The Sweet Life


Sweeter than honey – I think this is our fourth bee study unit – we must so close to earning some sort of bee scholarship certificate – but who could resist the utterly giant, INYOURFACE “Bees – A Honeyed History” by Piotr Socha – AND – the book is even better than I anticipated.  We’re only half way through, but we’ve learned more than we knew previously about

swarming – bees and bears – bees and Napoleon – the waggle dance (!!!)
honey as a preservative – St. Ambrose (patron saint of bees) – pollination

Tonight: how to construct a beehive!  Clever graphics compliment the broad spectrum of bee topics addressed.  We just love this book. There is no other choice but to give it an A+.

bee book

“Wonder” IS wonderful – If you walk into any major book store you cannot miss R.J. Palacio’s prominently displayed book, “Wonder”.  The hype is not overdone.  This is a deeply thought-provoking read, with short chapters that grab your heart.  The author tackles several different points of view with authentic insight.  What a story.  What a privilege to work through this book with my son. (We know the “Wonder” movie is premiering this month.  Alas, our movie theater experiences have not been too positive, so thank heavens we have the book.)


Africa Calls – We have the most interesting and inspirational friend (yes, you, SLC) who serves as a school director in Guinea, Africa.  Lucky, lucky school.  (Sidebar – if I lived anywhere near and had school-age children, they would be enrolled in that school SO FAST).

But to the point:
Here is what my son and I know about Guinea: NOTHING.
Here is what we know about Africa: VERY LITTLE.
– the atrocities of the Congo Free State (late 1800’s) under the shameful King Leopold II of Belgium
– a bit about ancient Egypt
– Dr. Livingston’s travels and his meeting up with Henry Morton Stanley on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in 1871

Shouldn’t we know a LOT more about Africa?

  • We are starting with another “Lonely Planet – Not for Parents” book, this one, “Africa – Everything you wanted to know”.  Already we’ve discussed the ridiculously huge Sahara Desert (and compared it to the size of the Amazon rain forest), wildebeest migration patterns, cannibals (!), African colonization, insects as snacks (we are so not eating bugs as snacks), cheetahs, and the very first heart transplant.
  • We have compared a currant African country map with an African country map from 60 years ago.
  • We have just begun reading “I Will Always Write Back” (this title makes me burst into tears), by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch.  This is a story about pen pals (vocab), one in Pennsylvania and one is Zimbabwe, who began their correspondence in 1997.

We now know where Guinea and Zimbabwe are.  Let the Africa unit begin!


Sweet Students for Sweet Seniors (a Local Diner story problem) The local junior high is hosting a “Design your own Donut” breakfast at Le Fictitious Local Diner, to raise funds for a Thanksgiving party they are planning for the senior citizens center.  It will cost the diner $750 to serve 1,000 donuts with 15 topping choices. Once costs are met, the diner will give all remaining money taken in to the school.  If a “donut and topping experience” will be priced at $3, and all donuts are sold, how much money will the junior high have raised for their Senior Citizen Center Thanksgiving party?
A)  $750    B) $1,000    C) $2,250    D) $3,000

If everyone purchases two donuts each, and half of these people order up a cup of hot chocolate (priced at $2) to enhance the sugar high, how much money will the diner gross from hot chocolate sales?
A)  $200    B) $500    C) $750    D) $2,000


Suite Music – I wanted to solidify in my son’s mind the concept of an orchestral suite and how it differs from a symphony or concerto.  If you are like my son’s grandmother, The Peach, and you have no idea what a suite is, we like to compare a suite to a book of short stories by a single author – each story stands alone, yet the entire collection resonates with the author’s style.  What composer better to turn to than Ottorino Respighi – really such a suite master:

“Pines of Rome” – “The Birds” – “The Fountains of Rome”
“Church Windows” – “Brazilian Impressions” – “Ancient Airs and Dances”

My son and I happen to like “The Cuckoo” from his “The Birds” suite (composed in 1928), so instead of listening to one movement from several suites, I decided we should listen to 3 of the 5 movements from this one work – so we could hear how each movement is complete in itself, yet all three have the Respighi touch (a very clean sound, exquisite attention to his subject matter).

“The Dove”, movement 2 from Respighi’s “The Birds”.  We listened for the cooing of the dove and the magical ending.  The music starts after about a minute-long introduction from the conductor:

“The Hen”, movement 3.  Nailed it:

“The Cuckoo”, movement 5 (We like to count the “cuckoo” sounds – SO many crammed into this 4 minute piece.)  Such a sparkling performance by the youth orchestra from the Bachmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv (and yet check out the bored stiff audience – how could this happen?):

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

(story problem answers:  C) $2,250;  B) $500)


A good, good, good day

Good!  Blog posting is back!  The STORIES AND STUDIES classroom is always in full swing every night, but there has been no time to post since “Whale Fall and other Water Wonders” – all extraneous brain power has been directed toward our mid-August family wedding.  The glam couple was surrounded by the best of aunts, uncles, cousins, Godparents, grandmothers, parents, siblings, sorority sisters and fraternity brothers, and it was a good, good, good day.

New Biertuempfels

But I digress. Back to STORIES AND STUDIES –

Dealing with the bad guys – My son and I are glued to “Crime Science – how investigators use science to track down the bad guys” by Vivien Bowers.  Who wouldn’t want to know about such things as COUNTERFEITING?  My son was ultra-focused while we read about eight ways to determine if a dollar bill is counterfeit (vocab).  We examined our own crisp bills as we read through the list.  And then we learned about FORGERY (vocab)!  Last night, fingerprinting.  Oh, we do like this type of book – new vocab (like victim, suspect, evidence) and conversation provokers on every single page.

crime book etc

Those Greek Gods:  SO good! SO bad! – my son and I loved Ken Jennings’ book, “Maphead”, so we welcomed “Ken Jennings Junior Genius Guide to Greek Mythology”.  We have sampled other books on Greek mythology, but the information did not stick – I think the Jennings book may be a winner for us.  It is cleverly assembled like a school composition book: instead of chapters, the book is divided into classroom periods, and the illustrations? student doodles.  Last night we started through the “Greek Gods Trading Cards” section, learning the super-strengths, talents, skills AND trickery, treachery, deviousness and go-sit-in-the-corner badness of Zeus, Hera, and Poseidon (tonight:  Hades, Demeter, Hestia, and Aphrodite are on deck).

Such a good book – may we again recommend “The Extreme Life of the Sea” by Palumbi and Palumbi.  Wow.  The final summation gave us so much to think about – “In the long run, the oceans do not need saving – PEOPLE need saving.”.  The point: over the course of a thousand years, the oceans will adapt and take care of themselves, but people will suffer significantly if the oceans aren’t thoughtfully tended NOW.  This book has been placed in our Sunday night reference section (selected readings to make us think about being grateful and caring citizens of the world).

nail polish

Story problem of the week: Farmer Brown’s daughter gets married!  Farmer Brown is letting the bride and her bridesmaids use a sweet cottage on his property to get ready for the wedding ceremony.  The bride has 6 bridesmaids and one maid of honor.  If all young women are getting a manicure (vocab) and pedicure (vocab) the morning of the wedding, how many nails will be polished?   A) 60    B) 80    C) 120    D) 160
If one bottle of polish will adequately paint 50 nails, how many bottles of nail polish should be available?  OH FOR HEAVENS SAKES!  LET COMMON SENSE PREVAIL!  They don’t have all day – each young woman needs her own bottle!   A) 1 bottle    B) 4 bottles    C) 8 bottles    D) 12 bottles (story problem answers at bottom of post)


Our music listening last night – thinking about sister’s wedding –

  • The Prince of Denmark’s March” composed by Jeremiah Clarke around 1700. This classic wedding ceremony processional (vocab), is often referred to as “Trumpet Voluntary” and in the past, was incorrectly attributed to popular baroque composer Henry Purcell.  Jeremiah Clarke was the church organist for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, so this piece was written for keyboard, but my son and I love this recording by trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis:

  • Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” by Edvard Grieg, composed in1896, to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary with his beloved wife, Nina.  (Troldhaugen, meaning “troll hill”, was the name of their home.)  We love this dear piece – two lively country dance sections bookend a somber, reflective, heartbreaking passage:

  • Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream” written by Felix Mendelssohn in 1842, to accompany Shakespeare’s play. Certainly the grandest of wedding recessionals (vocab), first performed at a real wedding in 1847:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  D) 160,   C) 8 bottles)

Whale Fall and other Water Wonders


Whale Fall* is one of the concepts we are learning about from Stephen and Anthony Palumbi’s book, “The Extreme Life of the Sea” (professor of marine science at Stanford University, Stephen Palumbi is an undisputed expert).  So far, we have also learned about William Beebe (the first man to descend a half mile into the sea in a ridiculously tiny air-tight sphere), bioluminescence (vocab, AND maybe our most beautiful word of 2017), the challenges of tidal pool living, mangrove forest ecosystems – every topic draws us in.  It is a privilege to study from this book.

*Whale Fall – because you want to know – describes the creation of a deep sea ecosystem, put into place when a whale dies and sinks to the bottom of the sea.  Once my son and I got beyond the grimness, we marveled at the genius of this circle-of-life system. BTW, whale fall has been going on for about 33 million years (and yet, surprise surprise, this is the first I have heard about it. Once again, when I study with my son, we both win.).

nessy photo

On the lighter side – we are reading “The Loch Ness Monster (Behind the Legend)”, by Erin Peabody.  This well-organized book presents and intelligently refutes the many Nessie legends and hoaxes (HOAXES:  we remembered when we read about the crop circle hoaxes) (who ARE these people who have time to perpetuate hoaxes?).  But back to the book:  yes, we look forward to reading from this every evening.


The Cursive Suggestion – I enjoyed a thought provoking conversation with a friend who is finishing up certification requirements for dyslexia therapy.  She said current studies indicate that for some, cursive handwriting is FAR easier than plain printing (loads of documented reasons).  Well, this caught my attention – when I am helping my son write, it is difficult to tell when he has finished one letter and is ready to start another.  Cursive writing might be a solution.  Say no more, we are on it.

hot thermometer

Cooling down at Le Fictitious Local Diner – What with the weather being so hot, the diner’s August marketing strategy is to give every lunch patron a paper fan (with diner take-out menu imprinted) as they leave.  The diner can purchase 250 wood handled fans for $120.  The diner averages 1,000 lunch customers a month.  How many sets of fans should be ordered?  How much will the diner spend on 1000 fans?

Last year, the August promotion (sun visors with diner logo) generated an extra $1,500 in take-out orders.  If this year’s promotion brings in a like amount of business, will the fans be a good use of advertising dollars? (story problem answers at bottom of post)

Looking for a Classical Music Controversy?  Might we suggest trying to differentiate between Rounds, Canons, and Fugues?  Apparently, this is a touchy subject among musicologists.  My son and I know what a round is, so we dug deeper – is a canon a round?  “Yes” by some authorities, “Yes, but…” by others. But OH MY GOSH, when it came to trying to understand the difference between a canon and a fugue – we had no idea that a discussion of these music forms was chock full of confusion and heated controversy.  People, is this necessary????  The comment we are going with:  “Compare a Bach fugue to the Pachelbel Canon and you will instantly recognize the gulf between these two forms.”  OK (I think).

– We listened to Johann Pachelbel’s Pachelbel Canon in D.  Composed around 1700, but sort of overlooked until Jean-Francois Pilliard recorded the piece in 1968.  Then, WHOA, how do you spell ubiquitous (vocab)?  Poor Pachelbel! If only he could have lived to collect the royalties:

– Then we listened to J.S. Bach’s fab Fugue in G Minor, (referred to as “The Little Fugue”) composed around 1705 – so almost about the same time as Pachelbel’s Canon, but SO much more complex.  Originally written for organ, we listened to a performance by the Canadian Brass.  I think listening to each brass instrument makes it easier to hear each melody line of the fugue. This is a short piece (yay) and the Canadian Brass are always engaging:

– Finally, for fun, we listed to Fugue for Tinhorns, the opening number of the 1950’s musical, “Guys and Dolls” (music/lyrics by Frank Loesser).  Ever so many musicologists are quick to point out that this IS NOT a fugue, it is either a round or a canon.  OK, people take your fight outside.  This piece is adorable!

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: 4 sets, $480, yes!)
PS  There might be a giant time gap until my next post:  family member getting married in 4 weeks!

Looking North

Our Canadian Unit: the 49th parallel propels us into action – While reading about Canadian provinces, and we came across this:  British Colombia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba border the United States along the 49th parallel north. WHAT???????? It was like our alarm clock clanged!  It was obviously time to learn about parallels, longitude, latitude and the like.  So, two books to the rescue:  we’re reading through the scholarly and quite fascinating “Longitude” by Dava Sobel, and “Maphead” by Ken Jennings is on deck.  BTW, “Wow Canada!” by Vivien Bowers is proving to be an excellent resource.

olivia 3

Fiction Fun – We were sorry to finish two entertaining books this past week: our 10th Tom Gates book, “Top of the Class (nearly)” by the utterly imaginative Liz Pichon (gosh we love those Tom Gates books) and a revisit read of Gordon Korman’s insightful “Schooled” (important read).  We’ve just begun “Olivia Bean Trivia Queen”, written by Donna Gephart, a new author for us. So far: YAY!

Reporting in on our Buffalo Bill unit:
– We have just finished “Presenting Buffalo Bill” –  We’ve impressed ourselves by absorbing the material of Candace Fleming’s long, brilliantly researched book.  We probably learned EVERYTHING about this over-the-top man,  a LOT about the myth of the “wild west”, and a BIT about some unsettling American government policies of the late 18th century.
– A side note:  Buffalo Bill fits the profile –  My son and I have studied many “larger than life” individuals whose impact has been significant.  To a person, the greater the achievement, the more glaring the personal deficit(s) (vocab).  William Cody fits the profile.  Poor Bill – literally POOR BILL – had no concept of money management.  Although this is a comparatively benign (vocab) deficit, how could his friends and family not shudder in horror as he plunged unthinkable quantities of money into one ill-advised investment after another.  Oh Bill!

canadian geese

Farmer Brown and the Canadian Geese story problem – Farmer Brown loves the honking sound of Canadian Geese as they fly over his ranch, migrating south for the winter or back north for the summer.  He was interested to read that a town in Kansas counted 1,800 geese as year-round residents, their number increasing to 18,000 every winter.  A percentage increase of what?  A. 10%      B. 100%      C. 1,000%  (answer at bottom of post)

Back to our Canada studies:  WE DID NOT SEE THIS COMING – Here we are knee deep into our unit on the Canadian provinces, learning about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Calgary Stampede, the Canadian Shield, poutine, puffins, prairie dogs – lovely, lovely, lovely and then, WHOA: smack in the middle of Canada, in the province of Manitoba: THE NARCISSE SNAKE DENS.  SNAKE DENS!!!!  We had to drop everything, find out more and look at GROSS WRIGGLING PHOTOS.  OK, here is the deal: every spring and fall, thousands and thousands of red-sided garter snakes congregate for a three week mating frenzy.

narcisse snake dens

Last night’s music:  A HISSY FIT – we pretended that the director of the Narcisse Snake Dens phoned and pleaded with us to plan a program of background music for the slithering sweethearts:


  • “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Richard Strauss’ one act opera, “Salome”, which premiered in 1905 (but was banned in London until 1907 for being WAY too steamy) (my son doesn’t need to know this).  This piece masterfully scores the out of control fever of the snake pits (thank you timpani) with the sinuous gliding of the snakes over and under each other (thank you snake charmy oboes).  This performance by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Santiago, conducted by Paolo Bortolameolli is SUPERB. TONS of energy:

  • “Blue Tango” by Leroy Anderson, composed in 1951.  We just laugh and laugh through this whole piece.  This is the go-to sassy music for a garter snake meet and greet:

  • We anthropomorphized (vocab) the snakes and imagined two snakes eyeing each other from opposite sides of the crowded and heaving den – and their hearts connect (we are laughing so hard) to “Some Enchanted Evening” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1949 “South Pacific” production:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answer: C. 1,000% increase)

We’re in A+ Book Territory

We are in A+ Book territory!  Sometimes we’re lucky and every book on the nightly agenda is so first-rate that we can’t wait to get started.  Do we think every book is dandy?  Ha.  Frankly, about half of the books we start do NOT get finished.  If they are dull or poorly edited we give them a quiet farewell, and sort of feel bad about tossing them in the give-away box for the next charity drive.  But this week, we are in A+ Book Territory!


A+ for “Grammar-Land” – what an entertaining book we have found in “Grammar-Land” written by M.L. Nesbitt in – GET THIS – 1877! (never fear, reprinted/available from Amazon).  M.L. Nesbitt must have had so much fun writing this, and as we get caught up in the grammar court room cleverness, we are being drilled over and over with grammar rules. We are getting smarter! Oh my gosh, I was so nervous about last night’s topic – we were tackling “the nominative case” – which ended up being ridiculously easy.  I have reviewed many supposedly “fun” grammar books, which are decidedly NOT.  This one: A+.

A+ for the “DK Eyewitness Book: North American Indian” – we continue our Native North American unit and this book is providing a decent introduction for our survey.  We have admired the sleek design of birch bark canoes, we have learned a bit about the Iroquois League (5 tribes that worked together, under the guidance of a council made up of men – who were chosen by elder tribe WOMEN!!!), and last night, we read through a most interesting mini sketch of Tecumseh.  Two thumbs up for this reference (A+)!

A+ for “The Memory of an Elephant” – We are enjoying this quirky book about elephants by Sophie Strady, gloriously illustrated by Jean-Francois Martin, so the news of the week – the announcement by Ringling Brothers of the imminent close of their circus – caught our attention.  So much to talk about – the skilled performers, the death-defying acts, circus snacks, circus parades, circus music, and then a thoughtful discussion about the realities of “freak exhibits” and circus animals (including a mention about PETA and their role in forcing the circus to retire their elephants).  This book: conversation provoker!  A+!


Story Problem – Too many books in Farmer Brown’s library – Farmer Brown has run out of storage room, so he has decided clean out his book shelves.  He has found 40 hardcover books and 50 paperback books to donate to a charity. He has determined that the worth of each hardcover book is $7, and the worth of each paperback is $3.  How much will Farmer Brown be able to tell his CPA that he has donated in books?  My son did the computation in his head:
A) $90      B) $430      C) $730      D) $900 (answer at bottom of post)


Circus Music Classics – Even though the Ringling Brothers Circus is about to be a thing of the past, we will always love these attention grabbing compositions:

Entry of the Gladiators – composed in 1897 by Julius Fucik.  As I wrote in August 2015, Fucik had quite an interest in the Roman Empire.  He did NOT intend for this composition to be used as a circus SCREAMER (how can you not love this term?????) (a “screamer” is an invigorating circus march).  Is this not THE music that should be blaring in elementary school halls on the first day of school?

Sabre Dance – Aram Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance, composed in 1942, is the definitive go-to music for any and all knife throwing attractions.  We found a simply outstanding performance of this edge-of-your-seat music (and we would do anything to be part of this percussion section):

The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze – composed by Lyle and Lee in 1867 to glorify Jules Leotard, a French acrobat who developed the art of the trapeze AND AS IF THAT WEREN’T ENOUGH, he invented the 1-piece form-fitting knitted gym suit: the leotard.  An extremely popular song for decades! (But I guess not in this decade – last weekend, I was at a leadership workshop, singing with a group of 80 bright collegians, and I was stunned to discover that NOT A ONE OF THEM was familiar with the circus music classics.  REALLY?  NOT ON MY WATCH – I made them listen over and over to “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”)

Welcome to the best part of my day!
Jane BH
(story problem answer: B) $430)

Old Business


An old name is a new name – How did this bit of news pass us by?  My son and I just learned that the citizens of Barrow, Alaska voted this past October to change the city’s name back to its ancient traditional name, Utqiagvik!  (Doesn’t everybody know that we love knowing stuff like this?)  The town has been called Utqiagvik – meaning “place for gathering wild roots” – for the past 1,500 years but has been officially “Barrow” since 1825.  Apparently, the governor of Alaska has until mid-December to rule on the name change.  Will the governor want to mess with the decision of the people in America’s northern-most city?  We are standing by!

Animals of yesteryear – our current course of study:  “Lost Animals – Extinction and the Photographic Record”, by Errol Fuller.  Fuller’s research is thorough and each chapter follows a particular species from it’s heyday to its regrettable demise (mostly there are a LOT of bird species that are no longer with us) (and we really wish color photography had been around before the pink headed duck of the Ganges River became extinct).  Last night we read about the thylacine – a species that was in existence when my son’s grandparents were children.  The stories captivate, stay with us, and I think make us more aware and maybe worried for the distant future of every healthy animal we see.


Well, here is an OLDIE – we are enjoying “Understood Betsy” written by Dorothy Canfield Fisher 1917.  This classic shows up on many recommended reading lists, and I was finally persuaded to give it a try after reading a mini-bio of Ms. Fisher on the always informative “Focus on Fraternity” blog (  Happy surprise!  This book presents a wealth of information about how things were 100 years ago, there is a dash of adventure, and a pervasive advocacy of self sufficiency which should put this book on a required reading list for parents and teachers.


Story problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – The diner is bringing back an old tradition for the month of December: cloth napkins.  They are going to see if it is more economical to rent cloth napkins or to purchase napkins and have them laundered by a service.  The diner goes through 200 napkins daily.  Cloth napkins rental price:  200 napkins for $25.  The laundry service charges $10 to wash and press 200 napkins, but the diner would have to purchase two days worth of napkins first (at a cost of $3 per unit).  If the diner decides to use cloth napkins for December, should they rent or own/pay for a laundry service?  What is the least they can spend for this festive endeavor? (answers at bottom of post)

The music theme this past week:  PARODIES (vocab) – When I was in 5th grade, my friend Pam received the best-record-album-ever at her birthday party: Allan Sherman’s “My Son the Nut”.  I absolutely collapsed in laughter just looking at the album cover (Mr. Sherman, up to his neck in assorted nuts); I did not believe that anything could be more screamingly hilarious (hey folks, this was the early 1960’s – simpler expectations).  On top of a great album cover, THE CLEVER PARODIES!   What fun, some 45 years later, to share this listening experience with my son.


This past week, we matched up a few songs from “My Son the Nut” with the classical compositions from which they were inspired:

“Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”:  the lyrics were written to a theme from Amilcare Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” (1876).  “Dance of the Hours” was also used in Disney’s “Fantasia” of 1940.

“Hungarian Goulash No. 5”:  the lyrics were written to Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 5” (1869). Gustavo Dudamel conducts in this video – and you know how I feel about Mr. Dudamel.  MERCY.

“Here’s to the Crabgrass”:  the lyrics were written to Percy Grainger’s “Country Gardens” (1918).  This performance by the Hastings College Wind Ensemble really scoots along.

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story problem answers: the diner should definitely rent the napkins, renting will run $775. Purchasing napkins and paying a laundry service will cost almost twice as much.)


Here is the quandary (vocab):  I do not like reading to my son about man’s inhumanity to man; he has enough to deal with without trying to grasp the perplexing notion of cruelty.  HOWEVER, the “Wicked History” series books are so well written, organized, researched, and crazy fascinating – we can’t stay away.


We just finished the book on BAD BAD King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909); and he was indefensibly bad – Hitler and Stalin BAD.  There were passages in the book describing atrocities under his leadership of the “Congo Free State” (his PERSONAL colony) so barbaric, that while reading aloud to my son, I had to skip over paragraph after paragraph.
On the plus side:
– we learned a LOT about what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and came away fascinated
– we added to our hero list:  George Washington Williams (a journalist), Edmund Morel (a most alert shipping clerk) and Roger Casement (a British consul). These men brought the brutal policies of Congo Free State administrators to world wide attention and censure (vocab)
– AND Leopold II died with just about everyone (well, maybe everyone) despising him. (ridiculously small consolation)

amazon-pic himalayan-pic

from “The Wonder Garden” book by Williams and Broom – stunning

The subject matter gets a LOT happier, but DRAT:  we just hate it when a good book ends. We loved EVERY page of “The Wonder Garden” by Kristjana S. Williams and Jenny Broom; luscious illustrations accompanied by solidly interesting facts.  This startlingly beautiful book showcases animals of five distinct habitats around the world. We were familiar with the Amazon Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, but we really hadn’t read anything about the Black Forest, the Chihuahuan Dessert or the Himalayan Mountains.  This delicious book is SO on our “read-it-again list”.

Last night my son took a simple matching location-to-fact quiz and then we paired up one piece of music with each habitat.


Music to remind us of five living wonders of our world:
– The Amazon Rain Forest – hosting around 1,500 species of birds, Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Aviary” (from his “Carnival of the Animals”, 1886) was an obvious selection.  The music is prefaced by an Ogden Nash poem read by Roger Moore.  Elegant:

– The Great Barrier Reef – again, from Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals”:  “The Aquarium”. Gloriously haunting music provides a backdrop for the world’s largest living structure (however, as beautiful as this linked video is, “The Aquarium” takes up only the first 2.5 minutes; the carnival’s donkey and the cuckoo movements follow, for some unknown reason):

– The Black Forest – the habitat for not only the world’s largest owls, but also the setting for several fairy tales from the brothers Grimm.  My son and I listened to “Evening Prayer” from the opera “Hansel and Gretel”, composed by Englebert Humperdinck in 1893.  We twiddled our fingers during the three minute LONG introduction; however once we got to the meat of the composition we enjoyed possibly the most comforting lullaby ever:

SIDEBAR:  another Englebert Humperdinck??? we followed Humperdinck’s “Evening Prayer” with a short discussion of British pop star (of the ’60’s and ’70’s) Englebert Humperdinck (but really Arnold George Dorsey) (obviously NO relation to the composer of the late 1800’s).  My UCLA college room-mate, J’nette, warbled a mocking version of  Humperdinck’s giant hit “Release Me” throughout our undergrad years, so I made my unappreciative son endure a trip down memory lane:

– The Chihuahuan Desert – Well, first of all, we had no idea where the Chihuahuan Desert was (southern parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern parts of Mexico) and we are practically living in it!  We felt the second movement (the “Largo” movement) of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” evoked the loneliness, uncertainty, and the grandeur of this habitat:

– and finally, The Himalayan Mountains – we paired “the rooftop of the world” with  “Approaching the Summit” composed by genius genius genius John Williams for the 1997 movie “Seven Years in Tibet”.  We could hear how this music captures themes – majestic and mysterious – from both sides of the Himalayan Mountains (India and China):

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(The story problems from this week seemed painfully frivolous after reading about the human suffering provoked by King Leopold II.  I just couldn’t post any of them.)