Homeschool Discoveries

Sharing a few things I've discovered along the way…

Red Sails to Capri by Ann Weil April 24, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:59 pm
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I selected Red Sails to Capri by Ann Weil as a read-aloud for my boys (ages 6 and 8…with the three-year-oldnewbery-through-the-decades sometimes listening in) as a part of the Newbery Through the Decades Challenge.  Red Sails to Capri was an honor book in 1953 (The same year as the last Newbery title I reviewed!).

Taking place in the early 19th century, Red Sails to Capri is a a story of adventure, mystery, and relationships. Michele is the 14-year-old son of inn keepers on the island of Capri.   Three unexpected off-season visitors reach the island in a sailing ship with distinctive red sails and take up residence in his parents’ inn.  One visitor is in search of beauty, one is in search of adventure, and the third wants solitude, room to think, and ultimately truth.  Michele and his family aren’t exactly sure how their visitors will satisfy their desires,  but they intend to work as hard as possible to keep their guests happy.

One thing leads to another and as Michele asks one visitor what this strange word “philosophy” means, a discussion breaks out that eventually turns to a cove that Monsieur Jacques, the guest in search of adventure, had seen on a sail around the island.  Everyone on Capri is afraid of the cove.  Stories have been passed down for years of horrible creatures or awful pirates that might dwell in the cove.  Tales are told of people dying who tried to visit.  No one really even dares mention the cove any longer for fear that bad luck will come just from talking about it.

Eventually, the truth must be sought out.  The guests each find what they were looking for, and the locals finally learn to face their fears.  This book seems to be very loosely based on a true story, at least from what I gathered in reading an article on wikipedia.

The boys and I enjoyed this book quite a bit, though it was a bit slow at the start while the relationships were developing.  Once the action picked up a bit mid-way through the book, the boys were eager for me to read as much as I had time for each day. I found it a bit hard to read out loud, as their are many chunks of back and forth dialog that are not “attributed” to each speaker…like this:

“One could easily get in, Herre Nordstrom.”

“And why not out again?”

“That would depend on what you find inside the cave.”

“Find? What could I find?”

“Many things, perhaps.”

“What things?”

“There are many stories.”

“I am all ears, Angelo.”

While it is pretty obvious while you are reading which line belongs to which person, I am not so awesome at varying my voice between two men talking to make them sound distinctly different.  I think the boys followed what was going on anyway, despite the lack I was perceiving in making the characters voices sound distinctly different from one another.

Overall, I recommend this title — I think it will especially appeal to boys who like stories with a bit of intrigue and adventure.

 

What Cabrillo Found by Maud Hart Lovelace April 19, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 4:49 pm
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I find it quite exciting to read a book by one of my most favorite DSC_1214authors, even when the book itself turns out to only be so-so.  That’s how I’m feeling about What Cabrillo Found by Maud Hard Lovelace.   Maud is one of my all time favorite children’s book authors, and I adore her Betsy-Tacy series.  We’ve visited her childhood home on more than one occasion.  When Miss M was little, I even created a lapbook from scratch about the first two books in the Betsy-Tacy series.  April is a great month to read one of Maud’s books in honor of her birthday on April 25th.  :-)

It’s been on my “to-do” list for a while to finish reading the three children’s books written by Maud Hart Lovelace that I haven’t yet read.  Since we are planning a trip to California later this year, What Cabrillo Found seemed like a great choice.  I also just realized recently that our library does, in fact, own circulating copies of this book (I had it confused with another book that our library only holds a reference copy of).

What Cabrillo Found is a fictionalized biography of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European explorer to navigate the coast of what is now California.  Lovelace’s account of Cabrillo begins when Cortes first sails for Mexico, and Cabrillo joins in with that expedition a year or more after Cortes would have first arrived.  After Mexico was subdued, Cabrillo was sent on an expedition to Guatamala.  Years later, he was part of an expedition traveling north to explore along the coast of North America, where he and his two ships finally pass the furthest point where European explorers had previously ventured, into what is now California.

Miss M and I found the style of What Cabrillo Found to be a bit unusual.  Paragraphs of historical narrative that could have come out of a nonfiction book about early exploration and conquest were mixed in with stories and dialog (clearly imagined by Lovelace).   In her author’s note, Lovelace says she tried to make her story as accurate as possible, and I am sure it was as accurate as it could have been when she wrote it in 1958.  A quick check of other sources shows that some elements of her story don’t reflect what is currently known about Cabrillo — such as the fact he was very rich, when is portrayed in the story as being more of an “average joe” who was somewhat successful in his military achievements.

Of course, opinions about how the Conquistadors acted in Mexico and Central America has changed for the worse over the years.  I thought Maud Hart Lovelace’s presentation of the actions of Cortes and the other Conquistadors was fairly balanced — almost surprisingly so for a book written nearly 60 years ago. I thought perhaps this book was old enough to be from an era in which explorers were universally glorified.  She definitely condemns the cruelty of the Spanish, while also portraying that, besides greed, the Spanish did have some noble motivations of wanting to put an end to human sacrifices and share Christianity.   I can see why, perhaps, What Cabrillo Found has yet to be reprinted — I’m not sure many of today’s readers would appreciate Maud Hard Lovelace’s perspective on the Conquistadors.

What Cabrillo Found (If you can find a copy of it) might make an interesting addition to a study of early explorers or California history — as long as you balance it out with more modern resources as well.   Miss M and I are now anxiously awaiting word from the Interlibrary Loan deparatment of our library as to whether they can locate for us a circulating copy of Maud’s rarest children’s book, The Tune is in the Tree.  Up until recently, my searches of the ILL database were not fruitful, but I tried searching a bit differently this time and I think I found a couple possibilities.  Our fingers are crossed! We’re also looking forward to reading more historical fiction set in California in the coming months as we count down to our vacation!

 

 

 

Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld April 15, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 4:38 pm
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Some books in the “historical fiction” genre seem meant to take seriously, while others are just fun books that happen to be set in a historical time period.  I read Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld out loud to my boys (and Miss M read it to herself), and I think we would put it in the latter category.

Detectives in Togas revolves around a group of Roman boys who attend a small, prestigious  school. The boys tease one another and get into petty fights, as schoolboys tend to do.  It was one thing for Rufus to write “Caius is a dumbbell” on his tablet at school…but is he the kind of boy to write it on the temple wall outside Caius’s house as well?  The authorities seem to think so, and Rufus is thrown in jail.  The same morning as the writing is discovered on the temple wall, the boys discovered their teacher has been robbed, bound and gagged, and thrown in his closet.

The boys want to get their friend out of trouble, and find out who robbed their teacher as well.  It is a bit of a madcap story as the boys explore possible leads, sneak around, consult a fortune teller, consider a letter to the emperor and visit various offices and officials.  I’m not sure it’s very historically realistic behavior…but unlike my expectations of The Thieves of Ostia, I didn’t really expect a humorous book to include characters that acted exactly inline with what their historical counterparts might have done.

Overall this was highly entertaining for all of us (I think the three year old was even listening in, given some of the things he said to me after we read it).  If members of your family are prone to name calling, you might want to know that calling someone a “dumbbell” is an event repeated several times in book — even by the boys’ teacher at the end of the story when he decides that Caius might really be a dumbbell after all when he gives a rather unintelligent answer to a question.  Luckily I was able to break my boys of the idea pretty quickly that it’s a word that would be allowed in our house.   Now if only I break my three-year-old so easily of the habit of using bathroom-humor sorts of words when he is mad at us! ;-)

I was happy to find a copy of the sequel (Mystery of the Roman Ransom) at a recent library book sale, and we’ll probably be reading that at some point in the near future.

 

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark April 13, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 5:07 pm
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I’ve already read seven of the ten Newbery Award winners from the 1950s, so I had only a few options to pick newbery-through-the-decadesfrom if  I wanted to read at least one award winner for the Newbery Through the Decades challenge for this month.  After perusing the descriptions of the three 1950s award winners I had not read, Miss M and I chose, Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark, the 1953 Newbery winner.

Secret of Andes is a coming of age story.  Cusi, an Indian boy in Peru of Inca decent, is a shepherd living high in the mountains in the care of Chuto, an older shepherd.  The story takes place in modern times, at least modern enough for a brief mention of a truck.  Other than that one clue as to the time-setting of the story, the rest of the story easily could have taken place long ago, as Cusi is living just as the Andes shepherds have for centuries.

As the story unfolds, we learn more and more about his life (as he learns more about himself).   This short (128 page) novel is a bit slow moving. It’s full of beautiful descriptions of mountains, valleys and llamas.   But it wasn’t exactly a page-turner that kept us coming back to read it each night.

There’s a big “reveal” in the last couple chapters about Cusi’s identity and the future the lays ahead of him, as well as a beautiful relational scene between Chuto and Cusi.  The last chapter almost made the rest of the book feel more worthwhile, but overall it wasn’t a favorite for us. I think had we already been studying Peru or Incan history, we might have appreciated it more.  :-)

 

Read-Aloud Wrap-Up for March 2015 April 8, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:55 pm
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Besides our two “Newbery Through the Decades” challenge titles for March that Miss M and I read (21 Balloons and Strawberry Girl), a lot of our read-alouds and audiobooks lately have been related to our ancient history studies.

Since I am still getting back in the habit of chronicling our reading here on the blog, I am going to back up to February momentarily.  We spent most of January and February, as well as part of March studying ancient Greece.  No study of ancient Greece would be complete without a reading of the Iliad and the Odyssey, right?

After a brief try at reading Black Ships Before Troy (Rosemary Sutcliff) with Miss M,  we decided to go with a bit simpler version.  Black Ships Before Troy was just a bit too complicated to start out with, given a limited background in greek mythology.  I picked up a copy of the Classic Starts version of the Iliad and this was just perfect for a quick read alone by Miss M (who honestly wasn’t very interested in the story!), and for a read-aloud to the boys.

I spent most of March reading the Mary Pope Osborne retelling of the Odyssey to the boys.  Osborne’s Odyssey is told in six short books (combined into just 2 volumes in some editions).  Miss M easily read them to herself at the pace of one book per day, but it took much longer for me to get through reading all six volumes aloud to the boys at a pace of two chapters per day! Luckily, they are exciting and the boys definitely wanted to find out if and when Odysseus ever made it home, so we persevered through the whole six volumes.   I enjoyed this too, having forgotten most of the details of the story of the Odyssey.

In February and into March we also listened to a much more modern mythological story — Percy Jackson and The Olympians Book 1: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.  The kindle + audiobook prices for this was pretty reasonable, and I thought it would be a fun way to get the kids more excited about mythology.  I have to say, it worked pretty well.  :-)  We listened to the audio book on various car rides and occasionally in the house as well.  The Percy Jackson books are built around the premise that the gods of Greek mythology are real, and that they move their presence periodically to the strongest country in western civilization.  Of course that means that the home of the gods is currently New York City.  Percy is a demi-god, or half-blood, who must save the world from a potential war between the gods.

The Lightning Thief is quite entertaining, and I think I enjoyed it as much as the kids. It is definitely full of magic and mythology, and the descriptions of Hades and the underworld were borderline scary to me.  Interestingly, this didn’t seem to bother the kids at all — even my six year old! (It was way over the head of the 3 year old, of course).   I wouldn’t necessarily suggest this series of books to kids who are easily scared or who don’t have a firm grasp of the line between fiction and reality when it comes to talking about mythological gods.  Kids who can handle Harry Potter should do just fine.  My kids are comfortable pretending and reading stories “about those fake Greek gods,”  and it doesn’t seem to shake their genuine beliefs at all.

Miss M and I had our own audiobook in March as well.  We had a long-ish drive to and from a family event by ourselves, and I wanted to have something to make the time pass quickly in the car.  I decided to try and match up with our history studies a bit, and I chose The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence to download from the library. This is the first book in a series called “The Roman Mysteries.”

In The Thieves of Ostia, a group of children need to solve a puzzling mystery of who has been killing some of the neighborhood dogs.  It’s an exciting “whodunnit” that pays a lot of attention to Roman customs and details of life in the first century AD.   This is definitely more appropriate for older elementary ages and up — in fact, I later realized that the paper copies of this book are shelved in the teen section of our library!  The book contained some rather vivid descriptions of the poor treatment of slaves, and graphic depictions of the beheading of the dogs.  Drunkenness and suicide are also touched upon in the course of the story.  Miss M (age 10.5), was not bothered by this…but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable listening to it with the boys (ages 8 and 6).

While interesting and full of detail, I did feel like The Thieves of Ostia fell into the trap that many historical fiction novels fall into of projecting modern views onto people from a different era.  I didn’t find it very believable that the daughter of a well-off sea captain, a slave girl, a Jewish-Christian boy, and a mute beggar boy (the main characters of the story) would really have become friends and share in the solving of a mystery in Roman times.  In general, it was hard for me to picture kids from Roman times “searching for clues.”  There was practically even a “I would have gotten away with it if it wouldn’t have been for you meddling kids” line from the culprit when he was caught.

Overall, I don’t think we’ll be seeking out any more books from this series, though perhaps it is someting Miss M will pick up and read on her own at some point.

 

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski April 3, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:39 pm
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Our second Newbery Through the Decades selection for the 1940s was Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski.  We’ve read one other historical novel by Lois Lenski (The Puritan Adventure), which we enjoyed a couple years ago.  I vaguely recall trying one other time to read Strawberry Girl when Miss M was younger, and the dialect turned me off before we even finished the first chapter.  I’m glad we waited though, because some of the themes in Strawberry Girl are much better suited to a ten-year-old than a younger kid.

Strawberry Girl takes place in early 20th century Florida.  The story follows the story of Birdie Boyer, whose family is settling into a new property.  They come into conflict almost immediately with their neighbors, the Slaters.  The Slaters are a rough sort of family pursuing an older way of making a living — raising free-range cattle.  The Boyers, in contrast are a bit more refined, and want to follow more modern agricultural techniques by raising orange trees, planting strawberries, and fencing in their property.   Conflicts arise as the old ways of cattle ranging across any field is thwarted by fencing.  Interpersonal conflicts arise between the families as well.  The book isn’t just about the conflict (though that is a main theme) — the reader also gets a picture of Florida pioneer life that is quite different from the midwestern and western pioneers we read about in many other pioneer stories.

Sam Slater, father of the Slater clan is an alcoholic, which leads to a certain degree of misery for his family and is the cause of some of the conflicts in the book.  This ongoing theme of drinking leading to violent actions (or at least very unwise behavior) make this book a better choice in my mind for readers/listeners old enough to ponder on this without being overly disturbed.

Strawberry Girl does have a happy ending — almost unrealistically so.  The crops do well, old enmities are forgotten as the Slaters embrace modern ways, and Mr. Slater even decides to embrace Jesus at a revival meeting and give up drinking.  Miss M really liked how everything was wrapped up in a nice, happy way at the end of the book, but as an older reader it was hard for me to believe that everything could turn for the better so quickly.   I suppose that is part of why it still falls into the children’s lit classification rather than a book for an even older audience.

Though I was worried that the “Florida Cracker” dialect (as the characters in the book even call themselves) would be difficult to manage, it wasn’t as difficult this time as I found it the first time around.  I had the audio book on CD from the library “just in case” but I didn’t need it.  :-) I found myself unconsciously correcting some of the non-standard grammar, but managed to mostly read it aloud as written.

Miss M gives this one “4 stars out of 5″, and I might rate it just a bit lower.  It was enjoyable, but not a favorite. I did really enjoy the illustrations — Lois Lenski has a special place in my heart as she is the illustrator of one of my all-time favorite book series, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.  :-) Miss M and I often commented how the characters in Strawberry Girl could be slightly less refined versions of Betsy, Tacy and company (who were set in about the same historical time period).

 

“The 21 Balloons” By William Pene du Bois March 6, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:16 pm
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newbery-through-the-decadesWe’re already off and running with our Newbery Through the Decades challenge for this month — the 1940’s.  We started The 21 Balloons by William Pene Du Bois, the 1948 medal winner, at the tail end of February.  It was a quick read, and we had it finished earlier this week.

The 21 Balloons is a “fantastic” tale (in the sense of “imaginative” or “fanciful”).  It takes place in 1883, and professor William Waterman Sherman has been found in the Atlantic ocean surrounded by 20 large balloons attached to a platform.  This is quite a surprise, because he took off in one balloon from San Francisco only just a little over a month earlier.   After insisting that he must return to the Western American Explorers Club to tell his tale, he is eventually whisked by train across the country to recount his journey.

Professor Sherman crossed the Pacific quite quickly in his balloon, in which he had hoped to spend a year floating around the world.   Misfortune struck, in the form of aggressive seagulls, and he unfortunately crash lands on a tropical island.  This tropical island turns out to be Krakatoa, which, in this story, turns out to not only be inhabited, but inhabited by a fabulously wealthy group of 20 American families, who have carved out for themselves a most unique society on the island.

If you are at all familiar with history, you might guess as to why Professor Sherman’s stay on the island did not last.  Just as in real life, the fictional volcano on the Island of Krakatoa also erupts,  causing the islands inhabitants to flee, and the professor to end up in the state which he is found at the beginning of the book.

While I found the book somewhat entertaining, it’s not one I would eagerly re-read or list among my favorites for the year.  Miss M enjoyed it more than I did.  She liked the humor of some of the situations on the island, and was more easily able to suspend her disbelief at the circumstances that led to the group of Americans living on the island.  I found the set-up to be a bit preposterous, and that diminished my enjoyment of the book to some extent.  I’ve only read one of the 1948 honor books (Misty of Chincoteague), and I have to say I enjoyed that one more in comparison.

 

 

 
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