Friday, August 8, 2014

Need a Break From Family Movie Night? Give Audiobooks a Try! Here's One to Start With...

The entire family just finished listening to Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein which we downloaded using our Audible account, and I couldn't resist posting my review because we absolutely loved it. I figured, why reinvent the wheel when I (think I) already said nearly everything I had to say in the review I left on their website?

If you don't have an Audible account already and have any sort of device you can download audio books to, I highly recommend it as a valuable resource for home educating (and any) families. Audio books can be entertaining, educational, and excellent for keeping the kids (and parents) happy on road trips or during prolonged errand days.

Also, lately, Audible has been adding some awesome new content, such as many of courses from The Great Courses company...and they are all one credit each. Now that's an amazing deal for homeschoolers, especially high schoolers, and for the many dads (and/or moms) who have to commute to work each day, too.

They also have shorter books (as well as longer ones) which are on many of the commonly referenced homeschooling book lists, such as Paddle to the Sea, Tales from Shakespeare, and Parables from Nature.

If you are interested in giving Audible a try, why not try a fun and motivating book like Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein first? You can read on for my recent review of this enjoyable adventure...and please don't forget to check your favorite deal sites or do a Google search for free book or reduced cost promotions before signing up. It never hurts to save a bit of money. You can always turn around and invest it in buying more audio books!

*FYI: I am not trying to promote Audible for any personal gain. It simply happens to be the service we use. If you  know of any others that are good, please feel free to share in the comments below. Thank you!


Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library | [Chris Grabenstein]
"The Most Fun We've Had Listening to an Audiobook in Ages"
What did you love best about Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library?
The story line was riveting from the very beginning. The characters were varied and interesting. The plot was rollicking fun in the form of a mystery/game/scavenger hunt held in the most amazing library ever. It was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwieler wrapped up in a scavenger hunt and a game of Clue. Lots of fun all around. Most of my family, the children ages 3,5,8,10, and 16, plus my husband and I, all thoroughly enjoyed the story. In fact, the kids didn't want to get out of the car as we were running errands until we finished each chapter, and then we had to take the Kindle inside to finish off the story before bedtime.

What did you like best about this story?
I absolutely loved all of the literary and cultural references. The overriding message of the value and appeal of books and learning in general was well-integrated throughout the story in a way that drew my kids into wanting to read many of the titles that were mentioned. As a parent, I loved how it emphasized families and friends playing board games together, the pleasure derived from reading good books, the benefits of being friends with all types of different people, fair play, and teamwork. As a teacher, I can't wait to get a print copy for my older home educated kids to go through so they can highlight some of the books referenced that they have not already read and put them on their reading lists. I really hope that a few of the games mentioned in this book will actually be marketed. They sounded like a lot of fun!

Have you listened to any of Jesse Bernstein’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
No, I haven't listened to his other performances, but after hearing this one, I'd be glad to listen to another. The only performance I've heard that was better was Brendan Fraser's reading of Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke. That's our family's other favorite audio book (because his voices are hilarious). I don't know. This one might top it because the story is so much fun and a bit faster paced.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?
Twelve children. Twenty-four hours. One huge, state-of-the-art library. Who will solve the mystery and win the amazing prize?

Any additional comments?
Don't miss this book. I am not sure why some folks called this formulaic or accused it of copying other works...sure, it references many works of literature and uses traditional literary devices, but it is it's own excellent work of children's fiction (yes, as an adult, I figured out some of the clues ahead of my kids, but they sure had a blast and it didn't bother me one bit to have caught on more quickly). Teachers would do well to incorporate this one into their curriculum, or at least, their recommended reading list. It is excellent as a read aloud/audio book, and would be perfect to pass time on a road trip. Enjoy!


On an additional note, other audio books we have greatly enjoyed together include: 
  • Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke read by Brendan Fraser (also InkHeart, but it is darker and I only listened to it with my oldest two years ago)
  • Urchin of the Riding Stars: Book One of the Mistmantle Chronicles (it is the only one available on audio, but it will get your kids jazzed to read the rest on their own) by Margaret McAllister. Great story.
  • Ella Enchanted, The Fairy's Mistake, The Princess Test, Two Princesses of Baumarre, and any other books by Gail Carson Levine. Most of them are VERY amusing. A few have serious lessons they teach with the same engaging storylines.
  • Eight Cousins by Lousia May Alcott...good classic with wonderful vocabulary. Even my boys liked it.
  • The Boxcar Children books (1-3 are available as a set on Audible)
  • The Magic Treehouse Books
  • The Henry Huggins Collection by Beverly Cleary
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • And, of course, any of the Adventures in Odyssey stories, the entire Jonathan Park series, My Own Stories (most of them), and the Uncle Rick stories from the Boyers (not technically all audio stories...some are retellings of scripture, and wonderful for nighttime listening)...check CBD or Library and Educational Services for the best prices, though the My Own Stories collections are now available on Audible. Adventures in Odyssey and MOS can also be found online for free in limited quantities if you want to try them first.
**Please let me know of any of your favorites in the comments below...especially ones you have found for free download or on Audible or another downloadable audio book service. 

And, of course, if your budget is limited, please don't forget one of my favorite sites, My Audio School (MAS), which for a VERY minimal yearly subscription rate provides links to quality stories and audio productions that are available online for free (and many lovely pictures to complement each selection). 

Quite a few of the selections MAS suggests are difficult to find on your own, plus they categorize them for you, which saves tons of time. Most of them are on homeschool (and some other schools') recommended reading lists. This excellent method of "reading" quality books works very well for children with special needs (such as reading delays or autism), as well as expanding the options for early readers to books which are good for them, but beyond their ability to read independently.


Lately I've noticed lately that Amazon is providing low cost narrations for many of the books you may choose to download to your Kindle (including free ones, which are numerous). This gives you a much nicer option to listen to than the text-to-speech voices. This feature has really been great for my one struggling reader who loves to read harder books, but benefits from following along as someone pronounces the more difficult words for her. The text-to-speech voice often mispronounces the same words she would (such as reading the word read the incorrect way), so having the option to purchase the narrated audio copy for a few dollars if I already own the book is something I find especially advantageous (and Audible keeps track of what you own on your Kindle and will make you offers based on your purchases). 

You are also able to sync your devices, so you can start listening on one device in the car (such as the cell phone), then pick up with reading and listening on the Kindle or computer later on at the same place. That's awesome. It's especially good when we've run out the battery on the phone listening to the book in the car, and the kids are insisting that we MUST finish the book before bedtime, so we pull up our Audible account on my computer, snuggle on the bed and chairs in my room, and have a bedtime story all together. 

I love family time. 
I love good books. 
Family time + good books = priceless.

Well, that's much more than I planned to say, but I am excited about all these new options for appreciating literature using technology (it can do so much more than be a tool for playing video games). 

I am not saying I will ever give up my many beloved REAL books (no way, not ever!), but I think I am finally ready to embrace the various new ways to get the content of those books into the hearts and minds of myself and my family (and it's not bad to be able to give your own voice a rest once in a while and just sit back and enjoy the experience of listening to a good book, either, is it?).

Have fun exploring the options!

Many blessings to you,


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Family Field Trip---Our Nation's Capital at Night

One of the quirks of being a homeschooler is that you never simply take a family vacation. I mean, why waste the opportunity of traveling to a new and unusual venue merely to rest and do nothing? Do people really do that? Well, we don't, anyway. Whenever we travel, we wind up calling it a "field trip," even if the majority of our adventures are fun, we can still find a thing or two along the way to learn about. After all...isn't that our goal? Learn something new every day?

On our way...Tex, Mjolnir the fox Squishable, Ladybug, Boo, 
Cowboy, and Firefly.

It's been over a year since our last outing, and we decided it was time to take at least a short family vacation. As much as we LOVE our little foster kiddos, a few days to reconnect and rediscover each other (without the constant trouble-shooting of issues due to foster care) really started sounding like a good idea. We weren't up for anything huge, but lately we've been reading about nearby historical attractions (we are in the Historic Triangle area, after all), and we all agreed that Washington D.C. sounded like a good place to start. 

To prepare for the trip, I went online and used my very useful Amazon Prime membership (I am not getting any kickbacks telling you it has been worth every penny I spent before Christmas) to order a few 'visiting D.C. with kids' books. I hoped that reading the books in the weeks before the trip would familiarize them with the places we'd see and help get them excited about the adventure.

We also started reading the books from the Capital Mysteries series by Ron Roy. I have some of his A to Z Mysteries in our library and figured these would be about the right age to engage the young kids, and I was right. They are simple, but they bring up many of the popularly visited places and make them real to the kids.

Cowboy was super excited by the books. He LOVES maps and was ready to be our tour guide at the Smithsonian by the second day after we opened up the box. His favorite was "Awesome Adventures at the Smithsonian" had the most kid-friendly information, complete with pictures, fun facts, and maps.

Because of dropping off the foster children and setting things up with our "farm sitter," we didn't get an early start, but we didn't hit heavy traffic, either, and so we had time for a leisurely dinner/breakfast at Denny's before we reached the city. It was a big hit because the kids ate free. Hot diggity!

After a hearty meal, we still arrived in time to drive past the main buildings at night, which whetted the children's appetite for history and tourism immensely. If they were older, or we were more familiar with the area, we might have found somewhere to park and walk around a bit where we saw other families walking, but we still had to find our hotel, which was a good fifteen minutes away. It certainly was a beautiful night, though. The weather was perfect and the mood was positively electric in the van.

A quick drive-by the Washington Monument a few times
led us to the discovery that poor Boo was a bit creeped
out by the red lights at the top. He thought they looked 
like serpent's eyes. By the end of our visit, however, he was
used to them and liked the monument no matter the time of day.

The Capitol Building at night all lit up...

The Lincoln and the Jefferson...

The kids hope to visit the Treasury Building "next time."

This is my favorite statue in town...Einstein. Isn't he adorable??

The short drive to our lodgings seemed to tone things down a bit mood-wise (we were listening to Dragonrider by Cornelia Funke on my Kindle, read by Brendan Fraser...LOVE IT!), and by the time we checked in to our somewhat cushy, but reasonably priced suite hotel (complete with kitchen, separate sitting area with pull-out couch, and FREE breakfast), the kids were yawning, and so was I. We managed to get everyone's PJs on and read a chapter in our book before the kiddos dropped off to content slumber, dreaming of tomorrow's adventures. 

Hubby and I unwound with an hour of cable (a rare treat for us), while Tex chatted with friends using the free wifi in the room before we turned out the lights so we could all rest up and get an early start in the morning. The prospect of facing the Metro with four kids ages four to ten is a bit unnerving, but I am sure we can manage it...right??



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hunting for Spring...and Eggs...and Easter Blessings

Well, spring has sprung and so it has Easter time. Normally, egg hunting would not be a large part of our festivities, but since Princess P. and J.J., our foster kiddos, seem to not have much experience with celebrations of that sort, we decided to embrace the fun whole-heartedly.

The kiddos staged their own hunt of sorts on one of the first really pretty spring days. Our weather has been fairly bi-polar here, ranging from the mid-thirties at night to a whopping eighty-something the next day, then down again to the fifties with thunderstorms for a few days, topping it all off with snow flurries and some hail. Seriously, I've never seen a more bizarre set of weather patterns.

This has not deterred the children from wanting to be outdoors, nor the flowers from blooming around Blessing Farm, as you can see in the photos below. During the first planned "hunt," the "explorers" went out equipped with jars, nets, bags, and curiosity. They brought home flowers to identify, a bee to watch, and pictures of a toad they observed. Princess P. and J.J. thought that was all quite dandy, but preferred time on the swing set to looking for nature's treasures. We will convert them yet...

A few days later, our AWANA group (Christian Bible club) sponsored a wonderful night for all the children where they had them wear their PJs to club, listen to a "bedtime" story called "The Sparkle Egg" (about how Jesus died to redeem us from our sins and cleanses us when we ask His forgiveness), color some real eggs (which mommy was not brave enough to do at home), and let them hunt for candy-filled eggs outside on the playground.

The Sparkle Egg by Jill Hardie

Poor Princess P. seemed as if she'd never done any of this before in her life. I can't say for sure, but she was positively fascinated with her first simple plastic egg and would have been content to ignore the other four sitting right in front of happy was she with the one piece of candy she got out of that egg. We did gather a few more, and she loved the treats. The other kids had a grand old time, too, and they all took their "Sparkle Eggs" home with them (they wrote down something they needed to work on and be forgiven for inside and it would "disappear" on Easter morning).


The next Saturday, Tex had a friend over who was helping put up my split rail fencing, but they had to take a break to go set up the church yard for a neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt outreach. I figured if I was going to lose my workers anyway, they might as well take the kiddos, so Hubby packed them up in the van and they went over for more egg finding fun and hot dogs/chips for lunch. They had to move inside since it started to rain, but that didn't dampen their fun one bit. I heard that Princess P. was finally getting into the groove and they all came home with waaaaay too much candy (which I promptly confiscated, to be handed out or shared later...mean mommy).

Welcome to Nanny and Poppy's house on Easter day after church.

The family got together for an egg hunt (for the younger cousins) and a delicious dinner.
 Of course, first we had to take an opportunity for family photos, then we let them change into their play clothes.

It was a beautiful day and all the children had a lovely time playing with each other and with the adults.

The older kiddos enjoyed helping their Nanny prepare the eggs and Tex hid them, with green ones in easy places for the wee ones, and other colors for the older ones.

Everyone found just the right amount and we all appreciated our lovely surroundings and loving company on such a blessed day. We pray you had such a bountiful and glorious Easter season, too.

Don't forget to plant those smiles, grow those giggles, and harvest that love this spring. The dividends will astound you with their abundance.

God bless you with blessings beyond your greatest imaginings,

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