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!




Homeschool Planners for Perfectionists

Give me a well-thought-out spreadsheet any day and I’ll give a big ol’ smile right back to you.  There’s something about empty white boxes surrounded by thin black lines that make me all happy inside.  I like filling in those little white boxes with words and stuff – guess it makes me feel like I have some control over the situation, whatever that situation might be.

I spent a little time today looking for a homeschool planner that fits our needs – and mind you, I’m kind of picky about stuff like this.  I did recently purchase the 2011 Busy Body Book to keep track of the goings on for our family, animals, my photography business and our home.  Here’s a picture of what it looks like and I wrote a separate post heralding this planner:


It’s great and will work nicely for all of the other subjects outside of homeschooling.  Originally I was going to use it for this year’s homeschooling adventure, too, but thought about it and decided that I’d like to keep the record-keeping for schooling  separate so that I can easily reference it in the future if need be and keep all of his school stuff together.  I was on the hunt for a good planner that I can tailor specifically to homeschooling.  I wanted it to be creative, pretty, well-designed, intuitive, large but not bulky, sturdy, ring-bound and cheap.  Hah!  Good luck finding this, huh?  Maybe I should just design my own.

Many families use online systems like Google Docs for homeschool tracking.  Or they download fancy software like Homeschool Tracker, of which there is a free basic version and then an upgraded version you can dish out for.  I looked at their site and kind of blanched at the plain-Janeness of it.  Very utilitarian but I’m sure it works well for many families.  There are many similar versions out there – just Google ‘homeschool planning software’ and you’ll find them.  I was hoping to find something with more panache and pizzazz – especially if I’ll be looking at it every day for the next 9 months or so.  Again, maybe I should design my own.  But that would kill the printer cartridges, wouldn’t it? 

Also, I wanted something I could get my hands around, something tactile.  I didn’t like the idea of typing everything into the computer and then having to store it, knowing that someday storage technology will change.  A nice written record sounds lovely and kind of homey, if you ask me.

A quick trip out tonight to get soymilk and cat food might have been fruitful with respect to this planner dilemma.  I picked up a weekly/monthly planner from Blue Sky Images.  Here it is:

It’s their 8.5 x 11 inch Blue Indie Stripe Planner with  week-at-a-glance and monthly bird’s-eye-view options.  It has a nice thick plastic cover, so it should hold up fine for all the times it gets stuffed into bags, dropped, run over, chewed on, hidden by Max……..  And it has awesomely large spaces to write in for the daily stuff.  I can track to my heart’s content and then some.  This is great! 

Now I can settle comfortably into a chair and get down to business in planning the remaining details of the upcoming  school year.  The summer has been a tremendous adventure with lots of home projects like planting a garden, building a chicken coop, raising eleven chicks from the day-old stage (they are six weeks old today!), constructing a securely fenced chicken yard to keep the coyotes out, painting projects, etc.  I have been one busy little camper around here, but am suddenly aware that all of the other kids in the neighborhood are IN SCHOOL this week!!!!  Eeek!  No worries – we weren’t planning to start until September 1st and I did much of this year’s planning at the end of the school year in June.  We’re all set.  I just need to sit down with a good pen and transfer those thoughts into the new planner. 

In parting I’ll leave you with a picture of Max in the chicken coop – he is accompanied by Charlotte and Georgia.  Charlotte (on the right) is a light brown Leghorn (pronounced ‘Leggern’); she is a nervous wreck and is very hard to catch.  Georgia, on the other hand, is the sweetest girl.  She is an Australorp and is growing into quite a handsome bird.  It’s freaky how much they have changed in just six weeks!

Max, Georgia and Charlotte in the new coop

Just for fun, here’s what Georgia, the Australorp, looked like at 2 days of age:


Backyard chickens are the coolest!  How I went from planners to chickens……not sure, but both of these things have been on my mind :).

More Bennies for Homeschoolers

There is a palpable buzz all around us right now; I feel like we are tucked safely and cozily into a nice comfy cocoon, getting to avoid most of the noise.  Kids up and down the street are being shuttled by their parents to stores for the annual back-to-school shopping extravaganza.  School supplies, school clothes, school lunch boxes, sleek folders, perforated notebooks, bottles of Elmers, packs of unsharpened pencils, boxes of Kleenex are all being piled high into shopping carts.  Parents are wandering the isles carrying the lists from their school districts that tell them what they need to buy, right down to the type of handi-wipes or hand sanitizer (which isn’t all that helpful, by the way – soap and water are more than adequate for killing germs) that the teachers appreciate.  Of course it’s always nice to find a little something extra special for the teacher like dry erase markers that fluoresce (do they make those?) or some other little nifty doo-dad that will hopefully put a smile on an educator’s face.  A dark chocolate bar would be a nice way to start the year, don’t you think?  The all-important backpacks!  New water bottles!  Not to mention all the new clothes, socks, shoes and underwear that will get the kids off on a fresh start into their new year.  I swear, two years ago, we went to school the first day with two grocery sacks loaded to the brim with supplies and I remember feeling a bit bitter about the whole ordeal, too.

Max and I stand on the fringes of all of this current hullabaloo and kind of happily ignore what is going on in that designated section of the store.  It all doesn’t apply and I’m blissful about not having to tote that list around and cross off items as they are found and plunked into the cart.  I also don’t have to feel angry that my school district cannot ‘afford’ basic supplies for the classroom, yet they can find the money to put up a fancy $25,000 electronic sign at our neighborhood elementary school and run it around the clock.  Ack – don’t mean to be negative, but that’s just stupid and wasteful.  The neighbors have filed a petition to make the school shut off the sign after 7 p.m. because it glares into people’s windows.  And does it really need to run all summer long?  I think the last thing kids want to see right after they get out of school for summer vacation is a flashing sign that says, “First Day of School August 16th!”  What a fun-breaker.

I’m not feeling rushed.  I’m not feeling a strain on the checkbook.  Max is not trying to adjust his sleep schedule to better fit the 7 a.m. craziness that would ensue if we had to get out of the house at 7:30 to make it to the school building on time (he attended a charter school about five miles away from our home prior to our homeschool adventure – we often took the scooter to school to try to conserve gas because it bugged me to take the car for such a short distance).  Ooo, that morning rig-a-ma-roll was not fun!  I am not having to psyche myself up again for PTA chaos, volunteer time in the classroom, those daily drives back and forth (sometimes several times in one day if I had meetings, which were most decidedly unproductive anyway and could have been conducted online or via well-written emails).  I don’t have to pack lunches and then forget them on the counter :).  That’s the best!  I tell you, all of that stress surrounding the entire school package added up and made a not-so-happy-mama which in turn affected our household and made everyone around here a little bit on edge.

I am, technically and according to categorical tables,  a stay-at-home mom, but I got very involved as a PTA president and then eventually transitioned onto the governing board of the charter school – many hours were consumed with details all in an effort to help the school and to supposedly make a difference for Max.  The irony was that as much as I wanted to help Max and his school, he was the one who had to deal with my absences and sometimes grumpy/exhausted demeanor – all because I thought I was putting my energy into the right stuff.  Not so.  Hindsight is a gift that we need to unwrap occasionally and examine!  Looking back at all of that craziness, it’s clear that my energy was inappropriately metered out and my family suffered because of it.  I paid a price, too.

Life is VASTLY different and better now that we homeschool!!!  Now the energy I invest is having a positive and direct impact on Max – it’s not deflected because of all of that administrative man-made gobbeldy gook that I used to float around in.  I feel like the energy I now expend is more in tune with my values and desires for our child.  It’s closer to the vest, so-to-speak.  This could not have worked out any better.

Moms up and down the street are rejoicing the onset of school – I can hear it in their voices and see it on their drawn faces.  They are tired.  One mom in particular I don’t think really enjoys her kids, at least that’s the impression I get.  She is always needing them to play with other kids, schedule activities out of the house, get them into summer programs – when I talk to her, she does not seem to be happy.  In fact, she’s kind of whiney.  I’m not her, her kids are not mine, her attitude is not mine, but I can’t help but think about the situation she has created for herself and the choices she is making.  Maybe, just maybe, the outcome could be different if she were to restructure the way they do things.  I don’t know – everyone’s different.  But unhappy people, as much as I don’t like to be around them too much, do make me think.  I’m not saying that I’m happy-go-lucky and giddy about life constantly, but I do feel a certain sense of peace and well-being inside that has had to be cultivated, kind of like my garden.  You plant things and then help them to grow – and that includes thoughts and actions.  All of this internal stuff needs to be nurtured for a bountiful outcome.  It’s a result of making conscious choices over time instead of blindly following the masses; getting down to the nitty-gritty and deciding how we wish to conduct our days.

I realize that homeschooling is not THE answer to happiness.  Of course it isn’t.  I’d be silly to presume that and tell everyone that it is.  Homeschooling is not a good fit for some families for a variety of reasons; sometimes it’s just completely unrealistic for finances or for family dynamics, although I do tend to think that it has the potential to help improve relationships in the family.  It’s one way of educating a child and it’s a choice.  For us, it’s a great fit and it has led to some marked changes in our lifestyle.

Yes, we are still paying taxes to benefit the public school system, but that’s about all I’m doing these days to ‘help’ the school.  I am so thankful that we homeschool.  We are excited about school starting this year, too, but for different reasons.  I am happy – to not be at Target shopping for school supplies for starters.  My happy list is extensive at this point; homeschooling has become a foundational piece in the contentment puzzle.  There are innumerable benefits to homeschooling, some of which are quite obvious, more of which are subtle and harmonious.  Here’s an older post about what we’ve seen in our family as a result of homeschooling.  It’s titled Why I Homeschool.

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.

I look at Eggs Differently Now

This has been a crazy, wonderful, buzzing summer that is humming right along.  Not much formal homeschooling going on other than daily math lessons with Teaching Textbooks.  Since the homeschool tasks have been suspended, I most definitely have turned my attention elsewhere!  I can’t sit still and do nothing.  Something has to be turning in my mind at all times, or I feel lost and unproductive.

Hence, I’ve been out nursing a garden along, painting the barn, building a chicken coop, and nurturing eleven baby chicks through their first few weeks!  How fun is this!  This is great fun and I can’t recommend the experience highly enough.  Our city leaders see fit to allow up to fifteen chickens in a backyard; even a rooster is allowable provided Mr. Cluck doesn’t annoy the neighbors.  Already I’m watching the chicks for signs of rooster machismo and crossing my fingers that they are all hens.  There’s got to be one or two roosters in the bunch I figure, so we are trying not to get too attached (because the roosters aren’t staying). 

The chicks have been here almost two weeks – they arrived as day-old hatchlings from www.mypetchicken.com.  Their yolk sac sustains them for up to 48 hours post hatch so they can be shipped immediately as long as they are kept warm.  My Pet Chicken is one of the only places I am aware of that will ship fewer than twenty-five chicks at a time, which is great!  During cooler weather they put a special heating pack in the box with the chicks so they stay nice and toasty. 

So, Max and I have been learning the ropes about chickens in the hopes that we’ll have fresh eggs in the spring.  This isn’t formal homeschooling, but I do like that he gets to see where food comes from and what it takes to produce that food.  Right now he’s interested because the chicks are so darn cute!  We’ve named them all and are enjoying our time with them.  We did a little photo shoot last week, so here are a couple of the chicks:

This is Ethel, a white Silkie bantam chick about one week old

Tallulah, an Easter Egger

And Freckles, a bantam partridge Silkie

Crossing my fingers that everyone thrives! 


Busy Body

That could mean so many things!  The older neighbor lady with the pointy nose who peeks over your backyard fence, sporting her curlers and robe……… or a body that is constantly in motion, one that never sits down!  Well, to clarify, I’m writing about a tool that you may find useful, perhaps even indispensable as you prepare for next year’s homeschooling adventure (which will probably get rolling in August or September, by the way…..which isn’t that far off).

For the last three years I have toted these around and have relied heavily upon them to keep me walking in a straight line, more or less.  They have been scribbled in to the point that some weeks at a mere glance looked completely nuts, so much so that they made me pause and wonder what I was doing with my life!  Funny how a bird’s-eye view can do that for you – those birds are on to something, I tell you.  I’m referring to the Busy Body Family Organizer/Family Calendar:

This is the one I just ordered because I liked this cover option best.  Here’s what these books look like on the inside:

I can tailor this perfectly to all things US.  Usually the categories go something like this:  Max, Me, Family, Animals, House, but they can be changed to suit any mood.  Some weeks can even say ‘Me, Me, Me, Me and Me’!  No, just teasing.  I love the lined sheet on the left side and constantly fill that with lists and other oddities that tumble forth when I want to remind myself to take care of some task of some sort.  This book has saved me more than a few times!  I save them and throw them into a plastic storage container in case someday I want to look back at all of those crazy, busy body days!  Which I will probably do someday.

Funny, too, how when the new one arrives I write ever-so-neatly in it.  After a month or so I’m scribbling madly in it just to get the words down.  Soon it becomes dog-eared, bent and dirty.  Some weeks go by without so much as a mark because it’s either way too quiet or I’ve given up and thrown in the towel and am lying on the floor somewhere, curled up in a fetal position because I can’t keep up.  At any rate, these calendars make life a bit easier to manage!

You can also grab a wall calendar, or they have a nifty pad that would lay on the top of a desk.

I find this system incredibly helpful, especially when homeschooling.   Check out their website!  These, of course, are also available on Amazon.

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!