Sunday, 30 March 2014

On Birds and Spring!

Spring is finally arriving with great strides! Are we not all waiting for the multitude of birds to fill the outdoors with life again? 

Following are various favourites about birds and spring - and also some great activity ideas to go along with them!

Why Do Birds Sing? By Chris Arvetis Grades K - 3

Some Birds Have Funny Names, by Diana Harding Cross, illustrated by Jan Brett Why is a roadrunner called a roadrunner? Or what about the catbird, the flycatcher or the ovenbird? For grades K - 4.

Birds and their Beaks, by Olive Earle Splendid illustrations. Covers a great number of birds and all kinds of different beaks! Grades 3 - 9.

Crinkleroot's 25 Birds Every Child Should Know, by Jim Arnosky A very colourful overview, large illustrations, very fun!

Bird Talk, by Roma Gans Did you know that a woodpecker has no territory song, but marks it off by drumming with its beak? A book in the Let's-Read-And-Find-Out series.

First Look at Bird Nests, by Millicent Selsam When you come across a nest, how can you learn to tell to which bird it belongs? You need to find the clues - the material used, the shape of the nest and its location. Clear, brief and simple. Grades 1 - 4.

Birds Do the Strangest Things, by Leonora and Arthur Hornblow Delightful!

Baltimore Orioles, by Barbara Brenner A science 'I Can Read Book" for kids in grades K - 3.

But Ostriches, by Aileen Fisher. Not the kind of bird we would naturally see up here, but nonetheless intriguing ~ you might be surprised at the things presented in this wonderful distinctive book about the tallest of birds.

Redbird - Story of a Cardinal and Ruby Throat - Story of a Hummingbird, both by beloved author Robert McClung Wonderful books by a good author.

Downy Woodpecker, by Paul McCutcheon Sears How interesting to follow a woodpecker throughout the year! Grades 2 - 7.

A Nest Full of Eggs, by Priscilla Belz Jenkins A Let-s Read-And-Find-Out Science book.

Song of the Swallows, by Leo Politi "Every summer, the swallows leave San Juan Capistrano and fly far away, to a peaceful green island - but they always come back in the spring, on St. Joseph's Day. Juan loves las golondrinas, and so does his friend, Julian, the gardener at the mission.
This year, Juan plants a garden in his own yard. There's nothing he wants more than for the swallows to nest there. And on St. Joseph's Day, his dream comes true."

Tony's Birds, by Millicent Selsam About a boy who loves birdwatching, a "Science I Can Read Book'. Grades 1- 3.

The Lark Who Had No Song, by Carolyn Nystrom A little woodpecker wonders why he is so different from the others - until one day he makes a discovery... A story about self-acceptance. Grades 1 - 4.

Angelo, by David Macaulay A beautiful story of friendship between a church plasterer and an injured pigeon.

Albert, by Donna Napoli A cardinal builds a nest on a man's windowsill.... an enchanting story with just gorgeous illustrations!

Spring is Here! By Dorothy Sterling and Exploring Spring, by Sandra Markle both compliment the study of birds with lovely tales about other animals during the unfolding of this happy season, plus special science activities and games ...

... or make your own robin's nest, a great craft idea that we really enjoyed (and it turned out quite beautifully, too!):

Robin's Nest

More wonderful ideas to savour the season:
Springly Craft Ideas

Have fun!!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


A gentle thought ~

Living books are life-giving books.

"The mind feeds on ideas."

       - Charlotte Mason

This was my thought today when I began reading another wonderful book set during the turbulent years of the French Revolution ~ When a Cobbler Ruled a King, by Augusta Huiell Seaman, written in 1911. The vivid language, the exciting story are anything but dry and lifeless!

' "Hurry along, Yvonne! Why do you lag behind so!" "Oh, Jean! I am doing my best, but your legs are so long, and you take such great strides that I can scarcely keep up!" Two children, a well-grown, long-limbed boy of twelve, and a little girl of scarcely more than seven, were hurrying hand-in-hand along the Rue St. HonorĂ©, on a brilliant May morning in the year 1792. Paris on that day resembled, more than anything else, a great bee-hive whose swarming population buzzed hither and thither under the influence of angry excitement and general unrest. The two youngsters were bubbling over with the same eager restlessness that agitated their elders. They pushed their way through throngs of men in red liberty-caps, soldiers in uniforms of the National Guard, and women in tri-coloured skirts and bodices. Poor little Yvonne, panting and tired, struggled to keep up with the striding gait of her larger companion. "If you don't hurry," said Jean, "we shall not see the little 'Wolf-Cub' out for his walk, and I want a look at him!" "Is he very dreadful to look at?" queried Yvonne, innocently. "I don't know,—I've never seen him," answered Jean, "but he must be pretty ugly if he's the son of a monster,—and that's what they call our Citizen King!" They turned into a narrow lane with but few houses on either side. At one end stood the church of St. Roch, and at the other lay the park of the Tuileries, in the centre of which rose the royal palace. "This is called the Rue du Dauphin because the little monster comes through it when he goes to church," remarked Jean. "Well, I think he can't be so very dreadful if he goes to church," protested Yvonne. "Oh, he only pretends to be good to deceive us!" answered Jean, carelessly. When they reached the park, they turned and ran along the edge till they came to the side flanked by the river Seine. Here they were stopped by a low wooden fence decorated with festoons of tri-coloured ribbons and bunting. In a small plot of ground behind this fence, a little boy could be seen digging up the ground about some flower-beds. He was a really beautiful child and his age evidently did not much exceed seven years. Great blue eyes looked out of a face whose expression was one of charming attractiveness. His silky golden-brown hair fell in curls about his shoulders, and he was dressed in the uniform of a tiny National Guard, with a small jewelled sword hanging at his side. About his feet a handsome, coal-black spaniel romped, shaking his long ears that almost trailed on the ground, barking and biting at the spade in his master's hand. Jean stopped and looked over the fence. His snapping black eyes grew soft at the sight of the group within. What boyish heart does not yearn toward a dog! "That's a fine little spaniel you have there, Citizen Boy!" he remarked. "What do you call him?" The child inside the fence looked up with a pleased smile. "His name is Moufflet. Isn't he a beauty? Don't you want to pet him?" The little boy lifted the wriggling animal to the fence while Jean put out his hand and stroked the long, curly ears. "Jean! Jean! lift me up! I want to see him too!" begged Yvonne who was so short that her head barely came to the top of the fence. Jean reached down, and with his strong arms swung her to a seat on his shoulder. "Oh, you beautiful thing!" she exclaimed. "And what a pretty little boy, too! I like you, boy!" The little fellow laughed with pleasure. "And I like you also!" he declared. "Don't you want some flowers? I gathered some for my mother this morning, but I think there are enough left to make you a nice bouquet." Dropping the dog, he ran hither and thither gathering from one bush and another, till he had collected quite a large mass of blossoms. These he handed to the little girl, saying: "And won't you tell me your name?" "I am Yvonne Marie Clouet," she answered, burying her face in the fragrant bunch, "and I thank you!" Jean, however, was growing restless. This was all very pleasant, but it was not that for which he had stolen a holiday from the services of the Citizeness Clouet, risking thereby the prospect of certain punishment, and had hurried through two miles of hot streets to see. He leaned across the fence toward the boy, and spoke in a half-whisper: "I say, Citizen Boy, do you happen to know whereabouts we can get a sight of the little 'Wolf-Cub'?" The child looked startled. "I don't know what you mean!" he replied. "Why, you must know!—the son of that monster, the Citizen King!" The little fellow drew back proudly. His blue eyes grew dark with anger, and he laid his hand on the hilt of his sword. "I am the Dauphin of France! And my father the King is not a monster! He is a good man!" Jean was so astonished that he let go his hold of Yvonne, who all but toppled from her perch on his shoulder. '

Monday, 24 March 2014

The Science of Relations ~

Some time ago, when we were reading The Real Book About Benjamin Franklin, by Samuel Epstein and Beryl Williams, I realized that there are two more roads of learning we could explore - the American Revolution or the French Revolution. Although, of course, Franklin played a pivotal role in the revolution of his own country, he also met the king and queen of France while living near Paris as an ambassador of the colonies. This king and queen were no other than Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette! Ironically, the financial help that this king granted to the American colonies in their fight for independence would someday play a major part in awakening a revolution among his own people.

Although I had "covered" the French Revolution several times during my school years (I was educated in Europe), I never went past the initial flickering flame of interest. Mainly because we were just cramming facts from a textbook.
Thus, I was delighted when I found so many great books that actually made the topic come alive!
There were fascinating books on Marie Antoinette herself; a riveting book which reflected the journal entries by her young daughter (during the time of imprisonment); books on France and Austria (Marie Antoinette's native country) and even a book depicting the perspective of a Jacobin's daughter. All very well written and interesting!
Branching out in all these directions, which are yet linked to the time of the French Revolution, and making connections, is what Charlotte Mason called the science of relations. It happens effortlessly for children.

Here is a selection of the best books on the French Revolution, written just for them~ they gently engage and enlighten and in many ways provide a safer reading environment, as they do not indulge in the cruelty of those times.

~ Marie Antoinette, by Marguerite Vance, illustrated by Nedda Walker A vivid biography with charming illustrations! Grade 5+

~ Marie Antoinette, by Bernardine Kielty Another great biography that is hard to put down. Grade 4+

~ Take a Trip to Austria, Keith Lye Some text and many wonderful pictures about this beautiful country.

~ This is Paris, by M. Sasek A classic which shows many landmarks.

~ The Inside-Outside Book of Paris, by Roxie Munro Colourfully highlights the culture of Paris.

~ A Visit to France, by Kirsten Hall An easier book that takes younger readers on a sweeping tour.

~ The King's Day: Louis XIV of France, by Aliki Technically, this is not about the French Revolution, as Louis XIV, France's Sun King, lived many years before, but it is a very fun, splendid book that shows how extravagant life at Versailles was!
"Louis XIV was every inch a king. He wore the curliest wigs, the richest robes, the rarest jewels, and the fanciest shoes in all of France. What might a day in the life of such a magnificent king be like?" Grades 2 - 8.

~ Life During the French Revolution, by Gail B. Stewart A nice overview. Grade 6 and up.

~ Song in the Streets, by Cornelia Spencer "A brief history of the French Revolution". Grade 7 and up.

~ Madame Royale, by Elizabeth Powers Based on the diary of Marie Antoinette's young daughter, Marie Therese Charlotte. What riveting insights! Grade 7 and up.

~ Puzzle of the Lost Dauphin, by Gwen Kimball Whatever happened to Marie Therese's little brother?
What became of young Louis-Charles will surely forever remain a mystery. Was he able to escape? A girl tries to solve the puzzle! Grade 5+

~ Why No, Lafayette? By Jean Fritz He fought in the American Revolution and was like a son to George Washington before becoming involved in the one sweeping across his own country (where he played a decisive part on the day the Bastille was stormed). A readable biography. Grade 5+

~ Jacobin's Daughter, by Joanne Williamson A tender story against the background of radicalism that enveloped the French Revolution. For grades 5 - 12.

Monday, 17 March 2014

A living science book ~

What a difference it can make when scientific details are presented in a lively narrative - as opposed to a dry account of consecutive facts in a textbook.

Following is a refreshing excerpt from Why You Feel Hot, Why You Feel Cold: Your Body's Temperature, by James Berry. Since we were designed to thrive on story and well-written stories create vivid pictures in our mind, it is easy to see how effortless retention can be!

"You have seen fast-burning fires and slow-burning fires.
A lighted birthday candle is an example of a fast-burning fire. It gives off heat. It also gives off light.
Hot charcoal over which a hamburg or a hot dog is cooking is an example of a slow-burning fire. It gives off heat, but the charcoal burns too slowly to give off much light or flame.
There are fires that burn much more slowly than charcoal - so slowly, in fact, that they give off only a tiny bit of heat and no light at all. One example of such a slow-burning fire is inside you.
Your muscles, skin, and the organs inside you are made up of tiny parts called cells. There are many millions of cells in your body, and inside each cell there is a small fire that burns night and day and gives off a tiny bit of heat. It is the heat from all these fires added together that makes you warm."

Saturday, 15 March 2014

A gentle pledge for reading and real learning - even with the little ones

Why Worksheets Don't Work

A living books author ~

Alice E. Goudey

One of the very best authors of delightful children's books was undoubtedly Alice E. Goudey.
She began her career as a school teacher in a one-room country school house until her marriage after which settled down to a domestic life. Thankfully, though, in 1945 she combined her interest in education and her experience with children once again and began to pen wonderful books just for them.

The Day We Saw the Sun Come Up, a delightful pondering at the beauty and nature of the sunand Houses from the Sea (names and shapes of shells, their indwelling creatures and how they make their intricate houses), illustrated by Adrienne Adams, were both winners of the Caldecott Honor Award in 1960 and 1962, respectively.

Her most beloved books, though, are probably her various stories about animals. These are my younger daughter's favourites and I am repeatedly amazed at how much she retains about these creatures.
Alice Goudey had a way of depicting animals in their natural surroundings, showing their lives with accurate scientific facts, yet with a deep understanding. She wove all this into stories full of suspense, into delightfully readable scientific narratives. 
Children reading these books simply absorb this scientific knowledge effortlessly and have their imaginations stored with pictures created by the words they read  - this indeed is the power of story!

From our collection:

~ Here Come the Bears!
~ Here Come the Beavers!
~ Here Come the Bees!
~ Here Come the Cottontails! 
~ Here Come the Dolphins!
~ Here Come the Deer!
~ Here Come the Elephants!
~ Here Come the Lions!
~ Here Come the Raccoons!
~ Here Come the Seals!
~ Here Come the Squirrels!
~ Here Come the Whales!
~ Here Come the Wild Dogs!

"It was the small petrels flying above the ocean who first saw the great blue whale as she thrust her head out of the water. 
An albatross, gliding through the air on outspread wings, saw her too. 
The birds saw what looked like a tall, white plume rising from her head.
Of course the birds had no way of knowing that the whale had just arrived from a long journey through the South Atlantic Ocean.
Several weeks ago she and many other whales left the icy waters of the South Polar regions, where the darkness of winter had come. The swam north toward the equator where there was warmer water.
The streamlined bodies of the powerful creatures glided through the water as fast as a good freighter could travel.
At times they swam underneath the water, staying down for perhaps as long as twenty minutes. While underneath the water they kept their two nostrils, which are on top of their heads, closed as tight as trap doors. When they came to the surface, they opened their nostrils and blew out their breath with a great whooshy-whistling sound. The warm, moist air coming from their lungs formed a cloud of vapor just as your breath does when you 'let it out' on a frosty day.
This was what the birds saw rising from the blue whale's head." 

(from Here Come the Whales)

Monday, 10 March 2014

We spent the morning with the lovely, playful poems by A. A. Milne (the author of Winnie the Pooh) - Puppy and I, Lines and Squares, Market Square, The King's Breakfast, Teddy Bear, and-

~ Spring Morning ~

Where am I going? I don't quite know.
Down to the stream where the king-cups grow-
Up on the hill where the pine trees blow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don't know.

Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
Where am I going? The shadows pass,
Little ones, baby ones, over the grass.

If you were a cloud, and sailed up there,
You'd sail on water as blue as air,
And you'd see me here in the fields and say:
"Doesn't the sky look green today?"

Where am I going? The high rooks call:
"It's awful fun to be born at all."
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
"We do have beautiful things to do."

If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You'd lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You'd say to the wind when it took you away:
"That's where I wanted to go today!"

Where am I going? I don't quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don't know.

(from: When We Were Very Young, by A. A. Milne)

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Books on spycraft, spies and their adventures seem to be quite popular with the kids in our library - and not just with our own! 

Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Spies, by Donald Sobol True stories of real spies from different times and locations by the author of the popular mystery/detective series!

True Adventures of Spies, by Manuel Komroff A collection of spy stories from the international stage (such as Napoleon's Karl Schulmeister and Norway's heroes) as well as different eras (Revolutionary and Civil War, and World Wars I and II).

Knowhow Book of Spycraft, by Falcon Travis One of the first original Usborne books, filled with lots of fun activities! Find out what a real spy testified about this book (have a look at the info here)!

Spy Code Caper, by Susan Pearson An exciting fictional detective story for younger kids.

Mystery Candlestick, by Jean Bothwell Set during the American Revolution, eleven-year-old Pliny Barstow discovers a candlestick which contains a secret message belonging to the underground spy network - "The danger of discovery is heightened when Pliny's family is forced to quarter the horses of two British officers who have been stationed in town with the Seventeenth Light Dragoons."

Phoebe the Spy, by Judith Berry Griffin Disguised as a housekeeper in Washington's household, a young girl works as a spy and reports everything she hears and sees to her father whom she meets every day at the market. She soon is caught up in a dangerous situation that involves life or death!

Patience Wright, by Pegi Deitz Shea About the Quaker artist and Revolutionary spy who moved to England and hid her secret messages inside the hollow busts of her famous wax figures.

Secret Road, by Bruce Lancaster Wonderful, exciting story which involves Washington's secret spy ring and which will take you right to the signs along the secret road:" lighted windows, bars down in gates, overturned milk pans. (...) each intelligence agent knows only his particular part of the picture puzzle." Will you be able to read the signals?

Spies of the Revolution, by Katherine and John Bakeless Fascinating true stories about American spies during the Revolution - and their equally brave and clever British counterparts!

Nathan Hale, by Susan Poole An easier biography of the young school teacher who is still remembered for his famous last words!

... and

Nathan Hale, by Virginia Frances Voight Also an easier biography.

Traitor in the Shipyard, by Kathleen Ernst A Caroline Mystery in the popular series. Set during the war of 1812, this mystery takes place on Lake Ontario: Are there British spies lurking around, seeking information about American warships?

Laura Secord's Brave Walk, by Connie Brummel Crook The riveting story of Laura Secord who walked for miles to alert the British of an American attack during the War of 1812, told here in an especially well-written book!

Belle Boyd: Secret Agent, by Jeannette C. Nolan One of my favourite authors wrote this "true spy thriller", a biography about Belle Boyd, the 17-year-old Southern girl who began a career as a secret agent during the American Civil War.

Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan This is a classic espionage thriller set in and written during World War I by Scottish novelist John Buchan - originally pubished in 1915!

Rosenbergs, by Anita Larsen Recounts the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were convicted as spies during the Cold War. This is an interesting read, but because of the haunting outcome of the trial I would recommend this book only for older kids.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The effect of books on a child's education

Although the results of this study were published a few years ago, I still marvel at the power of books!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Wonderful World of Picture Books ~

Well-composed picture books are really not only for small children - they are a symbiosis of artistic talents and delightful stories that thrill everyone!

I still love to add picture books to our various studies and read them aloud to our kids!

Here is a selection of favourites from our library:

Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails, by Verla Kay I just love this one! A delightful story told in engaging rhymes about a pioneer family moving to California- oh, and the frosty winter scene is so artistically well done!
"Mother, Father, Baby John, bouncing, jouncing, moving on... ."

Henry the Sailor Cat, by Mary Calhoun Great illustrations by Erick Ingraham!
A cat helps out in a storm ... an exciting adventure out on the water.

Yellow & Pink, by William Steig This is one important book that no child should miss! Wooden toy men wonder how they came into existence ... a classic!

How to Read a Rabbit, by Jean Fritz My children have delighted in this one many, many times - a boy wants to borrow a rabbit from an animal lending library! Jean Fritz is a prolific and well-known author and wrote this delightful story in 1959.

Will's Quill, by Don Freeman I love picture books with a historical twist and this is one of my favourites: "Many long years ago in Merrie Olde England there lived a country goose named Willoughby Waddle. While the other geese on the farm were content to spend their days nibbling on flowers and floating lazily on the lake, Willoughby was restless. He wanted to see the world, but even more, he wanted to be useful. And so early one spring morning he set out for Londontown." Where, of course, he ends up meeting Will Shakespeare.

Mary of Mile 18, by Ann Blades A Canadian Mennonite girl in BC wants a pet wolf!

Leah's Pony, by Elizabeth Friedrich Beautiful - the story, the art and above all the emotions it stirs! Set during the Great Depression, a girl decides to sacrifice her beloved horse in order to buy back her father's tractor.

Kinderdike, by Leonard Everett Fisher. He is one of my favourite illustrators - but Leonard Everett Fisher also knows how to craft a story well! This one is about the legendary flood in Holland in 1421.

Barn Dance! By Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault. Exquisite illustrations by Ted Rand! I can't remember how often this books has been requested as a read-aloud by my two middle children. It is such fun! The story starts out slowly but quickly picks up the pace of the actual barn dance, all brought to life via the use of language! A wonderful warm and outstanding picture book.

Anatole, by Eve Titus, illustrated by Paul Galdone The first in a series of beloved Anatole books, the "Parisian mouse magnifique". These hilarious classic stories are timeless - "Voila! Now the Duval Factory will learn a thing or two. Mice are known everywhere as the World's Best Judges of Cheese!"