Thursday, December 5, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Deathly Hallows, Chapters 17-20

Last week, I read Chapter 17 ("Bathilda's Secret"), Chapter 18 ("The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore"), Chapter 19 ("The Silver Doe"), and Chapter 20 "Xenophilius Lovegood").

Last week's chapters included some of my favorite scenes from this book, and really, from the entire series. The scenes with Bathilda are so wonderfully creepy and suspenseful. I especially love that Bathilda refuses to speak in front of Hermione because she would realize she was speaking Parseltongue.  I'd also forgotten the added complication of Harry's wand being broken.

The other scene I love is Ron's return, which occurs amidst another mysterious happening, the appearance of the silver doe. Ron is often a comic character in this series, and it was nice to see him come into his own and show that there is more to him than humor and banter with Hermione. I also love that the deluminator turns out to be his means of finding his way back to Harry. Dumbledore understood these characters better than they realized.

Since it has been ten years or more since I last read this book, I'm fuzzy on the details about what turns out to be true about Dumbledore's past, but I do like the way this book casts doubt on his character in the same way book 6 made us suspicious of Snape. It really contributes to the feeling that Harry is finally isolated and alone, in many ways, in his final confrontation with Voldemort.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Homeschool Progress Report: November 2019

First Grade

Our third official month of homeschooling is in the books! It went by so fast, but it was also very productive.


This month, M. made more progress in Singapore Primary Mathematics 2B focusing on money, including adding and subtracting dollars and cents and making change. In addition, she continued to drill addition and subtraction facts on XtraMath, and she practiced the multiplication tables in both Xtra Math and by filling out blank tables. She also did some review of solving three-digit addition and subtraction problems using the soroban. We continue to read Life of Fred every Friday (we're currently still in book four, Dogs.)


This was a very history-heavy month for M, as we finished Mesopotamia and then spent three weeks studying the Old Testament. Our Mesopotamian studies concluded with a narration on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the information for which came largely from National Geographic Investigates: Ancient Iraq: Archaeology Unlocks the Secrets of Iraq's Past by Beth Gruber. (M. and I both loved the fact that this book highlighted the work of archaeologists in this part of the world and the challenges they encounter.) We also spent a day or two on the Assyrians.

As we moved on to the Hebrews, we started using our new MapTrek book and CD to place our studies in the appropriate geographic context. M. labeled important cities and bodies of water on the maps "Called Out of Ur" and "The Promised Land" and briefly looked at several others. Our main text for reading about the Hebrews was In Bible Days by Gertrude Hartman, and we also supplemented with Heroes of the Bible by Olive Beaupre Miller. (I had planned to use Miller's Picturesque Tale of Progress but found the Heroes book more engaging and better suited to M's interest in the details of things like battles and the succession of judges.) As I read aloud each day, M. colored pictures related to the day's readings, some of which came from an old Bible Stories to Color coloring book I found among my old papers and others of which I found online.

Independently, Miss Muffet read sections from National Geographic Kids Who's Who in the Bible and The World of the Bible, along with the picture books Moses, Ruth, and Joseph by Maud and Miska Petersham and Sarah Laughs and Benjamin and the Silver Goblet by Jacqueline Jules. She also watched the animated film Joseph: Beloved Son Rejected Slave, which is available on


Our main focus for science this month was reading heavily in The Human Body: What It Is and How It Works. We covered the nervous system, five senses and digestive system, supplementing with videos and activities from Kids Health. In addition to a narration about the five senses, M. also filled out the "Taste Tracker," "The Eye," "The Brain," and "The Digestive System" worksheets, and she watched a collection of food science videos from SciShow Kids.

At the tail-end of the month, M. had a birthday, and she received a microscope, which led to revisiting Greg's Microscope by Millicent Selsam and Arnold Lobel and reading The Microscope by Maxine Kumin (and Arnold Lobel, again) for the first time.


M.'s assigned independent reading this month included: The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, Here Comes the Bus by Carolyn Haywood, My America: Our Strange New Land: Elizabeth's Jamestown Colony Diary by Patricia Hermes, and Freddy and the Ignormus by Walter R. Brooks. She was not quite done with the Freddy book at the end of the month, but finished it 2 days later.

Memory Work

M. is still perfecting "The Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee." I hope she's going to finish it in time to memorize a new poem for Christmas. She also finished memorizing all the countries of Europe, and now she is working on learning more rivers and bodies of water. She also memorized the first five books of the Bible and started to learn the Hail Mary in Latin.


Using the Classics for Kids podcast, we covered Beethoven, Haydn, Johann Strauss, Jr. and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Our hymn for the month was Conditor Alme Siderum, and we also practiced singing Over the River and Through the Woods in anticipation of Thanksgiving. M. continued daily practice of recorder and piano and her musical notes review.


We didn't do many formal art lessons in November, but M. created illustrations for each of her narrations and drew many portraits of family members. She also made a foam turkey and cornucopia using kits from Dollar Tree.

Physical Education

M. visited the playground several times in November, mostly during my OB appointments. She also exercised along with the videos from the Ten Thousand method.


We're still listening to my homemade audio recording of lessons 1-10 in the St. Joseph catechism. In this particular month, our music and history lessons were also heavily related to religion. We also took two field trips: one to The Visit of All Saints at the National Shrine of St. John Paul II, where M. "met" a variety of Catholic saints and learned about their lives, and another to the Shrine of St. Anthony for the Advent Family Festival.



C.'s reading really took off this month. In The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading, she worked on consonant blends at the beginnings and endings of words, including SH, TH, CH, and NG. She also enjoyed reading titles from the Rime to Read series which we borrowed from the public library, and she finally tackled Ann's Hat, a book that was way too difficult for her just a few weeks ago. She also worked on mastering a reader called The Tin Man.

Memory Work

C. learned to recite "The Pilgrims Came" by Annette Wynn and finished memorizing the planets.


C. has begun learning to use the soroban to create single and double digit numbers and to do simple addition and subtraction.


C. continued piano lessons and started practicing "Merrily We Roll Along."

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Deathly Hallows, Chapters 13-16

Last week, I read Chapter 13 ("The Muggle-Born Registration Committee"), Chapter 14 ("The Thief"), Chapter 15 ("The Goblin’s Revenge"), and Chapter 16 ("Godric’s Hollow"). Things really start getting exciting in these chapters, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione venture out into the Ministry of Magic in disguise and then find they can't return to Grimmauld Place and begin camping out instead.

What struck me the most is how each of these three characters' upbringings and personalities contribute to their ability to cope with conditions on the run. It's interesting to see the neglect Harry suffered from the Dursleys become a strength when there isn't much to eat. It's also perfectly in keeping with Hermione's nature as a planner that she would be prepared with so many supplies in her bottomless bag, including things Harry and Ron have forgotten. It also seems completely logical that Ron, arguably the least mature of the three friends, has the hardest time dealing with the sudden change in lifestyle. This inability to adapt, coupled with the way the locket horcrux affects him when it's his turn to wear it, leads to one of the best plot twists of the story: Ron abandoning Harry. This was completely shocking and upsetting to me the first time I read it, but this time, I was struck by how perfect this turn of events is for creating conflict. (I also know how the situation resolves, and it's my favorite part of the book, so that probably contributes to my feeling that this is a great twist.)

I'm also pleased with how I divided this book on my reading schedule. I left off just after Ron leaves, and just before Harry and Hermione follow Bathilda Bagshot home. Knowing what's to come with Bathilda made it a very anxiety-inducing place to take a break, but the anticipation will surely make the reading of the next section that much more enjoyable.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Book Review: How to Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo (2019)

I have read quite a few handbooks for parents who wish to raise book-loving kids, but none have given such dubious advice as this year's How to Raise a Reader by The New York Times Book Review editors Pamela Paul and Maria Russo. (I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.)

The first red flag for me came in the form of the blanket statement that "[m]any classic children's books are now considered sexist, racist, outdated, and in certain cases, downright awful." This statement sets up the political point of view of its authors as the default "correct" way to consider older books. By writing in the passive voice, the authors conveniently sidestep the need to say precisely who considers these books so terrible, and they leave no room at all for an alternate point of view, despite the fact that many reading-minded parents are conservative homeschoolers who deeply value older books but are not themselves awful racists. This argument is worsened by the suggested remedy: simply "tweak" the books when you read them aloud, editing the author's words to reflect what you wish they said. There are plenty of books I won't read aloud due to content, but it is utterly insulting to authors to presume to rewrite their books, and insulting to the intelligence of child listeners, who can generally handle controversial and difficult topics better than adults ever assume they can.

A second major problem with this book is the way it suggests that parents are irrelevant, or at best tangential, to the reading lives of their children. They come right  out and say that reading aloud "isn't about you" (the parent) when they comment that parents whose character voices don't appeal to their kids should "read the room" and stop using them, and then they continue to point out how true they believe that to be at every opportunity. Their recommendations for reading with children include admonishments to "tune out and read by rote" when you're bored,  to "be careful not to assert your own values too much" (heaven forbid your children acquire your values) and "save your disapproval for vaping, not books." They also make the absurd claim that it may not be the parent's choice when a child starts reading Harry Potter, as though children are such independent creatures we can't possibly be in charge of any aspect of their lives, let alone reading.

Other problems with this book are more predictable. The authors throw the required bones toward gender ideology by pointing out that books for toddlers might teach traditional gender roles and toward diversity by pointing out the apparently disturbing blondness of the characters in Dick and Jane and stating that "no children should have to learn to read with them." They also caution parents that they might have to explain the language and writing style in those old racist classics, or else just find abridged versions that avoid "antiquated language" to satisfy the children who just can't tolerate "references to an earlier age."

How to Raise a Reader takes for granted many ideas about parenting and childhood that I just don't accept, and that made it impossible for me to enjoy it. Truly, the best resource on this topic continues to be The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, with Reading Together by Diane W. Frankenstein and The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon following closely behind. By comparison to these comprehensive and engaging resources, How to Raise a Reader is disorganized, shallow, and unnecessary, and I do not recommend it.

Monday, November 18, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Deathly Hallows, Chapters 9-12

This past week's Deathly Hallows chapters were Chapter 9 ("A Place to Hide"), Chapter 10 ("Kreacher's Tale"), Chapter 11 ("The Bribe") and Chapter 12 ("Magic is Might").

There were a lot of things in this segment of the book that I had forgotten about:
  • Harry, Ron, and Hermione are attacked by Death Eaters in the Muggle world right after they flee the wedding and no one can figure out how these Death Eaters knew where to find them.
  • Harry, Ron and Hermione move into 12 Grimmauld Place, where they hide out for many days, venturing out only to spy on the entrance to the Ministry of Magic.  
  • Harry and Lupin have a nasty argument when Lupin reveals that Tonks is pregnant but that he wants to go with Harry on his mission.
  • Kreacher reveals the fate of the locket that was previously found at 12 Grimmauld Place and begins to become more pleasant as Harry is nicer to him. 
  • Harry finds a letter from his mother, with a page missing, which is accompanied by a photo of him on a toy broomstick as a toddler.
The bigger plot points stuck with me, most likely because they are repeated in the film version. I remembered everything about Harry, Ron, and Hermione sneaking into the Ministry using polyjuice potion, as well the "Magic is Might" propaganda. I still gasped, though, when, at the end of these chapters, the elevator doors opened and there stood Dolores Umbridge. I honestly don't remember what happens next, so I'm especially excited to keep reading the next section! 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Deathly Hallows, Chapters 5-8

My second set of chapters in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows consisted of Chapter 5 ("Fallen Warrior"), Chapter 6 ("The Ghoul In Pyjamas"), Chapter 7 ("The Will of Albus Dumbledore"), and Chapter 8 ("The Wedding").

These chapters make for really engaging and exciting reading, as they take the reader on an emotional rollercoaster. We see the loss of Mad-Eye Moody, a wizard whose protection always made me feel better about Harry's safety, as well as an injury to George Weasley. We also begin to realize how worried Mrs. Weasley is about Harry's plans, and also how difficult it is for Harry and Ginny Weasley to stick to their decision to break up. On the lighter side, however, Harry celebrates his 17th birthday and comes of age, and there is even a wedding celebration, though it is interrupted quite violently right at the end of this section.

One thing I like about these chapters is the fact that, though there is a lot of turmoil surrounding them, these characters continue to live their normal lives as much as possible. This simple sense of hope is very inspiring, and it makes me appreciate the Weasleys and the other Order members even more. I also really love the way Harry continues to stand up to Scrimgeour in the chapter where the contents of Dumbledore's will are finally revealed to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Harry doesn't always feel like a fully-developed character to me, but in this book, so far, he comes very much to life.

Possibly because I just re-watched The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I also found myself comparing the gifts Dumbledore leaves to Harry and his friends to the ones given to the Pevensies by Father Christmas. Certainly the fact that Dumbledore is still offering assistance - albeit mysteriously - from beyond the grave provides a strong sense of hope. I also love that Rowling hearkens back to the first time Harry catches the Snitch - with his mouth - and that this detail becomes an important clue about why Dumbledore may have left the Snitch to him.

Finally, I love the wedding chapter for all the dialogue that foreshadows important details that appear later in the book, including the significance of Grindelwald and the symbol worn by Mr. Lovegood and the differing accounts given by Elphias Doge and Aunt Muriel about Dumbledore's past.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

#YearOfHarryPotter: Deathly Hallows, Chapters 1-4

I'm behind on posting about it, but I did start reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at the beginning of this month, with the first four chapters: Chapter 1 ("The Dark Lord Ascending"), Chapter 2 ("In Memoriam"), Chapter 3 ("The Dursleys Departing"), and Chapter 4 ("The Seven Potters"). Beware of spoilers.

I love the bittersweet tone of the opening of this book as so many things come to an end for Harry: his dependence on the wisdom and advice of Albus Dumbledore, his strained relationship with the Dursleys, his time as a student at Hogwarts, even his relationship with Ginny. From the outset, it's clear that this a different book from the others of the series because the stakes are higher and with the exception of Ron and Hermione, Harry is largely on his own.

I really appreciated the way Rowling humanizes Dudley a bit in the scene where he and Harry part ways. Vernon was still as over the top as ever in his hatred of all things wizarding-related, but seeing Dudley seem almost a bit sad at saying goodbye to Harry added an emotional dimension to their relationship that made it seem real rather than merely cartoonish.

I also remember loving the "Seven Potters" chapter the first time I read this book and in the film adaptation as well, and it held up well to this re-reading. I love the clever way the Order decides to hide Harry as they transfer him, as well as the way these scenes set up the danger that Harry will face throughout this final book.  I also remember how shocking it was to see Hedwig die, which is another event that really sets the somber tone of this book overall. I was ready for it this time, and yet somehow still felt a bit sucker-punched.