Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Affordable Novel Studies by Joel Michel Reed

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When you can't find free study questions online, and you don't have time to read your child's book and make up your own study questions, you might want to consider downloading one of Joel Michel  Reed's novel studies. That's what I did for my daughter's book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs.  Basil E. Frankweiler.

Novel Studies Overview

There are almost 200 titles to choose from, and each novel study is only $7.50 to download. All novel studies are in alphabetical order making them a snap to find. For each novel, you can see the author of the book, study guide page count, and appropriate grade level. You also have access to a preview of each study guide before you decide to purchase.

These novel studies are SO MUCH MORE than simple comprehension questions. They are presented chapter by chapter or section by section and include the following components:

  • Synopsis of novel
  • List of skills in the novel study
  • Author biography
  • Before you read
  • Vocabulary
  • Discussion Questions (including higher-level thinking)
  • Writing assignments
  • Literary devices
  • Setting 
  • Plot
  • Conflict
  • Character Analysis
  • Parts of Speech
  • Analogies
  • Synonyms/Antonyms
  • Homonyms
  • Alliteration
  • Crossword puzzles and word searches
  • Research assignments
  • Constructing a storyboard
  • Answer key


I was very happy with our novel study purchase. I thought it was a fair price for all that is included.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler novel study was 48 pages, and not only did my daughter complete various activities like the ones mentioned above, she had to identify different styles of paintings, identify famous statues, research where certain famous works of art are on display, describe how a Vladimir Makovsky painting made her feel, and create a comic strip. Just to name a few!

We opted out of a couple activities for time's sake - preparing a talk show and pretending to be a casting director for a movie.

I will definitely consider purchasing another Reed Novel Study. I noticed they also have novel study packs and even offer some free power point presentations, etc.

If you need to order books, please consider using my Amazon affiliate link: Literature Classics.

Thanks so much!

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Writing Supplement For Third Grade & Up: Imitation in Writing Fairy Tales

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Reading and writing are my favorite subjects to learn and teach! While we've always used Bob Jones English for our core grammar and writing curriculum, I've tried to add in supplements for creative writing as well. Since I love fairy tales, I chose Imitation in Writing Fairy Tales by Matt Whitling as one of our writing supplements.

We've all heard that famous Charles Caleb Colton quote, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," right? It makes sense because we're all probably guilty of imitating someone or something at some point in our lives. Hello, Pinterest. Well, imitation is also a method of learning used in many subjects like art, music, and so on but is often neglected when it comes to teaching writing. While it's great to be a pioneer and pave the way for something new, the tool of imitation can provide a solid educational foundation on which to build. Imitation in Writing Fairy Tales is a fun way to give kids that foundation and to help them improve their writing skills.

Imitation in Writing is actually a series originally developed for Logos School in Moscow, Idaho. Fairy Tales is the second book in the series. Twenty fairy tales are included in the book, and each fairy tale is accompanied by a worksheet in which the child defines vocabulary words from the fairy tale, outlines the basic plot, and briefly describes characters. Each fairy tale is divided into 3 sections making it easier to outline the plot. An answer key is provided for all 20 fairy tale plot outlines.

The following photos are examples of a fairy tale, a worksheet, and and answer key:

Once the worksheet is finished and your child is familiar with the original fairy tale, he/she can begin rewriting the fairy tale using the completed worksheet as a guide. The child can change the characters and minor details pertaining to the original fairy tale, but the overall plot should be imitated. Also, he/she needs to incorporate all of the vocabulary words from the original tale into their own tale. It was always so fun to see how my kids would retell the tales in their own words and how they'd change characters and little details to make the stories their own.

The 20 fairy tales included in this writing supplement are:

  • Why the Bear has a Stumpy Tail
  • The Princess and the Pea
  • The Fox and the Horse
  • Ali and the Sultan's Saddle
  • The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean
  • The Three Billy Goats Gruff
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin
  • The Queen Bee
  • The Golden Goose
  • The Man in the Bag
  • The Emperor's New Clothes
  • King Grizzle Beard
  • The Fisherman and his Wife
  • Rapunzel
  • Old Sultan
  • The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage
  • The Elves and the Cobbler
  • The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids
  • The Three Children of Fortune
  • The Frog Prince

I personally introduce this particular writing supplement around third grade and use it until about fifth grade. I waited a little longer for my third child, though. I only assign one fairy tale every month or two since we already have a core writing curriculum, and I give my children a break from literature while they are working on a fairy tale, so they don't get too overwhelmed with multiple subjects.

If fairy tales aren't your thing, Imitation in Writing offers a few other titles to choose from: Aesop's Fables, Greek Myths, Greek Heroes, and Medieval Legends. Click the links below to check them out!


Please feel free to ask any questions you may have about this writing supplement that our family has enjoyed. :)

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Freestanding Dog Gate

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Anyone who knows me well knows that the past 5 months have been extremely challenging for me. All because of one simple, 3-letter word: DOG. I figure I must need some serious sanctifying work in my life right now because I was perfectly content being pet-free. ;)

Anyway, one of my new challenges as a pet owner has been keeping said pet out of my kitchen which happens to have not one but two entryways. The kitchen is a pretty active place since I'm a stay-at-home, homeschool mom of 3. Plus, my husband works from home, too. Five people + one dog = a kitchen that is too crowded!

I finally got tired of having a puppy under my feet while working in the kitchen, especially since he's a big puppy. Cooking was quickly becoming a dangerous activity! For both of us.

I got tired of having to push away a furry face and a slobbery pink tongue every time I opened the fridge. Oh goodness, and the slimy slobber marks all over the fridge doors just about killed me.

I got tired of worrying that this bundle of activity was going to bump into my beautiful hutch filled with meaningful treasures.

I got tired of pushing big, stinky paws off of the counter tops. On a few occasions his slimy tongue sneaked licks of food on the counter. Ugh.

You get the idea.

At first my frustrations compelled me to block off both entryways with kitchen chairs. It worked, but it was neither convenient nor attractive.


Even though it was a sacrifice, I am so thankful that my husband chose these Dynamic Accents freestanding wooden pet gates (handcrafted by the Amish) that keep our walls from getting scuffed up and that match our kitchen perfectly. For dog gates, they're not eye sores.

*My sweet husband knew that a dog-free kitchen would restore some of my sanity.*

If you've been considering a dog gate, I thought I'd tell you about the ones we bought - 20" Kensington Freestanding Gate - in order to help you with your decision making. 

What's Included
  • 2 pre-assembled gate panels
  • 2 wood gate feet
  • 2 feet attachment bolts
  • 2 3/4" rubber support bumpers 
  • You will have to apply the support bumpers.
  • You will have to attach the gate feet to the gate panels with a Phillips Head Screwdriver.
  • Hardwood
  • Expands by sliding without the use of tools - super easy to do!
  • Rotatable legs for easy storage
  • No installation required
  • Variety of colors available: warm white, mahogany, black, artisan bronze
  • Height: 20"
  • Adjustable length: fully expands to 49" (measuring from the bottom including feet) - shortens to 29" (measuring from the bottom including feet)


Although the description says that the 20" gate is designed to be used with small animals that can not jump over or push gate out of position, our 60 lb. lab mix puppy who is almost 7 months old respects the barrier. He has bumped into it and has accidentally moved it a little bit, but he doesn't try to jump over or push it out of the way on purpose to get into the kitchen. It's like he KNOWS that I don't want him in there! I can't predict, though, if this will change when he's older and probably 30-40 lbs. heavier. I have a feeling that he will still respect the barrier since we are actively training him during the puppy stage. 

I am pleased with the way the gates look and how they blend right in with our kitchen cabinets. Like I said earlier, they're not eye sores or anything. I also like that they are made of wood and not plastic.

I personally wouldn't have minded gates that attach to the walls and swing open, but because the ones we bought are only 20" high, they are easy for everyone in the family to safely step over without falling. Our youngest is 11. 


One of our gates came with a plastic glide that is slightly cracked. (Noted in the picture below) Unfortunate, but we didn't send it back because we wanted to start using the gates right away. We applied a piece of clear tape that seems to be doing the trick for now. The edges of the plastic glides are somewhat sharp. In fact, I cut my knee on one of them when trying to step over the gate one time. 


Other than that one cracked plastic glide and my knee mishap, the gates are great and have been doing the job we want them to do! Below are a few more pictures: the first shows the gate shortened, the second shows the cracked glide, and the third shows another angle with our puppy. :)

Other Sizes and Colors

This style gate also comes in a larger size standing at 30" instead of 20". This size may be better for larger dogs, but because this style is not attached to the wall, there is still the possibility of a large dog being able to push the gate out of the way.

Larger size: Dynamic Accents Free Standing Wooden Pet Gate, Size - Large / Warm White

Other colors (small size): black, artisan bronze, and mahogany

If the 20" or 30" Kensington Freestanding dog gate isn't exactly what you're looking for, Dynamic Accents offers a variety of other pet gates that you might want to check out.

*Please note that the only gate I am familiar with is the 20" gate.

While this handsome puppy in the photos may have captured my heart, I still don't want him in my kitchen. I love having my kitchen back, and I love being able to enjoy my little sitting room right off the kitchen without a dog underfoot. :) Freestanding dog gates work for me! Hopefully they will work for you, too.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

The Plains of Avendale by The Sailor's Lantern

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I'm posting my son's latest composition in honor of his 17th birthday.

Born to be a musician this one, my blessed firstborn. A self-taught musician, he's been gifted with the natural ability to make music like his dad.

I am sure that when the very near day comes when I will no longer hear melodies wafting from my son's bedroom, SoundCloud will become my new best friend.

For more dreamy ambient music, you can listen to all of the music by The Sailor's Lantern here. :)

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

My Publishing Backstory and Why I Settled on an eBook

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I was planning on illustrating my second book this summer, but three things have hindered my endeavor:
  1. Homeschool prep
  2. New puppy
  3. Art Ignorance
Number 1 is an expected thing. It happens every single summer and has for the past 13 years or so. No big deal. It's just part of the life we've chosen as a family, and there are aspects of homeschool planning that I actually enjoy.

Number 2 is sort of an unexpected thing. Maybe an "unwanted thing" would be a better choice of words for me. The amount of time and work on my part was perhaps a tiny bit unexpected because after 15 years without a dog or any kind of pet, I'd forgotten just how TIME CONSUMING pets can be, especially if you're a clean freak like me! The good news is that now that our puppy is 6 months old things are getting easier, and we've fallen into a pretty good routine. Truly, our big ole mutt puppy is slowly winning my favor.

Number 3 is just what it is and probably the most influential of the three. Without the issues of numbers 1 and 2, I'd still be stuck with the issue of number 3. :(

Art (in the traditional sense) was one of my LEAST favorite subjects in school. It always centered around things I felt I wasn't very good at like drawing, shading, painting, etc. Anything that required precision and a steady hand.

I hate failure, and I always felt like a failure in art because I could never get things to look the way I saw them in my head or to look the way they did in real life. I like rules when I can follow them, but I could never seem to apply the "rules of art" and have a pleasant outcome. My art fit into the Picasso category, and I don't like Picasso. (Those last 3 words need to be read in Snape's voice.) ;)

Art (in the traditional sense) has been one of my LEAST favorite subjects to teach. When I started homeschooling, I didn't mind doing certain kinds of crafts, especially the food kind, but when it came to actual art curricula that involved drawing, shading, painting, etc., well, those really frustrated me. One, the amount of supplies needed for "art" was ridiculous, and I could never afford to provide everything on the list. Two, I don't care for messes, and I figured one could get through life without ever needing to use those dreaded oil pastels. I did buy a pack once. Um, no. Just no. 

After 40 years of life on this planet, I have come to the realization that there are many forms of "art," some of which I am pretty okay at. When my kids were younger, I was able to wing it and make some pretty cute, homemade birthday cakes. Nothing like what's out there now on all those food channels and stuff, though. I like making food look pretty when I have time. I scrapbooked our lives for several years until kid number 3 came along. I enjoyed designing graphics (even with my very limited techy skills) when I wrote reviews for The Old Schoolhouse magazine. I like doing certain kinds of crafty things. Overall, though, artsy probably wouldn't be an adjective that anyone would use to describe me.

And I've been okay with that up until recently when I realized I was going to have to take illustrating my own books into my own hands.

You see, I began writing my first children's book when my daughter was just a toddler. I can remember spending lots of time cuddling with her in her tiny toddler bed and being inspired by her charming little quilt when the beginnings of a story started to take shape in my mind.

I've always liked writing - now that was a favorite subject in school! I've fantasized about writing novels, and I have notebooks filled with characters and story ideas. As a homeschooling mom, I just haven't been able to find the time to focus on a novel. I'm amazed at the number of women who can and do!! Anyway, when I was struck with an idea for a children's story, I thought it would be a bit easier since it wouldn't take as much time to write.

Well, I was right about the writing part. In fact, I've written 3 children's manuscripts so far, but I had no idea the publishing part would be so time consuming and so fruitless. With the amount of time I've spent on trying to publish my children's books, I could've written one of my novels! *sigh* (Well, probably not really, but . . .)

I guess I was a little naive when I began the publishing part of my writing journey. Armed with the 2009 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market: Where & How to Sell Your Children's Stories & Illustrations and the Internet, I figured there had to be at least one publishing company out there willing to publish my first story.

With excitement pulsing through my veins, I began devouring that publishing guide I mentioned above. Searching for companies who published picture books in my genre was exhausting. Finding ones who accepted unsolicited manuscripts was daunting. When I finally did find a few, I began researching how to write a query, and on March 7, 2009 (my 33rd birthday) I mailed my first children's manuscript, Lacy's Treasure, to Chronicle Books.

And I waited. 

And waited some more.

So the next couple of years were a tangle of mailing and waiting, writing and researching, and keeping my main job of homeschool mom my top priority. I also became a product reviewer for The Old Schoolhouse at the end of 2009 which took quite a bit of my time and writing energy.

However, during this time I wrote 2 more children's books, Little Moth and Mysterious Moon, and tried to keep up with my new novel ideas in notebooks - for later when I had more free time. (ha, ha) Eventually, though, I quit writing "for fun" and sending out manuscripts because NOTHING was happening for me where publishing was concerned. I focused my attention on product reviewing which turned into being able to blog my reviews through The Schoolhouse Review Crew.

That went well for about 5 years, but then it became clear that it was time to be done with that phase of life. While writing product reviews isn't as fun as writing fiction, it provided a real need for our family during that time. I learned a LOT for sure. :)

Even though I was super busy during those 5 years of homeschooling and writing reviews, I can't say that I never thought about stories and publishing. From time to time, I'd get bogged down with discouragement and that feeling of failure. I begged God to take away my desire to write books if it wasn't a worthy pursuit of my time. I begged Him to take away the new ideas and countless story scenarios that clogged my brain. That just didn't happen. It's like my brain is wired to think in story form. I may have written a few ideas down during that time, but I didn't focus on writing another story. I was determined NOT to pile up stories for the sake of nothing.

I told myself that I was NOT going to write another story until I published one that I'd already written.

When I was still sending out manuscripts, I really only sent out my first 2 books because I felt that Mysterious Moon was the least marketable of the three. Plus, it rhymes. And so many publishing companies shy away from rhyme. I didn't mean to make it rhyme. It just happened.

I kept Mysterious Moon tucked away in a folder on my computer. For what? I don't know. It was just something I'd written, so I kept it.

Well, a couple of years ago or so, I heard about this self publishing thing on Amazon. I thought, How cool is that? 

One problem: I still lacked illustrations.

And I can't draw.


So, the next goal on my list was to find someone who'd be willing to illustrate for not a lot of money.

Yeah, tough.

I found a few people who showed some interest. One person even started the illustrating process, but eventually, nothing really panned out, and I was left once again with me, myself, and I.


I wanted to GIVE UP.

I wanted to RIP up all my manuscripts and DELETE every story I'd written right off the face of the whole earth.

I wanted to complain to God, "Why did you give me ideas for stories if You didn't give me the ability to bring them to life?"

(arms crossed) NO FAIR!

So, to make this long story a little longer, last fall I decided to put my big girl boots on and illustrate the book that I thought would be the easiest for me to do - Mysterious Moon - and self publish a children's eBook with Amazon.

I figured with a moon as the main character, I could handle painting a black sky and a circle on every page. The rest I could figure out later.

Having zero clue as to where I should begin, I bought some acrylic paint and some paintbrushes and got to work.

And it all started with 2 paintings and feedback from a few of my family members who had no clue about my intentions. I had secretly painted a moon over water and a moon over water with a sailboat.

Clearly on the wrong kind of paper, though. 

But that's for another story.

* So, to sum it all up, I settled on an eBook because that was and still is my only option at this time. I definitely don't have the funds to self-publish a physical book! *

In my next publishing backstory post, I will take you behind the scenes to explain how I went about illustrating my first children's eBook.

Stay tuned!

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