by Melanie Bettinelli on April 28, 2013
The Island-below-the-Star written and illustrated by
Bella loved this delightful Polynesian tale of five brothers who journey across the Pacific in search of adventure and an island they are sure must be out there. Navigating by the stars, the clouds, the currents, the wind, and the birds they find their way from the Marquesas Islands to Hawaii.
The pictures are lovely watercolors, very engaging.
Complete Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem.
I meant to get this collection for Bella for Christmas but my order was cancelled too late to get it in time. So Sophie got it for her birthday and Bella since appropriated it. It’s not that Sophie doesn’t appreciate it, just that Bella adores it. Well, fortunately Sophie is a generous little soul and doesn’t seem to mind in the least. I haven’t read all the stories yet, but I do find them charming. One very minor quibble: just as with Redwall there are little snippets of pseudo-religion that kind of drive me nuts: a wedding and a baptism with language that loosely evokes the Christian sacraments but with no God, just some nature worship kind of language. Definitely not enough to discard the books, but I did mention to Dom in Bella’s hearing that I don’t know why they made that choice. It just bothers me.
I don’t think there are words to express the depth to which Bella adores the Little House books. She really dives into them, spending hours poring over the illustrations. She also loves, loves, loves the three albums of music from the books. I’m constantly amazed at the extent of her recall. Although I’ve only read each book once, she will unerringly remember in which scene of which book each song appeared. She can recount scenes from every book in great detail and often greets Dom at the door with a long narration about some incident or other in a Little House book, it may or may not be from the most recent chapter we’ve read. It might not even be from the current book.
When we got to Farmer Boy she wasn’t at all interested. She just wanted to read about Mary and Laura. But then when we came to the first of the Almanzo chapters in The Long Winter, I pointed out that she’d appreciate them more if she’d read his story. So we began to read Farmer Boy concurrently with The Long Winter. It was sometimes a bit disconcerting to jump back and forth between Almanzo as a boy and as a young man, and Dom asked if she wouldn’t get confused. But she never did. Bella and I regularly read chapters from half a dozen or more different books that we’ve got going concurrently and she never gets them confused. (Right now we are reading Little Town on the Prairie, Audrey of the Outback, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Acts of the Apostles for Children, The Gospel according to St Mark, Five Little Peppers, The Little Prince, The Story of the World Volume 1, and a biography of St Pio of Pietrelcina.) Sophie and Ben loved Farmer Boy too and often plopped down to listen in on chapters.
Bella’s plan is that when we finish the Mary and Laura books we will move on to the other Little House spin offs. I’m thinking the Charlotte books will fit nicely with beginning American history in the coming school year.
In the comments Enbrethiliel reminded me that I meant to include the links to the albums of Little House music. These are the three we have. I think Pa’s Fiddle Band may have more, though I’m not sure if their other albums are merely in the spirit of or are limited to the songs that are actually in the books. Clearly more research is necessary. Maddeningly, the songs on these albums are not arranged according to how the songs appear in the books. It offends my OCD, but I’m trying to deal with it. I posted the links in the comments, but I’ll put them here too:
Yes these are Amazon Affiliate links and yes we get a little bit of credit when you click through and buy. I promise we use the pennies we glean to defray the costs of the children’s education and our own book habits.
by Melanie Bettinelli on April 11, 2013
Anthony hit the jackpot this week with fun read alouds at the library. I generally let him pull two books off the shelf to check out. Sometimes they go back in the bag and stay there after a first reading. But these are so fun to read I grabbed them for his naptime today.
The first is a fun tale from Zaire. (Which I guess isn’t Zaire anymore but is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.) It’s a fun little story about a civet cat named Bowane who is going to collect his bride in the village of Tondo, but along the way is too accommodating to the friends he asks to be his attendants and thus misses the girl. She gets tired of waiting for him (they wait years and years for a log to rot so Ulu the tortoise can get across it.) and marries a different cat. The scorn with which she chases Bowane away is delicious.
The story reads like an oral tale written down with all the repetition and funny animal sounds. It’s a book that has all four of my big kids giggling as I read—and sometimes Lucia catches the mood and giggles too.
What’s really fun about it is that each of the animals make a sound:
And so they went on—
Bowane walking, ika-o ika-o, ika-o;
Embenga flapping, bwa-wa, bwa-wa, bwa-wa;
Nguma slithering, swe-o, swe-o, swe-o;
And Ulu waddling, ta-ka, ta-ka, ta-ka, ta-ka—
The four of them traveling to Tondo.
(Don’t worry, there’s a pronunciation guide for all the Lonkundo words.)
It’s such a charming little tale with gorgeous pictures that really capture the personalities of the animals and it has a clever moral too. I’d definitely consider adding it to our library.
Anthony’s second pick is an illustration of a song that Bella used to be quite obsessed with. I first heard it back in my Irish pub haunting days in college when Celine and Marianne introduced me to Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers:
All God’s critters got a place in the choir
Some sing low, some sing higher
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
And some just clap their hands, or paws
Or anything they got.
Listen to the bass, it’s the one on the bottom
Where the bullfrog croaks and the hippopotamus
Moans and groans with a big to-do
The old cow just goes MOOOOO
Bella used to watch the Makem and Clancy video on You Tube over and over again. I think Dom even figured out how to download it and put it on an endless loop on my laptop. I didn’t realize what book Anthony had got till we got it home. It wouldn’t have caught my eye, being a bit too garish, but it’s just the thing that a two year old boy would grab. This book has such fun illustrations, big, bold, bright animals all hamming it up on a stage. It’s definitely a big hit with my whole crew. Now Bella and Sophie and Ben are wandering about the house singing along. And of course we’ve been watching the video again too:
by Melanie Bettinelli on December 08, 2012
Some years ago, when we only had two kids, I was frustrated at not being able to find a Catholic prayer book for children that was illustrated with fine art. So Dom and I put together a prayer book for our kids using some of my favorite classic art and my favorite basic Catholic prayers. (You’ll note it skews strongly toward Marian prayers.) We put it together on Blurb.com and bought a copy for ourselves and Bella, then two, loved it immediately. Recently a friend reminded me of it, asking if it was possible for her to get a copy for her own son.
So we’re making it available to anyone who wants to buy a copy. You can get it in softcover, and in two different hardcover editions. Note: yes, it is a bit pricy; but the books are good quality. Our hardcover has stood up to four kids and counting. And there’s nothing comparable out there that I’ve been able to find from any Catholic publisher.
You can preview the entire book here at Blurb not just a few sneak peeks.
The prayers included are:
- The Apostle’s Creed
- The Our Father (in English and Latin
- The Hail Mary (in English and Latin)
- Glory Be (in English and Latin)
- Hail Holy Queen
- Act of Contrition
- Anima Christi
- The Angelus
- The Magnificat
- Psalm 23
- The Saint Michael Prayer
- Alma Redemptoris Mater
- Divine Praises
- Act of Faith
- Act of Love
- Act of Hope
We do get a little tiny bit of money for each copy sold, but probably won’t get enough from sales to even cover the price of the one book we bought from this edition. I’m not selling this to make money, but to share a book that our family has come to love and that I hope will become a treasure for your family as well.
I’m thinking it might make a nice Christmas or Epiphany present or a lovely baptismal present.
by Melanie Bettinelli on October 22, 2012
Having pretty satisfactorily completed our Antarctic explorations—I don’t want to push it to the point that Bella gets bored; better to leave off when she’s still fascinated by penguins—I’ve decided we should move on to Australia. So I put a few books in our library queue, starting with an Australian author Bella already knows and loves.
How we found Alison Lester, I’m not sure. Somehow when Bella was very little and we first began going to our town library Lester’s books were in a section that Bella kept returning to again and again. Just the right height or next to the table she liked to sit at or something. The illustration style is very distinctive and charming and we’ve explored a variety of books from counting books to stories about the seasons and stories about babies. When I began to look for Australia themed picture books, Lester’s name came up on a list and I was excited to add a few of her books to our pile. A couple of them were nice stories but not peculiarly Australian in theme. The one that has been most useful in helping us all to get a sense of geography, though is Are We There Yet?
The story follows a little girl named Grace and her family—Mum, Dad and brothers, Luke and Billy—as they take a three-month vacation to drive around the continent. (I love that the parents pull the kids out of school for the entire winter term. Roam-schooling!) The family visits landmarks and sees sights, go to museums and zoos beaches and raft trips, stay with friends and family. Grace has her hat eaten by an elephant, learns to juggle, snorkels, sees whales, and penguins and dolphins. You get a real sense of the breadth and range of Australia and yet it doesn’t feel didactic because it’s chock full of amusing family vacation anecdotes. Every other page spread ends with little brother Billy asking the iconic road-trip question that is evidently as well-known in Australia as it is here in the US: “Are we there yet?” You can trace the family’s journey on the frequent maps—there’s a complete map on the front end paper and a smaller, map that shows the journey so far on every other spread, the ones that don’t have Billy asking his question.
It’s a grand adventure that Bella, Sophie and Ben have all requested numerous times since we brought it home. I think we’ve read it every night.
I’d like to go one step further and take the time to look up various places and animals and even words we don’t know. Find pictures, videos, etc and get multi-media interactive—as much for myself as for the kids. I’m learning so much! So far we have listened to whale song, which the book mentioned, and I looked up the word “sook” which evidently means something like “crybaby”.
Other Alison Lester books we have now are Magic Beach and Isabella’s Bed, both are also big hits.
One other picture book on Australia that we’ve enjoyed is Over in Australia: Amazing Animals Down Under.
Because I’m finding myself intrigued by Australia as well, I got A Concise History of Australia for myself. I picked this one because it was what the library had. I’m rather enjoying it. It’s a relatively recent book. The author is very aware of postcolonial concerns, feminist concerns, etc and yet seems to be interested in presenting them as competing narratives. Not knowing anything about Australian history, I’m finding it a pretty readable introduction to get the broad sense of it. The author does throw out some Australian words that I don’t quite know the meaning of. It seems like I can’t get away from that sense of being not quite sure of what things mean. I’ve got a few more history books coming for myself. I’ll probably skim them unless they seem very compelling and to offer a great deal more insight.
So what picture books (or others) can you recommend for our continuing Australian adventure?
by Melanie Bettinelli on October 21, 2012
I’ve been following along with reading the lists posted by the Bookworm and elsewhere as a part of the Take Up and Read Picture Book Challenge; but haven’t thus far dived in myself. I think I’ve been too busy trying to implement all my ideas for Bella’s homeschooling curriculum to spend much time on picture books. (I really need to write my post about my big picture plan for this first grade year. One of these days.) Of course, that doesn’t mean we aren’t up to our necks in picture books, just that for the most part I’m sitting in the passenger seat and letting the kids drive—with the exception of few books I’ve grabbed off the shelved on our library expeditions. Even Anthony is picking out books these days and demanding his share in the fun. Bella is still loving picture books too. I thought I might do a haphazard list of some of the things we’ve been enjoying from the library and our own shelves. Just what pops in my head as I sit here with no real rhyme or reason but to record a little flavor of our days.
Anthony’s absolute favorite is The Wheels on the Bus. He enjoys Goodnight Moon too and will tolerate just about any board book. Like Ben he loves both the original Otis book and the sequel Otis and the Tornado. Anything with a dog or other animals gets a huge vote. He loves to point out the animals and barks at them all, horses, cows, and cats, “Wroo wroo”
Ben’s favorites continue to be books about cars, trucks, trains, and construction equipment. But he also loves some classics like Madeline and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. He will gladly sit through books about little girls and puppy dogs and sweet babies. He may be picky about food; but when it comes to books at least, like all my kids, he’s pretty much an omnivore.
Sophie doesn’t seem to have strong tastes in books. I can’t seem to find a rhyme or reason to her library picks except that she often gravitates to the board books—especially her favorite Sandra Boynton’s like Snuggle Puppy. She often grabs a book and then pages through it while narrating a story that has absolutely nothing to do with the book at hand. She weaves in names and words and phrases from various books we’ve read, often weeks before. She has a great ear for language and a whimsical sense of humor that often veers into the absurd and just plain silly. She is also absolutely enamoured of an OOP book I found online, The Photo Album of St Therese of Lisieux. The photos are black and white and you’d never think they could captivate a four year-old; but oh Sophie loves her St Therese and will stare at blurry group photos of Carmelite nuns for an hour at a time.
Bella loves picture books of all sorts as well. But she cherishes our time set aside for longer read alouds. Right now we’re working our way through On the Banks of Plum Creek, Five Little Peppers, Milly Molly Mandy Stories, Betsy, Tacy and Tib and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Also we just finished reading a biography of St Damian of Molokai. She continues to pick out books about penguins and other animals too. This week it was a book about tigers. Based on our reading of the first chapters of The Story of the World Vol I, and a picture book about archaeology Archaeologists Dig for Clues by Kate Duke (part of the Let’s Read and Find Out about Science series I’ve come to love), she has decided she wants to be an archaeologist. The other evening she picked up the Eyewitness Book of Archaeology and flipped through it. Even without anyone to read it to her, she was captivated by the pictures. I really need to read that to her soon.
A couple of the recent books we’ve brought home from the library that everyone has enjoyed:
The Seven Silly Eatersby Mary Ann Hoberman. Simcha recommended it recently so when I saw it on the shelf I grabbed it. Even better than I expected! She didn’t prepare me for how much I would love, love, love the pictures. The story is absurd and fun.
Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard. A sweet story about two little girls visiting their great aunt in Baltimore and learning some of her history as she tells them about her hats. Something about this one really hit me. The language and pictures were beautiful, it really captured a feeling for the specific time and place. I loved the way food, family, memories and millinery all intertwine in a simple story.
by Melanie Bettinelli on September 17, 2012
On Thursday we went to the library and as we were getting into the car everyone was complaining about how terribly hungry they were. But when we got home out came the books and everyone except Anthony was rapt, faces firmly buried in their books. I had to almost pry them away to get them to eat lunch.
Then I went to put Anthony down for his nap and shooed them all outside to play. When Anthony was asleep I found them happily swinging on the swings. I hesitated to call them in for story time when it was such a lovely day so I gathered a pile of books and a big blanket and headed out to the yard.
When they spotted me, they first asked, “What are you doing? What are you doing?” Then I spread out the blanket under the maples trees and plopped the books down on it. “Books! Books! Books!” screamed Bella and Sophie and Ben as they ran across the yard and threw themselves down on the blanket. We had a lovely afternoon reading our way through the stack. When I went in to get some water I grabbed the camera because they made such a pretty picture.
Then Bella, Sophie and Ben each had to take a few pictures with the camera.
After a while Anthony woke up and joined us.
by Melanie Bettinelli on September 08, 2012
It seems we’re on a homeschooling roll here at The Wine Dark Sea. It will probably settle down as we settle into our school year. But for now what we’re doing is at the top of my mind. This post, though, refers to books we were reading a couple of weeks ago. Things have just been too crazy to finish it before now; but I’m tired of it nagging me, so here goes.
Bella is already well on her way to being conversant with a number of artists thanks in large part to the Mike Venezia Getting to Know the World’s Great Artist series—I confess I’m not a huge fan of Venezia’s cartoons but Bella and Sophie love the series and I love the resulting familiarity with the artists. If you ask Bella who her favorite artist is, she’ll answer Mary Cassat. She also knows and loves Georgia O’Keefe and is familiar with Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Pierre-Auguste Renior, Edgar Degas, Edward Hopper, and perhaps a few others I can’t think of. I decided I wanted to tackle Vermeer next because well, I really like his work and I thought it would be interesting to her as well. So while I was ordering up our stack of Antarctica books, I also threw in a few books on Vermeer too.
I was right. It took a few days to get past the penguins but Dom did read Venezia’s Vermeer book to Bella one night and I am sure it sank in at least a bit. I think I’ll buy this one and add it to our library because she does love to read them over and over again but only when the mood strikes her. They are very kid friendly and the perfect tool to begin what I hope will be a lifelong love affair. After all, it was Venezia’s Mary Cassatt book that had Bella almost in tears when we saw a real life Mary Cassatt painting at the MFA.
Then one afternoon found Sophie and Bella and I snuggled on the couch looking at a big beautiful book of Vermeer’s paintings: Vermeer: The Complete Works. This book was perfect for us because it was large enough to really get a good sense of the details in the gorgeous full color, high-quality plates and yet was thin enough to easily hold on our laps. It contained his complete works but had only a very brief text accompanying each picture, so it was much lighter than the huge coffee table book that also had pages of text only. The descriptions weren’t hugely satisfying to read; but since I was mostly interested in looking at the pictures, that was fine by me.
And look we did. And discuss. We talked about the people and wondered what they were doing, imagining stories for them. We compared various people in different pictures. We noticed the light and shadows. We enumerated the various objects in each picture and then noticed the objects and articles of clothing that appear in more than one picture. Vermeer is very fun for that kind of I-spy game because he does use the same props over and over again. Sophie and Bella each had their favorites and Sophie found a few of the pictures uninteresting and wanted to skip over them. Mostly, though, they were entranced.
This book I found a copy of for very cheap and bought for our own collection. I also purchased a set of postcards, which I haven’t brought out yet. I think I want to save them for some kind of activity but I’m not yet sure what that will be. Highly recommended because it is both beautiful and affordable. Perfect for any home library.
I also picked up one book that was just for myself when it jumped out at me from the library’s catalogue page: In Quiet Light:Poems on Vermeer’s Women by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. Poetry inspired by paintings can be pretty insipid so I didn’t have huge expectations of this volume but I thought it might be interesting and was willing to give it a go. After all there is really no cost to getting a library book. I was very pleasantly surprised by the first poem, which may well remain my favorite of the collection. I read it in the car on the way somewhere and really wanted to read it aloud to Dom—however I was foiled by a certain three year-old who just had to make himself heard as he pontificated about trucks. I had to return this one to the library after reading it only once—poetry is like that, it takes so much more time than fiction or non-fiction—but I’m definitely adding it to my personal wish list. I need to read this book again. I want to have it on my shelves.
We checked out a few other Vermeer volumes; but these were the best of the lot. One of them was a huge coffee table book. It would be nice to have as a resource; but wasn’t something you could easily cozy up with on the couch. There were a couple of other children’s books; but they just weren’t ones the kids picked up and looked through or asked to be read. So they lost out by a sort of process of natural selection.
by Melanie Bettinelli on August 29, 2012
We’ve been hanging out in Antarctica quite a bit of late, fruit of following Bella’s latest obsession. For a while last week our living room carpet was the ocean and a big Ikea box was an ice shelf. Or maybe mountains. A bunch of books spread at the base of the box were pack ice. One night Sophie and Bella in the bath were mermaids in Antarctica. One day I heard Sophie from the living room: “The penguin was standing all alone on the pack ice making noises to itself.”
I brought home a huge mountain of books about Antarctica for Bella to dive into, the fruit of a late-night requesting as many books as the library’s computer hold system would allow. (I wonder if some day she may begin to chafe at my feeding a small interest with a heaping pile of books. For now she just gasps in wonder and dives in with abandon.) Bella was so thrilled when she saw the stack. Many of them went back to the library after a quick survey. They were either too simplistic or too advanced for Bella.
Here’s a list of some of the books I renewed so that we could continue to explore them. Some of the books, especially the penguin ones, Bella has asked for over and over again. Some we are dipping into slowly a bit at a time. Some we may not get to at all. I am learning so much on this journey and I am once again amazed at Bella’s enthusiasm as she dives into a subject. It’s astounding how much information Bella stores away and how readily she can retell the details of what she’s heard only once.
In addition to the books, we also checked out a couple of documentaries about Antarctica and while we watched Bella would be telling Sophie all the things she knew about the penguins we were seeing. She was so excited to be able to observe the things she’d read about come to life in the videos.
1. Life under Ice by Mary M. Cerullo, photography by Bill Curtsinger. The story follows a team of divers as they dive under the Antarctic ice to explore the fabulous underwater life. It is beautifully accompanied with stunning photographs, which was the main reason it made the first cut as a book we kept instead of sending back to the library. Once we started reading, however, Bella and I were both surprised at how engaging the narrative is. It definitely qualifies as a Charlotte Mason-style “living book”. I’m finding I really prefer books that achieve that difficult balance of discussing both the animals and natural environment of Antarctica as well as scientists and their experiences, their questions and their struggles with the harsh elements. I think seeing the human element helps to avoid the trap of anthropomorphizing the animals. But it also provides an element which helps both Bella and I to see ourselves in the picture. I don’t like as much the books and documentaries that carefully edit out the observers, the camera men and the scientists. I like the narrator to step into the frame, to be a part of the story.
Here the main character is the photographer, Bill. We are seeing Antarctica through his eyes both literally as he is the one taking the pictures that illustrate the book; but also figuratively. He asks the questions of the team of scientists: Why do the animals put up with the cold and ice? What kind of animal was that I saw? His experience organizes the story. Although many of the books we saw did take an occasional dip into the ocean—you rather have to when dealing with Antarctic wildlife—this was the only book we found that really went underwater and told the story of Antarctica by focusing on the ocean life, a bottom up approach rather than top down.
2. My Season with Penguins : An Antarctic Journal by Sophie Webb. I really like this beautifully illustrated diary of an American artist/scientist who travels to Antarctica to observe Adelie penguins. The engaging story follows the author-narrator, a biologist and artist, from San Francisco to Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Base in Antarctica. We see the airports and planes. We see Sophie and her team being outfitted with cold weather clothes and gear, arriving at the base camp and traveling to the location of the penguin colony and then setting up their temporary camp and the various methods of observation. The watercolor paintings are charming and Sophie’s voice is quite engaging as she tells the story of her two months with the penguins. The scientific details are interesting and I could see Bella fascinated by the process of asking questions and trying to find out the answers: How do you determine how much and what kinds of food the penguins are giving to their chicks? How do you weigh a penguin? How do you know where the penguins are hunting and how long an individual penguin is at sea and whether penguins from different colonies have overlapping hunting grounds? I loved the small, homey details like how one of the scientists put her wool hat over the eggs to keep them warm when they lifted the incubating parents off of the nest to band them.
This is definitely one of the best books out there. One I’d consider adding to our own library.
Bonus: it avoids one of the most annoying features of most children’s stories about female scientists: all the over-enthusiastic twaddle about how girls can be whatever they want, do whatever they want, how they can overcome all the odds. Sophie’s accomplishments instead speak for themselves, as they should.
3. The Life Cycle of an Emperor Penguin by Bobbie Kalman and Robin Johnson is Bella’s top pick. Dom’s had to read it to her over and over again. I’ve not read it but it seems to be a basic overview, beginning with what is a penguin and a comparison of different species of penguins and then going into fairly close detail about the emperor penguins. I’m not sure there’s much special about the book or that there aren’t probably better ones on the subject; but this seems to get the job done.
4. Antarctic Journal by Meredith Hooper illustrated by Lucia de Leiris. We haven’t read this one but it looks really pretty and skimming it, I think the text looks well done. I think maybe Bella hasn’t picked it out because it looks a little too similar to #2, the other “Antarctic Journal” book with pretty watercolor images of penguins. Like that one, this is a first person narrative but Hooper is a historian rather than a scientist and this one seems a bit broader in scope, looking at a wide range of animals. I’ve got to move it up to the top of the pile.
5.Penguin: A Season in the Life of the Adelie Penguin by Lloyd Spencer Davis. The photography is beautiful and the book is very informative. I find myself a bit put off by the first person penguin narrator; but I think the girls are rather fascinated by it. (“Is it the penguin talking?!” Bella asks, incredulous.) The section on mating is rather detailed and more than a little uncomfortable to read aloud. I find myself skipping bits and editing on the fly. We can get into some of those details a little later when my audience is more mature.
1. Antarctic Wildlife Adventure. This documentary caught my eye because it focuses on a family—a mother, father, and three boys, ages 10, 8, and 5—who take their yacht to the Antarctic for the summer, traveling from their home in the Faulkland Islands. The father is French and first went to Antarctica twenty years before when he was much younger. He fell in love and going there has become a family affair—they often bring scientists along on the journey. They are conducting a survey of penguin colonies along the Antarctic Peninsula. Mom counts while the boys clamber about on the rocks, studying geology, looking at plants and moss, watching seals, and generally being boys. The five year old is especially cute. Mom is Australian and dad is French and the boys sound rather British to me. I loved the accents. I did wish the film had focused more on the family and less on the standard narrative about endangered natural spaces and the encroachment of man and global warming. I wanted more about the family dynamics, more footage of the kids being kids and of the kind of informal learning that must go on during these expeditions. Obviously if I’d been in charge this would have been a much different film. Still, it was different enough from the standard nature film and I do think having the kids in it helped my kids to engage with the film.
This disk had a second feature, that I didn’t expect as it wasn’t mentioned at all on the library’s description page. It was a shorter documentary about a group of mountain climbers who are the first people ever to scale a particular Antarctic peak, whose Dutch name I no longer remember but I’m pretty sure it meant something like razor. Bella was surprisingly engaged in the story and fascinated by the scenery and the drama of the climb.
2. March of the Penguins was a beautiful documentary, as I had been told by many people, and I mostly loved the narration by Morgan Freeman—except when it drifted too much into anthropomorphizing the penguins, which seems to be an almost unavoidable pitfall in nature documentaries. Or maybe it’s just the style of National Geographic? More than the movie itself, I actually enjoyed the extras on the disc which included a short film by the filmmakers on the making of the movie. This actually showed the cameramen and discussed the process of filming a movie that took an entire year to film so as to capture the entire breeding cycle of the emperor penguins. I think removing the people from the shots and focusing only on the animals makes it far too tempting to create a sentimental story, investing the animals with human traits and emotions in order to create drama. When you include the film crew, the story is much less sentimental and the animals remain animals—surprising, intriguing, beautiful but clearly animals and not people.
by Melanie Bettinelli on May 15, 2012
Bella turns six on Friday and she requested for her birthday the special treat of going to the Public Garden in Boston to see the Make Way for Duckling statues and the swan boats. We were most happy to oblige.
Riding the train is an adventure in itself, of course. The children think the subway is the greatest ride ever. And you know, I agree with them. Riding the subway with them makes me feel just as giddy and excited as the first time I rode it. Actually, if I’m honest it just gives me permission to acknowledge that I feel the excitement at the same fever pitch because for me riding the train or subway has always felt like a grand adventure. Even if it’s a route I’ve taken dozens of times, there is still something wonderful about it. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a city that doesn’t have a subway. Anyway, having children definitely makes me feel younger at heart.
We took the Red Line train from Quincy Adams station to Park Street and then strolled across Boston Common, being sure to point out the golden dome of the State House. We stopped and looked at the murky waters of the frog pond and admired the horses and other creatures on the carousel nearby.
Once we’d transversed the Common, we crossed the street and Oh! we were in the Public Garden at last! First we crossed the bridge, looking down at the swan boats and the splashing ducks. Then we went to find the famous statues of the Mallard family.
I was the first to spy them but soon the children all were racing to climb on the ducks. It seems to be a universal reaction that children wanted to sit on the ducks. We saw a group of school children on field trip. We saw a bunch of families with little ones. My favorite though were the two boys who were older—maybe ten or eleven—who stopped and sat down near Quack, the last duck in the line. The one boy pulled out his phone and with one arm draped around the duck, flipped through the settings for the camera and then handed it to his friend so he could get a photo. Meanwhile the dad stood at a distance urging them to come on. I loved the childishness, the lack of that kind of awkward self-consciousness that too often cripples children that age, making them try to act older than they are. Instead, the boys just enjoyed the moment and delighted in the statues.
We had a little snack there, banana bread for everyone and Cheerios, string cheese, raisins, and peanut butter tortillas, for those who were still a bit hungry. Then we went back to see about riding on the swan boats. At first it seemed we might be disappointed. The man said they needed about ten adults and there was not yet anyone else waiting to ride the boat. We decided to wait for just a bit but it was almost noon and we needed to go get lunch and the prospects did not look good. Just as we were getting ready to give up and leave a mother with a couple of children came up and then a trio of tourists and the man said it would be enough to run the boat and so we got on, leaving Grandma with the stroller and bags and at the last minute with Anthony too because I began to doubt my ability to keep a grip on the thirty pound toddler if he really wanted to get down and I could tell he was not going to sit quietly on my lap during the ride.
Bella and Sophie and Ben absolutely loved it. It only cost $2.75 for adults and $1.50 for children over 2, so this was a totally affordable experience. And the smooth, gentle ride on the pedal-powered paddle boat made for a very peaceful trip. The most exciting part was seeing a lot of real live ducklings paddling around our boat. And one of them, which had been splashing on the shore as we passed, jumped into the pond and then swam in front of our boat. For a minute it looked like he wasn’t going to make it and we were going to run him over but he put on an amazing burst of super paddle speed and flashed across our bow. I couldn’t help but think of Ping: paddle paddle, paddle paddle.
After our swan boat ride we headed to Arlington station and then rode the green train to Government Center and then to Faneuil Hall where we got lunch. (No pictures of lunch because we were all tired and hungry and too busy eating.) The kids shared a big bowl of mac-n-cheese. Really good mac-n-cheese. The adults each had a lobster roll and a bowl of chowder. Really, really, really good lobster rolls. Then on to Haymarket and the green line to Park Street and then the red line back home. Ben, Bella, and Anthony all slept on the train; but Sophie didn’t fall asleep until she was in the car.
A very long day; but oh such a grand adventure! It’s not often you get to step into the pages of one of your favorite books. How perfect that even Ben was able to get into it for Make Way for Ducklings has been one of his favorite bedtime books in the last few weeks. Most of all, this was the perfect birthday adventure for my soon to be six Bella-girl!
by Melanie Bettinelli on March 08, 2012
I stumbled upon this essay at Slate today: Elephant and Piggie Peer Into the Void: Mo Willem’s Meditation on Death and it’s been haunting me ever since especially these paragaphs:
Yet We Are in a Book! is far more moving—and terrifying—than you might expect a children’s book to be. It is genuinely freaky in its simple, direct depiction of death. What defines the human consciousness of death? It is not the fear of pain: Animals certainly can fear pain. It is our fear of the void—the idea of nothingness. I recently watched my middle child awaken to the realization that death is the void, and it was awful and disturbing to see his world rocked. One major benefit of religion is that it offers an alternative to the void, something rather than nothing. But those of us who live without the solace of belief in the afterlife (and who don’t offer our children that solace, either) instead find ourselves eyes wide open in bed, imagining … nothing. We Are in a Book! (the title’s jaunty exclamation point comes to seem like a taunt) smacks kids right in the face with that nothingness, shows them grotesquely—in the desperate prayers and mad gesticulations of a cartoon elephant—that death is to be feared because the void awaits us all. Yes, Gerald, all books end.
We Are in a Book! is for children, so it must rescue our heroes by Page 57, right? As the final page approaches, Gerald and Piggie hatch a plan, about which they are very happy: They ask us to read the book again! But isn’t this conclusion terribly grim? In essence, Gerald and Piggie are begging to be condemned to Groundhog Day: forced to re-enact the same banana joke endlessly, and, in Gerald’s case, forced to relive the mortal panic of realizing the book is going to end, over and over again. A world of endless reincarnation and constant recapitulation—that’s the only prospect worse than the void. All books do end, thank goodness.
We’ve checked We Are in a Book our from the library many times and my kids love it as they love all the Elephant and Piggie books. But then we are the kind of family who do offer our children “the solace of belief in the afterlife.” The idea of withholding from your children the solace of belief in the afterlife seems intolerably cruel. It is one thing for an adult to peer into the void; but children are not nihilists by nature. I believe all children are born with an intuition of God and that to convince them that He doesn’t exist takes a concerted effort. This just makes me unbelievably sad. And I’m not sure why I felt the need to pass it along except that perhaps someone will say something in the comments that will help me understand why this is haunting me.