Up, Up, and Away! 1,500 books prepare to travel to Anglican Seminaries in Africa

The Wonderland BookSavers are continuing with their mission to spread the joy of reading through the distribution of used texts to new readers.  In this capacity, we were called upon to find a home for approximately 1,500 books from the personal library of the (deceased) prominent Episcopal minister, Rev. H. Boone Porter.

Porter basementWe began our project in the catacomb-like basement of the parish rectory.  With flashlights and extension cords for our computers, we created an initial bibliography of the books we discovered.

Porter Sept

Porter Greek Porter Hebrew

Each box was like a surprise Christmas gift.  We discovered Bibles from the 1800’s, ancient prayer books in miniature (designed for portability) and texts in Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

Porter St.Paul'sAfter our initial assessment of the books we began looking for a recipient.  After much research we contacted the Theological Book Network in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  We were thrilled to finally locate an organization that could organize and distribute our large volume of theological texts.

The following is a letter the Theological Book Network received from South Sudan from a previous (not ours) book donation.  We are so grateful that the human spirit will continue to rise even after decades of desperation.

RECONCILE-Peace-InstituteThe RECONCILE Peace Institute is so thankful for your (Theological Book Network) partnership!

Your affirming e-mails, phone conversations, and library resources are an absolute blessing! The Theological Book Network’s generous commitment to provide 1,500 books will help improve the vital ministries of trauma recovery and conflict transformation which we offer in South Sudan. Thank you. Without question, life in a nation scarred by decades of
civil war, lack of development, extensive trauma, and profound community wounds is quite difficult, but the Lord has called our organization to this service. God is using people of faith from around the globe and in the Church in South Sudan to accompany the world’s newest nation in her journey towards hope, healing and reconciliation. Thank you for
investing your resoures into God’s vision for South Sudan.

As I write this letter, the South Sudanese pastors, teachers, bishops, NGO peace workers, and community leaders pictured above are traveling into places of unrest and conflict to make a difference. They all studied and trained at the RECONCILE Peace Institute. Your partnership reminds them, Christians of all nations support their efforts to rebuild their
communities. Thank you. I am sincerely honored to call you partners and friends.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Shelvis Smith-Mather, M.Div., Th.M
Principal of the RECONCILE Peace Institute
RECONCILE International (Yei, South Sudan)

Theological Network builds “libraries” from donated books and ships them around the world.  Rev. Bonne Porter’s books will be traveling to Anglican Seminaries throughout Africa.

This is particularly appropriate as Rev. Boone Porter is best know for his efforts to find common ground in the various denominations representing the Christian faith.  His scholarly work led him to rewrite the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer.

As noted in the New York Times on July 1, 1999:

“The vision of Reverend Dr. Cannon H. Boone Porter’s 44 years of ordained ministry aimed to revitalize the Episcopalian Church through education, liturgical reform and inclusion of its marginalized members.  His work of raising up new membership, enriching Christian worship and creating a central place for women, Afro-and Native Americans and rural communities in the Church was often opposed but succeeded in redefining the Episcopal Church’s relationships within itself and with the world.”

Porter taping boxesWe found that Boone’s personal library contains approximately 1,500 Christian texts, ranging from prayer books, books on Christian doctrine, books on the importance of architecture and discussions of faith-based questions such as personal responsibility and the ethics and ethos of free will.

Porter pen and inkAs we handle these books we imagine the human beings who have come before us, hundreds of years of readers who have gained insight and inspiration from these very same pages.

“If God’s love is for anybody anywhere, it’s for everybody everywhere.” — Edward Lawlor, Nazarene General Superintendent

Porter lifting boxes

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is connecting our lives with the lives of others, in a meaningful, tangible manner.

Aftermath and Leisure: A poetic taste of Indian summer

The end of summer and the beginning of autumn begins with blurred edges and ends with a sharp quick taste, like too-dark chocolate.

Aftermath Scooter in oceanThis year fall we have been graced with long Indian summer days paired with apple crisp evenings.  Our too short summer is now extending into October.

Aftermath library pillow fight 1

Aftermath library pillow fight 2

Our local library hosts an evening pillow fight.

Aftermath kayaks 1We daily wear bathing suits and T-shirts while frisking in the riotous spanking yellows and poignant orange pigments of the season.

Aftermath bioDespite the weather, school is open…and with it we have new lessons, sharpened pencils, more Shakespeare, biology experiments and new poems to memorize.

What better poem to capture the season than Aftermath by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?

Aftermath Scooter w:bird

Aftermath Bounce w:bird

When the summer fields are mown,

Aftermath Bounce hands w:bird

When the birds are fledged and flown,

And the dry leaves strew the path;

With the falling of the snow,

With the cawing of the crow,

Once again the fields we mow,

 Aftermath tents

And gather in the aftermath.

Not the sweet, new grass with flowers

Is this harvesting of ours;

Aftermath vase 

Not the upland clover bloom;

But the rowan mixed with weeds,

Tangled tufts from marsh and meads,

Where the poppy drops its seeds

In the silence and the gloom.

Or perhaps we need to hold a nugget of summer in our hearts, as expressed in this poem, Leisure, by William Henry Davies.

Aftermath butterfly

What is this life, if full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this, if full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is spending just the right amount time studying this butterfly, and every other thing of beauty.

Inspired by Angie: Solving a Homeschooler’s Dilemma

Recently, Angie, a Homeschool HappyMess reader, sent me a series of questions that I thought might make an interesting post, and so with Angie’s permission, she and I will together tackle the intricacies of designing a homeschool curriculum..

A climbing Angie:  Allia, I have been following your blog and am inspired beyond measure.

A leap of faith

Believe me, I am grateful for your confidence in our humble homeschool.  Homeschooling is a leap of faith.  You have to believe in yourself and believe in your children.  It is my hope, through this blog, that people can see themselves bringing inspiration and creativity to their own children’s education.

A Bounce hand paint

Mine is one step in an effort to right the wrong of boring, stultifying education whose tenants of secular equality for all has whitewashed history and distilled learning to nothing more than a series of meaningless platitudes, creating a generation of children with no interest in reading and little ability to write, let alone create.  Break out the paint, glue and glitter, read original documents, apply literature to history, perform a science experiment…together we can explore the planet.

Angie:  I have a few questions:  Do you use the literature to guide the history lessons or do you teach history in a chronological order (like other classical homeschoolers) and choose literature that corresponds with that time in history?

I am a strong believer in the benefits of teaching history in chronological order, after all, that is the order in which it all happened.  Like domino’s, each event was the catalyst for the next, each shift in beliefs, a result of the immediate past.  That being said, I have found that if followed too literally, it is difficult to ever get out of the Middle Ages, let alone Ancient Mesopotamia.  So, although I enjoy reading A Childs History of the World, by Virgil M. Hillyer, and my children love The Story of the World (especially on tape), by Susan Wise Bauer, sometimes (often) I will jump around.

 

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.  Hall of Armour

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. Hall of Armor

HappyMess boys wearing "real" armor!

HappyMess boys wearing “real” armor!

I am an even bigger believer in grabbing opportunities as they present themselves, and building a quick mini-lesson around an exhibit, or a play or an article in the newspaper.  History, and science are so much more interesting when a child can see the immediate application of the knowledge.

Joan of Arc, MET

Joan of Arc, MET

 

HappyMess kids studying Joan of Arc at MET

HappyMess kids studying Joan of Arc at MET

History at the MET

History at the MET

Museums are a great place to learn about the past.  Here we find that ancient peoples had similar aspirations as ourselves.

History books that we have enjoyed include:  The American Story, by Jennifer Armstrong and A Young Peoples History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. There are countless wonderful books about ancient Egypt and Greece and about every corner of the world.  I like to choose books with engaging pictures as I usually begin every History lesson with shared reading.  Initially, it is the parent, or teacher, who breathes life into the history lesson.  A good history lesson is like a piece of theater, filled with anticipation, suspense, surprise and resolution.

We have found that many literature books dovetail nicely with our studies.  When reading historical literature we concentrate on understanding the feelings of the characters, asking ourselves, Why did they make these choices? Respond in this manner?  How is this different, or the same from our experiences, desires, actions?  Frequently we will read a book that is so compelling, we will read the literature first and then research the time period afterwards.

Celadon pottery at the MET

Celadon pottery at the MET

This was the case with A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park.  We read the book, chose a quote as our school motto, and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to view original pieces of celadon pottery.

A wonderland boook picturesOh..and built an entire book club, around that experience, and created an Outreach Program, Wonderland BookSavers, that has so far, since September, donated 4,000 books to needy children both in the US and abroad…

A doc filmand created a 7 minute documentary film and a Destination Imagination theatrical presentation…see the importance of just one piece of quality literature…?

So, what was the answer?  Usually I am running at least two concurrent history programs.  One is plowing forward through time, looking at facts, geo-political factors, resulting changes, etc., the other is inspired by current events, great literature, museum exhibits or lectures on a topic.

Additionally, Homeschool HappyMess kids participate in National History Day each year. This leads to very in depth research into a specific topic.  This year we are focusing on the TET offensive and the media misinformation that surrounded that event, causing the American people to further turn against the Vietnam War.

A TET 1A TET 2 fall_of_saigonA 1968-Tet-Offensive-3Our older children have created a theatrical piece in which the “war fought in the living rooms of America,” literally comes home through investigative journalism.  They recently won First Place for their local presentation, and are off to the State competition next month.  Working on projects and competitions allows the student to “own” a piece of history.

We are also engaged in learning the fine art of the “research paper,” through a project on the Economy of Ancient Ephesus, as an offshoot of the study of Latin and a subset of the history of the Roman Empire.

History is the wonderful and terrible story that envelopes us all.  There are 1,000 ways to study, memorize, examine, and theorize about history.  Choose any path, as they say, “All roads lead to Rome.”

Angie:  How do you relate the sciences?

Well, we again take several different approaches to the study of science, for younger children I am content with doing fun experiments and visiting hands-on science museums and randomly choosing interesting science books or biographies from the library.  My goal is simple:  awaken curiosity and provide answers about our physical world.  Science and history can often be studied in tandem, as is the case with Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo and Copernicus.  Science, like history, is not a series of facts but a series of people.

A Truth at farm

leaf classification

leaf classification

Our 3rd grader is also following the BJU curriculum.  This provides many interesting facts and experiments in a more organized fashion.  Again, we read books, biographies and enjoy the world.  As our students get older we follow specific studies so they can learn the basics of chemistry, biology and physics.

Angie:  How do you go about choosing your reading list for the year?

A Bounce libraryI love classic literature. Generally those books, which have been known and loved for decades, are well written, use correct English grammar, have interesting vocabulary choices, reflect clear values and tell a compassionate story that resonates with young readers.   In other words, they are worth struggling with and will make your student a better reader and a more thoughtful person.  My annual reading list is comprised of those pieces of quality children’s literature which are at the appropriate reading level.  I mainly choose books the child can read himself, but also include a few that can be read aloud and discussed.  For our book club we have focused on books that reflect a message of personal growth and responsibility.  These books have included A Single Shard by Park, from which we took as our motto, “One hill, one valley, one day at a time…,” Old Yeller, by Gipson, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Carroll, Classic Poetry, Ancient Greek and Roman Myths and now, Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan.  With each book, our book club performed a community service project…but that is a long story for another day…

Angie:  Also, a fun one:  is your schoolhouse an outbuilding or connected to the main house? 

 

HappyMess schoolhouse visitors

HappyMess schoolhouse visitors

In this case, since homeschooling has taken over our lives and thus, every corner of our living space I think it might be more accurate to say that our home is a modified outbuilding connecting to our schoolhouse.

Angie, I hope this helps.  Thanks for your faithful reading!  Allia

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is sharing the experience of growth with an unseen, but forever perspicacious community.

Brown Bag Surprise: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Have you ever started something that brings you to such a different place at the end that you can almost not remember the beginning?  Such was the case with our December Brown Bag Surprise.  It began on an innocent day in December, near the beginning of Advent.

Brown Bag nativityBounce’s Destination Imagination team is committed to Community Service.  This commitment has led them to view every opportunity in the light of service, asking, “How can we take this experience, gift, opportunity, and turn it into a gift for others?”

Upon finding an unused case of 9 dozen teddy bears, our church donated them to Bounce, saying,

“We know you will find something to do with these teddy bears.  All we ask is that when you do, write an essay for the newsletter and let us know how you used these bears.”

It was just three weeks before Christmas; visions of sugarplums still danced in our heads.

brown bag design 1brown bag design 2

Bounce decided to create teddy bear gift bags.

Bounce’s Destination Imagination team is also his Book Club, which is also the Wonderland BookSavers: Inspired by Literature team, a group which has, since September, donated 2,000 children’s books to multiple charities.  Their gifts are inspired by the literature they read.

brown bag poetry reading groupDecember is Homeschool Happymess Poetry Month.  Bounce and the Wonderland BookSavers were studying poetry.  They memorized the wonderful Lewis Carroll poem, Your Are Old Father William, from Alice-in-Wonderland.  They selected favorite poems and practiced their recitation skills, proclaiming their love of rhythm, rhyme and alliteration from the tops of ladders, the schoolroom reading loft, and the tops of bookcases.

Bounce chose his favorite:  The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe.  We had no idea how apt would be that choice.

Hear the sledges with the bells,

            Silver bells!

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,

            In the icy air of night!

While the stars, that oversprinkle

All the heavens, seem to twinkle

            With a crystalline delight;

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells,

            Bells, bells, bells-

From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

What would a gift bag be without a book of poetry?  Bounce found a wonderful, inexpensive, collection of poetry from Dover Thrift publishers.

Brown Bag poem book

We ordered 9 dozen books to go with the bears.

brown bag design 6And the Bears ‘n Books package was born.

brown bag design 3brown bag design 4brown bag design 5brown bag design 7Bounce knew that wrapped gifts were not allowed, and so he and his friends and siblings set about making the most elaborate brown bag designs they could imagine.

brown bag book boxes housebrown bag boxes in car Hear the mellow wedding bells,

            Golden bells!

What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!

Through the balmy air of night

How they ring out their delight!

From the molten golden notes,

And all in time,

What a liquid ditty floats

To the turtle-dove that listens while she gloats

            On the moon!

Oh, from out the sounding cells,

What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!

            How it swells!

            How it dwells

On the Future! How it tells

Of the rapture that impels

To the swinging and the ringing

Of the bells, bells, bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

            Bells, bells, bells-

To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!

After 10 days of hard work the bears were ready for Christmas delivery.  We drove them down to the police station where Christmas gifts where being donated for local children.

brown bag bounce wth policeHere the story took an unexpected turn.

Hear the loud alarm bells,

            Brazen bells!

What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!

In the startled ear of night

How they scream out their affright!

Too much horrified to speak,

They can only shriek, shriek,

            Out of tune,

In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,

In a mad expostulation in a deaf and frantic fire,

            Leaping higher, higher, higher,

            With a desperate desire,

And a resolute endeavor

Now-now to sit or never,

By the side of the pale-faced moon,

Oh the bells, bells, bells!

What a tale their terror tells

            Of Despair!

While making these bear packages, a terrible tragedy occurred:  Newtown.  We were so stunned and saddened by this that for days our homeschool ceased activities and we simply prayed for the children and families of Newtown.  Like many in our community, our grief was too great to describe.

Now the police asked Bounce if he would be willing to donate his bear care packages to the children of Newtown.  They wanted to have gifts to give to the children when they returned to school.

brown bag bounce with state trooperAt 9:00 at night, when the town was quiet, except for a steady stream of mourners, Bounce was taken on a police escort tour of the many memorials of Newtown.

brown bag memorialbrown bag in our heartsbrown bag stay strongbrown bag picket fenceBounce left a Children’s Illustrated Bible at the picket fence, in hopes that prayers would bring some peace to this misery.

How they clang, and clash, and roar!

What a horror they outpour

On the bosom of the palpitating air!

Yet the ear it fully knows,

            By the twanging

            And the clanging,

How the danger ebbs and flows;

Yet the ear distinctly tells,

            In the jangling

            And the wrangling,

How the danger sinks and swells.

By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells,

            Of the bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

            Bells, bells, bells-

In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!

We know that it will be a long time before peace returns to the community of Newtown.  We respect their efforts to put forth a message of peace and love throughout this terrible ordeal.  As we travel on the highway we are most impressed by an enormous sign reading, “We Are Sandy Hook; We Choose Love.”

Hear the tolling of the bells.

            Iron bells!

What a world of solemn thought their melody compels!

            In the silence of the night

            How we shiver with affright,

At the melancholy menace of their tone!

For every sound that floats

From the rust within their throats

            Is a groan,

And the people-ah, the people,

They that dwell up in the steeple,

            All alone,

And who tolling, tolling, tolling,

In that muffled monotone,

Feel a glory in so rolling

On the human heart a stone-

They are neither man nor woman,

            They are Ghouls:

And their king it is who tolls;

And he rolls, rolls, rolls,

            Rolls,

A paen from the bells;

And his merry bosom swells

With the paen of the bells,

And he dances and he yells:

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the throbbing of the bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells-

To the sobbing of the bells;

Keeping time, time, time,

As he knells, knells, knells,

In a happy Runic-rhyme,

To the rolling of the bells,

To the bells, bells, bells:

To the tolling of the bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

            Bells, bells, bells-

To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

And so, yesterday, the police asked Bounce to donate his bears to a neighboring school in Newtown, one that has hosted many Newtown funerals, St. Rose of Lima.

Brown Bag school signThe Wonderland BookSavers were asked to speak at the school’s Friday Mass.

brown bag churchThey brought a message of love and solidarity, saying, “We want you to know that children all around the country are praying for you.”

They recited cheerful poems.  Bounce read a poem about a squirrel.

Whisky, frisky,

Hippity hop;

Up he goes

To the tree top!

Whirly, twirly

Round and round,

Down he scampers

To the ground.

 

Furly, curly,

What a tail!

Tall as a feather

Broad as a sail!

 

Where’s his supper?

In the shell,

Snappity, crackity,

Out it fell

 

The girls did a dual recitation of You Are Old Father William.

 

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said.

“And your hair has become very white; and yet you incessantly stand on your head.

Do you think at your age it is right?”

 

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son, “I feared it might injure the brain. 

But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,

Why I do it again, and again”

 

“You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,

And have grown most uncommonly fat;

Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door,

Pray, what is the reason for that?”

 

“In my youth,” said the man, as he shook his gray locks,

“I kept all my limbs very supple.

 By the use of this ointment,  One shilling the box.

 Allow me to sell you a couple.”

 

“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak

For anything tougher than suet;

Yet you finished the goose with the bones and the beak-

Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

 

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,

And argued each case with my wife;

And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,

Has lasted the rest of my life.”

 

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose

That your eye was as steady as ever;

Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose-

What made you so awfully clever?”

 

“I have answered three questions and that is enough,”

Said his father, “Don’t give yourself airs!

Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?

Be off, or I’ll kick you downstairs!”

Brown Bag Old w:eel

St. Rose students thanked the Wonderland BookSavers with a standing ovation.

Wonderland BookSavers asked the St Rose children to join them in their quest to gather children’s books to donate to a library in Appalachia.  The St. Rose children were eager to help.  This week Wonderland BookSavers will bring boxes and posters for a book-drive to St. Rose, and a new collaboration will be born.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.  John Donne

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is living our commitment to the global community.  Love thy neighbor as thy self.

Hurricane Homeschool

Hurricane Sandy has swirled, uninvited, into our lives, and like our neighbors near and far, our lives have been temporarily rearranged.

The leaves are now gone from the branches.  They hover in clumps at the bottom of the pool, shimmering on reflected trees.

We, like many, were Mandatory Evacuated.  In a matter of 45 minutes we grabbed groceries (everything we could see), clothing (not much), schoolbooks (the basics), one computer and the dog.  Of course, we forgot the flashlights.  And so we returned to our Traveling Homeschool mode that marked so much of last year.  This time, with our previous experience, we knew just how to do it.  Hint:  fastest packing item, the laundry basket.  Grab everything you see and toss it in a basket.  Throw basket in trunk and drive away. 

Meanwhile the kids were most distraught about missing their friends and Halloween.  In fact, that was the only salient point they understood about the entire evacuation process.  Prompting my husband to question their sanity.

“But we will be missing Halloweeen,” they howled in unison, as our car pulled out of the driveway.

“It is a National Emergency,” Husband replies matter-of-factly.

“But we can’t miss Halloweeeen.”

Husband turns the volume up louder on the radio.

Three hours later, when we arrive at our new temporary housing,

“When can we go home?  It’s almost Halloween.  We HAVE to go home for trick-or-treating.”

A revolt was imminent.  I unpacked the kids, dog and books and promptly set up a portable classroom.  This shocked the kids into silence.

You may ask, Why school?  With every single school in half the nation closed, why do we continue, undaunted, as we are pummeled by wind and rain?

Simple.  Parental sanity.  With 5 kids in a small space, schoolwork is the most direct route to peace and tranquility.

 We brought only our most basic books, math, spelling and vocabulary.  With many online classes and textbooks we quickly created a computer-share system with priority going to kids taking classes on the West Coast, where there are no weather-related delays.  Remarkably, they got everything completed and uploaded in time, despite being granted extensions.

With few textbooks we quickly turn to the best education:  classics.  By late afternoon each day we are draped about the room, swathed in blankets and reading the available books.  Athena is reading My Antonia by Willa Cather, Quantum finished A Raison in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and then found a copy of Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  Truth is happily reading Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Bounce has finished Alice in Wonderland and is now reading Through the Looking Glass, both by Lewis Carroll, and I am finishing Black Boy by Richard Wright.  Happily, with few clothes and much food, we are comfortably dressed in our pajamas for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Scooter found a box of alphabet letters and spent several hours figuring out how to arrange them in alphabetical order. Soon we may use these letters to show Scooter how to create three letter words.  He now knows there is a pattern to word-making.

The lights began flickering and I began steadily cooking all the food in the house.  My husband asked, as the second roast chicken came shimmering out of the oven with several dozen baked potatoes, “What ARE you doing?”

“Cooked ford is more useful than raw food,” I responded, and went on to hard boil another dozen eggs.

So now it is officially Halloween and the police have canvassed the neighborhood and forbidden children from wandering around in the danger-ridden dark.

Needless to say, our neighborhood is now scarier looking than the best Halloween and it looks like real ghosts have been playing havoc with the town.

Our family, like many others, is thankful for our safety.  We are grateful for simple family moments: meals shared together by candlelight, games played by the fireside, and long afternoons spent reading cherished classics, all punctuated by long rainy-day dog walks.

Hurricane Sandy has provided us the opportunity to stop moving at the speed of light (electricity) and begin to move at the more natural speed of the human being.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is being grateful for the miracle of safety and educating your children through literature in the midst of chaos and adventure.

Old Yeller and the Homeschool Book Club

Happymess is hosting a new book club this year.  It is wonderful to find new children and new ways to explore classic children’s literature.

Bounce creates his own book cover

What makes a classic?  Believe it or not, this is a discussion which the kids enjoy debating every year.  Some think there is a “committee” which grants a book “classical” status.  Others are sure there is a “list.”  In actuality, it is determined by pure love of literature, granted by a doting audience that discovers the same wonderful titles and falls in love anew with outstandingly portrayed characters.  A novel becomes a classic when it succeeds in telling an enduring tale that resonates with every reader.  It is timeless in its message because it speaks to that which is human in all of us, be it through fantasy, historical fiction or mystery.

And his own back cover

The challenge to the teacher is to help new readers discover the same beauty and meaning that previous readers have known for generations.  Our new book club has given this group of homeschool buddies the opportunity to share A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt and most recently, Old Yeller by Fred Gipson.  We like to discuss the major themes, examine the author’s stylistic approach and imagine ourselves in similar positions.  Each novel has inspired its own unique approach, and Old Yeller is no exception.

We began our group discussion with a series of open-ended questions, designed to explore the experience of reading Old Yeller.  We noted that the end of the story was in the beginning, as is the case with so many great pieces of literature.  We discussed how suspension of belief allows us to read the entire story, almost oblivious of the inevitable and dire ending.

The kids were excited to share their insights into this coming-of-age story as Travis struggles to be the man-of-the-house in an unforgiving world.  Travis is a hotheaded youth forced to be tolerant, responsible and hardworking.  Eventually this trio of requirements forces Travis to mature and become the “man” he wasn’t at the beginning of the story.

The open-ended discussion was inspiring but the kids felt they were ready to tackle something equally challenging:  a detailed 50-question test on specifics of Old Yeller.  We found this excellent quiz on Capo Creations:

www.nt.net/torino/old50test.html

I was truly surprised at the children’s ability to accurately recall minute details of the story.

Example:  The man who used to go from house to house getting free meals and was too lazy to go on the cattle drive was (a) Bud Searcy (b) Burn Sanderson (c) Jed Simpson (d) Bert Wilbur

I guess you will have to read the novel with a magnifying glass to find the answer to that one.  Or be a 10 year-old avid reader.

Some of the group thought they would write an essay discussing Travis’ character development, tracking the parallels in plot with Travis’ maturation.  Bounce elected to make a photo book cover, front and back, with his own synopsis on the back cover, see above.  This was really fun for Bounce as he loves his dog and can understand the dynamics of a relationship between a boy and his dog.

Our book club group has a soft side and they love to help others.  They decided that in honor of Old Yeller, and countless deserving animals just like him, they would like to help animals at a local shelter.

So, all last week our hard working book club members have scrubbed floors and babysat and ironed linens.  They earned a combined $95.00.

170 Lbs. of pet food

 

Adventure Bear joins in the mission

This morning, with a delightful break from homeschooling, we met at the local pet supply center.  After rejecting the most expensive brands, our group learned to study the “price/lb.” labels and the “sale” signs.  They carefully perused their options, lifting 50lb bags of dry cat and dog food in and out of shopping carts as they weighed their options.  Finally, after great deliberation, they purchased 170 lbs. of cat and dog food for our local animal shelter.

 And now for the best part, they got to carry all that food into the shelter and make their very own donation!  And then of course, they visited with all the animals, wishing always that we could bring them all home.  Sadly, we could not.
Old Yeller now “belongs” to this group of intrepid young readers.  They are building their very own criteria of what makes a classic.  For these homeschoolers, Old Yeller will be filled with memories of lifting 50 Lbs bags of pet food in the rain, making old-time photos with the family dog, writing short pieces about growing up, competing with one another over test questions, and crying with Travis when he finally has to choose between his family and his dog.

Now that is what makes a classic.

Let Me Count the Ways:  Homeschooling is remembering that for each child it is their first childhood, no matter how many generations have preceded them. 

Public Speaking: Shakespeare Untangled, Only Slightly Mangled

Our local Homeschool Theater Company will be producing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare.  Auditions are being held and the Happymess Kids, and others, are busy practicing, rehearsing and memorizing.

This unabridged, original language version will be performed with a cast of 24 students, ages ranging from 8-18.  No mean feat.

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grow

We like to practice public speaking outdoors where loud, confident voices can shout to the treetops.

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:

 

Our homespun Happymess public speaking program consists of repeated practice in reading complicated, often strident, historic addresses and rehearsing literary monologues and soliloquies.

On of our favorites, for this exercise, is Socrates’ speech to the Athenians upon being condemned to death for speaking the truth:

In the next place, I desire to predict to you who have condemned me, what will be your fate: for I am now in that condition in which men most frequently prophesy, namely, when they are about to die. I say then to you, O Athenians, who have condemned me to death, that immediately after my death a punishment will overtake you, far more severe, by Jupiter, than that which you have inflicted on me. For you have done this thinking you should be freed from the necessity of giving an account of your life. The very contrary however, as I affirm, will happen to you. Your accusers will be more numerous, whom I have now restrained, tho you did not perceive it; and they will be more severe, inasmuch as they are younger and you will be more indignant. For, if you think that by putting men to death you will restrain any one from upbraiding you because you do not live well, you are much mistaken; for this method of escape is neither possible nor honorable, but that other is most honorable and most easy, not to put a check upon others, but for a man to take heed to himself, how he may be most perfect. Having predicted thus much to those of you who have condemned me, I take my leave of you.

This speech, once the words can be pronounced, can only be said loudly and forcefully.  Socrates is unapologetic and accusatory.  Our young public speakers learn to belt out his defense at top decibel. No room for stage fright here.

In fact, when Athena was interviewed after working as a reporter on closed circuit TV for Destination Imagination they asked her, “How did you get so good at public speaking?” to which she answered, “My mother had me stand on a rock in the backyard and shout Socrates’ death speech repeatedly across the yard.”  I wonder what the neighbors were thinking?

Another great public address we have used is that of Frederick Douglass, “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro”, 1852.

Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just. 

This can only be said unapologetically with force and conviction.

We like to place the “speaker” about 60 feet from the “audience”. This encourages audible, self-assured voices that be clearly heard at a reasonable distance. We emphasize speaking S-L-O-W-L-Y and         C-L-E-A-R-L-Y. In this case, Bounce is practicing the part of Oberon for his Midsummer Night’s Dream audition.

There sleeps Titania some time of the night,

Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight;

 

Happymess kids are dancing around Truth as he attempts to memorize his speech and rise above the distractions created by several bouncing brothers.  They are deliberately trying to confuse Truth as he valiantly recites his piece despite their best efforts at confusion.  Ultimately, this builds confidence, as Truth knows nothing can come between him and his chosen piece of recitation.  Plus, everyone has a lot of fun in the process.

And there the snake throws her enameled skin,

Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in. (2.1.249)

We will be studying Midsummer Night’s Dream on several levels, increasing the difficulty as the children become more familiar with the unusual language.

So, how do we get the kids to learn all this stuff?  We start slowly.  Bruce Coville has written a wonderful series of Shakespearean children’s books.  Each book is based upon a different play and closely follows the plot line while interspersing original text in the adapted and simplified version.  The illustrations, by Dennis Nolan, are truly fanciful and capture the magic of the original plays.  These books make Shakespeare accessible to any reader.

We will eventually read and study the original play using the Oxford Student Shakespeare edition.  This series is annotated throughout with stage notes, explanations of character attitudes, vocabulary definitions and explanations of references to other texts (Biblical, historical, etc.)

Many of the children, at the auditions, are quite young but have already performed several times with this theater company.  They were readily able to cope with the difficult language.  Their prior experience was apparent and impressive.  The directors have really had a positive impact on this homegrown troupe.

Rehearsal of this play, which will take months, will certainly build public speaking skills, emotional emphasis, and clarity of speech.   As are great historical speeches, Shakespearean language is at first incomprehensible.  It is a great surprise and joy to the students as they begin to untangle complex language and interweaving plot lines and discover that they can finally understand, enjoy and begin to “own” these words for themselves.

 All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.        As You Like It, William Shakespeare   

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is practicing public speaking skills through reciting Shakespeare in the backyard with the sun shining, the dog barking and the boys joyfully bouncing about.