Welcome to Darkwood is available for pre-order!

I’m delighted to announce that Welcome to Darkwood, the first story set at Darkwood Primary, is now available for pre-order at Amazon.

wecome to darkwood

Welcome to Darkwood:

Four ordinary kids from central Newfoundland face werewolves, vampires, and mutant slugs when they’re spirited away to Darkwood Primary. Now they must work together to find a way home. Humour meets spine-chilling horror in this chapter book for kids aged 6-8.

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teacher gift idea

If you’re flailing around desperately trying to think of a teacher gift, my advice is ALWAYS the same: a gift card. One from Amazon will let them buy books or, if needed, class supplies for next year (or a whole host of other things). One from Tim Horton’s is also, in my experience, always welcome.

BUT. If you have a little more time and you’re buying for a grade-school teacher, Last Day Blues is a fantastic book. I just loaned my copy to my son’s teacher, actually, and it’s being passed around all the other teachers in his primary school. Children also like it, too, so it’s a good end-of-year read-aloud (although my oldest is just turning seven, and he wasn’t hugely interested in it. By about third grade they start to get why the ending is funny.)

last day blues

There’s a beginning-of-school-year book that kind of goes with this one, and both my children found THAT one hilarious. Go figure. Maybe Last Day Blues is just a little more melancholy? Anyway, First Day Jitters is another excellent picture book.

first day jitters

If you search online, by the way, you can find a tonne of downloadable worksheets and activities based on those books. That might be part of the reason why teachers like them, actually. I imagine that comes in particularly handy at the end of the year, when most of the real work has been done but you need SOMETHING to keep the class busy while you assess individual students.

Obviously I’m not giving either of them to my son’s teacher this year, because if I were I wouldn’t be ruining the surprise by lending them to her. I let him choose, and he went with a copy of Mo Willem’s latest (and last) Elephant and Piggie book, The Thank You Book. (And a gift card. Teachers love gift cards.)

thank you book

 

reading: February

By now we have enough books that we can do some seasonal reading, which is nice. We have chapter books, which I’ll be reading aloud this month:

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And we have picture books, which I’ll be putting on our “display table” (it’s not as fancy as it sounds; it’s just an end table I stick a basket on to try to draw attention to our books and get them off the shelves).

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I’m also going to start a “Wimpy Kid” book this month. We have a bunch of them, but I thought they were a bit old for my children. Last Friday, though, my son’s school had a book swap, and a bunch of the kids in his grade specifically mentioned Diary of a Wimpy Kid when we were helping them choose books. So I’ll add one to our chapter books rotation and see how it goes.

January: What We’re Reading

Obviously we’re reading a lot of things that AREN’T on the list. The adults on the list are reading adult books; the beginning readers are working steadily at their Guided Reading books and library books and the basket of currently-seasonal books that sits on their table.

But here are the read-out-loud chapter books that we’re sharing:0-590-44477-8

Santa Claus Doesn’t Mop Floors: The Bailey Elementary third graders are at it again, and the janitor has had it. His replacement, Mr. Jolly, keeps the school magically clean and as cold as the North Pole. Now the kids are beginning to suspect Mr. Jolly may be…Santa Claus! We should have tackled this last month, but we’re still enjoying it. Besides, it’s hard to let go of Christmas all at once. We like to ease down gradually.

 

january joker January Joker: In the first book of the Calendar Mysteries — an early chapter book mystery series featuring the younger siblings of the A to Z Mysteries detectives — Green Lawn has a problem! When Bradley Pinto wakes up in the night to strange lights in his backyard, he wonders if there are aliens in town. When he sees three-toed tracks in the snow, he’s sure of it. His twin, Brian, and friends Lucy and Nate aren’t so certain. But then Lucy’s cousin Dink, the twins’ brother Josh, and Nate’s sister Ruth Rose all disappear. Are there “really “aliens in Green Lawn? And where could they be taking Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose? This is the first book by Ron Roy we’ve tried. For once we are actually starting a series WITH THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES. This is a huge achievement for us.

21840315 The Snow Day from the Black Lagoon: When a blizzard hits, Hubie knows that doesn’t mean a snow day, it means a “no” day — nothing moves, nothing happens. After spending all afternoon zipping zippers, snapping snaps, and buckling buckles, he’s finally ready to explore the winter wonderland. Can Hubie plow through his snow-venture or will he be left out in the cold? Some of the humour in these books is a little over my kids’ heads, but they love the illustrations and they “get” the contrast between Hubie’s worst fears and what’s really happening, so I’m content to keep them on the roster.

elizabeth's valentineElizabeth’s Valentine: Identical twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield can’t wait until Eva, the new girl in their second-grade class, arrives from Jamaica. When Elizabeth is picked to show Eva around school, the two become friends, and Jessica begins to feel left out. After all, she and Elizabeth are supposed to be best friends. To get back at her twin, Jessica ignores Elizabeth and pretends to keep secrets from her. She even pretends she has a new best friend. Elizabeth can’t understand why Jessica is being so mean. Everything’s a mess, and it’s up to Eva to help Elizabeth and Jessica become friends again! My daughter found this on my shelf of vintage paperbacks, and I agreed to read it to her. She’s riveted. I have mixed feelings about Sweet Valley, but the twins are only seven in this and there’s no overt body-image-policing, so I’m cautiously agreeing to this for now. (The next series up–Sweet Valley Twins–is going to have to wait for a time when my children are old enough to have a serious talk about Why We Don’t Treat People the Way Jessica Treats Them. Although actually, I’m hoping they ALREADY know how mean her behaviour would be in real life, and that it’s not okay to hate people for being fat or whatever else Jessica thinks is a flaw.)

 

Christmas Books Worth Keeping

It’s that time of year again. No, not the New Year. I mean, YES, it’s New Year’s Eve, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the semi-annual bookshelf purge. Specifically, today it’s time to look over the books that were part of our Advent Calendar of Books, and weed out the ones that can safely be donated to the preschool.

Which means making the crucial decision of which books to keep.

christmasbooks copy

There are a few points I like to keep in mind during bookshelf purges:

  1. My son is a (beginning) reader, but my daughter hasn’t started reading yet, so I need to hang on to at least SOME of the books he’s outgrown so she can grow into them.
  2. Some of the books my son has technically outgrown have sentimental value to him. So he may be over Thomas most of the time, but on holidays and in the summer he drags out the trains and train books, and I think it’s important to respect that. We’re keeping The Missing Christmas Tree and Thomas’ Night Before Christmas and we’ve added Santa’s Little Engine.
  3. As much as media tie-in products annoy me, they don’t annoy my children. So I try to strike a balance between my urge to get rid of everything overly-branded, and their urge to keep anything they ever once saw a commercial for. See Thomas in #2, and also Barbie: a Special Christmas, Peppa Pig: Peppa’s Christmas Wish, and the Backyardigans: Jingle Bell Christmas.
  4. Christmas is a religious holiday. I read my children retellings of the Christmas story every year. So I need a few of those. Also, I am a sucker for any retelling of the Christmas Story told from the point of view of the animals in the stable (really; I cry over these regularly), so for my own happiness a couple of choices in this important category have to be “I said the donkey”-type versions. We like Who is Coming to Our House?, Room for a Little One, Christmas in the Manger, and Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.
  5. My children have one Canadian parent (me) and one Australian one (their father), and we like to have our bookshelves reflect that. So if you look closely at that picture you’ll see The Fairies Christmas Wishes, Fair Dinkum Aussie Christmas, A Porcupine in a Pine Tree, and Dashing Through the Snow.
  6. It may eventually cause me to lose my mind, but the kids love to listen to The Twelve Dogs of Christmas and follow along with the book. Over and over and OVER. And they both started to recognize words while still in the pre-reader stage by doing this, so overall, it’s worth tolerating.

2016: New Year’s Resolutions

I’m sure I’m not alone in needing to reign in my spending. In fact, one of the most common complaints I hear from people (both on and offline) is that somehow, in the past couple of years, BUYING books has replaced finding the time to READ them.

I know that for me personally, the less time I make for reading, the more easily swayed I am by online reviews or round-ups into loading up my cart and Amazon and creating yet another to-be-read pile on my overstuffed shelves.

So with that in mind, here are my resolutions for 2016:

  1. No new books for me this year. ESPECIALLY no romance novels. I could literally read a romance novel a day for every day of 2016 with no repeats, and I may just have to do that to free up some shelf space.
  2. I’m going to make a serious effort to read some of what’s on my shelves, possibly even review them, and then hand on any that aren’t destined to be keepers.
  3. While I’m at it: no new subscription boxes. Barkbox stays, and the new Kawaii box gets a six-month trial, but that’s it for the year.

So what are your resolutions? Are you making any special plans to tame the shopping-and-clutter monster this year?

The BEST Christmas Eve Gift for Children

I don’t know how many families do this, but when I was a child we were always allowed to open up one gift on Christmas Eve. Lately I’ve seen “Christmas Eve boxes” that contain new pajamas, popcorn, and a DVD to watch, and I think those are a great idea.

But my children are almost-five and six-and-a-half, and I have an entire DAY to get through. I have cooking to do! I need them to be at least a little bit self-entertaining throughout the day.

Enter the best gift ever, which we let them open this morning before my husband left for work.

Now, if you’re better at planning than I was this year, you can start squirreling away supplies as soon as the Boxing Day sales hit, and you can probably pick up more in September, when the stores fill up with cheap school supplies. That’s my plan for next year.

But this year, I made do with what I could order online in October when my son SUDDENLY developed a huge interest in drawing. My daughter has always liked colouring, but thanks to him she’s now creating her own drawings and even copying some words. Elder siblings are the best.

So here’s what they opened this morning:

  1. A case-it binder. I bought these in two different colours, to make it easier for them to find their own. I have absolutely no idea why some colours cost more than others, but obviously I picked the cheapest two. You could get a good zipper binder more cheaply if you planned ahead, but I like that the case-it has both a handle and a shoulder strap, because this is something we can port along on visits with family.
  2. Several binder pouches full of supplies. I bought them one each of these sparkly ones and a couple of plain black ones. (I use the black ones all the time myself to organize crafting supplies, so we actually have extras on hand should they need them.
  3. A sketchbook. I wanted something with coil binding so it would lay flat, and a hard cover so it could take a bit of abuse (and decorating). There are literally a million options that fit those criteria.
  4. A pack of coloured Smencils. Honestly any decent-quality coloured pencils would have worked just as well, but I was placing an order with Fun Toys That Teach anyway, so I splurged just a little.
  5. A pack of scented gel crayons.
  6. A few sticker sheets. I picked up some Paw Patrol and Frozen stickers at Walmart, and then bought one pack each of these scented stickers to continue the theme. Everything I bought had two or more sheets inside, so I opened the packs and split them (except for the Frozen ones; my son has his limits. I bought him one single sheet of Star Wars ones instead.)

Next year I’m assuming the binders and pouches will still be operational, so I just need to stockpile some craft supplies and new sketchbooks.

Here’s the best part: it has been THREE ENTIRE HOURS since they opened their Christmas Eve gifts and they are still completely absorbed!