Reading With My Boys

Using Books to Raise My Boys

Read It: The Library Card

At the library the other day I stumbled onto a book called The Library Card by Jerry Spinelli.  The back tells us we will see the ppow

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Reading my boys awake…

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Occasionally all of the planets align and you receive maximum perfection. In a house with six boys, one dog, twelve chickens and a cow  that is rare. I can say that for two weeks, every school morning, I experience that perfection. At about 6:15 every morning I head downstairs to a quiet room where all I hear are the sweet sounds of children sleeping. I turn on a muted lamp and gently touch my boys heads to wake them. Then I snuggle on the couch and read them awake with a chapter of Trumpet of the Swan (which is the perfect “read your boys awake” book). Then we read a poem from the Common Core list. Ahhh…for me it is not surprising that the answer to family unity in the morning can be found in a book.

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If you Can’t beat em’ join em-Commom Core

V__0C0AI am an “on again”  ” off again” homeschooler.  I could spend hours talking about the beauties of homeschool and how much it has meant to me.  I could tell you that I know at least one of my sons was able to find his path more clearly because of this option.  I can tell you that I am a “homeschooler” at heart no matter where my children attend school.  This year I have four of my kids in school and the new government plan for educating our kids is making it’s big debut.  The way I see it there are three positions being taken around here.  (1) No idea what your talking about, whatever (2) Vehemently opposed and will fight about it given any opportunity  (3)  It’s a great plan, it’s going to work this time and our children will not be “left behind”.

I would like to propose a 4th option and the one that I am personally taking.  Without question I know that education should be entirely directed by our state and that our national government has 0 rights when it comes to educating our kids.  So a national curriculum pushed onto our state it wrong.  However, this is what has been decided and if I am choosing to send my kids there everyday for 9 months then I need to decide a way to make it work for my kids.  I admire people with public virtue and someday I hope to spend more of my time there, but right now, for me, the whole world revolves around Kyle, Jamen, Isaac, Grayson, Micah, and Forrest.  So I am in phase one of making it work for my kids.

The first thing I did was to print off the book list for each grade level and make sure that we have a large amount of those books in our home.  Second, I put a copy in each of their folders that I keep track of their homework in.  Third, I hit the libraries and started gathering what they have.  Fourth, I make an effort to read with, to, or listen to them read gobs and gobs of books from the list.

Today Micah and I read the poem “halfway down” halfway down our stairs and chatted about the poem.  It was lovely.  The list from k-8 looks great and I am excited to jump into it with my kids, a well thought out book list by moral people is never a bad thing.

So, while I still have visions of homeschool dancing in my head at all times, for this year at least my motto needs to be “if you can’t beat em” join em.”

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Timing and Simplify

School started about a week ago and we went from lazy, fun summer to 100 miles an hour in about a day.  I fall into bed knowing I have not treated everyone as I should, but knowing I will get up and do it all again the next day.  Yesterday I began my quest to take my family back from the wicked enemy called “hurry.”. I always start with a little reading and the winners are:  The Majesty of Calmness and Simplicty Parenting.  These are my go to books when I feel the scourge of  “too much”.  I now feel prepared to go to battle!  Step 1:  I got rid of a ton of clothes and toys that were just taking up space.  Step 2:  Think rationally about my boys and decide what they need (not what someone else says they need) and decide how to put that as a priority.  Step 3:  Let go of trying to be perfect, doesn’t exist, not going to happen.

One of my inspirations was knowing that the book I have chosen for our nightly read over the last few weeks isn’t the right one for now.  I chose Wednesday Wars, solely because I love it.  It is the right mix of funny and life lessons.  I can’t read it without laughing, my boys laugh when I laugh, but they don’t really understand what’s so funny.  We have had interesting discussions about hippies, Vietnam and Shakespeare, but I know it’s time to set this one aside and pick up something that is just lovely, just a celebration of childhood and is first and foremost appealing to children.  I have chosen The Trumpet of the Swan.  This goes against two of my “perfect” rules, not finishing something we started and re-reading a book we have already done.  If you are concerned refer to step 3 above.

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My Fellow Organizing Nerds

So summer makes me a little crazy, not enough structure, to much heat. I realized while cleaning book shelves that I had reached the awesome stage of having so many books that I have to ask myself, “do we have that book?” I decided in good nerd like fashion that it was time to make a list. I stumbled onto library thing and now have all of my books stored perfectly! I love that I can check my phone while at b&n to see if I already have a title. I am all for owning books, but I want new ones, not two copies of the same one! Anywho feel free to ask me if I have a book, my computer brain knows the answer!

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Jumping Back In

In the past there have been times when I’m reading a blog, anticipating the next post and all of a sudden nothing for months, I hate that. Now I can say I do that too! I stumbled onto my blog when I entered “reading with boys” into my browser and found my son urging the world to read my blog, how cute is that? So though I am writing pretty much for me and my 2 faithful readers I realize that I need to do it anyway. The world in which we live is LOUD and DEMANDING and would happily suck anything of value out of our lives until we have nothing worth having left. CS Lewis in the Screwtape Letters made a point of saying that Satan’s minions would do well to spend more time keeping out the good stuff than they do in putting in the bad stuff, either way will leave you with nothing worth having. So I write to remind myself that great literature is my “good stuff” and that I am determined to share it with my boys!

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Teen Scene: Things I want my Boys to Really Understand

One of my favorite kind of books is one that opens up people in this world and helps us understand what we cannot from where we sit.  I want my kids to understand that their thoughts and ways of doing things are not the only ones out there.  I want them to have empathy and understanding for others.  I feel incredibly blessed (for more than one reason) to have a son who is black.  I don’t have to read to my children a book about empathy and understanding for blacks so that I can say, “you are not so different, you are all children of God, we do not disrespect people that aren’t the same color as you,”  They would look at me like, “duh mom.”  But, there are a lot of people they haven’t shared a home with, hard things that they haven’t seen, and I want them to be given opportunities through literature to develop some compassion and understanding.  There are some books I read to my kids just because I want them to “get it” and if a story does that and makes me love it, then it’s a favorite.  So here’s the ever-expanding list of favorites:

1.  With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo  Reverand Everlasting Love travels all around America sharing God’s word with people for a few weeks before moving on.  On one stop his daughter finds they need to stop a little longer and help a boy and a town to understand more about real love.

2.  True…Sort Of  by Katherine Hannigan Delly Peterson is sure a surpresent (a present that is a surprise)  is on it’s way.  What she finds is a special friend that has faced more than his share of hardships.  Things that are tackled in this winner are child abuse and the true meaning of friendship.

3.  The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt I had to stop reading this book in public because I laughed so hard I couldn’t make myself be quiet!  Holling Hoodhood (seriously his name) thinks he’s in for real trouble in 1967 when he get stuck with Mrs. Baker when all the other kids go off for religious worship.  Next thing he knows he’s enduring Shakespeare (and surprisingly loving it).  This book is a great coming of age story, Holling learns about the meaning of family, friendship and being willing to step outside the box, truly one of my very favorites (If you like this you must read Okay for Now which is a story about another boy in this book who is portrayed as a bully, but when he moves away he gets to try on a different personality and finds a much better fit).

4.  Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper  Melody is confined to a wheel chair and cannot speak due to cerebral palsy, but that has no bearing on her brilliant mind.  With help of a computer she starts sharing her brilliance with the world and opens some otherwise closed minds to the reality that just because she is different doesn’t mean she isn’t amazing.  This story is very realistic and in the end there are still bridges left to cross and the kids is her class still don’t “get it”.  As a grown up I wanted to see that happy ending that I knew could be there, but the reality is there are still lessons to learn.  When I read it to my kids I hope they see the injustice and hope to be a different kind of creature.

5.  My Louisiana Sky by Kimberly Willis Holt Tiger faces a great amount of teasing from the girls at her school because her folks are so different from others.  Her parents are mentally slow and she really handles the grown up stuff in her home.  This is a great story of reversed roles and I think can really help  kids see how blessed they are to have parents who are parents.

6.  The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes  Wanda wears the same dress to school everyday and faces teasing from the girls at school, she tells them she has 100 dresses at home and it isn’t until she doesn’t show up one day that the girls discover what that means.  These girls finally begin to learn the meaning of kindness and generosity.

7.  Mockingbird  by Katherine Erskine Go inside the mind of a fabulous girl with Asberger’s syndrome and see how different isn’t bad, in fact it’s absolutely necessary for healing.

8.  The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen I jumped at the chance to buy this book because of the title, who doesn’t dream about running!  16 year old Jessica is a runner and when she loses her leg in an accident she has to recover  physically and figure out who she is since she defined herself in terms of her running accomplishments.  Soon she learns who she is and that she can still accomplish her dreams and help others along the way.  A great read for pointing out that nothing is impossible.

9.  Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli In a high school that has always been the same Stargirl (she changed her name to that) is at first welcomed for her eccentricities, but eventually shunned for them.  The real problem hits when a friend talks her into conforming.  I tell my kids all of the time that normal is not allowed.  That might seem a little odd, but I’m not raising sheep and if what makes them who they are makes them weird than so be it.

10.  The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare A boy learns who he is and what he really wants from life by starting out as an enemy to the Savior Himself and finding that he can’t resist the love and the message of who He is.

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The Teen Scene-My Quest

So I am on teenager round one, and my teenager will be the first to tell you I have no idea what I’m doing.  The poor thing is our little science experiment and I am no chemist!   I have a lot of thoughts on teenagers, similar to I had a lot of  ideas on how to raise kids until I had them and then I had no ideas after that.  So before all my theories on teenagers come to a crashing halt, let me get them out there so my sons can crush them all to pieces.  I think we as a society are doing teens a disservice, I think we expect so much less of them then they are capable of handling.  For example with books, children’s literature tends to be intelligent, interesting and thought-provoking .  However, when we move to teen books we tend to find dumbed down, violent, unintelligent , immoral reads.  We seem to think that our children are capable of handling all that is good and expect when they are teens that now is the time for them to gobble up all that is bad.  We as a society seem to see the teen years as the time for kids to waste time, get into trouble and back talk anyone a little older than they are.  Long ago we saw this time as a time to prepare for the real world.  We saw apprenticeships, hard study and long hours learning to work.  The literature before we changed our perception of young adults was really fantastic.  We saw authors like Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mark Twain.  I suggest every one of those authors  for boys and we have enjoyed much of their work.  But, times have changed and we are in a different era.  I still hope for the values of the past for my children, but I think in this new time we might have to find a little different way to get at it.  It’s no longer youth sitting in the apple orchard telling stories, and though that is exactly what I long for for my boys, I need to “live in the now” and so I am on a quest to find great books for my kids that deal with the here and now, books they can enjoy, and books that teach the values that I believe are universal and never changing despite the changing times…  In my quest to find the best books for my older boys to read I have found three very helpful resources that I must suggest-First, Thomas Jefferson Education for Teens, this book follows the premise that there is more to a teen than just a back-talking, video game playing, path of least resistance person inside there.  It also has a book list that just screams to be read, I have read a huge chunk of what’s on there and find all of it to be worth reading.  Second, Honey for a Teen’s Heart, this book is written by someone who loves books and she gives suggestions for using books to communicate with teens.  The last resource is called the Children’s Literature Association of Utah (clau.org) Every year this group has kids and teens nominate 10 books from the following categories:  Picture book, children’s fiction, poetry, children’s non-fiction and young adult.  Kyle and I tried it out and raced through the nominees this summer so we could vote on the winners and with few exceptions we were thrilled with their choices.  I will keep you posted on the quest!Image

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“I’ve Decided to Start Reading to the Little Monsters, Now What Do I Read?”

OK so my version of died and gone to heaven is people asking me what to read!  In this post I get to pretend that a mom has come to me all excited about reading to her boys and asks, “I’ve decided to start reading to the little monsters, now what do I read?”  To tell the truth EVERY book that is on this list came from my more than willing to share boys on the “boy stamp of approval books.”  Also, I made sure that all of my boys agreed and a few are being left off just because not everyone loved them all.  And the winners are…

#1 Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne-Yes, I’m serious.  From my 14 year old to my 5 year old there isn’t a one of them that won’t listen to this to infinity.  They loved it so much that they all took on character names from the book and renamed a favorite park the hundred-acre wood.  I struggle to get through it because it just cracks me up and I chose it when I need a good laugh…

#2 Little Britches by Ralph Moody-The true story of a boy becoming a man on the farm is just the kind of teacher I want for my kids.  In one part the author, quoting his father writes, “…A man’s character is like his house.  If he tears boards off his house and burns them up to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon become ruin.  It he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn’t but wants to, his character will some become a ruin.  A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth.”  Ahhh….what a lesson!  This is the first book we read at night that dad was the reader for.  We finished it late an night with everyone tucked under and dad’s voice cracked as we all cried and lived one of life’s hard things through Ralph, who had now become a part of our family.

#3  Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls-A summer read that had my kids asking to go to bed early so we could read longer.  This one stayed in their heart for years and everyone one of them mentioned it with great fervor to suggest to you all.

#4  Trumpet of The Swan by E.B White-We read this book in the summer during the afternoon heat, while the boys had a snack or built with legos.  They loved the way this book moseyed along and found Lois to be a great friend.

#5  Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick-This was another afternoon read.  This one has to have the kids piled on top of you since 90% of it is illustration.  This is the most unique kind of story and you have to read a Selznick just to experience something truly unique.

#6  Mrs, Piggle-Wiggle by Betty McDonald-Man do I wish I had a Mrs. Piggle Wiggle to send my kids to when they were naughty, she’d fix them right up.  My kids love this silly tale and even noticed the not so good traits of the kids she needed to work her magic on!

#7  George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roal Dahl-Can you go wrong with the imagination of Mr. Dahl , my kids love every single silly word he writes.  We managed to score a great deal on his Phiz Whizzing Collection at Costco and have had lots of use out of it.

#8 The Great Turkey Walk by Kathleen Karr-Meet a sweet, clever boy determined to improve his standing in life by walking a large group of turkeys hundreds of miles across the USA.

#9 A Wrinkle In Time by Madline L’Engle- I have purposefully left off a big stack of fantasy must reads because I am dedicating a whole post to that.  I couldn’t leave this one off though!  How I long to live in that house with the Murray’s, sitting with Mrs. Murray listening to my varied thoughts while she heats me up hot cocoa on her bunson burner in her science lab….ah, a must!

#10  and the winner is….Isle Of Swords by Wayne Thomas Batson-Every one of my kids mentioned this as THE favorite.  I won’t say much but to say it’s about pirates…I have 6 sons, you see why this is a winner!  Just so you know, mom’s, I liked it too, and they manage to work in Christianity and character.

Happy reading my friends!

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Words are Like Air to Me

The other night my husband and I were having a conversation about sports and reading, in the end he made the comment that they are the same thing, they are both entertainment.  I won’t even get into how much that comment bugged me.  As I have taken time to think it over I am less miffed because my dear husband made this announcement about reading based on what reading is to him.  Now this wonderful man is an engineer and not a big fan of the written word.  However, in recent years he found that he really enjoyed the Storm Testament series.  He read it to himself and is just about to finish it up with my boys.  For him it is entertainment…but for me…

How do I put into words what reading is for me.  I will begin by saying that it is like air to me.  I live in small townville USA and I love it here.  I am not a city girl and I love everything about the country.  With that said diversity is tough to come by and for the most part all of us here live very similar lives.  My own life as a stay-at-home mother of six sons isn’t exactly a Tolstoy novel if you get my drift.  I can’t tell you how many times in a day I say the following things, “Don’t write on the walls, don’t spit in your brothers face, because I told you too,” ad nauseum.  This is my life and I love it, but without a well written book I would be seriously lacking in mental oxygen that I so desperately need! 

People don’t speak like authors write…this is probably good because if you walked up to someone and said, “Oh, magic hour when a child first knows it can read printed words,” I don’t think they would clutch their heart and say “oh yes I know what you mean,” but would most likely think you had forgotten to take your meds that day!  But, those words are there written by Betty Smith in the fantastic novel A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and I can marinate in them any time I want.

For me reading is a way to peek into other people’s lives, a way to gain empathy for people I will never meet, see places I will never see and come to understand things that would be otherwise impossible for me to understand.  But mostly reading is a way for me to see through a variety of ways, how people navigate the light and the dark in this world.  I believe in God, I believe that he sent us here with a purpose and I believe it is embedded somewhere in all of us.  To me a great author is someone who can re-affirm my faith, even if they aren’t necessarily talking about God directly.  A great book is one that plants my feet even more firmly on the right path.  This is what reading is to me.  So am I entertained, sure I am.  But, I also love running, would you say the only point of running is for entertainment?  Of course not.

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