Friday, January 29, 2016

Reading 2015: A Year in Review

Looking over my posts from the past year to find my favorite books has reminded me how wonderful the best of them were! Hopefully you find inspiration for reading here and not despair at all the length of the list of books you'd like to read.

The book covers below are affiliate links to Amazon. (Thanks for clicking!) Underneath, I've linked to my book reviews or monthly book report.


Favorite Book of 2015


Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Best Fiction

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Best Non-Fiction


Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Pamela Smith Hill


Best New-to-Me-Author



Best Classic Book I've Never Read Before


The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Best Book I Pre-Read for School


Book that Made Me Laugh


Best Homeschooling or Education Book


I also enjoyed Mind to Mind: An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason and Karen Glass.

Most Challenging


Best Book I Read Aloud



"Read aloud" used loosely since we listened to this on audio CD from the library.

Best Memoir


Best Biography


The Small Woman by Alan Burgess
Best Sports-Related Book


I gave my dad this book for Christmas and he loves it, too.


Most Surprising (in a Good Way)


1776 by David McCullough

Best Book on Faith


The Little Oratory: A Beginner's Guide to Praying in the Home by David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler


My Other Favorite Books
(alphabetical order by title)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
Helena by Evelyn Waugh
The Long Christmas by Ruth Sawyer


For those interested in even more books lists:
2014 list
2013 list

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Favorite Picture Books: It Could Always Be Worse

It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale by Margot Zemach

This book is a Yiddish folk tale retold and illustrated by Margot Zemach. A poor man, overwhelmed by the noise and disagreements of his mother, wife, and six children in a one-room house, begs his rabbi for advice.

The rabbi suggests he bring the chickens inside. Over the course of the book, the poor man returns again and again to the rabbi as the cacophony and mayhem increases with each addition to his household.

All my children laugh as chickens, goats, and other animals are brought into the house. The illustrations show the family in shambles until finally order and peace are restored by the wisdom of the rabbi.

This book is perfect for families with young children and large families in general. If you have a few chickens or goats in your yard, it's even better!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

December 2015 Book Reports

The Nature of Kansas Lands with essays by Elizabeth Schultz - Read my review. (library copy)

The Small Woman by Alan Burgess - Read my review. (library copy)

The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi - Read my review. (library copy)

The Long Christmas by Ruth Sawyer - Read my review. (purchased copy)


Books in Progress (and date started)

The italic print: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). I like to use the little I earn on the blog to purchase birthday and Christmas gifts. Links to PaperBackSwap could give me a referral credit if you follow the link, establish a new account, and post ten books. Links to RC History are affiliate links. Other links are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Season of Beauty of Faith: The Long Christmas

The Long Christmas by Ruth Sawyer

I picked this book up from a bookseller at a conference last year because I love the artwork of Valenti Angelo. We read from an exquisitely decorated The Book of Psalms each day. I remembered Ruth Sawyer's The Year of the Christmas Dragon, so I thought I'd be safe with the text. As a bonus, it smelled deliciously of old book.

A few pages into the Introduction, I knew I had found a treasure.
Never before within our memory has it seemed so important to keep the Long Christmas; to begin early enough and hold to the festival long enough to feel the deep, moving significance of it. For Christmas is a state of mind quite as much as a festival; and who can establish and maintain a state of mind in the rush and turmoil of a single day, or two days? Around no other time of year has been built so much of faith, of beauty. Out of no other festival have grown so many legends.
It bears repeating, "Who can establish and maintain a state of mind in the rush and turmoil of a single day, or two days?" Sawyer is advocating for a "Long Christmas," a celebration of weeks after the day itself, time to soak in the mystery and the loveliness.

Later, Ms. Sawyer quotes Anne Carroll Moore in My Roads:
We too often forget lighting up time at Christmas and lay upon the day itself too heavy a load of material substitutes for the great good gifts of beauty, song, and laughter, of genuine play and fresh adventure in two worlds.
The weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas build an anticipation that may be crushed by an "imperfect" celebration on the day itself. Let the storytelling, singing, and laughing continue throughout the season of Christmas!

Thirteen stories, gathered from various countries, are included in the book: one for Christmas and all the days through Epiphany. Before each tale is a poem or hymn. Some are old carols or hymns, but some, I think, are written by Sawyer.

The tales broach every human emotion but all are centered on the birth of Christ and the celebration of that great feast. From The Holy Lake:
Now pride and scorn are poor bedfellows. They will turn a good man into an empty-headed fool. If there is no longer need of earning daily bread, no longer need of counting the busy hours of the day that life might be wise and diligent, then the empty-headed fool becomes a man both vicious and greedy--a baser metal himself, and good for little but scrapping.
One lone woman continues to welcome the guest in Christ's name, to comfort and nourish. A strange young child comes to her humble cabin on Christmas Eve, rejected from every other village home.
And then he talked to her of his own mother, of their simple life at home, of his brothers and one sister. She saw, in what he told, her own life taking form as it had been, and felt again how good it had been, these things of living, of homely service, of preparing food, of hushing children, of making garments, of keeping a house tidy and pleasant. And while he talked, bringing the years home to her, she nodded and at last slept.
In the morning, she finds the town drowned by a lake along with all the gluttonous, greedy villagers. Though the story seems to hint the stranger was Christ himself, I find it difficult to think he would have suffered more when thinking of what would happen to the people of the town, guilty as they were. (Also, as Catholics we believe Christ would have had no siblings.) Still, a tale does not need to be theologically perfect to be thought-provoking.

My favorite story is The Crib of Bo'Bossu, in which a poor deformed carpenter desires to carve a beautiful new crib for the Christ child in the Nativity scene at the cathedral. His great gift of wood-working, his only gift, he wished to dedicate to drawing the eyes of others to Christ.
With the crib conceived, there remained only to win time for the work. He worked far into the long evenings; he worked at full of moon; he rose an hour before time for morning coffee. His own working hours for the Old One were long enough to tire; but this was work for love and he rested at it.
As the feast neared, he struggled to find time and finally found himself struggling to see in the darkness before the feast before an unfinished cradle. Miraculously, a stranger appears who magnificently completes his gift.

The penultimate story is A Candle for Saint Bridget. Unlike the other stories, all taken from traditional tales, this one is a story of the authors own. Overcome by the spirit of giving when visiting a family struggling vainly against hunger and poverty, she leaves an offering for the children from St. Bridget.

I'm looking forward to reading this book aloud to my children next Advent, in preparation for our own celebration of the Long Christmas.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Virtues, and their Lack, in Action: The Adventures of Pinocchio

The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, translated by M.A. Murray, and illustrated by Roberto Innocenti

I first decided to read The Adventures of Pinocchio to the children after reading Tending the Heart of Virtue. It's hard to believe it took more than two years to get to it.

I found this version at the library after reading through lots of reviews and previewing a few others. We were all fascinated by the illustrations.

The "real" Pinocchio was an unexpected delight, as much for me as for the children. All throughout, Collodi's language resonates with anyone who knows children.
But boys' appetites grow quickly, and after a few minutes, his appetite became a terrible hunger, and in no time his hunger became a ravenous beast.
Pinocchio wants to be good...until faced with temptation. Over and over again, he chooses unwisely and then suffers drastic consequences. My seven-year-old daughter would yell out, "Don't do it, Pinocchio! Don't!" Oh, if only she would listen to her own advice...

The morals of the story are remarkably explicit.
"Remember that children who are determined to do as they please and have their own way regret it sooner or later."
 "Always the same stories. Good night, cricket."
"Good night, Pinocchio, and may Heaven save you from dangers and assassins."
With these words, the talking cricket vanished suddenly, like a light that has been blown out, and the road became darker than ever.
Explicit, and yet, so beautifully stated.


Every one of my children, from five to twelve, loved this book.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Second Daughter's Art from a Smelly Marker Box


We recently read  The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky's Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre (while reading about Russia as we read around the world). It's a fascinating biography of Kandinsky, his synesthesia, and his art.

Later that week, Second Daughter brings me this piece of artwork she has created and tells me it's from a "smelly marker box" because she used her sister's Mr. Sketch markers.


The italic print: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). I like to use the little I earn on the blog to purchase birthday and Christmas gifts.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My Favorite Picture Books: Float

Float by Daniel Miyares

In this wordless picture book, a young boy floats a newspaper boat outside in the rain. Inevitably, it's washed away (being a newspaper boat), but his father comforts and warms him before sending him out in the newly sunny day with a newspaper airplane.

His bright yellow raincoat, hats, and boots shine on every page. The child-like (not childish) delight in the sailboat thrills the reader as well. It's a lovely book of being outside, imagination, the love and comfort of a parent, and rejuvenation to go back out into the world.

You can read an interview with the artist at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and more about Float's at the Horn Book, if you care about such things.

The italic print: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Homeschool Review: Sixth Grade Astronomy

Mater Amabilis for Level 3 science (sixth grade) includes a few books on astronomy and the universe. It's only a part of the year, but I wanted to write about the other texts separately. Our Universe : A Guide to What's Out There by Russell Stannard, Copernicus, Galileo, and the Catholic Sponsorship of Science by Jan Meyerhofer with Mary Daly, and Exploring the Sky: Projects for Beginning Astronomers by Richard Moeschl are the three astronomy-focused books.

I was a little concerned at first by the older publication date of Our Universe. After looking through the book a little and talking with Kansas Dad, though, we decided the knowledge of the universe and planets shared in the book is general enough to be without inaccuracies when compared to more modern texts.

I can understand why this text is recommended by Mater Amabilis. It reads like a conversation with a scientist who loves studying the universe, a scientist who believes in a Creator:
Some people who believe God created the world worry about this. If there was no Time before the moment of creation, how can we have a God who starts out on his own and then, at some later point in time, decides to make a world? We can't. Does that get rid of the idea of God? Some people think yes. I and others think no. The important thing about whether God is the Creator is not how he got things going in the first place, but "Why is there something, rather than nothing?" That still seems like a good question, for which one answer, perhaps the only answer, is "God."
While reading the chapter on the future of the universe, I wondered about current theories. A quick search online found the same two competing theories at the forefront of the current research.

The last chapter discusses what appears to be the randomness of the universe. It presents the surprising perfection of the universe for the presence of life on Earth as a reason to at least consider an omnipotent and loving God who ordered everything.

First Son loved this book. It was not only one of his favorite science books; it was one of his favorite school books. He enjoyed the illustrations and cartoons and was able to narrate it beautifully chapter after chapter.

In the schedule of lessons, the chapter readings from Our Universe are followed by a few days working from Exploring the Sky. This book has lots of fascinating projects using materials you probably have lying around the house. I am not a person who builds things or uses tools; it's something I could change but since Kansas Dad revels in that sort of thing and I prefer reading books, that's how it's remained. First Son wanted to complete lots of projects that involved the types of tools and materials Kansas Dad keeps out in the shed. Unfortunately, Kansas Dad had a particularly busy semester when we were tackling these texts and simply didn't have the time to help with projects week after week. Considering carefully our resources (time), I opted to switch to another book which I already owned and loved.

The Stars by H. A. Rey has plenty of detailed science, especially at the end of the book, but we mostly spent time perusing the constellation charts and then going outside to see if we could find the constellations. I wanted First Son to feel comfortable and familiar with the night sky and this book granted us exactly that. We didn't need any tools, just clear nights (which weren't always available, but that's how life goes).

The third text, Copernicus, Galileo, and the Catholic Sponsorship of Science, is the most challenging of the three. The main text is a speech given by Jane Meyerhofer followed by a response from Mary Daly which allows the student to read two versions of Galileo's story. This book is a wonderful resource in explaining the politics and interactions of the people who lived and breathed and, sometimes, made mistakes including Galileo and the authorities within the Catholic Church. The book contains many more resources for the student (and his or her teacher) like an annotated bibliography, excerpts from John Paul II's 1979 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on faith and science, and a paraphrase of Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany.

The schedule of lessons sets aside two weeks for this book, but First Son really struggled with it. We spent over three weeks reading this book together. I'm convinced the time to delve through the challenging material will reap benefits in the future as the notorious story of Galileo reverberates through all our science studies especially when First Son (and all our children) begin to discuss the intersection of faith and science with young people out in the world.

The italic print: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). I like to use the little I earn on the blog to purchase birthday and Christmas gifts.

I purchased Our Universe and Exploring the Sky used on Amazon. I purchased Copernicus, Galileo, and the Catholic Sponsorship of Science new from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts (not an affiliate link). I received The Stars new as a gift. These reports are my honest opinions.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Love of Christ in China: The Small Woman

The Small Woman by Alan Burgess

Gladys Aylward was a working-class young woman in England who, denied the opportunity to study to be a missionary with an established organization, saved her own money and set off for China in 1932. Alan Burgess wrote The Small Woman based on conversations he had with Gladys and, presumably, letters she wrote. I don't know how it would qualify against today's standards of non-fictional biographies, but it is a beautifully written and fascinating account of Gladys's life and experiences in China.

The journey alone was perilous and eventful, but finally she reached China. Most of her missionary life was based out of a small town named Yangcheng in the remote mountains, two days' travel on a mule track from the end of the road.
The city stood far off on its mountain peak like a caste in a fairy tale. Its high walls grew from the natural rock, and delicate pagodas and temples, still only silhouettes, but made more mysterious by distance, rose high above the walls. Against the satin sky of late afternoon it gave her an impression of unattainable beauty. Weary as she was, Gladys felt her spirit lifted up at the sight. As they drew nearer she saw that, among otherwise barren mountains, there were two quite close to the city that were covered with trees and dense foliage. The trail passed over one, tunneling through green shade until it came out into the hard sunlight again and climbed steeply to the East Gate. On all sides, from that altitude, glorious panoramas of mountain and valley rolled away into the distance. Gladys was enthralled by the natural grandeur. She had never suspected that such a place existed.
Gladys joined a missionary with whom she had conversed by letter, Jeannie Lawson. They opened an inn where they told stories to (eventually) eager muleteers after the evening meal, stories of a remarkable man named Jesus.
She realized now how circumscribed her life in England had been. In Edmonton, she could only see as far as the end of the street; in Belgrave Square she was confined eternally to "servants' quarters" in a rigid caste system. No such thing existed in China.
I think, perhaps, it didn't exist for her, but it's a powerful reminder of the great expanse of the world we cannot know entirely even now in a time of much easier travel and communication.

Gladys didn't just serve the people in her community, she became a part of her community. She impressed the mandarin who gave her a government position and sometimes even asked her advice. After many years, she became a Chinese citizen. When Japan invaded in 1938, she suffered along with the Chinese. She wrote to her mother:
Do not wish me out of this or in any way seek to get me out, for I will not be got out while this trial is on. These are my people; God has given them to me; and I will live or die with them for Him and His Glory.
During the war, she often spied for the Chinese military while on her wanderings between villages. At a meeting with General Ley, a Roman Catholic priest of indeterminate nationality who took up arms and led a guerrilla force against the Japanese, they discussed the conflict between the peaceful role of a missionary and the love of a country unjustly invaded that calls forth action, even bloody action.
"We shall kill many Japanese," he had said unemotionally--not as an ordinary military commander might have announced, "We shall cut their lines of communication!" or: "We shall capture supplies!" or: "We shall hit them hard!" He had gone straight to the heart of the matter.
"We shall kill many Japanese," he repeated. Their eyes met across the lamp. She understood, and he knew she understood, this agonizing dilemma of his Christian conscience. She, too, in the quietness of her prayers, had tried to find some clear path to follow.
Later in the war, she begins a journey with a hundred orphans, attempting to lead them to a place of safety. Facing hungry, exhaustion, cold, and fear, they trekked across the mountains, following Gladys. At one point, they arrived at a river, a river too wide to cross but bereft of local peasants offering boats for travel across. With no other option, they sit and wait for days. One of her older charges asked Gladys why God did not open the waters as he did for Moses.
She looked wearily at the pretty, childish face, the ingenuous wide eyes. "I am not Moses, Sualan," she said.
"But God is always God, Ai-weh-deh. You have told us so a hundred times. If He is God He can open the river for us."
For a moment she did not know what to say. How to tell a hungry child on the banks of an immense and wide-flowing river that miracles were not just for the asking? How to say, perhaps we are not worthy of a miracle? How to say, although I can face a mortal enemy wherever he may beset me, I cannot open these vast waters? I have no power other than the power of my own faith.
She said: "Let you and I kneel down and pray, Sualan. And perhaps soon our prayers will be answered."
Eventually, their prayers are answered and they are ferried across the river and allowed to continue on their journey.
The mountains in their long years of sun and wind and rain must have seen many strange sights, but it is doubtful that they have seen anything more unusual, or more gallant, than this column of children led by a small woman with a tear-stained face, caroling with such shrill determination as she led her band onward toward the promised land.
Gladys saved those children. She was prevented from returning to China by government authorities. Eventually, set up an orphanage in Taiwan, where she lived and worked until she died.

I often wonder about missionaries, how they might serve best in today's world, and I think Gladys Aylward offers a glimpse into the most fulfilling life of a missionary. Gladys didn't wander from place to place. She didn't have to "fundraise," though I imagine her friends and family sometimes sent her money. Instead, she established a business, took on jobs, earned a salary along with her converts and those they evangelized. She wasn't a foreigner living among the poor or the heathen; she was a woman living in a community with which she formed a vital and loving relationship.


The italic print: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). I like to use the little I earn on the blog to purchase birthday and Christmas gifts.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Birthday Post: First Son Is Twelve!

I just need to repeat that to make it real for myself.

First Son is twelve years old! He's been twelve now for nearly a month and I still forget.


He's in sixth grade this year, which meant a noticeable leap in his studies. He's struggled a bit to come to grips with the increased work load, but we're working on it.

His favorite subjects are independent reading (he started the year with The Hobbit), math (he's up to Elementary Physics in Life of Fred), art (drawing) and piano. His least favorite subject is geology.

His favorite book is still What If?, though he has enjoyed Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words as well. Outrageous and ridiculous are the best bets for books he'll enjoy. It's entertaining to watch him read a book he enjoys because he really does giggle out loud and then he'll try to read particularly funny bits out loud for us and laugh so much he can hardly get the words out clearly.


For Halloween this year, he dressed up as Harry Potter. He insisted we let him grow out his hair for months because it needed to be messy and uncontrollable. On Halloween, most people recognized him immediately, even before he was close enough for them to see the scar First Daughter painted on his forehead.


For All Saints, he dressed as Bl. Jose Sanchez del Rio. He wore his dad's shoes, which were... (wait for it...) half a size too small. (Lord, please make his feet stop growing so quickly. Our shoe budget is being demolished.) He made the flag himself based on his own research.


LEGOs still top his list of preferred toys. We have an extraordinary number of LEGOs in a big bin, but he also has almost three drawers full of his own creations mixed in with his other special things. (First Son believes in more LEGOs and fewer clothes.)

After LEGOs, his favorite past-time is playing video games. (He gets about four hours of screen time a week and will tell you vociferously how and why it's not enough, if you are unfortunate enough to ask.) His favorites: Super Mario Maker (Wii U) (his most desired Christmas gift), Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U) (Kansas Dad picked this for First Daughter for Christmas and everyone loves it), Star Wars the Clone Wars: Light Sabre Duels (Wii), Lego Star Wars III: the Clone Wars (Wii), Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Wii) (which he says is now just almost complete), and last but not least, Minecraft, which is now finally available on the Wii (though you have to download it from the estore).


First Son is a great hiker. Kansas Dad, First Daughter, and he hiked to the top of High Dune at Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was a challenging climb but First Son just moved steadily from top to bottom without complaints. He was a real trooper!

He's been working in the nursery this school year on Sunday mornings. The younger three are in CCD classes, but his class doesn't meet at the same time so he volunteered to help in the nursery. He holds the babies and plays with them and loves it! I've had a few of the adults in charge (it rotates each week) tell me he's one of the most helpful middle school students.

shaggy hair allowed even for a big family event
We spent weeks listening to ruminations on the new Star Wars movie. He received a "choose the movie for family movie night" coupon from St. Nicholas and immediately requested A New Hope. He still hasn't seen the new one. Kansas Dad and I wanted to preview it first (which we did, but we just haven't had a few free hours to get to the theater with the older kids yet). He is desperate to avoid any spoilers so sometimes announces to people as he sees them, "Don't tell me who Kylo Ren is! I haven't seen the movie yet!"

gamely enduring a visit to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Rocky Ridge farm and cottage
Favorite games: Munchkin (My standard Munchkin warning: This game is not for every family.), King of Tokyo, Snake Oil, and a Star Wars battle matching game one of the girls bought him for his birthday (a favorite, I think, more for its Star Wars affiliation than for its gaming properties). He received two new decks for Munchkin for Christmas and his birthday and we've all been enjoying the new cards. Kansas Dad and I gave him Labyrinth for Christmas, too, and it has become a new favorite. He also likes Life: Inside Out Board Game which Second Daughter received for Christmas. It's pretty different from the Life I remember, but in a good way, I think.


First Son has been making dinner once a week for the whole family for his handiworks. He loves making dinner! He chooses something each week, makes sure the ingredients are on our grocery list, and prepares it. He needs me or Kansas Dad in the kitchen with him, but is improving. His favorite recipe is for mashed potatoes. He loves mashed potatoes and he makes good ones. He prepared them for Kansas Dad's family at Thanksgiving (begged us to let him) and again at Christmas for my family.

First Son's birthday pancake
For his birthday, we took the family and a couple of his friends out to eat at an Asian buffet (where the two twelve year old boys ate mountains of sushi) then to an electronics store to look at video games while they digested their food a little before we spent an hour at a local trampoline park. First Son said it was the "best birthday party ever!"

His favorite foods: anything potato (the current obsession among his group of friends), sushi, dumplings, pierogi, Kansas Dad's triple layer peanut butter chocolate cake, and enchiladas (preferably with my secret enchilada sauce recipe).

First Son with his uncle at Thanksgiving
I think he's growing taller by the day. Kansas Dad measured him right around his birthday as five feet three-and-a-half inches tall. He's already passed his grammy and two of his aunts. In the past few months, I've missed him a few times when doing my one-two-three-four count of kids because he's so tall he blends in with the grown-ups.


He met his goal to be a green belt before his twelfth birthday. In fact, he surpassed it as a green belt blue tip and tested for his blue belt on his birthday proper. He officially received his blue belt just last night! I'll have to get a picture of that soon. His goal for next year is to be a red belt, and maybe even a red belt black tip.


This kid is goofy. He loves to tell jokes, make up funny stories, transform all his school notes (like a notebook page on the sun) into cartoons, and speak in other voices. He's particularly good at Gru.

His favorite movies: any Star Wars movie, The Princess Bride, and funny movies in general.

Second Daughter pretending to be pious
Every day is an adventure with you, First Son, and we're looking forward to the coming year! God  bless you!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Favorite Picture Books: My Name Is Gabriela

My Name is Gabriela/Me llamo Gabriela: The Life of Gabriela Mistral/la vida de Gabriela Mistral by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra

Last week, I posted about Waiting for the Biblioburro, so it seemed right to follow with another favorite book from the same writer and illustrator team.

Monica Brown tells the story of Gabriela Mistral, a world-renowned poet and the first Latin American writer to win the Nobel for literature. Beginning with her childhood and emphasizing her love of words, it's an inspirational biography wonderfully illustrated.

It's bilingual, which is fun for those of us who took enough Spanish in college to be able to read children's books aloud in the language, and lovely for those who are latina (or latino). It's difficult for those of us who are white to fully appreciate how meaningful and essential it is for children to see people who look and sound like themselves in picture books.

We read this book while Reading Around the World but it is also, of course, a perfect choice if you want to read a picture book about Gabriela Mistral with your children. I love most how it fosters treasuring words and recognizing the power they can have in the world.

The italic print: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order).  

Friday, January 8, 2016

Mater Amabilis Level 2 Year 2 (Fifth Grade) Science: Science in Ancient Rome and the Human Body

heart dissection
Last year, First Son was in fifth grade and we followed the science plans at Mater Amabilis for Level 2 Year 2. You can read the schedule of lessons here.

First Son read Brown Paper School book: Blood and Guts by Linda Allison independently. I asked him to create a notebook page as his written narration for the reading, which needed to have some drawings and notes about whatever he had read that day. On the activity days, I required an experiment page with three parts for each activity: What You Did, What Happened, and an Explanation. I would give him page numbers and let him choose one or two activities. Two were assigned, but if he chose a long or more detailed activity, I accepted one. Many of the activities are simple and take only a few minutes. Some of them require a few more esoteric ingredients, like iodine, which I ordered from Home Science Tools.

brain
The dissections excited the most interest. Blood and Guts recommends dissections of a heart, brain, kidney, and eye, all conveniently included in the mammal organs dissection kit from Home Science Tools. I also bought the basic dissection tools.

Everyone always gathered around for the dissections. First Son relished them. We tried to follow the instructions included in the pamphlets. Though it was often difficult for our inexperienced eyes to discern all the details, we noticed aspects of the organs we never would have realized without the dissections. I highly recommend devoting a little time, effort, and budget to them.

The other activity book was The Body Book: Easy-to-Make Hands-on Models That Teach by Donald M. Silver and Patricia J. Wynne. The paper models cover all sorts of topics. Many of them are layered flaps, but some are three-dimensional. I personally liked the illustrations of the different kind of joints.

First Son became a little attached to them. At the end of the year, he wanted to keep them all. Together, we selected a few of the more manageable ones to place in his binder and took pictures of them all so he could look back on them if he was ever nostalgic. (So far, he hasn't asked to see them.)

The Mater Amabilis website recommends cutting out the parts if you are short on time. I decided my time was worth more than his, so First Son did all the cutting as well as creating the structures.

I assisted occasionally with the sculptures. A few of them had more complicated instructions. For the most part, First Son was able to complete them independently.

This book is non-consumable, which I didn't realize at first. All the pages are designed to be photocopied for each student, and must be because they are double-sided. I actually bought two copies of it, both used, thinking I could just take one apart for the year's activities but I still needed copies of one of the sides. In the end, I scanned all the activity pages, which will save a bunch of time and effort when the next three children go through this course. I'll be able to print all the pages at the beginning of the year and they'll be ready to go.

I imagine most people purchase and use this book in the context of school, but I think a child interested in the body would enjoy working through the book just for fun.


The final book of the year was Galen and the Gateway to Medicine by Jeanne Bendick. First Son read one chapter each day at the end of the year. He was able to narrate fairly well orally though he struggled with written narrations of the book. (In hindsight, I wouldn't have asked for written narrations at all.)

I received my copy of Blood and Guts from another member at PaperBackSwap.com (an affiliate link). I purchased The Body Book used (twice). I bought Galen and the Gateway to Medicine directly from Bethlehem Books during one of their frequent sales. I ordered the dissection materials from Home Science Tools with one of their coupon codes over the summer along with a bunch of other supplies. The Amazon links above are affiliate links. If you click on one, add something to your cart (anything), and purchase it, I receive a small commission. Thanks!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My Favorite Picture Books: Waiting for the Biblioburro

Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown, illustrations by John Patra

I first found this book when looking for titles to read in 2012 when we read around the world with picture books, focused on Central and South America. Since then, we've requested it many times from our library. Jeanette Winter has a similar book, Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia, but I personally prefer the Monica Brown one.

Based on the life of a Colobian librarian, Luis Soriano Bohorequez, who travels through rural areas leading a burro loaded with books, this book inspires an appreciation for the libraries we have here in America as well as a love of words and stories. It's a joy to read over and over again.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix: Mix and Match from Your Pantry

Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix
by Mark Bittman

I have a copy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything that's at least ten years old and falling apart. It's one of two cookbooks that's pulled off the shelf more often than any of the others. When I saw his new cookbook on the Blogging for Books site, I immediately requested it.

This is a beautiful book. The photographs are stunning. The layout is clear and reassuring. The binding seems more durable than How to Cook Everything.

We have tried a few recipes from the book, some we enjoyed more than others, but what I love most is how we have turned to it when we realized we were out of salad dressing or needed a way to make a side dish of lentils or wanted to try a new way to cook squash. 

Unlike many cookbooks, Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix is a like a playbook. Often, we find ourselves at home with cut of beef we received from friends with a farm or that we discovered on sale at the store but without a specific recipe. With Kitchen Matrix, Bittman offers up 4, or 8, or 12 ways to prepare a variety of dishes. A quick glance in the pantry, and you can choose the recipe that suits the ingredients you have on hand and your preferred tastes. The recipes themselves are usually presented within a few lines, inviting adaptations. I think it's most suited to someone who knows and is comfortable following a recipe but wants to be more flexible and creative in the kitchen.


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.