This Week in Books

Our first week of the 2016-2017 school year is under our belt and we’re on our way. It was a good week, fairly light but just enough to get us back into the groove of having a little more structure in our lives.

I think one of the best finds of the school year is going to be Mystery Science. I have become a believer in doing interest-led science for elementary and middle school aged kids but I’m not always sure how to do it in practice. I love science and maybe because of that I tend to be more critical of formal science curriculums. So I think about doing more informal science, but then it ends up getting pushed to the back burner. Mystery Science looks like it will be the perfect solution. The lessons are organized in units by topics and then each lesson is a short video that presents a mystery. The videos are well done and walk the kids through making hypotheses and thinking about the answers. Then there is a short hand-on activity for each lesson. I’m using it for my 2nd grader and 5th grader. This particular video was below the grade level of my 5th grader but it’s fairly easy to add in books and other resources as you need. And as a bonus, Mystery Science is currently offering a one year membership free.

Ruth picked plants and flowers to do as our first unit. The lesson (video plus activity) took about an hour total to do. We then also read A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long and Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move by Joann Early Maken. Both were excellent. I especially recommend any of the Aston/Long books as beautiful poetic scientific non-fiction for kids.

200256Ruth and David and I are also embarking on a year of American History study. We’ll use this series by the Maestros as a spine. We read The Discovery of the Americas this year as a beginning of a unit on Native Americans. We also will use some of The History of the US by Joy Hakim and of course, lots of other picture books and other books. John is going to be doing a year of Civics this year. He will use We the People as his spine and also do some Boy Scout merit badges (all the Citizenship ones). In addition, we’re hoping to go to Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Philadelphia as a family and use lots of the resources here in DC as well.


As his first book of the school year, John (and I) are reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. This might seem like an odd choice for a fantasy loving almost 13 year old boy. And in many ways it is. However, one of my main goals of his 8th grade year is to push him a bit with his reading. He is an excellent reader and loves to read. But he also loves to stay in his comfort zone of middle-grade and young adult fantasy. He reads a lot of books that are fairly easy for him, not just in vocabulary but easy in terms of ideas. So when I heard that Sense and Sensibility is coming to the Folger Theater in DC this year I decided to get student tickets and have him read the book first. So far, so good. He enjoyed the first week assignment and seemed to understand it fairly well. We did watch the movie version first, breaking my normal Book Before Movie rule. I thought that for this particular book it would help him enjoy the book more to have some idea of the storyline first.

For our current family read-aloud we are reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Ruth was ready to read it on her own but I convinced her to let me read it aloud instead. It’s fun as it’s one of the few books we’ve read that is equally enjoyed by the 6 year old and 12 year old. In the car we are enjoying Gregor and the Marks of Secret. This is the second time we’ve listened to Suzanne Collins’ Underland Chronicles and it’s just as great the second time around. 18774964

Me? In addition to Sense and Sensibility I’m reading two other books: David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris and A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. The first is enjoyable and interesting but really dense. The second is predictable but no less charming for that.

So, all in all, a good bookish first week of school.

How about you? Are you back at school yet? Reading good books?

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