It’s Cybils time!

Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards

For the first time in several years, I won’t be hosting my usual Armchair Cybils challenge. (Life is extraordinarily busy these days, and something has to give!) However, that doesn’t mean I won’t be following along with all the reviewing and opining!  In fact, I’ve already made my lone nomination for the year.  Have you?

Newbery Through the Decades: the 2010s

newbery through the decades

Well, here we are, friends–the last month and the last (half) decade of the challenge!  I’m excited about this month because it’s not quite as overwhelming since we’re only half way through the 2010s.  Also, a few years ago I made a concerted effort to try to read the Newberys each year as soon as I could after they were announced, so I’ve read quite a few of these and have even blogged about them:

2015 Medal Winner: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Honor Books:

  • El Deafo by Cece Bell
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

2014 Medal Winner: Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

Honor Books:

2013 Medal Winner: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Honor Books:

2012 Medal Winner: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Honor  Books:

2011 Medal Winner: Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Honor Books:

2010 Medal WinnerWhen You Reach Me  by Rebecca Stead

Honor Books:


I’ve read seventeen out of twenty-five of these, so I have some pretty strong opinions about this half-decade.  My top picks from this list are Paperboy by Vince Vawter (2014 honor), Inside Out and Back Again by Thannhai Lai (2012 honor), and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2010 honor).  I also have to give another Highly Recommended to Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman (2011 honor) because it’s the lone poetry book (though not novel-in-verse) represented, and what a beautiful one it is!  It’s interesting to me to note that I like the honor books better than the medalists.

I’m currently reading Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus aloud to my girls and the DLM (when he decides to listen), so I might share some thoughts about that when I’m through.  (My original review is here.)  Besides that, I think I’m going to try to finish up the 2010 books.  I am extremely excited about reading Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; one of my IRL friends recommended it to me just a month or so ago.  Claudette Colvin:  Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose is intriguing to me because she is an historical figure I’d never even heard of before this book came out. The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick fits in with the historical time period we’re studying now, so maybe I can fit it in.  Never has a truer phrase been spoken:  so many books, so little time!  :-)

Happy October!  Now, let’s get to reading!  :-)

Newbery Through the Decades: September link-up

newbery through the decadesGood morning! :-) I had big plans to read two books this month for the challenge, but I only read one: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale.  I liked it but didn’t love it; I’m pretty sure I would’ve liked my other pick (Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt) more if I had only had time to read it!  Ah, well–there’s always next year!

What did you read?  Please, share or link up your blog posts in the comments.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale is an author whose books I’ve wanted to revisit for the sake of potentially passing them on to my girls.  Thus, it made sense for me to read (re-read?) Princess Academy for this month’s Newbery Through the Decades challenge.  I believe I read it soon after it was published in 2005, but since those were gestating, breastfeeding, and sleep deprived years, I just can’t remember.  I ended up both reading the book and listening to the audiobook while I walked because I always try to pack as much into every minute as I can.  😉  The book itself is a fun read, with a very likable heroine and the feeling of a fairy or folktale that I imagine many girls might enjoy.    The heroine, Miri, is a small girl who lives in a mountain quarrying village.  She has been forbidden to work in the quarry for some reason unbeknownst to her, and she longs to be a part of the quarrying community.  Life changes when emissaries of the king show up in their village to corral all the village girls of marriageable age and take them to a school to be trained in the art and science of being a princess.  It has been prophesied that the next princess will come from their village.  While at the academy, Miri rises to new heights of leadership and finds that she has a bent toward study, and the lure of leaving the mountain and giving her papa and her sister a beautiful home entices her to dream of marrying the prince herself.  There are all sorts of obstacles in the path of these mountain girls, not the least of which are their own prejudices and petty jealousies against each other.  Miri discovers that these mountain girls are pretty powerful, though, thanks in part to a phenomenon known as “quarry speech,” a sort of mental telepathy that comes in handy when the girls are in threatening situations.  There’s also a pretty big romantic element to this story, with Miri yearning for her childhood playmate, Peter, the handsomest young man in the village.  The story ends well, with Miri discovering some important things about her past and the whole princess situation being resolved in a highly satisfying, if not the most likely, way.

I enjoyed this story, though I don’t think it is the best written of the Newberys I’ve read.  Figurative language is something I’m always looking and listening for in what I read, and this one has a fair amount, but most of it is unremarkable–predictable, even.  The audiobook helped move the story along for me when I couldn’t find time to read, but I prefer straight-up narration over dramatization, and this one is the latter.  I found Miri’s voice rather annoying.  By the end of the book I didn’t notice as much any more, but every once in a while I would cringe a little at it.

The bottom line here?  If you’re looking for something that will wow you with the beauty of the writing, this one isn’t it.  If you’re looking for a fun and engaging story, this one might be for you.  (Scholastic, 2005)

Six Weeks In–2015-16 school year

At the park near our new home. . .

At the park near our new home. . .

This year instead of weekly school wrap-ups, I thought I’d try something that seems a little less daunting and more do-able for me:  a six-weeks-in-review sort of write-up.  (Never mind that I’ve been trying to work on it all week. . . )

We eased into the school year on August 13, which means yesterday was the end of the six week.   I’ve shared our curricula (which has already changed a little bit) and our circle time plans already.  Here’s the nitty-gritty of what we’ve been up to:


Lulu is working steadily through Singapore 5B.  We’re just a few units from the end of this, and we’re knee-deep in geometry right now.  Geometry isn’t her first love, but we’re making it through ok.  Each week I try to give her several problems from the Challenging Word Problems book, too, and these sometimes challenge both of us.  This, along with the math games class I’m facilitating at co-op, is a winning combination for our math-lover.

Louise started out the year in Singapore 4A, and all was well with that until we got to a unit on division.  There was a bit of a gap there between where we stopped RightStart and where we picked up Singapore, so last week we picked RightStart back up to cover division and possibly fractions before going ahead in Singapore.  I’ve enjoyed Singapore, but I am happy to be back in RightStart.  I do love it!  Louise is also in the math games class, so this ensures that she plays a math game at least once a week.  :-)

The DLM and I started in on RightStart level A and we’ve made steady progress of about two lessons a week.  We’re up to lesson 14 or so, and for a while he didn’t believe we were doing math.  (I think he expected it to be like his sisters’.)  He’s warmed up to it now, and I am SO enjoying watching him make connections and gain number sense.  Still, his favorite thing to do is play the game Rat-a-Tat-Cat (which is math-related, but maybe not quite as beneficial as the time we give to it would indicate)–I just can’t resist when he asks me if we can play it.

What a broad topic!  Since we’ve ditched formal grammar for the year (thanks to Brave Writer!), some days I feel a bit discombobulated because just about everything we do that relates to language requires my direct involvement.  We’ve consistently done dictation (four weeks’ worth with passages from By the Great Horn Spoon! and one so far from Heart of a Samurai) and copywork of our own choosing.  That has been fun.  We’ve attempted a few projects from Brave Writer products (Faltering Ownership and Partnership Writing), the most successful of which was the wild words project in which we collected words and did some fun things with them.  We didn’t finish the project, but I feel like what we did do was worth the effort and beneficial despite the fact that it was unfinished.

IMG_20150828_1130599_rewind.1 IMG_20150828_113250.len IMG_20150828_1131412_rewindPoetry tea time continues to be a much-anticipated part of our week.  I aim for every-other-week, though everyone would be happy if we did it weekly.

Full disclosure: the tablecloth's terribly wrinkled and only half the table is cleaned off :-)

Full disclosure: the tablecloth’s terribly wrinkled and only half the table is cleaned off :-)

I suppose read-alouds fall into this category, too, though they mostly feel like just what we do instead of like school.  You can check out some of what we’ve been reading this month here in this post.

One more thing we did this six weeks is a close reading of a short story.  I was inspired by Farrar at I Capture the Rowhouse to do this this year.  Our first short story was “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes.  I had the girls read it and mark anything they noticed special about it one day and we discussed it over tea the next day.  I think it was a hit, though one girl liked it much better than the other.  I couldn’t help but follow it up with a bit of Langston Hughes’ poetry, too.



We’re trucking along in Apologia’s Exploring Creation Through Chemistry and Physics thanks to a class the girls are taking at co-op.  They’re up through lesson 3 on this.  We’ve been supplementing at home all along with American Chemical Society’s Middle School Chemistry curriculum (FREE!), which is fantastic.  We completed the last part of the first lesson on Wednesday.  Last week we also plunged into Ellen McHenry’s The Elements because parts of the Apologia course seemed a little too complex for the amount of coverage they were given in the book.  We’ve completed two chapters of this.  This is the first time in a long time that I feel like I’ve engaged with my girls in their science studies, and it feels good.





One of my goals this year is to utilize more documentaries in our homescholing.  We started watching NOVA’s Hunting the Elements this week, and everyone was immediately engrossed.  I’m looking forward to finishing it!


So far this year we’ve meandered through the first sixty years or so of the 19th century with Joy Hakim’s History of US volume 5.  Most weeks the girls have written at least one narration.  I try to hold sixth grade Lulu to a stricter standard than fourth grade Louise.  This means that some weeks Louise might just narrate orally.  (I’m being nebulous because that’s what I am in reality–nebulous.  😉 )  This week both girls began working on a special little project involving someone from the pre-Civil War era.  I did this because I realized that if we read every single chapter in the history text that we would never get through the Civil War before Christmas, which is not exactly where I want to mire up in our studies.  Louise is writing an obituary for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  Lulu is writing a skit about the lives of William and Ellen Craft.  Louise has also been reading Shipwrecked by Rhoda Blumberg and writing short narrations of each chapter.  
We’ve watched one history documentary-National Geographic’s Lewis and Clark:  Great Journey West.


We’re up to lesson 7 in Latin for Children Primer A.  So far this has been a huge success for us.  I will admit that the volume of material we’ve covered is almost more than my middle aged brain is able to retain, but my girls are handling much better than I am.  We listen to the chants almost every time we go somewhere (they’re loaded on the hard drive of our van’s sound system–yippee for technology!).  I also purchased Clash Cards, and that has been a really fun way to practice all the vocabulary words.  I know I need a visual way to help myself remember all this material; that’s something I hope to work on this weekend.


The DLM is blazing through All About Reading level one.  We’re up through lesson 11, so we’re averaging about two lessons a week.  I don’t review with him like I should, but so far it doesn’t seem to have hindered him in any way.  I do think he could zoom ahead if I had the time to devote to working with him, but he’s happy just going along at the pace we’re working at, so I try not to feel too guilty.


I haven’t even started teaching him to write yet.  He can write his name, and he often does write–quite a bit.  I just haven’t had the time to tackle proper form, etc.  I hope to get to that after Christmas, maybe.  He draws and colors a lot, and I’ve tried to take to heart the Brave Writer philosophy about this age/stage of development and Jot It Down occasionally.  We made a book about “Destroy Spiders” last week:



Just below Wilson Dam

Just below Wilson Dam

Other projects:

Lulu is working on a project for National History Day.  I attended a workshop about this program a few weeks ago and was so impressed by what a great program it is for homeschoolers.  (It’s open to homeschooled and traditionally schooled students.)  It’s quite an undertaking, but I hope to encourage her along in it as long as she remains motivated.


Snails on a rock, discovered by Louise (of course)

Louise is still obsessed with sea shells, so she’s working on a sea shell project right now.  I’ve let this be almost entirely student-directed.  First, though, before tackling the actual sea shells, she has decided that she has to make a poster about about gastropods.  I’ll share it if she’ll let me once she’s finished.

The big, huge project that Lulu’s a part of right now is our homeschool co-op’s BEST Robotics team.  This started at the end of September, and game day is mid-October.  Lulu is a part of the engineering team and is the notetaker.  They meet four nights a week, so this is quite a commitment.  She has enjoyed it very much and has learned a lot already.


Piano lessons continue weekly.  Both girls are practicing for hymn fest next month.  All three school aged children are involved with AWANA and choir at church.  Louise has also joined 4H.


Field trips:

We’ve only had a couple:  we made a trip up to the Huntsville Botanical Garden one HOT Friday when I really needed to get out of the house.  Then, the next Friday was Oka Kapassa.  I hope to get outside more now that it has finally cooled off!

Other stuff:

One of Steady Eddie’s projects since we moved over the summer is to build the kids a playscape in the back yard.  All the kids pitched in, and this is how far they’ve gotten:



One thing we have instituted is a family movie night.  It’s on hold right now due to robotics, but it’s a highly anticipated part of our week and we’ll all be glad when we can get back to it.  So far we’ve watched

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • Despicable Me
  • Black Beauty
  • Batman (1966 version)
  • Robin Hood (Disney cartoon version–without Steady Eddie and Lulu)

Audiobooks also continue to be an important part of our learning.  I’m attempting to keep up with what we listen to here.  I shared a few brief reviews here.

Louise has officially begun the process of learning to type.

The girls read non-stop, and I’m attempting this year to have them keep up with what they read.  I’m pretty sure the lists won’t really be complete, but I hope to share what they’ve recorded soon.

I find this homeschooling journey just as full of self-doubt as ever, despite the fact that we’ve been at it for a while now.  Spelling out what we’ve done reminds me of what a rich life we have here at home.  We have a lot to be thankful for.