About Build Your Library Curriculum

Build Your Library – Literature based homeschool curriculum – building young minds, one book at a time!

Have you been looking for a literature based homeschool curriculum that is secular? How about a way to incorporate narration, copywork, dictation and memory work into your child’s education? Or art study that ties into history? What about a secular science that is mostly literature based in the elementary years? Well, you have come to the right place! Welcome to Build Your Library Curriculum!

I am a homeschool mother, not unlike you. I spent years searching for a curriculum that fit my needs, and having to tweak each program to death to make it work for my family. Then one day, I realized it would be simpler to just write my own program. That is when Build Your Library was born. I thought I must not be the only one looking for a literature based program that was also secular. So I set to work to create a homeschool curriculum that would fit many needs.

I wanted a curriculum that was rich in great literature, not just old fashioned tomes, but modern children’s literature as well.  I wanted a curriculum that was history based but didn’t drown you in historical fiction. I wanted to make narration a priority, but in a way that was fun and easy. A curriculum that took passages from the books you and your child are reading and turned them into copywork in the elementary years and dictation at the middle school level.  I wanted to incorporate art study that was connected to history and included fun art projects. And I wanted to include science – literature based in the elementary years, and I use Elemental Science’s logic stage program in the middle school years.  It was a tall order – but our children are worth it.

I hope you will try out a program and join the Build Your Library family, – building young minds, one book at a time!

Current Full Grade Level Products Available for Purchase –
Kindergarten – Grade 1 – Grade 2Grade 3Grade 4 – Grade 5 – Grade 6 -
Grade 7

( Grade 8 coming 2015 )

Current Unit Studies – Supplemental Educational Products Available for Purchase
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneHarry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsHistory of ThanksgivingA Jan Brett ChristmasThe HobbitDarwin and EvolutionSharks! – World War IIPrehistory

Other Educational Products –
Narration Cards
  Book of Centuries and Timeline Figures


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Teaching With Living Books: A Tutorial

You often hear the words “living book” tossed around in homeschooling circles, but what constitutes a living book? Can it be subjective? What are spine books? Do we have to read only literature that was written over a hundred years ago? How can I use living books in my homeschool? Today, I want to explore these ideas and discuss the nuts and bolts of educating our children with living books.


What is a Living Book and What Isn’t?

First, lets talk about the definition. A living book is one that was written by one person who has a passion for the subject they are writing about. It is a book that draws you into the story, expands your imagination, causes you to care about the subject or characters and makes you think. A living book should enrich your life in some way, either by teaching you something or expanding your point-of-view.

Living books are often classics, but they aren’t limited to them. While everyone can agree that the works of Twain, Shakespeare and Austen are worthy of study, there are many modern books, from writers like J.K. Rowling, E.L. Konigsburg and Roald Dahl, that are just as worthy and often more relevant to our children.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have “twaddle.” Books in this category are those that talk down to a child, are badly written or overly predictable, and are the equivalent of eating junk food. For example, a long series of books, or books that are based upon popular children’s television shows are twaddle. They are often poorly written fluff, with very little or no substance whatsoever. And like junk food, a little won’t hurt you, but too much will make reading real literature more difficult. Twaddle trains your mind to be weak. If you want to build up your brain, you must feed your mind beautiful ideas.

“For the children? They must grow up upon the best . . . There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told. Let Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ represent their standard in poetry DeFoe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who willdemand literature–that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life.” ~ Charlotte Mason

But what if a book that is deemed “twaddle” is your child’s favorite book? I had one child who devoured the entire Magic Tree House series when he was 6. These books would definitely fall under the definition of twaddle – more than 30 books in the series, very simply written and quite predictable. However, he was a reluctant reader and was wary of making the leap from beginner books like Frog and Toad and Little Bear to chapter books, and those books helped him cross that bridge. They also sparked his interest in a variety of topics, from Vikings to the Titanic. So while technically they are considered twaddle, they did hold merit for my child.

While some books are obvious twaddle (a Spongebob Squarepants picture book, for example), others might be just what your child needs at that particular moment in time. No one should be book-shamed because what they are reading may not be something that Charlotte Mason herself would have chosen for her students. However, I have always refused to read aloud those kinds of books. If they want to read it in their free time, fine. But if they want me to read to them, I will choose a better book. Free reading time should be just that – free for the child to read whatever they want. But something that tends to happen when a child is served a steady diet of beautiful literature – they lose their appetite for twaddle. Suddenly they’ll notice the bad grammar or stilted dialogue, and they’ll begin to choose better books all on their own.

But what about text-books? What Are Spine Books?

With rare exception, textbooks are not living – they do not breath life into a subject. They are often written by committee, and while they can be useful for research purposes, they tend to be very dry and boring. Textbooks tend to focus on surface level information – names, dates and definitions, without going very deeply into any one subject. Instead of textbooks, you’ll use spine books. What is a spine book? A spine book will form the backbone or “spine” of your subject. It’s a book that you’ll use over the course of a semester or the full school year, and everything else within the subject will revolve around it. Living books aren’t limited to fiction. Non-fiction can be written with great literary quality, covering a wide variety of topics – biographies about historical figures or scientists, subjects within science, history and geography.

How can I use living books in my homeschool?

11069598_10205382525618468_3052024490172869765_nNow that we know what a living book is, let’s talk about how we can use them to educate our children. For some, a Charlotte Mason style, living books education can feel scattered, maybe even disjointed. One reason for this, is that when you educate this way, you’ll be reading several books at once, and often covering a wide variety of topics. While that may seem overwhelming at first, let me assure you, it isn’t. Not when you consider the idea of short lessons.

Charlotte Mason insisted on spending no more than 20 – 30 minutes on any single lesson for young children – no more than 45 minutes for an older student. That might not sound like enough time to devote to a subject, but the purpose of short lessons is to keep your child’s interest. You don’t want to turn into Ben Stein, droning on and on while your children fall into a stupor. Short readings keep their attention and insure that they are getting the most out of the materials.

“As I have said, knowledge, that is, roughly, ideas clothed upon with facts, is the proper pabulum for mind. This food a child requires in large quantities and
in great variety. The wide syllabus I have in view is intended in every point to meet some particular demand of the mind.” ~ Charlotte Mason

Another factor that comes into play here is slow reading. If you happen to have a voracious reader, the idea of slow reading might seem absurd. But hear me out. When you take your time with a book and really savor it, you will live with the characters, ponder over the ideas and have plenty of time to dwell within the pages of the book. When you live with a book for a little while, you will be able to suck all of the marrow from it’s bones. Your child will remember a book that was read slowly for a much longer time. I know the books we really lived in are the ones my children still talk about today. Not every book needs to be read slowly though – those “free reading” periods, where my children can pick whatever books they want, can be read at whatever pace they prefer. But books I have specifically chosen for educational purposes we take our time with and ruminate over.

So what does this look like in practice?   

20150316_091655Over the course of one school day, you may read a chapter from a history spine, and add something to your timeline. Maybe you’ll do a writing assignment or project pertaining to the topic being studied.

Then you might read a chapter from a read aloud, possibly historical fiction that ties into the time period being studied, but often just a beautiful piece of literature. You’ll ask your child to narrate what they heard, or copy a particularly interested or lovely passage for their copywork.

Later you’ll enjoy a poem or three, and maybe read about a scientist or a topic in your science study. Possibly you’ll work on an art project or study an artist who lived during the time period you are studying in history.

I like to divide my day so that we aren’t trying to do everything in one sitting. So, the mornings are devoted math and language arts, with our current read aloud being our kick-off in the morning. I like to read aloud at meals, because everyone is sitting down and occupied. (I either eat before or after.) Then before lunch we’ll do our history or geography lesson, followed by a science or art lesson after lunch. Over the course of the day, we’ll read from our various books, covering a wide range of subject matter, from history, to literature, to poetry and science, but everything kind of flows together.

I like to line up books in such a way that they connect – not always – but often, and then my children can make those connections. Sometimes it’s serendipitous and unplanned, like the time we were studying WWII after having recently finished reading aloud the entire Harry Potter series and one of my children had the epiphany that Voldemort and the Death Eaters were doing to the Muggle-born witches and wizards the same thing that Hitler and the Nazis were doing to the Jews. Children should make their own connections – relationships between subjects and books being read. This is when the material they are studying will really stick in their mind. It’s real learning that happens when a child soaks up engaging literature, history and science lessons; when they have time to ponder over the ideas they have been reading – this is when connections are made and that learning sticks, because they made the discovery themselves.

Another thing to note – you don’t need to do every subject, every day. So, maybe Mondays and Wednesdays we’ll have a history lesson, and Tuesdays and Thursdays we’ll do Science. I like to save anything especially fun for Fridays. It’s just a nice way to end the week, so that’s when we’ll often do our art or science experiments. Do what works best for your family! You may find that it’s easiest to do all of your reading in the evenings, rather than broken up throughout the day. Or maybe your child likes to have the final say in which order they do their lessons.

“Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential. Naturally, each of us possesses this mind-stuff only in limited measure, but we know where to procure it; for the best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is
abundant provision and orderly serving.” ~ Charlotte Mason

Living books can be the foundation for a beautiful and rich education. It will give your child a feast of ideas, heroes to emulate, a rich vocabulary and provide a wide and varied education. These books will bring delight to your child, filling their mind with the best of the best.

You can read more about giving your child a literary education in these articles:


If you want to give your child a literary education, check out Build Your Library’s full year curriculum guides – Kindergarten – Grade 1 – Grade 2Grade 3Grade 4 – Grade 5 – Grade 6 - Grade 7  as well as our wide variety of literature based Unit Studies

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Homeschooling: Keeping it Simple


I remember when I first started homeschooling. My oldest was four, and I excitedly poured over dozens of homeschool catalogs. There were so many options and all of them seemed necessary if I wanted to have a well rounded student. So, I bought way too many things and didn’t even use half of them. This same scenario would play out year after year until I finally had an epiphany.

I don’t need to cover everything every single year.

Let that sink in… because it took me a while to really let myself believe it. But it’s true. You don’t need to cover every single subject every year.

One of the things I adore about the Charlotte Mason style of education is that you can present your children with a wide array of beautiful ideas, with short lessons and in a way that connections are easily made. We don’t need to spend hours studying grammar and spelling and handwriting and reading comprehension and vocabulary and writing every year, because we can cover those things through reading, narration, copywork and dictation. That doesn’t mean that we never have to study grammar in depth – but you certainly don’t need to every year. We can let the literature, science, history and art blend together as one easily flows into the other. To me, this style of learning just makes sense.

20140812_111230One of the things I often hear from people, is that they aren’t sure if they are doing enough. How does one define “enough?” When I look at a typical course of study for each grade level, it can be intimidating. There is just so much there! And when it comes to science and social studies especially, the subject matter can seem choppy and scattered. How can one teach all of those subjects within a cohesive framework? This type of homeschooling leads to a long list of items that must be checked off each day. It leads to tedious busy work and overwhelmed mothers trying to make sure they cover everything.

Rather – I look at the overall goal: what do I want to cover over the course of their school years? What do I want them to care about? What books do I want them to read? What is important to my individual child? There is no one size fits all when it comes to education! When you look at their education as a whole – everything makes more sense. The pieces all fit together, like a puzzle.

So what does a simplified Charlotte Mason style eduction look like?

Literature is the foundation – reading great books can fill your child’s mind with ideas, leading down rabbit trails into other subjects. Reading a wide variety of great books will set the tone for your schooling. Your child will narrate what they read – first orally and eventually in writing, leading them to learn to craft essays and begin to analyze literature. They’ll learn vocabulary in context and use passages from literature as copywork and later dictation.

You study history chronologically so that you can begin to see the flow of centuries and how one leads to another. We aren’t memorizing dates and names, we’re watching the pageant of time unfold before us, finding out about the people that really lived and how they changed our world. You’ll learn geography as it pertains to history, watching empires rise and fall and seeing how the maps change through the course of time. You’ll get a glimpse of life in other cultures through beautiful stories and well chosen documentaries and movies.

Art and literature both tie into your history – you’ll see the art work that came out of the turbulent times in which the artists lived, and read books that will allow you to “visit” those time periods.

You’ll focus on only one or two science topics per year, really digging in and exploring with well written books, fascinating documentaries and enlightening experiments.

With this type of schooling, you’re using the best resources so that while you aren’t checking off endless boxes each day, you’re still giving your children a powerful and thorough education. Each piece of the puzzle brings it’s value and worth to the table. There is no busy work to “get through.” Your child’s time is more important than that.

DSC04267When you simplify – you give your child freedom. You can do your lessons in the morning and leave your afternoons open to explore, to play, to daydream. You’ll give your children time to try new things, time to just be. In this world of rush, rush, rush, it’s a real gift to allow our children that space to just breathe.


So yes, mothers, you are doing enough. You are giving your children a beautiful education, filled with ideas, and heroes, the poetry and lyricism of language and and exploration of the world around them. You’re giving them the freedom to imagine and explore. What could be more important than that?


For more simplified homeschooling – check out Build Your Library’s full year curriculum guides – Kindergarten – Grade 1 – Grade 2Grade 3Grade 4 – Grade 5 – Grade 6 - Grade 7  as well as our wide variety of literature based Unit Studies



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Beating the Winter Blues

10868272_10205046604820658_183271199238241884_nIt happens every year, right around February. The thrill of the shiny new school year has worn off, the daily grind has started grinding on your nerves – maybe the cold weather is keeping you inside and your family is suffering from a bout of cabin fever. Winter burnout hits all of us, homeschool newbies and veterans alike. Maybe you feel like it’s time to throw in the towel, send the kids to school and be done with the whole thing. But take a moment first and get some perspective!

That is a yardstick - and I didn't push it all the way down through the snow.

That is a yardstick – and I didn’t push it all the way down through the snow.

There are many reasons we end up burned out, but I think the chief reason is the simplest – boredom. It’s halfway through the year and if you follow a routine, you’re maybe getting bored. Change things up a little bit and you will all feel better for it. Now I don’t mean drop everything and buy all new curriculum. But if things are feeling a bit stale, maybe take a week or two and do a unit study, or focus on an interest – art or space or whatever strikes you and your children’s fancy. Taking some time off from your routine and when you come back to it again, everything will feel fresh again.

All those kits and projects and fun books you bought at the beginning of the year (or 5 years ago!) but never got around to? Pull them out right now and declare Fun School! Your kids will think it’s Christmas.

If you live in a snowy climate, spend a few days on nature study – there are lots of great winter themed nature books:

A few other hints and tips to beat the winter blues:

Spring cleaning! Yes, I know it’s not spring, but sometimes sprucing things up around the house can make you feel so much better. And just the thought of spring can energize things. Not to mention, it’s easier to think in a clean, clutter-free house.

Get out of the house – this is hard if you live in a cold climate, but if it’s not below freezing, getting outside for some fresh air and exercise can make all the difference. And mom – you too! Don’t neglect yourself here. It’s easy to send the children out and think you’re getting some quiet time, but you need that fresh air and sunshine just as much as they do! So go out and play with them. Just think of all the calories you’re burning. ;)

10269510_10205018457516993_664453979716129957_nAnd on that note – bake a treat. I don’t know about you, but I LOVE baking. Unfortunately, I also love eating all those delicious treats. So I have to make it a special occasion thing. But hey, winter burnout counts as a special occasion, right? So bake that recipe you’ve been drooling over on Pinterest and then go run around outside with your children for a while. And what kid doesn’t love to bake? Let them help and call it life-skills.

Grow something – especially if you live in a cold climate, bringing some green into your home can work wonders. Start planning your spring garden and plant your seedlings. Just seeing that green can make the whole world seem brighter.

Don’t forget to take care of you! It’s easy for us homeschool moms to get lost in the day-to-day mothering/schooling/homemaking 24/7, but we are people too, and we need to take a little time for ourselves. Burnout doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with homeschooling. We may not have the means or the time to take a week long spa vacation, but we can go out for coffee and then spend a quiet hour at the bookstore or library, or get a pedicure and a hair cut – whatever helps you relax. Even if it’s just for one hour once a week, that hour can make all the difference in your perspective. So don’t neglect yourself!

The winter blues don’t have to ruin your homeschool year – take a moment to focus on what everyone needs right now – whether it’s a clean space, more time outdoors or a week off from the routine – and then recharge your family’s batteries.

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Flash Sale! Blizzard of 2015

Build Your Library Secular Homeschool Curriculum Sale!

Here in the Northeast, we’re having a snow day! My kids had been complaining that we haven’t had very much snow at all so far this winter… I guess Mother Nature has decided to make up for it by sending us all of the snow today during the Blizzard of 2015. We already have at least a foot of snow outside!

blizzard2015So, since we’re snowed in, I thought, why not make the best of it? Let’s have a flash sale! Today and tomorrow only (January 27 – 28), you can take 15% off of everything in our store. Just use the code Blizzard15!

This is my front yard as of 8AM this morning. Chill out Elsa!

This is my front yard as of 8AM this morning. Chill out Elsa!

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A Hint of What’s to Come – Grade 8

20150125_083911For the last month or so, I’ve been on a book-collecting spree. I knew for a while that I was going to do World History for the Grade 8 plans. Then, I got my hands on a copy of The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way at my local library. I fell in love. I knew I loved Joy Hakim’s writing style, from the History of Us series. After reading some of her science series, I knew I needed to incorporate them into Build Your Library somehow. And then it hit me – why not do a History of Science for Grade 8? And why not weave in World History as well to round it out a bit more? So, rather than just a crash-course in World History, it’s become a hybrid of History of Science through World History. You’ll still touch on all the important historical events, but you’ll be seeing them through the lens of the scientific world.

As I started scheduling the three Story of Science books and weaving in the history, I got more and more excited. I have a huge pile of books – not all of them will make the cut and end up in the curriculum – but I am aiming for a science-theme. So the books range from classics to modern YA, to science fiction to living science books. I’m even hoping to work in some living math!

I’m really excited to dig in – I’ve nearly finished scheduling the science/history portion and I already know this is going to be an incredible year!


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Practical Homeschooling Magazine Reader’s Choice Award 2015

2015hmsealA month ago, I got an e-mail from Mary Pride stating that I had been nominated for a Practical Homeschooling Magazine Reader’s Choice award. I was surprised – Build Your Library is still a pretty new curriculum, and excited that someone had nominated us. I didn’t really expect much, especially when I saw the competition. I was up against many well-known and established big name standards in the homeschooling world… companies that had been around since before I had even started homeschooling 12 years ago. I shared the link to vote on social media, and then forgot all about it. After all, with all that competition, I was the underdog, and not likely to get many votes.

Well, last week I heard that I had actually received Honorable Mention in the Elementary Curriculum category. I nearly cried. I really wasn’t expecting it, and I’m still kind of amazed. So if you voted, thank you. It really does mean the world to me. I have amazing customers, and I’m thrilled that I get to play a part in helping you to educate your children.



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New Unit Study: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

HPCoverI am so excited to finally present the Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets unit study! When I began working on the first Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone unit study, I had plans for the whole series. But since I’m also still finishing up the last of the full year programs, the rest of the Harry Potter unit studies got temporarily placed on the back burner… But so many of you were eager to jump into the next book in the series, I made it a top priority. I’m so thrilled to tell you guys all about it!


IMAG2133Welcome back to the exciting world of wizards, mythical creatures, magic and danger! Harry’s second year at Hogwarts gets off to a rough start and it only gets worse when students are being mysteriously petrified. You’ll explore Harry’s world with a variety of activities, many that are continuations from the first unit. You’ll continue your Magical Terms and Spells Glossary, Magical Devices Guide and Weekly Prophet, but you’ll also be adding in a Magical Creatures field guide, as well as several activities tied directly to the story. As always, there are copywork/dictation passages taken from the novel, as well as vocabulary and discussion questions.

2015-01-09 19.20.15

You’ll also be studying another Hogwart’s course – this time it’s Astronomy. You’ll begin to familiarize yourself with the night sky and the constellations that decorate it, while learning about the mythology behind many of them. You’ll read from the Night Sky Atlas and Stories of the Zodiac (Dot to Dot in the Sky), and complete several fun and educational projects – from keeping a Stargazing Journal to making a Constellation guide book.

2015-01-09 19.16.43The Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets unit study will take approximately 3 weeks to complete and is appropriate for upper-elementary and up. The PDF file is 49 pages and includes a full schedule, project ideas and 16 activity pages.

Purchase the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Unit Study – $5.99

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See Also: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Unit Study


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My Year in Books – 2014

1557522_10202304540750770_392068234_nAnother year of reading is done. I’m a little OCD about tracking my reading. I love being able to look back at the end of the year and see what I’ve read. I started keeping an excel spreadsheet again this year in addition to my Goodreads account. I’m already planning my 2015 reading – I stumbled upon a reading challenge that has my wheels turning, plus I have all the books for Grade 8 piling up on my shelf…I probably need an intervention.

Part of my reflecting is coming up with my Best-Of in different categories. I’ve been doing this in some form, either on a blog or homeschool forum, for at least 6 or 7 years now. It’s a fun way of looking back over my year.

Best History: 
Year of Impossible Goodbyes – I find myself thinking about this book quite a bit lately, especially with North Korea being in the news. It’s a quick, riveting read about the aftermath of WWII and the beginnings of the Korean war.

Best Parenting/Homeschooling:
Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading – I had heard about this book probably a dozen times before I finally picked up a copy. It was a nice read about discussing books with children. Some of it I had already been doing for years, but I picked up some new ideas too.

Best Non-Fiction:
360 Degrees Longitude: One Family’s Journey Around the World – This book awakened my wanderlust. Imagine taking a year long trek around the world. Exciting, right? Now imagine doing it with 2 young children in tow. Now it’s sounds crazy, but also like the most amazing experience ever. I would love to be able to do something like this with my children.

Best New-to-You Author: 
This is a hard one to answer, as I read a few new-to-me authors this year, so I’m going to make this a tie between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Yes, I know, where have I been? I read three of the Discworld books and Neverwhere this year and they were so good! Just the right mix of funny and cynical and fantasy.

Best New Book in a Series:
The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One – I stumbled upon the Chaos Walking trilogy when I saw it on a list of not-to-miss YA novels. The kindle version was on sale so I bought it on a whim. It was probably some of the best science fiction/fantasy I’ve read this year. I quickly got my hands on the sequel and I’m reading the final book in the trilogy right now. The premise was enough to catch my interest – a planet where you can hear the thoughts of men and animals can talk, a settlement of only men, because all the women have died. I loved the unfolding of the mystery, the characters, the cliff-hangers. I could almost add Patrick Ness to my favorite new-to-me authors.

Book That Made You Laugh Out Loud:
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened I’ve been reading Allie Brosh’s blog for years and was excited when I spotted this book at my local library. Funny, insightful, it made me laugh til I cried.

Book That Made You Cry:
The Book Thief – I read it three times this year, it was that good. I cried so hard reading this book that I had to take a break. I thought it would be easier my third time through when I read it aloud to the kids, but no, I choked and struggled to make it through the end without bawling.

Best Series:
The Color of Magic (Discworld series) – I’m going to have to give this one to the Discworld series, even though I’ve barely scraped the surface. I’ll definitely be reading more of them this year.

Best Plot Twist:
The Ask and the Answer: Chaos Walking: Book Two – the first book was great, and this one really steps it up to the next level. There are so many plot twists, I was never really sure what was going to happen.

Best Historical Fiction:
The Flowers of War – I saw this movie (which is beautiful and harrowing) before I knew it was a book, so of course I had to hunt it down and read it. The book was just as beautiful and just as harrowing, but very different from the movie. It takes place during the rape of Nanking in 1937 and it’s based on a true story about an American priest protecting schoolgirls within the church grounds.

Best Fantasy/Sci-Fi:
Neverwhere: A Novel – this was my introduction to Neil Gaiman, and it was so good. I love dark humor and quirky stories and this has both.

Best Children’s/YA Book:
Walk Two Moons – It was a re-read, but I love this book so much. It’s beautiful and quirky, and the characters are all drawn so well. They feel like they could walk right off the page and talk to you face to face.

Best Read Aloud:
Nightmares! – this book caught my eye because it’s written by Jason Segel. I was curious, and it had good reviews, so I thought we’d do it as a Halloween read aloud. I didn’t have very high expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised. And my picky twins LOVED this book. My teenager who listened along, really enjoyed the story. And the story is really, really good. It keeps you riveted, anxious to see how everything turns out. We’re hoping that there is a sequel in the works and that it’s released in time for next October.

Worst Read of the Year:
Here I Go Again: A Novel – I really wanted to love this book. Jen Lancaster’s blog is hilarious. It’s about time traveling to the 80s, it was compared to Mean Girls…I had high hopes. But it was bad. So bad. The main character was so horrible and unlikeable that I just couldn’t bring myself to care if she righted her wrongs. I just wanted to not have to read about her anymore.

Best Read of the Year:
The Book Thief – Did I mention that I read this three times? If you haven’t read it yet, please, find yourself a copy and read it. It’s probably one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking books I’ve ever read.

So what books did you enjoy this year? Feel free to use this list – or even add your own categories!   Share your list in the comments section or link to your blog.

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Ring in the New Year with a Freebie!

New-Year-FreebieWith a new year on the horizon, it’s a great time to reflect on the year that’s passed. I know I love to sit down with a notebook and remind myself of my favorite memories, goals met, funny moments with the kids I don’t want to forget and of course a book log (stay tuned, in the next few days I’ll be sharing a post about my year in books!)

I like to sit down and chat with my children about what they’ve accomplished and what they’re looking forward to in the New Year. It’s a great time to reflect, but also to make goals. I’m not a fan of resolutions, because they are often too open ended and quick to be forgotten. Instead, I like to set realistic goals. For example, rather than say I’m going to lose weight and exercise more, I’ll set a goal that I’ll eat more vegetables and less sweets and set a fitness goal like walk one mile 3-4 mornings a week. This works the same way for our children – help them to set a goal to work towards or choose a skill to focus on and they’ll be able to make it happen.

Of course, if your kid are anything like mine, it can be hard to get them to talk about things like goals and plans for the new year. That’s why I created this printable freebie to help you and your child reflect on 2014 and think about the new year ahead.

Download the New Year Freebie Here

I hope you and your family have an amazing 2015!


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Educational Gift Ideas – Cook Family Favorites

2014giftguideThis is going to be the final post in the Educational Gifts series, but if you are looking for some last minute gift ideas, there is still plenty of time to shop.

I’ve had a lot of fun sharing some great ideas for holiday gifts. Thus far, I’ve shared ideas for language arts, science, math, history and geography, and art inspired gifts. Today, I’d like to share some of my family’s particular favorites.

I asked my children to come up with a list of some of their favorite things with the caveat that it couldn’t be a video game. Here is what they came up with:

Board Games:

10846129_10204619322218860_7503817151783456401_nMy kids LOVE board games. We usually have a weekly game night and we often will spend weekend evenings and holidays and vacation playing extended rounds of our favorites.

Apples To Apples – this is probably our go to all time favorite game. It says ages 12+ on the box, but as soon as your child can read fluently, they are ready to play.

Clue Board Game – this is another game that we’ve been playing frequently this year. We’re big fans of games that require creative thinking and logic.

Set: The Family Game of Visual Perception – We went through a phase a few years back of playing set on an almost daily basis. One of my twins is especially good at it. It’s very challenging, but also really fun. Especially when you’re in competition mode.

Bubble Talk Card Game – Similar to Apples to Apples, but instead, you have a silly picture and everyone has to come up with a caption to go along with it. This game is hilarious. You can make it even sillier by writing your own captions. Be prepared to take frequent giggle-breaks.

Movies and DVDs

The Leapfrog Series: LeapFrog: Letter FactoryLeapFrog: Talking Words Factory, LeapFrog: Learn to Read at the Storybook Factory, and  LeapFrog: Word Caper – I first got these when my twins were small, and they watched these dvds over and over. Last year I started playing them for my youngest and she loves her “Talking Frog Guys.” I use these as a fun way to reinforce phonics skills.

The Magic School Bus: The Complete Series – There was a time, when my kids were small, that Magic School Bus was the basis for our science “curriculum.” We’d watch whatever episode came on tv that day, then later we might find a book at the library or in our home library and learn a bit more. I can’t say enough great things about The Magic School Bus – Mrs. Frizzle is one of our favorite teachers.

Schoolhouse Rock! – Ok, I’ll admit that this is probably more one of my husband and I’s favorites, but on occasion, my kids have enjoyed it. I like to put on specific videos to reinforce something we’re learning about.

The Scolastic Video Collection dvds are also fantastic. It’s essentially an animated storybook – the words and illustrations are all taken directly from the text and they are very well done. Some of our personal favorites are:
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom… and More Fun with Letters and Numbers
Chrysanthemum and More Kevin Henkes Stories
Where the Wild Things Are and Other Maurice Sendak Stories
Make Way for Ducklings … and More Delightful Duck Stories


10428510_10203369795381470_6656857038119656891_nMy older kids have gotten really into manga and anime over the last couple of years and one of my twins is very artistic. Here are some of his particular favorites:

Mastering Manga with Mark Crilley: 30 drawing lessons from the creator of Akiko – he carries this book around like it’s his bible. I’ve really seen his art work improve since he got this book for Christmas a year ago.  There is also a sequel (Mastering Manga 2: Level Up with Mark Crilley) which he may or may not be receiving this Christmas. ;)

He also really likes these pencils: Prismacolor Premier Soft Core Colored Pencil, Set of 23 Assorted Manga Colors and markers: Prismacolor Premier Double-Ended Art Markers, Set of 12 Assorted Manga Colors, though he’s still getting comfortable with using them.

Misc. Toys

2014-12-15 14.11.49Pokemon Trading Card Game: Legends of Justice Box – A few years back, my kids were introduced to Pokemon. They spent hours upon hours setting up their decks, playing against each other, playing with other kids at a local game shop…it was almost an obsession. It’s fizzled out some, but they still play and collect cards. I think this was the gateway into Japanese anime/manga that all three of them are really into now. This also led them to spend the last year or two creating their own game that they named Maiti-Ju (Mighty Beasts) that works fairly similarly to Pokemon. They and some of the neighbor children have spent hours working out the rules, different elements, naming the creatures, creating the cards, etc.

Safari Ltd Wild TOOB – really, any of the TOOBs are awesome. My kids love setting up all kinds of scenes with these, they are great for dioramas and such, but also just to play. My youngest loves anything small and she likes to just carry these around with her. It’s not strange to check her pockets and find 3-4 little animals tucked away in there.


Of course, I have to mention some of our favorite books – these are “just for fun” books that my kids love.

20140812_111211Elephant and Piggie – these are just the best little books. We started reading these when one of my twins needed more reading practice but was tired of the same old readers. He fell in love with these books and now my youngest adores them as well. The best thing, we all love them. Mo Willems is a genius. He can create hilarious stories with just the illustrations and a few words. Some of our favorites (though they are ALL fantastic!):

Should I Share My Ice Cream?
We Are in a Book!
There Is a Bird On Your Head!
Elephants Cannot Dance!

For the older crowd:

Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)

Percy Jackson and the Olympians 5 Book Paperback Boxed Set

Guardians of Ga’hoole Boxed Set, Books 1 – 6

The Hunger Games Box Set: Foil Edition

The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings

I’ve had a lot of fun writing this series – I hope that it has been helpful to you this holiday season!

Happy Holidays!


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