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Children’s books and the inspiration behind them . . .

Dear Readers,

Last Saturday I had the gratifying experience of meeting with 40 lovely ladies for a full day seminar discussing children’s books, education, literature, and history.  Despite the fact that we had over six hours together delving into these absorbing subjects, as usual there simply wasn’t enough time to cover it all!  So in response to some of the requests that emerged in our discussions, I’ll be posting over the next few days on some of these topics.

First of all, and a topic I come to with a great deal of enthusiasm, is the “story behind the story” of many of the best children’s books.  Honestly, the reason I come to this with such eagerness is that in this arena I happen to know one of the foremost authorities on children’s literature today!  Her name is Anita Silvey and I had the delightful opportunity to sit under her while doing my graduate work in children’s literature at Simmons College in Boston.  Since that time, Anita and I have maintained a warm friendship and I never miss a chance when visiting Boston to make a date with Anita.  She is one of those people who brings out the best in everyone she knows, and just sitting discussing children’s literature with her for an hour over lunch is always inspiring, informative, and invigorating!  I know if you were able to meet her you would feel exactly the same way!

So here’s one of my secrets:  Anita’s books on the history of children’s authors and illustrators!  I posted last year about her book Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book and you can access that here. A number of the stories I shared with you on Saturday–Robert Ballard, Jim Trelease, Andrew Wyeth, David McCullough, were adapted from this book. There are many, many, more on contemporary authors and the books that inspired them as children. I find these stories SO valuable because as mothers and educators we never really know which book or books may be the catalyst or inspiration to focus our child on their particular path in life. And of course, this points to the importance of Charlotte Mason’s notion of “abundant and orderly” serving of books.

Now, if what you’re really looking for is the stories of the authors themselves, then Anita offers a number of really important resources. But to start, I would recommend one of two: Children’s Books and Their Creators and The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and their Creators. Hardly a month goes by for me that I am not pulling one or the other of these off my shelf to reference. The first title is over 800 pages and contains about that many entries related to children’s authors, genres of children’s literature, historical and cultural forces as formative to various genres, and personal perspectives from the authors themselves. The Essential Guide offers many of the same components (and indeed carries over into this paperback edition much of the same material) but arranged alphabetically from Aesop to Zwerger (you may remember that name as Zwerger is the remarkable illustrator of the edition of The Selfish Giant that we looked at in the literary analysis component of our day). So for the really ambitious I would recommend the first title, and for those that want a slightly simpler more condensed (albeit still 500 some pages!) version I would select The Essential Guide. This is a great place to start. I have many more guides to children’s literature that I will feature later, but this is a wonderful place to start!

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OC Seminar

Hello dear Readers!

WOW!  What a wonderful time I had with all of those who attended the Orange County Literature Seminar on Saturday.  I’m not quite sure if I should enjoy myself as much as I do, since I am supposed to be working, but every time I have the opportunity to be with young, intelligent, and devoted mothers like yourselves, I come away feeling so encouraged, energized, and blessed to be able to do what I do.  Thank you to each one of you that made that group the special gathering it was and for carving time in your busy schedules to attend.  I always learn so much during the literature analysis lunch hour, as I appreciate your astute evaluations of the books as well as your unique and individual perspectives.

One thing I regret was that while I had asked you to bring a children’s book to share with the group,  it completely slipped my mind and the day was suddenly over!  So I’d like to do some postings on those “neglected” books if you’d like to share them with me.  That way, we can extend our discussion a little more and get to know each other a little better!

Also, I would really appreciate if you could post a comment here on your reactions to the seminar–what you found most helpful, inspiring etc.  Also ways in which you’d like to see the seminar improved, enhanced, etc.  Also, if there was a topic you’d like to explore a bit more, I would be happy to do so here in the blog.  Courtney posted a request for what a typical home school day (with a rich literature base) looks like for me, so I intend to post on that in the next few days.  So again, thank you so much for coming, for sharing your lives and for being such warm and gracious listeners!

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Orange County Literature Seminar deadline extended!

Hi Reading Friends,
The Orange County Literature Seminar is just around the corner!  I am extending the deadline for the discounted rate until tomorrow night at midnight!  So you can still register here.  Also, for those of you that are already registered, please be thinking of a favorite children’s book you’d like to share during our working lunch!  I’ll also be emailing you with specific details by Thursday so be looking for that to come through your regular email.  Can’t wait to spend this time with you!

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A Homeschooling Experiment

Hi Readers,

I am taking a slight diversion from my typical posts regarding children’s books to introduce you to a young friend of mine who I think you’ll enjoy meeting and getting to know as much as I have.  Susan is a New England transplant, whose life on a New Hampshire farm took an unexpected turn  when her husband changed professions and was hired in Southern California.  She is currently stepping into the waters of home schooling her 3 preschoolers and I think you’ll enjoy her insight and thoughts as she prepares and plans for the “school” year ahead!  Susan will be contributing more of her musings as her journey takes her further into the world of children’s books for her preschool children, which will help to make this blog more relevant for all of you young mothers!

Starting Our Homeschool by Susan Arico

Homeschooling was always something my husband and I considered for our children’s education, something we talked about.  He’d earned a Master’s Degree in education and spent three years teaching in public schools – enough time to convince him that he’d rather not involve his children in them (and to realize he was better suited to an alternate vocation).  His own dislike of school as a child cemented my husband’s opinion that learning at home was a great idea for our kids.  I was open to the idea and could see its benefits, but I’d greatly enjoyed my childhood schooling and figured we’d sort out our plans later.

A few months before our eldest child turned four (and a week after our third was born), we enrolled him in preschool two mornings a week.  It was a sweet school we all loved; however, things went south quickly the December week he befriended a rowdy classmate with Sensory Integration Disorder.  At school our son continued to behave well but at home he began acting out significantly, trying out the misbehavior he was observing at school and flouting our authority.  After working with him, meeting with his lovely teacher and eventually the principal, and giving the situation six weeks to even out (it didn’t), we pulled him in February.  It was a jarring, sad process.

The homeschooling discussion was suddenly relevant and central.  Would we have him try preschool again the next year – and enroll our daughter (who would be three) too?  Why outside schooling, would we be better without it?  I began praying and reading extensively about homeschooling, talked with homeschooling moms, and attended a homeschooling conference.  We decided to keep both the oldest kids home the following year with an eye toward homeschooling them in kindergarten and beyond.

So this fall I’m embarking on a homeschool-like experiment with my preschoolers.  I know it’s unnecessary to do any formal learning with children prior to kindergarten age, but I’m using the year to optimally position ourselves for homeschooling, and also to experiment (as much for my benefit as for theirs) with different methods of teaching and learning.  The month we pulled our son from preschool I’d begun teaching him how to read using The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading (by Jessie Wise and Susan Buffington), because I realized that if our son wasn’t going to be learning letters at preschool I’d better step up to the task.  His enjoyment of reading lessons and quick progress encouraged me to continue on that path – as did my awareness that his learning to read would give him a degree of independence that would benefit us both greatly.

As the fall approached, I stepped back to think through what needs my children and I would face that I’d like our weekly activities to fulfill for us:

The needs for friendship and community, paramount for all of us;

The need for both my preschoolers, but especially my active son, to have ample opportunity to be active and expend physical energy;

The need for my children to have exposure to authority figures other than their father and me;

Their need to interact with their peers without a parent standing over their shoulder so they can practice navigating interpersonal relationships on their own;

My need to have one or several short times during the week away from my children;

Our corporate need to engage with people beyond the few families we routinely see at church programming and playgroup (because, as we’re recent transplants with no family nearby, our world in the day-to-day can feel confining and small);

Finally: the academic side of things – the actual schooling.  Because no one has even hit kindergarten in our house, this almost feels like the easy part.

I have no interest in becoming a parent who over-schedules her family and runs all over town.  In fact, the freedom of schedule and slower pace that homeschooling allows are two of its more appealing aspects to me.  But conversely, our being continuously cooped up at home would not work at all for our crew, so balance is critical. We need activity and flow throughout the week, allowing all of us feel constructive and sufficiently engaged in the world, while also having ample time at home to play, read, learn, bake, tidy, and be.

I’m feeling optimistic about our fall schedule as a solid first effort that we can tinker with as we go.  Our mornings consist of three away-from-home mornings: a preschool co-op with four other families; a mother’s church program in which the kids are in preschool-like classes by age; and a town-sponsored art class, 45 minutes in length, for the two preschoolers while the toddler and I play outside.  Then two at-home mornings a week in which the big kids do an hour of “school” with me while the toddler naps.   One afternoon we do a weekly playgroup with other families; another my son has soccer practice. The remaining afternoons are free.

All the while I’m positioning myself for what I want to teach my kids and how (and when) I want to teach it.  I’m experimenting with a ten-minute morning “circle time:” calendar, prayer, Bible verse, song.  I’m trying out Five in a Row, basically an enhanced daily reading enrichment program using top-quality children’s books; this takes 20 – 30 minutes that we can do at any time of day.  And most challenging for me, I’m working through the organization of it all.  Where will we keep our supplies?  Where will I hold circle time and position our calendar? Where can I put additional bookshelves?  I’m realizing that adequately preparing my mindset and our corporate space will make an enormous difference to my enthusiasm for homeschooling, both this year and in the long term.

Susan Arico

Susan and her husband are New Englanders currently living in southwest California where they’re raising their three children (ages 1, 3, and 4).  She is a strategy consultant to Christian nonprofits and blogs about parenting preschoolers at Heart Pondering

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OC Drawing Winners!

Dear Friends,
We have two winners for a free pass to the Orange County seminar coming up on October 16th!  Congratulations to Paula Noll and Trisha Regehr!  If you aren’t able to come to the seminar, or if you’ve already registered, you can use your winning towards $30 worth of purchases to Beautiful Feet Books!  You can print a copy of this post to verify your winnings and/or bring it to the seminar if you’d like to shop there. We will be bringing a selection of books for purchase at the end of the day. If you’ve won a free pass and are planning to come please do register here so we can have a packet for you at the seminar.  Call the 1.800.889.1978 number so the office can comp your registration.   Or, if you entered the drawing but don’t live in the area you can apply your winnings towards any online purchase at Beautiful Feet Books before December 31, 2010.  Thanks to all who participated and we will be continuing to hold drawings for free books, CDs and other items, so stay tuned!