Book Review: Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids

Goodreads Summary:

A collection of intersecting stories set at a powwow that bursts with hope, joy, resilience, the strength of community, and Native pride.

In a high school gym full of color and song, Native families from Nations within the borders of the U.S. and Canada dance, sell beadwork and books, and celebrate friendship and heritage. They are the heroes of their own stories.

Featured contributors: Joseph Bruchac, Art Coulson, Christine Day, Eric Gansworth, Dawn Quigley, Carole Lindstrom, Rebecca Roanhorse, David A. Robertson, Andrea L. Rogers, Kim Rogers, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Monique Gray Smith, Traci Sorell, Tim Tingle, Erika T. Wurth, and Brian Young.

My Thoughts:

I 100% loved this book. So many different stories, different traditions and view points that all come together in this one gymnasium in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the intertribal powwow, Dance for Mother Earth. Every story was connected in some way, and it was fun to pick up on those intersections. This book offers so much traditional and cultural information from so many different tribes and walks of life, where one can learn about food and dress and stories; about prejudices and trauma, connection and family. I also enjoyed the glossary at the end.

Although I enjoyed every story, I did have a few favorites. In Fancy Dancer by Monique Gray Smith, Rory finds connection to family, old and new, through dance, while dealing with the trauma of an abusive father, who is no longer in his life physically but still is very present in Rory’s mind. Bad Dog by Joseph Bruchach was also a favorite of mine, as was What We Know About Glaciers by Christine Day. But my very favorite was Indian Price by Eric Gansworth. I thought that story just had so many layers to unwrap and examine and learn from.

One reason I wanted to read this book is because I have actually attended this powwow, as a college student way back when. Billy and I went for one one of my classes, we tried Fry Bread, sat in the stands as the dancers made their way in to the sound of the drumbeats, felt the excitement that was charging the air around us. At the time, I admit, I had no real idea of what I was actually witnessing and participating in by attending. So much went over my head, and now, as an adult who has read more and experienced more, I can look back and see what I didn’t see then. I am hoping to take Wyatt to this powwow in a year or two, as it is open door to anyone who wants to go. To quote Fancy Dancer, “Native people travel from all over to go to powwows, but non-Natives are welcome too. That’s part of the beauty of the powwow, the sharing of cultures.” I look forward to the next time we go, this time taking with us more knowledge.

This book is a wonderful collection of stories for middle grades, and I highly recommend it for any classroom or home library!

Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins Children’s Books for the chance to read and review this book!

What Wyatt’s Reading – Halloween Edition

It’s been too long since I have written a post about the books Wyatt and I have been reading, that are not school related! I always have piles of books checked out from the library, and when I go in to pick up just one or two instead of twenty the librarians are always in disbelief. That only happens though when I have just been in and picked up a big ol’ stack.

We have been reading so many Halloween picture books this month that are amazing. All of them. The illustrations, the story, are all just wonderful. I am adding a few to my have to purchase list, which I try to keep tight but when it comes to Wyatt I sort of go crazy. This kid really loves books, just like his mom.

Wyatt has decided he really likes ghosts these days – the cute ones that is of course. These were all super fantastic awesome. How to Make Friends with a Ghost was written like a guide book, and Wyatt and I enjoyed the “Ghost Anatomy” page as Wyatt is very familiar with that from our nature studies and animals. Just never for a ghost!

The Little Ghost Who was a Quilt – well, this one tugged at my mama heartstrings a little. This little ghost is a quilt, not made from sheets like everyone else he knows. Which makes him slower and not really able to keep up with his friends and family who zoom around everywhere. The end is happy though and shows how being different is ok, which I absolutely loved as a message.

Gustavo the Shy Ghost is another one we both loved. We read this actually the same day that we watched Coco, and they went really well together. Gustavo loves to play the violin, and is so shy it is hard for him to make friends. The illustrations are gorgeous and the ending made us both smile.

Mr. Pumpkin’s Tea Party is adorable and suitable for younger kids as well – it is a counting book with not so scary illustrations. Plus, a tea party!

Alfred’s Book of Monsters was a fun one, and also involves a tea party! I loved the Victorian feel to this book, and the illustrations were amazing. However, I did like this one more than Wyatt. I think maybe because when I was a kid, my cousin and I used to write and illustrate our own monster books. I did the writing, and he did the drawings. So the idea of a Book of Monsters was sort of nostalgic to me. We watched a lot of Scooby Doo…

Hardly Haunted is another book about embracing who you are, even if you are a house that is haunted. Don’t try to change for anyone, people will like you for who you are, is such a great message, and I love that it is wrapped up in this cute little haunted house story.

The Little Kitten had Wyatt saying oh no mom! He was feeling a little anxiety about the cats in the book, but no worries, all is well that ends well. This was a sweet little story – be sure to look at the last illustration, through the window.

Of all the books that we read though, this was hands down Wyatt’s favorite. Because underwear are hilarious. Especially glowing ones. I should have known that he would love this one the best, as Creepy Carrots is another favorite of his. Creepy Pair of Underwear is one we are definitely adding to our home collection!

What Halloween picture books have you enjoyed?

A Few Short Book Reviews

My reading has taken a turn lately … into the supernatural and spooky and weird. I always try to read and watch creepy type things this time of year, and so far I am succeeding.

Let’s start with… Small Favors by Erin A. Craig

Out of the three I am reviewing, this one is my favorite! I love the worlds that Craig creates, I find them so unique and unusual, slightly darkly whimsical with imaginative plots and interesting characters. In Small Favors, the book starts off gently, with the working of beehives by a father and daughter..then slowly, slowly things start to go off the rails, building to a crescendo of an ending. Ellerie is a great mix of strength of vulnerability, even if the vulnerability is hidden. And, I loved the character Whitaker so much that I named one of my released butterflies after him. I highly recommend this read if fantasy/horror is your jam.

Next up.. The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

This one was my least favorite, however, that doesn’t mean I disliked it. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I feel like it was a bit rushed and I would have liked to hear more about these characters, especially Nella, and about the mystery in the past of the “apothecary murders”. I felt the ending was a bit hurried, but overall I did like this book. When I checked this out from the library, there was a note from another patron who had read it that said “Good book. Fast read”. And I would have to agree. (although, this cover is my favorite. It is gorgeous right?)

And finally, the mind bending book that was Bunny by Mona Awad.

This book was crazy insane; my mind felt broken after reading it. I felt like I had lived through some sort of nightmare. It made me uncomfy. The writing was brilliant, and made me think of creepy bars with concrete floors and bad lighting, unfamiliar feeling and intimidating. I absolutely loved it, although I don’t feel like I can definitively explain what it was about. I was trying to tell my husband about it last night but instead sounded like I was telling him about some sort of drug fueled fever dream. It is lonely and busted and reminded me of Alice in Wonderland but told by Chuck Palahniuk. It might be one of the best books I have read all year, based more on the actual writing than the plot which was…confusing… It was crazy, but also crazy good.

Book Review: Happy Trail by Daisy Prescott

Goodreads Summary:

A man of few words, Ranger Jay Daniels values the calm, quiet solitude of the Great Smoky Mountains. Never quite fitting in with either side of his family, he prefers the company of birds and trees to people.

Yeah, he’d most definitely prefer a bird—any bird, any bird at all, take a vulture for instance—to the human-tornado hybrid that just blew onto his peaceful stretch of the Appalachian Trail.

The path of true love never has run smooth for Olive Perry. After getting dumped and promptly abandoned in the middle of her multi-month hike, Olive swears off men. Determined to finish the long trek by herself, she doesn’t need a prince—or broody and taciturn ranger—to save her.

Yet, when an early snowstorm threatens the mountains, and Ranger Daniels is charged with getting hikers to safety, that includes hot-tempered Olive Perry. Snowed in and forced to share an abandoned cabin, can Olive’s heated intensity melt Jay’s cool reserve?

And if so, will this happy trail lead to true love? Or will their time together be just another bump in the road?

My Thoughts:

I have been in the mood for some lighter reading these days; it’s the time of year, I think, making me crave something fun and nothing too serious. As I scrolled through Amazon looking for something that looked interesting, this one stood out to me. Hmm, bearded guy and a park ranger – sure, why not? I like nature and national parks. And bearded guys. My decision was made.

And I am glad I picked this one! I really loved it. I loved the characters and the setting, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachian Trail (the AT). And it was funny! One of the ways to my heart is humor, and this book made me smile and chuckle out loud a few times.

Jay is a bit of a loner, preferring the woods to the city, and flocks of birds to crowds of people, and loves his job as a Ranger for the National Parks. While he is Ranger, his primary role is that of a biologist, specifically studying birds. That’s not to say that is all he does – he does have to do other job duties, such as clearing the trail of hikers when there is impending bad weather. Which is what brings him to Snowbird, aka Olive. With a big storm system on the way, Jay sets off to clear the trail of hikers that could caught out in it, a dangerous position to be in. By the time he locates her, it is too late to avoid the snowstorm and the two must take refuge in an old moonshiner cabin off trail.

The interactions between these two are adorable. While Jay is a gentleman, Olive can’t seem to help putting her foot in her mouth occasionally, slipping up with the random innuendo. Olive had found herself stranded on the AT after her boyfriend dumped her and abandoned her on the trail alone. Prior to the three miles they had hiked together, the only other long walks Olive had taken were on big city streets and in heels – this was a totally new experience. And after finding herself stranded, she had two choices – quit or keep going. She chose to keep going (but for more reasons than I will tell you) and found that she actually really liked it. When Jay found her, she was reluctant to stop for the night but in a refreshing twist in a romance novel, she took professional advice, stating that if someone like him was worried about the weather, then she would be kind of stupid if she ignored that. (paraphrasing here) I hate it when characters self-sabotage and she didn’t do that, which was nice.

I pretty much devoured this book. Jay and Olive were so cute together, and both were carrying around what they felt were secrets about themselves, and carried the weight of the bias of other people, for two totally different reasons. Jay, for feeling like he never fit in with either side of his family or even in his community, for being half-Japanese and half-American, Olive for being.. well I will let you read it.

This book is part of the Penny Reid universe, something I was confused about until my friend cleared it up for me. I kept seeing this book linked to Penny Reid and I was confused since the author is Daisy Prescott. There is a whole universe that Reid has created and now other authors are writing under the umbrella of that world. I haven’t read any Penny Reid before, but I am definitely going to start – and I know where I am starting too, with the Winston Brothers series. The Winston brothers show up in Happy Trail so it will be fun to read their stories now that I have met them. Overall, I am super happy I read this book and am looking forward to exploring this world that Reid has created, and the characters that other authors are adding to it.

Book Review: Mission in Paris 1990

Publisher Summary:

The year is 1990. Vietnam and America have not yet made peace. Vietnam is freshly wounded from fighting border wars with China and on the eve of becoming a market economy. The first bombing of the World Trade Center is three years away, so America is not yet awake to the dangers of terrorism. Vietnam and America begin to recognize the importance of ending their differences. Mission in Paris 1990 is the story of how an American media tycoon, Robert Samberg, whose youth in 1968 tied him to Vietnam’s future, is recruited to serve his country, never expecting that a mission to explore political reconciliation would lead him to a path of personal reconciliation. On the eve of his greatest business triumph, he rediscovers My Hanh, a long-lost love from Vietnam, and learns they have a son. Robert’s life is upended in this tale about the enduring strength of love and the power of forgiveness. This novel, set during the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, explores reconciliation among people and nations. It also tells a powerful love story – between a man and a woman as well as between a father and a son.

My Thoughts:

When I was approached about reviewing this book, the premise intrigued me. I love all things French, I was young in the 90s. I was unsure about the Vietnam War aspects as I don’t usually read too many books that are political or military at all, but it is good to step outside your reading zones sometimes and I thought this book looked like a great opportunity to read outside my own lines.

Mission in Paris is a sequel to Hearts on Fire, Paris 1968, which I haven’t read. It wasn’t difficult to tie the threads together though while reading Mission in Paris, so that did not impact my reading of this book at all.

One thing that stood out to me was how much pain these characters were in. Robert carries a world of hurt and anger around inside of him, and it is easy to see how he became jaded, and built a wall around himself that he seemed to only let Macallan whiskey through (and his horse of the same name). The book begins with a hardened Robert celebrating a business triumph, one that is far more personal to him than just business. At this same time, he learns that he is being tapped to travel to Vietnam, on a mission to gain some sort of peace between the countries. Upon landing, he is swept up into the world of his youth, speaking at the funeral of his mentor, who is also the father of his one true love, My Hanh, and begins another journey towards a peace of a different kind.

From here the book takes the reader on many twists and turns, personal, and political. Robert’s life is tailspin, caught between the past and the present, and the emotions that lie between the two. I never knew where this book was going to take me next, and I loved being swept along with Robert and My Hanh.

This short book packs a punch, and is full of political intrigue, action, history, patriotism, lies, secrets, struggle, redemption, and love. I enjoyed it so much that I need to read the first in the series, even with already knowing what happens between Robert and My Hanh – I want the whole story!

Thank you to Red Clover Digital for the opportunity to read and review this book!

A Few Quick Book Reviews

A Solitude of Wolverines by Alice Henderson: Wow, I loved this book! It was so exciting and full of tense moments right from the get-go and I was completely pulled in. Alex Carter is a wildlife biologist who jumps on the opportunity to study the elusive wolverine- even though it means being isolated in the wilderness in a ramshackle building for the winter. Carter is more at home in the wilderness than the city though, and is excited about the prospect, especially after surviving a narrow escape from a gunman. She was ready for a change of scenery and change of pace. She arrives to find that not everyone is as excited about her being there as she is though, and a slew of mysterious and dangerous events unfold, with a twist thrown in for fun. This book kept me guessing and after I finished it I pulled up Google and immediately searched to see if there were any more in this series. Unfortunately, not yet, but I am keeping my fingers crossed!

The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler: So, another one that I loved! I was thoroughly entertained by this book, 100%! Graham and Zoe are nerdy adorable goofballs, who have great chemistry, and interesting characters. I loved that they were not always predictable, that this book was not totally formulaic and that it too, could surprise me. Graham and Zoe as well as most of the other characters, were endearing, although I did have a few raise the eyebrow moments over some of Graham’s behaviors. Mostly though, I liked him. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this series, although I will wait until winter comes back around again. Overall, super cute.

Wintering: A Season with Geese by Stephen Rutt: This book was a quiet, cozy kind of read. A celebration of winter and of well, geese. Stephen explores his homeland and these birds, in a book that makes you love geese, if you didn’t before. I enjoyed this book, but I am a total bird nerd, and I love being on a hike in the winter, the quiet whisper of snow around me, crunching slightly under my boots, being in the moment.. and then the raucous call of a flock of geese soars overhead, breaking the stillness and silence, reminding me that I am still in this world. It was a good read, but I think you might have to be interested in birds to enjoy it.

Brief Thoughts on Recent Reads

The Twenty-Ninth Day by Alex Messenger: This book completely blew me away. First Alex is seventeen years old, and in the Canadian Tundra with a group of friends, The Hommes, on a 600 mile canoe trip. Yep, 600 miles by canoe folks. And then on day 29, he is attacked by a grizzly, and survives. I have to admit, I felt like I was on this trip. We are treated as readers to the first twenty-eight days of the canoe trip – it’s ups and downs, ins and outs, the beauty and the physicality and fun that this trip was. The joy of the meals in the evening, the feeling of accomplishment – that is itself is an interesting read. (and reminds me of one of my favorite authors to read, Pam Houston) Then mix in the grizzly attack and the book becomes next level. The strength, mental and physical, that Messenger displays in this book is amazing and admirable and I would have been crying for my mom immediately, and wouldn’t shame anyone else for doing it either. I don’t want to give anything away so I won’t go into too much detail, but I was mighty impressed. And also by his friends, especially Dan, who was the leader of the group and a trained Wilderness First Responder, and had to treat Alex’s wounds in the middle of nowhere with limited supplies. Fantastic read! (Amazon Affiliate Link)

Dark Salt Clear by Lamorna Ash: Another stellar read. Ash feels herself drawn to the Cornish village and cove that she is named after and heads there to learn more about the people who earn their lives on the cold sea, fishing. I loved reading about a way of life that I knew really nothing about; I’ve sung along to sea shanties, I’ve watched The Deadliest Catch, I know every word to Billy Joel’s Downeaster Alexa, but really didn’t know what the lives of these men and women are like. And I loved learning through Ash’s eyes and experiences aboard the different ships, the different people she encountered. I was struck by one part in particular, where Ash works overnight in the fish sorting warehouse for the morning market – and the other workers talk about the monotony of the job, about how it is a way for fisherman to stay connected to their call of the sea even when they can no longer go out, how they sleep only a few hours in the day so that they don’t become shadow people. This is a beautifully written book about something that doesn’t maybe sound so interesting or beautiful on the outside. I loved it. (Amazon Affiliate Link)

My Favorite Reads of 2020

It was the year of nonfiction for me this year! For the first time ever, my list has more nonfiction than fiction. I did read some great fiction books though as well! I narrowed my list to my top seven. Let me know if you have read any and what you thought!

Let’s begin, shall we?

These were the three standout fiction books that I read this year, and my most recommended to people throughout the year.

Mexican Gothic is hands down my favorite book of the year – it was just so much everything. Plot, characters, quirk, atmosphere, twisty and scary and horrifying. And this cover is amazingly beautiful. Have any of you seen the Instagram posts where people are recreating this cover? I can understand why, it is so rich and warm and lovely.

My Sister the Serial Killer was a surprisingly amazing read for me. I thought I would enjoy it, but not necessarily love it as much as I did. I think it is such a unique take on family relationships and love, and of course, a bit of creep factor as well.

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts was such a fun fantastic read! I loved it so much. It reminded me of a Westing Game for adults.

The Call of the Wild and Free was a book that really changed our lives! If you are a regular reader here, you may have seen my posts where I talk about how it really spoke to me and about how to frame our homeschooling experience. It is not the right experience for everyone, but it is perfect for us right now.

The Creative Family Manifesto is another book that heavily influenced our lives this year. Because of this book, we were inspired to take drawing books with us on picnics and have lazy days drawing away. I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination but I am enjoying what I am creating and that is the most important thing…right? Wyatt loves drawing and painting and that is something I want to encourage, and we have art supplies always available to him for when he feels like making or creating. Most nights now he will sit quietly happily drawing away.

The Cider Revival. I just really enjoyed this book! It was a fascinating look at apple orchards and the cider industry, especially all those small cideries out there. Plus, we had a fantastic night of cider tasting after I read this book.

The Salt Path was amazing. I have never read a book like this before. I have read many memoirs of people hiking and walking long distances, but never for these reasons. I loved the journey start to finish, and I am looking forward to reading Winn’s follow up. I am a person who underlines and makes notes in their books and this passage from The Salt Path was just so powerful.

I was a part of the whole. I didn’t need to own a patch of land to make that so. I could stand in the wind and I was the wind, the rain, the sea; it was all me, and I was nothing within it.

What did you read that you loved this year?

Our Favorite Picture Books This Year

A week or two ago, Wyatt mailed a letter to Santa from the big Santa Mail Box in our city – and to be honest, I had no idea that he was going to get a letter back when we did it, but wow did it bring a smile to my boy’s face! And, we found out that Santa loves books too! We have read some fantastic books this year, and I wanted to share some of our top favorites with you.

(this post contains Amazon Affiliate Links)

Wyatt’s current favorite holiday book is the Llama Llama Holiday Drama. I read this a billion times a day, and when I am not, he is looking at it himself half the time. Thanksgiving in the Woods is a fun one that we actually won in a giveaway on Instagram this year- and while we both love it, I think it would be so fun to actually have a Thanksgiving in the Woods one year! I included Ohana Means Family, but it was more my favorite than Wyatt’s. I just loved the illustrations and the introduction to Hawaiian culture to Wyatt. Scout and the Gumboot Kids were a big favorite of Wyatt’s this year, whether on television or reading the books. He really loved The Case of the Wooden Timekeeper. Then finally, all the way back in January, we read Little Wolf’s Song and Winter Walk, and Wyatt loved all the howling in Little Wolf’s Song, and then surprised me by really loving Winter Walk.

Leo the Lightning Bug! This book also came with a CD, and Wyatt still listens to it and flips through the book, reciting parts out loud with it. It reminds me of me when I was his age, listening to books on tape and record and looking through the books. (For Christmas I bought him The Thousand Star Hotel by the Okee Dokee Brothers, which he can flip through while he listens to the story streaming..ah technology.) Nightsong was really cool, and Honey, adorable. Wyatt is a fan of David Ezra Stein. He is also a giant fan of the Little Blue Truck, and he loved this Springtime book. Which reminds me I never bought him The Little Blue Truck’s Christmas! Then finally we found two new to us owl books that we really enjoyed, Tanna’s Owl and Otto the Owl who Loved Poetry.

The Giraffe That Walked to Paris is my favorite picture book that we read this year. I liked it way more than Wyatt, so it is definitely my favorite, not his. I had never heard of this event before and it was sort of sad but neat to learn about it. Anatole was an old favorite of mine that I enjoyed sharing with Wyatt, who also liked it. And then finally, The Salamander Room – this book made me commit to adopting our leopard gecko Harry, which I realize is two different species entirely but it was still a fun way to segue to Harry for Wyatt.

I did miss the library so much this year, browsing the shelves and all the new books. If there are two places I miss going, it is the library with Wyatt and then Ikea with Billy. We would drop the boy off to my mom then head to Ikea and have lunch and shop. We are exciting.

I am looking forward to reading more with Wyatt in the months ahead, especially now as he is picking up letters and can read some of the words himself more and more! He loves reading, and I love that he loves reading!

Book Review: Fox Crossing by Melinda Metz

Goodreads Summary:

The charming village of Fox Crossing, Maine (founded 1805) is the last bit of civilization before the 100-mile wilderness, the wildest and arguably most beautiful stretch of the Appalachian Trail. The little town has something else to offer as well… something rare, something that a few even call magic. It has The Fox. Crossing paths with a black cat is said to bring bad luck. But crossing paths with The Fox is a whole other story…

In the mountain village of Fox Crossing, Maine, everyone knows the story of The Fox. According to local legend, one of the town’s founders crossed paths with a curious-looking fox with a distinctive white ear and paw. The unusual fox sighting not only inspired the town’s name, it sparked a fantastical piece of folklore that’s been passed down for generations. Some people say that whoever sees The Fox will be rewarded with good fortune, love, and happiness. Others say it’s just a silly folk tale…

Annie Hatherley doesn’t believe The Fox legend–even though it was her great-great-great-grandmother who spotted the critter centuries ago. But now it’s part of Annie’s legacy, along with her family business, Hatherley’s Outfitters. For years, Annie’s been selling gear to hikers on the Appalachian Trail. But she’s never seen The Fox–until now. Out of nowhere, this little white-eared vixen leads her to Nick Ferrone, a woefully unprepared hiker who needs her help. The Shoo Fly Bakery owner also spots the sly creature–who takes him to a homeless dog that needs his love. Annie can’t deny that something magical is happening–because she’s starting to fall for a certain foxy hiker named Nick…

My thoughts:

When I saw this book on NetGalley I immediately requested it – snow, a fox, hiking – this book is totally made for me. And I absolutely adored it! I finished it and immediately looked to see if the author had anymore books set in this quirky town of Fox Crossing, Maine. (no, but I am hoping that changes!)

This small town sets right on the edge of the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine, the northernmost end of the Appalachian Trail, and said to be very dangerous and for experienced hikers only. For the most part, the residents of Fox Crossing are open and friendly, with maybe one or two exceptions. One of whom is Annie, who runs Hatherly’s Outfitters, and is the last shop of its kind before hikers would begin the 100 Mile Wilderness. If they need something, Hatherly’s is their last option – which is good because Annie can be a bit prickly, especially if she feels a hiker is not ready for the trail. Which is how she meets good-natured Nick Ferrone, and from there, sparks and other things fly.

There is also a legend of The Fox – not just any fox, but The Fox. To spot the fox is said to bring luck, good fortune, even love – and there are those who seek The Fox out for just these reasons. Others choose not to believe – how could one fox be around for so long, right?

This book was delightful – I love books set in small towns with interesting characters, and the extra added bonus of a legend made it perfect. I loved every character in this book, which rarely happens. Like I said, I would love to read more about these characters!

If you are looking for some warm and cozy reads this winter, this is definitely one to add to your list.

Thank you to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review!