June Reading

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Fiction Read in June:

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
Perelandra by C. S. Lewis
Both of these were first time reads for me. I read them as research for the first unit I am planning for John for school in the fall. I think they are a little too complex for him right now. He could read them and if he picked them up to read on his own I’d be fine with it. But I think he’ll get so much more out of these complex books if he waits a few years. 

I Am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
Flavia deLuce has definitely grown on me since I declared her too quirky and precocious on my first introduction to Bradley’s poison loving 11 year old girl chemist and sometimes detective. Count me a fan. 

The Pirate King by Laurie R. King (audiobook)
I continue to list to the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series on audiobook. This one was not my favorite, the setting of a 1920’s silent film and a cast of hundreds didn’t work as well for me. One fun thing: Pirates of Penzance is feature heavily in the plot and quoted throughout. Our homeschool co-op performed Pirates this spring so many of the references were very fresh in my mind. 

The Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen
The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen
John and I have both enjoyed the Ascendance Triology by Nielsen. The Shadow Throne, the final book in the series, is a very satisfying end to the story of Jaron, the incorrigible, charming young king determined to save his country from destruction and war. 

Non-Fiction Read in June: 

The Rocks Don’t Lie by David Montgomery

The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne
It’s somewhat hard to sum up this book but I can guarantee you’ve never read anything like it. Unless you know of another book by a librarian who has Tourette’s syndrome. And is 6’7″. And enters strongman competitions. And who is LDS and writes openly and graciously about both the faith of his family and his own struggles with faith. I picked this one up on a whim off the shelf at my own library and was captivated by Hanagarne’s story. I have to love a guy who loves libraries as much as this:

I love to tell kids that everything in the library is theirs. “We just keep it here for you.” One million items that you can have for free! A collection that represents an answer to just about any question we could ask. A bottomless source of stories and entertainments and scholarly works and works of art. Escapist, fun trash and the pinnacles of the high literary style. Beavis and Butt-Head DVDs and Tchaikovsky’s entire oeuvre within ten feet of each other. Every Pulitzer-Prize winning book and National Book Award winner. Picture books for children. An enormous ESL collection…Art prints you can borrow and put on your wall for a month. A special-collections area of rare books. Full runs of ephemera from The New York Times to the original Black Panther newsletters.

If I could bring my bed, expand the fitness room, and kick everyone out, I wouldn’t need to pursue Heaven in the next world. I’d be there.

Read Aloud Thursday: Summer Reading

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Ok, I just realized that the post I wanted to write today for Read Aloud Thursday is technically not about read-alouds. But I think Amy will forgive me since it still fits with the overall kids and books theme.

We’ve participated in our local library’s summer reading program for years, since before John could read on his own (Aha! That’s the read-aloud portion of the post.) It’s fun but for the past couple of years I’ve wanted to figure out how to make it into something a little more challenging.

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John is a voracious reader. He reads all the time. In fact, just tonight we came home from a family dinner and couldn’t find him only to realize he’d stayed in the car to read. (Before, I get comments about children being left in cars, realize that he is 10 and fully capable of coming in the house by himself. He was just too absorbed in his book.) His genre of choice is fantasy and he reads deeply in that category. I’m a believer in letting kids read what they want. However, I also have felt like he could use some gentle “encouragement” to help him get out of the fantasy rut. Or at least to have him try some books in other genres. I also wanted to see him challenge himself a little more as a reader.

IMG_0818Hence, the Summer Book List was born. I made a list of 12 books. The poster is made from printing off covers found online and glueing them to a poster-board. Then I gave him the goal of reading one book a month from my list. He should (and will) read much more than three books over the summer, but he only had to read three from my list.

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David’s a very good reader but he isn’t as passionate about reading as John. That’s ok, they are wired very differently. This year he started many many chapter books that he never finished for various reasons. He reads a lot of picture books, which is fantastic. I love picture books. However, I’ve wanted to encourage him to stick with longer books as well. My goal for him this summer was to find longer books that he would truly love and that he would finish.

IMG_0819David also got a poster of 12 books and an assignment to read one a month from my list. So far, the lists have been a success. David just finished his June pick: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. He loved it and I think had a fair amount of pride in finishing a long-for-him book. John has finished three of the books off his list: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. He loved the first two (which were really in his preferred fantasy-adventure genre) and liked the third one pretty well. He’s also read several other fantasy books of his own choosing and re-read the entire Harry Potter series, so my assignments don’t seem to be slowing him down too much.

What are your kids reading this summer? Do you assign books or let them read at their own whimsy?

John’s Book List

Hoot by Carl Hiassen
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Paperboy by Vince Vawter
Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
Nothing But the Truth by Avi

David’s Book List

Soup by Robert Newton Peck
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Tornado by Betsy Byars
Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill
When the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Taylor Made Tales: The Dog’s Secret by Ellen Miles
Wolves of the Beyond: The Lone Wolf by Kathryn Lasky
Lionboy by Zizou Corder

Be sure to stop by Hope is the Word for this month’s Read Aloud Thursday round-up!

The Rocks Don’t Lie

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I first heard about The Rocks Don’t Lie from Janet at Across the Page. David Montgomery is a geologist who in his own words set out to “present a straightforward refutation of creationism…” [by creationism he means young-earth creationism]. What he ended up writing was somewhat different. He doesn’t come anywhere close to accepting a young-earth creationist viewpoint but he does discover a “much richer story of people struggling to explain the world-and out place it it” than the “standard conflict between reason and faith” that he was expecting.

Montgomery looks at the history of the development of the field of geology and the history of different theories about Noah’s flood and Biblical creation. The interesting thing is how much these two histories intertwine. Early geologists were often also clergy who were setting out to find proof of a Biblical flood. He also traces the emergence of modern day young-earth creationism.

Overall, I found the book very interesting. I felt like Montgomery is mostly fair to both “sides” although young-earth creationists may disagree. He is somewhat dismissive about a trip he takes to the Creation Museum, but I found that understandable. As a Christian who definitely believes in an old earth and in evolution, I found his treatment of faith to be very reasonable. I disagreed with some of his arguments about Biblical interpretation but that was a relatively small part of the book and not his area of expertise. The other major flaw is that color pictures or maps/diagrams would have added so much to this book. A lot of the descriptions of rocks made my eyes cross a little trying to imagine what he was describing in my head. A color photo would have been very welcome.

In the end I most appreciated the central thesis which is that it is possible for science and religion to coexist in a way an attempt to better understand our world.

..just because science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God does not mean that it says religious faith is an illusion. Thoughtful discussions of the relationship between science and religion are impossible when fundamentalists disguise religious arguments as science and scientists dismiss religion as childish superstition. In reality, faith and reason need not be enemies if one views ignorance as the enemy of both.

What We’re Reading

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Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good. This is often the case for me with blogging about books. I feel like I need to think about a theme or look for new books to blog about in order to make it worth the reader’s time. Sometimes that works well with what we are reading for school or sometimes I happen to have pulled off a bunch of cool new books off the new shelf at the library. But sometimes, the books we are actually reading neither fit together or are new and feel “blogworthy”. Such has been the case lately. So I decided to try a new thing: books we liked this week/what we’re reading.

The first book to share has been Ruth’s clear favorite for the past couple of weeks. Ballet Kitty by Bernette Ford and Sam Williams is about a kitty who loves ballet and pink and who is having a playdate with another purple loving princess kitty. I think that’s really all I have to say to explain why Ruth, age 4 LOVED this book. Loved, loved, loved it.

I think my favorite picture book this week was The Secret Olivia Told Me by N. Joy. I don’t typically like books that teach a lesson and this one has a lesson (the dangers of gossip and breaking a friend’s trust) but overall this one is so charming that the lesson isn’t too heavy-handed. Rhyming text tells what happens as a girl accidentally tells a friend’s secret. The real charm though lies in the illustrations by Nancy Devard. Done entirely in black and white silhouettes they are striking in their simplicity. A red balloon in the background gets bigger and bigger clearly representing the growing secret itself and providing a clever visual representation of the theme.

A Funny Little Bird by Jennifer Yerkes actually was off the new shelf at our library. Often we like the same books as a family. But sometimes we don’t. This was a case where several kids really liked a book that I just didn’t. The funny little bird of the title is white so that on a white page anything he stands in front of disappears. At first this makes him sad because he is ignored by everyone. But after venturing into the world he discovers that his ability can also help him hide new friends and himself from danger. I think it’s supposed to be about learning to like yourself and your quirks or unique abilities but something about the story just fell flat. The graphics are cool but not cool enough for me to make up for the story. I think I couldn’t get past figuring out if the bird was white or invisible or both or what the deal was. Like I said, earlier, my kids are more accepting and thought this one was really funny. Ruth asked me to read it several times to her and I saw her ask David to read it also. David read it to himself at least a couple of times. So, I’m including it here in the list of the books that caught our attention this week because from their perspective it was a clear hit.

All Joy and No Fun

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I admit that I expected to dislike this new book by Jennifer Senior. I’m not sure why; all the reviews I had read were good but something about the title or what I thought it was about rubbed me the wrong way. I thought it was going to be a “woe is me” essay on how parenting is so hard and how we just all need more me-time. However, I wanted to read it because I kept seeing it mentioned and it felt like the new parenting book that everyone was talking about.

In the end, I quite liked it. It’s honest and funny but also much more insightful than I expected it to be. It turned out to be one of those books that I kept feeling compelled to read parts of out-loud to H. Since it’s been more than two weeks since I finished it, I’ll abandon any attempt at a further “review” on my part and instead share some of those parts with you:

Today women have abandoned this form of domestic science, spending almost half as much time on housework as they did in {Betty} Friedan’s day (17.5 hours per week, to be precise, versus nearly 32 hours a week in 1965). But they  have become domestic scientists in another way: they’re now parenting experts….It was a woman in Minnesota who clarified this shift for me. She pointed out that her mother called herself a housewife. She, on the other hand, called herself a stay-at-home mom. The change in nomenclature reflects the shift in cultural empasis: the pressures on women have gone from keeping and immaculate house to being an irreproachable mom. (p. 154)

 

She said the evening ritual of guiding her sons through their {homework} assignments was her “gift of service.” No doubt it is. But this particular form of service is directed inside the home, rather than toward the community and for the commonweal, and those kinds of volunteer efforts and public involvements have also steadily declined over the last few decades, at least in terms of the number of hours of sweat equity we put into them. Our gifts of service are now more likely to be for the sake of our kids. And so our world becomes smaller, and the internal pressure we feel to parent well, whatever that may mean, only increases: how one raises a child, as Jerome Kagan notes, is now one of the few remaining ways in public life that we can prove our moral worth. In other cultures and in other eras, this could be done by caring for one’s elders, participating in social movements, providing civic leadership and volunteering. Now, in the United States, child-rearing has largely taken their place. Parenting books have become, literally, our bibles. (p. 180)

 

…happiness is an unfair thing to ask of a child. The expectation casts children as “antidepressants,” he notes, and renders parents “more dependent on their children than their children are on them.”
   Just as important…producing happy children may not be fair to ask of parents. It’s a beautiful goal- one I’ve readily admitted to having myself- but as Dr. Spock points out, raising happy children is an elusive aim compared to the more concrete aims of parenting in the past: creating competent children in certain kinds of work; and creating morally responsible citizens who will fulfill a prescribed set of community obligations. 
    The fact is, those bygone goals are probably more constructive- and achievable. Not all children will grow up to be happy, in spite of their parents’ most valiant efforts, and all children are unhappy somewhere along the way, no matter how warmly they’re nurtured or how stoutly they’re protected.
(p. 234)

 

Kids may complicate our lives. But they also make them simpler. Children’s needs are so overwhelming and their dependence on us so absolute, that it’s impossible to misread our moral obligation to them. It’s for life…But it also is our lives. There’s something deeply satisfying about that…..I suspect that parenthood helped reduce the number of existential questions she had…She knew what she had to do each day, and why she was here. (p. 264-265)

April Reading

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Fiction Read in April:

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Epic saga of brothers who grow up in India and then end up with very different lives. Lahiri follows the modern trend of using multiple perspectives and having each chapter be almost a short story in itself. This particular style always leaves me feeling slightly detached from the characters and it’s not my favorite format but still she writes beautifully and I’m not sorry I read it.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My book club picked this one to read (before it won the Pultizer, leading us to coin the term “book hipster” to express how we are on the leading edge of the book world, if not fashion world). This is a LONG book, and probably could have been edited. Still, for the most part it was a page-turner. Tartt tells a compelling story that is on one level a mystery/thriller centering around a stolen painting and on another level a coming-of-age story. And on yet another level it’s an exploration of big themes like whether good can come from bad and whether people can change and whether or not fate is real or things just happen for no reason. I’ve seen it compared to Dickens (especially David Copperfield and Great Expectations) and that’s a very apt comparison.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak
Novak is probably best known to most people as Ryan from The Office. He was also one of the writers and producers of The Office. One More Thing, his first book, is a collection of short fiction. Some is very short (think more of a several lines joke), some are sketches and some are more traditional stories. Novak is clever, funny and obviously smart (he’s a Harvard grad in addition to his other accomplishments). His voice is cynical and acerbic and reading these altogether left me feeling slightly depressed. Some of these are quite funny: a short sketch starring Wikipedia Brown and an updated Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare fable were favorites. I think I would have enjoyed the rest of the sketches more if I’d read them a few at a time, rather than all in one chunk. Unfortunately, it was due back at the library so I had to binge read and ended up feeling a bit hungover.

The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King (audiobook)
Continuing the Holmes/Russell series, this was the first one I’ve listened to that I hadn’t previously read. Just as good as the others. 

Non-Fiction Read in April:

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile and it was worth the wait. Fascinating. I read huge sections aloud to H. and probably bored lots of other people talking about it. 

 

Non-Fiction Monday: The Greatest Dinosaur Ever

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So which dinosaur was the greatest?

Was it the tallest, the biggest, the strongest, the smartest, the weirdest, the fastest, or the smallest? Or was it the oldest bird, the best parent, the one with the best night vision, the toughest armour, or the longest nail spikes? 

There are a LOT of books about dinosaurs for kids out there. But there are also a LOT of dinosaur obsessed kids out there so there is always room for one more well-done book. Brenda Guiberson and Gennady Spirin (the same author-illustrator team that brought us the excellent Frog Song last year) have created a book worthy to add to this overcrowded genre.

Each page features a different dinosaur explaining why he was the greatest dinosaur of them all. There are familiar dinosaurs (Stegosaurus, Ankylosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex) and not so familiar dinosaurs (Therizinosaurus and Laellynasuara). Guiberson finds ways to describe the dinosaurs that show the reader even the most familiar dinosaurs in a new light. (Did you know T. Rex could crush and swallow 500 pounds of food in one single bite?) As in Frog Song, Spirin’s paintings of the dinosuars are beautifully detailed.

Even though there is some new information here, most of the text is familiar territory. I think this would make a great book for a preschooler just starting to learn about dinosaurs. Or perhaps for an older kids who was never really bitten by the dinosaur bug as a preschooler. David was never that into dinosaurs and he really enjoyed this book. In fact, he enjoyed it so much that he told me he thought I should consider it for that “book judging thing” (meaning the Cybils). So I’m taking his advice and adding it to my list of possible Cybils candidates for 2014.

Head over to the Non-Fiction  Monday blog for more great non-fiction for  kids.

Nonfiction Monday: The Noisy Paint Box

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Barb Rosenstock’s The Noisy Paint Box introduces kids to Vasya Kandinsky, a proper Russian boy, who studies math and history and has to practice scales on the piano. Then one day, his aunt gives him a box of paints and he hears the colors sofly hiss to him. In Rosenstock’s telling, Kandinsky is torn from then on between a desire to paint and create art and the more conventional life that his parents desire for him. He went on to become a lawyer but at the age of 30 two experiences so influenced him that he quit the law to study art full-time. The first experience is not told about in this book but Kandinsky described in his writings as seeing Monet’s Haystacks for the first time and realizing that painting didn’t have to be realistic. The second, which Rosenstock focuses on,  was hearing an opera (by Wagner) and experiencing the sounds as color and shape. After studying art, Kandinsky eventually goes on to become the first truly abstract artist.

A good picture book biography by nature has to choose which incidents of a life to focus on. Rosenstock wisely chooses to focus on Kandinsky’s unique “seeing sound and hearing colors”. He is thought to have had synesthesia which is an incredibly cool condition where people experience one sense when a different sense is activated. For example, they might taste numbers or see letters and words as having a particular color or even emotion. Or they might hear colors.

The illustrations by Mary Grandpre use color beautifully to show Kandinsky’s metamorphosis from lawyer to more conventional art student to abstract painter. One of my favorite pages showed the little boy Kandinsky bored at dinner with all the grownups “talking and talking”. The adults are illustrated as collages of mixed up words, which is how I imagine we seem to kids sometimes.

The endpages include photographs of several of Kandinsky’s works and an author’s note that explains what parts of the book are historical and what are imagined (the dialogue). She also includes several references, including works by Kandinsky himself who was knows as a leading art theorist as well as an artist.

I have found picture book biographies of artists to be a perfect way for us to include some art study in our homeschool. Usually we do some kind of accompanying art project. To go with the discussion of Kandinsky and synesthesia we used a project suggestion from MaryAnne Kohl’s Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Kids in the Style of the Great Masters. First, I had David and Ruth listen to a piece of music while lying down with their eyes closed. Then we listened again and painted as we listened.

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While listening to Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. (From top to bottom: me, David, Ruth)

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While listening to U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday (Again: me, David, Ruth)

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While listening to Abba’s Dancing Queen. (Top to bottom: Me, David’s 1st painting, David’s 2nd painting when he decided he liked my spirals, and Ruth). Either disco takes Ruth to a really dark place or she was in her usual “mixing all the colors together” phase.

Previous art/artist study posts here at Supratentorial:

Matisse

Georgia O’Keefe

Picasso 

Alexander Calder 

Magritte

March Reading

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Fiction Read in March

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Dear Life by Alice Munro
I’m not a big short-story reader but I wanted to read this, the latest collection by the 2013 Nobel Prize winner for literature. Munro has been called a master of the short-story for good reason. I don’t particularly like the people she writes about, the situations she puts them in or the genre she uses. Yet she writes in a way that is compelling and true and beautiful and that makes all of that seem not so important. 

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
This was the first time I’d read this classic thriller. I loved it and couldn’t believe I hadn’t read it before. 

The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King (audiobook)

The False Prince
by Jennifer Nielsen
Recommended by John, who loves fantasy books. He read this last year and then recently got it out of the library to re-read it which made me want to see what was so good. This mistaken identity story with a twist rises to the top of the crowded fantasy middle grade genre. I’m looking forward to reading the next two in the trilogy. John promises they are just as good. 

Non-Fiction Read in March:

Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby

With the Kids:

The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett

Obi, Gerbil on the Loose by Michael Delaney

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

Poetry Friday: The Donkey

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Hudson 97 008a

The Donkey
By G. K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

This is the poem we’re working on memorizing this month. To give credit where credit is due, I got the idea from Amy at Hope is the Word who mentioned it in a recent post.

Poetry Friday is posted at The Poem Farm today.