While we have been on this trip, we have been reading some interesting things. I have already told you about After Hamelin by Bill Richardson. Well, once we had finished that, we moved on to Heidi by Johanna Spyri. We had picked up a copy in a bookstore in Bonn (it had a small English language section) and thought it suitable for our journey to Switzerland. We weren’t really going to the same part of Switzerland but it was close enough.
I had never read Heidi and I must say that I had the impression that it was kind of twee. But Christina Hardyment suggested that the original story (if not all the sequels and adaptations) was actually about a strong girl character and well worth a read. I must say that I agree. In general the characters are well drawn and some are quite funny. Or maybe that’s just my reading of Miss Rotenmeyer (pronounced with a thick German accent of course). The emotional landscape of a masculinity that scorns the expression of emotion (other than, perhaps, anger) is also well represented in different ways in Grandpa/Uncle Alp and Peter.
I was also surprised as the very clearly Christian message of the story. It is not at all subtle in this respect but well done, all the same. The parable of the prodigal son gets a thorough treatment, in particular. I’m not sure if that is a reason for secular homeschoolers to avoid the book. Although we aren’t specifically "Christian homeschoolers", Tigger is a Christian and thus discussing those stories in the context of a book like this is wholly appropriate. Certainly those who have an explicit religious element to your approach might give this story serious consideration. On the whole, we enjoyed it.
After that we moved away from our site-specific reading list to read a Deborah Ellis book we had brought with us. The Breadwinner is the first in a trilogy about Afghanistan written for readers about Tigger’s age (middle-school?). The central character is a young girl and the story is set during the reign of the Taliban. While it clearly deals with some difficult issues (including arbitrary arrests and some violence), it does so in a sensitive way. A very good book to read together so that you can address anything that upsets your particular child as it comes up. We did read it as a bed-time story, but others might prefer it to be a day-time read-aloud. I certainly plan to get the other two books in the trilogy when we return home.
Then we went back to our geographically appropriate theme, reading another Deborah Ellis. The Company of Fools is set in a monastery near Paris in the Middle Ages. The main story is about the relationship between two very different boys. But this relationship unfolds at a time when the Plague is threatened and then arrives, making for some interesting events. Again, there are some parts that deal with disturbing issues, but these are dealt with appropriately for the age group and can be discussed more fully if you are reading the book together. The author does say, in an introductory passage on the inside front cover of my edition, that one of the things that interests her is how we deal with fear. And the Plague did create a lot of fear.
This book led to some interesting discussions and you could use it as a way into a variety of topics. Tigger and I had some very good discussions about what people believed caused the Plague and how they reacted. That led into some discussions about scientific ways of thinking about questions and non-scientific ways of thinking about questions. You could also link it in to discussions of what was going on in the Church in that historical period. It is very clear that the Bishop is a nobleman, and that some other senior priests are corrupt. The religious characters are portrayed sympathetically, with probably a realistic range of piety and corruption along with other traits represented. There is some material that could lead into a discussion of forms of education (the main characters are choirboys and receiving an education at the monastery), choral singing, folk songs, calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts, and other aspects of the lives described.
We have now gone of the geographically specific again, to take up a book that Tigger’s Nana brought for us. Watership Down is another classic that I have missed in my own education. Not too long ago, it came onto my radar when Melissa blogged about it. I’m glad Nana brought it. We are very much enjoying it. And it’s going to take us a while to get through it, which is a good then when you are already lugging around more books than are probably advisable.
In addition to our bedtime reads, we have also read all of Gombrich’s A Little History of the World. We thoroughly enjoyed this. I suspect we might read it again sometime. It certainly confirms my view that Becky’s advice is worth at least listening to.
We are now reading Archimedes and the Door of Science, the Arrow selection for November. That is fitting in well with some of the other activities. Tigger, her dad and grandpa went to the Museum of the History of Science in Geneva where they picked up a history of physics (in comic book form). We also picked up a Histoire des Science (another comic book) in France. (I love French comic books.) So there has been a lot of history of science happening around here, if a bit haphazardly.
Tigger’s solitary reading has included Grimm’s Fairy Tales, several of the Murderous Maths series, and a French novel that she got me to buy for her in Geneva. The latter is taking a bit of encouragement. Despite the fact that she asked me to buy it, I think she is finding reading in French a bit more difficult than reading in English. I’m having to remind her that it is okay if she doesn’t understand every word; that she used to do that in English, too, and reread things and got something out of it. It might also just be the transition into doing something different.
In the next couple of days I might get around to posting about some of the art we are seeing in Paris (and Switzerland).