Saturday, September 29, 2012

What I Loved About the Last Two Weeks (47th Ed.)

Trying out my new camera

Kansas Dad says this picture says just about all you need to know about our lives.

Yet this one manages to add something.

All four kids - and three of them are smiling!
1. We had a wonderful trip to the zoo after a morning of dentist appointments.

2. Soccer games - They wreak havoc with schedules, but it's so much fun to be outside and running around! (Or to be outside watching others run around.)

3. We've had lots of play time outside, especially at the playground at our parish. I love watching the kids run around and dig in the dirt with so many friends.

4. We had our first monthly faith formation coop. First Son played games after listening to a Glory Story. First Daughter learned how to sew on plastic canvas. Second Daughter learned about the courage of St. Clare (and drew a fantastic picture of her). Second Son and I hung out in the nursery but he got to play outside with everyone else.

5. First Daughter had a birthday party! For some reason, she wanted a mermaid party. I didn't really know what to do with that. I found some cupcake toppers in sea animal shapes. Kansas Dad picked up colored sand and we made bracelets with the girls. First Daughter drew a "pin the hair-shell decoration on the mermaid" game. (Apparently, my kids think you have to pin something on something to have a respectable birthday party.) Amazingly, the girls spent the first hour coloring mermaid pictures I printed off the web and decorating them with some jeweled stickers. (Believe me, there are a lot of bad mermaid pictures out there, but I found a handful appropriate for the 4-8 crowd.)

6. After the birthday party, Kansas Dad and I did our final P90X workout!!

7. A few days later, First Daughter celebrated her sixth birthday. I can't believe she's six! I have a birthday post in progress.

First Daughter with her birthday pancake (aka Pancake-as-Big-as-Her-Head).
8. I've gathered costumes for the children to wear with our parish float in the local parade. It's an invitation to our All Saint's Trunk or Treat celebration so they are all wearing saint costumes: St. George, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and St. Gianna Molla. I imagine they're going to have a fantastic time. What kid doesn't want to be in a parade?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Lack of a Post

The lack of a real post this morning is brought to you by the Great Shoe Organization (in which every pair of shoes in the house was lined up, tried on, and determined to be too small, just right, in, or out of season) and the Great Clothes Organization in which various summer, fall, and winter clothes in 24 months, 2T, 3T, 4T, 5T, 6T, 7/8, and 8/10 were examined, washed, folded, sorted, and otherwise handled to the delight of my girls, the obliviousness of my sons, and the exhaustion of the mama.

To my annual dismay, it is a process that will continue for the next few months as the warm weather truly disappears and more clothes need to be put away.

In addition, the Great Gloves-Mittens-Scarves-and-Hats Organization and the Great Sweaters-Jackets-Coats Organization are yet to come.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: The Errant Knight

The Errant Knight by Ann Tompert, illustrations by Doug Keith

This book is recommended in my copy of Connecting with History in volume three at the beginner level, though I can't seem to find it on the RC History website.

A knight sets out to serve his King, but is continually pulled away from a direct journey by those in need. At the end of his life, he finally arrives at the castle, dressed in rags because he has given away all that he had. This is one of those magnificent picture books that seems to effortlessly combine an entertaining story with a great Truth. In the pages of this book, we can see how we may truly serve our Lord and King by serving those we encounter any day, anywhere.

In the author's biography, we learn that Ms. Tompert wrote this book "as a tribute to her father, a selfless, hard-working man whose personal dreams were often postponed as he raised his three daughters alone." She has done so perfectly.

The illustrations add wonderfully to the story. Though the story takes place over many years, it begins in the springtime, shows the knight traveling through the summer and fall and arriving at the castle in the storms of winter. And I very much love the illustration of the knight racing through the fall leaves, trying vainly to forget the monk struggling to rebuild his church before turning back.

My children were just as enthralled with this book as I was.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Changes and Timing

For a while now I've been posting on Mondays (What I Loved About Last Week), Wednesdays (My Favorite Picture Books) and Fridays (whatever else was on my mind, usually a book or homeschool review). Frankly, the Monday morning post just doesn't work well for me. I'm so tired on Sunday nights after finalizing our week's school plans and I just don't want to sit at the computer!

So I'm going to start posting about our weeks on Saturday mornings. I think Friday nights will be a better time for me. (And this Friday I firmly intend to figure out how to get the pictures off my new camera!)

I think I'll post about picture books on Tuesdays and other random things on Thursdays, if I have anything to share. Perhaps I'll only post regularly twice a week. Surely the world will continue if I don't post three times every week...right?

In the meantime, let us all do the dance of joy because P90X is done!

I'll pause for your dancing.

Kansas Dad and I completed the whole thirteen weeks (though I did miss two days) and will be doing the final fit test tonight. I'm not sure how much I'll have improved, but I do know I could actually succeed if for some bizarre reason someone demanded, "Drop and give me twenty!" (I don't recommend you try this if you know me in real life because, even though I can, I probably won't.)

Also, if you're lucky, you may see Second Son cross his arms and yell in his deepest-two-year-old-voice "Bring it!" It's fabulously funny.

One of these days I'm going to write a review of Power 90 and P90X for the blog, though I'm sure you can read much better ones already online.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Homeschool Review: Maps, Charts, and Graphs B: Neighborhoods

Maps, Charts, and Graphs B: Neighborhoods from Modern Curriculum Press

We used Maps, Charts, and Graphs A in first grade. (See my review here.) Because First Son enjoyed it so much, we continued with the series in second grade using Maps, Charts, and Graphs B.

We don't have many workbooks here on the Range, but I like using this series. It covers a variety of map-reading skills in a colorful and straight-forward format. As with the first book, First Son was able to read the directions himself and work independently. I would occassionally follow up with some questions or help him through a lesson. The majority of the questions are multiple choice or require marking on a map (e.g. "Put an X on the wall display that tells about Very Old Fish.").

We do a great amount of map work in history and geography, but in those subjects we focus on natural geography (mountains, rivers, etc.) or historical events (battles etc.) while this book focuses on skills like using a legend and cardinal directions. There's nothing here I couldn't teach First Son on my own, but it's nice to have a series laid out without any planning and one that First Son loves.

Topics for the lessons include globes (good to have one on hand for the lesson), parts of a map or globe, cardinal directions, using a grid, map symbols (based on a key), scale and distance, finding directions on a road map, answering questions using a map, following directions, continents, the geography of North America (a lesson really designed for children who live in one of the states), pictographs, tallygrams, bar graphs, and flow charts. Of the 21 lessons, the last five lessons are on charts and graphs. Those are the least valuable, in my opinion, because we cover them much more extensively in math.

Though First Son would happily have completed the entire book in one sitting, I insisted on just one lesson a week. It was always a treat for him when I put it on his pile.

It's not quite clear to me how they chose the titles for each book in the series (Neighborhoods for Book B, for example). They seem to me to cover similar topics but in increasing amount of detail and complexity. Book C, for example, (which we're using now) has more words per page and requires more writing in the answers as opposed to circling one of the choices.

As before, I've been assigning a lesson a week to First Son to do while the girls are at our local library's story hour. They're engaging enough for him to focus while the other kids are doing their own activities but simple enough for him to complete (along with a few other short activities) with plenty of time to run around in the gym. It's still one of his favorite lessons.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Sarah Laughs

Sarah Laughs (Bible) by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Natascia Ugliano

This is a beautifully illustrated story of Abraham and Sarah, wandering and waiting upon the promises of the Lord. The author based her imagined story on legend as well as Biblical texts. As a mother, I have a new appreciation for the sorrow and pain Sarah experienced as well as her absolute joy at the birth of her son. This book allows children to see some of her story as well.

Most of all, I love the illustrations. My favorite shows Abraham's arm around Sarah as he tells her of God's promise with the starts shimmering behind them. It's as if he realizes how difficult it is for her to have faith when she has not heard the Lord's voice and that he loves her all the more for it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (46th Ed.)

1. Children's adoration started at our parish this week. I don't think we'll make it every week, but it was wonderful and I am very tempted to give up some lessons so we can make it. (Unfortunately, it's more getting-ready-for-dinner and exercise-time that would be missed.)

2. Soccer started! We were pleased to learn First Son's coach is from our parish. He had his first game on Saturday. Kansas Dad and I both had to miss it, but Grammy was there to cheer him on. (The girls play their first game on Monday. They'll have their first practice the Thursday after. Good thing U6 is so relaxed!)

3. Grammy and her wonderful friend helped us out tremendously by watching our children on Saturday when Kansas Dad was teaching and I was at my Catechesis class. It's not often that we are both busy (and not together) and we were so very thankful the children were in good hands.

4. We finished week 12 of P90X, our last week of strength training and ab workouts! Next week is the last week and is a recovery week (though not what I'd call easy with Yoga X twice and Core Synergistics twice. We've already picked another series of workouts to do next, but it'll be nice to have something a little less time-consuming.

5. Second Son's stories. He jabbers and jabbers, obviously telling us something. I don't understand most of them, but they sound very exciting.

6. Kansas Dad and I celebrated our 14th anniversary last week. It was a busy week (and an even busier day), but we found time for a glass of wine and some fantastic chocolate. I wanted to write something for the blog in honor of the occasion, but found myself unable to express how wonderful he is and how thankful I am for all our time together and the promise of many years to come. May God continue to bless our family tremendously!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Review: Heroes of God's Church

Heroes of God's Church by Father P. Henry Malimore, S.J.D.

This book is one of the recommended texts for volume 3 of RC History's Connecting with History. Most of our books for volume 3 will be from the beginner level (K-3), but I grabbed this one from the grammar level because it came highly recommended on the discussion board and First Son will be in the logic level the next time we go through this volume. It did not disappoint.

It's an expensive book, but it's beautiful. The hardcover is cloth (mine is blue) with gold-colored embossing. There's something wonderful about putting such a beautiful book in the hands of my children. The single full page black and white illustrations for each story are well done. The book covers a wide chronological range as well, so it can be used at the advanced beginner and grammar levels for multiple years: Saint Cecilia is first (early 200s) and St. Therese is last (late 1800s).

A wide range of individuals are featured so every child should find at least a few stories that resonate. Each saint's story is presented in such a way as to develop virtues in the reader.
[W]e have endeavored to stimulate interest in each saint by presenting him or her as a real human being who lived in a real world among real people and not as a superbeing surrounded by miraculous wonders. We have tried to make the saints human, admirable, and lovable, and therefore imitable. In order that children may learn that sanctity is not confined to any special nation or historical period, or time of life, or social or financial condition, saints have been chosen from various nations, from all periods of time, from all ages of life, and from all strata of society.

The stories are divided into sections that allow for very easy reading. They vary in length a little, but I have planned to divide a story into no more than two readings for First Son to accomplish on his own. He'll read these independently in place of his usual independent saint reading (twice a week) and then narrate to me. He's in third grade, but his reading level is probably higher than that. So far he's only read one of the stories, but he seemed to read and understand it easily.

At the end of each story are a few questions, true/false statements, or discussion prompts that some children and parents may find useful as a starting point for narrations or written work.

The book was originally published in the 1930s, so a few of the "heroes" are now saints, like St. Damien of Molokai.

Some of the language is a bit out of fashion ("savages" in the chapter on St. Isaac Jogues, for example), but these few words are easy to discuss.

We read stories of the saints as part of our history studies, but my main focus on the saints is providing our children with stories of valor of faith. I'm looking to instill in them a great love of God and the realization that there are as many ways to serve our Lord as there are people. As time goes on, I hope they will begin to consider their own place in the world and within God's plan. This book is a wonderful contribution toward that end.

I decided to use this book after I had purchased our history books, so I picked up my copy on Amazon using a gift certificate. (Because my actual cash homeschooling budget was fairly well depleted at that point, I had to use gift certificates or go without.) For those planning ahead, I would recommend purchasing it from RC History. The price is the same, it counts toward free shipping if you spend $50, and it's wonderful to support a family-owned business and the contribution they make to the Catholic homeschooling world. (I don't receive anything if you make a purchase at RC History.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Extra Yarn

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Annabelle lives in a bleak world of black and white when she finds the box of yarn. She knits herself and her dog sweaters. She knits sweaters for other people in the town, for animals, and then begins to adorn the city itself with beauty. No matter how much she knits, the yarn never runs out. She begins to attract attention with her knitting and eventually an evil man attempts to steal the box of yarn, but is it the sort of thing that can be stolen?

Jon Klassen's illustrations are delightful, full of people, animals and inanimate objects covered happily (and sometimes unexpectedly) in yarn. First Son was especially thrilled to find a familiar character from I Want My Hat Back, a picture book at which I really and truly laughed out loud.

Though Annabelle doesn't seem particularly unhappy at the beginning of the book, I love how she changes her whole world simply by creating a bit of beauty and sharing it with everyone, even those who insist they want nothing to do with it. She refuses to relinquish her gift despite huge amounts of money and threats. And when someone tries to steal it,'ll have to read the book. Suffice it to say I find the ending lovelier every time I read it.

I want to be Annabelle. I want my children to want to be like her...and I think anyone can be.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (45th Ed.)

1. We've finished four weeks of school and it's going pretty well. First Daughter is flying through her lessons. I'm really pleased with our new spelling and cursive programs.

2. First Son mastered addition! He can do all the facts on XtraMath in less than three seconds. Consistently. Now it's on to subtraction. (I wish they'd give him some addition again now and then, but I suppose I can start his year over if I want. And he's still doing the fact sheets for math.)

3. We had our first Catechesis classes of the year. Wonderful, wonderful!

4. I got a new camera. I was hoping to make it to Christmas, but my old one was getting worse and worse. It stopped closing all the way, then it wouldn't turn on unless you hit the power button twice, then it wouldn't show some of the get the picture. It's a lot faster so maybe I can get some better pictures of kids in motion. (I should go get the camera and upload some of the pictures, but I just haven't the energy. Just imagine how wonderful they are!)

5. I made a chocolate angel food cake to celebrate the Feast of the Birth of Mary. I was especially pleased when First Son requested this cake I've made the past few years; perhaps he's starting to appreciate the rhythm of our family's liturgical celebrations. (I had considered skipping it since we just celebrated a baptism anniversary and we have a family birthday in a few weeks and there's this pesky P90X nutrition plan...but they asked.)

6. First Son served his first Sunday Mass! I love how that boy loves to serve.

7. Kansas Dad ran errands on Saturday with Second Son. Then he took First Daughter with him on errands on Sunday. It's nice to know the kids are getting some one-on-one time with Dad. We've also been letting First Son stay up a bit later in the evenings and playing lots of The Scrambled States of America Game.

8. First Daughter made a potholder. Grammy picked up a little activity set for her and she went right to work. We've used it a few times this week and it hangs in a nice little spot in the kitchen.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Record of First Son's Second Grade Poetry

I've written before out the poetry we memorize, but every week we read poetry as well. Last year (for second grade), I read selected poems from one book (whatever struck my fancy that day). I would often use the same book a few weeks in a row or pull it out again a few weeks later. The girls would almost always want to listen as well.

I explain any words I think they might not know and answer any questions they have, but I do not use this time to teach about meter, rhyme, or rhythm.  I suppose that day will come eventually, but for now we focus on enjoying poetry.

I personally feel wonderful illustrations are a great asset when reading poetry to young children. They will often ask for particular poems just because the illustration intrigues them. All of our poetry time books are illustrated and I encourage the children to pore over the pages during and after our readings.

Eric Carle's Animals Animals compiled by Laura Whipple, illustrated by Eric Carle (of course) - This is one of our favorite books of poetry. We seem to read from it every year and even started third grade poetry by revisiting this old friend.

Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson edited by France Schoonmaker Bolin, illustrated by Chi Chung - The children are a little young for Emily Dickinson, but she is one of my favorite poets so I always try to read a little of her aloud each year. Even if they don't understand the poems yet, I hope they will grow to love and know them over time.

It's Raining Pigs and Noodles by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by James Stevenson - The kids love this book of poetry my mom picked up at a thrift store. They laugh and laugh whenever we read from it.

When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Frank H. Shepherd - This is simply a delight for children. Please share it with all the little ones you know!

Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Frank H. Shepherd - Again, simply perfect. These two volumes by Milne are the only ones I think we read from cover to cover.

Bright Star Shining: Poems for Christmas edited by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark - I selected some from this to read during Advent.

Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Ted Rand - This is my favorite illustrated version of this Longfellow poem. It may not be historically accurate, but it's fabulous poetry and children love to hear it read aloud.

The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry, poems selected by Bill Martin Jr., illustrations by a variety of wonderful children's book artists - I liked this book so much it's the one book of poetry I purchased for us to read aloud in third grade. First Son can often identify the illustrator for the poems (by naming other books by the same person, not necessarily by name).

A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. Our copy is illustrated by Eloise Wilken and other early illustrators, but this Tasha Tudor one is probably wonderful as well. No child's poetry collection is complete with Stevenson.

Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young compiled by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Marc Brown - I've had this book since First Son was a baby and I still enjoy reading from it to the children.

Tomie dePaola's Book of Poems compiled and illustrated by Tomie dePaola - This is another book of poetry we really enjoyed.

Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost edited by Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Henri Sorensen - The children are a little young for Frost as well, but as he's one of my favorite poets, they'll have to listen to it a bit! I went to college in New Hampshire and Frost's poetry always reminds me of those busy and carefree years. (At least, looking back I think they were carefree!)

Poems and Prayers for the Very Young selected and illustrated by Martha Alexander - I've mentioned this before as one of my favorite selections of poetry for young children. I'm so sorry it's out of print. The illustrations are so sweet and many of the poems are perfect for little ones to memorize and sing. I'm biased because I remember this book from my own youth (though not the copy we own).

I love the smiles and excitement I see in the children when they recognize a poem, especially if it is one they have memorized and can recite along as I read. It's as if they are greeting an old friend.

This year, in third grade, we are continuing our poetry readings once a week, but I am also trying to incorporate poetry into our American history. I have a couple of anthologies and we'll be reading a wonderful biography of Walt Whitman alongside our study of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Hana in the Time of the Tulips

Hana in the Time of the Tulips by Deborah Noyes, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Set during the time of the tulipomania in seventeenth century Holland, this book shows the collapse of the tulip market through the eyes of a young child, one who dearly loves her father. Throughout the book, she seeks answers from everyone, including the artist Rembrandt, on how to console her father. In the end, she herself shows him how much he still has in the love of his family and daughter. A note at the end gives a little more information on the rise and fall of the tulip market.

The book is illustrated beautifully in the style of the Dutch masters. My favorite illustration shows a delighted Hana displaying a daisy chain she made for her father. I also love the one that shows Hana gazing raptly at the light of a firefly wonderfully cupped in her nurse's hands.

I decided to read this book to the children as part of our Reading Around the World for Europe. I was a little afraid the girls' attention would wander as some of the pages of text are a little long, but they were enthralled for the entire book. Even First Son (my third grader) sat and listened to the whole story.

This book is sadly out of print. I loved it when I requested it through inter-library loan and was delighted to find a perfect used copy on Amazon. I bought it with some of the commissions from people who have made purchases when clicking through this blog. Thank you for helping to add this beautiful book to our home library!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What I Loved About the Last Two Weeks (44th Ed.)

I missed last week. Again. And then I didn't even get this post up yesterday (though it was Labor Day). Oh well, it's my blog so whatever I do is alright, right?

1. Our second week of school was a little calmer, at least during the day.

2. We've been enjoying nature outside our front door. We had a snake living along our front path for a while, a tiny baby gopher snake. We also saw a wasp kill a spider and drag it away.

3. Some fun videos. (Believe it or not, First Daughter has memorized a few more poems since I recorded these.)

4. A few weeks ago, we visited a zoo for a family-friendly event. The highlight of the evening was the parrot enclosure, when Kansas Dad was a favorite roost.

5. We had our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Open House a week ago. I am so very glad to be past this event! The coordinator and I spent nine hours in the Atrium over the course of three nights (in a row) after dinner to get all the new materials collected and organized. It looked gorgeous! Our first classes are this week so we're about to get even busier!

Presentation in the Temple for Level 2
6. I finally sat down and designed our photo book for the second quarter of 2012. I was able to purchase it during a great sale. It's not something on my must-do-or-our-family-falls-apart list, but I do so much like to have photos on paper where the children can enjoy them.

7. Second Daughter's baptism anniversary was last week. Daily Mass was said for her intentions on Thursday. I made cookies on Friday and she received a new Glory Story CD. Her favorite part (other than the cookies, of course, which they're still enjoying every day) was blowing out the candle.

8. Second Son can say his name! It's adorable, of course. He has also started calling his big brother "Zeba" quite clearly. I have no idea where he heard it, but it is further proof that First Son's name is very difficult to say. Some of his other names have been "Adeb" and "Beda."

9. Over Labor Day weekend, Grammy treated us to the little water park again before they closed for the winter. Then she kept all the kids overnight while Kansas Dad and I had a lovely Japanese dinner, a relaxing evening at the bookstore, a few cocktails, and fit in a little shopping.

This week we start Catechesis. The girls are in a Level 1 class and First Son is in a Level 2 class (at different times, of course). I think we'll also start soccer this week. I think story hour at our local library will start next week. Then we'll really be able to get into the rhythm of our school year.

August 2012 Book Reports

Pearl Harbor Is Burning!: A Story of World War II (Once Upon America) by Kathleen V. Kudlinkski is a short chapter book of the attack on Pearl Harbor as seen through the eyes of a young boy, a haoli newly arrived in Hawai'i. I will probably have First Son read it independently during our study of World War II this year in American history. We're spending two full weeks on Pearl Harbor and he should have plenty of time to read this on his own as a supplement. (library copy)

Celebrating the Holy Eucharist by Francis Cardinal Arinze is a book I bought to read myself last summer before I prepared First Son for his First Holy Communion. Since he received for the first time last March, you can see that I was a little late in reading it, but I found it a clear and rich resource in refreshing myself on the purpose and place of the Eucharist in the Catholic faith. Cardinal Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the time the book was written, is widely respected. There are a lot of books you could read on the Eucharist and the Mass; this is certainly one of the good ones. (purchased copy)

The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman. In this book, Mr. Chapman proposes there are five "languages" through which people can feel loved and that one of them (say, "quality time") is the most important to any individual person. If we can figure out the "love language" of our spouse, we can make sure he or she always feels loved. Some of the language in this book is just plain silly (like "keeping the love tank full") and I'm not sure I'd agree that people have only one love language, but there is some value in thinking about how to show a spouse (or anyone) love. There's nothing wrong with asking your spouse what you can do for him or her (and then do it). If reading this book gives you some ideas on how to talk about it together, how to respond, or ways to show love, then all the better. There was one story of a woman who seemed to be in an abusive relationship who the author encouraged to spend six months catering to her husband in an effort to save the marriage. I can only assume it was not described well as surely a counselor would have sought to stop the abuse first, but I would be cautious about recommending this book to anyone that might be abused or mistreated in a relationship. (borrowed free from the Kindle Lending Library)

Tikta'liktak: An Inuit-Eskimo Legend retold and illustrated by James Houston is the tale of a young Inuit out hunting for food for his family during a time of hunger. He finds himself separated from the mainland on a bit of ice and heading out to sea. With skill and courage, he makes his way to an island and fights for his survival. It's wonderfully written and exciting, an intimate look at life for Inuit-Eskimos in the Arctic. I intend to put it on the list for independent reading during First Son's Arctic study in third grade. (library copy)

Turn Homeward, Hannalee by Patricia Beatty was a book I previewed thinking we might read it during our Civil War studies. I think we'll wait a few years for it as there's a description of a Civil War battle that would be a little too violent for the little girls (who will only be five and four when we start the year), but it's an excellent book written around the little-known effective deportation of mill workers from two towns by General Sherman. Young and old, the workers were separated from their families, shipped to Indiana and auctioned off as servants to mill owners or families there. In this book, a twelve year old girl escapes and journeys home. It shows clearly the deprivation of families in the South and the horrors of war. There are good people and bad people on both sides. It's on our list for the next time we cover the Civil War in American History, when the girls are older. (library copy)

Longing for Enough in a Culture of More by Paul L. Escamilla seemed promising, but I just could not enjoy it. The style seemed to be struggling to be poetic, the constant quotations interfered with the flow of the text, and it was overly preachy as if written to convince people to long for more rather than showing us how to live in such a way. Overall, not impressed. (inter-library loan)

Saints and Heroes by Ethel Pochocki (purchased copy)

A Grain of Rice by Helena Clare Pittman is recommended in volume 3 of Connecting with History. It's an illustrated retelling of the fable in which a peasant cleverly yet quietly overcomes the Emperor of China. It's a wonderful version and I intend to assign it to First Son as independent reading this year in third grade. (copy from

The Indian School and Night Of The Full Moon by Gloria Whelan. I found The Indian School too preachy for my taste, but Night of the Full Moon (a sequel to Next Spring An Oriole) was better. The tale around the forced relocation of the Potawatomi Indians from Indiana and southern Michigan to Kansas will be a good short chapter book for our study of the 1840s when the girls are a bit older (First Daughter in first or second grade). It's not great historical fiction, but it's good and I like having something for the young readers. (library copies)

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark is the tale of Cusi, a young Incan raised in a secluded and secret valley. In the course of the book, he learns much about the history of his people and their current conditions, as well as the state of his own heart. It's beautifully written and gives a wonderful glimpse into the quiet life of the Andes Mountains. Not very much happens, however, so I'm not entirely sure the children would enjoy it. Personally I found the ending a little underwhelming. I think we'll try it as a family read-aloud next year as it has great merits in its descriptions. I'd be open to other suggestions, though, if anyone has any. (library copies)

How To Slay a Dragon (The Journals of Myrth, Book1) by Bill Allen is the first book of a series aimed at young readers in which a gangly 11 year old is magically transported to another world in which he's told he's going to fulfill the prophecy and slaw a dragon. It was fun but mostly followed an expected course. I would not be opposed to First Son reading it, but I don't think I'll hand it to him. For those worried about dragons in general, they're certainly not good in this book, but they are not written entirely evil. There is some parlaying with the enemy. (borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library)

The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living by Greg and Jennifer Willits (a review for The Catholic Company)

Twelve Greeks and Romans Who Changed the World by Carl J. Richard is a wonderful, readable, informative book on the Ancient World. The author manages to cover pretty much all of Greek and Roman history in twelve chapters on each of twelve men who shaped their world and ours, including Homer, Plate, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, St. Paul, and Augustine (among others). The details are dense, but the writing is lively and spattered with little jokes and asides. The author is Christian, but I think it would read well as a secular text. I have every intention of putting this aside to use myself as a resource and to share with my children when they are teenagers (some of the material is for mature readers - we are talking about the politics of Rome and the Empire) in the course of our history reading. (purchased used at a library sale)