Books, Food, History

Review: THERE’S A RAT IN MY SOUP

TITLE: THERE’S A RAT IN MY SOUP: COULD YOU SURVIVE MEDIEVAL FOOD? (Ye Yucky Middle Ages series)

AUTHOR: Chana Stiefel

ILLUSTRATOR: Gerald Kelly

PUBLICATION INFO: Enslow, 2012 (Paperback)

ISBN: 978-0-7660-3785-4

SOURCE: Publisher-provided copy

INTENDED AUDIENCE: Grades 3-5 (Amazon), Grades 5 – 9 (publisher); I think Amazon’s grade-level designation is more appropriate.

GENRE: nonfiction

OPENING and SYNOPSIS:

“Turning a long metal skewer, the cook roasts a whole swan over a blazing fire. For gravy, he mixes the bird’s blood with its heart, liver, and guts. He stirs in pieces of bread and adds some broth. The swan’s skin and feathers are then stuck back onto its body to make it look alive. Dinner is served!”

Enjoy reading about mouth-watering “delicacies” like this roast swan, pottage (think gruel), blackbird-filled pies and more in this delightful romp through medieval cooking. In 48 pages, Stiefel covers royal food and feasts, as well as the peasants’ plight. She also looks at the constant threat of starvation that plagued the people of the Middle Ages.

THEMES/TOPICS: history (European), cookery

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: This gross-out books is gobs of fun. Stiefel’s prose is delightfully descriptive. Her conversational and humorous voice truly put the “story” in this history. Yet, at the same time, it’s clear this is a well-researched text. Stiefel includes quotes from people who lived in the Middle Ages, as well as other tidbits, like the shopping list for a 6,000-person feast. Gerald Kelley’s lively illustrations are a perfect match for the text, keeping the book fun and engaging for young readers. You’ll find it hard to put down.

RESOURCES/ACTIVITIES:

History, Science/Math, Travel

Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center

Space Shuttle EndeavourWe finally made it to the California Science Center to view Space Shuttle Endeavour, the youngest in the Space Shuttle fleet. The boys were sick when Nils signed autographs at the Science Center Halloween weekend, when the exhibit first opened. Nils flew one of the aircraft that chased Endeavour and the 747 on its trip to LAX in September. He carried a NASA flight photographer in his back seat.

On a rainy Saturday morning, the Science Center was crowded. Endeavour was doing its job of drawing people into the museum, which made me happy. We are frequent visitors, and I’ve never seen the place so packed.

To see Endeavour, you must obtain free, timed tickets. You can get these at the museum, though you risk them selling out, or you can print them at home or a $2 per ticket fee. When we arrived at 10 a.m., the only available tickets were for 3 p.m. Because the Science Center itself is free, it’s well worth it to print your tickets at home.

Your ticket admits you first to the “California Story” exhibit, which details the Shuttle’s birth in Palmdale, California. Viewers can touch the tires Endeavour used on its last flight. They can see a real space potty and kitchen and watch videos about how they work. These two topics are always a hit with kids, and astronauts will tell you they probably answer questions about eating and going to the potty in space most often.

There is also a mock-up of Rocketdyne’s operation support facility, which looks a lot like mission control. There you can watch and hear a launch on the screens.

For me, the time-lapse video showing Endeavour’s flight into Los Angeles and 48-hour trip through town to the museum was a highlight. The number of people who turned out for this historic event is overpowering. The video also highlights the contrast between this one-of-a-kind asset and the everyday of Los Angeles with views of Endeavour through a laundromat window, shots of it driving through streets lined with houses and , images outside a donut shop.

From the exhibit, you head to the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, a temporary home for Endeavour until a new building is built. Many years ago I saw Space Shuttle Atlantis in major modifications at Palmdale, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been so close. Visitors can almost touch the heat-resistant tiles. The Pavilion also is home to SPACEHAB, which the Shuttles carried to provide extra space to live and work, as well as a Space Shuttle main engine. There are video clips highlighting Endeavour’s missions. The outside wall provides details about each Space Shuttle mission.

You can stay in the exhibit as long as you like. If you can, go earlier in the day, because the line backs up and the exhibit gets crowded as the day moves on. And while you are there, don’t miss the EcoSystems exhibit and all the children’s discovery rooms.

Books, History

Review: THE LUCKY BASEBALL

Author: Susanne Lieurance
Publication Info: Enslow, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-7660-3311-5
Source: Publisher-provided copy
Intended audience: grades 3 through 6
Genre: historical fiction, chapter book (160 Pages)
Themes/topics: World War II, baseball, Japanese Internment
Synopsis: Harry Yakamoto lives a normal life in Seven Cedars, CA, until his family is interned in Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp. Baseball becomes is preoccupation and salvation during the many years his family lives in the camp.
Why I like this book: I’ve always been fascinated by Manzanar. Driving past it, there is no sign that it was home to thousands of Japanese-Americans who were held against their war during World War II. I’ve also found Manzanar to be a fascinating topic because it’s rarely discussed. Lieurance’s expertly told story provides insight into the harsh conditions of Japanese internment camps. Her plot is transporting and her characters well-developed. Children will enjoy Harry and his passion for baseball without realizing how much they are learning. As usual, Enslow provides backmatter explaining the real history and providing links to further reading.
History, Travel

Secret San Diego … with Kids part 1

USS Midway

San Diego Zoo? Check.

San Diego Air and Space Museum? Check.

Beach? Of course!

LEGOLand? Love it!

The San Diego area is a short drive away from us, so we visit at least once a year. On this visit, we decided to check out a couple of destinations off the beaten path. I’ll review them over the next couple few days.

First up, is the USS Midway. This was hands down my favorite part of the trip. I thought we would spend a couple of hours aboard this post-World War II aircraft carrier. Wrong! We stayed aboard for more than four hours. Our ticket included  an audio tour, and we followed the green, family-friendly path.  We had picked up a Junior Pilot Program worksheet, and the boys had to answer questions at several stops along the way to earn their Midway pilot’s wings.

We had a fascinating glimpse into life aboard this “city at sea.” We learned that water is so scarce aboard ship, that seaman take a two-minute “Navy shower.” We learned that just one link of the anchor chain weighs 130 pounds. And we learned that the it took 6 galleys (kitchens) and 10 tons of food daily to feed the 4,500-member crew.

The boys got to try their hand at tying knots. They tested out the bunks, called “racks.” They even had a visit to the ship’s jail, called the brig. They also “flew” a variety of aircraft that once called the Midway home.

Just a few thoughts for family visits. First, only the flight deck and stroller deck are stroller accessible. Below deck is a series of narrow passageways, stairs and “knee knockers” — raised thresholds. Our four-year-old did fine, but this may be tough for younger children. Children have to be five for the audio tour. Fortunately, the audio clips were short, so we were able to share with our four-year-old. Also, only older children are allowed on the bridge. Our four-year-old did not make the cut, but our six-year-old did. I am guessing most five-year-olds would probably be tall enough for the tour.

After our ramblings, we headed over to Seaport Village for an ice cream. It was just a short walk away, and a wonderful way to end a fun day.

Books, Geography, History

Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Wall

Author/Illustrator: Peter Sis
Publication Info: Macmillan’s Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-374-34701-7
Source: Personal collection
Intended audience: ages 8 and up
Genre: picture book (nonfiction)
Themes/topics: world history, communism, the Cold War, the Iron Curtain, Czechoslovakia, autobiography
Opening and synopsis: “As long as he could remember, he had loved to draw. At first he drew shapes. Then he drew people. After drawing whatever he wanted to at home, he drew what he was told at school.”
This multi-layered, picture-book autobiography recounts Peter Sis’s life growing up in communist Czechoslovakia. Sis writes the main narrative in simple sentences. However, he rings that simple narrative with drawings, captions, excerpts from his journals and historical timeline information.
Why I like this book: This book was a library-book-sale find. I lived in West Germany when The Wall crumbled, and so Sis’s story spoke to me. Later I found out this book is a Caldecott honor book and earned starred reviews upon publication. I definitely think this book is for upper elementary students. The topics of communism, the Cold War and the Iron Curtain are certainly too complex for young readers. However, this book would be a wonderful way to explore how children experienced communism first-hand.
Resources/activities: 
  • A teacher’s guide is available here.
  • Multimedia resources including an author interview about the book are available on here.
  • The New York Times’s Learning Network has a number of Cold War resources.
  • Teachers Pay Teachers has several free lesson plans and other resources.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site

Books, History

Review: CAPTAIN HANNAH PRITCHARD: THE HUNT FOR PIRATE GOLD

Author: Bonnie Pryor
Publication Info: Enslow, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7660-3817-2
Source: Publisher-provided copy
Intended audience: grades 3 through 6
Genre: historical fiction, chapter book (160 Pages)
Themes/topics: American Revolution, pirates
Opening and synopsis: The third book in the Hannah Pritchard series finds Hannah (disguised as the ship’s cook, a boy named Jack) aboard a new ship and looking for buried treasure. But the crew isn’t the only one hunting for the treasure: American pirate Captain Cutter is searching too. Meanwhile Hannah’s crew, now part of the Continental navy, must watch out for the British in this Revolutionary War tale.
Why I like this book: Fiction is a wonderful way to learn about historical events and periods. Studies have shown that we often remember information better when it’s linked to a narrative. The Hannah Pritchard story is compelling, especially once the crew leaves Portsmouth and heads out to sea (Chapter 5). This book contains additional resources that illuminate the figures and events mentioned in the story and give sources for further reading. This helps young people separate fact from fiction, which is often difficult in not-so-well researched historical stories. Also, Hannah is a strong character and role model; she’s courageous, generous, and sticks to her principles.
 
Books, History, Homeschool

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Tutankhamun

Author/Illustrator: Demi
Publication Info: Marshall Cavendish, 2009
ISBN: 9780761455585
Source: Library copy
Intended audience: ages 9 and up
Genre: nonfiction, picture book (64 pages)
Themes/topics: Egypt, mummies, world history
Opening and synopsis: ”King Thutmose IV, who ruled from 1419 to 1386 BCE, was the great-grandfather of King Tutankhamun. As a young prince, Thutmose IV had many brothers and half-brothers who wanted to seize the throne.”
Illustrated with stunning images, this book places King Tut in his cultural and religious context. Demi tells of Tut’s ancestors, his life and tomb. Tut emerged as pharaoh at an interesting time in history. Inspired by Thutmose IV’s vision, Tut’s father, Akhenaten, did away with worship of traditional Egyptian gods in favor of monotheism. When Tut came to power, political strife ensued as two regents wrestled for control. After Tut’s death, his ultimate successor tried to erase Tut’s family from history forever. But he couldn’t destroy Tut’s hidden tomb.
Why I like this book: As obsessed as my three-year-old is with mummies, we actually knew little about King Tut’s life. Although the story line is far too advanced for preschoolers, Demi’s images can be appreciated by all ages. She’s gilded many of the images, conveying the wealth of ancient Egypt and the pharaohs.
Resources/activities: 

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Books, Geography, History, Homeschool

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Mummies, Pyramids, and Pharoahs

Title: Mummies, Pyramids, and Pharaohs

Author/Illustrator: Gail Gibbons

Publication Info: Little, Brown and Company, 2004
Intended audience: preschool and up
Genre: nonfiction picture book
Themes/topics: ancient Egypt, geography, world history, civilizations
Opening and synopsis:
“One of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations began about five thousand years ago, in the land of Egypt. For the next three thousand years the Egyptians were ruled by kings called pharaohs. While he was in power, each pharaoh was believed to be Horus, the son of the great sun god, Re.”
Gail Gibbons provides an age-appropriate overview of ancient Egypt including social structure, religious customs, and, of course, mummies.
Why I like this book: Have I mentioned that my three-year-old is obsessed with mummies? Our visit to The Getty Museum, with its Roman mummy in April made an impression, and we’ve been reading books about mummies ever since. Gibbons’ book, which we’ve read approximately 100 times, is the clear favorite. Gibbons is a prolific nonfiction writer. Her picture books are perfect for preschooler audiences.
Resources: This book is a wonderful way to explore ancient Egypt. Online resources abound, so here’s just a few. The British Museum has wonderful mummy collection. Check out the museum’s young explorers’ online explorer to learn more about ancient Egypt. National Geographic has a lesson plan for grades three through five, here. The site also has fun games, including “Tomb of the Unknown Mummy Game.” Kids become Egyptologist to explore the tomb and solve the mystery. The site also has a Day in the Life brainteaser/quiz game for children. Scholastic boasts several lesson plans with Egyptian themes. For grades six through twelve, educators can find lesson plans on PBS. Really, opportunities to extend the learning from this book abound.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday will be on hiatus until September 7. I’ll be taking a bit of a blog-cation over the next month, but I’ll return with more book reviews in early August.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
History, Holidays

Happy Memorial Day

For many of us, Memorial Day is nothing more than an extra day off from work, a time for barbecues and a signal that summer is almost here. But this day provides a wonderful opportunity to talk with your children about the meaning behind Memorial Day.

Memorial Day has its roots in Decoration Day, when southerners would decorate the graves of the Civil War dead with flags, wreaths and flowers. General Logan declared the first Decoration Day, which was held May 30, 1968. On that day, General Garfield spoke at Arlington National Cemetery, and then 5,000 people decorated more than 20,000 union and confederate graves.

For age-appropriate resources for talking with your children, try:

Memorial Day also reminds us to support our men and women in uniform every day of the year. Children can practice gratitude and letter-writing by making cards and writing letters to troops. You can send them through organizations like A Million Thanks.

How do you talk to your children about Memorial Day?

Books, Geography, History

Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Story of Salt

Illustrator: S. D. Schindler
Publication Info: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006
Intended audience: Ages 7 and up
Genre: nonfiction, picture book
Themes/topics: world history, economics
Opening and synopsis: “It began a few years ago with a rock I bought in a small mountain town in Spain. The rock had pink surfaces with streaks of white and brown. Though it was not a diamond or an emerald or a ruby, it was beautiful. Yet it was only salt.”
Are you ready to learn about the rise and fall of world civilizations? Then follow the salt trade through the ages, for he who controlled the salt, controlled the world. Salt built the Great Wall of China; during the Tang dynasty, half of the Chinese government’s funds came from salt. Mahatma Gandhi’s symbolic Salt March spurred Indian independence. And even in the United States, many towns were settled close to sources of salt.
Why I like this book: As a college history major, I love well-written hi-“stories,” especially those with such a narrow focus but broad historical impact. Kurlansky originally wrote “Salt: A World History” for grown ups in 2003, which I haven’t read….yet. However, for upper elementary, this is a fantastic story of how trade, commerce and the wrestle for resources lie at the center of so many wars and power struggles.
Resources: Eat a meal featuring salt-cured foods and discuss how salt allowed people to preserve food and travel far from home to trade. Think cheese, sauerkraut, pickles, ham, bacon, salt fish. You can make your own pickles using several recipes, but here’s one from Alton Brown at The Food Network. You could try your hand at making your own salt from seawater or saltwater you’ve prepared. Just pour it in a shallow bowl or plate and place it in the sun for several days. The GastroGnome has a stove-top recipe here. In my experience, children love mummies, and salt was vital to the mummification process. Discovery Kids has a mummy-maker game here.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.