Confession: once I moved past middle school, I either found Valentine's Day unnecessarily stressful or just downright cheesy. And while I don't want to give in to the sugar/chocolate marketing hype, I do think it's a fun day to remind those closest to us that we love them and to teach our kids what love looks like. As a family we try to do surprise love notes throughout the month of February to each other (this has gotten fun as my older two can now write on their own but stickers work great for little hands too), send handmade cards to friends and grandparents, read books about love that goes beyond romantic love (love is servant-hearted, courageous, thoughtful, etc) and love on our community (we've surprised firefighters with donuts and make & pass out blessings bags for the homeless as February can tend to dip into single digit temps here). Anyway, it's not to add any pressure or stress on the parent, just fun ways to model various acts of love to the littles. Here's a fun round-up of some Valentine's Day picture books that we are enjoying this month!
It’s no secret that I love to read, a LOT. I don’t use any sort of fancy tracking for my booklist except a Word document that I’ve been updating since 2010. I know many people who set reading goals each year but I’ve never had the compulsion to do that. For me, I consider healthy reading to be akin to healthy eating: essentially doing so intuitively works the best for me. Sure, there are some books that I seek out more aggressively than others, but most times I’m at the mercy of the library hold list. Wink. I also pay attention to book recommendations from fellow bookworms and I love the booklists that our local independent bookstores put out. I’ve also recognized that some seasons I am able to read more than others (when toddlers were afoot, not much!). All that to say is that I’m not hung up on the actual number; I don’t numerate as I track as I’ve always felt then it would begin to seem like work to me, I just tally them up at the end of the year. This year I did read the most I have since I begun keeping track in 2010: a total of 88 books (last year it was 79). Note that this does include middle grade and young adult fiction, books that I’m able to get through quite quickly. I did not include family read-alouds in that total but I’ve included those, as well as audiobooks that we listened to as a family below. As I work from home I don’t have a commute so the audiobooks that we enjoy on road trips tend to be those that we do as a family. I do note trends in my reading though! Two years ago it was year of non-fiction. Last year it was historical fiction. This year was clearly the year of the memoir. I am realizing I read the least non-fiction this year than any other years but I believe this to be due to the fact that memoirs can toggle the line between non-fiction/autobiography. However, there are some topics I look forward to delving into deeper this year. I will look forward to seeing what 2019 brings!
For years I have done my own literary superlatives, I’ve listed those first but the list in its entirety is below as well. I didn’t include middle grade/YA in the superlatives as I don’t read as many in that genre and the ones that I did read were ALL fabulous. Please comment if you see a favorite or a book you’d like to read. Happy Reading!
2018 Booklist Superlatives
Best All Around
Best Historical Fiction
Most Helpful (in my season of life)
2018 Living by the Page Booklist
Americanah Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
That Kind of Mother Rumaan Alam
Us Against You Fredrik Backman
Lilli De Jong Janet Benton
How to Walk Away Katherine Center
The Great Alone Kristin Hannah
The Cactus Sarah Haywood
Small Country: A Novel Gaël Faye
The Atlas of Love Laurie Frankel
Last Christmas in Paris Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Every Note Played Lisa Genova
An American Marriage Tayari Jones
The Queen of Hearts Kimmery Martin
Happy People Read and Drink Coffee Agnes Martin-Lugand
Still Me JoJo Moyes
Little Fires Everywhere Celeste Ng
This Must Be the Place Maggie O’Farrell
Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owens
Dear Mrs. Bird AJ Pearce
A Spark of Light Jodi Picoult
The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go Amy Reichert
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane Lisa See
Mr. Dickens and His Carol Samantha Silva
Sourdough Robin Sloan
By the Book Julia Sonneborn
The Good Thief Hannah Tinti
The Space Between Us Thrity Umrigar
The Book of Essie Meghan MacLean Weir
My Oxford Year Julia Whelan
Before We Were Yours Lisa Wingate
Something Like Happy Eva Woods
The Map of Salt and Stars Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry Gabrielle Zevin
Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening Manal Al-Sharif
The Line Becomes a River Francisco Cantú
The Middle Place Kelly Corrigan
The Monk of Mokha Dave Eggers
At Home in This Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroad of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises Jerusalem Jackson Greer
Girl, Wash Your Face Rachel Hollis
The Joy of Doing Nothing Rachel Jonat
From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel Christine Hoover
Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry Katrina Kenison
The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir Katrina Kenison
The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love Kristin Kimball
Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful Katie Davis Major
Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted Shannan Martin
Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons Dr. Meg Meeker
Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion Sara Miles
The Soul of An Octopus Sy Montgomery
How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals Sy Montgomery
Becoming Michelle Obama
Going Public: Your Child Can Thrive in Public School David and Kelli Pritchard
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith Barbara Brown Taylor
It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way Lysa TerKeurst
Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover
First, We Make the Beast Beautiful Sarah Wilson
Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life Bill Burnett & Dave Evans
Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions Valeria Luiselli
The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life Into a Work of Art Erwin Raphael McManus
YOUNG ADULT AND MIDDLE GRADE
Where the Watermelons Grow Cindy Baldwin
The Wild Robot Peter Brown
The Wild Robot Escapes Peter Brown
The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming J. Anderson Coats
Finding Esme Suzanne Crowley
The Great Hibernation Tara Dairman
The Lifters Dave Eggers
Fortunately, the Milk Neil Gaiman
Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel Kimberly Willis Holt
Bob Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
The Flourishing of Floralie Laurel Fiadhnait Moser
The Book of Boy Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Eleanor & Park Rainbow Rowell
Front Desk Kelly Yang
Devotions Mary Oliver
Family Read Alouds:
 Note that the Audiobooks and Family Read Alouds are in the order that we read/listened to them. This doesn’t include the copious amount of picture books we read this year, please visit my the ‘Book Review’ section on this site or visit my IG @livingbythepagewithnatalie to see those titles and reviews.
As you may have noticed, we are in full nature hike swing over here with the arrival of spring in Michigan after a long winter! Yes, we do hike in the winter but it's harder to include some of the other aspects of our hikes during that time, namely nature journaling. Pencils aren't easy to grip in gloves, wink. But fall, summer and spring are glorious seasons in this part of the country for nature study so the moment it's warm enough to sit and pull out of sketchpads on various trails and parks, we do! Part of what has been fun this year for my 7 and 8 year old has been the addition of a field microscope. I'm noticing that my two sons, while only 18 months apart, are quite different in the way they approach nature study. My eldest is more xtroverted so when we are on hikes, with friends or just us, it's a bit harder for him to settle down and sketch in the moment. He will do so, but does get a bit more distracted and is often ready to move onto the next part of the hike a bit quicker or wander around with his magnifying glass and binoculars talking about what he is seeing. But when we get home, he loves to pull out the microscope and observe all that is going on in his specimen! (The addition of little specimen jars has been a huge hit this spring as well!). He is much more excited about pulling out his journal and sketching his specimen as seen under the microscope versus in the field! He's my 'non-fiction at heart' kid so I love seeing this side of him emerge. My second, by contrast, is much more introverted by nature and has zero problem zoning out his surroundings on a hike and focusing in on a tree, flower, bark or insect....studying it carefully and sketching it! He loves to look at it later under a microscope as well but feels no need to sketch that! All this to say is that nature journaling will look different with each child, for some, fieldwork is immediate, in the moment...and for others, more of the learning and processing may take place more in the quiet of the home. Either way, Ive loved how nature journaling has allowed us to be more intentional of our surroundings and notice all the 'treasures' as my four year old puts it, around us. Linking some of our favorites below and know that we didn't invest in all this overnight. I'd say it's a culmination of the last two years of birthday gifts, Christmas presents, end of year gifts, etc...we started small, just with binoculars and a magnifying glass and slowly added from there. Feel free to comment and add in anything else that makes your hikes more enjoyable!
Our favorite hiking/nature study resources:
We do have a pair of kids one from the $3 bin at Target for my 4 year old but once they are ages 5 and up, I invest in the real deal and these are a great pair for a fabulous price. they come with a neat case as well:
For under $10 you get a set of six and it's fun to have a few pairs at home and keep a few in a backpack or car! Each of mine have their own in their backpack.
We've used a few different brands and you could just share one set, but it's been easier for each of mine to have their own set/case. And a hard case is a must given how tossed about they get on the hikes, smile. I've noticed they've taken much more ownership and pride over them than when they just shared one! Some ones we've used have included Eboo and Colore (which I can't find that set anymore as it was a few yeasr ago but this Diamond Driven set is very similar).
This is exactly what we have and such a good deal! It's $9.99 and literally around the same size as the binoculars. Right now we've used it mainly at home but now that they are comfortable with it, I can't wait to take it out in the field!
My dad gifted the boys these Gregory Miwok 12L backpacks (around $40 each) from Sierra Trading Post last year for their birthdays. But know that for a few years we just used their school backpacks or whatever had our hand. They got very excited last spring about carrying all their own gear so we wanted to take advantage of that especially as I had my hands full at that point with a 2.5 year old!
Regarding nature journals, the boys and I are using one from Simply Charlotte Mason this year but really, you can use whatever you think is best: blank, lined, one with prompts, without. One year we did these blank ones and I loved them (and the price, wink). My four year old is using one from the Target dollar bin this year, smile.
The other day my husband was asking what I wanted for Mother's Day and my answer was the same as it is every year: just time with you and the kids. And good, strong coffee. And brunch. LOL. But honesty, tangible gifts aren't my love language the way that quality time is, but he pointed out that he wants to teach us our kids how to love on their mama and my boys particularly had been asking for him to help them pick out a gift...SO since my arm was twisted, a book list was rapidly sent his way and they have plans to hit our local indie bookstore this weekend. All this made me think of how many of you perhaps are looking for a gift for your own mothers...or for sisters, friends, aunts, or yourselves! I'm all about the #metome gifting, wink. I am hesitant to call this an official gift guide since there are so many other bloggers out there that do a fabulous job of curating gifts (I see you, @dosaygive) but here a few unique ones for that woman in your life that loves to live by the page:
This magazine is focused on ALL things around the art of being a woman. It's classy, fun, witty and best of all, none of the women in the magazine have been retouched. As their motto goes, you too, darling, are a work of art. You can gift a subscription, a current issue or even a back issue for just $6!
I contributed to Issue 02 of this magazine and ordered a few print editions for my own mama-crew! This is such an uplifting and encouraging magazine about all things motherhood! The print version of Issue 02 is sold out, but you can get a digital copy of Issue 02 online right now for just $4.99.
This isn't a new one but it's been a faithful standby that I've gifted to sisters, sister-in-laws, friends, and the like since 2013. A collection of essays about life, love, and food with a sprinkling of some amazing recipes in between (get ready for some to become regular rotations!).
I loved Lara Casey's 'Make it Happen' book and can't wait to get my hands on this one! I think this would be a lovely gift and check out the other items in her shop as well (prints, journals, etc) over at www.cultivatewhatmatters.com
This collection of watercolor art and devotions by Ruth Chou Simons is stunningly beautiful. I gifted this to my mother-in-law for her birthday this fall and secretly have been hoping for a copy myself.
The sweetest collection of essays by the team at Coffee + Crumbs about the ups, and downs, of motherhood. Especially perfect for the soon-to-be or first-time mama.
Because with kids (young or teens) in the house, every day is New Year's Day in terms of simplifying it all, right!?
If she is a classics aficionado or has a young girl that she loves to read aloud with, this special collection of four hardback books designed by Anna Rifle Bond is for her (this includes Heidi, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and A Little Princess).
Links below to some of my favorites....even if you are working with more of a novice cook, cookbooks provide fabulous inspiration or even make lovely coffee table books too. Wink.
Cloth + Paper
Because she needs somewhere to place all this goodness, right!? Just order by Monday May 7 to ensure delivery by Mother's Day!
Steph Weibring of Joy Creative Shop created the fabulous hand-letting that you see here at Living by the Page. Check out her shop for some lovely paper good-ideas. While I do appreciate all that technology enables us to do, I firmly believe in the power and love that comes in the form of a hand-written note.
Pair it all with some fresh beans from BookLoversCoffee! They don't roast the coffee until you order it so zero inventory is held! And Living by the Page readers are welcome to use code MOMSBEANS for 10% off the entire order. Orders must be placed by Saturday May 5 to guarantee delivery for Mother's Day!
I've been wanting to share this round-up for a while now. Over a year ago, we started a little tradition in our family entitled 'Poetry-Slam Wednesdays'. As with typical quirky family traditions, this one started without much planning or foresight...it's something I tried out one night on the fly (it was actually Valentine's Day 2017 and I was trying to kill some time before my husband came home for dinner) and we had checked out some poetry books and this amazing DVD from the library, A Child's Garden of Poetry. I mentioned the concept of a poetry-slam to my boys and they were intrigued (the trick with young boys, I am finding, is to use the word like 'slam' and then they are all ears). We read some poetry, watched the film that showed middle-schoolers doing a poetry-slam and they were sold. Since we were having dessert that night (we usually don't do dessert on weeknights but again, this was Valentine's Day) I told them that the poetry-slam would happen before our special dessert. And again, they were totally on-board. The only parameters are that you come having either written your own poem, copied down someone else's to recite, or do one on the fly (our 3.5 year old particularly likes this option, wink) and a special dessert is always included (note that special to my kids is as simple as yogurt drizzled with maple syrup). And I've realized that kids like poetry best when they've heard it read to them or have read it themselves. I don't get too technical with them yet, at their ages (3-8), it's all about exposure to the greats, and having fun with it in the process. Below are some of our favorites...enjoy.
Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices: This one by Paul Fleischman must be read aloud by two people. It's all about the insect world so I was honestly a bit suspect at first, but so well-written and fun to read together and hear the cadence of the lines along with the two voices in tandem (you see this particularly in 'The Grasshopper'!)
A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends: I remember that feeling of reading Shel Silverstein for the first time as a kid and thinking: adults can really write silly stuff like this?! And this is actual poetry? As a child I would read these books over and over again (these are my well-worn childhood copies but you can still find them on Amazon) and my siblings and I used to read them aloud to each other, giggling the entire time. When I showed them to the boys, they had equal reactions; jaw-dropping admiration for the zany wit of Silverstein and unable to put them down.
Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word: This collection of poems takes a word that children recognize, such as 'Pepperoni' and arranges them so that they become a poem of short lines: One / pie / no / pepper / onion. It's genius and it took us a while to get used to author Bob Raczka's style, but we appreciate it and love it!
Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems: Another Bob Raczka one that we love. This is a collection of visual poems (i.e: the one entitled 'Clock' actually looks like a clock) and it makes the kids think hard about what he's trying to convey with his 'word paintings' as he refers to them. Even the table of contents is drawn to look like a table!
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons: Oh how I love both Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad! And combined they are a powerful creative duo with this collection of poetry that celebrates the seasons. Each poem is entitled a different day of the year which helps kids connect what is happening weather-wise to their feelings. From the example below ('march 22') you can see that this is a collection that speaks to adults as much as it does for kids. I have several memorized as do my boys! One special moment came last August when my middle son and I were picking ripe tomatoes out of the garden and he goes "Mom, I get it now! When GREEN becomes TOMATOES". Ah, YES.
just like a tiny, blue hello
a crocus blooming
in the snow
Beastly Verse: This one is new to us this year but boy did it get our attention with the combination of classic poems (Lewis Carroll's 'The Crocodile' and William Blake's 'The Tyger' just to name a few) and bright bold illustrations by JooHee Yoon. So far we've just been checking it out from the library but it's been such a hit here, I have a feeling it'll end up as someone's birthday book gift soon. And the clever British poetry has won us over: 'in what furnace is thy brain?' is now a well-repeated zinger around these parts.
enormous smallness: This isn't so much a collection of poems as it is a biography about poet e.e. cummings but it includes several of his at the end so I wanted to include it here. It was fun to explain to my kids that it wasn't that long ago that someone decided to break the poetry mold and try something innovative (all lowercase, lots of punctuation, etc). It's a creative and inspiring read!
The Blacker the Berry: This one is a collection by Joyce Carol Thomas and Floyd Cooper (both Coretta Scott King honorees) about all the shades and hues of the color black. The poems are short enough to hold kids attentions and the illustrations are done in whimsical soft palettes. And while some kids may be too young to comprehend the double entendre of many of the stanzas, I feel like this is a great one to have in a home library as they can easily grow into it. Lots of wonderful themes about self-love, diversity, and acceptance. One of my favorite lines from the book: "colors, without black, couldn't sparkle quite so bright".
A Child's Garden of Verses: Take the liveliness of Robert Louis Stevenson's poems and combine them with the loveliness of Tasha Tudor's illustrations and you can get a fabulous treasury that you'll read over and over again. This one is oft reached for on our Poetry-Slam Wednesdays when they'd rather recite than write.
A Song About Myself: John Keats' poem comes to new life in this picture book that is wonderfully illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka.
Thunder Underground: We love this fabulous collection of poems about life underground (caves, subways, animal burrows, tunnels, etc). It's a unique mix of physical science & poetry and definitely speaks my boys love language! Poems by the formidable Jane Yolen, colorfully illustrated by Josée Masse.
Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmer's Market: Our little small town's farmer's market is right next to our library so some of our favorite weekend mornings spring through fall involve biking or walking downtown, picking up eggs, greens & berries and swinging by the library. This one channels your inner foodie and celebrates all things fresh with poems such as "Is it Ripe" to "Sally's Sweet Corn" and gets everyone in the family looking forward to the next market day.
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton: Another one that is a bit more of a biography but I felt like needed to be included was the story of George Moses Horton, known as the 'slave poet'. His life story is incredible and he's the first Southern African-American man to be published. I'd read it with kids 7 and older; the content is mature but the text is delivered in a gentle manner for kids to understand and I love the yellow, green and blue 'hopeful' hues. Written and illustrated by Don Tate.
Miguel's Brave Knight: In this one, author Margarita Engle channels what a young Miguel de Cervantes must have felt like growing up with a gambling father that put the family into debt several times. All this family drama would lead to many daydreams of knights on steeds that would right everything that was wrong with the world. We've read an abridged version of 'Don Quixote' so my children (at least, the boys) are familiar with the basic storyline and were inspired to see how Cervantes dreamed up a story that would essentially become the first modern novel.
I'm Just No Good at Rhyming (And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups): This one is hilarious! We just discovered it recently but my boys tore through it. Written by Chris Harris, it's full of word play and zany humor and in the right spirit, you'll enjoy it just as much as your kids do! Lane Smith's illustrations here add the perfect touch. This is a must-have for your playful poetry nights.
Poetry for Kids Series (individual titles below): OH.MY.GOODNESS. This series of books is just wonderful. The series began in 2016 with the majority of the titles published in 2017 and most recently, Shakespeare in 2018. Each book provides a brief bio about the author, lovingly illustrated poems, definition of key words (to help the younger set) and depending on the book, commentary for each poem (for example, in the Whitman book, NYU Professor Karen Karbenier, PhD, explains Whitman's poetry). I gifted my 4 year old the Emily Dickinson one for her recent birthday and while I know she is still too little to fully appreciate it, Dickinson's poems are accessible to a wide age range and the watercolor illustrators are lovely and keep her engaged while I read. I will probably gift my boys the Frost and Whitman ones for Christmas. You know a series is good when it's hard to choose but trust me, these make a fabulous addition to any home library, kids OR adults.
Ah, spring. There you are. It's been a long time coming in Michigan this year but it never fails to amaze me to see the new life, the growth that has occurred even when the ground appeared void of life. And you can see that even the trees here aren't yet filled out as we are still in early spring. The spring doesn't come in a blaze of glory as it did in GA where I grew up or in NC where we lived for five years. Instead it's a slow burn...signs of life appear once I slow down enough to open my eyes to them. Tiny buds on branches, the tips of crocuses peeking through the ground, all a reminder that the seeds have been busily working in the soil, receiving nourishment invisible to the human eye. And if I think about it, the winter personally for me was life-giving in its own unique way...the quietness of deep winter after the holidays gave our family space to breathe before the busyness of spring sports and activities, the warmth of the fireplace brought daily gratitude for the hearth, hosting a myriad of family and friends over the past few bitterly cold months brought a sense of coziness and joy into the home. The intensity of winter brought focus to my work, visions were seeded to several projects that I needed to start before spring began. January brought us a new babysitter who at one point was a stranger, but through daily life and hospitality and many games of Ticket to Ride later, is now considered part of the family, attending my son's second grade play tonight on her own volition. So much growth in such a short time; winter is indeed magical. And now we herald a time of new beginnings. In a college town, spring is synonymous with farewells and fresh starts: nests are built, and the hatchlings are pushed out. I witness my kids rushing to put on sandals, shoes, and shirts they haven't worn since the fall that now feel too snug, too tight. Again, growth, some lessons painful, others fruitful. But all in all, now a chance to turn our faces to the sun and bloom.
Spring is hard-won here...we woke up to this winter wonderland this morning after having temps in the 50s/60s earlier this week. Snow in March used to throw me into an emotional tailspin when we first moved to Michigan and while it’s still not my weather de jour, I know it’s not permanent. Lately, it's serving as a reminder that spring doesn't come overnight....that true change takes time...you can almost sense the earth moving these days..birdsong in the trees, the sound of river-ice crackling and thawing, the delight of bearing witness to those first green shoots coming out...only to be buried again by a few inches of snow. A reminder that we are not in control...some days that looks like digging out the Hunter boots again, other days it's a treat to slide our feet into flats! Either way it's preparing my heart for Easter....for the hope and rest that comes with new life. And there is something about spring snow to me...I used to bemoan it and now I sense that it's perhaps the last snowfall of the season so the maximizer in me wants to treasure it...one more evening of night sledding with the kids, one more taste of snow ice cream with a drizzle of maple syrup, one more cozy snow day by the fire with a stack of books...seasonal living does come at a cost but it comes with some glad surprises too...
I heard birds singing as I took this picture-so different than just a month ago when there was only silence. So the earth waits, we wait. Lenten life reminds us that there is hope after the darkness; that new life will reveal itself when we thought all was lost. There are things I’m waiting for, for myself and others, and it’s easy to get antsy and skip over this part. To get right to the happy endings and warm days and fruit so ripe it hangs off the vine. But we can’t get there until we live through these late winter and early spring days, knowing that roots are being nourished under that snow and growth is taking place even when we can’t see it. Here’s to the waiting.