Thursday, April 21, 2016

Napoleon, Betsy, & Australia

One of the beauties of a literature rich education is that we experience far more books then we might otherwise. When we see book list full of the top 100/50/20 books a child should read, chances are usually very high that we've read more then 90% of the books all ready.

This past year I spent a lot of time pre-reading many of the books our eldest would be using with Bookshark 7. One I was particularly keen to read is Betsy & The Emperor. I ended up dragging up an e-copy while waiting on our hard copy to arrive, that's how desperate I was to read it.

However, as I began reading the book I was a little surprised with some of the choices the author made for her characters. Now, as a writer, I know that at times our hands are tied. Sometimes characters take on a mind of their own, especially if those characters are based on real people who accomplished great things in life & leaving that epic moment out would be unthinkable.

The problem I had with the book was a little different though. The story takes place on St Helena & begins the night of Napoleon's arrival. The island is thrown askew with the preparations of the great warlord coming their way. Betsy is a young girl home from boarding school, where she'd been sent in hopes that she'd learn to behave more like a lady then a fool hardy young child.

It's quick to see in the first chapter that Betsy's refining at the school failed her as she climbs out the bedroom window in her nightgown & makes the mile plus trek down to the wharfs to find out what the hubbub on the island is all about. It's honestly a very captivating start to the story & pulls you in wanting more, but it quickly goes downhill in a direction I felt deeply uncomfortable with.

Throughout the story Betsy's friendship with Napoleon is a lot more then just a friendship. I found that deeply distressing that the author would write Napoleon in a way that depicted him as little more then a child predator. He constantly lures Betsy to spend time with him instead of with her family. He tells her they won't miss her & that eating one more meal with him will be no loss to them. He convinces her to help him escape the island, not once but twice. Napoleon & Betsy are often allowed to go off galavanting around the island, on horseback, alone. That is until they catch on that there is an escape plan. At which point there is a soldier with them, but Napoleon constantly convinces Betsy to help him "lose" the babysitter so they can be alone.

In one scene she's standing on his front porch holding up her lovely new ball gown & he rips it away from her in a fit of childlike jealousy & dashes up to his bedroom where he closes & locks the door giggling away like a schoolboy. Betsy is left outside the door pleading for her gown back before she finally goes home. Napoleon eventually returns the dress, with extra jewelry, & it suddenly appears on Betsy's bed with a note signed in a special pet name she gave him.

Napoleon is constantly sitting on his front porch watching her. He's jealous of the young army man who has taken a keen interest in the young Betsy & Napoleon isn't afraid to show his contempt about it either.

These are hard things to overlook because they take up much time & space in the book. Further there are incidents in the book where a couple of the young ladies have had supposed martial type relations with other young men, in some cases many men, despite being unmarried. One such girl, Betsy's own sister, collapses on a heap on the floor one night because she was convinced the man would marry her & now feels betrayed & used.

Needless to say my contempt with the book, as a parent, was pretty high & I was greatly dissapointed in the book, the way the characters were portrayed, & further that curriculum we use chose to pick this book as great literature for my child to read. Even crazier there are warnings in my parent guide about the book, which you might think have to do with the incidents above, but they do not. Not at all.

Rather there is a warning that sticking your head in a chimney is unwise for various reasons & that snooping on conversations isn't polite. Taken out of context that sounds insane, but in one scene Betsy had her head up a chimney listening in on her parent's conversation. The guide is right, these things are foolish for a child to try, but so is the idea that a grown man would so deeply befriend a young girl in such a way.

While sharing my concerns about the story with a couple of other Mamma's who are using the same curriculum we are, the topic of another book came up. The book, in the USA, has the same title as the book I'm complaining about: Betsy & The Emperor. However, in the UK the book is titled, The Emperor's Shadow

While I haven't read this book yet & can't attest to it's value, or lack thereof, I will say that the article I read about the book really captivated me in that it discusses the Balcombe's time on St Helena, but equally the disgrace they faced at failing {Napoleon's attempted escape & the lack of control they had over him}. It discusses the disgrace they remained in upon returning to England, & then being sent to Australia.  And that, the sentence about Australia, is the reason I made the purchase.

Having children who are both Australian & American means we try to hit on all the cultures in our studies, to look at things from more then one angle & get a view of how each country was handling things at different times. What a beautiful way to do so with this book!

The Emperor's Shadow is non-fiction, all though the reviews said it reads much like a fictional writing in that it's simple & quick to read leaving you wanting more. So while it won't entirely fill the shoes of the former book, we're quite excited to see what lays inside.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

2016 Week In Review: Week 13

We wrapped up our second week of the new term & ended it with a lovely camping get-away! It was a welcome change to head off & enjoy the annual camping trip we normally take in the summer but had to postpone due to the various bushfires around the state.

We had a great deal of tests to wrap up this week, a few new books to begin, & a lot of waiting on the postman to arrive with things. We're still waiting on that to some degree..

Our second week was a bit lopsided, but we made it through. We had major printer issues, first time with our new printer too. In the printer's defence it was more internet related, the downside of a wireless printer! The problem with printer issues was that it held up Jayden's history, ahh weird problems, I know.

We settled into a bit of a better routine overall for our days which was so lovely. Pinocchio is still our current "together" read aloud in our book basket. Somedays we attend to it, some we don't. It depends on our time & mood. The chapters are quick & short & the book is a wee bit silly. We're also reading What To Do When I'm Scared? as we're still dealing with some anxiety issues with our boy. We read it aloud, together, to avoid making him feel singled out, but also to help him understand that each of us have fears. It's helped make him a bit more open about the things that scare him without having to feel embaressed about it. We're also working on Horrible Science's Light & Horrible Geography Weather, again books we read at a rather slow pace for us as we have time. Both fit in with science units the boys will have this term so it made sense. Our poetry books haven't changed for Term 2.

We tend to start our mornings huddled under blankets {except the oddball on the sofa} while we drink smoothies & I ice my knee. We listen to our Bible reading for the day, we've been working our way through portions of Mark, & then our devotional. We're still reading through 90 Devotions For Kids as well each morning.

I'd stock-piled some writing lessons in an audio format for Morgan, but he'd finished them all so we sat down together to work through his writing lesson. He has no issues with the assignments, but likes to double check his work with each step if he finds the lesson "tricky". We only did half a week, which sounds odd, but he had a writing assignment left over from the week prior.

Jayden is nearly at the halfway point in his writing book as well. We don't honestly cover the grammar information in the book as much as we use the simple writing assignments. I like the incremental steps that Writing With Ease takes, & it's taken my, "I hate writing!" child to, "Writing isn't so bad after all!" Around here we call that a win.

Both boys continued forward in their books this week. Don't ask what the birds are doing, most likely leaving little reminders of themselves all over that sofa! However, the resident zoologist & the resident aviary friends are both happier when they are together. I've walked in to his bedroom to find him sleeping & a bird crawl out from the crook of his arm before. Yes, the idea freaks me out a little, but until you've heard a tantruming cockatiel don't judge..

Jayde wrapped up the next lesson in his book & was delighted to ace the test as well. We don't always use the tests in the math book, but he finished the lesson so quickly that I wanted to be sure he really grasped the concepts & had him take the test on Thursday.

The same for Morgan. All though I warned him not to do math in ink he didn't listen. He ended up having to scribble something out instead of erasing it. You'd think he'd have learned, but.. Ahh well, he too tested out of his next lesson in math. He actually took the test because he wanted to be sure he was ready for the next lesson, his choice!

Morgan wrapped up Module 1 in his Physical Science. Most of week 2, as scheduled, was studying & taking the test. We had him take the test via the VHSG online. For whatever reason he was really nervous about taking the test & just stood there staring at the computer screen; I opted to help him by pushing the Start button. He only ended up getting one question wrong because he didn't double check his math on pen & paper. He was dissapointed by that despite his passing grade. Hopefully he'll remember for next time.

Friday we headed down to a local State Park & the kids helped set up the tent, Mr Jayden was very eager to help get it up. Mostly because he was keen for lunch & we said no lunch until the tent was up, but also because he wanted to prove he was more then capable of getting the pegs into the crazy hard ground {lack of rain}. After lunch he decided we should have brought his science book with us, I told you this kid loves his new science book! We'd not been able to complete his latest experiment due to lack of sun the day prior.

We celebrated Mr S's birthday while we were camping. He insisted he didn't need a cake because camping was a huge present to him, but I managed to overcook a lovely gluten/egg/dairy free cake the night prior. That evening I stuck it in a pan & poured the ganache over the top of it before slapping candles in. Ahh yes, that cake that will go down in history because: A, it had buckwheat in it & B, when I say it was overcooked I'm not kidding. I was sitting at the counter the night I made it when Mr S wanders in & says, "Oh, by the way your timer went off a bit ago." Ha! Oh well, another time then perhaps. Despite it's dryness we only came home with 3 slices.

Amongst the many games we played & the various shorter walks we took Jayde managed to befriend all the wildlife around. Very typical for this boy. Mr S & Morgan went on a hike with family, but Jayde was pretty anxious about the whole idea. His last 2 experiences on that hike weren't top notch between a wrong turn on the way down & a snake on the path. Rather then push him over the edge I suggested he & I stay at camp & we could listen to the football game on the radio. He agreed, but when I turned around to ask him if he'd like me to make some popcorn he was no where to be seen. I shouted out for him & he came out of the woods with this funny friend following him.

We only spotted 2 little wombats on our stay this year. Ignore the poor quality of this photo the only person who could get any closer to this guy was Jayden. The Wombats have been hit with a pretty ugly case of mange & many had to be euthanize which was so incredibly sad to hear as the park use to be teaming with the little fellows. Jayden also befriended the ranger & plagued her with many questions about the park, the animals, & whatever else came to mind. She was so patient & lovely to answer each of his questions with great sincerity & before we left he'd managed to find out a considerably large amount of history about the park itself. Pretty impressive for a 2 night stay!

We did actually work on Grammar & Spelling this week. Spelling was a lighter load as the boys had no issues with the words save 1 each that tripped them up. When we have weeks like that I either advance them to the next lesson right away or I call out POP QUIZ! & have them spell their "tricky word" on the white board. Once they get it right they don't have to spell it again that week. Grammar is pretty quick & straight forward & somehow I have no photo of it. Our week felt short as we had company arrive on Thursday evening so we wanted to be wrapped up & have our books all put away in time for their arrival, not to mention packing for our little getaway.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

2016 Week In Review: Weeks 11-12

We've been back to our studies for a couple of weeks now, but I haven't posted our weekly updates as normal. Ahh, life it happens, right?

We enjoyed 2 blissful weeks off which involved an awful lot of game playing, book reading, lazy days, & anything else that took very little brain power.

We enjoyed many walks on the beach, time visiting with friends, & few silly escapades that revolve around life in our home..

We also purchased a few new titles for the new Term, mostly science related which we sweated over arriving on time, but the final science book arrived mid-morning on our first day back to term. What wonderful timing that was for sure!

We've struggled a little bit to find our feet & a new routing that suits are ever changing days, but by the end of our second week we seem to be leveling out which is nice to see. It's also rewarding for the boys as they work hard & are keen to meet their own personal goals each day/week/term.

Morgan finally picked out a new planner for the year. It took him forever, but he wanted to be sure of his choice. He ended up choosing a Plum Paper ME planner. We didn't want the student planner because he wanted lots of room to write things & to schedule things on the weekends. He debated a larger planner, but decided he really loved the size of the smaller version so he can chuck it in his bag if he wants. The ME planner use to be called the family planner & is broken down by 7 categories each day. So far it's worked really well for him. The purple line/tape in the photo above is not part of the planner. We opted to block off the weekend so he could see the difference at a glance.

Our together read aloud this term is Pinocchio. It's what was sitting on the shelf & someone has been eager for this one to be read aloud. The other one, not so much, but within a very short time he was giggling away. This is another in our collection of books illustrated by the amazing Mr Ingpen, We have a few more to obtain to finish off our collection of the ones he currently has out. I so wish he'd do Railway Children & Little Women, but alas..

Jayden started his lovely Civil War study & is delighted with it. Lots of fun things included in this study & his favourite book is Mr Lincoln's High Tech War. He absolutely loves that book! Each week there are a variety of notebooking pages to utilize, a few projects, websites to visit, & a movie to watch. I'll share more about this whole entire study in another post.

I pulled out our HSITW Timeline Figures & he enjoyed colouring those in & hanging on the wall this past week as well. He spent the whole week asking why we weren't using Abraham Lincoln & was delighted to discover Mr Lincoln's figure is scheduled in Week 2. He was getting rather anxious about that.

His reader for this study was suppose to be the lovely Iron Thunder, but the book was heavily delayed in arriving & we pulled out an audio version for him instead. He's utterly captivated by it! However, i wanted him to be physically reading as well. He's very capable, but due to the issues he was having prior to getting his filters he resist reading to an extent. When he found the idea that a little girl sent Mr Lincoln a letter encouraging him to grow whiskers, I was reminded of the very story being on our bookcase & pulled it out for him. He's not enjoying the story as much as Iron Thunder, but enough that he's been found several times curled up with the book without anyone having to remind him to attend to it.

Whatever the math slouch was, it seems to have lifted for this boy. He's been pulling through a lesson a week with absolutely no issues at all & decidedly giddy about the tests at the end of the week. I have weird kids, what can I say? This is our second time through this book {Epsilon} & as I recall it went fairly quickly for us through the first unit & then slowed down a bit as we hit new information. We'll see how it goes for the second one, but for now his progress is impressive.

He's absolutely in love with his new science curriculum. This may be the first one that has been all his alone & he can't wait to get to his lesson each day. I was a little so-so on our first day, but seeing his excitement has really made it grow on me. I'll have to share more, in-depth, about the book later. His first unit is on light & many experiments have required a "dark room". Our home is anything but dark thanks to our lovely windows, so we've retreated daily to the cupboard under the stairs. Yes, we seriously have one of those. We've had a few days with three of us piled in there as the dog sat outside if trying to figure out if we were playing hide & seek or just being silly.

There is no pre-fab type notebook for this lovely science course, which dissapointed me a little bit. I do understand why, & I'm aware that it's reasonably new to the market. I'm also aware that there is a lapbook that can be purchased, but I wanted a notebook. In the end I pulled an older primary "draw & write" Mead notebook off the shelf for him. I offered to make him one with HWOT lines & his special grey paper, but he really wanted the pre-made one. We record the questions he's meant to answer in there & he writes the answers & completes the drawings as instructed in the text. The more in-depth questions for the oldest students we tend to answer aloud.

He's still plugging away with Writing With Ease, all though I've made the papers up with HWOT lines & printed them on his grey paper & then bound them up at home. He was really smitten with the work required in the first week of our term as it had lovely experiments from the book, Magic... Naturally! by Vicki Cobb. He's requested the book for his birthday after trying out one of the tricks that was in his writing assignment.

Mr Morgan has been incredibly busy as well, all though I have far less pictures as he grabs his books & planner then disappears until his work is completed. He checks-in here & there for help if he needs it or to surface for air, or to share some amazing fact he's learned. He's enjoying The Island of Dr Libri as his assigned book at the moment, which he's fully enjoying. So much so, he tucked it in his bag to take camping with us recently.

He's also enjoying his new science book, Physical Science. We ordered the notebook & audio book for him so he can move through it without much, if any help. He's using the scheduled made by Lynn Ericson. After looking at the 3 available, he chose this one because it only added 10 days to the school year unless he could find a few days to double up.

His first experiment was a huge hit for both of them as Jayden wanted to join him in hopes of seeing the glass of water "blow up". Ahh, that boy! The water did not blow up, all though it did bubble quite a fair amount. The ibuprofen wasn't needed, but it was laying on the table & he needed something to hold the battery up. He had great luck with all his experiments in the first 2 weeks of term.

He's equally moving along at a good clip with his new math book, which is nice to see as well. I correct it if he needs me to, but if he gets stuck on a lesson of needs help he asks Mr S. We've harassed him at work for a problem or two, but for the most part he's had no issues which is, again, lovely for him.

He's moving along with his history having cleared up the remainder of week 9 & 10 off his list. He's really enjoying his studies as he's entering some new territory & meeting a few new faces in history. He's been blown away by both the oddities, horrors, & interesting he's encountered along the way. We watched the BBC documentary The French Revolution in our first week back as well. A word of warning there's some thick content in the beginning especially for younger viewers.

Morgan's continuing to work through Writing With Skill & has nearly cleared the halfway mark. He had one lesson last term that really threw him for a loop, but other then that he's had no issues with the assignments this far. I especially loved his most recent piece on Mars {required topic}, perhaps because he had no qualms with just tackling it without fear. All though, the actual written piece was very well spoken too.

They both worked on grammar over the past couple of weeks & dubbed it easy. A good portion has been review with a smattering of new information so it's kept them on their toes without overwhelming them. Spelling is humming along too. We've had some weeks where the words have gotten increasingly easy & they cried out for harder words. Funny considering how far they've come. The thing about SSS/VPD is that when they focus on a word without their glasses they can't always see it clearly much less all the letters. It's nice to see them have confidence in the subject matter & not feel intimidated by it at all!

They also helped change a car tire. I wasn't sure that either of them had need of learning before & when Mr S said he was off to put the spare on I suggested he take the boys with him. They accomplished the job & we took the car down to the shop for a new tire, but were given such a huge deal we replaced all four. Such an amazing blessing without doubt. We ran errands on foot, & then camped in the empty lot across from the car shop while we waited on the car.

They also helped pull out the tent & set it up. Our tent is rather large & really only takes 1-2 people to set up the main section, but it was good practice for them to lend a hand. We aired it out for a birthday camping trip we took the following week.

Aside from all of that there were some French Lessons, guitar practice, & piano practice. However, it was decided that the guitar needed to be restrung for a leftie because learning how to do it as a beginner wasn't working. Lucky for our boy an Uncle was headed our way who is an accomplished guitarist & was happy to help him out by restringing it for him. I woke up one morning to find the two of them outside working away on it, much to our boy's delight. A couple of pretty full weeks, which was nice as we have a few weeks ahead that will be missing days due to holidays, family gatherings, & that aforementioned camping trip.