Summer Reading for Tween Boys

As I write this my boys are in the 4th to 6th grade range.  Mostly these are fiction books they’ve read during the past year through a combination of reading, immersion reading on the kindle, and audio books.  If you have a child with dyslexia I highly recommend the immersion reading feature on the kindle. The combination of audio with highlighted text is excellent.  It really does open up a world of books that are of interest but might otherwise not be read.

Redwall  We will probably spend most of our summer immersed in this series.  My kids are action, adventure, fantasy genre fans.  While it might seem that books about mice are meant for younger children, these books are meant for those moving into the middle school years.  The villains are indeed quite evil and merciless.  The good mice do suffer and mourn.  Yet over all the story is hopeful and triumphant.  The reading level of the series trends around 6th to 7th grade.

The Chronicles of Prydain Even though the books were published back in the late 60’s, I never read them as a child.  What an excellent find!  The second in the series was a Newbery Honor winner and the fifth won the Newbery Medal.  The stories have a lot of adventure and humor.   My favorite part was how the characters grew and developed over the course of the series. The writing is very action focused and the stories move quickly.

The reading levels of the books vary from 5.5 – 6.6 and they vary between 4 to 6.5 hours in length according to the audio book.  The narration of the audio books is one of my absolute favorites.

Comparisons are frequently made between Chronicles of Prydain and Lord of the Rings.  Given that these are rated easier on reading level and much shorter in length they could be great books to read prior to Lord of the Rings.  Personally I liked this series much better than Lord of the Rings, and the boys say it is too close to decide.

The Hobbit The boys loved the Hobbit.  They found the story fun and interesting.  I’m not a Tolkien fan.  I’ve tried multiple times, but I get very bogged down.  I purchased the kindle and audible versions of both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.  I’m glad I did, because I’m quite sure these will be revisited by the boys.

The Fellowship of the Ring – Again they really enjoyed the entire trilogy.  The reading levels on the books are 8.1-9 and the books are lengthy, so we made use of the immersion reading feature on the kindle.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series  –  The boys loved this series.  The books are full of action and very accessible.  Rick Riordan does a great job of writing high interest low reading level books perfect for kids with dyslexia (Reading level for this series is 3.3 – 4.7).  My son was appreciative of Percy Jackson being a struggling student with ADHD and dyslexia.  This series really sparked an interest in all things Greek.

The Heroes of Olympus  The Greek demigods of the Percy Jackson series discover their Roman counterparts in The Heroes of Olympus series.   The series has lots of action which was greatly enjoyed by the boys at my house. 3.7-5

While the Percy Jackson books are certainly popular and not what some would consider literature, I appreciate them.  They sparked a learning path at my house that took us from Percy Jackson to reading Greek Mythology to learning more about Greek and Roman history.  Along the way we learned about Archimedes, the Collisium, the history of Christianity,  and methods of warfare in Ancient and Medieval times.  Right now we are working on a catapult project that includes building a trebaucht and recording data about its use.

The Chronicles of Narnia It’s been a while since we’ve read Chronicles of Narnia yet these still come up in discussions  as we compare and contrast themes and discuss magical / mythical beings. 

I Survived seriesThe reading level for this series is around the 4th grade range.  Each story is about a young boy surviving a tragic historical event such as the Battle of Gettysburg, the sinking of the Titanic, or the San Francisco earthquake.

Harry Potter series  As I’ve been asking parents what their kids are reading,  Harry Potter keeps cropping up.  Many parents say they read them with their kids a few years ago, and now their sons are picking them up to read on their own.  So perhaps these are ripe for strewing about the house, even if you’ve already done them as read alouds.

Books in Waiting:

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch– I read this last year but for some reason didn’t share it with the boys.  It’s an excellent tale of a boy who faces many hardships on his journey to manhood.  His spirit of perseverance was just amazing.

Johnny Tremain A Newbery winner from 1944, this book is the story of a 14 year old boy caught up in the American Revolution.

A Weekly Wrapup

DSC_5252Mother Nature has given us a taste of spring and then yanked it back.

GoldfinchThis past weekend was absolutely beautiful.  We went for a family bike ride on some new single track.  It was a fairly short course yet very challenging.  E crashed into a tree, but was able to ride out.  (I don’t think I would have fared any better if I had tried to ride that bit.) We are all greatly anticipating our favorite familiar trails drying out enough to ride.  In the meantime it’s mostly paved stuff.  Last week we headed out at about 7 pm for a ride on the towpath and finished in the dark using our new lights.

We finished the Chronicles of Prydain series.  I highly recommend these books.  There are five books in all, but they are fairly short.  The narration on the audio CDs is phenomenal.  We had great discussions comparing elements of the Chronicles with elements of Lord of the Rings.  Since both have roots in Welsh mythology, we have several books on hold at the library to learn more about the original stories.  According to Scholastic the reading levels vary from 5.5-6.5.

We have a more exciting week coming up with a field trip to the engineering department of a nearby university, a visit to a science center, and a trip to the orchestra.

What Went By : Elementary Science Olympiad

Today I’m focusing on resources to help you prepare for the “What Went By” event at an Elementary Science Olympiad.  If you have a child interested in animals and nature you will enjoy this list as well.
Wild Tracks! by Jim Arnosky is a fantastic resource.  It may look like a child’s picture book from the outside, but it is full of helpful information and LIFE-SIZE Prints.  Kids will learn that hoofed animals walk and run on their toes and wildcats use the same tracks over and over again, however this book stays away from scientific terms such as digitigrade and direct register.  Instead it is written in a friendly, digestible form perfect for independent learning even at younger ages.  The tracks examined are mostly common mammals of North America.

Animal Tracks and Signs by Jinny Johnson from National Geographic is another great resource.  The foreward does a nice job of explaining reasons a person may want to identify animal signs and tracks. The introduction provides a great list of scientific vocabulary terms that are useful for a young biologist and covered by the “What Went By” event.  The pictures of scat are very useful as most books don’t include color pictures of scat.  The scope of this book is very broad and contains information about animals from all over the world.

The Nature Series: Science on Tracking Expedition kit is also useful for kids interested in learning more about animal tracking.  The focus of this kit is purely tracking.  It comes with plaster of paris for making your own cast in nature or from the supplied molds.The matching cards that come with this kit are useful for memorizing different track attributes.  If you are creative you can create

National Geographic has a teacher’s guide that is pretty helpful when it comes to identifying scat.  We thought about doing the candy scat project, but decided we didn’t want to solidify those associations in our brains.

Our local natural history museum had a teacher’s resource kit that was very helpful.  You may want to check with your state conservation department or local park system to see if they have any kits available for loan.

In addition to the resources listed above, we found local nature centers did classes specifically about animal tracking with Science Olympiad preparation in mind.   These classes yielded some helpful hints we didn’t find in the books.


Perhaps the best preparation was just spending lots of time outdoors with an eye toward animal signs.

7 Fun Ways to Celebrate Dr. Suess’s Birthday

Dr. Suess’s birthday is March 2, so why not celebrate ?   Need some ideas?DSC_0778Make Oobleck –  Mix equal parts cornstarch and water with a few drops of food coloring.  Make additions as needed until you have a non-Newtonian fluid ( it behaves like a liquid until you apply pressure, then it acts like a solid).   Read Bartholomew and the Oobleck.

Menagerie of Polymer Clay Animals

Design your own menagerie of Suess worthy animals – You could draw them, make masks, or sculpt them with clay.  Let your imagination soar.  Read or If I Ran the ZooHappy Birthday to You! or McElligot’s Pool. 


The Adventures of Super Pig

The Adventures of Super Pig

Write and illustrate your own whimsical stories or poems.  

Painted Turtles Sunning 3/20

Read Yertle the Turtle  then take a hike to your favorite turtle pond.


Lay in the grass and see what you find in the clouds.

Chromatic Pool


Find pictures of exotic landscapes and imagine what might live there, then find out what really does.

Read books like 101 Freaky Animals or watch documentaries about the deep ocean to discover strange creatures that really do exist.


End the day by reading Dr Seuss’s Sleep Book




What will you be doing to celebrate?

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List_it_Tuesday    HHH    Highhill Homeschool

11 Wonderful Picture Books

I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic lately for the days when the boys loved picture book bedtime stories.  We still do read alouds together, but we are usually reading non-fiction or novels these days.

Join me for a trip down memory lane of favorite picture books from both their childhood and mine.

I Love You Because You’re You – The boys and I spent many snuggly bedtimes reading this one.  Momma fox loves her little fox when he is happy or scared, well behaved or misbehaved.  She always loves him no matter what he does.  She loves him because he is her son.

Big Red Barn  This was always a comforting book for the end of the day. The pictures are engaging and the rhythm of story is easy and peaceful.


The Crows of Pearblossom – This was one of my favorites when I was little.  It was one of the stories my dad enjoyed reading.  The author is Aldous Huxley – of Brave New World fame.  He wrote it for his niece, Olivia.  The book is easily understood by young children, yet it includes some advanced vocabulary.  It’s fun to read aloud- I really enjoy the variety of voices it allows.  It had been out of print for a while and was just republished in 2011.

Lost In The Woods A baby deer is alone in the woods.  He is confident his mother will come for him but the other animals are concerned.  Amazing photography and a nice nature lesson.


It’s Spring!– We had this in the board book edition and it was absolutely perfect.  It’s light and rhyming with delightful illustrations.


Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep I can’t begin to count the number of times the boys checked this one out from the library. It’s perfectly silly, yet provides a wonderful explanation of how wool becomes sweaters.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type We spent many an afternoon giggling over the antics of the cows and Duck. The entire series is wonderfully entertaining and clever.

There Is a Bird On Your Head! Mo Willems does an absolutely delightful job creating the antics of Elephant and Piggie. The simple wording is still completely entertaining.

We Were Tired of Living in a House by Skorpen – I’m quite certain my parents tired of reading this book.  Although not available on Amazon I was able to check the book out at the library to share with my guys.

 In searching for a copy of the aforementioned “We were tired of living in a House”, I stumbled across Andrew Henry’s Meadow. I’m so glad I did. It is a wonderful tale of a very inventive boy.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble – Somethings cannot be explained. When I was young I checked this book out over and over. I finally had to learn to read it myself, because my mom didn’t enjoy it the same way I did. She would get sort of choked up when Sylvester turned into a rock. Fast forward 30 years. I bought the book for the boys with fond memories. They love it. I get verklempt every time I get to the page where he’s a stone out in the field during winter.   No matter how many times I read it, I’m overjoyed when he is reunited with his parents.

What are the favorite picture books at your house?

List_it_Tuesday     HHH

6 Read Alouds for 8 and 10 year old Boys

I love our read aloud time. It is such a great time to expand vocabulary and share a common laugh.  When movies are available we frequently compare and contrast and discuss why movie makers might make the changes they do.  Here are a few of the books we’ve enjoyed so far this year.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins
A delightful story of a family’s adventure caring for eight penguins.  It is a wonderfully comedic story with rich vocabulary.  My boys were shaking their heads at the outlandish choices made by the characters and laughing uproariously at the antics of the penguins.  Originally published in 1938, some of the language and situations provide an opportunity for children to think about how things have changed in 75 years.  Both the book and the movie feature penguins and a man named Mr. Popper – that is about all they have in common.

The Phantom Tollbooth– Well worth the read and great as a read aloud for the discussion value.  The book is full of puns and idioms that might not be caught by a child reading alone.

The Elephant Scientist (Scientists in the Field Series)– This book is a higher reading level than many others in the “Scientist in the Field” series; however, it is just as informative and inspiring.  As with the other books in the series, we learned about new research and the scientists conducting the research.  This particular book does a nice job explaining how researchers need to work with locals when animals, like elephants, are destroying crops.  Better understanding of the elephants leads to better ways for people and animals to live together.

How to Train Your Dragon Series –  We love this series for it’s adventure and humor.  My boys have issues with the fonts and I don’t mind occasionally changing some of the character names, so it works well as a read aloud for us.   We’re currently on book 10.  Back in the early days of reading this series, we also checked out some non-fiction books about vikings to learn more about their lives and customs.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – Certainly different from the movie, especially the ending.  It was written in the early 1900s so the vocabulary is at times unfamiliar to young readers.

The Sign of the Beaver  – This book, set in 1768,  is about a 13 year old boy, left alone to take care of the family’s new cabin while his dad travels back to fetch the rest of the family.   It does a nice job of touching on the conflicts between the indigenous people and the settlers; while showing the humanity and perspective of both sides.


Weekly Wrap-up with a Mid-winter Hike

IMG_0259This week was full of snow, again.  Sunday we went for a short family hike to enjoy the beauty of fresh snow.  It really lifted my spirit to be outside for a while.  I wish I was better about heading outside on cold days.

This week I read, “The Sign of the Beaver”, Newberry Honor Book and winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 1984. The boys and I started reading it together and we should finish over the weekend.  It’s the story of a 13-year-old boy left alone to tend to the new family homestead, while his dad goes back for the rest of the family.  He ends up developing a friendship with a boy of the Beaver Tribe and learning many of the tribes ways.   What I really liked about this book was the way it gently showed the main character opening his thinking to consider multiple view points.  I also liked the way the main character showed tremendous strength and responsibility, but also made costly mistakes.


I absolutely love that the  boys get to choose what books they want to read.  I keep a spread sheet list that includes the reading level so I can see general trends, but they are free to choose material they think will be interesting.  They seem to spend much of their time on non-fiction books about a variety of animals.


IMG_0264We are prepping for standardized testing this month.  I really don’t care for standardized tests or feel they are an accurate measure of what kids are learning.  We do them because it meets state requirements and helps the kids practice in a low stakes environment.  My biggest problems are that I resent the practice time spent making sure they know what to do with separate answer sheets and the mundane / annoying nature of some of the reading passages.  I always did well on these things when I was a kid, but as I read through them now, I find them so boring and unimportant.  At any rate, I’ll be glad when it’s over and we move back to more meaningful learning and exploration.

IMG_0253Speaking of fun learning opportunities.   We are planning to celebrate Engineers Week again this year with a week (or two) full of engineer activities.   It seems there isn’t a standard national week for this event so we will be choosing either March 9th or 16th as the start date.

Red Beans and Rice



Earlier this week I posted some great  winter dinner ideas.



This week I found a couple of blog posts that really spoke to me:

I particularly liked Marianne’s post over at Abundant Life, “Experience Dyslexia”.  The demos were really eye-opening with regard to how hard some kids are working and how impatient teachers and parents can be with kids when they are having difficulty.

I’m also enjoying Sarah’s series over at Clover Lane as she does a multipart book review of Parenting with Grace.  We strive to use positive techniques with our boys as we guide them toward independence, so this series touches on a lot of the methods we use.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Linking up to:

weeklywrapup125       Mary_CollageFriday

On the Bookshelf – Fun Read Alouds

I don’t know how it is at other houses, but my boys are much more willing to tackle challenging reading material when it is non-fiction. I think we might be the odd house here.  I was probably the opposite as a kid, I enjoyed getting lost in a novel.  Most of the non-fiction books I read were biographies.  My boys like to read non-fiction books about animals, history, and inventions and share facts with each other.  They do however really enjoy fiction as read alouds.

Mr. Popper’s PenguinsI actually read this to E a couple of years ago and he insisted we read it again this year so his brother could enjoy it.  The book is from the 40’s and bears little resemblance to the Jim Carey movie.  It is delightfully silly and ridiculous.


How to Train Your Dragon series   This fall we’ve read 5, 6, and 7 from the series.  I just bought books 8 and 9.  The books tell the tales of Hiccup the Horrendous Haddock the 3rd as a young teenager in the land and time of Barbaric Vikings.  The storyline is slightly different from the movie or cartoon series.  The tales are completely engaging and at times absolutely side-splitting hilarious.  The boys always beg for another chapter.   I do a slight bit of editing of some names, so doing these as read alouds is great.

The Phantom Tollbooth  I was really glad we read this out loud, because I think the boys would have missed some of the humor on their own.  It was delightfully clever and witty.  It’s been a month since we read this and they are still occasionally pondering situations from the book.


Rabbit HillThis book tells the story of a community of animals facing hard times after people move away and the garden is left barren.  Hope spring anew when new owners buy the home.  The story is kind and gentle and uplifting.  My boys love animals and this book really appealed to them.  Rabbit Hill was the winner of the 1945 Newberry Medal.


What books do you enjoy reading aloud?  Do your kids read more fiction or non-fiction?