bespoke book lists

Great YA Westerns for Your Reading List

Great YA Westerns for Your Reading List

Good versus evil plays out in complicated ways in these YA westerns.

Great Books for Studying Native American History: High School

Great Books for Studying Native American History: High School

On the 150th anniversary of the Medicine Lodge Treaty (a trio of problematic agreements that forced the Plains Indians onto reservations) ensure that your high school U.S. history studies include the country’s marginalized original inhabitants.

Bespoke Book List: Books about the Solar Eclipse

Bespoke Book List: Books about the Solar Eclipse

We’re so excited about the solar eclipse this month! (We’ve even planned a family camping trip to coincide with it so that we can get the best possible view.) I’d love to add some eclipse books to our summer reading list. What do you recommend?

We’re all excited about the eclipse, too! There are a ton of books about the science and history of eclipses, so I’m going to focus the list on ones that we’ve read and enjoyed.

If you're looking for a one-stop-shop-style book focused specifically on the 2017 solar eclipse, check Totality: The Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024. It gives a rundown of the science behind the big event, but its focus is on experiencing the eclipse yourself: What should you know to view it safely? What can you expect to see, stage by stage? How can you take the best photographs of the eclipse? There’s tons of practical advice here, which is nice if you’re looking for a way to channel everyone’s eclipse excitement into actual planning. (Similarly, the editor of Astronomy magazine has put together Your Guide to the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, which includes a mix of science and practical eclipse experiencing tips. If Totality has a wait list at your library, you could try this one instead.)

When the Sun Goes Dark is a quick, picture book read about preparing for a solar eclipse. (The idea of recreating a mini eclipse in your living room with a lamp, balls, and hoops might be fun to try in your tent, too.)


Another nice picture book is The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons—it’s about eclipses but also about the science and folklore of the moon in general, which is fun to dig into. (The sun shouldn’t get all the attention, right?)


We really loved American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World, which focuses not on the 2017 eclipse but on the 1878 one, which generated its own, pre-Facebook eclipse fever and marked an important moment in the history of astronomy. This book focuses on three famous eclipse chasers—the astronomer Maria Mitchell (who is one of my childhood heroes), Thomas Edison, and James Craig Watson—who worked to document the event and collect scientific data on the ground right in the middle of Wild West. It’s a great mix of history and science. (If you love this one, follow it up with America's First Great Eclipse: How Scientists, Tourists, and the Rocky Mountain Eclipse of 1878 Changed Astronomy Forever.)

Eclipse: History. Science. Awe. was actually written to coincide with the 1979 solar eclipse in the Pacific Northwest, but it has been updated with information for the 2017 eclipse, too. It’s a beautiful book with scientific details, history, and mythology about the eclipse—think of it as a coffee table book that delivers a glossy, fact-filled overview of eclipses without digging too deep into any particular topic. We loved flipping through this one, but I think it might be harder to pull off as a readaloud.

If you’d like to read more about the history of solar eclipses (and you should because it’s fascinating), pick up a copy of Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets. It’s a selective journey through eclipse history, starting with the first hints of scientific understanding in the world and continuing to modern-day eclipse chasers, and you’ll find a lot of cool facts you might not have known—such as the fact that the eclipse was used in 1919 to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity or that scientists today use eclipses to locate distant planets.

Anthony Aveni takes the history of eclipses one step further in In the Shadow of the Moon: The Science, Magic, and Mystery of Solar Eclipses, which considers the sociological and cultural history of eclipses as well as their scientific history. I love that it collects the stories of eclipses through history from oral, pictorial, and written traditions and accounts to create a story of cultural astronomy.


If you want to do a little bonus armchair eclipse chasing, physicist Frank Close writes about his travels and scientific discoveries on the trail of the next big eclipse in Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon. 



Younger readers will appreciate Looking Up! The Science of Stargazing, by columnist Joe Rao. It’s heavy on the solar eclipse (there's a whole section devoted to the 2017 eclipse) but also contains useful information about the constellations, northern lights, and other astronomical phenomena. (This one is especially handy if you want to do a little stargazing on your camping trip, too.)


If you are looking for activity suggestions to gear up for your eclipse viewing, Solar Science: Exploring Sunspots, Seasons, Eclipses and More breaks down the science behind the eclipse into a series of stand-alone topics, each with hands-on activities. It’s designed for middle school teachers to use in their classrooms, but most of the activities can be adapted pretty easily to suit students of any age. There’s also a lot of good general sun science here.

For a fun, pop culture approach to eclipses and their place in science and history, lunar scientist John Dvorak has written Mask of the Sun: The Science, History and Forgotten Lore of Eclipses. We really enjoyed reading about the superstitions and weird traditions associated with eclipses over the years. (For instance, did you know that pregnant women in Mexico wear safety pins on their underwear during an eclipse? Me neither!)


We’re always happy to help you put together a customized booklist. Email us with the details of what you’re looking for, and we’ll help you strategically raid your library shelves.

Bespoke Book List: Books Set in Ancient Rome

My kids are obsessed with ancient Rome, and I’d love to find a few fun readalouds set in classical Roman times. Any suggestions?

My kids are obsessed with ancient Rome, and I’d love to find a few fun readalouds set in classical Roman times. Any suggestions?

Happily, the Roman Empire has been just as fascinating for authors as it has been for your children, and your big challenge will be choosing which of these books set in ancient Rome to start with.

Detectives in Togas
Take seven Roman schoolboys, add a slur scrawled on the Temple of Minerva, a burgled tutor, and a mysterious astrologer, and you’ve got a mystery that’s full of twists and turns and Roman history. (The sequel, Mystery of the Roman Ransom, features the same cast of mystery-solving characters.)


Tiger, Tiger
The author of The Indian in the Cupboard tackles the class structures of the Roman Empire in this story of two tiger cubs: one given to the emperor’s daughter, where he lives a pampered, luxurious life; the other sent to live in a cold, dark cage as one of the kill-or-be-killed stars at the Caesar’s Colosseum.


The Thieves of Ostia
In the second mystery on our list, sea captain’s daughter Flavia Gemina and her friends set out to discover why the dogs on her street in the Roman city of Ostia are dying. The series (now up to 17 books) is a favorite of historian Mary Beard’s.



The Eagle of the Ninth
Historical fiction writer extraordinaire Rosemary Sutcliffe heads to Roman Britain with the story of a boy named Marcus determined to discover the truth of what happened to his soldier father and the rest of the Ninth legion (and their Eagle standard), who set off north of Hadrian’s wall and never returned.


Escape from Pompeii
If you’re looking for a picture book, this deliberately illustrated story of everyday life in a Roman city (and a harrowing escape from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius) set in C.E. 79 is an excellent choice.


A Roman Death
Older students will get caught up in the tour de force mystery starring Cicero the lawyer as he defends a Roman matriarch accused of murdering her future son-in-law. The story, based on a historical incident briefly mentioned in Cicero’s writings, features a fictional-but-totally-believable speech by the great orator.


This book list is reprinted from the summer 2016 issue of HSL.

Summer Reading: If You Liked Swallows and Amazons

Summer Reading: If You Liked Swallows and Amazons

Summer means adventure in these old-fashioned stories about independent children making their own fun.

Some of Our Favorite Living Math Books for Tweens and Teens

Some of Our Favorite Living Math Books

Lewis Carroll. Thomas Pynchon. David Foster Wallace. They’re best known now as writers, but all of them started out as mathematicians — a fact that delightfully dismantles a piece of the divide between “math people” and “book people.”

In fact, math and literature have more in common than you might realize. One of the first novels about math was written more than a century ago. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott, published in 1184, is both an exploration of the nature of geometry and dimensions and a satirical analysis of Victorian social structure. Abbott’s story — about a Square whose world view expands when he meets a Sphere from three-dimensional Spaceland — inspired several similar works, including Flatterland by Ian Stewart and The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics by Norton Juster.

Bloomsbury offered a $1 million prize to the first person who could prove Goldbach’s Conjecture within two years of the publication of Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture, a novel by the Greek writer and mathematician Apostolos Doxiadis. No one claimed the prize, which is no real surprise since the life-shaking difficulty of the conjecture (which postulates that every even number is the sum of two primes) and its affect on one mathematician’s life is one of the key points of the book.

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series posits a system of mathematical sociology that can predict the future. Mathematical sociology — also called psychohistory — works a little like economics and can only be used to predict large-scale events. Thanks to mathematical sociology, the mathematician Hari Seldon is able to predict the collapse of the Galactic Empire and the Dark Ages that will follow it — and to safeguard human culture and scientific achievement.

In John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, former math prodigy Colin Singleton is obsessed with proving his theorem, a formula that predicts which of two members of a romantic relationship will be the one to end the relationship. Colin grapples with the challenge that confronts many kids whose early giftedness does not clearly manifest itself as genius as they get older and with the mathematical mindset that failure is just as likely — and ultimately just as important — as success when it comes to proving mathematical theories. Similarly, the autistic narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime uses mathematics to make sense of his world. But making sense doesn’t mean making simple, as Christopher explains in one chapter-long rumination on the Monty Hall program, a probability logic puzzle that baffles even some professional mathematicians.

Colin Adams — you may know him from the Mathematically Bent column in the Mathematical Intelligencer (and if you don’t, perhaps you should) — has collected some of his funniest math stories in Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories. In “The Deprogrammer’s Tale,” families seek help from a professional when their children are tempted to major in mathematics. In “A Killer Theorem,” a detective investigates a series of murders committed via an irresistible proof method for an unsolvable theorem.

This list is excerpted from an article in the winter 2015 issue of HSL.

Bespoke Book List: What Are Some Good Spring Readalouds?

Bespoke Book List: What Are Some Good Spring Readalouds?

Of course, any time is a good time for a good book! But there’s something about these books that makes them especially appropriate for springtime reading.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with the magic of springtime right along with Mary in The Secret Garden. When orphaned Mary travels from her home in India to the English moors to live with her uncle in his lonely manor house, she has no idea that a bit of earth, a nature-loving boy, and a curious robin will change everything she thinks she knows about the world. It’s impossible to come away from this book without dreaming of your own garden. (Though be prepared: If you’ve never read the book before, the passages in Yorkshire dialect may twist your tongue.)

The Wind in the Willows begins in the spring, when Mole climbs out of his underground home to discover the river and Ratty. Just like a river or like the beginning of spring, the book’s pace is sometimes quick and adventurous, sometimes slower and dreamier, but the adventures of Mole and Rat capture the essence of spring adventure.

If you’ve been watching the birds returning to your neighborhood, The Burgess Bird Book for Children makes the perfect spring readaloud: Each chapter introduces a new bird, complete with descriptions, habits, and nesting preferences, as the birds return to Peter Rabbit’s garden. If you want to drill down to specific identification, you’ll want to pick up a birding guide—and, of course, the birds of the English countryside may not be the same ones singing in your backyard. But there’s no better book for encouraging your kids to study their feathered neighbors carefully. (It’s definitely worth splurging on an illustrated edition for this book.)

In Clementine and the Spring Trip, Clementine is excited that spring has finally arrived. She loves the apple trees and Margaret’s crazy spring cleaning—and, of course, her school’s annual trip to Plimoth Plantation. As she’s faced with a series of strictly enforced rules—from new girl Olive’s secret language to the fourth graders lunch mandates—Clementine realizes that it’s important to follow rules—and to break them—for the right reasons.

The Penderwicks in Spring
By Jeanne Birdsall
By Elizabeth Orton Jones

The Penderwicks in Spring focuses on Batty and Ben, the youngest of the clan. Rosalind is in college, Skye and Jane are in high school, and Batty has started a (sometimes hilarious) dog-walking business to raise money for music lessons. There’s a dark undercurrent to this book—Batty is most introverted of the Penderwick sisters and the only one who doesn't remember their mother—but that feels right for a springtime book: It is the coming from darkness to light that makes springtime so magical. And there’s plenty of Penderwick laughter and charm, too.

The charmingly old-fashioned Twig is about a little girl who builds a fairy house in the small yard of her city apartment building. With a little help from a friendly sparrow, Twig meets an elf who’s able to shrink her down so that they can play house together in Twig’s little home. It’s a sweet, simple story that will probably inspire a few fairy houses.

In The Minpins, Billy can’t resist sneaking into the forest near his home—even though his overprotective mother has warned him not to. When he’s chased into a tree by a ferocious beast, he meets the curious Minpins and teams up with them to take down the Red-Hot Smoke-Belching Gruncher for once and all. This was Roald Dahl’s last book.

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow is a delightful hodgepodge of a book that perfectly captures the spirit of spring, with poetry on one page and science on the next. Read this to inspire your springtime nature walks or use it as a jumping off point for spring nature journaling.

Spring is practically one of the characters in A Room with a View, E.M. Forster’s gorgeous novel of uptight Brits on holiday in Italy. When Lucy Honeychurch visits Italy, she’s torn between the rules and restrictions of her prim upbringing and the freedom and passion she discovers in Florence.

“Here! lilac, with a branch of pine, / Here, out of my pocket, some moss which I pull’d off a live-oak in Florida, as it hung trailing down, / Here, some pinks and laurel leaves, and a handful of sage,” writes Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass, perfectly capturing the enchanted beauty of the world in spring. A poetry collection may not be your traditional readaloud, but this one’s made for al fresco reading together.

Bespoke Book List: Great STEM Biographies for Kids

Great STEM Biographies for Kids

One of my pet peeves book-wise is the lack of good biographies for kids. Unless you want to read about Justin Bieber or someone from the 1850s, there just aren’t a lot of good options out there. So I was pretty darn thrilled when I discovered that Lerner Publications had launched a series of biographies that focus on modern day STEM professionals, including (gasp!) some pretty cool women. These are some of the modern innovators you can meet:

Who she is: a video game designer who believes gaming can make the world a be􏰁er place. her best-known games include EVOKE, Superstruct, World Without Oil, Cruel 2 B Kind, and The Lost Ring.
Read all about her in: Alternate Reality Game Designer Jane Mcgonigal by Anastasia Suen

Who he is: The guy who invented some of today’s most buzzworthy robotics, including Google glasses, robotic mapping, and the Google self-driving car— he’s also the founder of the Google X lab.
Read all about him in: Google Glass and Robotics Innovator Sebastian Thrun by Marne Ventura

Who he is: The question isn’t so much who the director of the Hayden Planetarium and popular astrophysicist is, but why it’s taken so long for someone to write a biography of him.
Read all about him in: Astrophysicist and Space Advocate Neil DeGrasse Tyson by Marne Ventura

Who she is: One of the celebrated women of silicon valley, she’s the brains behind super-popular community photo-sharing website Flickr and creator of the decision-making website Hunch.
Read all about her in: Flickr Cofounder and Web Community Creator Caterina Fake by Patricia Wooster

Who he is: One of the fathers of the iPod, Fadell is the techie who came up with the more-than-a-music-player’s distinctive look and functionality and the Wi-Fi enabled, learning-programmable Nest Labs thermostat.
Read all about him in: iPod and Electronics Visionary Tony Fadell by Anastasia Suen

This reading list was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of HSL.

Reading the Brontes: The BookNerd’s Official Guide

Reading the Brontes: The BookNerd’s Official Guide

I loathe Wuthering Heights. I should probably tell you that right up front. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I had to read Emily Bronte’s (so-called) classic first in high school and hated every ridiculous humorless violent hateful brooding moment of it. Being a person who typically enjoys nineteenth century classic literature, though, I figured that it probably was my fault, so I tried it again in college, and once again despised every ridiculous humorless violent etc. moment. I gave it one last try a few years later and finally decided, nope, it’s not me. Wuthering Heights is indeed an terrible garbage fire of a book. (Except for all those people who inexplicably love it. I promise not to judge you if you’re one of those people. I mean, you’re clearly wrong, but we can still be friends.) 

That said, I’ve been a big fan of Charlotte Bronte’ s Jane Eyre since the very first time I read it, around age 13 or so. As I’ve reread it over the years I’ve found that I particularly enjoy different parts of it—my first time though, I was obsessed with Jane’s experiences at Lowood, the Boarding School From Hell, but during later reads I’ve been more interested in Jane’s relationship with Mr. Rochester, or the strength of will she finds to run away from Thornfield Hall. 

Recently, I had a wonderful time doing Jane Eyre as a read-aloud with my daughter, and that experience set me off on a reread through Bronte works, Bronte history, and Bronte miscellany. From that, I’ve come up with this list for anyone - homeschool student, homeschool parent, or interested bystander - who’d like to take a deep dive into the world of the Brontes. I’m happy to present: 

The BookNerd’s Official Guide to Reading the Brontes
(NOTE: Wuthering Heights NOT Included) 

1. Read Jane Eyre. If you’ve already done that, reread Jane Eyre. Better yet, find a 13-year-old (or thereabouts) girl to read it with you, so that the two of you can enjoy Jane’s near-constant fury at the circumstances of her life (not to mention her occasional snarkiness) together. I’ve found that 13-year-old young women in particular have a real connection to Jane’s anger. Plus you’ll need someone to talk with about how St. John is THE WORST. 

2. Read a biography of the Brontes. The lives of Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and supposed-to-be-the-Golden-Boy-but-never-got-his-act-together brother Branwell are at least as fascinating as their most famous novels. Claire Harman’s Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart and Rebecca Fraser’s The Brontes: Charlotte Bronte and Her Family are both very good. Spoiler: Branwell is THE WORST. 

3. Read more Charlotte. Both of her other major novels, Shirley and Villette, are good reads, though I’ve found that Villette stays with me longer and has more of an impact. Plus, after reading Villette, you can join in the great literary game of gossiping with your 13-year-old about what exactly happened in Belgium between Charlotte and her mentor, Constantin Heger. 

4. Read some Anne. Poor Anne. Poor neglected Anne. Posterity seems to have entirely forgotten about Anne, which is utterly unfair. Plus, if this To Hark a Vagrant strip is historically accurate (IT IS and I refuse to entertain any discussion to the contrary), she was the most awesome sister of all. I’ve enjoyed both Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but if you only read one, make it Tenant, which—with its plot of a woman escaping an abusive husband with her child, not to mention all the arrogant entitled would-be suitors of the heroine, who get really really angry with her when she chooses not to love them back—feels (sadly) contemporary at times. 

5. Read some fanfic. In this case, by fanfic, I mean some of the professionally published retellings of and homages to Bronte works that have appeared over the years. From Jean Rhys’ classic Wide Sargasso Sea (which tells the story of Bertha Rochester pre-attic), to Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair (set in a world where people can jump in and out of books to change the narrative), to my new favorite, Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele (“Reader, I murdered him”), there are plenty to choose from. 

6. Finally, as a reward for all that reading—not to mention all those moors and all that brooding—read Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, in which a very sensible young woman visits the broody family Starkadder on their gloomy farm in deepest, darkest Sussex and proceeds to set everything right with a few common-sensical changes. I strongly suspect that Charlotte and Emily would have loathed this book (not Anne though, because she’s awesome), but it is enormously funny and one of my top-ten comfort book rereads. As a bonus, it was made into a wonderful movie with Kate Beckinsale as the heroine (and Stephen Fry as a delightfully smarmy Branwell fan). 

EXTRA CREDIT  This past year I finally got around to reading The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar . This book is a classic work of feminist literary criticism, first published in the 1970s, so I was a bit intimidated, but even as a layman I found it a fascinating read. I’m not exaggerating to say that it has changed the way I read novels written by women. But if that sounds a bit too much to tackle at the moment, you can pick up (the much shorter and much funnier) Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg for your homeschool (sample here ), secure in the knowledge that anyone who gets all the references in this book—conversations in text from literary figures including Medea, Hamlet, Lord Byron, Jo March, and Nancy Drew—can definitely consider themselves a well-read student of Western literature. 

Happy reading, everyone!

Summer Reading: If You Liked the Percy Jackson Series

Secret worlds, real-life mythology in action, and heroes-in-the-making—who can resist the lure of stories steeped in legend?


Your next picture book

Young Zeus
By G. Brian Karas

In Young Zeus, the future king of the gods enlists the assistance of a motley crew of super-powered creatures to become the ruler on Mount Olympus.


Your next chapter book

Odysseus in the Serpent Maze (Young Heroes)
By Jane Yolen, Robert J. Harris

What were the great Greek heroes like when they were Percy and Annabeth’s age? You can find out in Odysseus and the Serpent Maze, in which teenage Odysseus (and some other kids you might recognize) are kidnapped by pirates.


Your next readaloud

By Brandon Mull

Like Percy and his Camp Half-Blood pals, Kendra and Seth discover that mythology is very real—and very, very dangerous. In Fablehaven, first in a series, they find out their grandparents’ farm is actually a preserve for mythic creatures.


Your next teen read

In The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, holistic detective Dirk Gently finds himself caught up in a mystery surrounding some pretty disgruntled Norse deities. 


Your next grown-up book

American Gods
By Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s dark, complicated American Gods is superficially about a squabble between the New World’s old and new gods is full of big questions.

Topics in History: Mary, Queen of Scots

Great reading list for studying Mary Stuart, Mary Queen of Scots

Mysterious deaths! Tragic beauties! Political drama! Honestly, it’s no wonder the life of Mary Stuart, queen of France and Scotland, has inspired a televised teen drama. Mary’s life and eventual execution have intrigued creative types for centuries. Was Mary really a manipulative black widow determined to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I and reign over England and Scotland? Or was she an innocent victim of a time when women’s political power was controlled by men? Four hundred and seventy years after she was crowned Queen of Scotland, Mary and her motives remain a mystery. Once you’ve read (and watched) a few versions of her story, you’ll no doubt have your own opinion.

In Books

The mysterious death of Lord Darnley was the beginning of the end for Mary. Weir thinks Mary is innocent of her second husband’s murder — Weir puts the blame on the very nobles who accused their Queen — but her Mary is definitely guilty of poor judgment. 


Mary was only nine months old when was crowned Queen of Scotland and seventeen years old when she became the Queen of France. Lasky focuses her attention on what may have been the only truly happy time in Mary’s life — her childhood growing up at the French court with her fiancé Francis, the heir to the French throne.


Mary Queen of Scots
By Antonia Fraser

Mary wasn’t a very good queen, concedes Fraser in her groundbreaking biography. But she certainly wasn’t guilty of the murders and conspiracies that led to her execution in England.



Unlike her cousin Elizabeth who never traveled outside of England, Mary lived in England, Scotland, and France during her life. Cheetham brings the geography of Mary’s life to the forefront, telling her story through the places she lived.


Scotland Under Mary Stuart
By Madeleine Bingham

What was life like for women in the 1500s who didn’t happen to be born into the Scottish royal family? Bingham answers that question, illuminating the vast differences between Mary’s tumultuous life and the life a common woman of the time would have led.


George takes a sympathetic approach, painting the queen as an emotionally and politically naïve young woman whose bad decisions ultimately led to her downfall.


Queen's Own Fool (Stuart Quartet)
By Jane Yolen, Robert Harris

Why were so many people loyal to the Scottish queen? In her book, Yolen examines the charming, affectionate, and generous Mary through the eyes of her fool, Nicola, and the members of her adoring court.


A Traveller in Time
By Alison Uttley

When bookish Penelope travels back in time from the 1930s to the 1500s, she becomes caught up in her ancestors’ efforts to restore the captive-in-England Mary to the throne. Uttley explores some of the legal, religious, and personal reasons Elizabeth I’s subjects may have supported Mary.


Adieux de Marie Stuart  (c. 1876)
By Pierre-Jean de Béranger

De Béranger’s nineteenth-century poem paints the young Queen Mary as a tragic, romantic heroine whose fate is sealed when she departs the shores of her beloved France.


On the screen

Mary of Scotland
Starring Katharine Hepburn, Fredric March

Katharine Hepburn plays Mary as a martyr in this romantic tragedy. Interestingly, the Earl of Bothwell, generally regarded as a manipulative scoundrel, gets the heartthrob treatment in this film version.


Mary and Elizabeth meet face-to-face in this drama, an event that never occurred in historical fact. Mary, played by Vanessa Redgrave, is an emotionally impulsive young woman who is easily manipulated into making bad decisions by her more rational cousin in this film.


Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Starring Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Rhys Ifans, Jordi Molla

Mary, played by Samantha Morton, is not much more than a pawn in a bigger Catholic conspiracy in this film.


Elizabeth R
Starring Glenda Jackson, Robin Ellis

The “Horrible Conspiracies” episode of this BBC miniseries focuses on Mary’s years of captivity in England and ultimate execution, as seen through the eyes of Elizabeth I and her councilors. 


The Wonderful World of Disney: The Truth About Mother Goose  (1957)

An animated short about Mary’s life attributes the origins of the Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary nursery rhyme to the Scottish queen.

Our Favorite Campfire Readalouds

Inspired to try a family campout after reading “Camp Like a Homeschooler” in the summer issue of home | school | life? Yes, you need the sleeping bag and that cooking fork, but we all know the really essential item is the book you bring as your family camping readaloud. Any book makes a good camping trip story, but we especially like books that tie into outdoor adventure. 

Blind Mountain
By Jane Resh Thomas

Twelve-year-old Sam isn’t that interested in hiking, much less surviving in the wild—but when his dad is injured on a day hike, Sam has to summon all his wilderness knowledge to get them home alive in Blind Mountain by Jane Resh Thomas.


By Gary Paulsen

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is the outdoor adventure classic: Stranded alone after a plane crash in Canada’s north woods, 13-year-old Brian survives with nothing but a hatchet and his wits for 54 intense days.


The Incredible Journey
By Sheila Burnford

My kids would listen to The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford over and over again, and the story of three family pets determined to find their way home across hundreds of miles of Canadian wilderness, makes a pretty thrilling campfire read.


Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe is a different kind of wilderness survival story: Crusoe survives a shipwreck with a handful of supplies and manages to create a civilized, if lonely, life on a desert island.


The Sign of the Beaver
By Elizabeth George Speare

In The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, Matt’s dad leaves him alone to protect the family’s homestead in 18th century Maine while he travels to Massachusetts to bring the rest of the family home. 


Sam in My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George has serious homeschooler appeal: After learning about wilderness survival at the public library, he sets off to his grandfather’s abandoned farm in the Catskills to put his knowledge to work in the wild.


Curious George Goes Camping
By Margret Rey, H. A. Rey

If you want a picture book for your readaloud, Curious George Goes Camping by Margret & H.A. Rey is delightful fun as George tries to help the man in the yellow hat on their camping trip.


The Call of the Wild
By Jack London

Some books just sound better outdoors, and I think The Call of the Wild by Jack London is one of them. The sounds of the woods at night are the perfect background soundtrack for this story told from the point of view of the dog Buck. 

31 Great Books to Inspire Young Writers

31 Great Books to Inspire Young Writers

Whether you’re putting together a curriculum or just stocking your reading shelves, these books are a great addition to your homeschool writing library.

9 Books for Latino Book Month

Fill your May reading list with books that celebrate Latino culture. Lean ustedes, y disfruten!

Everyone knows about Brown vs. the Board of Education, but not many people know that almost ten years before the Supreme Court struck down the separate but equal standard for school, a Mexican-Puerto Rican-American fought against the same kind of segregation in California. Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (EG) tells her story.

The allegory is obvious but still effective in Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote (EG)—a tale about a young bunny who strikes out north in search of his father, who left to work in the carrot and lettuce fields there and hasn’t returned home.


The Dreamer
By Pam Munoz Ryan, Pam Muñoz Ryan

In the graphic novel Luz Sees the Light (EG), Luz’s community is struggling with high gas prices and power outages, and Luz thinks turning a deserted lot into a community garden will make her barrio a better place.

The Dreamer (MG) is fictional biography of Pablo Neruda, recounting the childhood of a shy boy who finds beauty and mystery all around him with a dazzling combination of poetry, prose, and artwork.


Return to Sender
By Julia Alvarez
The Tequila Worm
By Viola Canales

Julia Alvarez tackles tough questions about ethics, morality, and migrant workers in Return to Sender (MG), a simple, sensitive story about two families whose lives intersect on a Vermont dairy farm.

In The Tequila Worm (YA), Sophia experiences culture shock when she wins a scholarship to a posh boarding school, where she must find ways to stay connected to her Mexican-American family and its traditions while finding her place in a different world.


Under the Mesquite
By Guadalupe Garcia Mccall
The Book of Unknown Americans
By Cristina Henríquez

While Lupita’s Mami battles cancer at a faraway hospital, teenage Lupita takes care of her seven younger brothers and sisters in Under the Mesquite (YA), a novel in verse about growing up in a Mexican-American family.

A motley collection of immigrants, brought together in a Delaware apartment complex, tell their stories in chapters that alternate with a love story between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl in The Book of Unknown Americans (YA).


The House on Mango Street
By Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street (YA) isn’t so much a novel as a collection of vivid, lyrical, almost impressionist vignettes, telling the story of a Mexican-American girl growing up in Chicago. 


We use the abbreviations EG (elementary), MG (middle school), and YA (high school) to give you a general idea of reading level, but obviously you’re the best judge of what your child is ready to read.

Women’s History Month Biographies: 3 Math-Minded Women

Great biography booklist for Women's History Month, focused on women who made contributions to mathematical knowlegde. (Yes, Emmy Noether is on the list! :))

For Women’s History Month, we’ll be featuring biographies of women in history who may have beenforgotten, neglected, or misunderstood by traditional history books. In this edition: three women who contributed to the world’s mathematical understanding.  

Ada Lovelace

Sorry, Steve Jobs, but Lord Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace may just be the pioneering genius behind modern day computer science. Lady Byron steered her daughter toward science and mathematics, which inspired her to work wit Charles Babbage, a mathematics professor whose Difference Engine is often considered the first proto-computer.

Read more about her in: Ada’s Algorithm: How Lord Byron’s Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age by James Essinger


Emmy Noether

Albert Einstein called Noether the most important woman in the history of mathematics, and even if you’ve never heard her name before, you’re familiar with her work if you’ve ever studied abstract algebra or theoretical physics.

Read more about her in: Emmy Noether: The Mother of Modern Algebra by M.B.W. Tent



Henrietta Leavitt

Leavitt’s work at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s was supposed to be methodical and uncreative, but Leavitt was too intelligent to record without analyzing. Using blinking stars to determine brightness and distance from the Earth, Leavitt helped astronomers understand that the universe was much larger than anyone had previously suspected.

Read more about her in: Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh


 This information was originally published in the winter 2015 issue of home/school/life, but Women’s History Month seemed like the perfect time to bring it to the blog. You can read the full article—with lots of other cool women included—in that issue.