On the Blue Comet :: Book Sharing Monday

by Rosemary Wells

While visiting the library a few weeks ago, my daughter stumbled across this book (in audio format) and she shared it with me, “Mom! Doesn’t this look like a book Buddy would like?”  I took it from her hands and read the excerpt on the back.

“Oscar Ogilvie, is living with his dad in a house at the end of Lucifer Street, in Cairo, IL, when world events change his life forever.  The great stock market crash has rippled across the country, and the bank takes over their home – along with all their cherished model trains.  Oscar’s dad is forced to head west in search of work, and Oscar must move in with his no-nonsense aunt Carmen.  Only a mysterious drifter who stops by each day for food after school helps alleviate Oscar’s loneliness – until Oscar witnesses a crime so stunning that it catapults him into a miraculous, time-hopping train journey.”

The story is filled with suspense and Hollywood stars and historical big-wigs are peppered throughout, it captivated all of us.  Set in 1929, with time-hops to the past and the future – the book provided many opportunities to discuss in more detail the historical events and the people that helped to shape our nation (the stock market crash, Rockefeller, Kennedy, Pearl Harbor, etc.)  This book was a lot of fun and educational as well.

[Admin Note :: While writing this review and reading the reviews on Amazon, I am intrigued to see the book’s illustrations.]

Historyteachers Rockin’ YouTube!!

A few weeks ago, a friend shared a link on Facebook :: History for Music Lovers :: and we have since been sooo grateful.  When we first made the discovery, we spent an hour or so clicking upon all the titles that related to our previous history studies.  Coincidentally, our contractor was here at the time and he commented on how even he was enjoying them while he laid tile in our bathroom.

We have been playing and replaying several of their videos.  Presently, our favorites are The VikingsHenry VIII, and The Black Death.  I have now subscribed to their channel and look forward to future posts / videos. 

Mayan Mysteries

We have been spending the past couple of weeks inundating ourselves in the Mayan & Aztec cultures.  After reading chapter … in Story of the World: The Middle Ages, we dove into a more extensive exploration of these amazing empires.

We have enjoyed this unit perhaps more than any other thus far – perhaps because I have been to several of the ancient sites including Tula (an ancient Toltec city), Chitzén Itzá and Tulúm (ancient Mayan cities) and was able to share with them the photographs of my travels. 

One of our favorite activities was making a ‘jade mask’.  We first applied Vaseline to MeiLi’s face and then laid strips of plaster gauze across her face.  When her face was completely covered (she was too scared to cover her eyes), we carefully removed the mask and set it on a paper plate.  We then adhered to the plaster small pieces of egg shell that we had dyed with food coloring to resemble jade.  When the mask was dry, we coated it with a layer of Modge Podge to seal it and help to protect it.

Here are a few of the websites we explored as a part of our study:

Writing Across the Curriculum: Postcards from the Early Explorers

Writing Across the Curriculum is a teaching strategy developed in response to the need of students to learn content using a variety of strategies and their need to practice writing in a variety of contexts. It is essentially a writing task or assignment in classes outside of composition, literature, and other English courses.

Only by practicing the thinking and writing conventions of an academic discipline will students begin to communicate effectively within that discipline.

Postcards from the Early Explorers

I try to integrate a variety of Writing Across the Curriculum activities into our daily work. While we ventured westward across the Atlantic with the explorers of the 16th century, for example, the kiddos delighted in creating a postcard from one explorer to another.  Coincidentally, they both chose to write to Vasco Nuñez de Balboa.


If you click on the images, it will enlarge it so that you may read the context of their postcards.

Writing Across the Curriculum

The following basic principles underlie Writing Across the Curriculum:

  • Writing promotes learning.
  • Integration of writing promotes student participation.
  • Writing and diverse student voices engages students as critical thinkers.
  • Opportunities to write regularly – in many contexts – develops good writers.

In this example, they utilized writing to learn strategies which foster critical thinking, requiring analysis and application, and other higher level thinking skills. It is writing that uses impromptu, short or informal writing tasks designed by the teacher and included throughout the lesson to help students think through key concepts and ideas. Attention is focused on ideas rather than correctness of style, grammar or spelling.

Alternatively, when writing to demonstrate knowledge, students write for an audience with a specific purpose. Examples include essays that deal with specific questions or problems, letters, projects, and more formal assignments or papers prepared over weeks or over a course. They adhere to format and style guidelines or standards typical of professional papers, such as reports, article reviews, and research papers and should be checked before submitted by the student for correctness of spelling, grammar, and transition word usage. In other words, they showed what they had learned by synthesizing information and explaining or applying their understanding of the history concepts and ideas.

The Secret of the Kells

The Secret of the Kells has recently been released on DVD and we were fortunate to receive it from Netflix just last week.  The movie gives viewers a glimpse into the world of illuminated books, particularly the infamous Book of Kells.  The Book of Kells (sometimes known as the Book of Columba) is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created by Celtic monks ca. 800 or slightly earlier.  Though it didn’t quite fit the time line for our history studies (we are presently in the 1500s), we were able to cover a topic that Story of the World had not included in its narrative. 

The story has to do with a young boy named Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire) living in Ireland during the Middle Ages, a time of mystical superstitions and ‘barbarian threats from the north’.  When Brendan’s village is visited by a master book illuminator who carries with him a mysterious, unfinished book, the 12-year old vows to help him complete the book, a promise that involves the boy’s venturing into a forbidding forest outside the village wall and meeting beguiling sprite prone to shape-shifting into a white wolf.

The artistry of the film is delightful … reminding us a little of our favorite Japanese manga artist and prominent film director and animator, Hayao Miyazaki.  It was wonderful story and my kiddos didn’t even realize that the ‘barbarians from the north’ were actually Vikings.

Encounter :: Book Sharing Monday

Today, many people in the United States recognize and celebrate Columbus Day.  We, however, do not.  I learned in college that Columbus was NOT what I was led to believe in elementary school.  I was shocked at what I learned and yet, as I came to discover, there were many things that I had been previously unaware (Japanese internment camps here in the United States during WWII,  the quiet resistance of the Norwegians against the Nazi regime, and so much more).   History is after all, a story … and all sides … all perspectives should be told.  This is one of the reasons I chose to homeschool.  To provide my children with an opportunity to explore all perspectives and to learn about the history of our nation … our world … by reading first person accounts.  

For the first time, current events have actually fallen into place with our history curriculum (we presently use Story of the World).  We had just read last week about the Portuguese explorer Henry the Navigator so I was delighted to read the consecutive chapters on the other explorers: Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and Ferdinand Magellan.  We, however, will take a little extra time to explore other resources and to do some additional projects. 

One of the first books we have read is Encounter, by Jane Yolen.   It is the story of Columbus’ landing in the Americas, as told by a boy of the Taino people who already lived there. This book was written for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage.  As Yolen sat down to write the story, she felt a Taino should write it. The book was the only one in that anniversary year to speak for the Taino people in a picture book edition.  It still is today.

After reading this book we also watched a couple of short videos on the web:  Reconsider Columbus and a BrainPop video Christopher Columbus. Additionally, we made a chart to list the pros and cons about Christopher Columbus.  As I stated previously, we will also read numerous other books about Columbus and the other explorers.

For older students, here is a great lesson plan I stumbled upon to integrate this book into your social studies / history curriculum.

P.S.  For those who don’t know, Book Sharing Monday is hosted by Alex at Canadian Home Learning.  You can join in as well as find others participating weekly.