Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 7/19/21

Morning Read-Alouds 

From Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters,  illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018) we read "I Wish..." by Anonymous, "It Was / So Hot"  by Malcolm de Chazal, "Colouring In" by Jan Dean, and "Where the bee sucks" from The Tempest by William Shakespeare.

From A Book of Americans by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1933) we read poems entitled: "Zachary Taylor," "John James Audubon," "Nancy Hanks," "Daniel Boone," "Crawford Long and William Morton," "Sam Houston," "Western Wagons," "Clipper Ships and Captains," "James Buchanan," "Crazy Horse," "Stonewall Jackson," "Abraham Lincoln," "Negro Spirituals," "Ulysses S. Grant," and "Robert E. Lee." 

Our author for the week was Jan Brett. I read aloud On Noah's Ark and Town Mouse Country Mouse and Grandma read Comet's Nine Lives


We sang "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond" as performed by The Corries. We listened to Lt. Kijé Suite: Troika by Sergei Prokofiev, Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade by Modest Mussorgsky, Simple Symphony: Playful Pizzicato by Benjamin Britten, Album for the Young: The Happy Farmer by Robert Schumann. 

M. and C. practiced piano and recorder daily.


We studied Saint Mary Magdalene by Gregor Erhart from the Louvre Art Deck: 100 Masterpieces from the World's Most Popular Museum by Anja Grebe and Erich Lessing. The girls made bookmarks for our friend that we met up with in New York to thank her for the books she gifted to us. 


We continued working on Lesson 7: "Jesus Opens Heaven For Us" in The New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism. 


This week's readings were "Timber!" from The Great Heritage by Katherine B. Shippen (Viking Press, 1947), "Ol Paul Bunyan," "How Paul Bonjean Became Paul Bunyan," and "Ol' Paul's Camp on the Big Onion River" from Yankee Doodle's Cousins by Anne Malcolmson (Houghton Mifflin, 1941), and "Boston Bells" from American Adventures by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan, 1968). 


The girls watched Mr. Wizard's World every day.


M. worked on algebra basics and C. worked on algebra with renaming using the soroban. They both did Khan Academy every day.

Reading and Writing 

We continued reading One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street by Joanne Rocklin. At dinner, my husband finished reading aloud The Three Princes of Serendip and started Serendipity Tales. C. started reading Heartwood Hotel Book 1: A New Home by Kallie George. M. started reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder and continued reading A Book for Jennifer aloud to Gran. E. recorded her video of Dad and Sam and started working on Pig Wig

Physical Education

We went to the pool with friends on Friday and the girls went back on Saturday with my husband for a swim lesson.

Reading Through History: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (1943)

In pre-Revolutionary War Boston, Johnny Tremain is apprenticed to a silversmith and it is assumed he will one day marry the boss's daughter and take over the business as his own. When a fellow apprentice, moved by jealousy, sabotages Johnny's crucible, however, he is burned by molten silver and becomes incapable of continuing in this line of work. His search for a new trade leads him to the newspaper business and ultimately straight into the heart of the revolution.

My mom bought this book for me when I was a kid, but I was so averse to reading about misfortune of any kind that I never so much as cracked the spine. Even as an adult, I found reading it on the page didn't really work for me, and I kept avoiding reading it. Finally, when I tried the audiobook, everything finally clicked, and I found that I really enjoyed it after all. 

This book is a great look into daily life in America during the early days of our country. The details of how people dressed, the kind of work they did, and how they interacted with each other really immerse the reader in the time period and make it easy to imagine what it might have been like to live then. The story also provides a character lesson about the dangers of pride, but it is delivered in such a way that the reader almost comes to the moral by herself, and it never feels as though the author is giving a sermon. I also really enjoyed the friendship between Johnny and his friend Rab. Their faithfulness and loyalty to each other made me invest strongly in their relationship.

Because of the subject matter, which involves some questions about Johnny's paternity and also concerns about marriage and career, I think the best audience for this book is probably going to be at the very upper elementary or middle school level. It's also really enjoyable for an adult who is interested in the day-to-day life of the American people during the Revolutionary War. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 7/12/21

Morning Read-Alouds 

From Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters,  illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow, 2018) we read "The Moon at Knowle Hill" by Jackie Kay, "The Song of Hau, the Red Fox," a wintu song translated by Jeremiah Curtin, "First Fox" by Pamela Gililan, "The Blue Water In," a Southern Paiute song translated by John Wesley Powell, and "A Dragonfly" by Eleanor Farjeon. 

From A Book of Americans by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1933) we read poems entitled: "John Paul Jones," "Abigail Adams," "John Adams," "Benjamin Franklin," "Benedict Arnold," "Thomas Jefferson," "Alexander Hamilton," "Aaron Burr," "Johnny Appleseed," "Lewis and Clark," "Dolly Madison," "James Monroe," "John Quincy Adams," and "Andrew Jackson." 

Our author for the week was Margaret Wise Brown. We read Three Little Animals, Love Songs of the Little BearThe Diggers and Sleepy ABC. We also listened to the CD from Goodnight Songs and watched the Weston Woods video of The Wheel on the Chimney. Grandma read The Old Mill on Skype on Saturday. 


We sang "On Top of Old Smokey" from Go In and Out the Window: An Illustrated Songbook for Young People (The Metropolitian Museum of Art, 1987). 

We listened to the Russian Dance from the Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky, Háry János Suite: Viennese Musical Clock by Zoltán Kodály, Water Music: Hornpipe by George Frideric Handel, Triumphal March from Aida by Giuseppe Verdi and Brandenburg Concerto No. 2: Movement 1 by Johann Sebastian Bach. 


We studied The Rialto Bridge by Canaletto from the Louvre Art Deck: 100 Masterpieces from the World's Most Popular Museum by Anja Grebe and Erich Lessing and watched some videos about the bridge itself. The girls made wind chimes using kits from Dollar Tree. 


We continued working on Lesson 7: "Jesus Opens Heaven For Us" in The New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism.

Memory Work

E. recited the months of the year, days of the week, four directions, marks of the church, and continents. She continued to practice "Happiness" by A.A. Milne. 

C recited the 50 states, planets, Great Lakes, countries of Europe, the oceans, the books of the Bible, and our address and phone number. She continued practicing "maggie and milly and molly and may" by e.e. cummings. 

M recited the 50 states, the countries of Asia, the books of the Bible, the Kings and Queens of England, and our address and phone number. She continued to practice Oberon's speech from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare.  


This week's readings were: The Legend of New Amsterdam by Peter Spier, "The Wishing Pear" from  American Adventures by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan, 1968), and "The Gift of Saint Nicholas" and "The Ghost of Dark Hollow Run" from Yankee Doodle's Cousins by Anne Malcolmson (Houghton Mifflin, 1941). 


The girls are still watching episodes of Mr. Wizard's World. We'll resume BFSU in September.


M. and C. both did some work in Singapore and Khan Academy every day. C. is doing addition with renaming and M. is working on converting units of measure. 

Reading and Writing 

At lunchtime we're reading One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street by Joanne Rocklin. At dinner, my husband read from The Three Princes of Serendip. M. started reading A Book for Jennifer by Alice Dalgliesh aloud to Gran and finished the second Borrowers book. C. read a review copy of a forthcoming beginning chapter book, Ivy Lost and Found by Cynthia Lord. E. read and recorder her video for Dad and Sam.

Physical Education

We went to the pool with friends during the week, and M. and C. went again on the weekend with my husband to practice swimming. M. and C. also ran around outside on the hill next to our neighbor's house. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Old Mother West Wind by Thornton Burgess (1910)

Old Mother West Wind has several children known as the Merry Little Breezes, who love to involve themselves in the affairs of the animals who live in and around the forest, including:  Peter Rabbit, Jimmy Skunk, Sammy Jay, Bobby Coon, Little Joe Otter, Grandfather Frog, Billy Mink, Jerry Muskrat, and Spotty the Turtle. As these animals interact with each other and with the Breezes, the reader is treated to many gentle adventures, most of which have a bit of a moral at the end. 

My husband read Old Mother West Wind aloud to my oldest as a toddler, but when I tried it with my second daughter she wasn't a fan. It wasn't until now, with daughter number three (E, age 3.5) that I actually read the entire book. Unlike her older sister, E. really enjoyed entering the world of these animals and observing their activities.

For me, a reader who doesn't love animal stories, it was not my favorite read-aloud, but I did appreciate that the chapters were short enough to hold my young listener's attention and that it was very easy to sort out right and wrong actions taken by the animals in each story. For a book that is over 100 years old, much of it is still relatable to preschoolers who are starting to really understand how to interact with others for the first time. They can explore various social situations vicariously through these animals, and then apply those lessons to real life. 

Old Mother West Wind is a great first chapter book to read aloud, and I plan to keep it in my preschool curriculum for when the twins reach this stage in the hopes that it will resonate with one or both of them as well. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Book Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (2008)

The Mysterious Benedict Society is the story of four gifted kids - Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance - who are handpicked by Nicholas Benedict to infiltrate a school called the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, which is attempting to control minds through subliminal messages sent out through various forms of media. Using their various strengths, the four characters work together even in the face of great danger to bring down the mastermind of these messages, Ledroptha Curtain. 

I read this as part of a discussion group on Instagram but wound up not really participating in the discussion. Whereas the other members seemed to love the book, I really thought it was just okay. I didn't like a lot of things about it: the fact that so many character names had not-so-hidden meanings, for example, and also the plot's reliance on coincidences and unknown family connections that just happen to be revealed at convenient moments. It felt like this book was trying really hard to be clever and really wanted me to notice its cleverness, while I wanted it to be much more subtle. 

In terms of content, I have no objection to my kids reading this book. My husband read it, and though he didn't like the ending, he still bought a copy, and it's here in our homeschool library if any of our kids want to pick it up. For me, though, I'm most likely done with this series. It's not the type of book I typically like, and there was nothing especially amazing about this specific book to make it an exception for me. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Book Review: The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright (1942)

The Four-Story Mistake is the second book in the Melendys series by Elizabeth Enright, following The Saturdays (1941). In this book, Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver, along with their father and Cuffy and Willy Sloper, move from New York City to a country house known as the Four-Story Mistake. The house has some architectural anomalies that give it its name, but it's the perfect home for these four children. While World War II rages on elsewhere, the Melendy kids enjoy a year of indoor and outdoor adventures, including the uncovering of a secret about their new home. 

I happened to be reading this book aloud to my kids during our visit to my mother-in-law. It was such a surprise to all of us when she recognized the story and told us this had been her favorite book as a child. After we finished the book, I could absolutely see why. Even more so than in The Saturdays, in this book these child characters come fully to life. They and my kids may be separated by decades, but their interests - in nature, in drama, in secrets, and in imagination - are as similar as can be. The fact that a war is taking place also gives the book a bittersweetness, and for the adult reader, there is a strong feeling of nostalgia and an awareness that childhood is fleeting. 

This is the quintessential realistic fiction book and it was a lovely read-aloud for my older three girls ages 3, 5, and 7. I had originally not really planned to finish out the series, but this book has changed my mind completely. This was a very strong five-star read and I look forward to reading it aloud again when the twins are old enough to enjoy it. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Reading Through History: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (1960)

Island of the Blue Dolphins is the story of Karana, a young Native American girl who, after a series of very difficult events, is left to live alone on her family's island off the coast of California in the 1840s. The novel describes the life she builds for herself and explores the challenges and joys of living so closely with nature with only animal companionship.

I never read this book as a kid because I almost never read any historical fiction as a kid. A few years ago I read O'Dell's The Captive (1979), and it was so dark and depressing that I wondered whether I could ever stomach another book by him, and I continued avoiding this one. Thankfully, though, a reading challenge that cropped up on Instagram this summer required a book set on an island, and I was finally encouraged to pick this one up. I listened to the audiobook, and though survival stories are not my favorite genre, there is undoubtedly something special about this book.

From the beginning, the writing is simply beautiful. I have images in my mind of scenes from this book that I can still replay in vivid detail weeks after finishing the story. O'Dell is not a flowery, purple writer, but he has such a strong command of language that he really knows how to paint a picture with just the right number of words. I feel as though I know Karana and have lived alongside her through her experience on the island. 

This is a short book, but it bears a strong impact. It didn't become a personal favorite, but objectively I can absolutely see why it's so beloved and why it won a Newbery. I'll be glad to have my own kids read it in the coming years.