Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Slew of Classics and a Handful of New Discoveries

So, I have this little problem with acquiring children's books:

Aside from the obvious space issues (this is one wall in the playroom/office) I really don't feel guilty about this because I bought the vast majority of them used (and back to the used book recycling system they will go when we are done).  One of my favorite sources for used books is the Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Library Children's Book Sale (not to be confused with their general used book sale, whose children's book selection pales in comparison.)  Most years, early on some Saturday morning in January, I am on the library steps with two or three totebags waiting for the doors to open.  At a dollar a pound, the book sale is like an all you can eat buffet for bibliophiles.  My book acquisition priorities have changed over the years, but my strategy is always to go the sections in order of my greatest desire, grabbing first, weeding later.  In the early years, this meant going straight for the picture book section in the back of the room and grabbing any softcover book that was a medal winner, by an author or illustrator I loved, or that just plain looked interesting.  Baboon falls into the last category and it leads off the latest round of picture books from the The New York Times Book Project

Written by Kate Banks and Illustrated by Georg Hallensleben
This is my favorite kind of kid's book: it's simple text and illustrations manage to convey deeper meaning that even young children can understand.  A baby baboon's mother introduces him to the ways of the world while on a walk in the savannah.  The tale appeals to all ages (toddler, big kid, and mom) and can be used to introduce toddlers to a range of African animals in their native habitats. For older kids it makes a great jumping off point for philosophical discussions about our place in the world and our relationships to the people and things around us.

Written and Illustrated by Martha Alexander
Since I didn't read this, here is Bean's review: This is a cute book for older siblings to read to their younger siblings.  A little boy tries to play with the older boys but when they don't let him, he makes a bear on a blackboard and the bear only let's the boy play with him, ride him or feed him.  The moral of the story is that if you don't let someone play with you or your toys, they won't let you play with them or their toys.

Blueberries For Sal
Written and Illustrated by Robert McCloskey
About ten years ago, I convinced Dr. Yap to take a detour on our way home from Southern California and stop in Solvang, a cheesy faux-Danish town, that's only a little less cheesy and a little less faux than Helen, Georgia.  Besides the bakery, the only place of interest was a bookstore where I picked up Blueberries for Sal and another childhood favorite.  I knew I'd be reading them to someone at some point in the future.  If you've already read this a hundred times, look for another McCloskey classic, One Morning in Maine.  It's not exactly a sequel, but Sal appears as a big sister about to lose her first tooth.
Homeschool Connection: You could google Blueberries for Sal lesson plans and get at least a dozen suggestions for early elementary students, or you could spend the same amount of time thinking about Maine, black bears, and blueberries and come up with a week's worth of activities on your own.

Written and Illustrated by Henrik Drescher
This tale of a boy who eats doesn't his dinner so instead eats around it and ends up eating everything including his best friend, his parents, and the earth just didn't appeal to Bean and I.  The illustrations didn't redeem the unpleasant text and we were glad we read it at the library and didn't have to bother putting it in the bag.

Written by Verna Aardema and Illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
We've had this book in our home library for years, so I'll let Bean do the reviewing honors again: It's a great book for Africa-lovers like me and it's very catchy.
Homeschool Connection: This a great literature companion for a unit on Africa.

Written by Bill Martin, Jr. and Illustrated by Eric Carle
Another Bean review: This is great for learning your colors, the words are fun to say, and because the illustrations are by Eric Carle, they are really beautiful.  Boo also likes it.

Written and Illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina
If you typically tell your child the name of an author before you read a book, this one is a lot of fun and demands as a grandiose an Eastern European accent at you can muster.  The story itself - of a peddler, his caps, and some mischievous monkeys - is great fun for kids to act out.  If you've already read this a hundred times, check out  Circus Caps for Sale.

Written by Ruth Krauss and Illustrated by Crockett Johnson
Bean says this book is for kids with big dreams and teaches that something big can come from something small.  I would also add The Carrot Seed preaches the importance of believing in oneself and one's work, despite what anyone else says.  Crockett Johnson's drawing style is a perfect match for the spare text.

Written by Ann Hassett and Illustrated by John Hassett
The fun illustrations in this tale of Mrs. Quimby, multiplying cats, and a local community unwilling to help until there is a mouse problem feature many things to count - especially cats.

Written by Bill Martin, Jr. and Illustrated by Lois Ehlert
This fun alphabet book is really aimed at Boo's age group, but Bean and I like to experiment with the rhythm of the words: singing them like a reggae song, speaking them in syncopation, adding movements to the story.

Written by Judith Barrett and Illustrated by Ron Barrett
If you have only ever seen the movie, you must immediately acquire a copy of the book and expunge the memory of the movie from your children's minds.  Pickles to Pittsburgh isn't quite as good as its progenitor, but get that one too.  I always like to read Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord with these books and I think it's a travesty that it wasn't included in the Guide.

Written and Illustrated by Don Freeman
Really, who doesn't love this charming tale of a teddy bear with one missing button on a mission to find both himself and a home?  Well, Bean doesn't.  She thinks it's one of the weirdest books she's ever read- or had read to her - and thinks his eyes are creepy to boot.  To her, Corduroy is the literary equivalent of a clown.  It's the only childhood favorite of mine that was a total strikeout with her.  Boo and I remain fans of the teddy bear in green overalls.

Written and Illustrated by H.A. Rey
Um, Bean also hates Curious George.  She was always (I think appropriately) horrified that he was stolen from his jungle home and appropriated by a man with no name, a man known only by his ubiquitous accessory.  Okay, fair enough, these things always bothered me a bit too, but even though I wouldn't count the monkey or his "friend" as favorites, I always liked his adventures to the hospital and the moon.  And Boo?  Curious George is his absolute favorite.  

Written by Bill T. Jones and Susan Kuklin and Illustrated by Susan Kuklin
Dance is one of the rare children's books illustrated entirely with photographs.  That alone makes it worthy of inclusion in the Best Books for Children.  Though short on words, both it's text and pictures easily convey the poetry and rhythm of dance.  Even kids who don't love dance as much as Bean will like this one.  

Written by Trinka Hakes Noble and Illustrated by Steven Kellogg
Bean and Boo loved this farcical tale of Jimmy's wayward pet boa constrictor so much that they immediately demanded we check out every silly sequel.  Steven Kellogg is a prolific children's book illustrator and author and you will probably recognize his fun, colorful drawings.  As with the best picture books, the illustrations in Jimmy's Boa support and extend the story of the day Jimmy took his boa on a field trip or the day he went to school, or the day he showed up - surprise!- at a birthday party.  

Written by Barbara Emberley and Illustrated by Ed Emberley
We've been fans of Ed Emberley's drawing instruction books for a while now, but never new that he also illustrated children's books.  This odd little gem fits my description of a perfect children's book: it's short, but both the graphic illustrations and the text pack a punch; it's a bit weird, and it's the kind of book that both an eight-year-old and a two-year-old want to pick up again and again on their own, going through each page.  Without reading the two-year-old knows exactly what is happening.  Despite the fact that all the action centers around a Revolutionary War cannon, Drummer Hoff and his compatriots are more unabashedly, amusingly, bungling than war-mongering. (And the illustrations are so late 60's - a hit, with my just-turned 40, nostalgic self).

Written and Illustrated by Gabrielle Vincent
Once again, Bean and Boo were split evenly along lines of age and personality when it came to these books about a former circus Bear raising a mouseling.  I agree with Bean that the storylines are a little thin and the ambiguous relationship between the adult bear Ernest and the childlike Celestine seems a bit, dare-I-say-it-I-know-this-is-a-children's-book, contrived.  I also agree with Boo, who thinks the illustrations are pretty and stories sweet.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Synching Up

I am a listmaker.  I love writing and revising lists and crossing things off and writing new lists.  Book lists, task lists, grocery lists, I love them all.  I especially love when, as this week, one of the items on my To Do list is to make a list.  After six weeks of time off from school for traveling and appointments and pneumonia (me) and a tonsillectomy (Boo), my big task for the week is to plan out the next few months of homeschooling - roughly through the end of summer.  As I get out my favorite list-making notebooks and say hi to Rebecca Rupp again, I keep receiving lists on Facebook and in my email and feedreaders that are meant for the rest of the country. And by "the rest of the country" I mean non-homeschoolers.  You know, normal people who do things at the same time and on the same schedule as everyone else.

When the first list of Cool-Things-To-Do-With-Your-Kids-This-Summer-So-You-Don't-Drive-Each-Other-Crazy popped up on my screen two things went through my head.  The first was, "It's summer?" (living on the central coast of California we are never in the same season as 95% of the rest of the country.)  The second was the theme song to "Phineas & Ferb."  [Google it- it's a Disney Channel cartoon and the kid's are right, it's actually pretty good.] By the second and third list, I started to get twitchy, like there was something I should be doing but wasn't.  I mean these were lists, right?  They were inviting me to make my own lists of indoor and outdoor fun and ways to maximize the family togetherness and minimize the screen time.  How could I keep trashing these lists and booting them off my feedreader unread?

I had this same feeling of dissonance last September when we had already been "doing school" for several weeks and all of a sudden every media outlet was crackling with school supply sales and and lists of how to survive every aspect of "school" from making lunch and the container in which it should be carried to how to manage homework and your kids' teachers. It took me a week of needling Bean about her handwriting and her refusal to do fifty versions of the same math problem (and I'm sorry to say more than one threat to march her over to the local public elementary school) before I realized I was borrowing angst from fifty million other parents.  Really, angst is not something that's in short supply around here so there's no need to suffer it vicariously.

As in September, the solution to making peace with our summer-time asynchronicity is to knuckle down and get my head around the next few months of homeschooling.  Once we are settled back into our own routine, it won't matter so much that the rest of the world thinks it's summer vacation.

Except that it kind of does matter what the rest of the world is doing in both positive and inconvenient ways.  On the positive side, there are many more daytime camps and workshops available during the summer, and Bean has kids her own age to play with (or around as the case may be) no matter what time we show up at the park.  For Boo, he gets a little more one on one time with me while Bean is off at her various summer-only activities.  On the inconvenient side, we have to share some places that we might normally have to ourselves during the school year, like the beach or the library, with so many people it's a different experience.  And as clever as we think we are to travel when most other kids are in school, this can backfire, as it did when we showed up in DC for one day with several thousand junior high kids having their turn at the annual pilgrimage for the entitled.  Or when we showed up at the La Brea Tar Pits in LA during the first week in June, which this homeschooling mom had forgotten is designated school field trip week.

As I continue to plow through my list ("Homeschool Lesson Plan Summer 2011") and try to ignore everyone else's summer plans, a post titled "Getting Organized for an Intentional Summer" came across my feed reader.  The contents may be aimed at the "rest of the country," but the title spoke to me.  That's exactly what my current list and the schedules it will drive are all about.  I may not be intentionally planning carefree days or intentionally planning to cross items off a summer bucket list, but I am regrouping with intention for the next few months of home learning.

In our first year and a half of homeschooling I have found that periods of downtime followed by a renewed focus seem to come naturally, often after a period of travel or through the completion of educational goals or change in educational focus.  We already changed our educational focus several months ago, going back to an eclectic approach - based on the afore-linked book by Rebecca Rupp -  after a trial run with a packaged curriculum.  But after six weeks off, it's time to look again at what we're doing and make tweaks where necessary.

One of the first changes I am making is to shift our reading time to the beginning of the day.  It just hasn't been happening for us at the end of the day lately and that's something I don't want to lose.  Although Bean reads on her own, I want to make sure there is diversity and continued challenge in her reading selections, so we will take turns reading books from the New York Times Children's Book list.  With most other subjects, it's just a matter of reminding myself of where we are and making lists (Yes!) for the library.  All our recent museum visits while traveling have renewed my desire to include trips to local museums in our "curriculum."  This isn't the first time I have set this as a goal, but it often seems to lose the extracurricular activity competition.  I am writing it into our schedule this time to see if that helps.  Every week seems too ambitious and likely to lead to museum ennui.  We'll try every other week on a designated day.

As I finish up my list and turn it into our summer schedule, it matters less that we are out of sync with everyone else and more that we are in sync with our family's intentions and what works for us.  And that  is pretty much my one-line homeschooling manifesto.