March 22, 2015

Miriam's 7th/8th Grade Book List--Weigh In!

I've been trying to compile a required reading list for my oldest.  She will be going into grade 7 and she is shifting in her reading from lazy, easy reading (how many Hardy Boy books are there???????) to pushing herself a little.  I'm glad because I was starting to wonder how I would push her upward and onward.  I read above my level because I wanted to read what my older siblings were reading.  I'm already noticing that Emeline (age 8) does this as well.  Since Miriam is the oldest she hasn't really had much impetus to push into the YA genre.

With that in mind, I decided to put together a required reading list for her 7th and 8th grade years.  The idea is that she will read one book off the list a week.  Most of the books can be read whenever, but a few--with similar themes or same historical time period--have to be read at the same time.  That way we'll be working on history and/or science along with LA, some of the time anyway.

A few fun things have happened as I've been working on this list.  One is that Miriam got wind of the list (I had to ask her if she'd read a few titles), she read through the list, and now she's been reading books from the list.  Back to the drawing board again to add more!  Not that I mind, funny girl.

The other fun thing is my perusal of every site I can find that suggesst good nonfiction titles.  I didn't fall in love with nonfiction until college so I didn't read much YA nonfiction.  In putting together the list I had to include some books on other people's recommendation (always scary) and debate internally about books I love.  Some made the cut (Frederick Douglass's autobiography) and some didn't (The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary).  Some were too old, some too young, some about topics that I don't find interesting but Miriam does (forensic science), or vice-versa.

It is such a joy to read about, think about, make lists about, and plan for books!!!

Bibliophile: a person who loves books, or, alternately, me!

Here's my mostly finished list, including the books Miriam has recently read that need to be replaced.  If you have any thoughts, suggestions, comments on quality or age level of the books (or anything else!)--please, I'm seeking after those things.

Yes, I realize I have more books than weeks of school, but I thought that would give her some ownership in her choices.

Thanks for your help!!!!!!

Absolutely Normal Chaos, Sharon Creech

The Egypt Game

The Giver

Maniac Magee

Number the Stars

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Summer of My German Soldier

The Watsons Go to Birmingham


The Dark is Rising series

Among the Hidden

The View from Saturday

The Moorchild

My Louisiana Sky


Homecoming and Dicey's Song

Esperanza Rising

The Fledgling

Little Women

Incident at Hawk's Hill

The Call of the Wild

Jacob Have I Loved

No Promises in the Wind

The Jungle Book

The Hero and the Crown

Freak the Mighty


Far North

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman

The Outsiders

Across Five Aprils

Adam of the Road

Black Beauty

Cheaper by the Dozen


Girl of the Limberlost

The Hiding Place

Invincible Louisa

Johnny Tremain

Princess and the Goblin

Rifles for Watie

Snow Treasure

A Wrinkle in Time

A Christmas Carol

A Long Walk to Water

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

Treasure Island

The Call of the Wild

The Moves Make the Man

The Red Pony

The Devil's Arithmetic

The Andromeda Strain



Up a Road Slowly

The Prisoner of Zenda

Smith by Leon Garfield


Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson


Breaker Boys: How a Photograph Helped End Child Labor by Michael Burgan

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion by Loree Griffin Burns

Who Was First? Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose

Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on Board by Sheryl Berk

Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy by Seymour Reit

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Temple Grandin

Kids Who Rule: The Remarkable Lives of of Five Child Monarchs by Charis Cotter

Beyond the Dance: A Ballerina’s Life by Chan Hon Goh

 The Bone Detectives: How Forensic Anthropologists Solve Crimes and Uncover Mysteries of the Dead by Donna M. Jackson

Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1917 by Michael Capuzzo

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance by Jennifer Armstrong

Bad Boy by Walter Dean Myers

Outbreak! Plagues that Changed History by Bryn Barnard

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy

Years of Dust by Albert Marrin

Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport

Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 by SusanCampbell Bartoletti

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin

Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert by Marc Aronson

Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business—and Won! By Emily Arnold McCully

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb

Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler

Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles: American’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone

Bomb: The Race to Build -- and Steal -- the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by  Karen Blumenthal

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery by Steve Sheinkin

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal

Music was IT: Young Leonard Bernstein by Susan Goldman Rubin

Can I See Your I.D.?: True Stories of False Identities by Paul Hoppe

Unraveling Freedom: The Battle for Democracy on the Home Front During World War I by Ann Bausum

Truce by Jim Murphy (WWI)

The War to End all Wars by Russell Freedman

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World by Penny Colman

Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication by Ann Downer

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum by Candace Fleming

Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives by Marthe Jocelyn

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross (maybe use with the other kids for a whole unit on navigation?)

I.M. Pei: Architect of Time, Place and Purpose by Jill Rubalcaba

Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keefe by Susan Goldman Rubin

Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Shanzer

Ghosts in the Fog: The Untold Story of Alaska’s WWII Invasion by Samantha Seiple

Tom Thumb: The Remarkable True Story of a Man in Miniature by George Sullivan (go along with the biography of Barnum)

Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust by Ruth Thomson

Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers by Susan VanHecke

They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartolletti

The Dark Game: True Spy Stories from Invisible Ink to CIA Moles by Paul B. Janeczko

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas by Frederick Douglas

Frederick Douglas by David A. Adler

We Are Not Beasts of Burden: Cesar Chavez and the Delano Grape Strike, California 1965-1970 by Stuart A. Kallen

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed by Sally M. Walker

The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton by Connie Nordhielm Woolridge

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro by Eduardo F. Calcines

Birmingham Sunday by Larry Dane Brimner (read with The Watson’s Go To Birmingham)

Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures by Michael Goodwin

The Word Snoop by Ursula Dubosarsky (history of the English language)

The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson

The Hive Detectives: Chronicles of a Honey Bee Catastrophe by Loree Griffin Burns

The Battle of Britain by Kate Moore

Mr. Lincoln’s High-tech War by Thomas B. Allen (use it with the novel about three days of the war)

Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of the Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers by Brandon Marie Miller

The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne by Catherine Reef (would work well with the other books about TB)

The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West by Sid Fleischman

Through No Fault of My Own: A Girl’s Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age by Coco Irvine (use with Thoroughly Modern Millie)

St. Paul’s Historic Summit Avenue by Ernest R. Sandeen

March 3, 2015


My nine year old niece recommended Laura Amy Schlitz's Splendors and Glooms and I am so glad she did!!  First Miriam read it and loved it and then I read it and loved it.  It is a Dickensian novel for upper elementary/middle school (but delightful for all ages).  It has some dark magic in it but nothing too creepy.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and put it in my basket at amazon to make sure I add it to my collection.  You might be familiar with this author.  She wrote Good Masters! Sweet Ladies: Voices from a Medieval Village, which won the Newbery.  She also wrote The Hero Schliemann: The Dreamer who Dug for Troy--one of my children's very favorite biographies.  In short, we're going to make sure all of Ms. Schlitz's books wind up on our bookshelf.  She's fabulous.

We listened to Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke on audio book awhile ago and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.  So much so that I bought a copy for Emeline (age 8) for Christmas.  Since then she's read it twice (that I know about--sometimes I sleep and miss things) and has declared it her "favorite book ever."  If you have a child in elementary school who likes humorous adventure stories, I recommend this one.

We had Freight Train by Donald Crews when Cowen was a baby/toddler, but it was destroyed as only truly beloved books can be destroyed.  I figured Oskar would like it as much as my other kids had and so I gave it to him for Christmas.  It hasn't replaced Babies by Gyo Fujikawa as his favorite book, but it is a very close second.  My children were overjoyed when Oskar unwrapped the book because they all remember it and love it.  The best Christmas book reaction, though, was when Oskar unwrapped Jamberry, another book that was destroyed out of sheer love, and Miriam grabbed it right out of Oskar's hands and squealed, "Jamberry!" in pure delight.  Awesome.  

My dad loaned me Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford and I loved it.  I rarely read adult books, truth be told, as YA was always my happy place, but I'll be purchasing this book for my library.  I loved everything about it.  

I am always so, so, so, so excited when one of my children read one of my favorite books and love it as much as I do.  Miriam just finished Sabriel, my favorite Garth Nix book.  She then promptly read the sequel the next day.  She loved it, I love it, anyone who likes fantasy will love it.  Read it.  Gold Star Book.

February 2, 2015

This Blogging Break Was Brought to You By

Clover Mildred

born December 15, 2015

She is perfect and delightful and already sleeping 6 to 7 hours a night.
We started schooling today for the first time since her arrival.
It went well, but we didn't finish until 6:00 pm.  Oops.
Hopefully we'll get into the swing of things and I'll be able to blog again soon.

October 2, 2014

Presents the kids can make each other

I'm pretty sure that at least some of the kids should make this for each other for Christmas.

October 1, 2014

Kids' Curriculum and Why I Like It (or not)

I recently received an email asking me to review some of the curriculum we use around these here parts.  I've been meaning to post about many things, but the email was a good kick in the heiny to actually do it, so I will.

Miriam, grade 6

Math and Critical Thinking: We have been using Mathematical Reasoning books from the Critical Thinking Co for years now and I love them just as much today as when we started using them.  Miriam is in Level F (grade five) because I keep my kids a year behind in math on purpose.  I do that, for those of you wondering, because abstract thinking skills don't completely develop until a child reaches high school.  If you hit pre-algebra before the abstract thinking skills are in place necessary to understand it, you can experience a great deal of frustration.  Since it is hard to predict how developed each child's abstract thinking skills will be by grade seven, I play it safe and take things slower.  I have not yet encountered a reason to regret this choice.  None of my children have experienced any math angst up to this point (except the first few years when we were using Abeka math) and several claim that math is their favorite subject.

I supplement the Mathematical Reasoning books with some other "fun" math products from the same company.  My favorites are the Building Thinking Skills books.  Miriam finished Level One two years ago and was thrilled when I presented her with Level Two this year.  Note that when each books is listed as a "full curriculum" it means in critical thinking NOT math.  Don't be confused by that.

A list of topics on the front cover includes things like logical thinking, similarities and differences, sequences, classifications, analogies, spatial awareness (Miriam excels at these problems and I stink--it usually takes me triple the amount of time to correct her work, which is always right, than it takes her to do it), vocabulary development, map reading, etc.  

When Miriam was doing Building Thinking Skills Level One, I assigned her six pages daily from her Mathematical Reasoning book and then six pages out of her Building Thinking Skills book.  She would inevitably do 12 + pages out of her Building Thinking Skills book because she thought it was so much fun.

Another favorite from the Critical Thinking Co is Math Detective A1. I must point out that Miriam does not like this book.  She thinks it is way harder than her regular math book.  However, I see a great deal of value in making her stretch herself.  Basically, this book has a bunch of extended story problems that have to be answered with complete sentences.  It is challenging because Miriam can figure out the answers but she has to really stretch herself to come up with the "why" of the answer.  I think that is a healthy exercise for her brain.  However, to avoid contention, I only assign one "problem"--usually a two-page spread with about six questions--a week.  That keeps her muttering to a minimum.

I wouldn't get the Math Detective beginner book unless you have a really advanced reader/writer.  Otherwise, you're just creating a lot of work for yourself.

Language Arts: Ah.  This is a hard one.  I've flitted about more with this subject than math.

First, we are currently using Phonetic Zoo: Lesson Cards for spelling.  I did not buy the whole $99 program.  I only purchased the cards for $15.00.  It is a fine program.  Not spectacular, but not bad.  It might be stellar if you buy the whole kit and caboodle, but I've never found a spelling program I loved and I wasn't willing to invest in another failed effort.

There are three "levels" on the cards.  On Monday I give Miriam a spelling pre-test and have her write each of the fifteen words on one card.  I don't pay much attention to the levels with her.  Then she writes each word she misses three times a day for the rest of the week.  It works.

We use Handwriting Without Tears for handwriting.

For grammar we use Rod and Staff and I LOVE their program. Currently Miriam is working out of Building With Diligence: English 4.  It is aimed for fourth graders and it is way too easy for her and she is flying through it at breakneck speed, but it is a good review while I try to get my hands on the writing program I want her to be using right now but can't afford.

Back to Rod and Staff for a moment.  I think they do everything right with grammar.  They include sentence diagramming from the very beginning.  They build concepts in a logical and appropriate way--without jumping around too much.  They have manageable assignments that I hardly ever tweak to cut back on the amount of work.  I wholeheartedly endorse their grammar series as long as you realize that they excel at teaching grammar and not writing.

The writing program I want to be using right now is The Write Foundation: Sentence to Paragraph.  I haven't used this program but I have read several reviews that are very convincing.  Especially this one.    I really think this might be a winner.  I have tried other writing programs, including the Institute of Excellence in Writing and I just wasn't that impressed.  I'm hard to impress.  I'm a professional English teacher.  :)  That said, I have a hard time teaching writing because I feel like my children should just magically know how to write--much like I did.  Instead, I have kids whose favorite subjects are math and science and for whom writing doesn't come easily.  I don't have time to create my own curriculum right now and so I will eventually (too bad I can't sell plasma when I'm pregnant) buy this one and see how it works out for Miriam.

This year I bought Digging Into Diagramming .  I wanted a way to make sure my children were diagramming a few sentences every day--especially Miriam.  I think diagramming is the best way to teach grammar, other than learning a foreign language.  There isn't much on the market by way of straight diagramming.  This book is great in concept and how it builds from simple to complex sentences.  I can't give it rave reviews, however, because it doesn't have as many practice sentences as I would like.  When I say the book doesn't have enough sentences, I mean it.  Each lesson only has one or two example sentences with four practice sentences.  There are 41 lessons, which sounds like a lot until you realize that the kids will only have diagrammed roughly 164 sentences over the course of the year using this book.  It just isn't enough practice.  It does, however, supplement Rod and Staff nicely since those books already have diagramming included.  I still think Digging Into Diagramming is worth the purchase--just be aware of what you are getting.

Cowen, grade 4: Cowen is not an independent reader yet, so that makes everything I do with him a little trickier.  He's getting there, but at his own speed.  Also, I bumped his younger sister up a grade because her birthday was right around the cut-off.  And she's a girl.  And he's a boy.  SUCH A BOY.  Meaning that his development is crazy different than his sisters', or even his younger brother who is a little less of a stereotypical boy.  Cowen and Emeline (grade 3) do the same grammar.  It works.

Math: He's currently using Building Thinking Skills Level One and Mathematical Reasoning Level D.   The skills in his Building Thinking Skills book do not come as easily to Cowen as they came to Miriam, so I am focusing a lot of our math attention on that book currently.  I also started Cowen on learning his multiplication tables on and created a fake student so he could practice addition under a different name.  I did the same thing with Miriam.  We are hitting computation really hard with the oldest two this year.  Once we've finished the Building Thinking Skills book, I'll shuffle Cowen back into his regular math book.  By then he'll know enough of his multiplication tables that the multiplying and dividing work in the math book will be easy and math will remain angst-free.

Small sidenote: I just starting giving weekly first and second place awards to the kids who make the most improvement on their xtramath work.  The improvement in their effort has been downright astonishing.  Amazing what a $1.00 box of candy can do for a child's motivation.

Language Arts: Cowen is working out of the Rod and Staff Beginning Wisely Level 3 grammar book.  I already told you how much I love Rod and Staff.  I take two years to go through the first book--making sure they don't get overloaded.  We do one lesson a day, four days a week.  I don't worry about teaching writing at this stage.  I wait until grade five and with Cowen, I might wait until grade six.

Basically, I'm not really converted to teaching spelling to young children.  Miriam was a terrible speller for years and I kept wondering why she didn't pick it up from reading like I had.  Then, one day, she could spell.  It was awesome.  My son, though, has a harder time with all things verbal so I bought the Phonetic Zoo just to help him practice a little.  I don't insist on memorization of the words. I tried that briefly and it led to much, much heartache.  Instead, I show the kids (Cowen and Emeline) the spelling rule outlined on the card, pick six words, and have them write those six words three times daily for one week.  Then we move on.  My purpose?  To help my kids start to recognize when something looks right and when something looks wrong.  If they haven't miraculously learned to spell by the sixth grade, I'll get more serious about it.

They also diagram one sentence a day from Digging Into Diagramming.  Miriam diagrams four sentences a day, but I don't want the younger kids to get in over their heads too quickly.  They have barely started learning about nouns so I don't want them trying to diagram adjectives yet, for example.

Emeline, grade 3 

Math: Emeline has a September birthday so she's technically in grade two, but I bumped her up to grade three one year to suit other purposes, and now she's still there.  It doesn't really matter except she's flying through her math book (the younger grades have much shorter books).  She doing Mathematical Reasoning Level C which is one year higher than I meant for her to be in (it's the second grade level).  After she completes it I will have her switch to the Building Thinking Skills Level One book just to slow her down a little before putting her into the third grade level.  She'll still be farther ahead than any of my other children were at her age.  We might have to take some time off math books to work on Mind Benders or something if I feel she's getting grumpy about math.

Language Arts: See Cowen.

Eli, kindergarten

I don't really do much with my kindergarten kids.  I want him in the Mathematical Reasoning Level A book right now, but money is tight with the baby coming and I haven't been able to get it for him yet.  He works on and loves that.

As for language arts, he does the I See Sam program that I've reviewed before to learn to read.  Love that program!  Then he writes funny sentences that I make up like "Dad sat on the fat cat."

This was probably longer than you wanted and less helpful than I hoped.  If you have any specific questions, shoot them at me and I'll do my best to answer.

September 23, 2014

Children's Extra Reading Evaluation Post: Rats, Bulls, and Flying Machines; Magic Tree House Monday with a Mad Genius and Leonardo da Vinci

First, a review of Rats, Bulls, and Flying Machines: A History of the Renaissance and Reformation (nonfiction) by Deborah Mazzotta Prum.  I linked to amazon in case you want to read more reviews.  Miriam, age 11, is being interviewed by me--her mom.

Did you enjoy this book?:  "Yes, I loved it.  I want more books like it."

What was your favorite part?: "All of it.  I liked reading about Shakespeare and Leonardo."

Anything else you want to say about the book or the author's writing style?: "I learned what a papal bull is.  Papal means having to do with the Pope and bull is a word meaning document issued by the Pope.  The author had lots of good little cartoons.  The author was talking to you like she was a cartoonist, kind of.  She was funny."

Who would enjoy this book?: "I think people that like cartoons that add funny bits to a history book.  I think age 9 to old age would like this book."

Emeline (age 7, grade 3) reviews Monday with a Mad Genius by Mary Pope Osborne (fiction).

Did you enjoy this book?: "Yes, I did.  It was very, very fun. Leonardo da Vinci and the two kids were fun to read about."

What was your favorite part?: "About Leonardo da Vinci's big bird."

Did you learn anything about history from this book?:  "I learned tons!  I learned that Leonardo was a great painter and a great architect."

Who would enjoy this book?:  "Kids that are 8, 7, and 6."

Emeline's review of Leonardo da Vinci: A Nonfiction Companion to Monday with a Mad Genius.

Did you enjoy this book?": "Yes, I did.  It was very, very awesome.  I liked the things it taught me about Leonardo da Vinci.  His most famous painting is the Mona Lisa.  I really liked how he paints and draws.  I really want to go and see the Mona Lisa."

Did you learn anything about history from this book?:  "I learned tons about history."

Who would enjoy this book?: "You would [meaning me, but probably you too!], Dad would, Miriam would, Cowen would, Kiersten would."

September 17, 2014

Cortes, Pizarro, and Exploring Turns Into Conquering

Cowen and Eli were riveted by the books we read on this day.  The girls were still a little meh.  If I had more time I would think of something to get them invested, but I don't have time.

I did one very smart thing for the day we talked about the Aztecs and Incas and that was having a bunch of books on hand with photographs of real relics from the civilizations.  We didn't read all the books, but the kids have been poring over them in their free time.

We did read Francisco Pizarro by Jeff Donaldson-Forbes.  I didn't realize that Pizarro lacked even basic honor and decency.  Sad.

We also read Aztecs and Incas AD 1300-1532 by Penny Bateman.  I couldn't find a picture but it is available at the Davis County Library in Utah.  I thought it had a good overview of both civilizations.

For the children's perusing pleasure, I had the DK Eyewitness book Aztec, Inca, and Maya on hand as well as the World Book reference titled The Aztec.  The children also enjoyed flipping through The Incas by Tim Wood because it has see through, cut-out type pages.  (Funny: Miriam just walked by and saw me holding the Tim Wood book.  She said, "That's a good book."  So there you have a firm endorsement.)

Lastly, after reading books, looking at books, and finding the Incan and Aztec empires in the children's atlas (I tell you, Cowen is obsessed), we watched a movie.  I broke all my personal and family rules and let the children watch it before I had seen it.  Therefore, I cannot say anything about the quality/accuracy/appropriateness of the movie.  The boys said it was awesome, but it had quite a bit a fighting and some artwork with nudes.

Here's the linky to the Cortez movie: