Monday, September 14, 2020

The Read-at-Home Mom Report for 9/14/20

I'm Back! 

For the past year, I haven't been posting regular updates about my reading at all. Last year at this time, I was in the throes of first trimester nausea with our twins, and all the formatting and such that was required to create these posts just felt exhausting. Then, in March, the twins were born just days before everything was locked down due to the pandemic, and posting weekly still felt too burdensome. With this new school year, however, I decided it was a good time to revamp my reading life to make room for a better homeschooling schedule and for time to devote to writing. Now that I expect to be reading fewer books, it seems much easier to post about them here. Since I already have a feature where I talk about reading with my kids, I'm going to stay away from kids books in these updates and instead focus on the adult books I'm enjoying (or not.)


What I've Read So Far This Month

All but one of the books I've finished so far in September have been audiobooks. 

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The one that wasn't was Bless Us, O Lord: A Family Treasury of Mealtime Prayers by Robert M Hamma, which I received for review on Netgalley from Ave Maria Press. It looked good on the surface, but I thought it had some issues that bumped my rating down to 3 stars. My Goodreads review explains my qualms.

Three of the audiobooks I've finished have been cozy mysteries. 

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One for the Books by Jenn McKinlay is the 11th book in the Library Lover's Mystery series, and it features Christmas and a wedding. I read the first 9 books of this series in print, but have found the last two really enjoyable on audio and will probably continue reading them that way in the future. I wasn't that into the mystery, but I liked all the details surrounding the main character's wedding and the way her friends and neighbors were incorporated into that storyline. (My review on Goodreads.)

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Death with a Dark Red Rose by Julia Buckley is number 5 in the Writer's Apprentice Mystery series, and it's another one where I love spending time with the characters. I liked the way this one shifted focus to a previously minor character and allowed her to take center stage some of the time. I would not read this book out of order, as it does spoil earlier mysteries in the series, but it's really enjoyable for long-time readers. (My review on Goodreads.)

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Telephone Line by Julie Mulhern is book 9 in the Country Club Murders series, and it wasn't my favorite. The wit and humor were there, but the plot felt dull. I typically give books in this series 4 or 5 stars, but this one only got three. (My review on Goodreads.)

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Finally, I listened to Your Blue Flame by Jennifer Fulwiler for the second time. (The first was when it came out in May.) This is my book club book and we'll be discussing it this Thursday via Zoom. Not many self help books genuinely feel inspiring, but this one truly is. And it's very funny too. (My review on Goodreads.)


Currently Reading

I have seven books going right now. 

Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge HCDJ BCE | Green dolphin,  Elizabeth goudge, Book worth reading

My main focus is Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge, which I'm reading with a book group on Instagram. (I also won my copy in an Instagram giveaway.) I have been dividing the sections according to when the discussions are to take place, and then I read a set quota of pages per day. Her books are slow and descriptive, which I love, but they take me a long time to get through. 

September | Rosamunde Pilcher | Macmillan

The other book I really want to finish this month is September by Rosamunde Pilcher. Obviously, if it goes over into October, that's not the end of the world, but I do like the idea of sometimes reading a book during the time of year in which it's set. 

I also have three audiobooks in various stages of completion. I'm listening to Who Does He Say You Are?: Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels by Colleen Mitchell for another book group on Instagram, as well as Summer by the Sea by Susan Wiggs and The Lord God Made Them All by James Herriott. 

Theoretically I'm also reading Ulysses by James Joyce, but I haven't touched it in a couple of weeks.

Finally, I've been reading my way through Flannery O'Connor's short stories through the course of the year, and I'm still sticking with that plan.


I'm linking up today with The Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Homeschool Update: Week of 9/7/20

This past week was our first week of the new school year. This year we still only have one official school-age kid, M. (6 years, 9 months) who is in first grade according to the school district and second grade for our purposes. C. (4 years, 11 months) misses the cut-off for being in kindergarten this year by about four weeks, but she's reading and doing first grade math for fun, so there is no reason to wait, and we are calling this her kindergarten year. E. (2 years, 10 months) wants to be included, so she is doing a bit of preschool every day too. 

Because there are now five kids in our family this year we created a detailed schedule showing what needs to get done not just for school but in terms of chores as well. Chores, academics, meals, and play time rotate throughout the day, stretched primarily over the hours between 8 am and 3 pm.  Here's a summary of what we did during our school time this week. 


Morning Time 

We're beginning each morning this year with a morning time which begins over breakfast and continues for about 45 minutes. The girls come to the table at 8 and say the morning offering and the pledge of allegiance. As they eat, I share different items of interest with them. This first week, morning time included:

  • Poems 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): "The Magic Seeds" by James Reeves, "Spin Me A Web, Spider: by Charles Causley, "Hurt No Living Thing" by Christina Rossetti, and "Dew on a Spider's Web" by Dorothy Snow 
  • Questions from The Big Book of Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum, illustrated by Howard Bender: "How did Halloween originate?"; "Who first thought of the alphabet?"; "Why don't we all speak the same language?"; "How did the English language begin?"; "Who invented the pencil?"; "Who discovered how to make paper?"
  • "Immaculate Mary" sung from The Vatican II Hymnal
  • "Kitty Alone" sung from The Fireside Book of Children's Songs by Marie Winn and Allan Miller, illustrated by John Alcorn (Simon & Schuster, 1966)
  • Paintings from Come Look with Me: Enjoying Art with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard (Charlesbridge, 1996): Edward VI as a Child by Hans Holbein the Younger and  Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zúñiga by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes
  • Listening to Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 Movement 1 by Johann Sebastien Bach 
  • Lesson 1 from The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism 
  • Liturgical year: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (September 8), St. Peter Claver (September 9), St. Nicholas of Tolentino (September 10), Sts. Protus and Hyacinth (September 11)
  • Questions from the 500 Questions Game Book (Parragon Books, 2017) for fun on Friday
  • Memory work: planets, days of the week, months of the year, birth dates, address, phone number, 50 states, countries of Europe, four directions, 13 colonies, poems (M. is working on "If" for Rose Fyleman , and C is working on "The Fairies" by William Allingham).
Morning time concluded each day with the ten-minute exercise video from the Ten Thousand Method on YouTube. Our phys. ed. requirement was further fulfilled this week by an afternoon of sports with the local homeschool community. 

History

M. has picked up right where we left off in July, with the Byzantine Empire. This week, we read the chapter in A Picturesque Tale of Progress entitled "The Eastern, or Byzantine Empire," which included the following sections: "Justinian and Theodora, the Circus-girl Empress," "Byzantine Life and Art", "The Justinian Code," "Christianity in the Days of Justinian," "Justinian the Warrior and Builder," and "Struggles with Lombards, Slavs, Avars, and Persians." (I misread the spreadsheet where we mapped out our history plan for the year. Those last two sections were meant for this coming week.) M. wrote a narration about the Empress Theodora.

C. is starting the year with My Backyard History Book by David Weitzman (Little, Brown, 1975). We read the opening pages of the book, including the section on names, and then looked up the first names of people in our family and read the information provided in What's Your Name?: A Book of First Names and What They Mean by Beth Goodman, Nancy E. Krulik (Scholastic, 1991). 

Hands-on Activities

This year, we have set aside an hour each morning for all three girls to do the same hands-on activity together at the table. This week, these activities were play dough, watercolor painting, pattern blocks, and making a weathervane. 

Math

Both M. and C. continued their work on Khan Academy. They also worked in their Singapore workbooks. M. completed exercises 5-8, and half of 9, in Singapore Primary Mathematics 3B working primarily with units of measurement and convering between centimeters and meters, meters and kilometers, and feet and yards. C. did more than 20 pages in Singapore Primary Mathematics 1A, dealing mostly with place value, and simple addition. Each of the girls also did a chapter of Life of Fred on Wednesday. C. is still in book one, Apples, and M. is in Goldfish. 

Preschool

While the older girls work on math, E. has her school time. This week, she heard Mr. Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham, Just Me by Marie Hall Ets, Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, and The Happy Lion by Louise Fatio. We sang songs using a song cube I created using a dry erase die from the Dollar Tree, and she played a few games on Khan Academy Kids. We also sang "Five Little Pumpkins Round," "I Went to Visit the Farm One Day," and "When Cows Get Up in the Morning" with the flannel board, and practiced identifying letters using magnetic letters and the Melissa and Doug Alphabet Activity Pad.

Science

We are gearing up to restart Building Foundations for Scientific Understanding, this time with both M. and C. This week, we did our preparation for beginning to gather data about the weather for a lesson we will do next year that requires a year of data. My husband was in charge of this, and he showed them how to use a thermometer, how to identify the color of the sky, how to figure out which way the wind is blowing, where to find the times of sunrise and sunset, and where to look up high, low, and average temperatures for a given day. He also created a simple tool for measuring barometic pressure. 

Reading and Writing

M. is doing language arts worksheets from a workbook my mom sent us, Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills: Grade 3. This week's topics were alphabetical order, antonyms, and plurals. C. practiced reading aloud from a McGuffey Reader and The Boxcar Children. Both girls practiced writing in cursive. M. wrote her narration in cursive, and C. practiced strokes. During lunch, I read aloud from Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George, and my husband read at dinner from Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle.

Music

M. and C. both practiced piano and recorder for 15 minutes each every day this week.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Read-at-Home Kids Report: Summer 2020

I typically think of summer as a very reading-heavy season, but since every day since March has felt more or less the same, this year's summer reading didn't feel that different either. I also stopped keeping track of the huge piles of picture books the two olders girls read because there were just so many, and they read a lot of the same books over and over again, so the numbers on their reading logs were way down this year compared to last summer.  Still, all the kids certainly read or heard a respectable number of books between June 3 and September 2. 

Read-Alouds

My husband read aloud a number of classic children's books after dinner during these months: Matilda by Roald Dahl, The Willow Whistle by Cornelia Meigs, Treasure Island, The Men Who Found America by Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson, and The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss. Treasure Island probably made the biggest impact, as now all three older girls frequently break out into spontaneous recitations of "Fifteen men on the dead man's chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum." Little Bo Peep (4 years, 11 months) kept falling asleep during The Swiss Family Robinson, claiming she was bored. 

I read aloud almost daily after lunch. I read Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld as we were finishing up with our homeschool studies of Ancient Rome, and everyone enjoyed the suspense of the mystery in that book. Next, I read two in a row by Elizabeth Enright: Thimble Summer and The Saturdays. We followed that up with Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat. Then Jumping Joan (2 years, 10 months) brought me The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell, and asked me to read it. None of us knew anything about it, but we gave it a try, and it was fantastic! Odd (it's about a hunter and a mermaid and their family of adopted animals), but really very good. We ended the summer with one of my childhood favorites, Ten Kids, No Pets by Ann M. Martin. 

Little Miss Muffet (6 years, 9 months)

Miss Muffet hasn't been plowing through the novels as much lately as she did earlier in the year,  but she has a read a few: Tik-Tok of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Tree House Mystery by Carol Beach York, The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit, Our Little Celtic Cousin of Long Ago by Evaleen Stein and The Legend of Pocahontas by Virginia Watson. She also revisited Stella Batts Needs a New Name by Courtney Sheinmel and The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes as audiobooks. Her favorite thing, though, has been reading through the Favorite Fairy Tales books by Virginia Haviland. She has read the tales from Germany, Russia, Sweden, France, England, Spain, and Denmark. As the summer ended, she was just getting into Redwall by Brian Jacques, which has inspired lots of drawing and pretend play surrounding Cluny the Scourge. 

Little Bo Peep (4 years, 11 months)

Bo Peep is still reading tons of easy readers and chapter books. This summer, among other titles, she read three of the Penny books by Kevin Henkes (Penny and her Song, Penny and her Doll, and Penny and her Marble), both Sam the Minuteman and George the Drummer Boy by Nathaniel Benchley, Tom and the Two Handles by Russell Hoban, and The Spice of America by June Swanson as well as Betsy and Mr. Kilpatrick, Annie Pat and EddieAway Went the Balloons, Eddie the Dog Holder, Betsy's Busy Summer, and Eddie and Louella, all by Carolyn Haywood. She also revisited Little House in the Big Woods and Rufus M. on audio. 

Little Jumping Joan (2 years, 10 months)

It's been  a summer of big-name toddler favorites for Jumping Joan, who has discovered Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, A House for Hermit Crab, and Mister Seahorse), Beatrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Two Bad Mice), and Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny).  She also fell in love with a few different story collections: Sheep in a Jeep: 5-Minute StoriesSweet Dreams 5-Minute Bedtime Stories, and my childhood copy of 366 Two Minute Bedtime Stories and Rhymes. I also took out all of the old copies of Babybug magazine I saved from when Miss Muffet was little, and my mom sent us a few more she picked up at the Salvation Army, and Jumping Joan has me read two or three aloud every day before her nap.  

Jack and Jill

The twins are starting to love books. Jack especially loves Dig Dig Digging by Margaret Mayo, Things That Are Big by Natalie Marshall, and Summer Babies by Kathryn O. Galbraith. He will happily sit and listen to any book and he tries to turn the pages and stares happily at the illustrations. 

Jill is a bit more focused on physical milestones at the moment, but in addition to the books Jack likes, she has also heard Ten Little Babies and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox.  

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Homeschool Progress Report: July/August 2020

We do some kind of schooling all year round, so we did continue many of our subjects straight through the summer. In a normal year, this may have included some field trips, but with the pandemic, we stuck mostly to read-alouds, workbooks, and computer programs.

Math

M. (6 years, 9 months) practiced her mental math skills using Mental Math Kids Can't Resist, and she continued with the Intensive Practice book for Singapore Primary Mathematics 2B (for review), while also starting Primary Mathematics 3B. To save paper and to make it possible to re-use the workbook in the future, we scanned the whole thing and she has been using a stylus and the Kami app on her Chromebook to write her answers on the pages. I then use the stylus to mark wrong answers, and she corrects them right there on the page.

On Khan Academy, M. has reached the fourth grade level. These past two months, she focused on adding, subtracting, and multiplying fractions and mixed numbers, multiples and factors, basic geometry, decimals, graphing, and line plots.

We also printed a set of multiplication flashcards to replace Xtra Math, as M. was no longer doing the work and was instead waiting for the program to give her the answer to each question. We have been slow in getting started using these, but they will be a daily part of her routine this fall.

C. (age 4 years, 11 months) also has a set of flashcards for addition and subtraction facts which I bought for her at Dollar Tree, and she also spent her summer doing most of her math on Khan Academy. She is at the 2nd grade level, which covers topics such as analyzing shapes, measuring length, line plots, bar graphs, and picture graphs, time on a number line, counting money, adding four 2-digit numbers, and adding on a number line.

For fun, both M. and C. also spent time using geoboards and pattern blocks.

History

In the first half of the summer, M. was still finishing up her first year of history. We covered Christianity using several books: National Geographic Kids Who's Who in the Bible, National Geographic Kids The World of the Bible, The Parables of Jesus by Tomie dePaola, The Miracles of Jesus by Tomie dePaola, St. Paul The Apostle: The Story of the Apostle to the Gentiles by Mary Fabyan Windeatt, and The Holy Bible Adapted for Young Catholic Readers edited by Elsa Jane Werner and Charles Hartman and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky and the Provensens. The National Geographic books are great except that neither of them contains an image of the crucifixion. (Was this decision made to protect children from seeing violence? That seems preposterous and likely at the same time.) The St. Paul book was also excellent for illustrating what life was like during the early days of the church, but it was too long for a read-aloud. I intentionally did not use In Bible Days by Gertrude Hartman because it felt oddly antagonistic toward Christians. 

M. and C. also watched The Witnesses Trilogy (God With Us; The Messengers; and To Every Nation) on Formed.org, which they loved. I would definitely recommend all three films.

After Christianity, we covered the Fall of Rome in A Picturesque Tale of Progress, stopping just before the reign of Emperor Justinian, which is where we will pick up this week when we begin the new year.

For the month of August, we decided to do a "quickie" unit on U.S. History, using all the books we've collected on various topics and time periods. Here is our reading list: 
  • Meet the North American Indians by Elizabeth Payne
  • Little Runner of the Longhouse by Betty Baker
  • The Men Who Found America by Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson
  • The Columbus Story by Alice Dalgliesh
  • On the Mayflower by Kate Waters
  • Sarah Morton's Day by Kate Waters
  • Samuel Eaton's Day by Kate Waters
  • Giving Thanks by Kate Waters
  • Pocahontas by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire
  • The Legend of New Amsterdam by Peter Spier
  • The Boston Tea Party by Russell Freedman
  • Mary Geddy's Day by Kate Waters
  • George vs. George by Rosalyn Schanzer
  • Six Silver Spoons by Janette Sebring Lowrey
  • And Then What Happened Paul Revere? by Jean Fritz
  • Paul Revere's Ride illustrated by Paul Galdone
  • Sam the Minuteman by Nathaniel Benchley
  • George the Drummer Boy by Nathaniel Benchley
  • Shh! We're Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz
  • The Adventures of Lewis and Clark by Ormonde de Kaye, Jr.
  • Locomotive by Brian Floca
  • Who Let Muddy Boots into the White House? A Story of Andrew Jackson by Robert Quackenbush
  • Quit Pulling My Leg: A Story of Davy Crockett by Robert Quackenbush
  • Stagecoach Sal by Deborah Hopkinson
  • The First Book of the California Gold Rush by Walter Havighurst
  • Quick, Annie, Give Me a Catchy Line!: A Story of Samuel F.B. Morse by Robert Quackenbush
  • The Drinking Gourd: A Story of the Underground Railroad by F.N. Monjo
  • Meet Abraham Lincoln by Barbara Cary
  • Meet Robert E. Lee by George Swift Trow
  • The Silent Witness by Robin Friedman
  • Mark Twain? What Kind of Name is That? by Robert Quackenbush
  • Who's That Girl with the Gun?: A Story of Annie Oakley by Robert Quackenbush
  • Along Came The Model T!: How Henry Ford Put The World On Wheels by Robert Quackenbush
  • Coming to America by Betsy Maestro
  • Klara's New World by Jeanette Winter
  • Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone
  • First Flight: The Story of Tom Tate and the Wright Brothers by George Shea
  • The One Bad Thing about Father by F.N. Monjo
  • Don't You Dare Shoot That Bear: A Story of Theodore Roosevelt by Robert Quackenbush
  • A History of the United States for Young People by Arensa Sondergaard
  • Empire State Building by Elizabeth Mann
  • Letting Swift River Go by Barbara Cooney
  • Meet John F. Kennedy by Nancy Bean White
  • Moonshot by Brian Floca
  • American Adventures: The Battles
  • American Adventures: Westward Journeys
  • American Adventures: Voices for Freedom
  • American Adventures: Troubled Times

Additionally, I showed M. and C. multiple episodes of Reading Rainbow featuring historical fiction picture books ("Ox-Cart Man," "Watch the Stars Come Out," "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch," "Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express," "Follow the Drinking Gourd," "Ruth Law Thrills a Nation," and "My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States") and several other videos available from the public library through Just For Kids Access Video, including a few by Weston Woods ("Where Do You Think You're Going, Christopher Columbus?" by Jean Fritz, "Martin's Big Words" by Doreen Rappaport, "Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln" by Jean Fritz, and "The Pilgrims of Plimoth" by Marcia Sewall, and one from Sunburst Visual Media featuring colonial American reenactors ("Plymouth Plantation.") They finally finished watching Liberty's Kids, too.

This looks like a lot, but it was really just a quick read-aloud session each day, followed by a video, and no other formal work. They did play a lot with their historical figures from their various Safari Ltd. Toobs, but that was of their own volition and not part of school per se.

Science

We didn't do a lot of formal science during the summer months. There was lots of impromptu studying of insects, flowers, trees, birds, etc., but no sit-down lessons. We did watch some episodes of Wild Kratts and some videos from Sci Show Kids.

Reading and Writing

For M., the big books of the summer were Tik Tok of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Legend of Pocahontas by Virginia Watson, and Redwall by Brian Jacques (which she is still reading.) She also wrote a letter to a bookseller friend my husband and I met on Goodreads who has kindly sent us several books.

C. read mostly Carolyn Haywood and books in the Dan Frontier series.

Health

Hygiene is still the main focus here: brushing teeth, washing hands, brushing hair, etc. All three of our big girls also talk about "the germs" that prevent them from going anywhere , and they have experienced having to go out wearing a mask a few times. They also play a game I can't stand called "The Covid is Strengthening," where they just run around shouting that into pretend phones.

Music

In July, we finished listening to all the episodes of Classics for Kids. For the rest of the summer, we sang for fun, sometimes hymns and sometimes folk songs. Both M. and C. practiced their piano and recorder lessons daily.

Catechism

We had our twins baptized the first week in August, so there was lots of talk about that, and we watched the Brother Francis baptism episode on Formed.org to prepare. We also watched Mass online every Sunday and introduced the Morning Offering prayer into the girls' morning routine.

Art

Aside from projects the girls came up with themselves and birthday cards for my sister, Grandma (my mother) provided most of the art for the summer during her visit the first week in August. She had them make lighthouses from plastic cups, jellyfish from paper plates, and butterflies and unicorns using chalk pastels. She also left us with a lot of the supplies she used to use at her summer camp, including a ton of markers.

Physical Education

Summertime PE is usually just going out the playground by our house as much as possible, but the HOA closed it for the entire summer, so instead the girls rode bicycles, ran laps on the deck, galloped hobby horses to the mailbox, and on a couple of occasions met friends at a county park to run around.

Stay tuned...

For us, the new school year starts on Tuesday. I'm going to start the year trying to post an update like this weekly, on Saturdays, and see how that goes for a bit. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Reading Through History: The Winged Girl of Knossos by Erick Berry (1933)

Set on the island of Crete during the rule of King Minos, The Winged Girl of Knossos (of which Paul Dry books sent me a review copy quite some time ago) retells the popular myths of Theseus and of Icarus and Daedalus. Inas is the fearless bull-jumping daughter of Daidalos, an inventor of sorts who has been working on a pair of wings that allow Inas to fly. These wings must be kept secret lest the government accuse Daidalos of using magic and condemn him to death. Inas is also a close friend of the princess Ariadne, and when Ariadne desires to rescue a Greek prisoner called Theseus, she entrusts Inas with the task of leading him away from the labyrinthine halls of his prison by way of a long black thread. With danger encroaching from a variety of angles, Inas must do her best to save the life of herself and those she loves.

In many ways this book is to Ancient Crete what J.G. Fyson's books are to Ancient Mesopotamia. This story, which provides a plausible explanation behind centuries-old popular myths, immerses the reader in its setting so completely that it becomes easy to imagine the customs and daily living of these ancient people, and to believe that these legends actually have their basis in reality. 

Inas, especially, is an engaging heroine, but without becoming what I sometimes call an "anachronistically woke female." (I've seen some reviews labeling this book feminist. That's a buzzword that typically turns me off from wanting to read a book, and I would not apply it here). She is definitely not interested in domestic arts like the nearby citizens of Siceli, but neither is she incredulously wise beyond her station in life or the era in which she lives. She feels real, and therefore the reader is entirely invested in her fate throughout the story. The tone of the story, too, is surprisingly contemporary-feeling despite this book being 87 years old! It truly reads like a much newer middle grade historical fiction novel. 

I plan to assign this book to my kids during their fifth grade years, as they study the ancients for the second time around, during the logic stage of the classical trivium. I think it would also make an excellent read-aloud, possibly even for a first grader with a particular love for ancient history and the appropriate background knowledge. At any age, however, prior knowledge of the myths is needed to fully appreciate this fascinating tale. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Reading Through History: A Bone From a Dry Sea by Peter Dickinson (1992)

A Bone From a Dry Sea is a 1992 Carnegie Medal winning middle grade novel with a dual timeline. In the past, Li, a primitive young woman in a prehistoric tribe, begins to imagine beyond her culture's current capabilities. In the present day, Vinny, the daughter of an archeaologist  accompanies her father to work on a dig and must contend with the oppressive behavior of his difficult boss.

While this book has an interesting premise, the execution mostly fell flat for me. The segments of the story set in prehistoric times are well-written and engaging, but their connection to the present isn't developed that well. The present-day chapters don't delve as much into actual archaeology work as they do into the inter-personal relationships of the characters. There's the tension between Vinny's divorced parents, as well the question of whether Vinny's dad's coworker is his girlfriend, and the overbearing tendencies of Vinny's dad's boss. With all of these issues commanding attention, there isn't much room left to contemplate the implications of any of the archaeology work that is accomplished. The story ends without a strong sense of what the reader is meant to take away from it. The ending is also so abrupt, it feels like there is no conclusion to the story.

Since we own The Dream Time by Henry Treece, which explores prehistoric society in a beautifully poetic way, and the present-day section of this book is so weak, I don't really see a reason to assign this in our homeschool. If my oldest daughter continues to show an interest in archaeology, however, I would like to find a better novel that explores archaeology without all of the side plots. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Reading Through History: The Dream Time by Henry Treece (1967)

The Dream Time tells a story set not long after humans first began walking the Earth, and its main character, Crookleg, is an artist whose capabilities are not fully understood by others. He wanders between different primitive civilizations to escape possible punishment for creating forbidden pictures.

The writing in this book is deliberately unusual as it tries to portray a consciousness that is not yet fully human, but is just waking up to its potential. Everything is new in these early days of civilization and the characters often have thoughts they can't yet express verbally or ideas that have never occurred to anyone in their tribes before. Attempting to capture how it would have felt to be a person during this time period results in a very poetic text from which the reader feels a bit disconnected.

There is a lot to philosophize about in this book, and for that reason, it seems best suited to middle school readers and older. Treece raises questions about what it means to be human, and reflects on how it might have truly felt to live in a time before most tools and techniques we use today hadn't even been imagined. I think it is hard for even adult readers to fully grasp this concept, so a book to help young readers begin to comprehend this idea is a true gift.