Wednesday, May 30, 2018


As several homeschool curriculum have Ancient and European history starting at primary and elementary grades I've been searching for resources that meet those needs. A family member will be covering the Fall of Rome moving into the Middle Ages as part of a grade 2 curriculum and I've been looking for some books that address that time period accurately, but keeping the age level of the child in mind when writing about the topic.

In my search I came across Barbarians part of the X fighters series. I am not often a fan of the extreme styled books as they tend to lose sight of the education in order to provide the shock and awe factors to get parents and children to buy the book. I was suitably impressed with this book.

There are thousands of books that focus on the Middle Ages for children, some clearly more accurate and authentic than others, but a selection for parents, homeschoolers, and teachers who want materials to use with primary and elementary children. I've found the periods between Rome and the more established Middle Ages to be a bit more challenging as the material can be more complicated and it hasn't always been traditionally material for this age group.

The book begins with an introduction to who the Barbarians were and the main groups of Barbarians, the Celt, Saxons, Franks, Goths, Huns, and Vandals. A handy map is provided to demonstrate where these groups eventually ended up living, although the book explains they didn't all begin in these areas. I thought the author did a good job of giving an age appropriate explanation of the relationship between the tribes and Rome.

The theme Xtreme Fighters is built around mini biographies of 5 Barbarian Chiefs. The biographies are brief, but certainly could lead to further research if so desired. The books counts the leaders down from 5 to 1.

1.Attila the Hun
2.Alaric I Visgoth
3.Queen Boudicca Celtic
4.Gaiseric Vandal
5. Clovis Frankish Chief

The author provides information about weapons, writing, and battle tactics. War is never pleasant in any time period and any discussion of it often has certain unpleasant facts. I didn't find the author to be be inappropriately detailed, but as with all books you may want to preview before reading with or giving it to a child to read if you are concerned that some information might not be appropriate. I find people have different levels of tolerance. I plan on having this book available next year, others may feel differently.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Doll Crafts: A Kids Guide to Making Simple Dolls

My younger sister and I spent hours as kids making dolls of all kinds from clothespins, empty thread spools, socks, and other materials and then building them homes from abandoned shoe boxes. We'd make beds and chairs and cut out windows covering them with plastic and decorating the home with Mom's scraps of fabric. The homes were never going to win prizes, we didn't have money for fancy doll houses or dolls, but it didn't stop our interest in creating them. I often think it stimulated our creativity because we had to make everything.

I was intrigued when I saw Doll Crafts: A Kid's Guide to Making Simple Dolls, Clothing, Accessories, and Houses listed as a new offering at the library. These kids craft books can be hit or miss. This one didn't disappoint. It had a wide range of options for kids interested in simple quick to make projects so they can play now and those who want to explore the crafting side of doll making a little more and learn some new skills. Just a note these projects are geared for children, it is not a book for adult doll makers. However, it did surprise and intrigue me the types of skills they introduced for hair and clothes creation.

The book begins with an introduction explaining the tools and terms used in the book. If you have experience with sewing most will be familiar to you, however I always find it a good idea to make sure the author and I use the same language when discussing crafts.

The book begins with a recipe for Gingerbread dolls or what most of us call cookies. I guess this is a childhood experience most kids shouldn't miss. I'm not sure I'd have included it in a doll making book, but I wasn't the author. From their we move on to a chapter on paper dolls and I must confess this took me back to my childhood with things I had almost forgotten. First we have directions for a paper doll chain, then the author moves on to making and dressing paper dolls. From there we move on to using brass brads (she tells you to check the office supply store to find them) to make dancing paper dolls. I had forgotten about making these in school. Filling out the paper doll section is a selfie paper doll and a gymnast that almost moves us into the area of puppetry.

The next section is one very beloved from my childhood, clothespin dolls. This section only merited a page before she moved on to spoon dolls and handkerchief dolls.

The next large section is folk dolls and she begins with the corn husk doll. She also includes directions for an apple and radish head dolls. I've seen apple dolls, but never the directions for making one, not that I've looked. I'd never actually heard of a radish doll.

My older sisters made yarn dolls and I still have a couple of Christmas ornaments they made as children that hang on my Christmas tree. Directions are provided for making them in the next section of the folk dolls. There are directions for a worry, healing, string, and stick doll in this section as well. The section includes a Voodoo doll although I think for kids I might have left that one out.

Following the folk dolls we move on to soft dolls beginning with a pocket gnome. We move from there to sock dolls and then felt dolls.

The next large section covers making doll clothes and ranges from simple to more complicated projects.

At the end we have a few pages dedicated to housing. I would have liked to have seen more here, but that could be a personal bias because I spent so many hours building my own as a child.

Overall I think this is a pretty amazing book. I'd have loved to have had access to it as a child because this isn't one of those books where you need tons of unavailable products to make the first project. Some like the clothespins are now more craft items than they were when I was a child, but the items used to decorate them are things that can be recycled from other projects, recycled clothing, etc.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Blue Star Museums 2018

The Blue Star Museum program begins again over Memorial Day and will continue through Labor Day. The program offers free admission at participating museums to all active duty, reserve, and National Guard military personnel and their families. The program operates around the country and the website provides an interactive map you can use to locate venues here.

As always, I suggest checking out the site you want to visit before traveling there to get more information.

When I checked out this year's list, the following Massachusetts sites were participating:

The Discovery Museums

Lowell's Boat Shop

Beneski Museum of Natural History
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Attleboro Arts Museum
Mass Audubon at Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuary

Mass Audubon at Long Pasture Wildlife Santuary

Mass Audubon at Habitat Education Center

Historic Beverly

Historic New England Otis House Museum
Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Nichols House Museum
Old South Meeting House
The Mary Baker Eddy Library
The Sports Museum
USS Constitution Museum
Willaim Hickling Prescott House/NSCDA

Harvard Museum of Natural History
MIT List Visual Arts Center Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology/Harvard

Mass Audubon at Museum of American Bird Art

Museum of Russian Icons

Historic Deerfield
Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association

Duxbury Rural & Historical Society

Mass Audubon at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary

Martha's Vineyard Museum Mass Audubon at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary

Cogswell's Grant
Essex Shipbuilding Museum

Cape Ann Museum
Sargent House Museum


Buttonwoods Museum


John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum

Ipswich Museum

Mass Audubon at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary

Mass Audubon at Drumlin Farm

1699 Winslow House Museum
Mass Audubon at North River Wildlife Sanctuary

Mass Audubon at Boston Nature Center

Royall House and Slave Quarters

Mass Audubon at Blue Hills Trailside Museum

Nantucket Historical Association
Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association
Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum

Mass Audubon at Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

New Bedford:
New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks!
New Bedford Whaling Museum

Mass Audubon at Joppa Flats Education Center:

Durant-Kenrick House and Grounds of Historic Newton
Jackson Homestead and Museum
Mass Audubon at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary

North Andover:
North Andover Historical Society

North Easton:
Children's Museum in Easton

Smith College Museum of Art

Mass Audubon at Wachusett Meadow

Peabody Essex Museum

South Wellfleet:
Mass Audubon at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
Springfield Museums

Norman Rockwell Museum

Old Colony History Museum

Mass Audubon at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation
Historic New England Lyman Estate

Wenham Museum

Mass Audubon at Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary

Clark Art Institute
Williams College Museum of Art

Mass Audubon at Broad Meadow Brook
Worcester Art Museum

Yarmouth Port:
Edward Gorey House
Historic New England Winslow Crocker House

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Fairy Tale Mix Ups Three Blind Mice Team Up with the Three Little Pigs

Three Blind Mice Team Up with the Three Little Pigs is another entry in the Fairy Tale Mix-Ups series.

In this mash up we are introduced to the challenging living situations of both the Three Pigs and the Three Blind Mice which are now reaching a critical stage. We discover the Three Pigs huddled down and living safe but cramped in the small brick home of the Third Pig. Space is tight and food is running low. The mice on the other hand live in a spacious farm house, but because they can't see it is rather hard to find their way around, especially with a rather scary Farmer's wife who does not enjoy having them in her home and regularly tries to evict them.

Oddly the Farmer's wife succeeded in scaring them out of the house on the very same day the Pigs got desperate for food and made a dash for the woods to hunt for some. Despite the size of the woods they found each other and struck up a conversation about their challenging living conditions. This being a fairy tale mash up there had to be a solution. If you look at the cover you will get a hint. The mice dress up with pig noses and the pigs conceal their ears and noses with mice costumes.

Thus when the Big Bad wolf climbs down the chimney he sees tiny mice size pigs and doesn't think they'd be worth his time to eat. The Farmer's wife is terrified that the mice have grown to be pig sized and flees leaving the huge home unoccupied. The Three Pigs and the Three Mice decide a home switch would work out well as the size of each home is better suited to the other.

It is a cute story and for kids who are familiar with the Nursery Rhyme of the mice and the Three Pigs Fairy tale the elements are still there in this mash up. The endings clearly are different.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Thor Speaks!

Thor Speaks!: A Guide to the Realms by the Norse God of Thunder is the last book currently available in the Secrets of the Gods series. It was published in 2015 so I'm not sure if the author plans any future additions to the series or not. I'm hopeful as I think it fills a gap for accessible material that elementary students can read themselves. It's always nice when there are choices about what materials suit a child best rather than just using something because it is available.

I will say I was most excited about finding this volume as I've been looking for some elementary level material for the Middle Ages and Viking period that was factual and accurate, but also fun and engaging for a reluctant reader. As I've stated before in reviews, humor is a great way to engage kids with reading material that you want them to know. However, the humor can't get in the way of the facts and information being accurate. On the other hand, with reluctant readers if they won't read it or even listen to it you've also lost the battle. So, finding a series like this is important.

This is the first volume where we don't meet the God of death. The book is again written in the first person switching from Thor to Loki and back but always staying in the voice of the character telling the story. I think children will enjoy the childish pranking and bickering between the two and while humorous it does address stories and relationships that will give children a better understanding of Norse mythology.

While all the volumes have some mythology stories in them, this volume has the most of the three. I found this a plus because while I have volumes of kids versions of children's Greek and Roman myths, I've found it harder to collect children's Norse myths. Including them in this story is a great introduction or refresher of Norse myths. Learn about the evolution of Runes, the challenges of Odin, the issues with giants, and the constant problem of Loki all as you tour through the lands with Thor.

This was the most detailed of the three books. The inclusion of more mythology stories made for a stronger introduction to mythology. If your looking to supplement a unit on Vikings or Norse Mythology this is a good choice.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Swan Boats in Boston 2018

The Swan Boats are a fun, family friendly inexpensive addition to a summer visit to the Boston Public Gardens. Take a ride this summer around the Public Gardens Lagoon. The swans are human powered pedal boats and while a short trip, it was well worth the stop in the gardens during an outing we took to visit some of the other historical sites in Boston.

The price for adults this summer is $4, Seniors 3.50, children 2-15 $2.50, under 2 free. For hours and more details to plan your trip see the website here. The season has already opened and will end Labor Day weekend.

For those of you interested in finding out more about the history of the swan boats, how they are built, and historic pictures of the boats there is additional information on the website in the How it Began and How it Works sections to either to look at before or after your visit. For those of you who aren't able to visit, the website is an interesting look at the history of this local attraction.

The trip to the Swan Boats is fun, but short. There are many other family fun locations within walking distance of the Swan boats to visit.

If you visit at the end of June beginning of July consider cooling off at the free splash pool at Frog Pond. You can find out more information about that here.

If your children enjoy riding a carousel there is one on the Boston Common and rides are $3 or a book of 10 for $25. More information here.

The Public Gardens are beautiful. If you are interested in a guided tour the Friends of the Garden give free tours beginning May 22, 2018 and running to mid-September Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. and Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10:00am, weather permitting. You can get more details about the tours, where to meet, and other important details here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Roland Wright Future Knight

I've been looking for books that would encourage and engage a reluctant reader. Next year his history focus is the Middle Ages. So when I ran across Roland Wright: Future Knight it seemed like a great series to preview to see if it lived up to being interesting historical fiction written at an early chapter book level.

Roland is an engaging character. He lives with his father, older brother Shelby, and his mouse Nudge. His father is a talented local blacksmith who produces armor for knights locally and as we are to learn even more nationally. While Shelby seems to have embraced his future at the beginning of the story, Roland longs for more. He truly wants to be a knight. Shelby scoffs at his younger brother's dreams, but Roland keeps seeking opportunities to pursue his dream believing if he works at it he can achieve it. Roland meets and helps an injured knight and the knight provides some valuable advice to Roland later in the story.

While Shelby has scoffed at his brother's dreams to move beyond the blacksmith, when the opportunity does arise for one of the boys to become a page in the King's home he believes the honor should go to him as the oldest son. The boy's father is a bit wiser and feels that tests should be given to determine which boy is best suited to which job. Those who have seen the future titles have a pretty good idea of the outcome prior to reading about the tests, but the story is a good reminder about doing the right thing even if you think it might cost you what you want. There are two other books in the series Roland Wright: Brand-New Page (Roland Wright) and Roland Wright: At the Joust,

This met my need of a Middle Ages historical fiction book written at the early chapter book level that was an engaging read. My hope is to find to find material written at a level the child can read independently that engages the desire to read and imparts a little knowledge about the time period and I think this book and the series as a whole accomplishes that goal.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Anubis Speaks

Anubis Speaks!: A Guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the Deadis another book in the Secrets of the Ancient Gods series.

In this story children are invited to tour the world of the dead with the Egyptian God Anubis. During this tour your child will learn about the origin stories of Egypt, how Ra came to leave the earth, the Egyptians beliefs about how the sun rose and died each day, the mufficiation process and the myths surrounding what happened to the dead. Woven into the story are the origins of the pyramids and their construction, relationships between the Gods, information about Egyptian rulers, hieroglyphics, and even a short discussion of the origins of modern archeology.

This is an interesting guide and a worthy addition to the study of Egypt. You can tell this is the first of the three volumes in the series as the Hades volume shows a smoother introduction of information and more humor from the character as he acts as tour guide. It is accessible and I think that can be important if you are looking to teach Egyptian mythology and history to younger students.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Old Sturbridge Village: The Charlotte's Web Experience

E.B. White's Charlotte's Web is one of those enduring novels that keeps entertaining children generation after generation. It has been made into movies and theatrical productions.

Now Sturbridge Village is taking on the challenging of creating a musical version based on the classic story located in an actual farm setting. We had the pleasure of attending the Sleepy Hollow performance at the Village and was amazed at the how they effectively utilized the existing village to create a believable setting for the story. Since this is to take place at one of the Village's farms it sounds like they plan on utilizing the strength of what the village has to offer to bring the story to life.

Performances are being given from July 5-August 26 with two performances a day at 11 and 1:30. You will have to pay general admission for Old Sturbridge Village and then the additional cost for the program. Tickets for the first show are $12 and tickets for the second show are $14. There is a $2 discount for tickets purchased prior to June 15. You can find more information here. While it does state your membership will cover general admission for this event, there is nothing to indicate if library passes or other available discounts can be used to offset the general admission costs during these show days. My suggestion would be to call in advance if you are budgeting a discount as part of your trip.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Hades Speaks

Any of you who read this blog know I'm always on the lookout for books that present information accurately, but also engage kids in actually wanting to read the material. I recently came across a mythology series, Secrets of the Ancient Gods that I think meets that criteria. The stories in the series are each written in the first person by the mythogoical God.

In Hades Speaks!: A Guide to the Underworld by the Greek God of the Dead we are introduced to Hades who provides a humorous discussion of his life as both a Greek and Roman God. He even throws in a reference to Voldemort and Harry Potter and threatens Percy Jackson to demonstrate he's kept up with modern pop culture.

Hades takes the reader on a rather entertaining tour of his realm while he discusses his family relationships, how he ended up as God of the underworld, his marriage, and introduces a variety of mythological creatures, heroes, and other beings. For children familiar with mythology from others books they've read they will find his perspective on these matters often amusing, but different from other books they've read. For students new to mythology it still is an interesting introduction to the topic, but will require more reading to get a balanced view of some of what Hades discusses.

If you are looking for a short addition to your Greek and Roman mythology study that adds a little fun and humor this might be for you. It is accessible for elementary readers, but older students might also appreciate the humor.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Fairy Tale Mix Ups The Frog Prince Saves Sleeping Beauty

The Frog Prince Saves Sleeping Beautyis another entry in the Fairy Tale Mix-Ups series.

Charlotte Guillaim stays within the basic parameters of the Sleeping Beauty Tale. There are fewer Fairy Godmothers but they follow the basic path of blessing, blessing, cursing, lessening the curse, although the first two gifts are more traditional then something one expects from a Fairy Godmother. This tale continues changing the spinning wheel to a more generic pointy item would prick the Princess enacting the curse. The parents too attempt to prevent the curse removing pointy items from their daughters life as much as any parent could attempt.

At the age of 10 the mash up begins as the Princess meets a frog and brings him home to live in a fish tank. After drawing a picture of her new pet, she decides to display her picture on the wall and to my surprise in a house that has banned pointy items the Princess has access to push pins and pricks herself falling into the sleep promised by the curse.

The three kindly Fairy Godmothers take pity on the family and put the castle to sleep until a Prince can be found to break the curse. Cue the Frog Prince who some how is not effected by the sleeping spell cast by the Fairy Godmothers. He then strolls over and gives a friendly kiss on the Princess' cheek. The Princess wakes up and the Prince is no longer a Frog as his curse has been broken, too. Since they are both children, their story ending is not a romantic one. At the end of the story they are off playing in the woods.

I am left wondering what happened to the poor boy's parents. Is his family gone? Do they not inform anyone that their little boy is restored?

While I've enjoyed these stories this is the second one that has left me wondering, but what about....

Monday, May 7, 2018

Collings Foundation American Elegance Wings and Wheels

If you love old cars and World War II history, a trip to the Collings Foundation on Father's Day weekend June 16-17 8:30 am to 4:30 pm might be the family outing for you. We've been to this event and their Fight for the Field with extended family and both are wonderful events.

There are plans to make this a year round museum, but currently if you want to see the collection there is one event in the Spring and one in the fall for the public at large. This event highlights the car collection and invites the State Police Museum in to show some of their collection and to participate in a fun Al Capone theme show mid day.

There is a parade of cars so you will want to find a good viewing spot for that while you are there. Blankets or chairs are not a bad option, but you might want to pick them from your car after you've toured the collection so you don't have to carry them around or if you are comfortable you can stake out a place for the parade and leave them unattended while you head out.

The price of admission is $15 for adults and $10 for children. Price of admission does include the ability to tour the collection of planes and World War II items. You can find more information about the event here.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

You Choose Little Red Riding Hood

When looking at traditional tales for children, one should remember some of the original Grimm tales were rather Grimm and not intended for young readers. It should also be understood that just because a book has a fairy tale title and characters it also may not be for young children.

I've become a fan of You Choose type books for history and now traditional tales because it is a great way to get children to explore how choices can influence outcomes. How changing those choices can create different outcomes. With the multiple character books or in this case setting books it helps a child look at an event or story from different perspectives. In the history series you see how being a different person might change your view of an event. In the fairy tale version the setting helps the reader see how the story changes when the characters are placed in different environments with different challenges with basically the same goal, in this case reaching Grandma.

The Red Riding Hood stories are different in setting but the challenges of getting by the evil wolf or in some cases wolves to get to grandma or some version of a grandma character remain consistent through the three stories. The three settings are a modern day kid walking through a large city park, a child caught in a terrible war, and a futuristic agent working against an evil corporation.

While I almost always suggest that parents or teachers preview a book before giving it to their kids in this case I highly suggest it with this book. It is an interesting read and some kids will have no issue with some of the war themes. Other kids may not be prepared for the material and jump right in, but as I said in the beginning this has the feel of a modern updated Grimm original than the more child friendly versions that you usually see in picture books. The book looks like an early chapter book and because it is a Choose Your Own some might just decide it is an easy read and a good early chapter book for a child that likes alternate fairy tales without looking at the more complicated materials covered in the book.

I have some family that would love this book and a copy may find its way under the tree at Christmas because I suspect more than one child will enjoy it, but not until after I've discussed it with the parents. I believe you benefit from honesty in my reviews. The book is an interesting read, but it is up to parents to decide if it the right choice for your child.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Thrifty Guide To Ancient Rome

If you've ever wondered what to do if attacked by barbarians or had questions about your legal options if you've been sentenced to being fed to the lions The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome (The Thrifty Guides) might be a good reading choice for you.

This is another entry in the Thrifty Guide time travel series. Each book in the series starts by introducing the reader to Time Corps and how their time travel agency works. While the agency exists in the future, the guides were lost in the past and a New York publisher chose to publish them in 2018 without permission. Turns out time travelers no longer have to worry about messing with the time line as the Time Patrol is hard at work restoring all the damage done by those on holidays.

This guide has eight chapters in addition to the introduction to time travel. The reader will find chapters titled Welcome to Rome, Roman Entertainment, Julius Caesar, The Roman Civil War, Quality Time with Cleopatra, Not Another Civil War, Antony and Cleopatra, and Rome's Top Five Craziest Emperor's.

As I mentioned with the American Revolution review you'll want to read the footnotes and read the helpful hints. Some are less helpful than others but they do provide some interesting details. This volume also includes people to lunch with and it's an interesting way to meet people of the time rather than traditional biographies. There are far fewer pranks in this book, but since this wasn't a favorite part of the series for me I wasn't disappointed.

The material in this book was deeper and more complicated than the previous book on the American Revolution. As a result there is slightly less silliness, but the writing still manages to engage and capture one's attention. I would recommend this for all readers interested in the topic, but specifically for students who are reluctant readers or those who are studying this time period but perhaps need more accessible material that still provides accurate information. That combination can be hard to find and I think this is a great resource for those students, especially.