Review: John Ronald’s Dragons

Earlier this year we were delighted to read a gentle introduction to the early life of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Written by Caroline McAlister and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien introduces the reader to a boy who loved dragons, hearing stories read aloud by his mother as a child.

Lovely illustrations detail important events in Tolkien’s life, such as living with an aunt after the unfortunate death of his mother, meeting and marrying his wife Edith, serving as a soldier in World War I, and even meeting at the pub with fellow writer friends (their group affectionately known as the Inklings).

Finally we see read about the “birth” of the hobbit, born of Tolkien’s imagination and brought to life through stories he told his children.

So many of us know the name Tolkien because of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit, but we know little of the man behind these stories.

This wonderful story makes Tolkien accessible to readers, young and old, and illustrates how many life experiences, even darker ones such as the death of a loved one and a world war, shaped the man who created an entire fantasy world that is loved the world over.

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In Common – July 11th Edition

In Common is my weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.

I’ve got several titles I’m trying to finish up this month. I’ve been working on my school plans for the Fall, so my personal reading has really been pushed to the side these past few weeks. I’m behind schedule, as usual, so we’ll see if I reach my goals.

I couldn’t help myself – I added another book to the pile. I saw it recommended somewhere – maybe Goodreads or Instagram and started it this month. Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner – the author really breaks down the process of learning a new language – what works and doesn’t work.

Wyner stresses practicing recall for learning a new language – writing down or saying from memory what you have studied – rather than just studying over and over.

“When you study by reading through a list multiple times, you’re practicing reading, not recall. If you want to get better at recalling something, you should practice recalling it.” (Fluent Forever, Gabriel Wyner)

Seems intuitive, but it’s a study skill that is applicable in any subject really. He recommends using flash cards, and specifically a study method called Spaced Repetition Systems – what the author refers to as flash cards on steroids.

Another point he stresses is to stop translating. So often our foreign language learning attempts have this middle step. If we are learning the word cat, we may see a picture of a cat, the English word CAT, and then the word we are learning, GATTO, as an example. But your brain has to go through this extra process of translating. It is more efficient to see the cat and learn the word gatto.

“By throwing away English, I could spend my time building fluency instead of decoding sentences word by word.” (Fluent Forever, Gabriel Wyner)

One more area the author stresses is the importance of learning proper pronunciation at the beginning – you don’t get bogged down with broken words (words that we think are pronounced one way but are actually pronounced another) and we also learn to distinguish between similar sounds, known as minimal pairs (the author use the examples of R and L in English for a native Japanese speaker – their ear isn’t trained to distinguish the R and L sounds as separate).

“If you have better listening comprehension, you’ll gain more vocabulary and grammar every time you hear someone speak your language.” (Fluent Forever, Gabriel Wyner)

One thing that I am loving about this book is the detail and research presented in this book. It’s not just a book of Do This, It Works! The author goes into a lot of detail of why and how it works. How our brains hear language and recall information. It’s very thorough.

I did manage to get in some other reading this week.

This week I have been working on the July chapter in The Life-giving Home. Sarah Clarkson writes about the importance of story in developing our own character.

“Literature is humanity’s ongoing conversation with itself about what it means to be human, to be good, to live with meaning.” (The Life-giving Home, Sally and Sarah Clarkson)

Sigh. There is my motivation for reading good books, and ensuring my children are surrounded by good books.

Speaking of good books – I’ve got a stack of books arriving over the next couple of weeks as I get ready for the new school year – I look forward to sharing our curriculum plans soon!

 

Current Reads:

 

Mondays With Frost: A Girl’s Garden

Today I wanted to share one of Frost’s poems from his 1916 Mountain Interval.

A Girl’s Garden

A neighbor of mine in the village
      Likes to tell how one spring
When she was a girl on the farm, she did
      A childlike thing.

One day she asked her father
      To give her a garden plot
To plant and tend and reap herself,
       And he said, “Why not?”

In casting about for a corner
      He thought of an idle bit
Of walled-off ground where a shop had stood,
      And he said, “Just it.”

And he said, “That ought to make you
      An ideal one-girl farm,
And give you a chance to put some strength
      On your slim-jim arm.”

It was not enough of a garden,
      Her father said, to plow;
So she had to work it all by hand,
      But she don’t mind now.

She wheeled the dung in the wheelbarrow
      Along a stretch of road;
But she always ran away and left
      Her not-nice load,

And hid from anyone passing.
      And then she begged the seed.
She says she thinks she planted one
      Of all things but weed.

A hill each of potatoes,
      Radishes, lettuce, peas,
Tomatoes, beets,beans, pumpkins, corn,
      And even fruit trees.

And yes, she has long mistrusted
      That a cider-apple tree
In bearing there today is hers,
      Or at least may be.

Her crop was a miscellany
      When all was said and done,
A little bit of everything,
      A great deal of none.

Now when she sees in the village
      How village things go,
Just when it seems to come in right,
      She says, “I know!”

“It’s as when I was a farmer…”
      Oh, never by way of advice!
And she never sins by telling the tale
      To the same person twice.

We’ve got a bit of a patchwork garden going here, and the images that are evoked when reading this poem are just priceless.

I have children of my own – one of whom has also in seasons past asked for her very own garden bed. Her best crop ended up being the bird seed she planted…

There are so many images conjured up with this poem – a child wanting to try something new, willing to do the grittiest of tasks but embarrassed if she is seen doing them, and somehow with the confidence of youth, feeling as though one try at something has made her an expert. I can certainly see myself in her!

One link to share this week. Robert Frost spent years at his Derry Farm home, and it is a Historical Site now. The website has wonderful information, about his life and his works. It is worth exploring. One link I wanted to include was the Teacher’s Resources, which includes lesson plans and ideas to incorporate Frost poems into various subjects.

Robert Frost’s Derry Farm – Teachers’ Resources

One resource listed, of interest to me, is using Frost in a more unconventional manner, to teach global warming, astronomy, botany, among other subjects. The link listed in the Teachers’ Resources is broken so here is the live link.

Robert Frost In The Petri Dish

The Ever Scholar

I’m working on a new project. Well, it’s not really a project so much as a mission. I have always been a book worm, having several books in queue at any given time. But over the last several years, between the pressure of growing a career and the pressures of growing a family, my personal reading habit has suffered.  

 
Now I find myself moving into a new phase. We are officially done growing our family, and my youngest, at 7 months, sleeps though the night regularly. My home routine s becoming more regular as the children get a little older. While my life is far from calm, with a husband, four kids and four dogs, I am finally able to find small lulls to focus on myself again. 
 
Even though I’ve gone through college and graduate school, I will be the first to tell you I still have a lot to learn. I’m not going back to school, though I am about to start a year-long course that I’m really excited about (I’ll post more details on that soon). What I am doing is reading, lots of good books, on a variety of subjects. And I’m not settling for passive reading, just to log books as “read.” I’m reading books “actively,” taking notes and annotating as I read, following rabbit trails when they appear, participating in online book groups and discussions. 
 
I realized that, as I record my notes on the books I am working through, I’d love to share them with others. Since I’m reading several books at a time, and also doing an in-depth Bible study as well, I have decided a new site would be the best thing for sharing. I will be posting my Bible sudy notes, book journaling and other personal scholar notes over at the The Ever Scholar.  I would love to have you follow my reading progress there!

Finding Children’s Books

childrensbooksI am always on the lookout for excellent book selections for the children. We love illustrated books and try to read several throughout the week as part of our school day. I will often find the children reading them together in the evening as well. 

 
While I can scan the shelves or displays at our library branch easy enough, and we do tend to come home with several books that we just grab off the shelves, our library system has several branches and content changes as books are reshelved where they are returned. 
 
I also prefer books that I’ve read some feedback on or that have been recognized in some way for their content. I regularly sit down with book lists compiled from various websites and request them from our library. Then I can pick them up from our branch’s hold shelf. Super easy! Here are some of my “go to” resources for children’s book recommendations.
 
ALA Book Awards
 
Various book medal awards are given each year by the American Library Association to recognize outstanding books. The Caldecott medal is awarded each year for children’s picture book, and the award goes to the artist, regardless of whether they are also the author of the book. The Newberry Medal is awarded each year to the author of the most distinguished contribution to  American children’s literature. The Silbert Book Medal is awarded to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book each year. 
 
Current medal recipients, as well as winners from previous years, are listed on the ALA website. Additional award lists can also be found on the ALA website under Youth Media Awards.  The ALA also puts together a list of Notable Children’s Books. This is an excellent source of children’s book titles to include in your weekly reading.
 
SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books
 
Science Magazine also includes a roundup of science and nature themed children’s books each year when they publish the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books. Often there are medal recipients included in this roundup. Current and previous years are available here
 
Goodreads
 
Goodreads  is also another great resource for book recommendations. You can “Explore” book selections by genre, and see new releases as well as most read each week. There are also Lists  – Goodread members often put together lists of their own recommendations or contribute to larger lists that are searchable. Each book selection includes reviews and commentaries by members. 
 
Pinterest
 
Pinterest is a great resource for book lists. A simple search for children’s literature will turn up a large selection of blogs and websites that contain children’s book recommendations. These book lists range from the top books “all children should read” to content specific titles such as “books about courage.”
 
Author’s Websites
 
Another way to find books is to explore a particular author. Once we’ve read one book from a particular author, we usually seek out other titles, which are often award winning books too. A simple Google search will usually turn up an author’s website and book list. For example, right now we are reading through several selections by Molly Bang. Look for an upcoming post on a science series she has put out! 
 
 
 

Learning with the Tuttle Twins

I think one of my most important jobs as a parent is educating my children about their inherent rights and liberties that exist regardless of politics or government. I believe that growing up with a firm understanding of their rights will allow them to function more confidently in the world. 

 
This past Spring we discovered a wonderful resource for learning about some of these topics. Connor Boyack’s new series, The Tuttle Twins, presents some of these ideas in a colorful, fun format that is easy to understand by a younger audience but not over-simplified.
 
The first book in the series, The Tuttle Twins Learn about the Law, introduces children to some of the ideas that Frederic Bastiat covered in his well-known collection of essays, The Law. Through colorful illustrations and fun conversations with the main characters, Ethan and Emily, concepts such as legal plunder, which might be a little heavy for younger audiences, are readily understandable.
tuttletwins_thelaw
Kyri loved The Tuttle Twins Learn About The Law, and carried around Bastiat’s The Law for weeks afterward, reading the essays.
 
We were SO excited when this first book in the series was released! Kyri walked around the house reading this book, as well as her own copy of Bastiat’s The Law, for weeks. We had wonderful conversations about the topics the book introduced.
 
I was excited to learn about the much-anticipated follow-up book that was published just before the holidays – we preordered and Kyri received it as a Christmas gift! In the second book in the series, The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil, Ethan and Emily learn about what is really required to produce something simple that we probably take for granted every day – the wooden pencil. Boyack has presented the ideas from Leonard Read’s classic essay, “I, Pencil”  in a fun way for children to really comprehend how the free market works. 
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Kyri was amazed to learn about the complicated family tree of the simple wooden pencil.
 

This series is wonderful and I can’t recommend it enough. Check out the links above and see for yourself – the illustrations are amazing and the stories are powerful. You can also click on my affiliate link to the left of the page to read more about The Tuttle Twins series.

Dreaming Dots

Kyri and I love DK’s My Art Book. This is our main art resource this year and it has wonderful information and projects to work through. Each section has a two page lesson on an art form or particular artist’s style. This is then followed by a detailed art project. The pictures are stunning and really make it easy and fun to complete the projects.

This week we had a lot of fun learning about aboriginal Australian art, and decorating our own rocks.

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We used smaller rocks than suggested in the book (because that is what we had on hand), and acrylic paint to decorate. We outlined our animal shape on each rock and then painted. We paused a few minutes between colors to keep paint from mixing. One optional step we did not do was coat the rock, or at least the painted part, in varnish to protect the decoration. We had a lot of fun with this and will end up doing several more, so we may end up varnishing them after the next batch.

dreamingdots2

 

 

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10 Little Caterpillars: September Virtual Book Club

We have been reading A LOT of books to Ender as part of his early preschool. At 2 1/2  years old,  lots of colorful, engaging books, along with plenty of messy crafts, make for an excellent early preschool curriculum.

I have really been looking forward to participating in the Virtual Book Club for Kids. This month we have focused on several wonderful selections by Bill Martin Jr., the September book club author.
Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? Board Book
Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? Board Book (World of Eric Carle)
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
Ten Little Caterpillars

I decided to plan a craft day for just one of our reading selections (and it was a tough choice!). I cut out 10 caterpillar shapes from white card stock. I free hand drew one and then used it as a template for the remaining caterpillars. This wasn’t really a work of art, I just kind of sketched something that resembled a mix between a jellybean and an oval, approximately 6 – 7 inches long.

I then cut thin strips from various colored paper. I also used a hole punch to make a pile of little dots to be used to decorate the caterpillars. Then I let the kids have at it, saving only one caterpillar for myself. Ender is still getting the hang of the whole “glue stick” thing, so we did end up with paper glued to the table as well as his hands, but he had a blast! I finished each caterpillar with a small eye drawn in with a black marker.

After our caterpillars were finished, I attached small craft sticks to each one to turn them into puppets. We then read through 10 Little Caterpillars several times, using our caterpillar puppets to interact with the gorgeous scenes in the book.

We have read this book quite often since getting it from the library, and it is one of Ender’s favorites – he loves pointing out the caterpillars and other small creatures on each page. Letting him interact with the book using the caterpillar puppets totally made his day!

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