2017 Favorite Books for Young Readers

It’s that time of year agaiiin! 

When I mentally glance at all the books I read in 2017 and think, which ones of these do I still remember? And still get excited about, and want to share with everybody? Yep, those are the ones that make this list.

THE USUAL DISCLAIMERS: This list does not include mega-bestsellers that you’ve probably already heard of. I do think The Hate U Give** and Turtles All the Way Down** and La Belle Sauvage** and Refugee** are definitely amazing and worth reading, but I figure they don’t need any further attention from me.

This is far from anything like an extensive survey of the 2017 publishing year. I simply can’t read ’em all. If you’d like a comprehensive Alls The Books You Needs to Read List, click here.

Please remember: not every book is for you. Like many librarians, I have very wide-ranging reading tastes and enjoy books from pretty much every genre. Most readers are not this way, so please forgive me if you pick up a book from this list that doesn’t mesh with your tastes. I’m always, always happy to do individualized book recommendations (I get a request like that about once a week, no kidding.)

Books with double asterisks (**) contain content that is better suited for the 12+ crowd, or even the 15+ crowd. Parents might want read up on the book’s content before handing it to a young person.

Just How Was The 2017, Publishing Year, Brooke?

2017 was kind of an odd year for the children’s book world. Picture books had a lot of strong contenders — and the quantity and variety of picture book biographies continues to grow. 2017 was the year that gave us a picture book biography of the guy who invented graphs. Graphs. They were invented by a singular someone! I kid you not.

Like 2016, there were an unusual number of picture books about foxes (some of which are on my list) and several books about narwhals. (Who knew that American kids would suddenly decide that narwhals were The Thing?) There’s also a stunning number of international picture books that made my list. Many thanks to publishers for bringing translated versions to the U.S.

Meanwhile, middle grade fiction was incredibly meh this year. I haven’t the foggiest clue what book will win the Newbery Medal. Novels for the 8-14 set were just kinda not-so-stellar. It’s the kind of year when you can write a 500+ page fantasy novel about the frickin’ Brontë siblings and have it be a standout from the pack. Yeeesh.

(Truly, I have nothing against The Glass Town Game. It’s well written. I just say . . . good luck getting someone in elementary school to read that thing.)

As for YA, I don’t focus on books for that age group (12-18) too much, so what you see listed here is the thinnest of surveys of what’s available for teenagers. Again, click here for a longer list of the Good Stuff.

In other words: 2017 was the wacky publishing year that gave us THREE different novels about orphans abandoned on islands (oh, why?), and my favorite book turned out to be a YA biography of Vincent and Theo Van Gogh. The End.

PICTURE BOOKS (Buckle up, this list is long)

Absolute Favorite Picture Book of the Year: Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illus. Gordon C. James

crown ode to the fresh cut

Best Read-Aloud Escargot by Dashka Slater. Illustrated by Sydney Hanson


Best Over-the-Top-Can’t-Stop-Staring-At-the-Wackiness-Illustration Accident! by Andrea Tsurumi


Accident! also wins because of the owl librarian:

I mean COME ON

Trippiest Illustration AND Best Tribute to Works of Lewis Carrol: Mrs. White Rabbit by Gilles Bachelet

mrs white rabbit

Best Wordless Book: Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin

little fox in the forest

Eh, Probably Most Likely To Win Caldecott Medal: Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

wolf in the snow

In Which Being Eaten Alive Is the Best of All Possible Outcomes: The Wolf, The Duck, & the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illus. Jon Klassen

wolf duck mouse

Best Book About Being the Quirky “Different” Person in a Community: Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

not quite narwhal

Best Heartwarming Immigration Story: A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illus. Thi Bui

a different pond

Basically “How Green Was My Valley: Picture Book Edition” Town is By the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illus. Sydney Smith

town is by the sea

BEST BIRTHDAY BOOK EVER: When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano, illus. Christian Robinson

when's my birthday

It’s So, So, Hard to Come Up With An Original Premise for an Alphabet Book, so Double Kudos to You, Patrick McDonnell: The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell

little red cat who ran away

Sometimes Cats Die, and You Need a Good Book to Cope: Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper

big cat little cat

Sometimes Dogs Die, and OKAY, OKAY, WE’RE ALL CRYING NOW: Stay: A Girl, A Dog, and a Bucket List by Kate Klise, illus. M. Sarah Klise


See? I Told You There Were a Lot of Beautiful Foxes in Picture Books This Year: All Ears, All Eyes by Richard Jackson, illus. Katherine Tillotson

all ears all eyes

Cubans In Cars Getting Coffee: All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, illus. Mike Curato

all the way to havana

Best Spiritual/Inspirational Book: In Your Hands by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. Brian Pinkney (Also basically #BlackLivesMatter: The Picture Book)

in your hands

Gorgeous, Trippy Illustrations, Part Deux: The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, illus. Eric and Terry Fan

antlered ship

Original Folktale + Out of This World Folk-Art Style Pictures: Deep in the Woods by Christopher Corr

deep in the woods

Best Book for Father’s Day: Little Wolf’s First Howling by Laura McGee Kvasnosky

little wolf's first howling

Sometimes Dropping Your Phone in the Pond is the Greatest Thing That Can Happen to You: On a Magical, Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

on a magical do nothing day

Picture Book Equivalent of Soothing Herbal Tea at Bedtime: This House, Once by Deborah Freedman

this house once

A Picture Book from BRAZIL!!! (And it’s SO PRETTY) Along the River by Vaniva Starkoff and Jane Springer

along the river

This Book Has the Best Subtitle Ever: Baabwa and Wooliam: A Tale of Literacy, Dental Hygiene and Friendship by David Elliot, illus. Melissa Sweet

baabwaa & wooliam

Most Hilarious, Laugh-Out-Loud Premise: Claymates by Dev Petty, illus. Lauren Eldridge


Teachers Are The Most Beautiful People and I’m Not Crying, YOU’RE Crying! A Letter to My Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson, illus. Nancy Carpenter

a letter to my teacher

You Needed a Book About a Luchadora Superhero. You Just Didn’t Know It: Lucia the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza, illus. Alyssa Bermudez

lucia the luchadora

This Book’s Title Is Pretty Much What I’m Mentally Shouting At People All The Time: Read the Book, Lemmings! By Ame Dyckman, illus. Zachariah OHora

read the book lemmings

Yes, I Did Only Include This Book Because I Have a Cute Son Named William: William’s Winter Nap by Linda Ashman, illus. Chuck Groenick

williams winter nap

Yes, You CAN Write a Story With Just One Word: Mine! by Jeff Mack


Absolutely Most Eye-Popping Beautiful Illustration, Hands-Down: The Blue Hour by Isabelle Simler (I’d say it deserved the Caldecott Medal, but it’s from FRANCE, sigh)

the blue hour

Katie’s Personal Favorite. The Adorableness Is Strong With This One: Chirri & Chirra In the Tall Grass by Kaya Doi (be sure to check out the other titles in this series!)

chirri chirra

For the Where’s Waldo? Crowd: Find Me: A Hide and Seek Book by Anders Arhoj (Seriously, guys. The interiors of this book are my everything.)

find me

find me interior

Most Silly Premise: Danny McGee Drinks the Sea by Andy Stanton, illus. Neal Layton (Also: Big Sisters Rule the World)

danny mcgee drinks the sea

The Origin Story For Our Time: The Legend of Rock Scissors Paper by Drew Daywalt, illus. Adam Rex

legend of rock paper scissors

Most Inspiring True Story: Manjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin, illus. Danny Popovici

manjhi moves a mountain

Best “Awwww” Book About Parenting: Me Tall, You Small by Lilli L’Arronge

me tall you small

FINALLY! A Fairy Tale About Facts vs. Emotion and Fake News! Prince Ribbit by Jonathan Emmet, illus. Poly Bernatene

prince ribbit

When You Can’t Get Your Shirt Off, and Decide to Just Say “Well, I Guess This Is My Life Now” Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake

still stuck

Anthropomorphic Shapes Play Pranks On Each Other. Need I Say More? Triangle by Mac Barnett


Best Bedtime Book: The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi

way home in the night

Reminds Me of Contemplative, Classic Picture Books Like “Owl Moon,” When the Moon Comes by Paul Harbridge, illus. Matt James

when the moon comes

Supremely Silly Story: Firefighter Duckies! By Frank W. Dormer

firefighter duckies

Best Halloween Story: How to Make Friends With a Ghost by Rebecca Green (Okay, okay — I also admit that The Pomegranate Witch is also a great Halloween story from 2017, but How to Make Friends With a Ghost has an adorable ghost! I’m so easily swayed by adorableness.)

how to make friends with a ghost



Best Book Written About This Topic In a Long, Long Time: Tell Me About Sex, Grandma by Anastasia Higgenbotham** (Also wins the prize for Best Raised Eyebrow On a Children’s Book Cover)

tell me about sex grandma

“Tears Are Only Acceptable at Funerals and the Grand Canyon”: Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

grand canyon

Necessary, Touching Poetry About a True American Hero: Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illus. James E. Ransome

before she was harriet

For When You Wish You Could Take Your Naturalist’s Sketchbook On Safari: How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy

how to be an elephant

Personal Favorite Picture Book Biography: Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, illus. Nancy Carpenter


Aww, This Biography is My Other Favorite: Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo, illus. Jacqueline Torville

pocket full of colors

Continuing the Trend of Books About Women in STEM Fields: Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins, illus. Lucy Knisley

margaret and the moon

Yeah, You Read That Right: Pop Up Shakespeare by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, illus. Jennie Maizels (It’s written by the Reduced Shakespeare Company guys!)

pop up shakespeare

Best Picture Book Biography for the 12+ Crowd: Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio, illus. Charlotte Riley-Webb**

strange fruit

My Kids Can’t Stop Reading This One: This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids From Around the World by Matt Lamothe

this is how we do it

Most Hilarious Science Nonfiction: Give Bees a Chance by Bethany Barton (This author’s other book is called I’m Trying to Love Spiders. This tells you everything you need to know.)

give bees a chance



Also Happens to Be Best Folklore Retelling of 2017: Noodleheads See the Future by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton and Mitch Wiess, illus. Ted Arnold (Be sure to check out Noodlehead Nightmares, too!)

Noodleheads See the Future

See? MORE NARWHALS! Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton

super narwhal and jelly jolt

I Swear I Played This Exact Same Game With My Brother: The Good for Nothing Button by Cherise Harper Mericle

good for nothing button



21st Century’s Version of Shel Silverstein: I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris, illus. Lane Smith

I'm Just No Good At Rhyming

This Book Ought to Win the Newbery Medal, but it probably won’t: One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

one last word

Best Father’s Day Book, Part Two: My Daddy Rules the World: Poems About Dads by Hope Anita Smith

my daddy rules the world

I’m Including This Because William Loves Sloths and When He Saw This Cover He Squealed For Five Full Minutes: Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures by Kwame Alexander

animal ark



Best “Oh, Wow, That’s Just Like My Childhood” Story: Real Friends by Shannon Hale

real friends

At Least Your Embarrassing Parents Aren’t Ren Faire Folke: All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

all's faire in middle school

I Had To Physically Pry This Book Out of My Children’s Hands In Order To Return It to the Library: Where’s Halmoni? By Julie Kim

where's halmoni?

Arthurian Legend Retelling HUZZAH! Yvain: Knight of the Lion by M.T. Anderson, illus. Andrea Offermann**


I Heard It Described As “Misty of Chincoteague Meets The Road Warrior,” and That Is Correct: One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

one trick pony

A Part of WWII That More People Should Know: The Raid of No Return by Nathan Hale

raid of no return



My Absolute Favorite Book of 2017 (seriously, just thinking about it makes my eyes well up): Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman

vincent and theo

A Biography So Good It Made Me Care About Football: Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team


Book With the Highest Body Count: Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines by Sarah Albee


Best Explanation For Why American Society Is The Way It Is: Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson

fault lines in the constitution



Probably My Favorite Children’s Novel of the Year: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

beyond the bright sea

People Grieve In Different Ways. This Kid Needs Blues Music: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

clayton byrd goes underground

The “Man In Hole” Plot, In Which There is a Boy Literally Stuck In a Hole: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

hello universe

Best Sequel: The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

war i finally won

Aww, It Includes Zines! Zines Made By the Protagonist! The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

first rule of punk

A Retelling of “Cyrano de Bergerac” set in a Middle School (AND IT’S AWESOME): Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail

well that was awkward



In Which an Elevator Full of Ghosts Convinces the Protagonist That Revenge Isn’t the Answer: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds**

long way down

Best Retelling of a Greek Myth: Bull by David Elliott**


Best Mystery Story (Also Best Book With Crossover Adult Appeal): The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein**

pearl thief

Never Be Possessed By Ghosts. Unless You Can Be Possessed By a Bear. Then, Always Be Possessed By a Bear: A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

skinful of shadows

Most Original Fantasy Worldbuilding: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor** 

strange the dreamer

I Can’t Say Enough Good Things About The “Queen’s Thief” Series. READ IT NOW: Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner (Also, Best Adult Crossover and Best Bromance)

thick as thieves

If You’re Going to Write a High School Story, Make Sure It Has a Killer Wardrobe: The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby**

fashion committee

Best Original Folktales, and Best Interior Book Decoration: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo**

language of thorns


Now go fire up them library cards and happy reading!!

The Thanksgiving That Halted This Blog In Its Tracks

Confession Time: I’m writing this post on August 26, 2018. I’m post-dating it so that it still shows up in chronological order on the blog, but in reality: these events happened 9 months ago.

Last Thanksgiving was such a packed-to-the-gillzzzz funtime extravaganza that when I returned home, trying to write about everything seemed just plain daunting.

It done knocked this blog to the ground and left it stunned.

For nine whole months.

But I’d like to make amends and give it the Old College Try.


Thanksgiving 2017 was spent at the Newey grandparents’ home. Featuring all the Greatest Hits!

Roll making!




Over-the-top table decs!


Which included lots of these little waxy pumpkins and my children were way fascinated with lining them up and stacking them.


Carbs! With a side of carbs!



Backyard bocce!


And taking food to Uncle Alex, who was working at the Emergency Room that evening. (Fun fact I learned: lots of people cut their hands up when they try to carve turkey.)


In other words: a highly satisfactory Thanksgiving weekend was enjoyed by all.

The next day, we trundled down to Provo. Brian’s brother Michael was in town with his family, and so Kathryn decided to Up the Fun Quotient by signing us all up for an Escape Room adventure.

I admit I was skeptical of this activity. I thought I’d be relegated to the background while the more competitive among us rushed forward to solve the puzzles.


But to tell the truth, every person there found something to contribute, even my kids. (Even me!) The game scenario involved trying to shut down the lab of a mad scientist. I was impressed with the variety of props and puzzles. Good job, Getout Games!


Then we headed back to the grandparents’ house to decorate the Christmas tree and partake of the epic pie and ice cream flavors Caitlin invented for the holiday. And snuggle new baby cousins. Mmmm, baby cousins.


However, the real blog-killer of the weekend was what happened the following day: the Santa Claus Tea Party at the Grand America.





Yes, we had done it the year before, but I was eager to do it again. Such deliciousness! Much sugar! My only hope is that Katie is old enough that she will be able to retain a memory of the occasion. I know it’s kinda corny, but I really love it.


The one funny story of the day was when Santa arrived to listen to what the kids wanted for Christmas. Cousin June simply said “a pizza.” One of the hotel managers overheard, and then went to the kitchen to have a little mini pizza made just for her so her wish could come true right then. Which is pretty darn adorable.


Meanwhile, Eleanor was debating whether or not she should bother visiting Santa at all. Caitlin challenged her to do so simply because the candy canes the kids got were enormous. This was apparently the tipping point. Anything for a humongo candy cane.


We also spent time doing the hotel’s holiday scavenger hunt, seeing the giant gingerbread house, and browsing the boutique toy shop. (William was so cute with this penguin that Santa made sure a similar toy appeared in his stocking that Christmas.)


Afterwards, we changed back into casual clothes, and Brian picked us up to go see a screening of “Coco.”

However, on the way out of downtown SLC, we noticed a perfect parking spot right by Temple Square, so we spontaneously decided to stop for a moment and stroll around. We don’t always get to visit Temple Square on our trips to Utah (seeing as none of our family live all that close to SLC) so this was a fun treat.


And yeah . . . Coco made all of us get misty-eyed. Darn you, Pixar.


We arrived back home with just enough time to decorate our own Christmas tree.

Once again, the children insisted that the placement of the silver star required a group effort.



And much silliness reigned.

Piano, Planes, Potter, Plays

Oddly enough, the first thing we did of note in November was a Halloween-themed piano concert. Because Halloween took place over a weekend, the holiday-themed piano recital kinda spilled over into the next month.

I don’t mind — any excuse to see the kids in their cute costumes is good enough for me.


We also took our first family trip to the Museum of Flight. This time, we spent time with a museum docent who took time to explain what all the symbols mean on an air traffic controller’s computer display. Just, y’know. In case we have to direct air traffic.


Eleanor and William also got to do the space shuttle tour. This was part of William’s birthday present from Grandma.


Jeff and Eleanor had a special opportunity for Veterans’ Day — performing in a patriotic concert with the Cascade Youth Orchestra at Benaroya Hall. They got to sing the Tabernacle Choir version of Battle Hymn of the Republic, which was fun to practice at home together.


Jeff & Ella are in this photo somewhere, I promise

They also got to sing a medley of U.S. Armed Forces songs together, which, while catchy, got a bit tiresome after the first week or two of practice.

They look so grown up and elegant!

Brian turned 41 . . . and I made a two-layer sugar free, low-carb cake. Oh, such feats of amazement as occur in our household.

The ganache went EVERYWHERE
Hey, gotta play “Heavy Heavy Hang Over”
This has nothing to do with Brian’s birthday, it was just on my camera roll and looked cute

A few days after that, the government announced that they might end the ban on the sale of big game hunting trophies in the U.S. An acquaintance organized a children’s protest near the Woodland Park Zoo, and since Brian was out of town that Saturday, we decided to join up. (Jeff stayed at home. He’s become so much more teenager-ish in that respect lately.)


We only had one piece of posterboard at our house. So Wim made a sign with styrofoam, and I brought a library copy of “How to be an Elephant”

After chanting “hey ho, hey ho, trophy hunting’s got to go” and getting lots of supportive honks from cars, we headed off to the Nordic Heritage Museum for their YulFest.

Which was really just a craft fair. Color me disappointed.

Lots of yummy cookies and little sandwiches to try, though. They even had caramel cheese!

Nobody liked the caramel cheese except me.

The reason Katie isn’t in the above picture is because she was very unhappy with YulFest. (I refused to buy her any of the gewgaws on sale.) But her spirits perked up when we decided to swing by the Diagon Alley Project afterwards.

Note how Katie is still holding the elephant from the protest earlier that day


This is a replica of Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter books, built in miniature in a family’s driveway in Ballard. My friend Margaret and her children joined us (they were also at the protest).


It was originally built as a whimsical gift for the builder’s children, but grew into a community building/charity fundraising project. And boy, was it cool.


William and Eleanor were especially enchanted. As we stepped through the brick wall, they immediately cooed and whispered “it’s just like the books!” under his breath.

William even picked up a branch off the ground and used it as a pretend wand the whole time we were there.


So many cute little details were on display — the storefront “windows” were covered in chalkboard paint, allowing for drawn-in displays of wizard wares. A table held a collection of curious potion bottles. The bookshop had a shelf of old mysterious-looking books with a quill on top.

Note William holding his twig “wand”

We loved it so much that we decided we’d need to make a return visit in the future, especially to since Gringott’s Bank was still a work-in-progress.

And now for the reason we hadn’t seen Jeff much lately: he’d been doing tech crew for the high school production of Thornton Wilder’s The Curious Savage. It’s a cute play (I fell asleep) and applauded Jeff at the end.


Once again, a picture that I promise contains my child. Somewhere. I promise.

How to Tell When October Has Happened

I know when October is happening because the afternoons are suddenly clogged with giant herds of gangly teenage cross-country teams running up and down my neighborhood. This is what I get for living within walking distance of a middle school and a high school.

(Okay, I secretly admit that I love it.)

Eleanor really enjoyed running cross for the first time. She won the “most improved” award for her team. I hereby admit that I never got to see her run. I made a valiant effort to make it to a meet, only to have it cancelled owing to windstorms knocking branches out of trees. Grr.


You also know October is happening when your kids are cuddling in sherpa blankets:


And you have an overwhelming desire to put on a costume and prance around hay bales in a picturesque fashion. This is from the Sky Nursery Fall Festival:



And if not hay bales, then at least giant pumpkin piles:


know that it’s October because my life is consumed with Scout stuff. Somehow this year I managed to running a Girl Scout troop AND a Cub Scout den. I did not do this on purpose. It’s exhausting. But at least I got to teach the Webelos how to make Minecraft self-portraits. Here’s mine:


I also did the Outdoor Overnight training with the Girl Scouts and my awesome co-leader, Brittany:


We’re trying to get our Daisies outdoors as much as we can before the rains come back. Here we are working on the Outdoor Art badge:


October is also the month when reading finally began to “click” for Katie. I’ve been teaching her how to read with the help of a homeschooling reading primer called The Ordinary Parents’ Guide to Teaching Reading. Since we need to arrive at school early for William’s safety patrol duties, we work on reading lessons in the car while waiting for school to start. It’s now one of my favorite parts of the day. This has been gratifying for me; Jeff’s reading difficulties were so immense, and my focus on him was so intense for so long, that I kind of missed out on teaching Eleanor and William to read. It’s nice to have one more little one to teach! I’m really relishing the process. Katie has found excellent friends in Frog and Toad. Thank you, Mr. Lobel.


And of course Halloween lets you know that it’s October. . . or at least that the end of October is nigh. This is the first year that Jeff decided not to dress up at all. (Sniff.)

In the meanwhile, Katie was a witch, William was a penguin (oh, he loved that costume), and Eleanor combed through the racks at the thrift store to find what she needed to match her Minnie Mouse ears from Disneyland.


We carved pumpkins (yes, that is an upside-down face you see. And a Seattle skyline)


And then the piece de resistance, as always, is Trunk-or-Treat at church. This year Brian and I finally got around to making a shadow puppet show for the carnival. We had a “haunted house” story with lots of volunteers from the audience. I’m not certain that everyone in the audience understood what was going on, but it sure was fun to do. Brian even used a stick of cotton candy as an improvised “tree.”




School & Circuses

For the past few years, the only “summer” weekend we’ve found available to host a Backyard Circus is the one after school starts. Here in the PNW it’s still just baaaaarely warm enough for swimsuits and leotards, and all of our friends are back in town after a variety of summer travels.

Which means that the first day of school and circus shenanigans are becoming inextricably linked in my mind.

But . . . I mean . . . look at my kids in these pictures and you can see that the first day of school isn’t so dissimilar from a circus in the first place.



“Let’s All Stand Still for a Portrait Now, Children”


Sigh. This was Jeff’s first year of high school, but because of Seminary, I really didn’t get a chance to photograph him on his Official First Day. But I did get a picture of Eleanor riding her bike to the first day of middle school.


And a picture of Eleanor at cross country practice:


And a picture of Eleanor’s (recycled) Toadette cosplay from when she went to Geek Girl Con with her Girl Scout troop and apparently mopped the floor with the competition at the Super Smash Bros. tournament:


So . . . that makes up for it, right?

And I also snapped a pic of Katie on her first day of first grade. She picked the outfit herself. Yes, that’s a too-small Christmas sweater paired with teal bike shorts. After four kids, I’ve kind of given up on the custom of looking presentable on the first day of school, or anywhere, really. Let Them Be Quirky, I say.


Eleanor also got to come visit the elementary school for Back-to-School Night, and she was very pleased to see her 6th grade art project in pride of place on the wall of the “pod.”


Oh, and needless to say, I was so thrilled to have all the kids back in school that for a while I made them a fancy snack each day. Yeah, impressive. Don’t worry, things dropped back into normalcy soon enough.


Now, for compare-and-contrast time . . .

The best thing about this year’s Backyard Circus is that my friend Margaret won the services of a professional face painter at a silent auction, and decided to donate them to our circus! How awesome is that?

Katie chose to have her face painted like a tiger’s because her circus act was a tiger-taming routine. Eleanor was the “trainer.”

A very fearsome tiger

William’s contribution was a magic act. He took this very seriously, much to everyone’s delight.


And this was the year that I finally, finally talked someone into being a “snake charmer.” Or at least, Eleanor’s interpretation of what a snake charmer is.


This was also the first year that we had a family put together a series of sideshow “freak” routines that was simply hilarious. (Just picture two kids in one giant shirt and you’re halfway there.) Plus two more magic acts, acrobats, and juggling. All in all, a great showing for the 2017 circus. (Come to think of it . . . I think this might mark ten years of doing Backyard Circuses. Wow.)


Other September Items of Note:

The September Piano Recital. We didn’t have to sit in the backyard overflow section this time! I think this was Katie’s first piano recital. I think. They’re all starting to blur together.


JEFF TURNED FIFTEEN! We had friends over for pizza/games/cake, but somehow I didn’t take any pictures? Probably because I was trying to avoid eating cake at the time.


I also finally finished knitting this blanket to donate to refugee relief. I’d been knitting the individual squares all over the place over the summer (at Glacier NP, in the San Juans, a barbecue potlucks, at the side of swimming pools, in a wheat field while waiting for an eclipse. . .)


William received a membership to the Museum of Flight for his birthday, and I took the little kids on their first trip. Airplanes and space shuttles galore!



Katie and William participated in the Primary Program at church. (Sniff, only two kids singing this time!)


And Eleanor and I enjoyed the Women’s session of General Conference by eating hamburgers together. Thanks for the memories, September!



Mt. Rainier & Mt. St. Helens

We decided to close out our summer with EVEN MORE OUTDOORSINESS — a trip to Mt. Rainier National Park, coupled with a side trip to Mt. St. Helens.

And why not start out the visit with a hike? We headed out the door early so we could play in the park right off, before even checking into our hotel.


After picnicking at the Longmire Visitor’s Center, we hiked up the Pinnacle Peak trail, which starts across the road from Reflection Lake.

There were lots of huckleberries on the trail — and as we knew from our visit to Glacier NP, hikers are allowed to pick and eat them (soooooo yummy).

The bright, cloudless sky didn’t make for the best photos (too many shadows on our faces) but wow, the views. The views! Like stepping into a postcard.


And impressive as the view was, I’m equally as impressed with myself — I had spent the spring and summer doing strength training/interval training, and found myself miraculously climbing up the hillsides without stopping for breath once! Wow, I’ve never been so happy with what my body can do. (Katie, on the other hand, had a very hard time hiking. But that’s life with a six year old.)


When we were finished with the hike, we spent a moment or two admiring Reflection Lake. It’s graced the cover of many a coffee table photography book. Although again the bright sunlight made it difficult to have both mountain and people in the frame.


Our next destination was our hotel — or so we thought. We arrived at our destination only to be told a wild story about how the motel has new ownership and all records of previous reservations had been lost in a computer crash. When I expressed the appropriate level of dismay, the story changed to something about the previous owners being thieves, and the person at the counter’s daughter was the one who really knew what was going on . . . . and yeah. Something fishy was going on, and I think I was being lied to. It was obvious that they were trying to turn the motel into long-term housing, based on the number of people lounging in recliners outside the motel doors.

Anyway, we were able to book a room at one of the condos in the White Pass ski area, and it was reasonably-priced enough for a family of six. Still. I can’t shake the icky feeling. Eh, no harm done. I guess.

Since it was Labor Day weekend, the town of Packwood had a street festival going on. We decided to get dinner there. Wow, the best, most massive burritos I’ve ever seen. There were chunks of ham in the refried beans! Epic.


On the drive up to our new lodgings, we stopped for an evening hike in the Grove of the Patriarchs. It was fun, although it grew very, very dark on the way out. Silly us for not bringing a flashlight.


We also stopped at the Paradise Inn parking lot for a ranger-led stargazing session. Similar to our experience in Glacier NP, we got to peek at Saturn and Jupiter via heavy-duty telescopes. And once again we were all singing Ganymede. Someday our teenagers are going to wise up and throttle their nerdy parents, but not on this trip.

We designated Day Two of our trip for exploring Mt. St. Helens. Brian and I had spent a lot of our elementary school science classes studying the 1980 eruption. Because of this, we had the childhood impression that the eruption was something that had just happened, but in reality the event had to be at least 6-8 years old when we were learning about it. Still, I guess in geologic time that’s the same as something just happening.

I guess what I’m trying to say was that Brian and I were really excited to see this place for ourselves, after hearing about it over and over while growing up.


The lake in the background is covered with logs from the forest that was flattened in the eruption
Picnicking at the viewpoint
This was the view from our picnic spot

Since it isn’t a national park, visitor facilities are kind of limited around the mountain. We were running out of water after lunch, and saw on the map that there was water available at an off-the-beaten-path trailhead.

It turns out that it was a hand-cranked water pump, which was kind of awesome.


After loading up our water bottles, we headed into the famous Ape Caves. These are 2 miles of lava tubes that go under the mountain, and they were fascinating. Sadly, they are also difficult to photograph properly. Since it was also a holiday weekend, it was also very noisy with big groups of hikers passing through.

It’s named after the “Mt. St. Helens Apes,” a hiking club that discovered the caves

There were patterns on the ceiling of the lava tubes that resembled the bones of a rib cage, so the kids had fun pretending they were walking through the belly of a dragon. Minus the fire, I suppose — it was very cold in the caves and we were glad we’d been given the advice to bundle up in hoodies before going inside.


The rangers at the cave entrance were trying to educate everyone about the bats that live in the cave, and how they are at risk of disease brought in by hikers. So everyone was encouraged to sweep contaminants off their shoes before and after going in the caves.


Day Three of our hike began very early in the morning, as we were wanting to beat the crowds to score a parking spot at the Paradise trailhead. We did stop for a quick leg stretch at Reflection Lake again, though. The sky was overcast, hooray!


Our wake-up-early strategy paid off, and the usual cattle call of people at the Paradise visitor’s center were all still asleep. The famous Skyline trail was almost empty as we headed off.


I know it’s almost a cliche in Washington State, but I really love the Skyline trail. Best of all, I was once again surprised at my body’s improved endurance. Four years ago, I wore myself out, gave up and turned around before reaching Panorama Point. This year it was a breeze.


The only downside is that because of forest fires, Panorama Point was less than panoramic.


But we did get to use the funky experimental foot-pump trail toilet!


At least the views towards the mountain were still stunning. The hike downhill mostly tracked alongside a little stream as it wound back down the mountainside. We also got to pass alongside some snowfields. Occasionally we’d look down and see would-be mountain climbers training on the snow.  Absolutely delightful.


The Paradise visitor center was terribly crowded when we finished hiking. I’ve heard that national park attendance has increased at such a rate that park resources and infrastructure can’t keep up, and that was clearly in evidence there. Every garbage can was overflowing onto the ground. The lines for bathrooms did not quit. Every picnic table, bench or other makeshift seat was occupied. We had planned on eating there ourselves, but decided to just putter around the museum/gift shop for a few minutes and then get out of there.


We stopped in Longmire for lunch instead. It was a little sad — during our previous visit four years ago, the kids spent a long time playing in the forest around Longmire, pretending and imagining and having fun (I remember Katie waving two sticks over a log and saying that she was “cooking”).


But this time around, only Katie still wanted to pretend-play in the forest. Which she did for a while (she made a “pinecone family”) but it just wasn’t the same. I know that part of what was going on was simply exhaustion — we had been up since the crack of dawn and all — but it was still a reminder that the days of pretend play are coming to an end, and it makes me sad.

At least we’re fostering a love of nature that won’t grow old anytime soon. Hooray for mountains and forests and the trails that take me there!

Ice Cream Days at Moran

For the second year in a row, I fell into a fit of temporary insanity and decided to take my children camping at Moran State Park in the San Juan Islands. With a group of other moms and their kids.


And the insanity must have been more intense than usual because I decided to organize the dang trip this year as well. This was probably the most stressful part of the trip. It was really hard to get a firm “yes” or “no” out of people. Even up until the last few days before departure, I had a few yesses, a few nos, and an overwhelming wave of “oh, gee, I don’t know, maybe, keepmeintheloopI’mveryinterested.”

As a person who builds her comfort out of giant slabs of Planning Ahead, this was maddeningly stressful. But I get the reluctance. I think camping — even car camping — is intimidating to a lot of people. Yes, I’ll admit that it’s a headache to pack all of the stuff. But I’ve discovered that group camping with other women is really wonderful. We took turns preparing dinners and breakfasts, which makes packing easier (it’s far easier to plan for one big meal for 20 people than six meals for five people).



Our kids never claimed boredom, since there were always a pack of other kids to roam the forest with.

But best of all — adult convo! All the time! We’d tuck the kids in their tents and talk around the campfire, we’d chat while hiking, we’d converse while the kids splashed in the water — it was the best!

Once again, we stayed at the coveted group camping area at Moran State Park. It has its own bathroom with flush toilets. Fancy.

It also has no next-door neighbors, so kids can roam and play without bothering other campers, and we also have a nice sense of privacy. This year I also made use of the coin-operated showers in another part of the park. Many blessings on my teenagers, who were able to look after Will and Kate while I snuck off to get clean. (Ha — I think they were still asleep when I came back.)

We spent time splashing at the little swimming beach at the lake (and eating divine peach ice cream from the Lopez Island Creamery).


That water was DANG COLD. I’ll stay nice and warm here on shore, thank you!


Another morning was spent hiking to a waterfall. I loved watching the kids swarm over the rocks to explore the water.

Eleanor and her pal Esther
State parks are great because they are much more lax with exploration


Standing behind the waterfall
Everyone loved taking a moment to let the water tickle their fingertips
I love, love, love this picture of Jeff
Sweet William on the log bridge
Requisite photo of all the grown-ups. Emily, her mom, Amy, Laura, and myself

We took a different hike to a saltwater beach for lunch.

Also known as “the place my kids accidentally smashed my beloved Contigo water bottle.” Ah, well.

Evenings were spent toasting marshmallows and watching for bats to emerge from the sky. (So many bats! We loved counting them all.)


The next morning I had to head back early to get Jeff to the high school for Freshman Orientation Day. (Sigh, I wished I’d known about this conflict before I made the campsite reservation.) So we struck camp early (I hereby congratulate myself for correctly figuring out how to fold the tent back up into its infuriatingly tiny bag) and headed off to the top of Mt. Constitution to explore the lookout tower.

The lookout tower was designed to have a slightly middle-ages-castle look
Goofy Selfie Syndrome
View from the tower bottom
View from the tower top. Too bad about all the mist, otherwise the view is stunning
Next to the tower is a big rock outcropping. Great place for more silly pictures


The clouds disappeared halfway down the mountain, so we stopped at a pullout for some pictures. A random guy was perched on a nearby boulder, quietly strumming a guitar. I apologized for my noisy rambunctious kids, and he waved it away. “Gotta stop here, it’s too cloudy at the peak,” he explained.


Love this girl!

It was early enough that we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Which was great, but it also meant that we were so early that the ice cream stand hadn’t opened yet. Have no fear — we made sure to stop at the swimming beach on our way out of the park to get our cones. Dang, that peach ice cream is the best. My mouth is watering just thinking about it now.

We even got the WAFFLE CONES, what a luxury

Looking forward to 2018, I realize that our summer schedule won’t allow for this camping trip again — our school district is shifting the school year forward, so we will have a very short summer, and I’ve also come to realize that the two weeks before the start of school will likely be stuffed with cross country practices and “back to business” days.

Sigh. Maybe we can convince Brian to come along for a weekend some time. We’ll see. Glad I could take the opportunity for this adventure while I could.

Stuffed Animal Wedding


Otherwise known as “what happens when we finally clean the playroom so people actually want to play there again”

I think a cat was marrying a beaver? The panda bear is the officiant.
Note the use of our “stained glass” wood blocks to denote a church
Angelina Ballerina is the flower girl. Note the tiny basket full of “petals” on her arm.

Solar Eclipse

In May of 2012 I trundled my family down to southern Utah to see an annular eclipse. It was a fun experience, but what really got me excited was knowing that is was just a prelude to a full solar eclipse that was predicted to occur in August 2017.

“There’s going to be a solar eclipse just after my fortieth birthday!” I remember telling my mother-in-law, Kathryn. “I want to find the perfect viewing location and have all my family there!” I said this more as wish — I knew that coordinating plans with extended family was always tricky.

“Oh, gee, who knows where I’ll be then?” was her response.

“You don’t know where you’re going to be five years from now?” I replied.

And Kathryn was struck silent for a moment, mostly from the shock of realizing that Brian and I were only five years away from 40.

“I’m flattered that you still mentally think I’m in my 20s,” I teased.

But the funny thing is that after five years of waiting and nervous anticipation, I got what I wished for — and it wasn’t even something I planned.


Brian and I didn’t initially plan to spend any time in Utah this summer — it was supposed to be the trip to Glacier, and nothing else — but then we ended up going to Utah anyway. (Such is the pull of the grandparents.)

Brian and I had made reservations at a hotel in Oregon just outside the eclipse path, so our plan was to drive straight from Utah to Oregon, see the eclipse, then drive home. None of our parents really had eclipse plans at all.

But then my dad revealed that all employees of LDS Welfare Services were invited to camp on one of the stake farms in eastern Idaho that happened to lie in the path of totality. My parents decided to wake up early on the 21st and drive up. Wouldn’t we like to join them?

At first, Brian and I decided to keep Idaho as a backup plan, but then decided to cancel the Oregon reservations. Eastern Idaho was chosen by NASA to be one of the best eclipse viewing locations in the country. Why would we want to go anywhere else?

Then Randy and Kathryn decided to go to Idaho as well (they stayed with some distant cousins the evening before the eclipse). Why not invite them to join us on the farm, too?

So even though I had given up on my birthday wish, it happened anyway.

The farm was one dedicated to growing wheat, but there was a pasture that was used for YW summer camps. We woke up in the middle of the night and drove to beat the traffic (turns out that the traffic predictions were overblown). We stopped at a gas station in Pocatello, ID and found it filled with excited eclipse-chasers from all over the country (we met people from Minnesota and Texas).


There weren’t many people at the farm. A group of BYU students had camped there overnight, and they invited us to eat breakfast with them. Brian, who had been driving all morning long (and would be driving to Seattle afterwards) crashed for a few hours on an inflatable mattress my parents had put in the back of their SUV.


We were all a little jittery, waiting for the eclipse to start. I spent time knitting more squares for a blanket I planned to donate to refugees, and my mom read some of the stories from her Neil Gaiman Norse Myths anthology.

William is holding the Pringles-can eclipse viewer he made at Cub Scout Day Camp

Finally, it began — a little tiny bite taken out of the sun. William, Eleanor, and Katie began jumping up and down and cheering. We immediately began trying out all the eclipse experiments we’d read about (or done before with the annular eclipse).

Kathryn was concerned about Katie taking off her eclipse glasses, so she made this paper-plate mask thing for her
My parents strike a pose
The little holes in my hat show the bitten-sun shape
Seeing the eclipse through a colander
One of the BYU students brought a telescope with a sun filter, and allowed us to use it
Eleanor made models of the eclipse with Oreos

As the time for totality drew near, everyone in the camp drove out into the wheat fields and up on top of a ridge where sat some farm equipment and water tanks. It provided a marvellously unhindered view of the entire 360-degree horizon. The light began to grow dim and metallic, just as with the annular eclipse, and soon our shadows began to warp.

Warped shadows at the bottoms of my fingers


You can see crescent shapes in the “holes” we made with our fingers


See how the light is beginning to dim? The temperature dropped as well. It was already windy on that hilltop, so I couldn’t say if the eclipse increased the wind.
Behind us were a line of windmills. The dim light tricked them into thinking it was night, and all of their nighttime safety lights began to blink
Even dimmer . . . almost there . . . 

Suddenly the light went from dim to dusk, very suddenly . . . it reminded me of someone turning down a dimmer switch for an electric light. And then . . . totality! None of my pictures — or any of the published photos I saw of this event — truly captured what it looked like. The moon seemed enormous in the sky. William and I started jumping up and down and squealing “oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh!” Brian came over and kissed me. Jeffrey did the same thing. We saw the shadow snakes on the poster board I brought.

The sky was the most beautiful shade of indigo, and the moon looked flat, like a smooth-sided coin or a button over the sun, with a thick band of light radiating from its edge – -starlight writ large. The entire horizon became sunset; with the rolling wheat field horizon it looked uncanny, like cover art from a 60s sci-fi paperback.

Katie came to me for some reason, and I knelt down next to her and asked her questions about what she saw. “Look, just look look look,” I urged her, hoping that it would be something she’d remember her whole life.

When the sun began to reemerge, I understood why people called that moment the “diamond ring” of an eclipse — in the split second before slipping my eclipse glasses back on, one edge of the moon held a burst of the most pure white light I’ve ever seen in my life. Both Brian and I remarked about it on the drive home.


Speaking of which . . . as soon as totality was over (the dimmer switch brough the lights back on, and the temperature rose again) Brian hustled us straight back to the car for the drive home. We had to get all the way back to Seattle that day, and he was anxious to avoid traffic! But truthfully, Idaho invested so much resources into traffic management that we didn’t have any problems until we hit road construction in Montana. (And then more road construction in Snoqualmie Pass, ugh. We didn’t get home until midnight, but overall wasn’t as bad as we’d feared.)

Jeff stayed with my parents; he’d been invited to stay a week with friends in Ogden, then fly home as an unaccompanied minor.  So it was just the five of us for the drive home.

For the first hour of the drive, we kept gazing at the sun with our eclipse glasses on, watching the “bite” grow smaller and smaller until the sun was a whole circle again. Out of all my kids, William was the most enthralled by the experience, his whole little body vibrating with excitement. After a few minutes in the car, he begged for paper and pens, and then began to draw pictures of the eclipse, trying to process it all. I don’t blame him. I haven’t fully processed it myself, and I’m not sure I want to. Even though I know every single scientific explanation for what happens during totality, I want to preserve some element of mystery. Kings of old were struck dead from eclipses. Part of me should keep that same kind of awesome wonder.

Sometime during the breakfast at the camp, someone remarked to Randy that he was impressed that my kids had both sets of grandparents together for the eclipse. “Of course,” Randy replied. “We’re a celestial family.”

Utah Trip 2017

Midway through the year we discovered that Brian would need to be on service over the holidays, and so we wouldn’t be able to visit family between Christmas and New Year’s.

So, we decided to use the vacation time on a second surprise vacation to Utah! Here are the highlights:

On the day of our long drive, we alllllways plan to have dinner at the Pizza Pie Cafe with the Newey grandparents. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets us through the drive. Funny thing is that my sister does the exact same thing when she visits.
We were lucky enough that cousins June & Emmy could come along, too!
Playing in Grandma’s fairy garden with Pokemon
My parents had bought a ton of glow sticks on clearance after July 4th, and we lit them all up. I experimented with the shutter speed on my phone camera to take some long-exposure shots. Very fun.
I spelled “love” with my glow stick. I had to do it very fast and backwards for it to work.
Eleanor and June connected a whole bunch of glowsticks into a big long streamer and then we played jump-rope.
We went down to Provo the next day for Aunt Caitlin’s birthday. She had an amazing chocolate cake and several flavors of homemade ice cream, including sour cream & onion ice cream, which tastes far better than it sounds.
After the brief stay in Provo, we headed down to Cedar City for the Shakespeare Festival. Of course we had to stop in Beaver for ice cream.


For our first meal in Cedar City we headed straight back to our favorite cafe, the French Spot. I love this place so much that I think I had backup almond croissants or macarons in my bag the entire time I was there.
Great Grandma Shirts was able to come along with us. She got to spend an evening with the family telling stories about her childhood, it was great!
And of course we had tarts before and after the plays. We saw Midsummer Night’s Dream (fabulous 1920s production design), Treasure Island, Guys & Dolls, Romeo & Juliet, and Eleanor and I saw As You Like It.
Watching the greenshow
Eleanor and getting ready to watch As You Like It
We had several meals at the local Sizzler. This was my kids’ first time at an all-you-can-eat buffet type restaurant, and William got very creative with the soft serve machine.
More time with Great Grandma. Funny, my parents came down for this trip, too, but somehow I didn’t take any pictures of them?? Sorry, Mom & Dad.
We spent another day in Provo after the festival. We got to play games with Caitlin and take Jeff & Ella to the temple.
We also got to go out to eat with Michael, Natalie & Caitlin. It was so wonderful for Michael & Natalie to come down from Colorado to visit us!
The kids were over the moon to finally meet their new baby cousin Ian.


We spent the next day in Salt Lake. Eleanor went golfing with Brian, Grandpa Newey, and Uncle Erich. I took the other kids out to breakfast with Grandma and Uncle Patrick.
After breakfast we went to the Utah Museum of Natural History and saw the cool Vikings traveling exhibit.
Katie got to dig for dinosaurs, too.
We met up with Eleanor, Grandpa and Brian at the Clark Planetarium downtown. I think this was an exhibit about crazy weather on other planets.


Katie loved this tornado simulator. She stood in it for hours, pretending that she could command the weather. She had the most serious look on her face, waving her arms to make the wind and mist appear and reappear. She asked Grandpa to join her for a demonstration of her powers.
After the planetarium, I spent a glorious hour shopping around at Day Murray Music before heading to a barbecue with the Plethora. We have so many kids now! 
Grownups chillin’ and catching up. This was the first time we had a gang of teenagers slouching about the kitchen, not quite knowing what to do with themselves
All the grownups!
Our attempt at a picture with all the kids. I think the teenagers refused to be part of this.


That evening we headed back up to West Point to get ready for the end of our Utah adventure — watching the total solar eclipse in Eastern Idaho! More on that in the next post.