Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bessie's Pillow (Book review ~ Immigrant Biography)

My latest read is a new Immigrant story about a Jewish girl who comes to America from Lithuania in 1906. Bessie's Pillow is published by Strong Learning, Inc., and is the story of the Linda Bress Silbert's Grandmother, Bessie Dreizen. It is amazing to realize that something so small as a pillow could make such a huge impact on someone's life. You'll have to read it to find out why.

Love the transparent packaging!
In these times when immigration is on the tips of everyone's tongue, it is encouraging and thought-provoking to read the true story of the path of a legal immigrant and her family. To connect with the struggles and the triumphs faced by those who chose to come to our country's shores and assimilate into the great melting pot culture of America.

I particularly appreciated reading about that melting pot culture, and how so many of the people Bessie came in contact with were not concerned about her country of origin, her religion, the fact that she was a woman, but in her as a person. She notes about her Catholic Irish neighbors that when dealing with a health pandemic "despite our differences we all bury our dead and say prayers..."

While I feel that this is very much more a "girl's" book than a "boy's" book (I did not require my 16 year old son to read Bessie's Pillow for this review), if one is currently studying this specific time period, it is a fantastic read for upper middle school through high school, and would add great dimension and depth to a history study of the the first half of the 20th century.

Any story that comes from family history is by nature engaging and interesting. Linda Silbert has added to the conversational interest and engagement factor by including photos and a study guide at the end of the book. This guide gives additional historical and social information, and even more can be found on the dedicated website Bessie's America.

Explore articles and multimedia links on the topics of:

  • European Immigration
  • Famous People
  • Food and Recipes
  • Health
  • Housework
  • Movies
  • Music and Dancing
  • News
  • U.S. Presidents
  • Radio

There is so much interesting information to read, listen to and watch that I highly recommend visiting Bessie's America .

Bessie's Pillow is a story of courage, humility, strength, integrity and ingenuity, of love and loss, sorrow and joy. In short, it is a snapshot of the human experience, the brother and sisterhood of mankind, and a picture of the hope that America has brought to the many who have come to her shores (legally) seeking refuge and a better life. 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
  • Company: Strong Learning, Inc.
  • Product: Bessie's Pillow
  • Ages: personally, I would suggest at least 14 years old, but read it for yourself and decide! 
  • Price: List price $19.95, available on the website for $15, with a discount for 6+. It is also available as a Kindle eBook. 
Visit Bessie's Pillow on Social Media: Facebook and Twitter 

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Creating a Masterpiece (Fine Art Instruction Review)

This is turning out to be an "artsy" year for us! Creating a Masterpiece allowed me to have art projects to explore with all of my age groups for this review, with access to many techniques, media, and levels through a Monthly Plan subscription.

About the Program
Sharon Hofer offers detailed video classes in a wide variety of media. I meant it when I said there was something for everyone! There are lessons in:

Acrylic, Batik, Block Printing, Conte Crayon, Copper Tooling, Glass Mosaic, Ink, Oil Painting, Oil Pastel, Pencil/Charcoal, Sculpture, Silk Painting, Soft Pastel, Watercolor, and Wood Burning

Each level offers eight or nine projects. The Beginners Level projects are completed in one lesson (which is broken down into smaller segments) and can be done by children as young as 4 years of age!  Level 1-5 projects take three to seven lessons to complete, and the complexity increases with the level. Again, each lesson is broken down into smaller segments, and should take around an hour to complete.  There is also an Art in History level offering seven projects. Some are suitable for younger children, others are more advanced.

Our Experiences With Creating A Masterpiece

Aren't these pretty??? So many shades!
We sampled a few different projects, with multiple students/artistic levels/abilities.
The first one attempted was the free sample project offered on the website. Youngest and I pulled out our old chalk pastels and some black construction paper and... well, we discovered that sometimes using the cheap stuff really isn't the best. Time to purchase some black "pastel" paper and some "soft" pastels, which are a little different from chalk pastels.

*Side note: Sharon Hofer definitely suggests using the best supplies available that you can afford, and she maintains links for the supplies required for each lesson to Dick Blick Art Supplies on her website. I will note here that Dick Blick generally has some of the lowest prices around for quality merchandise if you are looking to purchase online ~ Having an art education major in the family next year, I've been checking out resources, and Dick Blick is great! :)

OK, on with the review~
Youngest angsted over his work as he frequently does, but second time through, using the new paper and pastels I set him up with the lesson on the ipad and left him to his own devices (this particular day I was getting ready for an outside activity, taking a shower, running around like crazy, and didn't have time to offer him "at his elbow" support and guidance). Although there were a couple of shouted questions through the bathroom door, I didn't really do a thing besides offer encouragement.
I was delighted by the end result and so was he:

He was so incredibly proud of his work, and insisted that we go purchase a frame to hang it on the wall immediately. :) (I have to admit that I was pretty proud of his accomplishment as well!)

His other project was in a medium that I really don't have much technical experience with, watercolor painting.

I think that perhaps his paper wasn't quite as wet as was recommended (hard to judge these things through a video), so he will be trying this another time, but even so, it turned out alright.
Pencil in hand to sign his masterpiece...

I do need to note that I did assist a little on this one, as he needed guidance in how to hold and use a flat brush, so some of the strokes are mine, or guided by my hand. Again, I'm interested to see how this turns out on a second go around.

I fiddled around with this project as well: 

Middlest tried his hand at wood burning (handy that I had a wood burning tool from a project I undertook decades ago~ less handy that the tip broke part-way through... again with the quality tools?).  Even with the snag, I think we've finally hit on an artistic endeavor my 16 year old enjoys and may continue. I do have to note that he chose not to do the actual project (a lion), but went with something he loves... fish...

I will note here that if you have a dedicated school space, or art space that would be ideal for some of these projects. My upstairs hallway smelled like a campfire (a nice campfire smell, not a stinky campfire smell, but a campfire smell none-the-less...). However, my home is old and has weird air-flow, and I expect that your experience will be different than mine. ;)

A couple of things to mention~ Sharon does speak through the early lessons to the 4-6 year old crowd (she may come off as "talking down" to an older child), so your older students might be a little put off by her tone but the instruction is solid, so I recommend that this be a lesson in being attentive even if one doesn't care for the tone. I did find that it changed in the higher levels, although Sharon still maintains her cheerful encouragement, which in and of itself is a good thing. :)

I also want to address the cost. I seldom mention anything about cost, as every homeschool family has a different financial structure. I just want to mention that if one were to spring for a local art class for one student it would $15-$17.50/ one hour class (price-checked in my area today). Ten weeks of classes run $150-$175/ student. While these video classes remove the feedback of in person classes, and are not "inexpensive" they *are* an economical choice when considering art classes for just one child, and even more so if there is more than one in the family.

This isn't your run-of-the-mill video art instruction. I feel your children really will create their own "masterpieces" that they (and you) will be proud of, and will want to share if you choose to use Creating a Masterpiece as part of your homeschool art instruction.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
  • Company: Creating a Masterpiece
  • Product: Monthly Plan
  • Ages: PreK-Adult
  • Price: $39.99/month (Alternate plans are available, $349/year, individual level access starting at $119/year, and group membership plans) 
Visit Creating a Masterpiece on Facebook

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

By the Way Book Series, Pennsylvania ~ Here We Come! (Review)

My Youngest is an avid reader, history buff, and nature lover, so our latest review was right up his alley! Introducing the By the Way Book Series. Currently there are 6 titles available, with more on the way. We chose to review Pennsylvania ~ Here We Come! because we wanted to learn more about Pennsylvania for a few reasons. One reason is because Pennsylvania is where my oldest will be attending college next fall. The other is because my youngest has already formed an attachment for Pennsylvania, as one of the few states that allows capybaras to be kept as pets, so learning more about the state was high on his priority list. ;)

The By the Way Book Series is intended to offer parents and other caregivers the opportunity to incorporate the directive from Deuteronomy 6:7 to diligently teach our children to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" while we "walk by the way" with them. The authors have determined that one way to do this is to point out the goodness, beauty, and diversity shown by our Creator in a variety of locales.

Each story follows two siblings (Alex and Lexi) as they discover items of geographic historical, natural, and scientific interest in a specific location. In Pennsylvania ~ Here We Come! the children are chosen as ambassadors for a special July 4th "Celebrate Pennsylvania" trip around the state, where they visit a variety of locations. They learn about some of the special things that can be seen and experienced, all with a Biblical Worldview.

Because my youngest is an avid reader, I set him loose with the book to start with. He was delighted to have something new and interesting to read. A week or two later, I sat down to read it aloud with him. He kept skipping ahead, telling me bits of information he found interesting from the times he read through on his own, before I would get to those specific pages or parts of the story.

I will note that for a book with quite of lot of photos there is also a remarkable amount of text, so it is not a "quick read" for children at the younger end of the age-range. It would be very easy to use it as part of your daily read-aloud time, reading about one or two of the places they visit each day (2-5/6 pages a day). There are 48 pages in the book, so you could take 1-2 weeks to read this book, and even use it as a unit study spine, looking up more information on each topic/location/event discussed.

Topics included:

  • Things and places specific to Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania's State Dog (the Great Dane), the State Capitol (Harrisburg), the Jumonville Memorial Cross, Toll Roads, Brownsville Castle, The Bethlehem Star, Groundhog Day, Hershey
  • Historic locations and events: Gettysburg, the historic "National Road," Fort Necessity, 1813 Battle of Lake Erie, Valley Forge, Philadelphia and Independence Hall, Missionary David Brainard
  • Geographic Features: Pennsylvania Rivers and River Ferries, Lake Effect, Appalachian Trail, Mason-Dixon Line, Geocaching, Fishing
  • People of Pennsylvania: Immigrants, Amish, American Indians
  • Natural Resources: Coal, Oil Wells, Concord Grapes, Mushrooms, Farmer's Markets, and wildlife, including Chipmunks, Raccoons, Crickets, Caterpillars, Birds (including the Bald Eagle), Deer, Bears, Salamanders, and Elk (! this was of particular interest to me, as I grew up not far from Yellowstone National Park, and while Elk are fairly common out west, I didn't realize that there were herds as far east as Pennsylvania)

While most topics are lightly introduced, they really could become a springboard for mor in depth discussion are research.

My son definitely enjoyed this book, and I enjoyed learning a bit more about the state than I knew. Over the next four years I expect we will be able to combine visiting his sister at college and exploring a bit of the great state of Pennsylvania.

Other By the Way Book Series titles reviewed by the Homeschool Review Crew : 

You can also find optional items for purchase on the website which coordinate with each title: Posters, Trading Cards, Activity Books, and Stuffed Animals, so be sure to take a look at those if you like. ;)

Keep your eyes open in 2017 for new titles:  Ireland, New York City, Idaho, and Indiana.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
You can visit By the Way Book Series on Facebook.

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