Read Alouds for February

Continuing with the series of long(er)(ish) books read aloud to the kids, or read in order to discuss with the kids, I present February:

Jack read The Arrow over the Door out loud to me in his office time, and we both enjoyed it.  Hannah read it too, but to herself.  In the book, a Quaker boy and a Native American boy observe each other and learn about friendship during the strained times of the French and Indian War.  Interestingly, the book is based on a historical account of how a group of Quakers befriended some Native Americans who had been told to attack them.  While it’s a chapter book, the chapters are pretty short and have some illustrations sprinkled in, so that made it easy for Jack to get through without his voice getting tired.  If you have elementary-aged boys and are looking for well-writtten, solid adventure type books for them, The Arrow over the Door would be a good one.

Scottish Seas is another Tapestry upper grammar literature selection, and one I liked quite a bit.  Hannah read it independently and then I read it so we could discuss it at our weekly “book club” at Starbucks.  Jack, who is highly motivated to get in on the Starbucks action, also started reading it recently.  The book tells of a small boy on the coast of Scotland who learns to be brave in the face of dangers like marauding reivers (pirates), overly pious cousins, and fellows who attempt to court his older sister without proper knowledge of the catechism.  Hannah liked that part best.  Jack likes the action.  This is another great book for a young boy (girls like adventure too, but sometimes it seems like the vast majority of kids chapter books are either geared towards girls or overly gross/twaddly).

The Courage of Sarah Noble comes in slightly under my 100 page and up target for counting read-alouds, but since it’s a chapter book and more complex than, say, Frog and Toad or something, I decided to include it.  It’s a classic for good reason.  We loved the story of the little girl who goes with her father to find a new house on the frontier, then stays with a friendly Native American family while her father goes back to fetch her mother and siblings.  Hannah and Jack read this one really fast, but I wound up reading it out loud to Sarah and the big kids listened too.  It’s fun to read about how young children were allowed and trusted to do big things at other points in history.

We finished Nurse Matilda Goes to Hospital in our evening read aloud time and, frankly, not a moment too soon.  I think I’m a bit Nurse Matilda-ed out.  This last volume is not as well written as the first two in the series, and we were deeply disappointed that Baby is less prominently featured (the kids now insert the Baby from this series into all pretend play, so we hear a lot of plaintive “Whereag myg Nurk Magiggy?!” talk in what would otherwise be StarWars/Colonial Times/Olympics/Whatever vignettes).  In this book the kids veer past naughtiness and high spirits directly into cruelty to sick and elderly people, which just wasn’t as funny, although it was still presented in a “this is really abominable and no child should act this way” manner.  Unless you’re a die-hard fan, I’d say stick to the first two in this series.

Swallowdale  is the latest book we’ve finished in Arthur Ransome’s excellent Swallows and Amazons series.  The books tell the story of a group of children who were allowed to have all sorts of adventures in England’s Lake District back in the 1920s or so.  The kids operate sailboats, camp out alone on islands, drink presumably caffeinated tea, have imaginative pirate wars, and basically do all sorts of things that kids nowadays would never be allowed.  They are remarkably self-reliant and trustworthy, and I’m glad for my kids to hear about such fun and stout-hearted friends.  Other than one character being a little prone to blustery name calling (she has a penchant for referring to her sister as “you goat!”) overall the characters are good examples and we all enjoy their jolly good times.

Catherine: The Great Journey, Russia, 1743 is a good book to use with elementary readers (it’s listed as a 3rd-7th grade book, but I can’t see any reason why younger kids couldn’t read it–it’s quite easy and the subject matter is glossed) as a reference for what was going on in Russia between Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.  This fictionalized account tells how young Catherine came to Russia as a 14 year old and her harrowing journey to becoming Empress.  If you’ve studied this time period as an adult you might be wondering how on earth you could present this stuff to a child, but the book does a good job of letting the reader know that Catherine’s husband was deranged and weird without making it too terribly disturbing.

Colonial Living is a rather massive but excellently illustrated and deeply detailed resource on day-to-day life in the American colonies from the earliest European settlements to the eve of the Revolutionary War.  The book was assigned as a read-aloud for Tapestry, and reading a little bit every day made it more manageable, but it still took us a couple of months of school days to read it all.  The text is quite detailed but not dry, and the beautiful line drawings illustrating throughout are worth looking at even if your kids are too young to get into the text.  Even as an adult I learned quite a bit from this book, and would highly recommend it.

We read Calico Captive out loud as a family a couple of years ago, but Hannah read it again to herself a couple of times and when my aunt expressed an interest in going on our Starbucks book club during her visit, Hannah thought this book would be a good one to discuss.  Fortunately it fits right in with what we’re studying in school, and dovetails nicely with The Arrow Over the Door described above.  In Calico Captive an American family from frontier New Hampshire is captured by Abenaki raiders and sold to the French in Montreal.  The details of their harrowing journey and struggle to be ransomed are interesting, especially set in the context of the main character, a young girl who is learning to grow up.  The book has a nice mix of adventure, frontier living, fashions, and quests to keep the reader or listener enthralled.  I enjoyed reading it a second time.

What have you been reading with or to your kids this month?


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