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.  🙂

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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.

 

 

“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.