Category Archives: Newbery Award

Hokusai, Manjiro, and making waves

We’re still making our slow way through volume three of Story of the World.  We’ve settled into something of a routine this spring:  the girls read the sections and Lulu and I work on a narration together, going back and forth, until she has one or two paragraphs that we’re (er, I’m)happy with.  Louise, our resident second grader, and I often just discuss the sections using the suggested review questions, or at least we do when I have my act together (which is maybe half of the time?).  I often have some supplemental reading to offer them–usually from the literature section of the activity guide, and often something I’ve had to purchase since many of those books aren’t to be found in any of our four local public libraries.  Such is the case with The Old Man Mad About Drawing by François Place and translated from the French by William Rodarmor.  I decided to read this one aloud mostly because I was interested in it myself.  My girls and I had looked at Hokusai’s The Great Wave for a picture narration in FLL 2, so we were already a little bit familiar with Hokusai.  This is a short, somewhat pedantic book that written from the perspective of a young boy who becomes something of an apprentice to the elderly Hokusai.  We learn about the printmaking process, Japanese society and customs, and the phases of Hokusai’s career.   Despite the fact the book works a little too hard to teach us something sometimes, it’s still quite an enjoyable read.  The chapters are short and the illustrations are plentiful, colorful, and noteworthy.  (Place was shortlisted for the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen illustrator award.)  All in all, this story was the perfect short read-aloud to inspire us to take out our own art supplies, which is something that has been sorely lacking in our homeschool the past few months.




I saw several art lesson plans based on Hokusai’s most famous piece of art, but this homeschool-mama plan from Harrington Harmonies was simple and just what I had in mind.  We did this with very little preparation on my part, so it didn’t turn out quite as well as it would’ve if I didn’t fly by the seat of my pants quite as much.  We drew our waves ourselves (instead of tracing them or having a pre-made copy, as according to the lesson plan), so ours are a little more “creative.”  ;-)  One change I’d definitely make to the plan is I would’ve used an oil pastel to outline the waves instead of a marker.  It was fun, though, and that’s the most important thing!

Mama's art

Mama’s art



Lulu’s related assigned reading was Margi Preus‘ fabulous, Newbery honor-winning novel, Heart of a Samurai, a fictionalized account of the life of the young man instrumental in re-opening Japan to the West.  (You can read my review of this novel here.)
I also had her read a nonfiction account of Manjiro’s life, Shipwrecked!:  The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy by Rhoda Blumberg.  She enjoyed both books a lot and was quite taken with Manjiro’s story.  I love how all of this–the history, the stories, and the art–all worked together.  We don’t achieve synchronicity too often lately here at the House of Hope, but I love it when we do.

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

It was with great anticipation that we began this second book in the Chronicles of Prydain, The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander.  This story is a continuation of the one begun in The Book of Three, our first read-aloud of 2014.  In The Black Cauldron we get to know all the characters we came to love in book one even better.   This time they’ve been given a task–to capture the evil Black Cauldron from Arawn.   Once again our hero, Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, is on a quest, and this one once again tests his mettle in ways he cannot predict.   My girls and I loved the fact that new characters are added in this story, as Gwydion assembles his forces to go after the cauldron.  We were able to discuss some literary elements–characterization and foreshadowing–in this story incidentally as we read.  (We just knew one of the characters was up to no good, and we were right!) I don’t want to give away much of the plot because this is a very exciting story with lots of action.  I do want to point out, though, that this story has several characters that remind me of other literary characters.  Whether or not this was intentional on the part of Alexander, I do not know.  The most notable (at least to me) of the similarities is a characters named Gwystyl, one of the “fair folk” who begrudgingly helps our heroes on their way.  He reminds me so much of my favorite Narnian, Puddleglum.  Another thing about this story that I like so much is that it really delves into heart issues–obedience, allegiance, bravery, etc.  (A quote I shared here offers a tiny sampling of what I mean.)  While the story itself isn’t complicated, certainly it provides much opportunity for discussion.  My girls would LOVE to read nothing but this series until we finish it, but we have a few other commitments that prevent us from reading straight through.  We definitely give The Black Cauldron a Highly, Highly Recommended and consider it worthy of the 1966 Newbery honor it received.  (Square Fish, 1965)

Read Aloud Thursday–February 2014



This has almost been a non-reading month for me personally.   That does not, of course, mean that I haven’t been reading.  Not by a long shot!  ;-)  I’ve been reading aloud to my children, as usual, and I’ve even managed to review some picture books this month.  There are a couple of chapter books, though, that we read that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing, so I’m going to share my thoughts on them here today.
I purchased the Oxford Illustrated Classics adaptation of Don Quixote because it was recommended in the activity guide to Story of the World volume 3.   I have never read Cervantes’ original work, so I suppose I should offer the disclaimer that I knew next to nothing about the story when I started reading this retelling by Michael Harrison.  Well, what a fun story this one is!  Everyone probably already knows that it’s the story of Don Quixote, who’s just maybe a little bit crazy, and his desire to go questing like a real knight.   The humor and Don Quixote’s over-the-top antics weren’t lost on my girls.   Harrison’s prose is descriptive but not oversimplified:

The rain fell steadily, and so did Sancho Panza’s spirits.  The more water there was around him, the further away the island he had been promised seemed to float.  It is difficult to believe in heroic deeds and great rewards with rain stinging your eyes and trickling down your neck.  Don Quixote was quiet, too.  If the great enchanter kept up his tricks, how was he to achieve glory?  So the bedraggled pair rode on in silence on their miserable beasts.

Towards noon, the clouds broke and the sun beamed down.  As their clothes streamed in the heat their gloom lifted.  Don Quixote raised his eyes and saw a knight wearing a golden helmet riding towards them.  Sancho Panza raised his eyes and saw a village barber riding his donkey–and this, of course, is who it was.  A few small villages provided enough work for one barber between them and so he rode from one to another, taking his tools with him.  A brass basin is essential for shaving, but it’s an awkward thing to carry, especially in the rain.  If you put it on your head, your hands are free and your head is dry. (32)

Illustrator Victor G. Ambrus’ illustrations are very comical and added much to our enjoyment of this classic.  (Even the DLM listened in, though he much prefers Eric A. Kimmel’s Don Quixote and the Windmills.  ;-)  )  I will definitely be on the look out for more books from the Oxford Illustrated Classics series.  (Oxford UP, 1995)

We also read Newbery honor-winning Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo this month because it was the selection-of-the-month for the mother-daughter bookclub at the library.   It was a rather anticlimactic read for all of us, I think, because we had all already read it.  For some reason I thought it was necessary for us to read it together.   It’s a funny and sweet story, and it’s especially easy to read aloud (with bonus easy points if you’re  a Southerner–the Southern speech patterns and sayings just roll off the tongue).   I used to read this one to my third grade classes when I was an elementary librarian.  Now that I’m a parent instead, I noted some things that I didn’t note as a public school employee: namely, that there seems to be a bit of relativism in the story when Gloria Dump tells Opal that she did the bad things in her past (“with or without alcohol”) before she “learned what is the most important thing.”  When Opal asks what the most important thing is, Gloria responds with “It’s different for everyone.”  Hmmm.  As a Christian I reject the notion that we should just choose our own god to whom we owe allegiance, which is what this sounds a bit like to me.  (Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it did give me an opportunity to talk with my girls about Truth.)  Anyway.  It’s a fun story, and there are certainly bits of truth in it, especially in its overall theme of sadness and joy being inextricably mixed up in this world.   If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and pick it up.  It has short, short chapters and large print, so it’s a very quick read.   My favorite DiCamillo story is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, but I like this one, The Tiger Rising, and The Tale of Despereaux all equally well.  (Candlewick, 2000)

I’m still reading Thimble Summer aloud with Lulu and Caddie Woodlawn aloud with Louise.  Whew.  Our current together read-aloud is The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander, and then we’re on to The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, which is March’s mother-daughter bookclub selection, chosen by us.  :-)

Last, I wanted to share a link to a great thread over on the Well-Trained Mind forums.  I asked forum members to share their current read-alouds, so consider this a long list of possible read-alouds for your family!  ;-)

Share links to your RAT posts below, or tell us about your read-alouds in the comments.  Don’t forget to visit other RAT participants’ posts, too, please!

Happy Read Aloud Thursday!

Wednesdays with Words–The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

Today I’m sharing some philosophizing by the bard/warrior Adaon in our current read-aloud, The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander.  Pulling this out of context makes it sound a bit purplish, but in context it’s just lovely and really endears the character Adaon to the reader, or at least it had that effect on me.

“There is much to be known,” said Adaon, “and above all much to be loved, be it the turn of the seasons or the shape of a river pebble.  Indeed, the more we find to love, the more we add to the measure of our hearts.”  (28)

Adaon smiled gravely.  “Is there not glory enough in living the days given to us?  You should know there is adventure in simply being among those we love and the things we love, and beauty, too.”  (75)

Little House, big trip


Steady  Eddie and I have a grand scheme, an overarching plan to expose our children to as much of this great country of ours as we can before they leave our home.  However, it’s something of an overwhelming undertaking to me when I consider that there are almost  nine years between our youngest and our oldest child.  There will never be a perfect time to take them all to see the nation’s capital or the redwoods or New England.  The time to do it–whatever it is–is now, right?

Well, that was Steady Eddie’s thinking when he decided (and convinced me) that the time to take the girls to see Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri, was his long weekend after Independence Day.  We had talked and talked about making this trip for ages, but when it came time to actually commit, all I could think about it is a rambunctious DLM and Benny, who pretty much conks out whenever he’s in the car seat (hence perhaps resulting in a sleepless night after so much napping).  This time, we didn’t tell the girls we were going.  (I was under the influence of the chapter on creative recreation in The Hidden Art of Homemaking when I decided to do this.  Edith Schaeffer discusses planning surprise trips in this chapter.  Oh, and I was also inspired by this post at Simple Homeschool.)  Everyone just got up Friday morning and we told them we were going somewhere and that we still had to pack!  (Eeep!)  Of course, things moved along rather quickly with the added motivation of a mystery trip, so we got out the door with relative ease.  We decided to give the girls a clue to our destination each time we crossed a state line, so they had something to look forward to on this seven hour journey.  We traveled through Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and finally, into Missouri.  Their clues were

  1. We are going North.
  2. We are going to the “Show Me” state.
  3. This is a literary field trip.
  4. As stubborn as a _________mule.
Since we had talked about going to Mansfield earlier in the year, I think Lulu had an inkling of an idea where we were headed, but neither girl could quite figure it out geographically.
After several stops (including a Chick-Fil-A lunch stop that turned into at least 1 1/2 hours by the time I nursed Benny and everyone ate and went to the bathroom, etc.), we finally arrived  in Mansfield just in time for me to nurse Benny and for us to purchase tickets for the play Laura’s Memories, a local production that compresses many of the events of the Ingalls and Wilder families into a two hour, song-and-dance extravaganza.  We enjoyed the production, though for me it was more about the simple fact that we were sitting in an amphitheater in Mansfield than anything else.
On Saturday we headed back to Mansfield from our hotel in Springfield.  First stop:  the cemetery where Laura, Almanzo, and Rose are buried:
I apparently have a thing for seeing where famous people (especially authors) are buried.  I’m thinking about making it a feature here on my blog.  ;-)  I thought it was interesting that the Wilders are buried in the middle of this cemetery, which is just your average, run-of-the-mill community cemetery, with nothing designating their graves are special except for a few bushes and a chain.  You can see that someone had left Laura a note on her headstone, as well as a few flowers.
From the cemetery we headed over to Rocky Ridge, the farm house that Laura and Almanzo began building after they moved from Mansfield from De Smet, South Dakota.  If my memory serves me correctly, it took them something like fourteen years (?) to finish the home.  It’s really lovely from the outside:
Of course, photography is forbidden inside the home, but if you love getting a peek into what someone’s real life was like, Rocky Ridge Farm definitely provides insight.  This house is furnished just as if the Wilders were still living there.  I loved seeing Laura’s kitchen that Almanzo furnished for her diminutive stature (4′ 11″–did you know that?–I knew she was “Half Pint,” but I didn’t realize she wasn’t a whole lot taller than Lulu is now!).  It was also neat to see all of Almanzo’s handiwork–the (short) chairs he made, the rugs he hooked, the walking sticks he carved.  He was obviously a very industrious man!  Visiting Rocky Ridge made me realize that Laura and Almanzo were just ordinary people, no different in many ways than my grandparents, separated only by a generation.  What brought this home to me were the Currier and Ives calendar prints that Laura had framed and hung over her bed.  My grandparents always had a calendar just like that, and keeping the pictures is something my granny would’ve done.
The museum at Rocky Ridge is fantastic, providing even more artifacts and memorabilia.  The most famous object in the museum is Pa’s fiddle, but my personal favorite is the collection of Garth Williams sketches from the books.  It’s so interesting and inspiring to see his rough sketches and notes, the thought processes behind his famous illustrations.  For some reason, I found the sketches even more impressive than Laura’s book drafts, written longhand on simple tablets.
From Rocky Ridge we drove the very short distance to Laura and Almanzo’s retirement home, known as the rock house.  Rose built this home for them after they quit farming (I suppose), but they lived here for less than ten years.  Rose had moved into Rocky Ridge, and as soon as she vacated it for New York, Laura and Almanzo returned home, never to leave again.

This home was very modern, with electricity, a tiled bathroom, and running (filtered!) water.  Modeled after an English cottage, it is very pretty and cozy. When the historical society finally acquired this house around 1990, its owner was storing hay in it.  Imagine that!  Storing hay in the home where Laura herself once lived!

My apologies to the family on the porch! :)

Most amazing of all is the realization that it was in this stone house that Laura began writing the Little House books.

The prospect from both homes is beautiful–hilly, lush, and green.  I can see why Laura and Almanzo called this place home for over sixty years.

After we left the rock house, we headed up to St. Louis for a bit of sightseeing, but that’s a tale for perhaps another day.

I’m glad Steady Eddie talked me into this trip, and I really look forward to exploring more with our family.