Monday, October 31, 2016

More than a Romance: Ivanhoe

by Sir Walter Scott

Mater Amabilis recommends Ivanhoe as a "classic" read in Level 3, Year 1 (sixth grade). I had only waded a few pages into the author's introduction when I decided it wasn't a good fit for First Son, being much too convoluted. Last summer, though, I glanced through the book itself and realized the text itself is more accessible than the introduction. So I assigned it for the first term of Level 3, Year 2 (seventh grade), and decided to read it along with First Son rather than the summer before.

In the past, I've interspersed the assigned Classics with First Son's other independent reading, but he reads his schoolbooks so slowly, I felt like he was stuck reading the same book for ages. This year, I decided to try something different which I think it working well for us. He still has independent reading, for which I usually assign a book though sometimes I let him choose. He reads from that book 4-5 days a week for about 15 minutes each day. It's not much, but it means he's reading something that, while not challenging his reading level, is more substantial than the reading material he chooses. (Ugh.)

In addition, I assign Classics. I started the year with Ivanhoe. (I thought since it was a Year 1 book, it would be less difficult than the Year 2 suggestions, but I can tell already it was more difficult in reading level and content than The Scarlet Pimpernel which he's just begun. I think I will switch the order for the next child.) At first, we tried three chapters two days a week but the reading is dense and First Son was struggling. I soon switched it to two chapters three days a week. That was better, but it seemed to still regularly take him 45 minutes to an hour to finish his Ivanhoe reading. I think partly this was just his struggle to maintain his attention level, but there's no doubt this is a challenging read.

Another change I made was meant to increase our conversations about the book compared to what we discussed during last year's Classics (which was basically nothing). I asked First Son to write two questions in a notebook for me and we talked about those when we had his individual lessons. After a few weeks, I specified I wanted his questions to be ones I could not answer with yes or no. These questions were sometimes quick and easy and sometimes introduced more serious discussions about fidelity to the faith and treatment of those of other races and religions. Ivanhoe offers plenty of opportunities to discuss how people of faith should behave.
"If thou readest the Scripture," said the Jewess, "and the lives of the saints, only to justify thine own license and profligacy, thy crime is like that of him who extracts poison from the most healthful and necessary herbs."
There are instances of damsels carried off against their will for nefarious purposes, just as a warning, in addition to battles with their share of gore.
The air was filled with groans and clashing of arms; the floors were slippery with the blood of despairing and expiring wretches.
Though many of the religious of the book display sins small and large, the book itself is one of virtue and heroic courage. Those who have behaved ill are clearly shown as such.
But the moment had now arrived when earth and all his treasures were gliding from before his eyes, and when the savage baron's heart, though hard as a nether millstone, became appalled as he gazed forward into the waste darkness of futurity.
One of my favorite quotes of the entire book is from an endnote by "Laurence Templeton" (actually a nom de plume of Sir Walter Scott). It is a reference for the scene where the Knight Templar barges into a burning room to rescue the Jewish maiden from the flames (by kidnapping her against her will, for a second time).
Incident from Grand Cyrus. The Author has some idea that this passage is imitated from the appearance of Philidaspes, before the divine Mandane, when the city of Babylon is on fire, and he proposes to carry her from the flames. But the theft, if there be one, would be rather too severely punished by the penance of searching for the original passage through the interminable volumes of the Grand Cyrus.
Ah, if only he had Google Books!

I highly recommend Ivanhoe for Level 3 students. I suggest, however, being willing to read along with the student and to be prepared to discuss issues of race, religion, and morality. You may also want to try to find a copy that doesn't have "A Romance" on the cover as that was a major problem for First Son. Because he's twelve.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Beautifully Packaged Fairy Tale: The Fir Tree

by Hans Christian Andersen
illustrated by Sanna Annukka

This is a brilliantly illustrated, beautifully bound, new hardcover version of one of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales. 

Right on the cover you can see how the illustrator incorporates multidimensional images with simple geometric shapes. Notice the birds nestled in the branches of the tree.  This is a slightly modified version of what I think is an even better image on the second spread of the book, where the tree and birds are all different shades of green.

The colors on each page reflect the tale, oceanic blues for the sailing vessels, muted blacks and blues for the dark of night, bright reds and oranges for the bonfire.

I think this book would be a perfect gift for the homeschooling mom in your life and perhaps for children as well. It's not a fairy tale with a happy ending, but rather a moral tale of those who are destined to travel through life forever dissatisfied and searching for something new and different. Take a minute to read the tale before gifting the book. Originally I thought I might give it to one of my godchildren for Christmas, but have decided it's a little too depressing for the littlest ones. Either of their moms, however, would love it.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions above are my own. The links in this post are not affiliate links.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Days 19-20: Olympic National Park

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Day 19: A dear friend of mine who lives in Seattle drove out to meet us at Seaquest State Park. We had hoped to see Mount St. Helen's in the morning, but it was cloudy. We didn't have much time and decided against driving farther into the monument knowing the weather would probably remain overcast. The children enjoyed the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center so much, though, that we ended up staying longer than planned.

We learned how kind the rangers are there. First Son left his nature notebook at the visitor center, the one with all the stamps and drawings from the first 19 days of our trip. He was despondent when we realized it was missing a few hours later. We searched the van for a few days and then, just hoping, we called the visitor center. Not only had they found it and held onto it for us, but they mailed it without charge to our home in Kansas! It was waiting for us when we returned. A big thanks to the rangers of Washington!

Somehow I managed to not take a single picture at the visitor center! We were all too busy learning about volcanoes, I guess.

At the last minute, we decided to alter our plans and stay at another Washington State Park rather than on the coast of Olympic National Park. We really needed to do some laundry and the coastal campground were very far from a laundromat. We ended up at Bogachiel State Park and it was perfect! Not only did we find a nice large site in a quiet park, but it had two covered picnic tables so we stayed out of the mist while cooking and eating.

Total driving for day 19 - 206 miles.

Day 20: My unbelievably awesome friend drove me and First Daughter into the laundromat in town on Sunday morning to start all our laundry before Mass. Kansas Dad picked us up there to go to church while my friend (did I mention she was awesome) moved our laundry to the dryers. (She's not Catholic.) We forgot it was Pentecost Sunday and, unfortunately, the pastor was speaking to his parish about a big change in their future so the Mass was very long. By the time we made it back to the laundromat, the laundry was dry and folded (again, awesome friend!).

After a hearty breakfast, we visited a real live rain forest: Hoh Rain Forest. Ironically, given all the rain we endured in the desert, it didn't even mist on us in the rain forest. I thought Redwoods was otherworldly, but the rain forest was even more so.

We missed banana slugs at Redwoods, but saw plenty of them and other slimy oozing creatures in the rain forest.

This black one looks a little like a squid.

Then, we drove down to the shore to show the kids tide pools. We ended up at Ruby Beach, another part of Olympic National Park. My friend is an engineer by training, but has volunteered with an aquarium for many years as a beach naturalist so she introduced our Kansas children to the wonders of shore-life with all the knowledge and excitement we could imagine.

I love the coast of the Pacific Northwest. I hope we make it back there someday.

Our guide pointed out creatures everywhere. The dead jellyfish on the beach intrigued the children as much as the living creatures in the pools. My favorite was the sea star.

After a long day of nature, my friend drove back north to take the ferry to Seattle and we drove into town to buy a new pair of water shoes for First Daughter. The cheap pair we'd brought were cutting her poor feet to shreds. (For those paying attention, that's two pairs of shoes we bought for her while on the trip.) Then back to camp for a good night's sleep before our foray into another country!

Total driving for day 20 - 103 miles