Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Review: The Hobbit

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein

This book really needs no review, but I forgot to include it in our family read-aloud post. I read this book aloud to First Son this year, in third grade, over the course of the entire year, fitting in a few minutes whenever we had lessons when the girls (ages six and four) were not around. It is fabulous, of course, and I think First Son enjoyed it, though he did ask repeatedly for the first half of the book when Smaug would appear. It had been so long since I read it, I wasn't sure whether it would frighten the girls which is why I chose it for the times when they were not around. I thought it would be nice for First Son, too, to have something special like that, because he was older. I don't know how interested the girls would have been, but I do not think it would have frightened them too much so I could have read this to the whole family and selected Otto of the Silver Hand for First Son alone. That's what we would have read next if we had finished The Hobbit before the end of the year.

This particular edition is wonderful. It's a hardcover with all of Tolkein's original illustrations. I bought it online from a store that was going out of business thinking I'd probably get a little mass market paperback and was floored when this beautiful book arrived. I want essentially the same thing for the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy and haven't found it yet. Let me know if you can direct me to the right editions. (I'd rather have three books than one; they'd be easier to hold.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: The Blizzard's Robe

The Blizzard's Robe by Robert Sabuda

Oh the illustrations in this book are truly stunning. I find myself poring over them even when I'm reading it myself. There's a note on the copyright page that the artwork (an appropriate word) was created with batik and a description of how it works.
During the coldest part of winter, these people lived in almost total darkness because the angle of the sun, far to the south, just missed greeting their village each day. If the sun did rise above the horizon, it was only for a brief time, like a great whale rising to the surface of the sea for a quick breath.
Isn't that lovely? In a few sentences, Mr. Sabuda has explained the darkness of winter in the Arctic and provided a wonderful simile for the brief times of sunlight, one that perfectly suits a story of the far north.

Teune, the only character in the book with a name, is a young girl with tremendous skills as a robemaker. When she accidentally burns Blizzard's robes, she seeks to make amends even though the villagers think she is a hero. It's a story of perseverance, dedication, development and practice of a useful skill, understanding, and charity.

I selected this to read to the girls while First Son was studying the Arctic. It was a perfect addition to our Reading Around the World in picture books.

Did I mention the illustrations are stunning?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Homeschool Review and Lesson Plans: By Truck to the North

Mater Amabilis Level 1A recommends a study of Extreme Environments in Year 2 (third grade) for Earth Studies. The books are meant to be read independently, then narrated. I added a little notebooking and extra books from the library.

I posted earlier about our first term study, 52 Days by Camel, and our second term study, Jungle Islands.

In our third term, First Son read By Truck to the North: My Arctic Adventure (Adventure Travel) by Andy Turnbull with Debora Perason, part of the same series. It's full of interesting facts of the Arctic and lots of pictures. First Son especially enjoyed the pictures of the little dog that traveled with them.

Here's our schedule for the term. As with the other books, I added a few notebooking pages. First Son did all of his reading independently, narrated to me, and then did the notebook pages independently as well. For the notebook pages, I rarely asked him to elaborate on them. These were a chance for him to practice taking some notes or consolidating information into a picture.

The basket books were all from our library. I would display them during the appropriate week so they were available for independent reading during free time or for supplemental information for notebook pages. If he could help it, he didn't use any of these books, but I liked having them available regardless. At the time, we also had Draw Write Now book 4 which I let First Son use as he wanted for the notebook pages, but I recently sold the whole set (since we switched the Cursive First) so we won't have that available for future students.

Week 1

Read the introduction and chapter 1. Narrate.
Draw a map for your notebook of western Canada and Alaska. Be sure to include the towns they'll visit.

Independent reading - Tikta'Liktak retold by James Houston
I asked First Son to read this on his own time over the course of a week or so. I did not require narrations for it. I thought it was a great story to complement our study of the extreme environments of the Arctic.

Book basket:
Arctic Hunter by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith
Icebergs, Ice Caps, and Glaciers by Allan Fowler

Week 2

Read chapters 2 and 3. Narrate.

Week 3

Read chapter 4. Narrate.
Make a page for totem poles for your notebook.
Learn a little about Kitwanga on this website.

Book basket:
Totem Poles by Jennifer Frantz
Carving a Totem Pole by Vickie Jensen - I thought this was a pretty good book with lots of pictures and a great look at the creation of a totem pole for the people involved.

Week 4

Read chapter 5. Narrate.
Make a notebook page on the Klondike Gold Rush (using words and pictures). Use Klondike Gold by Alice Provensen in addition to your book. (I really like this Provensen book.)

Book basket:
The Klondike Gold Rush by Marc Tyler Nobleman

Week 5

Read chapter 6. Narrate.
Make a notebook page on the northern lights. Be sure to include a little about how they form and draw a picture.
We were supposed to look at this website as well on the northern lights, but I forgot and we never made it back.

Book basket:
Science Matters: Northern Lights by David Whitfield

Week 6

Read chapter 7. Narrate.
Make a notebook page on timber wolves or other animals of the Arctic.
Book basket:
DK Eye Wonder: Arctic and Antarctic

Week 7

Read chapter 8. Narrate.
Make a page on the sunlight and darkness in the far north. Use Arctic Lights Arctic Nights. (I thought this was a particularly good book on this topic.)

Week 8

Read chapter 9. Narrate.
Make a page on pingos for your notebook. Be sure to draw one and describe how they are formed. Alternatively, make a page on polar bears for your notebook using A Polar Bear Journey by Debbie S. Miller.
We moved a little more quickly through By Truck to the North than we did with the books the first two terms so we could include this short book based in Antarctica: Antarctic Journal: Four Months at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Owings Dewey. First Son was always dismayed by the number of pages we read in a day, but there are lots of illustrations. This is a great book for showing the value of nature study drawings. I requested a copy of this book from

Week 9

Read pp. 6-17. Narrate.
Draw a map of Antarctica for your notebook. Be sure to include Palmer Station. Add a few notes about Palmer Station to your page.

Book basket:
Antarctic Journal by Meredith Hooper
My Season with the Penguins: An Antarctic Journal by Sophie Webb

Week 10

Read pp. 18-31. Narrate.
Make a page for your notebook about Litchfield Island or any of the animals mentioned in the book.

Book basket:
Penguins by Sylvia A. Johnson
Penguins at Home: Gentoos of Antarctica by Bruce McMillan
Penguins from Emperors to Macaronis by Erin Pembrey Swan

Week 11

Read pp. 32-45. Narrate.
Make a page for your notebook about blue whales, winter and summer in Antarctica (p. 37), or glaciers in Antarctica.

Book basket:
Icebergs, Ice Caps, and Glaciers by Allan Fowler
Big Blue Whale by Nicola Davies
A Look at Glaciers by Patrick Allen
Glaciers by Margaret Carruthers

Week 12

Read pp. 46-63. Narrate.
Make a page for your notebook about elephant seals, blue-eyed shags, icebergs, glacier snow, or Weddell seals.

Book basket:
Elephant Seals by Sylvia Johnson

As with the other posts, I welcome any suggestions. I'll be doing this study again in three years with First Daughter (or maybe in four years with First and Second Daughter together).

Also, I tried a new method for the Amazon links for most of the books in this post. Please let me know if any of them don't work or if they take you to some random page instead of the appropriate one.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Homeschool Review: Stations of the Nativity

text by Lawrence Boadt
illustrations by Patrick Kelley

I finally requested this book through inter-library loan because I wanted something small and sweet to add to our Advent next year especially for the girls and I like to read before I buy. We've been reading The Way to Bethlehem and The Life of Mary for a few years now. They're recommended by Mater Amabilis for Level 1A. I love these two books. I think the illustrations are stunning and that they are a rich source of reflection, but they seem best suited for older children. (My three youngest will be seven, five, and three next Advent.) There are also some illustrations that may be distressing for young children like the poor Innocents, though my children never seemed to mind. Stations of the Nativity seemed like it might be a good option for younger children.

And it is! There are fourteen stations, moments for reflection during the Advent season. The stations include events like the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the Magnificant, as well as the birth of Jesus and the adoration of the shepherds and the Magi. For each station, there's a beautiful illustration and very short Scripture readings, meditations, lessons, prayers, and psalm verses. I read through them all and think they would be wonderful to use with children of a broad range of ages (though I did not read them with my children yet). At the end, there is a list of citations for expanded Scripture readings, appropriate for older children and adults.

The Scripture readings are an original translation of the author, Lawrence Boadt, which seemed odd to me, just because there are so many translations already, not because there was anything in the text I found troublesome. It would be simple to pull out whatever Bible you like best, which you would need if you wanted to use the extended citations.

All fourteen stations could be done at once, but I think I'll probably spread them over all of Advent, four or five a week...depending on what will work best with our school schedule. I think they could easily be added to an evening or morning prayer and done during the two weeks before Christmas, too.

This book is Catholic (published by Paulist Press), but I think it could be appropriate for any Christian family.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: One Little Chicken

by Elka Weber
illustrated by Elisa Kleven

Inspired by a story from the Talmud, One Little Chicken is the tale of a chicken Leora finds. She wants to keep it, but her parents know it belongs to someone else. They take care of it until the owner is found, and they do so with humor and good stewardship.

We read this book as part of our study of honesty, but it exemplified many virtues. Leora's family returns much more than one chicken to the original owner, showing how we should strive to improve that which is in our care as well as that which is our own.

This book also probably has my favorite Elisa Kleven illustrations. In other books, they can sometimes seem overwhelming with activity, but these are colorful and often set off by lots of white space to soothe my eyes. (My children always seem to love the Kleven illustrations. I love how her books often invite children, without explicit words, to create art with whatever they have lying around. We recently read The Paper Princess and First Daughter rushed immediately to the art supplies to create an entire paper doll world.)

And it has chickens! What more could you want?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: The Good Shepherd and the Child: A Joyful Journey

by Sofia Cavalletti, Patricia Coulter, Gianna Gobbi, and Silvana Q. Montanaro

I purchased this book in the summer of 2011, before beginning my training as a catechist for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I finally started reading it in October 2012 and I should have finished it long ago. It's actually quite a nice brief introduction to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, especially for parents with children in the program, who are considering enrolling their children, or who do not have access to the program but are hoping to integrate some of the aspects of it into their home. It only took me so long to read because I kept it in the bedroom where I read only a paragraph or two every now and then before bed.

Rather than one single book, this is a collection of essays. Put together, they give an overview of some of the most important presentations and the reasoning behind them.

In the Introduction, Patricia Coulter says:
Our theme is God's covenant with young children and a way of being with children that helps them to live their relationship with God. It is a book about initiating children into that covenant relationship, helping children to receive and respond to God's unconditional, personal, love for each of them: "I have called you by name, you are mine...Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you" (Isaiah 43:1,4)
Kansas Dad and I laughed over some of the sentences written by Silvana Montanaro, like this one:
Mother and father, and every person in contact with an expectant mother as well, should be aware of and try to feel the presence of this new human being.
I think there's plenty of evidence that babies in the womb can hear and even respond to voices and bumps from outside the womb, but some of Silvana's language seems to make it a bit too touchy-feely for me.

Sofia Cavaletti in "God and the Child Together" talks about the child's relationship with God, which is at the heart of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program.
The relationship with God is basically an experience of love, of love without limits. In the covenant relationship there is a meeting between God who is "Love," and the child, who is so rich in love; different in their capacity and yet alike in their quality, they truly encounter one another. In the covenant relationship the child finds the Partner who is limitless, unfailing love, who meets the child's deepest need, and the child is in harmony with the world.
Our goal then, as parents and as catechists, is merely to introduce the child to God and let God and the Holy Spirit work within the child. We prepare an environment in which that relationship can be developed and grow.

In "Helping the Child" Silvana returns and has (in my opinion) some good advice for parents as the child grows in the first few years. In particular, I liked the small section, "Help Me to do it by Myself."
Helping little children in their own efforts to grow is truly a form or service. The child's intense desire is, "Help me to do it by myself."
I have found that little children can do a great deal when given the opportunity, but they often do so more joyfully and promptly when an adult or older sibling works beside them. Even when they are capable of completing a little task independently, they do not want to be alone. Stand back, but stay near by.

And this quote is pertinent to the reading I've been doing in Unconditional Parenting:
Try to be patient and slow down your pace when you are with your child. Helping your child to develop--the purpose of education--is not something that can be achieved quickly.
How often we start demanding instant obedience and yelling when we are in a hurry! With more time, we can work with our children. It's not just for the benefits of a calm and soothing environment, it enables us to collaborate with our children rather than order them about.

In Part Two, Sofia Cavalletti and Patricia Coulter give a lot more information. For example, the chapter, "Presenting the Good Shepherd to Children," details exactly how to give the presentation and a description of the materials and how they are used. It provides background on presenting parables to children as well as meditating with children.
It is the nature of the parable to leave the door open to further exploration. This is the time to help the children explore its meaning in a meditative spirit. If we say to children, "This is the meaning..." by words or attitude, they will stop looking for anything else. Then the parable becomes something already done in a sense; however, a parable always remains open to deeper reflection.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on "Prayer," in which Cavalletti and Coulter present their understanding of how young children pray, based on their years of working with children in an atrium environment. Sofia and Coulter think children do not make many prayers of petition naturally and we should not suggest them or lead them in prayers like that. Doing so may redirect their attention from their true prayers.
First, the primary concern is helping the child's prayer, rather than teaching prayers to children. Our hope is to help children enter into prayer: that inner disposition by which the heart turns to God in openness so as to listen and respond to the presence of Love.
This is the chapter that talked the most about providing an environment of silence and contemplation.
To create a climate of silence is a way of helping the child's inner meditative spirit. Creating time and space for silence is a way of nourishing that special need for listening which is at the heart of the child's prayer. Silence becomes the soil in which the child's prayer may flourish and grow.
 In "Moral Formation," the last chapter, there's a wonderful summary of the whole book (and really the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program):
All the major themes of the Christian message outlined in this book have one aim: to help children discover and enjoy the presence of Someone in their lives. There is a Person who calls them by name, who creates the most steadfast and enduring relationship of love; it is Someone who, in giving them the gift of his own life and his own "light," gives them his whole self.
Appendix A is a great introduction to the program of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and provides background on Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi. You may even want to read it first. I have now completed my training for Level 1 (3-6 year old children), but this book is a good supplement to that training. (It's one of the recommended books.)

By the way, if you really want to purchase a copy, you can find reasonably-priced copies at the store of the National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Book Discussion: Chapter 7 of Unconditional Parenting

The quotes in this post are all from the seventh chapter of Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn: Principles of Unconditional Parenting.

Finally, Mr. Kohn begins to focus on how someone uses unconditional parenting. So, if you've been convinced by earlier chapter (or at least intrigued), here's where he starts to talk about what it looks like in a family. 

What I will do, in this chapter and those that follow, is lay out some broad principles, some ways of thinking about how to create alternatives to traditional parenting. These are derived from research, from a synthesis of the work of other thoughtful advisors, from my own experience, and from my observations of other families. You'll have to decide whether each idea seems reasonable and, if so, how it may apply to raising your own children.
Did you notice how he said "broad principles"? He doesn't give a lot of straightforward strategies or rules. As I think about unconditional parenting, it seems more like an overall attitude, a general thought process.
The recommendations I'll be offering are, frankly, more challenging than those proposed in a lot of other books. It's harder to make sure children feel loved unconditionally than it is just to love them. I's harder to respond to them in all their complexity than it is to focus just on their behaviors. It's harder to try to solve problems with them, to give them reasons for doing the right thing (let alone to help them formulate their own reasons), than it is to control them with carrots and sticks. "Working with" asks more of us than does "doing to."
I agree completely. In the very small ways I've tried to incorporate unconditional parenting, I've discovered it takes a lot more time and patience. I can't just yell at my kids to do something and punish them if they don't comply right away. Instead, my reactions must depend on the situation. I have to consider my request, my child's reaction, and the reasons for both. I have to slow down to talk, really talk, with my child. "What are we supposed to be doing right now? Why aren't you doing that? Do you know why we need to do that right now? Tell me. What do you need so we can get moving?"

Mr. Kohn provides a baker's dozen of guiding principles, which I don't want to list entirely here on the blog. (It's a good list; I highly recommend finding a copy of the book just to look over it.) The most important aspects of the principles for me were to focus on my relationship with my children and to focus on the long-term goal.

For example, this past year I had intended for us to attend daily Mass once a week. As time went on, however, I discovered Second Daughter was consistently a problem on those mornings. She was slow to dress, reluctant to get out the door, and I was yelling at her a lot. When we made it to Mass (usually late), we were both upset. Thinking about unconditional parenting, I asked myself why I was taking her to Mass. I want her to love the Mass, to be eager for her time with Jesus. I wanted to feel refreshed myself by the Mass. Instead, we were both angry and frustrated with each other and she hated going to Mass. Neither of us was getting much benefit from the Mass and she certainly wasn't learning to love it.

So we stopped going. Kansas Dad would leave early with the two oldest. The two younger ones and I would come along later, after Mass and morning prayers. I know a lot of parents who would have preferred to dress their daughter, drag her to the car, and get her to Mass, and I can certainly see how there is greater benefit in being at Mass than not being at Mass. I decided instead to focus on other ways to help Second Daughter learn to understand the Mass and love it (like Catechesis of the Good Shepherd). We were all happier and I didn't feel like I was harming my relationship with her on a regular basis by yelling and losing my temper.

Considering long-term goals, Mr. Kohn writes:
It's too easy to get trapped in the minutiae of everyday life, all the squabbles and frustrations that upstage the important questions...Whether your child spills the chocolate milk today, or loses her temper, or forgets to do her homework doesn't matter nearly as much as the things you do that either help or don't help her to become a decent, responsible, compassionate person.
Being a homeschooling family, we've already thought about long-term goals for our children. Other families do this too, of course, but a homeschooling family might make very different curriculum selections (for example) depending on what they want their children to be able to do over the course of time. Translating this idea to all of parenting seemed natural, once Mr. Kohn suggested it. As any parenting crisis arises, then, we should consider not just what has immediately happened (say, the two year old has spit his food all over the floor), but how our response to the situation may shape the kind of person he is. How we respond in any given single situation probably doesn't matter that much, but over time, the way we respond most of the time will make a big impression.

Second Daughter is inconsistent in clearing her place from the table. It is one of her very few responsibilities and she seems to revel in flaunting it, dashing out of the kitchen laughing when she leaves her plate on the table. We could probably have stopped this behavior very quickly by instituting a punishment when she neglects her chore, but if I thought about my long-term goal, it wasn't that she clear her place. My long-term goal is that she consider others who clean up the meal and that she have an attitude of seeking out things that she can do to help keep our home clean and tidy. So instead of punishment, we talk. Every day. Many times a day. Every time she leaves her plate on the table, I bring her back into the kitchen and we talk about how she has a responsibility to help our family take care of our house and our belongings, how she can show she is thankful for the time her father spent making pancakes and eggs (or whatever), and how we all have more time to do fun things like read stories and play games after dinner if we all work together to clean up after meals.

It's a work in progress, of course, and probably will be for some time, because even when she clears her plate after every meal, we'll still be talking about responsibility and stewardship and thankfulness.

Mr. Kohn also says the default response to requests should be yes, or at the very least, a discussion.
When I say that we should make sure we're not saying no too often or unnecessarily, I don't mean that our convenience, our wants, don't count, too. They do. But they shouldn't count for so much that we're gratuitously restricting our children, prohibiting them from trying things out. When you come right down to it, the whole process of raising a kid is pretty damned inconvenient, particularly if you want to do it well. If you're unwilling to give up any of your free time, if you want your house to stay quiet and clean, you might consider raising tropical fish instead.
Reading this paragraph, I thought of all the times I said no to something my children wanted to do because I didn't feel like getting up and bringing out the materials, or cleaning up the mess, or listening to them talk about it. As he says, it's not that we have to always say yes, but I think it's worthwhile to consider saying yes more often, or even most of the time. It occurs to me that writing up a post for the blog is far less important (for example) than spending a few minutes reading a story with my children, especially if I haven't read one yet today.

Previous posts on Unconditional Parenting

Thoughts on the Introduction
Discussion of quotes from chapter 1
Discussion of quotes from chapter 2
Discussion of quotes from chapter 3
Discussion of quotes from chapter 4
Discussion of quotes from chapter 5
Discussion of quotes from chapter 6

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Test and a Query

People who know me in real life, which might be everyone who reads this blog, know that my laptop screen recently developed identity issues. It turned pink and blue and white in lines across and down the screen. Ten days later, it displayed a black hue over everything. Kansa Dad is working on getting it fixed, but since it's almost six years old, we're also in the market for a replacement. The laptop was a Mac and I loved it, so a new Mac laptop is the ideal. I'm exploring other options, though, like an iPad, which can probably do everything I want but is not quite as fancy, or even a Chromebook.

In light of that, this post is a test. I'm trying out Blogsy to see how well I can write a post on the iPad. Also to ask if anyone out there has switched to a tablet instead of a laptop or if there are any Chromebook experiences to share. (David, I know you shared on Facebook, but feel free to shamelessly plug Google again in the blog comments.)


My Favorite Picture Books: Yummy Yucky

Yummy Yucky by Leslie Patricelli

This is currently Second Son's favorite book. (He's two and a half.) We've read it so often to him, he knows all the words.

Ms. Patricelli contrasts yummy things (like "Mommy's cookies") with yucky things (like "Mommy's coffee," though we always say "Daddy's coffee" because Kansas Mom only drinks tea). Second Son just laughs and laughs, especially at the end when a whole page of "more yucky things" includes stinky socks. For some reason he thinks the stinky socks are the best part of the book.

My other favorite Leslie Patricelli book is The Birthday Box in which a box is indeed the best birthday present.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Quote: The Good Shepherd and the Child

Sofia Cavalletti and Patricia Coulter in The Good Shepherd and the Child: A Joyful Journey on "The Child's Prayer":
These moments of silence are prayer as well: "Silence is praise to you, O God" (Psalm 65:1). These spaces of silence--precious, rich moments working like yeast in the child's spirit--reflect the child's rhythm of doing things. Becoming attuned to this helps us to respect these wordless intervals in the prayer of young children. Rather than interrupting the flow of prayer by thinking the silence means the child is distracted by other things, we become aware that these too are moments of the child's union with God.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Preschool Reading Around the World: Europe

The books below were technically read during First Daughter's kindergarten year, but I wanted to continue posting about them along with the books we read the previous year when she was in preschool. It still counts as preschool, too, because Second Daughter (age four) listened in when she was interested.

I thought I would coordinate our world reading with First Son's Extreme Environments studies, but in the first term he was reading about Africa, which we covered the last year. So we started with Europe instead.

As I've mentioned before, the purpose of these treks around the world through picture books is not to convey a great amount of facts or history, but rather to give a feel for another country or culture through wonderful books. I sought to select books that were wonderful merely in and of themselves. I was limited by our library, though, so these are not necessarily the best picture books set in Europe. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments. I tend not to buy books just for our reading around the world, but I am not afraid to ask our library to make a purchase.

Hana in the Time of the Tulips by Deborah Noyes and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline is a beautifully illustrated book set during the time of tulipomania in the 1630s. This is the only book we read during this study that I actually purchased; the rest were all from the library. I wrote about this book already as one of my favorite picture books. (Holland)

Hans Brinker by Bruce Coville, illustrated by Laurel Long, is an adaptation of Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge. I don't usually like adaptations, but this one condenses the story nicely for younger children. The illustrations are absolutely lovely. They make me want to rush off to Holland and ice skate in beautiful dresses. (Holland)

The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece by Anthony L. Manna and Soula Mitakidou, illustrated by Giselle Potter is a retelling of Cinderella. My girls enjoyed it. (Greece)

Little Rooster's Diamond Button retold by Margaret Read MacDonald, illustrated by Will Terry, is a retelling of a folktale in which a rooster exacts revenge on a greedy king who steals a diamond button. The children love this book. (Hungary)

How Mama Brought the Spring by Fran Manuskhin, illustrated by Holly Berry, begins on a wintry day in Chicago when a young girl hears the story of how her grandmother brought spring to Minsk. This is a delightful story to read with young girls (or anyone who likes to bake or cook with a parent or loved one). It includes a recipe for blintzes which Kansas Dad made with First Daughter. The kids were indifferent to them, but they just don't appreciate anything novel at a meal. Kansas Dad and I thought they were delicious and decadent. I love the illustration of the batter on the tablecloth "like sunflowers against a blue sky." (Belarus)

The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane by C. M. Millen, illustrated by Andrea Wisnewski, is set in an Irish monastery at the advent of the illuminated manuscripts. It's an imaginary story, but one so wonderfully illustrated it should not be missed. It's one of my favorite picture books. (Ireland)

The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star by Mary Nethery, illustrated by John Manders, is an imaginative tale of a cat who become a national celebrity in Venice. It's a wonderful book with charming illustrations. We all enjoyed it. I particularly liked how each of the cafe's visitors left feeling better because of this little cat. Isn't that what we all should do? (Italy)

Adèle and Simon by Barbara McClintock is the original book that led to Adele and Simon in America, one of my favorite picture books. Simon, of course, loses all his belongings as he and his sister wander through Paris after she picks him up from school. It's wonderfully illustrated and encourages children to closely peruse the illustrations as they search for all of Simon's things. My children love this book! (France)

Chasing Degas by Eva Montanari follows a young ballerina through the streets of Paris as she chases after Degas who has accidentally taken her bag. Along the way, she meets many of the impressionist artists that lived in Paris at the time. A few pages at the end introduce the reader to some famous works of art and a bit about impressionism. We'll be reading this again next year as we study Degas. (France)

Katje the Windmill Cat by Gretchen Woelfle, illustrated by Nicola Bayley, is based on the true story of a cat who saved an infant in a cradle during a great storm on St. Elizabeth's Day in 1421. A sweet story, great illustrations, and a little history and culture mixed in. Highly recommended. (Holland)

Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Big Surprise by Maj Lindman is my favorite of the Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr books. In it the boys exchange their own labor to skilled workers who create a gift for their mother. It's an easy book for young readers to read themselves (or aloud to mama). (Sweden)

Vivaldi and the Invisible Orchestra by Stephen Costanza imagines a young orphan girl whose poetry inspired Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. It's a wonderful book to read as you're studying Vivaldi (as we were) or before listening to The Four Seasons. This book also has some of my favorite illustrations of all the ones we read this term. (Italy)

More posts on what else we read during the year are coming. I'm very thankful I still have Second Daughter and Second Son to justify my continuation of this kind of reading around the world, though I haven't decided yet what our focus will be next year.

Other Posts on Reading Around the World with picture books

Central and South America

Friday, May 10, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: Boycott Blues

by Andrea Davis Pinkney
illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney are among my favorite picture book authors and illustrators and this book is just one of their wonderful cooperative achievements. In it, the story of the Montgomery bus boycott is told by a rhythmic guitar-playing hound dog who sings the blues, the Boycott Blues, of course. One of the things I especially like about this book is that all of the people of Montgomery become more important in the boycott than either Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr. They're not neglected, but it's the perseverance of all the people that prompted change.

The illustrations are full of windy sweeps and dreary blues as the people toil by foot and bicycle, but there's also a lovely glow and you can feel them encouraging one another.

A wonderful addition to the study of Civil Rights, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Planning Ahead

I've posted our preliminary books and resources for next year! First Son will be in fourth grade. First Daughter will be in first grade. Second Daughter will be in kindergarten. Second Son will be getting into trouble.

I reserve every right to change my mind on anything listed, of course.

Especially if I find something really good on Cathswap...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Homeschool Review: 2012-2013 Family Read-Alouds

I've already posted on the family read-alouds I selected for World History and American History. We also read from another family read-aloud four or five times a week (usually at the breakfast table as my children dawdled over their cereal and made a tremendous mess). This was my time to read wonderful books I loved or wanted to share with them that didn't necessarily fit into a lesson plan anywhere. They are just for pure enjoyment without any required narration, though there was often plenty of talk that flowed naturally from them.

We read these books when First Son was nine (third grade), First Daughter was six (kindergarten), and the other two were four and two. During Advent, we put these books aside and read from some holiday-themed books instead. You can find that list here.

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald - I meant to read The Princess and Curdie with them this year, as we listened to The Princess and the Goblin last year, but I forgot. Once I got started, the children wanted to hear the end again! Hopefully we'll get the The Princess and Curdie eventually. (free Kindle edition)

Schoolhouse in the Woods by Rebecca Caudill is the second in the Fairchild Family series and we loved it just as much as Happy Little Family. I have the second and third books in the series and am hoping we have time to read them together this summer. (I bought my copy from Bethlehem Books.)

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink - I love this book and I loved sharing it with my children. They enjoyed it as well. (We read a copy I saved from my childhood.)

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry - I have a lot of horse books from when I was young and have refrained from sharing most of them. (My kids aren't as excited by horses as I was.) They enjoyed this one, though. (We read a copy I saved from my childhood.)

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes - This is such a delightful family story. We listened to it on audio CD while we were driving back and forth to my parents' house. (library copy)

Heidi by Johanna Spyri - This is a classic story no child should miss. My kids adored it from beginning to end. I highly recommend buying this on in person to make sure you're getting an unabridged edition. I  have a no-frills paperback I bought at a library sale (or something) but would love a beautifully illustrated version for our home library. (purchased copy)

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling - The children all loved this book, especially the stories of Mowgli and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. I read aloud this wonderfully illustrated version from the library with artwork by Robert Ingpen, but originally I read this free Kindle version.

All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown by Sydney Talyor - We read the first of this series in our American History read-aloud time, then followed it with the next two on audio CD from the library. The kids begged for more, so I decided we'd finish our official school year with this one. (library copy)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Quote: Call It Courage

From Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry:
He was to learn in the hours to come that all days, all time, would be like that: hours of blasting heat, of shattering sunlight; nights of fitful respite and uneasy sleep. Only the sea and the sky, the sea and the sky. A bird now and then, a fish leaping from the sea, a boy in a frail canoe. That was all.

Monday, May 6, 2013

First Daughter's Kindergarten Poetry Memorization List

I didn't ask First Son to memorize poetry in kindergarten, but First Daughter begged to do so. We started a little in the spring when she was just five.
We started How Doth the Little Crocodile in the third week of school, and she promptly lost all interest in memory work. Because she could often recite First Son's poems (while he was hemming and hawing), I decided I wasn't going to push her. She's asked for memory work on and off through the year, but I told her we'd only do it if she was ready to spend time on in every day, which she never was.

Next year, in first grade, First Daughter will be expected to do memory work four days a week, just like her big brother.

As you may guess, Poems and Prayers for the Very Young is my favorite anthology for selecting poetry for my little ones to memorize.

Here's my post on why we memorize poetry.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

April 2013 Book Report

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy is a poetic telling of a young child's life in a ghetto during World War II. It's quite good. A young reader could read it, but I do not intend to share it with my children anytime soon. Though the most awful horrors of the concentration camps are not in this book, the great number of people who disappear, die, or are shipped off in train cars never to return would still be distressing to a young child. Don't get me wrong; we'll study the Holocaust, but I'm not going to cover it with my young children. I think this book, though written in simple language, is a powerful story and recommend it. (Kindle version borrowed for free from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library)

A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms by Lisa M. Hendey (inter-library loan)

Athanasius by Simonetta Carr (inter-library loan)

Legends of the Saints by E. Lucia Turnbull is a book of legends, small stories of a number of different saints. I had read of these saints and some of the particular legends in the past, but this is a wonderful version. We're lucky the library has a copy of it. I'm going to put it on First Son's pile for his independent reading and will give it to First Daughter to read when her skills improve a little. I think it's a touch too easy for First Son, who is in third grade now, but he'll still enjoy it. Hopefully the library doesn't discard it before my other children read it; it's already usually in storage. (library copy)

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (library copy)

The Jack Tales by Richard Chase is a collection of tales from the American Southeast, all about Jack, who shares much in common with the heroes of many fairy tales we've read in The Blue Fairy Book and The Red Fairy Book. I originally found it on a list of good books for boys at Memoria Press. First Son will begin reading it independently to finish out third grade and probably into the summer. I hope he enjoys it; I thought it was highly entertaining. (library copy)

Seeds of Faith for Children by Rosemarie Gortler and Donna Piscitelli (a review for The Catholic Company)

Daisy Dawson and the Secret Pond by Steve Voake is the second volume with Daisy Dawson. I think it's just as sweet as the first and have put it on First Daughter's reading list for next year (first grade). It's a little heavy-handed in the environmental message, but I felt more compassion for the author when I read the note in the end in which he said his favorite outdoor haunt was destroyed just as described in the book. (library copy)

The Kitchen Madonna by Rumer Godden is the tale of a young boy who finds his voice in creating a gift for his family's cook. I'm considering it as a read-aloud for our family next year. It's a sweet story, but there are some frightening tales of wolf hunts from the cook's childhood. (library copy)

Big John's Secret (Living History Library) by Eleanore M. Jewett is the wonderful story of a young man who serves as a page and squire in England and the Holy Land during the time of the Fifth Crusade. He is searching for his place in the world and his father. It has a surprisingly balanced presentation of the Muslims in the Holy Land, with whom John lives for a year. St. Francis of Assisi makes an appearance as well. It's highly recommended. I want First Son to read it, but haven't decided yet if he'll do so independently in fourth grade (next year) or if we'll wait until sixth grade when we'll be cycling back to this time period is history. (library copy)

The Light Princess by George MacDonald must be the original source of the idea for Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) (one of my favorite picture books, though I haven't yet written about it on the blog). It's more sophisticated and more complex, but still a nice short story. (free Kindle edition)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers

illustrated by Yan Nascimbene

We read this book along with our brief study of Japan in world history. It would also be a good addition to a study of haiku with young children. I enjoy reading it merely for its own sake.

Yuki and her family are required to make the 300 mile journey between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo). Her teacher requires a haiku for each day of the journey. It's full of information about ancient Japan seen through the eyes of a young child. The illustrations are beautiful, large, colorful, evocative. They make me want to visit Japan (which doesn't take much).

It's a book of poetry in words and art, a delight.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My Favorite Picture Books: I Have a Dream

I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
with paintings by Kadir Nelson

This outstanding picture book is made up of excerpts of Dr. King's famous speech paired with illustrations by Kadir Nelson that are worthy of the large pages. He alternatively shows views of the speech itself and the thousands of people listening raptly to the words with images of people of all colors celebrating together. The entire speech is printed at the end of the book. As if the artwork were not enough in itself (it really is), the book comes with a CD recording of Dr. King's speech. The children and I listened to it together after reading a few other books on Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a great gift to our children to share this amazing speech and dream with them.

Our immediate family is not mixed, but my youngest sister is adopted and black. My sister-in-law is a naturalized citizen born in El Salvador. Some of our godchildren are the children of a mixed marriage. I take advantage of nearly every opportunity to speak openly with my children about equality and seeing Christ in all people of all colors and abilities, but this book doesn't just give an opportunity to talk about it. It gives us a vision of a shared dream, and a beautiful one at that.