Read Aloud Thursday–Plants

Finding books about animals, which we studied for most of the school year, was no problem; library shelves are stuffed with all sorts of good titles.  However, finding such interesting, colorful, and well-written books about plants, our science topic of study for the past three weeks or so,  has been a challenge.  I guess a pine tree isn’t as cute as, say, a penguin or a frog.  I even put out a plea on the homeschooling message board I frequent for some suggested titles for a spine, or a book to serve as the basis for our studies.  Several people on the forum recommended Incredible Plants, so we have added it to our collection.  Although the graphics (mostly diagrams) in this book are fabulous, much of it is still over the heads of my first grader and kindergartener (which is what I’ve taken to calling Louise nowadays).  I love having picture books that don’t dumb down the subject, but that are still age-appropriate for your elementary aged children.  Here are a few that we’ve enjoyed in the past few weeks:

The Reason for a Flower, written and illustrated by Ruth Heller, is a book I had on our school room library shelf after purchasing it at some used book sale that I don’t even remember.  If I had to pick one book of all the ones I’m reviewing today to own and use for a study of plants, this one is it.  The reason I like it so much is because it is written like a rhyming story so that it’s possible to read it and forget that you’re even studying science.  However, the science is all there–from words like nectar, pollen, carnivorous (yes, flowers!), and angiosperm, made prominent in all capital letters, to the kernel of fact that is at the book’s heart: 








manufacture. . .


that have a cover

of one kind or another.

The only thing that might make this book better is if it were illustrated with actual photographs; then again, I’m sort of partial to Ruth Heller‘s drawings, too.  Maybe, just maybe, reading a book illustrated like this would encourage someone to keep his or her own nature journal.  I give this one a Highly Recommended.

The Big Tree, written and illustrated by Bruce Hiscock, is a book that follows the life cycle of a sugar maple tree, from its beginning in Revolutionary America as a tiny seed, to its existence as a stately shade tree in its prime some two hundred years later, sheltering picnickers at a community Fourth of July celebration.  What I love about this book is that it combines good science with a compelling story, one that my girls identify with and want to read more of, given their love of history.  Bruce Hiscock‘s illustrations are lovely, and the scientific ones (as opposed to the historical ones, which are also there in abundance) are detailed enough that there is plenty of material to discuss, just looking at the illustrations.  This one is worth seeking out, I think.  It’s extra fun for us because we have a maple tree in our backyard

Ancient Ones: The World of the Old-Growth Douglas Fir by Barbara Bash is very similar to The Big Tree, but this time the subject matter is not a maple tree but a Douglas fir.  Another difference is that Ancient Ones doesn’t focus at all on the history that transpires during the tree’s lifetime; instead, the focus is on the minutest details of the life cycle of the tree, including all the other creatures and conditions that help carry out its life cycle.  The illustrations are lovely and detailed; often there are animal hidden in the pictures and mentioned in the text, and my girls and I had a good time looking for them. It reminds me a little bit of One Small Place in a Tree, a book I mentioned here.   Of the two tree books I’m reviewing today, The Big Tree gives more detail about the individual tree’s life cycle, while Ancient Ones deals more with the entire ecosystem.  Both books are great.

 Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring The Earth To Life by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm is a very colorful and poetic look at photosynthesis.  Written from the point of view of the sun, this book covers the major details of photosynthesis and emphasizes the interconnectedness of all living things.  I’ll admit I find this a little weird, probably because I think it’s odd to read about a scientific process from the point of view of the sun, but I think it might work for kids.  The illustrations in this book are extremely bright and vivid, and again, I’m not sure if this is good or bad.  I guess it depends on the person reading it (or having it read to him); what might be a distraction to some children could be inspirational or interesting to another.  I bought this book new and really thought my girls would love it; as it turns out, they haven’t requested that I read it again (and in fact, I had to find it to even write this review).  However, I do think it’s worth mentioning because it is the only title I’ve found on photosynthesis that doesn’t overdo the chemical aspect of it for the youngest students.  An added bonus is that there are four pages of author notes at the back, so students who are extremely interested in photosynthesis and up to more of a challenge can be satisfied.

Do you have any favorite titles to recommend for a study of plants?  Please, share your recommendations in the comments!  And as always, link up your Read Aloud Thursday posts in the comments.  If you haven’t done so, please take a moment and read the Read Aloud Thurday Guidelines I posted last week, too.  Check back tomorrow for a list of links from today’s post. 

Have a terrific Read Aloud Thursday!

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This is a stack of some of the books that have made their way into the House of Hope in the past month or month-and-a-half.  Most of these were purchased second-hand, although we did find a wonderful bookstore in a mall about an hour from here on one of our Saturday outings.   I purchased a couple of the Newbery winners there, as well as The Golden Book of Fairytales.  The piece de resistance, though, is the boxed set of Edward Eager stories.  I haven’t read any of his books, so I’m counting on the dozens of recommendations I’ve seen for his tales to not steer me wrong.

Do you see any of your favorite titles in my stack?

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Read and Share Bible–Giveaway!

I am a little embarrassed to admit how long I’ve had this little volume in my to-be-reviewed pile, but with this post I am putting it front-and-center.  This Read and Share Bible which is written by Gwen Ellis and published by Tommy Nelson, has been a part of our bedtime routine off and on again for weeks at a time.  In the Read and Share Bible , the stories are short–more like little sketches, at two short pages each.  These are only the “best loved” 200 or so stories, so you won’t be reading about any of the minor prophets in this books.  😉  Each double page spread includes a brief story that reduces the story down to its most important details.  Included is the Bible reference (very important!) and a point for discussion.  All in all, it’s a nice little package that would serve well as a brief Bible story or lesson for preschoolers.  Although I no longer have preschoolers (except for the DLM), I think this Bible story book is actually a good tool to have for beginning readers, too. While the stories are not exactly easy reading material, they are short enough that a beginning reader who tires easily could make it through them, if she can read fairly fluently but just gets frustrated if presented with too much print on a page.   Louise, who is still learning to read, actually attempted to read some of these stories.  

The illustrations in Read and Share Bible are cartoonish but respectful.  I know some people have a problem with Bible characters depicted in cartoon, but these remind me a little bit of the illustrations in the Max Lucado picture books, one of which I reviewed here.  The Bible story illustrations are actually less cartoonish than that.  (You can actually download coloring pages based on this Bible story book here.)  Steve Smallman did a good job of making the illustrations appealing to children and yet respectful of the story.

Thanks to Tommy Nelson for sending this little book my way; I will be holding on to this one for a few years down the road when the DLM is ready for some simple concepts and pictures.  Tommy Nelson also sent me an extra copy as a giveaway to one of my readers here at Hope Is the Word.  If you’d like a chance to win a copy of the Read and Share Bible, simply leave a comment.  This giveaway is open until Monday, April 4, at 8 p.m. CST.  Winners will be announced the next day. 

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Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool is the 2011 Newbery Medalist and it does not disappoint.   While I’m not sure it’s a book that would hold the attention of most children in its target age range, it’s a book I greatly enjoyed.  Here’s the CIP summary from inside the book:

Twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker is the daughter of a drifter who, in the summer of 1936, sends her to stay with an old friend in Manifest, Kansas, where he grew up, and where she hopes to find out some things about his past. 

That one sentence summary covers the plot, more or less, but it by necessity leaves out what makes this book engrossing:  mysteries in spades, compelling characterization, and lots of heart.  In Manifest, Abilene Tucker stays with a preacher/bartender (yeah, you read that right) named Shady, and under a floorboard in her room she finds a box.  Inside it is a small collection of treasures:  various trinkets, a map, and some letters.  She thinks that this must surely be a link, somehow, to her father, Gideon, and what unfolds is an at times convoluted, but very compelling series of flashbacks (told by a would-be fortune-teller, Miss Sadie, who is much better at telling the past than the future) and “flashforwards” to the present.  These episodes are punctuated by related editorials from the town newspaper, a device that I found somewhat annoying at times because it interrupted the flow of the story.  Both the past story and the present story are set in Manifest, and they’re connected, somehow.  The past story is about a young man, Ned Gillen, who befriends a boy named Jinx who shows up in town, obviously running from something or somone.  Ned and Jinx get into all kinds of mischief (some of it righteous mischief) and manage to become heroes.  Abilene hears Miss Sadie’s stories as she works off a debt she owes the “diviner” (in a sort of Jem/Miss Dubose relationship like in To Kill a Mockingbird), and as she does, she gets closer and closer to her father and his story. 

I’ll admit I had some reservations while reading this book about some of the characters.  Take Miss Sadie, for example.  She’s a fortune teller?  A diviner?  I’m not sure that’s something I want my upper elementary aged student (if I had one) reading about.  Then there’s Shady, the bartender/preacher.  Sure, he’s a remarkable fellow, both kind and principled, but I can’t quite figure out how to even get a handle on a bar that doubles as a church.  (Yes, I know it’s being done nowadays, but I don’t quite know what I think about it.)  Too, there’s a bit more about bootlegging in the story than I feel comfortable with.  By the end of the novel, though, I was mostly satisifed by Vanderpool’s resolution of these various issues, to the point that I would have virtually no hesitation in giving this novel to a sixth grader.  I think it would take a strong reader who really enjoys historical fiction to persevere through its 350 pages, though.

I really like this book, but I’m not sure I think it’s better than Turtle in Paradise (linked to my review), which won a Newbery honor for 2010.  I think Moon Over Manifest is a much more complicated story, with all kinds of plot twists and many, many seemingly disparate threads to be tied up in the end, but Turtle in Paradise is much more polished.  Interestingly, both are set during the Great Depression.  This book was also nominated for a Cybil, but it did not make the shortlist for middle grade fiction.

Moon Over Manifest makes the third of the five 2011 Newbery notables I’ve read and reviewed.  (Hurrah!)  Here are links to my other two reviews:


Moon Over Manifest Related Links:

Have you read it?  What did you think?

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The Homeschool Mother’s Journal–March 21-25, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

I’ve missed doing my Weekly Wrap-ups, but I have been unable to figure out how to manage them, time-wise.  (Especially since I am apparently unable to leave anything out!)  I’ve happened upon this weekly meme, The Homeschool Mother’s Journal, on several of the blogs I read, so I thought I’d try it as a way to document our weeks in a less detailed and time-consuming way.  I like it because I just have to respond to a few prompts; maybe this will force me to be more concise.  😉  We’ll see how it goes. 

In my life this week…I have had a dreadful cold/sinus infection/something, which I caught from the DLM.  I don’t like it when mama’s sick, and when one of the children is sick at the same time, it makes it doubly hard.  I hope we’re on the mend now, but just between you and me, I could easily go to bed and sleep for the rest of the weekend.

In our homeschool this week…I had to tell Lulu a dozen times to stop reading and get to her lessons.  Yes, I know that this is a good problem to have.  Her book picks this week have been several Ramona Quimby titles and, since our trip to the library on Thursday, some Dear America titles that she has already enjoyed once (or twice or “thrice,” as Louise loves to say).  Louise’s news this week is that she has begun reading long vowel-silent e words.  I think of this as a real milestone in the learning-t0-read process since we work on short vowel words for so long. 

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing… our friends in our homeschool group on Friday and no one else, really, since we’ve had the crud this week.  Lulu did go to her music class on Tuesday, and I did teach my classes on Monday (no one showed up!) and Wednesday nights, but other than that and our trip to the library on Thursday, we’ve pretty much been housebound.  Oh, my mom did come over and help on Wednesday after I had a rough day of sickness with fever on Tuesday.  Okay.  Scratch all that.  This sounds like a normal week, with the exception of missing church on Wednesday night.  🙂

My favorite thing this week was… listening to Louise read the word mat and then finally convince her tongue that it’s okay to make a short a into a long a and say “mate.”  It was humorous and endearing to watch this process.  🙂

What’s working/not working for us… What’s working is our study of ancient Greece via Black Ships Before Troy.  My girls have loved Rosemary Sutcliffe’s retelling of the Iliad.  In fact, I’ve let Story of the World be an afterthought this week; we listened to chapter 22 via audiobook during lunch on Thursday and didn’t even do a single narration of it.  (Gasp!)  Instead, we’ve used D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, which Lulu is reading aloud, for our history narrations.  What’s not working is not getting outside enough, even on the pretty days.  Between the DLM’s naps and our lessons, plus the minimal housekeeping I do during the day, I find it difficult to do much more than send the girls out into the backyard for a few minutes in the afternoons.  I long for nature study and nature walks and sunny afternoons at the park. 

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have… How do I get it all done?  I know it’s not possible to get it all done, but there are several things missing from our homeschool right now that I am not willing to forego.  We haven’t done any art in so long that I can’t remember when we last did it.  (I think it was the watercolor chameleons we have hanging on our schoolroom wall right now.)  We’re not giving as much time to science (and history, sometimes) as I want.  I know the basics are what’s important, but I want my girls’ education to be so much more.  I’m watching this post at Golden Grasses for hints.  Anyone have a solution?  🙂

A photo, video, link, or quote to share…


Can you guess what we’re studying in science?  🙂  This coming Thursday’s Read Aloud Thursday post will highlight some books on plants we’ve enjoyed. 

I’m looking forward to a good week ahead!  How about you?  Anything unsual or exciting going on in your life next week?

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