Saturday, June 30, 2012

What My Child Is Reading–June 30, 2012

It’s strange to arrive to the stage when I don’t read or even preview most of the books my daughter reads, especially when she goes to the library with me and makes her own selections. We are still going through 101 Read-Aloud Bible Stories – it seems to me that this book will never end. She is reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, but I cannot really comment on the books, since I only looked at a few pages and admired their interesting style.

50 bedtime stories

It still amuses me how Anna’s taste in stories changed seemingly overnight. At this moment she is really enjoying fantasy and fairy tales (except Disney stories that she still hates with a passion). Our fairy tale collections are finally getting a good workout. 50 Bedtime Stories is a nice compilation of known and less known tales with various reading lengths. Reading length is given in the table of content, so parents can choose a fitting story to read before bed. Anna especially enjoyed retelling of some of Kipling’s “Just So” stories – definitely something on my list to get from the library.

Safari in South Africa

Anna’s favorite book of the week was definitely Safari in South Africa that I profiled in a separate post. We both really liked an unusual way this book is illustrated – with a combination of drawn characters and real pictures. It also has a nice blend of fictional story and non-fictional fact panels. I already picked up the book from the same series for our next “stop” in Australia.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Read Around the World–South Africa

Books and Learning Activities for South AfricaThis post has been refreshed in June 2014 with new graphics and resource section. Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog!

Reading Around the World

We have started introducing our daughter to different cultures since she was about 3 years old. Over years, we read about many different countries trying to encourage daughter to pick a country of her choice when she got older. You are welcome to check out other posts in Read Around the World series:

Books About South Africa

We participated in an international postcard exchange and received a card from Capetown, South Africa. It prompted Smarty to pick South Africa as a read around the world country. Finding books proved to be a little different, but I want to share two that I was able to get from our library system.
South African night

A South African Night by Rachel Isadora is a good book for younger readers and kids who love animals. The book transitions from an evening in the big city to a busy animal night life in Kruger National Park. I have to admit that my 5 year old likes stories with more “meat”, and this book has very sparse text. The story is told mostly in gorgeous illustrations, but Smarty prefers words to pictures and didn’t care for this book much.
Safari in South Africa
While the first book “flopped for us”, the second one turned out to be the winner. Smarty absolutely loved was Safari in South Africa from Adventures of Riley series by Amanda Lumry and Laura Hurwitz. The book is illustrated with drawn characters super imposed on photos, and my 5 year old just couldn’t get enough of both the story and the illustrations. In addition to an engaging story about animal conservation, there are also non-fictional inserts on every page describing interesting facts about every animal. For example, I didn’t know that leopard is the quietest of all cats or that hippos kill more humans than any other African animal.

A Simple African Mask Craft

Making an African mask
A good extension activity for both books would be something to do with animals, but I also wanted to introduce a bit of African culture to Smarty. We looked at African masks online, and then she selected an African mask to color and cut from Printable African Masks. I printed it on printer paper and glued it to cardboard to make it sturdier. Smarty chose a lion mask first, but decided that it required too much coloring and asked to color the more abstract mask that I chose. Then we spent some time outside chasing each other and putting up “an African show” for papa. I hope we can go to South Africa one day “for real” – I never knew that it’s such an amazing place until I “visited” it virtually with Smarty.
African Masks

More South African Activities

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Your Turn

When you think about South Africa, what activity comes to your mind for this country?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Week in Review – June 24, 2012


Summer camp. Second week of Anna’s summer camp had a sports theme. On one especially sporty day she went on a field trip to play mini-golf, then had her gymnastics lesson and then went swimming with me. By the end of the week we had one very tired child who needed a quiet Sunday to recover from all the excitement of the week.


Home. Both field trips Anna’s Y came went to so far had arcades, and at home she played games involving tickets, winning and prizes. We are not a big fan of arcades, since our daughter is so extrinsically motivated and gets addicted very quickly to anything that involves prizes. We learned a bit about South Africa and watched Magic School Bus videos about human body.


Places we are going. It was an unseasonably cold week, but we went to a pool several times, since Anna is still hoping to pass a swim test in Y and go to a big slide in the water park. There was also a birthday party to go to, and two field trips with the camp – one to the Golfland/arcade and one to Round Table Pizza that included “behind the scenes” tour.


  • Quote of the week: Anna: On the way to the pool I was sitting with two girls who go to the seventh grade and we talked about how smart I am. I told them that I can read 7th grade books.
  • Me: Anna, bragging is BAD!
  • Anna: But I wasn’t bragging, mama. I just told them, that’s all. When they asked me, if I can do division, I told them that I cannot. So they taught me a little about division. Did you know that if you divide anything into the same number, you always get 1? It’s like the opposite of multiplication!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What My Child Is Reading–June 23, 2012

After 2 weeks of vacation Anna is at 20 books read on her own, a mixture of chapter books and picture books. In fact, the number is much higher, but we are not recording “repeat reads” from our own library or books she is reading in her Y summer camp. Interestingly, she refuses to read non-fictional “fact books” lately claiming that she loves fantasy more. It’s quite a reversal from a few months ago when she was finding fantasy too scary. We are still reading plodding through 101 Read-Aloud Bible Stories (we finally got Joshua and his people to Canaan), but I started to insist on reading one picture book in the evening in addition to two Bible stories, because I wanted some variety for myself Smile

Friendship According to Humphrey

Humphrey series by Betty G. Birney continues to be a big hit here. The books are long and technically targeted to older readers, but the story (that Anna correctly deemed to be a fantasy and not a real story) is very engaging, and even though I am not a big fan of hamsters, I can’t help but root for the main character of the book. There are many subplots introducing various problems that Humphrey solves very successfully. I wish some adults were as good at solving problems as this hamster!

A South African Night

Anna finally chose the next country for our “read around the world” program – South Africa. Unfortunately, she didn’t like A South African Night too much, since it doesn’t contain a lot of text and better suited for younger children, but illustrations by Rachel Isadora (who is also an author) are beautiful and show great contrast between busy Johannesburg and wild life in Kruger park. The good news is that we read another book about South Africa that Anna loved, and I will review it in a separate post.

Sarah Plain and Tall

My husband picked up Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan following a librarian’s recommendation. I had to start the book with Anna to draw her in, but she read most of the book and all the sequels on her own. This is a nice series for older kids who like Little House books. From some things that Anna told me I could see that she doesn’t comprehend all the complex family dynamics fully, but she read some of the books several times trying to get deeper into the story and figure things out. Maybe after we are finally done with the Bible Stories (a good month away!), we’ll reread Sarah series together.

Lots of Lice

Anna was so amused with Lots of Lice by Bobbi Katz that she insisted on reading it aloud to me. She never knew about lice before going to school, but now Y performs lice checks every so often. As many children her age, she is fascinated by gross things. The book is told in verse, and the narrator is a louse. It gives readers advice on what to do or what not to do, which is, of course, the opposite of what you would do to fight lice. It’s a pretty funny book and good for a lesson on lice if you ever need one.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Reading Around the World–Belarus

We read about Belarus about 2 weeks ago and I kept postponing this post in the hopes that we will at least put our mini-book together, and I can make some pictures. We looked at some images of Minsk, my city of birth, on the net – I’ve passed through this square called Victory Square every day for 10 years on the way to school! We read about the most famous person from Belarus Mark Chagall, and painted Chagall style.

How Mama Brought The Spring

We also read a book that is supposedly set in Minsk – How Mama Brought the Spring by Fran Manushkin. I had mixed feeling about the book, since illustrator Holly Berry must have decided to illustrate something from the 19th century even though the story is clearly set in the late 20th century. Very few people in Minsk live in houses, especially with ancient stoves. Minsk has been completely destroyed during WWII, and now is a modern city with beautifully clean and green streets. Snowfall is not a disaster like in NYC, and people don’t freeze in their houses (well, OK, sometimes central heating breaks down Smile). Overall, even though the story was OK, it was just simply not a city I came from. I wonder how many people feel the same reading the books set in their native lands?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Week In Review–June 17, 2012


Summer camp. Summer has come, and daughter happily headed out to Y summer camp. Conveniently, she still goes to the same location on her school campus. The program is awesome and includes weekly field trips, swim days at a water park and a “media day”. Anna informed us that Y has something called Nintendo Wii. She doesn’t even know that we have it at home too and we prefer to keep it that way. Anyway, she absolutely loved the first summer camp week and is looking forward to the next theme.

June16_ReadingAt home we are taking it easy. As always, Anna reads a lot. She already read about 20 books in the first 10 days of summer vacation, most of them chapter books. Russian and gymnastics are on for the summer, but we also try to spend as much time as possible in the pool. Anna was very disappointed to have failed a swim test in Y – she didn’t get to go on a big water slide. Finally, she has a real desire to learn swimming “for real”, and we hope that we have a full fledged swimmer by the end of this summer.


Places we are going. Anna went to a water park and to an arcade playground with her Y camp. She was very excited to win some candy in the machine. During weekend we had a much needed get together with our friends. Anna was very excited to be a babysitter for their one year old son… for about 10 minutes. Then “Anna’s exciting daycare” closed for a day, and Anna firmly informed us that she does not need a baby brother.


Quote of the week (The picture is after eating the first ever ice-cream from the truck).

  • Anna (still completely enchanted by the Bible stories from 101 Read-Aloud Bible Stories): Where is The Arc of the Covenant now? 
  • Me: Well, you know, there is very little archeological evidence that the events of the Bible actually took place. The Arc of the Covenant, if it existed, is lost to us.
  • Anna (enthusiastically). I will be an archeologist! I will be the one to find the Ark! The God will make miracle for me and will show me where it is.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What My Child Is Reading–June 16, 2012

101 Read-Aloud Bible Stories: Best-Loved Stories from the Old and New TestamentWe are a secular family, but I believe it’s important for my daughter to know biblical stories because so much of Western culture is built on them. We are plodding through 101 Read-Aloud Bible Stories by Joan C Verniero and Anna is absolutely fascinated by this book. In fact, she doesn’t want me to read anything else to her and just begs for more stories every night. I wouldn’t recommend this book to kids younger than 5 or 6, since each story is pretty long, there are very few pictures, and the language is pretty advanced causing my daughter to interrupt every minute since she is literally hanging on and digesting every single word from this book.

Emma Dilemma

Anna loved Emma Dilemma by Kristine O’Connell George so much that she announced it her new most favorite book and insisted on reading it aloud to me (she usually doesn’t like to do that at all, since this slows her down). This book is wonderful in telling the story of love and woe from an older sibling’s point of view. Illustrations by Nancy Carpenter are delightful and add charm to the story. The range for the book is pretty wide, younger children might enjoy illustrations, older kids will appreciate the story itself told through a collection of poems.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Scientist in the House

Science Sunday


There is one thing that my daughter loves more than anything else – science experiments. She is approaching the age when she can actually apply the steps of scientific inquiry to the experiments – pose a question, formulate a hypothesis and then validate it. Of course, she still gets too caught up in the thrill of an experiment to remember to change one variable at a time – it’s a lot more exciting to switch to let’s see what happens if we mix all this together plan. 175 Science Experiments

I pick experiments based on Anna’s interests, but we also have several different books at home. One that I particularly like is 175 Science Experiments that I picked up at the library book sale. Some of the activities in the books are rather tricks and not real experiments but there is a scientific explanation that comes with each activity. They are divided into water, light, air and movement, and so far we are enjoying water and other liquids.


We finally got to use our fancy balance scale in one of our experiments. I asked Anna what is lighter – oil or water. She was convinced that water is lighter and was quite surprised to see the result. After she saw that oil is lighter, I asked her to predict what will happen when we mix oil and water. She predicted that oil will make pretty shapes in water. She was partially correct since oil did make a lot of bubbles coming on top of water and settling there. She June9_Science2learned that liquids behave just like solids – a lighter liquid can float on top of a heavier liquid. This was a true revelation – and she spent a good hour mixing water and oil to her heart’s delight. Add some food coloring, and you get instant little scientist’s paradise Smile.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Artist Study–Marc Chagall

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Marc Chagall
As we were reading about my native country of Belarus, we took a detour to learn more about Marc Chagall who was born in Vitebsk in the end of the 19th century. He is one of my favorite painters, and it annoyed me to no end that all three books about him that we read stated that he was born in Russia. Marc Chagall loved the city of his youth and painted it in many of his works. In addition to reading books, we looked at a nice complilation of his paintings on YouTube.
June1_ChagalWe talked about Chagal’s works, his dream worlds and flying people. Then we looked in more detail at I and the Village (one of his early works on the cover above), and Smarty created her own composition. As usual, she first started drawing and then developed the drawings and the story based on what came out of her initial scribbles. According to her, it’s a picture of an alien (left) and a person (right). June2_Chagal2A person is dreaming of going into space and about planets (top of the picture), and an alien is dreaming about his own world with a lot of volcanoes on it (bottom of the picture). Not exactly Chagall’s world, but it was fun to see her take on it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Week In Review–June 10, 2012


School. Summer break has officially started! Anna was very sad to say goodbye to her magical teacher and to her friends, but she will continue to see at least some of them in Y summer camp and during playdates. She brought home a lot of special projects including an adorable Kindergarten Memories that she still needs to finish. She also brought over a “summer fun pack” which means a lot of worksheets. I have a hunch they will be done in the next couple of weeks, and then we have to think of how much schooling we want to do during summer.

Work. I’ve been busy and stressed in the last month preparing for a major customer conference that happened this week. Now it’s finally behind us, but a planning cycle starts for the next year. Arrgh – I really feel I could use a vacation, but it’s still two months away. At least I hope I won’t have to travel until mid July. My goal is to stop working 24x7 and turn off my computer on the weekends to enjoy summer with my family.


Afterschool: Anna will continue her gymnastics and Russian classes throughout the summer. She loves gymnastics and gets better in it. She reads and writes reasonably well in Russian, but her vocabulary needs a lot more work. Again, I am hoping to have more time for that, and, of course, visiting grandparents will help since they speak Russian only at home.


Places we are going… Finally, we started our pool season, and we hope that this is the place where we will spend most of our summer weekends. Our community pool is awesome, and Anna was delighted to meet some of her Y friends there. Anna also went to Happy Hollow park with several of her kindergarten friends on Friday, so summer break was off to a good start!


Quote of the week. Anna went to Happy Hollow with a family of her best friend, and I gathered from L’s “post-mortem” that she was pretty bossy during this outing.

  • Me (frustrated): Anna, you didn’t behave in a caring way. You were not thinking of others. Can you explain your behavior?
  • Anna: Well, mama, you know, I am an only kid, after all. I am not used to all that sharing.
  • Me: And how do you propose to solve this problem?
  • Anna: Get me a brother, of course!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What My Child Is Reading–June 9, 2012

I was traveling this week, and Anna and I only read one book together on the day I came back. She is very excited about a library reading program and a reading challenge from school. She wants to read 100 books this summer. The only reason this might be not as doable as it used to be is that she now reads mostly chapter books and they take more time. I found 3 or 4 different Wimpy Kid books on your shelf, and she also reviewed one of her favorites of the week for me.

Looking for the Easy Life

Looking For the Easy Life by Walter Dean Myers is the only picture book that my daughter chose from the library this week, probably selecting it by the cover. The story is beautifully illustrated by Lee Harper and tries to tell a value tale, but I kept thinking that perhaps it’s not very politically correct to portray a group of characters with “black ghetto grammar” as monkeys trying to switch from working hard (that means getting bananas from the trees!) to looking for an easy life. I don’t think I would really recommend this book but curious to see if anyone in my audience read it before.

The World According to Humphrey

In my absence Anna and papa stumbled upon a perfect new series by Betty G. Birney. Here is a review from Anna (she read the book on her own, not as a read aloud). Humphrey is a cool hampster. He lives in school. Ms Mac brought him there, but she was a substitute teacher, so she went away. Humphrey has his own notebook and a pencil, and he tells stories to readers. New teacher doesn’t like rodents, but eventually she starts to like Humphrey. Please-please get me the next Humphrey book!

My apologies for not being able to visit and comment on WMCIR entries lately. I am hoping to get back on track this week, so please don’t abandon me Smile

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