Books, History

Nonfiction Friday: Pascual and the Kitchen Angels

Fiction or nonfiction? It’s often tough for me to classify Tomie dePaola’s work. His biography of Pascual Bailon, Pascual and the Kitchen Angels (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004), is truly creative nonfiction at its best.

Using playful illustrations and captivating prose, dePaola recreates the story of Saint Pascual, a shepherd boy who yearns to be a friar and feed the hungry. When Pascual arrives at the monastery with tasty food from his mama, the friars ask him to cook a dinner. Pascual has no idea how to cook. What can he do? Why, pray, of course.

While Pascual is praying, the kitchen angels appear turning his ingredients into tasty dishes. This happens night after night. The curious friars want to know how Pascual produces his delicious dishes. When they see Pascual’s piety and how God has blessed him, they fulfill his wish of helping to feed the hungry.

Cooper, my five-year-old, loves the magic of the kitchen angels zipping around the kitchen to boil beans, chop vegetables and slice cheese. DePaola’s drawing are hilarious and half the fun. Pascual and the Kitchen Angels is what all nonfiction should be — a great story first and a lesson second. For those who are interested, dePaola includes a note in the back matter with the legend of Saint Pascual.

I’m contemplating a biographical picture book for my February  12 x 12 in 2012 manuscript. I think I’ll use dePaola as my inspiration.

Field Trip Ideas, History

State Park: Antelope Valley Indian Museum

Crushing acorns

State Parks offer vast opportunities for children to learn and explore both indoors and outdoors. I recently took the boys to one of my favorite spots, the Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park located 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the vast Mojave Desert.

It was a welcome visit. The site had been closed for four years for earthquake retrofitting, and had reopened in the Fall of 2010. Our MOMS Club had organized a field trip to the site, so our visit took place outside of normal business hours (Hours: Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Our park ranger hosts had developed an hour-long program perfectly suited to the children’s ages.

First they helped the children experience the collection by playing games with them.

“What kind of tools do you have at home?” Ranger Jean asked.

“Screwdriver! Hammer!” the children shouted in turn.

“See if you can find some examples of tools in this room that the Native Americans used,” Jean challenged them.

And so the preschoolers set off to explore. When the children had found a few tools, Jean explained how Native Americans used rocks, twine and sticks to help them do their work.

The boys also heard a Native American story about Bluejay, Crow and acorns. They learned how native people made a kind of oatmeal from crushed acorns and pine-nut butter from pulverized pine nuts. (Pine-nut butter was Cooper’s joke.) The children got to try their hand at grinding the acorns and pine nuts just as the Native Americans did. Then we took a little nature hike along the nearby trail, which typically boasts a beautiful wildflower display during the season. We wrapped up our morning with a nice picnic that allowed us to chat with ranger Deb one-one-one.

For locals: The Antelope Valley Indian Museum , a State Historic Park, is a Southern California gem. Located in the vast Mojave Desert about 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles, the park was once home to amateur anthropologist William Arden Edwards, a set designer in Hollywood. The main portion of the museum is Edwards’s Swiss chalet-style home, which he built directly into Piute Butte. A rock outcropping serves as one wall of the home’s majestic Kachina Hall.

Edwards harbored a deep interest in Native Americans of the southwest, and his home included a room for displaying his collection of pottery, baskets and other artifacts. Years later, he sold the 160-acre property to Grace Wilcox Oliver, who turned the it into a full-fledged museum. She converted the home into exhibit galleries, added her own collections and operated the Antelope Valley Indian Museum for more than 30 years. The State of California bought the site in 1979.

Books, History, Science/Math

Nonfiction Friday: Amelia Earhart – The Legend of the Lost Aviator

As you may recall, last week was Amelia Earhart Day, and I wanted to find an age-appropriate book to support our discussions about this famous aviator. Unfortunately, my efforts met with little success, as most of the library books available were way over a preschooler’s head. However, I did find a beautiful picture book targeted for children ages eight and up: Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator by Shelley Tanaka (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2008).

While Cooper couldn’t read the whole thing, I did! (Note: I did not want to get into a protracted discussion with a preschooler about death, so I pretty much skipped over the part about Amelia disappearing. We just read about her key aviation accomplishments.)

At 45 pages, the book is lengthy, however it covers Earhart’s life from her childhood through her disappearance and its aftermath. It opens with Earhart’s first view of an airplane at the 1908 Iowa State Fair and recounts in detail her idyllic early childhood with her sister Muriel. From an early age, Amelia was an adventurer who enjoyed trying new things. Her parents instilled in her and her sister that girls could do anything from playing football to climbing trees.

The book also covers Amelia’s first experiences with flying, her record-breaking achievements and her final flight. Sidebars detail other related subjects and provide context: air travel, female fliers, Amelia’s fan mail, navigation techniques and other circumnavigation attempts. The book includes a mix of historical Earhart photos, including childhood pics, and beautiful illustrations by David Craig.

For older children, this provides a complete portrait of Amelia’s courage and dedication to flying. It’s an inspiring tale worthy of upper elementary children who are ready for chapter books.

Geography, History, Homeschool

Armchair Archaeologist

From National Geographic's "Forbidden Tomb of Genghis Khan"

Do you have Indiana Jones aspirations?

I recently stumbled upon a UC San Diego Research project, called Valley of the Khans, that  involves thousands of armchair archaeologists around the world. The research team uses non-invasive tools, like satellite mapping, unmanned aerial vehicles and remote sensing, in its efforts to find the tomb of Genghis Khan. These techniques minimize digging and respect local culture and traditions. Because there is so much satellite imagery to analyze, the team, led by Dr. Albert Lin, has asked average citizens to log onto the site and tag satellite data.

I’m still getting my feet wet as a “level 1 novice.” Using the video on the site, I’ve learned to tag roads, rivers, ancient and modern structures, which the team will explore. In this early phase, I am honing my technique as I get feedback on each map I tag.

While the subject of Genghis Khan is far too violent for early elementary students — he was a pretty nasty fellow, after all — I can certainly see upper elementary, middle school and high school students finding this to be a fascinating effort. The rich Web site contains history of Genghis Khan as well as the science behind the exploration. In November, National Geographic aired “The Forbidden Tomb of Genghis Khan,” and video clips are available on the program Web site.

Field Trip Ideas, History, Science/Math

1001 Inventions

Courtesy Muslim Heritage

We recently took in a fascinating exhibit called 1001 Inventions at the California Science Center (on view through March 11th). The exhibit chronicled scientific contributions of the Muslim world during the Middle Ages, including the first University, founded by a Muslim woman, and the first man to fly.

The interactive exhibit captured the children’s attention. Cooper spent time exploring lunar formations named for Muslim astronomers. He also identified constellations  in a mock night sky. We learned why we write our numbers the way we do through an interactive game. (Essentially, the number 1 has one angle; 2 has two angles and so on.)

I’m not sure where the exhibit will travel to next, but there are plenty of resources available on the Web site for those who would like to explore its content. For children ages 11 – 16 there is a teacher kit available online, complete with experiments.

The exhibit highlights several learned Muslims from the Middle Ages. Here are a couple that captivated us.:

Fatima al-Fihri: This well-to-do Muslim woman founded the first university in 841 BCE. When her father died, she used her inheritance to build Al-Qarawiyin in Fez, Morocco, her hometown. Students there studied religion, politics and natural sciences. The University still operates today.

In the 9th Century, Abbas ibn Firnas made the first-ever human flight in an early hang glider. He jumped from a tower in Cordoba, Spain, flew successfully and landed with only minor injuries.

The exhibit makes the case that Muslim advancements during the “Dark Ages” led to the Renaissance in Europe. It was certainly a fascinating history lesson.


Books, History, Holidays

Nonfiction Friday: Of Thee I Sing

I still haven’t made it to the library to pick up books about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Amelia Earhart for the kids. I was hoping to review a picture book about one of those famous Americans for today’s installment of Nonfiction Friday. Instead of beating myself, up, I decided to scour the house for a book that might be appropriate.

For Christmas 2010, my sister-in-law bought the boys Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010). Today, we opened it to read Obama’s entry on Martin Luther King, Jr. Here’s how it reads:

“Have I told you that you don’t give up?

When violence erupted in our nation,/ a man named Martin Luther King Jr./ taught us unyielding compassion. He gave us a dream/ that all races and creeds would walk hand in hand./He marched and he prayed and, one at a time,/ opened hearts and saw the birth of his dream in us.”

No matter how you feel about Obama as a president, this is a great book that captures the spirit of America and Americans. The book features personalities and talents as diverse as Georgia O’Keefe, Cesar Chavez, Billie Holiday, and Albert Einstein. It also includes more famous Americans like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. The book reveals, through each person, the character of America.

Obama’s poetry coupled with Loren Long’s vibrant images makes for a great read. The book is recommended for ages 5 (kindergarten) and up. However even small children will enjoy the poetry and images, though they might not yet grasp the concepts.

History, Holidays, Science/Math

Amelia Earhart Day….a day late

Ooops! Yesterday (Jan. 11th) was Amelia Earhart Day. The holiday recognizes the aviator’s 1935 takeoff from Honolulu on a trip to Oakland, Calif. When Earhart landed 18+ hours later on January 12th, she became the first person ever — male or female — to fly from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland. She later commented on her experience flying over the desolate Pacific: “Indeed,” she said, “that was the most interesting cup of chocolate I have ever had, sitting up eight thousand feet over the middle of the Pacific Ocean, quite alone.”

Earhart is perhaps best know for her mysterious disappearance in 1937 during her attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world. Despite her notoriety for her final flight, Earhart’s career was marked by firsts, bests and records. For children, she is a study in courage and determination.

In honor of Amelia Earhart Day, Cooper and I had a little discussion about Earhart. He knew that she was a pilot. We discussed some other things we might like to know about her 2,400-mile journey across the Pacific: What plane did she fly (Lockheed Vega); where did she takeoff and land (Wheeler Field, Honolulu and Oakland); how long did it take (more than 18 hours). We researched these questions using a variety of internet and print resources. Part of our discussion focused on what Earhart might have had to eat and drink on her long journey….and how she might have gone to the bathroom. We never found any evidence as to how she performed the latter, but we brainstormed at least five ways it could have happened.

We also imagined what we would need to pack for an 18-hour journey. According to Cooper, we would need a sandwich, milk, hot chocolate, Winnie the Pooh and a video game. Once I explained to him how long the trip was, he agreed to pack two sandwiches.

There are a lot of great resources out there to learn about Earhart and her contributions:

History, Holidays, Homeschool

Learning about MLK

Cooper came home from school yesterday and told me he was learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. He knew that MLK’s birthday was Jan. 15th and that he was “a leader.” I asked Cooper why MLK was so important, trying to probe how much they had learned. He said he didn’t know. Rather than leave it at that, I decided to start talking about MLK, a conversation we’ll continue over the next couple of weeks.

For background, I had an amazing English teacher my junior year of high school. Ms. Romano taught English in an integrated way, and I learned more about history in her class — especially the Civil Rights movement — than I did in my history classes. We watched the entirety of “Eyes on the Prize,” one of the best documentaries of all time (Note: You’ll find age-appropriate activities on the documentary site). Later, in college, I took a History of the Civil Rights Movement class with Julian Bond, founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and former head of the NAACP. It was a powerful experience.

Back to Cooper: I asked what he had for snack in school that day. Pancakes, he answered. I asked him what would happen if his teacher, Ms. Dina, only gave the girls pancakes and gave no snack to the boys. How would he feel? Would that be fair? What if only his friends with dark skin got to play on the playground? How would he feel? Is that fair?

Then I explained to him that in MLK’s time, there were parts of the country where people with dark skin and light skin couldn’t use the same bathrooms, go to the same schools, eat in the same restaurants. This wasn’t right and was something MLK and lots of other people tried to change. He was a pastor and knew that we are all God’s children and should be treated equally regardless of what we look like on the outside.

We talked through a timeline of MLK’s life, illustrated by children found… This prompted some questions about why MLK was arrested and went to jail. Living in a world of absolutes, Cooper had a hard time understanding that someone who wasn’t a “bad guy” would spend time in “time out.” We talked about how the laws he broke weren’t right. Going to jail was a way for MLK and the civil rights workers to call attention to this fact, and the laws were eventually changed.

We listened to parts of King’s famous “I have a dream” speech, which always brings tears to my eyes and talked about how he was a powerful speaker. We discussed how being a pastor had helped train him in public speaking.

I hadn’t planned to start this discussion until next week, but now I’m excited. I think we’ll hit the library soon to look for some books about this theme. Stay tuned.