Homeschool Discoveries

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

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).


Book Discoveries this Week: Exclamation Mark and other picture books July 27, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 5:27 pm

Once every two or three months, I like to jot down a few notes on picture books we’ve recently enjoyed.  My last picture book post was back in April, so it’s time to do that againexclamation mark.

Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal was probably my favorite of the past couple months.  We’ve enjoyed some of Rosenthal’s other picture books in the past (especially This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations).   The exclamation mark in Rosenthal’s book just wants to be like all the other little periods around him.  But no matter how hard he tries to bend and contort, he just isn’t like them.  Then he meets another funny looking punctuation mark who asks a lot of questions, and helps the exclamation mark learn how he is truly unique and useful. All the kids enjoyed this book and thought it was really cute!

Isn’t it funny how kids just love some picture books that we as adults see as just “okay”?  My 4 and 6 year old boys are really enamored with The Chickens Build A Wall by Jean-Francois Dumont.  It’s one they picked out themselves at the library.    In this story the barnyard chickens are afraid of a small, strange pointy animal (a hedgehog) that appears near them one day.    So they build a tower of sorts (with no door) to protect themselves…only to find the hedgehog ended up in the walled fortification with them, and he really isn’t so bad after all.  I thought this book was kind of silly (how were they getting food and water all this time if their fortress had no door?), but for some reason the boys asked me to read this one many, many times.  🙂



Here are some quick takes on other picture books that some or all of us enjoyed recently:



The Cow that Laid an Egg: A bunch of chickens help an insecure cow to think she has a special talent — laying an egg.  I like the subtle message about love and family in this book — even if the “baby” that hatches from the egg is somewhat un-cow-like,  Marjorie the Cow will love her little one anyway.

The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School: A fun take on the classic Gingerbread Man story.  This Gingerbread Man is running to look for a group of kids he really hopes to catch, instead of running away from various pursuers.

Zero Zilch Nada: Counting to None: This is one enjoyed by Mr. K — but not so much by me.  A cute bunny is hired for a job at the balloon factory.  He needs to blow up a certain number of balloons, but isn’t very good at counting or keeping track…so he pops the balloons to count them (leaving him with “zilch” at the end, of course).  The bunny’s actions are a bit silly, but the thing that really bugged me is that the balloons floated up (like helium balloons) when the bunny was blowing them up with air.  I’m not quite sure what was going through the illustrator’s mind here.  After Mr. K requested a 2nd reading, I just couldn’t handle it any more, and this one quick;y went back to the library.  😉

13 Words: This picture book by Lemony Snicket (author of A Series of Unfortunate Events), is bizzare, funny and a vocabulary lesson all in one.  The 13 words range from simple (cake) to quite complicated (haberdashery and mezzo-soprano), and form the basis for a rather odd story about a depressed bird.  Worth checking out, even for your own amusement.

A is for Musk Ox:  A is for Musk ox. B is for Musk Ox.  So is C, D, E…and so on.  This book is very, very funny.  The musk ox will tell you all the ways he is awesome, cool and more.  Forget those apples and clowns…musk oxen are where it’s at! 😉 There’s a sequel (Musk Ox Counts) coming out this fall, and we will definitely be looking for that one at the library when it is published!

Clink: A sweet story about a robot who is more than a bit out of date, but would still love to make some child happy.    He almost gives up hope, until the perfect boy comes into the store.

The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy:  We’ve had this book a few times from the library, but I don’t think I have featured it in a picture book post before.  A spinoff of the “Ladybug Girl” books by the same author, Bumblebee Boy is a typical boy who wants to save the world…without his little brother playing along.  But Owen wants to be a “Soup Hero Too?”  I love how Owen and Bumblebee Boy work through their differences and find a way to fight the bad guys together.   My boys really relate to and enjoy this book…I probably should just buy them a copy since they have checked it out so many times!



I’m joining in with the monthly link-up for Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!


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!