Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Coloring Plan for The Burgess Bird Book for Children

by Thornton W. Burgess

Mater Amabilis™Level 1A recommends The Burgess Bird Book for Children as one of the books for year 1 (2nd grade) science, a focus on nature study. I tried reading this book to First Son and we made it through most of it but he often found it tedious. First Daughter read it to herself but didn't enjoy it very much.

Second Daughter, though, loves birds and is the best at bird identification in the family. I knew she would love this book, but I also knew she would not want to read it herself. I wanted her to be able to color pictures for each of the birds. There are lots of websites out there with links to all sorts of pictures for each bird in the book. I found these pictures to be troublesome to print because they're all over the internet and, for the same reason, they were often of uneven quality. (Any accomplished bird artists out there? I think you could make good money on a coloring book of the Burgess birds; all you need are line drawings of all the birds in the books in one PDF and a site to sell it.)

Anyway, I thought I could purchase a coloring book that would get me 90% of the birds at a fraction of the hassle and ordered the Peterson Field Guide Coloring Book: Birds.
The main problem with my plan was the unexpected lack of an index in the coloring book. I therefore had to go through and look page by page for each bird. You don't have to, though, because I've typed it up below. This list is only useful if you have a copy of the Burgess Bird Book and this exact Peterson guide; I can't make promises for other Peterson guides because I don't have any others in front of me.

I read one chapter a week to First Daughter, which means this book carried over into the third grade year. (I gave her the option to finish it herself, but she preferred to double up on science for a while.) Each week, she'd find the birds in the guidebook (I gave her the page number) then color it to match the Peterson sticker while I read the chapter. Then she'd narrate for me. With interest and time, we would check a few other resources, too:
  • YouTube for videos of the bird (there are some playlists, but I found it easier to just search)
  • All About Birds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (particularly good for listening to the birds)
  • The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots (obviously, choose a guide for your area, but we love this one and use it all the time)

Integrating the Peterson Field Guide Coloring Book: Birds with The Burgess Bird Book for Children
  • Chapter 1: house wren p 43
  • Chapter 2: English or house sparrow p 55
  • Chapter 3: song sparrow, white-throated sparrow, fox sparrow - all on p 64
  • Chapter 4: chipping sparrow and tree sparrow on p 63 (no vesper sparrow)
  • Chapter 5: bluebird (eastern) p 45, robin on p 47
  • Chapter 6: phoebe on p 38 (no least flycatcher)
  • Chapter 7: kingbird p 37, great crested flycatcher p 38
  • Chapter 8: peewee p 38
  • Chapter 9: woodcock p 27, spotted sandpiper on p 25 and 27
  • Chapter 10: red-winged blackbird p 56, northern flicker p 36
  • Chapter 11: downy and red-headed woodpeckers p 37, hairy woodpecker p 36
  • Chapter 12: brown-headed cowbird p 57, Baltimore oriole p 57 and 47
  • Chapter 13: orchard oriole p 57, bobolink p 56
  • Chapter 14: northern bobwhite p 22, eastern meadowlark p 56
  • Chapter 15: chimney swift p 35, tree swallow p 39
  • Chapter 16: purple martin p 39, barn swallow p 40
  • Chapter 17: American crow p 41, blue jay p 47
  • Chapter 18: red-tailed hawk p 20, ovenbird p 52
  • Chapter 19: ruffed grouse p 22, common grackle p 57
  • Chapter 20: osprey p 19, bald eagle p 21
  • Chapter 21: great blue heron p 9, belted kingfisher p 35
  • Chapter 22: bank swallow p 39, American kestrel p 22 (sparrow-hawk)
  • Chapter 23: common nighthawk p 34 (no whip-poor-will or chuck-wills-widow)
  • Chapter 24: yellow warbler p 50, American redstart p 55
  • Chapter 25: black and white warbler p 49, yellow-throated warbler p 53, yellow-breasted chat p 55
  • Chapter 26: northern parula p 50, magnolia warbler p 50, yellow rumped myrtle warbler p 51
  • Chapter 27: gray catbird p 44, cardinal p 47
  • Chapter 28: scarlet tanager p 58, rose-breasted grosbeak p 59
  • Chapter 29: red-eyed vireo p 49, warbling vireo p 49 (no yellow-throated vireo)
  • Chapter 30: brown thrasher p 44, northern mockingbird p 47
  • Chapter 31: wood thrush p 44, hermit thrush p 45 (no Wilson's or tawny thrush)
  • Chapter 32: indigo bunting p 59, eastern towhee p 62
  • Chapter 33: American goldfinch p 61 and 63, purple finch p 60
  • Chapter 34: mourning dove p 32, yellow-billed cuckoo p 33
  • Chapter 35: ruby-throated hummingbird p 35, loggerhead shrike p 48
  • Chapter 36: European starling p 47, cedar waxwing p 48
  • Chapter 37: black-capped chickadee p 41 (could also include the Carolina chickadee, same page)
  • Chapter 38: common loon p 8, Canada goose p 12
  • Chapter 39: brown creeper p 42, white-breasted nuthatch p 42 (red-breasted on p 43)
  • Chapter 40: dark-eyed junco p 63 (tree sparrow done earlier)
  • Chapter 41: horned lark p 63, snow bunting p 63
  • Chapter 42: screech owl p 34
  • Chapter 43: red crossbill p 61
  • Chapter 44: common redpoll p 62 (no pine grosbeak)
  • Chapter 45: great horned owl p 34 (no goshawk)
There are lots of birds left to color now that we're finished with The Burgess Bird Book.  I thought a bunch might be in The Burgess Seashore Book which we already own, but it appears there are only a handful in that book. I plan to let Second Daughter just color the rest of the birds on her own.

This is the copy of The Burgess Bird Book we have, which was pricey at about $20 when I bought it in 2010. I wanted the full color illustrations, which were indeed nice and helped my oldest son focus while we were reading. I think the addition of the Peterson Guide, though, makes the illustrations less important. If I were looking for a copy today, I'd probably get the Dover one above. Be careful about some of the print on demand options as they often have minuscule text, no page numbers, or limited margins. The Dover one has a complete index which includes the common name of the birds as well as the nicknames used in the text.

Links above to Amazon are affiliate links. I received nothing in exchange for this post.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

November and December 2017 Book Reports

Beorn the Proud by Madeleine Pollard - link to my post (purchased copy). Also available from Amazon.

History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration (Great Courses) by Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius - link to my post (purchased with an Audible credit)

The Century for Young People by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster - link to my post (purchased used copy)

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild - link to my post (library copy)

Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy by Tim Harford - link to my post (library copy)

The Curious Nature Guide: Explore the Natural Wonders all Around You by Clare Walker Leslie - link to my post (library copy)

O Christmas Three by O. Henry, Tolstoy, and Dickens - This book was my book club's selection for December: The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, Where Love Is, There God Is Also by Tolstoy, and The Seven Poor Travellers by Charles Dickens. Two of the stories were new to me, at least in their unabridged forms. The Tolstoy story was by far my favorite. It's a nicely printed hardcover book. (purchased used on Amazon)

Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time by Frank Cottrell Boyce - This is the second book of a continuation trilogy of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It's light-hearted and silly and the children enjoyed it immensely. Dr Who (David Tennant) narrates it and does a wonderful job. (purchased from Audible during a sale)

Mr Bliss by J.R.R. Tolkien - I selected this to listen to along with Kansas Dad because I thought Tolkien would be enjoyable for all but I wanted something less silly as a break before we had the last book of the Chitty trilogy. I failed, because this is one of the silliest stories we have ever heard. This children thought it perfectly hilarious. (purchased from Audible during a sale)

Fire on the Track by Roseanne Montillo - link to my post (review copy from Blogging for Books)

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - link to my post (purchased used copy).

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff - This was a perfect book to listen to with Kansas Dad. The story of the Iliad is magnificently told for younger listeners. It includes a few events we hadn't heard in other retellings and (as my children pointed out repeatedly) plenty of violence and gore. It was the Trojan War, after all. I didn't think it was too violent for my youngest at seven, but you might want to pre-listen or pre-read if you are unsure. (purchased from Audible during a sale)

Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery - Oh how I loved re-reading this book! (my very old used copy, purchased by my father decades ago)

Books in Progress (and date started)
The italic print: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). I like to use the little I earn on the blog to purchase birthday and Christmas gifts (usually books). Thanks! Try Audible - another affiliate link.

Links to RC History and are affiliate links. Other links (like those to Bethlehem Books) are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Friday, January 5, 2018

First Daughter is 11!

A few months ago, First Daughter turned 11. She was sick the night before her birthday, but recovered very quickly. We spent her birthday morning playing games while the others were at church. We had lunch at a restaurant with Grammy and Paw Paw and then had frozen custard. For dinner she requested chicken enchiladas. We only had candy for dessert (her request).

We delayed her pancake-as-big-as-your-head birthday breakfast until the day after her birthday since she wasn't feeling well on her birthday morning. She ate the whole thing!

Her birthday party was on her baptismal anniversary, so angel food cake was perfect. (It also has the benefit of being dairy free for her best friend.)

It was a pretty simple party; mostly she wanted to watch Moana with her friends and have popcorn and lots of sugary snacks. That night, for her baptismal anniversary dinner, we had chicken noodle soup.

Favorite foods: chicken noodle soup, enchiladas, potstickers, dumplings.

Favorite candy: fruit sour balls from a local candy shop.

And the obligatory baptismal anniversary squirt of spray whipped cream in the mouth. I'm not sure how this tradition started, but I'm pretty sure First Daughter was the instigator.

She is now in fifth grade and more than any of the others actually enjoys her lessons.

Reading is one of her favorite things to do. She breezes through most of her lessons.

Favorite books: The Ranger's Apprentice series, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Hidden Treasure of Glaston. (These are pretty much the most recent books she's read; she likes just about anything as long as it's not too sad.)

Favorite lessons: history, people and places, maps.

Least favorite lesson: (It took her a long time to think of one) The Story of Inventions. She thinks the chapters are too long. (I'll probably write a post on this later; it's not my favorite, either.)

Once a week, First Daughter has to go into town for an allergy shot. She's just passed the half-way point for the weekly shots and we're all looking forward to being done with the weekly appointments. The good news is that we've combined her trip into town with being a mother's helper for a family from our parish. This is her second year as a mother's helper (with a second family) and she absolutely loves it. She cleans, she bakes, she cooks, she plays with the little ones, she organizes, she tackles projects, whatever! It's different every week. She learns a lot by spending time with another family and (I hope!) is helpful to a young mom with lots of little ones.

She competed in her first taekwondo tournament the weekend of her birthday. She placed first in both her form and her sparring and was very pleased! She also tested in October and is now a blue belt red tip and more than halfway to a black belt.

watching the solar eclipse
She loves hiking with her dad and big brother. They do the long hikes together while I keep the younger ones with me.

Favorite games: Snake Oil, Apples to Apples Jr, Taboo.

She cares profoundly for justice. We joke that she should be a lawyer and work for non-profits and the downtrodden because she cannot stand by when a sibling is being unfair to another sibling.

As always, First Daughter took swimming lessons last summer. She's learning to dive quite well.

First Daughter loves to cook and bake. She's taken over the daily bread-making (in our bread machine) and is usually the one to make muffins for our snacks. She would make cakes or cookies every day, too, but Kansas Dad and I have to set limits or we'd all be eating way too much dessert.

First Daughter continues with her piano lessons. She loves to play and practices more than anyone else in the family. This year, she also joined the homeschool band and is learning to play the saxophone (like her dad). She has improved tremendously in just a few months and recently performed in her first concert.

She loves people. She loves to be out and about, chatting and laughing. She loves to write letters and writes at least one a week even if she doesn't receive any.

Happy birthday, First Daughter, and may you have a blessed 12th year!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Joy in the Natural World: My Family and Other Animals

by Gerald Durrell

This book is recommended as a nature study book in 
Mater Amabilis™ ™Level 4, eighth grade. It is the memoir of Gerald Durrell, who moved to Corfu in Greece with his mother and siblings when he was about ten. Though autobiographical, the book takes significant liberties; his brother's wife, for example, is not mentioned at all.

The natural descriptions are lovely.
The goats poured among the olives, uttering stammering cries to each other, the leader's bell clonking rhythmically. The chaffinches tinkled excitedly. A robin puffed out his chest like a tangerine among the myrtles and gave a trickle of song. The island was drenched with dew, radiant with early morning sun, full of stirring life. Be happy. How could one be anything else in such a season?
The description of an early life spent wandering an island, often accompanied by a naturalist, is practically the ideal Charlotte Mason study of the natural world. He even writes about scribbling and sketching in journals.
Theodore had an apparently inexhaustible fund of knowledge about everything, but he imparted this knowledge with a sort of meticulous diffidence that made you feel he was not so much teaching you something new, as reminding you of something which you were already aware of, but which had, for some reason or other, slipped your mind.
Each Thursday, Theodore and the author would wander outside, letting the day and the natural world guide their feet and their minds.
Every water-filled ditch or pool was, to us, a teeming and unexplored jungle, with the minute cyclops and water-fleas, green and coral pink, suspended like birds among the underwater branches, while on the muddy bottom the tigers of the pool would prowl: the leeches and the dragon-fly larvae. Every hollow tree had to be closely scrutinized in case it should contain a tiny pool of water in which mosquito-larvae were living, every mossy wigged rock had to be overturned to find out what lay beneath it, and every rotten log had to be dissected.
This is how I imagine nature study should be, though for us it usually devolves into sword-fighting with sticks and someone sketching mud.

Throughout the book are hilarious stories of misadventures, like the time Gerry captured a mother scorpion covered with her youth and trapped them in a matchbox, which his brother mistakenly opens when searching for a match at the dinner table. Chaos ensued.

There is some crude language, especially from one of their Greek friends, and some references to sex, though nothing my thirteen-year-old has never heard. There's quite a bit of drinking and one episode in which a brother drinks himself into a stupor and nearly sleeps through a blazing inferno in his bedroom.

The Durrell family is not Catholic and there are some references to the Catholic faith of Greeks on the island. In one episode, they are trapped in a surge of people pouring into a church to kiss the feet of a local saint and ask his intercession. Gerry's sister does so and comes down with influenza which is blamed on the saint.

Gerry names one of the animals frequenting his room Geronimo, in honor of the "Red Indian," which while meant to be complimentary is not written with contemporary language. It's hard to know how I would feel about the passage if our family were Native American.

Finally, there is a description of a female dog going into heat and attracting many males, including the three of the household.
It was owing to this Victorian innocence that Dodo fell an easy victim to the lure of Puke's magnificent ginger eyebrows, and so met a fate worse than death when Mother inadvertently locked them in the drawing-room together while she supervised the making of tea. The sudden and unexpected arrival of the English padre and his wife, ushering them into the room in which the happy couple were disporting themselves, and the subsequent efforts to maintain a normal conversation, left Mother feeling limp, and with a raging headache.
Such episodes are scattered throughout the book, though most are much more innocent. I just wanted to mention these so a parent could be aware of pretty much everything if you (like me) assign it before actually reading it.

The language is delightful, love of the natural world flows throughout, and the antics are uproarious. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and count it as one of the best books I read in 2017.

I purchased this book used and this post reflects my honest opinion.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Women who Ran: Fire on the Track

by Roseanne Montillo

When the modern Olympic games began in 1896, women were not allowed on any team. Gradually, over the years, a few women's events were instituted, with the first track and field women's teams in 1928. Roseanne Montillo shares the stories of the women who competed for the United States (and one for Poland) in the Olympic Games in 1928, 1932, and 1936. She weaves personal information on the women gleaned from diaries and interviews with broader strokes revealing the America of the Great Depression and the contentious environment in which women athletes began to train and excel. A few of the athletes were women of color and some of their additional struggles are mentioned as well.

For someone interested in early women athletes and the environment in which they participated, this is a nice introduction to the women of track and field. It brings together a huge amount of sources and stories though sometimes I found it a little difficult to follow all the stories as it jumped from one woman to the next.

Originally, I thought I might share this book with my daughter (currently in fifth grade), but there are a number of references and topics that would make this book best suited for more mature readers. Early in the book, one of the coaches is described openly as having affairs, and sexual promiscuity is mentioned as one of the "advances" of the 1920s, along with shorter hair and dancing the Charleston. One of the athletes, Stella Walsh, suffered terribly as a result of her mixed anatomical physical appearance (a hermaphrodite), which is integral to part of her story as an athlete.

The most disturbing experiences are those of Helen Stephens. When she was nine, she was assaulted by an older male cousin. Two years later (when she was eleven), she was again abused by a female teacher while she was staying at Helen's home. In both cases, the book describes the experiences not necessarily as something devastating and morally wrong that happened to Helen, but as experiences that confirmed her own identification as a woman attracted to women. That may be how Helen described them later, as a adult, but I feel like the author might have been more objective in the telling. The latter experience in particular would rightly today be recognized as an egregious wrong against an eleven-year-old girl, and I certainly wouldn't want my daughter to encounter something like that as it's described in the book.

Unfortunately for me, these few pages shifted my feelings about the book from interested and appreciative to ambivalent. If you can see your way past them, the rest of the book could be quite enjoyable.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions above are my own. The links above are not affiliate links, but the book is also available at Amazon (affiliate link).

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Games of Math: Counting and Number Bonds and Addition and Subtraction

by Denise Gaskins 

I reviewed Let's Play Math by Denise Gaskins in February 2016. At the time, I think I'd already been using these two books for half a school year, but I haven't take the time to review them. On Facebook and in person, I highly recommend Let's Play Math to just about any homeschooling family struggling with math. I also think it's just about the best thing a new homeschooling mother or father could read. No matter what curriculum you choose for math, Let's Play Math can help you understand it and implement it for your children and help you create an environment of mathematical curiosity that can benefit any student. I know my family would have been much better off if I'd read it earlier!

So now that you know I want you to read that first, let's talk about Math You Can Play Combo. This book includes two books: Counting and Number Bonds and Addition and Subtraction.

This book (or rather, these two together) constitute the spine of our math curriculum for prekindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade. I begin with Counting and Number Bonds and we just work through the books playing one game a week (sometimes multiple times) through the whole book. If I had started really young, I may have repeated Counting and Number Bonds, but with the two who started this way, I moved right on to Addition and Subtraction.

In addition, sometimes I read math stories out loud to the whole family as a read-aloud. Let's Play Math has a large list of such books as does the author's website. We also play games from our well-stocked game shelves during math time. I specifically schedule those games through first grade, so Second Son is currently the only one who gets to pick a game once a week. We don't start "formal" math until second grade with the Life of Fred books and Khan Academy. I do let Second Son use Khan Academy, because he felt left out, but only for a short time a few times a week.

I almost can't say enough fantastic things about the Let's Play Math game books. My youngest two children, Second Daughter and Second Son, are the ones who benefited from them. Of course, we changed up a lot between the older two and these two because that's when we switched away from Saxon over to Life of Fred, so it's hard to say if any particular change made all the difference, but our whole attitude toward math is dramatically improved with the younger two.

They love playing these games. In fact, it's not uncommon for Second Daughter to insist she's done with her independent work so she can play with Second Son during his game time. Or she'll ask to play some of the games outside of school time. (Snugglenumber is a particular favorite; she's even taught a friend to play it with her.) The great benefit here is that interest in the game encourages repetition of the math facts and skills. More practice with the basic counting, grouping, addition, and subtraction in these games leads to consistent success and, eventually, the ability to focus instead on more complex math.

The games almost all use cards you already own. (There are a few boards you can make and lots of printables included with purchase of the book if you don't want to make your own.) For the most part, I open the book and we play the game without any preparation. Along with the games are brief explanations of the math behind the games and strategies for guiding children through the math involved.

Some of the games seem like they'll be too challenging for the child, but we always give them a try. Over and over again, I see them succeed when I might have neglected to even give them the opportunity.

Though First Son and First Daughter seemed to do well with the mental math exercises when we were using Saxon, both Second Daughter and Second Son seem to do mental gymnastics without even realizing it's a skill. Sometimes when Second Son tries to walk me through his mental process to come up with a math answer, I can hardly follow him, but it works!

I have the Kindle version of the game books and they work great. The pictures are clear. The text is well-formatted and easy to navigate from the contents. Still, if I could go back, I'd invest a little more money to get the paperback versions. It's a hassle to pull out my Kindle during school time and then switching around within the two ebooks to find where I am with different children as we work through them. I also think the kids might play some of the games on their own if they had access to the paperback. (I don't let them use my Kindle.) If you use a e-reader more regularly during school time, have only one child, or combine children for math games, that's not as much of an issue.

Because we had such a good experience with these books, I purchased the Kindle version of Multiplication and Fractions. First Daughter (age 11, in 5th grade) and Second Daughter (age 9, in 3rd grade) each play with me once a week.

I purchased this books separately for the Kindle (rather than the combo book) and received a discounted price. I can't remember if they were discounted for everyone or if I received a discount from the author. Either way, this post gives my honest opinion. Links above to the books are Amazon affiliate links.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Nature Journal Inspiration: The Curious Nature Guide

by Clare Walker Leslie

Many years ago I read Keeping a Nature Journal and was inspired. It helped me feel more confident going out on nature walks with the children, but it wasn't the kind of book I would have read out loud to them.

Now, though, we have The Curious Nature Guide! I added a "nature" reading to our meal-time reading this year, mostly to accommodate Pagoo which I'm reading out loud for (probably) the last time for my youngest. When I saw this book at the library, though, I knew I was going to read it to them first.

It's full of beautiful illustrations, examples and sketches from the author's own nature journals, and the kind of prompts that make nature study easier to manage. Designed for people who might be noticing the natural world around them for the first time, even those who might live in populated cities, it's small steps are also perfect for young people faced with a blank journal page during nature study. Even after a few years under our belts, I thought the suggestions in the book would be helpful to my children.

There are a few main sections, but no chapters proper. We read a few pages at a time once or twice a week (with a break when I had to return it to the library).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Innovations and Consequences: Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy

by Tim Harford

This book caught my eye in our library catalog and so I managed to read a book the same year it was published. This is a pretty easy book to read in small snippets and, while thought-provoking at times, isn't the kind of complicated book that requires reading before children are awake or after they've gone to bed. It explores sometimes surprising effects of inventions most of us take for granted today.
But we shouldn't fall into the trap of assuming that inventions are nothing but solutions. They're much more than that. Inventions shape our lives in unpredictable ways--and while they're solving a problem for someone, they're often creating a problem for someone else.
Unfortunately, those problems often seem to fall disproportionately on the poor.

The selected fifty inventions are grouped into broad categories: Winners and Losers (like barbed wire), Reinventing How We Live (like the birth control pill), Inventing New Systems (like the bar code), Ideas About Ideas (like double-entry bookkeeping), Where Do Inventions Come From? (like chemical fertilizer), The Visible Hand (like antibiotics in farming), and Inventing the Wheel (like paper money).

Each short chapter presents the story of an invention and an exploration of the myriad ways it has spread its influence through our current global economy. Some of these inventions were ones I hadn't much considered, like property registers. The author also points out how these inventions or their repercussions impact problems we still see in the world like trade deficits and developing countries (in an already developed world).
It's reasonable to assume that future inventions will deliver a similar pattern: broadly, they will solve problems and make us richer and healthier, but the gains will be uneven and there will be blunders and missed opportunities.
Overall, this was a fascinating read and quite enjoyable, even if I don't agree with all the author's assertions. I did appreciate the extensive endnotes. I also added a whole slew of notations in my Book of Centuries.

Monday, November 27, 2017

2016 Advent Books: Picture Book a Day, Read Alouds, and Poetry

Yes, 2016. You read that right. I never posted last year on what we did and I'm going to pretend it was on purpose so I could inspire some Advent planning just in time for this year!

If you don't already know, some crazy people wrap a picture book to open each day during Advent (or between Christmas and Epiphany). Yeah, I'm one of those crazy people. This all started because I love picture books and because our kids don't actually open many presents from us, so we get a little present-opening fun throughout Advent. I don't buy all the books; I just go ahead and wrap library books. The kids know some of these books have to go back to the library and don't seem to mind.

Every year I think about not wrapping a picture book a day because my kids are getting older, but so far I've just kept it up. This year there are only three weeks of Advent so it seems silly to give it up when it's so easy! So I'm going to wrap some this year, again.

Last year, Advent was as long as possible because Christmas was on a Sunday. Most of our books were repeats from previous years and you can find those by perusing some of the other posts, but I thought I'd write about the ones that were new to us.

Last year, in 2016, First Son (turned 13 during Advent) wasn't very interested in the picture books. First Daughter (10) just wanted to read them aloud, so she mostly read them after one of the younger two (ages 8 and 6) opened them. They took turns, somehow, all handled on their own.

Here are the picture books that were new to us in 2016 (all library books):

The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes, illustrated by Tasha Tudor - This was one of Second Daughter's favorites last year (when she was 8). I checked it out again this year and she remembered it with joy. A shivering cat finds a new home with a loving family on Christmas morning.

Just Right for Christmas by Birdie Black, illustrated Rosalind Beardshaw - This book is reminiscent of one of my absolute favorites, Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree, but it's easier to get from our library. Second Son (6 last year) remember this one and immediately grabbed it to read when I checked it out again this year. A bit of cloth provides Christmas presents for a ever increasing number of people and animals in smaller and smaller increments.

Latkes and Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Robin Spowart - Though I still can't decide if a Hanukkah story is perfect for Advent reading or if we should avoid Hanukkah stories in deference to those of Jewish faith. We read it because I loved the story of a generous family who shared all they had with a stray cat and dog and were rewarded with a Hanukkah miracle.

The Christmas Boot by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney - I love Pinkney's illustrations and they complement well this story of a lonely woman who finds a miraculous boot. In the end, she has to return the boot to its rightful owner but is left with an even better gift.

This First Christmas Night by Laura Godwin, illustrated by William Low - This book uses a sweet and simple text to set the stage for the first Nativity and it's wonderfully illustrated. It's perfect for even the littlest ones who are so easily overwhelmed down by lengthy Nativity picture books.

Christmas in the Country by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode - This is a nice little book about a girl remembering Christmas at her childhood home with her grandparents.

One Night in a Stable by Guido Visconti, illustrated by Alessandra Cimatoribus - This is the Nativity story from the point of view of a lonely ox who, seeking for his master, finds many to invite into the warmth of his stable. I feel like the illustrations are the main benefit of this book; they're unusual in their colors and geometry.

Findus at Christmas by Sven Nordqvist - Oh, how we love Findus in all his books! This book has a lot of text, probably too much for very young listeners. Findus the cat and Pettson his owner-friend, are quirky and wonderful. They make the best of every ridiculous situation. In this book, they celebrate Christmas in the best way - with generous friends and neighbors. Read all the Findus books!

Mary's Song written by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn - This is another lovely picture book on the Nativity, beautifully illustrated. This one encourages us to be quiet and contemplate the infant Jesus, cradled in his mother's arms as she quietly sings to him.


The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat - Every year we read a version of this poem. Though I own a couple, I tend to choose a new one from the library. This one has a lovely pop-up at the end of the poem.

Then we continued to read from The Oxford Book of Christmas Poems edited by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark. We started this in 2015 and will continue it in 2017. I haven't decided if I'll read a poem a day from it instead of our current poet (Langston Hughes) or if I'll read from it once a week during our poetry time. This has a wide variety of poems and we're enjoying it.


Usually, I replace our "fun" read-aloud during Advent with something holiday-related. Last year, we read I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge which is a sweet tale. A small girl spends her first Christmas after her parents die with her spinster aunts. There's a friendly but distraught French man, a wandering uncle, and an open window for the angels. Of course, three ships arrive on Christmas morning amidst great rejoicing. I had checked it out using inter-library loan, but bought a used copy at a very reasonable price the July before I read it aloud.

On our way to my parent's house after Christmas, we also listened to an audio version of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I love reading Dickens but the audio version read by Tim Curry was fantastic. This year, we're going to listen to a version by Simon Vance. (I purchased both of these audio books on sale from Audible in 2016.)

Past Advent-Picture-Book-a-Day Booklists

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Simple and Easy Advent Activity Chain for 2017

Advent is about a week away! I love Advent and all the traditions we've slowly built up over the years. The Advent activity chain is a nice and easy way to start with little ones, as long as you have one with activities that fit well with your daily life.

For years now, our family has made our own Advent activity chain. As our children grew, the activities grew and changed a bit with them. This year, we may make a chain without activities at all (gasp!).

I've also continued to make one designed for families with lots of little children. We put them all together and then gave them to our godchildren or children in my Catechesis class or the neighbors - whoever we thought might like a bit of Advent planned and ready to go.

Early on, I would print them out and make them, but now, First Daughter does it! She cuts all the activity pages into rectangles, slices pink and purple construction paper, and tapes one activity one each slice. We then deliver them to local families with little ones. They're easier to deliver in stacks of flat rectangles; it's pretty simple for the families to link the chains themselves. We include a little paragraph to explain, just in case. I don't know if everyone loves them, but I've heard from a few mothers that it's nice to have something so simple and easy for little ones.
Find the strip for December 24th. Tape or staple it into a loop. Find the strip with the next date on it (December 23rd) and run it through the loop you just made. Tape or staple it. Continue with all of the strips until you reach November 30th. You’ll end up with a chain of loops – one for each day of Advent. Each day, tear off the strip on the end for the day’s date and do the activity together.
We always use pink for the third week of Advent and purple for the rest of the links, but you could also alternate pink and purple, or use all purple. Or just use whatever construction paper you have lying around.

An old picture of a chain long used up
I've uploaded this year's activities as a PDF on my Google drive. Feel free to print it out to make an Advent activity chain for your own family or as a gift for someone else.