Wednesday, March 04, 2015

February Book List

Favorite Picture Books

Nature Adventures by  and 
Coming straight from the British Isle, this nature book combines the land of the poets and the land of nature with illustrations that draw me in to examining every detail with delight and interest. I've been renewing this book with the intention of using it to help me practice my drawing skills. But so far, no drawing has happened. There are bits of poetry and lyrics interspersed among the illustrated natural elements quoted by the young explorers depicted in the book. And it works. I love this book.

Mr. Brown's Fantastic Hat by  
I read this book while standing in front of the holds shelf in our small village library branch. (The intended borrower's last name being close enough to mine so that I could hardly help but notice what they had requested.) The story of a lonely bear who wears a hat that grows into a birdhouse of sorts is clever, but it is the ending that really made me smile at this book. The illustrations are warm and soft and just right.  This author/illustrator has other stories and retellings that look just as delightful.

The Velveteen Rabbit, Or, How Toys Become Real by , illustrated by 
I'll keep this short. I had never read this book until a couple of weeks ago. I hang my head in shame. It was wonderful and my youngest stuffed animal loved soaked it all in as we sat on the couch and read it together at her request. And afterwards, the bunny I made her for Christmas became The Velveteen Rabbit. What a dear little story. Don't be like me and wait until you're old to read this. 

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
Another Brian Floca book. Another home run. This time the story of Apollo 11. It is a great retelling, suitable for good range of readers. There are diagrams and explanations for older readers and the rhythmic prose and onomatopoeia words for the younger crowd. And the illustrations take you to the moon and back. Look for his other books, they are all great.

G is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book by David M. Schwartz, illustrated by Marissa Moss
Let's just say, that when I read the page B is for Binary, the whole concept finally clicked after years of being married to an electrical engineer turned software engineer. The examples and charts totally made sense to me. Of course there are other great pages and math concepts explored and explained, but I will always praise this book for giving me a binary breakthrough. An interesting book idea and well executed. It's a good book to add to a Morning Time routine, reading one or two letters a day together.

The Mouse Mansion by Karina Schaapman
If you have a small person who loves Sylvan/Calico Critters or similar creatures in your home, this book will be poured over and plans to recreate the mansion will be talked of for many days straight. It was a winner and has been asked for us to get our own copy, please. The story follows in chapters two mice friends who have various adventures in and around the mansion that they share with other friends and family. And of course the house is amazing and is the result of many years of labor for the author. Be prepared to be asked for both the house and the book.

Chapter Books

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff, illustrated by Alan Lee
I'm putting this under chapter books, even though this is a fully illustrated book. I recently wrote about me reading this book on my own and keeping a notebook on the story. This is Rosemary Sutcliff's retelling of Homer's The Story of the Iliad accompanied by illustrations by Alan Lee of The Lord of the Rings fame. Together this epic story of the fall of Troy unfolds before your eyes and makes it memorable. The same writing and illustrating team also wrote The Wanderings of Odysseus which we plan to read next.

Classics and Other Such Books

The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge
I wanted to like this Goudge novel more than I did. For me, it started off with such promise, but fell off the wagon somewhere near the middle where all the characters in turn seemed to indulge in strange mind wanderings that seemed to leave me the reader behind and wondering where it all went wrong when this novel is beloved by so many. Sigh. I'm sure it must just be me, so please don't let my confusion get in the way of you having a turn. Anyways, as they say, there are other fish in the sea.


Hungry Planet by  and 
I saw this book and the next one featured on the popular Brainpickings website. I couldn't read all the stories that accompanied each family, but I spent time looking at each family's week worth of groceries which was extremely interesting and enlightening. The comparisons and observations could last a lifetime and this book could easily be done ever fifty years(or less) for a social commentary on global eaters. Slightly dated, but still interesting.

Where Children Sleep by James Mollison
Another interesting social commentary this time on childhoods around the world. I have to say though that many of the children's bedrooms and lifestyles featured from North America, were unlike any children I have ever met in my lifetime. Those were definitely the where did they find these people moments.  And your heart breaks for what many children have to live in or out of in some cases. Good books to keep around as reminders.

The Path Through the Trees by Christopher Milne
This is the second book in Milne's memoir trilogy and was another great read for me. Other than the chapters where he expounds on his atheism, I soaked up every word and lived in his world for weeks.
The last book apparently spends even more time on his atheistic worldview which makes it likely that I won't be able to enjoy it when I can find a copy. But these first two books, The Enchanted Places and this one are wonderful reads. I'm almost done his book of essays and will have something to say about that next month if all goes according to my reading plan.

A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse by Mimi Thorisson, photography by Oddur Thorisson
As a general rule, I don't read cookbooks, I look at them, I use them, I refer to them, I buy them, but I don't actually sit down and read the whole thing in successive evenings. But Mimi, how could I not?
I will say up front, I'm not sure how many of the recipes I would actually make start to finish, but I can certainly add in her techniques to liven up the cooking I do now. But I think I will be getting my copy and will at some point want to try some of her gorgeous recipes. It's a great book to read and enjoy even if you're not in your kitchen looking for dinner inspiration. Well done, Mimi and Oddur.

improving my reading habits

I don't remember how the idea occurred to me, perhaps it was my January reading of Karen Glass' Charlotte Mason book, Consider This which is quite likely.
Whatever it was, I realized that I had to do better keeping up with Seth's reading and making notes for myself to keep it all organized in my head. I do try to read many of the books I give to him each week for his free reads, but the books I ask for narrations from often fall by the wayside.
So I started with the book that he was reading, Rosemary Sutcliff's Black Ships Before Troy and started reading it myself.
But before I even got past the first wonderfully illustrated page, I decided I need a map. A map of the Mediterranean, with notes for which King and his people lived where. I got out an atlas. I researched the likely location of Troy and clicked links to other helpful material. I erased my lines and corrected the shapes of islands, peninsulas and coasts. None of this took me too long, but as I drew and wrote, my mind grabbed hold of this work and made it mine.
I took the book to bed and scratched out "should" questions and "why" statements after my readings. I enjoyed myself.
I brought the book to our next Morning Time and asked Seth if we could start over, reading the book aloud together at times. We took turns reading and then I asked if he had any "should" questions. We talked.
Later, he wrote questions instead of giving narrations and we talked about some of those too.
I showed him my notebook and asked him if he wanted to make his own map. He went further and made a chart of the characters and whose side they were on. We finished the book, both at different times, but with much more understanding of the story than before. And now I found a second hand copy of Sutcliff's other companion book, The Wanderings of Odysseus with the same full page illustrations by Alan Lee which we will start later this month.

In the meantime, those lovely, but conniving people at Romans Road Media issued a Great Books Challenge to parents to purchase the The Aeneid and complete the dvd study by mid-May to earn another curriculum package for free. How could I resist?
I am currently almost halfway through the lecture and reading series and loving it. I take notes on Mr. Wesley Callihan's dvd lecture, I do the readings, I take notes on my readings, write myself narrations, and loosely follow Kathy Weitz's literature study technique of Reflection, Connections and Commonplace in my notebook. Then I read her posts and see how far I have yet to come in my connections. But it's all good and others are posting about the challenge too, so I can read their thoughts as well. Plus if I have a question, I can post it on Kathy Weitz's Facebook page, Cottage Press and she and others will answer. I have shared some of the insights about Roman ideas with Shane, my husband, which reinforces the notes I've scribbled down.

I have always kept lined spiral notebooks, I don't know when I started, but this is the first time I have used blank pages which has given me space and freedom to draw, paste and scribble notes wherever I please. And best of all, when I want to reference something, I flip back and there it is. My questions and connections may be made by others, mine are not original, but they are mine in the sense that I have studied, read and thought about the material.
I came across these quotes from Italian author Umberto Eco last week and I saved them because they reminded me of why I read and study without being told to unlike my days of formal schooling.

"An illiterate person who dies, let us say at my age, has lived one life, whereas I have lived the lives of Napoleon, Caesar, d’Artagnan. So I always encourage young people to read books, because it’s an ideal way to develop a great memory and a ravenous multiple personality. And then at the end of your life you have lived countless lives, which is a fabulous privilege."

"I like the notion of stubborn incuriosity. To cultivate a stubborn incuriosity, you have to limit yourself to certain areas of knowledge. You cannot be totally greedy. You have to oblige yourself not to learn everything. Or else you will learn nothing. Culture in this sense is about knowing how to forget. Otherwise, one indeed becomes like Funes, who remembers all the leaves of the tree he saw thirty years ago. Discriminating what you want to learn and remember is critical from a cognitive standpoint."
~ Umberto Eco

carrying crockery

"Efficiency and inefficiency exist happily side by side and both have a place in our lives. we may wish to change things in order to have greater comfort or security or in order to have more time for other desirable things. Greater efficiency may well help us towards these ends. But it should never be thought an end in itself.

Thus when I am given the task of clearing the supper things from the dining table to the kitchen I will use my hands for the purpose, carrying it may be a plate in one hand and two forks in the other. Lesley points out that if instead I used a tray I would be able to carry more things at once and so need to make fewer journeys. Maybe. But why she should assume that I wish to make fewer journeys? I enjoy walking to and fro between rooms, picking up something and putting it down. I find it physically satisfying and a simple enough task to allow my thoughts to wander elsewhere. Whereas piling things up on a tray and fearing all the time that a cup or a glass will topple over the edge requires all my care and attention."
~ Christopher Milne, The Open Garden: A Story With Four Essays,  taken from Efficiency and the Oil Beetle

During the last week before Christmas as I completed some hand sewing, I watched the original Cheaper By the Dozen in which the father, Frank Gilbreth spends most of his time trying to do routine tasks faster, even if by only a few seconds.
Is it faster to button up his shirt starting at the bottom of the shirt or at the top? His wife stands by with a stopwatch ready to assist him and help him discover which technique saves the most time. He then shares his findings on efficiency with universities and lecture halls. I enjoyed the movie, but you can imagine that when I read this above passage, the silliness of speedy shirt buttoning immediately came to mind.
There are ways to complete mundane tasks as Milne shows in the above passage, that do not require our utmost concentration and therefore allow us to ponder other things.  And while we in the West enjoy a relative measure of efficiency and time-keeping, the trains run on time, we also rush around a lot, obsessed with saving time and super-efficiency. Milne makes the case that we can enjoy both ideas at the appropriate times.
Or perhaps it is only the dwarfs cleaning Bilbo Baggins' kitchen who can carry towering piles of plates and precariously perched bottles while heartily singing of spoiling the crockery but in fact working quickly and safely until the job is done.

Chip the glasses and crack the plates! 
Blunt the knives and bend the fork! 
That's what Bilbo Baggins hates - 
Smash the bottles and burn the corks! 

 Cut the cloth and tread on the fat!
Pour the milk on the pantry floor!
Leave the bones on the bedroom mat! 
Splash the wine on every door! 

Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl; 
Pound them up with a thumping pole;
And when you've finished, if any are whole,
Send them down the hall to roll! 

That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!
So carefully! carefully with the plates!

(If you care to listen to Tolkien singing this himself, see this previous post.)

Monday, March 02, 2015

fresh breezes

March has come in.
She has warmed up our frozen windows.
Two days of cool fresh air blowing on my bed.
The dry roof snow blows past my window.
The tree branches stir gingerly.
Fresh air, strong sunlight, moving puffy clouds,
Tomorrow may bring snow.
But it can't last.
March has come.
My open windows bring me her message.
'Soon' is enough.
The seeds know.
The birds know.
 I know.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

our studies

I made these photo collages up earlier this year but never got around to posting them. This represents just some of the books and materials we have been working through this year with Seth.
I had hoped to post links but in order to make this still relevant, I'm afraid I just have to post it as is. If you have questions about anything, just ask me.

family life

Many of these photos were already posted on Facebook in the last few weeks, but I wanted to have them all here too.

book sale finds and musings

Last week, being frigid and filled with snowy weather was also the annual book sale that I and other friends attend hoping to find good books to help us cope with cabin fever and lengthening book lists. I took some photos of some of the books I found, first with the kids and then later in the evening by myself. 

The books are given a wipe down to remove any griminess and then I usually try to safely remove sticker residue before the books are then scanned into my Library Thing account. Then the books are distributed throughout the house: some up to Laura's room, Seth's room and my room. Others come to the shelves in the living room, one of which seen below holds part of our Dr. Seuss (and friends) collection.  The rest are stored on the basement shelves awaiting their turn to be called into service upstairs. Yes, like just like Downton Abbey except without the period costumes and the enthralling drama.

I picked out most of the books, with Laura and Seth adding a few to our basket-box that I might not have picked if I was alone. But in the end, we come away with only a few books that I consider junk food for their brains and everyone is happy. And yes, I am willing to concede that the Porsche 911 book that I impulsively plucked from a shelf on my way to the book counter table may be junk food for me, but it's not like that's the only thing I'll read this month.  Honest. (It in some strange way replaces the childhood poster from my bedroom that disappeared from my possessions so long ago I cannot remember why or how it went. I earned that Porsche poster by selling a certain number of magazine subscriptions or some other glorious fundraising scheme I was required to participate in. It was a gorgeous red model on a glossy black background and hanging that on my formerly pink, then white, now non-existent bedroom wall made me feel that I knew something about cars. I knew what I liked if nothing else.)

And finally in the interest of full disclosure, I add in some of the other books that didn't get their picture taken, lest you think I skimped on my book purchases and also my rumpled, indigo-stained list from my back jean pocket to prove I had a purpose to my shopping. And then, at long last, the real end of this post with a few photos of some of the aforementioned book spaces in our house.

Seth also picked up most of the books in Lemony Snicket's  A Series of Unfortunate Events of which he has already listened to several in the series. I also found the same piano theory books Seth is using now, with no writing inside which will be good for future piano students in our house.
I bought us a like new French to English dictionary and found a copy of the grammar book my French-mentoring friend Kathleen told me to get. And I added to our C.S. Lewis nonfiction writings as well which are usually hard to find there.  Also we found a few more picture books to add to our collection from Robert McCloskey, Jan Brett and others.