Hodge-podge: Ancient Rome Read Alouds

Our school year sputtered to an end when the reality of summer swim team gob-smacked us. Fortunately, we already had our required days in (plus three!) and had pretty much finished our semester’s foray into Roman times. Below are the books we read aloud together or which I read in order to better discuss them with the big kids. The big kids all read a ton of other related titles, but I’m only listing the ones I personally read.

The Roman Mysteries Series – I was surprised at how much we liked these books. The author, Caroline Lawrence, puts so much period detail into the books, but without making them feel didactic. So we learned all sorts of fascinating things about daily life in Roman times, but all in the course of rousing mysteries and problem solving. However, I will caveat that I only read the first four, and there were a couple of issues that I wanted to talk over with the kids, like a point where someone drinks too much (and has a terrible headache and says things they regret as a result), and a distressing choice made by one character’s mother. Both incidents were handled tastefully in the book, but really did require discussion. So be aware of that if you choose this series. Even so, I highly, highly recommend these books. The audio versions were great–check your library’s OverDrive app if you’ve got travel upcoming!

The Silver Branch and Outcast – Rosemary Sutcliff is one of my favorite children’s authors, so we snapped up her books about Rome. Actually, the kids read a couple of others and liked them as well, so really you can just look out for this author and be assured that you won’t go wrong. Her characters are complex and well-drawn, action is excellent, and you always wind up with great insight into the time periods covered. Both of these books covered Britain in Roman times, which was fascinating.

Beric the Briton – Another solid choice about Roman Britain is G.A. Henty. Although his books can be a bit slow to start, overall they are great adventure stories. I always look for Henty at used book stores, but you can also find good audio versions.

Detectives in Togas – I didn’t love this one as much this time around (having read it the last time we did Rome four years ago)–it’s not particularly noteworthy as literature, and falls far short of Sutcliff or Henty or Lawrence for historical detail. If you’re short on time, or your kids need an easy-ish read but you’re not that concerned about historical depth, this book is fine. The kids like it as a story.

Julius Caesar – Naturally, we chose JC as our Shakespeare play of the term. We read it out loud together taking parts, and also listened to a dramatized audio version. Although I wouldn’t say it was my favorite Shakespeare play, it was good.

Archimedes and the Door of Science – OK, Archimedes was technically a Greek. But I already did the Greek read-alouds post. So here you go, Archimedes, old boy, we’re sticking you with the Romans. At any rate, this was a great book–a nice mix of biography, history, and science. We really enjoyed it, and would recommend it as a read-aloud or read-alone.

In Search of a Homeland – If you’re looking for a solid retelling of the Aeneid, I recommend this one. It will make more sense if your kids are already familiar with the Odyssey, but is pretty crucial for understanding Roman history, in my opinion. Next time around I think we’re going to go with the real deal, but in the meantime, this retelling is great (side note: the kids also read The Aeneid for Boys and Girls and said it was ok, but they preferred In Search of a Homeland).

The Story of the Romans and Famous Men of Rome – Reading both of these got a little repetitive as we read about the same people back and forth–we should have chosen one and left it at that. However, having read two of these books about famous Romans, the kids and I are SO primed for Plutarch.

Plutarch’s Lives  – So after reading about famous Greeks and famous Romans, we dove right in to Plutarch and I was surprised and pleased to see that the kids were ready to interact with it. Why read Plutarch after we already read about many of these people in other books? That’s like saying “but we’ve read the Jesus Storybook Bible, so we don’t need to read the WHOLE Bible, right?” Plutarch was required reading for most of history, and is really a civics/government primer, as well as a general springboard for discussion about character, leadership, and being a good citizen. We started with Poplicola because that’s what everyone says to do, and because we were familiar with him. Then we just went to the front of the book and started with the first life, Theseus. We’ll go straight through from here on out and eventually we’ll have read the whole phone book. It’s going to be awesome.

SPQR – One last note: this one was not for kids, but I read it as background for myself. It was a slog, but I think that was because I read it on the Kindle app on my phone. That’s a handy thing, but not the best way for me to read/learn. A better reference for ancient times is Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Ancient World (link is to my original review, when I read it as background in 2012).

And here we are in summer “break” (or the break it would be, were swim team not in the picture!). I think the year went well overall. I saw a lot of improvement and maturing in abilities. I changed some things, and am contemplating ways to make our next school year run even more smoothly. This was the last year–for a while at least–that I plan for the three big kids to be in the same history/literature time frame. It’s funny. Initially we began combining for history and literature because I couldn’t imagine how I could keep up with three separate eras, or why the kids would want to be alone in one. Now, the opposite is true. I think the kids are in a spot where they need the individual ownership and space. We’ll still do lots of read-alouds together, because that’s just who we are, but we’ll do different independent reads. I’m excited to see how it works out.

Meanwhile, summer reading! What’s on deck at your house?

 

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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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Hodge-podge: Books for Kids and Adults

This weekend, I surveyed the double layer of books on my To Read shelf and elected to thin the herd. It felt great to lift some of that pressure, self-inflicted though it is! Although I’m preferring the topical round-up style reviews lately, I thought I’d throw out a hodge-podge in case it helps anyone clear out an overfull shelf, or gives some ideas for kids books to add to your audio queue for upcoming over-the-river-and-through-the-woods jaunts.

First, a few kids books of note:

Alice In WonderlandAlice in WonderlandThis classic is probably worth owning in print if you don’t already, and it’s also quite inexpensive on Audible. We listened to the audio version through our library’s Overdrive app and enjoyed it. It’s a great mix of silly and bizarre and rhymy so it works for all ages. It’s also a lot shorter than I remember.

The Island of Dr. LibrisThe Island of Dr. LibrisI expected to like this book more than I did, given the premise of kids encountering book characters coming to life. But often I just wondered, why these books? Why these characters? Some seemed normal for kids, while others seemed needlessly linked to grown-up books, so it’s not like the kids who read Dr. Libris would then go out and read the adult books. It just could have been better. It was fine as an audio book for the car, but nothing extraordinary.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid LindgrenPippi Longstocking – Although it’s obviously a classic, do yourself a favor and get your kids the paper version rather than subjecting yourselves to the audio book. From a parent’s perspective, Pippi is just so annoying. I could not wait for the book to be over. It’s a little odd, since I remember liking the book as a kid, and my own kids have read and liked the book. I guess it’s just one of those things, like how adults read Little House in the Big Woods and can’t get over how much work Ma had to do, when kids are only thinking about wanting a pig bladder balloon. Anyway.

Stone-Fox-John-GardinerStone FoxThis short book packs in a great story of adventure and sacrifice, with some good topics for conversation. It also has a shocking ending (at least it was shocking to us) so be forewarned. It was a great audio book to listen to, but would be a good one to own as well.

 

mrs_piggle_wiggles-farmMrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm – You really can’t go wrong with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. We’ve enjoyed all of the series (at least the ones we’ve found so far) both in audio and paper versions. This volume is no exception to the pattern: kids with bad habits or character issues are taken to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, who gives them some natural consequences or otherwise helps them to figure out how to change their habit. I like the emphasis on the child having to do the work to change, but the adult being there to help.

Now, on to the books for grown-ups:

nature-anatomy-coverNature Anatomy – We used this book as a read-aloud for nature study, but I thought it could just as easily be something an adult would want to pick up to peruse. The author did a lovely job of hand-drawing bits of nature from rocks to birds, animals to plants, and then hand-lettered in interesting facts and scientific names, with some typeset information and grouping by category. This is what a nature notebook could look like if you were an artist and naturalist for real. We found it inspiring and quite informative.

strong-and-weak-andy-crouchStrong and Weak – I wanted to like this book more since I did really enjoy the author’s previous book, Culture Making, and named it as one of my favorites from 2009. But this one just didn’t really stand out for me. It was fine, but I didn’t come away from it feeling particularly challenged or inspired or with new ideas about flourishing. I think your response might depend on how much culture-shaping type literature you’ve read.

becoming-brilliantBecoming Brilliant – Having received an advance copy of this book, I was somewhat sad to find that I’m really not the target audience and I honestly didn’t enjoy the book. For one thing, I felt that the authors’ views on issues like giftedness, the point of education, and educational methods ran counter to what I have read, researched, and experienced, both as a student and as a teacher. For another, the information is presented in fairly dry book report fashion rather than as dynamic new ideas, and I’ve read most of the information in other sources before. Not all of the ideas were really all that supported by research (for example, the actual outcomes from learning via screens). The good ideas also tend to be geared toward classroom teachers, rather than towards parents or homeschoolers–involved parents and homeschoolers are almost certainly already doing the things the authors describe to ensure their kids develop well. In thinking about who should read this book, I decided that it would be good for policymakers in government who have no background in educational issues, but who find themselves needing to get up to speed fast. If that’s not you, skip this one.

games-for-writingGames for Writing – I have a child who is a reluctant writer. It’s not that said child CAN’T write, because said child enjoys attempting intricate calligraphy and keeping notebooks full of random facts about various topics. However, said child LOATHES writing assignments. I have tried Oh So Many Things. What is working for now is reminding myself to take a deep breath because this is only elementary school and there are plenty of years in which to tackle the sort of writing required in college. Meanwhile, I’ve been using many of the writing prompt ideas from Brave Writer, and also several I found in this little book.Games for Writing is geared toward early elementary, but I’ve been beefing it up a little bit so that I can use it with all of my big kids (2nd, 4th, and 5th grades) together. In general, I still think the copywork to written narration to analytical essay path is correct, but sometimes it does help to get there via a meandering path rather than a straight blaze. If you’re in the same boat, maybe this will help.

What’s been in your hodge-podge lately? Have you cleared anything of note (good or bad!) from your To Read shelf lately?

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Two awesome read-alouds (plus ancient Greece)

hittite-warriorThis fall we stumbled upon a terrific author whose books made terrific read-alouds and were then subject to much sibling negotiation as everyone wanted to re-read (and re-re-re-read) them on their own as well. Joanne Williamson did a tremendous job combining excellent storytelling and character development with detailed and fascinating historical research in her books Hittite Warrior and God King.

god-kingWe read the books as part of our history/literature studies, but they are such great adventures that anyone would enjoy them as stand-alone books. Hittite Warrior takes place during the time of Judges and ties in to the collapse of the Hittite culture, rise of the Philistines, and loosely touches ancient Greece. God King is a fascinating account of Egypt during the time of King Hezekiah in Judah and the rise of Assyria. Both books are well worth owning, although difficult to find. Check your library, and if you ever see Joanne Williamson’s other books, snap them up!

I tend to follow a literature-based lead for school books, and so I’m looking for good writing, excellent illustrations, and a storytelling (versus textbook or encyclopedia) feel. We do get reference books on the side, but not for our main focus. Here are a few other books we liked in theras-and-his-townour ancient Greece reading.

Theras and His Town – This novel is a bit light, but we enjoyed the story and the contrast between Athenian and Spartan cultures. It’s a good read-alone for elementary kids, and worked out pretty well as a read-aloud too.

daulaires-greek-mythsD’Aulaire’s Greek Myths – I like this version much better than other options for myth retellings. It’s also the book used in the National Mythology Exam, if you’re into those sort of tests (I’m not sure if we’ll do that or not–it’s the same group that runs the National Latin Exam). Anyway, the D’Aulaire’s always do a good job with stories and illustrations.

one-eyed-giantThe One-Eyed Giant (and the rest of the series) – Kids who like Mary Pope Osborne’s style will enjoy this series. We listened to the first one on audio and then the kids read the rest on their own time. Note that this series is available in two different formats–one that seems to be geared for libraries and another that comes in only two volumes and is for…regular people? Just letting you know in case you pick them up at a used bookstore and don’t want redundancy on your shelves!

golden-fleece-columThe Golden Fleece and the Heroes Before Achilles – You’ll start to feel the repetition if you do a lot of these readings, but Padraic Colum does a pretty good job of preserving Homeric phrases kids should know, like the rosy-fingered dawn, grey-eyed Athena, wine-dark sea, and so forth. Colum wrote other books on Greek mythology and the epics, so you may want to look for those as well.

famous-men-of-greeceFamous Men of Greece – Honestly, this one is a little dry, but the sections are a good length for a daily narration habit, and it does have good illustrations. I’d skip it if you only have younger kids, and might suggest assigning it for older elementary kids who are working on narrating their independent reading assignments.

wanderings-odysseusThe Wanderings of Odysseus and Black Ships Before Troy – These excellent retellings of the Odyssey and Iliad, respectively, are well worth owning. Pro tip: be sure you’re getting the larger format book with the illustrations. I accidentally wound up with paperbacks that omitted the pictures and the kids were none too pleased. We’ve read several of Rosemary Sutcliff’s works and have black-ships-before-troyloved all of them, so that’s another author to add to your look-for list.

The kids read a ton of other books from this subject area, but I didn’t keep up with all of them. It’s been fun to circle back to the ancient world with older kids and see how much they remember from four years ago!

A Quick Note About Book Shopping: In previous years, Amazon has put out several high value book coupons between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If I hear of any, I’ll link them on Facebook and in the weekly Bookmarks email. If you come across any great book shopping codes this season, please let me know!

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Another great series for your summer reading

all-of-a-kind familyI’ve posted about All-of-a-Kind Family and how much we enjoyed it, and stated our intention to read everything else the author wrote. Well, so we did. And we can now whole-heartedly recommend this series to you for your summer (or anytime) reading list.

We read aloud or listened to audio versions of More All-of-a-Kind Family, All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown, All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown, and Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family, and then we read A Papa Like Everyone Else, which isn’t about the same family, but sort of could be about the Mama as a little girl, perhaps, in terms of time period and coming from the old country to America.

These books are great fun and full of siblings getting into and out of various scrapes, the family being a center for love and growth, hospitality, and how the family comes through the immigrant experience and still retains a strong family character and culture. These are great books for the early 1900s setting, but the themes and ideas are timeless and the adventures are good, clean fun.

I will say that there is some romancey stuff in Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family, as in that volume Ella is an adult deciding who to marry and everything. My elementary kids responded with choruses of “EWWWWW” when there was lovey-dovey stuff, but it wasn’t inappropriate so much as not their speed.  In hindsight we wouldn’t have missed anything by skipping it, except for the fact that at the end Mama is pregnant again and WE DON’T FIND OUT IF THE BABY IS A BOY OR A GIRL!!!!! And then Sydney Taylor died and never wrote any more books.  We were completely aghast.  I was sort of tempted to challenge the kids to write fan fiction sequels with one kid taking the stance “and the baby was yet another girl” and the other taking “and it was a brother!”

Anyway, these are great books and really, really solid for reading aloud.  We recommend them heartily.  If you do read the series, please let us know what you think!

 

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Read-alouds for China, Afghanistan, and Grammar

red scarf girlRed Scarf Girl is a memoir of a young girl growing up under Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China. There are some difficult parts and some profanity, so I’d recommend reading it aloud so you can skip over what you need to, or stop to discuss it with your kids. We had good discussions on how you can know if your government is just or tyrannical, when and why it might be advisable to resist tyranny, and why people don’t speak out or flee when they are persecuted or see others persecuted. Because we study history chronologically, we could also contrast the book with other similar cultural moments. If you’re studying this time period, I think Red Scarf Girl is a good choice, but it might not be one I’d pick up just for fun bedtime reading. If you do pick it up, be aware that you’ll probably want to talk over the themes and issues with your kids–that can be really fruitful, even with younger elementary kids!

breadwinnerSet in Afghanistan just as the Taliban took over, The Breadwinner follows an eleven-year-old girl who must resort to a disguise when her family is devastated by loss. While the subject matter is difficult–Parvana’s father is dragged off to prison, her mother struggles with debilitating depression, the family is in constant danger of starvation or worse–the tone stays hopeful and the setting emphasizes the resilience and humanity of the Afghan people.

The Breadwinner is the first book in a series, but Hannah read the second one and from talking to her I think it might be thematically too much for a ten-year-old, so we skipped the other books.  Again, if you use this as a read-aloud you’ll have more insight into whether your kids are ready for it or if it might be too much.

Book-Cover-the-phantom-tollbooth-1342828-311-475And now for some lighter fare! The Phantom Tollbooth is a funny story built around the humor of language. If your kids are familiar with homophones and can appreciate the hilarity of misused turns of phrase, this book will be a hit.  We used it as a read-aloud, but at times I thought it might have been better as a read-alone, because I had to stop and make a note of it when the jokes were based on spelling. Then again, I also reformatted some words as I read (no real reason to interchange the terms “demon” and “monster” in my mind, so we went with monster, etc).

Still, The Phantom Tollbooth was a fun and silly book that we all liked very much. It would be a good one to put on your summer reading list if you haven’t read it already!

Are you starting your summer reading lists yet? If so, what are you planning to read with or to your kids this summer?

 

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Read-aloud Hodge Podge – Feb 2016 edition

And now a hodge podge of longer read-alouds and chapter books I read to discuss with the kids. I’m trying to break these up into topical posts when I can, but these defied my organization for the past couple of months. However, not all odds-and-ends are rewarmed leftovers–these are a proper literary smorgasbord. Let us know if you enjoy them!

moorchildEloise McGraw’s The Moorchild is a fairy story (in the old fashioned sense of the word, not the Disney sort) that weaves in themes modern kids can relate to, such as being different, being made fun of, and not fitting in. This is a great book for discussion. It can be tough to figure out how to talk through scenarios with sensitive kids without them feeling defensive, and I often find that books help. This one gives lots of ways to talk about different strategies, what works and what doesn’t, and helps reassure kids that they are not the only person who has ever felt left out or different. Plus, it’s a great story!

 

Book-BigWoodsOf course everyone has read Little House in the Big Woods, but Sarah, our first grader, just finished reading it for her out loud reading practice with me (I have the kids read aloud to me for a while after they are independent readers so that I can catch any errors in pronunciation and to help them read with good expression).  It was so fun to have little discussions with her along the way, and to see how her ability to read smoothly and expressively improved over the course of the book.  The Laura Ingalls series was one of my favorites growing up, and it’s a delight to share them with my own kids!

 

homeless birdHomeless Bird is a fascinating story about a 13 year old widowed girl in India who finds a way to happiness in spite of many hardships and extremely limiting social conventions. I thought the author did a good job of presenting the reality of a different culture calmly, but without glossing over what makes it terrible for young girls in the protagonist’s position.  The author also handled the ending well–without too much Western sensibility but also without fatalism or outright rejection of the culture.  Note that there are a couple of oblique references to dangerous situations you might want to be prepared to discuss with younger readers, although those might go over their heads.

my_side_of_the_mountain

My Side of the Mountain is one of my all-time favorite children’s books. I have no idea how many times I read it when I was a kid, and it was really fun to be able to read it with the children. We chose this as an evening family read-aloud. Even though the older two kids had both read it on their own, it was still great to experience it together. The story–about a self-sufficient boy who leaves his home in New York City to live off the land in the Catskills–will appeal to any kid who loves adventure. It’s amazing that this sort of thing even seemed possible in the 1950s, when the book was written.  But I like the way the book shows how children can make good decisions and be responsible, and if you ever have to flee to the hills you’ll definitely want this book along as a reference for what to eat! Highly recommended for boys and girls of all ages!

all of a kind

All-of-a-Kind Family is a FANTASTIC read-aloud about a big family from turn-of-the-century New York. Even Jack, who normally looks askance at books about gobs of girls, enjoyed the adventures of this family (and he was pleased at the surprise in the last chapter). The book doesn’t underplay the fact that poor immigrant families faced hardships, but focuses more on the family’s hard work, loyalty, and determination to maintain old traditions with new ways of life. Because the family is Jewish, we learned a lot about Jewish holidays and the kids really, really want to build a succah in the backyard.  Maybe when it gets warmer.  We are excited that this is only the first in a series of books, and we plan to read them all.

What was on your read-aloud list this month?

 

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A few more World War II books for kids (chapter books and read-alouds)

It has been a while since I did a post on read-alouds, so I thought it might be easier to break them up into topics.  As usual, the criteria for these reviews is books that are over 100 pages and not picture books, that I either read aloud to the kids or read in order to discuss them with one or more kids who read the book independently. We also still read shorter books together, and the kids read a veritable plethora of other chapter books about World War II, but documenting all of those would take a long time!

You may have noticed that we’ve been reading a lot about World War II.  I think these books bring up the tail end, and our school reading has turned to Korea and the Civil Rights Movement, so I figured a wrap-up was in order.

sixty fathersThe House of Sixty Fathers makes a fantastic read-aloud for both boys and girls.  The story of a young Chinese boy during the Japanese invasion in World War II is based on a true story Meindert DeJong (who also wrote The Wheel on the School–another favorite) observed when he was serving in China at that time.  Apparently DeJong tried to adopt the real life boy but wasn’t able to make it happen during the war and then he never was able to find him after the Communists took over.  Fortunately, the book has a happier ending!  We all enjoyed the adventure and the determination of the little boy.

war saved lifeIn The War that Saved My Life, a little girl from London’s East End finds hope and a loving community when she’s evacuated to the country during the Blitz.  The story was good, but I thought it suffered somewhat from unbelievable elements–namely a mother who was too entirely villainous. I think it might have been a stronger book had her behavior been more to do with ignorance or superstition or even just being poor and tired, rather than being straight evil. I thought maybe this was just my adult perspective, but Hannah picked up on it too, so maybe not.  In spite of that caveat, the story is interesting and might be a good pick if you have a tweenish person studying World War II.

thecayThe Cay  will probably only work as a read-aloud if you’re able to read ahead a bit and modify text while you’re reading it.  We did this one as a family read-aloud and I could not BEAR the spelled out accent of one of the main characters.  I like doing voices when I read, but it was like trying to imitate Sebastian the Crab from Disney’s Little Mermaid and that was just so annoying that I had to stop, announce to the kids that I’d be reading in a regular accent, and change some of the pronunciation and diction.  I also changed a few words and mentions that I felt were racist or at least not the way I want my kids to think about people.  Having done so, the story was great–kind of a less far-fetched version of The Swiss Family Robinson, but with a kid in the Caribbean during World War II.

war peace jazzI’m not a huge fan of textbooks for kids–they are usually dry, dumbed down, and much better replaced with living books. However, I have found a few that worked well, and A History of US: War, Peace, and All That Jazz: 1918-1945 is one. The book has short chapters and takes a story-telling approach, using good photography and art, to form a spine for the covered years.  Since so much was going on from 1918 to 1945 around the world, I felt like we needed a spine to hold it all together as we read widely from other living books too.  We read this one out loud together and I thought it worked well for that. We’ve also listened to The Story of the World for this timeframe, but I wanted something with a bit more detail and that I could read out loud versus only listening to (since we’ve got the audio version) in the car. I wouldn’t say that this one was better than the SOTW, but I think they complement each other.

You can read about other chapter books on World War II for kids here and here.

 

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Read Alouds August 2015

August did not turn out to be a month for finishing read-alouds! We have had a lot of false starts, bad matches, and books in midstream. And that’s ok. Some months are like that. We still did a lot of reading aloud and maybe we will finish more to share next month. In the meantime, here is one really stellar recommendation:
good masterThe Good Master makes an excellent read-aloud, although my older kids kept taking the book to read ahead, so I suppose it’s a good read alone as well!  The book tells the story of a family on the Hungarian plains in the early 1900s (pre-World War I).  Their old fashioned life is interrupted by a cousin from the city (where there are cars and radios and people don’t wear traditional Hungarian clothes) but rhythyms of the animals, food production, and seasons carry on and are showcased beautifully amidst adventures, exploits, and folk tales.

What read alouds did you find this month?

 

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July 2015 Read Alouds

We took a long car trip this month, so we listened to more audio books than usual.  Below are the longer (100+ pages) books we either read aloud as a family, listened to on audio, or that one or more of the kids and I read so we could discuss it together.

elevatorImmediately upon finishing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last month, we started reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevatorfor our evening read aloud. While it’s just as easy to read aloud as the first book and also has great illustrations, the story itself was not as wonderful. It’s fine, just not fantastic. The grandparents feature heavily and aren’t wise or interesting at all–they are just crotchety and selfish and apparently incapable of performing simple mental mathematics. The kids kept asking, “Wait, are the grandparents adults?!”  I think my conclusion is that the first book made a great family read aloud, but I could have just let the kids read the sequel on their own.

20,000Our latest audiobook was the unabridged 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea read by Frederick Davidson.  The book is like a deep sea version of The Swiss Family Robinson, in that it’s a story held together by an immense data dump of information about the natural world.  That’s not all bad–we did learn a lot and basically enjoyed the book, but it was pretty long and not destined to be one of our favorites.  I feel like the kids would have liked it better had they been reading it on their own rather than listening to it.

hidden jewelWe will be learning about Amy Carmichael during the first couple of weeks of school (which starts August 3 for us!) so Hannah and I pre-read The Hidden Jewel, a biography of sorts that mixed some fiction in with real events from Carmichael’s life in India.  I didn’t try to read this one aloud because we’ve had mixed results from this series, but I thought it was fine from a personal reading perspective.  The pictures, as with all of the books in this series of missionary biographies, are terrible.  But the content is accessible and engaging and it’s a good introduction to Carmichael’s work, putting her mission to help children in context of the prevailing customs in that part of India at the time.  I do think these authors do a good job of pointing out the ways that the missionaries they profile loved the people and cultures they served–dressing, acting, and speaking like their adopted cultures–while challenging the negative and dark aspects of that culture (in this case, selling small children into temple prostitution–don’t worry, this is glossed in the book–treating girls like chattel, etc).  I like how this approach reinforces to kids that Christianity is not a western religion, and that all cultures, including our own, have good points as well as areas that need to be redeemed.

100Cupboards-cover

We listened to N. D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards on audio while on our long car trip, and thought it was all right.  I’m normally a huge fan of worlds-within-worlds type fantasy fiction, but somehow this one felt like it was trying a little too hard.  The author’s style is a bit flowery (I just remembered that I read one of his non-fiction books and used the phrases “trying too hard” and “flowery” for that too).  I’m not sure if we will get into the rest of the series.  The premise is good, but none of us were overwhelmed by the story itself.

magic-city-e-nesbit-book-cover-art

As we are seriously devoted E. Nesbit groupies around here, we were of course predisposed to be fond of The Magic City as a family read-aloud.  If you can find a version with the original illustrations go for that–it’s worth it.  In this story, two children who love to build cities and worlds actually find themselves transported into those cities and tasked with quests and adventures.  Even as an adult I have to confess that I read this book and LONGED to get to explore the various dolls houses and fairy houses and worlds I played with as a kid.  My kids play this way too, so we were pretty into the setting.  Plus you get Nesbit’s charming writing and pesky villains and it all comes right in the end.  Most satisfactory!

Trumpetoftheswan

Although we try to redeem car time by listening to audio books, I do really prefer to read the books out loud myself most of the time.  This is one exception: The Trumpet of the Swan read by the author is really a gem.  I love this story, and the kids did too, and I thought hearing the author’s voice (he has an accent that lends a sort of dry humor to lots of parts) was a really great way of experiencing the book.  The audio book is also punctuated with trumpet music of the tunes described in the story, and that gives a fantastic effect.  We all really enjoyed this and would highly recommend it.

This month I also reviewed the Wildwood trilogy and the Harry Potter series in separate posts, with notes about reading those to or with your kids.

What was your favorite read aloud from July?

 

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