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Just how are we supposed to answer such big questions from children when they are big questions with no visible, concrete answers even for us? That is especially difficult when you know a lot rides on that answer. One such question is about the existence of God? How do we know God is Really There? is a book by Melissa Cain Travis and illustrated by Christopher Voss and published by Apologia that might get you started with your little ones and maybe, even firm the debate dialogue in your own mind.

Father and son reading the book which is the cover pic of this book.The story is a simple plot that plays out in many bedrooms, kitchens, backyards, and yes, treehouses over and over. A mother and child or a father and child playing and learning together when a child suddenly asks that question that makes our mind jerk to a halt and releases the feelings of inadequacy and even a little fear as the questions of our own spill into our mind. What? How did we get here now? How can I possibly explain this to him when I can’t always put words to this myself? How do I tell her that I just know God exists because I see Him everywhere when He is invisible? Using wonderful illustrations that look drawn by a child and almost real enough to touch the crayon wax and words that fill your mind with awe and lead you through a rational discovery through the known ideas of science to the abstract thinking in a step by step path to the only conclusion that makes sense of a person who chose to create the world and has the power to do it. You end with a pretty powerful answer to that all-important question: How Do We Know God is Really There?

Father and son looking through a telescope at Saturn as they explore God's creation to discover Him as Creator.

The  book’s scientific content does seem a bit weighty for very young children, but it can be a good read-to-me book for five to eight year olds and a good read together book for up to about ten or eleven with some children. The concept though can be used in conversations beyond that age level. Many young children and some special needs children may not get all the deep content the first time, but they will get the gist that can be grown through repeated readings as they grow older. The analogy to to rewinding a video is a humorous way of toning down that weighty science material. if it isn’t enough, the idea might lead you to something even better that your child will understand, so don’t fear giving this book a chance.

Father and son discussing how they can know God is really there by exploring creation to know there is a Creator, God.

You can find this book on Apologia’s web site to get more information or to order. The price is $16.00 for a durable, glossy, full-color hardback copy. That is affordable, but is it worth it? Three parents that I asked to read the book felt it was a great way to handle this tough question. Two students I read it to, including one in ASL, got really big-eyed and curious and really loved the pictures. The book got even the four year old who happened to be listening, too, talking about how “God is so big and can do anything.” That delight was enough for me to make it a part of our library permanently.

I received a copy of the above product to facilitate the writing of a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

Helping students improve their vocabulary for college entrances exams can be difficult when the means is tedious. College Prep Genius, which publishes a fantastic college entrance test preparation program that I love and have reviewed here before, has developed a series of books to really help students read more and learn more advanced vocabulary while they read. The CaféVocab series contains some very interesting stories that intertwine 300 words captivating students while demonstrating the proper use of difficult vocabulary.

The stories are all about the lives and activities of normal teens. There are stories in several different genres to help most teens find one that will grab their attention. The advanced vocabulary is properly used and sprinkled throughout the story. At the bottom of the page, the words used on that page are listed with a pronunciation guide, part of speech used, and a clear definition. A listing of the chapter’s used words is at the end of each chapter to aid in review. There is a glossary at the end with all the words, definitions, part of speech, and pronunciation guide, too.

The vocabulary used is in total for all four books in the series well over three hundred. Each book uses about three hundred, but there is some overlap. The books also use some of the words in different parts of speech and with slightly different content meaning to help the student really see how the words can function and make them a part of their own vocabulary to some extent. The use of the vocabulary in these stories, though, can really help them be better prepared for the advanced vocabulary found on the college entrance exams.

One of the students I gave these books to for reading assignments, Ryan S., was impressed enough with just the first few chapters that he is writing his own review on The $ummer of $aint Nick (dollar signs are intentional and part of the title). I will put an excerpt here, but if Ryan grants permission, I will post his full review when he has finished the book and review:

“I have read 9 chapters so far in my book. I love the book.  The vocabulary words I have not ever heard before like the word  Besmirch that means discolor. The book does show how to say word and meaning. but I will not be using these words in my writing. The book was interesting.  I liked the book because the boy who found $300,000 gave to those who needed money and was not selfish with the money he found. He gave money to people in community who needed help. He gave anonymously because he did not want the attention and praise.”

Even with his honesty of not wishing to actually use the words in his own writing due to their complexities and awkwardness, Ryan admits that he is learning to recognize and understand these new words. Along with his interest in the story leading him to read more, this new knowledge really shows the CaféVocab series is successfully completing its mission.

As far as accessibility, the pronunciation guide and definition are good for all students including those with slight reading delays. It would be more beneficial if audio and electronic text versions could be found on-line to help more who are print disabled, blind, or deafblind. Hopefully, this could be something added to the series in the future if the publishers really want to help more students while expanding their market.

There are currently four books in the series: Operation High School, The $ummer of $aint Nick, Planet Exile, and I. M. for Murder. Each book costs $12.95 and can be purchased Maven of Memory Publishing at http://www.vocabcafe.com.

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

Castles, knights, dragons, chivalry, and all the elements of a fantasy attract children of all ages. Many of these elements are harmless entertainment, but there are some elements which many parents wish to keep from their children. Young readers are attracted to the good examples of the genre, but some are lured to the few that might be attempts to lead them into things much worse. The few Christian books in the genre have not always been on the mark of good reading. In attempting to eliminate the negative, they often ruined the positives of action and the thrill of being part of something bigger than yourself. Author Ed Dunlop has created a world that brings all the positives to life in a very real way and includes no magic or witchcraft. Through this world though, Mr. Dunlop weaves biblical truths and life lessons that can affect a young person’s heart, soul, and mind in an enriching way seldom found elsewhere.

Terrestria is a place filled with evil battling to control its citizens and lure them away from King Emmanuel. Two books from the series Tales from Terrestria came my way recently for me to write this review. The first was called The Quest for Thunder Mountain. This story reminds me a little of Pilgrim’s Progress in the sense that the character embarks on a journey and learns a lot about himself, life, and God along the way. This is a fresh story though with the quest being to find King Emanuel’s will for the character’s life. The struggle along the way is to find out if he really wants to know and if he will believe King Emanuel’s Word against all others that it will be the greatest joy to know and do the King’s will.

The Tales of the second book I read, fourth in the series though the books are more of a stand-alone tale where order doesn’t matter, The Tale of the Dragons ventures into other life lessons such as respecting your parents and staying away from temptations. The young character is this story is lured to an island not far from home by the need to fit in and have friends, but the friends are not true friends and only wish him harm. The young man learns to heed his father’s words too late and finds himself a slave in a foreign land far from the safety of home. His father sells everything precious to him and risks his life more than once to find the wayward son and bring him home.

These lessons are brought to life so vividly and the stories were so captivating that it was hard to put down. Several children and I went through these two together. I think the lessons made an impact on us all including me. Ed Dunlop’s heart is truly seen when he states that, “If just one young person reads this book and realizes the wisdom of bonding with his or her parents and avoiding the deadly dragons of our treacherous society, it will have been worth every hour I spent in the writing of this book”. I wish I had found this kind of book when I was young. I think at least some of the bad I got into might have been avoided.

Mr. Dunlop has not made any versions of his books accessible for special needs except possibly a few groups by the use of e-books for a select number of his free works. That would allow some learning disabled students and hearing blind to use the Adobe Reader text to speech option. However, I hope to encourage him here to consider using http://www.bookshare.org and/or the National Braille Press to offer his wonderful books to various special needs populations. Either or both of these organizations will respect his rights as author, but allow special needs students including deaf, blind, and deafblind as well as learning disabled and other special needs populations to benefit from his skills of bringing faith lessons to all.

To learn more about this series and the companion series, Terrestria Chronicles, go to http://www.talesofcastles.com. Each of the books is available for $7.99 which is a great price for a quality paperback book. Ed Dunlop also has some free e-books he wrote available for download on the web site.

I received two books free in order to write this review, but I was not compensated in any other way. The opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

Level 2, Volume 1 of the All About Reading series arrived in my mailbox. I was looking forward to it because the newly brailled copy of The Beehive Reader, Level 1, I had done for one of my DeafBlind students had already been read and re-read many times. The student loved the book, and the mom was pleased to have some well-written stories that use words built in increments of simple to more difficult.

Of course, Mom had done lots of ground work in this case, since the child is profoundly deaf, and no one knows for sure exactly what or how much he hears. Mom teaches using all communication modes including voice and sound. Mom has also introduced phonics, but we don’t know how much of the phonics he truly hears or understands. The child does place his hands on the mother’s throat and lips to feel the vibrations of voice. The child has spoken a couple of words before, so the mother and I feel that continuing the process could be beneficial.

The All About Reading series is providing a needed resource in being able to control the types of vocabulary that the child will be introduced. Level 2, Volume 1 continues this progressive build of phonics-driven vocabulary while continuing the development of entertaining and lesson-filled stories. This edition also adds fun, quirky poems to the mix of stories and a clever “guess what I am” game in rhyming verses. The book continues to use the delightful and detailed black and white pencil sketch illustrations that are even good for low vision students, since the information is specific to the task of showing the story without a lot of color which can be distracting. Varying colors can produce contrast, but also introduces additional focal points which can be distracting. In addition, the durable binding that helps give years of life to a much used book is still being used. Quality seems to be important to the writers and publishers which is a very good thing.

The All About Reading series continues its commitment to quality stories with decodable vocabulary in a building progression toward teaching students to read and read well. What Am I? Is a delightful mix of stories and poems that should interest most young readers and get the on the path of reading for life. Go to http://www.all-about-reading.com to find out more about this program and the other products they provide.

As a child, I remember listening to Bible stories on records as I followed along in a colorful book. Those stories planted a lot of biblical truths in my heart as well as a deep love for my Savior. I also loved to listen to Children’s Bible Hour as a young child. Those stories were so good and full of good lessons. Recently, I received a set of books with CDs that brought back some of those memories. CBH Ministries developed these sets from radio scripts from the radio program, Children’s Bible Hour, which ran for over 60 years.

Seasons of Faith is a perfect name for this series as the stories are presented to teach lessons based on biblical truths for all the periods of a Christian walk from new life in Christ through to the deep struggles and times of trials. The stories are alive and meaningful regardless of decade. The books are illustrated by John White with detailed rich and colorful pictures that enhance the story. The narration is done by Uncle Charlie VanderMeer who is loved by many and his regular appearances on Christian radio are sadly missed. His voice alone is enough to make any story fun.

Learning Disabled children will enjoy the book/cd format helping them with their comprehension. The reading level is not too difficult for most children, especially with the read-along narration. Most low vision students should find the font size and type large enough and clear enough for easy reading with or without magnifiers. The books can be brailled on clear sheets and placed in blank areas and picture areas without too much difficulty. The books are light weight and easy to hold at 10 X 8.5 inches with a softcover. Paper is thick enough to be fairly difficult even with weak or unsteady muscles. An extra large book holder might prove more helpful to hold up the larger, slightly floppy pages for those who need the book raised for reading or who can’t hold books. Overall, there are many who can benefit from this series which is not easy to find.

The Series, Seasons of Faith, and other stories are available on the website for CBH Ministries at http://www.cbhministries.org. The book sets are available for a very affordable $10.00 each, and right now my readers can use the code FREESHIPAPR15 for free standard shipping from now until April 15, 2010. These could make a great gift for the Easter basket or summer time fun.

CBH Ministries provided me with a copy of each of the Seasons of Faith series, but I received no other compensation for this review. The opinion is entirely my own including accessibility suggestions which are based on my experiences using the products with my students. There is no guarantee these will work with your student, since all children are unique.

Those of us with vision problems or physical issues know the usefulness of a book holder. Book holders, though, are cumbersome and bothersome most of the time. When not in use, they are sitting in the way and getting knocked over. You never want to take them with you because they are just so bulky and odd-shaped that they are difficult to carry around. They are only useful when you are actually reading a book and need it sitting up right to accommodate our reading difficulties or held without the use of hands. Most sighted people are not fond of book holders because they just don’t realize the benefits while you read or study. Now there is a book holder that will catch their interest, I bet. This book holder will tickle the fancy of those of us with vision problems and physical issues, too. This is the StudyPod. It is more than just a book holder.

StudyPod is actually shaped like a book that is big enough to hold most books of varying sizes, but small enough to fit in your pack. The best thing is that it is designed to carry items like pens, paper, , calculator, magnifiers, contrast film guides, etc. With the StudyPod being made of sturdy plastic, your electronic and glass items will be much safer inside than just thrown in your pack. Even if you don’t carry a pack, and prefer to hold your books in your arms, the StudyPod being the approximate size and shape of a book will fit nicely in your stack of books making it comfortable to carry along with you.

Carrying it is easy, but what do sighted people need to know about the benefits of a StudyPod. Reading a book is much easier on the body if the book is held more upright. You keep your neck and back at a comfortable angle as you read closer to eye level. Studying is much easier, too, with the desk area less cluttered without the open book and notebook scattered across the area. The book held in a StudyPod is kept in a smaller place on the table within comfortable reading distance allowing the student to write notes or answers on a notebook or paper directly in front of them. A well-organized study area leads to a well-organized mind best suited for learning as an old adage used to proclaim. The StudyPod helps give you the perfect study area that can lead to good grades.

StudyPod comes in three colors: black, blue, and pink. The company also has the same product branded as BookPod to market to a more general audience than just students. The BookPod comes in black, gray, and beige. That definitely gives you some variety, although I hope they will eventually add red which is the last color that many people with certain eye diseases can see. I am sure some teens would like purple and lime-green as they like to express themselves.

The book holder is pretty simple to use, and the website has a video to show how you set it up to hold a book. Of course, this is only helpful for the sighted folks. I had to get help learning how to do it the first time which is a bit more difficult, since I am DeafBlind. Within just a few minutes though, I was sliding the stand bar out, and opening it, and placing the book on the pod and turning pages like a pro.

You can find out more about the StudyPod and the BookPod at www.studypodbookholder.com . One unit is $19.95, and you can purchase two or more at the discounted price of $16.95. A great price that helps me to declare that finally I can get a book holder that is actually useful in more ways than one.

Books are things that most homeschoolers love and can’t seem to have enough of in their home library. The right books at the right price are difficult to find, though. Most of us are looking for quality books that are grounded in biblically-based values. Homeschool Library Builder (HSLB) is a web site founded by homeschooling parents to do just that for you.

As stated in their tag line of “Fill your library without emptying your wallet”, the HSLB site is definitely where you can find new and used copies of all the books you need to operate your homeschool. The web site is organized very well. You can search by category, site specials, title, curriculum, fiction, nonfiction, picture books, and many other categories. If you can’t find a book, they can search for it for you, as well, which is often a tedious process. That is a wonderful service.

If you actually join which is free, you can get some great benefits. One is, as a member, every purchase earns you book points. You earn a book point for every dollar that you spend. Fifteen book points will give you one dollar in your account toward future purchases. That is a pretty good deal. Many other sites have worse reward deals than that.

In addition to the Frequent Buyer Program, HSLB families also use their site for other purposes for the benefit of their members. They facilitate fundraising, marketing for small, homegrown products of members, and charity donations through special book purchases. If you want to raise funds for your homeschool association or other organization, they have a program that doesn’t put your organization’s money at risk or even involve your group ordering. You may have a new product that you need to market, but being small that can be very expensive if not impossible. HSLB has a free service that allows you to advertise in their monthly newsletter that reaches a wide audience around the world. There isn’t a better way to get that new business off the ground. Probably one of the best member benefits is charity fundraising. They have special selections of books that the proceeds go to certain charitable needs. Recently, they members raised money for an autistic boy who needed a service dog. You get a great book and help someone out that might not get help from anywhere else. With all these benefits, membership is truly a reward.

HSLB is a really great site to get all of your families library needs. Check them out at www.hslibrarybuilder.com and if you like it, don’t forget to sign up as a member for free!

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