All posts by Amy

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark

Secret of the by Andes by Ann Nolan Clark is a read-aloud that I chose to accompany our history studies.  We are very loosely following Sonlight Core D, but I replaced the first history read-aloud with this selection.  (It’s not a good sign that I made a substitution in the first week of school.  ;-) )  Secret of the Andes is a notable book, besting  Charlotte’s Web, among others,  for the 1953 Newbery Medal.   While it has obviously not have the enduring popularity of Charlotte, it is a good story and well worth the time it takes to read this short novel.

Secret of the Andes is the story of Cusi, a young shepherd boy who lives high in the Andes with the elderly Chuto and his herd of very special llamas.  Cusi is very happy with his home and his job, though there is a longing in his heart for a family.  His past, and even his relationship to Chuto, are mysteries.  However, through a series of events that slowly increase both Cusi’s responsibilities and his awareness of his heritage and birthright as an Inca, Cusi comes of age and has to make the difficult decision of whether to stay in the mountains or go down the mountain to live with a family in the midst of “civilization.”

This is a subtle, gentle, and character-driven story.  Cusi’s real identity is hinted at but never overtly revealed.  This excerpt is very representative of the sort of quiet thoughtfulness that pervades this book:

Cusi sensed that the Sunrise Call was being spoken deep in the heart of the man beside him.  The boy did as the man was doing.  He folded his arms beneath his poncho.  He stood silent and relaxed and turned his eyes to the dawning day.  Within his heart the Sunrise Call came whispering, came soaring on the wings of feeling, lifting heavenward without the need of sound.  (89)

However, the fact that this is a quiet story does not mean that it is devoid of excitement.  Chuto’s and Cusi’s travels over the mountain paths are beautifully described.  Life in the Andes can be dangerous, and this is not glossed over.  Obviously, much of the story has to do with the Incas’ worship of the sun, which definitely opens a door for discussion about religious beliefs, etc.  This is an excellent choice for a read-aloud for all of these reasons, and perhaps most notably, because the chapters are short.  We all enjoyed this short novel and give it a Highly Recommended.  (Puffin, 1952)

WWW: Oswald Chambers and moods

WWW ladyduskAs a notoriously moody person, hearing a reference to this quote on a Ravi Zacharias podcast sent me scurrying to Google to find it in its entirety.  A bit of Oswald Chambers wisdom:

There are certain things we must not pray about – moods, for instance. Moods never go by praying, moods go by kicking. A mood nearly always has its seat in the physical condition, not in the moral. It is a continual effort not to listen to the moods which arise from a physical condition, never submit to them for a second. We have to take ourselves by the scruff of the neck and shake ourselves, and we will find that we can do what we said we could not. The curse with most of us is that we won’t. The Christian life is one of incarnate spiritual pluck.

I think I need to print this out and post it in several places where I can see it frequently at pivotal points during the day.


Odds & Ends



  • It was another week of travel for Steady Eddie, which means I solo-ed it from Sunday night to Tuesday night.  Actually, I had overnight help each night, but even with the overnight help, I was exhausted by the time Wednesday rolled around.
  • Wednesday is a LOOOOOOONG day for us, anyway, with CBS in the morning, school all afternoon, and then church at night.  Couple that with the fact that Steady Eddie is usually gone from morning until bedtime thanks to a class he’s taking this semester, and by Wednesday evening I can barely keep my eyes open when I sit down at church.
  • I should be reading Jane Eyre for my IRL bookclub that meets in a few short weeks, but instead I’ve gotten involved in Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi.  (Well, that and the WTM forums.  ;-)  I tend to take the forums by spells, and right now is definitely an “on” time for me.)  Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is a fascinating and easy read, so I hope to finish it before I have to tackle Jane Eyre in earnest.

  • School has gone fairly well this week, though it seems that the pattern is going to be that I’m d.o.n.e. by the time I can really devote my usual amount of attention to it.  (Sometimes I think this might actually be a good thing.)  Here’s the run down of Monday through Thursday:

Lulu, grade 5–

  • Math–Completed RS E lessons 89-92, which introduced mean, median, and mode as well as probability.  Whew!  Lesson 92 required a little more math know-how than Lulu currently possesses, which I think is an occasional weakness of RS–gaps in what has been taught and what is required.  We also managed a couple of math games:  GCF and a Fun Friday game.  We’re close enough to finishing RS E than I’m really researching math curricula now.  It feels weird since we’ve used RS for so long.  My Lulu is growing up!
  • English grammar–R & S 5 lessons 16-18–compound sentences, comma splices, and run-ons, etc.  The attention to detail these lessons require has been good for Lulu!
  • Writing–This was our first week using Treasured Conversations.  We skipped over the grammar lessons and started with the paragraph lessons, beginning with lesson 9.   This is one of those “deceptively simple” curricula that gives a lot of bang for the buck, both money- and time-wise.  So far, so good!
  • Spelling–R & S 4 lesson 29.  I go back and forth over whether or not I think a spelling curriculum is a waste of time/busywork for my girls.  I was listening to Susan Wise Bauer’s lecture “A Plan for Teaching Writing:  Focus on the Middle Grades” on Thursday, and she recommends that middle grade students keep a list of commonly misspelled words and copy the words they misspell.  (The gist of her idea is this–make it more “painful” for them to misspell the word or make the grammar error than to do it right the first time.)  I think this might be the way to go.  I don’t know.  I wouldn’t mind a curriculum that just goes over the spelling rules–short and sweet–that I could use with both girls.  It would have to be something very compact and not time consuming, though.  Any ideas?
  • History–Lulu’s individual assignment was to read Vostaas by William White Buffalo.  I also required her list ten facts from two separate chapters in volume one of The Story of US by Joy Hakim.  She then turned one set of facts into a paragraph about the Plains Indians’ relationship with the buffalo.  This was at the end of a very long day on Thursday and probably wasn’t one of the brightest moments in my career as a homeschooling mother.  It resulted in lots of frustration for both of us.   One of my weaknesses is planning, so sometimes my assignments are off the cuff and not well-executed.  This is something I hope to improve upon in the near future.

  • Lulu also did a bit of copywork for handwriting practice (though I’m considering dropping this altogether given all the writing she does), a couple of sentences for 4 level analysis, and a Perplexor puzzle.

Louise, grade 3

  • Math–RS C lessons 139-141.  I gave Louise two days on a review and practice because she missed quite a few the first time she tried it.  It was a Tuesday morning and she had a bad case of butterflies in the stomach over going to co-op.  She came back and did the second form of the review and practice on Wednesdays and did much better.  Mental subtraction is still tricky for her, but it’s getting easier.   Her other lessons this week revolved around fractions.  We played games a couple of days, including a game of One in which we put together fractions that equal one.  This gave my brain a workout, too.  :-)
  • English grammar–Lessons 7-10 (skipping 9, a poem, since we already do poetry for Circle Time) in FLL 3.  Good ol’ familiar FLL.  I love it.
  • Writing–WWE 3 week 4.
  • Handwriting–Louise learned lowercase g and upper- and lowercase h.  She practiced previous letters on the whiteboard.
  • Spelling–R & S 3 lesson 14.  Like Lulu, she finished the lesson and took a test using Spelling City.
  • History–Louise’s individual assignment was Pocahontas and the Strangers by Clyde Robert Bulla.

  • Louise also did a Perplexor puzzle.
  • She went to a Junior Master Gardener meeting at 4H this week.  They planted a fall raised bed garden!
Something with whiskers for Sketch Tuesday
Something with whiskers for Sketch Tuesday

Both girls

  • Circle Time X 3
  • One week’s worth of CBS lessons.  This week takes us into Ezekiel.
  • Marine biology work–this week included, among other things, sketching the differences between dolphins and porpoises.
  • Piano practice–30 minutes most days for Lulu and 20 minutes a day for Louise.  Piano lessons.
  • I finally, finally settled on Joy Hakim’s A History of US as a history spine, so while we waited for it to arrive via the big brown truck, they listened to chapters 5-9 or so via Overdrive.  I actually think I like this one better as an audiobook.

Fun Friday

  • Circle Time–evaluation on this week’s new materials.  So-so.  We’re making progress, but it’s slow.   This is one of the casualties of our out-of-the house schedule.
  • Geography–trace the U.S., listen to a 50 states song, partially complete a couple of notebooking pages on Alabama for their 50 States notebook.
  • A brisk, 15 minute walk.  Today was the first day of slightly cooler temperatures.  I lamented my inability to find time for my kids to exercise today on the WTM forums and someone suggested just getting out and walking/jogging/cycling between lessons for just a bit.  I decided to seize the moment and do it today.  This was perhaps the week’s greatest victory.
  • Latin–lessons 9-11 in Getting Started with Latin.
  • A very rushed poetry tea time. Benny was very fussy today, so this was not exactly relaxing.
  • Lesson two in Word Roots.  Then the girls used Quizlet to do some reviewing while I put Benny down for an early nap.
  • Fraction game for both girls–My Closest Neighbor from Let’s Play Math.  
  • Drawing with Children lesson 1 from this set of lesson plans.  We started Drawing with Children years ago, and it has always been one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t see it through.  Here we go again!  :-)


  • The biggest highlight of the day for the girls and the DLM was no doubt our trip this afternoon to see Dolphin Tale 2.  We met some friends there and practically had the theater to ourselves.  It was good.  I might’ve cried just a little bit.  ;-)
  • We read a couple of chapters in Lawn Boy and finished (!!!) Secret of the Andes.

The DLM, age 4

  • This fellow wants to do school.  I can’t keep him from it, actually.  I’m still having a terrible time figuring out when and how to do it, though.
  • His letter this week was M.  We read lots of mouse, moose, and monster books.  He made Ms (capital and lowercase) using his dot markers and traced them in a pan of salt.  He also made a marshmallow M and a mouse (which we turned into a puppet).

  • Our bedtime read-aloud is still Then There Were Five, and we are enjoying it so much.  (I shared a quote for this week’s WWW post.)

It has been another very busy but mostly good week.  I’ve definitely had my moments of extreme stress, but in all the busy-ness I can definitely say that God has been faithful to undergird me with His grace.  I’m thankful for that.

How’s your week?

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Flora and Ulysses:  The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo is the 2014 Newbery Medal winner.  I could finish that sentence with an addendum:  though I don’t know why.  I’m usually pretty mild-mannered, as in I really don’t like to offend people.  However, I’m taking a cue from Carrie’s blog post “On Writing Negative Reviews” and trying to share what it is exactly that I don’t like about this story.  I mean, I’m generally a fan of Kate DiCamillo:  I’ve read and re-read Because of Winn Dixie; I loved (I mean LOVED) The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane; and I even like The Tale of Despereaux pretty well.  I read aloud The Tiger Rising to multiple classes of fifth graders back in my elementary library media specialist days!  Writing this negative review feels sort of like I’m dissing a close friend.  But, I do think negative reviews are helpful, especially when it comes to children’s books.  I like to know whether or not there’s anything potentially objectionable in a book, as well as whether or not my girls are likely to like it.  That’s my motivation for spending time writing a review on this book I really didn’t like–that and the fact that I have this idea that some day I’d like to be able to say I’ve read every Newbery Medalist and honor book.

Flora and Ulysses is fantastical, a story about a girl named Flora, a self-proclaimed cynic who lives with her mother, a divorced writer.  At the beginning of the story, Flora rescues a squirrel, whom she later names Ulysses, after he is sucked up into her neighbor’s vacuum cleaner.  This unfortunate incident gives Ulysses super powers, and Flora quickly grows to love Ulysses.   Flora then decides that Ulysses is hers and she must keep him at all costs.  Unfortunately, her mother doesn’t think so (especially when Ulysses, whose super powers include the writing of poetry, begins using her typewriter).  What unfolds then is just a weird story about Flora’s relationship with her father and a neighbor boy she meets and their attempt to keep Ulysses.  I don’t mind fantasy, but when it’s so enmeshed in a story that in some ways is realistically sad (the relationships in this story are really painful), I can’t figure it out.

Second, this book is a hybrid, with comic strip (graphic novel?) pages interspersed with the actual text.  I found myself reading the illustrated pages and kind of nodding to myself, “Hmmm. . .that’s nice,” and then getting on to the real business of the story–the text.  Then I’d realize I had to actually read the comic panels–they actually do further the story.  This actually helps further the story in more than one way since Flora is a comic book junkie.  I realize this is a personal preference, but I just prefer words, plain and simple.  I just can’t get used to the back-and-forth of this format.

The long and short of it is this:  I just think this story is a little too weird for me to find any redeeming qualities in it.   It seems like a fun, silly story, and I suppose it is, but Kate DiCamillo waxes philosophical, as she is wont to do, just as much in this one as she does in her others.  The neighbor boy, William Spiver, discusses with Flora the randomness of the universe, and Flora has to decide if she believes this or if she believes that love will conquer all.  (He even brings up Pascal’s Wager, for Pete’s sake!)  There’s a bit of over-the-top weirdness when Flora’s mom begins to act strange and zombie-like, and Flora wonders if she’s possessed.  I don’t know.  It’s just weird.  Maybe I have the target audience pegged too young, or maybe I underestimate kids, but it just seems like there’s so much going on in this book that will go over many children’s heads, yet the packaging has kid appeal, so it’s deceptively complex.  I dunno.

My take on this book is definitely colored by the fact that we’re supposed to be reading it for our library’s mother-daughter bookclub, and I’m always much more critical of books I know my girls will be reading right away as opposed to at some unspecified time in the future.  I’m still not sold on this one as a bookclub pick, though I would like to see if others who actually read it feel as I do, too.

I’ve read two of the Newbery honor books for 2014:  Paperboy by Vince Vawter and The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes.  I like them both better than this one.

That’s this curmudgeon’s take on the 2014 Newber Medalist.  If you read Flora and Ulysses, please come back and tell me what you think.  (Candlewick, 2013)