The 2019 Afterthoughts Book Awards

This second half of this year of reading felt … strange … to me. For the first time in ten years, I had very little pre-reading to do. This meant that I could choose books. I know it sounds amazing, but I floundered at first. All that choice paralyzed me.

In addition to this, we had some big life changes, including my husband’s new job, which threw off my schedule. I had to find a new normal, including a new normal for reading. I feel like I’m finally there, but I also feel like this year’s reading list is evidence of the transitions!

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The main rule I have for myself is that I have to finish a book for it to be a contender. Because I love to start books, this is a form of self-discipline that has been very helpful for me. How many books did I finish this year? 31. That really surprised me because it was only one book less than I read this year. Of course, the ones I read were mostly “easier” than last year, but I think I needed to be gentle with myself for a few months.

If anything, it proves that having a habit (and a habit tracker! — not too late to get yours here!) helps quite a bit.

Now, on with the awards! (Book of the Year is always given at the end….)

Best Read Aloud

My read aloud titles are listed here and aren’t part of my total of 31. I count them separately; I guess I like to know what I’ve done on my own.

The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking — also known as The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers — were fantastic. We can’t recommend them enough!

Best Parenting Book

The Self-Driven Child by William Stixrud is one I highly recommend. In many ways, it is simply Charlotte Mason’s concept of masterly inactivity applied to today’s world.

Other contenders in this category: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child was a re-read for me, which is why it didn’t win. With that said, I like it so much I wrote a group study guide on it that will be coming out in 2019!

Best Government/History/Economics Book

One of my favorite categories!

This was the first time I’ve ever read On Liberty, and I certainly loved it!

Other contenders in this category:  The Vision of the Anointed by Thomas Sowell, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Arguing about Slavery by William Lee Miller (this was definitely second place), and The Great Democracies by Winston Churchill.

Best Geography/Nature Lore

The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman, Jr. was fascinating. I just loved it!

Other contender in this category: Walden by Henry David Thoreau was interesting, but I found Thoreau himself a little obnoxious.

Best Theology/Church History

On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great was, sadly, the only book in this category that I finished this year. I started a number of titles, though, so I have hope there will be an increase in contenders for this category next year!

Best Education

I can honestly say that The Graves of Academe by Richard Mitchell won because it made me laugh out loud. It was profound, yes. A worthy read, also yes. But funny, too, and that was important to me this year.

Other contenders in this category: Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott, How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, How Children Learn by John Holt, and Awakening Wonder by Steve Turley.

Best Other Nonfiction

Atomic Habits by James Clear is hands down a new favorite of mine, mainly because it answers the burning question of how to habit train yourself.

Other contenders in this category: Bandersnatch by Diana Glyer, The Riot and the Dance by Gordon Wilson, Deep Work by Cal Newport, and Finish by Jon Acuff.

Best Literature/Fiction

Here it is: everyone’s favorite category! This was my first Louis L’Amour and I regret not reading him before. It was pure delight to read a story that takes place near where I live. I plan to read this aloud to my children sometime soon. It can double as California history!

Other contenders in this category: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry, Silas Marner by George Eliot (this was even better than I expected), The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Fenollera, and The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchincloss.

Book of the Year!

Drumroll, please….

It might sound a little over the top to say “Fact #1: miracles do happen” at the top of your book, but not if i you are Dr. Nemechek. To say this book is changing lives is an understatement. I keep promising to write about it in detail — and really I will one day. But I’m not quite ready to share. For now, all I can say is: if you are concerned about yourself or one of your children, buy this book and do this protocol. By “concerned” I mean things like memory function, attention problems, etc. By “do this protocol” I mean go all in, even when it asks you to do things that sound radical, like dropping all your supplements.

What’s your book of the year? Leave the title in the comments!

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The Official 2018 Afterthoughts Read Aloud List

It’s that time again! I love to read book lists and I love to share book lists, and I know you are just the same. We finished 22 titles this year — we’re in the middle of a few books that I’ll list at the end. Those will also appear on next year’s list.

As I share these books, keep in mind that my four children range in age from 10 to 16. These are wonderful read aloud titles, but that doesn’t mean they’d all be appropriate for younger kids. Remember this if you’re using this list to get ideas for future titles!

One of my themes for the year — not that there was a deliberate theme — was to read all the things I have always wanted to read. I know that sounds way too broad, but my oldest is a junior this year. It’s likely that, at the start of the year, I only had two more years left to read aloud to him. What did I always think would be part of our family read aloud canon? I needed to include it before it was too late.

Before I share the list … every year I’m asked how we fit in so many books. The simple answer is that we have a habit of reading aloud. The longer answer can be found in my post The Read Aloud Liturgy.

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The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers

The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking — also known as The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers — were fantastic. This is fantasy without magic. It feels a bit like Florida meets fairy tale meets the story of King David from Scripture. I highly recommend this series. Rogers is a fabulous writer.

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King are books in a series that I wanted to like more than I actually did. While there were moments when I could surrender to the story, it didn’t help that my husband kept making fun of the similarities to Tolkien. And you know what? I think he was right. My favorite in the series is Taran Wanderer, and part of that is because it was the least like Tolkien of the series.

Rowan Farm by Margot Benary-Isbert

Rowan Farm comes after The Ark, which we read last year. Like The Ark, it’s out of print and fabulously expensive — unless you can find a deal, which is what I did.

Personally, I didn’t think it was nearly as good as The Ark (please note one of my daughters disagrees with me).

Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough

This is a book I’ve owned for ages and kept meaning to get around to reading aloud, so naturally it sat there for years. I’m glad we finally read it — everyone loved it, and it reminded one of my daughters that history books aren’t so bad, after all.

Warrior Scarlett by Rosemary Sutcliff

This one was sooo good! I love Sutcliff, especially that she uses historical backdrops many other authors avoid. This one was fascinating, plus there was the disabled-boy-conquers motif as well.

The Odyssey by Homer (translated by Robert Fagles)

This fits with my theme of don’t-delay-what-you-don’t-want-to-miss. I always wanted to do Homer aloud, and The Odyssey is the one I like best (yes, it’s true). The kids loved it, even though they had read many children’s versions before this. More proof that classic tales never get old?

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

In tension with my theme was a deep desire to re-read books we’ve loved one last time. I gave in, and we began with our fourth read of The Hobbit, though admittedly O-Age-10 wasn’t born when we did the first reading.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien

What can be said? These are my favorites. That is enough.

Oh. And also that we haven’t actually finished The Return of the King yet.

Boys of Blur by ND Wilson

Beowful meets Florida meets football season? Yes, please. This was such a fun read.

Wingfeather Tales edited by Andrew Peterson

We read the Wingfeather Saga last year (I highly, highly recommend it!) and this was a follow-up: a collection of stories by various authors that take place in the Wingfeather world created by Andrew Peterson. We loved all the stories, but especially fun was the one by ND Wilson that connects the Wingfeather world to the 100 Cupboards world.

Beowulf translated by Burton Raffel

I bought this translation after Angelina Stanford convinced me it was preferable. I am not a Beowulf expert, but I can say it was a great family read aloud, and that’s enough for me.

The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

We haven’t read them all yet, but here’s what we’ve finished so far:

Prince Caspian is my least favorite, and we’re through that one now, which means it’s all wonderfulness ahead. We’re usually in the mood for fantasy this time of year.

What We’re Reading Now

These are the books we’ve begun to read aloud, but not yet finished:

What about you? What’s your favorite read aloud from this past year? What can you recommend to me to put on our to-be-read stack?

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Little Bear Bridge Books in Chinese & English

The Little Bear books is a wonderful series in Chinese and English for beginner readers who are ready to advance from simple picture books but not ready for wordy chapter books. The anthropomorphic stories are adorable and offer repetition for reading practice.

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Taobao and Tmall: How to Buy Chinese Books When You Can’t Read Chinese

Taobao (淘宝网) is the best marketplace for affordable Chinese children’s books and products. If you can’t read Chinese, you may want to consider using an agent to help you shop for Chinese books on Taobao.

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