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My dream is to spark a national conversation about how massive parental involvement is the key to high quality education.

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Attention Parents!

cropped-img_0934.jpgYou can teach your child a tremendous amount of academics, especially with some guidance.

My name is Jennifer Bardsley. Find out more about me here or here.

Where to Start  will give you ideas for toddlers and preschoolers, and Afterschooling is for Kindergarten on up. Every child deserves one-on-one instruction, and that experience can begin in your home.

A Sneak Peek at “Secrets of the Dragon Tomb”

When I was lent an advanced review copy of the middle grade book Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, by Patrick Samphire, my ten-year-old son was thrilled. Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is Steampunk meets SciFi and sure to keep kids up past their bedtime saying “Just one more page!” I can’t share a full review because this book doesn’t come out until January 12, 2016, but here’s a little teaser curtsey of my son:

Cousins Edward and Fredrick live on 19th century British Mars and must stop the nefarious Sir Titus Dane from obtaining a water abacus that can be used to find an ancient dragon tomb full of powerful technology.

My favorite part was the environment. I really liked how Patrick described the unique wildlife on Mars such as crannybugs and bushbears. I also liked how it wasn’t all “high-techy” because you don’t often see books about Mars that aren’t futuristic. Secrets of the Dragon Tomb was steampunk like The Peculiar, which is one of my favorite genres because it is uncommon in MG reads.

Taking your homekeeping to the next level


Erica Strauss has the goal of helping men and women everywhere turn their homes into centers of production instead of places of consumption. That’s a big challenge to wrestle with, but her new book The Hands-On Home: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping shows you how.

Instead of dousing our bathrooms in chemicals, Erica gives step-by-step instructions for making “potty powder” and “acidic bathroom cleaner.” Instead of buying sugary jam from the grocery store, she teachers readers to can their own preserves without using pectin.

Well, Erica would have to pry the pectin box away from my cold, dead hands, but I’m willing to give her other ideas a try. So are her legions of fans who adore her well-known site: Northwest Edible Life.

Sasquatch Books in Seattle sent me a free, advanced copy of The Hands-On Home this summer in exchange for my honest opinions and review. For me as a homemaker, it was love at first sight. The construction of the book is everything I expect from Sasquatch: fine quality pages, beautiful illustrations, and a style that walks the fine line between folksy and hip. The Hands-On Home is also enormous. It’s almost 400 pages long and feels like Joy of Cooking’s younger, prettier sister.

But don’t let the girth put you off, because The Hands-On Home is divided into easy-to-manage sections by season. It’s really like five books in one. First comes the part about basic, year-round instructions. Next comes spring, summer, fall and winter. In each of the seasonal sections there are edible recipes as well as ideas for home and personal care.

Northwest Edible Life fans might be asking themselves, “Do I really need to buy this book? Can’t I find these recipes on Erica’s website?” For me the answer is yes, because the blog–wonderful as it is–only offers a fraction of what Erica has crafted in the book. Plus, this book would make a lovely holiday present or engagement gift.

As a gardener, I was a wee bit disappointed that there wasn’t a gardening section to The Hands-On Home. I’ve given up on the idea of ever getting chickens, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like reading plans about coop construction. Erica writing a follow-up book about gardening seems like a no-brainer to me. The Hands-On Garden perhaps?

I began reading The Hands-On Home in summer when tomatoes were abundant. I *might* have made myself sick by overindulging in oven-roasted herb confit one August afternoon. But, I’m pretty darn proud of the multiple mason jars of lacto-fermented pico de gallo in my refrigerator. Now that it’s fall, I’m eager to try the sauerkraut with apples and caraway. I’ve made homemade sauerkraut before, but have totally forgotten how. Now all I have to do is open up the book, and the instructions are right there at my fingertips.

The Hands-On Home is so rich with ideas that it will take me several years to try them all. How lovely it is to have a guidebook to aspire to.

“Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars” by Constance Lombardo

This summer my six-year-old daughter and I got to take a sneak peek at a digital advanced review copy of Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars by Constance Lombardo that I received from Above the Treeline. Reading Mr. Puffball together made for many purrrrrrfect afternoons. Yeah, baby! Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars tells the story of … Continue reading

“The Book of Dares For Lost Friends” by Jane Kelley

The kids and I were super excited to win a giveaway from Darlene Beck Jacobson’s blog Gold From The Dust: Bringing Stories to Life, and receive a free copy of Jane Kelley’s latest book for middle grade readers. Thank you Darlene and Jane! Here’s my ten-year-old son’s review of The Book of Dares for Lost Friends. … Continue reading

“The Rise and Fall of Oscar the Magician” by Matthew Porter

The evil ways of Milton the Magnificent captured my six-year-old’s attention from the very first pages of The Rise and Fall of Oscar the Magician: A Monkey World Adventure by Seattle author, Matthew Porter. “Why is that monkey so mean?” my daughter kept asking. It was a one word answer: jealously.

Our hero, Oscar the Magician, is thrilled to discover that he’s been nominated for Magician of the Year. But his nemesis, Milton, has other plans.

Would Oscar be hurt? Would he lose out on his chance to win? Would he be thrown in jail forever for a crime he didn’t commit? This is a picture book with a lot of tension, and just the right amount of emotional “stress” for kids to handle. Spoiler alert: Oscar never gets hurt, no matter how dastardly Milton becomes. ;)

My daughter and I both enjoyed the beautiful illustrations which were full of detail and color. This book made for a wonderful bedtime read. Thank you to Sasquatch Books for sending us a free copy in exchange for our review.

Children, Blogging, Privacy and Balance

Mommy Blogs scare me, and I say that having blogged for four years. Once you write something on the Internet, it is there forever–even if you delete it. No post is worth hurting your child’s feelings. No amount of “likes” or “followers” makes up for a positive relationship between yourself and your child. As my … Continue reading

From the playroom to the boardroom

Can you take the skills you learned convincing your toddler to eat peas with you to work? That’s the question Shari Storm poses in her book: Motherhood Is the New MBA: Using Your Parenting Skills to Be a Better Boss, and she answers it with a resounding, “Yes!” Storm’s thesis is that all of the interpersonal strategies mothers hone while managing their kids are equally effective with adults.

As an example, let’s compare getting a child dressed and out the door to school on time, with launching a major change within a company. With your five-year-old, you need to give explicit, advanced warning about what’s to come. “We are leaving the house in ten minutes. Please put on your shoes.” In the workplace, advanced warning and clear instructions help transitions flow smoothly too.

Storm builds her book with an abundance of comparisons of things that help at home working equally well in business. Kids don’t like to hear “I told you so,” and neither do employees. Storytelling helps finesse action at home–and is also a clever way to communicate at work.

I found Motherhood Is the New MBA to be extremely readable and witty. I think it would be a great gift book for a new mom heading back to work. But it was also enjoyable for me to read as a SAHM/working mom hybrid.

Talking with children about diversity in books

Longtime Teaching My Baby to Read followers will remember that I have been building my collection of diverse children books for years. If you want to read some previous posts on the subject, check out: I want my children to read about diversity African American Literature for Children Teaching Kids about Islam Today I pulled … Continue reading

Lovely books from the Pacific Northwest

High quality non-fiction can be hard to find for children, especially at the lower grades. That’s why I was so excited to review these three new offerings from Seattle-based Sasquatch Books. They are fictional picture books, but include so many facts that a K-3 teacher could use them to support several of informational content threads from the … Continue reading

What the film “Home” can teach kids about Autism

When I took my kids to see the 2015 animated film “Home” I was blown away. To me as a person who loves many people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it seemed like the entire movie was a parable for what it’s like for kids with ASD as they attempt to navigate life.

The hook of “Home” is that aliens called the Boov invade Earth and relocate all human beings. As a species, Boovians are cowardly, antisocial, and strict rule followers. They avoid confrontation whenever possible. But Oh, the main character, is different from the rest of the Boov. He is eager to make friends and fit in, yet everything he does annoys his neighbors. When Oh tries his hardest to blend in, he sticks out the worst. The customs of his fellow Boov are foreign to Oh. They speak a social language he can barely understand.

Facial expressions also confound Oh. He doesn’t understand when another Boov is angry with him. When Oh attempts to make friendly conversation, he drives Boovians further away.

Despite his lack of social awareness, Oh is quite brilliant. He’s a mechanical genius, even by the advanced technological standards of his fellow aliens. Oh has a gigantic heart and proves himself to be a loyal friend.

Jim Parsons did an exceptional job voicing Oh and made him a loveable character in spite–and because of–his quirks.

As a former teacher, I think “Home” could be a great tool for classroom conversations because it could help neurotypical children empathize with students who have ASD. “Home” can also help children better understand relatives who have ASD which is an ongoing topic in so many households today.

Besides all that “Home” is entertaining too!

“Deception on Sable Hill” by Shelley Gray

I am very picky when it comes to historical fiction–and I enjoyed Deception on Sable Hill by Shelley Gray immensely. It has the perfection combination of great storytelling, good writing, and enough historically accurate detail to earn my admiration and respect. I detest historical fiction books that go of course in terms of authenticity, but Deception on Sable Hill stays true to the time period.

At its heart, the book is a romance between the wealthy Eloisa Carstairs and the middle class Sean Ryan, an Irishman who has worked his way up in the police force to become a detective. Set in 1893 against the backdrop of the Chicago World’s Fair, Eloisa confides in Sean that she is a sexual assault victim.

As a reader, I enjoyed the novel because in was a great story. As a writer, I was impressed by Shelley Gray’s mastery of the craft. This is probably something most people won’t notice, but she hardly ever uses sentence tags like “he said” or “she asks.” The dialogue is seamless and this is part of what makes Gray’s book so gripping.

Deception on Sable Hill is the second book in the The Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, but it holds up exceptionally well as a stand-alone novel. I have not read Secrets of Sloane House but I did not feel lost at all. In fact, I loved Deception on Sable Hill so much that I am definitely interested in reading the entire series.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

A Modern Day Fairy Tale Set in Norway

Are you in the mood for an old fashioned magical jaunt? Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest by Keira Gillett is a classic “perilous adventure” book for middle grade readers. Set in Norway, Zaria Fierce includes trolls, winter-wyvern, ellefolken and more. It also has a modern timeframe, so don’t be surprised if you see iPads or mobile phones pop up.

The plot centers around a girl named Zaria, who has recently moved to Norway because of her father’s role in the military. On her way to school one day she crosses a bridge and accidentally encounters the attention of a horrible troll named Olaf. He demands Zaira pay a price that will take all of her courage and ingenuity to pay.

There were times I found the dialogue to be a bit unusual. Most kids don’t say things like “We are fickle are we not?” or “I met the criteria of your demands.” But there were many other parts of the book that were quite clever like the appearance of dry-ice grenades and the plot twist at the end. I especially enjoyed the illustrations by Eoghan Kerrigan. Somebody please give this man a picture book contract!

I received a free copy of Zaria Fierce from the author in exchange for my honest opinions and review. You can find out more, by checking out the beautiful book trailer.

When Mom breaks her wrist

If you’re a parent you know life can get so busy sometimes you don’t have time to take a deep breath let alone write a blog post. It’s doesn’t matter if you work full time in the workforce, or are a SAHM, your plate fills up fast. But sometimes the universe tells us we need … Continue reading

“Redo Your Room” review

Redo Your Room: 50 Bedroom DIYs You Can Do in a Weekend is a how-to book for jazzing up a tween girl’s bedroom. It’s full of bright pictures, easy projects, and good advice. At only 5 and a half years old, my daughter is not the target age for Redo Your Room, yet she was enthralled by the photography and studied every picture closely. We will definitely be holding onto this book for the future.

For me as a mom, what I really liked was that the projects were doable and not too expensive. One trip to the craft store and $100 later, you’d probably have everything you need to do at least five projects. I hate decorating books that build unrealistic expectations. Redo Your Room is not one of them. (Btw, this book would be a really cool present grandmas could give combined with a generous gift card to Michael’s.)

Ideally, *ahem*, I would have loved to see an entire chapter devoted to the art of cleaning your room and keeping it that way. But that’s the mother in me talking, not the twelve-year-old girl!

P.S. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinions and review.
I review for BookLook Bloggers

Why multisensory learning is awesomesauce

In the past two weeks, Jenna has made mind-blowing progress in her RUN, BUG, RUN! reader. I need to buy more star stickers! Most of these stories are at a Guided Reading level of A or B, but a few of them, like “Get the Moth, Meg” and “The Sad Hog,” are at level C or … Continue reading


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