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YA Book Review: Uprooted

This book.  This one.

uprooted-naomi novik

Click on the link, get your butt to Amazon, and buy it right now.  Then go find a shade tree.  Snuggle up under it and read this beautiful book.

If you like fairy tales At All, this book is the closest thing to a new classic I have ever read.  I heart this book so much just telling you about makes me want to read it again.  Ms. Novik is a genius at making a fantasy seem real.  The world she has created is sumptuous and beautiful and believable and true.  Her characters are sympathetic, likeable, and so real you will miss your friends when it’s over.  And the story?  Oh my.

There is a valley that is ruled by a dragon.  Only this dragon isn’t really a dragon; he’s a wizard.  He is divine.  I fell in love with him pretty much from the moment he was introduced.  But this wizard, he comes down from his tower once every ten years.  He travels to the nearby villages in the valley and picks a girl to go back with him.  He doesn’t abuse her.  In fact, he does almost nothing at all as far as the villagers can tell.  From what they know, the girl works as a servant and is largely left to herself.  But when the chosen girl comes back, she is no longer satisfied with valley life.  She moves away.  To the cities. To be chosen is to be lost to the valley.

When Agnieszka comes of age, she knows the Dragon will never pick her–she is not special enough.  She is an average girl with no real stand-out qualities.  Her friend Kasia is the expected chosen.  The Dragon picks the most special girl–not always the prettiest, but maybe the brightest, the kindest, the best dancer.  Kasia is all those things.  So Agnieszka is not worried on the day of the taking.  Kasia will go, and Agnieszka will get on with her village life.  The Dragon will not pick her.

Then he does.

What follows is one of the absolutely most magical tales I have ever read.  It is full of magic and spells, battles and political intrigue, all overshadowed by the dark corruption of the Wood, where monsters come from and where they are made.  Anyone who wanders too close gets lost in the wood.   If they come back out, they are changed, Corrupt.  The Dragon protects the valley from the Wood and its creatures; it is his sole purpose for living in the tower.  Soon Agnieszka finds herself becoming his helpmate.  Together, they wage a war against evil that is awe-inspiring.  No more so than their reluctant love for each other. This love story… wow.  Like I said, I fell quite hard for the Dragon myself.  I love the guy who turns out to be unlike anything he seems.  You should meet my beautiful husband.  He’s that guy, too.

This tale is woven through with messages about kindness, accepting others’ differences, putting down roots, and being good to nature.  It is written with a sort of golden glow that can be best appreciated by sitting outside in the sun, in the woods, with a breeze blowing.  My only criticism–and it’s not really a criticism–is that I could have stood a little more to the love story.  Mostly because I wanted to soak the Dragon up, so that’s personal.  The truth is, I was impressed by how Ms. Novik did not let the love story overshadow the true tale.  I Cannot Recommend This Book Enough In Words To Make You Understand.  Buy it.  Go to the library and check it out.  Read This Book.  Then let your children read it.  Because everyone should.

Love wins,

KT

Let Their Grandparents Help

Mom & Dad Snowbird

This picture of my parents was taken yesterday.

But KT, you’re thinking, I thought you were from Indiana.

I am.  But my awesome parents are snowbirds.  Which means they skip winter now and run off to Florida.  Leaving me in the snow.  Checking their mail periodically.  In the snow.

But that’s not what this post is about.  Haha, you know I get sidetracked, but that time I did it Immediately.  Because look at all the sunshine in that pic.  Did I mention it’s snowing in Indiana?

Anyhoo, I am truly grateful for my parents.  Not just for what they’ve done for me, but for what they do for my kids.  When you homeschool, you often lean on that whole ‘it takes a village’ mentality, right?  Grandparents are the perfect people to turn to when you want to broaden your littles’ education beyond your own scope.

My parents teach my kids without even realizing they’re doing it.  Or maybe they do, but the Littles don’t.  My dad loves to work with wood, and each of my boys has built something with him over the years.  My mom loves to play board games with them, and if you don’t know how I feel about board games as an educational tool, this must be your first time here.  Welcome.

For instance, my dad is overflowing with business acumen.  Me?  Not so much.  A couple days ago, Middle completely melted my heart.  He was talking about his future video game design company, and all the things he’s going to have to do, and he said, “And I’ll have to sit down and talk to Grandad so he can advise me on the business side of things.”  I told him his Grandad was the perfect person to steer him on that course.  Middle wants to study business alongside all the techie stuff he’ll need in high school, so I imagine he’ll be having plenty of conferences with Grandad.

My mama has worked in law most of her life.  She knows the legal ins and outs of just about everything.  Littlest is very interested in law and every career that could be had in the field.  Mama is a font of information about that stuff.  She’ll be his person where that is concerned.

My parents are also really good about having the boys help them around their farm.  They have a different take on farming than we do, and they grow different things.  The Littles learn different techniques and ideas by helping them out.  My mama grows a mean flower garden, too.  Her thumb is so green it glows.  I love knowing the littles are learning from her, seeing how she does it, understanding the Feeling that goes into good growing.

My parents are very involved in local politics, and that gives the littles the opportunity to hear about and see how that works, which helps them better understand politics on a larger scale.

I think I could list the benefits of having these amazing people as grandparents forever.

Utilizing your own parents to supplement your littles’ educations is a brilliant way to give your kids even more.  It’s like having tutors who are the funnest people your littles know.  Everybody is good at something, so even if your it’s just that your dad is a good storyteller, have him tell your littles stories about his life, the important historical events he remembers, where he was when he heard about JFK’s assassination, his take on the Vietnam War, where he stood in the Civil Rights debate and why, how he felt when the Berlin Wall fell.  Me, I remember the exact spot I was in when I heard about Stevie Ray Vaughn’s and Kurt Cobain’s deaths, but I’m just not sure that’s as relevant.

As homeschoolers, we sometimes become hyper-aware that we can’t do everything ourselves.  So make sure you give your littles’ grandparents opportunities to provide teachable moments, too.  Your littles will appreciate it.

Mama, Daddy, I love you.  Thanks for always being there.  Thanks for joining us on this journey and providing all you do for these kids who love you to the moon and back.

Lovely readers, Happy Valentine’s Day.  You’re all my Valentines because you make it possible for me to do what I do.  I appreciate you.

Love wins,

KT

 

 

Why Your Littles Should Love Lit

Just in case you didn't believe I have over 100 books about King Arthur...

Just in case you didn’t believe I have over 100 books about King Arthur…

It is a breathtaking, sunny morning here.  The meadow is lit up golden, the birds are singing a symphony, the morning light is reflecting on the pond.  A sense of quiet calm drapes the countryside.  It’s got me doing a little reflecting myself.

I’m always telling you that you should engender a lifelong love of learning in your littles and giving you tips on how to go about doing that.  But maybe you should explain to your littles Why it is So Important for them to read.  And maybe you can’t articulate it so well.  It is a fact and you just know it, and putting the reasons into words eludes you. If so, let me try to do it for you. Maybe you don’t really understand why or maybe you’re one of those people who feels books aren’t really that important. If so, let me try to change your mind.

My crush on books started long before I could read.  My brother (who is almost 3 years my senior), my mother, and my father were all readers.  They set an example that I appreciate now more than I can put into words.  When I was 4, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked my brother to teach me to read.  The rest of this lifelong marriage is history.  I can still remember the first time I picked up a Raggedy Ann and Andy book in the library.  The second grade when I met Nancy Drew.  The very first book I read about the Arthurian legends in 6th grade. (In fact, I purchased that book–and the rest of the trilogy–when I reached adulthood and have read it many times since.  It is a magical tale called Guinevere by Sharan Newman.)  Ah… finding a dusty, cloth-bound copy of The Count of Monte Cristo in the middle school library.  My first Dickens (if you’ve been visiting this site long, you already know it was Great Expectations).

fairy and waterfall book

So I’ll give you your first reason for teaching a love of literature to your littles.  Clearly, judging by the paragraph above, books have lifelong impacts on us.  When I first started reading, it was the stories.  I was very young, with no experience in the world outside the walls of my own home.  Hearing and reading stories taught me what was going on Out There.  They taught me the possibilities of what Could Be going on Out There, and that I might see them if I squint my eyes and avert my gaze in just the right way.  I learned of fairies, elves, dolls that come to life, elephants, bears, squirrels, lions… You get it.  If you have any fond memories of a book you read as a child–or of hundreds like I do–then you know what that impact can do for a person.

Reading also provides us an escape from reality when things are tough.  And it doesn’t harm us by giving us that escape.  When things are going wrong and you know you can stop thinking about them for a while just by grabbing a good book and reading, you’re not destroying brain cells or inviting epilepsy.  It may sound odd, but reading can keep your littles from becoming screen addicts or worse.  In my humble opinion, who needs mind-altering drugs or alcohol when it’s so much more fun to read a book?  Maybe, just maybe, if you teach them to love reading, you are teaching them a truly healthy form of escapism.  And maybe they’ll never need anything to take its place.  So reading might just save their lives.  A stretch?  Hmm.  I don’t really think so.

Grimm fairy tales cutout book

Reading teaches us about places we might never get to see.  When the Littles and I read Oliver Twist last year, they learned so much about 19th century British politics, the geography of London, the history of Britain.  They may never get to see Britain, but reading books about it can help them not feel like they’re missing it.  If you encourage your littles to read books about other lands or written by authors from those lands, you are encouraging geography.  You’re making the world smaller for them in a way the interweb really can’t.  You’re putting it at their fingertips and in their minds.  Literature touches our brains differently than images do.  So send them to foreign countries.  Often.  Through the eyes of all different kinds of characters.  They will appreciate you for it all their lives.

My love of books has grown with me.  As I said, it began with the stories, then it became an escape, then I realized how much I was learning by reading… But I’ve discovered something new recently.  (Just like any good marriage, I’m constantly discovering new things to love.)  As we grow older, this love of books comes with us.  And you know, admit it, the more years there are behind us, the less we notice things.  We’ve seen them before.  A Lot.  Think of how often you pay attention to the landscape when you’re driving to work or to the same grocery store, department store, post office.  Life kind of gets like that too, doesn’t it?  It might be a beautiful morning, but you’ve seen them before and you’re pretty sure you’ll see one again, and you’re just too busy to really stop and appreciate it.  Right?  It happens.

ballet cutout bookBut books–they remind me to pay attention.  Ever notice how a really good description puts a picture in your mind?  You can see it, smell it, taste it, even if all the author has given you is a visual.  Well, when that happens, I want to experience that place again in real life, or something as close to it as I can get.  So I start to pay attention.  Simply put, if an author describes a country lane to me in full detail–the periwinkle of the roadside flowers, the heat of the asphalt, the shade of the overhanging trees–the next time I leave my driveway, I’m going to look at my country lane as I drive down it, not think about the dozens of things I have to accomplish that day.  Books bring me back to my senses, literally.

I am reminded to look at the fields, the flowers, the sunlight, the gloaming and its fireflies.  I’m reminded to breathe in the scent of fresh-mown hay, the honeysuckle, the sharp scent of snow, the dew-covered grass.  I remember to appreciate the feel of cool water against my skin, the precious brush of a loving hand, the grass under my feet, and even the stinging slap of an Arctic wind.  Books make me listen.   They remind me how much I love the sound of cicadas, birds singing, spring peepers, airplanes, and the voices of my loved ones.  Especially fantasy novels with a good quest remind me to appreciate the flavor a good stew, roasted meat, tender vegetables.  Just as importantly, books remind me to understand other people’s motivations, to find my empathy.  To remember that every story is told from multiple points of view and every character I meet in real life is seeing that story in a different way.  Think of the differences between The Wizard of Oz and Wicked.  Of course the wicked witch had her own side of the story.  Everyone does.  Books remind us of that.  And  that is a Very Important Thing.

Reading also helps combat the whole ‘instant gratification’ problem that technology is causing.  It helps kids learn to appreciate anticipation.  You can’t cheat your way through a book or you’ll miss something.  In fact, in this era, that may be the most important reason to read.  It teaches patience.  You can’t get from this page to that page without reading every paragraph.  Kinda rocks, doesn’t it?  They can get instant gratification later.  For now, let them slow down.

So if your little ever whines about reading time and asks, “Mom (or Dad), why is this so important?  It’s boring,” you now have some decent answers to give.  They may not be very scientific, but they are real.  Teach them to love it and that love will get them through the next 80 years or so.  You know it will, because

Love wins,

KT