Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kid Lit: Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Published on August 23, 2017.

Goodreads Summary:
Meet Maggie, a first-grader in Ms. Madison's class. Maggie has a big problem. Tomorrow is summer vacation show-and-tell. All of her classmates know exactly what they are going to talk about, but Maggie doesn’t have any idea what she can share. 

She could say she went on safari, or hiked the South Pole, or zoomed into outer space to Mars and the Moon. The truth is, Maggie didn’t travel during the break. The day is nearly over and Maggie hasn’t found anything to bring to school...until she remembers falling in love with something special over the months of summer.

My Thoughts:
Inspired by a true story, this book tells of Maggie, a young girl who isn't sure what to bring in for "Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell" during the first week of school. Her family had to cancel their plans because they found a wounded dog, took him in, and fixed him up. Maggie loves her new pet, but he doesn't immediately come to mind when everyone else is talking about vacations they took over the summer.

This book is sweet. It shows a real life dilemma for a child - should she lie and say she did something wonderful or share the truth. With her mother's help, Maggie remembers what happened with her new dog over the summer, and she thinks of a way to share it with the class.

The end notes of the book include discussion questions, which would be great for getting kids to talk about the book and other related topics.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Monday, October 16, 2017

Great Reads from August/September 2017

Not only was I not blogging here for over a month, I also didn't post any reviews on Opinionated Book Lover in September. Luckily I reviewed some great books in August and in early October. Here are the 4-star books I've read lately. (There haven't been any 5-star books lately.)

Strings: A Love Story by Megan Edwards

Ted found his soul mate when he met Olivia de la Vega his senior year in high school. In the school's production of Camelot, Ted was cast as Lancelot, Olivia as Guenevere. They should have spent their lives together but strings got in the way--family ties, career objectives, and the tangled web of fate.

The writing in this book was compelling. It's a decades-long romance that reminded me of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

4 Stars

The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor

Maeve has thrown herself into her work as a world-traveling marine biologist. But when Maeve returns home, she finds more than just the blood orange sunsets and key lime pies she’s missed waiting for her.

This book is full of family drama, romance, and tons of plot. There's also a sub-plot with a little girl that reminded me of Love Walked In. Also, there's a wonderfully bookish hotel.

4 Stars

When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

Just hours before, they’d watched the Wildcats score a winning touchdown. Now, they’re faced with the deaths of three cheerleaders—their promising lives cut short in a fatal crash. And the boy in the other car—the only one to survive—is believed to be at fault.

Told from multiple perspectives this book gives you a lot to think about. It's more character-driven than plot-driven, but I still really liked it.

4 Stars

Reading People by Anne Bogel

For readers who long to dig deeper into what makes them uniquely them (and why that matters), Anne Bogel has done the hard part--collecting, exploring, and explaining the most popular personality frameworks, such as Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, Enneagram, and others. 

This book was a great overview of personality frameworks. It's kind of a mix of self-help and memoir, similar to Gretchen Rubin's style of writing.

4 Stars

The Girl with All the Gifts (The Girl With All The Gifts #1) by M.R. Carey

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.

This zombie-like post-apocalyptic story was not at all what I was expecting, but I loved it. I am currently reading the sequel.

4 Stars

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread. Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive.

This book is strange but compelling. I cannot really describe it. Read it.

4 Stars

What notable books have you read lately?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Family Game Night: Cooperative Board Game Edition

We love to play board games, but playing a competitive game with one child and two grown-ups doesn't usually end well. Christopher is very competitive (Jim and I are too, so it's no surprise), and he gets very upset when he doesn't win. Of course, we don't like to just let him win, but it's no fun for anyone when he has a tantrum in the middle of the game. Our solution has been cooperative games!

A cooperative game is one where all the human players work together to win. It's like playing against the computer in a video game. There is usually one win condition and various lose conditions. If you can meet the stated objective before "dying" (usually), then you win.

Here are some of our favorite cooperative games. Many of these are for older children, but Christopher is very good at understanding game mechanics, so he has been able to handle them without a problem. Plus he has two adults to help him out.

Castle Panic

This game is listed as being for ages 10+, but Christopher has been playing it with us for a couple of years (so starting at age 5 probably). The gist is that you're protecting your castle from invading monsters. To win you have to defeat all of the monsters without losing all of your castle sections (6 total). The board is set up like a bulleye with monsters entering in the outer ring and moving closer to the castle after each players turn. The players have cards - knights, swordsmen, archers, etc. - to fight and ultimately kill all of the monsters. Players can trade card and strategize together on how best to defeat the monsters. It's very heavily weighted to the players, so we almost always win, which is great for younger kids. But it also teaches them game strategy, and it's a ton of fun.

Forbidden Desert

This game is actually the second in the "Forbidden" series, but it's the better game, so we started with this one with Christopher. It's easier to win because there are less difficult lose conditions, which makes it more fun. In this game the "board" is actually a configuration of tiles (which is great for replay-ability) in the desert. The players have crash landed there, and you have to find the pieces of your ship, so you can fly out to safety. The tiles must be excavated (flipped over) and they reveal equipment or the coordinates to the plane pieces. I love the mathematically element of the grid and coordinates. All the while the sand is piling up on the tiles and the sun is beating down and making your dehydrated. Players take turns, but some special actions require a lot of collaboration. It's another great one, and even though it's for ages 10+, we played with Christopher starting at age 6. He even played this game with his babysitter one night, and he almost got all of the rules right when explaining it to her.

Forbidden Island

The precursor to Forbidden Desert, this game is much more challenging. It is actually quite difficult to win this game, and we've only ever played it on the "Novice" level. It also has a grid of tiles, but because this game involves water and not sand, the tiles can sink and disappearing, sometimes making it impossible to win. Again, you're using a grid and coordinates to find 4 relics to win the game. It's also ages 10+, but we only started Christopher on this game this year (age 7).

Flash Point

This game is about fire rescue. The board has two sides - family and experienced. Each side lays out a building that has victims spread throughout. The fire expands each turn, and the players have to work together to put it out and rescue people before the building collapses. The family side has less rules, so it's very manageable for kids, but it's still a lot of fun. The experienced side is challenging and very fun to play just with adults. It's again rated for ages 10+, but I played this game alone with Christopher this year, and he really enjoyed it and didn't have any trouble with the rules.


This game is the ultimate in cooperative games. It's really an adult game (ages 13+), and it's one of my all time favorite games. It's made by the same company as Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, so once Christopher had mastered those games, I played it with him. We did so well and won so easily, I'm worried he's spoiled for life. This game is usually very difficult. The players are a team of scientists trying to rid the world of 4 diseases. Each turn more cities are infected and the viruses can spread and become outbreaks very easily. It's intense, but also a ton of fun.

Do you have family game night? What games do you play?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Book Review: Charlie Bumpers vs. His Big Blabby Mouth (MG)

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Charlie Bumpers vs. His Big Blabby Mouth by Bill Harley

Published on September 1, 2017.

Goodreads Summary:
When Charlie exaggerates about his dads career and convinces his classmates that his dad would be the greatest Career Week speaker ever, what will happen if his dad actually does come and his friends find out the truth? When his classmates are boasting about their parents jobs, Charlie gets carried away and leaves the impression that his accountant dad is not only the president of his company but also that he will hand out free calculators to everyone. With rumors flying around the school and expectations escalating, Charlie jumps the gun and tells his teacher Mrs. Burke that his dad can speak to their class during Career Week. Now Charlie has no choice. He has to get his dad to come in. But then, just before the big event Mr. Bumpers loses his job. Charlie is dumbfounded and devastated. How will he explain to his class? Will his dad still come in during Career Week? Fortunately, Mr. Bumpers has some very surprising plans of his own. 

My Review:
This book is the sixth in the series, but the great thing about kids book series is that they don't need to be read in order. The characters in this book are the same as in the other book I've read - Charlie Bumpers vs. the Puny Pirates - but the stories do not relate at all.

In this book, Charlie gets caught up in the excitement of career week. He really wants his dad to come to school and bring calculators (because he is an accountant). I loved how fascinating and exciting the kids found calculators. Things get out of hand and Charlie has to convince his dad to come, and he keeps asking him what he'll present. He's very worried about what his friends will think about his dad and about him. It was very realistic.

A side plot deals with Charlie being the classroom messenger - he gets to take notes to the office, etc. Charlie wanted to be like his favorite character, who's very fast, and he couldn't resist running in the halls. That doesn't end very well for him. Right after we finished reading this book, my son had a school assignment to come up with some safety rules, and one of them was "don't run in the hallways," and I am almost certain it was because of what happens to Charlie in this book.

I love this series. It shows a real kid dealing with normal problems. He doesn't always do the right thing, but it always works out in the end. There are consequences for his actions, the adults are present and involved, and the readers can learn valuable lessons right along-side Charlie. But it doesn't ever feel preachy. We really enjoyed reading this book.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Thursday, October 5, 2017

When life gets in the way...

I haven't blogged since the end of August. I kept meaning to, but life kept getting in the way. I am the president of our school's Home and School Association, which is similar to a PTA. I had a lot of work to do for the back to school events starting mid-August, and things haven't really slowed down since the school year started. When Christopher was starting kindergarten, I kept telling people I had a goal to be PTA president by 3rd grade. Well, he's in second grade now, so I'm ahead of schedule.

Don't ask me why I wanted to do this. I remember my mother being involved with PTA when I was in high school, and she did a lot of other volunteer work, so that's probably part of it. We also don't go to church (atheists), so I was planning on Christopher's school being our "community," so I guess I thought getting involved would help me meet people. Which it has. Maybe I'm just crazy!

At the same time my work has gotten a lot busier. We're in the middle of a HUGE project. And I'm actually writing this from my hotel room in Washington, D.C. My third work trip in 4 weeks. It's good. I'm still loving my job, but it's stressful, and it's consuming some extra time.

I've gotten involved in a local political group - our county's chapter of Our Wisconsin Revolution, which is just getting started. It's awesome to have an outlet for my political frustrations. The 2018 election doesn't seem so far away now - with primaries in April. So I'm hoping to find more time for that as well.

Also, because of the added stress from both work and HSA, I have needed to just chill a little bit more in my rare moments of "free time." But usually my mind is too full to even read (as much as I would like - let's be honest, of course I am still reading a ton), let alone blog.

But I am still here. And still reading what you all are writing as often as I can. And so I will take advantage of this hotel time to knock out a few posts and hopefully get back on top of things, so I can get back to a more consistent posting schedule, even if it's only 2 days per week for now.

How do you handle keeping up with your blog when life gets in the way?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Juvenile Pile: Heartfelt and Humorous

This week I am sharing a mix of library books and books we own. We're continuing to read a lot of picture books this summer. Here are some of them.

Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman

Perfect for ages 2-4, this book is a showcase of underwear...on vegetables. It's colorful and simple, and I'm sure it's meant to be read by families starting out on the potty training road. The best part is when the broccoli makes a mistake in saying that babies wear underwear. It's cute and fun, and it was a very easy read for Christopher.

3 Stars

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Sometimes you just need to read a classic. I loved listening to Christopher read this book - one of my all-time favorites. My sister bought it for him for his baby shower, so he got to read her inscription as well. This book is the perfect metaphor for parenthood. After reading it, I asked him when the tree was happy. He got it perfectly right: when she's doing things for the boy, when she's with the boy, and when the boy spends time with her. I think it could also be an example of The Five Languages of Love.

5 Stars

Have You Seen Elephant? by David Barrow

Christopher did a great job reading this book even though it's printed in cursive. A little boy is playing hide and seek with an elephant. The elephant says he's really good at the game, and the boy does have trouble finding him, but the reader doesn't. Christopher didn't really find this book amusing. I think he's too old. I could just hear 3 year-old Christopher laughing at this book as I imagined reading it with him at a younger age. The illustrations are gorgeous water colors. I really liked it.

4 Stars

My Father Knows the Names of Things by Jane Yolen

I bought this book for Jim for Father's Day when Christopher was a baby I think. We've read it many times over the years, and now finally Christopher was able to read it to me. It's a poetic story about a boy and his father and all the things his father teaches him. It's simple and sweet, and the illustrations are very whimsical and adorable.

4 Stars

In the Tree House by Andrew Larsen

I read this book, mostly to myself because Christopher was picking out books to read. It's a story about a boy whose older brother no longer has time to play with him in their tree house. He reminisces about them building the tree house with their father. Then one night the power goes out in the neighborhood, and his brother has time for him again. It's sad but also wonderful.

4 Stars

Spring Is Here (Bear and Mole) by Will Hillenbrand

I bought this book for Christopher for Easter when he was 2 years old, so it's another book that we've read a bunch, and now he got to read it on his own. Mole tries to wake Bear up all day long, but he just snores and snores. I remember little Christopher doing the snoring noises over the years. In the end, when Bear finally wakes up, it's Mole who's snoring, exhausted after his busy day of making Bear breakfast. It's funny and sentimental, a great read for ages 3-6.

4 Stars

What books are wrapping up your kids' summer?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Juvenile Pile: Tales of Adventure

We've picked up the extra August reading challenge sheet from the library, but it requires another 6 hours of reading, and we're only 2 hours in. I don't know that Christopher will finish before the end of the summer, but at least he's still reading. I've been encouraging him to read picture books with more words because he keeps saying "no" to books right away if they have too much prose. I've reminded him that when school starts again, he'll be expected to read chapter books again. Hopefully his second grade teacher can push him to challenge himself a little more.

Here are some of the books we've been reading lately.

Albert's Almost Amazing Adventure by Marty Kelley

You may remember that I reviewed this book for Cybils back in December. I had forgotten about it, so I was excited to have Christopher reading it to me this time. It has just great humor, and I love the alternating black and white and color pictures based on the context of the story. Albert tries to tell his friends about his trip to Maine, and they keep jumping in with guesses of what happened. The fantasy is much better than the reality, until the end.

5 Stars

Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon

I read this book to Christopher, and we both enjoyed it. Ralph can never think of anything to write about in school. His teacher tells him that stories are everywhere. Finally, he remembers a time when an inch worm crawled on his knee at the park. With the help of his classmates, Ralph finds his story.

4 Stars

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Christopher read the first half of this book, and then I finished it. It's about a little boy who wants to jump off the diving board, but he's a little afraid. I love the everyday adventure of this story. And I loved that it's a book about a child of color in a normal situation. Everyone can relate to this book. The suspense is perfect, the father is encouraging, the end is satisfying. Anyone who's been afraid of something, but faced that fear, will enjoy this book.

5 Stars

Mr. Duck Means Business by Tammi Sauer

All Mr. Duck wants is some peace and quiet in his pond, but other animals keep coming for a swim. Mr. Duck puts up a sign telling everyone to stay away, but then he realizes he doesn't need quiet all the time. Oh, how I can relate to this book! Christopher has categorized people as "loud" or "quiet." He knows I'm a quiet person, and he and Jim are loud people. I think those are great kid terms for introvert and extravert.

4 Stars

The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

We all LOVED this book! We read it many times. On each page a drawing is shown. Sometimes there are mistakes sometimes not. It illustrates that everyone makes mistakes, but that mistakes in drawings can be changed into other things. The picture grows and grows throughout the book, and the first mistakes become so small, you can handle see them. What a good lesson for everyone. The prose is short, perfect for Christopher to read, because it's mostly about the pictures.

5 Stars

What have your children been reading lately?