Thunderstorms and Cake

Spring has finally settled into Georgia and with it comes spring showers. The ominous clouds roll in and as we watch the change in weather for possible tornadoes, I see my kids get nervous. I don’t blame them; the violent crash of thunder, the strong winds that bring the rain, the angry flashes of lightning can be overwhelming and scary.

Thankfully, there is a book for that. Thundercake by Patricia Polacco is the story of one little girl’s apprehension to an incoming storm, and the sweet solution from her grandmother. It’s a beautiful tale of overcoming fears, courage, and the precious relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter.

The illustrations are rich; I loved how the words and pictures matched each other perfectly. So when the granddaughter was nervous, the art helped the reader feel the nerves.

As the title says, cake is involved, so when the first hint of storm clouds appeared last week, my kids and I grabbed Thundercake and set off to make cake (There is a recipe in the back of the book, but we didn’t have all the ingredients for that one).

When cake is involved, somehow, thunderstorms aren’t quite as intimidating. What a sweet way to make the Thundercake book come alive. But even more important, what a fun way to talk about having courage.

Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook has never steered me wrong, so I used the chocolate cake recipe from that cookbook:

Chocolate Cake

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup butter
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups milk

DIRECTIONS

Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly grease bottoms of two 8x8x2-inch square or 9×1-1/2-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms of pans with parchment or waxed paper. Grease and lightly flour bottoms and sides of pans. Or, grease one 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Set pan(s) aside. In a medium bowl stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder; and salt; set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating on medium speed until well combined (3 to 4 minutes). Scrape sides of bowl; continue beating on medium speed for 2 minutes more. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating after each addition (about 1 minute total). Beat in vanilla.
Alternately add flour mixture and milk to butter mixture, beating on low speed just until combined after each addition. Beat on medium to high speed for 20 seconds more. Spread batter into the prepared pan(s).
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes for 8-inch pans and 13x9x2-inch pan, 30 to 35 minutes for 9-inch pans, or until a wooden toothpick inserted near centers comes out clean. Cool cake layers in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cake layers from pans. Peel off paper. Cool thoroughly on racks. Or, place 13x9x2-inch cake in pan on a wire rack; cool thoroughly. Frost with desired frosting.
Makes 12 to 16 servings.

For the Chocolate Ganache, we used a recipe similar to this recipe and poured it over the top of the cake.


Dragons Love Tacos Party

Dragons Love Tacos By Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri is one of my favorite picture books. It’s the book that got my kids to eat tacos. It’s the book that I couldn’t stop talking about. So much so, I started a book blog. If someone asks for a good picture book recommendation, I always quick to recommend Dragons Love Tacos.

We’ve read it a thousand times and I could read it a billion more times and never grow tired of it. What’s even better, my kids love Dragons Love Tacos. They crack up at the illustrations and the story is hilarious. They talk about Dragons and Tacos and Spicy Salsa. For my youngest’s  first Halloween, I dressed him up as a Dragon with a taco. When Target did a limited time release of Dragons Love Tacos t-shirts in 2016, I bought them all…in every size. Because when you are a fan, you do things that make you seem a little extreme. It’s safe to say our (ahem. MY) love for this book runs deep.

You can only imagine my reaction when I discovered that Dragons Love Tacos 2: THE SEQUEL was coming. Let me tell you how I responded: I was totally cool. Kidding! It was 4am in the morning and I was wide awake. I was scrolling the interwebs when I saw it. I saw the cover of Dragons Love Tacos 2. I did a silent scream and promptly pre-ordered it. And then I shared it everywhere. Sharing is caring, ya’ll. I was only looking out for folks. Spreading that Dragon and Taco love everywhere is my mission. And since it is my mission, if you haven’t read Dragons Love Tacos, what are you waiting for? Both books are so fun to read aloud. The one liners are hilarious (I mean, “pantsload of tacos” is hysterical). In my mind, Dragons Love Tacos and The Sequel are instant classics. If you love Dragons, you will love it. If you love Tacos, you will love it. And if you like both, well, that is a perfect match!

Of course, waiting for the Dragons Love Tacos 2 book release was excruciating. It did give me a lot of time to plan out our Taco Party. If you know me, you know I love ANY reason to throw a party or have a celebration. So, book release day for a good book? PARTY TIME!

Here is my confession: our party? It was really just dinner. But, you know what? That dinner was incredibly special. It gave us, as a family, a reason to take dinner up a notch. It gave us a reason to celebrate. It was incredibly special to laugh together as we crunched on tacos.

For dinner, we had ground beef tacos with cheese, sour cream and mild taco sauce. For dessert, we had Choco Tacos (which we had to hunt down after going to 3 stores and calling 2 other stores). While we ate, we read Dragons Love Tacos 2: THE SEQUEL. It was such a blast.

Spending time together as a family is so precious to me. Connecting over good food and a long anticipated book is even more dear to me. I hope my kids cherish these memories. I know I do already!

Golden Guide Nature Books

Several weeks ago, I was listening to the Read Aloud Revival Podcast with guest Greta Eskridge from MaandPaModern blog. One of the many books mentioned were the Golden Guide Nature Books. I was so intrigued by Greta’s description of these nature guides, I immediately bought one. Since then, I’ve been buying one every few weeks. My kids have completely surprised me by how much they enjoy them, and I had to share them with you in a longer post than an Instagram picture square.

My kids LOVE them. These compact little books are overflowing with amazing tidbits, colorful illustrations and geographical maps. We will break the books down, but before we do that, I want to say that there has been a resurgence of interest in the Golden Guide books so they are actually being republished. The content is the same and the price is too, but the covers aren’t as worn as the older ones. We have both; I’ve been so impressed with how the older editions are holding up despite their age, and my kids’ desire to tote them around.

Measuring at about 8 inches tall, the Golden Guide Nature Books are perfect for kids who love to romp around outside and explore. We currently have Zoology, Seashore Life, Birds, and Insects. We are anticipating adding to our collection: Trees, Flowers, Stars, Reptiles and Amphibians, Weather, Mammals, Fishes, Rocks and Minerals, Gamebirds, Fossils, Pond Life, Butterflies and Moths, Dinosaurs, Snakes, Weeds, Herb Spices, and Seashells of the World.  There are SO MANY to choose from! Sometimes, it’s hard to choose what to get next. We especially love watching birds in our backyard, so it’s nice to finally begin to identify the birds we aren’t familiar with. My kids have used the Golden Guides books to search out insects. When we go to the beach this summer, we will take the Seashore Life book to identify shells and ocean creatures we see. As we add to our collection, I’m loving the conversations the Golden Guide Nature books are creating. I also love how they are encouraging my kids to explore the outdoors even more.

The information in the guide is easy to read aloud. Each creature listed includes a carefully research paragraph describing the creature and a colored illustration of the creature. This paragraph is FULL of facts and identification notes about the creature. The Insect book also shows larva, so we have been able to identify ladybug larvae. My daughter especially loved seeeing all the different types of butterflies and it’s been very empowering for her to know the names and markings of the individual butterflies. Understanding the animals and creatures of our area provides my kids with a larger understanding of the roles the bugs and creatures play in the “circle of life” (to quote Lion King) in our backyard.

I especially loved how there are geographical maps to show where each insect and bird call home. This has been especially helpful so we can be on the look out for child life that is local to us, but to also know what is in different regions of the USA/Canada/South America.

Each time we get a new Golden Guide book, I fall more in love with this series. The illustrations are so incredible. Full-color illustrations with such great details. With the Bird Book,  you see the layers of feathers, the number of toes, etc. The Zoology book contains facts of the animal kingdom. So if kids have questions about sweat glands, waste removal, survival tactics, flightless birds, identifying mammals, how a turkey hears vs. how a grasshopper hears, it’s all in the Zoology book. The Insects Book actually makes insects look…less creepy.

These aren’t the types of books you would sit down and read aloud, but they are the types of books you would use on nature hikes, or if you want your kids to appreciate looking up answers to their questions in books versus the Internet.


Book Review: The Big Adventures of Tiny House

When my husband and I got married, we lived in a RV for the first two months of our marriage. I like to say that we did the “tiny house” trend, before it was cool. We faced many obstacles in that RV – in particular,  no running water (it froze) and no heat (it was the middle of the winter). It did show us that we were up for an adventure as long as we are together. Furthermore, that dysfunctional RV was finally the nudge I needed to start blogging. Being newly married living in a RV without running water gave me plenty to blog about! With that beginning in mind, when I was approached to review a book about a tiny house, I had to say yes! I couldn’t think of a better way to show my kids, “Hey! We lived in a RV!” than a book about tiny house living. (Although, today’s tiny houses are MUCH cooler looking and better functioning than the one we lived in!)

The Big Adventures of Tiny House by Susan Schafer Bernardo comes out April 25. You can pre-order it now by going to the Once Upon A Time indie bookstore website.

The Big Adventures of Tiny House follows the story of a little house who is recycled from materials of a traditional house. Once Tiny House is given a fresh look and a set of wheels, Tiny House is off! When the title says, “BIG ADVENTURES” that is not an understatement. Tiny House travels all over the United States of America on an epic road trip.

Let’s count the ways I loved this book:

1. All families will enjoy this book. Whether you are planning a road trip, use an RV for a weekend trip, road trip full time, or you just curious about tiny house living, this is the book to read!

2. You could EASILY use The Big Adventures of Tiny House as a road map to take an epic road trip across the USA.

3. There are SO MANY different homes shared. The variety of tiny homes are celebrated. This tiny house movement is BIG on options – house boat, traditional RV, vintage RV, a BUS, and different Tiny House models. They are ALL celebrated in this book.

4. This is a fun read aloud book. It’s engaging and your kids will crowd around as you read it.

The illustrations are beautiful! I love how illustrator Courtenay Fletcher seamlessly combined muted tones with bright colors thoroughout the book. That is immensely talented. I also love the art matches the story’s enthusiasm; when Tiny House visits New Orleans, it looks like a postcard. When he visits The Grand Canyon, you SEE the grandeur of the of such a national treasure.

Be sure to pre-order your copy of The Big Adventures of Tiny House. You will love it! You can also print off fun coloring pages!

Be sure to follow author Susan Schafer Bernardo and illustrator Courtenay Fletcher.

The Green Ember Book Party

We recently listened to the audiobook version of The Green Ember by SD Smith. We loved it. This well-written story follows two rabbits, Heather and her brother Picket, from their ordaniary and safe home life to an unexpected wild and dangerous lifestyle. In the story, Heather and Pickett watch as their home is destroyed, their family disappears, their loyalty is tested, their courage is developed, and their spirit of adventure is pushed beyond limits. They fight off wolf enemies, learn about their family history, and meet new friends along the way. SD Smith uses the hashtag, #rabbitswithswords on social media and that is an appropriate and shortened explanation of The Green Ember. This books feels old; the language and story feels like you threw rabbits into a Peter Pan/Swiss Family Robinson/Robinson Cruscoe story. But it is so riveting and exciting.

We loved listening to this book as a family. My kids, who are 5 years old and younger loved The Green Ember. I’m sure this has a LOT to do with the superb narration of Joel Clarkson. Joel did a phenomenal job of creating distinct voices for EACH character and maintaining their voices throughout the audiobook. Honestly, we couldn’t get enough of this story.

After we finished listening to it, I could think of no better way to bring The Green Ember to life than a hike. I wanted our children to experience The Green Ember in the woods. We choose a path at our local nature center that boasted of a suspension bridge and access to a creek. I bought rabbit ears from Target, the kids grabbed our collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle swords, and we packed provisions (sandwiches, carrots, apples, cookies, and a lot of water). Then, we were off.

The day was overcast and cool. As we hiked, we collected treasures of pinecones and sticks. We inspected trees that might have an opening like Heather and Pickett’s home. We kept an eye out on Red Eye Garlickson’s evil wolves (we also talked about how we leave our scent behind).

At the creek, my kids splashed and played in the cool water. Once thoroughly soaked, we continued on with our hike.

This “party” was unconventional for sure, but Heather and Picket’s adventure was unconventional from the life they had known. Watching my kids pretend to be Heather and Picket as they dodged wolves in the middle of the woods was magical.

As we finished our hike, and climbed into our vehicle to go home, my son asked, “Hey! Let’s go home to watch The Green Ember movie!”. Maybe one day The Green Ember movie will be come reality. That would be amazing!

I cannot recommend The Green Ember books enough. It is a fantastic series to listen to or read aloud for the entire family.


Our Favorite Kid Books on Manners

Manners matter, right? As a mom, I spend half my day (it seems) asking my children to say, “Please” or “Thank you”. We’ve recently started working on table manners – specifically, chewing with your mouth closed, etc. Honestly, it can be exhausting. However, we have found some really great books that talk about manners. What sets apart the books I’ve highlighted from a boring how-to list of manners is that these books ARE FUN. They create great conversation to have with your children. I like to ask things like, “What do you think of [insert character’s name]?” Or “Was that kind?”.

Let’s start off with, the books below:


  • Give Please A Chance by James Patterson and Bill O’Reilly: This is a beautifully illustrated book. Using a variety of illustrators, you get many a wide array of exposure to art. It’s wonderful. Aside from the illustrations, each spread provides children with scenarios in which they give please a chance. My kids LOVE reading this book.
  • How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? By Jane Yolen and Mark Teague: This book is brilliantly written. The moms and dads in the story are humans, but their children….well, they are dinosaurs. It’s so witty, parents will LOVE reading this book (and the rest of the books in the How Do Dinosaurs series). Kids ALSO love this book because: 1) Kids LOVE Dinosaurs and 2) The text is hilarious, so they stay very engaged.
  • Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony: It’s no a secret around BookReviewMama.com, that THIS IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS EVER. Yes, my kids love it too! Mr. Panda has doughnuts to give out, but he is having a difficult time finding a polite friend. Ya’ll. This will be a book that you will be delighted to read and re-read AGAIN. It’s amazing.
  • The Pigeon See A Hotdog by Mo Willems. The Pigeon is back! Be prepared to roar with laughter with your kids as the Pigeon wrestles with a decision: to share or not to share?

 


5. No Tooting At Tea by : This book isn’t out yet, but I’m SO EXCITED about a book that is based around a tea party and discusses manners…specifically, “tooting”.

6. Bernstein Bears Forgot Their Manners: This is a classic book all about manners! It’s a throwback to my childhood for sure, but the topics covered in this book are ageless.

7. Tea Rex by Molly Idle: I LOVE Molly Idle. I think her books are so fun. Tea Rex is all about a wonderful tea party that is planned, but there are rules to be followed….but what happens when the guest of honor is a little jurassic?

8. Manners by Margaret Wise Brown: I love Margaret Wise Brown’s work. She’s not afraid to tackle difficult topics (remember, Dead Bird?). Manners is another topic Margaret Wise Brown takes on with beautiful illustrations!

 

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Reader Recommendations: Audiobooks for Kids

Last week, I talked about our favorite audiobooks. This week, I wanted to share the audiobooks YOU, my readers, recommended. My list of books to listen to added up quickly because of your recommendations! Thank you so much!

While this post does contain affiliate links, but it doesn’t charge you! Thank you for supporting my blog!

Some of the links below include the kindle book. Make sure you select Kindle AND the Audible Add On for the audiobook option.

Mouse and The Motorcycle: This book was recommended by several readers. I immediately got it for my kids. We listened to it in just a few days. My kids loved it! I can’t wait to get the other Mouse and The Motoycycle books for them! My kids gave it 5 STARS!

Magic Treehouse Books: my son loves Magic Treehouse books, but I loved the suggestion of listening to them. (If you aren’t familiar with Magic Treehouse books, they follow the adventures of a brother-sister duo. I especially love the sibling relationship!)

Stuart Little: Who can say no to E.B. White? I know I can’t!

Henry Higgins: another Beverly Cleary book! We tried reading Henry Huggins aloud and my kids didn’t seem interested. I’m excited to try the audiobook!

Ramona Books: I have a feeling the sassy adventures of Ramona keep kids interested!

Nate the Great: I wasn’t familiar with Nate The Great, but the reviews on Amazon + the book descriptions confirmed that my kids would LOVE Nate the Great!

Nancy Drew: Another series I had never considered to listen to, but I can imagine Nancy Drew is a super fun listen!

Junie B. Jones: This is a true classic! We also listened to the first book in the series this week. My kids loved it. They gave it 5 Stars! I will say that, Junie B. Does use the word “stupid” or “dumb” a lot, but we used this as an opportunity to talk about whether or not that is kind verbiage.

So many good books! Keeping reading (and listening!)!


Book Review: If Dinosaurs Could Talk For Me!

What is it about dinosaurs that kids love so much? It never ceases to amaze me how much they love those HUGE creatures. Several weeks ago, I connected with author Corey Egbert on Instagram. As soon as I saw the dinosaur on the cover of his book, I knew my kids would love this dinosaur book.

I was right. The second I opened the package, my kids grabbed Corey’s book. We immediately read it cover to cover twice. Then, they promptly took the book to my husband to read. Yes, they had us read it to them three times in a row within minutes of opening the package. Anytime my kids insist that we read a book multiple times in a row, I know we’ve hit literary gold. These are the moments I live for; when they say, “READ IT AGAIN!”. That’s perfection. Not surprisingly, after we read Corey’s book multiple times in a row, it inspired an entire morning of fun. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about Corey’s book.

If Dinosaurs Could Talk For Me by Corey Egbert is about a young boy named Ben. (Side note: my husband’s name is Ben, so my children roared with laughter that we were reading a story about a KID named Ben!) Ben is adventurous, artistic, and loves to read. Ben is also shy. Very shy. He wants to make friends, but he is more comfortable drawing dinosaurs. However, when he meets Sophie, he realizes they have a lot in common. Ben isn’t sure how he will make friends with Sophie if he is too nervous to talk to her. This book has a delightful ending, which I won’t give away! But, I will tell you this: it’s SO FUN!

Corey’s illustrations are dynamic. He uses 2 main colors in his illustrations, blue and red, as a way to create emphasis in the story. It works! Even my children picked up on the two tone art palette. Once we finished reading If Dinosaurs Could Talk For Me for the third time, my children grabbed their art journals, along with red and blue crayons, and began to draw dinosaurs. I love when a book inspires my children’s imaginations. I also LOVE that my children immediately wanted to imitate Corey’s art work. That speaks highly of Corey’s ability to create a story line and artwork that urges children to mimic the story.

If Dinosaurs Could Talk For Me is the perfect book for kids who are shy or for kids who struggle making friends. It reminds them to never stop trying to make friends. It also reminds them to stay true to who they are. Both are good reminders for all kids – whether they are shy or not. It’s also perfect for your resident dino lover and/or artist!

Be sure to connect with Corey on his website! Also be sure to check out   The Publisher for If Dinosaurs Could Talk For Me, Cedar Fort Publishing. They graciously sent me a copy of If Dinosaurs Could Talk For Me.

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Our Favorite Audiobooks

As much as we love picture books, but I also want my kids enjoy chapter books. One way we do this is with audiobooks. The thing about audiobooks is that when you have a good narrator, the book can feel like it comes alive. My three children are under five years old. I don’t expect them grasp everything in the books we listen to, but I do hope they enjoy the books we listen together.

We have listened to a LOT of books on Librovox using the Podcast App on my iPhone. That has been a great way to listen to fabulous classic literature. We recently started buying audiobooks by adding the audible option to kindle books on Amazon. You can go the traditional route to purchase or borrow audiobook CDs from the library. A lot of libraries also have the option of an app where you can electronically borrow the audiobook. All libraries are different, so be sure to check with your local library.

We have listened to many amazing books, I thought I would share the books we’ve listened to AND what my kids thought. I rated my kids’ reaction based on 5 stars.

1 Star – awful…5 Stars – BEST EVER.

Sherlock Holmes: 3 Stars

My kids: 2 stars. (This probably has to do with their ages. I loved it, but they never asked to listen to it)

Alice in Wonderland: 4 Stars.

(My kids really enjoyed listening to this book. We have the BabyLit Alice in Wonderland board book, so they were familiar with the characters.)

Peter Pan : 5 STARS.

(They LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Peter Pan. It’s almost been a year since we’ve listened to it, and they still ask for it. We will be listening to it again VERY soon)

Mary Poppins : 3 Stars

(They were indifferent to Mary Poppins. I think they would have connected with it better if we had watched the Classic Disney movie Mary Poppins first).

Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling : 4 Stars

(They really got a kick out of the stories and characters in Just So Stories. It’s all about talking animals, and they loved that.)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz : 4 Stars

(My kids really loved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. We usually listen to audiobooks in the car, but we actually listened to this book at the table during breakfast. They would ask for it with their breakfast.)

The Wind in the Willows : 2 Stars

(This really surprised me, but my kids weren’t big fans of The Wind in the Willows. This surprised me because it’s about talking animals and their adventures. But, I think the storyline was a little slow for their ages. I loved it and finished it without them!)

We are currently listening to The Railway Children. I can’t give any feedback because we just started it.

Do you listen to audiobooks with your family? Share your favorites!

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Preparing for Lent: Looking Towards The Cross

I went to a Christian college where a lot of the students observed Lent. I never really understood how you observed Lent. This has always been a source of frustration for me – because while I understand this is the 40 days leading up to Easter, I didn’t understand how to make it a practical study. Let’s not even talk about how to teach my kids. I felt inadequate to share with my kids something that I felt was important to my faith, but didn’t understand. Until now.

Leighann Marquiss has created a Lent study for families called Looking Towards The Cross. This amazing study is forty days long. For each day, it incorporates a simple craft and Scripture. Leighann has thought of everything in this study. The supplies for crafts needed are listed in Day order. The study is organized to be a 6 day a week study. Each Day builds upon one another. This may seem like a no brainer, but seeing how each day is connect to the day before and the day after, really helped.

For the first time, I felt like I could celebrate and observe Lent. Further more, I feel like I can involve my children in the observation of Lent. I think this will be a great way to begin to prepare my (and my chilfren’s!) heart for Easter.

Ash Wednesday is March 1, so you have time to grab your copy of Looking Towards The Cross to share with your family!