Book Club: The Book of Negroes (Someone Knows My Name)

Book Club with Lori

For Book Club this month, Lori asked if we could read The Book of Negroes (previously published as Someone Knows My Name) by Lawrence Hill. She warned me when she suggested it that this would be a difficult book to get through based simply on its subject matter, and she was right. The novel tells the story of Aminata Diallo, a woman who was kidnapped from her African village in the mid-1700s and brought to America as a slave. She was only 11 years old when she was taken, and lived with and worked for multiple families before escaping during the chaos of the Revolutionary War. She moves to Manhattan and then London on her quest to return to her homeland in Africa.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this book (the subject matter is quite intense), but I’m glad I read it. Aminata is a wonderful character that I won’t soon forget.

Questions for this month’s Book Club come from LitLovers. As always, a spoiler alert is in effect.

What is the significance of the title Someone Knows My Name?

Several times throughout the book, Aminata laments that she’s become a nameless black woman. The “buckra” (white people) struggle to pronounce her name, and that’s not taking into account those who don’t bother trying. The ones who care (even just a smidge) give her the nickname Meena, because it’s easier on their American/British tongues and ears. So, for someone to learn, say, and know Aminata’s name is a big deal for her.

What is your opinion about Hill’s suggestion that Aminata’s very youthfulness at the time of her abduction enables her emotional survival, even as some of the adults in her world show signs of crumbling?

I absolutely agree with this assessment, 100%. All of the adults around her (specifically on the slave ship in the beginning of the novel) simply fall apart. Many don’t survive the journey, and it’s implied that the cause for that is emotional as much as physical hardships. One woman who gives birth on the ship even slits her newborn son’s throat and tosses him to sea to avoid bringing him to “wherever they’re going.” Even in the worst of circumstances, sane people don’t do that.

Aminata, though unhappy and horrified by the situation in which she finds herself, simply puts her head down and gets through it. If she’d been older and more mature, she may not have been able to separate herself from what she was going through, and she’d likely have suffered the same fate as many of those she knew in her previous life.

The section of the book set in the sea islands of South Carolina depicts eighteenth-century indigo plantations where African American slaves and overseers are left largely to their own devices during the “sick season”—a good half of the year. To what degree does this cultural and social isolation allow for an interesting development and interaction of African American characters in the novel?

I don’t think there would have much opportunity for character development at all without that time away from the “buckra.” The story is that of a slave, not that of her masters, so it was important to show what her life was like as she lived and interacted with other slaves.

Aminata suffers some horrifying cruelties at the hands of her captors, but her relationships with her masters aren’t always what you’d expect. How does Aminata’s story reveal the complex ways that people react to unnatural, unequal relationships?

It’s definitely true that “her relationships with her masters aren’t always what you’d expect.” Some of them, while not necessarily surprising, were positively despicable. Others weren’t so bad. It was interesting to read how different people react in different ways to the same situations. One master might be a miserable man who rapes his slaves, while another might treat them as members of his own family. There’s not really any way to tell in advance what kind of master one might be until you get into the part of that story where his/her story with Aminata begins.

During the course of the story, Aminata marries and has a family. Although she is separated from them, she is reunited from time to time with her husband and one of her children. What does the work tell us about the nature of love and loyalty?

Simply put, that it (love and loyalty) trumps everything else. Even when her child is brutally stolen from her as a nursing babe, Aminata never stops loving him. Her husband leaves her one day and doesn’t come back, but she never searches for another one. She is a remarkable woman.

Aminata struggles to learn and master all sorts of systems of communicating in the new world: black English, white English, and Gullah, as well as understanding the uses of European money and maps. How do her various coping mechanisms shed light on her character?

I never really considered that her thirst for knowledge was a coping mechanism, but it makes sense that it would be. Her need to cope with her situation is understandable; we all have ways of dealing with the things around us, and learning to be the best she can be in her new life is Aminata’s. They tell us that she’s determined, and that she’s unwilling to let things happen to her. She’s a fiercely independent woman who wants to be in control of her own life, and the best way she can make that happen as a slave is to learn everything she can about living in Carolina.

Aminata is a woman of extraordinary abilities—she is skillful with languages, literate, a speedy learner, a born negotiator. Why did Hill choose this story to be told by such a remarkable woman? What effect do her abilities have on the shaping of the story?

I’m not sure the story would have been as potent with a less extraordinary character. Aminata is a rare breed that can do anything she puts her mind to, and she uses that ability/determination to her advantage. If she’d been a passive character, the novel would have been very different. More subdued, a lot darker, and not nearly as hopeful. Aminata having the personality she did was vital to the story that Mr. Hill wanted to tell.

On another level, I think he may have made her that strong because he named her after his own daughter. Whether on purpose or not, I think he wanted to tell his daughter that she could be as strong as her literary namesake.

What do you think would be the challenges involved in writing a realistically painful novel that still offers enough light and hope to maintain the reader’s interest and spirit?

Ha! I think the challenges in writing this kind of novel are too numerous to name. I’ve written novels in the past (not necessarily very good ones, and they’re not published, but they exist), and I’m not sure I could have pulled off a novel of this magnitude. It would be emotionally difficult to live in this world each day as you wrote it, but you’d always have the knowledge as you wrote that you were moving the character toward something better, and having that hope in your own body would help to shine the light through the story you were writing. I think.

What lessons does Aminata’s tale hold for us in today’s world?

Perseverance is vital for survival.

Determination goes a long way.

Be the best you can be, despite your circumstances.

Love and loyalty can keep you sane.

I’m sure there are others, but that’s what I’ve got off the top of my head.

~*~*~

Thanks for joining me in another month of Book Club! Make sure to head over to Lori’s blog to read her thoughts on the selection. While you’re there, stay awhile and read her other posts. She has a great blog with all sorts of different posts ranging from homeschooling elementary and middle school students (she has 3 daughters around the same ages as my two older boys) to hymn studies to simply sharing about their lives. It’s a delightful place to spend some time.

This month, we’ll be reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. If you want to read along and join the discussion, we’ll be posting answers to questions on January 5th. If you have a blog, you can answer questions there and leave a link with Lori or me. If you don’t have a blog and you still want to read along with us, please do! You can comment on either of our blogs your thoughts about the book. I’ll have at least one special guest for that post, as well – Munchkin and Will have already read the book, so I’m going to present them with questions. I know Munchkin is going to answer them, and Will might, too, so I’ll be sharing their answers along with my own next month.

Thanks again to Lori for stretching my mind with this month’s selection.

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Blessings,

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Blue Ribbon Awards 2016

As members of the Homeschool Review Crew, the boys and I recently had the privilege of voting in their annual Blue Ribbon Awards. Now that the winners have been announced, I thought it would be fun to compare our choices with the actual winners. Enjoy!

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Favorite Reading Curriculum

I chose Logic of English for this category because it’s such a comprehensive program that covers not only reading, but every aspect of the English language. We’re still using it in our homeschool, after having taken a bit of a break after the review period.
Our choice: Logic of English
     Winner: Logic of English

Favorite Writing Curriculum

Here to Help Learning was such a fun program to work through! My kids absolutely adored the “writing warmups,” and still ask to do them sometimes.
Our choice: Here to Help Learning
     Winner: Here to Help Learning

Favorite Spelling Curriculum

I chose Logic of English for this category as well because it just makes so much sense. I like how they explain the rules to students in ways that make sense and are easy to remember.
Our choice: Logic of English
     Winner: Talking Fingers: Read, Write, and Type

Favorite Literature Program

Literature is my biggest weakness in our homeschool; we read a lot of books! I love a good book, and I want to pass that love on to my boys. I really like the Memoria Press workbooks. They include a wide variety of questions, and the teacher books are the perfect companion.
Our choice: Memoria Press
     Winner: Institute for Excellence in Writing: Poetry

Favorite Vocabulary Program
Our choice: n/a
     Winner: The Critical Thinking Co.

Favorite Grammar Program

Grammar is right up with Literature as far as “things I like to teach my kids,” so this was a great category for me. I picked Sentence Digramming: Beginning by The Critical Thinking Co. because not only is a good way to visualize how sentences go together, but my kids liked it too. We’re still working our way through this book (somewhat slowly because although the kids like it, it’s a bit intense for them sometimes).
Our choice: The Critical Thinking Co.
     Winner: The Critical Thinking Co.

Favorite Literature Resource

I deferred to the kids on this choice, and they had a hard time deciding amongst themselves. In the end, Seahawk’s choice of Heirloom Audio won over Munchkin’s choice of The Glass Castle because he was more passionate about it.
Our choice: Heirloom Audio: Beric the Briton
     Winner: Heirloom Audio: Beric the Briton

Favorite History Curriculum
Our choice: n/a
     Winner: Home School in the Woods

Favorite History Supplement

Heirloom Audio was a new review product for us this year, and one that we enjoyed. Seahawk, being an auditory learner, liked it the best of any of us, and he was so enthralled with it that this one earned our enthusiastic vote.
Our choice: Heirloom Audio: Beric the Briton
     Winner: Carole P. Roman

Favorite Science Curriculum

Munchkin was the lucky recipient of two science curricula this year. He’s working through one of them now, and the other will be his curriculum next school year. Because he was the main one using these products, I let him choose, and Science Shepherd got his vote.
Our choice: Science Shepherd
     Winner: Apologia Astronomy

Favorite Science Supplement

NotebookingPages.com is such an amazing resource for so many things! We’ve used it time and again, and I’m so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to review for them. I look forward to continuing to use my Lifetime Membership again and again.
Our choice: NotebookingPages.com
     Winner: NotebookingPages.com

Favorite Math Curriculum
Our choice: n/a
     Winner: CTC Math

Favorite Math Supplement

The multiplication tables were something my kids struggled with for years. We tried several things over the years, and this one, Times Tales, finally stuck. I’m extremely grateful for this product, and will definitely use it again when the little boys are the proper age for learning multiplication.
Our choice: The Trigger Memory Co. (Times Tales)
     Winner: The Trigger Memory Co.

Favorite Foreign Language Curriculum
Our choice: n/a
     Winner: Middlebury Interactive Languages

Favorite Fine Arts Product

2016 was the first time we’d reviewed an art program, and Seahawk got to be the primary user. He really liked ARTistic Pursuits (and is still using it), so it gets his vote.
Our choice: ARTistic Pursuits
     Winner: Art Achieve

Favorite Elective
Our choice: n/a
     Winner: Stop Motion Explosion

Favorite Christian Education Curriculum

Science Shepherd is such a wonderful creation-based science program for elementary students. Munchkin just loves doing it each day (it doesn’t hurt that the lessons are super short!). I like that I don’t have to worry about the worldview it’s presenting; I can comfortably set him up with the video and workbook and leave him to it on his own.
Our choice: Science Shepherd
     Winner: Veritas Press

Favorite Christian Education Product

The Zonderkidz Faith Builders Bible is one of Munchkin’s all-time favorite review products. He takes it to church every Sunday and reads it during the week.
Our choice: Zonderkidz
     Winner: Chara Games

Favorite Preschool Product

It’s no secret to anyone who’s read my blog very much at all that we adore Kwik Stix, made by The Pencil Grip, Inc.. I’ve reviewed for them twice. My kids love to paint, and I love that there’s no mess.
Our choice: The Pencil Grip, Inc.
     Winner: The Pencil Grip, Inc.

Favorite Elementary Product

The Faith Builder’s Bible wins this category for us, too. I’m thrilled that Munchkin has finally found a bible that he enjoys reading.
Our choice: Zonderkidz
     Winner: Veritas Press

Favorite Middle School Product

Some days, I still can’t believe that I have a middle school student. He’s growing up so much, and while I like that he can do a lot of his studies independently (it frees me up immensely), it still feels weird to begin stepping back from his schooling a smidge to let him take the reins. ARTistic Pursuits was the first product he really got to do “all by himself,” so it wins our vote in the “favorite middle school product” category.
Our choice: ARTistic Pursuits
     Winner: Apologia: Writers in Residence

Favorite High School Product
Our choice: n/a
     Winner: The 101 series (science)

Favorite College or College Prep Product
Our choice: n/a
     Winner: Everyday Education

Favorite Parent Product

This was a tricky category for me. In the end, I chose the GREEMU oil because it helped ease baby Dragonfly’s diaper rash (although temporarily) when he was extremely red and hurting.
Our choice: Devonian (GREEMU oil)
     Winner: MyFreezEasy

Best Resource I Didn’t Know I Needed

My vote in this category probably isn’t completely representative of the title of the category. I knew we needed a way of teaching the kids their times tables, but I wasn’t sure just how much Times Tales would help, so it gets my enthusiastic vote.
Our choice: Trigger Memory (Times Tales)
     Winner: ForBrain

Best Online Resource

I cannot say enough good things about NotebookingPages.com. This website provides a huge variety of notebooking pages in a plethora of subjects. What a fabulous resource!
Our choice: NotebookingPages.com
     Winner: Veritas Press

Best E-Product

We’ve reviewed Progeny Press every year since 2014, and it is easily my favorite e-product. Their literature study guides are bar none, and I wish they were a bit more affordable.
Our choice: Progeny Press
     Winner: Grapevine Studies

Favorite Novel, Book, Audio Book, or Audio Drama

This was another category that the boys disagreed. Munchkin wanted to vote for a book (The Glass Castle that he read earlier this year) and Seahawk wanted to vote for Heirloom again. Because I let Seahawk win the Literature Resource category, I gave this one to Munchkin.
Our choice: The Glass Castle
     Winner: Heirloom Audio

Just for Fun

Paint sticks for the win again!
  Our choice: The Pencil Grip Inc.
     Winner: FlipStir puzzles

Kids Choice (ages 0-12)

These choices were easy for my kids. Small Fry loves to paint, and Munchkin loves to read.
Small Fry’s choice: The Pencil Grip Inc.
     Munchkin’s choice: The Glass Castle

Teen Choice

I was a little surprised by Seahawk’s choice here, but he enjoyed using Kwik Stix just as much as his younger brother did.
Seahawk’s choice: The Pencil Grip Inc.
     Winner: 101 Series

All Around Crew Favorite

I mentioned before that Grammar is one of my favorite subjects, and that rings true in just about every aspect of my life: teaching, reading, writing, etc. I’m really passionate about good grammar, so it’s something I’m very diligent about teaching my kids. For this reason, The Critical Thinking Co. (Sentence Diagramming: Beginners) won my vote.
Our choice: The Critical Thinking Co.
     Winner: CrossTimber

Make sure to click over to the Homeschool Review Crew blog to find out more about the Blue Ribbon winners!

Blessings,

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What We’re Reading: November 2016

I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, mostly because the boys have been reading whatever they want (so long as it’s something, I’m not super particular) and I’ve been doing Book Club with Lori. But since everyone’s actually got a book they’re specifically working on right now, I thought it might be nice to record what we’re reading.

Me

I’m working my way through The Book of Negroes. Lori suggested is as our book club book for next month. While I can’t say I’m enjoying it per se, I’m glad I’m reading it. It tells the story of a girl captured to be a slave during the revolutionary war era. More thoughts on it next week in my Book Club post.

Will

My husband loves biographies. Really loves them. Last month, he read one on Frank Sinatra and another on Buddy Epsen (best known for his role on The Beverly Hillbillies, as well as being the original Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz – he was replaced in that role due to an allergic reaction to the silver face makeup). He’s currently reading the Autobiography of Mark Twain, volume 3. He listened to volume 1 on Audible a few years ago and read volume 2 when it came out. I was in the library the other week looking for something for him (he gets a strange pleasure in reading books I choose for him rather than picking for himself, which I don’t mind), and I spotted the third volume and knew instantly that he’d want it. I was right. These books are incredibly dense: large pages, small type, and very, very thick. So he’ll be reading it for several weeks to come.

Seahawk (7th grade)

Munchkin got a Kindle for his birthday back in September, and to go with it, my parents got him an Amazon gift card to buy books. One of the books he bought was Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (we’d read the first book as a family read-aloud last summer). He read it super fast, and now Seahawk is reading it.

He’s also reading his Bible regularly. This week, he’s reading and meditating on Romans 8:18-21 and Revelation 3.

Munchkin (5th grade)

This kid has been reading practically nonstop since his birthday. He’s worked through too many books to count: the entire Wizard of Oz series (14 books), Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Percy Jackson 2, Encyclopedia Brown, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow… I’m sure I’m forgetting about a million. But right now, he’s reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – a hard copy. It’s on loan from my mom, and I think he’s really enjoying it. He’s reading it quite quickly (as he usually does with books). I’m looking forward to getting my hands/eyes on it when he’s done.

Small Fry (age 4)

Small Fry is beginning to learn some very basic reading skills. This hasn’t translated to reading books yet (although he did read the word “Sam” on one of his online learn-to-read programs recently), so he’s still a listener. His current favorites include What Pet Should I Get? (a new release from Dr. Seuss, which was a gift “from” Dragonfly upon his birth), Elephant and Piggie, Franklin the Turtle, and just about anything from Syd Hoff or Dr. Seuss.

Blessings,

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Christmas Love Letters from God (Review and Giveaway)

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have a wonderful review and giveaway for you today, and I think the timing is quite fortuitous. Not only are Americans being especially conscientious about thankfulness today, but this book reminds of us of the absolute best gift ever – Jesus Christ.

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Christmas Love Letters from God is a beautifully illustrated hardcover book that combines prose and rhyme to tell a series of Bible stories, all related to Christmas. The stories are:

  • Isaiah’s Good News
  • Mary’s Song
  • Joseph’s Dream
  • Bethlehem’s Road
  • Jesus’s Joy
  • Shepherd’s Surprise
  • Wise Men’s Wonder

Each of the stories is short – just a couple of paragraphs plus a poem – so it’s easy for children as young as 3 or 4 to pay attention. My third son is 4 years old, and he had no problem listening to this book. Once you finish the story, there’s a lift-the-flap section that goes along with each one, and these were Small Fry’s absolute favorite. These are designed to look like envelopes, and when you open it, the text inside is a letter “from” God that relates to the story. There’s even a space on each one to fill in your child’s name.

Pictures in this review are from the Kindle edition of the book. In the hardcover, which I received and the winner of the giveaway will receive, the love letter from God is a lift the flap, not a separate image like it is in these pictures.

The words and illustrations in this book work really well together; each is a great complement to the other. The pictures reminded me of a quilt, and I thought that was pretty cozy. Overall, we really loved reading this book, and will continue to read the stories again and again as we near Christmas.

As usual with FlyBy reviews, I get to give a copy of this away to one of you! It’s a lovely book that anyone who has or knows a little kid (the book was written for ages 4-8) would be lucky to have. Just fill out the Giveaway Tools widget below to enter. One winner will be chosen randomly sometime during the day on December 1st, 2016. Giveaway is open to residents of the US only; sorry, internationals (I don’t make the rules, I just follow them),

I hope everyone (especially fellow Americans) have a wonderful Thanksgiving today.

Blessings,

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Kwik Stix ~ Review and Giveaway

I was privileged to get to review the “plain” set of Kwik Stix earlier this year as a part of the Homeschool Review Crew, and recently The Pencil Grip, Inc. contacted me to see if I’d be interested in doing a second review and giveaway, this time of the “Metalix” and “Neon” varieties. I asked my kids if they were interested, and I was met with a resounding, “Yes!” So here we are.

kwik-stix-neonsIn case you missed it last spring, Kwik Stix are solid tempera paints in a tube, not unlike a glue stick. The main difference is that instead of a solid glue, they’re filled with a solid paint. These are ideal for young kids for a few reasons. First, they’re solid. There’s approximately 0.5% chance of making a mess. (I can’t say that it’s an absolute zero because a: kids might paint where they’re not supposed to and b: if your kids are too impatient, there is the possibility of smudging paint from the paper to the table or other surface.) Second, they dry very quickly. Very quickly meaning, in about 90 seconds.

So, what can you use Kwik Stix to paint on? Anything! I’ve used them to paint primarily on paper and wood, and they work very well on both of those mediums. For this review, I want to focus primarily on our holiday decorating uses for them.

kwik-stix-metalixAs I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been busily knitting sweaters for our extended family members for Christmas gifts. Some of them will undoubtedly get wrapped in boxes and wrapping paper, but some will end up in gift bags. My local yarn store provides really nice paper bags instead of grocery-store-style plastic bags, and they look just like plain gift bags, so we’ve been saving those and keeping them nice each time I buy yarn or other knitting supplies. Then we used the Metalix Kwik Stix to paint holiday designs on them. I think they turned out just about perfectly.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos good enough to post here of the artwork we’ve made using Kwik Stix, but we have definitely been using them.

Because I know they work well on wood, these would also be a great way to create your own Christmas tree ornaments. The possibilities for Kwik Stix are borderline endless!

Kwik Stix are available on Amazon, Target.com, and in Target stores. If you’re not in a hurry to get your set, though, be sure to enter the giveaway below for your chance to win a set of either the Metalix or Neon Kwik Stix. Use the Giveaway Tools widget to enter.

Blessings,

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5 Random Things ~ November 11

5 random things

1. Baby Dragonfly celebrates his first birthday this weekend. Instead of doing a big party, we’re having a series of smaller meals for the grandparents. Tomorrow night, Will’s dad and stepmom will join us for tacos; Sunday at lunch will be my dad and his fiancee for spaghetti, and Sunday dinner will be my mom and stepdad for… well, I’m not sure yet (probably pork chops, though). I know it sounds like more work, but the big dinner parties (that we have for the other boys) kind of stress me out, so I think this will be better. Plus that way, baby gets to celebrate his birthday three times instead of just once! (Not that he knows anything special is happening, but even so…)

2. I’m not unhappy about the election results this week.

3. I got some new clothes yesterday. Will saw them at Target and thought they looked so classy on the mannequins that he wanted me to go back with him and try them on, so I did. It’s a black pencil skirt and three tops to go with it. I like how they make me feel 🙂

4. I’m making good progress on those kid sweaters I’m knitting for Christmas. One is down to just sleeves, and I’m partway through the body on another one. That leaves me just one more completely undone, but I want to get these two done before I buy yarn for the final one.

5. I’ll be back tomorrow with a review and giveaway for more Kwik Stix paint sticks, so make sure to check in for your chance to win a set!

Blessings,

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How to Diagram a Sentence with The Critical Thinking Co. (Review)

When I was planning our school year back in August, I decided not to get the next level of our regular grammar program. Even though I love it, and I know the kids are learning a lot from it, they don’t particularly care for it, so I decided to give them a year off from using it. This left us without a grammar program, which I’d planned to fill with something along the lines of copywork. That’s only been happening sporadically, so when the opportunity arose for a review of Sentence Diagramming: Beginning from The Critical Thinking Co., I was very interested. You see, grammar is my strongest subject as a teacher, so I felt kind of lost without having it in our school day. Having something grammar related that was different from what we’ve used in the past was a definite win for everyone involved.

About The Critical Thinking Co.™

The Critical Thinking Co.™ was founded in 1958 by John Baker, and they offered only math back then. They included logic problems in their math curriculum in order to help students to learn not just the math being taught, but also to think more critically about what they were learning. They’ve gone through several name changes in the past 58 years, landing on The Critical Thinking Co.™ in 2003. Their mission statement is to “develop students’ critical thinking skills for better grades, higher test scores, and success in life.” Things you won’t find in a product from The Critical Thinking Co.™ are math drills or requirements for rote memorization. When you use a book or software program from this company, you can rest assured that you won’t be teaching your students to pass a test – you’ll be teaching them to succeed.

About Sentence Diagramming: Beginning

This book was written by elementary and middle school teacher Angela Carter after she was unable to find a quality resource for teaching children to diagram sentences. She learned to diagram sentences herself in college, and really loved how seeing words broken down that way encouraged an understanding of how different types of words work together to create sentences.

There are twelve lessons in the book, and each one can easily be broken up into several days. They start with the simplest of sentences: simple subject and main verb (Babies eat.). There’s a gray box at the beginning of each lesson which is the teaching portion; this section takes between a third and half a page. Then there are four pages of activities for students to practice their new knowledge. Sometimes, there are additional boxes of teaching on subsequent pages in the middle of a lesson. Activities include:

  • The following sentences are diagrammed incorrectly. Diagram them properly.
  • Here are some sentences and empty diagrams. Place the words from the sentences where they go on the diagram.
  • Here are some empty diagrams. Write your own sentence to match the diagram.
  • Here are some sentences. Draw your own diagram and fill in the words properly.

The types of sentences get pretty complex quite quickly; by lesson 3, adjectives and coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor) have been added. By lesson 7, prepositional phrases are introduced. The last four lessons of the book each add a different compound component: subjects, predicates, direct objects, and predicate adjectives and nouns.

How We Used Sentence Diagramming: Beginning

As I mentioned previously, this has become our grammar curriculum for the time being. The boys have enjoyed doing something new and interesting; I like that they’re building on the grammar foundation they already had. Each morning, I would read the teaching section to them, simplifying the explanation as needed to make sure they understood. Then they would do the activities on a separate sheet of paper for inclusion in the grammar tab of their binders. The Critical Thinking Co.™ has a very generous copyright policy, allowing photocopies to be made for use within a single family for as many children as you have, but making those copies was never very convenient for me, so we just used the separate paper method.

When the sentences were easy (lessons 1 and 2), we did all four pages of activities in one sitting. As they continued to get more and more complicated, we broke it up over several days, eventually getting to where we just did one lesson over the course of a whole week.

Final Thoughts

Sentence Diagramming: Beginning has been a really good thing for our homeschool. It keeps the boys’ interest, and they don’t whine when I say, “Open up to your grammar section.” They’re learning new kinds of words, constantly being refreshed on the kinds of words they already knew, and with each diagram, they have a visual reminder of how the different words go together to make an interesting sentence. This book is a definite win!

This is the second time I’ve had the privilege of reviewing for The Critical Thinking Co.™. Last year, Seahawk and I worked through their Pattern Explorers math supplement book (we didn’t finish it at the time, and he still goes back sometimes to do activities from that book; he loves it).

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew are reviewing a variety of things from The Critical Thinking Co.™ this week, including Language Smarts™ Level E, a 4th grade language arts curriculum and a variety of software downloads:

The Critical Thinking Co.™ is also really invested in helping young children from an early age develop their critical thinking skills. They have a great article on The Importance of Preschool Academics, which I would highly recommend reading it if you have young children. Once you’ve read the information on that page, you can then click over to the page that offers 5 preschool apps for under $40, which cover basic reading, writing, and arithmetic for young students.

Blessings,

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Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
 

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Book Club: The Bronte Plot

Book Club with Lori

For the past month, Lori and I have been reading The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay. From the publisher:

When Lucy’s secret is unearthed, her world begins to crumble. But it may be the best thing that has ever happened to her.

Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious liberties to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy’s secret ruins her relationship with her boss and her boyfriend, James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.

In a sudden turn of events, James’s wealthy grandmother, Helen, hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy’s predicament better than anyone else.

As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen’s wisdom as Helen confronts ghosts from her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters’ beloved heroines who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of impossible circumstances.

Now Lucy must face her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that’s been waiting for her all along.

On to the questions (I’m not answering all of them from the website, but you can click the link to find the rest of them).

 

The Lewis quote at the front of the book describes an aspect of Lucy at the beginning of this story. Why do you think she’d lost the power to enjoy books? Is there something in our lives that we can fail to see clearly and lose enjoyment for?

First, let me lead with the quote: Did you ever know a lover of books that with all his first editions and signed copies had lost the power to read them? ~C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

As the question states, this quote definitely describes Lucy at the beginning of the novel. She’s so interested in the specific volume of a book, rather than the story enclosed therein, that she doesn’t really “get” the magic behind a good book anymore. I think that nearly anything can become that in our own lives; I can’t think of a specific example, but it makes sense to me that the more you focus on one aspect of a thing, the easier it is to lose sight of the big picture and eventually no longer enjoy, even if it used to be something we adored.

Sid is one of the author’s favorites. What character trait do you think she found so attractive? She doesn’t tell you a lot about his background—any thoughts as to his story?

Sid is Lucy’s boss. He’s a purveyor of antiques, and Lucy works in his store as both a sales clerk for the antiques and running a side business inside the store collecting and selling old books. Sid is very likeable. He’s always upbeat friendly, and I can definitely understand why the author likes him so much. As for his back story, I imagine him being an older gentleman, thin with white hair (I don’t remember offhand if he’s described this way or not), probably widowed. Perhaps he owned the store with his wife, and after her passing he kept it going because he loved it so much.

Was James justified in feeling so hurt when he found the forged inscription? How did he perceive Lucy’s struggle? Was it a betrayal, like he claimed?

Yes, I think James was absolutely justified in feeling betrayed when he discovered that Lucy had faked the inscriptions in the books she’d sold him. If it had been something simple like, “Oh, this one is neat because it has some writing in it,” that would be one thing, but Lucy went so far as to tell James that the writing inside was as much or more a part of the story behind the book as the actual story the author had written. I don’t think he was very sensitive to Lucy’s struggle at all, but honestly, I don’t really blame him.

Lucy talks about “boiling a frog.” What does she mean?

The point behind the saying is that if you place a frog in boiling water, it will simply jump out. If you place a frog in cool water and then heat it to boiling, the frog will perish in the water. When the temperature changes slowly, the frog doesn’t realize it’s dying. In relation to the book, I think Lucy realizes that a lot of the characters, herself included, are like the frog in the water. When things are bad, they immediately remove themselves. But when things start out good and slowly get bad, it’s much harder to remove yourself from the situation.

Do you agree with Lucy that each person has his or her own worldview? How did hers change? How did James’? Helen’s?

Absolutely, everyone has their own worldview. Things would be pretty boring if everyone saw things the same way. I’m still finishing up the last little bit of the book as I answer these questions, so I’m not entirely sure yet how each of the characters changes their points of view, unfortunately.

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Make sure to head over to Lori’s blog to read her thoughts on The Bronte Plot. Our friend Annette has joined us this month as well, so please read her thoughts too.

Next month we’ll be reading Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill. It’s a novel about a slave during Revolutionary War era America.

Special thanks to Lori for choosing The Bronte Plot. I’m really enjoying the book. Someone Knows My Name is another of her choices, and I’m looking forward to starting that one next week.

Blessings,

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Arrgh! A Unit Study on Pirates (Homeschool Legacy Review)

Thanks to a great review product from Homeschool Legacy, we’ve had the privilege of spending the past few weeks learning all about pirates in history. The Once-a-Week Micro-Study we’ve been working through is called Pirates or Privateers: You Decide. It’s been really interesting learning all the different things offered in the unit study.

pirates

I’ve mentioned before that unit studies are my boys’ favorite way to learn, so this product was definitely a hit in our homeschool. The unit study is well written, including activities to cover a variety of subjects (like any good unit study should!). Included subjects are:

  • Literature: a family read-aloud of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson
  • History: creating a timeline, studying famous pirates and explorers, etc…
  • Geography: learning about the landscape of Earth and which areas were most prone to pirates
  • Critical Thinking: comparing the reality of pirates to the stereotype
  • Creative Writing: writing a story about pirates
  • Government: learning the hierarchy on a pirate ship
  • Current Events: understanding that piracy still exists, and watching the film Captain Phillips to reinforce that fact

There’s not much information in the unit study itself to explain how to actually “do” it, so I did the best I could based on what was there. This isn’t to say that the study is poorly written – it’s not – but more that I just wasn’t entirely sure what to do with all the information and how often to present it. In the end, I decided to take the name of the study at face value: Once a Week. Some of the activities took longer to complete, so in those instances, we’d stretch it out to two days a week, but for the most part, we stuck to the once a week schedule.

The study is 23 pages long, and I printed the whole thing out so I’d have a hard copy to refer to during school hours. For the student activities (timeline, writing short papers, drawing maps, etc), I had the boys work on regular paper and keep the sheets in the “history” tab of their binders. In fact, for the past several weeks, this has been our primary history curriculum.

We did pretty much all of the activities for each week; because it’s a “micro study,” it’s broken up into fairly small chunks, making this easy to do. My main problem with it was the read-aloud of Treasure Island. I’d never read it before, and I found it quite cumbersome to get through. After the first chapter, I decided to get a simpler version from the library.

There are several Once a Week Micro Studies to choose from, and each is designed to work for students in grades 1-8. Homeschool Review Crew members were able to choose from just a small sampling of what they have to offer:

In addition to the micro studies, Homeschool Legacy also offers longer unit studies, and some members of the Homeschool Review Crew got to work through Christmas Comes to America, which is appropriate for grades 1-12. Besides being a great homeschool curriculum, this unit study allows students to earn scouting badges (American Heritage Girls or Boy Scouts).

Because we’re running a Sabbath school schedule this year, our week off fell during the time we were using this study, so we haven’t finished it yet, but we’re definitely going to! We have really enjoyed working on this unit study together; I like the fact that it’s pretty much all inclusive (once you get the hang of it). There are a few things to prep – printing the pages and gathering the books – but for the most part, it’s an “open and go” product, which I love. I think what I’m most excited about (besides watching the boys learn and record their thoughts and discoveries) is finishing the study so we can watch Captain Phillips. I loved that movie when I saw it a couple of years ago; I’m looking forward to sharing it with the children.

Make sure to click the banner below to read about some of the other Homeschool Legacy micro studies, and then click on over to Homeschool Legacy’s website and explore some more. Pick up a unit study while you’re there – individual studies start at just $12, or you bundle several together and save money.

Blessings,

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Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}
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