Summer Book Reviews

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When summer break began, I had a couple books in mind at that I wanted to read, but seeing as I don’t really like to read (I know, I’m an English teacher, it’s weird.), I wasn’t too sure how far I’d get.

Well, I amazed myself and read a couple more than I had originally intended.

I really want to dedicate more time to reading, but my motivation is low.  Even with the most exciting of books, I seem to end up falling asleep!  I can’t help it!  Really, I can’t, I totally blame my astigmatism.

Though, since I’m coming off of the high of surpassing the goals of my summer reading list, I have high hopes that I’ll keep up this pace for the school year.

Anyway,  here’s a compilation of what I’ve read and my mini-review on each selection. All books are linked to Amazon, so if you’re intrigued by a title and want to see what other people think about the book too, click and follow the link to the Amazon reviews!

1. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and John and Elizabeth Sherrill

 I set out to make this my first read of the summer because 1. I had a few copies laying around at school and 2. several of my students had read it during the past school year and they really seemed to enjoy and be inspired by it.  I knew I would like The Hiding Place because it falls into the non-fiction category, which I can’t seem to get enough of lately, but I really was uplifted by the story and all of the “coincidences” that happened throughout.  Corrie’s faith pulls her through the Holocaust, and her complete reliance on God provoked me to consider how I would think and act if I were in her situation.  I have read various stories on this topic, but Corrie’s view was different for me because it began as a comfortable story about her family and slowly spiraled into chaotic, war-torn scenarios.  The way the novel unfolded was relatable and made it seem like a situation in which anyone could find himself.


2.  This is a Book by Demetri Martin


This little gem caught my eye at the library, so I just had to snatch it up.  Demetri has been a favorite comedian of mine for a long time, so I will pretty much read anything he writes.  This is a book; however, it is written as if you are at a comedy show…kind of?  That’s the best way I can describe it.  Jokes, scripts, charts, and drawings fill the pages and they will keep you laughing, chuckling, smirking, and wondering.  One reason I have always been drawn to Demetri is because of his quirky, WAY-outside-the-box thinking.  That being said, this book probably isn’t for everyone, but if I’ve ever made you laugh, then it’s possible that you might laugh at this book too.





3.  Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This is another book that I put on my list because of my students.  I heard great things about this true story over the year so I had to check it out myself.  Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini and his incredible life.  This guy was an Olympic distance runner, survived a plane crash as well as being stranded in the ocean for 47 days, and he endured ridiculous levels of torture at various Japanese POW camps.  I couldn’t believe the events that Louis lived to talk about, and I found it really cool that he also realized that he couldn’t have gotten through any of them without the help of the Lord.  I haven’t decided if I want to see the film version of his story or not… I’m betting (like usual) the book tells it best!


4.  I Want My Epidural Back by Karen Alpert

Eeeek!  Mrs. Alpert has quite the potty mouth!  But, if you can get past that, this book is pretty entertaining.  Karen definitely “goes there” and writes about the things that moms try to keep to themselves because they are too taboo.  As much as I love reading about the “right” way to parent, and researched procedures about how to deal with your child in every situation possible, and the optimal diet for your little one at every age and stage—-sometimes my brain needs a break.  I Want My Epidural Back gave me that breathing room I so needed and helped ensure that there is no right way in the momming world; we’re all just doing the best we can.  Might as well laugh about it along the way!


5.  Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

This was my favorite read this summer.  The story is about Chris McCandless, a young man who attempted to journey into Alaskan wilderness but is found dead just a short while later.  Jon Krakauer puts the pieces of this real-life scenario together by talking to friends and acquaintances of Chris, and adding his own investigation and research to provide the answers to all the questions surrounding Chris’ death.  I found the story line intriguing right off the bat, and once I got into the book, I couldn’t get enough.  Just. Read. It.


6.  Frida Kahlo by Gerry Souter

If you like a lot of pictures, and not a lot of words, this book is for you! 😉 Frida’s paintings are displayed across from a paragraph or two of text on each page spread.  Initially when I got this book I had hoped that the text would give background information on the corresponding painting, but it does not.  The text tells an abbreviated biography of Frida Kahlo and occasionally refers to the images included in the book.  This was a quick read, and I learned a couple details about her life that I did not previously know.


7.  The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

This is my current read, I’m about 1/3 of the way through, and so far, so good.  This is another true story (see a pattern here?) about the construction of the World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893.  The book is split between the story of the fair’s production including architectural design and details, but then switches to a story line about serial killer who was also working quite tirelessly during the fair’s construction.  I look forward to reading the rest.



I’ve got a few books lined up for the fall, but I’m open to suggestions!  Drop any you have in a comment below!

Gift Guide 2016: 20 Toys and Books Under $20

If you are giving gifts to the children in your life this holiday season, I have a few recommendations for you.  Some of the books and toys we use at home are complete flops and only get a few minutes of attention, and then there are those that get used over and over again for hours on end.  I decided to pass along a list of some books and toys that we have enjoyed this year.  I will also toss in a few ideas that we don’t have yet but that I have read about or plan to purchase soon.

This listing is divided by age and ranges from 0 to about 8 years old.  Enjoy, and make sure to leave a comment about what books and toys your family loves.  This post contains affiliate links from

Ages 0-2


Baby B. Glow Zzzs Whale

My love for the B. brand is endless; here is a find for a younger crowd.  I spotted this whale in Target and I was instantly drawn to it.  The whale attaches to the crib, and plays soothing music along with putting on a light show that your sweet baby can dose off to.  Similar devices I’ve seen can have really strong, bright lights; but, after trying out this whale soother in the store, the lights seem nice and soft.  A timer is built in and can be set to 23 or 45 minutes. This adorable sleep-inducer is for babies ages 0-24 months.


The First Years Stacking Up Cups

My daughter still plays with these colorful stacking cups.  This gift is truly one that keeps on giving!   From pouring water at bath time, to scooping sand at the park, to giving dolls each their own cup to drink out of, to sorting buttons
and other goodies, these cups encourage imaginative play while also fostering math and science principles.  I have also found a version for older kids (or adults!) pictured left.  These plastic beakers are for measuring baking ingredients, but they could easily be used for the young scientist in your life.




Time for Bed

If there ever was a perfect bedtime book, I think this would be a close contender for first place.  The words are simple-sweet, and repetitive: It’s time for bed.  The repetition of these words coupled with the soft, sleepy animal illustrations shape this book into a lulling rhythm that is sure to get your little bambino eased into a bedtime routine.  I gift this book to newborns any chance I get.  As my daughter grew with this book, she also enjoyed naming each different animal in the book as well as trying out all of the animal sounds.


Quiet Loud (Leslie Patricelli board books)

Leslie Patricelli creates such bright, fun books that also promote language development.  These books have simple yet distinct illustrations that sure can capture a wiggly toddler’s attention.  In books like Yummy Yucky or Quiet Loud, the words are repeated on each page along with a corresponding illustration.  After a few readings, my daughter was able to speak these words, and now at three years old, she can read these books to herself.


The Pout-Pout Fish

Hands down this book was THE favorite in our house the first year of my daughter’s life.  We read it every night for MONTHS!  The key with this one is use funny voices for all of the characters that the Pout-Pout Fish meets. 😀 There are many variations of this book now that document Pout-Pout’s other adventures, and we have checked out a few from the library, but the original one, pictured here, is still our favorite.


First 100 Words Bilingual (Spanish Edition)

I’m all about language development, and that means books in other languages are a must.  This book find is also printed in English, but why not pick up the Spanish version?  The visual layout of these 100 Words books makes object labeling very clear for your toddler.  Just like the cover, each colored box contains an object and its word.  Even a parent with no Spanish experience can catch on.  (And learn something, too!) Later on, a book like this can be used as a spelling reference for an older child.

Ages 3-8


Kangaroo’s Original Super Cool Slime (3-Pack)

These jars of slime are a slight upgrade from the Silly Putty that I used to play with as a kid.  Not only does the slime look cool, it also feels cool.  My daughter received a similar slime variety from a birthday party treat bag not long ago and played with the stuff for about three days straight after that.  The slime for ages 5 and up (I think younger kids can also enjoy this with supervision) is super fun with minimal clean-up.  Another tactile toy is Kinetic Sand.  More messy than the slime though, so I’d recommend playing with it inside of a plastic tub, or place a towel on the ground to help minimize clean-up time.  Kids can build with the sand in a similar way to Playdoh, but the feel is a powdery, sandy texture.

B. Toys Pop-arty 300 Pieces13628266_632024916975570_1163432795_n

We absolutely can’t get enough of these snap together beads made by B.
While my daughter thinks that she is just freely playing with
the abundant variety of colorful shapes, I secretly am smiling inside knowing that she’s improving her fine motor skills, as well as developing math skills by sorting, classifying, and building.  These are recommended for ages 4-10, but my 3 year old does perfectly fine with supervision.  Price ranges depending on the package you choose, and I believe there are some smaller, add-on packs for around ten bucks, too.


WolVol Take-A-Part Toy Dinosaur with Lights and Sounds, Equipped with two Screwdrivers for Assembly

Isn’t this cool?  I came across these take apart toys this summer and purchased the dinosaur version for my nephew’s birthday.  There are other versions including the WolVol Take-A-Part Toy Motorcycle with Lights and Sound, Equipped with Two Screwdrivers for Assembly.  These kits are a step up from the basic toolkit because after assembly, your child can watch their creation in action as it lights up.  This toy is best for ages 3-6.


Click N’ Play Pretend Play Cosmetic and Makeup Set

My daughter watches me intently every morning as I apply my makeup before going to work.  She has a little set of brushes that she uses to pretend with, but I have been hesitant to get her a play-makeup set because those that I have seen have actual makeup inside.  When I discovered this one, I liked it for two reasons.  One: there is no actual makeup inside which means no mess!  Two: the look of these pieces is very authentic.  My daughter will love the similarity between her makeup set and the products that I use in my morning makeup routine when she opens this one for Christmas.


MECO Figure Spelling Game Platter Puzzle Spell Words Children’s Early Learning Toys

Around three years old, children are ready for games!  This spelling game is for children three and up which makes it a perfect selection for your child’s first game.  And while is is a lot of fun, learning will also commence.  The bottom of each picture card has a corresponding word spelled out.  Each player works to correctly spell the word using the white letter tiles.  The word can be covered up to add a challenge for more advanced players.


SainSmart Jr. HeaUp Wooden Tetris Puzzle, Wood Burr Tangram Jigsaw Toy, Educational Game (40 Pieces)

I’ve been drooling over this toy for months now.  Looking at it’s colorful tiles brings me straight back to the long days and nights I played Tetris on my family’s desktop computer in the 90s.  There are so many variations to this puzzle (they truly may be endless) that kids and adults could be occupied for hours.

Melissa & Doug My First Daily Magnetic Calendar

Okay.  This.

Night after night my daughter and I do “Tell Yous.”  I don’t remember how long ago we began this, but every night at bedtime I tell her what we are doing the next day.  We also talk about what day it is and what day it will be when she wakes up.   Depending on the next day’s plans, we also discuss seasons and weather, etc.  It has been a wonderful, recurring, teachable moment.  When I came across this magnetic calendar, I was so excited for her to finally have an age-appropriate visual for all of the months, seasons, and days we have been talking about for so long.  Since my little girl is not yet in preschool I think she will greatly benefit from having such an interactive calendar like this at home.  If the little one in your life already has calendar experience or is a bit older, Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Magnetic Calendar With 134 Magnets is another great option.



This book teaches about bullying by using numbers as characters.  I loved the message weaved through the simple story, and though it is recommended for ages 4 and up, I think slightly older children would get even more out of it.  I read this to my daughter when she was almost three, and obviously didn’t connect the story to bullying, but she still felt empathetic toward the characters.  Kathryn Otoshi also has penned the books Zero and Two that are equally as impactful.  We have read Two which I would also recommend, and have yet to check Zero.


Some Monsters Are Different
My then 2 year old was beginning to realize that people are different.  She started to point out that people have different noses or different voices, and often it got embarrassing for me because she usually brought these observances to light in earshot of the individual she was talking about.  I tried to explain to her that God made everyone different and special, and she was beginning to understand, but this book really helped push the conversation further.  I wasn’t looking for it, but I just happened to notice Some Monsters Are Different on our way out of the library one day so I grabbed it hoping that it would be the book I thought it would.  It is.  It goes through different types of monsters and never qualifies how they act or look as good or bad; the book just states what they are.  It is a great book to get the conversation started about everyone’s uniqueness and the acceptance and tolerance that goes along with that.  Perfect for preschool through early elementary.


The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories

On my first day back to work last summer, I found this book on my desk.  I still do not know who put it there, but I am forever thankful for their thoughtfulness.  The Beginner’s Bible is excellent for ages 3-8.  My daughter will sit and flip through this rather thick book retelling all of the stories to herself as she goes.  A toddler version is also available from this publisher, but I think this version could be used for toddlers as well as extend through early elementary.  The toddler version has very few words per page which limits it to just being used with very young children. The Beginner’s Bible Kid-Sized Devotions is a devotional that goes hand-in-hand with The Beginner’s Bible pictured above.  The devotional relates stories of the Bible with what they tell us about who God is and about His love for us.


Jesus Calling for Little Ones

This is another devotional for little ones of the preschool age.  There are many Jesus Calling daily devotionals, and they come highly recommended.  Two of the more popular ones are: Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence and Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions For Kids.




Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book: Make a World

I can’t remember where I saw this book recommended, but after checking it out for myself, it does not disappoint.  In books like this by Ed Emberley, children can follow along step-by-step and learn how to draw almost anything imaginable.  Each book revolves around a theme such as Make A World which explores things like planes, people, boats, and buildings, or this other one about animals: Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals.  Books like these are recommended for ages 7-8, but I think the could be used easily by someone as young as 4.  It all depends on their interest in drawing and pen-control.



Look Inside Your Body

One of the most important areas of reading is non-fiction.  Think of it, as an adult, most of what we read is non-fiction.  Articles, cook books, direction pamphlets, blogs like this one, etc.  We can’t forget to introduce children to non-fiction since it will make up a lot of what they read for the rest of their lives.  At our house, Look Inside Your Body is a favorite for several reasons.  The illustrations are well done and basic enough for a preschooler to understand, yet the tidbits of information can keep an early elementary kid in awe.  We also like the lift-up flaps as well as the lift-up flaps INSIDE the lift-up flaps.  That’s right, there are LAYERS of information here–literally!  The link for this book will take you to the Usborne Books website and you can search for non-fiction books on an abundance of topics for ages 3-8+ .



I know Pinkalicious has been around for a while, but we just delved into the books at our house, and I have to say: They are so cute!  I adore the illustrations and the books have plots that can open conversations about hard to deal with topics such as bullying.  There are tons of Pinkalicious books other than the three pictured here.  These are great for kids 3-8. 



gift-guide1There you have it!  Leave a comment about your favorite toys and books below.