April 29, 2007

Everything's coming up...


I was hoping for a larger photo to better show the leaf detail, in all its unfurled promise, but this is as big as I could get it.

Lucky number eight

Daniel is eight today, and we've been celebrating his birthday (and continuing to celebrate mine from the other day) with waffles, sunshine, Lego, books, and flowers. His plans for today include working on the fort he and Davy started the other month in Tom's shop, and which finally made its public debut the other day (Daniel in blue, attaching chains to pull the fort out into the grass):

It's two stories high, each one of which is carpeted with carpet samples. The boys added shelves for a radio, flashlight, and handy dandy manuals. There's been some talk about adding a telephone, and knowing them I have a feeling they're not talking about the paper cup and string variety. While they're hammering away, I get to work in the garden and peek into Daniel's new books, including The Dangerous Book for Boys (UK edition), a present from his grandparents, The Unofficial Lego Builder's Guide (with an entire chapter on storage, perfect for the parents of Legophiles, too), and my own new copy of Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts by critic Clive James.

Tonight we're going out for dinner to his favorite restaurant, and when we get home we'll have the homemade Rocky Road Oreo ice cream cake and, as we always do, look through the birthday child's baby book and wonder where the time went.

April 27, 2007

Poetry Friday: Arbor Day edition

Appropriately enough, we had word from the county yesterday that our 900+ new shelterbelt trees will be ready for pick up by May 9th. Tom phoned to borrow the county's tree planter, which make the process much easier, and we're getting some fabric mulch this year so that the kids and I don't have quite as much weeding.

Above is a shot of just a few of the 1,400 saplings we planted last year, most of which came through the winter quite well.

Do We Plant?
by Henry Abbey (1842-1911)

What do we plant when we plant the tree?
We plant the ship which will cross the sea.
We plant the mast to carry the sails;
We plant the planks to withstand the gales --
The keel, the keelson, the beam, the knee;
We plant the ship when we plant the tree.

What do we plant when we plant the tree?
We plant the houses for you and me.
We plant the rafters, the shingles, the floors,
We plant the studding, the lath, the doors,
The beams and siding, all parts that be;
We plant the house when we plant the tree.

What do we plant when we plant the tree?
A thousand things that we daily see;
We plant the spire that out-towers the crag,
We plant the staff for our country's flag,
We plant the shade, from the hot sun free;
We plant all these when we plant the tree.

Woodman, Spare That Tree
George Pope Morris (1802-1864)

Woodman, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now.
'Twas my forefather's hand
That placed it near his cot;
There, woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not!

That old familiar tree,
Whose glory and renown
Are spread o'er land and sea,
And wouldst thou hew it down?
Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
Cut not its earth-bound ties;
O, spare that aged oak,
Now towering to the skies!

When but an idle boy
I sought its grateful shade;
In all their gushing joy
Here too my sisters played.
My mother kissed me here;
My father pressed my hand --
Forgive this foolish tear,
But let that old oak stand!

My heart-strings round thee cling,
Close as thy bark, old friend!
Here shall the wild-bird sing,
And still thy branches bend.
Old tree! the storm still brave!
And, woodman, leave the spot;
While I've a hand to save,
Thy axe shall hurt it not.

Oh, Fair to See
by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

fair to see
Blossom-laden cherry tree,
Arrayed in sunny white;
An April day's delight,
Oh, fair to see!

Oh, fair to see
Fruit-laden cherry tree,
With balls of shining red
Decking a leafy head,
Oh, fair to see!

Be Different to Trees

by Mary Carolyn Davies (fl1918-1929)

The talking oak
To the ancients spoke.

But any tree
Will talk to me.

What truths I know
I garnered so.

But those who want to talk and tell,
And those who will not listeners be,
Will never hear a syllable
From out the lips of any tree.

Song to a Tree
by Edwin Markham (1852-1940)

Give me the dance of your boughs, O Tree,
Whenever the wild wind blows;
And when the wind is gone, give me
Your beautiful repose.

How easily your greatness swings
To meet the changing hours;
I, too, would mount upon your wings,
And rest upon your powers.

I seek your grace, O mighty Tree,
And shall seek, many a day,
till I more worthily shall be
Your comrade on the way.

by (Alfred) Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that my in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

April 26, 2007

Shades of gray

Well worth reading.


And thank you.

(Also, as of tomorrow, worth a look. Good timing, eh?)

April 25, 2007

Fun with gunpowder

Last summer I wrote about my brief thoughts on The Dangerous Book for Boys (American website here); I said at the time I thought that for our purposes Daniel Carter Beard's classic, The American Boy's Handy Book, was a better book for our purposes.

Now, with the news that my father is sending a copy of The Dangerous Book to Daniel for his eighth birthday, coming up this weekend, and after reading a piece on the Iggulden brothers, Conn and Hal, in the current issue of Vanity Fair magazine (which I like for the articles and the pictures), I'm prepared to admit there is room on the shelf -- the one devoted to old-fashioned children's pastimes -- for The Dangerous Book as well. The main difference between the two books is that while The American Boy's Handy Book includes only projects, The Dangerous Book includes guides to proper English usage, as well as a series of "Extraordinary Stories", such as "the one on the exploits of World War II R.A.F. fighter ace Douglas Bader*, who racked up the fifth-highest number of kills in the Royal Air Force despite his flying with prosthetic legs":
As Conn explains, it's really not about the penknives and air rifles, "it's to do with the way children are raised and what they consider important." Which is why he considers "Extraordinary Stories" vital to the book. "If you put in a story of incredible endurance or courage, you are saying these are impressive values," he says. "[Boys today] don't get heroic stories in the way I did. And I think they're desperately important."
Somewhere, quite rightly, Charlotte Mason is beaming. And the folks at Flying Point Press who are bringing back the Landmark books should be smiling, too.

I was particularly heartened to read, while the Igguldens were expecting some British backlash because of activities involving "power tools, penknives, and -- in the case of a procedural on rabbit-hunting -- an air rifle and entrail work", the backlash never came, since the book struck a chord with British families. The authors may not be so lucky in the US, where the publication of an American edition next month -- next Tuesday, in fact -- no doubt inspired the VF feature. Publisher's Weekly interviewed one of the brothers, who, in response to the question "What do you think it is about this book that’s resonating with today’s kids, who clearly have a lot more than a book on how to tie knots vying for their attention?", answered,
A lot of parents are getting fed up with an overly restricted attitude for their children, much of that coming from their government. Paper airplanes are being banned in the schools for fear of someone poking their eye out. That sort of thing is slightly annoying and really isn’t good for children, especially boys. They have to learn where their own limits are. We’re taking about managed danger here. We don’t want them running out under cars. But if they don’t [learn what their limits are], God knows what sort of pale, white, fat adults they’ll become.
To which both PW commenters so far unsurprisingly took exception (should one even bother to point out that what Mr. Iggulden was referring to were pale, white grubs? You know, the kind that live outdoors, in nature, under logs. Heavens, get those commenters out from under their logs and away from their computers for a bit of fresh air and sunshine.)

And then there's this recent wire service article from various online North American news websites,
Exuding the brisk breeziness of Boy Scout manuals and Boy's Own annuals, "The Dangerous Book" is a childhood how-to guide that covers everything from paper airplanes to go-carts, skipping stones to skinning a rabbit.

It spent months on British best-seller lists, has sold more than a half-million copies and took the book of the year prize at last month's British Book Awards.

The book will be published in the United States May 1, allowing American boys -- but not their sisters -- to learn how to play marbles, make invisible ink, send Morse code and build a tree fort. ...

It's possible to see a less wholesome side to the book's nostalgia. Girls are discussed, in a single chapter, as something akin to another species: "They think and act rather differently to you, but without them, life would be one long football locker room. Treat them with respect."

Girls are explicitly -- and, some argue, unnecessarily -- excluded by the book's title. ...
Though why North Americans can't figure out that girls, and women, are most welcome to pick up the book and make use of it, is a mystery.*

Danger on American shores, Will Robinson, danger!

*I will admit, however, to more than a bit of discomfort, however, at the Igguldens' UK website's shilling of The Goddess Guide, especially since it seems geared more toward women than girls. I apologize for any retching sound you may hear coming from my direction. I'm willing to bet my collection of pocketknives confiscated while doing the laundry that the mention is there by order of HarperCollins, who should give the decision a bit more thought. Especially since they made sure that the "Girls" page didn't make it to the US website.

UPDATED to add: Just learned that earlier this month The Guardian's The Bookseller section included the following item:
The runaway success of The Dangerous Book for Boys has inspired Penguin to start a list of "boy's own" classics. Six end-of-empire adventure tales are being given nostalgic covers, aimed squarely at the Father's Day market in June. They are: The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; She by H Rider Haggard; The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope; The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers; The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan; and The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton. A dashing collection for any middle-aged boy's bookshelf.

* If you happen to discover on TV the 1956 British movie Reach for the Sky, starring Kenneth More as Bader, watch it with your kids. Not on DVD in North America any more, though you can find it in the UK.

April 22, 2007

Earth Day: Wild in love with the planet we've got

The frogs are singing loudly now from the ditches, dugouts, and sloughs, the ducks -- especially the goldeneyes -- are pairing up, the grass is greening, gophers are running about, hawks swoop around overhead, and the prairie crocuses are up.

I missed Poetry Friday again -- too many visitors here and places to be there. We had our mandated semi-annual home school facilitator visit (who last time told us, "I can see there's a lot of learning going on in this house," one reason I like him so very much), art lessons, cleaned our not-so little pioneer heritage museum, closed up since last fall, went to a working ranch horse sale where Davy was disgusted to leave without buying another horse, and worked on halter-breaking Laura's 4H calf.

But in time for Earth Day, here is yet another poem from Frances Frost's The Little Naturalist, 1959:

Valentine for Earth
by Frances Frost (1905-1959)

Oh, it will be fine
To rocket through space
And see the reverse
Of the moon's dark face,

To travel to Saturn
Or Venus or Mars,
Or maybe discover
Some uncharted stars.

But do they have anything
Better than we?
Do you think, for instance,
They have a blue sea

For sailing and swimming?
Do the planets hills
With raspberry thickets
Where a song sparrow fills

The summer with music?
And do they have snow
To silver the roads
Where the school buses go?

Oh, I'm all for rockets
And worlds cold or hot,
But I'm wild in love
With the planet we've got!

April 17, 2007

The little ghouls of Anatevka

Today at rehearsal it was time to experiment with makeup for the graveyard scene. Even more exciting, the posters are starting to go up around town.

And yes, it was great fun to swan around the supermarket after rehearsal in full makeup.

Some (precious little) comfort

I spent a couple of hours yesterday evening at the college in town, where the kids had rehearsal for their play after dinner. I listened to the muffled sound of a janitor's vacuum cleaner, students whispering over their homework, far-off children singing and shouting, and thought about the events of the day which, really, could have happened anywhere.

No. 419
by Emily Dickinson

We grow accustomed to the Dark —

When Light is put away —
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye —

A Moment — We uncertain step
For newness of the night —
Then — fit our Vision to the Dark —
And meet the Road — erect —

And so of larger — Darknesses —
Those Evenings of the Brain —
When not a Moon disclose a sign —
Or Star — come out — within —

The Bravest — grope a little —
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead —
But as they learn to see —

Either the Darkness alters —
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight —
And Life steps almost straight.

April 15, 2007

Bet you didn't know I read "Chemical & Engineering News"

Just for the articles, though.

Three of them, in fact, from tomorrow's issue. The first is on homeschool science curricula, especially high school chemistry:
It's Monday night at the Strouds', and David is at the dining room table with his two daughters, Fisher, seven, and Ripley, nine. On this particular evening in February, David is performing an electrolysis experiment using a battery and a penny immersed in water. Monday night is chemistry night, and David and his wife, Annemarie, have invited C&EN to join them for the evening. Fisher and Ripley giggle as bubbles begin to form on the coin.

The Strouds are among a growing number of families in the U.S. who homeschool their children. An estimated 2 million students now are being homeschooled in the U.S., and that number is growing at a rate of 7 to 10% per year, according to the National Home Education Research Institute.

More parents are also deciding to homeschool their children beyond middle school, and as they do so, they are discovering that the availability of already prepared chemistry curricula is quite limited. The situation is especially challenging for secular homeschoolers, who say there are virtually no secular high school chemistry curricula out there for the homeschooling community.

The market is slowly responding to these trends, and several high school chemistry curricula that cater to a diverse audience of homeschoolers now are in development. In addition to helping families teach the fundmental concepts of chemistry, these curricula address an important practical question: How do you carry out lab experiments that are challenging and informative yet safe to be carried out in the home? ...
Read the article for the rest, including some more on the programs under development.

Another article is on "Help For Homeschoolers: Opportunities abound for learning science outside the home":
As awareness of the problem grows, more opportunities for learning science have become available to homeschoolers around the U.S. For example, the Maryland Science Center, in Baltimore, for the past eight years has been offering several weeks of educational programming in September specifically for homeschoolers. Students visit the planetarium, watch IMAX films, participate in discussions of various exhibits, and do hands-on experiments in subjects ranging from biochemistry to archaeology.

In upstate New York, the Cornell Center for Materials Research, in partnership with the Ithaca Sciencenter Museum, offers hands-on materials science workshops for homeschoolers. The workshops are led by Cornell faculty, postdocs, and graduate and undergraduate students. ...

The American Chemical Society doesn't offer any formal programs for homeschoolers, but it offers educational opportunities through its student affiliate groups and other programs. For example, the ACS student affiliates at Waynesburg College, in Pennsylvania, offer a laboratory program in which they do chemistry experiments with homeschoolers. And ACS member C. Marvin Lang, as part of his speaker service tour last November, provided an afternoon of chemistry demonstrations to students and parents of the Marshfield Area Home Educators Association in Marshfield, Wis.
The third article, "Former homeschool students reflect on their educational experiences", profiles several former homeschoolers who continued on with college studies and careers in science, including Seth Anthon, who
... grew up in rural North Carolina, where the nearest public school was an hour's drive away. So his mother, who had worked as a teacher, decided to homeschool him. When Anthony reached high school age, his mother began taking a chemistry course at North Carolina State University as a prerequisite for entering pharmacy school. His mom would bring home her assignments, and they would do the chemistry problems together. "Homeschoolers have a tendency to turn all sorts of situations into learning situations," Anthony says.

For the chemistry labs, Anthony came up with a lot of his own experiments, many based on simple household chemistry. "When you're doing household labs, you don't go to the store and buy glacial acetic acid; you use the vinegar you have in your kitchen cabinet," Anthony says, adding that through his experience he gained a greater appreciation for how chemistry fits in with the real world.

In contrast, he remembers being frustrated with the general chemistry labs when he entered college. "It was very cookbook," he says. "Everyone was attuned to the procedural way of doing things. I was thinking in a different mind-set.
"Honestly, I can't say I learned a whole lot about chemistry from the labs," says Anthony, who is now a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry at Colorado State University.

Good Guardian

article on home education in the UK, primarily a very even-handed profile of the Newstead family, who have, along with many other UK home educators, "simply tried the mainstream and found it wanting."

Best quote from the home educating father,
People say 'Isn't socialisation a problem?' And we say, 'Yes it is, which is why we've taken our children out of school.'
Thanks to Carlotta at Dare to Know for the link.

Supersize me?

"Please accept my resignation. I don't care to belong to any club that will accept me as a member."
Groucho Marx, The Groucho Letters (1967)

"Include me out."
Samuel Goldwyn

Earlier this week, I discovered I'd been nominated for a blogging award, but being the crabby type and a Marxist (Groucho, not Karl) as well as a Goldwyn Girl, I wrote to the organizers as soon as possible to ask that my nomination be withdrawn. I never heard back from anyone, and voting ended the other day, with Farm School mercifully at the bottom of the pile. Since a few oblique words about the award made it into some of the recent comments here, I thought by way of explanation I'd post the gist of the letter, edited and amended, that I sent as soon as possible:

Dear All,

While I'm very, very pleased that someone likes my blog well enough to nominate it for an award and that a few others would even vote for it, and while I understand the spirit in which the category, SUPER-HOMESCHOOLER (yes, all caps like that) and its description are meant and am accordingly touched and flattered, I'm also exceedingly uncomfortable with both the category and its description. Which is as follows:

"Ever feel like a looser [sic] after reading someone else’s lesson plans, seeing their field trip photos, listening to them talk about what they got done today, or seeing pictures of their children’s accomplishments? You were probably feeling the effects of visiting a SUPER-HOMESCHOOLER’s blog. These are the A-list homeschool parents that just BLOW YOU AWAY with their enthusiasm. We all have our good days, but this blogger has us all beat."

Oh dear.

First, while I realize the description isn't supposed to be literal -- the only lesson plans I've ever posted are those by other homeschooling parents, I haven't posted any field trip photos (and only recently, in fact, figured out how to use my digital camera), I post long lists of what I've done only when I'm making excuses about why I haven't blogged lately, and certainly can't take full credit for all of my kids' accomplishments -- I'd hate to think that anything I've ever written on the blog or elsewhere would make anyone feel like a loser, loosely or otherwise. And if I have, I certainly don't want an award for it. I don't like the idea of comparing, especially another homeschooling mother comparing herself to me, when all of our families, our children, our circumstances, are so different. And while I didn't start my blog to be an encouragement to others -- my family comes first -- I didn't start it to show others up, either; first, I wanted to see if I could master the technology, and then I thought it could be a place where I could record some of the things the kids and I have done, and note possible things we could do, read, watch, and listen to in the future. Along the way, it became a place where I could share interesting bits of information, such as new book titles, resources, and the occasional news article, and a place to put thoughts and opinions that just come spouting out because there's really no other place to put them.

Plus, I'm just not a Super Homeschooler, or even, like Mary Poppins, Practically Perfect. I don't have X-ray (let alone 20-20) vision, I could be much more diligent with the kids about certain schoolwork subjects (most of the time, I tend to let life on a farm and in the country, with field guides galore, substitute for the dandy, formal science curriculum that watches us from the shelf), I'm not as consistent with the kids as I'd like to be (as I should be), the kids probably watch too many movies, my house could be cleaner, my backside could be smaller (speaking of supersizing), I'm woefully behind in The Great Conversation about The Great Books, and, to top it off, I haven't blogged much lately since real life has been so busy. And sometimes the things that I do do well have a habit of backfiring on me, which is why I still have a nine-and-a-half year old who believes mightily in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. If I had to describe the kids and me, I'd call us all "bright and motivated" rather than "gifted and talented", which I think puts us squarely, and fairly, in the non-Super category.

There's a reason Farm School wasn't nominated in the Nitty Gritty category, because I don't do Nitty Gritty. Both by nature and by nurture, I'm predisposed toward keeping it in rather than letting it all hang out, in part because I'm never sure just who is out there reading this and because I'm not as comfortable sharing our private thoughts and deeds as other bloggers are. I'm purposefully very careful, selective, and stingy about what I choose write on my blog and it's certainly not a comprehensive record of our days and our homeschooling, not like some other dizzyingly dazzling home educating bloggers (you know you who you are, and you know who I think you are, too), including single working parents, each of whom makes me look like a piker by comparison.

If I overwhelm any readers with my enthusiasm, it's probably because I prefer to write about our high points, which just seem more interesting to write about. Which automatically means the low points don't get much coverage, so my blog really isn't a fair way to assess our family's homeschooling or our life. And to think of using it as a measure for anyone else's homeschooling is just crazy-making. As I write in every so often to a couple of online homeschooling groups, my idea of following any method is to take what works fand leave the rest behind, far far far behind, without qualms or guilt or comparisons. Don't make yourself and your kids crazy trying to do everything in The Book or The Program, The Guide or The Website, and certainly not on Another Woman's Blog.

All of which is a very long way around of saying thanks so very, very much for the honor, but I'd be much more comfortable as an observer than as a nominee. Anyway, that's what makes horse races.

April 13, 2007

Classic children's literature, revisited: a special place in the heart

At the Yahoo nonsectarian Charlotte Mason group I started the other year (and where I tend to feel like a Well-Trained impostor), some members were discussing Horn Book editor Roger Sutton's recent post about The Baldwin Project and Charlotte Mason, and one member, Julie, wrote,
I use the AO [Ambleside Online] program. I also make substitutions when I feel it is necessary. I am very open to using really good contemporary lit. We are reading My Side of the Mountain (pub. 1959) now. I would love to compile a list (by grade) of more contemporary books to supplement what we are doing now. Does Roger already have this kind of a list? It would be interesting to see what he recommends.

What would the rest of this group recommend as not to be missed, "twaddle-free," contemporary children's lit? (For K-5 or so)
When Julie said she had trouble posting her questions to his blog, I started racking my brains and bookmarks and remembered that yes, indeed, the Horn Book Magazine does have a page of lists, which is here, and which appears on the web page with the following explanation:
Promoting good books for children and young adults is the heart of the Horn Book’s editorial mission. Listed below are annotated booklists of recommended, mostly recently published titles [subjects listed include African-American, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Halloween, History, Paperbacks, Pet Stories, Poetry, Science, Translated Books, and Winter Holidays]. Also below are links to our Fanfare lists and Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honor book recipients. Our most popular booklist, Children’s Classics, prepared by Mary Burns, has achieved it own classic status as essential reading for all new parents, teachers, and librarians. For additional ideas, visit our Web Extras page, which regularly features booklists developed around current magazine articles.
Ms. Burns's Children's Classics list is available as a PDF; from her introduction:
Since it was founded in 1924, The Horn Book Magazine has celebrated notable achievements in the writing and illustrating of books for children. A logical consequence of this emphasis is the periodic compilation of lists of classics, beginning with an article by pioneering librarian Alice M. Jordan in 1947. Jordan
was particularly distinguished for the contributions she made as Supervisor of Work with Children at the Boston Public Library. In that position, she had ample opportunity to observe, to reflect, and to comment on the qualities that allow some books to endure for generations, thus becoming classics.

More than fifty years have passed since that first list was prepared. Tastes have changed; so have demographics and publishing. This list, like its predecessors, has been modified to reflect those changes. Yet many of the titles cited earlier have been included. Still read and enjoyed, they are indeed classics.

Preparing a list of classics involves some basic assumptions—not to mention a certain amount of presumption. It is hoped that these selections will provide some guidelines for developing a home library of books that are as accessible to young readers as they are worthy. The final choices are not the only possibilities; many a favorite has been eliminated so that the list would be useful rather than overwhelming.

Classics written before 1920 have been placed into separate categories, calling attention to books that are part of the literary heritage from times past. All other entries are arranged by genre with suggested audience levels. But, in the final analysis, a list is only the beginning. The real test of a classic is the individual
child’s delight in reading, sharing, and rereading a book again, again, and again.
The annotated list contains no major surprises for most book-loving home educators, especially the "living book", Sonlight, and Five-in-a-Row crowds, but it might come in handy printed out and kept near the computer (for those who can order interlibrary loan titles online) or in the library bag.

New on the classic children's literature front -- and a thanks to Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy for the head's up -- are the plans by Gina MarySol Ruiz, who blogs at AmoxCalli, to "review and recommend some of those great children's books from the past". As Gina writes in her last month's call for guest bloggers,
I spend so much time these days trying to review so many great children's books out there, that I've sadly neglected what I originally wanted to do - review and recommend some of those great children's books from the past. You know, books like Little Women, The Secret Garden, The Little Prince, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, Oz books, etc. Any book you came across as a child or adult that made a profound impact, the ones that made you love kidlit.

If you're interested in reviewing, add a comment with the title of your book/s that you want to review and then I'll get you set up with a guest account so you can post away. It's that simple. There is no deadline and no end date.

I'm hoping some of the wonderful Children's Lit bloggers on my blogroll will contribute.
Gina posted her first review, of one of her favorites, Little Women, yesterday,
When I started AmoxCalli a couple of years ago my main goal was to get classic children’s literature in front of a new audience. I’m always surprised and dismayed when I talk to people about books that I think everyone grew up with and I get blank stares. It breaks my heart.

There is so much out there. I love all the new books that are coming out, books I’ve reviewed and recommended like Octavian Nothing, Hattie Big Sky, Anahita’s Woven Riddle, The Lighthouse Land, etc but I have a special place in my heart for the books that made me a lifelong reader, the ones that moved me and introduced me to new worlds. Because AmoxCalli is a book recommendation site (you won’t find any bad reviews here – if I don’t like it, I don’t post it), what better to recommend than those wonderful old books? I’ve been so busy reviewing the new stuff (not complaining, I love it) that I recently realized that I’ve not done what I set out to do with the blog – get people informed and interested in those old classics.
I think "a special place in my heart..." is a wonderful way to describe the favorite classics of our childhood. AmoxCalli and its new passionate, enthusiastic feature are a terrific resource for those of us who want to expand our children's hearts, as well.

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.

April 12, 2007

Tapping toes and teaching to tests

Go on to sleep now, third grader of mine.
The test is tomorrow but you'll do just fine.
It's reading and math. Forget all the rest.
You don't need to know what is not on the test.

Each box that you mark on each test that you take,
Remember your teachers. Their jobs are at stake.
Your score is their score, but don't get all stressed.
They'd never teach anything not on the test. ...

Thinking's important. It's good to know how.
And someday you'll learn to, but someday's not now.
Go on to sleep, now. You need your rest.
Don't think about thinking. It's not on the test.
from the new song, Not on the Test, by Tom Chapin & John Forster

Tom Chapin put his latest song, Not on the Test, on his website recently, since it's not out yet on CD, and according to Chapin probably won't be anytime soon. Thanks to Camille at Book Moot for the information and the link to yesterday's School Library Journal interview with Chapin, which calls Not on the Test a "funny, satirical song". From the interview:
John Forster, who is my wonderful collaborator, and my other friend, Michael Mark, and I have written over the years for National Public Radio; so I got together with John Forster one day and said, "Let's come up with some ideas." We bounced around things; and one of them, we felt, was a hot item—both of us being parents and having had kids in public school: how testing has become this huge thing. ...

So what do you think of NCLB and all the attention on testing?

The real thing is how it's changed the experience of school. I know teachers who have stopped teaching because they just are no longer allowed to do what delights them and what delights the kids.

What's your message to the Bush administration?

[Testing] doesn't work. It's the corporatization of education.
The SLJ article also mentions Chapin's audiocassette giveaway: "We have a roomful of cassettes. My assistant [Claudia Libowitz at Sundance Music] came up with the idea that, since we're not selling these anymore, and since a lot of schools still have cassette players, what better thing to do with them than get them to teachers. So, if you're a teacher or librarian and would like some free Tom Chapin cassettes, as long as they last, e-mail us." That would be info at Tom Chapin dot com. The offer is good for the U.S. and Canada, and includes a small shipping free. More info at the website.

Tom Chapin music, especially free Tom Chapin music, is not to be sneezed at. Some of our favorites, for children and for adults, which I'd buy again at twice the price, include Around the World and Back Again, Doing Our Job, Moonboat, Family Tree, and Some Assembly Required.


And, by the same SLJ writer, Joan Oleck, these articles, Chronic Reading Problems Linked with Depression (last week) and Study: Kids' Crucial Learning Period Extends beyond Year Three (yesterday). Who knew?

April 11, 2007

Getting there is more than half the fun

I had meant to write about our new game (and a bunch of other things) shortly after returning from our trip the other month to visit my parents, and now that it's homeschool convention/ curriculum fair season, I thought I'd better get moving.

On our trip we were lucky to get the chance to catch up with a dear family friend, my English fairy godmother. One of the many gifts with which she showered the kids was the board game 10 Days in Europe, great fun for all of us to play; even though it's labelled "Ages 10 to Adult", six-and-a-half year-old Davy has no problem and fancies himself a junior travel agent. You can play with two to four players or two to four teams (teams of two work very well). One thing I especially like the game, after enduring the seemingly endless Monopoly games of my childhood, is that 10 Days takes only about half an hour to play, just the right amount of time with younger children.

Reading through the instructions and checking the maker's website, I was surprised to learn that 10 Days in Europe is from Out of the Box Publishing, which just happens to make Apples to Apples, one of the more popular games in homeschooling circles.

Just as Apples to Apples comes in several varieties (Apples to Apples Kids for ages 7 and up, Apples to Apples Junior for ages 9 and up, Yiddish/ German/ Jewish/ British Isles -- but sadly no French -- editions, one with Customizable Cards which could even be turned into a Latin or ancient Greek version, and an LDS version under development), so too do the 10 Days games. In addition to 10 Days in Europe, OTB offers:

10 Days in Asia (covering Asia, Australia, and New Zealand)
10 Days in the USA
10 Days in Africa

After enough 10 Days trips, you might be interested in another OTB game, Shipwrecked. The OTB website is well worth a search to see the variety of their games, retailers, and international distributors. Lucky Americans can find Out of the Box games directly from OTB (free ground shipping with orders of at least $14.99) as well as at Barnes & Nobles, Borders, Booksamillion, and Target. I'm considering buying a few of the other 10 Days games, and think I'll ask my favorite Canadian homeschool supplier/vendor if she'd be interested in bringing them in for me.

No, I don't get a penny from this recommendation. Just the possibility of a few more friends to play with whenever we get together in real life.

These days, with most actual travel downright daunting and unpleasant, where it often feels as if you're spending 10 days in airport security lines, what better way to travel than in the comfort of your own home? Especially when, if you miss your connection, you can get a snack from the fridge while you wait.

April 09, 2007

Keeping it clean

Thanks to Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, I just learned about a new blog, Deliciously Clean Reads, from Emily at Whimsy Books, where she writes "about picture books, motherhood, and writing". Emily, who's looking for contributors for the new blog, describes its mission this way,
All reviewed books at Clean Reads must be free of swearing and sex (including thinking or talking about sex in an explicit manner.) I know that profanity is a bit subjective. A book may qualify as a Clean Read if it has less than five "strong words found in the Bible" (i.e. da** or he**). Any curse words besides these "strong words found in the Bible" automatically disqualify the book for Clean Read status.

Essentially, if books were rated as movies, we'd only accept reviews of G and PG books (and yes, even some PGs have more swearing/innuendos than we allow here at Clean Reads). If you aren't sure if a book is Clean Read material, you can email me at any time and note any passages in question that may render the book inappropriate for our site.

Clean Reads can be from any genre of novel-length fiction. Please include a recommended age group after your review. (i.e. Recommended Readers: 12 and up)
Over at Whimsy Books, Emily also notes,
I'm the kind of person that hates conflict. And I'm sure a few of my readers will think this is a bad idea and may even call it a subtle form of censorship. But I'm not starting cleanreads.blogspot.com to keep people from reading anything. It is meant to be a resource for those who choose to read clean books.
The new blog already includes some reviews, for current and out of print books -- including a few for books that would definitely be of interest around here (A Shooting Star: A Novel about Annie Oakley by Sheila Solomon Klass -- which does still seem to be in print in surprisingly inexpensive library binding -- and the new Misadventures of Maude March by Audrey Couloumbis) --- and, on the sidebar, Lists of Clean Reads, including the Squeaky Clean and Books That Don't Make You Blush. In addition to Emily, there are four contributors at the moment, among them a few book blogs, two Beckys, and at least one home educator. Not yours truly, though, who has been known to make truck drivers blush and to let her young children watch The Magnificent Seven, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and The Getaway, the last two on Christmas Day 2005 and 2006, respectively. And who actually stopped to wonder about any possible overlap between the Bible's five strong words and George Carlin's seven dirty ones. I blame too much Easter chocolate.

It strikes me that Deliciously Clean might be quite helpful for a) families with several kids, who want to make sure that the chosen readaloud is suitable even for the youngest listener, and b) parents of voracious and/or precocious young readers.

At the other end of this similar vein, Sherry at Semicolon has a straight shooting review of Nick and Norah (no, not that Nick and Nora), with a thoughtful comment by Camille of Book Moot.

April 06, 2007

Some weekend questions for homeschoolers in general, and Charlotte Mason types in particular

from a couple of children's literature blogs I enjoy:

The first bunch from Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book, from his blog Read Roger; and the second bunch from Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy.

My blogging has been sporadic as it is, likely even more so over the holiday weekend and with calves possibly popping like Peeps, so I'll try to get back to this with a proper post in (I hope) the next few days. In the meantime, the short answer to Liz's question is "Of course not!"

Poetry Friday: Dazzling mud and dingy snow

I've fallen off the Poetry Friday bandwagon (and a number of other virtual bandwagons as well since real life has speeded up considerably) with rather a thud, for which, if anyone is in fact paying attention, I apologize. Last week I managed to post a poem, but didn't realize until a few days ago that I neglected to find the roundup, send in my post, and then post the link over at Chicken Spaghetti. Oh dear. However, I did sort out the details for our attendance at both the 4H Beef clipping and grooming workshop and the Agricultural Awareness Day that fourth graders get to attend (it fell to me at the last minute to make sure that the home school contingent was invited), where my kids had a ball, especially in first 45 minutes when they had the livestock arena to themselves, before the arrival of all the school classes.

So before I forget, this week's round up is over at Big A little a. Thanks, Kelly!

From our library discard copy (their loss is our everlasting gain), out of print, of Edna St. Vincent Millay's Poems Selected for Young People, with woodcuts by Ronald Keller, 1979:

Song of a Second April
by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

April this year, not otherwise
Than April of a year ago,
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
Of dazzling mud and dingy snow;
Hepaticas that pleased you so
Are here again, and butterflies.

There rings a hammering all day,
And shingles lie about the doors;
In orchards near and far away
The grey wood-pecker taps and bores;
And men are merry at their chores,
And children earnest at their play.

The larger streams run still and deep,
Noisy and swift the small brooks run
Among the mullein stalks the sheep
Go up the hillside in the sun,
Pensively, -- only you are gone,
You that alone I cared to keep.

April 01, 2007

Barbarians, paragons, and March and April fools

Just in time for April Fool's Day, one hopes, The Telegraph's education correspondent reported yesterday,
Lessons in Latin and Ancient Greek have been deemed detrimental to the learning of foreign languages in schools.

A secret document sent to Government officials by the Dearing Languages Review, an influential inquiry into language teaching, reveals that Latin and Greek were excluded from the list of languages that schools will be encouraged to study because they are "dead languages" that contribute nothing to "intercultural understanding".

The document adds that "important as they can be, their inclusion on the same footing as modern languages could actually undermine our attempts to build up national capacity in languages".

The revelation that Latin and Greek were intentionally excluded by the review comes only days after news that the Ancient History A-level is to be scrapped by the OCR exam board. The review was ordered by the Government last year in response to a steep decline in the number of pupils studying languages for GCSE.

Boris Johnson, the shadow higher education minister, described the assertion that Latin and Greek could undermine attempts to build up languages as the "most stupid thing I have ever heard".

"I can pick up a newspaper in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece, Brazil and the whole of Latin America and understand the news, basically because I studied Latin," he said."
And from The Telegraph's leader today, "O tempora, o mores!",
As we report today, the teaching of Latin has been condemned by the committee reviewing languages in schools, on the asinine grounds that it could "actually undermine our attempts to build up national capacity in languages". Latin, as everyone except the educationalists on that committee knows, is the foundation of French, Spanish and Italian.

But that was only one of the idiocies emanating from this quarter last week. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers called for the abolition of all testing by schools, and the introduction of lessons in walking.

Verbum sapienti: if the low level of attainment of our school children is a cause for concern, we should be just as worried by their teachers. As their pronouncements last week show, some of them make the barbarians who destroyed the Roman Empire look like paragons of sophisticated civilisation.