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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! And Other Books on Classical Music

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For the letter "Z," my final post of the #atozchallenge, I thought I'd share some of our favorite books for learning about classical music. One of the things I've enjoyed most in our homeschool has been exposing my children to great music, and we've enjoyed several books along the way.

What's that, you say? How on earth does one teach about classical music with books? I'm so glad you asked!

First of all, I want you to know that I know classical music is not all classical. I know about the musical eras. I promise. For the sake of simplicity, and for lack of a better term, I'm going to use the term "classical music."

When my girls were young, I loved to taking them through Story of the Orchestra. It was a lovely introduction, first to the eras of music (Baroque, Classical, etc.) and then the instrument families of the orchestra, and finally, the conductor. There is a CD that comes with the book with musical selections to listen to as you read through the story. The first one is Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" - what a wonderful beginning!

There are some other books along this vein, too, as that one seems to be out of print, which is sad. Meet The Orchestra, by Ann Hayes. You learn all about the instruments and how they work. There's no CD, but it's still a fun book.

Another really excellent one is Carnival of the Animals. Jack Prelutzky, one of our favorite poets, has written verse to accompany the songs written by Camille Saint-Saƫns. On the accompanying CD, he reads his poem preceding each corresponding piece of music. The last track on the CD is an uninterrupted performance of the entire thing.

We have also enjoyed Peter and the Wolf, a musical fairy tale by Prokofiev. This is another common suggestion for introducing children to classical music. My favorite character is the duck, who is portrayed by the oboe, followed closely by Grandfather, portrayed by the bassoon. (The Audble.com version is narrated by Jim Dale, my very favorite audio book narrator!)

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! is a wonderful picture book. It begins with a trombone playing by itself, but one by one, other instruments join in, until an entire orchestra is assembled. The best part about this book, for myself, having read it approximately a gazillion times, is that it rhymes. I don't know about you, but I find it more enjoyable to read books repeatedly if they rhyme. It makes them go faster, for some reason. I love the way the instruments are described: the violins soar, the reeds implore, the basses roar, etc. This is a great book for very young children.

As my children have gotten older, we've enjoyed reading biographies of the composers we study. Opal Wheeler wrote several lovely biographies which are appropriate for children. Our favorites were the ones on Tchaikovsky. There is The Story of Peter Tchaikovsky, about his life in general, and then Peter Tchaikovsky and The Nutcracker. My ballerina loves Tchaikovsky, and we thoroughly enjoyed reading more about him. It's definitely worth looking to see if Ms. Wheeler wrote a biography of the composer you'd like to study. My 8 year old enjoys her books, and so do my high schoolers. I love that they work for a wide range of ages.

Classical Music for Dummies is an outstanding resource. This book describes just about every facet of classical music you'd ever want to know. It discusses instruments, composers, the history of musical eras, musical forms, and includes a CD with examples of the works it describes. The one thing I didn't care for was it's often flippant, somewhat disrespectful tone. I'm all about fun, but there was a fair bit of innuendo I found unnecessary.

Young Scholar's Guide to the Great Composers is a curriculum from Bright Ideas Press. We didn't use it for the curriculum; we use it as a resource for short biographies if we don't have room in our schedule to read a longer book. There are nice resources in this book, including discussion of the 6 musical eras, timeline, maps, a card game, and listening suggestions. As I said, we mainly use it for the biographies, but there's a lot there if you'd like to use it. It seems to be out of print in a printed version; I've linked to used copies on Amazon, but you can get a digital edition from BIP.

There are many, many more books you can read with your children as you study classical music. I am a bit of a music nerd, so I love all the information, and for the most part, my children enjoy learning it, too.  As this is my 11th year homeschooling, I'm able to see when their eyes start to glaze over, so I know when I've gone overboard. It's important to know, though, that Charlotte Mason's goal was to expose children to the great composers. It was not necessary for them to know their lives in great detail. If you don't have room in your read-aloud time for a composer biography, your have not ruined your children's entire education. Okay? I'm offering these resources as helps, not guilt-inducing devices.

I hope to discuss classical music further on my blog at some point. Do you have any favorite books I haven't listed? I'd love to hear about them!


Friday, April 29, 2016

Yellow And Pink and William Steig (#atozchallenge)

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Shhhh.... I skipped "X." So sorry. I could not come up with an author, or a book, beginning with X that I felt comfortable discussing. So, here we are on "Y!"

My favorite thing about homeschooling has been discovering new-to-me authors of children's books. I wasn't familiar with William Steig's name, but once I started looking for his books, I realized I was familiar with more of his work than I'd realized.

William Steig was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1907. His parents both appreciated the fine arts, and he received his first lessons in art from his older brother. During the Great Depression, his father went broke, and it fell to William to support his family. He began selling his art work. He eventually became known as "The King of Cartoons," and drew 2600 cartoons and 117 covers for the New Yorker. He wrote his first children's book, CDB! when he was 61 years old, in 1968. He passed away in Boston, Massachusetts in 2003, at the age of 95. I love his illustrations - they are simple and engaging. If you look at any of his cartoons, you will see his signature style carried over into his children's books illustrations.

I'm first heard of Yellow and Pink when I began homeschooling. We used My Father's World kindergarten program, and it was listed in the booklist for Creation studies. It was hard to find, even then. If you can believe it, I just found a copy at a library sale for $0.25. TWENTY FIVE CENTS. Take a look at the used prices on Amazon, and you will see why this makes me so happy!

Yellow and Pink is a lovely little book about two puppets, one yellow and one pink (imagine that!), who become self-aware as they are lying on newspapers in a meadow, waiting for their paint to dry. They begin to wonder how they came to be, and come up with interesting, implausible explanations. Their creator comes to find him, and they have no idea who he is. It's a great little story, and Christians interpret it as a story about God creating man. I've read a bit about Steig, and from what I can gather, he was an evolutionist. It's an interesting conundrum, to say the least, but it's still a great story, and each of us will take from it what we will, yes? Unfortunately, this book is not currently in print, but it IS available as an ebook (link below).

He wrote many other picture books. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is one I remember from my own childhood, and I was delighted to rediscover it and share it with my children. It won a Caldecott Medal, AND it was banned because the police in the book were portrayed as pigs (all the characters are animals and pigs are drawn doing other things as well). Did you know he wrote the book Shrek, upon which the movies are loosely based? I had no idea until I was researching for this post! Doctor De SotoBrave Irene... the list goes on.

Mr. Steig wrote some chapter books, too. A friend recently recommended The Real Thief, which my son and I have begun reading - it's a great story! There's also Abel's Island, a Newbery Honor Book, and Dominic.

I hope you will take a look at some of Mr Steig's books, if you're unfamiliar with him. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Laura Ingalls Wilder (#atozchallenge)

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Today I'm calling my posts for "U" and "V" unfinished, verily, and moving on to "W." I honestly had no idea what to do for those letters, anyway, and I have company coming this weekend so I need to get a move on here!

I love Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. I read all of her "Little House" books growing up, and she was the first author who ever felt like a friend to me. A couple years back, when I was on the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I got to review a biographical DVD of her life, and it was so much fun! I learned a lot of things I hadn't known before, and I loved getting to know more about her life.

Laura Ingalls was born in Wisconsin in 1867. She was the second of five children. She and her family were "settlers," and they moved often. The books tell of her experiences growing up as they moved throughout the Midwest. Laura became a teacher at the age of 15, and taught in a one room schoolhouse. I am trying to picture my 15 year old living away from home and being responsible for a classroom. I'm not having much luck with that, actually. Life was so different then!

I felt like I grew up with Laura through her books. Actually, that was intentional on her part. One of the things I learned in the DVD was that her daughter, Rose, helped her write the books, and Rose wanted her to switch the main character to her younger sister, Carrie, to keep the heroine a young girl. Laura refused, because she felt readers were growing up with her in the stories. I have tried to imagine some of the books with Carrie as the main character, and I just can't. I still cry when I read about Jack in Little House, even though I've read the books many times and I *know* what happens... sigh. I do love these stories. They're also excellent living books for the Westward Expansion.

In the last few years, there have been several books published that give additional insight into Laura's life. My mom gave me a beautiful, hardcover biography for Christmas a couple of years back, called Pioneer Girl. It's a beautiful book, and it's HUGE. And heavy. It's not one you're going to tuck into your purse, that's for sure.

There is also a picture book called Pioneer Girl: The Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I found either at a thrift store or a library sale, and I'm so excited to have that in my library! I have visions of little girls (or boys, but probably girls) coming in, wanting to know more about Laura, and now I have something to show them! Also, when my girls were little, I discovered some Little House picture books, like Sugar Snow. They loved them! The illustrations are done by Doris Ettinger, rather than Garth Williams (who drew the illustrations most of us remember in the books), and she did a beautiful job of creating illustrations that are reminiscent of Williams'. I am not really an advocate of reading picture books when you can just read the full stories, but these were such fun for my girls–they loved looking at the pictures, and they could read them for themselves, at an age when the chapter books would have been overwhelming to them on their own.

I think most boys enjoy Farmer Boy, the book Laura wrote about her husband, Almanzo's childhood. It was very different from hers!

Just a few months ago, I found Little House in the Ozarks at a thrift store, which is a book containing newspaper articles she wrote when she and Almanzo lived on Rocky Ridge, in Missouri. She actually wrote all of those before she ever wrote the Little House books, and I've enjoyed reading them–they are a fascinating glimpse into life on a farm at that time. For example, for many years there was no running water on Rocky Ridge. She says in the book, they were too busy "packing water" to dig a well, and never thought about it except when they were so busy they didn't have time to haul their own water. They finally did dig a well at a spring on their farm, and lay pipes (two feet underground so it wouldn't freeze) to the house and other buildings. Can you imagine digging your own well and laying your own plumbing? These days, we have men with big machinery to do those kinds of things, and most of us have city water, which means we don't have to deal with a well at all. (I've lived with a well, and had to have one re-dug, but it wasn't me doing the digging!)

There is also a book of her poetry, called Fairy Poems. I'll be honest: it's not really a book for people who love poetry, because they're not that good. It's fun to read them if you love Laura, though. Click here for a copy of Four O'Clocks - it's cute. (See the Amazon widget below for links.)

Naturally, there are some really excellent homeschool resources based on these book. The Prairie Primer, from Cadron Creek, looks like all kinds of fun. I didn't use it with my girls, but I kind of wish I had. They weren't into it as much as I was, though. Heh. There is even a Little House Cookbook.

As I was looking for the books I've included today, I realized I have a couple more about Laura that I had forgotten about. Guess I'd better get reading!


Monday, April 25, 2016

Thornton Burgess (#atozchallenge)

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I let this #atozchallenge get away from me! I should be on "U" today, but I'm only up to "T." Sorry about that! I may have to skip a letter and just catch up. We will see. I spent my blogging time over the weekend attempting to learn Tunisian crochet. It was...interesting.

One of the first books I read with my girls after discovering Charlotte Mason, and the wonderful curriculum at Ambleside Online, was The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton Burgess. They remember it well, and speak fondly of it whenever it comes up. The following year, we read The Burgess Animal Book for Children, and enjoyed that one, as well. This is another author I look for at thrift stores and used book sales. I have quite a few, though not nearly all, of his books.

Those two books, and others by Mr. Burgess are shining examples of what makes a living book. A living book is defined, generally, as being written in a narrative style, by one author who is passionate about the subject. My friend Emily, at Living Books Library, said a living book teaches "truth cloaked in beautiful language." If you want to experience a living book for the first time, you can safely start with anything by Thornton Burgess.

In those books, as well as The Burgess Flower Book for Children, Peter Rabbit is the main character. In the bird book, Jenny Wren introduces him to various species of birds. He learns where they like to live, what they like to eat, and which species have differentiated plumage for males and females. In the animal book, Peter goes to school where Mother West Wind is the teacher, and learns about different animals, their diets, and their habitats. In the flower book, the Merry Little Breezes take Peter to the very first flower of spring–the skunk cabbage–and then to other flowers as they bloom. You learn where you might find them and when they bloom in the spring. It's an ingenious way to teach children about nature.

In The Burgess Seashore Book for Children (sorry, I haven't been able to find this one online), Danny Meadow Mouse goes to the seashore and meets all kinds of creatures. I haven't actually read this one, though I wish I had, so that we could have looked for the things described when we visited the ocean in North Carolina.

Thornton Burgess was born in Sandwich, MA in 1874. He was raised by his mother after his father passed away the year he was born. They were not wealthy, and Thornton worked year round to help earn money. He did a lot of jobs that required being outdoors, like picking arbutus and berries, and trapping muskrat. One of his employers lived on property with amazing wetland and woodland habitat for wildlife, which became the setting for many of his stories. In 1925, he bought a home in Hampden, MA, which he made his permanent residence in 1957, and lived there until he died in 1965. It's now the Laughing Brook Nature Center, thanks to the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Mr. Burgess was active in many conservation efforts, which you can read about here.

In addition to the Books for Children, he wrote many others. You can see a complete bibliography here.

There are some wonderful homeschooling resources for the bird and animal books:
If you decide you need a large collection of Burgess stories RIGHT NOW, check out this collection of 26 books from Dover. Project Gutenberg also has several of his books available free online.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Jonathan Stroud (#atozchallenge)


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Hello! I’m Abbie, Beth’s daughter. Mom asked me to write about my favorite author or book for her A-Z blogging challenge. I decided to write about Jonathan Stroud because he writes amazingly well, and his stories are fantastic. He has written two relatively well known series, both of which are amazing, and several other singular novels which I have yet to read. Even though he has many fans here in the States, he is not as popular as, say, Rick Riordan, who is known by practically everybody. It is for this reason that I have taken it upon myself to be his walking, talking, and in this case typing, advertisement.

Let's first take a look at Mr. Stroud himself, before we dive into his fantastic world of alternative modern Londons and mysteries. He was born in late 1970 in Bedford, U.K, and was an English major at the University of York. He published his first book in 1994, though his work did not earn a Wikipedia page until 1999, when he published his novel entitled Buried Fire. He has written many more books, and is currently working on the fourth book in the Lockwood & Co. series, which is going to be called The Creeping Shadow. He is also the founder of the Freedom to Think campaign, which advocates lots of free time for children, so they can think and play and create, as children are wont to do (and desperately need to do).

Speaking of Lockwood & Co., the series describes about an alternative modern London, in which there is a Problem with ghosts. It is, quite literally, called “The Problem”, and these ghosts are anything but benevolent. If they touch someone, said someone will swell up, turn blue, and die for want of oxygen. Pleasant, isn’t it? Anyways, the ghosts can only be seen by children, although adults can sense their presence. That is why all of the ghost hunting agencies consist of children, though some of the larger organizations have adult supervisors. Lockwood & Co. is run by Anthony J. Lockwood, and consists of three people: Lockwood himself, a rather sarcastic boy called George Cubbins, and the narrator, Lucy Carlyle. The books follow these three teens as they solve cases and struggle to survive in a London full of Fitz and Rotwell (rival agency) ghost-hunting agents who seek to put them out of business. Oh, and the ghosts, too.

His other series is called The Bartimaeus Trilogy, and it even has a prequel, because everyone wanted to know what the clever demon Bartimaeus was doing in the time of King Solomon. This series is centered around Bartimaeus, and a young boy named Nathaniel who first summons Bartimaeus as part of a revenge scheme. It is set in yet another alternative modern London, and war is raging while the British ministry, consisting almost entirely of magicians, struggles to protect its city. Although, it really is every man for himself in their society of selfish magicians. The main goal of magicians is to have the biggest, baddest demon in the business to be their personal servant, and while Bartimaeus isn’t quite that for the young Nathaniel, he certainly does what his master commands whether or not it turns out how the boy wishes it to.

Many more wonderful works by Jonathan Stroud are out there, though I have not read them yet. I very much encourage those who enjoy a good magical mystery to look into his series, and I’m sure his other books are excellent as well seeing as he writes so very beautifully. Hopefully his many words and entrancing stories will captivate readers for many years to come!

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Railway Children (#atozchallenge)

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I finked out on writing my "R" post for yesterday, so it's a day late and a dollar short, as the saying goes. Sorry about that. My husband is traveling this week, and I had my Living Education Lessons class, and I just ran out of steam when it came time to finish it.

Have you read The Railway Children, by Edith Nesbit? It's a wonderful story. It's about three children: Roberta (Bobbie)," Peter, and Phyllis, who move to the country with their mother. They don't really understand why, but their mother tells them they have had bad news, their Father must go away fro a while, and they must "play at being poor" for a while. There is a railway (train) station near their house, and they have all sorts of adventures surrounding it. It's such a sweet story, the way the children come together to help their mother and each other, and eventually even their father.

I love Edith Nesbit's stories. The way she writes, it's almost as if she's on the adventure, inside the story, with you. I have read several of her books. My favorite is probably Five Children and It, and it sequels: The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet. These stories involve children and wishes, which go awry as only wishes can.

The House of Arden is recommended by Ambleside Online as a free read in Year 8. I enjoyed reading it as much as my girls did! The sort-of sequel (it's not exactly a sequel; the events don't all follow the events in The House of Arden) is Harding's Luck. Both of these books involve time travel!

I also enjoyed her Book of Dragons. I love dragon stories, and hers are different than most. We have a picture book of Deliverers of Their Country, one of the stories from The Book of Dragons, and my girls loved it when they were little.

We have a book called Melisande, which is a Rapunzel-like fairy tale, sort of. The illustrations by P.J. Lynch are beautiful. My girls loved this story, too, when they were small. I think I got it from Book Closeouts, which tells you I've had it for a while! Anyone else remember stalking Book Closeouts for deals on excellent books? It seems to be called Book Outlet now.

The Magic World is a book of short stories, which we also enjoyed. I have the audio version of this book as well.

I've particularly enjoyed listening to these books. When my girls were little, and we spent a lot of time in the car, I sought out audio books for us. Edith Nesbit's stories were some of our favorites. I've linked Audible.com versions in the widget below. They make great read-alouds, too.

It's hard for me to believe these books were written over 100 years ago, just like the Wizard of Oz books. They are well worth reading, particularly if you have children who enjoy fantasy. They're such good stories! I'm going to have to pull them out to read with my son. I think he's ready to enjoy them.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Quilts

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My grandmother made beautiful quilts. After my grandfather died, she moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, because they'd planned to retire there, and taught herself to quilt. She did nearly all her quilting by hand, in her lap.

In the picture at the top, the top left is a block in the quilt she made for my college graduation. She took pictures from coloring books, traced them onto squares of off-white linen, and stitched them on with white candlewicking thread. I played with the brightness of the photo so you could see a bit of the detail. I have matching shams and throw pillows to go with it.

The top right quilt is a simple patchwork she made from fabric that had belonged to her mother-in-law. Most of it is flour sack fabric. Some of it isn't, and there are particular pieces that have disintegrated. I need to take it apart and replace the bad squares, and put on a new backing. My grandma gave me the quilt because I'd asked her once how long it would take to make one like it. My mom suggested that I could throw it away if it were worn out, but...I can't. My grandmother has been gone nearly 6 years, and I miss her.

The bottom right is a Dresden plate block. She had made several of them, and told she could either make one big quilt or two smaller ones. I told her I'd gladly give one a home if she made two. Bless her.

The bottom right is one she made for my husband. She despised making that quilt. She preferred applique, and less precise patterns, but my husband the engineer chose one with all those triangles. She made it for him, though. She really liked him. I don't think any of the rest of the in-law grandkids got a quilt.

I have tried to quilt from time to time. I've learned that what I really like to do is sew together squares after someone else has cut them out. I don't have the patience or the love of design that she had, for sure. So, I don't really quilt at this point in my life. I might try again someday, when my children don't live with me anymore.

Over the years, I've found some really sweet picture books about quilts. I used to buy a copy for me and a copy for my grandmother. She loved them, too.  I'm going to share a few of them with you today.

The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau- A lovely story about an old woman who makes a quilt for a greedy king, but he must learn to give away his possessions before he can have it, and earns a change of heart in the process. It's a lovely book with beautiful illustrations, and it highlights different traditional quilt squares as the story goes along. The author has a website with more information and some fun stuff. There are two books, Quilts from the Quiltmaker's Gift and More Quilts from the Quiltmaker's Gift, with patterns so you can make your own quilt. I have the first one. It's a lot more involved than sewing pre-cut squares together, so I will let you guess how many quilts I've made.

Mountains of Quilt by Nancy Willard- This is a fun story about a grandmother who sews a quilt with scraps of leftover fabric. A magpie brings her the last piece she needs to complete it, which happens to be a bit of a magic carpet. The illustrations are by Tomie de Paola, but they are a little different than his signature style, I think. I can't find my copy in the mountains of books here (still working on post-move organizing), but I remember enjoying the story.

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco - I love many of Patricia Polacco's books, and this one is precious. It tells the story of a quilt made from pieces of clothing from a family - little girls' dresses, aunts' aprons, etc., and is handed down from generation to generation. It's the story of the author's own family. 


The Name Quilt by Phyllis Root - This one might be my favorite story out of these four books. A little girl named Sadie is visiting with her grandmother during her summer vacation. Her grandmother has a quilt made from fabric of family members' clothing, with names stitched on the squares. The grandmother tells her granddaughter stories of the people behind the names, and shares her family history and heritage through the quilt. One night, the quilt gets blown off the clothesline and away in a storm, and Sadie is devastated by the loss, but her grandmother has her help start a new quilt, and as she listens to her grandmother tell her the same stories, she realizes that she still has the most precious part of the quilt - the family memories. This one makes me teary, as it reminds me of my own grandmother.

Do you love quilts, and stories about them? 

Potato Peel Pie (#atozchallenge)

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A few years ago, I read a lovely book called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. I loved it. Recently, I learned of the audio book, and I love that even more than reading it myself. It's exceptionally well done.

The story is set in the aftermath of World War II, and is written as a series of letters between several of the characters in the book. The main character, Juliet Ashton, is a writer, and is looking for her next project. She receives a letter from someone who received a book she once owned, and they begin writing to each other. Eventually she visits Guernsey, an island off the coast of England, and gets to know the people there.

It's a beautiful story. I loved reading about the relationships the people in the Literary Society formed with their books. I also loved reading about their resourcefulness in surviving German occupation during the war. They made up the name of their group because the German soldiers didn't like people congregating, but some how their book club was okay, but they did have a pie with an actual potato peel crust. Talk about ingenuity!

I'm thinking of having my girls read this as a free reading selection when we study World War II.

This is one of those books, like James Herriot's, that I can't leave in a thrift store. I have to buy all the copies I find. The good news is, I know lots of people who want one, so I rarely have extras!