Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: The Gardener

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, pictures by David Small

This book, set during the Great Depression, is written through letters from Lydia Grace to her family members. Her parents are struggling, so she travels to the city to live with her uncle. She'll be helping him in his bakery, but what she wants to do most is plant and tend gardens.

Her arrival in the city is gloomy indeed. The train station is all grays and blacks. Her uncles bakery and home are surrounded by browns. Lydia Grace's first thoughts are of the plants she can put in the empty window boxes.

In brief letters and through the wonderful illustrations, we see Lydia Grace slowly changing everything. Flowers appear in the rooms and all around the shop. There is a brightening that spreads from Lydia Grace's flowers to the street and the neighbors. She wins over everyone with her flowers, her hard work, and her sweet disposition.

Lydia Grace is a delight. I'd welcome her to my home anytime.

We included this book in our history and culture readings for kindergarten with First Son for the Great Depression, when we read through American history in picture books.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins includes The Hunger Games (Book 1)Catching Fire (Book 2), and Mockingjay (Book 3)

I'd heard a lot about these books and wanted to read them for myself. I really enjoyed the first book, so much so I actually purchased the second and third to read on my Kindle (and forced myself to wait a week and a half to do so because I knew I needed to be a little productive before I bought the books or nothing would get done until I finished reading them).

I am going to try to talk a little about these books without revealing too many spoilers, for those who want to read for themselves. Therefore, please forgive my vagueness. I'd be happy to give more information over email to those who are interested in more details. I'm also not trying to start a big conversation in the comments about the appropriateness of these books. I just read them myself and wanted to state what I thought.

Katniss Everdeen find herself a tribute in the Hunger Games, an annual battle of one girl and one boy from each of twelve districts who fight to the death in an arena filled with traps and horrors to entertain the people of the Capital and remind everyone else of their subjugation. The Games are horrific and Katniss actually participates, killing other tributes. Kansas Dad has read a bit about the series, though not yet the series itself, and says many people criticize the series because Katniss participates at all in something that is obviously immoral. I personally thought the first book gave a lot of room for understanding and compassion for Katniss who really doesn't have any choice but to participate and does so as well as she can. (She doesn't kill everyone she can. She protects other tributes.) The people in these districts know nothing of ethics or faith, though they sense the natural law that makes the Hunger Games and the behavior of the government as a whole obviously wrong.

As I started reading the second book, I hoped very much to see Katniss grow as a young woman to understand how to place herself in a moral world and to fight for that which is right rather than just to keep herself or those she loves alive. Though the second and third books were just as exciting (and even more horrific, if you can believe it), I was disappointed to see no such growth. In fact, no character shows that kind of transformation. Only a few main characters are consistently good and all but two (I think) perpetrate acts of extreme violence.

Overall, I enjoyed reading these books. They were entertaining, but they were not instructive. While parents could find some interesting themes and aspects to discuss with teenagers about morality, just government, justice, truth, and manipulation, the books themselves do not provide adequate responses or answers. I would put them above the level of twaddle, but below the level of anything we would read for lessons.

This is definitely a series for mature readers only (high school and above). I would even encourage my children to read the Harry Potter series first. As dark as it is at times, it is not nearly so violent. The third book of the Hunger Games series in particular repeatedly contains acts of senseless violence against the most innocent and defenseless. As a small part of a well-rounded and extensive pool of books, these would be fine. If this series were the best books my teenagers were reading, I would be greatly concerned.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Our 2011 Christmas Ornament

Those who frequent this blog know the children and I make a Christmas ornament every year. At first we gave them to grandparents. A few years later, we started giving them to aunts and uncles. Then we added godparents and our parish priest. Last year, we had enough extras for our story hour teachers as well.

I started this Advent tradition when First Son was still young and think it is more fun each year. Those who frequent this blog will also not be surprised to see that I am posting about our 2011 ornament in May (though I notice last year I posted in March). I can't post about it in Advent because people who receive the ornaments read the blog. Then, inevitably, the ornament post gets lost in the post-Christmas deluge of pictures, thank you notes and returning to lessons.

So here we are in May, talking about Christmas ornaments.

I'd always wanted to make salt dough ornaments and last year felt confident enough to give it a try (confident enough Second Son wouldn't scream for hours while I figured out how to make the dough, that is). It wasn't too difficult, really, though I wish I had rolled them out a bit more before baking them. They puffed up more than I was expecting. Monica used the same recipe I did (from Advent, Christmas Epiphany in the Domestic Church), so I copied her idea for the holes in the top and used an old pencil. That worked well, except some of the fancy ribbon I bought was still a bit too big for the holes. Luckily, Kansas Dad drilled those few out for me a bit.

First Son, First Daughter and Second Daughter all made ornaments in 2011. I made the dough, but the children selected the cookie cutters and cut out their own shapes. After I baked them, I let the children paint them with a variety of "holiday" type colors I picked when the paint was on sale. I hadn't realized the sparkle paint was clear or I would have bought white or silver instead. The kids loved painting with it, though.

After the first layer of paint was dry, I let them go back over it with glitter glue to make any designs. I think this second layer looked particularly good on the ornaments and I know the kids loved it, especially First Daughter.

First Daughter and the glitter glue
After they were all dry, I painted over them with a mixture of white glue and water. I looked all over trying to find something to give me a good ratio to use, but couldn't find anything. I finally used half glue and half water. It seemed to work fine, though I suppose we'll really see in a decade or so if they start to get moldy or something.

I printed out pictures of the kids along with their ages and the year on cardstock to slip onto the ribbons. I think it's nice to see how old they were when hanging them on the tree and it makes a nice addition for the gifts.

A close up of one of my favorites
As usual, I didn't note on the ornaments which kids painted them. These, in fact, are most likely all a combination since there were a number of different days involved and I didn't keep them separate. They are indeed a family creation. I think I let each child choose one to keep on our tree, but can't remember if I wrote their names on them as I have in years past. (We packed the ornaments up quite a while ago now.)

We have had such a wonderful time creating ornaments every year, especially as the children grow and can do more. I'm already keeping track of ideas for 2012 and future years. If you're interested, you can follow my Pinterest board on Advent. It includes more than just ornaments, but that's where the ornaments I find and like will end up.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Report on Lent, Just in Time for Pentecost

I've been planning a post on how our Lenten plans went this year and some changes I'll be making next year, but wanted to wait until I had a chance to take a picture of our prayer garden covered with flowers...only I forgot that I hadn't taken it yet and threw the paper away! Oh dear. So you'll have to survive this post without a picture of our prayer garden. Just imagine it covered with flowers.

You can read our complete Lenten plans for 2012 here.

Our fasting, prayer and alms calender worked very well...on the days we were home in time for extended morning prayers or evening prayers. We sometimes found ourselves making up the alms part especially on later days. I think next year, I'll make a jar with alms ideas in it. On school days, after morning prayer, we'll draw a paper, count the items and add the money to the alms jar. For the prayers, I might put our intentions on a calendar or I might do a similar jar, but either way, we'll pray a single prayer throughout Lent rather than use the die. (The kids kept losing it or throwing it. Or both. Sigh.) I'll choose one we haven't memorized and we'll say it each night for the intentions of our friends or family members.

I thought the bean sacrifice jars worked wonderfully. First Daughter especially loved putting beans in her jar and would often ask if she could make a little sacrifice and then get a bean for herself. At first I wasn't sure that was the point - to ask ahead of time - but then I thought it's really no different than anyone making a sacrifice and offering it up to God for the benefit of another. In the end, it was good when they asked or reminded me; otherwise, I would often forget to give them a bean for their sacrifices. Each week, we put the beans back in the main jar and added a penny for each bean the children had earned to the alms jar.

When we counted all the money in the alms jar, the children had gathered $13.00. (I added a dime to make it even.) They voted to send it to an organization in a nearby city that helps babies and their mothers. (First Son is anxious to send money to help feed the poor now. His personal charity jar is slowly growing by $0.50 each week and we've told him we'll write a check for him when it's $20.00.)

Prayer Garden - Originally we were going to put a flower on the prayer garden for each person for whom we prayed during evening prayer. I quickly tired of this part of the plans. Some children wanted to do it, some didn't. Second Son loved the prayer garden. He would grabs a fistful of flowers and try to smash them on the prayer garden without tape. Cute but messy. Next year, I'm going to put up the prayer garden, set out the flowers, and encourage the children to put up a flower when they say a prayer, kind of like lighting a candle at church but without the danger of burning the house down.

I'm thinking we'll add the Lent faith folder and hopefully we'll remember to start our Divine Mercy novena.

For anyone interested, you can follow my Pinterest board for ideas on celebrating Lent.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Homeschool Review: Saxon Math 2

First Son completed Saxon Math 2 in second grade. We've used Saxon now in kindergarten (see my review here), first grade (review here) and second grade. I continue to be pleased with it for our homeschool.

As with the earlier grades, Saxon Math 2 begins each lesson with a "meeting" during which the student completes a calendar entry for the day and reviews concepts from earlier lessons (like skip counting). The lessons themselves are short, usually 10-15 minutes, and rely heavily on manipulatives. At the end, there's a time for fact card practice, a timed fact sheet and a worksheet. The book recommends completing the front of the worksheet immediately after the lesson and the second half later in the day, both with the active involvement of the teacher. Every fifth lesson includes a written assessment. Every tenth lesson includes an oral assessment.

The meeting part of the lesson is by far the most time consuming. As the year goes on, it becomes longer as more concepts are practiced. For example, in lesson 80, the meeting included five questions on the calendar, three questions on the weather graph, six or seven items to practice counting, a prompt to ask questions about a graph, a daily pattern, counting coins and trading coins, four questions on telling time and number sentences for the day. Yikes! We never did all those. We consistently did the calendar and weather graph (without all the questions), the pattern and the number sentences (in which the child comes up with sentences that equal the date, which First Son loved). For skip counting, we listened to One Hundred Sheep at other times. (I love that CD more and more; First Son immediately picked up on how it can be used to figure out multiplication problems and "sings" the answers to his questions a lot. I really cannot recommend it highly enough.) If we were short on time, I would skip the meeting part of the lesson entirely. What I like about the promptings for the meeting is that they serve as a good reminder for the teacher to repeat material with which the student may be struggling. Once First Son mastered something, we skipped it in the meeting.

At the beginning of each lesson, the teacher's manual clearly lists everything necessary for the lesson. Most of the time, I needed no more than five minutes to prepare. The lessons themselves were generally short (10-15 minutes) and nearly always used manipulatives, either something from the kit like geoboards or color tiles or something we'd pull from around the house like coins, cans of food or apples to slice in halves and fourths. I love having a math program for the early grades that includes so much hands-on work. We skipped the first twenty lessons or so. (I sat down with First Son and asked a few questions at the beginning of the year to figure out where we should start.) We usually did four lessons a week, with a good number of weeks with only three lessons so we could work around appointments or have a fun "game" day when we played dominoes or Double Shutter. Skipping the first twenty lessons gave us some extra free time for such things.

The beginning of the year includes lessons on things like numbers to 100, telling time to the hour, creating and reading a pictograph, dividing shapes in half, addition facts, measuring with one-inch tiles. At the end of the year, First Son was designing and drawing his own graph, making and labeling arrays, multiplying by three and four, locating points on a coordinate graph, identifying perpendicular and parallel lines and dividing by two (among other skills).

Saxon Math is a spiral math program, so a concept is introduced in one or two lessons. The student practices it every day on worksheets and then returns to the concept five or ten lessons later to learn a little more. I prefer this to one in which we'd spend weeks doing only multiplication. First Son never knows what I'll be pulling out for math!

The lesson is always followed by math fact card practice. We switched from these to XtraMath in January. For each lesson, there is a fact sheet, either 25 problems to complete in one minute or 100 problems to complete in five minutes, and a double-sided worksheet. Once we started using XtraMath, I would give First Son the fact sheet, but not time him on it. (He did like the timer at the beginning of the year.) First Son always completed the worksheet, but only one side of it and without my help.

Math 2: An Incremental Development [Home School Teachers Edition] - This book is essential to teaching Saxon Math 2. It contains all of the lessons themselves. Each lesson has an actual script the teacher can follow, so there's no need to feel competent to "teach" math concepts, though you will need to be able to understand the concepts themselves. I have purchased almost all of my math teacher's manuals used (specifically at Cathswap) and am pleased with how well these books hold up. The spiral binding and page quality are good so they will last through many children. Answers for the assessment and worksheets are included in the manual, but not for the fact sheets. I almost never bothered to look up the answers, but I think it would have been nice if I could just read the fact sheet answers to First Son and let him correct his own paper.

Saxon Math 2: An Incremental Development Home Study Meeting Book - This book contains a calendar (August through July) and weather graph for each month. The weather graph becomes more complicated as the student learns to read a thermometer in the lessons. Later in the book are blank charts and graphs to be completed as part of lessons in the teacher's manual, as well as counting strips, also referenced in the manual. I think you could make something comparable for this if you don't want to spend the money, but it doesn't seem very expensive to me and is very handy to have rather than juggle creating something for the lessons. (As an aside, whenever there's a graph, the book would say to have the student call something like twenty people to get answers for the survey question. I would note when one was coming up and ask First Son who he wanted to include, then email them ahead of time so we'd have the answers ready. Calling all his friends would have taken hours! His survey questions nearly always involved something about Star Wars, LEGOs or LEGO Star Wars.)

Saxon Math 2: An Incremental Development Part 1 and 2 (Workbook and Fact Cards-2  volume set) - We eventually stopped using the fact cards entirely, but we used the workbooks. All the pages are three-hole punched, so I cut them out of the workbooks and put them into a big binder. Each day, I'll put in the completed sheets and pull out the new ones. I kept a file divider in the current place so I could easily find my spot.

I prefer to purchase consumable workbooks new. I think it would be ethically permissible to purchase a used copy of a consumable workbook if the previous student copied the work into another paper, but not if the previous student completed photocopies of the worksheets. Because I can't be sure how they were used, I just skip the issue by buying new ones. I'm probably being too picky, but the purchase price is low enough I am comfortable with this decision.

Manipulative Kit for Saxon Math K-3 - I purchased the Saxon kit back when First Son was starting kindergarten and have been pleased with it. I did replace the balance scale with one I preferred. Many of these items could be made or substituted with other items at home. If you can manage the price, though, I think it's a good investment. It comes with a large number of great manipulatives that can be used by every child in the family and saves lots of time and trouble running around figuring out how to substitute something else for a lesson. My children all love to play with them and I always provide free time after lessons. I also like to pick up extras if I see them at used curriculum sales, but it could be hard to create an entire set that way.

Next year, we'll be using Saxon Math 3 for First Son in third grade and Saxon Math 1 for First Daughter in kindergarten. (Read about why we're doing Saxon Math 1 in kindergarten here.) We'll see how it goes with two using Saxon math at the same time as the time commitment from the teacher (me!) is one of the disadvantages of Saxon in the early grades.

I've found and Sacred Heart Books and Gifts to be good places to consistently find good prices on new Saxon math materials. I'm not an affiliate with either of those stores. I am an affiliate with and will receive a small commission if you follow any of the Amazon links above and make a purchase. The One Hundred Sheep CD can be more difficult to find. I've linked to Adoremus, which I think is where I purchased it. I am not an affiliate at that store and receive nothing if you purchase anything there after following the link.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Second Grade Reading List for First Son

Summer reading (between first and second grade):
  • Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner - I'm not sure I would have asked First Son to read this if I had read it myself first. There are some difficult times in the story, but First Son and First Daughter were both enthralled, as was I. 
  • Prairie Skies: Pioneer Summer by Deborah Hopkinson is the story of a young boy and his family who move to Kansas Territory from a desire to establish Kansas as a free state. It's the first in a trilogy and I recommend it.
We found ourselves busy enough during the summer that I set aside formal reading lessons. First Son read extensively on his own, mainly picture books and some of the Magic School Bus chapter books.
I'm not sure how it happened, but I have a son who loves to read but refuses to read eagerly for "lessons." When he reads on his own, it has to be a book he can finish in a single session and preferably one without chapters. It's like pulling teeth! I cannot imagine how much more difficult it would be if he were not a particularly good reader.

Second grade:
  • Prairie Skies: Cabin in the Snow by Deborah Hopkinson - the second in the Prairie Skies trilogy
  • Surprise Island (The Boxcar Children Mysteries #2) by Gertrude Chandler Warner - a fine book I asked First Son to read in an effort to get him interested in reading the rest of the series on his own. I'd like to see him read more chapter books outside of our reading lessons. No such luck, but he did seem to enjoy it.
  • Prairie Skies: Our Kansas Home by Deborah Hopkinson - the third in the Prairie Skies trilogy
  • Saint Martin de Porres: Humble Healer (Encounter the Saints,19) by Elizabeth Marie DeDomennico is one of the Encounter the Saints series published by Pauline Books. A friend recommended them to me and I found them wonderful for First Son. They are reasonably well-written books on the saints at a second or third grade reading level, available for many different saints so there's sure to be one to interest everyone. First Son could read this pretty easily except for all the names and a few words now and then.
  • Adventures of Saint Paul by Oldrich Selucky was one of our history books. I'm sorry to say it's out of print because he enjoyed it immensely. It is an early chapter book, exciting and enjoyable. The pictures are wonderful as well.
  • The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh is a classic many people already know. Sarah shows great bravery throughout the book.
  • Saint Ignatius of Loyola: For the Greater Glory of God (Encounter the Saints) by Donna Giaimo, another book from the Encounter the Saints series. First Son loves reading about the saints.
  • The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz. First Son loved the ending (as I expected) and didn't seem dismayed by reading a book about a girl. He read this fairly easily, too.
  • Saint Francis of Assisi: Gentle Revolutionary (Encounter the Saints) by Mary Emmanuel Alves is a book First Son selected and purchased himself. He wanted to read it during our reading lessons, so I allowed it even though I knew these books were not very challenging for him by now. The place and people names still give him trouble, so I think it's valuable to continue to read them out loud together.
  • Saint Colum and the Crane by Eva K. Betz. This was the first book I asked First Son to read on his own and then report back to me. He did a rather poor job of narrating it, but I could tell he had read it and enjoyed it. I had to request a copy through inter-library loan, but it was worth the wait.
  • A Story of Saint Blaise by Brother Franklin Cullen, C.S.C. is one of a series called In the Footsteps of the Saints, which are being republished by a family-owned company called Mary's Books. This is a Level 1 book, so it's an easy reader, pretty far below First Son's reading level, but he read it for history, not his reading lessons. I think these are nice little books, easier to read than the Encounter the Saints series for younger readers. First Daughter especially enjoys them.
  • Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary was one of First Son's favorites of the year. I was so pleased to see how much improvement he had made since he read Ribsy out loud in first grade. He did very well reading this book on his own.
Overall, I think First Son progressed in reading this year and am pleased with his reading...for the most part. I still hear him consistently mispronouncing some words (reading them with the phonics he was taught but reading them incorrectly because, I think, the phonics rules I taught him were incomplete). I'm working on a plan to address that in the coming year, so I think we'll probably start third grade with some phonics lessons instead of reading lessons, though I intend for him to continue reading out loud to me every day. I'll choose a history, science or saint book for him to read each day for a while.

I'm giving him the summer off from required reading out loud to me, though. I imagine he'll be reading plenty of books out loud to Second Son who wanders the house demanding, "Tory! Tory!"

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Little Pea

Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jen Corace

There are a few other books in this series (like Little Hoot and Little Oink) but Little Pea is our favorite.

Little Pea is a sweet little guy. The author and illustrator show a few things Little Pea likes to do before telling us what he doesn't like to do: eat his candy. Of course, peas eat candy for dinner every night and they have to eat all their dinner before they can have dessert. It's ridiculous, and that's one of the reasons the kids love it, but it's also exactly like dinner-time at home. Little Pea has to eat five pieces of candy for his dinner and the kids love watching his funny faces as he chokes each one down.

The illustrations are excellent - simple drawings in bright color (especially green) surrounded by plenty of white.

This book has been well-loved for years here on the Range.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Preschool Reading Around the World: Central and South America

In our third term of preschool this year for First Daughter (age 5) and Second Daughter (age 3), we continued Reading-Around-the-World. (In our first term, we read around Africa. In our second term, we read around Asia.) This term, we read books set in Central America and South America.

As before, my goal is to expand our horizons a little, so I give a preference to books from our library. I'm not trying to impart knowledge of a geographic or political nature; if we learn something of the culture along the way, that's fine. My real goal here is to give my girls exposure to wonderful stories set around the world. I'm sure there are other books that would be just as good or better. Please share any ideas you have! I have younger children who would benefit (no to mention that little picture book problem I have myself).

Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown is such a delightful book about a man who takes books by burro to children in rural Colombia on the great blessing it is to read a good book and to share with those who do not have access to libraries like ours.

How Night Came from the Sea: A Story from Brazil by Mary-Joan Gerson and illustrated by Carla Golembe is the story of a Brazilians goddess who longs for darkness and sleep. It was a fine book, but not one of our favorites.

The Two Mountains: An Aztec Legend retold by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher is the legend of the volcanoes in the Valley of Mexico named Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl. I am generally hesitant to share stories of children disobeying their parents, but I really wanted to read about these volcanoes because I lived near them and could even see El Popo from my bedroom window when I lived in Puebla for a language study program. I also liked the illustrations.

The Pot that Juan Built byNancy Andrews-Boebel with pictures by David Diaz is a rhythmic repetitive book based on a real Mexican potter, Juan Quezada. Smaller text on each page gives detailed information on him and the methods he developed to replicate the pottery of an ancient people who had long ago disappeared. Juan Quezada was a dedicated man who persevered and taught others how to better themselves and the world. A section at the end of the book shows how the pottery is made.

Cuckoo: A Mexican Folktale by Lois Ehlert is illustrated in her typical bold and bright style. I enjoyed this folktale and especially liked that the text is shown in both English and Spanish.

Love and Roast Chicken: A Trickster Tale from the Andes Mountains by Barbara Knutson is a fun story of a cheeky Guinea Pig who outsmarts a fox but gets caught by the farmer. He manages to escape in the end, though, with a silly story the kids always enjoy.

The Fiesta of The Tortillas by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Maria Jesus Alvarez (translated by Joe Hayes and Sharon Franco). In this story, the author tells of his youth in El Salvador when his family owned a comedor (a restaurant) in their home. Everyone in the extended family worked together to prepare the food. I selected this book because my sister-in-law is from El Salvador and many of the foods described in the story are ones she has shared with us. It is important to note, for those that worry about such things, that the heart of the tale is a mysterious clapping as of someone preparing tortillas. Eventually, they decide it is the Spirit of the Corn reminding them of the joy of a family working happily together. The text is shown in both Spanish and English.

Erandi's Braids by Antonio Hernandez Madrigal and illustrated by Tomie dePaola is a sweet story of a young girl of Patzcuaro who sells her beautiful hair so her mother can buy a fishing net. It's a story of love and sacrifice. dePaola's illustrations for this story are among his best.

So Say the Little Monkeys by Nancy Van Laan with pictures by Yumi Heo is the retelling of a Brazilian tale explaining why a certain type of monkey live in thorny trees even though they must be uncomfortable. It's silly but instructive, with lots of funny sounds. I think the monkey illustrations are so cute.

Miro in the Kingdom of the Sun by Jane Kurtz with woodcuts by David Frampton is a retelling of an Incan folktale in which a young girl shows great compassion and bravery to save her brothers who foolishly attempted to mislead the Sun King.

Tap-Tap by Karen Lynn Williams and illustrated by Catherine Stock (one of my new favorite illustrators) is a delightful story of a young girl who accompanies her mother to the market in Haiti, longing to ride in a tap-tap, a brightly decorated bus. My children loved this book, especially First Daughter who begged me to read it again.

Borreguita and the Coyote by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Petra Mathers is a fun retelling of a Mexican folktale of a little lamb who outsmarts and eventually beats the coyote. (I liked how some of the same tricks appear in this story as in Love and Roast Chicken. It's interesting to think about how myths and legends travel, change, and are adapted by other people.)

I loved this course of study for my girls in preschool. I loved it so much, in fact, that we're going to continue it next year. First we'll read picture books set in Europe, then Australia and New Zealand. In our last term next year, we'll find some books set in Canada, Antarctica and the Arctic Circle. I only have a few books in mind so far; it looks like I'll be checking out a lot from the library to find the right collection. Suggestions welcome!

Monday, May 21, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (32nd Ed.)

1. I went to the Catholic homeschool group book sale last week all by myself. I sold a few things and spent a little more, but I like the few things I bought. I was especially pleased to find a used copy in perfect condition of How Our Nation Began.

2. I have been enjoying our days without lessons. So far I've put all our 2010 and 2011 pictures in albums and have even replaced some of the pictures on the walls so Second Son isn't only represented by one picture of him when he was three months old. I did some deep cleaning. I've also been working on a bunch of projects I started the week after Easter and then left lying on my hutch until I had time to get to them.

3. We had our last faith formation meeting. I love getting together once a month with our friends, but it will be nice to be done until the fall.

4. The dumpster is gone! Kansas Dad did a great job clearing off the old out-building site.

5. On Friday, a couple of ladies and I cleaned our Atrium and it is now sparkling! We have a lot of work left to do to get the 6-9 materials finished, but it's going to be great.

6. We had friends visiting to play all afternoon on Saturday and a lovely dinner with a good friend.

7. On Sunday, we went to Mass, then breakfast at our parish, then a tea party (for the girls; the guys had a video game party), then dinner with Grammy and Paw Paw. Whew! But it was a lovely day!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

End of the Outbuilding

Just in case anyone is interested, the recent dumpster rental is the end of a project that started back in July 2011 when a friend came and smashed our falling-down outbuilding (which was a private menace, if not a public one):

There was still a lot of debris left when he carted off the big pieces of metal. Kansas Dad cleaned it up a bit here and there, but he really needed to rent a dumpster to just take care of the rest. (In the end, it also required a sledgehammer; every project is better when a sledgehammer is involved.) The dumpster came and went and now nearly all the mess is gone!!

I should show you a picture of what it looks like now, but it's pretty much a plain piece of concrete. I'm not sure what we'll do with it, but we're tossing around ideas like a basketball hoop. At the very least, it's a good place to use our sidewalk chalk and now there's little chance of large pieces of metal falling down on us.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Homeschool Review: Program for Achieving Character Education (PACE)

Program for Achieving Character Education (PACE) by M. Monica Speach, a program for Catholic schools and homes

update 8/7/16 - PACE has a new website, and it (currently) includes a quote from this post!

I read about this program on the Mater Amabilis Yahoo group emails and was immediately intrigued. I wasn't looking for a character development program. If I had thought about it at all, I would probably have said I expected our readings of the saints, history, myths and fairy tales to guide the children to naturally develop virtues like honesty and perseverance. As I considered the idea, though, I thought "studying" a particular virtue might allow us to delve further into each one and more explicitly address behavior, particularly between the children. So I found a little extra money in last year's budget to purchase the book.

It's a spiral bound book, which makes it very easy to leave it open while planning my lessons. I also liked being able to flip the front pages all the way around so I could hold it while writing on our virtue paper, which is just a sheet of newsprint I tape to the wall for notes on our current virtue. (It lists the definition, some examples and notes on people or stories First Son and First Daughter can name that highlight the virtue. We add to it throughout our study.) I did feel like the spiral binding kept working its way off the pages and I'd have to spin it back down into place. That was a little annoying, but it didn't really hurt anything.

In the note to teachers in the beginning, Ms. Speach recommends a schedule to work completely through the book in one school year: 10 virtues in 10 months including self-discipline, work, perseverance, faith/trust, compassion, friendship, courage, loyalty, responsibility and honesty. I opted to spend six weeks on each virtue, skip Advent when we have so many other additional lessons for the liturgical season, and instead cycle through the virtues every two years.

A sample lesson with explanations is included in the front of the book to give a good starting point for the teacher.

The PACE program uses stories from The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass: Stories for a Life's Journey by William J. Bennett as well as other books to highlight each virtue. I was lucky enough to already have these on the shelf and pleased to find a way to rather easily incorporate them into our studies. The program book includes sample quotations (for memory work or copywork), a definition, recommended stories for different ages from The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass, relevant Bible stories, meditations or stories of Mary and the saints that exemplify the selected virtue, picture books or other books for different ages, example discussion questions, example writing prompts for older students, enrichment activities (music, art, nature, and classroom projects) and examples of ways the children can practice the virtue in their own lives.

We would start our study with a definition and discussion of the virtue, during which I like to include ideas for the children to practice the virtue. Then, over the course of six weeks, I would read out loud two stories from The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass (or The Children's Book of Virtues or The Children's Book of Heroes which we had also received as gifts), one or two Bible stories, and one or two stories of the Saints (mainly from Once Upon a Time Saints, More Once Upon a Time Saints, or Saints for Young Readers for Every Day). I also always chose at least one picture book, usually from the lists Ms. Speach provided, but sometimes one I happened to know myself. I often included at least one activity in music, art or nature study, but I considered those optional. I always encouraged the children, especially First Son, to watch and listen for examples of the virtue in our other readings as well. They often came up in our regular saint readings.

One of the things I like best about this study is how robust it is with ideas for all ages. I can see us using this as a spine for character education for years to come, all studying the same virtue over and over again but with different readings and levels of understanding. I'm looking forward to continuing our virtue studies next year.

I did not receive anything in exchange for this honest review. I do not receive any compensation if you follow the link to Sacred Heart Books and Gifts (where I purchased this book). If you follow other links to and make a purchase, I do receive a small commission.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Math for First Daughter in Kindergarten

In thinking about my review of Saxon Math 2 (coming soon), I came across some placement tests for Saxon Math, which I had never used before. I just started First Son in kindergarten math and went from there. Honestly, that was probably just where he needed to be, though we did skip lessons now and then.

I wanted to put First Daughter in Saxon Math K as well. I like the short lessons, lack of worksheets or fact sheets and the fewer number of lessons. (See my initial review of Saxon Math K here.) I tend to think that's how math should be in kindergarten. Curious, though, I gave First Daughter the placement tests.

She breezed through the kindergarten section, answering every question correctly (and sometimes going beyond the question). She even did surprisingly well on the first grade section, though usually coming up a little short.

I then grappled with the question of what to do. She seems solidly ready for the concepts in Saxon Math 1, but I hesitate to give her worksheets and fact sheets. She doesn't struggle with handwriting like First Son did (more that he didn't want to do it than that he couldn't), but I don't want her more limited ability to write to make her dislike math. Kansas Dad rightly argues we should give her concepts that will challenge her, that she'll be bored with the easier things. Saxon Math repeats all the concepts multiple times, so I don't need to worry that she'll miss out on anything completely.

What to do?

The current plan is to give her Saxon Math 1 next year, in kindergarten. I think I will give her the option to complete the fact sheet or sign on to XtraMath for the day. As for the worksheets...I'm not sure. If she really wants to do them, I'll let her. If she wants to go through them verbally, we'll do that. If she has lots of angst about the worksheets, we'll skip them entirely. I'm not overly excited about her being "a year ahead," but being able to meet her exactly where she is seems to be a major benefit of homeschooling. Why would I be happier about that if she needs extra time than if she doesn't?

If she starts to struggle, next year or later, we'll just slow down.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Catholic Company Review: The Saints Pray for Us

The Saints Pray for Us edited by Christina Miriam Wegendt, FSP

First, I have to say I do not like this cover at all. I think it's poorly designed. It's a shame, because the book itself is a wonderful little collection of prayers to the saints.

Thirty saints were selected for the book, all of whom have biographies in the Encounter the Saints series, also offered by Pauline Kids. The cover art for those books, in fact, is used as as the basis for the illustration for each saint in The Saints Pray for Us. There are some wonderful saints included, among them a few of our favorites: Saint Juan Diego, Saint Francis, Saint Clare, and Saint Martin de Porres. There are also others I hope my children grow to know and love as they learn more of them like Blessed Teresa and Saint Damien of Molokai.

Years and places of births and deaths as well as feast days are included for each saint, but no biographical information. This is a not a book of saints, it is a book of prayers. So each saint has an illustration with a facing page of text full of the prayer. I compared a few to the Encounter the Saints books I had near-by and discovered they are the identical text or are edited for space and clarity. The prayer for Saint Gianna Molla also no longer contains the word "abortion" which makes it perfectly appropriate for children of all ages.

I thought the introduction, by Sister Patricia Edward Jablonski, was quite nice.
Some very close friends of God live in heaven. We call them the saints. During their lives here on earth the saints tried their best to love God with all their mind, and heart, and soul, and to love their neighbor as themselves. They wanted to think, act, and love just as Jesus, God's Son, did. They weren't always successful, but they never gave up trying.
She goes on to explain briefly about intercessory prayer and why reading and learning about the saints can help us grow closer to God. I especially like how "each of us can find heavenly friends with whom we feel very comfortable, just as we feel especially close to our good friends here on earth." Just as I ask my dear friends to pray for me, I want my children to know they can turn to their patron saints in heaven to ask them for prayers.

These are lovely little prayers, perfect for us to use each day during our evening prayers. We always begin with a litany of saints, then each child can offer up any prayer they like. Sometimes we sing. Sometimes we say the Our Father. Prayer cards with prayers asking for a saint's intercession are often chosen. I think this book of prayers will be just as popular. Even if we had all the books in the Encounter the Saints series, it would be impractical to keep them all by our prayer table. This book will find a home there.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Saints Pray for Us. They are also a great source for a baptism gifts or first communion gifts.

My Favorite Picture Books: Diary of a Wombat

Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley

This book entertains every single person who reads it or hears it. Our children laugh out loud every time.

You might learn a little about wombats by reading the story, mainly that they sleep a lot. It's slightly more interesting for it's depiction of the intersection of humans and wild animals.

Mostly, though, it's funny.

The story is told from the point of view of the wombat. Even very young children know more about humans than the wombat does, so they know exactly why the humans look displeased when the wombat is the most pleased.

The illustrations are crisp on the white pages and the wombat is adorable, even at its most infuriating.

I hope you can find a copy of this book to enjoy!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What Is a Complete Sentence?

Narrations should be done in complete sentences. Questions should be answered in complete sentences. This seems like a simple requirement, but I found myself struggling to explain to First Son exactly what makes a stream of works a complete sentence rather than an incomplete one. He would consistently answer my questions starting with something like "so that..." or "fighting..." or "loving God..." (the last is his standard answer for why someone is a saint). In the beginning, when I prompted him to respond in a complete sentence, he would often look at me in dismay.

I finally resorted to examples:

"St. George fought the dragon."
"fought the dragon"

Eventually, First Son seemed to pick up on the idea and could consistently correct his phrases when I pointed out they were incomplete.

I was delighted to discover what is likely the answer to my problem in Charlotte Mason's Towards A Philosophy of Education. I imagine this particular idea is addressed in lots of other books about Charlotte Mason's methods, but somehow I missed it.
Every sentence has two parts, (1), the thing we speak of, and (2), what we say about it.
The first part of a sentence, of course, is the subject

How simple it would have been to say to First Son, "Who or what are you speaking about?"

Now that I think about it, I'm sure I will be saying that to him in the future.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (31st Ed.)

For those interested, here's a picture of the snake I mentioned last week, as it crawled up our window.

1. Last week, we spent Monday, part of Tuesday and all of Wednesday playing with friends. We did a few lessons, too, but it was nice to be able to set them aside for a while.

2. Friday was our last day of school! I am so excited to have some free time! The children are, too. We'll keep up with our math facts and some reading lessons, but it will be nice and relaxed...until all those summer activities start up.

3. On Friday night, we attended a lovely birthday party. The children ate and played outside and even roasted marshmallows. Everyone was happy and covered in dirt and sand when we got home, so we had a quick bath before a late bedtime (by which nearly no one was happy, but that wasn't unexpected).

4. Kansas Dad called me into the bathroom after First Son's shower on Friday night. He had drawn the Eucharist and chalice in the foggy mirror.

5. When one of the other kids will apologize to me, Second Son will repeat them, "Wahwy, Mommy." It's so adorable!

6. On Saturday, we enjoyed a BBQ lunch with Kansas Dad and the graduates of the masters program at his university. I wanted to do something to celebrate the end of the school year, so we took the children to a huge candy store in town. We had never been and it was certainly end-of-school-treat-worthy.

7. I had a lovely Mother's Day. We visited and played with friends after Mass, then met Grammy and Paw Paw for lunch at a restaurant followed by a visit to my favorite frozen yogurt place. The kids went on an errand with Grammy and picked out a beautiful blooming plant for me, then Kansas Dad and I had a little time all to ourselves to go out for coffee and tea. Kansas Dad made dinner and did all the dishes and got the kids ready for bed by himself.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Review: Into the Unknown

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty

This fantastic book describes fourteen journeys by men (and one woman) of exploration. It begins with an Ancient Greek man who journeys to the Arctic circle and ends with a man on the moon. Each one is selected not only for the forays into farther lands, deeper seas, higher altitudes and outer space, but also for the vessels and technology employed in the explorations.

Every chapter includes detailed drawings, maps, and at least one unfolding page that reveals more information on the voyage. The exciting narratives are perfectly complemented by these engaging drawings. I can imagine children poring over them. First Son is only interested in such things in moderation, but I know some more engineering-minded children that would not be able to put this book down until they read the very last page.

I read through the entire book just to make sure there wasn't anything derogatory of religion and found nothing at all (other than a brief mention that angels were not found at the highest altitudes). It is mainly silent on the ideas of Christianity and all other religions.

I do wish the authors had included a pronunciation guide either in the text or at the end for the names of people and places.

We'll be using this book a bit in our history studies next year. I think the chapters will be a good length to read aloud. The majority of the stories, though, will be used in our fourth year of history, starting with the 1700s.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Homeschool Review: XtraMath

First Son very easily mastered the concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and has even begun division, but it's a different thing altogether to become fluent in the language of these concepts - the math facts.

Saxon Math provides fact cards to be reviewed every day in addition to fact sheets that are supposed to be timed (1 minute for 20-25 problems, 5 minutes for 100). First Son started the year enjoying the timed sheets, but became increasingly frustrated when he didn't see immediate improvement in his ability to finish a sheet in the time provided. I think this was partly caused by a lack of adequate fact card practice, but mainly because the difficulty of the sheets increased as the year went on before he had become fluent in the ones before. Reviewing the fact cards was boring (of course) and again, it was very difficult to quantify improvement.

So I went looking for something different for our math facts fluency practice and found, through the wonderful community of the Mater Amabilis Yahoo group, XtraMath.

XtraMath is a free online math facts program. I created a classroom (called Mom) and entered both First Son and First Daughter as students in different grades. Each day, they can sign on to the program and practice for about ten minutes. The students begin with addition (though the teacher can change that to subtraction, multiplication or division) and are presented with a variety of facts each session. A timer of dots shows 10 seconds at the bottom of the screen, which a goal of three seconds to enter the answer. There's also a "Race the Teacher" section without a timer. If a student enters an incorrect answer, the correct answer is shown and he or she has to type it in before moving on.

As the teacher, I receive a weekly emailed report on the students' progress and can log in to the site to see more detailed information on exactly which facts have been mastered.

We started using the program in mid-January. First Son has nearly mastered addition, with only one fact he does not yet consistently answer correctly within three seconds. His addition skills therefore improved much more in the second half of the year with XtraMath than the first half of the year (when they essentially remained the same). Though it would be easy enough to send him to the computer for XtraMath every day of the week, even when we don't have school, First Son logged in three to four times a week. First Daughter was never required to log in and practice; I gave her an account and let her sign on whenever she asked just for herself.

The online program works wonderfully on the laptop, but the kids were frustrated using it on the Kindle Fires. It just didn't respond quickly enough with the touch screen.

I like the timed feature of the program, which is more difficult to enforce with math facts cards. I appreciate that the correct answer is shown immediately and that students are required to correct their answer before moving on. Though I always stay near-by when the children are using the computer, I can do other things while they use XtraMath. I'm very pleased with XtraMath and recommend it. We'll be using it over the summer, too, to continue our math facts fluency.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Dooby Dooby Moo

Dooby Dooby Moo by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin

This book is ridiculous from beginning to end and always has the children roaring with laughter. Duck is a sneaky guy who devises a plan to win the talent show at the fair to earn a trampoline for the farm animals. They must practice in secret, hiding their talent, such as it is, from Farmer Brown, somewhat unsuccessfully.

The rehearsing is entertaining, but the talent show itself is hilarious. The cows, sheep and pigs all perform, but Duck fears none of them have won the hearts of the judges, so he steps in.

It's not a book about saintly virtues or historical heroes, but I have never yet met the child who didn't beg to hear it again. We always try to read it for our guests, especially as Home on the Range features prominently in the story so it's very appropriate for anyone visiting Kansas.

 * I also wrote about this book back in 2008.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (30th Ed.)

1. Our parish volunteer dinner was last week. A generous friend watched our children, who romped around her house with her kids and had a delightful time while Kansas Dad and I enjoyed dinner without kids.

2. Wednesday was the Feast of St. Athanasius, our family's patron saint. I have yet to discover what St. Athanasius would have eaten for a feast day, but I had some half-made cookie dough, so I finished that for our feast. They were delicious and the kids were satisfied.

3. We finished math!! We have one week of lessons left, though we'll spread it out a little so we can hang out with friends here and there.

4. Kansas Dad ordered a dumpster and then spent days loading it up with the remnants of our outbuilding and various home improvement projects despite a twisted ankle so all that garbage could be off our property! We have it for a few more days this week, but he really cleaned up the bulk of it over the weekend.

5. We spent a lot of time outside this weekend, enjoying a full Saturday without any other place to be. Kansas Dad and the kids went on a lizard hunt, made a jar into a home for a caterpillar (which has already started making a cocoon) and went tromping through some paths he mowed back into the woods a bit. Every one was hot and sweaty and dirty when we came in (straight to the bath!), but happy. (Those who are friends with me on Facebook also know we spotted a snake crawling up our window last week, so it was an interesting animal week here on the Range. I think Kansas Dad got a picture of that, but it will have to wait until I have time to find the camera.)

6. Last night, Second Daughter was in the downward dog position when she proceeded to hop across the room. Still in downward dog. I didn't know that was even possible.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Catholic Company Review: Saint Gianna Beretta Molla

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla: The Gift of Life by Susan Helen Wallace, FSP with Patricia Edward Jablonski, FSP

First Son has read two or three other books from the Encounter the Saints series and we've found them to be interesting and enjoyable. I think they're generally recommended for 9 to 12 year olds, but the reading level seems to be a little lower than that to me, perhaps second or third grade.

Gianna Beretta Molla was a physician in Italy in the 1950s, a time when women physicians were rare. Then she married and had children but continued to practice medicine, most remarkably. In the course of her fourth pregnancy, she was diagnosed with a uterine tumor and chose in the most generous way to proceed with an operation to remove the tumor that would give her baby the best chance of survival. The operation was successful, but complications after the birth of her healthy daughter led to Gianna's death.

She is a model of love and sacrifice. She is the only working mother to be named a saint in the Catholic church. St. Gianna is the saint and patroness of mothers and the unborn.

This book is a wonderful introduction for children to this amazing modern saint. St. Gianna's dedication to her patients and family and her love for the Mass are clearly shown.
Daily, numerous patients waited in her office. The doctor knew that many were anxious and worried. She greeted each one with concern and compassion. I must never appear rushed or tired, she thought. My patients deserve my time and my total attention. I want to treat each person as I would treat Jesus himself.
Many times, the saints own words from her letters and papers are used in the book.

I was pleased at how clearly this book explained that Gianna and her husband had three medical options to treat her tumor during the fourth pregnancy. Two of them were acceptable morally, even though one of those would have resulted in the death of her unborn child.

St. Gianna is a particularly good role model for young girls. She struggled with her education, but persevered even through a World War to receive a medical degree. She waited a long time before meeting and marrying her husband, a time when she was always open to a religious vocation but waited patiently to learn God's plan for her life. A loving wife and mother, she continued to work, to provide medical care to those who depended on her.

First Son could easily read this book now, but I hesitate to share it with him. First, my children do not yet understand that pregnancy does carry risks for a mother and her child. We have read many books where mothers die, even where mothers die after childbirth, but this book explicitly discusses St. Gianna's risks in her fourth pregnancy. Gianna's health problems are always described delicately, without revealing too much information for a young reader, and certainly health care during and after pregnancy has improved in many ways, but I still want to protect my little ones from worrying that I might be in danger if I were to become pregnant.

The real problem is that my children do not know what an abortion is. They know that unborn children can be miscarried and go to heaven without being born, but they have never been told that a mother may choose to abort a baby. Honestly, it is not a conversation I plan to have any earlier than necessary. Once First Son asks about abortion, I will explain it to him. Then I will share this book with him, precisely as a way to discuss the beauty and blessing of children and the sacrifice that St. Gianna made for the life of her unborn child. The last chapter especially invites that kind of discussion, prompting the reader to consider how St. Gianna's example can lead us to recognize the value of all life.

There is one scene that seemed contrived to me, one in which Gianna consoles a young unmarried pregnant woman in her office. I understand what the authors were sharing in the scene, but I felt it almost trivialized such a woman's predicament. There is no doubt that choosing life is the moral obligation in such a situation, but I think it imperative we recognize the courage and sacrifice such choices mean, even when a mother's life is not physically in danger.

You can learn more about St. Gianna many places online, like this site.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. I received a free copy of this book in return for an objective review. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Saint Gianna Beretta Molla - The Gift of Life. They are also a great source for a baptism gifts or first communion gifts.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Homeschool Review: Saints for Young Readers for Every Day

Saints for Young Readers for Every Day, Vol. 1: January-June and Saints for Young Readers for Every Day, Vol. 2: July-December from Pauline Books and Media

These two books are easily among my favorite saint books for children. A short biography of a saint for each day of the year is included in one of the two volumes, generally the saint whose feast is celebrated that day. We have the third edition, updated in 2005, which includes recent saints and blesseds like Mother Teresa of Calcutta. At the end of each story, there are a few sentences that bring the lesson of the saint into the child's own life.

The stories are just the right length of reading every day, though we read them twice a week this year. I also used these books many times when I wanted to highlight a saint in our character study or on a particular feast day, especially if there were no good picture books available. I used these often for our narration work this year. Many of them are five to six paragraphs long, which was a good length for First Son as he worked through the exercises in Writing with Ease.

One of the things I appreciated most about these books was the care taken in telling the stories of the martyrs. So many Christians have faced horrible deaths for their Lord. Though these books do not shirk from sharing a martyr's story, I never felt uncomfortable reading them aloud while my two young girls (five and three) were listening.

Not every saint's day is illustrated, but the black and white illustrations that are included contain many elements children can examine, describing why certain items are included.

We began reading these books in second grade. In third grade, we'll read the story for the saint of the day every school day we're not reading a different saint story (for history or character study). By the end of third grade, I hope for First Son to be writing narrations for a few of these, but we'll see how things go.

I highly recommend these books to any Catholic homeschooling family or any Catholic family looking for an appropriate book on the saints to include with morning or evening prayers.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: The Lion and the Mouse

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

This book is Mr. Pinkney's wordless, but not soundless, story of Aesop's fable in which a lion has compassion on a mouse and is saved by her in return. I have come to love Mr. Pinkney's illustrations. The ones in this book are particularly warm and vibrant.

My children are familiar with Aesop's tale and I like to let them narrate this book themselves. There is something new to discover each time we check this book out from the library. We've used it when reading Aesop's fables, when reading about Ancient Greece and, most recently, when reading stories of compassion.

I like to read aloud the author's note at the end of the story; it is a wonderful insight into the thoughts of authors and illustrators as they are envisioning a story and how it will be read and enjoyed by the audience.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

April 2012 Book Reports

Seek First the Kingdom by Cardinal Donald Wuerl (a review for The Catholic Company)

Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam by Huynh Quang Nhuong is a gentle tale of a boy in Vietnam who loved his family, his village, his water buffalo and his life. It is an autobiographical account that gives a wonderful glimpse of his daily life, the joy he found in his home. It is less painful than The Land I Lost: Adventures of a Boy in Vietnam (another wonderful book), but the Vietnam War does touch his life violently near the end of the book. First Son will be reading this book next year as part of our People and Places studies along with mapwork and some geography on Vietnam. Though I will not read The Land I Lost out loud to all the children, I would allow First Son to read it himself after we've finished this book. (library copy)

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly - We'll be using RC History's Volume 3 next year and this is one of the recommended books for the Grammar level (grades 4-6). I was considering it as a family read aloud because I happen to own it, having grabbed it at a library sale a few months ago. I was particularly interested in it as my grandmother's parents were born in Poland. It's a tale of intrigue and mystery as a family seeks to protect a precious treasure, the Philosopher's Stone, held in trust for the royal family. The Heynal figures prominently, adding more honor to the story. You can listen to the Heynal here as well as learn a little more about the tradition. I think there's a bit too much "alchemy" and discussions thereof in the story which would make it difficult for First Son to understand as a third grader. (I don't think there's a concern with witchcraft being portrayed favorably, just that those scenes in the novel are complicated.) Since he'd get little out of it and the girls would get even less, we're going to wait until the next time we study volume 3.  (purchased copy)

Saint Colum and the Crane by Eva K. Betz - I really liked this little book on Saint Colum (also known as Saint Columba). He shows such fortitude, love of learning, love of educating children, love of country, love of God's creation, obedience and courage. I wish First Son could have read it when we read about Iona in history, but I had to request it from inter-library loan and I'm only allowed three requests at a time. I read it quickly and then handed it to him to read on his own. It took him about an hour, but I think he was playing dinosaurs with Second Son for part of that time. Recommended, if you can find a copy. (inter-library loan)

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. was another novel for the science fiction and theology class. It's a grim story of a post-apocalyptic future. Yet, somehow, a hope in humanity remains, perhaps even grows in the reader. The Catholic Church figures prominently in the novel, a source of courage, constancy and hope. We have hope, not because of anything humanity does in the course of the novel, but because we hope in God and trust in His hope in humanity. I had read this before, about four years ago, but it was much more powerful the second time through. Highly recommended. (desk copy)

What Maisie Knew by Henry James is a typical James novel with lots of long and convoluted sentences. (Oh, how I enjoy them!) This particular book follows the life of poor Maisie, neglected and manipulated by her parents in their divorce and then by her step-parents in their desire to meet freely with each other under the pretense of caring for their step-daughter. It was, not surprisingly, rather sad. I thought often of all the poor children who find themselves in similar situations (though hopefully not so egregious) in divorces today. (free Kindle version)

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien  - Will you believe me if I say I never read this book as a child? Even as I started it this month, with the idea we might read it aloud next year, I was ambivalent. After all, I live in the country; mice and rats are not cute or my friends. I want them to stay out and Kansas Dad takes measures to eliminate the few who venture in. Within pages, though, I was hooked. I wanted desperately to know what would happen. The writing is a little slow at times, but I think we will try it as a family read aloud next year when First Son is in third grade. (library copy)

Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide (purchased copy)

The Adventures of Robin Hood (Classic Starts) edited by John Burrows from the original by Howard Pyle - This book is recommended at the beginner level for RC History's volume 3 which we'll be using next year. I have never read the full-length version and am generally averse to sharing abridged books with my children, but I trust the Sonya at RC History. I think First Son will find this book entertaining next year, in third grade. The short chapters will be perfect for him to read on his own and narrate to me. (; the full length book is available for free for the Kindle)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle was a book for my science fiction and theology class. I don't think I had ever read it before and enjoyed it. At times the author seemed to skip over important moments. When Meg, for example, finally accepts the responsibility and the task before her, I felt like the pivotal and transformative moment happened between one sentence and the next. As a reader, I missed it. I would also be cautious about sharing it with my children when they are young. Though it often quotes Scripture, it does so along with other famous authors. It specifically mentions Jesus, but then follows with a list of others who battle the darkness. It's not clear that Jesus is categorically different from the others. Though Michael O'Brien would disagree (here and here), I think a middle school or older child could read this without any great problem. Even a child a bit younger would probably be alright. I won't be reading it aloud to my young ones, though. (library copy)

Madeleine Takes Command by Ethel C. Brill is a tale based on the true story of a 14 year old girl who holds off Mohawks in New France while her parents are away. She and her younger brothers, along with a few others, devise a plan for defending her home and the women and children protected inside. It is a wonderfully written tale of courage, steadfastness and strength that comes from love of family and loyalty to those who look to you for protection. The Native Americans are portrayed as vicious attackers. Madeleine makes exceptions for the Christian Indians, but there is no sympathy for those who are being forced under the control of Europeans. It's a fine line, to show the tenacity of early settlers against the lives of the Indians who lived here before they came. In general, I think this is a worthy book and intend to read it to my children next year. Because there are some frightening scenes, and the tone of the book tends to be stressful and fearful, I will probably read it aloud to First Son at a time when the girls are not listening. (purchased copy)

After Miscarriage by Karen Edmisten (a review for The Catholic Company)

These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 by Nancy E. Turner - I picked up this book at a library book sale thinking it was an actual diary, but it's a novel based loosely on the diary of one of the author's ancestors. The diarist starts as an uneducated 18 year old girl who's better with a gun than a pen. Her writing skills grow as time passes and she reads widely. It is a romance, but it seemed to show rather well what life was like for women in the Arizona Territory at that time. I enjoyed the book but would reserve it for more mature readers. (purchased copy)