Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Santa vs. The Penguins

We have an on-going interest in our house in the North and South Poles.  Ben likes to look at maps and ask about where Santa lives and whether it is colder or warmer than where the penguins live.  So, I decided to get us a bit more focused on learning about what's going on at the ends of the Earth.

Firth, we revisited one of our favorite children's books, The Polar Express - which, of course, doesn't tell us too much about the North Pole, but introduces it as a wonderfully cold and magical place where Santa lives.  For our weekly chapter book, I picked one about the South Pole, Mr. Popper's Penguins - a fun little book about a man who is fascinated with explorations to the South Pole and finds himself with a house-full of penguins.  Both these books have been turned into movies (starring Tom Hanks  and Jim Carrey, respectively).  I haven't seen either of them, but look forward to seeing them, along with Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two (featuring the voice of Robin Williams), when the weather gets a bit colder.  I also wonder if the kids would enjoy one of my favorites, March of the Penguins.

We've also explored a few children's books about Inuit culture, as well as others about animal migration, and a few random fun ones just set in the North or South poles.  They include:
For more scientific information, we visited the non-fiction section of the library and checked out the Eyewitness book, Arctic and Antarctic where we learned more about the differences between the two poles and a great deal about the animals that live there.  We also learned about how climate change is affecting the polar ice caps.  North Pole, South Pole is also filled with fun and easily accessible factual information.

The muskox is one of the few mammals to live in the Arctic year-round
 I anticipate that as winter and Christmas approach that we will revisit many of these books, and a great deal more.  There are also so many fun holiday crafts that incorporate ice and penguins, so while I'm enjoying the last of the summer weather, there is certainly lots to look forward to in the coming months!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book of the Week: Around the World with Mouk

A recent favorite in our house is Around the World with Mouk by Marc Boutavant.

This colorfully illustrated book follows Mouk, a large-headed bear, as he travels the world.  Ben has recently been fascinated by maps and learning about new countries - who lives in them, where they are, and what different people do in different places.  This book has been a welcome addition to our travel literature.  Each page is filled with such intricate details that I think one could read the book a hundred times and still discover something new.  As we learn about specific new countries, it has also been nice to pull out this book and look more closely at specific pages.  The other day, for example, after a meal of Greek food, I opened the book up to the page below and shared stories of my own travels to Greece.  The bright colors and adorable animals on each page are an invitation to discussion and imagination that cannot be ignored.

Mouk in Greece

Monday, August 11, 2014

Danny the Champion of the World - Roald Dahl

I have been choosing chapter books to read with Ben just by remembering books I enjoyed as a child.  I haven't gone back to read them before sharing them with Ben, and while I can read ahead a bit as I go and censor the books here and there, Danny the Champion of the World is probably a good example of why I may need to start reading books to myself in their entirety again before sharing them with Ben.  Not to say that this isn't an amazing book, but just that I only really remembered just loving it, not quite the fact that some of the themes may have been a bit too much for a three-year-old.

On the heels of Charlotte's Web, I was ready to leave death behind and move on to a nice story about a boy and his father.  Danny the Champion of the World is the story of young Danny and his father.  They live modestly in a trailer next to their gas station, and one day, Danny discovers that his father is a pheasant poacher.  As his father takes him into the fold of the poaching world, with the secret that pheasants love raisins, the two begin to scheme about how effectively to steal all the pheasants from the rich man who owns the nearby Hazell's Wood.

Well in the first couple pages of the book, Danny's mother dies.  I actually tried to skip over that paragraph, but right away when Danny revealed that he lived with his dad, Ben asked where his mom was.  When I revealed that his mother had died, Ben then spent the next couple chapters obsessed with what would happen to Danny if his father died.  Of course that fear wasn't totally unfounded as early on Danny's dad does disappear into Hazell's Wood and Danny has to go after him.

We then had to address the issue of the keepers in the woods who carry guns.  Ben wanted to know if they would shoot Danny's dad?  What were their names?  Why did they need guns?  After all, the ENTIRE book is about hunting and shooting, so I should have anticipated this conversation!  We also had a few interesting discussions about why Danny's father needed to take the pheasants, and we delved a little into the idea of wealth disparity and whether it is ever ok to take things that do not belong to you.  Admittedly, it is difficult to have gray area conversations with a three-year-old without causing too much confusion.  Well, at least with my three-year-old, so I tried to keep it as simple as I could while still addressing the issues he seemed to find most fascinating.

All in all though, this is such a nice book about the relationship between a boy and his dad, that I liked when we settled into the plot and started to focus on the positives.  I made the decision not to abandon the book just because I didn't like all the hunting and stealing.  I was rewarded a week or so later when we traveled to England and stayed at a property with pheasants where people do a lot of hunting.  Ben recalled instances from the book and kept asking me if I remembered when Danny went to the woods and when the pheasants ate the raisins.  Then one morning at breakfast, as we were all suffering from jet lag, some of our relatives were discussing various sleeping pills - Ben got a kick out of the conversation and explained how sometimes pheasants eat sleeping pills (this was described as a way to catch pheasants in the book).  Everyone else was a bit confused, but I was glad to see that he had been listening to the story and was eager to talk more about it.

My lesson about reading ahead has been learned, but I've also learned that sometimes when you think certain subjects are over your kids' heads, they might still get something fun and useful out of them.