Category Archives: reviews

The Crown ~ book review

I honestly had no idea what I was getting into when I started this book but because I am interested in the history that surrounds the Royal Family, I just knew it would be interesting. I was right. And wrong.

I do not watch the TV series The Crown. That made this book a bit difficult. Written by the show’s historical consultant and royal biographer, Robert Lacey, the book is fascinating to read. The full title of this book is The Crown: The Official Companion Volume I – Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, and the Making of a Young Queen 1947-19559781524762285.

Whew! That’s a long, detailed title. And a pretty accurate description of what the book covers.

The history surrounding the crowing of Elizabeth II at a very young age is where the book starts. It covers much of the royal family, jumping somewhat back and forth between people. And since so many of them have similar names, there can easily be confusion about which person is being talked about. There is a House Of Windsor family tree at the beginning and consulting it often helped.

Robert Lacey did a very nice job with this book, relating well between the TV series and the actual history. One of the parts that would have made this easier would be to have seen the series. A big part of what this companion does is to show you where there were liberties taken in the series over the actual history. I found these parts difficult since I didn’t know the series but if you did, I can only imagine that these would be particularly fascinating.

This book was not a fast read for me but I did really enjoy it. And the photos were just beautiful to view. Some of them are historical photos but many are from the TV series. Again, something that was distinguished for me fairly well.

If you are a fan of the series The Crown, then this companion book will be a really interesting read for you. If you find the history surrounding the Royal Family and history in general interesting, this book will also be interesting for you. You may have to work a bit harder at it than if you are approaching it as the companion to the series but still a very interesting read.

At Home.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


Magic Stix ~ a review

frames done with Magic Stix

Coloring with markers is something that every kid (and adult, I think) enjoys. But markers?!? As a parent, I hesitate when it comes to markers.

2017-12-13 13.27.36

What if you could have a marker that

  • doesn’t dry out when the cap is left off, even for a whole week?
  • is odorless?
  • is washable?
  • is non-toxic?


  • provides bold, beautiful colors?

2017-12-13 13.26.48

Magic Stix from The Pencil Grip, Inc. provides a marker that does just that. We have been using them for a bit over a week with tons of intricate Christmas coloring pages and color-it-yourself frames. And they are beautiful. The coverage is smooth and I can get into those tiny little details with these markers. Even though the tip is one I would classify as a bold tip, it is small enough at the point that very fine details can be created.

We have had an issue with these getting a bit harder to use over the course of time BUT we have used them for hours and hours. Miss J has fallen in love with these and wanted to sit and color with Mom for hours on end. It is holiday time, so we did. These markers have been USED! And most of them are still going strong.

Magic Stix coloring pages

When I contacted The Pencil Grip about the issue, they jumped on the chance to fix it (offering to send us a replacement set) and to use the experience we have had to make their product even better. I took the time to answer some questions for the company so that they can use our experience to improve. What an awesome thing!

2017-12-13 14.14.32


I cannot recommend products from The Pencil Grip highly enough.

Purchase Magic Stix Washable Markers from Amazon. They make a fantastic addition to your art supplies.

And if you haven’t read about Quik Stix and Thin Stix, dry tempera paint sticks, please go read our reviews and look at some of the activities we have done. These are an amazing product that we give as gifts often.

Happy creating!

At Home.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of these product from The Pencil Grip, Inc. in exchange for my honest opinion. I was asked to share about them only if I enjoyed them. I was not compensated in any other way. All opinions expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

Andi Carter is back in new adventures ~ Susan K Marlow book review

Circle C books 3 and 4

We do enjoy our Andrea Carter books and all of her adventures on the Circle C Ranch. Author Susan K Marlow has recently released two more of the Circle C Stepping Stones books and they are just as enjoyable as her previous books. I received copies of books 3 and 4 in the Circle C Stepping Stones series from Kregel Publications to read and share.

Andrea Carter grows up in the Circle C books series. Starting out with Andrea (Andi) at age 6 and going through her teenage years, this series is a great one that grows with your girl. The books are set in the late 1800s in California.

Circle C Beginnings – This series is for ages 6-9. It features Andi as a youngster who doesn’t even have a horse of her own. Yet. She struggles through being the youngest. Her curiosity fuels lots of adventures.

Circle C Stepping Stones – This series is for ages 7-10. And is a bit older and has her own horse. She and her friends find many things to do and continue to find adventure with a sense of curiosity. (review of books 1 & 2)

Circle C Adventures – This series is aimed at ages 9-13. As Andi gets older, so her adventures and scrapes become more varied and dangerous. Andi is almost a teenager now and her family is beginning to expect her to act like a young lady. But she is just not ready to be a young lady yet and her curiosity continues to get her into trouble and adventure.

Circle C Milestones – This is the final set of books in the Circle C Ranch books and it is aimed at readers ages 12 and up. These are a bit more mature stories and themes. The situations Andi finds herself in are a bit more grown-up and have some intensity to them. (Thick as Thieves book 1 review, The Last Ride book 3 review, Courage Love book 4 is mentioned in this post)

Tales from the Circle C Ranch – This collection of stories bridges some of the other stories. Each story has a statement at the beginning to help the reader place it within the larger timeline of Andi stories.


Andi Lassos Trouble

Andi Lassos Trouble (book 3)

Andi and her friend Sadie are always having fun together and encouraging one another. One afternoon, they end up having to escape from a stampede and then witness the ranch hands from several ranches. When the ranch hands from the Circle C and other surrounding ranches begin having scuffles and a tough time, Mother suggests that there be a rodeo after the roundup so the ranch hands can show off their skills. It is a well accepted suggestion and everyone gets really excited. Andi and Sadie are no exception. They begin working hard to be able to participate. Is Taffy, Andi’s horse, going to be ready? Also, Sadie’s family are sheep herders. When they show up at the rodeo, another scuffle almost breaks out.

Andi To The Rescue

Andi to the Rescue (book 4)

When Andi’s teacher is injured, Mother steps in as the school teacher for a while. Unfortunately, one afternoon, Andi and Mother are abducted by a robbers who think they are kidnapping the normal school teacher. Thankfully, Mother is an excellent teacher and is able to begin what is expected by the man who masterminded the kidnapping. But as winter begins to settle in, Andi has to make a daring escape or they might be stuck in the mountains with the kidnappers all winter. Can Andi be brave enough?

My Thoughts

One of the things that I really appreciate about all of the Andi books is that there is a decidedly Christian feel to them. The family attends church. They talk about various themes – Golden Rule or Bible verses, perhaps – in each book. The children of the family, no matter their age, know how they are to behave and conduct themselves. I really appreciate not having to be at all concerned about what might be in the books because they are clean and adventurous books that grow with my children.

Ms. Marlow has created an enduring character and a set of books that I am happy to recommend. In fact, I recommend them often, whether it is to friends, other homeschoolers, or our library system. We think everyone will benefit from these fun stories of adventure fueled by a curious little girl.

Another great thing – Ms. Marlow has created downloadable pages to go with her stories. You can find them on her website – Circle C. There are drop down menus for each part of the series and the free activity pages are on that menu, as are some free coloring pages to go with each story. These activity pages turn the books into a literature unit full of fun learning. If you want more, there are also lapbook kits for sale that go with each book.

At Home.


I received a free copy of these two books from Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest opinion. I was asked to share about them only if I enjoyed them. I was not compensated in any other way. All opinions expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.


Can You Feel It? – Christmas Is Coming ~ Christmas Around The World review

Christmas Around The World giveaway

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through one of these links, our family will receive a commission. We received a copy of this product in return for our opinion. All opinions expressed in this post and review are our own. Thank you for supporting our homeschooling family.

I don’t know about you but I can feel it creeping ever closer, sneaking up on me. Christmas is coming and I love it, though it would be nice if Texas would begin to feel a little more Christmasy. But as December approaches, I begin to look for studies and activities to change up our routine a bit. It is hard to stay focused on the normal things when very little around you seems to be normal.

Because of this we have done various things through the past few year to make December a fun year. Some of our studies?

But absolutely one of our favorite things to do is to study the various holiday traditions of other cultures and countries. We have been blessed to get this neat study to take a look at and review titled Christmas Around the World. This unit study has been created by Awe Filled Homemaker.

When you purchase this electronic product, you get an immediate download so you can get started right away. Other than the purchase, you will need paper to print the activities on, a computer to view the parts to read on (if you aren’t printing them), and basic supplies like pencils, crayons, or colored pencils.

The PDF file comes in full-color and is over 70 pages of information, activities and images to ignite the imagination and interest of your students. You can print the pages in black-and-white and they do just fine, especially if you are viewing it in color on a tablet or computer for the flags and fun images. I printed it as a booklet, two pages per side, and double sided. It took half as much paper and still allows plenty of room for my girls (ages 8, 11, and 13) to write.

In this study, you will cover holiday traditions and activities from 21 countries. There are also sections devoted to Advent, St. Nicholas, and the Birth of Christ. Each of the 24 days of study include a three-page set up. Page one is the written information. Page two has some questions to answer and a sentence for the student to complete. Page three is an activity for the student to do, right there on the page, related to the reading. For example, in South Korea they traditionally have a Christmas cake. The activity page has a cake for the student to decorate.

This study will work well for elementary aged students just as it is. For middle school students, they would easily be able to complete it on their own and if you supplement an activity or two, it would be a very rich study. For high school, they could do as the middle school students do, or perhaps, they could be the teachers for the younger students with this study. This is actually what I am considering for my 8th grader – having her find corresponding stories from our holiday book stash or borrowing from the library to go along with each day’s study and being in charge or presenting it each day.

We will probably also enrich the study with a hands-on component for each country, as my girls are very much hands-on learners. We will print a map for each girl to mark the countries on it as we study them, because it is really important for us to know where places are in the world. It helps us to relate. So Christmas Around the World will form the basis of our work and be a large part of it. In fact, this e-product has saved me tons of time in research and correlation of materials. I am really excited to go through this with the girls and traveling the world.

Christmas Around the World is a fun, simple study that you can keep simple or enrich and enhance in a number of ways. If you are looking for something highly effective at keeping some fun in your holiday while continuing on in your schooling this holiday season, this Christmas unit study fits the bill.

And now – win your own copy of this Christmas study. Just click on the word Entry below to be taken to the Giveaway Tools entry page for this giveaway. And don’t forget to share!


At Home.


2017 Blue Ribbon Awards ~ Homeschool Review Crew

2017 Blue Ribbon Awards

Today, the Homeschool Review Crew is announcing the winners of the Blue Ribbon Awards. The Blue Ribbon Awards are voted on by the blogging members of the Crew and then majority rules on the winners. There are lots of categories, some of which we did not vote in, such as PK and Kinder products and vendors. We did, however, keep track of our personal favorites so we could share our family’s winners with you. So, here they are:

Reading Curriculum – The Magic Stories by Allsaid & Dunn, LLC

Writing Curriculum – Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis from Writing with Sharon Watson

Literature Curriculum or Supplement – Captain Bayley’s Heir from Heirloom Audio (though Illuminating Literature was a close second)

History/Social Studies Curriculum – Drive Thru History: The Gospels (though Make-A-State from Home School In The Woods was a close second)

History/Social Studies Supplement – Carole P. Roman books

Science Curriculum or Supplement – The Greatest Inventors from A Journey Through Learning (with Innovators Tribe a close second)

Math Curriculum – UnLock Math

Foreign Language – First Form Latin from Memoria Press

Art Curriculum or Product – ArtAchieve (with Thin Stix from The Pencil Grip, Inc. a very close second)

Favorite Elective Curriculum – Doctor Aviation

Favorite Christian Education Curriculum – Drive Thru History: The Gospels

Favorite Christian Education Supplement – Brinkman Adventures

Favorite Elementary product – Susan K. Marlow books from Kregel Publications

Favorite Middle School product – Make-A-State from Home School In The Woods

Favorite High School product – Bessie’s Pillow by Linda Bress Silbert

Favorite Parent product – How To Homeschool from Apologia

Best Resource I Didn’t Know I Needed – Innovators Tribe

Favorite Planning Product – How To Homeschool from Apologia

Best Online Resource – Let’s Go Geography

Best e-product – Home School In The Woods Project Passport: Ancient Greece

Favorite Book or Author – Shepherd, Potter, Spy – and the Star Namer by Peggy Consolver

Favorite Audiobook or Audio Drama – Brinkman Adventures

Favorite Just For Fun Product – Drive Thru History (with both of the Heirloom Audios close behind)

Miss J’s Favorite – Thin Stix from The Pencil Grip, Inc.

Miss L’s Favorite – Brinkman Adventures

Miss E’s Favorite – In The Reign of Terror from Heirloom Audio

My Favorite – Shepherd, Potter, Spy and the Star Namer by Peggy Consolver

What a year this has been with tons of wonderful product and our first steps into the high school products. The vendors have been amazing and we have been so blessed to be a part of this wonderful group of reviewers, bloggers, and more importantly, friends.


Homeschool Review Crew Favorite Products for 2017 

Please visit the Homeschool Review Crew 2017 Blue Ribbon Awards to see which vendors and products won the overall honors from the Crew.

We hope that you have found some good things through the Homeschool Review Crew and our family’s input with them. May 2017 end with lots of joy and 2018 be a year full of joy, hope, and wonderful times with your family and friends.


At Home.

Illuminating Literature: Characters In Crisis ~ a Crew review

A variety of literature is something we want our children experience. Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis provides high school students a thorough study of a variety of genres. Writing with Sharon Watson provided us a fantastic set of materials to use in studying literature and so far, we have been pleased.

Characters In Crisis set of books

Sharon Watson created Illuminating Literature for high school students, though we are using it with our 8th grader (13 years old). Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis is a study that can be used in any year of high school and is the second in the Illuminating Literature series, though they do not have to taken in order. (We have not yet used the first of the series  Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide.) It is a full year study/two semesters and is written from a Christian worldview. The completion of the course is worth a full course credit. Featuring full selections, the course teach over 100 literary terms and devices. Visit the website to get a complete list of the selections and the terms/devices.

The course is comprised of the student textbook, a teacher’s guide, and quizzes/tests. The quizzes and tests can be taken online for free on the Illuminating Literature website.  There is also a free downloadable Novel Notebook that goes along with the study and is optional. It is found on the Writing With Sharon Watson website.

You will need the texts for the literature selections. Several are included in the textbook or available online and others you will need to borrow or purchase. It is recommended that you use a specific version of the texts so that page numbers align correctly and it is easier for the students to follow in the lessons. I highly recommend this.

We have a copy of Frankenstein and I looked at it to see if it was usable for this. One of the questions said to read a particular paragraph on page 38. I looked and looked in chapter 1, which is where that page was in our book. In fact, I looked all the way back to the beginning of the book and about 10 pages farther into the story. I could not find it! When our recommended version arrived, I looked it up. It was in chapter 5 and 20 page numbers different. I am so glad I spent the $6 to purchase the recommended version!

Illuminating Literature: Characters in CrisisStudent Textbook –

The student textbook is written to the student. The lessons are clearly marked, as is which story the lesson accompanies. It begins with an overview of the course and follows that with a lesson on character labels and forces of antagonism. These are pretty big concepts and the student applies them first to a story of their own choosing that is familiar.

learning stitches

After the introductory lessons, the student begins with “A Jury of Her Peers,” a short story. Before reading the selection, which is included in the textbook, the student is given some background on the time period and pertinent information that is helpful for reading the story. After the reading, the student is asked to rate the story for themselves, do some work in the downloadable Novel Notebook, and then apply some of the literary terms and character labels that were learned in the opening section. Students take a quiz on the story and another on the literary terms, then hold a discussion about the story using questions included in the textbook. Finally, the student selects a project to complete as a response to the story.


Frankenstein will work much the same way. There are a couple of differences. There is a section that gives the student some information to help in the reading, chapter by chapter. The questions for discussion are also listed by chapter and there are a lot of them. So many, in fact, that it is recommended the teacher pick some. At the end of the lessons on Frankenstein, there is a book list of other titles that are similar.

The textbook is where the student writes their answers and ideas, where the background information is found, and where the introductory and follow up materials are found. There is also a week by week schedule for the student to follow, if you choose to use it. It is an essential part of the course and quite well done. Downloading a sample of the textbook will be very helpful for seeing what it looks like.

student textbook

Teacher’s Guide –

The Teacher’s Guide has been terribly helpful. I struggle, as does my daughter, in applying some of the deeper thinking ideas and answering some of the questions. Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis

The Teacher’s Guide gives me a place to start so that we can delve into some of the ideas and explore their value in relation to the selection. The guide is well-marked and it is easy to find what is needed. The chapters, lessons, and questions are all marked to correspond to the Student Textbook and the Novel Notebook.

The Teacher Guide includes key themes that are specific for each story. Along with the weekly schedule, the guide includes most of the information that is in the student textbook. It gives plenty to know what the focus of each lesson in the chapter is on and to help you guide the students. Each of the discussion questions and the Novel Notebook questions have answers to go along with them. At the end of each chapter, there is a rubric for that particular selection that makes it easy to assign grades.

Illuminating Literature: Characters in CrisisQuiz and Answer Manual –

One neat feature of Illuminating Literature is that the quizzes and tests are all available online. The student logs in and takes the quiz and it is graded. The grade is then sent to whatever email the student logs in with. However, that is not always the best way and so there is a Quiz and Answer Manual available for purchase. This has blank quizzes that can be copied within a single homeschool as needed. The book also has an answer key in the back that includes answers for each of the quizzes in the book.


Novel Notebook

Novel Notebook –

The Novel Notebook is available from Writing With Sharon Watson as a download from the site. It is another way to delve into the story. It includes questions that help the student explore the meaning of parts of the story and characters, as well as helping them move through the novels a bit at a time. Throughout there are questions that help the student apply an idea to their own life or to someone’s life around them. It helps the student to personalize the story and ideas. Some of these were pretty difficult to answer but it allowed for good discussions.

working in textbook

My Thoughts –

I really like having a literature program that pushes my advanced reader to think about what she is reading. I also like that this program includes some pretty challenging literature, as well as a good variety. Knowing that something different will be up next on the reading list makes it a bit easier to engage my student in the current selection if she is struggling.

Because each of the selections is so very different, this review has been difficult to write. We have really only used the opening chapter on introducing character labels and forces of antagonism and the chapter “A Jury of Her Peers.” We are just venturing into Frankenstein. With each chapter being a different genre and therefore the types of questions and the application of the ideas being so different, this doesn’t feel like a very thorough review. So far so good, though, and we will be continuing to use this program.

A Student Viewpoint –quilt block

“I still don’t like literature but this is better than the last thing I did. I like the activities that are at the end of each lesson series. I thought the bonus information was interesting. For example, the information about the play that “Jury of Her Peers” was taken from or information on the setting. I liked how we applied the terms and character labels to a book that I was familiar with before trying to use them with the stories that were new. I probably should have chosen a stand-alone book instead of a series and it would have been easier. Most of her writing is easy to understand, though I have had to reread a couple of the sentences before moving on. Overall, I like it because it is different than what I have used before.”

At Home.

See what other families from the Homeschool Review Crew thought about Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis.

Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis {Writing with Sharon Watson Reviews}

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Innovators Tribe ~ a Crew review

Innovators Tribe course

Fridays are a “different school” day for us: we are intentionally giving the girls hands on learning in science, technology, and art. Innovators Tribe had given us a wonderful opportunity with their program titled Thinking Like an Engineer, which we have been reviewing for a few weeks.

Thinking Like an Engineer

Innovators Tribe is an online curriculum designed to foster the thinking skills needed to bring creative thinking from the head to the hands. Created by Wayne Kroeplin, known as Mr. K., students are guided and taught the thinking skills needed to become an innovative thinker and a problem solver. The courses offered by Innovators Tribe are designed for 6th – 12th grade students. Because it is an online program, you will need a reliable computer and internet service as it is not a downloaded program.

We have been using Thinking Like an Engineer  during our Fun Fridays. Each Friday, we log into our course dashboard and click the link that continues us in the course right where we left off previously. The course is a good mixture of online learning with recorded lessons from Mr. K., slideshows, and videos to explain various concepts. There is also a printable unit journal that has questions for the students to complete. These questions help to focus the student’s attention on certain parts of the lesson, highlighting important terms or ideas. In addition, there are research and hands-on challenges that allow the students to put into practice the concepts discussed in the lessons.

tower challenge

Topics that are addressed in Thinking Like an Engineer  include what is an engineer (professional problem solver – I LOVE this description!), types of engineers, types of problems solved or studied by engineers, and real world examples of the application of engineering and problem solving thinking. Hands-on opportunities include things like building tower of books standing on only one piece of paper, making a tower of paper over 5 feet tall using minimal materials, creating a water filtering system, and these are just the ones we have encountered in Unit 1. (Looking ahead there is a bridge challenge and a roller coaster challenge, too.)

The challenges require some basic materials, though if you want to try the water filtration system, you will probably have to go shopping for some things. But overall, it is just paper and tape for the challenges.

book stacking challenge

We have begun Unit 2 and this is where we got to download the 3D software. We are extremely excited to learn how to use this software and find out what it can do to increase our problem solving abilities. The 3D software is used to design models of ideas for solutions. So many possibilities! There are several instructional lessons using this program and also some challenges with it.

As I mentioned earlier, we are using this program for a couple of hours each Friday as part of our STEM learning. This is being used by an 8th grader, a 6th grader, and a 3rd grader. They watch the lesson online together and then we talk through the questions in the Unit Journal related to that lesson. Finally, they tackle the challenges as a team.


Though she is below the anticipated age of the program, the 3rd grader is doing really well participating and helping out. She is not doing the writing in the Unit Journals, though we are talking about each question out loud and so she is participating in the discussions. She is also a big factor in the solutions with the challenges so far. She is just jumping right in, paying attention, and having fun with the learning.

Mr. K. really wants his students to learn and does an amazing job of assisting the students in that. For one of the questions in the Unit Journal, Miss L needed to research the engineering related to a topic she enjoyed. She chose dance. Well, let’s just say that is not an easy internet research topic. So, we took Mr. K. at his word about sending an email his way when we needed something and we had a very quick response that was just amazing.

He responded to Miss L with a video message in which he talked directly to her, addressing her need in such a way that she was empowered to go do the rest of the research needed to answer the question. He did not just tell her what to go look up but rather talked to her about how to think about the topic in a way that she could figure out what to go look for.

Innovators Tribe

This is a great example of how he teaches – he doesn’t lecture and tell you everything he wants you to know. Yes, there is some of that because there is just no way around it sometimes. But, he addresses the “how” of the thinking and gives the students the power and ability to think about the problem differently and in a way that allows solutions to be imagined. That is powerful!

I encourage you to find out more about Thinking Like an Engineer by visiting Innovators Tribe.

At Home.

Read more reviews by families who have been using both Innovators Tribe classes:  Thinking Like an Engineer and Thinking Like an Architect.

Thinking Like an Architect or Engineer {Innovators Tribe Reviews}Crew Disclaimer

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