Monday, May 23, 2016

Life in the Tide Pools for People who Live in Kansas: Pagoo

Pagoo by Holling Clancy Holling

Pagoo is recommended in Level 1B of Mater Amabilis along with Nature Study. I read it aloud years ago, when First Son was in first grade. I remember enjoying it myself but the children were not as interested. That year, we read one chapter a week for twenty weeks. I think I skipped it the year First Daughter was in first grade. This year, Second Daughter was in first grade, and we were hoping to visit a state that actually has tide pools, so I knew I wanted to read it again. I decided, however, to make it a family read-aloud. We read about a chapter a day (sometimes twice a day) over a few weeks and did not narrate it.
Little Pagurus--"Pagoo" for short--floated at the surface of the sea. Pagurus (Pa-gu-rus) would grow into a two-fisted Hermit Crab--if he could make it.
The book follows Pagoo from a hatchling to an adult hermit crab, introducing all sorts of marine biology and fascinating creatures. Holling is a master story-teller and illustrator. One full page color illustration appears for each chapter, but the other pages usually contain black and white sketches in all the margins.

Pagoo delighted Second Daughter (age 7), the book and the hermit crab. She loved listening to his adventures, looking at the pictures, and talking about what was happening in the story. The older children (First Son at ate 12 and First Daughter at age 9) loved the book as well, much more than they did the last time we read it.

Maybe, just maybe, we'll see an actual hermit crab when we visit the ocean!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Favorite Picture Books: Rocks in His Head

Rocks in His Head by Carol Otis Hurst, pictures by James Stevenson

Based on the true story of the author's father, this book is a fantastic addition to a geology study. He loved rocks from the time he was a young boy, collecting and studying them his entire life. Every few pages the phrase "rocks in his head" repeats, to which her father always agreeably replies, "Maybe I do."

There's a little history (the rise of the automobile and the Great Depression) in addition to the geology, but most importantly is his humility and quiet perseverance. His rocks give him a steady joy, even when faced with struggles. In this end, his dedication to his passion and his never-ending quest for more knowledge earn him his dream job.

Second Daughter has been inspired to not only collect rocks after reading this book, but to search through myriads of library books to identify her rocks and label them. Now she and First Daughter have rock displays on their dressers.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Patterns and Japanese Dolls

As part of our Reading Around the World in Asia picture book study this year, we read both Yumi and Kimonos by Aneelore Parot. When I selected these books, I had my seven-year-old daughter in mind, but my five-year-old son was just as interested (as well as the nine-year-old daughter). Neither of these stories has what I'd call a plot. Instead, each spread has a little activity for children to do with the little dolls. The second book, Kimonos, was especially interactive. Second Son loved searching for the ladybugs, choosing the correctly patterned kimono, and opening all the flaps.

There are Japanese words (including the calligraphy) but no pronunciation guide. I knew a few words and guessed at the others if the children asked. (Most of them are probably easy to find online, if you happen to have an easy way to search quickly for them.) I'm not sure how much they added to our knowledge of Japan, but they were a lot of fun.

It occurred to me as we were reading these books together, that searching for the matching patterns and thinking about what the dolls look like from the back (to choose the right one on the page) engage mathematical skills for pattern recognition and spatial manipulation. These books are a delightful way to introduce these skills, especially if you have a little girl who loves tiny dolls.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Favorite Picture Books: Stuve-Bodeen's Elizabeti books

Elizabeti's Doll, Mama Elizabeti, and Elizabeti's School by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, and all illustrated by Christy Hale

We've been reading these books for years. We even own the first book, Elizabeti's Doll, thanks to a kind fellow member at Elizabeti is a sweet girl in Tanzania who is first introduced when she selects a beautiful perfect rock to be her baby. She rocks her baby, feeds her, and comforts her. In the course of the day, she's misplaced, but discovered by an understanding sister and restored to her little mama.

Later, Elizabeti has a new baby sister and now must help care for her brother Obedi. It would be surprising to find such a young girl caring for her brother in America and she nearly loses him, but it all works out in the end. Life in Elizabeti's Tanzania is hard, but depicted beautifully.

In the third book, Elizabeti's School, Elizabeti goes to school for the first time. In all the important ways, it's just like a first day of school anywhere in the world, but set in Elizabeti's loving African family.

We love Elizabeti! I wish we could visit her, and so do my girls!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Reading Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth and Enjoying Geology

Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth: A First Book About Geology
by Herman and Nina Schneider, with illustrations be Edwin Herron

A fellow member of the Mater Amabilis facebook page mentioned this book coming back into print last summer and I immediately asked our library to purchase it. They did! When I skimmed it, I knew I wanted First Daughter to read it in the coming year (in third grade) because we were planning a trip out West and this book would be a wonderful introduction to the landscapes that would soon surround her. She's an avid reader who loves more subjects to check off her list, so I just added it to Mater Amabilis Level 1A Year 2. She was already scheduled to read Mountains and Volcanoes. I wrote about our plan for Mountains and Volcanoes before First Son completed it here. I simplified it for First Daughter since she was also reading this book, but thought they complemented each other well and left both in her lesson schedule.

First Daughter read a handful of pages from this book once a week. She would verbally narrate to me and often did activities suggested in the text. Most of the activities were straightforward and easy to complete with materials we had in the house or in the dirt outside, though a few would have been improved with a trip to the garden section for a few things.

This book delightfully explains geological themes such as the water cycle, erosion, underground water, minerals, mountains, coastal areas, oceans, earthquakes, volcanoes, precious stones, and metals. Through it all is the idea that the earth is ever-changing as tiny particles are slowly or, more rarely, dramatically broken down and incorporated anew.
Over and over again, water keeps making its journey from the clouds. The water you used to wash your hands this morning is millions of years old, and it has made millions of journeys to and from the clouds, and has traveled millions of miles. Perhaps, long ago, it turned a water will in a mill in Vermont, or it was churned into white foam by Columbus' flagship, or floated off the coast of Greenland, part of a huge iceberg, or shone as dew on a lilac leaf. It may have pushed a few grains of sand on to the banks of the Nile River in Egypt, or dripped off Abraham Lincoln's hat as he walked alone in the rain. You might have rolled it into a snowball or seen it steam out of a pot of soup. It might have been in the mud puddle your dog played in last week. But each time, the warm sun lifted it, and made it pure, and sent it up into the clouds, ready to fall again, clear and fresh, upon the earth.
The text and illustrations clearly explain and show the geological concepts. My daughter narrated the pages well and was able to identify some of the ideas at a visit to a local water center at the end of the school year.

As I mentioned, First Daughter read this book in third grade, but I think it would be appropriate at a range of levels. Second Daughter (age 7 and in first grade) would have understood the book if I had read it aloud to her. First Son (back when he was in third grade) probably would have needed me to read it aloud to him. I would be comfortable assigning this book through fifth grade, and perhaps even some sixth graders would benefit from it. (I often wondered if First Son would have struggled a bit less with A Doorway of Amethyst this year if he had read Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth first.
You are part of the earth's story. In your blood is iron from plants that drew it out of the soil. Your teeth and bones were once coral of the sea and tiny, beautiful sea animals. The water you drink has been in clouds high over the highest mountains of Asia and in lovely, misty waterfalls in Africa. The air you breathe has blown and swirled through places of the earth that no one has ever seen. Every bit of you is a bit of the earth, and has been on many strange and wonderful journeys over countless millions of years.
We enjoyed this book in addition to Mountains and Volcanoes. I will probably include both for Second Daughter when she is in third grade, but if I could only choose one, it would be Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth.

For those that might be interested in using this book, here are the page breakdowns we used. There are assignments for 25 weeks because we took Advent off. If you live in areas allowing for outside exploration to complement the studies (you know, by a mountain or a coast, etc.), those weeks might also be used for field trips. We visited a local spring one week (as part of our nature study) where the water table was visible, for example.

Part One: The Land Torn Down

Part Two: The Sea Filled In

Part Three: The Land Built Up

Part Four: Man and the Earth

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Homeschool Review: Maps, Charts, and Graphs E: United States and Its Neighbors

First Son completed this workbook last year, in fifth grade. These little books continue to be a favorite with all the children.

This book has 32 lessons covering maps, keys, finding directions, map grids, latitude and longitude, scale, landform and relief maps, contour lines, elevation maps, comparing maps (average yearly precipitation vs. Canadian agriculture), highway maps, and using an atlas. It also discusses different map projections and their best uses and special purpose maps (time zones, rainfall, center of population, earthquake zones).

I appreciate all the map work as these are skills we don't cover systematically in any other way. (We use lots of maps in history, but they tend to be mainly geographical in nature rather than maps used to answer questions and derive information.) First Son, probably not unlike most 11 year olds, needed a bit of help when using maps to find driving directions. With the advent of GPS devices and mapping software, this may be a dying skill, but it's one I hope he eventually masters.

The last few lessons cover graphs, tables, charts, and diagrams. These are less necessary for us as they tend to be covered well in our math lessons but it's nice for the children to see how those skills can appear in other ways.

There was a rather odd lesson on analyzing pictures in which the student was asked to study historical pictures and then answer questions based on them. Much of this lesson was subjective so we mainly talked through it together. In addition, there was a lesson on political cartoons and their interpretation and time lines.

Reviews of Previous Books in the Series
Level A: The Places Around Me
Level B: Neighborhoods
Level C: Communities
Level D: States and Regions

I've linked to Amazon above, with my affiliate link, but when I'm buying these workbooks, I always purchase them from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts which has good prices and excellent service. I don't receive anything from them if you order, but I hope you do.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Defender of the Faith: Saint Athanasius

Saint Athanasius by F. A. Forbes

This book is recommended as Easter reading for Level 3 Year 1 students by Mater Amabilis. Because St. Athanasius is the patron saint of our homeschool, Kansas Dad's confirmation saint, and a patron of our whole family, I had read the book before but did so again before First Son would read it to refresh my memory.

St. Athanasius's life is nearly unbelievable as he stood firm against the persecution and misleading statements of the Arians, a divisive force in the early Christian world who maintained falsely that Jesus was not God, but a creature, one created by God. He suffered five exiles in the desert, hiding in the midst of monks and hermits. He wrote extensively, sending letters and treatises throughout the young Christian world.

The Arian controversy threatened to tear the early Christian church apart, but in the end, the Church survived, in no small part thanks to the courage and faithfulness of St. Athanasius.

Forbes's biography of St. Athanasius is meant to be an inspiring story rather than an objective biography we might expect today (not that they're ever really objective). Even so, it's an excellent book on the Arian controversy for the Level 3 student. First Son also appreciates "graduating" to saint books beyond the Vision series.

People of any era require reminders that how we explain and defend our faith is essential, that governments and peers can lead us astray if we do not ground ourselves in the most essential tenets of the faith. Yet St. Athanasius never held a grudge, which is also important to remember. Those who accepted the Nicene Creed were welcomed back without impunity and with open arms.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

World Travels with Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels

Mater Amabilis Level 3 recommends Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels, spread over the two years of the level, the Occident in Year 1 (sixth grade) and the Orient in Year 2 (seventh grade). I debated about finding an alternate title as it seemed expensive, but everywhere I looked online the homeschool voices resounded with praises for this book and lamentations that nothing else was comparable. I found Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels at the bargain price of about $28 including shipping using It may be cheaper to buy the two copies separately, but I like having it all in one book. (When I checked earlier this spring, it looked like the complete book was more reasonably priced than each volume separately.) I did talk seriously with First Son about our copy, explaining it was an older book that would require gentle handing.

Today I'd like to add my voice to the others singing the praises of The Complete Book of Marvels. This is by far my favorite Level 3 book!

Richard Halliburton writes as if he is traveling with a group of young people beginning in California, traveling east across the United States and then through Europe, ending in Istanbul. Written in the 1930s, the descriptions and stories are, of course, missing a few decades of history, but it's simple to supplement with some searches online if necessary. Each chapter swirls from geography to history to inspiring descriptions to travel adventures. There are ample photographs in the book, some from the author's own travels. His stunts like swimming the Panama Canal and thrusting a stick into the a smoking crack of Vesuvius thrill the reader and are perfect for reading rather than doing.

The descriptions astound and delight. Reading about places I'd been, I yearned to return. Reading about new and exotic places, I suddenly felt a wanderlust, a desire to venture out into the wide world. Halliburton invites the reader to venture to the edge of volcanoes, the pinnacle of mountains, and the dungeons of castles. In the chapter on the Iguazu Falls, he writes:
Then, abruptly, we reach the edge of a terrific mile-wide abyss, and stand before what seems, at the moment, to be all the beauty in the world changed into mist and moonlight, floating out from among the stars, and falling and fading into a bottomless fissure in the earth.
There are also exquisite descriptions of the wondrous, like the Blue Grotto:
Magic has been worked on everything. About us hang the draperies of an azure fairyland. The rock of the cavern walls has been changed to a curtain of soft sapphires ashine with silver spangles. And the water we float on is no longer water. It's a bottomless sky shot full of unearthly blue light. Blue--blue--blue--silvery, shimmering, fairy blue dances on the ceiling, electrifies the quivering lake and touches the very air with supernatural radiance, overwhelming us with its blue beauty.
First Son read one chapter each week, narrating it orally. I also assigned him mapwork in his Geography Coloring Book as it was appropriate. I bought this book a few years ago and we use it over and over again, coloring in new pages as we work through geography and other lessons.

Chapter 1 - color California on p 11
Chapter 3 - color Washington on p 11
Chapter 4 - color Arizona on p 11
Chapter 5 - color Nevada on p 11
Chapter 6 - color New York on p 7
Chapter 8 - color Washington, D.C. on p 7
Chapter 9 - color Florida on p 8
Chapter 10 - color Mexico on p 12
Chapter 12 - color Haiti on p 13
Chapter 13 - color Panama on p 12
Chapter 14 - color Peru on p 17
Chapter 15 - color Argentina on p 17
Chapter 16 - color Brazil on p 16
Chapter 17 - color Spain on p 21
Chapter 18 - color France on p 21
Chapter 21 - color Switzerland on p 22
Chapter 23 - color Italy on p 23
Chapter 27 - color Greece on p 23
Chapter 29 - color European Russia and Asian Russia on p 26
Chapter 30 - color Turkey on p 30

First Son's copy of the Geography Coloring Book is an older one, but First Daughter has the third edition and I checked that the page numbers are still accurate.

I am eagerly anticipating the second half of this book as we venture into the Orient!

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Source of Joy: The Little Flowers of Saint Francis

This book is recommended for Lenten reading for Level 3 Year 1 students by Mater Amabilis. An ebook is available for free, but I opted to purchase this Paraclete Heritage Edition (used copies are quite reasonably priced) because paper books just seem to work better in our homeschool. This particular edition is introduced, annotated, arranged chronologically, and rendered into contemporary English by John M. Sweeney.

Originally published in Latin, The Little Flowers was almost immediately translated into Italian in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. It wasn't available at all in English until 1864. Before it was published, the stories were passed on orally by the Franciscan brothers. (A few additional stories were added by one of the Italian translators, but those weren't in our edition.)
The Little Flowers tells the story of St. Francis and his earliest companions--the men and women of the early Franciscan movement. They are teaching tales, intended to motivate the reader toward holiness. There is never a question as to the sanctity of the subject of these tales; they are not the subject of objective history.
The early stories focus on St. Francis and his first companions, but the second part is mostly about "modern" friars (stories 42-53), those of the time when the Fioretti was compiled or written. The more modern stories are presented in an attempt to defend themselves within the order at a time when it was divided into (mainly) two cohorts. They include multiple references, for example, to purgatory even though it was not a formal doctrine until long after St. Francis's death.

This book is essential for understanding St. Francis.
There is no document or collection of documents that has had as much impact on our collective and cultural understanding of Francis of Assisi and the personality of the early Franciscan movement as The Little Flowers.
The editor debated about changing the title as he felt it both didn't reflect the original Latin and because he thought people were not drawn in by the title. First Son, a twelve year old boy, protested on the very first day because of the title. He wanted no part of flowers! I shared a little of the introduction (which I had assigned) and encouraged him to have an open mind.
What makes these stories relevant today is the power with which they grab hold of the reader, sometimes by the fantastic claims they make for the life of St. Francis and his first followers, to change one's life before God. Hyperbole--if that's what it's called--has always been a rhetorical device and a symptom of deep believe; and it can be a tool of transformation.
Once First Son started reading the book, he loved it. The brief chapters glow with the early fervor of St. Francis and his followers. Stories of preaching in underwear, enduring hardships, and battling the devil inspire thrilled my sixth grade son.

One of my favorite stories is The source of joy, or, St. Francis and Brother Leo walking in the freezing rain. St. Francis, walking behind Brother Leo, calls out to him repeatedly, telling him everything the source of joy is not such as being "an example of holiness and integrity to the world," working miracles including "the dead to rise again after four days," knowledge of man and Scripture, and winning the conversion of others. Brother Leo finally begs St. Francis to tell him the source of joy.
"When we arrive at St. Mary's," Francis began, "and we're soaked by the rain and chilled to the bone, completely drenched with mud and so very hungry, and we ring at the gate and the brother on duty comes to the gate and says, 'Who are you?' We will say, 'We are your brothers.' But if he argues with us and says, 'You aren't telling me the truth. I don't trust you. You might steal from us. Go away!' then he won't open the gate and we'll have to stand outside in the freezing snow and cold until night falls.["]
He continues, saying they'll endure more insults.
"If we bear all of this with patience and receive his insults with joy and charity in our hearts--write this down too, brother: that is the source of joy!["]
He says, "We bear it all because we love him."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Favorite Picture Books: How the Guinea Fowl Got Her Spots

retold and illustrated by Barbara Knutson

In this book, a Swahili story explains why a guinea fowl has spots. In the beginning, she's a beautiful black without a single spot. She and Cow are great friends, spending time together each day but always watching out for Lion. One day, spotting Lion stalking Cow, the guinea rushes in to save her friend without a thought for her own safety. The next day, she attacks Lion a second time, again saving her friend. In thanksgiving, Cow sprinkles milk over her feathers, giving them lovely spots and allowing her to hide perfectly in shadows and grass.

A small note on the copyright page shows how to pronounce the guinea's name. The illustrations leap off the page and include scratch marks that evoke African art.

We have guinea fowl because they eat ticks and grasshoppers, so we were destined to love this book. Even better, it exemplifies friendship and courage.

Highly recommended.