Of historical importance

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It seems peculiar that I should feel the need to write something in defense of spending so much time with history.  There has been such a push in education, however, in recent times to concentrate almost exclusively on “necessary” academic subjects, the three Rs, that is reading, writing and arithmetic.  Even science and foreign language take priority over history, cursive and art, which seem relegated to extras, or even worse.

For us, however, history seems to be at the heart of our academic day.  And I don’t mean the memorization of dates, quotes and people, but the love, deference and analysis that we give to the study .  I do not pretend to know enough to speak intelligently about educational philosophies, although I researched them heavily before beginning our home education.  If pressed into explaining what I am attempting to do with my guys I guess I would say we are definitely eclectic, influenced most by unit studies and Charlotte Mason.  As you can see in the blurry photo above, we happily make use of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World and supplement periodically, trying to find “living books,” which fit best into our current study.  Although Bauer is closely associated with classical education, her history works well with narration and my own ideas about literature-based learning.  I am not necessarily concerned that my children remember every important detail, but more that I am able to point the way for them to educate themselves, not merely while they are “of school age,” but far beyond. I want to teach them to teach themselves, to learn how to learn, and to love learning.

The question is not, -how much does the youth know when he has finished his education- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and therefore, how full is the life he has before him?

Charlotte Mason in School Education

What follows are a few simple reasons we find history significant to our studies:

1.  It is a means of incorporating multiple disciplines, such as reading, narration, writing, and geography, as well as developing other skills like note taking.

2.  It is easier to appreciate art and literature through the ages as it relates to major historical events and shifts in thought.  Not convinced art is significant in and of itself?  Some argue it is what defines us as human.

3.  It is a built-in venue for teaching writing and thinking.  Beginning with narration (or retelling stories) we can make use of historical events as a natural springboard for writing summaries, analyses and eventually drawing important connections.

4.  Closely tied to number three, the careful study of history teaches us to think.  There are no obvious or objective answers in history.  We glean from it what we will.  A proper study of history forces us to be critical in our view of world events.  Learning how events are interconnected, or how one event may precipitate another, is an important exercise for growing minds. Particularly important for middle schoolers who are naturally black-and-white in their thinking, history provides a way for us to discuss the morality, meaning and potential consequences of major decisions, thoughts and events.

5.  It helps us appreciate where others have been and where we are all going.  It is difficult to understand the present, and project appropriately about the future, if we do not have a grasp on the past.

6.  It helps us to appreciate different cultures, foods, languages and peoples.  Training our children to accept others begins early.  History is a natural way to cultivate this.

In spending our days looking through books on the Vikings, Napoleon or what precipitated the Great War, we are not merely looking up a date or a concise list to satisfy the requirements of an essay question.  Rather, we are the ones asking the questions.  We are drawing pictures and maps.  We are questioning who we are, and are learning to express it.

*Does your family enjoy history?  Is there a beloved subject you and your family find yourself defending?*

Do you walk to school or do you take your lunch?* (Or why we are homeschooling now)

Why does it often take us so long? Sometimes it really bothers me that it takes us so long to wake up, eat breakfast and start our day.  I mean, if we are all downstairs at 7:00 a.m., why is it sometimes 9:00, or later, before we are gathered ready to start our learning?  Is it a prime example of wasted time, how we squander moments when we could actually be utilizing them to greater advantage?  Or am  I merely revealing my type A personality, proving to myself that I feel the incorrigible need to be forever productive?  Most likely the latter.  Family ought to be a comfortable place, a place where you are allowed to just be.  While our days seem full and busy, full of individual responsibilities, it is the role of family to allow each to breathe, to enjoy one another’s company, to be thankful that we are safe and together. So why does it take us two hours to eat breakfast and collect our books? Foremost, we are not particularly go-getters in the morning.  I sit over two to three cups of coffee, thinking, planning our day, but mostly mustering the strength and stamina necessary to get us through seventh grade math and a writing task.  A is petting the cat while lying on the floor.  G is reenacting superhero battles over and over in the dining room where he has more space. S is scrambling an egg and somehow using two or three extra bowls.  Each child eats separate breakfasts and prepares it themselves, and while this is great practice in life skills, it is also not the most efficient.  I need to make my peace with this.

The truth is I am weak, but our days are fairly productive except, of course, when they aren’t.  Does that last sentence remind anyone else of Dr. Seuss?  We choose not to overextend ourselves with outside activities.  We surround ourselves with positive people we admire- mostly people from our church.  The kids have plenty of time to play, get on the iPad, lie around the house, construct things around the house from blocks, legos and random objects, create their own comic strips at 8:55 in the morning, and have plenty of time to be bored. The simple fact is it is ok we are slow starters.  We are far from squandering our time in the mornings.  I need, instead, to be savoring it.  Really, at least partially, this is why we began homeschooling.   Before we began the homeschooling adventure which has increased the chaos and noise level in our home exponentially, I read article after article advising me to write down for posterity our personal reasons for choosing home education.  The articles promised it would serve us well in times of uncertainty. I offer to you, reader of this post, a private peek into our family’s thoughts.  This is why we choose to make pancakes or scones on a weekday, why we take two hours to eat breakfast, why it is more than ok for us to bump aimlessly into one another from room to room in the mornings until we are sufficiently awake.  Just a caveat: I know many families who tackle these objectives admirably while sending their children to public school.  Keeping our kids home was not our only option, but it was the one which called the most obviously to us, beckoning a new vision for what our family could look like.  We are still living by hope and faith, eager to see how our children and family develop.  Here are my words I jotted down three years ago.  Most of the reasons are salient today.

Our Reasons to Homeschool

Family -

To regain our sense of family love

To renew our relationship with one another

To allow us to enjoy our children at their best times of the day, and to alleviate the stress of the morning scramble for the school bus and the afternoon fights over homework.

Education – 

To be in control of what and how we taught our children, including life skills, spiritual teaching, character lessons, multi-cultural topics, an international worldview, and a strong focus on their own individual academic interests.

To enjoy being directly involved in the boys’ learning and self-guided study

Due to a concern at losing them in the public school system, not wanting learning to become a drudgery, but a joy

Social – 

Due to a concern with placing A in a middle school setting too soon (that is fifth grade where we live).

To give our children more distinctly positive social opportunities

Some of you may disagree home schooling to be a viable answer to these issues.  Some of you may not even recognize or share any of these concerns regarding your own children.  That is understandable.  We may not always feel the same way as I did three years ago, or as we do today.  But this is why we are doing what we are doing now.

Doing nothing for two hours in the mornings may not be an option in a few years, but indubitably I do not miss chasing down the school bus or scrambling for a lost homework paper after cramming down toast and jam.  I can  choose to see days with slow, lazy unproductive beginnings, or I can appreciate my family all together functioning as a unit, albeit imperfectly.  My boys can wake up slowly if they choose, and they are good friends.  I don’t think I want to change that.

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

Psalm 133:1

*The title of this post is a bit tongue-in-cheek.  Growing up, my dad would always ask these sort of nonsensical questions, which on the surface, do not seem necessarily related.  Back in his day, however, those kids who did walk to school were also allowed to go home for lunch.  So, if you brought your lunch, you probably did not walk.  As homeschoolers we sometimes go for walks, sometimes we take our lunch, sometimes we hit Subway or Chipotle, and sometimes we just stay home for lunch.

Sharing Stone Soup – part two

If you read my last blog post you know we have been enjoying the traditional tale of Stone Soup, focusing on Jon J. Muth’s quiet and endearing retelling.  Many times when G and I feature a story of the week together, I hone in on specific activities we may do together.  This story provided us with an immediate and obvious one – make our own stone soup!  Now, for those of you who love to collect new recipes, sadly, I cannot enrich your cookbook with a new one.  In fact, I rarely cook like that.  I tend to cook what is already in my pantry and fridge, sprinkling in this dried spice and that herb.  In fact, the very nature of the story seems to suggest we not come to our great soup pot with expectations and specific cooking formulas, but rather with open hearts, attitudes of spontaneity, and a willingness to share.

G scrounged around in his room and toy bins for three round, smooth stones.  Doesn’t every little boy already have some of these lying randomly about?  He collected some small enough that fit easily in his two-fisted, preschool-sized grasp.  Yes, indeed, we scrubbed them clean and dropped them into a small pot on the stovetop.  In our large dutch oven we sautéed finely minced carrots, celery, garlic and onion in olive oil and let them become translucent.  Just as in Muth’s story I allowed G to suggest random things to throw into our soup.  DSC_0029Carrots.  Mushrooms.  Peppers. Chicken. Broth. Broccoli.  I added in everything G suggested.  Well, almost everything.  I did convince him apples may not be the best match for our soup.  He was very careful as he proudly chopped carrots all by himself.  (He was heavily supervised!) We let it simmer and ate it in remembrance of the giving villagers.

It never ceases to amaze me how much more readily children will eat the food they prepare themselves.  Fortunately, we had several of these little sweet peppers, because G ate five himself while slicing them for the soup.DSC_0034

Friends have told me of families who meet together at reunions to contribute by household to a great pot of stone soup.  What a wonderful way to teach and illustrate the beauty of community, sharing and belonging!  What an interesting idea for co-ops, play groups, neighborhood parties or church groups!  If we all bring what we can, we can create something delicious and amazing.  And it will be surprisingly different each time. Isn’t that the message of the tale?

Something magical began to happen among the villagers.  As each person opened their heart to give, the next person gave even more.  And as this happened, the soup grew richer and smelled more delicious.

Sharing Stone Soup – part one

 


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With Chinese New Year approaching in just over a week, I have been reflecting on great children’s literature based in Chinese history and culture. Chinese New Year 2015 is February 19, the Year of the Goat. For older kids who are able to enjoy chapter books there are Grace Lin’s The Year of the Dog, I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Wilson, and Lloyd Alexander’s The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen.  However, this last week G and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and re-reading Stone Soup.  Many of you may be wondering what Stone Soup has to do with China.  Over the centuries, many countries have produced their own versions of Stone Soup or Button Soup, mostly originating in Europe.  I grew up reading a version that took place in the American colonies right around the time of the Revolution.  My favorite of them all, though, has become Jon J. Muth’s retelling set in a tiny Chinese village near the Great Wall.  Three Buddhist monks look down on a simple collection of houses as they discuss how happiness is achieved.  As is typical with Muth, his approach is very zen, yet nothing is lost with G.  From the black cat which winds its tail about the water-color characters and peeks charmingly from over a giant pot to the wise, hospitable young girl dressed in royal yellow, G has taken this version in wholeheartedly.

Here is what we did:

Day One: Read the story

Drawing lesson – For those of you know me, don’t laugh.  I am honestly the last person who needs to be teaching art, unless it is simply art appreciation.  Yet, this was a simple lesson of recognizing the use of shapes.  We turned to the story’s final page and noticed how the stone bridge created a trianglular shape.  I attempted to help him draw his own two-point perspective and he included simple, waving and smiling figures.  They were happy because they had learned how to make stone soup (see my upcoming blog post).

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Day Two: Read the story again (no, children do not necessarily get bored like we might from reading the same story repetitively.  As long as it is an engaging story the familiarity of the book will only serve to boost their confidence.)

Math with rocks, wood blocks and figures – The traveling Buddhist monks in Muth’s book collect three rocks for their soup.  They are stacked in the illustration from the largest on the ground to the smallest precariously perched as the head of the Buddha himself. (G thought it resembled a snowman.)  We explored our manipulative arranging them from largest to smallest, then smallest to largest, and finally creating different patterns.

Day Three – Read the story, of course.

Geography – Explore China on the map.  Some people say it is shaped like a chicken.  I can almost see it.  G did find where he imagined the beak to be.  We looked at photos of the Great Wall of China, colored a printout map which I found online, and learned a few Chinese phrases.

Ni hao ma = Hello, how are you?

Hun hao, she she = I am fine.  Thank you.

We ran out of time that day, but another fun activity could have been to build our own Great Wall out of blocks.  We like Citiblocs around here.

Day Four – Read the story

DSC_0038Social Studies - Create your own village of community people.  Early in the story Muth names some of the villagers who were suspiciously lurking and peering secretively through windows.  They were the doctor, scholar, tea merchant, carpenter and seamstress.  We gathered up supplies and toys from about the house and spread them throughout the living room, giving space to each community helper.  But, instead of acting stingy, we shared our talents.  G gave me a shot, served me tea and read me a book.

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Day Five –  Read the story

Music and culture – Here we played with shadows, learning the farther away from our light source, the smaller the shadow.  Shadow puppetry is a Chinese traditional art form, and we had fun not only with our hands, but also S’s marionette Chinese dragon puppet.  Muth does a fabulous job with details throughout his illustrations.  Not only is the clothing seemingly accurate down to the tiny shoes, but also the prominent red lanterns and musical instruments.  The erhu and the pipa are specific instruments in Chinese folk music and play a role in the villagers’ eventual celebration feast.  You can watch a video here like we did.

There is a day six in our study of Stone Soup. Can you guess what it is?  Come back in a couple of days to see if you are right.

JERUSALEM: as seen in IMAX

Following the beliefs and backgrounds of three young women in the holy city, National Geographic’s film Jerusalem also delves into the historical and religious significance of the world’s three major religions.  Each religion – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – are each represented through the eyes and appreciation of each of these girls.  Their stories are similar, even in their ethnic diversity and families’ religious beliefs.  Each is narrated individually and interspersed with historical and archaeological facts until the final scene when we see them “coincidentally” walk past one another at a city-center marketplace.  Impressive cinematography, respectful religious retellings and tidbits honoring the human in us all are showcased throughout the forty-five minute short film.

My boys and I invited a homeschooling mom and her eleven-year-old son to join us at this IMAX presentation.  As I sat chatting before the movie began with the mom, a native Hoosier, she recounted to me her memories of the old cinemax theater in town and the short film they would often show just prior to the main feature on Indiana landmarks and history.  She confessed she would get teary-eyed watching familiar scenes of her home state.

“You love your home,” I said simply.

And this was, indeed, a primary theme, a similar thread to be unravelled from the stories of all three women in Jerusalem.

Home.

It is not to be detached from hope, history, the future, promises and peoples.  The pride that each of these girls articulated in the film, and my Hoosier friend, as well, was evident.  It left me, however, with a bit of melancholy or light ache that I, myself,  do not possess, nor am I likely to possess, that  sense of home, or belonging.  The ache exists not only because I do not belong to any one locale, but also because I sometimes feel a need for it.   I have long been without a true sense of  home.  And yet something in me recognizes and appreciates the reverence others cherish as they look on their hometown or culture.

To feel a sense of reverence and belonging to one place is to hope for its perfect fulfillment as it has been promised to us all.  One day we will be home, and it will not be in the historical Jerusalem, but in God’s ultimate city, a place where we will all be at peace and feel at home.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings but you were not willing!

Luke13:34

Title Character

Adam.  Noah.  Job.  Abraham.  The ancients.  Isaiah.  Jeremiah.  Hosea.  Amos.  The prophets.  Joseph.  David.  Peter.  Paul.  Timothy.   The good guys.  Pharaoh.  Goliath.  Herod.  Pontius Pilate.  The bad guys.  The Bible is full of colorful figures, inspiring stories, tales of adventure, faith and didactic warnings.  Touted as heroes and lofty examples of goodness and godliness, I learned these old stories at the youngest of ages.  As some have no recollection of learning to read, I have no recollection of first hearing these foundational narratives, to the point that I remember at seven years old bragging to an aunt that I knew all the stories in the Bible.  As we were on the way to church she asked me whether or not I knew about Stephen.  She was teaching a children’s Sunday school class that morning on the first Christian martyr.  I stared for a moment, wondering if she were teasing.  Stephen was a modern name.  He sat behind me in class.  Was Jeff in the Bible, too?  His seat was in front of mine. Surely, there wasn’t a Stephen in the Bible?  Obviously, I hadn’t learned every story.  Still, I knew quite a few.  After all, I had parents and teachers who read to me faithfully.

In teaching our children, we point to these biblical figures with the intention of instruction.  We look to them to emphasize faith, kindness, forgiveness, obedience, and self-control, all the Christian virtues.  And yet, in doing this, we might be missing the point.  Missing the point of the entire Hebrew and Greek texts.  Because, just as in great novels or epic tales, there is a main hero or heroine, so through the pages of the Bible there is one main character, the driving force of every story, the purpose in each parable.  Each pericope can be distilled into a single word, the Word, God, the title character.

Perhaps he is explicitly in the forefront, given credit for his omniscience and providence as in the lives of Joseph, Daniel, and ultimately, Jesus.  Or maybe it is more implied and his name is not even mentioned as in the book of Esther.  Regardless, the story of the Bible is not a collection of tales featuring warriors, prophets, poets and kings, but rather the singular story of God.  Over the centuries, he has brought his finger down into the history of humanity, he speaks his word and his creation chooses to follow the story….or reject it.  Regardless, he is always the author and title character.

Even now, millennia after the cessation of written words of divine inspiration, I am living a portion of God’s story.  Although we may not be able to validate the existence of God-breathed words today, surely we continue to bear witness to God-breathed lives. Knowing we are a part of a greater story does not necessarily diminish the pain we may experience in this world, but if we strive to understand it properly, it can keep us focused on what is important.  Our life is not our own story.  It is God’s.  Just as he led former slaves through a dry sea, a runaway king across naturally hewn caves among the wild hills, just as he led a Jewish scholar to Caesar in Rome, so he leads me, and you.  On the written page, in modernity, for all time, he is the title character.

The Bible Verse Box

He pointed to the far corner of our upstairs loft, motioning to the bottom of the end table by the couch.

“Let’s get out the Bible verse box,” suggested my four-year-old.  We had already done some activities with Little Passports, read a leveled reader and sang a couple of nursery rhymes from his What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know.  Generally G is much more eager to re-enact epic superhero battles with me, than engage in my planned out activities.

Like any typical four-year-old, G’s proclivity to be guided into an organized lesson waxes and wanes.  Because he has already begun reading so well, simply through story time, I have allowed him to read on his own when he chooses.  And he chooses often at the most surprising of times.

Cereal boxes at breakfast.

Billboard advertisements on the freeway.

Random books from his shelf.

My private emails over my shoulder.

Sports results from the bottom of the t.v.

Some educators refer to this as environmental print.  G calls it “reading his words.”

On this day, however, he was focused, so I continued letting him choose the next activity.  And apparently he had several things on his mind, including the Bible verse box.

Our Bible verse box looks like this:DSC_0026

An old, cardboard box covered over in typing paper and decorated by a five and four year old A and S, has sat on top of select back issues of Appleseed and Cricket magazines for several years.  We originally created this and filled it with Bible verses on love, bearing with one another and patience, in those early first days of sibling rivalry.  What began as a way to infuse a bit of kindness and respect into my boys, has unwittingly become another way of encouraging literacy.  Add a colorful card stock backing and apparently we have an appealing way to include a little Bible in our family’s morning Together Time.

We don’t make use of this box regularly anymore, but occasionally G asks for it.  Instead of pulling out our Bibles for a lengthier read, A and S still like participating with G, choosing a purple or green-backed proverb, a yellow reminder from Ephesians.

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The Bible verse box also houses trading cards of the apostles and the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments. You can print them out here.  Unfortunately, they have started charging for them now.

If G is determined to read, I am happy he is reaching for these words of wisdom, even from an old, cardboard box.

A Few Alterations

Wow.  This has been a tough academic year.  I admit it.  I recall a few years ago how I suspected home schooling would be difficult.  But it has been difficult in ways I did not particularly expect.  Fundamentally, the most difficult aspect of it all has been sheer parenting.  It’s just that I am parenting more hours in my day now.

This year, however, has been especially trying.  We have changed some things up, namely adding in an afternoon of co-op classes once a week.  Whereas I originally thought a few extra hours of Mommy-G time would be great, instead it has become one more reason to get in the car, and that much more of a work load to keep up with their classes.  Increasingly, I have been bothered by the difficulty in creating a free-flowing feel to our week.  We struggle to focus on what is important.

Which leads me to the second , and weightier, reason this has been such a trying school year.  Daily we are confronted with my oldest’s bouts with tantrums, defeatist attitudes and generally poor behavior.  Daily we all feel battered by complaints and his lack of motivation.  It pervades our household and drags both the smallest and sturdiest of us down.  In all of this I am confessing as a parent that I am concentrating too much on my own suffering, and not as much on the root of it all.  I need to look with a kinder eye in the midst of all the noise toward the frustration of my inflexible Aspie.  The turmoil that has often taken over our house, primarily during math time, is significantly due to an Asperger’s diagnosis, but possibly, who knows to what extent, also due to raging preteen hormones.

Enter the Christmas holidays which began with a great deal of whining and sibling bickering, but ended with a lovely mixture of construction play, board games and movie viewing.  The transition back to the school routine would be a hard one if we didn’t make some changes.  While I recognize we still have  concentrated and purposeful work to do to help A, I remain hopeful that the 2014-2015 academic year is yet salvageable.

So, what are we changing in 2015?

1.  Namely, we are quitting our co-op.  As harsh as it sounds, the amount of work and effort it demanded from our week was not worth the  time spent there.  Our days felt choppy, unfocused and stressful.  It just wasn’t a good fit.  Not everything is holy.  Although not an easy decision, it was the first thing to go.  Apparently, our decision to quit has not been a popular one with others, however, but it is truly going to be the best for our family.  My guys are already breathing easier.  We have retained our gym and art classes in the community, and will likewise not be abandoning the subjects previously covered in the co-op.  Writing will be incorporated through the good, quality books we read, or through history or letter writing.  Spanish will be continued largely through duolingo.  I have come to adore this free tutorial website.  It is positively addictive.

2.  More specific schedules.  This may fly in the face of my earlier educational philosophy that my children deserve the freedom to explore their own interests and studies, but you know what else flies in that face?  An ineffectual system.  Instead of writing a loose daily schedule on our whiteboard, we now have slots of time allocated for specific subjects.  Now, A and S know when I expect them to read history or get on the computer for math.  I know each of my children well, and I know when my own energy levels tend to lag.  So, for instance, I schedule A’s math time first thing in the morning, but S’s reading later in the afternoon when he is more relaxed.

3.  Grades.  This one I never expected.  Truth be told, even when my children were in public school, I never looked at their report cards.  I never wanted them stressing out because of a “bad” grade.  I wanted them to love learning for its own sake.  And yet, there comes a time when we, as parents,  need some collateral. We need to hold A in particular to a higher standard.  He needs slapped upside the head… a kick in the pants.  Perhaps literally.  But for now A and S will receive daily or weekly grades based on the following:

a.  Attitude (willingness to work, giving it their all; no complaining)

b.  Organization/study skills (time management, tidiness, etc.)

c.  Academic /quality of work

Attitude is to comprise 50% of the grade.

Perhaps these are not exactly new year’s resolutions, but we are constantly grappling with what will provide our family (especially A) a stronger foundation, and a greater likelihood for success.  It’s been a tough year, but we are hoping in a complete renewal with just a few alterations.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  

Ezekiel 36:26

 

Blessings to you all in the new year.

 

 

Immanuel

Whether or not you are surrounded by family, or virtually alone, whether or not this has been a good year full of prosperity and joy, or one of struggle and pain, my family and I wish you a merry Christmas.

May the good news the angels proclaimed two millennia ago be true today.

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11).

May the ancient prophecies be fulfilled in our hearts.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and you will call him Immanuel [God with us] (Isaiah 7:14).

May you not only be grateful today for the symbol of the cross, but the meaning bursting forth from a tiny feeding trough.  May we marvel at the wonder and love of a God who has completely shared, and still shares, in our humanity.  God with us.  God, a part of us.  Love in flesh and blood.  Our reason why we search for ways to practice and emulate grace for those without.

For we do not have a [Christ], who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Immanuel.

God is with you.

Stelline d’Oro

 

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It is unlikely that I could ever over exaggerate  the significance Tomie de Paola has had on my children’s early years of reading.  For family and humor, we have read Tom, for silliness we visit Strega Nona  and Big Anthony, and for culture and language, we love Tony’s Bread and Days of the Blackbird.  However, Jingle the Christmas Clown is new to us this year.  I am reading it with G for the first time.  He has chosen it on his own to be our book of the week. We must have read it ten or twelve times this week alone.  Funny, because flipping through it at the library I wasn’t all that impressed.  Isn’t it interesting how a book often expresses its magic only once you read it with your little one?

Not only has G expanded his Italian (I have caught him greeting me with a Buon Natale, and addressing one of his stuffed buddies as bambino mio), but has completely fallen in love with the book’s characters.  Whether it is because of the funny, frenetic monkeys or the baby animals’ saddened eyes, G continues to pay more attention to the illustrations and details in the text with each reading.

Unable to perform for the nearly abandoned Italian village, il circo piccolo- the little circus- moves on to the next town, leaving Jingle and the baby animals to rest with the elderly citizens.  While the ending miracle seems a bit trite, G smiles every time.  The beauty of the little tale is in its spirit of giving.  As the vecchietti- the “old-timers”-  brighten at Jingle’s gift of Christmas, the real miracle of the story happens back in the middle of the book.

Now Jingle began to feel sorrier for the villagers than for himself and the baby animals.

This line alone made Tomie de Paola’s story of joy and giving well worth multiple readings….at least for G.  I love sharing stories that demonstrate kindness and empathy, especially toward others so dissimilar on the surface.

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Included is a recipe for stelline d’oro- golden star cookies, which are part of the final miracle.  The recipe was created by PBS’s Mary Ann Esposito, host of Ciao Italia.  This basic sugar cookie recipe has the extra delight of orange juice mixed in the dough as well as in the icing.

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Buon Natale!

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