Kids’ Summer Reading Challenge

Here we are on the first Monday of summer vacation. We’re all still in bed. The 8-year-old is still asleep (that child will be a caffeine addict before puberty hits if we’re not careful). The 11-year-old is staring at his phone, watching inane You Tube videos and insisting that I watch every other clip. And while I’m sure that the dog smiling at its owner and the baby bear trying to climb a fence and the dog surfboarding on his owner’s back are all completely fascinating…I’m not paying attention. I snap at him irritably because I’m only 50 pages away from the end of my book and I cannot be disturbed.

And what grand plans do we have for our day, you ask? More of this, to be sure. I’ve only had one cup of coffee and I need much, much more. After a few boring errands, number one on my priority list is to get these children to the library. You see, I have a little surprise in store for them: a summer reading challenge. I’ve put together a list of topics for them – 10 in all – that we will spend the next 10 weeks working through. I think a book a week is a good goal for a tween. Younger kids will go through more books, and that’s great. But

I think a book a week is a good goal for a tween. Younger kids will go through more books, and that’s great. Each week we will go to the library, printed challenge in hand, to find a book that fits a particular challenge item on our list. And then we’ll spend the rest of the week reading 30-90 minutes a day to get through it. It’s a lofty goal, but I think we can swing it. And – bonus – if they’re reading 90 minutes a day, so can I! Winning!

So here’s my take on the Tween Reading Challenge. I’ll modify it slightly for my younger son, and I’m also working on a challenge for myself as well.

Sign up for my email list and I’ll send you a copy of the challenge! Please share your ideas for challenge categories and for books to fit the categories too!


Review: My Grandmother Asked Me…

Meet my new favorite author, Fredrik Backman. I’ve read two of his books, the unwieldily titled “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry,” and “A Man Called Ove.” Reading his books is like being told a story: cuddled up on a couch with a fuzzy blanket, your dog warming your feet, fire crackling in the background and a glass of merlot in your hand. The storyteller sits opposite you in an old wooden rocking chair, hand crocheted afghan on his lap, as he lulls you in a gentle half-consciousness with his tales. Even more astounding is that he’s speaking to you in Swedish and yet somehow his story is beautifully translated into gorgeous English words, sentences and paragraphs, as if that’s how they originated.

my-grandmother-asked-me-to-tell-you-shes-sorry-9781501115073_hrMy Grandmother Asked Me is told by seven year old Elsa. She’s an uncommonly bright child and, as many such children are, slightly odd as a result. Her grandmother, more than just slightly odd, is her very best friend in the world. The two of them create fantasy worlds, a secret language, and go on crazy adventures together. And then one day, Granny gets sick.

What follows is a whirlwind in Elsa’s young life, full of tracking down the people Granny has somehow wronged for Elsa to apologize on her behalf. Letters from Granny mysteriously arrive with instructions to Elsa on their delivery. Elsa’s journey takes her to the doors of each resident in their apartment house, where she learns something new about each of them and about Granny. The apartment house is an island of misfit toys – Elsa is faced with sweet old couples, coffee addicts, scary animals, grumpy old men, and the brokenhearted (not all mutually exclusive categories). Read more

Review: The Nightingale

I picked up The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah a few months ago. I was at my bi-monthly book club and the hostess suggested either it or The Primates of Park Avenue as our next selection. Primates sounded fun, catty, and gave us the opportunity to drink themed cocktails at our next dinner. As if we need an excuse for that. The Nightingale, on the other hand, wasn’t as immediately attractive because it seemed we had read a lot of WWII fiction, so we went with Primates. A choice we all bitterly regretted. I decided to read The Nightingale first. I blew through it and then spent a week trying to slog my way through Primates. More on that another day.

The NightingaleThe Nightingale is wonderful. The story focuses on two French sisters, Vianne and Isabelle. Vianne lives in the Loire Valley with her husband and young daughter. She has a quiet, charmed and happy life before the war. (Anyone who has picnics in the Loire Valley as part of their daily life is blessed beyond measure.) When her husband, Antoine, is called to fight for France, she not only has to endure life without her childhood sweetheart, but is eventually called upon to house a German officer. Vianne is quiet, subdued even. She keeps her head down and her chin up.

Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle, is a fiery nineteen year old with a long history of boarding school expulsions. After an altercation at her last school involving the proper way to eat an orange, she is sent back to Paris and her father’s bookstore. Things quickly change for both women when the Germans invade. Isabelle’s naturally feisty personality takes a political turn. The book follows the sisters throughout the war and beyond: their choices, their sacrifices, and their reactions when confronted with love and with war.

What I liked about this novel is the focus on everyday lives of the French during the war and the eventual path both sisters take. I ran across a post on A Mighty Girl‘s Facebook page recently that recounted a woman named Nancy Wake, a British secret agent. I won’t go in to more detail here, as I don’t want to spoil the novel, but I will say that I love stumbling across true stories that have inspired novels after I’ve finished the book. It gives me a chance to revisit the characters and places in my mind, and gives me a little bit of proof that the magic from the book really may have happened.

Favorite quotes:

From the picnic basket, she withdrew a crusty baguette, a wedge of rich, double-creme cheese, two apples, some slices of paper-thin Bayonne ham, and a bottle of Bollinger ’36.

If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.

Helpful links regarding the book and other recommended reads:

Buy the book here

Read about author Kristin Hannah here (A note: Ms. Hannah is one of those former attorneys who has eschewed her legal career to gain fame and fortune as an author. I hate her. In only the most affectionate way.)

Read A Mighty Girl’s brief story on Nancy Wake here

Read more about Nancy Wake and others like her in Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue, found here 

And finally, if you recall the Reading Challenge I mentioned from my local library, this book satisfied the category ” A book with a strong female lead.”

52.80 Books in 2016


If you know me and know my family, you know that we are a tribe of addicted readers. My grandma recently stayed with us for three weeks, during which time she read 5 books. She estimates that she reads somewhere around 150 books a year. (Gah, goals!) My aunts, uncles, mom, and cousins are all fanatics. I’ve started working on my older son too. And although I would rather do almost nothing more than sit in a beautiful, cozy spot and read an entire day away, with a full time job, full time kids, and full time husband and house to keep up, my reading passion was often pushed to the back burner. But there was a book light at the end of that sad and desolate tunnel. Since I retired from my full time job back in October, my reading time has skyrocketed. So I decided to challenge myself to read a book a week in 2016 – 52 books in 52 weeks. (Maybe I’ll read 52.80 books just to be consistent!) I did not do well in January. Or April. At all. But I figure if I blow through some awesome YA fiction I can get relatively back on track in a jiffy. Here’s a sampling year to date:

Someone: A Novel, by Alice McDermott

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

The Giver Quartet: The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son, by Lois Lowry. (This counts as four books, right? I vote yes.)

Primates of Park Avenue, by Wednesday Martin

11/22/63, by Stephen King

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin

In reviewing my list so far, I realize I’m all over the genre map: literary fiction, YA, chick lit, sci-fi. My usual focus is literary fiction and YA, and particularly where those two categories meet. (Think The Fault In Our Stars.) Around the beginning of the new year I found a fun reading challenge put out by my local library. The goal is to read a book in each of the following categories: Read more

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