Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Final Leg of M. Arronax's Journey

The final chapters of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea provides much fodder for the curious mind. If you're just now joining us on the out of book journey check here and here for the other installments.

  • Different varieties of whales make their appearance in this last section. Visit the American Cetacean Society to satiate your need to know. They have fact sheets, resource lists, and curriculum. You have to give your email address to access some sections, but the information is good enough to risk getting a little junk mail. I particularly like the Cetacean Breath Chart and the breath holding activity that goes along with it.
  • Atlantis - Interesting passage in the book and there are many books if you want to add information. Atlantis: The Legend of a Lost City by Christina Belit is one that we were able to get from our library.
  • Volcanoes - Interestingly enough we started studying volcanoes and volcanic rocks about the time we got to this section of the book. I'll do a separate post since it is part of our planned science study this year.
  • Honeybees - We didn't do much here because the children have been helping with the beekeeping duties since they were three. But possibilities exist since bees are such interesting insects, not to mention productive.
  • Penguins - If you haven't seen it already, be sure to watch March of the Penguins. Though the movie only tracks emperor penguins, the Antarctic is shown in its bitter cold, unforgiving beauty. Did I mention how much I like Morgan Freeman's voice? Watch Happy Feet, too. It makes me smile.
  • While you're still shivering, snuggled in front of the television, watch Eight Below for a view of scientists working in Antarctica. Then talk about the South Pole and how you know when you make it there. Nemo used chronometers, barometer, and lenticular glass.
  • Icebergs - Here is a wonderful lesson (much more than one lesson) combining icebergs, Antarctica, and penguins. The resources are fabulous!! My children are fascinated by icebergs.
  • The Giant Polyps - K is obsessed with this. Unfortunately, the creatures in the book don't have a scientific basis. We did look. We found these giant squid pictures and information.
If I had not been enjoying this book along with my children and reacting to their curiosity, planning a more cohesive study using the book as a Charlotte Mason living book spine would have been possible. Reading a book without prior knowledge has its benefits too, because you can truly let your children lead. Sure, I had the bright idea to plot the journey, but we studied freely roaming in and out of the science of the fiction, never overwhelming either child with schoolish study, but providing enough library books, or web resources to answer those questions so freely asked.

As with all good books they lead to other good books. We are now reading The Mysterious Island because inquiring minds want to know, "What happened to Captain Nemo?" In fact, K has all of Jules Verne's books on his to be read list.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


We have been fumbling around in Ancient Rome even though we are supposed to be studying the Middle Ages. Our study was supposed to begin with the fall of Rome, but last year we never finished Ancient Rome, so we decided to do a quick journey through Rome. Getting additional resources from the library can be fraught with delays and poor choices if you have to order your books blind and online from regional members, rather than scanning the shelves. I usually compensate by choosing two or three books on whatever subject we are studying, hoping one or the other will work.

I did this with Cleopatra with much success. I got Diane Stanley's Cleopatra and The Women of Achievement Cleopatra. The Women of Achievement Cleopatra is a longer chapter book with much good information including a chronology, book and web resources, and images, but we chose the Stanley picture book for our study because it was more interesting and less textbookish while still being filled with valid information.

Diane Stanley, with Peter Vennema illustrating, created a scholarly, living, picture book. I know that sounds strange and somewhat of a contradiction, but that is the only way I can explain it. The story is great. I intended to break it into smaller pieces, but the children kept saying, "More, More, More!!!" so we read the whole book in one night. While creating an interesting story Stanley cautions us about the scarcity and lack of reliability of ancient resources for Cleopatra (everything preserved is written by her enemies). Yet, she seems to create a fair picture and even quotes Plutarch. The illustrations are bright, detailed, and many have mosaics like the cover. There are also maps, a pronunciation guide, and a bibliography. Diane Stanley's Cleopatra was a wonderful find for our family.

Stanley and Vennema have also collaborated on Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations. I've put them on my list.

Picture Books for the Whole Family

A couple of weeks ago Susan at Chicken Spaghetti published a reading list for her son's third grade class. I wasn't familiar with The Library by Sarah Stewart, so I ordered it from my library for my third grader. While I was online, I also noticed that the library also had two other books by Sarah Stewart, so I reserved them too.

I'm glad I did. We (and I mean the whole family) loved them all. I read them to Princess, but while they were on the kitchen table K and Mr. W read them all. K said, "Momma, Elizabeth Brown is a lot like you."
I said, "We can still get through the doors and the bookshelves aren't cracking."
He said, "Yeah, but, I mean, it could get that bad."

I was left speechless. I suppose he is correct since my first instinct was to run out and buy the books because we liked them.

The Gardener is a wonderful book set in the 1930s. Lydia Grace, who has to go live with her uncle because of money problems, transforms the rooftop of a city building into a garden and brings joy to customers and her uncle, though he doesn't smile. The illustrations are beautiful and the text, letters from Lydia Grace, inspirational.

Finally, The Friend is a wonderful book about a young girl and her nanny sharing days. The routine of the week of washing, ironing, and cleaning is preserved, but also the love. I suppose I was moved (I cried) by this book more than my children and husband because I had a special relationship with a nanny. Even without a nanny in your past, this is a wonderful tale of relationships and caring caregivers. David Small, the illustrator for all three books, captures the relationship perfectly.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Deconstructing Penguins

Jove wrote about Deconstructing Penguins a couple of weeks ago here and here. I commented at her blog without having read the book, so then I felt I needed to find a copy and make good. I was able to order it at the library and read it this weekend.

In this short book Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone show that meaningful discussion of books is not beyond the capabilities of children, and they show you how to do it. Their explanations and examples of the various elements of literature are sound and explained through examples. Samples of dialog (responses from children and the Goldstone's own questions) illustrate just how easily extracting meaning from books can happen with younger children.

In my opinion, these conversations are part of a child's encouragement to read and to think. Though book clubs are fun, the dinner table and living room are an even better place to chat about books. By making the conversations a natural part of reading and living, you don't confine serious book talk to the classroom. I don't believe that the conversations need to be structured or conclude in finding the one true meaning of the book. I do believe that giving children tools (words and methodology) to seek meaning in literature can open relationships with books and give children confidence in siting and proving their opinions.

Be ever cautious, though. One sure way to extinguish the fun of reading is over analysis. The same goes with those boring question and answer sheets in which the answers to the questions can always be copied directly from the text, and with discussions so open-ended that you don't even have to read the book to participate. Find a middle ground, especially with younger children, that enriches the book and gives them a reason to read.

For further reading:
Reading Strands by The National Writing Institute is an older, not quite as polished, book that provides examples of Socratic questioning and information about the literary elements. It also contains extensive book lists though some of the selections are not those I would choose.

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster is a compilation of a lecture series about novels. Though this material is certainly more advanced than the needs of a homeschool teacher of primary level children, the information is thoughtfully presented by a great novelist who we would assume knows one or two things. I like this book because it is informative and as well written as a novel.

A Glossary of Literary Terms by M.H. Abrams is probably in its 200th printing (I have my tattered 5th from graduate school), but it is the standard by which all other books of this sort are judged. It is a tool for those seriously interested in literature, for not only does it explain and clarify literary terms and devices, it succinctly discusses schools of literary criticism in case you want to do something other than deconstruct. Again, this is much more than you may need, but is a wonderful reference for inquiring minds.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Was There A Real King Arthur?

I found a good history book at the library for mystery loving learners, Mysteries of History by Robert Stewart. With topics like Why Did the Pharaohs Build the Pyramids?, Was Marco Polo a Great Explorer or a Liar?, Was Napoleon Poisoned?, Why Did the Hindenburg Explode? and Was There a Real King Arthur?, inquiring minds are sure to read.

Each topic has a duel timeline that highlights events pertinent to the question or person along with world or national events. There are also art images, photographs, maps, and pertinent quotes gleaned from primary sources. Possibilities and evidence are presented.

These mysteries are not solved in the 9 or 10 pages devoted to each question, but the discussion is interesting for tweens and adults alike. I like that it shows that history doesn't have all the answers written in a text book, that science can be used to verify history, and that humans impact history through interpretation and writing.

The plan was to only use the sections of the book that relate to Medieval/Renaissance History:
  • Did Rome Really Fall?
  • Was There a Real King Arthur?
  • What Happened to the Knights Templars?
  • Was Marco Polo a Great Explorer or a Liar?
  • Who Built Great Zimbabwe and Why?
  • And perhaps, Did the Chinese Beat Christopher Columbus to the New World?
But, restricting the study will be difficult with such scintillating questions, pictures, and information.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More 20,000 Leagues

We have been having a blast with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In fact here are a few more interesting side trips we took. Don't forget the first ones if you are just joining me on this journey.
  • The Great Barrier Reef - Complete with diving sounds, submerge yourself in this very cool resource to get a realistic impression of the reef, not to mention information on predation and parasitism, competition, and commensalism and mutualism. Have fun on your dive. Then, see how much you know.
  • How Pearls are Made - This Field Museum of Chicago resource is thorough, beautifully done, and age appropriate.
  • Virtual Sri Lanka(Ceylon) - This site has more information than we can use for this study. In fact, with the literature, myths, religion, history, geography, economics, and art you could study Sri Lanka for a year. And it is all free. I would supervise with this site since there is link after link after link. Though we haven't found anything objectionable, it is not a made for children site.
  • Sharks - Obviously there is a ton of information in the library and on the Internet and I think we will see it all by the time we get through. The children just can't seem to get enough. I like this lesson plan as a starting point (just because it's fun), then choose anything from this list. In the book the shark mentioned was a black-tipped shark. There isn't as much available for this particular species, but a more generalized study seemed appropriate given the somewhat fictionalized account (they are rarely as big as M. Arronax described) of the shark's size and mouth. Here is a lesson about the shark's bad reputation. One of the links (go to photos) on this page shows the black tip and its place in the World's Most Dangerous Sharks competition.
  • The Rea Sea - Though this resource is not as polished as some of the others, you can find pictures of all the fish and coral mentioned in the book.
  • Dugongs - National Geographic comes to the rescue again, with this fact sheet including video. Be careful not to get trapped in the video room. They are all wonderful.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

As promised, The Medieval Literature Selections

The Medieval Reading List for next year is long. There are so many truly worthy and enjoyable stories for this time period. You'll find an assortment of fiction here to compensate for the age differences of my children and the need for diversity. We usually stay close to unabridged versions of books, but make a few exceptions when needed when the material is too bawdy or too difficult to sort through.
  • The Arabian Nights - We have a beautiful version of this classic, the Morrow Books of Wonder edition. The framing device of Shah Shahryar avenging the faithlessness of women and his reasons for doing so should probably be left to an older audience or edited as you read, but the actual 1001 tales (51 in the case of this edition) full of jinnis, lamps, and flying carpets are sure to capture the imaginations of children.
  • Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and retold by Geraldine McCaughrean - This is another book that we won't read in its entirety, though I considered it. McCaughrean does a wonderful job transforming Chaucer's verse to prose. We will read and hear the Middle English Prologue (see Luminarium below) and if the children are interested in doing more, I just happen to have a copy of the unabridged version in Middle English.
  • King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle (Sterling Publishing) - These tales of bravery, honor, romance and magic capture the essence of chivalry. True the tales are legend and may not give accurate portrayals of the reality of life in the Middle Ages, but allusions to these stories are prolific in literature. To be a reader, you must understand the allusions from their original context, not the Cultural Literacy version. They will be ready for the Malory version next time.
  • Robin Hood by Howard Pyle - I hope we like Pyle. The last two times we read Robin Hood we read the Bernard Miles version. I thought we would try a different view.
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - We will use the modern translation from Luminarium (see below). This one is short enough to read online. No you don't get the cozies when you snuggle with the computer, but it is certainly cheaper.
  • Saint George and the Dragon by Geraldine McCaughrean - This is a beautiful picture book. The illustrations by Nicki Palin are fabulous. Don't be fooled, children and adults love picture books and can learn as much from them as more scholarly works.
  • Favorite Medieval Tales by Mary Pope Osborne - This is an anthology of the short versions of medieval tales from Finn Maccoul to The Song of Roland to Chanticleer and the Fox. Lovely illustrations and retellings of the classic stories of the period perfect for my youngest. She will still listen to the longer versions, but I wanted something accessible for her.
  • Castle Diaries by Richard Platt - This may be considered drivel by many, but I like the journaling involved in the book, the honesty of the hardships, and the voice of the younger boy.
  • Don Quixote of the Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes - We read Don Quixote and the Windmills by Eric Kimmel last time. It is a beautiful picture book and I will try to get a copy from the library this time, but it wasn't enough for my son. He thought the whole situation was hilarious and wanted to read the whole book. We will attempt to read an unabridged copy this time.
  • This may belong in the geography section, but we will be reading The Travels of Marco Polo translated by William Marsden.
  • The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman - I want to read this one. Hopefully, the children will agree.
  • Shakespeare and the other plays - A lot happens in medieval drama. I will write a separate post on our Shakespeare studies and the others. They deserve the space.
This should get us started. We will go to the library to add picture books and shorter fiction and non fiction. If you haven't already, see the history resources.

For a web resource of information and a great deal of medieval literature try Luminarium. The Medieval and Renaissance sections are truly informational. Click here to hear the Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in Middle English while reading it with annotations. The birds twittering in the background may be over kill, but truly a good rendition. Many of the pages have music and just listening to reenacted music on medieval instruments is educational in itself. There are texts and images from medieval plays. Take a look. It truly is an amazing resource.