Biographies with a Twist

I picked up a copy of a biography (for me to read) about Nelson Mandela from the DK Biography series (of which there are numerous biographies available), and subsequently did a search to see what other types of biographies for kids are available.

Bingo!  Although the DK series appears to be adequate, they are rather standard fare.  The biographies highlighted below have a little something more to offer as far as creativity:

Ben and Me:  An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos

Apparently a not-so-humble mouse played an important role in American history! An Amazon review states, “In A New and Astonishing Life Of Benjamin Franklin As Written by His Good Mouse AMOS, young readers will discover that while the good Mr. Franklin got considerable credit, many of his most important contributions really originated with Amos, a less-than-humble rodent. Oh sure, his manuscript was found by author-editor Robert Lawson and published first in 1939, but discerning readers ever since have figured that it’s the mouse who’s the fellow with the … tale.”

Mr. Revere and I:  Being an Account of Certain Episodes in the Career of Paul Revere, Esq. as Revealed by His Horse.  Paul Revere’s mare, Sheherazade, tells this tale.

I Discover Columbus:  A True Chronicle of the Great Admiral and His Finding of the New World. The parrot Aurelio traveled with Columbus to America. This is the bird’s story of how the penniless mapmaker was granted an audience with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and how Columbus had to be bamboozled into his own flagship.

Robert Lawson is the author of these ‘biographies’; he is also known as an illustrator of books for children.


Silly Reading to Entice Reluctant Readers

Especially if those reluctant readers happen to be boys around the ages of 8 to 11!

Max brought me up to date this morning during breakfast about his current foray into this first book.  Judging from the words tumbling from him, he is having a great time reading.  It’s sheer silliness from an author who likes to have fun and illicit giggles galore from his readers.

On the back of the book it states:  “Rated G for ‘Gross’.  Contains immature material not suitable for adults.”  If you are comfortable saying the word ‘butt’ in your household, you might find these books to be acceptable.

It’s innocent stuff, though.  I understand if you think this type  of reading is inappropriate.  I decided to let Max have a go at it and he’s kicking some royal reading butt!  The author is clever and careful in his use of terminology – he clearly has a grasp of what makes kids laugh.  Thank you, Andy Griffiths, for providing some unusual entertainment and an incentive to keep reading!  Mr. Griffiths is an Australian author, so the original title of this first book is The Day My Bum Went Psycho.

Based on a true story?  That alone is funny.  It’s about a young boy whose bum decides to go rogue and try to conquer the world.  A butt-fighting team forms to try and stop the madness and from here on out the terminology gets very zany.

Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger. Author Kevin Bolger keeps the humor rolling with his series of books about the Kingdom of Armpit in which a hapless knight must try to save good from evil.  He’s said to be a very potent knight!

Sir Fartsalot Meets the Booger

There may be a few other books in the Fartsalot series, but I’m unable to find pictures of them.  One may be called Sir Fartsalot Cuts the Cheese?

Again, my apologies if this type of material offends you!  Dare I even tag this one under the literature category?

The Very Beginnings of our Outer Space Unit Study (to be continued)

This one is going to take awhile to pull together because there are vast possibilities available for materials.  I’m a little daunted by not only the vastness of our universe, but by how to best present that vastness for Max so he has a framework to explore within.  Even though we won’t be technically starting this unit study for a while, I’ve already been mulling and researching, gradually gathering supplies and ideas.

Well, I found a terrific place to at least start.  I bought these with the intention of saving them for the unit study, but Max saw them and asked if we could read them.   You bet!  So, here we are reading them in the midst of the Whales and Dolphin unit study, but it’s all good.  Everything is connected, after all.  We are having a super time following George in his space adventures.  Along the way we are learning about space from non other than Stephen Hawking, the preeminent mind in theoretical physics.  This kind of book sums up what this blog is about – the best current available information wrapped up in an engaging children’s story.  These are the kinds of things I search for and I get very happy when I find them (and pass them along to you!)

Mr. Hawking wrote this with his daughter, Lucy.  It’s terrific!  I could not be more pleased.  We read 8-10 chapters a day and finished it asap.  It’s packed with information about the planets and their moons, comets, and black holes.  Lots of full-color pictures, too, to supplement the wow factor of space beyond our atmosphere.  The illustrations in the book are very good; I like the illustrator’s style very much.

The second book of which we’ve read the prologue.

Hope you weren’t expecting a big long list of resources about outer space – that will come, I promise.  I was so enamoured with these that they had to be posted early to get the outer space unit party started.  Check them out if you can!  They are full of jumping-off points for further study and exploration!

The Children’s Map of the Solar System has been on the wall for several months now and today I learned just how much detail Max has been paying attention to, just by walking down the hall near it day after day.  It’s colorful, humorous and accurate – some of the best things in life!  This will be a big part of the unit study since visuals offer so much more than just the written word.  It’s big (54″ x 37″), so plan accordingly!  You can see better graphics if you click on the maps below or on the blue link above.

Learning about the International Space Station‘s (ISS) current adventures in real-time is a good pass-time, too.  You can check out what the astronauts are doing, how they live, eat and sleep on the ISS, and where they are located in relation to Earth at any given moment.  Construction on the ISS began in 1998; it’s fun to see how it’s being used to study both outer space and humans IN outer space.  Check out the ISS at

All of Basher’s books are engaging and packed with information.  Many elements from space are personified into cute characters who aim to teach.  All done up in a Japanese cartoon style.  Simon Basher and Dan Green have written several books in this series, each one delving into a different topic (so they are not all space-related).

Quote taken from the back of the book:  “Karen Taschek introduces young readers to the wonders revealed by the VLA.  She begins with basic information on our solar system and our own Milky Way galaxy and then extends the discussion to galaxies billions of light-years from Earth”.  Ever since the movie Contact, I’ve been enamoured with these big dishes and would like to see them in person.

Science is in the Cards

I’ve put up several posts about science topics lately because there’s been a run of interesting items popping up while searching the corners of the world for entertaining and educational materials.  As they say, when it rains it pours!

Here are some playing cards with a science theme that looked interesting; therefore, criteria one has been met.  The item at large must at least look interesting!  These probably lend themselves more toward passive rather than active learning, but kids and grownups might find them quite likeable.

Click on the pictures for more information:

These are ‘regular’ playing cards embellished with a tad more information – all of the bones in the human body.  You can play any game you like.  The information on the cards might slow down play a little, but maybe that’s the point.  Available in English, French and Spanish, so you could technically work on two subjects at once!

Same concept here.  Every element is listed.

You can also find cards that illustrate guitar scales, chess moves and some self defense techniques.

Grand Central Homeschooling

Last week I set out on a project to move all of our homeschooling materials into a spare bedroom and turn it into a resource center of sorts.  I’ve been sorting, stacking, filing, piling, and generally engaging in mess-making mayhem.  It’s great!  I love to mess things up; unfortunate, though, because my follow-through lacks a certain joie de vivre.  Rats!  Why can’t I just be a complete package?  The room is dutifully adhering to the rule that before anything gets neater, it gets WAY messier first.  I’m beginning to see spots of the carpet shining through, so that must be a good sign.  When it’s done it will serve as ‘one-stop grabbing’, a central place where I can go to grab whatever we are using for the given day.  Prior to last week’s cleaning binge,  our books, games, papers and materials were spread willy nilly throughout the house in piles, driving me fruit.  Already I can feel a sense of peace about at least having everything in one room – equipped with a door we can shut to block the clutter!  Nothing better than a clutter blocker.

In my head I live this glorious vision of organization, of on-top-of-it existence, everything in its place, stuff at my fingertips when I need it, control of my environment – you know…..the unattainable perfect life!  Outside my head, well, it’s a heavy dose of reality that I sometimes just have to face.  Januaries are usually the impetus to get me rolling in a direction of some sort, whether it be regular exercise (again), becoming a vegetarian (27 days and counting!), or just getting my act together.  Impossible.  Curse the Januaries!  No, just kidding.  It’s good to start out the new year with goals and changes in mind.

The homeschooling room is coming along.  There are posters about volcanoes, art, local geology, museum exhibits (all freebies from a teacher’s conference), book shelves that are gradually filling up.  There’s even a twin bed shoved (gently and aligned correctly) into the corner that serves as a makeshift couch if we want to curl up and read there.  Now I’m on the hunt for a table and chairs that we can sit at occasionally, something inexpensive or better yet – free!  I’ll be checking Craigslist and Freecycle for said item shortly.  The intent is not to lock ourselves in that room during the hours Max is working on learning – hardly.  The intention is to put everything in a central location and try hard to keep it from wandering all over the house.

I am very diligent about recording what we do on a daily basis and keep file folders for each subject covered.  I also  keep a narrative going about the concepts we’re covering and how Max reacts to ideas, projects or experiments.  It’s a diary that I imagine will be pleasurable to read one day when he’s fifty and I’m really old (maybe I should type it in BIG PRINT.)  It’s also something helpful to keep on hand should laws in our state change and we need to come clean about the homeschooling done behind our closed doors.  May it never happen!  I love the freedom of being able to teach Max in whatever direction he wants to go.

So, bubbling with excitement about the lack of piles in the main part of our living space.  Also burbling about the change to vegetarianism.  You seriously wouldn’t believe how good some of this food is!  Stressing a little about those piles that have moved to the homeschooling room, behind that clutter blocker of a door.  Knowing that it’s still January and I can get the job done.

The Art of Math

Since we’re on the subject of mixing stuff together, let’s look and see how math and art get along when they are ingredients within the same book.  Seems like they meld beautifully into some tasty possibilities!  Some children might resonate with this unique and creative take on math concepts.

As always, click on the books to link to more information and to exert your purchasing power!  Better yet, check your local library.

Hal Torrance uses art activities and humor to teach math concepts.

The follow-up to Hal Torrance’s first book.

In this unique book, you’ll find dozens of creative projects that make a natural connection between math and art. Students make “stained glass windows” to explore geometry, create a “multiplication house” to reinforce basic multiplication facts, design “fraction flags” and make “place value” snakes! Plus: projects involving number sense, measurement, patterns, symmetry, statistics, and more.  Maybe the concepts aren’t so broad in this book – I like “big” concept books that stretch your imagination.

I couldn’t find any information regarding ‘age appropriateness’ of this book.  Judging by the cover (hah!) it looks a little more complex?  Sorry – can’t tell.

Poetic Math

Yes, you can mix poetry and math together! You can mix mustard and whipped cream together, too, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Yick!  The math/poetry thing seems like a more palatable endeavor, so why not give it a try?  Afterall, math and poetry are just two forms of language and expression  The idea also fits nicely into the Living Math approach (die-hard fan, here), which is another reason to consider a few of these books.

Click on each book to link to more information:

Theoni Pappas wrote this one; she is the author of The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat and the Further Adventures of Penrose (two books which we’ve read – Max really liked them.)  This book is designed to be shared by an adult and a child, reading together.  Nice rhythmic language about another type of language……math!

Students will learn math concepts and operations, place value and fractions, geometry and graphs, measurement and money, and word problems.   Elements of poetry are in fresh context, including similes, metaphors, alliteration, line breaks, and poetic language and forms. And perhaps best of all, the creative process enhances your child’s recall of the concepts taught.

Marvelous Math is a playful look at the sometimes surprising ways math is part of our daily life. The poems cover a vast range of topics from multiplication, division, and fractions to time, counting and measurement, but all relate math to our everyday world.

Julie Brennan of has this to say about this book (she’s a phenomenal resource, so straighten up and pay attention!):  “Okay, it’s not like regular poetry, it’s *mathematical* language. This is an unusual book in which the text mixes language with mathematical concepts, symbols and vocabulary to produce some really interesting connections.

Many children have difficulty connecting math with language. Math readers help bring math in this world, rather than it being isolated as a bunch of abstract symbols. The poetic “equations” in this reader are logical, artistic and creative uses of symbols and ideas. All of my kids from ages 5 to 13 love the book.”

One of my homeschooling idols has spoken!

So, I’m wondering…….how big can Amazon wish lists be?