Recent Readaloud: The Chicken Squad

The Chicken SquadThe Chicken Squad: The First MisadventureThe Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

I love some of Doreen Cronin’s picture books, and was hopeful that this early chapter book would keep my children’s interest. It easily did – they kept asking for one more chapter, and we ended up reading the entire book in one sitting (it’s a short book, but still. That doesn’t always happen with my two.)

This is apparently a spin-off from her book The Trouble with ChickensThe Trouble with Chickens: A J.J. Tully Mystery (J. J. Tully Mysteries) by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell, and there’s a sequel, The Case of the Weird Blue ChickenThe Case of the Weird Blue Chicken: The Next Misadventure (The Chicken Squad Book 2) by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell. Will I look for them? Perhaps. It was maybe a little bit too silly, and the chickens are pretty rude to the squirrel. Do I want that sort of attitude modeled to my children, who don’t need any help in that area? 😉 I may end up giving the others a pass, or I may just read them myself first, before making a final decision as to reading them to the kids. I liked the dog the best in this book, so that makes me think I should give the original book a try.

My verdict:

I liked that it kept their attention, and they had fun guessing what the mysterious object could be. I had fun hearing what their guesses were, and how they’d modify their guesses based on additional information.

The kids’ verdict:

Chickens are funny.
[Read more…]

Homeschooling Update: Beginning Core A

We’ve finished our first two weeks of Sonlight Core A (more or less). Here were some of the highlights from the past month:

History & Geography

Usborne Children's EncyclopediaMy son LOVES the Children’s Encyclopedia. LOVES it. I catch him flipping through it on his own, and asking when we’re going to read certain pages.

One of his favorite things is the internet links included – I’ve bookmarked the encyclopedia on the computer, and he knows how to get to it and explore the links. So far his favorite things have been putting the continents/countries/cities on the globe, and playing a game where he makes a mummy.

Living Long AgoLiving Long Ago he likes, but not as much as the encyclopedia. So far there have been some fairly easy hands-on activities mentioned in LLA, but we’ve not actually owned the items we’d need to do those activities. I need to look ahead and see if I can get them, because I think they’d both like to do them.

I Heard Good News TodayI Heard Good News Today has not been a hit. I’m putting it aside to try again in a few months.

Read Alouds

(And a clarification: We don’t necessarily read all of the books in the official order given in the Core. They’re not tied into history at all, and so I will move them around and add in other books as we like. So seeing a book from the Core mentioned here doesn’t mean it’s scheduled that way.)

The Arnold Lobel Book of Mother GooseThey like The Arnold Lobel Book of Mother GooseThe Arnold Lobel Book of Mother Goose: A Treasury of More Than 300 Classic Nursery Rhymes, but I’m a bit burned out on Mother Goose (plus I preferred the illustrations in last year’s A Treasury of Mother GooseA Treasury of Mother Goose). I’m reading what’s scheduled, but no extra. The rhymes are making an impact on my daughter at least: she spent several days reciting Humpty Dumpty after I read it one afternoon.

The Llama Who Had No PajamaI want to hold off on a verdict for The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite PoemsThe Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Betty Fraser – we’ve read so little of it. So far the kids seem to like it, but they’re not desperate for more.

We’d already read The Boxcar Children, so I added the sequel, Surprise Island. We also read Winnie-the-Pooh, and we just started The Yellow House Mystery (The Boxcar Children, No. 3)The Yellow House Mystery (The Boxcar Children, No. 3) by Gertrude Chandler Warner (book #3 in the Boxcar Children series)

The Story about PingWe finished The Story about PingThe Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack. I loved it and both kids really liked it – enough so that we read it a couple of times, and then read a couple more Flack books. My son especially liked The Boats on the RiverThe Boats on the River by Marjorie Flack, illustrated by Jay Hyde Barnum. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve read it now, and I still don’t mind reading it again – always the sign of a good book.

The Complete Adventures of Curious GeorgeWe also finished The Complete Adventures of Curious GeorgeThe Complete Adventures of Curious George: 70th Anniversary Edition by Margret and H. A. Rey in one day because the kids loved it so much. Every time I finished a chapter they begged for more, and were sad when we reached the end.

Bible

Egermeier's Bible Story BookWe’re working through the Egermeier’s Bible Story BookEgermeier's Bible Story Book. The amount of reading seems fairly inconsistent on the schedule, but I’ve changed it to just read a section every day. It works. I like it more than the 101 Favorite Stories from the Bible101 Favorite Stories from the Bible in P 4/5, but not as much as the The Jesus Storybook BibleThe Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name.

Math

Math Mammoth 1AWe’re moving along in Math Mammoth 1A, and just finished through page 50 (practicing adding three numbers). G also decided that he wanted a break from it and spent a few days working in his Mathematical Reasoning B book instead. I let him pick each day which one he uses.

Science

Tadpoles and FrogsWe’re doing Core A science, and have done the readings through all of week one, and half of week two. We have not watched the DVD, or done the experiments. The worksheets we’re doing orally. We’re in the midst of reading Tadpoles and Frogs, and surprisingly for an Usborne book, this one doesn’t have my son begging to finish it in one day. That’s a sign of how high my expectations are for those books that I’m shocked he just likes it and isn’t obsessively crazy over it. 🙂

Language Arts

Chasing HenryWhile I have Sonlight’s LA1, we haven’t done any of it so far. He’s still doing All About Reading 3 (just reached the halfway point of it and finished the first reader, Chasing Henry), and will be starting All About Spelling 2 soon (I was getting us settled into the new Core first). He’s got a handwriting book too.

The Sonlight LA seems pretty redundant from the other materials, and I’m not sure how I want to use it. At some point I’ll have him read the readers at least (maybe maybe interspersed with AAR 3 & 4?), and I’m considering going back to the LAK sheets and going over the writing assignments from it. We were inconsistent with doing them, and they seem like they’d be a good fit for him now.

PE

G had a taekwondo tournament, and finished 3rd in forms and 5th in sparring. He’s belt testing this weekend, and will hopefully pass and get his senior orange belt.

He’s also started baseball, and is right in the middle of practicing. Later this month he starts playing real games, and he can’t wait.

Art & Music

Harmony Fine Arts Grade 1I purchased Harmony Arts Grade 1 plan – it’s designed as an overview year, and is supposed to be good for those new to art and music appreciation. That would be me/us. So far we’ve done the first week of it, and I like it. It’s very doable by me, and it’s fun for the kids. It’s also inexpensive enough that I didn’t feel like I was risking a lot by trying it out.

(and a heads-up if this looks interesting to you: it’s 40% off through the end of April using the code SPRINGTHING40. That’s making me seriously consider buying next year’s program already.)

Extras

Create-a-CalendarI’m a bit disappointed in the calendar Sonlight includes – it’s a blank calendar, and the kids are supposed to add their own dates and stickers and all that. Except it’s got the months listed, and it begins in September. While that might be a typical start date in North America, I’d really have preferred the blank calendar to be completely blank, so whenever we started the Core, we could decide how we wanted to use the calendar.

Sonlight Timeline BookThe timeline though, is a HUGE hit. G wants to add figures to it every day, and we’ve only added about one a week, much to his disappointment.

We’re all taking a field trip today and touring a local ice cream place, to see how they make it. I haven’t told them what we’re doing and they are going to be so excited. I can’t wait to see their reaction. And when they find out that they’re going to get to TRY the ice cream? They are going to be ecstatic.

He’s still doing lots of Legos and puzzles. He’s already planning which Lego set he wants for his birthday, and for finishing Level 3 in reading. Until my Kindle Fire died, he was playing lots of Presidents vs. Aliens and Stack the States on it while waiting for his sister to finish her taekwondo class. I’m wondering how long I’ll be able to hold off on replacing it with another tablet – there are definitely times when it’s handy. And I was surprised at how much he picked up regarding US Geography and Presidential history from playing those games!

Beginning Core A Update 1

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Recent Readaloud: Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the PoohWinnie-the-PoohWinnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest Shepard by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest Shepard

My Sonlight Core includes the second Winnie-the-Pooh book, The House at Pooh CornerThe House at Pooh Corner (Winnie-the-Pooh) by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard, but not the first one*. So I added it myself, especially since we’re not having any trouble keeping ahead of the schedule as far as readalouds goes.

I was surprised to discover how familiar the stories in this book were. I’ve seen some of Disney’s version of Winnie-the-Pooh, and I’d assumed they’d taken a lot of liberties and just used the characters and made up the adventures. At least with the first book, I recognized many (most?) of the events. How unexpected, and how fun!

The illustrations are lovely, and added to the gentle feel of the stories. This would work well as an early chapter book, especially since each chapter stands alone.

Highly recommended, although I have trouble imagining that that’s a surprise to anyone, it’s such a classic.

My verdict:
So much fun. I loved the illustrations, and I loved the familiar stories.

The kids’ verdict:
They loved it!

Publisher’s Description:
More than sixty years ago, Christopher Robin took his friend Edward Bear—who came to be known to millions as Winnie-the-Pooh—by one chubby paw and brought him unceremoniously downstairs. Pooh has endured, still slightly rotund, a Bear of Very Little Brain, but very generous of heart: the immortal creation of A. A. Milne, who wrote this book for his only son, Christopher Robin, and Ernest H. Shepard, who lovingly gave Pooh and his companions shape.

The adventures of Pooh and Piglet, Owl, Tigger, and the ever doleful Eeyore, are timeless treasures of childhood. These tales still speak to all of us with the freshness that distinguishes true storytelling.

Book Details

Title: Winnie-the-PoohWinnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest Shepard
Author: A. A. Milne, illustrations by Ernest Shepard
Category: Children’s Fiction

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* And it looks like the 2015 catalog has swapped out The House at Pooh CornerThe House at Pooh Corner (Winnie-the-Pooh) by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard for Winnie-the-PoohWinnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest Shepard. So now it does have the first book, instead of the second one. No idea why they originally included the second one, but it does seem to make more sense to have the first included. Perhaps it’s because Tigger doesn’t appear until the second book? And the website still shows book #2 as being in the core, but my new catalog shows book #1, so I think they haven’t gotten around to updating their website. 🙂

Recent Readaloud: Surprise Island

Surprise IslandSurprise IslandSurprise Island (The Boxcar Children Mysteries #2) by Gertrude Chandler Warner by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Boxcar Children was the first true chapter book that kept my children’s attention and interest, and we’ve since read it through several more times. Enough times that I was ready to move on from it, and maybe try an additional title from the series. Perhaps continuing with the same four children would keep my son happy, and something new would keep me from having to reread that exact same book.

Up next in the series was Surprise Island. Touted as having a mystery, I was skeptical. As I should have been – perhaps for the kids it’s targeted towards might be surprised by some of the events, but I can’t imagine any adult would be.

My verdict:
It’s fine. It’s not one I’d recommend an adult reading for their own entertainment, but as a readaloud for kids somewhat new to chapter books it works.

The kids’ verdict:
Not as awesome as the first, but after finishing the last chapter my son immediately requested that I read it again, so it was still a hit.

And, if it sounds like I’m too harsh on these books, I’m not really feeling that harsh towards them. I’m going to get the third book in the series too – my kids like them, and they’re still not quite ready for me to read just any chapter book. These are working nicely to help develop their listening skills.

Publisher’s Description:
Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny used to live alone in a boxcar. Now they have a home with their grandfather and are spending the summer on their own private island.

There’s a mysterious stranger on the island who must keep his identity a secret. And that’s not the only surprise in store for the Boxcar Children on Surprise Island

Book Details

Title: Surprise Island Surprise Island (The Boxcar Children Mysteries #2) by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Author: Gertrude Chandler Warner
Category: Children’s Fiction

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Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai by Thanhha Lai

I’ve had great luck reading novels written in verse, so much so that I keep thinking surely the streak can’t continue – one of these days I’ll hit a dud. So far though, the streak is intact, as Inside Out and Back Again was fantastic.

While the content of Lai’s novel could make it a difficult read, it’s so beautifully written it ends up being a pleasure. I still might hesitate to hand it over to younger readers depending on their sensitivity, but it’d be an easy one to pre-read if you’ve got any concerns about your children reading it. However, don’t avoid this thinking it’s just for children – it’s not at all – it’s a great book.

My only complaints with it are simply because of the target audience, there ends up being not as much depth to her story as I’d like. Overall though it’s one that I enthusiastically recommend. It’s easy to see why it’s a Newbery Honor book.

The author has a second book out this year, Listen, SlowlyListen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai, and after reading this one I requested the new one. Listen, Slowly is written in prose, so if you’re not interested in Inside Out and Back Again due to being written in verse, the new one may work for you. I’m eagerly anticipating it.

Don’t skip the information in the back – it adds some of that extra depth I was wanting, and was very interesting! [Read more…]

What the Kids are Reading (in March 2015)

John Philip DuckJohn Philip DuckJohn Philip Duck by Patricia Polacco by Patricia Polacco

Really fun – we read this one dozens of times. The only thing I wish is that there was a note at the end with a little more detail as to what’s the real story, and what’s Polacco’s invention.

Math Fables TooMath Fables Too: Making Science CountMath Fables Too: Making Science Count by Greg Tang, illustrated by Taia Morley by Greg Tang, illustrated by Taia Morley

We’ve been on a kick as far as reading fun math books, and this was another winner in that string. Loved the little animal facts included in this one as well!

How Do You Know What Time It IsHow Do You Know What Time It Is?How Do You Know What Time It Is? by Robert E. Wells by Robert E. Wells

The Wells books have been very popular with my children, especially my son, and this was no exception.

DruthersDruthersDruthers by Matt Phelan by Matt Phelan

Unexpectedly delightful – this is a charming story with lovely illustrations. Both kids enjoyed it, but my daughter especially loved it.

Bear Snores OnBear Snores OnBear Snores On by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman

We’ve read two other Bear books, but this was our first time with the original title, and it was just as fun as I expected it would be. My daughter liked repeating the “bear snores on” line quite a bit.

Never Tease a WeaselNever Tease a WeaselNever Tease a Weasel by Jean Conder Soule, illustrated by George Booth by Jean Conder Soule, illustrated George Booth

I was more amused by this one than my kids were, especially my daughter who adamantly did NOT want me to read it again. It’s got some funny lines and vocabulary words, but I didn’t like the illustrations all that much.

Farmer Brown Goes Round and RoundFarmer Brown Goes Round and RoundFarmer Brown Goes Round and Round by Teri Sloat, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcot by Teri Sloat, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcot

This was ok. The kids were mildly entertained by the silliness, but I didn’t think it was worth repeating, and they didn’t ask for it again.

Because You Are My FriendBecause You Are My FriendBecause You Are My Friend by Guido Van Genechten by Guido Van Genechten

Another one picked out by my daughter because of the pink cover, another one that went right back into the library bag after one reading. In the “well at least it’s got that” aspect, the little bear has texture, so it becomes a touch-and-feel book for babies. There are better of those out there (much better), so don’t let that persuade you to give this one a try.

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Early Reader Success: Danny and the Dinosaur

Danny and the DinosaurDanny and the DinosaurDanny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff by Syd Hoff

Syd Hoff is a well-known children’s author, and I found many of his titles on various book lists, especially for early readers. Why did I pick this one to try first? Simple – the library had it on the shelf and immediately available, so into the bag it went.

And then I never saw it again, as my son grabbed it out of the library bag and read it to himself. He took it to bed at night, and asked to stay up a little bit longer to finish a couple more pages. He stretched it out over several days, but he loved it!

I never even heard him read it, but he’d tell me about it the next day, so I know he was reading it.

It was so exciting for me to have found a book that grabbed him enough to want to read it all on his own. I’ve already got Hoff’s Sammy the SealSammy the Seal (I Can Read Book 1) by Syd Hoff requested for our next trip, and there are two more Danny titles to get later, plus plenty more by the author.

Reading success! I love it!

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The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

The 13 ClocksThe 13 ClocksThe 13 Clocks by James Thurber by James Thurber

One of the most helpful ways for me to find great books to read is to find someone with similar reading tastes and see what they’ve liked and disliked. It works a lot of the time, but it’s not foolproof. There are times when someone doesn’t like a book I’ve enjoyed, and then there are times when someone likes a book and I find I don’t care for it. At all.

Guess which category The 13 Clocks falls into? Yup, that last one. Despite Catherine’s recommendation, it fell flat for me, and I didn’t even try reading it to my kids. Perhaps when they get a bit older I’ll try it, but it’s hard for me to be enthusiastic about reading to them when I dislike a book.

And yet, I don’t disagree with her comments on it. It does have inventive characters. There is terrific alliteration and use of language. There are definitely bizarre plot twists. It just didn’t work for me, and I quickly sent it back to the library.

Find the book: Print | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales.

So begins James Thurber’s sublimely revamped fairy tale, The 13 Clocks, in which a wicked Duke who imagines he has killed time, and the Duke’s beautiful niece, for whom time seems to have run out, both meet their match, courtesy of an enterprising and very handsome prince in disguise. Readers young and old will take pleasure in this tale of love forestalled but ultimately fulfilled, admiring its upstanding hero (”He yearned to find in a far land the princess of his dreams, singing as he went, and possibly slaying a dragon here and there”) and unapologetic villain (”We all have flaws,” the Duke said. “Mine is being wicked”), while wondering at the enigmatic Golux, the mysterious stranger whose unpredictable interventions speed the story to its necessarily happy end.

Book Details

Title: The 13 ClocksThe 13 Clocks by James Thurber
Author: James Thurber
Category: Juvenile Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

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Recent Readaloud: The Boxcar Children

The Boxcar ChildrenThe Boxcar ChildrenThe Boxcar Children (The Boxcar Children, No. 1) (Boxcar Children Mysteries) by Gertrude Chandler Warner by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Reading true chapter books to my kids has been a work in progress. We’ve read longer picture books. We’ve read some beginning chapter books (Bink & Gollie and Mercy Watson were favorites). But a true chapter book, without pictures on every page? Not so successful.

So I did lots of browsing and found various book lists with suggested titles to try. I put several on hold from the library, but before my next visit to pick them up, I had a night when I was on my own with the kids for the entire afternoon/evening and we had had a LONG day, and I was desperate for something new to try.

Enter The Boxcar ChildrenThe Boxcar Children (The Boxcar Children, No. 1) (Boxcar Children Mysteries) by Gertrude Chandler Warner, a title I found on many many many lists of suggested early chapter books. I hadn’t planned on reading it until we started Sonlight Core A (it’s one of the first readalouds in that Core), but see above paragraph about being desperate. I figure I can always swap something else (like a sequel) in where this one should have been.

As bad as the evening was going, trying the book couldn’t hurt after all, and just might help. I got the big kids pj’d and into bed, and told them I’d read as long as they were quiet. If they started fighting or yelling or otherwise misbehaving, the lights would go off and it’d be bedtime.

The threats might have been necessary for the start, but by the second page my son was HOOKED on the story. He kept begging for one more chapter, one more chapter. My daughter fell asleep somewhere during chapter 8, but G would have kept going until the book was over. My voice was giving out, and the baby needed to be fed and put to bed, so we called it quits after chapter 9.

And the success at listening to that one longer story has carried over – we’re currently reading The Milly-Molly-Mandy StorybookThe Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley, from Core P 4/5, and he’s happily paying attention to the story. He’s even asking for more of it (not quiet as enthusiastically as he asked for more Boxcar Children, but still.) And I’ve since picked up those library holds, so I’ve got 4 or 5 other titles to try with him. I’m excited to see what else we find that he might love!

My verdict:
I wouldn’t pick it up for myself (unlike some kids’ books), but it seems wrong to complain too much about that when it’s not written for me. 🙂

The kids’ verdict:
Love. Love love love love love. Well, for G anyway. H liked it but not with the same extreme enthusiasm as her brother – the difference between 5 and 3 perhaps? She did still listen to it all, except for when she fell asleep. 🙂

Publisher’s Description:
Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny, four orphaned brothers and sisters, suddenly appear in a small town. No one knows who these young wanderers are or where they have come from. Frightened to live with a grandfather they have never met, the children make a home for themselves in an abandoned red boxcar they discover in the woods. Henry, the oldest, goes to town to earn money and buy food and supplies.

Ambitious and resourceful, the plucky children make a happy life themselves–until Violet gets too sick for her brothers and sister to care for her.

This story will delight any child who has fantasized about being on his or her own and overcoming every obstacle.

Book Details

Title: The Boxcar ChildrenThe Boxcar Children (The Boxcar Children, No. 1) (Boxcar Children Mysteries) by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Author: Gertrude Chandler Warner
Category: Children’s Fiction

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Recent Readaloud: Dinosaurs Before Dark

Dinosaurs Before DarkDinosaurs Before DarkDinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Tree House, No. 1) by Mary Pope Osborne by Mary Pope Osbourne

I can’t remember if I found this on a list of recommended read-alouds, or if it was just that the author was familiar to me, or if someone recommended it specifically.

No matter how it came to my attention, I’m glad that the series did. While this entry in the series wasn’t the best fit for us (something about outer space would have likely been more appealing), the overall format seems like it’ll be a success, and it’s another good bridge between picture books and longer chapter books. This one is a chapter book, but the chapters are all short and there is one illustration for each chapter.

Anyone who has read it, does it make a difference if you read it in order, or can you skip around to pick titles covering specific topics? This one was the first in the series which is why I started with it, and if I was just going on content the next one I’d try would be #8.

My verdict:
It’s fine, but a different topic would probably interest my kids a bit more. Dinosaurs aren’t their favorite.

The kids’ verdict:
H liked the pictures, but got bored by the story. G liked the story, but it hasn’t been one that he’s desperate to have me reread again and again. [Read more…]