Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Oink

Oink by Arthur Geisert

In this delightful book of etchings, Mr. Geisert follows a family of young piglets (and their mother) through a day of happy nursing, mud puddle wallowing, napping, mischief-making and chastisement. The illustrations are mainly in black and white with pink for the pigs.

Only one word appears in the book, "Oink." It doesn't take young children long to realize this is the only word and to figure out how to read it themselves with the proper volume and meaning. It's astounding how much that one word can say. Mr. Geisert's illustrations and drawings of the letters themselves allow children to know exactly what's going on and to joyfully "read" the story aloud to anyone who will listen.

I adore this book and love reading it with my children.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (21st Ed.)

1. Recently I bravely took all four kids to the local Catholic bookstore. Usually I ask Kansas Dad to stop there for me because there store is full of fascinating fragile things. The ladies who work there are very nice, but I always feel like they look upon my family with bated breath, even when we're just in the children's section. Anyway, I needed to go myself because I wanted to look at a few things myself before selecting a book for my sister's birthday. While we were there, they behaved quite well. Except for Second Son who wanted to pull all the books off the shelf and was angry when I held him instead. First Son happened to see a little biography of St. Francis of Assisi (still a favorite saint), Saint Francis of Assisi: Gentle Revolutionary, and asked if he could buy it with his own money. At first I tried to talk him out of it, unsure it's what he really wanted. Then I thought to myself, "That's crazy! He wants to buy a book about a saint! Let the boy buy it!" So I did. I'm remarkably proud that he wanted it.

2. In the same visit to the Catholic bookstore, I found the perfect gift for my sister. She's just turned 15 but isn't really at a point where she can read much. I wanted something on Mary, her chosen confirmation saint, and I wanted something with beautiful pictures because I thought she might actually look at a book with beautiful pictures. I discarded lots of options that might have been good but specifically said they were for children because I knew she'd know enough to think she doesn't need a children's book anymore. I think Mary helped guide me, because I found this little hardcover book, just perfect for my sister: Illustrated Book of Mary. It's full of lovely illustrations, prayers, the mysteries of the Rosary, information on many Marian apparitions....really, it's perfect. Now I pray St. Mary will intercede so my sister actually looks at it.

3. I asked the children to draw some pictures to send to my sister and my mother (who have birthdays within a few days of each other). First Son spent at least an hour on his picture, featuring his new obsession. Then he was too tired to make another one, so his aunt and his grandmother will have to share it.

Second Daughter also made a noteworthy gift. For some reason, her three year old brain decided she would make this pig for my sister. It's really cute, but I'm not quite sure why she chose a pig.

4. We started Lent this week. So far, the children have been responding really well to the sacrifice beans. I'm so pleased! They even seemed happy to exchange them for pennies for the alms jar on Saturday night.

5. I made it to Ash Wednesday mass for the first time in three years. It's not a Holy Day of Obligation, so it always seemed I was staying home with sick kids or putting them to bed or something. This year, First Son, First Daughter and I went together and it was very quiet and peaceful.

6. On Saturday, Kansas Dad and I began the great reorganization of the laundry room. We now have a cabinet and shelves ready to go with another large shelf to be installed above the washing machine and dryer. Kansas Dad was very busy. The kids and I went through the Legos on Sunday, dividing them up a little but mainly emptying the set of plastic drawers they were occupying (no longer in my kitchen, yay! and now holding Second Daughter's clothes, yay again!) into one large bin. They each have a smaller bin for the favorite Legos of the moment. There is much yet to be done but it is so excited to be starting this organizing we've been planning for a long time.

7. First Son's First Communion is now in less than three weeks. We bought him some nice black shoes to wear. Hopefully this week we'll get a suit. I can hardly believe it's nearly upon us!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Review: The Child Who Never Grew

The Child Who Never Grew by Pearl S. Buck

This is the poignant memoir of a Nobel winning author whose oldest daughter had a mental disability, unable to learn much more than to write her name. It is absolutely beautiful and well worth your time if you can find a copy. The little medical information provided in the book is outdated, but it is first and foremost tender advice from one mother to another (or to a father). The 1992 edition includes an afterward by one of Buck's adopted daughters who gives more details on the family's lives.

If you have never read anything written by Buck, please go immediately to your library and find one of her many books. (The Good Earth is, of course, a perfect place to begin.)
[E]ndurance of inescapable sorrow is something which has to be learned alone. And only to endure is not enough. Endurance can be a harsh and bitter root in one's life, bearing poisonous and gloomy fruit, destroying other lives. Endurance is only the beginning. There must be acceptance and the knowledge that sorrow fully accepted brings its own gifts. For there is an alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness.
When this book was first published, in 1950, children with mental disabilities were hidden away in homes or in institutions, some of which were quite awful. This book was alone in clearly stating that these children were to be loved, that they were to be cherished for whoever they could become.

I was struck especially by her words as I thought about how attitudes have changed toward children and people with mental disabilities. In so many ways, we have grown. I have a sister who will probably never be able to live on her own. She lives happily at home with my parents and attends nearly all regular classes in her high school. I may argue that her education is not what it could be, but I cannot deny that there are teachers and policies in place with at least the intention to educate her. We have laws and norms that protect people like Buck's daughter and my sister...once they are born.
Every now and again I see in the newspapers the report of a man or woman who has put to death a mentally defective child. My heart goes out to such a one. I understand the love and despair which prompted the act...And yet I know that the parents of whom I read do wrong when they take to themselves a right which is not theirs and end the physical lives of their children. In love they may do it, and yet it is wrong. There is a sacred quality of life which none of us can fathom. All peoples feel it, for in all societies, it is considered a sin for one human being to kill another for a reason of his own. Society decrees death for certain crimes, but the innocent may not be killed, and there is none more innocent than these children who never grow up.
As her daughter grew, and yet did not grow, Buck debated and explored many options before deciding to find a permanent home for her daughter, someplace she would be loved and protected even after Buck's death. She found her sorrow eased.
The real secret of it was that I began to stop thinking of myself and my sorrow and began to think only of my child. This meant that I was not struggling against life, but slowly and sometimes blindly coming into accord with it. So long as I centered in myself, life was unbearable. When I shifted that center even a little, I began to understand that sorrow could be borne, not easily, but possibly.
I especially loved when she wrote of what she learned from her daughter.
So by this most sorrowful way I was compelled to tread, I learned respect and reverence for every human mind. It was my child who taught me to understand so clearly that all people are equal in their humanity and that all have the same human rights. None is to be considered less, as a human being, than any other, and each must be given his place and his safety in the world. I might never have learned this in any other way. I might have gone on in the arrogance of my own intolerance for those less able than myself. My child taught me humanity. 
Though throughout the book, Buck speaks directly to parents who have a child like hers, she offers more explicit advice near the end on the love a parent should have for a child.
So what I would say to parents is something I have learned through the years and it took me long to learn it, and I am still learning. When your little child is born to you not whole and sound as you had hoped, but warped and defective in body or mind or perhaps both, remember this is still your child. Remember, too, that the child has his right to life, whatever that life may be, and he has the right to happiness, which you must find for him. Be proud of your child, accept him as he is and do not heed the words and stares of those who know no better. This child has a meaning for you and for all children. You will find a joy you cannot now suspect in fulfilling his life for and with him.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Exodus

Exodus by Brian Wildsmith

I love almost all of Brian Wildsmith's book, the ones I can find. His illustrations literally shimmer with gold. The illustrations I love best in this particular book show God appearing to Moses as a great star of multicolored light within a circle. Each page is a treasure, though.

This adaptation of Exodus covers the entire Bible story from Moses in the reeds to Joshua leading the Hebrews into the Promised Land. The text is based solidly on Scripture and is very enjoyable for young children. I read it again to mine yesterday. It was a good book for us this week as we talked about how the forty days of Lent can remind us of the forty years the Hebrews wandered in the desert and it fit well with our catechism which talked about how the Last Supper was a Passover celebration.

Have a blessed Lent!

Monday, February 20, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (20th Ed.)

1. First Daughter lost her first tooth! Last Wednesday night, Kansas Dad started to brush her teeth and realized it was missing. She hadn't even noticed. She thinks it fell out while she was eating dinner and was consumed. The Tooth Fairy left a dollar for her anyway.

2. Second Son has developed a habit of exercising with Kansas Dad and me. While we're working out, he'll try to march with us or raise his hands when we do. When he gets very excited, he runs circles around us until he falls down dizzy, giggling away.

3. Clean laundry! Our washing machine, which was less than four years old, died a premature death this week. After almost three full days without washing anything (in a house with six people, one of whom wears cloth diapers), I ran the new machine for an entire day.

4. While the girls spent a night with Grammy making cookies, Jello jigglers and watching a movie, Kansas Dad and I took First Son (and his brother) out for a special dinner and then watched the three original Star Wars movies one right after another with just a break for sleeping a bit in the middle of the second one. It was remarkably fun to watch First Son watching them for the first time. It was also a nice quiet dinner. It's amazing how civilized dinner can be without a three year old.

5. Second Son has decided it's funny to point to himself and say "Dada" or "Mama." He just laughs and laughs.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford

Kansas Dad bought and read this book months ago and has been encouraging me to read it ever since. He knew I would agree with much of the author's assertions, and I do.
This book advances a nestled set of arguments on behalf of work that is meaningful because it is genuinely useful. It also explores what we might call the ethics of maintenance and repair, and in doing so I hope it will speak to those who may be unlikely to go into the trades professionally but strive for some measure of self-reliance--the kind that requires focused engagement with our material things.
Dr. Crawford has a PhD in philosophy and is a motorcycle mechanic. He pursued the doctorate because he was fascinated by philosophy but found himself unfulfilled when working at a think tank. In this book he tries to show how contemporary American society and education purposely or mistakenly fails to provide opportunities for people to build and create real things. At the end of the day, what has an office worker accomplished? To what product can they point and say, "I did that and it is well done."? How can they be properly evaluated in their jobs and communities?
I would like to consider whether this poignant longing for responsibility that many people experience in their home lives may be (in part) a response to changes int he world of work, where the experience of individual agency has become elusive.

The most interesting parts for me discussed education and society's expectations for educated youth.
Today, in our schools, the manual trades are given little honor. The egalitarian worry that has always attended tracking students into "college prep" and "vocational ed" is overlaid with another: the fear that acquiring a specific skill set means that one's life is determined. In college, by contrast, many students don't learn anything of particular application; college is the ticket to an open future. Craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the idea of the new economy is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement.
As a homeschooling mother, a university professor's wife, a graduate of a competitive college and an employee of a non-profit organization dedicated to career based instruction in high schools, these are topics I frequently ponder and discuss. It is difficult to find the right balance in our own family and even more complicated to consider how such a balance could be or should be maintained in public schools and communities. Mr. Crawford's book encourages us to think carefully about the direction higher education is taking in this country and to decide whether we will participate and whether we will attempt to shape secondary and higher education in a different way.

I think it's also important for people to face the fact that a college education and office job may not be what we want for our children. Of course we want them to be able to earn enough money to care for themselves and their families, but what kind of career do we guide them toward?
[White-collar and blue-collar] seem to be the categories that inform the educational landscape even now, and this entails two big errors. First, it assumes that all blue-collar work is as mindless as assembly line work, and second, that white-collar work is still recognizably mental in character. Yet there is evidence to suggest that the new frontier of capitalism lies in doing to office work what was previously done to factory work: draining it of its cognitive elements.
Mr. Crawford shows how this "dichotomy of mental versus manual" becomes popular in America through historical trends in business, education and sociology. I found these arguments generally acceptable. While I do agree with many of his statements, I thought his arguments that all college educations are meaningless were overstated. Mr. Crawford states that once a college has accepted a student, what happens in the college classroom is irrelevant. That may be true for some students at some colleges. (It may even be true for most students at most colleges.) I believe, though, that it does not adequately describe experiences at truly elite colleges and at those that provide a niche environment for a select group of students. There are some unique opportunities provided by colleges (not all expensive or competitive). Perhaps he assumed we would realize he did not mean every college or perhaps he simply doesn't know all of the possibilities available. In general, however, I would agree that too many students attend college with no coherent plan to graduate college with any measurable increase in knowledge or skills. It's simply the next step in a plan devised by society as the best preparation for anything without any serious consideration of the fact that it is possible it is a waste of time and money for a great number of people, many of whom are forced into college when jobs require a college degree merely as a hoop through which to jump.

After critiquing the state of secondary and higher education in America, Mr. Crawford expands his arguments to the economy. If we are to increase craftsmanship in this country, we need economic policies that encourage entrepreneurship, small businesses, more localized services and fewer huge global corporations.
Too often, the defenders of free markets forget that what we really want is free men. Having a few around requires an economy in which the virtue of independence is cultivated, and a diversity of human types can find work to which they are suited.
I recommend this book to all who are carefully considering the goals of education for individual children and for all children.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Quote: Red Sails to Capri

(Spoiler alert! Don't read this quote if you don't want to know the answer to the mystery at the end!)

From the last chapter of Red Sails to Capri by Ann Weil:
Herre Nordstrom smiled. "I will tell you," he said, "what all philosophers know. To search for the truth is always an adventure--and there is always beauty in the truth itself. To have knowledge and understanding, to know the truth about things, that can be as exciting and beautiful as this blue cavern, this blue grotto."
If any publisher happens to read this, please please bring this book back into print! It's one of my very favorite books and every school library should have a copy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Kami and the Yaks

Kami and the Yaks by Andrea Stenn Stryer, illustrated by Bert Dodson

In this story, Kami realizes his father and brother are searching for the yaks, eager to load them for a trek up the mountain. Though he is deaf and frightened by an approaching storm, Kami searches for the yaks in all their favorite places. Though he finds them, he must convince his father and brother to trust him and follow him through the storm.

It's a wonderful story of courage and an intimate knowledge of the family's animals, their livelihood. Kami is a marvelous role model for young children.

The illustrations are beautiful watercolors. My favorites show Kami surrounded by the rugged wilderness of his home, illuminated by lightning.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lent 2012

St. Athanasius, our family's patron saint
I've been spending a lot of time recently thinking about our Lent. This time of repentence and preparation is one of my favorite liturgical seasons. It's a time that provides daily opportunities to ponder our Lord's sacrifices and our own blessings. I want very much for it to be a meaningful time for our family.

With that in mind, I have carefully considered our past Lenten activities, expanded a few a bit and added a few. Please keep in mind a few things as you read this post.

1. I do not have a newborn or a needy infant. I am not pregnant. These plans would have been far beyond what I could handle the past couple of years.

2. The readings listed below will take place during our normal school hours. They are in addition to what we are doing for our lessons, but they will add no more than 15-20 minutes a day and will flow with our existing schedule.

3. These activities have developed over the past two or three years. I would not recommend trying to do all of them for the first time together. It's always necessary to balance the daily needs of your children and your home or work life with your desires in celebrating the liturgical year.

Our Fast, Prayer, and Alms Calendar is a newly revised and more ambitious edition of last year's calendar (which was originally inspired by Monica). This year I've written a plan for each day of Lent, excluding Sundays.
2012 Lenten Calendar                                                                                                   

Each day we'll:
our book of Lenten prayers
Fast from something. We will fast from dessert every day except Sundays and our important feast days (St. Patrick's, St. Joseph's, the Solemnity of the Annunciation), but each day I've selected something in addition.

Pray for someone or a group of people like priests, godparents, our parish, etc. I've typed up a few prayers we know and a few new ones. I like the prayer die Monica made, but until we have one of our own, we're going to use a regular die with a number assigned to each prayer. We'll add this prayer during our evening prayer time, reciting one prayer with for our special intention.

flowers ready for the prayer garden
Then, we'll add a flower to our prayer garden for each of the people for whom we have prayed. I envision using a lot of flowers. For example, when we pray for priests, we'll put up a flower for each priest the children can name, each priest that baptized a member of our immediate family and then flowers for groups of priests like those in the military, the seminarians preparing to be priests, priests in our diocese, and so on. The flowers are a highlight of Lent for the children. There's almost nothing they like more than taping a flower to the prayer garden.

prayer garden, ready for flowers
This year, instead of cutting them all out by hand, Kansas Dad stopped by the craft store for me and picked up this flower punch. It was far easier and the flowers are lovely!

Alms for the poor. Each day we'll count something in our house and put a penny for each one in the alms jar. Our children are still young (8, 5, 3 and 1), so this year Kansas Dad and I will provide the money and decide where it will go, but as they grow, they will be expected to take a greater role in contributing and deciding. Our alms jar is one I made last year. It's a large container of peanuts (emptied, of course). I covered it in black construction paper and made a few designs on it with colored chalk. It has held up well but eventually I'd like to replace it with one the children design.

Next to our alms jar, you can see our newest Lenten activity. I had read online lots of different ideas focused on sacrifice beans. Most of these involved giving each child a jar filled with jelly beans for various virtuous activities (and filled at Easter with white ones to signify Christ's grace). Well, those sound very nice, but the last thing my children will need is more Easter candy. Inspired by this post I found when searching for Lent ideas, I opted for lima beans (which Kansas Dad was very glad to see were not for dinner). I drew a cross on them with a purple Sharpie (oh, I love those!) and made three jars for the three older kids. When I see them doing something lovely and good, I will add a bean to their jars. I didn't want to give them money for their beans, though, because I don't want to reward their behavior like that. Instead, I decided we'd put a penny for each bean in the alms jar. In an ideal world, they'd start to get an idea of how our good deeds, prayers and sacrifices can benefit other people in visible and invisible ways. Kansas Dad joked I'd never need all those beans, even for all three kids throughout Lent, so we must pray the children prove him wrong!

Stations of the Cross with The Way of the Cross for Children each Friday. This link is for a package of ten. Your local Catholic bookstore will have individual copies for sale. I have three or four so children can each hold one of their own. A year or two ago, I copied the stations from Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church (which is encouraged in the book). The children colored them and I laminated them. I'll have to find a new place to hang them, though, as last year's spots are taken by the timeline now. I find it much more manageable to read the Stations at home than to try to take my children to church, but we will try to make it out for Stations at least once during Lent. I also the printed the Stations of the Cross cards here, laminated them, and will encourage the children to use them to order the Stations themselves.

Some Lenten reading with the children:

Celebrating Lent (This link is also for a package of ten, but a local bookstore will have single copies available.) I found this book incredibly useful when trying to explain Lent to First Son when he was in kindergarten. We read just two pages of text each week during Lent each year.

Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls by Caryll Houselander. As recommended at Mater Amabilis, we'll read one story twice a week during Lent.

Jesus: His Life in Verses from the King James Holy Bible, illustrated by Gennady Spirin - We'll be reading this during Holy Week

Benjamin's Box: The Story of the Resurrection Eggs by Melody Carlson and Resurrection Eggs. My children lost the chalice from our set and I haven't replaced it yet. I plan to read this during Holy Week so I still have some time.

Petook: An Easter Story by Caryll Houselander, illustrated by Tomie dePaola, which I always read to the children around the time of Holy Week.

The Easter Story, illustrated by Brian Wildsmith, with a guide from the wonderful people who brought us Catholic Mosaic (Hillside does not sell The Easter Story or I would have linked to their site.) I absolutely love Brian Wildsmith's illustrations.

We'll be taking most of Holy Thursday and Good Friday to focus on our Lenten prayers and activities. If I'm feeling ambitious, we'll try making some paper mache eggs (Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church).

Resurrection Cookies - I've never made these before, but they look pretty simple, so I thought we'd give them a try. 

During the Easter season, First Son and I will be reading The Way of the Cross: A Story of Padre Pio by Clare Jordan Mohan.

I have a few plans that don't include the children as well:
  • Kansas Dad and I are giving up Netflix and television online (other than the movies we're watching for our class). This one will be hard as we have a habit of watching one show together each night, but we'll be reading or playing games instead. (And we always take Sundays off from our fasts; that's just how we do Lent on the Range.)
  • Reading The Imitation of Christ. I read this years ago and thought then it would make for wonderful Lenten reading. This year, I'm going to try it.
  • Lenten cleaning - I tried this for the first time last year. I selected a room of the house for each week of Lent and will make a concerted effort to clean and organize it deeply, taking care of all the little things I let go during the rest of the year. If done thoughtfully, it can be a good metaphor for the cleaning we do of our souls during this time. It's not one of those 40 bags for 40 days programs; I'm not trying to get rid of things (unless necessary). Just deep cleaning.
If I could add one thing, it would be the Lenten Faith Folder. I'm very tempted by this, but am thinking I've added enough new stuff for the year so I'm leaning toward waiting a year on it. Has anyone tried it? Is it wonderful?

Lent doesn't start until February 22nd, so you still have time to make some plans. What will your family be doing to prepare for Easter?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Book Review: Raising Financially Fit Kids

Raising Financially Fit Kids by Joline Godfrey

This informative and helpful book provides nearly all you would need as a curriculum of Personal Finance for your children and could be extremely useful. The author gives ten basic money skills (like "how to save" and "how to handle credit"). A child's "financial internship" is then divided into stages: ages 5-8, 9-12, 13-15 and 16-18. For each stage, the author provides specific ideas, books, movies and progressively more difficult tasks focused on each of the skills. She encourages parents to pick and choose activities appropriate to the family and the child, but to provide an opportunity for each child to become proficient in each money skill.

The book clearly states that money is a tool, not an end in itself. It is good only insofar as we use it to provide for our needs, some of our wants and to contribute to alleviating the sufferings or needs of others. I thought the author's attitude was sensible and generous.

Ms. Godfrey's book can help a family determine their own financial goals and then devise a plan to teach their children the skills to meet those goals, to make the family's financial plans transparent as children grow. I love the number of ideas. I love the number of books and movies sited to provide not only information, but opportunities for discussions. I think homeschooling families can take the ideas in this book and create a complete financial education plan, including activities that could be incorporated into a coop.

The ideas in the book are nearly always appropriate for families of little means as well as those of great wealth (though one chapter is entirely focused on children in wealthy families). One of her ideas is to gather a team of adults to help teach your children. I can see how this could be useful for us as there is not a single entrepreneurial bone in my body. I have no desire to start a business or encourage my children to do so, but I do recognize the value in knowing such things.

We've already made a change in our money management training. First Son received a small increase in his allowance. He now received $4 each week: $2 to spend (which he saves very well for large purchases), $1 to save, $0.50 to tithe at church and $0.50 for another charity. He's now responsible for putting his church tithe in an envelope and carrying it to church (or giving it to Kansas Dad, which is what I do with our tithe and First Daughter's tithe). Because it's now going from my hands to his hands to the envelope, it should be more clear to him that he's giving his own money at Mass each week. When he has about $20 saved in his charity jar, we'll help him research some charities and choose one for a donation. We're not sure what's going to happen with the save jar. Perhaps we'll open a savings account for him, or let him put it in the one his Papa opened for him, or perhaps we'll let him invest that money in some life stock of his own. The other big change is that all money he receives (for gifts, for extra chores around the house or at a grandparent's house) will be divided up between the jars. (Previously, any non-allowance money went right to spending.)

I'm also going to include financial literacy as one of our subjects each year. We'll probably do only a little, perhaps one or two lessons each term, but it will be in our plans and that will make it a priority.

My only complaint about this book is the design. I don't love the cover, though the pictures of children and young adults inside seem well done. Most difficult are the pages. The pages are thick, so they'll hold up well, but very reflective. I often found it difficult to read the words.

I can't say whether this is the best book to guide parents through teaching financial literacy to children, because I have only read a couple, but I believe it must be one of the best. It's certainly worth a bit of your time. It would be appropriate for parents, grandparents and any other adults who have children in their lives.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Considering Chores

As I plan for next year (Oh, it's fun!), I have been contemplating chores. I think a goal for this summer will be to teach everyone a new chore and clarify the ones they've been doing as their own responsibility.

Someone at Faith and Family posted a link to this article that I found timely: What can children do? A guide. I'll be keeping this in mind as I look around the house to find jobs for everyone.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Library Lion

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

I have mentioned this book on the blog before, but I read it recently and wanted to share it again.

In the story, a lion wanders into the library. He's allowed to stay, as long as he follows the rules, and becomes great friends with the head librarian. When she falls, he roars to get the attention of someone who can help her, even though he believes he'll be banished from his favorite place for breaking the rules.

The moral of the story is ostensibly that sometimes it's ok to break the rules. Truthfully, that's not the best part of this book. What makes this book so wonderful is how the librarians and the lion interact, how friendships can form and be strengthened by our acts and sacrifices.

Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, comes to depend on the lion for his gentleness and eagerness as he helps her with whatever chores he can do around the library. All the library patrons love the lion and watch hopefully for him every day after he breaks the rules. Mr. McBee, who was always ambivalent about allowing a lion in the library, notices how Miss Merriweather is mourning her friend, missing him every day, and sacrifices for her sake to seek out the lion and let him know he'd be welcome back in the library. He gives great joy to the lion and to Miss Merriweather in reuniting them, and perhaps to himself as well.

The illustrations in the book are also delightful. They are, in my opinion, the perfect companions to the story. I particularly love the small illustration of the lion rubbing his head against the new book collection.

Monday, February 6, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (19th Ed.)

1. Second Son's growing climbing skills. I really do love them, because they show his health and his independence, even though I tremble a bit at the thought that he may soon be climbing out of his crib or up onto the top bunk (which are terrifyingly now in the same room).

2. Gifts from friends! This week, a friend to whom I lent a diaper cover stopped by with not only the one she had borrowed (which she could have kept if she liked), but a new cover to try and an all-in-one diaper she says is great for heavy wetters. Another friend, reading on facebook about the piles of stuff on the floor of my bedroom after emptying the office to create a girls' room, offered some wall cabinets to us. She even dropped them off! (They are, sadly, still on the floor in the living room, but Kansas Dad had a particularly busy week. Hopefully he'll have time this coming week to get them up.)

3. Second Son reading. That boy is so cute! He'll grab a book, climb up into a chair and start flipping through the pages.

4. I added a candle to our evening prayers, because everyone loves candles. The reverent attitudes are a work in progress, but Second Son is adorable. He loves to sit on my lap or Kansas Dad's lap and will often say "night night" when we start our evening prayers. He also claps when we blow out the candle. I believe this is a remnant from First Son's birthday in December. It's adorable. (Did I mention Second Son is adorable?)

5. Choosing our homeschool books. I've started thinking about what we'll use next year and I love this planning stage! I've got books on hold at the library and am reading through all sorts of options online. In the midst of Kansas monsoons (incredibly weird and depressing any time of year, but especially in February), it's much more interesting to think about next year than to read our lessons for this year. (First Son would agree.)

Sadly, the Patriots did not win the Super Bowl. Kansas Dad will be in football withdrawal for a few weeks but spring planting will be upon us soon. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Love the Flowers

Love is a husband who goes to a craft and hobby store to buy a flower punch for his wife, not as a gift, just because she asked.

Friday, February 3, 2012

January 2012 Book Report

Summer's Crossing by Julie Kagawa is a short story in a world she created based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. Parts of it were wonderfully written and it seems like the series (The Iron Fey) may be appropriate for late middle school or early high school age children. (Kindle version, available for free for a limited time)

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco is a delightful story of a stuffed rabbit who is loved enough by his Boy to become real (courtesy of a nursery fairy). It's embarrassing, really, that I hadn't read it sooner. (free Kindle version without illustrations, other Kindle versions are available that do include illustrations)

Making Sense Out of Suffering by Peter Kreeft attempts to address the problem of evil - explaining the existence of an all-knowing, all-loving God when bad things happen to good people. I was going to write a long review of it, but a certain someone of a small stature removed all my bookmarks and crumbled them to bits, so here's the condensed version. I wasn't overly impressed or satisfied with this book. I intend to read The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis...eventually. (library copy)

The Fighting Ground by Avi was a book I considered for our Revolutionary War studies this year. Jonathan, disobeying his mother and father, follows the Corporal into battle and is captured by Hessian soldiers. The events take place in less than two days. It's fascinating, exciting and scary. Jonathan learns much about himself, war, and his father. First Son would probably be fine reading this book (at age 8), but I'm not ready for the girls to hear it. I think I'll set it aside and ask First Son to read it to himself the next time we study the Revolutionary War or he can read it as independent reading in third grade next year. (purchased copy)

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen is a lovely story of Marly and her family's year living on Maple Hill in Pennsylvania after her father returns from WWII. Full of descriptions of nature, sugaring, and the seasons, it's a wonderful book to help develop a sense of place and home for children (by encouraging them to engage with their home as Marly and her brother, Joe, engage with theirs). Because the descriptions and storyline make it difficult to tell when the story takes place, I do think it will be important to discuss the 1940s and 1950s depictions of differences in expectations for boys and girls, but the sweet story is worth that little investment. I think we'll read it together next year, when First Son is in third grade and First Daughter is in kindergarten. (purchased copy)

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynn Reid Banks is the fascinating story of a young boy who learns his cabinet can turn toys to life with a twist of one of his mother's keys. I read it when I was young but didn't really remember it. There's no doubt it's an exciting book, full of friendship and danger....but, the depictions of the cowboy and Indian are rather awful. I could see using this book in lessons by asking a student to detail the errors in a report after reading the book, but I'm not going to use it as a read-aloud. If my children find this book on their own and want to read it, I'll let them after a little talk about stereotypes and racism. I haven't read any of the sequels, but from summaries I found online they seem to become even more unrealistic than the first one. (library copy)

How to Be a Sister: A Love Story with a Twist of Autism by Eileen Garvin is a memoir by a woman describing her relationship with her older sister who has autism. I don't have a sister with autism, but I do have a sister who is completely different from me, in nearly every way, and who will probably always need someone to watch over her. I enjoyed this book and especially loved how the author describes her mother's relationship with her sister. I thought it was honest in the difficulties of having a sibling with autism without being harsh. I did think some of the chapters didn't flow well with the rest of the book, as if they had been written as essays and then tacked on instead of integrated. (inter-library loan)

The Lathe Of Heaven: A Novel by Ursula Le Guin was the first book I read for my class (ha!). In this novel, George Orr has effective dreams, dreams which don't just come true. They change reality itself. The book is full of opportunities for thinking about reality, society, culture, love, relationships and a host of other issues. Highly recommended, especially if you can sneak into a college seminar to discuss it. (desk copy)

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry is a lesson in story telling and writing from Gooney Bird Greene, a second grader. She tells a number of stories with explanations of character development, language and plot. I expected it to be contrived, but it flowed well and was quite amusing. As an additional advantage, Gooney Bird's fashion sense is exactly like Second Daughter's. I think we'll read this aloud. (library copy)

I expect next month's reading list to be full of books for the science fiction class and books I'm previewing for third grade. (It's that time of the year, when I'm more excited about planning next year's booklist than finishing the current grade.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Over in the Meadow

Over in the Meadow, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats

Olive Wadsworth originally wrote this counting rhyme (or perhaps she just wrote it down) and there are many different illustrated versions, but this one is my favorite.

Ezra Jack Keats is a marvelous artist. The colors in the collages are muted, paired perfectly with the gentle song. I love to choose this book as our bedtime story.

If you do not know the song, you can learn it from the delightful video, The Wheels on the Bus... and More Sing-Along Favorites. Not only does it contain Over in the Meadow (though with illustrations by another artist), but a fabulous rendition of The Wheels on the Bus by the Bacon Brothers. My children also particularly enjoy I Want a Dog, which is one of those few instances where the video is better than the book. (I could live without There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, but the kids like that one, too.)