Read Aloud Thursday–August 2015–books added!


Good morning!  Long time, no write.  😉  Yes, I’m still here–just super duper busy.  All of our weekly activities have now begun, and I’m finding myself with less and less time to sit and do anything that requires thought, like writing blog posts.  Add to that the fact that Steady Eddie has been out of town all week (coming home TODAY!  Yippee!), and my days have been bookended by little more than a few snatches of the Bible, school planning, and working on my various roles for my out-of-the-house responsibilities.  (Also–mindless surfing the internet, but that unfortunately goes without saying.  Sigh.)  We have been reading, though; I just haven’t had the time to share any of the books.  I hope to have some time later tonight to do just that.  Stay tuned.  :-)

I’m back!  Steady Eddie is home, the kids are kicked back with pizza and Despicable Me, and I’m ready to share a few picture books we’ve enjoyed this month:
I picked up Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo for one simple reason:  books about nanas are must-reads for us since we have a Nana whom we love a lot.  (I didn’t even realize this one is a 2015 Caldecott honor book until I attached the link image here.)  It’s the sweet, sweet story about a little boy who visits his city-living nana.  As he and his nana make their way to her apartment, he gives all the things he doesn’t like about the city:  it’s noisy, it’s scary, etc.  Nana greets him the next morning with a superhero cape to help him feel brave, and it works.  When he says his goodbyes before returning home, he gives Nana back the cape so she can be brave without him.  Talk about a tearjerker!  The illustrations are gorgeous–saturated and colorful and busy, just like the city.  Highly Recommended.  (Clarion, 2014)

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang is a very fun book of comparisons.  The back-and-forth between small and not-so-small bears really captured the DLM’s attention and tickled his funny bone.  The text is succinct, forceful, and predictable–all things my busy five year old likes.  Christopher Weyant’s illustrations are delightfully cartoonish.  This is another Highly Recomended title for the preschool/early primary set.  (2014, Two Lions).

Big Bad Bunny by Franny Billengsley is another picture book that has won the approval of the DLM.  This one is a bit more sophisticated than the previous two, with two seemingly unrelated plotlines converging surprisingly and satisfyingly in the end.  Mama Mouse has lost Baby Boo-Boo, and she has to reach her before Big Bad Bunny does.  Each two-page spread includes the alternating plot lines, which are distinguishable by not just the story but also the fonts and the syle of the illustrations.  I won’t ruin the ending, but I will say that it even took me (a little) by surprise.  (That’s actually not too hard to do.  😉 )I personally find G. Brian Karas’ illustrations a bit quirky for my taste, but they match the story very well.  (Atheneum, 2008)

I actually can’t believe I haven’t shared Supertruck by Stephen Savage before.  Really–if you have superhero fans in your family (and who doesn’t?), run–don’t walk–to your library and check this one out!  Bonus points for you if those super hero fans are also large motorized vehicle fans, which is definitely the case here at the House of Hope.  There’s enough sophistication here to delight even adult readers.  This one would also make a great one to read alongside Katy and the Big Snow.  Highly Recommended.  (Roaring Brook Press, 2015)

As for chapter books, we’re currently immersed in a small handful.  That’s actually more than I like to tackle at a time, but. . . it happens.  :-)  After finishing the first book of the new Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series (and loving it!), my girls and I started on Laddie by Gene Stratton Porter.  I was inspired to read this one aloud because it is the August pick for the Reading to Know Bookclub.  I just hope we have it finished by the end of September.  😉  We’re also reading (and loving!) By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman which relates to our history studies.  Steady Eddie finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe early in the month, and we (of course!) had to pick up Prince Caspian.  The girls are very familiar with these stories, having listened to them already and having already read them themselves.  The idea is that the DLM will listen this time through, and while I DO think he is getting something out of the readings, I have to say that he’s still more a fan of picture books than chapter books.  He did request a Nate the Great story earlier this month all on his own.  Since these are long picture books with few pictures, I consider this a step in the right direction.  :-)
That’s it for this month’s RAT.  I hope we settle into our new routine soon and well and that I can be back to blogging a few times each week.  Thank you for your patience!  :-)




The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford

I have a new series to add to my list of favorites!  My girls and I finished the first title in The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series, The Case of the Missing Moonstone, by Jordan Stratford earlier this week.  This book is a mishmash of fun historical fiction and girl-power heroines full of both moxie and smarts.  The Wollstonecraft Detectives are Ada Byron, daughter of Lord Byron, and Mary Wolstonecraft (who will become Mary Shelley).  Other historical and literary figures make their appearances here, including Percy Shelley, Charles Babbage, and even Charles Dickens.  Readers who prefer their historical fiction to be entirely historically accurate will find much to be bothered by in this series; Stratford makes no bones about the fact that Ada Byron and Mary Wolstonecraft would not have exactly been contemporaries, etc.  Also, the story has a modern-day sensitivity to individual differences–Ada Byron seems suspiciously Asperger-ish to me.  Still, all the name dropping and clever references are very entertaining, and my girls really liked the gentle mystery included in the story.  Even the title of the book is a nod to the first detective story.  This book would make a great introduction to the world of women in science and technology, the Romantic Period, or even the history of computers (reading about Ada’s friendship with Charles Babbage brought back memories of my days in a computer science class :-) ).  We give The Case of the Missing Moonstone a Highly Recommended and eagerly await the publication of the next book in the series in January 2016.

Year 7, Day 1


I’m having a hard time believing that today we began our seventh year of this home education experiment.  As beginnings go it was not all that auspicious.  I wasn’t really ready (when am I ever?) and I’ve been undergoing something of a philosophical shift these past six months.  (You can read more about that here and here.  I think I’ve even drifted further from my original classical roots now than I was when I wrote those two posts.)  Things feel like they’re unsettled.  Add to that the fact that I have a sixth grader (!!!) and a brand-new kindergartener who is definitely READY for action, and I feel like I’m brand new at this.

So, what did we do?  Well, we started our time together with a first day of school tradition–new somethings.  Some years the somethings are even really “school” related.  This year, in keeping with my new philosophies, they were not.  Benny got a new Sandra Boynton book, Hippos Go Berserk.  The DLM got a kinetic sand kit.  Louise got a new seashell book which caused her to positively squeal with delight. (Seriously. Y’all should’ve heard her.)  Lulu got a new 1000 piece puzzle which kept her semi-distracted for much of the day.  :-)

The girls worked through a bit more of Khan Academy to review last year’s grade level while I worked through lesson two of All About Reading level one with the DLM.  (He got a head start on his kindergarten studies while Lulu was at robotics earlier in the week. :-) )  This all went pretty well, frustrations over technology notwithstanding.  We bought two Kindle Fires for school use this year, and the girls have been mostly working on Khan Academy through the app on these devices.  Sometimes that’s a bit more trouble than it’s worth to me, but it’s what we do.

After that, we headed upstairs for poetry tea time, which was without a doubt the best part of the day for everyone.  :-)

IMG_20150813_1045018_rewind IMG_20150813_1048123_rewindI commissioned the girls with the task of finding their new memory poems during today’s tea time, and they did.  Louise chose the John F. Kennedy poem from Marilyn Singer’s collection Rutherford B., Who Was He?  and Lulu chose Shakespeare’s eighteenth sonnet.  (She was intrigued by the fact that he wrote it for Queen Elizabeth I.)  My favorite poem today was the title poem from Michael Rosen’s collection entitled Bananas in My Ears.

What ever we share, poetry tea time is always worthwhile.

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During tea time I suggested a little month-long Brave Writer project in which we will all collect words and phrases we read that capture our imaginations and gather them in a basket.  I didn’t reveal to the girls what we’ll do with these later, but the whole notion was well-received.


After tea time it was back downstairs for us to tackle a bit more of our together-work.  First, though, the girls and I covered a trio of composition books to make our own commonplace books.  I had them choose their own copywork today, an idea I borrowed from, you guessed it, Brave Writer.  I chose to copy a lovely passage from Laddie by Gene Stratton Porter, which is our bedtime read-aloud.  The girls both copied their memory work poems.  During this Benny played with playdough and the DLM had a glorious time with his kinetic sand.  :-)

Lunchtime came next, and with it a couple of read-alouds:  How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World and several chapters from Tree in the Trail.  The girls gave me brief oral narrations at the end of each chapter.

After I read to and rocked Benny (with the DLM listening in) and put him down for his nap, I took a few (very needed!) minutes to rest while the girls worked on their history readings (from our current volume of A History of US), narrations, and reading from their assigned books.  My goal was for them to read about an hour.  I intended for Lulu to start reading The Cay, but she was in the middle of Bomb, so I let her keep working on that title instead.  (I find it somewhat humorous that I let Louise, my nine year old, check this one out from the library on our last library run, especially when I go back and read my own review of it.  She devoured it, as has Lulu.  So much for sheltering my kids.  😉 ) Louise’s assigned book was N.D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards.  The DLM listened to a Beatrix Potter audiobook.

After this, the girls and I worked through the first lesson of Latin for Children’s primer A.  One girls liked it, the other didn’t.  She’s really balking at the whole learning Latin proposition, so Steady Eddie and I are prepared to offer her an alternative.  While we worked on Latin, the DLM played on the Starfall app (as well as some drawing app) on the Kindle Fire.

Next up, while the girls finished up their Latin, the DLM and I worked through lesson two of RightStart A.  (It’s funny to me that he doesn’t consider this math.  If it doesn’t involve actual mathematical operations, it doesn’t count!)  Next it was on to some book-related preschool actitivities (sort of FIAR-ish) from Ready-Made Preschool.  

By this time it was nearing supper time, which is rightly called by many “the witching hour.”  😉  However, I had a plan, and I wanted to conquer it today, so I pressed on.  Thankfully, one of the few undone activities was a math game, so the girls were willing to keep going.  :-)  We played a quick game of Quixx just as Steady Eddie was getting home from work.  Meanwhile, the DLM stayed in the basement and used an entire small bottle of glue and half a bag of cotton balls on his own project.  😉
If I was looking to check boxes today, well, that’s just not how things are shaping up here.  I suppose a respectable amount of learning did occur today, nevertheless.  Mostly this home education thing feels unwieldy and messy, not nice and measurable.  I know enough about education to know that that’s not how we like it. I’ve been reading a lot lately about unschooling (particularly here), and while I don’t know that I would every completely do away with my own agenda, I see a lot of value in student-led learning.  Folks like Brave Writer and Melissa Wiley help keep me sane and help me see that family-based learning can’t be nicely compartmentalized, and that’s ok.



And now for something a little different. . .

I know back-to-school posts are popping up all over in the blogging world, especially the part of the blogging world I consider my niche.  However, I run this little blogging ship, and while fashion is about as far from my niche (and my mind, honestly) as almost anything could be, this summer has brought about a real dearth in my wardrobe.  Part of that could be the 10-15 pounds I’ve gained in the last year (sigh).  Part of it, however, is the fact that I almost never pop into the mall for a quick perusal of the clearance rack at my favorite stores.  I just don’t enjoy shopping very much any more, and I have very little time for it.

Enter Stitch Fix.

I’ve seen the posts all over the bloggy world, and I’d even briefly considered joining in the past.  However, it was when a childhood friend of mine posted a picture of herself on Facebook in a dress she’d received in her Stitch Fix box that finally persuaded me to go for it.

My experience has been nothing but good, with one caveat.  When I opened my box, I knew my stylist (Julie, for the record) got me.  Here’s what I received:

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Dear John Marson wide-leg jeans.  $78.

I wrote in the comments to my stylist, “I will never wear skinny jeans.”  Wide-legs are the way for me to go, and these are fabulous.  This is the only type of jean I really like, and I needed a pair.


41 Hawrthorne Ernesto striped fitted dress.  $78.

I actually like this dress a lot, though I never wear tank tops or even sleeveless shirts. I could definitely see wearing this one with jean jacket in the fall, though, or even layered with a turtle neck or long-sleeved tee.  However, this one was pretty snug on me through the hips and also was shorter than I prefer to wear my skirts and dresses.


Brixon Ivy Romford stretch knit lace top.  $54.

I actually love this shirt.  It’s a beautiful, deep purple, and the fabric is rich and luxurious.  Wearing a camisole/tank with a lace overshirt is a little bit out of my comfort zone, but I think I could pull it off.  However, the price tag on this one ultimately got me.  So sad.

IMG_20150811_1613445_rewind-39327933Market and Spruce Veria cross over knit top.  $48.

I love the color and pattern on this one, and I could’ve definitely used this one as a layering piece under a jacket.  The price, again.  Ugh.


41 Hawthorne Abrianna longsleeve knit cardigan.  $48.

This is definitely my style.  I love cardigans, especially the assymetrical kind without buttons, etc.  This navy one was just lovely and made of a very silky fabric.  Once again, though, the price got me.


As you’ve probably already figured out, I only kept the jeans.  With my $20 credit, that brought the price to $58.  That’s still pretty steep for my bargain hunting ways, but I have been known to pay more for jeans that fit well because I wear them until I wear them out.  There were several other pieces I would’ve kept had I an unlimited clothing budget (or if the price were cheaper!)  I definitely would’ve kept the purple lace top.  Ultimately, though, frugality won out.

You know what?  This is just FUN.   I definitely think that’s the part I love most.  To have someone pick things out just for me, and they’re actually things I like?  I love it.  I’m in it for another month.  I figure if I don’t shop and only add a piece or two every month or so, it won’t hurt the budget terribly and I’ll have some lovely new clothes, too.

I also like that a styling card is included for the pieces for those folks who are pretty clueless (like I am) about fashion:


Have you tried Stitch Fix?  Would you like to try it?  This is my referral link.  If you click through and set up an account and order a box, I’ll receive a credit.  It’s a win-win.

Next time I might even try the clothes on and take pictures.  :-)

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

Have you ever read a book about which you have almost entirely mixed feelings?  The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley is one of those books for me.  On one hand, I absolutely loved it, and there were many times during my reading of it that I thought, “Wow.  This will definitely make my top picks of the year list” or “I haven’t enjoyed a book as much as I’m enjoying this one since I can’t remember when.”  However, there were other points at the story that totally left me scratching my head and even gave me an unpleasant feeling at times.  I think I can attribute the negativity to my unfamiliarity and discomfort with the whole genre of fantasy, although it’s definitely one I’ve been slowly warming up to over the years.  (Ten years ago, the only fantasy I had ever really read was Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time.  Now I can add quite a few more titles to the list, though most of those are children’s novels, too.)  This book has an unlikely heroine, Aerin, who is the daughter of the King of Damar.  The Damarians do not like her much, for she is decidedly not their idea of a royal.  She doesn’t look like them, with her pale skin and red hair.  She doesn’t act like them, or more exactly like anyone else from the royal house, because she has no obvious gifting that those of the royal house grow into at some point, usally during adolescence.  What’s worse, her deceased mother’s background is suspect; most Damarians consider her a Northern witchwoman who bewitched the king to no good end for the kingdom.  The novel opens with Aerin just sort of existing in the castle, with only her cousin (?) Tor for a friend.  There’s a complicated sort of pecking order among the royals that determines who is a Sol, or next in line to the throne, and Tor (along with Aerin, really, though no one wants to admit it) is first Sol.  The first part of the novel seems almost Medieval and just altogether lovely, with plenty of poingnancy and heart and feeling, with Aerin’s clumsiness and discomfort and angst over her place in the kingdom giving the reader plenty of reasons to love and identify with her.  A turn happens in the story once Aerin begins experimenting with a recipe to make a dragon-proofing salve and finally hits upon the winning combination of ingredients.  She then becomes a heroine in her own right and finally quests for the missing crown that will restore Damar to its former strength.  All of Aerin’s heroic feats, which are described in pretty intense detail, very fully put this story into the realm of fantasy.  It’s this part of the story that I found difficult–to follow, yes, but even to like (at times).  Again, I’m pretty sure this says more about me as a reader than about the book itself.

This book is definitely on the old end of the age range for Newbery titles.  The Newbery criteria for the age range of the winning books are as follows:

A “contribution to American literature for children” shall be a book for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.

There’s a very mature love affair or two in this story (including a weird love triangle of sorts), and even a few pointed references to s**.    There’s nothing at all graphic in this part; it’s just a few references.  However, there’s definitely an understanding of the way things work in the adult world.  Of course, all of this mature understanding of the world is one of the things that made this book enjoyable to me.  I’m pretty sure the mileage this book would get among the intended audience would vary greatly depending on the children.

This one’s definitely a mixed bag for me.  Robin McKinley creates a very poignant tale with a very flawed but likable heroine.  I marked more passages than I could ever share here (or than anyone would ever want to read!), but this one is very representative of both McKinley’s style and what makes me like Aerin so much:

She had almost enough of the herb she had been worrying about.  After dithering awhile and muttering to herself she decided to go ahead and make as much ointment as she had ingredients for, and fetch more tomorrow.  It was a messy business, and her mind would keep jumping away from the necessary meticulousness; and she knocked over a pile of axe handles and was too impatient to pile them up again and so spent several hours tripping over them and stubbing her toes and using language she had picked up while listening to the sofor, and the thotor, who were even more colorful.  One she was hopping around on one foot and yelling epithets when her other foot was knocked out from under her as well by a treacherous rear assault from a fresh brigade of rolling lumber, and she fell and bit her tongue.  This chastened her sufficiently that she finished her task without further incident.  (75)

If it just weren’t such a fantasy novel!  😉  Truly, this book contains lots of strong characters and the initial set-up goes a long way in depicting what heroism really is.  It’s just a little bit weird for my taste.  Still, a Highly Recommended for the right adult or teen who likes this sort of thing.  (Greenwillow, 1984)

newbery through the decades