Weekly book shelf, 5/2/14

We took this entire week off from school so that Calvin could perform with our local professional theater company in their spring performance of The Wizard of Oz. He and the other kids who played munchkins, and a variety of other small parts like flying monkeys, have been rehearsing with them once or twice a week for several months now. This week they had three full days of rehearsal followed by two performances each on Thursday and Friday, plus weekend performances as well. So, no school. But Calvin did spend a lot of his free time rereading the Oz books.


Weekly book shelf, 4/25/14

In history this week we explored ancient Japan (SOTW2, ch. 9). There weren't a lot of good non-fiction book recommendations for this chapter, so we did some research in our encyclopedia and online, and read these two picture books to add some color to our study. The Crane Wife is a retelling of a traditional Japanese folk tale. A man saves a crane's life and is surprised by the way this kindness changes his life. Beautiful story, beautiful artwork.

In the Moonlight Mist is a traditional Korean folk tale. When a man saves the life of a deer, he is granted a wife. They are happy and have a daughter, but what will happen when he doesn't follow the rules of the enchantment? This beautiful and delicate story is coupled with stunning illustrations.


For fun, we also added some origami into our weekly history study. Because...origami. This was a good kit from Dover—three books with patterns of easy to increasing difficulty, and plenty of papers to work with in varying sizes.



In science we are still reviewing BFSU Volume 1.

Calvin's literature study this week was The Borrowers, by Mary Norton. This is the story of a tiny (really tiny) family living in someone's kitchen. They live rather happily, but when one of them is spotted by the full size humans in the house their life as they know it is suddenly threatened. The charm (and for me the greatest annoyance) of this story is the dialectic language of the tiny family. Calvin enjoyed it, because he seems to enjoy everything, but it certainly won't be a long time favorite.


Weekly book shelf, 4/18/14

In history this week, Ancient China and the Grand Canal (SOTW2 ch. 8). Harrington's book about the history of the Grand Canal is a fantastic non-fiction resource for kids, but it's out of print and hard to come by. We got ours by luck at a used book store.



Another great resource for us was the Engineering an Empire episode on China's engineering the Grand Canal. We love this set. We originally bought it for easy access to the episodes about Egypt and Carthage, but having it on our shelf for all these other topics has been great.


In science this week we are still, still reviewing BFSU Volume 1. But we also started our bird watching practice for the local Science Olympiad that is coming up in about a month. Plus it's migration season, so there are a lot of birds to see. We mainly use the Audubon bird guide or our local Michigan bird guide, but lately we've been using the Peterson youth guide so Calvin could read up on some species identification in the field.


Calvin's literary study this week was Time Cat, by Lloyd Alexander. A boy meets a talking, magical cat that takes them on adventures through time where the pair meet famous historical figures and undergo a variety of adventures good and bad.


And for some extra reading time he read Berkeley Breathed's youth fiction Flawed Dogs. We have his picture book Pete and Pickles and love it, but it's definitely dark and not for everyone. So I read this one first, and it follows the same pattern—dark and not for everyone, but with a sweet message in the backfield. A dog in a loving home is framed for a crime he did not commit and slated for euthanasia. He escapes, and from there withstands terrible abuse and hardship in different situations before finally finding his way back to the girl who loved him first, and redeeming his good name. My only problem with this book is the appearance of an angel at the end who is instrumental in setting everything right. It seems too easy and too out of place.


Weekly book 4/11/14

This week in history, the early China and the Sui and Tang dynasties (SOTW2 ch. 8). We used this book to supplement our study of the Tang dynasty and to highlight a rare female ruler from ancient times. Although it's light on historical detail, it is a decent juvenile non-fiction (or at least historical fiction) and works well as supplementary reading.


We also returned to one of our favorite video series: Legacy, by Michael Wood. Part three of the series, The Mandate of Heaven covers the growth of civilization in China from ancient times to the present. It covers a greater span than we needed, but we've always enjoyed this series, and it helped put things in perspective on the timeline.


This week in science we took a break from our interminable review of BFSU Volume 1 to work a bit in our garden. That did actually spur a review of our earlier plant studies, which prompted Calvin to fish out The Magic School Bus Plants Seeds (which is exactly what we plan to do this weekend after amending the soil this week). The Magic School Bus series is not one of my favorites for many reasons, but Calvin seems to enjoy them, and as long as we only use them as supplements to more detailed science reading, I doubt they do any real harm.

After reading My Side of the Mountain last week, Calvin spotted this other book by Jean Craighead George and opted to give it a try. We didn't give it the same in depth study that we have to Mountain. Instead he read it the same way he always reads good books—voraciously, and then again and again. After the first read, though, I did have him go through it to take notes and write a short review.


Weekly book shelf 4/4/14

This week in history, Islam is still becoming an empire (because we are still working on SOTW2 ch. 7). We focused more again this week on the Middle East culturally, so our focus went back to story books and one good video.

Ali, Child of the Desert is the story of a modern day boy accompanying his father on an annual journey to market where they will sell some of their camels. The camel train is overtaken by a dust storm and Ali is separated from his father and must care for himself and find a way back. This is a picture book, and the story is fairly light, fairly what you would expect it to be, but it does a good job of characterizing the desert and its people.

The Three Princes is a retelling of a traditional middle eastern folk tail. A princess sends three princes to each find her something that will prove their true love so that she may choose one of them to marry. When tragedy strikes (or promises to strike in the future), the three princes work together to repel it and save the princess. Beautiful images in rich colors really add to the middle eastern flavor of this picture book folk story. Very nice.

And what cultural study of the Middle East would be complete without some version of The Arabian Nights? We've read these stories many times over the years with Calvin, and we have a couple of different editions and collections. This particular one has only thirteen of the stories in it, but while it is part of a "junior" set, it's a junior set that was compiled mid century, so it's not as lite as today's "junior" standards would have it. The language remains quite beautiful, in fact, and the rich illustrations add to the book's intrigue.

And we also watched Legacy: The Origins of Civilization, episode 1 Iraq: Cradle of Civilization. This is Michael Wood at his later finest (not his earlier finest, when he was considered a "thinking woman's crumpet"). His excitement about history is almost palpable, and quite contagious. He takes us to various places in Iraq and traces the history of the people there. Too wide ranging to contain great detail, but definitely gives a good feel for the area and some of its culture with good links to the past.

This week in science...still reviewing BFSU1.

And this week in literature, Calvin read and reviewed Dear Mr. Henshaw. Not one of his favorites. He was bothered by the main character's lack of literary prowess. Plus the story here—a coming of age boy writing to an author and coming to terms with his parents' divorce—doesn't really resonate with Calvin, who is simultaneously a little young and a little old for it. And, I think it was a little light for him. Not enough fantasy. He flew through it and I think he was bored.