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Category Archives: Extended Read Aloud
This evening we read “Escape from Pompeii” by Christina Balit, which tells the story of two young Pompeii-ans, Tranio and his friend Livia, who flee the doomed city when Vesuvius begins her legendary eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD (or CE…whatever your preference). Balit introduces us to these two youngsters for long enough to give us a window into their daily life, before sending them running to the harbor to watch their hometown consumed by ash from the deck of a Greek ship. The illustrations are intricate and colorful, and reminiscent of ancient Greek or Roman art. Despite the fact that our main characters escape, and the fact that they are raised by the kind Greek captain on whose boat they stow away, the mood on the final page of the story is sorrowful…as Tranio and Livia visit the site where Pompeii used to stand and wonder if its story will ever be told. For a more hopeful ending, I recommend that you go on and read the Epilogue together to find out how Pompeii was later discovered by archaeologists, and how much we have learned from the people and things that were so uniquely preserved in Vesuvius’ ash.
In Huck Finn this evening, the Duke and King finally got around to doing what we had been afraid they would ever since arriving on the raft: they sold out Jim as a runaway slave in order to collect a reward that they themselves had manufactured out of thin air with a counterfeit “wanted” poster. The Duke and King use some misdirection to outmaneuver Huck – who must now figure out how to free Jim from Silas Phelps, the farmer who “bought” Jim off of the King for $40. When we finished reading, Huck was on his way to the Phelps farm trusting in “Providence” to give him the words he needs when the time comes. Meanwhile the Duke and King are preparing to reprise one of their favorite scams (the “Royal Nonesuch”) because the King has already spent his ill-gotten gains on alcohol and is now broke again.
While it is always fun to discover new treasures, there is a certain feeling of joy when we open the day’s envelope and realize that we will be reading one of our all-time favorites; that a book that we have grown to love is going to be part of our 365 adventure! Tonight was one of those nights, as we pulled the title “Harry and the Lady Next Door” by Gene Zion – which tells the story of Harry’s repeated attempts to give himself relief from the ear-splitting arias of the lady next door. Harry tries to override her with mooing cows or the sounds of the firemen’s brass band, and even tries running off with her sheet music. Eventually, however, Harry finds relief when his machinations contribute to her winning a local singing competition…and sailing away to Europe to attend music school. Our youngest was held rapt throughout the story – we were all impressed at how much she seemed to be hanging on every page.
In extended read-aloud tonight, The “Duke” and the “King” happen upon an opportunity to bilk three recently orphaned girls from their entire fortune by posing as brothers of their recently-deceased father. Despite some bumps in the road (mostly due to the King’s clumsy attempts to pose as an English preacher from Sheffield), the two rapscallions appear well on their way to succeeding in their quest – until the real brothers arrive in town! Huck has begun to feel “powerful” sorry for the orphaned girls, and launches a plan to foil the faux royals and to rid himself of them entirely, but with the arrival of the real brothers things quickly get out of control. Eventually Huck escapes – but so do the Duke and King, who are now entirely broke and desperate – and potentially more dangerous to Huck and Jim than ever.
It only took twelve days to hit our first Beatrix Potter book – and it definitely won’t be our last. “The Tale of Benjamin Bunny” finds Peter Rabbit and his cousin Benjamin sneaking into Mr. McGregor’s garden to steal Peter’s clothes back from Mr. McGregor’s scarecrow. Along the way the two adventurers become trapped under a basket by the McGregor’s cat but are freed by Benjamin’s father and eventually make it home safe and sound. We love these little books, and were reminded just how fun it is to hold and read them when we purchased a copy of this particular story at a toy store today. We read it together over dinner – as a replacement for our original Day 12 book (the book list and Excel file for January have been updated) – and are now thinking that we might need to purchase or borrow the entire Beatrix Potter collection; we have the stories in a compilation, but there is something special about reading these stories from the individual books.
We made quite a bit of progress in Huck Finn today as well. First Huck and Jim get lost in the fog and pass Cairo, Illinois (their intended turn-off for the Ohio River). Then they are separated as a steam boat plows through their raft. Huck thinks Jim is dead and goes ashore where he is adopted by the Grangerford family. The family, although slave owners, seem nice enough and life with them is pleasant…until Huck learns about their feud with the Shepherdson family. Huck’s pal Buck Grangerford can’t explain the reason for the feud, but he seems comfortable with the idea that at any time a Shepherdson or a Grangerford may choose to shoot the other and it is entirely understandable and within the “rules”. Huck finally discovers that Jim is alive and that the slaves on the Grangerford plantation have been getting him food and keeping him apprised of Huck’s whereabouts. Eventually, young Sophia Grangerford runs off with Harney Shepherdson, which leads to a gunfight in which Buck and his cousin are killed while Huck hides in a tree just above them. Horrified, Huck finds Jim and they take off down the river again.
Later, we were introduced to a couple of very colorful characters who join Huck and Jim on their journey. “The Duke” and “The King” are two scam artists who like to pretend that they are descended from European royalty – and like to be treated as such by Huck and Jim. Our heroes picked up these two grifters as they were on the run and are playing along with their charade. They provide for some entertaining dialogue and escapades, but we are concerned that at any minute these self-styled aristocrats will see an opportunity to better their situation by betraying Huck and Jim.
For day 11 we were re-introduced to a book by Maya Angelou that was a favorite of our oldest when she was little. “My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me” introduces the reader to an eight year old girl, Thandi, who is a member of the Ndebele (pronounced “n-duh-bee-lee”) tribe in South Africa. The book is filled with colorful photographs of life in the Ndebele tribe and the narration is spirited and playful. Thandi shares not only the details of her life but lets the reader in on some of her thoughts and secrets. Ms. Angelou succeeds in creating an authentic voice for an 8 year old girl, and by the end of the story, the reader is no longer a “stranger-friend” but someone that Thandi would like to call her “friend”. It is an endearing book.
In extended read aloud we were able to make quite a bit of progress with Huck and Jim as they wended their way down the Mississippi river. Their path tonight was fraught with challenges – all of which Huck seems to think were brought on by his touching a snake skin (an event immediately identified as a bad omen by Jim but originally not credited as such by Huck). However, we were particularly struck by two episodes in the book this evening.
The first was an entertaining discussion between the two principals about the true wisdom (or lack thereof) of King Solomon, and Jim’s confusion about why Frenchmen would speak a different language from him and Huck. Huck becomes frustrated trying to reason with Jim, but Jim’s reasoning (and the kernels of truth in some of his arguments) had us laughing out loud. I actually found Jim’s logic regarding King Solomon to be rather compelling.
The second was a reminder for us of how much Huck’s upbringing in Missouri (a slave state) has colored his view of the world. As Jim grows increasingly optimistic about his prospects for freedom, and potentially being able to buy the freedom of his wife and children, Huck begins to feel guilty…not because Jim and his family have been separated and treated as property, but because Huck has aided and abetted in Jim’s escape – a sin that Huck considers to be comparable to (or even worse than!) stealing. When presented with the opportunity to turn Jim in, however, Huck quickly invents a diversion for reasons he doesn’t entirely understand, and we are left to wonder when, or if, Huck will comes to terms with his own standards of right and wrong (and his friendship with Jim) in spite of what he has been taught to believe.
This evening we encountered our first Caillou book (at least, our first Caillou book on our 365 list). Okay – I’ll be honest here: the big people in our house are not Caillou fans. However, our youngest really enjoys these books, and we have a number of them spread around the house and in our cars. The straightforward story and simple illustrations (all decked out in primary colors) will be familiar to anyone who has watched an episode of Caillou on TV. In fact, I think that the stories in these books are just adaptations of television episodes.
During extended read-aloud, Huck has escaped imprisonment in his father’s cabin and has headed out on what will become his grand adventure down the river. In a maneuver worthy of his pal, Tom Sawyer, Huck ransacks the cabin and stages his own murder before fleeing, in order to put his father and the townspeople off his trail. While camped out on Jackson’s Island, a few miles down river from town, Huck encounters Jim – who is on the run to avoid being sold down the river to New Orleans by his owner Miss Watson (for eight-hundred dollars).
Huck Finn has been fun so far, although the material is a little bit more serious than in Tom Sawyer, and some of the vernacular is a little bit harder to read aloud. I must pause periodically and say the words in my head so that I am sure about what I am about to read. I have no doubt it will be worth the challenge.
Our Day 9 book, “Demolition” by Sally Sutton, is another rhyming book with a catchy hook; every rhyme ends with a three-word onomatopoeia for the activity taking place on the page. “Demolition” is actually one of three construction books by Sally Sutton – all of which follow the same rhyme-scheme and rhythm. Her storybook “Road Work” was a favorite of our youngest for a while. The title of tonight’s book was a little bit deceptive (but not in a bad way) – Ms. Sutton does show construction equipment tearing down a building, but her book is almost as much about recycling materials and building something new as it is about tearing things down.
In our extended read aloud time we began “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Honestly, while Tom Sawyer was a fun read, we really read that book so that we could read this one. The first chapter of “Huckleberry Finn” is a continuation of the last chapter of Tom Sawyer – except that while “Tom Sawyer” was told from a third-person point of view (Mark Twain narrating), “Huckleberry Finn” is narrated in the first person by Huck himself. This evening, we met a new and thoroughly unpleasant character in the world of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn: Huck’s good-for-nothing father. Huck’s father is an abusive alcoholic who, while unsuccessful in wresting Huck’s fortune away for himself, has now kidnapped Huck and is holding him prisoner in a cabin several miles up the river from town. We have also met the other major character in the book – besides Huck: Jim, an adult slave who lives in Huck’s town, and who will be spending much of the book travelling along the Mississippi river with Huck.
We can already tell that “Huckleberry Finn” will present some challenges for read-aloud. The first is that the first-person perspective means that I am reading in a southern accent through the entire book – both narration and dialogue. The second, and perhaps more challenging, is the increased frequency of the “n” word. This word, while an accurate representation of how people talked in the antebellum South, is jarring to say and hear; I will admit to having inserted alternate phrasing several times already. However, one of the reasons we like to read aloud as a family is so that we can talk together about some of the heavier subjects that come up in good books. Tom Sawyer spurred a discussion about the death penalty last night, and I am sure Huckleberry Finn will present an invitation to discuss slavery and racism – even if I continue to make substitutions for that particular word.
This evening our book was a delightful, rhyming book called “Bee-Bim-Bop” by Linda Sue Park. Bee-Bim-Bop is a Korean dish whose name means “mixed up rice”, according to the author’s note. The story is narrated by a little girl – presumably the author herself – as she accompanies her mom to the store, helps in the kitchen, sets the table, gathers her family, all the while getting hungrier and hungrier for Bee-Bim-Bop. The rhythm and rhyme of the text is fun to read, and the “refrain” in particular will hook you – although the narrator of the book is in such a hurry to eat…it may make you feel a bit frantic. Come to think of it, the recipe for Bee-Bim-Bop in the back of the book does sound pretty yummy! I think we will have to make some tomorrow.
In our extended read-aloud time, we finished Tom Sawyer! The book was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Tonight was full of adventure as Tom and Becky got lost in, and then escaped from, a vast network of caves. Meanwhile Huck saved the Widow Douglas from ruffians with the help of Mr. Jones (“the Welshman”) and his sons. And in the end, there is treasure, and we leave both boys appear well situated for success in their future endeavors.
We are both fond of collecting quotations, so we thought we would begin including favorite excerpts from our daily read aloud time. Tonight we came across the following gem:
After Huck says something that Mr. Jones finds particularly amusing “…the old man laughed loud and joyously, shook up the details of his anatomy from head to foot, and ended by saying that such a laugh was money in a man’s pocket because it cut down the doctor’s bill like everything.”
While we must now bid adieu to Tom Sawyer and his escapades, we shall continue tomorrow with one of his chief partners in crime in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” – a book which many consider to be the first “Great American Novel”.
UPDATE: we made our own version of Bee-Bim-Bop (mostly following the recipe in the book – with a couple substitutions), and it was very tasty!!
Our Day 7 book was another Jonathan Bean creation: “This Is My Home, This Is My School” about growing up as a homeschooler. He takes us around his home and shows how every room in the house (and the fields outside his house) are part of his school. His mother and his sisters are also his teacher and his classmates, the dining room is also the cafeteria (complete with his mom in an amusing turn as the “crabby cafeteria lady”), their van is also a school bus, and the world is their art room. Each page is full of bustling, colorful illustrations of life as a homeschooler, and a lot of it rang true for us: the challenge and the fun of having all your school materials crammed into the same space where you sleep, eat, play and live, the 24/7 commitment of being mother and teacher and crabby lunchlady and how it can sometimes be overwhelming, and the endless possibility when the world is your classroom. It also made us long for for a place with more space to run and play…a house in the country like the one Jonathan Bean’s parents built in “Building Our House“.
In extended read-aloud time, Tom Sawyer continued his noble streak by testifying in court to help free a man wrongly accused of murder. He and Huck now live in fear of the real murderer…but there is intrigue and adventure adding excitement to that fear: the chance that they may lay their hands on a vast treasure! Our oldest was, at times, literally on the edge of her seat! One particularly funny moment came while the two conspirators are discussing what they shall do with their treasure – should they find any. Huck is convinced he must spend it all before his dad comes back and takes it, while Tom has plans to…get married! Huck is mortified: “Married!…Tom, you–why, you ain’t in your right mind…If you ever get married I’ll be more lonesomer than ever.” But Tom has the perfect solution: “No you won’t (be lonely). You’ll come and live with me.” The conversations between these two boys (and the way Twain has captured their ways of seeing and thinking about the world) are consistently the most entertaining parts of the book – at least, the most entertaining to read aloud.
We are about 80% of the way through Tom Sawyer at this point; we are excited to see how it ends – and to launch our next adventure with “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Stay tuned!
Day 6 of our storybook year included an evening trip to the downtown library, which was a blast. It had been a while since any of us had been there, but we broke our library cards back in and expect to be using them quite a bit more. Our trip netted us several new books, one of which we read this evening: “Building Our House” by Jonathan Bean, all about how he and his family decided to move out to the country and built a brand new house in a field that his parents had purchased from a farmer. They live out of a trailer for a year as they lay the foundation, and raise a frame (with the help of friends and family). Eventually, they are able to move inside where they finish building out their new country home. It is a neat book, and a romantic concept – although we all agreed that we would prefer to find a field with a house already on it!
We discovered Mr. Bean and his work on a site called “Read Aloud Revival” when looking for new books to add to our monthly reading lists. We have only been on their forum for a couple days, but it appears to be a great resource for families looking to have more read-aloud time. The author of today’s book, Jonathan Bean, will actually be on their forum live for an “author event” this month, and we are all looking forward to it – so we wanted to add a couple of his books to our January reading list in anticipation. If you have previously downloaded our January List, you may want to grab it again as a couple of the books on the list have been removed to make room for Mr. Bean.
We also spent some time this evening with Mr. Thomas Sawyer, who is back from his piratical adventure and – by the end of our evening, at least – appeared to have made amends with Becky Thatcher. Each had decided to play hard-to-get in turns, but a noble act by Tom sets everything back in order. We have also decided that Aunt Polly, for all her bluster and periodic cuffings, is an incurable softie when it comes to Tom.
This evening we pulled book number five, by John Lithgow (whom you may know better as Dr. Dick Solomon from “Third Rock From the Sun” or Rev. Shaw Moore from the original “Footloose“). His book, “Micawber“, is about an art-loving squirrel of the same name who lives in Central Park and spends his afternoons admiring the paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art from a skylight on the roof. One afternoon, Micawber spies someone painting in the museum and is inspired to do some painting of his own – using his tail for a brush. Micawber is a particularly fun book for read aloud – it is rhyming and full of interesting words to wrap your tongue around. The colors in the book are not “pink, red, and blue” but “magenta, vermilion, and ultramarine”…the trip home to his nest in the park is not a journey or a hike but a “peregrination”…his home turf is a “viridian Central Park dale”…and of course there are all the names of the artists at the museum.
In extended read aloud tonight, Tom Sawyer finally made his way back to town along with Joe Harper and Huck Finn, his “piratical” comrades. They arrive just in time to listen in at their own funeral. How Tom avoided being harshly punished (or even punished at all) by his Aunt Polly after revealing himself, we are not entirely sure. However, Karma may yet have something in store for Tom…at least we are pretty sure something is coming…we are only about half way through the book at this point.