Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: Zita the Spacegirl

Zita the Spacegirl, a graphic novel by Ben Hatke

I first read about this book in Mater et Magistra, a homeschooling magazine, months ago. When I saw Zita again at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, I moved it to the top of my list. I'm so glad I did.

We all loved this exciting story of Zita who courageously follows her friend into an interplanetary wormhole after he is kidnapped due to her rash actions. Her kindness, friendship, and bravery earn her new friends as they persevere in an impossible quest. It's wonderful! I'm sorry our library does not have the second volume, but I am hoping we can acquire both of them for our very own. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, pitures by Elizabeth Zunon

I selected this book as one of our picture books to read as we study inventions in our physics this year. It's the inspiring story of a young man who built a windmill from scrapped parts and a donated generator to provide electricity to his home in Malawi after he had to drop out of school. It's wonderful in so many ways: perseverance, optimism, dedication, independent thinking and learning. William's curiosity shines throughout the book. His friends and family support him even with others in his village call him crazy. I love how we see his sorrow at dropping out of school lifted when he remembers the library; there's nothing wrong with being disappointed, but see what great things we can do when we take a deep breath and set ourselves a task.

There's an informative section at the end of the picture book that includes more detailed biographical information. From what I've read online, young William continues to be modest and hard-working even as international fame (following the release of his book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope in 2009). He is now studying at a college here in the United States and plans to return to Malawi with an engineering degree. I haven't read the non-picture-book version of his story, but it is on my list.

The illustrations are created by someone who actually grew up in Africa and are a combination of paintings and cut paper. I especially love the one that shows William's windmill working for the first time, with the wind depicted as brilliant blue and green paper swirling around in the sky. The text on that page flows around the currents. It's perfect.

My children (8, 6, and 4) loved listening to this story. They even sat quietly at the end to hear more details and see an actual picture of William with his windmill.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Quote: Little Britches

From Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers:
That night when we were milking, he told me it had been a day I should remember. He said it would be good for me, as I grew older, to know that a man always made his troubles less by going to meet them instead of waiting for them to catch up with him, or trying to run away from them.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (51st Ed.)

1. Catechesis class on Saturday. It's hard to spend the entire day in class, but I always enjoy the discussions and presentations.

2. Bonfire night. We invited friends for dinner and roasting marshmallows on Saturday night. It was a beautiful night!

3. A fun birthday party on Sunday. The girls and Second Son and I enjoyed the party while First Son stayed home to "help" Kansas Dad on our new chicken coop. I even got to work on it a little when we got home.

4. I missed out on taking First Son to soccer practice early this week. Instead, Kansas Dad went along so he could work on grading papers while I stayed home with the other three. On the way home, though, Kansas Dad stopped to fill up my gas tank and showed First Son how to pump gas. (Kansas Dad sent me to the second practice later in the week.)

5. The blog is five years old! I spent a good bit of time (we won't be specific) skimming through five years of blog posts and was delighted at many of the pictures, quips, and videos I revisited.

6. First Daughter can read Frog and Toad Are Friends (with help).

7. Kansas Dad took the kids to a pumpkin patch with our story hour friends. It was very cold and two of them were already sick. I'm glad they got to go and I'm glad Kansas Dad took them instead of me (so I could stay warm and toasty at home, even if I did have to work that morning). He apologizes for not taking any pictures.

8. The fantastic Bl. John Paul II costume my mom put together for First Son to wear to our parish's annual All Saints' Trunk or Treat this weekend. We'll be spending some time finishing up costumes today.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Quote: The Good Shepherd and the Child: A Joyful Journey

In the introduction of The Good Shepherd and the Child: A Joyful Journey:
Every action a parent does to or with the child, however mundane it may seem, is truly education. All that a parent is becomes a powerful influence in the child's present and future formation. Parenting is a ministry or "service to life," as Silvana calls it. In her view, each parent has the dignity of being the "original and irreplaceable" person in the child's religious journey.
 (If you're really interested in purchasing this book, you can find it on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd USA website.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Brandy on Entertainment in Education

It's been a long time since I posted three different times on the same day, but Brandy has some wonderful thoughts on entertainment in education at Afterthoughts today.

The Catholic Company Review: Saint Who?

Saint Who?: 39 Holy Unknowns by Brian O'Neel

Back in 2010, I reviewed Mr. O'Neel's 39 New Saints You Should Know (another review for The Catholic Company). This book is written in the same general pattern, but is even better, starting right with the front cover. Doesn't it make you want to read the book?
The reason Holy Mother Church presents us with saints is that each one is a beautiful mosaic tile. Now, ordinarily, individual mosaic tiles are nothing to behold. They may be jasper, cornelian, teal, gold, or whatever, but they are just teensy little boring tiles. Saints, on the other hand, are mosaic tiles that are beautiful, breathtaking to behold on their own, even apart from the larger magnificent picture they help to create.
And what is this picture that these tens of thousands of tiles the Church has given us come together in harmony to form? It is nothing less than an icon of Christ. Through the eyes of this icon, we see Our Lord's deep love for us, his burning, plaintive longing, and desire to be yoked with us.
Isn't that a wonderful image? Every year, I come to love reading of the saints more and more. They give us a world of examples on how to live a holy live, how to use the talents and treasures God has granted us for His will and His kingdom.

Because there are 39 chapters, some of which tell the stories of multiple saints, there are slightly more than 39 blesseds and saints in the book. The children and I read saint stories nearly every day, so I have growing knowledge of the saints. I still only knew a handful of the names (and not even all of their stories).

Mr. O'Neel has selected 39 blesseds and saints he thinks are relevant to our times. For each one he includes basic information like dates of birth, death, and canonization, as well as the feast days. Then he tells a story.
Hemma also used her wealth to construct at least ten additional churches in an area that had just twenty. In this way she greatly increased the local populations access to the sacraments, which likely kept the faith alive in certain families (maybe those of your ancestors?).
The selected stories take place all over the world. I particularly enjoyed reading about Bl. Sebastian de Aparicio, who lived and wandered in Mexico, including Puebla where I lived for three months when I was in college. (Too bad I didn't know about him then, I could have visited these sites in person!)

The best addition to this book (compared to 39 New Saints You Should Know), is the little section at the end of the story and before the prayer that tells why this saint or blessed "deserves or our attention and devotion." Mr. O'Neel clearly links the story of the person with life in today's world an with our own daily lives. Usually this is generally clear from the story itself, but I liked seeing Mr. O'Neel's thought process a little, why he picked this saint for the book.

This book is not a collection of deeply researched history; there are only a few primary sources in the notes. Some of the chapters are based only on local websites on the saints and blesseds. It is instead a delightful introduction to a great many little-known saints whose lives still shine with the light of Christ.

My particular copy has a number of holes and what almost look like burn marks on a few of the pages (maybe ten). I received my copy for free and didn't really care as it didn't interfere with my ability to read the text at all, but if you intend to give this book as a gift (which you should seriously consider!), you may want to flip through it first. I'm sure your bookseller would replace it.

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 objective review. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Saint Who?. The Catholic Company is a great resource for tools to help you participate in the Year of Faith, including Year of Faith bible studies and exclusive Year of Faith personalized gifts. The Catholic Company also has all your Advent needs in stock, such as Advent calendars and Advent wreaths.

Our Blog Is Five

I started this blog five years ago today.

Since then:

For posterity's sake, these are the top ten posts of the past five years (according to Blogger):

This blog is nothing big and important, but it's been a wonderful way for me to share our family's little triumphs. Kansas Dad is glad I have an outlet for all my homeschooling ravings, too. I can hardly imagine what life might be like five years from now when the children are 13, 11, 9, and 7. Just think, Second Son might even have his two front teeth back by then!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: The Little House

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

I suppose I don't really need to mention this book. Surely everyone has read it! But I can't resist. Perhaps some brand new parent will stumble upon my blog one day and learn of this treasure for the first time.

The illustrations of the happy little house out in the country as it is slowly overtaken by time and the city are brilliant. The colors change from vibrant and natural to the dirty browns and blacks of a grim city. I don't have anything against cities in general, having spent four very happy years in the Bronx and Brooklyn, but not every city is a vibrant urban community. This one is dark and looming and the poor house has grown dilapidated. Though the text is quite good, this is one picture book that could work perfectly as a wordless book without any changes at all. Even young children can see the changing of the seasons and the advance of technology.

I love how the house is rescued because someone recognizes her beauty and charm under the grime and disrepair. Just because something is old and worn down doesn't mean it is past it's usefulness or should be heedlessly discarded. The entire city stops and waits as the house is picked up and moved back out to the country.

If I keep up this weekly series long enough, I imagine you'll see nearly all of Virginia Lee Burton's picture books featured.

Monday, October 22, 2012

First Daughter Is Six

First Daughter at the zoo
A few weeks ago (not quite a month yet), First Daughter turned six year old. I remember so clearly the night she was born. Now she's nearly grown up.

She can be silly. I think she's the silliest child we have. She just giggles all the time.

She overheard the dentist (where she loves to go) telling her brother he needs to brush better or he'll get "sugar bugs" and now wants us to brush her teeth for her because she's concerned she doesn't brush well enough. (People who are concerned about brushing well enough generally do a good job, but that doesn't convince her.)

She memorized Clouds in about three days.

Followed quickly by Ants. She memorized about five poems in the first five weeks of school and then decided she wasn't interested in memory work anymore.

She loves to play with her brother. They will pretend to be Lego Heroes, Ninjago masters, Mario and Luigi, and go on all sorts of imaginary adventures. She will, in fact, harass her poor brother while he is trying to finish his lessons, asking him to come and play with her (when she knows he can't).

It may not be immediately obvious, but she's the child that looks most like me. She looks so much like one of her cousins on my side of the family that we often have to look at other children in the picture to figure out which one of them it is. Her personality is much more outgoing and generally more boisterous than I think I was as a child, though. (As if I were boisterous now...)

Birthday pancake as big as her head
She wanted a mermaid birthday party this year. I'm not sure why, but we had fun. The girls colored mermaid pictures I printed and then decorated them with jewel stickers. She made a pin-the-seashell-barette-on-the-mermaid game. We made colored sand bracelets. Each of the girls took home a few ocean-themed temporary tattoos, too.

She is always asking for lip gloss or chapstick.

She loves soccer and would happily go to daily practice (but no one else on her team, including her coach, Kansas Dad, would be too pleased).

This girl loves her lessons. We only do a few with her (mainly math, handwriting, and reading), but she flies through them. She narrates likes she was born to it (saint stories, stories from Kindergarten Stories and Morning Talks, and her brother's history lessons). We'll often do two or three math lessons at a time (just briefly touching on the parts she already knows), but she would happily do more. She loves learning cursive and will often hover when her brother is having his lessons so she can learn the letters earlier. She is now a fantastic reader, such a wonderful difference from last year! I've overheard her reading some of her other books; she's still sounding everything out but she can read quite a lot now. She is eager to get through the next thirty lessons or so because I told her she could try to learn typing once she gets that far.

When we have painting time every other week, she's often the only one who will actually attempt the skill I show at the beginning of the lesson.

First Daughter loves to be out and about. She's always sad if we have a home-day (unlike her mom and older brother). More than anything, she likes to see people.

She loves to make things. She's made a few potholders for us and is thrilled to be working on plastic canvas with her faith formation class.

She also loves to bake. Any time I start to measure things, she comes rushing over asking to help. I'm too often in a hurry now, but there are quite a few things she can "take over." If I make dough for rolls in the bread machine, she can shape them and set them to rise. If I prepare the zucchini for crisps, she can dip them in the topping and place them on the cookie sheet. (She likes to eat them, too.)

When she's not teasing her brother during his lessons, she and Second Daughter make-believe play for hours on end. She loves this particular baby doll, which is big enough for her arms and doesn't have eyes that close if you lay it down.

She's been asking for a real haircut and I told her I'd think about taking her when she's six. So we'll probably have a little date at the hair salon in a few weeks. I'm thinking a Saturday after soccer is over would be best.

Every night in our Litany of Saints, she sings the names of the same saints and blesseds: St. Mary, St. Anne, St. Joan of Arc, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha (who is now a saint!), Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, and Bl. Dolores. She likes to pray for the souls in purgatory, too.

Happy birthday, First Daughter! May God bless you in the coming year!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (50th Ed.)

1. Flu shots. I love that they're done.

2. First Daughter's first apple pie. She received a mini pie pan for her birthday from Grammy and Paw Paw, and I decided we should take advantage of last Saturday's soccer-free day (cancelled due to lightning or possible tornadoes or something) to try them out. I had to help her rolling out the dough, but she did most of the rest. I think the apple-peeler-corer was her favorite part. Delicious!

3. Grammy and Paw Paw watched the kids so Kansas Dad and I could go to a dinner at our parish for all the people who have helped with our Catechesis program. It was a nice dinner with lots of grown ups.

4. We had to take the kids to Grammy's house while we were at the dinner because our power had gone out. (We lose the well when we lose power, so we thought it'd be easier to take them there.) On the way home, Second Daughter started a game of "Guess My Pretty Bird's Name" which entertained us all (except Second Son who fell asleep) for the whole drive home. The kids heard the game in Schoolhouse in the Woods which we recently read aloud. I loved the book. I loved that they loved the book. I love playing this game with them. I love hearing their funny questions and guesses.

5. I took Second Son to First Son's soccer practice last week so Kansas Dad could work on his chicken coop while the girls ran around outside. I admit, I didn't want to give up my quiet reading time, so I gave Second Son a Kindle and just left him in his car seat the whole time. He was so adorable, clicking through the different screens and games. And he was quiet, at least until we got home and took the Kindle away...

6. Our faith formation coop met this week. We always have such a good time playing with all our friends when we meet.

7. Playing outside at our parish playground. We are so blessed to have such a beautiful playground and many young friends to meet there! I love watching the children play all the games they'd play at recess if they were in school. I love how children of all ages play together with the little ones following along and encouraged by the older ones. I loved the wonderful weather this week, sunshine and breezes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Where Are You Going Manyoni?

Where Are You Going, Manyoni? by Catherine Stock

I've mentioned this book on the blog before, but not as part of this series and it definitely deserves a post as one of my Favorite Picture Books.

Catherine Stock is one of my favorite illustrators. I love her double page spreads in this book of the African countryside. I love her depictions of the children playing games outside the school house. As a true artist should, she sketched and painted from life for the illustrations in this book.

The text simply describes Manyoni's journey from home to school one early morning, showing a world many of us will never see. How greatly Manyoni values her education! What I sense more than anything is her happiness. She skips and scrambles. She hurries and, finally, runs.

In addition to a lovely text and delightful illustrations, the end of the book includes a glossary and pronunciation guide for unfamiliar words and a pictorial list of wildlife included in the illustrations. This book is delightful to read, just for fun, but it provides a wonderful glimpse of life in Africa and a small study in African wildlife.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (49th Ed.)

1. Last Saturday morning, Kansas Dad made blintzes for us using a recipe we found in How Mama Brought the Spring (which we read in our Preschool Reading Around the World lessons). First Daughter wanted to make them, but we had to find the right time. Saturday was the feast of St. Bruno, one of our family's patron saints, so it seemed fitting to have a celebration (even if St. Bruno probably never ate a blintz).

Let me tell you something: they were fantastic. Heavenly! Definitely not in the P90X nutrition plan. All the kids tried them, but I think First Son was the only kid who really liked them.

2. First Son served Mass again on Sunday. I missed it, staying home with a sick Second Son, but I love how he loves to serve.

3. I love taking First Son to his soccer practice. Once a week, I lounge blissfully in the silence of the van, watching him run around and reading. Kansas Dad and the girls always make an effort to clean up the living room while we're gone, too.

4. Girls Night! The girls and I decorated Halloween and fall cookies with friends. Well, the girls decorated and the moms talked. Fun! I think we're going to try to meet up regularly, just us girls.

5. I taught my very first Level I Catechesis class by myself this past week. You would not believe how nervous I was about presenting the Sign of the Cross to ten 3-6 year olds! It was just fine, of course! Second Daughter did not behave very well during the class, but I was assured by the regular teacher that she doesn't usually have so many problems. I guess she was just acting out for her mom! (She does that all the time.)

6. I helped clean our church for the first time this week. First Son helped us without any complaining. Second Son sat quietly in the back room watching a movie on the Kindle. (He was so good! And cute!) I was reminded of the lovely story in this book often as I vacuumed. What a wonderful gift it would be to forget self entirely before our Lord!

7. Surviving a messy homeschool week. This week we had a physics experiment that involved flying flour, three presentations on volume in math that involved pouring cups and cups of water, and painting in art. It's a bit of a miracle that my children survived my stress relatively unscathed, but perhaps they were too distracted by all the flying flour. (And somehow, First Daughter and I both stepped in green paint. I never could find it and we didn't seem to track it everywhere, but if you come for a visit please don't look too closely at our floors.) Then, on Friday, I sent the girls out to play in the rain and the mist and the mud. I told Kansas Dad I deserved some sort of Charlotte Mason reward for that.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Quote: Born on a Blue Day

From Born On A Blue Day by Daniel Tammet at the end of the chapter in which he relates how he memorized 22,514 digits of pi, reciting them before an audience:
One of the most common questions I was asked in these interviews was: Why learn a number like pi to so many decimal places? The answer I gave then as I do now is that pi is for me an extremely beautiful and utterly unique thing. Like the Mona Lisa or a Mozart symphony, pi is its own reason for loving it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Ruby's Wish

Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Int his sweet story, based on real life, little Ruby has one great wish - to attend a university. She lives in a traditional Chinese family, led by a man who returned wealthy from the gold fields of California to marry many wives and father a great many children. Unusually, he hires a teacher for all of his grandchildren, including the girls, but still they are expected to marry.

Ruby's grandfather is kind and wise as well as adventurous. Ruby dreams and grieves but is obedient to her family's wishes. In the end, she is greatly rewarded, and so are we by this beautiful book. The illustrations are a delight, full of the red Ruby loves to wear.

Monday, October 8, 2012

September 2012 Book Reports

Alfred of Wessex by Frank Morriss is a hero tale of Alfred the Great. It's not perhaps perfectly historically accurate, but it gives a good idea of life in his time and the fear of the Danes in England. The battle is portrayed as more of a fight of Christians (Catholic, of course) against pagans. I should have started our year with this one as a read-aloud in our world history, as we were reviewing the Vikings, but instead it will be our second read-aloud. I think the children will enjoy it. (purchased from Bethlehem Books as the free ebook of the month earlier this year)

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

The Wright Brothers (Landmark Books) by Quentin Reynolds is a great little biography of Orville and Wilbur Wright. It's enjoyable and includes a great amount of information on the physics of flight as a natural part of the story. I think First Son can read this on his own. I intend to assign it as independent reading during our flight studies this year in physics. (library copy)

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Short reads like a newspaper account of the implosion of the subprime mortgage market and the subsequent collapse of so many financial corporations. Reading it made me angry over and over again at the absurdity and immorality of those who held the financial fates of so many Americans in their hands, but the author's style is remarkably enjoyable for all that. I can't say how much of his analysis of the situation is true, not being much interested in financial markets, but it seemed intelligent to me. (Kindle version, borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library)

Lumber Camp Library by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock is the story of a young girl who must quit school to care for her ten siblings after her father dies. After reading it, I decided against giving it to First Son for independent reading. The girl sacrifices much for her family and does treat their next-door neighbor with kindness, but she also steals and lies in the story and it's not clear she's entirely repentant. Also, the appearance of a bird that may be the soul of her father is integral to the story. It's probably not a big deal but was enough with the other things for me to set this book aside. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (48th Ed.)

1. I finally pulled everything off my new camera and found this fun video:

2. Every night, during evening prayers, we encourage the children to say their own prayers. Recently, Second Daughter has been choosing the prayer card for St. George which includes an opportunity to name your own intercessions. Every night, Second Daughter sweetly prays for everyone who is sick or hurting or "has hiccups" to get better.

3. Last weekend, the children dressed up as saints to ride in our parish's float in a local parade.

St. Gianna, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and St. George

 4. On Monday, we celebrated First Daughter's baptismal anniversary with lunch at Taco Bell (at her request). We also enjoyed some shortbread cookies of a dove in honor of the Holy Spirit.

5. First Daughter's well-child visit was last week. She is as healthy as we expected. We followed up the appointment with a bit of time playing at the park.

6. The kids had their first choir rehearsal last week.

7. We spent Friday at a living history museum not too far from home. We've gone there every year for three years and it's just wonderful every time.

Wagon ride

Second Son trying out the bowling

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Angel in the Waters

Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman, pictures by Ben Hatke

I've written about this book before, but not as part of My Favorite Picture Books, and it certainly deserves a place among them. Today is a perfect day as it is the Feast of the Guardian Angels and we'll be celebrating by reading it together.

It is a sweet way to introduce to children the idea of a guardian angel, one who will watch over and help guide us for our entire lives and into the next life.

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God's love commits me here,
Ever this day, be at my side,
To light and guard, rule and guide.