Monday, March 9, 2020

Homeschool Progress Report: February 2020

Since we're expecting the twins any day now, and our homeschool umbrella was ready to start doing reviews, we spent the last bit of February compiling our oldest daughter's work and preparing for our very first review. It took place this first week of March, and we were in full compliance. Though we won't need to go through that process again until next spring, I will continue to post here year-round, as we plan to continue school as normal even during the "off season" and it was helpful to have my notes on hand when we were filling in our review form.

First Grade with M., age 6


We started Singapore 3A as February started, and it was much smoother sailing than the start of 2B. I noted right away that the textbook and workbook look more mature, which I think helps M. take the work seriously. I also think each exercise is a little bit lengthier than those appearing in the first two levels, which allows for more practice of each new skill. M. also really loves the fact that many of the exercises involve codes, crossword grids, and coloring activities. It's just more engaging for her to do math when it feels like a game. 

M. has been struggling to focus during Xtra Math, and she even got caught typing in the wrong answer so that the program would give her the correct one. Now when she drills her math facts, my husband stays with her and makes sure she stays on task. I notice improvement in the ease with which she is able to recite certain times tables, so it does seem to be working. My take is that she's just getting tired of the same format all the time.

We have also dug into Life of Fred: Edgewood, which has so far involved many of M.'s favorite topics from the previous book, especially functions. She's also working nightly on Khan Academy, on which my husband is introducing her to angles and triangles. She is likely to completely all the third grade work on the site in the next few weeks.


At long last, we finished our slog through Ancient Greece! This is the first civilization we covered this year that I didn't feel we covered as coherently or as thoroughly as we could have. We did spend a lot of time on it, but a lot of that time was spent using trial and error to figure out how best to implement the materials we have. My second daughter is not as history-minded as M., so I will definitely need to work on planning better for this segment of the year when it's her turn the year after next.

In February, as we closed out the unit, we read about Socrates in Wise Guy by M.D. Usher and completed this notebooking page comparing and contrasting his beliefs with those of Plato and Aristotle. We also finished Men of Athens, which M. claimed to love, despite half of the material definitely going way over her head. Independently, she read The First Marathon: The Legend of Pheidippides by Susan Reynolds, and she wrote a lengthy narration explaining what happened to Pheidippides.

Next, we jumped right in to Ancient India, reading three books one right after the other: Ancient India by Virginia Schomp (an excellent overview which really got M. interested in the caste system), National Geographic Investigates Ancient India (which was not as strong as the other volumes we've read from this series), and Science in Ancient India by Melissa Stewart (which was not as exciting to M. as other Science of the Past titles because the Ancient Indians didn't get as much wrong as some of the other cultures, and she prefers to laugh at old-fashioned superstition.) M. also wrote a narration about the Arabic numerals and created a chart explaining the different levels of the caste system.


We continued studying plants and experimenting with the microscope. M. read From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons and created some diagrams of flowers and seeds. She also researched orchids and a few other flowering plants and filled out plant report sheets with my help. With the babies coming, I've been moving through science intentionally slowly because after things settle, I want to start involving four-year-old C. in our science lessons as well and I don't want to get too far ahead before we include her.

Reading & Writing 

For most of February, our read-aloud at lunchtime was Far Out the Long Canal by Meindert de Jong, and all three girls (yes, even two-year-old E.!) absolutely loved it and are still talking about it. Toward the end of the month, we started The All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor, mostly because we currently have all girls and I don't that will still be true in a couple of weeks. M. loved this book and seemed to identify most strongly with Sarah, who represents the author's childhood experiences. 

Independently, M. read a ton of picture books just for fun, but her actual "assigned" books were several titles in the Oz series. She absolutely loves them and can read one in an evening if given the chance.

One of my goals for our homeschool in the future is to have time every day for creative writing, so I decided to introduce the idea in February. She took to it right away and wrote a rather lengthy story about the "Woo Woo girls." We asked her to rename the family because we felt weird about "Woo Woo" and she ended up calling them the Roughtoddly (pronounced ro-toddly) family instead. I don't think we're quite ready to make this kind of writing a daily thing, but I do want to work up to that. 

Memory Work

M. finished memorizing "Velvet Shoes" and recorded a video. 


In addition to the usual recorder and piano practice, M. also listened to Classics for Kids episodes about George Gershwin and Scott Joplin. Gershwin was an especially big hit, and there have been repeated requests to hear Rhapsody in Blue again. There were also a variety of impromptu dance parties this month during which M. and her sister C. acted out some interesting pantomimes. 


We continued our slow read through Looking at Pictures, reading about such topics as color, perspective, and layering of paint. M. really loves the level of detail given by the text, and she also enjoyed it when I let her watch an episode of Bob Ross so she could hear the names of some of the pigments we discussed.

M. also continues to draw constantly. Her recent interest is in drawing her sisters' favorite book characters and letting the younger girls color them in.

Physical Education

Most of the days that I had doctor's appointments in February, my husband took the girls to the park so M. got in lots of free play for P.E. I also made sure she did her exercise video at least once a week. 


I have started quizzing M. from the St. Joseph Catechism's first 10 lessons by having her choose a number at random and then asking her the corresponding question. We also celebrated Mardi Gras with paper masks and pancakes and got a strong start to Lent by beginning a daily routine of Bible readings, chanting the Divine Praises (in English), coloring ornaments for a "Jesus Tree" that we have not yet assembled, and counting to 40 before starting to eat each meal (as suggested by Kendra at Catholic All Year). We're also singing Stabat Mater Dolorosa, the hymn for this month from Traditional Catholic Living and Ave Regina Caelorum, the Marian Antiphon for this time of year. 


I'm hoping M. will soon be able to write her narrations in cursive because her cursive writing is much nicer and easier to read than her print. She has really made great progress this winter.

Pre-K with C., age 4 


C. is a huge reader now, and she is reading and re-reading our collection of I Can Read books at quite a fast rate. The highlights of February were the Oliver and Amanda pig series and the Hattie Rabbit books by Dick Gackenbach. She also likes to read picture books aloud to herself or to her younger sister, and most of the time, she is willing to read a few word lists from The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading as well. She takes such in joy in reading, and it has been so much fun to see her come into her own as an independent reader. 


C. is still working with Khan Academy, and she is starting to show more independence. She has mastered kindergarten and has moved on to addition and subtraction. We also started giving her exercises to do in the Singapore 1A workbook and I have never seen a child so happy to be a student. We're also having her practice using the soroban using drills from and Learning Mathematics with the Abacus Year 1 Activity Book

Memory Work

C. memorized and performed "White Fields" on video and is now learning "A Spike of Green" by Barbara Baker. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Five-Star Predictions From My Unread Shelf

It's been so long since I've joined in on Top Ten Tuesday, but today's topic, Books On My TBR I Predict Will Be 5-Star Reads, caught my eye. As I participate in The Unread Shelf Project 2020, I find myself thinking a lot about the books on my physical to-read shelf and trying to figure out which ones will be worth my limited reading time after the twins are born. The books I have included on this list all seem likely to be favorites for me - I hope I've guessed right! 

A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie
I have heard nothing but praise for the Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James series, and I've heard it compared to my beloved Armand Gamache books by Louise Penny. Since there are a good number of books in the series, I hope it's good so I'll have something to read once I catch up on my Louise Penny stack.

The Lord God Made Them All by James Herriott
Though book three of this series of English veterinary memoirs wasn't as good as the first two, I still have high hopes for this fourth title. 

Adam Bede by George Eliot
I was assigned this novel in college and could not get through it, but after reading Middlemarch last year, I have a new appreciation for George Eliot and I think this book will be much more rewarding for me on a second attempt. 

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp
I love family memoirs, and I love The Sound of Music, so this seems like a guaranteed favorite to me!

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman 
I love books about books, and this one seems like a smart, concise reflection on the reading life.

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather 
I loved Death Comes for the Archbishop and can't wait to read more Cather. 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett 
The only other book by Patchett that I've read is Bel Canto, which I gave four stars. The subject matter in this one seems even more appealing to me, so I'm hoping it might earn five stars. 

My Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary This is the second of two memoirs Beverly Cleary wrote about her life. I loved the first one (A Girl from Yamhill), and I think I will relate to her even more in this volume as she becomes a librarian and a wife. 

The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor
I'm reading all of Flannery's short stories in a year with some fellow readers on Instagram, so it might be a while before I get to these letters, but I'm so looking forward to read them. I've read some that were included in her Collected Works, and they definitely made me want more.

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver
The 1959 film adaptation of this book is my favorite movie of all time. I'm a little afraid I'm setting myself up for disappointment, but I hope the book is as good as the movie!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Homeschool Progress Report: January 2020

After the holiday excitement of December, we returned to our normal school schedule right after the first of the year, and we tied up quite a few things we'd been working on since September and even got ahead on a few subjects in anticipation of the twins arriving in 5 to 8 weeks from now. Read on for a closer look at our progress.

First Grade with M., age 6

This month, we zipped through the final chapters of Singapore Primary Mathematics 2B, covering Capacity, Graphs, Geometry, and Area. As the month ended, M. was just finishing up Review 7 and Review 8 in the workbook. She will begin Singapore 3A this week.

In addition to her main math curriculum, M. is also continuing to work on memorizing addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts with the aid of Xtra Math, and she is still memorizing the perfect squares. To accompany her studies of geometry and area, my husband also got her started playing Cube Nets. (Though her accuracy isn't quite 100%, she is quicker than either of her parents at determining whether a net can be folded into a cube or not.) We also finally finished Life of Fred: Dogs and moved on to Life of Fred: Edgewood.

In the evenings, M. also likes to do some more challenging work on Khan Academy with my husband, who is introducing her to negative numbers and types of triangles.

We are still plowing through Ancient Greece. We read the Jane Werner Watson version of The Odyssey,  followed by The Parthenon by Elizabeth Mann, Science in Ancient Greece by Kathlyn Gay, and Men of Athens by Olivia Coolidge, and M. read The Spartan Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins and Lysis Goes to the Play by Caroline Dale Snedeker on her own. We also took a car trip one day and listened to the audiobook of D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. Though all of these were great books, and she enjoyed them at the time, it's been difficult for her to keep track of all the unfamiliar Greek names. She is grasping the big picture, as evidenced by a nice narration she did about Athens and Sparta and some questions she was able to answer about the enmity between Athens and Persia, but I'm still not quite satisfied so we're going to read some picture books and do a few more activities before we move on.

We finally finished reading The Human Body: What It Is and How It Works, and I decided to switch gears to a topic that would allow M. to make good use of the microscope she got for her birthday: plants. We are reading about plants from The Golden Treasury of Natural History by Bertha Morris Parker, and supplementing with information from websites and the DK Nature Encyclopedia as needed. Each day that we read, we also choose an interesting plant and she does a quick report on it using this worksheet from Enchanted Learning. (Our umbrella group has a subscription, which has been nice for accessing printables like this rather than having to make my own.) One day a week, we concentrate on using the microscope to look at plant material M. has collected outdoors, either on trips to the playground with my husband while I'm at the OB or around the outside of our house. She draws what she sees under the microscope on worksheets taken from Magnificent Microworld Adventures by Mike Wood.

In January, she also worked on some Snap Circuits projects.

I've been meaning to touch on the topic of calling 911 in an emergency with M. for a while, and we finally sat down and did it in the last week of January. We read the KidsHealth article, How to Use 911  and watched a video explaining what happens when someone calls 911. Then I created my own handwritten version of this worksheet so she could identify when it is and is not appropriate to call for help. We finished the lesson with a narration about calling 911, which she illustrated with a drawing of a house on fire.

Our  lunchtime read-alouds during the month of January were Amahl and the Night Visitors by Frances Frost and Roger Duvoisin and The Happy Hollisters at Snowflake Camp by Jerry West. Additionally, M. read a variety of books suggested to her by me and my husband including three titles in the Dorrie series by Patricia Coombs and Alice: Some Incidents in the Life of a Little Girl of the Twenty-First Century, Recorded by Her Father on the Eve of Her First Day in School (all found on Open Library), Prairie School by Lois Lenski, which I purchased for Kindle last year and allowed her to read in the Kindle app on her Chromebook, The Glass Slipper by Eleanor Farjeon, The Happy Orpheline, A Brother for the Orphelines, and A Pet for the Orphelines, all by Natalie Savage Carlson, Freddy and Mr. Camphor by Walter R. Brooks, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Out of her studies of Ancient Greece in history and geometry in math, as well as our focus on Latin in our Catechism lessons, M. has also developed an interest in learning Greek and Latin prefixes and their meanings, so we're using Extra Practice for Struggling Readers: Word Study, published by Scholastic, to do some work with those. (The book is geared toward struggling students in grades 3 to 6, which makes it perfect for an advanced kid in first grade.)

Memory Work
M. has nearly memorized her next poem, "Velvet Shoes" by Elinor Wylie.

In January, we began each day with an episode of the Classics for Kids podcast, working our way through the week-long collections about composers Schubert, Prokofiev, Britten, and Mendelssohn. M. also practiced her piano and recorder daily. As part of our study on Prokofiev, we also listened to Peter and the Wolf and watched the Disney adaptation with David Bowie's narration.

For art appreciation, we are now setting aside one day a week to read from Looking at Pictures by Joy Richardson, which highlights works of art held in the collection of the National Gallery in London. In terms of creating art, M. was largely self-directed in January, though my husband worked with her some on cross hatching and creating textures. She also followed an instructional video on Art for Kids Hub to draw a snowy church with bell.

Physical Education
M. continues to enjoy the Ten Thousand method workouts for kids on YouTube, so I try to have her do one of those 2-3 times a week. Because the weather has been so unseasonably warm, she has also had a trip to the playground pretty much every time I've had a doctor's appointment, and she is often able to get out and just run on the deck for a bit while her sisters nap. 

After months of listening to the St. Joseph Catechism on my homemade recording, we have gone back to using the book. I ask M. one new question a day, and then backtrack through all the questions in the current lesson. It seems to be working. We also concentrated on learning to chant Ave Maria and "Mortem Tuam" which we frequently hear at the Novus Ordo Mass we attend that uses Latin Mass parts. Our hymn for the month from Traditional Catholic Living was Holy God We Praise Thy Name.

M. has been using a program to learn the Palmer method of writing cursive for months. Just recently, she has begun to copy something other than individual letters or words, so I'll most likely be including copy work in these posts from now on. I really like the way her cursive is coming along. She will definitely have better handwriting than I do!

Pre-K with C., Age 4

C has grown into a full-fledged reader in just a few short weeks. She has started working her way through our collection of easy reader books, and there is no stopping her. She's already read dozens of books, including Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, Piggle by Crosby Bonsall, More Spaghetti I Say by Rita Golden Gelman, Tales of Oliver Pig by Jean van Leeuwen, Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik, Snow by Roy McKie, Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman and Last One Home is a Green Pig by Edith Thacher Hurd. She loves stories that rhyme, and funny stories, and stories about siblings, and pretty much any book she can manage to read on her own. We continue to work our way through The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading, doing 1-3 lessons a day as her attention span permits. I also found a book on Open Library, Mary-Mary Stories by Joan G. Robinson, which I thought would be perfect for her, so I've been reading that aloud just to C., and she seems to enjoy having a special book just for her.

C. had fun playing Swim to Ten a few times this month, and she also started concentrating more on handing the beads of the soroban using the correct finger movements. We practiced some basic addition and subtraction on the soroban, and continued to drill the number bonds that add up to five ("little friends") and ten ("big friends"). My husband also got her set up doing the Early Math mission on Khan Academy, and after just a few days, she was already 80% of the way through the kindergarten material, much of which involves counting and simple addition.

Memory Work
C.'s current poem is "White Fields" by James Stephens. She's also still working on being able to recite all the countries of Europe.

Scissors Practice
As I did with M. when she was four, I have given C. a book to practice cutting with scissors. With M., I used a book published by Kumon; this time, we have the Preschool Cutting and Pasting Highlights Learn on the Go Practice Pad. She loves it, and she seems to have a natural aptitude for the scissors so she doesn't typically need much help from me.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Reading Through History: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1976)

Cassie Logan is a young black girl living with her family in 1930s Mississippi, during the Great Depression. It is a great point of pride with the Logans that they own their own land, as this is representative of freedom and independence unknown to their slave ancestors or to their sharecropping neighbors. Over the course of a year, Cassie's young eyes witness many troubling instances of racism, from the night rides and burnings affecting local black families, to her own experience with a girl her own age who asserts her sense of superiority just because she can. As Cassie works to make sense of these events, she sees the adults in her family remain true to themselves and their ideals in the face of any adversity that comes their way.

This 1977 Newbery medal winner is written in a straightforward - not flowery - style, but the way Taylor describes the characters and events of her story is memorable. Each moment of the story helps the reader to understand the complicated relationships between whites and blacks that defined this time period in the South. Not only does the author include very salient moments of blatant and intentional racism, but she also highlights the difficulties white characters have when they try to stick their necks out and show kindness toward black families. Even the best-intentioned white characters can't make the difference they might desire without putting their own lives and families in danger, so high do tensions run between the races. I appreciate that the author includes all the complexities of the issue of racism and resists simply vilifying all white characters as equally evil.

I wrote down one quotation from this book, which is a brief exchange between Cassie and her mother. Cassie is upset that a white girl's father believes his daughter to be superior to Cassie simply because of the color of her skin, and Cassie says, "“Ah, shoot! White ain't nothin'!” But her mother gently corrects her, saying: "It is something, Cassie. White is something just like black is something. Everybody born on this earth is something and nobody, no matter what color, is better than anybody else." I was struck by the fact that Mrs. Logan doesn't allow her daughter to dehumanize white people in the same way that the white family in question routinely dehumanizes her family, and it gave me a real sense of her strength, courage, and overall moral character. 

I don't think I connected with these characters quite as strongly as I have with those in books by Christopher Paul Curtis, who is my favorite middle grade author of fiction about black history, but I still thought this book was a solid introduction to the history of racism in the U.S. I'm curious now about the sequels, especially the recently published All the Days Past, All the Days to Come, which explores the Logan children's experiences as they mature into adulthood from 1944 to 1963. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Homeschool Progress Report: December 2019

December was a bit less productive than the previous three months school-wise because we did take some days off around Christmas and we were not in our regular routine for much of the month. Still, we are mostly on track for where I thought we'd be heading into 2020, and we have time to check a few things more off of our list before the twins arrive in March.

First Grade with M., age 6


We are getting close to finishing Singapore 2B. We finished learning about money and making change and moved on to the section about time. M. had some difficulty sorting out hours from minutes, but with an adult on hand to talk her through it, she does fine. We will continue to review this section even as we move through the rest of the workbook.

M. also continued to practice addition and subtraction and multiplication on Xtra Math, and she started memorizing the perfect squares, which she typically recites in the car on the way to church. We're still reading Life of Fred: Dogs on Fridays, but I think we'll finish it by the end of January.


We had such a great time studying the Hebrews, but figuring out how to tackle Ancient Greece has been harder. We did a week on the Phoenicians, which was mostly just about the alphabet, and then an additional week on Crete and Mycenae, to kind of set the stage, but it seems like every book we own handles Greece in a different way, and in a different order. There just isn't the logical progression there was with moving through the Old Testament, and it's made it difficult to know where to start.

In any case, to cover Crete, we read They Lived Like This in Ancient Crete and some excerpts from the Picturesque Tale of Progress, including the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. We also read what little there was about Crete and Mycenae in Builders of the Old World by Gertrude Hartman, and the relevant sections in The Lost Worlds and Epic of Man. As we started studying Greece, we read about the Olympics also from Builders of the Old World and then started reading aloud Jane Werner Watson's children's edition of The Iliad and The Odyssey. As the year ended, we had just finished the Iliad portion.

Additionally, we took a field trip in December to the Natural History museum in D.C. to have M. look at the mummies. She was fascinated by them (and called the child mummy "cute") and she went from glass case to glass case pointing out all the things she remembered learning about Ancient Egypt. I also took her to see the Hope Diamond but she could not have been less impressed.

Science (and Health) 

As the new year began, we were still reading The Human Body: What It Is and How It Works, but we have since finished.  In December, we covered vitamins and the foods in which each one can be found (which doubled as a health lesson), the circulatory system, including blood typing and how blood clots, and lymph. M. watched the relevant videos to these topics from Kids Health. At the start of the month, all we had left were the endocrine and reproductive systems and a brief section on fever and fighting germs. 

Additionally, M. used her microscope to look at the wing and leg of a housefly, both of which were slides included in a set she received for Christmas. This was a precursor our next unit of study, plants, where we will use the microscope to get a closer look at some flowers, ferns, etc.


M. heard a variety of read-alouds during the weeks leading up to Christmas: The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, Starlight in Tourrone by Suzanne Butler, The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden, and The Good Shepherd by Gunnar Gunnarsson. Independently, she read The Dutch Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins, The Cave Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins, When Molly Was Six by Eliza Orne White, A Certain Small Shepherd by Rebecca Caudill, and Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne. She also made a video book report on The Dutch Twins.

Memory Work

M. finally perfected and recorded her video recitation of "The Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee." I have to say it was worth the wait, because she did a great job. She also finished memorizing all the countries of Europe, and she is now concentrating on multiplication tables, Latin prayers, and bodies of water.


Because of Christmas, this was a heavily musical month. We sang "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" in English and Latin almost every single day. We also learned to chant the Ave Maria, and reviewed Alma Redemptoris Mater, which we learned last Advent.

On Classics for Kids, we listened to episodes about Tchaikovsky and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and then we focused on listening to The Nutcracker before Christmas and Amahl and the Night Visitors immediately after. We also had a few sing-alongs of Christmas carols from Take Joy! by Tasha Tudor.

Additionally, M. continued to practice recorder and piano for 15 minutes each morning.


In December, M. made some Christmas-themed drawings following step-by-step video instructions from Catholic Icing. My husband also challenged her to draw as many different facial features as she could and to combine them in different ways. Gel pens also became the art supplies of choice, along with Christmas-themed coloring books and foam Christmas stickers.

We took a field trip to the National Gallery of Art as well, where we compared different artists' versions of the Madonna and Child, visited an exhibit of paintings made using oil pastels, looked at a statue of David, and studied a pair of stained glass windows depicting The Annunciation.

Physical Education

As it has been unseasonably warm here, and I have had a bunch of OB appointments, M. has been to the playground a bunch of times recently where she has done a lot of informal exercise (running, climbing, swinging, etc.) We also fell somewhat out of the habit, but she did do her Ten Thousand Method exercise video a few times.


Our religion lessons were all centered on the seasons of Advent and Christmas. From December 1st through Christmas Eve, we watched the daily Brother Francis Advent videos on and added ornaments to our Jesse tree. We also said the Christmas Anticipation prayer 15 times per day, and practiced reciting Ave Maria and then learned to sing the chant. As is our tradition, we also went to the Living Nativity at the Shrine of St. Anthony.

Pre-K with C., age 4


C.'s reading really took off in December, as she finished the last few books in our Hooked on Phonics set and recorded her video readings of them. To help get her ready for some more substantial books, we spent some time going over a set of sight word flash cards (illustrated by Alain Gree), and she worked through a bunch of lessons on words containing long vowel sounds and silent E.


As her big sister did before her, C. is learning to use the soroban to help her understand place value and to lay the foundation for strong mental math skills. We used number flash cards (again, illustrated by Alain Gree) as prompts for putting numbers on the soroban, and I also put numbers onto the soroban for her to identify. In December, she started working on learning the "little friends" (number bonds adding up to five) and "big friends" (number bonds adding up to ten), which she will need to know to do addition and subtraction on the soroban.

Memory Work 

Because she is typically with us when M. recites the various items she has memorized, C. has picked up a lot of them just through exposure, so now we are working on fine-tuning some of those, including the planets, the four directions, the continents, and the countries of Europe. She also memorized and recited a poem, "Signs of Christmas," which she performed for her grandmothers via Skype on Christmas Day.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Book Review: Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (2019)

In this collection of short stories, Jason Reynolds tells ten tales, each one featuring the after-school life of a student at an urban middle school. The stories explore such common middle school themes as best friendship, first love, family struggles, sexual identity (including two boys kissing), and bullying.

Jason Reynolds is an extremely talented writer, and I gave this book four stars based almost exclusively on the quality of the writing within each story. As in his Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and Lu), Reynolds creates a group of completely believable and endearing characters and manages to bring each of them fully to life despite being confined to the length of a short story for each one. I didn't necessarily love all of the subject matter (there is so much dialogue about boogers in the first story that I almost abandoned the book), but I can't deny that Reynolds has a strong talent for voice and character development.

I started out reading a digital ARC of this book, but I took so long to get to it, that the book was published right after I started it, so then I listened to part of the audiobook, which was read by 10 different narrators, including Reynolds himself. This was a great way to get immersed in the world of these kids' school and neighborhood and hearing the way the characters were intended to sound made me enjoy the book that much more. I still would have liked a stronger connection between the individual stories, and some of the topics covered I could have done without, but a better-written middle grade book from 2019 would be difficult to find.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Book Review: Felicia the Critic by Ellen Conford (1973)

Felicia is highly critical of everything, from the radio's morning weather report, to the way her family organizes the broom closet. When her mother points out that she ought to be more constructive in her criticism, Felicia takes the advice to heart, but implements it with varying degrees of humor and success. Finally, she decides the best thing to do is just keep quiet, only to discover that sometimes it is appropriate to speak one's mind, in the right circumstances and with the right approach.

I associate Ellen Conford primarily with early teen romances such as those found in her short story collections, If This is Love, I'll Take Spaghetti (1983) and I Love You, I Hate You, Get Lost (1994), both of which I read as a middle schooler. I was a little surprised, therefore, when my husband read this book and then insisted that I immediately read it as well. His recommendation made sense to me, however, after just a couple of chapters. This book is well-told, well-paced, and legitimately funny. Humor is difficult to pull off for any age group, and especially difficult, I think, in a short middle grade novel, but Conford does a great job of making the reader laugh in a way that feels natural, not forced. The fact that she also works a character-building lesson into the story is even more impressive and calls to mind favorite contemporary authors like Andrew Clements and Claudia Mills.

Felicia the Critic has had a few cover make-overs since it was first published, but sadly, it is currently out of print. I'm glad to have our used copy, however, as I have a child who is prone to letting the world know how she feels about anything and everything, and I imagine this will be a useful learning tool as well as an entertaining reading experience for her in another few years.