Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Homeschool Update: June 2022

We are fully in summer mode here now. We began the month in North Carolina visiting one side of the family and ended the month in New York with the other side, so schoolwork was sporadic at best, but here is what we did.

Poetry & Art Appreciation 

For the summer, we're reading poetry and looking at paintings in Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People selected and introduced by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell. In June, we covered the first two sections: Hymn to the Sun and Come Unto These Yellow Sands. 


The girls learned to sing "America the Beautiful" and practiced piano and recorder daily when we were home. 


C. finished Grammarland

M. continued doing a daily sentence diagram from Rex Barks. She was working on sections 3-2 and 3-3 in June. 

We read aloud The Narrow Passage by Oliver Butterworth.  


For the summer, the girls are watching Eyewitness Videos for science. They have watched the first 8 episodes so far: "Cat," "Fish," "Horse," "Dog," "Jungle," "Bird," "Amphibian," and "Insect."


M. attended Little House on the Prairie Camp at the home of a fellow homeschool mom. To prepare for the experience, she came up with a prairie backstory for herself in which her name was Mary Ellen O'Keefe. At camp, she learned to wash clothes in the wash tub, sew, churn buttermilk, make bread, bake cookies, make an autograph book, and she acted in a skit. 

She read Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder and The King's Beard by Leonard Wibberley. She has also been watching Victorian Farm.  


C. continued working on multiplication in Singapore Primary Mathematics 2B and started some division.  

M. worked on Challenging Word Problems, algebra basics on Khan Academy, and continued reading Life of Fred: Liver


In addition to M.'s handicrafts at camp, the girls did some summer-themed 3-D coloring pages from Krokotak.com and they made birthday cards for Aunt B.  

Physical Education 

The girls went to the pool twice in June. They also ride bikes and played on the playground. M. learned a ball game called Hunters and Bunnies at camp. 

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones (1985)

One day, when she is going through some of her belongings from childhood, nineteen-year-old Polly is suddenly flooded with a second set of memories. These contradict everything she thought she knew about herself, and instead recall a series of adventures she had with a cellist named Tom Lynn. The story explores these memories and the impact of Tom's friendship on her life during the time when her parents' marriage is breaking up. 

I am not a fantasy reader, so I don't have a lot of practice at picking up on the allusions authors include in fantasy novels, and I often feel lost in the genre. This book, which is probably the most complicated fantasy story I have ever picked up, was not an easy read for me, but I do feel it was worthwhile. Diana Wynne Jones writes beautifully, and even when I wasn't sure exactly what was happening, or what mythological references were being made, I still wanted to keep reading so that I could take in more of her prose. 

The mood of this book reminds me a lot of The Dark is Rising, but whereas I think of Susan Cooper as mianly a middle grade author, Fire and Hemlock skews very strongly in the YA direction. I'd probably hand it to a thirteen-year-old who was a strong reader, but most likely not a ten-year-old just because I think it's hard for younger readers to empathize with some the teen angst Polly experiences.

Fire and Hemlock is very different from anything I've ever read, and it's a definite challenge, but I gave it 5 stars and I'll be very curious to hear what my fantasy-loving kids think when they're old enough to read it in several years. If you have younger kids and want to try Diana Wynne Jones now, I wholeheartedly recommend Howl's Moving Castle.  

Monday, July 11, 2022

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks (1980)

When Omri's best friend Patrick gives him an Indian figurine for his ninth birthday, Omri is vaguely disappointed, thinking his friend is a bit immature for giving him a toy at his age. When his older brother gives him an old cupboard as his present, Omri locks the Indian inside. When the Indian, an Iroquois named Little Bear, suddenly comes to life, Omri faces a series of challenges, including how to feed this small person, and whether to tell anyone about his magical discovery.

I read this book as a kid, and my kids and I listened to the audiobook together. While the book is mainly criticized these days for being racist, I actually found the overall theme of the book to be very much the opposite. Omri does stereotype Little Bear and, later, the cowboy who also comes to life in the cupboard. These stereotypes arise from the movie-fueled imagination of a young British boy, and they are challenged again and again by Omri's interactions with Little Bear. Omri assumes certain things about how Indians live, some of which are not true for the Iroquois. Omri also takes a while to realize that Little Bear is a human being worthy of dignity and respect. The fact that he learns to recognize the humanity in his Indian friend through magic doesn't make the lesson any less significant.

It's been a very long time since I read any of the sequels to this book, so I can't yet speak to the series as a whole, but I found this book to be far less egregiously offensive than most 21st century reviews about it would suggest. I also noticed on Goodreads that some parents edit the book on the fly as they read it aloud; I really urge parents not to change an author's words and recreate a book in their own image. If there are books with content in them that I don't want to share with my kids, I skip the book. It's not my place to rewrite the story. The choices are really to take the story as is, or leave it. In this case, I recommend reading this book in its entirety, especially with ages 7-10.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Book Review: The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson (1958)

Armand, a homeless old Parisian man, has never wanted to be tied down by traditional family life.  When three children and their mother move in beneath the bridge he thinks of as his own, he is at first very resistant. Over time, though, his affection for the little family motivates him to look beyond his own desires and help the little "starlings" get back on their feet. 

I have read this book three times, and have never managed to put my thoughts down in a review. In a lot of ways, it's a very sentimental story, the kind of heartwarming tale that I like to read around Christmastime, which is when the story takes place. Because it has that sentimental feel to it, not everything that happens in the story feels completely realistic, and sometimes that has bothered me. I also struggle with the French pronunciation when I read the book aloud.

Still, in terms of setting and character, I think it's a top-notch children's book. Armand is a very different hero for a children's story, and I think young readers fall in love with him the same way the young children in the story do. Though homelessness is slightly romanticized by this book, the story does give kids a chance to contemplate what it might be like to live in less fortunate circumstances. It's also fun to do a bit of armchair traveling to Paris with Armand as a guide. 

My most recent reading of this was aloud to my 6-year-old. She didn't love it as much as her older sister did, but I wonder if that will change in a year or two when I read it again to the next child. In any case, I'm happy to keep this book on our shelves as a feel-good read for the holiday season. 

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Book Review: The Other Side of Silence by Margaret Mahy (1995)

Hero, whose mother wrote a famous parenting book and raised several academically gifted children, is the youngest in her family, and she almost never speaks. To escape her parents and siblings, she often leaves the house and hides out in the tree in a neighbor's yard down the street. When the neighbor finds her there one day, she invites her in, and hires her to do a little work around the house. After spending some time there, however, Hero realizes the warm welcome she has received might not be as friendly as it seems on the surface, and she needs to find a way to communicate to her family what's really going on.  

I was looking for a book to fulfill a challenge prompt, which asked for a book with a quiet word in the title. My husband, who has not read this book, handed this one to me. The only other Margaret Mahy novel I've read is The Haunting, and that was pretty strange from the outset, so when this one was a little more in the vein of ordinary young adult fiction, I let my guard down and settled into the world of the story. The result is that when things got weird, as they did about 90% into the book, I was caught utterly off-guard. Not since Afternoon of the Elves have I been so disturbed by a book for children! 

It's hard for me to say right now whether I will give this book to any of my kids. My oldest is eight, and it's definitely too dark in tone for me to suggest to her right now, but she doesn't mind scary or creepy things, so I think when she's 13 or 14, she might enjoy it. My second daughter is so sensitive, I'm not sure she'd be able to stand the shift in tone near the end of the story. I would not have handled it well as a kid. As an adult, I was disturbed enough.

Often, I think it's fine to take the word of a trusted reviewer rather than to pre-read every book yourself, but this is one that I think parents need to read ahead of time so they know what their kids are getting into. It's definitely not just a sweet slice-of-life YA book, however much it may feel that way until almost the end.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Book Review: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (1972)

Miyax, also known as Julie, who has been forced into a marriage she does not want, decides to run away into the Alaskan tundra. There she takes shelter with a family of wolves, while she tries to figure out how she might get to San Francisco where her pen pal lives. 

Julie of the Wolves is a book I actively avoided as a kid, and as with many books like that, over time, I invented my own mental version of what the story was about that was just totally off-base. I thought this was historical fiction, like a winter version of Island of the Blue Dolphins. While it does have the same focus on survival, this is a much more contemporary story, the crux of which is the clash between modern American values and the traditional values of Miyax's family. 

I liked the writing in this book very much, but I found the story very slow. I listened to the audiobook, and read along in the print book and that did help me stay focused, but it was hard to stick with the story. I absolutely appreciate the reasons this book was awarded a Newbery medal. The author's writing style is very distinctive and there are moments from the story that still come to mind months after reading it. It's not my cup of tea, and I think George's My Side of the Mountain is infinitely more readable and enjoyable than this book, but I have kids who I suspect will feel differently and will love Julie of the Wolves.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Reading Through History: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (1950)

Amos Fortune began his life as the son of an African king. Kidnapped into slavery as a young man and brought to the United States, he is purchased at auction by a Quaker family who take him in, teach him to read, and eventually give him his freedom. From there, Amos works toward freeing other slaves and slowly building the life he wants for himself.

The writing in this book is really well-crafted and it makes the story of Amos Fortune's experiences fighting against hardship really come to life. I read this aloud to my three oldest daughters, ages 4, 6, and 8, and they were utterly enthralled, begging me for just one more chapter. This was their first introduction to slavery in American history, and I appreciated that the book handled the subject matter in a way that was accessible for them. It was already very clear to all three of them that slavery is wrong (we talk about that when we read the Old Testament), and this book helped them understand how that wrong was carried out in our own society. They also love biographies, and hearing the details of Amos's jobs, homes, spouse, etc. really appealed to them.

Amos Fortune, Free Man isn't the most popular book today because people often judge it based on what it doesn't include, using today's approach to race as the standard. But considering this is a children's book from 1950, prior to the Civil Rights movement, I find it pretty impressive. Another wonderful book we recently read from around the same time period is Carvers' George (1952) by Florence Crannell Means. While George Washington Carver was born into slavery in the US and freed as a child, he has much in common with Amos Fortune when it comes to dealing with relentless adversity. Neither of these would be sufficient as the only book a child reads about the experience of black people during and after slavery, but they are both excellent entrypoints into the discussion for young readers.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Read-at-Home Mom Report: June 2022 Wrap-Up

My Month in Books

Even though I didn't read anything at all during the last week of June, I still read 17 books and most of them were 4 or 5 star reads. The books I read are mostly romance, which is typical for my summer reading, and I also knocked out a couple of longer, more demanding titles. Here is the full list. 

40 Re-Reads Before 40

I didn't read as many books for this project in June as I had hoped, partly because a lot of the books I want to re-read aren't available on audio, and that's been my preferred reading method. But I did listen to two re-reads:  Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson (5 stars), which was every bit as funny the second time around and On Writing by Stephen King (5 stars), which I hadn't realized was a source of a lot of the "rules" I give myself when I write fiction.  

Challenges and Book Clubs 

For my personal #EbookSummer challenge I fulfilled 4 squares on the Bingo board. Love and Other Great Expectations by Becky Dean (5 stars) counted is an ARC, Jill Came Tumbling by Julie Christianson (4 stars) is a novella, The Love Connection by Denise Williams (4 stars) has "love" in the title, and All in Good Time by Carolyn Astfalk (5 stars) is by a favorite author. Love and Other Great Expectations is a YA romance involving a literary-themed scavenger hunt in the UK. It was delightful. Jill Came Tumbling was well-written but I've already forgotten the details of the story. I enjoyed The Love Connection a lot, but I heard the second book in the series had some content that I prefer to avoid and I won't be reading it. All in Good Time was great. It was an emotional rollercoaster at times, but very believable and very relatable for Catholic moms. 

With my husband and our friend, I read Mohawk Valley by Ronald Welch (4 stars), which deviated a bit from the formula of the other titles in the series in a way that I enjoyed. 

With Close Reads, I finally finished Tess of the D'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (4 stars). I'm glad I read it and I like the way Hardy writes, even though it was a depressing tragedy. 

For #WorldFullofBooks, the theme was popular books. I read Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez (5 stars) and Book Lovers by Emily Henry (3 stars). Part of Your World was great; Book Lovers was kind 
of a let-down.  

The Goldberry reading challenge prompt was a book your husband or father loves. My husband asked me to read Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (4 stars). It's a strange book with many passages I didn't understand, but it also made me laugh and it made me think. It was worth picking up. 

The prompt for the Buzzword Reading Challenge was a book with "all" in the title, so I counted All in Good Time by Carolyn Astfalk

For the Read Your Bookshelf challenge, the prompt was a book with a book on the cover. I listened to  Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson (3 stars). It was a good story, but not very memorable. 

Mood Reading 

The other books I picked up this month were all chosen at random, and all were audiobooks. I listened to Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink (5 stars) after seeing it recommended on Instagram. It was a nice look at the reading life, and at re-reading, which seemed appropriate given my own re-reading project. Word by Word by Anne Lamott (5 stars) is a short lecture based on her book, Bird by Bird, which I read and enjoyed in  2021. The lecture had different enough content that it was worth listening to even after reading the book. The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd (5 stars) was recommended in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide, and it was a surprise big hit with me. It's a mystery involving maps and it's a little bit fantastical, and I loved it. Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships by Sarah Grunder Ruiz (5 stars) is another one I saw on Instagram, recommended by a writer friend, and it was really good. I loved the details of working for a charter boat company. Finally, I listened to Joyland by Stephen King (4 stars), which was recommended on What Should I Read Next when the guests were the hosts from A Strong Sense of Place. It was not scary. 

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

A (girl, 2 years 3 months)

  • The Big Scream by by Kirsti Call and Denis Angelov
  • I Am a Baby by Bob Shea 

R (boy, 2 years 3 months)

  • I Am a Baby by Bob Shea
  • Truckery Rhymes by Jon Scieszka
  • I Am a Backhoe by Anna Grossnickle Hines 

E (girl, 4 years 8 months)

  • Elmer and the Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
  • The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett
  • B is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood 

C (girl, 6 years 9 months)

  • Ramona and her Father by Beverly Cleary
  • Mr. Popper's Penguins by Florence and Richard Atwater 

M (girl, 8 years 7 months)

  • The King's Beard by Leonard Wibberley 

My husband

  • Mohawk Valley by Ronald Welch
  • Eusebius the Phoenician by Christopher Webb
  • Hittite Warrior by Joanne Williamson 

Up Next For Me

I came home from visiting my family in New York with over 50 new-to-me used books. I hope to read a couple of those in July, along with A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr for Close Reads, The Scarlet Letter and Franny and Zooey as two of my re-reads, and possibly The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman to go along with the #WorldFullofBooks theme, Italy. 

I'm adding this post to the link-up for An Open Book at CatholicMom.com.