Have a Very Merry Christmas & an Awesome New Year!

Candles In Terracotta Pots

Snow blessed us with an early start to Winter Break this year. What beauty, what wonder, what delight!

As I bake and sew, preparing for a celebration with loved ones, I want to pause a moment and wish you a blessed holiday season. May you know peace, the smiles of those you love, and wonder, awe and wonder. (And may you find a little time to curl up with a good book.) Have a very merry Christmas and God bless you in the coming year!

Christmas Star Dangle

P.S. I will be taking a little time off, I’ll see you back here January 5, 2017!


The Books of Christmas

Last week I read a blog post that asked what books had made an impact each reader’s life. Given the season, it was Christmas books that came to mind. So, here are a few of my favorite reads for Christmastime and the reasons I love them so.

51oe8nud1il-_sy416_bo1204203200_Tomi DePaola’s The Friendly Beasts is one of the first Christmas books I bought my first child. (The root of a Christmas tradition so entrenched in our family that one year, as the Christmas Eve service ended, I gathered the kids and said, “Now we can go home and open your books.” Yes, a new Christmas book was the one gift my kids got to open Christmas Eve, and then we read them together.) The words to The Friendly Beasts come from an old Christmas carol, so whenever I read it to the kids, I sang it. While this did not impress my oldest son, my daughter was born loving music, and I cherish the memories of singing together.

santas-favorite-storyAnother Christmas tradition at our house was to read Santa’s Favorite Story, by Hisako Aioki right before bedtime on Christmas Eve. Spoiler Alert!!! This soothed the conflicted feelings I had about doing the Santa thing. (I LOVED providing my kids with piles of delightful gifts without getting the credit for giving them—and thus spoiling the children, and I HATED the fact that I was lying to my kids.) Santa’s Favorite Story recounts how alarmed the woodland creatures are when they find Santa napping in the woods mid-December. They worry, with him snoozing on the job, that there will be no gifts for Christmas, but Santa assured them that even if there were no gifts there would still be Christmas and proceeds to tell them the story of Christ’s birth. The animals then help Santa prepare, and after all the presents are delivered, Santa reflects that the best gift of Christmas is Christmas itself.

51anbpxh7bl-_sx364_bo1204203200_This third book is more of an Advent tradition that my daughter and I shared. When I was young, Madeleine L’Engle’s 24 Days Until Christmas was published as a magazine story. I cut it out and saved it in scrapbook where I pasted stories and cards. When my daughter was old enough to enjoy books that were not necessarily picture books, I read it to her. It is L’Engle’s first Vickie Austen story and recounts Vickie’s anxious 24 days until Christmas as her family awaits the birth of a new member and she anxiously rehearses for the Christmas Eve play. After several years of reading this from my scrapbook, I discovered I could buy the novella. You know what book my daughter got Christmas Eve that year.




The fourth treasure is a pleasure all my own. When my kids were young, I discovered an early 20th century author that I fell in love with, Elizabeth Goudge, and I proceeded to hunt down and read every book she ever wrote. Her novels, while recounting serious historical events and relational themes, nonetheless reflect a deep appreciation for the beauty of the created world, the blessings of family and friendship, the faithfulness of beloved dogs, and an unquenchable sparkle of hope. Of all her novels I own, my favorite one to read at Christmastime is Pilgrim’s Inn. It centers on the trials of three generations of one family in the wake of World War II, the old inn the eldest son decides to settle down in and run, and the new relationships they all build and the lives they touch. The story climaxes in a magical Christmas that embraces family and new friends, and to sit down and read it is like snuggling up under a warm quilt on a wintry day with a cup of hot chocolate—comfort and comfort food at its best!

These are the books of Christmas in my heart and in my home. What books are treasured in yours?


Teacher’s File Drawer: My Favorite December Writing Assignment~Holiday Letters

fav-holiday-assOne of my favorite December writing assignments was the writing of holiday letters. You know the newsy kinds of letters we all get from friends and family.

With this assignment, while the writing process, as with all writing assignments, is practiced, the thing I loved about this project was the opportunity it gave me to talk to my students about voice and audience, and the opportunity it provided them to express their individuality.

Voice & Audience

So often, students are required to write with an authoritative, scholarly voice. More frequently than not, their audience is usually the teacher. In writing the holiday letter, however, their objective is to sound like themselves talking to family or friends, and the intended audience is, indeed, family and friends.

More Than a Writing Assignment

In addition to writing the letter, I required students to craft their own holiday “stationary.” Students were scored for their use of graphics/images, use of color, and care and effort in preparation. The letters that get turned in are delightful, unique, and a pleasure to read.

Scoring Criteria

  • Prewrite (5 pts.)
  • Rough Draft (5 pts.)
  • Evidence of Revision and Editing (5 pts.)
  • Peer Evaluation (5 pts.)
  • Final Copy: Graphics/Images (5 pts.)
  • Final Copy: Use of Color (5 pts.)
  • Final Copy: Care and Effort (5 pts.)
  • Ideas and Content (5 pts.)
  • Organization (5 pts.)
  • Voice (10 pts.)
  • Word Choice (5 pts.)
  • Sentence Fluency (5 pts.)
  • Conventions (5 pts.)

Try it. You’ll like it. 

Give this assignment a try with your Language Arts class. I guarantee you will be delighted with the final produce.

P.S.Writers: What kind of holiday letter might your character write?

P.S.S.Teachers: You could also use this as book report project. What king of holiday letter might the main character in the book write?

*Image Background Depositphotos_14910921

Literate Lives Reading Log: November 2016

I knew last month I had read more than one book! I had just misplaced said book when it came time to blog my monthly reading. So, here are the books I read this November along with the one neglected title from October.

6505894Word Pictures, by Brian Godowa, was an interesting read (I promise!) from October. As a fiction writer, I really enjoyed the premise of this book: that art/stories/images readers perceive through imagination and sensory description have enormous power to both move readers and assist them in gaining deeper understanding. Godawa’s text was approachable and thought-provoking. I particularly enjoyed the history he provided on the conflicts related to texts and images over the last 2,ooo years.

Forging the Sword: The Farsala Trilogy Book 3, by Hilari Bell, was every bit as good as the previous two novels248375 in the series and provided an intense and satisfying resolution to the conflict between the kingdom of Farsala and the empire of the Hrum. I highly recommend this series. Start with Fall of a Kingdom, book 1, by Hilari Bell. If you enjoy fantasy that contains faint echoes of real history, you will love this series.

1943742Silent in the Sanctuary is the second entry in Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey mystery series. I loved the richly realized later 19th century setting of this novel and the complex trio of mysteries that weave their way through the story. The only critique I really had is that the eccentricities of Lady Julia’s family are so over the top, it is a little difficult to suspend my disbelief as a reader ought. However, I was sick when I read it. It may be that I was just feeling like a curmodgeon.

Curly Girl: The Handbook by Lorraine Massey was loaned to me by a curly-haired friend. This book has 8510227revolutionized my hair care. It is a light, breezy read with loads of practical advice for not just managing naturally curly or wavy hair, but actually enjoying it. It even includes recipes for hair care products. I highly recommend it.

37361Innocence & Experience: Essays and Conversations on Children’s Literature edited by Barbara Harrison, is the book I started reading in September during our school’s Reboot time (the first fifteen minutes of class reserved for free reading or journaling). This book, published in 1987, provides a fascinating (and now historical) survey of the field of children’s literature, from picture books through young adult novels. It includes essays and speeches from authors I love, including Eleanor Cameron, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Ursula LeGuin, and many more and discusses books that are still beloved today. As a children’s author and school librarian, I highly recommend it as an overview of 20th century children’s book world.

What did you read in the last month? I would love it if you could recommend some of your favorites in the comments!