Homeschool Discoveries

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

Book Discoveries this Week: Three Revolutionary War Titles November 1, 2012

Filed under: Books,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 3:10 pm
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In our US History studies this year we’ve hit the Revolutionary War period, and we’ve already completed a few read-alouds related to this theme.

I hadn’t necessarily intended for all my bedtime read-alouds with Miss M to be focused around our history themes, but so far that has been the case.  After finishing The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I thought we would go for non-history read aloud.  We read one chapter of The Wind in the Willows, and neither of us really liked it.  I know it’s a classic, but I wasn’t impressed after that short trial.  I checked out a “Classic Starts” abridged version, and I may assign that to Miss M at some point in the near future.

I needed a new read-aloud more quickly than I expected, but I didn’t have some of the other history-related titles for Miss M handy (and she requested another history read-aloud).  So, I looked at All Through the Ages to see if I could find something that I could acquire as a free ebook.  A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia by Alice Turner Curtiss seemed to fit the bill, so I downloaded it from Amazon.

A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia takes place in British-occupied Philadelphia in 1778.  Ten year old Ruth Pennell is the “little maid” of this book (there are several other “Little Maid” titles by the same author featuring different girls in different cities).  As the story opens, Ruth’s aunt is staying with her while her mother is away caring for an ill relative and her Father is with General Washington’s army — and Ruth’s dog is missing.  Ruth takes matters into her own hands to find the dog (and meets an important figure in the British army in the process!).  She has a series of other adventures along with a few of her friends that culminate in her very own opportunity to help the Patriots in the war effort.

Miss M and I generally both like these kind of  “episodic” stories about young girls and their adventures, and this was no exception.  I think I can see, though, why this one maybe didn’t survive the test of time to become a well-known classic.  Compared to more modern works (or even more “classic” older books), the tone of A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia was a bit moralistic at times.  Ruth got herself into a bit of trouble with some of her adventures, and the author was not particularly subtle about what lesson Ruth (and the readers of the story) was supposed to learn about asking permission to do things, borrowing things that belong to others or letting a grown-up know where you are going!

These obvious moral lessons didn’t seem to bother Miss M at all — she was very eager to read other titles in this series (at least four of which were available free in Kindle format at — I haven’t looked around to see if any of the other titles in the series are available as free ebooks).

After A Little Maid of Old Philadelphia, we moved on to Toliver’s Secret by Esther Wood Brady.   Ellen Toliver is another 10 year old girl, this time living in New York City (also occupied by the British).  Though I didn’t catch a date in this story, from the events described I would guess it perhaps takes place in 1777.     Ellen is shocked to learn that her Grandfather is a spy for the patriots.   When Grandfather is injured and can’t take a secret message across the river, he asks Ellen to take his place.   It was supposed to be a simple mission of riding across the river with the merchants and finding Grandfather’s friend at a tavern.  Nothing goes according to plan, however, and typically-timid Ellen is faced with a very difficult and dangerous journey.

This was a quick and exciting read for Miss M and I.  She could have easily read it on her own (and did read a couple chapters out-loud one night while I put away my laundry!), I enjoyed sharing it together with her.

After finishing this book we started another Revolutionary spy tale – Sophia’s War by Avi.  This is a bit more mature and complex story.  We’re only a few chapters into it, and I’m eager to find out how this book will develop.

Finally, I have a picture book read aloud to share:  Those Rebels, John & Tom, by Barbara Kerley, Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.   Thanks to Amy @ Hope is the Word for the recommendation of this title! We have quite a few picture books from this era in our book basket, but Miss M has been reading most of them independently, and the boys haven’t been picking them on their own.  Finally this week I asked Mr. E to pick a book from the history book basket as a part of his school time, and Mr K and Miss M decided to listen as well.  Those Rebels, John and Tom is a biography of two famously different friends — Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who put aside their differences for the good of a new nation.   I loved Kerley’s writing style — it’s pretty lighthearted for a serious topic, which makes it all the more fun for everyone listening to the book.     The illustrations are a bit in the style of political cartoons, and the kids enjoyed looking for some of the details in the pictures.

We’re knee deep in Revolutionary War books around here, so I’m sure I’ll have more to share in future weeks!

I’m linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!


Book Discoveries this Week: Sign of the Beaver and The Matchlock Gun October 26, 2012

Filed under: Books,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:01 am

For the past couple of years, most of our longer read-alouds have happened at bedtime, with just me and Miss M.  Tony reads picture books to the boys while I try and read a chapter or two to Miss M of our current book.  This year, I’m trying to incorporate Mr. E into a few more chapter book read-alouds.  What seems to be working so far is to start reading to the kids during a meal or snack.  If the book is engaging enough, Mr. E and Miss M will both be more than happy to keep listening even after the food is gone.  Mr. K will usually wander away…but he is only three and a half, so I don’t really expect a huge degree of interest in books with few pictures.  🙂

When I first started reading The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, both Miss M and Mr. E begged for chapter after chapter of reading in the very fist sitting.  Our pace slowed down after that, but both of them really enjoyed this book.

In The Sign of the Beaver, 13 year old Matt and his father have traveled to Maine to get land and build a cabin in the late 1700’s.  With the cabin built, Matt’s father leaves to retrieve the rest of their family while Matt stays behind to guard the cabin.  While alone in the wilderness, Matt faces challenging circumstances — and also finds an unlikely friendship with an Indian boy named Attean.

Unlike many historical fiction novels set in early American history, this book portrays a really positive relationship between Native Americans and settlers — even if it is just one young settler in this story.  Attean has things to learn from Matt as Matt tries to teach him to read English.  But Matt seems to learn far more as he learns from Attean how to survive in the wilderness with limited supplies.

This might be my favorite read-aloud so far of this school year.  I think the kids might agree — it was one of those kind of books that make you a bit sad at the end that the story is already over.

I made a conscious decision to read The Sign of the Beaver to the kids before reading them The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds. These two books take place in the same general time frame, but The Matchlock Gun is set in a time and place of armed conflict between settlers and Indians.  This short chapter book (or you could possibly call it a long picture book), tells the story of the Van Alstyne family near Albany, New York around 1757.  As Teunis Van Alstyne leaves to do his duty with the village militia, Edward and his mother and sister are left behind on the family farm to defend it against the possibility of attacking Indians.  What seems like a remote possibility at first becomes more and more real as the story progresses, to the point where Edward must truly use his Grandfather’s Matchlock gun than even his father has never fired.

The boys in particular seemed to enjoy the suspense and excitement of this story (Mr K even listened, thanks in part to lots of pictures and a bowl of popcorn!), while Miss M thought it was just “okay”.

This Newberry Award winner published in 1941 is not without controversy.  Many reviewers on Amazon labeled this book as racist — and I have to admit, I can kind of see why.  The illustrations are kind of “cartoonish” in a way — playing on the fears of what scared settlers probably saw in their minds’ eye as they imagined the possibility of being attacked by local Indians.  There is also one paragraph in particular that describes how Gertrude Van Alstyne saw the Indians coming through the woods , and describes them as looking less than human.  I will admit, I skipped this paragraph when reading out loud to the kids.

The Matchlock Gun is based on a true story that was handed down through the Van Alstyne  family.  You can imagine that as a story like this of frightening attack is told time and time again, the tone of the story would be of fear and the heroism of the boy who defended his family — not of the potential grievances the Native Americans had against the settlers, or of other nuances of the French and Indian wars.   So given that perspective, and the age of the book, I feel like I can forgive its potential offenses.   But, this is why I read this book to the kids after Sign of the Beaver — so we could discuss how different each boy’s experience was with the Native Americans and why.

I’m linking up with Read Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!


American History Unit 2 Recap: Early Settlers and the Colonial Period October 25, 2012

Filed under: Books,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:56 pm

Our second unit or topic for our US History studies this year was the early settlers through the pre-revolutionary colonial period (approximately 1609-1780 — Check out my post last week about our studies of American History prior to European settlement).  We just finished this unit up the week before last (although last past week we were still finishing up a couple read alouds that fit with this time period).

I originally planned nine weeks for this unit — that turned out to be way too long! We ended up spending about five weeks (or was it six weeks?) on this topic.  The vast majority of books we found for our “book basket” in particular focused on the topic of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower (and fewer about Jamestown, the Puritans, the French and Indian Wars, and everything else in between).  And we read two longer chapter books about the Puritans. So by about the fourth week, Miss M let me know that she felt like we had been talking about Pilgrims and Puritans  forever.

Here are a few highlights of the resources we used:

Longer Read Alouds (links to my blog posts about these books):

Longer  Books Miss M read Independently:

  • Pocahontas and the Strangers
  • A Lion to Guard Us
  • Skippack School (might be classified as a long picture book.  The copy we had from the library was old and gorgeous.  I meant to read it also before we had to return it, but I might have to get it again to read it sometime!)
  • Courage of Sarah Noble
  • Fire by Night (from the series, The American Adventure)

Miss M enjoyed all these books, and although I am not sure she would have picked any of these completely on her own, she seemed eager to read them most days.  I keep forgetting to ask her which was her favorite — but just judging by her tendency to read more than the minimum assigned amount of reading on a given day, it might have been Pocahontas the the Strangers.

Picture Books:

We again had a full book basket of picture books for this topic, weighted heavily toward books about the Mayflower and the Pilgrims.  Miss M’s favorite books were again titles from the “If you lived…” series, while the boys really enjoyed the humorous tone of “You wouldn’t want to Sail the Mayflower”.   We also read two titles in the American Story series by Betsy and Guillio Maestro — The New Americans and The Struggle for a Continent — to give us an overview of the entire time period.  The boys particularly enjoyed the latter due to all the information about battles in the French and Indian wars.  🙂 A somewhat complete list of books we had in our book basket can be found in the file linked to on my US History Year One page.

Other Activities:

Despite spending a lot of time browsing through craft and activity books, Miss M only selected one craft during this unit.  She made her own ink using strawberries, and then used a feather she found as a quill pen.

We didn’t attempt any other written work during this unit.  Miss M has little interest in notebooking or lapbooking at the moment.  I am encouraging a bit more notebooking for science, so I am not going to force it with history.  I ask her to tell me about what she read (oral narration) and we are calling it good at that.

We’re also not making much progress on a timeline.  Miss M seemed excited about making a timeline at first.  But when the rubber met the road and I couldn’t provide printables to glue in the timeline that were exactly what she had in mind, she wasn’t very motivated.  I still might stick a few dates in myself.  🙂

Given that we’ll cycle back to American History about four years or so, my main goal is just exposure and introduction to the key concepts.  I’m imagining that by middle school (when we do American History again) Miss M will be far more ready for serious notebooking, timelines and maps!



American History Unit 1 Recap: Native Americans/Explorers October 16, 2012

Filed under: Books,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:03 pm

Despite the best of intentions to keep track on a weekly or bi-weekly basis of our American History reading and activities, we’ve now finished two “units” or topics of our self-designed American History studies without a post detailing what we did.

I’ll share a few thoughts here about our first unit (as much for my own benefit as for anyone else’s — so I can remember what I might want to change as we come back around to American History in a few years!), and you can also refer to my general overview page of our US History studies for the year.  I’ll be following up soon with a post about our second unit about the early settlers/colonies.

My goal with our first topic — Native Americans and Explorers — was to expose the kids to some information about what was going on here in North America before Europeans came to stay.  We had read about some of the early European explorers of South American and Mexico last year in Mystery of History Vol. 3,  but I purposely skipped over Christopher Columbus and the early North American explorers to save them for our US History studies.

Next time around, I think I might do things a little bit differently.  I think I would incorporate the explorers into world history of that period (with MOH III or another resource), and spend less time at that point on the American Indians.

When I planned the schedule for this year I didn’t realize, first of all, how many of the resources available regarding various Native American tribes are full of information about how these people groups lived after the Europeans arrived.  Secondly, there are many opportunities to read about Native Americans throughout the settlement/colonial period and beyond.

A few resource highlights:

I assigned Miss M to read Pedro’s Journal and Conquista.  She didn’t really enjoy either one of these very much! I also expectd her to read the Kaya American Girl books, but after reading part of the first one, she let me know that she really wasn’t interested.

Miss M also read a number of shorter non-fiction and fiction books from our book basket.  She really likes the “If you live with…” series of books such as “If you lived with the Sioux”, as well various picture books focusing on Native American legends. She didn’t care as much for some of the other informative books I selected from the library on various tribes and explorers.  The boys also occasionally asked for some of the book basket books to be read to them, but not super often during this unit.

We only completed one chapter book read aloud during this unit, and started one more that we elected not to finish.  You can read more about these two books in this post.

My favorite “overview” resource is The American Story series by Betsy and Giulio Maestro. This series of picture books takes American history from the time before European explorers to 1815 over the course of seven books.  We read the first two for this unit.

As far as written work or projects beyond all our reading, the kids did do one project from the Native Americans History Pockets book (which Miss M declared to be “far too easy.”).  There was very little interest from Miss M or Mr. E in completing any other written projects (lapbook pieces, notebooking, other History Pockets).  The kids did do a few crafts from the book “More than Moccasins,”  like these paper tepees.

In our history studies so far I’ve been amazed by my kids lack of interest in doing much of any written/tangible work or projects.  I’m not going to force it or make a big deal — after all, I am pretty confident that my kids already know more about early American history than I did up until this year since due to various moves as a child I never had the “first half” of American history with much of any depth at all (though I had the “second half” of American history twice!).

We completed this unit about a week or two ahead of what I had originally planned.  Given that we also finished up our second unit a few weeks early (i.e. we had read nearly all the books on our list and the kids were getting tired of that time period), I think I may have planned too long for each unit on our schedule!  Miss M told me the other day that she was worried about what would happen if we studied US History “too fast.”  I let her know not to worry — there is still plenty of American history left, and even if we get further in time this year than I originally planned, I can easily find good history or geography related studies to fill our time.  🙂




Book Discoveries this Week: Margaret Pumphrey’s Pilgrim Stories September 13, 2012

Filed under: Books,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:46 pm

As we were wrapping up our unit on Native Americans and Explorers last week, we needed a new read aloud.  We stopped our last one mid-way through due to boredom.  I pulled out a couple of books for our next topic (early settlers/colonists) and a couple non-history-related read-alouds and let Miss M pick.  She picked Margaret Pumphrey’s Pilgrim Stories, revised and expanded by Elvajean Hall.  It’s this edition on amazon.   Apparently there are at least a couple modern revisions/expansions of this 1910 work available.  I can’t compare this edition to the others since I don’t have any of those on hand.

This wasn’t a book that I originally had on my American History book list.   However when I saw it at the Half Price books tent sale for a buck, it was a no-brainer to pick it up.  There is no shortage of books about the pilgrims.  Without much effort, I feel like half our history book basket is about Pilgrims, the Mayflower or the first Thanksgiving.

Margaret Pumphrey’s Pilgrim Stories turned out to be a fine opening for our studies on this topic.  It’s a fairly easy-to-read chapter book with 17 short chapters.  I could have very easily handed it over to Miss M for her to read herself.  But I’m glad I didn’t.  The book opens in 1606 with Queen Anne visiting what turns out to be the home of some of the separatists.  A young girl gives away the secret that her family worships God not in the official church, but in their own meeting.   Soon the separatists are hiding and being even more secretive to avoid capture by the authorities.    Their journey takes them to Holland for several years as they pursue religious freedom (I must have slept through that part of elementary school history class – I didn’t know they went to Holland first!), before they eventually join with many “strangers” to take the journey to the New World.

In Pilgrim Stories we learn not only what the Pilgrim mothers and fathers were doing, but what the children were up to also –some making trouble and getting in the way, others being helpful and brave.  The book follows the story of the Pilgrims through the first Thanksgiving and the arrival of another ship from England (The Fortune) shortly after.

As I put together our reading list for this unit, I noticed that many books leave the story there.  I’ve found a lot of books about Jamestown and Plymouth, and then many more books that pick up the story of life in the colonies in the 1700’s.

We’re filling in the pieces of what life might have been like in New England about 15 years after the first Pilgrims landed in our next read-aloud: Puritan Adventure by Lois Lenski.  I’m sure I’ll be sharing more about that book for a future Book Discoveries post.

I’m linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!