Teaching My Baby To Read

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Shakespeare for all ages

Do you think Shakespeare is too hard for kids?  Think again!

With the right type of scaffolding, almost any age can enjoy the “Bard of Avon”.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

For Kids 2.5 Years Old and Up

Shakepeare’s Storybook with CD by Patrick Ryan doesn’t exactly tell the stories of Shakespeare.  Instead, it includes the stories that inspired Shakespeare.  So instead of “Hamlet”, you hear the story of “Ashboy”.  “A Bargain is a Bargain” tells the story of “The Merchant of Venice.”

There are two CDs with this book, as well as lots of pictures.  None of the stories were too scary for my daughter, who started listening to them as young as two and a half.

For Kids 4 and Up

Can I just say how much I love Jim Weiss?  Basically anything you purchase from Greathall Productions is going to be golden.  Shakespeare for Children is no exception.  This is an audio CD that tells the stories of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and “The Taming of the Shrew”.  Both versions are awesome!

Tales from Shakespeare by Tina Packer is another great choice for kids.  My son and I have read this book at bedtime over and over again.  The plays are told in narrative form but include original lines whenever possible.  The illustrations are beautiful; my only complaint is that there aren’t more of them.

For Kids 6 and Up

Chapter 39 of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 2 includes historical information about Shakespeare, as well as a brief retelling of “Macbeth”.  If you have Jim Weiss reading the audio version of SOTW2, this appears on Disc 9.  I love the entire SOTW series to begin with, so getting a bit of Shakespeare thrown in is a nice bonus.

The Shakespeare Stealer is a historical novel for middle grade audiences by Gary Blackwood.  It tells the fictional story of Widge, an orphan boy who knows how to do a cryptic shorthand that allows him to transcribe plays when he should just be watching them.  The language is pretty advanced (not inappropriate, just challenging).  You really feel like you are getting a history lesson when you read this, as well as being entertained.

For Kids 10 and Up

Imagine if Monty Python, the Globe Theatre, and the evening news were mixed together.  You might end up with “This is Macbeth” and “This is Hamlet”.   These are two really wonderful introductions to Shakespeare for older students, created by Greg Watkins and Jeremy Sabol from Stanford’s Structured Liberal Education program.  (More about my own interest in SLE here.)

There are key scenes from the plays performed, faux interviews of the characters, musical interludes, and pretend medieval commercials.

My son Bruce is only seven, so he doesn’t quite have the attention span to make it through an entire DVD.  But he loves the medieval commercials so much, we have watched those on repeat.  It’s going to be really difficult to walk past the replica sword store, the next time I take Bruce to the mall…

Animal Farm For Kids

(An 11 year old me, 6 months before the Berlin Wall fell.)

Recently, Bruce(7), Jenna(2.5) and I spent a wonderful afternoon watching the cartoon version of George Orwell’s classic book Animal Farm on Hulu.plus.  This was the perfect compliment to my Inspired By SLE Reading List #3. Bruce and I had just read all about the Bolshevik Revolution, Communism, and the Cold War in The Last 500 Years by Jane Bingham. Now all I had to do was pop some popcorn and bring these big ideas to the small screen.

The first time I read Animal Farm was in sixth grade when my family took a trip to Europe, six months before the Berlin Wall fell. We flew into West Germany, and then drove through East Germany to get to our friends, Walter and Hanelora’s house in West Berlin. Driving through East Germany my dad was pulled over for a speeding ticket, even though he wasn’t speeding! We were all quite terrified, but a little bit of cash saved the day.

This is what I wrote in my diary about what it was like to visit the Berlin Wall from the West side. The next day, we went through Checkpoint Charlie and saw East Berlin too.

Watching Animal Farm with my kids was a full circle moment for me. It was surprising how old lines came back to me; “Four legs good! Two legs b-a-a-a-a-d!”, and still freaked me out after all of these years! Jenna(2.5) just thought we were watching a cartoon about farm animals, and lost interest after about fifteen minutes.  🙂  Luckily, her older brother stuck with me.

The best part of this experience was the conversation the cartoon prompted me to have with my son Bruce. Together, Bruce and I questioned which was worse for the animals: being ruled by Farmer Brown or being ruled by the pigs? What were the differences between Snowball and Napoleon? We discussed the words “propaganda”, “proletariat”, “Capitalism”, and “Communism”.  I told Bruce what it was like to go through Checkpoint Charlie and have every inch of our bus searched for 45 minutes. I explained to him that when George Orwell first wrote this story, people in America were honestly afraid of Communism, but that now that moment of fear had passed.  Wow.

Virginia Woolf for Kids

Part of my reading list for children inspired by spring quarter of Stanford’s SLE program includes finding a book for kids that introduced them to Virginia Woolf.  I could only find one book out there that met this task, but luckily it was a good one.

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear is something that both my 2 year old and my 7 year old have enjoyed.  The illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault are absolutely charming, and the hand lettering is done in D’nealian, which is the handwriting program my son Bruce uses at school.

Virginia Wolf tells the story of two sisters named Virginia and Vanessa.  One day, Virginia wakes up in a really sour mood and turns into a wolf.  Vanessa spends the rest of the book trying to help her sister choose to feel better.  At one point, Bloomsberry is mentioned.  When we finally see Virginia’s face without the wolf head, she does indeed have a very distinctive looking nose.

This book is similar in merit to When Sophie Gets Angry because it helps children understand “big emotions” and think about socially appropriate ways to handle them.  I’m not sure how much either of my kids learned about the real Virginia Woolf, but they are at least going to be familiar with her name and know that sometimes she suffered from really dark moods.

Frankenstein for Kids

As part of my Inspired by Stanford’s SLE Program, a Reading List for Children Part 3 my son Bruce(7) read the Classic Stars version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Bruce read this on his own in about forty minutes and I wasn’t really sure how much he understood.  It turns out, quite a lot actually, (with a bit of confusion thrown in).  The following is the transcript of our conversation about the book:

Q) What was this book about?

Bruce’s Answer:It was a pretty good book.  It was the whole story technically about how Frankenstein created the Monster.  But it sort of started with this guy chasing after the Monster. The guy (I know he was Frankenstein) was rescued by Captain Walter (who wasn’t the main guy or anything).  Frankenstein just told Captain Walter the whole story which goes like this:  He makes two friends, a really funny guy and a girl.  Then, he has to go away to the university. 

His first professor is really horrible but his second professor is awesome.  The second professor thought there was a new way of thinking.  It was really cool.  The second professor was technically the best.  Frankenstein learned so much that he wanted to create a real human being out of body parts.  But he knows if he does that that he has to study death and life and everything like that.  So then he makes the Monster.  He thinks the guys is going to be awesome, but the Monster is actually really horrible and evil because I think Frankenstein forgot to give him a brain. His wrist and all of his connections were sewn together, like with needlepoint.  It was just plain weird.

Q) What did the Monster think?

Bruce’s Answer:  He was sort of evil because he didn’t have proper body parts.  He didn’t have enough skin.  He was evil because he was made out of dead things so he was like a king zombie.

Q) Did the Monster want to be human?

Bruce’s Answer: No, because the Monster wanted to be made out of living parts, but the professor knew that wasn’t possible.  The professor needed to study way more for that, but he wasn’t going to.  The Monster wanted living body parts that he could control.

Q) Do you think humans should be able to create new creatures like Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster?

Bruce’s Answer: Not really, because if it went wrong then it would be really freaky and it would be weird.

Q) Do you think Dr. Frankenstein was brave for trying to do something new that nobody had ever done before?

Bruce’s Answer: Sort of, but he was also overconfident.  He was teensy bit overconfident than he should be.

Q) Were there any girls in the book?

Bruce’s Answer: Dr. Frankenstein made a friend with a girl.  The girl’s name was Elizabeth.

Q) How did the book end?

Bruce’s Answer: It sort of ended when Dr. Frankenstein died and Frankenstein’s Monster was sad that his dear creator died and then he jumped out the window of the ship. But Captain Walter, the guy who owns the ship, jumped out into the sea of the Arctic.  Frankenstein’s Monster is probably dead, but he was dead anyway.  Oh, and Frankenstein killed Elizabeth.

Q) How did that happen?

Bruce’s Answer: I don’t know how she died.  The book doesn’t tell you.

Q) Why do you think that Frankenstein is associated with Halloween?

Bruce’s Answer: It’s not associated with Halloween.  He just wanted to be a great scientist.  It doesn’t have anything to do with Halloween.  At first he was going to create an animal, but then he thought the world needed another human, not an animal.

Q) When some people hear the word “Frankenstein” they think of the Monster, instead of the Dr. Frankenstein.

Bruce’s Answer: Frankenstein actually created the Monster.

This was the first book I have bought from the “Classic Starts” series and I was extremely impressed. This is actually problematic for me, because now I want to buy more!  Ugh.  If only there was a money tree in my backyard…

Kafka for Kids

 

When I first read Franz Kafka’s classic work Metamorphosis in college as part of Stanford University’s Structured Liberal Education program, I had what is likely a common reaction: “What the heck? This is crazy!” So I was really curious to see what my son Bruce(7) would think of Mary James’s Shoebag, which we are reading as part of my Inspired by SLE Reading list #3 for kids. (By the way, I need to say a BIG “thank you” to blog reader Tracee for suggesting this book to me in the first place.)

Shoebag is indeed the perfect introduction to Kafka for kids… and maybe adults too. It tells the story of a cockroach named Shoebag who one day wakes up and has transformed into a young boy. His cockroach family has no idea what to do with him, and their reactions cover the gamut from compassion, to fear, to disgust and even hatred. Other elements of the story include enabling behavior, selfishness, and money causing family dysfunction.

One of the main Kafka references in Shoebag is that Shoebag’s best friend at school is named Gregor Samsa who (spoiler alert!) is also a cockroach who has turned into a human. Gregor’s real cockroach name is In Bed. It’s possible that the character Tuffy Buck is based on the boarders in Metamorphosis, but that might be a stretch on my part. There is also another character named Pretty Soft, who is a child actress. The whole human family shields her from reality and treats her like she is a different species too.

Of course, to a seven year old like Bruce, Shoebag is really just the story of a cockroach that turns into a human and has to go to school. If you just take this book at face value it is not deep at all. But the more you think about it, the smarter it gets.

This is what I mean. When Bruce and I were talking about Shoebag, I all of a sudden had a huge leap in understanding about Metamorphosis. To me as a mid-thirty year old, both stories are about what happens when somebody in your family makes choices about their life that are so out of the norm for the rest of you that it is almost like that relative turns into a different species. Do you by chance have a person like this in your family?

When somebody you love makes really bad decisions, the rest of the family doesn’t know what to do or what to feel. Emotions might range the gamut from compassion, to fear, to love, to disgust or even hatred. Other elements of the situation might include enabling behavior, selfishness and money. There is also a lot of hurt and a sense of betrayal. Not to get to personal, but there is a relative in my family who has made a lot of bad decisions in the past five years and whom Bruce is very familiar with. Discussing Shoebag together with my son was a great way to help him process what was going on.

My husband chimed into our talk with yet another interpretation of all of this and that is the “mental health” perspective. Maybe in Metamorphosis Gregor Samsa was losing his mind and his family didn’t know to deal with that. Maybe Shoebag didn’t really turn into a little boy. Maybe Relative XYZ is really dealing with ____. Maybe when I sent that person gift cards to Trader Joes periodically, I was like Grete leaving out bits of food for her brother Gregor. Maybe Pretty Soft needed more help dealing with reality on her own, and less enabling. Or maybe money is a bigger part of the plot lines then any of the characters have examined.

 That’s some pretty deep stuff to come from a book about a cockroach. My final thought is that Shoebag is the perfect example for one my most important learning goals from my Inspired by SLE Reading List #3 for kids: You can be your own hero. You can either crawl to the back of your bedroom and hide with an apple core in your back until you die like Gregor Samsa did in Metamorphosis, or you can look in the mirror and see your real self like Shoebag, and choose to find a way home to the people who love you.

T. S. Eliot For Kids

 

T.S. Eliot is one of my all-time favorite poets, but I had never heard of him until tenth or eleventh grade. I remember thinking at the time, “Wouldn’t it have been cool if I had read Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats when I was a kid?” Well, now’s my chance to give that experience to my children. Jenna(2.5) is not very interested, but Bruce(7) is willing to read about one cat a night. I’ve also caught Bruce reading Old Possum by himself, so I know that Eliot has caught his interest. Since we’ve joked that Bruce is like the Rum Tum Tugger, this shouldn’t surprise you.

Of course, now comes the strange part. I still need to explain to Bruce that our little book of cat poems has come to life in one of the most famous musicals of all times, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. Don’t get me wrong, I love Andrew Lloyd Webber. In fact, last year for our anniversary my husband and I saw Love Never Dies in London and actually saw Andrew Lloyd Webber from a distance, crossing the street. It was right before the entire cast left for Australia, and he was there checking their performance one last time. But going from reading funny cat poems with my seven-year-old in his room, to watching full grown adults dressed up like felines and belting out show tunes is pretty surreal.


I guess now I need to have a conversation with Bruce where I try to explain the 1980s…

Inspired by Stanford’s SLE Program: A Reading List for Children Part 3

 

(Please also note that this post has no official affiliation in any way shape or form with Stanford University. I am however, a Stanford and SLE alumna.)

In college I spent my first year at Stanford in the Structured Liberal Education program, which is perhaps the most rigorous curriculum in Classical Education a freshman can take. At 9 units a quarter, SLE is a year-long course where students immerse themselves in literature, philosophy, art, and the humanities. Ninety freshmen live in the same residence hall, eat dinner three times a week with their professors, write a ten page paper a week, and have a private SLE writing tutor to critique their work. There is even a resident SLE tutor to assist in the evening hours. At Stanford, “SLEeezers” are nerds among nerds!

This is the “SLE Inspired” reading list I’ve created for Bruce (age 7) that is inspired by the Spring syllabus from my freshman year in SLE. You’ll notice that the major themes of this reading list include Modernism and Post-Modernism. Traditional theories being challenged and new ideas being discovered are really powerful things for kids to think about, so I’m really excited to read these books with Bruce (and my daughter Jenna too someday).

Unlike my previous two Inspired by SLE reading lists, I am not using Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World as our history spine this time. That’s because Story of the World 4 is not really appropriate for seven year olds, by the author’s own admission. I know this because we own the complete series of CDs and Jim Weiss reads off a really stern warning to parents not to let kids younger than third grade listen to the fourth book. I think this is because some of the subject matter, like the Holocaust, is really scary. So instead, the non-fiction history text I’m using as our spine this time is The Last 500 Years.

Speaking of scary things, I really struggled with how to include some deeper topics that the real SLE students discuss, in a way that is developmentally appropriate for children. One of the big questions I had is when/how to teach children about the Holocaust? Bruce already knows a little bit about the Holocaust because I’ve told him about his Great-Grandpa in the 741st Tank Battalion who helped liberate Flossenburg Concentration Camp. I want Bruce to learn more, without giving him nightmares. After thinking about this for a long time and looking at a lot of books, I chose reading Who Was Anne Franka as a respectful way to start.

Finding a safe book that talks about Sigmund Freud however, was impossible. Every book I saw that was supposedly for kids, mentioned some really adult subject matter. Maybe they were okay for 13 year olds, but not second graders. This is really a shame because one of my learning goals for this list is to teach kids that they can “think about thinking”. If you have any ideas for books that would accomplish this, please let me know!

I plan to read the books one by one with Bruce at bedtime, so that we can thoroughly discuss them over the next six to nine months. In the future, I will review each book separately, so that I can share my thoughts on whether or not it is worthwhile checking out for your little one too. Some of these books I have purchased, and some we will check out from the library. I am also including a few movies, because every Thursday evening in SLE we watched a movie that was inspired by our reading from the week.

Learning Goals for Children:

  • Just because something is, doesn’t mean it has to be that way.
  • The world is rapidly changing; sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.
  • Humans have certain rights that other people should not be allowed to take away.
  • You can think about thinking.
  • You can be your own hero.

Texts for Children:

The Actual 2012 SLE Booklist for Stanford Students:

  • Wretched of the Earth, by Franitz Fanone
  • The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot
  • To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
  • Survival in Auschwitz, by Primo Levi
  • Pere Goriot, by Honore de Balzac
  • On Liberty, by J.S. Mill
  • On Genealogy of Morals etc., by Nietzche
  • Marx-Engels Reader, by Tucker
  • Freud Reader, by Gay
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • Essential Works of Lenin
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem, by Arendt
  • Caucasian Chalk Circle, by Brecht
  • Metamorphosis etc., by Franz Kafka Edition

Balzac for Kids

Today there was a small package for me in the mail from France. When I saw the word “Euro” on the paper I started to get really excited. Who did I know in Europe that was sending me a present? It turns out that it was my own idiocy mailing me a surprise.

In my planning for my Reading List Inspired By SLE Part 3 I had tried to order and “easy reader” version of Balzac’s Pere Goriot. What I had unintentionally ordered was in fact, written in French! This is really disappointing because it means that there is no kiddie version of Balzac currently available for children in English.

I really don’t understand this at all, because Old Goriot is the perfect text for modern times. It’s about and older man living a comfortable life in retirement until he gives away so much of his pension to his grown daughters that he ends up impoverished. I bet every person reading this post knows of at least one baby-boomer family that this is happening to.

So if I can’t find an authentic kiddie version of Balzac to read to my kids, then I need to think of another book that expresses the same message. The first title that comes to mind is Shel Silverstein’s classic The Giving Tree. My grandma already owns this, so the next time we visit her at Merrill Gardens I’ll ask to borrow it.

Another central message in Le Pere Goriot is the fickleness of fashion. Many of the main characters in the book waste a ton of money on clothes, because this is how society judges them. So I need to find a book for kids that expresses how hard (and morally corrupt) it is to be judged on your wardrobe instead of your character. Any suggestions?

P.S.  Does anyone want a book in French?  It could be my blog’s first give-away.  🙂

Reflections on my “Inspired by SLE Reading List Part 2”

It’s been over six months, but the end is in sight on my SLE Inspired Reading List Part 2. When we started this journey back in November, Bruce was 6 and a half, and my daughter Jenna was still in a crib. It was easy to find time each night to snuggle up with Bruce and introduce him to some of the biggest ideas in the world. Together we learned to say “Moooz-lim” instead of “Muz-lim”, we read about the courage of Cabeza de Vaca, we were inspired by Rumi, and we contemplated the code of Dinotopia. Now Bruce is 7, Jenna is in a big-girl bed, and bedtime routines have shifted.

Add to this the honest but horrible conversation Bruce had with me a month ago “Mom, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but reading books with your mom is something you grow out of, like babies grow out of using bottles.” Go ahead and stab me in the heart why don’t you! Isn’t seven too young for a talk like that with your mommy?

The root cause is that Bruce is such a quick reader that when I read aloud to him it is way too slow. This is all my own doing, because if he was a typical first grade reader we would still be snuggled up reading Mary Pope Osborne together. Instead, I am banished to reading Clifford Visits the Hospital for the umpteen millionth time with Jenna at bedtime.

So now we are at the last book from this reading list, the Candlewick Illustrated Classic version of Don Quixote by Cervantes, adapted for children by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Chris Riddell.  I would love to say that Bruce and I are reading Don Quixote together, but the truth is that he is reading it by himself…usually in the bathroom. I don’t know what that means and am trying not to think about it.

I guess now would be a good idea to remind myself of my learning goals for this reading list, because it seems like we have reached them:

Learning Goals for Children

  • We are all capable of thinking our own thoughts and forming our own ideas. We do not need to be slaves to the thinking of others.
  • We are responsible for our own actions, and are accountable for our actions to our own conscious, our families, and our community. Many people in the world believe we are also accountable to God.

P.S. The two books Bruce and I read about Martin Luther did not mention him having his great insight while sitting on the toilet. But remembering that bit of history makes ending this learning journey with my son reading Cervantes in the bathroom all the more fitting. 🙂

In God’s Garden by Amy Steedman

When you were in college did you ever have to read something called The Confessions of Saint Augustine? It has a very famous story about Saint Augustine stealing pears when he was a child. I really wanted to share this story with my son Bruce(6.5) as part of my SLE Inspired Reading List part 2. As you might imagine, finding a kiddie version of The Confessions of Saint Augustine wasn’t easy. Luckily I came across In God’s Garden by Amy Steedman. This book was written over 100 years ago and is part of the Yesterday’s Classics collection. If you click on the link you can view the first 38 pages of the book for free.

The section about Saint Augustine was everything I had hoped for, but the rest of the book presented a big problem for me, relating to my own ignorance. I’m a member of the United Methodist church which means that I’m Protestant. I know virtually nothing about Catholic saints.

When I was reading this book to Bruce I didn’t even know how to present it. If we were reading Greek myths I would have said “These were stories people use to believe were true a long time ago in Ancient Greece.” But I was very unsure about how closely modern Catholics believe in the veritably of these stories. So I said to Bruce “These are important stories in the Catholic church,” and left it at that.

Take Saint George and the Dragon for example. It reminded by Bruce and me very strongly of the Greek myth of Perseus rescuing the princess Andromeda from the sea monster. We both commented on the similarities, but didn’t take our discussion any further because I did not know how to direct the conversation.

A few weeks ago I took my questions about all of this to my cousin and aunt who are Catholic. They told me that in their experience there are varying degrees of absolute beliefs about the stories of the Saints. My aunt said she viewed them as a product of oral tradition. It doesn’t mean that the stories didn’t happen or aren’t true, it’s just that it could be very possible that details were exaggerated or embellished over the years. But then my cousin pointed out that our Catholic relatives in Eastern Europe would indeed believe every word of the stories to be true. So my American Catholic cousin say there probably wasn’t really a dragon, but our Czech cousin would say yes, the dragon was real. 

For me, this whole reading experience with Bruce was an example of why Afterschooling is so important. I whole heartedly believe in public schools but it is unfair to expect teachers to wade into something like the history of Saints. I want my son to learn about other religions in a respectful, discerning way. I also want to be the person who leads that instruction.

If you are Catholic, please give me an education about all of this!

Artemis Fowl and Machiavelli

Part of creating a reading list for children that was inspired by winter quarter of Stanford University’s Structured Liberal Education program, meant finding a kiddie version of Machiavelli’s famous treatise on power, The Prince. This task proved very tricky. I had to really search through my teacher-brain to come up with something close. Then I realized that Bruce(6) and I had already read the perfect selection earlier that year —Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer!

Artemis Fowl is rich, arrogant, power-hungry, and will do anything to get what he wants. For 90% of the book he exemplifies the credo “The ends justify the means” and continues to carry out his scheming plans even though they involve hurting other life forms. By the last few chapters however, Artemis has developed a conscious, and begins to rethink his past choices. This fits in perfectly with the second teaching objective for my Part 2 Reading List.

Learning Goals for Children

  • We are all capable of thinking our own thoughts and forming our own ideas. We do not need to be slaves to the thinking of others.
  • We are responsible for our own actions, and are accountable for our actions to our own conscious, our families, and our community. Many people in the world believe we are also accountable to God.

Artemis Fowl is not classical children literature in my opinion, but it is entertaining. It is written at the 6th grade reading level, or Guided Reading Level Y.

Descartes for Kids

 

As part of my SLE Inspired Reading List for Children Part 2, I wanted to introduce my son Bruce to the philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes. You’ll probably be shocked to hear this, but finding a kiddie version of Discourse on Method & Meditations etc. was next to impossible. What I did end up purchasing was The Fly on the Ceiling, A Math Reader by Dr. Julie Glass. It’s not exactly high philosophy, but it does introduce children to the name “Descartes” and the basic concept of Cartesian Coordinates.

The Fly on the Ceiling, a Math Reader is a level four book from the Step Into Reading collection. That means that it is somewhere in the middle of a second grade reading level. Ironically, even though Bruce is in first grade, I hadn’t sat down and read a book at this grade level to him since he was four. He was pretty excited that we were reading something so quick and easy. That’s a lesson for me!

The Adventures of Martin Luther by Carolyn Bergt

I don’t think it matters what faith your family comes from, teaching your children about the Reformation at some point, is a must. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation were historical events that rewrote the way our world was written. They are also the embodiment of the teaching objectives from my SLE Inspired Reading List Part Two.

Learning Goals for Children:

  • We are all capable of thinking our own thoughts and forming our own ideas. We do not need to be slaves to the thinking of others.
  • We are responsible for our own actions, and are accountable for our actions to our own conscious, our families, and our community. Many people in the world believe we are also accountable to God.

Okay, so here’s my big problem. I wanted Bruce(6.5) to learn about Martin Luther as a historical figure, but I also wanted my son to do his own thinking, and come to his own conclusions. The trouble was, I couldn’t find any children books about Martin Luther that were neutral in tone. Our first pick, Martin Luther A Man Who Changed the World by Paul L. Maier, was offensive to Catholics.

Our second pick, The Adventures of Martin Luther by Carolyn Bergt, was slightly more neutral in tone, but written in a ridiculous sing-song manner that I found annoying. Another fault of The Adventures of Martin Luther is that it is only 15 pages long. The pictures are nice, but this is really more of a booklet than a book.

If I was a Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or Atheist, I don’t know what I would think about either of these children books about Martin Luther. Since I’m Methodist, I’m okay with my kids reading about Martin Luther from a heavy-handed Protestant point of view. What I’m not okay with, is bad poetry.

Canterbury Tales for Kids

Let me tell you about one of my more inane book purchases from this past year.  It is Barbara Cohen’s Canterbury Tales, and I had originally chosen it in mind for my SLE Inspired Reading List.  The problem is that it includes very adult subject matter not appropriate for children.  For some reason, I couldn’t tell this by reading the Amazon reviews at the time.  It looks like it’s going to be a kiddie version of The Canterbury Tales, but it is definitely not!

To be fair, in Barbara Cohen’s translation the illustrations are really beautiful and the writing is witty.  This would be a fun gift to give to an adult who loves the Middle Ages.  But it is not a good fit for kids at all.  A better choice for children would be Mary Poe Osborne’s Favorite Medieval Tales, which includes Chaucer’s “Chanticleer and the Fox”.  Please learn from my mistake!

Rumi Whirling Dervish, by Demi

First off, let me say that I am really behind my SLE Inspired Reading List #2 postings. Rumi Whirling Dervish by Demi has been sitting on my desk for a while, but not because it isn’t an engaging, artful book to read with children. I don’t like to share too many images of the inside of books, because I want to be respectful of Copyrights, but here’s a glimpse at the beautiful illustrations and text in Rumi:

Rumi lived over 800 years ago and settled in Turkey, even though he was born in Afghanistan. He is most famous for inventing/establishing the order of the Whirling Dervishes, who believe their spinning brings closeness to God and peacefulness to the Earth.

Rumi was also a prolific poet. Here is a brief excerpt about Rumi from the book’s jacket describing his poetry: “He wrote about the love that resides in the soul of everyone regardless of religion or background.” All of the poems included in this book were really lovely and not too difficult for children to understand.

From a current events perspective, this was a really interesting book to read with my son Bruce(6.5) because Rumi was born in Afghanistan, and his family traveled through the Middle East before settling in Turkey. Reading Rumi was an easy and meaningful way to expose my son to poetry and culture from that region. It was also nice to read a picture book with him again, because he usually won’t stand for anything he perceives as “too babyish”. In fact, I am going to be adding any book I can find by Demi to my library holds list.

P.S. Now that I’ve finally finished writing up Rumi Whirling Dervish, I can go place it on the bookshelf, or another ulterior location than my desk.  (Sorry.  I had trouble working in my SAT word today.  :))