Friday, March 13, 2015

Sugaring Time: Learning about Maple Syrup

Spring is the perfect time to learn about the process of making maple syrup. If you live in the right climate, then it's a great hands-on activity. If you missed my post Dad-schooling Spring Edition, read it and see how we tapped trees. If you live in a warmer climate, you can still get a wonderful look at maple sugaring through picture books. Here are some of our favorites.
Sugaring Time by Kathryn Lasky won a Newbery Honor in 1983. The book is full of documentary style black and white photos that follow a Vermont farm family in each step of the process of maple sugaring. The book is longer than most picture books with beautiful writing.
Sugaring by Jessie Haas is the story of a little girl sugaring with her grandfather and their horses.A sweet story.
Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall is another story of a little girl sugaring with her grandfather. The whole family gets in on the fun in this beautifully illustrated story. I love all the little details about the process of making syrup.
The Sugaring-Off Party by Jonathan London has been my eldest daughter's favorite this year. The Sugaring-Off Party is set in Montreal and is tells the tale of a family's annual party at la cabane a sucre. French phrases are scattered throughout the story and the story comes alive with the fun characters in this big French family. 
Sugar Snow is part of the My First Little House Books series, which we love. It's a picture-book version of the chapter in Little House in the Big Woods when Pa helps Grandpa to make maple sugar. The illustrations are done in the style of Garth Williams and are lovely.
Sugar on Snow by Nan Parson Rossiter is a more modern look at a New England farm family making maple syrup. If you like your story with tractors instead of horses, this is the book for you.
A Farmer's Alphabet is one of the most beautiful alphabet books I've ever seen. Mary Azarian's black and white woodcuts of farm life are more art than illustration. Guess what? M is for Maple Sugar!

If you are looking for another fun maple project, our kids loved making the free Maple Syrup Lapbook at Homeschool Share. The project really made me realize how much practical math is involved in tapping trees: everything from measuring diameter of trees to converting gallons to quarts totracking temperatures. Math has been really fun this week.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dad-schooling: Spring Edition

Oh, the glorious sound of water dripping everywhere! This winter has been intensely long and hard. The first 40 degree day that we could get out and walk, the kids threw their jackets on the porch and ran up and down the sidewalk jumping in slushy puddles in their rainboots until they were soaked to the skin. They saw a bit of muddy grass and began an interpretive swaying grass dance on the spot. And I let them because we were all feeling that way inside.

Brent decided this Spring's dad-schooling project would be tapping trees. Our one tiny tree was buried under five feet of snow, so we tapped trees at his parents' house instead (where they were only buried under four feet of snow.)

We made a field trip to a maple supply megastore in New Hampshire a few weeks ago for our buckets and spouts. The salesman encouraged us, "Good luck with your project!" while all the serious maple farmers around us were spending thousands of dollars on tubing and evaporators.
The buckets are up! The plastic ones are not nearly as charming as the old metal ones, but they served our purpose.
A good shot of the buckets in the snow. We only have a few tablespoons of sap so far. We think the trees may still be frozen from the snowpack. We've had gorgeous weather this week, but the roots are still cold.
A sign of hope! Here's to the sap rising and Spring on its way!

Of course, I can't leave you without a book suggestion. Brent introduced me to one of his childhood favorites when we got married and I have been eternally grateful. Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorenson is one of the most beautiful stories of a family's healing from the effects of war through their move to the country and interactions with neighboring farmers. A lovely book that should be read every Spring.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Best-Loved Books about Dolls

I must admit, I was a kid who played with dolls long after it was considered cool. I was so committed to the care of my two My Child baby dolls in fourth grade that they had carseats, food, and diapers. I talked my mother into sewing a suitcase full of outfits for them. They even had birthday parties and received Christmas presents. I guess it was good training for where I am today at home with my four kids. 

It also might explain why I have such affection for books about dolls. There is a wealth of great literature about dolls. Even if you weren't a doll-lover like me, I think you will find something to love in these stories.
The Doll People series by Ann. M. Martin and Laura Godwin. This is the story of two doll families: an antique porcelain set and the plastic Funcrafts. The two young girls of the doll families, Annabelle and Tiffany, team up to solve the mystery of a missing member of the doll family. We discovered this first as an audiobook and it quickly became one of our favorites. Read by Lynn Redgrave, she does an amazing job with the voices of the two families. There are three other books in the series, all with awesome illustrations by Brian Selznik.
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden
Rumer Godden might just be the queen of doll books. She has written so many books about dolls including her famous Christmas story The Story of Holly and Ivy. We recently read Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. What a wonderful book to inspire love of learning in your kids!  A little girl is sent from her father's house in India to live with her relatives. Nona struggles with loneliness until a cousin sends two tiny Japanese dolls. Nona sets out to build a proper Japanese home for the dolls, and soon she is becoming braver than she ever dreamed. The whole family is drawn into her passion for learning about Japanese culture and they build an authentic wooden dollhouse for the dolls. There are even plans for the dollhouse in the back, should you want to make one yourself. I look forward to reading more of Godden's books.
Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey  
 I just discovered this little gem, which won the Newbery medal in 1946. It tells the story of a little doll with a hickory nut head and an apple twig body who is left for the winter in New Hampshire and most find a home in the woods and friends among the animals there. Beautifully written, it left me wondering what other older Newbery-medal winning books I may have missed.
 The Rackety Packety House by Frances Hodgson Burnett 
A lesser known book by the author of The Secret Garden, this book is a perfect introduction to chapter books for younger readers, especially if you can find the edition with illustrations by Wendy Anderson Halperin. When the old rackety-packety doll house is shoved in the corner of the nursery, replaced by the very fancy Tidy Castle, the Rackety family of dolls must find a way to save their home. The Rackety family will charm you with their good humor and spirit that conquers all.
The Doll Shop Downstairs by Yona Zelda McDonough
Inspired by the true story of the creation of the Madame Alexander dolls, Anna and her sisters love to play with the dolls in their father's repair shop. When World War I causes an embargo on the German doll parts the shop needs for repairs, the family comes up with a new idea to keep the shop afloat.
The Best Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill
This is a sweet little story about a little girl who is invited to a doll party. One of the dolls is going to win a prize and Betsy can't decide which doll to bring. Finally she brings her worn but well-loved favorite. There is no chance the doll will win a prize, or will it?
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
We recently listened to this on audiobook. I must warn you there is a lot of heartbreak in the middle of this book, but the redemptive ending makes up for all of the loss. This book is the story of Edward Tulane, a self-absorbed china rabbit who is incapable of love. When he is lost on a ship voyage, his life begins to take some very unexpected turns which teach him the value of love and loss.

Do you have any favorite books about dolls?