Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Almost a Picture Book: The Story of Diva and Flea

The Story of Diva and Flea as told and shown by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi

Mo Willems, famous for Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and the Elephant and Piggie books (for the most part, great early reader books less intimidating then chapter books), brings us The Story of Diva and Flea, wonderfully illustrated by Tony DiTerlizza.

Diva is a sweet pampered little dog while Flea is a homeless adventurer. They overcome a misunderstanding early in the book to develop a friendship. I love the response when Flea brings an offering of apology to Diva: a dead mouse. Shocked and surprised, she demands to know who brought such a thing to her doorstep, but immediately changes her tone when Flea explains he's brought it to show how sorry he is.
Diva looked at the mouse and thought for a moment. Then she walked over to Flea and said, "That is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. But, in the future, bring me a small piece of ribbon, okay?"
Flea encourages and supports Diva as she learns to explore outside her garden. Diva in turn introduces Flea to life and love in a home.

My children are enamored of France at the moment, so Second Daughter will love the lovely two page spread of the Eiffel Tower and the occasional French word like flaneur. (I don't know how to make the French symbols on Blogger.)

Friendship, courage, trust, adventure, all in Paris. A fantastic addition to early reader shelves.

I'd probably introduce this book right after or along with the Henry and Mudge books. Second Daughter is a little ahead of that level, but we'll read this together anyway. Because of the French words, it's a good one to read along with a new reader.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Love, Forgiveness, and All of Creation: Gilead

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Kansas Dad read this book first and suggested I read it, years ago. It's my own fault I waited so long.

The narrator of Gilead is a minister, John Ames, who begins writing as a journal, a letter to his young son. Suffering from heart disease and advanced age, Ames realizes he will soon die and desires to share his thoughts and dreams with his son who will read them when he is grown.

In the course of his writing, Ames describes the travails of bloody Kansas and their tragic effects on his own family. He explores the
dismal remants of sin in our lives and the transforming power of understanding and forgiveness. He grapples with his own weaknesses and sins, turning repeatedly to prayer and contemplation. He revels in the inexplicable and extraordinary beauty of creation, most especially the treasured existence of his only living son.
I'd never have believed I'd see a wife of mine doting on a child of mine. It still amazes me every time I think of it. I'm writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you've done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God's grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.
Pages and pages of my commonplace book are now full of the words of Robinson's Gilead.

Being a minister facing imminent death, Ames writes often of that hazy division between death and life everlasting.
While you read this, I am imperishable, somehow more alive than I have ever been, in the strength of my youth, with dear ones beside me. You read the dreams of an anxious, fuddled old man, and I live in a light better than any dream of mine--not waiting for you, though, because I want your dear perishable self to live long and to love this poor miserable world, which I somehow cannot imagine not missing bitterly...
He reflects on his past sermons, on comforting the dying and those left behind. He records conversations on predestination and eternal damnation, repentance and forgiveness.
Let me say first of all that the grace of God is sufficient to any transgression, and that to judge is wrong, the origin and essence of much error and cruelty.
Ames speaks often of watching his son just being young and marveling at his childish perfection. Those words rang with the beauty of my own days now. Days when I can watch my children running around the house with the dog, hair blowing, mouths open, laughter caught by the wind and wafting into the house.
You come in reeking of evening air, with your eyes bright and your cheeks and fingers pink and cold, too beautiful in the candlelight for my old eyes.
Later in the same paragraph, he writes:
There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.
This is a book of contemplation, considering the reasons for life itself and how we can immerse ourselves in it and in our relationships.
Love is holy because it is like grace--the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.
Like Hannah Coulter, I was tempted to turn back to the beginning and read it all over again.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

An Easter Translation of Droid


Translation*:
He is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Happy Easter!



* An imprecise translation so I could post this science museum video on Easter Sunday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

My Favorite Picture Books: The Big Book of Slumber

The Big Book of Slumber by Giovanna Zoboli, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani, translated by Anthony Shugaar

I should qualify my post by stating I'm not entirely sure this is one of my favorite picture books. It's whimsical and, while I recognize whimsy as a good for children, I'm not inclined to appreciate it myself. Nevertheless, I read the book aloud to Second Son (who's 5) and he loved it. It is, therefore, one of his favorite picture books.

In the book, a variety of animals are snugging up in beds in the evening. Camels on a bunkbed, seals sleeping on chairs balanced on branches, a bed for a butterfly? Nonsense - and yet illustrated with bold delightful colors - the kind of illustrations you'd easily imagine framing and hanging on a child's wall. Second Son enjoyed exploring each spread for little jokes: the chicks still up when the grown-up chickens are sleeping, a bug escaping his bed, frogs nestled in the crook of a crocodiles tail, palm trees growing on top of the camels' bunk beds, a banana tucked carefully in with the monkey.

If you're looking for a bedtime book that welcomes careful contemplation of each page, this is the book for you. The more you look, the more there is to enjoy (you know, for those who love whimsy).

Monday, March 21, 2016

Feeding the Body and the Soul: Breakfast Reading on the Range

The topic of a Circle Time or Morning Basket keeps showing up in the Mater Amabilis facebook group. I think some people make this concept seem more complicated than it needs to be. Basically, whatever you call it, this is the time when all of your homeschooling children are gathered together.

At our house, it's called "Breakfast" and it usually takes about thirty minutes.

Generally, I wake up hungry and my children don't. (Second Son is the worst; he prefers not to eat until ten or eleven in the morning. Then, of course, he wants to eat all day for the rest of the day.) So I eat breakfast while they wander the house and gaze out windows. Then, when they're ready to eat, or when a grown-up demands they come to the table (whichever comes first), we start our school day. Whatever fancy or elaborate Circle Time or Morning Baskets may be possible, I like a simple structure:
  • Prayer
  • Scripture
  • Virtues
  • Something Good or True or Beautiful
There you go. The contents of any particular bullet point will vary depending on the ages of your children. Here's what we do now (with a 6th grader, 3rd grader, 1st grader, and pre-kindergartener).
  • We say a morning offering. We all have it memorized now, but I still have it printed on pretty paper and laminated. (This prayer is absolutely perfect if you only have little ones. I'm always considering switching us all to Morning Prayer, but haven't.)
  • I read a psalm. I have Kansas Dad's Book of Psalms illustrated by Valenti Angelo, a book I love dearly. Early on, I'd only read a few lines, but now the children can be mostly quiet for most of an entire psalm. We also read from My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories in the past, when we weren't studying Old Testament or New Testament history.
  • We have this set of virtue cards. Each day I read the virtue, the prayer, and the saint (if it's a new one). There's also a Scripture reference. We've had some good discussions around these cards and I like how the virtues are linked to actions the elementary children can understand. In the past, we've also used PACE. Lots of different resources could fill this niche like The Children's Book of Virtues, The Children's Book of Heroes, or the Catholic Treasure Box books. It's likely there's something sitting on your shelves right now that would fit, something you probably always wanted to use but weren't quire sure where to fit it in.
Then I read. I start with our "cultural studies." Each day we focus on one of the following:
  • Fairy Tales or Saint Stories - Currently we're reading The Book of Saints and Heroes by Andrew and Lenora Lang. The stories are pretty long, so I spread them over two days.
  • Poetry - We read a bit of poetry, just for listening pleasure. Currently, it's The Cuckoo's Haiku: and Other Birding Poems. I generally spread a book of poetry over a few days, too. You can see some of our other poetry selections using the poetry tag.
  • Picture Study - We study an artist over the course of many weeks. We do actual picture study with four to six works I've printed, interspersed with picture books or stories about the artist.
  • Shakespeare - We're reading through How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare and memorizing as we go. Occasionally, we'll read something else about the play we're studying.
  • Math - We don't do this now, but I want to add something like this for next year so send me all your suggestions.
If the children are still eating when I finish our cultural studies loop selection for the day, I might read Second Daughter's history reading. Everybody studies the same historical time period, but First Son and First Daughter read their work independently. If I read aloud to all of them, it's something interesting and applicable to everyone. Then I ask Second Daughter to narrate followed by the others. It gives us a bit of common ground and demonstrates narration for Second Daughter (some better than others, but that's life).

If people are still eating (it happens; they're slow eaters), then I dive into the read-alouds. We generally have three going at any given time and I'll alternate depending on what we read the day before, my mood, which book is at a more exciting point, or which book is due back to the library the soonest.
If I read a bit from each of the novels after history and all the earlier selections, we spend an hour together over the breakfast table. Sometimes, if we're rushing off to an appointment or something, we may not even get to our cultural studies. The prayer, virtue card, and psalm generally take five to ten minutes.

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 (so they'll really be from me because the kids say I don’t have any money).

The links to the virtue cards and to Lang's book are not affiliate links. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

They're Looking at Me!

I generally don't bother with April Fools' Day, mainly because I don't consider myself clever enough to come up with a good joke. Last year, though, I saw a few posts on jokes to play on the kids and someone online suggested putting googly eyes on everything in the fridge. I thought, "I have a whole jar full of those..."




I was worried it would take a long time, but it only took a few minutes to glue them on. The kids loved it! Kansas Dad told them I did it, but they didn't believe him and I stayed mum.

So if you're looking for something fun and easy that's unlikely to make anyone feel embarassed, I highly recommend a refrigerator full of googly eyes.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Living Sacrifice in the Modern World: Everything Must Change


In this book, McLaren examines life at the time of the Gospels, when Jews were living within the Roman Empire, either assimilating into it or violently fighting against it. According to him, a close reading of Jesus' words when he speaks of authority and government within the context of the Roman Empire should startle us in the similarities between the Romans and the modern world - in our pursuit of wealth, our use of violence to maintain that wealth (or its illusion), and our cavalier destruction of the world's resources. Our "framing story" (which is a kind of unwritten or subliminal worldview that permeates everything we do) creates a situation in which we are unable to fully live out the Gospel, and, in fact, leads to a cycle of self-destruction he calls a "suicide machine."
But if our framing story tells us that we are free and responsible creatures in a creation made by a good, wise, and loving God, and that our Creator wants us to pursue virtue, collaboration, peace, and mutual care for one another and all living creatures, and that our lives can have profound meaning if we align ourselves with God's wisdom, character, and dreams for us...then our society will take a radically different direction, and our world will become a very different place.
I struggled a lot with the language McLaren uses. I think "framing story" is an unwieldy phrase, but besides that, the text of the book is simply not lyrical. Kansas Dad argues I can't expect everyone to be a Chesterton or even a C.S. Lewis, but I maintain the message would be more powerful if more eloquently presented. One of the aspects of this book Kansas Dad appreciates is the stark presentation of statistics (comparing America's defense budget with that of those attempting to eliminate poverty, comparing the amount of money the first world "donates" to developing countries with the amount of money collected in debt payments from those same countries). Perhaps those kinds of statistics (which were indeed disturbing) would be difficult to include in a more poetic book.

McLaren spends the majority of the book building an argument for his depiction of the modern world and that Jesus' words call us to something different. For me, the real question is what happens after that -- if we truly believe Jesus' words, his call to a his kingdom, how should we behave right here, right now, to help make that kingdom manifest on earth. He touches on what we can or should do in relatively few chapters at the end of the book.

McLaren calls on us to be aware of the way companies treat employees, the environment, and communities. He calls on us to explore how various economic policies affect the lives of people all over the world, not just our own. Policies on immigration, economics, and the environment should not be viewed from merely the American point of view, not if we are truly living as Christians. Jesus demands we consider all people our neighbors and brothers.
With no apologies to Martin Luther, John Calvin, or modern evangelicalism, Jesus (in Luke 16:19) does not prescribe hell to those who refuse to accept the message of justification by grace through faith, or to those who are predestined for perdition, or to those who don't express faith in a favored atonement theory by accepting Jesus as their "personal Savior." Rather, hell--literal or figurative--is for the rich and comfortable who proceed on heir way without concern for their poor neighbor day after day.
As I read this book, I began to see similar messages in many places. Pope Frances, in his address to Congress in September 2015 (full text found here, and well worth a read if you haven't already), said:
We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.
Larry Livingston, on the blog for Unbound, an organization we support regularly, wrote:
Part of that interior process is taking ownership of the consequences our choices have on others. Some of these are obvious and immediate to our daily lives. We generally know when we hurt those around us and, while not easy, we also know what we need to do to repair those relationships. But what is more complicated — and more challenging — is taking ownership of the impact our choices have on the world.
At one point, McLaren discusses Jackson Browne's song, "The Rebel Jesus."
He suggests that there is a kind of economic orthodoxy that may allow or even encourage us to throw some dollars toward the poor, but this orthodoxy commands us never to question the systems that create and reinforce poverty. 
Catholics are not immune from this kind of thinking but we are blessed by examples of saints who have refused to participate in the systems that sustain rather than alleviate poverty: St. Vincent de Paul, Blessed Mother Teresa, Blessed Oscar Romero, the list could go on and on. Pope Francis is following those examples with works like Laudato Si', which encourages us to consider the effect of our actions, our purchases, our lifestyle, on the less fortunate here and elsewhere. (I mentioned the book here when I read it.)

So if you are convinced, what do you need to do? McLaren outlines three main areas of action: 1) Be generous to the poor but not dehumanizing; 2) Encourage opportunities and solutions created in collaboration with the poor; and 3) Campaign to change the economic, military, and social systems that inhibit justice for the poor and downtrodden.
While most of us won't be called to sacrifice our physical lives (but many may), having faith in Jesus and sharing the faith of Jesus will lead all of us to make what an early disciple called "a living sacrifice." We will give up the life we could have lived, the life we would have lived--pursuing pleasure, leisure, security, whatever. And instead, we will life a life dedicated to replacing the suicide machine with a sacred ecosystem, a beautiful community, an insurgency of healing and peace, a creative global family, an unterror movement of faith, hope, and love.
McLaren talks a bit about the hidden messages of our media and our schools that support the current (and flawed) framing story. In one thought experiment, he compared the creation of greenhouse gasses by large corporations with the production of an unwanted pregnancy:
[B]oth follow a script taught by the covert curriculum in a thousand ways: namely, we can engage in pleasurable or profitable behaviors with undesired consequences and either avoid the consequences or clean them up later. (his emphasis)
While I think the analagy is imperfect, it does exemplify the focus of modern American society on immediate gratification.

McLaren is not Catholic and not all of his policies would be acceptable. The use of artificial birth control, as one example, is explicitly mentioned as not only an option but one that is ridiculously not implemented. A few differences of opinion in methods, however, do not negate his overall argument. I believe he's correct: Jesus would speak out plainly against modern American society and our economic policies.

For the most part, I want to recommend this book, and I think you should probably read it if you are intrigued but unconvinced by my meager narration here. Remember, though, that I warned you about the language. Be prepared for paragraphs like this one:
Perhaps we can see ourselves in a new light too, not armed with an ideology but infused with a new imagination, part of a peaceful insurgency seeking to expel a suicidal occupying regime, gardeners working with God to tend the holy ecosystem so it continues to unfold anew day after new day, members of a secret insurgency of hope, a global movement unleashing coordinated, well-planned acts of unterror and healing, producers in a new economy of love--an economy so radical that old terms like capitalism and communism seem like two sides of a Confederate coin left over from a fading and discredited regime.
Jesus' "economy of love" sounds a bit too corny to me, though I'd like to think I would support the economic policies Jesus would propose - the kind he has indeed already proposed if we have the courage to acknowledge them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

My Favorite Picture Books: Hot Dog Cold Dog

Hot Dog Cold Dog by Frann Prestion-Gannon

I read about this book over at The Bleeding Pelican and immediately decided it was the perfect gift for our soon-to-be-born niece whose parents own and love a little miniature dachshund. Of course, I had to check it out from our library before making a final decision.

A vibrantly illustrated book of opposites, Hot Dog Cold Dog depicts dachshunds of all colors engaged in some familiar doggie activities like digging and sleeping, but mostly more unusual activities (at least for dogs) like reading or eating birthday cake.

The only potential problem with this book as a gift is that someone else may give it to the new baby as well! It's too perfect.

I'm still searching for one or two other board books to give when the baby is born. Anything you think she'd particularly enjoy before she's nine months old (which will be around Christmas when we can give her more books)?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Inspiration and Adventure: More Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls

More Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls by Caryll Houselander

I wrote briefly about this book when First Son read it three years ago (recommended by Mater Amabilis for Level 1A Year 2, third grade) but I didn't write a proper review. (I wrote more on Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls which is read in Level 1A Year 1). I recall the spring First Son read this book was a hectic and frazzled one for me and I often did not read the story at all.

This year, I am making a concerted effort to read everything before the children do (though not entirely succeeding), but I was inspired anew to thankfulness for such uplifting and inspiring stories for my children to read. These two books would be wonderful First Communion or Easter gifts. First Daughter read these easily independently in second and third grade, though some second graders may enjoy the stories more if they are able to listen rather than read themselves.

In Montague Runs Away, a young boy, inspired by a missionary sermon and dismayed when his guardian aunt tells him the gypsies are heathens, bravely (but foolishly) abandons his aunt and chases after the caravan to tell them of Jesus and his love for them. Surprisingly, a gypsy boy his own age confesses his desire to stay in the towns they visit to preach the love of God.
"You see, it's like this," he went on. "They know how there is a God, and they know how He gets angry if they do wrong. But they don't know what God's like one bit. They don't know how He loves funny things. Why, if you'd seen some of the little frogs and field mice and spiders that I've seen, you'd know God likes to laugh, or else He wouldn't make those things. Of course, He's serious, too, and He makes stars shine right down in the wells and the streams. And then there's the way He does things. I've seen the fields all the year round; I've seen 'em when the seed goes in and when it starts to come up, and when it's all shining like gold for the harvest." He stopped as if he felt he couldn't explain any more.
Sadly, he admits he is unable to fulfill his dream because he hasn't had the opportunity to learn all the reading, writing, and Latin necessary to be a priest. His aunt, "always a surprising person," fetches Montague home but promises they will travel all summer with the circus, establishing a little school for them in which she will teach.
"Don't interrupt, please. You were naughty to run away, but I was naughty to think circus people are wicked just because they are circus people. So I'm going to forgive you, and God will forgive me."
In The Donkey-Boy's Coat, the Lord's triumphant entry into Jerusalem is described incredibly joyfully.
And then, from all the hamlet around, just as if a secret message had come to them (as it comes to birds, telling them to rise in flocks and fly to sunny lands) children, crowds of them, came into sight. They were all running toward the gates of the city of Jerusalem. First, there were little groups of them; then big groups, as they joined up; then a great crowd. And as they ran, they leaped up and down and waved green branches gathered from the trees.
Joey forgets himself and his ragged cloak in his joy, laying it under the feet of the donkey just as the other children do. It is transformed by the touch of the donkey's feet into a beautiful cloak, decorated with symbols of Jesus and his gifts to us.

There are many more wonderful stories, but I'll finish with one of my favorite quotes, found in The White Mouse's Story:
I have had only one real adventure in my life, and that was terrible. There were parts of it I did not understand, as I believe is the case even with you, when an adventure is worth having. 
I purchased this book years ago directly from the publisher, Sophia Institute Press. They have frequent sales and discounts, so follow them by email or facebook or whatever you fancy. The links above are to Amazon and 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). Every little bit helps - thanks! 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Physics in Sixth Grade: Objects in Motion and Liquids and Gases

Objects in Motion: Principles of Classical Mechanics and Liquids and Gases: Principles of Fluid Mechanics by Paul Fleisher, part of a series called Secrets of the Universe

These two books are recommended by Mater Amabilis for sixth grade, Level 3 Year 1. (Two of Fleisher's other Secrets of the Universe books are recommended for seventh grade.)

First Son read and narrated these books to me. Concepts of physics are clearly explained and illustrated by the author. The prevalence of inverse square laws, for example, is discussed in Objects in Motion. Using intensity of light as an example, the author shows clearly why so many intensive of force laws are inverse square laws. As the radius of a sphere of area covered by the same light is doubled, the amount of equal light is distributed across an area four times as large.
Picture each force spreading outward from its source like an ever-expanding bubble. Inverse square relationships hold true for all these forces because they all spread out evenly in all directions from the center point at which they are generated.
Many thought experiments and suggestions for demonstrations at home are included. Nearly all of the demonstrations are simple to put together with items you are likely to have on hand. Some of the demonstrations take longer than others. First Son, with First Daughter's assistance, spent the better part of an afternoon taking measurements of pendulums of different weights and different lengths.

The books end with an invitation to students to appreciate the complexity and beauty of the universe, and to keep learning.
Scientists believe that our universe was first created billions of years ago in a huge explosion they call the big bang. The same motion first created in the big bang is still with us today, spread among the vast number of stars, planets, atoms, and atomic particles moving and spinning through the cosmos.
We don't know all there is to know about the universe. Scientists still have much to learn about the stars and planets, the atom, and the miracles of life. There are still more laws to discover and more mysteries to solve. Perhaps you may one day add your name to that distinguished list of scientists who have helped to discover the secrets of the universe.
Each book contains a timeline of scientific discoveries (some general and some specific to the book's topic), biographies of scientists mentioned in the text, books for further reading, a bibliography, and a glossary.

I enjoyed these books and look forward to reading two more of them next year. (Hopefully First Son is as well.)

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 (so they'll really be from me because the kids say I don’t have any money). I purchased these books used.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

My Favorite Picture Books: Brinton Turkle's Obadiah stories


Brinton Turkle is one of my favorite illustrators. I was reminded earlier this year of his near perfection when we were reading Anna and the Baby Buzzard. I was lucky enough to get a copy of this book from PaperBackSwap.com after our library's copy was made permanently unavailable. There's one two page spread showing Anna and her brother flying through the summer woods surrounded by their menagerie. You can almost feel the summer sunshine and light breeze and glimpse a shimmer of movement.

Anna and the Baby Buzzard isn't written by Brinton Turkle, but he has a few particularly wonderful books starring an adventurous young Quaker named Obadiah. Thy Friend, Obadiah, Obadiah the Bold, and Rachel and Obadiah bring old Nantucket to life through the experiences of Obadiah and his inspiring family. They are full of perseverance, courage, and bravery, as well as children behaving just as children do.

Turkle's illustrations are delightful as always. His drawings of children have such sweetness and life in them! I could gaze at them all day long.

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). Every little bit helps - thanks!

Links to PaperBackSwap could give me a referral credit if you follow the link, establish a new account, and post ten books.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Prepare for the Spring Migration!

A few weeks ago, Kansas Dad put out a bird feeder for us. It's just outside our kitchen window and near a scraggly bush I grudgingly allow because the birds love to nestle in its branches.

As the birds discovered and accepted the feeder, we've seen new birds regularly and have come to know some of them quite well. It's been a delight to all of us, but especially Second Daughter, who adores birds. Many of the birds we've met in The Burgess Bird Book for Children have been fluttering around just outside our window as we read.

Here's our list since early February:

House Sparrows
Cardinals
Eastern Bluebird
White-crowned Sparrow
American Goldfinch
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Blue Jay
Song Sparrow
House Finch
Red-winged Blackbird
Eurasian Collared Dove

We keep a list on a clipboard hanging next to the window so it's easy to note any new birds. We also keep The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots nearby.

The spring migration is just beginning and I anticipate many new birds at our feeder in the next few weeks and months. We're all excited! (Except maybe Kansas Dad, who jokes often with Second Daughter that her birds are eating us out of house and home. At least, I think he's joking.)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Sixth Grade Geology with A Doorway of Amethyst

A Doorway of Amethyst by Mary Daly

A Doorway of Amethyst is recommended at Mater Amabilis for sixth grade, Level 3 Year 1. As far as I know, it's only available at the Hedge School (linked above). Mary Daly is also the author of Genesis 1, which I wrote about here. Her ideas about Creation and the intersection of faith and science are apparent in all of her writings.

I was excited for First Son to study geology this year. He has very little exposure to this subject and we're planning a camping trip out west for later this year.

This book was one of the more challenging ones for First Son this year. The text is rather dense with definitions and new vocabulary introduced quickly. At only twelve chapters, I had planned to read half a chapter a week, once a week, and still finish in only 24 or 25 weeks, but it was quickly apparent he wasn't able to ingest that much new material in one sitting. I adjusted our schedule a little bit so he was still usually reading half a chapter a week, but spread over two days each week. His "narration" consisted in a written page of notes and drawings for each reading. His pages of notes were often his favorite part of geology, as he was free to make silly drawings and goofy jokes


There are crossword puzzles in many of the chapters, sometimes more than one per chapter. At first, I asked First Son to complete these puzzles as extra practice with the vocabulary, in addition to his written notes. He found them very difficult and I sometimes agreed. Every once in a while, the answer would be a geological term even I couldn't find in the text. They were easier if I provided a list of the answers, but after awhile, I simply dropped the crosswords and was satisfied with his note pages.

In addition to the crosswords, most chapters have a review section at the end with suggested projects, questions, or activities for further exploration. Usually we skipped these, but they could be useful in showing work in a portfolio or for those who do not use narration. There is also an extensive list of internet resources, none of which we used because I didn't really pay attention when someone mentioned them, but hopefully I'll remember them next time around.

First Son improved dramatically at his comprehension of this textbook over the course of the year. I believe this was a combination of practice, maturing, and a decreased level of stress once we set aside the crosswords and I spread the readings over two days a week.


The book is spiral bound, which makes it easy to hold open and lay flat. The illustrations are in full color and clearly illustrate the geological formations. There are some mispellings and typographical errors in the text, but usually it was still understandable. First Son was quite disturbed at a mistake on the date for the Jurassic era on one table, but it was easily corrected with a quick search online.

Most important to know is that the text is both overly anti-Creationist and specifically Catholic. In chapter 11, the author describes Glenn Morton's paper on the geologic column found in the Williston Basin of North Dakota (which may have once been online, but it doesn't seem to be at the time I'm writing this review). This paper specifically counters those who believe all sediments were laid down during a great flood. Apparently, he was ostracized by his former friends when he began to question his faith in the flood and wrote this paper partly to explain his scientific understanding of the geologic column and to bolster the faith of those who choose to believe in God who created the world over a great length of time. Mary Daly writes:
Our Catholic faith does not teach that we must believe that the Flood of Noah actually covered the entire earth, only that there was a flood of very great extent, that it was God's doing, that it changed real history, and that God saved some number of men who "walked with him" for the purpose of deepening his covenant with mankind.
Chapter 12, "Geologist and Catholic," is a brief history of the most important geologists over the history of the field, including the most important who were not Catholic.

There is also an appendix on Evolution in which the author leads the reader through an exploration of Roemer's table of vertebrate development (published in 1933). I failed to find this table available online, but it's an interesting on showing eras on the left and evolution from the bottom to the top (earlier times to more recent times). It "shows how various backboned animals emerged in the geologic record," beginning with the jawless fish. For each type of phyla, there is a branching off relatively early in its existence and then...nothing. No new families.

According to Mary Daly, Roemer's belief in Darwinian evolution is not supported by his own representation of evolutionary history because it "exhibits evolution as a process both lawful and directional" which suggests it is directed by a "mind" and suggests mankind was the final and intentional result.
Evolutionary creativity has wholly collapsed through the phylum chordata, and since evolutionary creativity has always been greatest in the youth of any class of creatures, not in its final speculation, there is no scientific reason to expect a new surge of creativity.
She continues later:
National evolution certainly appears to be over. For whatever reason, or without any reason, it stopped when mankind arrived, and seems destined to continue, if at all, only under the designing hand of mankind.
While the appendix on evolution could be skipped, the theories developed in that section underlie the entire book. I asked First Son to read it and narrate it orally. We had a fantastic discussion of Darwinian evolution, science, theories, faith, and how preconceived notions of all kinds cloud our ability to study the world and discern truth, a discussion that did not depend on agreeing with the author on all of her points. (I actually think I do agree with the author, though I hesitate to be quite so explicit in dismissing the views of those who may disagree with me as unreasonable. I may think they are unreasonable, but I don't like to say so directly.)

We will definitely use this resource again when my other children.

Links to the Hedge School are not affiliate links. I purchased this copy of A Doorway of Amethyst.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

My Favorite Picture Books: The Umbrella

The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert

This wordless picture book is pure delight from the inside front cover to the inside back cover. A small black dog and a red umbrella travel around the world, from the savannas of Africa to the depths of the ocean. Excitement, adventure, and brilliant colors. Each two page spread is full of interesting characters to discover.

I don't know who was more delighted: the five year old, the seven year old, or me.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

February 2016 Book Reports

Herodotus and the Road to History by Jeanne Bendick is suggested as a family read-aloud for Connecting with History volume 1. I read it aloud to the children. They enjoyed it and it does give a glimpse into what Herodotus's life may have been like. (purchased copy, I think from the publisher which has fantastic sales if you follow them on facebook and wait patiently)

Pegeen - by Hilda van Stockum, read aloud to the children. Read my thoughts here. Sorry the sale has ended, but follow Bethlehem Books on facebook or get on the email list to be notified of the next tremendous sale. (ebook purchased for the Kindle, directly from the same publisher as above)

The Black Cauldron and The Castle of Llyr by LLoyd Alexander, are the second and third books in the Prydain chronicles. I enjoyed them and think First Son (12) and First Daughter (9) would as well. (library copies)

The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook by Shirley Hughes. Alfie and Annie Rose books are mentioned on the Pre-K page at Mater Amabilis but we'd never read any of them. The last pages show Alfie turning five and Annie Rose is just a baby. Second Daughter (seven) and Second Son (five) loved these sweet stories of Alfie and Annie Rose just living life. I loved the wedding story that showed a black couple getting married with Alfie as the ring bearer. There's no mention of race in the text, just the illustrations depicting different races celebrating family life together. (library copy)

Don Camillo Takes The Devil by the Tail by Giovanni Guareschi, translated by Frances Frenaye, is the fourth book of Don Camillo available in English. This is a particularly wonderful book for discussions about discerning the ethics of actions in the world, rather than only theoretically (though of course it's fiction). There are plenty of examples of good people (maybe) doing the wrong thing and (maybe) bad people doing the right thing. (library copy)

The Children's Own Longfellow by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - Read my thoughts here. (library copy)

Let's Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together and Enjoy It by Denise Gaskins - Read my thoughts here. Sorry, the giveaway has ended. (PDF version provided by the author)

It Happened In Yellowstone by Erin H. Turner is a young reader book of short stories about real things that happened in the area of Yellowstone National Park, beginning with the "Making of Wonderland" 600,000 years ago. I might read some of this book to my children before a planned trip to Yellowstone later this year, though I intend to skip three of the chapters I thought might make them more nervous than excited - about an Indian raid, a murder, and a deadly earthquake. There's nothing particularly gory or violent in those chapters; I just prefer to focus on the excitement of our trip rather than the dangers of it. The stories vary between animals, historical figures, and events in history. It's a good introduction to Yellowstone. (library copy)

String, Straight-Edge, and Shadow: The Story of Geometry by Julia E. Diggins, illustrated by Corydon Bell - Read my thoughts here. (purchased copy)

George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen - Read my thoughts here. (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 (so they'll really be from me).

Links to RC History are affiliate links.


Other links (like those to Bethlehem Books) are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.