Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Finding Books to Read... Aloud

When I started teaching, there was a book that was recommended to all new teachers--The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.  The beginning of the book is really a treatise on why reading aloud matters.  But, most homeschooling parents don't need to be convinced.  The ones I know and have met have all believe reading aloud is a good and important thing to do.  But, if you're looking for a book on why one should read aloud, The Read Aloud Handbook will explain why it is important and "how" to do it.

Most parents, like my husband and I, want to read aloud books to our children, but struggle at times coming up with books we want to read aloud--especially at the younger ages.  So, we search.  We look for lists of books for independent reading and we look for lists of books for read alouds.  I live in a house of very avid readers so I am always on the lookout for new book lists!

One friend suggested that I check out a popular blog titled the Read Aloud Revival.  It is written Sarah Mackenzie and some other young moms.  I think it's kind of funny that it's called a revival--because school teachers have been reading aloud to children for decades, as have homeschool parents.  Ms Mackenzie and her staff all have young children (age 12 or younger) and the book lists on her site clearly reflect this.  There are very few true Middle School books in her lists or books for advanced readers.  Her lists and blog are heavily bent towards younger children.   I found her lists to be very narrow and with some big holes for all ages.

At about the same time, I read through the list The Classical Reader: A Comprehensive Reading Guide by Dr. Christopher Perrin.  I took issue with this book (and wrote the lone 2 star review for it on Amazon).  I didn't agree with the author's leveling of the books and felt that he had inaccurately leveled books on several occasions.  I was also concerned that there was no modern realistic fiction included in the book.  Surprisingly, Dickens' novels are considered realistic fiction by this author, though I would disagree and assert that they are now historical fiction.   By high school, even in the classical model, students should be reading books that give them a well rounded understanding of the world we live in today.

Yet, in my searching of both this book, the Read Aloud Revival Website, and other lists on the web, I always simply looked for lists of books to read.  I didn't separate books for reading aloud and independent reading.  I had concluded that if one was good for one, then it must be good for the other. But, then I came across a book that specifically lists books good for reading aloud.

Nathaniel Bluedorn, one of the authors of The Fallacy Detective, wrote a book titled Hand that Rocks the Cradle:  400 Classic Books for Children.  It is a list of the books his mom read to his siblings and him when he was growing up--with some additions by his brothers, sisters, and him.  At the beginning of the book, he gives a very short explanation about the books included and what children gain from hearing stories.  One interesting thing to not is that all of the books included in this list are fiction.

As I read through the list, I enjoyed reading the book descriptions and seeing what books were included.  I found more than a few that I look forward to reading with our children in the future.  As my husband and I discussed the list, I brought up a few that I thought were missing.  My husband pointed out to me that he didn't think the books I mentioned would be good for reading aloud.  I think this is because there are some books when savored and read alone, one can get lost in the book differently than when it is read aloud in the presence of others.  It is a rare list that includes many books that I haven't heard of and I'll be honest, this book had several books that I'll be purchasing to read to my children.  This was quite a pleasant surprise to me!  The descriptions included made me curious about many of the books.  I appreciated particularly that they were rated by age range at which they were appropriate.  A simple, 1/2/3 system, not specific grade levels.  Most families have multiple children and ages that they are reading to, so I think this would be very helpful.  For personal reading, Honey for a Teen's Heart also rates books by both age and maturity level with similar guidelines.  I have found this to be very helpful with my advanced readers.

This book is a welcome addition to our homeschooling reference books and is going to occupy a revered spot alongside my two faithful reference books by Gladys Hunt (Honey for a Child's Heart and Honey for a Teen's Heart).  I love both of these books and they are two of essential books I'd recommend to homeschoolers because of the author's discussions of reading, book descriptions, and book lists.  But, Hand that Rocks the Cradle: 400 Classic Books for Children is an important companion because reading aloud and reading independently are different!

Please note that I received a copy of this book from the author for review, but that these opinions are all my own.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Disconcerting Movie Theme

Warning:  Indirect, implied spoilers included in this post.

Last week, I watched Me Before You.  It was interesting.  The acting and filming were well done and drew me into the movie.  Afterwards, I looked up the sequel to the book that was turned into this movie and read a review with spoilers.  

Sometimes I watch movies to help me understand what our culture believes about right and wrong, what our culture values.  Me Before You is one of those movies.  

God cares about life.  He cares about our lives.  

Psalm 139:13  ESV

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

Exodus 20:13  ESV
You shall not murder.

Me Before You is a movie ultimately about euthanasia and God is absent.  

Well, not really.  God is always there--even when people think He isn't.  But, the characters in this movie never mention God.  One character only says that life isn't what he wants and he enjoyed his life before, so it isn't worth living.  

I think most people could say at some point, or even all the way along that life isn't what they/we wanted.  But, I believe and trust that it is what God knows is best for us.  Sometimes that's hard.  Really hard.  And sometimes it really isn't what I want.  But, in the end, it is comforting that God is in control and not me.  

Romans 8:28 is one of the most comforting verses to me.  

Romans 8:28English Standard Version (ESV)

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
And Psalm 112:6-8a (ESV)
For the righteous will never be moved;
    he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news;
    his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
Time after time I have learned later that what I wanted wasn't good for me--like the boy I dated before my husband who I later learned was someone I really wouldn't have wanted to marry.  But, at the time, I thought I loved him.  Lessons learned.  
Me Before You could be used as an example of such lessons.  The main character could have seen that he never would have even acknowledged the young woman he became enamored of in his previous life.  I think I remember that he did see this actually--yet it didn't overcome his overall feelings about the futility of his life as it was.
It was interesting to me to read about the plot for the sequel to this story.  It left me feeling "Blech." The futility of life and the unhappiness left me feeling a bit lost.  And then I came back to the realization that for these characters, God was not a part of the pictures.   But, he is for me, which is where my hope comes from.
This past weekend my husband and I went to NYC.  As we were eating dinner, I shared with him that I had come to feel that life is always hard.  This is rather ironic because I am always that half full person in my marriage and he is the half empty person.  He didn't agree with me, but rather felt that some times are harder than others.  I had felt this way until recently when I just felt like life wouldn't let up.  Every time I try to get a breath, I get pulled back down.  
But, the next morning, as I was eating delicious french toast at Sarabeth's in Tribeca, I realized that I could make what I was eating--it would only take a good loaf of bread.  And just like that, my cup was half full again.  It happened without me realizing it.  That's the thing about our hearts--often things happen when we don't realize it.
This morning as my husband got a late start (and so did my kids), I resolved to take a moment to fix breakfast for myself.  I pulled out the bag of frozen cornflake crumbs I had fixed for my fake fried ice cream a few weeks ago, the baguette I bought on Monday, and other French Toast makings.  In the next few minutes, I made myself cinnamon cornflake encrusted french toast with sliced bananas and maple syrup.  I shared a piece with each of my children, who immediately requested it for tomorrow morning's breakfast, and then asked them fro 10 uninterrupted minutes to eat my breakfast.  
Then, I sat and ate.  It was good.  Really good.  As good as the French Toast from Busick Court in Salem, Oregon, that I have longed to have again for twenty plus years since I graduated from college.  I expected an epiphany to come.  It didn't.  But, I was calm and enjoyed my breakfast quiet.  
Then, I got up and within five minutes my son had stubbed his toe on the fireplace and was wailing, needing tending and fixing (my son, not the fireplace).  
This is life.  A series of many, many choices that reflect our hearts.  As a friend said to me this morning, our actions reflect what well we're drawing from.  How we look at our own lives and the value of life also reflects that.