Monday, March 16, 2015

My Favorite Picture Books: Anna Hibiscus' Song

Anna Hibiscus' Song
by Atinuke
illustrated by Lauren Tobia

I have recommended Anna Hibiscus books before. Our library has a few chapter books that are perfect books on Africa for early readers. I only recently discovered this picture book of Anna Hibiscus.

It is outstanding.

Anna Hibiscus is so happy she feels like she's going to burst. She goes from one family group to another, sharing her happiness and asking what she should do. They all have suggestions, mainly based on what they do when they are happy. She tries them all and her happiness just grows. Finally, in the end, she finds her own way of expressing happiness. She sings.

The joy of this book is tremendous. The love of her grandparents, aunties, uncle, and cousins is the background against which Anna Hibiscus delights in her life. They are just as delighted by her happiness as she is and share her joy spontaneously and tenderly, each in their own way.

Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa (Amazing Africa). Her father is African and her mother is white. None of that matters in the story, though it would be lovely to share this book with a child who was similar to Anna Hibiscus in that way. This is one of those delightful books that features a child of color without color being a focus.

Anna Hibiscus is amazing and I love welcoming her into my home! In fact, I want to invite her whole family over.

The Amazon links above are affiliate links. I checked this book out of the library. This review is my honest opinion.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

February 2015 Book Report

Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits: A Patria Story by Daniel McInerny is the first is a series (of two novels and one novella, so far) that has been highly recommended to me from a variety of sources. I was a little nervous because it looked like they might be self-published and sometimes those books were refused by publishers for good reason. I thought it was pretty fun and offered it to First Son (11) who declared it fantastic and read it in a few hours (over two days). First Daughter (8) is reading it now and also enjoying it. It seems to be just challenging enough for her. I had to request it through inter-library loan, but after I suggested it to the library, they have ordered both of the books. My kids are really excited to read the second one! (inter-library loan)

Happy Times in Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren is a sequel to The Children of Noisy Village (recommended by Mater Amabilis for Level 1A and a truly delightful book). I learned only recently about the sequel and was thrilled when the library purchased a copy. It's just as delightful. The first book includes a bit more than a hint that Santa Claus does not actually deliver presents which I modified a bit when I was reading it aloud because we like St. Nicholas around here and I didn't want to ruin the fun too early for the girls. There's nothing like that in this book, so I'm comfortable handing it over to First Daughter (8) who will read it independently for her lessons when she finishes the Patria book. (library copy)

The Call of the Wild by Jack London was a book I was going to pre-read for First Son, but decided we'd just listen to it when I saw the library had it on audio CD. I have never read anything by Jack London myself. There were a few scenes in which animals were cruelly treated (most often by other dogs) and one fairly gruesome scene at the end where Buck attacks and kills a large number of people. As far as I know, it was all historically accurate (though fictionalized) and it was certainly beautifully written, but I probably would not have let my girls (6 and 8) listen to it if I had read it myself beforehand. They handled it without comment or gasp, though. It would have been worthwhile independent reading for First Son (11) either for school or summer reading. (audio CD from the library)

The Little Oratory: A Beginner's Guide to Praying in the Home by David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler - my review. (purchased copy from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts)

The Bad Beginning: Or, Orphans! (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket
We listened to the audio CD read by Tim Curry. It was delightful. Though awful things happen to the children, just as promised, there are frequent moments of laughter and ridiculousness. We love Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, and can't wait to hear more about them. (audio CD from the library)

The Bible Compass: A Catholic's Guide to Navigating the Scriptures by Edward Sri was recommended as background reading for Volume 1 of Connecting with History (Ancient History). I read The Drama of Scripture, which Kansas Dad recommended, but thought it would be nice to read this one as well for a Catholic perspective. The first part of the book was a little frustrating as I felt like he was telling me only what the Catechism would tell me about the Bible (which I could look that up myself), but as the book progressed there was more detailed information about Scripture and how to read it. Overall, I feel like it's a good overview, especially for someone who is feeling intimidating about reading the Bible. (purchased copy from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts)

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden is recommended by Mater Amabilis in year 2 of level 1A (third grade) for People and Places. I did not consider it for First Son when I saw the plot focused on Japanese dolls, so this is the first time I've read it. A family comes together to create something beautiful and perfect, in the process providing a path for a young girl to establish herself in a new home. First Daughter is going to love it! (library copy)

In Her Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Grandmas Around the World by Gabriele Galimberti - my review. (review copy from Blogging for Books)

Bleak House by Charles Dickens - my review. (library copy)

Priest on Horseback: Father Farmer, 1720-1786 by Eva K. Betz is a book I read about but was always daunted by the high price as it is out of print. I was delighted to discover it on LibriVox coincidentally as we were studying colonial American history. First Daughter loved the story but the others were not as interested. This book gives a look at what colonial life was like for a traveling priest at a time when many people distrusted or outright hated Catholics. The reader is not my favorite, though I am glad she recorded this book. (listening with the children on LibriVox)

Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love by Dietrich von Hildebrand - my review. (inter-library loan copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)
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. 

Links to RC History are affiliate links.

Links to Sacred Heart Books and Gifts are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

First Daughter's First Communion

First Daughter made her First Communion this weekend. I love how our parish celebrates First Communion with all the second graders during Lent because it means the blessing of the Eucharist is still fresh for the children at Easter. We have promised First Daughter we'll all go to the Easter Vigil this year, in honor of her First Communion.

Here is First Daughter all ready to leave for Mass. Her dress is made from my wedding dress, modified by a friend who skillfully changed our ideas about what she would like to a beautiful reality. She picked the tiara because of the dangling cross which is probably too small to see in the pictures, but it is sparkling.

We took a few pictures before Mass at the church, too. Here is First Daughter with the Holy Family. This is a new statue at our parish and I love seeing it each week outside our Atrium. You can see the cross a little better in the picture below.

We didn't take any pictures during the Mass, preferring to enjoy the time with each other and our parish family. Below is our lovely girl with our parish priest.

Here we all are. First Son served the Mass, which was wonderful. I think here he's really excited to go out to eat for lunch.

When First Daughter was just an infant, my parents traveled to Spain. At a monastery there, they bought a rosary for her. We saved it all these years and gave it to her today. (My friend also made a lovely rosary pouch for First Daughter out of the material. I didn't get a picture of it, but it's a great idea. It will always remind her of her First Communion.)

First Daughter's doll has her own First Communion dress, so we took a lot of pictures of them together.

To celebrate, we offered to take First Daughter out to lunch and let her choose the restaurant. We feasted at a Chinese buffet and then enjoyed our traditional frozen yogurt. We'll invite a few of her friends over for a luncheon and tea party in a few days.

Many blessings on you, our first daughter!

Monday, March 2, 2015

My Favorite Picture Books: The Girl and the Bicycle

The Girl and the Bicycle illustrated by Mark Pett

This adorable wordless picture book shows a young girl who works steadily to earn enough money for a new bicycle, in the process developing a relationship with a neighbor. It's a book of perseverance, success, disappointment, generosity, friendship, and family. All of my children have spent time engrossed with the illustrations and "reading" it over and over again.

This book is a kind of sequel to The Boy and the Airplane, but I like it even better than the first one.

The Amazon links above are affiliate links. I checked this book out of the library. This review is my honest opinion.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Review: Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love

Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love by Dietrich von Hildebrand

This book is slim -- only an introduction by the author's wife and two chapters. Written by a philosopher, it examines the richness of marriage, a richness sometimes forgotten in the ordinariness of married life.
...above all, they must beware of an indolent indifference and of simply floating down the stream of everyday habits. They must recall anew every hour the unspeakably precious gift which God gave in the form of the soul of the beloved. Never must they lose the sense of the wonderful mystery that the other person whom they love loves them too, that the other lives for them, that they own something far above all other earthly possessions.
Beautiful! (Though I can't help wondering how often he did the laundry or changed a diaper.)

Sometimes the language was a little stilted. The lofty ideals of the quote above remained prominent through much of the book. It's much more of a treatise on the idea of marriage and the overall goals than a help in developing and maintaining a relationship. If, however, you have ever questioned the importance or relevance of marriage, this book may be a good place to start.
We must never forget that we do not live in paradise, but that as a consequence of the fall of man, we live in a world which is permeated by a deeply tragic element, where happiness is necessarily wrapped up with tribulation. The redemption of the world by Our Lord has not suspended disharmony and banished suffering, though He gave a new meaning to suffering by making it a means of penance and sacrifice.

The Amazon links above are affiliate links. I borrowed a copy through inter-library loan. This review is my honest opinion.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review: Bleak House

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

I read Great Expectations in high school and thought I hated it. Upon further reflection, I think I did not understand it. I then mistakenly avoided reading anything else by Dickens for decades. In 2008, I read A Tale of Two Cities and absolutely loved it. Shortly thereafter, I read A Christmas Carol and was delighted. Then for some reason, I neglected to read anything by Dickens for years. What a shame!

Kansas Dad doesn't care to read Dickens, something about the detriment of reading a book by someone who was paid by the word, but I love the language of Bleak House.
She stands looking at him as he writes on, all unconscious and only her fluttering hands give utterance to her emotions. But they are very eloquent; very, very eloquent. Mrs Bagnet understands them. They speak of gratitude, of joy, of grief, of hope; of inextinguishable affection, cherished with no return since this stalwart man was a stripling...
The novel attacks treatment of the poor, ridiculous enthrallment with charity work for the benefit of the servant rather than the poor, and most of all Chancery, where court cases drag on for years, draining people of estates and hope. It's interesting how often these same issues remain prominent a hundred and fifty years later. How little society learns!

Education is not a major theme of the book, mentioned only peripherally, but of course those are mentions I notice particularly.
He had been eight years at a public school, and had learnt, I understood, to make Latin Verses of several sorts, in the most admirable manner. But I never heard that it had been anybody's business to find out what his natural bent was, or where his failings lay, or to adapt any kind of knowledge to him. He had been adapted to the Verses, and had learnt the art of making them to such perfection, that if he had remained at school until he was of age, I suppose he could only have gone on making them over and over again, unless he had enlarged his education by forgetting how to do it. Still, although I had no doubt that they were very beautiful, and very improving, and very sufficient for a great many purposes of life, and always remembered all through life, I did doubt whether Richard would not have profited by some one studying him a little, instead of his studying them quite so much.
A ready-made introduction to a discussion of Charlotte Mason's first principle of education!

I borrowed this book from the library and loved the Penguin Classics hardcover edition. It is beautifully bound.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Book Review: In Her Kitchen

In Her Kitchen by Gabriele Galimberti

The author of this book, a photographer, traveled all over the world, sleeping on couches. Starting with the idea of his grandmother and her signature dish, Gabriele Galimberti asked his hosts to introduce him to grandmothers who then prepared their special meals for him. These are the meals they made for celebrations or leisurely dinners with their families.

Each dish is presented in a two page spread, first with a photograph of the chef and her ingredients and then in the final presentation, both artfully arranged. The kitchens are all over the world, including modern kitchens in developed countries as well as some in developing countries. One beautiful woman, for example, was photographed outside with "caterpillars" arranged neatly on a coarse wooden table. The followed two pages include a brief introduction of the woman and a recipe. Sometimes I wish the introductions were a little less sparse. He says, "Cooking with Regina [the woman from Malawi who prepared Caterpillars in Tomato Sauce] was one of the most emotional experiences of my life and changed me forever," but didn't tell us much more than that about his experiences. I can imagine how I might have felt, but that doesn't help me to know Regina or her homeland better.

It would take ingenuity and a lot of internet orders to make every recipe in the book. Iguana and shark are difficult to find in Kansas. The beauty of this book, though, is not in recreating the recipes; it's in glimpsing the universal desire to create something nourishing for those we love, for transforming whatever ingredients are at hand into a meal.

For someone interested in cooking, this book is the kind of living book that could serve as a geography book. While making all of the recipes might be onerous, choosing a select few to delight your own family would be perfect. First on our list: Grace Estibero's Chicken Vindaloo.

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

Friday, February 13, 2015

New Readers and How We Love Them

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

Second Daughter is learning to read. She's just at the brink of leaping off into that wide world of books with enough knowledge to sound out most simple words and an inkling of what other words should be. Earlier this week, she brought this book to me from our library stash. She said she wanted to read it to me but that she would need help with a few words. So she did.

I had already read this book and thought it was sweet but it didn't thrill me. I love how her attraction to the book inspired her to seek me out and share it with me. I enjoyed the book so much more when she read it to me than when I had skimmed it myself.

As Second Daughter is learning to read, she's revealing her tastes more clearly than ever before. It reminds me of that amazing time when each of my children first learned to talk. All along you knew there was a little thinking person running around (often terrorizing everyone in the house) and suddenly she begins to communicate with you in words.

I have learned so much this year about Second Daughter and how words and illustrations intrigue her and draw her in. Or not.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review: The Little Oratory

The Little Oratory: A Beginner's Guide to Praying in the Home by David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler

This book is a rich resource for every Catholic. It is not just a list of prayers to say and things to buy. The authors, both converts to the Catholic faith, speak of their own experiences in developing a life of prayer:
This book focuses on uniting the two [love of God and love of neighbor] by extending the Eucharistic worship into the heart of the home in the "little oratory," which becomes the visible sign of everything else. The little oratory--prayer table, icon corner, or even dining room table--isn't only a physical place; it's a way of thinking that simplifies everything...If we get this right, it orders the rest and brings peace.
The oratory can be quite simple, but it must always be beautiful.
Because the family is where the child is first formed in what constitutes the beautiful which in turn relates to the good and the true, it is no exaggeration to say that the images we choose for our prayer in the home can have a profound effect on the culture and, ultimately, on the good of others.
The authors proceed to share some ways we can educate ourselves to beauty. The chapter on the items for the little oratory is full of details, the smallest of which can contribute to creating Beauty in our homes (even if, in the beginning, it is only the little corner set aside for prayer that is beautiful). The authors include eight color plates of sacred art ready to be cut out and framed for your oratory. Find a bit of table or wall and you are ready to go.

Our family has had a little prayer table for a few years now. Reading this book helped me think a bit about what is working for us and what might need some changing. More than anything, I was swept away by the discussion on the Liturgy of the Hours.
In essence, the Liturgy of the Hours is the marking of certain times of day by the singing of the psalms and canticles, hymns and Scripture readings, and readings from the works of the Church Fathers. It can be thought of as an extension of the Eucharistic celebration throughout the day, and its purpose is to sanctify the whole range of human activity--and make it graceful.
We have had some exposure to the Divine Office over the years, but the thought of introducing it even in part for my own prayer life or that of our family has always overwhelmed me. Reading about it in The Little Oratory, though, has made me think incorporating some of these daily prayers is not only possible, but potentially the most important change I could make in my own prayer life (even if I start with just one).
If your experience is like ours, when you start praying with your Breviary, you'll feel a change. Each day seems to get better. Things seem to go more smoothly; or if they go wrong, there's a sense of what to do about it. Even if there is something you can't change about your life, you can accept it more peacefully.
It's easy to think this book, which might very well contain all that is essential in a Catholic prayer life, would be overwhelming. In the introduction, the authors talk about how learning of more prayers or novenas or ways to pray the Rosary led mainly to "an increasing sense of guilt, as the list of prayers we were failing to say lengthened." In The Little Oratory, therefore, there are many reminders that we must tailor our prayer to our current lives, that prayer is a source of peace and truth and goodness and should not cause anxiety. Though there is much in the book we do not do as a family, I felt a refreshing lightening while reading the book.
You needn't continually seek novel ways of praying as an indication of progress. Once you reach a balance that is right for you--that is, the one that God intends for you--just keep on doing it. Be happy in knowing that, by God's grace, you're going forward on the pilgrimage to heaven. The power to move forward comes from your willingness to cooperate with God's grace to be transformed supernaturally.
If you'd like to read a little before investing in the book, you can find David Clayton online here and Leila Marie Lawler online here. (I find Like Mother, Like Daughter particularly inspiring in creating a life of beauty and rest and common sense in homes overflowing with young energy.) I recently listened to Leila as a guest on a Fountains of Carrots podcast. If you have any qualms about feeling overwhelmed by the book, listen to the podcast. I believe she will set your mind at ease.

If you are seeking a first book on Catholic prayer, read this book. If you have read many books on prayer but are still feeling befuddled or inadequate, read this book. The first few steps are there for the beginner, but there is also a richness and depth that serves a life-long faithful Catholic. I have read a few books over the past few years on prayer as I struggle to sense it's purpose in my life. In many ways, this book has answered my unformed questions better than any other. There are few books that would make better gifts for adults entering the church.

The Amazon links above are affiliate links, but I purchased my copy from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts (for whom I am not an affiliate), a wonderful resource for all Catholics, though the inventory includes a wide variety of wonderful homeschooling books as well. This review is my objective opinion.

Friday, February 6, 2015

An Update on our Memory Books

It's been a few years since I posted about our memory book. Last fall I revised our system a little and have been pleased with the results so I thought I would share.

Now that I have three students working in memorization, I found it easier to make a separate binder for each one. The binders do not have to be very large, but the sturdier the better. These binders get a lot of daily use.

I bought a bunch of sets of these Avery Translucent Durable Write-On Plastic Dividers. In each binder, I have eleven dividers:
  • Daily
  • Odd
  • Even
  • Review Days 1-8
Four days a week, I work with each of the three older children individually. I know a lot of families do memory work together, but I find separate work is easier for us. I let the kids choose what they want to work on and this method gives us more flexibility for the individual students.

We read the page in the daily tab together or I let the child try to recite it. Then we do either the Odd tab or the Even tab, depending on whether the day of the month is odd or even. Then we do one of the review tabs. I just cycle through these. See the yellow post-in note in the picture? Each day, I just move it one tab back and that's the work we'll review the next day. Because we do memory work four days a week, each of the review tabs gets covered about once every two weeks.

Once First Daughter could read, I tried letting her and First Son do their memory work together. It was not clear they memorized quite as quickly as they could with me, but more importantly, they were a little mean to each other in the process. I decided it was worth my time to work with each of them myself. It takes about five minutes with Second Daughter (kindergarten, and first year doing memory work), maybe ten minutes with First Daughter (second grade), and fifteen or twenty minutes with First Son (fifth grade). He wanted a real challenge this year, so in December started memorizing Paul Revere's Ride by Longfellow.

This year, I started writing the date they've memorized something at the top right of the page. It's kind of fun to see it right there in the book and helps me remember what was learned most recently as I'm moving pages around in the binders.

When one of the children memorizes something and chooses a new poem, I put the new poem in the Daily tab. The just memorized poem goes behind Odd or Even and the one there (preferably the one they've been practicing longer) goes to one of the Review tabs. I cycle through them so I don't add another one to the first review tab until all the review tabs have four sheets of paper (for example; only First Son has memorized so much).
Here is our new Memory Binder Master. In this, I have sections for early elementary poems, late elementary poems, psalms and parables, prayers, and historical memory work (like the Preamble to the Constitution). I have copies of anything and everything I think the kids might like to memorize in here. (Kindergarten memory work includes items like our address, phone number, when and where the student was born, and important cell phone numbers. I mix these in with poems and prayers during the year but don't keep these in the master book.) When they successfully recite their current memory work, we pull this out and together select something new for them to work on. I don't take anything out of the master binder. I print a new copy of what they chose (everything is on my laptop; they're in different files, but I print the file name at the bottom of every page so it's easy to find). I pencil their name on the sheet in the master binder when they choose something. It's fun to flip through it and see which poems they all choose.

If you are wondering, the saint on the cover is Blessed John Dominic. I searched online for a patron saint of memorization. There isn't really a particular saint, though many are good choices. It is said he had a good memory, so I added him to our covers to make them a little more interesting.

Our memory verses are similar, but I find it's easier to have all the students in the same box. I have coded the index cards for the different children. First Daughter has smile stickers on her cards. Second Daughter, who just started this year, has yellow highlighting on the top. First Son just has a number at the top right.

I've added my own verses recently, which the children like. I let them take turns looking at my card and telling me when I've made a mistake. First Daughter particularly enjoys it.

Amazon links are affiliate links.