Science

Smitten with Britain

UK quiz

What’s it all mean? 
(What we learned, and I do mean WE.  How did I not know most of this?)

  • UK, the United Kingdom – refers to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland  
  • Great Britain – is a geographical term, referring to the land mass that includes England, Scotland, and Wales 
  • The British Isles – another geographical term, referring to Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and 6,000 teenier islands in the general area 
  • The British Commonwealth – (correctly referred to as “The Commonwealth”) a political association of 54  countries (including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) for which Queen Elizabeth II serves as leader (finally, she is in charge of something!)

Our favorite takeaways from our “Smitten with Britain” unit:  

manx sheep

1)  The Isle of Man –  Located in the Irish Sea, midway between Ireland and Great Britain.  Home of:

  • Manx cats
  • Manx Loaghtan sheep (SHEEP WITH FOUR HORNS)(GET OUT OF TOWN) (immediate Google image search) (we couldn’t stop staring at the 4 horns)
  • the Bee Gees (Bee Gee tunes are favorites in my son’s trampoline-time music lineup)

2)  Trafalgar Square – London  

  • it is all about Admiral Horatio Nelson and an 1805 sea battle.  Discussion provokers:  1)  the lions at the base of Nelson’s Column (the centerpiece of the square) were cast from cannons (vocab) from battleships,  2)  we talked about the process of “casting”,  3)  we spent time lamenting Lord Nelson’s loss of an eye and an arm for the British cause
  • Trafalgar Square boasts London’s smallest police office (the observation post can only fit one person)
  • the square is the site for a ginormous Christmas tree that is sent every year from Norway

Our resources:  

UK books

  • Wikipedia 
  • “The Usborne Book of London”
  • “The Big Book of the UK” (Williams/Lockhart)

Smitten with these British authors:

dog books

James Herriot:  From the consummate British vet and master story-teller, his “Dog Stories” are calming and kind recollections.  Perfect night-time reading.  Our favorite stories so far:  “The Darrowby Show” and “Granville Bennett”.

Tom Gates:  Liz Pichon’s books activate our grin machines.  We are currently rereading the entire Tom Gates series (just finished “Super Good Skills”, now mid-way through “Dog Zombies Rule”).  We cannot get enough of Tom’s sullen sister Delia,  Tom’s bothersome classroom seat-mate, Marcus Meldrew, Tom’s grandparents (“The Fossils”).  We love Tom’s doodles.

scones

Story Problem from the local diner – The diner is caught up in a British frenzy, so for the next month, the diner will serve afternoon tea with scones and tea sandwiches.  The diner needs 5 quarts of raspberry jam per week.  Farmer Brown sells his jam for $8 a quart, but he is going to give the diner a 10% discount.  How much will the diner spend on raspberry jam during the next four weeks?

A.  $16     B.  $40     C.  $144     D.  $160  (answer at bottom of post)

shakespeare

Shakespeare Comedies – we were so taken with The Usborne “Complete Shakespeare” book that augmented our reading of Gary Schmidt’s “The Wednesday Wars” (see “Perfect Pairings”, the post of February 2, 2021), that we read through all of the Shakespeare comedies (we learned that in terms of Shakespeare, “comedy” means happy ending).  An excellent use of our time: 

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Twelfth Night
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost
  • Much Ado about Nothing
  • As You Like It
  • Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor (maybe this is our favorite)
  • The Winter’s Tale
  • The Taming of the Shrew (on our fave list)
  • Pericles (on our fave list)
  • The Comedy of Errors
  • The Tempest
  • All’s Well that Ends Well

Classical Music Time:  The Siren Call of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” – this play seems to beckon composers:  we listened to three versions of the overture and discussed the very different points of view – 

From 1674, English baroque composer Matthew Locke:  this introduction is very fussy, very baroque, very short (only a minute long) – 

From 1861, English composer Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert/Sullivan): this was Sullivan’s first published work (he was only 19!). My son and I hear themes of loneliness and disappointment, and as the piece gets underway we hear the storm approach, burst, and move on –

From 1925, Finish composer Jean Sibelius: sort of 7 minutes of heavy winds (enough already), but it does paint a picture of the terrible storm that sets everything in motion –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  C).  $144)

Perfect Pairings

Perfect Pairings from our current studies.  May we suggest:

Pairing No. 1: The Wednesday Wars” and “The Complete Shakespeare

This is our second time reading Gary D. Schmidt’s “The Wednesday Wars”…I had forgotten what a clever, multi-layered work this is.  So far, the teacher in the book has forced “The Merchant of Venice”, “The Tempest”, “MacBeth”, “Romeo and Juliet”, and “Julius Caesar” onto the protagonist.  And he LOVES them.  Well, how can we not want to see what the excitement is about?  We really lucked out with “The Complete Shakespeare” (an Usborne book, Melbourne/Surducan).  This reference provides a two-page spread at the beginning of each play, identifying characters with a brief description and winsome illustration.  We refer to these pages every night before we continue reading each very thorough play synopsis.  First-rate resource for those of us who would be overwhelmed by the prospect of explaining every line of the original Shakespeare. 

Pairing No. 2: “125 Animals that Changed the World” and “Cat Stories”

Graphically, “Animals that Changed the World” is loud, cluttered, and jarring (nonetheless, we DO like opening this book and cheering for the animal-of-the-night).  The perfect foil for this chaos?  The calm, reflective, soothing chapters of James Herriot’s “Cat Stories”.  Purrrrrr.

Pairing No. 3: My son’s toothbrush and Jason Chin’s “Gravity”

I have been responsible for brushing my son’s teeth FOREVER (no cavities folks, no cavities), then OUT OF NOWHERE, last month, my son grabbed the toothbrush I was holding, took the tube of toothpaste, unscrewed it, spread it on the toothbrush, pressed the button to make it vibrate and dipped it under the faucet! And he has been doing this night and day ever since. ONE TINY THING: when he holds the toothbrush under the faucet, he has the bristles facing downward and guess what happens? So we read through Jason Chin’s beautifully illustrated book on gravity to see if that would rectify the situation. It didn’t. Still, the book is lovely.

Perfect Pairings at the Local Diner – Story Problem

To beef up orders during the pandemic, the local diner is having a “Perfect Pairings TO GO” special: Miss Carolyn’s Chicken Pot Pie teamed with the diner’s famous Super Cinnamon Apple Pie. If each pie has a top and bottom crust, how many crusts need to be rolled out every morning if the diner sells 50 “Perfect Pairing” orders daily?

A. 50 pie crusts B. 100 pie crusts C. 200 pie crusts D. 400 pie crusts (answer at bottom of post)

Classical Music Time – Perfect Pairings: The Expected and The Unexpected

Pairing No. 1 – 

The Expected:  Gustav Holst’s “Country Gardens”, from “Morris Dance Tunes, Set 1”, of 1910.  It is such an expected “let’s make nice” melody.  Don’t be taken in by Percy Grainer’s “Country Gardens” (basically the same melody as Holst’s) composed a full 8 years after Holst’s!  The scoundrel!  This tuneful, sweet, repetitive piece gets a shot in the arm in this particular recording,  speeding along at a faster tempo than usually performed – 

The Unexpected:  Gustav Holst’s “Mercury, the Winged Messenger” from “The Planets”, composed in 1916.  Oh boy, do we love this short, unexpected, erratic piece, and apparently the conductor (Susanna Malkki) in this video footage has caught the fever, too –

Pairing No. 2 –

The Expected:  Luigi Boccherini’s “Minuet”, AKA String Quintet in E Major, movement III, composed in 1771.  Syrupy sweet, but a lively play in this performance – 

The Unexpected:  Luigi Boccherini’s “Fandango” from Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major, composed in 1798, a far cry from the conservative minuet.  This intricate, warm, romantic (I am not going to say “sexy” in front of my son) piece was inspired by Boccherini’s days as a court musician for the Spanish royal family.  This is the recording we have listened to about 200 times.  We like everything from the LA Guitar Quartet – 

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  C).  200 pie crusts)

 

The Octopus Shocker

He writes!  He illustrates! – For the past few weeks my son and I have become entranced with  Owen Davey books.   Informative, clever, teamed with sophisticated graphics in a perfection of colors.  Our type of book.  We’ve just finished – 

  • “Mad about Monkeys” – We needed to get a better grip on our knowledge of primates (as in the fact that chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, gibbons are NOT types of monkeys) (we had sort of thought they were)(we were wrong).  Also, we now have a passing knowledge of “old world” and “new world” monkeys.  
  • “Obsessive about Octopuses” – 1)  this book is so A+, 2) the correct plural of octopus is octopuses, NOT octopi, 3) we stopped short when we read about the common blanket octopus: the female stretches to 6 feet in length and the male (ARE YOU REALLY READY FOR THIS?) measures in at 1 inch. A live male blanket octopus was sighted for the first time in 2002 (Wikipedia) OH MY GOSH and 4)  THE SHOCKER!!!!!  Most of the 300 species of octopus live ONLY A FEW MONTHS!  I have been asking all my friends how long a typical octopus lives and guesses have ranged from 16 years to 50 years.  Dear dear magical, nimble, problem-solving octopuses –  taken at so young an age.
  • Next on the reading list, “Fanatical about Frogs”.

Deforestation – My son and I read a lot of books about endangered animals, so we know that loss of habitat is a primary cause.  We have come across the term, “deforestation”  many times, so deforestation was on our minds when we read from the excellent “How Ships Work” (a Lonely Planet Kids book) that – 

  • around 2,000 trees were used to build a Spanish galleon in the 1500’s (and we know there was more than one galleon).
  • 6,000 trees were needed to construct British flagship HMS Victory in 1765. 

 Deforestation is not a new trend.

“Everest” by Sangma Francis and Lisk Feng – all topics Everest are covered in this well written, well designed book:  Sherpas, the sacredness of the mountain, climbing clothes, the development of oxygen masks, trash on the mountain, routes to the summit, inspirational climbers AND my son and I are still musing over the fact that Mount Everest grows 1/3 inch a year.

“Little Men”, by Louisa May Alcott – I have read “Little Women” several times and I was eager to share my first reading of “Little Men” with my son.  1)  Jeepers, this is relentlessly moral story.  2) This is a difficult read what with the vernacular of the 1870’s and the loads of characters, some with multiple nicknames. I read aloud one paragraph and then take the same amount of time to untangle what I’ve just read for my son.  Sigh.  We have augmented “Little Men” by reading a short bio of Louisa May Alcott from “American Trailblazers” by Lisa Trusiani.

Time for a change in tone!  Story Problem – Farmer Brown Runs for Town Mayor!  –  Yes, Farmer Brown is running for town mayor and his chances for winning look good!  His campaign manager has all sorts of campaign ideas to get Farmer Brown’s name before the public:

  • 50 big yard signs spread around town, with the slogan, “Farmer Brown can make our town grow!” ($4 for each sign and $25 each for Farmer Brown’s two nephews to place the signs)
  • 1000 campaign buttons (“Farmer Brown can make our town grow!”) for $250
  • A running ad (boldly proclaiming that “Farmer Brown can make our town grow!”) in the local newspaper for $75
  • A banner spanning the width of Main Street boldly proclaiming, “Farmer Brown can make our town grow!” for $75
  • 1,000 grocery sacks at Farmer Brown’s road-side stand with “Farmer Brown can make our town grow!” imprinted for $150

Farmer Brown has budgeted $750 for campaign PR.  Can he afford all the ideas ?  (answer at bottom of post)

Classical Music for Octopuses – we were still thinking about the brief lives of the octopuses.  If the current crop of octopuses is going to enjoy classical music, the pieces had better be short.  May we suggest – 

  • Violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler’s “Schön Rosmarin” (Beautiful Rosmarin), composed in 1905.  Just under two minutes. We listened for iconic Kreisler embellishments while easily envisioning an octopus swaying with the tides –
  • “Solfeggietto”, by CPE Bach, composed in 1766. One minute sixteen seconds. This fast, frantic piece is certainly the “go to” background music for an octopus needing to escape predators –
  • “The Aquarium” from Carnival of the Animals (1886), by Camille Saint-Saëns.  Two minutes, four seconds. Reflective, yearning, chilling, mysterious; it seems as if the octopus was the muse for this piece –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  NO!)

Brownie Points

smithsonian left

Brownie points for us!  It was LENGTHY, but we have finished The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects, compiled by Richard Kurin (currently Acting Provost and Under Secretary for Museums and Research at the Smithsonian Institution).  And brownie points for this first-rate endeavor, a superior textbook choice for a full semester of American History.  My son’s favorite chapters:

  • Lewis and Clark’s Pocket Compass – we loved our unit on the Lewis and Clark expedition (see “From the Wanderlust Files”, August 27, 2019), and couldn’t believe we were actually viewing an artifact from the journey.
  • Helen Keller’s Watch – first of all, this is a VERY INTERESTING WATCH. Secondly, here is something that cheered us – totally unrelated to the watch – Helen Keller’s tuition to Radcliffe was arranged by Mark Twain!!!
  • The Tsimshian Totem Pole – an utterly elegant piece of art that became more enchanting after we understood the story this totem pole reveals.
  • Marian Anderson’s Mink Coat – a well balanced account of events that prompted an ice cold outdoor concert (Easter Sunday, 1939) given by American treasure, contralto Marian Anderson.  We have now added Ms. Anderson’s  recording of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” to our Sunday night listening –
  • The Brownie Camera – the most captivating chapter! We learned about George Eastman and his concept for the Brownie camera (provoking us to read The Brownie Book, Palmer Cox’s mini stories of mini spirits, which inspired Eastman to name his little camera, “The Brownie”) and we were riveted reading the report of the teenage girl, traveling in 1912 aboard the RMS Carpathia, using her Brownie camera to record the rescuing of survivors from the sinking Titanic.

The Photo Ark, by Joel Sartore – a coffee table book with a noble purpose:  to create awareness of extinction possibilities threatening Earth’s current animal kingdom.  Each of the 399 photographs touched our heart.

  • Our favorite chapter – the success stories of species that have been brought back from the brink of extinction.
  • My son’s selection for most beautiful animal photographed in the book –  a three-way tie:  the California Sea Lion, the Pink-Tipped Anemone, and the Bali Mynah.  I would include photos, but the new format options on this blog site have me perplexed.
  • What we learned – most of the monkey-type animals (OK, this is an outrageously incorrect generalization, but this is the easiest way for my son to grasp the idea of the primates-minus-humans group) are in danger of becoming extinct.
  • What we learned – most insects are not in danger of becoming extinct.   (hmmm, drat)
  • What we learned – The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of threatened species codes:

EX= Extinct EW= Extinct in the Wild CR= Critically Endangered
EN= Endangered VU= Vulnerable NT= Near Threatened
LC= Least Concern DD= Data Deficient NE= Not Evaluated

Story Problem – Brownies are served! – The local diner is offering adorable after-school snack boxes for $5.  Each box includes 2 of their town-famous peppermint frosted brownies and a small bottle of apple cider.   If there are 500 students in town and every single student purchases a snack box once a week, and each box costs the diner $3, how much will the diner net after a month of after-school treat sales? (answer at bottom of post)

A)  $1,000     B)  $2,500     C)  $4,000     D)  $10,000

Classical Music Listening – we were smiling over the detailed engravings in Palmer Cox’s The Brownie Book, so we put together a program of background music for his merry mischievous brownies – 

  • Badinerie, from JS Bach’s “Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor” (1738). This piece makes us imagine brownies dashing all over the place doing good works for the nice people and tripping things up for the mean people – 
  • Banjoland Buffoonery, by Grant Kirkhope for the 2008 video game, “Banjo-Kazooie:  Nuts & Bolts”.  The brownies are up to no good and having a good laugh at the same time.  You do not want to get on the bad side of the brownies – 
  • The Wild Bears, by Sir Edward Elgar, from his “The Wand of Youth, Suite No. 2” of 1908.  This superb short composition has got everything – speed, originality, hold-your-breath moments, a smashing ending – the brownies are sneaking around and this is easily their theme music –

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  Farmer Brown’s question: “Yes”. Diner question: C). $4,000).

Too much gushing?

We plow through so many poorly edited books (case in point: the North American Birds book that had a chapter entitled “Finches” in which there was no mention of finches in said chapter), or stupefyingly boring books (case in point: the recent purchase of a most disappointing volume on the history of yodeling), so when we come across books such as we’ve been reading these past weeks, I gush.  Sorry.  Not sorry. 

Paddle-to-the-Sea – this book is so A++++.  Written and illustrated in 1941 by Holling Clancy Holling, and selected as a Caldecott Honor Book in 1942.  This soothing reading is: 

  • a geography lesson in the Great Lakes (which provoked us to order a rather large Great Lakes map poster for my son’s room):

lakes map

  • a lesson in “sticking to the plan”
  • a lesson in “letting go”
  • a lesson in observation
  • a lesson about the kindness of strangers

For us, “Paddle-to-the-Sea” was one almost poetic page per night, accompanied by detailed illustrations, to help us follow the journey of a small hand-carved wooden canoe, complete with hand-carved wooden passenger, as it traveled from a river in Canada through the Great Lakes and eventually on to the Atlantic Ocean.  The 4 year voyage concludes in a most satisfying manner (I was sort of weeping).  Excellent, excellent night-time reading.

Dinosaur Atlas  a spectacular, though slightly unwieldy effort (it is a large book whose large pages unfold making an even larger book) from Lonely Planet Kids.  This book is FILLED with late-breaking dinosaur findings, photos, and deliciously bold graphics.

News to us:

  • 80% of identified dinosaurs have been named since 1990. Those among us who learned everything they know about dinosaurs from “The Flintstones” should take note
  • dinosaur fossils have been found in abundance in every continent INCLUDING Antarctica
  • there is a strong possibility that all theropods (meat eaters that marched around on the 2 hind legs (think T-Rex)) – HAD FEATHERS! (not for flying, perhaps for warmth)

The Flag Book – another keeper resource from Lonely Planet Kids.  All world flags displayed and analyzed, PLUS flag topics that drew an intrigued look from my son: 

  • Car race flags
  • Why the flag on the right side tail of a national airplane is displayed backwards
  • Jamaican flag – only flag in the world that does not contain red or white or blue
  • Bermuda flag – only flag in the world that showcases a disaster (a shipwreck)
  • Why the state flag of Hawaii features the British “Union Jack” flag in its design
  • Hey!  We couldn’t help but notice – the flag of Chile is so similar to our Texas flag

The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects – this is the type of book that makes us more appreciative citizens.  Each short chapter provides background information on a treasured item from the Smithsonian collection, then explains how the Smithsonian came in possession of the object.  First-rate writing.  Since the last post, the items that provoked extensive side conversations between my son and I:

  • A compass from the Lewis and Clark expedition
  • Harriet Tubman’s shawl from THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND!!!
  • The Brownie camera that shot pictures of the RMS Carpathia rescue of Titanic passengers

pickles

Story Problem:  gushing about Farmer Brown’s newest product – Farmer Brown had such luck with his cucumber crop this year that he has gone into pickle production.  Using his grandmother’s recipe, he has made jars and jars and jars of dill pickles.  He is not only selling them at his road-side stand, but a national food catalog has made a substantial purchase.  

– If Farmer Brown slices 2 cloves of garlic into each jar of his extremely popular dill pickles, and there are approximately 10 cloves in a head of garlic, and he has filled 12 dozen jars, how many heads of garlic were needed?

A).  10     B).  18     C).  25     D).  29  (answer at bottom of post)

Speaking of story problems!  Coming semi-soon! –  A booklet that will include 100 story problems from this blog.  Illustrations are finished!  This will be available from this website  before Christmas.  STAY TUNED. 

Classical Music we gush over –

pick 3

About 4 times a week, I make a list of 10 classical music pieces and have my son select the three we are going to listen to that evening.  If one of the following is on the list, it ALWAYS gets picked. I would estimate that we have listened to each of these no less than 400 times –

  • The Moldau, the second movement from Bedrich Smetana’s symphonic poem, “Ma Vlast”, which premiered in 1882.  The piece follows a river’s path, passing woodlands, meadows, a wedding, mermaids, castles and ruins.  An abrupt and fabulous ending: 

  • The Wild Bears, the sixth movement from Sir Edward Elgar’s “The Wand of Youth” (second suite), premiering in 1908.  A rollicking 3 minutes, full of sophisticated orchestration,  surprises, and a smashing ending.  We also really like Mariss Jansons, the conductor in this video:

  • Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D major, movement III (AKA “Fandango”), composed by Luigi Boccherini in 1798.  Soothing, warm, intriguing.  Not much to look at in this video, but this is the recording we love:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  D).  29 cloves of garlic)

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)

Mid-March Roundup

They glide through the air with the greatest of ease – We are reading “Catching Air”, a book focused on GLIDING ANIMALS (non-bird animals that seemingly fly from tree to tree).  This is our third book by Sneed B. Collard III, whose writings on lizards and bird beaks (for heavens sakes) have made us enthusiastic observers.   As usual, the material he presents in “Catching Air” makes us feel super scholarly:

  • we now know that large eyes on animals are suggestive of a nocturnal nature
  • we now know the difference between flying, gliding, and parachuting animals
  • we now know what a patagium (vocab) is and we know how to pronounce it
  • we discussed the difference between a carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore
  • we are now among those who know where the largest, second largest, and third largest islands in the world are (the largest, of course, is Greenland – where there are no gliding animals, but there are gliding animals aplenty in Papua New Guinea, the second largest island and Borneo, third largest island) 
  • last night we read about the creepiest creepiest creepiest thing:  the air gliding snakes of Borneo     

Editing Triumph:  Hans Christian Anderson – I wanted my son to understand references that originated from Anderson’s writings, like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Ugly Duckling”, so we read from a most elegant edition of his fairy tales, compiled by Noel Daniel (published in 2013).  This book is thoughtfully organized and filled with sumptuous surprises.  There is a lot of gold ink, short informative sidebars, and each fairy tale is teamed up with its own illustrator  (the likes of Maurice Sendak and Arthur Rackham).  THIS is the edition that anybody interested in Hans Christian Anderson should own. 

Quick Notes –

  • Hokusai:  After finishing “The Old Man Mad about Drawing” (Francois Place), learning more about Katsushika Hokusai, woodcut print master of the late 1700’s, I presented my son with 4 Hokusai poster possibilities for his room.  He selected the classic, “The Great Wave”.  Even in poster form, it is more spectacular than I had imagined.
  • Marsupials:  First of all, “marsupial” is a fun word to say.  Marsupial, marsupial, marsupial.  We finished a unit on marsupials – those mammals that nurture their newborns in mom’s front pocket – except for those marsupials whose mom’s don’t have a front pocket (which our book should have expanded upon)(editing disappointment)(sigh).
  • Compass directions:  I did a compass check with my son.  Did he know north, south, east, and west?  YES.
  • Hank the Cow Dog:  It has been years since we have read through the John R. Erickson series.  This is the ridiculousness we need to conclude each day.  We pretty much love Hank.

Complaint Department:  My son and I are studying architectural landmarks.  I am not mentioning our resource because this book could have been so much better.  I would not be giving this editor a raise anytime soon:

  • Our book provides only vague references to each landmark’s location, as if the exact whereabouts were a secret.  Seriously?  No nearby city mention?  No COUNTRY mention?  How can there not be a little map accompanying each entry?   
  • Whereas all entries are interesting, are they all really landmarks?  Are the Roman Baths of England a landmark?  Are the the buried terra-cotta army figures in China a landmark?
  • Often the book waxes on about a particular object of fascination (fabulous mosaics, a special stone, etc) associated with a particular landmark, and then does not include a photo of the object.  AAAAACK.

Nevertheless, we do have our favorite landmarks:

  • First place honors go to the hundred foot tall Christ the Redeemer of Rio de Janeiro.  Monumental simplicity.  Of interest:  funding ran low during construction, so the Vatican stepped in to assist.  Nice.
  • Second place, measuring in at 185 feet (on one side) is the relentless engineering fiasco and utterly charming Leaning Tower of Pisa.  

Story problem – a landmark at Farmer Brown’s roadside produce stand!  In the hopes of making his produce stand a tour-bus destination, Farmer Brown has commissioned a sculptor to create a 10 foot high bronze ear of corn, to be positioned near the stand.  That should get everyone’s attention!  The “artwork” will be true to actual corn proportions.  If there are 50 kernels of corn in a typical row on a corncob, each kernel must be approximately how wide in the sculpture?  (answer at bottom of post)

A)  2.5 inches     B)  5 inches     C)  7.5 inches     D)  2.5 feet

Classical Music Time – earlier in this month (MARCH), a local radio station hosted a “vote for your favorite march” opportunity.  We listen to marches every Friday night throughout the year, so my son definitely knew the three he was voting for:

  • Marche Militaire No. 1 in D major, composed as a piano four-hands piece by  Franz Schubert and first published in 1826.   Perhaps best described as a ballroom march, Marche Militaire is also effectively used in the cute-as-anything Disney cartoon of 1932, “Santa’s Workshop” (my son LOVES this cartoon – frankly, I love this cartoon).  Note:  the extremely competent pianists in this clip do take quite a bit of time to get started:

  • March of the Prague Student Legion, by Bedrich Smetana, composed in 1848.  This is a march that fills you with nationalistic pride, makes you throw your shoulders back and stand up straight.  We love the snappy pace of this particular recording.  As an added listening bonus, tucked into the middle of the march, my son and I listen for a few bars of “The Farmer in the Dell”:

  • The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s theme),  John Williams’ genius nod to aggression and menace.  In this film clip, John Williams conducts the LA Philharmonic Orchestra (complete with Jedi and Mr. Vader):

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  A)  2.5”)

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.

Two Siberts!

FYI:  The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal – awarded annually to the most distinguished INFORMATIONAL book for children.  (Really, these are books for everybody.)  Sibert award winners in our library:
– 2018  Honor Award  Grand Canyon, Jason Chin
– 2015  Medal Winner The Right Word, Roget and His Thesaurus, Jen Bryant
– 2015  Honor Award  The Mad Potter – George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius, Greenberg/Jordan
– 2014  Honor Award  Locomotive, Brian Floca
– 2010  Honor Award  Moonshot, Brian Floca

Two more Sibert winners in the STORIES AND STUDIES CENTER this past week:

2017 Honor Award:  Giant Squid, by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann.  I was looking for information on giant squid (because, why not?) and getting irritated because the books I found included only illustrations NOT photographs.  Well, here is why:  giant squid are tricky to locate.  The first time scientists actually saw a live giant squid was in 2006!  In 2012 (for the very first time), a giant squid was captured on film swimming at a depth of more than 2,000 feet under sea level.  After reading through the book, we confirmed that restaurants do not use giant squid for their calimari menu entrees.  Squid used in restaurants are around a foot in length.  Giant squid are about the size of a bus (and have the largest eyeballs of any living creature on earth) (not that this has anything to do with the dining experience).  We also talked about black squid ink.  Thinking about any sort of squid makes my back shiver.

 2007 Medal Winner:  Team Moon, by Catherine Thimmesh.  Perfect timing!  We were reading this the very week that marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.  “Team Moon” focuses upon critical challenges, last minute glitches, and the team of 400,000 focused professionals who supported the project that landed the first men on the moon.  We read about:

  • unexpected alarms (hearts in our throats)
  • potential fuel deficiency in the lunar module (hearts in our throats)
  • the space suits and shoes (requirements, construction, testing, testing, testing) (hearts in our throats when we read about Armstrong and Aldrin jumping up and down on the moon – disastrous if any seams had ripped)
  • the cameras (OK, this we could deal with, put us on the camera committee)
  • the potential for deadly bacteria/virus returning from outer space (hearts in our throats)
  • the parachute landing (hearts in our throats)
  • high winds in Australia that nearly prevented TV transmission (again, we could deal with this)

We learned that every aspect of Apollo 11 had a “backup program for the backup program for the backup program”, while acknowledging that any surprise from outer space could disable the mission at every single stage.  

We loved finding out why Armstrong and Aldrin shed their oxygen backpacks at the end of their moon walk and left them on the moon:  they needed the room in the lunar module for the moon rocks they were bringing back to earth!  (This book is so A+.) 

BTW,  here is something else we learned (via Wikipedia):  the moon is 240,000 miles away from planet Earth and the International Space Station is a mere 250 miles away.  We learned about the concept of “Low Earth Orbit”  (anything that orbits between 99 and 1,200 miles from the surface of the earth).  So, questions:  is the ISS in low earth orbit?  is the moon in low earth orbit?

Speaking of distances – A Farmer Brown story problem – Farmer Brown’s truck manages 22 miles on one gallon of gas.  Today, the truck has 2 gallons of gas left in the tank and Farmer Brown’s grandmother needs a ride into town to the beauty salon.  The beauty salon is 6 miles away, but on the way to the salon, Granny would like to stop at her friend Beulah’s house to return a cookie tray she borrowed for a tea party.  Beulah’s house is 10 miles beyond the beauty salon.  But before she can return the tray, Granny needs to go to the florist to buy Beulah a bouquet to thank her for lending the tray.  The florist is 3 miles in the opposite direction from the beauty salon.  Does Farmer Brown have enough gas in his truck to drive Granny to the florist, to Beulah’s, to the beauty salon, and then back to the ranch?  (answer at bottom of post)

Music to capture the triumph of the Apollo 11 mission –  we were looking for orchestral music that celebrated the can-do spirit of America, applauded the historical achievement, and conveyed JOB WELL DONE:

– Hoe-Down from Aaron Copland’s ballet (1942), “Rodeo” – EXCELLENT SELECTION:  a joyful, rambunctious dance of exhilaration.  A splendid performance by the National Youth Orchestra of the USA (2018):

– Theme from “Bonanza” TV show – EXCELLENT SELECTION:  composed by Livingston, Evans, and Rose for the Bonanza TV show (1959 to 1973).  A short, robust piece brimming with that American confidence:

– And then, HOO BOY:  my son and I took a listen to the #1 pop song of 1969:  “Sugar, Sugar”, by The Archies.  Let’s get this straight – the very same people who could collectively appreciate the magnitude of the moon landing listened to this song enough times to send it shooting up to the top of the “Billboard Hot 100” list.  Maybe we just needed something ridiculously uncomplicated.  “Sugar, Sugar” to the rescue! 

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  yes, barely.  Granny’s zigzag route to the beauty salon is 38 miles in length)