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Animal Study Freebie

I’ve been working hard on our Asia Unit Study for the 2015-16 school year.  I’ve been through geography and history and now am working on the science portion of  our program.  You might remember that we are doing animal science and geology in order to learn more about Asian countries and really bring those lessons home.  Plus, science gives us an opportunity to do lots of hands-on lessons to make our learning fun.

There are lots of interesting animals to study in Asia that we don’t have here in the U.S., so it will give us a chance to learn more deeply about animals to which we might not otherwise pay such close attention.  One of the things I have been remiss in teaching in science is the classification of animals.  Then again, we’ve never done a serious animal study before, unless you count nature study, and we tend to draw and write info in our nature journals then, so it never occurred to me to include it.

The Littles are really excited about doing serious animal science.  Middle can’t wait to do his own research and Littlest can’t wait to try his hand at drawing some of the beautiful creatures who make their homes in Asia.  So as I’ve worked on our unit study, I’ve come up with a worksheet that includes all the things I want them to learn along with all the things they want to learn.  Of course, this won’t be the only thing we do where these gorgeous animals are concerned, but I think it will give us a good starting point to learn the basic facts.

This worksheet would also be great to use for a nature study.  Or any kind of animal study you’re doing.  I made it generic so it can be included in all of the unit studies we’ll be doing next year.  Because it seems like it would be useful for so many things, I thought it would be great to offer it to my readers as a freebie.  The link is below.  Feel free to use it however you see fit.  I hope your littles enjoy it and learn gobs of stuff about animals using it.


Animal Study Worksheet

Love wins,


Gardening (or School-That-Is-Not-School)

IMG_20150604_112153023Part of the Littles’ school-that-is-not-school around the farm is helping out with the gardens–both flower and vegetable.  It provides good opportunities for science lessons in botany and entomology as well as training them to be self-sufficient for the zombie apocalypse.  (Kidding.  They’re convinced it’s coming, though, and I want them to grow up with all the knowledge I can give them for taking care of themselves.  So if I have to use the zombie apocalypse to keep them interested, well…Let’s just say I’m not above it.)

IMG_20150604_112426400The cool thing about yesterday’s work was that we were placing rocks.  Two sections of my flower garden are rock gardens, so we have been placing creek rock in them all spring.  The Littles help me collect the rocks then help me place them.  It’s a IMG_20150604_113119688great spatial activity because you have to figure out what rock will go where without backing yourself into a place where you can’t fit any more rocks.  It. Is. Hard.  Or at least it’s harder than you’d think it’d be.  So it’s nice when Middle spots a rock that will fit perfectly into my puzzle or Littlest points out that I’ve made a space where no rock will fit.  It is also very cool when Littlest says, “Oh!  Sandstone!  This is sandstone, Mom!” and Middle says, “Hey, Mom, look!  This one has a fossil!”  Gotta love those openings to teach.IMG_20150604_113102876-1

Gardening is one of my true joys in life.  I hope that the Littles are learning a bit of that love through working with me.  As they learn about the different plants–what each needs to thrive, how to care for them so they continue to bloom, what insects they attract, and even which ones to plant where–that free lesson is going to stick with them any time we actually study botany in the classroom.  And there’s no pressure.

Plus, gardening provides us the opportunity to just hang out together, talk about nothing and everything, and remember IMG_20150604_113127757we’re just a family, not always a teacher and students.  It’s almost as good as fishing.  Not quite, but close.  It gives me a chance to notice how much they’ve grown, how strong they are getting, and just how smart and funny my boys really are.  They floor me.  They truly do.

Middle tried to hide behind my Winnie-the-Pooh tree here so I couldn’t take his picture.  But I’m fast. You can’t see it, but the whole in the bottom of the stump contains a hunny jar with a Pooh Bear in it.  It’s pretty cute.  I got the idea from Family Crafts.  They suggested it for party favors, but I had this perfect tree stump with a hollow in the bottom, so I found a small Pooh Bear to fit in the top of the jar and placed him there.  He seems happy.

I moved the fairy garden this year to incorporate it into my bigger garden.  Here are a few pics even though we haven’t added the mulch in yet:

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Finally, the Littles are learning that hard work and dedication pay off.  It’s an important lesson for littles to learn.  Especially in this era when they are provided so many opportunities to just sit on their butts and stare at a screen.  I never garden without my boys, even though weeding causes grumbles.  Because when we’re done, we all get to enjoy this….

IMG_20150604_114017222 IMG_20150604_114206260 IMG_20150604_114842979 IMG_20150604_114217687


Love wins,


Welcome to Dystopia

I’ve been on a real lit kick this week, I know, but I am, after all, the Lit Mama.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about summer reading and even though we’re spending our summer with the folks from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are so many options to choose from.

One of my favorite genres is YA Dystopia, mostly because I like reading about regular people who fight so “a man can stand up.”  But I’ve read Dystopia meant for all ages, so why YA?  Because the emotions in YA books are so much fresher and more raw than in books intended for adults.  Here you have this person who barely knows who he or she is and suddenly he/she has to save the world.  Well, why not?  What better way to get to know yourself? hahaaa  Besides, this is a summer reading list for your teen or tween, not for a Grown Up.  (Although you should definitely be the kind of grown-up who reads them, too.)  Also, the heroes are strong females as often as, if not more often than, males.  And we can always use more strong females to look up to.

Some of the greats

The very first Dystopian novel I ever remember reading was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  Not really written for YA, though it is often included on lists.  I would recommend it for older teens because there is some pretty adult content.  This book, which I have read multiple times, is one of the greats.  It tells the story of Offred (Of-fred), who used to have a normal life with a husband and daughter and money of her own.  Until a totalitarian theocracy overthrows the U.S. government, subjugates all women, and turns their lives into a living hell of existing solely for the purpose of serving men.  The chilling thing about this story is that, of course, the protagonist’s name isn’t Really Offred.  It was changed when she was assigned to be the baby-maker for Commander Fred and his wife.  Because his wife is there to serve him in other capacities.  Offred is the brood mare.  Even scarier is the way the new government took power from women with a single swipe.  Offred goes to the store one day to buy something and her money card has been wiped clean.  She has no cash because people don’t use cash anymore.  It is her first clue that life is about to go terribly wrong.  I shudder when I think of it.  How many of us rely on our debit cards daily and therefore would be powerless if the government decided to shut them down and take our money?  Oh, the genius of Margaret Atwood.  It’s terrifying how quickly the government cuts women off from all independence and then sends them to camp to be indoctrinated. This book always reminds me to be careful of my own independence, to guard it with sharp teeth and claws.  Because I love my husband, but I am the subject of no man.

It was later, somehow, that I read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I spoke about the protagonist,  Guy Montag, in my 20 Fave Male Characters for People Under 20.   In this novel, “firemen” who work for the government burn books in the name of public happiness.  Any book not approved by the government is against the law.  The firemen raid houses and burn the books, and sometimes the houses, and sometimes the perpetrators along with everything else.  Guy is thrown into shock and confusion when a woman chooses to burn with her books rather than live without them.  At the same time, he meets a teenage girl named Clarisse whose views about the world make him question the way of things even further.  So one night during a raid, he steals a book.  And the fit hits the shan.  The intriguing part of the plot is the way Bradbury shows–through Montag’s wife and her friends–that with the condemnation of books and ensuing reliance on technology and media, people have quit thinking for themselves.  They have no opinions, because they have nothing, really, to opine about.  Again, a delicious shudder runs through me.  Don’t give up your books.  Don’t stop thinking.  Don’t stop asking questions.  Don’t rely on television for our information because it doesn’t truly give you any.

What turned me on to the YA genre here in the last decade was, of course, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  In Colliins’ truly terrifying world, kids are enlisted from the 12 colonies left in the U.S. to participate in a yearly murder fest.  They go to an arena, 12 males and 12 females, and they basically fight to the death.  Only one person can win.  Katniss Everdeen ends up as part of the Games when her little sister gets picked to participate.  Without forethought, Katniss volunteers to take her place.  And turns this awful, Dystopian, totalitarian world on its head.  Kids killing each other for entertainment just so the government can prove who is in control?  Somebody better do something, is all I can say.  Talk about complacence.  There is so much depth in these novels that got chucked out for the movies.  I would like to put the people who made the films in their own Hunger Games.  How can you leave the heart out of a story and still call it good?  Ugh! Do Not judge this story based on the films.  Read the books.  They are truly brilliant.

I read Uglies by Scott Westerfield because my sister recommended it while I was reading The Hunger Games.  She, too, was a librarian at the time, though she has gone on to get her masters in speech pathology and now Rocks that biz.  Uglies is about Tally, a girl approaching her 16th birthday whose best friend, a boy named Peris, has already gotten an operation and moved to New Pretty Town.  New Pretty Town.  Meaning a town for new pretties where no one has any responsibilities or worries.  Because at 16, everyone in society gets an operation that turns them beautiful.  New bone structure, new skin, new… everything.  And Tally can’t wait to get her operation and join Peris.  But then she meets Shay, a girl her age who is everything Tally is not. Shay is happy with her status as an Ugly, doesn’t want the operation–in fact, she intends to run away before her birthday to join a rebellion.  On the day of Tally’s operation, she is enlisted by the government to track Shay down and lead the government to the rebellion headquarters.  If she doesn’t, the government will never let her become a Pretty.  What follows is Tally’s awakening to government control, how Pretties are kept complacent through their lack of responsibility, and how our differences are what make us beautiful, even without operations.  Definitely a good summer read for a young girl who loves adventure and maybe needs to be reminded that ugly is as ugly does.

One of my favorite Dystopian story lines is that of Delirium by Lauren Oliver.  This totalitarian government teaches that love is a disease, and there is a mandatory surgical cure performed on people when they turn 18.  Lena, the protagonist, has been just as brainwashed as everyone else by the government and believes wholeheartedly that love is a disease.  In terrible fear of catching it before her operation, she anticipates the cure with glee.  Until she meets Alex.  Alex lives outside society, has never been cured, and is part of a resistance that is not fooled by the government’s mind-control.  Of course Lena falls in love with him.  And it changes everything.  My only complaint about this series is that it has one of those mid-story changes where Lena becomes involved in a love triangle.  And I’m sorry, but if you fall in love so hard it literally changes your whole world, I just don’t think you’re going to fall that hard again any time soon.  I hate love triangles.  Writers, give us some credit.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi is the last book I’m going to talk about. Today. It is, perhaps, my favorite.  Aria lives in Reverie, a domed city which protects its citizens from Aether storms caused by catastrophic changes to Earth.  When a night of fun turns into a tragedy, Aria is banished from her home to the wastelands, where she will surely die.  In fact, if not for an Outsider named Perry, she most certainly would have died when an Aether storm popped up.  Perry is one of the people left on earth who don’t live in a dome, an Outsider, considered to be a cannibal or worse, but Aria has to rely on him to survive.  What follows is a beautiful love story and a fascinating toppling of yet another totalitarian government. The coolest part is how Perry and Aria both have these assumptions about the other based on where they lived.  As they get to know each other, they realize what we should all know.  People are people, no matter where they’re from, and we all have things in common and we all have the same joys and worries and fears.  And we’re all worthy.  And bad guys can be found just about anywhere. Good stuff.

If you have a little looking for a bit of excitement and romance this summer, or who is as fascinated by people who don’t allow the government to control them as I am, get him or her one of these books.  There are many others, but these are the ones I recommend first whenever anyone asks.  Do you have any favorites I didn’t list?  Let me know in the comments.

Love wins,


20 Fave Male Characters for People Under 20

boy booksThis list was no easier to whittle down that yesterday’s list of 20 fave female characters.  But as the Lit Mama of three beautiful boys, I have to tell you some of my favorite male characters so you can introduce your littles to their incredible attributes.  So without further ado…

  1. Oliver Twist from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know that the Littles and I read the book this year and that I am a huge fan.  Oliver’s goodness, even in the face of so much treachery and filth and rottenness, is an amazing grace to watch.  Though not stupid, Oliver is believably naive.  It makes him more hopeful than he otherwise might be and I think goodness and the ability to keep hope are important in every situation we may ever find ourselves in.

2.  The bat-poet from The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell

Listen, if no one has ever turned you on to this gem, let me be the one.  Especially if you’re teaching your kids about poetry, this story is a winner.  The bat-poet is truly a bat who lives with a group of bats on a farm.  When cold weather comes and the rest of the bats move from the porch to the roof of the barn, the little brown bat-poet stays on the porch because he is afraid he will miss it if he moves.  He tries to get his friends to come back, but they refuse.  The little brown bat sleeps alone for a while, but soon he begins to wake up during the day because he is lonely.  He hears a mockingbird sing and tries to emulate him but he is unsuccessful.  So he decides to use words to capture what he sees and how he feels about the daytime.  His friends criticize his poem, so he tries to get daytime animals to be his audience.  He makes up poems about many different creatures until finally he takes inspiration from his own life and writes about a baby bat and his mother.  When he flies to the barn to share it with his friends, he finds them hibernating.  As he snuggles in with them, he begins to forget his poem.  What I love about The Bat-Poet is his willingness to experience what others of his kind reject.  He is shy and sensitive and willing to see what others might consider painful or difficult and put it into words.  And his sleepy forgetfulness at the end, when he is getting all warm and cozy and his life is going back to normal…  Well, that has its merits, too.  You can download a free pdf of the story here, but I recommend getting the book illustrated by the magnificent Maurice Sendak.  Because it’s a keeper.

3. Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I’m sure many of you are going, “Mr. Tumnus?! Really?!” Because there are so many characters to love in this book.  But this is My Favorite List, and Mr. Tumnus is my favorite character.  I like him because 1) he’s a faun, and that’s cool, and 2) he really is a good guy who doesn’t want to turn Lucy over to the White Witch.  He is inherently good though fear causes him to make bad choices.  Mr. Tumnus could make a good character study for your littles–what makes a good person do bad things?  Also, James McAvoy darn near made Tumnus hhhhot in the film.  You know, to counter all that winter.

4. Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

Eeyore melts my heart.  His steadfast belief that no one truly cares is both wistful and adorable.  Littles who often feel out of place can relate to Eeyore and his whole, “Thanks for noticing me,” attitude.  He’s a pretty pragmatic dude, too–when his house disappears, he doesn’t get mad or throw a tantrum.  He just happens to mention it to Christopher Robin the next time he sees him.  I love all the characters in the Pooh stories, but Eeyore is my absolute favorite.

5. Max from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

I don’t have any boys like Max, though Littlest comes closest simply because of his mischievous spirit.  For the most part my boys are well-behaved.  They never talk back or wish wolves would eat me up.  At least not to my face.  Nonetheless I always secretly wanted a little boy who caused such trouble.  Because Max has Such Fun when he’s being bad.  And some of the monsters are so cute I just want to hug them.  And in the end, Max realizes his behavior was wrong, so it all comes out okay.  Now, if only they hadn’t made that awful, depressing film….

6. Abel from Abel’s Island by William Steig

I still have my original copy of Abel’s Island.  And we used it when we read it last year.  And it was awesome.  Abel is a regular Robinson Crusoe, getting trapped on a desert island and surviving until he can get off.  We actually read Crusoe the year before we read Abel, which may be a bit backwards since Abel is so much easier a read.   Abel is a cheeky little mouse with lots of ideas of how to survive on his island. Like Crusoe, his main objective is to get home, and he gets his happily ever after in the end.

7. Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

If you don’t already know that Bilbo is one of my Favorite Characters Ever, this is your first visit to my blog.  🙂  Bilbo starts out a stubborn, timid rabbit and quickly becomes a valiant, daring hero.  Bilbo’s desire to save everyone at the end of the book and make things right shows his kind character and true heroism.  Sure, he might be the boss against trolls and gollums, but his real value?  Caring.  And that’s what we want our littles to learn.

8. Hazel from Watership Down by Richard Adams

I love, love, love Watership Down.  I love Hazel for being brave enough to take off into the unknown to save at least some of his warren from destruction.  But what I love most, of course, is his love for and support of his brother.  He never doubts Fiver, and never lets anyone else doubt for long. He is a strong and kind leader, and when held up against the leaders of the other warrens the rabbits encounter, his type of leadership is a stark contrast.  Hazel can teach your kids how to be wise and good and how to think things through to develop strategies for life.

9. Merlin from The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

If you’ve never really read anything about King Arthur or Merlin and you want a gorgeous, encompassing introduction, look no further.  I’ve already admitted I have over 100 books about the Arthurian legends.  Some are good, some are great, some are not.. so… good.  This book and the three that follow it are Excellent.  They are my very favorites and I have read them too many times to count.  Why?  Because they’re the only books in which Merlin is depicted as a real person.  This first one follows Merlin’s childhood, his introduction to his magic, his years of study, and his rise to a position in which he could help the future king.  I’m pretty sure Arthur isn’t even alive yet during this book.  It’s historically accurate as far as Britain’s enemies and the geography of the island during the time when Arthur is supposed to have lived.  I can’t recommend this book enough.  When I call it gorgeous, I mean the imagery will stay with you For. Ever.  And so will the main character.  In fact, you might just buy another hundred books looking for one that compares.

10. Will Tweedy from Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

I love southern novels.  I think To Kill a Mockingbird did that to me 30 or so years ago, but there you are.  Southern settings are incredible.  Will Tweedy is a resident of Cold Sassy, Georgia, so that earns him points right there.  He’s a curious, sometimes mischievous kid who regards his family with a certain measure of amusement and affection. He adores his grandpa, who certainly causes some scandal in the book.  In the form of marrying a Much Younger Woman.  Three weeks after his first wife dies.  Will’s not outraged like the rest of the town, though.  He tries to understand his grandpa’s new marriage.  And he eventually finds out that things aren’t always what they seem.  Will also has a couple of adventures of his own in the book that are pretty hilarious and/or shocking.  He’s a good character to teach your littles how to handle gossip and how not to pass judgment.

11. Sam Adams from Johnny Tremaine by Esther Forbes

Johnny Tremaine is hands-down the best Revolutionary War book for kids; that’s why everybody uses it.  Getting to see the real-life characters from a kid’s point of view makes the whole thing make more sense to littles.  Sam Adams is my favorite character because of the things he says in the book.  Obviously, he’s already a hero and one of the reasons us U.S. folk have a country.  He wrote the pamphlets that ignited the spark.  But when Adams stands in front of his fellow rebels and says, “…We fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up.”  Ah!  I get goose bumps.  May we always fight so that a man (or woman) can stand up.  May that always be important to all of us.

12. Pip from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I think I’ve mentioned before that Great Expectations was my first Dickens ever. So Pip stays with me and has for a very long time since I was 12 when I first read his story (I’ve read it many times since. It rivals The Count of Monte Cristo for my All-Time Very-Top Favorite Book Ever). Pip is a kind, if bewildered, soul throughout the book. His inability to understand meanness when he sees it stays with him through adulthood, and I can definitely relate to that. He sees the good in people when they don’t really have any good. He feels for compassion for people when he maybe shouldn’t. He makes some mistakes, but for the most part he loves with his whole heart and treats others accordingly. Can you say good role model?

13. Jem from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Jem. When I first read about him he reminded me so much of my own older brother I wanted to cry. His steadfast strength, his friendship with Scout, his protectiveness of her… if you want your littles to learn how to treat their siblings, have them read about Jem and Scout.   Their stout love for each other and their father is one of the most inspiring relationships in literature. No wonder Harper Lee only needed to publish one book until this year (have I said that before?).

14. The Mad Hatter from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I don’t know if it’s the Hatter so much as Carroll’s amazing skill with words… Just kidding. I’ve been passionately in love with the Mad Hatter since I was very small. He’s so… crazy.   Maybe it’s the way he pokes fun at adults with his actions. Because surely a tea party was confusing to little kids when they happened, and the Hatter’s tea party is one of the most confusing scenes in the book. I think a lot of it is his manner of speech—completely illogical in a comical way. And the fact that he doesn’t seem to have the right rules. Or any rules. When I was little, that was the most Awesome Thing Ever, and now that I’m grown, well, I’m still a fan. Oh, and Johnny Depp plays a dope Hatter, so watch the film.

15. Ged from A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

This is another book of which I still have the copy I first read at 13 or 14.  Ged is a good example of a person coming into his own. From the beginning of this amazing trilogy he knows he has powers, but he has no idea what he’s getting into when he jets off to wizard school. It’s riveting to watch this good-hearted guy get himself out of scrapes that he never could have predicted. And he’s a good example of how to handle power while keeping your heart intact.

16. Tobias from Divergent by Veronica Roth

Tobias is, in my opinion, the best love-interest written in the last decade. There have been several big action/romance trilogies that have come out, but Tobias is the best character of those. Why? He has real depth. He is not only Tris’s love interest, he is a guy who survived childhood abuse, who has learned how to deal with the political machinations of the factions, who has Real Feelings about the world, not just about Tris. For me, learning about Tobias was as interesting as anything else that happened in Roth’s series. And the best part? His girl didn’t up and fall in love with someone else halfway through the story. I hate the love-triangle schtick. Ugh, if women were that mercurial, there wouldn’t be any marriages. Please, writers, give us some credit.

17. Tom Sawyer from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Everybody loves Tom Sawyer, right? That adventurous boy with a lot of snark that gets into trouble without batting an eye and gets back out of it like a boss. He is the ultimate Good Bad Boy. No wonder Becky Thatcher couldn’t stay away from him. What’s really cool about this character, though, is that he reminds Littles how fun life is without technology. Get out and play like Tom. Maybe don’t cause so much trouble, but cause a little trouble, if only in your imagination. Climb trees. Explore. That’s what Tom Sawyer teaches.

18. Guy Montag from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Oh, Guy.  How could you stand yourself, burning all those books?  It must have crushed your soul.  Watching Guy go from the big, mean Fireman to the Guy who loves books and questions everything is a true delight.  And Littles should learn to do that.  Question everything.  Get to the bottom of it.  Learn the truth. And listen:  This is from the Wikipedia article about the book– “Over the course of several decades, people embraced new media, sports, and a quickening pace of life. Books were ruthlessly abridged or degraded to accommodate a short attention span while minority groups protested over the controversial, outdated content perceived to be found in books.”  (I don’t usually approve of Wikipedia, but it’s a perfect description.)  Don’t your littles deserve to learn that speeding up isn’t always a good thing?  I mean, before it’s too late.

19. Thomas from The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Thomas is a well thought-out character who starts out surprised and grows to be full of surprises.  He Uses His Brain when he’s in the maze instead of becoming the complacent citizen the other boys expect him to be.  No matter what he’s up against, he refuses to just take things as they come.  So admirable.  Plus, he tries to save everybody, much like Bilbo Baggins does in The Hobbit, even the people he doesn’t like.  How many people in the world are like that?  All of us should be.

20. Sirius Black from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban by J.K. Rowling

Now, I love Hagrid. But if I have to pick a fave from the Harry Potter series, it’s going to be Sirius. Maybe it’s because of his affect on Harry. But I think it’s his open heart that enfolds Harry from his introduction. His strength in standing by Harry’s side and supporting him. His feelings about the importance of Family. Plus, he was just cool. I admit, I spent the rest of the series hoping he would somehow come back so Harry would still have some family. I understand that Rowling wanted to make it as realistic as she could, and no one was safe, but Sirius’ death is the one I truly regret.

There you have them.  Twenty of the most awesome boys ever written.  Make sure your littles get to the know them all.  My life would not have been the same without them.  It would have been a lot more boring, too.

Again, if I’ve left your faves off the list, let me know in the comments.  In the meantime,

Love wins,