I’m a book lover, that’s no secret. My childhood was spent with a book as my constant companion and I’ve continued to cultivate this book friendship into adulthood. Having said that though, I pick and choose with great care the books that either myself or my children will read. The story needs to meet several criteria before it will grace our book shelves. This rules out a lot of popular children’s series and much other ‘twaddle’ which I discover in the local library. But it has created in my children (and myself) a love of beauty, nobility, history, the arts, the written language and desire to learn more about the world around us. Which I feel is a good thing. So I thought I’d begin sharing some of our current favourite books with you here.
What Bird is That? by Neville Cayley
We are studying Birds in our science program this year and coincidentally began the year living in a location which is an important Australian habitat for migratory shorebirds. We were privileged to observe the migration to and from our little point of land. Thousand upon thousands of birds were seen enjoying the summer warmth in the mangroves, then as winter approached the sky would fill with flocks of birds en-route to somewhere as far away as Alaska or Siberia!! We still find that amazing, those little birds which lived by the water near our home would fly all the way to the opposite side of the earth to nest, raise their young and meet back ‘down under’ again in half a years time.
With birds being a part of our daily conversations, I felt this book, What Bird is That by Neville W. Cayley, would be well thumbed through and enjoyed. And how right I was. This is a collection of beautiful artworks of Australian birds collated into one volume. Originally published in 1931, the preface states, “Cayley’s aim in creating this work was to make available a book that would encouraged and help people to learn about and appreciate Australia’s remarkable and unique birdlife.” It certainly does that. The illustrations are incredibly detailed and worthy works of art in their own right.
Although we have other nature guides and ‘bird books’ this volume has become our ‘go to’ book when we observe a new species of bird. Just yesterday my 6 year old came running inside to flick through the pages to find the bird he saw flying by and see if it was indeed a variety of Kite as he suspected. Moments such as these are so encouraging and make me realise the value found in studying a volume such as this.
Castle by David Macaulay
History is a genre which I’ve only really discovered in my adult years. I’m sure I did the required ‘history’ subjects in my schooling but any memory of that is very faint and any knowledge of the actual history is long gone. Then I married a history loving husband. A person who held dreams of being an archeologist – this was a completely foreign concept to me so I set myself to the task learning more. A year spent in the history rich countries of England and Europe allowed me to visit the historical sites and learn within real life context and thus consolidated my enjoyment of the historical story of our world and the people which have traversed before us.
In my desire to instil this enjoyment of our world’s heritage, both recent and ancient, I read well-written historical stories to my children regularly. In this way, together we have discovered some very interesting people, events and the different way in which these people of days gone past lived. The current exploration of castles, knights, ladies and the heroism and chivalry which encapsulates the Middle Ages has enthralled us all.
So it was with several previously read historical story books as a background that I stumbled across this book. It has brought the people found within those other stories to life for us. The incredibly detailed illustrations show the construction of the castles and towns in this period. While the ‘story’ doesn’t exactly captivate us, it is a dialogue which describes the illustrations well, tying them together within the context of a Lord and his family, workers, servants, King and the local townspeople. In that sense, this is definitely a book my detailed picture loving 10 year old pours over without any thought that he would gain more by actually reading the words. It was the first book by this author/illustrator which I have seen in real life. And given the natural bent of my biggest son who relates to this type of work, I’ll definitely be adding more in the series to our bookshelves in the future.
Professor Cockatoo’s Amazing Weather Dust by Dan Vallely, Illustrated by Yvonne Perrin
Possum Creek and the variety of animal characters who live there have delighted our family for many years. True Australian classics, we all enjoy sitting down with any of these picture books in hand. The lilting poetry makes the listening easy, while the illustrations are a feast for the eyes. I think a true test of a picture book lies not only in the words (although I do love a well written story) but the illustrations as well. The pictures really make these books complete and are superb. Many a time I will be finished reading the words on the pages but a little hand is found holding the next page closed. I can’t turn until he has finished ‘looking properly’. I’ve got to conclude that that is a sure sign of a great picture book.
I thought we owned the full selection of stories in our ‘complete’ volume of Possum Creek. But then, while browsing a favourite second hand book shop, I discovered this treasure and also a poetry book from the same publishers. This has been read countless times already and still brings giggles each and every time. And, if I’m totally honest, it’s a book I don’t mind returning to whenever it is brought as the chosen bedtime read.
Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons
This is possibly an unusual choice to highlight in this post. But it’s a homeschooling classic which I’m returning to for the third time and still find it perfectly suited for assisting my little ones in their quest to make sense of the combination of letters and sounds which make up the English language. Unlike the previous couple selections, this one is certainly no visual feast. It’s plain boring. I mean, really, it would be hard to make a learn to read program more dreary if you tried. I would have passed it right over after a first glance if it hadn’t been recommended so highly by so many veterans in the field. So I gave it a go with my first and my second and now my third. And with great success for all.
There isn’t really a lot to say here except that by following the short lessons and spending about 10 minutes a day sitting on the couch with each munchkin has resulted in a little person who can make sense of the characters found within other books. In other words, a reading success. I’ve never got through all the lessons before they were off and reading on their own and at that point this easily gets phased out and in its place I listen to them read their own selection of real books.
Would I recommend it? Yes, Yes, Yes. It’s inexpensive and works. There are so many learn to read programs out there which are bright, cheerful and full of great hands on activities. And all, I’m sure, have their merits. But in our family, all that other ‘stuff’, craft and activities, happen as part of life. So I really appreciate the simplicity of this book, I don’t have to spend hours each morning doing all sorts of painting activities to help my little one learn to read. What a relief. Just a simple, no nonsense approach which then allows us to quickly move onto reading ‘real’ books and being creative as we live life together.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
This selection has been a steadfast resident of my bedside table this year. Last year with the talk of the new movie/musical being released and the musical selections from the original being played very regularly in our household, I became interested in the original work. I have seen the musical in a live performance, on video and then proceeded to watch the new movie. I know many of the songs from memory and can play them on piano. But…. I felt I never really understood the full story. Oh sure I could give you a run-down of the story line and even express it’s ability to tell a story with the strength of the underlying theme of redemption. But, I didn’t really understand so many aspects of this tale.
So I made it my 2013 goal to read the original work. Well, more specifically, the English translation of the original work. It wasn’t until May that I actually owned a copy of the book, oops not off to a great start, and I expect that the reading of this will last well beyond the end of this year. But I’m enjoying the process. It’s a daunting task to read the small print on 1,301 pages, written in a style which takes a bit of mental work to get used to, about topics which challenge my knowledge, ie. currently I’m reading a section of over 150 pages as a sideline to the main plot, describing the Battle of Waterloo and Napoleon’s defeat. It’s challenging to understand the intricacies of the story when my knowledge of the history of this event is sorely lacking. So learning I am, on many fronts as I tackle this massive work. I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge it sets me, the mental work which is required to process each paragraph, the depth of writing, the morals conveyed and the over arching ‘story’ which it encompasses. And I’m now a whole 308 pages into it.