Homeschooling

Using Children’s Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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?

I don’t.

How do I preview them all?

I don’t.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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.

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.Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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

and more.

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 Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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,
  • habitats,
  • botany,
  • 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.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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 arePrior 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

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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)

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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.”

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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.)

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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

  • Arkansas,
  • the Mississippi River Delta,
  • the Tyronza River,
  • Nashville,
  • Memphis
  • New Orleans,
  • Texas,

and the surrounding areas.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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

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

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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,

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.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

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

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.

CLICK TO ACCESS GIVEAWAY FORM

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool
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?

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Homeschooling, How To

How to Use Middle-Grade Fiction Books to Teach US History & More (FREE Printables!)

Using Middle-Grade Fiction Books to Teach US History, Geography, Music, Vocabulary and More (FREE Printables!): Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory BooksWhen I was a girl, I read countless old books. These brittle volumes usually smelled of crumbling book glue and dust; some left a sprinkling of yellowed page edges on my lap as I turned each leaf. I read and re-read my old books until they, quite literally, fell apart. But in all my reading, I never cared much for the stories about perfect, quiet girls, who had little more to offer than exquisite conversation skills and needlework. I wanted to — and did! — read about the spunky outliers; I loved the books about fearless girls who dove, often, into the unexpected.

And I wasn’t interested in the idea of life having been more wholesome long ago. (Human nature, after all, has always been human nature.) I was far more fascinated by the degree to which people have stayed the same, despite obvious changes in culture, manners, fashion, and technology.

As a voracious bookworm, I never considered all the vintage books I read as school, per se. Yet looking back, there’s a whole world of knowledge I gleaned from reading old books. (Yes, even the fiction titles!)

Using Vintage Fiction Books to Challenge Gifted / Accelerated Readers

If you are familiar with our story at all, you know books are a huge part of our everyday. Aside from having been a mini bookwork myself, I’m now raising a mini bookworm — a kiddo who hasn’t yet turned seven, but read 561 books in 2016, and has read 450 books so far in 2017. Talk about trying to keep her in age-appropriate reading material!

If you have a gifted child or an accelerated reader, you know firsthand just how difficult that is. Although I wholeheartedly believe kids truly can handle a lot of unabridged classics, there has to be room for escaping into light, fun adventure novels, too. (After all, how often do adults actually read books at the true upper end of their reading comprehension level?) But with so much of the middle-grade fiction published today full of themes entirely inappropriate for a sensitive six-year-old, books for an accelerated reader can be incredibly hard to find.

[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received two titles from the Aunt Claire Presents series in exchange for reviewing this product and publishing this post, and I was also compensated for my time.] [We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.]

Using Middle-Grade Fiction Books to Teach US History, Geography, Music, Vocabulary and More (FREE Printables!): Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory Books

Introducing Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory Books

I’m so thankful for throwback chapter books, like these 1910 novels re-released under the series name Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory BooksThese books are big on adventure, but nil on romance — so perfect for my tiny, voracious reader. I recently had the pleasure of reading the first books they’ve released, The Automobile Girls at Newport by Laura Dent Crane and Grace Harlowe’s Freshman Year at High School by Jessie Graham Flower, A.M. Except for the brilliantly-written introductions, which offer some historical context and cultural background for the stories, the text of the books remains unchanged from the original editions. (And the original cover is hidden under the modern dust-jacket, too!)

These are definitely books about mighty girls — they’re educated, independent, meet with detectives, and act as their own chauffeurs and mechanics. (Can you picture the girls in their Gibson Girl pastels, driving at break-neck speed along a dusty road? So fascinating!) Written just as the Gilded Age was transitioning into the Progressive Age, these books have powerful undercurrents of the suffragette movement, and weave themes of empowerment naturally into the story lines.

These are adventure stories; there’s no doubt about that. The plot twists range from homework and road trips to burglaries, kidnappings, jewel thieves, and even hungry wolves. They have a playful flavor, too, with the occasional foray into spooky Victorian parlor games and Halloween mischief. My favorite part? Reading the Aunt Claire Presents series is an immersive experience in early 1900s life. I love how each book is overflowing with real-life examples of the music, clothing, books, and architecture which made this era so extraordinary. These are ideal books to integrate into your homeschool lessons, since they show a real microcosm of life at the turn of the century.

And did you know? Historical books can be used to teach more than just history. I especially enjoy using old books to teach literature-based geography.

Download a FREE Geography Supplement for The Automobile Girls at Newport

Geography Supplement for The Automobile Girls at Newport, by Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory Books

While it’s true not all titles lend themselves to teaching geography well, there are more ways to extract geography from books than you’d think. The Automobile Girls at Newport, though, happens to be perfectly suited for geography exploration. The book’s plot centers around a road trip from New Jersey through Yale to Rhode Island, and author mentions a plethora of actual historical locations by name. To spur further research, I’ve listed several of these in a FREE printable PDF supplement, and included links to photos, both modern day and historic.

This printable also includes the page number where the location is first mentioned, so you can easily find the context. The activities I’ve included are only suggested starting points. You can use the locations as research prompts for independent or directed learning, and enjoy exploring your local library or reputable websites for additional information. There’s so much potential here for any entire geography unit of the Eastern Seaboard!

Click to download the FREE Geography Supplement for The Automobile Girls at Newport

Using Vintage Fiction Books to Teach Geography

Even when vintage books are set in entirely fictional locations, as with Grace Harlowe’s Freshman Year at High Schoolreaders can infer information about the climate, landforms, and physical geography by using context clues in the story.

Now there’s a fun writing assignment — making the case for the kind of place in which a given fiction book is set. Astute readers can scour the pages for hints.

  • Does the author mention inland bodies of water, or oceans?
  • Do the characters see mountains?
  • Are prairies or grassy fields mentioned in the story?
  • Are any plants, flowers, or trees mentioned by name?
  • If so, what type of climate might support these types of foliage?
  • At what time of year is the story set?
  • What does the weather seem to be like?

A well-written book, fiction or otherwise, leaves the reader with a distinct sense of the setting. (These are cues kids can take, too, when creating the setting for their own creative writing ventures or short stories.)

Using Vintage Fiction Books to Teach Music

One of the delightful aspects of old books is how they retain the flavor of the era in which they were written. And this doesn’t end at visual descriptions. I love uncovering what the world of vintage books must have sounded like, beyond the hum of dialogue or the clickety-clack of a train.

In Grace Harlowe’s Freshman Year at High School, for instance, the characters perform a play while the Funeral March of a Marionette plays. That’s a whole research-rich rabbit trail right there!

  • What does The Funeral March of a Marionette sound like with full orchestra?
  • What about just piano?
  • When was it written?
  • Who was the composer?
  • How old would this song have been at the time the book was written?
  • Was the piece of music originally written a parody, or was it composed in a serious context?
  • Why do you think it was sometimes later chosen by film and television directors for spooky scenes?
  • Do you agree that the song sounds spooky?
  • Can you get piano sheet music for Funeral March of a Marionette, and learn to play it?

And that’s only one song! There are several more songs mentioned in The Automobile Girls at Newport, too. When you learn to pay attention to the songs and music mentioned in old books, a whole world will open up.

Using Vintage Fiction Books to Teach Nuances About History

The narrative, immersive nature of living books offers historical insight textbooks simply cannot.  When we learn history from a textbook, we’re told that the Gilded Age ended in 1900. While this is technically true, if we — like the Automobile Girls — were living at the turn of the century, we wouldn’t know that yet. The living, breathing reality is that the end of one era faded naturally and unobtrusively into the birth of another, with amorphous blending and intermingling of each era’s greatest characteristics. No woman stepped out of bed on New Year’s Day 1900, and scrubbed her life clean of any trappings of the Gilded Age. Life went on.

As the Automobile Girls’ adventures demonstrate, the towering edifices on Bellevue Avenue — home of John Jacob Astor and the Vanderbilts — did not crumble at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve 1899. Many people continued to bustle about in excess, unaware the days of the railroad tycoons were growing smaller in the rear-view mirror, and unaware just how significant the cultural impact of the dawning Progressive Age would prove to be.

Living books show us that for those living inside history — just as we live inside history now — the ages march on, unnamed and unknown.

Using Middle-Grade Fiction Books to Teach US History, Geography, Music, Vocabulary and More (FREE Printables!): Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory Books

Using Vintage Fiction Books to Encourage Annotation and Close Reading to Uncover Historical Clues

Encourage your young readers to annotate the book as they read! Annotation is such a great skill to develop. Allow them to mark directly on the book pages — a fine-point mechanical pencil is perfect for this. Help your child develop a personalized system for annotation — asterisks next to unknown vocabulary, brackets around phrases or topics they’d like to look up later, etc. You can learn so much about a book’s historical and cultural context by diving into what the characters are talking about. Pay attention to topics such as —

  • What books are the characters reading?
  • What foods do they eat? Are these the same foods you eat?
  • Do they talk about clothing unfamiliar to you?
  • What music do they talk about, sing, or play?
  • What holidays do they celebrate?
  • What aspects of life seem normal to the characters, but strike you as odd?
  • Do the characters talk about or mention any names of people who aren’t characters in the book? Use these names as clues to research!

For instance, in the Automobile Girls, one of the girls says, “You did look…like a sort of desperate, feminine Darius Green with his flying machine!” Unless you’re annotating, you’d probably skip right over the mention of Darius Green. But if you’re working on your close reading detective skills, you’d underline the name, wonder who he was, and look it up. With a little research, you’d discover a narrative poem called “Darius Green and His Flying-Machine”, published in in 1867. And then, you’d see Houghton-Mifflin re-released it again  in 1910, and you’d remember the Automobile Girls was originally released in 1910, too. You can even read the 1910 version of Darius Green and his Flying-Machine!

Close reading is such a great opportunity to share a literary experience with the book characters themselves. Developing your investigative reading skills opens up a huge, undiscovered world inside the already-rich world of books.

Download FREE Printable Vocabulary Supplement for The Automobile Girls at Newport

Middle-Grade Vocabulary Printable for The Automobile Girls at Newport, by Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory Books

Apart from technology, the passage of time is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the evolution of language. Dialogue-rich stories such as the ones reprinted by Aunt Claire Presents offer us the unique opportunity to hear the exclamations, idioms, and turns of phrases en vogue over hundred years ago. But beyond the historical vocabulary, there are also dozens and dozens of relevant bits of vocabulary worth studying. Don’t buy into the myth that old books can only teach you old words; that’s simply not true. I’ve created a FREE downloadable PDF containing all the notable vocabulary words in The Automobile Girls at Newport.  I’ve defined — or given a synonym for — each word, and showed the context as it appeared in the book. And, I’ve organized the printable supplement  by chapter, too, making it an easy-to-use reference tool. As your child annotates unfamiliar words in the book, he or she can use the vocabulary supplement to look up those words.

Click to download the FREE Vocabulary Supplement for The Automobile Girls at Newport

Using Middle-Grade Fiction Books to Teach US History, Geography, Music, Vocabulary and More (FREE Printables!): Aunt Claire Presents, Published by Laboratory Books

Using Vintage Fiction Books to Enrich Homeschool Lessons

While I don’t advocate pummeling the life out of reading for pleasure by requiring kids to do homework based on the books they’ve read during free time, I do believe you can intentionally assign fun books as schoolwork. After all, there shouldn’t be a required-reading/free-reading dichotomy.  Books which are enjoyable to read should appear in both categories, and these books are a perfect example. Truly considering using the fun-to-read Aunt Claire Presents series in a unit about life in American in 1910!

And there are two more titles coming out in the spring, too.

I can’t wait to read about the girl aviators! Be sure to follow @auntclairepresents and @laboratory_books on Instagram, so you don’t miss the releases in Spring 2018.

How about you? Have you ever considering using fictional books in your lessons? How have you integrated adventure stories or vintage stories into your homeschool days?

FREE HOMESCHOOL PRINTABLES for middle-grade novel The Automobile Girls at Newport by Aunt Claire Presents, by Laboratory Books


Disclosure of Material Connection:: I received two titles from the Aunt Claire Presents series in exchange for reviewing this product and publishing this post, and I was also compensated for my time. All the photographs, opinions, and experiences shared here are in my own words and are my own honest evaluation. I was not required to write a positive review.


We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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books, Homeschooling, How To

A Guide to Jean Fritz Books

Jean Fritz’ living history books are a terrific way to incorporate a narrative, storytelling approach into to your homeschool history lessons.  You probably know about her popular U.S. history books, but did you know she was a missionary kid who also wrote books about her time in China?

A few weeks ago, I went through my entire Jean Fritz collection — over half of the books she’s ever written — and put together a guide for the iHomeschool Network blog called How to Choose the Perfect Jean Fritz History Book.  In this topical guide, I list the themes, geographical area, time in history, and suggested reading level for each book, so you can grab the title which best matches where you are right now in your history studies. You’ll see your favorites there, of course, but you just might discover some unknown gems as well, like books about Chinese history, a picture book with saturated 1950s art, and a number of longer novels for the middle grades.

What’s your absolute favorite Jean Fritz book? Mine — no surprise here — is Homesick. Click through to see the rest!

How to Choose the Perfect Jean Fritz History Book

Homeschooling

Finding Accurate Thanksgiving History Books for Kids

Finding Accurate Thanksgiving History Books for Kids

Finding Accurate Thanksgiving History Books for Kids

Looking for accurate Thanksgiving history books for children can be difficult. So many of them have been romanticized to the point of falsehood. Stories about the Pilgrims and the colonial times overall  are often problematic anyway. Many of the books which do provide a truly accurate account contain content unsuitable for sensitive children. Child-friendly volumes, on the other hand, often take liberties with history, since the true story of the colonies’ tragedies and trials isn’t a child-friendly topic. And of course (and this is a biggie) many books about Pilgrims depict Native Americans in a incredibly offensive way. (I’ve written more about the way Native Americans are depicted in children’s literature.)

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Thankfully, Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving is one of those rare early American history books. It’s accurate and compelling while still being child-friendly. In fact, it’s the only picture book about the first Thanksgiving I recommend. With empathy and strength, the author — who is of Native American ancestry himself — tells Squanto’s story in the first person.  I love how he begins not with the First Thanksgiving or with planting corn, but with Squanto’s first difficult journey away from North America to England. Squanto is portrayed as a man of courage, and Bruchac masterfully writes of Squanto’s difficult role in Patuxet-turned-Plymouth. With a book as solid, factual, and beautiful as this, there’s no reason to turn instead to watered-down inaccurate stories about this misunderstood man. Definitely add it to your library request queue or your bookstore wishlist if you haven’t already.

Another book which handles this difficult time period fairly tastefully, but not perfectly, is Three Young Pilgrims by Cheryl Harness.  This is a good choice to give children a broad overview over of the Pilgrim perspective during the early colonial years,  since it shows various trials, hardships, and joys the Pilgrims experienced while adjusting to the New World during and after arrival.  Kids will love the large, illustrated primer format, and the wealth of hand-lettered facts incorporated into the rich, brooding illustrations. But there’s a caveat: the author admits in the foreword that Three Young Pilgrims only tells “part of the story”,  and hopes it will “lead the reader to study further”.  I agree. It’s beautiful and touching, but glosses over a few details and romanticizes a bit, so definitely read it alongside Bruchac’s book.

And talk to your kids! Like Cheryl Harness said, that any book we read only tells “part of the story”.  As children take in the folklore surrounding the holiday this Thanksgiving, let’s begin conversations to help kids sort out legend from historical fact. I’ve created a series of discussion prompts to help you talk about real Thanksgiving history with your kids.

Click here to read 10 Thanksgiving History Conversation-Starters for Kids on the iHomeschool Network blog

What resources are you using to delve into Thanksgiving history this year?