This Month's Featured Resources...

Revolutionary WarScrap Crafting Lego History Latin Calendar

Tuesday, September 19

Let's Go Geography - Review

Let's Go Geography
While we enjoy travelling around the USA as part of hubby’s job, we’ve never had the opportunity to explore beyond its borders.  World travel is something that fascinates the children, as it does most children, because they are interested in various cultures and how people are the same and different.  We can’t jump on a trans-Atlantic flight, but we CAN use programs such as this homeschool geography course from Let’s Go Geography to bring the world into our homeschool!  Lately, we’ve been using their downloadable curriculum to explore countries from every corner!

Let’s Go Geography is a three-year voyage around all six inhabited continents – each one is touched upon each year.  It is a subscription curriculum geared toward elementary-aged children, but we were able to tweak it a bit to make it interesting to our middle schooler, too.  (We prefer to study history and geography together.)  Subscriptions are offered by the semester or by the year.  A full year includes thirty-six weeks of lessons (as the average school year is thirty-six weeks long).  They are delivered to your inbox weekly, or you have the option of downloading all of them after signing up.  As our internet is option spotty, we opted for the latter.  It was nice to see everything that was coming up, and where they would be travelling, from the get-go.

As an example of the variety of places visited, for the first semester, we visited the Northeast US, Hawaii, Canada, Haiti, Nicaragua, Belize, Greenland, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland.  If you choose to follow the (probably much easier) weekly inbox downloads, then you simply click on the link each week, download the materials, and go!

Each lesson includes map work, learning the basic country facts, listening to music, watching videos (like a virtual tourist), doing crafts and coloring pages, reading books, and learning about the flag.  The books are referenced by call number (though honestly, I would also prefer that the publisher cite BOTH the call number and title, because then we’d be able to request materials online at our library ahead of time).  The crafts do not require fancy materials, but instead use basics that you have laying around the house, such as plastic cups, paper towel tubes, crayons, and glue.  There are printable coloring pages and activities, as well as passport documents to put into your downloadable passport once the country study has been completed.

Before starting the lessons, we printed each child a passport, where he would keep a record of the countries ‘visited.’  We started with the Northeast US, partly because it was the first lesson and partly because we’ve been there many times and wanted to see how the lesson lined up with our own experiences.  The boys were not terribly impressed at the depth of coverage, but it did set off an entire morning of “remember when…” conversations about our trips to the area.  Given that reaction, I decided to allow each of them to pick a country they were interested in from the remainder of the year, and we started skipping around.  While this curriculum is designed to be used in order, it is set up in a way that makes it completely feasible to skip around without issue.

For our next stop, we hit Finland, home of their uncle’s ancestors, and “a really pretty place.”  While, as a teacher, I must admit that the depth of information and setup was identical to that of the Northeast US, this lesson was much more interesting to them, and I can only ascertain that it is because we have never visited Finland.  They enjoyed the virtual tours through the video clips, as well as getting to make their own reindeer. 

Then, we jumped over to China, where we learned about the Forbidden City, walked on the Great Wall of China, went underground to see the Terracotta Warriors, and made our own Chinese New Year dragons.  Once again, they enjoyed ‘visiting’ and touring the country via the video clips (which are hosted through YouTube).  By the third country, my middle schooler was feeling a bit underwhelmed…but then again, this is not designed for middle school-aged children.  I gave him a research project to do about the country and had him report back to us – and he appreciated the challenge.

Every nine weeks, there is a review lesson that goes back and covers all of the things learned in the previous nine weeks.  This includes map work, flag matching, coloring pages, and basic geography (such as latitude & longitude).  There were no crafts this week.  I think having the review is a good idea because it reinforces that knowledge.  Also worth noting is that once every nine weeks, there is a ‘break lesson,’ meaning that there is no lesson offered and students are to take a break.  So, essentially, this curriculum is only thirty-two lessons, not thirty-six.
The publisher recommends creating a binder for each child and then storing the lessons and printables in the binder, so that you have a ‘trip around the world’ at the end of the year.  They provide printable tabs to divide it up by continent, and you can put the continent map and ‘flags of {the continent}” page in the front of each divider section.  (Each country also comes with its own map.) 

It is recommended that the curriculum be used one hour per week.  Personally, I do not think that this is enough instruction to call this product an actual “curriculum,” and would be more apt to label it as a “supplement” to a geography curriculum.  That said, it’s a fun, hands-on supplement that will make young learners more apt to remember the things they are studying.

Check out the video below for more information about Let’s Go Geography, and see what others are saying at the Homeschool Review Crew!

Crew DisclaimerLet’s Go Geography {Reviews}

Monday, September 18

Silver Dollar City - Holiday Family Fun!

Silver Dollar City, in Branson, MO, offers up great family entertainment all year long!   For the holiday season, however, they are stepping it up a notch!   Here are four fantastic events to keep on your horizon.....

National Crafts &  Cowboy Festival (Sept 13-Oct 28)

For fall, Silver Dollar City presents the National Crafts & Cowboy Festival, featuring some of the nation's finest craftsmen and authentic cowboys. The festival presents a Wild West Show with trick riders, ropers and a world-champion Native American Hoop dancer; Western music; a barn dance, and 125 visiting craftsmen. Best of Missouri Hands juried artists demonstrate their art and fall harvest foods are served up at the Branson, Missouri theme park. 

Festival highlights include :
  • The Home of American Craftsmanship presents the nation's largest festival of demonstrating craftsmen, with entertainment and activities saluting the Great American Cowboy:
  • Over 125 visiting craftsmen from around the country demonstrate their art, including Best of Missouri Hands juried artists, all joining Silver Dollar City's 100 demonstrating craftsmen.
  • Silver Dollar City's Wild West Show features trick riders, Native American dance with 8-time World Champion Native American Hoop Dancer Nakotah LaRance, comedy canines, and trick roper and bullwhip artist A.J. Silver.
  • Legendary Western actor and watercolor artist Buck Taylor hosts "Buck Taylor's Cowboy Emporium," featuring a variety of Western crafts.
  • Plus Chuck Wagon & Food Network Chef Kent Rollins and Extreme Mustangs are featured in the Red Gold courtyard.
  • A Western Barn Dance presents kick-up-your-heels fun, with a live band.
  • Western music with groups including The Malpass Brothers, The Home Rangers, Belinda Gail and Kristyn Harris, 2016 Western Music Association Entertainer of the Year.
  • NEW: The nation's pioneer culinary heritage comes to life with campfire cooking and cowboy cuisine, including Cowboy Beef Stew and Dutch Oven Desserts.
An Old Time Christmas (Nov 4-Dec 30)
This year they are adding a huge new area: Christmas in Midtown, with towering light displays 9 stories high, animated figures in lights, and 1.5 million additional lights, bringing the park total to over 6.5 million lights! Christmas in Midtown is our largest single lighting expansion in the past 20 years of this festival.

Festival highlights include :
  • One of the nation's most acclaimed Christmas festivals, profiled by USA Today, CNN Travel, The Travel Channel and Good Morning America, is even bigger and brighter this year with an all-new area:
  • NEW: Christmas in Midtown, a 70,000 sq. ft. area filled with new light displays 9 stories high, including 30 angels, animated reindeer pulling a sleigh, 3 light tunnels, two 40-foot long moving trains, dozens of stars and snowflakes, and a 50-foot tree, all created at Silver Dollar City. Christmas in Midtown, the largest single lighting expansion to date in the past 2 decades of the festival, adds 1.5 million new lights, bringing the park's total to 6.5 million lights!
  • Rudolph's Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade, led by the most famous reindeer of all, features musical lighted floats with 200,000 lights accompanied by 33 costumed characters.
  • Rudolph's Christmas Town, where kids can meet Rudolph, Clarice and Bumble, also includes activities from Reindeer Games to cookie decorating.
  • Two original musical productions present Broadway-style experiences, with elaborate sets and talented casts: It's a Wonderful Life, adapted from the Frank Capra classic, and the acclaimed production A Dickens' Christmas Carol.
  • The Christmas on Main Street light & sound show features the 5-Story Special Effects Christmas Tree with over 350,000 colorful LED lights.
  • Tinker Junior's Toy Shop is an interactive show for kids featuring a 12-foot talking and singing Christmas tree.
  • Kids can meet Santa in Santa Claus Lane, illuminated in colorful lights.
  • Plus, the festival presents holiday shows, a musical Living Nativity, shows, rides, shopping and new Silver Dollar City dining specialties. 
  • During An Old Time Christmas, Silver Dollar City is open Thursdays - Sundays, plus Wednesdays Nov. 22 and December 20, and open after Christmas Dec. 26-30. Hours and schedules can be found here

Branson's Famous Baldknobbers is "the show that started it all" in Branson! The show is a country music and comedy variety show that features a talented cast of vocalists, musicians and comedians providing fun for the entire family. For more than 57 years, the Baldknobbers has been the show to see in Branson. Don't miss your chance to see "the show that started it all", Branson's Famous Baldknobbers!

  • Coupon code!!!   Receive $3.00 OFF each ADULT TICKET or $5.00 OFF our FAMILY PASS when you mention "Baldknobbers' Christmas Vacation" when making your reservation. Not valid with any other offer or discount.

  • Baldknobbers' Commercial

Slow Cook September

September : Dressed-Up College Classics
Learn the Crockpot Basics!!
Spicy Mac & Cheese
  • 2 lb ground beef
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3 c shredded cheese
  • 16 oz salsa
  • 15 oz cheese dip
  • 4 oz diced green chiles (do not drain)
  • 3 oz sliced black olives (drain)
  • 12 oz dry macaroni
  1. Brown beef and onion together.  Drain fat.
  2. Mix meat and all ingredients except macaroni in crockpot.  Cover and cook on low 5-6 hours.
  3. Cook macaroni separately.  Stir cooked macaroni into meat before serving.
Red Beans & Rice
  • 2 smoked pork slices, diced
  • 12 oz cooked smoked sausage, cubed
  • 1 c dry red beans
  • 3 c chicken broth
  • 1 diced red bell pepper
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp cajun seasoning
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 c instant rice
  1. In pan, cover beans with enough water to have 2" above beans.  Boil.  Reduce and simmer 10 minutes.  Let stand one hour off heat.  Drain beans.
  2. Mix beans, pork, sausage, broth, pepper, onion, seasoning, garlic, and paste in crockpot.  Cover and cook on low 9-11 hours (or high 4-6 hours).
  3. Stir in rice.  Cover and cook on high for 30 minutes.
Pizza Fondue
  • 1 pkg Velveta, cubed
  • 2 c shredded cheese
  • 19 oz italian stewed tomatoes
  • 1 loaf italian bread, cubed
  1. Put velveta, cheese, and tomatoes into crockpot.  Cover and cook on high 45-60 minutes.
  2. Stir to mix well.  Reduce heat and cook on low to keep warm.  (No longer than 4 hours.)
  3. Dip bread cubes into crockpot to serve.

Wednesday, September 13

Ten Days of Roadschooling...

Roadschooling is an idea that intrigues many families, but the majority of them will discount it for one reason or another.  Thoughts like "We don't have the time / money to do that" will keep most families from even trying.  Our adventures have been such a blessing to our family, and we want others to have the same experience.  This is why we've put together Ten Days of Roadschooling : Your Guide to Getting Started with Homeschooling on the Road.

You do not have to have a lot of money, or even a lot of time, to take roadschooling adventures.  A short vacation can turn into an educational journey!  

We've put together all of our best tips and tricks, like how to :

  • find the freebies
  • minimize expenses
  • ...but maximize your expenditures
  • access the fast passes
  • make any trip educational
  • incorporate both core subjects and electives
  • stay healthy while travelling
  • and keep your head on straight while doing it!

***Until the end of the year, you can pick up Ten Days of Roadschooling : Your Guide to Getting Started with Homeschooling on the Road for only $3.50!***

While you're putting together your first adventure, check out some funnies from other families who've chosen to take their school on the road!

Here's a sneak peek to what's inside...

Ten Days of Road-Schooling

Chara Games Review

Chara Games
In 2014, Patrick and Katherine Lysaght founded Chara Games.  Their goal was to design and develop games with Christian themes.  So far, they have three games : Commissioned, 3 Seeds, and Unauthorized.  Each of the games approaches a serious topic from a faith-based point of view.   In Unauthorized, the game is about the underground church.  It is a game of Church versus State, and anyone can win!

Unauthorized is a card game for 6-12 players, aged twelve and older.  It can be played in about half an hour, and there are numerous outcomes, so it can be played several times without boring the players.  Each player is assigned a role, either as a Pastor, Police, or general townsperson.  The idea is to influence the loyalty of each player to either the church or the state – and player loyalties change turn on a dime!  The loyalties are determined by ‘experience cards’ that bias the character toward one side or the other. 

There are four rounds of play, and it’s anyone’s game!  The church wants to get the majority loyalty, but keep their supporters out of jail.  The state wants to crush the church.  If nothing else, this game is a good conversation starter about the church versus state issue, underground churches, and what it would be like to live in an oppressive society.  The game includes twelve role cards, ninety-seven experience cards, thirty-seven reference cards, and a full color, twelve-page rule book.
I have to admit that this game was a little complicated for us.  For starters, you need a minimum of six people to play.  Since we were only able to scrounge up four people, and one was a ten year old child, it led to some confusion.  The child struggled to follow the game.  The adults struggled to keep their multiple characters straight.  Each of us was one of the main players (Pastor or Police) plus an additional townsperson.  It was an interesting game – and we did more talking about the themes than actual game-playing – but it was really difficult with so few players.

To help learn to play, we watched the video that the company created.  I would recommend it to any first-time players.  It walks you through the rules, explains the rationale and end goals, and explains the characters and experiences.  It’s fairly cut and dry to determine a winner.  In order for the church to win, they must have the majority of loyalties AND have one person that isn’t in prison.  And if the church doesn’t win, then the state does. 

It’s interesting, on a social psychology level, to see how the loyalties play out.  During each round, the players have a chance to make a decision to stick with their loyalties or change them.  To truly play the game well, you need to focus on long-term strategies for your ‘team,’ but also stay aware of the undercurrents of each round.  It’s not unlike the real world, where trust and truth are easily mistaken.  I would recommend this game for high schoolers, college students, and adults.

See what others are saying about Chara Games at the Homeschool Review Crew.

Crew Disclaimer

Unauthorized {Chara Games Reviews}

Tuesday, September 12

Carole P. Roman Review

Carole P Roman Blog
Being a Charlotte Mason-style family, we read aloud all of the time!  I love finding a good book about what the kids are interested in and curling up on the couch for an evening together.  When we saw some read-alouds coming our way to review from Carole P. Roman, we were excited…new books!

The first two books were written as part of a series to help children understand other cultures and historical eras.  They’re told from a child’s point of view, are fairly easy reads, and are full of fantastic facts and illustrations.  The books cover food, clothing, daily routines, family, celebrations, jobs, and school.  Each book ends with definitions and ideas for further learning.  The second two books were from the Captain No Beard series, which is appropriate for younger children than our own, and focuses on character through imagination play.  Of the books we received, the first series was definitely the favorite!

If You Were Me and Lived in…. series
This series is most appropriate for children aged 8-15, and was our children’s favorite series.  They enjoyed the historical book more than the cultural one, but history is something of a passion in this family, so it’s not a surprise.  I felt that the historical book was written a just a little bit higher reading level than the cultural book, and in my opinion, the country books could be appropriate for even younger children.  These books are great conversation starters among older children!

If You Were Me and Lived in…Australia is good for elementary-aged children.  It teaches about both the culture and (basic) history of the country in an accessible way.  There are colorful illustrations, and any new words have the pronunciations right beside them.  The children enjoyed learning about how children live in a different country.

If You Were Me and Lived in…Viking Europe was hands-down the favorite – not only because it was historical, but because it was about Vikings.  What do Vikings do?  They fight.  With swords.  And the boys are all about some swords these days…  The book is written at an upper elementary or middle school level.  It could be read aloud, but the children actually enjoyed taking turns reading this one quietly, and then I later found them discussing some of the things they had learned.  It has good illustrations, pronunciations of unfamiliar words, and a glossary.  One thing we thought might be interesting to add is a timeline…to show how the Viking landscape has changed through the years.  We enjoyed reading this book together, and even pulled out our Viking Unit Study from a few years ago to accompany it!

If You Were Me and Lived in…the Mayan Empire was the second favorite favorite – as it was both historical and about an ancient civilization.  We learned about Mayan culture, careers, family life, and food...among other things.  We were surprised to learn about the caste system, and how your father's career determined your career.  The illustrations are very beautifully done, and it gave us an opportunity to pull our our Mayan Unit Study and revamp some past learning!

Captain No Beard series
This series is most appropriate for children aged 3-8, and our children are considerably older than that, so these books were not as big of a hit as the other series.  That said, I do think that younger children would enjoy them.

In Being a Captain is Hard Work, the captain learns that he must listen to the other crew members in order to be a better leader.  I have to be honest here and say that this story did not go at all like we thought it would…it seemed at first like a parable for trusting God, and then at the very end, turned into the captain needing to listen to his crew.  It was a strange twist for us.

The Crew Goes Coconuts tackles the issue of bullying and acceptance.  In each of these books, the animals are anthropomorphized, and we find out at the very end that they were just playing dress up and imagination.  It reminded me a bit of the Backyardigans.

Each of these series of books has its strengths.  They are geared toward different audiences, with different end goals.  I think that anytime you can incorporate learning into a read-aloud book, you have a much better retention rate…whether that be for understanding character and moral issues or for better comprehending the cultural and historical aspects of a place.  I am sure that we will be looking into more of the If You Were Me and Lived in… series in the near future!

See what others are saying about Carole P. Roman books at the Homeschool Review Crew!

Books by Carole P RomanBooks by Carole P Roman
Books by Carole P RomanBooks by Carole P Roman
Crew DisclaimerOh Susannah, Bedtime Stories, Captain No Beard, If you were Me ... {Carole P. Roman Reviews}

End of Summer Reads

Perfectly Unfinished (Andrea Logan White)
Andrea Logan White appeared to be living the “American dream” or what many would call a “perfect life.” However, underneath the happy veneer of the model, actress, and producer, was a subtle, caustic voice leading to emptiness and self-destruction. She was being crushed under the weight of her own drive for “perfection.” Andrea’s remarkable (and often tabloid-worthy) journey that took her from hanging out in the Playboy mansion to finding God at a stop light on Hollywood Boulevard is a page-turner, but it is not the whole story.  Even discovering Jesus, finding an amazing husband, having beautiful children, and embarking on an exciting career didn’t hold the “happily ever after” Hollywood ending Andrea had envisioned. No matter how successful, how spiritual, how loved, she was still enslaved by a lie the Enemy uses against many of us: she felt she needed to be “perfect” to be accepted by herself, by others, and by God.  Andrea shares her struggle with life-threatening eating disorders and self-defeating thought patterns, and she reveals the beautiful discovery that God’s love meets us not in our perfection, but in the most unfinished places of our life. In Perfectly Unfinished, Andrea exposes the powerful truth that continues to change her life: God loves us just as we are, just where we are; for it is in the midst of our brokenness and imperfections that Jesus is at work completing us so that we may share fully in his holiness.  Alongside Andrea, readers discover from the word of God how to join God in the work he is doing in the midst of our unfinished and imperfect lives.

In the midst of so much grief, cultural grief and personal grief, it can be very hard to get a good perspective of what the bigger picture looks like.  As trite as it sometimes sounds, God's timing is better than our own, and while we can't understand (and sometimes don't even want to try to understand) the reasons behind tragedy, we have to eventually learn to give ourselves over to him....from wherever we are.  We're never going to be good enough.  We're never going to be perfect.  We're always going to be 'unfinished,' and that's exactly what this book is about.  Learning to live with the unknowns and the what-ifs and the whys...learning that God has his reasons, and that he'll love you even if you question him (or, maybe, yell at him) about the things that take place.  As long as you're talking to him, and accepting that he knows best and loves you no matter what, then you're still on the right path.
365 Devotions for Living Joyfully (Victoria Doulos York)
In the midst of busy schedules and endless to-do lists, joy seems like a luxury few can afford, let alone a foundational part of an identity rooted in Christ. God promises His children a life of joy, and yet it remains so easy to lose sight of the gifts He offers every day. Take a few minutes each morning to rekindle this biblical understanding of a joy-filled life with the beautiful and inspirational new book, 365 Devotions for Living Joyfully.  Reflect on the abundant life God holds out to you, and rediscover how joy can transform your heart. With Scripture verses and a prayer on each page, these devotions will inspire and grow your faith as you begin to see life as God truly intended it—full of abounding joy! Take heart and refresh your soul every day of the year through the encouraging words of 365 Devotions for Living Joyfully.

In the midst of natural disasters, such as hurricanes and fire ("Fire and Rain," by James Taylor, anyone?), and the political upheaval, the threat of North Korea, and our country's impending civil is SO easy to get caught up in the negativity and fall prey to the mindset.  This book is needed by many people, our family included, to re-center the spirit on a daily basis.  Not turning on the news, and staying ignorant, is not a healthy option; but neither is succumbing.  We must remember to find our blessings and live joyfully, and this is a wonderful book to help you do just that. Each day offers up a new, short (and thereby completely doable) opportunity for reflection and spirit re-centering. The devotionals are calming and help the reader to reconnect with the inner spirit. If you, or someone you love, is caught up in the madness that we call life today, this is a great, and economical, gift of love.

The Four Tendencies (Gretchen Rubin)
During her multibook investigation into understanding human nature, Gretchen Rubin realized that by asking the seemingly dry question "How do I respond to expectations?" we gain explosive self-knowledge. She discovered that based on their answer, people fit into Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so using this framework allows us to make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress, and engage more effectively. 
More than 600,000 people have taken her online quiz, and managers, doctors, teachers, spouses, and parents already use the framework to help people make significant, lasting change.  
The Four Tendencies hold practical answers if you've ever thought...
·         People can rely on me, but I can't rely on myself.
·         How can I help someone to follow good advice?
·         People say I ask too many questions.
·         How do I work with someone who refuses to do what I ask—or who keeps telling me what to do?
With sharp insight, compelling research, and hilarious examples, The Four Tendencies will help you get happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative. It's far easier to succeed when you know what works for you.

I had read The Happiness Project, and found it fairly interesting, so this one looked like a good choice, too!  As a trained psychologist and counselor, however, I found this to be a review of most of my early college years.  This is not to say that the text is entirely without merit - although it would be much more of a book for those who didn't have all of that psych background - because it's always nice to have a review.  The tendencies are similar to the results you'd get from a Myers-Briggs they have some validity, but tests can always be skewed, too.  The four tendencies include Upholder, Rebel, Obliger, and Questioner, and you may find yourself as a mix of two or more of them.  You might be one tendency in one situation, and another in a different one.  This book is the most useful for learning how to connect with others, once you identify their tendencies. 

Inspiring Words of the Holy Bible : 52 Verses to Color (Zondervan)
God’s word is inspiring, and what better way to express our love of God than through art created by our own hands. The NIV Inspiring Words Holy Bible contains over 50 ready-to-color illuminated verses on high quality thick paper as well as the complete text of the New International Version (NIV) translation.
Features include:
  • Beautiful cover with foil makes for a stunning gift
  • Over 50 pages of black-and-white illustrations ready to be colored
  • Each coloring page highlights an inspiring portion of Scripture
  • The full text of the bestselling New International Version translation
  • Presentation page for gift giving
  • Ribbon marker

This is a great book to encourage Bible study.  The coloring pages are thick enough that they do not bleed through, and are beautifully illustrated Bible verses that encourage memorization.  It also come with a nice, ribbon bookmark.  At the front of the book is a presentation page for gift-gifting.  Both front and back inside covers of the book also have nature-based coloring pages.  This is a great gift for the young lady in your life!

The Bible is not a fairy tale, but every great story happened “once upon a time.” The Once Upon a Time Bible for Little Ones features eight powerful and inspiring stories from the Bible in a treasured padded board book format and decorated with foil. This storybook includes tales of the baby in the basket, the birth of Jesus, and the boy that helped feed thousands, all illustrated with whimsical artwork by Omar Aranda. Each story is told in a way that will engage and excite young children as they hear the tales of real people of the Bible.

The artwork in this book is phenomenal.  It looks similar to the Nest Entertainment Bible video series.  This is a board book for younger children, and would make a great read-aloud at bedtime.  The stories are easily understandable, and covers Creation, Noah, Moses, birth of Jesus, Jesus' miracles, and the Resurrection.  It has the classic Bible stories, written at an age-appropriate level for little ones.

The bestselling children’s Bible storybook is newly illustrated for children ages 6 and under! The Beginner’s Bible has been a favorite with young children and their parents since its release in 1989, with over 25 million products sold. Now it’s redesigned with fresh new art that will excite children for many more years to come.  The easy-to-read text and vibrant three-dimensional illustrations on every page make it a perfect way to introduce young children to the stories and characters of the Bible. With full-color illustrations and two narrated and enhanced read-along CDs, this special deluxe edition of The Beginner’s Bible brings more than 90 Bible stories to life for children in a way like never before. Total run time is 118 minutes (CD 1: 66 minutes; CD 2: 52 minutes.).  The Beginner’s Bible is the 2006 Retailers Choice Award winner in Children's Nonfiction. Full of faith and fun, The Beginner’s Bible is a wonderful gift for any child.

This is a classic beginner's Bible that has been around for many years.  With the addition of the CD component, your child can follow along with the Bible stories by listening to the CD as they read the pages.  All of the characters, man and animal alike, in this book have large, friendly eyes.  The illustrator does this to make children feel comfortable in the story.  The audio CDs bring the stories to life even more through multiple voices (a different voice for each character) and sound effects.  One you'll want to keep on the shelf for years to come!

If You're Happy and You Know It (Barbara Szepesi Szucs)
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap clap) If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap clap) If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it! If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap clap)  Read or sing along with your little one’s favorite song! If You’re Happy and You Know It pairs adorable illustrations with the lyrics of the familiar children’s song. This newest board book in the beloved Sing-Along series also features a padded cover perfect for little hands, and is sure to delight children and parents alike.

This cute little board book has the words to the ever-popular song "If You're Happy and You Know It."  It also the music to the song at the back of the book.  The illustrations show anthropomorphized animals enjoying a day at the park.  The animals are singing and playing, enjoying God's beautiful day.  The story also has an action-component, as it instructs the child to stomp, clap, and shout throughout the song.  Definitely not a bedtime book...

Every heart longs to be seen and understood. Yet most of our lives is unwitnessed. We spend our days working, driving, parenting. We sometimes spend whole seasons feeling unnoticed and unappreciated. So how do we find contentment when we feel so hidden?  In Unseen, Sara Hagerty suggests that this is exactly what God intended. He is the only One who truly knows us. He is the only One who understands the value of the unseen in our lives. When this truth seeps into our souls, we realize that only when we hide ourselves in God can we give ourselves to others in true freedom—and know the joy of a deeper relationship with the God who sees us.  Our culture applauds what we can produce, what we can show, what we can upload to social media. Only when we give all of ourselves to God—unedited, abandoned, apparently wasteful in its lack of productivity—can we live out who God created us to be. As Hagerty writes, “Maybe my seemingly unproductive, looking-up-at-Him life produces awe among the angels.”  Through an eloquent exploration of both personal and biblical story, Hagerty calls us to offer every unseen minute of our lives to God. God is in the secret places of our lives that no one else witnesses. But we’ve not been relegated to these places. We’ve been invited.  We may be “wasting” ourselves in a hidden corner today: The cubicle on the fourth floor. The hospital bedside of an elderly parent. The laundry room. But these are the places God uses to meet us with a radical love. These are the places that produce the kind of unhinged love in us that gives everything at His feet, whether or not anyone else ever proclaims our name, whether or not anyone else ever sees.  God’s invitation is not just for a season or a day. It is the question of our lives: “When no one else applauds you, when it makes no sense, when you see no results—will you waste your love on Me?”
Does God love us as much when we are not working for him?  Do people love us as much when they cannot see us?  This book is about our world and society today, and how we have to remember to focus on what is true and important - namely that God knows and understands us more than anyone else - even the people who hang on to your every social media post.  The author shares her story of struggles and the process of overcoming them, and she draws from scripture to illustrate how events of her life played out.  She reminds us of what we should be putting our efforts into, and challenges us to become 'unseen,' devoting our hearts once again to the things that are true.
Alexander Hamilton (Jonathan Hennessey)
Alexander Hamilton was one of the most influential figures in United States history—he fought in the Revolutionary War, helped develop the Constitution, and as the first Secretary of the Treasury established landmark economic policy that we still use today. Cut down by a bullet from political rival Aaron Burr, Hamilton has since been immortalized alongside other Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—his likeness even appears on the ten-dollar bill. In this fully-illustrated and impeccably researched graphic novel-style history, author Jonathan Hennessey and comic book illustrator Justin Greenwood bring Alexander Hamilton’s world to life, telling the story of this improbable hero who helped shape the United States of America.

My non-reader is a big fan of graphic novels, but I want him to learn history, and science, and culture....books like this are the perfect compromise.  In nearly 200 pages, the author gives an age-appropriate look at the life of Alexander Hamilton, from his childhood to his death.  It also introduces us to many other Founding Fathers and historical figures of the day. While it is geared toward young adults, all adults will enjoy learning through a reading of this book. 

The Lifegiving Table (Sally Clarkson)
Make your table a place where your family and friends long to be―where they will find rest, renewal, and a welcome full of love.  Beloved author Sally Clarkson (The Lifegiving Home, Own Your Life, Desperate) believes that meals lovingly served at home―and the time spent gathered together around the table―are a much-needed way to connect more deeply with our families and open our kids’ hearts. Food and faith, mingled in everyday life, become the combination for passing on God’s love to each person who breaks bread with us.  In The Lifegiving Table, Sally shares her own family stories, favorite recipes, and practical ideas to help you get closer to the people you love . . . and grow in faith together.

Similar to The Lifegiving Home, Clarkson again brings practical advice for bringing your family together..this time through food and the table.  She sets the table up as the center of the home, where mealtime is THE time of day to connect, discipline, and share your lives.  She incorporates Bible stories, such as feeding the masses with two fishes and the Last Supper, as well as scripture and faith-based talk.  She lays out ways to make the table a place of celebration (birthdays, holidays, and everyday tea), and includes tips for simple decorating and dressing up to celebrate the normal, everyday dinnertime.  Also, as with any good book centered around the table, there is a section with yummy, family recipes!

Slow Down (Nichole Nordeman)
No matter if it’s your child’s first step, first day of school, or first night tucked away in a new dorm room away from home, there comes a moment when you realize just how quickly the years are flying by. Christian music artist Nichole Nordeman’s profound lyrics in her viral hit “Slow Down” struck a chord with moms everywhere, and now this beautiful four-color book will inspire you to celebrate the everyday moments of motherhood.  Filled with thought-provoking writings from Nichole, as well as guest writings from friends including Shauna Niequist and Jen Hatmaker, practical tips, and journaling space for reflection, Slow Down will be a poignant gift for any mom, as well as a treasured keepsake.  Take a few moments to reflect and celebrate the privilege of being a parent and getting to watch your little ones grow—and Slow Down.
This is a collection of essays about motherhood, written in an honest way, such that it feels like a more-experienced girlfriend is sitting you down and giving it to you straight.  "The days are long, but the years are short," my grandmother used to say, and she was right.  If I had to sum up this book in one phrase, that would be it.  The author doesn't minimize the struggles of motherhood, but she doesn't allow you to dwell on them either.  She also recommends that you be yourself, and quit trying to be so Pinterest-perfect when it comes to parenting...or life.  Much of the book is photographs, designed to evoke certain emotions, and so it could be used as a coffee table book.  
The Space Between Words (Michele Phoenix)
"There were seconds, when I woke, when the world felt unshrouded. Then memory returned."  When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she can think of is fleeing the site of the horror she survived. But Patrick, the steadfast friend who hasn’t left her side, urges her to reconsider her decision. Worn down by his insistence, she reluctantly agrees to follow through with the trip they’d planned before the tragedy.  “The pages found you,” Patrick whispered.  “Now you need to figure out what they’re trying to say.”  During a stop at a country flea market, Jessica finds a faded document concealed in an antique. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who lived centuries before—her faith condemned, her life endangered, her community decimated by the Huguenot persecution.  “I write for our descendants, for those who will not understand the cost of our survival.”  Determined to learn the Baillard family’s fate, Jessica retraces their flight from France to England, spurred on by a need she doesn’t understand.  Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?
I liked the double story line of this book - it follows the Huguenots in the 1600s and the main character in today's society.  Both are victims of religious war.  While I wasn't sure what to expect from the book, I was intrigued, given my own family history, to see where it went and how it tied together.  The characters' lives follow similar patterns as they suffer through trials, seek courage and wisdom, and persevere with their faith.  There were some slow parts that I struggled to get through, and then there were other faster-paced ones that were intriguing.  Overall, though, it was the historical aspect of Adeline's family that kept me the most interested in the story.

The Massacre of Mankind (Stephen Baxter)
It has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared.  So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells' book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.  He is right.  Thrust into the chaos of a new invasion, a journalist - sister-in-law to Walter Jenkins - must survive, escape and report on the war.  The Massacre of Mankind has begun.

A sequel to H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, this book is definitely written to WOW enthusiasts.  To be honest, I didn't like the book at all - but my son, who is an avid reader of Wells, appreciated the follow-up to the original story (although he, too, agreed that WOW was better).  So what's good about it?  Well, the tone is the same, as well as the mood, so it feels as though you're actually reading a sequel that could have been written by the same author.  There is a Martian invasion and lots of battling - which my son appreciated - so plenty of action!  The narrative is a bit wonky at times, but the battle scenes keep you interested.  Probably best used as a gift for a WOW fan who would be interested to know what happened next...

The Proving (Beverly Lewis)
Amanda Dienner hasn't seen her Old Order family in five years when she receives word that her mother has passed away and left her Lancaster County's most popular Amish bed-and-breakfast. Now an Englisher, Mandy is shocked: Her twin sister should have been the obvious choice! What's more, the inheritance comes with a catch: The farmhouse inn will only truly be hers if she is able to successfully run it for twelve consecutive months.  Mandy accepts the challenge even though it means returning to Gordonville and the painful memories she left behind at eighteen. Still, she's determined to prove she is more than capable of running the bed-and-breakfast, no matter that its loyal clientele are expecting an Amish hostess!   The inn isn't Mandy's sole test, however. Rubbing shoulders with her married twin sister reopens wounds that Mandy isn't ready to forgive. And an Englisher guest with a difficult past of her own just complicates matters.   Can Mandy fulfill the terms of her inheritance? Or will this year in Amish country prove a dreadful mistake?

Beverly Lewis was one of the first Amish-novel authors that I read, way back when they first became popular, and she still publishes regularly today.  Her novels involve personal struggles and troubles with faith, but always with the outcome of God's love, and the relationship with him, prevailing.  The characters are well-developed and easy to relate to, and you even get to learn a lot about Amish culture!  This is one of those curl-up-on-the-couch-on-a-cool-fall-morning books that pairs perfectly with coffee and a scone.  You'll fall into the story and get lost in the characters' lives!

The Christmas Blessing (Melody Carlson)
When she receives the news in late 1944 that her baby's father was shot down in the South Pacific, Amelia Richards loses hope. Jobless and broke, she has nowhere to turn for help but her infant's paternal grandparents. The only problem is, they don't know that she--or their grandson--exists. When Amelia discovers that the family is wealthy and influential, dare she disclose the truth of her relationship with their son? Or could the celebration of the arrival of another unexpected baby nearly two thousand years ago be the answer to her dilemma?

Can I give it more than five stars? Melody Carlson's Christmas books are on the list of books that I look forward to coming out every year...she just writes them so well! This one was no exception. They are full of character (both through the people and through the well-described setting) and there is always some sort of moral struggle, but the lead learns to lean on faith to make it through. That's where the similarities end (so don't worry that all of the books are exactly the same). I loved the story here...AND it ended just like I hoped it would. It was a bit of a long shot, but it was the perfect ending!

An Amish Christmas Love (multiple authors)
Winter Kisses by Beth Wiseman  :  Three generations of Stoltzfus women are all living under the same roof. At twenty-five, Naomi has never been married, and both her mother, Barbara, and her grandmother, Ruth, have recently been widowed. Each nursing broken or lonely hearts, they also each have potential suitors. When a storm on Christmas Eve forces the three couples to take shelter in the basement of the Stotlzfus homestead, secrets are revealed, hearts are opened, and all three potential grooms drop to their knees for very different reasons—a proposal, a prayer, and an epiphany.
The Christmas Cat by Amy Clipston  :  Emma Bontrager is spending her first Christmas alone after her husband of 45 years, Henry, passed away in July. Although the Amish don’t normally allow animals in their homes, a big, fat, orange barn cat keeps coming into Emma’s house. She shoos the cat away, but it continues to appear in her house, settling on Henry’s favorite wingchair. But the cat isn’t the only Christmas visitor: a group of young people help bring the Christmas spirit to Emma, reminding her that love and hope abide.
Snow Angels by Kelly Irvin  :  As a young man enjoying his rumspringa, David Byler gave his heart to an Englisch girl, but he eventually realized he couldn’t give up his Plain faith and family for her, so he let her go. He’s found a new love in his Bee County Plain community, Molly Shrock. Molly has been patient, waiting for the man she loves to love her back. Just as he is ready to propose, David makes a startling discovery: Bobbie McGregor, his Englisch love, is back. Will Molly’s prayers for a Christmas love be answered?
Home for Christmas by Ruth Reid  :  When a misdirected GPS sends Ellie Whetstone to the wrong address, she inadvertently finds herself breaking into the home of Amish man, Ezra Mast. Ellie hopes to fix up the house left by her aenti and sell it quickly, but a series of run-ins with Ezra and his young daughter have her questioning whether a hasty sale is the right move. Could this new place with its slower pace be the right home for Ellie?

These are some of my favorite books, because they are bite-sized! Four stories, each with the big theme of relationships coming to a head at Christmas time, and being in an Amish setting, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. Each of the the stories is set in a different part of the country, but they all revolve around romance (although one is a love for a cat), Christmas, and the Amish people. This is good for someone who wants quick reads, without having to remember how the characters interweave from story to story. I read a lot of full-length novels from these authors, and enjoyed getting to see their novellas all in one collection.

Bringing Maggie Home (Kim Vogel Sawyer)
Hazel DeFord is a woman haunted by her past. While berry picking in a blackberry thicket in 1943, ten-year old Hazel momentarily turns her back on her three-year old sister Maggie and the young girl disappears.  Almost seventy years later, the mystery remains unsolved and the secret guilt Hazel carries has alienated her from her daughter Diane, who can’t understand her mother’s overprotectiveness and near paranoia. While Diane resents her mother’s inexplicable eccentricities, her daughter Meghan—a cold case agent—cherishes her grandmother’s lavish attention and affection.  When a traffic accident forces Meghan to take a six-week leave-of-absence to recover, all three generations of DeFord women find themselves unexpectedly under the same roof. Meghan knows she will have to act as a mediator between the two headstrong and contentious women. But when they uncover Hazel’s painful secret, will Meghan also be able to use her investigative prowess to solve the family mystery and help both women recover all that’s been lost.

I've read everything that Kim Vogel Sawyer has written, and love each book!  This one was a bit different from the others in that it follows multiple time periods and multiple perspectives.  It flips back and forth from past to present, but not in a confusing way.  There is some romance, but not nearly as much as in her past books.  It's more of a mystery book.  One of the main themes is relationships between mothers and daughters, and how complicated they can truly be.  It's a story of forgiveness and faith, and there are many Bible passages worked into the story, bringing a strong sense of faith to the characters.  It's not overwhelming, though - it works perfectly with the story.

Holiday Cookies (Elisabet der Nederland)
This instant holiday classic is packed with 50 recipes, each gorgeously photographed and meticulously tested, along with dozens of decorating and packaging ideas. Filled with reimagined favorites like Giant Molasses Spice Cookies and Hazelnut Sandwich Cookies; confections like Peppermint Bark, Smoked Almond and Cacao Nib Brittle, and Dark Chocolate–Hazelnut Fudge; and detailed instructions for gorgeous gingerbread houses, cookie place cards, and edible ornaments, this is a cookie book like no other. Because the recipes are easy to scale up or down, Holiday Cookies is perfect for cookie exchanges, gift-giving, and just enjoying throughout the season. From a veteran baker and recipe developer, each cookie in this collection is guaranteed to be a stand-out, and destined to become your new Christmas classic.

This is a beautiful book with very manageable recipes.  Each of the recipes comes with a picture - so no guessing what the end result should look like - and they use ingredients that are readily found in your pantry or at a regular grocery store.  The book has sections on baking tips, storage recommendations for each cookie, and icing (making and using) tips.  It also features sections such as : Very Merry Classics, Cookie Exchange Party, Warm Holiday Spice, Holiday Confections, Decorated Delights, Special Ingredients, and Around the World (our favorite section).  It would make a great addition to any baker's repertoire, and is beautiful enough to use as a Christmas gift.

I received some of these books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.