Thursday, March 16, 2017

Anno's China

Guys, a super exciting thing happened to me the other day: the lovely people from Beautiful Feet Books contacted me (on Instagram, follow them, and me - @bibliobites) and asked if I would like to review their newly released picture book, Anno's China. This makes me feel like I'm some big time blogger or reviewer, instead of some little old nobody SAHM who is doing this for the first time! But shh! Don't tell them that I don't know what I am doing, and maybe they will send me more books!

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I was introduced to Mitsumasa Anno some years ago by MommaofMany who was appalled - appalled, I say - to find that I was not familiar with his work. I have obviously learned better since then, and am now the happy owner of Anno's Counting Book (part of my preschool curric, more on that later!), Anno's USA, Anno's Italy. Anno's Magic Seeds, and Anno's Medieval World, besides China. While the "geography" or country books are my favorites, I think Anno's China is fast becoming my new favorite, and I will tell you why.

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First, I will say that I was almost disappointed when I pulled this book out of the envelope, because although it was a hardcover with crisp new dust jacket, it seemed to me that everything seemed a bit fuzzy, like when my home printer needs to be aligned. China did not look the same as the other books I owned. And I was surprised, because I actually own an abundance of  publications by Beautiful Feet Books and have never felt their quality to be lacking before. Then I remembered that the illustrations were SUPPOSED to be watercolors, which OF COURSE have a fuzzy, ethereal quality to them, by virtue of the media. Which made me wonder why Anno's other books, by other publishers look like they were illustrated in children's markers. I am not here to run anyone else down, all the books are lovely, but - this one by BF books may be a more accurate representation of the artist's original intentions.

But enough about that, here's the real reason why I love this book so much, are your ready for this? It has an index or appendix explaining what you're seeing in each scene! I know, right? But maybe you're not familiar with Anno's books, and if so, let me explain.

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Anno's country books are wordless picture books, wherein Anno (always dressed in blue, with a pointy cap) journeys across a geographic area such as the Italy or the United States, and sometimes across time. There's an amazing amount of detail, but sometimes, unless you know what you're looking at, you don't know what you're seeing.

When I first pulled this book out of my mailbox, I thought, let me sit down an look at it real quick. Oh boy. You'd think I would have known better, right? There is no "quick look" with Anno's books. As soon as I opened it, I was drawn in- the beginning scenes were so calm and peaceful and I recognized men fishing with cormorants, like we'd learned about in Ping! But soon I began to feel a little frustrated. I could recognize that the author was taking us up river, but I wondered if this was a famous village I was supposed to recognize? What were those people doing? What did *that* mean? I simply did not know enough about Chinese culture and traditions to appreciate all that this book contained.
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But then, THEN, my friends - I found the index. The lovely, 9 page index, PLUS an author's note, that carefully explained each scene, without becoming tedious, and still leaving much for the reader to discover on their own. This is the ONLY one of my Anno books that has this feature, which leads me to believe it is something that Beautiful Feet put together, or included, though it is written from the author's point of view; and it is, in my opinion, what makes this book amazing instead of only great, and definitely worth having. When I'm finally finished oogling it, my next step is going to be to figure out where I can fit it in to my curriculum...

*As aforementioned, I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I have received no other compensation. Links to Amazon are not affiliate links, I receive no monies for recommending good books to y'all, I just like to see people reading. ;)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Early American History - intermediate

Usually as I'm preparing for the beginning of our school year, I write up a post about what our plans are and what books we'll be doing. Mostly to help me keep it all straight in my brain, but also because I get so excited about new books and all the amazing things we're going to be learning! Well, I never got around to doing any of those posts for this school year, but now that we've just passed our halfway mark, I think I shall. I'd like to do a series of posts, in no particular order, starting with this one here; What my Year 5 and Year 7 students (ages 10/11 and 12/13, respectively) are currently reading for history. In general, I start with Ambleside Online and then tweak it to fit our family. This is loosely based on Year 4, but because my students are older than the intended audience, we've decided to condense the year's history readings into 2 terms, then begin Year 5 in our final term.

For our history spine, I chose to replace H.E. Marshall's This Country of Ours with  H.A. Guerber's The Story of the Thirteen Colonies. We have been reading Guerber's books since way back when we studied Ancient Greece and they have never disappointed. We actually began this one last year, as the founding of most of the original 13 colonies fell into the time period of the reformation, and will finish it at the end of our second term, coming up in just 4 weeks(!). I really enjoy Guerber's writing style, and so we will begin with The Story of the Great Republic in term 3, and on into next year.

The Story of the Thirteen Colonies

I would have loved to find some original publications of these, since you know how I feel about vintage books, but at the time I could not. I hesitated to buy these versions from Nothing New Press because I knew them to be edited, but the wonders of the internet allowed me to view Christine Miller's entire preface in which she carefully explains which changes (and why!) she has made. After that, I bought with confidence, and as I said, have not been disappointed.

Next up are Genevieve Foster's books, George Washington's World, and Abraham Lincoln's World. If you came here from Instagram (I'm @bibliobites, hello!) you might have seen me declare my love for GW's World a couple weeks ago. These books have been on my radar for many years now, but I had not managed to work them in before, and now I regret all that time lost, when we could have been friends, lol! While there is plenty of American history in here, I chose these books primarily for the presentations of what else was going on in the world during this time period. I might have continued with The Struggle For Sea Power, from M.B. Synge's fabulous Story of the World series, as we read the previous three books in as many years, but again - I really wanted to use Foster's books, they're just that good. Honestly - I wish I could have used them all, but that would have been overkill and redundant.

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Another note about older editions vs new: You'll notice I have the "expanded editions," published by Beautiful Feet Books, in which Genevieve Foster's daughter, Joanna, has added more stories to her mother's original text. I have not done an in-depth comparison, but a friend recently found a (vintage hardcover!) version of GW's World, and it appears to me that what Joanna has done is round out the conversation by adding the voices of some Native Americans and African-Americans, as well as a few more discoveries and inventions. Overall, I feel the additions definitely added to the book's appeal, though I wish I could get the newer editions in hardcover, my paperback is already looking worn!

Oh, and again, we spread GW over two terms, and will do the same with Lincoln, carrying him over into our next school year.

Abigail Adam: Witness to a Revolution - I'll begin by saying I've not read more than a few lines of this. Maybe I should have, because it is the book my children complain about the most. However, it seems that their complaints are mostly about how 'unfair' they think the Adams' lives were: "it's like they're not even married!" "He's been away for THREE YEARS!" Which, of course, cannot be helped. And yes, I tired to help them see what a sacrifice it was for the greater good, and that we need people like that - so that the rest of us can stay home cozy and safe. Not sure they bought it, but I tried. I also like how this is one of the more academic and 'grown-up' books that we've used thus far, and important transition as my teen nears high school.  We're nearing the end of this book, and will begin Of Courage Undaunted soon.

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Of Courage Undaunted is the story of Lewis and Clark, of course. Honestly, there are so many good books out there about Lewis and Clark, but that's a discussion for another post. I chose this one this time for two reasons: 1. I like the cover art, and 2. AO had already scheduled it out, saving me the trouble of doing so. However, I DID enjoy Daugherty's The Magna Charta, and these same students gave great narrations from his Poor Richard last year, so I felt like this was a pretty safe choice. Safe and pretty:  win-win.

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Since historical fiction is probably my favorite genre, we are constantly reading it over here. Last year, when we studied the Renaissance, I was able to read aloud a whole list of great historical fiction to enhance our learning. This year, we wanted to read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which is wonderful, but I *do* feel like we're missing so many great books we could be reading about this time period. However, I did assign a few, as you may have noticed in the very first picture. My son is reading Johnny Tremain, In Search of Honor, and Crossing the Panther's Path, one per term, respectively,

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Johnny Tremain is on nearly every booklist there is, so I'll not waste too much time here, other than to say - it's definitely worth your time. In Search of Honor is a story of the French Revolution, and it turned out to be better than I expected. It has a clear Christian message, but did not feel fake or forced. It has been several years since I read Crossing the Panther's Path,  but I remember being totally enthralled when I did.  It's the true story of Billy Calder, a boy of British and Mohawk decent, and educated by French Jesuit missionaries, who joins Tecumseh and his band as they attempt to regain control of their homelands. Another story full of honor and bravery, and facing difficult choices with integrity.

My daughter recently finished Calico Captive, and begun The Reb and the Redcoat. The former is sometimes overshadowed by Elizabeth George Speare's more well known titles, The Bronze Bow, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and The Sign of the Beaver. I'm not really sure why, as it is just as well done as any of those. I like that, like The Reb and the Redcoat, it shows familiar events from a point of view not often presented in children's literature from American authors. I had a hard time choosing between Calico Captive and Lois Lenski's Indian Captive, so I let my daughter choose, and she was happy with it.

Image result for calico captive book                            Image result for the reb and the redcoats

And I think that's it! I hope to share what my younger children are reading for history this year, and well as what my older ones are doing for other subjects, because it's really fun and helpful to me, but I also have very modest hopes that it may one day be helpful to someone else. So stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Vintage Musings

As I gathered up the pile of books that had represented most of Monday's school, it struck me just how many of the titles we were reading were older, vintage, and - in some cases, fragile- tomes. In most cases, perfectly new printings, all smooth and shiny, are readily available. So why so many old books? 

Well, frugality for one. Our home library has grown over the years from a couple hundred books to currently over 3,000. I couldn't have done that while paying the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price. So instead I shop second hand and thrift stores, and find books for a dollar or less. Plus, it's good for the environment - the more books we re-use, the less that end up in a landfill, and the less demand there is to print more (I hope). Anyway, save money and the world - win-win.

And what began as a way to save money has now become a super fun way of life. When you walk into a store that sells used books you never know what you're going to find - it's a treasure hunt! Maybe nothing, but maybe a book you've wanted for years, that's been really hard to find, and here it is just sitting in this bin, minding it's own business, and you grab it and look around to make sure no one saw it too, and when you go to pay you feel like you're stealing when they ask 75 cents for it, and you can't help but giggling and thinking, if only you knew!  

I found this complete Book of Marvels at a used book store for $1 once! True story. 

Third (was I counting?), buying vintage books allows you to commune with books that may have been long out of print. Sometimes our curriculum intentionally uses these, but sometimes I come across a book that just looks interesting or friendly, and I have to bring it home, I bought A Child's Geography of the World (pictured above) with it's companion volume A Child's History of the World at our library books sale, for maybe $4 for the matching set. While the latter is easy to come by, the former has been out of print for some time. And yet here I am, owning a perfectly sound copy that has quickly become one of our favorite books. 

It's also fun to imagine where vintage books have been before you. My sweet mother-in-law bought me the book you see on the top of the stack there - a collection of Eugene Field poems - I had fallen in love with his poetry, but did not enjoy reading them online, as I had been. I knew the book was old, but I was not prepared for the inscription I found inside. Can you read it there, in the picture above? It says: 
For dear little Eric with 
love from his "Gran muddie"
on his 8th birthday - 2nd Oct 1898

1898! Can you believe it?! Almost 120 years ago! And that "Granmuddie" would have lived in the time of Dickens! Tennyson! Queen Victoria! Tchaikovsky! DH and I had fun wondering what path it took after it left little Eric's hands - who took such good care of it, that it lasted this long? And why? Was it given up willingly, or unwillingly? Had it been treasured, or left to collect dust, forgotten on a shelf? I'll never know, but it's worth pondering of a half hour. 

And finally, which was the point I came here to make, but got sidetracked by all the other points, vintage books just  make me feel more than newer books can, that I really am communing with great minds, joining the great conversation, learning from what so many before me have learned from. Can you read the same exact text in a newer printing? Of course. But it doesn't feel the same. Hey, I didn't say it was a rational point! 😃 

Well there you have it: Five Reasons To Love Vintage Books. Do you have another you'd like to add? A favorite vintage copy? I fun story about a great find? Please share in the comments! 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Year 4 science

Last year when I was planning our upcoming lessons, I challenged myself to create a science curriculum with what I had on hand. It was fun to do, and as we are now winding up our school year, it has occurred to me that I chose pretty well, and so I thought I'd share.

Spring and Summer and Fall and Winter in North Carolina Forests 

I've wanted to use these books in our school for along time, but I always chose Burgess books instead. But these were an excellent way to sort of "force" nature study, because so many of the plants and animals could be found right in our yard, so that as we read about them, we also went out to go see them, as much as possible. I liked that these books covered not only birds and mammals, but some reptiles and amphibians, as well as plants, mushrooms, and even discussed a bit of astronomy and geology. Spring and Summer has 33 chapters, and might have done well enough for the whole year, but I liked the other book so much as well that I squeezed both into our 36 weeks. The chapters were an easy read for our ten year old son, were illustrated nicely, and were written from a Christian point of view (published by Rod & Staff). I suspect that even though it SAYS North Carolina, any one living in the Appalachian areas of Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina would find it useful.  

The Friar Who Grew Peas, Snowflake Bentley, and The Boy Who Drew Birds

Next I wanted to include some biographies of naturalists and biologists. I actually purchased the Audubon one, because I'd wanted it forever, but I had the others on hand already. For some students three might have been enough, but I chose six for this year, 2 each term, or one every 6 weeks. If you're not familiar with these picture book biographies, please become so. Each one is a true living book, with a wealth of ideas easily dished up, and beautiful to behold.

Listening to Crickets, John Muir: My Life with Nature, and George Washington Carver

These three biographies are short chapter books, and I included them mostly to 1, keep my boy busy, in a good way, and 2. introduce him to naturalists whose works he would very soon be reading on his own. They did the job, but no need to rush out and buy them.

A Drop of Water, and How to Think Like a Scientist 

Finally, I wanted to include these two books because I just liked them so much. Drop of Water is an amazing book of photography that will inspire you to look a little more closely at a substance that covers 70% of our planet. It also encourages readers to "wonder why" and guides them through a few simple experiments in order that one might see for ones self. Think Like a Scientist is a great first logic book, which is somewhat of a pet subject for me. It is so important to me that my children learn to think logically and soundly, to discern strong evidence from weak, and to argue fairly. My son will not study logic formally for a few years yet, but this book is a great introduction.  

His "work" included nature notebook entries, biography narrations, and the suggested activities from the latter two books, and I think we had a pretty successful year. Check back soon for notes on what is in store for him in Year 5!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Shakespeare for kids

I have a secret: I don't read Shakespeare to young children.

Now some of you are like, I don't read Shakespeare at all! And I hear that. But in some homeschool circles, my little confession might seem very shocking. But I don't teach Shakespeare to grammar level/form I/II/III /elementary age students, and I will explain why.

So the Bard: Plot line: net very original, nothing special. Star crossed lovers, the Bad Boys of history, bottom line, he was looking for things that would make a good show, not trying to influence the course of the English language for centuries to come. That was just a happy coincidence. Besides, his plays were written for adults, and such, contain adult themes.

 No, the real reason to read Shakespeare is for the language, for his way expressing human emotion and feeling.  Words and phrases invented by Will are still in use today. And even though y'all know (or should know!) that I'm all about reading vocabulary-rich literature to children, there's a time and a place for everything. And the time for deciphering brilliant-but-archaic-poetic language is, in my opinion, not until age 12, at least. High school for some students.

Sure, you could read any of the many wonderfully done children's adaptations, but without the language, what's the point? Would you really be reading that story if it had any other name on it than William Shakespeare? 

Despite this belief, we have, as you can see, a fair amount of the Bard's plays in picture book format. In fact, this one (published by Candlewick) is one of my children's favorites. And I like them because even if you're an adult, it's incredibly helpful to have some prior knowledge of the plot before you dive into the original plays. If you're a visual person, having some illustrations can help you keep characters straight. Plus, they're just kinda fun :D Although my daughter tells me I should warn you that all the people in William's book have "kissy lips." ;D  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Summer Reading List (sort of): Kid Lit

The other day a 10 year old friend asked my almost-14 year old daughter for book recommendations, and this is what my daughter pulled out. I found her choices interesting, and her list a good one, so I thought I'd share it. It's that time of year when all my favorite book bloggers, as well as every public library, is coming out with a Summer Reading List. Well, life is busy, so this is about as close to that as you're going to get from me. List below, with Amazon links (remember, I am not an affiliate).

(top to bottom)
Shadow Spinner - by Susan Fletcher
The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
Half Magic - Edward Eager
Princess Academy - Shannon Hale
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken
Watership Down - Richard Adams
Homeless Bird - Gloria Whelan: Daughter would like to say that this is her favorite of Whelan's books.

Angel on the Square - Gloria Whelan: I can't recommend this one enough. It's actually the first in a series of four books about 4 generations of a Russian family in St Petersburg/Leningrad, though all the changes and upheaval that took place from the time of the last tsar, to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Small Acts of Amazing Courage - Gloria Whelan: Can you tell we are Whelan fans? If you like this one, don't miss the sequel, All My Noble Dreams and then What Happens.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Grace Lin: Another don't miss is Lin's Starry River of the Sky, a companion volume that can stand alone. I think I enjoyed it more than Mountain, though both books are simply beautiful.

Shadows & Secrets - Chautona Havig: DD says: read the whole trilogy! 
The Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: If I had a Top Ten List of Children's Books, this one would be on it.
The Start of Kazan - Eva Ibbotson
Journey to the River Sea - Eva Ibbotson: If you read one of these, you will want to read everything of Ibbotson's: I don't recommend that, lol. But definitely read these two!

Come to think of it, I'm due for a re-read of at least five of these - I think I know what I'll be doing this summer!  What do you think - see anything you think you will read this summer? Or recommend to someone you love? Or any of your favorites? Do tell!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Medieval literature

So in continuation of an older post, in which I discussed a few books about the Middle Ages for middle schoolers, I thought I'd talk about some literature selections about the same, for the same. I don't feel it necessary to ALWAYS correspond EVERYTHING we read to our particular time period, but often times there is key literature that I wouldn't want to miss.

The Legends of King Arthur are just such. Whether you believe in a historical Arthur or not, the legends surrounding him and his noble knights have for centuries represented western civilization's ideals of integrity, bravery, and virtue. Furthermore, any well written version of the tales will raise important issues for discussion; topics like the responsibility of the rulers toward the ruled and the consequences of sin. As with Greek mythology, a familiarity with  the stories brings greater depth of understanding to almost anything else you will read in the English language.

And like Greek mythology, translations and retellings of Arthurian legends abound. It is not the intention of this post (or any future one, likely) to try to cover or compare all of them, but I will discuss the three I am most familiar with, in the hopes that I might be helpful to someone.

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green - of the three I've listed, this is probably the most accessible, easy to read version. Twenty-two chapters beginning with the boy Arthur pulling forth the sword from the stone, and ending in the culmination of events which the death of King Arthur brought about. 

The Story of King Arthur and his Knights by Howard Pyle- I absolutely love Pyle's storytelling, and the beautiful ways in which he uses language. Here is an excerpt we recently came across:
For when a man is king among men, as was King Arthur, then he is of such a calm and equal temper that neither victory nor defeat may cause him to become either unduly exalted in his own opinion or so troubled in spirit as to be altogether cast down into despair....Yea, he who is a true king of men, will not say to himself, "Lo! I am worthy to be crowned with laurels;" but rather will he say to himself, "What more is there that I may do to make the world better because if my endeavors?"    
It may be helpful to note that Pyle's book does not cover the fall of Camelot or Arthur's death.

The Age of Chivalry by Thomas Bulfinch - This would be a good option for the child who is a strong reader or that has a keen interest in Arthurian legends. There is easily enough material in Bulfinch's version to constitute an entire (school) year's worth of readings.

Stay tuned for my next post, where I will cover Chaucer and Ivanhoe, and possibly Shakespeare! And tell me, what is your experience with King Arthur? Are you a Sir Thomas Malory aficionado, or is it Disney's Sword in the the Stone all the way?

Also, check out my new Instagram account (and follow me!), @BiblioBites, where I will be posting pics and thoughts about some of my favorite books on a (near) daily basis!