MG fiction MG Non fiction

Middle Grade Dog Books

We are following a rabbit trail right now that includes so many dogs being heroic. It turns out there is no shortage of canine literature. 

Why are we reading historical dog fiction? My 11 yo is a little bit dog obsessed right now, so why not mix a high-interest activity with some of the topics I planned to use for school this year anyway?  (Disclaimer: Long time readers may remember a similar post from a couple of years ago, and we didn’t get to all of these, so we are finishing up now that we bought a dog of our own.) Brag alert: Isn’t she adorable!



 This is our starting point. I specifically didn’t include books like Where the Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that we’ve already watched the movies, and number two is that they are just somber. I’m hoping that these will have more of a balance between reality and a crushing, depressing plot.

The Captain’s Dog works in perfectly with our study of American history this Fall in our first trimester. Tornado is also set in the US and will fold in with our Earth Science/Weather unit that we are working on right now. Love that Dog is a book of poetry. I read through it quickly in one sitting and am excited to use it as an intro to our poetry studies.

Finding and Saving Zasha are set during World War 2 and Cracker is set during the Vietnam War As a bonus  Love that Dog and Cracker are also on the Brave Writer  Single Issue Arrow List. That is just an extra bonus for me. I’m lazy enough to like having copy work already selected.  I don’t get any kickback from BraveWriter; I’m just a big fan.

deep thoughts

Deep Thoughts By Jack Handey Part 2

I’ve been posting book reviews for close to a year now. First at a free WordPress site, then a paid one and now here at Squarespace (forever I hope). In that time I have gained followers and then lost and gained them back with each move. I’ve tried during that period to post a review five days a week. Last Fall I was posting daily. It’s easy for me, and it is a fun hobby. I’m reading anyway, why not tell the world about books you may not find on your own?

The thing is I’ve found that as I became completely current in the MG/YA new release schedule, I’ve been reading books because they are “new” and not because they strike me as something that I want to know or that we’ll use in our homeschool. 

This past week I’ve got five book reviews up of books that I love. As in, I want to buy them for everyone I know. Those reviews are easy and fun to write. It occurred to me that there are no blog police and I can be choosy about what I review. So, this all boils down to me saying that there may or may not be five new reviews each week, but I do promise that the ones that are here are the best of what I’ve read. I do rate and review over on Goodreads so if you are wondering what I thought of something not here that’s a good place to start. Also, many times my review is up there long before it gets posted here. Or hit me up on Twitter where I talk books, Chicago politics, and cats.

MG fiction

York: The Shadow Cipher Book One

Remember how you could completely see yourself in the world of Hogwarts? That’s how it is in this book with a sci-fi version of New York City. I was only fifty pages in when I had that sinking feeling. The next book won’t be released for a year… I tried to read slowly in the same way that I try not to drink coffee too fast in the morning. In other words, it was over before I knew it.

A bit like a steampunk National Treasure this story is labeled middle grade, but anyone who loves a cipher will enjoy themselves. Tess and Theo are twins in the seventh grade. They are hilariously normal. Theo wears a shirt that says “Schrodinger’s cat is dead” on the front and then a zombie cat on the back with the line, “Schrodinger’s cat is ALIIIIIIVE.” There will be a movie version of this book and I will be buying that shirt. 

Anyway, here’s the gist things. Back to Tess and Theo Biederman and friend, Jaime Cruz, who live in a Morningstarr building in New York City. In this version of York, the famous Morningstarr twins started inventing and building a fantastical array of dwellings, transportation, and life-like machines in the late 18th century, and the present-day result is a steampunk-like mash-up of technological wonder.  Then, they vanished, leaving behind a trail of clues to inherit their secrets. Real estate magnate Darrell Slant is planning to evict all residents of their building unless they solve the cipher first. 

The best parts? The parents are alive, the kids have a sense of social justice, the city atmosphere, a mc with anxiety, and most of all its a smart book. The characters are smart and expect the readers to be as well. One million thumbs up.

York: The Shadow Cipher By Laura Ruby is available now (check out the deckle edge edition!)

Audiobook MG fiction

Minecraft: The Island

I loved this first person written story of survival in the Minecraft universe.
It was everything I felt the first time I played Minecraft outside creative mode. We were early adopters of Minecraft and played the beta version in the long ago times when there were no guide books or internet cheats to tell you what you could and couldn’t eat. Max Brooks takes the reader inside Minecraft where you are right there with him as he discovers how to survive and that eating raw meat in the Minecraft universe is just as gross as in real life. 

In the narrative of the story, the author finds two books that help him on his way; I’m pretty sure that these are the books he referred to: Minecraft: Guide to Exploration and Minecraft: Guide to Redstone due out in October. That kind of product placement annoys me, but in this case made me want to get them as reference books for our next journey into the wilds of Minecraft.

There is a list at the end of the book naming all the things he learned in Minecraft world, and although I read an uncorrected ARC I hope they left my favorite in there:

33. Books make the world bigger. 

Minecraft: The Island By Max Brooks is available today!

Also, there are TWO versions available on Audible one narrated by Jack Black and one by Samira Wiley!! Good thing we have credits just waiting for this.

July 18, 2017


One for Sorrow: A Ghost Story

I jumped this ahead in my queue after reading the first four pages. Spooky time infused with history as this is set during the influenza epidemic of 1918. I haven’t read a genuinely scary book for awhile. It’s going to be hard to review this without giving away spoilers. I’ll set the stage, and you can deduce the rest. Annie is the new girl at her school. She has just moved to town with her mother and father. She has an uncle away fighting World War 1, and they are hopeful that the war will end soon and that he will be home by Christmas.

On her first day of school,  Annie sets off confident that she will make new friends. Her first day academically goes great, and she is befriended by Elsie who isn’t all that nice. None of the other girls like Elsie either and therefore turn against Annie. As a reader, you can see why. Elsie is bossy, mean, and just plain unlikeable. She lies, steals, breaks Annie’s doll and is just awful. Then she dies. Annie soon becomes good friends with the girls who had rejected her by association with Elsie.

Influenza is killing people all over their town, and the girls get the bright idea to go to viewings pretending they know the deceased to get cake and other sweets.

I don’t want to spoil the plot any further- but know that the premise of this plot is that ghosts are real- so if that doesn’t jive with your beliefs, you think it will scare the heck out of your kid, then skip this one.

If you are up for some conversations of what may or may not be real, bullying and girl cliques or just want a good scary book, then you should pick this one up. I binge read it in a few hours, I could not put it down. Small spoiler- there is a happy ending.

One for Sorrow: A Ghost Story

Hardcover – July 18, 2017

by Mary Downing Hahn (Author)


Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

I’m missing chatting about our school stuff, so I thought I’d write up some deep thoughts for all of us to ruminate on. If you don’t understand the blog post title please watch all of the 1990’s SNL and then come back to hear my wise musings.


Years ago, we had a school year where we worked six weeks on and one week off. Might it have been 2002? Mary was a toddler, and I remember watching Leapfrog and those learning to read videos from Calvert.  I’ll have to ask the big kids if they remember anything about it. Since I’m in this weird position of having just one child to educate I thought we’d try it again. Back then I was exhausted, and now that it seems Grandad will be here with us forever I’m exhausted again.

I think looking forward to a week off might be a nice change for us. 

I sat down with the calendar this morning and mapped out 40 weeks off school. Of those, the first seven are going to be three day weeks. We’re starting back this week on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule until the week of Labor Day when we’ll have full five day weeks.

This timetable puts us in the fun position of having his birthday week off in August. A week towards the end of September (perfect for museum trips). Then a week in November when we are going to the San Diego Zoo. Somehow it worked out perfectly for Christmas week off and then a week off in February, March, and May.  

I’m cautiously optimistic that it will work and I know from previous experience that if it doesn’t, we’ll just adjust the plan to something else. That’s the biggest piece of advice I have for new homeschoolers- figure out what method seems feasible and try it. It’s okay to change things up. It’s one of the benefits of taking on the enormous responsibility of educating your children.