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.