Category Archives: Newbery Award

The High King by Lloyd Alexander

And so ends our time with the Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper and his valiant companions in their quest to save Prydain from Arawn Death Lord and his evil cronies.  What a fabulously fantastical time we had!  This is a classic fantasy series at its best, and I am so glad we took the first half of 2014 to discover it.   The High King takes Taran on a journey to recover the sword Dyrnwyn.  This requires an assembling of all the hosts of Prydain, as is only fitting in the last book in a series.   In this book, Taran grows into manhood and accepts his rightful destiny, one that we saw coming several books ago (of course!)   Taran’s observation here encapsulates the message of the series:

“Long ago I yearned to be a hero without knowing, in truth, what a hero was.  Now, perhaps, I understand it a little better.  A grower of turnips or a shaper of clay, a Commot farmer or a king–every man is a hero if he strives more for others than for himself alone.”

The Chronicles of Prydain is just the sort of literature that I want my children to be inspired by–full of noble adventure that depicts what it means to act with honor.  We give the series a Highly, Highly Recommended.  

My thoughts on the other books in the series:

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.

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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

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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

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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)