Favorite books of 2016 | Read-alouds

This morning I stood at our sink washing dishes, and I could overhear Mark reading aloud to the little girls.  A stack of picture books sat before him and he steadily read, one after the other.  I listened to the cadence of his voice, and kept sneaking peeks of them, there on the couch, the girls all cozied up on either side of him, listening to the stories.

Reading aloud is one of our favorite things to do.  I'm pretty sure that someday, when my kids are grown and gone, one of the scenes I will miss the most is this one: Me, on the couch, with my feet tucked up beneath me and a book in hand, the kids sprawled out beside me or across the living room, coloring or playing quietly while I read.

We've done a good deal of reading-aloud this year, and here are my three favorites:

Treasures of the Snow | Patricia St. John

I remember reading Patricia St. John books as a girl, and this was one of my favorites. As I pondered our read-alouds for the year, God kept putting this one on my heart. I kept scrambling past that thought, because we already read this one aloud, years ago, but God kept nudging me toward this one, and I felt like He might want to use this story in one of my younger girls' hearts, so we began our year with this read-aloud.

It's a story centering around three children: Annette, her younger brother Dani, and a boy in their village named Lucien.  Lucien and Annette aren't particularly fond of each other, and one day Lucien's actions cause an accident that deeply affects Annette, and she feels hatred and bitterness in her heart toward him.  Her grandmother in particular encourages her to forgive Lucien, and Annette is faced with a choice of obeying God, in the act of forgiving Lucien, or holding onto the hatred.

I think what I love so much about this book is how Patricia St. John visually describes this choice.  She writes of how Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and knocks, and when we let Him in, light floods in and there's no room for the darkness.  But we have to let Him in.  I have referred back to this story and the characters within it several times with one of my girls as a way to enter into a discussion about her own heart: "Do you remember Annette?  And how much anger was in her heart?  What did her grandma say to her?  What happened to Annette when she...?"  I highly recommend this book, and all my kids loved it.

The Penderwicks | Jeanne Birdsall

I'd been hearing about this book for years, and Ella had already read it on her own, but what won me over to finally reading it aloud was not the book itself, but actually a quote I read by the author.

I am paraphrasing, here, but Jeanne Birdsall decided to write The Penderwicks because as a young girl she loved to read, and after reading all of her favorite books, she longed for more of those types of stories, but couldn't find them.  So she grew up and wrote the kind of story she would have loved as a girl.

That won me over to her as an author, because I remember being that girl, too.  Once I had read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, then the Anne series and everything else written by L.M. Montgomery, then several Louisa May Alcott titles, with a few treasures sprinkled in there by other authors, I ran out of the kinds of stories that I so loved.  Ella has felt the same way.

So one day I opened up The Penderwicks and began to read, and it was a delightful story of everyday children and their summer adventures.  We really enjoyed it.  I have yet to read any of the other titles, so if any of you have read the rest of the series, I'd love to hear it!

Watership Down | Richard Adams

This was our most recent read-aloud, and it was so wonderful to have no school this past month, because I was able to spend a good deal of time each day reading this, and my kids were constantly pleading for more (which, as you well know, is always the sign of a well-chosen read-aloud!)

We just really liked this story.  It was well-written and the plot and characters well developed.  The book is about a small number of rabbits who leave their warren due to impending destruction of their home.  They head off to find a new home for themselves, encountering dangers and learning lessons along the way.  The rabbits Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and Pipkin, and the gull Kehaar became dear to all of us as we read this book.  The rabbits speak to one another and have their own language and mythology.

Note: My least-favorite part of the book were the sections where one of the rabbits told a story about one of their ancestors (because, boring.  Get back to the plot, already.)  But those sections were actually my boys' favorite parts of the book, so go figure.  ;)


We are currently reading Little Women, which all of us girls love so far.  And my boys are being champs about.  (I told them that they just got to read of battles, suspense and adventures with rabbits, so they can handle some women for awhile. ;))

What are you currently reading aloud in your home?

Decorating our tree all over again

Have you read the book Night Tree, by Eve Bunting?  It's a sweet picture book about a family who heads out to the woods on Christmas Eve to find their tree, but not in the way you might think.

They find their tree and then decorate it, right there in the woods, with a popcorn garland, apples, tangerines, and balls of seeds and honey.  They spread out a blanket and with cups of cocoa to warm them, they sing Christmas carols and wait for any woodland creatures to come upon their tree.


We took our tree down just a day after Christmas.  The pine needles were falling off and Mark and I were ready for it to go, but our kids were disappointed.  Audra, in particular, was sad to see all the ornaments and lights taken down and wanted to keep it decorated.  It was then that she remembered the book above, which we'd recently read, and had the idea to decorate our tree all over again, but this time-- outside!

Mark stood our tree up in the garden and we set to work, stringing popcorn, and stringing dried apple slices and craisins, and we made our own seed balls by rolling apples in peanut butter and then in bird seed.  And then we ran outside and quickly decorated the tree-- it was cold out there, and we were still in our jammies!-- and ran back inside to wait and watch from the windows.

It was the neighborhood squirrels who found our tree first, crunching into our popcorn with delight.  Then, slowly came some Dark-eyed Juncos, and some Varied Thrushes, some House Sparrows and some Chickadees.  A Robin eyed the whole affair from a nearby tree but decided against it.  A Woodpecker flew overhead but didn't alight.  It was such a fun little activity that I feel sure we'll do it again!

A Varied Thrush, interested in the popcorn the squirrels had tossed to the ground.

A Black-capped Chickadee, pecking at another seed ball we hung on another tree.

Poem for the Beginning of the Year

I discovered this poem recently and it seems perfectly suited for the beginning of the year: 

Every day is a fresh beginning,
Listen my soul to the glad refrain.
  And, spite of old sorrows
    And older sinning,
    Troubles forecasted
    And possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.

~Susan Coolidge

Doesn't that first line remind you of Miss Stacy telling Anne Shirley, "Remember, you can always start everything afresh tomorrow"?  And the last line is one I'd like to remember as various challenges crop up throughout my days with the kids, "Take heart with the day and begin again."
Yes, please.  His mercies are new every morning.

Blessings to you all for a wonderful year!