Tag Archives: Children’s literature

Ode to the Sunday School Teacher

Unashamedly, I am still basking in the glow of my Prince Edward Island adventure. Upon returning home, I have read The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery for the first time, which incidentally, I purchased from the Site of the Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Cavendish Home. The paperback proudly bears the stamp.

And I have been re-reading The Story Girlsupposedly the author’s favorite of her novels.

Combine these readings with the fact that our church has been talking about our responsibility of reading for the sake of the community, and throw in the fact that I just completed Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish by C. Christopher Smith, have been planning Bible home school curriculum for this next year for my boys, and the fact that I have substituted teaching in children’s Bible classes a few times at church this summer, and it is not difficult to see why a couple of these passages spoke sweetly to me.

Montgomery, who married the Presbyterian minister Ewen MacDonald, was a theological thinker in her own right. With a knack for describing hypocrisies and frivolous loyalties to tradition and prejudices, Montgomery often snuck in satirical statements through her most upright and judgmental of characters. Remember the proudly outspoken Mrs. Rachel Lynde? In a letter to Anne in college, she writes,

“I don’t believe any but fools enter the ministry nowadays….Such candidates as they have sent us, and such stuff as they preach! Half of it ain’t true, and what’s worse, it ain’t sound doctrine. The one we have now is the worst of the lot. He mostly takes a text and preaches about something else. And he says he doesn’t believe all the heathen will be eternally lost. The idea! If they won’t all the money we’ve been giving to Foreign Missions will be clean wasted, that’s what!”

~from Anne of the Island, chapter 5 “Letters from Home”

Now contrast Anne’s enthusiasm for the young and lovely minister’s wife, Mrs. Allan.

“I never knew before that religion was such a cheerful thing. I always thought it was kind of melancholy, but Mrs. Allan isn’t, and I’d like to be a Christian if I could be one like her.”

~Anne confiding to Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, p. 172

Wouldn’t we all want this to be said of us?

So, for those of you who are teaching a Sunday school class, who open the Bible in front of young minds and share words of truth and life, you are filling more than an hour’s void.

“The social life of juvenile Carlisle centered in the day and Sunday schools. We were especially interested in our Sunday School, for we were fortunate enough to be assigned to a teacher who made our lesson so interesting that we no longer regarded Sunday School attendance as a disagreeable weekly duty, but instead looked forward to it with pleasure, and tried to carry out our teacher’s gentle precepts- at least on Mondays and Tuesdays. I am afraid the remembrance grew a little dim on the rest of the week.”

~ from The Story Girl, p. 26

You are providing a vision of what it means to be part of a kingdom of grace and love. It is a great service in which the subjects are only coincidentally small. If nothing else, you are narrating a picture of God’s appealing beauty. May your story be consistently bewitching and inviting.

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in Just spring: a photo gallery

 

During our “together time” today we read this poem.  After running around under bright blue sky, over squishy grass and with the birds all around us, it seemed like a great choice. We read it together from the computer screen so we could all see the poem as well as hear it. A and S were amazed more by the (lack of) structure to the poem, and the “created” vocabulary.  Why am I surprised that A instantly made a connection to Pan or fauns?

I have always loved it -and e.e. cummings- for the imagery.  Happy Spring.

 

in Just-

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spring                    when the world is mud-

luscious the little

lame balloonman

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whistles           far            and wee

 

and eddieandbill come

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running from marbles and

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piracies and it’s

spring

 

when the world is puddle-wonderful

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the queer

old balloon man whistles

far           and            wee

and bettyandisabel come dancing

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from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

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it’s

spring

and

the

goat-footed

balloonMan          whistles

far

and wee

-e.e.cummings

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What we would be reading if I had girls

May I preface this post with two small clarifications?  First, I really do not regret having all boys.  How could you regret the loves of your life?  I do, however, wonder from time to time what it would be like to share some really great children’s literature with them from my own childhood, you know, the kind boys just don’t truly appreciate.  This brings me to the second clarification – yes, there really are differences in girls and boys.  As much as I detest the pink aisles of toy departments in box stores, as much as I dislike labelling “boys books,” we all must admit, there are just certain subject matters to which one gender or another naturally gravitate.  This is particularly true as children grow past those early years.  So, what follows is a wonderful (and personally dear) collection of books which I would still be reading aloud if I had girls.  The list may not be surprising.  They are mostly classics, widely read, but if you do have a girl in your life, snuggle up next to her and share a treasure, a shared language of  literature.  Or, try some of these out with the little man, too.  At least as long as he will allow you.Spring2014 004

 

Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Oh, sure, A was partially toilet-trained on chapters like “Grandpa and the Panther,” and “Mr. Edwards meets Santa Claus,” but even a wild prairie tomboy does not generally hold the interests of boys in the same way that I was captivated by Laura’s trek across the grasslands of pioneering America.  Reading about sugar snow, Pet and Patty, Nellie Oleson and Laura’s early romance with Almanzo after the long, long winter held me spell-bound and made me wish I had also traveled by covered wagon.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich is where young girls might go after they have grown a bit older and read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories.  Beautifully written, they are told from the opposing perspective of the pioneer girls.  Ojibwa is from the Omakaya tribe near Lake Superior around 1847.  She is mysteriously discovered as an infant on a neighboring island, but grows up strong and full of curiosity.  Her people go through difficult times, and though the culture is a new one for most of us, through Ojibwa’s eyes, it is full of humanity and love.  This is a relatively new read for me.  They were first published  fifteen years or so ago, after I was well into adulthood.  However, I can imagine treasuring Erdrich’s books as a youngster.  Also in this series Chickadee, The Porcupine Year and The Game of Silence.

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Anne of Green Gables/ Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery.  I cannot emphasize the importance Montgomery’s writings had on me as  an 11 and 12-year old (and far beyond!).  I feel, like Anne-with-an-e, we are “kindred spirits.”  I cry every time Matthew gives Anne the “puffed sleeves” at Christmas, and I laugh when Mr. Carpenter “goes out with the tide” warning Emily to “beware of italics. ”  I have never been able to decide which series I enjoy more.  Emily is certainly darker, but more grown-up.  I will always be grateful to Lucy Maude not only for her characters, but also for introducing me to poets like Tennyson, Keats and Byron.  I would still love to make a pilgrimage one day to Prince Edward Island.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  Putting on plays in the parlor, eating apples in the attic, timidly playing the piano in the neighbor’s house, befriending the boy next door, reading war letters from father, growing up a March…..Who has not loved this family?

All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor.  Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, Gertie, then later, little brother Charlie.  Growing up Jewish at the turn-of-the-century in New York seemed neither strange nor unfamiliar. The books are full of sisterly love, patient parenting and Jewish holiday traditions.   I loved Ella as the Purim jester!  My favorites were always Sarah, who loved to read, and Henny who was always getting into so much trouble. All of a Kind Family Downtown, More All of a Kind Family, All of a Kind Family Uptown, and Ella of All of a Kind Family portray Mama’s and Papa’s girls (and baby brother) as they grow up before WWI.

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Betsy-Tacy-Tibseries by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Was there a happier place to live in than Deep Valley on Hill Street? Modeled after her own childhood experiences in the turn-of-the-century Minnesota, Lovelace helps us feel what it is like living in a community and growing up with best friends.

No surprises here in this list?  What were your favorites growing up?  Which childhood character seemed more flesh and blood than words on a page to you?  May you and your own “half-pint” bury your noses in a book, may you love every leaf, every page as you turn them together.

 

 

For the little paleontologist

If you are a parent, chances are you have gone through, or are going through, or will be going through the “age of the dinosaurs.”  While G’s level of interest has not reached the great heights A’s and S’s did at his age, he still enjoys a good dinosaur story now and then.   I remember the pleasure in being able to recognize and rattle off their prehistoric and substantial names when I was young.  I see that same joy for large, multi-syllabic words in my boys as well.  They love being experts in their chosen field.

Below are a few of our favorite dinosaur books over the years.  I have limited these to a.)  the ones my own paleontologists genuinely loved, and b.) books which have increased our knowledge of the dinosaur world, whether the books were fiction or non-fiction.  In other words, I have not included any of the multitude of whimsical dinosaur stories out on the market.

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The Children’s Dinosaur Encyclopedia has amazing artwork, detailed descriptions of each dinosaur family, as well as information on where the dinos were originally discovered.  My two oldest have literally memorized this entire volume.

T is for Terrible by Peter McCarty was an absolute favorite of S back in the preschool/kindergarten era. S checked this out of the library so many times I thought we actually owned a copy.   We still deeply love Peter McCarty for his gentle illustrations and sense of humor.  Although this is not an informative book, it helps us think about what it may feel like to be a dinosaur, and possibly understand our own feelings, too.

Sammy and the Dinosaurs by Ian Whybrow, as the cover shows, is about a little boy who carries his bucket full of dinosaurs with him wherever he goes.  Sammy loves to repeat the names of all his dinosaur friends.  Stegosaurus. Triceratops.  Apatosaurus.  And, of course, we do, too.

In Barnum Brown: Dinosaur Hunter by David Sheldon we learn some of  the tools of the trade, a little  history of paleontology, and about an amazing man who could “smell” dinosaur bones.  The unusual Barnum Brown discovered the now popular “tyrant lizard king,” Tyrannosaurus Rex!

Margaret and H.A. Rey’s Curious George and the Dinosaur Discovery is a fun way to introduce your little paleontologist to the tools of the trade.  George learns how to use a pick, a brush, a wheelbarrow, and also learns that patience is an important guide for a geologist and dino digger.

The very prolific Aliki provides us with one of the most informative books for 3-8 year olds on what it means to be a paleontologist.  From discovering a dig site, to carefully sifting through layers of rock and dirt, to hand wrapping each piece and reassembling it in museums, she gives little ones a taste of what really goes on.  Your reader will know how geologists, paleontologists, photographers and museum workers all work together to get the job done.

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After all that reading I wanted G to get some hands-on experience and playtime.  We do have a purchased dinosaur excavation kit that he sometimes chips away at, but the real fun was when we made our own dinsoaur dig sensory bin.

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Coffee makes wonderful dirt if you buy an inexpensive brand, and don’t mind the additional mess.  Children love the gritty texture.   We always have rocks about the house.  I threw in a few wooden beads and, of course, plastic dinosaurs from a dollar store.  Notice the dinosaur skeleton?

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G has had a great time digging and sifting and brushing, re-discovering his dinosaurs.

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S was even tempted to join him for a bit.  Of course, by this time, it was all about digging their hands in the coffee.

My hope is they never outgrow playing together.

Days of the Blackbird

Frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall have ensured much of America has spent a great deal of  time indoors since the New Year.  In between board games, baking cookies and muffins, and eating soups, chilis and stews, G and I  have been snuggling up with a good book.  This time of year I like to reach for Tomie dePaola.  Though they may not always admit it, A and S have not fully outgrown the Italian-Irish American author and his picture books.  G will always happily sit for a Tomie dePaola story.  He has many wonderful Christmas-time tales like Tony’s Bread, Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, and The Night of Las Posadas.  Yet now that the holidays have passed us by, and we are simply left with the icy winds, salty, slushy stains in our entry way, and mittens thrown here and there, I take comfort in The Days of the Blackbird: A Tale of Northern Italy.

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According to dePaola, northern Italy refers to the final three days of January as the days of the blackbird.  The author spins a sweet story of kindness, love and miraculous hope.  In the northern mountains of Italy, possibly in the late Middle Ages, the Duca Gennaro falls ill and daughter Gemma desperately struggles to nurse him back to health.  The Duke’s sole comforts are his daughter and the beautiful song of the birds in his courtyard, particularly that of La Colomba, the all-white dove.  Gemma sets out plates of seed and suet for her bird friends.  She creates baskets for them stuffed with wool in hopes of persuading them to stay through the winter.  Gemma believes her father will recover with bird song and the arrival of spring.  The miracle of the story is when La Colomba (the white dove) remains all winter, finding warmth on the coldest final days in January at the top of the duke’s chimney.  She is transformed by the soot into La Merla (a blackbird).  Of course, the Duke is restored to health, and the birds return in the spring.  La Merla is forever black, and Duca Gennaro honors her by naming the last three days in January as the days of the blackbird.

Our first activity with this book was basic geography.  We looked at many maps and talked about Italy.  This is not an unknown country to G.  We have read many stories which take place in Italy, and his father spent several of his growing-up years there.  We learned the basics: Italy is in Europe, mostly surrounded by water, and is shaped like a boot.  Northern Italy is in the mountains and can get cold in the winter.  Fortunately, dePaola sprinkles his book with Italian vocabulary and expressions.  Not only does this give a more authentic feel to the tale, but has given G the opportunity to take ownership of the story.  He knows the white bird, for example, is La Colomba.  He is also excited when Natale arrives, because the villagers get to eat panettone.

Our next activity drew our attention to the birds.  G realized we had not filled up the bird feeder in awhile, so we trudged out in the deep, crispy snow to do that.  This book focuses on kindness – the kindness of the duke to the villagers, and then Gemma modeling this kindness to the birds and the children.

We peeked in our family room fireplace to talk about ashes and soot.  La Colomba was miraculously transformed into La Merla after sitting at the top of the chimney.  I printed out a basic bird color page.  I lit a couple of matches and let G hold his hand a good distance above the flame to feel the warmth.  After blowing out the match, I showed him how to use the burnt end as a “crayon,” and we colored or painted the bird a sooty black.  PLEASE be careful when doing this activity with little ones.  Obviously, you want to make sure they are supervised at all times.  In fact, S warned me when we started that he thought this was NOT a good idea.  He is always the concerned brother.

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After a couple of days we made a warm basket for our bird, just like Gemma did with   a couple of handfuls of cotton balls stuffed into a basket I had on hand. Secretly, I think G was a little disappointed.  I think he thought we were going to make a basket for the real birds.

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2014-winter 100For those of you in wintry climes, may you stay warm with great bowls of soup.  May you ALL enjoy health and the warmth of family.  Curl up with a good story; hug your children; plan some kindness.  May you find and create beauty in these days of the blackbird, the coldest days of the year.

 

 

 

A Little Night Music…and some day time reading

Holiday2013 014All three of my boys are growing up feeling very comfortable in a library. Our tiny suburb has placed a hefty importance on its local library as a place of learning, reading and community. I could not be more pleased. A, S and G spend as much weekly time at our local branch as they do at the grocery store, the park, or anywhere else for that matter. They have each known exactly what they are looking for when they walk through the doors, past the fish tank and into the children’s section. From an early age they learned where the early readers are located, where to find the biographies and which magazines are best. They know the names of their favorite authors and illustrators. This life-long bibliophile is proud.

So, it didn’t surprise me a few weeks ago when G suddenly remembered another book he wanted to check out. We were headed to the self-check area when he threw his hands up and suddenly exclaimed in a disappointed voice, “OH! I forgot to look for the book on Mozart!” Um, alright. Namely, I was a little surprised, because I was ignorant of the fact that he had even intended on looking for Mozart, or that he had ever thought about the Austrian composer. “Well, let’s go look him up on the computer,” I suggested. And thus was born my three-year-old’s love affair with the childhood biographies of dead, European composers.

                                  

The Famous Children series has quickly become his favorite. The books are written in a brief enough fashion that they hold his interest, yet provide enough detail for him to feel like he has learned something. Susan Hellard’s illustrations are slightly muted and charming. Ann Rachlin has written a single event, or short series of events, in the childhoods of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Haydn, Schumann, Schubert, Chopin and Tchaikovsky. There may be others, but these are the ones we have been able to lay our hands on. At the end of each book, Rachlin includes a list of operas, concertos, or ballets, as the case may be, for which the composer is most famous. G has been eager to locate so many of these pieces. Every time we check out one of these books from the library, he must also either check out a CD or dig through our own music collection to listen to the Brandenburg Concertos, or Beethoven’s Fifth.

Ann Rachlin and Susan Hellard have created these beautiful picture books to introduce young readers (and listeners) to the worlds of biography, music, history, geography and aspirations. “Mommy!” G breathlessly told me yesterday, “When I grow up I am going to play the violin, and you and Daddy will listen to me and be so proud of my music.” I love this. Realistically, who knows if he will care about playing a musical instrument in a few years, but I simply love the fact that he is excited about envisioning new fields of interest. He is learning to be passionate about what specifically interests him.

Holiday2013 038All thanks to Ann Rachlin, Susan Hellard, Mozart, Bach, Haydn, and our local library!

Owl Reads

Owls are captivating.  They are not only fascinating to study, but are also an excellent subject of fiction, both for little kids and big kids.  As promised, here is a very brief list of great owl reads.  These are just a  few my guys and I have recently enjoyed.

PICTURE BOOKS

Owl Moon The very prolific Jane Yolen is the author of this almost lyrical book about a little girl and her father crunching through the snowy woods at night in search of an owl.  “Sometimes there is an owl, and sometimes there isn’t,” as her brothers tell her, but of course, Ms. Yolen does not disappoint her readers.  There is, indeed, an owl, a great horned owl to be exact.  Animals are naturally hidden in nearly every page, and the author’s beautiful imagery creates a familiar sense throughout the book.  The realistic illustrations combined with the obviously reverent awe she feels for nature makes this book a true friend in nurturing a sense of wonder in our little ones.

Little Hoot by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jean Corace – In muted matte illustrations an adorable little owl in a hoodie complains throughout the book that he has to go to bed late.  Owls go to bed “late, late, late.”  “Rules of the roost,” Father owl reminds him.  G giggles every time at this flip-flopped story line about going to bed.  His favorite line?  A grumbling Little Hoot  vows, “When I grow up, I will let my kids go to bed as early as they want!”  If you like this book, the author-illustrator team has also given us Little Pea and Little Oink.

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson-  Gorgeous illustrations of fluffy owlets snuggling in the nest are accompanied by a text reassuring any little one that when Mama is gone, she also comes back.

CHAPTER BOOKS

There’s an Owl in the Shower by Jean Craighead George – Here is a story for animal lovers.  The logging industry versus the spotted owls.  Truth be told, A read this one on his own and I have not yet managed to read it.  I have included it here, because I have read the author’s captivating My Side of the Mountain, and because, well, A still references it, even though he first read it almost a year ago.

Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat  Classic Canadian children’s author Farley Mowat wrote a book once upon a time when boys (and girls) lived outdoors and enjoyed hours of unscheduled free time.  This humorous and fact-filled book tells the story of three friends who find two great horned owls in need of rescuing.

Wabi: A Hero’s Tale by Joseph Bruchac  Drawing heavily on Native American legends, Wabi is a coming-of-age story about a great horned owl who chooses to become human to be with the girl he loves.  Before he can be near her, however, he must first win her trust and affection, as well as defeat the mythically-based creatures of the Valley of the Monsters.  Bruchac does a fabulous job of weaving in Native American folklore, and depicting scenes distinctly from an owl’s perspective.

May your family enjoy the bounty of the season.   Don’t forget to love every red, yellow, or orange leaf before they are gone for the year.  If you don’t live with the autumn colors, what are your enjoyable signs of fall?   Curling up together and sharing a book is a wonderful fall activity.  Whether through books, in nature centers, or out in their natural habitat, again, happy owling!

Farm Tales

Soups and stews. Pumpkin pie and muffins. Cardigans and scarves. It’s autumn in the Midwest. How does this translate into preschool literature? Farm stories! For the last couple of weeks G and I have been reading a collection of Golden Books all with farm themes – “A Day on the Farm,” “The Little Red Hen” and “Two Little Gardeners,” by Margaret Wise Brown but mostly we have delved into Richard Scarry’s “The Animals of Farmer Jones.”

This sweet story introduces preschoolers to typical animals on the farm and the various grains they might eat. The animals patiently wait for Farmer Jones to leave his tractor at the end of the day to provide them with their dinner.  G enjoyed all the supplemental activities that we created for this story, but I don’t think there was enough substance to the tale for the multiple readings we did as with “Lentil” and others. Nevertheless, our weather vane still adorns the kitchen table.

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Science – Every barn has a weather vane. We stuck to creating one with the traditional rooster. G already knows his compass points, so he helped me label them, and we stuck them on the lid to an empty plastic fruit container. We placed rocks in the bottom to weight it down and poked a hole in the lid large enough to set a straw through, which was stabilized by the rocks. We placed another straw in the first and secured them with tape.

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While G was coloring a print out template of a rooster, I cut out an arrow from cardstock and fastened it with a paperclip in the middle of the straw. G taped the rooster to the top of the straw, and we were ready to observe the wind. G learned that meteorologists observe and study the weather.

Crafts – Our craft project was having fun with scarecrows. Every farm story incorporated the scarecrow at some point, even if he was silently taking his place in the background. For this craft we used a paper plate, felt bits, construction paper, origami and tissue papers, glue and crayons. Basically, it was whatever materials I had on hand. I got this great idea from notimeforflashcards.  Allison McDonald always seems to be full of preschool craft ideas – an area where I seriously struggle.

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Telling Time – G has had a little green clock in his room ever since he was born, so I often show him what time it is, namely at bedtime. We noticed Farmer Jones fed the animals at six o’clock, so we played with the hands on our clock as we talked about what we did at seven o’clock, twelve o’clock or eight o’clock.

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G knows the minute hand and the hour hand, so we learned how to change the time for the hour and the half hour.

G showing what six o'clock looks like.
G showing what six o’clock looks like.

Farm Sensory Bin – These homemade bins seem to be our go to activity regardless what we are learning.  I usually have two or three different themes going at one time, and am finally starting to store extras in large ziploc bags. This saves on having to purchase many different plastic containers.

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This one was created with a combination of rice, beans and popcorn I had leftover from another bin. We added a few plastic scoops, craft leaves leftover from a church luncheon and, of course, the Fisher Price farm figures. Sensory bins are really the most fun when the play is child-led. We don’t have a particular agenda when playing with these. I mostly liked burying my hands in all of it and sifting the popcorn through my fingers. G has spent most of his time so far throwing the leaves in the air and quoting, “The leaves are turning red and brown.  The leaves are falling to the ground.”

Word Cards– From such a young age G has been focused on text in his books. He follows along with his finger as we read, so at three he already has quite a few sight words in his repertoire. I wanted to boost his confidence with his familiarity with some of these words. G helped me look through the illustrations and text as he chose which words to create into word cards. He spelled them aloud for me as I wrote. Pig, cow, horse, farmer, thank you were a few. I think we made 10-12 altogether.

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First I scrambled them up while he read them to me. Perfect. The next day I gave him dot paints and called out a word while he put a dot on the correct card. This was fun for him for a few minutes, and he was proud of himself for being able to “read.” A couple of days later we got out the play dough and wooden letters. G used his word cards to spell the words by pressing the wooden letter into the play dough. Not only did this reinforce his knowledge of the sight words, but it was good fine motor practice for his little fingers.

Field trips – I always like to give G a field trip opportunity with the stories we read. The most obvious choices were a trip to our very local organic dairy farm, which of course, meant milkshakes afterward, and a visit to the pumpkin festival.

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Picking a pumpkin, pony rides, the corn maze, and eating apple donuts are all a highlight of our fall season.

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Seven From Scandinavia

 

During this last 2012-2013 school year, my boys and I read a significant number of books.  Most of them were excellent.  I am thankful that some of them were responsible for turning S on to reading for the sheer pleasure of it.  Unwittingly, we read several books with Scandinavian settings.  Were we subconsiously drawn to the frigid northern climes once we slid down the steep mountains with Norwegian youth, or was this collection pure coincidence?  I am not sure, but here are a few fantastic reads if you wish to visit Norway or Denmark, if only through children’s literature.

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan – It is not often we happen upon a book that is equally celebrated by A and S both.  A wants to stick strictly to realistic or historical fiction; S needs adventure.  This book fits both criteria.  Snow Treasure details the true story of how Norwegian children in a small mountain village smuggle millions of dollars worth of gold on their sleds past Nazi officers.  In the end, they save their village and their way of life.  McSwigan provides the reader with a positive story of children’s courage in a difficult time.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry – This well-known Newberry-Award winner pleasantly surprised me last year when I read it for the first time as an adult.  It is based on a conglomeration of true stories during World War II Denmark, and like, Snow Treasure, it is a happy tale of grim times.  The Johansen and Rosen families have always been friends.  Jewish evacuation by the Nazis does not change that.  Concentrating on the friendship of Annemarie and Ellen, we see a glimpse into the goodness, bravery and determination of the Danes as they save the vast number of their nation’s  Jews by smuggling  them onto the southern shores of neutral Sweden.  This is an excellent story for eight to twelve-year-olds who may love an historical novel, but are not able to handle other gruesome events of war times.  Truth be told, I was comforted and inspired by the noble nature of the story.  Do not forget to discuss the scientific reasons why cocaine was used in the smuggling.  While Annemarie was not an actual girl, she and her family are true in spirit.  Many such Jewish families found freedom due to the compassion and goodness of their neighbors.

Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus – Here is another World War II novel with a unique perspective, and with perhaps a bit more violence described than the two previous books.  Again, we are in the Norwegian mountains, this time with 14-year-old Espen.  Over the next five years we see him come of age as he becomes a courier, then a spy for the Norwegian resistance movement.  He protects his family, his friends and his country, but eventually finds himself skiing for his life over the mountains into liberating Sweden.  Preus’ storytelling keeps the reader on the edge of his seat, while the actual photographs remind us that real youths began (and ended) their lives in such extraordinary ways.  Preus interviewed Erling Storrusten, the real-life  Espen, in researching her novel.

          Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest, and its sequel, The Runaway Troll by Matt Haig – These are some of S’s favorite books.  The book opens with the Blink family in an automobile accident after an argument ensues on a road trip, killing the parents. This macabre beginning may be offputting for some, but S did not seem to be disturbed by it.  The story tells of Samuel and his younger sister Martha as they move to Norway to live with their peculiar Aunt Eda after their parents’ deaths.  Everything about their new home is odd.  There are many different cheeses and many different rules, namely that they are never, ever to venture into the forest.  Fantastic creatures based on Norwegian folklore, exploding body parts and solving the mystery at what really happened to Uncle Henrik are part of the fun.  Both books are well-written.  Do not forget to point out to your child Haig’s nod to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire – Monsters, gods, elves, sprites and other mischievous creatures come to life through the sumptuous artwork of this children’s classic.  Each story is faithfully, but succinctly told to give boys and girls a great appreciation for the weird and raucous tales of Norse mythology.  Thor, Loki, Odin, Freya and frost giants storm through its pages.

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman – This is a perfect read for seven to ten-year-olds who want a fictionalized version of some of the great Norse myths.  This slim book stays true to the original myths and characters.  Odd is a very unlucky twelve-year-old in Norway, but with a bravery he does not know he possessess, and a growing collection of peculiar friends.  He just might be the one to save Asgard, the city of the gods, from the invading frost giants.

Boy by Roald Dahl- Welsh-born, from Norwegian parents, Roald Dahl is best known as a great British children’s author.  What did he do with his time, however before he flew in the Royal Air Force, or before he invented the Oompa Loompas, or an enormous, juicy specimen of fruit in his own backyard?  In his brief autobiography from birth to early manhood, Dahl charmingly describes his family’s yearly trips back to Norway, as well as the severity of the English boarding schools, and his inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.   Adults will be shocked, and children will be rolling on the floor from laughter,  when they discover what the precocious Dahl children actually put in the pipe of their sister’s boyfriend. 

Hopefully, some of these books spark your interest, whether it is in fiction, geography, culture or mythology.  Grab a map or a globe with your child, curl up with a book, and “travel” to Scandinavia.

Learning with Lentil

There is something so appealing about the artwork and stories of American children’s writer/illustrator Robert McCloskey.  Although his work is largely from the mid-twentieth century, it is not difficult to see why a modern child would instantly be drawn into his books.  Each of his stories has a strong sense of place, making them perfect for geography and history lessons.  Children also easily identify with the characters, whether animal or human.

While G loves Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings, his very favorite by McCloskey is Lentil.  Lentil is a barefoot boy with tousled hair from the fictional town of Alto, Ohio.  He cannot sing no matter how hard he tries, so he learns to play the harmonica.  In doing so, he saves the day when the town grouch tries to debunk the community’s efforts at welcoming home the town’s most important citizen, Col. Carter.  There is a great lesson here about the value of learning anything new, regardless of how  trivial it may seem.  The story has built-in fun with American folk songs, train travel and brass bands.  There are several details on each page to stop and talk about.    This is a fun read with a tremendous collection of possible activities.  In fact , all my boys have loved Lentil.

G loves to make grouchy faces like "Old Sneep."
G loves to make grouchy faces like “Old Sneep.”

History and Math – We naturally combined these two activities together as Lentil introduced us to the folk song “She’ll Be Driving Six White Horses.”  Of course, we had to learn all the verses and sing along.  Although, with my pitiful singing voice, I admit G did ask me to stop after awhile.  Then, we counted out six of his white(ish) horse figures.  We also figured out how many we would need to take away if we had counted seven, or eight, or nine…you get the idea.

iphone1 274iphone1 286Geography – This was easily covered with our laminated placemat and a variety of United States puzzles.  We are neighbors to Lentil, so it was easy to pick out all the surrounding states.  We also decided to create our own map with Citiblocs.  I really thought he would be much more interested in building each street and landmark, but really he wanted to hurry and get something down so he could reenact Lentil walking down the street playing his harmonica.  iphone1 282

iphone1 275Music – The entire story is music, so we had to experiment with it all.  Not only did we listen to brass bands, marching bands and jazz, but we also blew a little horn ourselves.  Then, we just had to test out how the harmonica sounded in the bathtub.  Here we talked about acoustics a bit, but G was mostly interested in making noise.

Sensory Play- Sensory bins are taking over my kitchen, so it was no surprise that we found a bowl to use for yet another one.  This time with lentils.  I don’t think G remembered what lentils were from our last fall/winter diet, so this was a new experience for him.  We got out measuring cups and scoops, and just enjoyed covering our hands in the tiny, flat legumes.  And, of course, we made LENTIL STEW!  Our recipe will be coming up.

"Schliiiish!"  Pretending to be Old Sneep, sucking on a lemon.
“Schliiiish!” Pretending to be Old Sneep, sucking on a lemon.
The tone was "improved one-hundred per cent."
The tone was “improved one-hundred per cent.”

Other projects- G was thoroughly enjoying Lentil, but I felt we had to leave Alto, Ohio at some point, so there were other ideas in my head that we didn’t get to THIS TIME.  The Alto residents decorate the streets with American flags, so a decorating day or parade could be lots of fun.  Col. Carter promises to build Alto a new hospital, so why not build a sensory bin full of dirt, rocks, construction trucks, etc, or maybe just build a hospital with blocks?

Let us know if you have enjoyed Lentil as much as we have.