June 28, 2012

Book Review: Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence

I was asked to be a part of a TLC book tour to review the book Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence.  It is a rhyming version of American's struggle for independence, with special emphasis placed on the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  The book is told from the point of view of Liberty Lee--Thomas Jefferson's mouse friend.  I read it with my kiddos and they loved it.

Pros: 1) My kids loved looking for Liberty Lee (the mouse) on each spread.  They all giggled at the page about the Boston Tea Party because Liberty Lee is dressed up like an Indian.  The mouse angle is very engaging and fun.

2) The text covers the Revolution from the the first settlements of America to a post-war independence celebration, hitting all the main points like the writing of the Declaration, the Boston Tea Party, taxation without representation, and the actual war itself.  This could be a really good starting place to give an overview of the time period before looking at each specific event more closely.

3)  The text includes a non-fiction blurb at the end of the book about each event.  I liked that.

Cons: I only had one thing that niggled at me as I read--this book has a pretty heavy-handed bias to it (anti-British, pro-America).  I've always tried to give my kids the sense that both sides had valid arguments to make over the taxation issue, and after years of working at it my son has finally figured out that during an altercation, both parties think they are right.

However, I didn't bother to disrupt my kids' enjoyment of the story with all of that.  Instead, we read it for what it was--a really fun, entertaining, and catchy way to tell the story of the American Revolution.  Since we get to keep the book (yay!), we'll read it numerous times and I'll use those readings to remind my kids that there are two sides to every story and as a jumping off place when we get around to American history again.

Thanks TLC tours for letting me review the book!

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.  I was not compensated in any other way.

June 23, 2012

Summer Reading Program 2012

In case you missed this post over at Latter-day Homeschooling, I thought I would post it here!

I once posted about the summer reading program I do with my nieces and nephews every summer.  You can read about it here.  We've read Lloyd Alexander, we've read Austen, and this summer I thought it was time for more emphasis on nonfiction.

Nonfiction is a tricky little animal.  When I was really young I drank in nonfiction.  I loved to learn about anything.  Then I discovered fantasy and while I still liked nonfiction, I gravitated towards books with dragons and wizards and evil spells.  Sometimes it is hard for nonfiction to compete with a whole new world.

Another problem with nonfiction is that it is hard to find really high quality books.  There are 40 gazillion books out there about Egypt (I know, I've been putting together our 8 week unit on Ancient Egypt) but only a handful are worth reading.  I know, I know, fiction is the same way--but there are numerous ways to find high quality fiction but fewer avenues to finding the best of the best in nonfiction.  How many book blogs do you know about that spotlight nonfiction for children?  See what I'm saying?

The last, and I think greatest, problem with nonfiction is that it is not escapist and it taxes your brain sometimes.  I have always been an escapist reader.  After college, I drifted away from nonfiction because it wasn't required.  Fortunately, homeschooling has forced me to really dive into children's nonfiction and together my children and I have learned that the perfect nonfiction book is a gem and worth all the digging through the rabble.

Since historical fiction is one of my great loves, I thought I would build a summer reading program that integrated historical fiction with nonfiction.  As always, my nieces and nephews know they will have to discuss the books with me and their cousins in a intelligent manner.  This year we are even planning skype book sessions because some of the cousins moved to Switzerland and another cousin moved to Texas.

Without further ado, here is what I posted on the family website . . .

My Aunt’s Obsessed With History Summer Reading Program!!

Rules: Pick two time periods and read all the books listed for that time period.  That’s it.  If you are younger than 10, don’t read the books listed as "for the over 10 crowd.”

Prizes: What do you guys want?  Another ice-cream sundae/movie party?  Pizza?  Chicken dancing?

Time Period Options:

Ancient Times in the Middle East:
Masada by Neil Waldman
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas (over 10 crowd)
Alexander the Great by John Gunther

 American Turn of the Century:
The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman (if you read this you will know more about WWI than most Americans)
Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924 by Deborah Hopkinson
Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix
The Big Burn by Jeanette Ingold

On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck
Under the Blood-Red Sun by Graham Salisbury
Their Finest Hour by Sir Winston (the MAN) Churchill (over 10 crowd—at least 100 pages)
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (over 10 crowd)
Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot" by Tunnell (under 10 crowd)

Happy summer reading!

June 12, 2012

Bible Lands Books

For our Bible Lands unit, I checked out several books about Jewish holidays and then some illustrated versions of Bible stories.  It was sort of a hodgepodge, but fortunately, we found the Bible Atlas and Hasting's Bible stories to tie everything together.  

 Celebrate Passover with Matzah, Maror, and Memories by Deborah Heiligman.  This book was good.  Not great, but good.  It had nice photos and discusses some of the key parts of celebrating Passover.
 Celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by Deborah Heiligman.  This was about the same.  Both books are published by National Geographic and they are good, as you would expect from NG, but they aren't . . . riveting.  Just good.
 Benjamin and the Silver Goblet by Jacqueline Jules.  The kids and I liked this book.  I liked that it covered some of the details of the brothers and Joseph reuniting.  Most of the books/dvds on this subject focus a lot more on the events leading up to Joseph helping the brothers.
 Exodus by Brian Wildsmith.  Loved this book.  I really just liked the style of the illustrations.  The text is good also, but the illustrations worked for me.
 Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky.  GOLD STAR BOOK!!!!  This book is so fantastic!!  Okay, I might like this book so much in part because Cowen is a huge George Washington fan and so a book mixing Hanukkah and George Washington was sure to keep him riveted.  That's part of it.  The other part is that it is just so well done.  It is a "liken the scriptures" kind of story where the Jewish soldier explains to Washington about Hanukkah and the candles and Washington ties those ideas into what is going on in the Revolutionary War.  Apparently Washington did learn about Hanukkah from a soldier during the winter at Valley Forge, but the actual conversation is fabricated.  This book is just so well done.  Go and read it.
 Passover Magic by Roni Schotter is a fun book.  My kids really loved the magician uncle so the "hook" worked.  I liked it because so many of these books started to sound the same, but the magic element gave this one a more unique personality.
 Festival of Lights: The Story of Hanukkah by Maida Silverman.  I liked this one because the illustrations were sweet and the story told simply and understandably.  We read three Hanukkah books and this one stood out as the clearest telling of the original "passover."  Or maybe I just really liked the illustrations.  :)
Moses in the Bulrushes by Warwick Hutton was a favorite of mine and the kids.  I liked it because it was just a clear-cut, bare-bones version but the illustrations were good and it held the kids' interest and didn't drag on.  Nice.
The Story Atlas of the Bible by Elrose Hunter.  I bought this book because I liked it so much.  Good things: the maps!!!  And the synopsis in the first few pages.  It is amazing how you can have a tentative understanding of something for years without actually "getting it."  Hunter clarified a lot of things for me with her timelines and maps.  Excellent.  The drawback is that it is not put into an LDS perspective and so I sometimes don't agree with her interpretation of the stories.  For example, in the Noah story, she writes, "God was sorry that he had put them [humans] on the earth and he decided to start again."  Now, my understanding is that God was sorry, yes, but he was sorry that his children were wicked and would not be able to live with him again.  He was also sorry that the people kept passing on their wickedness to the next generations.  He cleansed the earth so that future generations would have a chance to be righteous and live with him.  I'm going to take the arrogant approach here and say I'm right and she's wrong and things like that abound in her retellings and bug me.  But they don't bug me enough to make me stop reading because I really love the clarity her maps and diagrams provide.  And to be quite frank, I don't understand enough of the Old Testament to get all huffy at other people's interpretations.

Masada by Neil Waldman is awesome.  And violent.  And awesome in a violent, battle-story way.  I included this book on my summer reading list for my nieces and nephews.  You can find the whole list here.  The book is fairly lengthy for a read aloud and it was violent enough that I didn't want my younger girl listening, so I didn't read it to my children.  I'm letting Miriam read it on her own and I will keep it on my radar for Cowen when he can read independently.  Still, very, very well done.  The book is a great mix of battle and history and courage.
 Let There Be Light by Jane Ray is beautifully illustrated.  The text is straight from the Bible, which I liked, and the illustrations were gorgeous.  Loved it.
 The Story of Noah and the Ark illus. Gennady Spirin (taken from King James Bible).  Just read what I wrote above.  The illustrations are INCREDIBLE and the story is straight from the scriptures. You'll start noticing that the illustrations continue from one page to the next, so a snake's body on one page and the next page the snake's head.  That was confusing.  Just check it out and look at it.

Esther's Story by Diane Wolkstein.  I read through several versions of the Esther story and I liked this one best.  Normally I don't like first-person writing, but the author made it work in this case.  This book is longish for a children's book, but it made it really clear why Esther was so afraid to go talk to her husband.  It worked perfectly with the book On Purim because it mentions all the things Esther had to keep secret.

 On Purim by Cathy Goldberg Fishman.  GOLD STAR BOOK.  I really, really liked this book.  The book starts out with a young girl starting to make her mask for Purim.  Every page describes something about the celebration and then links it to the original Esther story with an a-ha of how the original story is symbolized in the celebration.  The mask becomes another way to symbolize all the other symbols.  This book is excellent.
 Purim by Carmen Bredeson.   This is a good book for the littles because it is very short and has great photos.   Eli and Emeline both really enjoyed it.
 The Mysterious Guests: A Sukkot Story by Eric A. Kimmel. There is nothing mysterious about this story, but my kids were thrilled at the idea of living in a hut/shelter for 8 days.  After the book was over they spent the next 15 minutes discussing where to sukkot and how to decorate the sukkot and how great it would be to eat your house.  Since the moral was very heavy-handed, I'm sure they got that too.
 Jonah and the Great Fish retold by Warwick Hutton.  Is it possible to lose children's interest when telling the Jonah story?  I think not.  This book was average, but my kids liked it as a man was swallowed by a big fish.  We made lots of references to Veggie Tales and talked about how a fish's belly would smell.  Good times.
David and Goliath And Other Bible Stories retold by Selina Hastings.  This book is excellent and on my purchase list.  It contains a lot of stories not in the Hunter Atlas.  We read about Sampson today and  Cowen thought it was a pretty awesome story.  Miriam liked the picture of of the braids.  Go figure.  I liked that it tells the main stories in a condensed way so that we have an introduction to the stories before we hit them in the actual Old Testament.  Not that my children don't know any Bible stories--we watch Veggie Tales, after all.  They just don't know the stories as well as they know the Book of Mormon.  I'm working on that.

June 9, 2012

Ancient Middle East Overview

We started our Ancient History unit by spending seven weeks on the Middle East.  Three weeks on Mesopotamia, two weeks on the Persian Empire, and two weeks on Bible Lands.

Week One: Made a salt map of the Middle East region, created a poster that delineated the benefits and drawbacks to agrarian and nomadic lifestyles, and did a bartering activity to help our kids understand labor diversification.

Week Two: We thought of this as inventions day and made a chariot after talking about some of the things that the Sumerians invented.

Week Three: We read a book about funny laws in the United States and compared those laws to Hammurabi's code.  Then we wrote our names in cuneiform on a clay "tablet."  We finished up by making a ziggurat out of cake.

Week Four: We talked about the importance of the Persian Empire and the stories that came from that area of the world that later became the Arabian Nights.  We acted out Ali Baba and the 40 thieves.

Week Five: We pretended to be a Persian pony express and raced messages to the king.  We also carved bas relief pictures out of ivory soap.

Week Six: We had a Purim party.

Week Seven: We didn't do anything because of various and sundry reasons but we were going to use a large foam board and put pushpins in the map that depicted the travels of various Old Testament prophets like Abraham and Joseph.  I will still do that, but on my own and not in history group.  Other ideas we had for Bible Lands included going to Antelope Island (a protected national park in the area) and reenact wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and the fight at Masada.

Week Eight: Order all the Egypt books off my list and get ready for the next section of our unit.  I am so glad I took the time to go through all the books before we started.  It was madness and a bit of nightmare reading through at least a hundred books in a month and a half, but yesterday I got on the computer and requested all the books on my list and tomorrow I am going to pick them up and then I can jump into planning activities.  It is such a great feeling knowing that I don't have to figure out which books to use.  It also is giving me some extra time to focus on science.  Nice.

June 8, 2012

Purim Party for Ancient History Bible Lands

I devoted two weeks to studying the Bible Lands.  Finding books was easy but coming up with activities was harder.  That is why we only ended up doing only one activity--a Purim party.  Yeah!  I highly recommend that everyone start celebrating Purim.  I have a feeling it is going to be a yearly tradition for us from now on.  There are several reasons for this.  

1) It celebrates Esther.  A FEMALE biblical hero. There are mighty few of those.  Not that I think there weren't women doing amazing things, but they didn't find their way into the Bible.  And also, look what the male translators did to Eve--tried to make her seem foolish and disobedient.  Blah.  Glad we know better than to believe that hogwash.  My point--Esther's story is one I want my girls to hear over and over and over again.

2) You get to dress up.

3) You get to make a lot of noise.

4) You get to eat treats.

5) You get to listen to the Maccabeats.


Harriet helped me make Hamantaschen (sugar cookies, basically) while Emeline and Miriam made themselves crowns.

Tigger helped make cookies.
Here we are at Julie's house in our costumes.  Thanks again, Julie, for hosting!  Miriam is Esther.  Of course.
Harriet was a pumpkin.  A reluctant pumpkin.
Emeline was also Esther.  Eli was tigger.
And Cowen was a bear ranger.  Not a ranger like you would find in Yellowstone.  No, a ranger like you would find in the book Ranger's Apprentice and I can't reiterate enough that if you haven't read that book you must repent and read it immediately.

I can't remember what Ahnika dressed up as, but I do know she is begging.  I can't remember why . . ..
Filling the hamantaschen.  Colleen brought nutella and that pretty much made her the star of the whole party.  Then she gave me the leftovers!!!!  I will not admit how quickly I ate it, but she has my undying gratitude.  Forever.  I know that was redundant.

The idea is that the cookies are supposed to have three sides like the hat the villain of the Esther story--Haman--wore.  Then, when you eat the cookies, it is like he is being vanquished all over again.

Also during Purim you read the Esther story and every time Haman's name is mentioned the audience boos, hisses, and makes noise.  I brought all the noisemakers I could find and the kids went crazy booing and hissing.  Awesome.

Emeline as a bear.  All the kids took turns trying on the bear costume.

To begin the party we watched the Maccabeats on youtube singing the Purim song and danced.  We are all addicted to it.  I have it almost completely memorized but I can't figure out one part.  Grr.  I guess I should search the internet for the lyrics. That sounds like work.  I think I shall just continue to make up my own lyrics for the parts I can't figure out.  

Purim parties are so much fun!!!  You should have one immediately--or when Jewish people celebrate it.  Just so long as you party, man!

June 7, 2012

Books for Persia and the Persian Empire

 The Persians: Warriors of the Ancient World by Katherine Reece was our major text for the Persians.  It was good.  None of the Persian non-fiction books were gripping, but the chapters were short so we read a chapter a day and some chapters were more interesting than others.  It was definitely the best non-fiction I could find.

How can you study the Persians and not read a book about Persian cats??  I couldn't.  I'm sure they are all equally good--I just pulled the first one I found--but I like that this book talked about ancient Persia.  It is called Persian Cats by Jennifer Quasha.

We read several versions of Ali Baba and this was my favorite (I don't know that the kids had a favorite).  The illustrations are amazing!!!  Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves illustrated by Margaret Early.

 The Rose's Smile: Farizad of the Arabian Nights by David Kherdian was Emeline's favorite.  I had to read it to her more times than I wanted.  I thought it was only so-so, but I'm still listing it here because my children liked it so much.  *There are usually books I read to my children that don't make it to my blog because I am unimpressed, but the Persian unit had more than the usual number of rejects.

The Arabian Nights by Wafa Tarnowska contains three stories.  It was another favorite of my children.
 The Magic Grove by Libuse and Josef Palecek was a book that all of us really liked.  It is the story of 4 really nice people who do nice things and are rewarded.  I liked it because so often we get the stories that demonstrate what happens when you are not nice but it is more fun to read about good people getting rewarded.
 A Gift for the King by Christopher Manson was another huge hit.  Basically the king has everything he wants and he is annoyed and bored because of it.  This story was good for several reasons, the most obvious being the moral of the story.  But in addition to that, it really drove home the point that the Persian rulers were incredibly wealthy.  We'd talked about it, but the illustrations in the book made the idea more real for my children.
 The Legend of the Persian Carpet by Tomie DePaola is another great read.  It is about a Persian king who leaves his huge diamond in a room for everyone (including the peasants) to see as it made lovely rainbows around the room.  Then someone from another country steals the diamond.  The king is heartbroken so some apprentices try to make a rug as brilliant as the diamond.  This was a great book because it showed a king far different from the other books and also because it brought up carpet making.
 The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor by James Riordan and Shelley Fowles was Cowen's favorite.  I thought the text and pics were decent, but Cowen loved it.  Loved it, I tell you.
The Ancient Persians by Virginia Schomp was divided into two sections, the first being a nonfiction history of Persia and the second being a collection of myths from Persia.  We read the first half and meant to read the second but got busy and never did.  The first half was great.  The pictures are fabulous and the book is organized well.  I highly recommend if you are studying Ancient Persia.

June 1, 2012

History Group: Persian Pony Express and Bas Relief

 Did you know that the Persians built an extensive road system and set up a mail system--or, at least, a way for the king to get messages from throughout the empire in practically no time at all (well, no time at all before texting)?  I didn't know that.  Since I have a son who loves the Pony Express, I thought it would be a good idea to emphasize that the Persians had a Pony Express thousands of years before the American one.
 We set up our own message relay system to demonstrate how different people taking the trip in stages allowed the person traveling to go full speed the whole time.  The kids loved it!  Obviously.  Who doesn't love running around?

 Emeline was the King.  The buck, ahem, message stopped there.  Then they switched and ran the message the other direction.  Loads of fun.
 After that we introduced the concept of bas relief carving.  Every single one of the Persian non-fiction books I checked out had numerous images of bas relief carving in them.  We passed around two of the books and then passed around Ivory soap and a plastic knife.  Then we tried our own carvings.
 Mine is on the left--it is supposed to be a warrior.  I can't remember what Colleen's was supposed to be.  The point is enjoying the attempt, right?
 Emeline thinks so.
 And yes, this is a gratuitous pic of Lady Harriet.  I just can't resist--she is in such a plump and perfect stage!!!