Activities & Projects to Honor Hans Christian Andersen

Tomorrow is International Children’s Book Day, a yearly event sponsored by the International Board on Books for Young People. Founded in 1967, the day is observed on or around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, April 2. Activities include writing competitions, announcements of book awards and events with authors of children’s literature. I’ve thereby chosen to share with you a number of activities and projects to honor Hans Christian Andersen.

Hans Christian Andersen was born in the town of Odense, Denmark, on Tuesday, April 2, 1805. Although a prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels, and poems, Andersen is best remembered for his fairy tales which have been translated into more than 125 languages.  His tales present lessons of virtue and resilience in the face of adversity and thereby appeal to both children and mature readers. Some of his most famous fairy tales include The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Nightingale, The Emperor’s New Clothes and many more.

“Life itself is a most wondrous fairytale.”

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His stories have inspired plays, ballets, and both live action and animated films. Most recently, inspired by The Snow Queen, Walt Disney Animation Studios produced the computer-animated film, Frozen, released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2013.  The film has so far grossed $1.049 billion in worldwide box office revenue and has met with widespread critical acclaim, with several film critics considering it to be the best Disney animated musical since the studio’s renaissance era.

Those who love Hans Christian Andersen, however, know there is much more to him than his literary repertoire.  He was as equally gifted with the skill of Scherenschnitte as he was with words. He was also very fond of music.

“Where words fail, music speaks.”

Not surprisingly, statues and monuments in Andersen’s honor are found the world over.  The most famous statue based on a Hans Christian Andersen story is the Statue of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, Denmark. There is a statue of Hans Christian Andersen and the Ugly Duckling in Central Park in New York City. My favorite honorarium to Andersen (though I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it in person) is in the Jesperhus Flower-park in Denmark. I think Andersen would have appreciated this memorial to him.

Activities & Projects

Select Biographies & Fairy Tales

Scherenschnitte Resources

Hans Christian Andersen’s stories are without a doubt memorable.  Once you have read a book by Hans Christian Andersen, you remember it.  One of my favorites is Thumbeline – the feisty tiny girl who fights off toads and moles who want her for their own, and is able to find her way to marriage with a little flower-fairy prince who is perfect for her. Or who can forget the wise little boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes who has the courage to point out what others could not, that the Emperor was not wearing invisible clothes, as the Emperor believed, but in fact was wearing no clothes.

To find out about more people born in April hop on over to iHomeschool Network’s April birthdays page.

A Novel in Letters: Ideas to Integrate Letter Writing in Your Curriculum

We listen to a lot of audio books in the car. It is a wonderful opportunity to share in our love of literature and engage in dialogue about literary techniques, vocabulary, and genres of literature.  I try to select books that the kids wouldn’t normally select for themselves, particularly classics and authors whom they are not yet familiar.

letterwritingWhen I picked up Same Sun Here, I didn’t know what to expect.  I had not heard anything about it but the silhouette on the cover caught my eye and I brought it home. What a delightful surprise it turned out to be.


Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani is a wonderful novel told in letters, centering around an Indian immigrant girl in New York City and a Kentucky coal miner’s son.  They find strength and perspective by sharing their true selves across the miles, developing a friendship that builds a bridge between their cultures and the miles between them.


Meena and River discover that they have a lot in common: fathers forced to work away from home to make ends meet, grandmothers who mean the world to them, and faithful dogs. Yet, their lives are very different as well. As Meena’s family studies for citizenship exams and River’s town faces devastating mountaintop removal, this unlikely pair become pen pals, sharing their innermost thoughts as their friendship deepens. With honesty and humor, the duo defeat cultural misconceptions with genuine friendship.

I haven’t seen the print version of this book but I love that the audio was narrated in two voices, each voice distinctly articulated by these gifted authors. The kids and I laughed out loud and wept quietly as the protagonists shared their stories. As an adult, I loved the format of letters back and forth. This would be a great book to use to talk about the difference in cultures and how people who come to the US do not see it with the same eyes as a native. Additionally, the story is a wonderful reminder that once you get to know them, people who can seem very different have a lot in common.

Letter Writing in Social Studies

The book is wonderful but it does have a political spin. House has a cause. Anyone who is familiar with his work knows that he is strongly campaigning to stop the mining of coal by mountain top removal in Appalachian Kentucky.  As Oregonians now living in California, I was not previously familiar with this and thus the kids and I looked into a little more. As a result of this book, we talked about environmental causes – both locally and globally – that were important to us. We talked about ideas for how we, as individuals, can make a difference.

Letter writing, boycotting products (and companies), and protesting were discussed. My kids have had some experience with boycotting.  Since attending their first Roots & Shoots conference a few years ago, they have actively read the ingredients list of products and choose to avoid anything that has Palm Oil.  Additionally, they have learned to recognize brand names and try not to purchase anything by Nestlé. Relatedly, are also beginning to make a more concerned effort to purchase food grown locally.

Same Sun Here encouraged the kids to consider writing letters to companies to request they change their practices, suggesting alternatives to Palm Oil, for example.

STEMLetter Writing in Science

Relatedly, letter writing is also applicable in sciences.  In addition to writing persuasive letters about environmental issues, students should be encouraged to write letters to scientists in fields of interest.  If a child is interested in engineering, for example, seek out an engineer willing to mentor your child.  Better yet – attend conferences, for example, and encourage your child to seek out those relationships themselves.

My daughter recently attended a Women in STEM Conference and personally thanked each presenter.  In doing so, she made a point to ask specific questions and to express what she enjoyed most about her presentation.  She thereafter asked for contact information and is presently working to reach out to each woman scientist she met at the conference.

Letter Writing in Literature

My daughter loves to write stories modeled after her favorite books – Redwall and Warriors.  She engages in these creative writing without prompting from me and will occasionally share excerpts with me.  As a result of listening to Same Sun Here, she recently included a couple of  letters exchanged between two characters in her book.

In the past, I have also encouraged the kids to write letters to their favorite authors.  Jan Brett, Seymour Simon, and Jim Arnosky are wonderful examples of authors who love hearing from their readers.

52 Weeks of Mail


52weeksmailWe have always enjoyed writing letters to friends and family.  In the past, we have taken part in the 52 Weeks of Mail challenge but as life tends to do, we have been lead astray and haven’t been very consistent.  This book gave us new inspiration to do so.

I have a 52 Weeks of Mail Pinterest board where I pin creative letters and packaging.  Who doesn’t love to receive mail?  Especially when the cover is so beautiful?

Each of the kids have pen pals and I encourage them to write as often as possible.  I try to model this myself, but I have to admit it is so easy to let modern technology distract us.


Interested in more ideas for literature? Visit the iHomeschool Network’s A Book and a Big Idea Blog Hop.

Through Mine Eyes: Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was a great American. Few have ever illuminated our nation as honestly and accurately as he. His recognition of its ugliness is always tempered with love for it.  I first discovered Hughes as an undergrad at Lane Community College. My writing professor introduced me to the literary world in ways I had not anticipated.  It was here that I first experienced the world through the eyes of the minority.  It was here that I discovered Black American Literature.

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langston hughes

As we approach the new year, I selected Langston Hughes as the first author for our new literature focus, “Through Mine Eyes: A multicultural literature unit“.  Langston Hughes is one of my favorite authors.  I first introduced Langston Hughes to the kids by reading aloud Langston’s Train Ride by Robert Burleigh, a non-fiction narrative, describing the early life of Langston Hughes, and how he became inspired to write poetry. It was a joy to read; Leonard Jenkins’ jazz-like artwork blends well with Robert Burleigh’s text, both integrating with the style of Hughes himself.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve see its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

~ Langston Hughes

James Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. His parents divorced when he was a young child, and his father moved to Mexico. He was raised by his grandmother until he was thirteen, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother and her husband, before the family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. It was in Lincoln that Hughes began writing poetry. After graduating from high school, he spent a year in Mexico.  On the train to Mexico, he was inspired to write the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” shown above.   You can listen to Hughes speak of this moment here, voice of Langston Hughes.

Throughout the month, I sprinkled in other poems Langston Hughes wrote.  Many of which are found in the series Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes.  The kids enjoyed his work and reveled in the power of his words.  They were even inspired to pen their own poem:

Buddy’s poem I’ve Known Rivers

Sweetie’s poem I’ve Known Rivers

 Through Mine Eyes, is a multicultural literature unit that will span the globe and address a variety of topics.  Each month, I will be selecting a different culture, time period, genre, or style of literature with which to view the world. In January, our focus is Black American Literature. Join me again in two weeks when I share the other authors we enjoyed this month. If you are also exploring the world Through Mine Eyes,  I will also include the link to share your posts. We’d love to hear about the books you have enjoyed.

multicultural literature unit

Navigating Early … Connecting the Dots

Whether by coincidence or serendipity, my daughter recently recommended a book to me and I delighted in not only engaging her in a conversation about good literature, but I began to see connections in our own lives. Once I started paying attention,

Navigating Early is written by Newberry Award winner, Clare Vanderpool.  Her books fall within that special category of middle grade fiction that speak as well to adults as to children, capturing not only the magic of childhood but also the hard hitting realizations of growing up. This is an odyssey-like adventure of two boys’ incredible quest on the Appalachian Trail where they deal with pirates, buried secrets, and extraordinary encounters.

Connecting the dots.  That’s what Mom said stargazing is all about.  It’s the same up there as it is down here, Jackie.  You have to look for the things that connect us all.  Find the ways our paths cross, our lives intersect, and our hearts collide.

The story of friendship between a new kid at a Maine boarding school and a fellow student as they go on a journey together, all the while discovering things about themselves. What I loved about this book is that the two character studies are written in parallel. The narrator, Jack, is dealing with the recent death of his mother, while his friend Early Auden is dealing with the death of his brother Fisher.

Set just after World War II comes to a close, we come to realize that Early has Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of Autism, though in 1945 he is identified only as strange. In addition, he is a savant with an instinctual understanding and interpretation of math that blurs into synesthesia. Early sees Pi as more than a number–he sees a story, and Jack is the one boy willing to ask Early the all-important question: “Who is Pi?”


The story that Early tells to accompany an irrational number not only explains the connections in his life in an orderly, mathematical way, but Pi’s adventures also serve a dual purpose, on one hand allegorical to symbolize Jack and Early going on this journey to try to find their place in the world, on the other, as a sort of counterpart to their journey that cleverly foreshadows a lot of the events.

No one say anything about knowing the names of the stars. No, the sky, it is not a contest or an exam. The only question is, can you look up? Can you take it all in? As for the names of the constellations, they are not the be-all and the end-all.  The stars, they are not bound one to another.  They are meant to be gazed upon. Admired, enjoyed.  It is like the fly-fishing. Fly-fishing is not about catching the fish.  It is about enjoying the water, the breeze, the fish swimming all around.  If you catch one, good.  If you don’t … that is even better. That means you come out and get to try all over again!”

All the while reading this delightful book, in our own lives there were many parallels or coincidences:

  • Jack and Early meet up with an old Norwegian woodsman who reminded me of my father
  • The Norwegian teaches the boys how to fly-fish – not two weeks prior to reading this book, my daughter had just returned home from fish camp and while camping, my father taught my son how to fish
  • We recently learned that my nephew has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, a form of autism
  • We encountered a medal plaque along the pier in San Francisco (pictured above) and the kids delighted in how the numbers disappear
  • Via a Google+ community, I discovered the  THE ART OF π – This is awesome!!

Part adventure story, part eulogy, part character sketch, and part coming of age, this is a book you can immerse yourself in and come out feeling the better for having read.


Lessons in Heritage and Cultural Skills

As members of the Sons of Norway lodge, we have access to a variety of cultural skills programs that are easily integrated into our homeschool curriculum. I’ve written about the benefits of the lodge in the past both here and at Curriculum Choice. In July, I shared with you our progress in Norwegian Folk Dance. As we begin a new school year, I share with you two additional heritage and cultural skills programs available to members.

cultural skillsNorwegian Cooking

Over the past few years, I have been working on developing my repertoire of Norwegian cooking skills. I achieved level 1 (favorite recipes) a couple years ago. In June, I submitted my application for levels 2 (baking) and 3 (meat dishes). At each level, applicants are required to prepare 4-5 Norwegian recipes. An elective project is also required and a variety of suggestions are provided.

  • I wrote several Hub pages: LefseBløtekake, & Smørrebrød
  • I prepared dishes for our lodge business meeting (Bløtekake and Vaflerer).
  • I taught my Barnesklubb kids how to make lefse.
  • I planned a traditional Norwegian Easter dinner.

Now that I am familiar with numerous dishes, my kids have expressed interest in earning these pins themselves. In the photographs above, they are making Almond Bars with an old family recipe.

Norwegian Literature

We have also recently began working towards our cultural skills pin in Norwegian Literature together.  Like cooking, it is divided into three levels and a pin is awarded for each. Level 1 is Favorites, level 2 is Fiction, and level 3 is Non-fiction.  Within each level we are required to read a specific number of books by a Norwegian author, and a specific number by a Norwegian-American author, write a report, and select an elective (book club, an article for the lodge newsletter, start a lodge library, etc.).

Presently, we are working on level one and thus far, we have read:

  • Race of the Birkebeiners by Lise Lunge-Larsen
  • Dr. Proctor’s Fart Powder by Jo Nesbø
  • The Klipfish Code by Mary Cassanova
  • Viking Tales by Jennie Hall (available for free!)

As an elective activity, we have started a book club within our Sons of Norway lodge whereby we meet regularly to discuss the books we are reading.  Through book club, I have come to discover other books by Nesbø, though not appropriate for young readers, provide a fascinating look into Norwegian culture.

Cultural heritage activities enrich our understanding of our ancestry and foster friendships.  Do you integrate lessons in heritage and cultural skills in your homeschool? What activities do you and your children enjoy most?

Living Books for Science Education

One of my goals as a science educator and homeschool parent is to pass on to children a love for science and for learning.  I am often asked what books I would recommend for particular science disciplines.  What books do I most enjoy sharing with my own children?  Which books are the living books?  First coined by Charlotte Mason, living books are described as “… complete works, firsthand sources, classics, books that display imagination, originality, and the human touch.” 

Charlotte Mason did not give us a list of the hundred best books, nor did she compose a checklist of what to look for in a living book.  Along our homeschool journey, I have therefore looked for living books for science that were not only of high literary quality, but that also communicated important knowledge about a given subject, especially biography, science, nature, and geography.  I’ve compiled some of my favorite books for you here – books you’ll enjoy reading again and again.


Giants of Science series by Kathleen Krull

This is a great series of books about some of the most recognized names in science including Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Sigmund Freud.  Amusing comic illustrations accompany the text and Krull’s anecdotal stories bring each scientist to life.

Chemistry & Physics

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!

There are numerous books in this series by Adrian Dingle. When I taught a chemistry unit with my kiddos a year ago, they devoured these. The Periodic Table introduces budding chemists to the world of the elements with wit and humor while also presenting factual information.


Books by Jean Craighead George

One of my all-time favorite authors, George has been the recipient of many literary awards.  My Side of the Mountain, the story of a boy and a falcon surviving on a mountain together, was a 1960 Newbery Honor Book.  Growing up in a family of naturalists, it is no wonder her books resonate with a love of nature.

Books by Jim Arnosky

I enjoy Arnosky’s books as much for the text as I do the illustrations. An artist and naturalist, his accurate illustrations, and his attention to detail makes it easy for children to see how carefully nature has designed plants and animals to function in their natural habitats. “I prefer to show rather than tell,” he explains, “to teach rather than preach, to guide rather than simply warn. In showing my readers what I look for in my ramblings, I hope that they will keep an eye out for such things and make discoveries of their own when they are outdoors.”

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices

Written to be read aloud by two voices ~ sometimes alternating, sometimes simultaneous ~ this collection of charming poems celebrates the insect world, from the short life of the mayfly to the love song of the book louse. I found an audio version to which we listened first – and then we had a blast reading them together.

Who’s Been Here series by Lindsay Barrett George

My children have enjoyed this series of books since they were toddlers.  I would often read one aloud prior to a nature outing.  Then as we began to explore, I would point out signs of wildlife and ask the kids, “Who’s Been Here?”  Slowing down to look at small details, the kids began to ask question and make hypotheses of their own.

Birds Every Child Should Know by Neltje Blanchan

Originally published in 1907, Birds Every Child Should Know is a collection of storylike descriptions of more than one hundred birds commonly found in the United States.  Detailed descriptions of birds—their physical attributes, calls, nesting and mating habits, and other behaviors—read almost like fairy tales.  My daughter loved this book.

Geology & Geography

Books by Bryd Baylor

Bryd Baylor is one of my favorite children’s authors.  She lives and writes in Arizona, presenting images of the Southwest and an intense connection between the land and the people. Her prose illustrates vividly the value of simplicity, the natural world, and the balance of life within it.

The Coast Mappers by Taylor Morrison

I discovered this book quite by accident but upon reading it, wanted for my own collection.  In this beautifully illustrated book, Morrison chronicles the challenges and adventures the US Coastal Survey team faced and the methods they used to accomplish this monumental, and essential, task.

Astronomy & Space

Books by Gail Gibbons

Gibbons is another wonderful and prolific writer of children’s books. The titles I have in my own collection include, The Moon Book, The Planets, and The Reason for Seasons.  Her clear writing style and the accompanying illustrations help to explain concepts that are difficult to grasp. I’ve used these books to help dispel misconceptions with adults.

Seymour Simon books

The author of more than 250 highly acclaimed science books, Simon has been called the ‘Dean of Children’s Science Writers”. He uses his website,, to provide free downloads of a wealth of materials for educators, homeschoolers and parents to use with his books.

Do you have a favorite science living book or children’s science author?  I would love to learn of new authors or books.  Leave a comment  below and let me know.