Sunday, December 20, 2009

History & Culture: Exploration, Expansion and the Civil War

Mike Fink, a tall tale retold and illustrated by Steven Kellogg. We love these tall tales. First Son particularly liked reading about wrestling with the grizzlies and then seeing them later at the zoo. We also readPaul Bunyan and Pecos Bill later on.

The Bear That Heard Crying by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock and Helen Kinsey, illustrated by Ted Rand. I could not believe how enthralled First Son and First Daughter were by this story. It's based on a true story (of one of the first author's ancestor) of a three year old girl who was befriended and protected by a black bear when lost in the woods. It could be terrifying (and they do talk of the neighbors believing the girl was killed by the bear), but little Sarah is just a bit hungry and misses her family. We were able to talk about what life was like in 1783 (no flashlights!) and I love the description of the celebration at the end. The illustrations are wonderful, especially the one of Mr. Patch carrying little Sarah, safe and sound. It's an amazing story, but if you happen to live where black bears range, you might want to caution your children that snuggling up to a black bear is not recommended.

Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett is another tall tale from Steven Kellogg. First Son and First Daughter both enjoyed this one. It's full of fun. First Son may even like this one more than the one on Paul Bunyan. We also watched our first YouTube video (for school). The kids weren't as interested as I thought they'd be.

Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing by James Rumford is the wonderfully written biography of an amazing man, one of only a handful to invent a writing system. I love reading, "People took trips so they could have the fun of writing letters and sending them back home." Sequoyah perseveres through adversity and ridicule to give his people a great gift. The written word becomes a source of strength and pride for all the Cherokee, as it should be. It is, of course, written in both English and Cherokee and the full Cherokee syllabary appears at the end. Everyone should read this book.

Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains by Deborah Hopkinson and Nancy Carpenter. This book is another tall tale and quite enjoyable, for all ages. It's full of alliteration, puns, and imaginative language. The heroine, Delicious, and her brothers and sisters protect the plants throughout the journey. Her father has his head in the clouds, but is a visionary. Though it's only based on a true story in the loosest sense, there was a family that brought fruit trees to Oregon and made a fine living with their orchard. Second Daughter loves this story because she knows apples and can say "apple" and there are plenty of them in the illustrations. First Son's favorite part is when Delicious figures her boot went flying right up to the moon.

Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. This is one of my favorite books of all time. It begins with a father's journey to the port to sell all that his family made during the year, shows the few precious items he buys and his walk back home. Then we watch them as they create more in the coming year. It's pretty much perfect and I hope you have the pleasure of reading it.

Going West by Jean Van Leeuwen, illustrated by Thomas B. Allen. I have selected quite a few books by this author and really enjoyed this one. It tells of a family traveling west by wagon to carve out their own farm. It shows some of the hardships endured (fear, loneliness, illness, hunger) but softened a little (just like the illustrations), always with some hope.

Boom Town by Sonia Levitin, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith. I just happened across this book at the library and was so glad I brought it home to preview. Amanda has a craving for pie when she's faced with the boredom of cabin life while her father is panning for gold in California. Her mother is too busy, but tells her to go ahead if she thinks she can. It takes a few tries, but everyone enjoys the pie. Her father sells some for profit at the camps and Amanda's business takes off. Before long, she's convincing all sorts of people to set up shop in their boom town and recruits her whole family to help with her pie business. It's a light-hearted tale and all the kids enjoyed it (especially Second Daughter who was keeping her eye out for apples on every page).

The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud, illustrated by Erin Susanne Bennett. With this book, we started to read about slavery in the United States. In a similar vein, we also read Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson with paintings by James Ransome. They both tell of young girls who follow a quilt patter to freedom, but I like Clara's story better. She sews the quilt herself, designing it to depict the surrounding countryside as described surreptitiously by fellow slaves who had been away from the plantation. I also liked the illustrations better. Incidentally, we own Follow the Drinking Gourd, but I liked these better so we didn't read that as part of our official history and culture time.

Abe Lincoln's Hat by Martha Brenner, illustrated by Donald Cook. Like most early readers, this book can be a little hard to read (all those short sentences), but it's full of funny anecdotes about Lincoln while also covering a few meaningful moments of his life and presidency. We all enjoyed it.

Birdie's Lighthouse by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root. I wasn't sure First Son would be interested in this book, which is the diary of a young girl braving the elements to keep a lighthouse shining in 1885 when her father falls ill. I think the illustrations of the ships sailing through the storms that won him over. It's one of my favorite of our history books and I highly recommend it.

Three Names by Patricia MacLachlan, pictures by Alexander Pertzoff, is a book that could easily fit into a later month since no specific dates or national events are mentioned. It tells of a narrator's great-grandfather's life on the prairie, riding in the wagon to school with his sister and his dog. Nothing tremendous happens, just little vignettes of life in a one-room schoolhouse through the year.

Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln by Jean Fritz, illustrated by Charles Robinson, is another early reader (written at the second or third grade level). It addresses some of the more serious aspects of Lincoln's life and responsibilities like slavery and the Civil War, especially focused on Gettysburg. Using simple language, the book conveys the horror of the battle and the nation's sorrow without scaring the little ones. It's well worth reading. I even read the Gettysburg Address to the kids (which is reprinted at the end). I don't think they understood it, but I love hearing it aloud.

In January, we'll be reading about Reconstruction, Urbanization, and Industrialization (1865 to 1889). I'd be happy to hear any suggestions for January. I'm also interested in suggestions for WWI, the Jazz Age, WWII and anything later. (It turns out there are a large number of wonderful books set during the Great Depression.)

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