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Littles’ Lit for 20th Century History

Yesterday I posted about some of the novels we’ve read to supplement our history lessons.  In response, my fellow awesome blogger, Anna Marie, asked what I would recommend for studies from WWI on.  So since I have been dreaming about tackling the 20th century for 2 years, I have plenty to recommend.

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope FarmerCharlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer

This absolutely amazing book tells the story of Charlotte, who goes to a new boarding school one night and wakes up the next day in the time of the first world war.  I read it a few years ago just for fun and immediately added it to my list of things for the Littles to read when we study WWI.  It’s wonderful for those everyday details about how life really happened during that time period.  I also recommend Searching for Silverheels by Jeannie Mobley, which provides a window into how the war affected immigrants in America, what patriotism meant, and even teaches about women’s suffrage.

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Moon over ManifestLove. This. Book.  A brilliantly written novel that shows littles how the Great Depression broke families up with a tie-in to WWI.  You can’t really ask for a better novel to put your littles smack dab in the middle of the early 20th century.  I would also recommend Children of the Dust Bowl by Jerry Stanley.  It’s not fiction, but it is an interesting account of the school at Weedpatch Camp, a place in California to which Oklahomans migrated during this difficult period.  It is Filled with photographs of the time period and largely told in the words of the migrants.  Finally, of course, the Lit Mama recommends John Steinbeck’s awesome, incomparable The Grapes of Wrath.  A must-read when studying the Depression.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Oh.  This book.  I know it is also set during the depression, but it broaches a subject near and dear to my heart, the Worst Human Flaw Ever, prejudice.  And Scout has been my hero since I was a little girl, and Dill was my boyfriend, and my real-life brother was so like Jem it almost hurt.  Needless to say, it is on my list of top 5 favorite books Ever.  There is, of course, the delicate matter of the rape, but if you are uncomfortable, skip the descriptive sections.  I read this to the Littles 4 years ago for summer reading, and had many people look at me aghast.  Well, there are ways to get around the sketchy parts and still make the story enjoyable for kids.  All in all, the experience made me glad my parents never censored my reading choices!

Do Not Skip This One. 🙂

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck A Year Down Yonder

Get out of the Depression, KT! I can’t.  Too many excellent books set in the time period.  This one the Littles and I have read together three times.  Three.  All of us.  Because this is just a peak into life in the 1930s and how normal people kept on living through the tragedy of separated families and hard, hard times.  But it is an adventurous peek full of lovable characters and a million little things that make us laugh and cringe and wish we knew Grandma Dowdel because she is Awesome.

Number the Stars by Lowis Lowry

I became a Lowry fan with The Giver and she didn’t disappoint with this haunting tale of WWII Nazi occupation in Denmark.  It’s a great way for kids to see the emotions and dangers children faced during this horrific time.  Of course, The Diary of Anne Frank is a must-read about WWII, but I also highly recommend The Shadow Children by Steven Schnur, a story about the ghosts of the children involved in the tragedy at Mont Brulant haunting a young boy.  It’s a short book and a little dark by definition, but provides good insight into the horrors of the war.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963  by Christopher Paul Curtis

This is a seriously cool book about the racial tensions in the south in the 1960s.  It’s really funny and at the same time it’s an insightful look into how the civil rights movement affected families, especially African-Americans.  A super important read for all kids.  Also look at Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood (is that her real name?  What a cool name!).  It is a lyrical coming-of-age novel that focuses on the segregation of public swimming pools and the racial tensions of 1964.

I think I could go on with books about the 1960s like I did with books about the 1930s, but seriously, I am running out of time.  I hope this list inspires you to share wonderful fiction with your children as they learn history and that the reading instigates a million discussions about a million different things.   That is, after all, the best part.

Love wins,

KT

Books about China

As we head toward the weekend, I am pretty satisfied with the work I’ve gotten done on our China unit Study.  But being Lit Mama, I couldn’t leave my readers with just a post about researching for a unit study.  I have to tell you about the books I’ve chosen to go along with our Asia study.

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I am fortunate enough to have a room walled in bookshelves (thanks to my beautiful husband) and I have filled them over the years with a plethora of both fiction and nonfiction.  So the first place I go when I’m looking for literature to add to our curriculum is my own bookshelf.  Good thing I’m always picking up new books to add.  There’s usually something I’m looking for right there, already in my house. (I should catalog these books, but who has time for that?!)

The Star FisherOne of the books I’m going to utilize from my own shelf is The Star Fisher by Laurence Yep.  This is a beautiful novel about a Chinese-American family who comes to West Virginia in 1927 and faces prejudice and persecution.  We’re going to read it so that the Littles can be reminded why prejudice is perhaps the Worst Human Flaw Ever, as well as to gain insight into Chinese culture.

The other book I’ll be using off my own shelf is The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Product DetailsSince we’ll be studying Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism as part of Asian history, and the Littles read the complete A.A. Milne line of Pooh books this year, I think it will be a fun and insightful addition to those lessons.  If you’re unfamiliar with this wondrous book, it uses quotes from Pooh and Pooh stories to teach the basic tenets of Taoism.  If you love Pooh at all, you will find yourself not only laughing out loud at his antics, but reflecting on how just how powerful a story Winnie-the-Pooh is.  Good stuff.

My wishlist on Amazon is overflowing with books I want to buy, but I assume we’ll only have time for maybe three before we move on to Africa, depending on their length.  My top pick for a second fiction book is The Road from Home by David Kherdian.  I haven’t read it yet, but it’s a YA book about the Armenian Holocaust at the hands of the Turks.  I think it will add a rich history lesson to our curriculum as well as preparing the Littles to learn about the World War II Holocaust in years to come (hopefully the 2016-2017 school year, but my plans Do tend to change over time).

The Caravan to Tibet by Deepak Agarwal is also on my wishlist, because it is set in India and Tibet (which is a province of China) and looks like a good action story.  The caravan journey is one which was actually undertaken by Indian peoples in times past, and I get the impression there will be lots of descriptions of India and Tibet and the mountains that separate them.  You can’t really ask for more from a book young boys will be reading.

A Royal Diaries book, Lady of Ch’iao Kuo, Warrior of the South, Southern China A.D. 531 by Laurence Yep, rounds out my list of hopefuls.  It tells the story of a young girl who proves herself to be a great leader and military strategist when her world is threatened by war.  I love that it is set in such a long-ago time and the protagonist is female.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions as to which book you would include in a China unit study.  If you have any other suggestions that are near and dear to your heart, please let me know about them, too.  I’m so excited about getting all of this together, and it feels like choosing the lit is one step closer to done!

Love wins,

KT

Life Lessons from The Hobbit

Image result for the hobbitWe are nearing the end of The Hobbit.  We are lamenting the fact.  We all want to stay in Tolkien’s world a bit longer.  Littlest even suggested reading The Trilogy outside of school.  Together, but without the study guide.  I am considering it:  A study guide would help deepen their understanding.  Would they enjoy it more if they didn’t have to answer questions after each chapter?  Would they enjoy it less if I didn’t guide them into thinking about the story more deeply?  Could we do it book-club style?

Whatever–I am all about reading Tolkien for any reason, so I will probably cave.

One of the questions I asked my Littles for today’s chapter of The Hobbit was, “Why did Bilbo give the Arkenstone to Bard?”  If you know the story, from either the book or the films, you know this a pivotal point in the book.  Their answers were many.  And short.

“He wanted to help Bard with the trade.”

“He was weary of being in the mountain.”

“He didn’t want Thorin to starve.”

All true answers.  But I wanted something deeper.  So I kept asking, “Why?”  What purpose could Bilbo be serving in helping Bard with the trade and keeping Thorin from starving and even getting out of the mountain?  They came to it, eventually, without any statements from me.  Just continually leading questions.

Bilbo was trying to save everybody.  This tiny being who once believed he had no adventurous spirit or courage and had been through so many tests of his valor… In the end, he just wanted to save everybody the strife he saw coming if Thorin and Bard continued their stand-off.  Why?

There are a couple of true life lessons I want my Littles to leave home having ingrained in their beings.  Be Kind.  Stand Up For What Is Right.  (In fact, my favorite thing about Disney’s live-action Cinderella is that Ella’s mother’s final advice to her daughter is, “Be kind and have courage.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.)

So I told the Littles as we discussed Bilbo’s motives, “Tolkien is showing us what a true hero does.  He doesn’t just rush into battle, sword blazing, haloed by courage.  He is kind. To everyone.  He stands up for what is right.  It doesn’t always take a battle to do that.”  I haven’t been able to drive that lesson home so well since we studied Samuel Adams and the Revolutionary War.

When we are kind, we put a good and light energy into the world that pays both forward and backward.  Especially if we are kind for no reason.  One example I set is that I always read the name tags of people working in the public (cashiers, fast food clerks, etc.), and call them by name when speaking to them.  Invariably, they smile.  Granted, they are also kind back to me, which gets me better service, but that is not the reason I take the time to read their names and use them.  I do it because I have worked such jobs and I know how it can start to feel like people are not really seeing you as a human being.  And I don’t ever want to make another person feel that way.

When we have the courage to speak up for what we believe in and take action to support those beliefs, we push back against tyranny.  My Littles understand that each person is an individual with individual thoughts and beliefs, and that we all have the right to those things.  So they don’t pressure others to think like them, and they don’t sit back and allow others to pressure them into behaving in a way that goes against their own beliefs.  It’s a great weapon against peer pressure that will help them throughout their lives.

I was glad that here in our final week of school we got to have such a great discussion about something so important to me.  I guess that means I owe even more gratitude to Tolkien than I previously thought.  I don’t mind.  I can’t wait to see what he teaches us in The Trilogy.

Be Kind.

And Have Courage.

Love wins,

KT

Make an Awesome Novel Study Guide

Speaking of letting them lead, we were supposed to round out our literature year with Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.  We were all set to read it, having finished The Story of Dr. Dolittle.  Then my Littles surprised and humbled me once more by asking, “Mama, can we read The Hobbit instead?”

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I was raised on The Hobbit.  Tolkien was a household hero.  So for my Littles to actually request the book made me nothing short of ecstatic.  I wanted them to really get the full effect of the novel–light (good) versus dark (evil), and secret maps, lost treasures, fantastic characters and courage beyond imagining.  So this called for no ordinary study guide.

IMG_20150421_092911738It called for this.  Not just a folder or binder with some notebooking pages and worksheets thrown in, but a study guide that made them feel like part of the adventure.  So the first thing I did was Google a map of Middle Earth and Thorin’s map showing the way to the Lonely Mountain.  I printed them out and we tea-stained them to make them look old.  We also tea-stained a bunch of lined paper and some worksheets we would be using.  I got out my handy-dandy woodburner and burned the edges of the maps and of the folders (in this case, I three-hole punched manilla folders because they were already the right color), and the Littles glued their maps of Middle Earth to the front.

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We glued Thorin’s map into the inside cover.  That way as the company travels to the Lonely Mountain, we can follow their path on both maps.  We used binder rings to add the notebooking paper and worksheets to the folder because I’ve found they are easier to use than brads when you’re dealing with these types of folders.

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We didn’t have a lot of worksheets for this guide, but I love to have them keep a character list, especially for books with this many characters.  (I mean, the awesome thing about The Hobbit is that there are pretty much 15 main characters.  15.  Sure, some of the dwarves and even Gandalf get relegated to minor characters throughout the book, but you still have to keep them straight in your head.)  I made this simple worksheet, we tea-stained it and burned the edges… Voila–a worksheet that fits our theme.

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As usual, we mostly use this folder for answering daily questions about our reading and doing fun writing exercises like making up dialogues between two characters who don’t ever really speak in the book.  The Littles enjoy it more when they know they helped create such a cool place to keep their work.  And Littlest Cannot Wait till we’re done reading so he can use his maps for play.  With only 2 weeks of school left, he doesn’t have long.

Making this kind of study guide is easy and fun and adaptable to almost any adventure story.  In fact, we did one for Robinson Crusoe two years ago that was made to look like a journal.  If I can dig one out, I’ll take a pic and post it for you later in the week.  In the meantime, keep making literature fun!

Love wins,

KT