Mary Poppins

mary poppins

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers, originally published in 1934. 224 pages.

“Don’t you know that everybody’s got a Fairyland of their own?”
Disney, especially, as one of the first things we noticed was that the book P.L. Travers wrote is pretty different from the movie Walt Disney produced.
Our third grader decently read this one and enjoyed it a great deal. She read large portions to me throughout the book, but I myself have not read it. The grade at the bottom will be hers, not mine.
This is a story we all know well by now. A chipper, cheerful, magical nanny floats into the banks household and whips the children into shape. It wasn’t long before our daughter noted, “Mary Poppins was much nicer in the movie!” There were also more children in the book than in the movie.
In fact, there were quite a few differences between the book and the movie. However, since we have had numerous occasion to dissect the differences between real books or fairy tales and sanitized Disney versions, our kid took the differences in stride.
The book was well written, stretched her eight-year-old vocabulary, and left her looking forward to reading more Mary Poppins books. It was a win.
She gives it an A.

 

Little House on the Prairie

little-house-prairie

Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Published in 1935. 352 pages.

After my review of Little House in the Big Woods, I decided to skip Farmer Boy, the second book published in the series, and proceed with reading Little House on the Prairie as our nightly read aloud. The girls were very interested in what happens next with the Ingalls family and Farmer Boy is a bit of a digression from the series.

Little House on the Prairie chronicles what happen as the Ingalls family leaves their home in the Big Woods of Wisconsin and set out to build a new home on the prairie in Kansas.

Along the way they experience challenges small and great, but there is always love, solidarity, and Pa’s protection (not to mention his gun) to get them through. In this installment, Jack the family dog plays a prominent role, which the kids enjoyed.

The Native Americans (Indians) in that part of the country were an ever-present fear,  which Wilder handles with a fair amount of tact and finesse.

As this is a very well known series of books, I will keep this brief. The kids love it and are eagerly anticipating the next books which tell the saga of the Ingalls family.

It has taken a while to get through this one, as some nights -particularly during basketball season- leave us too tired to keep our eyes open. In addition, on a recent trip to the library, the girls talked their father into checking out Phillip Reeve’s Cakes in Space to read to them. We ended up alternating the two stories at night.

My kids knew I would never be interested in reading that particular story to them, but it worked out well. He not only read it but included appropriate sound effects, both human and technological.

As for Little House, if you haven’t read them do. Whether you’re 8 or 80, they are good books.

Grade: A

 

 

Strawberry Girl

strawberry-girl

Strawberry Girl, by Lois Lenski. Originally published in 1945. 194 pages. Winner of the 1946  Newberry Award for Children’s literature.

We’re reading this to my 4th and 5th grade Florida history  co-op class and they seem to be enjoying it a great deal. Readers may recall that last semester we read The Lion’s Paw, another Florida classic children’s novel built on the life and topography of 1940’s Florida.

Strawberry Girl is probably one of the least childlike children’s book I have ever read (by post modern standards), but it’s a good book and not too heavy for children to read and enjoy.

Lois Lenski put a lot of time and research into the lives and culture of what are known as Florida Crackers. That is, native Floridians whose roots go much deeper than World War II. As described by Florida Backroads Travel:

He or she is from a family that was here long before the huge population explosions in Florida after World War Two. He or she is almost always Caucasian.

They and their ancestors lived in Florida and prospered before the days of cars, highways, mosquito control, air conditioning, medicare, social security and government welfare.

It is with this backdrop that Lois Lenski wrote Strawberry Girl, a tale of two Central Florida families whose heads bump heads. The new family in town, the Boyers, are farmers while the Slaters, who had lived on the neighboring property for generations, were cattlemen.

Before the Florida legislature passed a fencing law in 1949, cattlemen let their cows and other livestock roam pastures unhindered to graze wherever they desired. Florida was  very active cattle country at the turn of the century and is still a big cattle raising state. These free roaming cattle often proved to be quite a nuisance to adjacent homesteaders whose income was derived primarily from agriculture.

When the Boyers, wearied by the Slaters cows and hogs trampling their strawberries and eating their other crops, decide to build a fence around their property, a feud breaks out between the two families. Since the Slaters found the Boyers’ “biggety’ ways distasteful from the very beginning, it was a long simmering fight which boils over when Bihu Boyer puts a sound whipping on Sam Slater after Slater poisons his mule. Things escalate even further after that, until Lenski wraps up the book with a neat and tidy religious conversion at the end leaving the reader to surmise that afterwards, the families will live side by side in peace.

One of the first hurdles to get over when reading books set in the old South, is the dialect. I mentioned this when I reviewed Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was written in black dialect not long after Reconstruction. Even though this particular book explores Cracker culture which is white, it was still poorer people speaking in a Southern dialect, which takes some getting used to. However, it is well worth getting over that hurdle:

“Thar goes our cow, Pa!” said the little girl.
“Shore ‘nough, that do look like one of our cows, now don’t it?”
The man tipped his slat-backed chair against the wall of the house. He spat
across the porch floor onto the sandy yard. His voice was a lazy drawl. He closed his
eyes again.
“She got our markin’ brand on her, Pa. A big S inside a circle,” said Essie.
The man, Sam Slater, looked up. “Shore ‘nough, so she has.”
“She’s headin’ right for them orange trees, Pa,” said Essie.
“Them new leaves taste mighty good, I reckon,” replied her father. “She’s hungry,
pore thing!”
A clatter of dishes sounded from within the house and a baby began to cry.
“You’d be pore, too, did you never git nothin’ to eat,” said the unseen Mrs. Slater.
There was no answer.
The sun shone with a brilliant glare. The white sand in the yard reflected the
bright light and made the shade on the porch seem dark and cool.
“She might could go right in and eat ’em, Pa,” said the little girl. Her voice was
slow, soft and sweet. Her face, hands and bare legs were dirty. At her feet lay some
sticks and broken twigs with which she had been playing.
Pa Slater did not open his eyes.
If it isn’t obvious to my regular readers by now, I thoroughly enjoy reading books which explore the history of this state where I have lived my entire life. As it turns out, it’s a history far richer and deeper than Mickey Mouse. However, no matter where you hail from, this is an excellent book.

Grade: A

Grade level: 4th-6th

Content advisory: Violence, though mostly alluded to. Discussions of alcoholism, and killing of animals in retaliation. See full parental review of content at Plugged In.

Little House in the Big Woods

I expect this to be the last post of 2016 so if I don’t get back here, have a wonderfully blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year! And keep reading!

little-house-big-woods

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Originally published in 1932. 256 pages.

This book was our most recent bedtime read loud and our children enjoyed it immensely. They excitedly looked forward each night to what would happen next in the lives of Laura, Mary, Pa, and the rest of the Ingalls family.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around the reading Laura Ingalls Wilder but I’m very glad that I finally did, and that I get to share it with my children. Children who, incidentally view the life and times of Laura and her family through an extremely idyllic lens. While they find the idea of life in the big woods highly desirable, I could not get past the though of woods and mountain lions right outside our door.

The detail with which Laura Ingalls wilder described all that was involved in making maple syrup, butchering and curing animal meats, harvesting wheat, and other chores that were a common part of 19th century life were also a source of curiosity and research for the kids.

I highly recommend these books for your upper elementary aged child. The illustrations in this particular edition are very well done and the kids liked the artwork as well. Some of the sketches were black and white, others in color, but all were beautiful.

Because of the fascination and interest our kids had with this book, the first in the series which we will be continuing, we have started watching season one of the Little House television series that began in 1974. Because I was far too young to have watched or even remember those first few seasons, it has been an event for me as well. The kids were a little bummed that the episodes they have watched so far didn’t quite match up with the book. It provided a brief lesson on the ways that television shows and movies are adapted from books.

If you haven’t read these books I recommend them. They are great books to read whether you are 12 years old, or 42.

Grade: B+

The Wind in the Willows

wind-in-the-willows

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. Originally published in 1908. 197 pages.

One of the biggest delights of homeschooling has been the opportunity to read classic books with my children that I never read -nor had read to me- when I was a child. One book that we recently used as a bedtime read aloud is this Kenneth Grahame classic. This is one of those timeless books that captures the imaginations of children across generational divides.

Our children thoroughly enjoyed the adventures of Mole, Rat, and Toad in this fantastical tale that often made you forget that you were reading about the antics of animals. That is, until those few moments when they have interaction within the human world.

The richness of the language made the book both refreshing and educational. I was occasionally stopped and asked for the definition of this word or the meaning of that turn of phrase. Overall, the adventures and lives of the characters was continuously riveting for both my girls and me.  There really isn’t much I can add here that hasn’t been offered again and again about this wonderful book, so I’ll wrap this up with a few quotes for the sake of those of you who haven’t read it. It is my hope that as you take in the rich and captivating writing, you might be inclined to pick it up, even if your kids are all grown up. Recall the words of C.S. Lewis.

This brought laughter:

“Secrets had an immense attraction to him, because he never could keep one, and he enjoyed the sort of unhallowed thrill he experienced when he went and told another animal, after having faithfully promised not to.”

This sparked conversations of winter:

“No animal, according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter.”

And this reminds of the importance of hospitality:

“There he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simple meal, in which, remembering the stranger’s origin and preferences, he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes.”

Grade: A

Seriously, read it. The adventures of the characters within, Toad perhaps most of all, are offered with humor, wit, and lessons of life woven between every interaction.

 

 

The Lion’s Paw

lions-paw-book

The Lion’s Paw, by Rob White. Published in 1946. 243 pages.

12-year-old Penny and her 9-year-old brother Nick live in an orphanage on the east coast of Florida. Nick doesn’t much remember living anywhere else and Penny just barely remembers a life before they came there. They hate it, and Nick dreams of running away, but his sister is terrified at the prospect. The orphanage doesn’t like it when kids run away and those who try are almost always caught and made an example of. She tries to talk Nick out of it, but he is determined.

Penny can’t let her little brother run off on his own of course so they escape together, running towards the ocean, hoping to find a boat in which sail away. They determined to start a new life away from the orphanage, which they referred to as the “eganahpro”, because they only ever saw the word written backwards through the wrought iron gates which held them captive.

After Penny and Nick make a run for it  and set off on their adventure, they have the good fortune of running into 15-year-old Ben on the wharf. Ben not only has the boat that he inherited from his father (an WWII Navy lieutenant  presumed dead after a year MIA), but life has thrown him a curve ball inspiring him to run away from his uncle’s as well. The three children set sail together on an adventure far too big for children of their age and station, yet rise to the occasion.

This is an obscure book which once enjoyed a passionate following among Florida readers and educators in the 1960’s and 70’s, and then was out of print for a very long time. I only encountered it because I was looking for books specifically about Florida and Old Florida life. Re-entering the market in 2004, The Lion’s Paw is again enjoying a resurgence among those who know enough to seek it out.

Make no mistake however, this touching, fast paced novel is good reading no matter where you live,where you’re from, or how old you are. C.S. Lewis’ admonition about the timelessness -and age defying quality- of a well told story certainly fits here. Rob White hits all the right notes as the children wrestle with trying to out run the adults searching the seas for their masterfully disguised boat, battle against nature, and grapple with their out fears and uncertainties about the future they face on a journey bigger than themselves.

If you have kids who might like a great story of children on an adventure at sea, you should try and get your hands on a copy of Robb White’s The Lion’s Paw. It might also be a great idea to print a map of Florida’s Okeechobee Waterway to track the kids’ trip from one side of the Florida peninsula to the other.

Grade: A

Content advisory: Mayhem and adventure on the high seas, but nothing the average 9-year old can’t handle. Lots of nautical terminology which provides a good opportunity for the kids to do some research on what it all means.

 

 

Honey For a Child’s Heart

honey-child-heart

Honey for a Child’s Heart (3rd edition), by Gladys Hunt.1989. 224 pages.

I am always trying to decide which books we should check out from the library, which books are worth spending the money to add to our personal library, and which books are a good fit for our children’s personalities, reading tastes, and abilities. A random trip to the local library overwhelms with staggering numbers of books on the shelves, purportedly to enrich children’s reading, and more are added every year.

One of the things I discuss quite often with other home school mothers is this very subject, and one of them asked me recently, “Have you ever read Honey for a Child’s Heart?” As it turns out, I had never even heard of the book, but I wasted no time getting my hands on a copy and read it in a much quicker space of time than is typical for me.

However, despite the wonderful thoughts inspired by the book, and there were quite a few, there were also portions I felt were unnecessarily pretentious. I couldn’t stop myself, at the end, from thinking that Anthony Esolen’s  10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child was much better executed and matter of fact while equally well written and eloquent.

Honey for a Child’s Heart is different in that it is an explicitly Christian book, with a strong emphasis on bolstering the Christians values that the parents are already imparting to the child.It also focuses primarily on reading while 10 Ways touches on various aspects of developing a child’s natural imaginative bent.

Thankfully, unlike so many Christians today, Mrs. Hunt recognizes the danger and deficit we inflict on children when we take the position that only those things explicitly marked “Christian” are of any value or worth. More than that, this mindset has in recent years resulted in a severe dearth of imaginative, creative writing from Christian writers:

Since words are the way we communicate experiences, truth, and situations, who should know how to use them more creatively than people who are aware of their Creator? The world cries out for imaginative people who can spell out truth in words that communicate meaningfully to people in their human situation. And of all people, committed Christians ought to be the most creative for they are indwelt by the Creator.

Yet tragically, Christians often seem the most inhibited and poverty-stricken in human expression and creativity. Part of this predicament comes from a false concept of what is true and good. The fear of contamination has led people to believe that only what someone else has clearly labeled Christian in safe. Truth is falsely made as narrow as any given sub-culture, not as large as God’s lavish gifts to men. Truth and excellence have a way of springing up all over the world, and our role as parents is to teach our children how to find and enjoy the riches of God and to reject what is mediocre and unworthy of Him.

The thing that I found most valuable in the book was, I assume, the reason my friend recommended it. The entire final 100 pages of the 224 page book is a bibliography of good books for parents to consider reading to their children or adding to their library. Broken out by age groups and topics of interest, Mrs. Hunt concisely listed hundreds of books which she believes meets the standard of both true and good, and most of them are not explicitly labeled Christian, though a  few are.

I also appreciated her emphasis on making time to read for oneself as well as to your children, even at the expense of a perfect house. It was a bit of comfort last night since I spent the better part of all my weekend downtime reading rather than catching up on the laundry. Reading is a lost art of sorts, and it is worth it to make time for reading.

Overall, it was a good book, and I’m sure that I am way behind the curve of the typical Classical homeschoolers in that I just learned of its existence a couple of weeks ago. If for no other reason than the book list  and the embracing of great literature of various genres, it’s worth a look.

Grade: B+

No content advisory required.

Another good place to find s list of “living books” is here on the Living Books List.