Month: October 2017

Review: Seven Days of Us

Seven Days of Us
Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for the digital review copy! All opinions are my own!

Perhaps every family should be quarantined together . . .

The holiday season is great. Halloween kicks it off, then Thanksgiving, then we steamroll right into Christmas. (Sometimes Christmas takes over a bit early . . .) Decorations, fairy lights, food, and family. It all seems wonderful. In theory. But what if you were stuck in a house with your entire immediate family, who you don’t exactly get along with, for seven days? And by stuck, I mean medically and legally quarantined. Francesca Hornak explores that idea in her new book Seven Days of Us, and after reading about the Birch family, I’m a bit more grateful for my own!

Olivia Birch, MD, has been away in Liberia treating people for the deadly Haag virus, which is rapidly spreading to other countries. Upon her return to England, she is required to be quarantined for seven days to make sure she doesn’t display any signs of the virus. Instead of spending Christmas alone, she decides to join her family, meaning they must all be quarantined for a week. Olivia is trying to re-acclimate to first world amenities (and first problems), her sister, Phoebe, is focused on her upcoming wedding, her dad locks himself in his office, writing restaurant reviews, and her mom, Emma, is hiding a secret that won’t stay hidden for long. And of course, there’s a mystery guest who none of them are expecting.

The story takes place over the seven days the family is in quarantine, and is told in short, alternating chapters between each of the family members and the mystery guest. This was a really fun read for me, and perfect for reading before the holidays! (Or perhaps for reading while you’re hiding in your room away from your own family . . . ) It was interesting to see how different the family members were from each other, with the differences being made even more prominent from being stuck together. There are some really funny parts (one laugh out loud for me), and Hornak keeps the suspense going by revealing bits of information throughout the book that the reader knows but not all of the characters know. The fun is in watching them all find out certain things and seeing how they react. (And seeing which secrets each family member chooses to hide, and their actions are misperceived because of that.)

In my opinion, none of the characters were very likeable, because they were written very honestly, but they are all interesting. Whether or not you agree with each character’s opinions or choices, they all remain true to themselves, and the way they behave is informed by their circumstances in life. This is a family, and families aren’t perfect. I loved peeking into their window and watching the drama unfold over a week. There is also an extra little twist at the end of the book, and I really appreciated it over a perfect, gift-wrapped ending.

Seven Days of Us is a fun, family drama that doesn’t get too deep, but offers some very interesting insights to the secrets families keep and what would happen if they were forced to stay together for a whole week.


What My Kids Are Reading: Talking About Tough Things

The world can be a scary place. As a mom, I wish that I could put my kids in a bubble sometimes and protect them from all the bad things. Unfortunately, that’s not an option, nor is it the right thing to do. Aside from plastic bubbles not having great ventilation, it’s our job as parents, caregivers, and family members to help the kids in our lives understand tough subjects. But we can also help to make the world seem less scary, and to give them ideas of ways they can help and make the world a better place. (I think for a lot of kids, having an actionable task really helps.)

In the past few weeks, we’ve been having discussions about some tough subjects. One specific subject (9/11) and then the more global subjects of how people treat each other. I’m not going to get political in this post, so no worries! But I think we can all relate to finding it difficult when our young children ask really hard questions. We’ve discussed bullying, racism, and equality, to name a few. None of those are easy to talk about, but they are important. It’s a bit heartbreaking to watch my kids discover that the world can be a scary place, and that not everyone is as accepting, loving, and kind as they are.

My 8-year-old found out about 9/11 recently, so we’ve had quite a few discussions about that event lately, and that really spurred my search for some of these books. The books I’m talking about this week have been extremely helpful in offering concrete stories about 9/11, as well as showing ways in which we can all “look for the helpers” in the scariest situations.

I think books, in addition to open family discussions, can be so helpful for kids when it comes to understanding big topics. I’d like to highlight the books that we found the most informative and helpful with our kids, for several tough subjects. Today’s post focuses mainly on 9/11 books (which are pretty hard to find for younger kids), but some of them may be helpful for you! Let me know how you approach difficult subjects with your kids, and what books you’ve found that might be helpful.

I Survived the Attacks of September 11th, 2001

My 8-year-old loves the I Survived series, so this was the first place I looked to find a more tangible way for him to read about 9/11. I was so happy to see there is one, and so was he! It’s about a middle grade boy who ends up in Manhattan on 9/11 (he skips school to visit his dad’s firefighter friend), and the events are seen through his eyes. This was incredible helpful, since it’s from a kid’s perspective, and it’s not graphic at all. While I do not believe in banning books for kids, when it comes to something like this, I think it’s important to find age-appropriate books, and this one is great for 8 and up!

10 True Tales: Heroes of 9/11

My 8-year-old was particularly interested in this one because he had a lot of questions about the people who helped that day, and we always talk about how people can help with terrible things happen, whether it’s a natural disaster or otherwise. This is 10 stories from first responders, military officials, and the story of United Flight 93. The stories are not sugar coated, and some of them are a bit more graphic, so if you have a younger kid, you might want to read this with them or just pick a few of the stories to read aloud. It’s a fantastic way to show how real-life heroes help in tough situations.

Seven and a Half Tons of Steel

This book was recommended to me by Bethany at Mom of Wild Things. I love this one because it is a picture book for all ages, and it focuses on what happens after a disaster. Like, way after. This book, which is beautifully illustrated, tells the story of how a steel beam from the World Trade Center was removed from the rubble and remade into the bow of a navy ship called the USS New York. That in itself is amazing. But the story goes on-the USS New York ended up housing shipbuilders who lost their homes after Katrina, and it continues to work in the ocean today. This is the best book I’ve seen for all ages that shows how good things can come out of the worst situations, with the concrete story of taking a steel beam that might have just been trashed and turning it into a massive navy ship. I highly recommend this one.

Come With Me

Kate at The Loud Library Lady recommended this to me, and it is the most gentle, wonderful book. This one is not about a specific event, but about a little girl who sees scary things on the news and how her parents take her out into the community to show her that not everyone is scary. It focuses on how we can all make a difference in the world, even if it’s something as small as being kind to a new friend or saying hello to everyone, even if those people don’t look like we do. This is a quietly powerful book, and I teared up reading it. I’m very glad it’s in our collection now.

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids

I absolutely love this book, and we’ve had it for awhile. While it does not deal with disasters or scary subjects, it does show kids what it means to be kind to others (filling up their buckets, and by extension your own) and what it does when you’re mean to others for whatever reason (empties everyone’s buckets). I think this goes hand in hand with the other books, because it shows kids a tangible way to bring kindness into the world and make a difference, no matter how small. And for my kids at least, when we read it, they really do think more about how they act (especially with each other…) and what kind of people they want to be in the world. It’s also a great way to open discussions about what they can do at school if they see others not being kind or see someone who needs extra kindness.



Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book

“It will take more than just a couple of good hearted souls to raise this child. It will,” said Silas, “take a graveyard.”

I picked this book up on a whim. I was in the mood for something spooky, something quick, and something a little different. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is definitely all of those things, and then some. While this book is perfect for a spooky fall read, I would recommend this for any time of year. It is categorized as a middle grade novel, but I enjoyed it a lot, and there are some big things going on in the book that make reading it as an adult even more meaningful.

Nobody Owens, a living boy, lives in a graveyard. After his family was murdered (quite violently) when he was 18 months old, he managed to escape his house and wound up in a graveyard. The resident ghosts decided that rather than turn him back to the world of the living, where the killer is still searching for Nobody, they will raise him and teach him how to do ghostly things, in addition to reading and writing. As Nobody grows older, he begins to wonder what lies beyond the graveyard, and gets into some trouble as he tries to discover who he really is, and where he really belongs.

This book is weird. It is also beautiful . . . in a weird way. I love that it takes the trope of a child being raised by animals (Gaiman thanks Rudyard Kipling in the Acknowledgements) and twists it into a story of a child being raised by ghosts in a graveyard. But even with that strange setting, it is still simply the story of a precocious child looking for adventure. His adventures just happen to include ghouls, hellhounds, and a probable vampire.

Older kids will love the graveyard setting and the wild adventures Nobody goes on. Adults will appreciate the deeper story at work here: a child who is growing up and wants to leave him, even as he still feels the pull of staying with his family and what he knows. There’s a particular scene that I just love, when Nobody is complaining to a group of ghouls about how unfair his ghost parents are and how they don’t understand him. It’s proof that no parent can win, no matter how different and cool they seem.

The Graveyard Book is wonderful, beautiful, weird, and a little heartbreaking. I read it in two days, so if you’re looking for a last-minute spooky Halloween read, this one is perfect.


What My Kids Are Reading: Spooky Edition 2017!

Vampirina Ballerina
Gilbert the Ghost How to Make Friends with a Ghost The Berenstain Bears Trick or Treat

In honor of Halloween being just a little more than a week away, I thought I would share some of the spooky (but not too spooky) books we’ve been reading this week! My kids love reading seasonal books as much as I do, and we found some great new ones this year, in addition to one of our standbys. (That Berenstain Bears book was brand new . . . in 1989.)

Vampirina Ballerina

This is the story of a little girl who wants to be a ballerina. That’s hard enough, but as a vampire? It seems impossible. Vampirina has to overcome all kinds of obstacles (trying not to turn into a bat in front of the other ballerinas for one) to realize her dream of becoming a ballerina. It’s cute, funny, and has some great, spooky illustrations. Even my boys (6 and 8) enjoyed it! I believe it’s also a TV show on Disney Jr., so kids will definitely love this one.

Gilbert the Ghost

This was my 6-year-old’s favorite of the bunch! Gilbert is a little ghost going to ghost school, where everyone learns how to haunt and be scary. The only problem is that Gilbert doesn’t want to be scary. He is banished to an abandoned tower, where he finds a friend and learns how to make his own place in the world. This book is SO cute, and I wish we’d found it sooner.

How to Make Friends with a Ghost

This was my 8-year-old’s favorite! It is written like an instruction manual: the care and feeding of your ghost. It’s funny, a little spooky, and the illustrations are fantastic. This is a must, especially for slightly older kids.

The Berenstain Bears Trick or Treat

For me, it’s not really Halloween until we read this book. It’s one of my favorites, and my kids request it several times throughout October. Brother Bear and Sister Bear go trick or treating with a group of their friends, and when one of them decides to play a trick on the scary old lady at the end of the lane, things don’t go quite as planned. This is great for all ages, and such a wonderful classic.


Blog Tour: From Dark to Light

From Dark to Light

Thank you to Pink Umbrella Books for sending me a copy of this book and including me in the blog tour! All opinions are my own!

Do you remember what you were doing when you were 12? I don’t, but I’m certain it wasn’t anything as industrious as Isabella Murphy, the 12-year-old author of From Dark to Light. I’m always looking for new fall books about pumpkins, Halloween, and anything orange. In Texas, our fall often includes 90-degree days, so I try to fake it with all the fall books I can find. When I found out that the author of this beautifully-illustrated book was 12, I was hooked.

From Dark to Light is the story of a little pumpkin seed, Pumpker, and his two sisters, Plumpalicious and Plumpilina. They are planted in the ground together, and Pumpker just wants to get back out of the ground and find a family to love him. (It doesn’t help that his sisters are kind of annoying, as sisters can be, and won’t talk to him.) But when Pumpker and his sisters grow into pumpkins and are taken home with a family, together, they find that they have more in common than they thought, and Pumpker finds the love of a child he’s been wishing for.

You guys, this is the sweetest book, with the most fun illustrations. Both of my boys (ages 6 and 8) loved it, and my 6-year-old has been asking me to read it over and over. The basic story, of a pumpkin seed wanting to grow up and be loved by a family, is wonderful in itself, but it is the underlying message that I really love. The fact that a 12-year-old wrote it makes it even more impressive. Seeing Pumpker overcome tough times (being stuck in the dirt with slimy worms) to reach his goal is inspiring to kids. He also has to deal with his sisters, who think he’s weird and aren’t super nice to him, but at the end they discover that he’s “not the only weirdo,” which shows kids that we’re all different, and everyone has something in common, no matter how different they seem.

This book is great to read aloud (there is a lot of text on the pages, so it’s not a one sentence per page picture book), and the pictures are so beautiful to look at. This is a perfect fall book to add to your collection! (Or to start a new one!)