A Day No Pigs Would Die

A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck is the story of a Shaker boy's coming of age. Part fiction, part memoir, the book centers on Robert, his pet pig, and Robert's father, a butcher. Robert is wise and tender-hearted and this book tells of both the joys and the sorrows that he passes through as he grows into a man.

Final word: A+. I loved this book. Loved it. I loved young Robert's astute observations on life, and I loved his father's wisdom in teaching him hard things about life. In many ways, Robert's father reminds me of my own: a wise, quiet man who does what he needs to do. One caution: even though I borrowed this from my mother's elementary school library, I wouldn't recommend this for elementary-aged children. Some parts, such as the in-depth description of breeding pigs, are just too intense for a really young audience.

Crispin, parts 1 & 2

The first two books of the Crispin trilogy (Crispin: The Cross of Lead and Crispin: At the Edge of the World) by Avi follow a 13th-century boy through his quest for freedom. Crispin begins as a no-name boy whose mother has just died and is being pursued for a crime he didn't commit. As he makes his escape and attempts at freedom, he meets Bear, a jester who becomes his master and, eventually, his friend and the father-figure Crispin has always dreamed of. In Crispin: At the Edge of the World, Bear and Crispin continue traveling, seeking freedom, and make new friends--and enemies--along the way. As they journey together through the land, Crispin discovers more of who he truly is and what freedom and love really mean..

Final word: B+. I had a really hard time feeling like I connected with this novel while I was reading it. In retrospect, I like it more now. :) I really enjoyed the historical aspects of the novel, especially as seen through Crispin's naive and idealistic young eyes. I loved the development of the secondary characters and their relationships, and I enjoyed watching Crispin's definition of freedom morph through his experiences. I'll definitely read the third and final novel when it comes out later this year, but I won't be standing in line for it.

The Reading Machine continues...

Three more books I've read recently! (I've hit a bit of a roadblock reading some grown-up books...)

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Hollis Woods is a twelve-year old artist who has been in and out of so many foster homes she can't remember them all. She is "a mountain of trouble" and she runs away from every foster home, even the family who loves her. Finally Hollis is sent to live with Josie, an elderly and very forgetful artist whom Hollis loves. Rather than let Social Services separate them, Hollis escapes the system yet again, with Josie in tow.

Final word: B+. This is one of my husband's favorite books, so I expected to love it, but I just couldn't quite connect like I'd hoped. Hollis is a very strong and independent girl, and I just want to hug her and slap her at the same time. :) I adored Josie, and I loved viewing Hollis' world through her pictures.

Kneeknock Rise by Natalie Babbit 

Young Egan visits his aunt and uncle in Instep, the town at the base of a hill mountain called Kneeknock Rise, which is home to the legendary Megrimum. On stormy nights, everyone in the town can hear the moans and cries of the monster. No one has ever dared to find the Megrimum, but Egan is curious....

Final word: A-. I read this book when I was younger, and I didn't like it. When I read it again, I really liked it! It's a quick read that has some great insights into human nature -- what we believe and what we want to believe.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Sam Gribley is sick of living in a crowded New York apartment, so he heads for the Gribley property in the Catskills where he plans to make his way with his wilderness knowledge and his supplies: a penknife, a ball of cord, an ax, $40, and some flint and steel.

Final word: A. I have read this book half a dozen times and I still love it. I love thinking of times when it was (more probably) possible to run away from it all. I love Sam's resourcefulness and his observations about nature, about himself, and about people.

Non-fiction-esque novels

As I've recently reflected on my likes and dislikes in books, I've decided that I really like historical fiction. I enjoy history, but just reading history books gets too dull for me, as I can't remember all the dates and names and facts correctly. (Most days I'm lucky if I can remember today's date and my name. :)) These three books are based on history and, in some way, true stories. 

Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem

 Lucy Hoffman is thirteen and determined to find some real adventure, outside of the books she reads, as the daughter of the American ambassador to Ethiopia. She finds it when she is kidnapped after sneaking out of the embassy compound. On her own in the Ethiopian wild, she must use everything she knows about African wildlife to escape and return to freedom. (Inspired by a true story)

Final word: B+. I enjoyed reading and experiencing life through Lucy's eyes. I'm not nearly so adventurous and brave as she is, so that's why I love reading books about people like her. :) I admired her quick-thinking and determination, as well as her ready application of knowledge.

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

Tree-ear is an orphan who lives under a bridge with his friend, Craneman, in Ch'ulp'o, a potter's village in Korea. He watches the potter Min toss pots on his wheel and dreams of becoming a potter. One day, he is given the chance to become an apprentice to Min, where he learns both the rewards and the hazards of being a potter.

Final word: A-. Park (re)created 12th century Korea, and the characters live and breathe. I loved the story and how the characters are each unique and have their own stories. I particularly enjoyed Tree-ear's determination to do what is right and to make the best of his circumstances.

Crooked River by Shelley Pearsall

Crooked River is the story of Rebecca, a young girl living on the frontier in 1812, and Indian John, an Indian who is accused of murdering a trapper. Indian John is held in the loft of Rebecca's family's cabin until his trial in the spring, and their close proximity brings some understanding between them. As the story unfolds in the voices of both Rebecca and Amik (Indian John's real name), the true story becomes one of prejudice, justice, and courage.

Final word: A. I loved this book. Rebecca's innocent goodness shines through as she struggles with what she has been taught and what she experiences and feels for herself.

School stories...

I come from a family of teachers, I married a teacher, and for many years I dreamed of being a teacher. I love schools and stories about schools and teachers and student-teacher interactions. I guess you could say I love the theory of teaching just so long as I myself don't have to practice it. :)

Report to the Principal's Office by Jerry Spinelli

Four kids' paths cross on the first day of school at Plumstead Middle School. Sunny Wyler is determined to get herself kicked out of school. Eddie Mott is scared to move on to middle school, but he has a three-point plan for fitting in. Pickles Johnson is a legend. And Salem Brownmiller is a future famous writer who takes careful note of the drama.

Final word: B. I enjoyed the different characters, and I think that most kids could connect with at least one of them, if not some part of all of them. It's the beginning of Spinelli's School Daze series, so there are other novels that follow these same characters, too, all of whom are entertaining.

The Teacher's Funeral by Richard Peck

My mom, an elementary school librarian, recommended this book as one of her favorites.

Fifteen-year-old Russell Culver's teacher dies in August, just before school is set to start again. His dream of quitting school and travelling to the Dakotas to work looks like it is going to come true--until the school board hires another teacher. Even worse, the new teacher is Russell's sister, who is determined to keep Russell and all the other students in school.

Final word: A-. Peck creates one-of-a-kind characters who fit just perfectly in Hominy Ridge, Indiana. The book is a great combination of events that are funny and thought-provoking,

The Secret School by Avi

I saved my favorite for last. :)

Ida Bidson is on her way to her dream of becoming a teacher, until the one-room school in her Colorado valley is shut down. Determined to pass the eighth grade and continue on to high school, Ida decides to become the teacher, keeping the school open secretly.

Final word: A. I loved this book. Ida is strong but yet real in her insecurities. The different characters are so fun to read about, and I loved seeing the relationship between Ida and Tom, the other eighth grader. The only thing that keeps this from an A+ is that I was a little disappointed with {spoiler alert!} how the sweet young romance between Ida and Tom doesn't get it's full justice at the end.

Books, books, BOOKS

This is the stack of books waiting for me to tell you about them. I thought I'd just do a couple every day, to allow each of book it's rightful moment to shine. But then I realized that doing that will be like paying minimum payments on a credit card: I'll just have more and more to pay later and never really get ahead. So, instead, I'll be giving you shortened reviews and grouping books together. This first group is three from Andrew Clements. (I also reviewed The Janitor's Boy earlier.)

The Landry News

Cara Landry is the new girl at school. Mr. Larson reads his newspaper instead of teaching. So, Cara creates her own newspaper, The Landry News, to give him something else to read. She gets the whole class involved--and into trouble!

Final word: B-. A great read for kids and a good chance to talk about the press and journalism ethics. If you're new to Clements' books, I'd read Frindle (my all-time fave!) or A School Story (review below) first.

The Last Holiday Concert

Hart Evans is the most popular kid in sixth grade. Mr. Meinert is a young chorus teacher who just found out that he's out of a job come January due to budget cuts. So when Hart zings a rubber band at Mr. Meinert, the show is over. But really it's just beginning--Mr. Meinert turns over production of the holiday concert to the class and Winterhope is born.

Final word: B. The characters are all very likeable and real, especially in these days of budget cuts. Like most of Clements' books, it's a bit too idealistic to believe that it would really happen in a classroom, but it's a fun read nonetheless. I would have like a bit more resolution at the end, though. 

The School Story

Natalie has written a great book that her best friend, Zoe, is sure should be published. The only problem: they're just 12 years old. Natalie doesn't want to ask her editor-mom for any favors, so Zoe comes up with a plan: Natalie will submit her manuscript under a pen name and Zoe will act as her agent. The quest for publication begins...

Final word: A-. One of my favorite Clements novels. It's a stretch to believe that two 12-year-old girls could do all of this, but it's rooted enough in reality that it's just believable enough to make it entertaining. The plot is fresher than many of his school-based novels, and I'd definitely recommend it.

A parting note about Andrew Clements' novels: I have read at least 10 of Clements' novels, and I have enjoyed all of them. The kids in his books are believable as kids, but not so childish that grown-ups can't learn something from them as well, since they all have bigger life lessons involved. Some of the plot lines become a bit stale, however, after reading a few of them. My top 3 Clements:
  1. Frindle -- how language develops and evolves
  2. No Talking -- a fun read about the value of the spoken word and thinking before you speak
  3. The School Story -- reviewed above :)

Why we love Chex (part 2)

This treat is really common around the holidays, so I thought I'd make it for a simple treat to take to the neighbors. Well, with all the Christmas fun and chaos, that didn't happen, so I just made this earlier this week....

I based my recipe off this one from Bakerella and then, like I do with *everything* tweaked it to what I had and what I wanted. :) My husband loved it so much that he has "commanded" that I make it again soon.

White Chocolate Chex
1/4 box Corn Chex
1/4 box Rice Chex
1/4 box Corn Pops
3 cups pretzels
1 bag M&Ms (king-size bag)
1/2 bag (12 oz) blanched peanuts
3/4 pkg (24 oz) white almond bark

Mix cereals and pretzels in a large bowl. Dump M&Ms and peanuts on top without stirring--they tend to sink to the bottom and this keeps them front-and-center and ensures that they get a nice coating and become evenly distributed throughout the mix.

Break the almond bark into the pre-portioned squares and melt it according to the directions on the package. (I melted mine in the microwave. First time EVER melting chocolate-y substances in the microwave that I haven't burned it!) Quickly pour the melted almond bark over the cereal mixture and stir until it's all evenly coated. Spread on wax paper to cool and then devour at will. :)

If you're making this around Christmas, it's also really yummy with a small amount of super-finely crushed candy cane sprinkled over it.

Note: My husband has a HUGE sweet tooth, so he has requested commanded (his words, not mine!) that next time I make it (also by command) I use more almond bark so it's a thicker coating and more M&Ms.

Why we love Chex (part 1)

Chex is a staple at our house, and, thanks to my developing couponing skills, we can even buy the real Chex (although the generic version are almost as good, in my view). We love Chex in almost every version (at least in one way or another). We eat it plain. We eat it with milk for breakfast (or lunch or dinner). We mix it up in trail mixes (since Chex Mix is rarely a good deal...). And, lastly and favoritely, we cover it with sugar and other delectables to make delicious treats, like Muddy Buddies. Since you can get the recipe for Muddy Buddies on the box (or here on my favorite recipes site, just in case you're using Corn Squares instead of Chex :), I'll share with you two different, yummy, and easy Chex treats.

Grandma Ruth's Chex Snack
I call this recipe that for lack of anything better to call it! My Grandma (Ruth) used to make this all the time, and it's delicious. Beware -- it makes a huge amount and it's very easy to nibble at, which can ruin many good New Year's resolutions. :)

1/2 box Golden Grahams
1/2 box Corn Chex
1/2 box Rice Chex (or 1 whole box either type of Chex)
1 cup coconut
1 cup almonds or peanuts

Mix in a large bowl and set aside. Be sure the bowl is large enough for you to stir the syrup on to the mixture quickly without making a mess, so that you can easily stir it all together before it solidifies.

In a saucepan, combine
2 cups sugar
2 cups corn syrup
1 1/4 cups margarine

Bring to a boil and boil hard for 2 minutes (to a point somewhere between soft ball and hard ball stage, I'd guess). Pour over cereal (be careful and don't let the syrup burn you!) and stir, stir, stir until the mixture is evenly coated. Spread on wax paper or cookie sheet and let cool. Store in air-tight container, unless you prefer it to be more crunchy than soft -- then you can leave it out and let it harden up some more.

The Alliance

The Alliance by Gerald N. Lund

I am probably the only LDS woman in Utah who has never read a book by Gerald N. Lund. Seriously. The Work and the Glory never really appealed to me (gasp!). When my MIL suggested this book, I was skeptical. She even loaned me the book (a compilation of 3 of his novels), but still I resisted. It sat on my shelf for a month while I read every other book I could get my hands on during Christmas break. But finally, one night, I pulled it off the shelf and started reading. Mark and I have started reading for 15 minutes or so before we go to bed, so I guessed I'd make it through the first couple of chapters and then go to bed.

I stayed up all night reading.

I read and read, telling myself I'd read just one more chapter, but at the end of that chapter, I had to read one more, and then one more. Around midnight (after about 3 hours of reading), Mark grumbled at me loud enough to make me put down the book and go to bed. But I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned and dozed but no real sleep. When the baby fussed at around one, I got up with him (even though he probably would have gone back to sleep on his own anyway...) and then stayed up, sitting on my bathroom floor, to finish the book. I read even faster than normal and finished it by 5 AM.

So, that tells you something about this book (and something about me). I can't say exactly why I couldn't put this book down, but, even if you do find that you *can* take a break from reading the book, it's still a good book. :)

The Alliance is a futuristic, sci-fi, adventure type novel. It takes place in the US after a (presumed) nuclear war has destroyed nearly everything and everyone. Eric Lloyd lives in a village that has survived the fallout. They live simply, like early settlers, riding horses, farming, weaving their own fabric, etc, in a self-sustaining valley. One day, visitors come and take Eric and his fellow villagers to join a more modern utopian society, where there is no crime, no war, no hunger -- none of society's ills -- thanks to surgically implanted devices that keep everyone in line and happy with life. However, Eric refuses to stay in line, and the adventure begins.

Final word: A-. I loved it, but I can't say exactly why, and I'm sure I wouldn't be nearly as captivated reading it again in a few years, as I am with all of my truly favorite books. If you're into utopian scenarios (as I am), this is definitely worth a read. The plot is original and fresh (which can sometimes be a challenge for utopian society books), and both just predictable enough and taking unpredictable turns to keep you reading.


Inkheart is a phenomenal story. Unfortunately, it stars Brendan Fraser and has a jumpy plot and shaky cinematography.

I think Brendan Fraser is a talented actor, but his talents lie mostly in being a grunting oaf (George of the Jungle) or a troglodyte (Encino Man). That's not a dis on Fraser -- I happen to have enjoyed each of those movies in its own right. :) As Inkheart's leading character, Mo Folchart, his talents fall short.

Mo Folchart is a silvertongue: when he reads aloud, the book comes to life. Part of the book. Characters, treasures, events. Mo can't control which part of the book, and when something comes out of the book, something from life goes in to the book.

When his daughter, Meggie (played by Eliza Bennett), is young, he reads aloud from the book Inkheart, not fully comprehending his silvertongue powers. As he reads, characters from the book, including the villain Capricorn, come out and his wife, Resa, goes in. The story of Inkheart (the movie) picks up 10 or so years later, with Mo spending all of his time searching for another copy of Inkheart (the book) with his daughter Meggie, who doesn't remember what happened to her mother.

In his search for the book, Mo finds another character that he has read out of the book, Dustfinger, a fire-eater who only wants Mo to put him back in the book where his family is. Dustfinger, Mo, and Meggie become part of a great adventure to find Resa, return Dustfinger, and defeat Capricorn, who is bent on bringing as much evil as possible into this new modern world that he is enjoying so much.

Like I said earlier, I love the story and all that it could be. The movie adaptation is, I think, lacking the finer detail that must be found in the book. The plot jumps and seems inconsistent at times, as if details found in the novel were left out for time's sake. And, as I mentioned, the cinematography is shaky--literally. There are too many strobe light-esque scenes for me, and often the cinematography detracts from what is actually going on in the movie. Seeing this movie made me resolve to read to book to experience the story as Cornelia Funke, the novel's author, intended.

Final word: C. I'd recommend reading the book over renting the movie, even though I've yet to actually read the book. If you must rent it, diminish your losses by redboxing it for $1.

Smiles to Go

Jerry Spinelli and I have an interesting reader-author relationship. I read Maniac Magee at least one a year from 3rd through about 7th grade. I love Maniac Magee. (It's another one that if you haven't read, you should.) I love it so much that I mistakenly assigned this love to Mr. Spinelli and not the the novel itself. Then I read Stargirl and Love, Stargirl, both of which I didn't love (even though I know many people who did). And then I read Eggs, which I also didn't love. (On a side note, while writing this post I encountered Spinelli's website, which I also do not love...)

My lack of love is not a result of these books being poorly written or poorly thought-out in any way. I've just come to realize that I like novels that tell about events. Novels that follow the traditional 5-element novel pattern: introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Spinelli's stories don't follow that. Instead, (most of) his novels follow one person and the change in that person over a period of time. No major climactic point, just steadily building a character in a commentary on the human condition.

Understanding this made it much easier for me to like (but still not love) Spinelli's novels. Smiles to Go is about Will Tuppence, a kid with a plan. His 12-step master plan begins with Birth, ends with Death, and lays out his life in a neat and tidy manner. However, Will's plan changes, beginning with his discovery of the death of a proton, and he has to rethink his plan to fit his life, complete with an annoying younger sister and a friend who Will would like to be more than a friend.

Will and I jived better than most of the characters in the Spinelli novels I have read. I, too, am a planner, and I really hate when my plan has to change or when my plan doesn't execute correctly. For that reason, I liked this book. I didn't love the annoying little sister part (probably because I always was the annoying little sister), and some of the characters were too removed from reality for my tastes, but I liked it.

Final word: B+. Like, not love, but worth a read if you have an afternoon. I found the novel entertaining and it would be fun to read and discuss with kids, too.

The Janitor's Boy

The Janitor's Boy is by Andrew Clements, one of my favorite writers. The "janitor's boy" is Jack Rankin, and his dad is the janitor at his school. Jack is embarrassed and angry with his dad, so he carries out what he thinks is the perfect crime: total defacement of a desk with a massive wad of bubblegum. But, Jack gets caught and is sentenced to the perfect punishment: three weeks after school with his dad, scraping gum off of desks. During that time, Jack learns about himself and begins to understand his father better.

Andrew Clements is one of my favorite writers, and his best-seller Frindle is one of my favorite books (if you haven't read it, you should). I love Clements' books because he captures kids' feelings and frustrations so well without making them seem, well, childish. I enjoyed The Janitor's Boy, but I was disappointed at the ending. It was too quick (all of Clements' books end more quickly than most novels) and left me wishing for more. And not wishing for more in terms of a sequel, just wishing for one more chapter so that I could feel like the story was resolved and had come to completely understand the characters.

Final word: B. Enjoyable, and fun to read, especially if you have children to read it with. Not as fully developed, especially at the conclusion, as I would have liked. If you're considering reading a Clements book, I'd recommend picking up Frindle or A School Story before this.

The Lemonade War

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies is about Evan and Jessie Treski, a brother and sister who start a competition that turns into a war -- a lemonade war. Whoever can sell the most lemonade in the 5 days left before schools starts wins, and winner takes all the money made at both lemonade stands.

I loved this book. Love love LOVED it. Let me tell you 3 reasons why:
  1. An honest brother-sister relationship. Evan and Jessie don't always get along (obviously), but they don't hate each other every breathing moment. I'm so tired of reading the books where the siblings hate each other and only come to see how much they honestly care about each other at the end of the book for a happy ending.  I love how Davies portrays their relationship, how Evan really does love his sister but what she's done just makes him so mad that he just has to say those mean words, those words that feel like bugs crawling around in his mouth and he just has to say them even though he knows it's going to hurt Jessie's feelings. 
  2. A two-point perspective on (mis)communication. Telling the story from both Evan's and Jessie's perspective illustrates so well how one person's actions or words can be so easily misconstrued by the other person, especially when feelings are already hurt and tempers riled.
  3. Simple business explanations for kids (and adults!). Each chapter is based on a business principle--such as partnership, underselling, negotiation--- and how they apply in business, even as simple as a lemonade stand. They're easy to understand and 100% applicable to kids. Evan is good with people and Jessie is good with math, so the different strategies they use fit those strengths.
Those are my top three reasons, but there are so many more reasons to love this book: the true-to-life characters that you'll adore, the opportunities to teach (and to learn), the explanations of different problem-solving techniques, the sweet dynamics of the Treski family.

Final word: A+. You should read this book. It's a quick read (173 large-print pages) that is both entertaining and thought-provoking--my teacher-husband and I have had many discussions about topics in the book and how it could be used to teach both in the home and in the classroom. If you have children, read and discuss it with them, too. (For both parents and teachers, check out the website for teaching ideas.)

My Life in Ruins ruined my evening...

Author's note: Before reading this post, you should know two things about me:
  1. It really bothers me to stop watching a movie in the middle, even if it's a terrible movie.
  2. I always give the synopsis on the back of the movie case the benefit of the doubt.
The combination of these two things means that I pick up more terrible movies than the average person and I watch them from beginning to end. Now that you understand these two things, you may now continue reading.

My Life in Ruins is a romantic comedy starring Nia Vardalos and Richard Dreyfuss (not starring opposite each other, thankfully). It runs 95 minutes, which is exactly how much of your life you will waste if you, like I, decide to use your free redbox rental on this random movie that you've never heard of.
From Nia Vardalos, writer and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, comes the uplifting comedy My Life in Ruins. Georgia (Nia Vardalos) has lost her kefi (Greek for “mojo”). Discouraged by her lack of direction in life, she works as a travel guide, leading a rag-tag group of tourists as she tries to show them the beauty of her native Greece while waiting to land her dream job. Opening their eyes to an exotic foreign land, she too begins to see things in new ways—finding her kefi and possibly love in the process. --© Fox Searchlight
In short, this movie stank. And I have a very high tolerance for crummy movies, especially dumb chick flicks. Even for me, this movie was too much. I can't even find the words to describe how each vital part of it was so bad. The plot, the character development, the romance -- it's all stale and ultimately charmless. The only redeeming aspect of this movie was the beautiful scenery, which, unfortunately, often appears to be green-screened in. [It's not actually -- this was the first movie in over 50 years that the Greek government gave permission to film at the Acropolis because "they thought that it would help to promote Greek culture" (from IMDB, however reliable you deem that) Talk about FAIL.]

Final word: D-. (I don't give Fs.) Don't waste even your free redbox rental.

The basics

  • Wife to an elementary school teacher
  • Stay-at-home Mom to one beautiful boy
  • BA Degree in technical writing
The good stuff:
  • I have never broken a bone. Probably because I spend way more of my time planted in front of a computer than I do in the real world.
  • I hate the word binky. I can't explain why, but I hate saying it. (I don't mind if other people do.) My husband hates the word potty, so I guess our child will be a pacifier-using kid who goes to the restroom (but hopefully not at the same time).
  • I have terrible, terrible posture. Someday, I will be a hunchbacked old lady.
  • Even though I am the child of an English teacher and (according to my diploma) an English major, I have never read most of the literature "classics." A large portion of my knowledge of literature comes from that lovable hound Wishbone.
  • I hate folding cold laundry.  Most of our clothes end up quite staticky from being dried again and again (until I finally remember to pull them out in time) because I refuse to fold clothes that are cold. If I have to fold laundry, I'm going to get my fingers warm while I'm doing it.
  • I have an inexplicable inability to follow directions. It's not just that I can't follow directions (that is mostly just when I'm operating a vehicle), it's that I won't. I (most) always have to change something to fit how I want it to be, whether it's changing a recipe to work with what I have on-hand in the kitchen, altering a sewing pattern to make it longer/shorter, or taking a basic [simple] idea and twisting it to meet my own wicked [complicated] ends. 
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