Sunday, November 30, 2008

Clueless in Tokyo Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Clueless in Tokyo: An explorer’s sketchbook of weird and wonderful things in Japan
Author: Betty Reynolds
Genre: Travel, nonfiction adult
Format: Softcover book
ISBN: 9780834803862

Rating: 5 stars

Summary Statement: NOT a Children’s Book – Has Some Mature Content --Great for Adults

I discovered this book while shopping on Amazon for children’s nonfiction picture books about Japan and Japanese culture. It was included by Amazon in with children’s books in the preview of “people who bought this book also bought these books”. (I had trouble finding in-print nonfiction books for children about Japanese culture.)

Betty Reynolds is a children’s book author and illustrator. However this is NOT a children’s book, I realized after reading it.

I purchased the book from Amazon, sight unseen, with the intention of reading it to my children. When it arrived I saw that it looked like a children’s book due to the size of the book being a common size of children’s picture books and the page count (48 pages) and because it has lively illustrations and simple text so much like nonfiction children’s books on the market. But what this is, is an artist’s sketchbook and travel journal written by an adult for adults. It is about the author’s travels to Japan and the things she noticed that are unique or very different from Japan.

Our family was preparing to accept a Japanese foreign exchange student into our home and my kids were excited. Unfortunately my son, age ten, asked that we sit and read it together as soon as it was delivered. I had no clue that there might be something problematic in the book. It is fine for kids except for three entries that I discovered ‘too late’ while reading the book alongside my older son. Here are the issues. One spread features vending machines selling unusual things (compared to American vending machines). One item is “schoolgirls used panties”. I didn’t quite know how to discuss that with my son so after we exchanged odd looks I flipped the page and moved on. Another entry shows a woman wearing a bra that looks like naked breasts that holds “generous servings of body warmed sake”, okey-dokey. The last mature themed item is a man holding a sign to advertise sex shows.

From an adult’s perspective I can say I did enjoy this book overall. I also love to read artist’s journals and travel journal books and travel sketch books. If you are an adult and enjoy travel books and artists sketch books you will like this. The illustrations are done in bright watercolor paints (just like the cover illustration). I enjoyed reading the author’s thoughts as well, they were entertaining and interesting.

I am rating the book based on what it is: a travel book, an artist’s sketchbook, the genre is nonfiction and it is for adults, so I am giving it 5 stars.

However a main reason I’m writing this review is to underscore that although this author writes and illustrates picture books for children aged 4-8 this book is NOT A CHILDREN’S BOOK. If she had left out those three adult themed items this would be also GREAT for kids to read to themselves or have read aloud to them.

If you enjoyed or think you will enjoy this book, Reynolds has written a second book “Still Clueless in Tokyo” (which I have not read yet).

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

(Homeschool) Class Project

This is the log cabin that was built by students in an experiental class for homeschoolers.

The cabin was built in the 2006-2007 year.

The addition of the 'balcony' was built in the fall 2007 session.

My older son worked on this cabin and the 'balcony'.

I took the photograph then altered it in Photoshop.

Different and other education is a good thing. The fact that we homeschool allows us to choose various classes held in the community. Not all learning experiences that my children do are taught by me inside the walls of our home.

If you enjoy this let me know and I will share the realistic looking photos and will explain more about the project.

Robot Dreams Book Review by ChristineMM

Robot Dreams
Author: Sara Varon
Genre: Graphic Novel, children, wordless
Format: softcover books
ISBN: 9781596431089

Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Summary Statement: Touching Story, Wordless

Book review by ChristineMM

Robot Dreams is a sweet tale told in comic book style. It is a wordless book. The sweet and innocent nature of this book allows it to be enjoyed by very young children yet the message and story can be enjoyed and appreciated by adults.

The story takes place over thirteen month’s time and the plot is very much associated with the changing seasons. It is a story of friendship between a dog (living and acting as a human) who buys a robot kit and assembles his new robot friend. When the robot rusts and stiffens while at the beach, trouble ensues.

I can’t give the story away so I’ll have to stop with the story summary at this point. The ending was surprising and very much not what I thought would happen.

The take away message for me was that friendships are important and the good memories can live on in our hearts even if due to various circumstances, friends become separated and they go off in different directions.

I’m not sure if all young children will get that same message from the book.

My eleven year old son who is a robot-lover and graphic book lover really enjoyed this book.

My younger son, aged eight, read it and enjoyed it.

I read it and loved it. Due to the nature of the story and despite the characters being male, I think girls might like the story itself, if they are graphic novel lovers. The story may be too juvenile for teens unless they are specifically interested in the storytelling form of the graphic novel.

The book also has an educational component if someone wishes to use it in that way. Teachers could use this to show how a story is built and how the trajectory builds up as the book goes on. Since it is wordless it can be consumed in a short time frame making it easy to teach from. Art teachers could use this as an example of the graphic novel format and to help teach student about drawing comics or using the graphic novel format. It could also be used as writing prompt for writing composition. Students could try to write a chapter of the story using the book as the source material. I am planning to use this book in those ways with my homeschooled children.

I am a lover of books and the written word, however the more I read graphic novels of a different type than Superhero-based action stories, the more I am coming to appreciate the art form and the difficulty of communicating a storyline in purely visual format for the wordless graphic novels, and also for those with far less words than ‘text only’ books. It takes a special talent to be able to portray in all visuals, a complete and touching story. Sara Varon has succeeded with her story Robot Dreams.

While the value of traditional books will never fade, I do hope that the graphic novel genre continues to grow with high quality stories artfully told.

How I Came to Read This Book: I found it on the shelf at a local Barnes & Noble and due to its cost I decided to borrow it from the public library. However we love it so much I may buy it and use it in our homeschooling. After I read it I heard Amy of the Creative Mom Podcast, in episode #113, review and recommend it.

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Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books November 29, 2008 Edition

The Saturday Review of Books November 29, 2008 edition has been published at Semicolon. Take a look at what bloggers are saying about the books they are reading.

Consider posting a review too!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Proof of the Decline

Regarding this.

Two things:

1. Note the grammar error from management staff. Incompetence in English grammar, resulting from either sub-par American education or from attending a school that has removed English grammar from the scope and sequence. Most likely it is one of those two things causing it. To those who feel that spelling doesn’t matter, cash registers don’t have spell check, I guess, so the old ‘spell check will catch it’ didn’t work this time.

2. Proof of more of the ‘self-esteem’ generation. Prop ‘em up for not just being mediocre but for being a poor work performer.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving feast.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family and our table to yours!

Some photos of our dinner in progress:

The gravy is reducing...

The larger turkey made with traditional brine...

The smaller turkey made with dry brine. The verdict is this one was juicier.

Sweet Potato Souffle

Pies from Aspetuck Valley Apple Barn, well the boxes at least.

Thanksgiving Menu 2008

Thanksgiving at Our House

Menu 2008

Turkey, 15 lbs, Gozzi’s Turkey Farm, Guilford Connecticut
Dry brine recipe found on, recipe on Use Real Butter

Turkey, 18 lbs, Gozzi’s Turkey Farm, Guilford Connecticut
Wet brine recipe and method from Alton Brown, with homemade stock

Both turkeys cooked with “Good Eats Roast Turkey” recipe from Alton Brown, from Food Network website

Photos taken at Gozzi's Turkey Farm, Guilford, Connecticut:

Gravy from scratch, roux based, not corn starch

Sausage and Apple Stuffing from Food Network website (a family tradition)

stuffing made with homemade bread, Arthur Sands Basic White Bread recipe from the King Arthur Flour cookbook (also published online)

Sweet Potato Souffle, recipe from Anita Estroff from Food Network website (a family tradition)

Mashed Potatoes, from scratch, our own recipe, white potatoes, butter, cream, salt, estimated measurements by sight

Creamed Spinach, my husband’s made up recipe

Orange-Cranberry Relish, our own recipe

Cranberry Jelly from a can

Dutch Apple Pie, from Aspetuck Valley Apple Barn, Easton Connecticut, purchased frozen and unbaked, we’ll bake it

Pumpkin Pie, from Aspetuck Valley Apple Barn, Easton Connecticut, purchased frozen and unbaked, we’ll bake it

Vanilla ice cream, from grocery store, for kids or with pie a la mode

Homemade whipped cream for pie for those not having having a la mode

Roasted Chestnuts

Café au Lait made with whole milk and Café du Monde ground coffee

All photos taken by ChristineMM in November 2008.

Older Son's Top Three Gratitude List Items

While decluttering I found a slip of paper written by my older son. This is from either April or May 2008 when he was ten years old.

He was to write down (just for his own information) three things he is grateful for. In other words they were not to be shared with the big group of kids.

I'll share them.

1. having toys

2. having a house

3. Mom being able to stay home

I was glad I made it onto the list. As I recall back then one of my son's close friends was lamenting that he wished he was homeschooled but he could not be since his mother works long hours outside the home, including some weekend days. His father also works long hours and has shifts on weekends and is on call at other times. The reference to me being able to stay home was more about my son being able to be homeschooled than it was to have a mom at home as schooled kids do.

One thing is a fun and not necessary thing (toys) and one thing was a basic necessity for survival (shelter). So I won't complain that a material fun possession thing made it to the number one spot. I won't accuse him of being materialistic.

In the years to come I am sure that he will have other and possibly less desirable things in his top three things to be happy about, grateful for or to enjoy doing. I dread the teenage years and hope that our close family bonds and possibly also that homeschooling and living this alternative lifestyle will allow my children to stay away from some of the worse kinds of activities including issues of safety risk to his health, and participation in illegal activities. For example: smoking, taking drugs for recreation, underage drinking, binge drinking and getting drunk, driving while under the influence, reckless driving, risky 'fun' activities like cliff jumping in unsafe places, so on and so forth.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thoughts vs. Memories

Thoughts are recycled information.

Memories are recyled relationships.

-Deepok Chopra

I had jotted it down while listening to something of his, an audiobook or a lecture. I came across the scrap of paper while decluttering today.

I thought it was interesting then and still think it is interesting now.

Unless They Go Back, It's Goodbye Google From Me

Google is my favorite Internet search engine, so much that it is set as my home page. I use it many times a day. Why? Because it works. Actually, I need to correct that statement. It did work, but with this new system, I don't know if it will continue to work. Based on issues with Amazon and YouTube I am skeptical.

I was really surprised yesterday when I saw Google, that the search engine had changed.

1. It now allows social promotion for every entry.

a. There was an upward facing arrow to click if you like the webpage, to bump it up.
b. There was an 'x' symbol to nix it out if you didn't like the webpage

2. Every webpage now has a comment screen.

I was at a loss for why they did that and hadn't heard a peep about it, not in the blogosphere and not in the media.

It seems to me that a switch-over from a regular Internet search engine to shifting to the world's largest site promotion website would be news. When I say that I am comparing the new Google to Digg, delicious and others in which users promote webpages they like.

Google would be wise to inform themselves of the issues that Amazon has faced regarding customer reviews. The issues reveal ethical issues and cheating by users who either work to promote themselves or who work to tear down their competitors.

Also regarding the free text comment window, that is a bad idea. I am not looking forward, for example, of being criticized and defamed, slandered and such by rude or insane anonymous people. If comments are allowed it also opens up issues such as profanity use and inappropriate language. When my children use Google to search for sites do I now have to worry of what they may read in the comments? One can learn quite easily from the YouTube comments that they can be a real problem. I know of one YouTuber who is an African-American woman who was getting comments that in some states would be legally considered to be a hate crime due to the defamation language regarding her race. Others had rude words for her because she was a woman. She changed her YouTube account to allow comments for her 'YouTube friends' only. Monitoring her comments was upsetting to her and was nothing but a problem.

What will Google do to monitor and delete inappropriate comments?

What will Google to do ensure that website owners or bloggers don't falsely promote their own webpages to try to drive traffic to their sites? And legitimately, if my own blog posts appear near the top should I be promoting them as they are indeed a good fit for that search criteria?

People who seek to drive traffic to their website or blogs love to complain that the Google search engine doesn't show their webpages. However I think that Google's move to stop being a 'regular old search engine' and to turn into a gigantic 'Digg' or similar site is a big mistake. Perhaps Google is making this change to satisfy those complainers?

I know that sometimes when I'm doing searches on Google I find low quality sites or sites that really don't tell me any information that I was looking for. Perhaps Google is trying to help weed out those types of sites. If so, I applaud them, however adding a human judgement element that then controls future viewings that other users will see is risky. The feature may wind up hurting good sites also. For a similar issue, Amazon reviewers complain when their customer review does not appear on the first product page. If a review is buried behind due to space constrictions, that review has a chance of not being ever seen or rated, or appreciated by other users.

Yesterday I spent a bit of time trying to find something on the Google site to announce and explain this change. I was curious why they were doing it and how it worked. I wanted to confirm my suspicions. I couldn’t find a trace of this anywhere. Today the feature is not on my Google page. I wonder if this is a beta testing that is being rolled out randomly, that I got it yesterday but didn’t get it today?

I get a lot of blog hits from Google. I suspect this is because I use Technorati tags to put categories on nearly every post that I do, just for the purpose of having the post picked up by various sites so that potential blog readers can be directed here. I am curious if the changes and how I will be affected by the ensuing fraud that users will do (as they have clearly done on for years).

Google should revisit their mission for their search engine and seek to provide a service that meets that mission statement. Google has been the most popular search engine, from what I hear, so why they are changing it for the worse is beyond my comprehension.

Update 2:10 pm: I'm still checking this out and if it is something that doesn't affect Google's ability to find the sites, if it is just what we individual people see, then I have no complaints. I didn't quite understand the message from Google about it when I tested the featur out today.

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The Weird Thing About Decluttering

It is so strange how deciding what to get rid of can sometimes seem almost painful, at the very least, it can be a struggle. Yet when the things are gone, they are not missed, and nothing feels different. I mean, sometimes it feels like if I am going to lose a piece of myself. I know that statement is illogical but it is true, and it is one I’ve heard others say so I know I’m not alone with that notion.

Yet after letting go of stuff, we are left with a more organized space, with less visual clutter.

The hard part of decluttering is not the physical actions but the mental energy it takes to decide what to let go of and what to keep, and where to store it.

It is odd that something that took debate about “will I use this again” and “surely I can’t part with this as it will be needed in the future” is never actually missed.

It is good that the memory of something is sufficient. We don’t need to keep the thing in our possession to remember that thing, or that good time we had using that thing, or the usefulness of that thing to do something. And some things that were let go of erase from my memory and are never missed at all.

When clutter is here, making a mess, being in the way, taking up space, it almost constantly generates negative thoughts of varying kinds. Some things generate the thought “I’m not good enough as I still haven’t been able to find time to use that thing”. Other times it makes me think “if you were more organized or more disciplined or more (fill in the blank) then this space would look neat instead of cluttered up”.

The last thing I need is stupid material possessions to spark negative thoughts in my mind. I get enough negativity from the outside world and people in my life to allow things and stuff to contribute to it.

I’m making progress with the book decluttering project, if you can’t tell. Enlightened thoughts and the positive outlook are indicators of progress and getting over the hurdle that the middle of such a project presents.

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Carnival of Homeschooling Week 152 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling #152 was published at The Common Room.

I have an entry in this blog carnival. This Carnival provides a lot of homeschool-related reading. Take a look!

If you have a blog or a website and write about homeschooling I encourage you to consider submitting an entry to this weekly blog Carnival. For information on how to make a submission, see here.


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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Winter's Coming

It is getting cold!

Photo taken by ChristineMM on November 23, 2008, in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Thoughts About Comments on My Blog

I have edited the message on my blog that people see when they try to leave a comment.

It now reads:

I really enjoy hearing your thoughts. If I don't reply it is only because I didn't have time. These comments are moderated so I see every one before it is published.

Keep the comments profanity free please.

Dissenting opinions are encouraged as I feel they encourage thought. You are allowed to disagree with me! I applaud free thinkers, even if we agree to disagree on our opinions.

The only comments that are rejected are spam comments or in rare cases, are rude and insulting to me as a person. I also reject the comments that seek to defame someone else. I won't allow my blog won't be a place to slander other people, even though some have tried.

Thanks for reading my blog.

I get less comments than some blogs, compared to the number of visitors I have.

I do like receiving comments and am happy that in the last couple of months my blog readers are commenting more than ever in the 3.5 years that I've been publishing this blog.

If something you read here helped, can you let me know? All you have to say is "this was informative" or something short and simple.

If you learned something useful, please tell me in a blog comment. It doesn't have to be long.

Also appreciated is a plain old "thank you for posting this".

I have many blog posts in draft that need editing. Sometimes the blog comments I get help me decide which topics people want to read about. That helps me decide which of the many unfinished blog posts make it from neglected drafts to polished and published blog posts.

Thanks for reaidng my blog!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Not Around Here

All weekend I heard news reports that AAA says that travel will be down this Thanksgiving, down by a half million people who are choosing to stay home. This was reported like a great crisis. I heard it over and over and over and over. Enough already.

Yesterday I was on the highways for about five hours, maybe closer to six. The traffic was light. There was no traffic actually, we never got stuck in 'the typical spots' where traffic clogs up.

This morning I did an errand and could not believe all the people on the road. The Merritt Parkway and I-95 up going into New Haven and up the Connecticut shoreline was clogged. Compared to last Monday morning at that same time, there were at least three times, if not four times the amount of passenger vehicles, and still all the commercial vehicles and big rig truckers. We saw lots of license plates from New York and some from New Jersey.

Also today the lines at Costco for gas at about one in the afternoon were ridiculously long. It is never like this on a typical weekday. I was happy to pay $1.859 per gallon for gas today in Connecticut, and yesterday the price in Massachusetts at BJ's Wholesale Club was also $1.859. So gas prices are down by more than half of what they were, so does it make sense that people would choose to stay home rather than do car travel?

I've been hearing news reports that people are not shopping. Hogwash. The stores were more deserted in October when I started shopping. That is when I did my once yearly trip to a mall, to get gift cards for my nieces who must have exactly this or that store's gift card. Doing errands at Wal Mart, Costco, BJs Wholesale Club and Marshall's revealed, on both weekday mornings and weekends, to be nothing short of a zoo. I am talking about earlier in November right up to now, not just today. The roads are as clogged as ever and I see packed parking lots at strip malls and at the regular malls.

The people around here are spending, spending, spending.

I feel like the media is hyping us all up to expect the absolute worst regarding our economy and a recession or a depression. Even if a family is 'doing alright' today just like they were six months ago, they are worried now. People are all starting to worry if they will lose their jobs, even if all they are basing it on is the news.

I am starting to reconsider doing some things that will cost money. Today I am on the brink of cancelling plans to do a homeschool ski program for both of my kids this upcoming winter. They are both asking for fencing lessons and I'm starting to ask myself "is that really necessary" despite us spending zero for sports activities right now (so the budget is not blown yet). Note that in years past we passed up those opportunities due to our budget being too tight to allow us to do them. This year I was excited to have the freedom to choose to do them, if we wanted to.

For my sanity's sake I may have to shut off the news or leave the room when my husband has it on.

I don't want to live in fear.

And I do want to be content with the good things we do have rather than think that tomorrow it may all vanish.

A Poem About Suburbia by Tony Cavin

Untitled Poem from the book "The Bright Red Porcupine" by Tony Cavin.

Sitting in the shade
On a Sunday afternoon
In the heartland of Suburbia
Deep in status symbol country
Where each tries to outdo all others.
For what I do not know.
They too are helpless--
Trapped in the confines of conformity
Like a fly in the kitchen.

Tony Cavin was twelve years old when he wrote that poem and the others in this book. According to the book the boy "doesn't like English and shines in math", he had never showed any interest in writing or poetry and asked his mother to buy him a blank notebook while they were shopping in the grocery store. When she asked 'what for?' he said 'to fill with poems'. So she bought him the notebook. And he did fill it with poems. And they were published in this book, in 1969.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books November 22, 2008 Edition

The Saturday Review of Books November 22, 2008 edition has been published at Semicolon. Take a look at what bloggers are saying about the books they are reading.

Consider posting a review too!

Homeschooling Book Decluttering Project Continues

I continue to try to rid our family of books that we are done using or will never use.

The foyer and dining room continue to be stacked with books.

This must be done by Thanksgiving Day since relatives are coming to eat here, in the dining room.

I intentionally tackled this project as there was a deadline. I figured I could get it done in 17 days. It is amazing how things pop up and take up my time, robbing the time I thought I'd dedicate to this.

The hard part about this is that I really think I need to get rid of stuff. I am not just boxing extra books up and stashing them in the basement to store them. I am trying to deal with them, make decisions and get rid of some.

I even called a friend begging her to come and sit with me and help talk me through this, to encourage me to let go of some of these. She said she is not the one to help as she also has many books and has a hard time parting with them. Well it was worth a try.

The hard part is when I see good books that we have not taken time to use yet. I think, "Those books are perfect for a unit study on that topic so I shouldn't get rid of them". I also still have books that my older child has outgrown but my younger child has not yet used. So I feel I should save those.

I have three boxes so far, flagged to let go of. Yet as I go through these I am getting enthusiastic about doing this and that for our homeschooling studies. Yet the problem remains that we have only SO MUCH TIME.

This is the whole issue in a nutshell. After years of trying to tackle the clutter monster I came to realize this about myself. I also wonder if other packrats have this same issue? The issue is I have so many ideas and I think, "If I only had access to those materials then we'd do that thing". Then after getting the stuff, whatever 'the stuff' is, I need the time to do it in. There is a disconnect or shall I say a mismatch of ideas and projects and the time and energy it would take to do those things, with real life time and ability. So the stuff sits and waits to be used and consumed or used and thrown away, or used and passed on to charity or to resell or whatever. It sits and waits. And all the while we're living life and doing this or that thing with our time and energy. And the stuff accumulates.

Due to trying to save money, when we were having financial issues due to unemployment and underemployment, I felt compelled to buy materials up for use in the future, if said materials could be found inexpensively. It is true that we own over 8000 books but about 1000 were given to me free of charge and many others were 25 cents, 50 cents or even $1.

The fact that I paid little or nothing doesn’t help when I'm considering letting go of something that we haven't used yet, if it is still something that we may use in the future. For example I have a writing composition curriculum that is not a good fit for my older son. I was close to letting it go. However it may be a good fit for my younger son. So I'm keeping it.

I wish I could fix the issue I have with too many ideas and not enough time to do them in. I'd like to have it come to me more naturally, what I'm capable of and restrict intake of stuff to just what we can use. It is a conscious effort for me to not intake more stuff than we need. I think I fixed it regarding my clothing, shoes, jewelry, kid’s toys and kid’s clothes, those categories are under control. I fixed it with house decorating stuff and kitchen gadgets and cooking stuff. The last holdout area for me is the homeschooling supplies. It just is more challenging for some reason.

I've also been working on taming my inner perfectionist in the area of not feeling bad about myself with what I/we have NOT accomplished in our homeschooling. I'm in the mode of 'be content with what you have and use what you own'. I have been focusing more on enjoying the things we do and living more in the moment rather than always thinking of the un-done things on my 'to do' list. I am trying not to think forward too much about our homeschooling, stressing over when we'll start Latin for example, and instead, really enjoying the content of the lessons we did on this day, happy about a learning hurdle overcome, and good things like that.

I hate being in this stage of reorganizing and decluttering when the place looks like a bomb went off. This is a normal phase of cleaning out and getting rid of stuff. It looks worse before it looks better. I wish this phase was over.

My friend proposed a book organization strategy in light of the fact that we don't own enough bookshelves to have everything out all at once.

The ideas from K. are to sort books into categories and do this with them.

Books we're done with but simply cannot be let go of, are "museum" books, coined from my statement of "my bookshelves cannot be a museum to document all the stuff we homeschooled with in years past". Those books should be boxed and put away someplace out of the way. Or shelved on extra shelves somewhere out of the way.

Books we are using this year should be on bookshelves in the family library.

Reference books for use right now should be on bookshelves in the family library. That includes encyclopedias and things we won't use everyday but should be at our disposal.

Books to be used in future years should be boxed and stored away in a closet or in the basement. That would include books to use one year from now and books for high school years.

Books that are duplicates or too repetitive content of other ones owned (i.e. three dictionaries, too many books on Ancient Egypt) should be pared down and excess books let go of.

I did already have that system in place, somewhat. The thing is that some books that a year ago were 'what we're using this upcoming year' have now changed to 'books we're done with' or 'books we still haven't had time to use and should be gotten rid of'.

So far the positive things are that seeing and handling some books has made me feel enthusiastic and trying to figure out how to make room in our schedule to finally get to that unit study. I have some ideas for some interesting learning experiences that are different than we've done in the past.

Another good thing is that my kids are picking up some books that they hadn't noticed before and have been reading them. That includes "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" in a DK Illustrated version, a book on how stuff works, and a book about the history of ships.

I am looking forward to less book clutter around. My eyes are on that final goal as I force myself to deal with this sorting and culling.

Do You See What I See?

What I saw when I looked up from the couch in the family room.

Do you see what I see?

Read the comment to see what I saw. Consider telling me what you saw, if anything.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Frozen Chocolate Covered Banana Bites

My younger son had an assignment to complete for his Bear rank in Cub Scouts. He was to help make a snack that he would share with the Den. It was suggested by my husband (who took over my role as Den Leader) that the boys consider making something other than a cookie, maybe even something nutritious. All the boys were bringing their snack on the same day so they didn't need to make a huge quantity.

I had an idea to meet it in the middle. I also needed a fast, non-baked snack due to busy-ness.

I thought of the chocolate covered bananas sold at fairs and figured I could adapt it into bite sized pieces.


8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips, Ghiradelli is my favorite brand

1 Tablespoon butter

3 medium bananas, or 2 large


waxed paper

jelly roll pan or some pan that fits in your freezer


Make room in your freezer to fit the pan.

Put wax paper on the bottom of the pan.

Cut the bananas with a butter knife, into chunks about 3/4 of an inch thick.

Stab the banana pieces with the toothpicks and place them on the waxed paper in the pan.

Freeze for one hour (at least).

After the freezing time---

Microwave for 30 seconds, the chips and the butter, in a microwave safe container. Stir well, don't rush it. Microwave another 15 seconds, stir well, note how it melts more when you stir it, it doesn't just melt when the microwave is heating it. Repeat this until all the chocolate is melted. Do not burn it.

Pick up each toothpicked banana, and dip the banana into the chocolate to coat it. Let the excess drip back into the container. Place on waxed paper.

Repeat until done.

If you get low on chocolate use a spoon to drizzle it over the banana while holding it over the container.

Freeze for at least 2-3 more hours. Overnight is fine.

To serve:

Bite banana off the toothpick. Do not eat toothpick.


(The boys liked these, by the way!)

Answer Bingo Multiplication Game: Educational Board Game Review

Product: Answer Bingo Multiplication Game (game published in red box or green box)
By: School Zone

Rating: 2 stars out of 5

This is a simple Bingo type game where cards with multiplication problems are given. The directions advise that one player picks a card then finds the answer and marks off their card if they have it. There are some wild cards that allow you to mark any spot you wish.

(With some creative thinking you might choose to adapt these directions. However if you choose to call out the operation and have the first one who answers it take the card it could set up a situation where the child who is weaker in the math facts is set up to fail.)

Each card has a 3x3 grid, so there are only 9 solutions on each card, not many if you ask me, so that makes for a short game.

The major downfall to this game is there are just 4 cards, so the play is limited to 1-4 players. In our family we often play with two cards at once and so we were limited to either have just two players using two cards or three or four people playing with just one card.

There are two different color-coded sets, one with easier problems on it and one with harder problems, 90 multiplication problems in total. Each Bingo card has two sides, one for the easy game and one for the harder game.

There is an answer key provided for reference or double-checking if someone challenges a child.

The game can get boring because there are many more operations cards than solutions on your Bingo card. It can get boring to repeatedly get a card with the same operation you already answered but everyone already marked that number off of their card.

There are other brands of multiplication Bingo on the market that come with more cards, have more solutions to each card, keeping the action going faster and making the game take longer to win.

Thrifty parents who don’t mind putting a little time in can easily make up a game like this using cardstock and markers. It is not hard to make your own game from scratch.

How this game came to me: I purchased this game used from a homeschooling family that had outgrown it.

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Carnival of Homeschooling Week 151 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling #151 was published at Tami Fox’s Thoughts and Views.

I have an entry in this blog carnival. This Carnival provides a lot of homeschool-related reading. Take a look!

If you have a blog or a website and write about homeschooling I encourage you to consider submitting an entry to this weekly blog Carnival. For information on how to make a submission, see here.


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Friday, November 21, 2008

I Could Be One of Them

The other night I attended a free lecture by Peg Tyre, author of “The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do” at the Fairfield Country Day School in Fairfield, Connecticut.

My neighbor and friend’s son, who is the same age as my older son, attended that private school for one year, so I’d heard some stories about the school. I didn’t even know where the school was located, so I had to use my car’s navigation system to find the place. As I drove there I thought, “This could be my morning commute, to drop my kids off, this is how I’d go.”

As I pulled through the gates and parked, I saw the spots reserved for certain families. These are close to the door, for use during drop-off and pick-up time. I recall my friend buying one of those for a LOT of money one year, at a silent auction fundraiser. I won’t tell you for how much. More than you’d probably believe…

Anyhow as I walked through the parking lot and opened the gigantic door, I was thinking, I could be one of the parents whose kids goes here. I could give up homeschooling and send my boys to this all-boy prep school. I stepped into the room. The floors were hardwood, and a gigantic fireplace was there, with a lovely mantle. There was crown molding; the place was lovely, impressive, and grand. I walked through the halls as if I knew where I was going, chin up, confidently striding to the auditorium. I imagined that in the eyes of the teachers and people from the local community that I was passing for a parent of a boy enrolled at Fairfield Country Day.

I could do this; I could just stop homeschooling and send my kids to school. I could switch, to let go of full responsibility for my boys’ education. I could transform it to worry about their education, to what was happening to them in school (or not happening). I could sit and complain to my new friends about what was going on in the classroom. I could put some hours to volunteer work to raise money for the school. Maybe our name would be on the brass plaque on the auditorium seat. Or the parking space, no, scratch that last idea, I’m a practical person and would not spend my money that way, not that much money.

I could spend my free daytime hours reading a book about how schools are failing boys. I could listen to a lecture like this one. I could be one of the moms in the room whose boys were ‘in that boat’ and who were wringing their hands over how to save their sons, how despite forking over $28K per year for tuition, there was the worry of my son becoming turned off to learning, becoming apathetic, and “not applying himself to his fullest’.

As the lecture unfolded and the cracks where boys fall through the system that lead them to fail or to not reach their potential were outlined, I was making a mental checklist.

Check, I knew of that issue. Years ago. Years before my kids were even the age that thing happens to them. I knew of it from reading and being an autodidact.

Check, I knew of that problem and chose to not put my sons into that situation, so they were saved from it.

Check, my boys went past that age or stage with success.

It was a little hard sitting through the lecture as I felt that Ms. Tyre was preaching to the choir with regard to me. She has great information, but it was nothing new to me.

I also felt that of all the issues Ms. Tyre laid out in her lecture (she didn’t disclose all the issues she covers in her book), that every single one of them can be avoided if the child is homeschooled, especially if the parent believes in educational philosophies which are in alignment with what ‘is best’ for boys (like the path I chose for my boys).

In the question and answer period I was not tempted to bring up homeschooling. Why bother? I didn’t think anyone would want to hear that homeschooling can solve all the issues. Certainly not everyone in the room would even consider or want to homeschool their child. And my past experience with another book author in this same situation, a situation where he outlined all that was wrong in families and how schools and excessive homework was further dividing families, when homeschooling would surely be an answer, one option to select from that would solve all the things he was stressing over, well, his response was negative. It was of the variety that not everyone can homeschool or would ever want to, so he chose to not even recommend it, or even mention or suggest it.

Then the woman next to me (of all places in the auditorium, she had to be right next to me?) asked the question. Did Ms. Tyre feel that homeschooling was the answer? Come to find out that woman is an ex-public school teacher who has left her career to be home to raise her child who is now a toddler. She is considering homeschooling she told me, but had not looked much into it yet. She knows ‘we’re out there’ but she has not reached out to make connections yet. She was at the lecture with her friends who are public school teachers. If you’re wondering what Ms. Tyre said about it, she said she was having trouble finding reliable sources of information to conduct research in order to form an opinion. I was satisfied with that answer, at least it wasn’t some other answer that may irk me, or worse, anger me.

It is true that we homeschoolers are living an alternative lifestyle. It is true that to step outside the mainstream is sometimes not always easy. It is true that being the ‘homeschool teacher’ is not always easy, or fun. It is true that even when I’m feeling elated about our homeschooling on this day, that I have to hear some ridiculous comment from the media such as Joy Behar on The View saying that homeschooled kids are demented. Dealing with garbage like that, insulting comments from people who are completely ignorant on the topic is insulting and it can hurt. But you know what? After hearing what a mess the boys in this nation are turning out to be, and hearing how the problems start in preschool and continue in school, and are all school-based issues, I’ll buck it up and take the insults from the ignorant media. I’ll step up to handle the hard parts and not fun parts of home educating my children. It allows me to present and glad to enjoy all the good things that come with the homeschooling journey.

I reject the option of sending my kids to a private school. I reject the option of sending my kids to a public school. I choose to home educate my children.

I’m a homeschool mom. I’m proud to be one. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do this job. I’m happy with our lifestyle, no matter what anyone else thinks of what we’re doing.

For Further Reading

About problems with preschool

About how school fails all children

About parents advocating for education reform

A good book about raising boys

I heard a parent say some parents demand more homework for their children. I will suggest they look into ‘after schooling’ which is addressed in ‘The Well-Trained Mind’ instead.

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Peg Tyre Lecture on YouTube

Authors@Google recorded and is sharing a video lecture of Peg Tyre, recorded October 20, 2008, lecturing about issues with boys today and schooling.

Peg Tyre is the author of “The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do”, a new book.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Evidence: A Second Demented Homeschooler

Evidence Sheet

Date: Monday, November 17, 2008

Time: 3:48 PM (during the school day!)

Description of event:

Seen in a homeschool family's family room....

one demented homeschooler....

so sheltered and afraid of the world that he feels most comfortable in blanket-forts, too timid to even show his face inside his own home!!

Somebody had better identify this child and enroll him in a school, quick!!

He must be saved from a life of dementia!! And only the public schools can do it!!

(This is regarding this story, and see my related post here.)

Evidence: A Demented Homeschooler

Evidence Sheet

Date: Monday, November 17, 2008

Time: 10:15 a.m. (during the school day!)

Description of event:

Seen in the waiting room of a Connecticut orthodontist....

one demented homeschooler!

Somebody had better identify this child and enroll him in a school, quick!!

He must be saved from a life of dementia!! And only the public schools can do it!!

(This is regarding this story, and see my related post here.)

My Email to About Behar's Comment

Regarding my post earlier this evening.

It was hard to keep it to 500 characters but I did it.

Here is a copy of the email I sent via to voice my annoyance at Joy Behar's statement that homeschooled kids are demented.

"I am offended at Joy Behar's statement that homeschooled kids are demented. That comment was ridiculous and offensive.

It was obviously based on her ignorance of the topic.

Her statements are untrue because:

The parents are not the children's only teachers, we outsource some teaching to experts and professional teachers.


have friends who are both schooled and homeschooled.

are not isolated.

are most certainly not DEMENTED.

Ms. Behar needs some education on that topic."

If you want to contact go here to begin that process.

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Homeschooled Kids Demented, Says Joy Behar, on The View

My husband pointed me to this post by Michelle Malkin about Joy Behar calling homeschooled kids 'demented' on The View.

In a discussion about where the women of The View think President-Elect's kids should go to school, homeschooling came up, in this way.

After discussing public vs. private school Joy Behar said they should be taught in the White House. Barbara Walters asks if she means they should be homeschooled. Then Behar says no, she wants other kids brought in to run a little schoolhouse like "Little House on the Prairie" inside the White House. The only conservative on the show, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, made a positive comment about homeschooling, then Behar countered it with negative comments (multiple) including calling homeschooled kids demented.


The myth came up that the homeschooled kids are trapped inside their house and only taught by (and around) their parents.

I'm pretty annoyed right now and am contemplating emailing The View with my two cents.

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The Invention of Hugo Cabret Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Author: Brian Selznick
Illustrator: Brian Selznick
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Publication: Scholastic Press, January 2007
Format: Hardcover book
ISBN: 978-0439813785

Note: This was the 2008 winner of The Caldecott Medal

Summary Statement: An Experience, Not “Just” a Book; BRILLIANT!

My Rating: 5 stars out of 5

This book is nothing less than brilliant.

To read this book is an EXPERIENCE that goes above and beyond what previously I considered reading to be. This is not your typical book. The reader experiences this book; they do not just read this book in the usual manner.

This is not a traditional children’s book filled with words. This is not a purely graphic novel told comic book style with bubbles of dialogue, nor is it a graphic book filled only with wordless images. The author plays with the storytelling medium, using a combination of pages filled with only illustration alternating with pages of text. The illustrations don’t compliment the text as is typical with most children’s books; instead the illustrations actually take the place of the text and tell the story. You can’t ignore the illustrations as you can with some other books as you’d miss some of the story, the reader has to rely on the illustration to tell that portion of the story. You won’t want to rush through or ignore the illustrations, because the pencil drawings are very well done and the tones set the mood and even convey action (which surprised me as most of my reading has been with text-only books). I was repeatedly surprised when the page was turned and an illustration was there informing me of the action, instead of words. Additionally, the timing of the page turning and the spacing of the text on the page create a tension and add to the suspense and action. While my eyes wanted to rush ahead to read the next words, I had to wait and turn the page to reveal what would happen next.

This book is something superior and fantastic that the term “juvenile fiction book” just does not describe adequately. I don’t think the book publishing industry has a word for a book like this yet. To my knowledge there is no other book quite like this on published for children (and adults like me who enjoy reading children’s books). I can only hope that more well-written books will be published like this and then the book publishing industry will have to invent a new name for what this is!

This is definitely a book that anyone (young or old) can easily step into and escape into the story. It hooks you in, and the fast pace and steady action creates a roller coaster ride that makes the reader not want to put the book down until it is finished.

For those reasons this is a perfect book for reluctant readers, especially boys. If this story can’t pull a reader in then I don’t know one that will.

Some notes about the book’s layout are worth noting as some customers will find these worthy reasons to consider buying this book. There is a good amount of white space on many pages and the pages have a black border. Although most people may not care about either of those things, they are relevant as it is said that particular layout helps children with a visual processing learning disorder, those with an eye tracking problem. It also is said to help dyslexic children, who can for some reason, read words on a page when there is a border around the edge of the page. The book is thick and imposing to young readers, yet the story can be read quickly and this may help some children who have a fear of reading a book that is thick or who may think they are incapable of reading a heavy hard cover book.

As to what kind of kids may like this book, the subject of an invention and a robotic man told in a suspenseful way is appealing to many young boys who don’t often find those subjects (robots, inventions) in fiction books, but of course, kids who like robots and inventors would be drawn to the book. Since a girl is the secondary character, girls may like this book also. Actually this is the type of book that readers will enjoy even if they usually don’t have a personal interest in that topic, similar, for example, to those of us who may enjoy a movie drama set in a sports team when we are not passionate about that sport. That is because a good story touches our heart and reels us in. (I would not be surprised if someone wants to make a movie adaptation of this story.)

Besides the enjoyment of the story, beyond the excitement and the pleasure of reading it, there are worthwhile themes in the book. Finding one’s purpose in life and doing work that one loves instead of work to pay the bills is one of them. A good work ethic is promoted (early stealing receives negative consequences and is not glorified). The negativity that can come when one stifle’s one’s creativity, how art made by one person can influence and inspire others in their own creative path and can segue into their life’s work is in the book. Valuing a child who is mechanically inclined and good with his hands is seldom a trait in children’s literature, but it is in this story. The value of reading books in one’s spare time for pleasure, inspiration, and for learning information is demonstrated throughout. (The drawings of the overloaded stacks in the used book shop will be enjoyed by book lovers.) The fact that self-directed learning outside of school can and does take place with children is an important element in the book. The book also has obvious themes of trust, generosity, friendship and unconditional love. The value of a formal education as well as learning outside of school and following one’s passion in life is underscored.

The book is based on some real facts but the characters and the information about the creator of the automaton are purely fictional, as is explained in the end notes. There is a link in the end note to view videos on the Internet of the original automaton which was built in the year 1810! The book also touches on filmmaking and the early days of filmmaking. Children with an interest in those subjects may especially enjoy this story as well. Real facts about the history of filmmaking are in the book.

Some who appreciate my book reviews like to hear of content that may be troublesome to their children, especially sensitive children. I understand that no exciting story can exist without some kind of problem; this one has a few that might upset some readers. Amazon prohibits spoilers in customer reviews, so I’ll share general information. This book has two orphaned children, death by fire, and death by drowning, alcoholism, and stealing including forcing the main character to steal. With all that said I need to clarify that much of that is ‘back story’ that is briefly mentioned in the book or the action in the story is so intense that we gloss over new bits of negative information, as they are not delved into deeply enough to elicit a strong reaction of upsetting children (unless the child is very sensitive to those issues). If you worry about this for your child, I would urge you to read the book first, as it is such a great book. Then you can be the judge if the book is appropriate for your child at their present age.

The last thing I’ll share is the book was so loved by my eleven year old son that he fell asleep reading it in bed at night, and finished it in the morning before he got out of bed, so it was finished within a 24 hour window of time. I read the book in about two hours and loved it.


Official website for the book

How this book came to me: I saw this book on display at a university bookstore but I didn't leaf through the pages. I borrowed the book from the library so we could read it. I now wish I owned our own copy, that is how great the book is!

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Looking West

View from the front of my house looking west.

The rain and winds have brought down nearly all the leaves, almost in one fell swoop. My eyes are getting used to the new look of the landscape. It always seems other-worldly when the transition from lush green leaves, to wild colored foliage, sometimes too harsh for the eyes, to this.

The bare trees with their fine details, reveal differences between tree species. In my yard, the tall oaks dominate, so obviously dominating the other trees.

Why did I take this photo? The color of the clouds caught my eye. Blue skies with puffy clouds, white on the edges and deepening to dark gray in the center, complicated by the sun setting and the new sky filled with branches not foliage. That's why. Sometimes what I see cannot be captured well by my camera, but it is worth a try anyway. I never know if the viewer of my photos sees the same things as I do and I'm not sure if that matters anyway. What is more important is my seeing it, my appreciating the beauty in nature and small things seen, the fun of the process of photography, that is what matters, the seeing and the process. The final product is different and is not as important as the process itself.

Our Family Rule on Books and Movies

Years ago, I set a family rule in our household.

Our children must read the book before they can see the movie version.

My reason for having that rule is not to force reading on my children or to prevent them from seeing a movie. It is a conscious decision because 99% of the time the book that a movie is based upon is far superior than the movie is.

I want my children to learn that reading is worthwhile and can be superior to movies. One easy way to teach a child is to mandate that they read the book or hear the audio book or hear the story read aloud to them by a parent before seeing the movie. Our modern lifestyle is overloaded with television programs and movies and children don’t need any additional intentional action taken to learn that movies and television shows are quickly and easily consumed. I know from experience that once the strong visuals from a movie take hold in the mind it is difficult and inferior to try to read the book after seeing the movie.

Although they don’t always like the rule, and although the rule sometimes winds up causing us to watch the movie on DVD at home, having missed out on it in the movie theatre, my boys have both agreed that each time, the books are better than the movies.

So far, the only variation on this is the Harry Potter movies which on the one hand, disappoint them because they cannot be long enough to tell the entire story but they are still entertaining and thrilling. That is because with the Harry Potter movies, the creators have made the fantasy world come alive with wonderful special effects and dramatic music. Those of us who can love a book and the story can’t always form visual images in our minds to bring the book to life like a movie can. I’m speaking from experience here; my mind has not been able to visualize Hogwarts the way it is pictured in the movies. With the Harry Potter movies I feel that my son’s love of the stories from the books helped them enjoy the movie. They also love the movies and have watched them over and over.

Sadly, I know three boys, three non-readers (meaning, they can read but they don’t choose to read and they don’t like reading at all), who have watched the Harry Potter movies first and said, “Eh”. They don’t really like the movies. They have seen them perhaps twice. They have no desire to read the book, they tell me. That is sad, very sad. My boys have talked to those boys and have tried telling them how great the books are but the kids do not believe them. They hold firm that they have no intentions of reading the book.

Sometimes an easy key to finding good books is find which ones are being made into movies then go read those books before seeing the movie.

Another interesting thing is when I’ve had discussions with my boys about the book versus the movie. They have insights and opinions about why the movie was not as good as the book. Those discussions are not just fun for me to hear but they are working to help critical thinking skills. Those types of talks are effortless for my children to have. I hope some time in the near future I can get my boys to work on putting those thoughts into written form. That would be, I would think, an easy ‘writing composition’ exercise that would be superior to many of the ‘writing assignments’ suggested by various writing composition curriculums.

I encourage you to consider the ‘read the book before seeing the movie’ rule in your home.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Johnny Big Ears: Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Johnny Big Ears, the Feel-Good Friend
Author: John Paul Padilla
Genre: Easy Reader, grade three children’s book
Publication: Dorrance Publishing Co. Inc., 2008
Format: softcover
ISBN: 9780805974966
Full Retail Price: $17.00

Summary Statement: Good Idea But Book Has Too Many Problems

Rating: 1 stars out of 5

According to the author, this book is for children aged 6-8 years old and is an easy reader written at a third grade level. It is about teasing and bullying that a boy receives for having big ears, when he begins Kindergarten.

I love the idea and the topic of teasing and bullying. However, the book disappoints on all levels. There are major problems with this book.

First the text is not that of an easy reader. An easy reader has controlled vocabulary that children of a certain grade can read, and simple sentences. This book is supposed to be for kids in grade three. I doubted the grade level, so I did with a Flesch-Kinkaid grade level using my word processor, which rated page 3 at a 5.2 grade level writing (and that is not even one of the more complex pages). Also, unlike the industry standard with easy readers, this font is too small and the sentences are too crammed together, leaving lots of blank areas on the page. Easy readers use larger font and have wider line spacing for ease with eye tracking which is still developing in children who are learning to read. Each page has two paragraphs of text while typical easy readers have just a few sentences on each page.

There are grammar errors throughout the book, mixed tenses within paragraphs, shifting from present to past tense. There are too many adjectives and adverbs. The book is too wordy, it needs to be edited down and more finely focused on only the most important things. There are just too many details in this book that kids don’t care to know about. The details slow down the action of the story and bog it down. Also the paragraphs are sometimes confusing, jumping from topic to topic within one paragraph, so the simple notion of one topic for one paragraph was not even adhered to.

Regarding the story itself, it focuses on the first day of Kindergarten. To be blunt, children past their first day of Kindergarten don’t want to read a story about that subject, and kids in third grade definitely don’t want to read of someone’s first day of Kindergarten. Children like reading about exactly the same aged kids or kids who are just slightly older than they are. If the author wants this to be read by third graders the main character should have been in at least grade three.

The entire story seems unrealistic and Johnny lacks credibility. This is mainly because when Johnny is teased at school he feels not one single negative emotion, other than surprise that the kids are criticizing his looks and judging him on his appearance. The entire issue with teasing and bullying is that it hurts and yet Johnny seems unaffected. Johnny’s reaction sounds more like the voice of an adult therapist’s, like a cross between Mr. Rogers and Dr. Phil. It comes across preachy. There is nothing kids hate more than books with a message that come off preachy in tone. A good book must have a character that the reader can emotionally connect with.

I can’t imagine a bullied child with hurt feelings ever connecting to Johnny who from unconditional love of extended family has self-esteem that surpasses that of some adults. What would have been more effective and useful for children to see in a story is how Johnny was hurt by the teasing and how he OVERCAME his hurt feelings. Kids need to see examples of overcoming adversity and how to react to negative situations.

The artwork is terrible. The illustration of the Kindergarten teacher is the ugliest and scariest teacher I’ve ever seen, and the author gave her the name of Mrs. Wrinkles. Come on! The children including Johnny have the bodies of children aged 10 or 11!

Lastly, the price of $17 for a paperback easy reader is more than four times the price of a typical easy reader published by a publishing house.

The theme of the book is an excellent idea. I have been disappointed with the slim pickings of books for young children on the topic of handling teasing and bullying that are presently in print. I suggest that the author hire an editor and re-write the book. He may want to consider using a picture book format that is for a parent or teacher to read aloud because that can have more complicated vocabulary instead of using the limited vocabulary of an easy reader. Books on this topic are perfect for discussion with a parent so the read-aloud is a better idea anyway. General information and discussion prompts could be at the back of the picture book instead of trying to work that language into the story itself, since giving adult type advice from the mouth of a five year old book character is not natural or believable. Picture books on this topic would be of interest to parents, public libraries and school teachers to purchase (a wider audience to market to).

“The ABC’s of Writing for Children” edited by Elizabeth Koehler Pentacoff is an excellent book to learn more about what makes a good children’s book and what mistakes to try to avoid. Also a tip from Heather Sellers from her book “Chapter After Chapter” is to first read 100 books in the genre you wish to write about. Reading 100 easy readers and 100 picture books “with a message” will teach many lessons about what works and what does not work in children’s books.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book for the purpose of reading and writing a book review.

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A Surprising Response

We were in Brugger's Bagels yesterday morning. An orthodontist appointment that the office could only do on a Monday morning forced us to abandon homeschooling lessons and to venture out into the world. So while out we did some errands right in that vicinity.

An older teen boy waited on us at the bagel shop. As we prepared to leave he asked if the kids were off of school today.

"Ho hum here we go again with that question" I thought. "No, my children are homeschooled", I replied.

"Oh! So am I!" he said.

I just smiled and left. I was kind of rushing and was not in the mood for chat. But after I got into the car I told myself perhaps I should have slowed down a bit and gone on to make some friendly small talk. I probably came off as cold and unfriendly (even though I did smile) which would be unfortunate. I think what happened was that I had stiffened up when I heard the question and was maybe braced to be on the defense and had my guard up.

As we left, my boys were asking me what he said as they could not hear him and I repeated it. They thought it was cool that the Brugger's employee was homeschooled. Then they asked me why he wasn't home doing lessons. I said, "I don't know!".

We also had to do quick errands at the grocery store, Wal Mart and A.C. Moore. I noted that in each of those stores, on this non-holiday weekday morning, I saw between one and three families with one or more older school-aged children in tow. Some of them looked about twelve years old. I wonder if they were homeschooled or just home sick from school and being dragged out for errands?

I am so sick of being asked that question though, that I have never, and will not be asking any family that question at least any time soon!!

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Make It From Scratch Blog Carnival #90 Has Been Published

The Make It From Scratch Blog Carnival #90 was published on today at A Bit of Flour. Check it out and get inspired to make something from scratch.

Consider submitting to this blog carnival if you make things from scratch. It can be anything from cooking and baking to sewing and crafts.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bible Illuminated The Book New Testament Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Bible Illuminated: The Book New Testament
Creators: Illuminated World, Dag Soderberg
In partnership with: American Bible Association
Publication: Illuminated World (October 28, 2008), American release, in English
ISBN: 978-9197669443
Full Retail Price: $35.00

Summary Statement: An Overpriced Trojan Horse

This book resembles a magazine with glossy paper, including the thin paper cover. It is not sturdy and my copy is showing wear after a small amount of gentle use. The cost is quite high for a magazine-like binding. I had thought it would be more like a coffee table book with a sturdy binding, possibly hardcover, but that is not what this is.

Regarding the text itself, the American Bible Association has given permission for The Good News version of The New Testament to be used in this publication. So this is not a new translation of text, if you are looking for a more modern language translation perhaps you should look into “The Message” by Eugene Peterson (it can be viewed online for free or purchased in book form).

The font is two different sizes, is quite small, and is laid out in either three or four columns. Readers over age 40 may need to don their cheaters to read this book. The typical Bible annotation with numbers and chapters is not here so it really looks like a magazine article layout (it is slick and modern looking). Also some of the text is highlighted with yellow block, and other times the text is in red font, which naturally catches our eye. At times the highlighted text also appears as a caption to the accompanying photograph. I had trouble at times connecting the meaning of the quote with the chosen image. It is interesting to ponder why that little blurb was selected versus some other. Also some photographs have their own caption (not a Bible quote) to explain a little about what we are looking at.

I was confused by many of the images selected and some of the captions and some of the quotes, and pondered for days what the source of my discomfort was and why I was reacting negatively to the book. Many of the images are not closely tied to literal interpretations of the text nor are they just artistic abstract images or nature images. Sometimes when a photo has an excerpt from the Bible I just don’t understand the matching of the image to the text, no matter how long I contemplate it. Other times it seems the captions led me to a belief that was apart from what the Bible was saying, extrapolating a notion in the Bible to possibly relate to air pollution, meat eating, global warming, over-consumption, poverty, access to modern health care, gender inequality in education and access to prescription drugs for HIV positive people in third world countries.

The second and more dangerous issue is that through these images and the added, new text inserted by the book’s creators, the message that comes across to the reader that is above and beyond what Christians usually take from the content in the New Testament. In other words a message from this book is not the same or typical messages gleaned by those who read JUST the text of the New Testament. Christians believe the Bible is the word of God and Christians take the Bible’s words, combine them with prayer to listen to what God leads them to do to put God’s words into action. However in this book, the creators have added the word of man (their words) mixed in with the Bible’s words, combining it with God’s call to help others. The creators of the book call readers to take action, to take specific actions, political and social actions to fulfill the stated goals of the United Nations. Instead of leaving the reader to contemplate, pray and figure out how they can apply the word of God and Jesus Christ to help their fellow man with their direct actions, the publishers boldly tell readers what they would like to see the reader do (support the United Nations and to donate their money for one thing).

I am referring to the portions that reference “Eight Ways to Change the World” which is a goal of the United Nations called the ‘Millennium Development Goals’ which they hope will be realized by the year 2015. Readers are called to action by supporting initiatives of the United Nations and to donate their money (just one dollar you donate can help…) to such causes as improving medical care for pregnant women in third world countries to try to lower the maternal mortality rate, and also a call to action to get more prescription drugs for Africans with AIDS, to name just two. In case you think I am exaggerating, I have an email from Dag Soderberg that confirms this stated objective, to try to influence readers to support the United Nations objective. Some of the photographs in this book first appeared in a show featuring photographs to support “Eight Ways to Change the World”. It seems that Dag Soderberg then hatched the idea to bring the message of that show to Americans and other English speaking peoples by combining that message with a New Testament Bible (the Bible is book that repeatedly sells the most copies year after year).

A section of the book has photographs of some people who have lived in this last century who the authors feel have done work to change the world for the better. Some include Angelina Jolie, Bono, Muhammad Ali, Al Gore, and Che Guevara. I will leave you to decide what you think about the individuals selected. Perhaps you will have some issues as I did. One would think that a New Testament that guides Christians might show Christians who have done good works. Instead I arrived at the conclusion that non-believers are ‘good people too’ and didn’t need the Bible to guide their actions. We all know that Godless people, and people of other faiths can do good things but why include it in a New Testament Bible? The fact that the most Christian book in the world has a ‘religion doesn’t matter’ notion is a bit hard for me to take.

Another impression I received was that the Bible is outdated and perhaps not the best advice to take. I point to the spread of what I thought was a gruesome image of a rich white woman tearing apart a roasted goose with her bare hands (an unrealistic and creepy image). The Bible text with it puts down what we call ‘being a vegetarian’. Will that not tick off and gross out the vegetarian social activists out there and lead them to put down The New Testament as outdated and just wrong? In another section the statement that women must submit to their husbands is highlighted but text about how a husband needs to treat his wife well is not highlighted. Another recommendation that women must have long hair goes against what many modern women choose concerns their hair length.

I called this a Trojan Horse because I think that people will seek to buy this because they want the message of the Bible with an appealing visual element, but instead they receive messages from non-Christians urging them in words and powerful images to take social and political action to support the initiatives of the United Nations. Readers who look only at the photographs, captions, highlighted text and read the new section about the United Nations will be more susceptible to that influence than those who already know the content of the New Testament or those who actually read the text in this version.

So who are the creators or illuminators as they call themselves? From the official website, we learn that creator of “Illuminated World” is Dag Soderberg who “ is a spiritual but not particularly religious individual”. The others involved are investors and business people. From the publishers website I learned this:
“Are any of the founders or business partners of Illuminated World religious?
There is no religious mission here. We believe that the success of The Book will be driven by the fact that this is not coming from within any specific faith, religion or church. We are from many faiths, backgrounds and beliefs and ultimately trying to create something for the many and not just for the few.”

According to Bible Illuminated website, they are currently working on their version of the Old Testament. Also shared is that the organization has future plans to do translations of other religious books as well.

My "First thoughts" on this book were published on my blog last month, here.

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