Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mommy's Book Club-the school year so far

Move over Oprah! In my continuing efforts at stealth homeschooling, I've been reading at bedtime again to Chester and Wolfie. I'd stopped a year or so ago when their bedtimes crept up to 9pm because that impinged on "grownup time." Now, we impinge (and I don't miss my shows. Thanks, TiVO! :D ) I'm glad because it lets me introduce some literature they wouldn't ordinarily read (particularly Chester).

We started with Lad, a Dog by Albert Payson Terhune. The floweriness of the turn-of-the-century language took some getting used to, and I ended up skipping the parts where he reintroduced characters over and over in every new chapter (a relic of being originally serialized in a magazine.) It was quite exciting, though and we ended up in tears at the end. I would not recommend this book for very young kids or the tender-hearted. The climax involves Lad's own son viciously turning on him. It was nearly too much for Wolfie, even at the age of 11.5.

Next was Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. We started with a picture book version which included "Growltiger's Last Stand", "Of the Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles..." and "The Song of the Jellicles" that I'd bought when Klaus was little. They were so excited that I downloaded as much of the cast recording of Cats as iTunes had (about half, not including Growltiger, unfortunately) and bought another copy of Old Possum since our copy has since disappeared. Chester especially liked the songs (as did I) and he was able to do his first book report of the year on Old Possum.

When October started, we read Bernard Evslin's Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths. This was a bit of a slog in some parts, but the boys enjoyed the stories, particularly of the demi-gods like Perseus and Theseus. It helped them make sense of a lot of the references they've heard in other stories and even on cartoons. I had taken care to include the constellations related to the story of Perseus and a couple others when we put up the glow-in-the-dark stars on their ceilings, so that was very exciting.

Unfortunately, the October book report had to be a mystery story. We picked out The Hound of the Baskervilles. This took us a long time to get through for many reasons, not the least of which was that I had to go through and change all the three dollar words into two dollar words. Once I got rid of all the Victorian circumlocution, we all enjoyed the story and it sparked some discussions and research into Sherlock Holmes and English Mastiffs.

My next choice was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, one of my all-time favorite books. I thought it would be a good fit for the boys with a child narrator and more contemporary language, but it put them right to sleep, both nights. Granted this is not such a bad result for me, because I got done reading about a half hour sooner than usual, but it wasn't for them. At least not at this time. Maybe we'll try again when they're a little older.

To Kill a Mockingbird was a bust, so I let them choose the next book, Andrew Clements' A Week in the Woods. Andrew Clements has written a number of kids' books starring brighter than normal kids. The most popular is probably Frindle, about a boy who decides to change the word for pen to...well, to frindle and the conflicts this brings up with the establishment (teacher, principal, etc.) because "you can't just go around changing words."

I really liked Frindle but A Week in the Woods just makes my blood boil! The story is told from the point-of-view of both a gifted fifth grader and his science teacher. The boy is transferred to this new school in the middle of fifth grade and has a bad attitude about it for awhile, not surprisingly. So the teacher decides to write him off completely--won't call on him in class etc, even after the boy sort of apologizes. (He's an 11 year old boy after all. You can't expect him to get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness.) Apparently two months of being a model student cannot negate two weeks of bad attitude according to these teachers. I'll tell you, Mark (the student) has much more patience with his teachers than I would. I'm so upset partly because this is exactly what happened to Klaus when he crashed and burned in sixth grade, but really I think the entire faculty in this book should be slapped. The only way I would recommend this book is as the starting point to a conversation with a gifted child about how he is really treated in school.

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