11 Great Picture Books for History

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Nearly every time I try to sit on our living room couch, I can’t actually sit. That’s because of the trail of two or three wide-open chapter books left on the cushions by my 11-year-old. She really loves being a bookworm, but she has yet to learn the purpose of a bookmark. Sigh.

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I suppose this is a symptom of her book obsession. She reads all sorts of books — classics, biographies, historical fiction, children’s fantasy, devotions and poetry — and usually has several in progress at once. One book I frequently try not to sit on is The Racketty-Packetty House, which she is in the process of converting into a script for a play she hopes to direct this summer. That seems like such a grown-up endeavor!

To my great delight, though, this dear bookworm has not yet outgrown the ritual of curling up on the couch with me to enjoy a lovely picture book from the library. I really don’t know what I will do with myself if she ever does outgrow such a ritual because I have a serious weakness for picture books.

My favorite read-alouds for this upper elementary age are historical picture books that bring the past to life. It’s always delightful to read well-illustrated, factually accurate books about real people and real events. Here’s a list of books in this genre that we’ve really enjoyed reading together as part of our homeschooling adventures.

1. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick is the best new book I’ve read in this genre.

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I fell hard for it immediately because it is a sweet, well-told story as well as a beautifully illustrated work. You may have guessed this: it features the real bear who inspired A.A. Milne’s much-loved character Winnie-the-Pooh. But it’s also a great World War I story about Canadian soldier Harry Colebourn. I simply adore it.

2. Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff is another fabulous book I’ve come across in this historical picture book genre.

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The book, which features Ben Franklin and Franz Mesmer, has mesmerized my whole family. The eye-catching typography and magnificent illustrations make it exceptionally fun to read; plus the fascinating story could easily count as a read-aloud for science as well as history, not to mention a tiny French lesson, too!

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3. Lily: The Girl Who Could See by Sally Oxley and Tim Ladwig is a lovely book about English artist Lilias Trotter, who faithfully served the Lord as a missionary in North Africa in the late 1800s. After you read it, consider watching the documentary film about Trotter’s life: Many Beautiful Things, which is available at manybeautifulthings.com.

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4. A Bear in War and its sequel, Bear on the Homefront, both by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat, tell the bittersweet stories of one small stuffed bear, Teddy, and a family’s experiences during World War I and World War II. You can see Teddy at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

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5. A Voyage in the Clouds by Matthew Olshan is about the first international flight by balloon in 1785. It includes fantastic illustrations by Sophie Blackall, who also illustrated Finding Winnie.  The Frenchman and the English-American in this notable crossing of the English channel did not get along, and the author uses that angle to make this telling of the event quite interesting. Disclaimer: A wee bit of what you might categorize as bathroom humor appears in the text and illustrations, but only because it’s a true part of the event. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end to clarify where some liberties were taken.

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6. Fly, Cher Ami, Fly! by Robert Burleigh is about a truly heroic carrier pigeon that helped rescue a lost battalion of soldiers during World War I. The illustrations are quite captivating, and the tale is a memorable piece of American history. This remarkable bird can be seen at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

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7. Stubby: The Dog Soldier by Blake Hoena tells the story of another animal from World War I that’s also on display at D.C.’s National Museum of American History. Stubby braved the battlefields alongside soldiers in the U.S. Army’s 26th Division.

A few other favorites in this genre that we have checked out from the library are:

8. Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan

9. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant

10. Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Ferris

11. Papa is a Poet: A Story about Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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8 Books I’m Thankful For

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Outside my kitchen window, a dapper little junco tap dances around the new little lilac bush we planted on Mother’s Day. The leaves on the lilac are still green, but the bush is surrounded by a small heap of dry brown leaves that blew off the maple tree on the other side of the yard.

It’s the first week of November. Soon the branches of all the bushes and trees will look thin and bare. Soon Daylight Savings Time will usher in shorter days. And soon that lonesome north wind will howl in the night.

Beauty in nature is hardest to find in Minnesota November. And if I linger too long thinking about my least favorite month, I will easily slip into complaining and feeling discontent. But then the calendar reminds me Thanksgiving is coming. And is it too corny to say I am thankful for Thanksgiving? Because I am grateful my favorite holiday falls during my least favorite month of the year.

I appreciate that Thanksgiving brings not just a delicious feast with my family around a dinner table overflowing with food, but also a rich, joyful feast for my soul as I count my blessings throughout the month.

Through the dull, gray days of November, I see that God’s grace still abounds with every breath I take. And God’s Word reminds me (yet again) that I need to keep speaking the language of thanks. Praise and gratitude should forever be on my lips, not just because it makes my soul joyful, but also because giving thanks glorifies Jehovah Jireh, the LORD Who Provides. He is indeed the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

To help ring in the month of Thanksgiving with that attitude of gratitude, I have for you a little list of eight Thanksgiving-themed books that I have loved reading aloud with my family. I am thankful for these books because sharing each of them with my kids has been a blessing I’ve counted — sometimes more than once.

1. Almost Home: A Story Based on the Life of the Mayflower’s Mary Chilton by Wendy Lawton

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This is a well-researched, 140-page chapter book in the “Daughters of the Faith” series. It relays the story of 13-year-old Mary Chilton, who also sailed on the Mayflower and bravely begins a new life in Plymouth. I especially appreciate how this story begins with the persecution these believers endured before leaving for America, as that really puts their situation into context. I also like the brief but very helpful glossary of unfamiliar terms in the back. I suggest this book for youth in upper elementary grades and up.

2. Over the River and Through the Wood: A Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child

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I immediately fell in love with this picture book when my sweet friend Carla read it as part of a November story time for homeschoolers at the library one year. Of course, a few lines of the poem were already quite familiar to me, as they likely will be to you. But how delightful to have the entire poem as well as fantastic woodcut art to illustrate it! This is a treasure for all ages.

3. A Light Kindled: The Story of Priscilla Mullins by Tracy M. Leininger

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This nicely illustrated, 60-page chapter book tells of the faith and courage of Priscilla Mullins, who was 18 years old when she sailed to America in the Mayflower in 1620. As one of only four women who survived the Pilgrims’ first winter, Priscilla endured many hardships and relied on God for strength through loss and trials. I suggest this one for school-aged kids and any younger person who will listen to chapter books. I am sad to say this one is out of print, but check your library or used book sites like Thriftbooks.com.

4. The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh

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This charming picture book on Thanksgiving was published in 1954, and it received Caldecott Honors. Alice Dalgliesh is one of my favorite children’s book authors, and I like that she includes a tidbit about the wash day the Mayflower women had shortly after arriving at Plymouth. Clean clothes are indeed something to thank God for! Can you even begin to imagine how disgusting those clothes must have smelled after that lengthy ocean journey and all the illness on board? Ugh!

5. Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson

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When my dear friend Julie read this picture book two years ago, she right away knew that I would love it because it is a true story about the first female magazine editor in America. With an informal and humorous tone, the book explains how Sarah Hale used her pen to “save” Thanksgiving by arguing for it to be a national holiday. Like me, you may have to forgive Mrs. Hale for also arguing against pie for breakfast. I mean, why should we not eat pie for breakfast? This one is great for all ages.

6. The First Thanksgiving by Linda Hayward

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When my daughters were learning to read on their own, this “Step into Reading” series was a great fit because the stories and illustrations are well done. I like that this early reader about Thanksgiving was well-researched and informative.

7. Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller

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Written in rhyming verses, this newer picture book about a family cooking their Thanksgiving feast feels like a familiar old friend. It is short, catchy and simply delightful to read. Plus the illustrations are just so quaint and darling that I can almost smell the turkey in the oven.

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8. An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott

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The text for this 32-page picture book comes from what originally was a longer story published in 1882, so the content has been significantly abridged and adapted. Usually that would deter me. But the illustrations by James Bernardin are so captivating I could not resist this version of the book, and I found the story is still quite worthwhile. The book’s length is ideal for all ages, and older students also might enjoy comparing this version to the one illustrated by Michael McCurdy.

Happy November and happy reading, my friends!

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Treasures for Pre-Teen Girls

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“She is always sitting with her little nose burrowing into books. She doesn’t read them, Miss Minchin; she gobbles them up as if she were a little wolf instead of a little girl. She is always starving for new books to gobble…”

That’s how Captain Crewe describes his 7-year-old daughter Sara’s love for reading in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic A Little Princess. And like Sara Crewe, my pre-teen girls always seem to be gobbling up books and starving for new ones.

Hunting down a steady supply of wholesome, captivating books to feed their souls, encourage their hearts, and inspire their imaginations can be quite a daunting task. I want my girls to read and think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise, just as Philippians 4:8 instructs. But so much of what is newly published on the shelves for pre-teens is none of the above. Either it looks dark, creepy and twisted, or else it appears completely frivolous. Sometimes just seeing the book covers makes my heart sick enough that I don’t want to explore what unpleasant characters might lurk inside.

In His grace, God has been faithful in equipping me as I search for books. His hand is at work through wonderful websites that offer Christian reviews of children’s literature, such as Redeemed Reader and The Story Warren. God has led me to meaningful, age-appropriate books that I don’t have to pre-read entirely before sharing with my daughters. Specifically, I have felt God leading me to entire series of books written by trustworthy authors – some who lived a century ago and a select few from recent decades. Finding an entire series of books is a treasure! It helps satisfy my bookworms much longer than when I offer them a stand-alone novel. In addition, finding older books usually helps us steer clear of the objectionable worldviews that characterize some recently published works.

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Because of television and movies, nearly everyone is familiar with the classic fiction series like Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery, The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis and The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We do enjoy reading these, and we especially adore Anne of Green Gables.

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Sometimes in hunting for book series, I realize that a well-known, classic book has a sequel or is part of a series. For instance, Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women is one of four in a series, and Caddie Woodlawn has a sequel entitled Caddie Woodlawn’s Family. Who knew?

More often, though, God leads me to a less popular series that tells the enchanting stories of lovable characters who demonstrate commendable virtues like perseverance, kindness, gratitude, creativity, patience, forgiveness, and gentleness.

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For example, one of the older book series that we treasure is the All-of-a-Kind Family series written by Sydney Taylor in the 1950s. This delightful series relays the holidays and surprises shared by five Jewish sisters growing up in New York City in the early 1900s. The girls are genuinely kind to their family and others, and they persevere through challenges together.

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Also based in the early 1900s, the Betsy-Tacy series by Maude Hart Lovelace features best friends Betsy and Tacy and their whimsical childhood excursions in Deep Valley. Their devotion to each other and their creativity in playing together make these stories sweet and memorable. They were first published in the 1940s.

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Another excellent series published in the 1940s, the Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright introduces readers to the four Melendy children and their lively adventures while residing in the city and in the country. The siblings endure change, hardship and occasional disputes with one another as they grow in perseverance, forgiveness, and patience. Elizabeth Enright also wrote Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away, in which three brave cousins discover an abandoned lakeside resort and courageously make new friends.

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Of course, not all of our favorite book series are old. One newer but lesser known fiction series my girls cherish is the Sarah, Plain and Tall series by Patricia MacLachlan. It includes five books about a mid-western farm family in the 19th century. Like the Ingalls, they carry on through the trials of farm life and adjust to family changes with love, forgiveness, patience and selflessness.

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The Kathleen McKenzie series by Tracy Leininger Craven, which includes four books about a spunky and competitive 11-year-old growing up during the Great Depression, is another favorite collection. Kathleen bravely works through difficulties and uses her talents for God’s glory.

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The newer collections that my oldest daughter reads over and over are those written by Lois Walfrid Johnson. Her faith-based historical fiction work includes the Freedom Seeker series, which is set in the 1850s along the Mississippi River and features the daughter of a steamboat captain. Set in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the early 1900s, her Adventures of the Northwoods series portrays the life of a 12-year-old who becomes part of a new family. And in her Viking Quest series, a young girl named Bree is captured by Viking raiders and taken from her home in Ireland. I had the great joy of meeting Lois at a conference this spring, and I told her that my 12-year-old had already gobbled up all of her books – most of them twice – and was eagerly awaiting her next series. Lois gently told me to tell her, “I’m sorry I can’t write books as fast as you can read them!” We look forward to her next series.

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Besides reading a lot of fiction, my girls also appreciate biographies. An excellent collection of faith-based biographies for pre-teen girls is Wendy Lawton’s Daughters of the Faith series. Each book features a girl who lives out her faith boldly and overcomes significant struggles. The titles are Almost Home: A Story Based on the Life of the Mayflower’s Mary Chilton, The Tinker’s Daughter: A Story Based on the Life of Mary Bunyan, The Hallelujah Lass: A Story Based on the Life of Salvation Army Pioneer Eliza Shirley, Ransom’s Mark: A Story Based on the Life of the Pioneer Olive Oatman, and Courage to Run: A Story Based on the Life of Harriet Tubman.

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Another collection of biographies that we just began reading is the Chosen Daughters series, which portrays the lives of women who accomplish extraordinary things by the grace of God. The first book we read is A Cup of Cold Water: The Compassion of Nurse Edith Cavell by Christine Farenhorst. It’s a compelling and very well written biography about Edith Cavell’s family, her childhood, her life of faith and her exemplary service as a nurse during World War I. We loved it and are eager to continue the Chosen Daughters series this fall. The other title by Christine Farenhorst is Wings Like a Dove: The Courage of Queen Jeanne D’Albret. Other titles in this series are Dr. Oma: The Healing Wisdom of Countess Juliana Von Stolberg by Ethel Herr; Against the Tide: The Valor of Margaret Wilson by Hope Irvin Marston; and Weight of a Flame: The Passion of Olympia Morata by Simonetta Carr.

10 Books for Winter Read-Alouds

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“Of all the forms of water, the tiny six-pointed crystals of ice called snow, that form in such quantities within the clouds during storms, are incomparably the most beautiful and varied.” -W.A. Bentley

I love snowflakes, and every January I tend to go a little snowflake-flakey around our schoolroom. As the Christmas decorations come down, up go the snowflakes! And as I stash away our collection of Christmas books, out come the snow-themed picture books! Here are 10 of our favorites in no particular order.

1. Snowflake Bentley tells the true story of another snowflake lover, W.A. Bentley, who mastered the art of photographing these “exquisite bits of nature.” This book by Jacqueline Briggs Martin is a Caldecott Medal winner published in 1998. If you like it, check out W.A. Bentley’s own book of his micro-photography masterpieces: Snowflakes in Photographs, first published in 1931 by the American Meteorological Society.

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2. White Snow Bright Snow starts with a lovely poem and then tells a quaint tale about a snowstorm blanketing a friendly little town. The characters — a farmer, a postman, a policeman, and rabbits — are endearing. Written by Alvin Tresselt, this is a Caldecott Medal winner that was first published in 1947.

3. The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader features several woodland creatures preparing for snow and lean winter months. Published in 1949, it also was awarded the Caldecott Medal.

4. A delightful little boy is the main character enthralled with the snow in The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I love that he puts a snowball in his coat pocket to keep for tomorrow and then goes inside his warm house. Another Caldecott Medal winner, this classic book was published in 1962.

5. Brave Irene is a memorable story of a little girl who loves and obeys her mother and perseveres through a trial involving wind and snow. Written by William Steig and published in 1986, this book received the honor of being a “New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year.”

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6. In Owl Moon a little girl and her Pa tromp through the snowy, moon-lit woods in search of a great horned owl. This book was written by Jane Yolen and beautifully illustrated by John Schoenherr; it was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1987.

7. Combining Robert Frost’s classic poem with downright gorgeous illustrations of wintry woods makes the book Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening a must-see. The illustrations are by Susan Jeffers, and the book was first published in 1978.

8. The Tiny Snowflake is a sweet little board book about a swirling snowflake named Lacy who is searching for her special place in God’s creation. Published in 2003, this book was written by Art Ginolfi and illustrated with delightful pictures by Louise Reinoehl Max.

9. Twelve Kinds of Ice is a long picture book with simple but captivating illustrations by artist Barbara McClintock. This charming story about a family’s ice skating rink is written by Ellen Bryan Obed. It was published in 2012 and was a much-loved gift for my 9-year-old this Christmas.

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10. Magnificently illustrated and filled with clever poems about the cold, Winter Bees by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen is another new favorite in our family. “Big Brown Moose” and “Snowflake Wakes” are my top two favorites. Nature-lovers will appreciate the sidebars featuring details about how the animals in each poem cope with winter weather. Also, the glossary of scientific terms in the back is much appreciated by this homeschool mom. The book was just released in 2014 and makes a great gift for nearly all ages.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

12 Board Books We Still Love

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Around age 6 months, my oldest daughter started chewing on her board books. And ever since then, words have been as much a part of her diet as bread and water.

I suppose that following a word-lover’s diet is what makes it hard for us to part with any books around here, even those chunky little board books with chewed up edges that my 9-year-old and 12 year-old obviously outgrew ages ago. Or did they? Does anyone truly ever outgrow a good little story?

Part of what makes some of those first board books so special is that they were how we first started sharing truths about God with our children. Stories about God’s love and His faithfulness, stories about Jesus, stories from the Old Testament — these were all first shared in board book format.

We still keep some of these special board books around for little friends to enjoy when they visit us. And so here’s a dozen of our favorite, faith-based board books — just perfect for the little one with chubby little hands who likes to help you turn the pages as you read together. Or for any one else, of any age, who still likes to hear a good little story full of truth.

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God Lives in My House by Melody Carlson

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God Goes with Me by Melody Carlson

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God Made Them All by Melody Carlson

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I Can Count on God by Melody Carlson

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Jesus Loves Me by Debby Anderson

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Baby’s First Book of Psalms by Steven Elkins

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Just in Case You Ever Wonder by Max Lucado

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Lift-the-Flap Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

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Lift-the-Flap Bible Adventures by Allia Zobel Nolan

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The Story of Easter by Patricia A. Pingry

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The Story of Jesus by Patricia A. Pingry

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The Story of the Ten Commandments by Patricia A. Pingry

Happy reading!

Rain Boots and Books for Summer

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Remember that rain song in the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh? You know the one during which Piglet’s house floods and he gets swept away?

And the rain, rain, rain came down, down, down

in rushing, rising rivulets,

Till the river crept out of its bed

and crept right into Piglet’s.

That’s our theme song this spring. Forget the sandals and shorts. Our wardrobe has shifted from winter coats and snow boots to rain jackets and rain boots.

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The flowers love the showers, and my little girls sure love the puddles. Somehow rain boots make you brave in a splashy sort of way.

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A big sister’s steady hand also helps encourage a daring little adventurer across the rocks. I won’t mention who got wet this time.

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The last day of school is Friday, and that will wrap up our sixth year of homeschooling! I love getting to share the many adventures of daily life with these two precious girls, and we are all in a hurry to shift into a slower speed for the next few months.

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Bring on summer! I am looking forward to spending more time outdoors, especially on the lake, and I am also looking forward to relaxing with some great children’s books. If all this rain keeps up, we will have plenty of time for snuggling up on the couch with our books.

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Here’s what’s on our homeschool list for summer read-alouds:

  • Hitty – Her First 100 Years by Rachel Field: We already started this chapter book about a delightful wooden doll who writes about her own exciting adventures. I am surprised already by the non-stop action in this story, which was the winner of the 1929 Newbery Medal.
  • The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars: As a devoted fan of E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan and a huge fan of Trumpeter swans themselves, I am eager to read this compelling story that received the Newbery Medal in 1970, although I haven’t yet figured out how swans figure into this tale about a 14-year-old girl and a younger brother who is missing.
  • Old Yeller by Fred Gipson: Maybe you watched the movie in elementary school, too? I don’t remember if I ever read the book, but I do remember this story about a boy and his dog is a tear-jerker. I tend to confuse it with Wilson Rawl’s Where the Red Fern Grows, so I hope reading Old Yeller will help me distinguish the two. Published in 1956, Old Yeller is a Newbery Honor Book.
  • Abel’s Island by William Steig: This is another Newbery Honor Book, and it tells the story of a mouse who is swept away from his wife in a rainstorm and must learn to survive alone in the wild. Steig is also the author of Brave Irene, a fantastic picture book about a girl fighting a snowstorm.
  • The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson: This story is about an old hobo and the friendship and adventures he shares with a group of children. Published in 1958, it is also a Newbery Honor Book with delightful pictures by Garth Williams, illustrator of the Little House series and many, many other classics in children’s literature.

 

Of course, if the weather turns out really lovely this summer, a few of these books might get bumped to fall. Flexibility is this homeschool mom’s favorite tool.

What’s on your reading list this summer?

3 Marvelous Books about Maple Sugaring

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With all the maple sugaring excitement around here the last few weeks, I just have to share our favorite books on that sweet subject.

miraclesonmaplehill2014The first is Virginia Sorensen’s 1957 Newbery Award winner: Miracles on Maple Hill. This a charming story about a young girl named Marley and her family’s adventures as they stay at a country home on Maple Hill in Pennsylvania. As it begins, Marley’s father has recently returned from war and is not at all himself. The heartwarming story abounds with characters who seem so genuine. The themes of healing and spring and miracles all intertwine beautifully and are reminiscent of The Secret Garden. This is a fantastic read for middle to upper elementary students, especially as a family read-aloud.

sugarbushspring2014Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall is a gorgeous picture book with a captivating story of the entire sugaring process — from tapping the trees to sealing up the full jars of syrup. Did I mention the illustrations by Jim Daly are absolutely gorgeous? I just wanted to climb right into the pictures and help with all the work, too. This is a perfect read-aloud for all ages.

sugarsnowSugar Snow (one of the “My First Little House Books” series) is a wonderfully illustrated picture book using the text adapted from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. As a rule, I’m completely opposed to adaptations of classics, but this series is a rare exception. Illustrator Doris Ettlinger beautifully captures the excitement of maple sugaring in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. I’ve been to the replica of the Ingalls’ cabin at the actual home site near Pepin, Wisconsin, and I must note that Ettlinger portrays that very accurately. All ages will enjoy the simple yet delightful book — and the whole series for that matter.

Happy reading!