Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Review: The Long Way to a New Land

I don't use Sonlight as our primary curriculum any longer, but I continue to value and respect their reading choices. This one is a repeat for Zach and me, new to Noah and Lily. The Long Way to a New Land is of the series, "An I Can Read Book." On the back, suggested age is to 4 to 8, and I believe that is quite accurate, on the upper ages the child reading independently and on the lower ages as a read-aloud by the parent. The family in the book leaves a bleak existence in Sweden for new hope in America, based on a letter of encouragement from relatives who already had made the treacherous journey across the ocean. We follow the family through the journey, ending the book at arrival in the new land. For those interested, this family's saga continues in "The Long Way Westward." The pictures in Long Way to a New Land are dark blacks and grays, very little color, obviously suggesting the gray existence of the family. Unfortunately, it also means they are not easily seen, nor interesting, to the child reading the book or being read to. This is unfortunate, as it seemingly takes away some of the enjoyment of the book for the child, at least my children. I have used this twice now with 1st graders. The story itself is somber without being depressing, and interesting without being too long or detailed for a young child. I continue to think this is a good resource for the younger ones studying immigration to America during the early 19th century.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book review: Cora Frear

This is used in Sonlight curriculum. It is a great fit for any US history/pioneer period study. I typically use it with my 1st grade kids, but my older and younger are interested too. Cora is a little girl who helps her dad, a doctor. On the way to a patient in their buggy, they get caught in a prairie fire. Cora is key in saving them, but I'll leave the rest a surprise. What is especially nice is this is based on a true figure in history, and of course female heroines are great as there are not quite so many books written starring a female for kids to admire. It is good for probably 2-3rd grade and above to read alone, or as a read-aloud down to even pre-K age.

Note it is part of the Brave Kids series, and we just put another of these on our library holds list as this one has been such a hit here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review: Dame Shirley and the Gold Rush

Although Dame Shirley and the Gold Rush has suggested age range of grades 3-6, I think it is suited towards slightly younger ages as well. The book is slim, only 4 chapters, making it a good choice for older struggling readers or reading aloud to younger readers with shorter attention spans. It gives a brief glimpse of life in the gold camps from the point of view of Dame Shirley, the wife of a doctor, as recollected through letters to her sister in the east. It is said those letters are the first truly honest written records of the gold camps. I used this book with 1st and 4th graders. We read it aloud over the course of a week. The language was simple, easily understood by both. There are a few black and white pictures to help the younger crowd. What this book provided that other resources did not interestingly was an introduction to the problem of racial tensions between the Hispanic and white miners during the time. Very little was mentioned about this in other books we read, but it features prominently in the camp described by Dame Shirley, causing her much distress. This gives a nice leap to talk about the history of these tensions throughout California history and into modern times. For such a short book, this is a very nice addition to our California study with grammar age students.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Book Review: Tales and Treasures of the California Gold Rush by Randall Reinstedt

Tales and Treasures of the California Gold Rush is an engaging book told in the first person narrative of the author, a storyteller. Chapters cover stories about the first gold discovered, how the 49ers arrived in California, famous and infamous bandits, what the 49ers did for fun and many, many tales of lost and buried loot from the mines, never found, to ignite the imaginations of the listeners of the tales. I read this book to my 1st and 4th graders in our California State study. Both were engaged in the lively tales, nearly always involving some sort of guns, hanging or a posse. So be forewarned, this book has quite a bit of death and burials, but not gory, and unavoidable given the subject matter. The early mining camps were not peaceful places. In terms of the kids' visualization of the time, place and people of the Gold Rush, this has far been their favorite resource this year. We very highly recommend it, both for the content and the easy narrative style of the storytelling, as either a read aloud selection or as a reader for older kids.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book review: Jessie Benton Fremont: California Pioneer

This book is used as part of the Beautiful Feet California History Through Literature Guide. I used this primarily with my 4th grade son, with a 1st grader tagging along. Honestly, this book was a very difficult read, the hardest by far of the books used in the Beautiful Feet California History pack. My 4th grader is an accelerated learner, and he did okay, but he did not really enjoy this selection. I did not enjoy it either honestly. The vocabulary and syntax in the book were elegant, clearly a very literate and graceful writer. It was the actual plot that was uninteresting to us. The book covers almost the entirety of Jessie's life, yet I did not as a reader develop much empathy or interest in her fate. We are told time and time again in the book of her love of her life, her husband, so much so that this book could almost be considered a romance. The politics of the time, as they relate to our characters, are covered well, which is likely why this book is included in the history guide. We learn about topographical exploration of the west, slavery tensions in the government and among the states, the Mexican-American war, gold and mineral rights in California and the election of Abraham Lincoln through the historically-accurate interactions of the characters. Her children, her illnesses and her sadness are covered very dispassionately though, given she is the primary character. Perhaps this is because the author has her background in journalism rather than novels? The tone throughout is very dispassionate, which is disappointing as I think this was probably a very dynamic and interesting couple in history. Overall, I was extremely disappointed in this selection and will not read it again when I cover this time period later with my other children.

Zach and Eden reading together

IMG_4555, originally uploaded by WeeBeaks.

As part of our day now, Zach often reads for 10 minutes or so with Eden. I love to see how they are interacting.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Eden's new crayons

Eden crayons, originally uploaded by WeeBeaks.

Eden got a new set of Melissa and Doug triangular crayons for Christmas. These are easy for her to grasp, and nice and chunky so they don't break. Plus, there is no paper wrapped to tear off and throw on the floor! These are a huge hit here.