Category Archives: gift and learning

Books My Kids Are Reading Part 4

I was reading aloud to the kids last week while we waited at the train station. My son, in typical fashion, was sitting on my lap and my daughter was sitting on my right. On her right sat an elderly man.

I read for 5 or 6 minutes while the kids munched on their after school snack. When they hopped up to throw their granola bar wrappers in the bin, the man turned to me and with a quiet, gravelly voice said, “I remember my mum reading to me when I was a young lad.”

I noticed his eyes had teared up.

“She’s been gone 5 years now.”

With that he got up, pulled his hanky from his pocket to wipe his eyes and walked off to board his train.

I didn’t have a chance to say much of anything in reply before he left.

It’s probably for the best. It was such a sweet, sincere moment of remembrance.

I certainly didn’t want to tarnish it by telling him that I’d started using our train commute to read to the kids because holy heck, they turn into wild animals given too much idle time. Dealing with wild animals squabbling siblings in public sends my blood pressure through the roof. So basically, I’m channeling their energy into books instead of bugging each other.

But perhaps, one day, decades from now, my kids will fondly remember this reading time too.

So, read to your kids! And your grandkids! It might not seem like it now, but it will make a difference.

Here are a few books that we’ve enjoyed reading lately. My kids are ages 7 and 10.

THE MIDNIGHT GANG by David Walliams

We are making our way through the world of David Walliams. My favorite book so far, and probably the kids’ too, is The Midnight Gang.

In this book, the kids in the hospital have a secret club. They help make each child’s biggest dream come true, which means every night they are going on fantastic adventures through the hospital.

There’s adventure, drama, humor and some poignantly sweet moments as well.

THE BOY IN THE DRESS by David Walliams

My kids have been asking some TOUGH life questions lately. Those questions that are perfectly normal, but that as a parent make you want to do that slow backward slide out of the room to avoid answering. If you’re like me you spend a lot of time second-guessing if you got the explanation right because you’re never prepared for these questions!

I thought this book was headed into one of those territories. I was wrong. It was really just about a kid who missed his mom. It was about a kid who was different. It was about how real friends will rally around you no matter how different you are.

My kids laughed. They were amazed. But they didn’t ask me any tough questions. See? They are always keeping me on my toes.

We’ve also read some of David Walliams’ other books such as Awful Auntie, Demon Dentist and Ratburger. I have to say, the adults in these three David Walliams books are terrible individuals.

He always brings the books to a nice, happy conclusion, but man, his adult characters are bad, bad people. For some reason, my kids don’t pick up on that. Their favorite thing to do is to interrupt my reading to say, “I think I know what’s going to happen next!” They seem to take these stories at face level: there’s good, there’s evil, and good always wins.

Also, there is one reoccurring character in all of David Walliams’ books, Raj, who runs the newsagent shop. If you read more than one of his books, your kids will love to see how Raj pops up in each story. He’s definitely a quirky character and my kids adore him.


This was my favorite book of the last month! I bought it on a whim and it’s a keeper!

It’s a world history book written and illustrated in a kid-friendly way. So many history books are dreadfully dull. Not this one. Even the word choice and phrasing was geared to make history exciting for kids (and parents too). Best of all, each topic was short and sweet.

Every page spread is a different historical era:
Base a Philosophy…On Beans (Pythagoras)
Start a Renaissance…By Getting Naked (da Vinci, Michelangelo, etc.)
Win Battles…By Shooting Backwards (Genghis Khan and the Mongols)
Start a Democracy…With Wet Feet (Magna Carta and King John)
Get Out of a Depression…By Planting Trees (New Deal and FDR)
Go to the Moon…With a Pocket Calculator (Neil Armstrong and NASA)

It looks like this book may be out of print, so the only ones available on Amazon are used. Don’t get scalped though! I’m mainly mentioning this book so that if you see it at the library or in a bookshop you’ll know to snatch it up. Also, it was SO, SO good!

HOUSE OF ROBOTS by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

This is the first time we’ve read any of James Patterson’s children’s books. My kids, especially my son, ATE THIS BOOK UP!

It was about robots, after all!

This book and the others by Patterson take place in middle school, but this one didn’t seem too old subject-wise for either of my kids. It mainly dealt with typical things you might find in any school: best friends, lunch room antics and bullies. Oh, and what happens if your new “brother” is a robot and your mom makes you take him to school. You know, the usual!

I really liked how the mom in the book was a genius robotics professor. It was a great way to introduce girls to the idea of a career in science.

If you have a reluctant reader, this book is illustrated with a lot of thought bubbles. My son complains about reading a page of text, but has no problem reading thought and voice bubbles. It’s an excellent way to sneak extra reading aloud in.

We can’t wait to check out more of James Patterson’s books.


This book was SO different from what we’ve been reading lately. My kids are still talking about it.

The premise of this book is what if imaginary friends are real? What happens to the imaginaries when their real-life friends grow up and don’t believe in them anymore? Rudger is Amanda’s imaginary friend and he soon learns that an evil man is after the imaginaries. How can an imaginary boy save the day in the real world?

The description of this book says it is in the vein of Coraline. I can see that. It’s a little dark and definitely fantastical. If your kids like Harry Potter, they will like this book. My kids loved the suspense and the sweet ending.


We are going broke buying my daughter the Warrior Cat books!

When she is into something, she’s REALLY into it. The Warrior Cat books are one of those things. There are a ton of books in this best-selling series by Erin Hunter and my daughter can keep them all straight.

In her painting class she has been painting the book covers. When she does imaginary play, it’s always about Warrior Cats. Oh, and Warrior Cats is being turned into a movie. I believe my daughter has a countdown going.

I do not understand the world of Warrior Cats, but she LOVES it!

She got this box set for her birthday. Manga is a Japanese-style of graphic novels. However, if straight chapter books are up your kid’s alley, there are a whole bunch of those too!

If you have an older kid who likes cats, check this series out.


This book was so clever and so much fun to read. We’re still talking about it!

The book description says it best: “As if being small and having S. Horten as his name isn’t bad enough, now 10-year-old Stuart is forced to move far away from all his friends. But on his very first day in his new home, Stuart’s swept up in an extraordinary adventure: the quest to find his great-uncle Tony–a famous magician who literally disappeared off the face of the earth–and Tony’s marvelous, long-lost workshop. Along the way, Stuart reluctantly accepts help from the annoying triplets next door… and encounters trouble from another magician who’s also desperate to get hold of Tony’s treasures.”

Here are past posts on books we LOVE
1. Books My Kids Are Reading Part 3
2. Books My Kids Are Reading Part 2
3. Books My Kids Are Reading Now (Part 1)
4. Two Children’s Books That Made My Eyes Leak – Cried my eyes out. Still my favorite books.
5. Star Wars Phonics Books – These worked miracles at encouraging my son to read

If you know of any books my kids would love, please let me know.

Having a new book to look forward to reading makes us pretty darn happy!

Also, it apparently keeps this mom from blowing a gasket during our commute. So, really, books are saving the day!



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Tourist Maps Make Great Wrapping Paper

Monday’s post was a little heavy, emotionally speaking, so let’s reel it back in, shall we? Besides, this blog, similar to the inner workings of my brain, thrives on randomness and abrupt topic changes. Keep up! Keep up! The whiplash is worth it.

How many of you have traveled someplace new and picked up a tourist map (or 3 because each of your kids needs their own map even if they ask you to hold it 7.3 seconds later, thank you very much)?

*raises hand*

Then how many of you have chucked that map(s) in the recycle bin or garbage when you were finished?

*raises hand*

If one of your tourist maps survives the trip in good shape, don’t throw it away!

You can reuse it as wrapping paper!

It’s fun. It’s unique. It’s economical.

It works for any gender or age.

And those map creases are an excellent cutting guide.

I did have to repair a slight tear in one of the creases with a bit of tape, but when I’m wrapping a Nerf gun for a 7-year-old, perfection is not at the top of my priority list.

Actually, perfection is rarely at the top of my priority list. Makes life so much easier!

I was carrying these presents through the mall on our way to a birthday party at a miniature golf place. I stopped to pick up a free sample of a sports drink the college kids were handing out. I meant to do a “grab a free bottle fly by” because we were on a timeline, but the kid stopped me and said, “is that map wrapping paper?”

I said “Well, it’s a map that I’m using as wrapping paper.”

“From a real place?” he replied.

“Nope! From a fake place!”

Kidding, I didn’t say that. I thought it, but my internal filter was working that day.

What I actually said was, “Yes, from our trip to Copenhagen.”

“WOW! That’s such a good idea!”

As a side note, I do love it when college kids think my ideas are great. It gives me that “I’ve still got it” feeling.

Then I talked to him for another 3 minutes about how expensive we found Denmark to be compared to Ireland while Handy Husband tapped his foot waited patiently for me to stop holding court with my adoring fans.

Not only is a tourist map a great item to reuse as wrapping paper, but it is also a conversation starter. These win-win ideas make me ridiculously happy!

And in this case, since I reused and thereby helped the planet, I think this was a win-win-win idea.

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Two Books That Made My Eyes Leak

As a general rule of thumb, I’m not a crier. I make exceptions for the occasional sappy movie and anytime my kids are on stage. Oh, and when I was pregnant I could cry during those Coca-Cola commercials with the polar bears. Dang hormones.

The point is I don’t remember the last time my kids saw me cry.

That’s why it’s a little awkward that the two books that made me cry recently are CHILDREN’S BOOKS that I was reading aloud to my CHILDREN. Oy.


On a whim, I picked up A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd while in a bookstore in Corvallis, Oregon. It was on the bookshelf of staff favorites. Now I know why.

My 9-year-old daughter and I devoured this book and her second book The Key to Extraordinary. They were both one of those, “don’t you dare read this without me because I don’t want to miss out” type of books.

GAH! She’s reading it without me.

The main character in A Snicker of Magic is a 12-year-old girl named Felicity who, after moving over and over, yearns for her family to put down permanent roots. Felicity is a ‘word collector.’ She sees words everywhere – around people and even objects. She explains it better than I ever could…

“At exactly that moment, I saw my first word of the day: Believe. The letters were made of melted sunshine. They dripped down the window glass, warm and tingly against our faces. Believe is a powerful word to see and to say. But that morning, I felt it. And feeling it was the best of all. I knew something wonderful was about to happen to me. I didn’t know what, or why, or how. But I believed.” – Felicity in A Snicker of Magic as written by Natalie Lloyd


A book that can be enjoyed by children and adults cannot be an easy thing to write.  Natalie Lloyd transported us into her world and we did not want to leave. Her books were so relatable that on just about every page I wanted to say, “YES! That! Exactly that!”

“…that’s when I realized that it’s possible to have a happy ending, even if the ending isn’t what you imagined…Home isn’t just a house or a city or a place; home is what happens when you’re brave enough to love people.” – Felicity in A Snicker of Magic as written by Natalie Lloyd

Here’s the catch with these two books and why the endings made my eyes leak. The books were not bubblegum fiction. The author weaves in difficult family situations into the storylines. Its part of what makes the characters so relatable. In doing so, she creates a safe place to explore topics of broken homes, military deployments and grief, among others.

The thing is, these books aren’t about death or loss or trauma or abandonment.  The books, ultimately, are about love, friendship and hope. The author ends each story with a beautiful moral. So poignant. So hopeful. So healing.

If talking about these topics make you feel uncomfortable, this might be a good way to broach the subject with your child. Or better yet, let your child take the lead – if he or she is ready.


The end of The Key to Extraordinary was one of the most touching passages about grief and healing that I’ve ever read. My kids noticed tears were running down my face, which was a bit concerning to them. My son asked me if I was crying because my mom died.

Ah, gosh. What do you say?

In short, I told him yes. This story of love and hope was so beautifully written and it did remind me of my mom, but in a good way because I loved her so much and she loved me.

“I know some people think of angels and harps and rich stuff when they think of heaven. But I thought about my mom – barefoot on the back porch, her hair blowing long around her face. She’s strumming a guitar that never goes out of tune. She’s singing a song that doesn’t end. She’s thinking of me. I’m thinking of her. Maybe we never really lose the ones we love. Maybe we’re connected, always.” – Emma Pearl in the book Key To Extraordinary as written by Natalie Lloyd.

I don’t want my kids to be afraid of something that’s natural, so I’ve been very open, in an age appropriate way, with the kids about death. They’ve experienced the death of a pet. They know my mom died in a car accident. They know a family friend died unexpectedly recently and left 3 young children behind. They’ve had playdates with these kids and have talked to each other about grief in the way that kids do.
snickerofmagic6Here’s what my son tells me. In all of his 6-year-old wisdom.

Son: The sun is so bright mom, because it takes in all of our joy and shines it out for everyone to see.
Me: I like that idea.
Son: And do you know what Heaven is like?
Me: No, what’s it like?
Son: It’s like the airport. You know when you have to give them your suitcase and then when you get someplace new your suitcase comes out on that belt?
Me: The conveyer belt in baggage claim?
Son: Yes! Heaven is like that. You give them your suitcase full of sadness. Then when you get there you get a new suitcase filled with joy and happiness and you get to see your mom again.
Me: I think that’s the best description of Heaven I’ve ever heard.
Son: I know.

“In the eyes of many people, I may never live an extraordinary life. But I will love in extraordinary ways. And I hope I choose to always see the best in people.” – Emma Pearl in the book Key To Extraordinary as written by Natalie Lloyd.

Then he throws his arms around me in the biggest bear hug imaginable. With his face buried in my shoulder he says “I love you so much.”

And my heart almost burst from happiness.


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Our New Pet

Meet our new pet, a blue whale named Per.


Did I have you going there for a second?

Okay. It’s not a real pet, but my kids don’t know that.

I don’t think. Well, my 9-year-old kind of knows, but she likes to believe, so I’m not going to ruin the fun.

A few months ago, in a riveting blog post, I told you about an amazing TED talk I listened to by author Mac Barnett and the children’s book I bought as a result, Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem.

I think I mentioned in that previous post there’s a fun surprise under the jacket cover of that book.

My kids wrote a letter and sent it off to receive their very own pet whale before we moved to Ireland.

I promptly forgot all about the pet whale because HELLO? moving to a foreign country. They didn’t forget. They were worried about how the whale was going to find us because we didn’t tell the whale our new address. We didn’t even have a permanent address at that point. Details.

It’s moments like these that I realize the depth of my children’s resiliency.

We’d just moved to a foreign country. Everything was new. They’d left their friends and family behind. We didn’t have our belongings or even a place to call home. It’s a lot for anyone, no matter your age, to process.

None of that seemed to phase them. Instead, they were concerned about the whale. Not about how we’d feed a whale or where we’d keep a whale, but how the whale would find us.

I guess I’d never explained mail forwarding.

We had a package of mail forwarded from the U.S. to our temporary home in Ireland. As is my luck, the package was too big to shove through the mail slot in our door and we weren’t home.

Instead, we had to walk/scooter a mile to the mail holding facility. Along the way to find our mail, my son decided to jump fall into a duck pond.

Really, it was only a matter of time. We’d walked past that pond twice a day for weeks. Don’t worry. He was fine. We had to walk back to the house so he could shower the algae and duck poo off of himself though.

Finally we arrived at the mail facility and that’s when we discovered a very official letter had arrived addressed to the kids.

(By the way, it’s just “post” here, not post office. People also say they are going to open the post instead of open the mail.)

The letter informed them their pet whale is stuck in Norway in a very lovely fjord.


There was a “change” in customs law and Norway won’t let the whale leave. Oh, darn. My kids know all about customs and immigration due to our recent move. While they were disappointed, they rolled with the bad news like the troopers they are.

Bureaucratic red tape. What are you going to do?

blue-whale-4I was happy there was one way to smooth things over.

The kids can call their whale and leave him a message. YAY!

Except my kids want to FaceTime instead.

Of course.

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