I’m reviewing some new apps for GeekMom, including one I think is going to be quite popular: Mystery Math Town from Artgig. You may recall that I gave high marks to Artgig’s Marble Math & Marble Math Jr. over at Wired a while back. I’ll link to my Mystery Math Town review when it goes live, but I thought I’d give you a heads-up. Fun, absorbing, and is proving an engaging way to slip in some math-fact practice for my Beanie-and-under crew. Including Huck. You can customize for addition, subtraction, multiplication, single digits, double digits, etc.
Yesterday Rilla and I needed to choose our next read-aloud. We decided to spread all the contenders out on my bed. Turned out there were a lot of contenders. I see a couple of repeat-requests snuck in there. (Odd Duck, for example—a graphic novel by Cecil Castellucci, art by Sara Varon. Rilla adores it.)
(I rotated the photo so the titles would be easy to read, and Facebook friends thought I was displaying a giant wall display. I wish!)
After much deliberation, Rilla chose a new arrival, The Big Bad Wolf Goes on Vacation (which I’ve now read aloud three times in two days—once each to the 9yo, 6yo, and 4yo), and then settled in for Ramona the Pest. Her first acquaintance with Ramona. That perfect first sentence—”‘I am not a pest,’ Ramona Quimby told her big sister Beezus.”—had her at hello.
With Beanie: did our first week’s charting for Journey North. Mystery City #1 has very nearly the same latitude as ours, judging from its photoperiod, and Bean entertained me with a list of the countries around the globe at roughly our parallel. You see why I love this project so?
(FWIW, here’s how I described it to my local homeschooling list this morning, wanting to make it clear you don’t have to be some organizational goddess to pull this thing off: “If Mystery Class sounds daunting to you, let me just add that I forgot all about it until this morning and am sitting here in my pajamas, coughing my lungs out, hair not yet brushed, huddled on the couch calculating photoperiods with [Beanie]. A few simple math problems—she’s doing most of the work. [Huck] is climbing on the back of the couch. Scott’s got Elvis playing. I’m checking Facebook while [Bean] does the next calculation. In case you were picturing some super-organized activity requiring a ton of preparation and concentration—this isn’t that!)
With Jane and Rose: watched the first video lecture (very short) for a Coursera class we discovered yesterday, and which Jane has signed up for: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. (I loved the reading list. Some great stuff there, and a number of things I’d been meaning to read with the girls this year anyhow.)
The first text is the Lucy Crane translation of Grimms’ Tales, available for free download at Project Gutenberg. The instructor (Professor Eric Rabkin of the University of Michigan) mentioned the intriguing fact that the illustrations (beautiful, just my cup of tea, see below) in this edition are by Crane’s husband, Walter Crane, who wrote about book (explained Dr. Rabkin) about the role of illustration in books. Which! Got! Me! Very! Excited! And when you put ‘Walter Crane’ into Google it autosuggests ‘Walter Crane arts and crafts movement’ Which! More! Excited! Still! My cup of tea? More like my bathtub of tea, my swimming-pool of tea. And now (having spent a bit of happy, albeit sniffly, time on teh Wikipedia and other avenues) I have added Yet More Things to Read to my impossible list.
You see what I mean?
So we zapped the Lucy Crane text to the Kindle, and I read the first story aloud to Rilla—”The Rabbit’s Bride,” which I didn’t remember at all, though I thought I’d read Grimm backwards and forwards, including some of it in German. (Digression: true story: my friend Caryn and I got banned from the high-school library for a full semester in tenth grade due to uncontrollable outbursts of giggling over an assignment for our German class. Look, you spring the original version of Rapunzel on a couple of unsuspecting sophomore girls and what do you expect? Suddenly she had twins! Zwillinge! So that’s how the witch knew she was entertaining a visitor!)
(Thing is, I fervently believed I loved that library more than anybody in the whole school. Me. Banned from a library. I couldn’t believe it. My intemperate book-hoarding habits probably spring from this brief and interminable period of deprivation.)
Anyhow, “The Rabbit’s Bride.” I did not see that ending coming. Nor the middle, for that matter.
At Huck’s naptime there was cuddling (cautious, on his part: “I don’t want to get sick, Mommy”) (sigh) and at his request, another round of the much-loved Open This Little Book, which gem I’ll be reviewing for GeekMom one of these days. (Talk about illustrations to swoon for. Delicious.)
Then lots of Japan Life with Rilla and Beanie—a game we like to play, which involves massive amounts of casual math and spatial reasoning, but of course they aren’t seeing it that way, it’s just fun.
I missed out on some of my favorite parts of the day—walking Wonderboy to school and back; my long morning ramble with Scott—but by mid-afternoon I was feeling better than I have all week, and I got outside to water my neglected garden. Was relieved to see my young lettuces are looking spruce. So are hordes of weeds.
A hummingbird, a funny solar-powered grasshopper, a cup of mint tea with honey. “I can’t believe how much I’m not sick of you,” says the mug, a gift from Scott.
Two very dirty children scrubbed clean after concocting Mud Soup or some such delicacy in the backyard.
Tonight I’m missing the much-anticipated reception for the San Diego Local Authors Exhibit at the downtown library, very sad not to be there but it wouldn’t be nice to carry this cough out in public. But I’m sure there will be something nice on TV with Scott later (he DVRs the best things) and I have two compelling books in progress on my Kindle at the moment: a gorgeous collection of Alice Munro stories given to me by one of my favorite people in the world, and a review copy of a book called Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America’s Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever—how’s that for a title that grabs you and won’t let go? So far, so gripping. The levee just broke in Dayton, Ohio. Entire houses are floating away with people on the rooves. (Roofs? What are we saying these days?) I’m chewing my nails off.
“How I Learned a Language in 22 Hours” — Joshua Foer describes how he used Memrise.com to learn Lingala, an African trade language, in 22 total hours of study (over a three-month period). Memrise uses visual memory techniques and modern computer gaming incentives to make such a feat possible.
If five million people can be convinced to log into Zynga’s Facebook game Farmville each day to water a virtual garden and literally watch the grass grow on their computer screens, surely, Ed believes, there must be a way to co-opt those same neural circuits that reward mindless gaming to make learning more addictive and enjoyable. That’s the great ambition of Memrise, and it points towards a future where we’re constantly learning in tiny chunks of our downtime.
Naturally, I leapt straight from that article to the Memrise website and, two days later, am happily up to my eyeballs in German vocabulary. The kids and I are working our way through a course on the trees of England. (I always wondered what yew and rowan looked like.) Highly, highly, highly recommended.
So says Rilla. Her father does not approve. Her father is not a fan of tarantulas.
But he’ll forgive me, because he knew what he was getting into when he married me—the runaway train of my enthusiasm. How did we get on to spiders this morning? Rose said something about liking them; I think that was it. Beanie shuddered; she sides with her daddy on this one. Rose and I had a sudden impulse to go outside and see how many different kinds of spider we could count. Oddly, the pickings were slim: we only found two. Usually, they’re everywhere you look, causing some small child or other to shriek and run away. But there were two tiny ones of a species we’ve yet to identify, teensy oblong things with thin stripes of brown and tan, poised on webs stretched between the stems of the rose bush. Look, said Rose, I found this out yesterday: if you put a bit of twig in the web, the spider will come and snip it out. We waited, but the spider was on to us, frozen, silently glaring. Ten minutes later, after we’d roamed the yard in search of others, the twig was gone.
By chance—or maybe this is what put spiders on Rose’s mind this morning?—I’d pulled Fabre’s Life of the Spider off the shelf a day or two ago, thinking it might make a nice nature-study read for the summer, and added it to the high-tide stack in the living room. At the time, I wasn’t at all sure it would grab my girls—read-alouds are a challenge, these days, with one sweet boy endlessly butting in with questions, and the other impish one endlessly butting you with his head. But they were interested, so I gave it a try. Note to writers: If you want to hook an audience of 6-13-year-olds, “Chapter 1, The Black-Bellied Tarantula” is a sure-fire way to begin.
The Spider has a bad name: to most of us, she represents an odious, noxious animal, which every one hastens to crush under foot. Against this summary verdict the observer sets the beast’s industry, its talent as a weaver, its wiliness in the chase, its tragic nuptials and other characteristics of great interest. Yes, the Spider is well worth studying, apart from any scientific reasons; but she is said to be poisonous and that is her crime and the primary cause of the repugnance wherewith she inspires us. Poisonous, I agree, if by that we understand that the animal is armed with two fangs which cause the immediate death of the little victims which it catches; but there is a wide difference between killing a Midge and harming a man. However immediate in its effects upon the insect entangled in the fatal web, the Spider’s poison is not serious for us and causes less inconvenience than a Gnat-bite. That, at least, is what we can safely say as regards the great majority of the Spiders of our regions.
Nevertheless, a few are to be feared; and foremost among these is the Malmignatte, the terror of the Corsican peasantry. I have seen her settle in the furrows, lay out her web and rush boldly at insects larger than herself; I have admired her garb of black velvet speckled with carmine-red; above all, I have heard most disquieting stories told about her. Around Ajaccio and Bonifacio, her bite is reputed very dangerous, sometimes mortal.
Well played, Monsieur Fabre.
Of course we had to look up these twin terrors, the malmignatte with her thirteen red spots, and the tarantula, about whom Fabre’s predecessor, Leon Dufour, waxes quite lyrical: “…when I was hunting her, I used to see those eyes gleaming like diamonds, bright as a cat’s eyes in the dark.” Off we trotted to Wikipedia, for pictures, and YouTube, for pictures that move.
After which appetizing display it was time for lunch.
I’m a longtime fan of the Brave Writer writing program for homeschoolers—as this gushing review from (gasp) 2005 will attest. I’ve borrowed many an idea from Julie Bogart’s The Writer’s Jungle and I’ve ordered a number of issues of The Arrow and The Boomerang over the years. These monthly newsletters, which you can purchase individually or by subscription, are focused around a particular novel that you read aloud to your kids. For each book, there are copywork and dictation passages, a discussion of a literary element that appears in the reading, and writing prompts for your students. For my kids, I’ve found these downloads to be great discussion starters—and for me, they’ve been an easy way to introduce my kids to the tools of literary analysis.
So it’s a tremendous honor to see one of my own books on the list of Arrow titles for 2012-2013. The Prairie Thief, which comes out in late August, will be the October selection. Thanks, Brave Writer!
Julie Bogart has some fun plans in mind for October, such as a podcast interview with me…I’ll keep you posted!
P.S. Here’s next year’s Boomerang list (aimed at ages 12-15), if you’re interested. The Arrow is for kids ages 8-12. And this year Brave Writer is adding a new tool for early readers: The Wand.
But of one of the great treasures of old Irish literature we will talk. This is the Leabhar Na h-Uidhre, or Book of the Dun Cow. It is called so because the stories in it were first written down by St. Ciaran in a book made from the skin of a favorite cow of a dun color. That book has long been lost, and this copy of it was made in the eleventh century…
In the Book of the Dun Cow, and in another old book called the Book of Leinster, there is written the great Irish legend called the Tain Bo Chuailgne or the Cattle Raid of Cooley.
This is a very old tale of the time soon after the birth of Christ. In the book we are told how this story had been written down long, long ago in a book called the Great Book Written on Skins.
That last bit cracked us up and we had to spend a while proclaiming the title in sonorous tones.
We enjoyed the story of the Book of the Dun Cow even more than the story in the Book of the Dun Cow, if you see what I mean. Marshall drops in intriguing details and doesn’t explain them: “But a learned man carried away that book to the East.” Who? Why? Where?
We’d have liked to hear more of Mary A. Hutton’s poem, “The Tain,” of which only a snippet was included—the Brown Bull’s death:
“He lay down
Against the hill, and his great heart broke there,
And sent a stream of blood down all the slope;
And thus, when all the war and Tain had ended,
In his own land, ‘midst his own hills, he died.”
Later we decided it was time for Rilla to meet The King of Ireland’s Son, and Padraic Colum’s rollicking, lilting prose swept us off on a grand adventure. Oh, such chills when the Eagle looks at the King’s Son with the “black films of death” covering her eyes!
Hmm, this is all sounding rather gruesome, but I guess I’m just calling out the gruesome bits. We were laughing ourselves silly at certain parts of the morning’s reading. And Colum weaves in such irresistible poetry:
His hound at his heel, His hawk on his wrist; A brave steed to carry him whither he list, And the green ground under him,
I put the fastenings on my boat For a year and for a day, And I went where the rowans grow, And where the moorhens lay;
And I went over the stepping-stones And dipped my feet in the ford, And came at last to the Swineherd’s house,– The Youth without a Sword.
A swallow sang upon his porch “Glu-ee, glu-ee, glu-ee,” “The wonder of all wandering, The wonder of the sea;” A swallow soon to leave ground sang “Glu-ee, glu-ee, glu-ee.”
Dandelion boys, paperwhites in January, a perilously narrow train trestle, artists at work, The Family Under the Bridge.
Not pictured: Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King,” a small chunk of David Copperfield (enter Miss Betsey Trotwood), a great deal of Elephant & Piggie, a bit of Latin, that game where you stack the states, a lot of Wii Party, Gutenberg and Copernicus, and The Second Mrs. Giaconda. Have I mentioned I love high tide?
Freshman year of college, my Voice and Diction instructor assigned a very long poem for memorization. I don’t think we had to recite the whole thing (she’d have had to spend the entire rest of the semester listening to us) but I do recall cramming a massive chunk of it. This came up in the car the other day in a conversation with my girls about words with confusing pronunciations. Without thinking about it, I found myself chanting,
“Dearest creature in creation, studying English pronunciation…”
I didn’t get much farther. Remembered a few more fragments. “Something something who can tell/ Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.”
Strangely, the Pall Mall line isn’t included. But I vividly remember the instructor staring disdainfully at us students over the tops of her enormous dark glasses, and blowing cigarette smoke out of the side of her mouth before informing us that the London Street was pronounced ‘pell mell.’ We were a bunch of Colorado kids who only knew the name as a cigarette brand and didn’t understand why “tell” was rhymed with “Mall” in that couplet.
The poem is called, I believe, “The Phonetic Labyrinth.” Really quite delicious, when no one is breathing smoke at you for flubbing a line.
I’m still answering questions in the Open Thread comments (and will continue bumping longer answers to new posts, like this one). Stephanie wrote:
I would love some suggestions for my 2nd grader – we are going to be covering Ancient Civilizations (Greeks, Romans, China) this coming school year and I’m wondering what read-alouds or chapter books you would suggest to her. She is an advanced reader so I’m looking for both books that would challenge her plus ones I could read to her with younger siblings. I’ve never tackled Greek myths before and need some age appropriate guidance! : )
I replied with a list of things we’ve read & enjoyed. I know there are lots and lots of other good books on these topics; this is just a sort of top-of-my-head collection of standouts from my family’s experience. And linking things nicely takes more time than I have this afternoon, so pardon the dashed-off character of this post.
UPDATED 6/21 to add a book I forgot—possibly Rose’s favorite besides the D’Aulaire. Adventures of the Greek Heroes by Mollie McLean & Anne Wiseman, a book she read so often I had to buy a second copy to replace the tattered, brokenbacked, page-shedding first copy.
Odds Bodkin has an Iliad storytelling CD—we checked it out once years ago after hearing many rave reviews, but I think I jumped the gun; the graphic snakes-eating-the-daughters-of-Laocoön part in the beginning terrified my tiny girls. I’m sure they would listen with relish these days, bloodthirsty lasses that they are.
Oh, another big hit has been Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren (you can read it for free at Mainlesson.com). That one focuses more on historical figures (some legendary) than gods & goddesses.
(That post reminded me, duh, of Padraic Colum’s The Children’s Homer, which Rose devoured that year. And that was the year I read huge chunks of The Iliad and The Odyssey to the girls—my college texts, not children’s translations, and they were so into it! Ages eight, ten, thirteen, roughly, I think? I can’t be bothered to do the math. Anyway, I mention this not at all in a braggy sense but quite the opposite: there’s a reason those cracking good tales have endured for centuries. They GRAB you, even if you’re little.)
I know the original question asked for Ancient Rome & China suggestions too; will tackle those in separate posts.
**UPDATE! Be sure to see the comments for great suggestions from other readers!**