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me came in the form of the blanket statement that "[m]any classic children's books are now considered sexist, racist, outdated, and in certain cases, downright awful."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.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Read-at-Home Kids Report: October 2019

There was so much reading going on here in October that it's taken me a couple of weeks to organize it into a coherent post! Last month, the girls heard a number of read-alouds at home and at their Grandma's house and they each read and looked at a variety of books on their own as well. Here are the highlights.

Family Read-Alouds

We kicked off our lunchtime reads for the month by finishing the Cobble Street Cousins series. The final book, Wedding Flowers, surprised me by including what appeared to be a Catholic priest, and Miss Muffet and Bo Peep loved all the wedding details, especially clothes and food.

As we looked ahead to Halloween, we then read King Oberon's Forest by Hilda van Stockum, which I and they both loved (review here) and What the Witch Left by Ruth Chew, which I've been describing in my mind as "Carolyn Haywood-esque" fantasy. Though I'm not a big fantasy reader myself, it's a favorite genre for both of the big girls right now, and this was the perfect gentle story for their ages and comfort levels.

As the month ended, we had just begun No Flying in the House by Betty Brock, which is another sweet and gentle fantasy story.

I've also been trying to read poetry after breakfast on occasion, and in the days before Halloween, we read Monster Soup by Dilys Evans and Ghosts and Goosebumps by Bobbi Katz on Open Library. The poems in these collections were just the right level of spooky for us, and they set the mood for the holiday very nicely.

After dinner, my husband read aloud Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne, Arabian Nights: Three Tales by Deborah Nourse Lattimore, and The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (which we finished on audio).

On our road trip to my mom's house, we listened to On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake. Cherry Jones does such a spot-on perfect job with the narration of these books. They really are pretty much perfect.

Reading with Grandma

My mom collects children's books just like we do, so when we spent five days with her in mid-October, she was eager to share some of her books with the girls. During our visit, the girls and Grandma read:
  • Angelina and the Princess by Katharine Holabird 
  • Angelina's Halloween by Katharine Holabird 
  • The Apple Pie That Papa Baked by Lauren Thompson and Jonathan Bean
  • Click, Clack Surprise! by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin
  • Click, Clack Boo by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin 
  • Red Knit Cap Girl by Naoko Stoop 
  • Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue by Naoko Stoop 
  • Kiss Baby's Boo-Boo by Karen Katz
  • Mommy Hugs by Karen Katz
  • A Little Book About ABCs by Leo Lionni 
  • Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler 
  • Bridget's Beret by Tom Lichtenheld 
  • Pantaloon by Kathryn Jackson and Steven Salerno
  • Owl Babies by Martin Waddell (pop-up book)
  • Chirri & Chirra by Kaya Doi 
  • Sleepytime for Baby Mouse by Margaret Hopkins
  • Alphabears by Michael Hague
  • Autumn Harvest by Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin
Room on the Broom was the big favorite from this list, partly because Grandma gave us a copy to take home and we were able to read it over and over. The big girls also love the Click Clack series.

Little Miss Muffet (5 years, 11 months)

As I mentioned in my recent post about October in our homeschool, Miss Muffet read six books on her own in October:  Uncle Wiggily and his Friends by Howard R. Garis, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Daughter of America by Jeanne Marie Grunwell, Stella Batts: Superstar and Stella Batts: Scaredy Cat by Courtney Sheinmel, Something Queer at the Haunted School by Elizabeth Levy and Mordecai Gersten, and a good portion of The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, which she was still working on as the month ended. She also read a short story in My Bookhouse, "The Secret Door" by Susan Coolidge.

Dr. Dolittle has been a really good challenge for her. Because she loves talking animal stories, she is motivated to stick with it even when the vocabulary is a bit difficult, and the plot is exciting enough that she is always dying to know what happens next. I think we'll have her read some easier books in between before taking on another hard one, but I do think she'll read more from this series and maybe some other titles at that level.

Little Bo Peep (4 years, 1 month)

Bo Peep was the most interested in Halloween of any of the girls, and we read a few picture books on the subject, including my childhood copy of The Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Steven Kroll, Pumpkin Jack by Will Hubbell, The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches by Alice Low (this one she requested repeatedly), and The Witch Next Door by Norman Bridwell. We also went back to having her listen to audiobooks during naptime (which has transitioned to more of a quiet time for her), and those have included the Mercy Watson series (she likes to follow along in the books) and The Moffats by Eleanor Estes. She also loved our review copy of Roly Poly by Mem Fox and Jane Dyer. As she has been somewhat uncertain about our new twins arriving in March, I think she found Roly Poly's adamant stance against having a baby brother somewhat validating. She took the book to bed with her during nap time many times after we first read it.

Little Jumping Joan (2 years)

As Bo Peep did before her, Jumping Joan has fallen in love with We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. She loves to flip through the pages, pointing out all the obstacles the kids encounter on their adventure, and looking for the baby on every page. She also likes doing the motions suggested by Michael Rosen in this video, which her sisters have happily been teaching her. Jumping Joan also enjoyed reading Now It's Fall by Lois Lenski and The Teddy Bears Picnic by Michael Hague at Grandma's house, and at home, Where is the Witch? (a review copy from Candlewick that I wrapped as a gift for her birthday), and It's Pumpkin Day, Mouse! which we read at story time, and which caused her to become fascinated by feelings and facial expressions.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Homeschool Progress Report: October 2019

First Grade


In our second month of homeschooling, we started to iron out our daily schedule a bit more, moving various subjects and activities around throughout the day to the time slot that suits them best. We also took a week off in the middle of the month to go visit my family in New York. Here's what we covered in October.

Math

M. continued making her way through Singapore Primary Mathematics 2B, with multiplication and division by 4s, 5s, and 10s. She has been working on the times table on and off for a while, so some of this was review and we didn't need to dwell a lot on it. At this point, we are mostly just solidifying her knowledge of multiplication facts with drill. In October, M. also continued drilling subtraction facts on Xtra Math and nearly completed the program. Additionally, we read one chapter each week from Life of Fred: Dogs, and M. read the Mummy Math: An Adventure in Geometry by Cindy Neuschwander on her own.

History

We were still focusing on Ancient Egypt at the start of October, and we read a number of picture books to cover various topics, including: Pharaoh's Boat by David L. Weitzman, Hatshepsut,  His Majesty, Herself by Catherine M. Andronik, The Shipwrecked Sailor: An Egyptian Tale with Hieroglyphs by Tamara Bower  and Senefer: A Young Genius in Old Egypt by by Beatrice Lumpkin. On her own, M. also attempted to follow some of the instructions in Ralph Masiello's Ancient Egypt Drawing Book. We also read the chapter about Egypt in A Little History of the World and M. watched a number of supplemental videos, including some walking tours of Egyptian ruins from Prowalk Tours on YouTube, David Macaulay's Pyramid and the Reading Rainbow episode about Mummies Made in Egypt (which we also read in book format).   My mom also snagged a magazine about mummies from a retiring teacher friend that M. enjoyed looking at independently.

We concluded our study of Ancient Egypt by acting out an Egyptian burial ceremony using instructions found in Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors: An Activity Guide by Marian Broida. M. decorated a shoebox sarcophagus using hieroglyphics and some real Egyptian art as models, and we wrapped up a doll and buried her inside. We enlisted C. (age 4) and E. (age 2)  to carry bowls of pretend food for the mummy to eat in the afterlife, and all three girls processed through the living room to some music I found on YouTube.

After our trip, we came home and got started on three weeks about Ancient Mesopotamia. Since every book we have on this topic handles it differently, and organizes itself differently, we read bits and pieces from a whole bunch of different resources. Our main texts this time were The Golden Book of Lost Worlds and Builders of the Old World by Gertrude Hartman, but we also supplemented with information about Hammurabi from A Picturesque Tale of Progress. To get a better sense of the history of this area of the world from an archaeologist's point of view, we also started reading National Geographic Investigates Ancient Iraq: Archaeology Unlocks the Secrets of Iraq's Past by Beth Gruber. Supplemental materials included picture books (The City of Rainbows: A Tale from Ancient Sumer by Karen Foster, Lugalbanda: The Boy Who Got Caught Up in a War: An Epic Tale From Ancient Iraq by Kathy Henderson, and the Gilgamesh trilogy by Ludmila Zeman) and videos from a YouTube channel called History Time and this cuneiform activity from the Penn Museum. Just as the month ended, we also finished Science in Ancient Mesopotamia by Carol Moss.

Science

In Science, we started the month talking about teeth (which was timely since M. had a loose tooth that fell out shortly thereafter). We read about teeth in The Human Body: What It Is and How it Works and watched a few videos on YouTube about going to the dentist and about what it's like to be an orthodontist. We also watched the Weston Woods adaptation of Open Wide: Tooth School Inside. Teeth was also our health topic for the month, but I expect to revisit it again when M. goes for her dental check-up in November.

After teeth, we learned about joints using The Human Body: What It Is and How It Works and videos from Kids Health and Operation Ouch. (Operation Ouch is a UK-based YouTube channel focused on treating injuries, preventing illnesses, and exploring cool facts about the human body. Some of it is too much for M., but the joints video was interesting to her.) She also enjoyed following up our studies with some independent reading in DK's Human Body Encyclopedia, which really does a nice job of summarizing what we learn from other sources.

Outside of our human body theme, M. also watched the video of David Macaulay's Bridges after she became interested in learning how bridges are suspended, and she revisited Walking with Monsters, a documentary about prehistoric reptiles. We also took a field trip to an apple orchard and pumpkin patch on our New York trip.

Reading

Collectively, my husband and I read aloud seven different books in October. I read Wedding Flowers by Cynthia Rylant, King Oberon's Forest by Hilda van Stockum, What the Witch Left by Ruth Chew, and started No Flying in the House by Betty Brock. He read Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne, Arabian Nights: Three Tales by Deborah Nourse Lattimore, and the beginning of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. On our trip to New York, we listened to the audiobooks of On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

On her own, Miss Muffet read Uncle Wiggily and his Friends by Howard R. Garis, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Daughter of America by Jeanne Marie Grunwell, Stella Batts: Superstar and Stella Batts: Scaredy Cat by Courtney Sheinmel, a short story in My Bookhouse ("The Secret Door" by Susan Coolidge) and Something Queer at the Haunted School, among other picture books. Mid-month, she started The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, and she's still working on it.

We also started reading poetry aloud at the breakfast table some days to afford more opportunities for recognizing similes. Leading up to Halloween, we read Monster Soup and Other Spooky Poems by Dilys Evans and Ghosts and Goosebumps by Bobbi Katz, both found on Open Library.

Memory Work

We are still putting the finishing touches on M.'s recitation of "The Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee." She has also been working on reciting the planets, bodies of water, rivers, and countries of Europe, and I've started drilling these after breakfast in addition to my husband quizzing her whenever we're in the car.

Music

M. practiced her instruments most days of the month that we were home, and she continued to work on identifying notes using MusicTheory.net. We also learned a new hymn, "Dear Angel Ever At My Side" and learned about the music of Charles Ives, as well as classical music appropriate for Halloween from the Classics for Kids podcast. Additionally, M. watched the Marine Band's live-streamed performance of Beethoven's variations on The Magic Flute, which she became interested in after listening to the Mozart episodes of Classics for Kids. For Halloween, we also learned to sing Five Little Pumpkins Sitting on a Gate.

Art

In October, we finished The Story of Paintings: A History of Art for Children, and did a few how to draw lessons in Ralph Masiello's Ancient Egypt Drawing Book and on Catholic Icing's YouTube channel. M. also did her own experiments with creating different textures using crayons.

Physical Education

M. was still able to sneak in a few bike rides in October since it was still so warm out. She also went to the playground and climbed ropes and ladders with friends and continued using the kids' videos from the Ten Thousand Method on YouTube at least twice a week.

Catechism

In addition to listening to my homemade audio recording of the first ten lessons of the St. Joseph Catechism, this month we celebrated the feast of the Guardian Angels and the feast day of John Paul II. We also discussed the Catholic connection to Halloween. M. has also started reading the Bible aloud to her two-year-old sister in the evenings, and she often recognizes the stories she has read in the readings at Mass.

Pre-K


C. became a bit more resistant to school during October, so she didn't do quite as much as she did in September. Still she is making good progress.

Counting

C. has started to practice identifying the numbers up to 50 using flashcards, which she puts in order on the floor. She has also begun learning the numbers that add up to 5 and 10 using marbles as manipulatives.

Reading

C. mastered a few more Hooked on Phonics readers in October, but she has now hit a wall where she needs more direct instruction before she can read any harder books. We did lots of practice with stories from The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading focused on words with various short vowel sounds, and next we're moving on to consonant blends. I believe she could do one lesson per day,  but she usually doesn't tolerate more than a few sentences at a time, so it's very slow-going.

Memory Work

C. memorized "Elizabeth Cried" by Eleanor Farjeon during October.   She's finding it easier to memorize longer poems these days. She's also started memorizing the planets.

Art

C. has been working on coloring nicely instead of just scribbling on every page of every coloring book. On Halloween, she also made a variety of festive sticker scenes about witches, owls, and ghosts.

Music

C. started piano lessons with my husband. Her current exercise is "Two Black Keys." She also joined M. for Classics for Kids and liturgical singing throughout the month.