I’ve always been intrigued with a more literature learning style but my boys were reluctant. They say they prefer one textbook for the whole course. What I’ve found is when it comes to science a textbook can be hard because they tend to just give the facts and you memorize. There is no practical application (aside from experiments.) When I chose this course I didn’t know if it would be a good fit. It was so different than anything we’ve done before. They liked that they only had one small book at a time, it didn’t feel so overwhelming. If they didn’t like a book they knew it would be over in a week and they would jump into something new. My oldest who is the pickiest loved all the practical learning. He would often pull me into a discussion about what he read that day. Sometimes it would be comments like, “I’m never eating that again” and sometimes it would be, “What do you think about vaccines, my book says this.” Both teens willing do their science daily – that to me is the biggest blessing because with Biology, I had a wonderful and solid course for them but they fought me all year. We ended up doing just the reading part and the microscope sat in the box unopened. I think this course is perfect for the non-traditional learner because it is more interest-led. My boys have already decided that we will be doing Guest Hollow Physics next year.
For a limited time, you can access the Cambridge Latin course, online, for free (link is at the bottom of this post). This is a terrific opportunity to take an in-depth look at their materials. Cambridge Latin is one of the Latin resources I used with Otter, and I really liked it a lot! It’s very easy to understand and has lots of resources to help you learn Latin, even without a Latin background. The textbooks are designed for schools, but I found the online course perfect for our homeschool. I love the interactive online practice items that really help you retain the material. I also really like how the online program has an audio narration, to help you with pronunciation (classical style).
A yearly subscription gets you access to terrific materials like an online version of the textbook. Here is a screenshot of one of the very beginning pages from Unit 1 / Stage 1:
The online textbook is a mix of comic-book style stories, reading passages (immersion style learning), history information (with photographs), and exercises / explanations.
Immersion style learning means you are almost immediately reading longer passages of Latin and naturally learning the language without drowning in all the grammar rules. You pick up Latin “naturally” and learn a lot of the grammar just by reading and listening to it. You actually start reading and comprehending Latin right from the start!
You also get access to online exercises. The screenshot below shows the “Listen, Read, Think, and Derive” panel:
With this panel you can read the story, listen to it read out loud, do the think exercises where you respond to questions about the passage, or study the words and phrases in more depth via the derive tab.
There is also a vocabulary tester:
You can also play around with the word sorter to practice vocabulary and check your understanding of words & concepts:
Another resource is an interactive digital version of the student workbooks with plenty of exercises to practice the textbook material:
Click here to take a look! I can’t find a price for the online course subscription listed at this time (probably since they are in the process of restructuring their website), but I remember it was very reasonable.
Cambridge also offers online distance courses and other materials which are available via their official site: http://www.cscp.educ.cam.ac.uk/ . They even have webcam lessons!
If you are interested in teaching or learning Latin, Cambridge Latin is one of my favorite resources! I really enjoyed it and benefited immensely from the immersion style of learning. Cambridge Latin, in my opinion, is most appropriate for high schoolers or adults, although a motivated middle schooler could probably use it successfully with a parent’s help . I used it in combination with a few other programs (when learning languages I find I learn best with a multitude of resources), and still have it on my shelf for myself, even though I am now officially “retired” from homeschooling.
Besides creating homeschool curriculum, I also sometimes write reviews for products. Most of those product reviews are on Amazon. In fact, my current reviewer ranking # is 540 (top 1000 out of anyone / everyone who writes reviews on Amazon )! This translates into getting lots of interesting items for free or a discount in exchange for a review through Amazon sellers. It’s taken me several years to build my reviewer ranking up, but it’s been well worth the time invested. Recently I was asked to test and review a solar charger that we actually really need/want, but the review needs to be posted on my blog, so here it is. I know a lot of you who are homeschooling are into a more natural lifestyle and the like, so you might find this interesting. Christmas is also coming up (for those of you who are early shoppers, LOL), so if you have a husband into prepping, a science minded kid, or if your family hikes a lot or lives where the power goes out, this is a REALLY great item….a SunJack portable solar charger!
P.S. Some homeschool news is posted at the end of this post. 😉
I’ve tried some smaller solar power banks, and it turns out that they aren’t very efficient and take days (on average) to fully charge. The SunJack solves the problem with a much more powerful solar cells that are strong enough to not only run my tablet when it’s on, but also charge it to 100% without leaving it in the sun all day. I’m VERY pleased, as this means we can charge both of our phones, tablet, solar lights, and other goodies when we are “off-the-grid” and also when exploring the local area on treks/hikes/camping trips.
The SunJack is NOT cheap, and you might be wondering if it’s worth the steep price tag. If you need the ability to charge USB items (phone, tablets, camping lights, small USB fans, Kindle, etc.), I think it’s worth the investment. Homeschoolers have the added educational bonus, too, lol. Seriously, this is something Otter would have LOVED to play with. 😉
I did a bit of research about the efficiency of solar cells. The SunJack’s efficiency is rated at 19%. This means that in combination with latitude and the climate, it can convert 19% of the sunlight energy it captures into electrical energy. It seems that there aren’t many solar cells out there that can do much more with a few exceptions, especially at this price point.
The SunJack comes with a 8000mah batter/power bank that has enough power to charge an iPhone 6 Plus about 2.7 times. I kept my Kindle Fire 8 HD tablet plugged to it and turned on for 2 days and I only ran the batter down halfway. Then I hooked the battery up to a Bluetooth speaker and a Kindle Fire 7 and while using those items like a radio. By morning I finally ran the battery down to the point where it was there was only 1 blue indicator light blinking (to indicate the battery was low). The battery / power bank detaches from the SunJack via a USB cord – which is nice that it’s not tethered.
It might be worthwhile to purchase a 2nd battery to charge with the 1st one is being used. It took me about 7 hours to fully charge the battery/power bank. When it’s fully charged, the 5 blue indicator lights are solid, when you push the power button. The battery is a terrific feature that you can power up using the sun initially, and then use it to charge items when the sun isn’t shining! You can also plug the battery straight into a USB charger via a wall outlet for convenience sake. The SunJack has a built in voltage regulator so that you can’t overcharge the battery pack.
When the sun IS shining, the SunJack works pretty well as an instant charger – just like plugging your gadget(s) into a wall socket! This is its most amazing feature, as far as I’m concerned. I hooked my tablet directly up to the SunJack via a USB cord. I kept it running AND charging at the same time. The SunJack was able to charge it 10% in about 40 minutes. That’s not bad considering that the tablet was ON and the SunJack wasn’t in constant direct sunlight the entire time. It was also the late afternoon heading into the evening. It puts out 5 volts, so it should be able to charge any USB item that has that requirement. I read in the questions and answers that the SunJack can’t charge a laptop (via an official answer by the seller). It worked great for my tablet, though! The official description says it can charge a phone in 90 minutes, and I think that is a pretty correct assessment, as long as you put it in full sun.
As for construction – the SunJack is really well put together. When it’s all folded up, it only takes up about 9 x 7 inches and weighs about 2 pounds. It features a zipper net style pouch where the battery is stored via slipping into a stretchy strap. There are also 2 USB ports and an included plug to plug in either the battery for charging purposes, or an electronic device, if you want to run it directly off the SunJack. One of the USB ports is high power, the other low power. You can plug two items in at one time. The solar panels are covered by a water-resistant material (probably a polyester??). It stays closed and folded up via a Velcro. When you unfold it, it’s 30.75 inches long by 9.25 inches wide (AND 1.75” thick). The solar panels are mono-crystalline and protected by plastic panels. All of the stitching of the case is sturdy and well done. There are 2 carabiners that you can attach to various loops located in different places, so you can hang the SunJack on the back of your pack, a tree, or other object. I used it lying flat on the grass and angled toward the sun on a chair.
I’m really impressed with the SunJack and know it will be the first solar charger we pull out when the power goes out, or when we are backpacking out in a forest far from civilization. 😉 It puts out enough juice to keep our important items running, and I love the freedom of using just the sun to power things up. If you are looking for something for your bugout box, homestead, camping trip, emergency kit, kid’s science project, or hike – the SunJack is pricey, but it actually gets the job done when it comes to charging things up.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a SunJack for free from Sunjack in consideration for a gear review.
HOMESCHOOL & CURRICULUM NEWS:
Keep a lookout for my new, terrific language arts unit about prepositions! I’ll be posting it soon. It will be the first in a series of grammar units for elementary age. It is truly the most fun and hands-on grammar unit I’ve seen (in my biased opinion, lol). I also plan on starting work on a NON MATH high school physics course sometime this late fall. American history will follow physics! Subscribe to my blog for updates, or keep an eye on my Facebook page!
The first Lois Lenski book I ever read was Strawberry Girl. I was instantly enamored with it and went looking to see what other books Lois had written. Lois Lenski wrote a host of old-fashioned, wholesome books and illustrated some of the Betsy-Tacy books.
Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison is a wonderful addition to Lenski’s historical novels – a story about the real life of Mary Jemison who was captured on an Indian raid and raised among the Senecas.
In the early days of American, many children were captured by Indians. Some of these children chose not to return to white families when later given the choice. Mary (nicknamed Molly) was one of those children. Her capture occurred in 1758, right in the middle of the French and Indian War. Except for two older brothers who escaped, her family was massacred. Molly was adopted by the Indians and ended up living the rest of her life with them.
The book changes a few of Molly’s circumstances for younger readers, but is otherwise true to the original story. Lenski has done her research and it shows. She not only accurately captures life with the Seneca (and Iroquois tribe), but also successfully portrays the inner struggle in Molly’s heart and mind as she adjusts to her new life. Molly struggles to not forget her family and hangs on with a fierce tenacity to their memories. She clings to what her mother and father told her before being separated and repeats their names to keep them fresh in her mind. After finding out they’ve been killed, Molly has to deal with the dichotomy of knowing that the Indians who killed her family are also the people who have grown to love and care for her. It’s a warfare in her heart as she struggles to come to grips with these realities.
Once she’s given a chance to go back to white “civilization”, Molly finds she has a final choice to make that will forever seal her fate as one thing or another. Is she white? Is she an Indian?
Indian Captive has a satisfying end. After getting there, you can understand why Molly makes the decision she does, whether you agree with it or not. Besides a great opportunity to learn some real history, the book is a terrific window into Indian culture. The Indians are not portrayed as evil or wonderful. They are a range of everything in between, as all human beings are – with some characters more sympathetic than the rest. Indian Captive made a great addition to our homeschool for the mid 1700’s as we learned about the French and Indian War. I read it out loud to my two older kids and was delighted to be given the opportunity to review the Kindle edition. Besides a complex and emotional story, the illustrations by Lenski are a visual treat.
Christian parents, there is some mention of Indian spirituality with mentions of the “Great Spirit”.
I also think this story will appeal more to girls than boys, although both my daughter and son enjoyed it when I read it to them years ago.
If you are looking for a book to delve into Iroquois Indian culture or to illustrate the effects of the French and Indian War on both sides, Indian Captive is a great addition to homeschool history studies. It’s also just a good adventure book that explores a little bit of psychological complexities and makes for some good discussion.
*I recieved this book for free in exchange for my honest opinion.
P.S. For those of you who subscribe to my blog via email or RSS feed, please read this post to re-subscribe via my new subscription service and my new feed address. I’ve decided to delay shutting off my old feed for a week or two during the transition so everyone has a chance to migrate to the new system. Thanks and sorry for the inconvenience!
I am a big fan of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a memoir of a mother with an unflinching look at her extreme parenting based on the “Chinese” way of raising super-kids. Though I don’t agree with most of Amy’s draconian ways of raising her two girls, I still found her book secretly admirable in parts, though flawed.
Tiger Babies Strike back is Kim Wong’s answer to Battle Hymn. It’s her own personal look at Chinese parenting and the toll it takes as well as her personal decision not to follow in the Chinese Tiger Mother footsteps. Her book is a humorous foray into Chinese-American culture as she shares her stories of growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown Her message: “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be robots.”
Kim has a rambling sort of way of writing. She jumps between history and culture lessons about the Chinese to first hand experiences from her childhood up to her parenting her own daughter. She shares all sorts of stories illustrating the damage done from such a harsh version of Chinese parenting and delves off into rabbit trails about other Chinese cultural bits and pieces with a playful and humorous style that is sometimes tinged with a cutting edge of bitterness.
Kim is sassy, astute and also unapologetic for the message behind her book. She says,
“Tiger Parents, you may be asking yourselves, “What is the point of this book?”
“Love your babies, and show your babies that you love them. Withholding your acceptance and praise while pushing your children into achievement might yield certain results, but that kind of pressure stifles other aspects of growing up.”
While I enjoyed getting to peek into the ever fascinating world of Chinese-American parenting, I never felt the book was completely coherent and totally focused on its message. Kim wanders all over the landscape of her upbringing, often popping into the present and delving deeper into the murkiness of history. She is funny, but sometimes I wasn’t totally sure of who her intended audience was. Was she speaking to all parents? Just Chinese-American parents? Tiger Moms? I felt like an outsider peeking into someone’s life with whatever message she was trying to convey slipping past me, a white woman of European ancestry, as I didn’t fit the mold of whomever she seemed to be speaking to, mainly (it appears) those caught between two cultures as she herself is.
Still, despite its faults, I enjoyed learning a great deal about Chinese-American culture and appreciated Kim’s crusade to persuade Tiger Mom’s to put away their claws when it comes to their children. Compared to Chua’s book I think it fell a little flat, but was still an enjoyable and worthwhile read for the cultural aspects.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
P.S. For those of you who subscribe to my blog via email or RSS feed, please read this post to re-subscribe via my new subscription service and my new feed address. I’ve decided to delay shutting off my old feed for a week or two during the transition so everyone has a chance to migrate to the new system. Thanks and sorry for the inconvenience!
The Secret of the Sealed Room: A Mystery of Young Benjamin Franklin (Click here to see the book on Amazon.)
I got this book to use in our homeschool and was disappointed by a subtle anti-Christian feel throughout. Normally this wouldn’t deter us from reading a book, if it has a purpose – but I just didn’t feel it was necessary or appropriate in the The Secret of the Sealed Room. Besides that issue, the main character, Patience is a much too modern feeling for the time period – enough to probably appeal to readers but not faithful to the historical period. Although there is a lot of little historical tidbits scattered throughout the text and a mystery to keep readers guessing, the whole thing fell flat for me with very little positive character traits emulated by the main characters and a very strong “girl power” message sprinkled throughout as the adult characters put down females through cutting comments all of the time and of course our “heroine” proves them all wrong. I have nothing at all wrong with a strong, historical female heroine (see my review for Madeleine Takes Command), but Patience was just too 21st century.
The novel starts out with Patience who was sold as an indentured servant at her mother’s death. During her indenture, her father dies and she’s left in the care of Mrs. Worth. Patience isn’t happy with her lot in life – Mrs. Worth isn’t very kind, has a complaining, criticizing spirit and is harsh and miserly. Expecting her first child, one evening she has Patience fetch the midwife Moll Bacon. Moll comes and administers some herbs to relieve Mrs. Worth’s discomfort. The next morning Mrs. Worth (and her unborn baby) are dead in a vomit filled room and the doctor pronounces the cause of death as poison by arsenic. When Patience finds out that Mr. Richardson, Mrs. Worth’s brother-in-law is going to sell her indenture for pennies, she runs away.
The “adventure” and mystery start at that point and it’s mainly centered around “who killed Mrs. Worth” and where did her strongbox of money disappear to? The midwife Moll Bacon is accused of poisoning the now dead woman and Patience gets accused of stealing the box of money. Patience gets wrapped up in trying to solve the mystery (and clear her name along with Moll’s) with her new, young friend Benjamin Franklin.
I won’t spoil it for those of you who want to read it, so I’ll stop here with the description of the plot. Instead, I’ll focus on the things I personally found irritating.
First: The modern girl plopped down into history issue…
Patience is a very “modern” feeling girl. She chafes against the strong religious views of the time in subtle ways as well as her “station” as a girl and as an indentured servant. There are many references in the book about her being vexed at how girls were looked at or thought about or treated at the time – an opinion I think doesn’t really fit in the way it was presented. I’ve read historical fiction about strong girls that felt real. Patience felt totally contrived with an agenda pushed by the author. So many stereotypes were thrown around by the males in the book. I got really tired of it really fast.
A few quotes: “Well, you’re only a girl, and girls love to weep, so-”
Wilkes flapped his hand. “A weak girl could never hope to break into so sturdy a box, my boy…twas foolish of the wench to steal only the box and not the key as well, but there you are! Girls are not very strong, and they certainly are not very bright.”
“Do you talk back to me, you saucy young hussy?”
There are other instances like the above. Since I was reading the hardback version (and not the Kindle) I didn’t take notes on each and every one, as I usually do when reviewing a book.
Second: The very subtle anti-christian “feel” to the book…
Throughout the book there is a very subtle (and won’t be obvious to children) anti-christian feel that is wrapped up in some of the character’s portrayals as well as Patience’s attitude.
The very first part of the book starts out with, “My name is Patience, but I have little of that with all those in Boston who keep telling me what a bad girl I am. When I learned my letters, the very first sentences I could read proved a harsh and scolding one: In Adam’s fall, we sinned all. In church of a Sunday when the parson preaches about the sins and failings of women, I would swear he gazes straight at me with a stern, disapproving look.”
A little bit later you are introduced to Mrs. Worth’s brother-in-law who is portrayed as a Christian but is nearly evil and certainly very unchristian-like. He is sour and stern and accuses the midwife of witchcraft. Then there is the mention of Cotton Mather who Mrs. Worth think is not “much inferior to an angel” and yet it’s clear he was instrumental in the Salem witch trials so he’s just another idiot, evil Christian (and yes, I think the Salem trials were a terrible tragedy, but just as some like to point to the Crusaders as evidence for Christianity’s stupidity, I believe the author is using Mather to do the same thing). Patience thinks to herself, “It seemed to me that if people like Mr. Richardson had their way, such cruelty would still be going on in Massachusetts.” (That’s in regard to her reading from Mather’s book “The Wonders of the Invisible World” which is about witchcraft.)
Patience mentions how she is reading The Pilgrim’s Progress but doesn’t like it (but hey, at least it has pictures). Anyone who knows about the Pilgrim’s Progress and how influential a (and truly wonderful classic) book it was in Christian households can see the little subtle “dig”. I say that only because of the context of the entire book and all the other “little instances” piled together – NOT because she doesn’t like a particular book. If it was the only instance I would chalk it up to the character’s personal preference. However, taken as a whole, I think it’s the author’s preference shining through, not Patience’s. Hopefully that makes sense.
Another potentially interesting comment that some Christians may take odds with is(interpret it as you will): “Though I do not believe in any kind of magic, I do think we have odd talents that we never or only rarely use. I have a gift of sensing time fairly accurately…” Again, this is just taken in the context of the whole book. There are too many little things like this that pile up and thus gain greater meaning. Another example of that type of thing is a clear stone the midwife leaves on Mrs. Worth’s hearth while she tells he she can “watch her through it”. The midwife then tells Patience it’s not really magic, but hey, if it makes Mrs. Worth feel better there’s no harm in the lie. What was the purpose of her pulling a stone out like that in the first place? How did it help the story? If you are a conservative Christian family, you’ll probably understand why I mention it.
There are plenty of other examples I could mention. Of course, if you are a secular family, this isn’t going to bother you and you can disregard all of the above. However, I wanted to mention it for Christian families who may be trying to decide if a book is appropriate for their family.
Besides all of the above, the characters have to resort to deceit throughout the book. Readers will justify it because of the circumstances, but I didn’t like how integrated into the story it was. At one point Patience chides Ben for lying, stating it’s a sin, and yet she herself resorts to it on numerous occasions.
At any rate, I really didn’t find much to redeem this book for our homeschool. There are plenty of other books that cover similar material with much better/stronger moral lessons interwoven or just plain, good old-fashioned adventure stories. I even liked The Witch of Blackbird Pond despite the “rebellious” and strong female character (with some hypocritical Christians abounding) because it felt so much more authentic and was more balanced and real for the time period. I felt that The Secret of the Sealed Room was too contrived (the convenient friendship with young Franklin) and had too many subtle agendas woven throughout.
However, having said that, for those of you who find the things I mentioned NOT an issue, young readers will probably enjoy the mystery aspect of the story and learn a lot of historical details that are sprinkled throughout the novel about Benjamin Franklin during his indenture to his brother, the Salem Witchcraft trials, books and papers circulating the colonial towns at that time, details about early Boston and so on. It just wasn’t a fit for MY family, at all.
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The Ward (Click here to view the book on Amazon. It will be released on April 30, 2013.)
I LOVE dystopians and was totally intrigued by the cover of The Ward. It didn’t disappoint. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my heart was pounding while reading various sections and that NEVER happens. Needless to say I read it all in one sitting because I didn’t want to put it down.
The Ward is set in a futuristic Manhattan that is completely flooded. Only the tops of skyscrapers pierce through the water after a meteor collided with a glacier in the Antarctic sometime around 2048 causing high-temperature gases to be released which caused a rise in the sea level. As the Ocean levels rose, fresh ground water was contaminated and the landscape totally changed. Instead of asphalt roads, canals thread their ways through the upper stories of remaining buildings. Boardwalks and suspension bridges stretch from area to area and instead of cars, there are water vehicles.
“Upstate” NY is its own country and, after a conflict with New York City in 2054, they embargoed access to fresh water. New York City is now separated into two areas: the West Isle and The Ward. When the government closed access in and out of the Ward, everyone who was there was stuck for good, even if they lived and commuted from the West Isle. World building is released in little bits of information here and there and while you understand what’s going on in the NY area, very little if anything is said or described about the rest of the world or what happened to the United States. Still, it’s enough information to set the stage and satisfy.
The West Isle is filled with the upper class who have relatively easy lives with plenty of access to water despite the embargo while the Ward is cordoned off to contain people infected with the deadly HBNC virus and is more like a slum with little access to life-giving water. The residents of the Ward filter their rainwater but it’s always a struggle. From the book: “…and (I) look down into the murky water. To think – people used to fill toilet bowls with fresh. Pissing into a pot you can drink out of. Unbelievable.”
It’s a crime to transmit the HBNC virus and roving bands of enforcers test residents to see if they are contagious. Test positive and you’ll be arrested. Those that live in the Ward live in constant fear of either contracting the disease, if they don’t already have it, being arrested if they do or dying if they’ve been infected and can no longer transmit the virus. It’s an ugly world where the dying scrape together money for injections to relieve the pain and the healthy are just surviving.
Sixteen year old Ren lives in this world and struggles to take care of her younger sister Aven (actually a friend who grew up in the same orphanage) who is infected with the HBNC virus, but no longer contagious. A tumor bulges out from the base of her skull. She’s dying and Ren races to earn money to take care of Aven and buy the meds that give her temporary relief from the excruciating and debilitating pain she suffers. Through Aven you get to see a very tender side of Ren underneath the tough exterior. She truly loves this fragile girl who has become her only family.
Ren has a secret; she’s working for the hated enforcers to earn extra money for Aven, looking for a freshwater source during the races. What she finds under the water’s surface will be the beginning of a dangerous journey where age-old mysteries are unraveled (along with a little bit of a fantasy element). Ren finds water, but it isn’t just any water…and what it can do is the catalyst behind a world-rocking change and plenty of personal imperilment.
To say The Ward is riveting is an understatement. Besides the intriguing premise, it delivers with rich characters, plenty of twists and plenty of heart-pounding action. There were some underwater scenes where I was nearly gritting my teeth. You know the kind where a vehicle plunges into the water and water starts rushing in and someone is trapped and gulping air and….yeah…that kind. Definitely intense.
I loved it that the characters in The Ward are fully fleshed out. Ren is completely likable as well as genuinely funny. The novel is told in first person from her perspective but there is plenty of world detail along with her humorous insights. Thankfully The Ward is lacking the usual sickly-sweet love triangle Y.A. dystopian novel focus. There is a little bit of a love interest but it’s such a mild sub-plot that it doesn’t steal from the show.
The racing part of the story (Ren races some sort of water vehicle that skips across the top of the water and skids across the sides of partially submerged buildings) is NOT my usual fare, however I found myself enjoying it. It’s a technical, sci-fi type of racing that would make a terrific action scene in a movie. Ren is struggling to make it in what is apparently a male-dominated venue but her tenacity and raw skill earn her reluctant respect. As the story progresses, the racing takes a back seat to the plot twists surrounding Ren’s discovery and the revelation that everyone isn’t who they appear to be as the story unfolds. I don’t want to share anymore because part of the fun is seeing how the story unravels and twists as you read along.
Now for the Mom part of the review: I would rate The Ward PG-13. The Ward is definitely a gritty novel that doesn’t shy away from Ren’s inner dialogue or violent events. There are several instances of instances of cursing (or “near” cursing) like: hell, dam*it, effed up, brack (I guess it’s the Ward’s version of a cuss word), bada$$ery, slut, a couple mentions of giving the finger and so on. There is no s*x, although this topic exists in various venues, such as the time when Ren is naked in front of one of the guy characters at one point and there is a kiss and Ren gets distracted by a young man’s hands lifting her by her armpits (“dangerously close to other places”) and other similar instances. There is also mention of two dragster “girlfriends” (apparently homos*xual although no further details are fleshed out) and Ren talks about her breasts and backside (but not in detail, just in the context of an outfit). There is some underage drinking, although it doesn’t play a big part and Ren herself doesn’t like it but “takes a sip” to be “polite”.
I would say The Ward is more appropriate for older teens vs. the younger crowd and it definitely has an adult edge to it mixed with a strong “teen flavor”. Ren is a strong character leading an adult life despite her age. Conservative Christian families will probably not feel comfortable with some of the situations she finds herself in, even though The Ward is a bit more tame than other novels in this genre with less specific “adult” material. Ren has a crush and she’s in adult situations, but it’s straight forward and there isn’t much, if any, fluff. The focus is on the action, not on a love story or a heavy does of s*xual tension as Y.A. novels sometimes tend to lean towards.
I read other reviews of The Ward written by teens and apparently many of them were kind of “lost” or not drawn into the story as frequently and easily as I’ve seen for other titles. The Ward is more subtle in letting you know what’s going on as far as world building goes and how it describes the past. I’ve summed it all up in the beginning of my review, but that info was gleaned from multiple areas in the book. I think the fact that the racing scenes were described but the reader is not told the “hows” behind it was probably a bit mildly disconcerting to some readers as well. The thing I read over and over was how the readers enjoyed the main character Ren and I have to agree she’s the one that anchors the book as a whole. While I would have liked more background or world building, Ren kept me from caring too much about whatever might be lacking as the action barely ever let up from start to finish.
I found The Ward to be a refreshing entry into the dystopian genre and even though it’s a Y.A. novel, as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ren is such a strong character that she manages to pull the book through any potential weak spots. The action swept me along and I’m looking forward to the next book. Even though the ending was wrapped up nicely, there were a few big elements where you are left hanging and hungry to read more. I can’t wait for book #2 and recommend The Ward to anyone who likes either dystopians, a bit of modern/futuristic worlds with a fantasy/mild sci-fi twist or just a good action story.
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I’ve been homeschooling for 17 years now and have seen (and probably used, lol) just about everything you can think of for vocabulary studies. One of our favorites over the years is the book Vocabulary Cartoons for the way it connects pictures to a word’s meaning. The negative about Vocabulary Cartoons is that it’s in a book format. It’s kind of hard to practice definitions when you can see everything (like the definition/answers) all together on the page.
Marie’s Words Vocabulary Flash Cards solves this! Fun illustrations are on the front of each card (about the size of an index card). Flip it over and you get the definition(s), pronunciation help, synonyms and antonyms. There is a total of 550 cards with words targeted for the SAT.
The front of each card features the word you are learning along with an illustration to help you remember the meaning of the word. For example: the word viscous is drawn with a jar of honey being poured over the top of the letters V I S C O U S. You can see that the honey is clinging to the top of the letters and dripping down. It’s an immediate visual cue that really helps you remember that a viscous substance (like honey) has a thick, sticky consistency between a solid and liquid.
On the “hamper” card below you can see both meanings for hamper: something to hold dirty laundry and also the fact that the vehicle is being hampered from driving any further.
The back of each card has several helps beyond just a definition (or several definitions if a word has more than one meaning).
First, there is a number on the upper left corner. This is helpful if you want to alphabetize your cards. Ours are hopelessly out of order from using them so much, but if we ever wanted to put them back in order, these numbers would help tremendously.
Next, there is the word you are defining featured prominently at the top (which is nice if you are helping a child practice – you don’t have to look at the front of the card to see what you are doing) as well as a pronunciation help underneath. The pronunciation help is a great feature, especially for some of the harder and more unfamiliar words. For example: On the card for the word putrid the pronunciation help shows: pyoo-trid with the pyoo part in bold so you know to emphasize that syllable.
Underneath the word and it’s pronunciation help is the definition itself. Sometimes there is more than one definition if a word has more than one meaning. There is also a sentence for each definition so you can see the word in context. I find this really helps my son better retain the meaning. The sentence for the first definition (and most commonly used meaning) is related to the drawing on the front of the card to make it stick even more.
The last thing on each card are two boxes at the bottom. One contains synonyms and the other antonyms. These boxes do double duty. Not only do they expose you to even more vocabulary, they also help clarify the meaning of the word. Let’s say my son is learning the 2nd definition for the word “hamper” and he doesn’t know what impede or restrict means. He can look at the antonym box and see that the opposite meaning is to allow or permit. This not only helps make the definition more clear, it also connects it to other words and meanings. When he looks at the synonym box he can see the synonyms block and stymie. These words will either help him better define the word or will introduce him to additional vocabulary words he may not be totally familiar with. I find the synonym box to also be a huge plus in that it can allow a student to define the word using just one other word instead of a longer definition. Sometimes that just works better (and is quicker)!
I know these cards are being marketed for SAT study, but I think they are just as useful as a vocabulary program for almost any age (though some words and their definitions might be too difficult for some early elementary students). I’ve found that they are a fun break from using a workbook or something similar. They are easy to use, quick and memorable (and portable!).
Another thing I want to comment on is that I work with a child who has (high functioning) autism (Aspergers). This child sometimes has difficulty learning things out of context. Having Marie’s Words on hand instantly ties each word to something visual and more easy to connect to than just a word itself.
A student can easily use the cards on his own, but I find it’s more fun to use them together. We like to flip through them and quiz each other. Even I learned some words *blush*…
The only negative thought I have about Marie’s Words is the name. It’s not sticky. I think the cards should be called something like Visual Vocabulary or something similar. Ah well. That’s a very minor complaint and has nothing to do with the actual use of the cards themselves. Also, sometimes the definition is kind of difficult, but all you have to do is look at the synonyms to “dumb it down”.
I’ve had great success using Marie’s Words in my homeschool and highly recommend them if you are looking for something different to help you teach vocabulary. The illustrations really help the word meanings stick and turn learning vocabulary into something visual, quick, easy and even fun!
Click here to visit the official Marie’s Words website. You can also purchase them from Amazon and Timberdoodle. If you visit the official site, there is also an app available for the iPhone, iPad and Android!
I just finished reading Madeleine Takes Command to Otter for history. He really enjoyed this adventurous tale set in the 17th century.
Madeleine Takes Command was originally written in 1946 and is based on the true story about a 14 year old girl and her two younger brothers as they defend their family fort on the St. Lawrence River against an attack by the Iroquois.
The story starts out in the fall of 1692 with Madeleine’s father away in Quebec and her mother leaving to conduct business in Montreal. Madeleine is left in charge of her family’s seigneury. A seigneury was a piece of land given in New France – Canada – belonging to the French King and managed by landlords. Tenant farmers called habitants farmed the land and paid taxes to the seigneur (landlord) assigned to each parcel. As Madeleine’s mother states when embarking on a canoe to leave, “…one cannot put much trust in strange soldiers…That’s why there must always be some member of the family left in charge.” Even though Madeleine is only 14, as the eldest child of the seigneur, she needs to remain behind to keep an eye on things. Her two younger brothers, 12 and 10 years old, stay with her. One thing that struck me about this book was the level of responsibility put on the shoulders of such young children, and yet they were fully capable and trustworthy.
Madeleine was left in charge of 10 militiamen as well as the seigneury’s habitants. When the Iroquois attack and kidnap or kill all but two of the militiamen, Madeleine is left with her two brothers, an 80 year old retired soldier who is her family’s servant and the two remaining soldiers to guard the remaining women, children and the fort itself. The two soldiers turn out to be cowards who threaten to blow up the fort rather than be taken alive by the Mohawk Indians. Madeleine now not only has to manage the fort’s defense, she also has to manage these two men who are a liability and unable to be fully trusted. Eventually she is joined by an additional man and his family who narrowly escape capture as they arrive via their canoes on the river.
Over the course of a week, the small band manages to keep the Indians at bay through a combination of sheer determination, wits and teamwork. Staying up for days on end with only short naps, the group makes it seem as if the fort is well guarded and filled with many more people than it really is. Madeleine proves to be a resourceful commander and is obeyed without question, despite her youth or the fact that she is a young woman (I say woman because she is most definitely not a child). Even her ten year old brother has an important part to play in the fort’s defense and turns out to be a better man than the two adult soldiers who are nearly useless.
Madeleine and her brothers were portrayed very realistically. They were afraid and yet brave. Certainly not perfect, you can see them struggling in various areas. Madeleine is a good leader. She isn’t some super hero. Instead, she relies on those around her and very capably assigns them duties based on their various temperaments and abilities. Her quick thinking and devotion to do the right thing is the reason for her success, not her physical strength. The others around her all show different strengths and weaknesses. There is the wife of Monsieur Fontaine who lies around crying in the blockhouse all day and solid, dependable Nanette who makes sure the fort’s defenders are well-fed with a hearty stew and yet doesn’t question or argue with Madeleine when told NOT to come out at night, even though she wants to help. She sets an example for the other women and children. There is Louis who, though he disagrees with Madeleine at times, bends to her will even when conflicted. Little Alexander, who is scared out of his wits and honestly admits it, manages to hang on through the long nights, exhausted but courageous and determined to help in any way he can. There are also the adults who obey Madeleine’s commands. Recognizing that there can only be one leader, they LET her lead. Any conflict in this area could mean the forfeit of all of their lives. They follow the chain of command, even when it would be easy to take it over themselves.
I scheduled this book in our history studies (using the Awesome History Timeline Schedule) and learned a bit about French Canada and the dangers faced by colonists during this time period. The book also briefly mentions William of Orange, King of England and the conflict between England and France which was played out in the colonies as well. The Indians are portrayed as savages, however the Christian mission Indians turn out to be the saviors of many of the fort’s captured farmers. This is not an overtly Christian book, even though it’s published by Bethlehem Books. It does mention prayer as well as Madeleine finding brief comfort in her fort’s chapel. It’s clear that Madeleine’s family are Catholic as there is mention once of thanking the “Virgin” or something along those lines. The book also portrays how things were run in New France and what steps were taken to fight the Indians in order to secure the colonist’s land. It’s clearly presented from the European side, with very little sympathy towards the Indians.
The book itself has 18 pen and ink illustrations that are old-fashioned and perfect accompaniments to the story. My favorite is on page 175 where it shows Madeleine resting her head on her arms on a table and sound asleep, when all she meant to do was get a quick bite to eat. The rest show pictures of things like the Indians, the colonists running into the fort, etc.
While the book isn’t my favorite writing style, my son found it to be engaging and looked forward my reading it out loud each night. While so many modern books have heroes with characteristics I would NOT want my son to emulate, I didn’t find that to be the case in Madeleine Takes Command. This was a great choice for our history studies with a good dose of character training to boot. Madeleine Takes Command does this double duty with a heavy splash of adventure and a generous telling of history. It’s a perfect book to read when studying the late 17th century and I highly recommend it for either homeschool studies, or just for your child’s home library.
Want to read more of my book reviews (for adults, teens and children)? Click here!
Fifty-five years ago, Helen L. Taylor took John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and simplified the vocabulary and concepts for young readers, while keeping the story line intact. The result was a classic in itself, which has now sold over 600,000 copies. It’s both a simple adventure story and a profound allegory of the Christian journey through life, a delightful read with a message kids ages 6 to 12 can understand and remember. A new look and fresh illustrations for today’s children enlivens the journey to the Celestial City.
While recently studying John Bunyan, a Christian preacher from the 17th century and the famous author of The Pilgrim’s Progress – a widely read book in Christian households for several centuries, we decided to take a small break from the historical fiction novels that accompany our history studies and turn to a literature selection for a week or so. John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress in two parts in 1678 and 1684. In it, while telling a tale of a heroic, medieval style quest & pilgrimage, he communicates to his readers the struggles, temptations, challenges and ultimately the redemption of the Christian choosing to follow the straight and narrow path through life.
Instead of reading the actual Pilgrim’s Progress, which would probably be a bit dry for Otter’s taste, I decided to read Little Pilgrim’s Progress instead. It was a HUGE hit (thanks Mom for giving us our first copy!). Even though Otter is older than the suggested age range, he (and I!!) had a wonderful time picking apart and discussing all of the Christian allegory, while enjoying a good, old-fashioned tale of adventure.
Little Pilgrim’s Progress perfectly adapts The Pilgrim’s Progress for a younger audience but stays fairly true to the original story. It covers two main stories: the journey of Christian, a boy from the City of Destruction and his journey to the Celestial City and then, later, the story of Christiana, a young girl who, afterwards, follows the same road at a more leisurely pace on the path forged by Christian.
This is NOT a watered down story that side-steps ugliness. There is plenty of fighting (complete with swords and armor), nasty creatures set on killing unsuspecting travelers, temptations, traps, cruelty and even death. Though the book doesn’t shy from these types of situations, I still think it appropriate for all ages, except the VERY young (4 or 5) who might be upset or scared by some of the circumstances the young travelers find themselves in.
As Christian and his counterparts travel the path to the Celestial Kingdom, various virtues and vices are highlighted in different characters and settings. The children encounter a variety of places that correspond to different stops along the real road of life such as the Slough of Despond (depression), The Valley of Humiliation, The Hill of Difficulty, and others such as the City of Vanity Fair.
Vanity Fair is described as follows in the book,
“The Wicked Prince…had built this city, which was called Vanity Fair, just beyond the Dark Valley and the wilderness, because he knew that when the pilgrims reached its gates they would be feeling tired and faint, and he hoped that it would then be easy to persuade them to stay there, instead of going farther on the Way of the King.
So he filled the great city with everything that was pleasant and beautiful… and the Wicked Prince took care to give them plenty of things to enjoy so that they might never have a moment to spare in which to think of the King whom they had forsaken.”
Wow. That could have been written about TODAY!
Even though this book is a bit old-fashioned and based on a 17th century classic, the messages and lessons sprinkled liberally in The Little Pilgrim’s Progress are timeless and applicable to every Christian’s life. I highly recommend it. Even if you are a secular family, picking apart the allegory wrapped up in this enjoyable story is a worthwhile enterprise.
Also, there is an “Adventure Guide” available that will help you discover the Biblical themes and literature concepts while reading the story. I wish I would have known about this when we read it:
“The Guide breaks the novel down into two parts – Christian’s journey and Christiana’s journey. Each journey is separated into four reading sections. These reading sections include vocabulary, questions, allegorical interpretations, literature elements, Bible application, character charts and character matching. A Parent/Teacher Helps section is also included which offers detailed suggestions regarding story charts. In addition, a mapping bulletin board that can also be used as a game is included. Finally, this section includes several art and literature extensions.” quote from Amazon
In this 60th anniversary edition of Little Pilgrim’s Progress, each chapter has been enhanced with attractive chapter headings. Older illustrations are featured throughout the story that feel old-fashioned and are pen and ink drawings. The cover is beautiful and shows Christian fighting Giant Despair. This is a book to read to your children and save for your grandchildren! I wish I had read Little Pilgrim’s Progress to my older children. I’m just really glad I pulled it off the shelf to read to Otter. It’s no wonder the original story has been treasured for hundreds of years and we will both remember it for the rest of our lives.
Want to read more of my book reviews (for adults, teens and children)? Click here!