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-Saëns. 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 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 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


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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!

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Merry Old Land of OZ (#atozchallenge)

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Note: all the links inside this post are places to read the books online for free, such as Project Gutenberg. I have an Amazon widget at the bottom if you would like links to hard copies. Aren't public domain books wonderful?

One of my very favorite books from my childhood is a tattered old copy of Ozma of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. I still have it, and I love reading it. My first memory of the Land of Oz was from watching the movie with Judy Garland–and, incidentally, holds the dubious honor of being the number one non-animated movie that causes nightmares for children. I did not, of course, discover this until after I let my girls watch it. This is one event in a long list why I have not yet received the Mother of the Year award, I fear.

My parents were here this past weekend for a ballet performance, and my mom told me she never understood why I was so excited about Ozma. She said she avoids fantasy because it becomes too real for her and sticks in her mind. I love fantasy because I love being able to step into other worlds through a book. She's weird. :-)

Anyway, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading any and all of the Oz books I've come across. Several years ago, I found some brand new hardcover copies of several of the books at a lovely second-hand bookstore in Michigan called Chapter Two. They're no longer there, sadly, but I got lots of books while the fun lasted, and those were my favorite purchases. They have "emerald" ink in some of the illustrations, which means green ink with glitter, and was apparently quite the thing when they first used it.

L. (Lyman) Frank Baum was born in New York in 1856. He never lived in Kansas. Can you believe that? Well, I suppose you might if you lived in Kansas. He based his descriptions of that state on his experiences living in South Dakota. It's hard for me to imagine The Wizard of Oz being based in South Dakota, but I do wonder what made him choose Kansas. He was in theater for a while, wrote for a newspaper for a while, and was a traveling salesman. His first book was Mother Goose in Prose, illustrated by Maxwell Parrish, and NOT the Wizard! I skimmed through it a bit while I was looking up the link (Project Gutenberg) and I'm going to have to read it more closely. It looks like a lot of fun.

The Black Sheep from Mother Goose In Prose
After his Mother Goose book, he partnered with William Wallace Denslow, who illustrated his Father Goose:His Book, a book of nonsense rhymes, and who then also illustrated The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I thought Baum illustrated his own books, so this was a surprise to me. the book was first published in 1900, and according to Wikipedia, was the top selling children's book for 2 years, and sold 3 million copies by the time it entered the public domain in 1952. If you're interested in Frank Baum trivia, here's a list of interesting facts.

The Cowardly Lion by W.W. Denslow
Besides Ozma, I loved Tik-tok of Oz, about a clockwork man Betsy Bobbin rescued after she and her mule, Hank, are washed ashore on Oz.

My sweet husband bought me a beautiful boxed set of 5 hardcover books (linked in widget below) containing all the Oz stories. I'm so excited to read them all! I have never worked my way through them all.

What do you think of the Oz books?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Narnian

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I love C.S. Lewis. When I read his books, it's like reconnecting with an old friend. His voice is so familiar, anything he wrote sounds like a letter I've been wanting to read.

I remember reading The Chronicles of Narnia as a child. I still have my little white paperback set in its slip case. Actually, I think it's at my parents' house, because I have a lovely set of hardcovers my husband gave me early on in our marriage. My teens each received their own hardcover set for their birthdays from their grandparents, because they can't have mine. I read them in order of publication, which means I read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe first.

There's always a lot of discussion about the "best" order in which to read the Chronicles, but really, the important thing is to read them. I enjoyed discovering the world of Narnia through LWW, but if you happened to have read The Magician's Nephew first, which is essentially the "creation" story of Narnia, I promise you have not ruined yourself for life. You could even be daring and start with–*gasp*–The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. That's the beauty of books: we all get to enjoy them in our own way.

I recently started reading a biography called The Narnian, and it's a wonderful glimpse into who he was. It focuses more on the intellectual and spiritual facets of his life, rather than the dry when-and-where facts. I tried a different book from the library, and it was just awful. I returned it and got this one at the recommendation of some other Lewis fans. I am also going to read his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, but not until I finish The Narnian. I don't normally enjoy biographies. They tend to read like textbooks. This one is quite good, though. I do wonder, if he were still alive to read all these biographies people write about him, what he would think.

My girls and I read Mere Christianity for school a couple of years ago, and we loved it. As I understand it, Lewis gave a series of radio talks which evolved into this book. His goal was to write a book that discussed the basic tenets of the Christian faith on which all Christians could agree, regardless of their denomination. It's such a fantastic book. I started out trying to highlight and underline things, but I quickly saw that I was going to have more underlining than not, so I stopped. I see myself re-reading this book often.

As I was poking around looking at other books he'd written, I was surprised by the length and depth of his bibliography. He has his fiction works, of course. Everyone (I think) has heard of the Chronicles of Narnia. He also has a science fiction trilogy.

In addition to fiction, he wrote several books on topics of Christianity, as well as several scholarly works. I have Till We Have Faces, which is his retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, and his book called The Discarded Image, on literature from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It's hard to keep track of exactly what I have, because my teenagers abscond with anything that says C.S. Lewis. I need to go put all his books on their Amazon lists so they STOP TAKING MINE.

I have several other of his books, and am attempting to keep up with an online reading group working through some of his books this year, but I'm woefully behind. (I stink at reading lists. I keep meeting other books and reading those first, rather than sticking with the carefully constructed list I made when I was making my 2016 bullet journal and people were going on about their lists and collections. I have given up on lists and collections. It's a good week when I write my to-do list in my BuJo.)

The one thing I have read by him that I didn't think was the best thing ever was this book of his poetry. I enjoy it because I can hear him in it, but it's really not very good poetry. I've recently read that both Tolkien and Lewis loved epic poetry, but neither was good at writing it. I would agree with that assessment based

Have you read anything by C.S. Lewis? Surely, you have. What's your favorite?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Miss Read (#atozchallenge)

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One of the things I love about homeschooling is that I've met, either in real life, or online, so many people who are (nearly) as passionate about books as I am. I thought I was fairly well-read before I started homeschooling. I was so, so wrong. I have received so many wonderful book recommendations over the years, I would never be able to list them all. I didn't write them down. People do that, I understand, but not me.

On the Well-Trained Mind forums, back in the day when I still visited there, someone mentioned they read books by Miss Read. They referred to her books as their "guilty pleasure." Naturally, I had to go find some immediately. I think my library may have had one or two, but then again, maybe not. I purchase them whenever I find them, often at library sales. (I go to as many library sales as possible. We will discuss that another day.)

Miss Read was actually Dora Saint. She was born in London in 1913, married in 1940, and had one daughter. She was a school teacher, and wrote about "school and country topics" for several magazines, according to Wikipedia. She passed away in 2012 at the ripe old age of 98, having left behind many wonderful books through which we can know her, just a little bit.

She has two series: Fairacre and Thrush Green. Fairacre is narrated by Miss Read, a schoolteacher in a two-room school in a country village in England. I love these books more than might be reasonable. I have no idea why reading about a single teacher living in an English village is so enjoyable, but it is. I love Miss Read, herself. She knows all about the lives of her students: which ones are privileged, which ones are poor. She loves them, and cares for them sometimes when they need her. She seems to be a Charlotte Mason-esque teacher, and that may be part of the appeal. I do love reading about the nature walks she takes with her students.

Thrush Green books are written in the third person perspective, about the residents of the village by the same name. I enjoy these books because they describe a community in which the residents care about and look after each other, in a way I have not experienced as an adult. I'm sure at times I'd be annoyed at the way they were "in my business" if I actually lived there, but on the whole, I love the idea of living in community. It seems hard to come by these days.


While I was looking up books for this post, I found a book I hadn't heard of before: Mrs Griffin Sends Her Love (Tales from Turnham Malpas). It's a collection of some of Miss Read's earlier writings, including some letters, put together by her daughter. I have it in my cart to order. I'm so excited!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Stephen Lawhead (#atozchallenge)

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I started this post in the Blogger app on my iPad, but it disappeared. Good thing I hadn't gotten very far! Anyone else use the app? I haven't used it much, and now I think I know why!

I mentioned yesterday that Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle was my introduction to Arthurian fiction. I still love the books, and even have the audio books. The narrators are excellent. I may have to listen to them in the car, after my kids and I finish the series we're listening to currently.

Since finding his King Arthur books, I've read nearly everything he's written. The two exceptions are Dream Thief and Empyrion. I don't know why I haven't read them; probably because they are old enough books that I haven't come across them in book stores. I also don't see many Lawhead books in thrift stores or in library sales. I think people really like him and don't get rid of his books often. He's also written some children's books I haven't seen.

Stephen Lawhead was born in Nebraska in 1950. He is a Christian, and his faith comes through in most of his books. He and his family moved to England in 1986 to research his Pendragon books, and they currently reside in Oxford. According to Wikipedia, he was the manager for the Christian band, DeGarmo and Key! I'm sure I'm dating myself by admitting I listened to them, but I thought that was an interesting piece of his history.

My favorite books are his Song of Albion trilogy. They are based on Celtic mythology, which I love. The story is just beautiful. The hero, Lewis, is a student at Oxford University. He learns that the Celtic knot, the border between our world and the Celtic Otherworld, is unraveling, and he ends up going into the Otherworld and becoming intimately involved in trying to save both worlds. He ends up gaining a new understanding of Christ's sacrifice, and I was blown away by the ending of the third book. I highly recommend it. In fact, it's time for me to read through these again. I have the audio books of these, as well, and they are well done.

His King Raven trilogy, about Robin Hood, was excellent. It's a new take on the Robin Hood stories, and it's very cool. It has the mystic component I love in his writing.

Byzantium, a stand-alone book about an Irish monk who loses his faith and finds it again, was riveting. I also enjoyed his story about St. Patrick, which is the only one of its kind he wrote.

His Dragon King trilogy, some of his earliest work, were pretty good. Not outstanding, but they are worth reading if you're a Lawhead fan.

I didn't particularly care for his Celtic Crusades books. I don't know why. They just didn't grab me. I've only read them once, and I don't remember much about them. I also didn't care for Avalon: The Return of King Arthur. It was just weird.

His most recent series, Bright Empires, was excellent. I was surprised by how openly he wrote about Christ in the last one. God as the Creator is honored through the entire series, really, and in the last book, he was more...evangelical, if that's the correct word. It's not, really, but I can't think of a better term. I also felt there was a maturity in his writing that I hadn't seen before, and I suppose after surviving a cancer diagnosis, that makes sense.

 I'd love to know if you've read any of Stephen Lawhead's books, and which are your favorites, if you have. If you're looking for a new author, do check him out. I can lose myself in his stories, and that, to me, is what makes a great book.

King Arthur #atozchallenge

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K - another tricksy letter. I tried and tried to think of books that started with "K," and couldn't come up with any I wanted to write about. I scrolled through over 500 titles on Goodreads. Nothing. Then I remembered how much I love reading about King Arthur! Everyone should read about King Arthur at some point. 

My first foray into Arthurian fiction was my discovery of Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle. You will be hearing more about Mr. Lawhead tomorrow. Long about 20 years ago or so, I found Arthur in a bookstore in Lansing, Michigan, and went on to read the rest of the books. I love them all. The first book, Taliesin, begins with–wait for it–Atlantis. That was the first and only time I have read about Atlantis in conjunction with the King Arthur story. I confess, Taliesin was probably my least favorite read, but once I read the other books and saw how it fit into the story line, I had a greater appreciation for it. The story is told from a Christian perspective throughout the books - the spread of Christianity through Britain is woven throughout the books. These are definitely my favorite Arthur stories. They are appropriate for high schoolers and adults. Lawhead's writing is not particularly graphic, but he doesn't gloss over things, either. Life in the Middle Ages was bloody and difficult.

After discovering Lawhead's books, I kept my eye out for any fantasy books that talked about King Arthur. I read Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Trilogy, which was interesting. Arthur is, in these stories, a Duke, and the uncle of Mordred, who is Uther's heir to the throne. It's told from a pagan perspective, and Christians are given quite a bad rap. I enjoyed the stories, but I didn't end up keeping the books. I tried reading some of Cornwell's other books and didn't care for them.

When we studied the Middle Ages, we tried reading Roger Lancelyn Green's King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table. I didn't like it, because it made King Arthur sound like an idiot. Here's an example:

Arthur: "Oh, look! My sister, who hates me, has sent me a cloak and says it's a gift. I will try it on!" 

Everyone Else: "NO! Don't do that! Make the messenger girl try it on first!"

The messenger girl tried it on, died a horrible death, and Arthur realized his sister had meant to kill him. Imagine that! There were other instances of things like this, and it just made me crazy. I don't like reading about King Arthur as a dolt. Since then, I've learned that Green's version is the closest to Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, the original story of King Arthur, as it were. So, if you're looking for an un-romanticized version of the King Arthur legends, this is a good option.

From there, we read Howard Pyle's Arthur stories, and I liked those much better. I love Howard Pyle anyway. Dover has reprinted Pyle's books about King Arthur, and they are nice paperbacks, with his original illustrations. They're wonderful read-alouds. We all enjoyed these books, from my teens down to my 8 year old. *I* liked that King Arthur and his knights were heroic and chivalrous. It's high school reading level if they're going to read on their own.

I could go on, and on, and on about Arthur books. There are TONS of them. Really. I have books for elementary kids on up through high school in my house. Another time,  perhaps I will write a post with more of a homeschooling focus and list more of them, but this is it for now! (I realize I haven't mentioned The Once and Future King, but that's because I haven't read it yet.)

Do you like King Arthur legends too? What's your favorite?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Diana Wynne Jones #atozreadingchallenge

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One of the great things about my sister-in-law (and there are lots of great things) is that we like to read the same kinds of books. She has introduced my children and me to lots of great books we would have missed if not for her. Diana Wynne Jones was one of the best suggestions she's given me.

Diana Wynne Jones lived from 1939-2010. She was 5 when World War II began. From the little I've read of her life, her parents didn't seem particularly interested in their children, so she and her two sisters were very close. She married John Burrows in 1957, and they had 3 sons. There is an official Diana Wynne Jones website, though there isn't a ton of new information as she's passed away - but you can find a list of all her book titles there, and there's a book exchange if you're looking for something in particular.

I was going to have my oldest daughter write about DWJ, because her favorite book of all time (to date) is Howl's Moving Castle. She actually saw the Studio Ghibli movie based on the book before reading the story, and fell in love. She's read Howl several times, and is now exploring more of Diana's books. I've read several, and have really enjoyed them too. Her stories are a great mix of fantasy and humor. I lucked out on a Better World Books bargain bin sale recently, and scored several books by Diana we've not read before. I've also found some at library sales (you may be noticing a pattern here).

I'd say most of her books are appropriate for middle school and up. Amazon says ages 8-12 or grades 3 and up, and that might be true for some of them, but they can get a little intense. No sex, or swearing, though. Some of her books were written for a younger audience. Check out this post to get an idea of what you might want your children to read, if you think they'd enjoy her books.

Howl's Moving Castle is probably my favorite book from DWJ, too. I've also enjoyed the Chrestomanci Chronicles, and really, just about everything I've read of hers. The one exception was Fire and Hemlock. That was a strange book. I didn't really get it. I should probably read it again sometime, just to see if I really didn't like it or wasn't paying enough attention when I read it, but you know, there are so many other books to read, I probably won't.

I'd love to know if you've read any of Diana Wynne Jones' books, and if so, what you thought of them!

(This Amazon widget thing is fun. I don't mind if you don't use my links, but it's a quick way to show several book covers with links.)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Eva Ibbotson #atozchallenge

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I had a hard time coming up with a post for "I"!

If I'm going to choose a book to read for fun, it's probably going to be in the fantasy genre. I'm a lifelong lover of fairy tales and magic. Unfortunately, a lot of what passes for fantasy these days is glorified romance novels. Not really my thing. I tend to look for books in the juvenile section.

A few years ago, a friend of mine mentioned that she was delighted to find books by Eva Ibbotson still in print, as she had fond memories of reading them as a child. Of course, I had to go see what they were all about. I found enjoyable stories, probably best for 8-12 year olds, if you consider the reading level. (Amazon has both grades 5-8 and ages 8-12 listed.)

Eva Ibbotson (full name: Eva Maria Charlotte Michelle Ibbotson, née Wiesner) was born in Vienna, Austria in 1925. Her parents separated in 1928, and her father took a professorship in Edinburgh, Scotland, and her mother, a playwright left Vienna for Paris when Hitler banned her work, and ended up in Middlesex, England. Ibbotson's childhood was spent between them, and her experience fleeing Vienna, as well as spending time between parents, is definitely reflected in her writing.

My favorite one is probably Journey to the River Sea, about a little girl named Maia who was orphaned and sent from England, with her governess, to live with relatives in Brazil. It's an adventure story, rather than a fantasy story, but I loved reading it and remember thinking my girls would really enjoy it.  I also really enjoyed Island of the Aunts, which is about an island where some elderly ladies take care of fantasy creatures, and are looking for some children to train up to be their replacement caretakers. Lots of fun.

I think her stories would make great read-alouds, as well as fun reads for kids (or anyone else who likes British fantasy children's authors). I've picked up a lot of mine at library sales, which is great because they were inexpensive, but also a little sad, because libraries aren't keeping them for children to read. 

I'm trying out an Amazon widget so you can see covers of the titles of the Ibbotson books I have. 

Saturday, April 09, 2016

James Herriot #atozchallenge

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As I scroll back through my previous posts, I can tell I like sharing books involving nature and animals! Today's author, James Herriot, fits nicely into that theme.

James Herriot was actually James Alfred (Alf) Wight, a veterinarian who practiced in the Yorkshire Dales in England after qualifying in 1939. He passed away in 1995.

I remember reading my first James Herriot book as probably a middle schooler. When I started homeschooling, I learned about the Treasury for Children (link to audio version, narrated by Jim Dale), which is a collection of picture books made from some of the stories you find in his novels. Then, I discovered audio books, which have changed my life for the better in SO many ways, and found All Creatures Great and Small on when I began my membership. What's fun about the audio versions is, they are narrated by Christopher Timothy, who played James Herriot on the BBC series based on the books.

Since then, we've gotten all five of his books on CD, and my family and I have listened to them several times over. We all enjoy them, from my  husband and myself, to my teen girls, to my little guy. I confess that when I got to Every Living Thing fofr the first time, I was glad I was alone in the car when I listened to the part about the introduction of artificial insemination in cattle. I laughed until I cried, but I wasn't sorry I didn't have to explain it to my girls, who were elementary aged at the time.

One of the things I enjoyed most was reading about his children, Jimmy and Rosie, and how they would go on veterinary visits with him when they were old enough, preschool age, until they started school. He would quiz them by asking them to, say, name six red birds or so many wildflowers. I don't know if my children picked up on the importance of nature study, or that it seemed to be assumed in the books, but I did! Good stuff.

If you already enjoy James Herriot's books, and might like to know a bit more about him, check out James Herriot: Life of a Country Vet, or perhaps James Herriot's Yorkshire. There's also The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father, a biography written by his son, James Wight. There's a website where you can read more about Mr. Herriot and any related activities - such as Skeldale House opening as a B&B!

Have you read any James Herriot? What did you think?

Friday, April 08, 2016

Girl of the Limberlost #atozchallenge

A few years ago, I read Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter, for the first time. It's actually the sequel to Freckles, which I haven't read yet. GOL was one of my grandmother's favorite books. It was published in 1909, which probably explains the name of the main character: Elnora.

Gene Stratton Porter was born in Indiana, and was an author, naturalist, and nature photographer. According to Wikipedia, she was also one of the first women to form a movie studio and production company. How cool is that? The Limberlost Swamp, the setting for the book, is a real place. Here's a picture from the state of Indiana website - over 428 acres preserved for nature study!

I read this book when I lived in North Carolina and was homesick for Michigan, which made the story's setting of Indiana near and dear to my Midwestern heart. I loved reading about all the different kinds of moths Elnora collected. It's been a lot of years, and it was well before I began commonplacing, so I don't have any favorite quotes to share with you. I remember it being a story about a strong young woman who persevered through a great deal of hardship and poverty, and made a success of herself, finding love in the process. I remember feeling a special connection with the story, knowing my grandmother loved it.

I've heard lots of good things about Gene Stratton-Porter's other books, too, and am looking forward to exploring more of her books. If you'd like to read Girl of the Limberlost, here are some links:

  • Free for Kindle here
  • Gene Stratton-Porter's collected works, $0.99 for Kindle, here
  • Free online at Project Gutenberg here
  • Paperback copy here
If you've read any of Gene Stratton-Porter's books, what was your favorite?

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Farley Mowat #atozchallenge

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My son and I recently read Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat, for a book report he had to do for school. I shall refrain from my diatribe on book reports and their uselessness for the sake of brevity. The assignment was to find a chapter book that we would read aloud together, and then he had a form to fill out, and he was to share his favorite lines from the main character in a dramatic voice. I don't know how well he did with the dramatic voice, but when I asked him for his favorite thing the main character had said, he knew exactly what he wanted to say, so I suppose that was good.

Anyhoo, Owls in the Family is a wonderful book about a boy in Saskatchewan who brings home and raises an orphaned great horned owl, as well as another owl he rescues from an unfortunate situation. Not only did we learn a lot about owls, but their antics, as well as the antics of Billy and his friends, kept us laughing through the entire book. It's such a great story! It was only 89 pages long, with 11 chapters. We were able to break it into short enough readings that it was easy for him to narrate, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his connections to the story as we read it.

Farley Mowat was born in 1921, and lived many places throughout Canada. His father was a librarian, and it seems they moved several times for his jobs. He was very interested in birds, and even wrote articles on birds for the local newspaper while he lived in Saskatchewan as a teenager. He wrote books about Canada's far north, mostly, but he did write a biography of Dian Fossey, a woman who worked with mountain gorillas in Africa. He was an environmentalist and very concerned with the destruction the human race seems determined to wreak upon nature.

I tried to look up information on Farley Mowat to share, and bless him, he didn't/doesn't have a website. He died in 2014 at the age of 92 (thank you, Wikipedia), so I suppose I'm not really surprised by that. He served in World War II, to put his timeline into perspective a bit. Not too many of those veterans are still with us. He did write an autobiography of his early years, Born Naked: The Early Adventures of the Author of Never Cry Wolf, and there appear to be two or three other autobiographical books in his repertoire, as well.

Somewhere, I have a copy of his book, Never Cry Wolf : Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves, which I picked up at a used book store at some point. I haven't read it, but after reading Owls in the Family, I'm going to dig it out. I'd also like to get The Dog Who Wouldn't Be to read with my son, as it sounds like it details the life of Mowat's dog, Mutt, whom we met in Owls. And, after reading the description of The Boat Who Wouldn't Float, I'm going to have to read that one, too.  (Seriously, go read the description. I bed you're going to want to read it.) I hope to read many more of his books! Most of them sound like books I'd enjoy reading. My library has a few, but naturally, not the ones I'd like most to read first. Ah, well. Have you read anything by him? What are your favorites?