Homeschool Discoveries

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

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

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:52 pm
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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!

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

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:06 pm
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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
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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
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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
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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!

 

Book Discoveries this Week: From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler April 4, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 5:03 pm
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This year for our bedtime reading, Miss M and I have mostly read books to correlate with our American History studies.    Before beginning a serious read-aloud about the Civil War, however, Miss M and I decided to pick something more on the “light and fun” side of things.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg is a book I am mrs_basil_frankweilernearly certain I read in elementary school, though before we started reading I couldn’t really remember much about it other than it had something to do with kids running away to an art museum.

Claudia and Jamie are two kids from the suburbs who decide to run away together.  Claudia is the instigator in this effort, and she wants not just to run away to some random place — she chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art as her destination.  Claudia is dissatisfied with all the typical things — life is boring, parents are unfair, allowance is too small, brothers (except for Jamie, apparently) are too annoying.   She and Jamie leave for school one day with instrument cases packed with clothes, and head for the city instead of the school building.

The two kids manage to hide well enough in the museum to not get caught each night, and find a large old bed to sleep in.   They become intrigued by the mystery of a statue that the museum purchased at a bargain price, and may have sculpted by Michelangelo.  Claudia and Jamie hope they can solve the mystery of the statue — a quest that takes over any other reason they may have run away.

Miss M and I had a good time with this book — it was hard to put down each night at bedtime (always the sign of a good book!).  I’m sure Miss M could relate to many of Claudia’s complaints about life (especially the part about the brothers!).  I think there is something appealing at any age to hiding somewhere exciting like a museum and getting away with it!  Miss M and I had a great discussion about how a story like this might have been somewhat realistic in the 1960s when this book was published (It won the Newberry in 1968), it could probably not happen now — art museums have much more sophisticated security systems these days!

This is a bit of a “finding yourself” sort of a story as well.  Claudia wrestles with why she really wanted to run away — what her purpose was in it and what she wanted to accomplish.  I found Claudia to be very relate-able as a character — when she is a bad mood or frustrated she “needs an argument.” I may or may not resemble that characteristic.  😉 I’m sure I must have really enjoyed it as a child as well.

From the Mixed Up Files… would be another great choice for a mid to upper elementary student to read alone, but it made a very enjoyable read-aloud to share together too.

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