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!

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

 

 

 

Snow Day Musings

IMG_7330Do you do school on snow days? That seems to be the question of the season in homeschooling circles. As we dig our way out from a snowfall of about 7 inches today (if you’re in Boston and reading this, you can stop laughing now), we had another day to consider this question. My approach is to really have no set approach. I carefully consider all the factors: time of year, amount of snow, how much other free time they have had lately, how much work needs to be done that week, how much I really want to just curl up on the couch with my own book. Just kidding on that last one. Sort of.

In all seriousness, it’s fairly situation dependent.

First snowfall of the winter? Probably mostly off for the day.
Just went on a field trip earlier in the week? Need to do work.
Great packing snow? Have fun kids.
Icy and not that much fun to play in? We’ll get more done because everything else is canceled!

What usually happens is that at least the basics get done. That’s math, some kind of reading depending on the kid and age level, piano and ideally Latin. Usually some kind of other learning happens too: videos, read-alouds. Often we do actually have more time because other things are canceled so we can get our normal amount of school done and still have plenty of time for play in the snow. The last two weeks we’ve had snow days on our normal co-op day, when we typically don’t do school. I plan by the week so they all know what they have to do for the week. I said we wouldn’t do extra school but gave them the option of working more one day and having a completely free day or spreading it out and having two lightish days.

The public schools here have had a lot of snow days recently, 10 since the beginning of January. Some of those have been days where it was icy and not really fun to be outside or where school was canceled for “extreme cold” (Go ahead and chuckle, Boston.) Those were certainly normal days of school for us. This time of year is one where I’m always extremely glad to be homeschooling. I like that snow doesn’t really have the power to disrupt our lives as much as if we went to school elsewhere. I like that we have the flexibility to take off if we want to (and we can take off for “extreme pretty weather” in April or October if we want) but also the ability to keep going if we want.

I recently had someone comment to me about how she would never be able to get her kids to focus on schoolwork if they were home. I tried to explain that for us, school is just part of life. I think that’s never more apparent than on snow days or sick days.

Armchair Cybils: Fiction Picture Books

Well, I’m almost a week late with this Armchair Cybils post. I did write a post last week, only to somehow lose it entirely. One of my New Year Resolutions is to be better about getting to bed on time and getting enough sleep so I elected to leave it and then never got back to it over the weekend.

I’ve been able to read all the Fiction Picture Books on the Cybils shortlist except one. (This is a Moose is not available yet at our library but is on order so I’m hoping to read it soon.) Of the books I was able to read, Mark Pett’s The Girl and the Bicycle is my favorite. It’s a sweet story of a girl who falls in love with a green bicycle in a store window. She tries to save the money to buy it, only to find that it’s harder to make money than she realizes. Finally, a kind neighbor hires her to do odd jobs and she gets the money she needs. Along the way she also finds a friend in the neighbor. The ending is no less satisfying for being somewhat predictable (at least to adults). The illustrations are simple pencil and watercolor on brown paper bag colored paper. The book definitely has an old-fashioned feel, although the feeling is more timeless than belonging to any particular era.

Over the past few years I’ve grown to appreciate wordless picture books more and more. I find that often the lack of written words allows for more interaction between me and the child I’m reading to. Instead of reading the words the author gives us, we talk about what we think the characters are thinking or what they are doing. It becomes a conversation instead of just a one-way read-aloud. I’m not at all disparaging books with words. I still prefer most of my books to have words. I’m just becoming more of a convert to the idea that well-done wordless books can be excellent also.

I hope to review the other nominated titles some day soon. But for now, stop by Hope is the Word and see what Amy has to say about the other books in this category. (Spoiler: She agrees with me. )

More wordless picture books reviewed at Supratentorial: 
Two from last year’s Cybils: Flora and the Flamingo  and Mr. Wuffles
A bunch including two favorites: A Ball for Daisy and 10 Minutes Till Bedtime
Once Upon a Banana
Gem

Two Winter Adventures in DC

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Two recent winter weekends have seen us on adventures downtown. Adventure #1 started after church at a new to us lunch place: 100 Montaditos. A Spanish chain, this restaurant serves up delicious tiny sandwiches (about three bites each). We sampled smoked salmon, meatballs, a fantastic BBQ pork, Brie, serrano ham and a Nutella sandwich on chocolate bread. If you’re in the DC area, check out one of their three locations (Bethesda, Arlington or Navy Yards). We then headed to The National Museum of Women in the Arts for their Picturing Mary exhibit, about images of Mary throughout history. Highly recommended and if you take advantage of their Community Day on the first Sunday of the month it’s also free.

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Adventure #2 took us to the Library of Congress to see the Magna Carta. One of only four copies from 1215, this copy from is on loan (through Jan 19th) from the Lincoln Cathedral. It was pretty amazing to view an 800 year old document, especially one as historically significant as this one. We skipped most of the rest of the exhibit. It looked interesting but was very crowded and we preferred to revel in the beauty of the architecture itself.

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The kids were a little underwhelmed by the Magna Carta. I can understand that. Even though John had studied it this year in co-op, it still is just kind of a piece of paper to them (and one that Ruth pointed out “looked kind of scribbly”). I think more interesting to them was this exhibit on Thomas Jefferson’s Library. Jefferson sold his personal library to Congress in 1815 after the Congressional Library was largely destroyed by the British in the War of 1812. Most of the Jefferson books were also lost in a fire about 40 years later. The exhibit attempts to recreate Jefferson’s personal library, including the way that the books were organized by Jefferson. If you believe that your bookshelves and what you read says a lot about who you are, you can imagine how fascinating it is to see this snapshot of Jefferson’s reading life. DSCN7616And it’s always good to end an adventure on a sweet note. This time literally, with beignets from Bayou Bakery. Yes, that is all powdered sugar on the table. And yes, we had to stop them from licking it clean.

Snow!

Ruth and I are talking about snow this week in kindergarten. Serendipitously, this morning we woke up to the first real snowfall of the season. Perfect!  We weren’t sure what Roxy, the dog, would think of the snow since this is our first winter with her. She loved it, perhaps even more than her three human companions.

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Snow themed books we recommend: 

Snow! by Uri Shulevitz
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton
Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner
Snowflakes Fall by Patricia Maclachlan

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

Audiobooks:

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.