Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan

I opened Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan, a 2003 Newbery honor book, not really expecting to like it.  Something about both the cover and the plot premise– juvenile delinquent “survives” living with a homeschooling family–always turned me off.  I’m a little bit sensitive about how homeschooling is represented by the world at large, so I’m sure that played a part in my hesitance over this title. For at least the first two-thirds of the story,  I read it with interest but no differently than I’ve read any other mediocre sort of story I’ve ever read.  The juvenile delinquent, Jake Semple, didn’t really seem bad enough to me; in fact, I’m pretty sure Tolan wrote him that way on purpose.  Still, knowing young teens like I do, he seemed a little too misunderstood.  The Applewhites, the artsy and eccentric homeschooling family, seemed a little too eccentric and a little too stereotypical–living on a compound (artist colony?  commune?), paying little attention to the children, etc.  Color me cynical.

And then the play happened.  Part of the plot revolves around the fact that one of the Applewhites, a temperamental play director, has taken on a community production of The Sound of Music.  The production is cancelled when he crosses one of the board members of the community theater group, and the Applewhites have to pull together to make the production happen (in their barn!).  Maybe it’s because The Sound of Music was the soundtrack of my life this week as I carted my children around in our DVD-equipped minivan (yes, we’ve succumbed).  Maybe it’s because E.D. (Edith Wharton) Applewhite is teaching her younger brother, Destiny, about the life cycle of the butterfly throughout the whole novel, and what do we have on our own kitchen counter but a butterfly house with three painted lady pupae occupants?  Whatever it is, it grew on me.  By the end of the novel, I was cheering for the Applewhites and their passion, their zest for life and learning.  (I was also wondering if the Project Based Homeschooling folks have ever read this and if they might consider it a good snapshot, albeit a fictional one, of this sort of learning.  I’m intrigued mightily by it and this novel confirmed what I think about it.)  Even E.D., the one Applewhite kid who wishes someone would give an (apparent) care about her education, has risen to the occasion by the end of the novel and cast her self-made scope and sequence for her own education aside in favor of doing what she’s really good at as a part of the family theater project.

No, this novel isn’t a fantastic piece of literature.  I’m still not convinced it’s Newbery material.  However, it is a fun story, and it definitely provides an alternate view of learning and education that is worthy of consideration.  I’m glad I finally read it.  (HarperCollins, 2002)

newbery through the decades

Interesting side note:  It looks like Stephanie Tolan has a lot to say about gifted education on her website.  I haven’t delved into it yet, but I’m intrigued!

 

Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man by Robert McCloskey

atmeal-cookies-1

Today I read a wonderful little story to my boys, and in a flash I was transported back to my blogging days of yore when I obviously had more time on my hands than I do now.  And in that same flash, I decided to bring back the Friday’s Vintage Finds feature here at Hope Is the Word.  Sharing good books is truly one of my greatest joys in life, so I just can’t let it go unsaid.

It is an established fact that I am a Robert McCloskey fan, through and through.  I would love to get up to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, while the Robert McCloskey exhibit is there, but I’m afraid I’ll have to settle for enjoying his books with my children instead.  Today I nabbed Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man off the shelf to share with my boys, ages six and three, sure that it would be a hit.  I’m finding that it takes a certain kind of book to really grab my boys’ attention, and this book has it all:  excitement, snack-crackle-pop language, humor, and fabulously emotive illustrations.  This is the story of the titular character, one Burt Dow.  He’s old and retired, but that doesn’t mean he’s given up seafaring; in fact, he still has two boats:  an old dory that serves well as his flowerbed and an old double-ender, the Tidely-Idley, that’s leaky but still operational.  Burt takes the Tidely-Idley out one morning and has quite an adventure when he comes up close and personal with a whale.  I don’t want to give away the plot, but can I just say that combining whales, peppermint-striped band-aids, and Burt Dow and the Tidely-Idley taking refuge from a storm (“like Jonah,” in the words of three year old Benny) make for a mighty appealing story.

Who could resist a story that includes a little scene like this:

Burt Dow has a giggling gull for a pet.  Every morning she roosts on the roof of the shed where Burt keeps his fishing gear.

The gull giggles, “Tee-he-he-hee!” until Burt comes out and tosses her a pancake or a popover, or sometimes a piece of cinnamon toast.

The value of this fun story shouldn’t be underestimated:  from the wonderful imagery to the alliteration that’s sprinkled throughout the story to the humorous characterization, it has a little something for everyone.  Burt Dow is just such a likable character!  Add this book to your list of vintage gems to be on the lookout for.  Highly, Highly Recommended.  (Penguin, 1963)

Related links:

“The President Has Been Shot!” by James L. Swanson

I have had an Audible subscription for a while–long enough to have acquired all of the Harry Potter books (save the most recently published one) and several more titles with my credits.  However, audiobooks are not my go-to; I much prefer reading a book over listening to it.  Since I’ve spent an unusual amount of time driving this summer, I’ve come to personally appreciate audiobooks.  Audible isn’t really enough to keep up with the DLM’s affinity for audiobooks, though.  In the years since the girls were preschoolers and primary schoolers, CDs–their favorite thing next to mama reading to them– have just about entirely gone the way of the dodo.  Enter Hoopla.  It’s so much easier to just make a few clicks on my iphone to fix the DLM up with a quality audiobook via our library’s Hoopla offerings.  Free, high quality–what’s not to love?

When I was looking for something that the girls and I could enjoy together on Hoopla, “The President Has Been Shot!” by James L. Swanson caught my eye.  Truthfully, it caught my eye because it’s short (about four hours long, perfect for us) and because I recognized the author.   We enjoy history a lot, so I figured this one would at least be enjoyable to me and probably would be to them, as well.  Well, this one is definitely a winner.  The best word I can think of to describe it is spellbinding.  The story itself is, of course–even if you already know it (or think you know it).  Swanson provides details that I didn’t know, mostly because I’ve never studied modern U.S. History in depth.  (In other words, he doesn’t make any startling revelations or anything, but that didn’t make it any less interesting to me.  On the contrary, I wondered through the whole thing how I could possibly have as much history “knowledge” and not know the details he shares in this book!)  The content of the story is perfect–plenty of background information about both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald.  Early in the story we even get to hear JFK himself in some of his recorded speeches.    The pacing of the story picks up, as it should, as we get closer and closer to that fateful day in Dallas, coming to a climax in a minute-by-minute and even second-by-second account of the assassination.  The aftermath, especially Jackie’s reaction and courage, had me by the heart.  I don’t think I ever really grasped fully the personal tragedy of this story until I listened to this audiobook.  The utter pathos of it left me speechless.  Although it’s not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, this is an excellent recounting of a very important event in U.S. History, and one that would make an excellent addition to any U.S. History study.  Will Patton’s narration is perfect in tone and pacing for this tragedy, and this is one case where I’d recommend the audiobook over the book.  Highly, Highly Recommended.  (Scholastic, 2013)

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

I listened to the audiobook of the 2005 Newbery honor book Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt and narrated by Sam Freed last week.  I am already such a fan of Gary D. Schmidt that it wasn’t hard to sell me on this title.  I had tried to read it once before and lost interest before I got too invested in the story, but this time I was determined to stick it out.  The tone of this novel is different than the other books by Schmidt that I have read and loved, but in the end I was glad to have read this novel and learn a bit about a little piece of history that I knew nothing about.

This is the story of Turner Buckminster, son of the new Presbyterian minister in a small Maine town in the early 1900s.  His introduction into adolescent male society isn’t very auspicious, and this is compounded by the fact that he’s a minister’s son and is expected to act like it.  He finds freedom when he meets a girl, Lizzie Bright, who lives on Malaga Island, which is inhabited by descendents of former slaves.  Malaga Island is considered a blight and burden on the town, and the main plot turns on the fact that everyone-who’s-anyone in town wants Malaga Island’s inhabitants to be evicted to make room for a bustling tourist industry.

There’s a lot to this story, but the main conflict of the story revolves around race and poverty and hypocrisy.  It’s also a coming-of-age story.  Gary D. Schmidt gets the Maine setting as right as I can imagine, with whales figuring hugely (pun intended) into Turner’s experience.  It’s a tragedy, but it ends hopefully.  I enjoyed it a lot and found the audiobook version easy listening.  I was intrigued especially by two things:  first, that Malaga Island actually exists and its story is as sad as Schmidt portrays it.  Second, that Gary D. Schmidt is a master at creating fathers that absolutely make my blood run cold.  (If that doesn’t make you want to read one of his books, what will? 🙂 )

I don’t love this one as much as I love the other two of his I’ve read, but it’s still a very worthwhile and heart-wrenching read.  I’m glad I read it. (Yearling, 2004)

Reviews of Gary D. Schmidt’s other books here at Hope Is the Word:

 

First *official* day of school, 2016-17

Well, we’re off!  We had a late official start this year due to some not-for-public-consumption circumstances, and well, since we homeschool, we can do that.  🙂  The fact that we homeschool has given me a wee bit o’ relief when I realize that we are almost a month-and-a-half into what would have been our normal school year.  However, the fact that it all rests fully on my shoulders also makes me a wee bit anxious, so there is that, too.

We started off the day with our first day of school gifts:  a Narnia coloring book (with Pauline Baynes’ illustrations!) for Lulu and The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating for Louise.  (The girl loves gastropods–what can I say?)  The boys got a new box of magnetic blocks to share.

We then moved on to a very sketchy sort of circle time that mostly ended up consisting of my reviewing AWANA verses with the DLM and us all singing “Be Thou My Vision” together for review.  The girls and I then plunged into a long Shakespeare picture book (very good!–will review later) and spent about fifteen minutes in an introduction to the Bard.  We’ll continue it later this week.  Next up was a chapter from A Wrinkle in Time followed by some copywork.  While the girls did copywork, the DLM worked on handwriting and he and Benny ate a snack.

I then sent Louise off to work on a couple of world geography assignments while Lulu and I spent an hour on pre-algebra.  That was fun.  🙂  Pre-algebra is best tackled with as few interruptions as possible, so the boys watched Wild Kratts while we put on our math thinking caps.  Then Lulu and Louise switched places, and Louise and I worked through a RightStart E lesson (mid-book) with nary a hiccup, for which I am immensely grateful.

Next up was lunch:  quesadillas, both cheese and leftover rotisserie chicken plus grapes.  We watched Flight of the Butterflies during lunch and loved it.  (I am determined to plant some milkweed this year!)

The girls handled lunch cleanup while I read a chapter of the first Hank the Cowdog book to the boys.   (It was the same chapter Steady Eddie read last night, but the DLM requested it again because he enjoyed it so.  🙂 )  After that and a couple of Benny-requested board books, I settled Benny in with some puzzles on the DLM’s bed and the DLM and I headed back to the table for a bit of his work.

The DLM and I completed a reading lesson from Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading and a RightStart level B math lesson.  So far, so good!  The DLM also read aloud a Nora Gaydos reader to me while I looked for math manipulatives.  We then rescued Benny from rest time (and cleaned up a huge mess of puzzle pieces) so that he could join us for a couple of world geography read-alouds:  Me on a Map and How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World.  The DLM also attempted to make a “map” of his bedroom but ultimately decided to play instead.  Louise, meanwhile, finished up her geography while Lulu began working on her robotics research paper.  This is a big deal–she’s responsible for the research paper for the engineering notebook.

By this time, I was done in.  I decided to lie on the bed to recuperate.  (Homeschoolin’ takes it out of this mama!) I did that while the kids ran in and out of my bedroom to ask me questions and prevent me from dozing off.  😉  I finally banished them all from my room and took a short (very short!) nap until duty called and I needed to help Lulu with her paper again.  Then it was on to supper preparations (dancing around Lulu who was baking cookies for robotics tonight) and so on.

It wasn’t the best first day, but it wasn’t the worst, either.  We didn’t get to everything on anyone’s assignment list, but I didn’t really expect to.  I feel like I don’t have a good routine yet, and I can’t even imagine one.  The boys are all over the place, as six and three year olds tend to be.  The truth of the matter is there’s one of me and four of them, and they all need me a good bit.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that nothing about this gig stays the same for very long, and the girls are definitely growing up right before my eyes.  In fact, it’s a challenge to keep up with them nowadays.

I’m looking forward to bedtime tonight.  A little bit of reading aloud, and then–lights out.  Whew!