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!




Some Fun Summer Books

I’m addicted to a few things.  Here they are in no particular order:

1.  dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa

2.  iced green tea

3.  my computer – if I’m forced to be away from it for more than a few days, I start to shake

4.  chickens!  No, not as in ‘eating’ them, but as in raising them, enjoying them and harvesting their nummy eggs

5.  most animals, really.  I’m pro-pet for sure!  Except for maybe tarantulas and lizards.  I can’t seem to muster affection for them.  Guess an animal needs to have fur or feathers in order for me to connect with him or her (wait a minute……tarantulas have fur.  So maybe I’ll just toss the previous sentence out the window.)

6.  good reading material be it Backyard Poultry magazine (my latest subscription), Eating Well, or a fabulously engrossing novel about a woman in the 1940’s living on a chicken ranch (seriously – it’s called The Egg and I and was written by Betty McDonald.  I just read it and laughed my way through it).

6.  AMAZON!  I use Amazon almost daily to research and pile things into my wish list.  Then I visit the library.

Max needs good books to stick his nose into, too.  Today he’s started to break into these clever and fun books; it makes me feel good when I peek in his room before lights out to see him hungrily devouring a book.  Oftentimes after I’ve shut off his light, he turns it back on when he thinks I’m out of range so that he can keep reading.  Should I get after him for this?  I generally don’t – there’s nothing like losing yourself in a book.

Here are the books we’ve recently added to the bookshelves for summer  reading –  I chose them based on pure fun and entertainment.  Click on each book to learn more about the story lines!

This is a ‘choose your own adventure’ book with 3,856 possible endings.  It’s a maze of choices and outcomes!  Kind of like life.  I’ve heard Max laughing several times this evening while this book was open on his lap.

Some friends returned this book to us today and I remembered that we liked the story a lot, so I’m including it in this list.  Humphrey is the kind of hamster you need to meet!  A feel-good story.  Humphrey continues to have other adventures in other books, but we haven’t read them.

Graphic novels are a bit of a buzz these days.  Max likes them and can get through them pretty quickly.  He always goes back for more, though, and re-reads parts and pages.  Dave Pilkey’s latest book about two bumbling cavemen is not out just yet, but will be in early August. 

Of course, Calvin and Hobbes carried him through the first part of the summer.  I LOVED Calvin and Hobbes while growing up and consider those books to be part of a large chunk of my childhood.  That type of humor is priceless and oh-so-fun.  I am so happy that Max has taken a liking to them – Calvin is one interesting child!

I was hoping to read the Little House on the Prairie series to him over the summer, but it’s just not happening.  Someday we are going to dive into James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small series, too.  Another big chunk of my childhood – such grand memories of reading about life in Yorkshire and a country vet!  That’s bliss.

Happy summer reading!  Hope you have your nose in some good books, too.

A List of Books Read

Every day (well, not EVERY day, but 98% of our school days), Max gets read to.  I plunk down on the couch or in a comfy chair, he grabs his Nerf sword or piles of Lego guys or whatever gadget is close at hand, and we begin the ritual.  I read anywhere from two to five chapters (depending on how gripping the tale is) and Max slays the imaginary demons cavorting about the room; good thing we can’t really see them – we wouldn’t hang around.  Actually, I think he’s past that stage.  I think he’s more into perfecting his moves now as he brandishes the sword.  He takes karate lessons twice a week, so the Kenpo style is becoming sealed in his muscles.  It’s more about form than function right now.

My voice has gotten so much stronger over the past year!  No more raspies – I can read and read and read some more and not experience vocal cord angst.  I’ve also gotten better at lyrical rhythm and have tremendous respect for narrators.  You really have to be present to deliver a great performance!  Sometimes your mind wanders and then the words begin to drone or you stumble over them.

Despite persistent doubts that he is even listening to the story line, Max never fails to surprise me.  He picks up nearly every nuance of the character’s situation as he bounces around the room, sometimes almost out of earshot.  If asked to clarify something, he can clarify in a snap.  For Max, movement is a prerequisite to absorbing something.  Yesterday he devised a game called Trampoline Math wherein we jumped on the trampoline and skip counted the 8’s and 9’s and then drilled the multiplication table back and forth.  Math Catch is also another option.  Both are effective!  Today we tried a repeat performance of Trampoline Math, but it was too cold!  A couple of bounces and we ran for warmer hills.

Since the end of August we’ve covered a fair amount of literature.  Here is a partial list of what has been read with a rating on a scale of 1 to 10 of how much we liked each book.  Ten, of course, means stellar:

9.  Survival story.  Fit into our unit on Cetacea.

10! Same unit.  Really nice look at the life in a humpback whale pod.

7. What’s with Captain Nemo, anyway?  He’s an enigma.


4 – we didn’t make it all the way through.  Too cumbersome for our tastes.

10! Jay Hosler is a marvelous author.  Learn about life in a bee hive.

10! Poor Ranofer – what a tormented life.  Somewhat graphic as his brother is abusive, but good prevails over evil in the end.  Fit into the unit on Ancient Egypt.

10++++ The language and imagery in this book is beautiful.

6 – got too confusing after awhile.  Time travel can do that.  Ancient Egypt unit.

5 – eh.  Didn’t love it.


9 – cute story

The current read.  It’s good, so maybe an 8.  I think it’s odd that the author is marketing this toward ‘gifted’ children – ALL children have the potential to enjoy this story.  I don’t like labels, except, of course, when they provide nutritional information.

10+++ (seriously, check into these books – so much science and so much fun)


Love.  10+.

Listened to this as an audio CD from the library.  My voice got a rest!  Max liked this one. 9.

7+.  You get attached to the Canadian goose and the little girl.

10++ GREAT adventure, survival story.  Kept us on the edge of our seats.  Kind of graphic and scary in places.

10+.  Fantastic.  Sweet and sad, so bittersweet.  Happy ending.

7. These are quick reads that hold on to the essence of the original story, plus you get some pictures to help embellish the story line.

8. Good love story.


There are others such as Justin Denzel’s Hunt for the Last Cat, Rick Riordan’s Percy and the Olympians series, some of the Harry Potter books, Robin Hood, etc.

Over the summer I’d like to read the Little House on the Prairie books to him – before he gets older and doesn’t think I should read those too him.  They left such an indelible impression on me about pioneers and their struggles.  Then someday, the James Herriot series will be a must, too (All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, etc.)

I purchased the following book several years ago as a resource to good literature.  It has proven itself time and time again and I highly recommend it as a permanent member of your bookshelf.  The author provides excellent lists of books categorized by age for children through the teen years.  This is definitely one to take to the library with you!  Note that the author maintains a strong Christian slant in her writing; we homeschool in a  secular fashion and have found this book to be quite a wonderful resource of great literature!

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!

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?

Cobblestone Publishing

Cobblestone Publishing is responsible for many unique publications, definitely not run-of-the-mill – one of which is a gem in children’s literature.  CRICKET magazine has been around for over thirty years mainly because it’s held fast to publishing quality stories that are not your general fare.  You won’t find Captain Underpants or Junie B. Jones in these pages!  Nothing wrong with those books really, but I just see them everywhere and have begun to think that people are losing their imaginations.  Sometimes it’s necessary to look beyond the mainstream and dig a little deeper to get to the good stuff.

My only complaint is that the magazine is a little pricey at $34.00 for nine issues throughout a year.  And since it’s only published nine times in a twelve month period, you have to wait awhile between issues.  Oftentimes with stories that carry over from issue to issue you have to go back and remind yourself about what happened in the previous issue before continuing on.  This mag is targeted to the 9 to 14-year-old audience and does so brilliantly with tremendous variety in the styles of writing.  Each issue is approximately 50 pages long and you won’t run into a single ad!  Gotta’ love that tactic, especially in times like these when we are bombarded with noise everywhere.  I suppose you could argue that blogging is a form of noise, too, huh?  I’ll try to pipe down.  Sorry.

It’s not solid corner-to-corner story writing, but is broken up with puzzles, short comics, recipes, activities, too.  We’ve been enjoying the offerings so far and usually save these stories for some bedtime reading.  I’m hooked right now on a story about the terrible atrocities suffered by the Chickasaw people and would like to get my hands on the first issue in which the story began.  Should you wish to peruse a sample of CRICKET magazine, here is a link for you.

CRICKET is just one of the great magazines Cobblestone Publishing produces.  If you want to focus on science, history and art, MUSE would be a nice choice:

COBBLESTONE Magazine focuses on American History:

DIG Magazine celebrates the discoveries in archaeology:

CALLIOPE Magazine concentrates on world history:

ODYSSEY highlights the world of science:

And last but not least, FACES helps kids to learn about different cultures:

Now, these are the magazines specially created for the 9 to 14-year-old set.  There are many others tailored to younger and older children.  Plus their website has a carefully chosen selection of books and games to look over, too.

You can even change your subscription to any one of their other magazines at no cost, too.  That’s a nice option!  We just might have to pick our way over some cobblestones, muse over the selections, ponder the odyssey of options, dig our way into some knowledge and see whose faces we meet!  Maybe we’ll get to meet Calliope.  Maybe I’ll get my money’s worth by switching subscriptions each month!

Fun With Shaving Cream

Language arts around here occasionally consists of spelling, vocabulary words and grammar.  All in English for the time being.  Here are a couple of fun things we’ve tried recently to spice up the time spent on language components:

*  spread a thin layer of shaving cream on your kitchen table – shoot for a long rectangular shape.  Give your kiddo a spelling word and let him or her write it out in the shaving cream.  Max thought we were going to do the boring old white board again; the look on his face was worth the mess we made.  Don’t worry – it cleans up easily and doesn’t leave a residue – just a pleasant shaving cream smell!

*  ask your child to close his/her eyes, open the dictionary and point to a word.  If it’s a reasonable word, use it as a mystery spelling or vocabulary word for the week and add it to the list of words you might already be working on.  We hit “inhibit” the other day.  Or, see if your child can stump Mom or Dad with a word he/she finds in the dictionary.  Mom or Dad has to spell it and define it.  Put your child in charge!  Of course there’s always a small chance that you’ll run into an inappropriate word…..hmm.  No time like the present to go through the dictionary with some whiteout!

*  dictation is not, I repeat not, the most exciting endeavor.  When we’ve used it I’ve tried hard to make it more enticing, so have used quotes from Max’s current all-time favorite mischief-maker, Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes.  Or I’ll take his spelling words and come up with goofy sentences that incorporate several of the words.  He wrote out a sentence about fascinating thumb wrestling once.  This only lasts for a short while in our house because Max doesn’t like to write.  Have I mentioned that???

I’ve already highlighted Daily Grams as a grammar resource a few times.  It’s not particularly silly or outlandish, but what I do like about it is that you can dish it out  in very small doses.  One page a day will get you through the school year.   You can purchase the teacher’s resource, but I just use the Internet to look up things as needed.  It’s subtly repetitive so over time the concepts really sink in.  It’s been a nice refresher course for my older brain, too.

Daily Grams will definitely be on the docket for next year’s curriculum, too.

I believe the best option available to you for good sound development of the language arts is to read aloud to your child.  Even if he or she is fifteen!  Read all kinds of things.  Blogs, novels, short stories, poetry, recipes that sound nummy, articles from Time magazine, directions to games…….whatever!  Just read.  Read until you are blue in the face.  Watch your child/ren gradually gravitate closer to you in body and in spirit.  The cadence, pronunciations, rhythms and intonations you impart will have a marked impact on their vocabulary and comprehension of how our words are woven together into vessels of communication.  Push the envelope – read above them, below them.  Set your sights high and start heading to the library.  You’ll be amazed with how much paper surface area you can cover together and you’ll experience a wonderful sense of accomplishment together as you check books off of your list.  The mind’s eye is a magical place to visit – go there frequently with your child.