By covered wagon

G and I are still  reading through Little House on the Prairie.  Today we decided to make use of our little historical figures, mostly from those ubiquitous Toobs, and our markable map from Sonlight.
 Yes, this edition is the very copy I read at G’s age, and years afterward.  Look up in the far left-hand corner.  Can you believe it only cost $1.75?


They had come in the covered wagon all the long way from the Big Woods of Wisconsin, across Minnesota and Iowa and Missouri.  All that long way, Jack had trotted under the wagon.  Now they set out to go across Kansas.

p. 13

And everywhere were little brown-striped gophers.

These little creature looked soft as velvet.  They had bright round eyes and crinkling noses and wee paws.  They popped out of their holes in the ground and stood up to look at Mary and Laura….

Mary and Laura wanted to catch one to take home to Ma.

pp. 43-44


So Laura chewed and swallowed, and she said, “I want to see a papoose.”

p. 46

Indians came riding on the path that passed so close to the house.  They went by as though it were not there.

They were thin and brown and bare.  They rode their little ponies without saddle or bridle.

They sat up straight on the naked ponies and did not look to right or left.  But their black eyes glittered.

Laura and Mary backed against the house and looked up at them.  And they saw red-brown skin bright against the blue sky…


After a bit of map work and reading one more chapter, G made his own snug, log cabin.  They were cut at the ends of the logs just like Pa had cut theirs with his ax.

There was no door and there were no windows.  There was no floor except the ground and no roof except the canvas.  But that house had good stout walls, and it would stay where it was.  It was not like the wagon, that every morning went on to some other place.

“We’re going to do well here, Caroline,” Pa said.  “This is a great country.  This is a country I’ll be contented to stay in the rest of my life.”

p. 74

Learning Math with Laura

Sometimes Ma let Laura and Mary go across the road and down the hill to see Mrs. Peterson….She was a Swede, and she let Laura and Mary look at the pretty things she had brought from Sweden….   Mrs. Peterson talked Swedish to them, and they talked English to her, and they understood each other perfectly.  She always gave them each a cookie when they left, and they nibbled the cookies very slowly while they walked home.  

Laura nibbled away exactly half of hers, and Mary nibbled exactly half of hers, and the other halves they saved for Baby Carrie.  Then when they got home, Carrie had two half-cookies, and that was a whole cookie.

This wasn’t right.  All they wanted to do was to divide the cookies fairly with Carrie….They didn’t know what do.  So each saved half, and gave it to Baby Carrie.  But they always felt that somehow that wasn’t quite fair. 
-Laura Ingalls Wilder in “Summertime” from Little House in the Big Woods

Can you believe Laura Ingalls Wilder  included a simple math lesson right there in her narrative? How convenient.  Imbedded in this brief text of a visit to a nearby neighbor, there is much more than a fraction riddle.  There is the lesson of sisterly selflessness, the lesson of developing relationships with those around us, the lesson of appreciating others and allowing them to be who they are regardless of differences.  All those will need to be explored internally or at a later time.  Now, we have to evenly divide those cookies.

G and I have just finished the first volume of Ms. Wilder’s series.  Honestly, he wasn’t thrilled about my read aloud choice until I told him there was a panther in it, and Pa cleans his rifle.  He was surprised, however, that he enjoyed listening to how Pa played the fiddle about Yankee Doodle and Ol’ Grimes, and how to make cheese and maple syrup.

After we read the above excerpt, I asked G if he could think of a way to break 2 cookies into 3 even pieces.  His immediate answer was to break it in lots of little pieces.   Hmmmm… Not a bad initial thought.  

The next day we decided to trace some circles and pretend they were Mrs. Peterson’s cookies.  G made them chocolate chip.

By cutting out two more circles and cutting them into halves I demonstrated how two halves is the same as one whole.  If you look carefully at Mary’s cookie in the picture you can see how G was dividing the cookie into little tiny triangular-like wedges.  Whew.  That would have been hard work for a walk home.  As he divided, he counted Mary- Laura-Carrie-Mary-Laura-Carrie-Mary-Laura-…Then he realized that was an ABC pattern.  Good for you, G.

The cookie on the right is my attempt at showing him how you could make one-third wedges out of cookies.

This all didn’t take very long, because he really needed to get back to more important things.  I mean, those pictures of Spider-Man defeating Doctor Octopus are not going to draw themselves.

What we would be reading if I had girls

May I preface this post with two small clarifications?  First, I really do not regret having all boys.  How could you regret the loves of your life?  I do, however, wonder from time to time what it would be like to share some really great children’s literature with them from my own childhood, you know, the kind boys just don’t truly appreciate.  This brings me to the second clarification – yes, there really are differences in girls and boys.  As much as I detest the pink aisles of toy departments in box stores, as much as I dislike labelling “boys books,” we all must admit, there are just certain subject matters to which one gender or another naturally gravitate.  This is particularly true as children grow past those early years.  So, what follows is a wonderful (and personally dear) collection of books which I would still be reading aloud if I had girls.  The list may not be surprising.  They are mostly classics, widely read, but if you do have a girl in your life, snuggle up next to her and share a treasure, a shared language of  literature.  Or, try some of these out with the little man, too.  At least as long as he will allow you.Spring2014 004


Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Oh, sure, A was partially toilet-trained on chapters like “Grandpa and the Panther,” and “Mr. Edwards meets Santa Claus,” but even a wild prairie tomboy does not generally hold the interests of boys in the same way that I was captivated by Laura’s trek across the grasslands of pioneering America.  Reading about sugar snow, Pet and Patty, Nellie Oleson and Laura’s early romance with Almanzo after the long, long winter held me spell-bound and made me wish I had also traveled by covered wagon.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich is where young girls might go after they have grown a bit older and read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories.  Beautifully written, they are told from the opposing perspective of the pioneer girls.  Ojibwa is from the Omakaya tribe near Lake Superior around 1847.  She is mysteriously discovered as an infant on a neighboring island, but grows up strong and full of curiosity.  Her people go through difficult times, and though the culture is a new one for most of us, through Ojibwa’s eyes, it is full of humanity and love.  This is a relatively new read for me.  They were first published  fifteen years or so ago, after I was well into adulthood.  However, I can imagine treasuring Erdrich’s books as a youngster.  Also in this series Chickadee, The Porcupine Year and The Game of Silence.

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Anne of Green Gables/ Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery.  I cannot emphasize the importance Montgomery’s writings had on me as  an 11 and 12-year old (and far beyond!).  I feel, like Anne-with-an-e, we are “kindred spirits.”  I cry every time Matthew gives Anne the “puffed sleeves” at Christmas, and I laugh when Mr. Carpenter “goes out with the tide” warning Emily to “beware of italics. ”  I have never been able to decide which series I enjoy more.  Emily is certainly darker, but more grown-up.  I will always be grateful to Lucy Maude not only for her characters, but also for introducing me to poets like Tennyson, Keats and Byron.  I would still love to make a pilgrimage one day to Prince Edward Island.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  Putting on plays in the parlor, eating apples in the attic, timidly playing the piano in the neighbor’s house, befriending the boy next door, reading war letters from father, growing up a March…..Who has not loved this family?

All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor.  Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, Gertie, then later, little brother Charlie.  Growing up Jewish at the turn-of-the-century in New York seemed neither strange nor unfamiliar. The books are full of sisterly love, patient parenting and Jewish holiday traditions.   I loved Ella as the Purim jester!  My favorites were always Sarah, who loved to read, and Henny who was always getting into so much trouble. All of a Kind Family Downtown, More All of a Kind Family, All of a Kind Family Uptown, and Ella of All of a Kind Family portray Mama’s and Papa’s girls (and baby brother) as they grow up before WWI.

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Betsy-Tacy-Tibseries by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Was there a happier place to live in than Deep Valley on Hill Street? Modeled after her own childhood experiences in the turn-of-the-century Minnesota, Lovelace helps us feel what it is like living in a community and growing up with best friends.

No surprises here in this list?  What were your favorites growing up?  Which childhood character seemed more flesh and blood than words on a page to you?  May you and your own “half-pint” bury your noses in a book, may you love every leaf, every page as you turn them together.



Of Octopuses and Other Invertebrates

A painting by S of a giant squid from just a few months ago.

S was not quite four when he became deeply enamored with octopuses and squids, but especially octopuses.  Especially the Giant Pacific and the Blue-ringed octopuses.  I remember this now, because G is almost exactly the same age.  I learned things about these invertebrates I never expected to learn in my entire life, much less from my stilll three-year-old son.  Like that they had beaks made from keratin.  That there were approximately 250 species of octopus in the oceans.  Even things concerning life span and fertilization.  One day when picking S up from preschool I met a mom leaving as I was coming in the door.

-You are S’s mom?

-Yes, that’s right.

She then proceeded to tell me how much she had enjoyed his show and tell.  At first I wondered why, because he had just brought in a plastic bath toy of….you guessed it….an octopus.  She then told me he had stood up and began talking (in what I am quite sure was a heavily lispy voice).  “The Blue-ringed octopus lives off the coasts of Australia and Indonesia…”  I am quite certain his classmates were not as interested, but I was proud of him.  He has always loved to share (i.e. show off ) information.

Four years before I had an idea that I would one day be educating S and his brothers at home, I was inspired by his and A’s enthusiasm.  They came home from school each day ready to play and to learn.  That summer after S turned four we did a full study (well, at least what our library afforded us) of octopuses.  We read about them, acted out octopus dramas in the living room and at bathtime, created arms showing hundreds of suckers represented by Cheerios, and even visited one at a nearby aquarium.

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2014-winter 002 Eventually, we created our own Blue-ringed with a paper bag and some poster paint.  Click here for a photo of an actual Blue-ringed octopus.

I feel quite nostalgic for those days.  My boys were preschoolers back then.  The world was exciting, and we were wrapped intrinsically in each other’s worlds.  I love S at ten, as well, but it is a different time, with different joys.  He still reads about octopuses and other invertebrates, but not with the same frenetic pace.  It is an occasional reading.  He has other interests.

I need to learn to appreciate this ten-year-old S.  It seems this will be who he is forever, but now I appreciate how Laura Ingalls Wilder ended Little House in the Big Woods.

“They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now.  It can never be a long time ago.”

And yet, as if she has siphoned herself mysteriously away, the Blue-ringed octopus already seems to be fading into the recent past.

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