Homeschool Discoveries

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

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.

 

 

“The White Stag” by Kate Seredy February 24, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 4:00 pm

newbery-through-the-decadesEven though we already finished one 1930s Newbery Award winner for the Newbery Through the Decades challenge in February, I decided we could sneak in one more before the end of the month.   Thimble Summer was a quick read, and I hadn’t planned ahead for the next bedtime read-aloud for Miss M and I.   The White Stag by Kate Seredy has been on my shelves for quite a while, though I was thinking of saving it for a few months from now to match up with our history studies.   But, I’m glad I decided to grab this 1938 Newbery winner to enjoy right now.

Over the past year or so I’ve become a huge fan of Kate Seredy’s work.  We read The Good Master, The Singing Tree and The Chestry Oak last year as historical fiction to match up with our history studies (We were focusing on American history, but read these European-focused works when we were at the corresponding time periods in our studies).   As I impatiently await my very own copy of The Chestry Oak (It has been out of print for many years — we had to get it from ILL, and now it is soon to be reprinted!), I was getting antsy to read another book by Seredy.

As we read The White Stag, I didn’t feel so bad about not waiting until we reach the time of Atila the Hun in our history studies to read this mostly-fictional saga of Attila, his ancestors, and their sojurn across Europe and central Asia.  In this work inspired by traditional Hungarian folk tales and mythology, Seredy weaves a surprisingly beautiful story of people migrating and conquering their way to a land promised to them by their god.

What really stood out to me in this story was Seredy’s amazing writing.  I am not usually one to stop and marvel at an author’s word choice, but I found myself doing that several times while reading this book aloud:

“Soon came the coldest cruelest winter the Huns and Magyars had ever known.  Snow lay thick on the ground for months and the icy northerly winds howled like malignant demons.  When spring finally came, the thawing snow swelled the rivers into raging torrents impossible to cross. Unwonted idleness began to chafe the restless spirit of the warriors.” (p. 56)

“The wild mountains of Altain-Ula were but a legend to the Huns, the years by the misty blue lake only a fading memory. The past lived in songs, the present in their flashing swords, and the future in their hearts. The future was ‘a land between two great rivers, surrounded by mountains.'” (p. 80)

I’m not sure if these quotes quite convey it when separated from the rest of the text, but Seredy’s descriptive, beautiful language make this story feel like a sweeping epic even though it is told in only 93 pages (including pages taken up with Seredy’s equally beautiful and detailed illustrations).  This book is definitely more than worth the short amount of time it takes to read.

 

“Thimble Summer” by Elizabeth Enright February 23, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:42 pm

newbery-through-the-decadesI had Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright on our “to read” list for last spring as we finished up with our second year of American History studies, but somehow we never got around to reading it.   So, this was an easy choice for a 1930’s award winner for the Newbery Through the Decades Challenge in February.

Thimble Summer was a book I could have easily handed over to Miss M for a quick read, but it was also an enjoyable book to read together.   Like other of Enright’s books we’ve read (The Saturdays, Gone Away Lake), the story is gentle and focuses on episodic adventures of children who seem like “ordinary kids” in many ways. Thimble Summer takes place in the 1930s and relates the incidents in one girl’s life over the course of the summer after she finds what she believes to be a lucky thimble.

A friend recently told me how she just doesn’t understand what I (and other friends) see in books like this.  “They’re pretty boring,” was essentially what she told me.   If you are looking for edge-of-your-seat excitement, this definitely won’t be your cup of tea.  But, Miss M and I both find very enjoyable to read about what life might have been like for a nine year old girl in a different era — when no security system would immediately betray the presence of two girls locked into the library after hours, and a trip alone to big town down the road (via bus and hitchhiking) would not result in a call to the police.

Thimble Summer would make a great addition to a historical fiction reading list for 20th century American History, or just an enjoyable read for anyone who likes sweet, true-to-life stories.

 

“Downright Dencey” by Caroline Snedeker February 22, 2015

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:20 pm
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newbery-through-the-decadesMy big inspiration to get back to blogging was Amy’s “Newbery Through the Decades Challenge” @ Hope is the Word.  I love reading Newbery award winners and I hope to someday be able to say that I have read every Newbery award winner.   Given that I had been having a hard time deciding on books for Miss M and I to read together, the idea of reading one or more Newbery books each month this year sounded like a great idea. Both honor books and award winners are eligible for each month’s challenge.

The first book we read for the challenge (back in January…better late than never to blog about it, right?) was Downright Dencey by Caroline Snedeker, a 1928 honor book.   While I am aiming to read mostly award winners for the challenge, none of the winners from the 1920s struck me as books I wanted to read with my daughter right now.  A couple sounded like they might be of interest to the boys, we’ve already read Gay-Neck, Story of a Pigeon, and I’m saving Trumpeter of Krakow for when we reach the appropriate time in our history studies.  That left the honor books to look through, and I chose this one because M often likes books featuring girls about her age.

Downright Dencey is set in the Nantuckt island Quaker community soon after the War of 1812.  Dionis, or Dencey as she is often called, is a fairly spirited girl who, in a moment of rash anger, throws a stone at a boy who is calling her offensive names.   She feels she must seek this boy’s forgiveness, and in her attempt to do so, she gives away a precious books and promises to teach this outcast boy to read.   Dencey must be secretive to fufill her promise since her mother would never permit her to spend time with this boy, and she finds herself facing a battle within as she struggles between keeping her promise to the boy and feeling guilt at the lying and deceitful behavior she has to undertake to keep the promise.

While I felt like this book was a bit of a slow starter, the action picks up as the story progresses.  Dencey faces a number of minor hardships and adventures, and gets in trouble for impulsive behavior and bad choices in a way that reminds me just a bit of Anne in Anne of Green Gables.  Quaker religious beliefs figure prominently into the story.   I found it interesting to see how the beliefs of Dencey and her family share some similarities to beliefs I hold, while other beliefs are unique and almost puzzling.

Miss M gives this book a “thumbs up” as well.  Even when I almost thought about giving up on it a couple chapters in, she assured me she wasn’t bored and enjoyed the book all the way through.