Here are reviews of the books I’ve read during 2023. I’m keeping track of my books read because my son issued a book tracker challenge. I will keep updating it each month. Each month will have a “Favorite”.
You’ll notice I’m reading a lot of children’s books. Jim Trelease recommended many of these books in his Read-Aloud Handbook and we missed them while my kids grew up. I’m searching for “living books“. A good story is a good story!
Genre and Dates Finished in italics. A rating of ★★★★★ indicates a really good read or a living book.
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Favorites this month
Book Reviews for Children’s Illustrated Picture Books
- Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet. ★★★★★. Picture book Caldecott Winner. Another recommendation from Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook. I wondered why I never read this when my boys were little because I totally enjoy Macy’s Day Parade history. But it’s because the book is from 2011 — just as my kids were leaving the picture book section! This one really deserves a Caldecott! Great detail of the famous puppeteer and creator of the balloons, Tony Sarg. Fun read with rich illustrations. Non-fiction Children’s Picture Book: 1/3/2
- Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans written & illustrated by Don Brown. ★★★ Excellent illustrations evoke a dismal feeling of a tragic story. The book describes a ton of facts that happened during this disaster, but I feel like the book itself lacked any connection to people because all of the vignettes which could have brought this tragedy to life were anonymous. While I’m not keen on the graphic novel style, I thought this one was pulled off well because of the stormy illustrations. Non-fiction Teen Graphic Novel: 1/5/23
- We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro Baseball League, words & paintings by Kadir Nelson. ★★★★★ Superb book backed by in-depth research tells the compelling story of baseball when the leagues were segregated. Nelson’s realistic paintings combined with his story-telling make this book a winner. I found myself pulled into the story because it’s told in the first person plural: “Players today just don’t know how bad it could be. We look back and wonder, ‘How did we do all that?’ It’s simple. We loved the game so much, we just looked past everything else. We were ballplayers.” Highly recommended. Non-fiction Illustrated Chapter Book: 1/6/23
- Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe, Illustrated by John Shelley. ★★★★★ Rich non-fiction that details the coined words in Shakespeare’s writings. Illustrations are fun and super detailed reminiscent of “Where’s Waldo” artwork or anything by Jerry Pinkney. Brings Elizabethan England to life. Children’s Illustrated Picture Book: 1/1/23
Fiction book reviews
- Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson. ★★★★ Book 2-1/2 of the Stormlight Archives. I’m reading this series because my son asked me to. This one was a refreshingly small book that was inserted into the series to explain some things that apparently exist at the beginning of Book 3, and to follow one of the interesting side characters from Book 2. You can’t read it unless you read the whole series, so you have to commit, because the typical books in the series are really long. Overall, I am enjoying the series. The books are hard to put down. But the stories do have a feeling of being so complex that they are never going to resolve. For a series, it works, but I get a little nostalgic for the days when a book told one story. Science Fiction Fantasy Novella: 1/5/23
- Here’s Hank: A Short Tale about a Long Dog by Henry Winkler & Lin Oliver. ★★. Recommendation from Jim Trelease. I really wanted to love this book. I had to read it because I love the Fonz and because the book is written with a font that is designed to help dyslexic readers read easier. While I found the story compelling, I was disappointed in the characters, whom I found shallow and caricaturesque. The story has a dyslexic boy (our hero) trapped in an all-too-common situation where the school system labels him as a slacker. I think I am just biased against a school system that says “get a dog and try harder” instead of “change the school system”. Anyway, I will test this book with my dyslexic reader and give it an extra star if he loves it. Fiction Children’s Easy Reader/Short Chapter Book: 1/4/23
- Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner with illustrations by Marcia Sewall. ★★★★ WARNING: Spoilers!! This fictional tale of a legendary dogsled race where a boy has to race to win the tax money for the farm. If your child doesn’t like stories like Old Yeller, chose a different book. The story is touching. Fiction Easy Reader Illustrated Chapter Book: 1/6/23
- The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson. ★★★★ While this is definitely a living book because the characters and story really came to life, I felt like it isn’t equal to Treasure Island or Dr. Jekyll or even Kidnapped. But it was a fun read anyway since he is a great writer and I typically enjoy historical fiction. This one is set in the War of the Roses just before Richard III’s time. Lancasters vs. Yorks. This has romance and adventure, and several wartime violence scenes in which the hero kills a few people. Overall, the story has a bit of a “Robin Hood” feel to it. Fiction: Historical: 1/12/23
- Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. ★★★★ Book 3 of The Stormlight Archives. See Edgedancer. Huge book. I made the mistake of reading the paperback version. At 1200+ pages, it’s way too fat to read in paperback. Science Fiction Fantasy: 1/20/23
- The Best of Simple by Langston Hughes. ★★★★ While researching how to use poetry in homeschooling, I came across several poet/authors who I wanted to look into further and Langston Hughes was one of them. Hughes wrote a popular newspaper column in the 50s and created a character called Jesse B. Semple who appeared daily in various vignettes of life. The stories were gathered into three collections and then later all gathered together in this book. The genius of the stories is that “Simple” (aka Semple) is a guy everyone knows, even though he is fictional. I usually find dialect a bit hard to read, but because Simple lives in Harlem, NY, I can read it easily because I grew up in NY. I deducted one star because the collection is not that great in book format, but it would be fantastic as a daily newspaper column because each chapter really stands alone well. It would make a great daily blog in today’s world without newspapers. This is a good read for older students studying race issues of the 50s or 60s because it expresses how the world was then. Warning: Semple drinks and womanizes. Fiction: 1/24/23
- The Red House by A.A. Milne (author of Winnie the Pooh). ★★★★ Did you know Milne wrote a mystery? He actually started as a humorist, then wrote this mystery and then the Pooh books for his son Christopher. He had very particular ideas about what made a good mystery which he discusses in the preface. He does a good job following his rules and comes up with a thoroughly enjoyable mystery. It feels like a light story, though, so I didn’t give it 5 stars. But it’s a fun read. Fiction Mystery: 1/26/23
Reviews for Non-Fiction books
- Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook edited and revised by Cyndi Giorgis. ★★★★★. Excellent reference book. Read once to be committed to reading aloud now for your kid’s sake. Then refer to it when you want some excellent read-aloud books. Or go to his website which lists his recommendations. I’m going to check out some titles that we missed when my guys were smaller. Trelease asks, “At what age do you stop reading aloud picture books? In a word — never.” Non-fiction Education: 1/1/23 –started in December!
- The Wisdom of our Hands: Crafting a Life by Doug Stowe. ★★★★★ Superb guide that talks about the importance of handcraft, in particular woodworking. Stowe is really talking about using woodworking to craft a better life and a better world. Great quote: “Deep engagement with the hands as they are crafting has an effect on your sense of well-being that should not be ignored.” Non-Fiction Education: 1/2/23 –started in December!
- Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior In Company And Conversation. ★★★★★ This is an arrangement of 110 sayings that young George Washington copied when he was 14 or 15 years old. The sayings are all about manners. It’s fun because I recognize weaknesses in my kids’ manners as well as my own. A great resource for copywork. Also has a fantastic vocabulary of plenty of words no longer in common usage. Best quote: “Being set at meat, Scratch not, neither Spit, Cough, or blow your Nose except there’s a Necessity for it.” or “Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; For ’tis better to be alone than in bad Company.” Non-fiction Historical Book of Quotations: 1/3/23
- The Essential Oils Apothecary (skimmed), The Essential Oils Diet, and The Healing Power of Essential Oils by Eric Zeilinski and Sabrina Ann Zeilinski. ★★★★ I read them in reverse chronological order, accidentally. I did not expect to like the Diet book (it’s really a lifestyle book) but I actually did, though I skimmed the recipes section. The recipes sound good, but I’m usually drawn into recipes by photos and this lacks photos. I liked how they broke down topical vs aromatherapy usage. And all the safety warnings were thorough. I guess the biggest new takeaway for me was that these oils are extremely potent and can do many different therapeutic things. My favorite of these three books was the one that was written first: The Healing Power of Essential Oils. Perhaps because it was the most general and comprehensive. It makes it easy to start making blends for specific purposes. All the books come from a Christian perspective. Non-fiction How-To 1/23
- Lotions, Potions & Polish: DIY Crafts and Recipes by Aubre Andrus. ★★ Slick book with a small bit of substance. This feels like a slick magazine with beautiful layouts and photography. I think it would make a fun book for crafting with small children, but they probably couldn’t do that because it has some recipes that melt and use a stove. I guess if your young teen expresses an interest in learning some basics, this book could be fun. Extra star for the benefit of the doubt. Also in the same series are Gloss, Floss & Wash and Spray, Smooth & Shampoo. I put these on my reserve list from a search for essential oils crafts. There are not that many recipes with essential oils in them. Non-fiction Teen How-To Book: 1/5/23
- DIY Beauty by Ina De Clerq ★★★★ Excellent recipes and solid explanations of natural alternatives to common on-the-shelf beauty products (like Burt’s Bees lip balm). If you or your teen enjoyed the series above, then this is a much better book to continue with. Or skip the above series and head straight to this. I’ve already tried 2 recipes and want to make notes about several others. I wouldn’t consider this a living book, but for a “how-to” packed with recipes, it’s pretty good. Non-fiction How-To Book: 1/9/2023
- Simple Qigong Exercises for Health by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming. ★★★★ Explains the 8 pieces of brocade both sitting and standing with pictures and descriptions of the poems. I wanted to read this before testing the movements with the companion video. Non-Fiction How-To: 1/8/23
- Wild Beauty by Jane Blankenship. ★★★ Sorry for the harsh criticism, this book disappointed me. It gets great reviews and has gorgeous pictures, but it just didn’t resonate with me. I wanted labels on the pictures if they corresponded to a recipe. Or maybe I’m simply not looking for recipes like “Mermaid Hair Mask.” It’s probably just me. Non-Fiction How-To: 1/10/23
- Fermenting: Pickles, Kimchi, Kefir, Kombucha, Sourdough, Yogurt, Cheese and More! by Wardeh Harmon. ★★★★★ Takes fermenting up a level. I love this book and all of Wardeh’s recipes. You can find her at TraditionalCookingSkills.com. This was a partial re-read. I wanted to finish the book, so I re-skimmed the part I read last year. Now I have to make the recipes more regularly. A great resource for learning and doing ferments. Non-Fiction How-To: 1/15/23
- Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine by Josh Axe, Jordin Rubin, and Ty Bollinger. ★★★★ Beautifully arranged book and unabashedly Christian. The attractive, easy-to-use format makes it simple to find what you are looking for. If I decide to put this on my shelf for a reference book, I would use it for the clear descriptions of the oils and their uses rather than for the applications shown in the recipes. Non-Fiction How-To: 1/25/23
- Dopamine Nation by Dr. Anna Lembke. ★★★★ I gave this book an extra star because it is at least talking about the problem of addiction in our technological society AND because it gives some practical solutions. Warning though, it’s very explicit, so only appropriate for mature readers. It’s an important topic to bring up. Non-Fiction: 1/30/23
- Home Apothecary by Ashley English. ★★★★★ Excellent how-to on using essential oils. I loved the layout and tried a few recipes. Non-Fiction How-To: 1/31/23