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    Books & Reading

    The Official 2022 Afterthoughts Read Aloud List

    January 19, 2023 by Brandy Vencel

    Reading aloud when children are young is imperative. Many treat the older years as optional. I’m so glad no one convinced me to stop! It is so much fun now that my children are older. Reading aloud to them doubles as reading for myself — so many of these books are on my personal list and I can shift titles to the read aloud stack to get them done. I’d much rather share books with people I love than read them in solitude.

    Teenagers are busy, which means it pays to have different books going. I have one with one combo of children (for when another is at work), and then one with another combination. One with Dad when he is home; another for when he’s away. This means we can almost always read aloud at our usual time, and who is home determines what is read. (For more info on this, go here.)

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    Keep in mind I’m not vouching for these books in the sense of allowing your children to read them on their own. I often edit as I read aloud, and I don’t always remember that I’ve done so. This means that if you’re shopping this list to buy books for your (older) kids, you need to pre-read them.

    This year, I’m doing something a little different: I’m only including the books we finished. It just makes things tidier to do it that way. If we’re in the middle of it currently (some books we read in tiny amounts over years), it’ll eventually show up on one of my lists … when we’ve finished it.

    Nonfiction Titles

    Bruchko by Bruce Olson

    We had a lot of discussions about this book. On the one hand, it’s a remarkable story of a young man spreading the Gospel, on his own, to an unreached people group. It was a truly inspiring and encouraging read. But on the other hand, Olson’s project seems incomplete. It’s possible he just doesn’t bother to mention baptizing the converts in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or implementing the Lord’s Supper, or establishing a church according to the New Testament directives, including selecting elders for leadership. Perhaps he did all these things, but didn’t find mention of it to drive his (compelling!) narrative. We weren’t sure.

    Breath by James Nestor

    I try to read a couple books in the health/wellness/fitness/nutrition category to my kids each year and this was one they loved. A couple of them adopted mouth taping the moment we read about it, much to my amusement. It’s fun to see them experiment with what they are learning. Understanding that God gave them a body that they should take care of is something I like to drive home in an understated way via books rather than lectures.

    Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall

    This was a favorite with everyone in my house! While it fits the health/wellness/etc. category, it is so much more than that. Truly, it’s a living book. The fascinating World War II history, the information on fitness, daring, and survival — it’s hard to peg this book down. One of my children not only read the book again on her own, she also went on a rabbit trail, buying books referenced by McDougall along the way.

    This book was so much fun.

    The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean

    If you enjoy the story of Phineas Gage, you’ll also like this book, which includes Gage’s history, along with many others in the same vein. It’s a fascinating book, but hard to read aloud because Kean is an awkward writer at times. His rhythm is off. But his stories are interesting enough to make up for it, just beware that when reading aloud you may have to slow down, and that’s just the way it is with Kean.

    The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

    This was such an amazing read. It’s famous, so I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about it. I found Corrie’s home life incredibly inspiring, especially her father. I was struck by the fact that when he was gone and she missed him, she missed him especially when it was Bible reading time. It just made me think about the importance of making family Bible reading a deeply rooted habit in our home.

    So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

    This is such a great perspective on career building and I wanted my children to get it early. We had some great discussions, and also they rolled their eyes at me. But I think the lessons were at least partially learned.

    Fiction Titles

    Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

    It’s my tradition to read one Dickens novel to the whole family each year. I had never read Great Expectations before; it wasn’t exactly what I expected (mainly because I didn’t know what “expectations” implied before I read it.

    It’s interesting to think about how knowing you are likely to inherit money corrupts character (albeit not entirely). It’s hard to come fully into manhood in such a context, I think.

    The Lost World by Michael Crichton

    Both of Crichton’s Jurassic themed books were so much fun to read aloud. We squealed and squirmed through the gross parts, of course. I had to edit a lot more language in this one; it seems Crichton found profanity a lot more acceptable the second time around. Funny enough, this one had less gore than the first one. (Ha. Or was I desensitized??)

    Crichton’s unique style (and occasional grandstanding preachiness) means I can’t read more than one of his books in a row, but still … he weaves a great story.

    By Pike and Dyke by GA Henty

    This one is historical fiction, and it was so interesting because we knew very little of William of Orange or how the Spanish Inquisition affected the Netherlands. Perhaps the most fascinating part was how the unique geography of the place changed how they fought battles both by land as well as by sea.

    The House of the Wolfings by William Morris

    This is the last book Wendi Capehart recommended to me. I didn’t know she was going to pass away; I kept it on my shelf for over a year. After she died last February, I picked it up and read it aloud in her honor. As usual, her recommendation was trustworthy. The book was strange and beautiful — such a unique, poetic read.

    I miss you, Wendi.

    The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

    We have lots of books to read, and only about 18 years to do it in. To make it to my re-read list is a great honor, lemme tell you. Auxier’s book definitely deserves its place on that list, right along with Lewis and Tolkien. This book is one of my all time favorites because, while being fantastical fiction in the best, most frighteningly gothic way, it speaks the deepest truths about human nature and our love affair with our own sin.

    The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

    This book was a reread also, but only sort of. I read it aloud when my oldest son was very, very young. None of the other children remembered my having read it, and I was in the mood to revisit it, so I read it “again.” But it was only “again” for me, if that makes sense. It was great fun. Juster’s plays on words are hysterical.

    The Pension Plan by Josiah Vencel

    Yes. My husband’s book. He read it aloud to everyone when he was in the process of writing it, but we’d never bothered to have him read it once it was published. We remedied that with an in-person audio book! Ha. I usually do all the reading aloud, but we wanted to hear it in his voice.

    King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

    This book! It was so much fun. It had a definite Indiana Jones feel to it. It’s an African adventure — main character Alan Quartermain is searching for Solomon’s fabled treasure. In addition to searching for treasure, the subplots of the various characters along on the journey are so good. I especially loved the native character Umbopa, who embodied both kingliness as well as manliness.

    The Girl Who Owned a City by OT Nelson

    I fell completely in love with this book when I checked it out of the school library around age 10 or 11 or so. The problem was that I returned it, never able to remember the title or name of the author again! I have been looking for the book ever since, and this year in a podcast I was listening to, someone described what I knew had to be my book I had book looking for forever! I was so happy. I immediately ordered a copy, and read it aloud soon thereafter. It is still so good. I know now why I loved it: my first encounter with dystopian fiction, it was also so respectful of children: a children’s book that never once talked down to children! Imagine! It spends quite a bit of time discussing political philosophy and ethics, all in a way children can sympathize with. So good.

    Men of Iron by Howard Pyle

    This is another one I had read to my oldest when he was very little … and I realized no one else had heard it! I could not allow them to miss out on this classic novel. Who doesn’t love a good story featuring knights in shining armor??

    The Red Keep by Allen French

    My oldest read French over and over again while he was growing up, but I’d never bothered to read him myself. A couple years ago, I decided to read aloud through the French books we owned (well, technically my son owns them, but he’s left them here at our house for now) and I am so glad I did! French is an amazing writer! We loved all three books; this one was great. Highly recommended.

    Revive by Sunita Venchard

    This one gets a meh. I almost put it in the twaddle category. It’s the sort of book I would have normally tossed out, but we kept it up because it’s making so many references to homeopathic remedies that we had fun with it, even though the story was weakly told. Truly, I believe it was a challenge for the author to write the book and keep all these remedies and kingdoms straight. Surely she get extra credit for that.

    Sackett’s Land by Louis L’Amour

    This is the first of a very long series. It was so good! I love Louis L’Amour so much. His thorough understanding of the American mindset, of why certain Englishmen came here to settle a wildnerness, of why they were willing to leave, of what they found here — he puts it all on display in the most delightful context of a well-told tale.

    This book shows the beginning of the Sackett family in America. Barnabas Sackett, Englishman, leaves England for America during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The series traces Barnabas’ descendants through much of American history. We’re really looking forward to reading all the Sackett books eventually.

    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

    I talked about this book in this post already. All I’ll say here is that we all loved it. My husband especially thought it was great. Clime has created a very believeable fictional world.

    Not one to hand over to children to read on their own, though, in my opinon.

    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

    This book was young for my crowd, but it was said to be good and we’d never read it before (it only came out in 2019), so I figured why not. It was good — an Asian fairy tale essentially. There were a couple places where I thought the writing was weak, but the story was very interesting and Lin’s style is unique. It probably would have gone over better had my children been younger, so I recommend it more for the under-10 age group.

    Books & Reading, Mother's Education

    The 2023 Afterthoughts Book Awards

    January 10, 2023 by Brandy Vencel

    This felt like an odd reading year to me. My categories were a bit different from normal, and I did a lot more whim reading than I intended. (I really think whim reading is the only solution during times of high stress!) But I’m happy I read what I did, and I do have a number of gems to share with you today. As usual, the only contenders for these awards were books I actually finished in 2022. I read Continue Reading…

    Home Education

    Detective Mom

    December 12, 2022 by Brandy Vencel

    I once had a daughter who refused to apologize. Not for everything, mind you, but for a very specific category of offenses: accidents. If she stepped on your toe, scared you so that you dropped something, or bumped your arm while you were underlining something in your book (and turned your underline into an unsightly scribble on the page), you knew you could expect nothing from her. No sign of remorse. Definitely no apology. As a Christian, I believe in Continue Reading…

    Home Education

    Homeschooling and the Three Lies of Modern Education

    December 7, 2022 by Brittney McGann

    Like many of you, I grew up in the public school system. I was raised in pretty conservative areas of California, and while there were many things I didn’t like about school, I didn’t realize how completely my public school education had formed me. I thought that education was mostly neutral and that I could simply toss out ideas that were contrary to my beliefs. It wasn’t until I started to homeschool my children, which coincided with my growing maturity Continue Reading…