On the Hunt……. for Historical Fiction Which, By the Way, is Inanimate!

I enjoy hunting (gasp!); the “catch” is ALWAYS inanimate, though.  I’m too much of a softy to consider the alternative.  I grew up amidst a family of Midwestern hunters and struggled with emotions when the ‘prize buck’ was brought in every fall.  Although, my family did utilize nearly every ounce of the animal for food and leather products, I still blanched and ran for the hills when the trucks came pulling into the yard bearing those carcasses.  On principle, I rarely ate the venison.  The roots for vegetarianism were planted at a very young age; it was the first of this year that I finally went ‘cold turkey’ on meat.  No more cold turkey!  It’s been a great foodie year, learning about produce and other sources of protein.  

Taking a closer look, though, shows that I am a contradiction in terms on many subjects.  My views are rarely neutral and I could have a big time running with some bumper stickers that just plain don’t make sense.  Internal and external forces serve to hone us throughout our lives; the information we glean helps to polish us all into shiny specimens and this process, for me, appears to run in yearly cycles.  This is the year of food.  Last year was the year of photography and homeschooling.  A year of barn building and remodeling.  A year of animal husbandry.  I hope the same sorts of passions for Max as he grows and wonders about our world.  By default he’s been thrust into the middle of some of my intellectual sojourns, but I see mostly smiles on his face as a result.  He only grimaces occasionally when I do things like experiment with eggplant and curry and pizza!  Max and my husband are still meat eaters to some extent, but I’m picky about the sources of meat.  My reasons for choosing vegetarianism have to do with the way corporate America treats the animals in their care.  Those animals suffer unspeakable horrors and I won’t knowingly support that.  I’m picky about most things if you get right down to it.  I spend time marveling at the myriad and wonderful choices we Americans have and try to keep that in perspective, too.

Back to hunting – this time it’s for some good historical fiction that we can read together this year; our emphasis for 5th grade is going to be on American history/geography and I’m hoping that we can forego the ‘romanticized’ version that was fed to me while I was in elementary school. The truth is out there somewhere and I would at least like Max to have an understanding of this concept. I’ve discovered several books, have placed them on the long list and will narrow them down to a short list as I research them a little further.

He is already signed up for a history through literature class that will cover six books the first semester – maybe these will be sufficient, but I’d like to have a few others to choose from. These will be books that we’ll read aloud over the year so I can get in on the action, too. Can’t say that we’ll read all of these (unlikely), but I like having a go-to list of great literature for the times we want to switch things up.

So herein begins my list.  Brace yourself, because I haven’t started culling yet.  The tricky part is going to be narrowing these down by time period – we could spend the whole year just learning about pioneers!  Can’t forget about the Revolutionary War, the Civil Rights movement, the World Wars, Wright brothers, the Titanic, the Great Depression, not to mention what happened yesterday historically for the US!  We could be here awhile.  Not possible to cover it all, I know.  But a good sprinkling is going to be the goal. 

Click on each book for more information!

First, Wanda Miller’s resource books below.  Thank you, Ms. Miller!  She lists great historical fiction in chronological order according to the time period they describe.  By all means, find these at your library and use them as a compass if you, too, are looking to make history come alive.

This book offers historical literature selections covering Native Americans up through WWII.  Approximately fifty-nine books are suggested for the nine time periods which are as follows:  Native Americans, Exploration, American Revolution & Constitution, Slavery & Civil War, Pioneer Life & Westward Expansion, Immigration, Industrial Revolution, WWI, and WWII.  I love that she has done much of the hunting and gathering already!

Her second book covers American history post WWII:  The Korean War, Civil Rights Movement, The Women’s Rights Movement, Space Exploration, The Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War.  Some forty-two books are detailed.

Here are some others that have been recommended by various other sources:

American Revolution

1930’s.  Four-hundred-eighty-five 41/2 star ratings.

Immigration and assimilation

Max may not be ready for the this one – strong themes and injustices surrounding a tragedy in a church in the Deep South during the 60’s (it involves the burning of a church with four young girls inside)

1800’s.  I love learning about this era and pioneers, hope Max does, too.

Over 700 near-perfect ratings.  I’m equally fascinated with this period of time, too – WWII.  We could also delve into Diary of Anne Frank, but we’ll save that one for middle school.

What mouse doesn’t spin a good tale?  The life of Ben Franklin through the eyes of a good mouse named Amos.

Same author, Robert Lawson.  He has a few other books with the same premise (history told through animal eyewitnesses).

10-year-old girl’s account of her family’s trek along the Oregon trail in the 1850’s


 Admiral Byrd’s harrowing one-man Antarctic adventure; kind of an outlier, but it looks like a good adventure book based on real events.

“Freedman is a master at taking crucial moments in American History and reproducing them with powerful tensions and grace”.  Quote taken from Honey for A Child’s Heart:The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life.  Freedman also wrote books about the Wright Brothers, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, and Crazy Horse.

Underground railroad and the Civil War

We enjoyed O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins a lot, too.  The book above is about Sacagawea.

The Navajo Trail of Tears through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl

I’m going to stop here for now – I haven’t done any looking for books that fit the post WWII era yet beyond what is listed in Wanda Miller’s books.  Oh – can’t forget about the Little House on the Prairie series, either.  I had hoped to read these to Max over the summer, but summer has a way of taking off on its own tangents and we didn’t get that accomplished.  He did a bunch of his own reading (see this post).

In closing, Honey for a Child’s Heart has been on our bookshelf for several years and I have pulled it out many, many times.  It’s a wonderful resource when searching for good, wholesome books for your kids.  Here’s what it looks like and it, too, has a section on historical fiction for 9-12 year olds:

 Written by Gladys Hunt – doesn’t she have the most perfect last name??

Looking forward to some living history.  So much more fun than memorizing events and dates!




Using Your Noggin

Mindware has some nifty card sets available that have won some awards – when I see stuff like this I think, “hmmm – maybe we should get some of these, you know, just to have around.”  Each deck contains 30 cards sporting trivia, multiple choice and true/false questions about a variety of subjects.  Mindware happens to package the decks in sets of six, or they can be purchased separately.  I did not check prices on Amazon, but they might be available used.  I always try to check eBay and some homeschool co-op websites – sometimes you stumble upon just what you were looking for!  Here are some of the card sets:

Professor Noggin’s History and Geography Card Games

Professor Noggins Science Card Games (set of six)

Nature Card Set

I’m going to investigate the history card games a bit further being that we’ll be working on American history in the fall.  I bet the nature card series would go over well for rides in the car/longer trips.  These could be entertaining at the dinner table, too – for the whole family.

Noggins are useful for all sorts of things and all noggins can benefit from well-crafted educational games.  Noggins probably like to have breaks from electronic stimulation and all those video screens!  At least that’s the theory I’m going with over the summer – wish me luck.

Unfortunately, the video game lure is strong over here and I have to stay on my toes to keep everything balanced.  It is challenging for me to set limits on Max lately, mostly because I have my head in other places, I’m cleaning up the house, tending to the garden, washing a dog, what have you.  When I look up, he has cleverly noted that I am NOT PAYING ATTENTION and he has furtively pressed the “on” button on the Wii.  During the school year I set a strict (tongue-in-cheek) limit – no electronics until after 5 p.m. when school is wrapped up and preferably, not much video game time at all.  I make a concerted effort to keep him otherwise occupied with friends, playing outside, playing a game, or perusing the entire Calvin and Hobbs anthology.  I can generally hold the video game monster at bay if I’m tuned in and brandishing a big sword.  I wonder how many other moms feel this way.  Generalizing, but I think most dads like to indulge the video game habit as they might enjoy playing video games themselves.  I kind of have a guttural and unpleasant reaction to too much screen time – call me a pansy, but somewhere deep inside me I think too much electronic stimulation is ungood.

Yesterday I had my head down and was butting my way through piles in the house, trying to rewire my genetic code and make it and the house more orderly.  I was deep into piles of mail, piles of dishes, piles of animal bedding in cages that needed cleaning.  I made good progress, but Max is equipped with 3G Mom-dar and can accurately pinpoint where my focus is centered.  He jumped back and forth from the Wii to the computer and filled his day with flashing screens.

Not that video games and screen time is all bad – it isn’t.  I swear, because of video games, he has the dexterity of a surgeon and his problem-solving skills make mine shamefully skitter for the nearest rock to hide under.  His imagination is stimulated, he is moving when he uses the Wii, and we sometimes play together, although his dad is much better about that.  I don’t cotton much to video games and just plain fail to get excited about them.  I guess it’s all about balance, as with everything else – keeping video game time balanced with other activities that engage kids to use their noggins in other ways!

Check out what Professor Noggin has to offer – if not for the summer months, then for next year’s school year when you need a little something to have fun with and encourage learning.  Take care of those noggins and use them well!


Free American History DVD

Just an FYI!  The History Channel is giving away free DVDs about American History to schools and homeschools.  Here’s information from their website (i.e., the particulars):

America The Story of US – premiering on HISTORY™ April 25 at 9pm/8c – is a six-week event that provides a fascinating look at the stories of the people, events, and innovations that forged our nation. It will provide you with an unprecedented opportunity to bring our nation’s history to life for your students. This 12-hour series will be supported by educational materials tied to curriculum standards and is copyright cleared for Fair Use in the classroom by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities.

* HISTORY is offering America The Story of US on DVD to every school in the United States. School must be an accredited public, private or home school, grades K-12 and college. In order to receive your school’s DVD, your school principal (grades K-12) or Dean of Students (college) should fill out the request form (that would be on their website) below. HISTORY strictly limits each school to one request. DVD requests must be made prior to July 1, 2010. DVDs will be mailed around August 2010, and free shipping is included in this offer.

That last sentence is pretty important, so get on it if you want to use this series.  Don’t you just love free stuff?

Learning Calendar

Sometimes I’m not sure if books that contain lots of trivia are all that effective – I think there has to be some sort of personal association for information like that to stick, but I could be wrong. Some people just seem to have ‘trivia-prepped’ brains and can feed on this stuff.

We had this calendar last year. When I remembered to glance at it, look at the correct day and read aloud what was written, we often learned something cool and interesting. However, there were several blocks of time when I completely ignored the calendar and promptly forgot about it. So, not sure if it’s a good investment, at least for me.

You might like it, though, and find it useful. The 2011 edition is available now:

It makes for a great gift, too.  It is useful to use as jumping-off points or to provide you with unit study ideas, too.  Available for around $20.  FatBrain Toys has it, but right now it looks like it’s sold out.  I didn’t check Amazon or other places, but it’s got to be out there somewhere!

Learning about Intolerance, Learning About the Holocaust: A Gentle Introduction

For the most part, I aim to focus on fun and engaging educational materials in this blog, to help homeschoolers add learning through laughter to their days! That’s my intention and 99% of what you’ll find here will be tailored in that direction.  However, as we all know, life is not composed solely of fun and games. It has a deeply serious, often painful side that most of us cannot escape, as much as we would like to.  Life can be brutally difficult beyond comprehension.
Max and I ran head long into a deep and disturbing subject last week, one we’ve decided to delve into just a little further at this point.  I don’t think he’s old enough yet to handle too much, so we’re scraping the surface.   Max is ten, so I have been very careful with what images he sees at this point as so much of what happened during this part of history  is raw, bitter, horrible and shocking.   I am writing here about the monstrous atrocities of the Holocaust. When he is in his middle school years, I will consider exploring this time period more thoroughly because he’ll be at a different place emotionally.  I want to be careful not to overwhelm him.
This detour started with Albert Einstein.  Last Wednesday we watched the first lecture about Albert Einstein offered by Science Jim as part of his current webcast classes. Albert Einstein is a fascinating character primarily because he never stopped wondering; he likely drove his teachers nuts with all of his questions, his doubts, his need to prove statements of fact for himself. What an active mind he had! We listened to Science Jim describe Einstein’s childhood with interest. At least I did, but then I’m in a different place than Max is because I can focus on a topic for longer than five minutes :).    It was when Science Jim described Einstein’s involvement in the making of the atomic bomb that Max’s interest level perked up.
You may or may not know that Einstein wrote a letter to FDR in the late 1930’s encouraging the US government to begin research on building an atomic bomb – he recommended the government get started as soon as possible because he wasn’t certain how far the Nazis were in any bomb development.  As often happens in homeschooling, the conversations are wide open and can go any which way on any given day.  One thing leads to another. We eventually broached the life of Anne Frank and thus landed on the Holocaust.  It was quite an interesting question/answer period. I was not planning on introducing such a heavy grief-filled subject any time soon, but I listened thoughtfully to Max’s questions and understood clearly that of course he was having a hard time grasping the answer to his main question, “WHY?”

As luck would have it, a remarkable exhibit about Anne Frank’s life and experience is currently on display in our city.  On Friday afternoon we went to learn more about Anne and her family.  We attended with a group of four of Max’s friends, all boys.  Generally they get so wrapped up in each other that the entire outside world becomes background noise.  Not this time.  Our tour guide was exceptional!  They all stood in rapt attention as the tour guide described the two years while the Frank family hid in the attic of Otto Frank’s business in Amsterdam.  They could hardly conceive of having to be quiet for eight hours a day, having to whisper, not being able to walk around, not being able to flush the toilet during the day.  As Anne’s story progressed the kids became more somber and thoughtful.  Max raised his hand and asked a few questions.  He studied on the scale model of the attic.  He gazed at the pictures of a girl not much older than him, at her smiling face.  He tried to comprehend what happened to her and why.  We also sat in on a short talk by a Holocaust survivor, a woman now seventy-two who was a hidden child during the war.  Max’s is the last generation that will get to speak to, to touch, to listen to a Holocaust survivor!  This fact sunk in deep for me.

Today we watched a truly special story about a middle school in Tennessee and how the staff and students came to forge a very unique, very moving memorial to the six million Jewish people and the five million people of other descents who lost their lives at the hand of the Nazis.  Here it is.  Click on pictures for more information:

So magnificent!  A tiny middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee, population 1600, embarks upon a project to learn about the Holocaust.  The project soon takes on a life of its own as you’ll see.  The students wish to collect 6 million paperclips from all over the world to represent the Jews who died – they end up embarking on a meaningful journey that brings a community together and helps to teach others about what happens when intolerance and prejudice goes unchecked.  Ack, I cried several times.

A version tailored to grades 6-12, though I don’t know how it differs from the original.

An accompanying book written for the 9-12 age group.

“Fifteen thousand children under the age of fifteen passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp. Fewer than 100 survived. In these poems and pictures drawn by the young inmates, we see the daily misery of these uprooted children, as well as their hopes and fears, their courage and optimism. 60 color illustrations.”

A well-done allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting

Tailored for 9-12 year olds with lots of pictures of Anne and her family.  Also contains clear and concise text interspersed throughout the pictures.  I have not opened this book yet, so don’t know how graphic the pictures become, but am thinking the authors took precautions for this age group.

I would consider these resources to be “fairly” gentle for opening up discussions about this stand-up-and-pay-critical-attention part of history.  What an opportunity we have to begin to teach our children about acceptance, about injustice, about love and how it’s depths can turn the tide in any situation.  The movie and Anne Frank exhibit is as far as we are going for now.  The others are offered as additional resources to explore as you wish.

I’m worn out from the past few days, to be honest.  Words can’t possibly wrap themselves around what happened.  It’s the kind of thing you have to feel in your body and you must let it rest there while you process.  We’ve “seen” a lot in the past five days, but in truth have witnessed very little of what happened.  As Max grows I hope his questions continue to surface.  I hope I have some answers or directions to point him in.

I Didn’t Do It, Did You Do It? If You Didn’t Do It, Then Whodunit?

Mysteries are good fodder for figuring, for being observant, for paying attention to the tiny details.  Some kids have the eagle eye, wherein they don’t miss anything.  Others bounce blissfully unaware through events, leaving not a trace that they saw anything.  Which one is your child?  Somewhere in the middle?  Max has an eagle eye.  In fact, that’s his nickname.  He misses NOTHING.  I miss most everything because I live in my head.  Ask me what color the car was that just went by and I’ll stare at you blankly.  What car?  I didn’t see a car.  Who cares about the color of the car that just went by?  Guess it’s a matter of principle, that question.  What engages your brain and what can you let slide?  Maybe noticing a car is a bad example here – we should pay attention to cars as much as possible when we are on or near the road!

Well, how about a good mystery to encourage engagement in your surroundings?  If you look at mysteries that way, they can make for a worthwhile component of schooling!  Not to mention that it’s probably really gratifying to solve a mystery – learning to think critically and examine problems from many perspectives will serve our children well.  This sort of process is buried deep within a good mystery!

Here are some items that fit the bill well.  Click on the pictures to link to more information:

Mindware carries these.  Some 245 short mysteries and puzzles to get you thinking and solving.

Similar idea – this is a deck of 52 mysteries and below you can see deck #2.

Historical mysteries – what a great combination!  There are many books in this series and they look good.  Product review states:  “designed to both entertain and teach valuable lessons from United States history, this book follows two young detectives as they solve mysteries from the nation’s past. Ninth in a popular series, this book features more maps, photos, and puzzles to be examined as Meg and Peter race across the country—from Plymouth, Massachusetts to San Francisco, California—to figure out the historical mysteries. Children are encouraged to participate in solving the mystery by answering questions, figuring out codes, and searching pictures for clues while learning important lessons about history, geography, and diversity.”

This series of books I blogged about awhile ago in a post about art history games.  Here’s what I wrote:

This isn’t a ‘game’ per say, but you’ll need a notebook and pen to ferret out the clues to help solve an art mystery.  You as the reader must help the curator determine which paintings are fake and which are real by working through various clues so that a show can be saved.  There are two other books in this series.  Highly recommended by readers as engrossing.

So, you can learn about famous works of art along with working out the solution to ‘whodunit?’

The Mysterious Benedict Society. 210 ratings and comes in at 4 1/2 stars.  Well, let’s say 4 3/4 stars, it’s probably that good!  Touted as a totally captivating read.  The author, Trenton Lee Stewart sprinkles his story with all kinds of knotty situations and problems to puzzle out – the reader might find himself stopping often to take a minute and just think.  That’s good practice!  This is the first book in a series of three books, the latest which was published in October of 2009.  Without a doubt, these are now on my ‘to read aloud yet this year’ list.

This is a board game.  From a reviewer on Amazon:  “My 8-year-old and I love this game. We play cooperatively which makes for a very pleasant, quick game, filled with natural learning for both of us! It is often silly, for example it will give a “sounds like” clue, rather than real mystery solving, but we rate it very highly and play a lot.”

I like interesting tangents that can be reframed and utilized in homeschooling.  This is one of those tangents that certainly could be fun to play with together.  I’m placing this post in the math category because it probably fits best there regarding the type of problem-solving that is required to solve a good mystery!

Inventin’s the Thing

I don’t know about you, but I invent products in my mind all the time.  Better ways of doing things, at least according to me, that is.  Which doesn’t necessarily mean that my invented thing is the right thing for everyone.  I invent sayings for bumper stickers, too, but have yet to do anything about any of these masterful inventions.  Truth be told, I think my energy resources are reserved for homeschooling and photography.  Those are the two main places I spend my energy dollars.  Maybe there’s a way to ask for a raise in energy money?  Wouldn’t that be the best?  To have unlimited energy to tackle all that our active minds conjure up.  Who do I talk to about that?

Well, I admire a good invention.  Mostly I admire the thought process and ingenuity that goes INTO an invention.  To be a good inventor you need to see things differently, break away from the crowd and go your own way.  This, I admire.  Training your brain and will to go their own way might not be a bad thing!  I found several resources (surprise!) about inventions, the people who created them, and the extraordinary changes wrought because of them.  Some of this stuff is funny and fun.  Some of it is serious business, which we should try to avoid in this blog.  I’ll do my best here to detail the fun and engaging stuff.

Some kids are wonderful inventors but they don’t yet realize it.  That’s YOUR job to help them see how wonderfully their mind works!  Together you could decorate a box with a slot in the top and you could call it “_ _ _ _ _ ‘s Box of Wildly Wonderful Creative GENIUS!”  Whenever a knock-your-socks-off idea comes up, write it down, draw it out, add some notes and pop it into the box.  You just never know what could become of some of those ideas.  Well, the idea here is to encourage your child to expand his or her thinking horizons – to not be afraid to push the boundaries of thought and creativity.  Here are some resources that you could share together as part of your schooling:

You can click on any of the pictures to get more information and read reviews!

Perfect!  It’s silly, educational and hands-on.

It’s no fun to be laughed at; you have to admire the folks who were but chose to push past the laughter and believe in what they were doing.  The author, Ira Flatow, is a host of a weekly science program on NPR.  “An enlightening and fun look at scientific discoveries and the often wacky and accidental ways in which they have led to some of the most important inventions”.

“Ever eaten a Popsicle, kept your ears warm with earmuffs or resealed your breakfast cereal with the built-in cardboard tab on the box top? Thank a kid inventor, because all those things, and quite a few more described in this book, were invented by children. A great inspiration for your own young scientist.”

This books covers the process of inventing something, describing said process in smaller bits.  This would be a great resource if your child already has something in mind to invent.  Also offers many resources for further investigation – camps around the nation, websites,  and competitions.   Definitely more of a handbook to walk you through to a patent and trademark.  Go for it!

Mistakes that Worked:  40 Familiar Inventions and How They Came to Be.  Cartoon format.  Noted in the review, however, is a comment about how Eskimos, Native Americans and Chinese are poorly portrayed in stereotypic fashion, so be aware of that.  Not cool!

Just blogged about this book in the post immediately preceding this one!

Highlights some fifty inventors from the past.  Kind of a busy book – some kids might not like this format.  I can’t see reading straight through it – you’d probably get dizzy.  But it could be fun to look up different people and learn a little here and there.  It’s thoroughly researched by the author, Gillian Clements, though, so is a good reference.  It looks like she sneaks in a little humor here and there, too.  Plus she makes a point to include women and minority inventors who have done great things.

Humorous?  Yes.  The pictures are charming.  “To be an inventor you have to be as stubborn as a bulldog”!  So it says.  So it must be.  These authors also wrote So You Want to Be President/Explorer? The President book was a Caldecott medalist.

There.  That should get you started inventing, yes?  Let your child have fun with it and start filling up that creative genius box with ideas!