Read Aloud Thursday

If it’s the last Thursday of the month then it’s time for Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word. Check it out. This week Amy has a lot of great early readers and picture books to share.

Part of our “read-aloud” culture is audiobooks. We almost always have a current audiobook going in the car. In the past few years we’ve enjoyed listening to several series in full. The current series we are totally absorbed by is Maryrose Wood’s  The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place6609748We’ve  loved the first four in the series and finally got the fifth installation from the holds list at the library.

The plot is fairly typical of a middle grade mystery/adventure. The Victorian setting is unusual but the basic plot-line of mysterious orphans in some kind of vague danger will be familiar to readers of other juvenile stories. Penelope Lumley, a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females goes to work as a governess at Ashton Place. Her three young charges are unusual: they were raised by wolves. As the books progress the mystery of just how the Incorrigibles ended up in the forest intertwines with other mysteries: What is the howling coming from the attic, Why is Lord Ashton so obsessed with his Almanac, How did Penelope end up at the Swanburne Academy as a young girl and most importantly, Exactly what is in the hair tonic that the Swanburne headmistress insists that Miss Lumley use?

However, although the plot is somewhat unexceptional, there is much about this series that is truly exceptional. The characters are quirky but never snarky. There are frequent asides about topics as varied as synonyms and ferns and the dodo. Like the best Victorian literature, the reader is often addressed directly. There are running gags (like the fact that Miss Lumley or the children often imagine a modern invention like the phone or airplane but then are too busy to pursue actually inventing it.) The Incorrigibles themselves are model students if you are a teacher who wants students who are energetic, creative, and eager to learn. They may be distracted by squirrels but they are always ready for whatever lesson their beloved Miss Lumawoo has planned for them.

If you like slightly quirky books with a touch of mystery and a lot of sweetness underneath the off-beat humor, I highly recommend this series.


Read Aloud Thursday

read-aloud-1-300x300 Amy is back with Read Aloud Thursday! It’s a great place to get recommendations for books to read with your kids. She has a fantastic recommendation today for a math picture book that I’m going to add to our list.

We read less and less picture books together as a family. This makes me sad sometimes, but it’s also because my kids are reading more and more on their own. So it’s more bittersweet than bitter. This month I got all the Cybils fiction picture book nominees out of the library and read them with various combinations of kids. (Mostly with the 7 and 10 year old. But my 13 year old still always reads all the picture books in the basket on his own even if he’s not around when we read them together.)

My favorite of the nominees was Brendan Wenzel’s They all Saw a Cat. A cat travels 28101612through the world “with its whiskers, ears and paws….” and encounters a dog, a child, a bird, a bee, a fox, a mouse, a snake, a fish, a flea, a skunk, a worm and a bat. Each page shows how the different creature sees the cat. We see differences in perspective (a bird’s eye view) and differences in how animals see (the snake sees in heat waves) and differences in perception (the mouse sees the cat as a huge scary beast). The text is simple and repetitive but the illustrations elicited a lot of good conversation from my kids about the way each creature “saw”. Bonus points because the repetitive refrain reminded me of one of my favorite poems by Pablo Neruda.

Honorable mentions for me would go to:
A Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins
There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev

Cummins’s book is funny and unexpected. And vaguely disturbing (comment by my 10 year old vegetarian son). Collins’s Bear and Mouse reminded me of the Bear and Mouse in Bonny Becker’s fantastic series of books except that in this case it’s the Mouse that is the curmudgeon of sorts. And Mantchev’s book about a boy with a tiny elephant pet who is left out of the neighborhood pet club is sweet and funny.

Our current family read-aloud is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s been fun to read these out loud. The boys have read them on their own but this is the first time through for Ruth and we are enjoying sharing the world of Harry with her. We also listened to Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as our most recent audiobook. We have multiple audiobooks on hold as our next potential listen but I’m not sure what to do next as our next read aloud. Any suggestions?

And don’t forget to stop by Hope is the Word for more reading aloud!


Read Aloud Thursday: From the New Shelf

We read a lot of picture books, although less than we used to and less than I wish we did. Today I have to share a small, somewhat random sample of some recent finds from our library’s new shelf that we have enjoyed. The first, Penguins in Peril, finds a penguin the unwilling captive of three dastardly cats. The cats have spent all their money on movies instead of food and craft. They come up with a plan to perpetrate the most daring robbery of all time and get all the fishes they want. But first they need a secret weapon: the penguin. The penguin outwits them in the end and the cat’s plan is thwarted. A first book by Helen Hancocks, this one definitely takes a dry sense of humor to appreciate. The somewhat flat text and graphically simple illustrations have a certain plain-Jane charm. My kids liked it when reading it the first time but I haven’t seen them reading it again on their own or seeking it out for second or third readings.

On the other end of the spectrum from the conniving cats in Penguins in Peril, is Sarah Weeks’ Glamourpuss, the title character in what can best be described as the Fancy Nancy of the feline world. Glamourpuss is, well, glamorous. The most glamorous pet ever. But then Bluebell, a tiny toy dog, comes to visit. Bluebell wears fancy clothes: hoopskirts and tiaras and fruit-covered turbans. Bluebell dances and does tricks. Glamourpuss starts to doubt herself. Then however, Bluebell tears up all her fancy clothes and Glamourpuss realizes that maybe there is room for two fabulous pets in the same house. David Small’s (one of my favorite illustrators) humorous illustrations are a perfect paring for this quirky and sweet story.

And for my last offering, we go back to simple, at least in concept. Mac Barnett’s Telephone takes the game of telephone and imagines how it would go as played by birds on a wire. The concept is simple but the execution is picture perfect. The message gets more and more garbled. Illustrator Jen Corace’s birds tell a story of their own as each bird changes the message according to his own job or hobby.

One reason we don’t read as many picture books as I might like is that with older kids, we spend more time reading chapter books. Chapter books are great fun as well to read, and I love our nightly “special book” time. But I think too often parents think that once their kids are old enough to move on to reading “big books” that the time for picture books is over. I recently discovered that my sixth grader still reads every picture book I bring home from the library on his own. It makes me happy that he doesn’t feel too old to enjoy what some kids might feel are books just for little kids.

Stop by Hope is the Word for Read Aloud Thursday and share what you family is reading together.

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!

Read Aloud Thursday: 2014 in Review

Chapter Books Read in 2014:

Read Aloud to John and David:

The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis
Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
A Prince Among Frogs by E. D. Baker
Knight’s Castle by Edward Eager
Obi: Gerbil on the Loose! by M. C. Delaney
The Time Garden by Edward Eager
A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle



Read Aloud to Ruth: 

Betsy, Tacy and Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace
Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins
Toys Come Home by Emily Jenkins
Toy Dance Party by Emily Jenkins
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary

Read Aloud at Lunch: 

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman


The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Frog Princess by E. D. Baker
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield
Dragon’s Breath by E.D. Baker

Once Upon a Curse by E. D. Baker
No Place For Magic by E. D. Baker
The Salamander Spell by E. D. Baker
The Dragon Princess by E. D. Baker
Dragon Kiss by E. D. Baker
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Gregor and the Curse of Bane by Suzanne Collins

Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods by Suzanne Collins
Gregor and the Marks of Secret by Suzanne Collins

Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins

This was sort of a transition year for us in our chapter book read-alouds. For awhile we’ve had a routine where I read one “special” book to each child at bedtime and also had one book going at lunchtime for all three to listen to. Over the past year it’s been clear that the books I’m reading to David and John are really being read to both of them. And somewhere mid-year we changed our routine so that we all read together on our bed instead of in the kids’ bedrooms. First we read Ruth’s book and then the boys’ book or books. Juggling three nighttime books has become a bit too much so we’ve gone to having just two, one for the boys and one for Ruth. David probably benefits the most from this as being the middle child he is is the most interested in both books.

It’s also been a year where it’s tougher to get the nighttime reading in, especially since they all want to listen to every book. I work one night a week. John is out late one night a week for Scouts. During basketball season there are night practices. During swim season there are swim meets. On the weekends we might choose to watch a movie instead of doing the nighttime reading. So it often is the case that we are reading maybe 4 nights out of 7. That’s ok but I might have to think about how we can change our routine to get more reading in. I’m thinking of having our nighttime reading be the same book as our lunchtime reading (something else that doesn’t happen daily).

Our two best reading experiences of the year were both through audiobooks. We spent months in the world of E.D. Baker, totally loving the princesses and dragons and princes we met there. We then spent the fall in Suzanne Collins’ Underland with Gregor the Overlander. Both were the best of a bookish family life: shared immersion in another world.

What’s next in 2015? The boys and I are currently reading Redwall (John and I for the second time, David for the first). Ruth and I are continuing to enjoy Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series. And I have the first in the Sisters Grimm series on audiobook for listening the next time we go somewhere.

Stop by Hope is the Word for the first Read Aloud Thursday of 2015. Lots of reading lists today! Sure to be something that you can enjoy in the coming year.


Kitten’s First Full Moon

We have a new kindergartener in our house. Ruth won the “Little Miss Enthusiasm” award this year from her swim team coaches and that pretty much sums up her approach so far to everything school related. (It’s only the second week so we’ll see if it will continue.) Last year she and I dabbled in preschool. I had big plans to do a “round the world” preschool for her but they fell apart quickly. We ended up reading loosely on themes but I could tell she wanted and was ready for more. I used Five in a Row with both boys for preschool and kindergarten but I had thought about using something else for Ruth, just to keep it fresh for me as a teacher. But I finally came back to more of a “why fix what isn’t broken?” point of view. She and I are going to do Five in a Row and I find myself newly excited at the thought of going through many of the much loved books with her.

Our first book of the year was Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. Astute readers will notice that it is in fact, not a Five in a Row book. And such is the benefit of homeschooling the third time around. Kitten’s First Full Moon is a beautiful, perfect book for this age group. (It’s also a Caldecott Medalist.)  It’s a sweet story of a kitten who thinks the full moon is a bowl of milk and tries and fails over and over to drink it. The illustrations are entirely done in black and white which is an unusual choice for a kid’s book but so striking that you wonder why more books aren’t monochromatic.

My approach for doing Five in a Row is to use the main book as a jumping off point. We read a lot of other books about the same topic and we do some related activities. We usually read the main book more than once but not necessarily the prescribed five days in a row. Another benefit of homeschooling the third time around. We read a lot of books to go along with Kitten’s First Full Moon. Some about cats. Some about moons.

A new book that we both enjoyed was I See Kitty by Yasmine Surovec. Chloe loves kitties. In fact she loves kitties so much that she sees them everywhere. In the sky. In the stars. In cotton candy. The reader can try and spot the kitty along with Chloe. This would be a fun book for very young toddlers and preschoolers as the words are simple, colors are bright and it’s fun to play the “find the kitty” game. But Ruth at almost 5 was also really charmed by the hiding kitties so there is appeal to slightly older kids also.

Another new book we enjoyed was David Kherdian’s Come Back, Moon with illustrations by his wife and Caldecott winning illustrator, Nonny Hogrogrian. I’m not sure if it is based on a traditional folktale but the story has that feel. Bear steals the moon because he can’t sleep. Fox and the other forest animals set out to find who has taken the moon and how to get it back. The story is gentle and slow with soft watercolor illustrations. There’s nothing flashy or overly clever here, as in so many of today’s picture books. I appreciated that simplicity.
Other Cat Books We Recommend: 
Ginger and the Mystery Visitor by Charlotte Voake
Have You Seen My Cat? by Eric Carle
Three Little Kittens by Jerry Pinkney
Posy by Charlotte Newbery and Catherine Rayner
Copycat by Ruth Brown
Cat by Mike Dumbleton
A Kitten Tale by Eric Rohmann

Other Moon Books We Recommend:
Meet Me at the Moon by Gianna Marino
The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons
Red Knit Cap Girl by Naoko Stoop
Moon Dreams by Ruth Martin
Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle

Today, stop by Hope is the Word for Read Aloud Thursday. 

Tomorrow, come back here and I’ll be sharing some of the activities we did to go with our moon studies.

Read-Aloud Thursday: Year in Review

For the last Read-Aloud Thursday of 2013 I’m listing all the chapter books we’ve read together. As I’ve described before, our bedtime routine includes a “special book” for each child. This year I’ve tried to fold Ruth into the routine. She has always had picture books read to her but this year we added in a “special” book also. Her attention span is still pretty short so often this means I read a couple of pages instead of a whole chapter to her. Then H. reads a stack of picture books to her while I go and read to the boys. The big change this year has been that David hardly every falls asleep during John’s book so in reality they are both listening to both books. This means we could switch to just reading one book at night and read it faster instead of reading two books slowly. We’ll have to see what they want to do.

With John (age 10, 5th grade):

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

John said his favorites this year were the two Tolkien books. I’d have to agree with him. I think I said last year that the books we read together demonstrated the pleasures of reading with an older listener and I’d say that again this year. He is perfectly capable of reading Lord of the Rings on his own and he is a voracious and fast reader. So the fact that he still prefers to read some books slowly with me is something that I treasure. We also really enjoyed the Penderwick family, as did David.

With David (age 7, 2nd grade):

Swordquest by Nancy Li Fan
Sword Mountain by Nancy Li Fan
Winter According to Humphrey by Betty Birney
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate by Scott Nash
Adventure According to Humphrey by Betty Birney
Shiloh Season by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt
The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
Three-Ring Rascals: The Show Must Go On by Kate and Sarah Klise
Magic by the Lake by Edward Eager

David votes as his favorites Sword Mountain, The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Actually, when asked he chose just about every book on the list until I forced him to narrow it down to three favorites. That fits his personality: generally pretty easy-to-please. It also means it was a good year of reading.

With Ruth (age 4) : 
The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Rachel Field’s Hitty: The First Hundred Years by Rosemary Wells
Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
Ruth picked them all as her favorites also. I have most enjoyed sharing some of my childhood favorites, the Betsy-Tacy books, with her. I’m not always sure how much she is understanding or listening but every night she asks to read Betsy-Tacy so I know she is enjoying this sweet time together.
With everyone at lunch:

Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis
Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis
The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl
The Middle Moffat by Eleanor Estes
Rufus M. by Eleanor Estes
Paddle to the Sea by Holling C. Holling
The Moffat Museum by Eleanor Estes

We also read a book at lunch together, generally something that all three kids can listen to. We’ve spent a lot of time with The Moffats of Cranbury, Connecticut this year and it’s been time well-spent. However, I’m ready to move on to something a little different.


Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day by Donald Sobel
The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater
Encyclopedia Brown Solves them All by Donald Sobel
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Birthday by Betty MacDonald
The Mulberry Project by Linda Sue Park
The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright
The Four Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright
And Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright
Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
Freckle Juice/The One in the Middle’s the Green Kangaroo by Judy Blume
Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
B.F.G. by Roald Dahl
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
A Series of Unfortunate Events: A Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins
Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. OBrien
Lunch Money by Andrew Clements
A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Report Card by Andrew Clements
Bunnicula by James Howe
Howliday Inn by James Howe
The Celery Stalks at Midnight by James Howe
Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer

We also listen to a lot of audiobooks in the car. Some of these were on long trips, but most are just on our short every-day car-rides. David votes for The B.F.G., A Cricket in Times Square and Bunnicula as his favorites. For John it was Peter Pan in Scarlet, Report Card and Half Moon Investigations.

On deck for 2014? I have the new Kate DiCamillo book, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, waiting to start tomorrow night. I also have Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry to read to the boys before we go and see the play together (one of their Christmas presents). Ruth and I are continuing our visit to Deep Valley with Betsy, Tacy and Tib. And I’m suddenly seized with a desire to read Mary Poppins to them after going to see Saving Mr. Banks (an excellent movie, by the way).

What about you? What have you been reading as a family?

Be sure and stop by Hope is the Word for more year-end booklists and great read-aloud suggestions. Consider making participating in Read-Aloud Thursday a New Year’s Resolution!

Read Aloud Thursday: What We Are Reading

As I’ve mentioned before, we typically have several chapter book read-alouds going at once. I read each boy a special book at bedtime. It used to be that David would fall asleep while I was reading to John. That happens less and less often these days but they still enjoy having their “own book”. They are three years apart in age and have different interests so having different books ensures that I can pick something that appeals to each of them. It means we get through books more slowly but it’s really not a race so that’s ok. In the past week or so I’ve added in a special book for Ruth . We had experimented with this a little a few months ago but it changes the bedtime routine a bit and it became hard to keep up with three separate “special books”. It seemed like a good time to try again as we go into a new school year.

For Ruth’s special book I picked this new version of Hitty: Her First Hundred Years because it fit with the round the world preschool theme we will be embarking on soon. This is an “updated” version of the classic story by Rachel Field. I haven’t read the original but picked this version because it’s shorter and I thought more accessible for Ruth and because I thought the team of Rosemary Wells and Susan Jeffers sounded ideal. So far, it’s a hit. The chapters are short and Jeffers’ beautiful illustrations help make an easy transition from reading aloud shorter picture books to longer chapter books. The story is apparently changed from the original which doesn’t bother me because I don’t know the changes. After skimming the Amazon reviews, I see that those people who remember Hitty as a beloved childhood story seem to find this book a travesty. I can understand that, it’s how might feel if someone “updated” Laura or Anne.

I wouldn’t even know how to begin describing this wild romp of a book by Kathi Appelt that is David’s current special book. We aren’t finished with The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp yet so I can’t give it a full stamp of approval yet but the boys are both enjoying it and so am I. We read a lot of books and this is one where I have no real idea where it is going. Appelt weaves together multiple plotlines, all involving inhabitants of the Sugar Man Swamp. There are two raccoon brothers who live in a 1949 DeSoto where they wait for the intermittent  Voice of Information that comes every time lightening strikes near the car. There is young Chap who is grieving the loss of his beloved grandfather and trying to figure out how to save his family’s cafe (Paradise Pies Cafe) from evil developers. There are evil developers. There is a giant rattlesnake named Gertrude. There is a mythical creature called the Sugar Man. There are rampaging feral hogs. There are sugar pies and a search for the elusive (and possibly mythical) ivory-billed woodpecker. So far, Appelt is adept at juggling all these different threads and I can only imagine that at some point it’s all going to come together. Regardless of our destination, it will have been a fun ride.

John’s current special book is The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, the second in the series about the Penderwick family. This one is quite different from David’s book; I’m pretty sure I know exactly where it is going. That said, we’re still enjoying these sweet slightly old-fashioned (in a good way) stories. John doesn’t mind that the characters are girls but this particular book has a plot that is a little more about romance than he likes. In the first Penderwicks book, he would roll his eyes or even plug his ears at the scenes about Rosalind’s crush on Cagney and this one has as it’s main plot the widowed father’s return to dating. Still, there is plenty to enjoy. Many nights I have to threaten to stop reading if the boys can’t control their shrieks of laughter that almost wake up their sister in the next room. I’m not sure if they will want to read the third book but even if they don’t, I plan on reading the series on my own to see what adventures lay in store for these girls.

At lunchtime we’ve been reading through books about another great literary family. We recently finished Rufus M., the third in the series about the Moffats of Cranbury, Connectict. We’re all enjoying these and it’s quite an achievement that Eleanor Estes manages to make these World War I era stories seem fresh and hardly dated even to modern kids. I would list this series along with Estes’ books about the Pye family as among the best read-alouds ever.

Finally, we’re working our way through Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling C. Holling. After our trip to Niagara Falls this month, it seemed like an obvious choice. It’s somewhat surprising to me how much all three kids are captivated by this story of a little carved Indian figure’s journey through the Great Lakes. I thought they might see it as too obviously “school” but they’ve been begging for more each time I read it.

Be sure to stop by Read Aloud Thursday over at Hope is the Word for more great read-alouds. Consider sharing what you and your family are reading together!


Read Aloud Thursday: A read-aloud preschool

Ok, I’m kind of cheating today. I wanted to be sure to participate in the first MONTHLY Read-Aloud Thursday over at Hope is the Word. But between the end of swim season and jury duty and one kid away at Scout camp and all the other summer activities I didn’t have anything particular to share. Don’t get me wrong. We are still reading. But we aren’t reading anything that jumped out at me as something I wanted to write about.

So instead, I thought I’d share how I do homeschool preschool and kindergarten. I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately in real life about this from Moms who are considering homeschooling and who have kids in the 2-4 year old range. And I’m currently thinking about what Ruth and I will do this fall so I thought it would make for a good post.

Preschool and kindergarten for me as a teacher are really all about reading, and mostly reading-aloud. We do work on letters and sounds and begin more structured phonics sometime around kindergarten.  But I really see preschool and kindergarten as a time to immerse kids in a love of story. I want my kids to be exposed early on to the poetry of rhyme and to see great art and to make new friends in books. Some people will argue that you don’t need any kind of curriculum for homeschool preschool or kindergarten.  I would completely agree but with the caveat that those are the same kind of people who will probably be great unschoolers. People who can whip up an art project on the spur or the moment or think of a thousand great ideas of ways to explore their son’s obscure interest in South American toads. People who aren’t me, in other words.

I like structure and routines and lists. I like curriculum. However, I also like flexibility and I like to do things myself. This sometimes makes for a schizophrenic approach to schooling, but I think a lot of people have the same issues. For me, what has worked for preschool and kindergarten is to have some kind of skeleton structure that centers around reading a lot of good books and that pushes me to plan out a few other activities to do with my preschooler.

First, I do a letter of the week approach when my kids are around 3ish. Each week I search for books related to that week’s letter. A week is alligators, ants, apples. B week is bubbles, books, bikes. C week is cats, caterpillars, cake. You get the idea. I start teaching the letter sounds at this age so I try and make sure the words we focus on are the main phonetic sound for that letter. No airplanes in A week. Or eyes in E week. On weeks that we have more time (or when I only had one student) we do some activities to go along with the letter/books. We watched ants in A week, rode bikes and blew bubbles in B week, made cupcakes in C week. And that’s pretty much preschool.

After the Letter of the Week I have used Five in a Row with both boys through kindergarten. I love Five in a Row. It is an incredibly flexible curriculum.The concept is simple: you read the same book for five days in a row and talk about a different aspect of the book. The manuals are relatively inexpensive and give suggestions for activities to go along with each book that you are “rowing”.  So one day might be language arts and you talk about homophones. Another might be geography and you talk about the setting of the book. Another might be science and you talk about the water cycle. Because it is flexible it’s easy to adapt according to your own family and kids. We typically didn’t read the book all five days but used it as a springboard to read lots of other books about a particular topic. Because I was using it for younger kids I ignored most of the grammar/math kinds of activities and did a lot of fun science or art and some geography.

As much as I love Five in a Row, I am thinking of doing something different with Ruth. Mostly because I think her schooling experience suffers from my own lack of excitement with materials that I have used with her brothers. Some people love doing the same things over and over. I really like the planning aspect of homeschooling and I’m thinking that if I use something new and have to be a bit more thoughtful about it, I may also be more excited about teaching it. A more engaged, excited teacher makes for a more engaged, excited student. I had been considering using the book Teaching Caldecotts Across the Curriculum which I think has a very similar approach to FIAR. However, after seeing Semicolon’s posts about the Picture Books Around the World project she is working on, I am seriously considering stealing her idea. (Not in writing my own curriculum like she is, but just in using the reading around the world idea with Ruth.)

So that’s my preschool/kindergarten advice. Read a lot and then read some more. Throw in a little phonics, maybe a bit more in kindergarten. Do some math if they like it and you want. If you are good at thinking of preschool crafts and activities don’t worry about a plan. There are no such things as educational gaps in a homeschool preschool. If you are like me and need a plan use some kind of skeleton to organize your library list and go from there.

Read Aloud Curriculum

Five in Row (and Before Five in a Row for the very young)
Using Caldecotts Across the Curriculum
Storybook Art (could be a great skeleton for ideas for an arty child)
Picture Book Preschool (Sherry at Semicolon’s first preschool curriculum)

Previous Posts Showing “How We Do It”

One week with a Five in a Row book
“B week”

And my favorite bookish link-up is now monthly…take the time to head over to Hope is the Word and read what others are reading aloud. Maybe even consider participating yourself this month!

Read Aloud Thursday: The Blue Jay Pirate

David loves birds. After the success of Swordbird and the sequels as read-alouds, I thought The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate would be a great choice for his special bedtime book. It was a good choice; both he and his brother really liked the story. For the past month or so they have taken on the roles of various birds into the ever changing backyard war games they play together and with friends.

The story is fairly reminiscent of other adventure tales. Blue Jay is the captain of the Grosbeak, the most feared pirate ship of the skies. (Yes, the ships fly.) He’s kind of like the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride. He isn’t really all that fierce but he knows he has to keep up his reputation in order to have other ships fear him and surrender to him more easily.  He also likes collecting unusual objects, especially unusual eggs, and the book begins with the acquisition of a large unusual egg. The egg eventually hatches to reveal a gosling. There is some controversy over whether or not to keep the gosling. It’s huge and some of the crew are concerned that it’s geese family will come looking for it. However, Blue Jay and the ship’s navigator, Junco, insist that the gosling should stay. Junco has a maternal bond with Gabriel the gosling and Blue Jay believes that it will bring them adventure of some kind. Adventure really begins when the Grosbeak crashes and the crew is attacked by a local gang of crows. The pirate crew enlists the help of a local village of sparrows and Hilary, a star-nosed mole, to battle the crows and win back their ship.

The boys did really enjoy the book. They liked all the battles and the bird heroes. I’m glad we read it but I thought it was just ok. Scott Nash does a good job of creating his fantasy world and many of the characters are appealing and interesting. However, in many ways the book is kind of a muddle of different storylines. There is a whole political backstory about the sparrows and the ruling class of thrushes, some semi-religious overtones about geese and ducks (the goose is somehow seen as a god like figure) and a whole lot of characters. I had a hard time keeping some of the characters and minor plot points straight. (For example, the birds aren’t allowed to migrate but Gabriel wants to migrate at the end and the other birds are going with him. I think this loophole might have been explained earlier but I couldn’t remember and didn’t really care enough to spend the time looking it up. I think if the author could have figured out what the core of his story is (coming of age story? adventure story? political allegory?) it would have made for a tighter, better book.


Stop by Read-Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word!