Monday 29 June 2015

Books for Beginning Readers: History

This is a follow on post from Books for Beginning Readers: Nature & Science. These are books that were favourites in our home. Besides being readable for beginning readers, the stories are based on historic events and history has been an area all of my children have loved.

Step into Reading Books - these are in order of difficulty, starting from the easiest.

The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford. Balto carries a diphtheria vaccine to the town of Nome, in Alaska during a terrible storm in 1925.

Tut's Mummy by Judy Donnelly - from the death of Tutankhamen over three thousand years ago to the discovery of his tomb and its treasures in 1922 by English archaeologist, Howard Carter.

The Titanic Lost & Found by Judy Donnelly - after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the ship lay on the ocean floor for over 70 years until 1985, when it was found by 'Argo,' a specially made underwater robot, the invention of scientist Robert Ballard.

The book is a step up from Tut's Mummy & introduces paragraphs.

The Trojan Horse: How the Greeks Won the War by Emily Little - 6 short chapters. Archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann had read Homer's Iliad and believed that the city of Troy did actually exist. In 1870 he went to Turkey and began to dig...

'An I Can Read Book'

Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express by Eleanor Coerr

Based on a real character. Not much historical content but a fun read for boys especially. One of my boys knew this book inside out & we heard him narrate a chunk of it while he was asleep one night.

Sam the Minuteman by Nathaniel Benchley - a young boy's experience of the Battle of Lexington, the famous battle that marked the beginning of the American Revolution. My Aussie kids loved this and its companion book, George the Drummer Boy.

The start of the American Revolution from George the Drummer Boy's view.

We've got an older hardback copy which I couldn't place when I was looking through the other books but it was another favourite.

 Follow the Drinking Gourd: a Story of the Underground Railway by F.N. Monjo - 6 short chapters. The writing in this book is of a smaller print than any of the other books I've posted here.

Crazy Horse: Sioux Warrior by Enid Meadowcroft is more of a short chapter book but it is an interesting read for a beginner who is ready for something more than one of the shorter readers above. 11 chapters, 80 pages & large print.

The author has written three other books about American Indians in this series.

Friday 26 June 2015

The Saltzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes (1968)

Settling down for a cozy read of this Cold War novel, I started to absorb myself in the character of former British spy, Richard Bryant. The story was interesting to start with but by the end of the second chapter it became completely engrossing after a most unexpected occurrence, and continued tense and unpredictable to the very end.

Twenty-two years after the end of World War II, Richard Bryant set out alone to uncover a secret. At the close of the war the retreating Nazis hid a sealed chest in an Austrian lake, high up in the Alps, and Richard Bryant was one of the few people alive who knew of its existence.
Bryant's success in his solitary mission unleashed a train of events and implications that touched everyone connected with him, catching them up in a tangled web of intrigue and danger.
This book was definitely a page turning, thoroughly enjoyable novel of the Cold War Era although I did find the plot convoluted at times and had difficulty working out which side the characters belonged to - then again that's the nature of espionage.
Helen MacInnes and her husband experienced the Europe of World War II as the Nazis were rising to power and her first book, Above Suspicion, was drawn from that experience. The antagonists in her books are usually either Nazis or Communists and as her editor of twenty-five years said of her:

Besides the ability to craft a credible and realistic story, MacInnes' writing is of a high quality and very descriptive.
We have old plain hardbacks or paperback editions of her books with tacky pictures on the front but the book above is one of the newer editions brought out by Titan Books in 2013.
MacInnes' books contain some adult themes but I haven't found anything yet in her books that is objectionable or unsuitable for about age 15 years and up. My teen-aged children really liked this book.

Monday 22 June 2015

I Can Jump Puddles by Alan Marshall (1955)

I initially picked up this book knowing it was an Australian Classic but with little knowledge of its content. It had been on our bookshelf, unread for years, until a few months ago when it caught my eye and I decided to use it for our read aloud. It is a fictionalised autobiography of the author and has sold over three million copies.

In the early 1900's, not long after Alan Marshall had just started school, a polio epidemic swept through Victoria. Very little was known about Infantile Paralysis (poliomyelitis) at the time and the word 'Paralysis' was associated with idiocy. When it became known that Alan had been struck down with the disease, the first question many people asked was, "Have you heard if his mind is affected?"
After he contracted polio, Alan's legs were left paralysed. Not long afterwards, the muscles in his legs began to contract and the sinews behind his knees tightened,  forcing his legs into a kneeling position. It was decided that he needed surgery and so he was admitted to the hospital twenty miles away. 
Reading about a young boy's hospital experience in the early 1900's makes you realise and appreciate how much things have changed over the years.
Alan was the only child in a ward full of adult males. Visiting hours were strict; parents were not allowed to stay with their children and not much was communicated to either patients or families about anything. Admission to hospital was a frightening enough experience for an adult, let alone a six year old boy.
After he had recovered from his surgery, Alan returned home. His parents didn't have enough money to buy a wheelchair so his father made him a long, three-wheeled vehicle out of an old perambulator and each morning he was pushed to school in the pram by the children who lived down the road. Once at school, he left his pram near the door and walked into the school on his crutches.

'Children make no distinction between the one who is lame and the one who has the full use of his limbs. They will ask a boy in crutches to run here or there for them and complain when he is slow.'

Alan's father was a horse trainer and Alan had always wanted to be a horseman. After his illness his father explained to him that he could never ride - not until he was a man and could walk again - his legs could not grip and as he had to hold onto the pommel to keep his balance upon the horse, he had no control of the reins:

'I listened to him in silence. I did not believe what he said was true. I wondered that he believed it himself. He was always right; now for the first time he was wrong.
I had made up my mind to ride.'

This book is not just the moving story of a little boy who defies and overcomes a major disability but it is also a picture of a period that has passed. In the preface to his book Marshall writes:

'The men and women here described are a product of that period and they too are passing. The influences that made them self-reliant, forthright and compassionate, have given way to influences that can develop characters just as fine, but the mould has changed and the product is different.'

Some of the most memorable and inspiring features of the story concerned Alan's attitude to his 'disability.' As far as he was concerned, he didn't have one.

'Having a normal mind my attitude to life was that of a normal child and my crippled limbs could not alter this attitude.'

This is an inspiring book to read. Both poignant and humorous, there are some beautifully written nuggets contained within its pages. One of my favourite passages is here, when Alan is taken out into the sunshine after his prolonged stay in hospital. Although Marshall wrote the book as an adult looking back on his childhood, he never lost the ability to see with the eyes of a child. My ten and fifteen year old's enjoyed this description of Alan's science lesson:

'Once a week we were given a lesson called "Science." I liked this lesson because then we were allowed to stand round he table and you could push and shove and have fun. 
Mr. Tucker opened the cupboard contains some test tubes, a spirit lamp, a bottle of Mercury and a leather disc with a piece of string attached to the centre. He placed these things on the table and said, "Today we are concerned with the weight of air which is fourteen pounds to the square inch."

This didn't make sense to me but the fact that I was standing beside Maggie Mulligan made me wish to shine so I proffered the information that my father had told me the fuller you are with air the lighter you are and you couldn't sink in the river. I thought this had some bearing on the subject...
The teacher was not impressed...
He then wet the leather disc and pressed it in the desk and none of us could pull it off except Maggie Mulligan who ripped the guts out of it with one yank and proved air didn't weigh anything.'

I Can Jump Puddles used to be required reading in Australian schools but it has largely been forgotten and most of Marshall's books are out of print. It's surprising that a book that deals with overcoming disability, written by someone who has been such an inspiration to children and adults in many different parts of the world has been neglected, especially when we now have a greater awareness of the needs and rights of the disabled.

Alan Marshall was awarded the O.B.E. for his services to the physically handicapped in 1972 and died in 1984.

This article was written for the 100th anniversary of Alan Marshall's birth and I quote from it below:

'...I think sooner or later, the Education Department will once again promote his work as an example of not giving in to adversity. And I think that's one of the reasons he was universally accepted. You could take his story and present it to any people in any country, and they could identify with his struggle against his pain and suffering. He really made good.'

I read this book aloud to a 10 and 15 year old & edited some parts for my younger listener. It would be a great read for older children in high school around 14 or 15 years of age. As with 'A Fortunate Life,' another wonderful Aussies classic, the author ultimately rejected God. I think this is important to discuss as it gets to the heart of what we believe about the character of God and why people suffer.

I Can Jump Puddles
by Alan Marshall is my entry for 'A Forgotten Classic' in the Back to the Classics Challenge.

Friday 19 June 2015

Snippets of a Week Of Ambleside Online Year 8 with a 15 Year old

*  History readings as per Ambleside Online schedule. Benj plans his own readings from the weekly list. With Churchill's books, he has always preferred to read a whole chapter per week rather than how it is scheduled (the chapters are divided as they are fairly long) so he has just finished the book this week.

*  Shakespeare's Macbeth - we've just started this play using the Arkangel BBC recording.

*  We're not doing a Plutarch Life this term as our days are full enough at present. I'm happy if we do at least two Shakespeare and two lives per year but sometimes we do more.

*  The Holy War by John Bunyan - each week Benj adds to his poetic saga narration.

*  Francis Bacon Essays - a re-writing of the essay Of Studies.
There were a few Latin phrases such as, Abeunt studia in mores and cymini sectores, which we were unsure of until we found this site which helps explain them.

Maths - continues with Saxon Algebra II which he's almost finished. We were talking this week about what he'd like to study at University so we can plan towards that. We've used the SAT and units from Open University as a means of providing 'formal' documentation for university entry and as he has a mathematical bent, we'll probably get him to do some subjects related to that starting either this year or the beginning of next.

He watched this video this week:


Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov - Volume 1: Motion, Sound & Heat.
Science Notebook & experiments
Apologia Exploring Creation With Biology - selected modules only

Combining two loves, mathematics & soccer:

Art & Poetry

 La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John William Waterhouse (1893)

 The painting above is based on John Keats' 1819 poem of the same name.

I really liked the sound of this book when I saw it on Janice Campbells's Excellence in Literature site and thought it would be good for me to work through myself as a devotional. So I am, but Benj is also now using it to read through the poems of George Herbert, which are unique & beautiful. Working it Out: Growing Spiritually with the Poetry of George Herbert by Joseph L. Womack.

There is a sample of the book here.
At the beginning of the book is a short section in which Janice Campbell gives suggestions on using the book in the writing process.

Linking to Weekly Wrap-up

Thursday 18 June 2015

Books for Beginning Readers: Nature & Science

Finding an interesting selection of books to bridge the gap from when a child first begins to read until they are able to read with sufficient fluency can be difficult, especially if that time period is prolonged. I'll be posting books that worked well for us at this stage, dividing them into different categories.  Most of them work well for around the ages of 4 to 8 years. I read these aloud (many times over) to my non-readers but my children loved to read them on their own when they first started reading for themselves. The 'Science I CAN READ' books are well-illustrated and interesting, narrative non-fiction and there is a wide range available secondhand. These are some we used & liked:

Elephant Seal Island by Evelyn Shaw

A Nest of Wood Ducks by Evelyn Shaw

Red Tag Comes Back by Fred Phleger

Ants Are Fun by Mildred Myrick

Caterpillar Green by Marla Martin

This book is published by Rod & Staff Publishers and is unusual in that it is a chapter book of 139 pages of good sized print with words broken down into syllables. The story is about a classroom of children who follow the journey of a green caterpillar as it becomes a beautiful butterfly. The story is told in both prose and poetry and is helpful in developing reading fluency with words of multiple syllables in the context of an interesting aspect of the natural world.

The Microscope by Maxine Kumin 

An illustrated poem about the Dutch scientist, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who was more interested in looking through his handmade microscopes than in keeping his shop. He saw things with the microscope that no one had ever seen before.

Germs Make Me Sick by Melvin Berger

'Germs all all around you, but they are too small for you to see. Many germs are harmless, but two kinds, viruses and bacteria, can make you sick. Read and find out about germs, how they make you sick, and how your body works to fight them off and keep you healthy.''

Sunday 14 June 2015

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie (1890-1976)

The Man in the Brown Suit is the fourth book I've read by Agatha Christie, the 'Queen of Crime.' I read Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile years ago and wasn't inspired enough to read any more of her novels but a couple of my children really liked The Secret Adversary so I eventually decided to read that. This is the first of Christie's Tommy & Tuppence books (she wrote five starring these two characters) and the setting involves the World War I sinking of the Lusitania. I did enjoy this book, probably because Hercule Poirot wasn't in it. I really don't like his character and it was interesting to read that even Agatha Christie got fed up with him and his idiosyncrasies.
I was trying to decide on a title written in the 20th Century as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge. I had a few books in mind but the other week I decided to clean our floor to ceiling bookshelves and discovered a whole lot of books that I'd forgotten or hadn't read yet. They included a row of Agatha Christie titles. 

I've always wondered why she has been so hugely popular - her books have been translated into over one hundred languages and she is the best-selling novelist of all time. I really didn't think Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile were notable at all. The Secret Adversary gave me some hope that I might actually enjoy some other titles.
Then along comes The Man in the Brown Suit and I think I've totally changed my mind about Christie. 

Published in 1924, this book was a pleasure to read. Fast paced and delightful - and no Hercule Poirot. 
Anne Beddington, an attractive young woman, is left orphaned and penniless when her archaeologist father dies. When she witnesses the accidental death of a stranger who falls and is electrocuted on an Underground platform, she also sees a man in a brown suit examine the body, pronounce him dead,  and then quickly leave. As she turns to go also, she sees the 'doctor' break into a run, dropping a piece of paper as he does so. With this piece of paper and its cryptic message, Anne embarks on a journey which takes her all the way to South Africa on a wild adventure. With a backdrop of political intrigue and murder, stolen diamonds, kidnappings and threats on her own life, Anne determines to solve the mystery of the man in the brown suit.
The book is written by two narrators: Anne, and Sir Eustace Pedler, MP and it is a thrilling story. I really enjoyed the humour sprinkled throughout this book, which was in keeping with Anne Beddington's personality, and the conclusion of the story was novel and unexpected.
It's an excellent introduction to Agatha Christie for ages around 14 years and up.

The Secret Adversary is a good introduction to Agatha Christie for a younger reader as it lacks the romantic elements of The Man in the Brown Suit.

'I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays and have things arranged for them that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas.'

Agatha Christie 

The BBC archives have a short video from 1955 in which Agatha Christie talks about 'her lack of formal education and how boredom during childhood led her to write 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles', which was completed when she was still in her twenties. She outlines her working methods and discusses why it is much easier to write plays than novels.'

This book is my entry in the Back to the Classics: 20th Century Classic category.