Monday, September 28, 2009

Math Doesn't Suck

Really.  It doesn't!  Especially with the help of Danica McKellar.

In Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail, mathematician and actress Danica McKellar shows 6th to 8th grade girls that math is fun, useful, and at times even glamorous!  She explains fractions, least common multiples, factoring, decimals and percents with style and humor, and with more quizzes than a Teen Beat magazine.  And it isn't fluff... I learned a few new tricks from Math Doesn't Suck, and I do math for fun sometimes.  =)

The good news is that once you've mastered middle school math, you can move on to Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who's Boss.  I can't wait!  

Here's a fun video of Danica McKellar talking about Kiss My Math. 

Crow Call

If we didn't already love Lois Lowry...

Crow Call by Lois Lowry

Lowry (The Giver, Number the Stars) released her first picture book last week (illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline).  Crow Call is an autobiographical story of Lois (Liz) as a young girl, her father just returned home from WWII.   He's been gone so long she hardly knows him, and in this early morning adventure they set out to reconnect.  This book is absolutely lovely.  It's as quiet as its country morning setting, and envelopes the reader in its warmth, wrapping us up in its bright woolen shirt.  I hugged it when I finished reading it.  =)

Highly recommended - ages 4-up

Friday, September 18, 2009

Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491

This one is hot off the press!

Based on the adult nonfiction book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles Mann does his best to make us question everything we think we know about Native American culture before 1492.

Just over 100 pages - Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 contains beautiful art, but is not your typical picture book.  Target age is definitely ten and up, with several paragraphs of rich, full text on most pages.  Mann does not gloss over the details, but instead tackles eleven chapters' worth of information - covering everything from the Asian footbridge to genetic engineering (of corn) to mummies and tapeworms.

For middle grades to adult, this is an excellent book to add to your studies of American History, especially for the textbook-phobic.

Unite or Die!

Love this little book!

If there were ever a fun way to learn about how the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the Constitution, this is it.  For ages 8 and up, this picture book tells the story (in the form of a school play - *very* funny!) of the squabbles among the states during the post-revolutionary period.  Each state, played by an elementary school actor, has its own distinct personality that beautifully displays the concerns and desires of each particular state.

Although it's a picture book, it can easily be enjoyed by older kids.  I learned a few things!  And while my kids are not likely to check out picture books from the library these days, I find that if I check them out and leave them scattered around, they definitely get read and are certainly enjoyed. 

As a lovely bonus, the book's website has a free download of the Unite or Die Reader's Theater, which is a play format of the book for up to 17 actors.  How fun for a group of kids to act out the scenes in the book!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Book in Time

I stumbled upon a really helpful website this week called A Book in Time.  This site indexes TONS of books by historical period. 

If you're studying, for example, American History, you can search first by century.  Then each century is further divided into 4 to 5 subcategories.  Under each subcategory (ex: 1740-1770) is a list of book titles that fit that setting with a short description and a link to find it.  The list contains books for K-12 (I can't find a search function that limits the list by book audience) but each title is clearly denoted with suggested grade levels. 

Along with the book lists, the site also has links to craft ideas, reading logs, maps, and a host of other extras.  The only downside I can find is that most of the books are older titles.  Great books, but I'm not seeing some of my favorite books that have been published in the last few years.  Still, this site is definitely worth bookmarking and checking out before your next library visit!


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Update: The Magician's Elephant

Well, now that I have read this book, I felt I had to post again.  Amazing!!  I honestly believe that I have to call it my New Favorite Children's Book Ever.  Ever.

Click here for an excerpt. 

I picked it up the other night at work, and couldn't put it down.  Read it all through my dinner, and brought it home that night.  It's completely enrapturing.  Kate DiCamillo is a brilliant writer all around, but there's something so poetic, so lyrical about the writing in The Magician's Elephant that I just haven't seen in a long, long time.  Its simplicity and flow remind me a bit of The Little Prince (which has been translated into 180 languages, so that's saying something).  Because the book is fairly short (208 pages, but typically only 2 paragraphs per page) it would lend itself well to a Junior Great Books style of study with multiple readings.  Read once for action, read a second time for deeper meaning, character study, and critique.

The book's website is hosting a webcast with the author on October 26 (held at Sidwell Friends School in DC, but you can log in via the Web) and I have signed up to participate!

Also from the site, you can download a free Activity Kit and Discussion Guide for the book.  Enjoy!


Thursday, September 10, 2009


Ooooh.  I'm in awe of this website!  Quizlet is a fun, simple, and free way to help kids with memorizing pretty much anything!

There are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of online flashcards already created, plus you can create your own.  You can make them as easy or as difficult as you like, and you can add images to the cards as well (quizlet has them stocked - no need to find them on your computer or the Web).  The best part is you can share them with any group or class!  Try it here.  Did I mention it's free??

We'll be using them for our Classical Conversations memory work every week.

The Magician's Elephant

New this week from Kate DiCamillo (Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie) is The Magician's Elephant.  I can't wait to get my hands on this one (especially after just finishing Water for Elephants yesterday!).  This novel is getting great reviews, and I'm sure it will be on the short list for the 2010 Newbery Award.

Recommended for ages 8-13.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Goldsmith's Daughter

If you love historical fiction the way I do, here's a great new YA title to check out by author Tanya Landman (I Am Apache).  The Goldsmith's Daughter releases Tuesday, September 8.
Set in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan during the Spanish conquest of Mexico, this story explores the devastating collision of cultures through the eyes of the teenage Itacate.  I haven't found too many novels written in this setting, so this is definitely one to add to the list for a study of pre-U.S. American history.

Recommended for grades 7 and up.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Defining Twilight

Am I excited to share this one!   Do you have a Twilight fan in your house?  Exploit the obsession... and turn it into a study session.
From the publisher:
This workbook contains 40 groups of vocabulary words selected from
Twilight. Many of these words will show up on your SAT, ACT, GED,
or SSAT. Beginning at Group 1, refer to the Twilight page where each
vocabulary word appears. Read the word in context and come up with
a definition. Then check your definitions against those provided in
this workbook and make corrections. I’ll also show you synonyms,
word parts, and memorization tools. Read these over a few times, and
then complete the drills. Do that for all 40 groups. There’s no easier or
more fun way to learn 600 vocabulary words! By the end of this book,
your vocabulary will be larger, your test scores will be higher, and
you’ll be a Twilight scholar!
I checked the book out at work, and it actually has a nice layout and decent vocabulary exercises for 40 word groups.  These are not the most demanding lists on the market (from List 1, "noble" isn't going to stretch too many vocabularies, but "ubiquitous" might), though the fact that they're lifted from a real book and can be studied in context - and with the book in hand - is a definite plus, especially for a student that doesn't feel under the SAT gun quite yet.

Click here for a link to a free chapter from the publisher.

The guide to New Moon will be available Oct 26, 2009 and can be pre-ordered from Amazon.

The Claw

Before we get started in Bookville, can I just post this one little gem?  M has handwriting issues.  Actually, they both have handwriting issues; M has grip issues.  Big time.  We've been working on this for 3 years now, and I can't break the thumb-wrap-around habit no matter how many weird pencils, triangular grippers, spongy-thingies I bought.  Then, thanks to my peeps on the WTM boards, I found The Writing Claw.

It looks crazy, I know.  But I am here to tell you that 2 days with the claw and we're in business.  M can hold her pencil without the thumb-wrap on her own now.  We'll still use the claw for a while, just to make sure the habit gets cemented in, but I have a feeling we won't have to rely on it for long.
Coming soon... Defining Twilight

Welcome to the Homeschool Library!

It's all about the books.

I had a blog several years ago. We were living overseas, I had just started homeschooling my two girls, and I was excited to share our adventures with friends and family. Of course, because we were living in Italy, we had lots of cool photos to share, and we could make people jealous when we actually visited the places they were only reading about. =)

However, I found that a personal blog is just not for me. My life isn't that interesting. My kids aren't overachievers, and we're just not that different from any other family on the block (well, maybe a little different...). But BOOKS. Oh, books. Now that's where I have something to share.
Most homeschool moms have a plethora of books. Books are everywhere, piled on every flat surface, threatening to take over the house (and if they're not, you're not homeschooling right).

But can I admit here, freely, that I have gone a step beyond? Here's how it happened: when I finished my bachelor's degree, my kids were 6 & 3 (I was a late bloomer, what can I say?). By then I had figured out that I was really good at being a student, so I wanted to continue on to grad school. I wanted to do something that would allow me to be with my kids as much as possible. I thought about teaching, and got a job as a substitute teacher in my older daughter's school. Then, I started volunteering in the library.  This was it. The place. Nirvana. A K-3 library, and I was hooked. I was in there every spare minute, and before I knew it, I was in library school with the dream of being a school librarian.

Two moves later (we're a military family) we had pulled both kids out of their DOD school, I was knee-deep in grad school, and I fell head-first into homeschooling. I checked out a pile of homeschooling books from the library (and on this trip I found The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, which has pervaded my consciousness ever since) and we never looked back. Okay, we looked back a few times, but mostly we never looked back.

Fast forward a handful of years and here I am. I'm an assistant professor at a local university teaching Library Skills and Research Methods. I teach literature classes and facilitate book clubs for young people. And I work part time at a big-box book seller (who shall, according to company policy, remain nameless) where I have my hands all over the children's, young adult, parenting and education departments 4 nights a week. It doesn't pay well, but I can't give up just being surrounded by it all. Having all those books pass through my hands is a dream.

When I find a good book, a good resource, a diamond in the rough, I want to pass it on. I can't help it.

I hope I introduce you to something new here!