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Leaving Gee’s Bend by Irene Latham

I picked up Leaving Gee’s Bend at the library because I knew Irene Latham to be an Alabama author.  She had visited some local schools in the past, and while I didn’t attend any of those visits, she was definitely on my radar.  Add to this the fact that a good friend of mine is an avid quilter who has taught me a thing or two about quilting, so I already knew a little bit about Gee’s Bend and its heritage.  I was primed for a story I could recognize and/or identify with. 

What I didn’t expect was a story that blew me away!  It’s the story of Ludelphia Bennett, the ten year old daughter of an African American sharecropping family in the Black Belt of Alabama during the Great Depression.  Shortly after the story opens, Ludelphia’s pregnant mother gives birth to a baby girl with Ludelphia and a neighbor, sixteen year old Etta Mae, in attendance.  There are two problems, however:  Mama is sick, not just pregnant; and Etta Mae, whom Ludelphia has always admired and relied on,  has been accused of witchcraft.  With Mama apparently growing worse, Ludelphia takes matters into her own hands and decides to leave Gee’s Bend for Camden, the nearest town with a doctor.  She has to find a way across the river and find the doctor, all the while avoiding the likes of a certain sharecropping boss’s cruel wife.  This is high adventure with a heart.

The best part about this story, though, is Ludelphia herself.  Ludelphia’s voice in the story is simply beautiful:

I squeezed the water from the cloth pieces and spread them out on the sunny patch of pine straw to dry.  I held the needle between my finger and thumb, gentle enough so as not to draw blood.  Such a tiny little thing.  But just the touch of it made me feel better.  Like right between my fingers I was holding a piece of home. (89)

You see, Ludelphia has a bad eye, and so her Mama taught her how to quilt instead of insisting that she do field work.  Quilting is Ludelphia’s solace and figures heavily into the plot of the story.  In the end, Ludelphia learns some things about herself and home.  She doesn’t exactly save the day in the way she expects, but the story has a very satisyfing ending.  Irene Latham is not only a master at using dialect very unobtrusively, she also has a talent for figurative language.  Again, Ludelphia’s voice is unforgettable.  

This is just a beautiful story.  This book most definitely gets a Highly Recommended from me!  I’m pretty sure it will make my Best of 2010 list.  Although it is classified as juvenile fiction, anyone who enjoys a good story with a winsome protagonist would like this one.  You can read another short excerpt from the novel here, or you can learn more about the author by visiting her website.  She even has a blog!  I’m not making any promises, but there’s a good chance that I’ll have a chance to interview Irene Latham for Hope Is the Word!

It turns out that my girls and I have been enjoying some picture books about quilting lately, too.   I hope to have another quilting and books post up later this week!  Stay tuned!

Carnival of Homeschooling

This week’s Carnival of Homeschooling has been published at Beverly’s Homeschool Blog.  Check out this wonderful carnival if you’re in the middle of your homeschooling journey, just beginning, or just considering it.  To learn how to submit an entry for a future edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling, visit Why Homeschool.

In the Spotlight

Regular readers here at Hope Is the Word know I love a good interview. Now I feel all official–Carrie has interviewed ME. You can read the interview at her picture book blog, Reading My Library. Check it out!

Reading My Library

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen


It’s usually challenging for me to write a monthly Kids’ Picks post, mainly because I’m the main book picker here at the House of Hope.  Oh, my girls have plenty of opportunity to choose books for our read-alouds times or for their own perusal, but ultimately, I control what comes into the house.  I do let them pick a couple of books each time we go to the library, but I limit it to two or three each because if I didn’t, we’d end checking out the entire Arthur or Franklin collection.  😉  Please don’t revoke my Kids’ Picks button!  🙂

This month, though, I have a genuine Kids’ Pick, and one that reaches back a couple of years, at that.  Louise requested We’re Going on a Bear Hunt last week.  This is one of those books that my girls loved, loved, loved when they were younger.  However, as they’ve gotten older (after all, they’re very mature 5 and 4 year olds now! 😉 ), I regret to say that I’ve let quite a few of these classics fall by the wayside.  In fact, we have one whole long shelf of boardbooks that were once beloved favorites but that we never look at now.  We own We’re Going on a Bearhunt in paperback, and after Louise repeatedly requested that we read it, it took a little searching on our full-to-overflowing shelves, but we found it.  There are several lessons in this for me:

  • Just because my children are capable of and willing to listen to long chapter books doesn’t mean we need to abandon picture books (even “babyish” ones). 
  • Children love repetition and familiar stories, even after we are sick of them.
  • I shouldn’t get so wrapped up in my latest library finds that I neglect my own home library.  I’m very guilty of this.
  • Louise is my little songbird:  she is forever making up songs and rhymes.  I really need to indulge and encourage this, especially through the books we read. 

I actually can’t believe I haven’t included this particular story on my Best Picture Books list before now.  (I’ll attribute it to the fact that I really have neglected our home library.)  This is such a great toddler and preschool picture book–it’s very repetitive and just begs to be acted out.  It is my go-to rhyme when we keep the nursery at church and the natives begin to get restless.  Helen Oxenbury‘s illustrations are very expressive; my girls have always been concerned about the rather dejected-looking bear at the end of the story.  In short, this is one that’s too good to be missed.  You can visit the author’s website here.  I even found a video of him performing We’re Going on a Bearhunt.  Enjoy!

As if all of this is not enough, I have photographic evidence that this book is indeed a genuine Kids’ Pick here at the House of Hope.  The photographs here were snapped back about two years ago, and they are of Louise with her favorite book.  Seeing these pictures makes me almost teary-eyed, but it also gives me another reason to look forward to the new addition to our family who will be here faster than we can get ready for him!

For more Kids’ Picks, visit 5 Minutes for Books!

Bloggy Housekeeping, Linky Love, and an Important PSA

In lieu of posting my usual Week in Words post this week, I’m posting something that is long overdue. 

First, almost two months ago now (gulp!), Carrie awarded me with the Honest Scrap award, and I’m just now getting around to publicly thanking her. 

Thanks, Carrie!  🙂

Of course, with most awards, there’s also an assignment.  I’m supposed to share ten honest things about myself and then pass on the award to other bloggers.  First, the ten honest things:

  1. As a teenager and even a young adult, I never thought I’d get married.  I guess I saw myself as the stereotypical old maid schoolteacher or librarian.  😉  God and Steady Eddie had other plans, though, and I’m so very glad!
  2. Even though I was an elementary librarian, I’ve never read a single Harry Potter book.  I’ve tried, but the one I picked up just didn’t appeal to me.
  3. Even though I taught English (and still do, on occasion), I do not have flawless grammar.  In fact, there are some usage rules I have to think really hard about, and I tend to over-correct.
  4. I like eating salad, but I detest preparing vegetables.  Washing and breaking up lettuce is the worst.  However, I don’t care for bagged salad mixes, either, so we rarely eat salad here at the House of Hope.
  5. I like the idea of having pets in theory, but at this point in my life, I balk at the thought of having one more living, breathing creature dependent upon me for care.
  6. I haven’t cleaned my entire house, from top to bottom, since . . . well, I can’t remember when.
  7. I am not a naturally organized person, and this drives me to distraction.
  8. I don’t sleep well if the top (flat) sheet isn’t tucked under the mattress at the foot of the bed.
  9. I use parenthetical statements too much in my writing.
  10. I have a latent desire to write for publication, but I’m pretty sure that my skills (and creativity) are nowhere near the level they should be.  Plus, I’m tired.  🙂

Let’s see, I’m supposed to award ten bloggers with this same award.  Carrie and I travel in some of the same circles, so I’ll try not to duplicate her list.  Here is a smattering of some of the blogs I read regularly.  Since I don’t have an official blogroll on my blog, you might consider this an mini-blogroll.  This is a hodge-podge of bookish blogs, mothering/homemaking/crafting/etc.  blogs, and homeschooling blogs. 

  1. Across the Page
  2. A Spirited Mind
  3. His Mercy Is New
  4. WandaStricklinRobertson
  5. Sprittibee
  6. Semicolon
  7. Blog, She Wrote
  8. Mt. Hope Chronicles
  9. Jimmie’s Collage
  10. Small World Reads and Small World at Home

If you find your blog on this list, consider your self awarded with the Honest Scrap Award!  🙂

Second, An Almost Unschooling Mom awarded me with the Read Across America Award.  Thanks, Mom!  🙂

After thanking the giver, I am commissioned with the task of passing along the award to three other bloggers who read to their children.  Oh, the possibilities!  Several (most!) of the bloggers I awarded above do this, but rather than give them another “assignment,” I’ll stretch in another direction.  I am awarding the Read Across America Award to

  1. Reading My Library  
  2. Brimful Curiosities
  3. Silly Eagle Books

Again, I could go on and on and on listing blogs for this one.  A good place to start if you’re interested in more blogs about children’s books is with those participants of Read Aloud Thursday!  (How’s that for a shameless plug?)

The last part of the assignment for this particular award is to list three things your children like to read about.  My girls have very eclectic tastes, but they do love certain characters.  I would say that right now their top three picks are

  1. Amelia Bedelia
  2. Arthur
  3. Miss Frizzle of the Magic School Bus

Really, what don’t they like?

Last, I have a Very Important Announcement:

Ahem.  It’s that time of year again, folks.  Things get C-R-A-Z-Y around these parts just before Easter, primarily due to several church commitments that we have that happen all at just about the same time.  I am officially putting my pregnant-and-perpetually-tired-self on bloggy break as of this Friday.  Until then, posts should go on as usual this week.  After Friday, Read Aloud Thursday and a few HomeschoolCrew reviews will go on, but other than that, things will be quiet here at Hope Is the Word. 

And then, when I come back, it will hopefully be in a new location!  That’s right–I’m moving!  🙂  I hope you all will follow me to my new, self-hosted blog.  I hope to have things up and runnning over there on April 5! 

If you’ve made it this far in this lengthy post, congratulations and thank you!  You guys really make my day!  🙂

The Human Body Resources

Self-portraits, with body systems illustrated

 My girls and I embarked upon a study of the human body several weeks (months?) ago now, and it has by far been their favorite thing we’ve done this year.  I was feeling a little guilty about not having done a whole lot of science with them this year (and their daddy a science teacher, no less!  😉  ), so one day I did a little searching over at The Well Trained Mind forums, and I hit upon the idea of a human body study.  Some of these books were recommended there; others of them were serendipitous library finds.  In addition to using these general books, we also read nonfiction series titles from the different libraries in our area.  These, however, are definitely the winners.  

This Janice VanCleave book has sold me on her approach and her various series of books!  Janice VanCleave’s Play and Find Out about the Human Body:  Easy Experiments for Young Children has been my guidebook throughout this unit.  So far we have done several of the experiments contained in the book, and we’ve managed to have a fairly thorough discussion of skin, the heart, and the skeletal system.  The experiments require fairly basic equipment, and they’re not very complicated to put together.  After all, they are for preschoolers!  🙂  I purchased this one used through Amazon, so I’m not sure if it’s still in print.  If you ever see a copy, snatch it up!  I give it a Highly Recommended! (The pictures below are all of our experiments based on this book.  Steady Eddie even got in on the action!) 


 First Human Body Encyclopedia from the DK First Reference Series is our “spine”; that is, it is the book we use for all of our basic information.  To be honest, before I used this book with my girls, I never understood what was so great about the DK books.  The huge pictures and the blurbs of information always seemed so disjointed to me.  Now, though, I see the value of a book written in this format.  The little snippets of information and the large, excellent photographs (and some drawings) are perfect for young children.  I would not hesitate to purchase any of the DK First Reference titles, and I would consider any of them money well spent.  I can see my girls using this book for many years.  


Me and My Amazing Body by Joan Sweeney is another book that I consider indispensible as an introduction to the human body.  This nonfiction book is written more as a story, so it draws the little ones in very quickly.  It covers the major body systems, and while it provides very few details, it provides the information in a very preschooler-friendly way.  I am guessing that any of Joan Sweeney’s “Me” books would be a winner, and I’ll definitely be using them for our future studies! 

It's a chicken leg bone! 🙂

Inside Your Outside!:  All About the Human Body by Tish Rabe bears mentioning mainly because it’s written all in rhyme.  It’s from the Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library.  I find these books a little hard to follow (and so I assume that my children probably don’t comprehend them totally, either 😉 ), but the rhymes are fun and so are the illustrations.  It provides a good little educational diversion.  🙂
This last book is one I just spied on the shelf at the library.  It’s entitled Body:  An Interactive and Three-Dimensional Exploration, and that pretty much sums it up.  It’s really more of an upper-elementary or high school book, but I thought my girls would love the pop-ups it contains.  I was right!  These pop-ups are amazing–they’re all truly three-dimensional with moving parts and fold-outs, etc.  On the last page there’s a human body that opens up in layers.  Susan Ring is the author of Body, and Michele Graham did the amazing illustrations.  

Mainly what we’ve done with this unit is a whole lot of reading and looking and a little bit of playing.  I think this is just right for kindergarten.  

I do have to share one funny, though.   I had this exchange with Louise, who takes everything in just as intensely as Lulu: 

Louise:  Is Daddy taller than himself? 

Me:  No, he can’t be taller than himself.  He can be taller than someone else, but not himself. 

Louise:  What about when his root gets squished down? 

It finally dawned on me that she was talking about his spinal column (“root”) and how it compresses during the day.  One of the experiments we started but never finished due to the plague that hit our house was one in which I measured the girls first thing in the morning and then again that night.  Since the night-time measurement never happened, I simply explained to them that the discs between the vertebrae in our backs are compressed (“squished down”) as we stand and walk throughout the day, so we’re shorter at night than in the morning. 

We still have a couple more body systems to go, and I find that I enjoy it more if we take a little break with some FIAR titles, etc., between body systems.  However, the girls are quick to request the human body books and science experiments again, so I’m not off the hook for long.

ETA:  Oh, I forgot to mention one more thing we did during our (ongoing) human body study.  We’re always working on scripture memorization.  We primarily do this during our morning “couch time”.  For this particular study, we worked on memorizing Psalm 139: 13-18.

13 For you created my inmost being;
       you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
       your works are wonderful,
       I know that full well.

 15 My frame was not hidden from you
       when I was made in the secret place.
       When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

 16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
       All the days ordained for me
       were written in your book
       before one of them came to be.

 17 How precious to [b] me are your thoughts, O God!
       How vast is the sum of them!

 18 Were I to count them,
       they would outnumber the grains of sand.
       When I awake,
       I am still with you.

The girls did very well with this, and it was particularly appropriate since I’m currently a living example of the “secret place” where babies grow and develop.  😉  We’ve memorized several longer passages of scripture, but my problem is systematically reviewing them.  I have had a pretty family Bible memory notebook in the works for months now, but I never make the time to finish it.  Does your family have a particular method for keeping memory passages fresh in your minds?

Read Aloud Thursday–St. Patrick’s Day Edition

Let me be the first to say that St. Patrick’s Day is actually not a holiday that is usually even on my radar.  Although I am sure I must have at least a little bit of Irish blood flowing through my veins, I just consider myself plain old American.  However, I couldn’t pass by the bright green on the book display conveniently located right by the front door at one of our libraries, so we’ve been reading some fun St. Patrick’s Day books.  The girls have really enjoyed them, and so have I.  This post highlights the best of the bunch.

What caught my eye about St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning is the fact that is is illustrated by Jan BrettAs we learned for Valentine’s Day, she and author Eve Bunting are a winning combination, so I had to bring this book home(It also turns out that Eve Bunting was born in Ireland, which I only recently learned from this excellent shamrock post at Brimful Curiosities.)  St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning is the sweet story of  a little boy, Jamie Donovan, who remembers upon awakening that his village’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is that very day.  Declared too small to participate in the parade by his parents and older brothers, Jamie strikes out to prove himself by walking the entire parade route.  Everyone in his home is still asleep, so they are ignorant of his plan.  He meets and greets lots of villagers on his way up Acorn Hill.  Listeners get a taste of the lilting Irish speech pattern (if the reader can pull it off!) and life in a small Irish village.  Jamie completes his trek  makes it back home before anyone else is up.  This is a gentle story, and the illustrations are done primarily in black, white, and green.  This would be a perfect preschool introduction to St. Patrick’s Day.
The Last Snake in Ireland:  A Story about St. Patrick by Sheila MacGill-Callahan caught my eye, well, because I thought it would be nice to read a book about St. Patrick since I don’t even know much about him or the real holiday.  This book is about St. Patrick, but instead of it focusing on the real St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, it focuses on one of the many legends surrounding him:  that he drove the snakes out of Ireland.  In this story, there is one particularly recalcitrant snake, and St. Patrick must use all of his wits to outsmart him.  I actually thought the snake was a little bit creepy, but my girls liked the story (Will Hillenbrand‘s illustrations make it look particularly diabolical).  We didn’t accomplish my goal of learning something substantial about St. Patrick, but the girls were entertained.
This last story was by far our favorite.  Tim O’Toole and the Wee Folk by Gerald McDermott is just a fun, fun folktale.  Poor Tim O’Toole is a downtrodden fellow who, in addition to being poor, is considered bad luck by his neighbors.  Finally, at the insistence of his wife, Tim sets out to find a job.  What he finds instead is a whole pack herd group of leprechauns.  These leprechauns give Tim a goose capable of laying golden eggs, but poor Tim loses it to a wily couple with whom he spends the night on his way home.  This same scenario plays out a few times with every gift the leprechauns give him, until finally, they come to his rescue.  My girls really got the humor in this book, and it’s a much requested title here at the House of Hope these days.  Gerald McDermott’s text is fun to read and his illustrations are perfect.  It turns out that he’s a Caldecott Medal-winning artist.  You can read more about him on his colorful website

Other than reading these books (and a few others), we don’t really have any plans for St. Patrick’s Day.  Well, actually, I hope we can make these cupcakes, which look a lot like the beautiful cake I first saw at Lifenut but still haven’t gotten around to making.  This year it is, Lord willing!

On a related note, Carrie (of Reading to Know and Reading My Library fame) highlighted some St. Patrick’s Day books over at 5 Minutes for Books a few weeks back.  Check it out!

On a somewhat unrelated note, check out Jan Brett’s website!  She has a new Easter book out, and she’s going full-steam-ahead to promote it!  Don’t miss this contest–how neat would it be to own an Easter egg painted by Jan Brett?!?!?  (And yes, I do realize that I tell you this at the risk of decreasing my chance of winning!  😉  )  One more thing:  don’t miss her tour schedule, either.  I’d love to try to make one of the Tennessee events, but I’m not sure that we can swing it with next week’s schedule.  If we do, I’ll be sure to share the details!  🙂

Okay, enough of the PSAs.  It’s time for you to share what you’ve been reading together as a family!  Either leave a blog link by clicking on the MckLinky link below, or simply share in the comments.  Don’t forget, there’s a button, too!

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Happy Read Aloud Thursday!

La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith

Just last week I finished Alexander McCall Smith’s newest novel, a compact little story with the intriguing title La’s Orchestra Saves the World.  Unlike his other works I’ve enjoyed (reviewed here and here), this story is set not in Africa, but in World War II-era England.  This is a setting I usually find irresistable, and it has stood me in good stead once again. 

La’s Orchestra Saves the World is a story in which many things almost happen:  La (short for Lavender) almost has a happy marriage; La almost has a love affair; La almost catches a German spy; La almost catches a thief.  In between the almosts, however, are a lot of feelings:  about love; about the war;  about life in general, and how it should be conducted.  The whole idea of the orchestra is almost a sub-point of the story, at least in my opinion.  Yes, La does organize and conduct a war-time orchestra composed of a raggle-taggle group of musicians, but the real story is about La and a Polish man, Felicks, who was a part of the French airforce and shot down in England during the war.  Felicks is proper and reserved, a real Continental gentleman.  La, lonely and widowed after her marriage turned sour, feels a connection with him and even longs to begin a relationship.  Meanwhile, she conducts her orchestra and does farm labor work as a part of the war effort. 

It doesn’t sound like this book is about much, and really, it isn’t.  However, it is full of rich description and interesting observations about war and love and forgiveness:

Her words were unheard.  But she had bestowed her forgiveness upon him, and as she turned and left the room, she thought:  you can be forgiven without knowing it, and for the forgiver it does not matter that the recipient is unaware of what has happened; just as one may be loved by another without ever knowing it.  (104)

The story has a morally ambiguous ending (and even this is a generous appraisal), but I found it altogether a nice story.  I think I prefer Mma Precious Ramotswe as a protagonist/heroine, but still, this wasn’t a bad way to spend a few hours.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

We just finished reading The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner yesterday.  This was the first time I’d ever read it, and I confess I picked it up because I assumed it was a mystery (based on the word mystery being appended to “Boxcar Children” in the series that grew out of it).  Since I had never read it, I thought it would be perfect for this month’s Children’s Classics Mystery Challenge.  Too, we had just finished Farmer Boy (read my thoughts here), and I was ready to read something shorter. 

Although I was a little surprised that The Boxcar Children contains very little of what I call mystery, it was a rousing success with my girls.  It is very simply written.  One thing I noticed is that Gertrude Chandler Warner used absolutely no contractions in the writing of this story.   I find it difficult to read a story without using contractions, so it seemed a little bit stilted and “Dick and Jane-ish” to me.  Of course, this didn’t bother my girls in the least–they loved this story.  In fact, Louise wants to re-check it from the library! 

When I think about it, maybe it is a mystery, still.  There are mysterious elements (i.e. unidentified noises, etc.), and it is about four children who are running away from a grandfather whom they don’t like.  There is nothing at all scary in the story, so it is a great way to introduce a few of the elements of mystery, though.  Its resolution is pleasant for everyone involved, including their maligned grandfather.  It is a very gentle story, and I would think that children even younger than mine (currently 5 1/2 and 4) would enjoy it.  In fact, in terms of simplicity (‘though not of genre or storyline) it reminds me a little of the My Father’s Dragon series (read my thoughts on this series here and here and here). 

Despite the fact that The Boxcar Children did not exactly meet my expectations, it was not a disappointment.  I can see why it’s a classic, and I’m glad to have met Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny.  I look forward to sharing more of these stories with my girls.

If you’d like to read about what other bloggers are reading for this month’s Children’s Classics Mystery Challenge, be sure to check out 5 Minutes for Books!

The Week in Words


I’ve been enjoying Leaving Gee’s Bend, a juvenile fiction selection by Irene Latham.   For the past several days, it has been my “recreational” read while I work through Mornings on Horseback for March’s Semicolon Book Club.  I’m enjoying both books, but today I wanted to share a little portion from Leaving Gee’s Bend.  It is a lovely, lovely story, and while this little snippet doesn’t really communicate exactly why I like the book so much, it’s a word picture I want to remember. 

I reckon Mama had been saving them potatoes to pay Teacher on the first day of school.  With the cotton harvest almost all done, school would be starting early next week.

I sighed as I put ’em in my pocket.  Now there wouldn’t be nothing to give Teacher for coming all the way from Camden.

Then again, could be Mama had something else stored up that nobody knew about.  Something else that would be just right for Teacher.  Like last Thanksgiving when the food was all set out and we was just about to say the blessing and Mama said, “Wait.  Everybody close your eyes.”  When we opened ’em, there was a fat, ripe tomato sitting in Mama’s hand!  Like it was August instead of November.

She’d wrapped that tomato in newspaper and buried it in the dirt behind the barn.  Not a one of us knew about it till she held it out, then sliced it up and put it on the table.  Didn’t matter that it was soft and a little mealy.  It was a fresh tomato when everything else had long since been blanched and preserved, then stored in jars on a shelf in the barn.  (53)

For more Week in Words posts, visit Breath of Life.