Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fun Pirate Book for Kids!

My son turned 4 this past April and I wanted to throw him a pirate birthday party. I searched high and low for a pirate tale that I loved and never found one. I found one that was okay (Peg Leg Peke), but I wish I had found this one. It is a great story and I am glad to have found it now.  I read it as an e-book online with my kids, but it would be much more fun to read as a paperback book, which is what I'd recommend.

After reading it, these were their comments:

Oldest (girl): I loved that story!
Middle (girl): I liked it--Molly likes it too! (our dog)
Youngest (boy): So funny. I want another one.
Oldest (girl): I loved that they got cake at the end.
Youngest (boy): And a kiss!

My kids are 8,6, and 4 years old.  I was surprised and pleased at how much they enjoyed the story.  They laughed throughout the story (just as I did the first time I read it). As a mom, I loved the story because of the affectionate tone about moms and what they told their sons. I also love it because it's a pirate story without skulls and cross bones. Most pirate stories I've found have these in it, because skulls and crossbones represent death. I want my son to imagine stories about the adventures on the sea--not death and violence. I suppose I might be naive in that, but that's okay with me.

I highly recommend this to any mom of a boy who loves pirates. Snuggle up on the couch.  It might also be a good bedtime story to read aloud as your sons or daughters are going to sleep. And I do suspect that your daughters will love it too (just like mine!).

There is a special deal with this book.  If you're interested in purchasing a copy, the author let me know that you can contact the author teresa at teresaiveslilly@yahoo.com  and she can sell you a signed copy for $4.50 plus 1.75 shipping (the regular price is $7.15 plus shipping on CBD).  Just mention that you read my review of this book via an email or my blog, LoveToPaint :) for the special price.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from the author.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Free States and Capitals Unit

I am working on finding ways to find free homeschool resources on the web.  So, I thought I would put together a states and capitals unit from the web instead of buying a book.  

Here is what I came up with:
1) Learn the States and Postal Abbreviations unit from Joy A. Miller at Five J's
and tips for learning them
2) Numbered State worksheet and states and capitals worksheets.  Scroll through to find the free ones.  Many of them are for members only, but the essentials are free.
3) 3 Penelope Peabody lost in the United States.  I'm going to only use the 3 free ones for fun.
4) State Capital Flash Cards.  After reading what one homeschool mother said, I'm going to add on a few of the major cities in the United States that I want my children to know.
Here's a list of the states and the capitals:
Map of Major US Cities.  Add which cities you'd like your children to learn.
5) State Capital Bingo from Super Teacher Worksheets 

All of these pages are reproducible for your classroom.  We are going to try doing Social Studies once a week this year, but while my daughter is learning her abbreviations and capitals we will review them more frequently through the week.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fiction for Girls

Periodically, I am contacted by independent authors asking if I'll review their books.  I only say yes if I'm really think I'd be interested in the book.  I have to be honest.  I am very hesitant to read independently published books.  It has more to do with my opinions than the books themselves.  I have committed to myself to be honest in my reviews--sharing both positive comments and hopefully constructive criticism.  I know that for me it is often hard to hear constructive criticism and so I think about how it would feel if I was an author (who'd gone out on a limb) hearing a reviewer write anything negative about my work.  I know constructive criticism has to be carefully shared though.  Too much comes off as too harsh.  I sincerely understand this and I pray that my words won't sound too harsh.

Last month, Vicki Watson contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing a fiction book she'd written for girls about Autumn's age (8, almost 9) about horses, Rosie and Scamper.  Autumn loves horses and I'm always interested in finding wholesome book series for her to read.  So, I said I'd review them and requested the author's second book as well because of the story line of the book.

The books arrived and Autumn breezed through them.  She saw the covers and at first wasn't sure, but I asked her to open up the first book.  Within a few moments, she was curled up on the couch reading through both books.  I asked her what she thought after she was done and she affirmed that she enjoyed them and would like to get the third one for her birthday in October since it's supposed to be published in the fall.  I took that as a high compliment from my daughter for the books.

A few weeks later, I sat down with the books to read them.  I started with Rosie and Scamper.  Then, I read book 2 in the Sonrise Stable series, Carrie and Bandit.  Rosie and Scamper is the story of how Scamper came to be Rosie's horse.  The story doesn't stick to that storyline though as it meanders along.  It takes a lot of rabbit trails, including the introduction of Carrie and Rosie getting grounded after accepting Carrie's dare.  The second story, Carrie and Bandit, is primarily about Carrie's adoption into Rosie's family, but again there are many rabbit trails in the book so it would be difficult to say this is the main focus of the story.

I felt puzzled as I read through the books.  There were good, strong, and loving relationships portrayed in the book.  There was nothing objectionable.  They were books that reflected traditional "family values".  The author strove to convey what it really is like to take care of a horse and it felt as if she did that (from a non-horse owner's perspective).  The illustrations added to the story and did not detract.

But, as I read, there were a few things that I noticed.  One was the marking of time.  My husband and I listened to a Mars Hill Audio episode recently in which an author (who also happened to be a college writing professor) explained that one of the marks of good writing is how an author shows the passage of time.  Often it was the titles of her chapters that marked the time.  Sometimes it was months and even years that passed between the ending and beginning of the next chapter.  There are a couple of difficult things about this.  People change in time and the story needs to show that through description.  These are books for 3rd or 4th graders and so my daughter tends to skip a lot of details.  She doesn't realize yet how important they are.  But, they are important.  What she reads will influence what kind of writer she becomes.  We want our children to read good, well written literature so that they will imitate it with good grammar and their own voices.  One of the greatest skills beginning writers learn is how to include details and describe people and events.  Because of this, they also need to read stories that include good, descriptive details.

Then there were also parts of the stories that I wished had been filled in a bit more.  One was when Rosie was grounded from riding her horse.  What was her experience?  How did she feel?  This would have been an important lesson learning time.  If your daughter reads Rosie and Scamper, I would suggest discussing this with her and using it as an opportunity for practicing making inferences.  

I realize that there is a big difference between adult and children's fiction.  The details included expand with amount of writing and pages.  In a way, I think that would make children's fiction more difficult to write.  One would have to be very discerning about what details to include and what not to.

So, where does that leave me feeling about these stories?  I think they have strong premises and the author has some great ideas.  I think a second edition should weed out the details that detract from the story (the many rabbit trails) and focus in on the main story.  The timelines of the stories should be much shorter (less change to have to show).  I think this would make it easier to focus the story.  If something (like Scamper having to grow 2 years before being ridden in competition) needs a long timeline, then either the story needs to be longer or that story line needs to be a lesser story line and stretched over 2 books as a connecting line. Are they a good start?  Yes.  This author does not have the advantage of a major publisher's editor's help.  I remember seeing Abby Johnson's video for Unplanned and then reading Unplanned, which was co-written with an editor's help.  That book made me realize for a moment what a difference an editor can make because Abby's voice on the video and in the book were so different.  

The other thing that I would caution this author about is being careful for the stories not to become "moralist" fiction--where it feels as if she has an agenda to teach kids a lesson.  The lessons are naturally a part of the story.  We don't have to force them into the story line because we want to make sure our children hear them.  The Secret Garden is a good example and The Door in the Wall is another.  Both stories have huge lessons for children in them, but you never feel that the conversations are forced or contrived.  

I would encourage this author to keep writing.  She has experience with horses that she brings to her stories and a love of them that she wants to impart to readers.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of these two books from Vicki Watson for review.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wise Advice

A friend gave me some wise advice this morning.  I wanted to write it down lest I forget it.  I am afraid that though it was only given 2 hours ago, I already cannot articulate it as it was shared with me.

I shared with my friend some trouble I have been pondering.  I realized yesterday that I cannot fix everything. 

She gave me the advice that I need to walk alongside my husband and friends and family, but that it is not my job to fix everything or make decisions for people.  I am to look for the work God has for me to do and pray if I am concerned for decisions people are making or have made.  Within the realm of my own life, I have plenty to do.  My friend said this so kindly and gently and I received it.  She is right.  

I do not, should not, and cannot live anyone's life for them.  It is not my place.  It is not my place either to judge their decisions.  But, I can pray, help others, and look for the work God has for me to do.  I can also pray that God would make it very clear when I am to speak--if and when I am ever to speak of things that concern me.  

These are wise things for me to remember.  I often get very troubled for those in my life that I love.  I ponder and dwell.  But, that pondering and dwelling can keep me from other things I should be doing and thinking about. 

And now on to lunch and my children...  what I really should be thinking about right now!

What we teach our children

I've been meaning to write this post for a few weeks now, but life has been pretty busy.  I've been taking a college course this summer on Chapter Book Reading.  Four or Five years ago, I took a continuing ed course on teaching PK-2 mathematics.  It w helped me understand what my children needed to grasp.  Then, last summer, I felt nudged to dig into writing and what my children needed to grasp.  I wrote several posts about it.  This summer, the subject has been reading.  I am hoping to write several posts over the next few weeks about what I learned from the course and what I learned about teaching reading to our children.

But, there have been other things on my mind as well.  It all began with the link I posted to a review on BJU Press' site for the book, Dead End in Norvelt.  As we were driving away for a weekend trip, my husband and I discussed the book.  He was alarmed by my reaction to the book.  He was very concerned about what he would call my moralist perspective on the book. We discussed his concerns and mine.  He rather vehemently stated his opinions actually.  The topic of discussion was cuss words and literature.

Interesting topic.  Difficult topic.

As parents we want to shelter and protect our children.  Cuss words seem at first like a no-brainer.  Of course you shouldn't let your children see movies with them and read them.  Right?  Well...  I want to talk about it.  I want to share what some folks, particularly my husband, have been challenging me to think about.  And how they ultimately changed my mind.

I want to start with where our kids are headed.  I hope that my children will go to college.  So, I choose curriculum that I hope will prepare them and be the stepping stones to get them ready.  There's a lot of things that they will need to know in order to understand their coursework and complete their assignments.

There's one thing that isn't in any Christian curriculum that I know of.  That's cuss words.  Why will our kids need to know them?

My brother in law has been taking a lit course at community college this summer.  Are there cuss words spoken in his class discussions?  Yes.  Are they in his texts?  Yes.  So, what would happen if he didn't understand them?  Well, he'd struggle.  He'd likely be laughed at and not understand what he's reading and even miss meaning from the text.

I asked a gal who'd been homeschooled last week about her experience in college and if this happened to her.  It did.  She often had people laugh at her when she didn't understand what people were saying until she figured it out.

I've also discussed this with other friends.  One family I know talks about them whenever they come up.  That can be as early as 4th or 5th grade.  Another family intentionally started addressing and explaining them when their son encountered them on the middle school parks and rec baseball field.  Each of these families has explained to their children that they don't use the words.    

It's something to think about.

We often want to veer far away from the things which are bad so as not to tempt our children.  But, I wonder if that is wisest.  As I was discussing the matter of cussing with one friend, she brought up another subject.  Her son recently graduated from college and she asked him what he wished he had learned.  He mentioned to her that he wished he had learned about evolution.  He said it was difficult to understand where many of his professors were coming from and the foundation of what was being taught.  

Evolution, like cussing, is something we often avoid as Christian homeschoolers.  Last year, I reviewed a book titled Who is God and Can I Really Know Him?  My husband did not like the book because he felt it bred a sense of Christian intolerance.  It painted people who believed in evolution as idiots and only out for a good time.  My husband only works with 1 person who is a Christian.  He is concerned for Christians who look down on others who believe otherwise.  Yes, evolution is wrong and we need to help our children understand why, but they also need to understand why people believe it.  

Tolerance is such a politically correct word.  We must "tolerate" different beliefs children are taught in school.  Implied in that tolerance is also accepting and condoning other beliefs.  That is where Christians diverge.  We do not need to condone or agree with theistic or deist belief systems.  But, our children need to understand the world they live in.