I have a confession: I never read Beowulf in high school. Or college. I read Canterbury Tales more times than I can count (yet only remember a handful of the stories). I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ad nauseum – and I like that story. But no Beowulf. How did I miss it?
I’ll tell you how, we tried to cram so much into such a short amount of time. We spent hours and hours in school, but spent very little time actually studying. Somewhere along the way, Beowulf was lost to me. I’m not sure if I was ever really exposed to it or not. It might have been something I breezed through in a Norton Anthology and regurgitated the next day for a pop quiz, only to be quickly forgotten. I couldn’t tell you. I only know that I had a vague idea that it was an epic poem involving something named Grendel when I began working at a bookstore as an adult. Even then, I couldn’t tell you if Grendel was the monster or the man.
As we began our Middle Ages/ Early Ren. (450 AD to 1600 AD) year while classically homeschooling, it dawned on me that this was the year for Beowulf. I had already read the picture book by Eric A. Kimmel to kiddo when she was a wee one, but I’m sure she was so tiny she had fallen asleep; now was the time to embrace the story.
And we did. I read her the picture book shortly before my trip to Atlanta. It fit right in with all the Celtic and Norse mythology we’ve been reading to bridge the gap between the ancient times and our exciting year ahead. “What a guy! He tore off the monster’s arm! I can’t even do that,” she exclaimed. She was very pleased that this particular picture book could give the story in “one-sitting, all today” as opposed to the stories of Odysseus and Troy which all took weeks of chapter by chapter to finish. I foresee reading this again and again over the coming months, she loved the story so much; I have to admit, I did too.
I liked it even more when I discovered there was a cartoon made in 1998 starring Joseph Fiennes as the voice of Beowulf – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKjcoFZmKuA. We got to watch that and call it school. It was a lot of fun. (There’s one for Don Quixote we’ll be watching next year when we make it into the 1700s.)
Naturally, I was curious as to the accuracy of these versions. I won’t ever truly know, because everything is a translation, but I thought I’d give an adult version a go. There’s so many versions out there, I think I’ll just try a different one every Middle Ages cycle. So I took the Constance B. Hieatt version with me to Atlanta and enjoyed it immensely, especially the little extras at the end.
The kiddo, of course, keeps asking me why we are using “fake stories as lesson books, they aren’t real stories mother!” I keep telling her, very ineloquently, that these stories help us understand the people who told them. Read them to her as bedtime stories and naturally she’s thrilled at the excitement of them.
We’ll collect more versions over the years and by the time she is grown she will know the story well – and remember it. Next go around we’ll even tackle it in poem form, and eventually we’ll read Gardner’s Grendel.
Do you have any favorite versions of Beowulf? Or, more importantly, do you know any great stories of the time period that should not be missed?
Title: Babylonian Life and History
Author: E. A. Wallis Budge
Genre: History/ Archeology
So, I want to be Indiana Jones when I grow up. Who doesn’t? Although a friend advised me that to be Andi “Tex” Klemm would be far cooler, and I have suggested that I just might have to embroider this onto a fedora.
In the meantime, I study as much history as I can. I also subscribe to the Archeology magazine. And the way I go all fan-girl at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, well, it’s part of what makes me awesome… right?
So my “grown-up reading time” during my 5 year old’s ancient history year was Babylonian Life and History by E. Wallis Budge. It was neat teaching her the bare bones of the Babylonians and Assyrians out of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World, and memorizing tidbits from the Classical Conversations curriculum, while getting a deeper dose for myself. I’ll continue this effort of furthering my education while I begin hers as long as I can. If you don’t have time for that, I understand completely; but if you do, this is a worthy book to select.
E.A. Wallis Budge never ceases to amaze me. Every time I think I have everything he ever wrote I think I find 3 new titles. He’s so prolific and seems to be the end all be all on Ancient History. Found some tidbit of from the ancient world you’d like to investigate? – there’s probably a Budge book for that. His prose is nothing special, and at times even a little boring, but I love reading his work and hope to read it all before I die.
Title: Bowls of Happiness
Author: Brian Tse
Illustrator: Alice Mak
Translator: Ben Wang
Genre: Children’s Picture Books/ Education/ Cultural Studies
As the kiddo grows older, she’s becoming more apt to share her opinions on things. She’s at the phase where not only is she becoming more articulate, she’s realizing that people will listen to her when she is. She’s five, a just turned five, but five nevertheless.
That being so, I like keeping her in the habit of thinking about what she likes and dislikes about what we read. I enjoy having her reiterate what we’ve read, to know that she is listening and understanding.
“I like the way the flowers are pretty and I like the way Piggy sits in the flowers and sun. And the part where the birds sing. But when Piggy and the bats run away from the rain, that wasn’t really fun. When Piggy’s bowl was finished with the flowers and the bats, that looked really pretty. I like the yellow bowl, and the yellow bowl with Piggy on it. And I like the way there is a picture with flowers with no words. I like the yellow bowl with pictures of just flowers and leaves, it’s really pretty to me. I like the bowl with Piggy inside that is blue and branches and flowers and one bird. I like the white bowl with the pond and two birds. And I like the yellow bowl with flowers and blue kind of moons and patterns on it. I learned about love and Chinese and the way people love people and I learned ALL about bowls. I think all of it is cool. And at the end with the hand with the hole and the piggy nose is pretty cool to me, the one that comes from the other page.”
Then she proceeded to find all the capital I’s in the letter from Chiu Kwwong-chiu at the end. I’m pretty sure she likes the letter I as well.
All in all, I think this book was a huge success in our house. Mostly because studying Chinese culture has always been important to us (I grew up in a Kung Fu studio) and the color yellow is kiddo’s second favorite color. There’s a lot of yellow in Bowls of Happiness.
I don’t think we’ve ever read a book laid out in this fashion, this size, separated almost in a chapter-like manner. (Story book first, then a detailed nonfiction section that could have easily been published as a separate title.) We’ve definitely not encounter one on this subject. It’s lovely.
Cultural and artistic studies are important for tiny people and teaching them about the artistry found in every day objects as well as museums is a key part of showing them the beauty of the world. I want my child to see beauty in her world, not through rose-colored lenses, but through intelligence and empathy.
We’ve all read Moby Dick – I think – unless you’re a very small child, like my child. As a classical homeschool Mom, I like to expose my kiddo to classic literature early, even before she’s redy to read it for herself. So, finds like Eric A. Kimmel’s picture book Moby Dick with paintings by artist Andrew Glass are gems.
My four year old had a lot to take in – the enormity of the whale, the importance of Ahab’s obsession, and why anyone would kill a sperm whale anyway. This picture book has a neat educational page in the back regarding Melville and the ship Essex and how that true event played a role in the cultivation of the original novel.
The illustrations are gorgeous… we love paint work, as the kiddo considers herself a painter and has been mastering her technique since she was 15 months old. (I vote to always give kids real paints and actual canvases, if you can. It’s helped her to be much more adventurous in her artistic pursuits.
We can’t wait to read this one again and again, and hopefully, by the time she reads the novel, she’ll have these beautiful images so ingrained she’ll fall in love with Melville – despite the fact that it takes forever to even get to the whale.
Kiddo is turning 5 this month and my best friend won’t be here the day of, so Mommy, Tia, and the Nugget did a birthday Girls Night Out a tad bit early.
We started with reservations at Bucco di Beppo, at the kitchen table. I thought the kiddo would be riveted by the concept of hanging out in the kitchen and watching food get made and processed through the expo line. In the future, she informed me, she wants to sit in the real restaurant. She ate pepperoni pizza, toured the whole restaurant, and inspected the restrooms, with no idea that this adventure was not the main event of the evening.
We took an after dinner stroll through Party City where she declined a new Tinker Bell costume because she was fully satisfied with her old one. Practical and not-as-indulgent-as-I-thought kid I’ve got.
Finally, in the parking lot of Peter Pan 360 – the plan was revealed.
“So, because I’m not going to be here for your birthday, I wanted to give you your present early? Do you want it.” (I’m definitely paraphrasing my best friend. This quote should not hold up in court.
She nodded profusely, despite the fact that she had been insisting to me all morning that birthday surprises could NOT happen on a day that was not her birthday. “YOU HAVE TO DO SURPRISES FOR ME ON MY BIRTHDAY IF IT’S FOR MY BIRTHDAY.” That is a direct quote, screaming caps and all, from my daughter just hours before. And should hold up in court. It also included some foot stomping. I’ve never seen someone so upset at the very idea of getting a present too early.
“Do you want to wear your Tinker Bell costume?” One of us asked.
She shook her head no, but as it dawned on her that I had packed it in the bag that was sitting in the car to her left she quickly changed her mind.
I do not have pictures of my adorable child donned in a bright green fairy costume as we attended Peter Pan because she was too cool for school and uninterested in photography last night. But I’m ok with that, we actually managed to be the people who were completely IN the moment all night, and I love that.
So what’s this magical Peter Pan performance surprise we took her to?
[T]he theater is the world’s first fully 360-degree projected backdrop for a live, theatrical performance with the largest surround CGI (computer-generated imagery) venue in the world. There are 12 projectors that deliver 10 million pixels on 15,000 square feet. 400 square miles of virtual London were rendered and it took 100 computers four weeks to create the Hi Resolution images. If a single computer had been used, it would have taken 8 years to render the images. – http://www.theblondeblogger.com
And it’s in a circus style pop-up tent!
My precocious darling spent the first 15 minutes of the show asking me how they got the pictures on the ceiling. I tried to explain the concept of a projector but – thankfully – the show was too loud for us to communicate effectively (which also meant we weren’t disturbing the rest of the audience). I was able to pull up videos online when we got home and tell her about it then.
Once understanding the mechanics of the show was put off for later, she really got into the magic of it all. Her great critique is that Tinker Bell wears pink instead of green and this bothered her. She insisted they needed her to play Tink and asked to go on stage – a lot – because, after all, Peter Pan needed her. (I thought the performing Tink was pretty darn cool.)
There’s a 20 minute intermission about an hour into the show. Popcorn and drinks were purchased, restrooms were visited I was pleased to discover the portable restrooms were real flushies and a thousand times cleaner than I anticipated. A little disappointed that they ran out of coffee.
After the show, there was a line for a meet and greet with a few of the actors, but being that little girl is still not quite five and it was getting late, we skipped that bit of fun.
Should it come to town again, we would do a repeat adventure in a heartbeat.
Not too long ago, I wrote an article for Money-Fax.com that featured this paragraph:
Hermit crabs are fantastic little creatures. You might even have fond memories of fishing them out of the ocean yourself or keeping them in your elementary school classroom. Hermit crabs are popular, and with good reason. They are just about the least expensive terrarium dweller you can hold.
A small plastic container, a fish bowl, or an old tank you find at a garage sale – almost anything can serve as a hermit crab habitat. Fill the bottom with sand and rocks and place a tray of water and a few extra shells larger than the one the crab currently inhabits in the tank. Again, only $10 spent at your local Wal-Mart or pet store can set you up for life of the crab.
The crab itself will cost anywhere from $5 – $15 and their food will cost about $3 per can. While that may sound like a lot for a hermit crab, these cans last quite awhile. All in all, you could easily have a hermit crab join your family for an initial cost of $20 – $40, depending on what you choose to purchase. – http://money-fax.com/4-inexpensive-family-pet-ideas/
A few weeks ago, however, we went to the beach and caught ourselves a few hermit crabs with our four year old. Remembering my own article, I thought, we should keep these – it would be a fun starter pet and kiddo has already been begging for a new pet. (We have two dogs, but you know kids, they want tiny creatures to pester and nurture.)
So I headed up to the gift shop and bought a hermit crab kit. $25. It came with a free crab, but I told the lady at the counter that we had two downstairs under the dock.
“Oh, those are saltwater. They’ll die if you take them home and don’t have a saltwater aquarium. You should probably take the free one anyway and let those ones go. These are freshwater brought from Florida.”
Then, she informed me that it’s best to buy an extra one. They are community creatures.
“Sure, let’s do it. We’ll let the other two go and take these two home.”
So, I took the little plastic container downstairs, full of gravel, a shell, a sponge, and food – plus two tiny crabs.
We explained to kiddo that the others needed to be free and she had no problem with that, after all, we were taking these fun ones home and she understood that the others had come from the ocean and these two from a shop. She asked about extra shells, because we’ve read Eric Carle’s Hermit Crab book a thousand times.
We set the crabs up in the house when we got home from the beach that day and made plans to do some research and visit the pet store within the week. We knew the plastic container was too small for our comfort – but we thought we were just being those people who spoil their pets. I had no idea. No. Idea.
Nerd that I am, naturally, I bought a book. I was a little disappointed that it was a “for dummies” title, because I’m a book snob and they seem so over marketed and written – well – for dummies. BUT, they are actually great starting points for any kind of research on anything. They are simplistic, concise, and give you the terms you need to dive deeper. Terms you wouldn’t know to look up otherwise. Like wikipedia, but more reliable, except the links aren’t necessarily up to date.
So it turns out, hermit crabs ARE community creatures. In the wild they live with hundreds of other crabs. It also turns out that the smallest container you want for these guys is a ten gallon tank for two small crabs. Cheap guru that I am, I could have gotten one from a garage sale, but I didn’t. I gave my sister our unused 20 gallon tank when we moved and my niece’s and nephews now have a tiny pet turtle. I went the lazy route and bought a brand new ten gallon at PetsMart. $30. (If you’re keeping track – remember my article peaked at a $40 expense to keep a crab alive. So far in this story we’re at $55 pre-tax.)
EVOLUTION OF A CRABITAT
I bought more gravel to cover the bottom of the tank. $10. I bought a crab shack because they need a place to hide. $8. A fake plant my daughter loved to make “it all so beautiful.” $4 (Actually, she paid for that one.) I was feeling pretty good about this terrarium. Really good.
Then, I served pinterest. I know. Pinterest!
It led me to a lot of websites, blogs, and hermit crab advocates. I discovered that I wasn‘t supposed to have gravel in the tank. They don’t like gravel. They like soil substrate. They like to bury themselves. Not just like, they NEED. Hermit crabs molt and to do so, you need 6 inches of soil for them to dive into. Also, they’re climbers. They want tree limbs. Also, each crab needs its own hiding place, so one crab shack won’t cut it. They want to live together but need their own bedrooms. Who knew?
Also, they need a fresh water pool and a salt water pool. So you need two kinds of water conditioners. And two kinds of pools. And a mister to keep their climate humid enough because they have evolved gills – they can’t breathe in dry air.
By this time, I lost track of itemizing – but one trip to PetCo later and I’d spent another $70 or so. While I was there, I also bought a wheat-germ plant that they had for sale for cats, but is actually good for crabs, which the workers didn’t know, I had just discovered this in all my internet surfing and wild book reading at the library.
I still need a heater, but I can’t afford one at the moment. We’re in Texas, so I set the tank outside if I think they’re getting too cold – but come winter, these guys are having another $50-$100 spent on them.
On the plus side: I think they’ll live. In captivity – because we con people into $25 habitats that slowly kill the crab – they live 3 months to 3 years. In the wild, they live up to 30 years. We’re shooting for a longer lifespan here. We’re also using this as an educational project… we’re building an ecosystem. Soon, we’ll add rolly pollies (they help keep the terrarium clean and co-habitate well with the hermies… again, who knew?)
(Additional notes: hermit crabs can eat from your kitchen and like a wide variety of things in their diet that include meat, vegetables, and fruits. We have begun a notebook compiling these lists. One of ours has already changed shells twice – because he’s indecisive, not because he’s growing so much – and apparently this is common so it’s good to have not just one or two shells but a wide variety of empties at their disposal.)
Author: Susan Hood
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Genre: Picture Book
Ay, caramba!, we just read this before bed this evening and we love it! First off, I’m a sucker for an axolotl. I discovered them about two years ago when an avid reddit surfer sent me some images they had found. Strange but cute creatures are kind of our thing, and an axolotl definitely fits the bill.
I remember thinking there should be a picture book about them. I love kids picture books featuring the odd ducks of the planet and offer educational value at the end of the story. I have tons of them lined up in my head that I haven’t written yet. My favorite thing about Hood’s book is that she incorporates Spanish words through out the story and the last few pages include research about the creatures who made an appearance. There’s so much educational value to this book and I can’t wait to own a copy. (We read from a library book.)
Referred to as a water-monster by the Aztecs, I was introduced to these tiny creatures as Mexican Walking Fish. Either way, they are super cute, come in all different colors, and if ever there was an animal worthy of a picture book it would be this one.
I absolutely adore Melissa Sweet’s illustrations. They are bright and spunky and the kiddo was riveted by each and every page. Sweet captured the essence of the story with care and finesse and I look forward to seeing more of her illustrations on picture books in the future.
I’ve never felt like a bigger idiot than when trying to read Ptolemy’s The Almagest. First of all, I inevitably always pronounce the P when speaking about it. And constantly get corrected, but can’t stop doing it. Secondly, I switch the m and the g of “almagest” in my head so often that in my deepest heart I’m not reading The Almagest, I’m reading The Algamest. Third, it’s a lot of information that I’ll never remember. I hate knowing that what I’m reading is not going to sink in… it’s all just a passing whimsy and I’ll be able to tell you nothing of value about it when I’m done with it.
Nevertheless, I’m enjoying reading it. Mostly because I’m a glutton for punishment, I think. Also, it’s included in The Great Books, it’s fat (roughly 600 pages), and it’s part of our ancient history – which I’m a huge sucker for.
Reading stuff like this is kind of like watching certain sports for me. I can follow the games, I know what’s going on, and I thoroughly enjoy them – but I don’t have sports lingo dripping from my lips and I rarely will discuss them with people because I know I’ll just sound like a moron. I like the ambiance of the game and the thrill of hard work and athleticism paying off. Just like I love the exertion it takes to read things slightly outside my knowledge base. They are similar experiences for me. Dropping me into a martial arts ring is more like breezing through fiction – I know it so well I can function there with my eyes closed.
It sounds completely absurd, even as I type it – but Ptolemy is like watching The Rockets play. I’m there. I get it. I’m enjoying. I love it. I will devour it – with chips, salsa, and beer. I will not, however, scream and shout with the other fans or talk about it tomorrow; and if you try to talk to me about it, I’ll clam up. Mention apogees in anything other than reciting a chant from Bedknobs and Broomsticks and you’ll see the same blank expression on my face when people shout “Wet!” I read that, I heard that… I internally absorbed it somewhere in my brain. But please, please, don’t quiz me. That’s recipe for an anxiety attack right there.
There are some things in life we should be allowed to simply enjoy without analyzation. Therefore, just like I will never be any good at fantasy leagues, I will also never be able to give an intelligent lecture on Ptolemy and his great work. But I’ll have fun being a half hearted amateur/ closet fan of both.
We’ve been spending more and more time at the library than usual. About 2-3 hours A DAY. Before it was every few days, but with this rain – in the tradition of Noah – occurring in the northern Houston area the past few weeks, we’ve been trapped indoors.
So these are our top favorites for the week:
1. Snippet the Early Riser – Bethanie Deeney Murguia (http://amzn.to/1cxqz9Z)
We adore the illustrations in this tail of a snail that wakes up long before his family is ready to start their day. In the book, you’ll meet a ton of different insects, and then finally discover the source of this family’s plight – Snippet just goes to bed way too early. It’s a common hazard in family’s with small children and I think most kids and adults alike will be able to relate.
2. When a Dragon Moves In – Jodi More (http://amzn.to/1cxqsew)
Again, the illustrations are fantastic! Kiddo loves the beach setting and the fact that dragons are actually moving into the kid’s sandcastle. She hasn’t yet caught the nuance that it’s this little dude’s epic imagination at work, but kiddo is – after all – only four.
3. When Rain Falls – Melissa Stewart (http://amzn.to/1bPVhdO)
This is soothing. And completely appropriate for our current household situation. So much rain and so many days when it merely threatens to rain, it was nice to read through how rain effects everyone and everything. We read this right before bed and in the middle of the afternoon several times. Lovely, lovely, book.
4. Freckleface Strawberry – Julianne Moore (http://amzn.to/1cxsknL)
This isn’t just one title, this is a series of which we have read two. Freckleface Strawberry is an adorable little girl with flaming red hair, completely covered in freckles. I relate to these books so well because I was the freckle-faced short kid in my class. Kiddo loves her “because she has so many freckles. And you know what I like best of her? She has a nickname!” Kiddo loves nicknames. Her cousins call her “Fruitcake,” her daddy calls her “Booger,” her tia Danielle calls her “Nugget.” I call her heathen, but that’s besides the point. Not really, I call her “Nugget” a lot too.
Author: Keith Devlin, PhD
Publisher: Walker & Company
Genre: Math History
Length: 183 pages
Swirl by Swirl – a child’s picture book – is where it started. We checked it out from the library once, then twice, and finally again and again. It’s about the Fibonacci sequence found in so many spirals in our natural world. We love it. Of course, it has a bit in the back about the Fibonacci sequence and the math involved, and that’s cool too, something to instill in young minds so that there is familiarity with the topic before they begin Algebra in their tweens.
Of course, at some point I picked up The Pythagorean Theorem, and there Posamatier mentions Ptolemy and his great work The Algamest as well as Fibonacci’s Liber Abaci. Naturally, I requested these at my local library. “There’s a book about Fibonacci called The Man of Numbers that’s here if you want to read that while you wait for the others to come in,” she told me. Yes, yes, I would like to read that while I wait for the others.
I checked it out.
I ended up starting and finishing it, however, in one sitting while my kiddo made use of the sixty minute literacy computer session I allow her if she’s been good prior to coming to the library that day. It was good. Quick. Informative. And of course, just made me want Liber Abaci even more.
Devlin gives you all the necessary history in the concise nature of a mathematician. He even laments how most mathematicians are concerned about the math and the theorems and not necessarily who originally came up with them or their history, causing much of the history surrounding mathematical ideas to be lost or misconstrued. Who cares? It’s about the numbers.
I care. Historians care. We don’t care as much about the numbers as we do about the theory, the philosophy… we care about math’s heritage more than the practice of being all mathy. At least that’s how I feel. I’ll leave number crunching to my husband and daughter – I’ll just be able to tell them who came up with that particular way to crunch.
With all this caring comes the discovery that Fibonacci’s name wasn’t even Fibonacci. Devlin recounts the fact that the man’s name was Leonardo and he hailed from Pisa. Leonardo Pisano, as the people of that time and culture would say. But he referred to himself as fillies Boracic, “son of Bonacci.” Yet, his father’s name wasn’t Bonacci, so people assumed he meant that he was of the family Bonacci… the Bonacci family evolved and later historian Guillaume Libri coined the name Fibonacci. Hundreds of years later. Leonardo was renamed Fibonacci in 1838.
Fibonacci also referred himself as Leonardo Bigolli… a named once translated would be “Leonardo Blockhead.” Though, Devlin asserts, it’s doubtful that Fibonacci was calling himself a blockhead.
That brings us to our latest picture book selection… Blockhead: the life of Fibonacci. This delightful picture book was written by Joseph D’Agnese and was illustrated by John O’Brien. Even though there’s a lot we don’t know about Fibonacci’s real life or how he came to discover his mathematical findings the way he did – it’s fun to imagine what his life was like and where he might have come up with his self-proclaimed nickname “Bigolli.”
For good measure, we re-read Swirl by Swirl afterward and are looking forward to memorizing a few things in the upcoming months.
The first is from Brahmagupta (quoted in Devlin’s book):
“A debt minus zero is a debt.
A fortune minus zero is a fortune.
Zero minus zero is a zero.
A debt subtracted from zero is a fortune.
A fortune subtracted from zero is a debt.
The product of zero multiplied by a debt or fortune is zero.”
The second are the first ten numbers in the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55.