Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009. Review copy received from publisher.
Read to: Huck.
Gorgeous art in this sweetly captivating tale of a boy who, wandering the sterile streets of a bleak city, finds a little outpost of thriving weeds and wildflowers on an abandoned elevated rail track. He begins quietly tending the green and growing things, and his found garden begins to spread, gradually transforming the city—and its people.
We’ve loved every Peter Brown book that has walked through our doors, and this was no exception. It’s the art that makes it magical, the wave of vibrant green creeping across the city. Makes a lovely companion to an older picture book that has long been a favorite here: This Is Your Garden by Maggie Smith (now out of print, alas, but available used).
Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn. Clarion Books, to be published Sept. 15, 2105. Advanced review copy received from publisher via Netgalley. Read by: me.
Middle-grade horror story about a (formerly) wealthy Connecticut family who moves into an old West Virginia house near a haunted cabin in the woods. Every fifty years an evil, ancient ghost—known locally as Auntie—kidnaps and ensorcels a young girl. The main character is Daniel, a 13-year-0ld boy who doesn’t believe the wild tales he hears from kids at school—until his little sister goes missing. A suitably creepy tale which will appeal to readers of Vivian Vande Velde’s Stolen.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. HarperTrophy. My copy: purchased with my employee discount at the children’s bookstore I worked at during grad school—with a dream in my heart of one day having children to read it to. Read to: Huck and Rilla (chapters 1-4).
After we finished Winnie-the-Pooh, my youngests picked this for their next read-aloud. Great joy is mine because they are the perfect ages (six and nine), just absolutely perfect.
*In related news, I need to add another row to my Rillabooks post. Conversations ensuing its publication resulted in the addition of four more books to her already overstuffed shelf:
Charlotte’s Web (which it turns out she didn’t remember hearing before—she was probably pretty little last time it came around);
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (because OBVIOUSLY, and what was I thinking, leaving it off?);
The Mysterious Benedict Society (which I had thought to save for another year or two, but I am informed I was mistaken); and
The Two Princesses of Bamarre (whose appearance in a photo of books that almost-but-didn’t-quite make the original list sparked a flurry of happy reminiscences among Jane, her 21-year-old cousin, and Alice’s oldest daughter, aged 22, causing me to reconsider its omission).
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. Harcourt Young Classics. My copy purchased when Jane was about eight years old. Read to: Rilla.
This was Rilla’s first read-aloud pick from the Rillabook shelf. She was quite keen to have me read it just to her (no brothers involved). She giggled mightily over the meet-cute of Mr. and Mrs. Pye (with Jane popping in to shriek over the startling fact—which went over her head at age eight—that Mrs. Pye was just seventeen when she married. We began this book the day after Rose’s seventeenth birthday, which put it into stark perspective). Methinks Rilla and I will have fun with this. I’m not sure I’ve read it aloud since that first time (gulp) twelve years ago.
D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. Read to: Huck and Rilla. Rose’s copy, purchased some years ago to replace her first copy, which was read to tatters. Read to: Huck and Rilla.
Monday and Friday are our Greek Myths days. This week’s selections were about Hera and Io, and Hephaestus and Aphrodite.
The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book by Bob Hartman. Lion Children’s Books. Our copy, purchased for Beanie at age four. Read to: Huck and Rilla.
Tuesday and Thursday are folk and fairy tale days.* This week, they picked “Tortoise Brings Food: A Story from Africa.” A grumble with this otherwise charming book: that nonspecific from Africa. The other stories are “from Greece,” England, Finland, Puerto Rica, Australia, Wales, Japan, and so on. How about “from Kenya” or Ethiopia or Nigeria? Native American stories get a similarly vague treatment: “from North America.” I’d like a word with this book’s editor. But the stories themselves are amiably written and a good size for reading aloud.
*Any day is a great day for a fairy tale or Greek myth. I just assign them days in my head to ensure that I make the time. The kids don’t know about it.
Among the Dolls by William Sleator. Knopf Books for Young Readers. An old copy I brought home from work. Read by: Rilla.
Me: So how do you like it so far?
Rilla, emphatically: I DON’T.
Me: Too scary?
Rilla: It’s terrible! She’s trapped in the dollhouse and they’re being mean to her AND HER MOTHER WALKED RIGHT BY WITHOUT EVEN HEARING HER.
Me: Are you going to keep reading?
Rilla: ::doesn’t hear me, is already immersed again::
Batman Adventures: Rogues Gallery by the devastatingly handsome Scott Peterson (oh, fine, and Dan Slott and Ty Templeton too). Read by: Wonderboy.
This is a digest-sized compilation of several Batman Adventures stories. The Batman Adventures and Gotham Adventures comics of the 90s were aimed at kids, unlike most Batman comics. It’s nice to see them a book-sized edition that can survive on a library shelf.
Huck enjoyed this collection too, and it only took him five times through to notice that his daddy was listed as an author.
The Story of the World, Volume 4: The Modern Ages by Susan Wise Bauer. “The Boxer Rebellion” chapter. Read aloud to: Rose and Beanie.
While aimed at slightly younger readers, I find the Bauer series to be useful in setting the stage for more advanced studies. We’re doing the 20th century this year, my teens and I.
The Usborne History of the Twentieth Century. Read/explored with: Rose and Beanie. Again, for context. Mostly we just pored over the overview page at the start of the century. We’d read about Teddy Roosevelt last week in Landmark History of the American People, and this week we found a few videos about him.
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang. First Second Books. Copies received from publisher. Read by: me. On deck for Rose this week. Bean has already read them.
Gene is a friend of ours whom we see far too seldom (mainly at SDCC). He is spectacularly talented, but no one on the internet needs me to tell them that. I’d been meaning to read Boxers & Saints, his graphic novel duo about the Boxer Rebellion—told from two different points of view, thus the two books—since the day they were announced. Reaching this time period in my teen’s history studies meant now was the perfect time. Deeply absorbing, unsettling, moving, and educational. I always appreciate Gene’s thoughtful exploration of people’s motivations, and the fearless way he unpacks his characters flaws along with their strengths. Beautiful, beautiful books. Highly recommended.
Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. Audiobook. Listened to by: Rilla and me.
The current pick for our Saturday night sketchbook date. After all the Roald Dahl we enjoyed all summer, this Streatfeild gem got off to a bit of a slow start for Rilla, but she’s well and truly hooked now. Hilary is about to perform her Dulcie-Pulsie dance in the talent competition. Pulses racing. Delicious.
The Best of H.P. Lovecraft. Scott’s copy. Read by: Rose.
Her first encounter with his work. I haven’t heard her reaction yet—looking forward to it.
An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. My old copy. Read by: Beanie. (And I need to revisit it this week.)
A friend of hers is reading it for her homeschool program, so we and some other chums have joined in. We’ll be discussing it soon. I’d better revisit it right quick!
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Kindle copy. Read by: me.
Woolf is one of my gaps, which is odd when I think of it—she’s so right for me. I’m sure we did A Room of One’s Own in women’s lit, but somehow she never appeared on a syllabus after that. I’ve been determined to rectify this glaring omission and this summer I have finally found the time. And OH MY. She’s just…she…I want to quote everything. Her prose—I mean, I knew that about her. But only from the outside. Now I’m inside and I can barely speak. I’ve highlighted so many passages, it’s a bit ridiculous. I’ll pull some quotes into a commonplace book when I can.
Scott is rereading Sandman, and I couldn’t begin to tell you what my older girls are reading these days—I can only keep up with so much. Rose got a bunch of T.A. Barron’s Merlin novels for her birthday, I know that. (Since I wrapped them.) 😉 Beanie pops up with interesting tidbits gleaned from National Geographic (her favorite magazine). Jane was toiling through some Kant in preparation for a philosophy class she’ll take at school this year. I’ve also seen some Maggie Stiefvater in her library pile.
Do you know, I thought this would be a quick and easy post? I’d just dash off a list of things read around the house this past week. Turns out I am delusional. But it was fun!
I’m working on the big Huck-book companion to my Rillabooks post, but, well, you can fit a LOT of picture books on a shelf, see? So when I went around the house pulling things for Huck, I wound up with a mammoth amount of books. And of course we’re reading them faster than I can get them catalogued. That Rilla post took me an entire weekend and I expect this one will be no different. In the meantime, here’s a peek at things Huck has particularly enjoyed this week.
Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal.
This one landed on our doorstep recently from Chronicle for review. Huck claimed it right out of the package. The concept has fascinated both him and Rilla; it has been requested three times this week. “In one lifetime, this spider will spin 1 papery egg sac.” “In one lifetime, this caribou will grow and shed 10 sets of antlers.”—and on it goes, through many species and an ever-increasing, rather incredible range of numbers. (One seahorse! One THOUSAND babies! And here I thought I had a big family.)
I really love the art—bold yet simple colors against a black background. And you know we are suckers for good nature art around here.
Dinosaur Dinner (With a Slice of Alligator Pie): Favorite Poems by Dennis Lee, illustrated by Debbie Tilley.
Looks like this one has gone out of print, more’s the pity. But there are used copies to be found, or maybe you’ll luck out and your library will have it. A giggle-inducing collection of nonsense poetry (arguably the best kind). I pulled this one out yesterday when a certain someone needed lifting out of a grumpy mood. I expected to read a sampling of the poems, but Huck begged for the whole book. No arm-twisting required.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.
Sure, Rilla has heard this one so many times she knows it by heart. But somehow Huck had altogether missed it. This grievous oversight had to be rectified posthaste. He loved it, of course. Kept telling me to slow down so he could study the pictures. Especially “and frowned at the bad.” And that tiger in the zoo, of course. Now, I know no one on the planet needs my recommendation of a book so tried-and-true, but I include it here as a reminder (much-needed in this household) to make sure the smallest fry don’t miss out on all the gems you read one thousand times to older siblings. (Rilla very nearly missed Miss Rumphius this way!)
The Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature. I thought for sure I’d written about this one at length before. Must have been on a message board, because all I found in the archives was this—from March, 2005! (Oh my heavens.)
Too chilly to stay long. Back inside, the 9yo copied out a passage from Mossflower (a la Bravewriter) while the 6yo practiced piano and I read to the 4yo. She is loving the Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Nature. Also the Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book (which we never read at bedtime.)
Oh, you guys. Ten years later, those little girls are now so OLD. And here I am still reading the same books to my younger set. Lion Storyteller is on Huck’s shelf this very minute and is slated for my big post. And the paragraph right above the one quoted here, I talk about “our current read-aloud, Ginger Pye.” When we conferred to select a new read-aloud today, that very book was Rilla’s first choice—until she realized I meant a book to read to both her and Huck. For some reason (this comes up now and then) she has zoomed in on Ginger Pye as a book she wants me all to herself for. I grok that impulse. One-on-one time is important when you’re one of six.
(Another tidbit from that old post: I’m giggling at the bit about Jane “settling in to watch a History Channel show about gasoline.” As one does.)
But back to the Berenstains. This Big Book of Science and Nature is tremendously appealing to the four-to-seven crowd (judging by my kids). It explores seasons and nature in an almanac style and is full of the interesting facts. I pulled it out for Huck this morning and he fell into it immediately. I thought I was going to be reading it to him—or with him, at least—but he was so instantly and deeply absorbed that I wound up doing something else. Glad this one is still intact (and a bit surprised, given all the attention it has received over the years).
All right. Back to Giant List-Making.
These are the books I’ve collected in one place for Rilla to pull from this year. They may be read-alouds or read-alones, depending on what we’re in the mood for. I expect Huck will listen in on a lot of the read-alouds. (And probably the older kids too, sometimes, because we’re like that.)
No particular order here. This is how they landed on the shelf. Will we read them ALL? It’s a long list! Most likely we won’t, but the idea is to pull together a rich selection of books to choose from. The history, science, mythology, and poetry selections (second half of list) form a kind of homeschooling core library, and the fiction and picture book choices (up top) will provide read-aloud and solo reading options for months to come. I’ve listed those first because they’re what we’ll lead off with most mornings, to make sure life doesn’t crowd out the very best part of the day.
I’m quite sure other titles will join the list as we go. I can already think of a few I’ve left off, but which she may be ready for by the end of the year. (It doesn’t help that Jane keeps thrusting more books at me. “I loved this one at her age!” She’s my daughter, all right.) 😉
Naturally I expect Rilla will spend a lot of time revisiting some of her own favorites, especially the Oz graphic novel adaptations by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young and other comics.
Also!! We have Swallows and Amazons, Ballet Shoes, and Dancing Shoes on audio to listen to during our Saturday night art-and-audiobook sessions, now that we have made our way through most of Roald Dahl. (This, by the way, is the only reason Ransome, Streatfield, and Dahl aren’t on the list below. I imagine Rilla will return to Matilda, James, the BFG, and Charlie at some point during the year—they were great favorites.)
I suppose I should also mention that Scott is currently reading her my Charlotte series at bedtime. He reads all my novels to the kids. I can’t do it because I always want to tweak the writing.
For a look at what besides books will fill Rilla’s days, see “High Tide for Huck and Rilla.”
*An asterisk means the book has one or more sequels which may be added to this list
The Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson
Encyclopedia Brown, Donald Sobol*
The Rescuers, Margery Sharp
Turtle in Paradise, Jennifer Holm
The Stories Julian Tells, Ann Cameron*
The Green Ember, S. D. Smith
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly*
Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
Akiko on the Planet Smoo, Mark Crilley*
The Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander*
Homer Price, Robert McCloskey
Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren*
Half Magic, Edward Eager*
Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright
Among the Dolls, William Sleator
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, Rumer Godden
Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher
All-Of-A-Kind Family, Sydney Taylor*
Betsy-Tacy series, Maud Hart Lovelace (see my Reader’s Guide to Betsy-Tacy)
Beezus and Ramona, Beverly Cleary*
Ginger Pye, Eleanor Estes*
The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois
The Search for Delicious, Natalie Babbitt
The Last of the Sandwalkers, Jay Hosler
The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall*
Five Children and It, E. Nesbit*
Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder*
The Borrowers, Mary Norton*
The Gammage Cup, Carol Kendall* (my review)
Rowan of Rin, Emily Rodda*
A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke*
Hattie and the Wild Waves, Barbara Cooney
Eleanor, Barbara Cooney
Only Opal, Barbara Cooney
Bedtime for Frances, Russell Hoban
Best Friends for Frances, Russell Hoban
Bread and Jam for Frances, Russell Hoban (nine years old is a perfect time to revisit Frances)
The Lady with the Ship On Her Head, Deborah Nourse Lattimore
The Giraffe that Walked to Paris, Nancy Milton
Pleasant Fieldmouse, Jan Wahl
Saint George and the Dragon, Margaret Hodges
Chanticleer and the Fox, Barbara Cooney
The Mouse Bride, Judith Dupre
Chin Yu Min and the Ginger Cat, Jennifer Armstrong
The Swan Maiden, Howard Pyle
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, John Steptoe
(The folk and fairy tales could easily go with the group below, so I’ve stuck them kind of in between)
Barefoot Book of Animal Tales, Naomi Adler
Favorite Greek Myths, Mary Pope Osborne
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths
A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys, Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Green Fairy Book, Andrew Lang*
The King of Ireland’s Son, Padraic Colum
Tatterhood and Other Tales, Ethel Johnston Phelps
American Tall Tales, Mary Pope Osborne (finishing this one up)
Handbook of Nature Study, Anna Botsford Comstock (with some Outdoor Hour Challenges)
Drawing Birds with Colored Pencils, Kaaren Poole
Usborne Science Activities, Volume 1
Various field guides: Insects, Birds, Rocks
A Rock Is Lively, Dianna Aston & Sylvia Long
An Egg Is Quiet, Dianna Aston & Sylvia Long
A Nest is Noisy, Dianna Aston & Sylvia Long
Enid Blyton’s Nature Lovers Book
One Small Square: Backyard, Donald M. Silver
Outside Your Window, Nicola Davies (nature poems)
A Child’s History of the World, Virgil M. Hillyer (2-3 chapters a week)
One Day In Ancient Rome, G.B. Kirtland
Detectives in Togas, Henry Winterfield
A Street Through Time, Anne Millard
A World Full of Homes, William A. Burns
Material World: A Global Family Portrait
Tree in the Trail, Holling Clancy Holling (finishing from the spring)
Minn of the Mississippi, Holling Clancy Holling (a lot of nature/science crossover here)
The Mouse of Amherst, Elizabeth Spires (yes, again)
Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, Paul Fleischman
Poetry for Young People: African American Poetry
Poetry for Young People: William Butler Yeats
The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems, Donald Hall
Favorite Poems Old & New, edited by Helen Ferris (a family treasure!)
All the Small Poems & Fourteen More, Valerie Worth
Poetry for Young People: William Shakespeare
Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children, E. Nesbit (one story a week)
Michaelangelo, Diane Stanley
What Makes a Bruegel a Bruegel
What Makes a Picasso a Picasso
Round Buildings, Square Buildings, Buildings That Wriggle Like a Fish, Philip M. Isaacson (posted about here)
A Short Walk Around the Pyramids & Through the World of Art, Philip M. Isaacson
Round Trip, Ann Jonas (a favorite with my babies, but if you look at it you’ll see why it works for art as well)
Usborne Big Book of Things Do
Creature Camp: 18 Softies to Draw, Sew, & Stuff, Wendi Gratz
Draw Africa by Kristin J. Draeger
So many books!
As I said, I don’t expect to read this entire list in a single year, especially the fiction selections at the top. And I’m sure Rilla will encounter other enticing titles along the way. Or maybe she’ll get hooked on Redwall or Warriors like her sisters did at this age, and read those obsessively to the exclusion of things on this list. The point is for us to have a rich bounty to draw from, a shelf she knows she can go to whenever she needs something new. I would hazard we’ll manage 1-2 read-aloud novels per month, depending on length. The rest will be options for her to read on her own. I’ll let you know which ones we pick for read-aloud time.
The lower chunk of the list will serve as the spine for our high-tide mornings. A typical day’s reading looks something like:
• Chapter of current read-aloud novel
• A poem or two, sometimes to memorize
• A chapter of Child’s History of the World or a passage from Handbook of Nature Studies (alternating days)
• A Greek myth, folk tale, or Shakespeare story (about twice a week, and this may include longer picture books)
• Something from the art, science, or history lists (perhaps we do an experiment from Usborne Science Activities, or maybe we spend some time poring over Brueghel’s paintings, for example)
• Whatever other books she is reading on her own
Some days have more reading aloud, some days less. Some days I focus more on the teens. Or a big sister might read to Huck and Rilla while I work with the other teen. Some days (or weeks) we’ll follow a rabbit trail that may involve a library trip or two. But we always circle back to the tried-and-true favorites above (plus one or two new treasures). I love this list so much. These books live in that wonderful late-elementary space I love so dearly—as a writer, a reader, and a mom.
Next up: Huck’s list! (Give me a few days.) 😉
Other Bonny Glen booklists:
Books to Read to Your Three-Year-Old
Books to Read to Your Four-Year-Old
My Big List of Book Recommendations
Science, Art, Game Ideas
What is Tidal Homeschooling?
The other day I mentioned that I was putting together some shelves of books to use for Huck and Rilla this year. Huck is 6 1/2 and Rilla is 9, and according to the boxes I will have to check on the form I file in October, they are in the 1st and 4th grades respectively.
(Of course you know we have more of an Understood Betsy approach to grades around here.)
‘What’s the matter?’ asked the teacher, seeing her bewildered face.
‘Why–why,’ said Elizabeth Ann, ‘I don’t know what I am at all. If I’m second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what grade am I?’
The teacher laughed. ‘You aren’t any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You’re just yourself, aren’t you? What difference does it make what grade you’re in? And what’s the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don’t know your multiplication table?’
‘Well, for goodness’ sakes!’ ejaculated Elizabeth Ann, feeling very much as though somebody had stood her suddenly on her head.
I don’t think Rilla has any idea what grade she would be in if she went to school…my kids don’t usually pay attention to grade level until they reach an age—usually around 12 or 13—when they want an answer to the question that comes from just about every new adult they encounter.
But back to my booklists. I compiled these selections according to my patented, highly scientific method of Walking Around the House Grabbing Things Off Shelves™. These are books we already own, favorite tomes I have read with the older kids in the past but which my younger set haven’t yet heard or read—due in large part to the abundant inflow of new treasures that have come our way for review. (Oh you guys, I have so many good new books to share.)
I imagine there will be a lot of crossover: Huck will listen in on Rillabook readalouds and vice versa. Both collections also include a good many read-alone possibilities. If you’ve been reading Bonny Glen for a while, then you know that read-alouds are the core of my homeschooling method, especially in the younger years. (But continuing on, you know, into high school. We still read aloud together lots of history, science, and poetry.)
I know a lot of you are as addicted to booklists as I am, so my project this weekend is to type up these collections to share here on the blog. I hope to post them on Sunday or Monday. When they’re ready, I’ll update this post with links.
So what else does high tide look like in my house for ages 6 and 9?
In no particular order:
• Lots and lots of art, especially watercolor painting and Sculpey fun.
I keep watercolors handy on a shelf by the kitchen table for easy access. These days, the kids are also doing a lot with acrylic paints—I caught a sale at Michael’s when those little Folk Art bottles were three for a dollar. I grabbed a set of small plastic palettes (six for $2) and filled a jar with our older, more battered brushes. (We reserve the nicer brushes for watercolors.)
I’ve written about this before*, but for watercolor paper I use large sheets I bought in bulk a good many years ago, folded and torn into smaller sizes. And then cheap recycled paper for drawing. Plus everyone has a sketchbook to do whatever they want with.
About 15 years ago (!) I bought half a dozen scratch-and-dent whiteboard seconds from a discount site. We use these as painting boards. Not only do they protect the kitchen table from spatters, but they are large enough that I can stack them on toy blocks to save space while paintings dry.
* In that 2009 post, I mentioned that for littles I use good paper and cheap paints. That was back when Rilla was three years old. ::sniff:: Nowadays we tend to experiment with artist-quality tube watercolors quite often, because that is what I myself am learning to paint with, and both Rilla and I are pretty addicted to color-mixing and the way certain pigments granulate on the paper. We still keep basic Crayola or Prang kids’ paint sets around, though, like the ones in the photo, because they’re quick and fun and easy and portable. They’re what the kids use for casual, everyday painting.
Kortney has been posting some wonderful resources for doing art projects with kids. And I have a list of my best suggestions in this post.
• Poetry every day
I pulled some of my favorite anthologies for this year’s Huck and Rilla shelves. They’re also in the room for a good bit of the poetry reading and discussion I do with the older kids. I work in lots of opportunities for low-pressure memorization (if you read the same poem out loud a few days or weeks in a row, before you know it, everyone has it down)—including my recent brainstorm to require Huck to learn a new poem by heart before he gets a new iPad app.
• Handwriting practice* with fun materials like dip pens, markerboards, or slates-and-chalk.
I asterisked practice because I need to qualify that term. I subscribe to the John Holt school of thought about the misleading way we often use the word practice. He argued that when you are doing what we call “practicing” piano, you are really playing piano and we ought to think of it like that. You are making music. When I am “practicing” drawing, I am actually drawing. Huck is learning to write. When he sits down with a marker or crayon and makes some letters, he is writing—not some separate intermediate activity that leads up to writing. I think that word “practice” can set up a feeling that what I’m doing right now isn’t real, it doesn’t count. But it all “counts.” If you’re doing it, it’s real. Another way of putting it is that writing letters to friends is a form of handwriting “practice.”
• For Rilla, a third year of group piano class
And yes, despite the above paragraph, you will from time to time hear me ask her if she has practiced yet today.
• Nature study and narration.
My old Charlotte Mason standbys. Re narration: casually for Huck, more deliberately and regularly for Rilla. All oral, still. We add written narration at age ten.
Nature study isn’t something we have to work at. Both Rilla and I enjoy adding new plants and bugs to our sketchbooks. You’ll see a fair number of nature-themed nonfiction on both booklists.
• A little bit of foreign language.
Beanie is ramping up her German studies this year. My younger set pick up whatever the older ones are working on, sponge-style.
Via games, money, dice, and daily life for Huck; Math-U-See for Rilla. Works for us.
• Folk songs and other musical fun.
Including daddy’s guitar-playing. The recorders seem to have made a comeback around here, too, and Rose came home from her Colorado trip with a pair of ocarinas.
• Baking, sewing, Snap Circuits, and other hands-on pursuits.
Sometimes this is simply a part of daily life; in other cases we may undertake a special project, such as making clothes for a cloth doll with the Dress Up Bunch Club.
Beanie is venturing into candymaking this year and has already enlisted Huck, Rilla, and Wonderboy as helper-slash-tasters. Rose does quite a bit of baking—being one of those delightful people who love to bake but don’t much care to eat baked goods—and often includes younger sibs in the measuring, mixing, and bowl-licking stages.
• Games of all sorts.
Board games, word games, Wii games, iPad apps, you name it. Together or alone. And lots and lots of Minecraft.
• As much outdoor play as possible!
All the small fry on the block seem to congregate at my house in the afternoons: they know when my kids get their Wii time. 😉 Afterward, they troop outside to bike and scooter and make secret hideouts and chat with passing dogs and help Miss-Joanie-down-the-block rake leaves. (She’s a treasure. She keeps a stash of child-size yard tools in her garage! She saves all those little stickers and calendars and bookmarks that come in junk mail! She has cups labeled for all the kids on our street and sometimes mixes up fruit drinks to fill them with instead of water. Everyone should be so lucky as to grow up down the block from Miss Joanie.)
• What about history and science?
See above re: readalouds and narration. Lots of good stuff on our booklists.
And if I don’t stop gabbing and start compiling, these booklists are never going to get written. More later, my dears. Feel free to fire away with questions below, if you have any!
…she says, half a week into August.
We had family in town and spent a day hanging out with them at their fabulous beach hotel, and another afternoon touring the harbor on a boat cruise. Glorious weather. At one point, we were approaching Point Loma for a glimpse of the lighthouse when my nephew’s phone buzzed—it was Verizon Wireless texting him a “Welcome to Mexico” message. That was just about as far as we got before turning around to cruise past the downtown area. We saw dolphins and sea lions and pelicans—a perfectly satisfying day, according to Miss Rilla, who spent much of the boat ride standing in the wind with her arms spread wide and her grin even wider.
One of the nicest things about living in San Diego is that so many friends wind up vacationing here, and we get to join in.
Back home, I’ve been in blissful planning mode. I adore low tide; low tide is a deep delight; but my little listmaking heart glories in the voyage-charting of high tide just as thoroughly. I spent a morning gathering books from all over the house to fill a shelf for Huck—treasures I want to be sure my last six-year-old (sniff) doesn’t miss. I’ll try to get a picture and a post up soon, because I know some of you enjoy comparing notes that way.
Plans are afoot for Rilla and my two high-school-age girls too: more booklists, more shelves filling up. Every August I do this massive rearranging of the tomes, shifting high-tide resources to the living room where we do indeed do the bulk of our living. Twentieth-century history for the teens this year, and earth science, and Shakespeare of course, and a fat list of literary texts, and the languages they are studying separately. All juicy stuff. Beanie is forging ahead with German, which is extra fun for me, since I’m fair-to-middling in that language myself and always longing to improve my skills.
And loads and loads of art—along with poetry, perhaps our most constant occupation these days. At Comic-Con, I tried out my (brilliantly talented) friend Zander‘s pocket brush pen and was thoroughly intimidated by it. The next day, our (also staggeringly talented) friend Mark Chiarello showed us art from his forthcoming book (his first since his gorgeous book on the Negro Leagues), and he too was working with this pen, whose merits the extraordinary Roz Stendahl is always talking about. Between them, they convinced me to give it a try, and ohhhh, it turns out I’m in love. It is loosening up my line so much. I have a tendency toward a very careful and nervous line, and I’m feeling much freer about taking chances and using my whole arm, thanks to a few weeks with this pen. My book is filling up with a lot of messy, not-so-lovely pages, but in a good way. And every now and then I draw a line I really like. That’s progress.
Meanwhile, Rilla and I are about to dive into Sketchbook Skool’s “More Playing” klass, which started yesterday. We had a ball with “Playing” in July. Our favorite project was the drawing where we took turns for thirty seconds at a time, filling a page with nonsense. Much hilarity there. This, too, is something I’d like to post more about in the week ahead.
I’m overdue for a books post, too. Got on an Anne Shirley kick in July, following my Betsy-Tacy kick in June. Read the series through House of Dreams (skipped Windy Poplars, because I don’t have it on Kindle). I swear Dreams is better every time, even a dozen or more times later.
I also revisited Pudd’nhead Wilson for the first time since high school—shaking my head in bed at Twain’s audacity the whole way through. Oh, how I love him. I’m deep into Mansfield Park right now. No particular reason; it just decided I needed to reread it. I’m a Persuasion person first and foremost, and then P&P, but I do enjoy Mansfield. The urge to smack Mary Crawford upside the head is such a satisfying sensation.
Well, that’s the news from these parts. What’s your August looking like?
Oh, and I met an owl.
Hey gang, I’ll be doing a live online chat with Sarah Mackenzie at Read-Aloud Revival next Sunday at 1pm Pacific. Read-Aloud Revival started as a terrific podcast (I was interviewed for an episode here) and has grown into a membership site with workshops, discussions, and a lot more.
Event details: Live Author Event: Melissa Wiley
Read-Aloud Revival Live Author Events are for your whole family. Come hang out with us live– your kids can type questions into the chat box, and our featured author will answer them live on screen! Throughout the hour-long live event, we give away prizes, get a sneak peek at what it’s like to be an author, and ask our best questions about the featured book.
During the live event, we’ll be giving away 5 copies of The Arrow Guide to The Prairie Thief from Brave Writer, and 3 copies of The Prairie Thief itself.
Participate in the chatbox to enter, and winners will be selected randomly throughout the event!
$5 gets you access to the Live Author Event plus everything else in membership for a whole month.
I can’t wait!
July 14, 2015 @ 12:23 pm | Filed under: Books
The study also provides us with a fascinating picture—quite literally—of the ways in which the imaginative experience of reading takes place in our bodies as well as our minds. Close, sustained, and attentive reading, Phillips found, activates parts of the brain responsible for movement and touch, “as though,” writes NPR, “readers were physically placing themselves within the story as they analyzed it.”
Source: This Is Your Brain on Jane Austen: The Neuroscience of Reading Great Literature | Open Culture
I’m midway through a long rhapsody about pens but I’ve scrapped it for today because of this excellent post by Danny Gregory. Danny, as you probably know, is an artist and writer whose books include Art Before Breakfast (a treasure) and the empowering, inspiring The Creative License. He is also a cofounder of Sketchbook Skool and teaches week-long lessons in most of the SBS courses. (He also interviewed me about keeping kids creative for SBS’s “Q and Art” video series.)
In today’s post, Danny writes candidly about a struggle that is not unfamiliar to many of us who make art for a living.
Inevitably, Sketchbook Skool was morphing from a pure passion project into a demanding business. We had to bring on a raft of advisors to cope with the ever-shifting matrix of requirements for operating a global online business. It became clear that if we didn’t want to raise prices, we had to increase sales — so we added a bunch of marketing consultants. In order to grow, we had to address the emerging limitations of our existing platform which just couldn’t handle so many students so next we brought in a team of developers. I was working for a company again. How the hell did that happen?
It’s funny—just last night I said to Scott: The thing about drawing is, I will never be good enough at it to do it for money. It will never be my job. That’s what’s so great about it. I think I would go mad without a creative outlet that is utterly unrelated to income—all the strings and catches that income involves.
I love writing so much, and I can’t not write, but it’s my job. And I’m lucky to have it, I wouldn’t change it, but there is no denying it altogether alters the experience of writing. I love making books, I love telling stories. Oh, how I love having written. But writing is what pays my bills. Writing for a living brings many layers to the experience of making up stories and writing them down. Deadlines, of course, but also—the whole business/marketing side of the job.
Nowadays more than ever. You have to promote your work, you have to get the word out. Everyone hates doing it. Every writer I know hates that part of the job. It’s embarrassing. It feels needy. But if you don’t do it, you might have to watch books you spent years laboring over quietly disappear.
I’ve made my peace with the business side of the business by drawing some firm boundaries. I accept and expect that certain administrative and promotional duties go along with publishing books—thus it is, and thus has it ever been. I allowed my career to slow down in order to write only books I’m burning to write, which has meant turning down projects and opportunities now and then. I accept very few speaking engagements that involve travel, because it’s important to me to spend most of my time at home with my family. That, too, is a decision that doesn’t always work to my books’ advantage. I’m okay with that. You have to find your balance.
Of course that means taking on other work in order to pay the bills—I do a lot of freelance work behind the scenes to support my fiction. Again, almost every working writer I know does. They teach, or they have a day job, or they spend a lot of time on the road doing school visits and conferences. For the past six months, I’ve been writing grants (and learning. so. much!—which you know charges my batteries) as well as editing for Damn Interesting and doing website maintenance for a local yoga studio. Oh, and teaching my writing class! Lots of busy, feeding the art.
One of the boundaries I drew eight or nine years ago had to do with blogging. I had the opportunity to take this blog in a direction that would have brought in decent money (for a while, at least; the days of monetized blogs do seem to be waning), but I passed on it. Didn’t feel right; I didn’t like the idea of turning my family life into a business. I know some folks have built beautiful blogs doing exactly that, but the idea has never sat right with me. Even my short stint as a ClubMom Blogger left me feeling uneasy—I was getting paid to blog about a topic (homeschooling) that inevitably crossed over into family stories. I love sharing about our learning experiences here—it’s one of the main reasons I still blog, the joy of sharing the adventure—but I didn’t like the blurring of the boundary I was trying to protect. I was glad to let that gig go, although of course I missed the paycheck. (Boy, don’t we all. They don’t make paychecks like that anymore. Nowadays, people want you to do it for ‘exposure’. Calls to mind the cartoon about the artist who died of exposure—couldn’t pay the rent, you know.)
Danny addresses a blogging conundrum in his post, too:
I’ve also been thinking about why I stopped blogging. Busyness isn’t the whole reason. I have written even at the busiest times over the years. I think the issue has been honesty, honestly.
I’ve always tried to be painfully straightforward when I write here. Similarly in my books and when I teach classes. I try to be myself, warts, carbuncles and all. As a writer, an artist and person, I can be flawed and vulnerable. This works less well as an entrepreneur. As person taking credit card payments, I need to project an unimpeachable face.
It’s interesting to hear his take on that. He’s in a different position as the face of Sketchbook Skool, and I think he’s right. If you’re going plunk down your money to take a class, you want to feel confident about the platform and the teacher. I can imagine that he has felt the need to project a positive image in order to reflect positively on the business. I so appreciate his honesty in this post (do read the whole thing, not just these excerpts).
It’s not a face I’m unfamiliar with. I wore it for years, in board meetings, client presentations, job interviews and staff briefings. The authority. The decider. 100% sure. But it’s just not me. And it’s just not my voice, especially not the one I use here, among friends. But increasingly, as the face of Sketchbook Skool, when I came to write here on my blog, I felt I had to be the shill, the Mad Man of Mad Ave, always upbeat, bringing the most awesome! things.
I used to have a thing in my sidebar about how this blog deliberately focused on the positive, the funny, the happy experiences in our family adventure. “The truth, and nothing but the truth—but not the whole truth,” I wrote (and yes, Prairie Thief readers will hear how that idea echoed its way into the novel, whose working title was in fact Not the Whole Truth), “because some parts of the truth are private.” That’s why, I explained, you hear a lot about all the fun we have together—every word of it true—but nothing about, say, tantrums or bad habits. Because ick, how awful must it be to have your mother writing about your worst moments on the internet? In another post, I discussed how I feel free to write about my own flaws and failings (and I do; you know all about my wretched closets and my chai tortilla soup), but I won’t discuss anyone else’s. Okay, maybe the grumpy anti-pinecone guy at the post office that one time. But you know I kind of loved him, too, for the way his grousing brought the rest of us together.
But Danny is talking about something a little different, not about the question of where to draw boundaries in blogging in order to protect other people’s privacy. He’s talking about feeling inhibited about expressing his personal state of mind, his candid take on things, while at the same time representing a business. And there is so much fodder for discussion in that quandary. I’ve thought a lot, these past few years, about the blurring of the boundaries between our public and private worlds. Facebook makes total hash of that boundary, for starters. Sometimes I’m mortified at the awkwardness that arises when one’s professional contacts and one’s most familiar friends co-mingle. Here on the blog, I’ve wondered, from time to time, whether my enthusiastic homeschooling posts might seem offputting to teachers and school parents, and might make them feel like my books aren’t good fits for their kids. I certainly hope not. There are other topics I keep a polite lid on because I find it too great a drain of time and energy to field vituperative comments. I used to get all het up, SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET, and dive into the fray, I’ve mellowed. (“Someone is wrong on the internet—possibly me” is the phrase you come to in your forties.)
And yet I admire it so much when people are fearlessly frank. Sometimes when I’m reading a book that annoys me, I’ll think: imagine if I blogged about things I didn’t like? It’s so much easier to be articulate when critiquing a book’s flaws than to praise it. The only way to praise without sounding saccharine or surface (“It was awesome! I loved it! Two thumbs up!) is to take the time to write thoughtful analysis of what’s working, what’s wonderful. Which takes longer…and can begin to feel perilously like work. Work, I have enough of. And yet I LOVE analysis—reading it and writing it. Some of my best writing on this blog is literary analysis. It just takes time.
Besides, the writer in me—tremblingly placing stories before the public—has too much sympathy for the writers of books I don’t like. They’ve got enough woes to contend with; they don’t need me to point out everything that’s wrong with their last year’s (or years’) labor. And anyway, their book is probably outselling mine. 😉 I always maintain that I’m not a reviewer; I’m a recommender. I want to spend my few snatched moments of blogging time writing about things I love.
And yet, there’s a part of me that would love to tackle fraught topics with gusto. If you know me in person, you know I’m like that; I love discourse; I get fired up; I like to scrutinize ideas and assumptions. My poor husband knows that best of all. I can be pretty snarky in person, too, but I deliberately avoid snark in public writing because I think it shuts down discourse. It’s so easy to crack out a witty one-liner—but it isn’t always respectful. To the topic, or the other voices in the conversation.
As with so much else, the key is balance…being candid without being cruel or glib, being frank without breaching privacy. And when it comes to personal doubts or worries or slumps (to get back to Danny’s topic, from which I’ve meandered far), I wonder if we are all learning how to recalibrate our expectations of writers and artists and actors and others whose work has a public aspect. The internet has decreased our degrees of separation. People want contact with artists they admire. The trouble is, then they want to like them. And let’s face it, we’re not all going to like each other. I’ve felt it myself, now and then—that pang of disappointment when someone whose work you admire has said something truly disheartening on Twitter. Can you keep the work separate? Do your feelings about the book change because you now suspect the writer is kind of a jerk?
I’m a wizard at compartmentalizing, but even so I sometimes have trouble separating the biography from the novel. There’s a thing or two I wish I could un-know. But there are so many books in the world; I don’t need to feel the same degree of rosy about them all as I did when I first read them. As for everyone else—the non-jerks; the anxious, the fumbling, the angry, the laying-it-bare—here again I come back to what I have learned from sketching, from my clumsy and dogged and rewarding attempts to make drawing a daily habit these past eight months (a journey inextricably and profoundly informed by Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene and their Sketchbook Skool adventure)—that line that jumped out at me way back in college when I first read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. (And why didn’t I listen to Betty and start drawing daily back then?) I’ve written about it here before in other contexts. One of Betty’s students, after spending some time drawing portraits, remarks that now every face she looks at seems beautiful to her.
I think about that all the time. It’s true about drawing; you do start to appreciate all the uniquenesses (advertising would have us believe they are flaws), the bumps, the lines, the crooked features. “Warts, carbuncles, and all” is how Danny put it, speaking of how he used to blog. And oddly, these ten years of immersion in blogs and social media have reinforced the lesson. That devastatingly handsome actor who smolders on my screen is actually kind of a nerd, and it’s endearing. That brilliant writer whose prose leaves me breathless…has a bad back, is inordinately proud of her ill-mannered dog, and her roof needs replacing. She’s a person now, not a name on a spine. And she seems beautiful to me.
Oh, May. You beautiful, terrible month. I can’t say I’m sorry to see the back of you. Massive workload, plumbing woes, multiple trips to the children’s hospital (which sounds more alarming than it ought to—here in San Diego they send your kids to Children’s for every little thing; for example: a chest x-ray when your child has pneumonia even though there is an x-ray lab RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the pediatrician’s office, AHEM, and a four-hour wait and a three-second x-ray later the radiologist will say, all right, I’ve just sent these to your doctor, zap)…but it’s June now, let’s put all that behind us.
I suppose, though, that May did have its moments. Scott surprised me with a trip to a big art supply story downtown, a wonderland full of pens singing at me. I came home with a metal brush pen, aka my new best friend, it feels amazing when you pull it across the page; and a tube of raw umber paint because I have been unsuccessful in mixing a shade the color of chocolate with my basic color palette. Rilla’s birthday breakfast is still waiting in my sketchbook to be painted. Since April, sheesh.
In May my boys’ writing class wrapped up—this was a group of nine homeschooled boys ages 10-14 whose mothers approached me about putting together an eight-week writing course. We had us some fun, let me tell you. A highlight of my spring was watching our freewrites transform from “TEN WHOLE MINUTES??!!?” to “Oh wait can I please have a bit more time?”
Huck discovered the delights of the Oz books—specifically the Eric Shanower/Skottie Young graphic novel adaptations that Rilla loves so much. He spends a lot of time like this:
blurry photo but it’s all I got
He’s also enjoying the Magic Tree House books, like so many of his siblings before him. Scott read him the first one to get him started. The corresponding nonfiction volumes are particular favorites, and I am once again being treated to daily factoids about sharks and pirates. Never gets old.