Finding Children’s Books

childrensbooksI am always on the lookout for excellent book selections for the children. We love illustrated books and try to read several throughout the week as part of our school day. I will often find the children reading them together in the evening as well. 

While I can scan the shelves or displays at our library branch easy enough, and we do tend to come home with several books that we just grab off the shelves, our library system has several branches and content changes as books are reshelved where they are returned. 
I also prefer books that I’ve read some feedback on or that have been recognized in some way for their content. I regularly sit down with book lists compiled from various websites and request them from our library. Then I can pick them up from our branch’s hold shelf. Super easy! Here are some of my “go to” resources for children’s book recommendations.
ALA Book Awards
Various book medal awards are given each year by the American Library Association to recognize outstanding books. The Caldecott medal is awarded each year for children’s picture book, and the award goes to the artist, regardless of whether they are also the author of the book. The Newberry Medal is awarded each year to the author of the most distinguished contribution to  American children’s literature. The Silbert Book Medal is awarded to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book each year. 
Current medal recipients, as well as winners from previous years, are listed on the ALA website. Additional award lists can also be found on the ALA website under Youth Media Awards.  The ALA also puts together a list of Notable Children’s Books. This is an excellent source of children’s book titles to include in your weekly reading.
SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books
Science Magazine also includes a roundup of science and nature themed children’s books each year when they publish the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books. Often there are medal recipients included in this roundup. Current and previous years are available here
Goodreads  is also another great resource for book recommendations. You can “Explore” book selections by genre, and see new releases as well as most read each week. There are also Lists  – Goodread members often put together lists of their own recommendations or contribute to larger lists that are searchable. Each book selection includes reviews and commentaries by members. 
Pinterest is a great resource for book lists. A simple search for children’s literature will turn up a large selection of blogs and websites that contain children’s book recommendations. These book lists range from the top books “all children should read” to content specific titles such as “books about courage.”
Author’s Websites
Another way to find books is to explore a particular author. Once we’ve read one book from a particular author, we usually seek out other titles, which are often award winning books too. A simple Google search will usually turn up an author’s website and book list. For example, right now we are reading through several selections by Molly Bang. Look for an upcoming post on a science series she has put out! 

Learning with the Tuttle Twins

I think one of my most important jobs as a parent is educating my children about their inherent rights and liberties that exist regardless of politics or government. I believe that growing up with a firm understanding of their rights will allow them to function more confidently in the world. 

This past Spring we discovered a wonderful resource for learning about some of these topics. Connor Boyack’s new series, The Tuttle Twins, presents some of these ideas in a colorful, fun format that is easy to understand by a younger audience but not over-simplified.
The first book in the series, The Tuttle Twins Learn about the Law, introduces children to some of the ideas that Frederic Bastiat covered in his well-known collection of essays, The Law. Through colorful illustrations and fun conversations with the main characters, Ethan and Emily, concepts such as legal plunder, which might be a little heavy for younger audiences, are readily understandable.

Kyri loved The Tuttle Twins Learn About The Law, and carried around Bastiat’s The Law for weeks afterward, reading the essays.

We were SO excited when this first book in the series was released! Kyri walked around the house reading this book, as well as her own copy of Bastiat’s The Law, for weeks. We had wonderful conversations about the topics the book introduced.
I was excited to learn about the much-anticipated follow-up book that was published just before the holidays – we preordered and Kyri received it as a Christmas gift! In the second book in the series, The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil, Ethan and Emily learn about what is really required to produce something simple that we probably take for granted every day – the wooden pencil. Boyack has presented the ideas from Leonard Read’s classic essay, “I, Pencil”  in a fun way for children to really comprehend how the free market works. 

Kyri was amazed to learn about the complicated family tree of the simple wooden pencil.


This series is wonderful and I can’t recommend it enough. Check out the links above and see for yourself – the illustrations are amazing and the stories are powerful. You can also click on my affiliate link to the left of the page to read more about The Tuttle Twins series.


Dreaming Dots

Kyri and I love DK’s My Art Book. This is our main art resource this year and it has wonderful information and projects to work through. Each section has a two page lesson on an art form or particular artist’s style. This is then followed by a detailed art project. The pictures are stunning and really make it easy and fun to complete the projects.

This week we had a lot of fun learning about aboriginal Australian art, and decorating our own rocks.


We used smaller rocks than suggested in the book (because that is what we had on hand), and acrylic paint to decorate. We outlined our animal shape on each rock and then painted. We paused a few minutes between colors to keep paint from mixing. One optional step we did not do was coat the rock, or at least the painted part, in varnish to protect the decoration. We had a lot of fun with this and will end up doing several more, so we may end up varnishing them after the next batch.




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Air is a Mixture of Gases

This year we have switched over to Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding. We are focusing on Chemistry topics, and so are working through primarily A thread in Volumes I and II.

This past week we’ve been working on topic A7,  Air: A mixture of gases (mixtures and chemical reactions).

Air is an excellent example for understanding molecules, mixtures and chemical reactions. Air is made up of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. Oxygen is required by animals for respiration, and carbon dioxide is produced as a waste product. The oxygen and carbon dioxide in air are held constant in the atmosphere by green plants, which use carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. We’ve covered photosynthesis previously, in Biology as well as earlier this year when learning about energy, so this cycle is familiar around here. Here is a video that sums covers the Carbon Cycle.

We also love the app My Incredible Body  and learned all about respiration to get a better understanding of how we as animals breathe in air to bring oxygen into our body, and breathe out to expel carbon dioxide.

Air is made up of matter and has weight

Sometimes when we can’t see something, like air, it can be a little difficult to understand how it is made up of matter. To help visualize this, we set up this simple experiment. We started by tying string around the center of a wooden dowel, making sure the dowel was balanced. We then blew up two balloons, one much fuller than the other. We tied each balloon to an end of the dowel, spacing them the same.


Kyri is a pretty smart cookie, so she expected the balloon that was inflated more to weigh more as well since it contained more air. As expected, the heavier balloon pulled its end of the dowel down lower!

Burning Requires Oxygen

We next set up a simple demonstration. Placing a tea light in a shallow plate of water (be sure to not cover the candle!), we then covered the candle with a jar and observed how, after just a short time, the flame sputtered and then was extinguished. I explained that the wax was the fuel (potential energy) and burning released this potential energy as kinetic energy in the form of heat and light. Oxygen is necessary for the fire to burn the fuel. Air is made up of approximately 20 percent oxygen, so in an enclosed jar, the oxygen is used up fairly quickly. Once the oxygen is used up, the flame goes out!


Mixtures and Chemical Reactions

When we started discussing mixtures, we used some simple examples to understand – a mixture of coins or a bag of mixed candy. In those simple examples, the individual components didn’t change and were identifiable. But sometimes when components are mixed, a reaction occurs and the components are broken apart and new components formed. Our second demonstration involved the release of carbon dioxide during a chemical reaction.

Baking soda and vinegar can be mixed, and when they react carbon dioxide is released. This is a fun chemical reaction because of the intense fizzing!

Burning Releases Carbon Dioxide

Similarly, when a candle is burned (also a chemical reaction!), carbon dioxide is also released. Carbon dioxide, like air, is not visible. But we used a fun demonstration to produce and observe carbon dioxide.

We lit a tea candle in a shallow plate, and in a half-pint mason jar combined 1 Tbsp baking soda and 1/4 cup vinegar (Pour slowly to prevent fizzing over!). The carbon dioxide that is produced from the reaction remained in the jar and because it is heavier than air, can actually be “poured” like a liquid. We carefully tipped the jar toward the flame, as if we were pouring but taking care to not pour out any of the liquid contents. While we couldn’t see the carbon dioxide directly, we could observe the flame sputtering and finally going out, as the carbon dioxide poured over the wick and prevented the flame’s access to oxygen.




Life Lessons from an Empty House

I’ve mentioned previously that we are going through a time of transition. We  are selling our home due to an impending job change. To make this process easier, I relocated the family to Atlanta for a couple of months while my husband stayed behind to do needed repairs and cleaning to get our home ready for market. All of our belongings went with us into storage.

Just this week we returned home and we’ve been living quite minimally. We brought back only what we could take in our van, and with four kids and three dogs, that didn’t leave room for much, even with a car bag strapped to the roof rack. I managed to bring clothes for me and the children, a handful of toys, a few basic kitchen tools and our school supplies. 

At some point we ended up with all the dogs in the back seat with the kids. Good times!

Clutter is a Calm Buster
Just this evening my husband commented that I seem calmer than he’s ever seen me since living in an empty house. I realized that over the years, our clutter has been a significant source of stress and anxiety for me. With dogs, kids, homeschool, electronics, and various interests that my husband and I pursue, we have accumulated a lot of stuff! And surfaces around here tend to be clutter magnets. A shelf that is intended to only have framed pictures inevitably attracts various odds and ends, papers, etc. The kitchen counter, with it’s cute basket for holding a handful of my husband’s stuff (his “man basket”) gets covered with mail, paperwork, and kids’ toys. Even the window sill, which should be clear of stuff, with the exception of a small plant, ends up with electronics, screws, and minutiae that I can never seem to rehome. Don’t get me started on papers and crafts, which seems to be a common clutter issue with homeschoolers.
Here in our empty house, there are limited surfaces, and we have to be extra vigilant about keeping them free of clutter, since our house is on the market and can be shown with limited notice. All of our possessions here are neatly stored in cabinets or non-descript gray bins, to not detract from the interior of the house. Clothing, toiletries, school books, even our kitchen items are in a bin or neatly stored in a cabinet or a drawer. I pick up the few toys that are here at the end of the day and put them in a bin out of the way. Having very little stuff may seem like it would be depressing, but I actually like it. I like walking through the house and seeing clear surfaces and organized containers and cabinets. 
I like having the freedom during the day to get our school work done, or pursue some of my own interests, without being weighed down by the thought of a pile of stuff that has accumulated but that I don’t have the time to put anywhere. I don’t feel guilty sitting down to read for thirty minutes, instead of organizing some messy area that has been overwhelming me. 
I won’t be living like this forever, so how do I carry this over to my regular life once we are in a house again with all of our stuff?!

An empty house makes an excellent play area!

Make sure everything has a place – Every item needs a home – preferably some kind of contained system like a bin, or cabinet. For items that I store on book shelves (especially smaller items) they can be contained into fabric bins kept on the shelf.
Consider what can stay in storage. Whether this is in a storage unit down the street, or just a corner of the garage or attic, what can stay neatly packed away and out of living space?
Consider what can be let go. We purposely keep 2/3 of the children’s toys (if not more) packed away. Occasionally we go through the bins and trade things out. But there are still items stored away that are no longer played with or put into rotation. Some things I think I hold on to for nostalgia reasons, but I could probably find a handful of items I’m not willing to part with and then donate or yardsale the rest. What I keep can stay in bins and we will continue our rotation system. We can also start purging baby clothes – our youngest, currently six months, is our last, so as she grows out of things I can finally start rehoming children’s clothing!
Starting with a Daily and Weekly Routine
Because our house is empty and clean it feels like we are starting with a fresh slate. We also want our house to be “showable” at all times. We sometimes have a day’s notice before a realtor has set up an appointment, but often it is only a couple of hours notice. I need to keep the house picked up so that all I need to do before we head out with the kids and dogs, to keep the house empty for the showing, are minor things like putting away toys and school books, and making sure kitchen counters are clear. I can’t start from scratch, cleaning floors and toilets and things like that.
To make sure I have the house ready for a potential showing each day, I have come up with a daily schedule of tasks, as well as tasks to be done weekly.
Obviously this list will vary for individual situations, but for us, hitting these points daily is essential for keeping the house “ready to show.”
  • Dishes cycled (clean away, and dirties load as they are generated)
  • Dirty laundry collected around the house and a load washing
  • Bathroom trashes emptied
  • Toilets given a swish of bowl cleaner in the morning and left to soak, and a quick scrub later in the day,
  • Kitchen and dining room swept
  • Counters cleared and wiped down
  • Kitchen sink scrubbed
  • Spray shower with daily shower cleaner
It is taking me less than an hour each day to hit these areas and keep the house ready for potential buyers. And truthfully, I like the house being kept this clean too!
I’ve also made a Weekly checklist for areas that don’t need daily upkeep. Each day I hit one or two of these items, and by the end of the week, all tasks have been completed.
  • Vacuum upstairs
  • Vacuum downstairs
  • Mop all floors
  • Clean showers
  • Wipe windows
  • Wipe down cabinets and window sills
Be Mindful of What is Coming In
Because the house is empty, it is tempting to start filling up the space with stuff. Indeed, since we arrived, I’ve had to get two baby gates and a pack n play out of necessity. But I know that we want the house as empty as possible for showings and that keeps me grounded. When we are back to a normal living situation, there should be less pressure to acquire items for the home, but I expect it will still exist.
I’ve read about a strategy that some people employ to deal with this temptation. If they want to bring something in, something needs to go out. Want to buy a new lamp? You need to get rid of one you already have. Seems like an excellent strategy, but I am tempted to go one step beyond, and declare the need to purge two or three items for every one thing coming in. This should ensure that anything coming in is really necessary or worth it, and it helps in the overall reduction process.
End the Day Read to Start the Next
There are often days where, once I finally get the kids in bed after a long day of cleaning up messes and refereeing battles, all I want to do is unwind and go to bed.  It’s tempting to leave the dinner dishes for the morning and wait to do that last load of laundry. But keeping the house ready to show means I have to get the house completely in order before I go to bed so that I start the next day with no mess, in case we end up with an early showing. Now I wind down the evening by putting away stray toys, cycling the laundry and getting the dishwasher loaded and running. Even when I am exhausted, I know how good it will feel to walk into the kitchen and see clear counters the next morning. And I find that I can actually tackle the mess fairly quickly late at night because, thankfully, my kids (and my husband!) haven’t figured out how to wreck the house while they sleep.

Potato Kale Soup

We are currently living quite a spartan lifestyle – no furniture and very little in the way of toys or kitchen tools.  When deciding what larger kitchen gear I could fit in my van for the drive back to Texas, I opted to forgo a soup pot and instead brought my more versatile wok. I prepared this soup in my trusted wok and it worked great!

Potato Kale Soup

5 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 onion, diced
5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, for sautéing
8 cups vegetable stock
1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups (packed) kale, deribbed and in small pieces
1 cup almond milk
1/2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
coarse salt to taste

Sautee potatoes and onion in olive oil for 5 – 10 minutes. Cover with vegetable stock, and salt and Italian seasoning, and cook on medium-high until potatoes are soft. Add beans and cook several minutes more. Lower temperature to medium and add kale and milk. Cook several minutes until kale is soft. Using a stick blender (or adding a couple of cups to a food processor) blend the soup. Leave chunks of potato, but blend to a desired consistency.



End-of-year Organization

It’s that time of year again! I have shared previously how I handle our paperwork and due bills. I’ve used this folder system for two years now and it has made SUCH a difference in my effficiency and organization.

By keeping the year’s documents filed by month, I can easily find and retrieve any needed documents.


Each monthly folder has a “tally sheet” where I list all the bills that are due. There are the usual bills that are the same each month, but I also write out any one-time bills that come in. This sheet lets me keep track of bills that have been payed and that are still pending. Each bill name has a small circle that I check when I pay, and I note date paid, check number or Billpay confirmation code, as well as the amount.

During the month I also check account balances and note account balances on my monthly sheet.

On January 1st, I sit down and go through my folders. Starting with my January folder, I separate individual bills into piles, and from there go through the rest of the monthly folders. By the time I empty the December folder, I have all my bills neatly separated into stacks, and they are already in order based on date. I clip together each pile of bills, put a post it note labeling each as 2014, and then file into my main file folders.

Because I have used this system for the last two years, my master bill folders are neatly organized and I can easily search by year and month if necessary.

I have incorporated two additional items into this system this year.

Previously, I have only included Due Bills in my monthly folders. Any paper work that came in during the month went into a “To File” folder. I know my tendency to lose track of anything in a To File folder, so this year I started putting anything important into each monthly file folder along with the monthly bills. This has made it easier to keep track of documents as they have come in. For example, I put pay stubs into monthly folders as they come in, and at the end of the year, it was so easy to file as they were already in order. I also was able to retrieve information regarding our new health insurance coverage for 2015, because I know I did the paperwork in November and had it filed there.

Additionally, I have included a sturdy envelope in each folder for receipts. As receipts come in during the month, whether it is for gas, medical expenses or a Starbucks coffee, I put the receipts in the envelope. When I file my paperwork, I go through each envelope, trash any receipt that I don’t think is important, and end up with a much smaller pile of 2014 receipts to retain.

My paperwork for 2014 is filed and organized, ready for tax season, and I’m starting the new year organized!