Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wishing You a Good School Transition

As a stay-at-home homeschooling mother, I take my quiet time, or my super-productive time, when I can get it. There's always more than enough to do, so a break from the children and the noise is usually a working break, rarely a true do-nothing break. Sometimes having any break means staying home from things like the church picnic on a hot and humid day, so the whole house can get cleaned in one full swoop, or the homeschooling schedule can be designed or tweaked.

So last Sunday, I stayed home with one child while the rest of the family went to the church picnic. Maybe you know that moms and dads don't always agree on safety rules? Well, that includes climbing trees around here. I think without a spotter, and without sticking to lower branches, it's just too dangerous. Husband feels otherwise because as a child he climbed trees plenty and never fell.

One of my children decided I needed a ride in an ambulance to make my mothering life complete. I can't give details because said child thinks accidents are embarrassing, but suffice it to say we have a little more stress on our hands now. After many, many tests, the child is mostly but not totally out of the woods after a concussion and an overnight hospital stay. We go back in two weeks to hopefully lose the neck brace and on that note if you say a quick prayer I would appreciate it.

Hopefully you don't disappear for good, because I really like you guys. Have a good transition back to school! 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Beth the Brave

The used books I've been ordering for Sonlight Core B have been trickling in, and this week Leading Little Ones to God arrived, which is part of the Bible portion of Core B.

Recently Mary told me that when we do devotions she has a hard time following, and when we're done she doesn't remember what we talked about. Now, I have my doubts about the sincerity of this because her knowledge of God is pretty mature for a seven year old, so something has been sticking all these years. I have no doubt that she already has a saving knowledge of God.

She struggles currently with feeling like a failure because so often it's cloudy and her thoughts turn to storms and how fearful she is all the time. She feels worthless, compared to others who go about their lives and seem to ignore storms. Why do I unravel at something other people can easily ignore, she wonders. And why did God give me this fear?

Seven years old is early to deal with such big thoughts and big doubts, but I can see that Mary is learning a great deal about God this summer. New believers are often coddled by God a little; I was definitely coddled in the beginning. As a brand new Christian, I prayed for a husband and got one. But when I prayed for a child a year after marriage, there was heartache before there was dancing. The Lord felt I was ready for a testing of my faith, and I feel that this summer has been the first testing of Mary's faith.

Sometimes things aren't neat and tidy and the answers aren't easy and flowing. It's true that some people barely notice the thunder and lightning, while others throw up from the pathological fear of the worst that could happen. While there's no easy answer, I can assure Mary that God didn't give her the fear. Our imperfections, illnesses and disorders are a result of the fall of man in the garden. God allows them, but he didn't cause them. He can miraculously take any pain away from us, but he doesn't always choose to.

Hard things for a seven year old to ponder, for sure. Our lesson last night in Leading Little Ones to God brought up this very topic. This book still uses scripture as the base, but it goes a little further and tries to make it relevant for a range of ages, which I think will work nicely for our family, as opposed to my husband and me trying to make a lesson from our own exhausted heads each night. Devotional books for children tend to teach smaller portions of scripture at a time, and we tend to err on the side of too much scripture per sitting, which is fine for the boys but not for our girls.

The lesson focused on the question of how Miriam responded to having to throw her baby boy in the river. How are we supposed to respond when bad things happen to us? Why would God allow these things in our lives? What did Miriam do and think when she was told to throw her baby in the river? Why would God allow that? What options did Miriam have? How did God respond? What happened to baby Moses? How did God work through his life? It was a lesson made just for my daughter, who had struggled with why God would allow such a ghastly fear in her life (along with learning to read being so hard for her, although that didn't come up this week). Mary doesn't only have fear when it's actually thundering, but when it's forecasted as well, which is quite frequently in Ohio.

We have a choice in how we respond, and in our own nuclear family we have an example of a grace-filled response. Beth. We often overlook the burden on Beth's life because she never complains about her arthritis. In fact, we thought her medicines were working to eliminate most of her pain, but recently we found that not to be the case. She walks on her toes and has done this since the age of 3, which is when her left ankle became affected. She was released from therapy a few months ago because her range of motion with her knees was very good, and her physical abilities and strength were no longer affected by the arthritic joints. They seemed to think the toe walking could be a sensory issue, and not a pain issue because there was no other sign of pain. I never did agree with the sensory hypothesis, but neither did I think therapy was going to address her pain.

As her mother I recognize that the swelling in her ankle has never responded as well to her medicines as her knee joints have, for whatever reason. Beth is more willing now to respond to my questions about her arthritis, and not fear that her responses are going to lead to more doctor's appointments and more shots and discomfort. After trying to get her to walk normally for two years now, she point blank told me this week that she walks up on her toes because it feels better. I then asked her where it hurts when she walks on her feet. She pointed to the swollen area on her left ankle, just as I suspected.

Have you ever walked up on your toes for very long? It is very uncomfortable and your balance you will notice is terrible. It's very awkward. My heart aches for my little girl, and at the same time my heart marvels at her strength and determination. She never complains, and she wakes with a smile, even though mornings find her up higher on her toes, because arthritis pain is typically worse after inactivity. Beth loves life and it's only needles or a mention of blood that makes her frown.

We need the Beths and Miriams among us to inspire us and remind us that we can respond with grace. We can still love life, and we can still smile. We can open our hands to all that God has, and say, "Let me be faithful, Lord. Fill me with your joy. Let me spread your joy to others. Let me be like Miriam, who trusts you. Let me be like Beth, who counts her life all joy because of what she does have." 

It's okay to get discouraged and wonder why, but we can't get stuck there. There is a way out of our despair and our Father will lead us, sometimes through the example of those around us. Very gently last night during devotions I brought up the conversation Beth had with me about her ankle pain. The other three children and my husband and me have been so caught up in the pain and discomfort of OCD fears and storm phobia fears, that we'd forgotten the little angel among us, who had something to say to all of us with her quiet determination, and her quiet faithfulness.

There were some tears at the realization, and little Beth, terribly embarrassed at the attention, slipped behind the couch. She loves to perform for us and dance and dress up in fancy dresses, and sometimes she says she wants to be an actress, but don't ever praise her. She doesn't want that.

She's too young to give God the glory, and of course she doesn't consciously live so wisely, but to God be the glory all the same....

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jeremiah 31:2-3 Thus says the LORD:”The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Gearing Up

John 15:4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

Blogging seems like a long-lost something I used to enjoy when life was manageable. Mentally I am kicking and screaming just a little as I accept that it too must go in the name of learning disabilities and other special needs. If I can write once or twice a week here, I'll be doing well.

I had my state-required homeschooling end-of-year portfolio review meeting with a gentle and quiet Christian homeschooling mother/speech pathologist/portfolio review teacher. She has three boys, one of whom is starting at Akron University on Monday, and another who is 14 with learning disabilities, and another who is 11. I enjoyed my meeting very much. She's a true supporter and would make a wonderful friend, if either of us had the time.

Now on the agenda is planning a brilliant schedule to accommodate four learners and a lot of hands-on, teacher-directed lessons, plus going to therapies and keeping up with housekeeping and cooking. Excuse me while I go hide under the bed with a Hershey's bar and pretend this monumental task didn't need tackling.

Schedule writing is not my friend, but it must become so.

Gearing up emotionally....

The last few years I taught first grade behavior problems had become more prevalent, partially because I taught in a low-income area short on hope and solutions, even though a Healthy Start grant program was in its second year on our campus. All the names of incoming students were put on cards with notes about their previous year. Then we met while the principal and others carefully divided the cards between six first-grade teachers so that no one teacher got all the low ones, or all the behavior problems, etc. This became the new system, in response to the new, tougher kids coming in. The class-composition meeting was always a scary day; I walked to the cafeteria after the buses pulled away, with a lump in my throat.

As I reached out to receive the cards handed to me, I looked at each one with a heart half-expectant, half-afraid. "What does God have for me? Will I be able to handle it? Will it be as hard this year as last year?"

No, I didn't sit in a meeting when God decided what my offspring should be like.

Should they have blond, brown, red, or black hair? Should they be stubborn or easy-going or a mix? Should they be calm or anxious? Should they have hyperactivity, or focus?

If I were filling out a questionnaire for God about my desired offspring, would I have check-marked all the optimum traits? And if so, what would God have thought of me?

Now I'm an experienced mother of four, with four special-needs children, spanning the gamut from learning-disabled to hyperactive to impulsive to pathologically/obsessively fearful, to diseased joints. Soon we'll begin a year of hands-on, teacher-directed lessons in reading (All About Reading), spelling (All About Spelling), grammar (Winston Grammar), writing (Write Shop), and math (possibly Right Start Math, but Saxon has hands-on components as well in the primary levels). Two of my children need this kind of learning because of dyslexia-type issues, and I'm not yet sure about my kindergartner. Paul may need it too.

I don't quite know how I will keep up, along with cooking from scratch, doing the laundry and cleaning, and shopping and going to appointments and doing therapy homework, and coaching children through fears. And being a wife? Don't even ask. I don't even know. I'm completely and totally overwhelmed, and it's all I can do to put one foot in front of the other right now.

We changed churches and we've been to the new one the last three Sundays. We all love it and I signed up to help in the nursery, which turned into teaching every other week in the 4-year-old classroom, with Peter's help. Don't ask me how that came about. The director is a smart lady and works swiftly so you don't know what hit you.

Today I read a quick article about an American doctor who was healed from Ebola, after being given an experimental serum. They don't know if the serum helped, or if it was all God. The doctor worked for Samaritan's Purse and prayed during his illness that God would be glorified through it.

I have never, ever left a comment on a news story, but the ten comments left after this news story appalled me. They were 90% negative and/or sarcastic about God, and I couldn't stand that, so I left a comment about how God healed the man because the man directly asked that God be glorified through the illness. And do you know what happened several minutes later?

A man replied to my comment: "So why does God hate amputees?"

If we're handed the tough cards--they can get a lot tougher than what I've experienced--does that mean God hates us? Is it tempting to believe that, when you look around and see others seemingly blessed, and even healed? What stance should we take once the reality of our situation becomes clear? Is the reality really what it seems?

No matter how many times I write a post about this same issue--and I'm sure you'll agree there have been many--I still need to write yet another to sort out similar feelings when I'm overwhelmed anew.

Here's the thing: To God Be the Glory, just like the doctor said.

We will not be overwhelmed when we let go of the outcome and give it to God. If God cares how clean my house is in the midst of homeschooling, he'll put in place the skills and schedule to make it cleaner and neater. He'll change me and my children so we can do more, in less time. If God cares about my Peter going to college, he'll solve the dysgraphia and dyscalculia issues, either through me or in spite of me. If God wants my Mary to start enjoying school and to develop a can-do attitude about learning and facing fears, he'll make it happen either through me or in spite of me.

My part is simple, and even if I had four children completely normal in every way, my part would still be the same. It's the same for the amputee, and for the Samaritan's Purse doctor, and for you, dear reader.

We get up every morning and ask: "Lord, how do you want to use me today?" 

And next..."This day is yours, Lord. How do you want to use it?" 

Romans 6:13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Weekly Homeschool Wrap-Up: The Learning Disabilities Post

My appointment with our portfolio review teacher is next Wednesday, which officially ends our school year. Following that we will take two to three weeks off while I focus on writing our fall schedule, and looking in depth at some new curriculum we purchased. All of our curriculum has been purchased with the exception of Write Shop Junior E, which is a new product not available yet on the used markets. I also need a used copy of Right Start Math Level B, which we'll need in several months. We have other writing and math resources in place, but these are curricula I really want in addition.

There are just a couple changes since I last wrote about curriculum. I bought a used copy of Ann Voskamp's A Child's Geography for the family to do together. I also sold the Sing, Spell, Read & Write kit so that I could buy the All About Reading Level 2 and All About Spelling Level 1 kits to address Mary's mild dyslexia. So instead of using the Sing Spell Read & Write for Beth's K year, we are using Sonlight Language Arts 1, which is for students who can already read three-letter words. Mary will use the Dr. Seuss books to supplement the stories in All About Reading 2.

I believe in a lot of reading practice and I've increased Mary's practice sessions to two to three 20- to 30- minute sessions, using My First I Can Read books from the library, and the Usborne Phonics Readers, which are wonderful. There are three other easy-reader series in my public library that Mary can read with me sitting by, so thankfully along with my home library we have enough material.

She still needs the systematic phonics lessons that she'll get in All About Reading 2, however. Just practice is not going to move her significantly ahead, without learning the phonics one new phoneme at a time. Too many phonemes at once is way too confusing for her, and that was the problem with the Sing, Spell, Read & Write program, even though it was multisensory, which is good for dyslexics. It introduced too many phonemes at once, after the basic alphabet and consonant digraphs and blends were introduced. She did fine with all the beginning phonics, but beyond that everything was/is a challenge.

She also has trouble with sequencing things like months of the year and days of the week (even in songs or rhymes months and days are hard), so memory for random sequencing is also affected, and this is the case for Peter as well, although Mary can sequence events in a story very well, as can Peter. Their comprehension is excellent.

The Saxon Math we're using is an excellent program, but it's not addressing Mary's dyscalculia (math learning disability). I have had no success in getting her really comfortable with the numbers to 100. She struggles to remember which comes first when she writes 51, for example...the 1 or the 5. She gets it without my help usually, but she struggles (the patterns don't always help her as expected). She can't always read the numbers correctly out of order, and when the number chart to 100 is put into her hands, she struggles to find any certain number, or even the column it is located in (too much data at once).

Many aspects of math are no problem for her, and I can say the same about Peter, who also has dyscalculia. Every student can be affected somewhat differently. Right Start Math presents the numbers differently, so the names of them aren't so problematic, and facts/concepts are understood and memorized via games and different kinds of manipulatives, not through worksheets. It is a multisensory, hands-on program recommended by parents of dyscalculics. I hope to buy it used by Thanksgiving or Christmas, and in the meantime we will continue with Saxon and my attempts to present lessons using multisensory techniques.

Dyscalculia and Going to College With Learning Disabilities

I have learned recently that dyscalculia can make learning algebra very difficult, and if a student is formally tested and has proof of the disability, a waiver can be given for math in college, so that classes like statistics can be substituted, allowing otherwise very able students to get degrees and go on to fruitful jobs. There are people out there who couldn't complete their degrees because of failing algebra multiple times, and not having knowledge of their own disability, or their rights. Even non-math-related fields require algebra as a general education requirement (usually) so knowing your rights and advocating for yourself are essential. We will be saving money to get Peter (and eventually Mary) formally tested so that algebra does not present an obstacle in college (multiple variables on both sides of equations, along with negative and positive integers mixed, are just too much data and steps for some dyscalculics), although I am not putting any ideas into the kids' heads about algebra being hard. I keep my research to myself and only reveal it on a need-to-know basis.

My husband also has a couple learning disabilities (undiagnosed and unbeknownst to him until I began learning about our children's issues), and while husband doesn't remember a struggle with fact memorization, such as Peter has had, he absolutely remembers algebra being a nightmare. He went to a Bible college, which was five years of Bible and related subjects, not any general ed, so the algebra wasn't an issue. But, of course, his degree is not transferable to a regular college for higher education units. He would have to start all over to obtain a bachelor's degree, unfortunately, as the Bible college was unaccredited at the time he attended. His father didn't agree with him going to college after high school, and provided no support, and his mother had died a year earlier in a car accident, so he had no help in planning for a career, and obviously made some regrettable mistakes, as he doesn't have the skill set for pastoring (not that he isn't a faithful Christian). To this day he doesn't understand how he could have gotten the signals from God so crossed. We are told not to make major life decisions within two years of a loved one dying, and this is sound advice, and definitely applies to an unaccredited out-of-state Bible College for a 17-year-old youth within a year of tragically and suddenly losing his mother.

I don't go on this bunny trail much, but my head can just spin thinking about how different things could have been had my husband's parents been more aware of his issues, and if he himself had been aware. Being afraid or dismissive of a label is a dangerous thing, as is being too trusting that a public school can understand and solve everything related to education. Regular classroom teachers cannot be expected to catch much about learning disabilities, especially in the context of 22- to 32-student classrooms. As a student or adult, if you don't have any knowledge or understanding of the nature of the obstacles in your life, you just feel helpless and hopeless and dumb, and like everyone around you is speeding right by in the race of life. Anger and bitterness can set in, and problem-solving capabilities can further erode as dysfunctional thinking patterns take root.

Educational testing that can diagnose a specific learning disability is done by psychologists or educational testing services. Public schools do not test for specific learning disabilities like dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia, but rather, they test for discrepancies between IQ and academic performance, which indicate that a learning disability is present. If academic performance is low, but IQ is not low, then a learning disability is suspected. They can determine if it may be an auditory processing disorder, or a visual processing disorder, etc, but that doesn't help when obtaining waivers for college. The disability itself has to be named (i.e. dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia), not the type of processing disorder(s) represented.

Go here to learn where to have your child tested:

International Dyslexia Association

Academic Language Therapy Association

Association of Educational Therapists

Insurance does not cover it, unfortunately, so for lower-income families, in which learning disabilities are highly represented, it is a very unfortunate reason that incomes remain low, because without the cash for testing, no waivers for higher education classes are likely to be pursued or obtained.

Before budget cuts, the disability departments of some universities tested for learning disabilities, but that is less prevalent now. If your child has an LD, look into the quality of this department at the college or university your child is considering.

Even a student with profound dyslexia, I learned, who spells entirely by sound, is supposed to be worked with by his or her professors, though not every school will comply with this without being pressured. I read that community colleges are more flexible in working with disabilities. The Americans With Disabilities Act is valuable, but we have to know how to advocate for ourselves much of the time. Profound dyslexics can be very bright and express themselves beautifully, but they might not be able to spell well enough for traditional spell-check programs to help. I've read about an iPad app that helps dysgraphics turn their sound spelling into conventional spelling. The iPad is an exceptional device for assisting those with learning disabilities, due to the myriad of educational apps.

Students with even profound dyslexia can still learn to read with assistance, but they can sometimes remain slow readers. High school or college students who read slowly can invest in books on CD, and in assistive technology that transfers text into speech, so that heavy college loads can still be handled.

I grieve the 13 years I spent teaching in public education, not knowing the necessary facts. How many of my students fell through the cracks in my first grade class (9 years in the regular classroom), because of what I didn't know? A student who acts out in class (behavior problems are a symptom of disability, at home and at school), or who appears to have ADHD or ADD, should be monitored closely for a possible learning disability, even if the academic work isn't significantly behind yet.

Parents should know early that they need to get their children tested outside of the public schooling system for the best results, after initial evaluations indicate a problem, or before school evaluations if desired, when the parents suspect a problem. Kids with disabilities struggle to grasp the information, and the behavior problems they display are a cover-up so that peers and the teacher will not know. Their frustration levels can also lead to outbursts. They feel dumb, because of course they don't understand that learning disabilities do not speak to intelligence, but to how the brain processes information coming in from the senses.

We have a neighbor girl with severe ADHD and ODD who has failed a grade and is still significantly behind her peers in reading and math. Her teachers do not know what the problem is so they are not doing anything differently for her, nor could they given their workloads. Repeating a grade is rarely the answer when a learning disability is the issue, and schools are too quick to suggest retention. And even if a student qualifies for some time with a resource teacher, if it isn't one-on-one and doesn't address the specific disability, it isn't likely to make up significant ground, especially if begun after 3rd grade. Our neighbor is very bright and I wish I could help her (she has asked me to school her many times), but I can't take on another student in my home given my own children's needs (especially not one with behavior problems), and her mother is too poor to pay for testing for her, and too dysfunctional herself to commit right now to homeschooling (nor would she be able to pay for even used curriculum).

See this post for more information about the range of disability with dyslexia, and the question of whether to come up with the $2000 or more dollars to test. The average child or adult with dyslexia may struggle significantly, but many are not profound enough to qualify as having a disability.

In short, learning disabilities are a significant and commonly misunderstood problem in our society, and failing to address them early can lead to increasingly complicated issues, such as low self-esteem, identifying with negative youths, drug and alcohol abuse, and dysfunctional thinking patterns and problem-solving capabilities.

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 is a help in solving these problems, but it is up to the individuals with disabilities to advocate for themselves. With functional parents willing to research and advocate for their minor children (and homeschooling them if possible), and educating their children about how to overcome these obstacles, the outcomes can be excellent. In a Christian home where the Lord reigns, dysfunctional behavior can often be avoided or corrected early, especially when no one is in denial.

What are your experiences with learning disabilities? What information can you share about overcoming or advocating? Thank you, dear reader.

Weekly Wrap-Up

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thankful Thursday Kids' Addition

Psalm 92:1-2 It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High: To shew forth thy loving kindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night,

Beth, age 5

~ being a ballerina
~ my family
~ the flowers
~ for God
~ for the beautiful sky
~ for Christmas
~ for my dolls
~ I'm thankful for what God made outside
~ for my big brother Paul
~ that God made me
~ for shoes
~ for food because it keeps us living
~ for the bugs
~ for the frogs
~ for the Mercy Me song "Shake" and the newer song "Greater" also by Mercy Me (because we are wild dancing fools here...even Mommy)
~ for worms because they help our plants grow

Mary, age 7

~ for the Yukon
~ for fine, fresh cool weather this morning
~ for clothing
~ for the bugs
~ for the snakes
~ for Clover who croaks at me (my favorite toad that I keep finding in my yard over and over)
~ for the grasshoppers
~ for the flowers (marigolds, dandelions, sunflowers, lilies, goldenrod, morning glories)

Paul, age 10

~ for football tickets
~ that I won the library drawing for the summer reading program and got baseball tickets
~ for my little sister Beth
~ for playing games
~ for a pretty day
~ that my arm cast isn't as bad as I thought it would be (broke his wrist yesterday morning playing Revolutionary War battles)
~ for our Hot Wheels and Geo Trax train toys 
~ for our stuffed animals and the games we play with them
~ that I'm a Christian

Peter, age 12

~ for God and his trees
~ for the camera
~ for my corn
~ the marigolds
~ the sunflowers
~ the squash
~ the cucumbers
~ the purple morning glories

"For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, for love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends."-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Science Through Picture Books: Trees, Fall, Seasons

My kids love hands-on science but not because I've held their hands through dozens of experiments. It's their natural inclination to explore their world with their hands and with experimentation. Engaging, beautiful picture books encourage children in their natural, budding scientific propensities. I love to read wonderful books to them and watch the whole process begin again and again. The books give them information and new things to wonder about, and with each passing year, their experimentation matures.

A parent's job is to encourage exploration by not complaining about messes, by providing materials upon request as well as having general science tools around all the time, and by taking children on hikes throughout the year, allowing them to experience various ecosystems and geologic forms.

And provide increasingly sophisticated information as children grow and develop. Picture books are the ideal place to begin, and they'll take you through several years of graduated learning.

Keep in mind that all of these book lists are works in progress, so check back frequently for more picks using the page feature at the top of my blog.

Happy reading!

The Great Kapok Tree: The Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry (published March, 1990)

Synopsis: (from publisher) (Ages 4-8) The author and artist Lynne Cherry journeyed deep into the rain forests of Brazil to write and illustrate her gorgeous picture book The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest(1990). One day, a man exhausts himself trying to chop down a giant kapok tree. While he sleeps, the forest’s residents, including a child from the Yanomamo tribe, whisper in his ear about the importance of trees and how "all living things depend on one another" . . . and it works. Cherry’s lovingly rendered colored pencil and watercolor drawings of all the "wondrous and rare animals" evoke the lush rain forests, as well as stunning world maps bordered by tree porcupines, emerald tree boas, and dozens more fascinating creatures.

Awards: IRA Teacher’s Choice (1991), ABA’s Pick of the Lists, Reading Rainbow Review Book, NSTA-CBC Outstanding Trade Book for Children

Synopsis: (from Publisher's Weekly) (Ages 4-8) In this breathtakingly beautiful picture book, Cherry combines illustrations that reveal a naturalist's reverence for beauty with a mythlike story that explains the ecological importance of saving the rain forests. The text is not a didactic treatise, but a simply told story about a man who falls asleep while chopping down a kapok tree. The forest's inhabitants--snakes, butterflies, a jaguar, and finally a child--each whisper in his ear about the terrible consequences of living in "a world without trees" or beauty, about the interconnectedness of all living things. When the man awakens and sees all the extraordinary creatures around him, he leaves his ax and "walks out of the rain forest." A map showing the earth's endangered forests and the creatures that dwell within ends the book which, like the rain forests themselves, is "wondrous and rare."

The Gift of the Tree by Alvin Tresselt (published March, 1992)

Synopsis: (from School Library Journal) (Grades 1-3) New illustrations breathe freshness into this book originally published as The Dead Tree (Parents, 1972; o.p.). It stands as a tribute to the mighty oak tree, focusing on its majesty in maturity, through gradual decline to final decay. The interdependence of plant and animal life is clearly evident, including both those that seek its shelter and those that hasten the decaying process to prepare the soil for new life. The original text stands the test of time, reaching its audience with power and emotion as it directs attention to the forces of nature at work. The writing style encourages the young to develop a sensitivity to all aspects of nature without lecturing. Illustrations stretch from : cover to cover across double-page spreads to immerse readers in a forest setting. Seasons and years fade one into another through impressionistic woodland scenes that form the background for the oak and various animals that appear in realistic form. Color tones reflect the seasons, as they are softly muted in fall and winter; more vivid in spring and summer. These illustrations are far more vibrant than those in the previous edition. A perfect choice to use with Romanova's Once There Was a Tree (Dial, 1985) and Hiscock's The Big Tree (Atheneum, 1991) to promote a full understanding of the natural cycle of trees, ever changing, ever renewing.

The Season's Of Arnold's Apple Tree by Gail Gibbons (published April, 1988)

Synopsis: (from publisher) (Ages 4-8) This book about nature and the changing seasons focuses on a young boy and a very special apple tree. In Gail Gibbons’s bright illustrations, Arnold collects apple blossoms in spring, builds a tree house in summer, makes apple pie and cider in the fall, and hangs strings of popcorn and berries for the birds in winter, among other seasonal activities. Includes a recipe for apple pie and a description of how an apple cider press works.

How Do Apple's Grow? by Betsy Maestro (published January, 2000)

Synopsis: (from Kirkus Reviews) (Ages 4-9) A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series.

The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall (published September, 1996)

Synopsis: (from Booklist) (Ages 4-7) Two young sisters describe the changes that occur in their backyard apple tree throughout the seasons of a year. The tree is bare and brown in winter, but spring brings two robins that build a nest and raise a family amid the apple blossoms. In summer, the robins fly off, the girls enjoy playing in the tree's shade, and the apples grow bigger and redder. Finally, in autumn, they pick apples and bake a delicious apple pie. Halpern's colorful collage illustrations perfectly complement the succinct text. Eschewing the use of backgrounds, she concentrates on the tree and the children, which results in crisp edges and an uncluttered appearance that will please young audiences. Appended with an explanation of pollination and a recipe for apple pie, this will make a perfect choice for fall story hours and primary science lessons. Pair with Gail Gibbons' Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree (1984) for another perspective.

Synopsis: (School Library Journal) (Preschool - Grade 1) From bud to fruit, two children follow the cycle of an apple tree as it is nurtured through the seasons. The book incorporates the role of bees and the weather in the production of the fruit. Another use of the tree is shown, as a pair of robins build their nest and begin a family. The story ends with a nice, warm apple pie being taken from the oven. The large pictures and text are suitable for young children. The colorful, clear-cut illustrations use a paint and paper collage technique. An end note shows how bees pollinate the tree's flowers and offers a recipe for apple pie. Great for sharing with a group or one-on-one.

Why Do Leaves Change Color Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Stage 2 by Betsy Maestro (published August, 1994)

Synopsis: (from publisher) (Ages 5-9)  As children jump into piles of leaves and help their parents rake the yard, they also wonder: Why do leaves change color? With bright illustrations from Loretta Krupinski and clear, simple text by Betsy Maestro, this book explains what happens to leaves in autumn. This informative concept book includes detailed pictures of leaves in different sizes, shapes, and colors and a list of activities that kids can do with leaves.

This is a Stage 2 Let's-Read-and-Find-Out, which means the book explores more challenging concepts for children in the primary grades. Let's-Read-And-Find-Out is the winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize for Outstanding Science Series.

Supports the Common Core Learning Standards and Next Generation Science Standards


The Reasons for Seasons by Gail Gibbons (published March, 1996)

Synopsis: (from Booklist) (Ages 5-8) Gibbons uses simple words and clear, colorful pictures to explain the seasons, the solstices, and the equinoxes. Besides discussing the earth's tilt and orbit, she also comments on what people and animals do in each season of the year. Brief and occasionally disjointed, these remarks will serve as a starting point for class discussions. Brightly colored pictures, as accessible and appealing as those in Gibbons' other books, illustrate the text.

Synopsis: (from School Library Journal) (Grades 2-3) Gibbons seems to know just what teachers need to fill that open niche in their curriculum plans. In this title, she explains in succinct, easy-to-understand terms what causes the seasons to change in the two hemispheres. The text is amplified by her trademark illustrations done in bright, primary colors. Children have difficulty grasping the fact that the weather is just the opposite on the other side of the globe and why; this attractive offering will clarify that concept for them.

Sunshine Makes the Seasons (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science 2) Reillustated by Franklin Branley (published May 2005)

Synopsis: (from publisher) (Grades K-3) The sun shines down on us, giving warmth and light. But did you know that the sun also makes the seasons? As the earth makes one complete rotation around the sun every year, the seasons on the earth change -- from winter to spring to summer to fall and back to winter again. Find out how the light from the sun affects life on the earth for all living things in this look at the only star in our solar system.

Four Seasons Make a Year by Anne Rockwell (published March, 2004)

Synopsis: (from School Library Journal) (Preschool - 1st grade) A girl describes the seasons on her family's farm in the northeastern United States: weather; development of vegetables, flowers, trees; birds' activities; chores; and her favorite pursuits. Beginning in the spring, she plants a sunflower seed and follows the plant's growth throughout the year. The clear and airy text appears on a narrow panel on each spread along with some spot art. The mixed-media illustrations reflect the simplicity of Rockwell's text. Faint collaged bits of The Old Farmer's Almanacbehind the text add interest. Halsey uses an inventive device among her more conventional illustrations: she creates a visual flannel-board landscape that appears repeatedly bearing flat, felt-type images (farmhouse, tractor, trees, barn, and scarecrow) with appropriate seasonal details. A clear and general introduction to the cyclical formation of the calendar.

Synopsis: (from Booklist) (Grades K-2) A little girl introduces the four seasons as she observes them at home on the farm. Each season brings changes in the natural world and in her activities. In spring, snow melts, rain falls, a robin sings, and she plants a sunflower seed by her back door. In summer, plants sprout, trees leaf, her sunflower grows tall, and she swims in the pond. In winter, she feeds the birds the sunflower seeds she had picked in the fall and makes a mental note to plant more seeds in the spring, neatly completing the circle of her story and the cycle of the seasons. The first-person text is simple and childlike, a tone reflected in the clearly delineated collages. Combining ink drawings with acrylic paintings on torn paper, these illustrations create eye-catching compositions. A nice finishing touch is Rockwell's appended note, which acknowledges that the story takes place in the northeast, where the seasons differ dramatically, and encourages children to look for local changes, which may be more subtle.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gratitude as Savoring

Psalm 50:23  The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!

Giving thanks is not only an act of obedience for what God has done for us and given us. The Bible tells us to be thankful, yes, and when we obey this we're more at peace. But gratitude is even more than that. The act of pausing to name a blessing slows life down so that nothing is wasted. Life is a gift. Time is a gift. And savoring is acknowledging the sacredness of the present moment.

The endless tasks to be completed in a day can easily dominate us and shift our focus from the hallowed, to the harried. From the sacred, to the mundane.

But to pause and name a blessing? That's like departing the rush-hour train to frolic in the wildflower-strewn meadow, with Mt. Lassen rising up majestically before us. So much beauty it leaves you breathless.

Psalm 1118:24 This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Get off the train. Smell the flowers. Hear the insects and the babbling brook. Study the mountain and the lake it feeds and the flora and fauna it supports. We weren't created for the rush-hour train, but to look about us and say "blessed be your name."

Mt. Lassen might not be in your backyard (I spent my first anniversary there, camping), but something sacred is. There is always beauty, waiting to be discovered and named.

Blessed be your name, Lord. Thank you for all that you pour out, for all that you create, for all that you redeem. Blessed be your name.

Hebrews 12:28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe

~ for cucumbers and squash from the garden.

~ for rain for the farmers.

~ for 12-year-old Peter breading and frying squash for Daddy because that's the way Daddy loves it. "I'm going to bless Daddy today, Mommy."

~ for a pretty green yard with all the children's plants thriving

~ for homeschool curriculum 95% purchased and arrived

~ for stories that stretch the heart and mind

~ for the Lord graciously redeeming me seventeen years ago

~ for our Compassion children's letters and the thrill they give us

~ for a husband's loving arms

~ for four sweet hearts here at home, still too young to move out

~ for the joy of saying thank you

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

What are you pausing to say thank you for, my friends?

Monday, August 11, 2014

History Through Picture Books: Slavery in America

It's hard to imagine a time in our nation's history when it felt appropriate to own another human being, and cruelly make them work for free beyond exhaustion, and even separate them from their children, if profit demanded it. How do you wrap your mind around such a foreign idea? It's not foreign to third-world-country citizens dealing with corrupt governments, but to Americans of our generation, slavery is a foreign idea.

And yet, if we can't wrap our minds around our nation's mistakes, how can we avoid making similar ones in the future? Sin packages itself differently, often attractively, so that at first it may not seem like sin. We have to understand our own depravity and always be on the look out for slavery in its various forms. The human heart in America allowed this, and we have to be diligent to guard our hearts and minds to prevent an equally tragic mistake. We are not above reproach. We are not above a self-interest so blatant that it hardens our hearts toward human decency.

Awareness of heart issues starts young, and picture books are an excellent introduction to the many facets of slavery in America. As parents, it's not an issue we can sweep under the rug, thinking it too uncomfortable to grapple with. I think there is that temptation when the discomfort rises up within us and within our children.

Germany can't sweep Hitler's rule under the rug, anymore than we can sweep slavery under the rug. Hitler became a monster there and they allowed it. Why? The answer is valuable and the questions must be grappled with. Children are the future and they must understand the past in order to effectively shape the future for good. We do them a disservice as future statesmen, citizens, and parents when we deem certain historical subjects too uncomfortable.

I don't mean we open up old wounds, so much as explore and understand what was happening before, during, and after the advent of slavery in America. When faced with similar circumstances, how can we avoid the same sinful path, packaged differently? Picture books won't give enough meat to point to the answer, but they will give children a framework and a springboard from which to explore further as they mature. Pictures convey emotion sometimes better than words can do, and I think you'll find excellent material for discussion here.

Mumbet's Declaration of Independence by Gretchen Woelfle (published February, 2014)

Synopsis: (from Booklist) Mumbet is owned by Colonel John Ashley, but she longs to be free. As the Founding Fathers work on the Declaration of Independence, Mumbet overhears the men discussing the phrase, free and independent. Seven years later, when Mumbet slips into the back of a town hall meeting about the Massachusetts Constitution, she hears, All men are born free and equal—and she decides to test the new law. So she visits a young lawyer who is so impressed with her determination that he decides to take her case. Surprisingly, Mumbet won freedom for herself and her daughter, and her case led to slavery being declared unconstitutional in Massachusetts in 1783. Mumbet’s still largely unknown story came to light through letters and journal entries written by her lawyer’s daughter. Delinois’ minimalist but highly evocative acrylic illustrations add depth to the sensitive, inspiring text. A great addition to picture-book collections of American history. Grades 1-4.

Synopsis: (from School Library Journal) Gr 2–4—Elizabeth Freeman, known as "Mumbet," was an African American slave in 18th-century Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 included the provision, "All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights." Using that document as a basis, Mumbet, with the support of a young lawyer named Theodore Sedgwick, challenged the legality of slavery. As a result of their efforts, in 1783 slavery was declared unconstitutional and 5000 slaves in the state gained freedom. Vividly colored illustrations reflect the generally hopeful tone of the story, while bold compositions and thickly layered paint suggest folk art. Freeman's strength of character is reflected in her determined facial expressions and strong stance. While her story is highly inspiring, details about her life are sketchy; information comes primarily from an account written by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, the daughter of Theodore. While this picture book is presented as nonfiction, the story itself is highly fictionalized. An author's note explains what is known about Mumbet and reminds readers that "History is fluid."

Dave the Potter: Artist Poet Slave by Laban Hill (published September, 2010)

Synopsis: (from Booklist) As a closing essay explains, little is known about the man known as Dave the potter. Two things are certain, though: he was a slave in South Carolina, and he was a potter of uncommon skill. As Hill writes, “Dave was one of only two potters at the time who could successfully make pots that were larger than twenty gallons.” He also inscribed strange, sophisticated poetry into the clay: “I wonder where / is all my relation / friendship to all— / and, every nation.” The verses Hill uses to introduce us to Dave are sometimes just as evocative: “On wet days, / heavy with rainwater, / it is cool and squishy, / mud pie heaven.” The book’s quiet dignity comes from its refusal to scrutinize life as a slave; instead, it is nearly a procedural, following Dave’s mixing, kneading, spinning, shaping, and glazing. Collier’s gorgeous watercolor-and-collage illustrations recall the work of E. B. Lewis—earth-toned, infused with pride, and always catching his subjects in the most telling of poses. A beautiful introduction to a great lost artist. Grades K-3.

Synopsis: (from School Library Journal) Grades K-4 The life of an astonishingly prolific and skilled potter who lived and died a slave in 19th-century South Carolina is related in simple, powerful sentences that outline the making of a pot. The movements of Dave's hands are described using familiar, solid verbs: pulling, pinching, squeezing, pounding. Rural imagery–a robin's puffed breast, a carnival wheel–remind readers of Dave's surroundings. The pithy lines themselves recall the short poems that Dave inscribed on his pots. Collier's earth-toned watercolor and collage art extends the story, showing the landscape, materials, and architecture of a South Carolina farm. Alert readers will find hidden messages in some of the collages, but what stands out in these pictures are Dave's hands and eyes, and the strength of his body, reflected in the shape and size of his legendary jars and pots. A lengthy author's note fleshes out what is known of the man's life story and reproduces several of his two-line poems. A photograph of some of Dave's surviving works cements the book's link to the present and lists of print and online resources encourage further exploration. An inspiring story, perfectly presented and sure to prompt classroom discussion and projects. Outstanding in every way

Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story From the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine (published January, 2007)

Synopsis: (from Publisher's Weekly) Levine recounts the true story of Henry Brown, a slave who mailed himself to freedom. Thanks to Nelson's penetrating portraits, readers will feel as if they can experience Henry's thoughts and feelings as he matures through unthinkable adversity. As a boy, separated from his mother, he goes to work in his new master's tobacco factory and eventually meets and marries another slave, with whom he has three children. In a heartwrenching scene depicted in a dramatically shaded pencil, watercolor and oil illustration, Henry watches as his family—suddenly sold in the slave market—disappears down the road. Henry then enlists the help of an abolitionist doctor and mails himself in a wooden crate "to a place where there are no slaves!" He travels by horse-drawn cart, steamboat and train before his box is delivered to the Philadelphia address of the doctor's friends on March 30, 1849. Alongside Henry's anguished thoughts en route, Nelson's clever cutaway images reveal the man in his cramped quarters (at times upside-down). A concluding note provides answers to questions that readers may wish had been integrated into the story line, such as where did Henry begin his journey? (Richmond, Va.); how long did it take? (27 hours). Readers never learn about Henry's life as a free man—or, perhaps unavoidably, whether he was ever reunited with his family. Still, these powerful illustrations will make readers feel as if they have gained insight into a resourceful man and his extraordinary story. Ages 4-8.

Love Twelve Miles Long by Glenda Armand (published November, 2011)

Synopsis: Publisher's Weekly Inspired by the childhood of Frederick Douglass, Armand’s debut reveals a poignant conversation between young Frederick and his mother, paired with Bootman’s arresting and emotive paintings. Frederick’s mother works long days as a slave in the cornfields, and the boy lives on another plantation; the story takes place on a rare “special night,” when Mama walks the 12 miles between their residences to visit her son, who listens eagerly as she recalls her journey. She devotes each mile to a different pastime: the first mile is for forgetting how tired she is, the second is for remembering everything about her son, the third is for listening to the sounds of the night, and so on. Armand’s narrative smoothly transitions between each of Mama’s preoccupations: “I pray that one day we will all be free. And all that praying makes me feel like singing.” Bootman deftly uses candlelight and moonlight to give his art a lovely iridescence, and presents intimate portraits of mother and son. A brief afterword provides additional background on Douglass and his mother. Ages 6–11

Synopsis: (from publisher) It's late at night, and Frederick's mother has traveled twelve miles to visit him. When Frederick asks Mama how she can walk so far, Mama recounts her journey mile by mile. Every step of the way is special, as it brings them closer together; and Mama passes the time by remembering, listening, praying, singing, and more. Set on a plantation in 1820s Maryland, this story based on the life of young Frederick Douglass shows the power of his mother's love. The faith she has in her son puts him on a path to escape enslavement and to become a champion of human rights, an influential writer and speaker, and an unforgettable leader. Expressive, candlelit paintings illuminate the bond between parent and child in this heartfelt story. Love Twelve Miles Long will resonate with children of all backgrounds who cherish the tender moments they share with those they love.

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington's Slave Finds Freedom by Emily Arnold McCully (published January, 2007)

Synopsis: (from publisher) When General George Washington is elected the first President of the United States, his wife chooses young Oney Judge, a house slave who works as a seamstress at Mount Vernon, to travel with her to the nation’s capital in New York City as her personal maid. When the capital is moved to Philadelphia, the Washingtons and Oney move, too, and there Oney meets free blacks for the first time. At first Oney can’t imagine being free – she depends on the Washingtons for food, warmth, and clothing. But then Mrs. Washington tells Oney that after her death she will be sent to live with Mrs. Washington’s granddaughter. Oney is horrified because she knows it is likely that she will then be sold to a stranger – the worst fate she can imagine. Oney realizes she must run. One day she sees an opportunity and takes it, ending up in New Hampshire, where she lives the rest of her life, poor but free.

Pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations bring to life this picture book biography of Oney Judge, a young woman who, in the end, has no mistress but herself.

The Escape of Oney Judge is a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson (published July, 1995)

Synopsis: (from publisher) As a seamstress in the Big House, Clara dreams of a reunion with her Momma, who lives on another plantation--and even of running away to freedom. Then she overhears two slaves talking about the Underground Railroad. In a flash of inspiration, Clara sees how she can use the cloth in her scrap bag to make a map of the land--a freedom quilt--that no master will ever suspect.

Synopsis: (from School Library Journal) Grades K-3 Clara, a young slave, works as a seamstress and dreams of freedom. Overhearing drovers talk of escaping North enables her to make a patchwork map of the area. When she escapes, she leaves the quilt behind to guide others. Based on a true event, this is a well-written picture book. Ransome's oil paintings, however, are perhaps too smooth and rich for the story they tell. The world depicted is too bright, open, and clean. For example, in the first scene Clara has been put to work in the cotton fields. Supposedly too frail to last long at such work, she is pictured as a slim, serious, yet sturdy girl. The bright yellow sky and the charming smile of the boy with her belie the realities of the back-breaking work. In another scene, young Jack, who has been brought back the day before from running away, looks solemn, but not distressed, and is wearing what appears to be a freshly ironed white shirt. Again, the image distances viewers from the realities of the situation. Clara's escape to Canada, too, is marvelously easy, although she does say, "But not all are as lucky as we were, and most never can come." It is not easy to present the horrors of slavery to young children; thus, even though Ransome's illustrations, and to some extent the text, err on the side of caution, this is an inspiring story worth inclusion in most collections.

If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America by Anne Kamma (published February, 2004)

Synopsis: (from publisher) This 24th book in the highly-regarded series explores an important aspect of America history often overlooked in textbooks.
It is hard to imagine that, once, a person in America could be "owned" by another person. But from the time the colonies were settled in the 1600s until the end of the Civil War in 1865, millions of black people were bought and sold like goods.
Where did the slaves come from? Where did they live when they were brought to this country? What kind of work did they do? With compassion and respect for the enslaved, this book answers questions children might have about this dismal era in American history.

Dear Benjamin Banneker by Andrea Davis Pinkney (published September, 1998)

Synopsis: (from publisher) Throughout his life Banneker was troubled that all blacks were not free. And so, in 1791, he wrote to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who had signed the Declaration of Independence. Banneker attacked the institution of slavery and dared to call Jefferson a hypocrite for owning slaves. Jefferson responded. This is the story of Benjamin Banneker--his science, his politics, his morals, and his extraordinary correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. Illustrated in full-page scratchboard and oil paintings by Caldecott Honor artist Brian Pinkney.

Synopsis: (from Booklist) Ages 7-9. Born to free black parents in 1731, Benjamin Banneker grew up on their Maryland tobacco farm. He, too, became a farmer until, in his late fifties, he taught himself astronomy and wrote his own almanac, the first by an African American. He sent a copy of the almanac to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, along with a letter taking Jefferson to task for slaveholding. Excerpts from his letter and Jefferson's reply appear in the book. Since the eighteenth-century language requires some interpretation, the author summarizes the general meaning of each quoted passage. The book's conclusion ("But his almanacs and the letter he wrote to Thomas Jefferson showed everybody that all men are indeed created equal") is a rather flabby ending to an otherwise well-thought-out text. The artwork, subtle shades of oil paints over scratchboard pictures, is handsome as well as distinctive. Varied in composition and tone, the illustrations include landscapes, portraits, and scenes from Banneker's life. Sweeping lines and repeated contours give the illustrations a feeling of energy and life. A most attractive introduction to Banneker.

Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters by Patricia C. McKissack (published  October, 1994)

Synopsis: (from publisher) In a poignant, heartwarming book rich in historical detail and careful research, two Coretta Scott King Award-winning authors movingly describe Christmas on a pre-Civil War plantation from two starkly different points of view--the big house and the slave quarters. Magnificent full-color illustrations, along with recipes, poems, songs, journal excerpts, and more add depth and authenticity to this extraordinary book.

Synopsis: (From Publisher's Weekly) On a Virginia plantation in 1859, the slaves work hard to get the Big House ready for Christmas, and to prepare their own Quarters for the "Big Times" also. As they describe the goings-on during the weeks before Christmas as well as the actual rituals of the day, the McKissacks carefully and convincingly delineate the discrepancies between the two milieux-from the physical settings to the people's differing appreciations of the holiday's riches. The contrast is startling and stirring. This is a book of significant dimension and importance, and could be read at any time of year. The authors also add riddles, rhymes, recipes and copious notes. Rendered in acrylic on board, Thompson's remarkably realistic paintings are charged with emotion and masterfully tie together the book's diverse contents. Ages 8-13.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

History Through Picture Books: Thomas Jefferson

Elementary-age children learn best when lessons are short and engaging, so what better way to teach content-area concepts than with picture books--with living books, as opposed to textbooks? I love picture books! When my children are grown and gone, picture books are one of the things I'll miss the most.

I've never met a preschool or elementary-age child who didn't love to sit for a picture book. Often, they'll sit for the same one more than once, which allows for review of concepts and ensures that the information makes it into the long-term memory bank.

I would love, when my children are older, to write elementary homeschool curriculum for history and science, and maybe art history, based entirely on picture books. But for now, I'm simply sharing books with my own children and categorizing them by subject. I'll be designating a page on my blog to keep a record of my finds, and I hope you'll find this helpful in your own reading and teaching adventures.

Happy Reading!

We will start with biography today, but the following books can also be incorporated into units about the 1700's or 1800's, as they depict the lifestyle and technology of the times.
Biography: Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)

Two controversial things about Thomas Jefferson are that while he believed in liberty for all, he had many slaves, one of whom, Sally Hemings, he allegedly kept as a lover while he was a widower. Sally, of mixed race, was a half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Skelton. Jefferson is alleged to have had six children with Sally, and apparently a DNA test confirmed this for at least one of her son's descendants in 1998. A couple of these picture books bring that controversial relationship up briefly in author notes, which you can either skip, or read and discuss with your older children. It is not discussed within the body of the texts. While we can admire certain things about our world's heroes, none are without blemish, and that in itself is a lesson for our children. No person is to be idealized.

Thomas Jefferson Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything  by Maira Kalman (published 1/7/2014)

Overview: (Grades 1 - 4) Renowned artist Maira Kalman sheds light on the fascinating life and interests of the Renaissance man who was our third president.

Thomas Jefferson is perhaps best known for writing the Declaration of Independence—but there’s so much more to discover. This energetic man was interested in everything. He played violin, spoke seven languages and was a scientist, naturalist, botanist, mathematician and architect. He designed his magnificent home, Monticello, which is full of objects he collected from around the world. Our first foodie, he grew over fifteen kinds of peas and advocated a mostly vegetarian diet. And oh yes, as our third president, he doubled the size of the United States and sent Lewis and Clark to explore it. He also started the Library of Congress and said, “I cannot live without books.” But monumental figures can have monumental flaws, and Jefferson was no exception. Although he called slavery an “abomination,” he owned about 150 slaves.

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock (published 9/1/2013)

Synopsis: (grades 1 - 5) As soon as Thomas Jefferson learned to read, he found his passion: books, books, and more books! Before, during, and after the American Revolution, Jefferson collected thousands of books on hundreds of subjects. In fact, his massive collection eventually helped rebuild the Library of Congress—now the largest library in the world. Barb Rosenstock’s rhythmic words and John O’Brien’s whimsical illustrations capture Jefferson’s passion for the written word as well as little-known details about book collecting. Author and artist worked closely with experts to create the first picture book on Jefferson’s love of reading, writing, and books. An author’s note, bibliography, and source notes for quotations are also included.

Thomas Jefferson A Day at Monticello by Elizabeth Chew (published 2/4/2014)

Synopsis: (Grades 3-8) In this fascinating story, readers spend a day with Thomas Jefferson as he and his grandson visit the vast plantation of Monticello. Readers learn about Jefferson; the gadgets and household items that he reinterpreted and the plow he invented; the famous house; the surrounding farms with their gardens, fields, factories, and mills; the workshops of the enslaved people on Mulberry Row; and much, much more.
The book is illustrated with archival as well as newly commissioned illustrations and includes a timeline, bibliography, and index.

Praise for Thomas Jefferson
"The illustrations include excellent photos of sites, artifacts, and documents as well as paintings that extend the text. The lightly fictionalized, engaging narrative, which includes many conversations, is bolstered by sidebars offering additional information..."

"After finishing this beautifully illustrated book, also stocked with abundant photographs of artifacts housed at Monticello, readers will be left more curious than ever about the life and accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson."
--School Library Journal

A Picture Book of Thomas Jefferson by David Adler (published 3/28/1990)

Synopsis: School Library Journal Gr 1-3 -- Adler makes Jefferson accessible to young children in this new addition to his biography series. In the brief text, he covers the main achievements and events in Jefferson's life and portrays him as an intellectual, inventor, lawyer, architect, and statesman who disliked presidential pomp. He mentions that, although opposed to the idea of slavery, Jefferson owned slaves throughout his life and several are depicted in the illustrations. Adler's writing is clear and objective, free of fictionalization, and easily read. It will also serve as a read-aloud. The format is attractive; each double-page spread contains a framed painting with short paragraphs superimposed on the illustration. The Wallners' charming watercolors include many details that show the furnishings, clothing, and daily life of 18th-century Virginia. Easier to read than Smith's Thomas Jefferson (Messner, 1989), the book is an informative introduction to this prominent American leader.

Thomas Jefferson A Picture Book Biography by James Cross Giblin (published Scholastic 1994)

Synopsis: Booklist Gr. 4-6, younger for reading aloud. In the same picture-book format as the author and illustrator's George Washington (1992), this volume presents the life of Thomas Jefferson. Giblin records the significant events in Jefferson's long and varied career with enough personal incidents and sidelights to give readers some sense of the man himself, as well as his place in history. Despite the limits of a 48-page picture book, Giblin portrays Jefferson as a complicated, many-sided man and is candid about such issues as his involvement with slavery. Dooling's dramatic oil paintings stretch across each double-page spread. In this series of impressionistic illustrations of people and places, Jefferson appears first as a three-year-old, gradually maturing in the pictures as the story progresses, a series of transitions Dooling manages with finesse. The book ends with a helpful chronology, a series of intriguing quotations from Jefferson's letters, and a section describing Jefferson's beloved home, Monticello. Historically accurate and visually handsome, this is the best Jefferson biography available for young students.

DK Biography: Thomas Jefferson (by DK Publishing, March, 2009)

Synopsis: (ages 8 - 13 yrs) Filled with archival photographs and amazing fact boxes, DK Biography is a groundbreaking series that introduces young readers to some of history's most interesting and influential characters.

From his childhood in Virginia to his two terms as President of the United States, DK Biography: Thomas Jefferson tells the story of the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.

Supports the Common Core State Standards.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

It's Just Too Hard

Romans 8:6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

It's been so easy to get discouraged this summer. I really can't think of a summer that's been worse in terms of hassles and stress and just big life stuff. Mary's anxiety started the season on a sour note, followed by my realization that she wasn't reading as well as expected because of dyslexia. Why didn't I see it sooner? I feel like a failure there.

Now more recently, possibly because of not sleeping through the night, Mary's been very impulsive and gets in trouble frequently, which is not like her. ADHD can show up around this age, and she's showing many signs; she already had signs of the inattentive type, and now I see signs of the combined type (both inattentive, and hyperactive/impulsive). She is very discouraged and suffers from low self-esteem because of her fears and because school is hard for her.

Right now as I type there are two bug containers on the computer desk, both belonging to Mary, who is my naturalist (along with Peter). She's at peace with the world when she's outside, and it's a fight to get her to concentrate when the creepy crawlies are out, waiting to be discovered. The trees and the grasshoppers and the katydids and the snakes don't care how fast she reads, or if she gets her numbers reversed or not. Life is not complicated for her there.

So two large woolly bear caterpillars, her pets, make my skin crawl as I type, though I admit they are quite fascinating. They ignore me and eat their leaves, and two large grasshoppers, in a different container, watch the antics of the caterpillars, or so it seems. Both want their freedom and I entreat my children to keep them only 24 hours, except for one caterpillar of each type for metamorphosis.

But I digress.

I tell my 12-year-old son all the time that his anger and behavior problems are triggered most often by this one line of thinking..."It's not fair." The longer he allows himself to walk along the "it's not fair" bunny trail, the more his anger rises up and gets him in trouble. It's his responsibility to change his self-speak and have alternative positive statements ready, because the negative self-speak is the trigger. People don't have anger management problems, they have trigger management problems (thought management problems).

Similarly, I have felt so often this summer..."it's too hard." It's too hard to have four kids with special needs. It's too hard to have two kids with behavior problems. It's too hard to keep up with everything else and stop frequently to coach someone on their stance against OCD or phobia. I can't be a magician with the budget and a therapist and a special-education teacher, a decent housekeeper, a delegator of chores, a savvy manager, and still have energy to give hugs and smiles and laugh and play as though life is a rose garden. What about when life is one long summer of stinging nettle?

Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

I have seen the parallels with what I'm teaching my son, and I know my problem this summer isn't really the dyslexia or the anxiety or the OCD or the behavior problems. It's the..."it's too hard" bunny trail. Biblical teaching and cognitive-behavioral teaching coincide on this point: our thoughts get us in trouble. As Christians, we're to hold every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

We belong to Christ so all our thoughts belong to Christ as well. The more we let ourselves go on negative bunny trails in our minds, the further we get from Christ and the closer we get to the enemy, who is the ultimate "thought deceiver".

Cognitive-behavioral therapy says if you change your behavior, regardless of its dysfunctional cause, you can change your outcome. You don't need to sit on some therapist's couch for hours to talk about what a weird upbringing you had, and try to figure out how it messed you up. You just need to change your problematic behavior.

Studies show that those who keep gratitude lists are happier and healthier people. They have changed their behavior (stopped complaining?), and thereby changed their outcomes. It works and the Bible backs it up, but for different reasons. When you change your behavior and keep your eyes on the Lord and not on your regrettable bunny trails, you will have peace of soul and mind. Our outcomes improve as we embrace Christ and his plan.

Does this mean we won't have a care in the world just because we've embraced Christ more? No one will ever lose their job or find a suspicious lump? They might, but it won't matter. It would only matter if we were on the "it's too hard" or "it's not fair" bunny trail, and those trails aren't of Christ.

What is of Christ? That no one should perish; the Lord sets his mind on that. His plan revolves around it and we are instruments in his plan.

That plan, for me, includes having four children with exhausting special needs. What does it include for you? I look around me and I see that being a Christian is never easy. If there's no monumental challenge, what attention and glory does Christ receive? My challenges with my children are an opportunity to let Christ shine. Indeed, I'm exhausted and discouraged because I want to shine and I can't. Discouragement comes from the wrong focus, not usually the wrong footsteps.

My self-speak needs to change, and fast. I'm no good to my family or to my Lord until I can get my thoughts held captive, and embrace and recite some holy ones. I encourage you to get some index cards and write these scriptures down, or print them from the Bible Gateway site and paste them onto index cards. These scriptures are food for life. They are the nourishment our souls crave, and the self-speak our minds need ready at a moment's notice, when the enemy comes by with an enticing bunny trail. Think of these verses as not only nourishment, but armor too.

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Isaiah 41:10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Philippians 4:6-7 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Psalm 9:9 The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Matthew 11:28-29 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.