Home Education Magazine
January-February 1997 - Columns
So Many Books - Joan Torkildson
The Voice of the People, My Fellow Americans, A Young Patriot, The Sandman
When I Was Your Age
When I Was Your Age: Original Stories About Growing Up, ed. by Amy Ehrlich, Candlewick Press, March 1996, ISBN 1-56402-306-0, $15.99 hardcover, ages 9-14
My kids, and most likely yours, too, are fascinated by adults' tales of their growing-up years. Mine particularly enjoy hearing about the time grandma and her childhood pal Snooky Woods conducted experiments in, er, combustion, thereby setting fire to the family outhouse and watching it burn down to the ground in a glorious blaze.
The stories collected in this anthology will doubtless have special appeal for young, would-be authors, for all ten stories were written by award-winning writers: Mary Pope Osborne, Laurence Yep, James Howe, Katherine Paterson, Walter Dean Myers, Susan Cooper, Nicholasa Mohr, Reeve Lindbergh, Avi, and Francesca Lia Block.
Some stories, like Mary Pope Osborne's, are poignant childhood reminiscences. In "All-Ball," Osborne, who grew up on military posts, writes of the way she, as an eight-year-old, dealt with the grief associated with her father's impending yearlong absence: by "bonding" with a pastel-colored rubber ball--"the best bouncing ball I'd ever encountered"--which she promptly named All-Ball. In "Everything Will Be Okay," James Howe writes of the death of his new kitten, Smoky--a heartrending event that prompted him to "decide for myself what kind of boy I am, what kind of man I will become." In "Why I Never Ran Away from Home," Katherine Paterson describes the pain of being the unlovely, unclever (or so she thought) child in the family. Other stories are more semi-autobiographical, such as Susan Cooper's "Muffin" and Francesca Lia Block's "Blue," which are written in third-person perspective.
Author notes at the end of each story shed light on the circumstances that led them to become writers. Some fell into the writing life gradually. "I had no intention to be a writer, but a chemist as my father had wanted to me," writes Laurence Yep. In the household in which she grew up, Reeve Lindbergh, daughter of Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, "writing was a kind of family habit, something the adults around me did every day without thinking too much about it, like taking a walk or brushing their teeth."
Readers who have enjoyed Bridge to Terabithia, Dragonwings, Bunnicula, or The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (to name just a few of the authors' collected works) will appreciate this firsthand glimpse into their favorite authors' childhoods.
Margaret, Frank, and Andy
Margaret, Frank, and Andy: Three Writers' Stories, by Cynthia Rylant, Harcourt Brace, Sept. 1996, ISBN 0-15-201083-1, $14.00 hardcover, all ages
As its casual title suggests, Margaret, Frank, and Andy is Cynthia Rylant's affectionately rendered tribute to three of America's most beloved children's authors: Margaret Wise Brown, L. Frank Baum, and E. B. White. Reading this book with my youngest daughter (another aspiring writer in our family), I felt as though we were sharing a little annotated photo album instead of a biography--a feeling enhanced by the book's intimate tone, album-like dust jacket, smaller-than-usual format (5 x 6´), and black and white photographs.
All three authors came to their professions in vastly different ways. Margaret Wise Brown, for instance, didn't write stories until after she had become a teacher. At that time, writes Rylant, "the writer that was buried in her rose up and wrote a story." From there she collaborated with Leonard Weisgard on the "noisy books," and at a fast and furious pace produced over a hundred books for children ("filled with red barns and little islands and fir trees and fur families and a bunny whispering to a bowl full of mush") before her sudden death at the age of 42.
L. Frank Baum, known as Frank, was a dismal failure at numerous jobs (running a theater, newspaper, and store--all of which went broke), but his stories "poured out of him like wine." His mother-in-law, who "knew a good story when she heard one," encouraged Frank to get his stories published. One night he created the book that was to make him famous: one about a Kansas farm girl named Dorothy who is transported by cyclone to an enchanted land.
Andy (better known as E. B. White) knew he was going to be a writer when he was only seven years old. Inspired by his peaceful Maine farm and his beloved wife, Katharine, he rose above his ever-present anxieties (about the future, his health, death, and so on) to produce a succession of classics: Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web (the most popular American children's book ever published), and Trumpet of the Swan. White's sentiments could perhaps be attributed to all three writers profiled in this eloquently written biography: "All that I hope to say in books," he once wrote, "all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world."
The Magic Crystal
The Magic Crystal: A Wildlife Adventure Game, by Heather Maisner, illus. by Peter Joyce, Candlewick Press, July 1996, ISBN 1-56402-867-4, $14.99 hardcover, ages 8-11
When a review book arrives at our house, it's often a challenge to see whether I can manage to place it quietly on my "To Be Reviewed" shelf without my daughters' knowledge. Trouble is, if they get their hands on it first, the book invariably gets spirited away to their favorite reading corner, and I may not see it again for weeks. When the latter occurs, however, that's usually a clue to me that they've chosen a winner.
This is exactly the scenario that took place after the arrival of The Magic Crystal, aptly described by the publishers as "an adventure in a book." Before I could even think of sneaking away to my office/sewing room downstairs, my daughters had grabbed the book and were sitting together on the couch. Before long they were wildly gesticulating, with intermittent cries of "There it is!" and "zoomazoo!"
Their behavior seemed a bit puzzling to me until I discovered (weeks later) the premise behind the book. Famous zoologist Great Aunt Camouflage has sent a magic crystal and a note detailing how to begin a journey to view various species of wildlife. After choosing between two Exciting Expeditions, readers navigate by following the clues on each page. At the end of the route, explorers look for the magic crystal (caution: it's very small and will not be a snap to find, especially since it changes color and shape) and are instructed to say "zoomazoo!" when they find it. Readers are also supposed to keep a lookout for Great Aunt Camouflage (hiding in three places) and 22 lost belongings, among them a cardigan, a pair of walking shoes, goggles, and a rain hat.
Explorations take readers all over the world, from the frozen tundra of the Arctic to the highest peaks of the Himalayas. In between, there are coniferous forests in Canada to tramp through, as well as African savannas, the Australia outback, Asian swamps, South American rain forests, and a host of other exotic locations. After arriving at their destinations, readers have the opportunity to soak up a suitcase full of engrossing facts about howler monkeys, snow geese, chinchillas, blue-footed boobies, hairy-nosed wombats, and scores of other creatures in the animal kingdom.
Other titles in Candlewick's Gamebook series: The Magic Hourglass, The Magic Globe (reviewed in Sept/Oct 1995 HEM), One Green Island, A Puzzling Day at Castle MacPelican, The Pirates of Doom, and The Planet of Terror. The gamebooks come in three skill levels, so there's lots of fun reading and exploring in store for armchair adventurers/detectives and history/geography buffs of all ages.
What in the World Is a Homophone?
What in the World Is a Homophone? by Leslie Presson, illus. by Jo-Ellen Bosson, Barron's Educational Series, April 1996, ISBN 0-8120-6585-9, $10.95 hardcover, ages 8-12
Well, what in the world is a homophone? It's a word that sounds the same as another word but has a different meaning and is spelled differently. Those of us who are old enough to remember Sputnik might have come to know these words as homonyms. While that term is not incorrect, it has varying definitions and can include both homophones (same sound) and homographs (same spelling).
What makes this dictionary especially useful is that it contains bright, colorful illustrations for each alphabetical entry. There are 387 entries in all, each accompanied by a brief definition. Also included are contractions that are homophones (he'll, heal, heel) and a listing of "near misses"--word pairs such as bases/basis, bazaar/bizarre that are technically not homophones. "What might sound like a homophone in Indiana, Missouri, or Colorado," concludes the Introduction, "would not be one in California or New York."
With a little thought, homeschoolers could easily come up with a whole load (or is that lode?) of creative uses for this handy reference book: sharpen spelling skills, build vocabulary, make up silly sentences, invent crossword puzzles, or play around with homophone poetry. I just knew/gnu/new you'd like this book!
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