Peeking out.

Hi there. It turns out that having a baby and selling a house and moving and have none of that go especially according to plan can really destroy any great ideas you might have for blogging.

But I’ve missed writing here. In particular, I’ve missed blogging like I used to a million years ago (okay, okay – a decade ago), when we were all making stuff and swapping it across the country, and my friends at school were blogging so that we could comment on each others’ posts despite the fact that we saw each other every single day. Some of y’all might remember those long-ago days before affiliate links and social media.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that my curriculum consultant days are slowing down. Should someone ask my opinion, I’ll be sharing it, but I’m not looking for new work, and this blog probably won’t reflect too much of that sort of thing, either.

Instead, it seems like I’ll be writing about books we read, things we learn, and some more esoteric ideas I’m puzzling through in terms of educational philosophy and teaching my own children. My plans do not include any political screeds, but I make no firm promises as November approaches.

One bit of exciting news is that I had a book review published by the Englewood Review of Books, and I have another just about ready to submit. I reviewed Kate DiCamillo’s latest book, Raymie Nightingale, earlier this summer. If you’re not familiar with the ERB, take a gander. It’s a great publication and they’ve just restarted their print edition.

kids reading

Tomorrow, we’re off to pick apples, because Clara turns five. Wow. Tempus fugit, and all that.

Misty Copeland’s Firebird: Another book for little dancers

A few months back, I shared a few books that the little dancer at my house has loved. Recently, we’ve added one more to that list, so I thought I’d share it today.

Unless you’ve avoided nearly all media outlets, you’ve probably heard of Misty Copeland, who I’d argue is the most famous classical dancer in the world right now. {I think it’s beyond great that a classical dancer is a household name, but that might be a bit of personal bias.} Recently, Copeland was named the first African-American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, and she’s made it her personal mission to involve more children of color in classical dance.

Firebird

What I didn’t know was that last fall, Copeland published a children’s book called Firebird (IndieBound/Amazon). Illustrated by the amazing Christopher Myers, Firebird is a sort of free-verse poem written from Copeland to an imagined young dancer. Full of encouragement, the text uses the Stravinsky ballet Firebird as a frame for the advice Copeland would give a young girl whose life hasn’t always followed the easiest path.

darling child, don’t you know
you’re just where I started
let the sun shine on your face
your beginning’s just begun

To be honest, I wasn’t sure that my children (ages 3.5 and 5.5) would really like this book. Its intended audience is clearly older, and the style is far from narrative. Something clicked, though, and they’ve asked to have it read repeatedly. Myers’ bold illustrations help move the story’s idea along in a somewhat narrative way, and that may have made the difference for my little readers. As I’m writing this with the book on my lap, the 5.5 year old is singing “Firebird! Firebird!” and dancing around the house, so there’s a ringing endorsement.

The book ends with a letter from Copeland to the reader, where she shares that she wanted to give young dancers a book in which they could see themselves. With Firebird, she has achieved that goal, and probably set in motion more dancing dreams than she realizes.

This four-minute news story contains both an interview with Misty Copeland, and some footage of her dancing. The dancing portion includes some scenes from Firebird, including pictures nearly identical to those Myers used in the book.

{The book links in this post are affiliate links, and purchases made using them will earn a small commission for Read It, Make It! Thank you!}

Navigating Early – I love it.

Like most girls of my generation, I grew up slightly in love with the all-boys’ prep school movies of the late 20th century. “Dead Poets’ Society” was obviously our favorite, and I like to think I recognized the genius of Robert Sean Leonard long before he appeared on “House.” Thus, when I found out that Clare Vanderpool’s latest novel, Navigating Early (IndieBound/Amazon), was set in an all-boys’ prep school in New England, I figured I would like it.

books for middle school, navigating early review

Several years ago, my mother’s cousin sent her home with a copy of Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest (IndieBound/Amazon), which all three of us loved. Navigating Early is similar in that there are some fantastical elements within a more realistic narrative. Loosely framed within the style of an epic journey, Navigating Early follows two main characters – Jack and Early – whose lives have collided at a boarding school where neither particularly fits in. World War Two looms in the background, but seems quite remote from the rural Maine coasts and woods where the action of the novel occurs.

Today, we would consider Early autistic, but within the historical framework of the novel, he is just thought eccentric and difficult. Early’s particular fixation is on the number pi, and the elaborate storyline he has created to explain each of its digits. Jack falls into friendship with Early, and the two boys set out on a quest through the woods that eventually leads to some very unique characters and dangerous situations.

I think one of Vanderpool’s greatest strengths as a writer is creating characters that are relatable despite having some very singular qualities. Both main characters have lost their mothers, but they come to terms with that loss in very different ways. Both are struggling to understand the young men they are becoming, but their self-awareness comes at varying costs. Best of all, unlike those found in so many novels that middle schoolers read, these characters resonate with boys and girls, because Vanderpool’s coming-of-age stories transcend the tropes that many middle-grades writers seem to favor.

Increasingly, I am convinced that we kill a lot of novels – or at least the enjoyment that can be found in reading them – by teaching them to death. This is a book with enough going on that it could be ‘taught’ to a classroom, loved by a book group, or devoured by an eager solo reader. Vanderpool’s craft bears studying, and there’s plenty to unpack within the content, especially its convergence with epic verse. For once, I don’t think giving it a closer look would ruin it; rather, I think it would draw out the reader’s thinking and allow for a little more introspection.

{The book links in this post are affiliate links, and if you make any purchases using them, Read It, Make It! earns a tiny commission. Thank you!}

Stella!

Some books in heavy rotation at our house right now are from Marie-Louise Gay‘s Stella series (IndieBound/Amazon). Focused on a very imaginative little girl – and sometimes her younger brother, Sam – these books take place in fairly standard settings, yet contain wonderful adventures.

children's read aloud, books about siblings

The watercolors are incredible in these books, and the illustrations contain little visual treats for the reader. You really feel transported when you read these, even though the situations are familiar. Sam asks a million questions, and Stella answers them as only a big sister can, with a lot of exaggeration and creativity.

Read Me a Story, Stella is probably our favorite so far, with its tromp through nature and hilarious explanations by Stella. The emphasis on outdoor exploration, with zero input from adults, makes this an attractive choice for those of us trying to encourage reasonable independence when playing outside. One of Gay’s strengths as an author (a bilingual author, no less) is that she manages to tell a child’s story from a child’s point of view without being cloying or ridiculous. You really get the sense that she remembers what it was like to be five or six, and in the process of coming to understand how the world works.

If you read about Stella and Sam, feel free to stop back by and tell us which book from the series is your favorite. :)

{The book link in this post is an affiliate link, and Read It, Make It! earns a small commission on any purchases made using it. Thank you!}

 

A pretty remarkable book.

(You’ll be shocked to learn I picked up this one because of its cover. Then, I went to add the book links, and learned they changed the cover on the paperback edition. To this, I say BOO, because I think the hardback cover – seen below – more accurately captures the spirit of the book.)

novel for gifted studentsLizzie K. Foley’s Remarkable (IndieBound/Amazon) tells the story of Jane Doe, a very ordinary girl born to remarkable parents, in between two remarkable siblings, in a town so extraordinary that its name was changed – you guessed it – to Remarkable.  However, it’s not your ordinary introspective coming-of-age novel. Instead, it’s a mystery and adventure story mixed together with pirates, some adults who are not who they appear to be, and a fun smattering of cultural references that will keep adults chuckling to themselves. (Think pictures on milk cartons, and workplace fantasy football leagues.)

Ultimately, Remarkable is kind of a sweet little ode to being yourself and finding contentment from within, rather than trying to meet perceived expectations. The message is fairly standard, but a little bit unexpected in the ways that it plays out: “being yourself” might just mean leaving all your responsibilities behind and becoming captain of a pirate ship. Most of the supporting characters are a little stereotyped, but I think that Jane’s development overcomes this.

As I read the book, I realized that it’s the sort of book that would have been a perfect read aloud for my brother and me when we were children. The parts that were less interesting to me (pirate related chatter and a pair of twins’ attempts to undermine all authority) would have been my brother’s favorites. Equally, the parts that would have had him dozing (Jane’s grandfather’s reflections on why someone might want to disappear, and the wooing of a mysterious lake monster) were among my favorites. For this reason alone, I think Remarkable is a book worth exploring for adults who are working with more than one child, and especially for people who need to capture the interest of a wide range of readers.

 

Happy New Year!

Bethany & Clara 2014

Here’s to another great year of reading & making!  We hope 2015 gets off to a great start for all of you, and that it’s full of this much joy & laughter.

Vintage Books for Christmas

We’ve been busy, but I haven’t been blogging. Surprised? I doubt it. We’ve discovered some vintage gems this Advent, so I’ll share a few of those quickly.

vintage christmas book, kate seredy bookOne day, I’ll write you a virtual dissertation on Kate Seredy, and why her books deserve a lot more modern attention than they get. In the meantime, rejoice that A Tree for Peter (IndieBound/Amazon) was just republished, and that The Chestry Oak will be returning soon. A Tree for Peter made me cry (not surprising), but it also made me think. It’s the story of a young boy growing up in a shantytown, and a mysterious stranger who changes not only Peter’s life, but also the lives of everyone Peter knows, with a few simple gifts. The shantytown is transformed, as are the hearts of its residents, largely through the not-so-magical-magic of feeling empowered and purposeful in their daily lives. There is also a wraparound story to the overall book that highlights the ability of young children to influence others through their actions. I will grant you that the plot is a little far-fetched, but I think the sheer inspiration of it overcomes that.

A few notes for the modern reader: Peter has a limp, and is called “lame” throughout the book. You’ll want to think about that ahead of time, and either discuss it in advance with your children or use a different word to describe how he has difficulty walking. There is also one reference to “wild Indians,” and once again you’ll want to decide how to handle that before you get to it. For a book of this vintage (1941), neither of those things is surprising, but they do require some forethought before reading this book in a classroom, especially.

vintage winter book, ice skating book

A Day on Skates, which is actually set after Christmas, is a new favorite at our house for Bethany (5). (IndieBound/Amazon) She asked me to read it again as soon as we’d finished it. It’s written and illustrated in a format that is very rare in modern publishing: it’s horizontal, with sporadic black and white illustrations on most spreads, with a few full page color plates. It’s a great intermediate step for kids who are pretty good at listening to picture books, and aren’t always great at following a story in a novel. They have to do some work to visualize the story, but there are some helpful illustrations just when they need them. This is especially handy for children like mine, who have zero frame of reference for things like ice, snow, and skating. I imagine children in North Dakota would need less help with this.

The premise of A Day on Skates is that a class of Dutch children are going on a full-day picnic that includes miles and miles of skating. It’s a huge undertaking, and plenty of adventures occur. (Spoiler alert: one of the main characters falls through the ice, the whole class visits a stranger’s farm for help (and pancakes), a group of boys gets locked in a church tower, and it begins to look like the group will not have the stamina to make it home, until they are rescued by a passing sleigh.) While I’m sure it’s written with a rose-colored pen, this book is also an interesting look at how people used to handle adversity, back before helicopter parenting was a thing.

Modern reader notes, again: There are numerous references to things/activities being “for girls” and “for boys,” in ways that irked me, personally. As we encountered these, the girls and I just talked through them, and I don’t think that impeded the flow of the story. There’s also a bit towards the end where a group of boys decide to be explorers, like Columbus, and I did a wretched hatchet job of changing some wording to more accurately reflect Columbus – landing, rather than discovering, for instance. I entirely skipped one paragraph referring to “red Indians,” because I had not pre-read to know that I’d need to do some explaining before we started. With older readers, I’d use this as a teaching opportunity to discuss prejudice and how it can show up in unlikely places.

christmas books, vintage rudolph book

My friends at Bound to Be Read had this little winner sitting in the window on Black Friday. Initially, I thought to save it for Christmas Eve, but then I just loved it too much to wait. This is the 75th anniversary reprinting of the original Rudolph story from Montgomery Ward. It’s delightful. The illustrations are vintage, and the language in the poem is pretty great. While ultimately this is a story about bullying (reindeer are cruel, it turns out), it’s pretty exciting to see how Rudolph really does help Santa, even in old-school four color illustrations. I think we’ve all been missing out, relying solely on the infamous Rudolph TV special for our reindeer knowledge, even if Rudolph was just a marketing gimmick. (IndieBound/Amazon)

In case I don’t get back here beforehand, I hope y’all have a Merry Christmas (if you celebrate it), and a great start to 2015. Thanks for reading!

{The book links in this post are compensated affiliate links. If you make a purchase using them, Read It, Make It! earns a small commission.}

Angelo: An Unsung David Macaulay Classic

architecture books, books about loss and grief for children, children's grief books

Today, I want to share a little about this fantastic book that appeared on our library’s shelves a few weeks ago. Initially, I picked it up because of the author/illustrator. Like many people, I’ve long loved David Macalay’s magnificent architecture/engineering non-fiction works, including Castle (IndieBound/Amazon) and Mosque (IndieBound/Amazon). These large-format masterpieces have stayed in print for decades, and encouraged more than a few reluctant readers to read those pesky words sitting beside the intricate illustrations.

Angelo, by David Macaulay

Like Macaulay’s other work, Angelo (IndieBound/Amazon) is illustrated in almost a technical style, as you can see in the inset above. Unlike those other books, though, there is a definite human touch in the illustrations and story that makes this book really memorable. The story is straightforward: Angelo is a plasterer, working to restore a church in Florence. He befriends an injured pigeon, who becomes his constant companion. As Angelo ages and his health fades, the pigeon (now named Sylvia) provides as much help and comfort as she can. Angelo’s final masterwork is a permanent home for Sylvia, and Angelo passes away knowing that Sylvia will always have a safe place to rest.

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I was genuinely surprised to reach the end of the story and feel so strongly about the way that Angelo and Sylvia had helped each other. The discussion of death is done so deftly that young children might not even realize exactly what has happened to Angelo. My three year old loves this story, and explains matter-of-factly that Angelo has died at the end, but focuses more on the final nest he created for Sylvia. My very sensitive four year old also enjoys rereading this book, and will take the time to carefully study the illustrations, looking for little secrets in the pictures.

While this may not be The Book to use if your child or student is facing a particularly difficult loss, I think it is amazing as a simple introduction to the concept that all living things will eventually die. There are no meaningless platitudes, and no particular religious references, other than the funeral scene taking place at the church that Angelo re-plastered. There is a calmness to the story, which comes from the reader knowing that Angelo led a beautiful life and that he and Sylvia would live on in each others’ hearts.

Basically, it’s just plain lovely.

 

Sewing Skirts.

I have a fabric problem. I see something, and I want it, but I don’t have a reasonable idea of what to do with it once it gets home. This means that every once in a while, I cave to temptation and buy a half-yard or a yard of a fabric that ends up sitting on a shelf for months years. In an attempt to get some fabric off the shelf and into proper use, I’ve started sewing skirts for the girls. Everyone who sees them seems to like them, so I thought I’d share a little bit about how I’ve been making them.

My main inspiration is the 20-Minute Skirt tutorial at Whipstitch, and her chart for fabric measurements for different sizes is extremely useful. I also watched the skirt video tutorials by Dana Made It. For little girls’ sizes, you basically sew a fabric tube, and then add some variety of hem and an elasticized waistband. The seams are all straight, and it’s pretty forgiving if you make an error and need to rip something out.

Here are two sets I’ve made recently. First, these little Halloween numbers, which used some fabric I’ve been hoarding for longer than I care to admit. Initially, I thought I’d use it for some ‘real’ dresses, but that’s never happened, so I decided skirts were better than nothing. One advantage of these is that they are really easy for the girls to put on themselves, which is a great bonus on mornings where we’re hurrying to get somewhere on time.

halloween skirts, easy sewing projects, easy skirts to sew

This pair exists because I wanted the fabric in an unhealthy way. I also made a little variation here by using bias tape on the hems, which I really like. I will probably keep doing this in the future because it involves less ironing, and adds a little excitement.

halloween skirts, easy sewing projects, easy skirts to sew

{And the ironing is the secret here – I think it takes more time to iron these before you make them than it does to sew them. The longest single step is the time it takes to thread the elastic in the casing of the waistband.}

My main tips:

  • *Iron. No, seriously, iron. Iron every possible thing, including taking the time to iron the side seam open once you sew it.
  • *Use 3/4 inch no-roll elastic. This way, you can make a 1-inch casing, which is easy, and have plenty of room to thread the elastic without it catching repeatedly and undoing your stitches. I tried using larger elastic, and it looked silly.
  • *To determine the correct amount of elastic, just wrap it around the waist of the intended skirt-wearer. Don’t add anything, don’t subtract anything, and don’t stretch it. Make a circle, and cut it. This will give you enough stretch to make the skirt stay up, once you overlap it a bit to sew it together, but it will also remain loose enough that you should get a decent amount of wear out of the skirt before it’s too small.

Next up: ruffles, and maybe pockets. This is not an obvious skirt for pockets, since it’s so gathered, but I don’t think my girls will care, and I’m not trying to win any sewing prizes. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

You knew this was coming: The Obligatory Apple Post.

Those of you who disdain everything about traditional education should probably stop reading now. 😉 Those of you who have PTSD from thirty years of teaching Kindergarten might want to quit, too.

Girls and apples

But for everyone else, it’s apple time! When I taught second grade, I loved apple week. We did it, and we did it big: books, crafts, apple sauce in the Crock-Pot. It felt like 1978 or something. I’ve written about a couple of my favorite apple books before, but there is one more I’d like to highlight. Also, this gives me an excuse to post pictures of the girls from our apple picking excursion last month.

Apple Picking 2014

I think they’re pretty adorable, personally. (Side note: our apples were not as good this year. I assume this summer’s heat to be the culprit.)

apple book, children's apple book, book for fall, children's books for fall

I went on a little library quest for apple books, and almost came up empty. However, Ann Turner and Sandi Wickersham Resnick’s Apple Valley Year (IndieBound/Amazon) turned out to be a new favorite at our house. Written to reflect the growing cycle of an apple orchard, Apple Valley Year reminded me of Donald Hall and Barbara Cooney’s masterpiece Ox-Cart Man. Not only does the text reflect a simpler, agrarian past, the style of the illustrations is also folksy and detailed, much like Cooney’s.

farming books, books about apple farming, apple orchard

For those of us who are enjoying the resurgence of traditional skills, there’s a lot of eye candy in this book. Check out that quilt! There’s also a prominently featured wood stove and an embroidery sampler. One of my favorite things about this book is that it shows the way that various farm chores support the orchard in different ways. The family does more than work with the trees – they also move beehives to encourage pollination and encourage the fox family that preys on mice, whose gnawing threatens the trees’ health.

plant life cycle book, farm life cycles, agrarian america

There’s even a little bit of economics here. The book’s youngest characters talk about how they won’t have new shoes until after the apple harvest is sold, and the parents discuss the dependence of the family upon a high price for apples each year. Obviously, the book portrays a successful year in the life of the farm, but conversations between the characters help readers see that one reason for this success is the hard work of the entire family.

This is an excellent choice not only for that beloved apple unit, but also for reading comprehension skills like identifying cause and effect relationships and synthesizing. Readers could use knowledge gained about apple farming from this book to make predictions about modern apple farming, especially as it exists on a smaller scale. Equally, this is a great book to curl up with on the couch, while the applesauce cooks in the Crock-Pot. We’ll be doing that this week.

{The books links in this post are affiliate links, and Read It, Make It! earns a small commission on any purchases made using them. Thank you!}