Hodge Podge: Car Books + 1

Whenever we find ourselves in the car as a group, we listen to audio books. With five kids in tow, it’s not like we would otherwise have in-depth conversations–we save that for one-on-one time. Instead, we allay fights and complaints with an engaging story. Here are a few we’ve listened to lately, plus one additional read-aloud that–as with critical pieces of plot exposition–was added because it had to go somewhere.

The BFG – The kids had all read this one independently but I hadn’t heard it before. It’s terribly funny. My favorite part was the queen and her butler and the line about how the queen prefers bagpipes. Highly recommended.

Misty of Chicoteague – This short book is an interesting story about a brother and sister who capture and tame a wild horse, and is another one of those books that highlights just how much kids were allowed to do in days of yore.

james-giant-peachJames and the Giant Peach – Come to think of it, yes, we were on a bit of a Roald Dahl tear. This was another re-read (actually, I think we have read this one aloud at least three times, and the kids have read it independently, but it still bears repeating!) but well worth it. The audio version of this book is terrific. The voices are very well done. Highly recommended.

The Adventures of Richard Wagner – We read this aloud from a paper book, so have no idea as to the quality of the audio version, but here it is anyway. Normally, we love books by Opal Wheeler, and were looking forward to this biography of the composer Richard Wagner as a child. Unfortunately, this one was just not up to Opal’s usual snuff. We found this book dull and only very tangentially related to Wagner’s composing career. The others in the series are far better.

What have you listened to in the car lately?

 

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Jack’s 5th Grade

DSC_0137
Jack does just about everything full-throttle, so educating him is a bit of a wild ride. He’s either fiercely interested–discussing things at a wildly high level and wrangling ideas like untamed wildebeests–or he’s fiercely bored and dragging his feet and his pencil and having to learn the hard way to love what must be done.

Welcome to fifth grade at our house this fall.

IMG_6989Jack is doing a modified version of Ambleside Online Year 5. My modifications were adding several additional science books and biographies, and picking up the pace on a couple of other readings. I wanted to give him a little more challenge while also giving him space to get better at following through on assignments.

Like Hannah and Sarah, Jack has a weekly clipboard that lists his daily work, work done together with everyone else, and co-op classes (on the right) and the categories from which he chooses one assignment per day (on the left).

We have a daily hour or so in which we discuss his readings, written work, Latin assignment, and math. He narrates (tells back, in detail and sequence) every reading except for free reads, and he does one written narration per day. Each week he has to put on revised piece of writing into his history notebook and his literature notebook, and he writes all of his science experiments and observations in a separate science notebook. Jack’s readings are below, with links for books I added or have already reviewed separately.

History & Geography (all narrated*)

  • This Country of Ours
  • The Story of Mankind
  • The Complete Book of Marvels (Halliburton)
  • Geography (Van Loon)
  • What the World Eats
  • Abraham Lincoln’s World
  • Story of the World, Volume 4

Historical Biography (all narrated*)

  • A Passion for the Impossible (Lilias Trotter)
  • Always Inventing (Alexander Graham Bell)
  • Carry a Big Stick (Teddy Roosevelt)
  • Michael Faraday: Father of Electronics
  • Something Out of Nothing (Marie Curie)
  • George Washington Carver

Literature & Historical Fiction (all narrated*)

IMG_6991Poetry

  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • John Greenleaf Whittier
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar

Science (all narrated* and all experiments written up)

Free Reading (not narrated, but required reading)

  • Black Horses for the King
  • Little Women
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Captains Courageous
  • Puck of Pook’s Hill
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • The Prince and the Pauper
  • Treasure Island
  • Lad: A Dog
  • The Treasure Seekers
  • The Wouldbegoods
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • The Long Winter
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
  • Hans Brinker
  • Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (this is re-re-re-re-read, but really, it’s so good)
  • Rifles for Watie
  • Across Five Aprils
  • Rilla of Ingleside
  • Falcons of France
  • Goodbye Mr. Chips
  • The Story of My Life
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
  • The Rescuers
  • The Cricket in Times Square
  • Homer Price
  • The Great Brain
  • King Arthur (Lanier version)
  • Moccasin Trail
  • Sacajawea (Bruchac version)

Bible

  • 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles
  • Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

Language

Math

  • Learn Math Fast
  • I’m still unsure where to place Jack this year, because he basically finished Saxon 7/6 and tested as ready forArt of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra, but he has a LOT of conceptual holes so I know AoPS would frustrate him. So, for now, we are focusing on Learn Math Fast through pre-algebra, in hopes that the conceptual review framework will help prepare him. And then maybe next semester–or even next year–we will dive in to AoPS.

Co-op (classes meet once a week)

  • Engineering
  • Handicrafts
  • Junior Achievement BizTown (economics)

Other (subjects we do together with the other kids, more in a separate post)

  • More science (The Way Things WorkApologia Chemistry and Physics)
  • Church history (Trial & Triumph)
  • Citizenship (Plutarch’s Lives)
  • Indiana state history (various historical fiction, biographies, history spine)
  • Literature (Shakespeare play per term–Richard III this fall, daily poetry, poetry memorization, family read-alouds)
  • Artist study (Durer, this term)
  • Composer study (we were doing Telemann and Corelli, but may switch to Kabalevsky)
  • Nature study (using John Muir Laws guide)
  • Piano lessons

And that’s fifth grade for Jack. Kind of intense some days, but often truly amazing. It’s the sort of person he is!

 

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Wanderlust: Read, Listen, Cook, Eat

To my dismay, my city does not offer any $59 flights to other continents. It doesn’t even offer low fares to other cities that are within a four-hour drive. Thus, my wanderlust must find other, cheaper outlets. In case you’re in the same boat, here are four suggestions for assuaging your peripatetic soul this weekend.

gemma hardy coverRead

The Flight of Gemma Hardy delivers yet another Jane Eyre retelling, but winsomely set in Scotland. In case you already live in Scotland and think that sounds tame, a good chunk of the story is set in the Orkneys, with such compelling descriptions that I had to google image search the area and even went on AirBnB to see how much it would cost to rent something for a month or so next spring. It turns out, if you were wondering, that you can get a fully furnished castle there for just shy of $36,000 per month. Cottages are a bit more economical.

Listen

Even if you read Gemma in paper form, do yourself a favor and check out the lovely audiobook read by Davina Porter. She does a superb job of rendering a wide variety of Scottish accents and you will love it.

incorrigiblesIf you’ve got the kids along, you could try listening to the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, which, apart from being UTTERLY TERRIFIC in nearly every way, also includes references to a poem titled Wanderlust–the favorite of the governess, who has never traveled anywhere in real life. Except for London, which is no small potatoes. And the series is set in 19th century England, so that’s always a win.

The audio for the series is really great, and it’s well worth however long the wait list is at your library.

paleo slow cookerCook

I stumbled upon this great crockpot cookbook (I know, groan, groan, crockpot cooking) that happens to include the sort of recipes I like to make anyway. Normally if I need to use the crockpot I just put in whatever recipe I would have made on the stove top and hope for the best. But The Paleo Slow Cooker by Arsy Vartanian breaks it all down specifically for the crockpot. I marked, and have tried, several Armenian, Indian, and Persian food recipes from this cookbook. They aren’t quite like stove cooking, but are close and decent for busy weeknights or weekend evenings when you’re going to be out all day.

Eat

On that note, if you can’t afford to take the family out for international cuisine but do get Vartanian’s book, I recommend Curry Beef, Lamb and Apricot Stew, Lamb Tagine, and Ginger Chicken. All excellent.

What do you do when you’re seized by the desire to travel to parts unknown?

 

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Sarah’s Third Grade

DSC_0147The biggest shift for Sarah this year is in her doing almost all of her readings independently. Since she is the most independent of all of the kids (so far) that was not a huge leap for her, and she is handling third grade with aplomb.

I started with Ambleside Online Year 3, adding a couple of things and deleting others. Primarily, she’s covering the 1400s-1600s in history.

As with the other big kids, Sarah has a weekly checklist to remind her of her daily work (copywork, a written narration, math assignment, typing, French, piano, chores, etc) and she can choose one assignment per category from the list on the left-hand side of her checklist.

In our daily one-on-one time, we talk over her readings (Sarah gives detailed and interesting narrations, so even if I wasn’t pre-reading–which I am–I would know what was going on in all of her books to the letter!), do math lessons, and correct her written work.

IMG_6985Here are her books for the school year (books linked are things I added to AO or have already reviewed separately):

History & Geography (all narrated*)

  • This Country of Ours
  • A Child’s History of the World
  • Our Island Story
  • Explorations
  • New Nations
  • The Discovery of New Worlds
  • The Awakening of Europe

Historical Biography (all narrated*)

  • Michaelangelo
  • Marco Polo
  • Bard of Avon
  • Good Queen Bess
  • Landing of the Pilgrims
  • Squanto
  • Unknown to History: the Captivity of Mary of Scotland

Literature & Historical Fiction (all narrated*)

  • The Princess and the Goblin
  • Children of the New Forest
  • The Jungle Book (books 1 and 2)
  • American Tall Tales
  • Tales from Shakespeare
  • The Heroes
  • *I would like to find a good retelling of Spencer’s Faerie Queene, but Amazon does not currently oblige.*

IMG_6986Poetry

  • William Blake, selections
  • Sara Teasdale, selections
  • Hilda Conkling, selections
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, selections

Science (all narrated* and all experiments written up)

  • Pagoo (sea life)
  • Science Lab in a Supermarket
  • A Drop of Water
  • Secrets of the Woods

Free Reading (not narrated, but required reading)

Bible

  • Luke, John
  • Exodus, Leviticus
  • Psalms

Language

  • French – Duolingo
  • English – daily writing assignments and spelling, incidental grammar as it comes up, weekly dictation

IMG_6987Math

Co-op (classes meet once a week)

Other (subjects we do together with the other kids, more in a separate post)

  • More science (The Way Things WorkApologia Chemistry and Physics)
  • Church history (Trial & Triumph)
  • Citizenship (Plutarch’s Lives)
  • Indiana state history (various historical fiction, biographies, history spine)
  • Literature (Shakespeare play per term–Richard III this fall, daily poetry, poetry memorization, family read-alouds)
  • Artist study (Durer, this term)
  • Composer study (we were doing Telemann and Corelli, but may switch to Kabalevsky)
  • Nature study (using John Muir Laws guide)
  • Piano lessons

And that’s Sarah’s third grade so far!

Note: This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links, but links to other websites are not affiliated. For more details on the AO booklist, please check the AO website

 

Preschool, Take Four

IMG_6697Someone asked me what I did differently with preschool the fourth time around.

Answer: not much. Really, my approach to preschool boils down to one thing. A lot of reading.

At our house, preschool for any age (2, 3, 4) consists of:

  • A story from a Bible story book (this is our new favorite)
  • A story from Aesop’s Fables
  • Several pages of one of our collection of Mother Goose anthologies (it turns out that nursery rhymes are key for pre-reading skills, but I also think they are a good introduction to poetry and they turn up in literature all the time) – a few of our favorites are this, this, this, this, this, and thisbut we have others. 🙂
  • Five (or more) picture books from our collection

Ideally, I kick off the day with Eliza’s one-on-one preschool time, because she’s always up and raring to go early and it fills her tank so she can listen and color or play quietly alongside the big kids when they are getting my focus the rest of the morning. Eliza turned 4 in May, so this year she adds in reading lessons (5 minutes) and some basic handwriting and numbers (5 minutes) to the usual preschool routine described above. She is fairly desperate to learn to read, and is diligently identifying words and sounds whenever she can. She sits for long stretches of time with books in her lap, attempting to read them, then announces to all and sundry that it’s VERY difficult to read when you can’t read WORDS. We’ll get there.

We use picture books from a variety of lists, from Ambleside Online, Sonlight, etc. I started with lists but didn’t stop there. , Over time I developed a sense of what kind of books I like to read and share with the kids–interesting illustrations, vivid language, no didactic lessons or tiresome data or cartoon characters–with good books I feel like I know it when I see it.

I’d love to read more picture books than our preschool time, and some days I do, but even when I don’t get to it, Eliza has a lot of reading in her life. In addition to her preschool reading, Eliza sits in on all Bible and school reading for the other kids, our family read-aloud time, and her older siblings read to her daily. Some days, if time allows, I do Margaret’s reading (five or more board books) right after Eliza’s preschool, and both girls listen to both types of books.

My focused preschool time with Eliza takes 30-45 minutes per day, depending on the length of books we read. This is not to say that she doesn’t do other preschool-y things throughout the day, such as cutting up bits of paper with scissors, playing with playdough, coloring, doing puzzles, lacing cards, etc. We have a box of those things that she can use during school time, and she does. But I’ve found that kids actually do better and enjoy those things more when Mama isn’t hovering. Fortunately, with five children in the posse, helicopter parenting is right out!

And that’s preschool at our house this year (you can read more about our school day here). If you have preschoolers, what does your day look like?

 

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Hodge Podge: Middle Ages for Kids

The Middle Ages makes for a terrific literary setting. Here are some read-alouds and read-alongs we’ve enjoyed recently:

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood – Pyle’s version of the familiar Robin Hood tales is really excellent. Do yourself and your kids a favor and don’t bother with abridged versions of this one! You don’t need Classic Starts or Great Illustrated Classics EVER, in my opinion, but in this case especially you will lose almost all of the literary quality and sparkle of the language.

Black Horses for the King – This imaginative story follows King Arthur’s need for larger horses to carry armored knights. Along with a high adventure storyline, the book is a fascinating account of how different horse breeds were needed for different conditions, and how they could have been procured in the Middle Ages.

Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight – I had never previously read this story in the full verse, and it’s not an easy read. It might have been better read aloud. If you’re not QUITE used to reading poetry, this would be a tough sell. We like poetry, and read it daily, but it was still a challenge, both for me and for Hannah! We had a conversation about how and whether chivalry = morality, and where Gawaine stumbled and why it was a problem. Most of the detail had gone over Hannah’s head, but in case you’re turning this book over to a kid, be aware that you’ll want to preview and discuss the moral issues. One more note: we went with the Raffel translation, but I wonder if we would have enjoyed Tolkein’s more. If you’ve read both, tell me your thoughts!

The Knight’s Fee – I love Rosemary Sutcliff novels, and this one was particularly good. The story captures the conflict between Saxon and Norman cultures one generation after the Battle of Hastings, and gives a good picture of the process of integration there, as well as the question of old Britons and Brittany. And it’s also a great adventure story that will appeal to boys and girls (and, importantly if you’re reading aloud or listening, also to parents).

Rolf and the Viking Bow – This book does an excellent job describing Iceland in the Middle Ages, but has one of those plots that leaves you saying “oh, not ONE MORE BAD THING happening to the main character!” I got a little annoyed with that, but of course it ultimately turns out all right in the end.

The Door in the Wall – I  read this book multiple times as a child, and we’ve read it aloud at least twice. This summer we listened to it on audio during a car trip and really enjoyed the production. We got the unabridged audio, which had nice music and sound effects–not too many and very well done. We particularly enjoyed the medieval style music and felt it set the scene nicely.

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School Day, Fall 2017

DSC_0234We’re about three weeks in to the new school year, and, surprisingly, the schedule is going really well. I made some significant changes, so I’m recording them here–for my own remembrance and in case it helps anyone else. I will add in posts giving more detail about different sections, and link up as I go.

First off, I say “schedule” but really I mean “flow of events.” We have a hard stop every day by 1pm at the latest, and it does take us five hours to get through the part of school where I’m actively teaching (various children often take longer than that to complete independent assignments). So I aim for an early start, but the chips fall where they may. Links below are to longer posts about each item.

Preschool – 30-60 minutes – Eliza (4) tends to be up early and raring to go while the big kids are still straggling in, so I often begin the day with focused preschool time. This takes 30-45 minutes. If we really get an early start, I also roll Margaret’s board book reading time in, which takes another 15 minutes. While this happens, the big kids finish breakfast and do morning jobs and personal hygeine.

Convocation – 20-30 minutes – The big kids come to the table and we officially start our day with prayer, a hymn or Psalm, Bible memory, a Bible chapter, catechism review, and a short devotional. Time varies depending on what we’re reviewing and what sort of discussion crops up. After convocation, the little girls are excused from the table but they stick around playing quietly (or not-so-quietly), coloring, etc. Margaret (22 months) takes a morning nap around 9:30am.

Jack’s Teaching Time – 45-60 minutes – Hannah (11) goes off to do independent assignments, Sarah (8) has 30 minutes of computer time (10 minutes typing, 20 minutes French), and Jack (10) gets one-on-one time with me to do his math lesson, go over his writing assignments, do his narrations and book discussions, get his Latin assignment, and get spelling and grammar feedback from the previous day’s writing.

Hannah’s Teaching Time – 45-60 minutes – Sarah goes off to do her independent work, Jack has 30-40 minutes of computer time (10 minutes typing, 20 minutes French, sometimes 10 minutes Latin if there is a video that day), and Hannah gets one-on-one time with me. I check on her Bible assignment, get her narrations, go over her writing assignments, teach her math lesson, teach her Latin lesson (or give out an assignment, depending on the day), and go over spelling and grammar as needed. Because of the depth of her readings, the narrations and book discussions can take a long time, but usually we can get this done within an hour.

Sarah’s Teaching Time – 30-45 minutes – Jack goes off to do independent work, Hannah gets computer time (10 minutes typing, 20 minutes French, 10 minutes Latin or Pre-algebra if there are videos for either subject that day), and Sarah gets one-on-one time. I hear her narrations and talk over her readings with her, correct her writing, give out assignments, and teach her math lesson. Her session is shorter, because she’s not doing Latin yet and she’s a bit more…shall we say…efficient about her teaching time than some of her siblings.

The Reading – 60 minutes – All three big kids are doing their readings independently, but we still have some subjects we’re looping together. For about an hour after teaching times, we do poetry, poetry memory work, Plutarch, church history, Indiana state history, extra science, Shakespeare, dictation, composer study, artist study, and nature study. We don’t do all of these every day, about which I will say more in another post. Depending on the time, the kids usually eat their lunches while I’m still reading, or we switch to listening to music from our composer during lunch.

Hard Stop – As aforementioned, we have a hard stop every day. At 1pm or thereabouts the little girls take naps, the big kids finish up independent work, and I start my work day. On Thursdays we all go to our homeschool co-op for the afternoon, but otherwise I’m working from 1-5 or 6. We have babysitters in the house most of those days to keep the lid on.

Extras – We have a new piano teacher who will come to the house Tuesdays from 5:00-6:30pm to give all of the big kids lessons. The kids each take three elective classes at co-op, and Sarah is doing soccer through our church. Jack has a dissection club once a month. All three big kids go to various church activities for their age groups as they come up. We are taking a break from swim team in September due to my work load, but hope to resume later this fall.

Evening – Most days, I hear more narrations, field math questions, check notebooks, and answer questions as I make dinner. I try not to correct Latin while cooking, because disasters–both linguistic and culinary–so often ensue. After dinner and our nightly chores/dance party, we usually read aloud a chapter or two from a non-school book. Right now we’re reading Sticks Across the Chimney and enjoying it thoroughly.

Prep – My prep work this year is extensive, because each older kid doing an Ambleside Online year independently (more on that later, too), and I’m pre-reading all of it. I love it, because the books are terrific, but it’s a lot. I started the year six weeks ahead for each level, and am slowly trying to get through the next term before we finish the first one. We’ll see how that shapes up. I have a notebook for each level and make notes on each book I read as I go, so that I can remember things to flag for discussion and make sure the kids are giving thorough and thoughtful written or oral narrations. The scheduling itself has been fairly straight-forward, though, once I figured out my system.

IMG_6942

Checking Up – As always, it’s important for me to have a checklist so I can keep us all on track and visualize what has to happen for a week of school. I changed my checklist this year to better reflect what I’m doing in each teaching time, what I’m checking each day for independent work, and how often we need to loop various things in The Reading. I color-coded dots for each child, which reminds me which child has done what without requiring more real estate on the page.

So that’s the broad overview of our homeschool this fall. How is the year shaping up for you?

The Middle Ages Meet Sci-Fi–a series for kids that adults will love, too

tripods booksI pre-read John Christopher’s excellent Tripod Series for Hannah (it’s a free read for Ambleside Online Year 7) and loved it. The premise is right up my alley: a dystopian future in which modern life reverts back to a medieval-like era after people fail to fight for their freedom. A small pocket of hold-outs struggle to regain freedom and restore what was lost. The narrative is compelling and prescient, and maintains a feeling of high adventure and great pacing while also reveling in details of medieval life and customs.

I can’t believe I missed this series as a kid, but as with most great children’s literature, it still works for adults.

Hannah tore through these books in a matter of hours, and highly recommends them. I’m trying to hold Jack and Sarah off until they get to AO7, but we’ll see.

This series would be great as a gift for a middle grade/middle school reader, but I could also see it being terrific as a family read-aloud or an audio book choice for long car trips. While you can get a boxed set, the individual books are actually cheaper on Amazon:

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came (Note: this is a prequel. I accidentally read it first, but would recommend reading it last)

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Hodge Podge: Fiction For the Armchair Traveler

IMG_6466The kids recently entered a contest by building a multi-featured island clubhouse out of Legos. Grand prize? A trip to Legoland in Denmark. Although I knew in my heart of hearts that the chances of winning were nil, I still experienced a moment of panic when I realized that if they DID win, we would have a hard time traveling on expired or non-existent passports. What a relief when some British child won, cutting short my panicked research into the hazards of procuring expedited passports from Chicago.

Although a trip to the hygge-ligt peninsula is out for the forseeable future for a variety of reasons including-but-not-limited-to my aforementioned expired passport, I do still enjoy the sensation of traveling vicariously. Hence this week’s hodge-podge, which is dedicated to international settings.

For Grown-ups:

A Gentleman in Moscow – This delightful book about a Russian aristocrat consigned to life under house arrest in a hotel touches on so many fascinating themes–from how little events can change the trajectory of a life to being gracious with your fate to the importance of respect for people as persons–the constrained setting actually opens up a world of thought and inquiry. I found myself thinking quite a bit about the main character’s approach to change, his past, and his shifting circumstances. “For as it turns out, one can revisit the past quite pleasantly, as long as one does so expecting nearly every aspect of it to have changed.” I highly recommend this novel, and think it would be a great choice for a book club.

And Then There Were None – This fun, romping mystery set on a British island is a fast read with surprising twists. If you’re a mystery fan, or looking for something fairly light and quick, this would be a great choice.

Einstein’s Dreams – I bought this book thinking I was going to a book signing with the author, but the fates conspired to change my plans (which is an elegant way of saying we double booked and I was too tired anyway). Given my investment, I read it anyway. Fortunately, it was short, because I thought it was so-so. While there are some intriguing topics as to time and purpose and how we live our lives, it wasn’t a stand-out overall.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven – I read a lot of World War II fiction, and this was one of the better selections in that genre. The author struck an excellent tone, with a perfect balance of humor, cleverness, and respect. If you’re a fan of the genre, definitely read this one. Even if WWII novels aren’t generally your thing, I suggest it as a particularly worthwhile choice.

Salt to the Sea – In need of still more World War II? This book highlights a lesser-known event–the sinking of the Gustloff–which I found interesting.

For Kids:

Around the World in 80 Days – Having grown up watching the excellent mini-series starring Pierce Brosnan, it was a delight to read this book with my kids. The book, as is so often the case, is far more detailed than the series, and I so enjoyed getting even more of the adventures of the stuffy English gentleman and his hapless French manservant.

Have Space Suit, Will Travel – Out of nowhere, this sci-fi classic became a favorite. I’m not certain it’s a kids book per se, but the main characters are kids, and it’s good, clean fun so I can recommend it. We listened to the book on audio and thought the dramatized (but unabridged) version was excellent.

If you were to suddenly win a trip overseas, is your passport at the ready? And where would you hope to go?

readmore

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Hodge Podge: Fiction that doesn’t chew its cabbage twice edition

How about a mix of grown-up fiction and read-alouds that are otherwise unrelated? These include some literary peanuts, raisins, and a few indeterminate chocolate-like blobs. Your mileage may vary.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d – Flavia fans will welcome another installment from our witty post-war, British, pre-teen, heroine/detective, and they will not be disappointed. I confess that I was flat out surprised by the ending to this book. I also loved the odd-but-apt aphorism, “Fate doesn’t chew its cabbage twice.” Words to live by.

Commonwealth – This book was…fine. It’s a little odd to say so, since I have loved Patchett’s books heretofore. If you’ve only got time for one by this author, definitely go for Bel Canto (review) or State of Wonder (review) instead.

Lila – I’ve not been a huge fan of Marilynne Robinson up to this point, but Lila grew on me. It became quite interesting to observe how Robinson was constructing the narrative and building the character, but I sort of felt like I was dissecting the book rather than reading it. However, I might try Home next and see if I like the series backwards better than forward.

Crosstalk – Connie Willis is such a fun writer, and manages somehow to balance light and witty writing with deeper subjects and issues. In Crosstalk, she looks at technology and relationships in the not-too-distant future through a story that will keep you reading while also giving you a lot to think about. I feel like you can’t go wrong with any of her books.

Read-Alouds

The Indian in the Cupboard – This is a short, funny read especially good for boys (or girls) who like adventure and girls (or boys) who are fascinated by the tiny-people-versus-big-people genre. We listened to it on audio while driving to and fro. There is a whole series, which the kids own and have read, and which I believe I read as a kid, but I can’t recall enough to know if I should recommend them or not.

Watership Down – So, technically this is not a kids book, but we listened to it as a family on our epic roadtrip-in-which-nearly-everyone-threw-up-for-11-hours. So let’s just say we all remember the story vividly. It’s a good story, if rather long. And since the author originally made it up as bedtime stories for his daughters, I think it’s fine for kids. Plus, you’ll learn a lot of really fascinating things about rabbits. When literature and zoology collide.

The Secret Keepers – We actually all read this separately not aloud, and I read it so I could talk to the kids about it. While we liked the book, it was so disappointingly NOT a Mysterious Benedict book. Of course we knew that going in, but one still hopes. I do like this author and will read anything else he publishes, but we like MBS best.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – The big kids and I have read the Harry Potter books individually (well, actually Sarah has only read the first three) at least once, but Eliza was feeling left out so we decided to listen to one for her sake. The audio versions of the series are just terrific. It was such an enjoyable listen, even though I had already read the book. And the big kids liked it even though Hannah has probably read the book 17 times. I’m not sure if we would tackle the later books with a small kid, but the first and second would probably be fine for younger kids especially if they have older siblings that already discuss the series as if it’s part of their lived experience.

Around the World in 80 Days – I grew up watching the movie of this book, so it’s fun to hear the actual story. We’ll watch the movie for family movie night to contrast and compare. If you’re reading aloud, you might want to skim ahead for terms to change as you go. If you’re listening to audio, it’s a good idea to pause and mention when a book uses descriptions that you don’t want your kids to internalize. It’s not too much, just here and there an old-fashioned parlance or attitude that we don’t hold.

How about you and your family? Have you read any great fiction lately?

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