Little Homesteader: A Fall Treasury of Recipes, Crafts, and Wisdom, by Angela Ferraro-Fanning

As our world spins faster and faster and our connection to the natural world grows more distant, many of us feel a yearning for a simpler existence, and thoughtful parents desire to see their children live richer, more mindful lives.

Angela Ferraro-Fanning has written a series of picture books tied to seasonal themes and activities. The fall volume is filled with apples and pumpkins. The author explains what happens to plants and animals in the fall, and then she offers an array of suggestions for traditional activities for young children. The book offers many recipes and craft ideas, often needing adult supervision. Illustrator Annelies Draws covers the matte pages with cute, childlike drawings of rosy-cheeked, diverse children and cheerful animals.

Ferraro-Fanning maintains an environmental awareness throughout, which seems to be important to the publisher, also, as Quarto’s Ivy Kids announces on the front and back that the book is printed on 100% recycled paper. Suggestions for using up waste are sprinkled into the pages, too. After the cinnamon applesauce recipe, there are instructions for making apple tea or feeding your peels and core to animals. After the pumpkin muffin recipe, children are encouraged to roast the seeds or make percussion instruments with them. There are many more ideas that are not food-related, as well, and I am fascinated with the idea of making acorn cap tealights as part of a fall centerpiece.

These are valuable books of simple, wholesome ideas to get your little ones away from screens and toward self-sufficiency—in other words, to make them little homesteaders! Creative, warm, and fun.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Our Missing Hearts, by Celeste Ng

Bird’s mom was a poet who read him fairy stories and taught him to work in the garden. Now she is gone, and Bird lives alone with his father, who says that Bird must now be called Noah. His father used to be an etymology professor, but now he shelves books in the university library so that they can share a dorm suite. Bird doesn’t understand why they had to move out of their house.

Margaret was pregnant with Bird shortly after The Crisis, when no one had work and people scrounged through abandoned stores and trash cans for food and clothing. Everything was better now, though, and everyone was patriotic. Very carefully patriotic. Margaret and her new husband were living in a rosy glow with a little house and a baby on the way, so they were able to ignore the posters in all of the shop windows about PACT, the Preserving American Culture and Traditions act. After all, it was targeted toward anti-American Asians, and they were good Americans, even though Margaret’s parents were from China.

 Ng’s newest novel is frightening not just as dystopian fiction, but because so many of her details can be seen in our culture today. Having survived a slow-rolling crisis not long ago, we can see how easy it would be for a desperate nation to accept unthinkable levels of authoritarian government, and once that regime is in place, how difficult it would be to loosen its grip on power. We can all flatter ourselves that we would resist tyranny to the death until the authorities play their ultimate card: they will take away your children. Everyone in Ng’s world will give up any of their rights if they can recover their missing hearts.

I almost hesitated to read this novel because I worried that it could not live up to Little Fires Everywhere, which I loved and reviewed here. Our Missing Hearts is every bit as good, although completely different. It doesn’t hurt that it is a love letter to librarians, who play a heroic role throughout. The audiobook is read by Lucy Liu, whose calm voice is often filled with emotion whether she reads from Bird’s or Margaret’s perspective. Celeste Ng reads the foreword and the epilogue.

A dystopian novel that slowly reveals its shocking details, Our Missing Hearts packs an emotional punch and will leave you shaken. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I listened to an audiobook of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

She steps into a patch of sweetgrass and asks its permission to take some. She waits. When she feels that she has been accepted, she leaves a bit of tobacco from her pouch as a gift, according to the Law of Reciprocity. Only then does she begin to harvest some stems of sweetgrass—never the first plant, and never more than half. Those who take all of a species or clearcut the land fall prey to the Wendigo, a ravenous beast of indigenous folklore who is never satiated and is always seeking to devour.

Robin Wall Kimmerer takes her students on camping trips out to the forest or swamp so that they can turn their Latin nomenclature into true knowledge. Kimmerer has found a way to combine her Ph.D. in plant ecology with her ancestral Potawatomi traditional wisdom in practices that will bring healing to the land, the plants, and the humans who live here. As she writes of her daughters’ childhoods, her nurturing spirit shines through stories of maple sugaring and pond reclamation. The chapters are interwoven with Potawatomi creation myths, memoirs of family and friends, and detailed scientific experiments. Kimmerer believes that we have lost touch with the natural world, and that we have forfeited so much peace and wisdom from not listening and receiving its gifts.

Everywhere I turned, I heard Braiding Sweetgrass mentioned as the best resource to teach us how to reconnect spiritually with creation and what was variously called the “non-human” world, the “other-than-human” world, or the “more-than-human” world. I listened to the audiobook, which is almost seventeen hours long and is read in Kimmerer’s soft, kind voice. Although it was originally published in 2013, our library system still has holds lists on our many copies of both the print and digital editions. In other words, the message is enduring and is growing more and more important every day. The stories and ideas are so absorbing that I often arrived at work with no clear memory of my commute, floating in a peaceful, thoughtful state.

If you are a botanist or a camper, an ecologist or a gardener, or just someone who watches water disappearing in western North America and swallowing Florida, Kimmerer has a unique perspective on how we can begin to heal. She can stand in a rainstorm and watch droplets form on moss, name every tiny bit of the plants in Latin, and then draw spiritual lessons from her observations. Those of us who are descendants of European immigrants, steeped in consumerism and rugged individualism, have much to learn from indigenous understandings of the land and of human relationships with the natural world.

Very highly recommended. A must-read.

Disclaimer: I listened to an audiobook edition of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Farm That Feeds Us, by Nancy Castaldo

How many kids today, if asked where their food came from, would say, “the grocery store”? As our culture moves away from family farms, it becomes more and more important for us to teach our children about how vegetables grow and how animals are raised so that they can make good choices for their own health and the health of the planet. Of course, such efforts can backfire, as when an elementary class a few years ago televised their school garden. When they pulled up a ripe carrot, the children exclaimed, “Ew! It came out of the dirt!” and the entire class swore off vegetables for life.

The Farm That Feeds Us shows “a year in the life of an organic farm,” with large, busy pages filled with the various activities that happen on different kinds of farms. Castaldo begins by explaining that there are arable (crop) farms, dairy farms, poultry and sheep farms, orchards, and others, and defines what “organic” means. She then launches into spring, showing the equipment needed to prepare and plant fields, always a big hit with little ones. Throughout the year, different aspects of farming are given a more detailed treatment on double-page spreads with illustrator Ginnie Hsu’s colorful paintings: orchards and beekeeping, the farmer’s market, breadmaking, dairy herds, sheep shearing, pest control, pollination, county fairs, cool weather crops, and putting the farm to bed for the winter.

Throughout this friendly volume, Castaldo helps children to see the connection between farms and the broader population, such as marketing to restaurants and supermarkets, making it clear that farming is not a hobby, but an occupation. Whereas most children’s books would say “sheep have wool,” this title shows many different breeds of sheep and why they are valued. It also mentions breeds that are endangered and does not shy away from saying when animals are used for meat. There are similar layouts with varieties of pigs, corn, and apples. Conservation and making good choices are stressed throughout.

Cozy interior scenes show the family making pies or bread, and there is a simple bread recipe for children to try. The author ends with notes on supporting local growers and how to eat healthy foods, as well as a glossary of agricultural terms. Your kids will come away knowing that farming is hard work all year long, but that it is also deeply satisfying and important.

Recommended for urban, suburban, and rural five- to ten-year-olds.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Great Kids’ Fiction

The EatReadSleep Ten Year Celebration continues!

The beautiful middle grade years! When children can read on their own and have endless hours to fall into a book, soaking up classics and making memories that last a lifetime. These are the books we all remember from our childhood, from Charlotte’s Web to A Wrinkle in Time. They help to form our interior lives, peopling our minds with characters who speak to our deepest selves. Handing a child a good book at this age will mold adults with integrity and imagination.

Here are some treasures from the last ten years of EatReadSleep, arranged very loosely with the youngest in the beginning. Click on the title in the captions for full reviews.

Fortunately, the Milk, by Neil Gaiman. A rollicking, nonsensical, cumulative tale.
The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes. A sweet story that is perfect for boys who have just learned to read.
Clementine and the Spring Trip, by Sara Pennypacker. This charming series is along the same lines as Junie B. Jones, but without the sass and with very nice parents.
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventure, by Kate DiCamillo. Everything she writes is gold. This one is fun, with a bit of fantasy. The Tale of Despereaux is about the same age, but has more of a classic readaloud vibe.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill. A magical, enthralling story for those who love fairy tales.
Boys of Blur and others by N.D. Wilson. My favorite is the series that starts with 100 Cupboards, which was written before this blog started. Christian kids, especially, should read everything by Nate Wilson.
Counting by 7’s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Grief and loss meet genius and love. A complex, multicultural tale for upper elementary and middle school.
Louisiana’s Way Home and others in the series, by Kate DiCamillo. The queen of middle grade fiction.
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. A difficult story that took the world by storm– and a very kind author.
Booked, and others, by Kwame Alexander. I can’t count how many books I have read by this amazing author, but I can see four solo reviews, and I have his next book on order at the library.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia. I love it when a local author succeeds, and this affable Raleigh man burst into the national spotlight with this very fun read.
The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley. A heartfelt, absorbing World War II story.


Still to come on EatReadSleep’s Tenth Anniversary posts: Children’s Nonfiction and Books for “Tweens.” There are some gems in there!

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Thank You for Listening, by Julia Whelan

Sewanee Chester used to be an actress, but now she narrates books. She has had an accident that would make it difficult for her to get the starring, bombshell roles she used to rock: she lost an eye and has a scar down one side of her face. When she’s sitting in the bar at the audiobook convention and Nick charms her into a wild night with him, she is totally ready. He has no idea of her real name, and she knows she’ll never see him again.

Back in her real life in L.A., Sewanee is dealing with her failing, irascible grandmother and her father, who refuses to care for her. Sewanee’s grandmother is an old Hollywood starlet, and her pet name for her granddaughter is Doll Face. When Sewanee is offered a very lucrative contract to narrate a recently deceased author’s romance novel, she almost turns it down, since she has pledged never to do romance again. However, the compensation is so great that she would be able to get her grandmother the memory care she really needs, so she agrees. The male lead for the audiobook is Brock McKnight, an incredibly popular narrator with a vast and rabid fanbase. Thus begins a very confusing time for Sewanee.

The great fun of this novel, of course, is all the meta content. Julia Whelan is an audiobook narrator who has written a novel about an audiobook narrator who is getting entangled with an audiobook narrator, and of course, the audiobook is read by the author, who is an audiobook narrator. As a matter of fact, she narrated the audiobook of Tara Westover’s Educated, which I reviewed here. It’s entertaining with a dash of introspection and emotion. Themes of trust, self-acceptance, friendship, and caregiving.

But mostly, it’s just so much fun.

Disclaimer: I listened, of course, to an audiobook of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Burning Truth

“It’s absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.”

                              Oscar Wilde

                              The Importance of Being Earnest

No, it’s not the 16th century. This image is from a book burning in Tennessee this year, 2022.

Oscar Wilde would know about being challenged. It is ridiculous that we even have banned books in a supposedly open society. While everyone is free to make reading choices for themselves and for their children, they are not free to make those choices for their neighbors or their neighbors’ children. And yet, 2022 has seen more challenges to books than any year since the American Library Association has been keeping track. This year, September 18-24 is Banned Book Week. We don’t celebrate Banned Book Week. We mourn that we have to observe it still.

Many of the recent challenges have been toward books about sexuality, particularly LGBTQ+ themes. It is understandable when a parent tells a teacher that they do not feel that their children are developmentally prepared for these topics, but to insist that the books are removed from libraries, including high school and public libraries, is tantamount to insisting that these people are removed from our society. That is impossible and offensive.

Even less rational is the push to remove books about diverse racial and ethnic groups. There is no age restriction for such knowledge. Brad Meltzer’s picture book I Am Barack Obama has been challenged, along with other titles in his popular young children’s series that sometimes features black people from history. Why? Do Americans want their children to think that we never had a black president? Do they want them to be ignorant of history? It is unconscionable.

I make a deliberate effort to read banned and challenged books. I want to understand and empathize with the spectrum of human experience, and fiction allows us to live inside someone else’s head for a while. If we live another life for a time, we may be less inclined to try to erase them from existence. We are all more alike than we are different.

Here are some of the children’s and teens’ books that I’ve reviewed for EatReadSleep that have been banned or challenged over the years. You can select from any of these for yourself or your kids, or you can choose any of the 850 titles on the Texas congressman’s list that he is forcing schools to remove. Read, get uncomfortable, stretch, read more. Let’s stay free.

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang. A terrific middle grade novel that was challenged for being anti-white. This is the author’s real-life experience as an Asian immigrant.
New Kid, by Jerry Craft. In the same post, this friendly middle-grade graphic novel tells the story of the author’s and his son’s experiences as black students in mostly-white schools.
All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. This teen novel about police brutality is on the banned books list, along with Stamped, which Jason Reynolds wrote with Ibram X. Kendi.
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson. The author’s poetic autobiography of her childhood. I am proud to own an autographed advance reader copy.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. A gritty, realistic debut novel about urban violence. The truth is sometimes difficult, but we can’t make it disappear by silencing authors.

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. Banned for foul language and because Park is mixed-race. Because neither of those happen in real life. It is also heartbreakingly beautiful.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Two Mexican-American boys fall in love. There are no sexual descriptions in the book, and the author is gay. LGBTQ+ people are a target.

We Are the Ants, by David Shaun Hutchinson. A wild debut by a really nice author, who is also gay. Mind-bending sci-fi.
Answers in the Pages, by David Levithan. This is not a banned book, but a middle grade novel about banned books, by a gay author and editor who has many other banned books to his name.

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Starting with the Little Ones

Continuing the Best of EatReadSleep’s Tenth Anniversary!

I read everything, but children’s books are also my profession. I loved reading to my son when he was little, and now I have grandchildren to turn into bibliophiles. During the ten years that I’ve been writing EatReadSleep, I have been the children’s selector for a large library system. Here are some of my favorites from that time.

Board Books

I have only written one post about these sturdy little volumes, and it was meant to be funny. Seriously, though, Sandra Boynton, Michael Dahl, and others have poured their prodigious talents into books that will be slobbered and chewed on, and parents everywhere appreciate it.

Academic Board Books are a thriving industry. Lots of titles here. Also lots of snark.

Picture Books

Picture books! Those little artistic gems. How I love them. The best picture books convey oceans of meaning in just a few well-chosen words, along with gorgeous or hilarious illustrations. Here are some of my favorites over the years. Many of the reviews are grouped in the original posts. Click the links for full reviews!


How Do Dinosaurs…? Jane Yolen is one the most prolific living writers, and this continuing series never fails to teach lessons in the cleverest ways.
Pete the Cat is one groovy dude. James Litwin started the series, which was continued by James Dean. This is one of the most popular series going these days.
Olivia makes an appearance in the same post. She is one precocious little pig.
Duck and Goose are a charming pair, one more adventurous than the other. Tad Hills is also the author of the excellent Rocket Learns to Read and others.
Jean Reagan writes the How to Babysit a…. series, instructing children to allow grandparents naps and other helpful advice. Comedy that hits close to home.
Bonny Becker started the Bear series with A Visitor for Bear. Sweet, charming, and amusing. Large volumes just right for bedtimes.
What dog lover doesn’t sympathize with Carter Goodrich’s Mister Bud? Adorable.
Some children’s books, like Muppets movies, are at least partly written for grownups, even though they definitely work for the kids, too. I Am Otter is one of those.

Single Titles:

Oh, this poor, little penguin. Flight School will have you sympathetically laughing along.
The Tortoise & the Hare is a wordless wonder, just one of the Caldecott winner’s stunning creations.
There Might Be Lobsters is a summery title that will help timid children to overcome their fears.
Hum and Swish is another breezy, oceanside title. This one encourages children to stay true to their own vision.
Great Joy is not your usual Santa-and-his-reindeer Christmas books for kids. Enduring and gorgeous. Tissues not included.
I mean, seriously. Look at those ears and tell me you’re not in love. In a Jar is for every child whose friend has moved away.
Sweety is a confident little misfit. For every child who marches to the beat of her own drummer. Sweetness and naked mole rats. (That’s a species, not a state of undress.)
This Is My Home, This Is My School. A fond look back by a happily homeschooled author, for his younger fellow home educators and their friends in conventional school settings.
Everything about Madeline Finn and the Library Dog will make you say, “Awww.” There are other books that follow, but I love this one.
Watercress is a recent multi-award winner, a quietly beautiful book that packs an emotional wallop.
Clovis Keeps His Cool, but just barely. That huge bull with the petite feet! Hilarious with a message.
Achingly poignant, Boats for Papa is for little ones experiencing the loss of a parent, whether through divorce, abandonment, incarceration, or death.
The Steads can do no wrong. A Sick Day for Amos McGee was the first Caldecott winner for this married couple and features an old zookeeper and his loving animals.
Saint George and the Dragon was old when my son was young. A medieval myth retold and spectacularly illustrated by one of my favorite book artists.

There will be many more children’s books to come, so stay tuned!

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Wine Girl, by Victoria James

Don’t let the Mona Lisa cover fool you; her life is far from slow and serene.

When a girl becomes the country’s youngest sommelier, one would expect that she grew up in a vineyard, working with grape crops and vintages throughout her childhood. Not so Victoria James. She and her three little siblings were virtually abandoned while their alcoholic father stayed on long business trips and their princess (no, seriously) mother suffered from such severe mental illness that she never left her bedroom for weeks on end. One time, when Victoria was eight years old, her slightly older brother divided up one sleeve of saltines to last the four children for a week.

Such a childhood breeds toughness, and Victoria would need it to succeed. She started her restaurant career at the local diner when she was thirteen years old, soaking up all the life lessons her boss could impart. “Find something that you can love about every customer.” She remembered that one as she moved on to the next restaurant and the next, studying every free moment. She learned to be a bartender and to hustle, to work harder and faster in each place. Once she was introduced to wine, she studied nonstop and worked to earn money for classes and certification exams.

Although James exulted in her progress as a sommelier, this is not a breezy rags-to-riches story. She suffered abuse and disrespect almost universally for years. Yes, the reader gets to hear about trips to those magical tucked-away restaurants and vineyards in rural parts of idyllic wine countries, but also some brutal episodes that reveal the dark side of the service industry. Once she arrived at the top of her field, James established Wine Empowered, a nonprofit organization to promote women and minorities in service careers, so that those who are usually stuck at the bottom of the ladder will have the skills and support to move up in the ranks.

This memoir is a natural for foodies and oenophiles, but it is also a surprising fit for the legions of readers who devoured Educated, by Tara Westover, and for all those who love a story of dreams fulfilled through hard work and persistence.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Favorite Young Adult Series and Titles

The next installment of The Best of EatReadSleep’s 10th Anniversary series!

For about fifteen years, I either worked with teens in a library or, later, selected teen books for the library system, and I really enjoyed this collection. Young adult literature is a thriving subculture. At conferences, these authors are rock stars, and their fans are not only teenagers, but plenty of adults, especially librarians and teachers. Young adult books are where all of the latest headlines go to live through stories, and there is some great and undervalued writing going on in this space. Some of my selections are a few years old, but definitely stand the test of time.

Beloved Series

If you’ve read EatReadSleep for any number of years, you know that I have covered some YA series every time a new volume comes out. Here are some of my favorites, although I am sure that I’m leaving out something fantastic. Click on the titles for the full reviews, and search the authors for more reviews in the series.

Megan Whalen Turner’s “Queen’s Thief” series starts with a teen-appropriate The Thief and then moves into complex and subtle intrigue with a hint of fantasy.
I will read anything by Maggie Stiefvater, but her “Raven Cycle” is a favorite fantasy series. It starts with The Raven Boys.
Another winning series is “The Lumaterre Chronicles,” by Melina Marchetta, which starts with Finnikin of the Rock, but I reviewed the second volume, Quintana of Charyn. High fantasy with some adult content. The writing is exquisite.  
My Plain Jane and others by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows are hilariously reimagined classics. These are delightful audiobooks, too, narrated by Fiona Hardingham.

Favorite Authors and Single Titles

Jason Reynolds has been the author of many of my favorite kids’ books. The first teen title I read by Jason was the stunning Long Way Down.
John Green had a lot of hits, such as Turtles All the Way Down, although his last work, The Anthropocene Reviewed, was for adults. His teens were always precocious and witty, like the kids I worked with in our library book groups.
Ruta Sepetys is another author who is consistently a winner, especially her first, Between Shades of Gray, and my favorite, The Fountains of Silence.
The Downstairs Girl, by Stacey Lee. A young Chinese woman in reconstruction Atlanta is determined to make it as a writer.
Everything Sad Is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri. A true story about the Christian author’s family fleeing Iran, humorously told in the style of Scheherazade.
Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell. A brilliant teen romance made agonizing by family secrets and the helplessness of the young and dependent.

There are some excellent LGBTQ+ writers in teen literature, and they’ve been winning awards for decades. A few of my favorites include:

Darius the Great Is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram. Take a trip to Persia—Iran—with this vulnerable and sweet young man and his family. It won the Morris Award for debut novels.
I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson. A brother and sister work through dark secrets to live into the meaning of art. A Printz and Stonewall winner.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz. In 2013, it was the first LGBTQ romance I ever read. This beautiful and heartbreaking book won the Stonewall Award, a Printz honor, and the Pura Belpré Award.
I read the mind-bending We Are the Ants on my way to a Baker & Taylor conference in Orlando, where I met the kind author, Shaun David Hutchinson, and we wept together over the loved ones we had lost to Alzheimer’s.

In our next installment, we will venture into favorite children’s titles from the last ten years!

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