Posts Tagged ‘readalouds’
January 26, 2017 @ 8:33 pm | Filed under: Books
1. Picture books
Today is the 26th and my Goodreads log says we’ve read 23 picture books so far this year. Sounds about right; we’ve missed a couple of days here and there but not more than two or three. I may have forgotten to log something.
Mrs. Biddlebox by Linda Smith, illustrated by Marla Frazee. Until I went to grab the cover from Amazon just now, I didn’t realize this was out of print. The author died not long after it was published—we had the same editor, who sent me a copy, knowing my kids would love it. They truly do. Mrs. Biddlebox turns a grim, gray day around by, well, eating it up, bad mood and all. I hope your library has a copy because it looks like it has become a collector’s item, judging by the resale price.
I Scream, Ice Cream: A Book of Wordles by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Serge Bloch. Lots of punny fun from the always delightful Rosenthal.
Diary of a Fly by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss.
Diary of a Worm.
Diary of a Spider. Everyone knows these; everyone loves these. My kids can’t listen to one without demanding all three.
The Lady with the Ship on Her Head by Deborah Nourse Lattimore. A longtime favorite of mine—my copy was signed (and delightfully doodled in) by the author when she did a booksigning at the children’s bookstore I worked at during grad school, many moons ago. Madame Pompenstance can’t figure out what kind of fancy hairdo to concoct for the king’s contest. When she bends over to scoop a few sad shells off the beach to ornament her coiffure, a tiny three-masted ship rows right onto her head. She has no idea it’s there, even though the tiny crew drops anchor below her earlobes, forming cunning little earrings; she only knows that she has a fearful headache all day long. So funny, and the art is lavish and captivating. A big hit with my gang.
Frog Girl by Owen Paul Lewis. You had me at the bit where the frog lifts the skin of the lake and takes the girl to her underwater frog village.
World Rat Day by J. Patrick Lewis and Anna Raff. A poem collection of made-up holidays. Dragon Appreciation Day is Rilla’s favorite.
2. High-tide companions
We’re still reading The Secret Horses of Briar Hill at bedtime—only a few pages at a time, because Huck is a sleepy guy at the end of the day. We can’t move it to morning because then Stevie would miss out. So I’ve started a new midmorning read-aloud; I was wanting some historical fiction to tie in with our Age of Exploration studies. Beanie suggested one of her old favorites: A Murder for Her Majesty. I haven’t read this one in ages, and possibly never aloud. SO GOOD. We’re only on Chapter 2 so far: young Alice witnessed her father’s murder and went on the run. She’s been taken in by a group of choirboys at York Minster, and they’ve just decided she should cut her hair and hide in the choir. Suspense!
3. My own meanderings
You didn’t think I really meant that Dickens quote the other day, did you? I didn’t look it up to see who said it, but “Let us have no meandering” sounds like Betsey Trotwood. Me, I’m a meanderer. After I finished Ilsa (about which: seriously, more later—not tonight because they’re waiting on me to watch the rest of Fellowship), I found myself in a familiar dither over what of a hundred (a hundred hundred!) options to choose next. Sometimes it takes me weeks to choose. It’s annoying. Just settle down and PICK something! I fight with my brain sometimes. I’ve read the openings of at least five books. One is about King Edward VII and I do mean to finish it. Another is about bees (I know, shocker), and yet another falls into my favorite subgenre: books about books. I keep dipping back into it and will probably curl up with it this weekend for real. And then there’s a (digital) stack of YA novels whispering to me. Also: I did download Martin Chuzzlewit and have chuckled through two chapters so far. I’m arriving too early at Jamie’s May Dickens read-along but her description of this particular novel piqued my interest. Realistically, though, I’ll have to shelve it soon and turn my attention to Great Expectations, which I’m teaching in March.
Oh, and I forgot the three in-progress audiobooks. What is wrong with me? Code Name Verity (edge of my seat; I’ll be recommending to Beanie; and yes I’m very late in getting to this one, which knocked everyone’s socks off a few years ago); Landmarks (still); and A Short History of Nearly Everything.
January 12, 2017 @ 6:24 am | Filed under: Books
Ah Ha! by Jeff Mack. Chronicle Books. This deceptively simple story is an absolute hoot. The only text in the whole book are variations on “Ah ha!” and “Ahh!” Ah ha! A little boy catches a frog. Ahh, the frog escapes from the jar. Ah ha! Right into the mouth of a predator. Ahh! He gets away again. And so on. For beginning readers, this is about as easy as it gets—you can read a whole book with just two sounds. For kids a bit older, like mine, it’s a fun exploration of inflection. How many shades of meaning can you infuse into those two simple syllables?
When Moon Fell Down by Linda Smith, illustrated by Kathryn Brown. HarperCollins. I’m sad to see this lovely book has gone out of print already. It’s been in regular circulation around here since my former Little House editor—also its editor—sent us a copy many, er, moons ago. Moon falls out of the sky one night, meets an amiable cow, and takes her along on an adventure around town. My favorite part is Moon’s discovery of a hidden side to things he has heretofore only seen from above—shop windows and horses’ knees, for example.
High tide read-alouds:
Story of the World Volume 3: Early Modern Times by Susan Wise Bauer. Rilla, Huck, and I are just beginning this tome this week. I’ll admit Chapter 1 left them a little befuddled. It’s presented in a framing sequence several layers deep: imagine you’re a traveler who’s been all over the known world having adventures; it’s 1600 and there are these two kings you’re going to learn about, but first let’s back up to 1500 to hear about a young man who wanted to be Emperor because of this other emperor several centuries earlier…whew! And at the end of the chapter, both my kids were disappointed because they’d wanted to hear more about that grizzled old two-toothed world traveler from the first paragraph, who never showed back up. Fortunately, I know the text will settle down soon and they’ll be hooked into the historical dramas. But I think they’d rather hear the tale of the seven-toed, two-toothed scurvy man who survived being bitten by a cobra and a water moccasin. (!)
Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin. Oldie but goodie. My favorite way to introduce my small people to classic references like the Sword of Damocles, King Alfred and the cakes, and the famous Laconic “IF.” (Those links will take you to the Main Lesson Project, where you can read the stories for free.)
The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems, edited by Donald Hall.
“Can I keep playing Legos while you read, Mom?”
“Can you play with them quietly enough that you’ll be able to hear?” ”
“Yes, but I need to rummage for some certain pieces first.”
“Okay, you rummage. I’ll pick out some poems. Ooh, Macavity!”
[Fifteen-year-old looks up from her geometry, bursts into song.]
My own queue:
I finished Cat’s Cradle. If you’ll forgive me for getting ultra-intellectual on you for a moment—that is one bananas book. 😉
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
I seem to be rereading two Nick Hornby essay collections at once—Housekeeping vs. The Dirt in print, and More Baths, Less Talking on Kindle. Also in this collection: The Polysyllabic Spree and Shakespeare Wrote for Money. Yes, I will almost certainly have to reread them all before this kick plays out.
One of my favorite aspects of these “Stuff I’m Reading” columns is that Hornby leads with lists of the books he bought that month, and the books he actually read.
“The seasoned reader, accustomed to the vicissitudes of a life spent accumulating books, can probably guess without checking that in any given month, the Books Bought and Books Read lists hardly overlap.”
“Surely we all occasionally buy books because of a daydream we’re having—a little fantasy about the people we might turn into one day, when our lives are different, quieter, more introspective, and when all the urgent reading, whatever that might be, has been done. We never arrive at that point, needless to say…”
And here he’s speaking to my rabbit-trailing, homeschooling heart:
“And so a lot of adult life—if your hunger and curiosity haven’t been squelched by your education—is learning to join up the dots that you didn’t even know were there.”
(All these quotes are from More Baths, which is more easily quotable simply because I have it on Kindle and can copy-paste from my “Your Highlights” page.)
Some enticing new titles landed on my Netgalley shelf this week, including a new-to-me reprint of a Madeleine L’Engle novel, Ilsa, which has been out of print for some sixty years and is being reissued by Open Road Media next month. More on that to come, surely. And I’ve received a copy of Maud, “a novel inspired by the life of L. M. Montgomery” by Melanie Fishbane, due out in April from Penguin. (Jen of Recreational Scholar expresses some ambivalent feelings about it in this post.)
January 9, 2017 @ 6:30 am | Filed under: Books
Leslie in VA absolutely made my week with this comment:
Many, many years ago. . . you gushed over “Fruitless Fall” and that book truly changed our life. I read it, my husband read it and our older kids read it. My husband (phobic of bees) wanted to get bees (still does). Fast forward to today and my oldest son, 21, now works on a queen bee farm in Hawaii. He was truly inspired by that book. Thank you for your part in him finding his path!
I told Scott, “I feel like I was just given a George Bailey moment without having to get to the desperate jump-off-a-bridge stage first!” Thanks, Leslie, really. And thanks to all of you who’ve let me know my book chatter has been meaningful to your family life at some point or other. It means a lot to me to know that, truly. 🙂
Leslie went on to ask,
Also, thoughts on goodreads? I think it is a valuable tool but decreased activity over the past year. Are people reading less, not using it, is there another site? I have been keeping track of our books for over 5 years (kids have different shelves) because I often draw a blank when asked for suggestions for a certain age. Wondering what you think of its usefulness?
Have you read Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter? Delicious!
Taking the last question first: I have not! It’s been recommended to me by a number of Bonny Glen readers over the years, and I think I even snagged it on Kindle at some point. Why haven’t I read it yet?? If anyone understands my reading tastes, it’s you folks. Perhaps I can make it a January treat.
As for Goodreads, I too enjoy it but my use comes in fits and starts. I’ve been somewhat more consistent at updating my books in the past few years…at least, until October hits. Then, if it’s a year I’m serving on a Cybils panel (and since I’m now chairing the YA Fiction panel, every year will be that sort of year), it all falls apart. I can’t keep up with the logging.
I’ve tried once or twice to log my kids’ reading that way, but it’s hopeless. Too darn many books. Beanie does log her reading at her own account, though.
I admit I seldom read Goodreads comments on books I’m interested in—not the general pool of comments, that is. I do enjoy reading the remarks left by my Goodreads friends and acquaintances. It’s always fun to enter a book and discover six of my GR pals gave it four stars.
Oh, but about those stars—I hardly ever give any! Sometimes I’ll award them, but only if it’s (in my opinion) a four- or five-star book—and I’m terribly inconsistent at that, having entered many excellent books without putting in any stars at all. It bothers me that a three-star rating (which is supposed to mean “I like it”) is considered by writers (and readers) to be a lackluster, low rating. I don’t want to deflate someone’s scores (and feelings) by seeming to give it a bad grade. And writers work too hard on books for me to go around slapping a depressing two stars on their efforts, even though I’m bound to feel ‘meh’ about some of the books I read. So—I mostly ignore the whole star machinery. A zero-star rating isn’t factored into the book’s score. And it certainly doesn’t mean I thought the book was worth zilch. Some of my lifelong favorite books show up as zeroes in my list, because I didn’t bother with the stars.
I keep thinking I could use Goodreads to log incoming review copies, but there too I get bogged down by the busywork of entering titles.
In the end, my sidebar booklogs are a more accurate reflection of my year’s reading. I wish I’d begun keeping them sooner than 2008!
How about the rest of you? Do you have a good(reads) system?
A tangent: as I write this, at 8:30 Sunday evening, I’m listening to Rose and Beanie play a piano-and-violin duet in the next room—a song from one of the Zelda games, I believe, quite lovely—and my heart’s about to burst with delight. They each started group piano classes around age eight. Rose ‘graduated’ from the music school last spring, at age eighteen. Beanie still attends, along with Rilla, who’s in her third year. And Huck is beginning this week.
Beanie has been taking violin lessons for about a year. The instrument she plays on was given to me by Scott, my senior year of college. He knew I’d always wanted to learn and found a second-hand three-quarter-size violin somewhere. I took lessons for a few months from an elderly fiddle player who taught me out of an old hymnal. I confess I didn’t get very far. I was self-conscious about practicing in earshot of my roommates. The violin got bumped around through several moves, suffering a broken bridge at some point. And the bow disintegrated. The summer before last, Rose spent six weeks in Colorado with my parents and was given the rather amazing opportunity of assisting their neighbor, a violin repairman, with the restoration of my old instrument. She brought it home to Beanie, who’d been pining to play strings for ages.
And here we are. They sound, to this mama’s ears, utterly magical. When they play, I don’t just hear melody—I hear history.
Our weekend picture book reading:
The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman. A pencil draws a host of characters, and then when they clamor for color, he draws a paintbrush to help out. But when he draws an eraser, things begin to go downhill…my kids love this book, from the mild chaos created by the Calvin-esque eraser to the beleaguered pencil’s clever solution. This book would pair nicely with Harold and the Purple Crayon—or that Looney Tunes where Daffy Duck is being tormented by the paintbrush that created him (wielded, of course, by Bugs Bunny).
A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton. I wrote about this gem in 2008: “This was one of the Cybils nominees, and when I read the library copy, I knew it was a keeper. Sweet, funny story about a rather curmudgeonly bear who, despite his best efforts, finds himself playing host to a persistent and amiable mouse. I showed it to Scott, who instantly pegged it as a perfect Rose book. Endearing art, charming story.”
Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier and Suzy Lee. From my 2013 booknotes: “A series of quirky creatures is reading a series of little books, each smaller than the next. Very clever way to play with the convention of the codex. All those adorable nested books are irresistible to my kids. And the art, oh the art: utterly to swoon for.”
How to Read a Story by Kate Messner and Mark Siegel. <– This last one, I’m informed, will be our Monday pick, if we can find it. It fits nicely with the meta-book themes of The Pencil and Open This Little Book, which is probably what made Huck think of it. Some of you will recall that I caught Huck on video reading this one out loud, back in 2015. (Those character voices—oh my heart!)
January 6, 2017 @ 4:33 pm | Filed under: Books
There. I’ve been through every book in the house. There are hundreds stacked up, ready to be donated, just as soon as someone who wants them shows up with boxes. Thousands more survived this round of cuts, and I’m itching to curl up *right this minute* with about 80% of those. (Insert despairing cackle.)
I’m steeling myself to let some of the weaving books go. Some were reference for writing the Martha books; others were instructional for my own rookie efforts. I’m going to let Spinning and Weaving With Wool and the big book on linen find homes with someone else. (Sitting here writing this post, I couldn’t remember the exact title of the linen book. Then I remembered I probably ordered it from Amazon. And sure enough, there it is in my order history. From 1998.
I’m a little freaked out right now
One notable observation we made while culling the collection was how many books could be let go due to our now relying on the internet for their kind of content. Informational texts, science projects, cookbooks. (Okay, but I did keep Lotions, Potions, and Slime—I don’t care if you can find all those activities on Pinterest now; that book has family history.) If I ever need to know how to finesse linen in a handloom again, I’ll Google it.
Last night’s picture book: Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner. So good. Huck was initially baffled by the strange alphabets of the aliens’ and insects’ languages, but as soon as he wrapped his head around the concept, boy did he enjoy interpreting the dialogue. He started over again as soon as we finished, and then he took it to bed with him. I love experiencing a wordless picture book with a child—how his trepidation gives way to glee as he gets into the spirit of the ‘reading.’
My favorite parts of this book are the ‘cave paintings’—the insects’ murals on the wall under the radiator, depicting the history of brave stands the ants and ladybugs have made against the fearsome feline attacker. The detail is remarkable, and you get the fun of deciphering another wordless story within the wordless story.
I finally got my 2016 booklog up to date (more or less—not everything’s linked up, but the titles are all there). I may have to declare Goodreads bankruptcy, though, and just begin fresh with 2017. (Which is what I wound up doing last year.) It takes too long to click through all the layers of search new book—add new book—choose shelves—set start and finish dates when you’re doing it for dozens of books at once. Will I keep up as I go next year? Probably not.
I’m pining for a new episode of the West Wing Weekly podcast. Holidays, schmolidays!
Consider this a PSA—Creativebug is running a special: one month of free unlimited access. If you explore my Creativebug tag you’ll see how much enjoyment my family wrings out of our $4.95/month subscription.
(affiliate link, but only because I’m a happy customer)
January 5, 2017 @ 2:50 pm | Filed under: Books
I found a new(ish) middle-grade novel on my Kindle I’d been meaning to read with the kids. It’s a review copy of The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd, sent to me by the publisher via Netgalley. I usually pre-read new books before diving into them as readalouds, but I liked the description and first chapters of this one quite a lot, and I decided to just dive in. So that’s our next novel, and we’ll save The Firelings for later.
Secret Horses takes place an English hospital during the second world war, a hospital for sick children—tuberculosis, it sounds like so far. The young narrator, Emmaline, sees winged horses in the mirrors and windows of the hospital. In reflections, the horses are vivid and present, nuzzling cups of tea on bedside tables. But when you look behind you at the real room, there’s no horse there, winged or otherwise. So far (chapter two) only Emmaline can see them. Highly promising, methinks, and Rilla agrees. Huck is worried about the dying Anna, the oldest of the Briar Hill children, “but I’m okay with going a bit farther to see what happens,” he says.
Here’s a list of our middle-grade readalouds from 2016.
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
A Lion to Guard Us by Clyde Robert Bulla
The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Ace: The Very Important Pig by Dick King-Smith
And these audiobooks:
Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary (narrated by Stockard Channing—perfection!)
Frindle by Andrew Clemens
The Witches by Roald Dahl
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
I feel like I’m missing something! But those are the ones I have written down.
All of these books went over well with Huck (age seven) and Rilla (who turned ten in April). I think Harriet the Spy was the only one that didn’t really grab Huck. He wasn’t sure about Understood Betsy, heading in, but by chapter three he was hooked. And when we came to the end, he asked in a quivery voice, “There are more Betsy books, right?” I had to tell him that no, not about this particular Betsy. But we do have some wonderful Betsy books waiting in the wings…
I think Mixed-Up Files and Understood Betsy were their favorites. And Frindle was a marvelous listen, probably my favorite of the bunch—although I would happily listen to Stockard Channing read the phone book, and her Ramona was quite satisfying. Rilla and I got about halfway through Ramona the Pest before our Overdrive checkout period ended and it disappeared from our queue. We’re back on the waiting list now.
A Lion to Guard Us was the perfect companion to our colonial America studies. It’s a short novel and had the kids pretty well entranced, although there were parts that distressed my sensitive Huck: the mother’s death, early on, and then the sad disappearance of the kindly doctor at sea. He’s okay with hearing about death in a story as long as there is plenty of space for discussing it as we go, and a cozy spot next to me under a blanket.
All in all, a pretty good year for readalouds. Of course this is only one piece of the literary picture. There were also poems and picture books, history and fairy tales. Basically, I read to them all morning and then send them out to play while I work.
Scott handles the bedtime stories and I need to get a list from him, because I can’t remember what he read this year.
Wonderboy (too old now for his baby blog name, but what do I call him here?) got into the Boxcar Children books this year, and Dan Gutman’s Weird School series was heartily enjoyed by both my boys. They all read lots of comics—Calvin, Foxtrot, Peanuts—and too many graphic novels to list. And I’ve utterly given up at keeping track of what my older girls are reading. Too. Many. Books.
Beanie and I read a lot of good stuff for her literature class, which I teach to her and three other girls. In 2016 we did Jane Eyre, Pygmalion, The Tempest, Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain, the first book of the Faerie Queen, and…what am I forgetting? We start Lear next week. She also has a taste for nature-and-science-related nonfiction, and I’ve pulled a lot of selections off this old Jane list for her.
Highlights from my own reading year. So hard to confine to a small space! If I leave Cybils candidates for later, to narrow the field a bit, then the standouts are Passage and Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis—Passage in particular was wrenchingly good, and I find myself thinking about it all the time. I’d like to revisit it soon. I reread Julie Schumacher’s comical Dear Committee Members on a plane this summer because I so enjoyed the voice of the beleaguered English professor’s many lively epistles. And rereading Jane Eyre in preparation for teaching it burned that novel more deeply into my heart than ever. (Burned, get it? Motifs of fire and ice?)
I also had the fun this year of previewing a chunk of an upcoming Cassandra novel by Stephanie Spinner. She left me hanging and I’m itching to read more! (Hint…)
A new Connie Willis, Crosstalk, landed in my Netgalley queue just before the Cybils took over my Kindle. It’s got a high-priority spot on my 2017 list.
In addition to the household Fresh Start cleaning spree, the New Year always means an overhaul of my sidebar here on the blog. It begins with the year’s reading log, which must be transferred from sidebar to its own page. (In 2016 I got smart and started the page early—but then Cybils overtook my reading life and the page remains, as my sidebar note says, about thirty books behind. Perhaps more like 27 today. I’m getting there, book by book.) The empty space under the current year’s heading always drives me crazy until I’ve finished a book. Lots of years, I find time on January 1st to read a short children’s novel—last year it was Miss Happiness and Miss Flower—just so I can remove the placeholder text and enter an actual book title. I roll my eyes at myself while doing it, but I do it all the same.
Except I haven’t done it this year. Too busy sparking joy with every book in the house. I’m reading Cat’s Cradle, because I never have and Scott asked me to. 🙂 We often slide each other reading requests, wanting our frames of reference to be shared as much as possible. When Jane was a newborn, Scott would read aloud to me while I nursed her. We started with some childhood favorites the other had missed—The Great Brain (his); Harriet the Spy (mine). (You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Scott’s Ole Golly, let me tell you.)
Cat’s Cradle isn’t a long book, but this week’s pattern of cleaning frenzy in the morning and brain-work in the afternoon has left me too tired to make it through more than a few pages when I hit the pillow at night. So the gap remains.
The reading log is my sidebar equivalent of Flylady’s shiny sink. Once it’s been updated for the year, I have to start moving other things around. As the year’s book log grows longer, it throws columns off balance. I rearrange things and in January have to arrange them back. Which leads to a reassessment of what else is occupying space there. I’ve nixed some bits this year, tried to make the informational bits up top more compact so you get to the part that contains actual content—the recent comment widget and the “Caught My Eye” links—more quickly. I let the links section slide a bit during Cybils season, but I’m planning to use it more actively now, entering short remarks on the shared links so that section is more like a mini-blog within the blog. I know from your comments in the past that some of you do click through to see if I’ve added new links, which makes me so happy. 🙂 I’m glad you find them useful or interesting.
I’ve found a way to add links to this section directly from Feedly—very convenient! But I have to go in manually to add commentary.
At the bottom of my sidebar you’ll find a new addition: a “Blogging Like It’s 2005” blogroll. Yes, a blogroll—seriously old-school! This is the fruit of a conversation on my Facebook page. I asked my FB friends questions whether they still read blogs, and if so, do they use a feed reader like Feedly or Bloglovin, or do they rely on social media for notifications of new posts. I was surprised to discover that almost everyone who answered said they pretty much just click through on links from Facebook or Twitter.
It gives me the shivers to think of relying on the caprices of Facebook to find out if blogs I love have new content up. I will forever mourn Google Reader, but Feedly does the job pretty well for me—and has some nifty post-sharing functionality that comes in quite handy, as I mentioned above.
But I seem to be in the minority. Now, until this conversation I was posting my own blog links on FB only sporadically, because 1) I hesitate to spam my friends’ feeds with my own content; and 2) Facebook’s tricksy algorithms have a way of downgrading your updates if they too frequently contain links to the same website. Which means there’s no guarantee your friends will see your new post links, even if you do put ’em on FB.
But that’s fine, now that I know people prefer to see blog updates in their newsfeed, I’m happy to comply. And I have to say I’ve been thrilled by all the discussion happening in the comment box this week—thank you all for taking the time! 🙂
Well, as I said, this FB conversation led to a burst of wistful reminiscing about the lively blog community of old. A few of us decided to try to revive the spirit of those days by posting more often, more chattily, and by making an effort to comment on one another’s blogs. Thus the new blogroll. Let me know if you’d like to be included.
Today’s picture book: well, so far we’ve only read Hedgie’s Surprise again. (“Because I love it so much!” Huck pleaded.) But I found Jan Brett’s The Wild Christmas Reindeer mixed in with non-Christmas books (so we missed it), and I think since we’re on a Brett kick, it’s what I’ll read tonight. I did begin The Firelings last night, by the way. Huck had played outside all day and fell asleep two pages in. And today I happened upon The Minstrel in the Tower, which is a nice short readaloud that I haven’t done with this set. I’m contemplating holding off on Firelings for now.
I’d like to start sharing thoughts on some of the Cybils nominees I read this fall. To begin with, here’s the blurb I wrote for one of our finalists, a beautiful historical novel called Salt to the Sea.
As the Nazi Reich collapses and the Soviet army sweeps across the East Prussian countryside in the winter of 1945, three young refugees find themselves thrown together among the crowds of desperate, uprooted travellers. The distinctive voices and histories of Joana (“the nurse”), Florian (“the knight”), and Emilia (“the Polish girl”)—each guarding painful secrets—create a harrowing picture of the lives thrown into tumult by the war. A fourth narrative voice, the self-aggrandizing declarations of a young Nazi soldier named Alfred, adds an unsettling counterpoint to the narrative. The fates of the four narrators will converge at the doomed MV Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ship targeted by Russian submarines. Ruta Sepetys brings authenticity and heart to this moving, gorgeously realized work of historical fiction.
It’s hard to pull off good historical fiction, and even harder (in my opinion) to manage multiple narrative voices gracefully. Sepetys excels at both endeavors. Her characters have lodged in my heart—particularly the old shoemaker, whom you’ll meet on the road. Highly, highly recommended.
I’ve been so busy this week, I haven’t had time to explore the other Cybils categories. We always try to read as many finalists as we can, especially the picture books! Time to fill up my library cart…
Huck this morning: “Why are you on a site called Goo Dreads?”
Dread is actually an apt word for my feelings about catching up my Goodreads, which (thanks to Cybils) is about thirty YA novels behind. I’m trying, but it wants time I do not have. And then there’s my booklog here at Bonny Glen, which is a whole other task. Maybe I’ll outsource it to a kid.
Today’s picture book: Hedgie’s Surprise by Jan Brett. A natural choice after yesterday’s pick. I think this one may be my favorite of Brett’s Hedgie stories. And the needlepoint patterns in the margins have me itching to paint. Maybe that’ll be my drawing challenge subject for the day.
As I mentioned yesterday, I’m hoping to sketch every day this year. A few weeks ago, Scott remarked offhandedly that I ought to draw more bears. So during that night’s art date with Rilla, I pulled up a Google image search and tried my hand at a few. Yesterday I attempted a polar bear. I went right to the good paper, which might have been a disaster because I thoroughly botched the proportions and put the face way too low. Fortunately I have learned to use something water-soluble for my first rough sketch. (Or pencil. I love pencil. A lot of instructors tell you to avoid pencil, but I think they see relative shapes a lot better than I do. I need to be able to shift things around. Like when the nose ends up where the chin should be.) I often begin with a blue or brown watercolor pencil and go over that with black waterproof ink. Lately I’m enjoying a gray Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pen. When I mess up on my first pass, as I inevitably do, I can blur the mistakes into shadow with a waterbrush. The bear is still messy but I was much happier after I redid his face in black ink.
Someone asked how I’m finding time to keep up the sketchbook practice, given all the work on my plate this year. The answer is: I give it fifteen minutes a day. That’s all. I mean, there are days when I get lucky and find some extra time, like if I sit on a bench and draw while the kids are at the playground. But sometimes I prefer to read during playground time instead. And so I’ve committed a quarter of an hour to sketching every evening at 9pm. Fifteen minutes isn’t much. (That’s a big part of why that polar bear is so messy.) But it’s something. It’s what I can manage, for now, and that’s enough.
This morning I sorted two bookcases’ worth of books. I’ve pulled together a new row of picture books for our daily selections—enough to last us for four months, if we read one a day. Every book I handled felt like another conversation, a whole post unto itself. It’s funny that I had so many days last year where I couldn’t come up with anything to blog about—I learned a long time ago all I have to do is walk over to one of my shelves.
At one point this morning I had at least a hundred books in piles on the floor, swallowing the room, when I came across our copy of Material World. Which, if you haven’t seen it, is a collection of photographs of families around the world with all their material possessions spread in front of their homes. The variation between quantity of stuff from family to family is staggering. We Americans, we…accumulate a lot of things. Like, say, books.
We finished Understood Betsy just before the holidays, and now I need to choose the next readaloud. Scott read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever the whole family (including the college kids and me), which bought me time to decide, but…I’m still undecided. We still have so many great books in the pile for this year! Jane (still home for winter break) is plumping for The Firelings. Which may have been one of the first readalouds I ever wrote about on this blog. Maybe it’s time. 🙂
After the morning’s bookcase jamboree, I took the younger kids to the playground. I’ve been a lot better about this lately—you know my older girls practically grew up at local parks, but rhythms change when you have teens, and park visits had all but disappeared from our routine for a while. But last fall I stepped it back up. They’re old enough that I can sit, as I said, and read or sketch. Or catch up on blogs. 🙂 Which makes me That Mother you see condemned in posts that make the rounds occasionally—you know, the ones written in tones half imploring, half scolding, about much you miss when you’re staring at your phone while your kids are playing. “I watched your beautiful daughter twirling around in joy and you—you missed it. Because Facebook.” Those always make me laugh. I’m like: honey, I have been taking my kids to the playground since 1995. I have stood in line at the post office with an imaginary goldfish in my hand. I have sat on hospital beds entertaining a toddler with playdough by the hour. I’ve spent all morning homeschooling them. I’ve read thousands of books out loud. Literally thousands! So here at the playground? I’m good. They’re, you know, playing. They don’t need me hovering over them on the jungle gym. In fact, you just know the next article in my feed is going to be a screed against helicopter parenting. So I’m just going to sit here with my magical smartphone and catch up on some reading. Or play a game. Or maybe even goof around on Facebook. Which is where I happened to be when I came across your post, so don’t pretend you aren’t doing the same thing.
Favorite playground moment today: we’d just arrived and my kids were already up the hill toward the play equipment. As I got out of the minivan, a preschooler in a bright orange shirt jumped out of the next car over, took two steps onto the grass, and shouted, “I’m here!” To no one, and everyone.
Today was too chilly for sitting on a bench. (Sorry, Facebook.) We had unusually heavy rains recently (I mean, it’s San Diego; rain is unusual, period) and there were big sploshy puddles all over the place. The kids mostly avoided them by keeping to the mountain peaks of the jungle gym. I decided to get a bit of exercise in by walking laps around the wide, flat grassy area adjacent to the playground. You can see the play area from the whole circumference, so you don’t even have to miss That Mother’s beautiful daughter twirling around in ignored joy if you choose.
I pulled up an audiobook I started several months ago, Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful Landmarks, which is about the language we use for things in nature—terrain, weather, flora. Specifically: the “place-words” of the United Kingdom. When last I listened to this book, I was playing Minecraft. And as soon as the new chapter loaded and the narrator with his wonderful accent began reading the opening lines, my mind was flooded with images of the house I’d built in that particular Minecraft world—a birch cabin on a bluff overlooking a river, with a village in the distance and a craggy mountain rising behind. I remember thinking at the time that Landmarks was the perfect book to listen to while playing Minecraft, since both are so thoroughly centered around terrain. It was also perfect for listening to on a brisk walk through a soggy park. Macfarlane even mentioned a Scottish word for “a person who is walking briskly”—I need to get hold of a hard copy and look it up, because I missed it on the walk, what with all the puddle-sploshing.
It’s terrible, in fact—every other sentence made me long for a print edition of the book to mark up and dog-ear—on the very day when I’ve embarked on a ruthless shelf-culling endeavor! Plus now we’re past both Christmas and my birthday. 😉 I’ll have to get it from the library, though, because Chapter 4 is all about a Scottish author named Nan Shepherd and her book The Living Mountain, “a celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland.” There were easily five quotes in the first ten minutes that I wanted to copy down. Which I could have done if I were sitting on a bench staring at my phone. I’m just saying.
Backing up to the Minecraft thing for a moment—I’m amazed by how clearly I can picture that map, and even remember some of the adventures that befell me there, just because I was listening to an audiobook while playing. I mean, I’ve played a lot of Minecraft over the years, with my kids and without them. The worlds all begin to blur together after a while. Except for those I’ve explored while listening to something on audio. I went through a whole slew of lectures a couple of years ago—mostly literature classes via Yale Open Course. I can’t just sit and listen to something; I have to be doing something with my hands. (This is why I make sure my kids have something to play with while I read to them.) Nowadays I usually use the listening time to sketch. Or to clean a bathroom. File some papers. But what I have found is that the lectures I listened to while playing Minecraft have stuck in my brain more clearly than the others. You see, the vivid connections are happening in both directions. I remember the house I built during Amy Hungerford’s Lolita lecture (so great!)—a small oak farmhouse with a well in the yard. I remember being down in the nearby mine fighting skeletons during the Wise Blood lecture. During Franny and Zooey I built a house of sandstone and constructed a monster trap nearby. And for all three lectures, I can recall the professor’s words with much more clarity than the one I listened to while scrubbing the bathroom. It’s like Minecraft gave me pegs to hang the lectures on. Or a map, both literal and figurative? I know this: I remember more detail from those lectures than ones I took actual notes on.
I know, I know, this post is ridiculous. You can’t have nine sections in a daily blog post. That’s serious overkill. If I had any sense, I’d have saved some of this for later in the week when open a draft and draw a blank. But I guess that’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in twelve years of blogging. If I save it, it’ll start to feel like A Topic, like something I need brain to tackle. And I have to save all my brains for work. So it’s overkill or nothing, I guess.
Well, maybe we’ll just consider this catch-up for months of sparse posting.
My old books. Beanie’s old comforter. The college girl’s bed.
Lots of Schoolhouse Rock videos this morning. Rose made pumpkin bread.
We’re nearing the end of Understood Betsy. One of my favorite read-alouds of all time, ever. I think “what would Cousin Ann do?” (which Betsy off asks herself) is a pretty good guiding principle.
Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art — we continue to enjoy this so very much! Skipping around a bit now, rabbit-trail style. Today we read the Hokusai chapter—one of my favorites. Which naturally led to watching videos on the making of Japanese woodblock prints. Man, I love homeschoogling.
Speaking of Vincent’s Starry Night—I’m going to be hosting a giveaway for a copy soon! Stay tuned for details.
• 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.
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.