Saturday, February 28, 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

Sarah's Key

Oh, this is a difficult book to describe and talk about.

Sarah's Key is a heartbreaking, beautiful, gruesome, profoundly sad story. But not perfectly so.

Sarah is a young Jewish girl dragged from her home in Paris in the July, 1942 "roundup" of Jews, carried out by French police. Sarah is fictional, the "Velodrome d'Hiver roundup" was real. Named for the place the Jews were kept before being moved to concentration camps, it is another sad bit of history that I'd never heard about. Apparently not many people have.

Julia Jarmond is also fictional, an American journalist living in Paris, assigned to cover the "Vel d'Hiv" in anticipation of the 60th anniversary of the event. As she learns about the event, she learns about Sarah, and then wants to learn more... and begins a search for more information and for the girl herself. Soon, she finds herself linked with Sarah in a way she would never have expected.

The book alternates chapters between Sarah's story and Julia's. Oddly, the "voice" telling Sarah's story was much more compelling than that of Julia's. I read impatiently through Julia's chapters to get back to Sarah. At one point, Sarah's separate story disappears, and we are left to learn it through Julia's. I found this somewhat diminishing to Sarah's story - even though the search for Sarah is still the centerpiece of the book. Near the story's end, when it was all about Julia, it read more like (as one review I read put it) "chick-lit" and not a serious story about a serious subject anymore. It was almost - not quite - just another story of a woman's dysfunctional life, full of her personal problems that seem quite banal when compared with Sarah's.

There are a lot of coincidences in this story that might make it unbelievable. But, I've seen enough such occurences in real life that it all seemed quite believable to me - there are no coincidences. There are many surprises, and yet predictable moments too.

But Sarah's story is so intriguing and important that these problems don't really matter. The story of the girl is what matters, because though she is not real and the exact things that happened to her are not historical fact, there surely were girls like her, living lives very like her life.

This is such important history, history that is in danger of being forgotten, or, worse, denied. It is a book that should make us think: How I would respond to such an event as the Vel d'Hiv roundup? Would I risk my life to help someone, or someone's child? Or would I just turn away as so many did? Were they wrong to turn away, to protect themselves? What if my family was one of the ones in need? How would I feel to see people turn away from our suffering? Are we so complacent that we think this could never happen again, or isn't happening somewhere now?

This is why I keep reading Holocaust stories now. I used to avoid them. They were so painful, so hopeless, and from a time of which I had no understanding. I'm starting to understand more now, and I want to know more. Because we must never forget.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Library Loot - February 26


Late to Library Loot again, but for good reason: it was a small haul this week, and I've been aborbed in one of the few books I picked up: Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. More Holocaust fiction for me.

I first heard about this book from Sarah at Smallworld Reads. I usually like the books she likes, and this book fits my reading mood lately, so I was pretty confident it was going to be a good one. Now I'm in danger of neglecting my family so I can sneak away to read...

The rest of our books were things for the kids, for our schooltime. But now... back to my book

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Alessandra that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's a stimulating carnival this week

at Consent of the Governed.

My highlights so far:

Thoughts on Unschooling and "Holes" at Mother by Nature.

The Socialization Question at Life Without School. Yes, it's still being asked.

And these look really intriguing:

Getting A Constitutional Education - Free Homeschool Curriculum at Prose, Politics, and Piety. Now more than ever.

Colored Pencil Tutorials at Craft Stew.

Of course there is loads more to see at the Carnival of Homeschooling!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

First off, I don't usually like novels in the form of letters. Except 84, Charing Cross Road.

Second, I don't like books with cutesy titles. It sounded like it had to be a fluff novel, even though most reviews I read said it was not. (Of course fluff is in the eye of the beholder. And there's nothing wrong with fluff; really. I sometimes like fluff. But sometimes not.)

So I am not sure why I decided to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I guess it was all the glowing reviews. And I've been fascinated with the Channel Islands since I read Green Dolphin Street as a teen.

So, after a long wait - it's a very popular book! - I received my library copy.

Hm.... what to say? I'm glad I read it. I did find it mostly fluffy, though there were some serious bits about the war, in particular about a beloved resident of the island lost in it. I think that aspect could have, and should have, been developed more. There were some subplots that were just outlandish and unnecessary. Funny, but I didn't understand why they were there. And I found I started to dislike the main character/letter writer; her writing style was too breezy and self-conscious for me.

I did love the descriptions of the island, and the people who lived there - and their letters. Those characters were drawn well and I liked them. I learned a bit about the German occupation of the channel islands, of which I had known nothing.

Maybe I just want a funny book to be funny, and a serious book to be serious, and this had elements of both. Maybe this was more realistic - of course life is both funny and tragic at the same time. But, it didn't really work so well for me.

Hm, what a dull review. It's an enjoyable book, not great. But most people disagree with me, so... check it out for yourself. And let me know what you think.

Friday, February 20, 2009

How to have a sick day

If you homeschool... and you have to count educational days... don't think because someone's sick you can't count it. You can...

... read a great story aloud. It doesn't have to be something new - an old favorite may be easier for sleepy listeners.

... watch some tv or a dvd. It can be something "officially" educational, say, an episode (or a few) of Planet Earth. It can be marginally educational: Little House on the Prairie or an American Girl flick. It can be a classic: Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Heidi. (Obviously my ideas are mostly for younger kids.) Do you think all the moves kids watch in school are truly educational?

... draw - maybe make Treasure Island maps - while listening to music.

... play some card games, improve those strategy, math, and social skills. (Some people have to be trained out of being a poor loser.)

... look up historical events of the day and discuss some of them while sipping hot tea and lounging on blankets on the floor. Here's one source; there are many others.

... play computer games or browse interesting sites, like National Geographic videos.

... do a little skills review with workbooks, such as the Spectrum Test Prep series. (Of course there are others.)

... write stories on the computer or in a notebook.

... make paper airplanes or paper dolls; work on a model kit or do some sewing.

... do some more reading; remember that audio books count too!

You might find the kids learn more on a sick day than on a "regular" day.

How do you manage sick days?

The Septembers of Shiraz

When Isaac Amin sees two men with rifles walk into his office at half past noon on a warm autumn day in Tehran, his first thought is that he won't be able to join his wife and daughter for lunch, as promised.

Isaac Amin is a successful gemologist living in Tehran in 1982. He is also a Jew. And thus begins The Septembers of Shiraz, the story of Isaac and his family after he is arrested for - what? For being Jewish? For being wealthy? For being a success?

Besides Isaac, there is his wife Farnaz, who tries to hold her life and that of her daughter together after her husband's disappearance. His daughter, Shirin, who has her own secrets. His son, Parviz, a student in New York. Then there is the housekeeper, Habibeh, who may not be quite who she seems to be; her son, a revolutionary. Assorted relatives, acquaintances, friends. Everyone is trying to make their way in this new world where somehow everything has turned upside down.

It's a sad story, and gruesome, but also, always, hopeful.

The ending was a surprise to me. Not exactly unsatisfying, and not a quick pulling together of details to get the end over with. There were a lot of loose ends left. This bothered me till I realized that life often leaves loose ends.

"What time is it?" he asks. "Brother," says Hossein, "you have to learn not to think about time. It means nothing here."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lbrary Loot - February 18


Yes, I did just do a Library Loot post. But I was a little late last week, and it's up again - those weeks just fly by. And, we had a huge haul on Monday night. My girl and I have gotten into the habit of going to the library after dropping my boy off at Scouts. We head to our closest branch, grab some things and sit down together. Sometimes we look through cookbooks or craft books together, sometimes we read our own books. It's nice to sit side-by-side with her, each in our own reading. I still read aloud to my kids a lot, but I'm also enjoying the time to read my own book while she reads hers. It's a different kind of companionship.

Before I get to my list, I have a question to answer: someone asked me if we really read all those books. Well, no - don't I wish. We are always optimistic, but there usually isn't enough time. Many times a promising book is due before I get to it so I add it to my list of books to look for. Sometimes I pick things up to preview for my kids, or to look over for future schooltime reading. And we pick up a lot of "browsing books" - usually large-format books on topics the kids are interested in - or that I would like them to be interested in. And often I will grab something that looks good and once I get into it I find I'm not interested.

Finally the list:

DK Ultimate Special Forces for my boy. (My girl checked our her own books this week.)

The Naturalist's Year: 24 Outdoor Explorations and The Bird in the Waterfall because we like nature books.

Some books for homeschooling: Look at Your Body: Lungs, The Heart, and Lungs. And The Westing Game, Bud, Not Buddy, and The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963. We are moving into the '60s in our history studies and I like a little fiction to go with our history sometimes.

The Story of Art because I keep reading about how great it is. I loved A Little History of the World by the same author, E. H. Gombrich. This looks very good but is huge; I will never finish it before it's due! This is one I should probably plan on buying.

Children's Literatuer: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter, The Apothecary's Daughter, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society for me. The first one just looked good on the new book shelf; the other two were inspired by reviews.

Did you go to the library this week? If so, what did you get? And if not, why not?

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Alessandra that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

Carnival of Homeschooling is up!

At Topsy Techie, a new blog to me. This edition seems to be high on thought-provoking posts.

"The Value of Lazy" at Life Without School is still percolating around my brain - do I agree or disagree? Not sure yet.

Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers talks about The Social Impact of Educational Choices. How will the educational choices I make for my kids now affect them as adults?

Corn and Oil considers the story of a homeschooling family seeking a simplified life. Hmm, not sure what I think about this, either.

Lots of other good reading at the carnival!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Library Loot - February 15


It seems I have missed a week of Library Loot:

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Alessandra that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

I didn't skip going to the library, though - we spent time in two different locations this week. One is in a beautiful new building with the most comfortable armchairs... aaahhhh. My girl and I spent some time there browsing through books on tea and Thai cooking, among other things. Some of what we brought home:

The Well-Mannered Dog because she likes reading dog-training books, and because our dog could use a little help.

Thai Cooking Made Easy: delectable Thai meals in minutes, and The Brown Bag Lunch Cookbook and How to Eat Supper because we always need new ideas for meals.

A Real Simple magazine for mindless reading and recipe-finding. I think I found one to make tonight!

Creating a Beautiful Home because... uh... we could use some help in this area.

The Art of the Russian Matryoshka, The Pleasures of Tea: Recipes and Rituals, and The Doll's Dressmaker for my girl.

The Machine Age in America: 1918 - 1941 and The Good Fight: How World War II Was Won for my boy.

The Revenge of the Baby-Sat for everyone. And I thought we owned all the Calvin and Hobbes books...

How Did We Find Out About Genes, Genetics, Muscles: Our Muscular System, and Bones: Our Skeletal System because we're studying the human body right now.

An audio version of Peter Pan because my kids have never heard or read the whole thing, and I haven't in a long, long time.

And fiction for me: Septembers of Shiraz (Jews in Iran in 1982) and The Toss of a Lemon.

Fine more library loot at A Striped Armchair or Out of the Blue.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sunday Scribbings: Sports

Sunday Scribblings asks us to consider sports.

Ugh, sports! My connection with sports has always been as a spectator: enjoying a sunny day at the ball field. Candlestick Park, to be precise. Go Giants! With maybe a few trips across the bay - it was warmer there.

Now I have children. And I don't want them to grow up to be incapable of participating in any sports, as I am. I would like them to be able to engage in "picnic" sports, at least - volleyball, softball, shooting hoops. Swimming? That too. I don't think of swimming as a sport, more of a necessity - something they must learn and be at least competent at. Unlike their mother.

But, other than a few preschool classes and summer sports daycamps, we didn't really do too much with sports. In his 2nd grade (I think) year, the boy did Little League and didn't like it too much. I didn't like the schedule, or, um, the coach.

We took a break and last year he asked to do it again. Most of the guys in his Cub Scout troop were in, so he was a little more interested. Never a very coordinated kid, he... stunk. (He would agree with me on that.) He earned the nickname "Statue" because he would not, could not swing the bat. But, he maintained a good attitude and when the season was over surprised me by saying he couldn't wait for next year.

Next year is here. We signed up last week. He's been working on improving his coordination and flexibility since last fall so we're pretty sure he'll be better this year. Well, hopeful, anyway.

Also last year my girl decided to stop thinking about ballet and signed up for soccer. She had maybe kicked a soccer ball around a few times in her life and was, I think, the only first-year girl on the team. But these were nice girls, and they were kind to her and helped her out. When she made her first (maybe only?) goal of the season, she just glowed and floated above the field for the rest of the game. Her teammates were also excited for her. She was, unofficially of course, the most improved player on her team. She can't wait for the fall season to start.

And, inspired by her success, the boy is going to try soccer this year too. I am not sure how I'll like having two kids in sports at once, and the schedule juggling that may entail. (We are a two-parent, but one-car family.) It had been nice having one kid in one sport at a time. And I guess having 2 kids in soccer means I'll have to work two shifts in the snack bar. Hmm... think I should try to talk them out of it?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Farewell, Shanghai

Did you know that there was a ghetto for Jews escaping the Nazis in Shanghai? I never did, till I read Farewell, Shanghai by Angel Wagenstein. I'm not sure how I came across this book - probably a review on someone's blog, or maybe it was prominently displayed at the library. In any case, I've been in the mood to read about displaced people, persecuted people, people whose government has failed to protect them or, actually, turned against them. People who've had everything except their will to survive - and sometimes, even that - stripped from them.

Maybe this reading mood has something to do with being a conservative in the US right now.

Farewell, Shanghai is, predictably, a sad book. It has elements of a spy story, history, a bit of a love story, but mostly a story of how people survive when everything has been taken from them. And, how some don't. Last year I read A Thread of Grace, a novel about Jews hiding from the Nazis in Italy. That book was both more brutal and more beautiful. But this is a very good book too.

The author is Bulgarian and I understand (from reading some review somewhere) that the book was translated first into French, then from French to English. Wow. They did a fine job. Very occasionally the writing seemed a little clunky, but that was the exception. Some of the plot was a little hard for me to follow, but I'm not sure if that was because of the writing or my usual lack of ability to follow espionage and war stories. That chapters skip from one location and one set of characters to another, but that was done well and did not make the book difficult to follow.

If you enjoy history and reading about people who are struggling to survive and maintain some shred of their humanity, you may like this book. It's hard to use the word "enjoy" for something like this, because the subject is far from enjoyable. But it's worthwhile reading.

"You don't get snow days, do you?"

My kids were asked this question a few times this past week when we had some snow on the ground, in the course of conversation about weather-related school closings. I always get a little laugh watching my kids when they are questioned like this. I see this desperate "huh?" look on their faces. They want to be polite and answer the question but they have no clue what the person is talking about. Of course we have snow days! It snows here, right? So a day with snow is... a snow day. But somehow they know that's not the answer the person is looking for. So they send their silent appeal to me.

Since I am already laughing a little I just shrug and say "sure we do. " This is not the answer the questioner is looking for either; usually, I'll see a bit of confusion and I know the person is about to ask some variation on "but you don't need to leave your house to have school!"

So depending on the level of interest I perceive, I launch into my explanation. Right, we don't need a bus to get us to school. We could start right into our work first thing after breakfast and hope the snow lasts till lunchtime. But why should we do that? Why shouldn't we enjoy the snow and do our work later? It's not like we have big snowdrifts all winter long. This isn't Michigan. The few inches we got last week is probably it for this year. It's a novelty and I want my kids to have the chance to enjoy it.

So, yes, my kids are outside, messing around, enjoying a snowy day when we get one. Then they come in, and we do our work. Of course if I was really good I could figure out how to call their snow play schooltime. For sure there's PE. I could assign them to build a snow fort of certain dimensions and call it math. Or I could just let them play and have fun. Because, you know, we can do our work in the afternoon, in the evening, on Saturday... We have the flexibility in our academic year that I can give them the day off if we want to, or do a half-day and make it up somewhere else. There's plenty of time in a year to get 180 days (required by state law) of educational activities in.

While some homeschoolers I know find questions like this annoying, I usually enjoy them. For the most part, people are either sincerely curious about it or are just making small talk. We get some sort of friendly(ish) question about half the time we are out and about during the school day. Most often it comes in the form of "no school today?" If we are in a big hurry, I just smile and nod and move on. But usually, one of the kids will say "we homeschool" and then the person takes it from there. Sometimes people just make a noncommital comment and that's the end of it. Some say they know someone else who homeschools. Others make jokes about my kids having a nice (or mean) teacher. Usually the conversation doesn't go very far. I wouldn't expect a lot of interest in the topic. But sometimes people want to know more.

Today at the library the person checking out our books asked, "no school today?" When told we homeschool, she was full of questions about it. It took a long time to get our books checked out, but the library was mostly empty and there was time to talk. She was very interested, but she tossed in the obligatory "I could never do it with my kids" at the end. I don't say "sure you could" but prefer to just say "it's probably not for everyone, but it works for us." I don't like to argue or try to "sell" people on it. Except about the snow days.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling

The 9 Month Journey edition is up at Sprittibee.

A couple of weeks ago I set myself the challenge of submitting something to the carnival every week. Well, it worked for two weeks. I'll try again next week. I won't reset the goal yet, but maybe 2 out of 4 weeks a month is a better goal.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Willoughbys

We spend a lot of time in the car these days, so audio books are becoming more important to us. Recently I read (where?) a review of The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. We had listened to and enjoyed Lowry's Number the Stars, a story of two girls - one a Jew - in Denmark during World War II. The Willoughbys could not be more different in style and content. We loved it.

The Willoughbys is a parody of "old fashioned stories" about "old-fashioned people." There's an unpleasant family, a tragedy, an abandoned baby, a gruff nanny with a heart of gold... Think of a kinder, gentler (slightly) Roald Dahl. In fact James and the Giant Peach is one of the many books mentioned in the story.

The edition we got from the library was narrated by Arte Johnson. People of a certain age will remember him from Laugh-In. He was perfect.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Homeschool Memoirs: Reading List

In a meme mood and decided to try out Homeschool Memoirs:

Reading always improves your mind and knowledge of things of the past, present, and your opinion and views on the future. It’s essential to a proper education. I have never enjoyed reading as much as I should have, but as of late taken it’s been taking up some of my time.

THEME

I know many of you either have a long list of books yourself or have one for the children for schooling. Please share your lists of reading material for this year. You can put them in any way you like - by genre, age, author, fiction, subject. You can also share your list from last year.

I'll echo what one participant said: Reading doesn't necessarily improve the mind. I too have read a lot of stuff I wish I'd never touched. So, all I can do now is try to guide my children to love of good books, not junk books.

I don't plan all my kids' (or my) reading a year ahead. But some books I plan to read with the kids, or have them read this year, are The Phantom Tollbooth, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Treasure Island (which is in process now), Inkheart and the sequels if worthwhile, books related to our history studies (we're just finishing World War II), some natural science, and some biographies: Marie Curie, Eric Liddell, some others.

Because of my state homeschooling law, I log books based on the academic year, which runs from July 1 through June 30. These are the books we've read or listened to so far this academic year:

Books read aloud or listened to on cd:

The Wilderking Trilogy – Jonathan Rogers

The Twenty-One Balloons
– William Pene Dubois
Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
Robinson Crusoe
– Daniel DeFoe

The Good Master
– Kate Seredy

The Star of Kazan
– Eva Ibbotson

A Christmas Carol
– Charles Dickens
Around the World in 80 Days – Jules Verne
The Wright 3
– Blue Balliett

Chasing Vermeer
– Blue Balliett
Full Steam Ahead: The Race to Build a Transcontinental Railroad – Rhoda Blumberg
The Way We Work – David Macaulay

Strange Lives of Familiar Insects – Edwin Way Teale
Fabre's Book of Insects

The Geese of Beaver Bog - Bernd Heinrich
Number the Stars - Lois Lowry
The Willoughbys - Lois Lowry

The Boy's reading list; this doesn't include the "browsing books" about airplanes, animals, explorers, etc, that he pores over each day:

The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
The Titan's Curse – Rick Riordan
The Sea of Monsters – Rick Riordan
Danger in the Dark – Tom Lalicki
Bunnicula – James Howe
Harry Potter series – J. K. Rowling
Danger in the Dark – Tom Lalicki
Shots at Sea – Tom Lalicki
Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow – James Howe
The Celery Stalks at Midnight – James Howe
The Shakespeare Stealer - Gary Blackwood
Shakespeare's Scribe – Gary Blackwood
Traitor's Gate - Avi
Crispin: The Cross of Lead – Avi
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey – Trenton Lee Stewart
Crispin: At the Edge of the World – Avi
Scottish Seas – Douglas Jones
Falcons of France – Charles Nordhoff
Nick of Time – Ted Bell
The Machine Gunners – Robert Westfall
The Railroads – Leonard Everett Fisher
Spellbinder: The Life of Harry Houdini –
Tom Lalicki
Wilfrid Grenfell, Arctic Adventurer –
Linda Finlayson
Rough Riding Reformer: Theodore Roosevelt –
Gary L. Blackwood
Woodrow Wilson –
Mike Venezia
The Story of D-Day, June 6, 1944 –
Bruce Bliven, Jr.
Special Effects – Rick Clise

Weapons of War – John Hamilton

Fast-Attack Submarine: The Seawolf Class – Gregory Payan

How the Future Began: Everyday Life – Clive Gifford
Sea of Trolls - Nancy Farmer - in process

The Girl's list; this doesn't include all the craft and cooking books she pores over:

Emily and the Incredible Shrinking Rat – Lynne Jonell
The Copycat Mystery – Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Cereal Box Mystery
- Gertrude Chandler Warner
Cally's Enterprise
– Claudia Mills
< Allergic to my Family – Liza Ketchum Murrow
The Railway Children
– E. Nesbit
Bunnicula – James Howe
The Puppeteer's Apprentice

Half Magic –
Edward Eager
Muggie Maggie –
Beverly Cleary

Magic by the Lake – Edward Eager
Nighty-Nightmare
– James Howe
Beautiful Stories for Children from Shakespeare
– E. Nesbit
The Saturdays
– Elizabeth Enright
The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles
– Julie Andrews Edwards
Blue Willow
– Doris Gates
Nory Ryan's Song
– Patricia Reilly Giff
Maggie's Door
– Patricia Reilly Giff
The Gift of the Pirate Queen
– Patricia Reilly Giff

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
– Avi
The Well-Wishers
– Edward Eager
The Quiltmaker's Journey
– Jeff Brumbeau
Plain Girl
– Virginia Sorenson
Early Sunday Morning: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows (Dear America series)
One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping: The Diary of Julie Weiss
(Dear America series)
The House Above the Trees
– Ethel Cook Elliot
Weedflower
– Cynthia Kadohata
The Silver Pencil
– Alice Dalgliesh
Nim's Island – Wendy Orr
Nim at Sea
– Wendy Orr
The Hungry Year
Connie Brummel Crook
Rough Riding Reformer: Theodore Roosevelt
– Gary L. Blackwood
A Cup of Cold Water
- Christine Fahrenhorst
Edith Cavell: Nurse, Spy, Heroine
– Adele DeLeeuw
The Amazing Voyage of the New Orleans
– Judith St. George
Robert Fulton's Steamboat
– Renee C. Rebman
Steamboat! The Story of Captain Blanche Leathers
– Judith Heide Gilliland
Voyage on the Great Titanic – The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady
(Dear America series)
Christmas After All – the Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift
(Dear America series)
Woodrow Wilson
– Mike Venezia

Survival in the Storm: The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards (
Dear America)

Vermeer – Mike Venezia
The Bread Sister of Sinking Creek - Robin Moore
Thimble Summer - Elizabeth Enright (in process)

For more book lists (I can't resist them), see Homeschool Memoirs.

Sunday Scribblings: Art

Sunday Scribblings asks: What do you make of art?

Look around. Indoors or out. Anywhere you look, there is art.

A child's hands, a flawless red pepper, sunbeams shining through clouds, your dog bounding across the snow-covered lawn, the delicate fronds of a fern, a perfectly smooth egg, a cardinal at the feeder, a Love-in-a-Mist bloom.

Look at this art, and then tell me there is no Creator.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Library Loot - February 4


This was a small week for us. We just have so many from previous weeks, I can't keep piling them on! Can I? The kids have such a surplus they didn't pick anything up either. We didn't even step into a library all weekend; that's unusual for us. But we were in two different ones today!

Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds. We love books about birds.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Home, Work, and School. Interesting book (so far, I'm not too much into it yet) about brain development and differences. Full of evolution; if that's not your bag you can skim those parts; if it offends you, stay away. I'm a bit miffed that "homeschool" does not appear in the index, even though there is a fair bit of talk on "customized instruction" for schoolchildren. Also see the author's site.

The Other Side of the Bridge. But, from the blurb and the first few pages, it looks like a Family Tragedy Story, and I am so done with those kinds of books, no matter how well-written. So back it goes, unfinished. I picked it up after reading this review, so, your mileage may vary. Sorry, Mrs. Smallworld!

The Private Lives of the Impressionists, inspired by my partial reading of Luncheon of the Boating Party. I also placed requests for a few more books on Renoir, et al.

The Five Red Herrings & Murder Must Advertise because people are constantly telling me to read some Dorothy Sayers right now! But which is the best to start with?

Looking at Pictures (apparently out of print; written by Kenneth Clark) because we're in sort of an art mode.

Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian because we need some new recipes. We aren't vegetarian, but we love Ms. Jaffrey's cookbooks!

Earth, a coffee-table type book filled with stunning pictures; a good browsing book.

Almost forgot Inkheart, which I keep hearing about. I doubt we'll see the movie, but... it looks like a good read-aloud.

To see more Library Loot, check in at A Striped Armchair.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A dream

In the dream, we are hurriedly packing to move. It's not clear where we are going - somehow it feels like someplace overseas. We have 4 days to get ready to go, and have to leave most of our belongings in storage here. We can take only one box of books - we have about 75. There's a flurry of phone calls to schedule last-minute get-togethers with people before we go. But, who are these people? It's a mixture of the boy's occupational therapists and people I worked with 3 states and what seems like a lifetime ago. Someone keeps reminding me that we need to tell our next-door neighbor soon.

But wait! What about the dog?


The dream changes. Now we are on a plane – the dog in a cargo hold. I can see him fighting as he is put into the crate. We never did get him crate-trained.


We are walking into our temporary home – our old church in Oregon. We're sleeping there till our renters leave our old house. It has a great kitchen, but how will we bathe?


Now we are moving back into our old house. Boxes of books move into the new library – what was our kids' first bedroom. Glasses and plates move onto their old shelves in the kitchen.


Now I see my kids running to their woods, their beloved dog beside them. He is on his leash, as there is no fence. How quickly can we get a fence? At that, I wake up.


Which part of this dream will come true? Any of it?


(Sometimes people ask me how I can live with such an uncertain future. When the seminarian graduates, where will we go? What will we do? Why did we decide he should quit his job, move across the country, and go back to school anyway? Of course everyone's life is full of uncertainty, but I guess we asked for an extra measure. I don't think I worry about it too much. We are trusting God with our future, our children, and even our dog – yes, I pray that wherever we go next, the dog can come too. Maybe this dream comes from worry that I don't even know about. Or maybe I'm being asked to live with uncertainty a little longer. Like I have a choice?)



Sunday, February 01, 2009

Learning from, and learning to love, literature

Homeschoolers know all about using good literature during their "schooltime." That is the basis of many a home-made curriculum, Charlotte Mason-style or otherwise. But sometimes people ask how to do this. "There must be more than just reading the book."

I love using study guides - comprehension guides, or teacher's guides - same thing, different names. Simply: questions and activities to ensure that the reader is getting all he or she can from a book. Using a study guide can add to your child's enjoyment of the book and take care of many "language arts" skills that need to be developed - grammar and punctuation and proper sentence structure and all that. More importantly, it can get the kids thinking about literature, connecting it to real life, and allowing it to inform their lives and enhance their understanding of the world. (And it gives me something to put in the portfolios for the school district!)

There are study guides available all over the place; sometimes I make my own.

Two publishers whose products I have used are Progeny Press and Veritas Press. One well-known guide is The Prairie Primer (published by Cadron Creek), a unit study guide for the entire "Little House" series. More than just comprehension questions, there are all sorts of activities to make this nearly a complete curriculum. But I don't use it that way; I only take the time to do the activities that I think will be most meaningful and useful to my kids.

There are surely other publishers of study guides; leave a comment if you have one you like.

Of course the internet is a great source of study guides for many books. I'm going to have my kids read The Phantom Tollbooth soon, and I found several sites with comprehension and discussion questions, math connections, even a quiz, all free for the taking. Some publishers, such as Scholastic Books and Hyperion Books for Children have study guides for some of their books. (Look for a button for teachers or educators.) Some schools put up .pdfs of their lesson plans. Check for copyright or terms of use before using these.

Sometimes I just can't find a study guide someone else has done - or I don't care for the content, or find it's out of my budget - so I've made a few of my own. Yes, it's time-consuming - the book must be read. But we're reading good books, so it shouldn't be burdensome, and the questions should come easily. If a book doesn't generate any but the simplest questions, it is probably not worth studying in depth - though certainly may be worth reading And it is a fantastic way to tailor the work to the child's needs and his talents. I've included map work, drawing, research, and vocabulary work along with basic (and not so basic) comprehension questions.

Recently my boy read The Winged Watchman, a story about the Nazi occupation of Holland, to supplement our history studies. I asked some simple questions to be sure he was paying attention, and added some extras based on his interests:

In what year did the story take place?

What was the name of Joris's dog?


Some children have trouble paying attention to small details; they may need lots of questions like this.

Look up and draw a diagram of a windmill.

Look up the V-1 Flying Bomb.

Look up and describe a polder.

The real payoff comes from the deeper questions. A Jewish family is taken away by the Nazis, but (amazingly) comes back:

Mrs. Verhagen asked Mrs. Groen [the Jewish woman] if she hated the Germans. She said, "Oh, no. I'm sorry for them. To suffer yourself, that is nothing. God will wipe all tears from our eyes. But to hear God ask 'Where is your brother?' - that must be dreadful." What did she mean by that?

Why did the Verhagens lie about Trixie? Was it right or wrong for them to lie? Are there times when lying is the right thing to do? If so, when, and how would you know it is the right time?

These sorts of questions require the child to think a little more, and to write a little more. Or, if writing is difficult, talk a little more.


So far, my kids have enjoyed using study guides, mostly. I mix up written and oral work so it's not a tedious solo exercise. Of course we read for pleasure too, with no expectation of an assignment to go along with it. We don't want to kill the love of books, we want to deepen it by helping our children find the riches that are contained in the stories.

In what ways are your children learning from, and learning to love, literature?