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January 30, 2015
by Jennifer Hughes

Best New Books For Kids in 2014

Best New Books for Kids of 2014: Find these books at your local library or purchase through the affiliate links provided for your convenience. All recommendations are mine.

Books. Books. Magical books! They can transport us, educate us and entertain us. And while I absolutely love classic books, there’s something to say about brand new books as well.

I’ve pulled together multiple lists of the best new books from 2014, broken down by age categories, so you can more easily pick out the best books for your child. Whether you have a new baby or a brooding middle schooler, you’ll find the right reads for your kiddos.

Best New Books of 2014 for Kids | The Jenny EvolutionBest New Books for Kids in 2014

For the best new books for kids in 2014, please visit the right age groups for your kiddo:

Best New Baby Books of 2014

Best New Books for Babies in 2014

Best New Books for Toddlers of 2014 | The Jenny Evolution

Best New Books for Toddlers in 2014

Best New Books for Elementary Students of 2014 | The Jenny Evolution

Best New Books for Elementary Students in 2014


Best New Books for Middle School in s 2014

January 30, 2015
by Jennifer Hughes

Nothing But Tape: Fast, Easy Indoor Race Car Track for Kids

Winter days can seem insanely long when you have toddlers that are tired of being cooped up. I remember feeling so desperate some days to just break through the monotony of being stuck inside. Out of desperation, one day I grabbed a roll of masking tape sitting in our junk drawer. Nothing but fun ensued!

Mom has lost her gourd, my boys were thinking to themselves as I unraveled the roll of tape and began lacing the carpeting and couch with it. Come hill or high water, I was going to find a new way to play in the house and break these doldrums.

Fast, Easy Indoor Race Car Track for Kids with Painters Tape or Masking Tape | The Jenny Evolution

Fast, Easy Indoor Race Car Track for Kids

All you need to create a fantastic indoor race car track for your kids is a roll of painters tape and your imagination. I started laying down the groundwork on the floor but quickly realized it would be fun to run the track up the couch.

What you don’t see in the pictures is that I looped the track past the couches, through the kitchen, under the dinner table and back behind the couches. We even turned some of the spaces into a helipad as well as parking for Star Wars flight vehicles. I mean, if you’re going to do it, you might as well go BIG, right?

Fast, Easy Indoor Race Car Track for Kids with Painters Tape or Masking Tape | The Jenny Evolution

We even managed to sneak in some math by counting the cars and sorting them by color with all of the Match Box cars. Nothing like making a game out of learning.


Honestly, I thought this would keep the boys occupied for a half hour at best. I just wanted to do something different and out of the ordinary. Instead, our track stayed down for the entire weekend. The boys didn’t stop moving for hours!

When Monday came, we lovingly said goodbye to our track. Don’t worry, I promised the boys we would make the track another day and come up with some new ideas for creating it. Hmmm. How to top this?

Hindsight is 20/20 of course. Next time, grab painters tape, not masking tape. The masking tape came up just find from the couch and carpeting for me. However, it did leave a little bit of sticky residue behind on our wood floors in some places.

Even More Active Indoor Games for Kids

For more fun active indoor games check out these ideas from great bloggers participating in today’s blog hop of indoor games.

Coloring Rocks with Betsy’s Photography

Cereal Sensory Bin with Adventures of Adam

Cardboard Cookies with The Gingerbread House

Kid-made Play Dough & Ice Cream Play Invitation with Study at Home Mama

with Barefeet on the Dashboard

with Sight and Sound Reading

January 29, 2015
by Jennifer Hughes

Friday Flash Blog No. 103 {Plus Features}

Friday Flash Blog is a flash mob of blogs, highlighting the best of bloggers from the week. Be sure to check them out (and the ones I’ve featured) as well as link up your own.

Weekly Thought: My family and I watched while the East Coast prepared for the ultimate blizzard. And then I had to laugh while many of my East Coast friends posted on Facebook how upset their kids were that they didn’t get the promised snow day they were expecting!

How to Fix Footie Pajamas with Holes Tutorial from Sewcando

How to Fix Footie Pajamas with Holes Tutorial from Sewcando

Shrimp and Corn Shooters Recipe from It's Yummi

Shrimp and Corn Shooters Recipe from It’s Yummi

Red Muddy Valentine Buddies Recipe from Kathe With an E

Red Muddy Valentine Buddies Recipe from Kathe With an E

DIY Heart Pillow Tutorial from Sew Sweet Vintage

DIY Heart Pillow Tutorial from Sew Sweet Vintage

Asian Chicken Salad with Lemongrass Dressing Recipe from That Recipe

Asian Chicken Salad with Lemongrass Dressing Recipe from That Recipe

DIY Kinetic Sand Tutorial from Parenting Chaos

DIY Kinetic Sand Tutorial from Parenting Chaos

How to Make Heart Shaped Sugar Cubes Tutorial from The Mad House

How to Make Heart Shaped Sugar Cubes Tutorial from The Mad House

DIY Starbucks Chai Tea Latte Recipe - Copycat Recipe from The Jenny Evolution

DIY Starbucks Chai Tea Latte Recipe from The Jenny Evolution

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January 29, 2015
by Jennifer Hughes
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Best New Books for Middle School of 2014

Best New Books for Middle School of 2014: Find these books at your local library or purchase through the affiliate links provided for your convenience. All recommendations are mine.

Middle school kids can be so difficult to read, don’t you think? But do you know what shouldn’t be hard to figure out — what they love to read! Explore some of the best new books for middle school students of 2014. You’re sure to find the right book to inspire your reader!

Best New Books for Middle School of 2014 | The Jenny Evolution

Don’t miss out on the other Best New Books of 2014!

 Best New Books for Middle School of 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish:
Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth? With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility.

Rain Reign: Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different – not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father. When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. Hearts will break and spirits will soar for this powerful story, brilliantly told from Rose’s point of view.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy: This is the story of unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard who doesn’t believe in anything that can’t be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty, the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia’s help. As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy’s own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world. A story within a story, this a modern day fairytale about the power of friendship, courage and love, and never ever giving up.

The Mark of the Dragonfly:
The Mark of the Dragonfly is a fast-paced adventure story about a mysterious girl and a fearless boy, set in a magical world that is both exciting and dangerous. Piper has never seen the Mark of the Dragonfly until she finds the girl amid the wreckage of a caravan in the Meteor Fields.The girl doesn’t remember a thing about her life, but the intricate tattoo on her arm is proof that she’s from the Dragonfly Territories and that she’s protected by the king. Which means a reward for Piper if she can get the girl home.
The one sure way to the Territories is the 401, a great old beauty of a train. But a ticket costs more coin than Piper could make in a year. And stowing away is a difficult prospect–everyone knows that getting past the peculiar green-eyed boy who stands guard is nearly impossible. Life for Piper just turned dangerous. A little bit magical. And very exciting, if she can manage to survive the journey.

Greenglass House: It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House—and themselves.

Nest: For fans of Jennifer Holm (Penny from Heaven, Turtle in Paradise), a heartfelt and unforgettable middle-grade novel about an irresistible girl and her family, tragic change, and the healing power of love and friendship. In 1972 home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But then Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, and everything changes.

Timmy Failure Now Look What You’ve Done: The clueless, comically self-confident kid detective returns in a sequel to the New York Times bestseller Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. He doesn’t like to pull rank. To reveal that he’s this guy: Timmy Failure, founder, president, and CEO of the greatest detective agency in town, perhaps the nation. But he is. And he’s about to crack the biggest case of his generation: a school competition to find a stolen globe. It’s his ticket to bringing home a $500 prize, which is guaranteed to set him up for life. But someone is clearly trying to game the system. Hoodwink. Con. Defraud. So it’s up to Timmy Failure, with the dubious help of Total, his lazy polar-bear partner, and his unlikely new ally, eccentric Great-Aunt Colander, to find a way to avenge these shenanigans. Defeat this injustice. If he can only get his entry form in on time.

Five, Six, Seven, Nate!
In the sequel to Better Nate Than Ever, Nate Foster’s Broadway dreams are finally coming true. Armed with a one-way ticket to New York City, small-town theater geek Nate is off to start rehearsals for E.T.: The Broadway Musical. It’s everything he ever practiced his autograph for! But as thrilling as Broadway is, rehearsals are nothing like Nate expects: full of intimidating child stars, cut-throat understudies, and a director who can’t even remember Nate’s name. Now, as the countdown to opening night is starting to feel more like a time bomb, Nate is going to need more than his lucky rabbit’s foot if he ever wants to see his name in lights. He may even need a showbiz miracle.

The Copernicus Legacy: The Forbidden Stone: Bestselling author Tony Abbott’s epic new middle grade series, the Copernicus Legacy, begins with The Forbidden Stone, a thrilling adventure packed with puzzles, intrigue, and action. Fans of Rick Riordan and Ridley Pearson will love this first book in an exciting series that takes the reader all over the globe in a race to find pieces of a mysterious hidden past—before it’s too late. Wade, Lily, Darrell, and Becca fly from Texas to Germany for the funeral of an old family friend. But instead of just paying their respects, they wind up on a dangerous, mind-blowing quest to unlock an ancient, guarded secret that could destroy the fate of the world.

The Boundless: All aboard for an action-packed escapade from the internationally bestselling author of Airborne and the Silverwing trilogy. The Boundless, the greatest train ever built, is on its maiden voyage across the country, and first-class passenger Will Everett is about to embark on the adventure of his life! When Will ends up in possession of the key to a train car containing priceless treasures, he becomes the target of sinister figures from his past. In order to survive, Will must join a traveling circus, enlisting the aid of Mr. Dorian, the ringmaster and leader of the troupe, and Maren, a girl his age who is an expert escape artist. With villains fast on their heels, can Will and Maren reach Will’s father and save The Boundless before someone winds up dead?

Absolutely Almost: Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he’s not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself. A perfect companion to Lisa Graff’s National Book Award-nominated A Tangle of Knots, this novel explores a similar theme in a realistic contemporary world where kids will easily be able to relate their own struggles to Albie’s.

The Glass Sentence: Boston, 1891. Sophia Tims comes from a family of explorers and cartologers who, for generations, have been traveling and mapping the New World—a world changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods. Eight years ago, her parents left her with her uncle Shadrack, the foremost cartologer in Boston, and went on an urgent mission. They never returned. Life with her brilliant, absent-minded, adored uncle has taught Sophia to take care of herself. Then Shadrack is kidnapped. The Glass Sentence plunges readers into a time and place they will not want to leave, and introduces them to a heroine and hero they will take to their hearts.

Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy Book 2):
It’s 1964, and Sunny’s town is being invaded. Or at least that’s what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi, are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote. They’re calling it Freedom Summer. Meanwhile, Sunny can’t help but feel like her house is being invaded, too. She has a new stepmother, a new brother, and a new sister crowding her life, giving her little room to breathe. And things get even trickier when Sunny and her brother are caught sneaking into the local swimming pool — where they bump into a mystery boy whose life is going to become tangled up in theirs.

The Meaning of Maggie: As befits a future President of the United States of America, Maggie Mayfield has decided to write a memoir of the past year of her life. And what a banner year it’s been! During this period she’s Student of the Month on a regular basis, an official shareholder of Coca-Cola stock, and defending Science Fair champion. Most importantly, though, this is the year Maggie has to pull up her bootstraps (the family motto) and finally learn why her cool-dude dad is in a wheelchair, no matter how scary that is. Author Megan Jean Sovern, herself the daughter of a dad with multiple sclerosis, writes with the funny grace and assured prose of a new literary star. A portion of the proceeds of the sale of this book will be donated to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing: When Miss Lana makes an Accidental Bid at the Tupelo auction and winds up the mortified owner of an old inn, she doesn’t realize there’s a ghost in the fine print. Naturally, Desperado Detective Agency (aka Mo and Dale) opens a paranormal division to solve the mystery of the ghost’s identity. They’ve got to figure out who the ghost is so they can interview it for their history assignment (extra credit). But Mo and Dale start to realize that the Inn isn’t the only haunted place in Tupelo Landing. People can also be haunted by their own past. As Mo and Dale handily track down the truth about the ghost (with some help from the new kid in town), they discover the truth about a great many other people, too. A laugh out loud, ghostly, Southern mystery that can be enjoyed by readers visiting Tupelo Landing for the first time, as well as those who are old friends of Mo and Dale.


January 28, 2015
by Jennifer Hughes

Not Ready to Say Goodbye to the Bravermans, Parenthood TV Show

Can I just say this upfront? I am not, on any level, ready to say goodbye to the Bravermans.

The Parenthood TV Show has to be one of the most intelligent shows my husband and I have found in a while. Parenthood was not only unafraid to tackle tough issues, it took on those issues head on. From breast cancer to Autism, money problems to family dissidence and relationships, Parenthood took us on a journey we gladly followed.

Not Ready to Say Goodbye to the Bravermans, Parenthood TV Show

Parenthood embraced complex issues and allowed things to get messy. Not because it made for great TV (which it did) but because that’s how life works. Life is messy!

We are a Tivo family, so we would record the show on Thursday. Every Friday night, my husband and I would curl up on the couch after the kids went to bed, prepared to be taken on an emotional rollercoaster that we gladly signed up for. We laughed together, cried together and cringed together. (The Bravermans sure know how to f&*$ things up sometimes.)

The Bravermans Are Family

The Bravermans weren’t just some TV family. The Bravermans had become a part of our family. We felt their struggles. We endured their pains and we celebrated their triumphs. They allowed us to see ourselves — the good and the bad — for what we are. They created some interesting discussions in our house, both when my husband and I agreed and when we disagreed.

Photo Credit

During the first season, we all discover that one of the grandchildren of the Braverman clan (Max) is Autistic. At the same time, my husband and I were still learning what it meant ourselves to have someone in the house who has Sensory Processing Disorder. While our son is not Autistic, many sensory issues are the same along the spectrum, so we saw many of our own struggles on the TV screen. We saw how the Bravermans failed sometimes, succeeded sometimes and then struggled again. There were nights it was almost too close to home to watch. But it also made us feel that someone out there understood a little of what we were managing.

In season four, the Bravermans faced breast cancer. A good friend of mine was also battling breast cancer, and Parenthood gave me a better understanding of the emotions and situations she must have been experiencing. As a friend, it can be tough enough to know what to say. But Parenthood gave me a window on how to act and that sometimes even the best intentions can come off the completely wrong way.

And who could forget the whole Julia/Joel hot mess of season five! My husband and I spent a lot of time talking about what it means to be married and what our marriage meant to us. We talked about it so much,  I finally had to write: I’m So Mad at Joel on Parenthood I Could Scream: When a Marriage Partner Quits.

Goodbye Bravermans

I hate long goodbyes. We’ve been fooled by the quick end-of-the-season wrap-ups, Bravermans, because you weren’t sure if you were going to be renewed for another season. The last season episode where everything works out perfectly because you don’t know if you’re going to get a second chance to finish the story. I’m so thankful that you got the chance to stick around and share your wisdom, whit and just plain wacky sides.

I’m actually dreading how you’re going to end the series. Honestly, I don’t think anything you do will make me 100% happy… because you’re leaving. And I’m not ready for you to go. But I will carry your lessons and love in my heart and be thankful for the time we spent.

And for goodness sake, friends, if you haven’t watched Parenthood, now is the time! You can watch Parenthood with an Amazon Prime membership for free or get the DVD (affiliate):

January 28, 2015
by Jennifer Hughes

Best New Books for Elementary Students of 2014

Best New Books for Elementary Students of 2014: Find these books at your local library or purchase through the affiliate links provided for your convenience. All recommendations are mine.

Whether your child still loves hearing more sophisticated picture books, enjoys hearing your read introductory chapter books or is an independent reader, you’ll find a wonderful new book among the best new books for elementary students of 2014.

Best New Books for Elementary Students of 2014 | The Jenny Evolution

Don’t miss out on the other Best New Books of 2014!

Best New Books for Elementary Students of 2014

The Book with No Pictures: You might think a book with no pictures seems boring and serious. Except . . . here’s how books work. Everything written on the page has to be said by the person reading it aloud. Even if the words say… BLORK. Or BLUURF. Cleverly irreverent and irresistibly silly, The Book with No Pictures is one that kids will beg to hear again and again. (And parents will be happy to oblige.)

Bad Kitty Drawn to Trouble: In this seventh installment of the New York Times–bestselling series, Kitty encounters what may be her most formidable foe yet: her creator! Kitty soon learns that feline manipulation works both ways—especially when you’re at the wrong end of your author’s pencil. Along the way, Nick shows kids how a book is created, despite the frequent interruptions from you-know-who.

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up (Tales from Deckawoo Drive Book 1): Yippie-i-oh! Saddle up for the first in a spin-off series starring favorite characters from Kate DiCamillo’s New York Times best-selling Mercy Watson books. Leroy Ninker has a hat, a lasso, and boots. What he doesn’t have is a horse—until he meets Maybelline, that is, and then it’s love at first sight. Maybelline loves spaghetti and sweet nothings, and she loves Leroy, too. But when Leroy forgets the third and final rule of caring for Maybelline, disaster ensues. Can Leroy wrestle fate to the ground, rescue the horse of his heart, and lasso loneliness for good? Join Leroy, Maybelline, and a cast of familiar characters—Stella, Frank, Mrs. Watson, and everyone’s favorite porcine wonder, Mercy—for some hilarious and heartfelt horsing around on Deckawoo Drive.

Firebird: In her debut picture book, Misty Copeland tells the story of a young girl–an every girl–whose confidence is fragile and who is questioning her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached. Misty encourages this young girl’s faith in herself and shows her exactly how, through hard work and dedication, she too can become Firebird. Lyrical and affecting text paired with bold, striking illustrations that are some of Caldecott Honoree Christopher Myers’s best work, makes Firebird perfect for aspriring ballerinas everywhere.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel: Capturing an engineer’s creative vision and mind for detail, this fully illustrated picture book biography sheds light on how the American inventor George Ferris defied gravity and seemingly impossible odds to invent the world’s most iconic amusement park attraction, the Ferris wheel.
A fun, fact-filled text by Kathryn Gibbs Davis combines with Gilbert Ford’s dazzling full-color illustrations to transport readers to the 1893 World’s Fair, where George Ferris and his big, wonderful wheel lifted passengers to the skies for the first time.

My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish: The SeaQuel:  After Tom rescued Frankie the goldfish from his big brother Mark’s toxic science experiment by zapping him back to life with a battery, Frankie somehow became a big fat zombie goldfish with dangerous hypnotic powers. Fortunately, Frankie has appointed himself Tom’s bodyguard, and together, with a little help from their friends, they thwart Mark’s Evil Scientist plans.

The Vanishing Coin (Magic Shop Series): Fourth grade was supposed to be a fresh start, but Mike’s already back in the principal’s office. He’s not a bad kid. He just can’t sit still. And now, his parents won’t let him play soccer anymore; instead he has to hang out with his new neighbor Nora, who is good at everything! Then, Mike and Nora discover the White Rabbit. It’s an odd shop—with a special secret inside. Its owner, Mr. Zerlin, is a magician, and, amazingly, he believes Mike could be a magician, too. Has Mike finally found something he’s good at? Author Kate Egan and Magician Mike Lane’s The Vanishing Coin features illustrations by Eric Wight.
Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece: Speaking in front of an audience terrifies Trisha. Ending up in Mr. Wayne’s drama class is the last thing she wants! But Mr. Wayne gives her a backstage role painting scenery for the winter play. As she paints, she listens to the cast rehearse, memorizing their lines without even realizing it. Then, days before opening night, the lead actress suddenly moves away, and Trisha is the only other person who knows her part. Will the play have to be canceled? It won’t be an easy road—when Trisha tries to recite the lines in front of the cast, nothing comes out! But Mr. Wayne won’t let her give up, and with his coaching, Trisha is able to become one of his true masterpieces.

The Princess in Black: 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.

Judy Moody, Mood Martian: Will the real Judy Moody please stand up? In honor of Backwards Day, Judy Moody decides to turn that frown upside down, make lemonade out of lemons, and be nice to stinky little brothers. In fact, Judy becomes a NOT moody, cool-as-a-cucumber neat freak for one whole entire day. But when her combed hair, matching outfits, and good moods hang around for days after, her friends begin to worry. Could this smiley Judy be an imposter?

January 27, 2015
by Jennifer Hughes

Florida Instagram

Road Trip to Disney! | The Jenny Evolution This past holiday, the family went to Florida. And what better place to visit in Florida than Walt Disney World! Can you say road trip?

PicMonkey Collage2 And while the weather in Florida around Christmas can be questionable, this year we had Spring Break weather in December! Of course, Mother Nature had to show us who’s boss. We returned to -24 Wind Chill in Chicago. Brrrrrrr!

Wordless Wednesday on The Jenny Evolution

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January 27, 2015
by Jennifer Hughes

Secret to Foolproof Easy Blanket Forts. Instant Forts, Instant Fun!

This post is sponsored by Pop Secret. But I would have written about easy blanket forts and our love of Pop Secret popcorn anyway, because that’s how my family rolls.

Just the anticipation of hiding away in a blanket fort is sure to made any toddler giggle with excitement, let alone an adult. But no matter how hard I used to try to create the perfect magical fort, that sucker always seemed to slide off of the chairs, fall off of the couches and crumble onto the floor. Talk about heart-breaking disappointment!

Secret to a Sturdy Blanket Fort | The Jenny Evolution

I’m going to give you the ultimate secret on how to build the best DIY easy blanket forts around that your kids will love and will stay up! It only takes minutes to set up, so you can pull this together even on a weeknight without a second thought. And what would a fort adventure be without a little Pop Secret popcorn to make the night that much more magical? (Want even more magic? Grab a $1 coupon off Pop Secret popcorn!)

All you need is:

  • A table
  • 2 blankets, quilts, comforters or sheets
  • Couch cushions

Yes, that’s really all you need!


To make our instant fort, we grabbed two picnic quilts. You could just as easily use sheets; however, the quilts do a bang-up job of blocking out the light so it feels that much more enclosed. I mean, if you’re going to make a fort, you might as well make it feel like a cave.


If you have a rectangular table, put the edge of one blanket at the center of your table and lay it down over the end of the table. Place the other blanket on the other side. To create a door entrance, all you need to do is grab the corner of the blanket where they meet, turn it up in a triangle and lay the extra fabric onto the table.

Secret to an Easy Blanket Fort | The Jenny Evolution

If you’re using a sheet or something light weight, you can easily keep the fabric in place with clothes pins or chip clips. I wouldn’t recommend putting anything on the table to hold it in place as your kiddo could easily pull it off.

We took our couch cushions and placed them under the table. Who wants to lay on a hardwood floor, right? And to make it feel like a complete cushion, we threw on an additional blanket over the cushions. It became like a mini bed in the fort.

Easy Blanket Fort, Movie Night and Popcorn

We decided to make our fort like a cave and turn it into a mini movie theater. I threw in a camping lantern so the boys would have some light underneath the table but they weren’t having it once they pulled down the quilt corners. In complete darkness, the two of them laid out on the couch cushions. I set up my computer and popped in Dragons: Riders of Berk.


What movie night would be complete without popcorn? I popped in a bag of Pop Secret popcorn and the entire night was set up in just minutes!

The boys settled in and watched for a full hour without a peep. My husband and I kept trying to sneak in but we were banned. Banned! From my own blanket fort! (Sigh.) Well, I guess that’s a sign that the evening was a hit.

I figured I would have to at least sweep up the floor when we put the fort away. Nope. Our Boston Terrier Lucy was more than happy to oblige and catch any remaining uneaten kernels.

Save a Buck, Share the Fun

Hop over here for a $1-off coupon for Pop Secret. Pop Secret knows that fun, like popcorn, is better when it’s shared. Send Pop Secret your pillow fort stories and pictures on Facebook. You can upload them right to the Pop Secret timeline and tag them #PopSecretForts. They might just share a little something back!

January 27, 2015
by Jennifer Hughes

Best New Books for Toddlers of 2014

Best New Books for Toddlers of 2014: Find these books at your local library or purchase through the affiliate links provided for your convenience. All recommendations are mine.

No doubt about it… there is nothing better than snuggling up with your toddler and sharing a wonderful book. Whether the book is silly or sweet, story time was always my personal favorite time with my kiddos.

Bring the joy of books and reading to your little one with my recommendations of the best new books for toddlers of 2014.

Best New Books for Toddlers of 2014 | The Jenny Evolution

Don’t miss out on the other Best New Books of 2014!

Best New Books for Toddlers of 2014

The Pigeon Needs a Bath! The Pigeon really needs a bath! Except, the Pigeon’s not so sure about that. Besides, he took a bath last month! Maybe. It’s going to take some serious convincing to try and get the Pigeon to take the plunge.

Flashlight: Inside a tent it’s cozy. But what is going on outside? Is it dark? Is it scary? Not if you have your trusty flashlight! Told solely through images and using a spare yet dramatic palette, artist Lizi Boyd has crafted a masterful exploration of night, nature, and art. Both lyrical and humorous, this visual poem—like the flashlight beam itself—reveals that there is magic in the darkness. We just have to look for it.

Mix It Up! Accept Hervé Tullet’s irresistible invitation to mix it up in a dazzling adventure of whimsy and wonder. Follow the artist’s simple instructions, and suddenly colors appear, mix, splatter, and vanish in a world powered only by the reader’s imagination. Tullet—who joins such greats as Eric Carle and Leo Lionni as a master of his craft—sets readers on an extraordinary interactive journey all within the printed page. Tullet prompts plenty of giggles in addition to a profound understanding of colors, and once again displays his unique genius and vision in a work that is a glorious and richly satisfying companion to Press Here.

Hi, Koo! With a featherlight touch and disarming charm, Jon J Muth–and his delightful little panda bear, Koo–challenge readers to stretch their minds and imaginations with twenty-six haikus about the four seasons.

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters: The most inventive and irresistible book of the year spans a mere 26 letters (don’t they all!) and 112 pages. From an Astronaut who’s afraid of heights, to a Bridge that ends up burned between friends, to a Cup stuck in a cupboard and longing for freedom, Once Upon an Alphabet is a creative tour de force from A through Z. Slyly funny in a way kids can’t resist, and gorgeously illustrated in a way readers of all ages will pour over, this series of interconnected stories and characters explores the alphabet in a way that will forever raise the bar.

Little Humans: Street photographer and storyteller extraordinaire Brandon Stanton is the creator of the wildly popular blog “Humans of New York.” He is also the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Humans of New York. To create Little Humans, a 40-page photographic picture book for young children, he’s combined an original narrative with some of his favorite children’s photos from the blog, in addition to all-new exclusive portraits. The result is a hip, heartwarming ode to little humans everywhere.

Have You Seen My Dragon? In the heart of the city, among the taxis and towers, a small boy travels uptown and down, searching for his friend. Readers will certainly spot the glorious beast, plus an array of big-city icons they can count. Is the dragon taking the crosstown bus, or breathing his fiery breath below a busy street? Maybe he took a taxi to the zoo or is playing with the dogs in the park. Steve Light’s masterful pen-and-ink illustrations, decorated with meticulous splashes of color, elevate this counting book (numbers 1–20) to new heights. Maybe the dragon is up there, too!

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story:
In this interactive and engaging read-aloud, bestselling author and award-winning artist Patrick McDonnell creates a funny, engaging, and almost perfect story about embracing life’s messes. Little Louie’s story keeps getting messed up, and he’s not happy about it! What’s the point of telling his tale if he can’t tell it perfectly? But when he stops and takes a deep breath, he realizes that everything is actually just fine, and his story is a good one–imperfections and all.

Blizzard: Blizzard is based on John Rocco’s childhood experience during the now infamous Blizzard of 1978, which brought fifty-three inches of snow to his town in Rhode Island. Told with a brief text and dynamic illustrations, the book opens with a boy’s excitement upon seeing the first snowflake fall outside his classroom window. It ends with the neighborhood’s immense relief upon seeing the first snowplow break through on their street. In between the boy watches his familiar landscape transform into something alien, and readers watch him transform into a hero who puts the needs of others first.

Little Elliot, Big City: Amid the hustle and bustle of the big city, the big crowds and bigger buildings, Little Elliot leads a quiet life. In spite of the challenges he faces, Elliot finds many wonderful things to enjoy—like cupcakes! And when his problems seem insurmountable, Elliot discovers something even sweeter—a friend.

Maple: When Maple is tiny, her parents plant a maple tree in her honor. She and her tree grow up together, and even though a tree doesn’t always make an ideal playmate, it doesn’t mind when Maple is in the mood to be loud—which is often. Then Maple becomes a big sister, and finds that babies have their loud days, too. Fortunately, Maple and her beloved tree know just what the baby needs.

This Is a Moose: MOOSE? Yes, Moose! When a movie director tries to capture the life of a moose on film, he’s in for a big surprise. It turns out the moose has a dream bigger then just being a moose–he wants to be an astronaut and go to the moon. His forest friends step in to help him, and action ensues. Lots of action. Like a lacrosse-playing grandma, a gigantic slingshot into space, and a flying, superhero chipmunk.

Uni the Unicorn: In this clever twist on the age-old belief that there’s no such thing as unicorns, Uni the unicorn is told there’s no such thing as little girls! No matter what the grown-up unicorns say, Uni believes that little girls are real. Somewhere there must be a smart, strong, wonderful, magical little girl waiting to be best friends. In fact, far away (but not too far), a real little girl believes there is a unicorn waiting for her. This refreshing and sweet story of friendship reminds believers and nonbelievers alike that sometimes wishes really can come true.

Gaston: This is the story of four puppies: Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La, and Gaston. Gaston works the hardest at his lessons on how to be a proper pooch. He sips—never slobbers! He yips—never yaps! And he walks with grace—never races! Gaston fits right in with his poodle sisters. But a chance encounter with a bulldog family in the park—Rocky, Ricky, Bruno, and Antoinette—reveals there’s been a mix-up, and so Gaston and Antoinette switch places. The new families look right…but they don’t feel right. Can these puppies follow their noses—and their hearts—to find where they belong?

Baby Bear: From Kadir Nelson, winner of the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Awards, comes a transcendent picture book in the tradition of Margaret Wise Brown about a lost little bear searching for home. This simple story works on so many levels: as the tale of a bear who finds his way home with the help of his animal friends; as a reassuring way to show children how to comfort themselves and find their way in everyday life; and on a more philosophical level, as a method of teaching readers that by listening to your heart and trusting yourself, you will always find a true home within yourself—and that even when it feels like you are alone, you never really are.

January 26, 2015
by Jennifer Hughes

Best New Books for Babies of 2014

Best New Books for Babies of 2014: Find these books at your local library or purchase through the affiliate links provided for your convenience. All recommendations are mine.

Reading to babies helps them learn the sound of language, begin to recognize words and expose them to new concepts and ideas. In 2014, there were a lot of new books that came out for babies! But here are my top recommendations for any new mom looking for the best new books for babies.

Best New Baby Books of 2014 | The Jenny Evolution

Don’t miss out on the other Best New Books of 2014!

Best New Books for Babies of 2014

Ten Tiny Toes: Caroline Jayne Church brings her adorable toddler art and lovely rhymes to this joyful twist on the tried-and-true classic, HEAD, SHOULDERS, KNEES, AND TOES. From ears that wiggle to bellies that giggle, TEN TINY TOES is sure to inspire little ones as they learn to celebrate their “mouth, ears, eyes, nose, and a love that grows and grows.”

1-2-3 Peas: Meet the peas—the 1-2-3 Peas! Come along as they count from one to one hundred in this pea-filled board book that’s packed with bright, bold numbers and playful number-themed scenes. These tiny green mathematicians will have young readers everywhere calling for more peas, please!

If Animals Kissed Good Night: In a cozy bedtime chat with her mom, a young girl wonders how animal families might say good night. Would Wolf and his pup “kiss and then HOWL”? Would Bear and her cub “kiss and then GROWL”? But what about Sloth and her baby? They move soooo slooowwwww . . . they’re sure to be kissing from early evening until long after everyone else is fast asleep! With whimsical art and playful rhyming verse, this picture book is now in board book format for the first time, perfect for bedtime snuggles.

The Bunny Rabbit Show! You’ve got front-row seats to the cutest revue in town—hop on down to The Bunny Rabbit Show! The latest addition to Sandra Boynton’s phenomenal bestselling Boynton on Board series, this book stars a cast of high-kicking bunnies performing in perfect unison to a lively song all about . . . them.

Zoom, Zoom, Baby!: (Lift-The-Flap Books): In this transportation-themed board book from Karen Katz, little ones can lift the flaps on each spread to reveal adorable animals inside a variety of vehicles, such as a train, a plane, a truck, and more! But where is Baby? With Katz’s signature bright, striking art, this board book with its sturdy, easy-to-lift flaps is sure to zoom onto bookshelves everywhere.

Hot Dog, Cold Dog: Simple rhyming text and boldly graphic, funny illustrations show off the comically lovable proportions of the dachshund, with its short legs and long body, spirited nature, and cheerful temperament. Author Frann Preston Gannon reveals a surprising variety of wiener dog looks and shows kids all the fun these little dogs have as they visit the beach, cavort in the snow, dig in the garden, jump to the ceiling, and even ride a skateboard–all the while giving a lesson in opposites.

Peek-A-Zoo! Read the clue . . . guess the animal . . . giggle wildly . . . and repeat! At long last, board book virtuoso Nina Laden has created a companion to her beloved classic Peek-a Who? (one of Scholastic magazine’s 100 Greatest Books for Kids with more than 800,000 copies sold). Colorful pictures and a lively, rhyming text help children predict what animal is peeking through die-cut windows. The anticipation of what’s hiding on the next page and the bright, engaging illustrations will keep youngsters laughing and learning all the way to the surprise ending.

Edgar Gets Ready for Bed: A BabyLit® First Steps Picture Book:  Meet the plucky toddler Edgar the Raven! He’s mischievous, disobedient, and contrary. Dinnertime, cleanup-time, and bedtime are all met with one word: NEVERMORE! But as the evening winds to a close, Edgar’s mom knows just what to do to get her son into bed—a bedtime story.

Toot: A subject dear to children’s hearts is in the spotlight as Leslie Patricelli’s beloved baby character returns. Everybody does it: Kitty, Doggie, Daddy — even Mommy! And when Leslie Patricelli’s beloved bald baby does it while running, it sounds like a train. This frank and very funny look at a certain noisy body function is perfectly suited to the youngest of listeners, while their giggling older siblings will be happy to read it aloud.

Moo! When Cow gets her hooves on the farmer’s car, she takes it for a wild ride through the country. Moooo! But a bump in the road brings this joy ride to a troublesome end. Moo-moo. . . Has Cow learned her lesson about living life in the fast lane? Moo?

The Little Red Box of Bright and Early Board Books: A boxed set of four board books featuring P.D. Eastman’s famous dogs! Tucked inside this little red box topped with a sturdy handle are board book adaptations of the classic Beginner Books by P.D. Eastman: Go, Dog. Go!; Big Dog . . . Little Dog; The Alphabet Book; and Michael Frith’s I’ll Teach My Dog a Lot of Words. Perfect for the holidays, baby showers, and happy occasions of all kinds, this is a literacy-nurturing gift that babies can literally sink their teeth into!