Jul 03 2018

Summer Reading Stack, take one

It is hard to imagine that summer is so fully underway! With soccer camp behind us and music camp looming just ahead, the garden in full production and the birds nearly ready to start laying eggs, you’d think I would have a clue. But I totally missed local strawberry season, and the only way I won’t miss our local cherry season is if I get out there this week with my sister-in-law and all the kids. My children are ecstatic that “fireworks day” is this week, but when my daughter asked this evening, “is that the day about St. Patrick?” I realized that I need to revisit some basic Independence Day foundations with the kids in the next 24 hours. Note to self: dig out the patriotic picture books post haste! I know I have Mary Pope Osborne’s Happy Birthday America on the schoolroom bookshelves somewhere…

While our official school year with the chaos of our weekly co op finished up over a month ago, we are continuing our normal habit of schooling through the summer when we are at home. During soccer camp week, we focused on Bible, reading, music practice, and soccer practice. Plus playdates and swimming! It was exhausting and delightful. It will be a very similar pattern during music camp. The rest of the weeks of summer, though, we are plugging away with piano lessons, ukulele lessons, and the basic subjects at home: Bible (which term we use rather broadly to include Scripture, catechism, hymn, devotional, copywork, & handwriting), math, English, reading, and music lessons.

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What everyone most looks forward to, though, is our regular habit of reading aloud. In general, I am the one who reads aloud to the children while they eat a meal (or two), and while they do things like copywork, artwork, sewing, or other quiet fine motor projects… but the children do love being asked to take turns reading passages to one another. (Only the three oldest are solid readers, of course, but even 2 1/2 year old Simeon likes to hold a book and “read” it to us either by reciting what he remembers of a favorite, or by interpreting something from illustrations.) It gives the children practice speaking well in front of others, without the added pressure of needing to recite a memorized passage or write a speech themselves. One step at a time! I am very pleased with their skills of inflection, character designation, and rhythm/speed/pause.
Something I have been incredibly pleased with in the last few months is the broad variety of picture books we have gotten that are biographies of wonderful, creative people, both historic and contemporary. It is wonderful to accomplish humanity studies through the practice of reading aloud with one another.

This morning we enjoyed visiting the world of Virginia Burton, the brilliance behind stories like Katy and the Big Snow, The Little House, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. We have always loved Virginia Burton, so to read a picture book where we can recognize all of her wonderful characters, as well as find out a little more about her own life, delighted us all.

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There is a delightful comment here about Virginia, called Jinnie, making creations with her very magical wands — her art supplies!, which made us giggle and have a brief conversation about the magic of creation, using things like charcoal, pencils, brushes, stamps, and God-given hands.

We also recently read about Grace Hopper, which was of particular interest to my own computer programming son, as she was so highly instrumental in creating and streamlining computer code. She found the solution in taking binary a lot further than anyone before. It is good for my son to read about women doing amazing things — like computer coding for the naval forces during a war, or painting children’s books, or cooking gourmet French food, or rocking babies to sleep on a starry night. Each of these things is a powerful force, and could be wielded for great good in God’s kingdom. I am eager for my children to take note of these things.

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Software tester. Workplace jester. Order seeker. Well-known speaker. Gremlin finder. Software minder. Clever thinker. Lifelong tinker. Cherished mentor. Ace inventor. Avid reader. Naval leader.” Such good reminders that a beautiful education is fat with variety, fully faceted all around.

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And there are also innumerable books that I want my children to read about incredible, world-changing men throughout history. One of my favorites this week is called Balderdash, about John Newbery himself. What a treasure of a little book! The artwork is absolutely sublime.

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The story begins with an introduction to Newbery as a boy in a time when books were not made for children, but rather only for adult sensibilities. And John set out to change this as soon as he had outgrown childhood himself. Apprenticing for a printer, and eventually owning his own printing company, he was the one who put children’s literature truly on the market. The lighthearted way this book describes the life and times of John Newbery is truly satisfying. I think Newbery reminds me a little of my father, and perhaps that is why I think I could have been friends with this gent if I were about two centuries before my time.

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Did I mention that Joni Eareckson Tada sent us a couple of books recently? We had written to her earlier this spring, as a family and then also along with a letter-writing class I taught at our homeschool co op. What a delight to receive letters in return (an unexpected surprise, for certain), and the additional of books to enjoy. This woman has been an encouragement to my heart since I was right about ten years old, so it feels full circle now for my son of the same age to be finding joy from her as well.

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But lest you think we do all serious reading, even in picture books, and don’t delve into the realm of lighthearted tale, anthropomorphism, comedy, or jest… think again. When you see a book cover that has your 2 1/2 year old all but pegged (including just one letter off on the author’s name!), you bring it home from the library to pass around and everyone agrees it’s a total ringer for our little Simeon James!

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Or how about the Animal House that had the three big kids walking around our house trying to locate all the animalesque words they could find in our own home? Refrige-gator, seal-ing, floor-mingo, kanga-room, gi-roof, snail-box, chimp-ney, cow-ch, ele-pants, hare-way, chande-deer. The house was echoing with bad puns and uncontrolled laughter for a solid twenty minutes after we finished the book itself.

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I must quickly mention two sweet picture books we discovered last week, which both could be summed up in the idea of knowing yourself… with two very different ways of getting there. Tracks in the Snow is sweetly simple, with a little girl eagerly trying to find the owner of tracks she sees in the snow until she realizes they were hers leftover from the previous day. And Adelaide is truly winsome, in a very subdued message that the little kangaroo with wings has a life that no other kangaroo could have because she was made exceptionally unique – which is, of course, exactly the way we want her to be.

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And lastly for now, our love of bird books continues. We revisited an old favorite, Chickens to the Rescue, which allowed us to introduce it to the youngest member of the family — and now our chickens themselves have taken on an adventurous twist of their own when we call out the refrain to them across the backyard.

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And Calliope… who we now realize is a drake and has thus adopted the nickname Ope rather well… would like to show you our latest ducky favorite. Largely because it’s simple, sweet, and has precious ducky illustrations.

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I have two large canvas bags filled with library books ready to be returned tomorrow after our watercolor lessons with Mrs. S. We have potty training books on hold, waiting for us! Somebody around here needs a little extra literary inspiration, I think, to make the final leap in the process of ascending the porcelain throne…
And I have more books and snippet-reviews to share coming up soon.

What kind of children’s books would you like to see reviewed for a tried-and-true perspective?
I’ve got a pile of little gingers who are up for the challenge.

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