Archive for November, 2005

How Cool Is This?

November 30, 2005 @ 1:10 pm | Filed under: ,

My kids have been captivated by Sherlock Holmes since the first time they listened to Jim Weiss’s Sherlock Holmes for Children storytelling CD. As I recall, Beanie was barely three at the time, and it took me forever to figure out what the heck she meant by the “Madawin Tone” she was always talking about. (She was, of course, referring to the famous Mazarin Stone.) Jane’s interest was piqued by the CDs, and she has enjoyed several of the Holmes stories in the original during the past couple of years.

I was therefore delighted to hear about this little nugget from Stanford University:

Welcome to a new year in Stanford’s ongoing rediscovery of the 19th century. In 2006, we will rerelease a collection of Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of Sherlock Holmes, just as they were originally printed and illustrated in The Strand Magazine. We hope you’ll join us as we continue to discover the riches of Stanford Library’s Special Collections!


Over 12 weeks from January through April 2006, Stanford will be republishing, free of charge, two early Holmes stories, “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Speckled Band”; the nine-part novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles; and the famous “last” encounter between Holmes and Moriarty, “The Final Problem.” If you would like to receive paper facsimiles of the original magazine releases, you may sign up on our website. If you would prefer to download the facsimile as a pdf from the website, each installment will be available on successive Fridays. If you will be using the pdf files, please provide us with your email address on the subscription page, and we will send you an email every Friday, alerting you that the week’s issue is available to download.

I’ve signed us up for the paper version. Sounds like lots of fun.

Tip credit: Julie D. of Schooling with Joy

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Beanie’s Christmas List

November 30, 2005 @ 3:28 am | Filed under:

• A pink teddy bear

(So far, so good. But she’s just warming up.)

• A medium-sized ball that is purple with pink and blue diamonds.

(Um, honey, I’m not sure bouncy balls come in argyle.)

• A pinwheel

(Aha! Now we’re talking. THIS I can handle. Little do I know she’s just putting me off my guard for the final blow…)

• A toy shark—rainbow-colored. Any TYPE of shark, I’m told—”you know, like hammerhead or the other kinds.”

(Oh, sure. What matters species when it’s got rainbow-colored skin? Sure, kid, I’ll get right on that.)

This Week’s Clippings File

November 28, 2005 @ 8:18 pm | Filed under:

Just a couple of links today:

• An article on universal preschool by Diane Flynn Keith

• A call for Homeschooling Blog Awards nominations at Spunky’s site

• A request for posts on unschooling for the Carnival of Unschooling. From their site:

What is a carnival? A collection of excellent and compelling blog posts on a particular topic. In this case, unschooling. I realize there will be a bit of an overlap, but unschooling and how it works here in the real world needs more publicity.

So, please send links to interesting posts on unschooling from the past month or so. We’ll consider anything from October 1st onwards. It can be written by you or someone else. You have until the end of the month, November 30th, to get them in and we’ll post them as soon as possible after that, definitely by the following Monday.

Whoops, I guess that’s not a couple, it’s a few.

Jan Brett Is the Coolest

November 28, 2005 @ 3:49 am | Filed under: , , , ,

039923101301_aa_scmzzzzzzz_I love author and illustrator Jan Brett’s work, and I love her website. What a treasure trove it is! She’s got a bunch of fun new activities up for the holidays, including a printable Advent calendar, a “decorate your own gingerbread house” game (you can print out your masterpiece and turn it into a Christmas card), an adorable hedgehog crossstitch pattern, and instructions for making an African Safari mural. And TONS more. Just too cool.

If you peruse my “favorite Advent & Christmas books” sidebar, you’ll see that Jan Brett appears numerous times. We’ve already pulled out the Brett books we own—The Hat and The Wild Christmas Reindeer—which we always enjoy at this time of year; and this morning we’re hightailing it to the library the second it opens to score copies of every other Jan Brett title we find. My brood is particularly fond of Gingerbread Baby, Trouble with Trolls, and The Mitten. I’ve got my eye on her Christmas Treasury as a possible St. Nicholas Day gift for the girls. (Note to self: don’t let Jane read the blog today.) St. Nick’s Day is coming up fast (December 6th), so I guess I’d better get on the ball.

Where Is Strega Nona Hiding?

November 27, 2005 @ 4:11 am | Filed under: , ,

Today is the first day of Advent. Our candles are on the table, awaiting their wreath of greens. I suppose I’m going to have to cook an actual dinner tonight—one more night of leftovers might result in a mutiny—so we can gather around the table and light our first purple candle and sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” My heart skips a beat, writing this…oh how I love this season of the year!

We’ll begin to pull out the lights, the decorations; these things take their places in our home gradually over the next four weeks. Today, though—today we commence my favorite of the many traditions that fill our Advent: we’ll bring out the books.

I owe a great deal of the inspiration for this particular tradition to Elizabeth Foss, my dear friend and author of Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home. Elizabeth’s Tomie de Paola Advent unit has enriched the holiday customs of hundreds of families—and her suggestions for family read-alouds, crafts, recipes, and prayers aren’t applicable only to homeschoolers.

Over the years I have accumulated a pile of beautiful Advent and Christmas books. Every January, after the Twelve Days of Christmas have come and gone, I tuck the books away in a closet for another year. I love the children’s gasps of delight when I pull them back out each Advent: they bubble over with joy at reuniting with these long-lost friends.

015253184x01_aa_scmzzzzzzz_Today, as always, we’ll begin with our old chum, Strega Nona. I have been a huge fan of author and illustrator Tomie de Paola since I encountered his illustrations in Nancy Willard’s charming picture book, Simple Pictures Are Best, sometime around the age of eight. (Note to my sisters: if that book is still in Mom & Dad’s basement, it’s MINE. We will now return to the Season of Giving. Pardon the interruption.) Strega Nona, the wise and merry “Grandma Witch” who lives in village in Old Italy, is one of de Paola’s best creations. With a sparkle in her eye and a spoon in her hand, she dispenses advice and nourishment to Big Anthony and the other villagers—and to us as well. Of all the Strega Nona tales, Merry Christmas, Strega Nona is my favorite. The words “periwinkle and lemon blossom” conjure up such rich, tradition-steeped images for me, and Strega Nona’s bustle of preparation for the Christmas Eve feast puts us all in the mood to begin our own bustling and baking. Thanks, Elizabeth, for pointing us toward this beautiful book, all those years ago.

All right, it’s time for me to venture into the depths of that closet where I’ve stashed the books. If you don’t hear from me for a while, someone send a search party.

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Drawing It Out

November 23, 2005 @ 10:33 am | Filed under: , ,

Growing up, I always wished I knew how to draw. I envied people who could draw a horse that looked like a real horse, or a face with contours and shading and expression, a real human face, not a circle with three dots and an arc. It seemed a rare and magical ability possessed by only the lucky few—maybe one kid in my class each year, and Artists in Museums. Later it turned out my sister was one of the Lucky Few. Whatever *it* was, she had it. Most of us didn’t.

Then, my senior year in college, I took a costume design class which, much to my surprise, began with a full six weeks spent not on costuming, but rather on drawing. Our one required book for the course was Betty Edwards’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which turned out to be the best book I ever bought in a college bookstore. Because thanks to it, I discovered something astonishing.

Anyone can learn to draw. If you can write your name, you can draw. Really, truly. I don’t mean that anyone can be an artist, just as not everyone who learns to properly construct a sentence can write poetry. But basic drawing skills are not that elusive gift bestowed by fairies at your christening that I once thought they were.

About three weeks—only three weeks!—into our drawing lessons in that costume class, I drew a shoe that really, truly looked like a shoe. Contours and shading and everything. When I finished, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It wasn’t great art, mind you. But there—the frayed shoelaces, the worn place on the toe—it really was my shoe and if you held the picture in front of a pile of shoes, you could pick out the one I’d drawn.

This doesn’t mean I became a stunning visual artist. That particular gift isn’t mine. But if I want to draw a tree—and IF I have plenty of time with no interruptions to concentration, which is a mighty big if—I can draw a darn good tree. Good enough to please me, at least. And I practiced alligators and elephants to please my kids. It’s always handy to be able to whip out an alligator on demand. During the months young Jane spent in the hospital, years ago, I discovered to my great surprise that I had an undeserved reputation for being a good artist—solely because, due to Jane’s frequent requests, I’d perfected a quick giraffe sketch that apparently impressed the playroom attendants. They didn’t realize it was the ONLY thing I could sketch quickly and cleverly. I set them straight when they asked me to help draw a mural on the clinic wall. It was an outer-space mural, so I told them I was afraid I wouldn’t be much help. No giraffes in space, you know.

Anyway, the reason I’m posting about this today is because we’ve got a holiday weekend coming up, and it’s very likely there’s going to be a stretch of time somewhere when everyone is lazing around, and you’ll have obliging grandparents or uncles on hand to entertain the kids, and if you’re like me and always wished you could draw, well, you should. That’s all. Check out the Betty Edwards book, or Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too by Mona Brooke, and give it a try. Remind yourself: if I can write my name, I can draw a respectable shoe. Or giraffe. Or whatever.


These are some drawing books my kids are nuts about. The Usborne ones NEVER stay on the shelf; someone is always using one, it seems. They’re also fond of the Draw Write Now series, but we’ve always ignored the Write part. They just like the step-by-step instructions for drawing things like the Statue of Liberty and buffalo. (We only have a couple of them, but I’m assuming the others are just as good.)

I Can Draw Animals

I Can Draw People

I Can Crayon

On The Farm, Kids & Critters, Storybook Characters (Draw Write Now, Book 1)

Christopher Columbus, Autumn Harvest, The Weather (Draw Write Now, Book 2)

Native Americans, North America, The Pilgrims (Draw Write Now, Book 3)

The Polar Regions, The Arctic, The Antarctic (Draw Write Now, Book 4)

The United States, From Sea to Sea, Moving Forward (Draw Write Now, Book 5)

Animals & Habitats — On Land, Ponds & Rivers, Oceans (Draw Write Now, Book 6)

Animals of the World, Part 1: Tropical Forests, Northern Forests, Forests Down Under (Draw Write Now, Book 7)

Animals of the World, Part 2: Savannas, Grasslands, Mountains and Deserts (Draw Write Now, Book 8)

Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad

And these are two books that I’ve been using to improve my own skills a little…I especially love the snippets of advice Claire Walker Leslie gives for drawing trees, plants, birds, etc. She has a knack for pointing out just the right way to approach the tricky bits that don’t come naturally to me, like how to make a tree branch look like it’s really curving out of a trunk.

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You

The Usborne Complete Book of Drawing