Homeschool Discoveries

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

Book Discoveries this Week: Henry Huggins and Tanglewoods Secret July 18, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:08 pm

We’ve finished a couple more read-alouds this week — One for the boys, and one for Miss M. Mr. E spent a good portion of last week with Grandma Karen (my mom).  I sent the book Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary for them to start together.  Mr. E loved it and was eager to continue it once he got home.  Mr. K listened quite often as well, as did Miss M (who caught up reading on her own all the parts she missed).

Henry Huggins was not an entirely new character to us, as Miss M and I read the Ramona books aloud when she was a 2nd grader, and she has re-read them many times since.   Henry appears as a minor character in the Ramona books,  and Ramona and Beezus appear in the Henry books as well.   Henry Huggins covers one eventful year in Henry’s life when he first gets Ribsy, his beloved dog, and has all kinds of other funny adventures as well.  Fans of the Ramona books or other “episodic life adventure” sort of books will probably like the Henry series as well.

I have, so far, been generally choosing books to read aloud to Mr. E that feature boys as main characters, since he is just getting his feet wet with chapter book listening and I am trying to hold his interest as much as possible.  It fascinated me, however, that he requested I read Betsy-Tacy next after finishing Henry Huggins.    We’re about seven chapters in to that book (1st in my all-time favorite children’s book series!), and he and Mr. K love it.  I think I am one lucky mom to have boys who like Betsy-Tacy too.  🙂

With Miss M, I decided to take a departure from our fairy tale and fantasy read-alouds for something of a bit more serious nature.  I picked up Tanglewoods Secret by Patricia St. John at a book sale this year.   It’s actually the second book by St. John that I acquired…but the first one (received in a box of random books given to me by a friend who was “cleaning out”) had such an odd cover and no description on the back that I didn’t even give it a second look.

I was clued in to what I missed out on when I read this post by Amy about another St. John book, Star of Light.  So, this time, when I found another book by the same author, I didn’t pass it up.

In Tanglewoods Secret, Ruth and Philip are living with their aunt and uncle while their tanglewoods secretparents are serving overseas.  Ruth is fairly hot-tempered, and this gets her into trouble pretty frequently.   One night in a fit of rage, Ruth runs away rather than face her Aunt (who threatened to send her to boarding school), after sleeping the night in a church, Ruth meets a clergyman who tells her about the Good Shepherd who can find his lost sheep, no matter where they are or how far they have run away.  This starts Ruth down a path of “belonging to the Good Shepherd”, which influences her entire family and helps a friend and his family through a time of grave crisis.

I’ve never been big on “Christian Fiction” per se, but this was done pretty tastefully.  The story of the Good Shepherd and the theological ideas presented fit pretty naturally into the storyline — though the explanations were a bit muddled at times, and sometimes required just a bit of theological/Biblical explanation on my part to make sure Miss M was left with the right idea.    Miss M shares a few things in common with Ruth in terms of having a fiery temper, so I am hoping maybe a few of the ideas in the book sink in beyond it just being a good story.  🙂  Miss M enjoyed it and asked if I could find more books by the same author.  I was bummed that our library doesn’t have any of St. John’s children’s books, so I will be investigating used book stores (and patiently requesting via Inter Library Loan).

I’ll be linking up to the now-monthly Read-Aloud Thursday at the end of the month!


Book Discoveries this Week: A potpourri of chapter books July 2, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 2:14 pm

Despite how busy we’ve been in the past couple weeks, it feels like we’ve actually done quite a bit of reading.   Afternoon nap time for the toddler is a perfect time to read aloud to the rest of the crew (and it is nice “down time” for them between all our outside activities).  And summer evenings seem to lend themselves well to reading a bit later than usual with Miss M.

I usually try and stick to one chapter book per post…but I’m afraid if I don’t condense some of them into one post, I’ll start to forget what we’ve read.  😉

With Mr. E (age 6) as my primary audience, we finished The Mouse and the Motorcyle by Beverly Cleary and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  We’re working on Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator right now, so I’ll save Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for a future post about both books.

Both Mr. E and Mr. K (age 4) listened to The Mouse and the Motorcycle, though Mr. E  the mouse and the motorcycleenjoyed it a bit more.  Miss M read it all in one afternoon after we finished.  🙂  The Mouse and the Motorcycle is a great story for young boys in particular.  They can all relate to a boy who loves to play with his toy cars and beloved motorcycle.     Keith befriends Ralph the mouse while staying at an old motel that is home to Ralph and his family.  He even allows Ralph to take joy rides on his beloved toy motorcycle…which can really move if one make pb-pb-pb-bbbb  sounds, of course.  This leads to all kinds of adventures and trouble for Ralph, who learns a big lesson in responsibility.  We’ll be reading the sequels about Ralph the mouse sometime soon.

With Miss M, I’ve finished a couple complete books as read-alouds, plus we’ve done a few shared readings where I started the book and she finished it.  This is new for us, and it seems to be working out quite well to help her discover new books she was a bit more apprehensive to dive into on her own.

wonderful ONot being quite sure what I wanted to read after The Little White Horse (linked to my review), we started a shorter book, The Wonderful “O” by James Thurber.  This is a funny little story about two pirates who, unable to find any treasure on an island they visit, decide to forcibly outlaw the letter “O”.   Not only do they outlaw speaking the words themselves that contain the dreaded “O”…but the objects themselves.  Everything from pools to floors to clocks to chocolate to dough is outlawed.   There’s a lot of wordplay going on as words are spoken without their “o”s and o-less synonymns are found for objects with O-filled names.  Eventually the pirates are cleverly kicked off the island for the residents to get their beloved “O”s back.   This short book only took us two evenings to read.  It’s definitely funny and a bit strange as well.   I think it’s one I could have “passed” on (and let Miss M read on her own), but since it only took two nights to read it wasn’t really such a bad use of time.

The other full read aloud we’ve finished is The Prairie Thief by Melissa Wiley.  I checked this out for Miss M to read a few months back based on Amy’s recommendation, but she prairie thiefnever got around to reading it before it had to go back to the library.  Since we are on a roll with more fairy-tale type read alouds this summer, it came to mind as one we could read together.

This is a bit of  “Little House”-meets-fairy-tales sort of a story.  Louisa Brody is a young girl living on the prairie in 1882.  Her Pa is accused by their neighbors of stealing household items, and then is carted off to jail.  With no one else to take her in, Louisa has to stay with those same neighbors who accused her Pa of being a thief.    Louisa knows that her Pa is not the stealing type, but she can’t quite figure out how the Smirch’s things got into their old dugout — until she meets a tiny little fellow who lives in a home under the hazel grove.

Both Miss M and I really enjoyed this one.  It’s an exciting story, with some interesting twists and turns (and a happy ending, of course).

Miss M and I have also had some “shared reading”.   I read the first “section” of Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken out loud, and Miss M finished the rest of the book fairly quickly.  This book is really hilarious and ridiculous (in a good way).  Arabel’s father brings home a raven that was hit by a car.    Just when it seems the raven might be a goner, it eats everything in the refrigerator.  Then it eats the stairs (it really likes eating stairs).   It also answers the phone and says “Nevermore!” on a regular basis.  It can even occasionally be helpful in the process of catching a thief.

We also started The Bad Beginning, the first book in the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series, outloud together.  After just a couple chapters, I knew that I didn’t care to read the rest of it.  As the author so politely warns, if you like stories with happy endings, you probably don’t want to read this book.    I know it is supposed to be “funny” how many bad, bad things happen to the poor Baudelaire children, but I just had a hard time enjoying the humor of it I guess.   Miss M thought otherwise and quickly finished both the first and second books in this series before taking a break to read the third Mysterious Benedict Society book.

We’re currently reading/shared-reading.  Nurse Matilda by Christianna Brand.  This book may become Miss M’s read.  We’ll be discussing it tonight.  She seems to love this story of a magical nanny with some very naughty children.  I’m not such a big fan — I don’t think it is nearly as good as Mrs. Piggle Wiggle or Mary Poppins (though I am judging based on the movie of Mary Poppins, not the book — I’ve never read the book).  Nurse Matilda strikes me as being a mean version of Mary Poppins.  😉

Whew, that’s a lot of books!  I’m linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!


Book Discoveries this Week: The Little White Horse June 13, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:17 pm

In our continued foray into books-not-related-to-our-history-studies, I chose The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge as my next bedtime read aloud with Miss M.  I wasn’t really familiar with this title until I read Amy’s post about it a few month ago.  After reading her description of the book I knew I wanted to add it to our list!  I even went ahead and just bought a copy of it, since I suspected it would be a title Miss M would like to have on her bookshelf for future reading.  🙂

At it’s core, The Little White Horse is a fairy tale, complete with an orphaned girl (Maria) little white horseliving with a distant relative, sweet love stories, mysterious circumstances, evil triumphing over good, and just a bit of magic.

Miss M and I weren’t drawn in so much by the beginning of the book — a description of Maria’s journey to her new home at Moonacre Manor — but with each passing chapter things got just a bit more intriguing.  Maria has the opportunity to set things right in a generations-old feud between her family and another family, and she boldly does what needs to be done.   A variety of “coincidences” begin to come together as the story unfolds…and since this is a fairy tale, these happy coincidences result in more than one happily ever after.

The Little White Horse was written in 1946, but the descriptive language could easily have come out of a 19th century novel.  It’s really dense with detailed descriptions of food, clothing, interior decor and scenery.

Here’s an example:  “The pretty room was panelled in oak, and the western window, with its deep window seat, looked out on to the rose-garden.  Perhaps because of this, the person who had furnished the parlour had made it a rose room.  The cream-colored brocade curtains at the window, torn but beautiful, had little flame-coloured rose buds scattered over them, and the winged armchair beside the fireplace was upholstered in the same brocade. The Persian rug upon the floor was patterned all over with full-blown golden roses upon a sea green ground.  The six Sheraton chairs that stood stiffly round the walls had seats worked in petit-point, white roses with golden hearts, upon a background that echoed the sea-green of the carpet.  There were no pink roses anywhere.” (p. 39)

Many of the detailed descriptions do serve a point in the story though (the lack of pink, in this case, is the important part — a clue to the person who decorated the room), and you certainly could not walk away from reading this story without a vivid idea of how the author wants you to envision the setting for the story.

Given the detailed nature of the reading, I think it made a good choice to read-aloud.  I tried a couple times to convince Miss M to read it on her own (while we were working on other read-alouds), but I am glad she said “no” and we had the opportunity to enjoy this one together.   I think she would have been apt to skim over the thick descriptive paragraphs, and miss details important to how the plot works itself out.  Now that she’s familiar with the arc of the story, I won’t be too surprised if I  see her picking it up to read on her own.

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


Book Discoveries this Week: Owls in the Family June 5, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:35 pm

I’ve been meaning all year to step-up the chapter book read-alouds with Mr. E (age 6, rising first grader), but I wasn’t very successful.  He really enjoyed the longer read-alouds he did listen in on, but I had a hard time figuring out where in our schedule literature read-alouds for everyone (or even just for Mr. E) should fall.

I had been thinking that soon Mr. E would “graduate” to joining Miss M and I for longer bedtime read alouds…but Mr. E really like bedtime stories with daddy and his brothers.  He is no where near interested in giving that up (and the attention span of the two younger boys makes chapter books at bedtime a less ideal situation).  Compounding the problem is the fact that Mr. J (the 19-month-old) has this bad habit of crawling all over us every time I try and read-aloud to the boys.  I am trying to teach him not to do that…but without much luck so far.

So last week we decided we were going to make a concerted effort to have reading time during Mr. J’s nap every day…or at least as many days as possible.  And during this block of reading time we’ll read a chapter of the Bible, at least one chapter of a longer read aloud, and probably do some other reading as well.  I’m sure it won’t happen every day…some days we’ll need to work on other projects.  But at least for this summer, nap time will be story time.

I’ve had a stash of more “boy oriented” read-alouds I have been saving for Mr. E.   I decided owls in the familyto kick off our new reading time with Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat.   Much to the chagrin of my kids, we are a non-pet-owning family…but my kids would love to own one.  So this story of a boy and his many pets (including two pet owls) was a big hit with all the kids.

Owls in the Family is a fairly short chapter book (only 91 pages), so it’s a good choice for a little bit younger crowd.   The pet owls in the story are pretty funny, and of course, are the cause of antics with other kids, neighborhood animals, the mail carrier,  a new minister in town, and more.     Besides being a cute, sweet story, Owls in the Family gives a lot of little factual tidbits about owls, the Canadian prairie, and other nature-related topics.   Overall, it’s a great choice for a family read-aloud (especially for animals lovers!).

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


Book Discoveries this Week: Island of the Blue Dolphins May 16, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:52 pm

I don’t have very many distinct memories of books I read as an elementary-school aged child.  I do remember a few book series I enjoyed reading, like Nancy Drew, The Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley Twins (Ugh, anyone else remember those? I distinctly remember also that as a girl about Miss M’s age, my mom said I was not allowed to read the “high school” series from Sweet Valley.  Good call, Mom!).

As far as individual books go, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’ Dell is one of the few I clearly remember reading.  I also remember that after reading it, I incorporated it into my own imaginative play as I pretended to be the main character from the story.  I’m fairly sure I read it in 3rd grade (based on my memory of which house I “played” this in, from the many I lived in during childhood).  So it was a natural choice to add Island of the Blue dolphins to our read-aloud this for this year. Though I am sure it is one Miss M could have handled on her own, I definitely wanted to share the experience of this book together with her.  I entered into it with some apprehension, however, that I might be disappointed in the re-read of this book that was so highly regarded in my memory!

Luckily, I was not disappointed.  I think I enjoyed it just as much as I remember having enjoyed it when I was Miss M’s age, and Miss M said it was one of her favorites of this year as well.

While this strikes me as a book many of us probably read as a child, here’s a brief recap of island of the blue dolphinsthe plot:  Karana is a girl living with her small tribe on a remote island off the coast of California.  The population of the tribe is decimated following a battle with a group of Aleut hunters who have come to the island to hunt otter.  Eventually the decision is made that the remnant of the tribe must leave the island.  The tribe’s chief leaves to get help from the mainland, and a ship arrives to take the tribe away.  Karana’s brother, however, is not found aboard the ship as it is leaving the island, and Karana abandons the ship to find her brother, knowing they will be left behind.

Karana’s brother is killed by wild dogs soon after.  (I suppose this could upset some sensitive readers — but if a potential reader/listener reads the summary on the back of the book before beginning, they will have a sizable hint that something must happen to her brother, as the summary states she is alone on the island!).   Karana is thus left alone on the island to find her own way to survive — for what she first believes may only be weeks, months or a year — but for what instead turns out to be 18 years before a ship finally arrives that takes her to the mainland.

Karana’s story is one not only of survival, but of finding friends in unexpected ways, of harmony with her surroundings and of finding peace in difficult circumstances.  I grew up as an only child (in my immediate household — I have half and step siblings I did not live with), and I think that I could relate to Karana’s “aloneness” in some ways.  Other than that, I find it a bit hard, actually, to put my finger on why I liked this book so much as a child and still like it now.  Clearly, I don’t directly relate to her experience of being alone in my current living situation (quite the opposite — I definitely would appreciate a few more moments of peace and quiet!).    I suppose I might be most drawn to Karana’s strong sense of resolve to press on despite the obstacles and find beauty and enjoyment around her.

(Small side note — I picked the small cover picture that reflects the cover of the copy of Island of the Blue Dolphins that I own.  Isn’t it a great illustration? I like it much better than some of the other covers).

After many quite serious, historical read-aloud this year, we’ve next moved on to something much more “fun” and lighthearted.  Miss M and I are a few days into read The Mysterious Benedict Society, having heard and read many positive reviews.  It’s a long one though so this might keep us occupied for a two (or three or four) weeks…if we can keep ourselves from not staying up too late reading it.  😉

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


Book Discoveries this Week: Plagues, Pox, Pestilence and Fast Supercars May 8, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:06 pm

It’s always interesting to see what my boys, ages 4 and 6, pick out at the library when they browse in the non-fiction section.   I’ve heard that many boys gravitate toward this area of the library.  My boys have gone in phases.  I remember Mr. E (now age 6) going through a phase at about age 3 where he wanted to hear any and every book about sports we could find at the library.  Mr. E and Mr. K have both gone through phases where they wanted books about cars and other vehicles.  Various science topics, weapons and war in general are often popular with the boys.

Lately, they haven’t ventured much into the non-fiction section on their own.  While they’ve enjoyed history and science-related books I’ve selected as a part of topics we are studying as a family, they have gravitated more toward Star Wars, Ninjas, and Super Heroes for their book selections.

This past week, however, they came away from the non-fiction section with a big stack of pox-plaguesbooks to bring home.  I think they chose Pox, Plagues and Pestilence by Richard Platt more because of the outlandish illustrations of giants rats, bugs and germs than because they were really excited to learn about disease.  They were actually surprised to find out that this was a true book!

Pox, Plagues and Pestilence details the history, causes, effects, cures and more for many of history’s worst diseases — the black plague, small pox, malaria, influenza and more.  The pages are very busy, full of lots of illustrations and small boxes of text.  I think this very visual presentation was part of what kept the boys listening…for over 45 minutes while I read almost all of the book on a recent afternoon!

I asked them several times if they were ready to be done hearing about death and disease…but no, they wanted me to continue.  I thought the author did a pretty good job of giving death statistics and describing the effects of the diseases without being unnecessarily gruesome.  One word of warning for those with a young audience like mine — there are a couple references to diseases being transmitted sexually.   But those references are minor and easy to edit out for an audience not ready for that sort of discussion.

fast supercarsMany of the books in this most recent library stack are about cars.  I was surprised at how much I myself was draw into Fast! Supercars by Ian Graham.  Mr. K picked this one out on a recent night when I was on duty to read bedtime stories to the boys.  I told him I wasn’t sure we had time for the entire book…but I kept on reading to the end because I was interested too!

Now, before you are too amazed, I do have  to say that I am a sucker for anything having to do with transportation history.   🙂  Fast! Supercars covers a lot of historical ground about the cars that were the fastest in their day, and many that broke the land-speed record at various times in history.  People have been trying to beat the land-speed record for well over 100 years.   I was vaguely aware of that, but I had no idea that more recent land-speed records were set by jet cars and rocket cars — or that the current land-speed record holder broke the sound barrier traveling over 700 miles per hour.  The boys and I all thought that was pretty amazing!

It’s always amazing to think about how much random information the boys are picking up from all these books they select at the library — and how much it adds to their imaginative play.  Just today I overheard the boys pretending that some of their lego weapons could infect the bad guy minifigures with the black plague or smallpox.  🙂

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


Book Discoveries This Week: Chickadee by Louise Erdrich May 2, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:02 pm

Earlier this winter, Miss M and I read the first three books in Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series.  You can read my review of The Birchbark House here, and my review of The Game of Silence and The Porcupine Year here.

After finishing these three books, which feature main character Omakayas as a girl, we decided we wanted to wait a bit before reading the fourth book in the series, Chickadee.  Chickadee picks up Omakayas’ story a number of years later.  She is now a grown woman with twin boys of her own.   After reading and enjoying the first three books, we just weren’t quite ready for Omakayas to grow up immediately.

Now that a few months have passed since the reading of those three books, we were ready chickadeeto meet Omakayas in 1866.  (This is actually well-timed historically, since we just finished up a read aloud on the Civil War!).   It’s maple sugaring time, and Omakayas and her family are in the Sugar Bush with many other families.  An older man makes fun of Chickadee for his small size and unusual namesake — Great-Grandmother Nokomis gives this older gentleman a piece of her mind, while Chickadee’s twin, Makoons, takes it a step further and pulls a prank on the old man.

In retaliation, the old man’s sons decide to kidnap one of the twins to take back to their cabin as a servant.  They don’t really care which one they end up with…after all, they reason, don’t they look just alike? And couldn’t the family spare one since they have two of the same?

Babiche and Batiste reach into the family’s shelter in the night, and end up taking Chickadee with them.  Babiche and Bastiste are pretty hilarious and very awful all at the same time. Living in a mouse-infested cabin and seeming to not really care about this, they sing songs in praise of the awful concoction they apparently eat at every meal (and demand that Chickadee prepare for them now that he is their servant):

Bouyah, Bouyah!

The way to start the day!

If your stew is full of hair,

Just spit it out and swear!

If your stew smells like your feet,

 there’s more of it to eat…

Not long after being kidnapped, Chickadee outsmarts the brothers, is temporarily “rescued” by a group of Catholic nuns who would like nothing more than to scrub him down and cut off his braids, and then sets off a journey through the wilderness that he hopes will lead him home.

Meanwhile, his family has traveled to the plains to try and find Chickadee.  Even when they realize he is no longer with the brothers who kidnap him, they decide to put down roots near the Red River while they await Chickadee’s return — starting a new chapter in the family’s story as learn they way of life in a very different environment.

I liked seeing how the characters have grown and changed in the year’s that have passed since The Porcupine Year.   Even Omakayas’ brother Quill has grown up into a respectable, married man (who plays a big role in helping Chickadee return home!).  Nearly all the major characters from the previous books appear in Chickadee — though I kept wondering what happened to the boy that Omakayas’ mother adopted as a baby in The Game of Silence, who traveled with them as a toddler to the Lake of the Woods area in the third book.  He isn’t mentioned, so I hope that plot “hole” is explained in a future book in the series.

Miss M and I enjoyed this title in the Birchbark House series just as much as we enjoyed the others.  And we’ll be looking forward with great anticipation for the next book in the series (though, in looking at the gaps between the previous books, we probably have at least another year or two to wait!).  Readers who haven’t read the first three books could easily jump in at this point in the story…but the first three books are so good that you probably wouldn’t want to.  🙂

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


Book Discoveries this Week: Rifles for Watie April 25, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:53 pm

As we wind down our school year and with it, our US History studies for the year, I wanted to do one high-quality read-aloud set in the Civil War time period.  From a short list of Civil War novels I considered, Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith stood out for several reasons:  It won a Newbery Award in 1957, it was a book I remember my step-Dad telling me was very influential to him, and some how I don’t think I had ever read it before. Despite being exposed to many documentaries about the Civil War growing up, I think the only book I read on the topic was Across Five Aprils.

Rifles for Watie follows the story of Jeff Bussey, a teenager from Kansas who decides torifles for watie enlist in the Union army.  He is sick and tired of the “bushwackers” (pro-slavery men from Missouri) who cross the border and attack Kansans who are anti-slavery, and he figures that joining up to fight in the war is the only way he can really do something about it.  Although at first he misses out on actual fighting (and also gets on the bad side of his commander in the process), he eventually is involved in several battles, first in the infantry, then later in the cavalry and even as a scout.

This book is set in the western front of the war.  Bussey and his comrades fight in Missouri, Arkansas and what is now Oklahoma.   While out on a scouting mission, he finds himself in an unusual situation — a remark by his partner on the scouting mission finds them joining up on the Confederate side with Stand Watie‘s Cherokee Mounted Rifles.   For months he plays the part of a rebel, waiting to find out some important information before returning to the union side — and he discovers how surprisingly likeable both soldiers and civilians on the enemy side really are.

Rifles for Watie is quite a long book.  At 352 pages of small type (in the edition we checked out from the library), it took us close to three weeks to finish it!  But our patience in making it to the end of this book was well worth it.  I would say the most exciting part of the story is the final few chapters of the book, when Jeff is embedded as an impromptu spy with the Confederates.  Much of the story gives a sense of the reality of war for the soldiers (lots of waiting, travel and boredom with a few battles thrown in), as well as of the horror of war without being too graphic. We also liked how Rifles for Watie gives the reader empathy for both sides, and for people groups often overlooked in other books about the Civil War, like members of various Native American tribes.

A funny side note — as we approached the end of the book and the identity is revealed of a union officer who is selling repeating rifles to Watie to make a personal profit, Miss M said to me, “oh, I totally knew it.  The author foreshadowed that for most of the book!”  I didn’t even know that she knew the word “foreshadow”! We don’t have a lot of discussions about literary terminology, but apparently she is picking it up from somewhere.  🙂

Overall I would say this is a great choice for mid to upper elementary as a read-aloud set in this time period, and is probably enjoyable as an independent read in middle school and up.
I’m linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!


Book Discoveries this Week: Policeman Small and other Picture Books April 18, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:47 am
Tags: ,

Once every couple of months I try and share tidbits about some of the pictures books we find at the library.  Since Miss M and I are still in the middle of a very long read-aloud about the Civil War, it seemed like a good week to do just that.

A little over a week ago we took a trip to the Minneapolis Central library branch downtown.  Among their large collection of picture books, it’s always easy to find books by beloved authors and illustrators – including older books that may not be on the shelf quite so often at our neighborhood branch.

Lois Lenski has a special place in my heart as an author/illustrator–mainly because she illustrated the first four books in my all-time favorite children’s book series, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. We own a couple of Lenski’s picture books, but there are many of her picture books we haven’t read yet.  I found a few of her “Mr. Small” titles on our trip to Central Library.

I read “Policeman Small” to the boys at bedtime last night.  Tony was out, so I was pulling policeman smallbedtime double-duty of reading to the boys and to Miss M.  Everyone enjoyed the rhythm of this old-fashioned story of a traffic officer’s day and all the people and vehicles he sees.  I was actually just thinking the other day about what city life was like before traffic lights – I’m sure there must have been a lot more traffic police men doing what Policeman Small was doing in this book.  J  He has a great “manual” version of a stoplight, in a manner of speaking (it’s two “stop” signs and two “go” signs on a pole that can be rotated so one faces each side of a four-way intersection). I’ve never seen a picture of one of these before, but I would have to imagine these were actually used in the days before stoplights.

Here’s another little tidbit about this book I found completely fascinating.  Policeman Small actually opens with “sheet music” for a song about the book’s namesake character.  The words were written by author/illustrator Lois Lenski, and the music appears to have been written by none other than prolific children’s book author Clyde Robert Bulla.  I had no idea he was a composer as well.  We’ve read and enjoyed several books by Bulla.

Here’s a few quick tidbits on a potpourri of other picture books we’ve read over the last two months:

When You Meet a Bear on Broadway The boys and Miss M all enjoyed this to some degree, but this was a favorite of mine in the stacks from the last couple months.  When you meet a cute little bear on Broadway…you should help it find its mama.  🙂

I Don’t Want a Cool Cat.  A favorite of both boys, who liked the clever and funny descriptions of all kinds of cats that a girl does not want for a pet.

Dirtball Pete A sweet story about accepting someone for who they really are – even if that means they are covered in dirt!

A Home for Bird. Thanks to Amy for this recommendation.  We all enjoyed this wonderful picture book and read it several times.  The first time, it was fun to try and guess what was going to happen.  Miss M correctly guess that it would end with a cuckoo clock. 🙂

Knit Your Bit – This World War I-era story is another recommendation from Amy that we all enjoyed.  I wasn’t sure if the boys would really be “into” it, but they liked it enough to request it to be read to them more than once.

The Great Doughnut Parade – this was another favorite of mine that the boys liked as well.  Mr. K (age 4) asked many, many times if he could REALLY tie a doughnut to his pants with a string after reading this book.

Two Sticks – A girl with a love for drumming drums her way out of a jam in a swamp full of alligators.  This was a favorite with Mr. E (age 6).

Wumbers.  I feel like I heard about this one from another Read Aloud Thursday post at some point, but I am not 100% sure.  This is a puzzle picture book where the pun-like puzzles come in the form of numbers melded with words. I love books like this, and Miss M really enjoyed it too.  I always find word-play picture books to be not quite as fun as I wish they would be with the boys though, since I have to explain so many of the jokes!  I also just realized that this book is by the same author of a picture book we really enjoyed a few months ago, This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations.

What Can a Crane Pick Up? A classic “truck” book, I heard the boys repeating lines from this book over and over again after we read it.

How Rocket Learned to Read – The boys thought this was okay, but I saw Miss M reading this cute picture book about a bird teaching a dog to read several times while it was in our library basket. 🙂

The Cobbler’s Holiday or Why Ants Don’t Wear Shoes.  This is one of those books that I thought was “okay” and I hoped the boys would only want to hear it once.  We, in fact, read it several times before it went back to the library.  I’m still not quite sure what appealed to the boys so much about this book, other than the ridiculous idea of ants wearing many, many pairs of shoes.  It seemed to me like it should have been a parable of some sort, only I didn’t know what the “moral” of the story was supposed to be – other than that you don’t need shoes to be fashionable.  😉

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



Book Discoveries this Week: You Wouldn’t Want to Be in the First Submarine April 11, 2013

Filed under: Books,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:06 pm
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Providing kids the time and resources to pursue their interests is truly one of the joys of homeschooling.  Sure, there is a lot of time spent practicing math facts and spelling words and the like.  We read stacks of books and the kids find some more interesting than others.  But I just love it when something ignites a spark of true desire to learn all about the topic.

Sometimes, this spark of interest is on a topic I would have never picked or guessed that my kids would get excited about.

A couple weeks ago, knowing that we were getting close to starting a unit on the Civil War, Ifirst submarine grabbed You Wouldn’t Want to be in the First Submarine from the library.  The boys (Mr E, age 6 and Mr K, age 4) have really enjoyed titles from this series in the past.  The You Wouldn’t Want to… series has cartoonish illustrations and the text is written addressed to the reader, as though he or she might really be considering participating in whatever the book is being written about (emphasizing the downsides of these events or time periods, of course!).  I think they have the format down to a “T” in terms of what would appeal to young boys reading historical non-fiction.

You Wouldn’t Want to Be in the First Submarine isn’t really about the very first submarine ever invented.  Rather, it is about one of the first successful submarines — the Hunley, a confederate submarine that was the first submarine to sink another vessel.   Prior to reading this book, I had never even heard of the Hunley.  This book gave a pretty good introduction to the history of this sub.

As I expected, the boys enjoyed it quite a bit.  I didn’t wait for the official start of our Civil War unit to pull it out — they wanted to read it as soon as they saw me grab it at the library. But then what did surprise me was that Miss M (age 8.5) read it soon after I brought it home from the library as well.  She was fascinated by it! I guess I just didn’t peg early submarines as a topic that my doll-and-horse-loving 3rd grader would jump on. (Though maybe early transportation history is her thing — she did request a unit on the history of aviation last year!)

All three kids said they wanted to get more books about the Hunley.  I said, “ok” and promptly forgot about it.  I honestly wasn’t sure this was a topic that we would find much about!  Then this past Sunday we took a trip downtown to the “big library” as the kids like to call it.  🙂  While browsing for other books for our Civil War unit, I discovered they had several books about the Hunley!

I brought them home, and submarine mania ensued.  😉 Miss M has read several of the books already, and asked if we could look up the answers on the internet to several questions we had.  Where is the Hunley now?  (Answer: In a museum in South Carolina.) Can we read a list of all the artifacts found on the Hunley? (No, I haven’t found one single list yet of all the artifacts.)  Do they know yet exactly why it sank? (No, they have theories but still no concrete answers.) The boys wanted coloring pages of early submarines (That was surprisingly hard to find!).

This morning we enjoyed browsing a lot of pictures of the museum where the Hunley is kept.  The kids asked if we could go there…I had to say, “Sorry, not this year!” It’s about a 24 hour drive to South Carolina from here and our vacation this summer takes us in the opposite direction.  It was hard to cut off the submarine research, but I did eventually have to keep our school day moving along.

I’m still just a bit amazed at how one book from a prolific series of history titles could be so inspiring to an unexpected audience!

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