All Clear

September 23, 2016 @ 4:50 pm | Filed under: Books

Midmorning. Beanie comes into my room, slams Blackout down on my bed. She’s wild-eyed, almost trembling.

“You were right,” she said. Bursts out with a laugh. “I…I…”

“You need All Clear.” I’m grinning.

“Yes. Immediately.”

“It’s in the library basket.”

She’s been reading Blackout in between other books for weeks now. I had several false starts with it myself, and I’d warned her that it can be slow going at first, while you’re getting a handle on who everyone is and where (when) they are. “But you’ll hit a point,” I’d predicted, “maybe two-thirds of the way through the book, where you won’t be able to put it down.”

And I knew from experience—actually, I think some of you warned me here—that the second she finished Blackout, she’d be desperate to leap into the sequel. It’s really more of a Part Two, and you can’t get that cover cracked open fast enough.

“Enjoy,” I tell her. We both know I won’t be seeing much of her today.

Things we did on a Monday morning in September

September 19, 2016 @ 2:05 pm | Filed under: Art, Books, Fun Learning Stuff, Homeschooling

Lion Man art day

• Earworms German (Rilla and Huck)
• U.S. Presidents song
• 7 times table practice
• Visited a neighbor (Rilla and Huck)
• Read “The Lion Man” chapter in Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art (Rilla and me)
• Scooter and walk (Huck and Rose)
• Did art journal pages inspired by the Lion Man chapter (Rilla, Huck, me)
• Listened to Mozart’s 40th symphony while painting
• Read Frederick by Lio Lionni because it tied in so nicely to the Lion Man text (Rilla, Huck, me)
• Beanie did a lot of her usual Beanie stuff—German, geometry, working on a paper for British lit, reading cool books, taking a Photoshop class, piano practice
• Falconry test prep: studied five questions (Rose, Beanie, me)
• Looked up taxonomy mnemonic (King Philip Came Over For Good Soup)(Rose, Beanie, me)
• Boisterous game involving all Mom and Dad’s pillows (Huck and Rilla)
• Read-aloud: two chapters of A Lion to Guard Us (Rilla, Huck, me)

And then it was time for lunch. 🙂

The art history book landed on our doorstep as an unexpected review copy from Laurence King Publishing—and in a flash Rilla and I had a new history plan for the year. This book was love at first sight for both of us. Of course, it’s early days yet; as you can see above, so far we’ve only read the first chapter. So consider this a first impression, not a review. But I’m loving the format. The art prints and photos are augmented by gorgeous handpainted illustrations, and the text is engaging and fresh. We learned about the Lion Man carving (c. 40,000 BC!) in the context of the daily lives of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. The depiction of the unknown artist laboring for hundreds of hours on the mammoth-tusk carving reminded me of Lio Lionni’s Frederick the Mouse soaking up sunrays, colors, and words while the other mice bustled to collect food, so of course we had to pull out Frederick afterward.

We decided to make pages in our sketchbooks inspired by the Lion Man. I copied the illustrations in the book; Rilla invented her own mammoth-and-lion scene. Huck painted a happy guy. 🙂 Rilla and I are hoping to fill our art journals with drawings based on our Vincent’s Starry Night readings through the year. I’ll try to post updates here if we stick with the plan.

Lion Man

Our current read-aloud is Clyde Robert Bulla’s chapter book A Lion to Guard Us, the adventures of three English children who travel to Jamestown after their mother’s death to reunite with their father there. Huck expresses less enthusiasm for this book than our last few readalouds—he expresses it, and yet every time I start reading (“You don’t have to listen, buddy, you can go play”) he gets sucked right in and has lots of commentary to add. We were amused to note the book’s similarity to our last readaloud (The Family Under the Bridge, which was a rousing success)—down-on-their-luck kids, big sister, middle brother, little sister.

Scott and I took Jane back to college over the weekend (sniffle), so summer is officially over in Chez Peterson. I’m more than a little freaked out by how deep into the month we are already. Too fast, y’all.

How I entertain myself

September 8, 2016 @ 11:29 am | Filed under: Books, Cybils

Blog Odds and Ends

September 1, 2016 @ 6:56 pm | Filed under: Bloggity, Books

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Several of you have written to ask how to subscribe to my Paper.li newsletter (my curated links, similar to the ones I share in the “Caught My Eye” part of the sidebar here). I had mentioned you could receive it via email, but it turns out that option is no longer available for free Paper.li accounts like mine. Sorry for the misinformation! Best way to follow it is, I guess, to look for the link on my Twitter each Monday. Or just pop over here to peruse the sidebar.

Also in the sidebar, as you know, is my running booklist. This year I’ve broken it into sections: what I’m reading myself; what I’m reading to the kids (well, sort of—I’m only listing the novels because tracking all the picture book and nonfiction readalouds would be a full-time job); and audiobooks.

Every January, I move all the year’s books out of the sidebar onto their own dedicated Booklog page. This year I’m ahead of the game and have set up the page already. If you prefer a more visual approach to booklists (cover photos), here’s that link.

But it, too, is missing the picture books, comics, folk and fairy tale collections, nonfiction, and poetry that make up such a large segment of our literary diet. I’ve been inconsistent at logging those books in a format that others can view. This fall I’m making another stab at tracking our picture-book readalouds via Goodreads. Takes a lot less time than putting together a post! If I can stick with the practice long enough to make it a habit, I’ll think about adding our nonfiction and poetry picks as well.

Cybils Call for Judges

August 22, 2016 @ 6:03 pm | Filed under: Books, Cybils

cybilslogobox

I’ve been involved with the Cybils (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards) on and off for the past eleven years, serving multiple stints as a first-round panelist in Young Adult Fiction, Picture Books, Graphic Novels, and Book Apps. This year, after a decade of brilliant service, longtime YA Fic category chair Jackie Parker is stepping down, and I’ve been asked to fill her shoes. That means Cybils season begins early for me this year! The call for judges went out today and I’ll be reviewing applications for my category (realistic and historical YA Fiction; YA SFF is a separate category) as they roll in. I’m honored to be serving in this capacity and look forward to exploring the blogs, vlogs, and podcasts of YA panelist applicants.

There have been a few other changes in the Cybils this year, including the addition of board books to the Fiction Picture Books category; an expansion of Nonfiction into two age groups; and a new Audiobooks category (also with two age groups), which is very exciting! You can read all about these changes on the Cybils website.

Tidying the digital shelves + a bunch of mini-reviews

August 20, 2016 @ 2:25 pm | Filed under: Books

I’m sitting here tidying up my Goodreads and Netgalley accounts—a task long neglected. I’m terrible about submitting Netgalley feedback, in part because so much, so VERY MUCH, of my book recommendations come in the form of casual answers to blog comments, Facebook questions, speaking engagement Q&As, and word of mouth. You can’t always point to a permalink for that stuff.

But still. I’m turning up a lot of gems I’ve talked about in passing but never wrote proper posts about. But to quote Goldie Hawn in Overboard, there’s no time now.

captainkarl

So let me just share some capsule reviews of books I read during the past couple of years, books that stand out in my mind for one reason or another.

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando. Read this as a first-round judge for the 2014 CYBIL Awards in YA Fiction. It was a standout for me that year–the story of two incoming college freshmen roommates getting to know each other via letters the summer before they move in together. At first their connection misfires—they come from quite different backgrounds—but gradually as they learn more about each other and grapple with their own doubts and hopes, they forge a friendship. What really struck a chord for me was the roomie who is oldest kid in a large family, ready to launch a more independent life but torn up over leaving her younger siblings behind. Since that was the year my own oldest-of-six was a freshman in college herself, at a school six hours from home, I loved the candid, at times heart-wrenching exploration of what that particular separation might be like.

Blue Gold by Elizabeth Stewart. This one’s a bit harder to write about because the prose is flawed, which is a hard thing for me to say in public. The thing is, my strong feeling the whole time I was devouring this book (also a 2014 Cybils YA Fic nominee) was: EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS. In three alternating narratives, we see behind the scenes into dramatically different worlds linked by the technology we rely on: a Chinese factory worker struggling to keep the pace of soldering smartphone parts together; a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo trying to keep her family together under threats from a local militia gang; and a North American girl whose imprudent cellphone photo becomes a tool for public shame. Powerful stuff, even if the writing is a bit choppy and inelegant.

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar. Gorgeous book. Couldn’t put it down and of course I had to go read a ton of Woolf afterward. What a beautifully rendered, respectful portrait of these two women and their circle—Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa. Vanessa’s complex, fraught relationship with her challenging sister was masterfully and lovingly wrought. And the gentle glimpse of E.M. Forster—wonderful. Highly recommended.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Victorian lady botanist working out a theory of natural selection on her own? Talk about having me at hello. And this was gorgeously written. I loved it and know I’ll return to it again.

Okay, that’s four. Enough for now. Only nine more pages of Netgalley ARCs to click through. 😉

Meanwhile, in Goodreads land, I’ve renamed a bunch of my lists and am attempting (again) to do a better job of logging picture books and incoming review titles. And a new addition: a “didn’t finish” list for books I’ve read at least three chapters of. Most often these are things I mean to return to when time permits, like Wolf Hall and The Buried Giant, both of which expired on Overdrive before I had a chance to finish. Other times it’s just a book (often nonfiction) that I read a significant chunk of but chose not to complete. Those chunks still inform my reading and thinking life, and I want to track them.

Easing into high tide

August 17, 2016 @ 8:14 am | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff, Homeschooling

Wrote this post yesterday and then didn’t post it.

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We’re swinging back into high tide here, some of us. Wonderboy started seventh grade today (I KNOW, RIGHT?!) and I’ve planned a little block of time where I can do some extra fun stuff with the two littles. It’s so strange this year—with Rose graduated (but still home and planning to remain part of our history studies as long as she lives here) and Jane heading back to college next month, I will have only three students in my little homeschool. Been a long time since that was the case!

And of course you know I don’t do much formal “schooling” with my very smallest fry. Huck is reading very well (thanks in large part to Calvin & Hobbes) and has an uncommonly good head for math. Which means the last thing I want to do is make him DO math and start disliking it. So: his life rolls on with games and read-alouds and mental arithmetic challenges and nature walks (or, these days, spying on the baby mourning doves on our porch) and messy painting sessions. Now and then we do a little writing practice. He likes markerboards and chalkboards. He’ll absorb whatever history and science I’m doing with Rilla. Oh, and they have their Shakespeare passages to learn; this year we’re starting with the “willow cabin” speech from Twelfth Night.

Rilla will get the lion’s share of my Charlotte Mason-flavored attentions this month. And here again we’ll be doing what has worked so well for us before: literature-based history explorations, a lot of art, nature study and (to put a name on it, but not a curriculum) earth science, poetry, composer study. You could probably boil my “method” (it isn’t a method) down to: fill the room with good stuff and see what happens.

I realize this isn’t terribly helpful when you’re a homeschooling parent trying to figure out your own plan. Lists of books we love are probably more practically useful, and this year we’ll be drawing again from that giant booklist in my sidebar—Books to Read With My 9-Year-Old. She’s ten now, but I said last year that it would likely take us several years to read everything on that list. I refreshed her shelf last week with some new treasures and now I have to resist the urge to dive into everything all at once.

Possibly more useful on a practical level is the short routine (if you want to call it that) Huck and Rilla and I enjoy at the start of a high-tide morning.

First, some yoga stretches (this is mostly for me, to get me moving), and during the planks we do some skip-counting. I can just about get through the sixes before I collapse. So right now, we work two planks into the series of stretches, one for sixes and one for sevens. Nothing fancy, just chanting “6, 12, 18, 24” and so on.

Then we sing our memory songs. The Horrible Histories English Monarchs song (thanks again, Penny, for introducing us to that a while back); the U.S. Presidents song from our old Singin’ Smart cassette (we no longer own a cassette player but the older girls and I remember the melody); and sometimes a French children’s song or Scottish folk song. I mean to add the U.S. State Capitals song (also from Singin’ Smart) soon.

And then we finish up with our Shakespeare speeches. One line at a time, a couple of lines a week. Takes but a moment. Huck always insists he can’t “rememberize,” but then Rilla starts reciting and he joins right in. So, yeah.

This routine (if there were more of us, we might call it ‘circle time,’ but we’re more of a triangle now) takes only 10-15 minutes. It happens around 9 in the morning, after breakfast, chores, and (for Rilla) piano practice. I try to keep it mellow—as mellow as anything is going to be with a seven-year-old boy doing planks. What I mean, though, is I try to keep it low-key and low-pressure. Just goofing around together having fun. Most days, it works.

ON PURPOSE

August 15, 2016 @ 3:45 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, These People Crack Me Up

purge in progress

purge in progress

Our school kid starts back tomorrow. That usually triggers a tidal change for me: I start thinking in terms of revamped daily rhythm and freshly curated bookshelves. I tackled the shelves this weekend and am giddy today at the sight of rows of Books I Suspect Particular Kids Will Love This Year.

I realize I can’t throw a statement like that out on this blog without SPECIFICS, so I’ll share some booklists soon.

I’m also working on another skin care post, per your requests. My own routine plus (ding ding ding) success in the non-shiny sunscreen quest!

Until then, I’ll leave you with a Huck story. I mentioned I’d been invited to a Pete’s Dragon screening but declined because I could only bring one kid. Huck’s response: “Yeah, that would be like a mom and dad making mac and cheese ON PURPOSE when the kids weren’t home.”

Notebooks, sketchbooks, and planners, oh my

August 8, 2016 @ 5:55 pm | Filed under: Art, Paper & Desk

notebooks

So this is not a great photo but the sight of all these books spread out on the bed delighted me. And also caused me not a small amount of chagrin—mainly that toppled stack of half-filled notebooks on the far right. This is the past two years in paper: August 2014-2016. I hadn’t realized how many sketchbooks I have filled since I started my daily drawing project two years ago this month!

The top two rows are my notebooks, about which I’ve written much in the past. They contain a hodgepodge of notes, task lists, doodles, and sketches. I used to always use small, lined spirals like the red one leaning against the stack on the right, but a couple of years ago I shifted to the black steno books up top because I like gridded paper better. Then I switched to Moleskine’s Cahier size with the kraft covers—and those are perfect little everyday scribble books, in my opinion. There are three completely filled ones in this photo (one has a gray cover, second row) plus the one I use for all our family medical notes. There’s another gray one in the only-partially-filled stack—I used about a third of it on sketches and notes at the Brave Writer Retreat last month.

insidenotebooks

The four skinny books in row two are Midori Travelers Notebook inserts. When my pal Kristen gave me a Midori last fall, I abandoned the Moleskines (for the most part—I do grab them occasionally, as with the Bravewriter one). On the bottom left is my current Midori insert. I remain as fervently in love with my TN as ever, although I have scaled down the number and type of inserts I tote around in it. Right now I just have the gridded catch-all (collaged cover, pulled out of the cover for this photo) and a zipper pouch containing washi samples, stamps, and ephemera.

The lower two rows are my sketchbooks—although as I said, the notebooks are also crammed with drawings. In fact, I find I often prefer sketching on gridded notebook paper—I feel freer, less fussy, less concerned with getting things right. The stakes are somehow lower.

But I do love working on good sketchbook paper. The blue Canson Mixed Media books are probably my favorite type—I have learned that I prefer spiral bound sketchbooks, and I like paper with a little bit of tooth. The smaller yellow Strathmore books are also great. In fact, their paper quality is probably better and the smaller size is good for carrying around. I have completely filled two of each, and I’m working simultaneously in the ones on the bottom row. Not really any rhyme or reason to which one I pick up on a given day. Whatever’s closest to hand, usually.

The black Moleskine sketchbooks on the bottom left see a lot less use. The horizontal one contains watercolor paper and is quite lovely, but I mostly only use it for color charts. (A semi-obsession.) The vertical one is Moleskine’s standard sketchbook and it took me about twenty pages to realize I kind of hate the paper. Too smooth. I like texture and skritch. I was excited to discover I have a preference! It’s too bad, because I love the compactness of that book. It would be much easier to carry around than the Canson or Strathmore spirals.

sketches

I’ve realized, though, that I don’t—at this stage, at least—do a lot of sketching or painting out in the world. When I do, it’s in one of my grid notebooks. I like the real sketchbooks for working at my desk, on my bed, or on the kitchen table. I have another big one with watercolor paper that isn’t in this photo. It doesn’t have much inside it just yet—mainly just the paintings I did at Jane LaFazio’s watercolor workshop last spring.

Middle right of the photo: my little stack of planners. Wild Simplicity Daybook, Hobonichi Cousin, Hobo Weeks. The Daybook is for homeschooling notes; the Cousin is my current bullet journal/daily calendar/scrapbook; the slender Weeks is my go-everywhere appointment book. I’ve done plenty of chattering about them before so I won’t elaborate here.

And then there’s the pile of Incompletes. I thrive on change, what can I say? Some of those books were begun for specific projects—many have to do with grants I worked on this past year. I’ll fill up the extra pages with sketches and doodles. Eventually.

Related:
2015, Year of Paper
Planner Love
Notebookery
Unearthed: the Notebooks