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 Oz (21)


Weekly book shelf, monthly edition: July

Calvin begged me to locate a good copy of Oliver Twist for him to read. Then, as possibly was to be expected, he had a little trouble with it. It wasn't the vocabulary, or even the language, I don't think. His main complaint was that the beginning was so negative; everything that happened to Oliver was bad. We assured him that it would improve, and the further he got into the book, the more into the book he got. By the end he couldn't put it down. I agree with him, though, the beginning sure is a downer.

Vampires are all the rage now, but this series is actually a 1980s classic. If you can call anything about the 80s classic, that is. Originally published in German, the story is about a young boy whose life takes a turn for the exciting when he makes two new friends—a vampire boy and girl pair. Adventures and hilarity ensue. Jon handed this one to Calvin because it was a favorite of his when he was little (oh those classic 80s), but upon further reading he found it to be lighter than he remembered. Such is life. Calvin enjoyed it, but he didn't go back to reread it the way he usually does with books he loves.

Speaking of books he loves, though, it was apparently time for the apparently annual Oz reread. I first read the Oz series to Calvin the summer he turned four. He loved it then, and as his reading skill grew, he reread it to himself almost immediately. He loved it so much, and some of the series books were so hard to get through the library, that we went in search of all fourteen Baum books—in the Books of Wonder editions because they have the original illustrations in situ. He has reread the entire series every year since.

Another beloved series of the 80s, but in a totally different vein, we were just waiting for the day that Calvin would discover our Calvin and Hobbes collection. Now he has. He spent the latter part of the month totally engrossed in the comics. Of course some of the humor is lost on him, but not all of it, and he has had a wonderful time play acting some of the antics, and he's picking up on some of the kid's humor, too. We asked for it. (Disclaimer: we did NOT name our Calvin after the comic, but he really is starting to resemble that iconic kid).


The Royal Book of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson (review)

First of all, this book, in most forms, is credited to L. Frank Baum, but this is not merely misleading, but completely incorrect: The Royal Book of Oz was written by Thompson after Baum's death. This is what I've read in many places, and certain newer versions of the book do properly credit the real author, but even without having been told nothing could have been more obvious than Baum's absence upon reading the book. If the writing style alone hadn't been a dead giveaway, then the characters having gone through complete personality changes probably would have done the trick. Ozma as cross? Dorothy as annoyed? The Wogglebug as rude and haughty? Though there were hints of their former selves, these were not the characters that we'd come to know and love, a change that was our biggest disappointment. And this was not the smooth and enchanting writing style to which we had become accustomed, either. Though Thompson does include some witty remarks and word play that will be enjoyable to older readers, some of her sentence formation—especially around the speaking of characters—is on the complex side for younger readers to follow. This is a far cry from Baum who, though writing at the turn of the century and with a style did reflect this, was still accessible for the younger set. And you might be tempted to wonder if the book would have been better were I treating it as its own thing, but first, she didn't write it as its own thing—she even published it under Baum's name!—and second, her style is choppy even when held up entirely on its own. This book was a huge disappointment to me, and though Calvin said he enjoyed it fine, for the first time Calvin he not asked me to get the next Oz book "right away", so I think we'll be taking checking out a new series for now.


Weekly book shelf 6/25

It was our first week of reading for the library summer reading program, and I think that any concerns I'd had have been put to rest. I'm not sure Calvin thought even once about needing to read a certain number of books for the program. He read plenty, and on my urging added the books to his log. I can see this will be no problem.

What Calvin read to himself this week...I let him count the Twisters on Tuesday for this week's library list because he checked the book out the same day he signed up for the program, which was a little ahead, and because he read it at least one more time this past week. The topic turned out to be timely because in addition to tornadoes it touches on the prairie and the pioneers, and this was Log Cabin Weekend at our local historical park. It was amazing how much Calvin had picked up from Twisters on Tuesday when we started talking about covered wagons and going west. On a similar topic I pulled out Civil War on Sunday because Civil War historical actors were also a part of Log Cabin Weekend, and he read that as well.

I Can Read About Weather is a book I've had on our shelves for a while, and which Calvin discovered of his own accord this past week over days of threatening rain clouds, sudden downpours, and severe weather alerts in our area. I'm fond of this book (and the rest in the series as they were printed in 1975, I don't know about any new printings) because they are really cool media wise—pencil and watercolor sketches in gray tones with only one color added in—and are serious about the science while being readable for Calvin. He read this one, then proceeded to tell my mother about the different kinds of clouds, and even how to spell them, before I even knew he'd found it on the shelf. And the fourth book for his weekly reading was Spider's Lunch, which he liked for its illustration method (paper, probably emulated by computer), and I like, again, because it doesn't really shy away from the science.

Out loud we finished The Magical Monarch of Mo this week, and The Royal Book of Oz. He read some more Arabian Nights with his dad, and now I'm faced with finding our next adventure. We haven't reviewed the Royal Book yet, but I was so disillusioned by the author switch, and Calvin seemed far less interested than usual, that I think it's time to move on. I'm looking for good suggestions for sure. In the meantime we're going to pick up another Baum book, I think.

And on my shelf...I didn't finish anything grand and new this week. Instead I devoted all of my reading time to Proust and i am a handful of pages from being finished with Swann's Way. I am very much enjoying the work, which really has to be called a work because that many words cannot seriously make one book, can they? Proust is like a more practiced, more polished D. H. Lawrence, one of my favorite authors. When I get to the end of Swann's Way, though, I have a couple of other books I'm going tread before going on, beginning with The Women of Brewster Place by another of my favorite authors, Gloria Naylor.


Weekly book shelf, 6/18

I missed a week! But not because we haven't been reading, I've just been to busy to blog everything, and we read so many books in a week that sometimes I'm not sure what to pick to talk about. Today, though, Calvin signed himself for the summer reading program at our library, which I wrote about in the journal, and that will give me a little more structure beginning next week, I think.

What Calvin is reading to himself...this past week his big fascination has been with volcanoes, an interest that may have stemmed from re-reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the fact that it is tornado season. He actually found the book by Seymour Simon all by himself after reading the title on the back of his book about trains by the same author. It's a good fact book with images from real weather situations, and the level and amount of information has really met Calvin's needs and abilities. My only gripe is that it is over ten years old so some of the facts are dates, especially after this year's active season, but hey, that's what the internet is for. The Magic Tree House book was a logical next step for us, of course, and I like those as well as ever.

Out loud we're still reading some of the stories from The Magical Monarch of Mo, and we're almost finished now with The Royal Book of Oz, which I'll review fully when we're done, but on a quick note, I'm very disappointed. I was hoping that the author switch (from L. Frank Baum to Ruth Plumly Thompson) wouldn't make too much of a difference, but actually I find it distracting and disheartening. Bummer.

On my own shelf, over the past two weeks I finished Day, by Elie Wiesel, and The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, by Alexander McCall Smith. I'm also making serious headway on Proust's In Search of Lost Time (or Remembrance of Things Past) and I find that I am really enjoying it, which is good because when I finally finish it I will likely have lost lots of my own time. Ha haaa.


A very Wizard of Oz birthday

When I picked up The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the original book by L. Frank Baum, last fall I did so in the process of looking for good read aloud books to share with Calvin. I had no idea at the time how far that one book would take us. Now, about eight months later, we've read all fourteen of Baum's Oz books, our love for them has become a hobby—for both of us—and Calvin is starting to re-read the series to himself. 

About a month ago Calvin asked to have a Wizard of Oz birthday party this year, and so that's what we did. Before I explain our steps I need to mention that this was not based on the movie, but on the original stories by Baum and artwork of John R. Neill. I should also mention that we're not into hosting big parties with, prizes, gift bags, etc. just yet. This was a low key, enjoyable family affair. Calvin was part of every step of the planning process except for the cake, which was my gift to him, as you'll see below. Calvin's planning included a lot of great ideas that were just not feasible, as it should be in a (now) five year old mind, but we did make a lot of things happen.

Follow the yellow brick road! We used a water and cornstarch mixture (a one to one ratio) with a lot of food coloring to make our front walkway into the yellow brick road. Calvin made signs for the front, the first reading "welcome to Oz" and the second reading "welcome to the Emrald City" (his spelling).

Once inside the house you were in the Emerald City, and all the decorations were green. Calvin chose green balloons, table cloth, napkins, plates, cups, and streamers.

Guests (grandparents, and two aunts) had been asked to wear yellow, red, blue, or purple, as all the citizens of Oz live in one of the four countries of that land and always dress in the color of their country. On entering they were given party hats to match their color of choice, since pointed hats just happen to be the costume of all in Oz. They were also given green glasses (which we'd ordered from an online party store) because in the original book the Emerald City isn't actually all green, visitors were instead made to wear glasses with green lenses to make it appear so. Calvin and I were the only standouts—he was the Wizard, and I got to be Princess Ozma.

I think Calvin got the greatest kick out of these last two details, although he had a great time decorating with balloons and streamers, too.

The cake was also designed by Calvin, although he did not know it. It is really a map of Oz as described in the books and as drawn by Calvin on many occasions. The Emerald City in the middle, the yellow brick road, and the poppy field I made of fondant, but I frosted the rest of the cake in homemade organic cream cheese frosting, colored with standard food coloring (usually a no-no in my book, but sometimes it just has to be done).

The cake is based on the original books, and obviously I'm not a professional cake decorator, but the concept is a good one and I'm sure someone can improve on it. The things surrounding it are actually handmade dolls of the characters from the books. They were part of our birthday gift to Calvin, a part that I'm glad to say he truly loved. The wood dolls were hand painted by Fancie Fannies (and are delightful and beautifully done). I ordered them over a month ago and it was hard not to give them to him early! The Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger are Schleich, and the blue Woozy and the Wooden Sawhorse I made myself (and am very proud of).

We had a wonderful time at the party, but as with most of these events, much of the fun was in the planning and preparation. I'm calling this art because a lot of imagination, planning, and creating definitely went into it. I loved thinking through the creation of the day with Calvin, and taking the necessary steps to make it happen, too.