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Brace Yourselves: We Are Not Bookworms

Everyday HomeschoolingShelli Bond PabisComment
Brace Yourselves: We Are Not Bookworms

If you’re like me, you might feel a little awed, or perhaps a little intimidated, by certain homeschool families who seem to read all the books. I mean, they read so many books that they can constantly generate lists and lists of books to recommend to other readers. Classics. Adventures. Science stories. Biographies. History. Young Adult. Storybooks. (Ahem. Just read this blog and home/school/life magazine to find these lists and the people who write them.

While I take six months to read, for example, one adult book for myself and one young adult book to my boys for their homeschool “literature” requirement, these people are literally reading stacks and stacks of books.

How fair is that?!

Okay, it’s totally fair. And it’s totally cool. I love that there are avid readers in the world, and I love the book recommendations. I would love to read all the books too, but I realized a long time ago that this was impossible for me, mostly because it takes me so long to finish a book. I also decided I wouldn’t sign up for any program that told me what I should read to my students because I knew I’d never finish them, and even if I could, I knew I wouldn’t agree with all the selections anyway. (For the same reason, I resist the urge to join book clubs.) Instead, I pick one good book that is calling me to read it, and I enjoy it until the end, and I don’t worry about the fact that I’ll never get around to reading all the books. (Even though that’s so, so sad.)

I read so slow that my husband thought it would be funny to start buying me huge books. (So, obviously, this is partly why it takes me a long time to read them.) Fortunately, I love the long classics. In the past couple of years, I’ve read …And Ladies of the Club and Anna Karenina. Yep, just two. I did read a few shorter non-classics and nature books too.

This past year I tried to read to my boys in the mornings before we did our lessons, but we only managed that about three days a week, if that. My literature-readaloud was The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich because not only is Erdrich one of my favorite authors, the subject matter also covered American history. It took us about five months to finish it. Yep, that’s right; it took us five months to finish a 256-page book.

It took that long because, as I said, we didn’t read everyday, and even when we could read, I didn’t always get to it. We had appointments to get to, or sometimes we read our history books, or I felt we needed to spend more time on math. Sometimes I just skipped reading altogether so that the boys could have a shorter lesson time. My boys need short lesson times because they need to move. 

When my boys were younger, I imagined us going to the library at least twice a month and coming home with stacks of books to read together on the sofa. I wanted us to become a family of bookworms. But this never happened for several reasons. 1) My boys liked listening to books, but not enough for us to get through stacks and stacks of them before they were due at the library. And I also found out that I didn’t like sitting that much either! 2) We don’t live near a big library. (We live near a very small library, and when my eldest son was three and four-years-old, I did take him there occasionally, and we checked out many storybooks. But everything is easier when you have just one child.)

I would say we are readers, but we aren’t bookworms. Besides the sporadic morning readalouds, I read to my boys most nights before bed, but just for a few minutes each. We finish these books faster because we’re reading them everyday. This past year, I read the My Side of the Mountain trilogy and Redwall to my 10-year-old. Now we’re reading Mossflower. 

Even though we only read for a few minutes at any given time, and I don’t have a long list of books to recommend to you, I know my boys are growing up to become readers. This is because our house is full of books, and we read something almost everyday. This past year and a half, as his reading skills have greatly improved, my 10-year-old began reading graphic novels silently to himself – every day! (Yay.) My 7-year-old can’t read yet, but he says he wants to know how to read so that he can read the graphic novels his older brother is reading. 

So I’m just saying: You don’t have to read all the books. You just have to read a little bit of something almost everyday.


Reading ListSuzanne RezelmanComment
Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

CABIN-EXTRAVANGANZA, THE AFTERMATH: There’s always a bit of a dip in my Library Chicken score the week after the cabin. After all, once I’m back home I have to (1) return all those library books that I checked out for the cabin (which may take several trips), (2) catch up on TiVo (new episodes of The Great British Baking Show, So You Think You Can Dance, AND Grantchester on Masterpiece!), and finally (3) stare vaguely in the direction of the bags that need to be unpacked and laundry that needs to be done before deciding that “Nah, it can wait 'til next week,” (even though next week is the last week before school starts for the non-homeschoolers in the family, meaning that I’ll be frantically running around getting ready for orientation and there’s no way any laundry will get done). As you can see, with that whirlwind of activity there’s hardly any time at all for reading.


Frederick Douglass by William S. McFeely

I brought several big important biographies to the cabin but didn’t really get around to them. Fortunately, I was able to get to this one before it was due back. A thorough and very readable history of an important American life.
(LC Score: +1)


Passion and Affect by Laurie Colwin

Several years ago I zipped through all of Colwin’s novels, but I haven’t gotten to her short stories before now. I found this collection a bit disappointing—the stories were okay, if faintly depressing and not very memorable—until I read the two linked stories (“The Girl with the Harlequin Glasses” and “Passion and Affect”) about cousins Guido and Vincent and the women they love. Those two stories were fresh and funny and sweet and worth the price of admission all on their own.
(LC Score: 0, off my own shelves)


High Rising by Angela Thirkell

It’s been about three years since my last reread of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series, which means that I’m overdue. (Also, I sometimes need a break from big important Frederick Douglass biographies.) Angela Thirkell wrote 29 books set in Anthony Trollope’s fictional Barsetshire, publishing roughly one a year throughout the 1930s and beyond, taking her characters through WWII and (just barely) into the 1960s. I’ll confess that I haven’t read all 29, but I have a healthy selection on my bookshelves and I turn to them when I am in need of charming delightfulness. Unfortunately, that occasionally comes along with the occasional hint of anti-Semitism (sadly not shocking in a British novel of the 1930s). This first book introduces us to popular author Laura Morland, her precocious young son, Tony, and their old friend George Knox, who in a display of poor judgement has taken on a pushy, bad-tempered, husband-hunting secretary, leaving Laura and co. to set things right.
(LC Score: 0. off my own shelves)


Bone Vol. 2: The Great Cow Race by Jeff Smith

This Week in Comics: As I’ve mentioned before, the Bone series by Jeff Smith has been acclaimed by critics and loved by various children in my own household, but I think I have to reluctantly admit that it’s not for me. There’s a lot here that is clever and charming, but the overall combination of silliness and seriousness doesn’t gel for me the way it seems to for others. That said, I’d still recommend it without hesitation for young readers interested in graphic novels.
(LC Score: +1)


Up From History: The Life of Booker T. Washington by Robert J. Norrell
Yep, this is one of those big important bios I didn’t get to in time. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)


Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott
And here’s more interesting history that was due back at the library. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)


The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
So I was excited to see that my library had this new (2009) translation, complete and unabridged in English for the very first time! But I didn’t realize that it was over 700 pages! And when I tried the first couple of chapters I only understood about 50 percent of what she was saying! I think I’ll have to clear my calendar before my next attempt at this one, and maybe do some background reading about de Beauvoir for context, because I was very seriously lost. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)


The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith
Smith is an original and compelling YA writer and I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, but I guess it’ll have to wait a little bit longer. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)


Library Chicken Score for 8/1/17: -2
Running Score: 80


On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:

Mother and Son by Ivy Compton-Burnett (the queen of acerbic dialogue)

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (author of my new all-time favorite fantasy series

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey (I’ve been aware of this title for forever but I don’t actually have any idea what it’s about)

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (Sherlock fanfic by the author of Magpie Murders)

37 Fun Ways to Celebrate the First Day of Homeschool

Everyday Homeschoolingamy sharonyComment
37 Fun Ways to Celebrate the First Day of Homeschool

It's that time again! We've rounded up some great ways to celebrate your first day of the new homeschool year, whether you want to keep it simple at home or take a big adventure together.

  1. Go roller skating.
  2. Visit a paint-your-own pottery studio to create a special back-to-school souvenir.
  3. Have a backyard campout.
  4. Give everyone a small budget, and hit a flea market to refresh your homeschool space for the new year.
  5. Spend the whole day in your pajamas.
  6. Work on a volunteer project together.
  7. Plant a container garden.
  8. Drive to the nearest river and go tubing.
  9. Set your alarm to wake up and watch the sunrise together. (You can take a nap later!)
  10. Go out for a fancy brunch.
  11. Ask everyone to make a First Day of School mixtape and trade your mixes.
  12. Take a hot air balloon ride.
  13. Have a karaoke party.
  14. Make a first-day-of-school time capsule.
  15. Take back-to-school photos.
  16. Compete in a backyard Olympics competition.
  17. Write a letter to yourself to open on the last day of the school year. 
  18. Go geocaching.
  19. Pull out your art supplies, and create self-portraits.
  20. Make new school year’s resolutions.
  21. Take a day hike.
  22. Have a karaoke party.
  23. Paint a mural.
  24. Dress up in last year's Halloween costumes.
  25. See a movie matinee.
  26. Have a backyard luau. 
  27. Build and launch rockets.
  28. Bake and decorate a back-to-school cake.
  29. Have a tea party.
  30. Wash your car.
  31. Decorate your driveway with sidewalk chalk.
  32. Take a personality test, and compare results. (Try the Enneagram or the Myers Briggs test.)
  33. Fill up your wall calendar with holidays, birthdays, events, and celebrations you are looking forward to this year.
  34. Solve a jigsaw puzzle together.
  35. Write your autobiography.
  36. Go shopping for school supplies.
  37. Make official school t-shirts.

Readaloud of the Week: Farmer Boy

Reading Listamy sharonyComment
Farmer Boy (Little House)
By Laura Ingalls Wilder

In brief: This book follows Laura Ingalls Wilder’s future husband Almanzo through a full farming season in upstate New York. Almanzo is just a little boy in love with horses, but he helps with everything from cutting ice to harvesting potatoes on the family farm. His family’s farm is prosperous, especially compared to the Ingalls family, and even though farm life means lots of chores and hard work, Almanzo still has time to squeeze in some fun, including going sledding and raising a pumpkin for the county fair.


What makes it a great readaloud: The rhythms of farm life give this story a gentle natural structure, and it’s interesting to see how much work really goes into living on a self-sustaining farm. (Spoiler: A LOT.) It’s fun to get a peek at another part of the world of Little House on the Prairie and to wonder what might make someone leave a successful farm to strike out for the pioneer west. And the food! A hobbit (well, and possibly Ron Weasley?) is the only other literary character I know who could come close to matching Almanzo’s appetite and appreciation of good food.


Quotable: “A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you're a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You'll be free and independent, son, on a farm.” 

Bespoke Book List: Books about the Solar Eclipse

Reading Listamy sharonyComment
Bespoke Book List: Books about the Solar Eclipse

We’re so excited about the solar eclipse this month! (We’ve even planned a family camping trip to coincide with it so that we can get the best possible view.) I’d love to add some eclipse books to our summer reading list. What do you recommend?

We’re all excited about the eclipse, too! There are a ton of books about the science and history of eclipses, so I’m going to focus the list on ones that we’ve read and enjoyed.

If you're looking for a one-stop-shop-style book focused specifically on the 2017 solar eclipse, check Totality: The Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024. It gives a rundown of the science behind the big event, but its focus is on experiencing the eclipse yourself: What should you know to view it safely? What can you expect to see, stage by stage? How can you take the best photographs of the eclipse? There’s tons of practical advice here, which is nice if you’re looking for a way to channel everyone’s eclipse excitement into actual planning. (Similarly, the editor of Astronomy magazine has put together Your Guide to the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, which includes a mix of science and practical eclipse experiencing tips. If Totality has a wait list at your library, you could try this one instead.)

When the Sun Goes Dark is a quick, picture book read about preparing for a solar eclipse. (The idea of recreating a mini eclipse in your living room with a lamp, balls, and hoops might be fun to try in your tent, too.)


Another nice picture book is The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons—it’s about eclipses but also about the science and folklore of the moon in general, which is fun to dig into. (The sun shouldn’t get all the attention, right?)


We really loved American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World, which focuses not on the 2017 eclipse but on the 1878 one, which generated its own, pre-Facebook eclipse fever and marked an important moment in the history of astronomy. This book focuses on three famous eclipse chasers—the astronomer Maria Mitchell (who is one of my childhood heroes), Thomas Edison, and James Craig Watson—who worked to document the event and collect scientific data on the ground right in the middle of Wild West. It’s a great mix of history and science. (If you love this one, follow it up with America's First Great Eclipse: How Scientists, Tourists, and the Rocky Mountain Eclipse of 1878 Changed Astronomy Forever.)

Eclipse: History. Science. Awe. was actually written to coincide with the 1979 solar eclipse in the Pacific Northwest, but it has been updated with information for the 2017 eclipse, too. It’s a beautiful book with scientific details, history, and mythology about the eclipse—think of it as a coffee table book that delivers a glossy, fact-filled overview of eclipses without digging too deep into any particular topic. We loved flipping through this one, but I think it might be harder to pull off as a readaloud.

If you’d like to read more about the history of solar eclipses (and you should because it’s fascinating), pick up a copy of Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets. It’s a selective journey through eclipse history, starting with the first hints of scientific understanding in the world and continuing to modern-day eclipse chasers, and you’ll find a lot of cool facts you might not have known—such as the fact that the eclipse was used in 1919 to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity or that scientists today use eclipses to locate distant planets.

Anthony Aveni takes the history of eclipses one step further in In the Shadow of the Moon: The Science, Magic, and Mystery of Solar Eclipses, which considers the sociological and cultural history of eclipses as well as their scientific history. I love that it collects the stories of eclipses through history from oral, pictorial, and written traditions and accounts to create a story of cultural astronomy.


If you want to do a little bonus armchair eclipse chasing, physicist Frank Close writes about his travels and scientific discoveries on the trail of the next big eclipse in Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon. 



Younger readers will appreciate Looking Up! The Science of Stargazing, by Space.com columnist Joe Rao. It’s heavy on the solar eclipse (there's a whole section devoted to the 2017 eclipse) but also contains useful information about the constellations, northern lights, and other astronomical phenomena. (This one is especially handy if you want to do a little stargazing on your camping trip, too.)


If you are looking for activity suggestions to gear up for your eclipse viewing, Solar Science: Exploring Sunspots, Seasons, Eclipses and More breaks down the science behind the eclipse into a series of stand-alone topics, each with hands-on activities. It’s designed for middle school teachers to use in their classrooms, but most of the activities can be adapted pretty easily to suit students of any age. There’s also a lot of good general sun science here.

For a fun, pop culture approach to eclipses and their place in science and history, lunar scientist John Dvorak has written Mask of the Sun: The Science, History and Forgotten Lore of Eclipses. We really enjoyed reading about the superstitions and weird traditions associated with eclipses over the years. (For instance, did you know that pregnant women in Mexico wear safety pins on their underwear during an eclipse? Me neither!)


We’re always happy to help you put together a customized booklist. Email us with the details of what you’re looking for, and we’ll help you strategically raid your library shelves.