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Summer Reading: If You Liked The Fault in Our Stars

Reading Listamy sharonyComment

Love and life get complicated in these young adult novels. Bring your own tissues.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Misfits Park and Eleanor fall in love in high school, but both of them are smart enough to know that first love never lasts forever.




Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts

Stoic Zac meets fiery Mia in the hospital, where they’re both undergoing treatment for leukemia.




It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

A suicide attempts lands anxiety-ridden Craig in an institution, where he meets a motley crew of residents who help him face his fears.



The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Ponyboy isn’t sure where he fits into the sharply divided social castes of his 1960s Oklahoma town, but when trouble strikes, he’s forced to choose sides.



Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

It doesn’t pay to be different in Standish Treadwell’s world, where a Nazi-like government keeps everyone living in fear and hope is hard to find.



My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi

One bad decision changes Lucy’s life forever. Now she—and her friends and family—must deal with the fallout.




Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher 

Social outcasts Sarah and Eric forge a deep friendship, but when Eric’s life takes a different turn and Sarah ends up in a mental hospital, refusing to speak, everything they think they know about each other will be challenged.


The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Grieving the loss of her universally beloved older sister, Lennie finds herself in an unexpected love triangle: drawn to one boy who shares her grief and one boy who pulls her toward joy.



Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

When the world’s population is decimated by a global pandemic, a small troupe of Shakespearean actors travels between far-flung communities, bringing art and music with them.

Stuff We Like :: 6.23.17

Stuff We Likeamy sharonyComment
home|school|life’s Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources. 

It has been raining here ALL WEEK. I'm hoping to get a little sunshine this weekend.

around the web

This cracked me up: Texts from Wonder Woman

My friend Stephanie shared this piece earlier this week, and it has some great tips for not-black parents to talk to their kids about police shootings of black people. She said something that really hit home with me—that it’s so tempting to protect our kids from things like this but that that very temptation is kind of the epitome of white privilege.

Internships and summer programs can be great experiences, but maybe there’s nothing like the classic camp counselor gig.

Relevant to my interests: Songs about libraries and librarians


at home/school/life

on the blog: Nanette is pretty much filling up my podcast app right now, most recently with The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

one year ago: 31 Great Books to Inspire Young Writers

two years ago: Myers Briggs book recommendations, the tragic truth about hoverboards, the Wolf Hall audiobook, and more in this 2015 Stuff We Like roundup.


reading list

Suzanne inspired me to pick up some Wodehouse to get me through this week’s special election, so Jeeves features largely on my Library Chicken list: Carry On, Jeeves (+0, on my Kindle), Right Ho, Jeeves (+0, on my Kindle), Iron-Hearted Violet (+0, because it was discounted for the Kindle so I had to buy an e-back-up copy, but then I also had to read it because I love Kelly Barnhill), Lower Ed (+1, a really interesting—and kind of disturbing—look at the world of for-profit colleges), The World of Odysseus (+1, work-related), The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others (+1, work-related), and Courtesans and Fishcakes (+1, work-related)

In the hammock with the kids: Revenge of the Evil Librarian, A House Without Mirrors (I’m totally stealing this one when she’s done), Hamster Princess: Giant Trouble

Homeschool: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World (This has been fascinating!)


at home

We’ve been watching a Supergirl/Arrow/The Flash in tandem so that we get to the big crossover episodes in all of them at the same time.

I usually try to knit everyone a new sweater for Hanukkah, which means I have to get started in the summer to get them all done! This year, we have a new family member to knit for, and I am thinking of making him this cute little doggie sweater for our winter walks. Have you knit a dog sweater? Is there a pattern you really like? (I’m thinking about Abate for my son, too, but I haven’t settled on any official people sweaters yet)

My kids asked for a Blue Apron subscription this summer (maybe inspired by YouTube commercials? I am not sure -- it's one of those things where they send you all the ingredients for a specific recipe), and they’ve been really adorable making dinner together twice a week. I’ve always been non-plussed by subscription meal services, but I love that it’s given them the confidence to tackle dinner regularly. (I’m still not sure why a tiny bottle of soy sauce is more user-friendly than measuring out a portion from a bigger bottle, but I think I have to accept that it just is.)

Summer Reading: James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small

Reading ListSuzanne RezelmanComment

Welcome to Summer Reading 2017!  This year we’re taking advantage of the long summer days to read our way through some of our favorite series for children and young people.


From the beginning, our homeschool has revolved around books. In preschool and kindergarten, that meant an after-breakfast readaloud (maybe My Father’s Dragon) followed by a little bit of phonics, handwriting, and math, topped off with a myths-and-legends readaloud, and then the day would end with a readaloud selection of favorite picture books. That schedule evolved with us through elementary school, as we moved up to Oz and The Odyssey, Harry Potter and Robin Hood. In middle school, we still kept the readalouds (in part because I was unwilling to give up my favorite part of the day), but we added another element: Each month or so, Mom would choose a book for the middle schooler to read and then write a mini-book report on. In general, the choosing part was fairly casual—I’d wander by the bookshelf and ask, “Have you read The Phantom Tollbooth yet, or was that your brother? Wait, you HAVEN’T read Tollbooth? Here, drop everything and read it IMMEDIATELY.” But in our family, one of the first middle-school books assigned has traditionally been James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.

My love affair with these books—All Creatures and its sequels—goes back over 30 years. In them, Herriot tells stories of his days as a Yorkshire veterinarian working on both farm animals and pets, beginning when he is just out of school in the 1930s and has joined the practice run by eccentric Siegfried Farnon, assisted (more or less) by Siegfried’s hapless brother, Tristan. The tales are sometimes tragic, as when a farmer loses both his livestock and his livelihood, and sometimes hilarious (“Mrs. Pumphrey’s Tricki Woo has gone flop-bott again”), while always being warmly affectionate and self-deprecating. Supposedly these are Herriot’s real-life experiences—”James Herriot” is the pen name of Alf Wight—but over the years there have been different opinions on how much is real and how much is fiction, so that I’ve moved my own copies from the “memoir” shelf to “fiction” and back again, but when the writing is this enjoyable it doesn’t really matter where they end up.

I was 11 or 12 when my dad first handed me All Creatures Great and Small—though we weren’t homeschoolers he was not averse to giving me the occasional “assigned reading”—and I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve reread it since. The books are long (my edition of All Creatures comes in at over 400 pages) and aren’t typically marketed to younger readers (though specific stories have been pulled out and republished for the children’s section) but the chapters come in convenient bite-sized chunks and the original series is well within the range of confident middle school readers. They’re also a great option for YA readers who may be getting a bit tired of your everyday average apocalyptic dystopian future. (If any adults in the house haven’t read them you could consider doing them as readalouds to share the fun, though I confess I never gave that a try. I wasn’t sure I could handle the Yorkshire dialect, and I didn’t really want to read aloud all those sections where James has his arm up the back-end of a cow.) These are comfort books for me and one of the few series that has been given the universal thumbs-up by everyone who I’ve forced to read them. As a bonus, once the household has had a read-through you can enjoy the 70s-80s BBC series, which stars Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge as Siegfried Farnon and Doctor Who (number five) as Tristan.


All Creatures Great and Small

In the first book we are introduced to newly-certified veterinarian James, learning on the job as stern Yorkshire farmers glare at him and express their preference for his more experienced boss, Siegfried Farnon. Siegfried, meanwhile, is generally unflappable except in matters involving his always-in-a-scrape younger brother, Tristan. SPOILER: James manages to survive his not always auspicious beginnings in Yorkshire and even falls in love with a local girl, Helen.


All Things Bright and Beautiful

Book two has more stories with familiar characters as James enjoys married life with his very patient wife and becomes experienced enough to take charge of the occasional vet student.


All Things Wise and Wonderful

At the end of the 1930s James joins the R.A.F. and survives the daily life of a new recruit by reminiscing about the vet life.




The Lord God Made Them All

World War Two is over and James is back home in the Yorkshire dales with Helen and their two children.




Every Living Thing

This last book was published several years after the first four and I’ll confess that I never loved it quite as much as the originals, perhaps because I haven’t reread it enough to know all the stories. Of course I would never pass up the chance to see everyone again—including Tricki Woo and Mrs. Pumphrey!


Find Your Next Podcast Obsession: The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Everyday HomeschoolingNanette JulaComment
Find Your Next Podcast Obsession: The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Close your eyes—assuming you can read with your eyes closed. Now imagine if Stranger Things (the show) had a mixed-media baby with The Mysterious Benedict Society (the books) and that awesome little offspring was The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel (the podcast.) I know, right?!? And while you don’t have to be familiar with either to appreciate Mars Patel, or this review, you may end up wanting to check out both.

We were on our way to the farm from which we get our CSA. One of the privileges of membership is that we get to wake up crazy early, drive desperately far, and toil in the asparagus mines for hours under the blazing, hot sun. We needed a new podcast, and we needed one with plenty of episodes. Mars Patel had been on my list since last year, when it was voted one of the top 50 podcasts of 2016, but I’d been reluctant to listen with the kids since it’s described as a podcast for middle-schoolers (my youngest is a mature 7.5 year old) and I hadn’t had the time to audition it by myself.  

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel won a Peabody award last year, and it’s easy to see why.  After the first episode, there was no need to discuss whether or not we liked it enough to give the second episode a chance—I couldn’t get the second episode on fast enough.  

It was dramatic*, engaging, and suspenseful, tempered with just enough humor to assuage my youngest. The high production value makes it easy to follow along and the episodes are fast-paced, with enough plot-twists and cliff-hangers to make it binge-worthy. The actor’s voices are distinct and the rapport is authentic. The sound effects are like a tray of sometimes very loud watercolors and your imagination is the brush. Award-worthy for sure.  

Episode 1 “Code Red” starts with Oliver Pruitt, the sponsor and billionaire inventor, speaking directly to the children listeners, which my kids ate up. “Mom, don’t listen!” Then you meet Mars, who my son quickly points out hasn’t disappeared...yet. Mars is clearly distressed about the disappearance of his friend, Aurora. His locker-side conversation with his friends is interrupted by a Code Red, and the school goes on lockdown. Mars goes looking for his friend, who needed to run to the bathroom during the code red (to avoid a code brown!) and discovers that his friend Jonas has also disappeared. Only four minutes in and a glance in my rearview mirror shows four wide eyes. My son catches me peeking and smiles, nodding. We are instant addicts.

The similarities to The Mysterious Benedict Society and Stranger Things run deep. These are all children living on the fringe of their social peer groups—questioning authority, speaking the truth, standing up to bullies, and defending their friends—not the kinds of kids that acquiesce to society.  “Outcasts, misfits, freaks...losers, oddballs, weirdos…” They think for themselves and they think outside the box. In each series the characters have unique gifts and an element of other-worldliness is explored. Without the understanding and support of their parents, these kids brave out on their own, and it is their wit and ingenuity that save them. In all three, there is tension in aspects of the social dynamics, but ultimately the characters recognize that they have no choice but to trust and depend on each another, and friendships form despite the initial resistance. They persevere despite constant setbacks, and you quickly realize that these are the kids you would have wanted to be friends with in school and the kinds of kids you want your children to be friends with now. If these are the outcasts, I wouldn’t want to fit in. Plus, Oliver Pruitt is as creepy a bad guy as Mr. Curtain and Dr. Brenner.  

Later that evening, I am standing at the kitchen counter trimming 15 pounds of asparagus stalks—asparagus for days!—and my daughter calls down, “I think JP stands for Jennifer Pruitt!” (it doesn’t) but I laugh out loud and tell her that it is a good theory. She’d been working on that for hours, and I am thrilled that we have found another podcast that keeps her thinking. “Can we go on PruittPrep.com? I want to see if it’s real!” We have fun answering riddles and exploring the prizes, and we lament the fact that her brother is gone for the weekend or we would drive somewhere just to listen to another episode.   

The episodes are on average 15 or so minutes and you have to start at the beginning. Season 1 has ten episodes and so far Season 2 has six. New episodes post on Mondays, so be ready to solemnly promise on Sunday nights that yes, you will indeed wake up early to download the next episode.  


* Not surprising, considering the head writer is David Kreizman, who has won an Emmy and multiple Writers’ Guild awards for his work on Guiding Light, All My Children, and As the World Turns.  

The Unexplained Disappearance of Mars Patel is available for download on iTunes and for Android or you can listen to it at www.marspatel.com