Our summer term involves reading a lot of well-loved children’s picture books, but we’ve also made time for longer read-alouds (my criteria for this category being, as I’ve mentioned, non-picture books that are over 100 pages, which seems a reasonable cut-off). To be honest, I have not been able to keep up with Hannah and Jack in terms of reading the books they read this summer, so we’ve had the month off from mother-child book club. Hopefully we’ll resume that soon! In any case, on with July:
One of the things I wanted to focus more on during our summer term was poetry, so we read through several anthologies. I didn’t love every selection in Poems to Learn by Heart, but it’s a good sampling of famous and lesser known poems, old works and modern verse, and it is greatly enhanced by the beautiful paintings illustrating each page. The book is divided into sections by topic, which could be helpful if you know you want to find a poem on, say, family or sports or something. I personally didn’t find that the title was very apt–to me the selection criteria didn’t seem to match with poetry you’d want to be sure to learn by heart. However, that’s obviously a very subjective judgment, and I didn’t mind approaching the book as an anthology. I just thought I’d mention it in case you’re looking for a book of great poetry to memorize as part of a literary foundation or something.
I hadn’t read The Hobbit since I was a child, so it was interesting to read it out loud to the kids. They all loved it exceedingly, and are thrilled to learn that the Lord of the Rings trilogy follows in a similar vein. We have added those books to our list of future read-alouds. I enjoyed that this book was so well-suited for reading aloud. It has a great cadence and many funny asides as well as being quickly paced so you never feel that you’re plowing through it. I will say that several of the chapters were on the long side, so if you tend to read a chapter at night before bedtime as we do be prepared to spend quite a bit of time!
Although similar in format to Poems to Learn By Heart, I much preferred Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart. Both are compilations of poems, and in fact there are several overlapping selections, but I liked the selections in this book more. I think one reason is that the poems in this book seemed more geared for children, in that they had better meter for reading aloud or reciting, tended to be funny or thoughtful in the way children are thoughtful, rather than thoughtful in the way grownups are when they are trying to be the sort of thoughtful children are. Does that make sense? Probably not. In any case, we all (including the kids) liked this one.
I loved the movie version of The Swiss Family Robinson as a child, but when we listened to the actual book this month, I was surprised. First of all, when they say “unabridged” they are NOT JOKING. This is a very (very, very, very) long book. The version we listened to (the link above is to the one we heard) clocks in at just under 13 hours! But more to the point, I was intrigued by how much nature study and spiritual life were included in the story. In the book, the family ends each day with worship, is constantly reminding each other to thank God for His providence and mercy, and otherwise indicates that faith is an integral part of their daily lives, but without being heavy-handed or sounding like a Sunday School tract. We also noted that the island where the family was marooned seemed to possess the most interesting animals and vegetation from every corner of the world, and, moreover, that the family seemed to have encyclopedic knowledge of what the flora and fauna were and how to use them! While not very realistic, it did make for some interesting listening, and should we find ourselves lost on a deserted island like the one in the book, we will now be more likely able to sustain ourselves whilst we await rescue. I will say that although the kids and I liked the book, we all found it a bit long and felt that it did go on and on a bit especially in the late middle sections. Overall though, it was a good book and we are glad we read it. Or had it read to us by Jack Sondericker, as the case may be.
If you really and truly can only read one book aloud to your kids this summer, you should absolutely choose Five Children and It. The book is superbly suited for reading aloud, the story is full of adventures featuring a family of both boys and girls, the kids in the book are normal siblings but still hang out together, and they learn some lessons along the way. Plus, there is a psammead. Which is a sand fairy that lives in a quarry and grants daily wishes, of course.
One note on the psammead, you’re probably going to want to do a special voice for him when you read aloud, so take my advice and choose one you can pull off over the long haul. I chose a creaky, grumpy, back-of-the-throat number with a slight English accent, and let me tell you I had to have therapeutic tea every night after rendering the psammead’s musings.
At any rate, this is a fabulous book and fairly begs to be a family read-aloud. Highly recommended.
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