Our Favorite Books of the Year + Book Gift Guide For All Ages

book christmas tree- book gift guide for all ages - book club- top books of 2020

We’ve had a lot of extra time this year to read. It’s been a gift, and a welcome surprise. I would have never thought I would be writing a post like this at the end of the year. Guess it’s a #silverlining in 2020. The world of books is a fantastic escape, and we’re doing our best to nurture it in our kids. Jenna has been a reader all her life. She may not have as much time now with 3 crazy boys under the age of 8, but she still manages to read when she can. Jodi needs to be inspired with a good book, so we’ve outlined some for her…and for you below. You are not too late to order these books. It will be something that a loved one can keep in their library for years to come, and a great way to pass time inside this winter. We also have some great book ideas for kids, too!

Tell us, what are you reading! We want to know about all the good books to add to our 2021 reading list.

Our Favorite Books of 2020

The Giver of Stars, JoJo Moyes: Jessica loved this book. In fact, she couldn’t put it down. Based on a true story, Eleanor Roosevelt’s traveling library program referred to as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky, The Giver of Stars is a story about Alice’s growth and strength, female friendship and true love.

Where The Crawdad’s Sing, Delia Owens: The details in this book really brought the south and it’s marshes to life. “Marsh-girl” lived a sad childhood without a mother and absent father, but as she ventures out from her marsh, she discovers friendship, love and pain and also experiences a small-town murder trial of one of its own. She blossoms into a young woman throughout the book, and this has some twists and turns along the way. Loved this one.

The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah: This was another one I couldn’t put down. It took me awhile to get into it, but once I did I had to read more and more. Tears were flowing with this book. A young girl, Leni, and her mother learn to rely on each other, and survive the unthinkable. They didn’t just have to survive the harsh and unforgiving Alaskan winters, but their father/husband. It’s a remarkable story of true love, loss, secrets and survival.

Hidden Valley Road, Robert Kolker: This is an unbelievable true story, and fascinating look into a family who severely struggled with schizophrenia. This is not a light read, and very intense, but good. The Galvin family primarily lived in Colorado Springs, and have some connections to Vail, Denver, etc, so we had a connection to the geographic locations of the book. The mental illness is absolutely crippling and really debilitating to everyone in the family. Out of Don and Mimi Galvin’s twelve children, six of their sons were diagnosed with schizophrenia. The book details each child’s diagnosis, signs and early symptoms, treatments, life-long struggles, the effect it had on everyone in the family, including the children who were not diagnosed. It also includes research, as this family served as the backbone of this country’s research of schizophrenia.

Radium Girls, Kate Moore: I love a good non-fiction book. The stories amaze and inspire me. I cannot believe this is a true story, and it happened in America. This book is about women who who were exposed to radium in factories across the U.S. in the early 20th century. Their skin, nails, bones and organs literally glowed due to their constant radium exposure, something they were told was very safe. In fact, they were told the radium was good for them. Unbeknownst to these hard working women, it was killing them quickly and silently. They were dying in so many ways, and yet, no one could pinpoint, and then refused to admit, what was actually killing them. Their bravery and strength lead the way to strengthen workers rights in America.

The Girl With Seven Names, Hyeonseo Lee: This book is a first-hand account of a young, curious and very brave woman who lived in North Korea, and escaped from the brutal dictatorship. I was in shock reading about the reality of what life is like in North Korea, how scared she must have been, and on edge reading about her harrowing escape, and the consequences for everyone involved.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman: This fantastic book is about friendship, showing up for people, and the human connection. We all need that connection so we do not feel completely alone in this world. Eleanor found it with someone she least expected, and it saved her in more ways than one. Eleanor Oliphant is a funny and odd character, and I really grew to love her.  The friendship in this story with Raymond is really uplifting and inspiring, too.

Under The Scarlet Sky, Mark Sullivan: This is a remarkable journey of one man (Pino) who, though just a teenager at the start of the war, helps Jews escape from the Nazi’s over the Italian Alps! This book is based on an incredible true story, and you cannot believe the horrors of war this man witnesses and survives, the harrowing escapes through the snowy Alps, and romantic love, too. Jessica and her husband were captivated by this book! This is a good book for the man in your life.

BOOKS FOR 10-YEAR-OLD GIRLS
I have a daughter that has never enjoyed reading until this year. Her teacher is all kinds of wonderful, and has fostered a love of reading in her. I can’t thank her enough. She actually wants to spend time at the library, enjoys conversations about books and I never thought I would see the day, but BOOKS made her Christmas list! I am so so grateful to her teacher. Needless to say, she is really picky when it comes to reading. We’ve tried it all. This year she discovered some amazing books that we highly recommend.

  • Wonder, R.J. Palacio – this was HUGE about 3 years ago. We kept a copy, and I’m so glad we did. So many great lessons, tears and tender-hearted moments. We rooted for Auggie big time, had a soft spot for Jack Will and were inspired to be kinder and to live by Mr. Brown’s precepts. THIS BOOK IS SO WONDERFUL FOR ADULTS AND KIDS!!!
  • Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper: If you liked Wonder, you will love this good book about a girl with a disability, and how she shows the world what she can really do. My daughter loved this, and couldn’t put it down.
  • Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, Dusti Bowling: My daughter read this at school with her class and loved it! Here’s the details from Amazon: Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again. Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all…even without arms.
  • Roald Dahl books: We have the entire set of Dahl books. They read them in 3rd grade, for the most part. Our kids favorites are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and definitely Matilda. These are classics that are great to keep on the bookshelf.
  • Others recommended books on our list: Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass, Moo, Sharon Creech and Fish In a Tree by Lynda Mullaly-Hunt.

BOOKS FOR 12-YEAR-OLD BOYS

  • Percy Jackson, Rick Riordan: My son CANNOT GET ENOUGH of these books. Here’s a brief synopsis. Accompany the son of the sea god Poseidon and his other demigod friends as they go on a series of quests that will have them facing monsters, gods, and conniving figures from Greek mythology.
  • Trial of Apollo Series: Rick Riordan does it again with this series. My son finished the entire series in a couple weeks, and still re-reads them to this day.
  • Harry Potter: Our kids have read these books at all different ages. In 4th grade, my son couldn’t get enough of the wizarding world of Harry Potter, and also excellent books to buy and keep for generations to come. Jennas has been reading them with her boys for years.
  • Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stuart: We just got this one for my 12-year-old, and he’s reading it now. Verdict is still out because he just got it a couple days ago, but he says so far, so good. Anything that keeps him reading is a good sign.
  • The Wizenard Series: Training Camp, Kobe Bryant and Wesley King: My son read this a couple years ago, and really liked it! If your son or daughter likes basketball (or any sport) and magic, he or she will love to read about Reggie, who dreams of being one of basketball’s greats, but the magic on the court seems to be working against him.

BOOKS FOR 6- 8 YEAR-OLD BOYS

  • Jenna’s son is an avid reader, and though The Notebook of Doom books are very easy for him, he loves them, and it really entices his imagination and also his artistic tendencies. He draws and draws and draws from these books. So much so, we bought supplemental Binder of Doom Series and Monsters Notebook.
  • My Father’s Dragon, Ruth Stiles Gannett: Jessica’s son loved this 3-part book. It’s about a boy who runs away to an island to rescue a baby dragon. There are fun animal characters in this book of adventure.
  • The One and Only Ivan: My daughter read this book when she was 11, and enjoyed it. If you kid loves animals, he or she will like this one. It’s always fun for kids when the story comes to life on the big screen, and Disney+ has this one in their new releases
  • Dragon Masters: If your child loves dragons, this is a great book with all kinds of mild adventure, dragons with all kinds of talents and children who discover friendship and their own bravery along the way.
  • Star Wars Jedi Academy: What is better when you’re obsessed with Star Wars, than an age-appropriate spin off book series with new adventures?! Jenna’s son, Enzo, loves these books. He’s in 1st grade and a strong reader, so he breezed through them and absolutely loved them. This is a series, so here’e a set of 7.

BOOKS FOR 7-8 YEAR-OLD GIRLS

  • Daisy Dreamer: Jodi’s daughter fell in love with these books when she was in first grade, reading them everyday for hours at a time. Daisy, the main character, is the most fun-loving and imaginative character who goes on make-believe adventures with her imaginary friend.
  • Princess Pulverizer: This is more ages 6-8, but if your daughter isn’t into all pink and bows, and wants some fun adventures with great characters, this is the book for her. The main character doesn’t want to be a princess; she wants to be a knight. Our girls both enjoyed it, and we recommend it.
  • The Princess in Black: Here’s a brief synopsis from Amazon, but this book is darling. Our girls loved it. It’s a great early chapter book read, and really engaging with fun stories. The age is younger than 8 – more age 5-7. Princess Magnolia is having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower when . . . Brring! Brring! The monster alarm! A big blue monster is threatening the goats! Stopping monsters is no job for dainty Princess Magnolia. But luckily Princess Magnolia has a secret —she’s also the Princess in Black, and stopping monsters is the perfect job for her! Can the princess sneak away, transform into her alter ego, and defeat the monster before the nosy duchess discovers her secret? From award-winning writing team of Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrator LeUyen Pham, here is the first in a humorous and action-packed chapter book series for young readers who like their princesses not only prim and perfect, but also dressed in black. 

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Perfect Boozy Holiday & New Year’s Gift to Give Friends in 2020 + Free Printable

DIY toilet paper and prosecco holiday gift and free printable

2020 was a crappy year. There were amazing silver linings, but there’s not a lot of sugar coating this year. So, we’re going with the “crappy” theme for our small gifts we give to neighbors and friends this year. We are going to give them the hot ticket items that everyone wanted this year; the ridiculous things 2020 will be remembered for (the ones we can always laugh about, not the important, life-altering things)…booze and toilet paper. Yes, we all drank a little too much, and OVER BOUGHT (or couldn’t buy because it was sold out everywhere) toilet paper. We still cannot believe the toilet paper trials and tribulations that occurred this year. Who knew?!

This gift is super duper easy, and a very affordable gift anyone can do…and pull together last minute. All you procrastinators, we see you and we feel you. This is your gift to give this year! Give it at Christmas, or give it during that week between Christmas and New Year’s. Big farewell to 2020 with this awesome toilet paper and Prosecco gift!

2020 Essentials Gift Idea: Toilet Paper and Prosecco + Free Printable

DIY toilet paper and prosecco holiday gift and free printable

All you need is the 12-pack of Zonin Italian Prosecco from Costco, our cute FREE LABELS, Astrobrights Sticker Paper, and toilet paper (we bought the giant case from Costco). That’s it! It’s a fun gift to give and a funny gift to receive. You never know, that toilet paper may come in handy in 2021.

Merry Christmas. Cheers, everyone!

DIY toilet paper and prosecco holiday gift and free printable

DIY toilet paper and prosecco holiday gift and free printable

DIY toilet paper and prosecco holiday gift and free printable

DIY toilet paper and prosecco holiday gift and free printable

Modern DIY Christmas Tree Ornaments

DIY clay and wood modern christmas tree ornaments

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree, How lovely are thy branches. It’s the common Christmas question, do you decorate a real tree or fake tree at Christmas time? We are team fake*. We grew up with a fake tree. It’s prettier (more full), easier and less messy. Plus it actually holds ornaments.

 

Our team fake comes with an asterisk now, because Jessica has had a real tree for 11 years; approximately the exact time frame she’s been married. We all know that marriage is about compromise, and Jessica just didn’t win that battle. So, every year her hubby treks (with the kids) to find and cut down the tree. Sometimes it’s pretty, other times it’s Charlie Brown-ish. The tradition has been established now, and we’re a sucker for a good tradition. Even Jessica has taken a little liking to it, now, and joined the adventure this year.

Their excursion to find this year’s tree inspired this DIY craft. No, our actual tree doesn’t look like these modern DIY tree ornaments, but Christmas trees are so magical and so symbolic, we wanted to create a “tree” of our own. With a little clay and wood tree shaped ornaments, this tree is a pretty ornament to hang from any Christmas tree.

Take time to appreciate the tree in your house, the traditions you have, and the memories made around it each and every year. And if you want, take time to make these mini ornament trees, too. You can make a day of it – craft cool trees with clay like we did, or use acrylic paint, glitter, mini pom poms or whatever you want. Get the kids involved, too! They take pride is making ornaments they can display on the tree, and see year after year.

diy christmas tree ornament-clay crafts-marbled clay decor

DIY Modern Christmas Tree Ornament 

Materials:

  • Wooden tree cutouts (you can make 50 ornaments for under $25)
  • Polymer Clay (white, a small Sculpey set, or these colors for a marbled look)
  • Gorilla glue, the non-foaming kind (it makes a world of difference to not have to deal with the foam)
  • Card stock paper
  • Sharp cheese-cutting knife or plastic clay knife
  • Rolling pin
  • Parchment paper and baking sheet to bake the clay
  • Chip clamps (or something to clamp the clay to the ornament for a couple hours)

Directions: 

Step 1: For marbled trees, first roll out thin lines of clay (like worms). Combine the worms together, and fold them into one another. Roll out the clay. This should be thin, no thicker than the thickness of the wooden tree. If you want just white or one color, you do not need to roll them into thin lines or “worms.”

clay crafts-diy marbled clay

clay crafts-diy marbled clay-DIY christmas clay ornaments

 

clay crafts-diy marbled clay-DIY christmas clay ornaments

 

Step 3: Trace the wooden tree on card stock paper, and cut it out. Now, add a fun curve in the middle of it. Cut along the curve. You should have two trees. In fact, it would be fun to make this be a BFF ornament for best friends and split the tree in the middle – one friend gets to keep one half, and the other gets to keep the other half.

Back to the craft; add the traced paper tree, on top of the rolled out clay, and use a sharp knife, edge or Xacto knife to cut it along all the edges. Once you have the shape, carefully move it to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake them according to directions. We baked them at 325 for 10 minutes. If you used non-bake clay, no need to bake then. If you want to make sure the shape fits perfectly, you can set the non-baked clay on the tree before you bake them to cut any additional edges for a clean look.

clay crafts-diy marbled clay-DIY christmas clay ornaments

clay crafts-diy marbled clay-DIY christmas clay ornaments

clay crafts-diy marbled clay-DIY christmas clay ornaments

clay crafts-diy marbled clay-DIY christmas clay ornaments

Step 4: Dampen half of the wooden tree with water (the part you are going to glue the clay on), and add Gorilla glue to the back of the clay. Press it gently but firmly into place. Add two chip clamps so the edges are pressed into place and there are no gaps. The directions say to do this for 14 hours. We waited about 5-10 hours for each one to set.

clay crafts-diy marbled clay-DIY christmas clay ornaments

clay crafts-diy marbled clay-DIY christmas clay ornaments

 

Step 5: Add the twine, and hang. We made a grinch-themed Christmas tree with a red heart, and added the famous Grinch quote on the back with a wood burner. You can add any note on the back of the tree with a wood burning tool (available here for $15) or a marker paint pen.

diy grinch christmas tree ornament

diy grinch christmas tree ornament

 

Merry Christmas, everyone! We hope you find joy this season.

diy modern christmas tree ornament with clay and gold

 

 

 

* this post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting our blog. It means the world to us. 

 

The Cutest DIY Beanie Ornaments Ever

mini beanie ornament

We love to sport beanies all winter. They keep us warm in chilly Colorado, and they are a fantastic winter accessory. Although we wish knitting and crocheting was in our repertoire, it’s not. So, while we can’t knit ourselves a beanie, we did find another way to make DIY beanies to add to other areas of our lives. Good news, no skills required, and minimal supplies needed (hint: everyone stocked up on it in 2020).

We love our DIY mini beanies so much that we made two versions. First, we started with DIY beanie wine toppers. Next, we have a version for kids – a DIY mini beanie ornament. These are so adorable, beyond easy to make and a great craft to keep the kids busy indoors. We are obsessed.

We shared all the details at Momtastic here.

diy beanie ornament-great christmas craft for kids

Merry Schittsmas: FREE Schitt’s Creek Inspired Holiday Gift Tags

schitts creek gift tags-free printable-ew 2020-merry schittsmas-best wishes warmest regards

It’s been a year! The one thing we could really count on to make us laugh out loud every night (with the exception of our children and hubbies) was Schitt’s Creek. David, Johnny, Moira and Alexis kept the mood light and funny when the world was spinning with COVID chaos. Let’s keep the tradition of laughter (and fun conversation starters) going with Schitt’s Creek gift tags under our trees this Christmas. Your friends and family who are fans of the show will appreciate the special holiday touch, including David’s lightning bolt sweater paired with You’re Simply the Best, and their always funny coined phrases including Ewe, which Alexis says best.

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We’ve had a real Schitt’s-inspired Christmas. First it was our gift guide. Now, it’s free printable gift tags. Next, it may or may not have to do with wine?!

Download the FREE file here (6 gift tags; the first page of the free file), cut and hang with a ribbon. You can add a to: and from: on the back, or top and bottom.

That’s it. Best wishes and warm regards from us!

schitts creek christmas - free printable gift tags -

schitts creek gift tags-free printable-ew 2020 - best wishes and warmest regards

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schitts creek christmas - free printable gift tags -