Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Stories We Shared: A Family Book Journal (Review + How I'm Using It)

I got a peek at this family reading journal while watching a free master class by Sarah Mackenzie of the Read-Aloud Revival. It was only mentioned briefly because endorsing a specific product was not the point of the class at all -- a commenter brought it up, so Sarah held hers up to show viewers what it looked like. Boy, am I glad I caught that brief glimpse! This is basically the family reading journal for my son I never knew I needed. So I bought four. (Yes, really!) One is for us, two were gifts for the kids of friends from book club, and the last one is still TBD. It's definitely going to become a future go-to gift for anyone I know who likes to read aloud. There is also a distinct possibility I'm going to fill ours in sooner rather than later -- even with room for nearly 400 entries! -- and move onto a second one.

So what's in this thing and why is it so great?

109 pages for Journal Entries
Most pages have 4 entries, with some drawings and quotes interspersed to reduce some pages to 3 entries. Each entry has a line for title, author, illustrator, # of pages, date finished, who shared the story, star rating, and an empty spot for notes, doodles, etc.

A Feature Lists section to record...
New Words We Like! (86 entries)
Our Favorite Quotes (71 entries)
Most Memorable Characters (51 entries)
Most Surprising Story Twists (38 entries)
Books That Made Us Laugh (41 entries)
Books That Made Us Cry (41 entries)
Books That Changed Us (37 entries)
Our Very Favorite Books! (38 entries)

10 Adventure Quests to complete
Each of these include a Quest, a Sub-Quest, and an Arch-Adventurer Quest depending on how challenging or in-depth you would like to go with each topic. A few of them also have an additional Bonus Quest.

World Explorers
Time Travelers
Genre Hoppers
The Serial Bookworm
The Literary Zookeeper
High Adventure
Myths & Legends
Newbery Quest
Caldecott Quest

You guys, this thing is gorgeous and if you have any desire to keep a reading record for your family, I can't think of anything more perfect. 

Even though it has a very specific set up, there were still quite a few decisions for me to make regarding how exactly I want to use this journal. First of all, since I discovered it when my son was nearly two and a half (and it's only been published since November 2016 anyway), the biggest question has been how to handle all those books from the last 2.5 years. Thanks to Goodreads, I do have a record of them all (barring any accidental omissions), but there were just way too many. So I decided I would only record books I loosely call "favorites" -- basically anything that's been on repeat that my son, myself, my husband, or any combination of us has really loved. So basically that eliminated: 1. books we read but didn't keep because none of us loved them, 2. books we read only once or twice and returned to the library, and 3. books still in our collection that have not yet stood the test of time or that the jury is still out on because they're still too advanced, out of season, etc.

I also made the decision to print out book covers to paste onto the entry squares. I know this is going to add bulk to the journal and the more we use it, the more it will start bulging with the extra thickness they add, but at least for the picture books, I really wanted to include that visual element. The artwork is such a vital part of picture books, I wanted some representation of it in our journal. Also, at this point, I don't have a whole lot of notes for most of these books. I've placed the covers in such a way that I still have a little room to write and have only just started adding in a few notations. I've been working in stages and this has been a really fun project, even if I'm a little impatient to have it all caught up to our current reading!

For the time being, I decided to leave the "story shared by" line blank. I know my son and I have shared every single one of these books. My husband has also read the vast majority of them aloud or has been in the room with us when I read them aloud at bedtime. A lot of them have also been read with his grandparents and various other relatives. I don't want to box us in by trying to figure out who did or didn't share a particular picture book one of the many, many times it has been read aloud. Someday when we move on to novels that won't get re-read a zillion times, I will definitely use this line. I feel much the same about the "date finished" line -- I also decided to leave that blank because picture books are never really finished if we keep reading them over and over again!

I'm still not 100% sure what I'm going to do about the Quests and Feature Lists. On the one hand, if I start them now, they would really be more for me than for my son. I think these sections will really shine once he is old enough to listen to chapter books and novels, have more input and opinions about the books we read, and can help find the various books needed to complete the quests. On the other hand, since I'm fairly certain I'm going to be filling in more than one of these journals, I still may go ahead and start working on them with books from these early years anyway.

So, have I convinced you yet? This journal is awesome, really. If you need a Christmas, holiday, birthday, or baby shower gift (any kind of gift really!) for a bookish friend or family, I can't recommend it highly enough!

The Rabbit Room
(I got our first on Amazon, then ordered the others through my local indie)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Podcast Love: Read-Aloud Revival

Hi everyone! If you have kids in your life, I am recommending a favorite podcast today I hope you will check out, the Read-Aloud Revival. The show is all about "building a family culture around books" and "making meaningful and lasting connections with kids through books." The show focuses on stories, reading, and literacy with a special focus on the value of reading aloud with older kids who have already learned to read to themselves. The host Sarah Mackenzie talks a lot about how it's second nature to a lot of parents to read to little kids, but that practice tends to fall off once those little kids can read on their own. My toddler clearly still falls into the "little kid" category, but I still find this podcast very inspiring and it is downright dangerous for my own TBR with all the awesome middle grade titles that get recommended.

For the current season (#11), it has become a more frequent weekly show rather than biweekly as it was in the past. And let me tell you, those "extra" mini-episodes that have been airing in between longer interview episodes are some of my absolute favorites and I've listened to all of them more than once. I also think they give a really good idea of what the show is all about without a huge time commitment which is what inspired this post! If you like any of these, I think you'll find the Read-Aloud Revival a worthwhile addition to your podcast listening.

RAR #66: Do Audio Books Count as Read-Alouds?
RAR #70: How to Find Time to Read as a Busy Mom
RAR # 74: One thing you won’t regret ← my #1, if I had to choose!

And here are 7 of my favorite full-length episodes if you'd like to check out the archives and don't know where to start!

RAR Bonus Episode: The Most Important Part of Teaching Kids to Read

One thing worth noting, especially if you do a deep dive into the podcast archives, is that Sarah and many of her guests are homeschoolers. There is a ton of great information and inspiration even if you don't homeschool, I just think it's good to be aware that some of the advice and discussion comes from that perspective. Also, I really hate to admit this, but I personally am not a huge fan of the short final segment of each episode where kids call in to recommend a favorite book -- I feel like a horrible parent for admitting this, but I usually skip those!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

I Quit!

On the off chance you might be worried by that title, no, I'm not quitting blogging. Not that I blog very much, but I'm rather fond of this little corner of the internet when I manage to gather some thoughts into semi-coherent posts and join in on all the bookishness. You can't get rid of me quite that easily :)

I know it's only October, but I'm already thinking about reading challenges for next year. And you know what guys? I never thought I would say this, but I'm just not so into them anymore. I no longer host a challenge and I cut back on how many I participate in by quite a lot. But 3/4 of the way through the year and I'm just plain tired of all the keeping track. I love the idea of so many of the challenges, but I struggle with the follow-through. And I'm starting to wonder if participating is actually helping improve my reading life -- which was the whole point to begin with!

So I've decided that needs to be my litmus test of whether or not to re-join a challenge for 2018: has this particular challenge helped my reading life in the past? No matter how worthwhile the goal is, or how interesting the set-up, a reading challenge that hinders my reading life is not serving a worthwhile purpose for me. I suppose I could be open to trying a completely new-to-me challenge, but I've tried an awful lot of them over the years to know what will work for me and what won't -- I just need to be honest with myself!

So let's take a look at my 2017 challenges and see if any of them make the cut for 2018:

Goodreads Challenge
This one is pretty hands off. I set a goal, I read, and Goodreads pretty much keeps track for me. I count everything including picture books and my goal reflects that choice. I don't really think about or worry about this challenge except when I realize I am close to finishing my goal way earlier than expected (because, picture books) and decide if I'm going to increase my goal. I don't see any reason to stop doing this challenge. It's nice to see steady progress throughout the year and this challenge does not stress me out in any way. I'll keep it!

This challenge involved a reading calendar and a schedule. I wanted it to work, but it just didn't and I unofficially quit this one long ago. I'd still like to read more Sherlock, but I'm going to go at my own pace. I think I actually could read at this pace or even faster, but the imagined pressure of having a "deadline" and working it around other books did not help me tackle these stories. So that's a definite no.

I've done this one for several years now and I love the concept. I want to show my shelves more love and read more books I already had at the start of the year, of course I do. And I love the approach of celebrating our books rather than inducing TBR guilt very, very much. But as the year wears on, distinguishing between a book I bought at the end of last year and a book I bought at the beginning of this year seems really silly. Am I not showing my shelves love if I read a book I bought 7 months ago rather than the one I bought 11 months ago? As much as I love this challenge, it always seems to work for me for the first few months of the year and then I get bogged down with what counts and what doesn't. So I'm going to have to pass on this one.

This is a challenge I want to work for me so very much to keep me more accountable, but it just doesn't. I use a notebook to keep track of what I bought and check off titles as I read them. But this year especially, I shopped at several community garage sales and other various used book sales and got super bogged down with the logging and tracking of everything. Sure, a simple solution is to not buy so many books, but I don't want to be worrying about whether or not I come home with a $5 bag of used paperbacks from a community fundraiser and how that will affect my stats. I do need to be more thoughtful and intentional about the books I buy, I just don't think the actual challenge is helping me do this as intended. I've been building a family library of picture books and middle grade books -- which I had hardly any of prior to my son's birth. I've found some amazing books at great prices on Book Outlet and I always dread logging them for this challenge. I don't know my exact plan going forward, but I need to quit this challenge!

I adore the concept of this challenge, especially the amazing Hogwarts House Cup component the hosts came up with. But man, I spend way too much time submitting my books read for credit and figuring out which titles fit which prompts for the scavenger hunts. I don't know for sure, but I get the sense the hosts of the challenge found this a bit more overwhelming than they expected and that's a bit how I feel about participating. SO FUN, but ultimately, this is not helping me make good use of my time. I will probably continue the rest of the year, but I was feeling very annoyed with myself after realizing I spent almost an hour the other night fiddling around with this challenge. This one is a sad no, but it still has to be a no.

I first joined this challenge in 2014 and I totally tanked it. Then I tried again in 2016 and got into a much better groove -- all the Caldecotts I picked up with a baby/toddler around really helped! Then this year, I really hit my stride because I'm now reading both Caldecotts and Newberys for my own enjoyment in addition to what I might pick up to read with my son. I signed up for the highest level with a goal of 75+ points and I'm already up to 81 points and I want to keep reading. I take that as a good sign -- if I can hit my goal and I just want to keep going, this is definitely one that is working. I added a lot of Newberys to my collection this year from those used book sales and from Book Outlet, so I will have no shortage of titles to choose from for 2018. So I'm hoping Julie will run this one again!

I chose the checklist option for this challenge and I loved it. I borrow tons of picture books from the library and the categories helped me branch out and explore some new titles. I completed the majority of the checklist without hardly trying. But as fewer and fewer categories remained, it was fun to find some books I wouldn't have picked up otherwise in order to try something new and check it off the list. This one was easy to keep up with and keep track of and I enjoyed the vast majority of what I read, so it definitely worked for me. If the categories remain the same next year, I wouldn't join again, but if they are significantly different, I would give it another go. 

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It occurs to me that most people probably don't really care why I do or don't re-join a challenge, but with all these thoughts mulling around in my brain, I needed to get them out! And I needed to work through the pros and cons and make some decisions before all the sign-up posts start rolling in for 2018 to tempt me :)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Is Anyone Else on Litsy?

Hi everyone! I've been using the Litsy app more often lately and I was curious if any blog readers out there are on it too? If you're not familiar, it's a lot like Instagram, but solely dedicated to books. You can review, share quotes, curate book stacks, etc. I really didn't want to have one more thing to distract me on my phone, but I've found I really like it for participating in bookish events such as readathons. I used to participate here on the blog, but have found I no longer have the time or inclination to write up dedicated update posts. My Instagram is a personal account and I've pretty much quit Twitter -- so Litsy has been perfect! Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon is about to celebrate it's 10th anniversary so they started a really fun 30 day countdown challenge and I've been playing along on Litsy. So if you're on there too -- connect with me or share your handle in the comments!


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Diverse Books Club: September Wrap-Up

The first month of the Diverse Books Club is in the books! The theme was centered around race, the history of racial oppression in America, and current civil rights events. I read all of the selections except for one board book my library didn't have, one picture book I had read previously and didn't re-read, and I ran out of time for the adult selection.

Given time restrictions, my realistic plan for participating going forward is to read all of the picture books and at least one from the Adult, YA, and Middle Grade selections. My very favorite thing about this group so far is the high quality of the books selected, so even if I can't read the whole list in a month, I know any books I miss can go on my TBR for the future. This month set the bar pretty high, so I am confident future selections will be just as engaging, thought-provoking, well-written, and overall worthwhile reads.

It's hard to put into words what I have learned this month from the books I read. I don't think I could do them justice by trying to spell it all out, but I can wholeheartedly say all of these books taught me something, made me think, and helped me see and understand different points of view. The books deal with very difficult, but very important issues. There is a lot I've taken to heart and there have been so many nuggets of wisdom in these books. If you haven't read The Hate U Give or Stella By Starlight yet, I highly recommend them!

Young Adult Selection:

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
I read this over Labor Day weekend and could not put it down! It is extremely relevant to current events. Even though Starr is fictional, stories like hers have been happening all over the US. By seeing the problems of police violence, racism, and the justice system through Starr's eyes, I think it makes it personal in a way a news article or sound bite can't.

Middle Grade Selection:

Stella by Starlight, by Sharon Draper
An incredible story of racism, hardship, and unfairness as well as community, love, and hope. I absolutely loved it -- and as soon as I finished this one, I lent it to my mom!

Picture Book Selections:

written by Alan Schroeder & illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
The is a fictionalized account of Harriet Tubman as a child. It was so interesting to see how this famous historical figure's early experiences could have shaped and influenced the incredible work she would go on to do.

written by Laban Carrick Hill & illustrated by Bryan Collier
I had read this one previously, but checked it back out from the library to re-read for the DBC. I feel like the book may have oversimplified Dave's life and what he must have faced on a daily basis, but I also think it's important and valuable to share his story and his accomplishments as an artist and poet despite his enslavement.

written by Doreen Rappaport & illustrated by Bryan Collier
Informative, educational, inspiring, and beautiful. I love how this picture book told the story of Dr King's life by drawing from various writings/speeches, not just his most famous. A really powerful book. This was another re-read for me and one I'd definitely like to add to our picture book collection at home. 

written & illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Hopefully everyone knows about Brown v. Board of Education, but like so many others, I did not know anything about the fight for desegregation in California's schools that occurred a decade earlier. An informative read and important book that I had not even heard of before, so I'm very glad I was introduced to it.

written by Sarvinder Naberhaus & Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
This was another re-read for me. A beautiful and artistic tribute to America's diversity and the highest ideals we want our country to stand for.

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October selections are up next! Join us in reading about Immigrant and Refugee Experiences
Middle Grade, Young Adult, & Adult selections
Picture Book selections