Vocabulary

A Glimpse and a Glance

What was life like for my son’s grandparents, who were teenagers during the Great Depression and young adults during World War II?  

We got a glimpse of the Great Depression – through Cheryl Mullenbach’s first-rate book “The Great Depression for Kids”:

  • setting the scene for the Great Depression: the roaring twenties
  • Herbert Hoover’s policies and FDR’s “New Deal”
  • and when things could not get any worse: the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s
  • differences between city schools and country schools
  • fun diversions:  roller derbies, the circus, Shirley Temple
  • neighbor helping neighbor, farmer helping farmer  (very heartening)
  • vocabulary and concepts defined:  migrant workers, prohibition, the stock market, banks collapsing, breadlines, striking workers, rationing, silent movies /“talkies”, rural, urban

We got a glimpse of the early days of World War II – through Richard Peck’s YA novel, “On the Wings of Heroes”.  Peck’s short chapters seamlessly combine the realities of a nation at war with a middle school student’s realities:

  • an adored older brother serving in the air force
  • rationing (we did not know that even shoes were rationed)
  • collection drives for the war effort (rubber tires, paper, all types of metal), culminating in the most wonderful town event:  a parade of rusted out jalopies headed for the scrap yard
  • ineffectual teachers vs. dynamite craftier-than-a-fox teachers
  • classroom bullies (who are served their just desserts)
  • the best friend
  • the hilarious next door neighbors

This is a comforting book set during nervous times and a perfect follow up to our study of the Great Depression.

A glimpse at trees and the high seas – 

Trees, a Rooted History” –  Socha and Grajkowski explore 32 tantalizing tree topics and team them with clever, superbly executed illustrations.  Our favorite two-page spreads: prehistoric trees (lots of fern-like leaves), the tallest trees (FYI, the tallest tree in the world:  “Hyperion”, a coast redwood in California), tree houses (why yes, we would like to stay in the treehouse on the grounds of  Amberley Castle in England), and the art of bonsai (who can’t love the sheer art and patience evident in a bonsai tree?).

We concluded our tree unit with a fill-in-the-blank version of the Joyce Kilmer’s poem of 1913, “Trees”.  (This was easy for my son – we have read this poem many times.)

Speaking of trees:  a Farmer Brown story problem – Farmer Brown’s cat, Olive, loves to scamper to the top of the front yard apple tree, but is jittery about the descent.  Smart thinking Farmer Brown has been successful in coaxing Olive down the tree with a fragrant offering of tuna.  If a can of tuna costs $4 and Farmer Brown needs to lure Olive down around 7 times a month, will $400 be enough to cover the cost of Olive’s “rescue tuna” this year?  (answer at bottom of post)

deep sea voyage

Professor Astro Cat’s Deep-Sea Voyage” – YAY! We have the new book by Dr. Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman!  My son and I have loved every book by this team (especially “Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space”).  And once again, THIS IS WHAT A LEARNING EXPERIENCE SHOULD LOOK LIKE IN BOOK FORM.  We are only half way through, but here is what has grasped our attention so far:

  • How low can you go?  My son and I both shivered as we read about depth zones in the ocean.  How it gets darker/colder and darker/colder and darker/colder the lower you go (thank heavens for deep sea vents) .  We found the Mariana Trench (the deepest known place on Earth) on our globe and pondered how anybody found this in the first place.
  • Ocean birds:  We are giving “A+ for Effort Awards” to cormorants, sea birds that can dive to 130 feet below sea level, and Arctic terns, who migrate further than any other animal on Earth (from north pole to south pole).
  • Octopuses have NINE brains: each arm has a brain – after getting over the semi-creepiness of this, we mused over the mechanics of an arm having a brain.
  • Most thought provoking:  those who have viewed fish tanks at any aquarium will have seen schools of fish moving together quickly and almost poetically.  Now that we think about it, we have never seen fish bumping into each other.  WHY?  Because fish have something totally confusing called the LATERAL LINE SYSTEM which enables them to detect vibrations, movement, and pressure from their surroundings.  

manderinefish

  • The utterly elegant manderinefish:  our new favorite fish 

A glance at ants –  If you need to know about ants, may we recommend, “The Life and Times of the Ant”, by Charles Micucci.  It is simply jammed with all sorts of stuff we budding ant scholars did not know previously, like:  

  • an ant scholar is properly known as a myrmecologist (what an RTW – really tough word)
  • a queen ant can live for up to 15 years and can produce 1million eggs annually
  • all worker ants are ladies;  the only job for male ants is fathering ant young ’uns
  • ants rely on the senses of touch, smell, sound, and taste (but not sight)

Concluding thought:   ants have been busy on Earth for around 100 million years.  They are smart, strong and supremely organized.  Homo sapiens have been busy on Earth for less than 1 million years.  Some of us are smart, some are strong, few are supremely organized.  No wonder we cannot get a handle on how to deal with ants in the sugar bowl.

Classical Music Time – we created a soundtrack for busy ants:

  • Moto Perpetuo by Niccolo Paganini,  1835.  We’re imagining ants with teeny iPods, working non-stop to the rhythm of Paganini’s composition.  Do they notice how this four and a half minute piece seems to be managed on a single breath by trumpet virtuoso, Wynton Marsalis?

  • Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, composed in 1748 by George Frideric Handel for his oratorio, “Solomon”.  All hail the Queen of the Ant Colony!  After producing all those eggs, this little lady deserves all the royal pomp that Handel can muster – 

  • Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, movement 3 – Oh my, it is as if Tchaikovsky was writing about ants marching toward the ultimate prize:  A PICNIC BASKET.  There they go!  March, march, march, up and down little hills on the trail, no time for funny business.  But wait!  About a minute and a half in, AN OBSTACLE in the middle of the path!  A big leaf perhaps?  But take heart, quick thinking ants maneuver around the leaf and by minute 3, they are back on track.  What a grand ending as the picnic basket is reached (even the orchestra’s conductor is jubilant!).  Treasures (maybe a potato chip and cookie crumbs) are hoisted to bring back to the Queen, and the march back to the colony’s nest commences.  (My son LOVED the commentary and welcomed it again in the next night’s music line-up)(success!) –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  yes)

The Fireproof Safe

safe third

Prologue-
Q: Did my son know what a safe was?
Q: Did my son know what “fireproof” meant?
Those resolved, Q: If my son owned a factory that produced fireproof safes, how would he mark the occasion of the sale of the 20,000th safe?  (Wait, what?)  Would he do what the Wertheim Company of Vienna did in 1869?
The story – I estimate that my son and I have listened to Joseph Strauss’s “Feuerfest Polka” about 240 times.  It is fast-moving, happy, accented with the pinging of a hammer on an anvil, and comes with an adorable story – the polka was commissioned in 1869 by Franz von Wertheim, whose firm produced fireproof safes (feuerfest means fireproof in German).  The music was in celebration of Wertheim’s 20,000th safe! My son and I spent time imagining a company today commissioning a polka for the 20,000th production of anything.  This is SO GOLD.
“Feuerfest Polka”: the story continues – Because of the hammer/anvil pinging, we’ve been referring to Strauss’s piece as the “Blacksmith Polka” for years.  But last week it occurred to me that my son might not know what a blacksmith was.  Did he?  No.  Oh, dear.  Time to find out about blacksmithing.  We chose “History of the Blacksmith in Photographs” by Bryan Crawmer, and “The Backyard Blacksmith” by Lorelei Sims.  Both exceptionally helpful.  To conclude this unit I read aloud (the quite lengthy), “The Village Blacksmith” by Longfellow.

blacksmith books

Epilogue – Because of a very short piece of music, my son now knows about blacksmithing and fireproof safes.  AND BTW, The Wertheim Company is still making safes.

All is calm – We have just finished “The Prairie Builders” a superb book by Sneed B. Collard III, for which he received the American Association for Advancement of Science Award in 2006.  It chronicles the reconstruction of an 8,000+ acre tall grass prairie in Iowa, beginning in 1992 – the site preparation, the reintroduction of native seeds, bison, elk, butterflies. The pureness, calmness of both endeavor and writing reminds us of “The Ox-Cart Man” (Donald Hall/ Barbara Cooney, Caldecott Medal 1980).  Both soothing reads make us appreciate focused, honest work.

“How Trains Work” – a comprehensive, high energy, vibrantly illustrated Lonely Planet Kids Book. Our two favorite takeaways:
– We found out exactly how a funicular works.  We have known about funiculars, but did not have a grasp on the mechanics. (See blog post of November 22, 2014, “Mounting Interest”) (the post is one of my faves)
– We were reading about suspension railways (sort of like an upside-down monorail) and came across this SHOCKINGLY AWFUL YET HILARIOUS account: in 1950, for an ill-thought-out circus publicity stunt, an elephant named Tuffi was traveling on a suspension railway in Germany.  She FREAKED OUT and jumped out of the train (40 feet above ground). LUCKILY she landed in a river and was rescued. Well! This certainly speaks to the sturdiness of that particular suspension railroad.

Reading for great pleasure – We have just started Richard Peck’s book of short stories, “Past Perfect, Present Tense” and it is so A+.  The introduction, an essay on the short story genre, should be required reading. Two points stuck with us –
(semi-direct quote)  “Stories present the metaphor of change, to prepare the readers for changes coming in their lives.  NON-READERS WILL NEVER BE READY” (I added the caps)
(semi-direct quote)  “A short story isn’t easier to write than a novel.  It has less time to plead its case.”
Last night we read the first story in the collection, “Priscilla and the Wimps”, AND LOVED IT.  In the span of 4 pages, the best short story we have ever read.  First of all, THE TITLE.  Second of all, SWEET JUSTICE! Oh my gosh, the ending!  This is re-read worthy.

Story Problem – Le Fictitious Local Diner has an app! (not really)(for story problem purposes only) – And what’s on the app?  Videos of cooking demonstrations from local celebrity/diner chef Jeanette.  The diner is paying Chef Jeanette $50 for each uploaded video and $1 for every view.  Views so far:
– “Bake your own Potato Chips with Chef Jeanette”:  20 views
– “Diner Cherry Pie with Chef Jeanette”:  15 views
– “Diner Healthy Diet Plate with Chef Jeanette”:  0 views
– “Hot Dogs in Pastry Dough with Chef Jeanette”:  25 views
– “Let’s Make Salmon Treats for your Cat with Chef Jeanette”:  500 views
At this point, how much does the diner owe Chef Jeanette?
A) $250    B) $560    C) $810    D) $1,000 (answer at bottom of post)

From our classical music time –
To honor short stories:  the very shortest piece on our iPod – Glenn Gould’s lightning fast interpretation of Bach’s Invention No. 13 in A minor (composed in the early 1700’s).  Usually this piece takes just over a minute, Gould has shaved off 15 seconds –

To honor the Regal Fritillary butterfly, reintroduced to the prairie project:  a composition for piano and two flutes, “Deux Papillons” (Two Butterflies) by Emil Kronke, composed in 1739.  Spritely performance in gorgeous cathedral setting –

And of course, to honor Franz von Wertheim’s 20,000th fireproof safe, Josef Strauss’s “Feuerfest Polka”:  this performance is pretty cute, with conductor and “local blacksmith” fighting for control of the orchestra –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story problem answer: C). $810)

In a Happy Place

flags nordic

If you’re happy and you know it (you must be living in one of the Nordic countries) We wanted to learn a bit about Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland when we read through the 2019 survey which ranked these Nordic countries the happiest in the world.  (FYI:  the USA placed 19th out of 156 – not too shabby)

We are using multiple resources, our globe is out, and here’s what has caught our attention: 

  • there are 30 active volcanos on Iceland
  • the only Finnish word in the American language is “sauna”
  • male AND female reindeer have antlers, and their wonky antlers are NOT symmetrical (vocab)
  • we know where to find 5 versions of the Nordic cross (all 5 countries use the Nordic cross on their national flag)
  • the Danish alphabet has three letters not found in the English alphabet
  • in 2019, the Helsinki, Finland public library was awarded Best Public Library in the World!

For those working toward a PhD in Herpetology – “Lizards” by Sneed B. Collard III is probably not the book.  For the rest of us, it IS the book:  organized, written in a casual voice, funny, funny, funny and filled with opinions, pretty good photos, and easy to grasp facts.  I tested my son on his lizard info comprehension by having him take THE LIZ QUIZ.  (A+, of course)(yay!)

Story Problems! 

From Le Fictitious Local Diner –  January is not only CHICKEN POT PIE MONTH at the diner, it is FREE IN-TOWN DELIVERY FOR CHICKEN POT PIES MONTH. Sales are skyrocketing.  Typically, the diner sells 50 pot pies a week.  But during free-delivery month, the diner has been selling 150 weekly.  Each pot pie costs $3 to produce and sells for $8.  How much more per week does the diner PROFIT in chicken pot pies during the free delivery month?
A)  $150     B)  $300     C)  $500     D)  $800  (answer at bottom of post)

From Farmer Brown’s ranch – Every January, Farmer Brown provides each of his 5 farm hands with 2 new pair of fleece lined jeans (at $50 each, including tax) and a heavy-duty waterproof jacket (at $90 each, including tax).  Was Farmer Brown able to spend less than $1,000 for the purchases this year? (answer at bottom of post)

Zigzagging from our solar system to  woodcut prints to Claude Debussy –

planetarium

– It started with “Planetarium”, Raman Prinja’s dazzling book of planets, galaxies, dark matter, etc.  My son and I have read through several excellent outer space books, so we are on the lookout for anything new:  “Planetarium” did not disappoint –   we have now been introduced to THE OORT CLOUD.  But the real story for us:  the imaginative and superbly crafted woodcut print illustrations by Chris Wormell.

– We are now in WOODCUT PRINT APPRECIATION mode:  we are re-reading “The Old Man Mad about Drawing”, about the great Japanese woodcut print master, Hokusai.  We are also working through “Making Woodblock Prints” by Chesterman and Nelson, to understand the skills and tools involved.

– THEN, while listening to the radio show, “Exploring Music with Bill McLaughlin” we learned that Claude Debussy was so intrigued by woodcut prints that he requested that Hokusai’s famed “The Great Wave” be used on the cover of his La Mer sheet music.

Our classical music selections – the focus had to be on Claude Debussy.  As polished and deeply moving as the music is, we do not often select Debussy pieces for our nightly STUDIES AND STORIES conclusion as we are usually looking for something jollier.  However, three pieces that we are familiar with (and like) – 

  • Jeux de Vagues – movement 2 from Debussy’s 1905 orchestral composition, La Mer.  My son and I envision being plopped in the middle of an ocean where the music has no beginning nor end.  That is what we hear in this intuitive piece:

  • Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – this 10+ minute symphonic poem, composed in 1894, is considered to be the beginning of modern music.  Here is what we think:  that flute player, who opens the piece is under ENORMOUS pressure:

  • Clair de Lune – the beloved movement 3 from Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque (for piano), of 1905.  

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  Diner – C.  $500, Farmer Brown – Yes)

The Power of the Deadline

I set myself a goal to post one more time before 2020.  So, VOILA!  Where have I been?  It’s been two and half months!  (We are still here, we are still reading stories and delving into academic material every night.)  My “Poor Me” explanation is hastily offered at the bottom of the page.  But meanwhile, a brief review of what we’ve been learning:

Nonfiction – 

Low Earth Orbit – Oh my gosh, who wouldn’t feel elite and intellectual knowing what LOW EARTH ORBIT means?  Being able to use it in a sentence?  That is one reason my son and I loved “Building on a Dream:  The International Space Station”, written by Tamra B. Orr, published in 2018 (so essentially up to date).  We learned that anything that orbits within 1,200 miles from the earth’s surface is considered LEO.  The ISS is positioned 240 miles from the earth’s surface.  MATH PROBLEM:   1)  If the moon is approximately 240,000 miles from earth, the ISS is what percentage of that distance?  2)  If the ISS circles Earth 15.5 times daily, how many orbits are made in a year? (answers at bottom of post) 

Opera Stories – Sing Me a Story” – a worthy book by the Metropolitan Opera that explains in great detail an array of opera stories.  Our brief synopses of the book’s synopses – 

  • Aida – SAD:  a terrible misunderstanding, lovers die at end
  • Amahl and the Night Visitors – HAPPY:  good things come to those pure of heart
  • The Barber of Seville – HAPPY:  characters in disguise, happy ending
  • La Boheme – SAD:  poverty, love, tragic death
  • Carmen – SAD:  Carmen (not a sympathetic character) comes to a bad end (a stabbing death)
  • The Daughter of the Regiment – HAPPY:  all sorts of surprises, happy ending
  • L’Enfant et les Sortilèges – HAPPY, SORT OF:  naughty boy has a change of heart
  • Die Fledermaus – HAPPY:  ever so many things going on, merry ending
  • Hansel and Gretel – HAPPY, SORT OF:  morbid fun
  • The Love for Three Oranges – WHO KNOWS:  way, way, way too confusing for the likes of us
  • The Magic Flute – HAPPY:  really long, many intertwined themes, triumphant ending
  • Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – HAPPY, SORT OF: the trials of joining the town chorus
  • Pagliacci – SAD:  vintage opera (clowns and a stabbing)
  • Porgy and Bess – HEART WRENCHING:  drugs, gambling, murder.  Too adult for us.
  • The Tales of Hoffman – SAD:  the three weird loves of ETA Hoffman PLUS tuberculosis

Around the World – we really enjoyed every page of “Amazing Expeditions” by Anita Ganeri, superbly illustrated by Michael Mullan.  

  • Most engaging journeys – Marco Polo, Norgay and Hillary, Ellen MacArthur
  • Most likable expedition leader – James Cook
  • Most unlikable expedition leader – Hernan Cortes

Maurice Sendak – we are in the middle of a unit on American illustrator Maurice Sendak, using multiple resources.  We loved learning that among his many jobs, Sendak constructed window displays for famed NYC toy store, FAO Schwartz.  We are fascinated by the meticulous crosshatching in many of Sendak’s illustrations (and we tried our hand at crosshatching)(and we were terrible, our drawings looked like fly eyes).

Book Learnin’ – we have been giving focused attention to book anatomy:  prologue, epilogue, table of contents, and glossary.   But mostly THE TABLE OF CONTENTS.  We are astonished by what we can learn just by fully appreciating a good table of contents.  

Fiction – 

The Best Man” – as per usual, Richard Peck writes a well-paced book we were happy to open every night.  Amid the chaos of middle-school hijinks, restoring automobiles, best friend’s mom becoming a teacher, and computer geeks, the theme of an uncle being gay is woven in seamlessly.   This is the first time I have discussed homosexuality with my son and this book made it easy.  Kudos to the late Richard Peck (he passed away in 2018).

hearts and music

Classical Music Corner – our favorite pieces that we heard for the first time in 2019:

  • Tambourin, composed by Francois-Joseph Gossec for his 1794 opera, “Le Triomphe de la Republique”.   We just LOVE this short happy piece, here played by the best:  Sir James Galway:

  • Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C major, movement 3, composed in 1777.  Great piece:  so precise and borderline fussy:

  • Mozart’s Flute Concerto No.2 in D major, movement 3, “composed” in 1778 (it is the same thing as the Oboe Concerto, just transposed for flute – so the patron refused to pay!)  We had to have a listen:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH

Low Earth Orbit math problem answers:  1)  .001%  and 2)  56.6 orbits

PS  My original plan was to post twice monthly.  It is still my plan.  Here is the thing:  the past 6 months my son’s full-throttle OCD has significantly narrowed the hours I have to think, write, and post our stories and studies progress.  Please, 2020 be a nicer year than 2019.

From the Wanderlust Files

Wanderlust – 
“You don’t even know where I’m going.”
“I don’t care. I’d like to go anywhere.” 
― John Steinbeck, “Travels with Charley:  In Search of America”

Wanderlust –
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”

Wanderlust – 
“The gene itself, which is identified as DRD4-7R, has been dubbed the “wanderlust gene,” because of its correlation with increased levels of curiosity and restlessness.”
― Dan Scotti, March 2015 edition of Elite Daily

and more Wanderlust – The Lewis and Clark Expedition – My son and I agree that there had to be a heaping helping of DRD4-7R present among the army volunteers assembled for President Thomas Jefferson’s “Corps of Discovery Expedition” (otherwise known as the “Lewis and Clark Expedition”).  We are reading Roland Smith’s “The Captain’s Dog”.  Each chapter begins with an entry from Captain Meriwether Lewis’s journal and the remainder of the chapter is told from the perspective of Lewis’s dog, Seaman.  We happily open this book up every night and use the included map to follow the arduous journey through the Louisiana Purchase territory and Oregon Country.  New vocab/concepts:  court marshal  –  desertion  –  forts  –  fur trappers  –  grizzly bears  –  keelboats  –  parley  –  pirogue  –  portage  –  privates  –  river currents

wanderlust books

and more Wanderlust – All things Hobo – Hello relentless traveler:  lots of DRD4-7R going on here.  My son and I have learned that a hobo is a continually traveling worker, and the traveling is done by means of a “free” ride on a train.  We are halfway into Barbara Hacha’s comprehensive resource, “Mulligan Stew”.  Just ask us about hobo signs, symbols, carved nickels, bindles, and the dangers of riding the rails.  We’ve read through “Tourist Union 63”, an (excellent) ethical code of behavior chartered by 63 hobos in 1889.  We’ve read about the National Hobo Convention, held annually in Britt, Iowa since 1900.  We’ve read about hobo funerals (sidebar: there is actually a marked gravesite in the hobo section of the Britt cemetery to honor “The Unknown Hobo”).  

and other stuff:

reading

Stop the presses – a few weeks back, someone asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks: Could my son read?  Whoa.  I thought so, but how could I have overlooked that?  So I have added something into our STORIES AND STUDIES routine:  a VERY SHORT story with a few follow up questions.  I remain silent, but I do help my son run his index finger under each line of text.  Then he answers the questions.  Is he reading?  YES!!!!! PHEW!!!!!  He has now read about:

  • Grandmother’s job at a potato chip factory
  • Aunt Susan’s blue ribbon for best pie in the state of California!
  • Peppy, Dog Obedience School Drop-out
  • The Shoes in the Ice Block Contest

carter jones book

Current fiction reading – Gary Schmidt’s “Pay attention Carter Jones”.  We pretty much always enjoy a Gary Schmidt book, but this one is a little daunting.  Premise is adorable – a family is bequeathed the services of a British butler.  But (here is the “but”):  the butler is intent upon teaching the family’s son the British game with the most bewildering set of rules and traditions:  CRICKET.  Every night when I pick up the book I think, oh my gosh, what did we learn last night and is my son picking up any of this?  Still, he is not pushing the book away, and if you look beyond the confusing cricket component, the dialog is fun reading.   

and who doesn’t love a Venn Diagram?  Sets, unions, intersections:  what’s not to like?  My son is FOCUSED! 

venn diagram

From our Venn Vault:
Set A – letters of first half of alphabet 
Set B – letters of last half of alphabet 
Intersection – letters that rhyme with “B”

Set A – people who like to wear red clothes
Set B – people who are jolly 
Intersection  Santa Claus

Set A – odd numbers 1-20
Set B – even numbers 1-20 
Intersection  numbers that can be divided by 3

 

marshmallow roast

A Farmer Brown story problem – Farmer Brown and his farm hands have invited just about everyone they know to a Labor Day campfire!  Farmer Brown has purchased loads of s’more fixings:  marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers, and the hands have prepared roasting skewers for the marshmallows. The ranch has 4 campfire pits, and each can accommodate 8 marshmallow roasters at a time.  It takes 5 minutes of careful tending to warm a marshmallow to a perfect golden brown.  If 60 friends show up to the s’more fest, how long will it take for everyone to roast a marshmallow for their first s’more of the evening? (answer at bottom of post)

Memorial Service Music to honor The Unknown Hobo – 

The Big Rock Candy Mountain – this song about a mythical hobo heaven (complete with “cigarette trees”, oh dear), was first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928, and has been sung at hobo funerals.   My son and I listened to the original McClintock recording:

Ashokan Farewell – composed in 1982 by American folk musician, Jay Ungar.  From the very first bar, the piece captures the sense of loss, and yet, as each additional instrument joins in, we also feel surrounded by the warmth and camaraderie of more and more friends –

Song of the Riverman, from “The American Scene” – even though this is the song of the riverman, my son and I clearly hear the smooth rhythm of the rails.  Composed by William Grant Still in 1957, the melody conveys strength, wistfulness, loneliness and a bit of danger.  The somberness is so right for this memorial service –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  10 minutes)

1809: What Went So Right

1809:  Brilliant Work, Moms! 

lincoln    darwin    mendelssohn    poe

Abraham Lincoln, born February 12, 1809
Charles Darwin, born February 12, 1809
Felix Mendelssohn, born February 3, 1809
Edgar Allan Poe, born January 19, 1809

We are currently studying:
Louis Braille, born January 4, 1809

braille bio

My son and I decided to learn about Louis Braille (1809 – 1852) and we struck gold with the extraordinarily well researched book, “Louis Braille – A Touch of Genius”, by C. Michael Mellor.  Almost scrapbook in style and continually captivating: 

  • photographs, vintage illustrations, postage stamps, transcribed letters, sidebars of historical significance, examples of reading systems for the visually impaired
  • Louis Braille’s family and the tragic mishap that left him blind at age 3
  • comprehensive information about the Institute for the Blind in Paris, France – the only school for the blind in all of Europe at the time – where Louis was enrolled at age 10  
    • innovations/controversies of each headmaster 
    • school curriculum – education, job training, and music.  We learned that in addition to being an outstanding student, Louis was a prize winning cello player and also earned a side income by playing the organ   
  • Louis Braille’s contributions:
    • the raised 6-dot cell code (at age 15)(!!!) that is now, worldwide, called “braille”
    • a device that allowed for written communication between the visually impaired and the sighted (the first dot-matrix printer) 
    • a raised dot system for reading music 

Louis Braille passed away at age 43 of tuberculosis.  We finished the book heartened and heartbroken.

More talk about Louis Braille – When I texted superb educator, Jill R.A., that my son and I were in the midst of a study unit on Louis Braille, she texted back:

Oh! I love that! Louis Braille is a hero of mine so I tell everybody about him!  My title is Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI).  I am an itinerant (good vocab word) teacher which means I travel to wherever blind and visually impaired students are, which may be at home, day care, or schools.  Some TVI’s teach in a classroom at a blind school,  but I see students that attend public schools and are attending general ed classes.  I also work with students from birth up to age 21. I generally consult with teachers and help them understand how to best teach the student who is visually Impaired.  However,  I have braille students who I meet with at least 3 times a week for braille lessons. I even have a few babies who will be braille readers and I meet with them and their parents for pre-braille activities to get their little fingers ready and sensitive to feel the dots.  We will play in rice and beans and pick out different things.   We also start “looking” at books really early so that they know to feel for the dots. It’s a fantastic job!”

Look at the variety of braille learning tools that  Jill R.A. sent to augment our unit (I told you she was superb):

braille tools

Poe Poems – my son and I explored two lengthy poems by 1809 birthday boy, Edgar Allan Poe:  his  happiness-to-misery blueprint in “The Bells” (1849) and the tortured loneliness pervasive in “The Raven” (1845).  So gorgeously composed, each word so fastidiously selected, but YIKES.

beatnik style

Poetry Night at Le Fictitious Local Diner – The diner recently hosted a 1950’s “Beatnik” style poetry reading night.  Patrons were encouraged to  dress beatnik style (cool, man, cool) and arrive ready to recite a poem.  There were prizes for the best and worst outfits, best and worst poems, and best and worst poem delivery.  Well!  The diner was overwhelmed by the turn out!  150 people showed up and 80% were in costume, and 20% were brave enough to recite a poem.

1- How many patrons arrived in costume?
a).  16     b).  80     c).  100     d).  120

2- How many patrons recited a poem?
a).  20     b).  30     c).  50     d).  75

3- What percentage of the entire attending crowd received a prize?
a).  4%     b).  6%     c).  20%     d).  50%

4- Should poetry night be an annual event at the diner? (answers at bottom of post)

Mendelssohn Music – we celebrated another 1809 birthday boy (this one with a brighter point of view than Poe) by listening to three of our favorite pieces by Felix Mendelssohn – 

  • Overture to Midsummer Night’s Dream, composed 1826.  So very clever.  An excellent performance by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (where Mendelssohn served as a very beloved Music Director from 1835 – 1847):

  • Symphony No. 4 (“The Italian”), movement 1, composed in 1833.  Happy, breezy.  A glossy smooth performance under the baton of Metropolitan Orchestra (Sydney, Australia) conductor, Sarah-Grace Williams:

  • Violin Concerto in E minor, finale, composed 1844.  This is the movement that my son and I call “the cat and mouse movement”….lots of brisk “advance/retreat”.  This is an old recording, but we are mesmerized by the precision that Itzhak Perlman brings to this performance:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  1) d.  120,  2) b. 30,  3)  a. 4%,  4)  Yes, of course!)

Dear Librarians

newbery award        caldecott award

Pick us!  Pick us!  We are ready to serve!  We’ve just been reading about the Association for Library Service to Children, which annually recognizes book and video excellence with ten different medals and awards.  Would my son and I love find ourselves on any of the award selection committees?  YES!  Pick us!  Pick us!  Once we settled down from our committee responsibilities fantasy, we narrowed our focus to learn everything about two of the ten awards: the Newbery Medal (literature) and the Caldecott Medal (book illustration):

– The Newbery Medal – we read “Balderdash” (Michelle Markel/Nancy Carpenter).  A snappy,  brief look at the life of publisher John Newbery.  Inspired by philosopher John Locke’s quote, “Reading should be a treat for children”, Newbery enjoyed enormous success by printing books that children WANTED to read (prior to this, most reading material for children was designed to put the fear of the afterlife into the reader’s behavior).  The first Newbery Medal was awarded in 1922.  We read through the list of Newbery Medal and Honor Book award winners and notated those books we had read:

  • 2016 – The War that Saved My Life – Important
  • 2013 – The One and Only Ivan – Liked
  • 2011 – Turtle in Paradise – Really liked
  • 2008 – The Wednesday Wars – Really liked
  • 2007 – Penny from Heaven – Really liked
  • 2003 – Hoot – Satisfying
  • 2003 – Surviving the Applewhites – Oh how we LOVE this book, have read 4 times
  • 2002 – Everything on a Waffle – Liked
  • 2001 – A Year Down Yonder – Really liked
  • 2001 – Because of Winn Dixie – Liked
  • 2001 – Hope was Here – Really liked
  • 1999 – A Long Way from Chicago – Really liked
  • 1999 – Holes – Important
  • 1991 – Maniac Magee – Liked
  • 1988 – Hatchet – we’ve read this 3 times
  • 1984 – The Sign of the Beaver – we are currently reading this, like it a LOT
  • 1978 – Ramona and Her Father – Liked
  • 1973 – Frog and Toad Together – Really?
  • 1963 – A Wrinkle in Time – Really liked
  • 1961 – The Cricket in Times Square – Liked
  • 1953 – Charlotte’s Web – The best
  • 1952 – Ginger Pye – Liked
  • 1939 – Mr. Popper’s Penguins – Liked
  • 1923 – The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle – we are currently reading this, LOVE this book

24 down, 74 to go – Question for my son:  shall we read every Newbery Medalist?  YES!  Why not, what else are we doing?  The challenge begins.

– The Caldecott Medal – we read “Randolph Caldecott – The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing” (Leonard S. Marcus) – a most comprehensive biography, filled with Caldecott’s charming, skillful, intuitive drawings.  This book provoked us to order “Old Christmas:  Sketch Book of Washington Irving” (1876) with illustrations by Randolph Caldecott (we are saving this for December reading).  The Association for Library Services to Children began awarding the Caldecott Medal in 1937.

french fries    milkshakes    french fries

Story problem from the local diner – Miss Jeanette (the new diner manager) has an idea to spark positive PR (vocab) for the diner!  She is proposing that for the upcoming summer months, the diner  award “Shake and Fries” vouchers (vocab) to high school students who volunteer during story-time at the local library.  Miss Jeanette is projecting that 50 coupons will be awarded over the summer.  If a “Shake and Fries” voucher costs the diner $3, how much how much will the diner potentially spend supporting the story-time literacy event? 
A.)  $35     B.)  $53     C.)  $150     D.)  $350

Lactose intolerant students earning vouchers can substitute lemonade for the milkshake, and (happy day) the cost for the diner will be reduced by 20%.  If 10% of the students opt for the lemonade, what is the total projected cost of the diners’ voucher program?
A.)  $20     B.)  $45     C.)  $147     D.)  $235 (answers at bottom of post)

A Serendipitous Pairing – Two A+ books that we just happened to be reading at the same time, that SHOULD be read at the same time:

“My Life with the Chimpanzees”, an autobiography (vocab) by Jane Goodall
and
“The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle”, by Hugh Lofting

My son and I were about three chapters into the Dr. Doolittle book (and just loving it) (meaning that my son has a difficult time letting me shut the book at the end of each night’s reading) when we started the Jane Goodall book.  And then, WHAT A SURPRISE!  Jane Goodall mentions several times in her autobiography the impact the Dr. Doolittle books had in shaping her future.   My son and I love thinking that maybe Hugh Lofting (1886 – 1947) might know how much good work his books inspired.

Dr. Doolittle inspires our classical music selections – Right there, in chapter 6, Dr. Doolittle entertains the Stubbins family with his flute playing!  What doesn’t that man know how to do? The book states that the visit took place in 1839, so my son and I put together a little flute recital program, selecting flute pieces that were composed prior to 1839 – pieces that Dr. Doolittle actually could have played – 

  • Francois-Joseph Gossec’s “Tambourin for flute and orchestra”, composed in the early 1790’s.  This is just so darn sweet.  Play, Dr. Doolittle, play!

  • “Badinerie” from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2, 1739.  We learned that a badinerie is a brief and lively dance.  We are not sure that anybody could play this piece with greater accuracy and speed than Sir James Galway (except, of course, Dr. Doolittle) –

  • Beethoven’s spritely “Trio for 3 Flutes in G major”, movement III.  The story goes that this piece was composed in 1786 when Beethoven was fifteen.  Whoa.  Vivacious and brisk – the perfect conclusion for our Dr. Doolittle mini concert –  

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story problem answers:  C.)  $150 and C.)  $147)

Doc and Bach

front desk book

Last week’s stories and studies agenda:
  become informed about world ecosystems via Rachel Ignotofsky’s superb book, “The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth”:  CHECK
  cheer for everything protagonist Mia Tang stands for in Kelly Yang’s important fiction read, “Front Desk”:  CHECK
But really, the past week has been dominated by Albert Schweitzer and Johann Sebastian Bach.

schweitzer at organ face right    bach organ

Scholarly, Spiritual, Musical – Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965) – doctorates in theology (vocab), philosophy, and medicine.  Pipe organ virtuoso.  Authority on the works of JS Bach (and 4 published papers to prove it).  Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1952.  Whoa.

We are leaning forward as we read through Ken Gire’s bio of Dr. Schweitzer, “Answering the Call”.  The book begins as Schweitzer and his wife, Helene, make their way to Lambaréné, Gabon (Africa) where they set up the area’s first hospital.  The past few evenings we have been learning about how WWI – so very far away in Europe (globe out) – drastically affected the economy in Gabon.  And FOR HEAVENS SAKES Albert and Helene were sent back to France to be imprisoned during the war, leaving the people of Lambaréné with no medical care. (Discussion topic with my son:  is this right?  what would we have done?)  What next?  We’re riveted.

albert and bach books

Schweitzer’s interest is our interest – Because of Schweitzer’s fascination with all things Bach, we are darting around David Gordon’s “The Little Bach Book” learning lots about Bach’s world (1685-1750).  This neat little reference is packed with well researched information, delivered with sly humor (pretty much an A+ sort of book): 

  • quotes about Bach by other composers (superlative after superlative) (vocab) 
  • feather pens; until 1820 (when metal ink pens debuted), composers used feather quills to write their music.  We found out that one could write/compose for about 5 minutes with a particular feather before it had to firm up, be cleaned or recut
  • men’s hair fashion (wigs)  
  • dental care in the 1700’s (yeeks)

violin outdoors

Meanwhile, BACH at the ranch (a Farmer Brown story problem) This summer, Farmer Brown’s ranch will be the site of a series of 3 outdoor symphony concerts featuring 30 Bach compositions, which may sound like a lot of Bach, but when the BWV (which my son and I learned was the official Bach Works Collection listing) was last tallied in 1998, the list of compositions attributed to this musical genius totaled over 1,100 pieces.   Approximately what percentage of Bach’s total output will be performed during the ranch concert series?
A.   1%     B.   3%     C.   15%     D.   30%     (answer at bottom of post)

More and More Bach – Over the years my son and I have downloaded several (32 to be exact) Bach compositions onto our iPod and this week we listened thoughtfully to each one.  My son “reviewed” each piece, and we listened again to his favorites:

bach quiz

  • Sheep May Safely Graze, composed in 1713.  Calming perfection:

  • Invention No. 13 in A minor, composed about 1720.  A super short jewel played skillfully on the harpsichord by a 9 year old!

  • Finally, we listened to THE GRAND, THE MIGHTY, THE REPETITIVE Symphony No. 5 in F minor, movement 5 (the toccata) (1879) composed by Charles-Marie Widor, recognized Bach scholar AND Schweitzer’s organ professor at the Paris Conservatory.  A high energy performance by virtuoso Frederick Hohman:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  B.  3%)

Referencing Robert Burns

On the grounds that my son has enough to deal with – I do my best to keep themes of MAN’S INHUMANITY TO MAN* removed from our stories and studies.  However, last night three of our books ambushed us with the ugliness of RACISM:

three books 

  • From Kelly Yang’s novel, “Front Desk”:  racism and racial profiling
  • From Rachel Ignotofsky’s “Women in Science”:  we hated learning that brilliant ophthalmologist/inventor Patricia Bath contended with racism throughout her academic career
  • From Kekla Magoon’s novel, “The Season of Styx Malone”:  we are pretty sure that the reluctance of our protagonists’ father to allow his children to venture into the big city is based upon a past trauma rooted in racism

I provided my son with a concise explanation of racism, and followed up with some questions:

  • does it seem smart or ridiculous to assign specific characteristics to an entire group of people based on appearance?
  • do we need to make others look bad to make ourselves feel good?
  • is racism ever acceptable?
  • what letter grade would we give racism?

robert burns

*“Man’s inhumanity to man” – the phrase was first used by Scottish treasure, Robert Burns, in his lengthy poem of 1784, “Man was made to mourn:  A Dirge”.  We carefully examined each line of this stanza (vocab):

Many and sharp the numerous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

natural attraction book

Why can’t we be friends? – My son and I are reading from Iris Gottlieb’s cutie of a book “Natural Attraction”, which is filled with examples of unexpected and beneficial partnerships in nature:  tarantulas/frogs, ants/aphids, whales/barnacles.  (New vocab:  symbiotic and mutualism.)  This book offers an uplifting way to conclude each night’s academic agenda.

scot lion

Story problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – to bring attention to Robert Burns’ 260th birthday, the diner owner was thinking about adding “A Taste of Old Scotland” onto the dinner menu, but there proved to be no interest among the chefs in preparing haggis, so as sort of a second choice, butterscotch sundaes were added onto the dessert menu as a watered down nod to the great poet’s homeland.  I know, so lame.  Over the course of the first month on the menu, 500 butterscotch sundaes were served up, 80% to teenagers.  How many non-teenagers enjoyed a butterscotch sundae during this time?  (answer at bottom of post)

red rose

Music to celebrate Robert Burns – we listened to the well known Burns song, “Oh, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose”, and then selected two pieces that idealize his native Scotland –

  • “Oh, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose”, lyrics by Robert Burns (1794) set to a traditional Scots folk melody.  This is a lovely rendition, but BTW, there is the most adorable performance in the 1999 movie, “My Life So Far” –

  • Max Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy”, movement 4 (selected because the dominant melodic theme is based upon a Burns song, “Scots Wha Hae”), composed in 1880.  Interesting note:  Max Bruch’s first visit to Scotland was one year AFTER the premiere of his “Fantasy”.  Another interesting note:  this youtube video indicates that we are listening to movement 5, but we are not.  This is fake news;  there is no movement 5.  This is a clerical error. –

  • Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor (known as “The Scottish”), movement 2, composed in 1842, as he reflected upon his 1829 sojourn to Scotland.  The short movement is full of bounce and spirit and this performance is conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.  Winner, winner! –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  100 non-teenagers)

For the record…

science women

We love this book – We continue to be so impressed with the 50 brilliant, determined women showcased in Rachel Ignotofsky’s “Women in Science”.  My son and I were happy to read an entry on Lillian Gilbreth – a women we were already acquainted with – psychologist,  industrial engineer, mom of 12 (!) AND matriarch of the “Cheaper by the Dozen” clan (a book we have read 4 times).  But maybe our very favorite scientist is Marjory Stoneman Douglas – writer, conservationist, AND civil rights advocate, AND suffragist – whose work led JUST IN THE NICK OF TIME to the creation of the Everglades National Park in Florida.  A quote from Ms. Douglas has stayed with us: “I’d like to hear less talk about men and women and more talk about citizens. 

marjory 3

And we love this book – “Front Desk” by Kelly Yang.  Because of its underlying theme of SELF RELIANCE, this is the type of fiction I am always excited to share with my son.  Every chapter has our protagonist, Mia, dealing with the latest disaster at the motel her family is managing.  Every chapter bursts with sidebar discussion topics – we’ve considered the bravery needed to move from one country to another (Mia’s family is new to the USA from China), loan sharks, Monopoly, how to make a key, employment contracts, nice neighbors and crooked landlords.

front desk

To complement “Front Desk”, we are reading through Lonely Planet’s “China – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know”.  We are just barely into this book, but so far we have read about dragons, the gargantuan Chinese population, board games, dynasties, tea and paper (HEY!  We did not know that the Chinese invented TOILET PAPER). 

smoke detector

The Farmer Brown SAFETY FIRST story problem – Farmer Brown will be installing new smoke detectors throughout his barns.  Twenty devices (vocab) need to be ordered.  

He can either purchase 10-year lithium battery detectors for $13 each or he can purchase detectors for $12 each, that use a 9-volt battery (at $1 each), and replace batteries annually.  

Over the course of 10 years what would be the difference in cost between lithium battery detectors and 9-volt battery detectors?

A.  $20     B.  $26     C.  $150     D.  $180  (answer at bottom of post)

golden record

From the HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL department:  MUSIC IN SPACE –  with a degree of astonishment and skepticism, my son and I have been reading about the golden records that were placed aboard NASA’s 1977 Voyager I and Voyager II space missions.  FYI, at present, both spacecraft are waaaaaaaay far away, with Voyager I scheduled to pass near the star Gliese in 40,000 years.  40,000 YEARS.  (We discussed.)

The 31 music tracks – to be played by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization that has record players (WHOA.  We discussed.  Is it just us or do others see this endeavor as curiously preposterous?) – were selected by a committee headed by eminent American astronomer, Carl Sagan, of Cornell University.  Of the selections, seven are classical pieces – two from Beethoven and three from Bach (if they had only known!) (we discussed).  Last night we sampled the wide variety of the music chosen: 

  • Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 2”, movement 1, composed in 1721 (showcasing one of the most difficult-to-play trumpet parts in the classical music repertoire):

  • “Melancholy Blues” by Louis Armstrong, written in 1927.  This is the sole jazz selection on the golden record:

  • “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, written in 1958, said to be one of the most recognizable songs in the history of popular music:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  D.  $180)