Saturday, November 29, 2014

What Makes a Good Children's Book: "One Green Apple" by Eve Bunting

I have always wanted to own a children's picture book store, somewhat like Meg Ryan's The Shop Around the Corner (in the classic romance movie You've Got Mail), with gorgeous, illustrated books lining the shelves and cosy throw-lined sofas for reading corners. There is something about a good picture book which makes you smile and lifts your spirits on a dull day. I had my very own picture book collection before I even started work proper, bought with allowance I made working at my aunt's friend's children's bookstore. 
Sadly, most of those picture books have been replaced by iPads and computer games in children's lives. Picture books play such an important role in children's love for reading. For me, they opened up a whole world of people with different experiences from mine. I felt their pain and their joy. There is still much to be said about introducing quality books to children from as early as you can. But what makes a good children's book? 

Apart from having a good storyline and beautiful illustrations, I feel that a good picture book should be about people, places and issues which children can relate to. It should make children smile when they read it. It should draw their attention to what is going to happen next. It should be written with carefully chosen words, not belittling children's ability to understand words that they may not previously have heard of but would be more than willing to learn. 

My own personal take on the matter is that a good picture book should leave me with a broad smile on my face and a warm fuzzy feeling within for a long time after. Subjective, I know, but it has never failed me yet. Sad stories should leave a tear or two in my eyes. A good picture book should always touch the reader on an emotional level, as it deals with issues that are common to the rest of humanity. It should open a child's eyes to the rest of the world.
For our unit on Apples, I think I got rather carried away, but there was no lack of books in the library on apple picking and the life cycle of an apple tree. Our favourites were the ones in the next few pictures. 

"One Green Apple" really impressed me. It is about an Arab girl, a young immigrant who cannot speak English and feels different from everyone else, until she goes apple picking at an orchard and not only discovers her voice, but also that her one green apple tastes perfect when it is pressed with the other red ones to make apple cider. In simple descriptions of emotions and sun-drenched illustrations of the children in the orchard, her point rings clear. Our boys loved the book so much we read it every night for almost two weeks straight.

"One Red Apple" is a beautiful book with enchanting illustrations on the life cycle of an apple tree. I loved how parts of the book flipped outwards to reveal different sections of the tree.

The younger one loved "Apple Pie ABC",  a book about a cheeky dog who plots to steal his owner's apple pie. 

"Apple Picking Time" is a book that contains a slice of US history, and is about a girl Anna  and her family as they help to bring in the apple harvest. We used it to look at the themes of perseverance and trying your best in whatever work you do.

I also borrowed a few more books by Eve Bunting as the boys really liked "One Green Apple". I find her stories to be compelling, set in a particular time and place, and not afraid to address social issues such as prejudice and discrimination. She makes such issues tangible for children to grasp. Here are some of the other books we borrowed.

As we read good picture books, we sometimes also like to do lesson extensions on them.  I was very pleased with the drawing that Z did on his own on the life of an apple tree, as I narrated the different stages to him and showed him photographs.

As another extension of the book, we also went on a trip to the market to see if we could find some apples! It was the next best thing to visiting an apple orchard, which is impossible in our part of the world. The boys had fun picking one apple of each variety from the fruit stall. It is amazing how many varieties of apples there are!

We got home and studied the apples' attributes - their colour, size, texture and taste. We looked up the names of each variety and marvelled at the fact that we have such a creative God who delights in differences. If only people were as accepting of apple varieties as they were of one another! Fruit for thought...

We ended our apple comparison with a discussion centred on the book. Who would dare to taste the green apple? Should we combine it with the other red ones when we made our apple jam, even if it was different from the rest? Why or why not?

It was a unanimous vote to add the green apple into the mix. We got down to cutting our apples, revising the parts of an apple, and counting the seeds while admiring the star-shaped cross-sections. We were reminded that each of these seeds had the potential to grow into an apple tree. In the same way, God wants us to grow and bear much fruit for Him.

In the book, Farah and her friends get to place their apples into a juice press, and taste the delicious cider that flowed out. We didn't have a juicer, so we decided to make apple jam instead with our many varieties of apples.

Could we taste the green apple? Farah said she thought she could taste her own special apple in the mix. We thought so too!

The best way to eat apple jam - with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream!

The best fruit of reading this book was that the kids learned about differences, discrimination and accepting people who do not seem to look or act the same as them. It also brought back memories for them of our recent Australian trip, as they remembered the fruit orchards they had seen and the early buds of apple flowers on the bare winter branches, and the tractor that took them round the farm. I loved the simplicity and subtlety in the way the message was communicated. Truly one of those books which made me smile!

Read our earlier post on "A is for Apple", part of the My Father's World K curriculum.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Australia 2014: Of Gnomes & Giant Towers - The Road to Busselton

Gnome News is Good News

As we headed south towards our next destination Busselton, our base for the exploration of the Margaret River region, we stumbled upon a very curious town which is the home for thousands of gnomes. 
How to get to Gnomesville...
The official Gnomesville website explains the curious origin of the town:

long, long time ago, a Gnome was travelling on an Australian country road. It was at night and far from anywhere. All around was leafy and green. A pleasant place. By and by, he came to a fork in the road. He followed the road, which seemed to go around and around. Now, being a little person, he could not see over the curb. If he did, the story would have ended here. He walked all night with the feeling he was going nowhere. Roads branched off every so often. 

By the morning, he was exhausted. Then it was clear. He had come across a ROUNDABOUT—a circular intersection in the middle of (almost) nowhere. This was something he had never seen as a country traveller. But it was a nice place and reminded him of home. There was a bubbling brook and shady trees.

So he stayed a while. And another while. Other Gnomes passed and visited, and many stayed. Word passed around. Gnomes from far and wide left their gardens and came to visit. But they stayed. This was something new for the mostly solitary Gnomes. There was something irresistable about the place. It was as if the ROUNDABOUT was casting a spell.

Legends aside, other more official (and less exciting) sources say Gnomesville was created following a protest over the building of a new roundabout. But whatever the case, the town is truly worth a visit if you happen to be travelling south of Perth.
Tall ones, short ones, fat ones, skinny ones...
Feel free to add to the growing collection of gnome puns... 
Entire communities participate in the development of Gnomesville.
Numerous tales are told regarding the little fellows.
A giant in Gnomesville

Donnybrook Apple Fun Park

Continuing our journey south, we made our way to Australia's largest free-entry playground. The Shire of Donnybrook, which manages the playground, contributes these interesting nuggets about the facilities which include the following:
  • toddler and pre-schooler areas that include lots of low ride-on animals, kiddie swings, climbing and slide areas
  • four-level towers with slides, rope bridges and flying foxes
  • low rock climbing walls, swings and a spacenet
  • two 9.5 m towers that rise above the ground with a range of play equipment suitable for all ages, including slides and climbing equipment
And to keep the parents fit, there is also an adult friendly area that has gym circuit exercise equipment!
Quite a spectacular playground
Our 2yo explores musical notes and apprecites rhythm.

While our 4yo spends time on the swing with Kong Kong.
It's off to get some bouncing.
And even some hugging...
Before Kor Kor joins in at the music station.
Then it's off for an exciting time. Yes Mummy, the slide is 4-storeys high...
And it does seem high for a 2yo....
But Kor Kor will take care of me!

Busselton Beach Resort

As the sun set, we finally arrived at our abode for the next week - the Busselton Beach Resort. Sue's aunt had kindly secured the place for us as a gift from her timeshare package. We had a really lovely time there and Sue's aunt has already secured the resort for us next year for a return trip there!
The view of the resort at sunset.
Located just five minutes away from the beach, the Busselton Beach Resort is an ideal getaway.
The view from the front of our resort.
While the rest of the family stayed behind to settle in, Daddy and Z headed out for a
quick walk to the beach.
Enjoying the evening sunset.
Just the two of us...

A 4yo boy contemplates life...
The perfect end to a lovely day.
With our lungs filled with fresh air from the sea, we headed back to the resort for a warm meal prepared by Sue's mum. Our time in the Margaret River region had only just begun and already we seemed to have accomplished so much! 

My Father's World K: A is for Apple & Rowing "How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World"

I never know exactly how the boys (and I) are going to take hold of the units we do and it is always interesting to see whether we will decide to go deep or wide in our learning. We have evolved a kind of easy, fluid structure, which uses the letter sounds and their related topics from My Father's World K as a base, and then develops them from there.
This time round, I decided to "row" a Five in a Row book to start the unit off. How to Make An Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman is a lovely book about a girl who goes to the shop to buy ingredients for an apple pie, only to find it closed, and she then proceeds to travel around the world on various modes of transport to obtain them from their sources. It's a very interesting book about food provenance, or where our food comes from.

We started off with our first Geography lesson on the names of the continents. We used the Montessori method for this activity and sang the Continents song while labelling the different continents on the map with the help of some colour-coding. I purchased a soft copy of the maps and labels from here at a very reasonable price.
The boys really loved the song! "Europe, Asia, Africa..." They have been singing it all the time since then. I will be revising the song and map with them again so that they will really know the continents by heart by the end of the year.

The next fun part - going through the story after the first reading, and arranging in chronological order the countries the narrator went to, the modes of transport, and the types of ingredients that were sourced! This was a good recall activity and it served as preparation time for the making of our own apple pie as we assembled the actual ingredients we would need from the kitchen. For example, the narrator took a ship to Italy to get wheat to grind into flour. Cinnamon was obtained from Sri Lanka, which they went to on a banana boat.
Apples were picked fresh from Vermont! Of course, they had to take a plane there.
The fun part came in assembling all the ingredients we would be using to bake our very own apple pie! 
The pièce de résistance of the unit was an actual recipe for apple pie in the back. I had my reservations about whether it was a good recipe, but thought we should try it anyway. It turned out to be one of the best apple pie recipes I have tried!
Z was a very proud little boy with our dearest guests that evening, serving them the apple pie he had helped to bake earlier that day. Here he is with Uncle Ben and Aunty Sonia.
We also did some apple crafts for the unit. Here is Z doing an apple collage. This activity is great for fine motor skills.
We also did some apple printing, I was strangely quite pleased when we found out that the apple I was going to use for the activity had a rotten core. We had a good discussion on how appearances are deceiving. An apple can look good on the outside, but what matters most is the heart of the apple. We were reminded to keep our hearts pure in God. A great object lesson!
This was another great activity for fine motor skills.

Our younger son has been taking advantage of our painting lessons to explore textures. He has been eating paint, smearing it all over himself, and thoroughly enjoying the whole sensory experience of it. I let him explore the textures of the apple and the paint, while quietly shuddering at the thought of cleaning up later. Oh well, the things we sacrifice for the love of art ;-)
Another sensory activity we did was to create our own Apple Pie Playdough. I got this lovely idea from The Nurture Store's post on Fall Play Dough, made with different spices like clove and nutmeg. Spicy, warm scents. We made ours with nutmeg and cinnamon, and it still smells lovely a few weeks down the road.

When it was done, I gave E some paper leaves and green chenille stems, and he enjoyed making his own apples and selling them at an "apple stand". 
We then added some Math into the unit with a printable which involved counting and drawing apples in a basket.
It was with a slight sense of sadness that we ended our Apple Unit; especially since we really did enjoy it so much. We loved the books we borrowed from the library and especially One Green Apple, which we did an extension lesson on. 

More on Eve Bunting's One Green Apple here!