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 read aloud 2010 (4)


James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

I'm not much a fan of Roald Dahl. He seems to a take an "us against them" kind of attitude, writing life as a kind of battle between the good (kids) and the bad (all adults), and most of his stories are pretty dark and pretty non-sequitur. Calvin, however, is far less discerning at this age and we had a pretty good time with James and the Giant Peach, between fun science in the bathtub and side projects about grasshoppers.


The (Wonderful) Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum (our reviews)

I loved discovering this story all over again, the right way. While this movie is a classic that will long endure, like most books made into movies it just doesn't do justice to the original, and for all these years I'd had no idea. I'd heard all kinds of references to Baum's fantastical writing and some hints at political symbolism and dark mystery, but having now put all skepticism aside and read the book, I find it to be neither dark nor so rife with political commentary that it can't be enjoyed for the fantasy that it is. My only regret is that I hadn't read it earlier, as in almost 30 years earlier and long before watching the movie.

Obviously I recommend this book. Sure it won't be for everbody—it's much longer than the other youth books we've read and the sentence structure is very different, having been written at the turn of the century (the 20th) and possibly for an older audience. That being said it was not over my four year old's head and he greatly enjoyed it. So greatly, in fact, that we have since looked up information about the rest of the books in the Oz series and moved on to the next one, The Marvelous Land of Oz.

But first, the rest of our review. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (or just The Wizard of Oz as it was titled after the stage and screen successes) was a big hit with Calvin. Here is his final journal entry about the book, and the rest of his illustrations.

I think this entry is fairly easy to read so no deciphering is necessary.

And I think his descriptions are also fairly readable here, but I will add that the lion is being rescued by field mice and the scarecrow and woodman who are pulling him out of the poppy field on a wagon, and the great castle in the Emerald City has a huge downspout. That's just good architecture.

Oz in this picture is just a giant head because that is how he first appears to Dorothy in the throne room. And who doesn't love flying monkeys?

The Humbug of Oz? That's what they call him when they find out he isn't really a Wizard but has been fooling his subjects all these years. And notice the green glasses on all our characters—they all wear green glasses in the Emerald City.

Hammerheads, like the Kalidahs, will be unknown characters to those who have never read the book, and you'll notice that the shoes taking Dorothy home are silver, not red like they are in the movie (I guess silver just wasn't exciting enough for an early technicolor movie).

The end all of this is that we highly recommend this book to people who enjoy a good fantasy and love using their imagination.


The Water Horse, by Dick King-Smith

No we didn't watch the movie (I'm sure you know us better than that) but our youth librarian recommended the book for after Charlotte's Web. The book is no longer than Charlotte's Web and has some of the same vocabulary stretching tendencies, and we had a great time imagining up a water horse. We flew through this one as quickly as we flew through Charlotte, broken up by some side activities again. This time we did a lot of map perusing, getting a handle on Scotland and its many lochs. We also talked about Scottish culture and about the time period in which the book was written. Overall I didn't love this one as much as Charlotte, but they can't all be favorites and Calvin enjoyed it immensely.

Calvin gives the book two thumbs up, and my only real disappointment with it is the edition—I'd rather have found one without full page color ensembles of pictures from the movie. Here is Calvin's own summary, and a picture of the water horse rising up out of the water. It is a cute story.


Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White (our reviews)

Calvin is a good reader. That's not to say that he is reading yet, but that he loves to be read to, and both his attention span and his comprehension are top notch, so when I came across my old copy of Charlotte's Web earlier this week I decided to experiment with the great world of youth novels, or chapter books. I have been itching to delve into that world for some time now but wasn't exactly sure when the right time was. Apparently that time is now, or at least the moment has come and gone, because our week spent reading Charlotte's Web was an enormous success with the one person to whom it should matter (and I don't mean myself).

I had forgotten what a fantastic book Charlotte is—a beautiful meld of fantasy and the natural world, of childish fancy and mature language, of joy and poignancy. There's also a healthy dose of vocabulary building and even science buried right in the middle of a truly engaging story. I figured it would take us about a week to get through the book but as it turns out we could have finished it in just a couple of days, he was that excited about the story.

To check his comprehension I had him summarize the day's reading for his dad in the evening, and to make the book last a little longer I came up with a few side activities, like painting illustrations for the book, reading some books on spiders, and creating a color coded diagram of a standard spider, the latter being Calvin's favorite activity of the week, I think.

And I don't even have to type out Calvin's impressions and review on this book because his journaling has really grown by leaps and bounds. But I'll tell you what it says in case it's hard to read:

Charlotte's Webb
She saved Wilbur. Charlotte dies. Her babies are born.

The picture is a map of the fair, straight out of Calvin's imagination. The pink thing is a pig, Wilbur, and also visible are the spider, Charlotte, the little girl, Fern, and the brown shape is the loud speaker they use at the fair.