Homeschooling

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)

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)

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)

“D”s Dominated

duncan 2

First, DUNCAN DORFMAN – Meg Wolitzer’s engaging, “The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman” transported us into the world of competitive Scrabble.  A member of our family plays competitive chess (a US Chess Federation “National Master” – we are kind of proud), so my son is familiar with the concept of board game competition.  The book mentions scrabble tiles and racks over and over, so I brought some tiles and racks for my son to see, touch, try out (regretfully, NO interest).  My son actually does like filling out book reports, and I was happy to see that he picked up on the main themes of this well structured book (ethics, friendship, the roller-coaster emotions of competition).  

doolittle illustration

Then, DR. DOOLITTLE – My son and I are nearly through Hugh Lofting’s timeless adventure, “The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle”.  Here is what we think:  the pleasures of reading this book double when it is read out loud, allowing reader and listener to savor the poetic preposterousness of Lofting’s relentless imagination – delicious names and places like Popsipetel, Bag-Jagderag, Jip, Dab-Dab, Wiff-Waff, Don Ricky-Ticky.  One more thing – the copy we are reading (a 2012 printing) includes spectacular vintage-style illustrations by Scott McKowen.

indian contributions book

Then, DUCK DECOYS – “Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World”, complied by Emory Sea Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield – a well edited resource we looked forward to opening every night.  A better mom would have read aloud every single entry, but alas, my son had to settle for learning about one topic from each letter of the alphabet.  Adobe, balls, canoes, duck decoys, earache treatments (well, that was gross), fringed clothing, gourds, hominy (I really built this one up with the hope of my son giving hominy a try – GIANT CORN ARE YOU KIDDING????  Who wants to sample some WAY FUN GIANT CORN??? Alas, no luck.  I have no influence.), igloos, jicama, kayaks, lacrosse, maple syrup, nasturtiums, observatories, popcorn, quipus, rafts, salsa, tipis, umbrellas, vanilla, wampum, yams (we skipped X and Z).  

lattice pie

Then, DESSERTS AT THE DINER (a story problem)During summer months, Miss Michelle (famed pastry chef at the diner) bakes pies every morning:  4 apple pies, 2 apricot lattice (vocab) pies, 2 peach pies, 2 cherry lattice pies, 1 blueberry pie, 1 blackberry pie, 1 rhubarb pie, and 2 lemon meringue pies.  Each pie gets sliced into 6 servings.  

  • If a tour bus with 80 passengers stops at the diner for lunch, would all passengers be able to enjoy a serving of pie?
  • How many pie crusts does famed pastry chef, Miss Michelle, roll out every week?
  • It takes 1 hour to bake a pie.  The diner has 3 ovens and each oven can accommodate 4 pies at a time.  How many hours does famed pastry chef, Miss Michelle, need to bake every pie? (answers at bottom of post)

dvorak portrait

Finally, DVOŘÁK DAZZLED –  on the classical music front, it was Antonín Dvořák week at the STORIES AND STUDIES CENTER (my son’s bedroom):

  • Slavonic Dance No. 1 in C major, composed around 1880.  This is one of our favorites and it gets the performance it deserves by the Vienna Philharmonic.  Side notes:  1)  As per usual, conductor Seiji Ozawa’s hair is too wild to be ignored – we should all be so confident.  2)  If you look closely, you will actually see a woman in the orchestra (back row,  violin section).  This video footage was posted in 2008 (so I don’t know when it was filmed) and I am sure the orchestra is trying to be more with the times, BUT REALLY.

  • Humoresque No. 7, composed in 1894 – we love the way YoYo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and conductor Ozawa transform this carefree little piece into a heartbreaker.

  • Song to the Moon, from the opera, “Rusalka”, premier performance in 1901.  Soprano Susan Karinski and the US Navy Band deliver an exquisite performance.  ATTENTION EVERYBODY:  Susan Karinski.  Whoa.  

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers:  yes, 105 pie crusts, 2 hours)

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!)

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)

New Year, New Books

2019

(Christmas gift – thank you Jimmy)  On the basis of a single book, “Women in Science”, my son and I welcome to our academic library ANY book book written by Rachel Ignotofsky.  WOW.  Ms. Ignotofsky certainly meets her goal of creating educational works of art;  this  dazzling book is intelligently organized and jammed with the kind of information we want to know about.  So far, we have been enticed into learning about the contributions of women astronomers, chemists, mathematicians, entomologists, paleontologists, engineers, electricians, geneticists, and geologists.  This book is such a keeper.

timeline book

(Christmas gift – thank you Aunt Janet)  The Smithsonian “Timelines of Everything” book offers up approximately 150 timelines, each commanding a giant two-page spread.  The focus of each timeline is narrow and we always find something worth discussing further.  For instance:

  • agriculture – we spent some time musing over the fact that sheep were raised for milk and food beginning around 7,000 BCE, but wool was not woven into into fabric until 4,000 BCE (Whoa. A 3,000 year time gap).
  • the wheel – the first wheels were potters’ wheels (we did not guess this – and we do know all about potters’ wheels from our study of ceramic artist George E. Ohr).  
  • the written word – we marveled over the Rosetta Stone.
  • games – we now know that when we play tic-tac-toe we are playing one of mankind’s oldest games (first century BCE) (seriously, the 3 Wise Men could have known how to play tic-tac-toe).
  • religions – I had no idea that this would lead to a discussion of REINCARNATION.  But, duh, OF COURSE.  If one hasn’t heard of reincarnation one would want to spend a bit of time grasping the concept.

styx malone

Fiction Fun – “The Season of Styx Malone”, by Kekla Magoon. Styx is full throttle coolness and confidence.  Do we trust him?  We just don’t know.  This keeps us leaning forward as we read chapter after chapter.  Please don’t disappoint us Styx!

running dog

A super short, super easy Farmer Brown story problem – Often people visiting the ranch bring their dogs, so Farmer Brown’s farmhands have fenced in two dog runs for visiting canines.  Which dog run will give the animals more square footage:  the 6’x25’ run or the 5’x30’ run?  (answer at bottom of post)

conductor match

Classical Quiz – I wanted to check to see if my son was retaining info about the great musicians we have been listening to, so he matched up virtuosos with their instrument.  A few conductors were tossed into the mix to make things tricky.  FYI:  my son scored 100%.

music notes

That sounds familiar –  It is no secret that composers often borrow musical ideas from other composers.  (Usually they give credit, sometimes they get into BIG trouble).  Anyway,  I happen to like tracing routes of melodies through the centuries, so my lucky son gets to enjoy listening to my melody match-ups.  Quick examples:

  • Jacque Arcadelt’s Ave Maria melody of the mid 1500’s can be found in both Camille Saint-Saens’ 1886 Organ Symphony and the Finlandia Hymn from Jean Sibelius’ 1899 symphonic poem, Finlandia.
  • Luigi Denza’s Finiculi Funicula (1880) is front and center in Richard Strauss’s  Aus Italian (1886) and in Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Neapolitan Song (1907).
  • Brahms’ Symphony 3, movement 3 (1883) provides the melody line for  Carlos Santana’s Love of My Life (1999).

And this leads us to Bach and Rock – 

lute

Last week we listened to Bourrée in E minor from JS Bach’s Lute Suite No. 1, composed around 1710.  Nice, short, memorable melody (and my son learned that a guitar may be substituted for a lute).  A jewel of a performance by Kevin Low – and check out the loose  guitar strings:  

Then we listened to rock-group-from-the-60’s/70’s Jethro Tull’s recording of “Bouree”.  Such a lively interpretation of the Bach suite movement, but it is clear that lead musician, Ian Anderson, had not much experience playing the flute.  We read a few interviews and found out that Anderson was a self-taught flutist, admitting that he had no idea what he was doing.  So we say BRAVO to his CAN DO attitude.  

We concluded by listening to a 2005 recording of Ian Anderson playing the same piece, “Bouree”, with orchestral support.  Anderson did well with the 35 year practice period!  YAY. 

Also, we learned that the real Jethro Tull (inspiration for the rock group’s name) was a noted British agriculture pioneer (1674-1741).

jethro tull

Welcome to the best part of my day!
-Jane BH
(Story problem answer:  both dog run designs have the same square footage – 150 square feet)

…and in conclusion

– Farewell 2018 – 

Books that made the biggest impact with my son this past year –

books best 18

  • “The Erie Canal” by Martha E. Kendall  (surprisingly interesting)
  • “The Violin Maker” by John Marchese  (surprisingly interesting)
  • “The Cities Book”, a Lonely Planet book  (the lengthiest book we’ve ever tackled, but worthy of our perseverance)
  • “The War that Saved by Life” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley  (we learned so much about the daily struggles of British civilians during WWII)
  • “The Right Word (Roget and his Thesaurus)” by Jennifer Bryant and Melissa Sweet  (the most beautifully illustrated book we read this past year)

What we are reading now – 

space book

“Ken Jennings’ Junior Genius Guide to Dinosaurs” – well researched, cleverly organized, hilarious.  And now we know:

  • the complexity of dealing with dinosaur fossils (which we learned have been found on EVERY continent)
  • the main types of dinosaur skeletal structure (lizard hipped and bird hipped)
  • dinosaur IQ (really, really low.  really low)
  • how dinosaurs became extinct (FREAKY HEARTBREAKER)
  • to mull on:  dinosaurs lived on the earth for 150 MILLION YEARS (becoming extinct 65 million years ago), yet the first dinosaur bone was not officially recognized and identified until 1824.  So, it is interesting to consider that (for example) our USA founding fathers had no idea that their world was once anything other than as they experienced it.

“Professor Astro Cat’s SPACE ROCKETS” by Dr. Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman.  My son and I like to keep abreast of current outer space exploration – astronauts, telescopes, space probes – but we have never considered how astronauts, telescopes, space probes actually get into outer space.  This book has the answers  (and who can’t be fascinated by the engineering genius of space rockets?  And we keep laughing about the very first earthly inhabitants to journey by rocket to outer space (FRUIT FLIES) (we actually want more info about the fruit flies – how many did they send?  did they reproduce?  how many came back alive?).  The book’s content is really pared down, but the information comes across clearly (and we haven’t gotten this information anywhere else), so KUDOS Walliman and Newman ONCE AGAIN).  

BTW – the books of Ken Jennings and Walliman/Newman always make a big impact with my son.

dog santa hat

Story Problem – Early in December, Le Fictitious Local Diner cordoned off their parking lot and hosted a Holiday Pet Parade, complete with diner-made treats baked for all participants and a photographer to commemorate the event.  50 families each brought a pet dressed in holiday finery.

  • If 80% brought a dog wearing a Santa hat, how many dogs in Santa hats were in the parade?
  • If one family brought a turtle wearing teeny reindeer antlers, the turtle was what percentage of the parade?  
  • If 8 families brought cats wearing doll sweaters, what percentage of the parade was causing a snarling uproar? 
  • If there were exactly 50 pets in the parade, and the pets were either dogs, cats, turtles or birds, how many parakeets in cages with twinkly lights were in the festive procession? (answers at bottom of post)

Sweet Endings (actually, SUITE endings) – last night’s classical music listening:

My son and I always enjoy a piece of classical music that takes us by surprise with a non-traditional ending –  such as Elgar’s “The Wild Bears”, Smetana’s “The Moldau”, and John Williams’ “The Imperial March”.  To bring 2018 to a sweet ending we chose compositions with quirky conclusions from three different suites:

  • The Dove, from Ottorino Respighi’s orchestral suite, “The Birds” (1828).  A somber, reflective piece with a most delicious, elegant swirl of an ending:

  • Mercury, from Gustav Holst’s suite, “The Planets” (1916).  Mercury, the Messenger God, zooms erratically all over the universe and at the end of the short piece, quietly fades away with an utter lack of fanfare:

  • On the Trail, from Ferde Grofé’s “Grand Canyon Suite” (1931).  We found an excellent recording from the NY Philharmonic that accompanies an engaging video featuring the Grand Canyon MULES.  But back to the music –  the abrupt ending is perfection:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
Story problem answers:  40 dogs, 2%, 16%, 1 parakeet