Bella’s Picks: Books and Music

Bella’s Picks: Books and Music

1. Brambly Hedge

Still. It’s an amazing, beautiful little world and she loves inhabiting it. And I don’t mind at all.

2. The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

This book is a gem. The story of a bat who falls in love with the daylight and, listening to the mockingbird’s songs, become a poet and tells his poems to a chipmunk and other animals.

When I finished this she went right out to the driveway and started drawing bats and mockingbirds and chipmunks with sidewalk chalk. Sophie and Ben both enjoyed the book too. And I adore it. So beautiful


3. Little House

These Happy Golden Years (Little House)

I’m finding I don’t really remember this book much at all, though I’m sure I’ve read it before. And how delightful it is. All the bits about Almanzo courting Laura are well over Bella’s head. But she loves the details, the richness of the world Laura creates.

Dance at Grandpa’s

When we were at the library this week Bella rediscovered this picture book version of an episode from Little House in the Big Woods. Oh she was in heaven. I’m not terribly fond of the picture book myself. And having just re-read Little House in the Big Woods to Sophie, I was irrationally annoyed that they changed Ma’s green delaine dress to a green ruffled dress. (I just looked up delaine and—of course!—it is from the French de laine of wool.) I understand why they changed it, I do, but it reinforced that one thing I love about the originals is that Laura uses the proper words and doesn’t worry about whether young readers will understand them. Recently one of my sister’s friends remarked how our girls talk like characters out of books. They do and I love it. They have such rich vocabularies and it makes me happy to hear them use rare words, even if sometimes they don’t quite know what they mean. I love to hear them playing with language and tasting new words on their tongues.


4. Ancient Greece

This week I decided it was high time we delved more deeply into the Ancient Greeks. We’ve finished all the Greek chapters in The Story of the World and I want to do more. So I went to the history section of the library and gathered a pile of books on Ancient Greece. And suddenly Bella is discovering a new passion and making new connections and oh I just love this part. (I love that her primary interest in history is that it gives her new material for her games. Someday we’re going to have to read The Egypt Game, but not now. Not yet.)

Greek Town (Metropolis) by John Malam a beautiful illustrated book that takes you on a guided tour through a sort of idealized Greek town that has elements from various Greek cities. The Time-Traveler’s Guide section at the back did give me pause when it suggested that the time traveling reader would want to make a sacrifice to the household gods when visiting with a Greek family: “If you are invited to a meal you should accept, as to refuse would cause offense to the host, who likes to dine with company. At the meal show respect for the god of the house by offering a small gift of wine or food at the altar.” I amended it a bit to say that guests in Ancient Greece would have been expected to behave that way, but of course as Christians we couldn’t make sacrifice to pagan gods as that would be a violation of the first commandment. A little opportunity to reinforce the catechism. Although I do understand the purpose of phrasing things in the second person and framing it as a time traveling guide, meant to help draw the child into the foreign space of the ancient world, I did wonder at the editorial decision to phrase the book in precisely that way when the awkwardness could have been avoided by a slight rephrasing.

Ancient Greece (DK Eyewitness Books)-I’m not really a fan of the Eyewitness style with all the little blocks of text scattered all over the page next to the various pictures. It feels busy to me and I hate that there isn’t a necessary order to read the page in. But Bella loves these books and learns so much from them that I have come to appreciate them for her sake. One thing that stood out especially in the Greece volume: it seems to me a bit confusing that they use modern art alongside ancient art when discussing literature such as The Odyssey or The Iliad, though the art used was very good. I thought it was a bit confusing.

The Ancient Greeks by Pat Taylor. A nice overview. Good map, a mix of brightly colored illustrations and photographs of artifacts and sites. I like to have one or two of this kind of general overview books for any focused study we do because we can read them in one sitting—and thus will probably read them several times—and they help to reinforce the main ideas.


5. The Children’s Homer: The Adventures of Odysseus and The Tale of Troy by Padraic Colum

This is one of those books I’ve seen on a dozen different homeschooling book lists and blogs and so I dutifully found a copy on BookMooch and put it on the shelf without actually reading it for myself. So I’m discovering it along with Bella. And what a delight! This volume compresses The Iliad and The Odyssey into one story, The Iliad told as flashbacks while Telemachus is visiting Menelaus and Helen in Sparta. The language is rich and Colum preserves some, though not all, of the Homeric similes. It really captures the flavor of Homer without being quite so overwhelming. In short, a perfect book for Bella. Yesterday we read two chapters that recounted battle scenes before the walls of Troy, Aias and Achilles and Agamemnon and Nestor and Hector…. spears and chariots and ships and fire. Oh Bella kept shivering and I was afraid it might be a bit too much for her, but when we got to the end her eyes were shining as she exclaimed to me how she could just see everything in her imagination.

It was delightful tonight then to read the book about Greece and to find there the Mask of Agamemnon and the story of Schliemann and vases depicting the various scenes from the stories. I can’t wait to take Bella back to the Greek rooms in the MFA to see her discover her friends from the stories in the red and black pictures on the vases that last visit were just pretty artifacts.

I know Padraic Colum first of all from my Irish Studies days because of his involvement with the Irish Literary Revival. I’m not sure what I’ve read except maybe some lyric poems, but his name was definitely familiar. I do think that his work as a poet and playwright has informed this work. It has such a depth and a richness that aren’t often to be found in children’s books. I’m looking forward to discovering his book of Irish hero tales: The King of Ireland’s Son. I guess we’ll read that next year.


6. Jim Weiss is another of those names you’ll stumble over again and again in certain homeschooling circles. I was curious so I looked him up in the library’s catalogue and found a copy of his Egyptian Treasures: Mummies and Myths. We listened to it in the car and of course Bella, my resident Egyptophile was hooked. Sophie and Ben loved it too.

Then one day last week I was feeling quite at my wits end and so I bought Greek Myths and played it for the kids while I cooked dinner. Never have my four children made it through the witching hour with so little fuss. Again it wasn’t just Bella, Ben and Sophie were also entranced. When it was over Ben announced to me that it was his favorite.


7. Sea Shanties

This was a surprise. One day I wanted something different in the car so I selected Dom’s Age of Sail playlist. It has Roast Beef of Old England, an album of sea shanties I bought for him a few years ago, as well as the soundtrack to Master & Commander and Musical Evenings with the Captain, an album inspired by Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey and Maturin books. It makes for a rather schizophrenic play list as the three albums have very different styles, but it’s kind of nice to listen to nonetheless. And the kids like all three kinds of music. Bella says the soundtrack songs sound like they tell a story and should go with a play. She likes the classical pieces because they are pretty—Ben exclaimed over one of them one day as he got out of the car, “I like that one. It’s very beautiful!” And the sea shanties are just plain fun. Bella and Sophie were singing sea shanties in the bath tub the other night, oh that makes me so happy.

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  • Well said.  The Ascension is just about the most poorly presented and explained aspect of the Paschal Mystery, which has always amazed me, since it is the entry, in the glorified Person of Christ, of all of humanity , into the heart of the Trinity and the Trinitarian life.  You would think that would be a bigger deal than it usually is in most parish celebrations of this solemnity, but unfortunately it isn’t for all the reasons you noted.

    While I agree wholeheartedly that for too many of our fellow Christians the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery are regarded as purely metaphorical, part of the difficulty is that we are forced to on the language of metaphor to try and describe and understand the objective truths of divine revelation.  Which is not a bad thing at all as long as we are living and will live fully in eternity within the reality that the metaphor can only begin to help us to approach and believe.

  • Deacon R., Thank you!  This year my pastor pointed out the importance of the Ascension as a feast day.  Even though I’d already formed these thoughts in a more general way, I’d never taken the feast all that seriously.  Now I do.  grin.

  • “Faithy-ism.” Izzat your invention? I steal, thanx. Hey, someone told me recently they learned from the pulpit that the Loaves an’ Fishes was just people decidin’ ta share all the snax they were hiding under their dishdashas after Jeezy had ‘em sing a few rounds of Kumbaya. I guess that may be a good example of Faithyism in Action.

  • “Why do we recoil against death?  Because we were made for something so much better.  So much cleaner.  So much more comprehensible.”

    I LOVE this. I think it is natural to recoil from death but so many people don’t know what they should be running towards that they are left running in circles instead. So many people don’t understand that often when there is an admonition against something, it is because something better is desired for them. Thank you!