits.

Take a peek at some of The¬†Science of Season’s pages¬†(thumbnails do not enlarge):

 sample1  sample2
 sample3  sample4

Here are some pages from The Science of Seasons Activities book:

 

 sample5  sample6
 sample8  sample7
 sample9  samplefall

There are over 100 pages of activities and lessons in the activity book that expand on topics presented in The Science of Seasons.

Some of the activities and lessons include:

  • Greek and Latin Root Cards, Vocabulary CardsArt projects
  • Copywork assignments
  • Cutout playsets and figures
  • Dot-to-dot
  • Geography
  • Greek & Latin roots
  • Lapbook style cutouts
  • Language & culture study
  • Make your own comic book templates and cutouts
  • Mazes
  • Sciencestuff
  • Spelling
  • Vocabulary activities and cutout cards
  • ..and much more!

Click here for a list of topics and learning points.

I’ve really worked hard to create books that will teach, but that are also lots of fun. Many of the¬†kids who’ve tested these books are especially fans of¬†Beowulf, a¬†lively and cute fox terrier whose face can be found on quite a few pages!

The¬†Science of Seasons¬†books have been a labor of love and I’m so grateful to everyone who helped make them possible! A huge thank-you goes to my husband for making this all possible, my mom & dad for all their¬†encouragement, and my friend Beth for her hawk-eyed proofreading! I’m also so thankful for all my testers – the moms and kids who read and worked through the books before they were available to the public and gave their wise suggestions with a huge dose of enthusiasm!

Now here comes the hard part: spreading the word!

I need your help to make this series successful so that I can write and illustrate more books. Please tell your friends and share our happy news of the books on your blogs and social media. If you read either of the books, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.com, Goodreads, and/or my store.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds for more books in the series!

The History Shelf – A New Part of Our Website!

The History Shelf

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have a new part of our website up: The History Shelf. Ever want to read a book or watch a movie set in a specific time period but don’t know where to start searching? With the History Shelf you can choose a time period via the timeline and browse books and videos for all ages in a visual, easy to browse manner.¬†There are books listed for all ages with separate columns for adults and children to make browsing your choices easier.

If you are homeschooling, browse the timeline to find literature and video supplements for your favorite history program. Or, if you just want to find something for yourself to read or watch, it’s as easy as looking up the time period and clicking on the book or movie cover for more information on each book title and movie.

I LOVE history and will continue to add tons more books and videos to the History Shelf.

Feel free to post and share the graphic above if you want to spread the word!

Happy reading and watching!

Books for a Reluctant Reader

Otter is a reluctant reader. It’s not that he doesn’t like books. He loves books. He just has a difficult time retaining details in longer chapter books or anything he is unfamiliar with. He is very literal and so he often does better with non-fiction. It also helps to have books that contain pictures to help him “imagine” specific details. That’s made a challenge for me to find lots of books that capture his attention and hold his interest to keep him reading to the end. Even though he isn’t reading a lot of “typical” chapter books, he is reading a LOT of material – just in smaller chunks.

One series I found that Otter absolutely LOVES are books by Mike Venezia. Otter has a few things he has always been very interested in: presidents, space, science, coins, composers and history dates (specifically when people were born). When I choose books for him, I try to keep these interests in mind as a motivator. Recently he was the lucky recipient of every single one of the Venezia president books.

Books by Mike Venezia

He’s already devoured a bunch of them. Here are just a couple of the titles:

Kennedy

John F. Kennedy: Thirty-fifth President, 1961-1963

Reagan

Ronald Reagan (Getting to Know the Us Presidents)

The books are about 32 pages long with large, easy to read text. There is a mixture of photographs, art and humorous, memorable cartoons. Each books gives some information about the featured president’s childhood and talks about some major events in their lives and term(s) as president. Even though they are designed for elementary aged children, my high schoolers have enjoyed them as well when we were doing Tapestry of Grace’s 20th Century study.

Otter also has all of Venezia’s composer books. Venezia also has a series on artists and some new books about inventors and scientists.

SaddlebackAnother series that has recently captured Otter’s attention are the Saddleback American graphic history books. These books are like comic books with lots of visual interest and bite size chunks of history that are easy to retain. Your mind associates the bits of historical fact with pictures and so it’s easier to recall specific events. Otter said if there were only 5 stars to give this series, he would give it 6. I found him curled up on the couch this morning with one “just because” and so I think I have to agree with his rating. wink

You can preview one of the books, America Becomes a World Power: 1890-1930 online at Google books.

You can also look at quite a few free samples of different Saddleback series at the official website.

Here are some other books I’ve found that work very well for Otter:

24/7 Science
24 7 science
24 / 7 science behind the scenes

24/7: Science Behind the Scenes Series

This series of books has several different themes: spies, forensics, medical files and mystery files. We don’t own any of the mystery files books since they cover some issues that go against our personal beliefs like UFO’s, etc. The reading level is supposed to be grades 5-7 with the subject matter appealing to even high schoolers.

“Each title focuses on the science and technology used to solve real-life crimes and heart-stopping mysteries. From killer wallpaper to deadly pets, from parasites to mosquitoes, these high-interest books build vocabulary, foster scientific knowledge, and develop inquiry skills through the use of charts, timelines, briefing notes, case files, primary sources, and captivating storytelling. Watch your inquisitive students become scientific sleuths as they read actual cases, study clues, and take a shot at crime scene investigations – all while sharpening their critical thinking and analytical skills.”
quoted from the scholastic website

These books appeal to Otter on a number of different levels. They are colorful with lots of great photographs, pictures and sidebars and appeal to his love of science.

Another series that has been a hit the Usborne young reading series 3. These are beautiful hard bound books – each with a satin book mark and wonderfully illustrated. They are 64 pages long and broken up into manageable chapters.

Crusaders

See inside this book!

Yet another great series is DK Eyewitness Classics. These books take abridged versions of classic stories and help them come alive with a multitude of illustrations, explanations, background information in colorful sidebars and more to help add depth and understanding to what your student is reading.

Odyssey
Little Women

 

I’ll post some more titles that have worked for Otter in the future, including some more traditional chapter books.