About Alice

I'm a part-time pediatrician and full-time mom of two boys and one girl.

A Spring Wetlands Walk

IMG_1757 IMG_1772 IMG_1789 IMG_1801 IMG_1887 IMG_1906Friday proved to be too beautiful of a day to stay inside and “do school”. We made the spontaneous decision to go to one of our favorite places and enjoy the day. Spotted: many frogs, snapping turtles, red-winged blackbirds, swallows, cardinals, geese. The coolest thing was perhaps the several sacs of frog eggs that John recognized.

 

March Reading (The better-late-than-never edition)

Fiction Read in March: 

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty’s books are big, fun, juicy, frothy delicious reads. The women in them feel familiar to me even though they are Australian and inhabit a more upper-class world than my own. The overall subject of the book (domestic abuse and bullying) is serious but Moriarty manages to write about it in a way that is engaging to read and light in tone without making light of the horror of her topic. 

The Children Act by Ian McEwan
McEwan on the other hand could never be called light. Or frothy. I think I’m going to have to face the fact that I will never love a book of his as much as I loved Atonement. I keep reading him waiting for that completely blown-away by a book experience again and it hasn’t happened yet. Some of his books I’ve greatly disliked, this one I did enjoy reading except for one part that just didn’t ring true to me. The story is of a judge who is in the midst of a personal domestic crisis and who must render judgment on a case involving a minor’s right to refuse medical treatment. The boy is dying of cancer and needs a blood transfusion but is a Jehovah’s witness. The book is very much about the conflict between science and religion. 

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
Another wonderful chapter in the Flavia deLuce series. This one must be read after the others, it ties up lots of loose ends from previous books. 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I stayed up way too late on several nights reading this book. It’s that kind of book; what I’ve heard called a “thumping good read”. I read a fair amount of mysteries and thrillers so I guessed the solution to this one pretty early on but it still kept me turning the pages to see if I was right and to yell at the characters to figure it out before something bad happened. 

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

Non-Fiction Read in March:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Really beautiful memoir told in verse. It’s won a bunch of awards and all deservedly so. 

Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat by Gail Jarrow
I hope to review this one in full one day, but it’s a well-written detailed account of the investigation into the cause of pellagra, a disease that effected millions of people in the United States in the early 20th century and is estimated to have killed about 100,000 people. I loved reading Bernard Rouche’s classic books about true medical mysteries when I was a teen and would have been the kid who ate this book up when I was in middle school. A wonderful addition to the young adult nonfiction section of any library. 

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More–Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Prior Swallow
Read for my book club, I had really high hopes for this one. Hannah More was an amazing woman and I thoroughly enjoyed the other book I’d read by Karen Prior Swallow.  This one fell a little short of expectations, however. It’s a bit dry and somehow makes More’s life seem a bit dull, which it was anything but dull. I would recommend it though for the chance to learn more about More, a truly remarkable woman. 

Two New Picture Books

 Jim Aylesworth’s My Grandfather’s Coat is a sweet retelling of a traditional Yiddish folktale. In this version, a young man comes to America and works as a tailor. For his wedding day, he makes himself a beautiful overcoat. Over the years the coat becomes worn out, but he doesn’t ever throw it away. Instead he finds new uses for it until there is only enough thread left for a mouse to use to make a nest. It’s a great story about resourcefulness and recycling. We’ve read and enjoyed Simms Taback’s version of this story, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat  (a Caldecott winner). I liked this new version even more mostly because of Barbara McClintocks’s illustrations. Jim Aylesworth tells the story from the perspective of the granddaughter of the man. At the end of the book you realize she is telling it to her own baby. The delicate yet detailed illustrations tell the story of the family while the text tells the story of the coat. We see the great-grandfather arrive in America, meet his bride, marry, work hard, have a child and then that child grow up.

The second book that was a recent hit at our house was also illustrated by Barbara McClintock. Where’s Mommy? by Beverly Donofrio tells the story of Maria (a human girl) and Mouse Mouse (a mouse girl) who are trying to go to bed but can’t find their mothers. Maria and Mouse Mouse live in the same house and are friends but think that their friendship is a secret from the rest of the family. As they hunt for their mothers the illustrations show their parallel lives. The charm is definitely in the detailed illustrations, especially of the Mouse world. The sort-of surprise ending is also charming. Apparently, this is a companion to an earlier, unknown to us book, Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary by the same author-illustrator pair.

And as a side note, if you are a biology major, Barbara McClintock,the illustrator, is not the same as Barbara McClintock the Nobel prize-winning corn cytogeneticist. Everytime I see the name I do a double take and part of me thinks “Wow! That is one talented lady!” Although Barbara McClintock the illustrator is pretty darn talented without the cytogenetics. Take a peek at her website if you aren’t familiar with her work.

Caught Learning

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As a homeschooler I aspire to an ideal where we create a natural lifestyle of learning. In my mind, my three little cherubs spend the day discussing Shakespeare and nuclear physics over freshly baked muffins (that somehow just appear on our table instead of actually requiring me to, you know, bake them). The reality is a good deal more messy than that of course. Despite all my effort to make school FUN and make learning PART of LIFE, I have one kid who hates school and anything that sneakily resembles it. One who likes it but she’s in kindergarten so she likes everything right now. And one who tolerates school but would rather spend his free time immersed in fantasy novels and annoying his siblings than doing an independent study on astronomy or teaching himself Arabic. (As all the homeschooling families in my mind do.)

However, messy that life is when you have real children and not just figments of imagination, sometimes all the stars align. We began a Unit Study on Poetry this month.Yesterday when I was cleaning out the kitchen cabinet that is sort of the junk drawer, I found an old magnetic poetry set. I decided to stick the words up on the fridge. A bit later three hungry kids invaded the kitchen and did a double take, “What’s on the fridge?”. “Why are there all those little words?” I explained that I’d found them and thought it would be fun to put up. I vaguely had some ideas for ways we could use this with our Unit Study but didn’t tell them that.

And good thing that I kept quiet. Had I explained how this was going to be a great way to make poetry or play with words, they probably would have all groaned and rolled their eyes. As it was, they immediately went over and started reading the words. “Let’s divide them into groups by things like nouns, verbs, adjectives and stuff, ” said one. And so they did. It was all I could do to act cool but inside I was leaping for joy at the amazing grammar review going on in our kitchen. Then they spent a good 30-45 minutes arranging the words into sentences and making short poems.

So if you also have real kids that would rather tell fart jokes than do Euclidian geometry, take hear. There is hope. Spontaneous learning can happen, and it’s a beautiful thing.

April is National Poetry Month! There are oodles of resources for teachers at the Academy of American Poets webite. You can also sign up for their fabulous poem of the day email subscription.

Strawberry Girl

I’m participating this year in Amy’s Newbery Through the Decades challenge. March was the 1940’s with lots of good books to choose from, many that we’ve already read as a family or that I read as a kid (My Father’s Dragon, Seabird, Misty of Chincoteague, The Hundred Dresses, These Happy Golden Years, Rufus M., The Middle Moffat, Little Town on the Prairie, and The Long Winter).

I was tempted at first to re-read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. I’m not sure why but it was a favorite of mine as a girl. I remember it being very sad but that I liked to read it over and over, and kind of wallow in the sadness. I may still re-read it. I’m curious if I’ll experience it the same way as an adult. However, for the challenge I wanted to read something new so I chose Lois Lenski’s Strawberry Girl. I had previously known Lenski mainly from her illustrations of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books and  I was curious to read something authored by her as well.

Strawberry Girl is one in a series of books Lenski wrote about children in different regional areas of the US. It takes place in backwoods Florida in the early 1900s. Birdie Boyer’s family are newcomers to the area and almost immediately are off on the wrong foot with their neighbor’s the Slaters. The Slaters see the Boyers as being “uppity” and having all kinds of strange ideas like feeding their livestock (instead of letting them run wild through the pine woods). Lenski does a great job of portraying life realistically for these pioneer families. The Boyers are slightly better off than the Slaters but are still obviously very poor. Unusually for children’s literature, the feud between the neighbors is ugly and long. There is also a lot that is familiar to anyone who has read Caddie Woodlawn or the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. (Did every pioneer school have an episode where two big boys try and beat up the young teacher?)

Overall, I liked the book. I think it would be a difficult read-aloud because of the backwoods dialect that the characters use. It also might be a difficult book for younger kids to read for the same reason. But it gives an overall realistic picture of life in one area of the country around the early 1900s. I did find the ending to be a bit forced. (Spoiler: There is a religious conversion of one character.) The feud is a little too neatly and quickly resolved to ring true. That one false note stands out only because the rest of the book seems so believable.

For more Newbery reviews from the 1940s, stop by Hope is the Word. And why not join in? May is the 1950s….there are sure to be lots of great books to choose from.

Read Aloud Thursday: In Defense of the Series

Ruth and I just finished Beverly Cleary’s Ramona’s World, the last in the Ramona Quimby series. She was filled with excitement at finishing the series, not because she was glad it was over, but I think because she saw it as a celebration. We’ve had such a fun time sharing these books. I should add that even though I say Ruth and I read these together I should really say that all the kids listened to these. It was technically Ruth’s “special book” but the boys liked it just as much as she did.

The boys and I just finished Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three and are starting the next in The Chronicles of Prydain series, The Black Cauldron. Somehow, I missed these as a kid but I’ve heard fantastic things about these fantasy novels and had them on my to be read list for years. We loved the story of Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper and his companions and are looking forward to the rest of the series.

In certain bookish and literary circles, the term “series” is almost a bad word. I’ve heard people bemoaning the fact that their kids will only read series books. The truth is that kids love series. And for good reason. A good series is comfortable, it’s like visiting the same friends over and over again. A really good series creates a new world for the reader and each new book in the series expands and defines that world a little more.

There is something to be said for reading books that are not part of a series and something to be said for reading books that are not comfortable. Kids need challenge, just like adults. And it’s true that not all series are created equal. However, both my boys really got pulled into reading through series (and not always all that high quality). And as a family, many of the most memorable read-alouds we’ve done have been part of a series. There is something wonderful about inhabiting another world all together for an extended period of time.

Great Series to Read-Aloud:

The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The Moffats by Eleanor Estes
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley (We’re currently enjoying #4 as an audiobook in the car.)
The Frog Princess by E. D. Baker
Humphrey the Hamster books by Betty Birney
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
Narnia by C. S. Lewis
Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (Yes, they are long but one of my best memories with John is reading these together.)
Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace

I’m a little late to the party, but it’s not to late for you to stop by Hope is the Word for Read-Aloud Thursday. Be sure to share what you are reading aloud with your family!

Scenes from Luray Caverns

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IMG_1632 IMG_1640 IMG_1709 IMG_1712It was homeschool week at Luray Caverns this week so we took advantage of the great rates and headed south for a field trip. It was a cold (and snowy!) first day of spring and part of me wanted to take advantage of the planned day off to just snuggle indoors and read and hibernate. Another part of me wanted to get stuff DONE. I have a list of cleaning and decluttering projects and blog topics and school planning that needs to be done and other projects to do and that part of me was very loudly telling me to stay home.

In the end, I listened to the third voice, the voice that said “Hey, didn’t you homeschool to take field trips and get out and have adventures with the kids?”. The same voice said “Haven’t you hibernated enough this winter?”

So we went. And it was tiring. But fun. The caverns are really beautiful, especially if you like rocks, which I do. And the garden maze we did at the end was surprisingly fun. The boys and Ruth and I separated into different teams. Let’s just say that the girls crushed the boys. Which may have had something to do with the fact that the boys’ approach was just to run up and down the various paths blindly while yelling “this way, no not this way, that way, no not that way, etc.”

 

Delicious Reads

Ruth and I just finished a unit on food for kindergarten. One of the favorite books we read was a new one by Emily Jenkins, A Fine Dessert. Jenkins follows four families over four hundred years making the same dessert: blackberry fool. Each family prepares the dessert following the same basic steps. The repetition in the text of the recipe and the similarities between the centuries (each child gets to lick the bowl) create continuity. However, the charm is in the differences. The first mother and daughter pair living in Lyme, England in 1710 use a whisk made out of twigs and cool their dessert in an ice pit in the hillside. The 2010 family (the only father and son pair in the book) live in San Diego and serve the dessert to a multicultural group of friends after preparing it with all the modern conveniences. Sophie Blackall’s delicately detailed illustrations draw the reader into each time period and further serve to tie the centuries together while also showing how clothing and housing and people have changed.

Pat Brisson’s Before We Eat: From Farm to Table is another new book about food. This
one take a less personal approach and looks instead at all the people who are involved in getting the food we eat on our table. There are farmers and ranchers, yes. But also, truck drivers and  grocery clerks and home cooks. The woodcut illustrations by Mary Azarian (illustrator of the Caldecott winning Snowflake Bentley) are beautiful and complement the simple text.

 

We also enjoyed looking through What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. This one is chock full of information but it was a bit too much for five year old Ruth. However, the photos were fascinating. The main interest for us was a photospread for each country showing a typical family and all the food they eat in a month. It was really eye-opening for my kids to see how much less processed food most of the world eats and to see how little some people have to eat in a week.

Other food themed books we recommend: 

Minette’s Feast by Susanna Reich
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban
Cloudy with a Chance for Meatballs by Judi and Ronald Barrett
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann
Time to Eat by Steve Jenkins

 

 

 

Socialization and Community

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As I’ve said before, I don’t think the “S” word is a non-issue for homeschoolers. (That’s socialization for all of the rest of you.) My kids aren’t in school all day which has it’s advantages and it’s disadvantages. One disadvantage is that they don’t get to be with friends and other kids on a regular basis. Social times can happen, but I have to be intentional about that rather than just relying on the fact that they will see their best friends at lunch every day.

Community is something everyone longs for; I am convinced. One thing I’ve noticed in the past few years is that many adults find a community based on their kids activities. I know baseball parents and swim parents and Scout parents. Some of the parents I’ve met who volunteer for swimming or Scouts no longer have kids in the activity. It’s just that they have found their community. Other adults bond over some kind of volunteer work or a particular interest (garden clubs, library volunteers, a group of runners). For us, church is  our main community. I think kids need community also. As a homeschooler, that can be harder to find and different from a friend who can come over to play. What I mean by community is a group of people with a similar interest and who are working together.

My kids have done a lot of activities: swimming, gymnastics, baseball, basketball, ballet, piano, Scouts, co-op, tennis, Tae-Kwan-Do, art lessons. (No, not all at once and not every kid has done all those.) I had high hopes early on that sports teams would be a great way for my kids to socialize and find friends. In reality, we haven’t found that to be the case. Even on sports teams where they practiced way too frequently (I’m looking at you, baseball.), the kids on the team didn’t really get to know each other very well. We’ve had teams with great coaches and where the kids enjoyed each other for that season but it never extended into any kind of friendship beyond the season. That’s ok, they have enjoyed sports for other reasons and they like being part of a team even if it’s not a means to developing true community. (The one exception is swim team, because it’s the same kids every summer. )

What I’ve observed is that the activities that really have led to community and friendships  are those where the kids are working on a project of some kind together. For us this has been Scouts and Odyssey of the Mind. I’ve also heard people say the same thing about drama and theater groups. I didn’t really know what Odyssey of the Mind was two years ago. I still find it hard to explain to people but I’m now a Odyssey fangirl. Last year, John was on a team with 6 other 5th grade boys. They ended up winning our local regional tournament and going to the State tournament. This year, John and David were on the same team with most of the same boys. They had to move up a Division due to age but still managed to come together to win third place in our local tournament. Odyssey has taught them many things: creativity, teamwork, problem-solving, stage presence, confidence. But I think the most important thing it’s given them is a community. If you have a local team (or Destination Imagination which I believe is very similar) I would highly recommend giving it a try.

If nothing else, I can almost guarantee it will be fun. (Crazy hats optional but highly recommended.)

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