Monday, March 31, 2014

American History Picture Books in 2012-2013 Post 4 of 5: The Great Depression and World War II

This is the fourth post in a series on the picture books we read along with our American History studies in 2012-2013 when First Son was in  third grade, First Daughter was in kindergarten, Second Daughter was four and Second Son wasn't paying attention.


Leah's Pony by Elizabeth Friedrich, illustrated by Michael Garland, is the sweet story of a girl's sacrifice for her family. There are a number of picture books featuring "penny auctions," but this one is my favorite.

Angels in the Dust by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Roger Essley, is based on a true story of a woman growing up in Oklahoma during the worst of the dust storms. It's description of the daily lives of people living through in the Dust Bowl is real, including the death of her mother from dust pneumonia. The girl and her sister create a dust angel, like a snow angel, to remember her mother. The times were hard, but the family was together and there are examples of how all the people helped each other live.

Hannah and the Perfect Picture Pony: A Story of the Great Depression by Sara Goodman Zimet, illustrations by Sandy Ferguson Fuller, is (I think) based on a true story of the author's grandmother of one day when a photographer with a pony came to the neighborhood, offering to take pictures for a small fee. The illustration at the end showing a grandmother holding a real photograph of a sweet little girl on a pony. It's a fine story but the illustrations were just alright and there were so many books to read! So I didn't read it aloud, but I did put it in the book basket because I thought the girls would like to see the pony.

Born and Bred in the Great Depression by Jonah Winter and Kimberly Bulcken Root is about growing up in East Texas during the Great Depression. It is full of information about what life was like for the large family without indoor plumbing and electricity. There's one scene in which the mother cries, "Oh Lord, we're all gonna die!" while a storm rages above the family huddled in the storm cellar that seemed a little scary for my kids who do have to huddle in a storm shelter sometimes, so I decided to leave this one in the book basket. It's a really nice book, though, for people with older kids or ones that won't remember that particular phrase the once every year or so they have to run to the storm shelter. The last page is especially good - the text and the illustration.

Uncle Jed's Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell, illustrated by James Ransome, is one of my favorite picture books. Uncle Jed saves for many years for his own barbershop before he loses everything during the Great Depression. Undaunted, he begins saving again. It's a wonderful book of perseverance and good stewardship, including the important truth that the people we love are always more important than money.

Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan, pictures by Brian Selznick, is just a fun story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart and a crazy ride they took together. It's fictionalized, but based on a true story. Little girls will love it because it's crazy and fun, but the women were also strong and courageous (though that doesn't play into this story quite as much).


Eleanor story and pictures by Barbara Cooney is a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, whose young life was not a very pleasant one, though quite inspiring. I decided against reading it aloud, though I think I will the next time we come around to this time in American history. I left it in the book basket for the kids to look through.


Mr. Williams by Karen Barbour is one of my favorite picture books. It's about a simple man with a hard life, but one lived fully and appreciated.


A new book I've discovered is Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, which is now one of my favorite pictures books. Set in the 1930s, it shows an era of adventure and discovery when most of the focus was on poverty, hunger, and dust.

Across the Blue Pacific: A World War II Story by Louise Borden, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker, was my first choice of a World War II story to share with the children. Told from the perspective of a young girl at home who connects with a single Naval officer in a way that made the far away war more real, it's a book that was still focused on the war experience of children. It is a little sad, but nothing I thought the children would not appreciate. Sadly, it was checked out during our study.


Lisette's Angel by Amy Littlesugar, paintings by Max Ginsburg, is a book set in Normandy. The arrival of World War II has shrouded Lisette's world in shadows and fear of the soldiers. Her family is relatively safe, though they face hardship, but a friend is arrested and shown held at gunpoint by soldiers. The arrival of an angel, though, changes everything: an American paratrooper who floats down into their yard. Lisette and her brother help him, becoming a part of the D-Day invasion. This could be a difficult book to read to young children, but my girls were entranced, especially by the beautiful illustrations.

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot: A True Story of the Berlin Airlift and the Candy that Dropped from the Sky by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen, is another great book connecting a European child with American servicemen. Unfortunately, our library has only one copy and it seems there are always people waiting for it so I didn't request it for our studies.

The Farm Summer 1942 by Donald Hall, pictures by Barry Moser, is the quiet story of a young boy who lives with his grandparents on a farm in New Hampshire while his father was on a destroyer in the Navy and his mother worked for the government. It shows clearly what life was like for the farm families at that intersection of modern and more traditional farm life. I love this book, but it is a little slow for young children, with lots of text. The illustrations are lovely, though, and it is a nice way to counteract a lot of the scarier stories of World War II. There was still sunshine and family and quiet somewhere during that time of war.

Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Loren Long, tells the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. It focuses more on the joy of one man (the narrator's uncle) when he flies rather than the harshness of the war. It's a great book to share, incorporating history, aviation, racism, but most of all, the celebration of the achievement of a dream.

Mama Played Baseball by David A. Adler, illustrated by Christ O'Leary, tells of Amy's mother who becomes a professional baseball player during World War II. It's a sweet little story and one my girls enjoyed. The illustrations are done in a style reminiscent of 1940s war posters.


So Far from the Sea by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet, tells of a visit to Manzanar by a family whose parents had lived in the camp during World War II. In the end, I didn't cover the Japanese internship camps with the children this time through American History, but this would be a wonderfully illustrated poignant book to accompany that discussion. It manages to convey the isolation, fear, confusion, and anger of the Japanese-Americans without being too overwhelming for children.

Another book that touches on the Japanese internment camps is The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida, illustrated by Joanna Yardley. This story focuses on the confusion and anxiety of a family as they are being moved to the internment camps, but also highlights a special friendship between Emi, a young Japanese girl, and her white friend. The book ends soon after they arrive at the camp, so it doesn't talk about what life was like there, but it does show the strength and courage of the Japanese people who lived there as well as a good lesson on the importance of our relationships rather than connections to material belongings.

The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter, illustrated by Julia Miner, is the fascinating true story of the Navajo code talkers that risked their lives in the Pacific in World War II. I put this in the book basket for First Son to read on his own because I didn't think the girls would be very interested.

One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II written and illustrated by Lita Judge is a sweet tale of reaching out to people in a war-ravaged Europe after World War II. I put it in our book basket for them to look through.

Posts in This Series - I'll update this list with links to all the others after they post.
#1: Slavery and the Civil War
#2: Progressive Era and Immigration
#3: World War I, Women's Suffrage, and the 1920s
#4: The Great Depression and World War II (this post)
#5: Civil Rights, Hawai'i, Alaska, and Space Exploration

Some of the books we've read set during the Great Depression are here and some post-1930s picture  books are here. In addition, you can find links to all the picture books we read through American history in 2009-2010, when First Son was in kindergarten.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Homeschool Review: Latin for Children Primer A


This Latin program is absolutely one of the best additions I made to our homeschool this year.

Really! We all love it!

Primer A, written for students in fourth grade, is comprised of seven units, each with a review chapter and a final end-of-book review chapter at the end, for a total of 32 chapters. We've done one each week and while each chapter seems focused and small in scope, the overall progress is rather amazing. We still have a couple of chapters left, but I feel confident enough to go ahead and post a review.

Each chapter has a memory page with a chapter maxim, a chant (a verb conjugation, noun declension, or prepositions, etc.), and vocabulary (usually ten words, but it varies a little). Then there's a single page called Grammar that presents the material for the chapter, like sentence patters or direct objects. The third page is a Worksheet. The fourth page shows some of the English derivatives based on the Latin vocabulary for the week. The fifth page is a quiz. The final page usually covers something interesting like military names or some Roman history.

I chose this book over Latina Christiana after using Prima Latina because I was confused myself reading through Latina Christiana. Many people had said I could use it without any Latin knowledge myself, but I was struggling with the most basic lessons! A friend of mine reminded me of this program from Classical Academic Press (from which we used Song School Latin) and I decided to give it a try.

The main disadvantage of this program is the cost. It's made up of a number of pieces that go together and is followed by Primer B and Primer C, meaning the higher cost continues for three years.

Latin for Children, Primer A (Latin Edition) is the main text and is absolutely essential to the program. It contains all the vocabulary, lessons, worksheets, and quizzes. We use this book as a non-consumable. I started the year asking First Son to write the answers in a notebook, but quickly discovered he was hampered by his slow handwriting, so we switched to oral exercises instead.

Latin for Children, Primer A Answer Key is just that, an answer key. Because I was doing the lessons alongside First Son and he answered everything orally, I rarely needed to consult it. It was nice to have, however, on the few times I wasn't sure of an answer.

Primer A DVD and CD set  (also available on Amazon, but it's difficult to tell if the set there is complete) contains DVDs with a short program for each chapter as well as CDs with chants in ecclesiastical and classical pronunciations for all the maxims, chants, and vocabulary words. Personally, I found the CDs invaluable. First Son and I listened and chanted the chapter's track, usually only 3-4 minutes long, twice each day. (He asked about half-way through the year if we could do them only once a day and we gave it a try. After a few weeks, it was obvious to him that his retention had decreased, so he agreed to go back to twice a day.) The DVDs are less important, I think. The chant on the DVD is the same as on the CD but not quite as clear. The lessons seem quite good but really just reiterate exactly what's in the book. Because First Son and I read this together, watching the DVD lesson was redundant. It would be more valuable for a student completing the primer alone. There was often a short skit at the end which all the children enjoyed, but it's a little expensive for just that bit of fun. The only place I have seen to purchase the CD without the DVDs is on Classical Academic Press's website. I really think I could have taught this program without the DVDs at all even though I have no Latin background. I would not have wanted to attempt it without the CDs, but I have a friend with some Latin background and I think she taught it without either the DVDs or the CDs.

Latin for Children, Primer A - Activity Book! is completely optional, but I think it's a wonderful addition to this program. The activity book is full of crossword puzzles, matching exercises, and other little word games, all using the Latin vocabulary for the week, including pages for the review chapters. For the most part, First Son loved these pages. They were fun and quirky. Every once in a while, he would become frustrated by an error in the puzzle. One crossword puzzle in particular seemed to be numbered incorrectly and he was very upset, so I told him to just skip that one. Problem solved! (First Son also found a few errors in the text, but nothing we couldn't figure out.) I think you could easily do the program without the activity book, but I also think the activity pages helped First Son develop an increased fluency with the vocabulary, which was a major goal for the year.

Latin for Children, Primer A History Reader (Libellus de Historia) is another optional book. This small book provides four to six sentences in each of the fifteen chapters written entirely in Latin for the student to translate. An introduction in the beginning gives some good ideas on how to use the book and there are even discussion questions (in Latin) for each chapter. We started this book about half-way through the year and read through one chapter each week. First Son would probably rather just skip it, but I think it provides a great boost to realize we're really reading Latin, even if it's akin to an early reader in English. Some of the chapters are about Jesus, just as a warning. There is an answer key for this available for download at Classical Academy Press, which I often found useful.

Classical Academic Press provides a free website of resources at HeadventureLand.com that my children enjoyed a great deal at the beginning of the year. Mainly, they liked the videos, especially this one on the three little pigs. We didn't spend very much time there, but I think some students might find the online games and videos inspiring.

This is how we structured our Latin study:
  • Monday - Go through the chant together twice (8-10 minutes), read through the grammar page together (5-10 minutes), watch the DVD (15 minutes).
  • Tuesday - Chant twice (8-10 minutes), complete the worksheet orally (5-10 minutes).
  • Wednesday - Chant twice (8-10 minutes), read through the derivatives page together (5-10 minutes), First Son usually looked up a few of the derivatives or wrote some sentences independently (5 minutes), read a few sentences in the history reader (starting about half-way through the year, 5 minutes).
  • Thursday - Chant twice (8-10 minutes), complete the quiz orally (5-10 minutes), read a few more sentences in the history reader (5 minutes)
  • Friday - Chant twice (8-10 minutes), read the final page in the chapter together, or First Son would read it independently (5-10 minutes), finish the history reader (5 minutes). We could easily combine Thursday and Friday's work if we needed a shorter week.
Independently, First Son made vocabulary flash cards each week. He'd write about half of them on Monday and the other half on Tuesday. He would review them every day, using the same system I have for memory verses (daily, every other day, weekly, and monthly practice). Once a week or so, I would go through the flash cards with him and move them back as he mastered them. He was responsible for finishing the activity book pages by the end of the day on Friday and would sometimes save them all for one day or do a page or two on different days.

It seems like a lot, but most of the days I would spend only 15-20 minutes with him on Latin. I personally think daily practice is essential for learning a language and was willing to devote that time to the subject. (Latin and Math are the only two things we did five days a week.) His Latin vocabulary has grown tremendously (as has mine!) and I have caught him wandering the house conjugating verbs or declining nouns absentmindedly. The derivatives work was probably the most difficult for him, but the most beneficial for me. I often found I could remember the Latin vocabulary because I knew the English derivatives.

I think you could use this program with a range of ages, but First Daughter in first grade was not yet ready for a program with this much grammar. She went through the first book of Song School Latin this year, independently, and I will probably buy the second book for her to use next year. I will probably then start Primer A with her in third grade though we might go more slowly. When she's ready for it, I will only need to purchase the activity book.

As I said, we've been really pleased and we'll be starting Latin for Children Primer B in the fall. In addition to Amazon (all the affiliate links above) and Classical Academic Press, I've found competitive prices on these products at Sacred Heart Books and Gifts (not an affiliate link). I also purchased some of my books used on Cathswap, though there aren't many available there.

Docendo, discimus. - Seneca
By teaching, we learn.
Chapter maxum for chapters 24 and 25

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bethlehem Books Print Sale Friday Only!

For anyone who missed the ebook sale or just prefers holding a real live book, Bethlehem Books is having a sale on their print books. Everything in stock will be 35% off. I think the sale starts at midnight, but maybe the coupon code would already work. Find the details here. I know I keep talking about this publisher, but I really cannot recommend them highly enough!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Homeschool Review: Clare's Costly Cookie

Clare's Costly Cookie: A Young Heart Discovers the Way of Love
by Julie Kelly, illustrated by Mary MacArthur

The owner of Sacred Heart Books and Gifts recommended this book to me when I emailed her requesting recommendations for First Communion preparation and first grade catechism. I am often leery of books from new small Christian (in this case, Catholic) publishers because many of them are simply books of a weaker quality, but I was wonderfully surprised by this gem!

The twenty chapters each have at least one illustration and end with a Bible verse, which could be used for memory verses. We read one chapter each week, taking a break during Advent.

In the book, Clare speaks to Jesus after encounters with her family or parents in which she has often misbehaved. She talks about what happened, how she felt, and asks for help in understanding how Jesus wants her to behave and for the strength to follow his will. The chapters often include stories of a saint or two as well. Clare listens quietly to what Jesus says and then responds with insight and growth.

We were not preparing for First Communion this year, as our parish celebrates that sacrament in second grade and we decided to include our children in the regular program (which is excellent and includes presentations from Catechesis of the Good Shepherd), but this book is more about teaching children how to pray and listen for God's response to prayer than First Communion. (In the book, Clare has already received her First Communion.) 

First Daughter adored this book. It was far and away her favorite lesson time book in all of first grade. Clare's struggled are very much those of any young girl with brothers and sisters, so First Daughter understood exactly how she felt. More than a catechism, it provides an example of how a child could grow in her faith and then put that growth into action with a subsequent change in her behavior. What does it mean to live as a Christian when you are a nine-year-old American living today? This book can help a child answer that question.

I read this book aloud to First Daughter, but she could have easily read it herself (and did, once we finished it). I think this book could be particularly good for families who have just entered the Catholic church, as stories of the saints and practices like adoration are incorporated into the story. A new convert could receive an introduction while sharing a wonderful book with the family.

I purchased this book from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts (linked directly to the book above) and highly recommend the store. It's also available from third party sellers at Amazon and directly from the publisher at Nativity Press. I receive nothing if you purchase from Sacred Heart of Nativity Press and receive a small commission if you follow the link to Amazon, put something in your cart, and make a purchase.

Monday, March 24, 2014

American History Picture Books in 2012-2013 Post 3 of 5: World War I, Women's Suffrage, and the 1920s

This is the third post in a series on the picture books we read along with our American History studies in 2012-2013 when First Son was in  third grade, First Daughter was in kindergarten, Second Daughter was four and Second Son wasn't paying attention.

Gold Rush Winter by Claire Rudolf Murphy, illustrated by Richard Waldrep, is an early chapter book rather than a picture book, but it could easily be read aloud to young children. It's based on the real life of a girl who joined her father in Alaska during the Gold Rush. It's entertaining and informative and a good addition to any study of Alaska or the Gold Rush.


Emily by Michael Bedard, pictures by Barbara Cooney, is a story of Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite poets, illustrated by Barbara Cooney, one of my favorite illustrators, so I can't explain why it wasn't on my schedule for the year. It's a fictionalized account of a friendship between a neighbor child and the poet that shows how she lived and reluctantly interacted with others. It would make a wonderful complement to any study of Dickinson.


Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, pictures by Melissa Sweet, is a new book (published in 2013) so we didn't read it when we studied this era, but it's a fantastic book. It's about immigration, women's rights, unions, industrialization, and tells the inspiring story of a courageous young woman. Combine this book with a discussion of continuing dangerous conditions in factories in other parts of the world and you could have quite the conversation.


Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children by Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debby Atwell, is not a book we read during our studies because I hadn't read it yet (it was published in March 2013), but it's now one of my favorite picture books. I particularly think it would fit in well with a reading through American history because it offers a more joyful glimpse of the era. Read with Brave Girl, younger readers could contrast the two books and see that while some are courageous and walk picket lines, others are courageous and build libraries. We need both.

I didn't read The Donkey of Gallipoli: A True Story of Courage in World War I by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frane Lessac, to the children because I really tried to focus more on what was happening in America than overseas during the wars. (This was American history; we also cover the wars in Western history.) Also, this story is probably more appropriate for older elementary students or even middle school students, but it's a marvelous true tale of bravery and the devastation of war. The illustrations are brilliant, filling every bit of every page with color.

When Esther Morris Headed West: Women, Wyoming, and the Right to Vote by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, tells the story of Esther Morris, the first woman to hold elected office in the United States. What I like best about the book is how the focus is not just on Esther Morris, but on the man who believed women should be able to vote and the lawyer who changed his mind when he saw how well Esther managed herself as a judge. The book seemed to have a touch more law and politics than I thought my girls would enjoy, so I just put it in the book basket this time around.

I Could Do That!: Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White, pictures by Nancy Carpenter, is a book on Esther Morris that was better for my young girls. Esther is brave, competent, and doesn't get discouraged even when she doesn't get her way. The phrase "I could do that!" is one children will eagerly adopt.

Mama Went to Jail for the Vote by Kathleen Karr, illustrated by Malene Laugesen, tells the story of the women's suffrage movement in the early 1900s from the point of view of the daughter of a suffragist. While a fictionalized account, it gives a good idea of what life was like for the women in the movement, including supervising the cook and dinner for their husbands. It's full of high ideals and wonderful illustrations.

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrations by Melissa Sweet, is a biography of Horace Pippen I discovered after our year was done, but it would have been a great addition to our studies. Pippen was inspiring as a person and the illustrations are evocative of his work. (Melissa Sweet has illustrated so many wonderful books!)

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue  by Anna Harwell Celenza is a fun look at music composition as Gershwin is composing Rhapsody in Blue. It focuses more on the process of the composition rather than technical terms or everything that influenced him, but it's perfect for young children as an introduction to much of the music of 1920s America. The included CD is a fantastic end to the book as children are prepared to listen by the story. The piece itself is also one most children will enjoy, of course. I love the illustrations.

Waiting for the Evening Star by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Susan Jeffers, tells of two brothers growing up in Vermont just before World War II. Their lives shaped by the seasons and the farm, by the community in which they lived, and by their dreams. The older brother, Luke, dreams of traveling and seeing the world, and eventually joins the Navy to fight in the war. Though he doesn't actually die in the book, his brother imagines that he will never return as he watches the train carrying his brother leave. It is bittersweet, both for the brother who remains and for the kind of childhood they had that has in many ways disappeared.


The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie S. Miller, illustrations by Jon Van Zyle, is a non-fiction book on the events behind the Iditarod, the race in 1925 to bring antitoxin serum to Nome, Alaska, where diptheria raged. There is a lot of text, so I put this in our book basket for First Son to read if he wanted, but I did not want to neglect it in this post because the illustrations are so amazing. The text is good, too, and the story is both exciting and inspiring. This is an excellent book for any child interested in Alaska, medicine, tests of endurance, or dog sledding.


Posts in This Series - I'll update this list with links to all the others after they post.
#1: Slavery and the Civil War
#2: Progressive Era and Immigration
#3: World War I, Women's Suffrage, and the 1920s (this post)
#4: The Great Depression and World War II
#5: Civil Rights, Hawai'i, Alaska, and Space Exploration

Here's a post on the books we read about World War I and the Jazz Age when First Son was in kindergarten. In addition, you can find links to all the picture books we read through American history in 2009-2010, when First Son was in kindergarten. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bethlehem Books eBooks Sale: Thursday and Friday Only

Bethlehem Books is having a two day sale on their ebooks today (March 20th) and tomorrow (March 21st) only. Their eVersion books (electronic editions of books in print) are $2.95 and the eStacks books (electronic editions of books not currently available in print) are $0.95. I don't think I've read a book from Bethlehem Books I didn't like, and there are many that are absolutely wonderful. If you have an ereader for your children, this is a great opportunity to select enough quality books to last them through their summer reading or to supplement studies with independent reading. Because of their quality, the print versions tend to remain relatively expensive, even used.

I've read a couple of their ebooks on my Kindle and they worked perfectly. Their easy to navigate and include all the illustrations. Most of the books mentioned below, a few of my favorites from Bethlehem Books, I read in print.
 The Mitchells: Five for Victory, Canadian Summer, and Friendly Gables by Hilda van Stockum is a trilogy focused on the Mitchell family. My kids and I enjoyed these books tremendously as family read-alouds. They are appropriate for all ages, but Canadian Summer might be one of my favorite books of all-time.

Old Sam, Dakota Trotter by Don Alonzo Taylor was another favorite read aloud for our family. I enjoyed the book myself, and was surprised at how much more it delighted the children.

Victory on the Walls by Frieda Clark Hyman is historical fiction of the best sort, bringing the time of Nehemiah to life through the eyes of his young nephew. I read it just this month as I began preparing for our studies next year. First Son will be reading it independently in fifth grade.

I'm in the middle of Hittite Warrior by Joanne Williamson right now, also in preparation for First Son's independent reading next year. It's definitely for more mature readers as the book includes the destruction of Uriah's home and murder of his mother and sister before the first couple of chapters are through. There's human sacrifice, prayers to pagan gods, torture of prisoners, and war. Even as an adult, though, I've never felt such a great interest in the clashes of the cultures of the Hittites, Canaanites, Egyptians, Hebrews, and others, in the time of Deborah.

Big John's Secret by Eleanor 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.

Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints by Ethel Pochocki are enchanting tales of saints perfect for young readers or to read aloud to the whole family. They are almost two volumes of the same book as the saints are arranged alphabetically across the two books. More Once Upon a Time Saints is not yet available as an ebook. Ethel Pochocki's Saints and Heroes contains many stories of more recent saints and is appropriate for older kids ready for tales of martyrs for the faith in modern times.

Of course, Bethlehem Books publishes a great many print only books as well that are worth your time. The Fairchild Family books will ever be one of my favorite series to read aloud to a young family and I can't recommend them highly enough.

This post is entirely my own. I have not received anything in exchange for this post and will not receive anything if anyone follows a link and makes a purchase.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Favorite Picture Books: Mrs. Harkness and the Panda

 by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

This is a relatively new book I learned about over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (which is a fabulous place to learn about new picture books and illustrators).

Mr. Harkness is an explorer who dies while he is on a quest in China in 1936 to find and bring home a panda bear, a creature so elusive many scientists believe, like unicorns, they do not exist. His wife, whom he married just a few weeks before his expedition, decides to honor his memory by taking on the quest herself. Despite discouragement from every side, Mrs. Harkness simply smiles and goes on with the expedition. She travels to China, into the depths of the interior, and succeeds! She brings home Su Lin, a baby panda, who finds a home in Chicago's Brookfield Zoo to much fanfare.

A note at the end of the book discusses the change in environmental attitudes that make us feel it was wrong of her to take the baby panda away from the wild and its mother, explaining that, in many ways, this act was the beginning of the idea that we should be helping animals survive in the wild rather than hunting them.

The book is interesting, exciting, and a wonderful reminder of what we can do when we have faith in ourselves and our vocation. The illustrations are a perfect accompaniment. Much of the art is a collage-style including papers the illustrators collected in China. One of my favorite pages shows Mrs. Harkness's journey to China with four postcards from time period of the Red Sea, Ceylon, Singapore, and China. There are even a few actual photographs of Ruth Harkness and Su Lin.

You could read this book when talking about the 1930s, women explorers, environmental issues, pandas, or China. Or you could just read it to enjoy the illustrations and an exciting story.

Monday, March 17, 2014

American History Picture Books in 2012-2013 Post 2 of 5: Progressive Era and Immigration

This is the second post in a series on the picture books we read along with our American History studies in 2012-2013 when First Son was in  third grade, First Daughter was in kindergarten, Second Daughter was four and Second Son wasn't paying attention.

First of all, I forgot to mention a fun book in my last post on Slavery and the Civil War, Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend) by Deborah Hopkinson with pictures by John Hendrix. We didn't read this for our study because I found it later, but it's a fun tale of Abraham Lincoln's youth, when he was saved from near-certain death by a friend. It humorously reminds us that we don't know everything about the past from the tales that come down to us. What I love most about it, though, is the thought at the end that even the actions of a child can lead to great things in the future.

Going West by Jean Van Leeuwen, illustrated by Thomas B. Allen, is a nice book about a pioneer family traveling west by covered wagon to the prairie. The weather is harsh, the neighbors are few, but the family makes a home.

Two Scarlet Songbirds: A Story of Anton Dvorak by Carole Lexa Schaefer, illustrated by Elizabeth Rosen, tells of Dvorak's visit to Iowa in 1893 and his composition of his American Quartet. It's fictionalized, but fun to read. I read this again to the children recently as part of our music appreciation. Then we listened to some of the piece on Spotify.


I put in our book basket Ten Mile Day and the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad by Mary Ann Fraser. That's a fine book, but just last year Brian Floca published Locomotive. The illustrations are stunning and the text is as much a part of the story as it tells the story. The endpapers are full of additional information on the first transcontinental railway line as well as the engine itself. I can completely understand why it won the Caldecott Medal and think it would be perfect for this kind of study. You might need to pause and finish on another day with younger children (just watch to see if their interest is lagging) because it is such a rich book.

I found two biographies of George Washington Carver I liked. I finally decided to ask the children which the wanted to hear. Based purely on the front cover, First Daughter requested A Weed Is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver written and illustrated by Aliki. I also really enjoyed A Man for All Seasons: The Life of George Washington Carver by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Wil Clay. They convey similar information and are both inspiring.


When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest, illustrated by P.J. Lynch, is one of my favorite picture books. I love it and any excuse to read it.

Journey to Ellis Island: How My Father Came to America by Carol Bierman, illustrated by Laurie McGaw, is the true story of the author's father who immigrated in 1922. It's written for older elementary or even middle school students and is full of personal stories and facts about Ellis Island, the people who passed through it, and the lives they led in America. The lovely illustrations are combined with reproductions of photographs. I put this in the book basket for the kids to look through. If I had read it aloud, I would have spread it over a few days.


Posts in This Series - I'll update this list with links to all the others after they post.
#1: Slavery and the Civil War
#2: Progressive Era and Immigration (this post)
#3: World War I, Women's Suffrage, and the 1920s
#4: The Great Depression and World War II
#5: Civil Rights, Hawai'i, Alaska, and Space Exploration

While First Son was in kindergarten, we read these books on Reconstruction, Urbanization, and Industrialization and these book on the Progressive Era. In addition, you can find links to all the picture books we read through American history in 2009-2010, when First Son was in kindergarten. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Review: Unplanned

by Abby Johnson with Cindy Lambert

Abby Johnson was the Director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas, when she reached a crisis in her career and faith. Within a few days, she had quit her job and was volunteering with the Coalition for Life, praying outside the fence of her former employer. This book is her story, told in a clear and simple style. She shares some remarkable confessions which make it a powerful testimony.

This book was not written to explain her choices and convert her former friends and colleagues from Planned Parenthood; it is obviously written for those who are already pro-life, as a celebration of prayer and hopefulness. It's for the people who were praying in the 40 Days for Life campaigns across the country.

I found it fascinating because of the few times the author gave advice to her audience. She encouraged readers to be kind and considerate to those who are employed, volunteering, or visiting such clinics, showing how the prayers and compassion for the employees and the clinic's patrons shown by the pro-life advocates outsider her clinic were a powerful part of her own decisions.

I also appreciated her emphasis on the good and noble intentions of those who work at places like Planned Parenthood. I think recognizing the good of those with whom we disagree is always beneficial.

Abby Johnson was raised in a Christian home and felt loved and supported by her parents. Reading her story made me think carefully about how we speak to our children about pro-life issues. I want my daughters to come to us if they find themselves in any trouble and I want to give them the knowledge they need to recognize Truth and the way to love others and care for them as God would have us. That doesn't always mean making things seem easier.

The most powerful message of the book for me, though, is that of those who befriended her and loved her, even when they disagreed on the most important issues.
But the process of seeing previously close friends turn away from me because we now disagreed about the crucial issue of abortion reminds me of the very different brand of friendship I'm also seeing in action these days. I'm thinking of people like Elizabeth, Marilisa, some friends from church and even college days--people who befriended me and stood by me for years even though they did not agree with what I did at Planned Parenthood, even though they did not believe in abortion. Those people modeled for me something far deeper, far stronger than situational friendship: they loved and accepted me even when I was (or am) doing something they found morally objectionable. They didn't just talk about love--they put flesh on that concept.
I think this is an example of what can happen when we love like Pope Francis reminds us Jesus tells us to love. We love everyone, no matter their sins or what we think may be their sins. We love so they can experience the love of Christ. I know I've been on the receiving end of this kind of love and I can only try my best every day to give this kind of love to others.

If you're a pro-life Christian, especially if you're evangelical, you'll probably love this book. If you're not a Christian, you might become quite annoyed by the end.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Three Things by First Son

First Son and I are going through an old version of Stories With a View very slowly and mostly for fun. This is the poem he wrote last week (fourth grade) on three things that make him glad.

Good friends = happy person
Good food = happy stomach
Honey = happy throat

His descriptions leave a little be to desired, but he giggled the whole time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Quote: The Idea of a University

Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman in the fourth discourse of The Idea of a University, in part seven:
We are not living in an age of wealth and loyalty, of pomp and stateliness, of time-honoured establishments, of pilgrimage and penance, of hermitages and convents in the wild, and of fervent populations supplying the want of education by love, and apprehending in form and symbol what they cannot read in books. Our rules and our rubrics have been altered now to meet the times, and hence an obsolete discipline may be a present heresy.
In part eight:
Many men there are, who, devoted to one particular subject of thought, and making its principles the measure of all things, become enemies to Revealed Religion before they know it, and, only as time proceeds, are aware of their own state of mind. These, if they are writers or lecturers, while in this state of unconscious or semi-concious unbelief, scatter infidel principles under the garb and colour of Christianity; and this, simply because they have made their own science, whatever is is, Political Economy, or Geology, or Astronomy, to the neglect of Theology, the centre of all truth, and view every part or the chief parts of knowledge as if developed from it, and to be tested and determined by its principles.
In part twelve:
I am not denying, I am granting, I am assuming, that there is reason and truth in the "leading ideas," as they are called, and "large views" of scientific men; I only say that, though they speak truth, they do not speak the whole truth; that they speak a narrow truth, and think it a broad truth; that their deductions must be compared with other truths, which are acknowledged to be truths, in order to verify, complete, and correct them. They say what is true, exceptis excipiendis; what is true, but requires guarding; true, but must not be ridden too hard, or made what is called a hobby; true, but not the measure of all things; true, but if thus inordinately, extravagantly, ruinously carried out, in spite of other sciences, in spite of Theology, sure to become but a great bubble, and to burst.

Monday, March 10, 2014

American History Picture Books in 2012-2013 Post 1 of 5: Slavery and the Civil War

Last year, when First Son was in third grade, we studied American History from slavery through modern times. I used a hodge-podge of books with First Son (based around what I could find at our local library). Because I have an insatiable love of picture books, I selected about one a week to read to the girls that was set in the same time period. For much of the year, First Son read these books to the girls for me. It was necessary because I was working much more than I had planned and while I was a little sad to miss out on the time with them, I think it forced him to pay attention to books that were still good for him and interesting which he might otherwise have ignored.

I'm going to break the year into a series of five posts because otherwise I think the number of books would be overwhelming. These are the picture books we read covering the time of slavery in America and the Civil War. We spent twelve weeks on this era.

First Son was in third grade, First Daughter was in kindergarten, Second Daughter was four and Second Son wasn't paying attention.


Priscilla and the Hollyhocks by Anne Broyles, illustrated by Anne Alter, is the story of a young slave with a Cherokee owner who joins the family on the Trail of Tears. Despite being a difficult topic for young children, this story focuses on finding a way to remain a "person" in slavery, seeking out the loveliness of creation, and a few people who blessed those who were suffering. It's a wonderful book.

Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, is a tale of Harriet Tubman when she was just a child. It's a rich look at her life as a slave child, masterfully illustrated by Mr. Pinkney. The harsh treatment by her masters is contrasted with the love and comfort she receives from her family. This is a great way to begin or continue a discussion of slavery with young children.

Follow the Drinking Gourd written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter is a popular choice for this subject. For those who are interested, the music and lyrics for the folk song are included in the back of the book. If I were reading it now, we'd listen to a version of the song on Spotify.

Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers written and illustrated by Karen B. Winnick is a fun tale of a young girl who wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln, encouraging him to grow whiskers. It is based on a true story and is one of encouragement to all young girls. Most of all, it shows some of the generosity, warmth, and humor of President Lincoln.

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James Ransome, is one of my favorite books, even if the idea of a quilt showing the way to freedom is a little unlikely. Clara is a slave taught to be a seamstress so she can work in the house rather than the fields. Working in the kitchen, she often hears stories of the fields and landmarks around and quilts together a map to freedom. James Ransome's illustrations are lovely as always. (Some nice member of PaperBackSwap.com sent me a copy signed by the illustrator.)


Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, is a fantastic book. The lyrical text is perfectly combined with the glowing illustrations by Mr. Nelson. What I love most about this book is how the strength and courage of Harriet Tubman shine throughout the book.

Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome, is the work of one of my favorite authors and one of my favorite illustrators. The text briefly tells of a group's journey from slavery to freedom in Canada along the underground railroad. The note at the end is helpful. The illustrations, of course, are wonderful.

Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, was a favorite in our family. Though it does not shy away from the harsh realities of a slave's life (his wife and children are sold away from him), the idea of mailing yourself to freedom is ridiculous enough to startle and delight children. And it worked! Mr. Nelson's illustrations are as perfect as always.


A Place Called Freedom by Scott Russell Sanders, illustrated by Thomas B. Allen, is inspired by the true story of the founding of Lyles Station in Indiana. It's a sweet, simply story that emphasizes family, perseverance, and hard work. The families escape slavery but the focus is on how they create their own lives after they reach free soil. The illustrations are among my favorites.
 
The Silent Witness by Robin Friedman, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola, is such an interesting book. The McLean family was coincidentally involved both in the battle in Manassas and the final surrender in Appomattox. Lula's rag doll was present at the surrender and carried off by Colonel Moore. Though the events in the book are frightening (as was the Civil War), this is a "safe" story of a family's experience of the war because they always seem to escape real harm. Other than the kidnapping of the rag doll, which you can now see on display in Appomattox.

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco tells the story of two men of the Union army during the Civil War, one separated from his unit, the other running from his unit. A young white enlisted man learns the true reason for the war. There is so much sadness in this book. I finally did when First Son was in third grade and First Daughter was in kindergarten because the ending is so powerful. First Daughter was a little sad, but the uplifting ending was enough to overcome her sorrow. I still recommend parents read it first to make sure it would be appropriate.

The Last Brother: A Civil War Tale by Trinka Hakes Noble, illustrated by Robert Papp, is a beautifully illustrated book of a young bugler who follows his 16-year-old brother into the Civil War after receiving news that their two older brothers had been killed in the war. Gabe faces his first battle at Gettysburg. The book is full of details about daily army life at that time, for a bugler, and touches on just about every important topic in war. Gabe happens to meet a Confederate bugler in the woods and becomes friendly. In the battle, then, he faces the harsh reality of someone he knows on both sides of the battlefield, something not uncommon in the Civil War. This was a hard book to read aloud to my young children, but they were all enthralled. It's one worth sharing, especially with older children.

The Cemetery Keepers of Gettysburg by Linda Oatman High, illustrations by Laura Francesca Filippucci, is the tale of the family that cared for the cemetery at Gettysburg. It's an illuminating look at the battle from the point of view of bystanders in danger. Parts of it are frightening and distressing, so it's important to read it before sharing with young or sensitive children. This is based on a true story and one of the things I love about this book is the bravery of average people and very young people in the face of responsibility.

Wagon Wheels by Barbara Brenner, pictures by Don Bolognese, is one of my favorite books. It's an early chapter book (An I Can Read Level 3 book) in which a black man and his three sons move to Kansas (hooray for Kansas) to the free town of Nicodemus. Their mother died on the journey. They endure harsh weather and hunger. They are saved by the Osage Indians. Their father moves on to seek a better homes, leaving the three young boys (with neighbors near-by). They care for each other, support each other, and help each other on a 150 mile journey to join their father. It's amazing how much wonder, strength, courage, and familial love is packed in this short book, all based on true stories. The pictures are enjoyable, too.

A Band of Angels by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Raul Colon, is inspired by the true story of the Jubilee Singers at Fish School, which served former slaves. This was a wonderful story for the end of our unit, touching on the courage of freed slaves, the desire for an education, and their dedication to each other. You can also read about the Fisk Jubilee Singers on their website.

Though I didn't read it with my children, a new book I found at our library called Light in the Darkness: A Story about How Slaves Learned in Secret by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James Ransome would be a good one to include. It focuses on the great desire of some slaves to learn to read, risking capture and beatings to attend pit schools.

Posts in This Series - I'll update this list with links to all the others after they post.
#1: Slavery and the Civil War (this post)
#2: Progressive Era and Immigration
#3: World War I, Women's Suffrage, and the 1920s
#4: The Great Depression and World War II
#5: Civil Rights, Hawai'i, Alaska, and Space Exploration

You can find some more books on the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln on this post from First Son's kindergarten year. Here are links to all the picture books we read through American history that year (2009-2010). These are some of my favorite books and I'm excited to be planning a return to reading through American history in picture books as part of our American history studies next year.

Friday, March 7, 2014

February 2014 Book Reports

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart is the third book which wraps up the story line. I didn't like this book quite as much as the first two because of the introduction of ESP. I don't have a problem with ESP in a book in and of itself. At our house, it'll just be put into the same category as magic, unicorns, and other imaginary aspects of fairy tales and legends. I was disappointed because, up until that point in the story, as unlikely as the plot was, the children were using their own intelligence and skills to maneuver out of sticky situations. A particularly intelligent child who identified with the outcasts who bonded together in friendship through adversity would suddenly feel a lack of similarity to the main characters. So as I find again and again, the third book in a trilogy disappoints a little, but it was still enjoyable and still had wonderful moments of sacrifice, courage, and friendship. First Son will find it on his reading list for the summer after fourth grade. (library copy)

The Way of Holy Joy by Sofia Cavaletti (received as a gift)

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (purchased copy)

As You Like It (Shakespeare Made Easy) by William Shakespeare is the third play we're studying this year in fourth grade. The modern text in this book was quite explicit at times, so I would share it only with mature high schoolers, but it was fine for my purposes. This is certainly not my favorite Shakespearean play but I anticipate it'll be a fun one with which to end our year. (purchased copy)

Tomorrow, When the War Began (The Tomorrow Series #1) by John Marsden had great reviews online and I thought would be a good one to listen to while I exercised, when I couldn't quite give it my full attention and when I wanted a good story that would give me something to eagerly anticipate to encourage me. An invasion of Australia is completely unbelievable, but the idea of a group of rural Australian teenagers surviving and hindering the effort was not so much. Unfortunately, the book started out slowly and was bogged down by the main character's philosophizing. Frankly, I didn't think it was that well written and am a little surprised it remains as popular as it is. I've agreed to read the second in the series for a review site, but I'm not sure I can make it through all seven. (Playaway from the library)

Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah is listed as an adaptation of the author's biography for young adults, but I feel like it might be better described as an abridgement. I kept feeling like I'd read it before because I had read Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter. The main theme of the book is the overcoming of child abuse and neglect so there are some hard scenes. There is also a often an overlay of fear during World War II and the advanced of armed Communists. I think this could be a good choice for more mature readers in middle grades or struggling readers in high school, those who are ready for more difficult topics and themes but not yet ready to tackle the adult biography. (I can't remember if there was any more violent or graphic descriptions of abuse in Falling Leaves, but I'm also of the opinion that high school students, especially those in later years, should be able to tackle difficult topics, especially when reading along with an adult. (library copy)

Hippos in the Night: Autobiographical Adventures in Africa by Christina M. Allen is the autobiographical account of a young biologist who travels with a group by van and bike through parts of Africa as part of an educational experience for school groups connecting with them regularly online. It's written at an easily readable level for children (perhaps third grade level) and has lots of interesting notes at the end of the book on the animals encountered. There were some nice parts on interactions with the people of the area, too, contrasting the modern world of the large cities there with the more nomadic and poorer peoples. It didn't seem too preachy, which was good, but it was sometimes simplistic. Overall, a fine book and one First Son will probably read next year, as recommended for the second year of Level 2 African studies at Mater Amabilis. (library copy)

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart (library copy)

Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo is the story of a young boy swept overboard on a trip sailing around the world with his parents. He awakes to find himself on an island, but he's not alone. The tale of the friendship that develops between the boy and the island's resident is poignantly written but still exciting. I'm looking forward to sharing this book with First Son who will either read it this summer (after fourth grade) or as one of his independent reading books next year. It should be pretty easy for him to read, but the themes of war (all in the past) and loss might be better for him now that he's older. (library copy)

Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth (library copies of Divergent and Insurgent, Allegiant purchased for the Kindle)


Books in Progress (and date started)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Favorite Picture Books: Miss Moore Thought Otherwise

by Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debby Atwell

This book is a biography of an important librarian in the early 1900s, Anne Carroll Moore, who was instrumental in changing how libraries served children. She also wielded her pen to write reviews of children's books, influencing not only what libraries purchased and provided for children, but what authors wrote and publishers published. Though she is not as well known as many other people in history, any child who can visit a lovely library can easily understand how her work directly influences his or her life today.

Miss Moore was not afraid to go against the common thoughts of her day, willing to "think otherwise" and act on it, but I feel like this is a nice quiet sort of revolt. I imagine her tilting her head to the side, considering her options, and then going ahead with her crazy ideas of comfy rooms, books children could check out, reading aloud to children, and providing puppets and other programs. She lived at a time when women were being beaten for trying to organize in labor unions and jailed for demanding the right to vote, but she also managed to change the world. She found something she loved and used her gifts to bring that love to as many children as possible.

The illustrations are absolutely lovely, so bright and colorful. My favorite illustration shows Miss Moore surrounded by joyous rays of light as she surveys New York City, which is displayed in all its beautiful glory. They show some of the excitement and giddiness of that era when anything seemed possible.

I have no doubt Miss Moore would have delighted to add this book to her library's collection.