Thursday, April 13, 2017

Around the World: Poland

In March, we traveled to Poland with our Five in a Row studies with the book Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco. This is one of my favorite Five in a Row books. It's such a touching story about a young boy named Larnell, who befriends his elderly, Jewish neighbor. She shares stories with him about immigrating from Poland, vacationing in the Catskills, and the Jewish festival of Passover. He, in turns, gives her a kitten with no tail, which she names Tush. Over many years of friendship, she becomes like family to Larnell. Such a person!

This is our second time through this book. We first studied it when my oldest was in first grade. We found large family tree we had made that year,  with photos of several generations of our ancestors. It was fun to look over the pictures and talk about our ancestors in Poland, Latvia, Russia, Kentucky, West Virginia (and way back in England and Ireland). We also found a gap in our tree and put in a call to Grandma to send pictures of her grandparents who immigrated from Poland. She found some nice pictures for us.
We also got our our world map and found all the countries in our ancestry. We talked about why people would want to move from one country to another and how it would feel when you get there, not knowing the language or ways. When we first rowed this book, we were able to go and record interviews with the kids' great-grandmother and great-great-aunt who were Latvian refugees during World War II. These recordings are such treasures to us now that both of these beloved women passed away in the last year. We talked about some of their experiences as immigrants.
Since Mrs. Katz was from Poland, and the kids are a quarter Polish, we enjoyed reading several books about Poland. Ella and Mabel also tried their hand (with some help) at the traditional Polish Wycinanki folk art, made by cutting paper into fancy designs. We had a yummy Polish supper of kielbasa and pierogies.

Patricia Polacco, the author of Mrs. Katz and Tush, is the author of many other favorite books like Rechenka's Eggs, The Keeping Quilt, The Bee Tree, Thunder Cake, When Lightning Comes in a Jar, Chicken Sunday, and Just Plain Fancy. We tried to read as many of our books as we could. We also got to know Ms. Polacco a little more by watching an Author interview with her at the Read Aloud Revival Membership. It was really interesting to hear about her struggles growing up with learning disabilities, how she makes her art, and about all the animals she has collected on her farm. 
We also watched a really neat episode of Reading Rainbow on Rechenka's Eggs, which featured Ms. Polacco decorating Pysanka Easter Eggs. Since Rechenka's Eggs is Ella's all-time favorite, we also designed some paper pysanka eggs. Later my husband helped the kids blow out eggs and paint them with watercolors.

For science, we learned about yeast, and did an experiment to see what makes yeast grow most quickly. We made four bags with different combinations of yeast, water (warm and cold), sugar and salt.We discovered that yeast, warm water, and sugar made the yeast grow most quickly.
  Since we didn't want to waste all that yeast, we decided to make one of our favorite Jewish breads: Challah. We made the dough, let it rise, and kneaded it.
Then we braided it, put on an egg wash, and baked it.
In addition to learning about our own ancestry, we also learned a lot about Mrs. Katz's Jewish heritage including the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt, the symbolism of the Passover meal, and why Jews eat matzo during Passover.  We also learned some Yiddish words. For dinner, we had matzo brei (scrambled eggs with crumbled matzo), applesauce, sour cream, and Challah. The kids thought it was one of the yummiest meals we've had.


  1. Thank you for this interesting post. I have many nationalities and love to learn about their lives. My late father was orphaned as a young child so there is not much to learn. My late mother's side we know quite a bit.
    Wishing you and yours a Blessed Holy Week and Joyous Easter.

  2. What a wonderful experience for your children. Not only learning about several countries but discovering their heritage.