I am eager to get back to doing book reviews again and have soooo many wonderful books to do!  But alas, I know I won't get around to doing too many very soon so picking one to start with was hard but not too hard because this book (the first we read in the series) was so utterly fantastic and my son and I both absolutely adored it-  so here we go!

Title of Book: Poppy  (Tales of Dimwood Forest)

Author:  Avi

Illustrator:  Brian Floca

Genre:  Fiction; adventure

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages:  176

Suggested Age Range:  8-12  but can certainly be a read a loud for a much younger age.  My son is 6 and has been enthralled by this series!

Why I Chose This Book:  This book came as a highly recommended read-aloud by Sarah Mackenzie.  I'm a big fan of Sarah's Read Aloud Revival and just about anything she's put out.  You can see some posts on her book Teaching From Rest here and here.

A Bit From The Back Cover:  At the very edge of Dimwood Forest stands an old charred oak.  A great horned owl, Mr. Ocax, waits there. With his piercing gaze, he surveys the lands he calls his own, watching for the creatures he considers his subjects. None dare disobey him, until the night a courageous deer mouse named Poppy, boldly defies him, only to find herself in terrible danger. To lead her family to a better life, will Poppy battle Mr. Ocax to the end?

My Review:  My son and I were quickly taken in by this fanciful tale about woodland creatures!  Poppy is a sweet, timid dormouse who suffers a great loss at the beginning of the story but, being protective of her family, gathers her courage to embark on a dangerous quest.  The story was simply irresistible.  The book is full of action and chances for discussion of how to handle various dilemmas.  Our favorite character was actually NOT Poppy, the heroine or the antagonist, Mr. Ocax, but the ever so funny Ereth, the porcupine!  He was a hoot!  My son just laughed and laughed at all of Ereth's antics and sayings.  It was so much fun to read a loud to him. The book not only held my son's attention captive and begging for more, but added to his desire to learn more about animals and add creativity to his drawings of such creatures!  If you love whimsical animal adventures, you will love this series.  I want to read it again!

Other Books by this Author:  Ragweed, Poppy and Ereth, Ereth's Birthday, Poppy and Rye, Poppy's Return (all from the Dimwood Forest series).  Crispin- The Cross of Lead (Newberry Award Winner), The Good Dog, Old Wolf, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and many others.


Book Title:  Free to Learn:  Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier,More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

Author:  Peter Gray

Genre: Psychology

Publisher:  Basic Books (A Member of the Perseus Books Group)

Why Did I Choose It?  I chose this book after asking a friend to give me her favorite resources on unschooling as I have become more and more interested in this type of education for my youngest son.  She recommended any book by Peter Gray or John Holt.  This was the book title that intrigued me the most in my brief search of the authors.

A Bit From The Back Cover:  In Free to Learn, developmental psychologist Peter Gray argues that to foster children who will thrive in today's constant changing world, we must entrust them to steer their own learning and development. Drawing on evidence from anthropology, psychology, and history, he demonstrates that free play is the primary means by which children learn to control their lives, solve problems, get along with peers, and become emotionally resilient...

Review:  This book was amazing.  Absolutely amazing and I'm sooo sorry I didn't read it 12 years ago when we first pulled out daughter out of the public schools to homeschool.  I think I was in the right mindset then, to let her be and learn in a less structured way but let the years of public education and judgments of others cloud my thinking and raise my self-doubt and anxiety to the point of basically doing 'school at home' for a several years with only a bit of freedom here and there.  But enough about my failings...  here's the thing about this book!

Free to Learn is the most comprehensive and convincing book on how children (naturally) learn that I’ve ever read, and being a dedicated homeschool mom and former public educator, I have certainly read quite a few books on how children learn!  Gray includes an extensive amount of research in this book. Actually, the beginning which focused on hunter-gatherer cultures drove me a little batty...but I stuck with it and I'm glad I did.  Really , I totally get why he included it all and it is relevant and very important to his overall message. Dr. Gray also included an abundant amount of other research as well as well as  his personal experience as a parent and experiences with Sudbury Valley - a highly unconventional school but one with idealistic standards! Free to Learn explains, and includes the research that proves it, how we can work with a child's natural drives to learn and not using the compulsory education system which forces lessons, standardized tests, and activities that crush a child's innate drives to learn.

The overall message of this book is that children must play and explore to learn (and that the way children are taught in most schools today denies that to a harmful effect). He presents overwhelming scientific evidence that play and exploration, self-directed learning, and being in mixed age groups (something most public schools restrict)  permit children  come to their full potentials and enable them to grow, learn and develop positively and naturally. “Children need freedom in order to be happy, to learn how to be responsible, and to develop the character traits needed to deal with life’s inevitable dangers and setbacks.”

“Nothing that we do, no amount of toys we buy or ‘quality time’ or special training we give our children, can compensate for the freedom we take away. The things that children learn through their own initiatives, in free play, cannot be taught in other ways.”

If you want an understanding of why schools today are failing and we are not finding the results we seek from our standard system, or simply why 'schooling at home' (mimicking the public school system at home)  is still  not the most beneficial answer and  what can actually be done differently with success, I  strongly urge you  to read this book. I sincerely believe that the overall message of Free to Learn has the potential to direct our culture toward a better system- whether public or private or at home.

"...self-directed learning and free play permit children to realize their optimum abilities to learn, grow, and develop naturally and positively..."

Notes About The Author:  Peter Gray, Ph.D.,  is a research professor in the Department of Psychology at Boston College and author of the college textbook, Psychology, now in its seventh edition.  He writes the Freedom to Learn Blog for Psychology Today.  Peter Gray is a well-known critic of the  standard educational systems. He speaks often to groups of parents and educators about children’s needs for free play and the detrimental effects of the current methods of schooling, Mr. Gray, along with other concerned citizens, has created a website titled AlternativesToSchool.com.


Book Title:  Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace

Author:  Sarah Mackenzie                                                                              

Genre: Homeschooling; Education

Pages:  89

Publisher: Classical Academic Press  (ClassicalAcademicPress.com)

Why Did I Choose It?  I saw the advertisements for the book last year and,honestly,  the concept of rest pulled me in!  Rest?  What IS that?  I had a feeling it wasn't about sleeping until noon or handing out lessons from my bedside, but I found the title appealing and had to find out for myself what it was all about!

A Bit From The Back Cover: Those who have made the decision to homeschool their children have done so out of great love for their children and a desire to provide them an excellent education in the context of a warm, enriching home.  Yet so many parents (mainly mothers) who have taken up this challenge find the enterprise often full of stress, worry, and anxiety.  In this practical, faith-based, and inspirational book, Sarah Mackenzie addresses these questions directly, appealing to her own study of restful learning (schole) and her struggle to bring restful learning to her children.

Review:  This book is amazing! Seriously-  I think this book has helped me in my homeschooling process more than any other book I've read.  In the Book, Teaching From Rest, Sarah gives real practical advice on how to simplify our days and our 'curriculum' to a point that allows us to accept our limitations, trust in God to make the miracles happen, and teach from a true state of rest (note:  Rest is NOT a state of ease ).   Sarah covers a variety of ways to achieve our end goal including prayer, morning time, lightening the load (and how to do that), understanding the  limitations of published resources, simplifying the schedule and much much more!  This is a book I firmly intend on reading each and every year through the rest of my homeschool years.  It will have a permanent place by my bedside for those moments I'll need a few moments of  review and 'pep talk' from Sarah! 

I hope to write more posts soon on Teaching From Rest.  In the meantime, I just finished planning for an upcoming book study I am conducting on Facebook.  It starts THIS FRIDAY!!!  (May 20, 2016)Don't panic- if you don't have the book, buy it now... Friday we are only going over the introduction, so if you're not in the group yet, join and catch up when you get the book!  The rest begins Monday.  The schedule for reading is on the Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1112029392194451/

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Fellow homeschoolers, let me know what you think of this book! And feel free to list other recommendations for my other readers!


Book Title:  Sam & Dave Dig A Hole

Author:  Mac Barnett

Illustrator:  Jon Klassen

Genre:  Picture Book, Fiction

Publisher:  Candlewick (October 14, 2014)

  • ISBN-10: 0763662291
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763662295

Pages: 40

Age: 4-8

Why Did I Choose It?  I saw this one in another book review; I'm sorry I don't know which one!  But I was quite intrigued - enough so to buy it for a Christmas present! I was also recommended the title by one of my followers here on the blog! ...continue reading "Book Review Wednesday: Sam & Dave Dig A Hole"

Book Title:  Home For Christmas

Author: Jan Brett

Illustrator: Jan Brett

Genre:  Picture Book, Christmas

Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons

  • ISBN-10: 0399256539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399256530


Pages: 32

Age: 3-7

Why Did I Choose It?  Honestly, because it's the Christmas book we just read last night so it's fresh in my mind! 😉

My Review:  Jan Brett is a favorite storyteller/illustrator of this blogger, so it's not a surprise to me that I've enjoyed this book.  I recall the reason I chose this book from the shelf was the beautiful moose on the front cover. The illustrations alone could sell this book as they are full of  'living' details!  The storyline follows a troll who is a quite naughty and a bit selfish -  he doesn't want to do his chores, something every child can identify with! Rollo chooses to leave home and not be kind and helpful.  Each time Rollo encounters an animal family he believes he has found a better place to live, only to be dismayed at something not so wonderful.  Read the story to find out what takes Rollo back home and what happy event in the life of a troll occurs when he learns his lesson. While this isn't a Nativity story, it does fit into lessons of kindness for young children which is always a good quality to have at Christmastime.

Other Books By This Author: The Mitten, The Hat, The Three Snow Bears and many others

Jan Brett Page at Amazon


Book Title:  Jotham's Journey; A Storybook for Advent
Author: Arnold Ytreeide

Genre: Fiction Storybook, Christmas

Publisher:  Kregel Publications (August 26, 2008)

Pages: 168

Ages: 6-14 and up

Why Did I Choose It?  Well it's December of course and I love to have a large stack of Christmas themed books to read throughout the month.  I wanted to be sure you all had a chance to know about it as it's a book that's meant to be read in parts, nightly, throughout all advent.  It's still early December so I'm sure you could catch up easily if you get it now and read a couple extra sections here and there.

A Bit From The Back Cover:  Over and over Jotham screamed for his family, but there was no one to hear him.  They had vanished.  He was alone.  Where had they gone? How long ago did they leave? Through quick, stabbing sobs Jotham told himself, "I must look for my family.  I must search until I find them."  And so his journey began.

My Review: My children and I read this first book of a series of three several years ago.  Jotham's Journey is divided into short chapters to allow for nightly readings starting 4 Sundays before Christmas (and can easily be caught up by those who start late or who forget a night here and there). We became mesmerized by the adventures of ten-year old Jotham as he travels across Israel in search of his family. We felt compelled to read more as the end of many chapters kept us on the edge of our seats as Jotham faces robbers, kidnappers and other challenges until the end. Can you guess what he will find in Bethlehem?  It was fun fitting the pieces of the story together with information we knew from the Gospels and information gleaned from the Old Testament to realize who all  the characters were in Jotham's story and the role they all played in the real Christmas story. I highly recommend making this book and the others in the series part of your advent/nativity family traditions.

Other Books By This Author:  Bartholomew's Passage,  Tabitha's Travels and Amon's Adventure

You may also want to check out JothamsJourney.com

Book Title:  Floss

Author:  Kim Lewis

Illustrator:Kim Lewis

Genre: Fiction,  Picture Book

Publisher:  Candlewick Press (Reprint 1994)

  • ISBN-10: 1564022714
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564022714

Pages: 32

Age: 4-8

Why Did I Choose It?  This is  selection from my son's library pile.  I believe it was the cover that attracted him. What boy doesn't love a book about a dog?

A Bit From the Back Cover:  Nose kicks, passes, springs in the air -   Floss is a young Border Collie who really knows how to play ball!  But when she's sent to a distant farm to become a sheepdog, there's so much work to be done that Floss has little time for fun. Will she ever get the chance to play ball again?

My Review:  This sweet picture book tells the memories of a sheep dog and the trial of this animal going from a life of play to a life of work.    A father gives his own dog to his son to work the son's sheep farm.  Floss has trouble transitioning, not because  she doesn't want to do her job, but because not only does she want to work - she wants to play!  What young boy or girl wouldn't be able to relate to what Floss is going through?  The illustrations are beautiful and help to convey the emotions of the story.  It's an enjoyable story that could easily be a catalyst for discussion of chores and play or transitions to new environments or habits.

Other Books By This Author: Goodnight Harry,  A Puppy for Annie, Just Like Floss, The Shepard Boy, and many others  (see Amazon Link above)

Buy It Here:Floss

Book Title: Hatchet

Author: Gary Paulsen

Genre: realistic fiction, survival, adventure,

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

  • ISBN-10: 1416936475
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416936473

Pages:  192

Age: 12 and up

Awards:  1988 Newberry Honor, William Allen White Children's Book Award 1990

Why Did I Choose It?  Not only is this a receiver of the Newberry honor but I've read this book twice now and I am looking forward to reading it again!  It's a must read for my youngest son when he's older and it's a must read for every boy (and girl) out there!

A Bit From The Back Cover:  Thoughts of his parent's divorce fill Brian Robeson's head as he flies in a single-engine plane to visit his father in the Canadian wilderness.  When the pilot suffers a heart attack and dies, Brian must somehow land the plane by himself and then, left with only the clothes he is wearing and a hatchet he received from his mother as a parting gift, Brian must put thoughts of his past behind him and try to figure out how he can stay alive...

My Review:  In my honest opinion, this is one of the best - if not THE best- Living Book our there for boys in this age range. The book is wonderful to say the least. It's beyond the typical adventure story for boys and leaves you, heart stopping, turning the pages for more.  This is the first book my son continuously asked me to keep reading and not just during our set 'read-aloud' time.  Told from a third person point of view, the story tells us Brian's thoughts and feelings through the  action packed events in the story. The reader follows Brian through learning to fish, make fire, build a shelter, and encounters with wild animals and we see him grow in every way imaginable. We were sad that the book ended, but thoroughly delighted to learn it was the first in a series!

Other Books By This Author:  The River, Brian's Winter, Brian's Return, Brian's Hunt, Dogsong, Soldier's Heart, Harris and Me, and many more!


Book Title:  From Little Acorns: A First Look at the Life Cycle of a Tree(First Look: Science)

Author:  Sam Godwin

Genre: Picture Book,  Science

Illustrator: Simone Abel

Publisher: Picture Window Books

  • ISBN-10: 140480658X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1404806580

Pages: 32

Age: 4 and up

Why Did I Choose It?  It is fall and we (my son and I) found it in the seasonal book display at our library.  Eager to read and discover more about nature to start on our journey with the Charlotte Mason methodology, I found it to be a great accompaniment to our nature walks!

A Bit From The Back Cover:  Take a walk through a leafy forest and join some curious woodland creatures as they find out how a tiny acorn becomes a giant oak tree.

My Review:  This was a delightful read!  It is a wonderful Living Book for this age group!  From Little Acorns was a wonderful introduction for my son to understand more about the hundreds of acorns spread about our yard as well as motivate him to look for seedlings and saplings.  He enjoyed the illustrations and hearing what the squirrels in the story had to say to one another.  I enjoyed that he was able to absorb so much factual information within a nicely illustrated story.  This was the perfect book to read at the beginning of fall when the leaves and acorns began to fall.

Other Books By This Author: A Seed in Need: A First Look at the Plant Cycle,  The Trouble With Tadpoles: A First Look at the Life Cycle of a Frog,  Which Switch is Which?: A First Look at Electricity,  and several others!  Find his page on Amazon.

It's time for this blog to pick an official book review day and make it a HABIT!  So Wednesday it is!  The books reviewed here will be of various sorts - fiction, non-fiction, YA, adult, middle grade, picture books and homeschool and other resources.  Today is a favorite of my youngest child 🙂


Book Title:  The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and THE BIG HUNGRY BEAR

Author:  Don and Audrey Wood

One of his favorites!
One of his favorites!

Illustrator:  Don Wood

Publisher:  Child's Play Library 1984

  • ISBN-10: 0859530124
  • ISBN-13: 978-0859530125

Pages:  32 (paperback)

Recommended Ages:  2-5

Why Did I Choose It? This book was a gift to my son.  This is, no doubt, one of my son's favorite books to hear at bedtime.  It's also one of my favorite books to read!

A Bit From the Back Cover:  The little mouse will do anything to save his strawberry from the big, hungry bear.  This bear holds all the cards, who is playing the fox's role?

My Review: This delightful story has the narrator (you) speaking right to the main character, the mouse.  This is a wonderful twist that adds to the delight of the child listening to the story. It presents with a very light and humorous conversational tone. The illustrations are colorful and charming. It is a perfect short read for bedtime or for little ones with shorter attention spans.  We, the reader and the listener, feel drawn into the story. The Big Hungry Bear is never to be seen but we can certainly imagine that he is lurking around the nearest corner sniffing the air and is quite determined to find that big juicy strawberry!  We must help the mouse protect that strawberry! We must eat the strawberry! NOW!  This book makes me want red ripe delicious strawberries every time.

I adore the look on his face!


What's Your Favorite Part of This Tale? Please share 🙂