Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 3/8/21

We had four days of increasingly warm and beautiful weather this week, so we lightened the school load a bit to be able to spend more time outside. Basically, this meant we didn't do Catechism or much memory work and no one did any Singapore Math. 

Morning Time

  • 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): "Spring Song" by William Blake, "After Winter" by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey, "Cat and Crocuses" by Eva Martin, "Rabbit" by Caryl Hart, "Spring" by William Blake 
  • Articles from Vol. 18 No. 6 of National Geographic Explorer (Trailblazer edition): "Parrots in Peril" by Christine Dell'Amore, "Pulley Power" by Glen Phelan, and "Food for the Future" by Joe Levit
  • Art appreciation: Blind Man's Bluff by Kitagawa Utamaro from Come Look with Me: World of Play by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: "Tom Dooley" (recording by the Kingston Trio); "Molly Malone" (recording by the Dubliners)
  • Music Appreciation: Polonaise in A Major: No. 1, "Military" by Frederic Chopin 


M. had her cast removed on Monday. We are planning to have her record one final video about the experience.


Lucky for us given the nice weather, this week's science unit about animals and their habitats called for outdoor nature walks. I took M. and baby A. on Tuesday and C. and baby R. on Thursday for a long walk to the Adventure Playground and back. On Wednesday, E. did an outdoor scavenger hunt here in our neighborhood. We also started reading aloud Birds in Their Homes by Addison Webb and Sabra Mallett Kimball and looked up the calls of each bird we read about on AllAboutBirds.org.

On Wednesday, C. did the Capillary Action Kiwi Crate, which involved dyeing paper flowers and playing a balancing tree game.


Physical Education

M. and C. both had the chance to play on the Adventure Playground 


M. studied medieval Russia. C. started listening to me read aloud D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. (We're laying some foundation for next year's history studies.)


M. and C. both did Khan Academy. C. practiced two-digit addition on the soroban, but not every day. M. started Life of Fred: Ice Cream

Reading and Writing

Our read-aloud was The Twenty-One Balloons. We read the entire thing in one week. M. loved it. C. eventually got interested about three chapters before the end. 

C. continued to read Betsy-Tacy and Tib and M. continued reading The Boxcar Children. E.'s audiobooks of choice were Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. She also continues to love Frances. 

Instrumental Music

C. practiced piano and recorder most days. M. began to ease back into playing.

Other Activities

On Friday, I went on Instagram live for Catholic Mom to lead a decade of the Rosary and M. and C. prayed along. That same day, we had our playdate. 

Homeschool Update: Week of 3/1/21

Morning Time 

  • 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): "I am the Song" by Charles Causley, "Paper Dragons" by Susan Alton Schmeltz, "Seasons" by Steve Turner, "Seasons" by Anonymous, "Think of It" by Zaro Weil
  • Articles from Vol. 18 No. 5 of National Geographic Explorer (Trailblazer edition): "Lions on the Loose" by Joe Levit (about lion fish), "Round and Round with Wheels and Axles" by Glen Phelan, "Saving History" by Brenna Maloney
  • Art appreciation: Children's Games by Peter Bruegel the Elder from Come Look with Me: World of Play with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: "Tom Dooley" (recording by the Kingston Trio)
  • Music Appreciation: Symphony No. 8: Movement 2 by Ludwig von Beethoven 
  • Catechism: Lesson 19, "The Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Commandments of God " from The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism
  • Memory Work: 
    • M.: Monarchs of England, books of the Bible, seven sacraments, countries of Europe, Great Lakes, "Sea Fever" by John Masefield, addition and subtraction flashcards
    • C.: days of the week, months of the year, marks of the church, cardinal directions, "The Tiger" by William Blake, multiplication and division flashcards 
    • E.: "Icicles" by Anonymous, letters and numbers flashcards 


We continued talking about mixtures and chemical reactions in BFSU and EESE and watched some videos about how the  body uses energy:  Fuelling the Body and Gotta Eat. Then we learned about the carbon cycle and watched Real World: The Carbon Cycle

On Wednesday, E. did the Bugs Koala Crate, which involved making a bug costume. She wore it pretty much every day after that. 


M. read about Genghis Khan and drew an illustration of Robin Hood for her book of centuries. 

C. finished History Can Be Fun and watched several episodes of Liberty's Kids


M. worked in Singapore 3B and finished Life of Fred: Honey. C. continued doing two-digit addition problems on the soroban.  

Reading and Writing

M. did some more pages about sentence structure in Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills Grade 3. She finished Dr. Dolittle's Return and started Boxcar Children #13: Snowbound Mystery. C continued reading Betsy-Tacy and Tib and she also picked up Jasmine Green Rescues: A Duckling Called Button.

E. finally moved on from Mercy Watson and is branching out to other books. Favorites from this week included Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, as well as all the Frances books by Russell Hoban. 

Instrumental Music 

C. practiced piano and recorder most days of the week. M. still couldn't practice because of her cast.

Other Activities

M. and C. received from Grandma little Dover "Make a Masterpiece" booklets featuring different works of art that they had to reconstruct using stickers. M. did Starry Night and C. did A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. E. had a Dover sticker book as well, Puppy & Pal Dress Up. We also had our usual weekly playdate with the neighbors' grandkids. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Book Review: The Green Poodles by Charlotte Baker (1956)

Allan Green, who lives at Pond Farm with his Aunt Lena and older siblings Ann and Charley, really wants a dog. Aunt Lena likes dogs, but she insists that they can't have one on the farm - at least until the newly-orphaned cousin Fern moves in along with her poodle, Juliet. Little do Allan and Aunt Lena realize how the arrival of this champion canine will change their lives, first by having puppies and then by bringing the entire Green clan into the world of dog shows, kennels, and obedience classes. 

I read this vintage middle grade novel aloud to my three oldest daughters, ages 7, 5, and 3, and they all liked it. There are lots of details that kids find interesting about dog training, dog breeds, dog shows, and dog haircuts, and there is a bit of a mystery woven throughout the story as well. I found the book pleasant enough, but a bit longer than necessary. The middle of the story really drags under the weight of a few too many doggie details and the payoff on the mystery plot is way too late in coming. By the time the truth comes out, the initial details of that thread of the story are all but forgotten! (I also predicted how things would turn out, but I don't think my kids saw it coming, so that's less of a criticism, and more a comment on how the book is really tailored to its intended audience, rather than to the expectations of adults.)

The Green Poodles is a good book for modeling family cooperation and for showing how sacrifice, perseverance, and teamwork can help even a group of young kids achieve their goals and find success in the world of business. Absolutely nothing that happens in this book is likely to happen in real life,  but the positive spirit that the Greens maintain in the face of adversity is a positive influence I don't mind passing on to my kids. This book is in our home library, and I'm sure we will revisit it when my little ones are old enough to enjoy it. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Book Review: Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer (2021) (ARC)

Ben has been living with his single dad and an imaginary dog named Sunshine ever since his mom left the family when Ben was very young. This summer, though, Ben has been invited to visit his mom on the secluded island where she lives, and he is determined to get some answers. He also believes that if he is appealing enough, she will want to return to their family home and pick up where they left off. 

This review contains spoilers because it's the only way I can explain what is wrong with the book.

This book rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning. To me, Ben is obviously a character with a lot of psychological trauma associated with his mom leaving home, and his imaginary dog is a very sad and somewhat creepy manifestation of that trauma. Neither of his parents seem to care about the deeper issues underlying the fact that their son speaks to, pets, and even feeds an animal everyone knows is not there. His dad is disapproving, and his mom is overly accommodating, but no one is taking a healthy approach to dealing with what is very obviously a deep pain in this boy's life.

I also nearly flew into a blind rage when I heard that the mother, a victim of physical abuse herself, lost her temper with her preschooler once, and immediately walked out on the family never to return as a means of keeping her son safe. The author clearly wants me to view this woman as a hero, but the character doesn't strike me that way at all. There were plenty of ways she could have dealt with her brief instinct to hit her child, and to say that abandoning her son, who then develops a hallucination as a coping mechanism, was the right thing to do is appalling. 

I'm honestly not sure why the world needs this book. The writing is fine, but the idea that this kid accepts his mother's explanation and immediately forgives her is troubling, as is the ending where the imaginary dog goes to live with the mother until Ben comes back next year. I left the story feeling as though no one learned anything and the mother was absolved of her wrongdoing without even apologizing for the right thing. I thought I was reading a book about a boy who would face the questions of his past and move forward for himself. Instead, it wound up that Ben's mother keeps his weird doggie delusion going and apparently gets to continue to live without the responsibility of caring for her child even now that she can clearly be trusted to look after him without beating him up. And Ben has learned to feel good about his mom leaving him because it was actually heroic. There are too many mental gymnastics involved in trying to make sense of how this is a happy ending. 

Candlewick provided me with an ARC of Sunshine, which comes out May 18, 2021. I chose to read it based on the author, but in the end, it was just not the book for me or my family. Your mileage may vary, but, especially if you are a mom, probably not by much.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson (1999)

Three sisters, Etta, Coral, and Myrtle, have been tending to the unusual creatures on their island without help for years. Realizing that more hands would make lighter work for them as they age, the sisters pose as aunts and each one kidnaps a child. Two of the children, Minette and Fabio, are mostly agreeable and pleasant, but the third choice, Lambert, proves to be difficult and even dangerous in a variety of ways. As Minette and Fabio adjust to life on the island, and distance themselves from the troubles they left behind in their regular lives, they come to feel a strong affinity for the aunts and their creatures, but Lambert feels no such sympathy and soon brings a major threat to the island in the form of his greedy father.

I absolutely love Eva Ibbotson's historical novels for kids and teens, and I decided to read this book aloud to my kids based on that. Unfortunately, though my kids enjoyed the book, I found it to be a slog. The  sense of humor puts me in mind of Roald Dahl, but the execution is both more preachy and more zany than I wanted it to be. The ecological lesson the book wants to teach, about respecting the environment and caring for animals, is very heavy-handed, and there are quite a few vaguely religious aspects to the story that seem to contradict a Christian worldview and felt uncomfortable for me to read to my kids. The story also involves a lot of brokenness in each kidnapped child's family of origin, and I felt that the cavalier attitude with which bad behavior was treated  was a bit much, even for my oldest. There was also a hint at an idea I've seen in three middle grade books I've read recently: that it's okay, and maybe even heroic, for parents to abandon their kids for the greater good. Granted, the parent in question in this book is a kraken, but I still felt uncomfortable. 

My kids are big fans of fantasy and I'm not, so I think some of my weariness with the book does stem from having to read aloud something so vastly different from what I enjoy myself. But had this been a great fantasy story, it would have won me over, as others have done in the past, and that never happened. Depending on the subject matter, I may not be opposed to letting my kids enjoy others of Ibbotson's fantasy stories on their own, but for myself, from now on, I'm sticking to her historical fiction. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Homeschool Update: Week of 2/22/21

Morning Time 

  • 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): "Snowman Sniffles" by N.M. Bodecker, "Snow Spell" by Berlie Doherty, "Tam Snow (To Kaye Webb)" by Charles Causley, "Icicles" by Anonymous, "Whether the weather be cold" by Anonymou
  • Articles from Vol. 3 No. 5 of National Geographic Explorer: "Weird and Wonderful Caves" by Glen Phelan, "Freaky Frogs" by Dan and Michele Hogan, "Vanishing Cultures" by Wade Davis, and "A Wild School" 
  • Art appreciation: Shahnama (The Book of Kings)  of Shah Tabmasp, Siavush Plays Polo Before Afrasiyab (180 verso) by Abu'l Qasim Firdausi, Qasim, Son of Ali, Mir Musarrir (Supervised by) Shah Tahmasp from Come Look with Me: World of Play with Children by Gladys S. Blizzard 
  • Singing: "Camptown Races" by Stephen Foster
  • Music Appreciation: Tritsch-Tratsch Polka by Johann Strauss, Jr.
  • Catechism: Lesson 18, "The Second and Third Commandments of God" from The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism
  • Memory Work: 
    • M.: Monarchs of England, books of the Bible, seven sacraments, countries of Europe, Great Lakes, "Sea Fever" by John Masefield, addition and subtraction flashcards
    • C.: days of the week, months of the year, marks of the church, cardinal directions, "The Tiger" by William Blake, multiplication and division flashcards 
    • E.: "Icicles" by Anonymous, letters and numbers flashcards 


M. was interested in learning about the sense of taste, so we watched an Operation Ouch video featuring some taste test experiments. 


This week we started lesson A-7 in BFSU, which is about the mixture of gases that make up air and about the difference between mixtures and chemical reactions. Rather than perform the experiments ourselves, we looked them up on YouTube and watched these video demonstrations: 


C. and I read up to the American Revolution in History Can Be Fun. M. read about Marco Polo and started reading about Genghis Khan. She drew a picture of Genghis Khan for her book of centuries.  


C. did a worksheet of two-digit addition with renaming to practice with her soroban. M. went back and corrected mistakes she made in previous lessons of Singapore 3B. 

Reading and Writing

We continued reading aloud The Green Poodles by Charlotte Baker. 

C. did some exercises in a workbook called Rhyme Time Language Workbook Grades 1 - 3. She also read some chapters in Betsy-Tacy and Tib. To Gran on Skype, she read aloud Stardust by Jeanne Willis and Briony May Smith, A Holiday for Mister Muster by Arnold Lobel, Bernadette's Busy Morning by Ila Hodgson. 

M. did some exercises in Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills Grade 3 involving putting words into the right order to form a sentence and identifying complete sentences.  She's still reading Dr. Dolittle's Return independently, and White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry to Gran over Skype.

E. continues to be completely enamored of the Mercy Watson series. She is also enjoying the Frances series, especially A Birthday for Frances

Instrumental Music

C. practiced piano and recorder each day.

Other Activities

We had a playdate in the neighborhood gazebo on Wednesday. On the weekend, M. and C. played the board game Trouble. We attended the Latin Mass on Sunday.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Book Review: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller (2020)

In When You Trap a Tiger, the 2021 Newbery Medal winner, Lily, her mom, and her sister, Sam, have recently left California and moved to Sunbeam, Washington to live with Lily's halmoni, her Korean grandmother who has always been surrounded by an air of magic and mystery. Upon arriving, Lily sees a tiger in the road outside Halmoni's house, but when she realizes it isn't visible to anyone else, she understands that something unusual is happening. In fact, after talking with Halmoni and learning that she is ill, Lily comes to believe that Halmoni has stolen stories and the tiger has come to take them back. If only Lily can bargain with the tiger, she believes she'll be able to save her grandmother's life. 

Just like the 2018 Newbery medal winner, Merci Suarez Changes Gears, this is a mediocre and surface-level story about a young non-white girl and a beloved grandparent, only this time with a bit of a fantastical twist. Compared with the high standard set by Newbery winners of decades past, this one is largely unremarkable and forgettable. The writing is very commercial and conversational, with lots of tween-friendly dialogue and not much in the way of figurative language, other than a beaten-to-death tiger metaphor. It is impossible for me to accept that this book was the most distinctive of 2020, even given the very small number of new middle grade books I read last year. 

As always, though, I can easily find all the "woke" elements that must have made this book so appealing to the committee. In the scene where Lily first visits the public library, the teen girl who works there (who later becomes the object of Lily's older sister's crush) tells her that she doubts they have any books on Korean folktales because "this town is pretty white." This makes sure to blame not the librarian who purchases the books, but the entire white population of the community for apparently excluding Lily's entire culture from the shelves. (I also don't buy that a public library doesn't have Korean folk tales. The folk tale sections of every library I've worked in have been robust and diverse regardless of the color of the majority of patrons' skin. If this specific library doesn't have them, the author needs a more nuanced explanation.)

A few pages later, Lily meets Ricky, an excitable middle schooler who doesn't have many friends and is awkward in social situations. Within two sentences, Ricky has been painted as sexist because he tells Lily he's "never met a girl who likes tigers before." Ricky is shown to be insensitive later in the book as well, when he mocks Lily's grandmother for her cultural customs. When he apologizes, he is not only portrayed as an idiot (he can't pronounce halmoni, even after being corrected) but he also actually uses the phrase "hostile environment." I'd hate to be a boy reading this story; with Ricky representing the male sex, he won't walk away feeling particularly good about being male. The talking tiger in the story also makes a comment about gender when Lily assumes she is a boy: "Typical. You hear one story about a male tiger and think we're all the same? Humans are the worst." Not the most uplifting message for the 8-to-12-year-old audience.

I also really felt uncomfortable with some of the story's messages. I didn't like the constant feeling that the reader was being led to reject old stories and to celebrate writing new ones to replace them, as it reminds me of the way libraries are starting to remove older titles for dubious reasons. I also really hated the idea that "sometimes people feel trapped in their own skin and they have to leave" as an explanation for why Ricky's mother (a stay-at-home mom) abandoned her family. Stay-at-home motherhood is not a trap, and I don't like being asked to empathize with someone for escaping it by basically neglecting her role as a mother entirely. I also felt that this book took a very bleak view on death, commenting that after someone dies, "the person you loved is gone" and not really leaving any room for Halmoni's suffering to have any meaning.   

A line from this book says, "Even if things aren't perfect, they can still be good." Unfortunately, this book's imperfections are so numerous that it's just not good. We own most of the Newbery medal winners from previous decades, but just like the winners from 2018, 2019 and 2020, we will not buy this one, nor will my kids be reading it. It's endlessly frustrating that an award given for high-quality writing keeps singling out middling books because they check the right political boxes. I'm more annoyed by the content than I would have been had this book not been awarded a Newbery. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

Read-at-Home Mom Report: February 2021 Wrap-Up

 My Month in Books

In February, I read 13 books, bringing me to 30 for the year so far. Here's the full list: 

Affairs of Steak
by Julie Hyzy (4 stars)
This is book 5 in the White House Chef Mystery series, which was one of the first cozy mystery series I started reading a few years ago. I took a break from it for a while, but decided to read one this month for the #fedbybooks challenge on Instagram.  

Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles by Raymond Arroyo (5 stars)
[reviewed on Instagram]
This was my book club book for this month. I listened to the audiobook read by the author, and it was very well done. I enjoyed learning more about an amazing Catholic woman and about the creation of EWTN even in the face of objections from clergy.

The Diva Steals a Chocolate Kiss by Krista Davis (2 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
This was another one I picked up with the #fedbybooks challenge in mind. I owned the paperback, but listened to the audio. I didn't really like it and I have decided not to read more from the series for right now.

Treasures: Visible & Invisible by CatholicTeenBooks.com (5 stars)
[reviewed on the blog]
I received a .PDF review copy of this book from one of the authors, and I just absolutely loved it. If you or your teens need something to read to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, this is a great choice.

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly (3 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
This is book 2 in the Renee Ballard series. It wasn't as good as book one, but I enjoyed it and will be reading book 3. 

Killer Kung Pao by Vivien Chien (4 stars)
[reviewed on Instagram]
One more #fedbybooks read. This is book 6 in the Noodle Shop Mystery series. This series is still going strong, and I'm excited for the next one. 

Romance Is My Day Job: A Memoir of Finding Love at Last by Patience Bloom (3 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
I read this one around Valentine's Day. Though I have nothing in common with the author, and would not have made any of the life choices she made, I really enjoyed listening to her read the story on the audiobook.  

Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson (2 stars)
[review coming soon on blog]
I read this aloud to my kids, who loved it. I felt like it went on forever and I have mixed feelings about some of the content. I am working on a full review to be published soon. 

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (2 stars)
[reviewed on the blog]
I read this book as part of my continuing quest to understand why majoring English was such a terrible experience for me. I'm pretty sure I've figured it out now: reading literature like a professor is something I never ever want to do. My review goes into greater detail as to why. 

Stay With Me by Carolyn Astfalk (4 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
After enjoying Treasures and realizing how many wonderful Catholic authors I haven't been reading, I decided to seek out the novels of some of the authors. I started with contemporary romance because that is one of my favorite genres, and I absolutely loved this book. I was so invested in the characters, and I loved the way Catholic teaching about chastity was woven into the story in a very realistic and non-preachy way.  

Be Bold in the Broken by Mary Lenaburg (3 stars)
[reviewed on Instagram]
Mary is such an inspiring presence in the Catholic corner of the Internet. I love what this book has to say about the worthiness of all women in the eyes of God. 

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West  (5 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
I read this with the Everyday Reading book club on Instagram, and learned so much about life in the White House in the mid 20th century. I especially loved that this took a human interest, rather than a political, angle. 

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien (5 stars)
[reviewed on Goodreads]
This was a re-read for me. It's still great. Gollum is still so intriguing, and Shelob is still terrifying. I've never read to the end of Return of the King, so I'm looking forward to finally doing that during this next month. 

The Best of the Bunch

Surprisingly, neither of my favorites were books I had initially planned to read this month, but both were clear five-star reads. 

As for the rest of the family's reading...

My husband finished reading Zeb by Lonzo Anderson, a middle grade novel by the husband of illustrator Adrienne Adams. He gave it three stars. 

M., age 7, read a few titles in the Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobol, which inspired a lot of wandering through the house speaking in a faux British accent about "the culprits." She also started reading aloud White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry to my mother-in-law over Skype.

C., age 5, has been on a nonfiction kick with books from the '60s by Leonora Hornblow: Animals Do the Strangest Things, Reptiles Do the Strangest Things, Birds Do the Strangest Things, and Insects Do the Strangest Things. She also finished Betsy-Tacy and is now reading Betsy-Tacy and Tib.  
E., age 3 fell in love with Ezra Jack Keats this month after reading A Snowy Day. We have since read Pet Show, A Letter to Amy, Peter's Chair, and Hi, Cat. Other frequent requests have been A Birthday for Frances, the Mercy Watson books on audio (as always), and the first book in the Deckawoo Drive series (the chapter book spin off of Mercy Watson), Leroy Ninker Saddles Up.

A. and R., both 11 months, listened to Freight Train by Donald Crews, Hello Lamb by Jane Cabrera, and Goodnight Bear by Jane Cabrera and lots of nursery rhymes. 

Up Next For Me 

I started Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather, so I want to finish that up in early March. It's also Middle Grade March in the Instagram and Booktube communities and I have a whole stack of middle grade books I want to read, including a digital ARC of the newest Greenglass House book and Newbery winners like Sounder, The Hero and the Crown, and Twenty One Balloons.

Linking Up

I'm sharing this post to four link-ups: