Book Recommendation: The Element by Ken Robinson, Ph. D.

The premise of this book is that each one of us has a unique Element or even Elements that will satisfy our minds and bodies and give us a sense of fulfillment and happiness in life.  If we are able to find this Element, we will be able to find satisfaction with our lives. 

The first chapters of the book focus on the definition of words like intelligence and creativity and how society has limited the use of these words to specific situations and persons.  Therefore, many people do not consider themselves as intelligent because they did not do well on standardized tests. Conversely, people who do well on standardized tests may consider themselves intelligent even if they have not achieved success or fulfillment in their lives.  Creativity has also been limited in definition to people who are artists or authors by trade, rather than widening that definition to include all who use their abilities in a variety of ways to achieve their goals.  The author seems to state that widening our definition of these words will help us to re-define our paths to success.

Another issue that this book discusses is the problem of finding others to help and mentor you in your Element.  He speaks directly of the fact that “Many people don’t find their Element because they don’t have the encouragement of the confidence to step outside their established circle of relationships.” Although those around us may genuinely care for us, they do not necessarily know what will make our lives happiest or most meaningful.  It takes courage to step outside of the expectations that others set for us.

The last chapters of this book really spoke to me.  Chapter 7, “Do You Feel Lucky?” focused on the value of a positive, confident outlook in achieving success.  This is an idea I have tried to share with many people throughout my adult life, and it is stated far better here than anything I have been able to say.  It is so important to have confidence in a good outcome when going into a project.  A negative outlook guarantees failure.  Summarizing findings from the book The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman, Dr. Robinson states that “lucky people tend to expect to be lucky, creating a series of self-fulfilling prophecies because they go into the world anticipating a positive outcome. “ And, “lucky people have an attitude that allows them to turn bad luck to good.  They don’t allow ill fortune to overwhelm them, and they move quickly to take control of the situation when it isn’t going well for them.”  I would like to read this chapter to people who through the years have accused me of just being “lucky!”

In Chapter 10, “For Love or Money,” examples are cited of people who became amateurs in certain professions instead of making that profession a source of income.  The author discusses how the word amateur actually means a lover of something, and how being a real amateur can bring one pleasure and satisfaction in life.  This really went along well with his ideas about it being never too late to find fulfillment in your Element.

The other chapter that I felt all homeschoolers should read was Chapter 11 on education.  The author describes standard public education as factory-style education, with each teacher installing one bit of knowledge, bound by bells, batches of students and time schedules.  He advocates an individualized approach to education that would allow individuals to pursue their interests and learn toward real world application.  He recommends a “Michelin model,” holding schools to very high standards but not standardizing schools.  Reading about some of the schools he recommends, I couldn’t help but think of Dewey’s educational approach again, and also the difficulty of actually implementing this approach within limits of a public system.  Luckily, as homeschoolers we need not be bound by concerns of what others will think or funding and are able to give each child an individualized education if we are ready to make the effort to do so.

This book, along with two others I have read recently–How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer and How to Live On 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett, has given me much food for thought on how I am focusing my time to make the best use of my talents and interests.  As a parent, I realize that although providing for my children’s education is important, the best I can do for them is to give a good example of fulfilling my own potential at the same time.  These books gave both encouragement and direction in that regard.  The Michelangelo quote in the afterword of this book really made me ask, “Am I aiming high enough for myself?”

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

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Reading Week in Review

These are a few of the books we’ve been reading this week.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.   This is one of my continuing projects.  I have read this wonderful classic twice before, once when I was about 13 and again a few years ago.  I picked it up again to read at the first of this year.

Daddy Long-Legs and Dear Enemy by Jean Webster. I saw the name of the first of these books on a blog (sorry, I don’t remember which one) and remembered reading it as a kid, so I downloaded it to my Nook for the girls to read.  It was as cute as I remembered, a sort of Anne of Windy Poplars written in letter style.  Unfortunately, the quality of the free Nook book was so poor I could hardly read it, and I certainly couldn’t recommend it to the girls.  Luckily, the library had a copy, bound with the sequel, Dear Enemy about the remaking of the asylum the heroine had grown up in.  Dear Enemy was actually the real find for me, since I had read about John Dewey’s system of education and Jane Addam’s Hull House in a study project a few years ago.  Although the author never refers directly to these ideas, she puts them to work in the orphanage she is redesigning.  I really enjoyed how she thought those ideas would work out.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  This is the book I am reading aloud to the little kids right now.  I have read it aloud several times before.  It is a beautiful book, descriptive and well written.  It begs to be read aloud.

A Zoo in My Luggage and Beasts in My Belfry by Gerald Durrell.  This is Max’s assigned book right now.  After I finished reading My Family and Other Animals by this same author to the kids, I ordered three more books by Gerald Durrell.  By the time they arrived, I had already begun reading The Secret Garden aloud, so the kids started reading the others themselves.  Birds, Beasts and Relatives went first, then Beasts in My Belfry and A Zoo in my Luggage.  Lulu’s finished them all, Max is in the middle of the second one.  Each of them has had them rolling on the floor laughing.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Shandy is reading this book aloud to the kids at bedtime.  They are enjoying it very much, so much that they rarely get to bed on time.

Small Wonders by Barbara Kingsolver.  Eden was assigned persuasive essays for her English classes, and chose to read some of these essays.  I didn’t read all of them, but her essay about The One-Eyed Monster and Why I Don’t Let Him In I highly recommend.  Her statements about no one killing in her home define exactly why regular TV left our home on September 11, 2001.  No one should have to watch random acts of violence.

The Passionate Observer by Jean Henri Fabre.  This is another naturalist book, Lulu’s assigned reading for the week.  Fabre was a passionate observer of insect life, and wrote about his passion in this beautiful book.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer.  Nothing makes me feel so foolish as reading on my phone.  I feel like people watching me must wonder what could be so fascinating to leave me watching my phone for hours.  However, I have a Kindle app on my phone, and this book was only $2.99 on Kindle a few weeks ago.  It is an excellent book about the way we make decisions based on emotion, and discusses the way our brain works on dopamine triggers to make snap reactions.  His examination of quarter backs, radar operators and pilots who made correct decisions instantaneously is very interesting.  I am not quite finished with it, but it has given me some food for thought on encouraging examination of mistakes and trial and error as a way to increase intelligence.

Are you like me, and have several books going at the same time?  Or do you concentrate on one at a time?

Book Review — Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent is the latest in a series of distopian young adult novels Eden and I have been reading.  She started out reading Brave New World and 1984, and we continued through Uglies by Scott Westerfield and Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien.  Many of the current distopia novels for young people are fairly unimaginative, playing over and over again on the ideas of eugenics — selective breeding of humans — and plastic surgery.  Divergent was more interesting to me because it focused on personality and how different personality styles affect life choices.

Beatrice lives in a world where people are divided into five factions:  Amity, people who believe in showing kindness above all else; Dauntless, people whose chief quality is courage; Erudite, people who believe all problems can be solved with intelligence and learning; Candor, people who belief in honesty and revelation of all one’s thoughts; and Abnegation, people who endeavor to live selflessly.  At the age of sixteen, each child chooses which faction he or she belongs to, based partly on aptitude tests.  They must then pass an initiation, after which their job choices are limited by their faction.  If they fail to pass the initiation, they are considered outcasts, factionless.

During her aptitude tests, Beatrice tests as Divergent.  Her tester warns her that this is very dangerous, and that she should tell no one that she has had these test results.  Beatrice choose to leave her parents’ faction, Abnegation, and join Dauntless.  Her brother, Caleb, also chooses to leave their parents’ faction, but joins Erudite.  During the initiation tests, she discovers that she is a very courageous, even fearless person.  She also begins to learn that focusing on one quality to the neglect of all others can change a whole society for the worse.

One of the surprises that made this story interesting to me was that although many parents purposely chose never to see their children again if they changed factions, Beatrice’s parents did not change toward their children although they had changed factions.  (Spoiler alert.) In fact, Beatrice’s mother had changed factions as a youth herself.  The idea of a person choosing a specific society over a family seems interesting to explore, especially as the extended family life of the past gives way to the splintered nuclear family of today’s society.  It seems realistic to think that one day in the future even maintaining contact with one’s sibling or parents would be a rarity.

The real reason I enjoyed this book, however, was the daring involved in the initiation to the Dauntless faction.  Leaping onto and off of moving trains, zip rides from high buildings and climbing to the top of Ferris wheels left Beatrice wanting more challenges.  I identified with this character not because I am daring, but because I have forced myself to be more courageous so that I don’t miss out on wonderful opportunities — like staring off the top of the high cliff in Canyonlands National Park.

This book comes recommended by 3 Floyds — Brett, Eden, and I all enjoyed it.  Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!

Book Review: With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo

I have a secret addiction to young adult fiction.  I am lucky to be able to blame my reading choices on my kids for now, but soon I will have to admit I just read these books because I like them.  (I think my mother has this same secret.)  After reading a review of this book in a librarian blog, I decided to check this book out for my girls and myself.  It was a worthwhile read.

Ollie is the daughter of a traveling preacher named Everlasting Love.  Unlike typical representations of itinerant preachers, this books depicts the family and the Reverend as truly following loving Christian values.  Although they are very poor, they are more interested in helping the people they are preaching to than making money.  When they arrive at the town of Binder, Arkansas, Ollie quickly finds a boy in sad need of comfort and help.  Jimmy Koppel’s mother is in the local jail accused of the murder of his father, and most in the community are not interested in helping him.

Ollie offers a listening ear and a helping hand to this sad boy, and her father even offers to stay in the community longer than usual in order to help correct the situation.  As the Love family works together to help the Koppels, they come to appreciate even more the love in their own family.  Although on the back of the book it is billed as a mystery, to me the mystery was very submerged in the rest of the story.  The ideas of family love and justice in this book made this book a winner for me.

I did think there are a few things that could have been improved in this novel.  For one thing, there is some ambiguity about time in this book.  Although the actions and attitudes of the characters would have fit more into the earlier part of the 20th century, but the truck, trailer and other items seem to be more modern.  The Love children might be considered homeschooled, there is no mention of schooling for the other teenagers in this novel.  While it might be summer break, Jimmy is offered the use of a local farm as a way to support his mother — leaving me wondering what age this is written in , when children were not required to attend school.  I also thought the romantic overtures were unnecessary and added little to this story.

One more good thing about this book:  the cover is beautiful.  I often read a book and then return it to the library, but this is definitely a book I will recommend to my girls before returning it.  I recommend it to you, too!  Have you read any good young adult fiction lately?  Leave me a comment.

Update:  Eden finished it and gave it the ultimate stamp of approval “We should buy that book!”  Read it soon!

Screen Free Sundays

Beginning in November, we instituted screen free Sundays for our family. While there are some exceptions (explained below), we do not use computers, televisions or internet linked telephones on Sunday. We also do not use ipods or other go to movies on this day. This is certainly not a technology free day for our house — we use cameras, microwaves, and the washing machine! We just choose to break our connections with the electronic world for one day each week.

I was motivated to begin pushing for a screen free day after reading The Winter of our Disconnect by Susan Maushart. While this brave woman with 3 teenagers even went without electricity for several weeks to break their electronics habit, I felt we neither had the extreme problem with electronics in our family, nor would I have any support from my husband in taking such a drastic step. Also, since the older kids use the computer for the school, such a drastic step would not be possible during the school year. However, the excellent results she had in encouraging her children to pursue other interests inspired me. I also recognized the need in myself to build better levels of concentration. I found myself breaking off my reading to check on blogs I was following or to look for a recipe. I wanted to regain control of my own use of technology.

Since our screen free Sundays started just as the cooler weather began, we have not spent our days outdoors as much as we surely will during the summer. Instead, most of our Sundays have been spent reading, cooking, and hanging out together. One Sunday, Shandy took Max to a car show for his monthly date night. Several Sundays we have had our girls book club meeting. The guys like to go get a coffee at McDonald’s and hang out there together for a while. We have also resurrected board games.

Yesterday, after coming home from a nice dinner with Grandma and Grandpa, I took time to read a short story to the whole family. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain was a hit with everyone. Later, Shandy and the older kids got out Sequence and played while I pursued my “assigned reading” — I have assigned myself a certain number of pages so that I can finish my books from the library before they have to be returned unfinished.

We do make exceptions to the screen free rule — specifically, running time. Although I often run without my ipod, a distance of 14 miles in the cold can be a little intimidating with no distraction.  Also, Shandy hates to run or workout without his music, and since we always work out on Sundays, there is an exception made during exercise time only.

I highly recommend setting a day aside to turn off the electronics and focus on other activities. It has really helped us feel more satisfied about keeping our lives focused on things that are real and important.  Have you tried a screen free day?  How has it affected your family?

Book Review: The Nature Principle by Richard Louv

The Nature Principle by Richard Louv is not just a repetition of his counsel from The Last Child in the Woods.  Instead, he focus on the benefits that adults can receive from nature therapy, and highlighs our responsibility to make this happen in our homes, community and world.  His basic thesis is stated within the first pages:

Our sensitivity to nature, and our humility within it, are essential to our physical and spiritual survival.

His book is divided into four parts.  In the first part, he states his case for the advantages being in nature brings to our mental and physical health.  Secondly, he discusses how we can bring nature into our home and family life.  Then he looks at our cities, and how nature can be brought close to home.  Lastly, he takes the long view of finding occupations in natural therapy and designing cities with nature incorporated in the design.

Since I live in small town Utah, and am not politically active, the last portion of his book was not as interesting to me as it might be to someone living in a big city.  The idea of mixed use neighborhoods and pocket parks is quite interesting to me, and if I were forced to move into a city I would definitely look for such a neighborhood to live in.  Until that time, however, I found very little in the last portion of the book which I will be able to use now.

One statement I did find interesting was about the office workers who work inside buildings with few windows or many cubicles.  He states that there are legal statutes which would prevent a zoo from keeping animals in such conditions, but nothing protects humans from this.  He also quotes Thomas Berry, a researcher and writer of the book The Great Work, who stated, “A degraded habitat will produce degraded humans.”  It made me think about the way an animal in poor zoo conditions prowls or loses hope.  Isn’t that what we see happening in big cities:  gangs are animals on the prowl, which eventually lead to depression and death for so many?  In that way, this reading related to my recent reading about the projects, and made me agree that the solution for many inner city problems may be more exposure to the natural world.

I had never really considered windows as a way of being exposed to nature, although the first thing we do in the morning is open the blinds so that we can let the sunshine in.  We often visit homes where the blinds are left closed all day, and we say, “It feels like your eyes are poked out!”  Even being able to see trees, birds flying by, or the sun, moon and stars out the window are restorative as we live in accord with nature and our own circadian rhythms.

Another important point Mr. Louv makes is the availability of nature in our own yards and gardens.  While I usually want my nature exposure to be more expansive (think–miles from a highway), even bird feeders or vegetable gardens in our own yards can be helpful in making our connection with nature.  That daily connection may be more helpful in the long run than occasional longer trips to the outdoors.  For children, an adult to introduce them to the joys of gardening may be all it takes to establish a relationship that will last a lifetime.  In fact, Mr. Louv encourages grandparents to help in establishing this relationship, since they usually remember a time when children were allowed more freedom and independence in the natural world.

This book gave voice to many of the feelings I have had about the importance of exposing ourselves and our children to nature.  Two of the areas I intend to focus on in adding nature to our daily life are:  bringing nature inside through house plants and working more in the garden with my children to add to our nature therapy.  I have also considered how I might invite other families to join us in our outdoor adventures.  Although one of my favorite things about our time outdoors is the solitude, perhaps even once a month or three times a year, we might be able to help others to get outdoors as well.

Have you read this book?  What were your thoughts on it?  Do you have a special way you incorporate nature therapy into your life?  Please leave me a comment.

Book Recommendation and Book Club Ideas: Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

I just finished reading this book, and I am so excited to use it for my girls’ book club!  Not only are the themes of this book close to my heart:  persistence, courage and independence; but it includes one of my favorite things ever:  cooking!

Foster McFee and her mother are on the run from a bad ex-boyfriend when we first meet them.  They wind up in the small town of Culpepper.  Foster’s love of cooking leads her to make and sell cupcakes at a local bakery, but her realization that cupcakes and cooking can make a difference in how people feel lead her to make cupcakes for a local charity house, an escaped convict, and a movie star.  Along the way, she follows her dreams and helps other to follow their dreams as well.  She also persists in learning to read despite great obstacles.

I am excited to use this book for our book club because I think it will lead to discussion of how the girls can help others, as well as working hard toward fulfilling their dreams.  I like the way Foster dreams big, and hope to encourage our girls to think of big things they can do, as well.  I want to talk to them about trying again even while overcoming fear of failure.   I also think we will be able to discuss how giving makes the giver and receiver both feel happy.

I also have an innovative idea for a book club activity:  I want to have each of the girls make their own 10 minute cooking show and post it to Youtube so that we can all watch them together.  I am sure some of the moms will want to do the activity as well.  Maybe we’ll use some of Foster’s own recipes as listed on the author website.

Do you have any good ideas for book clubs for moms and daughters to share?  Choosing books is easy for us, finding activities not so easy.  Do you have a good source for activity ideas?  Leave me a comment!

 

A Homeschooling Idyll – Book Review: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell was a book recommended to my ninth grader for a nonfiction book response assignment.  I was immediately attracted to its cover, with a picture of a young boy, a jar and a frog, and began reading.  This autobiography of five years in the life of a budding naturalist is not only hilarious, it tells a story of exactly the kind of honest, interest led learning that I would love to have in my own home.

The story begins when the family, headed by a widow, decides to leave the cold English summer and move to the island of Corfu.  Being written from the viewpoint of the nine-year old youngest son, it does not explain how they financed the move, or why they were able to leave England on a whim.  Instead, the story focuses on the wonderland of exploration Gerry found when he reached the island.  He began with the “profusion of life” on his very doorstep, examining the insects and creatures that lived in the garden.  He spent hours observing little crab spiders and earwigs, even guarding an earwig nest in the hope of watching the hatching.

Gerry was not the only one in his family who settled in to a lifestyle of learning.  His oldest brother spent his time writing a manuscript and in studying literature.  His mother settled in to a life of experimenting in the kitchen and garden, happily consulting a “tottering pile of books” on the kitchen table.  Another brother was extremely interested in guns and shooting, but found time to design and build a boat for Gerry’s birthday.  Gerry roamed farther and farther afield, following tortoises, catching and bringing home snakes and baby magpies, and learning more and more about the world around him.

As Gerry grew older in this peaceful environment, his mother found occasional tutors for him.  He was fortunate enough to have tutors that either followed their own interests while he followed his, or taught him in ways that caught his interest.  His mother’s one constant desire was a desire for him to learn to speak French.  Although he was unable to learn conversational French from his tutoring using La Petit Larousse, a dictionary, he did learn to speak the local Greek and communicate with the neighbors.  Gerry also had a constant mentor who shared his interest in the local insect life and aided him with his discoveries.  Gerry describes the time on the island this way:

Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen.  Each day had a tranquillity, a timelessness, about it, so that you wished it would never end.  But then the dark skin of night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us, glossy and colourful as a child’s transfer and with the same tinge of unreality.

Isn’t this how we wish the days passed for our children and ourselves?  To follow the path of our interest wherever it leads, with no hinderance stopping us, or turning us to a more “important” pursuit?  If we could only have the confidence in ourselves and our children to let that happen!  I  can’t wait to read this book aloud to Max and Lucy.  As with many other books we have read, notably:  My Side of the Mountain, Owls in the Family, Farmer Boy, Little Britches, and The Secret Garden, this wonderful book tells the story of a childhood doing real, important things.  I hope these books give us the character strength to be free and act on what we want to do.

Do you think independence is important in childhood?  How can we foster that sense of discovery and wonder that leads to important work for all of us?  Please leave me a comment below.

Homeschool Basics — Read aloud to your children

Rarely a day goes by in this house when we do not read aloud to our kids.  It was a habit that started when our oldest was brand new.  I was so excited to read some of my favorite baby books, I barely waited until we were home from the hospital. Even when Brett was only a few months old, he could be distracted from crying by listening to Dr. Seuss’ The Foot Book.  But the true joy of reading aloud came a few years later when we began reading chapter books to our kids.  For many years we commuted 30 miles three or four times a week.  This was before in-car DVD players, and since we didn’t have TV in the house, we probably would not have used one if it had been available.  Instead, I read myself hoarse, projecting my voice into the back seat.  Often, we would sit in the driveway for a few minutes when we got home to finish the chapter we were so interested in.

Later, we read a wonderful book encouraging reading aloud, The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.  While we were already reading aloud, this book gave us names for the benefits our children were receiving.  One benefit was an increased attention span.  While most children are able to sit still long enough to listen to a picture book and discuss the pictures, children who have listened to longer chapter books have built up an attention span that covers hours and even days.  They are able to hold characters and ideas in their mind and wait for the next installment of a story.  Another benefit is the increased vocabulary that comes to children when they are read books beyond their current reading ability.  Having those words in their speaking and comprehension vocabulary, they are more easily able to read them when they encounter them in a book.

Reading aloud is a homeschooling basic.  So many good things come from doing such an easy, pleasurable thing.  In fact, I truly believe if you read aloud and discussed what you were reading from a wide variety of fictional and non-fictional books, that you would never need to add anything else to your curriculum.  Such varied reading would stimulate interest in investigation and imitation of writers, and lead to math, writing, and other skills being put to use.  While I have a planned curriculum for our other subjects including math and science, reading has always proved to be the foundation of our school.

Sometimes we picked books because they went along with our current curriculum.  We read aloud Around the World in 100 Years by Jean Fritz to expand our study of early explorers, Stars, Mosquitoes and Crocodiles — The American Travels of Alexander von Humboldt selected and edited by Millicent E. Selsam, as we studied about South America, and Secrets of the Nest by Joan Dunning while we studied birds.  Sometimes we read fictional books to go along with our studies, such as Johnny Tremain while we studied the American Revolution, Moby Dick (yes, a very long a difficult read-aloud, not recommended) while we studied the ocean, and Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf (to an 8 year old and a 6 year old) while we studied the Far North.  Usually, though, we pick books because they are classic fiction, and we read them for pleasure.

Since we have two “sets” of kids, we often have read books more than once.  We read them aloud when the older two were the right age to listen, and read them aloud again when the younger two are ready for them.  Often, the older ones sit in and listen to the stories now, but then they finish the books by themselves.  For a special treat, we will take a short story that can be read in one sitting to the park or on a trip, and I read it to the whole family.  It is easy to find collections of classic short stories at thrift stores or yard sales, and then if the book doesn’t make it back from the trip it isn’t such a tragedy.

I find that for our family, ownership is important on read-aloud books.  If we can’t finish the book in the few weeks we are allowed by the library it is frustrating for everyone as we try to find another copy to borrow, or wait for it to come after we have ordered it from Abebooks.  I buy books in advance of the one we are reading currently, so that we never run short of the next book to read.  Usually Daddy is in the middle of one book that he reads for bedtime, and I read a different book during the day.  The kids never have trouble with this until we near the end of one of the books, at which time usually only one parent reads until the book is finished.

Some of our mostly highly recommended books:

the Little Britches  by Ralph Moody

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Owls in the Family and The Dog Who Would Not Be by Farley Mowat

The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame (this is a great, short read- aloud for the very youngest listeners)

Elmer and The Dragon  by Ruth C. Gannett (another really great book for young listeners: short, pictures, funny!)

Right now, I am in the middle of Inkspell by Cornelia Funke.  This is the second time through on this series, and we will again not read aloud Inkdeath.  This is a series in which the first book is wonderful, the second is less wonderful, and I won’t recommend the third.  Shandy is reading The Education of Littletree by Forrest Carter.  This book was recommended by someone Shandy was working for, and the kids are really enjoying this look at a different culture here in the United States.  It’s amazing how many people give book recommendations when they know you like to read.

Have you tried establishing a daily read-aloud time?  The next step is expanding the stories so that they cannot be finished in one sitting, but still are very interesting.  As your reading repertoire grows, you will soon find yourselves enjoying your daily time together.  Enjoy it now, because kids grow up so fast!  Sometimes I wish I hadn’t taught my kids to read, so that there would be more read aloud time now!

Hope you enjoy your day.  Have a book recommendation?  I’d love to hear it.

 

Book Review — There Are No Children Here by Alan Kotlowitz

I am pleased with myself.  I finished two books already this month!  While the book that I just finished might qualify as a somewhat “easy read,” it was beneficial to me in opening my eyes to a very different life than my own.  The book was There Are No Children Here by Alan Kotlowitz.

I found this book on a college bound non-fiction reading list, and thought I could read it even though I am not college bound.  Growing up and living in semi-rural Utah for my entire life, I have never personally seen the environment this book is written about.  In fact, I had never even seen pictures of this environment until I spent time researching Chicago’s housing projects on the Internet.  What I read and saw was horrifying, even though it appears that those projects are in the process of changing.

The book follows two young boys, the youngest a third-grader, and their family for several years as they attempt to lead a somewhat normal life growing up in Chicago’s Henry Horner Homes.  This project consisted of 15 story high-rises, and other buildings totaling about 1600 units.  These were large apartments with up to 5 bedrooms built for low-income families with many children.  The original units were built for $17,000 per unit, leading to very cheap construction.  The walls were painted cinder block, and the closets did not have doors.  The cheap construction was the least of the problem in these projects however.

The Rivers family, described in the book, has lived in Henry Horner Homes since the mother’s childhood.  When her family first moved into the projects, the neighborhood was not so bad.  They were able to play outside, and her family was excited about having plenty of space in the apartment.  The funds were not available for upkeep of the apartments however, so the tenants just kept getting poorer and poorer—anyone who had the funds would move to a better area.  Soon, all of the tenants were unemployed, on public assistance.  The area became dominated by gangs and drug dealers, and the violence started.

The most terrifying part of the book is the description of the violence surrounding these children from the very beginning of their lives.  They are accustomed to gang shootings within and outside the buildings, knowing where to go in the building to be safest from stray bullets, and ready to drop to the ground outside to protect themselves when bullets are flying.  They have seen people beat up and shot by police and gang members.  They are not shocked by these things, it is a customary part of their world.  Even the very young teenagers – as young as 11 years old—are not only becoming part of established gangs, but working together in violence to establish new gangs.

Another area of this book that shocked me was the casual view of teenage pregnancy.  All of LaJoe Rivers’ older 3 children had children of their own, even though the one of them (Terence) was barely 18.  Her niece, who was graduating high school, had 5 children by the time she was 19.  No one seemed to think anything was odd, or harmful in that situation.  Instead, they applauded the young father who did a few odd jobs and took care of the children so that his children’s mother could finish high school.  Did no one understand that this was perpetuating poverty?

According to the research I did on the internet, including this article from the New York Times, as the Chicago Housing Authority began to tear down these buildings and move people out of the projects, many people protested against moving, claiming the projects as their heritage.  The problem has ultimately been very difficult to solve, because funding is not available to make a complete fix, and just tearing down the projects does not give people any place to go, work to do, or education or lifestyle changes.

I am glad to have read this book.  It helps me to be grateful for the place we live and the conditions we live in.  I shudder to think of raising my children in such a place, and hope that someday all children will be raised in safety and peace.  May it come soon.

Part of homeschool is teaching ourselves.  Teaching ourselves is opening ourselves to new experiences, and this book did that for me.  It was not a pleasant experience, but I did learn from it.  Is there a book you would recommend as highlighting a part of life many of us will not likely experience?  Please leave me a comment.