• 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."

    "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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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Home schooling for homebodies

It’s hard to home school when you’re not home much. I wrote last week that “I’m hoping to get back into a homebody routine again, with plenty of time for schooling at home (instead of out and about schooling, as we’ve been doing)”. With various lessons, rehearsals, and meetings (usually mine) occupying our Wednesdays and Thursdays, the rest of the week has become more precious.

We’ve fallen into a comfortable routine on the days we are at home, well, not including the hour or more it takes us to do winter livestock chores. Davy has been interested in learning more about Natives; what he would really like is to wake up one morning in an Iroquois longhouse c1600, but there’s only so much I can manage. Instead I pulled out Evan-Moor’s History Pockets: Native Americans. The kids work on their pockets while I read aloud, the latest installment of Paddle-to-the-Sea or some of our Lewis and Clark books. History Pockets has sections on eight nations: Inuit, Tlingit, Nez Perce, Maidu, Sioux, Navajo, Iroquois, and Seminole. Because I always need to fine tune and fiddle, I’m adding extra pockets — as well as increasing the challenge for Laura — by incorporating material from Donna Ward’s Canada’s Natives Long Ago and focusing on the nearby Cree and Blackfoot nations. The kids thought it would be fun to bind their pockets, and also their pocket dictionaries, with strips of leather from the deer and moose hides we’ve had tanned over the years. And Davy hauled back a deer skull found in the woods near our corrals so that he can make something (I hope not a candelabra for his mother for Christmas) out of it. And arrowheads out of the rest of the skull. As long as it all stays out of my house, I told him.

The kids have been going hunting with Tom early every morning just after sunrise, and again before sunset in the evenings. One morning the boys were trailing Tom when they came upon a doe and a fawn. To their great surprise, and the boys’ initial concern, the doe started approaching them, stopping when she was about 20 feet away. So far, no doubt to the great disappointment of my venison-loving mother, these have been more extended nature walks than food gathering expeditions.

Davy found a pair of homemade traditional mukluks, complete with fur and decorative beading, at the Goodwill shop, and I was happy with the price of $5. But he wants to be able to wear them outdoors and they have the same leather on the bottom as on the top, so we found a cobbler who is able to add rubber soles to the bottom and also warm liners. We visited him at his workshop yesterday, and he reports that they should be ready by next week, in time for Davy’s birthday.

There were a couple of warm days, but it went right back to being cold enough to skate on the slough, and when the kids finally make it back in the house we drink hot chocolate and eat Anna’s Swedish spiced biscuits with almond (thank you, Ikea). We’ve found that the slough is enormous, covering the better part of our neighbor’s pasture, meandering around for over a mile, past muskrat lodges, dried cattails and reeds, the occasional startled deer and snowy owl.

I’m rearranging the linen closet, still moving books around on the new shelves, helping the kids boil and shape their new mouthguards (I learn something new every day), and planning Davy’s festivities and figuring out when to cook the turkey, next Thursday not being anything approaching a holiday around here.

To make the most out of all of our time in the truck, we’ve been listening to audio CDs, including

Story of the World: Early Modern Times, volume 3 (I see a new edition is coming out in January)

Naxos Audiobooks’ Famous People in History, volume 1 (Alexander the Great, Queen Elizabeth I, Abraham Lincoln, Columbus, Horatio Nelson, Shakespeare, and Mozart) and volume 2 (with Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, George Washington, Beethoven, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, and Ghandi); and if you’re as nutty as I am and can burn CDs with your computer, you can remix the two volumes so that all the stories are in chronological order.

And, because you’re never too young for Stan Freberg, Stan Freberg Presents The United States Of America. I finally broke down the other week and moved it from my wish list to my shopping cart and hit “send”. And am I ever glad I did.

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)

10 ways to get you to read a book…

from the BBC Magazine website, which has an article on the top 10 “factors that could influence the next sales behemoth”. Few of which will gladden the heart of the professional critic — no doubt as it should be, according to Sir Howard Davies — especially:

Factor #1, “Word of Mouth”: “Who do we really trust? When the chips are down, it’s the opinions of our friends and family and colleagues that matter in all things. When you’re trying on an item of clothing you don’t scratch around for a piece of pertinent fashion journalism, you just ask a mate to have a quick look.”

Factor #9, “Praise for”: “Once upon a time in the monomedia world, the reviewer was king. Powerful newspaper literary critics bestrode the world of publishing like colossi. Now not so much. As Mr Rickett [Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller] notes: “People themselves are the reviewers now on Amazon and on all kinds of sharing websites. Reader response has almost supplanted the top-down role of the critic.”

* * *

By the way, the latest online edition of The Bookseller includes an interview with Peter Usborne of Usborne Books, including his thoughts on children’s nonfiction:

Now Usborne wants to turn the spotlight back on traditional non-fiction publishing. “I initially thought that the internet would kill non-fiction, because teachers would tell children to use the internet to help with homework. But if you key in ‘castles’ [on a search engine], you get 900,000 possible websites. The internet is an inadequate resource for children.”

Although space that retailers devote to children’s non-fiction has declined, Usborne believes it is time to address this. “People’s attitudes are beginning to change. I really believe that we can bring back non-fiction and make it a success again, but that is up to the trade as much as the publishers. I hope that they will start to back non-fiction again.”

Figuring out if Cybils-nominated titles are child-friendly

Over at the Cybils blog, Cybils co-founder Kelly Herold wrote a post earlier this week, “Who Put the Kid in Kid-friendly?“:

When [Cybils co-founder] Anne and I led a panel session on the Cybils at the 1st Annual Kidlitosphere Conference this [past] weekend in Chicago, one theme in particular kept popping up during discussions: How do we decide if a book is child-friendly or not?

This is an important question for the ninety panelists and judges evaluating the hundreds of children’s and YA books nominated this year. One of our main goals is to find quality books children will love. In other words, we’re looking for well written, intelligent, and kid-friendly titles.

But how do we — a group of 88 adults and 2 [3?] teens — decide what is child friendly? What are our criteria? Will we know child-friendly when we see it?

Tell us what you think. How does an adult reader recognize a child-friendly book? What are your tell-tale signs of a fun and compelling read? Feel free to answer in the comments or on your own blog.

One of the reasons I was eager to participate in the Cybils again this year is that my kids had so much fun with all of the poetry books that arrived last year. With yet another package slip from Canada Post in the mailbox requiring a trip to the post office to pick up a brown box or padded envelope, the kids started squealing, “It’s just like Christmas!”

My simple answer for how I recognize a child-friendly book is that my kids enjoy that particular book. And I don’t expect all three kids — a ten-year-old girl who prefers historical fiction and stories about horses, an eight-and-a-half-year-old boy who likes best Asterix and how-to manuals, and an almost seven-year-old who enjoys stories about horses, pioneers, and how-to manuals — to enjoy the same books, either. One out of three is good enough for me, provided that that one child thinks the world of that one book.

Last year, the easiest way to find which books the kids really liked was to search their beds. The books they didn’t like — that didn’t catch the kids’ interests or left them cold — stayed in the designated “Cybils piles” in the living room. The books the kids enjoyed were discovered in their respective beds, under pillows and stuffed animals and on top of quilts, and with bookmarks (sometimes just torn slips of paper) between the pages.

This year, with middle grade and young adult nonfiction on my plate, it won’t be quite as easy for me to read all the books with my children, since some titles will certainly be too advanced in language or emotion (or both) for them, at least for the boys whose combined age is 15; often, I’ll use one book on a subject for Laura and something simpler, usually a picture book, for the boys. From all the review’s I’ve read of Grief Girl, Erin Vincent’s memoir about her adolescence following the death of her parents in a traffic accident more than 20 years ago when she was 14, it seems the sort of book I would gladly give Laura in a few years, but not now at age 10.

But even with some books meant for older readers, the kids in general and Davy (not quite seven) in particular have made their way by looking at the pictures and reading, or having me read aloud, the captions. And after all the books we’ve read together, I have a pretty good idea what their thoughts and tastes will be in a few years, which books will be worth keeping, and even adding to our home school studies. As home schoolers, too, we have the luxury of adding any books that arrive to our late autumn/early winter curriculum, or just to our afternoon and bedtime readalouds. We can set aside for the moment Farmer Boy or our study of Lewis & Clark, to spend a few afternoons and evenings reading about trash, dinosaur eggs, and James Beckwourth.

One thing I found interesting last year was how some of the titles that tried too hard to appeal, and be appealing, to kids — whether they are “educational” (a definite concern in this particular category, where a lot of the titles are purchased by libraries rather than individuals and many tend to be the kind of book children use “just for reports”) or simply (and sometimes scatalogically) underestimate children’s senses of humor and sophistication and awareness of what’s clever were among those that did not make it to kids’ favorites lists. Which is why, last year, Adam Rex’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich — a true Halloween delight, by the way, which you still have time to order from your favorite bookseller or via interlibrary loan — made a considerably larger impression on the assembled Farm School children than, say, Hey There, Stink Bug!

* * *

By the way, speaking of children and nonfiction, don’t miss author Marc Aronson‘s current post, “I Want to Be a Historian” at his blog Nonfiction Matters on the subject, or the conversation to which he refers over at Alison Morris‘s ShelfTalker: A Children’s Bookseller’s Blog, with her latest post, “Who’s Borrowing? Who’s Buying?”.

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.

Gearing up for the Cybils

As I wrote last week, the Cybils are back, the Cybils are back!

I’m delighted to be on the Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction committee, wrangled and organized by Jen Robinson, on the nominating panel along with

Mindy at Proper Noun Dot Net
Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti
KT Horning at Worth the Trip
Vivian at HipWriterMama

Following up later will be 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

As a reminder about how wonderful this category is, last year’s winner was

Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman

and the rest of the short list included

Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman
Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh
Immersed in Verse: An Informative, Slightly Irreverent & Totally Tremendous Guide to Living the Poet’s Life by Alan Wolf
Isaac Newton by Kathleen Krull (from her Giants of Science series)

For information on all of the other categories, including poetry (which has a fond place in my heart, and where I see Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader and Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children are holding down the fort!) and interviews with various participants, head over to the Cybils blog.

Nominations in all categories open on Monday, October 1st, so put your thinking caps on. The categories include picture books (fiction), picture books (nonfiction), poetry, middle grade & young adult nonfiction, middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, graphic novels, and fantasy & science fiction.

A final note: I usually include links from Amazon.com when I write about books, not because I think that’s where you should buy your books, but because their listings seem to be the most comprehensive of the ones online, more so than the wonderful Powells which continues to be a dandy place to buy books in the US and the terrific Chinaberry which is thorough but highly selective (not a bad thing at all), and more so even than Amazon.ca, whose website is a shadow of its American self. Amazon.com’s “Search Inside this Book” feature is pretty nifty, too, especially for those of us living in the back of beyond, far from any bookstores, independent, big box/chain or otherwise. Well, as long as we’re not limping along with dial-up service.

Erm, no thank you

Dangerous Book for Boys to Hit Screen: “Disney has snapped up the rights to the bestseller after a fierce bidding war.” It will be more than interesting to see how the folks at Disney plan to make a movie of a politically incorrect how-to-book that includes instructions on skinning a rabbit.

We’ll stick to the print version. And the UK edition at that.