Bear Circus by William Pene DuBois

It has been a year and a half since my mother gave me a stack of books from my childhood that she rescued from the basement of my childhood home.  I intended to share a few titles before now, but that’s the way it goes.  I’m sharing a favorite title today because the DLM has discovered it and loves it.

Bear Circus by William Pene DuBois is the story of a colony of koalas that have to leave their home because a swarm of grasshoppers eats all the eucalyptus leaves within the Koala Park where they live.  These frightened koalas set out to find a new home and are helped along by a troop of friendly kangaroos.  Just as the koalas and kangaroos are getting acquainted, an airplane transporting Colonel Tim’s Tiny Time Circus crashes nearby.  (Don’t worry–the Tiny Time Circus performers parachute to safety!)  I love this description:

With great luck, the bears and the kangaroos soon came across some beautiful gum trees.  They were standing straight and were green as a crisp salad.  There was a fine beach and the sea behind them.

The crashing pink airplane arrived at the same place at just about the same time.

“What is that?” asked a baby bear.

“I never saw anything like it,” said his friend.

The pink airplane crashed into a million tiny bits, scattering pretty circus things all over the bears’ new home.

“It must have been a Christmas present which opens itself,” said a baby bear.

“I think you are right,” said his friend.

The koalas decide they will put on a circus to thank their kangaroo friends.  Of course, because koalas move slowly, it takes them years to get it together, but get it together they do.  It is absolutely delightful!  (This is the part that hooked the DLM.)  We get to see koalas performing as clowns, strong men, and even the amazing Splasho, who goes up into the air from a teeterboard and lands in a bathtub.  The story ends with the koalas looking for a new home (the grasshoppers found their gum trees!).  More importantly, though, it ends with a sweet commentary on friendship.

If you’re looking for political correctness or scientific accuracy, keep looking.  However, if you’re looking for an engaging story with gorgeous illustrations (and koalas adorably dressed as circus performers!), this is your book.  William Pene DuBois won a Newbery Medal for The Twenty-One Balloons in 1948 and a couple of Caldecott Medals for picture books after that, but this is the only book by him I’ve ever read.  Published in 1971, my copy is a Weekly Reader Bookclub Book (remember those?).  I have no memory of how it came into my possession as a child, though it definitely made an impression on me.  It isn’t the best book to read aloud to a group (I tried), but it’s the perfect book to snuggle up with and enjoy together.  Highly Recommended.

Homeschool wanderings: history edition

IMG_1852In the spirit of Old School Blogging (which I’ve decided to make an Official Thing), I’m going to share some very raw and likely under-developed thoughts about our homeschool journey and where we find ourselves at the moment.  This won’t be Pinterest-worthy, with five neat points; neither will it be complete with Tweetably succint statements.  It won’t include beautifully coordinated stock photos.  It will simply be what I’m thinking at the moment.  You’ve been warned.  :-)

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

–J. R. R. Tolkien

We began this homeschool journey after I fell under the influence of the world of early-learning (mostly book) blogs and later the book The Well-Trained Mind.  Way back when I had two children, a five year old and a three year old, and was gestating a third, I imagined a completely idealistic homeschool experience for our family:  a four year history rotation; well-developed writing skills; eager learners who never balk at any challenge.  Happy!  Happy!  Happy!  Engaged!  Engaged!  Engaged!

And then I had a fourth child, and the third child turned out to be a gregarious, attention-loving cutie pie who will not be denied.  With the maturation of these two pairs of children, those idealized dreams have died a protracted and painful death.  I’ve tried out numerous plans.  I’ve attempted to “do” the WTM model.  We were Classical Conversation-ers for a year.  I even bought the Sonlight notebook (!!!) last summer.  Here’s the truth of the matter:  I don’t like to plan, but I also don’t like to follow someone else’s plan.  Spreadsheets nearly send me into a full-blown panic.  I like routine, but I also like flexibility.  For the core subjects–math, writing, and language–we stick to the same curricula and cover the basics.  I feel pretty good about where both girls are.  However, for things like history and even science to some degree, we’ve been all over the board.  We read through the first three Story of the World volumes and loved them (and read a whole lot of related books, too), and then I decided it was time to delve into U.S. History.  After trying out a couple of the Sonlight-recommended spines, I finally struck out on my own and gave Joy Hakim’s The History of US a try.  Can I just say that we have loved these books?  Seriously, y’all.  I know they’re perhaps not completely acceptable in conservative circles, but the narrative style and interesting human-interest details have captured our minds and hearts. Couple the interest-factor with the fact that we’ve listened to much of it via OneClick Digital (and the narrator is fantastic!), and we have a winning combination.  I’ve had the girls keep a timeline in a notebook, and every week(ish) they add pictures and a short explanation of the person or event.  I also have them write up narrations occasionally.  They read lots of historical fiction, with the occasional nonfiction pick or biography thrown in.  I read aloud historical fiction to them.  They’ve memorized the preamble to the Declaration of Independence and are working on the preamble to the Constitution, as well as the presidents in order.  They occasionally put together a puzzle of the U.S.  The end.

So what’s the problem?  Well, Lulu will be in sixth grade next year.  SIXTH GRADE.  That’s one year away from SEVENTH GRADE.  Things start to feel a little more serious when you’re two years away from high school.  I’ve been trying to figure out how to proceed:  do I find a curriculum, say Veritas Press or Memoria Press, and try to once again follow a schedule?  (I’ve looked at those, and they almost make me break out in hives.)  Or do I accept Tolkien’s philosophy and believe it:  all who wander aren’t lost?  Is there a need to box us in, though the year already promises to be jam-packed with busy-ness, with the bonus challenge of adding an Official Kindergartener next year?  Or should we continue our freewheeling ways, with nary a worksheet, test, or real actual objectives and scope and sequence in sight?

These are the heavy thoughts tumbling about in my mind on a Friday night.

I have thoughts about subject besides history, too, but I’ll save them for another day.  Even Old School Blogging has its limits.  :-)



Red Sails to Capri by Ann Weil

I picked up Red Sails to Capri by Anne Weil for this month’s Newbery Through the Decades challenge because I remembered reading favorite reviews of it in the past, likely on homeschooling blogs or message boards.   I cannot recall now who said what about it, but it was enough to make me want to read it.  It’s a simple story about a fourteen year old boy, Michele, and his parents who are innkeepers on the island of Capri.  Life is predictable, even boring, on the island until a trio of gentlemen show up in the off-season.  The men are an English artist who seeks out beauty; a Danish student in search of quiet solitude; and a Frenchman who longs for adventure.  The Paganos are happy enough to have these three customers in their inn during their slowest season until the Monsieur Jacques’ thirst for adventure results in their extreme curiosity in a cove that excites nothing but fear into the hearts of the Caprians.  After much arguing and persuasion, a contingent of explorers (including Michele and his father) set off to explore this cove and make a wondrous discovery that will change the future of Capri forever.  (If you don’t mind spoilers and you haven’t already figured out what their discovery is, you can go here to learn what it is.)

I enjoyed this little book immensely.  It is the deserving winner of a 1953 Newbery honor.  (Charlotte’s Web also won a Newbery honor–yes, “only” an honor–in 1953, which I think is interesting to note.)  I don’t know why I didn’t make any connections to the resolution of the tale with the mystery of the cove, but I didn’t.  I think this probably made it a little more enjoyable to me.  Believe it or not, this little story contains a good bit of humor, which I found refreshing.  My favorite chapter relates how Michele’s mother, who is quite an accomplished cook, refuses to cook for her family or the inn’s guests because she doesn’t want them to explore the cove.  This leaves Michele and father with the task of preparing breakfast for the three gentleman whom they really want to keep happy.  To say that they have a difficult time preparing the Frenchman’s two requisite softboiled eggs is an understatement:

The table, an old wooden one, had been scraped and scoured for man years.  It was slightly higher in the center, but only an egg would have noticed the gentle slope.  These eggs, the two of them, noticed it immediately; and while Signor Pagano was bent over the fire, they rolled slowly down the incline and fell with a squash onto the floor.  (100)

Weil’s careful unspooling of the story and her attention to detail makes this a delightful read.  It reminds me a little bit of the old Hayley Mills flick The Moon-Spinners, mostly because of the exotic locale in which it is set.  This is also owing, though, to the air of innocence in the story.  A modern story with a fourteen year old male protagonist wouldn’t likely be one I’d be in a hurry to hand off to my nine year old daughter, but I’m planning to do just that with this particular story.  Highly Recommended.  (1952)

Spotlight on Rosalyn Schanzer

I have a new-to-me author/illustrator to share today, which is something I haven’t done in a while.  I discovered Rosalyn Schanzer quite by accident as I was window shopping on Amazon for some books for my girls’ U.S. History studies.  Buying picture books and novels about U.S. History has become a minor hobby of mine, so I thought as I put her book George vs. George:  The American Revolution As Seen from Both Sides in my shopping cart, “What’s one more?”  ;-)  I was really intrigued by the premise of a book that shows the American Revolution from the perspectives of the two Georges:  King George III of England and George Washington.  This is a picture book, but don’t let the genre fool you:  this is good stuff!   In fact, I daresay that it would make an excellent addition to even high school level studies!  This book compares and contrasts everything from the two Georges’ physical attributes (they were both tall and red-headed) to English versus American colonial government to the British versus the “Rebel” forces during the war.  It also follows the timeline and narrative of the American Revolution while noting the similarities and distinctions.  The illustrations are beautifully colorful and intricately detailed.  They are almost comic-book like in that each page features speech ballons which contain actual quotations.  However, this is not a book of caricature; the illustrations are, as far as I can tell, carefully rendered and as accurate as possible.  I am really intrigued by this book and think it’s worth a second and third glance for upper elementary students and up.  (National Geographic, 2004)
A book I plan to share with my girls next week is Schanzer’s How We Crossed the West:  The Adventures of Lewis and Clark.  It is somewhat similar in format to George vs. George.  It’s not quite as detailed, though it is plenty detailed for elementary and middle school aged children.  Schanzer works in lots of actual quotes from the actual journals of Lewis and Clark.  The book provides a wonderful overview of their long and exciting journey, with enough detail to whet appetites for further study.  I learned a lot about the Voyage of Discovery and am really quite interested in all things Lewis and Clark now after having read this one picture book.  (National Geographic, 1997)

The things that stand out to me the most about Schanzer’s are the lovely illustrations and the obvious careful attention to detail.  The backmatter of both books includes lots of “after the story” information, and George vs. George includes an extensive bibliography as well as the sources for all of the quotations in the book.  Both book includes a list of websites and addresses for more information.  The Lewis and Clark book includes several beautifully illustrated maps.   I love both of these books and really look forward to reading more of her stuff.  I plan to order Gold Fever!:  Tales from the California Gold Rush soon.
Related links:

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

I read The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer for Carrie’s Reading to Know bookclub, which was hosted in March by Shonya from Learning How Much I Don’t Know.   Tozer is an author I’ve wanted to read for a very long time, and in fact I had begun a different book by him not too long ago, which I regret to say I never finished.  I’m very happy to say I finished this one on the first day of April.  It took me much of March to read it, not because I found it terribly long or I had to force myself to read it, but because I read most of it on my iphone.  I downloaded the free copy (linked here) for my Kindle, and then my Kindle went on the fritz.  I wouldn’t recommend reading long-term on such a tiny screen, but hey–it was free!  ;-)

I thoroughly enjoyed and was greatly encouraged by this book.  I suspect this has much to do with where I am spiritually at the moment more than (necessarily) anything about the book, though given its popularity I assume many people feel similarly about it.  I’ve spent the past year (or more) really thinking about Christianity deeply–it has become cerebral for me, and I miss the more emotional part of my faith.  In fact, I think I had slipped over into a dangerous place where I discounted the “felt” part of faith, and this book helped bring me back to a middle ground.  (Please don’t misconstrue or misunderstand–I do NOT think our faith is based on feeling.  However, I do believe that feeling can have some part in it at times during our lives.  In fact, leaving our emotions entirely out of it is surely not what God intended!)  Tozer speaks to this very thing:

Between the scribe who has read and the prophet who has seen there is a difference as wide as the sea.  We are today overrun with orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they?  The hard voice of the scribe sounds over evangelicalism, but he Church awaits for the tender voice of the saint who has penetrated the vail and has gazed with inward eye upon the Wonder that is God.  And yet, thus to penetrate, to push in sensitive living experience into the holy Presence, is a privilege open to every child of God.

When I first started reading it, I thought it would be a great book to take chapter-by-chapter and journal or blog through.  However, my life being as busy at it is, I couldn’t manage that.  I did read it one chapter at a time and without breezing through it like I usually do.  I think this made a huge difference in my enjoyment and appreciation for this book.  I truly enjoyed many of the chapters (and I have the highlights and bookmarks to prove it–I really don’t know when I’ve highlighted or bookmarked more!)  I think my favorite parts of the book, though, were the prayers.  I’d really like to go back and re-read the book and think about it some more.  I at least think re-reading the prayers would be beneficial.  (And dare I say that actually praying them might even be more beneficial?  ;-) )

I wish I could share deeper theological thoughts about it than this.  Instead I’ll close with just a few excerpts from my favorite chapter, chapter nine, which is entitled “Meekness and Rest.”  This is something I think about a lot, so this chapter really ministered to me.

The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority.  Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself.  He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life.  He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels.  In himself, nothing; in God, everything.  That is his motto.  He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and has stopped caring.  He rests perfectly content to allow God to place His own values.  He will be patient to wait for hte day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own.  Then the righteous shall shine forth in the Kingdom of their Father.  HE is willing to wait for that day.

The heart of the world is breaking under this load of pride and pretense.  There is no release from our burden apart from the meekness of Christ.  Good keen reasoning  may help slightly, but so strong is this vice that if we push it down one place it will come up somewhere else.  To men and women everywhere Jesus says, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.”  The rest He offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend.  It will take some courage at first, but the needed grace will come as we learn that we are sharing this new and easy yoke with the strong Son of God Himself.  He calls it “my yoke,” and He walks at one end while we walk at the other.

This is definitely a book and an author I want to revisit.  Thanks, Carrie and Shonya, for the encouragement to finally pick this one up!