Monthly Archives: March 2011

I Only Have One Theater Book…

I only really have one theater book that I’ve used over the last two years in playing games with kids and getting them to perform in various capacities.  It’s the wonderful resource book On Stage by Lisa Bany-Winters.  We’ve checked out many other theater books from the library, including a couple others by the same author, but they’ve all been disappointing, at least from my perspective.  All the other theater books we’ve used have focused on information about the theater – types of shows, the terminology of the theater, etc.  That’s all fine and good but not so useful for someone who is trying to figure out what to do with a room full of 5-8 year olds who need to learn how to express themselves on stage.  However, this book is 100% nitty gritty activities of all kinds.  It has wonderful games, some of which are very simple and others of which are much more complex.  It has warm ups, improv games, character building games, games for thinking about movement and expression, games just for fun and much more.  The activities in here extend from preschool all the way up to middle school and beyond.  Since our library doesn’t seem to have anything else like it, I know I need to take the plunge and get another book or two of theater activities to keep things fresh.  However, in the meantime, this book has really gotten me through coaching two years of Destination Imagination as well as preparing kids for our ambitious Tempest production, so I highly recommend it.

Diana Wynne Jones

I know I’m late to the news, but I’ve just read than Diana Wynne Jones passed away last week from cancer and I’m just heartbroken.  Check out this detailed obituary.  I discovered her books in college, having missed them in my childhood, but that doesn’t really diminish the love I have for her writings, which are inspiringly twisty turny, like little puzzle boxes that the reader can unwrap until you get to the surprise at the center.

Owing to the excellent Miyazaki movie based on it, I suspect that Howl’s Moving Castle is probably her most famous work.  As well, her Crestomanci series, which she began in the 1970’s and continued to add to until a couple of years ago with The Pinhoe Egg, is rightfully well-known.  I know that many of her fans really like Archer’s Goon best, which Neil Gaiman has heaped praised upon.  However, I was always very fond of A Tale of Time City, which reads a bit like a Doctor Who episode to me.  And I adore Deep Secret, which parodies scifi-fantasy conventions by throwing some actual fantasy into one.  And The Homeward Bounders is a title of hers that I always thought was underappreciated.  Oh, now I’m just getting teary-eyed listing books.  Don’t mind me.

There won't be any more books quite like hers.


There’s Now a Homeschool Book Award?

National Homeschool Book AwardHuh?  There’s a homeschool book award now?  Apparently so.  Possibly you heard about it too as it was featured as a Click Schooling link last week.  Here’s their website where you can go read up about this newly formed endeavor.  Look, they even have a logo!

I can’t quibble with the books they nominated. Ingrid Law’s brilliant Savvy probably gets my vote based on literary merit.  Though it’s not a book that I think of as being an explicitly “homeschool” book, the way Every Soul a Star by Wendy Maas is, I think it’s nice that they’ve chosen books that are about unconventional kids’ lives outside of school.  All the books are very recent, but only Alabama Moon, which I’ve not read, came out in the last year.  I’ll be curious if they go forward if they would be able to make it a yearly award.

Of course, we all like to bemoan the lack of books that reflect homeschoolers’ lives, so I figure it’s worth it to point out a couple of the homeschoolers’ greatest hits.  Loyal readers of this blog already know I’m not fond of the Little House books, so I’ll stick with recent offerings.  In terms of explicitly homeschooling kids, I like Stephanie Tolan’s Surviving the Applewhites, which won a Newbery honor several years ago.  The kids in this kooky unschooling arts colony have to take in a newcomer and teach him to learn their way.  Like everyone else, I also give high marks to Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, which features a former homeschooler going to school.  My other favorite is Wendy Orr’s little book Nim’s Island, which was made into a charming movie a few years ago.  Nim grows up alone on her island with only her father and the animals for company.  I like her independence and spunk.

I wish I could offer up a similar set of picture books, but the truth is that I never found decent picture books about homeschoolers.  I’ve seen a few options, but none of them were especially stellar.  I did always like that in Tomie DePaola’s back story book about Strega Nona, it turns out Strega Nona tried to go to strega college in the city, but she liked being homeschooled by her grandmother instead.  And of course, there are a lot of picture books with kids (or, often, animals, because they’re picture books!) in unconventional lives that don’t feature school.  I’ll have to think more on that one, perhaps for a future post.  It would be cool if the Homeschool Book Award people found some picture books worthy of an award.

Our Revels Now Are Ended…

It’s the day after our amazing, excellent performance of The Tempest.  My thoughts are too muddled for a serious post and I have few images worth sharing because I was way too busy to take pictures.  But deeper thoughts about children and Shakespeare, young performers, set designs and so forth, as well as much better images I’ll steal from people who had proper cameras and time to snap pictures, can come later.  Right now, I’m just filled with satisfaction and pride that my kids and their friends performed a real, actual Shakespeare play, even abridged.  And I’m filled with thankfulness for the parents who helped make it happen as well as for the many kind things they said about all of my efforts.

Mushroom and a friend goofing off on the set (they were making "shadow angels") on Friday as the stage manager mom and I get things in place along with the director of the theater.
At home before we left for the theater once I had everyone's face painted (BalletBoy has a tiny mustache to play Ferdinand).
This blurry picture is BalletBoy as Ferdinand, wooing Miranda. He said, "Admired Miranda!" so earnestly that the audience chuckled.
After the show at the cast party at our house. Mushroom became suddenly sad when he realized it was all over. Poor kid!

‘Ban ‘Ban Caliban!

Sorry for the lack of postings this week.  I am swamped with a million things, included a visit from my father, a night at the Shakespeare Theater (Wilde’s An Ideal Husband – it was pretty good) a million other things to get ready for The Tempest which will have its opening night (and only night!) this weekend.

Anyway, I got it together for an almost Wordless Wednesday.  Here’s Mushroom getting his face painted for Caliban.  Erica, homeschool mom and face painter extraordinaire, did this and showed me how.  Now, if I can copy it and do even half as good a job as she did, then I’ll be pleased.

More Boy Books

Having two boys, I’ve been on the lookout for boy books constantly.  About a year ago, I searched through a few options for early chapter books, which I posted about here.  Now that BalletBoy is reading chapter books himself, I thought I’d update with more options.  I’ve found even more than these, though some I haven’t read enough of to give any sort of review.

There’s an ongoing discussion, I feel, about boys and books and what makes a book more appealing to boys.  For some blogs focused specifically on boy books, you can check out Guys Lit WireThe Excelsior File or The Book Zone (for Boys).  You can also see Jon Scieszka’s website Guys Read, which isn’t updated too much, but has some good stuff.  But for now, here’s some boy early chapter books for your perusal…

Frankie Pickle series by Eric Wight
This series (which is only on its third title) features a sort of Walter Mitty-esque kid who constantly imagines himself in different, generally more exciting, circumstances.  Wight’s cartoony illustrations are cute.  The stories are simple but funny.  I’m not completely enamored of the writing, which jumped around a little as the author moved between Frankie’s imaginary world and the real world.  However, the concept is so good and BalletBoy, who has turned out to be a very picky reader, gives it a thumbs up.

Melvin Beederman, Superhero series by Greg Trine
BalletBoy passed on this series, but I sat and read the first one and found it very amusing so I’m giving it my recommendation.  Melvin is a slightly inept kid superhero who fights off some very silly villains.  It’s definitely got a lot of the sort of irreverent boy humor that appeals to fans of really silly books like Captain Underpants.

Horrid Henry series by Francesca Simon
Henry is truly a villain.  He can’t do anything nice – not for his friends, his teachers, his parents and certainly not his detested little brother.  The writing is solid and the stories are very funny, but at first glance, Henry is almost too horrid.  His villainy is really only funny after you’ve read a number of these and understand how completely unrealistic both he and his “perfect” brother are.  I enjoyed these a lot and Mushroom is actually keen to read them once he’s able to.

Herbie Jones series by Suzy Kline
I’m not sure exactly what I want to say about these.  The writing is just above Junie B. level (and I really dislike Junie B.), so this isn’t a strong recommendation.  However, BalletBoy discovered some of Herbie Jones’s second grade series and really liked them.  Herbie is a mostly average, if lazy, kid. The series focuses on school and friends.  I think BalletBoy must like the sheer normalcy of it.  Suzy Kline is also the author of the Horrible Harry books (not to be confused with the Horrid Henry books above!).  I can’t even give those a mild recommendation.  Seeing that they were easier than most of the Herbie books, I gave one a try, but I was sorely disappointed.

The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Not to end on a mediocre note, these books are slightly on the harder end of the books I listed here, so BalletBoy hasn’t made it to them quite yet, but they’re so much fun.  They’re not as wholesomely educational as the jaunts through history taken in a certain treehouse, but they’re more fun and the writing is peppered with jokes.  The three boys have to figure their way through a number of time travel scrapes.