Lucy’s favorite books of 2017

I set out with a goal of reading 24 books last year (2 per month) and ended up surpassing it! I read 40 books. It was definitely the most books I’ve read as an adult. Some things I did to increase my reading time was always having two books going, one digital and one actual book. That way when I was stuck upstairs putting kids to bed for longer than expected or before bed I would read the digital book. My physical book I kept downstairs on the table and read at breakfast and lunch (sometimes only a page or two between questions or requests from children) and then again in the evening after everyone was asleep. I used to watch probably 30 minutes to an hour of tv after kid bedtime, but that rarely happens any more. The other biggest thing I did was choosing books that kept my interest and were relatively fast moving. Over the years I’ve bought a lot of books that everyone loves but I just could never get into and I’ve decided that’s ok and it’s better to read something I LOVE than something other people think I should read. So find something that you want to read. This year that turned out to be a lot of memoirs, especially about people escaping something: religion, war, dictatorship. So here are of my favorites that I read this year. Maybe you will find something that peaks your interest here.

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1. Stars between the Moon and Sun – This was my favorite of the North Korea escape stories. And really I think it is one of the more graphic and horrific accounts. So be prepared to be horrified and want to do something to help.

2. Princess Academy – This is a 3 book series, and I preferred the first in the series to the others, but read the others because I wanted to know how the story ended. This is a middle grade fiction novel, so really quite different from most of what I read, but it was full of adventure and kept my attention. I mostly set out to read it to see if Greta would like it. I think she would, but there were a couple of tense scenes that might be too much for her. I think I will probably try to get her to read it in the next year or two (she is 9.5 right now).

3. Left to Tell – I really didn’t know much about the Rwandan genocide before this book. It is very graphic, but a very powerful story about Immaculee’s faith that sustains her.

4. The Sound of Gravel – This was my favorite of the polygamist escape stories that I read. I’ve read a bunch about polygamy in the past as well and really I’m just fascinated by the whole culture. This again was pretty graphic and some horrific things happens. (What does it say about me that I keep reading about all of these horrible tragedies? I think I just like to see how much the human spirit can triumph in the end).

5. Kisses from Katie – I read both this and her next book, Daring to Hope, but found this one much more moving. Katie is girl from Tennessee who decides to go live in Uganda before college and then ends up moving there and adopting a bunch of kids. This is a lovely story of faith and where it can lead you.

6. A Hope More Powerful than the Sea – Another escape story. This time from Syria. This really is something everyone should read because this is occurring right now. We have some local Syrian refugee families who attend the English class that I volunteer at, and this really was the reason I started to get involved in the class.

7. Echo – This is a middle grade novel, or maybe even young adult. I listened to this on audio and it was very lovely. This book is broken into three different parts with three different stories. In the end all of the stories are somehow linked together, which is kind of cool. The harmonica is the key component linking three different stories and with the audible version, the music really enhances the story.

8. Refugee – This is another middle grade novel, but it is based on lots of research about refugees. This is also three stories, but rather than being three separate parts, the chapters alternate between characters. I found this made me want to keep reading and reading because I really needed to know what happened to the characters. In fact at one point I had to skip ahead on one story to find out what happened. This isn’t too graphic, but there are still some tense parts, so I would say maybe 6th grade and up could and should read this.

9. Hattie Big Sky – Kind of like Laura Ingalls Wilder on her own at age 16. Hattie gets left some land in Montana and at the age of 16 goes out to live on the land. There is a sequel as well, but I enjoyed this one much more. This is another middle grade novel. Greta couldn’t be convinced to read this, but I think she would have enjoyed it.

10. Beyond Belief – This was the first and most eye-opening book about Scientology that I read this year. This is told by a girl who was raised in Scientology and how children were treated during the 80s/90s. Supposedly much of the actions in this book have stopped, but not all. Definitely an interesting read into a bizarre religion (if you can call it that).

What were your favorites of the year? Anything I should add to my to-read list for this year?


**Links are amazon affiliate links. All books were either bought by me or borrowed from our wonderful library.

day in the city

We had planned to go to NYC on the girls’ first day of Christmas vacation, but alas everyone was a little too crabby and tired for us to make the trek, so we headed into Philly instead. We visited the Christmas Village, which is a traditional German Christmas market and had fun.

They really wanted to go to NYC still, mainly because they wanted to ride the train, so we opted to take the train into Philly this time instead. It was our first trip on Septa and there were definitely a lot of stops along the way and some squirmy girls on the way home, but they really enjoyed it.



We found most of the stuff at the market was overpriced, but still had fun looking around.


The market is right across from City Hall, so we looked around over there as well at the ice skaters and took a ride on the carousel.









We ate at Reading Terminal Market, which was a complete madhouse, as I suspect it often is.


Greta especially loved this statue of Ben Franklin.



Felicity is the kid who hears music and starts dancing and enjoyed the brief music we heard performed in the market.


Then home for the Shady Brook Lights and a visit from Santa on the firetrucks. Busy Christmasy day.



Greta’s favorite diverse chapter books – part 2

A few more diverse book favorites of Greta’s.

Book Uncle and Me- Book Uncle’s cart is Yasmin’s first stop after school.  But when the town forces him to close, Yasmin knows she has to do something.  The local elections are coming up and one candidate promises to help if they’ll try to get votes for them.  He doesn’t keep his promise so how can they convince him.  Maybe a book from Book Uncle will do the trick.  I liked this one. (set in India)

Rickshaw Girl- A girl tries to drive her father’s rickshaw so he can have a rest.  She crashes it, and dresses up as a boy to get a job to help pay for repairs.  When she shows the store owner that’s she’s a girl,  the store owner hires her.  Then her father comes and doesn’t have to pay for repairs.  I’ve read this multiple times. (set in Bangladesh)

Number the Stars-  It is not easy to live in Denmark during WWII.  When her best friend’s family goes into hiding, she suddenly has a new “sister. ” They go down to an uncle’s house for a “holiday” where her uncle smuggles her friend’s family and others across to Sweden.  Another book I like.

Shooting Kabul & Saving Kabul Corner- Of what I can remember, in Shooting Kabul a little sister gets left behind when they are escaping Afghanistan.  I read this at least twice.  I like this one. In  the second book which takes place in the U.S.,  Adrianna is the opposite of her cousin who just came from Afghanistan.  But when a rival grocery store opens the family must work together to save their store. (The author also has a new book coming out in January about Syria, which Greta is excited about).

Listening for Lions & Chu-Ju’s house- I read Listening for Lions a while ago so I don’t remember too much about it.  Her parents die and she goes to live in England after living her whole life in Africa.  In Chu-Ju’s house,  a girl runs away so her baby sister can stay with her parents.  She travels all over China and eventually moves in with a old women and her son.  When the woman dies, she leaves her house to Chu-Ju.  Chu-Ju returns home where another baby is.  Her parents beg her to stay home but she returns.   A really good book.

Enchantment of the World- Last year these were my favorite, this year not so much. Each book focuses on one country in particular and describes the culture, economy,  and other things such as holidays.  Although I’ve read a lot of these,  the ones about south and eastern Asia are my favorites.

Lion-  When he is 5, Saroo gets lost on a train.  He survived for weeks on the street in Calcutta before going to an orphanage.  Soon after he is adopted by an Australian family.  25 years later he locates his birth mother and goes to visit her.  She stayed in the same area waiting for him because she believed that he had survived unlike his brother.  Definitely a 5 star book. (I read the adult version of this book (A Long Way Home: A Memoir) first and then discovered there was a Young Readers version, so recommended it to Greta).

Do you have any other suggestions for Greta?

Greta’s favorite diverse chapter books – part 1

As I’ve mentioned a time or two, we read a lot of books, Greta (9 years old) most especially. (Eloise isn’t far behind, but hasn’t branched out quite as much just yet). I thought it would be fun for Greta to share some of her favorite diverse chapter books. Do you have any to add to this list?

I am Malala- I started reading this book last year and loved it. Malala grows up in Pakistan where her father is a principal. When a radio broadcast starts saying girls shouldn’t go to school, she decides to speak out. Eventually the Taliban shoot her and she is rushed to the hospital. Malala recovers strongly and later received the Nobel Peace Prize. I like this one so much I check it out at the beginning of each school year.

Long Walk to Water- A book that I would call a ‘two-sided story’, A Long Walk of Water tells the story of a child from each rival tribe. In the 1980s, Salva is homeless, on the run with many other boys, trying to escape the civil war. He is adopted by an American family, and raises money for wells to be built back in his home country, Sudan. He meets Nya, living in the village the well is being built in. Another book I’ve read 2 times.

Anything by Grace Lin- Definitely one of my favorite authors. I think my favorite ones are :When the Mountain Meets the Moon, Starry River of the Sky, and When the Sea Turned to Silver. I like these because they are sprinkled with stories about ancient China. In When the Mountain Meets the Moon , Minli searches for the Old Man in the Moon so he will grant her a wish. When the Sea Turned to Silver, a girl goes on a search with her friend to find her imprisoned grandmother. In Starry River of the Sky, Rendi runs away and is made a chore boy at an almost always empty home to a girl that annoys him.

Anything by Linda Sue Park- I’ve read 3 of her chapter books, not counting Long Walk to Water. When My Name was Keoko is probably my favorite. It’s about a girl who grows up in Korea under japenese oucupation in 1942. Her brother becomes a solider and volunteers for a mission that will kill an American ship and himself. Keoko worries that she will never see her brother again.

Forever and a long, long time- My mom forced me to read the first 50 pages of this one and I read not only that, but the whole book! Julian and Flora have always been foster kids. Now they’re adopted and have a permanent home. One summer they go and find most of the foster homes they’ve been in. Even though I had no interest at first I’m glad I read the ‘first 50 pages’.

Greta will be back with more soon! Do you have any favorites to add?

** all links are amazon affiliate links.

Maryland reunion

Last weekend we backed our bags for our annual college friend reunion. We rotate locations and this year we headed out to Western Maryland, specifically Deep Creek Lake. After a dinner with my uncle, we headed to the house for the weekend. The weather was absolutely beautiful! and the leaves were changing. We went on a hike to some waterfalls and enjoyed time just hanging out with our friends. In total we had 13 kids (9 and under) and 9 adults in one house. Surprisingly it didn’t feel cramped at all and every year I’m amazed at how well the kids all get along. The kids and dads even took a quick dip in the lake. Everyone was sad to leave and head back to real life.















some recent favorite books

We read a lot of library books (in addition to our favorites we already own). Here are some of our most recent favorites.

I’m New Here – This book is about several kids who are new immigrants to the USA and how they are learning to fit in at school and learn the language.

New Shoes – The girls LOVED this one. It’s about two African American girls who live in the 1960s America. One girl goes to a shoe store and can’t try on shoes, but has to just take them home with her and hope they fit. They then come up with a plan to start a shoe store for other African American children so they can try on shoes before buying. It teaches them that even small children can make a difference in their community.

This is How We Do It – This book goes through the day with 7 children who live in different parts of the world and talks about how they do different things in their life, such as eat breakfast, sleep, go to school, etc.

My Dadima Wears a Sari – We have gotten a few books by this author and they have loved them all. They are about an Indian girl who lives in the USA, but has her grandparents visit and she learns from them. In this book she learns about why her grandmother (Dadima) wears a sari.

Margaret and the Moon – The girls LOVED this one. It’s about a woman who was instrumental in the space program, especially in the Apollo missions. I love giving them good role models to look up to!

Brothers in Hope – After I read a book about the boys from Sudan, I really wanted to the girls to know about what happened, and thankfully there was a picture book available. This tells of the struggles the lost boys in Sudan felt and experienced. The girls thought it was a terrible thing to happen and were totally shocked by certain parts, but this book definitely does a good job of opening their eyes to the tragedies some children experience.

Suki’s Kimono – Oh how, we loved this book. Suki wants to wear a kimono on the first day of school and her big sisters really don’t want to. This book tells of her experience of doing what she wants, rather than listening to others. And really that is what we want our kids to do in the face of peer pressure.

One Hen – This book is similar to one we already own, called Beatrice’s Goat, where an organization offers a family living in poverty in Africa a small animal to change their lives. Both are a lovely introduction to the many programs out there that exist to help families to provide for themselves.

Yoon and the Jade Bracelet – This book not only references a different culture (Korean), but also deals with lying and trouble with bullies. Yoon learns to stand up for what is right.

Elizabeti’s Doll – This is a series of books, we have checked out the two our library has and loved both of them. Elizabeti’s adopts a rock as a baby doll and loves it oh so much. Again it helps to point out all the luxury we have living our life of privilege and how many places children don’t even have toys.

What picture books have you read lately that you loved?

All links are amazon affiliate links.

Children’s books – where to find diverse books

For anyone who has been to our house, you know we have a A LOT of books. We all love books, whether just to look at, to read aloud or to read to ourselves. We also regularly have 20-50 books out from the library. Of course not all books are created equal and sometimes we pick out some really boring books. I’m always on the look for new title to read, especially books for the older two to read that teach good morals and aren’t filled with trash. Some places I regularly find good book suggestions are:

1. The Read-Aloud Revival – Sarah has oodles of wonderful book lists on her site. Plus she has an awesome podcast that she often interviews authors and illustrators on.

2. A Mighty Girl – I mostly just follow their facebook page and pick up books they suggest (although I will say I don’t agree with all of their selections). Most of them are good, but a few are outside of what I’m comfortable with my kids reading.

3. We Need Diverse Books – Again I mostly follow along on facebook where they share lots of excellent lists of books that are as you guessed focused on diversity. I’m always looking for new titles to request from the library.

4. Give Your Child the World – This is an actual book recommendation that is filled with book lists. Jamie breaks down the book by continent and then there is a list for each age group under each continent. We used this book last summer to pick out lots of books at the library and every few months we look back to see if something new catches our eye, or if I feel like they are mature enough to handle a new category.

5. Read Brightly – Yet another place I mostly follow on facebook, but that compiles wonderful book lists.

You will often find the same books recommended over and over again, so usually those are the ones to check out. I most often start at the library and see what they have. Our library (like most) has a wonderful hold system that you can use to request books online form any county branch and then request it to be brought to your local branch for you to pick up. It’s really wonderful and makes life so much easier and the book selection explodes. There are definitely plenty of titles my library doesn’t have and so I just add them to my amazon wishlist (which is WAY too long) and hope to one day find them on a super sale or at a used bookstore.

Almost every book that I pick up that is about kids who live a different life than us, my kids LOVE. They love to learn about how other kids live in the world or how they experience different things than we do based on either where they live, the color of their skin, the religion they practice, etc. I’m going to try and regularly post some of our favorites.

Audiobook sale!

Every so often Amazon has some amazing audiobook sales and I buy quite a few.

Do your kids listen to audiobooks? If not, you should try! We love to listen to them when traveling or when have some downtime in our rooms or when we are sick or when I’m doing the dishes. Some of our kids’ favorites are on sale right now!

We have always loved the American girl books and right now you can just about all of the series for just $3.95 on audio. Each set is 5-7 hours long! That’s a lot of listening for you and the kids.

No matter how many American Girl books we read, Molly is still the favorite, she is funny and spunky and just about perfect!

Links are amazon affiliate links.

summer garden bounty

Here are a bunch of pictures of our summer garden bounty. Things are definitely slowing down there, but hopefully our next round of beets and peas will start producing in a few weeks.

First up, flowers! So many pretty flowers this year.













And now lots of yummy fruits and veggies.















Iceland day #7 & #8

Thursday we spent the morning searching for souvenirs. After some ice cream we headed back to the house for a bit before heading out to our puffin tour, which went off without a hitch this time. The weather was beautiful and the seas were calm. I think the puffin tour was one of the girls’ favorite things of the trip, they are still talking about going on a boat. Just my dad came with us since everyone else was satisfied with their puffin viewing the day before. Puffins are only around in Iceland for a few months in the summer while the mate (did you know they mate for life?). They come back to a few islands around Iceland every year in April/May. The puffins always return to the place they were born. Puffins are so much smaller than I imagined and they are very fast flyers, so it’s hard to get a good picture of them. Not all of the tour companies allowed children, so we found one that did.
















After a final dinner out, we said goodbye to everyone before bed. Everyone else had to leave the house at 5 AM for their flight, while we didn’t need to leave until 1 PM. We got up Friday morning and packed all of our stuff and cleaned up the house a bit before checking out and leaving our things in the hallway of the house. Then we headed out to get one last souvenir and then to lunch. What was our cheapest meal of the trip was also our last. If only we had found Cafe Haiti earlier in our trip we might have made more than one trip there. It is right along the Harbor near where all of the whale and puffin watching boats head out.

Then it was back to the house to gather our stuff and head home.