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KT Brison is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys. Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words.

Those Everlasting Tucks (or Using Good Description)

If, like me, you use your children’s reading experiences to enhance their writing, there is no better book to showcase good description than Tuck Everlasting.  Natalie Babbit tells her tale of a family who accidentally drank from a spring of eternal youth with such eloquence that the story seems to float along on a dry, August wind.

Which is just what she intends.  Writing with intention is one of the best lessons a student can learn, and Tuck Everlasting is one of the best books to illustrate the idea.  Let me give you an example from the prologue:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.  The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autum, but the first week of Autumn is motionless, and hot.  It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.

Wow.  Sure, we’ve felt that in the first week of August, even noticed it, but how many of us could describe it so vividly in so few words?  I am fascinated by the idea of that week being like the car poised at the top of the Ferris wheel, and the Littles and I discussed it for, oh, about twenty minutes.  It is a rare pleasure for an author to ensconce you so deeply in her setting so quickly.  Just reading and discussing that description can help your student imagine interesting ways to describe things in his own work.  Here’s another, from chapter 9.

The pastures, fields, and scrubby groves they crossed were vigorous with bees, and crickets leapt before them as if each step released a spring and flung them up like pebbles.  But everything else was motionless, dry as a biscuit, on the brink of burning, hoarding final reservoirs of sap, trying to hold out until the rain had returned.

Image result for tuck everlasting images

Can’t you just hear the grass crunching underfoot?  See the swarms of gnats hovering at eye level?  This is what we want to teach our students–to evoke even more images by writing about just a few.  There are lots of way to teach descriptive writing, including lessons on metaphors and similes, using specific, strong words, and, of course, showing and not telling.  But nothing can teach good description better than seeing it in action.

There’s a reason Tuck Everlasting is just as popular today as it was forty years ago.  The idea of living forever is appealing but, as Babbit demonstrates, comes at a price.  The novel helps children understand a little about death and why it is necessary and even about how life should be lived to the fullest because the reality is we have a limited time on Earth.  Guided reading has afforded us with so many conversations that I’m kind of feeling like this is the best book we’ll read this year.  The real reason it’s still so popular and intriguing is that it is so well-written.  The words are beautiful.  It’s as though Babbit took each individual word, stuck it in her mouth, sucked on it, and savored it before putting it to the page.  By doing so, she tells part of the story without words–she puts it in our minds more even than a film would.

If you have a child who struggles writing descriptions, read Tuck Everlasting with her.  Pause every time your heart wells up (and it will) with the amazing feelings evoked by Babbit’s descriptions.  Discuss what she means by her words, how it makes you feel, and see if your student can come up with other colorful ways to phrase the description.  I promise you, it will help.

And, heck, even if I’m wrong, no one should trade the reading of this invaluable book for watching it on film or stage.  There is pure joy in the pages, in the author’s love of language, that just doesn’t translate.

Love wins,


Snow Day!

snow day

We finally got our first snow here, and boy, did we get snow!  More than we’re used to at one time in this area.  So when even all the regional courthouses shut down, we decided it was time for Little School to have snow day, too.  (I know, you’re wondering how I’m keeping from working myself into a lather about getting off schedule… Well, haha, I am not!  But I’ll worry about it later.)  Snow days are for Fun.

It’s brutally cold out there today, so honestly we took the snow day yesterday, when it was a balmy 20 degrees.  As we played in the white stuff, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could hate something so beautiful.  Even though I’m stuck on the farm until it starts to melt off, since my beautiful husband drives the four-wheel-drive to work, there is plenty to appreciate about being forced to stay home.  The days seem to last longer when you’re not worrying about where you have to go next.  And it means more hours with the Littles.  To, you know, build a snow fort just inside the woods where we’re protected from our imaginary enemies.  This snow is very light and powdery, not good for snowmen or snowballs, and we had to really pile it up to make our fort walls instead of packing it like we normally would.  But we got it a couple of feet tall–enough to be able to tell what it was.  We decided we’d wait till week’s end to finish it–when the snow has had a chance to maybe melt a little and re-freeze so it’ll pack better.

How to Make Ice Cream From Snow - Sherri Osborn

We made snow ice cream, because who doesn’t love That?  If you’ve never made it, Family Crafts has a great recipe here.  It’s super simple, and a great treat for littles with cabin fever.  It’s been hard today, looking out the window at all that fun and knowing that the negative wind chill is going to keep us inside.

We filled the bird feeders again yesterday, and the birds seem pretty grateful.snow birds  We can’t help watching them; even though the Great Backyard Bird Count is over, we remain completely fascinated by their antics.  Plus, the Littles have a bet about what new birds may show up since food is seriously scarce right now.  Yesterday, we saw a pileated woodpecker hanging around, but he’s not been back yet today.  So far we’ve seen titmice (is that the plural?), dark-eyed juncos (we call them snow birds because they’re only here in winter), and cardinals, but the snow birds are winning–I think that’s all there are in the picture.

We followed bunny tracks through our persimmon grove and down the main path through the woods.  It was hard work slogging through all that snow, but the Littles’ laughter and excitement, and the sun glinting off the snow, made it worth it.

Besides, taking a snow day is sacred.  Even if you can’t get snowed out of homeschool, it is so dazzlingly fun to have an unexpected day off that it lifts everyone’s spirits.  And even when it’s only 20 degrees, sunshine is the best cure for everything.  So we went back to school this morning refreshed and ready to learn.  So yeah, I’m grateful for snow.  For now.

Love wins,


For the Birds

Make your own DIY Bird Feeders to celebrate the Great Backyard Bird Count with your kids!

Tomorrow begins the 2015 Great Backyard Bird Count sponsored by the Audubon Society. The way it works is you follow the link to the GBBC’s website and register as a participant with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Then you simply put out a feeder and watch it for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count.  This year the count takes place February 13-16.  Count the birds that come to your feeder and submit your results on the website.  The full instructions and lots of other info, like a link to an online bird guide, are on their site.  There’s even a photo contest if you’d like to participate!
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A Fun Read

I have mentioned often our experience with reading Oliver Twist this year. We finished it several weeks ago, and it was an adventure in reading for all of us. Because of the level of difficulty for my Littles (they are, after all, 9 and 12, and Dickens’ language is not that of Rick Riordan. lol), I scheduled a much simpler book to follow it. I say simple because it’s an easy read for their ages, but the layers of Rabbit Hill were complex enough for a variety of lessons.

Robert Lawson wrote this Newberry Award-winning gem in 1944, just after World War II.  It could be considered a precursor to Watership Down by Richard Adams-a rich political novel told from the personification of rabbits.  Rabbit Hill has its own style of politics.  It gave us a view of what it is to live in a place torn apart by war, when food is scarce and everything needs rebuilt, but Lawson tells it from the point of view of Little Georgie the rabbit and a cast of other animals who are looking forward to New Folks (humans) moving into the house on the hill.  It provided an opportunity to discuss WWII a bit, though we aren’t studying that war till next year.  It also gave us ample opportunity to discuss the aftermath of war, the scarcity of food and comforts and the fear that things will never get better.  The book also touches on accepting differences.  We discussed prejudice and how very different our colorful country was in the not-so-distant past.  But my favorite part was the discussion sparked by how the people treat the nature around them.


Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of daily life, we forget that we (even city folk) have a deep connection with the natural world.  We get so busy shutting it out we forget that it is an important part of who we are as a species.  Rabbit Hill is one of those books that will remind your children to be kind to animals, to live in harmony with their natural surroundings, and to be careful of the footprint they leave in the world.  It’s an important lesson that cannot be taught enough.

Rabbit Hill would be fun to incorporate into a nature study.  In fact, the study guide I made up involved a lot of nature study activities.  The Littles enjoyed it immensely, and it was a nice break for their brains after Dickens.

What about you?  Do you have any favorite books that teach your children about our responsibility to the environment?  If so, please share them.  I am Always looking for someting new to read.