Young Adult Novels


city book

Around the world in perhaps 150 days – my son and I are working our way through Lonely Planet’s “The Cities Book” (thoughtful Christmas gift from sister –  Lonely Planet books are so A+).  There is a two page spread for each of the 200 cities showcased , and we are managing one or two destinations per evening.  Ten categories define each city, but alas, most are of little interest to my son, so here is how we are using this book:
1- we find the city on the globe.  I am dismayed to report that there are several cities of significant population that I have previously never heard of, like Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (5 million) or Lahore, Pakistan (almost 9 million).  For shame!  So I learn along with my son and I just keep appreciating the opportunity.


2- we find out how old the city is.  (eye-opener)
3- we read about the location’s “weaknesses” (beastly hot/spotty electricity/toxic smog levels)(always worth a side conversation).
4- we read about the city’s exports.  If the city produces enough of something to supply the city residents and the product is good enough to export, like coffee, oil, silks, and Siamese cats (!!!), we want to know about it.
And lastly, I should mention this book is quite large and weighs a lot.  I let my son guess how much it weighed.  He guessed 10 pounds, my husband guessed 2 pounds, I guessed 40 pounds (and ta-da! the book weighed in at 7.5 pounds on the cooking scale).  “The Cities Book” can be our new go-to device for pressing flowers or flattening out a curled document.

president book

Meanwhile, back in the USA – we are pretty much loving every page of Ken Jennings’ “Junior Genius Guide to U.S. Presidents”.  Frankly, we are planning on reading everything this super clever author publishes (we have read “Maphead” and his “Junior Genius Guide to Greek Mythology”).  We like to know quirky info like:
– James K. Polk accomplished all of his campaign goals in his first term!  Commendable, but at what cost?  (He quit after one term and died three months later.)  Jennings suggests that Polk’s time was spent “working, not having fun, working more”.  (It would be so interesting to get a glimpse of the family dynamics of his childhood.) (It looks like mirth and relaxation were not encouraged.)
– James Garfield came from the most economically deprived upbringing. He was 19 before he ever heard a piano!  He was 23 before he tasted a banana!
– Woodrow Wilson was the only president (so far) to earn a PhD.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch – Farmer Brown has all the seed catalogs out, anticipating planting a large herb garden once the winter frosts have passed.  He wants to purchase 40 heirloom seed packets at $4 per packet from the “It’s About Thyme” company and 25 seed packets at $5 each from the “To Bee or Not To Bee Heirloom Seed Company”.  If Farmer Brown budgeted $250 for his herb garden, will he have enough money buy all the seed packets? (answer at bottom of post)

NY Phil

Well, listen to this!   I have recently enlisted the assistance of personal trainer “Brute” (not his real name – smirk).  Brute promised that I could work out to my choice of music.  Yay!  So I said, “classical” and was met with the most puzzled expression.  (Seriously?)  To make it simple, I said I would be happy to listen to any recordings by the New York Philharmonic, to which Brute responded, “Hmmm, I have never heard of that band.”. (Seriously?) AAAAAAACK.  See? This is what happens when school systems are forced to cut funding from the music curriculum.  My son selected three pieces that he decided even a new classical music listener could love, and I found a recording of each by the New York Philharmonic:

  • “Mars”, from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst, composed around 1916.  The standard by which all scary aggressive music must be judged:

  • “The Radetzky March” , composed by Johann Strauss, Sr, in 1848, commissioned to commemorate Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz’s victory at the Battle of Custoza (Oh yeah, the Battle of Custoza)(?????).  This is just the dandiest of marches, maybe THE BEST MARCH EVER:

  • “Masquerade”, a waltz composed  in 1941 by Aram Khachaturian (as incidental music for a play of the same name).  Delicious, dark, depraved.  Yikes, it is all here:

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


All Hail the Engineer

engineer pocket 3

PROTOTYPE – Prototype, prototype, prototype (vocab).

aerospace – biomedical – chemical – mechanical – electrical – civil
geomatics (that was a new one for us) – computer – environmental – industrial

No matter what type of engineering we are learning about, we keep coming across the word PROTOTYPE.  We’ve talked about how a prototype for an engineer is like a rough draft for a writer and we’ve read about MANY successful engineering projects that needed prototype after prototype after prototype to test theories and refine specifics.

erie canal map

You had us at “America’s First Great Public Works Project” (we LOVE knowing stuff like this) – So what was America’s first public works project?  My son knows, and now I know: THE ERIE CANAL. (Previous to our study, I thought the Erie Canal was in Pennsylvania. PITIFUL.)  We learned that this engineering triumph was first imagined in 1807, completed in 1825, and stretched 363 miles from Albany NY to Buffalo NY.  Our A+ resource:  Martha E. Kendall’s “The Erie Canal”, which delivers organized and surprisingly interesting facts regarding –
*canal politics (ugh)
*engineering –  the trench,  the 83 locks
*the labor force (primarily Irish immigrants)
*the resulting commerce
*canal maintenance

We wrapped up our Erie Canal study by listening to Thomas S. Allen’s all-the-rage-of-the-early-1900’sLow Bridge, Everybody Down”.  And what was the deal with the low bridges?  My son and I learned that bridges were built for farmers whose land was crossed by the canal.  Due to budget (vocab) constraints, the almost-300 bridges were built small and low – which was not a problem for the farmers, but was a huge deal for people sitting atop the canal boats.  Plop.

More engineering?  We are reading “Mr. Ferris and His Wheel” by Kathryn Gibbs Davis.  It’s about the super skilled and fabulously imaginative engineer, George Ferris, creator of the dazzling showpiece of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  His inspirations – the water wheel and the bicycle wheel.

ferris wheel

And even more engineering?  We can’t escape it.  For our fiction selection, we are revisiting for the third time, “Cheaper By the Dozen”, Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr’s and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s adorably hysterical remembrance of their over-the-top father (we had forgotten that father AND mother were internationally recognized industrial engineers).

french friesfrench friesfrench fries

Prototypes at Le Fictitious Local Diner (story problem) – The diner is trying out some new ways with french fries and presented 3 prototypes to Ms. Martinovich’s first grade class (a rambunctious group of 20, known for their pickiness).  Here are the results (the students could vote more than once):
– 4 liked “fries with fried pickles”
– 15 liked “fries with maple-BBQ sauce”
– 10 liked “fries with onion dip”
What percentage of Ms. Martinovich’s class liked each of the prototypes? (answers at bottom of post)

Music for engineers (this time, locomotive engineers) –

train engineer

  • Take the “A” Train” – signature tune of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, composed by Billy Strayhorn in 1931.  Would you just look at the toe tapping in this vid clip:

  • The Little Train of the Caipira” – composed in 1934 by Heitor Villa-Lobos. My son has chosen to listen to this piece at least twice a month for the past 6 years (it is THAT interesting). A simply superb performance by the National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain’s Main Orchestra.  Wow:

  • Orange Blossom Special” – this piece of Americana is considered to be the fiddle players’ national anthem. Composed in 1938 by Ervin and Gordon Rouse:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(Story Problem answers: fried pickles – 20%, maple-BBQ sauce – 75%, onion dip – 50%)

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)

What We Want

We want a GRAND SLAM – Go Dodgers World Series 2017!


We always want THE GRAND SLAM (our version) setting the scene:  I am reading to my son, finishing a chapter and am starting to close the book, and out of nowhere his hand comes slamming down on the page, clearly communicating DO NOT EVEN THINK OF CLOSING THIS GREAT BOOK.  KEEP READING.  It happened again last night.

Animal orchestra

Last night we started reading “The Great Animal Orchestra – Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places” by musician/naturalist Dr. Bernie Krause.  When we begin a new book, we read only a few paragraphs to get a sense of what awaits us, but I was so pleasantly surprised with this book – the writing, bright and observant – that I was half way through the 8-page prologue before deciding to close the book for the evening.  This was met with a decided difference of opinion from my son – his hand came crashing down onto the page.  It was the GRAND SLAM once again.  YES.

crusoe 3

We didn’t want to cheat on Robinson Crusoe – I hate to admit this, but we just finished an abridged version (A REALLY ABRIDGED VERSION) of Daniel Dafoe’s classic.  We read through the first chapter of the original, and there was so much explaining necessary at the end of every paragraph, I could see that it would take us forever to plow through the book.  But we still wanted to know about the story inspired by pirate Alexander Selkirk, who lived alone on Juan Fernandez Island (off the coast of Chile) for 4 years, so we found a cartoony version “Robinson Crusoe (Graphic Revolve: Common Core Editions)”, which gave us the basics.  I think we are still hungry to read the real story, but ALAS, I cannot face the work of explaining Dafoe’s work just yet.

cousin tree

We wanted to see where we fit in – COUSIN CITY!  Cousin Caitlin is getting married soon!  Did my son understand the concept of cousin (vocab)?  Did he know where she fit into the family tree?  Did he know where HE fit into the family tree?  Out came the big drawing paper and the pastels and we worked together to create a cousin-centric family tree.

paint 3

(Story Problem) Farmer Brown wants to gussy up his roadside stand – Farmer Brown has plans to paint the inside of his roadside produce stand, as soon as his roadside-stand cashiers (vocab) decide on the color.  So far, 4 quarts of sample paints have been tried out to no one’s satisfaction.  If each quart of sample paint costs $6, and there are plans to try out 3 more colors, but – OH NO – they end up purchasing 5 more samples after the 3, how much will have been spent on sample paint?  A)  $30    B)  $42    C)  $60    D)  $72

After a color is finally agreed upon (YAY), 6 gallons (at $30 each) will be required to complete the paint job.  How much will have been spent on the gallons and sample quarts?  A) $180     B) $252     C) $72     D) $600  (story problem answers at bottom of post)

tango poster

We want to be Tango-ologists – My son and I concluded our South America unit this past week, absolutely loving our guide book: “Not for Parents South America – Lonely Planet Kids”.  This past week we read about:
– the importance of the coffee industry to the Brazil economy
– Columbian emeralds
– the navy of land-locked Bolivia
– AND WE READ ABOUT THE TANGO OF ARGENTINA.  We had no idea how much we were going to love the tango music!  Our toes have been tapping non-stop.

  • “Por una Cabeza” – this true Argentine tango, composed in 1935 by Alfredo Le Pera and Carlos Gardel, tells the story of a man comparing his horse race gambling addiction with his attraction to women.  Whoa.  The music: anguished, gorgeous, yearning – the perfect selection for the tango scenes in “The Scent of a Woman” (1992) and “Easy Virtue” (2008) (shown here):

  • “Hernando’s Hideaway” – if I had more friends that were more musically aware, and I asked them to hum a tango, this is the one they would probably come up with – it is from the 1954 musical, “The Pajama Game”. (The Pajama Game centers around labor troubles at a pajama manufacturing plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa…Hernando’s Hideway is the local dive bar).  Great fun, a most aggressive tango with no pretensions toward subtleties:

  • “Blue Tango” – Leroy Anderson’s contribution to the tango genre, composed in 1951. My son and I have been tapping our toes to “Blue Tango” for a few years. Every time we listen to this we feel sorry for the snare drum player (mind numbing repetition).  Interesting: in searching for a “Blue Tango” video footage I think I came across more terrible filmed versions of this than of any other music I have researched:

  • MORE????? “Doc Martin Theme Song” – my son has heard this melody so often, as I have watched every episode of this favorite British TV series.  The theme was composed by Colin Towns in 2004, and is indeed a tango.  What a metaphor for the on again-off again relationship between the doctor and of the citizens of Portwenn:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
Jane BH
(story problem answers: part 1 -D)  $72 and part 2-B) $252)

The “C” Side

– we were finding the letter “C” all over the place last week –

CANDY – “Turtle in Paradise”, our third Jennifer L. Holm book, is giving my son a glimpse of life in the Florida Keys during the great depression (concept vocab).  No money.  No money at all.  What to do?  With the current emphasis on “Girl Power”, it is almost refreshing to see what a troop of young boys did to earn – well, not money, but CANDY – they banded together to form an exclusive club that tended to BABIES!  Babies????  This group of street-wise boys knew how to calm screaming babies and expertly change (cloth and safety pin) diapers – they even had a secret formula for soothing diaper rash.  AND it was considered an HONOR to be asked to be in the Diaper Gang.  There is so much more to the story than this amusing side theme.  Holm’s books make us glad to be immersed into her world.

lonely planet plus books

CIXI – We’ve recently finished “Cixi – Evil Empress of China?”, another excellent study from the “A Wicked History” series.  Cixi, oh my word – her multitudinous (vocab) self-centered ways provided the final nail in the coffin for the the end of the Qing dynasty (example – all public officials were expected to “donate” – GET THIS – 25% of their annual income to honor her 60th birthday!) (we stopped for a math problem).  While Cixi rebuilt her summer palace, China’s military budget was depleted – leaving the country vulnerable to outside forces.  At the end, my son and I were not completely certain she was EVIL (although there was that “poisoning her enemies” speculation).  OK, she was evil… but evil or not, she certainly was not the right person for the job – she was not interested in being  the leader that China needed.  This book provoked many side conversations.

CHILE – My son and I are in the middle of our South America unit – a DK book about the Amazon rain forest served as an introduction. We are now reading our first Lonely Planet book: “Not-For-Parents:  South America – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know”.  We’ve read about the fancy lady wrestlers of Bolivia, Panama hats (a product of  Ecuador – but used to be shipped to Europe from the Panama canal area. We looked at a map to figure out why these hats were being shipped from Panama), (it is sort of therapeutic to spend a bit of time focusing on hats), the driest place on earth (the Atacama Desert in Chile), and Alexander Selkirk who jumped ship and spent over 4 years on an island off the coast of Chile (inspiring Daniel Dafoe’s story “Robinson Crusoe”).  OF COURSE we have ordered a copy of Robinson Crusoe (duh).

cinnamon sticks

CIDER – Story Problem from Le Fictitious Local Diner – The diner is gearing up for their booth at the town’s “Autumn Daze Festival”.  The diner will be selling cups of hot cider, each garnished with a cinnamon stick. The facts:

– each gallon of fresh-pressed apple cider will cost the diner $5
– the diner will purchase 50 gallons of cider
– there are 15 servings of cider per gallon
– the diner will purchase cinnamon sticks at a cost of $15 for 100 sticks
– each bio-degradable (vocab) cup will cost the diner 10 cents

1)  If the diner sells out of cider, how many cups will they have sold?
2)  How much will the diner have spent for cider, cinnamon, and cups?
3)  If the diner sells each cup for $2, what will be the profit? (answers at bottom of post)


bach concerto

(Bach’s actual handwriting – Concerto No. 5)

You say “Concertos”, I say “Concerti” – All of a sudden, I felt my son needed to be exposed to the full scope of JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.  We had listened to No. 3 several times, but was that enough?  My son already knew the definition of a concerto (for those like my mom, “The Peach”, who have no idea: a concerto is an orchestral work, usually consisting of 3 movements, showcasing ONE particular instrument) (OK, sometimes more than one, but no need to confuse The Peach).  Here is what my son learned:

  •  “concertos” or “concerti” are both acceptable terms for the plural of “concerto”.
  •  the Brandenburg Concertos each showcase SEVERAL instruments. This type of set-up is referred to as a “Concerto Grosso”.  Very popular in Baroque times.
  •  HEART-BREAKING:  in 1721, Bach sent the set of 6 concertos to the Margrave of Brandenburg, as sort of a job application…there is no record of the Margrave acknowledging the music.  FOR SHAME.  The music was simply archived in his library, forgotten, and FINALLY found 128 years later (1849).  Felix Mendelssohn, then conductor of Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra, understood the significance of the discovery and brought the Brandenburg Concertos to world wide attention.  OMG, thank heavens.
  •  these concertos are DIFFICULT to perform.  Jeanette Sorrel, from the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra writes, “The featured solo instruments(s) in each piece requires a level of playing that is literally athletic”.

We listened to all six concertos over and over.  These three selections are so noteworthy:

Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, movement 3 – this is the concerto that puts the spotlight on the trumpet soloist.  Due to the abundance of high notes and the speedy tempo, this is regarded as perhaps the most difficult music to play in the classical trumpet repertoire (vocab):

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, movement 3 – our fave:

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, movement 1 – this concerto exhibits the skill of the harpsichordist, in this case, the great, great, great Karl Richter.  I do not see how anyone can watch this man play this piece without thinking THIS IS INSANELY RIDICULOUS.  The solo part is simply exhausting:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: 1) 750 cups, 2) $445, 3) $1, 055)


jumble 2

Jumble! – we have been playing our own version of the popular-since-1954 newspaper word game, “Jumble”.  I mix up the letters of a word, and my son unscrambles the letters. My son LOVES this challenge!  As opposed to this:  I thought my son might be interested in watching a plant grow from seed, so a few nights ago I brought up a packet of radish seeds to the STORIES AND STUDIES CENTER and was met with (in Victorian terms) “the cut direct”.  Well, bummer.  But at least I can tell when my son is engaged and when he is not.  And whether he likes it or not, we are going to be serving up home grown radishes in a few short weeks.


Farmer Brown grows radishes (story problem) – (oh my, this one is so easy) It is rather late in the growing season, but Farmer Brown is laying in another crop of radishes – Le Fictitious Local Diner will buy all that he has to sell, and the radishes grow so fast.  If Farmer Brown plants 1,000 radish seeds and is able to harvest 800 radishes, what percentage of the seeds transformed into an edible (vocab) vegetable?  If rabbits ate half of the unharvested radishes, how many did they consume?  If the local diner garnishes every salad with two sliced-up radishes, how many radishes do they need for a PTA luncheon of 150 attendees and a bowling league dinner of 20 team members? (answers at bottom of post)


“Cixi – Evil Empress of China?” – we are half-way through yet another book from the “A Wicked History” series.  These books NEVER disappoint.  So: China in the 1800s – we thought the book would be about inner-court intrigues or friction between royalty and peasants.  But no.  So far, the lead story is about the most preposterous foreign invasions. China had a centuries-long tradition of NOT welcoming foreign trade, so GET THIS – during the 1800s, Britain and France (I am sorry to say), using vastly superior military might, forced China to trade.  How upside-down is this?  My son and I seem to have this small discussion every night: does a country with any sense at all go to war to force a clearly reluctant other country to engage in COMMERCE?  Suffice it to say, we open this book every night hoping we will start to understand, and in the meantime learn more about Empress Cixi.  We are sort of hoping that her evilness doesn’t disappoint…tonight is promising – we will be reading a short essay that appears to infer that Cixi poisoned her enemies. Yikes!

greek quiz

Greek Mythology a la Ken Jennings – The fact is this: my son and I are still loving “Ken Jennings Junior Genius Guide to Greek Mythology”.  The fact is this:  the Greek mythology family tree is hilariously confusing.  There is a dizzying quantity gods, goddesses, muses, nymphs, and super-strength mortals.  Just to make sure my son had a grasp of the basics, I gave him two quizzes – one that matched Greek gods with Roman gods and a multiple choice quiz that covered mythology vocabulary.  I also gave the quizzes to my husband. They both did so well!  (And if you are looking closely at the photo above – my son selected correctly – researchers now say that Pandora had a JAR, not a BOX!)

“Penny from Heaven” – we’ve just finished this fun fiction read by Jennifer L. Holm.  As we found from another of her books, “The 14th Goldfish”, Holm excels in characterizing family dynamics – in this case we ended up wanting to be a part of the protagonist’s father’s extended Italian family.  For us, this was a captivating book with a handful of serious discussion topics.  Tonight we start on another Holm novel, “Turtle in Paradise”.

cake with sparkler

Bohemian Birthday – Classical music listening – Last Friday (September 8th) was the birthdate of composer Antonin Dvorak. So, after finding his birth country on our globe (Bohemia – now the Czech Republic), and a few basic arithmetic questions (Dvorak was born in 1841, how old would he be if he were still alive to celebrate this birthday?  Dvorak died in 1904, how long did he live?), we enjoyed three favorite recordings.

Sidebar notes –
1) For no particular reason at all, we selected Dvorak recordings conducted by international treasure Seiji Ozawa. (Not to be jerky, but it is hard not to take notice of Mr. Ozawa’s hair.)
2) Two of our selected compositions were recorded by the acclaimed Vienna Philharmonic – and if the music were just not SO great, we would have been preoccupied by trying to find women musicians in the orchestra.

Slavonic Dance No. 1 – composed in 1878, under full encouragement of Johannes Brahms.  We think if we were musicians we would like playing this sweetly rambunctious folk dance, and we would definitely like to be somewhere in the orchestra hall if only to gaze upon Ozawa’s CRAZY cartoon-style coiffure.  Nonetheless, superbly conducted:

Humoresque – It has been written that Dvorak’s “Humoresque” (referring to the seventh of his eight “Humoresques”, composed in 1894) is probably the most famous small piano work ever written (after Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”).  We first listened to this as it was written (for piano), and our thought was, “yeah, yeah, yeah – this sounds familiar – sort of boring”.  THEN we listened to to a recording of Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Orchestra, showcasing Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma: GAME CHANGER.  Who knew “Humoresque” was a heartbreaker???  This is proof of the power of a conductor’s vision:

“The Largo Movement” from Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World Symphony”, movement 2) – composed in 1892. Majestic loneliness. Ozawa’s hair under control:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: 80%, 100 radishes, 340 radishes)

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)