• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Announcing the Cybils shortlist for Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction

The official announcement has been made over here, at the Cybils blog. You can find the remaining short lists up today, too, including Nonfiction Picture Books, one of our family’s favorite categories.

In alphabetical order:

Marie Curie (volume 4 in the Giants of Science series) by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Boris Kulikov; Krull’s Isaac Newton made it to last year’s short list
Viking Juvenile

The Periodic Table: Elements With Style! created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, written by Adrian Dingle
Kingfisher

Smart-Opedia: The Amazing Book About Everything, translated by Eve Drobot
Maple Tree Press

Tasting the Sky: a Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (from the Scientists in the Field series) by Loree Griffin Burns
Houghton Mifflin

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman (whose Freedom Walkers won this category last year)
Clarion

Getting down to brass tacks now is the Judging Panel, comprised of

Tracy Chrenka at Talking in the Library
Emily Mitchell at Emily Reads
Camille Powell at Book Moot
Alice Herold at Big A little a
Jennie Rothschild at Biblio File

* * *

It was a wild ride. Five panelists, one newborn baby, a couple of holidays over several months, and 45 nominated children’s nonfiction books published in 2007 — on the subjects of history, science, mathematics, reference, biography, memoirs, humor, how to, essays, popular culture, music, and more. Much more.

What an absolute delight to work on the MG/YA nonfiction nominating panel alongside Susan at Chicken Spaghetti, Vivian at HipWriterMama, Mindy at Proper Noun Dot Net, and KT at Worth the Trip, all under the leadership of master wrangler and organizer Jen Robinson. The other panelists made the job of distilling the 45 nominated titles down to seven as easy as possible under the circumstances, and I continue to be amazed at how smoothly our negotiations and jockeyings went. Thank you each, thank you all for several marvelous months.

While we had a fraction of the books some of the other panels had to read (though more than I had to deal with last year on the poetry panel), our hunting and gathering skills were put to work tracking down titles for which review copies weren’t furnished. So I’d also like to thank the patient and quick-working libraries in our system that sped books to me, often shortly after processing. And lastly, a big thanks to my kids, who put up with a good deal of questioning, poking, and prodding about what they liked and didn’t about the the books they read, with and without me.

And special thanks, again, to Anne Boles Levy and Kelly Herold for coming up with the idea of the Cybils and organizing everything.

One of the reasons I wanted to serve on this particular panel is that for our family, and so many other home school families we know, high quality nonfiction titles are the backbone of our curricula, as well as our some of our children’s favorite free-time reading. I wanted, through the Cybils, to be able to publicize some of the best of the bunch, so you and your kids can include these new gems on your “to read” lists.

The other reason is that I realize, sadly, that for many non-home schooling families, nonfiction children’s titles are considered the second rate, second tier, B List, utility grade, inferior choice when it comes to children’s books, and I wanted to be able to use an opportunity like the Cybils, with such a terrific short list of books of marvelous depth and range, to show that children’s nonfiction is not only chock full of superior choices, but every inch the equal of fiction.

I’d like to encourage other readers and fans of children’s nonfiction, especially those who are concerned about what children’s nonfiction author Marc Aronson calls “nonfiction resistance”, to keep up with the subject on Marc’s blog, Nonfiction Matters.

And one final note — a raft of terrific children’s 2007 nonfiction titles didn’t make it to the list of nominees to be considered for the above short list. If your favorite wasn’t nominated, it’s because you didn’t speak up for it. Don’t let that happen next year.

Review: We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin

We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin
by Larry Dane Brimner
48 pages; for ages 8 and up
Calkins Creek Books
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense) (Cybils affiliate links) or in Canada at Chapters
Review copy from the publisher

We Are One is the handsome new photobiography of Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), the American pacifist and civil rights activist. While Rustin is nowhere near as well known as the leaders he advised — his mentor A. Philip Randolph and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — or the 1963 March on Washington he organized, he has in recent years been the subject of two biographies for adults (this one, and this one), two for high school students, a volume of collected writings, and several documentaries, including one devoted exclusively to his life.

We Are One is a strikingly designed book, inspired by the celebrated March on Washington poster by artist Louis Lo Monaco, complete with matching color scheme and artful torn edging used for sidebars within the volume to highlight photograph captions, quotations, and lyrics from the Negro spirituals and gospel hymns that Rustin sang.

As I was admiring the look of the book, clean, spare, and sophisticated, I found myself wondering exactly for whom this picture book biography is meant. According to the publisher’s website, it’s intended for children ages 8 and up. But it’s a sophisticated story, too, of the civil rights movement in general (including some of the most shameful periods in American history) and the life of Bayard Rustin in particular. For starters, Rustin wasn’t one of the famous faces of the movement; organizers laboring behind the scenes rarely are, because all that organizing, while desperately necessary, isn’t all that exciting to read about, especially for the younger set. All this organizing also means that We Are One is loaded with details, names, and dates, from the NAACP and Josh White and His Carolinians*, with whom Rustin sang briefly, to the Free India Committee, a good deal of information for anyone under the age of 12 to absorb.

Rustin labored quietly in great part because he was relegated to the sidelines by those in charge, who found troublesome and problematic his early work for the Young Communist League (though presumably not the American Communist Party’s early support of civil rights); his refusal, as a Quaker, to register for the draft during World War II or to perform alternate service; and his homosexuality, a subject that Larry Dane Brimner touches on only briefly, in his author’s note at the back of the book. Older readers able to appreciate and understand this complex period of American history might be put off by the picture book approach.

But my main reservation is about language. In his author’s note, Mr. Brimner writes,

To be true to the times in which Bayard lived, and with the greatest respect, I referred to African Americans as colored, black, and Negro in this book. These were the terms that Bayard used to refer to himself and others of his race.

I do appreciate, very much, that Mr. Brimner didn’t shy from these terms in their historical context. However, I found the mixing of the various terms, sometimes in the same sentence —

In the South following the Civil War, laws were passed to prevent blacks from voting, and throughout the United States, Negroes were discriminated against as a way to keep them from enjoying the benefits of freedom.

— to be jarring verging on confusing. And, given current sensibilities, and for children of all colors who might not have encountered these words in a history book before, seeing them might raise concerns which should be addressed at the beginning of the story, perhaps as a “historical note to readers”, rather than as a brief mention tucked in at the back.

As a suggestion to parents of younger readers, I found that my three had an easier time understanding the historical context of We Are One when we started first with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the March on Washington from the “All Aboard Reading” series. And if you let them hear and see Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, chances are they’ll have a much clearer understanding of just why Bayard Rustin held fast to his ideal that “we are one”, and just why he was willing to toil behind the scenes so long and so hard to make the March come to pass.

*A nice musical go-along while reading about the civil rights movement is Josh White‘s “Free and Equal Blues“. And a bit of poking around at Amazon shows that some of the songs Rustin recorded while singing back-up with White‘s Carolinians appear to be on this CD.

Other Cybils reviews of We Are One:

KT at Worth the Trip

Mindy at Propernoun Dot Net

CYBILS: Five days left…

…to nominate your favorite Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction book published in 2007. I know some of you are busy polishing the silverware and preparing the nut cups for Thanksgiving next week, but please consider taking a break to give the nod to your favorite book.

Some titles still awaiting nomination:

The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle by Anne H. Weaver

Einstein Adds a New Dimension
(from The Story of Science series) by Joy Hakim;
Psst, Rebecca! The geeky physics post can wait. Your nomination can’t (unless of course there’s another title you’d prefer to nominate). Carol, did you get it yet and read it?

The Many Rides of Paul Revere
by James Cross Giblin

The Trailblazing Life of Daniel Boone and How Early Americans Took to the Road by Cheryl Harness

The Remarkable Rough-Riding Life of Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Empire America by Cheryl Harness

Who’s Saying What in Jamestown, Thomas Savage? by Jean Fritz

When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs by Hannah Bonner

The Dangerous Book for Boys
(US edition) by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden

Daring Book for Girls
by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz

The Art Book for Children/Book Two, compiled by Amanda Renshaw and the editors of Phaidon Press

Amazing Ben Franklin Inventions You Can Build Yourself
(from the Build It Yourself series) by Carmella Van Vleet

Great Pioneer Projects You Can Build Yourself (from the Build It Yourself series) by Rachel Dickinson

Amazing Maya Inventions You Can Build Yourself (from the Build It Yourself series) by Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt

Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell, the One-Armed Explorer by Deborah Kogan Ray

Up Close: Robert F. Kennedy, Crusader: A Twentieth-Century Life by Marc Aronson

One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II by Lita Judge;
I know Chris Barton at Bartography thought highly of this one. And Karen, who knows a thing or two about good World War II books for children, calls it “fascinating”. Of course, Mary at Our Domestic Church could nominate it too. Yoohoo….

River Roads West: America’s First Highways by Peter and Connie Roop

Tales of Famous Americans by Connie and Peter Roop

Stories of the Zodiac (from the Dot to Dot in the Sky series) by Joan Marie Galat

600 Black Spots: A Pop-up Book for Children of All Ages by David A. Carter (I’m not 100 percent sure about the category for this one, but it’s definitely fun for all ages)

Cybils middle grade/young adult nonfiction nominations to date

The list of Cybils nominees so far for this year’s best middle grade/young adult nonfiction books (all titles pending copyright date verification). Nominations close Wednesday, November 21.

**Most of the links below each book are for Cybils affiliated programs (note that BookSense works only for the US, not Canada); many thanks for supporting the Cybils.

1607: A New Look at Jamestown by Karen Lange

Across the Wide Ocean by Karen Romano Young
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

America Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the 60s by Laban Carrick Hill

Another Book About Design: Complicated Doesn’t Make It Bad by Mark Gonyea
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art, compiled by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

Black and White Airmen: Their True History by John Fleischman
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

Dinosaur Eggs Discovered!: Unscrambling the Clues by Lowell Dingus, Rodolfo A. Coria, and Luis M. Chiappe
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

Disguised: A Wartime Memoir by Rita De Clercq Zubli
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

From Slave to Superstar of the Wild West: The Awesome Story of Jim Beckwourth by Tom DeMund
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

The Good, The Bad, The Slimy: The Secret Life of Microbes by Sara Latta

Grief Girl by Erin Vincent
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

The Halloween Book of Facts and Fun by Wendie Old and Paige Billin-Frye
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

Jeannette Rankin: Political Pioneer by Gretchen Woelfle
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

Let’s Clear the Air: 10 Reasons Not to Start Smoking by Deanna Staffo
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

Marie Curie (from the Giants of Science series) by Kathleen Krull

Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail by Danica McKellar

Morris and Buddy: The Story of the First Seeing Eye Dog by Becky Hall
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

Muckrakers: How Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens Helped Expose Scandal, Inspire Reform, and Invent Investigative Journalism by Ann Bausum
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

My Feet Aren’t Ugly by Debra Beck
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

Ox, House, Stick: The Story of Our Alphabet by Don Robb
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

The Periodic Table: Elements With Style! by Adrian Dingle
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

The Real Benedict Arnold by Jim Murphy
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

The Secret of Priest’s Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story by Peter Lane Taylor and Christos Nicola
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

Smart-Opedia: The Amazing Book About Everything by Eve Drobot
Available from
Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

The Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Robert E. Peary’s Daring Daughter by Katherine Kirkpatrick

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (from the Scientists in the Field series) by Loree Griffin Burns
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

The Ultimate Interactive Atlas of the World by Elaine Jackson et al.
Available from your local bookstore (BookSense)

We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin by Larry Dane Brimner
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

What’s Eating You?: Parasites — The Inside Story by Nicola Davies
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World by Marc Aronson and John W. Glenn
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Beatles, Beatlemania, and the Music that Changed the World by Bob Spitz
Available from Amazon.com or your local bookstore (BookSense)

You Can Write a Story! by Lisa Bullard

Our panel’s fearless leader, Jen Robinson, also has a post of nominated titles, and it was Jen who organized all the links and code. Thanks for all the extra compiling, Jen.

* * *

You still have more than two weeks, until November 21st, to nominate your favorite titles. Some nonfiction books, in random order as I’ve remembered them and as the kids have reminded me, that I’ve noticed have not yet been nominated, in part because a number have been published only in the past few months:

The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle by Anne H. Weaver

Einstein Adds a New Dimension
(from The Story of Science series) by Joy Hakim

One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss

The Many Rides of Paul Revere
by James Cross Giblin

The Trailblazing Life of Daniel Boone and How Early Americans Took to the Road by Cheryl Harness

The Remarkable Rough-Riding Life of Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Empire America by Cheryl Harness

Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas
by Russell Freedman

Who’s Saying What in Jamestown, Thomas Savage? by Jean Fritz

When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs by Hannah Bonner

The Dangerous Book for Boys
(US edition) by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden

Daring Book for Girls
Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz

The Art Book for Children/Book Two, compiled by Amanda Renshaw and the editors of Phaidon Press

Amazing Ben Franklin Inventions You Can Build Yourself
(from the Build It Yourself series) by Carmella Van Vleet

Great Pioneer Projects You Can Build Yourself (from the Build It Yourself series) by Rachel Dickinson

Amazing Maya Inventions You Can Build Yourself (from the Build It Yourself series) by Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt

Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell, the One-Armed Explorer by Deborah Kogan Ray

Up Close: Robert F. Kennedy, Crusader: A Twentieth-Century Life by Marc Aronson

One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II by Lita Judge

River Roads West: America’s First Highways by Peter and Connie Roop

Tales of Famous Americans by Connie and Peter Roop

Stories of the Zodiac (from the Dot to Dot in the Sky series) by Joan Marie Galat

600 Black Spots: A Pop-up Book for Children of All Ages by David A. Carter (I’m not 100 percent sure about the category for this one, but it’s definitely fun for all ages)

* * *

and, not yet published but possibilities for those who receive advance copies:

The Great Adventure: Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Modern America: Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Modern America by Albert Marrin

Ain’t Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson

Race: A History Beyond Black and White by Marc Aronson

For Boys Only: The Biggest, Baddest, Best Book Ever! by Marc Aronson and HP Newquist

The Brothers’ War: Civil War Voices in Verse by J. Patrick Lewis; original poetry (this one might get moved over to the poetry section but if you’ve had a chance to see an advance copy and find it worthwhile, please consider nominating it in either nonfiction or poetry)

Following up on David McCullough

I ran out of time yesterday, and wanted to add this list of suggested readings to go with my post yesterday about David McCullough’s new 1776: The Illustrated Edition, the illustrated and abridged edition of Mr. McCullough’s original 1776.

All of the children’s books listed below are narrative histories and overviews of the period, rather than books about a particular element of the American Revolution (which means the list doesn’t include any biographies or the terrific Jean Fritz books, such as And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?). And interestingly, all are illustrated (the first two are picture books) and by authors who have written extensively for children about history, especially American history.

For children (ages 8 or 9 and up/younger as a readaloud):

Liberty or Death: The American Revolution: 1763-1783 by Betsy Maestro with illustrations by Giulio Maestro, from the Maestros’ wonderful “American Story” series

George vs. George: The American Revolution as Seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer (useful for Canadians and other Loyalist types)

For children (ages 10 or so and up):

Give Me Liberty: The Story of the Declaration of Independence by Russell Freedman

For children (ages 12 or so and up):

The Real Revolution: The Global Story of American Independence by Marc Aronson; nifty free teacher guides at Marc Aronson’s website.

A Landmark decision

While starting to put together a list of children’s books set in and around Boston (what I really want is what doesn’t exist, the Boston version of Leonard Marcus’s Storied City), I came across some good news (requires free registration) in last week’s Boston Globe, “An adventure in finding books for boys” (emphases mine, as usual):

For years, the thinking in the book world was that adolescent boys don’t like and won’t read nonfiction books. Steven D. Hill and Peggy Hogan think that opinion is wrong, and they’re out to prove it.

Hill and Hogan, president and editorial director, respectively, of newly founded Flying Point Press, spent years in the 1980s and ’90s at Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Co., he as head of the trade and reference division, she as marketing manager for children’s books. A couple of years ago they met to talk about new ventures and hit upon the idea of publishing nonfiction books for boys ages 10 to 15.

They had noticed there’s a strong nonfiction market for men — adventure books such as Sebastian Junger’s “A Perfect Storm” or Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air.” But, said Hill, “it was clear that publishers were ignoring adventure, history, and nonfiction for 10-to-15-year-old boys.” Hogan said, “If you look at what men read, there was no springboard for boys. If they want to read the kind of books they will read as adults, there is nothing to lead them into that area.”

Then Hill, 57, remembered a series of books he had loved as a boy: the old Random House Landmark Books. Started in the 1950s by Random House co-founder Bennett Cerf, they featured narrative nonfiction, mostly history and biography. Cerf signed up such adult stars as John Gunther, C.S. Forester, Alistair MacLean, and William L. Shirer. The series sold millions of books, but Random House (which still publishes several Landmark titles) let many of the classics go out of print. Hill and Hogan got the idea of bringing them back. …

Hill and Hogan sought out the out-of-print Landmark rights-holders, usually the authors’ estates, signed new contracts, and are putting the books back in print. The first eight came out last fall, eight more are coming this spring, and another eight next fall. The list includes: Bruce Bliven’s “Invasion: The Story of D-Day,” MacLean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” Forester’s “The Barbary Pirates,” and Shirer’s “The Deadly Hunt: The Sinking of the Bismarck.”

“A single book is not going to make a difference,” said Hogan, 65, “but a series for children is a powerful concept, as it was with Landmark. The idea is to have a list of all the titles in each book, so that if you like one, you know you can find something similar.”

Read the rest of the article for various thoughts (including some from Leonard Marcus) on the venture. Landmarks are particularly beloved, and often collected, by a number of home educating families, secular and religious, who treasure what Charlotte Mason called “living books” — quality children’s historical nonfiction — so this is great good news indeed; I’d be remiss not to mention that I have a child who lives, or at least sleeps, with Holbrook’s “Davy Crockett” under his pillow. A hearty thanks to Mr. Hill and Ms. Hogan, and great good luck to Flying Point Press.

"Island Story" at LibriVox

While discussing Charlotte Mason, Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall, and other history books for younguns with a new internet friend the other day, I stumbled across the news that Our Island Story is now available, since September, as a free audiobook from LibriVox; part one is here and part two is here.

Rather more economical than the pricey (around $30 a pop), though no doubt gorgeous, professional alternative from Naxos Audiobooks, which is offering the unabridged story on CD in three volumes and as a one CD abridged Best of Our Island Story collection.

Children’s history book bonanza

I’ve been behind in my blog reading as well as posting about the good tidbits I’ve come across, so I’ll start now. Consider it my belated Canadian Thanksgiving gift or early Halloween treat.

Chris Barton at Bartography has a post, U.S. History is for the birds, where Chris explains why he and his kids are going to continue their picture book study of American history but change from a chronological approach to a more thematic one. And the current theme is birds (something I can appreciate, with three kids who wanted to have “Bird School” all summer), with some terrific titles, including The Bald Eagle’s View of American History by first-time children’s author and stamp collector C.H. Colman and illustrated by Joanne Friar.

Karen at lightingthefires has a post stuffed with suggested Canadian historical fiction picture books, and if the books in that list aren’t enough, she closes with a few other lists for good measure. I see some old favorites on Karen’s list, and some exciting new prospects.

Then, there’s the unflagging Fuse #8, in a category all by herself, who’s been on a historical fiction roll that I hope isn’t coming to an end anytime soon. These are all new titles, brand new for 2006. For each title, listed in no particular order, I’ve put the link to Fuse #8’s review first, followed by a link to the book itself:

Review of Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Lawson, about Hattie, age sixteen in 1917 and an orphan with her own Montana homestead.

Review of Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium by Carla Killough McClafferty

Review of Escaping into the Night by D. Dina Friedman, about a young Jewish girl’s escape from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Review of A True and Faithful Narrative by Katherine Sturtevant, set in Restoration England

Review of Desperate Journey by Jim Murphy, set in the early days along the Erie Canal.

Review of Porch Lies: Tales of Slicksters, Tricksters, and Other Wily Characters by Patricia McKissack; not exactly historical fiction, but sounds like a dandy yarn with good pictures to boot.

Review of Hero of the High Seas: John Paul Jones and the American Revolution by Michael L. Cooper; from National Geographic Children’s Books.

Review of Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson, inspired by the 1912 “Bread and Roses strike” in the textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Review of The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages, set in 1943, about young Dewey Kerrigan whose father has been working in Los Alamos on a top secret and mysterious “gadget” that will help America win the war.

Review of The Wonder Kid by George Harrar, set in the 1950’s and touching on the golden era of comic books, polio, and fallout shelters.

Review of Homefront by Doris Gwaltney; life for 12-year-old Margaret Ann, who lives in a small southern town during WWII, is difficult enough even before the arrival of her pretty but scheming English cousin.

Thanks, all!

Beefing Up SOTW3, Part I: Adding more Canadian history

We’ve been using The Story of the World (SOTW) series by Susan Wise Bauer as the backbone, or “spine,” of our chronological history studies for about two years now; we started with SOTW1 when Laura was in first grade, and starting in September we’ll be using SOTW3, Early Modern Times: From Elizabeth the First to the Forty-Niners (1600-1850).

Each year I’ve had to do a bit of tweaking to get things in order; well, my order anyway. The first year, when we studied ancient history, I rejiggered the chapters in SOTW1 to keep the various civilizations together, at the expense of some chronology. I realized that Laura would have a more difficult time hopping from one civilization to another and back again, so I lumped together all of the Egypt chapters as one unit, and ditto for Japan, China, Greece, Rome, and so on in rough chronological order.

This next year, I’ve decided to beef up the North American content of SOTW3, since we’re going to be going through a most exciting time early American and early Canadian history, and because the kids are dual citizens; I’m especially interested in exploring the Canadian and American sides of the Revolutionary War (Loyalists and Patriots), War of 1812, and other events. I also have to admit I’m keen to prove wrong all of the adult Canadians, homeschoolers included, who over the years have whimpered about how deadly dull their history is, “especially compared to American history”; if you want to read more about this, try Jack Granatstein’s spot-on indictment Who Killed Canadian History?* (that it remains out of print isn’t a good sign either). But I’m convinced that Canadian history is one long ripping yarn full of excitement, adventures, heroes, and heroines, even if you don’t get much past all of the voyageurs paddling upstream and Laura Secord running panting through the woods to warn the British. If I can’t prove it to everyone else, I can at least prove it to my own half-Canadian kids.

Canada

To hold everything together, I’ve chosen Courage & Conquest: Discovering Canadian History by Donna Ward. It’s available directly from Donna’s website and from every decent Canadian homeschool catalogue company, including the ones such as Academic Distribution Services and Tree of Life on the sidebar at right. Courage & Conquest is arranged much like a SOTW activity guide, with each of the 30 chronological lessons (from the Vikings through the fall of New France and Confederation to Newfoundland and Nunavut) accompanied by a short narrative passage; a two-page spread with a picture to color (if desired, and the kids usually do); brief questions for the student to answer; suggestions for additional reading and study: and recommended passages to read in the suggested spines, which include The Kids [sic] Book of Canadian History. The beginning of C&C also lists four-and-a-half pages of other books to read. I’m also going to interweave another one of Ward’s books, Canada’s Natives Long Ago, with C&C, and I’ll interweave (interleave?) all the Canadian material with SOTW3. Because we go down so many rabbit trails, and expand on certain subjects and people, over the school year anyway, especially in history, I’ve no doubt that it will take us longer than one year (42 weeks if you follow the chapter-a-week schedule in SOTW) to complete — closer to two years, I’d imagine. The subjects in C&C start with the Vikings (a bit of backtracking for us), then on to John Cabot, Jacque Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, the fur trade, Maisonneuve, and so on. We’ll stop at lesson 24, British Columbia Gold, and pick up with Confederation in 1867 when we start SOTW4 in anywhere from 12 to 24 months.

Despite Ward’s recommendation of a particular main text, The Kids Book of Canadian History, I’m being my usual difficult self, not only making substitutions but also using two spines where no doubt one would probably be enough (alright, I’ll admit it, that missing apostrophe does drive me nuts). But hear me out — first, we don’t already have The Kids Book, but we do already have Isabel Barclay’s out-of-print and wonderful The Story of Canada, an illustrated narrative history for young children, found at the Goodwill Shop for a quarter the other year, and My First History of Canada by Donalda Dickie, a reprint edition of which I bought secondhand from another homeschooling mum a few years ago, when home education wasn’t even in a glimmer in my eye (I just thought teaching the kids some Canadian history would be a good thing). The Barclay book, which unfortunately stops at around 1900, is very simply written and charmingly illustrated — perfect for the boys. The Dickie history, also in narrative style but more of a challenging read, is to use with Laura.

I also found another fun book, rather like a Dover or Bellerophon coloring book, with a large picture to color on each page accompanied by a brief story, called Pioneer Life by Natalie Quinn (Apple Press); it includes three sections, Settlers in New France, Settlers in Upper Canada, and Homesteaders in Western Canada. I really like the look of the Apple Press Canadian history and geography workbooks I’ve seen. Stylish and not too workbook-y for workbooks, if that makes any sense. And Laura can’t wait to get her mitts on it.

For what it’s worth, I looked at the Pioneers & Patriots study guide, by Vince Marquis, for Canadian history, but it’s a bit above the Grade 3 level and seems a bit dry compared to Donna Ward’s approach.

Besides the list of books in Ward’s Courage & Conquest, I’m also using this list of Canadian historical literature. This would be a good place to thank Nicola Manning for putting together the list, with the help of members of the SonlightCanada Yahoo group, and for keeping it on her website. If you really want to thank Nicola, you can buy some secondhand books from her online at Nikki’s Book Nook.

For more on Canadian history material, the Canadian section of Ambleside online has some very useful stuff, including a discussion of the various, though mostly out of print, children’s narrative histories of Canada and an outline of “How one family approached Year One”; on a thoroughly unCanadian note, I’m also intrigued by Ambleside’s Plutarch rotation for grades four and up. There’s also a Yahoo group for Ambleside/Charlotte Mason/Canada, with some nifty stuff in the Files, including a folder of information for each province, as well as lists of books and activities for various grades. Another useful group for classically educating Canadians is Canadian WTM at Yahoo. It’s not a very busy group and there’s nothing in the Files section, but some good information in the message archives.

Stay tuned for Part II, adding more American history to SOTW3 (as well as a possible list of Canadian and American juvenile historical fiction and non-fiction), and hope I don’t get sidetracked by laundry or possibly a novel and a nectarine… [update: so far the laundry is winning.]

* The educrats did it, revamping and politically correcting Canadian textbooks until they turned them into “the blandest of mush” and “air-brushed accounts of the past.”

More Resources for Middle School and High School

Canada: An Illustrated History by Derek Hayes

Canada: A Portrait in Letters, 1800-2000 by Charlotte Gray

A Short History of Canada by Desmond Morton

A Little History of Canada by H.V. Nelles

Canadians: A Portrait of a Country and Its People by Roy MacGregor

“Canada: A People’s History”, CBC’s broadcast series on DVD; the accompanying books (Volume 1 and Volume 2); and online teacher resources

An episode-by-episode bibliography to accompany the CBC’s “Canada: A People’s History”

a Canadian Literary Reading List compiled by Dr. Bruce Meyer, director of the Writing and Literature Program, University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies, prepared for the CBC’s “Canada: A People’s History”

Canada in the Making website

Early Canadian Online (ECO)

Histor!ca