Richard Peck

A Glimpse and a Glance

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

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

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

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

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

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

A glimpse at trees and the high seas – 

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

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

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

deep sea voyage

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

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

manderinefish

  • The utterly elegant manderinefish:  our new favorite fish 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fireproof Safe

safe third

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

blacksmith books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

That’s Gotta Hurt

pike manpike manpike manpike man

The Macedonian Pike – my son and I are now studying Alexander the Great, who spent his short life (for thousands upon thousands of people, a life not short enough) as a most capable warmonger.  Home base was Macedonia (perched right atop Greece) (found it on the globe), where his Macedonian soldiers were totally whipped into shape and marched with 15-foot tall pikes.  YIKES (there is a sharp metal knife at the end of each pole).  LOADS of warmonger vocabulary words: phalanx, chariot, catapult, mercenary, infantry, cavalry.

alexander the great

Shakespeare this past week – we finished up the comedy, “Much Ado about Nothing” and we have just started the history, “Julius Caesar”.

peck novels

Reading for fun – to balance the war and intrigue study, we need novels that make us laugh.  We LOVED “A Long Way from Chicago” by Richard Peck. LOVED IT.  Every single chapter had an hilarious twist that had us marveling. This book WILL be re-read.  We are following “A Long Way from Chicago” with its sequel, “A Year Down Yonder”.  So far, it is a lot of fun (and it is a Newbery Award Winner), but for us,  probably isn’t in line for a re-read.  But maybe it will be!  Hope springs eternal.

pencil grip

We write – My daughter directed us toward “The Pencil Grip Writing Claw”, and I found a pack of six on Amazon – can’t remember the price, but very cheap.  My son has been practicing writing with this for the past week, and is getting comfortable using this little rubbery appliance on his fingertips.  It truly makes one grasp a writing utensil correctly.

Our Farmer Brown Story Problem of the week – Farmer Brown has 15 field hands who needed new summer hats to keep the blazing sun off their faces.  He purchased a dozen straw cowboy hats for $360 and a dozen canvas “outback” style hats for $300.  Ten of the field hands wanted cowboy hats and the others chose outback hats. Farmer Brown donated the remaining hats to a local farming extension office because they are always so short on funds. How much was his donation worth?

One of the music themes from last week: “Melodies from Exotic Lands” –

  • “Scheherazade” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, movement I, composed in 1888.  Based upon “The Arabian Nights”, SO elegant.

  • Overture from “Abduction from the Seraglio” by Mozart, composed in 1782.  Two words:  Turkish harem!  What’s not to like, and in this short overture we CANNOT get enough of the smashing symbols.

  • “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” by Handel, composed in 1748, as part of his oratorio, “Solomon”.   We sort of chuckle every time we hear it, because the music seems more evocative of an arrival at Kensington Palace in the 18th century than the Queen of Sheba’s arrival in Jerusalem during Old Testament times.

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH

The Cliffs Notes Version

A neat friend of mine named Mary, teaches special ed. (Lucky class.  Lucky school.  Luckier than they know.)  She follows this blog, and she asked for some ideas about setting up a learning-at-home program, should any parents of her autism students express interest.  So, I am going to pretend that I have been hired by the CliffsNotes people to pare down my basic teaching philosophies:

cliffs notes

  • teach anything YOU (the parent) want to learn*
  • read stories and poems that YOU should have read during your childhood*
  • listen to music that YOU have been wanting to hear*

(I find that when I brim with enthusiasm over a particular topic or book, my son catches the spirit and he brims with enthusiasm, too.  I have an eager learner on my hands!)

  • teach FAST!  One or two pages is often PLENTY, then move on to a totally different topic
  • be on the lookout for unfamiliar words, then STOP RIGHT THEN AND THERE and look the word up
  • give lots of quizzes to check on YOUR ability to convey facts (and hopefully to give a lot of pretend “A+”s)

That’s it.  That’s my CliffsNotes version.

For the practicalities, one might read my first two posts ( July 2014), “In Which We Introduce Ourselves” and “In Which We Explain Our “Stories and Studies” Nightly Agenda”.  These can be found in “About”, on the blog title menu strip.

4 books May 15

Here is what we’ve been doing this past week:

  • Othello – we continue reading through the plots of Shakespeare’s plays…we are in the middle of “Othello” and we have had it up to here with that deceitful rat, Iago.
  • To make up for the dreadfulness of Iago, we are reading a biography on the splendid John Muir.  What a good guy.
  • We continue to read “Schooled” by Gordon Kormon.  Probably our 4th time through this novel.  We love it.
  • We are about a third of the way through “A Long Way from Chicago”, by Richard Peck.  OH MY GOSH, this book is marvelous! (Two kids spend a week every summer with their “law-unto-herself” grandmother).  This book is a keeper!

root beer float

A story problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – the diner is sponsoring “Barbershop Quartet Night” and plans to serve up root beer floats for the occasion.  Tickets for this not-to-be-missed event will sell for $10, and will include a float.  If each root beer float costs the diner $1.50 to make, and $200 is being spent on decorations, the speaker system, and prizes, how much profit will the diner realize if 200 tickets are sold?

Our music program last night:  barbershop quartets to enhance the story problem – 

  • “Sincere”, from Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” (1957).  Sung in the 1962 movie version by the peerless Buffalo Bills.

  • “Mr. Sandman”, written by Pat Ballard in 1954. A barbershop quartet standard, performed by the Dapper Dans at Disneyland, using Deagan Organ Chimes (very interesting instrument!).

  • And finally, for fun, and to support the endeavors of youth, we watched “The Barbershop Quartet, a How-To Guide”.  The kids are just great (and their ill fitting costumes and hats are still making us laugh).

Welcome to the best part of my day!

– Jane BH