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

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?”.

Poetry Friday: Bedgraggled but determined

Since the beginning of the month, we’ve had days pelted with snow, wind, and a bit of rain. But we’ve had two sunny, warm(ish) days, the snow is gone from much of the yard and the fields, the meadowlarks are back and singing, and the bluebirds are back and flying around, and in town at least we saw some early bulbs pushing their way through the soil.

Rainy Robin
by Frances Frost (1905-1959)

The April rain that’s pelted
The early robin’s head
For three gray days has threatened
To wash the brilliant red

Out of his chesty feathers;
Now damp, he swings a branch,
Bedraggled but determined
To laud the avalanche.

The April storm has settled
Within his croupy throat:
His open beak produces
Only the hoarsest note.

Off-key he tries his music:
Even his own wife squirms
At his half-squawking lyric
In praise of April worms.

Oh small wet bird, be patient.
The gray will turn to gold,
And you can sing your heart out when
The sun has cured your cold!

(from my old copy of The Little Naturalist, 1959, by Frances Frost, illustrated by Kurt Werth; click here for the online Kurth Werth Gallery)

I’ve posted one or two poems by Frances Frost before, and last time linked to the Register of Frances Frost Papers at the Geisel Library, University of California at San Diego. From which:

Frances Mary Frost contributed to contemporary literature both through her own writing and through the advise and encouragement she provided her son, the poet Paul Blackburn. The daughter of Amos and Susan Frost, Frances was born in St. Albans, Vermont, 3 August 1905. Her father was a railroad engineer for most of his adult life, and the Frosts were a religious, working-class couple whose values and perspective on life permeated most of Frances’ poetry and prose. Before leaving Vermont in the 1930’s, Frost attended Middlebury College and received a Ph.B. from the University of Vermont in 1931.Frost’s first marriage was to William Blackburn, with whom she had two children — Paul and Jean. Frost and Blackburn separated in 1929, after the birth of their daughter, and the two children were left to be raised by their maternal grandfather, Amos Frost. Following Frances’ graduation from the University of Vermont, she moved to New York City and married Samuel G. Stoney, the author of Black Genesis.

Frost’s first success at publishing poetry came in the early 1930’s, with such works as “Hemlock Wall,” “Blue Harvest,” and “These Acres.” In 1933 she was awarded the Katherine Lee Bates poetry prize by the New England Poetry Club, and in 1934 she won the Shelley Memorial Award. She published the first of her four novels, Innocent Summer, in 1936, and the most popular of her novels, Yoke of Stars, became a best seller. Frost also published a number of children’s stories, including Legends of the United Nations, The Windy Foot Series, The Cat That Went to College, and Rocket Away.

Although Frost’s children were raised by their grandparents, Frances always stayed in close contact with them. After the breakup of her second marriage, Frances returned to Vermont and took permanent custody of her son Paul, who returned to New York to live with her. Frost’s daughter, Jean, remained in Vermont with her grandparents. In 1954 Jean became a nun with the Order of St. Joseph in Vermont. Paul lived with his mother until 1946, when he joined the army and served as a laboratory technician in Colorado. While Paul was in the army and overseas, him and his mother continued to offer each other both professional and personal direction through their frequent correspondence.

Frost published a number of children’s books during the 1940’s and 1950’s, but she continued to write poetry whenever possible. Her poems appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, and American Mercury. She continued to live in New York until her death of cancer in 1959.

I’ll post round-up information as soon as I get it.

Update: Got it! Liz has the round-up chez Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy.

Poetry Friday: A post for my father, who thinks I fell off the blogging earth

Written in March
by William Wordsworth

(from our copy of Favorite Poems Old and New, selected by Helen Ferris and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard)

The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing,
The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter,
The green field sleeps in the sun;
The oldest and youngest
Are at work with the strongest:
The cattle are grazing,
Their heads never raising;
There are forty feeding like one!

Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On the top of the bare hill;
The ploughboy is whooping — anon — anon —
There’s joy in the mountains;
There’s life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!

———-

With apologies for the extended absence and lack of posts — in the past and no doubt to come for at least the next month or so. Spring is springing, there are bluebird nesting boxes (and museums) to clean, pianos to tune, windows to wash (and new ones to order), mud to wipe, cows to calve, sweet peas (and 900+ new saplings…) to plant, noses to grindstone, plays to rehearse, great books to read (and converse about), swim clubs to restart, morels to hunt, lambs to visit, cinnamon buns to deliver to neighbors, bicycles and cap pistols to retrieve, 4H projects to complete, fairs to plan, birthday cakes to bake, and, as the kids would no doubt add, forts to build and holes to dig. Preferably in aforementioned mud.

Add a little more poetry to your family’s life next month and for the rest year. Here are some of my poetry posts from last year at this time. And don’t limit your kids, or anyone else’s, to Young People’s Poetry Week, the third week of National Poetry Month. Be a sport and give ’em, at the very least, the whole month. When my sister and I were children celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we’d always ask about Children’s Day. To which my father quite rightly always responded, “Every day is Children’s Day”. So should it be with poetry.

Poetry Friday: A unicorn for spring

Laura, the one child who isn’t reciting anything in the speech arts part of the arts festival next week (because she’s up to her eyeballs in 4H public speaking), selected this because “it makes me think of Spring”:

Unicorn
by Anne Corkett

Unicorn, Unicorn,
where have you gone?
I’ve brought you some silver dew
out of the dawn.
I’ve put it in buttercups
for you to drink
and brought you some daisies
to wear round your neck.

Silver and gold
and petals so white,
these are the colours
saved from the night.

Unicorn, Unicorn,
where have you gone?
I’ve brought you nine sunbeams
to wear for a crown
and made you a blanket
of new thistledown
embroidered with lilies —
O where have you gone?
Unicorn, Unicorn,
I can’t stay long.

Petals so white
and silver and gold,
these are the colours
that never grow old.

From Til All the Stars Have Fallen: Canadian Poems for Children, selected by David Booth (author of Even Hockey Players Read) and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, recently available in paperback as a Scholastic school book club edition, perfect for handing out to your nieces, nephews, and children’s friends who need some more Canadian children’s poetry in their lives.

***

My own kids have had a bit more trauma than poetry in their lives this past week. First, Laura’s voice teacher almost ended her festival season before it started, thinking to yank her because, having left it too long, he couldn’t find an accompanist for her. Tuesday evening, after class, after had he told her (in costume as mini Maria in “The Sound of Music”) that he’d be making the call in the morning to pull her out, her face quivered and her shoulders sagged but she was stoic, I made phone calls as I made supper, and finally located an acquaintance who agreed to give it a try. They rehearse together this afternoon before art class. “I Have Confidence”, indeed.

Daniel’s trauma involved a trip to the hospital the other afternoon for a stitch near his right eye, and I was as surprised as anyone to learn that it didn’t happen during the boys’ two-hour outdoor hockey game on ice and concrete. The doctor on call at the emergency room, a genial and capable young man, a locum on loan to our little hospital from Edmonton, in turn was surprised to learn he didn’t need to talk me into a suture. I explained that this was the fifth occasion for stitches between the three kids (though two of the three occasions never received them — one incident overseas with a very small nose was treated by Tom with tape to avoid a larger scar, and a two-year-old’s thumb, the one that was nearly cut off, was neatly mended with magic purple glue at the doctor’s suggestion) — and I don’t drive into town just before suppertime (especially when there’s a roast in the oven) unless it’s for something I can’t manage on my own. And I draw the line, for now at least, at stitching up my own kids.

But all trauma has been forgotten while enjoying the first DVD in The Mr. Wizard’s World collection from Zip.ca. The kids are entranced with Mr. Wizard’s version of a volcano, which involves not namby-pamby vinegar and baking soda but a match and a fuse. Which I suppose sounds like a recipe for some more home doctoring.

***

Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy has the Poetry Friday/Saturday roundup, not to mention a passionate Celtic love story, for the week — thanks, Liz!

The siren call of pirates

Bruce at wordswimmer, one of my fellow Cybils panelists, has a terrific review of the terrific poetry book, Blackbeard, The Pirate King by J. Patrick Lewis, published in 2006 by National Geographic.

As Bruce writes,

“Even if you already know the story of Blackbeard, who returns to life in all his trembling and fearsome glory in Blackbeard The Pirate King, J. Patrick Lewis’ remarkable account of his life, you’ll relish the chance to sail with Lewis as he captains this sturdy ship of verse through the stormy seas of Blackbeard’s many voyages.”

How could you possibly resist such an invitation? Blackbeard is one of my kids’ favorites poetry books — I’m fairly certain it’s Daniel’s absolute favorite, since he’s been known to sleep with the book, which rarely makes it back to the shelf — and one of the titles they expressly asked to keep at home on our own shelves. It was one of the best collections of original children’s poetry of 2006 and deserves a wide readership, whether one’s interest is pirates or poetry.

Homeschoolers in particular will marvel at the talent and interests of J. Patrick Lewis, who has cleverly and memorably versified everything from extinct animals to castles to world travels. Not to be missed is his pop-up poetry biography of Galileo. I’m looking forward to his The Brothers’ War: Civil War Voices in Verse, to be published in the fall by National Geographic, just in time for our continuing American history studies.

And Susan at Chicken Spaghetti reviewed Blackbeard last fall here.

(Painting, “The Duel on the Beach” by N.C. Wyeth, 1931, to illustrate the swashbuckling Rafael Sabatini story of the same name; this illustration and many others accompany the poems in Blackbeard.)

Putting in a guest appearance at Chicken Spaghetti

My review of The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, compiled and illustrated by Jackie Morris, is up at Chicken Spaghetti today. Many thanks to Susan for asking me be a guest reviewer chez Chicken!

Stay tuned for some more thoughts here at Farm School on classic poems and children, probably later today…

A Christmas treasure in disguise

Karen at lightingthefires has a post with an absolutely lovely Christmas poem, A Merry Literary Christmas by Alice Low, which, since we’re smack dab in the midst of thank you card season, is more than timely. And might be rather nice printed on a handmade card with all the books I give my nieces and nephews…

My favorite lines,

But every year when Christmas went
I’d read the book my aunt had sent,
And looking back, I realize
Each gift was treasure in disguise.
So now it’s time to write her here
A thank-you note that is sincere.

So — thanks for Alice and Sara Crewe,
For Christopher Robin and Piglet and Pooh,
For Little Nell and William Tell
And Peter and Wendy and Tinker Bell.

Thanks for Tom and Jim and Huck,
For Robinson Crusoe and Dab-Dab the duck,
For Meg and Jo and Johnny Crow
And Papa Geppeto’s Pinocchio

For Mary Poppins and Rat and Toad
King Arthur and Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road,
For Kipling’s Kim and tales from Grimm,
And Ferdinand, Babar and Tiny Tim.

Thank you, Karen for the gems you find, and post! My favorite gifts, besides the handmade ones from my children, remain books, especially the ones my parents send. Poor Tom, unfortunately, without a nearby bookstore or being able to use the computer just can’t keep up with my ever-changing wish list!

Oh! Was just catching up on my blog reading and see that Mary Lee and Franki at A Year of Reading also posted the poem, earlier in the month on the other side of Christmas. I think I rather like the idea of it as bookends, to remind one about giving and receiving…