We read a lot of books in this house. How many? Last year, we scanned most of the books my daughter read, and at year-end, counted a virtual stack of 530 books. The year before, when she was five, we catalogued 561 books. (I don’t need to sign up for a fitness program; I carry library tote bags.)
And we didn’t scan every book she read, either. We tend to mostly scan library books, and not necessarily the daily-rotating selection from our wall of overstuffed bookshelves. So one thousand is a conservative count; over the course of two years, she easily read far more than a thousand books. (Does that make your head spin? It does mine!)
How do I keep up?
How do I preview them all?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received free books from Candlewick Press and was compensated for my time in exchange for writing and publishing this post. All opinions are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.
I’m aware of what she reads, but there’s no way I could possibly pre-read even a fraction of these books. That’s why it’s so important to teach a solid foundation of discernment, critical thinking skills, and logic — teaching how to think, and how to “rightly divide the word of truth”, as 2 Timothy 2:15 says. (And I’m not claiming to be an expert on this, either.) But as parents, we’ll never be able to preview all of life. We need to equip for life, not shelter from life.
Finding enough quality books, though, can be challenge. We frequent more than one county library system, and I’m always marking used book sales on the calendar, but I still need to know what to look for. My daughter, a fan of non-fiction, loves meaty books of facts; I appreciate good design, format and layout. (No, you can’t judge a book by its cover — but isn’t there something special about particularly pretty books?) The books we both get really excited about deliver substantial chunks of information in aesthetically pleasing packages.
One publisher which consistently releases exceptionally well-designed and well-written books is Candlewick Press. As I was browsing their catalog this season, I kept thinking about the concept of curiosity, and how wonderful it is that even in the Information Age, books still haven’t lost the power to draw us in to new, unimagined places.
In this era of Google searches, answers are at our fingertips.
The internet can answer nearly every question we could ever think to ask.
But what about questions we haven’t thought to ask?
What about places, people, ideas, worlds, inventions, and habitats we never even knew existed?
If we were to bypass books in favor of the ubiquitous search engine, we’d get answers to our questions, but we’d miss out on a whole wonderful world of questions we’d never have even known to ask. An internet search can satisfy curiosity, but a book will ignite curiosity.
Books are life-changing.
I love homeschooling for the incredible flexibility which allows children to pursue their interests (and ask Alexa endless questions), but sometimes kids need a nudge to explore areas outside their chosen niche, too. The right book — a colorful, captivating, grab-your-attention book — has the power to
- ignite curiosity,
- provoke questions, and
- uncover brand-new areas of interest.
And it’s in curiosity and questioning where the real learning begins.
Using Candlewick Press Books to Challenge a Gifted Learner
I moderate a small online homeschool community, and parents of outliers, quirky kids, and out-of-the-box thinkers often ask me,
- How do I challenge my gifted child?
- How do I know I’m providing my gifted child enough opportunities to learn?
- How do I know what topics to introduce to my gifted learner?
- How do I allow my gifted child to dig deeper?
- How do I encourage my gifted child to branch out?
To alter a phrase from Marie Kondo, the launching point to answer all of these question can be found in — you guessed it — the life-changing magic of reading books.
A book is more than the sum of its pages.
A single book can open the door to countless other avenues for exploration and adventure.
I’ve found a number of fantastic books from Candlewick Press — about everything from Charles Dickens to the Mars rover to poetry to Johnny Cash to nature study — especially well-suited to igniting curiosity about the world around us. These books encourage kids
- to explore the lyrical world of poetry and prose,
- to let go of perfection and just write,
- to observe the endless beauty of nature all around us,
- to see art in places we hadn’t thought of looking,
- to stretch our imagination to Mars and back,
- to explore the mind of a prolific author
- to experience how the Great Depression affected families,
- to lift our voices in the great American folk song tradition,
I love these titles not only for the fantastic subject matter, but also because they represent the potential for so much exploration. A healthy dose of curiosity, paired with all the topics either directly or tangentially addressed in each book, will allow you to follow extraordinary rabbit trails of learning for weeks. Talk about getting a lot of mileage out of a single book!
I’ll show you what I mean.
Using Drawn from Nature to Encourage Curiosity about the Natural World and the History of Timekeeping
This lovely book had me at hello; I was immediately captivated by the cover’s delicate, gold-imprinted details. Inside, author-illustrator Helen Ahphornsiri has filled each page of Drawn from Nature with stunning pressed-flower collages and captivating fact-filled narratives, weaving a story of plant and animal life throughout each of the four seasons. Instinctively, one might use this book as stepping stone to further study
- flora and fauna,
- plant anatomy,
- foraging and edible plants,
- insect life cycles,
- natural dyes from plants,
- native and invasive species,
- migration habits,
- local animal life,
be inspired to go on a hike, begin a nature journal, plant an herb garden, and more. And those are all fantastic avenues for exploration.
But with curiosity at our side, we might begin by reading the short, accessible introduction first.
“Year after year, plants bloom in spring and fade in autumn in a cycle as old as time,” the author begins. “Animals follow the pattern of the seasons, too..”
Oh, what a concept natural rhythms are! Prior to the invention of the electric light, humankind woke and slept by the light of these natural rhythms, following the cycle of seasons. Time’s passage was marked by
- the sun’s light,
- the moon’s phases, and
- the star’s position.
As your curiosity continues to wander and wonder, you might begin to ask the following questions:
- How has the advent of electricity affected human sleep patterns?
- How has electric light affected jobs, productivity, factories, and even the times men and women go to work?
- How does the equator affect weather and light?
- How have people tracked time throughout history?
- How were the hours marked in the Middle Ages?
- Who made the first clock?
- Were clocks ever made of wood? (Research Benjamin Banneker.)
- How were time zones decided?
- Who mapped out the longitudinal lines?
- How was time kept at sea? (Research John Harrison.)
- What about daylight savings time?
- What is an atomic clock?
- What is a leap second?
All this, and we haven’t even turned the page past the introduction. What a wonderful teacher the rabbit trail is!
Using What’s so special about Dickens? to Encourage Curiosity about Dickens, the Classics, and Victorian England
I was raised in a family where quoting Dickens dialogue around the supper table was normal fare. But how do you pass on that love to younger kids, who might be — with good reason! — intimidated by the immense size of Charles Dickens’ tales? How do you make Dickens approachable to kids? Michael Rosen’s book, What’s so special about Dickens?, is more than a biography; it’s a primer to Dickens-related cultural literacy topics. By weaving in the most beloved Dickensian vocabulary and quotes with overviews of four Dickens classics, Rosen provides kids with just enough Victorian English quirkiness — and Dickens’ genius — to make them search out one of the epic novels for themselves. (Any book that nudges people into a Dickensian world is a winner in my eyes!)
Reading a Dickens novel, says Michael Rosen, “is like being taken on a journey that affects the whole of your being.”
But while we’re waiting for the Dickens book we put on hold at the library to arrive, we can try our hand at these extension activities and research ideas:
- Grab a book with a lot of dialogue, and try reading the different character’s lines dramatically, the way Dickens did. (page 1)
- Make a list of all the books and stories the author mentions in this book. (No, they’re not all by Dickens. Don’t forget to check the timeline!) Which one do you most want to read?
- Use a dictionary to look up all the words you don’t know. (I had to look up scimitar from page 16!)
- Invent some characters and write a short story about them. (page 66)
- The timeline contains milestones from Dickens’ life interspersed with notable historical events. Choose five — like the Corn Law riots, the assassination of Lincoln or the the Staplehurst railway crash — to research further.
- What can you learn about life after the Industrial Revolution in Europe or England, or about the railway and brickmaking frenzy which followed? (page 52)
- Research the history of children working in factories. What were working conditions like for children during Dickens’ life? (page 26)
And we can discuss these questions with our kids, too:
- How were students treated in Dickensian schools? (pages 15 and 32)
- In what ways might your life be different if you had been born in Dickensian England? In what ways would it be the same? (page 46)
- If the Factory Act of 1833 were proposed in today’s time, how would people react? What changes might they make to the rules? (page 137)
- How many references to Dickens’ characters and phrases do you recognize as commonly-used idioms? (page 128 and throughout book)
- After reading the synopses of four different Dickens’ books, which one sounds the most interesting to you?
Now that’s enough to shake up even Mr. Smallweed of Bleak House fame!
Using Jabberwalking to Counteract Perfectionism and Encourage Curiosity About Writing and Art
After diving in to the prolific works of authors like Charles Dickens, it’s natural to feel a little intimidated about writing. So this is also the ideal time to switch gears and turn our attention to Jabberwalking by Juan Felipe Herrera, the United States’ first Mexican-American Poet Laureate. This book is so much fun. The title, of course, is a nod to Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem and is a call to kids everywhere (“and all those like me that cannot sit still”, adds the author) to pick up their pen and write while they walk. There’s absolutely no perfection in this process — Herrera invents words, mixes up the sizes of the fonts, and even causes the words to wrap around the sides of the pages sometimes. I love that!
“A Jabberwalking poem is not an essay or a novel or a…formula,” Juan Felipe Herrera writes. “A Jabber burble scribble poem is not even a typical poem…[it] loves to be free (wherever it lands) so it can loosen up your mind-brains to see things you have not seen before.”
What an absolutely wonderful antidote to the paralysis-inducing perfectionism which sometimes tortures gifted kids. And poet Juan cheers kids on to persevere, too.
“After four hours of nonstop Jabberwriting, after four hours of moving your Jabberhand…even — if you have misspelled everything! You, yes you! in four hours — will have an (what follows is indisputable!) ALMOST-BOOK…Yes…an honest-to-goodness almost-book.”
We’ll be re-reading this for years to come, I am certain. (Why can’t writing curriculums be this encouraging?) And Jabberwalking isn’t just about writing: it’s so motivating for art, too. The illustrations in this freeing book are wild and wonderful and infused with a whole lot of crazy. Here are some ways we tried our hand at this style ourselves:
- Place your pencil on the paper, and draw an animal without lifting your pencil off the paper.
- Close your eyes, and draw a portrait without looking.
- If you’re left-handed, use your right hand. If you’re right-handed, switch to your left hand. Now draw a picture.
- Fasten your paper to a clipboard, then march around the house while drawing.
And of course — don’t forget to jabberwrite.
Using Hello, I’m Johnny Cash to Encourage Curiosity About Modern American History and Music Tradition
When we had to tell this sweet girl we were up and moving away from our home, she’d sung enough Johnny Cash songs in her little life to know that moving to Tennessee meant being closer to the place her favorite singer once called home. It always touches me how deeply Johnny’s songs speak to her heart. She just adores the Man in Black’s music. (When she was an infant, only three singers could get her to stop crying: Josh Garrels, Enya, and Johnny Cash.)
Hello, I’m Johnny Cash looks like a picture book for young kids at first glance, but the lilting prose — written in columns, like lyrics — delivers a message that’s rich, deep, and touchingly poignant. (Although it’s a picture book, the publisher recommends this book for grades four through seven. I recommend it for adults, too!)
This is a biography, yes, but this book is also an absolutely perfect launching point to dive deeper into history, geography, and the American music tradition. The span of years covered in Hello, I’m Johnny Cash had a massive impact on American families, especially in the South. Simply by researching the significant historical events mentioned in the book — events like
- the Great Depression,
- the Dust Bowl,
- the New Deal,
- the Historic Dyess Colony agricultural resettlement project,
- the cotton industry,
- the Great Arkansas Flood of 1937, and
- the plague of boll weevils and armyworms,
— you could build a fascinating year-long study of modern American history.
You could also explore the corresponding geography, looking at
- the Mississippi River Delta,
- the Tyronza River,
- New Orleans,
and the surrounding areas.
Of course, no study of the American South would be complete without digging in to the American music tradition.
“His songs gave a voice to the voiceless, capturing so many people’s heartaches, struggles, and triumphs; it seemed like he spoke to America just as America spoke to him.”
This book contains so many rabbit trails for further exploration. You can explore
- music genres like folk, gospel, blues, pop, cowboy songs, rock and roll, and spirituals,
- 1929 version of Hobo Bill’s Last Ride by Jimmie Rodgers, which Johnny listened to on the radio as a child,
- Jesse Barnhill, the guitar player with polio who influenced the way Johnny Cash played guitar
- High Noon Roundup radio show (here’s part of a 1952 episode),
- the Louvin Brothers,
- the Grand Ole Opry,
- the Carter Family singers,
- 1927 version of Can the Circle be Unbroken by the Carter Family, as Johnny once heard it on the radio,
- Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee,
- Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records,
- The Tennessee Two,
- Sonny James,
- Elvis Presley,
- Hey, Porter (1955), Folsom Prison Blues (1955), I Walk the Line (1957),
and, of course, more of Johnny Cash’s songs. (Here’s a recording of Johnny Cash talking about his family’s experience during the Great Flood of 1937, then singing Five Feet High and Rising.)
Isn’t it amazing what a rich educational experience you can create simply by following your curiosity through a picture book?
Using Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover to Encourage Curiosity About Astronomy and Space
In 2011, the year my daughter was born, Curiosity launched into space. (That fact seems so appropriate to me.) This new book from Candlewick, Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover, delivers a riveting first-hand account of space exploration — it’s told from the perspective of the Mars rover herself! And I love how author-illustrator Markus Motum chose to use so many pitch-black, star-sprinkled pages throughout. This design choice — along with the large size of the book itself — creates such a magical, immersive experience. (There’s even a two-page vertical spread for liftoff.)
Before we moved away from Florida, we used to be able to see launches right outside our front door. It was hard to leave the Space Coast behind, but this book — and the resulting exploration prompted by the book — helps keep that connection to space exploration alive.
We have enjoyed following a myriad of rabbit trails nearly as expansive as the universe itself, asking questions about,
- the moons of Mars,
- Mars’ orbit and atmosphere,
- the history of spacesuits,
- the Apollo mission,
- Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
- plutonium battery power,
- Atlas V rocket,
- NASA images, lab results, and analysis from the Mars Curiosity rover,
- how Curiosity uses lasers,
- the Sojourner, Spirit, and Opportunity rovers,
- the Mariner and Viking missions,
and, of course, our favorite Space X missions, too. (You can watch SpaceX launches live!)
While we often think of education as learning information — and yes, we need a solid foundation of Truth — there is still so much undiscovered and unexplored. Curiosity is crucial. Asking questions about what we do not know drives the world forward, and opens up further inventions and discoveries.
“Most likely, the discoveries I make will lead to more questions,” writes Markus Motum as the Mars Rover, “…questions can be just as exciting as answers.”
Encourage your children to explore. Allow them space to marvel, and to be in awe. Provide ample time to run down rabbit trails, and allow them to go off the path in pursuit of wonderment and curiosity.
After all, it’s in curiosity that the real learning begins.
Get 25% OFF your Purchase from Candlewick Press – and Enter to Win a Book, too!
Candlewick is generously offering a full 25% off discount! Just head over to the website, shop for favorite new Candlewick books, and enter the code CANDLEWICK at checkout. (You can also browse the full Spring-Summer 2018 Candlewick Press Catalog to see sample pages, expanded book descriptions, and more.) My favorite books from this season’s releases are
- Drawn from Nature,
- What’s so special about Dickens?,
- Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover,
- and Hello, I’m Johnny Cash (a 2014 release.)
Of course, there are lots more great Candlewick titles, too.
Psst…you can also enter to win a Judy Moody fiction title from Candlewick Press, too. Click through the image or link below and fill in your name and email address on the resulting page. Giveaway ends on April 18th at 11 PM Eastern time.
As you forge ahead in your homeschool journey, do not fear the rabbit trail of sidetracking — embrace it.
Curiosity will serve you well.
If you found this homeschool how-to post helpful, why not pin Building Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool to Pinterest?
2 thoughts on “Using Children’s Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool”
We just borrowed Curiosity from the library. We really enjoyed it. It is a beautiful book!
It really is lovely, isn’t it? Thanks for stopping by, Jen!