Worst of Friends

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A Book Worth Reading: The Worst of Friends (Thomas Jefferson and John Adams)

Americans today are all too familiar and fed up with political fighting, but we sometimes forget that even the founding fathers had disagreements over how the government should work. Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud reveals the story of how two of our most famous presidents went from being friends to bitter enemies and back to friends again, showing us that disagreement over politics has always been a part of our country and reminding us that even though we may not agree, we can still be kind.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were complete opposites in many ways, from their personalities to their physical appearances, but they were good friends anyway. As the American colonists grew weary of King George’s unfair laws, the two worked together first to convince their fellow Americans that they should be free and independent and then to convince other countries to support the new nation. After so many years of working together toward a common goal, though, they found themselves with radically different ideas about how the new American government should be run. Instead of talking it out, the two friends fought it out. For more than twenty years–and both of their presidencies–the two men argued and neither one was willing to budge an inch, no matter how much their friends begged them.
Finally, as 1812 began, John Adams sent Thomas Jefferson a letter wishing him a happy new year. A month later, a letter arrived from Jefferson, and after that, the two friends corresponded frequently. The two men admitted their fault in the arguments to each other and resumed their friendship until the day they died–both on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after America declared its independence.

Suzanne Tripp Jurmain’s book is a great way to spark discussion with your children; it takes a philosophical disagreement between two historical figures and makes it relatable to kids in the 21st century. After all, almost everyone has had an argument with a friend before. What makes this situation different from all the political fighting we see today, though, is that these two men chose to set aside their differences for the sake of their friendship, which is a valuable lesson for kids to learn.  We do not have to agree on every point in order to extend kindness and grace to others, and our nation would be better off if we would all put this into practice.  During this election season, share Worst of Friends with your kids and they can learn about history and friendships!

The Giant of Seville

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One of the things I love about Homeschool Share is that there is so much good stuff that sometimes I stumble across a book I’ve never even heard of before! This summer I was doing some planning and found The Giant of Seville: A “Tall” Tale Based on a True Story. This is such a sweet book that I had to share it with you!

The Giant of Seville, by Dan Andreasen, is based on the true story of Martin Van Buren Bates, who at 28 years old reached his full height of seven feet, eleven and a half inches and weighed 525 pounds. After serving in the Civil War, Bates joined the circus and was touted as “The World’s Tallest Man.” While traveling with the circus, Bates met his future wife, Anna, who herself was almost eight feet tall. Together they toured the world until it was time to find a place to settle down and spend their retirement, which is where the story begins.

Bates arrives in Seville, Ohio on a train, with his head and shoulders poking out of the window to make room for the rest of his body inside the car. Of course everyone notices his size, and everyone is curious to see what this giant will do. His first stop is Mrs. Crawley’s boardinghouse, where she kindly rents him a room without a single mention of his size. She and the townspeople set about making Bates feel right at home, from making a small fire outside the bedroom window to warm his feet—which are sticking outside due to his unusual length—to whipping up four gallons of pancake batter to fill him up at breakfast. They even hold a dance so Bates can meet everyone. At the dance, though, Bates’s enthusiasm has some disastrous consequences and he is sure that no one will want him to stay in town anymore. Much to his surprise, though, the townspeople decide to build a giant home for Bates and Anna to live in.

In a world where we constantly hear and read stories about people judging each other or hurting each other because of their differences, it’s so nice to read a true story where everyone is courteous and kind and willing to go out of their way to help others feel welcome. The Giant of Seville is a wonderful story to read with your children and discuss how we should treat others kindly, even when there may be a cost for us to do so. The story doesn’t come across as preachy, though; it’s just a sweet, simple story about a town coming together to make someone feel welcome—physically and emotionally.

Andreasen’s pictures are lovely, too. They have an old-fashioned feel that complements the setting wonderfully and my children wanted to look over each picture carefully when I finished reading the page. The book concludes with an author’s note about Bates and Andreasen includes a photograph of Martin and Anna Bates next to an average-sized man, so you can really see how much of a difference there was in size!

This is a book that both my nine year old son and four year old daughter enjoyed, so even if you choose not to use the unit from Homeschool Share, this would be a great read aloud for the whole family. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

A Book Worth Reading ~ Fair Weather

“It was the last day of our old lives, and we didn’t even know it.”

 So begins Richard Peck’s Fair Weather, a wonderful story narrated by 13 year old Rosie Beckett.  Rosie lives in the country with her parents, her Granddad, her big sister, Lottie, and her little brother, Buster.  Rosie’s life is limited to her family’s farm, the one room schoolhouse, and an occasional trip to town.  Her biggest excitement is wondering what will happen between her sister and the young man courting her, since her mother doesn’t approve of him.  One day, though, a letter from her Aunt Euterpe arrives and her new life begins.

It’s 1893, and the entire world is abuzz with excitement over the World’s Columbian Exposition taking place in Chicago.  Euterpe, their rarely seen or heard from aunt, invites Rosie, her siblings, and her mother to visit Chicago and experience “the wonder of the age.”  This is the first time people have eaten Cracker Jacks or taken a ride on a Ferris Wheel.  For many, it is the first time they’ve seen electric power lighting up the night sky.  Rosie’s mother sends the children, but is going to send her ticket back.  Granddad, a man with a mind of his own and a dog for a sidekick, thwarts her plans by taking the ticket and joining the children on their first trip to a big city.

When they arrive in Chicago, the contrast between life in the big city and life on the poor country farm is clear to all the travelers immediately.  Rosie is astonished by how stiff and formal Aunt Euterpe is and can’t believe she was raised by her mischievous Granddad.  Unintentionally at first, and later with great purpose, Rosie and Lottie begin to bring Aunt Euterpe out of her widow’s weeds and back into the land of the living.  Their exploits at the fair are funny and enjoyable to read as Rosie recounts all the new sights, sounds, and smells around her.  In the end, the Beckett family’s eyes are opened to the changes coming to their lives, both personally and globally.

Aside from being a great story, Fair Weather is also a good source of factual information about the 1893 Columbian Exposition.  Photographs of the fair are included throughout the book to complement the descriptions of what Rosie sees.  Peck has also written an author’s note about events that took place after the fair and its impact on our world.  I read a non-fiction book about the Exposition years ago and was fascinated by the ingenuity and incredible work that went into this event.  Fair Weather would make a great introduction to this time period.

I think this book would be best for fifth grade age and up.  There are a few instances when Rosie notes the scantily clad dancers at the fair, though that is as much description as she gives, and sadly, we probably see much more at the pool now on a regular basis.  In any case, you may want to pre-read it or use this as a read-aloud and edit as you see fit for your children.  Also there is a recurring theme of things not being what they seem that may be better explored by older students.  Lillian Russell, the famous actress, is scorned for being a “fallen woman” because she has been married three times.  When Rosie and her family meet her, though, they realize she is kind and gracious and “everything that Lottie would like to be”—and Rosie feels the same way.  Some of Granddad’s tall tales turn out to be true, and Lottie’s beau is not what her mother fears.  Any of these situations would be great discussion starters for older students.

I have enjoyed many of Richard Peck’s novels, and Fair Weather is one of his best.  It seems like the late 1800s sometimes is a brief mention in history books, stuck in between Reconstruction and World War I.  This is a book that draws readers into the story and teaches them as well.  I think that if you give it a try, you will not be disappointed!