Friday, August 28, 2015

June 2015 Book Reports

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente is a modern fairy tale written for middle grade readers. It's fully of grand statements and is an interesting story. If you are concerned about witches, dragons, or the use of magic, it's not the series for your family, but I think it's a fun one. I was disappointed myself simply because I didn't find myself wanting to read it but I can't point to anything within the book itself to explain my disinterest. (library copy)

The Great Whale of Kansas by Richard W. Jennings - my review. (library copy)
(library copy)

The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery - my review. (purchased copy)

Daughter of the Mountains by Louise Rankin - my review. (received through

Since it's already nearly September, I'll skip the list of books in progress on this post.

Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). My homeschooling budget is always grateful for any purchases.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Review: A Nice Little Place on the North Side

A Nice Little Place on the North Side: A History of Triumph, Mostly Defeat, and Incurable Hope at Wrigley Field
by George F. Will

I selected this book to review because I knew I could pass it on to my dad after I read it. He's a sports fanatic and a Cubs fan. Mr. Will's self-deprecating humor suits the subject perfectly.
But one thing led to another, as things have a way of doing, and in 1948, when I was still not as discerning as one should be when making life-shaping decisions, I became a Cubs fan. The Catholic Church thinks seven-year-olds have reached an age of reasoning. The church might want to rethink that.
Extensive notes and bibliography attest to the wide-ranging research of the author, though from the tone of the book, I'm inclined to think he reads widely and recognizes connections between diverse sources. He interweaves quotes from poets, fictional accounts of historical Chicago, and newspaper articles seemingly unrelated to baseball, and reveals how they intersect with Cub history to reveal surprising truths about Chicago and the Cubs.

Of course, Mr. Will doesn't neglect statistics of the Cubs themselves. In one section, he relies heavily on a 2011 book by Tobias Moskowitz and L. John Wertheim in which they show how attendance at Wrigley Field remains steady (or increases) even when the Cubs lose.
And speaking of incentives and, as any baseball person must, of beer, they also say, "Attendance at Wrigley Field is actually more sensitive to beer prices--much more--than it is to the Cubs' winning percentage."
Baseball franchises, like all major sports today, must balance the historical with the modern. A bit of time contemplating Wrigley Field's history, the momentous and the mundane, knowing change might be nearing, helps us honestly assess what places mean to us and how those meanings can continue or grow amidst progress. (Alternatively, it could spur someone to invest in a baseball team to prevent change, if someone had that kind of money, I suppose.)
Which is why we care so much about what happens in places like Wrigley Field. What happens, really? It is just a game. Yes, like any craft, it is worth doing well. And excellence, wherever it occurs, is worth savoring and honoring. But, in spite of the unending attempts of metaphysicians in the bleachers and press boxes to make sport more than it is, the real appeal of it for spectators is that sport enables us, for a few hours, to step out of the river of time and into a pastime.
This book is enjoyable for anyone interested in sports, history, Chicago, the Cubs, or architecture. My dad is going to love it!

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions above are my own.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Homeschool Review: Writing with Skill Level 1

Writing With Skill, Level 1: Student Workbook (The Complete Writer) by Susan Wise Bauer

I selected this text for First Son based on the success we had with the Writing with Ease series (I wrote about Year One here.) and because a friend with a slightly older son had used it successfully. The Writing with Skill series is a continuation of Writing with Ease, building on the skills developed by narration, copywork, and dictation. In the first book of Writing with Skill, the student starts with the basic skills of narration and outlines. Over time, the student practices skills like incorporating descriptive words, understanding metaphors or similes, and transforming indirect objects into prepositional phrases (and vice versa).

For each day, the student reads through the lesson in the book, practicing skills along the way. Some of the exercises are designed to be done right in the book. These we did orally. Most of the others are done in a writing notebook. The text recommends using a computer, so First Son had a few documents in GoogleDocs.

The excerpts used in nearly every lesson were interesting and at an appropriate level for First Son in fifth grade. His reading level is probably a little above average for fifth grade, but his interest level in anything "school" is low. He found most of the readings accessible, only needing help in understanding a few of them. More importantly (for him), most of the readings intrigued him so he was encouraged to keep reading.

The Instructor Text is a separate book, just as large as the student text. It does not contain most of the excerpts, but does include all of the student text instructions. I found it invaluable when working with First Son. It provides examples and potential answers (many exercises have more than one correct answer) as well as helpful questions to ask the student to guide him or her through exercises found difficult.

For a student willing and able to read a text and work independently on writing, this book is an excellent choice. I would have loved it as a student myself.

For First Son, however, who had no interest in learning to write and even less in reading a text book on learning to write, it was nearly a disaster. He struggled with simple requests and then would quickly become frustrated when I tried to work with him. He neglected to read the directions carefully and would become angry when I pointed out that he had either not done part of the lesson or had done it incorrectly. Many of the finer points never showed up in his writing until I specifically asked him to rewrite part of the lesson to incorporate something he had "learned" previously.

I'm still considering my options for next year, but it will not be Writing with Skill. There was simply too much frustration on both sides. I think I need something more formal than simply written narrations to help guide him to better writing, but I'm not sure how much time I want to devote to it.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Prereading: Daughter of the Mountains

Daughter of the Mountains by Louise Rankin

This book is one of the options at Mater Amabilis for Level 1A Year 2 People and Places. The site notes that there are references to Buddhism and astrology in the book which would need to be discussed, and that is certainly true. I didn't consider this for First Son because I figured he'd prefer to read about a boy than a girl, but I had a copy and decided to read it in case I wanted to use it next year. It's simply fabulous.

Momo, a young girl of Tibet, follows thieves and her stolen dog down the mountains and into India. She meets friends and allies along the way and helps others in her turn as well. The descriptions of the geography are wonderful. I almost wish I could go hiking in Tibet!
While she was still near the top of the mighty Jelep La, she could see far down and away to the end of the world, it seemed. Her eyes passed lightly over the lower ranges of the Himalayas, crowding together in upsurging, jumbled heaps of blue and green. Far, far below these solid hills the earth lay flat, a deep turquoise blue, and shimmering away in the distance till it melted into the paler blue of the sky. As she gazed, Momo could hardly tell where the earth ended and the sky began.
I'm please with the People and Places as I've planned it without this book so I don't think I'm going to change it to put this one in. I like it so much, however, that I'm going to put it on the list of our read-alouds for next year. It'll be nice to involve Kansas Dad, too, who can tell us how Catholics should respond to Buddhist beliefs.

Friday, June 26, 2015

First Piano Recital

First Son and First Daughter started piano lessons last fall. A very dear friend of mine is their teacher and I think she's fantastic. The recital was also perfect - all kids we knew, one right after the other, with lots of fun and fellowship (and scrumptious chocolate chip cookies and vanilla scones) afterwards. Just so it's on the official blog record, here are the videos.

She was a lot more nervous than she thought she would be, but she kept on going.

First Son was one of the steadiest players that day. He came. He played. He ate cookies. Just another day. (Maybe it was his previous performance experience.)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Prereading: The Reb and the Redcoats

 The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery

This is one of the possible resources listed for RC History's Connecting with History Volume 4A (American History)

A captured American soldier-colonist, the Reb, is held at a private residence in England. The action of the Revolutionary War is far away, but the book shows some of the effects on those who return from war or have friends and family in harm's way. It's a book about honor, chivalry, friendship, and seeing the humanity of those who are our political enemies.

It would be appropriate for reading aloud to the whole family and I think I'd like it a lot better than reading Mr. Revere and I, which I'll have as an option for First Son (sixth grade) or First Daughter (third grade) to read independently.

The links above are affiliate links at RC History. I purchased this book directly from the publisher, Bethlehem Books, during one of their many great sales. (I actually purchased the Kindle version from the publisher a year ago, but we didn't get to this unit last year and I took advantage of a sale to get a real book for the kids to read.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Quirky Kansas

The Great Whale of Kansas by Richard W. Jennings

In preparation for First Daughter's Kansas study next year, I came across this book at the library. Set in an imaginary town geographically centered in the United States (appropriately named Melville), it's the tale of a lonely 11 year old boy who uncovers something extraordinary in his backyard. It's full of facts about geology and the history of Kansas as well as all the side-show worthy claims of Kansas (deepest hand-dug well, largest ball of twine, Big Brutus, just to name a few*).

It's not a perfect book. There were no whales in the oceans of Kansas and if someone did discover one in his or her backyard, it should certainly be studied by science. The whole ceremony at the end of the book seemed a little much to me. Also, the boy's crush on his science teacher seemed unnecessary. My son is eleven and while I suppose he might be unusual, I see no reason to introduce an element like that into the story. It doesn't introduce anything explicitly inappropriate, though, and I feel comfortable reading this with all my kids (who will be 11, 8, 7, and 5 when school starts).

All that said, this book is such a good fit for us next year, I plan to read it out loud to the whole family. It's Kansas, geology, natural history, American history, paleontology, and just plain fun. I only hope the kids don't start digging an enormous hole in our backyard after we read it.

* The Kansas Explorer's Club is a great way to explore the weird and sometimes wonderful world of rural Kansas.

The Amazon link is an affiliate link. I checked this book out of the library.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Homeschool Review: Our Lady's Book

Our Lady's Book by Lauren Ford

Mater Amabilis recommends this book for Easter reading in the second year of Level 2 (fifth grade). It is centered on the life of St. Catherine Laboure from her childhood through her life in the convent, telling of how Mary appeared to her. Later, it introduces other Marian apparitions as Sister Catherine may have heard of them from visitors and fellow religious. Through it all, the author weaves together the apparitions to reveal a common thread, a recurring theme that speaks to a young reader.

The visions included are those of La Salette, Lourdes, Pomain, and Fatima. All of these are approved by the Vatican. (The pages on the Marian apparitions at The Miracle Hunter are excellent resources.)

Obviously, someone who is not Catholic would not share this book with his or her children, but even Catholics may hesitate. The damage done by false reports of apparitions is real, as Simcha Fisher recently said better than I could. Distraction from Jesus and what he is calling us to do, even at a site of real visions and miracles, can be damaging. Finally, I always wonder if a heightened focus on Marian apparitions will be perceived as further evidence by Protestants that Catholics worship Mary. (We don't; or at least, we shouldn't.)

I debated a little with myself and Kansas Dad before assigning this book to First Son. While some Marian apparitions have been deemed worthy of belief (as have all of the ones described in this book), no Catholic is required to believe any of them. I did assign it, but did not require narrations. Because it was after Easter, we were also at the end of the school year and I knew he would read it quickly.

I read this book along with him and enjoyed it myself. The tone reminds me of A Life of Our Lord for Children (which I love).
We must ask for that peace. This is prayer. And, of course, we must do penance...Our Lord Himself told her, "It is penitence alone that will bring peace to the world." And then He went on to say just how we should go about achieving this. He only wishes that each person do his simple and honest daily tasks as best he can, accepting all the trials and bothers along the way.
The apparitions themselves are not exactly the focus; it's more on the people involved and how they tried to live as Jesus called them to do so. Overall, a decent book, but one I think you could skip (especially in a school year with a late Easter) without too much worry.

Amazon links are affiliate links. I purchased this book used on Amazon.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Seven Quick Takes Vol 11: Just a Typical Summer with Kids

-- 1 --

You may have noticed First Daughter's sling in the Shakespeare recitations I posted on Wednesday. She broke it while roller skating here at home last Sunday evening.

It was a bad break and required more than seven hours in two different hospitals to be set and splinted. We'll be seeing the doctor about every other week for the next six to eight weeks, but, unlike an adult, she shouldn't need surgery. We're praying each night to St. Stanislaus Kostka (patron saint of broken bones) that all heals well.

There's a long list of things she won't be doing this summer, but we're trying to focus on what she can do. (If you have ideas for super-fun not-very-expensive summer activities for an active 8 year old girl in a cast, please leave them in the comments.)

First Daughter now has the distinction of being the first child in our family to have a broken arm. She's also the first for staples, but not for infection-caused-by-LEGO or baby-teeth-crushed-and-extracted.

-- 2 --

The week before the broken arm, the older three children went to Totus Tuus at our parish, which is our version of vacation Bible school. It was Second Daughter's first year and First Son's last year for the day program. Next year, he'll be old enough to go to the evening program. Yikes!

As a homeschooling mom, I struggle with letting my children go and listen to others talk about our faith in a less precise way than I would prefer, but it is only one week a year and they love it so I take a deep breath and tell myself they'll be fine.

-- 3 --

For my birthday, my brother and sister-in-law gave me a five year diary. The first few weeks were really memorable: a vacation in Illinois with my parents, swimming in the pond, Second Son falling in (and being promptly rescued), fishing, an overnight trip with the kids to Chicago (art museum fail, field museum mostly win, train ride win), an overpriced visit to a Legoland Discovery Center (the best place Second Son has ever been), and a series of fun dinner guests. I was just beginning to wonder what I would write when things were calm and boring when First Daughter broke her arm.

-- 4 --

In order to go to said Legoland, we drove nine hours from my parents' house in Illinois to a church in Kansas. Kansas Dad had gone online and found one near our hotel with a Saturday evening vigil. It ended up being a church out in the country, but with a big parking lot. Our kids were not in the most pious frame of mind as they had just spent nine hours in a van, were already hungry for dinner (despite many snacks), and had been partaking of screen time. We were surprised to find ourselves at a Mass with an archibishop, all the Knights of Columbus, and a baptism. Many vigil Masses are 45 minutes long. This one was an hour and a half. Second Son has not behaved so horribly at Mass for years.

I remember one point in the homily when the archbishop was talking about the missionary work of parents who take their children to Mass even though it's difficult. I would not have been surprised if he had pointed right at us, standing alone behind the huge glass doors separating the vestibule from the sanctuary, a perfect example.

-- 5 --

I have a new camera! I bought it with birthday money and am so happy to have one without random circles all over the place. (The old one had something on the lens inside the camera. It needed to be taken apart and cleaned which was going to cost more than a new one. Now, the old one belongs to Second Son, who takes horrible pictures and runs down the battery watching videos on it.)

The new camera can take a bunch of pictures in succession, which gives us fun collections like these:

-- 6 --

Last week the children and I watched The Tale of Despereaux. It was a travesty. I mourned for the poor author who watched a movie studio take her beautiful novel and turn it into that movie. Don't watch it. Instead, read the book.  It reminded us of the horrible adaptation of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Read that book, too, and don't watch the movie.

-- 7 --

A few days ago we went to a house concert, which should have been a tremendous amount of fun surrounded by friends and good music outdoors on a summer evening. Unfortunately, Second Daughter jumped off the swing, landed on her arm, and wept quietly for an hour before Kansas Dad took her to the emergency room. It was his second time in the same week with a daughter and a broken or maybe-broken arm. Sigh. Happily, her arm does not seem to be broken, though it has been aching for a few days.

Join in Seven Quick Takes at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

First Son's Life

This video shot by Second Daughter exemplifies daily life during the school year for First Son. Doing something fun, then suddenly remembers he has less-fun-work to do. (She recorded this in February, but I just got around to watching it.)