lloyd alexander

Summer Reading: Magic and Enchantment

Summer Reading: Magic and Enchantment

If you’re craving a reading list full of magic and fantastic creatures, these books deliver.

Monday Pep Talk No. 14

home|school|life magazine's Monday Pep Talk has lots of fun ideas for planning your homeschool week.

Need a little pick-me-up to cope with Monday? We’ve got a few fun ideas to carry you through to the weekend.

3 fun things to do this week

Since it’s Halloween week and World Origami Days (through November 11), I think making an origami bat or two might be mandatory this week.

Are your kids doing NaNoWriMo (a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month) this year? Now’s the time to get your ideas ready for the November 1 kick-off.

Earn your DIY animator badge or just try some of the fun projects for junior animators on DIY.org. Wednesday is Animation Day.

 

3 ideas for this week’s dinners

Spicy pumpkin soup with bacon and spicy fried chickpeas just tastes like autumn—and oh my gosh, I can eat these fried chickpeas by the handful.

We always have chili for our pre-trick-or-treating dinner, and this Bowl of Red is my go-to recipe. (The sour cream and lime for serving are essential.)

Risotto-stuffed mushrooms are an easy vegetarian dinner if you have leftover risotto in the fridge (and not too complicated even if you have to make your risotto from scratch). 

 

one great readaloud

Pick up a copy of Lloyd Alexander’s Time Cat in honor of Black Cat Day (on Oct. 27)—or just because it’s a charming time-hop story.

 

one thought to ponder

in case of emergency {because sometimes you need something stronger than inspiration} 

apple cider doughnuts


Bespoke Book Lists: What to Read After Harry Potter

Can you recommend a good book series for reading aloud? We have read Harry Potter, the Narnia books, and Percy Jackson, all of which we really enjoyed.

I feel like everyone should read Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain (start with The Book of Three), about the adventures of Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran and his friends — the princess/enchantress-in-training Eilonwy, king-turned-not-so-great-bard Fflewddur Fflam, and the curious and perpetually hungry Gurgi — as they fight to save Prydain from evil influences of Annuvin in an imaginary world drawn heavily from Welsh mythology. As in the Harry Potter books, Taran grows up over the course of his adventures so by the time the events in The High King take place, Taran is an adult facing adult decisions. This was one of my favorite series as a kid.

Everybody talks about The Hunger Games, but fewer people seem to know Suzanne Collins’ earlier series the Underland Chronicles, which may actually be a more interesting read. In the series’ first book, Gregor the Overlander, 11-year-old Gregor discovers a world beneath the surface of New York City, populated by giant cockroaches, tame bats, evil rats, and humans who have never seen the sun. Gregor, whose coming may have been foretold in an Underland prophecy, embarks on a series of quests, starting with a journey that might lead him to his long-missing father.

But what’s up with all the heroes? Add a couple of awesome heroines to your series readalouds with the Sisters Grimm, starting with The Fairy Tale Detectives. Sabrina and Daphne Grimm find out that Grimm’s fairy tales is not so much a collection of stories as it is a record of magical mischief cases solved by their famous ancestor. It’s fun to recognize characters from fairy tales living in the real world of Ferryport, and the sisters — especially Sabrina — are complicated, developing people, not just heroine stereotypes.

Another feminist series is Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet. Many people stop after A Wrinkle in Time, but continue on with A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time, and you’ll be well rewarded for your efforts. L’Engle is great reading for bright, thoughtful kids, who will appreciate the science, philosophy, and mathematics concepts that run through her books.

Another destination worth visiting is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, where you can follow the adventures of young witch-in-training Tiffany Aching. Start with the hilarious The Wee Free Men, in which Tiffany discovers her powers and attracts the loyalty of the Nac Mac Feegle, an army of rowdy blue pixies.

If you’re missing the thrill of a magical world, pick up Charmed Life. It’s not the first book chronologically in Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series, but it makes an ideal introduction to a parallel world in which magic is supervised by the powerful enchanter Chrestomanci. In this book, Cat and his sister Gwendolen find themselves studying magic at the Chrestomanci’s own castle.

Fablehaven
By Brandon Mull

One of my favorite recent new book series, Lockwood & Co. takes place in an alternate London haunted by ghosts and spectres that can only be seen — and defeated — by children with special abilities. Mysterious Anthony Lockwood hires plucky Lucy and cynical George to join his independent ghost detection agency, where the trio are pitted not only against vengeful spirits but also against the big supernatural agencies run by adults. The Screaming Staircase is the first in the series.

In Fablehaven, Kendra and Seth discover that their grandparents’ isolated country house is actually a preserve for mythical and legendary creatures — one of several secret preserves located around the world. The preserve is governed by strict rules for humans and magical beings, and breaking one of those rules can have serious consequences. Not surprisingly, there are dark forces at work hoping the harness the magical potential in places like Fablehaven.

It’s a little different from a traditional readaloud, but the graphic novel series Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi is a great adventure, following Emily and her brother Navin as they venture into an alternate version of earth to rescue their mom. The series kicks off with The Stonekeeper.

 

Are you looking for some new book ideas? We take Bespoke Reading List requests! Email us with what you’re looking for — “I have a 9-year-old obsessed with dinosaurs” or “what should a teenager who likes military history read?” — and we’ll play literary matchmaker.


What We Read: July Edition

Homeschool readalouds and independent reading

Summer reading is in full swing over here, which means I have a deliciously gluttonous stack of books to report on. Here's what we're reading by the pool, while we're stirring pots of tomato sauce to can, on the hammock, on the deck, in the car, and pretty much everywhere else.

On Our Own

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester ::  I am a little obsessed with the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. (So much so that I have been known to joke that if we ever have another son, we will have to name him Oedipus so that we can call him OED.) So I relished this book about a little-known piece of its history, a man who contributed more than 10,000 definitions to the dictionary's creation and who also happened to be living in an asylum for the criminally insane.

Little, Big by John Crowley ::  Not everybody likes rereading books, but I do—as a kid, I would often flip from the last page of a book I loved right back to the front page so that I could start the whole thing over immediately. I think there's something sort of illuminating about going back to a literary world, and Little, Big is one of those books I can read over and over, finding something new to love every time. It's one of my perfect summer books.

Mimesis: The Representations of Reality in Western Literature by Erich Auerbach :: I read this for a pop culture in philosophy class I'm co-teaching at our homeschool group this fall. (Now watching Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer counts as legitimate academic research!) It's an impressively comprehensive look at the history and evolution of Western literature, and each of the essays stands alone pretty well, so it's great for bits-and-pieces reading, which I do a lot of during the summer.

The Magic Treehouse: Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne :: I'm feeling super-sentimental watching my son dive into the Magic Treehouse series, just as his sister did before him.

My daughter's been on a feminist biography kick. (I'm not complaining!) I think she was inspired by Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women, which we read together last year, and which, if you haven't read it, definitely deserves a spot on your library list. (I love that in addition to giving the histories of some very cool women and girl inventors, it includes resources to get readers started with their own inventions.) She's breezed through Invincible Louisa (about Louisa May Alcott), The Daring Nelly Bly (from our spring issue!), and Rooftop Astronomer: A Story about Maria Mitchell. With biographies (and honestly with most books), I don't worry much about reading level—I just let her grab whatever appeals to her.

Together

The kids were fascinated by the mystery of the princes in the Tower, who vanished somewhere between Richard III and Henry VII's reign, so I thought The Daughter of Time, a mystery novel by Josephine Tey that tackles the topic with modern-day researching detectives, would be a hit. My 12-year-old is captivated—I don't think it had occurred to her that modern-day historians could try to solve historic mysteries.

Continuing my tradition of forcing my children to listen to readalouds of books I loved as a child, we're reading Honestly, Katie John by Mary Calhoun. Happily, this one has proven to be popular with the kids, too, and we've enjoyed reading about tomboy Katie's adventures.

We keep a running list of readaloud books, and everyone adds books to it as they strike our fancies. My daughter read Lloyd Alexander's Vesper Holly adventure series last fall, and we're finally getting around to The Illyrian Adventure for our bedtime readaloud. It's pure fun reading about 19th century American orphan Vesper, her prim-and-proper guardian Brinnie, and their adventures in an invented Adriatic nation.

So that's what we've been reading. What about you?