Books We Are Using This Year
  • The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    by Jeff West,S. Wise Bauer,Jeff (ILT) West, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    by Bernard J Nebel PhD
  • Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    by Steven P. Demme
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    by -Author-
  • Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    by Mona Brookes
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Entries in literature (26)


Weekly book shelf, 3/21/14

This week in history: on to another religion! The birth of Islam is upon us (SOTW2 ch. 6)

Having just left Hindu and Buddhism behind, I thought it prudent to revisit some of our past religious discussions before delving right into Islam. A lot of this we did just by discussing, but we also revisited the Maestro's Story of Religion, which gives some background for the emergence of religion and individual religions. It's not as secular or scientific as I would like, but truly unbiased, scientific books about religion are hard to come by for Calvin's age or level of understanding. This is a pretty good one.

And The Usborne Book of World Religions is less a book on religious theory, and more a compendium of different religions. It's obviously not exhaustive, but it does a pretty good job of neutrally touching on the main religions, and even some of the more obscure ones as well.

More specifically, we picked up I Am Muslim from the "Religions of the World" collection (which we've used for many others along the way). These books are for very young readers. They're small, and each two page spread is one full page picture facing a couple of sentences about the religion in large, bold text. Although very short on words, every single word used goes to a sentence that is purposeful and informative. These books is that they are neutral and factual, plus they are devoid of any of the ridiculous eye-catching gimickry of most newer youth non-fiction.

And for a good book about Muhammad himself, we turned to Demi. Rich and inviting text paired with rich an inviting illustrations adds energy to this picture book bio. 

Science this week (this month, really) is just going to all be review of BFSU1. It's over 2 years of review, so I think that's fair.

And in literature this week...the kid was a reading machine. It's still cold out there, and we've been struggling with various colds and illnesses, so...reading.

His note-taking, review-writing book this week was From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. A girl and her brother run away from home and into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they become entangled in a mystery about a statue and its seller. I haven't read it, but Calvin reviewed it positively.

The Wolfling is a book he came across in the library sale room and picked up immediately upon seeing its author. Sterling North was the author of the memoir Rascal, which we read together earlier this year. He loved it, and I love that he remembered the author and followed him into other books that way. In this story a boy adopts a wolf hybrid and must convince his family and neighbors that the pet is not a problem. We did not discuss this story, but he read it twice this week, so I'd gues that either he enjoyed it, or he was puzzled by it and needed another trip through to work it out.

Similarly, he picked up The Dog Who Wouldn't Be based on authorship. He absolutely adored Mowat's Owl's in the Family and he seemed to enjoy this story just as well. This is the author's autobiographical story of his childhood in Canada. Entertaining and endearing, it probably brings to mind a bit of North's story in Rascal, but it's a lighter read—less poignant, more funny.

Lastly, Calvin started making his way through my dad's Hardy Boys legacy. I'd say he's about half way through at this point. When he finishes one, he immediately begins another.


Weekly book shelf, 3/14/14

This week in history we learned about medieval India (SOTW2 ch. 5). That included reading about the Gupta Dynasty, and about Siddhartha and the rise of Buddhism.

Demi is one of my favorite go-to picture book authors. Her collection of picture book bios uses flowing language coupled with vivid illustrations to impart timeless knowledge. We used two Demi books for this study. The first, Buddha, is a standard story book biography. It tells the well known story of Siddhartha, the prince who renounced his riches to become a beggar and gave rise to the Buddhist religion.

Our second Demi book of the week was Buddha Stories. It is a collection of ten of the more famous moral tales from the Buddhist tradition, fables that have become famous though centuries of retelling. Think Aesop, or, more interestingly, the much varied Anansi stories of Africa. Engaging text and bright illustrations make this collection fun to read.

For a more real-life connection, we also read a few completely non-fiction books with this chapter. My Friends' Beliefs is a compendium of common religions. It is fairly comprehensive, but in order to be so it is also somewhat long winded and devoid of visual entertainment. I'm all for lots of reading with little distraction, but this was supposed to be a light foray into comparative religion, not a hard core study. We only skimmed the pertinent parts, but I think it's a text we'll return to when we have more time for in depth study.

On a much lighter note, the "Religions of the World" collection gives very brief informative accounts of the titular religion. In order to set the scene we read I am Hindu from this series. The defining facts are simplistic, but straight forward, which means a lot when taking first steps into what can be a confusing religion.

From the same series, I am Buddhist also relays simple, defining facts about the named religion. Though it feels dry in comparison to Demi's stories about the same subject, it provides simple facts about the contemporary religion instead of stories about its past.

Although I do like this series, it is worth noting that it, like so many other things, is written from a Christian standpoint. While it doesn't feel judgmental or demeaning in any way, it does try to fit every religion into the same finite box that fits Christianity, even they don't fit into that box neatly.

In science this week—BFSU1 review. Ongoing.

In literature this week we read and studied Rascal, by Sterling North. This is a memoir, written in the 60s about a year of the author's childhood in 1918. The focus of the story is North's year raising a racoon who becomes a beloved friend, but the memoir encompasses so much more than this sweet story. It is a rich picture of small town life during World War I, and a poignant tale of friendship, family, and coming of age in time that was both harder and easier at once. I had never read this book, and I loved it. And Calvin is running around the house with a stuffed racoon he has taken to calling, of course, Rascal. Beautiful.

Calvin's choice for alone reading and studying this week was The One and Only Ivan. Ivan the gorilla has come to terms with, or at least ceased to consider, his life of dismal captivity in a shopping center mini-zoo. But he is forced to face the desolation of his situation when he befriends Ruby, a baby elephant new to the small cages in the mall. Ultimately a story about friendship, the underlying message is about caring for our fellow creatures, and each other.

And lastly, just for fun, Calvin is still on his Jules Verne kick. This week it was The Mysterious Island, which I still have never read, but Calvin enjoyed. Of course.


Weekly book shelf, 3/7/14

In history this week we explored the rise of the Byzantine empire plus its ruler Justinian and his theatrical wife, Theodora (SOTW2, ch. 4).

We read a few books about Justinian and Theodora, but our favorite was the chapter in Famous Men of the Middle Ages. We turn to this book for simple biographies quite often.

For information about the ear and the setting, this title from "Cities Through Time" collection was informative and interestingly illustrated, without being falsely entertaining or too visually distracting—my two must haves in a non-fiction. It was a little wordier than we needed, so we did more skimming than reading, and it was also written with a Christian bias, but what isn't, really? This title, with its comprehensive time lines, was especially useful for fitting Constantinople/Istanbul into the larger scheme of things.

And since this chapter highlighted the schism in the early Christian church that gave rise to the Eastern Orthodox religion, we also picked up this book from the "Religions of the World" collection. Simple books, simple explanations of the real life defining characteristics of the religions in the world. Easy reading.

Science this week was our ongoing review of BFSU1.

In literature this week we read and studied The Incredible Journey together. I hadn't read this story since I was young. Very young. I enjoyed it then, but reading it now as an adult I discovered my favorite part of this story—the very realistic depictions of the animals and their thought processes. The usual anthropomorphism is so light as to be almost non-existent in this classic story of three pets surviving a long journey through the Canadian wilderness. It provided many opportunities for further discussions about evolution and animal vs. human traits. A favorite topic of mine. Calvin loved the story, and for fun, after we'd finished the book, we watched the 1960s movie of the same title, which we also enjoyed.

And by himself this week, Calvin chose Owls in the Family to read and study. It's a sweet story of a boy and his animal menagerie, including his two new pet owls. A story of antics and escapades, Calvin fell in love with Wol and Weeps and the entire cast of characters.


Weekly book shelf, 2/28/14

We were in SOTW2 ch. 3 this week, learning about the spreading of Christianity to Britain, and the legendary figure of St. Augustine.

For a good no-nonsense book about the goings-on in the church of the middle ages. Well illustrated and stuffed full of facts, this volume approaches the offensive distractions of the DK style books, but it doesn't quite match them in annoyance value, and so it's okay.

For a good biographical picture book, Across a Dark and Wild Sea is the story of a legendary Celtic monk and scribe who, against local law, copied out a beautiful edition of a book of Psalms that was highly revered in his Irish hometown. His work was beautiful, but illegitimately begotten, and it sparked a battle between his supporters and the opposition that divided his hometown. In a self imposed exile following the argument, he founded an island monastery. Beautiful pictures, well told story.

From biographical to historical fiction, Marguerite Makes a Book highlights not only the way of life in a medieval village, but also the methods behind creating a book in the years before the printing press. Marguerite, the daughter of an aging book maker, secretly steps in to help her failing father finish an important book commission before his reputation is ruined and his family loses their means of survival. Beautiful illustrations, pretty long for a picture book, but definitely interesting.

And from historical fiction straight to the stuff of myths and legends, The Last Snake in Ireland is, of course, the story of the legendary St. Patrick bringing Christianity to Ireland and banishing the demon snakes.

And to round out our history reading, a few Beowulf books. First I had Calvin read a children's adaptation of the Anglo-Saxon myth, Beowulf: A Hero's Tale Retold, by James Rumsford. It's a good chidlren's retelling in short form, and gave him a feel for the pace and order of events for what we did next, which was read the real thing in a bilingual new translation by Seamus Heaney. I read it aloud for our whole family over the course of a few nights. Just for kicks every once in a while I'd turn a page and start "accidentally" reading the Gaelic verse instead of the translation. Even without my antics, the book is a fun connection to ancient heritage. I love to find old literature from every culture we study, and this is definitely it for northern Europe.

The second Beowulf book was a graphic novel adaptation by one of our favorite writers, Neil Gaiman. Of course it's gory in parts. That's the point.

In science this week we started what will likely be a long arduous review of BFSU volume 1. We finished the final lesson in the book last week, and after about three years spent studying it, I thought we should review each lesson before moving on to the second volume. The guide provides a checklist of subjects to master at the opening of each lesson, so my plan is go back through the lessons in the same order that we visited them the first time, running down each lesson's checklist and touching up missing information here and there. The book actually continues the threads of learning in the second volume, with appropriate comprehensive building blocks, but I want to make sure we don't have any large gaps before we move on.

Literature this week was a lot about Beowulf, and revisiting some other myths and legends from cultures we studied earlier, but Calvin also read two additional lit books. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle was a favorite of my dad and his sister when they were young, and it was their copy that Calvin read for his book notes journal this week. He found it hilarious.

And purely for fun, he is still working his way through Jules Verne's works. This week it was Journey to the Center of the Earth.


Weekly book shelf, 2/21/14

We're still hanging out with the Celts this week (SOTW2 ch. 2), focusing more this week on the birth of the legend of King Arthur, which came from much, much earlier than I had ever imagined.

King Arthur: The Evolution of a Legend, is one of the only kids books I found that traced the Arthurian legend to its real beginning in the century following the fall of Rome. Like all the other books in the "Life and Times" series, this one not only presents factual information as we know it, but prevailing theories as well. And it sets the stage well, describing the way of life, traditions, and beliefs that were customary at the time. We only focused on the first part of the book. We'll check it out again when we revisit the evolving legend again in the high middle ages.

And we looked at some other early Celtic legends, too. They are simply told in this compendium, and some of the phrasing is weird. It's hard for me to tell if that's the book, or the legends themselves. We only read a few of them before moving on, but that was enough to give us an idea.

We also watched another episode from the series we started last week: "The Celts". Episode 4 of the series, From Camelot to Christ, covers some of the beginnings of the King Arthur story. I shared my thoughts on this video series last week, and this episode was equally as pretty and momentous, and just as evasive with regards to real information. But it corroborated information from the other video we watched and loved...

Back to our favorite history video guy, Michael Wood. His "In Search of Myths and Heroes" series has an episode about King Arthur that, of course, we loved. Unsurprisingly we never find King Arthur, but it's a great video.

In science this week we covered more of the body systems, focusing on the digestive and endocrine systems (still BFSU1 lesson B9). I'll say it again, but only briefly, this series is really comprehensive without being long-winded, and it's neatly presented, without too many distractions.

In literature study this week, Calvin read and took notes on The House at Pooh Corner. He read it first a few years ago, but wanted to reread it, and I thought an easy and heartwarming read would be good since we've been busy, and battling illnesses. These books are so sweet, they're like comfort food.

And in his free time this week, Calvin picked up 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He's been wanting to read it for a while and this week he utterly devoured it. Un-put-downable.