Read Alouds September 2014

We finished off many books this month, mostly because we started school again in August and finished up our first term at the end of September. This list includes chapter books read aloud for school reading as well as those we read out loud for unrelated family enjoyment, and a few I read myself in order to discuss them with Jack and Hannah, who read them independently.

I’m glad we own a paper copy of The Story of Napoleon, but had I known it was available in audio form for $1.99 I might have purchased that version. The book, by H.E. Marshall (author of Our Island Story, another of our favorites), is a spirited, lively version of the major events of Napoleon’s life, reign, and downfall. This book is listed as an Upper Grammar assignment for Tapestry of Grace Year 3, but I decided to read it out loud instead of asking Hannah and Jack to read it independently, because I didn’t want Sarah to miss out. Plus, I’m leaning more toward doing our history and literature reading out loud and letting the kids free read outside of school assignments (currently, Jack is reading Tolkein and Hannah is reading so many things simultaneously I can’t keep track).  Anyway, if you’re looking for one book about Napoleon that is both informative and well-written, plus a living book not a dry history text, we’d recommend The Story of Napoleon.

If you liked Five Children and It (which of course you did, how could you not?) you will also like the reprise of the same family having adventures in The Phoenix and the Carpet, except this time instead of a Psammead they have adventures with…wait for it…a phoenix and a magic carpet.  We really love these siblings now, and had great fun with this book as a bedtime read-aloud.  I was wiser in my choice of a more sustainable voice for the Phoenix but the chapters in the book do run long.  A few times I got away with reading only a half chapter, but the last night we were all so intent on finding out what happens that I read 68 straight pages and that, my friends, was a lot.  Worth it though–this book is great fun and highly recommended.

We read Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin
as part of our not-so- great artist study this term. We did learn a lot about Benjamin West’s childhood years from this book, although our attempts to study his paintings came to naught.  When I asked Hannah to tell me about Benjamin West in her end-of-term narration, she gave many details about his upbringing but concluded with “He became a great painter, and I’ve heard he was very good.”  Momfail for not pulling the picture study together, but I do think it was worthwhile to read the book, as we learned about Quakers and colonial life, and we found the story and illustrations engaging.

A Head Full of Notions
is a chapter book biography about Robert Fulton, who invented/perfected the steamboat. Of particular interest, the book highlights how Fulton was consumed with achieving fame, and always took all the credit for himself, even when other people helped him. The kids all noticed and remarked on these things, leading to good conversations.

If you like stories about little people, like the Borrowers and so forth, you will probably like Mistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White. The book imagines that Liliputians were brought back to England and escaped to a deserted island monument at a crumbled down old country house, where they are discovered by the last descendant of the ducal property owners, a little girl under the thumb of a dreadful governess and the guardianship of a despicable curate. I learned about this book in How the Heather Looks and found it very amusing, so I immediately gave it to Hannah, who is also a fan of the miniature people genre.

I found out about Magic & Mischief: Tales from Cornwall via How the Heather Looks, although that book referred to an older set of Cornish fairy tales on which Magic & Mischief is based.  I think the older version probably would be better.  The fairy tales in the book are interesting, but not in the literary way that, say, the Andrew Lang fairy tale books are.  Of most interest, to me anyway, were the old English words sprinkled in here and there in the book.  I think linguistic change is very interesting and I love to learn the origins of old words and phrases.  Hannah co-opted this book out of the library bag before I had a chance to get to it, and she thought it was ok but didn’t have anything particularly superlative to say about it.

Abel’s Island  was a fantastic family read-aloud.  Written and illustrated by William Steig (who wrote some of our favorite picture books like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Brave Irene, etc), this short chapter book would be a great choice if you’re just easing in to reading longer books aloud.  The story follows a spoiled young mouse who  is swept away to a remote island during a storm.  While on the island, Abel learns to take care of himself, finds out what his professional calling is, and figures out that he’s much stronger than he would have imagined.  We all loved this story and the pictures are great too.

We listened to most of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Vol. 3: Early Modern Times on our long car trip in August, but finished it up in September.  Although Bauer’s volumes don’t exactly match our Tapestry of Grace years (TOG Year 3 covers the 1800s, SOTW3 covers 1600-1850), they are a great spine and so well told and memorable.  Of all of my (many) educational purchases over the years, buying all four volumes of Story of the World in audio form was probably one of my best decisions.

So, telling the story of a famous historical figure through the viewpoint of his or her pet is apparently a huge thing in kid literature. The latest of this genre that we’ve read aloud has been Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog’s Tale.  The book is narrated by Lewis’s dog, Seaman (alternately referred to as Scannon in older books, because Lewis had such atrocious spelling that no one could figure out the animal’s name until recent scholarship decoded it), and each short chapter is based on an incident from Lewis’s actual diaries in which the dog is mentioned.  It is a pretty good device, and an engaging way to add depth if you’re studying Lewis and Clark.  Sarah particularly enjoyed this book.  The pictures are very nice as well.

Eli Whitney, Boy Mechanic was a school read-aloud, and I’m glad we found it.  The book is a great and engaging biography of Eli Whitney, focusing primarily on his childhood (with a few chapters at the end covering his invention of the cotton gin and interchangeable parts).  There are nice pencil drawings throughout, and the chapters are not terribly long, but always interesting.  Jack was especially interested each day to find out what new thing Eli was going to figure out (he built a violin, figured out how watches worked, and all sorts of other things).

Every time we got in the car and listened to the Tim Curry dramatized audio version of The Bad Beginning (from Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events) the children debated whether or not to continue.  One of my kids is particularly impacted by the mood of music, and was almost brought to tears by the scary accompaniment and creepy voices of this story.  Still, we pressed on because we all wanted to hear how the story would turn out.  I will say that from my perspective the book was fun, because it uses great vocabulary (and explains the words well) and is funny.  The kids all requested that the subsequent books in the series be consumed in paper form rather than audio.

Of Courage Undaunted was supposed to be a school read-aloud.  After waiting for it week after week in the library hold line to no avail, I eventually purchased a copy.  I tried to read it aloud for several days but for some reason I just don’t think it lends itself to reading out loud.  The kids agreed.  So Sarah looked at the pictures and sounded out bits here and there, and Hannah and Jack read it to themselves.  That meant I had to read it too so that I could discuss it with them, and it was ok.  I didn’t love it.  I remember loving reading about Sacagawea as a child, but this book is more about the crew as a whole.  It gives good information, and I do really like the illustrations, but it just wasn’t particularly a favorite.

What have you been reading aloud (or along with) this month?


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