Some more books that have become favourite parts of our homeschool:
1. The Wilds of Whip-poor-will Farm, by Janet Foster, illustrated by Olena Kassian. (1982, Greey de Pencier Books.) I just finished this today with Ponytails and Crayons. The book's twelve chapters cover a year of critter-watching from (and sometimes in) a log cabin in rural southern Ontario. Each episode reminds me of a favourite aunt's letters home--and the quiet, detailed drawings add to our enjoyment of the book . I love having a story that's especially about the animals and birds we might see around here--although many of them are common to other areas as well. Good for any of the primary years.
2. Owls in the Family, by Farley Mowat. As long as we're talking about pets and critters...this is another Canadian classic (published in 1961). Part Henry Huggins, part Rascal, part Homer Price (remember the pet skunk?), the fictionalized version of young Farley has a sort of menagerie in his Saskatoon backyard. "There were the rats and gophers, and then there was a big cardboard box full of garter snakes....there were some rabbits too, and then there was Mutt, my dog...."--but since this isn't enough, he ends up adopting two owls named Wol and Weeps, and they do end up becoming like part of the family.
"I was glad that Rufus, the groundhog, was asleep in his underground burrow because I could see that two coyotes were hunting regularly over the farm.
They came out from the wood each night and followed the same route up the lane and across the fields. One time, they left a clear trail of big paw prints right under our bedroom window! I tried howling several times during the winter, but the coyotes never answered. Maybe they were too busy hunting. Or maybe it was too cold."
This book isn't very long (about 106 pages) or difficult to read, so we usually read it around Year 2. (Did I mention it's funny?)
"After first making sure Mutt was really fast asleep, Wol would begin to stalk the old dog the way a cat will stalk a bird....Starting from the front porch, Wol would sneak across the lawn moving so slowly and carefully he hardly seemed to move at all. If Mutt happened to raise his head he would see Wol standing stock-still on the grass and staring innocently up at the sky....Sometimes it took Wol and hour or more to cross the lawn; but he did it so quietly and cautiously that Mutt never really had a chance.
"When he had sneaked up close enough, Wol would raise one big foot and--very, very gently--lower it over the end of Mutt's long and bushy tail. Then Wol would let out a piercing scream and at the same moment he would give the tail a good hard squeeze.
"Poor Mutt would leap straight into the air, yelping with surprise and pain. By the time he got his bearings and was ready to take a bite out of Wol, the owl would have flown to the limb of a nearby tree from which he would peer down at Mutt as much as to say: "Good heavens! What a terrible nightmare you must have been having!"
3. Another short but not dumbed-down natural history book we read in Year 1 is How the Forest Grew, by William Jaspersohn. It's about a hardwood forest in Massachusetts, and how it grew and changed over the years. I like it because it doesn't try to be cute or avoid some of the realities of life in the forest: the "weasels and foxes who caught mice, rabbits, and birds for their dinner," and a storm that strikes some trees with lightning and uproots others. It's clear that all of what seems unpleasant to us is simply a making way for something else. "As time passed, insects and disease hurt the other pines. Every time one of them died, a red oak, white ash, or red maple tree took its place."
4. And a big fat treasure of a book is one that I'm hoping Ponytails will read to herself next year: The Rainbow Book of Nature, by Donald Culross Peattie. It's a bit of everything, written for those kids of yesterday (and today) who really wanted to know.
"In ornithology (the science of birds), the case is well known of an eleven-year-old girl who could name every kind of duck, as far off as she could see it, by the way it flew. most duck-hunters, grown men, will tell you that it takes years of experience to master the difficult subject of the ducks. But since no one remembered to tell this girl how hard it was, she found it quite easy. She had good eyes, close attention, and a memory that kept what it caught. And these are much more useful than the costliest binoculars ever made."