The Atchafalaya Basin

October 12, 2020 at 5:02 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

One of the beauties of homeschooling is the ability to pick up and take school into the world. We love field trips. I realized recently that I always refer to them as field trips and not vacations, because each change of scenery for us offers a new learning experience, and we never stop working on math and spelling.

So when we had the opportunity to venture out into the swamplands of Louisiana, we packed up our school work and went.

Although our family’s main homeschooling style relies on the Classical model by choice, by nature after growing up in the GT program of public schools, I’m a Unit Study girl. So when headed to the Atchafalaya we watched a National Geographic youtube documentary on the basin and loaded up on picture books.

Jim Arnosky is a long time children’s book favorite of mine. He is the author of the Crinkleroot character, possibly my favorite children’s character of all time, and truly my go-to when looking for any sort of nature themed studies. I was pleased to discover I already owned copies of All About Turtles and All About Alligators, perfect for swamplands. We picked these up years ago and I just love the whole series. They’re perfect for little nature lovers to peruse in their free time when they are excited about a particular animal or another, or for building unit studies on a particular ecosystem like we did when we went to the swamp.

The One Small Square series by Donald M. Silver and Patricia J. Wynne is another favorite. Instead of individual species and their place in the world, this series starts with the ecosystem and defines what is in it. From the cypress knees and ferns to the bacteria and fungi, Swamp talks about all the different layers of life that make up each square inch of swamplands, including diagrams of life at a cellular level… “A carpet of sphagnum moss covers this floating peat island. The moss’s tangled leaves have special hollow cells that soak up and hold water…” Swamp also covers mangrove swamps and the differences between the two.

Homeschooling is such a blessing and it was so exciting to not just read about the environment, but go and––literally––put our hands in it. I am thankful to God every day for the adventure of educating my kiddo.

Permalink 1 Comment

Mysteries of History Part Three: Roanoke

October 8, 2020 at 11:30 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The world is full of things we’ll never know and one thing I do know is that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.

As a child, the story of Roanoke was glossed over in history classes. It maybe earned itself a whole paragraph in a textbook… The colonists disappeared, most likely they were either slaughtered or absorbed by Native tribes. End of story. Now let’s talk about Jamestown and Pocahontas.

Wait, what?! That’s it!?

Jane Yolen’s picture book Roanoke addresses all the theories and just how big a mystery it actually is quite nicely, which I appreciate for my kid. At least she’s been given a bigger bit of bait than I had at that age. As a lifetime sucker for anything written by Jean Fritz, we’re also reading The Lost Colony together, it’s longer and one usually tackled by slightly older kids whereas Yolen’s picture book can be read in one sitting.

As far as information and writing style go, I prefer Jean Fritz––every time––and especially this time. Jean Fritz is my go to for all kids and young adult history books. We have a pretty extensive Fritz collection and still aren’t close to owning all the author’s work. I was so pleased to add The Lost Colony to our library, which in addition to beautiful illustrations, included all the most recent theories (as of 2001) and a summarization of Lee Miller’s Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony.

I read Lee Miller’s book and found it completely enthralling. As a homeschool family, we pick up and take our studies pretty much everywhere, and the week of Roanoke we had the luxury of spending on the Atchafalaya Basin. The only thing that could have been more perfect would have been if we had been in the Virginia and North Carolina swamps and beaches instead of the Louisiana ones––but the ambiance for the unraveling of a sixteenth century crime was perfect.

The book truly had me on the edge of my seat, due largely because of content. The writing style, which annoyed many reviewers on Goodreads, was superfluous at times, but I got the sense that it was the genuine excitement of the author jumping full swing into storytelling mode. I find the premise she suggested not only possible, but plausible based on her presentation of evidence. It’s a great book to read to get a big picture view of both sides of the pond when it comes to early American history. Too many books seem to focus on the colonies or Europe, but rarely truly show what is happening on both sides of the globe at the same time during the era.

Miller brings everything back to Elizabeth I’s Spymaster, so naturally I had to find out if her claims could be substantiated. Up next, my findings in Stephen Budiansky’s Her Majesty’s Sypmaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Winter with Dogs (and Cats)

March 23, 2020 at 10:28 pm (Education, Obituaries, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

With the arrival of Disney+ came the magic of Willem Dafoe as the infamous Leonhard Seppala, musher who put in the most miles during the Serum Run of Nome, Alaska. As a homeschool parent I have the luxury to put aside some school books to build educational unit studies on a whim. We spent weeks on sled dogs and illnesses, tundra and survivalism in harsh weather.

Kiddo read the Dog Diaries book featuring Togo. I read The Cruelest Miles by Gay and Laney Salisbury (phenomenal) as well as a novel called Dead Run by Michael Caruss (pretty good). We watched the movie together. We became smitten with a beautiful picture book by Robert J. Blake.

All the while our own dog was dying. We said goodbye to him as we ended our dogsled reading binge. Our best boy who was the greatest protector we’ve ever had. Named after Tahmoh Penikett’s character Karl C. Agathon on the Battlestar Galactica, Helo, our Siberian husky-pit bull-German Shepherd lived up to his name. Handsome, loving, and always ready to defend us from any threat, I’ve never had a better dog.

“Any man can make friends with any dog but it takes a long time and mutual trust and mutual forbearance and mutual appreciation to make a partnership. Not every dog is fit to be partner with a man; nor every man, I think, fit to be partner with a dog.” – Archdeacon Hudson Stuck

Helo was my greatest partner in getting my kiddo from age one to nine. I trained him to stay with her, he trailed her as she played in the yard and on playgrounds. He slept in the threshold of our doors, guarding us from the outside world as we dreamed. He loved his ball. He could never have been a sled dog like Balto and Togo, he neither had the build or the heart for it, too barrel chested for his smaller legs to support for long distances (he had a hard time keeping up with his mother who despite being much smaller could outrun him in speed and duration), but he was perfect for the job he was given: preserve and protect us from all threats.

Through all this studying of harsh winters, learning about famous dogs, and burying ours (he was nine)… we had the warmest winter I can remember in a long time and many, many cats…

Well, caterpillars.

Living in the lower coastal plains region of Texas means we have some tropical tendencies sweeping up from the Gulf of Mexico. It also means Monarch butterflies! We’ve raised quite a few in our pollinator garden, have ordered books, and plan to study them more in depth as we observe them more regularly through various seasons. The photos below are all from this winter.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Fly, Fly Again

January 7, 2020 at 4:56 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Fly, Fly Again

Authors: Katie Jaffe & Jennifer Lawson

Illustrator: Tammie Lyon

Genre: Children’s Storybook/ Picture Book

First and foremost, kiddo and I were blown away that Buzz Aldrin–THE BUZZ ALDRIN–wrote the foreword for this picture book. How cool is that? (My father, an engineer alum of the same university as Aldrin, was pretty impressed as well. Frequently, he reads my kiddo picture books and comments about how children’s publishing has “come a long way.”)

Reminiscent of The Questioneers series (of which we have every title!) by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, Jaffe and Lawson’s new book encourages critical thinking skills, creative wonder, and diligence to pursue dreams.

Kiddo loved the story, she’s nine, and still enjoys the magic of a children’s storybook even though she’s also reading chapter books now. She’s heard me quote “Try, Try Again” her whole life and learned to read on McGuffey’s which includes the poem in its reading exercises, so there was a genuine snicker when Hawk raised his feather and included the play on words, “If at first you don’t succeed, fly, fly again!”

“It is a great book, no one can doubt that. The airplane design [in the illustrations] is amazing. But you still can’t put that many people and pets into a wagon WITH a motor,” Kiddo told me. She is now monologuing design flaws, propellor safety, and superior ways to attempt this project. I think the book has done exactly its job: spiked STEM thinking.

Fly, Fly Again is a new favorite we plan to read often.

Permalink Leave a Comment

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.

Mr. Tumnus

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.”

Turkish Delights

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.

Permalink Leave a Comment

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.”

Permalink Leave a Comment

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.

Permalink Leave a Comment

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.

Permalink Leave a Comment

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.

beowulf-cover-hiea-900

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?

Permalink 1 Comment

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.”

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »