Our Secret Country

November 16, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country but for most of us it is only an imaginary country. Edmund and Lucy were luckier than other people in that respect,” C. S. Lewis wrote in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The thing is, the thing that C. S. Lewis as narrator doesn’t address, is that everyone who has ever read the Chronicles of Narnia series *does* have that country. We all visit some version of Narnia in our minds once we’ve been there once. And as it says in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” 

So here I am, thirty-five, living in the magical world of Narnia as my daughter reads through the series for about the third or fourth time, but this time we’re reading it alongside our homeschool co-op. It is such a treat watching children enjoy the magic of Narnia, and furthermore bask in its magical glory with them.

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The Chronicles of Narnia is a well known allegory of the Christian faith set in a fantasy world. Good and evil are clearly define, deadly sins and how they creep into our psyche, how unchecked they fester and change who we are. The stories enthrall children and adults alike, who have a thirst for the eternal, who long for the otherworldly aspect of our universe, the spiritual war that goes on every day unseen to the naked eye, but experienced in living color when you step through the Professor’s “Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe.”

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We’ve been reading the books together and discussing them book club style with children ranging from 7 to 13 and moms from 27 to 50. At the close of book two, we took a Narnia party break, complete with homemade snowflakes (the kids got to learn about hexagonal snowflake patterns and how to recreate them with computer paper and a pair of scissors), try Turkish delights for the first time (and marvel at why Edmund would basically sell his soul for such an awful dessert), and pose in costume under a welcoming Narnia sign and the iconic lamppost (artistic cardboard craftsmanship compliments of my impressive fiancé, kiddo spray painted it black herself).

Queen Susan

Of course, in my typical fashion, I had to read “grown up” books in addition to re-reading the original stories. Because C. S. Lewis made such an imprint on society, there are more literary criticism books about Narnia than there are Narnia books. Most of them written by Christians. However, I found one written by a non-Christian which greatly intrigued me.

The Magician’s Book is an in-depth critical analysis of the Chronicles of Narnia. As much memoir in content as literary analysis, Miller chronicles her own relationship with Narnia and includes insightful conversational commentary by other big name writers of many faiths (Neil Gaiman being one of my favorites). I enjoyed her perspective a great deal and though I was saddened that Aslan the lion did not aid in her understanding the nature of Christ, that she did not come to understand God’s love through Lewis’s fantastical depiction of it.

Still, reading Miller’s work led me down a rabbit trail I’m happy to tumble through, and I’ve already lined up all sorts of other books regarding C. S. Lewis and Narnia to read during the rest of our Narnia journey. Join us. We start Horse and His Boy next and are reading The World According to Narnia by Jonathan Rogers as we go. We plan to finish all seven Narnia books by the end of the school year.

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From a Book Lover

September 15, 2019 at 2:49 pm (Education, Guest Blogger, Reviews) (, , , , )

An unnamed Guest Blogger allowed me to share this…

I have always been a fan of EB White’s children’s books. This is a great biography of him and is beautifully illustrated, too. EB White truly respected children as persons. Here is one of my favorite passages from the book:

“Much of what he wrote was not for children, yet many consider Charlotte’s Web not only White’s magnum opus but one of the best children’s books ever written. Did EB White ever wish he’d written a masterpiece for adults? His stepson Roger Angell said that the thought would not have occurred to him. Andy (EB White) once said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth….. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them over the net.”

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American History With a 2nd Grader

June 14, 2019 at 6:37 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It has actually impressed me how much wonderful American History literature is available for children. Jean Fritz, who has a fantastic book for everything, is my first go to. We read the biography of Pocahontas nearly two years ago, and then moved on through time to other great biographies like Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? I desire to own everything Jean Fritz has ever written eventually. But I already knew I loved Jean Fritz when I started homeschooling. Jean Fritz is known. Some authors or books I didn’t previously know, however, and they have brought us much joy.

Ann Malaspina has an excellent picture book on Phillis Wheatley and George Washington. (We actually read a lot about Phillis Wheatley this year, and were enamored with every mention of her in other books and shows.) We also enjoyed Ann McGovern’s The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson. Avi’s Captain Grey intrigued us completely and opened up a lot of doors for discussions regarding moral dilemmas, trust, and relationships between adults and children.

We absolutely loved Becky Landers: Frontier Warrior by Skinner. It took us a long time to read it out loud, but it was worth every page. I think it’s important for kids to really experience a time period through literature, not just memorize the facts and move on. The stories are what helps my kiddo remember the facts she memorizes, and there are so many good stories!

During this time, which took up the entire summer going into her second grade school year, we also read Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry. Several years ago I was sent a recommendation for a unit study on horses put out by Beautiful Feet. I have all the books in their package, but instead of tackling it like a unit study, it has been an underlying theme in all her studies. She’s in her fourth year of horseback riding, so the undercurrent of equestrian education is something I hope she looks back on with fondness.

If you are into lists, these are the books we read next and loved:

Davy Crockett – George Sullivan

What Was the Alamo? – Meg Belviso

Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas – Jay Neugeboren

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple – Karen Cushman

The Moon of the Gray Wolves – Jean Craighead George

The Moon of the Fox Pups – Jean Craighead George

Sing Down the Moon – Scott O’dell

Harriet Tubman – Sawyer, DK Biographies

A Ballad of the Civil War – Mary Stolz

In a few years, we’ll have the pleasure of repeating this point in history, and there are so many more books I can’t wait to read with my kid, especially for the Civil War era. This year we focused more on biographies, we also read non-American ones like Florence Nightingale. Perhaps, next time we’ll read deeper into the wars. For second grade I tried to focus on the importance of moral goodness and fighting for what’s right while I hedged around the gory details.

We thoroughly enjoyed watching the cartoon Liberty’s Kids, and I’ve got quite the little patriot on my hands. I’d appreciate any recommendations in the comments for books that encourage honor and respect for ones nation while also discerning its flaws. Because we study using a classical model, all of history gets repeated in cycles, chronologically, so there is plenty of time to line up our reading lists for the future.

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Wicked Histories

June 8, 2019 at 2:40 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

While reviewing all the books of years past, it’s impossible to avoid children’s history books, audiobooks, picture books, and a great many of odd resources. As mentioned many times before, I homeschool, so most my reading material reflects that.

We stumbled across the Wicked Histories series a few years ago, and I find the series extremely helpful when trying to find biographies on people who helped shaped the world but aren’t typically doted upon in children’s literature. From this series, last July while studying the 1700’s-1800’s we read Catherine the Great: Empress of Russia by Zu Vincent.

One thing I love about the Wicked Histories is that it has been an excellent tool for walking my kid through discernment practices. How do you identify bad people? What makes someone a safe person? People can be evil and still do good things. People can be good and still do bad things. It’s what they do longest, it’s the legacy they leave behind, that tends to define them. Most people, as researchers and biographers know, have a running theme for their life. The “theme,” so to speak, is often the best judge of their heart. They can say a few nice things, but if their legacy was that of slaughtering people in the street, could you truly call them good? Maybe they were known to love their family, but if all their political policies doomed their nation, what then? I like that Wicked Histories isn’t afraid to have these discussions with children. I also like that they never give a straight answer, the authors leave the conclusion up to the children.

Because these books are so full of moral nuance, I don’t have her read these alone, even though she could. I read all the Wicked Histories aloud as part of our school day and we discuss. Some of our most riveting discussions came while reading Cixi: Evil Empress of China? by Sean Stewart Price and Grigory Rasputin: Holy Man or Mad Monk? by Enid A. Goldberg. It’s helping her see that she has the power to pursue what is good and just in the world, or choose personal glory, fame, and power which tends to corrupt. These stories are helping her see that what you make your priorities matters, who you put your trust in matters. Alexandra Romanov, as well as many other Russian women of the time, were deceived by Grigory Rasputin. How do you watch for deceit while maintaining your positive attitude toward other human beings. I think these are important and healthy lessons to learn. We learn these lessons best by reading God’s word, yes, but also by and knowing our history.

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Beowulf

September 13, 2016 at 1:33 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I have a confession: I never read Beowulf in high school.  Or college.  I read Canterbury Tales more times than I can count (yet only remember a handful of the stories).  I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ad nauseum – and I like that story.  But no Beowulf.  How did I miss it?

I’ll tell you how, we tried to cram so much into such a short amount of time.  We spent hours and hours in school, but spent very little time actually studying.  Somewhere along the way, Beowulf was lost to me.  I’m not sure if I was ever really exposed to it or not.  It might have been something I breezed through in a Norton Anthology and regurgitated the next day for a pop quiz, only to be quickly forgotten.  I couldn’t tell you.  I only know that I had a vague idea that it was an epic poem involving something named Grendel when I began working at a bookstore as an adult.  Even then, I couldn’t tell you if Grendel was the monster or the man.

unknownAs we began our Middle Ages/ Early Ren. (450 AD to 1600 AD) year while classically homeschooling, it dawned on me that this was the year for Beowulf. I had already read the picture book by Eric A. Kimmel to kiddo when she was a wee one, but I’m sure she was so tiny she had fallen asleep; now was the time to embrace the story.

And we did.  I read her the picture book shortly before my trip to Atlanta. It fit right in with all the Celtic and Norse mythology we’ve been reading to bridge the gap between the ancient times and our exciting year ahead.  “What a guy! He tore off the monster’s arm! I can’t even do that,” she exclaimed. She was very pleased that this particular picture book could give the story in “one-sitting, all today” as opposed to the stories of Odysseus and Troy which all took weeks of chapter by chapter to finish. I foresee reading this again and again over the coming months, she loved the story so much; I have to admit, I did too.

4cf814193a0I liked it even more when I discovered there was a cartoon made in 1998 starring Joseph Fiennes as the voice of Beowulf – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKjcoFZmKuA.  We got to watch that and call it school.  It was a lot of fun.  (There’s one for Don Quixote we’ll be watching next year when we make it into the 1700s.)

Naturally, I was curious as to the accuracy of these versions.  I won’t ever truly know, because everything is a translation, but I thought I’d give an adult version a go.  There’s so many versions out there, I think I’ll just try a different one every Middle Ages cycle.  So I took the Constance B. Hieatt version with me to Atlanta and enjoyed it immensely, especially the little extras at the end.

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The kiddo, of course, keeps asking me why we are using “fake stories as lesson books, they aren’t real stories mother!” I keep telling her, very ineloquently, that these stories help us understand the people who told them.  Read them to her as bedtime stories and naturally she’s thrilled at the excitement of them.

We’ll collect more versions over the years and by the time she is grown she will know the story well – and remember it.  Next go around we’ll even tackle it in poem form, and eventually we’ll read Gardner’s Grendel.

Do you have any favorite versions of Beowulf?  Or, more importantly, do you know any great stories of the time period that should not be missed?

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Storyboarding

June 17, 2015 at 9:48 pm (Art) (, , , , , )

Today I am storyboarding for a children’s book for my mother-in-law… we’ll hand the pictures off to a real artist when I’m done.

Photo on 6-17-15 at 3.18 PM

“It was a dark, rainy day.”

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Grandmother’s Cabin

July 23, 2014 at 5:31 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Grandmother's CabinTitle: Grandmother’s Cabin
Author & Illustrator: Angela Rout (@mamacomic on twitter)
Genre: Children’s Picture Book

We received this book in the mail from the author right before I left on my book signing tour to San Antonio.  I was mean, I was so excited about it, I made kiddo wait until I got back from my trip.  Daddy was under strict orders that this book was not to be read while I was away.

I thought about it while I was away a lot.  All the colors of the front cover kept coming to mind while I was faced with all the colors of San Antonio.

It was worth the waP1020726it.  Grandmother’s Cabin lived up to my own mental hype.  Kiddo snuggled up in my lap last night and settled in for the new book to review, ready with opinions.

It seems to be a snugly sort of book in general, my favorite kind, as during story time today everyone was reaching for their mothers and trying to get into laps.  That’s not typically the case with other stories.  Instinctively, children know: this book is for families and heritage, and appreciation of the good things that calm our souls.

The front cover is simply one of many exciting illustrations.  The further into the story you get, the richer the images, and more vibrant the colors – or maybe it’s the story that makes me feel like they’re richer and more vibrant…

Rout maintains a splash of color on the right side of the page and ornate pencil sketches on the left side along with the text.

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It’s whimsical, magical, and even won a “Moonbeam” award.  If that doesn’t sound mysteriously romantic, I don’t know what does.

P1020722Dedicated to all things grandmothery and cozy, the book is about spiritual healing found by looking back to your ancestors, finding comfort in tea, and relaxing with a good book and favorite activity.

“I like to paint too!” My kiddo squealed when Grandmother revealed an easel and paint tray among the tropical forest.

When Grandmother did her super hero pose, Kiddo did hers too.  Later when we went over the discussion questions Rout provides on the last page, Kiddo answered that she wants to be like Grandmother.  “I can heal like Grandmother – by licking – like Helo.”  Helo is the dog.  Clearly, my child needs more grandmother interaction and less puppy play.

“When I’m happy I don’t fly high in the sky,” Kiddo lamented.  “And I get sad when I’m sick.  And I get upset when Dad plays with MY frisbees.”  Well, then.

Finally, I read the last question to my daughter:

Grandmother’s love makes Mother feel happy. How can we connect with our ancestors and our loved ones who have lived before us?  What can we do to help them be of service to us? As an example some people tell stories, remember them, pray for them, learn about them, or celebrate their accomplishments.  What does your family do?

“Walk in the woods.  I like to walk in the woods,” my child responded wisely.  Yes, my darling, we do.  And that’s why this book spoke to us from the front cover alone.  Coffee and Tea Cups, Books, Paint Brush, Foliage… what more could a gal need to feel restful and restored?

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Grandmother’s Cabin is lovely and enriching.  It opens up a topic of discussion many people believe to be beyond what children can handle, but it’s perfect, and the children I’ve read this book to today handled it with grace and curiosity.

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I read children’s books at the Half Price Books in Humble every Wednesday throughout the summer, starting at 10:30 am.  Many of these titles are plucked from the shelf and are available for purchase right then and there.  Some of what I read and share come from a publisher or an author and might not otherwise be readily discovered.  Like today, Grandmother’s Cabin was sent to me from an author in Calgary, Alberta.  If you have kiddos, live in the area and wish to join us, please do.

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Story Times are Magical

July 1, 2014 at 3:15 pm (Education, Events) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

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Every Wednesday during the summer I make an appearance at Half Price Books Humble, 10:30 am sharp.  I make an announcement over the intercom – NOT my forte – place snacks on the children’s table, and pick out stories to read out loud to whoever arrives.

Sometimes I have crowds!  Sometimes it’s just me and Kiddo hanging out reading as we would at home.  Sometimes I have authors come and read their books to the kids.  But ALWAYS it is a little bit magical.

P1020286How appropriate then that Edward Castro joined us for a second time with his book Hanna’s Magic Light.

Not available yet in a physical copy, Castro read to the kids from a bound manuscript while his agent showed the pictures on her tablet. The kids were riveted by the story about Hanna and her Daddy and the magical dome light in the car, turned lesson on finding your own inner light.

At the end, each kid received a cupcake and/or cookie as well as a “magic light” of their own to take home – Glow Sticks made into a necklace.

Tomorrow is Wednesday again. We won’t have Castro back this soon, but we will be featuring Song for Papa Crow, compliments of Schiffer Publishing.

Castro will return later in July.  For those who cannot make middle of the week events, this will allow you to meet the author and purchase a hard copy of his picture book, as he hopes to have some in print by then:

July 26

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Song for Papa Crow

June 30, 2014 at 10:23 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

songforpapacrowTitle: Song for Papa Crow

Author: Marit Menzin

Publisher: Schiffer Publishing

Genre: Children’s Picture Book

I was delighted to have Schiffer Publishing contact me to review a selection of their picture books.  There can never be too many children’s books here in the Klemm household, as kiddo devours them for breakfast, elevenses, lunch, dinner, and bedtime.  We’re readers. We read.  We’re also artists and we love admiring quality picture books.

As a homeschool mom of an aspiring birder, I couldn’t find Song for Papa Crow any more perfect.

This is a lovely story about how Little Crow loves to sing.  He sings his heart out and in the course of teaching children what birds of North America make what sounds, we also follow Little Crow on a a journey of self-discovery and why it’s a beautiful thing to be yourself.

Menzin’s collage art is gorgeous.  Kiddo and I adore all the rich colors.  We spend a good deal of time outdoors and it’s wonderful to see nature portrayed with so much texture even while confined to the pages of a book.

Of course, after every book, I ask kiddo what she thinks.  My three year old smiled broadly and responded, “I think it’s ridiculous.”  Ridiculous, naturally, being pronounced ridicooooolous and said for the sheer enjoyment of using the word.  Proven by the fact that she has asked for me to read “the Papa Crow one” at least twice a day since our first reading.

Now, a week later, I ask kiddo:

“Would you like to say anything about Papa Crow to our readers?”

“Yes,” she says decisively.

“What would you like to say?”

“Nothing at all, I just want it to be SEEN.”

Powerful words from a three year old, I think.  She’s right, we could talk about how awesome Papa Crow is all day, but when all is said and done, Menzin’s collages simply must be seen.

Songs for Papa Crow will accompany us to Story Time at Half Price Books Humble for the next two weeks (July 2nd & 9th).  We meet every Wednesday, all summer, at 10:30 am.  Though we typically read multiple titles, we tend to choose a favorite to feature each week.  We will also have a few Schiffer Kids Spring 2014 Catalogs for patrons of Story Time to peruse.  Snacks are provided.

I look forward to reading more from Schiffer Books as well as Marit Menzin.  The Klemms are officially fans for life.

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This Wednesday at Half Price Books!

June 23, 2014 at 3:52 pm (Events) (, , , , , , , , )

HannasMagicLightEvent

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