Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

Perfect book for history and horse lovers April 20, 2017

PerfectHorsebookI’ve been addicted to fiction books lately, as it’s sometimes nice to escape to new worlds and other ‘people’s’ stories. But when I was walking through the library the other day, a nonfiction book cover caught my eye and made me pause in the aisle. Many of you know that I’m a major horse lover so when I saw the cover for “The Perfect Horse,” with the beautiful head of a white horse along with military troops, I was intrigued. I’m happy I was!

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If you’re a history buff, you’ll enjoy the book as it takes place during World War II. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll enjoy this book as it tells the story of a daring rescue mission to protect some of the world’s priceless, purebred horses from the Nazis.

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“The Perfect Horse” by Elizabeth Betts is a true story of how Hitler sought to breed the perfect military horse by gathering some of the world’s finest purebreds. The book tells the tale of U.S. Army troops who took huge risks to rescue these horses at the end of the war, before the Russians, refugees or others could slaughter these horses for food or other.

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I found the book fascinating from the start. You learn about the different horse farms in Germany, Poland and Austria that bred Arabians and Lippizzaners. I loved learning about the prestigious and historic Spanish Riding School in Vienna, which has practiced classical equitation for nearly 450 years. The book also shares the history of the U.S. cavalry and their role in military actions.

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As much as I’m a horse lover, it was also horrifying to read how the Nazis looked the other way as millions of people were murdered while horses were treated with kindness and warmth at farms not far from concentration camps. It’s sickening to read how the Germans wanted purebred horses as much as purebred humans and would stop at nothing to accomplish this. I also was fascinated by the loyalty and duty many of the veterinarians, grooms, riders and farm managers felt for these horses, as they considered the horses national treasures. The book chronicles the decisions and challenges the farm directors faced while the war raged around the farms and the Germans began to lose.

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The book shares the stories of the many American troops who played a significant role in rescuing these horses from the Germans and before others could harm or kill the animals. These horses were among the finest purebreds in the world so it ultimately was important to try to rescue them as the war ended. To do this, Americans, Germans, Polish and other countrymen worked together to protect the stallions, mares and foals. Overall, this was a well-told story and interesting book.

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Good books are difficult to put down March 3, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 3:45 pm
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It’s no secret that I love to read. When I need to relax, escape from the real world or decompress, I pick up a book.

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backmanbookI love being part of book clubs because I learn about books that I otherwise might not know about (gasp!). One such author is Fredrik Backman. I recently read two of the Swedish author’s books and loved both. They were funny and touching. I learned about his book, My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry, from one of my book clubs so was happy that the library had it immediately available.

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My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry is about a young girl and her grandmother. The young girl, Elsa, is a bit of loner without friends at school, she gets picked on and is smart and sassy. Her grandmother is eccentric, wild and does her own thing. When she dies (not giving it away as it’s part of the summary on the book!), she leaves a series of notes that takes Elsa on adventures. The reader is introduced to many fairy tales and characters, which all fall into place as the book progresses (so don’t stop reading!). This was a book that made me laugh aloud, cry, think about life and love, cheer for certain characters and boo others. I was almost sorry when the book ended.

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As soon as that book ended, I looked up Fredrik’s other books. A Man Called Ove received many great reviews so I added that to my list. As luck would have it, I went to an event with a sorority sister who handed me a copy of the book that she received as a present. I was touched that she thought of me when she finished, knowing how much I love to read. I’ll admit I lost several hours of sleep to this book as I couldn’t put it down at night! The book focuses on Ove, a seemingly cranky man. But of course there’s more to this man than the surface and you soon get glimpses of his kind side as you encounter his neighbors and learn about his life. While I realize this is a fiction book, there were many moments that made me get choked up and believe in true love.

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Both of his books are the type of books that make me pause after reading the last page, enjoying and processing the lessons, characters and emotions. A sign of a great author!

 

10 books worth reading December 23, 2016

Filed under: Life Lessons,Uncategorized — Heather @ 9:15 am
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I love to read and am a self-declared book nerd. I don’t have a favorite genre as I move across the spectrum, depending on my mood and what’s available to read (although I tend to avoid scary, murder-filled, graphic books because my imagination is much too vivid to simply forget the descriptions as I fall asleep! Yes, I’m a wuss.). I love to read any time of the year, and definitely do, but winter time is especially wonderful – the couch, warm blanket, steaming tea and a good book – yes, please!

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I’ve read a lot of books this year. Reading is my attempt at relaxing and unwinding after long work days, or an opportunity to escape into another life situation from my own (hey we all need a break at times!). I even use reading as a motivation tool for myself – I have a recumbent exercise bike at home so if I’m in the midst of a great book, I can’t read unless I’m riding my bike. Do you know how many miles I’ve logged because I get engrossed in a good book?!

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oneplusonebookHere are 10 fiction books that I read this year that stuck out:

  1. One Plus One, Jojo Moyes: A single mom struggling to raise her daughter and stepson, along with a big dog, tries to make ends meet and do the best for her kids. Along comes a tech millionaire with his own issues, who accidentally offers to ‘rescue’ them on a road trip, only to cause lots of chaos (sometimes funny, sometimes eye-roll worthy). I was entertained throughout the book and found myself cheering for many of the characters at various moments. In the end I really liked this book and was almost disappointed when it ended.
  2. Bel Canto, Ann Patchett: Bel Canto is Italian for beautiful singing or beautiful song, and this book centers on a performance by a popular American soprano at a private party for a Japanese businessman. Set in a South American country, the international guests are taken hostage by a small, seemingly unorganized group of terrorists. The story flows from the angles of various characters, including hostages and terrorists alike. I even got to a point where I felt a little bad for a few of the terrorists. The book seemed to move slow in many parts, until the end when things wrapped up quickly.
  3. Maggie Hope series, Susan Elia MacNeal: Maggie Hope is an American living in England during WWII. She becomes a secretary to Winston Churchill but wants to do more, and does. Becoming a spy who excels at breaking codes, Maggie and her friends embark on cases and undercover assignments to help the Allies win the war. I like this series as the main character is a strong, no-nonsense, likeable woman during a time that women weren’t expected to be that. Plus, the historical references are interesting.
  4. Property of a Noblewoman, Danielle Steel: When contents of a long-forgotten safe deposit box are revealed to include old letters and amazing jewelry, a law clerk and a fine arts expert go on a search to discover the owner and her amazing journey through life.
  5. At the Water’s Edge, Sara Gruen: Three young, spoiled Americans head to Scotland to search for the Loch Ness Monster during WWII. It sounds a bit crazy, and I thought so too at first. And while it’s a bit predictable, there is a larger story focusing on the privilege of some and hard work of others, and a young woman finding herself and more.
  6. soclosebookSo Close, Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Krause: Politics, love and life are what define this book. I like all those topics so I found this book really good. Following a young woman as she struggles to find her place in the world, make ends meet, support her mother and young siblings, figure out a relationship and help elect the next president of the United States, this book keeps moving.
  7. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie King: This book kicks off a series featuring Sherlock Holmes and his apprentice, Mary Russell. Since Holmes is a main character, you know it involves mystery. I have not always been a Sherlock Holmes fan so was a bit hesitant to read but a few friends recommended so I gave it a whirl. I did enjoy the lightness and mysteries throughout the book. I ended up reading the second book, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, because I was curious how the story continues. And I have the third on hold at the library because, well, I’m curious how that continues…..
  8. Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Gailbrath: This is the start of a mystery series featuring a down on his luck detective, his secretary and a case he’s hired to solve. Set in England, the detective is hired to determine if the death of a young model was really suicide. You can’t help but root for the detective as the case moves around with a lot of scenarios…I thought I had it figured out a few times but….
  9. The Secret Sister, Brenda Novack: At first I thought this would a predictable romance novel – woman leaves her controlling, rich family, only to return after divorce, career issues, financial stress, whatever. But it moves into a story focused on family when the main character finds clues that a sister once existed.
  10. The Kingmaker, Brian Haig: This is the third book in his “Sean Drummond” series but I followed it without having read the previous two books. I like political thrillers so this one interested me. The plot involves a U.S. General charged with treason. Lawyer Sean Drummond is hired to defend the general, who happens to be the husband of Drummond’s ex-girlfriend. As with most things involving politics, the plot keeps you guessing the outcome.
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What are some of your favorite books that you read this year?

 

5 things learned from seeing Elizabeth Gilbert April 4, 2016

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 12:00 pm
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HHG_BigmagicbookWhen I learned that Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the very popular Eat, Pray, Love book, was coming to metro Detroit for a seminar, I quickly bought tickets. I enjoyed her memoir about traveling to Italy, India and Indonesia to find herself after a divorce and ‘life meltdown.’ I follow her on Facebook and other social media, enjoying her quirky, inspirational, funny posts and articles.

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Elizabeth’s newest book, Big Magic, was the focus of this seminar. The book focuses on “creative living beyond fear” and is divided into six sections to help readers discover creativity, positivity and more.

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I attended with two of my girlfriends, and several hundred other metro Detroiters. The seminar was at Renaissance Unity in Warren. It’s a beautiful church with very welcoming people. The event kicked off with a spirited performance by their choir, which brought most of the crowd to their feet to dance and clap. Elizabeth seems as I expected her – funny, quirky, focused and kind. She infused jokes, emotion, inspiration and more in her talk.

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The seminar took an unexpected twist…instead of Elizabeth sharing her motivation and tips the entire time, she shared pieces of the ideas from Big Magic and had us focus on ourselves by writing and sharing. She broke the time into six segments (from the book): Fear/courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust, divinity. For each topic she shared some thoughts and ideas, then had us write a letter to ourselves from that topic (ex: Dear Heather, I am your fear; Dear Heather, I am the principal giving you permission to….). After a few minutes of writing, we partnered with someone we didn’t know to discuss our ideas (my first partner said that sharing with a stranger was her biggest fear of the day!). It was certainly unexpected to focus so much on myself and then to swap seats to leave my friends to talk with strangers. But it worked. I enjoyed meeting some nice, thoughtful women and making myself pause to dig deep inside of myself.

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I purchased Big Magic and look forward to reading more on these topic areas. I thought I’d inspire you today with a few key items I took away from the seminar:

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  1. We need all of these areas (courage/fear, persistence, etc.) to live a full life. And we need to listen to our emotions. For instance, we don’t want to be paralyzed by fear, however, that emotion has also benefited us at times. Maybe our fear caused us to not walk down that dark street alone, preventing an attack. Maybe we listened to our fear tell us something wasn’t right with our body and our persistence with the doctor led to an early cancer diagnosis. Each of these emotions benefits us. Think of all the times your persistence paid off or the times you were inspired by enchantment to be creative.
  2. Believe in yourself and be kind to yourself. When she discussed the ideas of trust and persistence, I was struck by how important it is to trust yourself and believe in your abilities. No one can take those ideas from you unless you let them.
  3. Ditch the clutter in your life, your mind and anywhere else. Give yourself permission to say no and focus your wants and needs. Let go of what (or who) is dragging you down and preventing you from achieving your happiness.
  4. Everyone is curious in life and everyone has a creative bone! We make decisions more strongly based on being curious than fearful so embrace your curiosity! So many people comment that they don’t have a creative bone in their body. Elizabeth suggested swapping creative with curious so if you say, “I don’t have a curious bone in my body,” it doesn’t make sense because we all are curious. I love this idea, don’t you?
  5. Embrace the unexpected. Life doesn’t always go the way we planned; heck, the day or hour doesn’t always go as planned. Be flexible, learn to trust yourself and embrace the magic of the moment.
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She left us with some great questions to ponder – what are you willing to give up to have the life you claim you want? If not now, when?

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So I will also leave you with two questions. What do you want in life? What do you need to do to achieve that moment, goal, life?

 

Favorite children’s books (chosen by children) March 15, 2016

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March is one of my favorite months. The weather is starting to turn from cold, dreary winter to warming temps (with a few more cold, dreary days. Sigh.). My sister and niece would say that March ranks as one of my favorite months because it’s their birthday month! While all of this is wonderful, March is also National Reading Month! And you all know that reading is one of my favorite past times, hobby, relaxing activity, escape from the world, and all that.

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Last year during National Reading Month I shared some of my favorite childhood books. This year, as I thought about how to recognize this special month, I decided to ask some of the special kids in my life about their favorite books. I love that these kids enjoy reading, or even listening to books (kudos to their parents and other adults in their lives for encouraging that enjoyment). Reading to kids is one of my favorite activities to do with my nieces, nephew, friends’ children and any other child willing to listen (along with dancing and hiking!). It warms my heart to see a child read a book.

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Here are some suggestions from some amazing children who love to read:

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So fun reading with friends!

Magic Tree House series (Mary Pope Osbourne), recommended by 7-year-old: This series takes readers along with Jack and Annie, a brother and sister who discover a magical tree house. They travel on adventures throughout the world and even some not in our world!

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A to Z Mysteries (Ron Roy), recommended by an 8-year-old: This series is about three young children who solve crimes and mysteries. There are 26 books, one for each letter of the alphabet.

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Dora & Friends series (various authors), recommended by a 4-year-old: The famous little explorer has many adventures with her friends.

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Elephant and Piggie series (Mo Willems), recommended by a 5-year-old: This comic book style series is for early readers, following an elephant and pig through stories focused on friendship.

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The Giving Tree (Shel Silverstein), recommended by a 6-year-old: This popular parable tells the story of giving, loving, taking and friendship.

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (Jeff Kinney), recommended by a 9-year-old: The series follows a middle-school student, Greg, through the funny, awkward stages of school, friendship and more.

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The Day the Crayons Quit (Drew Daywalt), recommended by a 5-year-old: This cute book illustrates the day that the crayons decided to quit their job of coloring!

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I Survived series (Lauren Tarshis), recommended by a 9-year-old: Each book focuses on a certain real-life disaster, such as tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and even Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, through the eyes of a child who survived.

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Love You Forever (Robert Munsch), recommended by a 5-year-old: This beautiful, touching book follows a newborn baby and his mother as he grows into an adult and focuses on the unconditional bond between mother and child.

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Junie B. Jones series (Barbara Park), recommended by an 8-year-old: This series follows spunky Junie as she begins kindergarten, then progresses into elementary school. Junie has many adventures and, of course, learns many lessons about friendship, family, responsibility, honesty and more. I love this series, especially when my niece tells me all about the book she’s reading!

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Does your child, niece or nephew have a favorite book?

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Don’t forget about borrowing books from your local library! It’s the perfect place to let a child and yourself wander among the shelves of books to find an adventure, romance, mystery or comedy to explore through the pages.

 

10 tips for relaxing July 11, 2015

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 9:50 am
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In this rat race we call life it’s not always easy to find five minutes of ‘alone time’ or quiet time to unwind and just breathe. But it’s critical to do just that. Slowing down, stepping back from challenging situations and finding time to focus on the joys of life help improve our lives – your blood pressure can lower, you can better make decisions when distanced from a situation, and your overall outlook on life can improve. I know it’s not easy finding those five minutes, let alone 30 minutes. But it can be done. Everyone in today’s society is so quick to go on and on about how busy we are but the reality is we’re not really that busy! We choose to fill our lives; sometimes with things that are required, such as jobs. But there are activities that don’t need to take hours of your time to help you relax and unwind. Don’t we deserve to take care of ourselves? Here are some activities that help release the stress from my life.

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1. Close your eyes for 5-10 minutes to visualize a calm scene. I usually picture a soft breeze blowing through a field of bright sunflowers, or multiple horses grazing peacefully in a meadow. Take deep breaths and keep your mind focused on this calming scene. If your mind starts to wander, as mine so often does, bring the focus back to allow you some quiet moments. This activity can be done at your desk, in a parked car (perfect after a hectic day at work!) or most anywhere.

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2. Practice yoga. I love yoga in that the breath is the main focus on the practice. Maintaining a clear breath helps focus on your body’s movements and ground you to the moment.

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3. Read a book. I have always found books to be a good escape from the crazy of life. I often like to read for a few minutes when I get home work, as a way to decompress and relax after a busy day. When I need a good laugh, I choose fiction authors, such as Sophie Kinsella or Jennifer Crusie. Their books never fail to bring a chuckle. A nonfiction book that had me laughing aloud was Bill Bryson’s Walk In the Woods.

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Paintcreek_HHG4. Exercise. Lots of studies have found that exercise releases anxiety and stress. My favorite forms of stress-relieving exercise are Zumba, biking, hiking and strength training.

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5. Take a hike or bike ride. Fresh air, muscles working and moving scenery cause an instant drop in my stress level. Morning bike rides and hikes are my favorite when there are less people and distractions.

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6. Laugh. Truly, there is not much better than the feel and sound of laughter. Especially the belly laugh. Laughter releases so much negativity from your body and mind. I need more laughter in my life.

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7. Nap. Even a short nap can help refresh and restart your thoughts.

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8. Sex. Yes it’s true. Sex is a great way to unwind and release some stress. Plus, it brings you closer emotionally (and physically, of course) with your partner.

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9. Phone a friend. Sometimes there is nothing better than the voice of a caring friend. Some of my best, most relaxing conversations with friends have been about nothing in particular. I think it’s the simple thought of knowing someone is there to connect with and share a bond.

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10. Journal. I love to write (a surprise, right?) and find it very refreshing to release my emotions and thoughts to paper. When I have been going through a particularly difficult situation, I sometimes write my thoughts and emotions, then shred the papers. It may sound odd but the act of releasing those emotions to paper, then destroying the paper helped me let go of that challenging situation.

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Bonus tip: Find your happy place and go. For some people, there is a quiet spot to escape to from the world. For others, it is an activity. For me, I enjoy a multitude of things but the moment I am at my most relaxed is laying with my husband’s arms around me, talking about nothing important or not talking at all. I can become so relaxed that I sometimes fall asleep! In those moments, I feel safe and my worries are for another moment.

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What helps you relax after a long day or challenging situation?

 

The adventures in my favorite childhood books March 25, 2015

BooksI love books. I love the feel and smell of the paper. I love the adventures I can find within the pages, hidden stories waiting to be discovered and new characters to meet. I get overwhelmed at times in libraries and book stores (although some of my favorite places) because there are so many choices, so many pages to flip through. Even now that I own a Kindle, I feel a rush of excitement when I get an email notifying me that my library book is available for download (the free Overdrive app connects me to my local library for lending).

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I was a book nut as a child too. Reading was my favorite escape from the craziness around me – school, teenage drama, boy crushes, family, friends and more. As a very shy child, reading allowed me to slip into other worlds where I could picture myself brave, outgoing and confident. I still find books to be an escape for my adult life at times, which is probably why I enjoy fiction books. I like mysteries, romance, political thrillers, historical fiction, chic lit and more.

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You may be aware that March is National Reading Month, which is a perfect excuse to read as much as you can (if you ever need an excuse, which I don’t!). I was very honored to be asked to be a mystery reader for my nephew’s Kindergarten class last week. I had to provide five clues for the students to guess who the reader was (my nephew said he guessed me after two clues. I guess “I love horses” gave it away!) and bring one of my favorite children’s books to read. I have a lot of favorites but ended up with Curious George goes camping because I do love taking my nieces and nephew hiking in the woods. In honor of National Reading Month, I thought I’d share some of my favorite books from my childhood.

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curiousgeorgeCurious George (Margaret and H.A. Rey) – The world’s most mischievous monkey easily steals the hearts and imaginations of children in this ongoing series. The little monkey has lots of adventures and is usually rescued by his friend, the Man with the Yellow Hat. More than 30 million books have been sold throughout the world! The original authors were married, with Margaret the main writer and H.A. the illustrator. I’m glad that the series continues on after their deaths (thankfully the ghost writer keeps the style true to the original), ensuring other generations will know this timeless monkey.

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Berenstain Bears – Another married couple, Stan and Jan  Berenstain, brought this lovable bear family to children. This series is probably one of my absolute favorites. I love reading these books to my nieces and nephew, or any child willing to listen! As a child, I loved the adventures and stories in each book. As an adult, I love the lessons taught in the book and the value of family.

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Boxcar Children (Gertrude Chandler Warner) – This series focuses on four children, two brothers and two sisters, who lose their parents, find their grandfather and end up in lots of adventures. I read the original 19 books when I was younger, but other authors have added to the series (Gertrude died in 1979). I still remember going to the library, so excited to find the next book in the series on the shelf (and sometimes disappointed if it wasn’t there).

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Sweet Valley High (Francine Pascal) – This series centered around identical twins, Jessica and Elizabeth, and the drama, events, friendships, crushes and more that occur during high school. In all, 152 books were written in the series, although I don’t think I read all of them! There was also a series published, Sweet Valley Twins, which was a prequel focusing on the girls in middle school.

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Baby-sitters Club (Ann M. Martin) – Baby-sitting was steady income for me during middle and high school years so this series appealed to me in middle school. The plots center on a group of young girls who form a business (‘The Baby-Sitters Club”) of baby-sitting. The various books focus on different issues the girls face in life and baby-sitting. The Baby-Sitters Club is one of the best-selling book series in history, selling more than 170 million copies worldwide!

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ohtheplacesyou'llgoDr. Seuss books – I liked the silliness of the subjects and learning fun words and rhymes in each book. My favorite Dr. Seuss book is still Oh, the places you’ll go! This book can apply to so may situations and serves as a great gift for graduates. I received a copy from my oncology team after my final chemotherapy treatment. It fit the situation so well. Dr. Seuss’ birthday, March 2, is the annual date for National Read Across America Day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association – a day I fully support!

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The Saddle Club (Bonnie Bryant) – It’s probably no surprise this series falls onto my favorite books list since you’ve read about my love of horses in previous posts. I couldn’t put these books down once I started! The series follows the adventures of three young girls who ride at Pine Hollow Stables. Every book has a horse focus, although school, family, friendships and other topics are a focus at times. I actually just discovered there was a television series about these books, which I admit I’ve never seen.

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What were your favorite books during childhood?

 

 
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