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    Books & Reading, Home Education

    The Official 2020 Afterthoughts Read Aloud List

    January 5, 2021 by Brandy Vencel

    Most of us were at home more than usual in 2020, right? Our children lost choir and karate, for example. We went from being out of the house almost every single weekday to being home most of the time, and my husband with us. We have a long-standing habit of reading aloud, so we kicked it into full gear. We filled much of the evening karate/choir gap with chapters and chapters of beautiful books. Needless to say, this year we read a lot of books. We finished 27, to be precise.

    For reference, when we started this list, my children were 11, 13, 14, and 17. Besides everyone getting a year older (except my 13-year-old, who is a New Year’s Eve baby), our now-18-year-old moved away (he attends New College Franklin), meaning after August he was no longer factored into the mental equation that helps me choose books. My husband, however, was factored in a quite a bit more because, for the first time in over a decade, he was home most days during lunch. This means I often chose our lunchtime read aloud selection with him in mind, instead of just the evening one.

    And yes: we always have multiple books going.

    The books on this list are the books we finished. I always list our ongoing titles in the footer of this website, so if you want to see what is in progress, just scroll down.

    Like last year, I tried to break this list into categories to make it seem more organized. We didn’t read these in the order shown, but I think it makes more sense this way.

    We read a few nonfiction titles.

    Not as many as I planned, but that’s mainly because we have some we began and haven’t finished yet. While we really enjoy reading good fiction and literature aloud, I like to include nonfiction, especially history.

    The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

    I try to read at least one McCullough aloud each year. He’s such a great story teller and it gives me a chance to include some of the history we’re not covering (at least not in great depth) in their school assignments. I think each of my kids had spent about one day on the Wright brothers and history of flight before we read this book! I love inventor tales, as you know, because I think they encourage a certain type of antifragility.

    Talk to Me by Dean Nelson

    I mentally categorize this one as “social skills” (which is an ongoing category I include in Circle Time — I think it’s helpful for teens especially). It’s really a journalism book, and that fascinated them. I glossed over a couple parts that I thought were a bit too … mature content ahem … for my 11-year-old, but we read the vast majority of it and it was interesting. Teens will often complain that they find conversation difficult and I thought a book about asking good questions might help. I don’t know that it solves all problems, but it definitely gave all of us food for thought.

    We read some classics.

    Utopia by Sir Thomas More

    This is one of my all-time favorite books (and the fourth time I have read it). This was read aloud with just one student: my high school freshman. One of the things I love about reading this book with my students is how great our discussions always are. My eighth grader is reading it right now, and she doesn’t want me to do it aloud … which is par for the course with her. She likes to read things on her own. I sympathize as I remember things better if I saw the words. But I feel like our discussions aren’t as great, so if you can, I recommend doing it aloud.

    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

    I read this book to my youngest on Wednesday nights while the other children were at youth group. He was so young when we read this book aloud that he didn’t remember it, which is basically how I select our Wednesday night titles — classic books that he needs to hear for himself.

    Hard Times by Charles Dickens

    Dickens is another author from whom I try to fit in at least one title per year. We loved this book, and I plan to read it again on my own in 2021 so that I can commonplace it as I go along.

    This novel is the perfect illustration of how fact-focused education produces C.S. Lewis’s men without chests.

    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    In 2019, we read our first Austen aloud (it was Emma). I was delighted to find time to fit in another before my oldest left for college. Pride and Prejudice is, of course, her best work.

    A nice side-effect of this reading is that my children now get Jane Austen jokes.

    The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson

    When my oldest was a little boy, he read this book over and over. (Our copy is well loved.) My oldest daughter didn’t discover it until high school, but she loved it and, as she often does, urged me to make it our next read aloud title. I’m so glad we did. Everyone loved it, and I think they also gained some insight into the complexities of politics during the Wars of the Roses.

    A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

    Every year. You can read some of my thoughts on this book in my post Keeping Christmas with Charles Dickens.

    A couple selections were meh but we finished them anyway.

    The Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson

    I’ll repeat here what I said about this book before: I have mixed feelings about this book.

    The language and content are such that they are definitely not for younger kids. All four of my kids (who are brown belts in Goju Ryu) found parts of the book ridiculous. It is our guess that authors who think a young woman can beat up a grown man have zero experience in actual fighting. And if you’re like our family and watch or participate in fights (we call it “sparring”) every week, it’s hard to suspend your disbelief.

    I find the main character unlikeable. My kids weren’t in love with her, but they liked her a lot more than I did.

    Fiddler’s Green by A.S. Peterson

    Again, repeating myself: There are many problems with the book, but I’ll only list two here for the sake of time and space. The first is that this book and the prior book feel like two different books. Sure, the main character and many of the support characters have the same names. But they don’t actually feel like the same characters.

    My second complaint is that while the hero of the story, Finn Button, improves in character as the book goes along, there is no real reason why. She’s immature and unlikeable in the first book and now she’s at times pensive, mysterious, or maturing but it never makes much sense. She seems to become a better person, but there’s no repentance. In the first book, she has a weird conversion experience (a hat tip to Christianity). I expected this might come back up and help resolve the tension, but it never did. She outgrows her fiance and then he’s conveniently dead when she finally comes home to him. She’s also neatly pocketed a new beau, so no turmoil over being single. She makes amends, but we’re never really told why. It feels like the right thing to do, but Finn has never had a real moral compass, so we’re not sure why other than that, as a constant slave to her feelings, these are her current inclinations.

    We read a bunch of Louisa May Alcott.

    Are these classics? Probably. But there were so many of them, I gave them their own category.

    Little Women by Lousia May Alcott

    Boys love this book, but I’ve found they do not want to read it on their own. Reading it aloud is acceptable, though. My youngest confided in my that Alcott “just makes me want to be good” — my, isn’t that a gift? To be able to encourage a child love what is good and desire to emulate it is not to be underestimated. Alcott does this in most of her books.

    Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

    I don’t like this book nearly as much as I like Little Women, but I find that once children are invested in the characters from the first book, they want to know more about what happens to everyone, which makes this book a very satisfying read for them.

    Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott

    Our final look at the characters from Little Women did not disappoint. It is here we get to see some of the characters enjoying the fruits of their hard labors and self-discipline in youth. Also, we see the third generation growing up and taking their places in the world. As a mother who has just begun launching children into the wide world, I appreciated this book in a new way.

    Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott

    I’ll repeat what I said about this book when I put it on the Antifragile Reading List: The beautiful thing about this book is not just the lessons on perseverance, but the countless examples of tiny sacrifices made for one another in the spirit of love and kindness. They are small, everyday acts of heroism so perfect for children to hear of because it is then they realize that heroism does not require war or emergency — they are capable of sacrificing themselves for the sake of others all the time, if only they have the eyes to see it.The beautiful thing about this book is not just the lessons on perseverance, but the countless examples of tiny sacrifices made for one another in the spirit of love and kindness. They are small, everyday acts of heroism so perfect for children to hear of because it is then they realize that heroism does not require war or emergency — they are capable of sacrificing themselves for the sake of others all the time, if only they have the eyes to see it.

    We read mysteries, too.

    Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

    Would you believe it? This was my first Christie! My oldest daughter was given a stack of Christie novels. She enjoyed them and encouraged me to read some aloud. I had seen the movie (I know. I hate it when people say things like that, but IT’S TRUE.), so I chose this one. So great!

    The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    This book was assigned reading in my fourth grade class. It completely freaked me out and I never read any Sherlock Holmes again until now, even though I love the stories as they are told in movies. Sad, but true.

    I decided to make amends by beginning with my childhood trauma. I have no clue why I was so scared; it was a fabulous story.

    A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    This is probably the best Sherlock Holmes to begin with because it is the introduction to the whole series. It explains how Watson and Holmes met and details their first case together. Totally fun read.

    The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    This was the last mystery we read in 2020. I didn’t want to overdo the genre, so I stopped at this point, but I plan to revisit mysteries, and Holmes especially, in summer 2021.

    We never go wrong with N.D. Wilson.

    Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson

    Everyone at our house loves everything Nate Wilson ever wrote. His books always feel a little too fast-paced to me, so I space them out with other types or reading. The taste for page turners is a lot like the taste for ice cream — it occurs naturally, without help from Mom. I don’t want it to become the only type of book they can love, so I minimize the amount of time we spend on such things. But it’s always so fun, especially when characters from the Bible or mythology show up. Basically, the better read the child is, the more he will appreciate what Wilson is doing.

    Outlaws of Time: The Song of Glory and Ghost by N.D. Wilson

    Wilson’s depiction of time and how time travel might happen is absolutely fascinating. This book is another whirlwind adventure, and you can always trust Wilson to call evil, evil and good, good.

    Outlaws of Time: The Last of the Lost Boys by N.D. Wilson

    We found this final book in the series very satisfying. I loved the examples of self-sacrificial love.

    Keep in mind that younger children will find Wilson too dark, frightening, confusing, etc. I didn’t start my children on Wilson until about age 10.

    Here are the other novels we read, which don’t fall neatly into any of the above categories.

    The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour

    If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I adore this book. I loved it so much that I read it aloud to my children; surely that’s a complement. Not only is it a wonderful story (with some profound things to say about education and becoming a man), but it takes place here in the geography we know … which is to say it was so much fun to read.

    A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

    I’ll repeat what I said about this book before: This book is an odd duck, at times offensive, and also laugh-out-loud funny. (If you find the narrator’s chronological snobbery unbearable, I think he’s supposed to be somewhat unlikeable at the beginning.) Truly, fewer things require more agile thinking than a man from the Industrial Age dropped into the time of King Arthur. We thoroughly enjoyed this as a family read aloud — we laughed along with the main character while he managed to build a thriving modern economy in jolly old England.

    A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

    My older children had already read this book, but the younger two had not. Regardless, everyone enjoyed this introductory look at Charles Wallace and family — even my husband, who somehow missed this book as a child. This was the only L’Engle series I liked growing up and it was a joy to read together.

    The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow by Allen French

    My oldest adored Allen French when he was growing up, but I never read any of the books he’d collected. I never read them aloud because I thought he’d be annoyed since he’d read them so much on his own. No one else had read any French, however, and when he moved out, I grabbed this title from his shelf and read it aloud. So glad I did! This is a wonderful story of loss, recovery, heroism, and forgiveness.

    The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    I am so bummed about this book. While we loved every second of it, I was so disappointed. When we were about halfway through, I realized we were reading an abridged version. It didn’t feel like we missed anything, but who knows how much better it would have been.

    Burnett can be an odd writer. She seems to have some strange mystical beliefs. And I think it’s easy to see why this book cannot be rightly called a classic — it’s much to sentimental for that. But it’s still a good book and children enjoy hearing it.

    Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

    Each year, I add a Christmas book to our collection. This year, it was Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas, which did not disappoint. It is as its title declares: a collection of letters. Some are short, others quite long. They start off simply, but the story of those living at the North Pole grows more elaborate with each letter. Totally fun read.

    Home Education

    The 2021 Afterthoughts Book Awards

    January 1, 2021 by Brandy Vencel

    I love to kick off the new year with awards for my favorite books read in the previous year. My reading went way better than last year (I had reached an all-time low). I read almost 60 books total, but for this post I will only focus on the 31 books I read by myself. (I’ll follow up with a post covering our read alouds from 2020.) This year’s reading felt extra rich, and I think one reason for that Continue Reading…

    Books & Reading, Home Education

    An Antifragile Reading List for Children and Their Parents

    December 16, 2020 by Brandy Vencel

    In my final post on principles of antifragility for motherhood, I said that learning to bear small losses prepares us for bearing big losses and that one place this can be practiced is through reading. Most of us don’t live devastating lives, I said. But literature allows us to enter in to the devastation of others. While this isn’t its primary purpose, it’s true that literature can help build so much of what we talked about regarding robustness, resiliency, and Continue Reading…

    Home Education

    Introducing Swedish Drill Flash Cards

    November 23, 2020 by Dawn Duran

    Are you looking for a way to spice up your drill routine? Have your children started to anticipate commands before you give them? Or perhaps their performance is starting to look a bit too choreographed? This is where the Swedish Drill Revisited Flash Cards can help! But wait – doesn’t it say in Swedish Drill Revisited that the order of the exercises matter? Why, yes. It does say that. Swedish Drill was originally designed to follow a set pattern of Continue Reading…