Nathan Hale: Revolutionary Spy by Nathan Olson

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Here’s another book from my quest to find interesting graphic novels.  Nathan Hale: Revolutionary Spy is a book that can be digested in one sitting.

Premise:

Nathan Hale was a young man who lived in Connecticut immediately prior to the Revolutionary War.  He was a student at Yale and later taught others (even getting up early to teach girls for free).  Having grown up amid the colonists’ unrest due to British taxes, he volunteered to join the army.  Nathan’s willingness to serve as a spy and his refusal to betray his country are commendable.  Unfortunately, his life was cut short when he was only 21 years old.

My thoughts:

I think this book is a great beginner biography for elementary-age children.  They get a quick overview of Nathan’s life–just enough to pique their interest.  Once they’re at a higher reading level they can come back to Nathan’s story and read a book that is more in depth.

I enjoyed reading about Nathan and the defining moments in his life.  He sounds like a remarkable young man, and it’s a tragedy that his life was cut short.  I’m sure he would have gone on to do many more commendable deeds had he lived longer.  Particularly gratifying was his view on the importance of educating women.  He was truly ahead of his times!

The book is divided into four very short chapters: Student and Teacher, Soldier and Leader, Daring Spy, and War Hero.  At the end, you’ll find a section with more information about Nathan Hale.

I recommend this book to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  This particular book is best suited to elementary-age children.

Possible Objections:

  • Nathan is hanged (while we only see his silhouette, kids may still find it disturbing)

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Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Alamo All-Stars by Nathan Hale

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I read Alamo All-Stars over the course of a couple days. This is a super-fun graphic novel that is perfect for teaching kids about history!  I’m excited to check out the other books in this series.

Premise:

Learn about the early history of the state of Texas, its inhabitants, and their relationship with Mexico.  Who fought for the independence of the Texas?  Why?  How did the Mexican government respond?  What happened at the Alamo?  You’ll find answers to all these questions and more in Alamo All Stars!

My thoughts:

I love this book!  It’s a fantastic way to teach kids about history in a fun and engaging way.  Who wants to read about a bunch of stale dates and names in a history book?  Let kids learn history through graphic novels!!

I’m a big history fan when it’s presented in an interesting format.  Alamo All Stars definitely meets that requirement.  My school days were inexplicably absent of almost any information pertaining to U.S. History.  I don’t know how that happened, but it did.  So I learned about a period of American history that was completely new to me.  And now the story makes sense and will stick with me.  If a person can see a story unfolding before their eyes, it’s more likely that they will retain that information.

It was pretty cool to learn about the roles that Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie played at the Alamo.  (Yes, I’m talking about the man who has a knife named after him.)  I had no idea that they were there!

There are a few stock characters who act as narrators in this book (and the others in the series).  They help provide background information and commentary, as well as a little humor.  The illustrations have a somewhat simple style, but I think they’re quite nice.

I recommend this book for anybody in the elementary to teen years who wants to learn about history in an interesting way.  This would also be great for homeschoolers or to augment a history classroom.

Possible Objections:

  • One instance of the d-word
  • Some violence

Super Shark Encyclopedia and Other Creatures of the Deep by Derek Harvey

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Super Shark Encyclopedia is another book that came from our out-of-town library trip.  My second son absolutely loves encyclopedia-type books, so I thought he might enjoy looking at this one.

Premise:

This is an encyclopedic book which teaches the reader about many different ocean creatures.  There is a short section at the beginning of the book which shows the different “layers” of the ocean and briefly explains them.  It has sections on Amazing Anatomy, Animal Athletes, Life Stories, Supernatural Senses, and Exploring the Deep.  Creatures are featured using full-color photography, basic statistics, and a short description.  A short glossary in the back helps out with more uncommon terms.

My thoughts:

We really like this book.  It has interesting tidbits of information about many different sea creatures, and that information is perfectly complimented by the wonderful visuals.  It’s short enough that I can look at it with my smaller kids, but contains enough information to keep my elementary-age kids reading it themselves, too.  Personally, I love any book about animals.  This one is quite engaging.

The photos in this book are amazing!  They are clear and colorful, close-up and just plain beautiful.  The pages are quite large so that means the photos are nice and large, too.

I would recommend this book for elementary through preteen children.  The entries are fairly concise and may not contain enough information to satisfy older readers.

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Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects by Jack Challoner

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I found Maker Lab when we went to the library in a nearby town.  I was hoping that we would be able to do a few of the projects in our homeschooling, but that will have to wait.  We’re packing up to move and most of our supplies are languishing in storage right now.

Premise:

This book is aimed at kids who want to do their own maker projects.  The 28 projects fall into four categories: Food For Thought, Around the Home, Water World, and The Great Outdoors.  Each project has a supply list, clear instructions, a sample, and a short explanation about how it works.  The pictures are colorful and engaging, and enhanced by whimsical doodles.  There is also a short glossary at the end of the book to explain some of the more scientific terms.

My thoughts:

If I were a child, I would want this book!  That’s because I’m a perpetual crafter/project-tackler.  Any child who enjoys doing those hands-on projects will get excited when they see the awesome projects they can complete themselves.

The illustrations and projects are great, but there are only 28 total projects.  So while this is a fun book, it will not keep the dedicated project-maker occupied for too long.  Once you’ve tackled all of the projects, it would be a nice gesture to pass it on to a friend.

I would recommend this book for children of all ages.  The younger ones will need help with the projects, and the older ones will gain satisfaction from completing the projects on their own.

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The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom by Mary Griffith

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I picked up The Unschooling Handbook at the library in the next town over when we made it into a day trip.  What can I say?  The most important feature to us in any community is the library.  We’re geeks.

They had a decent homeschooling section, and the topic of unschooling is mighty appealing to me.  I’d say we’re already half-way there with our relaxed way of doing school.  We keep holding onto a bit of guiding the kids’ learning though, because the idea of unschooling makes my husband panic.  Daddy is not a pretty sight when he panics about the kids’ schooling.  Usually lectures ensue.

If it were solely up to me, we would be unschoolers.  My views on how to guide the kids’ learning have changed as I’ve seen what my eldest son is capable of if I just leave him alone and let him pursue his own interests, at his own pace.  He reads voraciously.  I have no hope of keeping up with him or even keeping enough recommendations on hand.  Also, he is a bit of an obsessive learner, like I am.  If he gets on a topic that he’s interested in, he will explore it deeply until he is satisfied with the knowledge he’s attained.  He doesn’t like to divide his attention between a variety of topics throughout the day.  Some people just work that way.

For instance, he loves the Percy Jackson books.  This led to an exploration of all different ancient gods and myths.  His curiosity about ancient religions and mythology were spurred on by a series of novels which he found interesting.  That learning stint lasted at least a couple of months.

Now he has moved on to teaching himself JavaScript on Khan Academy.  I would never have suggested this avenue of learning, nor been able to teach it to him.  There is a benefit to allowing a child to pursue his/her own interests and letting their own curiosity set the pace.

So back to the book I’m reviewing.  The Unschooling Handbook is an excellent resource for anybody who wants to learn about unschooling, or who is already doing it themselves.  Not only is this a how-to of unschooling, but it includes a wealth of information from respondents to questions which the author disseminated.

Here is an outline of what you can find in the book:

  • Information on how to incorporate reading, writing, math, science, history, and the arts into unschooling
  • Discussion on practical matters–legal requirements, monetary and time limits, working with multiple children, support group info., how to cope with doubts & challenges, etc.
  • Lots of discussion on learning styles, educational philosophies, the parent’s role in unschooling, etc.
  • A ton of additional resource suggestions
  • Sample schedules or activity lists
  • Many anecdotes & observations from unschooling parents & children

I highly recommend this book to anybody who engages in unschooling or is considering that method.  I think the book would also be beneficial for parents who want to stick with a more conventional homeschooling method.  If nothing else–it may help them gain a bit more confidence in their child’s ability to learn and grow if allowed to blossom on their own timetable.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Unschooling would be helpful to all children: It’s not one particular way of learning: it’s learning at your own level, in your own interest, and at your own pace.  What child wouldn’t benefit from a learning experience like that?”  (p.207)

Hail

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A few weeks ago, we experienced some adverse weather in our area.  What I thought would be a regular thunder storm actually produced some rather large hail.  It was easily as big as the end of my thumb!

The kids and I took it as a learning opportunity.  We stood on our front porch, which is full of windows, and watched the hail bounce on the ground as it fell.  Once the hail was done falling, I ran outside and collected some in a bowl for the kids to explore.  We put a few in a smaller bowl and popped them in the freezer so that Daddy could see them when he got home.

I can’t remember the last time I saw hail this large!  And the kids really enjoyed this unexpected chance to explore a weather phenomenon!

Why not use real-life weather patterns to fuel a science discussion with your kids?

Recognizing Punctuation & Symbols

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This activity is very easy and cheap!  My son took this handout from church and circled all of the punctuation and symbols he could find on it.

When he was finished we looked at all of the different types of punctuation and symbols, and discussed when each would be used.  That’s it!

How could it get any easier to get your child to explore the uses of punctuation?